[P]robably the finest [book] I have ever read. . . . [F]illed my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
While clans of the far north like the Kah Lec were peaceable both among themselves as well as with other clans they met, other more truculent groups had moved out of Africa twenty thousand years before. These groups for the most part remained in the southern expanses of Asia interbreeding with Neanderthals to the extent that a fifth of their DNA contained Neanderthal genes. As they expanded their range to the east they interbred with any Homo sapiens they encountered along the way as well. This group, known today as the Denisovans, possessed dark skin and hair and deeply melanated eyes. Their modern descendants live in the archipelagos of the Pacific all the way to Australia. Yet in those days they were widespread through all of southern Asia with a few scattered out across Mongolia and into Siberia.
One tribe of these Denisovans was that led by Meeko, a robust bully who brutalized all those he didn’t fear. He stalked among his tribesmen with his club in hand appearing unaware of an underling’s existence until it suited him to turn on his victim with a vengeful display of verbal displeasure or physical cruelty. He was unrelenting in his constant fury. The fearsome mane of black hair encircling his wild face accentuated his foul temper and drew the victim’s gaze to his single, shining dark eye. It was a face that would not have seemed out of place on a gargoyle scowling down from the roofline of a medieval cathedral. The missing eye had been gouged out during the clan’s peregrination through what is today northeast China. It was in a tangle with a smaller but lightning-fast East Asian during one of Meeko’s attempts at domination by threat that he lost his eye to the unexpected slash of a flint blade. He had thrown his own weapon to the ground and run away bent over at the waist, hand over the empty socket, screaming in shock and pain.
Forced from the area after Meeko’s ignominious rout, the tribe had fled northward. They survived by thieving and continued to seize breeding age females from smaller clans they encountered along their way. But unrelenting strife brought on by their propensity for wanton, indiscriminate killing and theft of food, clothes, and women forced them northeast along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk up to their present location six hundred miles north of the Kamchatka Peninsula. They were now encamped on the desolate edge of the land bridge, the exit out of Asia. One of their hunting parties stalking caribou that they sorely needed for food that evening huddled only a thousand yards from Kah Li.
Tekla spotted the herd in the distance grazing contentedly along a shallow stream. He motioned Kah Li over. If they could each bring down a caribou, their trailing clan would have fresh meat that evening. Kah Li agreed to begin a stalk and so they laid out a plan of attack. Tekla would work his way north of the herd and try to get close enough for a kill. That would stampede the herd south where Kah Li would be hiding giving her a chance at them as the herd charged by her in panicked disarray. Tekla pointed to a gray outcropping of weathered rock in the distance and indicated he would give her time to get into position there before he attacked from the north.
Kah Li moved quickly along behind a brow of earth making her way around toward the outcrop. As she approached, she was surprised at the large fissures running through the stone. She paused to sniff the air but she was upwind of her rocky objective. She moved closer hoping there were none of the tawny beasts she had seen several days before lying in wait among the crevasses. Blocked by the gentle rise of the ground, Tekla and the herd were now out of her line of sight. She had no need for stealth at this point and trotted boldly into the midst of the Denisovan hunters gathered among the rocks.
The tumultuous reaction of the surprised hunters startled the herd into a stampede directly toward Tekla who lay hiding in the grass waiting for Kah Li to get into position. As the caribou hurtled past, Tekla leaped up and speared the nearest bringing it down instantly. That gave him time to recover his spear and bring down a second before the herd thundered over the rise. It was enough to satisfy the clan’s needs for many days. He sat by the kills cleaning and reordering his gear as he waited for Kah Li to join him. After a time when he found himself still sitting alone he began to worry. Standing, he surveyed open tundra under high fleecy clouds and a bright sky full of light. In the distance a band of dark hunters lumbered off toward the east.
Tekla ran to the outcrop where Kah Li was meant to hide to ambush the herd he had prepared to drive toward her. After searching through the labyrinthine crevasses, he climbed up on the domed summit but found no sign of her. Only the wavering silhouettes of the departing hunters atop a far-off rise broke the still horizon. He clamored back down and scoured the western approach to the outcrop trying to pick up her trail. He finally found it and tracked her into the rocks following a fissure until it exited on the opposite side. There the spoor became confused with other tracks. Tekla dropped to his hands and knees and lowered his nose to the ground. There was human scent not Kah Li’s. Not like any human scent he had encountered before. It was an unpleasant, malevolent odor. From his low angle of view, he looked out of the fissure to the east and saw plainly the muted sheen of matted grass leading away across the plain. Kah Li had been taken.
