ICE BURIAL: The Oldest Human Murder Mystery (The Mother People Series Book 3)

 

 

 

 

ICE BURIAL

 

Book
T
hree

 

THE MOTHER PEOPLE SERIES

 

JOAN DAHR LAMBERT
©

 

Copyright Joan Dahr Lambert  2012

 

 

 

 

Joan Dahr Lambert is
also
the author of

CIRCLES OF STONE

(
Simon Schuster
1997
,1999
)
,

Book One in the Mother People Series

CIRCLES IN THE SKY

Book Two
i
n the Mother People Series

 

WALKING INTO MURDER

Book One in the Laura Morland Mystery Series

WADING INTO MURDER

Book Two in the Laura Morland Mystery Series

SKIING INTO MURDER

Book Three in the Laura Morland Mystery Series

 

SEA HORSE MEMOIRS

 

THE OLDEST HUMAN MURDER MYSTERY

 

Oetzi the Ice Man died more than five thousand years ago in a shallow ravine
high in the
Alps
. Snow and ice covered him, shielding hi
m
from view
. As the years passed,
glaciers closed around his
half-
naked
body, preserving it almost perfectly. He was not seen again until 1991, when hikers noticed a human head and shoulder protruding from the ice. The spectacular find galvanized the public as well as the scientific world. Newspapers and magazines highlighted the story and the questions it raised. Who was Oetzi, and why had he climbed so high into the peaks
in
a snowstorm that would have kept any experienced mountain man, which he clearly was, from venturing into the heights
?
Still more puzzling:
why, once there, had he
removed
most of
his
c
lothing?

Articles in scholarly journals and the popular press soon provided a wealth of details about Oetzi: we learned his approximate height and age, the state of his health, what he ate before he died and a great deal about how he lived. Not until another autopsy was conducted in 2001, however, did we learn the true cause of his death. Oetzi had not died of exposure as had always been assumed. Instead,
he
was
brutally murdered.

Now comes a novel to tell us why.

PROLOGUE

The man staggered up the steep slope, clutching his injured hand. Wind battered him, and freezing particles of snow and ice hammered at his eyes. He dared not turn his head to see if the attackers were following. He was too dizzy, too weak, for that.
There was
strength only for flight. Still, the unexpected storm might save him. The men behind him were not fools, and only fools would head for the summit now. He plunged on.

The wind grew stronger as he approached the top of the peak. He could hear it moaning a
round
him, and the snow was thicker, heavier. The piling drifts dragged at his feet, tried to trap them
.
He
floundered, unable for a moment to haul them out. A sound pulled him forward. S
he was there, in front of him.
He must get to h
er or he would los
e
her in the blinding whiteness
. Perhaps, though, she was not
there. He could
n
o
t think clearly enough to be sure.
His wounds and the blow to his head had confused him.

She did
n
o
t know
the arrow had hit him; he remembered that. He must
not tell her lest she try to give him her strength and thus lose her own
.

A blast of wind knocked him to his knees as he reached the summit. He crawled ahead, certain now that he heard
her
voice. He followed it, felt his body tumble into a hollow. Abruptly the wind lessened and snow
built
up around him, protecting him. He must be in a ravine, he thought distractedly. How had he got there? And then she was with him. He felt her come into his arms and wanted to weep with the joy of it. They were all right now. The men would not find them here, deep in the hollow. They could stay here and be safe.

He lay still, content just to breathe and feel her breath on his cheek. And in that moment of relaxation, understanding came. His eyes opened wide with shock.
He knew now who had tried to kill him and why.
He had seen what he should not have seen, heard what he should not have heard
.

Another shock followed:
she
was
still
in danger
.
The
man who had attacked him
wanted to kil
l
her, too. That
was why
he had made the villagers come with him into the storm,
to
help him drive them up
the mountain so the cruel unrelenting cold and wind would kill them if the arrows had not. There was no safety here; they would be frozen, buried beneath the drifts and no one would ever know the truth.

Desperation seized hi
m.
She did not know the truth
either
.
It was not
the
ones they feared
who killed
,
as they had thought; what he had seen an
d heard made that horribly clear.
Danger still stalked all of them.
He tried to form words to
tell
her of th
is new
peril
,
but his lips would not move. He licked them, managed he thought to say her name.
O
ther words tried to force the
ir way
out
,
words of warning, of love, but he could not tell if they reached her, for she did not answer. Perhaps she could not hear through the wind, or perhaps he had not spoken after all.

Slowly, t
he words
faded
until he could no longer remember them or why he had to say them. A
realization, pure and clear,
pushed into their place
: he
would not live through the night, but she must
.
The
thought
pounded at him, would not let him rest. Over and over he heard it. He
must not let her die, must not let her die.
Nothing else mattered now, only that she must
not die
.

