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Keepers of the Misty Time

From Their Dreams Civilization Began ... The cascading river roared between canyon walls, and there, on the edge of lush grasslands, a determined band of people called the Shahala prepared for their new Moonkeeper. But the young woman called Ashan knew her people faced vast changes. Soon, challenging the old ways and led by troubling visions, she and a brave hunter named Tor would travel pathways the Shahala never trod ... from the Misty Time to the bright beginning when humanity's true future would be born.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Patricia Rowe

Always an avid reader, I wrote poetry, essays and journals, but was too much in awe of novelists to ever think of becoming one. Until the night I had a compelling dream of a young woman living in a long-ago time. As the leader of her people, she faced all kinds of terrors, loved a man she was forbidden to have, and...I was hooked! I wrote a chapter, and sat trembling as my husband read. He said, "Please keep writing. I want to know what happens."

While doing research, I came upon a petroglyph called She Who Watches, and a traditional story saying she was once chief of her tribe, and I realized I'd been writing about someone who was real, at least in legend. Ashan's story became KEEPERS OF THE MISTY TIME. The Moonkeeper and her people had more to tell, so I continued the story in CHILDREN OF THE DAWN.

Visit me at: http://www.eclectics.com/patriciarowe/

Reviews

"Enthralling ... beautifully written, about real men and women you will care deeply about. Fans of Jean Auel and Linda Lay Shuler will eat this one up and clamor for more!"- -Naomi M. Stokes, author of THE TREE PEOPLE "Ms. Rowe weaves a tale set in prehistoric times that is spellbinding and mesmerizing. This one is a keeper--outstanding--a book you'll enjoy no matter how many times you read it."

Rendezvous


4-1/2 Stars!

"A compelling and thought-provoking tale that impels the reader on a mystical journey. Ms. Rowe's lyrical prose and powerful storytelling ability are sure to garner her legions of fans."

Romantic Times Magazine
Excerpt

Chapter 1

THE CANYON rim swallowed the sun, spreading a welcome shadow over ninety people snaking down the trail. With Ashan's every step, the river's thunder grew. She sighed in gratitude as they neared Loudwater, the last camping place of the autumn trek.

A hummingbird buzzed the red flower stuck in her headband. She shook her straight black hair to chase it.

"Fly, little warrior. Your friends left with the vultures days ago."

With a startled chirp, the bright creature flashed away from the talking flower. She smiled. Ashan, Whispering Wind -- mistaken for a faded flower with the smell of a skunk lily! She looked at her torn moccasins, made only last moon, just before the tribe left Ancestor Cave. She had been so proud, but now a naked savage wouldn't bother stealing them. The long trek had chewed holes in the elkhide bottoms; loose laces trailed in the dust. Ashan laughed at herself: She knew little more of women's ways than she knew about the weapons of men. Well, no matter. Moccasin sewing was not an important skill for the next Shahala chief.

The trail widened, curving away from the river into thick forest. Ashan dropped her bundle of skins beside the path and sat on an old friend -- a flat, moss-cushioned rock overlooking the camp. Some warriors had run ahead, and a fire billowed white smoke. She inhaled deeply. Her mouth watered. Soon, she told her grumbling belly -- the spirits sent us Yamish the deer today.

Tingling warmth rippled through Ashan as Tor came into the clearing below, dragging a great oak branch to the fire. The sight of the young warrior stole her breath. Had he changed so much, or did the eyes of an almost-woman see differently? Taller than most men, Tor moved with a cougar's lean grace, deep-brown muscles standing out as he pulled against the unwilling branch. Ashan had dreamed of those strong arms holding her, his black hair brushing her face, his sweet breath in her nostrils. She knew what men and women did, though Raga would be shocked to learn the Chosen One even thought of such things.

"Is your rock big enough for two?"

Ashan jumped from her forbidden thoughts as her spirit sister sat beside her.

