31 May, 2012

The March

Once they were out of view of the village, the Mrynan put down the Newcomer. They begged her pardon, using a familiar trader tongue and bid her to continue with them on their march back to what their walled town. When she tried to run away, she was tripped, dusted down and offered a ride on one of the broad shoulders. The Newcomer preferred to walk and had to hop-skip in order to try keep up with the Mrynan’s long, hairy legs.

As they walked, the Mrynan sang songs in their own tongue. Some fast, some slow and one that appeared to be so sad that the men cried as they sang. After this last song, the men fell silent, occasionally wiping away a falling tear. The Newcomer wondered at what this song could be – a song so sad that these fierce warriors would cry. She tapped the man who marched beside her and asked him about the song.

“The song is the story of our women,” the man said, smudging dirt across his pink cheeks. The other men called him Ove. “Our people are at war and at the last battle, our brother tribe betrayed us. They hid in the mountains, under the stone and the enemy overwhelmed us. We ran back to our women and children ashamed and crying our loss. Our women thrust the children in our hands and told us to run, for if we men stayed, we would all die, and if they ran, they would slow us down and none would escape. So our women went out to meet our enemies and they bought us time with their lives. We and our children came here to recover our strength and then one day, we will avenge ourselves upon our enemies. We have heard news that of all the Mrynan women who went out that day, only the children we carried away survived. We sing for the loss of our wives and the memory of their bravery. We sing for our shame and vow that we will never kill another man’s women and children again.”

This was confusing. Was not forcing villagers to give up their young boys and girls as bad as killing them, seeing as their families never saw them again?

Another Mrynan, called Hjalmar, answered this question.

“We do not kill the young ones we take,” he told the Newcomer while picking out food scraps from his bushy beard. “The girls like you, do the women’s work and the boys we turn into mighty warriors that even our enemies will fear if they find us here. We teach you new things and about metal. We teach you to become a greater people. We do a good thing. One day you will understand.”

“One day,” Ove said, “Our enemy will learn we are here and come after us. They will kill your people and ours. At that time, we will need to help each other.”

When the Newcomer asked they did not tell the villagers so, why they did not offer to teach the villagers properly and why they did not also teach the girls to fight, the Mrynan laughed.

“You ask too many questions for a girl,” said the Chief Mrynan, who had been listening to the discussion. “Your people to do not trust us. We invaded your land and had to fight to build our town. It is the man’s job to protect his wife and children. If women fought as a man, who would cook our bread and bear our children? A good woman is like a rare jewel. Easy to lose and hard to find. Don’t worry. We will take care of you. Maybe in time, you will allow one of our young men to choose you as wife.”

Seeing her horror, the Mrynan laughed, their sorrow forgotten. They struck up a happier tune that carried them up to the great wooden gates of their town. It was a song, Ove said when they had entered the town, that told the story of a girl who with the help of a hunter, tricked an evil stranger into a swamp and became the hunter’s beautiful wife.

The story did not stop the Newcomer from noticing when the big gates were slammed shut behind her.

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