This is something I am working on…
Notice: This material is protected by Copyright laws worldwide. It appears here with permission. If you wish to make someone else aware of this work, please point them to this page. Thank you, Dell Sweet
Dawn of Time
Copyright 2020 Dell Sweet. All rights reserved.
Gnah squatted stoically near the cave opening. A slight sag in the skin covering allowing him a view of the valley below.
The wind gusted and blew the heavy skin inward occasionally, snow with it, but the snow melted just inside the opening, some contributing to the ice that bordered the opening under the door, the balance running away in small rivulets into the cave proper.
The hunt had gone badly, more than badly, they had come away empty handed and Crerk lay dead at the back of the cave. The Bone Clan was starving, and the division that had been growing between some of the hunters and himself had become a split. Three hunters on his side, two on the other.
Indas his second woman approached and waited patiently. There was now reason she could not speak, but the fact that she did not told him she had words only for him. He could hear them: Women of The Bone clan, while not on the level of the men, were born with status that was upheld and built upon with childbearing and skills that benefited the man to whom they had been given by their mothers. Additional skills that benefited the entire clan added status, but that status was spread out over the family unit. In this way a man did not have to acknowledge a woman who consistently contributed to the wellbeing or growth of the clan.
“Woman,” he said without looking at her.
“Vekni and Suvro have gone away… To Mid Valley.”
He nodded. He had told her to tell his other wives to go. To take the babes and the Wolf People Protectors and go away until they heard from him. Now Indas would leave as well. A pretense of getting water from the river below the cave. He looked to her and saw the fear written on her young face. Although his second, it was her he depended on for stability among his own woman and the other women of the cave.
She lifted the wooden gourds to her shoulders, using a strap that spanned her broad and heavily muscled back and pushed aside the heavy skin, stepping out into the snow.
Gnah sighed deeply in his soul, and signaled his first and second hunters to him with his eyes: They came quickly, watched by the two at the back of the cave.
They had carried Crerk back from the hunt. First they had removed his organs and buried them. It was several days travel back to the cave and he would begin to turn bad quickly with the weather shifting from freeze to thaw as it was. It was early in the winter, the cold had not yet settled over all of the land and frozen the waters completely as it would sometime soon.
It was not a sign of disrespect to eviscerate the body. It was done often in the Bone Clan. But the two, his third and fifth hunters, Crerk had been the fourth, had decided that Crerk should be sacrificed for the good of the clan.
A hunter could not return to the Earth Mother without a proper burial. What they suggested, Crerk giving his body so the others could live, and because he had failed to kill the buffalo that had killed him, would mean no burial. No honor in the next live or other lives to come. Yes it would mean sustenance for the clan, but complete death to Crerk.
Gnah had no qualms with using the dead when he had to to keep the Clan alive, but hunters were not usually considered. Usually women were considered. When they passed to the next life they would become mothers again and be born into circumstances they could use to raise their status in the clan. Women were given for that purpose. To help men. They didn’t look at it as right or wrong, it simply was.
But the bigger trespass was that the third and the fifth had decided it must be done. They had gone to the Medicine woman for blessing and she had come to him. The others in the clan had been unsure. They would not go against his lead but they were starving and the idea of sustenance weighed heavy in their minds, causing them to become unsure of his leadership. That could not be.
He had spoken at length with the Medicine woman and the shaman, the bone carver, the brothers who were the weapon makers: The other seven members of the clan including the former leader, and they had made their decision.
He turned from the valley view and looked around the cave. The shaman, the medicine woman, his two hunters and the rest were gone away. All of their men had sent them, the babes, the Wolf Protectors, to keep them safe, and Gnah himself had sent away the other men. Hunters knew about taking lives, wood carvers did not. Bone shapers as well. He and his two hunters would do what needed to be done, and the shaman and the medicine woman would appease the spirits so they would not be angered. It was a real cause for concern. There were battles in the spirit worlds. One could see them any day, when the lightening stabbed the sky: When the clouds were forced to release the rain, or the snow, or the ice. When the sun burned the green grain heads and caused them to become golden, reflecting that heat. Spirits understood battle. They condoned it, but it was for the clan to decide and keep the spirits appeased by doing it in accordance with tradition; and they would by following the Medicine woman and the shaman in the rituals.