"Thanks to Shala, this trek is almost done," Mani said. "I can't wait to sleep in the huts of the ancestors. I hate sleeping under the stars." Mani looked to see if anyone was listening, then whispered, "Last night I saw spirits shoot across the sky."

Ashan couldn't help laughing at Mani's fear. Though she understood Mani's feelings, Ashan liked the darktime world and the spirits who wandered there.

"You're a mouse, Mani!"

"I may be, but soon this mouse will fear nothing. He will do all my worrying for me."

Mani pointed to Lar in the camp below as she stroked the braided band tied around her upper arm -- strands of black hair laced with horsetail hair of several colors.

"Six horses for my pledge band! Lar is the bravest warrior Amotkan ever created!"

Mani squeezed Ashan's arm, spreading prickling resentment under her skin, and chattered on.

"Kamiulka, the Autumn Feast! Do you believe it's finally here? All my life I've waited for him. Only four days left!"

The almost-bride drew a loud, deep breath, and shook out her straight black hair.

"Seeing Lar renews my strength." Mani shouldered her skins and started down the trail. "See you in camp."

Ashan frowned and pitched a rock down the cliffside, thinking of the coming feast that would bring so many changes. Little ones would take their spirit names. The pledged ones, Mani and Keeta, would take their mates. And at sunrise on the third day, Ashan would take the Shahala pledge band, becoming the tribe's Young Moonkeeper.

By ancient, spirit-given law, for Ashan, there would be no mate -- not at this feast, not ever. No matter that her woman's body of fifteen summers yearned for a man's touch; that her mind longed to know the workings of Tor's. Her destiny was greater than that of any woman: to lead the tribe after Raga's last death.

As her people passed with words of greeting, Ashan looked beyond their faces, deep into their eyes, seeing them in a different, sharper way. Soon she would be responsible for all their lives. She loved each of them, from tiny Lia, born that summer, strapped in a cradleboard on Tira's back, to Ahnkor, the oldest man, carried on travel poles by two warriors. Ashan knew her people loved her; their looks and words said it. So did the gifts they were always bringing -- special food, flowers, feathers and rocks found along a trail.

In many ways, the Moonkeper's life was easiest of all. Ashan would not have to concern herself with gathering and cooking. Or mending, she thought, pulling her moccasin over her toes.

But how could she be happy without a mate, without her own little ones to love in the special way of mothers? Why must she be denied what every other woman had? If she was not to have a man, why had the spirits created Tor for her to want and never touch? Why had they cursed her with desire?

"What troubles you, Ashan?" growled a deep, bearish voice behind her. She stood at once and turned to face Raga; no one sat in the presence of the Moonkeeper. Shaking away the feeling of smallness, she tried to smile.

"Nothing."

The deep, leathery folds of Raga's face gathered into a smile that showed yellow, worn-down teeth. But her black eyes did not waver.

"A puff of wind cannot fool me. Your greatest moment flies on swift wings, yet you are troubled. I will know why."

Raga's eyes fastened to Ashan's. She could not look away, or stop the words that crawled up her throat.

"Can I change a law when I become Moonkeeper?"

Raga snorted and spat. "Spirits make laws; we cannot change them." She looked deeper into Ashan's eyes. "Tell me, Windpuff, what law would you change?"

"I would be the first Moonkeeper to take a mate!"

Raga's fists clinched. She roared, "Then you take him with you to death! The spirits will turn you to stone in their fury! And what mate will you feed to Coyote?" The roar became a snake's hiss. "Hear me, Ashan, and never forget! The Moonkeeper belongs to the spirits! They will not share her with any man!"

The firepoints in the old woman's eyes flared brighter by the heartbeat. Ashan had seen people fall dead from Raga's rage, their insides boiled to mush. But never had the force struck her! Her legs weakened and wobbled. The heat entered and the melting began.

