This festival takes place at
that time when the leaves have changed colour but are still on the trees and
the wild berries and grains are swollen to their fullest.
Llaoihrr Brownies living
at the Council Tree in the Sanguian
Brownie Vale take a break from their normal pursuits and team up with the rest
of their settlement to harvest the gifts of the forest together. The festival
lasts around four weeks, although it can continue for longer if the trees have
been particularly bountiful. Taking advantage of the period of upheaval, every
tenth year a group heads out to have the
uruyant weighed and recut by
Daran Gnomes in
New-Santhala. This is a weight is used
as a standard measurement by the entire
Llaoihrr tribe, not only
those at the Council Tree.
Location. Although other Llaoihrr Brownies do gather together for harvest season, only those living at the Council Tree cel3brate it with such outrageous abandon. Perhaps this is due to the structure of the Council Tree Clans, which causes a lot of the Brownies’ time to be spent working on their particular craft rather than gathering food. The Council Tree itself is located deep in the Vale of Brownies, a small, mountain-ringed valley in western Sanguia, just north of the Quallian Forest. It sits in a basin where several rivers merge, surrounded by strals of bountiful woodland. The inhabitants also scavenge on the western base of the Life Mountain during this time.
The Yearly Harvest.
The activities of harvest season are fairly similar for every
Brownie in the
Council Tree – they pick up their
baskets and hampers and head out to pick berries and grains for the coming
winter. Only the very old, very young, or very sick must be left behind, along
with a selection of Brownies who remain on
guard duty and watch the homes. The Ferretmasters and Skydivers are two clans
that form the Llaoihrr
version of an army, and these ride out with the pickers for protection upon
their various mounts. The falcon-riding Skydivers are particularly adept at
protecting the groups of Brownies picking
grass grains in open fields.
The four weeks of the festival are spent out in the woods and fields, gathering every sort of seed, nut, berry and mushroom that tiny Brownie eyes can spot. In the first week large groups and their guards take to the more open, grassy areas on the lower slopes of the Life Mountain. Here the hundreds of nimble fingers set to work picking the grains from the grass heads which will be dried out and stored for the winter. Tareptail and lotann flowers provide seeds of a different flavour, and children are normally given the task of removing the nutty morsels from their fluffy coating. They sit in a group in the centre, well protected from harm, and try to sneak the seeds into their mouths whenever the adults aren’t looking their way. The stronger adults cut patches of wean grass to be dried and turned into hay. Its shorter blades make it easier for the Brownies to carry, plus the dried version makes a delicious soup when boiled. Moongrass tips are also harvested ready to be boiled up by the expert potion makers in the Bubbler Clan. This part of the plant is full of a very dilute poison which has little effect on Brownies and elves, making the resulting concentrate very useful for hunting larger prey animals like deer or the Rimmerins blackhog, a creature widely regarded as being as vicious as it is delicious.
Higher up the mountain doch nut and meldarapple bushes are also covered in fruit and flying scouts are sent out to look for these delightful treats. The squadron of arrowhead geese, usually used only for trading, are employed to carry back what is gathered. These birds can carry much more than a wood owl or falcon, although their limited intelligence does make them harder to control. Still, the lure of these two delicacies is enough to make it worth taking out at least a few of these birds.
Shade grass grows in shadowy spaces around the trees and the Brownies descend on this plant as well, harvesting its seeds for a receipt which is rumoured to date back to the time of the Birni Kingdom in the Paelelon Forest. The beige seeds are crushed and mixed with pollen which has been collected a few months before. Any sort of pollen will do, although those with bright colours and stronger flavours are preferred, like the vibrant dalferia flowers. Brownies without so much foresight might use lampstalk pollen, as that flower blooms in late autumn, although the taste isn’t as strong. Water is added and the resulting dough is flattened and baked on a hot stone. The bread-like result is often lightly coloured and has a sweet perfumed taste from the pollen. Sometimes the dough is wrapped around petals or buds before it is cooked, adding a moist centre to the treat.
After the first week the groups of Brownies split up into smaller troops and take their collecting baskets into the forest itself, searching for other nuts and berries. Oaks, ashwurdes, birches and baychs all drop their various bounties at this time, and the Llaoihrr make sure they investigate every tree they can find before they are taken by kuatu or one of the various species of mice. The red birch’s cones are particularly hard to catch, as this tree has a habit of leaning over the water to drop them in the river so they will be transported away from the mother plant. Fine nets are strung across the lower branches to catch the cones from above, usually woven from the strong strands of lifereed or constructed from sheets of the filmy web the Etherus worm secretes during mating. Another river plant is the kell herb which produces berries which are collected for their beautiful sweet flavour, as long as they are found before they fully mature and dry out. The Brownies enjoy the sweet flesh of the fruit, and often eat them in the field, saving the pips inside for later as they can be dried and ground into a pleasant spice.
