The cat moved again, this time backing slowly into the heavier brush until fully concealed. The boy watched Hasti move, so fluidly and deliberately that, with the warriors attempting to come down the path, as ordered by their leaders, it gave every appearance that somehow the boy and the warrior were in communication with the animal.

“How does he know?” the boy whispered to Cetan, as they waited for the warriors to join up with Athesis and the other leader. Although the leader or sub-leader of Tama’s tribe was claimed to be that, Tama could not remember him, as his tribe was larger than the former one of Cetans and the man’s sub-chief rank would have removed himself with the association among younger boys.

“He’s an animal of the forest,”  Cetan replied, in the same low whisper. “Don’t start thinking he has the brain or ability of a human to understand much at all or you might find yourself being digested somewhere when you least expect it. We don’t know what he knows, although I will admit he has a very strange ability to act on our behalf at almost every opportunity.”

“I understand,” the boy said, “but still.”

“Get to the cache, pull out a few of the smaller stone chunks, and then recover everything and work your way down to the river,” the warrior instructed. I don’t want Athesis or any of my tribal warriors to see the stuff. We must trade less for more but we don’t want Athesis to know that just yet. We need more than bare skin pelts. We need fur to wear and sleep under and we need it quickly for all of us.”

“I’ll go,” the boy said, beginning to move before Cetan grabbed his upper arm.

“You were right,” the warrior hissed low and hard. “I was wrong. The bear attacked us out of nowhere. The warriors keep appearing whenever they want. We have no ability to move our fire inside anything to hold the warmth of the coals during the hard cold nights. We must move and the cave is where we have to go.”

Cetan dropped his hold from the boy’s arm, as the leader and the other warriors of Tama’s former tribe closed in. He turned and loped off, not moving fast in order to allay any suspicions about where he might be going. He moved in shock, on automatic, knowing where the cache was and what he had to do, but stunned by the warrior’s admission. The boy had been unsure about mentioning the need for a move across the river to the warrior. A warm feeling flowed through his body and mind. The warrior valued him highly, and it was apparent in how hard it had been for the man to say what he said.

Cetan approached Athesis, who promptly turned and held out his spear. Cetan accepted it.

“The high chief believes you have begun something special,” Athesis said. “In fact, the Shaman of our tribe believes you and your tribal members are creations of the forest even though he remains fully aware that you were once a warrior among us, and were cast out for good reason.”

“Yes,” Cetan replied, again growing very cautious in talking to the man who appeared so rational now but only days earlier had viciously threatened all of their lives.

“I don’t believe any of that,” Athesis said, but I am not foolish enough to oppose both my chief and the Shaman, or I could very well end up banished like you. So I will wait. I will wait for the cold to set in. I will wait for other tribes to hear of your stones and come to take them. I will wait until one day I am proven right.”

“And, if you are proven wrong?” Cetan replied, immediately sorry he had asked any question at all.

“My talent is to prove myself right, as in coming here to lead this trade. The sub-chief who led the previous party was supposed to be here in my place but he had an unfortunate accident.”

“Then I will try to prove you right without having an accident,” the warrior said, glad he was again holding his spear.

Cetan backed away, neither man’s eyes leaving the others, or blinking. Cetan knew in his heart that Athesis was an enemy for life and must always be on guard and fear him. He slowly backed away, and then turned quickly and made his way back to the fire pit where the coals from the fire had begun to go out.

The leader of the other tribe, Tama’s tribe approached slowly, giving plenty of notice he was coming. Cetan turned.

“I must speak with you alone,” the leader said, abruptly, before Cetan could even ask about where the tribe’s trade goods were since neither the leader nor any of his warriors carried anything other than light leather bags, flint knives, and their hunting spears.

Cetan did not want to back into the brush area behind the lean-to, in the unlikely event that for some reason the boy, who had not yet returned, had been unable to recover the cache. Aurora and Night Moon were huddled inside the shaky structure they all used for sleeping and to protect them from the weather. However, the women and children might be conditioned to rough life in the forest it was easy to see that none of them had recovered from the fear and other emotions that had been driven deep into them by the very close call with the attacking bear. He had no choice, however. He waved his arm and indicated that they should wait out of hearing distance over by the cat’s angled rock grotto opening. They moved as one, without comment or questioning look. Cetan examined the tribal leader of whom he had no knowledge. Cetan pointed toward the vacated lean-to.

“My name is Tinda, and I am sub-war chief to the tribe,” the man began, even before they both reached seating positions atop some of the skins the warrior had traded to acquire from his own tribe earlier. “I will trade fairly for the better stones,” the leader went on. “You see our weapons. We do not have quality tips, blades, and points. I have only one request. I am alone in the tribe and aging. I have no wife living, no children and my parents passed in the last hard winter.”

The warrior waited, completely at a loss as to where Tinda might be going with his presentation. There was nothing to be said, so he merely nodded, and waited some more.

“You are not of the tribes,” he went on. “Athesis is right. You are of the forest, from this very forest,” he waved one arm dramatically to take in all before them. You are not of the tribes or possibly even the human being population the tribes know of or have met. Is that not the truth?”

Cetan sat very still, in shocked surprise. There was no way to deny what the sub-chief was saying, not without putting his own small developing tribe in very serious danger, but his discomfort was great in telling the lie. The boy believed their relationship with the animals was special and made them special, but the warrior didn’t believe that. He thought it was simply a bit of lucky fortune. That it had saved their lives, possibly given them a way to get through the winter, and drawn the respect and fear of both tribes that posed extreme threats to their existence could not be denied. But Cetan had been living for a while and come to find many things that seemed to be special or something of the spirits turn out to be simply a function of unlikely luck. He thought for several seconds about how to minimize the lies and yet still allow the leader to believe that they were of the forest and needed to be left alone.

