Daughter of the Red Deer
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by Joan Wolf
Description: In prehistoric France, the women of the Tribe of the Horse die from tainted water, so the young men kidnap women from the matriarchal Tribe of the Red Deer to keep their clan from extinction. Mar, leader of the younger men, must deal with tribal conflict, as well as his feelings for Alin, the beautiful daughter of the Red Deer priestess and "Chosen One" of the Mother Goddess. Pre-historic Romance/Adventure by Joan Wolf; originally published by Dutton
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1991
eBookwise Release Date: December 2010
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [635 KB]
Reading time: 447-626 min.
The hunters burst silently out of the trees and ran along the narrow trail that led beside the shore of the small mountain spring. They ran lightly, with a long and bounding stride, their spears held securely in their right hands, their bows slung over their left shoulders. They were deadly quiet: the small animals scurrying underfoot on the forest floor did not hear their steps as they went by.
It was not just the spears and bows that marked these ten as hunters. They wore red ochre on their faces, in the hunter's distinctive markings, and they were dressed in undecorated deerskin shirts and trousers, the traditional hunting garb of the Tribe of the Red Deer. Behind them followed two large hunting dogs, as silent and as light-footed as the boys they shadowed.
For they could only be boys, these ten. The bodies under the deerskin clothing were too slender to belong to grown men. Boys, then: perhaps a hunting pack not yet initiated into Tribal manhood, out to bring down a Great Stag and thus prove to the tribe their worthiness for initiation.
Only when the line stopped, and the leader bent to examine the spoor on the path, did the image of boyhood shift. A clear bell-like voice said, "They are just ahead of us." The leader straightened and, in silhouette, the curve of breasts under the deerskin shirt was faintly evident.
The hunters raised the traditional chant: "Let us run with the deer! The deer in the forest, the deer on the mountain, let us run with them, oh Mother! Swift and strong, let us run with the deer!"
The voices were pure, high, and unmistakably feminine.
Then, as swiftly and silently as they had come, the line of hunters vanished into the forest.
It was ten minutes before the two young men who had been watching them came out from their hiding places. They stood for a long silent moment, looking up the trail along which the girls had gone.
Then, "Are you thinking what I am thinking?" the smaller, black-haired man said in a soft voice to his companion.
"Sa," came the equally soft reply. White teeth showed in a summer-brown face. "Tane, I believe we are in luck."
The black-haired man let out his breath in a long, reverent sigh. "All those girls," he said. "And they are out in the forest alone!"
"Easy game for an ambush." The big blond man threw up his head, and his white grin flashed wider. "It is in my heart that the men of the Horse will not be sleeping alone for many more moons."
The two young men looked once more up the game trail. A brown rabbit hopped out of the woods, hopped across the trail, and disappeared into the trees on the other side.
"We'll stay in the area for a while," the blond finally said. "We need to learn more about their habits. Then, when we come back with the rest of the men, we'll know what we must do."
"Sa." The man called Tane nodded his dark head in approval. Then both men turned and, with the long loping gait of the hunter, they vanished down the trail in the opposite direction from the one the girls had taken.
* * * *
"Alin. I have been looking for you."
The girl's head tilted, but otherwise she remained perfectly still, gazing at a rock in the rushing stream before her as the man approached across the clearing.
"The Mistress wants you," he said when he came to a halt beside her. He glanced at the stream also, and his lips curled in a small, wry smile. "She is beginning to be annoyed, so I thought perhaps it was time that someone found you."
Alin's gaze veered to the face of the man beside her, and then slowly returned to the large rock jutting up aggressively in the midst of the mountain stream. She said, "How did you know I would be here?"
He answered, "I used to come here when I was a boy and I wanted to be alone." Once again he gave that small, wry smile.
Alin did not reply, but her brown eyes, the same color and shape as the man's, were thoughtful.
"The time of Winter Fires will soon be here," the man said. He looked at the almost-bare birch trees that lined the stream as it wound its way up the mountainside. "The stags are rutting; the leaves are falling. Soon the snow will be here."
"Sa." And the girl crossed her arms over her breasts, as if his words had brought with them a blast of winter cold.
The man asked, "Will Lana be making the Sacred Marriage at Winter Fires this year?"
There was a long silence. As he waited, the girl's profile was very still, very remote. Finally she said, "This year it will be for me to do. The Mistress is beyond the bearing of children, she says. It will be for me to make the Sacred Marriage for the life of the tribe."
