The Betrothal, 43,000 B.C. — By Nat Tilander

For three days Ug-ba brought the fair-haired Le-le-la special foods from the forest.

The first day he brought rainbow-colored fish he’d caught in the big lake below the falls. He swaggered up to the evening fire, where Le-le-la sat with her kinsfolk, and pounded his powerful chest. Then he placed the string of fish in front of the girl and backed away. Le-le-la looked at him with enormous, blue eyes, alight with excitement–and tossed the fish nonchalantly into the fire.

The second day, Ug-ba brought Le-le-la a basket of berries. Again, it was the evening meal, and Le-le-la sat in the cave by her family’s fire with her sister, Na-ni, and her sharp-tongued step-mother, Jepa. This time, Ug-ba approached cautiously. Instead of pounding his chest, he cleared his throat and politely scratched his privates. Le-le-la did not meet his gaze, but her younger sister gazed open-mouthed at Ug-ba, and Le-le-la’s stepmother paused in the picking of her two decayed front teeth.

Ug-ba reached down and placed the basket of berries gently in Le-le-la’s lap. The young woman’s eyes widened. With a warm smile, she lifted up the basket, tasted one of the berries–then spit it out and threw the woven container contemptuously in the direction of the tribal latrine.  The berries spilled and scattered over the foul ground.

Ug-ba’s face reddened and his fists clenched.  Hearing the laughter and jeers of the tribe, he turned and stormed back to the comfort of his own clan fire.

On the third night, Ug-ba approached the cave yet again, a great silver-furred boar slung over his shoulder.  He walked as if the boar’s weight mattered naught at all, though no other man of the tribe could have carried such a mighty beast. Again Ug-ba found Le-le-la sitting by her family’s fire. She was a beautiful, strong-boned girl, one who would be sure to produce many healthy children, whose supple but nicely rounded frame would keep him warm at night. Though she was young–only thirteen winters–and some men complained that she was willful and spoiled, Ug-ba found himself increasingly taken with her and was determined to make her his mate.

As Ug-ba approached the fire, he saw the tribe again watching him–all except Le-le-la, whose eyes were on the boy across the fire.  The clever-tongued youth named Ba-nan, son of the medicine man, was tall and wiry, but his puny strength was no match for Ug-ba’s. Ba-nan’s smug grin and Le-le-la’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge Ug-ba made the huge caveman angry. Right then he decided to seize Ba-nan and squeeze the life out of him. Ug-ba’s keen eyes, however, noted the subtle tensing of Le-le-la’s jaw which told him the girl was aware of his presence and was waiting to see how he would comport himself.

Very well, then.  He would control his temper.

Ug-ba set down his spear, dragged the boar off his shoulder and held it out in his great, hairy arms–a remarkable feat, considering the weight of the boar. Then he bellowed a challenge and flung the carcass into the fire, causing a storm of red sparks to fly up into the face of Le-le-la and those beside her. Na-ni, Jepa, and Ba-nan scrambled quickly back, swatting at the embers that landed on their skin and lodged in their hair, cursing foully as they skulked into the shadows. Le-le-la, however, ignored the coals, even though they ate into her flesh. Her out-thrust chin was set with stubbornness. Her chest heaved with violent emotion.

Suddenly the girl pursed her lips, kicked the boar’s snout with the heel of her foot, and laughed.

Ug-ba charged around the fire as if he had been waiting for that very sign of womanish contempt. Reaching down, he grabbed his would-be bride around her narrow waist. Then he grunted and heaved her over his shoulder.

Before anyone could move, Ug-ba strode toward the mouth of the cave. As he picked his way down the boulder-strewn slope, he felt Le-le-la’s full breasts slapping and jostling against the straining muscles of his back. Behind him gathered the tribe–laughing, gesticulating, and cheering noisily for his successful courtship. A smile touched Ug-ba’s lips.

Nat Tilander writes from Centennial, Colorado and enjoys Science Fiction.