For three days out of every thirty, the Great North Pack must change into wolves. And for those three days, the days of the Iron Moon, they have no magic powers. If they are run over, they will die. If they are trapped, they will die. If they are shot, they will die. In short, like real wolves they are painfully vulnerable.
The culture they have developed to protect themselves is secretive, hierarchical and deeply conservative with old laws and old customs and old words.
Although this is quite basic, it should help anyone who wants to know more.
The Last Wolf: A glossary
Æcewulf—A Old Tongue word meaning forever wolf or real wolf. The Iron Moon moves Pack along the spectrum of their wildness. Pack who are already wild at the beginning of the Iron Moon, are pushed farther along and become æcewulf. There is no changing back.
Bedfellow— A kind of mate-in-training. Since Pack couplings are based on strength, Bedfellows must be prepared to fight challengers for rights to their Bedfellow’s body: cunnan-riht.
Bredung—The ceremony by which two Pack are mated. It comes from the Old Tongue word for braiding and symbolizes the commitment of an individual to mate and to land and to Pack. The commitment is iron-clad.
Dæling—The ceremony which determines both the initial hierarchy and pairings of an echelon. Challenges are a fact of Pack life, so this will change.
Eardwrecca—Banished. Pack intensely social and exiles rarely survive.
Echelon—An age group, typically consisting of Pack born within five or six years of each other. Each echelon has its own hierarchy. Its Alpha is responsible to the Alpha of the entire pack. Packs rarely have enough wolves to warrant an echelon, so it is a sign of strength.
Iron Moon—The day of the full moon and the two days on either side. During this 72 hour period, the Pack must be wild and must be home.
Lying-in—Pack’s mutable chromosomes mean that pregnancy is rare. When it does happen, the last month is fraught as pups change into babies and back again. The mother must change as well, to prevent her body from rejecting them. It is exhausting.
Nidling—A lone wolf at the bottom of an echelon’s hierarchy. Because lone wolves are considered disruptive, the nidling is forced into a kind of indentured servitude to his or her Alpha pair. They rarely last long.
Offland—Anywhere that is not Homelands, the Great North’s territory in the Adirondacks. Offlanders return to Homelands only for the Iron Moon and the occasional holiday.
Pack—What humans would call werewolves. Pack can turn into wolves at any time, but during the Iron Moon, they must be wild.
Schildere—From the Old Tongue for shielder. A shielder is a protector. The lowest degree of wolf pairing. In the youngest Pack, shielders protect each other from being eaten by coyotes during the slow and vulnerable process of changing.
Seax—The dagger worn by all full-fledged adult Pack when at Homelands.
Slitung—Flesh-tearing. The ultimate punishment. Every wolf participates so that the whole Pack bears responsibility for the life they have failed.
Shifter—Shifters are not bound by the Iron Moon and since humans are dominant, Shifters see no advantage in turning into something as vulnerable as a wolf. They have adopted many of humans less-desirable traits. In the Old Tongue, they are called Hwerflic, meaning changeable, shifty.
Werewolves—Werewolves are a figment of human imagination. Pack can get quite testy if anyone suggests they are a figment of human imagination.
Year of First Shoes—This is the first year that pups start changing into skin and, as the name implies, the year they start wearing shoes and clothes. It marks their transition from pups to juveniles. It is universally acknowledged to be a terrible, terrible time.