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Simmering

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SIMMERING

Ayla peered out the slitted entrance to the rock shelter. Jondalar had gone out hours ago. She could only hope he'd be back before the shadows lengthened much more. She turned back to the main portion of the cave, which widened from the narrow entrance slit to form a snug, ovoid living space. This was one of the nicer caves she and her mate had taken refuge in since they departed the Mamutoi. If she wasn't anxious to meet Jondalar's people, she might've proposed that they stay here for the winter. The cave entrance was high up off the plains, and narrow -- easily defensible against any marauding predators.

She tied the braided grass cord around the base of a bundle of sage. Upended it so the essences would flow down into the velvety leaves and the potency of flavour and power would be maintained even as the plant dried on its makeshift rack of loosely-lashed sticks. (Loosely-lashed so the sinew cord could be recovered and re-used at the next camp.) The plains were somewhat sparse in their bounty, but Iza's tutelage and her own years on her own had given Ayla a keen eye for a fortunate find, and only a foolish medicine woman would pass up the opportunity to replenish her supplies before the first flurries of winter.

Thoughts of Iza, winter, and Jondalar's people left Ayla feeling unsettled and anxious. Would the Others like her? Would she like them? What would happen if Jondalar had to choose between her and his own people? Too many thoughts, and she had several piles of herbs to bind and set to drying before the well-banked fire.

Iza. Though there was no telling what her adoptive mother would've thought of Jondalar, Ayla was sure Iza would've approved of the neat stack of packs and supplies, waiting to be loaded onto Whinny and Racer's harnesses. Dried meats. Dried fruits. Some dried grains to make into gruel. Herbs of all kinds in case of illness or injury -- handy to have in case they came in contact with people on their voyage and needed to pay their way with skill. Jondalar had also knapped a wide range of stone tools, and his were so beautiful she was sure that they would be valued by anyone they met.

She glanced at the matrimonial leathers laying folded on one of the packs. Tonight perhaps she would put a few more beads on those. Transform them a bit more. Make them hers and Jondalar's. A bit of decorating would be a welcome change from the constant grind of travel. And speaking of decoration, she had to smile with amused exasperation at the sheaves of wheat Jondalar had strewn around the cave in the name of making the place look less like a temporary shelter and more like a home.

In the distance, she could just make out the barking half-howl greeting of Wolf. An odd creaking, rattling noise signalled Jondalar's return even before his familiar cry. "Ayla! Beloved!"

She hurriedly tied the next bundle (marjoram) onto the makeshift rack. Dusted her hands on her leathers. Squeezed out through the entrance to the cave. Petted Wolf as he scrambled up the outcroppings to the cave entrance, tongue lolling with canine enthusiasm after his run. She looked down just as Jondalar steered Whinny and Racer to a halt. It was strange to see him move their heads in unison using the new, more elaborate harnesses, and the contrivance he stood in was the strangest thing he'd yet invented.

Jondalar had created a platform out of a series of narrow saplings, lashed together just this morning. At right angles to this was the frame like a one-man shelter or half-sized tent. Just enough to protect her mate's hips and legs. He leaned heavily over it now, encouraging and praising the horses as they recovered their breath. The thing he stood in settled back onto its... wheels, she supposed. They hadn't yet come up with a better name other than "things that turn".

"You were right," said Jondalar, his cheeks flushed from his outing. "The new things--"

"Axels?" she said.

"Axels," he nodded. "They yolk the wheels together. The two turn as one. I've never gone so fast. It's almost like riding Racer."

She smiled. "So will it work?"

"It bounces a lot," Jondalar admitted. "And I don't think it'll hold together for distance driving on uneven ground. The travois make more sense for travelling. But it's not a failure yet. We'll try again when there's flatter ground. Maybe near one of the floodplains by the Great Mother River."

She nodded. Made her way down the rocks to help Jondalar strip the harnesses from the two winded horses. She and Jondalar had fitted and refitted the harnesses until Whinney and Racer's respective rigs were as suited to their personalities as to the task of hauling supplies.

Wolf, meanwhile, had gone into the cave and come back out again, his mouth full of sheaves of wheat. Ayla had tried to break him the habit of fetching when not asked, but in this case, she had to admit that Jondalar's attempt at decorating had a more practical use.

Jondalar laughed as he accepted one of the sheaves. He held it up for Racer to nibble. "Wolf read my mind." He pulled back the cover on the rest of the platform above the wheels. Ayla hadn't really even noticed it until now.