The Brownies also compete with the sweet-voiced aeliriel and ravenous coa-coa for other delicious forest berries. The redberry is a particular favourite for this flying competition, and the Brownies have been known to try and protect a few bushes from their greedy beaks by covering them with huge nets. The technique has had varying degrees of success, but it is considered worth the effort as the berries can be used to make a delicious tart dipping sauce that the Llaoihrr are particularly fond of. The daín’bél bush’s berries are also at their best now, a tantalising orange-red. The pink fruit of the in’ila vine are collected too, although these can have a laxative effect on Brownie stomachs when too many are eaten, so they are often mixed with the daín’bél, or used in making “Rroi uhLL”, a low-alcoholic wine. Allia berries are found at the edge of the forest as well, although the Brownies don’t have to compete with the birds for these as they are poisonous. The juice is used instead to enhance a Brownie's weapons; bows and arrows, hunting knives or blowpipe darts. It is a simple and cheap poison, although the animal killed cannot be eaten afterwards, so it cannot be used for hunting. They make an excellent purple dye as well.
The bittersweet nuts have, by this season, had enough time to loose their fleshy outer coating, making them ideal for storing. The Brownies dig into the soil and debris around the huge roots of the tree to find as many as they can, although Clan Maj harvests the ones falling from the trees around their settlement whenever they fall, drying them in their own stores. There is also a growth of silkel trees around this area, and the Harvest Festival is an excellent time to collect the fallen leaves. When dried these make a fairly gentle remedy for colds and pains, also causing mild drowsiness. They collect the copious amounts of leaves dropped by goldenbell bushes too. The seeds are enjoyed too, but the leaves have a gorgeous sweet flavour which makes them an ideal flavouring for a sweet preserve. If honey can be traded for or successfully taken from a malise’s hive, this can be added to the mixture for extra sweetness.
Whilst they are investigating the forest, searching for these standard crops, the Brownies often come across other, rarer plants as well. Truphulls are a great example of this, as the tasty fungi can be so hard to find. Both species of black truphull, as well as the false truphull, grow under certain roots throughout the year, but this is the time when the Llaoihrr are most likely to discover them. Going out specifically to search for them can be a long and fruitless task, unless, like some of the Llaoihrr, you keep a trained prickelypig to snout out them and other fungi for you. The more expensive varieties are often pressed into the oil and then traded, a technique the Brownies have only recently picked up from their trading contacts. The truphull oil is stored Herb’o’treshold cups, which the plant uses in life to attract and disintegrate flies and other insects. The mists from these cups can be used as an anaesthetic, but eventually they dry out and then make ideal storage cups.
Wild caroots, or "EioieeRrohboo" as the Llaoihrr call them, are often found at this time, along with the delicious koeken fungus, which is typically soaked in a herbal mixture and then slowly baked. After this it both tastes great and stores well. The exact herbal mix is a secret of the Hotfinger Clan, who specialise in cooking, but it is known to contain roasted petals from the chives grown around the Council Tree. The roots of Dreamer’s breath are also sorted out, as these will be good and fat in autumn ready for the winter frost. Rockmoss is also found during their intensive search, although it is often called “Tr’oooeh’eee’ehl” by this particular tribe, a Browniinised version of the Thergerim name. Unlike their dwarven neighbours the Brownies find it too coarse for their clothing, but they do use it for rope, bedding or tinder. They also collect the mosspepper as a spice, along with another flavoursome moss, sou’cald. This flat, licheny growth doesn’t have enough body to make a meal, but some of the Brownies enjoy the taste and make it into another dipping sauce for meat. It is thought to go particularly well with blackbeetle, although it is somewhat of an acquired taste.
In addition to plants, large numbers of insects are gathered as they begin to die off. Not wanting these carcasses to go to waste, the Brownies gather up the ones they can find and store them somewhere dry and cool until the festival feast itself. They are usually served fried, particularly any winged insects because, as any Brownie knows, crispy-fried-wings are a real treat. Dalór grubs, or glowworms, are collected in this season too for the winter. They are kept in small darkened boxes during the day, and brought out as a flameless light source during the night. When the storerooms are cleared out, the Brownies also collect a large number of styruine round worms, a rather persistent pest. These can be drawn to certain areas with handfuls of rrihoorr moss which they love. They tend to take on the moss’s spicy flavour and go very well with green leaved plants like Rro-aoei.
