Chapter Two - Strong, Young Hunters.
FAR away from the home of the Castilians, another band of cave men gathered about a fire. The fire that burned brightly under the rock-shelter of an overhanging cliff presented a cheery aspect. To the cave men it meant health and comfort; they treasured it as they did their lives for often it stood between them and death.
Strong young hunters they were, with hairy, muscular bodies and keen, clear eyes. Some wore leopard skins, others shaggy hides of the bison, reindeer and long-horned ox. Close beside each man lay his weapon—a lustrous flint gleaming in the firelight from every long shaft and handle. There was good feeling in the party; they laughed and talked as they enjoyed the warmth of the fire and the flesh of the game they had recently killed.
One of the band detached himself from his fellows and descended the river bank to drink. It was a young man, an unusually young one to be consorting with hunters and warriors. He was on hands and knees bending over the water when something stirred in the bushes above. Some beast lay concealed close to where the boy was slaking his thirst. Gradually its head and back rose above the green foliage, as a large panther prepared to spring.
The big cat was in the very act of launching itself upon the lad when a loud yell made it pause. The next moment, a man with uplifted ax bounded down the rock wall and dashed upon the beast. A terrific commotion ensued as the cave men seized their weapons and leaped to their feet shouting and yelling. They saw the newcomer charge into the bushes. A giant cat's head and shoulders rose up to meet him and in a jiffy, man and panther were struggling to the death.
The stranger struck one blow. He could not determine its effect nor strike a second for the beast was upon him. But by that time a dozen warriors had reached his side. A well-aimed blow on the head of the animal loosened its clutch and a few more stretched it motionless. Meanwhile the stranger was cared for, his wounds bathed with water and bound with leaves. The whole band had now gathered to look curiously at the wounded stranger and the carcass of the big beast. "He has saved Kutnar from death!" said one thankfully.
"Yes, I know," said another—the boy who now wiped the stranger's face. "Who is he?"
"He came from the sky," spoke up a third. "I saw him flying through the air."
The stranger was by this time sufficiently recovered to sit up. He was big-framed, thick-set and well muscled but with a pinched and gaunt appearance like that of one who has felt the pangs of hunger. His features were coarse and his eyes looked craftily around; his glance paused a moment at the fine weapons the men carried, then at the curious, glad faces of the crowd. What the stranger saw evidently pleased him. A gleam of satisfaction glowed in his face.
"Who are you? From where did you come?" asked one.
"He should be called Muskman for he smells like a cave beast," said another. "Perhaps he came here to hunt."
"To hunt panthers," the boy laughed. "A strange odor, but what of that? He saved me from death."
The stranger now looked closely at the boy he had saved—a sturdy lad of about sixteen years, clean-cut and well muscled. A skin pouch filled with large pebbles hung from his shoulder.
"My name is Gonch. I came as a friend," said the man rubbing his sore head. "Had it been otherwise, I would not have helped you. The cave beasts are my enemies. I have not yet washed from my body the taint of their killing. One panther more; what does it matter?"
Those about him lifted their eyebrows and stared at him who made so light of his prowess.
"Killer of flesh-eating beasts? That is good," said one of the men, "but he has not yet told us why he comes here."
"Who are you to question a chief ?", retorted Gonch scornfully. "I will answer to only one; him I have come to see."
"Who is that?" asked the man abashed by the other's authoritative tone.
"The Mammoth Man." Gonch gazed from one huntsman to another, as if to see the effect of this. All faces were now turned toward the boy.
"I can take you to him," said the latter. "When you are able to walk, we will go."
"Where?" asked Gonch.
The lad pointed up the bank to where a line of cliffs extended far into the valley. "He lives there; I live there too. We can go together."
"Who are you?"
"Kutnar," replied the boy.
His face expanded in a broad grin. "I can show you where you wish to go as well as anybody, for I am the son of the Mammoth Man." Gonch, as he followed the boy, chuckled softly. "I have reached my goal," he muttered to himself. "This is surely the domain of the maker of the wonderful flints."
The Rock of Moustier, a truncated pyramid of buff limestone, was but a portion of the distant plateau, jutting far into the valley to the right of the bank of the Vezere River.
