THE ICELAND WISON

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOUR - DIET - MATING - USAGES - MYTH/LORE

The Wison is a member of the bovine family and has many similarities to domestic cattle. However, it is clearly an animal that is suited for the Coast of the Icelands in Northern Sarvonia. It provides a veritable cornucopia of products that the Ice Tribes use to survive in the harsh environment of the Ice Coast.

The Iceland Wison

View picture in full size Picture description. A huge herd of Iceland Wisons migrating around the plains near the Icelands Coast. Picture drawn by Drucilla Sablewolffe.

Appearance. Having the general appearance of domesticated cattle, it is easy to see that the Wison is part of the bovine family. Though considerably smaller than the thunderfoot, the Wison is itself a very formidable creature. It stands roughly two peds in height at the shoulder, with the males being slightly taller, and its weight is around 40 pygges, again, with the bulls somewhat heavier.

The most obvious thing about the Wison is its dense, coarse coat, which, in the adult, is blue in colour. It is believed that this is a result of its diet of hrugchuk grass. The hair is thick and quite long, giving them a very shaggy appearance. The colour can be used to estimate the age of an animal. When born, the Wison is a pure white in colour. This is thought to aid the young calves by allowing them to be hard to see against the backdrop of the ice fields. As the calf ages, it begins to darken in colour, from the white to a pale blue in young adulthood. The older animals get to be a dark blue in colour, while the males change to almost black. Very rarely, a calf is born that is albino, and this Wison will stay white for its entire life.

The males of the species have a large hump above its shoulders. These humps are full of fat, and it is surmised that it sustains them in times when grazing land is hard to come by. The cow has a less pronounced hump, as her fat is more evenly distributed.

Both genders of the species have horns, usually white with the tips darkening to a deep blue or black, though the females have smaller ones. The horns of the males may span 1 ped, 2 fores across, while, in the females, they rarely reach a span of 1 ped.

The legs of the Wison are heavy and covered in thick hair to protect it from the snow and ice. They are slightly longer in the front than they are in the back, giving them a very noble look. It is thought that this is to give the Wison more power in its front end to assist it with the ritual head butting that the males do at mating time, though observers have not yet concluded why the females are so adorned (see below). The foot of the Wison is wider than that of domesticated
cattle, helping it to walk in the snow. As well as this it has a small bony growth underneath that is sharp; not like a claw, but rather a spur.

The facial features of the Wison are directly affected by its environment. Its eyes are small for its otherwise great size, and are a dark blue in colour. It has no visible white in the eye. The ears are small, and covered with a thick blanket of fur. Its nose is dark blue, and very thick. It is believed that this keeps it from freezing when rooting through the ice for food. The mouth is built similarly thick, while most of its teeth are molars, to grind the hrugchuk grass. Return to the top

Special Abilities. The Wison is equipped with a small but sharp spur on the underside of its front hooves. Though not long enough to serve as a defensive structure (the Wison is not built to attack with its front hooves), the spur is cleverly used by the Wison in its search for the buried hrugchuk grass. The Wison, by use of a small muscle, pushes the spur down so it is protruding, then uses its front hooves to dig through the ice and snow. This spur is particularly effective in breaking the layers of ice. When not actively pushing the spur out, it slides back within the hoof.

The Wison is an excellent swimmer, and its thick coat gives it perfect protection from the freezing waters, coupled with a generous layer of fat beneath. This is an important ability, as the Wison must cross many wide channels in its migration route. Sometimes these channels are not frozen over, and sometimes the ice is not thick enough to support the weight of the Wison herd. In most crossings of the channels, however, the Wison herd stretches out and only a few animals at a time can be found together. The herd normally keeps much closer together when not crossing the frozen channels. There have been reports where the ice has broken and the Wison were not able to climb back out. In these situations, hundreds of animals were found drowned and frozen. In most instances, the animals are able to pull themselves back onto the ice or swim to the surface.