Tekla faced a decision. Follow the hunters to their destination then go back a half-day for help or go back for help immediately. It took him only a moment to decide. The hunting party was still in sight. They appeared to be a good-sized band. He was one. Yet his judgment was clouded at the thought of Kah Li in their hands. He was sure he could close in on the dark hunters and remain undetected. But a lone human out on the plains was in real danger from more than a group of human hunters. Wolves and the strange tawny beast they had seen two days past would welcome a chance encounter with a lone human. And while the summers in those far northern latitudes never really had a true night, the wolves were more active in the twilight when the eyesight of prey was less keen.
The lead hunter who had borne Kah Li back to the camp over his shoulder dumped her onto the damp river sand with a groan, grateful to be done with the load. She lay bound hand and foot as the encampment crowded around to gawp at her. Several dark skinned women in shaggy hides pulled at her light hair and uttered cries of astonishment. But Kah Li heard no familiar words in the speech around her. Finally, the hunter who had carried her in pulled her to her feet and unbound her hands. He spoke some unintelligible words to her and signed but she understood none of it. She signed back using as simple phrases as she could muster that she wanted her feet unbound. That brought a ripple of laughter from the gathering. At least they had understood. The hunter pushed her to the ground and untied her feet pulling her boots off as he did so. Her heart sank. Her simple plan had been to run. She was sure they couldn’t catch her once she was free of the edge of the camp. But without her boots her feet would be in shreds soon after she left the sandy river bottom where these dark people camped. She struggled back to a standing position and brushed herself off before studying the gathering around her. It was larger than her clan and had far more women. And the whole place had the repulsive odor of squalor. She signed to them asking who they were. In the back of the crowd a lone brown-haired woman with skin as fair as hers watched. Then the woman signed back in nearly perfect syntax, “I am like you. There is danger all about. Be quiet for now.”
Kah Li nodded and turned her attention to several women studying her boots. One of the women tried to pull them on but her feet were much too broad to fit inside. Then they studied the stitching along the seams and muttered among themselves glancing periodically at Kah Li. She stepped cautiously over to them and held out her hand for the boots but a deep male voice bellowed out causing the women to start with fright. They passed her boots to the approaching male. He was larger than the others with a head fringed in wild hair that writhed in the breeze as if it were alive. Like the other males and many of the women, his jaw was powerfully built. Kah Li jumped slightly when she noticed he regarded her with only a single eye embedded in the creases of his face. He called her over, but she stood defiantly fixed to her spot. His next call was as piercing and thunderous as the call of the great mammoths in rut. He raised his club and shook it at her. She stepped quickly to him.
He spoke to her in what she took to mean, “I am Meeko,” as he considered her with a devouring scowl. Then he lifted her shirt to peer beneath before pulling it off over her head. She stood barefoot in only her leggings and her tool kit tied around her waist as he turned his head simian-like from side to side studying her. He, too, pulled at her blonde hair and thumbed it between his fingers in puzzlement. Then noticing her tool kit he attempted to snatch it from around her waist but the belt was well-made, and he ended up slamming Kah Li’s slender form into his chest. The odor was overwhelming and she struggled backwards untying the kit and passing it to him. He grabbed it from her hand and peered inside. After rummaging around, he withdrew the spare spear point and held it up then withdrew her knife which he stuck in his belt before dumping out the remaining contents onto the ground. The women rushed in to pick through the tools and scurried away leaving only the roll of sinew, a bone sewing needle, and the fire starting tools. But the microblade flint knife stored in the inner compartment had not fallen out. Kah Li bent down and retrieved the remaining items scattered in the sand, then held out her hand to Meeko for her tool kit. He shoved it back at her and she stuffed the last of the tools back into the kit and retied it around her waist. Meeko watched carefully as she did so then called a dark woman over to him and handed her Kah Li’s shirt.
