The Arrowhead Goose is a relatively small fowl which spends the colder months along the mid-Santharian river the Thaehevil, and migrates to the Kanapan Peninsula to mate. It gets its most common name from the pattern of black and white feathers on its underbelly, and "Wood Goose" from its love of more sheltered territory. In the towns of the Sanguian Province it is better known as the "Brownie Goose", as the Llaoihrr tribe use it to carry their trading goods. Among the little folk it is called "oioiLLoiao", literally the "Bird of going Outside", as its sole purpose is for travelling out of the safety of their Vale.
This type of goose is named for the distinctive pattern of black and white
markings which make it so easily identifiable in flight. The majority of its
belly is white, but the darker black of the wings and upper body extends further
than normal, cutting across each side of the chest. At the nape of the neck
these two black sides meet at a point, making a triangle of white which extends
across the whole of the underbody. There is no smooth transition from black to
white, but rather a defined, distinctive line between the two colours. Hence,
when seen from below, the clear white triangle, marred only by the black legs
and feet, forms a perfect arrow-head shape.
Overall the goose is mostly black, with the white underbelly mentioned above. This colouring becomes less solid on the top of the wings and along the goose's back, where it is barred with steel grey lines. The head and neck are completely black, with a splash of white across the beak, about halfway between the tip and the eyes.
It is not a large fowl, weighing only about 4 ods and with a wing span of just over a ped. Most of this weight is gathered in its wings and the muscles powering the wings, which makes it a little more top heavy than a normal domestic goose. It also makes it a more efficient flyer, and it doesn't require quite as much space to take off and land either: perfect for its natural woodland habitat.
The Arrowhead has no amazing abilities, other than its above average flying.
Being slightly smaller than most geese, it lacks their bulky power too. This
makes it less aggressive and more likely to escape by flying away than stand and
defend their territory. When trained they prove fairly intelligent, with most
birds able to understand a couple of commands, and some up to five or six.
It is also amazingly strong for its size. Tame geese belonging to the Llaoihrr Brownies have known them to carry up to one and a half ods on journeys to nearby cities, and one od for much longer trips. These geese are noticeably more muscled than their wild counterparts, but it is still a feat of surprising strength.
Territory. No-one has yet discovered why these geese choose to breed so far away from their winter haunts. They are common along the banks of the Thaehevil and other stretches of water in mid-Santharia during the colder parts of the year, yet fly north in the spring to lay their eggs in the Chapel Fjords; an area of rivers and lakes in the North West of the Kanapan Penisula. This stretch of land juts out from the eastern coast of Northern Sarvonia, and the Fjords nestle in its north-western armpit.
When in its usual smaller groups, the Arrowhead goose prefers a sheltered habitat. The more secluded banks of the river Thaehevil and other stretches of water in Sanguia are perfect for autumn and winter, especially those points with open woodland close by. The woodland cannot be too dense, and pine forests are out of the question, but somewhere with enough light for mosses and lichens to thrive is perfect. Although it has recently been tamed and trained as a mount by the Vale Brownies, dense woodland is not its natural habitat. It likes the cover of trees, but the goose will avoid undergrowth which gets too thick for it to easily fly out.
Habitat/Behaviour. Outside of the breeding season Wood Geese live in small flocks of about 10 to 15 birds – most of these being pairs with a few mateless birds attached too. It is unknown exactly why these particular birds decide to group together, or how a new pair decides whether to join the male’s or female’s group. They show a lot of affection to their mate and some to the others too – sharing food sources as long as there is enough for all, roosting together and warning each other when a threat is spotted.
The biggest, most powerful goose is usually the leader and the others will follow it to feeding and roosting grounds, as well as during the migration. Small squabbles are common amongst the birds, as those higher up the pecking order feel the need to enforce this. However, these rarely cause more damage than a few torn feathers or small bruises.
One troop of the birds will usually have a feeding ground of 5-10 strals of riverbank, depending on the richness of the territory, and what woodland lies nearby. They can get a lot of supplementary berries and plants from such a habitat, especially in autumn when they are fattening up for the winter, and this sometimes means that several groups can share the same stretch of woodland.
The bird’s webbed feet don’t allow them to perch in trees, and the forest floor is a dangerous place to sleep, so at dusk you will always find them heading back to their favourite watering spot and finding a piece of open bank where they can easily escape predators. One goose or one pair of geese seems always to be simply dozing rather than sleeping properly, ready to call out if danger approaches.