To her dismay, it was mounded over in sheaves of wheat.

"I wanted to see if it would work for hauling," said Jondalar, grinning. "It's good, but only for short hauls. I'll have to make new wheels when we get home."

"We have a lot of wheat," she said. "Already."

Jondalar shrugged. "Maybe, but it was fast to gather and I thought you might be able to do something with it."

She picked up a sheaf of wheat from the wheeled vehicle, wishing there was some way to save the grain. It was hard to chew, but was good for cooking. (Jondalar loved her grain-and-egg-stuffed ptarmigan and would ask for the delicacy any time he thought she could make use of her slings.) It was heavy, though, even when dried, and if she had to choose between the fast energy and high-maintenance cooking of wheat and the slow-burn, lasting energy of meat, there really wasn't much choice. Moreover, grain attracted vermin. And within days, if they didn't dry the kernels (and sometimes even if they did) they risked a blight or smut, which fouled the food around it. She wished she could find a way to carry more, lighter, faster energy, as meat on an empty stomach could cause cramping or indigestion first thing in the morning.

Now she had more wheat than she knew what to do with. Bleakly, she looked at the pile of golden stalks and tried to figure out how they could possibly fit it all in their snug little cave.

Though he'd never reprimanded her for questioning him, Jondalar was oddly silent as they carried up armloads of grain. And silent still as they stripped the wheat from the stalks and set it in a winnowing basket. Perhaps he sensed that she was unhappy. He did that sometimes. Perhaps he was just full of his own thoughts. At times like this, she wondered if she'd ever know him.

"I can make a few days' worth of mash," she said at last.

"That's good," he said, hopeful. His face fell as he realized at last what the problem was. "But we're not going to stay here that long, are we?"

She nodded sadly. Waved a hand at the growing stack of grain. "Like the wheels, if we can't make it work for travelling, this is waste. It would be different if we were among people."

"We will be. Soon." Quieter now, Jondalar withdrew to his tools. Began to knap.

She left him to his thoughts. She could only hope he was planning a new knife by way of apology, as the one she'd been using as a general utility blade was getting duller and duller with every day that passed. Because she was also in a conciliatory mood, she busied herself with winnowing the dried grain. It would pack better, and they would want some now for boiling.

"Are you making mash?" Jondalar asked.

"Yes." He always surprised her with his interest in female tasks.

"How do you make it?"

She looked at him, wary, to see if he was teasing her.

"I'm serious," he said with the "earnest" expression. "I want to know."

"Why do you want to know now?" she said, even as she reached for the water container.

"Because every morning, the mash appears like magic," he said. "I want to know how it happens."

"All right," she said. "You need water and a container that can be heated."

"How much water?" he said. "And why that container?"

His interest was starting to annoy her, though she did her best not to let it show. "This container," she said, holding it up. "Because it's twice as large as I'll need for the water. Grain makes the water starchy as it boils, and this will be less likely to boil over and drown the fire's coals. It's birchbark, which is just thick enough to keep from burning, but not so thick that the coals can't heat it through and start the water boiling."

"Good." He handed her a cup. "How many of these do you need of water and grain?"

She honestly hadn't thought about it. "As many as I need."

He gave her an expectant look, raking the coals into a useful pile.

She thought about it. Scooped water into the container. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six." There. That was about the right amount. "Six cups of water." She set the birchbark container onto the banked coals.

Jondalar nodded. "And the grain?"

She measured out one cup. Considered it. "About this much. One cup."

Jondalar nodded again as she set the grain aside to wait for the water to boil. "Six cups of water and one cup of grain. Good. But the mash is salty?"

"Yes," she said. "It's good for us to have salt when we travel. We get less tired."

"So how much of that?" he pressed. "A handful?"

"No!" She was frankly shocked at the suggestion. "Salt is precious. If we use it up, we won't have enough to make it back to the camp of your people."

Jondalar nodded. "And it'd be too salty. Okay." He cupped his hand to make an indentation in his palm. "Enough to fit in this?"

She considered the indentation, then shook her head no. She reached for the pouch of precious salt. Opened it, thinking. She reached in. Pinched some salt between her fingers and thumb. "As much as this."

"A pinch," said Jondalar.

"A pinch," she agreed. They shared a grin.

"So," said Jondalar. "Six cups of water."

"A cup of grain," she said.

"And a pinch of salt."

