The Pfool ("Ffúl" in Mermish) is a small, partially aquatic mammal which lives solely in the treacherous terrain of the Drifting Woods. On first sight the Pfool (also known as the "Gobhorse" in Sarvonia) looks somewhat like a tiny, extremely stocky horse, but also sports four-toed webbed feet and a large raised collar of stored fat. A peaceful, shy creature, it spends most of its days floating in the warm waters of its forest home and grazing on the lush foliage. The Pfool's main defence is its ability to move comfortably on either land or water; in the midst of the undergrowth or in an open clearing. When attacked by an animal that favours a particular type of terrain, it will simply flee to the opposite type. They usually form small family or bachelor groups, although some of the more aggressive males are known to wander alone.
Although it does indeed have a similar appearance to a miniature
horse, the Pfool’s body proportions are quite
different. The most obvious difference is its legs, which are shorter in
comparison, making up only about half the animal’s height. They are also heavily
muscled all the way down compared to the slim, fast limbs of a
horse. The bone structure, however, is rather similar.
Like both horses and deer, the
two front legs have knees which face forward, whilst the knees on the back legs
bend the other way. Its spine is also rather stiff, and it possesses the same
deep ribcage and flexible neck structure. The feet, on the other hand, have four
toes each, with a thick layer of webbed skin between. The front toes are
slightly longer than the back, and can be partially clenched to grab onto rocks
or large roots.
The Pfool’s black skin has a thin, even covering of thick, wiry hairs. These are about half a palmspan to a palmspan in length, depending on the age and gender of the beast. Mature males have longer hair than their female counterparts, and the length increases during their lifteime tool. The coat's mottled pattern is made up of a mixture of different coloured individual hairs, which can be any shade of brown imaginable. This gives a patchy overall look, darkened by the skin's colour which is still visible through the hairs. As the creature ages it is not uncommon to develop some silvering across the shoulders and muzzle as well. This patchy colouring provides a good camouflage when on land, and helps to break up the outline of the Pfool whilst in the water.
A thick, muscled neck is topped with a small, delicate head. Large, murky brown eyes are set on either side of the head, giving the creature excellent all-round vision. The ears are small and rounded and rather hairy, with several long fibres forming a small fringe around their edges. These can be swivelled around to listen in any direction without the animal turning to look. The width of the head remains the same from ears to lips, but it becomes steadily shallower as it tapers towards the nostrils. Because of this the muzzle has a slightly squashed, flattened look and is wider than it is deep, allowing the Pfool reach plants in smaller crevices. Its lips are also quite flexible for this reason.
Around its neck, the Pfool has a strange raised collar which is rather hard to the touch. When cut open, one discovers a deposit of gristly fat; a floatation device. The collar is thicker across the shoulders, thinning slightly as it circles the neck. The thickest part of a healthy adult Pfool’s ridge sticks out from its shoulders around 5 nailsbreaths and is between two and three palmspans wide. It gives the animal a strange hunched appearance, as the rest of its body is more muscle than fat.
The long, ten-month gestation period of the Pfool means that the young already greatly resemble their parents when they are born. The legs are almost the same length as the older Pfool, although the body and head still need to grow to match them, and the chest is rather shallow. This combination gives the young animal a rather disproportioned look, but it does allow them to escape from danger almost as fast as the older beasts.
The Pfool possesses several remarkable attributes to aid it within the
unpredictable environment of the
The first, and the most visible, is the large collar of fat which rings its
neck. This allows the creature to float happily on the
water without needing to swim to keep itself
afloat. With balance and practice, the animal can keep its entire neck out of
the water with minimal paddling, so that it
can reach the plants clinging to patches of floating “land” which are too
unstable or small to stand on. It also allows the creature to sleep or doze in
the constantly warm water when storms cause
the temperature of the woods to drop too far.
Sight and hearing are both well developed on this animal, as it is not a particularly fast runner and needs to get a good head start on potential predators. Its eyes seem particularly adept at picking up movement among the trees or in the water, although maybe this is simply a result of extensive practice. As the ears can be turned to face any direction, the animal is able to stand completely stationary and still listen closely all around it.
The Pfool has a rather inelegant, but nevertheless very quick, method of getting out of the water. Its strong neck muscles and moveable front toes allow it to use both jaws and feet to haul itself up a bank. By latching onto any available roots or other convenient holds, it does not need a foot hold below it to push itself up. In the Drifting Woods, where the depth of the water does not prevent the foliage from growing, this is pretty essential. It means the Pfool can always make a speedy get-away whatever the land around it is like.
