Two years after the death of his mentor, Graybeard, the lame Cro-Magnon artist Tao, first met in Boy of the Painted Cave (1988), returns to the Land of the Mountain People and finds them under the thumb of a new shaman, a screaming, crazed ""Neander"" named Zugar. Zugar has imprisoned three malnourished orphans and a blind girl, Deha, in a cave, calling them possessed by demons; scandalized, Tao springs Deha and they set out downriver for the ocean, in hopes of gathering kelp and abalone to improve the orphans' diet. Tao's world teems with wildlife, and the author makes sure his protagonist encounters all of it, from bears, birds, and Sandar, a huge cave lion, to the giant sea turtles that pull Tao's raft back to shore when he's washed out to sea. As in his other prehistoric adventures, Denzel develops the setting more fully than the predictable plot or the characters, all of whom are consigned limited, well-defined roles and speak in board-stiff utterances--""Maybe you come to hunt our ibex or mouflon, eh?"" Readers are less likely to remember the perfunctory storyline than the intense satisfaction Tao gets from his art (using natural dyes and sketches carved into small stones, he takes every opportunity to depict his world on cave walls), and the author's picture of the natural world so long ago.