There was no battle. The two, in their arrogance had begun to evaluate the body of Crerk, and so they were turned away from the leader and the two when they came at them.
Gnah took one man’s arm and twisted it hard enough to break it as the other two took their hunter to the ground quickly with a stone axe to the neck. The man’s arm snapped midway at the forearm and he began to collapse, but Gnah missed the sharp knife in his other hand that he thrust into his chest, even as Gnah’s own knife sliced his throat and his blood sprayed upon the ground.
Gnah was placed, resting against a post near the center of the cave. The first had now become the leader. He had been blessed and introduced to the spirits. Gnah had been dressed in his best hunting skins after his body had been prepared by his widows. He and Crerk would be buried in the loosed soil and gravel at the far back of the cave. If the ground had not been frozen they would have preferred to bury them either in the stream bottom or in the forest. Somewhere where they would never be disturbed.
The two that had begun the dissent and caused the death of the leader had been given to the clan for substance. A hunt yesterday had gone well and so they had added a male buffalo to the food stores. Things might become precarious in the following months, but for now they would be fine, Deh thought. He had gone from first to leader and was still wondering how the spirits chose to make these changes so quickly. The clan would become used to it, but things must work much faster in the spirit worlds than in this world, he thought.
He looked over to the former hearth of Gnah. His three woman, two young girls and a son who was almost a man had been called back from Mid Valley; they would have to be cared for or sent to the spirit world. Females could be sustenance and so the five females would not be a problem: with only two hunters to provide for the clans needs, and the former leaders boy child who would now have to step forward and become a man, that would make three men to provide for the clan. Three other men were of position to take the three older females, but they had females, more than one each. The boy could not take the women as they were his mothers, and clan tradition forbid that. Both he and Ook, his new first had women, babes and children of their own. They could not take them. The babes, there were two, could be taken in by other females.
The females could be turned out to fend for themselves, but that would be a waste of sustenance that the clan would most likely need to get through winter. Turning them out would be feeding the predators who took far too much from them as it was.
Most often leader’s mates were buried with them, it only made sense to send them along to the spirit world with them so none would be without. They would not be consulted or given a choice in the matter. Although women could be heard, could speak, they had not asked too: Would feel ashamed to ask, and most likely knew the outcome. The Clan came first, rather than turn them out, take their physical lives and bury them with Gnah, they would be used to sustain the Clan through the cold months ahead. It was the only thing that made sense.
The girl child would be last. She could breed. She could become a mother to his sons, and one of his wives was older; her hair turning gray, she had produced no children in three seasons she would leave to start her spirit life soon, the medicine woman had told him. So the girl would stay, become his.
He had made his decisions. He would inform the Medicine woman and the Shaman, and his first because of his position. There was no one else to inform.
Deh turned away from the interior of the cave, his eyes sweeping across the small clan, busied with preparations for the two burials. He had his own preparations to make, ceremonies with the Medicine woman and the Shaman. Both to cement his position as the new leader and to prepare the spirit world to receive the spirits of the hunter and the former leader. He motioned to the two who stood waiting near the rear of the cave in the area reserved for ceremonies. The area was for simple ceremonies, the ceremonies to come this evening and tomorrow required both privacy and a removal from the clan. Distance, the ceremonies were meant for men only. The medicine woman, although called a female as such, gave up her female spirit when she accepted the calling, and so she was considered a male from that day forward, in all senses including communing with the spirit worlds. The proof that this was more than just long standing tradition was answered anew in every ceremony by the fact that the spirit world communed with them; listened to their requests and answered to their needs.
The two followed him into the cold of the late afternoon. Silently they made their way down along the river, single file, high above the turbulent flow, until they came to a small dark opening high up the narrow trail that breached the rock face that rose several hundred feet above the river.
The Medicine Woman entered first after lighting a long pine resin torch she had carried with her. The Shaman followed her, then Deh.
