By Levi Huntington, Professor at the Royal Academy of Scholarly Pursuits
There are a multitude of rarities, oddities, and otherwise fascinating creatures and cultures across Alterra. Of these, few are as mysterious and filled with wonder as the Dryads. These often whimsical tree spirit people are as varied as the many trees that paint the landscape. However, few types of Dryad I have come upon are as unique as those found in a remote area of the Deepvale Forest.
Deepvale is the home to a hardy Dryad culture with a vanguard known as the Deepvale Warriors. The Deepvale Dryads have a particularly dense bark skin- which is uncommon for Dryad’s to begin with. This bark does not fall off or shed naturally and must be trimmed and well maintained; almost like our own fingernails.
Because of their high constitution and Natural Armor, their culture has developed with a warrior-like mentality. The vanguard consists of Dryads who keep some of their hefty bark-skin as an advantage in combat. Because it grows back, they have little need for actual worn armor. They do use shields and weapons however and train in multiple forms of fighting.
Many warriors will have their bark trimmed in very artistic and even elaborate patterns to convey their fierce tenacity. This is done by specialized trimmers called Bark Shapers, a job in the Deepvale Dryad culture. One sign of a particularly skilled warrior is one who rarely takes a hit and protects and maintains this cutting and prevents it from being damaged in combat. At the same time, they also will keep particular damage to their bark to be maintained and immortalized as a tribute to a particularly hard battle or perhaps from a coming of age trial.
The most prolific of the vanguard use weapons and shields made from specially curated pieces of their bark, which are cut from Barkers. Barkers are Dryads who aren't cut out for fighting, but they sell their bark to be used for crafting. A majority of Barkers tend to aim for more manageable and easier products, such as handles for tools, arrow shafts, and other items also used for trade such as with the Myrenvel in the nearby Midvale Forest. These items are preferred for their slightly better durability and longevity- as well as air of prestige.
Some Barkers are part of a family line who pride themselves on their pedigree for producing a certain quality of bark. Their family name almost becomes like a brand among the Deepvale Dryads, and for a few well known families even further than that. The Ironbark family is one particular family of Deepvale Dryads who are known for several legendary pieces made from cuttings in their family line and they carry an equal pride to their warrior counterparts for their contributions.
To make larger items like shields and staves, Barkers must grow their bark especially long and dense, sometimes for many years. Living with large uncut growths is cumbersome and those that pursue it often already come from these more well off families who can manage to support them while they produce these pieces. The most high end pieces often end up being a family heirloom of special importance and can be passed down within their culture. Some weapons and pieces made from this quality of bark are even regarded as artifacts because of how many generations they have been passed down.
Theft and assault against Barkers, especially the high end family groups, is viewed especially harshly in their culture and some veterans and warriors may even be hired to protect these families and their valuable product. While there are traders in the Deepvale Dryad culture, outsiders within their borders are treated with skepticism, especially from cultures considered to have disproportionately more unsavory characters (which can lead to some prejudices among the Barker families towards certain races).
In general though, the Deepvale Dryads are pleasant to get along with and are open to interacting with the other races of Alterra. The Deepvale Warriors in particular will often find themselves developing a quick rapport with other warrior-minded individuals or cultures, such as the nearby Myrenvel or even the Thol. Some are of an adventurous slant and will seek out their own glories and travel both near and far. While not commonly seen, their name and reputation precedes them and any Adventurer’s Guild party would gladly have a Deepvale Warrior for their reliability and steadfastness.
The Deepvale Warriors are hardy and cunning, but they also maintain their cultural ties with nature, as spiritually as any Dryad; sometimes moreso. They are a just culture and believe in proving yourself through trials and great efforts. They don’t take their qualities as something to be superior and do show grace to less sturdy individuals and even respect the benefits they bring. If you show a strong drive to prove yourself, you will have their respect. They do not warm up well to those that would only take advantage of others. They value contribution to society and playing your part, even if it is small- to warriors and non-warriors alike.
While my time among the Deepvale Dryads was shorter than I would have liked- it was both a personally enriching and deeply humbling experience. We scholars so often in our age believe we’ve seen it all- and then we find such fascinating people as these. It brings me hope for even more fantastic discoveries just around the corner.