 

CHAPTER
ONE

The sky darkened abruptly and a tearing wind sprang up, blowing debris into
Zena
’s eyes. She looked up, startled.
A
moment before, the sky had been brilliant blue; now
it was almost black as masses of
dark clouds
r
ush
ed
into the high peaks.
Down and down they came, gathering around
her
until she could hardly see.

A clap of thunder made her jump. She would have to find shelter. To walk on these exposed ridges during a thunderstorm was dangerous.

Freezing particles of hail suddenly catapulted into her eyes, almost blinding her.
Zena
put her hands over her face and stumbled on. There was an old hut near here,
she remembered, one of the many shepherd’s huts that dotted the mountains. It was not in good repair,
but it would provide some shelter from the storm.

Squinting to see through the rain-lashed air, she inched ahead until she spotted the
small building
nestled against the hill
.
She
ducked to go through the low entrance but was startled into immobility by a
groan
. It was
not the groan of an animal, but of a person.
Zena
took a cautious step forward.

The groan came again
, and she saw someone
huddled on the floor in the
far
corner
.
“Who is there?” she called softly, not wanting to frighten the person.

She heard
a gasp, and a young woman raised her head. She stared fearfully at
Zena
.
Zena
stared back, her heart lurching with wild hope. The dark hair, the round dark eyes; was it possible? Could she have found her at last? She looked more closely and felt
the
hope drain agonizingly away, leaving her with a heavy, sodden sensation in her chest. This was not her sister.

Pain suddenly suffused the woman’s face and she bent over again, straining to breathe. She was hardly more than a girl,
Zena
saw with astonishment. What was she doing here by herself?

“Do not be afraid!” she exclaimed, coming closer. “You must let me help you. What is giving you pain?”  She took a few more steps, and the girl shrank back.

“I will not hurt you,”
Zena
reassured her, coming up to her now. The
young woman
doubled over again, and
Zena
understood.
She was in labor.
A girl even younger than her
was giving birth all alone in this abandoned shelter.

“The baby is coming? Is that what pains you?”

The girl nodded. There was still fear in her eyes, but it had lessened. She winced as lightning tore through the sky, followed by the crash of thunder.

“Then it is a good thing I have come,”
Zena
said in a practical tone, when the sound of thunder had faded away. “I am not a birther or healer like some, but I have been present at many births and will do my best.”

Her voice carried assurance, but she was not sure even her best would be enough. She had ne
ver delivered a baby by herself
, only helped the other women. Still, she must try to be confident for the girl’s sake.

“First, we will make you more comfortable,” she said in the same sensible tone. Pulling off the pack that was always on her back, she drew out an extra fur, her skin bag of herbs and liniments, and some loosely woven cloths.

“Lie down here so I can feel your belly when the next pain comes,” she instructed, spreading out her fur. Obediently, the young woman lay down, her knees
d
rawn up to her chest. Another contraction came almost immediately, then another, even stronger.

Zena
smiled into the frightened face. “Good!” she said. “They are strong and close and that means the baby will come before too long. You will be fine, I am sure of it.”

Some of the strain left the girl’s face - for she really was more girl than woman,
Zena
thought worriedly. Truly, she was too young to be giving birth. Why had her tribe not protected her by sending her to the Ekali, the women’s place, at the time when new life was most likely to begin? In her tribe,
all
young women went there in the middle of their moon cycles
for two years at least after their first bleeding. Since men were not permitted to come to the Ekali, the young women were
protected from beginning a new life until they and their bodies were older. Still, this girl looked big and sturdy, and that was in her favor.

Lightning flashed again, but this time the boom of thunder was slow to follow and sounded far away.
Good
,
Zena
thought.
Already the storm is moving away.

The girl moaned in agony as four more contractions came, one right after the other. “You should
try to
crouch now
,

Zena
told her
, helping her into a crouching position.
“That will help the baby to come.

“B
reathe with each contraction,” she instructed
, pushing
her chest in and out
to
demonstrat
e
.

The girl tried to imitate, but a wrenching spasm contorted her body, making her gasp instead. Peering down,
Zena
saw the crown of the baby’s head. Labor was more advanced than she had thought. A few more contractions, then some pushing, and the infant would be born. The girl must have been here for many hours already.

“Now just let the spasms come, do as they wish,” she said, “and try to breathe into them. Then, when I tell you, you should push. Then it will be over.”

There was no reply, but
Zena
saw comprehension in the young woman’s eyes. When the next pain came, she sucked in a deep breath and managed to let it out again before another followed. Three more came; then
Zena
told her to push, bear down as hard as she could, when her muscles tightened again. Four pushes, then five, and the infant’s head slid out.

“Good! You have almost done it,”
Zena
assured the straining girl. “The head has come and that is the hardest.” She leaned down to catch the baby as she spoke, and gave it a small tug. Unresisting, the tiny body slipped out.
Zena
held it, waiting for a moment to see if it would start to breathe, then gave it a gentle slap on the back. A thin screech emerged, and then another, and she relaxed.