The woman smiled broadly as she discarded her ragged wolf hide shawl before pulling Kah Li’s shirt on over her head. It was a reasonable fit and she turned this way and that so the other women might see her new finery. Then Meeko pointed to the discarded wolf skin and then at Kah Li. Kah Li flipped her hair to the side with a contemptuous motion and pointed to the woman wearing her shirt then back at herself. That brought widespread laughter. Then she signed that the woman was a thief. The pale woman still standing in the background signed back, “Be careful. Danger.”
Kah Li paused for a moment to consider her predicament then bent over to retrieve the discarded hide. After all, she would need clothing to have any chance of surviving after an escape. She already had a modified plan to wrap her feet in the leggings and tie them in place with the roll of sinew left in her kit. It would be enough to get her back to her clan. They couldn’t be more than a half-day’s travel now. Surely Tekla had witnessed her capture and gone for help. As she swung the hide over her shoulders, the stench of it triggered her gag reflex. She would need several baths in the pond before she recovered from meeting this group.
High above the bank overlooking the austere river basin where the dark tribe had camped, Tekla crawled through tall grass until he was next to a small boulder. From there he watched the outlandish activity. It was the first time he had witnessed an encounter between clans that wasn’t a pleasant affair. From what he had seen of Kah Li’s ill treatment, he knew there would be a problem getting her away from this group. He estimated the camp size as perhaps twice as many males as his clan. Maybe more. They were a strange mixture of heavyset, dark-skinned people. Most of the children were as dark as the adults, but there were a few paler women and some children of a skin color in between. There would be too many awake throughout the summer night for him to have much chance of entering the encampment undetected but he was willing to risk it at deepest twilight. They looked too graceless to be swift of foot so he was sure he and Kah Li could outdistance any of them, provided none of the hunters proficient with a spear were about. But he also knew that Kah Li could not make good an escape without footwear.
As the day wore on Kah Li remained the camp novelty subject of numerous inspections by the curious. Only one woman seemed to connect with her. The pale-skinned girl who only signed to her from a distance. Tekla could read the signs though they were a distinct dialect from another clan distant from his own.
The pale female mostly went about encampment business in her ragged hides and makeshift footwear gathering up driftwood washed up on the riverbank and tending several fires in the center of the camp. When she wasn’t doing that, she sat and pondered the group of women gathered about Kah Li. Later she waded out into the river and crossed over to a bar in the shallows before removing her hides and improvised footwear. She bathed in the same manner Tekla and Kah Li bathed then stood drying as she inspected herself for parasites. None of the others in the strange clan had used the river to bathe that day. Finally, she soaked her already wet footwear and swashed them about in the current before wringing them out and wrapping them back around her feet. Then she gathered up the hides that covered her lower body and washed them as well leaving dry only the loose fitting shawl for warmth in the evening chill.
As she waded back across the river, one of the males called to her and pointed to a low structure of hide stretched over large boulders near the base of the embankment directly below Tekla. He pulled the pale woman’s shawl off as she approached and drew her into the crude hovel. She glanced in Tekla’s direction with a resigned look but didn’t see him.
Some time later Tekla heard the menacing call of the dark figure who had taken Kah Li’s shirt from her. The curious women and children still gathered around her vanished back into the encampment as their sinister leader strode over to grab Kah Li by the arm and drag her kicking and struggling into his own low hovel. Tekla rested his forehead on his arms as he listened to her screams of anger and shame. Then when he thought he could stand no more Kah Li was kicked forcibly from the hovel to land on her side in the damp sand.
Tekla was about to give out their hunting whistle to let her know he was there but the pale-skinned young woman who had signed to Kah Li earlier approached her. He didn’t know whether she would give an alarm if she knew he was there and so remained silent and watched as the girl helped Kah Li to her feet. Kah Li stood unsteadily as the woman signed to her. Tekla was close enough to read her signs and hear her words. She signed, “I,” and spoke the word Petra. Then she signed, “Come,” and led her away.
There was nothing more Tekla could do without help. And the Kah Lek clan was greatly outnumbered by this dark tribe below him. His only option was to go get Kah Li’s winter boots from her father’s tent and return. He would have to get her away from the encampment somehow and give her the boots. After that they could flee at a speed that would in one day place them far beyond the hunting parties of the primitive tribe that now held her captive. And so he slipped away from the riverbank and hurried back along the way he had come. A half day later he found the Kah Lek clan resting in a temporary camp and gave them his disturbing news.