Large webbed feet make the Pfool a quick and agile swimmer, and for the majority of activities it is just as at home in the water as it is on land. As it doesn’t need to paddle to keep itself afloat, all the power can be channelled into movement across the surface, and so it has a better turn of speed than one would expect. However, the Pfool is unable to swim fully underwater because of its fatty collar, and must pull itself under with strong strokes from its front legs. Mostly, it doesn’t bother and stays happily on the surface where it can breathe easily.
Territory. The Pfool survives only within the Drifting Woods of north-western Nybelmar. The separate groups are nomadic and don't have fixed territories. If the mossmounds have not been generous in spewing out their jets of purified water, the Pfool will travel slowly south towards the fresher waters near the Metherinin River.
A few specimens have been taken away for study with the permission of the Ter'ei'Vikh. The payment of a finely made weapon or a group of other metal objects can be a powerful bargaining tool in persuading one of the hunters to capture an animal alive. However, the process of study usually involves cutting the Pfool open to examine the skeleton and so they do not survive for long once they have left their wooded home.
Habitat/Behaviour. The females of this species tend to live in small family groups of around 4-6 adults plus young. The oldest animal is generally accepted as the leader, as she has the most experience of navigating the hazardous mix of roots and water. However, if one of the others shows more skill, the group will simply begin to follow her instead. A large group can split into two this way as well, with some of the members simply wandering further and further away from the rest. Fighting is almost non-existent between females, and even when it does happen only consists of a few snappish bites.
Males normally live with their family group until the second mating season after their birth, when they are around 14 months old. At this time the females begin to come into season again, and the now sexually mature youngster will prove such a nuisance that it is driven off by the uncooperative females. After mating season is over the bachelor groups begin to reform and the young Pfool will usually join one, gaining experience at wrestling with the others and learning more about how to find food. The older members appear to enjoy the younger ones' games and energy, and even the oldest are happy to play-fight.
Pfool are very sociable, non-aggressive creatures except for around mating season, and fights at other times are rare if not non-existent. The ever-changing terrain of their home means they are not territorial, and their usual small groups promote close bonds between individuals. Grooming one another is quite common behaviour, normally when the group is settling down to sleep for the night.
However the most noticeable example of the family group working together is when they are all feeding. Whilst the rest of the group are floating happily in the water, dipping their flattened snouts down to reach for tasty water plants, there is always one Pfool on watch. This animal normally looks for a vantage point like a rock or the base or a tree – somewhere it can see as far as possible around the clearing as well as down into the water. There are two possible alarm calls of different pitches depending on whether the danger is from the water or land. The one the “Vikh hunters hear most often is a sharp, high pitched note, repeated in a series of short bursts until all the Pfool are swimming quickly in the opposite direction. The second has the effect of sending all the animals charging into the undergrowth, as it announces the arrival of a threat from under the water. This one is a slightly lower, long, wavering note, similar to the springtime mating calls.
Although they are happy to spend all day feeding in the water, Pfool prefer to sleep and give birth on land. They are able to do both in the water if necessary, due to their natural buoyancy, but seem to find solid ground more comforting. The midst of a thick piece of undergrowth is their favourite spot, as here they are hidden and would be woken should a predator try to push through.
Diet. These adaptable creatures will eat almost any type of plant life they can find and reach, but their favourite staple is the weeds and other vegetation they find at the sides of the water. Any small, easy to reach plants are quickly snatched up as well as tasty mosses and lichens. They will take leaves of the waterfruit tree or marsh-oak if they are low enough and the former's algae-covered bark as well. The fruit of the keelo tree is naturally a delicacy but are rarely eaten as the Pfool cannot climb the tree to get them and smaller, nimbler creatures often get there first.
Pfool are even known to seek out gunthreed, a waterplant famous for its medicinal properties. The animals do not touch the painkilling leaves, going rather for the stalks and the tuburous bulbs embedded in the mud. They seem to enjoy the strength-inducing properties of the plant as much as the flavour, and males often seek the plant in the early mating season.
