The cave’s slickstone, green with slime, made treacherous footing. Shaman had made the trip many times and had learned to navigate the pitfalls. His apprentice, Tir, had no such knowledge and slipped and fell throughout their journey. At each misstep Shaman would wait for his apprentice to recover.
“To prowl the dark, you must see with more than your eyes.”
“Yes, Shaman,” Tir would say, his voice deferential. “If only I had my own lamp.”
Over their shoulder, each had slung a leather pouch containing pigments, tallow and artist’s tools. Shaman carried the single lamp from which they would light a fire, its flame a meager beacon in the dark. Tir, the apprentice, the only one who had passed the holy man’s tests, struggled with a bundle of knot-wood tied with twisted cordage.
They were headed deep within the mountain for Tir’s final test.
“I will wait while you prepare your own.” Shaman held up the flame.
Tir unwrapped and readied his vessel, a clay dish, it used congealed fat as the fuel. He leaned forward and lit it from Shaman’s own. It sputtered as it caught, the smell reminiscent of roasting meat. Smiling weakly, Tir said, “I am ready.”
They began again, Tir with renewed vigor. But, at the next tight maneuver, he spilled the dish and his lamp’s flame snuffed out in a blink. The youth’s curses echoed off the limestone archways of the cavern.
Shaman paused for a moment. “Only one hand must be burdened during a difficult journey. The second must be free to help the first.”
“But… Yes, Shaman.” Tir gathered the lamp, still intact, rewrapped it and stuffed it back into his satchel. He followed Shaman in muted silence, testing each step, his burden of wood banging against the walls of the cave.
The narrow passage opened to a sandy tunnel which opened to a chamber. Shaman’s meager lamp cast vague shadows on distant walls. Tir sniffed at the air, a musty smell drifted through from some unseen pathway.
Shaman pointed to the floor. There Tir found remnants of prior fires. Unpacked, and with his own lamp relit, he used the wood he’d dragged along to build a campfire.
“I see bear prints. Lion too, I think.”
“We are the visitors, they, the residents.”
When the fire began to crackle and the flames pushed the darkness back into crevices around them, past paintings revealed themselves. Herds of tan horses with black manes galloped in from the right. Overlayed drawings of cave lions hunkered on one wall, awaiting the approach of prey. And there were bison and auroch sparring in the center, their great curved horns, some sweeping up to the curved ceiling, others lowered, preparing to gore a rival.
Tir, his mouth agape, paced in a circle, touching the stone, his fingers tracing the graceful curves of previous artists.
“Where am I to draw?”
Shaman pointed toward another tunnel. “In there.”