Helen Ryland clutched the frayed armrests as the little twin engine flight out of Anchorage banked onto final approach into Nome 540 miles to the west northwest. From the air, Nome looked smaller than she had envisioned it. Much smaller. The airfield was bigger than the town. The terrain lay flat and barren, desolate. The sky as gray as the sea reflecting it. And it looked cold. Apprehension gripped her spine as the plane taxied up to a dingy, little terminal. She was entering the frontier. Would there be anyone to meet her? What would she do if there was no one? How could she ever handle all the baggage she had brought? Why had she ever left Tucson?
The pilot announced the local temperature at fifty-two degrees with a twelve-knot east wind. “And this is the middle of June,” Helen thought as she wrestled her carry-on bag from under her seat. The crazy idea crossed her mind that perhaps a bear might have been sent to meet her. Tom and his snide remarks. She already missed them. But at the bottom of the boarding steps, a lean man in blue jeans and a red and black checked shirt stood watching her struggling to hold the bag strap over her shoulder and grasp the cold handrail at the same time. She made it to the third step from the bottom before the strap slipped dropping the bag in front of her feet. As she released the handrail to recover her bag, the passenger behind her bumped into her and she stumbled forward toward the tarmac. She closed her eyes and prepared to greet the pavement with her face but found herself suddenly suspended, feet on the boarding steps and arms held by the lean man in the checkered shirt. She tilted her head back as far as it would tilt and looked into amused gray eyes.
“You must not be Grace,” he conjectured.
Still suspended over the tarmac and blocking the passengers behind her, she said, “No. I’m Helen. Grace isn’t even my middle name.”
“I thought not.” The man pulled her upright and reached for her bag as he steadied her. “I’m Jonas. I was sent here to pick you up. Didn’t know it would be quite so literal. Nice tan by the way. You must be from someplace warm.”
“Arizona. It was ninety-one when I left yesterday. And thanks for breaking my fall, Jonas.”
“No problem. It was less trouble than having you bleed all over the van.” He nodded toward the bag. “Is that all your luggage?”
Her relief at having made contact was palpable. She wanted to ask about everything but knew she had a tendency to gush so held quiet for the moment as Jonas led her across the cold, dust-blown tarmac toward the terminal. “Your other bags should be delivered out front in a few minutes. You’re the last team member. As soon as we get your stuff loaded, I’ll take you to meet Dr. Petersen, the site director or dig leader as we call them out here. We’re all staying at the Kodiak Inn down by the beach. You’ll bunk in with Christie tonight. Tomorrow night you’ll have your own tent under the aurora borealis.” Helen pulled her jacket together at the neck as she listened. “The flight leaves out at dawn. It’s a hundred and forty mile hop over the Bering Sea to St. Lawrence Island. The last remnant of the Bering land bridge,” he added.
After several comments about the abundance of luggage, Jonas helped her into the green van and slammed the door. Minutes later they bumped uncomfortably along a dusty corduroy road toward Nome. She studied him as he brought her up to speed on the dig. He appeared to be maybe twenty-five. Pale skin like everyone else she had seen after landing. Blondish hair with a slight curl over his forehead. A straight, narrow nose. Perhaps a Nordic heritage somewhere not too far back. He spoke straightforwardly and seemed totally at ease in surroundings that intimidated Helen. She finally got a chance to ask him how he fit into the dig.
“Finished my masters last year. So I’ll be supervising one of the dig sectors. Doing training for the newcomers. Like you. To make sure you don’t throw away any hominid craniums thinking they’re walrus eggs.” The van shimmied and rattled as they hit a series of washes. Jonas didn’t even flinch.
“You find hominid craniums?” Helen asked hanging on to the armrest.
“We wish. All of the skeletal material we’ve found on St. Lawrence so far is modern. The last few hundred years. But then we’ve never located a really good spot. We usually hit bedrock a few feet down. Haven’t found any place yet that might still hold ancient artifacts. This dig we’ll be trying a new area we reconnoitered last year. Looks more promising than anything we’ve done before but there are no villages around for support.”
