The woman caught a glimpse of movement through the dusty haze ahead and wondered if it was the wolf she had seen loping in front of them earlier.
She glanced at her companion with a worried frown, then looked for the wolf again, straining to see through the blowing dust.
"Jondalar Look!" she said, pointing ahead.
Toward her left, the vague outlines of several conical tents could just be seen through the dry, gritty wind.
The wolf was stalking some two-legged creatures that had begun to materialize out of the dusty air, carrying spears limed directly at them.
"I think we've reached the river, but I don't think we're the only ones who wanted to camp there, Ayla," the man said, pulling on the lead rein to halt his horse.
The woman signaled her horse to a stop by tightening a thigh muscle, exerting a subtle pressure that was so reflexive she didn't even think of it as controlling the animal.
Ayla heard a menacing growl from deep in the wolf's throat and saw that his posture had shifted from a defensive stance to an aggressive one. He was ready to attack! She whistled, a sharp, distinctive sound that resembled a bird call, though not from a bird anyone had ever heard. The wolf gave up his stealthy pursuit and bounded toward the woman astride the horse.
"Wolf, stay close!" she said, signaling with her hand at the same time. The wolf trotted beside the dun yellow mare as the woman and man on horseback slowly approached the people standing between them and the tents.
A gusty, fitful wind, holding the fine loess soil in suspension, swirled around them, obscuring their view of the spear holders. Ayla lifted her leg over and slid down from the horse's back. She knelt beside the wolf, put one arm over his back and the other across his chest, to calm him and hold him back if necessary. She could feel the snarl rumbling in his throat and the eager tautness of muscles ready to spring. She looked up at Jondalar. A light film of powdery dirt coated the shoulders and long flaxen hair of the tall man and turned the coat of his dark brown mount to the more common dun color of the sturdy breed. She and Whinney looked the same. Though it was still early in the summer, the strong winds oft the massive glacier to the north were already desiccating the steppes in a wide band south of the ice.
She felt the wolf tense and strain against her arm, then saw someone new appear from behind the spear holders dressed as Mamut might have dressed for an important ceremony, in a mask with aurochs's horns and in clothes painted and decorated with enigmatic symbols.
The mamut shook a staff at them vigorously and shouted. "Go away, evil spirits! Leave this place!"
Ayla thought it was a woman's voice shouting through the mask, but she wasn't sure; the words had been spoken in Mamutoi, though. The mamut dashed toward them shakini the staff again, while Ayla held back the wolf. Then the costumed figure began chanting and dancing, shaking the staff and high-stepping toward them quickly, then back again as though trying to scare them off or drive them away, and succeeding, at least, in frightening the horses.
She was surprised that Wolf was so ready to attack, wolves seldom threatened people. But, remembering behavior she had observed, she thought she understood. Ayla had often watched wolves when she was teaching herself to hunt, and she knew they were affectionate and loyal to their own pack. But they were quick to drive strangers away from their territory, and they had been known to kill other wolves to protect what they felt was theirs.
To the tiny wolf pup she had found and brought back to the Mamutoi earthlodge, the Lion Camp was his pack; other people would be like strange wolves to him. He had growled at unknown humans who had come to visit when he was barely half-grown. Now, in unfamiliar territory, perhaps the territory of another pack, it would be natural for him to feel defensive when he first became aware of strangers, especially hostile strangers with spears. Why had the people of this Camp drawn spears?
Ayla thought there was something familiar about the chant; then she realized what it was. The words were in the sacred archaic language that was understood only by the mamuti. Ayla didn't understand all of it, Mamut had just begun to teach her the language before she left, but she did gather that the meaning of the loud chant was essentially the same as the words that had been shouted earlier, though cast in somewhat more cajoling terms. It was an exhortation to the strange wolf and horse-people spirits to go away and leave them alone, to go back to the spirit world where they belonged.
Speaking in Zelandonii so the people from the Camp wouldn't understand, Ayla told Jondalar what the mamut was saying.
"They think we're spirits? Of course?' he said. "I should have known. They're afraid of us. That's why they're threatening us with spears. Ayla, we may have this problem every time we meet people along the way. We are used to the animals now, but most people have never thought of horses wolves as anything but food or pelts," he said.