Diet. This goose prefers vegetation which is soft and slightly moist in texture. Although it will eat grasses if it has to, it would rather take water plants, the new green shoots of grasses and bushes, mosses, lichens, or even berries like those from danibel or redberry bushes. Tame geese show a real fondness for fruit of any kind, and this treat is ideal to use as a reward or bribe. Farmers have found that it prefers grain which has been crushed and soaked in water to the usual dry feed they would give a chicken or other fowl. In fact, it would rather pick at the grass around it than touch anything so solid. Brownie keepers are known to feed them a mashed up mix containing grains, berries, finely ground nuts and pulverised styruine round worms. The exact combination varies with the seasons, but it seems as though they know what they are doing - the birds there are usually larger and stronger than those found in the wild.
Mating. In early spring the geese leave their winter home in Sanguia and begin the long journey north to the Chapel Fjords on the Kanapan Peninsula. Protected by the range of mountains to its north, this area is somewhat warmer than the places around it, and the snow melts early enough to make it useable. Each gaggle of geese finds a patch of marsh solid enough to support them, and the pairs begin making nests. These are fairly crude circular constructions, basically a dip in the soft ground just deep enough to stop the eggs rolling out. As more and more groups join them in the marshes, the area becomes covered with birds, and the troops mingle together into one huge flock.
The geese who do not yet have a partner break away from their troop and head towards deeper water on the outskirts of the nesting sites. The single birds spend a great deal of time swimming around each other and occasionally honking or squabbling. Eventually, although no-one quite knows how they choose, they start to pair off and make nests of their own. These will be their partners for the rest of their lives.
About a month after they are laid, the eggs hatch and the baby goslings appear, usually around 5 per clutch. They can swim a short distance from hatching, enough to travel across the wetter areas of swamp at least. They grow very quickly, fed by their parents on the abundant water weeds, and at about 10 weeks old they begin to learn to fly.
As autumn comes round again the geese seem to become gradually more snappish and less tolerant. The huge flock breaks up and they fly back with their old gaggle, taking the new children with them. The goslings will spend at least one year with their parents, and the youngsters are obviously smaller during this time. Sadly it is unclear whether they then choose a new group the next spring, or stay with their parents until they pair up, as no-one has studied a particular troop in enough detail.
Usages. Like any geese these birds are a good source of tasty meat, and are hunted by the Eyelians and some Serphelorians in the south, as well as any other opportunistic traveller journeying along the Thaehevil. Low flying wild birds can be picked off in the air as well as when they are feasting on water plants on the riverbed. The bodies float, so a small dog trained to retrieve them is a useful asset. Their habit of staying near woodland to hide themselves can be to the hunter’s advantage if he is lucky and can use it as cover himself. The feathers can be used for a variety of purposes too – quills, bedding, decoration. Their stark black and white colouring makes them useful for fletching arrows and all sorts of amantry, as many artists like the plain, slick contrast they give to the brighter more expensive objects.
The most famous use of these animals is by the Llaoihrr Brownie tribe, hence the name “Brownie Goose” in towns where these birds are only seen with their rider. These Brownies (the Skydiver Clan in particular) have managed to tame and train birds to carry them and their goods for trade across literally hundreds of strals. This is not an easy process. Some geese are simply not co-operative or intelligent enough to learn all the commands required of a riding beast. Happily, the Skydiver Clan have been training owls and falcons as mounts for thousands of years, and these expert Brownies have found an answer. The geese will always follow the “leader” of their group, which is always the strongest, biggest goose. So, the geese are trained very young, before they have reached their full size, and the ones which show most promise are fed more, richer food. Thus they often grow to be bigger, and become the natural leader of the group.
The other, less intelligent birds are then taught the basic commands which will allow them to be handled and only the lead goose (and possibly a couple of others) will ever be ridden. The group will naturally follow the leader and don’t require the direction of a rider. This also allows them to carry more goods for trade, as they don’t have the weight of Brownie or harness. Of course the method of feeding up the brighter birds is not always successful, and sometimes an unsuitable goose will be the biggest and bossiest. It’s at these times that the Llaoihrr light up one of the larger cooking pits and treat themselves to a night of good food and merriment.