“A fine boy,” she told the young mother, who had collapsed into the fur.
“S
ee what a beautiful baby you have!”
Wiping
the infant
gently
with one of her soft cloths
, she
placed him in his mother’s arms. The girl
held
him, her clasp tentative at first, then more confident.
T
here was wonder on her face.

“Look, already he is hungry! That is good,”
Zena
told her as the infant rooted with his mouth for a nipple.

The girl spoke for the first time. “He is all right?” Her eyes were anxious as she examined the baby.

Zena
looked
with her. “All the fingers, all the toes, and everything else,” she said with a smile. “He is good and big as well, and healthy, I am sure.”

The girl smiled. “He is beautiful,” she breathed, her eyes radiant. Her face suddenly twisted with pain, and the fear returned.

“It is just the afterbirth,”
Zena
reassured her. “When that has come you will be finished.”

As soon as the bloody mass emerged, she ducked outside to get water
for cleaning
from the small stream just beyond the hut. The rain had almost stopped now and she could see blue behind the retreating clouds.
She
stood for a moment, entranced as always by the steeply folded green hills, the high alpine meadows that stretched away in all directions. The air was so clear and fresh after the storm that it seemed to sparkle. She pulled it into her body, felt it cleanse her and fill her with renewed strength; then she turned back to the shelter.

“Now, we will clean you and the baby, then we can see if he w
ants
food or is too tired after all that work,” she said cheerfully. She chattered on as she performed the various tasks, cutting the cord and cleaning up after the birth.

“Tomorrow, I will
return
to my tribe and
bring
help,” she told the girl. “After a birth there is sometimes weakness, and it is good to have others who can help you
.
You can come back with us and stay until you are fully recovered. After that we can help you return to your own tribe.”

“You are kind,” the girl answered. “I thank you.”

“I am glad I was here,”
Zena
replied. “Let us see if the little one will take some food now, then you must both rest.”

The baby suckled briefly, then a small, satisfied shudder went through his tiny body and he slept. The girl’s eyes slowly closed, though she kept starting, as if still afraid.

Zena
looked around the small shelter. It was much more habitable than it had been before. A patchwork of small skins sewn together covered most of the gaps in the walls, and the floor was swept clean. There were supplies in one corner - some tubers and berries, a small stone bowl with melted animal fat, a flint knife set in a wooden handle and a bow with arrows, as well as some lengths of cord and a cape made from woven grasses, like the one she often wore. Was it possible the girl had been living in the hut? But how had she come here, and why?

The girl’s face was finally peaceful. It was smooth and round, the cheeks still flushed from the effort of the birth. Her hair was a deep rich brown, her eyes almost the same color, just as her sister Teran’s had been.
Zena
felt again that flash of hope. Perhaps the girl might at least know something
or
had
heard a rumor…

The thought trailed away. Almost a full cycle of the seasons had passed since her sister Teran had disappeared, and in that time the people of her tribe had
searched the whole area and asked everyone they saw for news of Teran.
No one had seen her; no one had heard anything of her, nor had they found any clues, no footprints or signs of a struggle, nothing at all. She had simply vanished, as if into the air.

Zena
still found it hard to believe. One moment Teran had been there, the next she had not. They had gone together to pick wild strawberries on the mountain
side,
and
Zena
had run back to the clearing to fetch
a
basket she had forgotten. When she returned to the hill
a few minutes
later, Teran was gone.

Grief filled
Zena again as she thought of that day
. She and Teran had shared the same womb, had been born one right after the other; had spent all their days and nights beside each other. They were two sides of the same person; she fair and blue-eyed and dreamy, attuned to the sky and the stars
, always seeking, always asking questions. Her
darker sister, younger by only a few moments,
was
more practical, in tune with the earth and all that grew upon it.
Teran had been a talented healer too. Some of her knowledge about herbs and healing had come from their wise one, Larak, but some seemed to come from an inner place only Teran possessed.

But Teran was gone. All
she had now
, Zena thought desolately,
was the shadow of her twin walking beside her, reigniting her grief even as she was comforted by the shadowy presence.
While that shadow persisted, she vowed stubbornly, she would not believe that Teran was dead.

“If you are there somewhere,” she murmured, “tell me what you think of this girl I have found. And what I should do.”

An image of food came into her mind. Of course! Her sensible sister was telling her that the girl would need nourishing food when she awoke.
Zena
checked the baby; then went out to look for more tubers and berries, some eggs if she could find them. There were many partridges up here, and their eggs were not hard to find if you knew where to look. A fire would be good too. Even in summer, the nights were cold in the mountains.

When she entered the shelter again, the girl’s eyes were on the door, as if she had been waiting.

Other books

Armadale by Wilkie Collins
A Heartbeat Away by Eleanor Jones
If I Stay by Reeves, Evan
Happily Ever Never by Jennifer Foor
In The Coils Of The Snake by Clare B. Dunkle
Chaos Quest by Gill Arbuthnott
Scintillate by Tracy Clark