The Llaoihrr Clan are well known for their
wide range of mounts; almost any creature capable of being tamed has been used
at some point by a determined little Brownie.
The fearless little ferrets (the
Leaf Ferrets or
“Rashers” mostly, although some
male Common Ferrets too), the
willing, gentle wood owls and even the ginormous
foxes are the most widely used. However
other woodland animals such as the giant
rat are also not uncommon. Mammals are far easier to train than other
species simply because of their more predictable reactions and thinking
processes, and therefore the range of mammal mounts is somewhat wider. Some
reptiles are possible, but their dependency on temperature makes them unstable
year-round mounts, and no insects are really big enough to hold the
A general rule is that a mount needs to be around a fore in body length, not including neck or tail, to be able to support a Brownie’s weight. Of course this does depend somewhat on the Brownie and the muscle structure of the animal itself, but it is one of the reasons why the myrddin falcon does not serve as a larger part of the Flying Militia. Upper size is only limited by training and expense. The Ferretmaster clan have even successfully trained a few wolves, although the amount they need to eat is too much for any single Brownie to support.
Picture description. While a more unusual sight, Brownies are also known to ride baby gryphons as depicted here. Image drawn by Sandara.
Equipment. Depending on the mount the harnessing equipemnt varies. Here's a short overview concerning this matter:
Small Animal Harnesses
In this category fall most of the smaller mammals (and occasionally reptiles) which can be easily straddled by a Brownie rider. The harnesses are as simple as possible to limit the amount of extra weight the animal has to carry, as well as the interference with its natural stride. However, some sort of leather foot loop has been found to add a considerable amount of stability for the rider, so they generally consist of just enough straps to hold one in place. One circle of leather either side of the animal’s front legs and attached at the point where the Brownie wants to sit seems reasonable, with the exact positioning depending on the rider’s preference as well as the animal itself. Most steering is done with vocal commands and pressure points (See the section on Riding for details).
The shir are somewhat more problematic to ride, due to the sheer width of their back when compared to the flexibility of the average Brownie groin. This has led to a slight adaptation from the usual one leg on each side approach, at least for long journeys. The basic fox harness is quite different from the ferrets – it is formed of one long strip of leather which loops first around the canid’s neck, crosses over at the nape, and then the two ends loop under the ribcage to form a band around the ribcage. The leather is double thickness both for extra padding and so that the uppermost layer can be split as it gets near the ends, allowing the straps to be tied to one another. The fastening sits slightly to one side of the animal’s rib cage, often quite far up so that the Brownie rider can tighten or loosen the harness whilst the animal is still moving.
Instead of just having one leather foot-loop each side like a ferret harness, the shir harnesses have several attached at strategic intervals down the side of the chest strap. These are placed so that when the fox lies down (as it is trained to do on command) the rider effectively has a ladder onto its back. They also allow the Brownie to stand up on the animal’s back for short periods of time, placing one leg in the topmost loop on each side. When the rider wishes to get a better view of the surroundings, or have a better vantage point from which to shoot, he can do so. However it requires a great deal of practice to learn to balance whilst the animal is fighting and moving.
For longer journeys, or general everyday riding, the contraption is equipped with a small leather seat. The style and solidity of it varies with rider preference, but it is in essence a small padded cushion with straps to attach it to the main harness and a large raised knobble in the middle. The rider sits on top cross-legged, legs wrapped around the knobble, as the creature’s body is too wide to along them to straddle it like a horse. Sometimes the saddle includes foot holds too for extra security, but the more practiced Brownies dislike these, as it takes longer to untangle oneself should you need to get up.
The Brownies have also developed an ingenious way of steering their mounts. Not wanting to disable the fox’s natural weapons, anything which looped the muzzle or went in their mouth would be out of the question. Plus, unlike smaller animals, the rider cannot reach far enough along its neck or sides to use the pressure of hands or feet to control the animal. Instead, the tribe has developed the practice of braiding strong, tough flaxen threads into the long fur on the animal’s cheeks. Both ends of a short but strong length are woven in, forming a loop on each cheek. Now, when the Brownie wishes to ride, they simply attach a long thread from one cheek-loop to the other, and they have a pair of easily replaceable reins.
Here the rule is simply as little as possible. They usually wear a simple leather collar which the rider can hold onto if they feel themselves slipping, but nothing more. Any straps or contraptions limit the movement of the bird, add extra weight, and don’t sit well around its frame, so the riders have to rely on their own skill and strength to hang on. Something might be attached to the mount’s talons for longer journeys, so that it can carry the rider’s equipment. Of course this would be removed in battle.
