A Glibertarians Exclusive: Setting Suns, Part I
The Mediterranean coast – 28,000 years ago
In a seaside cave, in the middle of a howling wilderness, a young woman woke, stretched, scratched her ear, and looked out into the morning sunshine. Her name was Eba. She was considered a pretty girl by the standards of her people: Short and stocky but gently curved, with thick, wavy brown hair, wide cheekbones, large eyes the color of the sky, a broad, gently shaped nose, and gracefully arched brow ridges.
Ten summers earlier, Eba’s clan had crossed the mountains. Now the Runners were following them. Eba had never seen a Runner, but the clan’s elders spoke of them often: Taller than the People, with longer arms and legs and narrow, flat faces, talking constantly in their odd, chattering language and swarming over the land in great flocks, driving the game herds and the People before them. Some of the People sought them out, lived with them, and were absorbed into their large tribes, but most moved on to avoid them.
Eba could barely remember the long journey across the mountains. She had only been three summers old. It was a long walk, and her father had carried her a good part of the way, especially through the high places where the air was thin. The hunting was not good along the way, and several of the older people had dropped out of the journey. One night, as they camped overnight on a high, stony slope, Eba’s grandfather Hwoogh had slipped away into the night alone. Eba awoke that morning with the vague memory, as though from a dream, of Hwoogh hugging her and leaving his share of dried bison meat with her. “Eat well, little one,” the white-haired old man had whispered, and when Eba woke, he was gone. She cried all morning, even as the clan packed their few possessions to continue their journey.
Eba had loved the old man, who was kind to her, always sharing his portion of whatever food was available. She was sad for days, knowing that Hwoogh had walked away in the night to die, to give his children and grandchildren a better chance to live. But such was the way of the People in bad times, and during that long walk, times were bad indeed.
Now they were settled, all fourteen of Eba’s clan of the People, in a small cave close to the sea, near the great rock that another people thousands of years later would call Gibraltar.
The cave was comfortable enough. The entrance faced south to catch the sun, and the entrance was high enough to let out smoke from cooking fires. From the cave mouth, a small shelf of rock protruded over the beach, offering a fine view. The mammoth, bison and horse from their old home were not much in evidence, but there was ample smaller game, fish, and shellfish to eat. The weather was fine, warmer than in their old home, with snow a rare occurrence even in the shortest days of winter.
With Hwoogh having set his feet on the Star-Path to the next world, his brother Tuk was now the oldest of the clan’s men. As Hwoogh had done before him, Tuk wore the crown of eagle feathers that showed he was the People’s elder and thus their intercessor with the spirits of the land and the game. He conducted the rites that brought the People luck. Besides the elder Tuk, there was Hwoogh’s son Hoo, Eba’s father, and his first mate Eda, Eba’s mother. Hoo had a second mate, Pok, who had two sons, Gula and Tep. Tuk’s mate had died many summers ago, but his daughter Tlee and his son Kleg were with the People still, as was Kleg’s mate Fuu and her son Vekk. Tlee’s mate was also dead, but her two-year old son Ghee was with the group.
This was the clan that lived in the cave that faced the sea.
Eba stood up. She picked up her horse-skin wrap, stuck her head through the opening in the center and let the garment drape over her. Then she belted it at her waist with a broad leather strap to which was fastened a small pouch containing her few tools – a flint knife, a reindeer-bone hide scraper, a few ivory awls.
She walked out of the cave into the summer sunshine. Her father and Pok’s sons sat just outside the opening, inspecting their hunting spears. “Father,” Eba greeted her sire. “Gula. Tep.”
“Eba,” Hoo smiled at her. “Gather wood this morning. We will go hunt up on the highland today. Tuk tells us the day is favorable. If he is right, and the spirits of the game smile on us, we will need wood for smoking meat.”
“I will,” Eba agreed.
“Maybe we’ll run into another clan,” Gula teased. “Find you a mate, eh?”
Eba ignored the comment. She had no prospect of a mate unless one came from another clan. It was taboo to mate the sons of a parent’s siblings, and there were no other males available. There was not even a man with whom she could have been second mate, which had been Pok’s only choice.
But the clan had not encountered another group of the People in several summers.
“I told Eda and Pok I would help gather shellfish this morning,” Eba replied. “I will gather wood when that is done.”
“Good,” her father said. “We may be gone for two or three days. There is time. We cannot leave until Tuk says words over us.”
Later that morning, Tuk emerged from the back of the cave where he had been lost in meditation. The clan all gathered to watch. They fell silent as Tuk approached.
Tuk called the hunters to stand by the communal fire and waved his feathered wand over them, murmuring the words that would bring the spirits’ attention to their hunt. He touched a coal from the fire to an ivory bowl of herbs, inhaled the smoke through a reed and blew it on the hunters, staring sharply into their eyes as he did so. Then he walked to the back of the cave and ran his hand over the pattern of crossed lines etched into the rock, the pattern that represented the clan. He breathed more smoke over the etching.
Finally he walked back out to where Hoo, Gula and Tep stood. He held up his feather wand and slashed it downward. “Go,” he said. “The spirits will favor you.”
The three hunters nodded. They picked up their spears and tool-pouches and headed for the steep path that led from the beach to “above,” the grassy plain at the top of the headland.
“They will do well,” Tuk assured the clan. “It is a good day to hunt.”
Eba watched them go before returning to the seaside. There were mussels yet to gather, to ensure the clan would eat no matter what the results of the hunt were. She knew Tuk was practiced in the ways of the spirits, but still wondered if long-gone Hwoogh would have been better at persuading the fickle, invisible beings.
The hunters were gone for three days. When they returned, the sun had set, and the clan was seated around the fire, watching the Star-Path work its way across the evening sky. Hoo, Gula and Tep made their way down the path to the beach, carrying a dismembered red deer hind.
Tuk stood up and went to greet the hunters. “I knew it was a good day to hunt,” he proclaimed, taking his share of the credit for the kill. He looked keenly at the hunters in the dim light from the fire. “But there is more to tell.”
“Yes,” Hoo agreed. “We saw more than just this deer. The Runners, Uncle – they have come across the mountains. We saw two flocks of them.”
Tuk nodded. “Give the deer to the women to cut up for smoking,” he said. “Tomorrow, we will talk about this. All of us, the whole clan, will talk about this.”
Gazing at the fire,
Burning by the water,
Before he speaks,
The world around us quiets.
With eyes as sharp as arrows,
And turning to the fire,
He clears the air and cuts it with a feather.
Note: This one isn’t a Bob Dylan creation but was in fact written by The Grateful Dead’s Donna Jean Godchaux. You can hear the original here.