That evening Helen reviewed her notes from Dr. Petersen’s briefing to the four new dig members. Confirming what Jonas had told her, St. Lawrence Island was the last remaining part of the Pleistocene land bridge still above sea level. The island itself was quite large – ninety miles long by eight to twenty-two miles wide. It had no trees and only two villages, Savoonga and Gambell, plus an airstrip at a White Alice Communications site on Northeast Cape run by the Air Force—a forward propagation tropospheric scatter site. That was where they would land the next day.
There had already been major excavations in the areas around the two villages but nothing indicating human habitation from Pleistocene crossings had ever been found. Other than mention that there were reindeer on the island that was about it for context. The rest of the talk had concerned funding. Volunteers were apparently greatly appreciated because they worked for only tent space and food and that allowed the team a month on the island. Long enough to establish a new excavation site for future teams should anyone actually be lucky enough to find anything of interest. Helen asked Christie if this was her first dig.
“Yeah. I don’t know about you but I’m a little apprehensive about spending a month in a tent on a barren island.”
That made Helen feel somewhat better about her own angsts. She wasn’t the only one harboring doubts about being a single girl out here in the tundra.
The early-morning sun peered through morning mists illuminating Kah Li and Petra in level shafts of light as they bathed in isolation on the sand bar. Kah Li was contemplating the possibility of escape from their isolated position in the middle of the river, as a great disturbance rose up in the camp. A returning hunting party from the south was gesticulating and babbling and pointing behind them. Petra tilted her head listening intently then signed that the hunters were being chased by a large group of men. She explained that Meeko had recently led a raiding party into one of several close-knit and well-armed villages and killed several villagers in a failed attempt to capture some of their women and steal food. The surrounding villages had apparently banded together to mete out revenge and destroy the threat of any of the dark hunters returning in later raids. Petra listened again as the story was retold to Meeko himself. She related the story as it unfolded. “There are many men. They are well armed and advancing quickly. Meeko is very angry that the hunters led the others to his camp,” And with that Kah Li saw Meeko strike the speaker a mighty blow to the neck with his club. The man dropped heavily to the ground and lay still.
As if on signal, the air filled with cries of fear and alarm as the women and children flowed out of their crude hovels like agitated ants and began gathering up their belongings. But Meeko merely grabbed up his weapons and fled to the east along the riverbank. Within seconds it was a rout with the hunters following Meeko and the women still trying to gather the remaining camp items. Kah Li grabbed Petra’s hand and splashed back across the river to Meeko’s now abandoned hovel. Inside she found her boots and the spare spear point. She quickly pulled her boots on and grabbed up the spear point before running outside. In the distance she saw Meeko’s mate screaming and running after him still wearing the stolen shirt Meeko had given her. Kah Li set off in pursuit and caught her before she reached the end of the encampment. She grabbed the fleeing woman by the hair and pulled her backwards. When she fell to the ground she looked up to see a spear point hovering over her face. Kah Li pulled at the shirt and in her panic the woman drew it off over her head and with fearful eyes offered it back to Kah Li. She snatched it away and then pointed to the woman’s waist girdle. The woman gave that up as well and leaped up, but Kah Li pulled her back down and pointed to her footwear as she waved the spear point at the woman’s eyes. She removed the footwear and stood up naked. Kah Li then stretched her arm out toward the fleeing men in the distance and shoved her. The woman began to chase after Meeko and the others screaming as she fled.
By this time Petra had caught up and was signing, “We must run. The attackers will surely kill or capture us if they find us. I was there at Meeko’s failed raid and I do not speak their language or understand their signs. They will think we are part of Meeko’s tribe.”
Kah Li merely shoved the boots she had taken from Meeko’s woman into Petra’s hands. Petra stared at them for a moment then kicked off the ragged footwear she had been using and pulled the boots on. “We must flee,” she signed before sitting down to lace the boots tight.
Kah Li’s first thought was to run to the north to intercept her clan. She started in that direction but drew up short. They had no weapons and no time to return to the encampment to look for any. Two unarmed women on the tundra full of wolves and scimitar cats would not last a day. She and Tekla had frequently run into small packs of wolves. They would remove their shirts and wave them about to make it appear there were four humans. That had always been enough to send the packs looking for easier prey. But she also knew that females moved differently than males. Predators would know they were not male hunters. Petra stared at her wide-eyed waiting for some indication of their next move. It was clear. Either hide, which eventually left them alone on the tundra again, or follow after the fleeing tribe and try to stay in the wake they left through the predators and hope the following warriors couldn’t close the gap and kill or capture them. Neither choice was good but both bested heading out alone to the north in hopes of finding the Kah Lek Clan before the wolves found them. Several more stragglers ran toward them carrying rolled up pelts. Kah Li jumped in front of them with her spearhead at the ready and pointed to the pelts then to the ground. Then she growled and charged the largest woman. All of them dropped their loads. Kah Li stepped aside and pointed east. The women and the two children skirted by her, eyes wide, and ran for their lives.
