Chapter One - Totan, the Hetman.
BEFORE the gloomy recesses of Castillo, a great cave in Northern Spain, squatted a grotesque figure. Totan, it was, hetman of a strange, beastlike tribe of cave folk. His people, to the number of eighty or more, clad in the skins of beasts and armed with wooden clubs and javelins, were behind him gathered about a roaring fire. Totan scowled as he watched a party of men climbing toward him up the mountain side. His followers stared down with hungry wolfish eyes. The newcomers, like those crouching on the cave threshold, were short burly creatures with bent backs, shuffling gait, and thick, ungainly limbs. Their bodies were covered like animals with coarse hair. The gaunt, hollow-cheeked faces, with their small eyes and repulsive low-cheeked faces, with their small eyes and repulsive features, showed the pangs of hunger.
In the van clambered Gonch the Muskman. He was greeted in sullen silence, for it was plain to be seen that neither he nor his companions brought food of any kind to the ravenous horde awaiting them. Totan rose to his feet with rage in his face. He was a giant in strength, a grotesque and misshapen Hercules, bandy-legged and short-armed. His head was apparently without neck, so closely did it set upon his brawny shoulders. His low forehead sloped to a pair of heavily bone-ribbed eyes and thick aquiline nose. His big bull teeth gleamed from his protruding muzzle.
"No food?" he roared. "Again our hunters return empty-handed. We must eat. Who shall it be?" The men cringed and stirred uneasily as his murderous glare moved from one to the other. But when his eye lit on the leader of the hunting party, Totan paused in his outburst of rage. He stared with astonishment at the sight of something in the Muskman's right hand. "What is that I see?" he demanded.
A look of triumph came over Gonch's crafty face. He opened his hand and held it palm upward so that all could see. There lay a superb flint blade: large, well- formed and keen-edged. It was the finest stone weapon that the Castilians had ever seen.
"A marvelous flint," said Gonch. "It was made by the Mammoth Man."
Totan emitted an astonished grunt.
"It was in the low country," Gonch said, pointing eastward to the rock-strewn plains bordering the River Pas. "We found a man."
He paused impressively. Not a sound broke the stillness.
"He was a strange man," Gonch continued. "He lay on the ground. His flesh was wasted from his bones. To escape death he gave me this flint. He said the Mammoth Man made it."
"The Mammoth Man ? Who is he?" growled Totan.
"Hetman of a far-off tribe," Gonch replied. "Leader of skilled hunters. His hunters prosper mightily. He makes weapons like this for his men."
Totan sneered incredulously. "Their leader a flint worker? A fine hetman!"
"It is true. Their hetman is a flint worker. Here is his flint. But the man also told lies. I killed him."
"Good food gone to waste," Totan growled. "You should have brought his carcass."
Gonch rubbed his stomach with one open hand and grinned like a hyena. Gone to waste? Hardly. Gonch was never guilty of such carelessness. For Gonch was a prince of cannibals. His body reeked like a hyena with the stench of horrible feastings. For that reason, men called him the Muskman.
"The stranger lied about the Mammoth Man; a giant mightier than the Hairy Elephant, he said; one who had made the beasts his slaves; his home, a lion's den; and yet a man who will neither hunt nor fight."
"Coward," sneered the hetman.
"So," Gonch agreed. "Yet, see his flint. He who made it can make more. If he made them for us, hunting would be good. We should feast always,"
"Aye, that's true," said Totan. "Does he live very far off ?"
"Very, very far," replied Gonch gazing to the northeast. "His is a tribe of big, strong men. Their home is a valley. A valley with a river winding between walls of stone. A valley with fresh, sweet grass and much game. His men hunt with these flints."
Totan looked at the ground and shook his head." Far away. heir men big and strong, armed with fine flints. Our warriors could not fight them with sticks. We cannot get the fine weapons."
Gonch looked craftily at him. "It can be done," he answered complacently. "I, Gonch, can do it."
The crowd of listening cave men stared. Totan only sneered.
"You? Be careful with your boasting, or you shall be the choice for our next meal."
Gonch shuddered. He feared and hated the giant hetman. Had it not been for Totan, he would not have long contented himself with second place among the Castilian cave men. It was his crafty brain against the hetman's stronger body. So far, Totan had the best of it.