Not all of the activities can be done by the entire clan together. There is one in particular which can only be done with extreme care – collecting poison and red root sap of the azure flower. This is not a common plant near the Council Tree, partly because the banks of Snake River can be high in places, and partly because the Brownies make a habit of uprooting any seedlings before the plant matures as it can then split poison at anything that comes near it. The sap is particularly valuable to the Llaoihrr because of its ability to attract insects. It is used in spring to tempt the feylien insects into traps so that they can be milked for their venom. This is turn is an essential part of collecting bladeleaf gel, which is very valuable for trading, particularly with the nearby Eyelian settlements. The Brownies get a lot of the larger animal products from here, as well as extra vegetables, all of which makes the difficult task of collecting azure sap worthwhile.
There are also crops to be harvested closer to home. The Ferretmaster Clan’s stables, which house around 10,000 leaf ferrets and common ferrets as well as many other beasts, have another purpose too. They are urban trees, the favourite home of greenbark moss, and this crop is encouraged to grow all over them by using a very concentrated concoction of manure, a plentiful substance in this area. During this festival, when the moss is slowing down for winter, the Brownies harvest it. It can be dried or smoked to preserve it, a decision often depending on the weather or the quality of the moss. Older growth often dries quicker, whilst younger moss takes the flavour of the smoke better. Birch is often used for this because the wood burns slowly and gives a sweet flavour to the moss. It can also be dried along with rosemint leaves, as these will impart their minty taste.
This is also the time for reducing the size of their animal herds to a number they can realistically feed over the colder period. The Ferretmaster Clan has a large number of giant rats and fairy mice, who provide milk, and every year these give birth to many more. So, every autumn the surplus numbers are killed for the meat. Some of this meat is prepared fresh for the festival and the rest is dried, smoked or salted to preserve it. The salt comes from villages nearer the sea, often by a roundabout method and is one of the commodities the Arrowhead Geese Squadron can trade for in New-Santhala.
By far the most prized fruits are the small pitted delicacies which form on the Council Tree cinnabark itself. Some fall to the ground, but most are collected as soon as they ripen by small children swooping around on their artificial brownie wings. None are allowed to be eaten until the festival feast itself, and even the mischievous Brownie children have enough respect for the sacred Council Tree spirit to put them in storage rather than eating them there and then.
The Weighing of the Uruyant. This tradition, which happens every ten years, is still relatively new to compared to the rest of the ancient festival. It was started by a Brownie called Karror Gnomefriend, although of course he took this distinctive title after his successes. He was the Brownie who first established contact with the gnomes, and discovered their chemical skill which mirrored the Llaoihrr’s knowledge of herbs and how to use them. It is thought that he used this connection to improve the fertiliser used on the urban trees for growing greenbark moss, a development which has allowed Llaoihrr numbers to continue to increase ever since.
It was also Gnomefriend who introduced the uruyant as a standard weight to the Llaoihrr tribe, which in turn is the reason for the need to weigh it every tenth year. “Uruyant” is the mineral that is used to make the measure of the same name. It is traditionally used by the gnomes because it doesn’t change weight over time, as metals like iron very gradually do. This metal is rare, so not all merchants will have a weight made from actual uruyant. They use another metal instead and every few years they must go to have their weigh weighed and recut against a real one.
So, every ten years the Llaoihrr Brownies take their uruyant weight all the way to New-Santhala where they have had a long-standing arrangement with certain gnomes. A group of Daran traders meet them there with a real uruyant, and recut theirs for them. In return the Daran receive a number of gifts from the Brownies, including the valuable bladeleaf gel and other concoctions whose secret recipes are unique to the Bubbler Clan, the Llaoihrr who make and develop these potions.
They bring items for trade with the other residents in New-Santhala too; the typically tiny Brownie beads, the decorative see-through stone M’ica, truphull oil, tame ferrets and any tame male myrddin falcons, because the males are too small to be ridden. This is probably one of the few times when they can take heavier goods, as they need to take the rat-drawn wagons to transport the uruyant itself. In return for these items they look for goods which they can’t make themselves – fine Shendar silk and brightly dyed cloth from the Caltharian dyers, medicines, fine white birch paper, glass vials and jars – things which are not absolutely necessary for survival but which make their activities easier.