“It happened that on the twelfth day of our journey to track the wild Wison on its migratory path, that we encountered a frozen channel. It was interesting to observe how the herd would stop and the leader of the herd, a magnificent creature, huge compared to the rest of the herd, would venture out alone onto the ice. First, he crossed the channel alone, cautiously stamping on the ice, several times correcting his path, I assume to miss the thin areas, before he returned to the herd. What happened next was a marvel to behold in an animal with minimal intelligence and no language, save for the bellowing of their calls. The sub-leaders would gather small groups of cows and calves, and lead them across the channel, no more than about ten animals in each group. The leader went with this first group. Once across, the leader and a couple of sub-leaders stayed with these animals, while the other sub-leaders crossed back to the other side again, to get yet another group of cows ands bring them across. This went on until there were only fifty or so left on the first side of the channel.

At this point, the journey took a deadly turn. When the group crossing was about half way into the channel, the remaining cows and calves became too restless for the few sub-leaders with them to control. They rushed out onto the ice, trying desperately to rejoin the herd. Unfortunately, the combined weight of these great animals was too much for the ice to bear. With a loud crack that sounded like thunder in a clear sky, the ice gave way and most of the animals were thrown into water so cold that should a man fall in, I would suggest that not more than a dozen heartbeats would go by that he would be frozen to death. Still, these hardy animals pushed on, swimming and trying to climb back onto the sheet of ice. To my horror, it was obvious that not all were going to make it, and I saw at the very least, twenty Wison perish that day, drowning in the frigid water of the channel. One by one, they would stop their struggling and disappear beneath the surface, only to reappear several moments later; unmoving, with limbs flayed out in a gruesome display of death.

After the rest finally reached the far shore, the leader made his way back to the edge of the broken ice, and he began to bellow in such a mournful way, that I myself was brought to tears. He soon returned to what was left of his herd and led them away.

Though I continued to follow them, I was forever changed by what I had witnessed there that day. No longer was the Wison a simple beast in my eyes, but truly an animal created by the gods.”

Compendiumist Lyrotal Draconall, 13th of the Burning Heavens, 1654
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Territory. The Wison’s territory covers most of the Icelands Coast. However, it is a migratory animal, so it can be found in different areas depending on the time of year. In the summer, the Wison is found up north, in the lands of the Vertans. As autumn approaches, they begin the migration south, reaching the mountains north of the Wastes of Despair, where they spend the coldest part of the winter. Then, in spring, they begin the journey north once more. They seem to travel in smaller herds, making use of the few hot springs that occur in the north, to eat the hrugchuk grass that grows abundantly there. The cows have their calves while making this trip. This is the most difficult time for the Wison, as the predators of the north come looking for the weakest of the herd, the newborns. The summer and winter destinations are a gathering places for the wison, and at these two times of the year, herds of up to 5000 animals can be found; a veritable sea of animals covering the land from horizon to horizon. Return to the top

Habitat/Behaviour. The Wison is a herd animal. As individuals, their eyesight and hearing are not that advanced, but within the herd this is compensated for. These herds are typically 100-200 animals, though herds of up to 400 have been sighted. When pushed to extreme agitation, herds have been known to stampede. Nothing can stand up to a stampeding herd, wildly charging as one massive entity, and anything caught in its path is usually crushed by the multitude of hooves.

In the wild, a Wison may live up to 30 years of age. It has few natural predators, the caracal being the main threat, next to the Ice Tribe hunters.

There is a hierarchy to the herd. A single bull acts as the leader, and the herd follows where he leads. This bull is usually older, but at the peak of his physical form. Next to this, are many sub-leaders; bulls that take positions on the flanks and rear of the herd, both to keep stragglers from falling away from the herd, and to watch for danger. Younger bulls and cows make up the majority of the herd.

Bulls are very aggressive. If they spot danger they will bellow. This bellow is to warn the herd and, if the danger is a predator, to chase away the predator. If the predator does not heed this warning, the bull will charge, using its horns in a deadly fashion. Often, if one bull is engaged with a foe, other bulls will join in the fray. They have learned to coordinate their attacks, much like a pack of wolves, to form a deadly cohesive force.

Bulls often compete in a head butting ritual to determine dominance. They bellow a challenge at one another, and then charge from a distance of 10 peds or more. They can hit one another with tremendous force; the resulting crash is very loud. Though it can sometimes lead to death, more often then not, one bull will submit after a dozen charges or so. Young bulls challenge sub-leaders, and sub-leaders challenge for the lead bull position. Bulls usually have a harem of cows that they breed with and protect. The leader and his sub-leaders usually have 6-10 cows, while younger bulls typically only have 1 or 2 females.

