The two hunters slowly made their way across the steep mountain pass. The mountains rose up to their right, and over the precipice to their left, lay the forested valleys far below them. The winds blew across the exposed mountains, and the hunters wrapped themselves tighter in their furs.
The old ones of their village had told them stories about their ancestors, how one generation after another they had moved north in search of new more verdant lands. In the ancient days, the old ones had said, they had lived far to the south in lands warm and lush. But some had said that those lands had become too crowded, and there had not been enough food. Others had said that it was the sky that called to them, and they walked out of that land in order to find where the land touched the sky.
The first hunter turned to the second and smiled.
“Do you think we will be able to touch they sky soon brother?” He said. His younger brother smiled.
“This place is certainly as near to the sky as I have ever been.” The younger of the two replied.
“Yet, the sun does not seem any closer. It is almost as if we are farther from it now.” The older brother said.
“I would think so. The days are colder than I remember.” The younger brother confirmed.
Around the edge of the mountain, the older brother found new signs of their prey, tracks in the soil that covered the mountain. The older brother looked out to the mountains beyond. High above them shone the white capped peaks in the distance. He had always loved just looking at the mountains, as the green cloaks slowly gave way to white as they great peaks reached for the sky. The hunters were still firmly in that green cloak, and grass and trees spread out all around them.
The younger brother squatted over the tracks, and traced his fingers around them. The older brother smiled. His younger sibling had become quite the tracker since becoming an adult just the winter past. He would never admit it, but he figured his brother was already a better track than himself.
“The horned one (1) passed this way not too long ago, it should be close.” The younger brother said.
“Then now is the time for quiet.” The older brother said, and he set out moving slowly towards the trees around the side of the mountain. The horned ones loved the higher parts of the mountains, and they were fast and sure footed even on the steepest of slopes. If the brothers hoped to get one with their spears, they would have to catch it unaware. Otherwise, it would sprint across the mountains and they would loose it.
The younger brother took the lead as they tracked the horned one, but luck was not in their favor. As they emerged from some cover, the horned was was there waiting for them. The younger brother’s eyes went wide as he saw the animal, and he realized a little late that the two of them were blocking it’s only way of escape. The horned one charged, and the younger brother jumped out of the way. He tumbled to the side, and pan iced as his feet hit loose gravel instead of grassy soil. He lost his footing and the ground slid out from under him, and in another heartbeat you would have slid right off the edge of the cliff.
The older brother had had a little more warning than his sibling, and had an easier time dodging out of the way of the horned one as it quickly ran off beyond their reach. The older brother had seen his sibling fall, and he ran to catch him before he went over the edge of the cliff. When his own feet hit the gravel, he had to struggle to keep his own footing, and realized with horror that he could not have reach his brother in time.
He shouted as the younger man went over the edge of the mountain.
The young man lost sight of his brother as he passed over the ledge and tumbled down the long slope that followed. For that much he had to be thankful, as a sheer drop would have killed him instantly. He slid down the slope as the gravel tore at his skin and only made him slide faster. He had little time to look around before the slope came to a stop among much larger rocks. Pain racked his body, and he heard a loud snap as he collided with the rocks and tumbled some more before coming to a stop against the side of a cliff.
Pain shot through his left leg, and blood ran down his forearms. He took one deep breath, and then another. He cried in pain and longing for his brother.
“I am going to die here.” He sobbed to himself. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but the blackness slowly took him.
When he next opened his eyes, he realized instantly that he was not in the same place he fallen. He could hear voices around him (2), but he did not understand them. He glanced around, and came to the conclusion that he was in a cave, and that there was a fire somewhere near by. Light and shadows danced across the cave around him.
There were faces as well, and these frightened him. The faces he could see were broad, with large ridges above the eyes. One of these faces however over him, staring right back into his eyes. He had heard the other hunters tell stories about these people. The other hunters had said they were strong and could rip a person in half. Some said that they were stupid, and could not even speak. All they did was crush things, and some of the hunters even said they would catch people and eat them.
Tears ran down his eyes.
“Please don’t eat me.” The young man said. The face above him seemed startled for a moment, and then smiled. That is when the young man realized that the face over him was probably a woman.
She touched him low on his body, and more pain streaked through his body. She had touched his left leg, and he know knew it was surely broken. The woman started to touch other parts of his body, and he was pleased when only a few areas were really painful. The woman muttered something that he did not understand.
He titled his head to the right, and saw that a good portion of his chest had been wrapped in leather, and some kind of crushed plant. He was happy when he saw his right arm rise, and he gestured at the wraps.
“Did you do this?” He said, tapping his chest. The broad face started at him for a long moment. Then she tapped a finger on his chest. He flinched a little bit. He took the gesture as a ‘yes’.
The world faded in an out over the next few days. With each turn of the sun, those days turned into weeks, and then into months. The young man met many others as they came and went from the cave, and one day at a time he started to pick up little bits of their language. He learned their ways, and over time started to love them.
He also came to love her, the first face he had awoken to. He wanted to stay with them, with her, and so he stayed.
And in time a child was born…
(1) From Wikipedia (Altai Mountains), it is stated that the climate in the Altai mountains has been relatively stable since the last ice age. As a result, it has also retained a lot of ice age fauna (minus mammoths and other extinct creatures). I figured the Siberian Ibex would make a good choice of prey.
(2) There is still some debate about whether or not Neanderthals could actually speak in the same way we do. I took a creative liberty in this case.
I could have fleshed this one out a lot more had I chosen too. You might think it has a bit of an abrupt ending, and this is deliberate in this case. I had to bring it to an end, otherwise it would have quickly exceeded an easily readable size. I do try to limit the length of my individual posts on this blog. Also, if you really like this kind of story, may I recommend Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel. While I am not a huge fan of the later books in the series, I highly recommend Clan of the Cave Bear for a good all around neanderthal/human story.
You also might have noticed that this one departed from the general format I have used for the previous stories. I really considering making it another story of a boy sitting around a fire with an old woman. But it some ways, I felt that that format would be a little too much “once upon a time” in feeling. I choose this one because this is not a story of some far off time before humans or any kind of people to witness it. I actually share part of my genetic code with some of the fossils that were found in that cave. My ancestors were actually there, actually experienced what it was like in those days. And so I choose to make this a much more “in the moment” kind of story.
Who knows, maybe I am just conjuring up buried ancestral memories from some young hunter buried deep in my genetic code?
All the same, I hoped you enjoyed this one, and hope you join me in the next chapter of this series as we explore another site and another of my distant ancestors.
As always, thanks for reading!
Sources and references;
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel.
I also referenced many of the sources from part A of this chapter for inspiration.