As even this one wagon would require a good deal of protection, the Llaoihrr take advantage of the opportunity and a whole caravan of goods vehicles winds its slow way following the Thaehevil to the city. It is a great honour to be one of the hundred or so Brownies chosen from 250,000 to take the caravan to New-Santhala. There are of course a number of Babblers, the Brownies who specialise in speaking Tharian as well as handling trade, plus many members of the Brownie army. Ferretmasters ride ferrets and foxes, plus Skydivers scour the sky on their myrddin falcons in the day, and wood owls guard the camps at night. The ferrets also help to flatten the path for the wagons, which are driven and maintained by a team from the Wheeler Clan. The journey usually takes the entire four weeks there and back, sometimes longer. The festival day is held off until their return, and many special dishes are prepared to honour their return. For their whole life they will be badgered for stories of the world outside the Vale, a world which a relatively low number of Llaoihrr ever get to see.
The Festival Day. After four weeks of collecting, hunting and storing food, the Brownies deserve a party and the spirits need to be thanked for the bounty too. This is the largest yearly celebration, and certainly has the widest range of foods available. Since a number of the items collected in the harvest are bruised or otherwise damaged, and therefore are unfit to be preserved, these fruits are turned into dipping sauces or chopped up into wonderful vegetable stews for the Festival. Every kind of meat is on the table, from lean and tender tarep rabbit to the chewy cheerk worm, whose poison doesn’t seem to affect Brownies like it does elves, humans or dwarves. Blackbeetle is a traditional favourite, roasted whole and dissected at the table by a mob of hungry hands.
There are also a fairly large variety of different alcoholic beverages. Fruit Wine (or "Rroi uhLL") made from every different type of fruit is on offer, including the berries of the lýth’bél and fáberige, both of which are grown in small amounts by the Greengrower Clan and so are not normally available. It is sometimes even flavoured with cinnabark from the Council Tree, in recognition of this highly sacred party. The Aohu’o sweet spiced mead is a common treat, and even a little dwarven ale from the Tenthrum Clan is known to make an appearance. Unfortunately the effect of this strong brew on the Brownie constitution is akin to pouring hot cha’ah tea on a fresh slab of butter. The children often drink fruit juice sweetened with sweetsip nectar, or a special festival tea made by brewing cinnabark in water.
Apart from the table, which is an entertainment in itself, there are many other games and spectacles. The ancient sport of tree ball is played first thing in the morning, once the sun has risen over the surrounding mountains. When the spectators return from the playing field, the Hotfinger Clan great them with mountains of delicious food and the music begins. The birdlike whistle of flutes is accompanied by percussion instruments such as the rain shaman and the bouncing drums. The rain shaman is a hollowed out stick of oak filled with wooden beads or granite chips, which makes a wonderful running rush of noise when tilted. The bouncing drums are exactly as they sound – huge instruments up to two palmspans wide on which the drummer jumps up and down to create the rhythm. The skill is not only in creating the rhythm, but also in the height and style of the jumps, which often incorporate many turns, twists and somersaults for the amusement of the audience.
Many of the songs played are well known to the spectators, such as religious songs sung to thank the spirits for their bounty and invite them to join in the festivities. Most of the Llaoihrr also visit the Praiser Rooms, their equivalent of a temple, and leave one or two small offerings of food or drink. The music, dancing and offerings continue all day, interspersed with demonstrations from the Skydivers and Ferretmasters. There are often races for lleeterr fliers in the afternoon, although these aren’t quite as extensive or serious as the ones held in the big spring festival devoted to these artificial wings.
Later on, when the sun has truly set and the only light is from the glowing lampstalks and caged dalór grubs, there is yet another display. A central fire is built and stoked up until the flames reach almost half a ped in height. Several Skydivers with particularly well-trained flying mounts, swoop down towards the flames and throw in a number of lorahough seed pods. Several blinks pass as the pods heat up, before each one bursts with a firey pop and a shooting array of sparks. They also use two special types of rock which can be found in some parts of the Vale that when powdered and thrown on the flames one will turn them bluish white and the other a bluish green. Their gnomic friends, an authority on chemical matters, label them lead and copper ore respectively.
