Neria - chapter 4
The Mammoth Hunt
I was determined to learn Neria’s language and get taken to see the mammoths and she was just as keen to learn French from me. We met every day for a fortnight and practiced really hard. She was really good at knowing the names of all the plants and animals that we saw. Often I didn’t know a plant’s name in French so I just used her word for it.
Everyday Neria was waiting for me near the hot spring. She was never late and, one day, I asked her how long she had to wait. He answer was a huge surpise “All night and then all the time from morning”.
She explained how the cave passage between her World and mine worked. “When I go home, I always get there at the same time I left, so no one ever notices I’m missing. The trouble is, the same thing happens when I come to see you: I get here at the same time I left and see you walking home down the hill.”
She explained some more: "When I get home it’s morning time so I stay at home that day and sleep with my family. In the morning, I come here and you are just going home. So I go exploring on my own and eat some of the food I bring with me and then sleep in the cave until morning. That’s why I’m always here when you come up to meet me.”
In one way this was really good news: if the cave worked the same way for me, I could go to see the mammoths in Neria’s World and then get home without anyone knowing I’d been away.
At last she said we were ready for a visit to her World. Come early tomorrow.”
Before I went to bed that night I Googled “Mammoth” and learned quite a lot about them. They certainly are extinct, and I thope Neria isn’t just joking. Well, it will be fun to find out tomorrow.
Neria was waiting for me at the hot spring all fully dressed in her rather ugly leather clothes. She had another set of clothes with her and said I should leave all my clothes at the cave entrance and put on her spare set, so I would look like someone from where she lived. She said her people wouldn't believe her if she said I came from a world a where animals were tame and I could make fire with little magic sticks.
When she had shown me how everything fitted, and had helped me lace-up my boots, she led me into the cave. She had a smouldering stick that she blew on and got it burning properly at one end where a lump of fat was tied on.
She held the other end aloft, so we could see where we were going. I'd explored the cave before but never found the tiny little tunnel whose entrance was hidden behind a rock. At first the tunnel was dark but then I saw daylight a long way in front of us. When we stepped out of the tunnel we were in a different world: Neria's world.
Nearly everywhere was open grassy countryside with just scattered trees and bushes. The really exciting thing was the animals: there were lots of wild horses and bison (I'd only ever seen bison in the zoo or on television before). What I could see seemed a bit like the television films of Africa except the herds of African zebra were horses and the wildebeest were bison. And it was really quite cold, not hot like everyone says Africa is.
Neria pointed into the distance and said “There's usually some mammoths in the long reeds down by that big river” and we set off across the grassy plain to find them. The horses and bison ran away whenever we got anywhere near them.
When we got near the river we could see wide paths going into the reed beds and we could hear the mammoths trumpeting sometimes. We crept along one of the paths until we could see four mammoths pulling up great bunches of reeds with their trunks. One of the mammoths was a baby. Neria whispered “ We'd better go back before they see us. Mother mammoths get really fierce if they think you might hurt their baby".
When we were a safe distance away, we sat down on some rocks where we could watch the horses and bison and eat the lunch Neria had brought. It was pieces of cooked meat that we ate with lots of the bilberries that were growing all round us. There weren't any springs or streams near us but Neria had a leather bag with her that was full of water so we shared that.
Then I needed a wee, I found a bush but I couldn't find the right opening in my leather trousers. I think they were made for a girl and I had to lower my trousers like girls do.
I tried to work out where we were: unless going through the cave had taken us to a completely different world it must have taken us back in time to when mammoths were still around and people lived in caves. The sun and all the animals and plants, and Neria of course, all looked like things we knew in our world so I decided it was our World but we must have gone back in time. How long ago was that?
I couldn't think of the words to ask Neria what the date was. It wouldn't have made any sense to her anyway: we say the date is how many years since Jesus was born. Well he hadn't been born when there were mammoths and it seemed unlikely Neria would know how long she would have to wait for the first Christmas.
We started walking back to the cave and on the way we met a couple of grown-ups. The man carried a spear and the woman a dead mountain hare. Neria obviously knew them and I heard her say my name so she must be telling them where I came from. When they were gone I asked if she had told them about my World. “No, they wouldn't have believed me, so I said you were a dream-time friend.” I was puzzled “Can other people see your dream-time friends?” “Of course they can, at least sometimes, just like you can sometimes see the people that live inside the trees or the spirits of the animals.” Well, everything was different in her World so I suppose it makes sense here.
It had been hours since we first arrived in mammoth country and there was a lot left of the path to reach the cave and my home. I found the right words to tell Neria I had to go home because it was late. She said it wouldn't matter – when I came out of the cave I would find it just the same time as when I left. I didn't believe her but she said it always worked that way for her, even when, once, she had spent the whole night in my world. Back home, it was still the afternoon when she had left and her Mum was still calling her to come home and help make the dinner when she got back.
She said I could keep my leather clothes and hide them in the cave where my own clothes were. We went through the cave and it was morning in my World too.
I put my own clothes back then I realised we had plenty of time for a swim before I went home so I started to take my clothes off again.
As I was getting ready for our swim I thought about Neria’s World. If I had stayed there for ten years would it have still been today when I got home? And would I still be ten, or twenty? Would I like living in Neria’s World?
But the real problem was how can I show her my World? What will Mum and Dad say?
Things to think about
- Where did the very first humans live? Was it like Neria's country?
- Fairies are sort of "dream-time friends" that we only have in stories now, Once people really believed they could see them. What other sorts of imaginary beings did people once think were real?
- Édouard wondered what would happen if he stayed ten years in Neria's World then got back to his World. Would he be a ten-year-old boy again or a young man of twenty? What do you think?
- When Édouard takes Neria to meet his Mum and Dad, what will they believe about where she comes from?
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