He raised one thin, strong hand, looked at it thoughtfully, then flexed it. "So the talk then is true."
"What talk?" Her head swung around; her clear, bell-like voice was suddenly sharp.
The man shrugged, his eyes still on his hand. "Even the men's cave hears gossip. There has been talk, that is all." He dropped his hand and his large dark eyes moved to her face. "It is time, after all. The Mistress is no longer young."
Alin's brown eyes looked back at the man who had fathered her.
"Tor..." The word was long and drawn out, sounding as if it were strange to her tongue.
There was a moment of hesitation. Then she said, "I have been thinking of whom I should choose."
He nodded, his eyes still on her face. "It was in my heart that that might be what had brought you here." The hand he had been flexing moved slightly to reach out to her, and then it stilled. He said softly, "Whom does Lana say you should choose?"
Tor looked away from her toward the rock in the midst of the stream. "Na," he said. The word was final, though he spoke softly still. "Not Jus."
"Why not?" Alin asked.
"Jus is Lana's man. He will always be Lana's man, Alin. Take a man who will be loyal to you."
"There is no rivalry between me and my mother, Tor!" The words were sharp, almost frightened.
"I know that," he said. He looked down at her gravely. He was a tall man, and he had given his height to her as well as his eyes. "Take one of the younger boys," he said. "One of the boys you know and like."
She did not reply.
"Ban is a nice lad," he said.
Still she said nothing.
He sighed. "The Mistress rules the Tribe, Alin. She may have grown too old to bear, but she has not grown too old to rule. She will not give over any of her power to you. So take a boy you will like. It is Lana's man who will be chief of the men, no matter whom you choose. Leave Jus to her. Take one of the boys."
Alin drew in a long deep breath. Then she said, her voice carefully expressionless, "I was thinking the same thoughts. That is why I came out here."
He nodded as if he perfectly understood.
"Tor," she said, and frowned as she heard the note that had come into her voice. She raised her chin. "How did you know?" she asked. "We have seen so little of each other. How did you know what I was feeling?"
He looked away from her. He said, "You are the Mistress's daughter, Alin. You belong to her. Without her there would be no children for the Tribe, no fawns for the deer." He shrugged, a graceful gesture that Alin herself often made. "I am only a man. It is not for me to meddle with what is hers." Then he reached out and took her chin into his hand. "But I care for you, my daughter," he said, "and so I tell you: Do not take Jus."
Alin did not try to pull away from his hold and the two pairs of brown eyes met and held. "Did you seek me out today only to tell me this?" Alin asked at last.
"Sa," he said. "I did."
There was a thoughtful silence. Then Alin said, "It will be Ban, I think."
Tor nodded and let go her chin. "Ban." He turned and looked toward the path he had come by. "Come now, before the Mistress begins to be angry."
In silence, without touching, father and daughter returned through the forest.
The caves belonging to the Tribe of the Red Deer lay in the chain of mountains that would one day be called the Pyrenees. There were a number of other tribes dwelling in this area, as the mountains here were riddled with caves that for thousands of years had served as dwelling places and religious sanctuaries to the tribes of men. They were hunting tribes and, as the game was generally plentiful, for the most part they lived with one another in peace.
The Tribe of the Red Deer belonged to the grouping of people who called themselves the Kindred. These tribes covered the land between the mountains, where the people of the Red Deer dwelled; to the sea to the west and the great river valleys to the north. The tribes of the Kindred spoke the same language, lived mainly in the caves or rock shelters that were so plentiful, and met together each spring and autumn at tribal Gatherings, where they traded for goods and wives.
The Tribe of the Red Deer differed from most of the other tribes of the Kindred in one important respect: the people of the Red Deer still followed the Way of the Mother, while long ago their neighboring tribes had learned to follow the male God of the Sky.
The home of the Tribe of the Red Deer was located in the valley of the Greatfish River, and the scene that greeted Alin and Tor as they came into the settlement was both peaceful and pleasantly domestic. The two large caves used by the tribe as communal dwellings lay at the level of the valley floor. Above them towered the dark stone of the mountains and the deep crystal blue of the sky. Winding through the center of the valley was the Greatfish River itself, at this time of year lower and less rapidly flowing than it would be in the spring, but still a plentiful source of fish and of clear water.
Covering part of the valley floor were the huts within which most of the tribe lived. These huts were round in shape, and the main support of each was a tree trunk in the center; saplings dug into the earth leaned against the central tree to make a frame. Smaller boughs were interlaced between the saplings, and then the whole was covered by animal skins.