Whilst the show is taking place, the pits from the Council Tree cinnabark are handed out – one for each and every Brownie. After a short speech of thanks by the head Praiser, they all eat the seeds on his word, and then join together to sing the song which thanks their home’s spirit. Even the small number of Brownies who don’t believe in Spiritism, but follow the teachings of the Book of Aheh instead, give thanks at the harvest festival. This small sect of Brownies takes some time away from the main festivities to show their gratitude to the First One, who they believe is the real long-forgotten creator of the world.
Most of the Llaoihrr also make special clothes for this occasion, instead of wearing the practical leather designs they favour the rest of the time. This tradition comes from a time when there was no trade outside the Vale, and therefore no pretty cloth to dress oneself in. These leaf clothes are beautiful to look at, but only really last for that evening before they dry out and crinkle. They are often made from urban tree leaves, as these have a wonderful soothing effect on the skin, but the autumn gives them a whole range of extra colours as well, which are used to their full effect. Feathers, petals, pieces of M’ica and pretty much anything else they can find are sewn onto the leaf base for decoration. As they spend most of their time in drab colours which will camouflage them well, this Brownie tribe love anything bright, to the extent where the costumes can look rather garish to the outsider’s eye.
Importance. Simply put, without this festival the Council Tree would suffer from famine each winter. During most of the year food is not hard to find. The farmed greenbark moss grows well and the woods are teeming with insects and other mosses and lichens all of which form a large part of the Brownies’ diet. They also trade with the other Llaoihrr groups for food as well as the Eyelian village of Kytta’erng, one of whose caroots will make an entire meal for a large Brownie family. All this allows the Council Tree Brownies to spend most of their energies on other tasks, such as learning life magic, researching Barkstudy, or helping to make Singspeaker machines the Tenthrum dwarves use to train their flittermice.
During the winter months this system doesn’t quite work. Plants grow less vigorously, insects die off or hibernate and their neighbours don’t have as much to trade. This festival allows the Brownies to build up stores to help them get through the winter without anyone starving, although rations will still be shorter than in the richer months.
History. The origins of this festival stretch far back into the history of the tribe, arguably as long as Brownies have lived together and recognised the advantage of safety in numbers when out in open fields. The Harvest Festival Day with its huge feast has always been a part of it too, in order to thank the many spirits for the autumn bounty. The official four week holiday was introduced by the Council of 719 b.S. in response to the changing occupations of the Council Tree Llaoihrr from simple hunter-gatherers to philosophers, artists and craftsbrownies. The Brownies took to the break from their usual activities with enthusiasm, enjoying having time to spend with friends and family whilst doing the monotonous tasks. The records also suggest that the combined task helped with a feeling of community too, giving the Brownies a better sense of working together for a common goal.
The uruyant was introduced by Karror Gnomefriend around 1360 a.S. This was a great feat of salesmanship on his part, but also a practical solution to replace the conflicting systems which were in use before hand. Before they began trading with other races, the Llaoihrr generally measured by numbers or volume rather than weight. The difference between 40 pfeffer seeds and 41 pfeffer seeds is much more important when they are bigger for you for example, and very accurate measuring cups can be made to measure exactly 40 seeds and not a single one more. They also had very little need to trade in huge quantities until the settlement began to take responsibility for trading as a whole.
When the trade with the Tenthrum Thergerim began around 260 b.S., it brought the typical Sarvonian measurements with it. The price the dwarves would pay determined in part the value of their goods, and so they adapted these new weights to Brownie-size. The problem was that the weights were not typically accurate enough to measure down to the last grain or seed. A few either way matters very little in dwarven meals, but means quite a lot to Brownies. This made for a very confused and cumbersome system, as most Brownies continued to use their own measurements in daily life and were only very vaguely aware of the prices the Thergerim would pay for their goods.
The gnomes, as Karror discovered, had developed a much finer system of measurement, due to their love for alchemy and chemical experiments. Things that make little difference in cooking are far more delicate in these concoctions, and they had used all their skills to produce their uruyant system. Not only was this far more accurate at tiny amounts, but the material they made their weight out of would not change over time, retaining this accuracy forever. Gnomefriend saw the advantage of taking up this system in parallel to the muts, ods and hebs, as the weights could easily be converted into the other system and back again. He set up the ten-yearly rendezvous, and organised the first trip to the city of New-Santhala in 1543 a.S., something which has only improved trade and wealth for the Llaoihrr. In fact, when it was suggested in 1595 a.S. that the Council Tree have its own Uruyant made from real uruyant, the Brownies decided against it, fearing that they would loose the good relations they had built up.