These artificial wings, or "Lleeterrs" as the are often called among Browniefolk (see Myth and Lore for detals on the origin of this strange-sounding name), are basically a springy wooden frame covered in some sort of material. They will allow a Brownie to glide a short distance, providing an easier route to neighbouring tree houses or down to the forest floor. Lleeterrs are usually decorated in pretty much anything the Brownies can lay their hands on and youngsters’ sets often look so heavily laden that it is a wonder they can get off the ground. Although the design has undergone a drastic change in recent years, the idea has been familiar to the Llaoihrr Brownies for as long as anyone can remember, and Lleeterrs are firmly routed in Brownie folk tales and way of life. They are used mainly in the Vale where they were developed, but are not unheard of among the Milken Brownies either.
Apart from the springy wooden frame, each pair of Brownie Wings varies
immensely from the other. Owners, especially younger ones, enjoy decorating the
wings themselves with any type of feathers, beads, leaves or even pretty shards
of stone that they can find, normally gluing these straight to the fabric with a
paste made from boiled up mouse bones.
Although you would expect the pieces of rock to be too heavy, there is a
particular type which the Brownies call
"LLeiLLrr" (lit: "waterfall rock") which can be split quite easily into very
thin, light layers. Large shards of this are often used for windows (hence it is
often called "Fayglass" by the humans), as it
can be quite transparent, and the chips left over from cutting it to size create
a pretty sparkling addition to any wing set. Children stick uncut fragments
straight to the Lleeterr's fabric but adults are more likely to have it inlaid
into the wooden frame by a specialist of the Brightler Clan. Another potential
decoration is the shiny, irridesant inside of a
tryster's shell which has to be traded
for, making it more expensive but also more sort after.
The fabric stretched between the struts can be anything from light-weight cow or deer stomach (normally traded for from neighbouring human villages and therefore mainly for the more serious flyers) to de-furred rabbit leather. Tightly-woven fabric is also highly prized as it doesn’t stiffen after it gets wet like the leather, and this has led to tentative trading with the people of Bardavos for the beautiful Shendar silk, and other larger cities for the bright works of Caltharian dyers.
The wooden frame itself may also have decorations burnt into its surface. Some of the more decorative (and less practical) designs are even carved with symmetrical patterns or Brownie runes, often telling a story of the event they were made to celebrate. Fashion plays a large part in the decoration, and whilst one generation favours beads, the next will prefer feathers, the next plain fabrics in bright glaring colours, and so on.
The span of the wings nowadays is around a third bigger than the Brownie’s own arm span, and sets are made for both children and adults. Larger wings give the user more lift but don’t let them turn as sharply. This problem can be solved with a more springy frame, as this allows the rider to move their bodyweight more easily, but this in turn makes the Lleeterr harder to use and more fragile. Also the wood tends to become more rigid and brittle as it gets older and dries out, so the steering gets worse as the wings age.
Construction. The craftsbrownie, normally a member of the woodworking Hamm'rer Clan, must first find a selection of twigs or branches that are approximately three times as thick as they will be on the finished product. One of these should be around the length of the rider’s arm span (when measured across their back), one about a third bigger again (depending on the style being crafted) and the rest about half the arm span. The bark is stripped from all the twigs and discarded. They are then left to dry for at least a week, often tied around a tree so they will take on some of its curved shape. Next the outside is sanded using rough stones to remove any imperfections in the wood like knots or buds. This also takes away quite a lot of wood and sometimes the craftsbrownie needs to leave the branches for longer to allow the wood to dry a little more. The optimum state is when the wood has just turned from green to brown, as this is when the wood is still springy without being too soft and prone to splintering. Any carving or decoration of the wooden frame itself is done before assembly. Carved designs require a harder, more finely grained wood to allow for the fine level of detail which the Brownies inevitably produce. The actual carving is normally done by a Brightler Clan member who specialises in it, rather than the Lleeterr-maker himself.
The wooden sections are held together with untreated leather thongs which are then wetted and allowed to dry solid. Glue can be added too, depending on the preference of the maker. The longest branch forms the front of the structure and curves backwards and downwards towards the rider’s feet. The next largest crosses the rider’s lower back (about the level of the hip bones) and curves the other way, meeting the first piece at the end of the rider’s arms. A loop of leather is normally fitted here as well, providing a place to rest one’s hands. The remaining twigs are placed across the first two pieces like the feathers would lie on a normal bird. These go under the basic structure and will sit between the Brownie and the wing fabric. The usual number is four; two on each side, with the two ends of the first longer branch making a 5th and 6th strut. The first pair of struts sit either side of the Brownie’s body and several leather straps are suspended between these two forming the main source of support for the Brownie. The rider is also strapped in across each upper arm, as well as the handles mentioned before.
The feet can be supported in two ways, or left to hang loose, again depending on the design and the ability of the flyer. The first and simplest solution is another wooden bar underneath the first pair of struts (the ones on either side of the Brownie’s body), positioned to allow the Brownie to tuck their legs up and rest their feet on it. This is a good solution for beginner flyers as it provides maximum stability for the legs, preventing them from swinging around and effecting the steering.