The dark hole opened into a short and narrow rock passageway that wound away into the cliffs behind it. After a few hundred feet the passageway opened up; ending in a small rock cavern thirty feet across at its widest. The ceiling stretched away into gloom, unable to be illuminated from the torchlight.
A circle of fire stones marked the center of the cavern, and the Medicine Woman, using the torch started the dry materials that had been placed there alight.
The flames lit the room more fully, but they could not dispel the darkness gathered high up. The three stood for a moment and then the Shaman and the Medicine woman disrobed and began a chant the Shaman accompanied her on a wide shoulder bone of a buffalo he had carried with him; a steady beat, slapped out with one hand on the bone instrument that rested against his hip.
On it was incised the name and status of every member of the clan, going back several generations: It was considered one of the holiest items that the clan owned.
The sound was low and bassy, reverberating off the stone walls and building a second rhythm that seemed to follow the first. The Medicine woman continued to chant in a low monotone, with a tempo that matched the drum, but the Shaman switch to a melodic song that interwove between the beat and the chant. Not exactly words, or at least not any for human ears, but undulating melody that continued to weave in, around and over the chant and the slapped bass of the beat.
Deh stood stoically, waiting: Not quite sure for what, it was known only to the two holy conduits performing the spirit song. It was too sacred to perform without reason: Meaning few living had ever seen it, and he, Deh was not one of them.
The fire seemed to dim suddenly, as if consumed from within somehow, and then sprang back; flames leaping higher so that the blackened ceiling far above could be dimly seen. Both the chanting and the beat tumbled to a discordant stop. Silence held for a beat and then the Shaman began to speak what were clearly words, but words spoken in the ancient language of the spirit worlds, a language only the holy ones of the Clan could speak. Words that could cause any of the living to die upon speaking without protection or reason.
Deh stood, trying hard not to listen, or remember the words. Words that could pull the life from living creatures were not ones you wished to hear; in fact, had he not been required to be here he would have refused to be present. There were things those who led were required to suffer, he was learning, that men of lower position would never understand. The Shaman fell silent, and then began to speak in a low tone.
“And this one, Deh, who has ascended to the position of leader is presented. His life is now linked with the spirit world. His heart beats at the Mother’s pleasure.” He stepped close to Deh and one hand rose swiftly, held tightly within it a blade of stone, sharp enough to draw blood with little pain or immediate feeling to those it touched. It paused in its rising at the hollow of the new leaders throat: Deh drew a sharp breath, and then the blade came forward and he could feel the warmth of his own blood trickling down his neck in the cool air of the cavern.
“Accept this blood as your blood,” the Shaman said softly. The Medicine woman stepped into the firelight from behind him and handed him a leather wrapped package. The Shaman lifted it into the darkness above the firelight, once again spoke the words of the ancient language, and then lowered his hands, still holding the package and began to untie the rawhide strips that had bound it closed.
The package was soaked with blood, blood seeped from the bottom of the package and dripped into the fire below the Shamans hands. The covering sprang open revealing the bloody present that lay within. A present that was required off the spirits.
The heart of Gnah lay within the soft folds of leather. The shaman, once again using the sharp stone flake, quickly sliced a small piece from the heart and motioned to Deh to open his mouth. Deh, shocked, complied.
“With this, spirits, our new leader assumes the mantle of the old,” the Shaman said loudly. He slapped the shoulder bone three times, the echoes died away before he spoke again.
The few words that followed were repeated in unison with the Medicine woman, who placed her hands upon the former leader’s heart. The words ended, the blood dripped into the fire, and then they both knelt slowly and placed the heart, still wrapped in its protective leather on the flames without seeming to be harmed by the flames at all. Deh closed his eyes and blinked. Their hands were still in the fire when he opened his eyes, but a split second late they left the grisly package to the flames and rose to their full heights once again.
The shaman lifted the bone from his hip and with the flat of one hand covered the surface with blood; his other hand began to rub it deeply into the groves and lines cut into the surface. He finished and rose slowly once again
“We must wait for the response from the spirit world,” The shaman said softly. He motioned to Deh to sit with him. The Medicine woman sat as well.
The hours passed; from time to time one of them added wood to the fire from a nearby pile expressly meant for that purpose.