She nodded. The water in the container was just starting to steam. Soon it would bubble and be ready to boil.

"Why not put it in now?" Jondalar's smile said he was talking about things other than cooking.

She decided she liked the suggestion, though she ignored the sexual invitation. "You have to wait for it to be hot enough. Put it in when it's cold, and it won't cook right."

"Always better when it's had a chance to warm up," Jondalar agreed.

Nothing in her childhood had prepared her for this kind of teasing, but travelling with Jondalar had shown her that Pleasures were never far from his mind. This was fine with her, as she enjoyed them at least as much as he did.

"What else?" he said. "What you make is more than just grain, salt, and water."

"A few rosemary leaves," she said, knowing that both of them like the strong evergreen taste. "Marjoram. Thyme. Little amounts."

"A pinch?" he offered.

"A pinch," she replied, smiling. She used the somewhat dull utility knife to chop a few leaves here. A few stems there. The inner stalks of one plant. And always, Jondalar wanted to know how much. She found the spoon from this morning's tea useful when he insisted on exactitude. Sometimes it wanted a quarter full. Sometimes half. A full tea-spoon with the blander herbs. Though, the berries they'd collected yesterday she ladled in generously. Many tea-spoons full. The fire and water would plump them again. Her mouth watered in anticipation.

"Berries will make it sweet?" said Jondalar hopefully.

"If it were summer they would," she said. "It's late summer. Winter comes soon. The plants lose their sugars. Berries are more sour now, but good for the body."

"Winter fruits," Jondalar said. "Ah well. It still smells good."

"Honey," she said. "Honey might help make it sweeter."

"I can do that." Jondalar sprang to his feet, his usual enthusiasm restored. He snatched another flint knife and headed for the cave's entrance.

She knew it was pointless to tell him to be careful.

After only a short while, the mash had reduced to a pleasantly-bubbling semi-liquid and her mate had returned. Not surprisingly, he was covered in stings, but bore two dripping combs of honey and a wide grin. She fussed over him, relieving him of the combs, which she quickly wrapped in skins lest they attract insects, and sat him down. She scooped a bit of the fat off the dregs of last night's meal. She searched among her herbs to find the right mix to relieve the swelling and draw out the poison of the stings, plus a cup of willowbark tea she'd had steeping in anticipation that Jondalar would return in some kind of pain. The irony of using fresh honey in the pain-relieving tea was not lost on her. The fat made a good base for the herbs, and would melt against Jondalar's skin, releasing the essences of the herbs and soothing the stings. She applied the poultices gently, making sure Jondalar knew by her care that she respected his gift all the more for its being so dearly bought.

Once her mate was settled, she wrapped the first honeycomb thoroughly so it could be transported. Secreted it into one of the packs. Her mate had been his usual, reckless self; such a gift could not be wasted. When she returned to her fire, she added a few smaller sticks to stoke the heat back up again. Then, she added a little honey from the second comb to the mash. The savoury herb mash now had a hint of sweet to it, and thickened a little more as it lost the last of its excess water content to the heat of the fire.

"Why sweeten it if we already put in salt?" said Jondalar.

She struggled for the words to explain that both sweet and salt were necessary for the full flavour of the meal to come out. "It makes it taste better. Better flavour."

Jondalar accepted this explanation without further comment.

A stone fell from one of the outcrops above them. Rang hollowly on the floor with a "ding".

"Doni says it's time to eat," said Jondalar with a wink.

"Doni is right," said Ayla. She scooped up some of the thick, porridge-like mash. Placed it into an eating bowl. Passed it to her mate, who began to eat with gusto -- even as he cursed that the mash was too hot to eat.

She started on the next preparations. The shadows had lengthened fully and the chill of evening had started to settle in. She wouldn't have much time before full dark. The meat would want some time to soak and re-hydrate before she used it to make their dinner.

"Why not just use it dry?" Jondalar said around a messy mouthful of mash.

"It goes tasteless," she said. "Not as good for food." She sensed that he wanted her to tell how she did this, just as she told how she made the mash. This soup would be more complex. "Six cups of water," she said, "but only once the meat is ready."

She reached again for the container that had the dregs of last night's meal. Juices were still good, and made a good base for more cooking. She skimmed the fat off the top.

"You used that on my stings," said Jondalar.