The other method is a longer leather strap which acts rather like a stirrup and hangs from the same two struts. The length of this strap varies with preference, but should be long enough to be comfortable whilst not allowing the legs to straighten fully and thus risking the feet falling out. This design is preferred by most Brownies as it allows the legs to move and be used to steer the craft, whilst still providing some support. It also acts as an emergency break system – by shifting all their weight onto this stirrup a rider can quickly tilt the wings, lifting the front and preventing downwards flight. However, this feature means the design is rarely used for children’s sets, as breaking too hard or suddenly can cause a complete loss of lift and a spiralling, dizzying fall to the ground.
Of course the most experienced flyers often prefer to have their legs hanging freely, as this gives the greatest possible steerage. However one needs both skill and strong stomach muscles to do this successfully, and thus this method is left to the serious competition flyers.
Once the basic frame is complete, the wood is sanded further with rough barks, treated with a varnish made from pine resin and then left to dry. The next stage of construction is adding the material to the wooden frame. The method varies only slightly depending on whether one uses the old-fashioned leather to cover it, or the new, lighter materials. Leather is the easiest to attach, as it is the strongest fabric, less prone to ripping, although it is often treated first to give it a little water resistance. Rubbing large quantities of rendered animal fat into the material makes it more supple and less likely to stiffen, but this process is time consuming and hard work. Therefore a choice must be made between suppleness and strength of the frame, because if the leather is allowed to stiffen, the construction will be much more durable, but not as fun to fly.
The leather can be decorated at this stage too, possibly by burning designs into the surface or dyeing markings onto it. When ready, it is simply pierced and tied to the wooden frame, which has already been smeared with glue in every place the leather will touch. This ensures that the stress is as equally balanced as possible, and that the material is less likely to tear.
When using lighter, woven fabrics or the delicate lining of a herbivore’s stomach, even more care must be taken to attach the fabric evenly to the frame. Often the material is not pierced at all, as this creates weak points, and is instead wrapped around each of the outer wooden pieces several times and glued to make sure it is strong enough. Extra pieces of material may be looped around the struts and then glued onto the main wing material as well.
Most Lleeterrs are made to measure for the customer, and take at least two weeks from start to finish, mainly due to the need to dry the wood before use. Some may then be further embellished by the customer, or passed on to a member of the Brightler Clan for a more professional job. Decorations are usually stuck on rather than sewn to avoid making holes in the fabric, and can be practically anything which is light enough. Sometimes a string is tied between the two outer struts and threaded with beads or other bits and pieces, creating a pretty “tail” as the Brownie swoops down through the foliage.
Usage. Although much of the wings' development can be attributed to military use, this has all but died out since the invention of the Flying Militia. Now they are used as a quick way of getting from one tree to another or down to the ground. Many young Brownies will also race each other for fun, causing large-scale panic when they inevitably stray too close to a home or another Brownie.
Lleetrrs are also sometimes given as ceremonial gifts on special occasions such as when a Brownie enters or completes his apprenticeship with a particular clan. These wings are often over-decorated by modern standards and made in an old-fashioned, heavier style which lasts for longer. They are more decorative than actually practical but they will still glide short distances in a rather steep downwards direction.
However, even with the best, lightest wing sets the Brownie cannot recreate true flight, or even glide as far as a flittermouse itself due to the weight of the wings. The longest glide ever recorded was by Drou Birchbark in 1659, who managed to achieve 24 peds, 2 fores and 5 palmspans in a fair breeze. In reality Brownies rarely have this advantage as they use their wings among the stillness of the trees in the Vale. The distance of the flight depends on many things; the size of the wings, weight of the Brownie, experience of flying and style of the set used. Anything which slows the flight, including steering the craft, will cause the rider to lose height as well.
Every year, normally in the spring when the winds blow strong and steadily, the Brownie Aoooaiei (lit: "taking off") is held. Taking place in a large clearing in order to catch the best breeze, this is a chance for all Brownies of all ages and clans to come together and show off their flying skills. Competitions such as races, distance gliding and simple obstacle courses are very popular, with many Brownies simply joining in to show off their new wing sets. All the flight times and distances are recorded and kept publicly, so that the winners' names will be known for as long as the bark lasts. Entry is of course free and only restricted for the higher levels, where the most successful flyers from the last rounds compete for championship. Prizes are normally exquisitely worked cloaks or other decorated clothing, which are donated by members of the Brightler Clan. Although they don’t receive payment, the advertisement of their particular skill more than makes up for the time spent, and indeed the struggle between different Brightlers to donate pieces is often said to be fiercer than the Aoooaiei itself.
History/Origin. It is widely believed, though no one is quite sure if it is true, that the first Brownie wings were actually harvested straight from bats which populate some quieter parts of the Vale. There is some evidence to support this; for example the Prowler Clan’s early records discuss ways to catch a bat without harming the delicate membrane which allows it to fly, suggesting that this was once an issue. Also several traditional hunter’s dishes use bat meat despite the fact that mouse is relatively easier to catch and just as tasty. Finally (though possibly because of the popular association rather than an actual link to the past) one popular style of youthwings still incorporates decorative details and strut placement that evoke flittermouse wing design.
