The hunters had returned to the cave and Jor was resting to mend his ankle. The group’s mood had been subdued, and Jor had said nothing about the rocky creatures he had encountered.

Gar came in from watch in the morning. He set his spear against the cave wall and walked toward his mate. Lena was already sitting up and playing with their son Tal. At two months old he was growing quickly. Mother put the baby to her breast and fed him his own breakfast as Gar went to get something for his family to eat. He came back shortly with wooden plank piled with steaming mash.

“Gris, food,” Gar called to his father. When he did not stir from his sleeping place, Gar went over to nudge him awake. He turned his father toward him and was shocked by the old man’s ashen, sunken face. Getting up quickly, he went to get one of the wise women.

It was young Vel that he found first and beckoned over toward his father. “Gris sick,” Gar said, his flat voice betraying no emotion. Vel left the food she had gotten for old Nef and went with Gar.

Lena had a worried look on her face as they returned. She glanced over at Gris and then at the two approaching. “Gris good?” she asked.

Gar said nothing and Vel went over to lay her hands on him. She felt his skin and looked at Gar with troubled eyes.

“Gris good?” Lena repeated, looking at Gar then at Lena.

“No,” Vel said quietly, looking at the floor. After a moment, she got up and went back toward the fire.

Gar went back to his father and carefully touched his clammy skin. Gris moaned softly, his eyes flashing open for a moment, focusing on nothing, before closing again.

Five days passed as the cave took on an eerie quiet. Gris had not moved from his spot. He ate nothing and only took a bit of water that was poured into his mouth. Gar was silent through this time, as he usually was, and did his work although he got very little sleep. He spent his nights awake, watching his father.

It was the evening of the fifth day when Gar noticed the ragged breathing had stopped. He looked at the old man and stared for several moments while his mind finally grasped what had happened. He grasped the old man’s cooling hand and sat quietly a while, wishing his father peace.

Gar got up to head outside. He saw Sen sitting a short distance away from his father’s body, hugging her arms to herself and sobbing softly. Gar stopped and looked at her as she looked up at him. “I smell it,” Sen said. “I smell him gone. So sorry, so sorry,” she said between sobs. Gar looked away from the girl and went toward the fire where everyone had gathered.

Lena turned away from the crowd of women still admiring little Tal and saw Gar approach; one look and she knew exactly what happened. Tears welled up in her eyes as the women asked her what was wrong.

Gar went to the chieftain Zun and said simply, “Gris gone.” The tribe fell silent. Zun, the chieftain, reached out and squeezed Gar’s arm.

“Was good man,” Zun said, quietly. Murmurs from all around echoed the sentiment in their own words.

Gar went to his fellow hunter Han. “Help me send him?” Gar asked.

“Yes, friend,” Han said and followed Gar into the cave.

They walked past Sen still sitting by herself. She had started humming something, staring at the body wrapped in the furs. Gar paid her no notice, but Han looked at her as they walked by.

Wrapping the old man in his sleeping furs, they lifted him off the floor and carried him out of the cave. They walked past the fire slowly as people lined up to watch the procession. Some murmured farewells and touched the wrapped body as it went past. Han stopped and grabbed a burning brand from the bonfire, holding it high in a free hand to light their way in the dimming light. They took the old man down the narrow path toward the beach a fair distance away from the cave.

Gar sat with the body while Han went to collect some of the driftwood on the beach. They piled the dried wood and then placed the fur-wrapped body on top. Han gave the brand to Gar who set it on top. The fire caught quickly, spreading over the old furs. They watched the fire flare up, burning as brightly old man had lived. The two sat there in silence for many hours as the flames continued to burn, keeping watch over the old man’s pyre. In the morning, the rising tide would take the ashes to sea.

In the distance, Lena saw the fire flare up and burn. She held her son close to her.

“New life and old life,” Nif said, standing next to her. “Old ones leave, but more new ones come.”

Tears came to Lena’s eyes and she wept. She cried the tears she knew that Gar would not.


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