Mating. The females who do not have young at foot come into season once a year, almost always in late spring. At this time the males seem to seek solitude and the bachelor groups tend to split up, sending each male Pfool off on his own quest for a mate. The males show a lot of interest in the faeces of the female when she is in season, and once they appear to have found a likely clump, they wander close to that area, calling out to potential mates in low, musical tones.
It is unknown what particular aspects of the male’s song attract females, although some particular animals seem to have a lot more success than others. It is mostly fully mature males who are chosen; those who have not yet developed the silver patches which come with age. The female’s replying call is higher pitched but matches the male’s as close as possible in melody, and the two animals move slowly across the terrain towards each other, calling as they go. The two Pfool will spend a few days together, feeding, grooming and mating periodically, until the female feels the need to return to her group before they wander too far away. Then the male carries on his search, often mating with several other females before the season ends.
If another male Pfool comes across the couple during this time, possibly attracted by the calls the two made as they looked for each other, he may decide to challenge the first male. Pfool fight by wrestling in the water – each trying to hold the other’s head under for long enough to make it give up. These fights are usually bloodless, and the loser will almost always accept the result and go. Otherwise, the fights can become more vicious as both Pfool seek any way of making the other back down. If the challenger wins, the female will normally consent to mate with the new, stronger male, but they have also been known to refuse and simply return to their own group instead.
Female Pfool are able mate and reproduce from the same age as the males – around 14 months old. As carrying and raising youngsters to adulthood takes two years, they can fall pregnant with a new baby every other year. However, nature often doesn’t work to absolutes and every three or four years seems normal too.
Pfool are carried in the womb for around 10 months before birth and are born very well-developed. They have fully functioning eyes, can walk within hours, and already have a small fat collar, allowing them to float along with the rest of the group. They are expected to keep up with their mum from day one. Twins and single births are equally common, but twins are often born smaller. However, as there is little competition for the abundant vegetation this makes very little difference in the long run. The smaller size is only noticeable until the twins are around eight months old.
Usages. Unfortunately for the Pfool its meat is rather tasty and a rare variation from the usual fish and bird diet of the Ter'ei'Vikh. The raised collar around their shoulders is also a great source of fat for other cooking. The main problem when hunting the animal is finding it in the first place, and so the best time to hunt them is during the mating season when certain areas of the woods ring out with their musical calls. A pair alone is also less watchful than the usual larger group, and once in range, is no match for a quickly hurled spear. The carcasses float as well, so they can be shot on the water without losing the meat. The merfolk will hunt them at any time of the year.
The long, coarse hairs of the Pfool, a by-product of the hunt, are extremely tough and hardwearing. They can be wound into string, used as short lengths of thread, or woven around other longer fibres to create durable mats. Some paint brush bristles are made of Pfool hair as it is so tough, but these brushes tend to be rather scruffy and are unsuitable for fine, detailed work.
Myth/Lore. The Ter'ei'Vikh tell their children a story about the Pfool, teaching them not to venture beyond the Drifting Woods (this story was kindly provided by Miraran Tehuriden):
The Pfool that left the Drifting Woods.
In times long ago, there once was a small Pfool who wanted to leave the
woods. And although none of his family would come with him, so he went.
But Veramu's warmth, so appreciated within the embrace of the forest, was
stronger here, as the sun burned at the
earth in her neverending discontent.
And the little Pfool was thirsty, and looked for
slightly more factual note, the name "Pfool" is pronounced the same in any
language, although the Merfolk write it
“Ffúl” instead. The inspiration for this odd sound was the noise the creature
makes when it raises its head to the surface for
air and blows the remaining water from
its nostrils. This results in a distinctive “pFFthhhhffff-uuueluh” – often one
of the tell-tale signs that there are Pfool nearby. Hence the sound became a way
of referring to the creatures, and eventually their name.
One small group of Tharian-speaking researchers who took a couple of the animals away from the Drifting Woods developed their own nickname for the creature. Its stocky size and deformed-looking hump of fat earned it the title “Gobhorse” – a play on its goblin-like unattractiveness. Far easier to remember than “Pfool”, the name stuck and it is more popular than the original in Sarvonia.
Researchers. The only inhabitants of the Drifting Woods are the Nybelmer Merfolk and the Ter'ei'Vikh, neither of which are noted for great academic writings. However, a hunter who knows his prey hunts best, and so there are those among the “Vikh who have studied their habits and who can be persuaded to share their rare knowledge with outsiders.