The married couples of the tribe lived in these huts along with their very young children. The unmarried girls and women lived in the women's cave, under the rule of the Mistress. The unmarried boys and men lived in the Men's Cave, under the rule of whichever man the Mistress had chosen that year to be her mate.
For in this tribe dedicated to worship of the Great Earth Mother, it was the chief priestess, or Mistress of the Mother, who ruled, whereas in the tribes who worshipped Sky God, the ruler was the male who was chosen to be chief. Because the Tribe of the Red Deer was so different from most of its neighbors in this regard, it held itself aloof, rarely attending the seasonal Gatherings, choosing instead to make its marriages within the tribe when possible, seeking mates from without from the few individual tribes near them with which they were on good terms. The rest of their commerce was limited to the occasional peddlers who came to trade their shells and furs for the beautifully soft deerskins the Tribe of the Red Deer excelled in producing.
As Alin and Tor came up the valley, they could see the smoke from the hearth fires spiraling out of the smoke holes in the roofs of the huts. Fires were burning too in the openings of the two dwelling caves. Alin and Tor parted without further speech, Tor to go to the hut he shared with his wife and younger children, and Alin to go to the women's cave, which lay the greatest distance from the river and in front of which only a single hut was pitched.
Three girls were standing just outside the cave opening, laying the small fire of sticks that would be the evening's cookfire. They looked up as Alin approached.
"Alin," one of the girls said with a small frown, "where have you been? The Mistress has been looking for you."
"I did not know," Alin returned. "I came as soon as I heard." But instead of moving away, she stood for a moment and watched as one of the girls lifted a cut branch and thrust it into the large fire that had been lit at the edge of the cave opening for warmth.
The girl who had first spoken said again, "The Mistress has been looking for you."
Alin met her best friend's eyes. She smiled wryly, a smile that suddenly made her look very like her father, and said, "All right, Jes. I am going."
A fire blazed in the circle of stones that formed the hearthplace of the Mistress's large hut, and the smoke from it stung Alin's eyes as she came in through the flap in the skins. She blinked and then she saw Lana, half reclining on a pile of deerskins. The air in the hut was dense and warm after the brisk autumn chill outside. Alin said, "You wanted me, Mother?"
"Sa." The woman on the pile of deerskins did not move; even so, she managed to give the distinct impression of coming to attention. "Where have you been?" she asked her daughter calmly. "I have been wanting you since midday."
"I am sorry," Alin said. "I did not know." She knelt on the edge of the deerskins, sitting back on her heels so she could look directly into her mother's face. "How may I serve you, Mistress?" she asked, reverting to her mother's formal title.
A short silence fell as the two women regarded each other. Lana's light blond hair had been arranged with bone hairpins into an intricate knot at the back of her head. Its paleness almost hid the faint streaks of gray. Her eyes were long, faintly slanted, and blue-gray in color. She was not a tall woman, but the sense of power that emanated from her small, almost-plump person was one of the most striking things about her. She wore a necklace of golden shells around her still-firm neck, and bracelets of ivory adorned her wrists and arms.
The faintly irritated expression faded from Lana's face as she smiled at her daughter and held out her hand. "I wish to make final arrangements for Winter Fires," she said. "Leaf Fall Moon is past the three-quarter phase, so it is time."
Alin felt a flicker of apprehension. She knew her mother would not like her choosing Ban. "As you will, Mistress," she said, her face perfectly composed, and she put her hand into her mother's.
Lana sighed. "How well I remember the first time I made the Sacred Marriage," she said. "I have been sitting here all day, remembering and feeling old."
Alin squeezed the small capable hand that reposed within her own long narrow grasp. "You will never be old," she said.
Lana smiled faintly. Then she sighed again. "I can no longer bear children, however. Last year, at Spring Fires, I was not sure. But it is certain now." She compressed her lips. "All those sons! So many years, and I have only one daughter to offer to the goddess. And now, to know that there is no chance of any others..." Her lips pinched together even more tightly.
Alin remained silent, holding her mother's hand and watching her face. It was still a remarkably youthful face, wider at the brow and eyes than it was long from brow to chin. A cat's face, Alin had often thought. A cat's face, with slanted cat's eyes. A striking face. Almost, a beautiful face.
Lana had not borne a child in over seven years.
