A High Valley in Norway. Present Day.
It had been a long, difficult excavation. The removal of the rubble blocking the entrance had progressed much too slowly; and without any real value to what they had found inside, so far, many were losing their faith that their time had not been wasted. When Jen’s team had sent word that they had found something they couldn’t explain, it sparked hope again.
The last of the dusty excavation assistants squeezed into the narrow space remaining within the inner cave. The motion sent another blast of sooty smoke swirling among the already gathered group. Their sense of anxious anticipation was as pervasive as the sting of the smoke and the musty air. Their dig leader pushed into the waiting crowd.
“It’s the smoke from the torches – it’s making my eyes water… gimme a minute.”
“The electrics are getting pretty dim. Sorry about the smoke.”
Dr. Ariel Connor wrung the sweat from the bandana that had been keeping her hair off her forehead and wiped her face, then her eyes, gently, to remove some of the grime. She was running out of steam. She crawled up closer to where the light was throwing shadows on the stone wall. A protruding rock, jutting from the cave floor poked her shin as she settled down on her hands and knees.
“Shit! OK, Jens – I can see now. What did you find back here?”
Jens Eriksson, the excavation manager held his torch up to shine as much light as he could on the cleft in the cave’s face. Two burly, dig assistants from the University were sweeping away grime and dirt with short brushes. “Ariel, can you see that, alright?”
“Yes. It’s…” she hesitated, then reached out to lightly touch the dressed stone surface that extended out from the narrow fissure. “It’s carved, not a natural formation. There is… color beneath the carbonate crust, along with tool markings.”
“That’s what I got, too. Do you agree about it being pigmented – painted?”
“She brought her own torch closer to the surface. “Yes, a red pigment. It follows down the fissure, here.” She motioned for Jens’ torch to be brought lower as well. When it was descending towards the cleft, she raised her hand.
“Look – it’s darker at the bottom of the cleft.”
“Yes. I see that. It’s a pretty good likeness, isn’t it?”
Ariel, now on her hands and knees next to the rock wall, grinned. She moved back for a better view of the surface carving.
“Amazing.” She nodded her head, adding “It really confirms some of what I’ve been thinking, you know?” She motioned again for the light and pointed to the widest spot in the fissure, where the black depths within swallowed the light the torch could provide. “…but we’ll know more once we get inside.”
Jens agreed, but rubbing his chin replied, “That’s sure, but who could possibly fit?”
Ariel stood, brushing off her khakis. “A child will fit. How appropriate, don’t you think?”
# # # #
Closer to the cave’s mouth and many thousands of years before Dr. Connor’s team broke through the rubble that had blocked its entrance for centuries, Mokolo stirred in his sleep. He slowly woke to the comforting smell of the fire. It had been a hard, restless night and the morning sun had not yet broken through the crags at the east of the valley. Night still lay thick everywhere.
Mokolo dreamed he’d felt his father’s hand on his shoulder, but he was mistaken. He blinked his dark, deep-set eyes, rubbing them to wipe off the sleep sand and then sat up. Looking out past the cave's mouth to the river, far below, he could just make it out as a faint silver ribbon running through the darkness.
His shoulder still ached from the fall two days earlier, and he was massaging it when a light touch upon his hand brought his attention back to the morning's work. He looked up into the stern face of the Chief of the Hunt, Datolo, who stood motioning to him, in the firelight, to join the other hunters he could see already gathered further back, near the sputtering fire.
“Mokolo, you must help us make ready!” the Chief hissed at him, his stern eyes blazing from under bold, dark eyebrows, “We're away before first light!”
He nodded, touching Datolo's hard hand to reassure him that he’d be up with them. The hunt day had been set, but had been postponed because of the loss of Mokolo’s father, Slatolo. It was a terrible pain in his heart, tearing at him, but he rose from his pine-bough and bearskin bed and joined his brother hunters to prepare for the hunt as he had done so many times since becoming a man, some two winters before. As he rose, he thought of his journey to man-hood, and how his father’s death had disturbed his sense of accomplishment and his sense of purpose.