All mounts, whether bred in captivity or captured from the wild, need to be
trained from the youngest age possible, and defiantly before they are eating
solids. The reasoning behind this is simple; most of the mounts are predatory
and their natural prey is around Brownie-sized.
Therefore, the Brownie needs to be the
one teaching the animal what to eat. This is also the period when the animal
would naturally be learning about the world and the necessary skills for
survival, so an ideal time for the Brownie
to bond with it.
In fact almost all animals are raised and given basic training by the Ferretmaster or Skydiver Clans, as they have the skill and resources to do the best job. There is also a common interest in making sure that all creatures allowed near the general public are well-trained and safe. Brownies who do not belong to these clans and wish to have a mount can trade for one, usually spending anything from a few days to a few weeks with its original trainer to transfer the bond to the new owner. Most animals would naturally associate with more than one of their own species in the wild, and therefore will accept commands from people other than their trainer. However, depending on the species and individual animal this may require longer, and birds of prey will generally only show true loyalty to one master. It is important to understand how the animal perceives its rider for there is a great difference in behaviour towards a mate-substitute and a pack-leader-substitute. If the animal bonds as it would do to a life-long mate then it can be much harder, or even impossible in some cases, to change its main handler. This is one of the main reasons why the domesticated Rasher is so popular – it can generally be trained to respond to the commands of any Brownie and, once the time is taken to gain their trust, they become vicious and loyal fighting machines too.
Riding. Unlike a horse, steering most Llaoihrr mounts with something held in their mouth would really hinder their usefulness. The mammal's teeth are needed for fighting with, and a bird's beak is pretty insensitive. With the exception of the fox (whose special steering device is described in its own section) Llaoihrr mounts are guided by a series of verbal commands and pressure points. All the important instructions have both so that the Brownie can control its mount in any situation. Stop, go faster, slow down, turn, be silent/still, attack, are all good examples of the essentials. As these are the basics taught to every animal by the Ferretmaster/Skydiver clan, it is possible to include this short list of how they are communicated to the mount:
A tug on the reins or neck strap of the animal OR a short flatterned “ou”.
Squeezing with the legs, or tapping with a long, light cane in the case of a fox rider OR “ahee”, putting the stress on the “ee”.
A gentle pull on the neck strap/reins accompanied by one hand pressing on the top of the animal’s neck OR “ahih” with a soft but lengthened “ih”.
A gentle pull on the right hand rein, or leaning in that direction OR “eeu” with the stress on the guttural “u”.
A gentle pull on the left rein, or leaning in that direction OR “eeo” with the stress on the rounded “o” sound.
Pressure applied to the top of the mount’s neck (can also tell the animal to lower itself to the ground) OR a flattened “hee”.
A stronger, sharper pressure from the legs/tap with the cane OR a short, loud “oh”.
Of course there are many more commands which can be taught to a clever animal, but these vary depending on the species, purpose and trainer. For example, there are several specific ones for working animals, and a few specific to birds of prey. There is also one instruction which is different for every mount; a whistle meaning “come here”. The riders, especially those who normally hunt/work together, try to make sure these are all unique so as not to confuse the animals with other Brownie’s commands. The whistles should also be fairly unobtrusive and birdlike, as they may need to be used whilst out hunting or patrolling the forest. Trainers take great pride in their own repertoire of whistles, and in remembering which one applies to which particular animal.
The idea of using creatures as mounts and work animals is so far embedded in
Llaoihrr culture that it is impossible to put
a mark on exactly when the practice began. There is no doubt at all in most clan
member’s minds that they would have perished long ago without their companion’s
help, despite the secluded location of their home. It is widely thought that the
leaf ferret was the first animal to
be domesticated and used as a mount by the
Brownies, and indeed the long breeding history of some lines seems to
support this. It would make sense that the first
rats were also domesticated around this
time, but almost exclusively as working animals, as only the larger
giant rats reach a rideable size.
Rashers have always been the
preferred mount of the military, and even post-owl-domestication they retain a
lot of that status for several reasons. Firstly, they breed extremely well in
captivity which eliminates the constant need to capture young for training.
Secondly, they have a more vicious nature than the owls, which makes them more
of an active fighting animal and easier to train as such. Also, their size makes
them more comfortable to ride than foxes,
as well as less of a drain on food supplies.