“Yes,” he answered, finally, but then did not go on, looking the leader straight in the eyes, neither man blinking.

“There is more,” Tinda replied, after his own long pause.

“Are we to trade?” Cetan asked, trying to change the uncomfortable subject, knowing full well, unlike the young boy, that their lives could be ended by the tribes just as easily for being too ‘spiritual’ as for not being that at all.

“I want to join the tribe,” Tinda said, this time in the lowest of whispers, looking out toward the river to make sure none of his warriors heard.

“Join the tribe?” Cetan asked in surprise. “What tribe?”

“The Di’ne,” Tiban said. “I too want to be of the forest, with the forest, and with your tribe.”

“How can that be?” the warrior asked. “Your own tribe has not cast you out, like the boy. Your tribe will see your departure as an offense that must be punished, and we will be punished with you.”

“We came to trade,” Tinda replied but said no more.

“I thought that was what we were here for,” Cetan said, glad to turn the conversation in another direction, “but you brought nothing to trade that I have seen.”

“It sits before you,” Tinda replied, with no expression on his face.

“What?” the warrior asked, becoming exasperated.

“Me,” Tinda said. “You must trade a generous amount of the stones for me. The tribe will agree. The war chief will be happy, as his son is waiting for the position. I am an expert tracker, hunter, and I know many secrets of both tribes you are going to need to get through this winter and beyond. Finally, I am an expert flintknapper. I am not Singkin’s equal, of your tribe, but I am close, and you cannot get high value for the stones you have by trading them away in raw condition. Soon, the tribes you trade with will have enough.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Cetan responded, in truth. “What would you be in our tribe? There is only me, the boy, the two women, and the two children. You know that.”

“You are the chief of the Di’ne,” Tinda said. “The boy is your warrior. I would be whatever you wanted me to be, even if that means I would work with the children and women to justify my continued existence to the cat and the beaver of your forest.”

“How would your tribe be informed of this?” Cetan, said, starting to reflect on the idea.

There was no question that that move across the river would be better with more men to work and especially a senior warrior that knew the other side of the river like the back of his own hand in many ways.

“I will return to my tribe with many stones,” Tinda replied, “and I will inform the council of the tribe of your demand that I will be enslaved by the Di’ne as the price. I will beg them not to give in, but they will and the trade will be complete. They will either kill me, banish me, or have me escorted back to you for your use.”

“I’m still not certain of what you receive as your return in the trade, Tinda, and the risk you take is great,” Cetan said as the boy came walking up from the path and in from the river where Athesis and his warriors worked to dismember the bear, and assemble the skin to be hauled between two spears to carry the rest of the butchered meat.

The boy sat down next to the warrior and laid down half a dozen chunks of the quality obsidian for examination.

Tinda picked up one of the pieces. “This is the highest quality I have ever seen,” he said. “I can work with this. We will need another supply in the same amount if you have it.”

“That’s all we have,” the boy replied before Cetan could speak. The warrior reached out one hand and put it on the boy’s shoulder, before speaking.

“Get the same as is here, the trade is done,”

The boy left without saying anything, although wearing a look on his face that the warrior knew would have to be explained away as soon as they were alone again.

“I have nothing,” Tinda said, softly, when the boy disappeared again. “I have lived and traveled far and lost much, but I have nothing. Here, what you have, is not like anything else I have ever seen. I make this trade and hope to earn my way because it is the first thing in this part of my life that gives me any understanding about anything.”

“What is it that you want to understand?” Cetan could not help asking.

“Why are we here?” Tinda replied. “What is this here we are in? How did it come to be? Why do the animals you have around you act the way they do? I do not want to wander the last of my days without knowing any of those answers.”

“There is the danger that the forest cat will not accept you, and I have little power over the cat,” Cetan said, as Tama returned with a second load of the stones, again placing them carefully to join the others at Cetan’s feet. “The boy is the prime being the cat responds to. You will have to counsel with him if you return.”

The leader got to his feet. “I will need only two things, other than these stones,” he said, ignoring the boy completely. “I will need a skin to place these in that will not indicate to those others what we have traded, and I and my warriors need to wait until Althesis and his tribal members are gone.”

“What is to be done if you are not accepted here by the forest?” Cetan asked, knowing that the cat was not a creature he had any real control over.

Tinda held up his arm. “The bear came here to offer himself to the tribe for the tribe’s survival.  The cat and the beaver must choose. I will be of the forest if I am chosen, or, like the bear, I will be sacrificed for the survival of the tribe if I am not.”

The cat walked out from behind the lean-to and approached the boy, the warrior, and Tinda. He stopped a man-length away, then walked around them to move toward the cleft that was the entrance to his grotto where the women and children huddled. He made no move to enter the cleft, instead laying down and turning fully so his head was once more on his front paws, while his eyes watched the three men.

“Well, it looks like you have part of what you might need,” Cetan observed, wondering how he would explain the strange conversation with Tinda and the potential of the ensuring events that might likely follow.

<<<<<< The Beginning | Next Chapter >>>>>>

Since Anthropology has fascinated since youth, I really enjoy telling stories from the far past.
I have another series set 25,000 years ago about a Boy coming of age and observing Social Evolution

You will enjoy the First Two in a Series of Five

The Mastodon Series

The Mastodons by James Strauss