Three men all carrying heavy burdens were ascending a steep causeway of piled stones to the threshold of a cave in the rocks, while above, stood a fourth, waiting to receive them. He was a large man of mighty chest and shoulders and yet neither overfleshed nor muscle-bound but fibred and corded from neck to heel like a fight-trained lion. The newcomers were big strong men but he who stood upon the ledge seemed a giant beside them. They addressed him with a certain deference that marked the larger man as a person of more than ordinary importance and squatted down to rest, setting down their burdens upon the rock platform. These consisted of several bison hides, bundles of fagots, a leg of venison and several large stones about the size of a man's head.
The giant's interest centered upon the stones. He selected one of them and held it in the palm of his left hand. Using a large pebble as a maul, he struck the stone a resounding blow, whereupon it separated in two halves as cleanly as though cut with a knife. The newly fractured surfaces were wax-like in appearance and of a lustrous grey color. The giant smiled broadly and nodded to the three men. He seemed much pleased with the stones and well he might be, for they were the finest of beeswax flint. All about him were strewn chips of similar material; near the cave entrance lay many much used mauls and hammer stones of various shapes and sizes.
The giant set aside the flints and hammer stone and brought out from the grotto a small hide full of finished flints, all nicely shaped, edged and pointed. They were of various shapes and sizes, each one designed for a special purpose; small tools for scraping hides, knife-blades, dart-heads and axes. The three men gathered about them expressing by word and gesture their appreciation of every piece. One of the men gathered up the four corners of the hide and swung it and its contents over his shoulder; then the three descended the causeway to the valley below.
The giant weapon maker was preparing to turn again to the flint lumps when he caught sight of two figures making their way up the causeway toward him. The giant smiled upon the smaller one—a boy—then gazed inquiringly at the other. The pair reached the ledge. As the unknown stepped upon the rock platform, he bent low and laid down his ax, with much ceremony, then stood erect with both hands raised high above his head. Strangers with good intentions always behaved themselves in this manner—presenting themselves narmed and at the mercy of those they visited. The boy came forward and for several minutes spoke in low tones to the giant, glancing from time to time at his companion. The flint worker's face fairly beamed as he listened.
The youth explained the circumstances of his meeting with the stranger, enlarging upon his own narrow escape from the panther and how his benefactor had so nearly paid the penalty of death for the part he had chosen to play.
"Good," said the giant when the boy had finished. "Friends should ever help each other." With that, he picked up the stranger's ax and presented it to him, then led his guest to a fire burning near-by.
Gonch's brain was in a whirl. He had accomplished wonders in a single day. So long had he known naught but hostility from man and beast that this peaceful reaction from danger and privation, to say nothing of his recent mauling, nigh overwhelmed him. He passed one hand across his forehead where the blood had not yet dried.
"The boy tells me that you leaped upon the panther from the sky," the giant now said. "Men do not leap from the sky, however. How and why did you come here?"
Gonch felt the other's piercing gaze directed full upon him. The deep-set eyes seemed to he searching his inmost soul.
"Mine is a restless spirit," he replied. "It has led me through many lands to see strange and wonderful things. I have been told of the Mammoth Man, maker of the finest flint blades the world has ever seen. Are you he?"
"I am called many names," said the stalwart flint worker with a twinkle of his deep-set eyes. "To some I am known as Pic, the Weapon Maker; to others . . . but no matter. One name is as good as another. Yes, I am the Mammoth Man." He folded his arms across his broad chest and even as he looked kindly upon his visitor, his eyes as much as said: "Can it be possible that mere curiosity has brought you here to see me?"
Gonch was looking with evident interest at the massive frame and muscles of his host.
"I helped your boy," he answered. "So perhaps you can look upon me as a friend."
Pic's eyes softened. He looked down at the ground and replied sadly. "Yes, you have done me a great service. Since his mother died, he is all I have."
"Why not get another ?" the stranger suggested. "Women are plentiful enough. A man like you could have any or all of them. There are many fine ones in the southland where I come from."
Pic scowled and raised his hand in protest. "She is gone," he muttered hoarsely. "None can take her place; and of this you need say no more."