The one thing which does have a precise date and founder is the introduction of wood owls and other predatory birds into the mount scene. General Greybark Ferretmaster began to train the first Flying Militia on his return to the Vale in 290 b.S., using the docile wood owls to create a silent and deadly force to fight the orc hordes in Carmalad. These beasts quickly replaced the artificial wings or Lleeters which the Brownies had been using before this time, and the added maneuverability of the army was well worth the extra effort they cost as mounts. Suddenly the Llaoihrr had a line of contact with the world over the mountains too.
Once trained the owls are gentle creatures and they have never been replaced by another bird, simply because they are by far the safest to ride. Since then several other birds have been tested, and there are a smattering of Brownies who own a corbie or a female myrddin falcon as a mount. Every century or so someone attempts to train an eagle hatchling, bought or traded at great cost from its natural habitat. However, this has so far only resulted in two Brownie deaths and several injuries, thus leading to the conclusion, at least among most of the populous, that eagles are far too vicious and unpredictable to be tamed. The Council is seriously considering banning these attempts in the future, although it has traditionally tried not to limit progressive experimentation.
Historically, harnesses of any kind were not common until bigger animals like foxes started to be used as extra-strong battle mounts. Before then it was thought that any sort of leather contraption would simply hinder the animal’s movement more than it would help the owner. However, as the fox harnesses developed, they began to see the clear advantage of the extra support, particularly the leather foot loops. Being able to stand up and get that extra bit of height away from the animal’s head helped so much with their shooting accuracy that the tribe began to develop a version for the other, more common mounts as well.
Picture description. The steed of the Brownie general Greybark Ferretmaster, the snow owl Ookpik. Image by Quellion.
Unfortunately it is still pretty uncertain when exactly
foxes began to be tamed as mounts, or when
the modern version of the harness was developed, as the records that far back
are rather fuzzy. They were definitely being used when
Greybark developed the flying military,
and indeed were a normal and essential part of the army at that time, but there
are also mentions of pet foxes as far back
as the Birni era. However, whether these
were ridden or not is still unknown, and even if they were, the details of how
to do so were lost during the Harsh years, so the
Llaoihrr’s invention is purely their own. Some older
fox harnesses (although no way near the
first created) still remain, and some are still used for ceremonial purposes.
These are generally a lot finer than everyday military wear, larger and heavier,
with a covered cushioned seat for a driver and passenger. They are of course
wooden, but beautifully carved and decorated with jewels and paints from all
over the Brownie trading sphere. It is
actually possible to date them pretty accurately from their ornamentation, as
this was the time when trading was really taking off and new trimmings becoming
Myth/Lore. With such an everyday, essentially practical device, the lack of mysticism surrounding the harnesses can be no surprise. However, one common superstition tells the Brownies to be careful with storing any items of value for that short period in late spring/early summer when the dalór beetles are mating. Nothing of importance should be hung from the branches during this time, as it is said that the beetle’s green flashes can distract the object’s “spirit” or essence and lure it away. An object without its spirit will be very unlucky; prone to snapping or slipping, and so most Brownies avoid cleaning their harnesses (and therefore having to hang it out to dry) during this time. This goes for other pursuits too – anything which would require leaving an object outside overnight can wait until the beetles mating season is over.
However, the wealth of stories, legends and myths about the mounts themselves is another thing indeed. Most legendary heroes come attached to a particularly loyal, strong, or spirited mount, showing how essential the Llaoihrr consider the animals for defense. Different colours of animals are thought to have different abilities for example, and most of these distinctions cross over from one animal species to another. Albinos have always been considered unlucky, possibly due to their unnatural pink eyes, or maybe because the white fur makes them so hard to hide in the forest. Greys are thought to be reliable, whilst browns more spirited, which has probably grown up from the difference in temperament between the gentle grey wood owls and the rather vicious ferrets, whose most common colouring has a brown base. True blacks, which are often quite rare naturally, are considered the luckiest and therefore the most prized.
Mounts are highly valued by the tribe in general, as they take time and effort to train and bond with. Even working beasts are respected and looked after, even if they do not have one specific handler. They are carefully trained and mistreatment is seriously looked down on to the point where a creature might be taken away from its owner and given to someone more deserving. Even older or injured animals which can no longer perform their function as a military mount are found homes as training mounts for Brownie children, or somewhere else where they can be of use. The bond between rider and a regular mount is often very strong, as both have to be able to rely on each other when situations become dangerous, and so caring for the animal properly is defiantly in the Brownie’s best interest.