Suddenly, Raga jerked her head skyward. "Aiyiii!" Coyote within her howled to the heavens. The unhuman sound echoed on and on. As if she had been leaning into the Moonkeeper's deadly stare, Ashan almost stumbled into the space between them. She willed her legs to be as oak stumps. She would not go on her knees before the old woman!

Raga's massive shoulders slumped. She looked down on Ashan, the burning coals of her eyes now misty clouds. Knobby, twisted fingers stroked the ragged brown feathers that hung from the pledge band, dark with age, tied to her stout upper arm. The voice that could kill was soft as a new mother's.

"My spirit daughter," Raga said. "At the Autumn Feast, you will become Young Moonkeeper. When I was a young one, I climbed Owl Rock to get feathers for my pledge band. It's time for you to do the same. You must show the spirits you have courage."

The old woman pointed up Yuna River's deep gorge to a small black cave in the overhanging cliffs. Long white streaks stained the smooth rock below. The strongest hunter -- Tor himself -- could not climb it!

Raga said, "Tucum the Owl Spirit lives there. The people hear his song as death, but for a Moonkeeper, it is life. Tell Death Singer you are the Chosen One, and no harm will come to you. Now go, before dark comes."

Ashan shuddered, but she would never let Raga see her fear. She grabbed a ragged lynx skin -- her mother's only legacy -- and started up the trail, with only riversound for company. Cooking aromas reached her. Everyone must be in camp by now, waiting for the fire to work its magic. The Old Moonkeeper's words echoed in her mind, churning with her own boiling anger, as her feet followed the narrow trail with an animal wisdom of their own.

She stopped. Some sense other than sight had found the Owl Spirit's home. Ashan had walked the Yuna River trail every autumn and spring of her life without ever once looking upon Tucum's face. The people passed under him silently, heads down, and never at night. No one wanted to wake Death Singer, or be nearby when he did his darktime work.

Taking a deep breath, Ashan squared her shoulders and forced herself to stare at the high cliff. No wonder the Owl Spirit chose this place to live -- it was made in his own fierce image.

Jagged stone feathers edged the sky, dark against the orange glow of the just-set sun. Below, where eyes would be, two flame trees clung to the rock, their powerful medicine leaves blazing red. A small black cave yawned between the guardian trees -- Tucum's open beak, the door between worlds where every soul must someday pass.

Ashan shivered, pulling her lynx skin tighter. A squirming fearsnake coiled around her stomach. Trying to expel it, she shouted at the rocks.

"Tucum! The people hear your song as death, but for a Moonkeeper, it is life!"

The river's thunder swallowed the sounds as if she had not made them.

She thought of Tor, for a moment desperately wishing to be anyone but the Chosen One... to be like Mani, safe in camp, waiting for food, for her marriage, her babies.

For Ashan, it was much too late for hopeless wishing. It had been since her seventh summer, when Mahto the bear had ripped out her mother's life, forever changing her own. The nightmare that could still strike terror night or day clawed her mind with its memory of shredded flesh, unseeing eyes, death-stained earth. Tears rose in her throat.

Ashan pictured Tor's soft, dark eyes to calm herself.

On hands and knees, she climbed a steep tumble of loose, broken rocks, reaching Tucum's great slabbed cliff out of breath. Stretching her arms high, she leaned against the solid rock, still warm from the sun's last rays. She flattened her face to it, touching it with her tongue, tasting its dusty roughness. Her body molded to the stone, every pore seeking to know its spirit.

Her searching fingers found a high crack where two slabs came together. She dug into it and pulled herself up, her feet toeing into unseen crevices. Less steep than she'd expected, the cliff slanted forward, away from her. Leaning into the solid mass, matching its slope, hand over hand, she slowly rose higher.

Near the top, the rock bulged out with a backward slant. It pushed Ashan away, forcing her to fight with all her strength for each bit of height she gained. She thought of nothing but the rock, talking to it, tearing at it, forcing her hands into tiny grooves. She clung to the cliff like a spider with half her legs missing. The remaining ones knew what to do but there were just not enough of them for the task.

