First seen in the Vale of Brownies in the late 1060’s, the Owl-ship was invented by the little-known Llaoihrr drifters, Den Fallentree and his brother, Seb Fallentree. The Owl-ship is made to be piloted by two Brownies; one stands on deck, steering the ship, and the other flies above, mounted on an owl. At any time, the owl-rider can swoop down and pick the ship up by the top of the mast, carrying it out of harm’s way, or even just over land. The very idea of the ship is centred on the need for a travelling house, specifically for hunters, but also for cargo and freight “shipping”. Owl-shippers are then able to drift downstream and set up their camps for indefinite amounts of time.
The basic vehicle is much like a regular ship, although its exterior
design is made for the practical, rather than the spectacle. It consists of a
basic ship-shape with a large mast and a balustrade around the edge. The lower
side of the hull is mostly flat along the bottom with a long chine on either
side to assist with stability.
Usually, the ship is about two and a half palmspans wide at its widest points, four palmspans long, and close to two palmspans tall to the deck. Larger Owl-ships do not usually get any wider, but may be up to five palmspans long with a much thicker mast than usual, which will hold the ship together when carrying heavy freight.
The mast, shaped like a ‘T’ (the top of which is referred to as the “owl’s perch”), is another three to five palmspans from the deck. The sails are often simple constructions, made of leather because it is sturdy and less likely to rip.
Because the ship relies on the current of a stream or river, wind power is not the major force of locomotion for the vehicle, so these sails are usually patchworks that are attached to the sides of the mast about two nailsbreadths below the owl’s perch, and also to the balustrade at the edges of the ship. This allows for a small gap between the two pieces of sail, creating a large triangular sail.
The first owl-ship, built by Den and Seb Fallentree, had a simple hatch and ladder system for travelling between the deck and inside the hull, where they had bunks for sleeping. They had built cabinets into the interior for their equipment and belongings so that everything would stay in place. This is a common practice in modern Owl-ships.
As useful as a hatch and ladder is, more spectacular owl-ships now have steep staircases, and sometimes even spiralling structures.
The largest and most practical Owl-ships are used as cargo vehicles, and as such, often have ample space beneath, but not much living room. Early Owl-ships were for living and transport both, but this is a dying practice among Brownies unless they are drifting hunters.
Because the base of the ship is largely flat, the ship becomes unstable and likely to roll in still waters. It is built for forward motion while drifting downstream so that the fins on the base of the ship can cut through ripples and waves.
Steering is not usually needed, but with a basic rudder system, trained Owl-shippers are able to navigate most streams and rivers, dodging rocks and the shore quite easily, as even the smallest bumps can often damage the hull irreparably.
When upstream travel is necessary, the owl-rider can pick up the ship and fly back, and any time that rest is necessary, the ship can be placed on level ground.
Construction. The first Owl-ship was a very simple unwieldy contraption. The Fallentree brothers built a large boat base, placed their cabin inside, and stuck a mast on top with a sail made of leather.
Modern Owl-ships are made in as few pieces to keep it water-proofed, with only the balustrade, rudder, and mast added on as extra pieces.
They can be made of any light, buoyant wood, with sturdier woods being favoured for the masts, which are generally fashioned from thin willow tree branches. Some of the popular woods for the main hull are those of maple trees, but more commonly used are birch trees and willows. The branches of the willows are perfect for the masts and balustrades of the Owl-ship being strong and slightly flexible.
Resins and saps are used to varnish the outside, and, on nicer ships, the inside. The interior is built into the walls (and occasionally the roof) of the hull with no walls, making repairs to the hull a lot easier.
The rudder is the most complicated part of production, with a pulley system running from the wheel to the back of the hull where the rudder is located. The rudder is allowed to move either way by a wooden beam situated on either side of it. If the wheel is pulled to the left, the portside beam will move, allowing the rudder to move. If the wheel is pulled back to origin position, the portside beam will move back into place, pushing the rudder into a straight direction.
The rudder, being somewhat fragile, is the most commonly damaged part of the ship. Heavy vibrations through the framework, caused by landing too heavily on the ground, or jolting into hard rocks, can cause fractures in the rudder.
Areas of Production. The Owl-ship is produced only in the settlements in the Vale of Brownies. They are produced by the Hamm’rer clan with help from the Leather clan for sails and other additions.
Because of this, woods native to the area are often the only kind used. Special care also needs to be taken in the training of owls. The ships need to be placed on the ground and back in the water slowly, and owls are often trained for years with practice ships to make sure that they will not drop the ship.
Usage. Primarily, the ship is used by hunters in the Vale of Brownies. In teams of at least two, they are able to keep all of their equipment with them, drift downstream, and set up a camp at almost any location of their choice.
Some hunters make or request modifications so that their ships can hang from the branches of trees when they wish to hunt from the trees. This, in tandem with Brownie Wings can make them formidable hunters.
They can hunt, store meat and hides inside the ship, and then fly the goods back to their settlements.