Cows are somewhat more docile than bulls. This is not true when a cow is protecting her calf, however. In such a case, she will become enraged, her own life secondary to that of her offspring. Though her horns are smaller than those of a bull, she can wield them with lethal accuracy.

When a leader or a sub-leader gets old and is overthrown by a younger bull, he loses his harem and is no longer welcomed in the herd. The dominating male will chase him out. Should he try to return to the herd, several of the sub-leaders will attack him as they would any other threat to the herd. This individual bull is now known as a rogue. Rogues are solitary animals and, as such, are extremely unpredictable and dangerous. Without the herd advantage of extra eyes and ears, and its own senses substandard, it is believed that the rogue will attack almost anything, as it struggles to survive. This is possibly a madness brought on from not being in the herd.

Because the competition for food is so great, if a herd of Wison and thunderfeet meet, it is usually a tense affair, though rarely are animals on either side killed. The thunderfoot has the definite size advantage, while the Wison have the numbers. They will usually try to stay a respectable distance from each other, but once in a while they get too close. When this happens, the male Wison go into their protective stance, while the female thunderfeet assume their circular stance. Charges are usually made by the Wison, but most of these are feints, in an attempt to make the thunderfoot abandon the area. In a few cases, this works, but for the most part, the Wison move further along, having satisfied themselves that the thunderfeet are not a physical threat.
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Diet. The Wison can eat most types of grasses, but as it comes from the Icecoast, its main diet consists of the hrugchuk grass, in particular the flower, which the bulls get most, as it is probably considered a delicacy. If a female finds a flower, she usually bellows so that a bull can come and get it. Bulls, if they spot a calf about to eat a flower will charge at them. This charge is usually enough to cause the cow or calf to run away, leaving the flower to the bull. However, it has been seen where a particularly aggressive female will stand her ground. Sometimes this can result in physical altercations, though rarely resulting in any serious harm. The flower will then be eaten by the victor. The Wison is a voracious eater, and will eat the hrugchuk stalk down to the root, leaving the earth bare in its wake. This is what probably precipitated the Wison’s migration pattern, as it searched for land not laid bare.
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Mating. The mating cycle of the Wison takes place in summer, while they are in the lands of the Vertans. The mating ritual of the Wison is a fairly simple one. The bulls will begin bellowing, this sound often can be heard for miles. Receptive females will then approach, and after a brief moment where they sniff each other, the bull mounts the cow. It is believed that the sniffing is both to recognize each other, and to detect sickness and already impregnated cows. Bulls have been known to chase off females that it has deemed not acceptable for mating.

The pregnancy results in a gestation period of around 8 months. The calves are then born during the migration north to their summer lands. Within mere hours of birth, the calves are able to walk and keep up with the herd. This is imperative, as the herd does not stop to wait for the newborns, or the weak and infirm. Those left behind are easy prey for wolves and the ever dangerous caracal.

Cows give birth to one calf, usually every two years. She will nurse the calf for nearly two months, as the calf will then learn to eat grass. The calves will mature in about 4 years. Until then, they will stay with their mothers. It is not uncommon to see a cow with more than one calf, one nursing and the other chewing on grass.
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Usages. As the Wison travels through the lands of most of the Ice Tribes, each one relies heavily on this creature. As such, the nomadic elements of the population follow the herds as they cross their lands.

The biggest resource that the Wison provides to the Ice Tribes is meat. Without this meat, it is debatable whether the Ice Tribes would be able to survive at all in the hostile environment. The meat is very rich and nutritious. No other animal is put to such complete use as the Wison.

The Wison is also used as a mount by the Ice Tribes. Some of the permanent settlements have domesticated the Wison, keeping a bull and cows. It is a dangerous practice, as the wild nature of the beast never completely disappears. However, if a calf can be separated from the herd at a young age, and given extensive human interaction and training, it can become a useful beast of burden. Though rare, the males can be trained to serve as war mounts, after being gelded. This takes extensive training, usually by the warrior who will eventually be the rider. If that warrior dies, the Wison is usually unable to be trained to take a new rider. It is this inability to take a new rider that coined the phrase “lonely as a Wison mount”, to refer to a man (sometimes a woman though less frequently) who has lost a spouse and never remarries.

