So, when last we saw Ayla, she’d been given the Death Curse and was off on her own. The Valley of Horses picks up immediately after leaving
Brun’s Broud’s clan and starts Ayla’s hunt for the mysterious Others.
While Ayla is travelling, the narrative splits, and we’re also following the travels of Jondalar and Thonolan. They are brothers on a Journey (yes, always capitalized). They started out in the south of France, and Thonolan is determined to see the end of the Great Mother River (the Danube). Jondalar has just done a runaway groom kind of thing. He was Promised to a girl (Marona), but ditched out on her to accompany his brother before they could tie the knot (um, yeah…they actually use that phrase). Both boys are described as being ridiculously good-looking, Jondalar more so than Thonolan. He’s 6’6″ with blonde hair and the most amazing blue eyes. He gets in lots of loincloths cos of those eyes. I went looking for a picture of a blonde, blue-eyed cro-magnon man, and came up with a ton of pictures of Ron Perlman. That actually kind of works. For the rest of the narrative, I’m picturing Jondalar as a young Ronnie:
They stumble upon a group of horse hunters and even though they don’t really speak each other’s languages, Jondalar is asked to have First Rites with a young girl to “open her to the delights of womanhood and give her a baby with his blue eyes.” For the first of many times, we’re told how he is just so…hung…that he has to take it easy on the girls he’s with (especially the virgins, and apparently he’s been given the honour of deflowering many virgins). So, yeah. Jondalar does the virgin and hopefully leaves her with a “child of his spirit” (remember, sex ≠ babies yet) and they continue on their merry way.
back at the ranch Ayla is still trekking vaguely northward from the Beran Sea, looking for more people like her. Since winter is coming, she worries about surviving the cold months. She hasn’t found anyone, so she decides to find a place where she can hole up and conveniently discovers a cave in a primo location. She starts gathering grains and stuff to last her through the winter, but realizes she’s going to need more meat (heh) than just her sling can bring in. She digs a pit trap to catch a horse (there’s a herd of horses living in the valley below her cave, that’s where the name of the book came from. Dur, keep up!), and successfully makes her first kill with something other than a well-thrown rock. Unfortunately, the mare that Ayla kills has a foal…one that is now an orphan. Having been an orphan herself, Ayla feels a deep sympathy toward the little horse and takes her back up to the cave. Now she has company and doesn’t have to spend the winter alone (as an aside, when I was young, I thought that ponies were baby horses).
Cut back to Jondalar and Thonolan, who are camping on the edge of the river, when they decide to go hunting. Thonolan gets gored by a wooly rhinoceros and Jondalar is pretty sure he’s going to die…until a giant boat appears on the river and the day is saved by a group of people known as the Sharamudoi. They just happen to have their Shamud (medicine man) with them, and he does a pretty good job of patching Thonolan up until they can get the strangers back home. Thonolan opens his eyes and sees this woman Jetamio, and it’s True Love at First Sight. Once he’s better, he tells his brother he’s going to be mated to this woman and is settling down. Jondalar picks a single mother to receive his attentions, and once again, a big deal is made of how he has to be gentle with her. [sigh]
Ayla has been alone in her new cave all winter, except for her little horse. One day when she’s returning inside from gathering ice to melt for water, she sees the snow piled up outside the cave entrance and thinks it looks a little like Brun. She then decides to make the world’s first snow man. Bet you didn’t know you had a lonely cave woman to thank for all those fun winter days, did you?
The majority of the year passes with not much happening. Ayla decides to stay on for another winter, because she’s still not ready to go looking for people. Jondalar stays with Thonolan, helps him build boats and gets lusted over by many different women.
Some highlights: Ayla discovers that fire can be started using iron pyrite and flint (completely by accident). She uses braids when weaving baskets and one day decides to start braiding her hair to keep it out of her face and on a whim decides to ride her new horsey friend. Holy crap! Equestrianism was just invented! With the horse-riding comes the concept of the travois, and she gets Whinney to drag her kills back to the cave. She goes to hunt onagers into another pit trap (because now the thought of eating horses is icky) and a baby cave lion is trampled in the stampede. Oh noes! Another abandoned (wounded) animal! Of course she has to bring the baby lion home and fix up his wounds (medicine woman, remember?). In the course of a very short period of time, Ayla has single-handedly advanced the human race significantly. You want to believe that next she’ll be taming shark-riding unicorns and building rocket ships…unfortunately, that doesn’t happen
Whinney goes into heat and disappears with a herd of wild horses and the cave lion grows steadily larger (but is still called Baby by his adopted mommy). Whinney comes back when she realizes it’s going to be cold out on the steppes by herself and Ayla’s happy little cave family is almost complete. She only wishes occasionally for other people to share her life with.