"It does not need one stronger than the Mammoth Man," said Gonch. "I will be only a fox among wolves, in the Mammoth Man's country, and secure the blades through cunning."
"Ugh!" growled Totan scornfully. "If you mean to steal them, you will not get many. You would do better to ask for them."
A chorus of grunts greeted this sally. Gonch would have torn the hetman to pieces had he been able to. But he withheld his rage and said simply, "Agh, they may keep their blades. I will neither steal nor ask for them. With the coming of next morning light, I will go to the far-off country and see the Mammoth Man and him alone. I will either persuade or compel him to do as I wish. When I return, I will bring with me . . ."
"The flints !" shouted many voices.
"No, the Mammoth Man himself," and Gonch gazed calmly around him at the rows of staring eyes and gaping mouths. "He shall become our weapon maker."
Gonch toiled until dusk making ready for the beginning of his undertaking on the morrow. His was no small task and he overlooked nothing in the way of preparation. Those were days when even a short journey invited many dangers and privations, particularly for one traveling alone. Men went about - in small bands as a rule and rarely ventured far from their caves.
His equipment consisted of a hide, a wooden javelin with fire-hardened point and a flint ax. The latter, his main reliance, was his recently acquired blade bound to a long wooden haft. He had spent much time upon this his masterpiece. "No man with such a weapon, need starve," he calculated. Had Gonch thought otherwise, he would never have considered making the journey. The hide he carried was intended as a body covering when he stopped at night to rest. Provisions he had none because the Castilian larder was as bare as a bone.
At sunrise the next day, he stood at the cave mouth fully equipped for his perilous undertaking. He warmed himself by the fire which burned at the threshold. This was to be the last time he did so for many a long day.
Every Castilian was on hand to bid the Muskman farewell. The children, those which famine and disease had spared, looked upon him wonderingly. The women admired. The men had caught the spirit of this adventure. Any or all of them would have been glad to accompany, him, had he but said the word. But the word was not said. This was a one-man project requiring much thought and care for its successful execution and Gonch would trust nobody but himself.
His path led directly eastward along the northern slopes of the Cantabrian Mountains. It was a strange country to him, once he had traveled several days journey beyond the province of Castilo. Its inhabitants—men and beasts—were strange too and looked askance at the intruder—a lone man armed with a flint ax and wooden spear. However, Gonch led a charmed life. He met occasional bands of roving hunters, some of which he fled from and others avoided by concealing himself.
Animals were far more numerous than human beings. Gonch encountered them everywhere—horse, bison and long-horned ox of the meadowlands; moose, hoar and stag of the forest; and other lesser creatures.
He encountered lions and panthers before he reached the level country but he managed to escape them all. He survived hunger and cold. Storm, torrent, avalanche; all swept above and around him leaving him unscratched. It now seemed as though some kind fate had chosen to watch over this evil man; evil because he had never known good and whose bold purpose would never have been undertaken had it not promised to result in his own selfish advancement. He arrived safely at the western terminus of the Pyrenees Mountains and avoided the difficulties of their passage by deviating northward to the shores of the Gascon Gulf, then eastward once more into the lowlands of southwestern France. When finally the Dordogne River was passed, he adopted extra precautions and took more pains to conceal himself, for now all signs pointed to the proximity of human beings.
A mile or more upstream from where he had crossed the Dordogne, the river was joined by one of its northern tributaries, the Vezere. The latter meandered through a deep rock channel with stately cliffs and fertile meadows alternating along its banks. The cliffs in many places extended almost to the river margin; in others, they lay far back. The valley between them was but a wide ditch cut through a limestone plateau with a river winding through it from side to side. "A river winds through a broad valley between walls of stone;" Gonch suddenly recalled the stranger's words. He glowed with the excitement of discovery and gazed eagerly at the distant cliffs which as much as said: "This is man's country; probably the home of him you have come to see." Soon he observed a faint haze ascending above the rocks and so he proceeded in that direction, following the right bank of the Vezere or rather the border of the plateau which overlooked it. Finally his nose caught whiffs of smoke and he saw white wreaths ascending above the cliffs ahead of him.