Sensing her daughter's thoughts, Lana straightened her spine and crisply removed her hand from Alin's. "Your hands are all callused," she complained. "I do not understand this insistence of yours upon hunting. The men are perfectly capable of doing the hunting. You are the only Daughter the Mother has given to the tribe. If you are killed, where shall we be then?"
"The Mother holds all things in her hands, Mistress," Alin replied, her voice quiet yet firm. "What she wills to pass, will pass. Nothing that I can do will change her will. If I am marked to die, it will happen one way or another."
"You are not marked to die, my daughter." Lana was staring now into the fire. "You are marked to be Mistress of the Tribe after I am gone. I saw that in you when you were still a child. You are beloved of the Mother." She flashed a faint, nostalgic smile. "The night you were conceived, I knew."
There was a pause. "And yet..." Alin hesitated, and then asked the question that had puzzled her for years, one she had never dared to ask before. "You never again picked Tor to be your mate, Mother. Yet it was he who gave you your only daughter."
Lana's eyes swung back to her daughter's face. The smoke drifted between them, veiling each other's face. Lana said at last, "Listen now to what I tell you, Alin. Never choose a man you cannot control. That is how Sky God came to rule so many of the tribes of the Kindred. The mistresses were weak and let the control slip away from their hands. Most men are safe, are properly respectful, spill their sap and worship the Mother who will bring forth life out of it. But every once in a while there is a man who challenges that...."
"Tor does not challenge the Mother!" Alin protested before she had time to consider the wisdom of doing so.
Frowning Lana leaned forward to see Alin better through the smoke. "There are men whose very being is a challenge to the Mother," she said, her voice hard. "Tor is one of those men, my daughter." Lana's eyes had turned the same color as the smoke, Alin thought as she stared back into the cat-slanted gaze of the Mistress. Lana sat back a little, and the hard note left her voice. "He served his purpose," she said. "He gave the tribe a Daughter. It would have been dangerous to allow him to continue for more than a year as chief. Under him the men were...different."
Alin did not answer. Her mother's gaze did not drop.
"Do you understand what I am telling you?" Lana asked softly.
"Sa," Alin said. She stared, mesmerized, into her mother's blue-gray eyes. "I do."
"See that you do not forget it." And Lana leaned back on her pile of skins, releasing Alin from the hold of her eyes. "I know that you are old to be a maiden still, my daughter. Fifteen winters is a long time to wait. I know that it must have been hard for you, to watch the other girls at Spring and Winter Fires, but it was proper for you to save your maidenhood for the first time you made the Sacred Marriage. It will be stronger so; a more powerful mating for the tribe."
"Has it been hard for you, my daughter, the waiting?"
It is a little late to ask me that now, Mother, Alin thought, dropping her eyes to the hands clasped together upon her knees.
"Alin." It was the voice of authority, the voice that no one in the tribe ever disobeyed. "I am asking if the waiting has been hard for you."
"Na," Alin answered, speaking the truth. She looked up from her deerskin-covered knees. "It is true that I have watched the other girls at the Fires, and I have wondered. But...I have not yet felt the call, Mother. I think Earth Mother has been waiting also."
Lana's slanted eyes scrutinized Alin's grave face. Then she said softly, "When the time comes, and the spirit of Earth Mother fills your womb, then you will feel the call."
Alin's brown head nodded in serene understanding. "Sa," she said. "It will be so."
Lana sighed. "It will hurt," she warned. "It always does the first time. The barrier must be broken. And a man is not gentle when his blood is pounding with the drums of the Fires."
"I am not afraid," Alin said.
Lana said, "You will be a worthy successor to me, my daughter. So. Then I shall send for Jus."
"Na," Alin said quickly. She saw the surprise spring into Lana's eyes, and looked away before she could also see the anger certain to follow. "Jus is your mate, Mother. He will still be chief of the men, no matter whom I choose. I understand that. All the Men's Cave will understand that. I do not need to choose him as mate for him to continue in his office."
"I am the one who does not understand, Alin." All the tenderness had left Lana's voice. "Of course it must be Jus," she said. "The mate of the Mother is chief of the men. That is the law."
"You are Earth Mother, Mistress," Alin said. "My making the Sacred Marriage will not change that."
"Of course it will not change that," Lana snapped. "Nevertheless, the man who makes the Sacred Marriage is always the chief of the men. It has always been so."