"The Mamutoi at the Summer Meeting were upset in the beginning. It took them a while to get used to the idea of having the horses and Wolf around, but they got over it," Ayla said.
"When I opened my eyes that first time in the cave in your valley and saw you helping Whinney give birth to Racer, I thought the lion had killed me and I had awakened in the spirit world," Jondalar said. "Maybe I should get down, too: and show them I am a man and not attached to Racer like some kind of man-horse spirit."
Jondalar dismounted, but he held on to the rope attached to the halter he had made. Racer was tossing his head and trying to back away from the advancing mamut, who was still shaking the staff and chanting loudly. Whinney was behind the kneeling woman, with her head down, touching her. Ayla used neither ropes nor halters to guide her horse. She directed the horse entirely with the pressures of her legs and the movements of her body.
Catching a few sounds of the strange language the spirits spoke, and seeing Jondalar dismount, the shaman chanted louder, pleading with the spirits to go away, promising them ceremonies, trying to placate them with offers of gifts.
"I think you should tell them who we are," Ayla said. "That mamut is getting very upset."
Jondalar held the rope close to the stallion's head. Racer was alarmed and trying to rear, and the mamut with her staff and shouting didn't help. Even Whinney looked ready to spook, and she was usually much more even-tempered than her excitable offspring.
"We are not spirits,'' .Jondalar called out when the mamut paused for a breath. "I am a visitor, a traveler on a Journey, and she--he pointed toward Ayla--is Mamutoi, of the Mammoth Hearth."
The people glanced at each other with questioning looks, and the mamut stopped shouting and dancing, but still shook the staff now and then while studying them. Maybe they were spirits who were playing tricks, but at least they had been made to speak in a language everyone could understand. Finally the mamut spoke.
"Why should we believe you? How do we know you are not trying to trick us? You say she is of the Mammoth Hearth, but where is her mark? She has no tattoo on her face."
Ayla spoke up. "He didn't say I was a mamut. He said I was of the Mammoth Hearth. The old Mamut of the Lion Camp was teaching me before I left, but I am not fully trained."
The mamut conferred with a man and a woman, then turned back. "This one," she said, nodding toward Jondalar. "he is as he says, a visitor. Though he speaks well enough, it is with the tones of a foreign tongue. You say you are Mamutoi, yet something about the way you speak is not Mamutoi."
Jondalar caught his breath and waited. Ayla did have an unusual quality to her speech. There were certain sounds she could not quite make, and the way she said them was curiously unique. It was perfectly clear what she meant, and not unpleasant-he rather liked it-but it was noticeable. It wasn't quite like the accent of another language; it was more than that, and different. Yet it was just that: an accent, but of a language most people had not heard and would not even recognize as speech. Ayla spoke with the accent of the difficult, guttural, vocally limited language of the people who had taken in the young orphan girl and raised her.
"I was not born to the Mamutoi," Ayla said, still holding Wolf back, though his growl had ceased. "I was adopted by the Mammoth Hearth, by Mamut, himself."
There was a flurry of conversation among the people, and another private consultation between the mamut and the woman and man.
"If you are not of the spirit world, how do you control that wolf and make horses take you on their backs?" the mamut asked, deciding to come right out with it.
"It's not hard to do if you find them when they are young," Ayla said.
"You make it sound so simple. There must be more to it than that." The woman couldn't fool a mamut, who was also of the Mammoth Hearth.
"I was there when she brought the wolf pup to the lodge,'' JondaLar tried to explain. "He was so young that he was still nursing, and I was sure he would die. But she fed him cut-up meat and broth, waking up in the middle of the night as you do with a baby. When he lived, and started to grow, everyone was surprised, but that was only the beginning. Later, she taught him to do what she wished-not to pass water or make messes inside the lodge, not to snap at the children even when they hurt him. If I hadn't been there, I would not have believed a wolf could be taught so much or would understand so much. It's true, you must do more than find them young. She cared for him like a child. She is a mother to that animal, that's why he does what she wants."
"What about the horses?" the man who was standing beside the shaman asked. He'd been eyeing the spirited stallion, and the tall man who was controlling him.
"It is the same with the horses. You can teach them if you find them young and take care of them. It takes time and patience, but they will learn."
Excerpted from The Plains of Passage (Earth's Children, Book Four) by Jean M. Auel. Copyright © 2002 by Jean M. Auel. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.