BERINGIA (EASTERN SIBERIA—WESTERN ALASKA LAND BRIDGE) 20,000 YEARS BCE
The grass was tall and abundant. The men watched as the herd of giants grazed on the sweet, salt-laden growth close to the edges of the warm seas. The waters lapped at the north and south shores of the narrow spit of land as it traveled eastward toward the new and unknown world where the sun was reborn each day. The land was widening as it traveled east, expanding into a vast plain of tall grass. The giant wall of ice lay to the north and was clearly visible from the vantage point of the lowlands. Soon, that wall would start its slow move south as the ice would return once again to the world of man.
The herd, far larger in stature and strength than the tusked, woolly creatures of their old home to the west, stood their ground, too ignorant to fear man even after one of their old males had succumbed to spear and stone.
The elder of this nomadic tribe suddenly straightened from the day’s kill. The evening breeze had brought with it a scent he had come to know well since their trek began more than three months before from the steppes of Asia. It was They Who Follow—always within two miles of the band of forty men, women, and children, but never close enough to see or hear. The only evidence of their being near was the massive prints left by their alpha male: Prints so large, that two of his younger hunters could place their feet end to end into the eight-inch-deep depression.
A strong, young hunter stood next to his grandfather and followed his gaze to the west, toward the home they had been forced to leave. There was nothing there for the people except starvation and ravenous creatures driven mad by the same predicament as they themselves. The younger male sniffed the air, but the telltale scent was gone, blown away by the shifting evening winds.
The old man gestured for his grandson to continue the butchering and harvesting of the giant kill. His attention was still focused on the western horizon. He knew that the great man-beast was watching, waiting for the scavenger’s chance at their kill. The elder didn’t know for sure how many mouths the alpha male fed in its roving clan, but he knew that when he and his grandson backtracked, the carcasses of their kills were always stripped bare of meat, the marrow sucked from the bones.
As the young hunters bundled the meat from the old bull into the tough and woolly outer skin of the tusked one, the old man reached down and stayed his grandson from picking his ration of meat from the tall grass. The elder shook his head, his long hair flying free with the wind. The boy of sixteen looked from the familiar lined and chiseled brown face to the west, and immediately understood. They would leave one of the bundles for They Who Follow, an offering of goodwill to a clan of man-beasts that could easily kill them all if that was the path chosen, but had thus far let their small roving band be. Their only offense till now had been that of curiosity. The old man had puzzled over their strange behavior, never having come across this breed of creature in their old homeland, and had come to the conclusion that it may be the beasts only sought the comradeship of beings not far removed from themselves.
The grandson tossed the meat to the grass, nodding his understanding of the elder’s intent. He turned to the other men and gestured with his spear that they should move back to their camp before the sun dipped below the hills far to the west. Before moving off, the boy thought a moment, then placed his hand inside the leather pouch draped over his shoulder and brought out his prize for bringing down the woolly beast. The liver, wrapped inside the slippery stomach, lay beside the bundle of meat. The delicacy was an offering of highest honor for the followers of men.
The old man nodded at the boy’s offering, then turned and watched the tall grass behind them. He knew the eyes of the giant were on them. He sensed it—felt the presence of the creature that had picked up their trail in the northern reaches of the high country well over a year gone, following and forever watching.
The elder raised his arms to the sky, the sharpened staff crowned with the feathers of the great winged eagle held high as he swept his arms low, indicating the offering to the great creature he knew was watching. Then he moved the staff to the south and the band of hunters moved away, leaving only the bones of their kill and the offering to the great beast.
The giant creature stood over eleven feet tall. Its sheer weight alone was equal to eight of the humans it followed. The massive head had a broad brow, indicating the possibility of it carrying a brain near equal to that of a man’s. Its ability to walk upright made the animal quick of foot and steady on uneven terrain. The eyes held the spark of intelligence like no primate before it. The mouth was filled with teeth capable of chewing the harsh grasses, twigs, and bushes of the western continent—being flat and broad—as well as the large, sharp incisors of the meat eater.
The great beast was not usually a scavenger. In its natural element of forest or jungle, its kind excelled at providing for its females and its young. The art of camouflage came naturally to the hairy beast, blending in well no matter the terrain due to its thickness of fur and its ability to vary the crevasse and valleys of that fur, creating many broken lines and never a clean silhouette.
The great creature watched as the old man gestured toward the spot from where he was crouching, hidden from the humans. The creature’s brown eyes narrowed as the stick the man held indicated that there was something on the ground. The giant huffed, deep in its throat. The large, thick lips were pursed, as it thought and puzzled something through. Then it relaxed when it saw the old man follow his young away from the spot of their kill. When the humans were far from sight, heading toward the dunes of the southern sea, the beast stood to its full height. Its brown and black hair rustled as it tilted its head. The great beast liked the evening and its coolness. The large hands reached out, touched the tall, sweet grass, and ran its powerful, thick fingers over the tops of the growth. It blinked, sniffed, and looked as if it were enjoying its moment alone in the soft evening of this new world.
Then, like the old man a few moments before, it froze and sniffed the wind. There was a scent it had never smelled before—a heavy musk that was similar to the great cats of the beast’s home region, only different somehow. The giant crouched and smelled the air, but as it did, it knew the scent was gone, vanished on the breeze as if it had never been at all.
The creature felt the approach of the three males and six females of its own clan, as they came from the taller grass where they had been hiding from the band of men. The two offspring, the last of their young, ambled out on unsteady legs and watched as one of the largest of the males in the group turned toward them. It eyed the male and female young, then turned around, and smelled the air once more, turning in a slow circle, huffing and sniffing at the air. Satisfied that there was no danger to their young, it grunted and then ambled toward the offering of fresh meat left for them.
As the alpha watched, the second largest male pulled the liver from the grass, tearing at the stomach lining to free it. The young ran for the huge broken skeleton and wrestled with the giant ribs, shaking and pulling as the adults watched. Their eyes were kind, but aware, always aware of their surroundings. The alpha knew the others felt it, too. Something lurked in the gathering darkness around them . . . something that stalked for its sustenance.
The great beast looked to the south once more. The scent had vanished, but not before the giant gleaned which direction it was heading: to the place where the men had chosen to lay for the night.
The alpha grunted several times until the other adults stopped feeding and looked up from their squatting positions. The bundled meat had already been pulled open and the portions given out without any fighting or snarling. They watched as the alpha grunted again, then turned and left. Heading south, its huge strides followed the childish footprints of those of the old man and his people. They knew the alpha had caught the scent of something large and dangerous stalking the unsuspecting men.
The fire was high. The old man kept sending out the younger of the men in groups of four to bring in more wood. For him, the fire pit could not be high or hot enough for the dark night coming. The group of men and women were happy in anticipation of a good meal, one they hadn’t shared since the last full moon. Over twenty suns of dried meat, grass, and berries. These items had been mashed into soft dough that hardened after only a few hours of lying in the sun. The promise of cooked meat was what made the group relax, not heeding the old man’s worries about what may be lurking in the night around them. The men and women of the clan had faced the creatures of their own world and conquered all, so what could this new land offer that could outfight or outthink them? They knew they were safe around the night fire that all animals, except man, feared.
The elder scratched the side of his face and drew his light coat around him as a wisp of breeze blew in from the sea to their campsite. The coat was old and wearing thin—the small wolf that had provided it had done so in the summer months, so it lacked the fur of a warmer winter coat. The chill in the air was becoming more perceptible every day, but with the promise of heavy fur from the great tusked ones, winter coats and warm shelter should not be a problem.
The old man nodded when his grandson laid three large cooked rib bones beside him. The grease was running thick and hot, and the marrow was bubbling free of the bone—just what his aching stomach needed. As the old one picked up one of the large rib bones, he heard the rustling behind them. As he froze, he could see his grandson had heard it also. He watched the boy’s eyes as they traveled along the line of tall grass. In the firelight, the old man could see the grass reflected in the boy’s dark eyes as something pushed the heavy vegetation aside with its massive bulk. The heavy and wild smell of a cat hit his nostrils as he dropped the rib bone and reached for his sharpened staff.
The boy turned and was about to shout a warning to the others when the grass parted and the ground trembled slightly as the largest, most fearsome cat the old man had ever seen in the western lands, leaped into the midst of the humans, actually turning in midair just before it landed. Its roar filled the night with horror. The canines of the great cat were the length of a man’s forearm and they curled into lethal cutting knives that hung from its gaping upper maw. The cat’s eyes glowed with golden heat in the firelight as it swiped at a female, gutting her before the men could react with spear and stone. The seven-hundred-pound cat then turned and roared at the men returning from wood gathering, its twelve-inch claws raking the air.
The old man tried to bring the women and children closer to the fire that the cat so clearly feared. As a girl of ten ran with her mother, the great cat reacted with lightning speed, jumping clear of the spear-toting men and taking the screaming child in its massive jaws. It shook the girl, trying to break the child’s back, but she kept screaming, fully aware of her horrible fate. As the men poked and prodded at the giant cat, the women were terrified, screaming at the nightmarish scene. The thick hide of the animal was like hardened leather and the spear points lost all momentum as they pierced the cat’s side and shoulders. The cat was starting to become enraged as the men inflicted pain such as it never felt before.
The long-toothed cat was about to leap clear of the huge fire and disappear with the struggling child, when an even louder, defiant bellow of rage filled the night air, freezing not only the panicked men and women, but the cat as well. The growl was deeper than anyone had ever heard. The great beast, seen for the first time in all the weeks of it following them, jumped into the midst of men and cat. The men drew their spear arms back, ready to attack, when the old man started screaming and gestured wildly for them to concentrate on the cat.
The spear-toothed cat crouched low to the ground, defending its meal against the strange creature before its murderous eyes. The giant manlike form bent low to the ground, mimicking the cat’s offensive posture. The large brown eyes stared at the girl clutched in the cat’s mouth; the child was growing weaker, the air to her small lungs cut off by the smaller teeth of the cat. The giant was trying desperately for an opening, feigning right, and then left—its instinct to save the child outweighing the danger to itself.
The strange creature charged the cat, throwing up sand and dirt as its huge feet tore into the ground for purchase. The cat launched itself at the same moment, the dying child still in its mouth. The weight of the cat struck the giant but it was like two great boulders colliding during an avalanche. They both hit and rolled through the fire, the giant bellowing. The hair-covered creature pounded the cat on the back and sides, making the animal want to spit its meal from its mouth, but through sheer animal menace, it held on. The great creature tried desperately to wrap its powerful arm around the thick neck of the cat as it swiped at its antagonist, leaving three-inch-deep bloody furrows along the giant’s back. Then, finally, the creature gained a firm hold on the cat. It grasped with all its strength the cat’s neck, bringing bone-crushing power to bear.
The cat finally did as the giant wanted: it screamed, loosening its thick jaws just long enough for the rescuer to pull the child from its maw. It tossed the girl into the sand and rolled with the giant cat into the tall grass. The men rushed forward but the elder held them at bay as the sounds of the fight continued. The roar and screech of the cat and the deep, booming bellows of the giant continued for twenty minutes as the two magnificent animals fought for domination in the tall grasses of the new land, out of sight.
The girl child was barely breathing. The cat’s smaller teeth had punctured deep into her chest, and every time the girl child breathed, she exhaled blood. One eye had been lost, and one arm and one leg lay useless and broken in the sand, but the old man thought the child might have a fighting chance to survive.
As suddenly as the night had exploded around them, it became still. The men watched with raised spear and stones at the area where the two frightening creatures had vanished, but there was no sound, no movement. The grandson started to move forward, spear at the ready, but the old man once more held him back. Even if the great creature had survived the awful teeth of the cat, it might be so wounded it would strike out at anything or anyone who came near. No, they would stay near the fire.
The elder watched as the fingernail moon rose into the sky, and in the distance, he thought he could hear the sound of wailing. Humanlike in tenor and woman-sounding, it gave the old man chills as he knew there was anguish etched in those cries.
The man lowered his head. They would move on tomorrow, furthering themselves from their ancient homeland, distancing their hunger, and keeping pace with the easily moving herd. However, for some reason the man could not fathom, he felt the days of They Who Follow were at an end. Why the great creature had saved one of their own, he would never know, and now he would think on it no more that night.
As he watched the men build up the fire and the women tend to the injured girl, the old man turned to the west and listened as the sad sound of death continued to fill the night. The strange noise of many large sticks slamming into the ground and the few trees on this small, thin plain joined the wailing. The constant beat sounded as if a herd of creatures ran through the night. Both the thumping and the cries unnerved the group of men.
The clan of giants had lost one more of their kind and was fast dwindling to almost nothing. The beasts, unlike any animal in the world, had an instinct—not unlike that of man—about the inevitability of death. With little hope of finding the new world to the east any better than the barren land they left behind, the giant humanlike animals, the most intelligent creature next to evolutionary man, could soon vanish from the face of the earth. However, the elder was wrong about one thing: The clan of giants was now attached to his band of wanderers, and they would forever seek the companionship and warmth of men.
JULY 16, 1918 EKATERINBURG, RUS SIA
The royal family was allowed out of the confines of the house to enjoy the morning air. Crown Prince Alexei was bundled heavily against the chill, while constantly being attended to and pestered by the family doctor. His father watched from a distance. They were in the large courtyard, and he never liked being far away from the children. He watched two of the Bolshevik guards as they strolled lazily by his four daughters, giving them a quick appreciative glance, then knowing they were being watched by the royal family, the guards continued on their way with a sneer and chuckle as might be expected from the lowborn men they were. Last year at this time, these very same men would have been shot for their arrogance.
Tsar Nicholas II accepted his fate as the last tsar of the great Romanov dynasty—however, he did not have to accept that same disgraced destiny for his children.
He waited by the tall wall, and was tempted to shift his weight from one foot to the other in nervous ness, but finally he forced himself into stillness. He looked without turning, catching the small dark eyes of Commissar Yurovsky watching the family from the ground-floor window of the large farm house. The small man was paying particular attention to the tsar, but that was no surprise; the beady ferret eyes of the commissar were forever watching, studying.
Nicholas saw the tall man walking toward him down the garden’s lone path. The tsar could tell that the big man also knew the eyes of the commissar were scrutinizing his comings and goings in the courtyard—therefore the large man paused to converse with the girls, nodding as they spoke to him, smiling in the coquettish way they always had. His daughters found the blond-haired Bolshevik irresistible. He was able to put everyone—highborn and lowborn—at ease. It was a talent Nicholas himself had never attained through his many years of rule in Russia.
Finally, the tsar saw Yurovsky turn away from the window and he relaxed—to a point—as he knew there were several other sets of eyes watching from places he could not guess. The large man, Colonel Iosovich Petrov, was respected even among the ruthless guards, largely because they feared what he was—a member of the dreaded Cheka, the secret police of the new Communist Party. What the Bolsheviks did not know, however, was the fact that at one time the handsome colonel had been on the payroll of Tsar Nicholas himself.
The large man with the easy gait, standing tall in his knee-high polished boots and splendid green uniform, nodded his greeting to the tsar, half bowing, a simple gesture that the guards saw as mocking the royal, but it was actually a sincere greeting as taught to him by his superiors while he was training in exile with Vladimir Lenin. This did not stop him from moving his blue eyes to the far window, looking for the pinched features of the commissar.
“Young man,” the tsar greeted in return. That simple gesture was something new to him—something that should have been incorporated long before his abdication. Small things like that little greeting, employed over his reign, may have been beneficial to his understanding of the classes that were far beneath his station. Creating a road to understanding his own people is exactly where he had failed so miserably.
“Sire,” the man said as he straightened his hat, “your family looks well this morning.”
Nicholas cleared his throat, raising his gloved hand to his mouth, and then nodded once. “Thank you . . . comrade—uh, that is the proper word these days? Comrade Colonel?”
Petrov smiled. “Yes, but just Colonel will do for the time being . . . as in the old days?”
The tsar turned and started walking, the uniformed colonel, without hesitation, walked along casually with him, towering over the smaller Nicholas. They both placed their hands behind their backs. The colonel, without turning to face the tsar, spoke in low tones, saying what he had to say.
“I was only able to get the one girl from Tetrovisk. Your cousin’s family, including his daughters, had already left the country from the port of Vladivostok in the east three weeks ago. The one daughter I have was left behind in the local hospital; she was too ill to travel with the rest of her family. She is just recovering from pneumonia. She has fully recovered and I have explained to her the task ahead. On your behalf, she has agreed to cooperate—it must be nice to still have loyalty, even among your lower relatives.”
The tsar was quiet, ignoring the thinly veiled reference to his royal nieces and nephews. Instead of commenting, he closed his eyes in an effort to fight back the despair he was suddenly feeling at Petrov’s news. He swallowed, then smiled as best he could and forced himself not to look the part of a dejected and desperate father. The news meant that only one of his precious daughters would survive their possible black fate. As ruthless as the plan was—the killing off of relatives to save his own children—was the only hope of having his direct bloodline survive the madness that had swept his country.
“The boy?” he finally asked, looking out of the corner of his eye at the two guards watching from the garden’s main gate. He desperately tried to keep from choking up as he waited for the fate of his son to be announced.
“There, I was able to secure you some good news. The British intelligence service was much helpful in getting us the son of your cousin’s mistress—the little man even has the same blood type as the crown prince.”
“Does he resemble my son?” Nicholas asked through clenched teeth, an almost desperate question.
The tall man smiled and looked over at the guards, and then he lowered his head so his lips could not be seen.
“It was as if I were looking at the bastard son of a mistress of yours . . . Your Highness.”
Excerpted from Primeval by David L. Golemon.
Copyright © 2010 by David L. Golemon..
Published in 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.