“Follow me,” Kah Li signed as they picked up the pelts and slung them over their shoulders. There were as yet no signs of the raiding party. They turned and followed the retreating tribe to the east. At least, Kah Li told herself, they were heading toward the place where the sun awoke. Perhaps she would meet her clan there someday. For the time being, she had her boots and shirt back and felt sure she could outdistance any of the dark hunters or the following warriors who might chase after her. It would just be a matter of staying in the shadow of the dark tribe without their knowing she was there. She felt the presence of such a large and odorous group would at least keep the ever-wary wolves at a distance.
Tekla stood by the campfire with the gathered elders that evening and described again the events leading to Kah Li’s loss. There was much discussion following his story but only Kah Li’s father had any desire to tangle with such a large tribe as Tekla had described.
“We are too few and cannot afford to lose any men in an attempt to recover one female. We have enough females now. It is men we need more of,” said the leading elder. His summation was agreed to by the others with only Kah Li’s father in dissent. But that was the final decision of the clan and Tekla knew it made sense.
And he knew that it would be up to him to recover Kah Li. Her father had no one to watch after or transport his tent and belongings if he were to leave with Tekla. So after the council broke Tekla followed Kah Li’s father back to his shelter and asked him for help in the way of supplies. It would be relatively easy for her father to replenish his larder of dried berries and cured meat in the approaching summer. Tekla would need only enough for a half cycle of the moon. Perhaps even less because he was able to find food on his own if needed. Kah Li’s father gave him what dried foods he had and warned him to take his winter clothes with him. “You do not know when we might see each other again. A winter will come and go as it pleases. It does not bother with our affairs.”
And so the following morning with a pack containing a supply of food, Kah Li’s winter boots, and his own and Kah Li’s winter gear Tekla bade the clan farewell. The elders advised him again to stay and forget Kah Li but he could not.
By twilight Tekla wandered through the abandoned encampment of the dark hunters trying to determine what had happened. He found no weapons or food though there were plenty of hides scattered about as well as the dead body of one of the hunters. He tore down the rancid hovel of the leader and searched through the malodorous items inside looking for any clue to Kah Li. He found none. Circling the encampment, he found abundant tracks both coming in from the south and leaving to the east. From atop the river embankment he could see no sign of anyone on the distant horizon. Who had killed the hunter? What had caused them in only a day to abandon their camp and belongings? Had they taken Kah Li with them? There were no answers. He returned to the encampment and spent some time sorting through all of the items left behind. The hides varied greatly in quality and most were glazed with filth. He suspected the higher quality hides had been stolen. He pulled out the best of the hides and tied them to his pack. They would make shelter bedding or replacement boots if he found time to stitch them together. Then he ate his day’s ration and settled against the bank for a brief sleep. He hoped the remaining stench of the camp would keep the wolves at bay until he awoke.
The first day of retreat carried Kah Li and Petra forty miles to the east and well out onto the barren wastes of the Bering land bridge. Behind them thin clouds of yellow dust from the footfalls of their pursuers rose like smoke into the clear sky. Ahead a hazy wisp on the horizon marked the fleeing tribe. Kah Li and Petra had already passed several of the older women of the tribe sitting on the dry earth waiting for whatever fate bore down upon them. They were simply unable to maintain the pace. All had been stripped of their food and clothing. Petra stopped to speak with one she knew to ask about the still fleeing members ahead. She was an older woman with arms almost as thin as stork legs and knees and elbows all writhing about at sharp angles. Her broad, flat face was filled with a fine filigree of wrinkles broken only by a smooth growth protruding from her chin. She shrugged her bony shoulders and told Petra in a high, mewling voice there was much fear and panic and no help for those unable to keep up. Then she waved them away from her in disgust and threw dust into the air to keep the flies at bay. The two girls departed without looking back.