"Yes," she said. "Now I use it on your food. Food and skin both like fat. Makes them better. You caught rabbits. Their meat is lean. Not enough fat. As they dry, they get brittle and sharp. Soften with fat. Makes the meat better. I add herbs, they taste better."

"And saves time tomorrow night."

She grinned approval at his leap of understanding. "I want the juices for tonight. The..."

"Broth," he said.

"Broth," she repeated, testing the word. "Yes. I want the meat to taste like more than water." She began to narrate as she prepared. A leaf of this. Some chopped up bits of that. A pinch here. A tea-spoon there. "Just a little of everything. Too much is just too much. It doesn't make the food taste any gooder."

"Better," Jondalar corrected gently.

"Better," she said. "Yes. And once everything is in the... broth plus herbs."

"Marinade," said Jondalar.

"What is 'marinade'?" she said, racking her memory for the unfamiliar word.

"I don't know," said Jondalar. "I just made it up."

"What does it mean?" she said.

"Meat plus broth and good herbs," he said. "I guess. It means whatever you have in that container that smells good and will be our dinner."

"Marinade." She nodded. "Shorter. Fewer words. I like it." Now that the meat was soaking in its juices-with-herbs (marinade), she began to eat her own mash, which had cooled to the point where it would be easy to eat without burnt fingers or tongue.

Jondalar gobbled down the last of his mash and went back to knapping. The steady chink-chink-chink of stone on stone made a pleasant rhythm to her own eating. After a while, Jondalar made an irritated sound.

"Jondalar?" she asked quietly, not wanting to upset him more.

He sighed deeply and showed her the result of his work. "It should have smoother edges. This is rough. Serrated. It will shred whatever it touches, not cut nicely like a good blade."

He made to throw it away, but she stopped him.

"Let me try. Maybe it's not all bad." She took the sharp little knife. It had a fine edge on it, but serrated, just as he said. She went to the rabbit carcasses. If it would shred the meat, at least she could use it on meat that was already messy. To her astonishment, the serrations on the blade did not make it useless, but sharper still. It could cut cleanly through even the toughest gristle and tendon. Moreover, she could really abuse it, hacking and slashing with rough strokes that would dull her ordinary blade.

Jondalar was watching her. "It's not ruined?"

She shook her head no. "It's better than the others."

Jondalar grinned. "I'll make another."

Unfortunately, when she turned the blade on her herbs, it shredded them just as Jondalar had predicted. Still, she was glad at least to have the sturdy new knife, and even her old dull one could manage the herbs if she was patient enough.

More steady tapping. "Hmm," Jondalar said after a few moments. "This one is longer and thinner."

He kept the remaining round rock blank in his lap and passed her the blade.

"It's too -- not strong -- for meat," she said.

"Flimsy?" he offered.

"Flimsy," she said. "Yes. But it may be good for herbs." She tried it out and was pleased. It still crushed a little as it cut, but was sharp enough to be useful.

****

Jondalar watched Ayla work with the blades he'd made for her. She had a practical grace when she prepared either food or medicine. He should probably have been packing up to prepare to leave tomorrow, but couldn't resist watching her. He fidgeted with the big round rock in his hands. He'd knapped several tools from it, and its surface was slightly pitted and rough. It felt good in his hands, though. He'd have to think of something good to do with it.

Ayla had set the new blade he'd made aside and was now tucking in to her mash.

Jondalar dipped his fingers into a nearby container, which had a few grains of dried wheat in it. He pulled out one of these little nodules. Tried to crush it in his fingers.

"You'll need more than that," said Ayla. "They're tough. Don't crush easily."

He originally meant the use of the flint to be a joke, but when he crushed the grain against another rock, it made a strange white powder. He threw some more grains under the rock, curious, and ground them to a powder too.

He noticed Ayla, looking at him. It wasn't her habit to question or confront him directly, be he could tell by the tenseness in her shoulders that she wasn't happy.

"I'm curious," he said. "Don't you crush herbs to release their essences? Their spirit? So they can cure people?"

She nodded.

"I want to know what wheat essence can do." He crushed a few more grains. Threw them into the pot with the mash. It thickened quickly.

Both he and Ayla watched, intrigued.

Ayla turned back to the meat, which had hydrated. She threw in some of the powder. The broth thickened quickly. Her expression turned to one of fascination. "Jondalar," she said. "I would like some powder. I too want to know what its essence can do."

Smiling, he ground her more powder. "Flour."

"Why flour?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I don't know. I just like the sound of the word."

