Chapter 17 – Fresco
Translated by Sunyancai
Since he was able to come over and be responsible for the teaching, naturally he was not some idiot who only knew how to count from one to ten at his age. What’s more, some old hunters like himself were all experts in counting, even though they perhaps did not know much about other fields. It was because counting was one of the basic skills required for a hunting mission, and the competition among different hunting teams also required that one knew how to count.
Knowing that the children in the cave could skillfully count from one to thirty, the old hunter felt quite happy and content, aside from being surprised and shocked. He liked to teach others, but unfortunately up on the mountain, no kid needed him to teach.
With this rare and precious interest, the old hunter paid extra attention in teaching and he enjoyed it as well.
Since they could learn more numbers, the cave quieted down and they stopped talking about changing the teacher, instead every whelp was listening closely with full attention. Shao Xuan mainly focused on the letters in the tribe, while other kids were eager to learn more numbers. Caesar, who was lying on the straw bed, sleeping, was the most bored one in the cave.
When it was the time for the old hunter to leave, he became quite attached to those kids already, and he felt like that he had more things that he wanted to share. In the past, he would only come here two or three times. Now that the situation had changed and he enjoyed teaching them, he planned to visit a few more times, for after all, he was not capable of getting down the mountain every day. After serious consideration, the old hunter left a roll of animal skin. Not that first one he had taken out, but a larger one with more letters and more numbers written on it. He asked Shao Xuan to keep it and whoever wanted to read may go to Shao Xuan.
All the vents in the cave were already blocked up by straw, so no light could come inside. During wintertime, it was the same darkness in the cave no matter day or night. Also they could not afford to keep the fire all day long. The firewood stored in the cave was brought by the warriors, but still, they could not afford to keep the fire going all day.
Shao Xuan stared at the fire and thought that it would be much more convenient for everyone, if the cave could be brighter inside.
Caesar was eating a raw fish beside Shao Xuan as he did not like cooked food.
The fish-teeth left after they had eaten the meat were not suitable for making other tools. They were too small. And because they were too young to go out for hunting, the fish teeth could not be used as hunting tools. But still, Shao Xuan made a few brushes with those teeth, to comb Caesar’s fur and his own hair.
There were combs in the tribe, but kids in the orphan cave had no interest in combing. Appearances were never as important as issues related to food. All men and women in the tribe had different hairstyles, long or short. Those with no favor of long hair may use a stone knife to cut their hair short. But no one cared to cut hair for the kids in the cave, so all of them had long messy hair.
Those relatively larger fish-teeth were carved up and made into necklaces by kids. They loved it.
Decorations made with the game’s horns or teeth, or anything representative were symbols of ability. And people in the tribe liked to use that to show off their hunting gains. Some warriors would give those kind of decorations to their beloved girls to earn their favors. Girls and women in the tribe would also compare these items, to see whose necklace was more advanced; and whose feathers on the head was from a more ferocious bird. The fiercer the game was, the more admiration one would receive by putting on decorations made from it.
Of course, kids would also compare themselves with others. In the mountain foot district, most kids were wearing necklaces that were made from the horns, teeth, or bones of their parents’ game. In the cave, however, many orphans lost their parents at a very young age, so no one would give them such decorations as gifts. Every time when they went to the tribe and saw those kids with decorations, they would very much admire or even envy them. It was also the hidden reason for most fights between them and the other kids in the tribe.
But now, they could use their own game’s teeth to make their own unique necklaces. How could they not be happy? Now they also had necklaces, which were no worse than the other kids’! Fish-teeth necklaces were another reason why those kids were so fond of fish.
Shao Xuan did not strive for fish-teeth with the others, and he spared all those big fish teeth, which were suitable to make necklaces, to other kids. When Ba was visiting his younger sister, he gave her a big fish tooth, even bigger than the ones he was wearing himself.
Life was not easy on anyone.
As Shao Xuan was considering how to better the situation in the cave, other kids were far less troubled. Aside from sleeping every day, they would only communicate about counting numbers by the fire with other kids when it was time to eat. While Mo-Er sharpened his knife every day. He had already mastered counting, and he had known more letters than the others in the cave. So every time when the fire was lit, he would stay in a corner and practice his knifing skills. He would toss a rock into the air, and then use his knife to chop at it, since in the cave there were no night swallows for him to practice.
After eating, all the kids in the cave fell asleep. Before the wood in the bonfire burnt out, Shao Xuan added another stick in until the end of the stick caught on fire, taking the burning stick as a torch and walked deeper into the cave.
The other day when he was checking out the depth of the cave, he found a stone room that stored sundries. The stone pots that the kids used to make breakfast just came from there after Shao Xuan dug them out. Besides stone pots, Shao Xuan did not pay attention to other items. Anyway he had nothing else to do, so he carried the stick there to see if he could find any other useful things.
Even though they had blocked all vents where they slept, down the cave there were still cracks connecting to the outside. So Shao Xuan could feel icy breezes blowing in as he kept waking inside.
The good thing was that the wind was not strong and the flame merely flickered a few times and was not blown out.
Shao Xuan tightened his animal skin clothes, and followed his memories inside. Caesar followed him closely.
There were many stone rooms inside, and they were distributed like branches. The first room from the right had sundries in it, and was quite big.
The vent in the stone room was also blocked, and Shao Xuan took the torch to go through the stuff inside. Some items were used before, but perhaps the kids in the cave no longer cared to use them and only waited for the tribe to deliver food, so none of the tools were used again and they could only gather dust there.