Alin felt her heart pounding in her chest, and she drew a long, steadying breath. "But always before it was the Mistress who made the Sacred Marriage," she said. "This time it will be different. I know, all the tribe knows, that you are the Mistress, and your mate will continue to be chief of the men. My mate will be merely...the god at Winter Fires."
"And who is to be your mate?" Lana asked in her hardest voice. "Who is so much more to your taste than Jus?"
Alin swallowed. "Ban," she said.
The fair, faintly graying eyebrows rose. "Ban? Ban is just a boy."
"And I am just a maiden, Mother. I will choose Ban."
Lana leaned back upon one elbow. She said thoughtfully, "Jus frightens you, Alin?"
Na, Alin thought. He does not frighten me. But Tor is right. I want a man who will be loyal to me. She could not say that to her mother, though.
"You can control him," Lana was saying. "He is like the bull: strong and of the earth. He is not one of those men I warned you about."
"I know," Alin replied. "It is not that."
What to say? Alin thought back on Lana's words, saw the way. "I am thinking that perhaps he is too much like the bull for me, Mother," she said. "Perhaps he does frighten me a little."
A small, secret smile pulled at the corner of Lana's mouth. She said, "When once you have felt the fire of Earth Mother in your loins, then a man like Jus will not frighten you. But you are a maiden. Perhaps you are right, Alin. Perhaps for your first time Ban will be best. He is a boy, but he is man enough to make the Sacred Marriage with you. He may even be man enough to get you with child. Sometimes it is the young ones who can best do that."
Alin bowed her head and did not reply.
"All right," Lana said with sudden decision. "Then I shall send for Ban."
"Winter Fires! Winter Fires!" The words were ringing around the tribe. "The Mistress has called for Winter Fires!"
Again and again, as the news circulated from the Men's and the Women's Caves to the married folks' huts, the same question was asked again and again: "Who is to make the Sacred Marriage this year?"
And the answer, which was always given with a lilt of excitement in the voice, was: "Alin. Alin is to be the goddess this year. And she has named Ban to be the god!"
For twenty years it had been Lana. For all those years had the tribe sung and danced while Lana and her chosen mate made the Sacred Marriage to ensure the fertility of the tribe and the herds. For the last three years, since Alin had reached womanhood, the tribe had expected to hear that Lana had resigned her role to the younger woman. For the last three years they had been disappointed.
"It is time," they said around their hearth fires as the night closed in and they felt the cold of the coming winter creeping into their huts and swirling around the stone floors of their caves. "There must be youth and fire in order for the beasts to bear. Lana will still be Mistress, but it is right that Alin should make the Sacred Marriage."
In the men's cave the hunters were congratulating the young dark-haired boy who had been chosen by Earth Mother to give his sap to the ritual mating that would ensure the continued fertility of the animals they all lived upon.
Ban laughed, his dark eyes glowing with pleasure, his blood running hot at the very thought of what was to happen. He and Alin were of an age, and together they had learned how to hunt under the tutelage of old Lar. Of necessity, there had always been a distance between them. He, after all, was only a boy, and she was the Chosen One of the Mother. But in an unspoken way, they had been friends. That was why she had chosen him, he thought, as finally he lay down in the skins of his sleeping place in the men's cave and tried to compose himself for rest.
Usually he fell asleep as soon as his head touched the warmth of his skins, but tonight he lay awake long after the heavy breathing of the other men told him they were asleep. He lay awake, in an almost trancelike state, staring into the flames of the fire. In his mind's eye he was seeing Alin, seeing the lithe slimness of her, the sweet curves of her breasts and hips, the warm brown of her hair that was so unusually streaked with threads of gold, the huge long-lashed brown of her eyes. He felt his phallus stir and become erect at his thoughts. His heart pounded.
The Mother would approve, he thought, as he felt his manhood rise hard and taut with life. The Mother would say Alin had chosen well.
She was so beautiful, Alin. He had always thought so. And soon...soon would come the drums and the flutes and the dance of the mating beasts. Soon it would be he who was the one to follow Earth Mother deep into the recesses of her sacred cave. At the thought he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up as straight as his phallus.
Deep, deep he would go, into the bowels of the earth with her, and there they would make the Sacred Marriage together, his sap waking her womb with life for the tribe, life for the herds, life for the world of men.
He quivered and shook. It was almost too much, the mystery of it, the sensation.
The man who had been appointed fire guard for the night stirred and went to throw on another log. The movement between him and the leaping flames broke Ban's trance. He blinked, turned over, and willed himself to go to sleep.