Fortunately for the bat population of the Vale (as tested by several of the more practical Brownie historians) bat wings are neither comfortable to the rider, nor particularly easy to control. Also the membrane dries and hardens when dead, becoming so delicate that it is easily damaged by the everyday falls and bashes of a leaner flyer. It is no wonder that the Brownies soon moved on to producing their own covered wooden frames. The few early plans of the first designs which still remain show a rather more complicated structure than that used today; some even look as if they were supposed to flap like those of an actual bat.
Military use soon encouraged more solid, long-lasting styles, and most of these intended to be used to swoop down quickly on an incoming enemy, bringing the Brownie close enough for a shot or two before swooping past them and far enough away so they could escape. The Brownies could attack all at once, creating a confusing swarm around the human or elf, and quickly subduing him/her. Durability and reliable steering were prized at this time, and wings were normally rather heavy, short-winged and inflexible; the stiff leather covering providing extra support for the wooden structure. This meant that even if the frame was cracked or fractured in landing, the leather would still hold it in place and allow the rider to make another few runs. The stubby, rather ugly, shorter design not only made the wings easier to turn to avoid other Brownies, but made them less cumbersome on the ground as well whilst the Brownie made their vital get away.
After Brownies learnt to tame owls and use them as mounts, the wings were no longer of military importance and became more a traditional gift than a useful object. The heavy, ugly design was respected but not loved. That is until the inventor and historian RrLLee'ou Greenbark brought them back into fashion with two sets he designed for his grandchildren. Newer, simpler and rather more beautiful than the old sets, these were the beginning of a revival for the product. They were not made of leather but from a closely-woven human fabric, a boon from the new, slowly expanding, trading network. Within weeks every child was clammering for a pair and soon the adults too began to see the convenience of gliding simply to your neighbour’s tree for a fruity snack and a chat. Lleeterrs became popular as they had never been before, with new decorations, designs and improvements increasing the variety and usefulness of this old invention.
Another footnote in the history of the Brownie Wings is an attempt by the Avennorian inventor Fjorek Rigvinn to adapt the design for his own use. Having the funds to hire the services of a few craftsbrownies from Milkengrad who had made wing sets before helped him a great deal, so after only a few months of preparation the team produced something which they were confident would work. This extract was taken from Fjorek Rigvinn’s log, where he had carefully described every stage of the process.
“As we had to increase the size of the structure so much, the wooden frame was far thicker and stiffer than the Brownie version. I think this may have been where we went wrong. Our design was completely solid unlike the supple, flexible Brownie frames and it is possible that this put unbearable stress on the thongs holding the wooden structure together, as well as the glue attaching the material to it. I believe this unavoidable flaw was the route cause of the complete collapse of the craft as young Neth was testing it. Unfortunately we were unable to study the remains of our craft in any great detail, as Neth was flying too high at the time of the collapse, and what pieces we could find were somewhat too small and covered rather thickly in Neth himself.”
been no further attempts to adapt the wings for other races.
Myth/Lore. Aside from the speculations about the origins of the wings, there are many other tales which feature magical sets, as well as songs dedicated to the joy of flying. Unfortunately most of these have yet to be translated from the original Browniin with any measure of success, but this particular ditty was written straight into Tharian by the some-time poet and traveller Tee'n Brownbark, in an effort to communicate the joy of flight to his human friend Jaro. It describes an autumn morning in the Vale, bringing together Tee'n’s favourite time, place and activity.
Falling, rushing, swooping down
Several fairy stories also
mention Lleeterrs, or flying, or even talking bats
in some of the older ones. One of the most famous examples, whose name
translates to "The Magic Wings", is also one, and one of the only to be written
down. Mostly these tales are simply passed on as children's stories, and often
vary greatly depending on who is telling them.
However the Lleeterrs long history within the Brownie culture is most evident when you look at the numerous phrases and expressions which have developed from flight. A good example is “To be earning one’s wings”, which means something along the lines of being mature, or showing maturity, although it is usually applied to a very young Brownie. It comes from the idea that a child must show responsibility and maturity before they are trusted enough to learn to fly, and can be used as praise for doing something seen as “grown up”.
Also being a “good flyer” (applied to both genders) often has sexual connotations as using the wings gives the Brownie a well-toned figure, as well as requiring a delicate touch for steering. One should also be careful when describing another’s skill at “flying”, for fear of serious fits of giggling at your expense.
The name “Lleeterrs” is said to originate from the dwarvish term for the bat “flittermouse”. The wings became known as “flitterers” as they allow one to “flitter”, but this was rather difficult to say with a Brownie accent, and so the word gradually morphed into something easier to pronounce. Although it is unknown whether this is actually true, it does seem the only logical explanation for this relatively un-Brownie-like word.