Aside from some stone stools and things to set up stone pots, Shao Xuan had no interest in the other items.
After some time, Shao Xuan fixed his eyes on the round stone plate. It was a round stone plate, quite flat, with an edge about one finger above the bottom.
To hold food to eat? But who would use this thing since they had a stone pot?
He put the stone plate aside and kept on looking for other items. As he kept digging, he hesitated for a minute and looked back at the stone plate that he tossed to the side. He measured roughly with his hand and then raised the torch high to see the vent.
All the vents in the cave were not small, so air and light could both come inside.
Shao Xuan’s sight moved back and forth between the blocked vent and the stone plate, and then he took the stone plate as he returned along the way he came.
Shao Xuan added some more firewood to make the fire grow, and got some snow from the thick layer of snow at the entrance. He placed the snow inside a stone pot, and placed the stone plate outside the straw curtain by the cave’s entrance. After some time, he poured the melted snow water inside the stone plate, and after not long, he found the water had frozen.
So he dragged the stone plate inside, and burned on the edge of the stone plate with fire, before he put the stone plate upside down and pulled out the round ice.
Some kids who weren’t asleep yet were staring at Shao Xuan’s efforts curiously. They wondered what he was doing, but wrapped with thick animal skin blankets, they did not want to stand up because of the cold, yet could only try to crane their necks to get a clearer view. However, the fire was not strong enough for them to see clearly.
It was too cold to touch with bare hands, so Shao Xuan used a piece of animal skin to wrap the ice, and he stepped on a rock, holding the ice. He told Ba to clear out all the straw that were blocking the vent.
With no stuffing, icy winds blew into the cave, and kids inside got chilled because of the cold. Shao Xuan, who was standing right under the vent got an intense strike and he could not even feel his own face. So he hurriedly pushed the ice towards the vent, with the help of Ba.
As Shao Xuan had predicted earlier, the ice was almost the same size as the vent, only smaller. And that difference allowed him to push the ice into that vent.
In the past, Shao Xuan did not understand why there was a dent at the edge of the vent. Now he understood that it was used to block the ice. As for the other small crevices, they could be blocked by straw directly.
By the time the ice was stuck, no icy winds could blow in but light poured down through the ice. During winter there was no shining sunshine, but daylight was not gone.
In Shao Xuan’s perspective, he was not satisfied with that little light, and the design was not flawless. But for those kids in the cave, they were more than satisfied.
All of them kept their mouths wide open as they stared at the sparkling vent, like mindless fools.
It turned out that winter could also be bright.
Shao Xuan had only completed the refitting of one vent, and the other kids volunteered to finish the others. This time there were plenty of volunteers. Those who cared not to get up earlier, now gathered together with animal skin blankets.
Shao Xuan guided them to make an ice plate and installed it into one vent, then he let them continue working by themselves. Every kid wanted to try with their own hands, but Shao Xuan decided that they should also do the job as a five-member group. They used a human pyramid to get to those really high places.
Shao Xuan told them to be careful when they used the stone plate, for no one knew how long it had been stored here. At least in recent years, it had never been used.
Seeing that there should be no problem, Shao Xuan carried his torch and went back to the stone room full of sundries. He dug out another four stone plates, but three were broken and only one could be used.
He took the second stone plate out and made an ice bulk that blocked the vent in this sundries’ stone room. He could now lose his torch, yet still see the situation inside.
While the kids were busy making ice plates, Shao Xuan stayed there to keep digging for other items that they could use.
As he was digging, Shao Xuan’s arm swiped past the stone walls, and he noticed that stone powders fell from it.
Shao Xuan was quite curious, for other stone walls in the cave were not like that. He bent and observed closely, and then found out that it seemed that on the stone walls in the stone room, there was a layer. It seemed to be painted with special stone powders.
He had seen people in the tribe use similar ways to paint wood to prevent the wood from being infected by insects. But it was in the cave, why would anyone use this method to paint a stone wall? And, judging by the situation, it was painted years ago in ancient times.
If newly painted, the powders should cover the wall fully and tightly. However, now since it had been a long time since everyone in the tribe lived here, the layer of stone powder came loose and in some places, the layer fell hard if one swiped it with his hand.
Shao Xuan took out his stone knife and scratched on the wall to remove the stone powder layer. With the light coming through the vent, Shao Xuan saw that there were some pictures carved on the wall where there was no layer.
A woman was carrying a pot. The pot had a wide mouth and tight bottom. On the pot there were also some decorative patterns. Shao Xuan had never seen anyone in the tribe using this kind of a stone pot, for all the people in the tribe valued practical usage instead of beautiful appearances when it came to tools.
“Perhaps those living up in the mountain might have those kind of pots in their homes,” Shao Xuan thought.
When he wiped out another part on the stone wall, there were about ten warriors, chasing game with bows and arrows.
Shao Xuan remembered that Lang Ga had told him that few warriors in the tribe were able to use a bow. Because no materials were fine enough to be made into a bow that could bear the strength of a totemic warrior. The bow and arrows now were made to set up a trap, or help the hunting by driving away the game, instead of for totemic warriors’ use. However, in the picture on the wall, every warrior was holding a giant bow!
Shao Xuan intended to use his knife and scratch more stone powder down, to see other carved paintings on the wall. But after some thought, he dropped the knife, fetched some water, and carefully used a piece of animal skin to wipe the wall. He believed that the frescos on the stone wall inside this stone room, might tell him a lot of interesting things that he had no clue of before.