She pulled herself onto a narrow ledge littered with bones and balls of fur, and crouched there. The cave was in reach above, but her pounding heart filled her throat and she could not breathe. The river's voice swelled her head with its low-throated, rolling thunder. Rumbling beneath the different sounds, tying them all together, Yuna's heartbeat rose and fell in a rhythm that entered Ashan's body and took over the flow of her blood.

For the first time, she looked down. Far below, the river ran smooth and glossy, then broke into ridges and gullies as it crashed through a path of massive boulders. Further down the narrowing canyon, the ridges curled, exploding into clouds of spray as waves smashed against rocky cliffs. The whitewater slithered along, then collapsed into a whirling pit... a huge open mouth with teeth of spray, devouring an endless snake.

A tree hurtled through the boulders, its branches snapping like twigs. As it reached the whirlpool, its broken top filled the gaping mouth. Gnarled roots lifted slowly in the air, and the tree was swallowed.

Now she understood the vast pulsing sound, and knew why it was said that no creature went into Yuna's mouth and lived. The twisting sight below suddenly filled her with panic. Her leg muscles began to twitch; soon her whole body shook. The quivering seemed to come from the stone itself. Hostile, it shuddered, trying to rid itself of her, as a bison might shake off a fly. Bitter sickness rose from her belly to her throat. Her fingers curled into balls.

"Get out of me, fear!" she shouted, closing her eyes, leaning hard into the rock. Her hand touched soft moss which had clung there forever -- never tiring, never giving up its hold, even now under clutching fingers. Its calm patience entered her. The heat subsided. Blood flowed smoothly again. The mad shaking stopped.

Slowly she stood, face flat against the rock, every muscle gripping the smooth surface. Ignoring the thick crust of owl droppings, she searched out a crack and pulled herself up.

Only darkness greeted her as she peered into the deep hole. An overpowering stench told her owls must have lived here since the Misty Time. Then she saw them: three perfect feathers, golden brown with darker stripes, stuck in a crack at the side of the cave. Tucum had left them for her!

Ashan reached for the feathers.

A piercing screech from the depths of the cave froze her. Two huge eyes opened in the blackness, glowing with evil yellow light. Time slowed as Death Singer dove for her head. Staring into the hideous eyes growing larger and larger, Ashan saw death.

She screamed as talons ripped her scalp, tearing her from the cliff. Sight-stealing blood poured into her eyes. Cold wind rushed up. She heard its whistling, and a screaming that seemed to come from everywhere. She begged Shala to stop the falling! The river's roaring voice rushed up in angry answer.

Ashan sucked in a last deep breath. Icy water engulfed her. Pain exploded in her back. She scraped the pebbled bottom and kicked into it, surfacing quickly. Through choking spray, she saw the boulders gleaming darkly ahead. She dug in against the fierce current, but the stones under her feet, hurled along by the powerful River Spirit, moved toward the rapids with her. The stones smashed against each other with angry, sobbing sounds, joining their quarreling voices with the crash of water turning over on itself. The whole world became one monstrous, drowning noise, squeezing through her ears into her brain. The sound filled her, became a solid rock that weighed her down. As the rivernoise held her in place, everything else slipped away. The clouds over the treetops became white tips on blue-gray waves; the trees on the riverbank, clouds of dark green spray. Even the cliff lost its shape and came blowing at her.

In a few heartbeats, the growing cloud ahead would break over her, and life would end in Yuna's swirling pit. As Ashan faced death, a terrible sense of failure eclipsed fear. Spirits demanded much of the Moonkeeper who would speak for them. She had questioned their laws. Angered, they had decreed her death.

As the warmth drained from her body and the strength in her muscles died, Ashan gave herself up to the will of the River Spirit, praying for safe journey to the otherworld. The sound in her head faded, then stopped.