Though the cave was still dark, firelight danced off the near walls, highlighting some still-sleeping forms, bundled against the early fall chill. The sentries’ beds had been cleared from the cave mouth, back against the walls and at the fire; the hunters were rubbing their spear points sharp against stones that held the fire's warmth. As he approached the group, the smoke burned his eyes in the familiar, comforting way it always had. He found a place near his friend, Baaktolo and began heating the point of one of the new long spears over the flames. Gathered nearby were the two- hands-plus-four that he'd been preparing. Recently completed, each of them would be carried along on the hunt, even if he must remain behind. At least his work would do something for the clan.
There was no speaking, for fear of waking those who slept further back in the cave, but as he watched the tip grow hot and begin to smoke, Mokolo could see the twinkling eyes of a few small boys huddled further back in the dark cave to watch the hunters leave. Every small face he saw resembled his own. They were all family. Connected. He remembered many such mornings when he was a boy, watching his father join the hunters before the sun returned. It had been very exciting to him then, and he mused to himself how the reality of going out on the hunt before the sun seemed just hard work now.
Withdrawing his spear, the still smoking point was rubbed back and forth through a notch in the nearest stone, polishing and hardening it. A small piece of dried meat was passed to him, and he accepted it gratefully, its hard surface becoming savory as he chewed it. Mokolo’s stomach sent up a rumble to let him know it was also grateful for the small meal. His friend Baaktolo laid his hand upon Mokolo's shoulder and rose from the fire, one more spear ready for the hunt.
The Water Mother, old Kin'kala carefully filled each hunter's water gourd from her large, pitch-lined water basket as they stood waiting at the fireside. Soon all hunters were ready to leave. There were two-hands-plus-three of them, including the Chief of the Hunt and they grasped each other’s wrists around the fire, making a connected circle. The Water Mother withdrew into the shadows away from the firelight as Datolo spoke quietly.
His broad mouth revealing the trace of a smile, he offered a prayer. “May our Great Mother and our Lesser Mothers all bless us in this Hunt and bring even the fast running fourlegs to us easily! May our steps be light and silent and our spears sharp and true!” The gathered hunters all responded by clapping both hands flat upon their own chests in unison, the muffled thump echoing slightly along the back of the cave and signaling to those remaining in the darkness that the hunters were leaving. None of the hunters turned to look behind them as they strode out of the cave mouth, led by their chief. Their soft footfalls were the only sound as they filed down the high pathway and out towards the ledge.
Inside, the Water Mother returned her water basket to its place, near the wall on the fire's left side, then turned toward the deeper darkness where her soft bed waited. It was good, she thought to herself, to be older, to be able to serve the rest, but also to get back into bed on a chilly morning instead of stumbling down the rocky path towards the valley floor. She passed the old Fire Master, Tik’olo, who was dragging two logs towards the rear of the fire pit to warm the cave for the day. His two young fire helpers struggled with their additional bundles of twigs and bark. Mokolo noticed and ran over to help them before they dropped the loads in a clatter. Their soft morning chatter echoed off the deeper walls behind them, still in shadow.
Light began painting the closest treetops with a pink glow. The young boys remained at their stations near the fire, watching the light return to the valley. As the sun finally made its way over the Eastern crags at the narrows, spilling warm light into the cave's mouth, the boys heard the Mother's morning song begin from behind them in the darkness. Its soft, reassuring melody resounded off the walls filling both boys with a sense of peaceful happiness. The day had returned, and soon the women – the Lesser Mothers – would begin appearing to greet the day at the cave's mouth with their offerings of a pinch of pollen, tossed into the morning air.
The hunters made their way below, as silently as they could, and the new day began for the Valley People as it had for many generations before them. The Fire Master’s young assistants carefully tended the fire and watched darkness flee the Valley, trailing the blue curtain of sky behind it. In exactly the same way, other boys like them had done as far back as memory could travel.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish