My latest prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, is available for pre-sale on Amazon (officially on sale July 10th). To promote that exciting event, I’m putting Book 1 of the trilogy, Born in a Treacherous Time, on sale July 9th-July 13th, 2021.
1.8 mya, Lucy and her tribe struggle to survive in the harsh reality of a world where nature rules, predators stalk them, survival is a daily challenge, and a violent group of powerful men threaten to destroy everything Lucy thinks she understands.
If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. It will bring that world to life in a way never seen before.
Free! I want to make it easy for anyone considering purchasing Laws of Nature to catch up on what they missed in Book 1. I hope you love it!
BTW, if you have KU, the books are free to borrow anytime through that program. Spread the news!
Here’s an excerpt:
Lucy Leaves Her Homeland
Forests gave way to bushlands. The prickly stalks scratched her skin right through the thick fur that layered her arms and legs. The glare of Sun, stark and white without the jungle to soften it, blinded her. One step forward became another and another, into a timeless void where nothing mattered but the swish of feet, the hot breeze on her face, and her own musty scent.
Neither male—not the one who called himself Raza nor the one called Baad—had spoken to her since leaving. They didn’t tell her their destination and she didn’t ask, not that she could decipher their intricate hand gestures and odd body movements. She studied them as they talked to each other, slowly piecing together what the twist of a hand and the twitch of a head meant. She would understand it all by the time they reached wherever they headed.
It was clear they expected her to follow. No one traveled this wild land alone but her reasons for joining them, submissively, had nothing to do with fear. Wherever the strangers took her would be better than where she’d been.
Lucy usually loved running through the mosaic of grass and forest that bled one into another. Today, instead of joy, she felt worry for her future and relief that her past was past. She effortlessly matched Raza’s tread, running in his steps at his pace. Baad did the same but not without a struggle. His sweat, an equal mix of old and stale from the long trip to find her and fresh from trying to keep up, blossomed into a ripe bouquet that wafted over her. She found comfort in knowing this strong, tough male traveled with her.
Vulture cawed overhead, eagerly anticipating a meal. From the size of his flock, the scavenge must be an adult Okapi or Giraffe. Even after the predator who claimed the kill—Lucy guessed it to be Megantereon or Snarling-dog—took what it needed, there would be plenty left. She often hunted with Vulture. It might find carrion first but she could drive it away by brandishing a branch and howling. While it circled overhead, awaiting a return to his meal, she grabbed what she wanted and escaped.
Feq must smell the blood but he had never been brave enough to chase Vulture away. He would wait until the raptor finished, as well as Snarling-dog and whoever else showed up at the banquet, and then take what remained which wouldn’t be enough to live on.
Sun descended toward the horizon as they entered a dense thicket. They stuck to a narrow lightly-used animal trail bordered by heavy-trunked trees. Cousin Chimp scuffled as he brachiated through the understory, no doubt upset by the intruders. Only once, when a brightly-colored snake slithered across her path, did Lucy hesitate. The vibrant colors always meant deadly venom and she didn’t carry the right herbs to counter the poison. Baad grumbled when her thud reverberated out of sync with Raza’s, and Cousin Chimp cried a warning.
Finally, they broke free of the shadows and flew through waist-high grass, past trees laden with fruit, and around the termite mound where Cousin Chimp would gorge on white grubs—if Cheetah wasn’t sleeping on top of it.
I haven’t been back here since that day…
She flicked her eyes to the spot where her life had changed. Everything looked so calm, painted in vibrant colors scented with a heady mix of grass, water, and carrion. A family of Hipparion raised their heads but found nothing menacing so turned back to their banquet of new buds.
As though nothing happened…
Lucy sprinted. Her vision blurred and her head throbbed as she raced flat out, desperate to outdistance the memories. Her legs churned, arms pumped, and her feet sprang off the hard earth. Each step propelled her farther away. Her breathing heaved in rhythm with her steps. The sack around her neck smacked comfortingly against her body. Her sweat left a potent scent trail any predator could follow but Lucy didn’t care.
Someone far behind shouted her call sign but she only slowed when the thump in her chest outstripped her ability to breathe. She fell forward, arms outstretched, and gasped the damp air into her tortured lungs. Steps thumped louder, approaching, but she kept her eyes closed. A hand yanked her head back, forcing her to look up.
Despite the strangeness of Raza’s language, this she did understand: Never do that again.
Feq followed until Lucy had reached the edge of her—Feq’s—territory. Here, he must let her go. Without Feq, the Group’s few children and remaining female would die. She threw a last look at her brother’s forlorn face, drawn and tired, shoulders slumped, eyes tight with resolution. Lucy dipped her head and turned from her beleaguered past.
Maybe the language difference made Raza ignore Lucy’s every question though she tried an endless variety of vocalizations, gestures, and grunts. Something made him jumpy, constantly, but Lucy sniffed nothing other than the fragrant scrub, a family of chimps, and the ever-present Fire Mountain. Nor did she see any shift in the distant shadows to signal danger.
Still, his edginess made her anxious.
What is he hiding? Why does he never relax?
She turned toward the horizon hoping whatever connected sky to earth held firm, preventing danger from escaping and finding her. Garv credited Spider’s web with that task, said if it could capture Fly, it could connect those forces. Why it didn’t always work, Garv couldn’t explain. Herds and dust, sometimes fire, leaked through, as did Sun at the end of every day. Lucy tried to reach that place from many different directions but it moved away faster than she could run.
Another truth Lucy knew: Only in Sun’s absence did the clouds crack and send bolts of fire to burn the ground and flash floods to storm through the canyons. Sun’s caring presence kept these at bay.
A grunt startled her back to the monotony of the grassland. At the rear of their column, Baad rubbed his wrists, already swollen to the thickness of his arm. When she dropped back to ask if she could help, his face hardened but not before she saw the anguish in the set of his mouth and the squint of his eyes. The elders of her Group suffered too from gnarled hands. A common root, found everywhere, dulled the ache.
Why bring a male as old and worn as Baad without that root?
Lucy guessed he had been handsome in his youth with his commanding size, densely-haired body, and brawny chest. Now, the hair hung gray and ragged and a white line as thick as Lucy’s finger cut his face from temple to ear. In his eyes smoldered lingering anger, maybe from the shattered tooth that peeked through his parted lips.
Was that why he didn’t try to rut with her? Or did he consider her pairmated to Raza?
“Baad,” she bleated, mimicking the call sign Raza used. “This will help your wrist,” and handed him a root bundle from her neck sack. “Crack it open and swallow the juice.”
Baad sniffed the bulb, bit it, and slurped up the liquid. His jaw relaxed and the tension drained from his face, completely gone by the time they passed the hillock that had been on the horizon when Lucy first gave him the root.
“How did you know this would work?” Baad motioned as he watched her face.
Why didn’t he know was a better question. Lucy observed animals as they cared for their injuries. If Gazelle had a scrape on her flank, she bumped against a tree that wept sap so why shouldn’t Lucy rub the thick mucus on her own cut to heal it? If swallowing certain leaves rid Cousin Chimp of the white worms, why wouldn’t it do the same for Lucy? Over time, she’d collected the roots, blades, stems, bark, flowers, and other plant parts she and her Group came to rely on when sick.
But she didn’t know enough of Baad’s words to explain this so she shrugged. “I just knew.”
Baad remained at her side as though he wanted to talk more.
Lucy took the opportunity. “Baad. Why did you and Raza come for me?”
He made her repeat the question as he watched her hands, body movements, and face, and then answered, “Sahn sent us.”
His movement for ‘sent’ was odd. One finger grazed the side of his palm and pointed toward his body—the backtrail, the opposite direction of the forward trail.
“Because of the deaths.”
Memories washed across his face like molten lava down the slopes of Fire Mountain. His hand motions shouted a rage she never associated with death. Predators killed to feed their families or protect their territory, as they must. Why did that anger Baad?
“Can you repeat that? The deaths?”
This time, the closest she could interpret was ‘deaths without reason’ which made no sense. Death was never without reason. Though he must have noticed she didn’t understand, he moved on to a portrayal of the world she would soon live within. His location descriptions were clear. In fact, her Group also labeled places by their surroundings and what happened there—stream-where-hunters-drink, mountains-that-burn-at-night, and mound-with-trees. Locations were meaningless without those identifications. Who could find them if not for their surroundings?
His next question surprised her.
“Why did you come?”
Bile welled in Lucy’s throat. She couldn’t tell him how she failed everyone in her Group or explain that she wanted a better life for the child she carried. Instead, she grunted and pretended she misunderstood.
That night, Lucy slept fitfully, curled under a shallow overhang without the usual protection of a bramble bush barrier or a tree nest. Every time she awoke, Raza and Baad were staring into the dark night, faces tight and anxious, muscles primed.
When Sun reappeared to begin its journey across the sky, the group set out, Lucy again between Raza and Baad. She shadowed the monotonous bounce of Raza’s head, comforted by the muted slap of her feet, the thump in her chest, and the stench of her own unwashed body. As they trotted ever onward, she became increasingly nervous. Though everything from the berries to the vegetation, animals, and baobab trees reminded her of home, this territory belonged to another group of Man-who-makes-tools. Before today, she would no sooner enter or cross it as they would hers. But Raza neither slowed nor changed direction so all she could do to respect this land-not-hers was to move through without picking a stalk of grass, eating a single berry, or swallowing any of the many grubs and insects available. Here and there, Lucy caught glimpses of the Group that called this territory theirs as they floated in the periphery of her sight. She smelled their anger and fear, heard them rustling as they watched her pass, reminding her she had no right to be here. Raza and Baad didn’t seem to care or notice. Did they not control territories where they lived?
Before she could ponder this any further, she snorted in a fragrance that made her gasp and turn. There on the crest of a berm across the savanna, outlined against the blue of the sky, stood a lone figure, hair puffed out by the hot breeze, gaze on her.
“Garv!” Lucy mouthed before she could stop herself. He’s dead. I saw it.
No arm waved and no voice howled the agony of separation.
“Raza!” Baad jerked his head toward the berm.
“Man-who-preys?” Raza asked with a rigid parallel gesture.
Lucy’s throat tightened at the hand movement for danger.
“Who is Man-who-preys?” Lucy labored with the call sign. “We don’t prey. We are prey.” Why did this confuse Raza?
Raza dropped back and motioned, “I refer to the one called Man-who-preys—upright like us but tall and skinny.” He described the creature’s footprints with the distinctive rounded top connected to the bottom by a narrow bridge. She knew every print of every animal in her homeland. These didn’t exist.
“No. I’ve never seen those prints.”
He paused and watched her face. “You’re sure Mammoth slaughtered your males? Could it have been this animal?”
“No. I was there. I would have seen this stranger.”
Raza dropped back to talk to Baad. She tried to hear their conversation but they must have used hand motions. Who was this Man-who-preys and why did Raza think they caused the death of her Group’s males? Worse, if they followed Raza from his homeland, did that bring trouble to Feq?
Lucy easily kept up with Raza, her hand tight around an obsidian scraper as sharp and sturdy as the one the males gripped. Her wrist cords bulged like the roots of an old baobab, familiar with and accustomed to heavy loads and strenuous work. Both males remained edgy and tense, often running beside each other and sharing urgent hand motions. After one such exchange, Raza diverted from the route they had been following since morning to one less trodden. It’s what Lucy would do if worried about being tracked by a predator or to avoid a group of Man-who-makes-tools. They maintained a quicker-than-normal pace well past the edge of her world. That suited her fine though she doubted that Man-who-preys could be more perilous than what preyed in her mind.
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.