Gonch was taken aback by this peculiar display of sentiment. "One woman?" he sniffed. But finding that Pic had declared himself on that point, Gonch went on to tell of other advantages of the southland; its fine climate, abundance of game and the strong men who lived there. In spite of his eloquence, Pic remained unmoved. Whether he believed or not, he showed no more than ordinary interest. There was a note of sarcasm in the flint worker's voice as he made brief comment. "If this is so, why do you come here?" to which in spite of his eloquent tongue Gonch could find no ready answer.
The stranger took another tack. "Men say that you are a mighty hunter," he began; "and that you scorn such small game as the ox and bison, reserving your great strength for the Lion and Hairy Elephant."
Pic's nostrils swelled. There was a sinister glitter. in his eyes as he directed them full upon his guest. "Who says that?" he growled. Then without waiting for a reply, he added: "Men who are wise, do not speak to me of the Lion and Mammoth in the same breath."
"Agh, I forgot," muttered Gonch completely abashed. "It was of another they spoke. You are a flint worker who neither hunts nor fights."
Pic scowled at this impudence and was on the point of replying angrily, when he checked himself as a thought suddenly occurred to him. He looked sternly. at the stranger. "Hunt? Fight?" he said. "It is well that you reminded me. You are a stranger here and should know our rules. Listen to them and heed them well for it is quite necessary that they be most carefully observed."
"Rules?" Gonch awaited curiously. His host now spoke in a tone of authority and yet he had mentioned "ours." A chieftain would have said "my rules."
"There are three of these rules," said Pic in his most impressive manner, holding up three fingers by way of illustration. "The first concerns our young men. It is not permitted for them to do any unnecessary quarrelling among themselves. If they should quarrel, it must be a fair fight and for some good reason."
Gonch looked incredulous.
"Our second rule is equally simple." Pic went on. "Also equally important. There must be no waste of game. The valley abounds with animals of every kind and they are easily caught. We wish these conditions to continue. Without beef or venison, we would starve and so these animals should neither be alarmed nor driven away. Men must not kill more than they need."
Gonch gasped as the true meaning of this astounding utterance forced itself upon him. "Simple rules indeed and a simpleton who says them," he sneered under his breath. "This Pic has gone crazy with his flint working. No wonder his people put him here by himself where he can do no harm."
But outwardly, Gonch appeared only an attentive listener. "Good," he said, "I understand. These are your chieftain's orders." "Yes, our chieftain's orders."
"And this chieftain, who is he?" asked Gonch.
"You will know him in good time," was the reply. "You will also learn that he is a man not to be trifled with. And now for our third rule, an important one. which you must be sure to remember. Two animals, the Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros must never be hunted: No man shall harm or annoy them in any way. - The penalty is death."
This was too much. Gonch laughed like a hyena in Pic's f ace. "Death no doubt," he sneered. "Those two animals can take good care of themselves. But you have forgotten one: there is a third."
"What?" demanded Pic, his eyes blazing.
"The Cave Lion. No fool would . . ." and then Gonch wished he could have swallowed his words before he said them, for the giant flint worker's face fairly flamed with terrible rage. He thrust his great head forward and bared his teeth in Gonch's face. He extended his right arm. Gonch felt the hugh hand closing like a vise upon his wrist. An ounce more pressure would have meant crushed and broken bones. He cowered sick with terror as the threatening jaws opened wide as though to tear his throat.
"Meddler!" roared Pic. "Kill the Cave Lion if you can or let him kill you; either way, it would be good riddance; but the other two beasts are my friends—friends, do you hear? If you dare disobey my commands and harm one of them, I will tear you to pieces with my teeth and hands."
He released his grip upon Gonch as he said this. His face relapsed into its former calmness and the storm-wrath rolled away as quickly as it had come.
"You saved my boy," he said in a voice so gentle that Gonch stared at him amazed at the sudden change.
"I am not ungrateful and will treat you as a friend, provided you do not break our rules. Be wise; observe them and all will be well. Enough; we now understand each other. You are welcome here as long as you choose to stay." With that he turned away and busied himself with the fire. So completely had his former tranquility returned, that when the boy Kutnar, who had been dozing all this time, awakened, his father and guest appeared on such good terms, he had not the slightest suspicion of anything unusual having happened while he slept.