Back with Jondalar and Thonolan, Jetamio (Thonolan’s mate) has died during childbirth. Thonolan is too heartbroken to stay with his new people and decides to continue on his Journey. Jondalar goes with him, because he can’t let his little brother head off on his own. They reach the end of the Great Mother River, but Thonolan decides he wants to head north to hunt mammoth with the Mamutoi. They both learned a little bit of the Mamutoi language while they were staying with the Sharamudoi and again, Jondalar decides he can’t abandon him when they’re so far from home.
Whinney is very pregnant, and Baby has gone off to find a female cave lion to have a little lion family with. One day, Ayla decides to go for a ride in a different direction than she normally does. Jondalar and Thonolan are hunting, but a cave lioness steals their kill. Thonolan has a bit of a death wish since Jetamio died and decides he’s taking his kill back from the lion. Bad idea, dude. They are both attacked, and Ayla hears something she hasn’t heard in several years…human voices. Unfortunately, they’re screaming as they’re being mauled. Ayla rides over to investigate, pushes Baby away from the people that invaded his territory and assesses the situation. Thonolan is too far gone for help, but Jondalar is still alive. She drags the body of the younger brother over beneath an overhang and causes a rock slide to bury him, then loads Jondalar on the travois to get him back to her cave for medical attention.
Jondalar has a deep gash in his thigh from his mauling, so Ayla performs the first recorded instance of surgery by stitching him up…using an awl to poke holes in the skin and muscle and some sinew to tie everything together. He’s unconscious for quite a while, and when he wakes up the first thing he sees is Ayla acting as midwife to a horse.
Ayla isn’t alone anymore! And she’s got this handsome injured man to take care of! The only problem is that they don’t speak the same language. In fact, the only language Ayla knows is that of the Clan, which Jondalar doesn’t even see as being a real language at all. He teaches her to speak, just words at first. Then one night, Ayla has a dream about the earthquake that destroyed her real family and wakes up completely proficient in Zelandonii. Perfect syntax and everything.
The two grow to know each other, and Jondalar is incredibly attracted to her but thinks she must be a powerful servant of the Great Mother of All who is only away from people to hone her skills. They’re out with the horses one day, and his *ahem* need is so powerful he goes into a copse of trees to take care of his own business. He thinks he’s all sly, but Ayla notices and is incredibly offended. The way she was raised, any man would take whatever woman was available, rather than take care of himself.
Eventually, they get over themselves and Ayla tells Jondalar about her upbringing. When he learns that she was raped repeatedly by Broud he freaks out. The Clan are called flatheads by every group of cro-magnons we’ve met, and they’re all looked down upon as animals. It gets worse when he discovers Ayla had a half-breed child, and he recoils in disgust. She gets super pissed, and he decides the way to make it up to her is to take her through the First Rites to cover up for the fact that’s she’s never known pleasure in that way.
Ayla has a funny thought that maybe sex actually does cause babies, cos she knows she didn’t get pregnant until Broud started “spilling his essence in her” (I’m not even kidding, I could not make that up). Iza taught her of herbs she could take that would keep a woman’s totem strong and prevent pregnancy, so she starts taking them just in case.
Since Jondalar has been with many women, he knows his way around and is determined to make things good for her. There’s lots of talk of “nodules,” “warm folds” and “turgid manhoods.” It’s all quite ridiculous. What it comes down to is that Jondalar has always had to hold back with every woman he’s been with so he doesn’t hurt them, BUT HE DOESN’T HAVE TO WITH AYLA! No, no…her “deep well” fits him perfectly. I totally snickersnorted as I was reading this (even more so trying to figure out how to write about it). This was what came to mind:
Anyway, after Ayla’s First Rites, she becomes an insatiable beast. They take time off from their Pleasures to go hunting together, and to teach Whinney’s foal the basics of being domesticated.
Jondalar is quite impressed with Ayla’s proficiency with a sling, and wonders if he can somehow throw a spear with it. Of course that doesn’t work because it’s a stupid idea, but it does get his brain working. Oh, and wonder of wonders, someone besides Ayla invents something! He calls it a spear-thrower (because that’s what it does). When I was reading these as a kid, I couldn’t even picture in my head what they were talking about. This was in the days before the internet was around (well, it was around, but not for everyone), so I had no idea until recently that they were talking about an atlatl. What’s an atlatl, you ask? That’s easily explained (as so many things are) by a demotivational poster:
Ayla and Jondalar take the horses on a short Journey to explore the area surrounding her valley. They frequently stop early to share Pleasures (I cringed just now when I was typing that), and one day when they’re out riding they’re hailed by a person. That’s where the book ends. Seriously. Some big dude waves at them and they smile at each other. [shrug]
We’ll pick up where they’ve left off next Tuesday. Until then!