The other main usage is for transporting goods between settlements in the Vale. This could be wood, or meat or hides. The goods transported vary. The beauty of the Owl-ship is that it can be made large enough to carry anything. Cargo Owl-ships are often built so that part of the deck is removable. This makes removal of freight easier.
History/Origin. The inventors of the Owl-ship, Den and Seb Fallentree, were born into the River Bend Llaoihrr settlement. Both, at the age of 15, joined the Skydivers Clan and learned to hunt on the back of their brown wood owls. In particular, they hunted rats and other small mammals along the rivers in the Vale of Brownies in their younger years.
After becoming mildly well-off, Den and Seb moved out of their settlement after Den’s thirty-third birthday, and Seb’s thirty-first. They built themselves a small cabin by the River of Reeds so that hunting would become easier for the both of them.
As they became used to certain hunting spots, they built themselves small canoes to travel down the streams and waterways. However, this came with the disadvantage of become tired quickly, and they would often find themselves dragging their canoes back to their cabin in darkness and they could not control their owls as easily as flight could provide.
After half a year of living in the wilderness, Seb came up with the idea to have their owls carry the canoes. The first time they tried this, though, one of their owls dropped a canoe, and the other let their meat and hides fall out. They were determined to make it work. This was the year 1062.
Den came up with a solution. Using a large branch, they created a mast on their cabin. Being that they had not built it with a foundation, it could be lifted off the ground at will.
Originally, one of them, while riding an owl, would perch on the mast and secure the owl’s feet to the mast. This, however, did not work, as the owls became amazingly tired from carrying the entire cabin about all day. This idea came at the cusp of 1062 and 1063, and it carried them at a heady speed into the year.
Together, they came up with the solution for their problems; a poorly built boat with their cabin inside. Well, they didn’t plan on it being poorly built, at least. With help from the Hamm’rer clan, they built a large, topless hull, and they fixed their cabin on the inside.
The result was leaky, and there was no method of steering, but it was relatively balanced and didn’t capsize. One would sit on the makeshift deck and use a long pole to push toward or away from the shore, and the other would fly above. With this, Den and Seb Fallentree created the first Owl-ship and all before either of them had turned 35!
In the year 1069, Den Fallentree turned forty years old, and with his brother’s help (and a little more help from the Hamm’rer clan, with a nicer, leather sail donated), they rejuvenated the Owl-ship with a lighter hull, which they built the cabin and mast into fully. This new build had a rudder and better steering system with ropes and a pulley system to pull the rudder the correct way, and the hull and interior were built with lighter, stronger woods.
They also water-proofed the hull with a mixture of pine resin and tree sap and added two large fins that could cut through minor waves. And that was the second official Owl-ship built.
By the end of the year 1070, the Hamm’rer clan had begun to produce Owl-ships for others (if they had the currency for it), namely for freighters, and the Fallentree brothers were forgotten.
The Hamm’rer clan’s updated Owl-ship featured a much sturdier rudder system and a less homey-feel to the interior, with more focus on freight than on living, and some had small shacks on-deck that housed spiral staircases and other vanity additions.
Myth/Lore. A common Fallentree anecdote details a dream that one of the brothers had one day whilst abed with a head cold. While the brothers themselves are not sure which one of them had the dream, the anecdote is regaled the exact same way at any and all social gatherings that they attend.
“I was sick with a fever and lay, resting, in my bed in the cabin at riverside. My brother was out hunting. It was some time in the afternoon that I got out of the bed, only too aware that I was in dire need of sleep. I took up a water skin on the table and took a drink as I stood at the door,” they tell.
They continue on, looking into space as though they are overcome by the nostalgia, “I found myself sitting on the ground by the door then, enjoying the breeze and fresh air. I watched the trees swaying, and I became aware of something moving slowly along the ground nearby. I looked toward it and realised it was a snail. ‘How nice,’ I thought to myself, ‘to be able to carry a house on your back.’”
They pause for effect, and the crowd becomes enraptured. It is usually at this point that the other brother begins to speak, taking up the story with the same steady pacing as the previous speaker. Nobody notices the subtle change in voice.
brother says, “I don’t know how long I watched that snail for, but at some
point, while I was in a dazed and confused state, a small bird landed on the
ground and pressed a foot down on the snail. It looked at me, chirped, and then
flew off, the snail clamped in its claws.”
Both brothers laugh in unison then, a party talent that is both hilarious and creepy. The effect throws the crowd off a little, so enchanted are they by the brother’s voice. The crowd laughs with them after a hesitation, but only briefly. The second brother continues on after a few bars of communal silence.
“For a moment, I felt as though I was trapped within a moment, and all I could see was the bird carrying the snails shell. Somewhere in my mind, I knew that inside that shell was the snail, and I thought, ‘I have an owl that can carry me! Why can’t I fly like that?’”
The brother’s then swap speaking once more. “When my brother came home, pulling a single rat carcass behind him, I told him of my idea. We could make one of our owls carry the cabin around! Surely they were large enough and strong enough to do it. We’d seen them carry larger and heavier things about before. So we set about doing it. First, we put a big hook on the cabin roof. That... well, that didn’t work so well...”