The Remusians are the one tribe that does not use the Wison as a mount. They prefer to use their Kor'och fey Mologh, the Remusian horse. They use their horses to hunt the Wison, chasing the herds and using the bow, spear and lance to bring down the creatures. The other Ice Tribes hunt on foot, or on trained Wisons. Those on foot wear Wison cloaks and headdresses to get close enough to use bows and spears to bring down their prey. Whichever way is used, hunting Wisons is a dangerous prospect. Many a warrior has been killed or maimed by a stampeding herd, or a bull protecting his harem. Some clans use the hunt as a rite of passage into manhood for young men.

After a hunt, men and women set to work butchering the carcasses. Then the haul is brought home using travois or sleds. This is done quickly, so that any wolves or caracal in the area do not pick up the scent of blood.
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Myth/Lore. There is a tale the Ice Tribes like to tell around a campfire on how the Iceland Wison was created:

A Hunter's Encounter. Ages ago, before the War of the Chosen, the Ice Tribes were a lost people. They lived on the frozen plains of the Ice Lands Coast. It happened that one a day a young hunter went out to find food for his family. He traveled far, but could not find anything to hunt. Knowing that the very lives of his family were at stake, he continued on, though he could see a storm was brewing in the sky. When the storm hit, the young man was far from home, and without shelter. He knew that he would not see the morning light. He continued onward, praying to the gods as he went. Just as he was about to give up, he could smell the smoke from a fire. Gaining strength from this, he pushed himself until he saw a small hut through the swirling snow.

The young man entered the hut, calling out, but no one answered. Indeed, no one was home, but there was a feast laid out on a small table. As much as he wanted, the young man could not bring himself to help himself to the meal. Instead, he warmed himself by the fire.

Suddenly, the door opened and a large white bear entered the hut. Terrified, the young hunter grabbed for his spear. He pulled back on his arm, and took aim. The bear however, did not attack, but ambled to the table and sniffed at the food there. The young hunter lowered his weapon, not willing to attack the great beast. Suddenly, the great bear disappeared, and in its place, the god Zundefor stood.

"You, young hunter, are a noble warrior. You did not steal from me, though you are hungry."

"No, I am a warrior, a hunter, I am not a thief!"

Zundefor smiled. "Yes, you are all of that, and more. For your integrity, I shall reward you. Name what you wish. A sack of gems? Food for you and your family? Furs?"

The young hunter thought for a moment. "I do not want any gifts. I am a hunter. My tribe are hunters. We cannot use gems, we need animals to hunt. We need the meat for food; we need the hide for clothes. Give us an animal that can fulfill all our needs."

The god chuckled softly. "What is your name, my fine young hunter?"

Lifting his chin proudly, the young man answered. "I am Wison-ah-el."

The god continued to smile. "Very well, my young friend, I shall give you an animal that you and your tribe may hunt. I will create a number of them so vast, that all your children and their children will be able to hunt them. And I will make this beast have everything that you can use to feed and clothe your tribe. I shall call this creature the Wison. Now, eat my young friend, and rest near the fire. In the morning, the storm will be over and you can go home. Gather your best hunters, for the next morning, the Wison will come."

With that, the god disappeared and the young hunter was left alone. He ate heartily and rested until morning. Sure enough, in the morning the storm was gone, and he hurried back to his tribe to gather the hunters. The following morning, a herd of Wison was spotted not far from the tribe. Since then, the Ice Tribes have hunted the Wison, and used all of its parts for food and clothing.

The Ice Tribes consider the sight of an albino Wison a good omen, and it is thought that this is the god Zundefor himself, come to the land to see that his creation is fairing well. It is against the laws of the Ice Tribes to kill an albino wison, though if an albino hide is found, its value is immeasurable. It is considered to bring good luck to its owner. A warrior would never voluntarily give one away. Return to the top

 Date of last edit 20th Burning Heavens 1667 a.S.

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