Ayla got out another container. Put the powder in. Added water. Mixed it with her hands. Added some honey so it wouldn't be so bland. Played with it, pounding and turning it. "It has a life to it," she said. "It's warm, and it seems almost to resist when I push it."

"Strange," he said. "Maybe its essence is stronger than we thought."

She held the lump of no-longer-powder in her hands. "I don't know what to do now."

"Set it aside," he said. "You'll think of something."

Nodding, she put it back in its container by the fire. Dampened a large leaf. Covered it. "So it won't dry out. Maybe it wants to be wet to be potent."

And that choice of word reminded him of his earlier thoughts. "What now?" he tried not to be too leading.

She shrugged. "There's nothing more we can do with it until the soup is ready." Unfortunately, before he could suggest more, she handed him her old utility knife and some roots. Obediently, he joined her in peeling and chopping. He knew she was flattering him when she continued to exclaim how good the knife was, but he warmed all the same at the praise. Once everything was ready, they dumped the vegetables in the pot with the meat to make something thicker than soup.

"Stew," he pronounced it.

"Stew," she agreed, visibly pleased at the sound of the word. "It will want a slow boil over low heat so all the flavours can blend."

"Low heat?" he repeated. "Simmer. You mean simmer." He took that as his invitation and moved closer.

"Simmer," she repeated. "To make stew from the marinade."

"Simmer," he whispered across her ear. She shivered pleasantly. "To thicken and heat the juices so they make the mouth water."

She turned in his arms. Helped him strip off her tunic. "My mouth is watering."

"Patience," he said. "The best meals take time."

He stripped out of his tunic as she reached for the drawstring on his trousers. Their shared grin became a kiss. The kiss became seeking. "Too many clothes," he murmured.

"Too many," she agreed, and stripped her own trousers off with the same ruthless efficiency that she'd used on the roots.

Not to be outdone, he stripped off the last of his own garments. He kissed her again, pressing her back until she lay flat beneath him. Tasted the slight sheen of sweat on her perfect skin. "Simmering," he said.

"Yes," she said, breathless. "I want to taste you too."

Laughing, he rolled them over so she was straddling his head. He parted her and tasted deeply. Almost lost his breath as his manhood was engulfed by Ayla's mouth, a wet heat more intoxicating than any fire.

She knew him, just as he knew her. They'd learned each other's signals, desires, the quirks of each body and the places that craved touch. When to stroke. When to taste to make the other pant with need. It had become an act of faith and a test of wills between them to see who would break first and ask for the final pleasure.

Ayla was laving the head of him with such skill that, in the end, it was he who gasped, "I surrender!"

Grinning in victory, she lay down and held out her arms to him. But he was in the mood for something more passionate. He turned her over. Pulled her firmly to her knees. Thrust deep, covering his body with hers.

He knew this was dangerous. He could feel the sudden tension in her body and he knew its cause -- the Flathead who'd forced her had done it in this position. But over the weeks since they'd begun travelling together, he'd been determined to cover those painful memories with new ones. Ones of a man who loved her past reason. A man who knew where every place of pleasure on her body was. A man who held sharing Pleasures with her as the ultimate act of faith and love.

And it worked. She began to mould to him, her cries of pleasure throaty and good. He moved with the confidence of years of skill. Touched her centre of pleasure. Rolled it gently between finger and thumb. Gently. Gently. She bucked against him. He wrapped his other arm around her. Cradled one of those perfect breasts in his hand. Felt his own need building. She was calling out like the wild woman she was, and he let his own cries blend with hers. Flow together. Blend. She shuddered around him before he lost himself to pleasure.

As always, afterward, he loved wrapping his slightly-uncoordinated body around hers. Breathing the musky female scent of her. Enjoying the closeness of the woman he loved.

 

***

Ayla awoke groggily. Jondalar was shaking her gently. Calling her name softly. She struggled for consciousness.

"Something has happened to the flour," he said.

She followed him to the fire. The flour was now distended, arching up against the leaf as though possessed by some spirit.

"I've never seen this donii," said Jondalar. "No spirits I know eat the essence of any grain like this. I've heard that the red-brown curse that grows on some grain is sacred, and some zelandoni use it to see the Mother more clearly and to sharpen their visions of her, but this..."

It was not that Ayla didn't believe this was influenced by the spirits, but her life had taught her to be practical. Many things ate grain, drank water, and were attracted to honey. It was likely that whatever spirit had made the flour-loaf rise here had done so for its own reasons. Whether they were compatible with human ones remained to be seen.