Kah Li suddenly realized there were no longer mountains on the horizon. The terrain ahead was transforming into a level world of monstrous uniformity, dry, with little vegetation. Piles of mammoth bones and tusks littered the ground mixed with the bones of caribou and other strange animals she did not recognize. On many skeletons, fragments of dried hide still clung to the bones flapping forlornly in the wind. There were obvious signs that predators lived nearby. And once Kah Li saw a tawny scimitar cat sprawled atop a small hillock watching the passing traffic. Obviously sated from a recent meal, it paid them little notice. Ahead, thin tendrils of smoke blew north across the land.
On the second day a herd of mammoths materialized from the haze. The low sun cast their lumbering shadows in long, bluish shafts across the smoke-filled clouds of their dust. They moved wraithlike to the west, silent but for an occasional snort, taking no notice of the small humans watching from the side. Kah Li wondered if they had just been born from the smoke after pushing through the earth for many years. Perhaps she would meet her mother forming out of the haze if she had managed to push this far from the cave where they had buried her.
On the third day they spotted high ground ahead and skirted around it to the north following the tracks of the still fleeing tribe. Behind, the pursuers were now visible as occasional dots on the horizon. By the time the sun was south of them Kah Li and Petra passed north of gray hills and saw only flat plains ahead with a thin veil of dust where the dark tribe still fled in panic. Herds of bison and camels grazed to the north. And to the south the ground glowed like the setting sun from fires smoldering a thousand years in the vast, dry peat bogs.
But they couldn’t stop for long. To be left alone was to become food for the wolves and giant cats. Their only pauses were to sip dark water from shallow holes they scraped into the ancient peat bogs and to pick huckleberries from the low bushes that grew along the bogs. A careless ground squirrel made a nice dinner that evening roasted over the embers of a bog fire. They kept the skin for making a bag when they had time.
By the end of the fourth day they were 130 miles out onto the land bridge. There was no longer any sign of their pursuers behind them. Dry dust powdered the land and rose as distant smoke smearing the clear line of the horizon. Kah Li reasoned that the following warriors had run short of food and water and had turned home again. She wondered if her own clan was trying to find her. She was sure Tekla would try. She worried that he might run into their former pursuers and be mistaken for one of those they had been chasing but she forced that thought from her mind. She had more pressing matters at hand. Things she could actually do something about. In the distance, just south of east, high hills rose darkly into the low summer clouds.
[P]robably the finest [book] I have ever read. . . . [F]illed my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
The story is beautifully written, weaving between future and past in a very creative way. . . . Like Jerry Merritt’s other books, his details are rich, flawless, and very believable.
Engaging from start to finish Jerry Merritt does it again. . . . [H]e does his writerly magic and brings it on home to a satisfying and emotionally compelling conclusion.
Beautifully written, exquisite timeline presentation, and skillful storytelling. This is the work of a perfectionist.
In my many years of reading dozens and dozens of books per year, I can count on one hand the ones that left me with as much emotion as this one. What a wonderful, awe-inspiring story.
Loved the character development. Loved the reality of life in Siberia for the earliest Homo sapiens trying to cross the Bearing Straits land bridge. Enjoyed the details of archeological research. Well plotted and got better as it got deeper.
Jerry Merritt is a natural storyteller. This one drawing the link between the distant past and the present using archeology as a vehicle and undying love as the fuel. Loved it.
The way the author moved back and forth between ancient times and the present was stunning. While I realize it was fictional, it felt like it could actually be real.
I love this book! People living their lives in different but parallel times. The prehistoric people were believable and I cared deeply about them. The archaeologists following their trail, almost magically, were interesting. . . . I sobbed at the end.
Jerry Merritt has been blessed with an amazing and diversified background. He’s got the innate ability to capture your imagination to where you find yourself in the time and place of which he is writing. . . . I intend to read all of his stuff.
Every moment is finely crafted, each character well-fleshed with satisfying emotional and human depth. Great telling of parallel stories with a convincing awareness of how we affect each other beyond the mists of time . . . .
[B]rought emotional tears from my eyes as it ended. . . . The author is amazing and this book along with his previous book have made me a loyal and grateful fan. Buy it and listen. Then do the same with his other book and any future books.