Before dawn, Thog rose to hunt the mammoth. She left the warm pile of her family in their hut, retrieved her skirt and foot-wraps and spear, and filtered into the silent press of men and women of her tribe who had likewise risen for the hunt.
It was a long day, and when Thog returned in the afternoon, hauling her share of the kill, the village was in siesta. Thog dropped the mammoth haunch off at the family hut; smiled at the children, glowered at the rump of her sister as it bounced up and down atop her mate. Their mother would be with the other old women, bitching about their sons and daughters. Thog hurried off before her mother came back.
Oogla found Thog down by the flint-workers, getting her spear sharpened. Raised a couple of gourds and winked. The two wandered down to a secluded creek spun-off from the river, where the fishing was poor and few bothered to go. They sipped from the gourds through reeds, the alcohol sour and harsh. It made Thog's head giddy after the long day.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," she confided in Oogla. "Thog was going to grow up to unite the tribes! Now, Thog have to drag herself out of bed every morning, hunt mammoth not to starve. Mother still asking for grandchild. Compare Thog to her sister, Soona. 'Soona have four kids, two survive infancy! Only sixteen summers! You never going to find a mate, settle down!' I tell her 'That not what people do these days. Thog still trying to figure her life out. Not like old days.'"
Oogla burped and nodded, not quite soberly. Talk turned to other things. The cave-boys they had seen last season, with the straight white teeth and firm brown asses. The marsh-folk that lived out on stilt-huts, who wore the skin of the sacred crocodiles they worshipped, and claimed the universe hatched from an egg. The days in the red hut, when they had first become women together, making dolls out of straw. Too soon, Oogla had to go back to her hut. Her own mate was waiting, and there were hides that needed scraping, fires tending. Thog was left alone as the sun began to die.
She steeled herself to return to the hut.
Soona was happy to see her, grinning through a mouthful of mammoth; her belly was already showing with grandkid #5. Her mate nodded; politely. They had talked about the stick-games every now and again, but even after four summers they had never really become friends. Not since she had woken up with his hand on her ass one night, and she'd had to blacken both his eyes. Since then, he always slept with Soona on the far side of the pile.
Thog's mother, Atala, was wiping one of the babies down. In a glance she could tell the old woman was in a snit. But her stomach rumbled, and there was a choice cut of mammoth left, which no-one begrudged her. Near the hearth Soona began telling her story - about the handsome girl of the tribe and the bear-man who carried her off, before the boy came to rescue her - the children listened with rapt attention, but Thog focused on her meat. She was too old for romantic stories. There was no bear-man, and no boy to rescue her.