Ayla sniffed at the container. A yeasty smell, like some minor infections. Not good. "It's bad," she said. "We should throw it out before it makes us sick."

Jondalar considered this. "What if we use the fire to burn out the spirit and leave the flour behind? It was good when we left it."

Though still concerned, Ayla grudgingly agreed to burn the new thing. Slowly. Bake it. They watched it anxiously. It went from white to straw-colored to brown. She and he fished it out of the coals before it could burn or catch fire.

"Did it work?" said Jondalar.

"We will see," she replied, eying the container. She knew there was no way to talk him out of trying to eat the thing, and was grateful she had a full measure of supplies for the resulting stomach ache.

The flour-loaf was too hot to touch, so they waited for it to cool. Ayla checked the stew, which had thickened nicely and now smelled wonderful. She added a bit more salt and pronounced it ready to eat.

"So wheat is good after all," Jondalar teased.

"It could be," she admitted. "We can use more dry grain in the packs so I can make this heartier food. It will taste good at the end of a day of travel."

She had already planned to use some of Whinney's milk for another treat. She mixed it and mixed it, distracted by Jondalar, who was telling her stories of his brother Thonolan's first hunting expedition. Foolishness appeared to be a family trait, as the deer soon had the hunter disarmed, half-naked, and cornered. "He was lucky the others caught up to him," Jondalar said, laughing.

She joined in his laughter and realized she'd lost track of time. The milk in her bowl had gone from being white and good to yellowish and thick. She wasn't sure what to make of it. Jondalar threw some salt into it. "To dispel bad spirits."

She had the sense that he was only half kidding. It was just as well. Salted food tended to last longer. She mixed it again for good measure When she tasted it, she found the fatty spread quite good. Creamy and salty.

"What shall we call it?" sais Jondalar.

"Butter," she said.

"Butter." He nodded, obviously liking the sound of the word. "Good word."

By now, the flour-loaf experiment had cooled. She and Jondalar poked at it, unsure how to cut it.

"We should slice it open," she said. "See if the bad smell is gone."

"The bad smell?" said Jondalar.

"Yeast," she said. "Like some wounds."

"All right." Jondalar collected up all the knives within easy reach. Ayla's utility knife was too thick and would probably more crush the loaf than slice it. But the newest blade, the thin, serrated one Jondalar had finished earlier, might work. Carefully, she sliced the wheat-flour creation. It was light and white on the inside, just as the powder-lump had been. And though it had a faint yeasty aroma, it exuded none of the foulness that she'd associate with bad spirits. In fact, it was mouth-watering.

"Let me try it first," said Jondalar. "My stomach is stronger."

She watched him take a bite. His eyebrows flew up in the surprised expression. "It's good."

"Try this." She offered him some of the new "butter" to season the slice and cast out any remaining spirits that weren't burned off by the fire.

He agreed, and was delighted with the taste.

"Butter," he said. "And bread."

"Why 'bread'?"

"Why not?" he said. "We have to call it something."

She teased him that it might yet make him sick.

"Who cares?" he said. "I'll die with good tastes in my mouth. Ayla. Bread. Butter." He cut himself another slice, carefully carved with the new, thin, serrated blade. Added butter. Grinned around a mouthful. "Bread knife."

She examined one of the thin pieces. "Sliced bread."

He offered her the dish. "Sliced bread with butter."

Though still slightly dubious, she agreed to try. The texture was soft and giving, like the flour-loaf had been before they baked it. It seemed porous, like it might drink up liquid. "We should use it on the juices," she said. "I think after a meal this would soak them up."

"Would it now?" said Jondalar archly. "I'll have to test that later."

She ducked her head, though she shared his amusement.

"Salt and honey do not go bad," Jondalar mused. "This should last several days. Maybe a week or more. And it's light, so it won't be so heavy to carry."

"It's still bland, though," she said.

They looked around the cave at all the wheat, herbs, fruits, and even the spare scraps of meat that were too little to carry. Ayla grinned. "I could make so many kinds of bread. Enough for every day and then some."

"Ayla!" said Jondalar. "I know what you can do when we return to the Zelandonii! No one will have heard of this. Fewer still will know how to bake it. You can be... baker-Doni!"

She smiled. "I think, though, because it's a mystery -- even to us -- that we should call this bread Wonder."