Ioreld’s Tale: Into The Northerlands (part 8)

While the men and women of Dunland were savages, they were fearsome and skilled hunters, and the women easily matched the men. When we all gathered at their camp-fire, we carried two small elk, one of which had been caught by a fleet-footed woman chasing it and leaping atop it as if she were a bobcat. While the elk were being skinned and cooked, work shared between the Dunlendings and Elemir (who took the chance to show them a few tricks of his own), Shadryn and the woman she’d been speaking with disappeared around a rock. I gestured to Darrien, who began to silently move towards the rock, trying to offer Shadryn a balance of protection and privacy, but the women emerged a few minutes later. My eyes fairly bulged out to see that they had traded clothes, and I was still staring for a few moments as Shadryn walked over to me, almost a swagger as she explored how comfortable these crudely painted hides were. Her hair was out of the net of silver and diamonds, flowing freely over her shoulders; it was longer than I’d expected, and nearly as dark as my own.

She sat down next to me, for the first time since the knife-play lesson, and said, “I suppose you’re wondering. Wrach means… well, each clan has a chieftain, or brenin, who is often the eldest man, or at least the eldest who can still fight and hunt. And an eldest woman, the wrach, who is often a healer and always considered the wisest of the clan. They were asking whether I was the clan’s wrach because of the decorations on my tunic.”

“And that’s why you traded it?” I asked. There were a dozen more questions bubbling about in my head, but I deemed it best to take them one at a time.

“That’s why Jaya was willing to trade for it. She is the daughter of the clan’s wrach, and hopes to become one herself one day. For me, it was a way to make friends, and didn’t you say it was best to make friends with these people rather than fighting with them?” She smiled sweetly at me.

“Indeed,” I agreed, gesturing to the bountiful feast of venison just starting to sizzle over the fire. This was also an excellent spot for a camp-site, something at the forefront of my thoughts, as the previous night, our first in tents, had been damp and uncomfortable even to me. “But it seems you like these hides for themselves.”

She hesitated a moment, then nodded. “I’m not sure why. They just seem more natural. What I wear in Dol Amroth isn’t for me. It’s for my obligations as a noblewoman, for the expectations of the lords and ladies. Even my riding clothes must be bedecked with finery that serves no purpose. These,” she smoothed her hand over the tanned hide of her tunic, “are simply here to afford protection from weather. When I walk in this, I feel like I’m walking in my own skin.” I had to turn away for a moment, and she quickly picked up on my thoughts. “And yes, the Dunlendings think little of being unclothed in front of others. But you needn’t worry, I saved you and your men from the terror of seeing a woman out of her tunic,” she concluded with a wry grin.

Eager to change the subject, I asked, “How did you know what all these strange words meant?”

“One of the books I brought with me concerns the people of Dunland,” she explained. Which caused me to frown inwardly; now I knew why the book I’d sought at the library was missing. Shadryn must have slipped it out of the library that same day, eluding the watchful eyes of the librarian. “I have been studying since we left Dol Amroth, when I could.” She frowned in thought, her eyes slipping to the horizon. “Gwirod means spirit; for some reason I’ve not puzzled out, they thought I was the kind of wrach that speaks to spirits. Forgoil means straw-head; it’s what they call the Rohirrim. Duvodiad means stranger, or outsider, basically anyone but the Dunlendings themselves.”

Hesitantly, I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer, “And gwraig?”

She got a bit quiet, which was better than laughing at me again, and said, “Wife. They were basically asking if I was yours. The brenin and wrach are often paired.” There was something odd in her voice that I couldn’t place, and I thought it best to change the subject once more, but before I could think of something to say, she continued, “I made sure he knew I belong to no man. And do not intend to, not in the way of the Dunlendings, nor in the ways of Gondor, for some time.” The look she gave me was pointed and solemn, and I saw in them an echo of the coldness of a few days before, but it lasted but a moment, and then her relaxed smile was back. “I’m going to get some of the venison before they overcook it. Do you want some?” And before I could answer, she was off to the spit, the knife I’d given her in her hand before she arrived.

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