The Council Tree is a huge, magically enhanced cinnabark tree, which is also home to around 250,000 Brownies of the Llaoihrr tribe. This quite possibly makes it the largest settlement of the little folk anywhere, and certainly the biggest on the Sarvonian continent. The Memnoor’s city (another Brownie settlement in southernmost Aeruillin) might top it, but their home and magic academy includes members of all races, whilst the Council Tree is exclusively for Brownies. Bigger people just simply cannot fit into the spaces carved into the tree, nor use the 17-nailsbreath-high tunnels which serve as paths through the foliage around it. There is separate accommodation for the occasional Bigfolk visitor - a small hut some way from the tree itself. Naturally, the settlement sits deep in the safety of the Vale of the Brownies, an enclosed, sheltered valley to the west of the Rimmerins Ring. This area has been the home of the Llaoihrr Brownies for more than 4000 years.
The Llaoihrr Brownies who
live here are split into several different
clans, each of which specialises in
a particular activity and has a certain responsibility too. Clan Maj, for
example, is a Clan who specialises in
life magic and is responsible for keeping the
cinnabark healthy. They have a
separate dwelling further upstream which is also a part of the Council Tree
settlement. There are several more of these outbuildings: a small dock which
sits on the bank of the fast-flowing river, and the housing for the
Brownies' animal and bird mounts. Five out
of the seven other Brownie settlements in
the Vale pay tribute to this huge city-like structure, and receive the
protection, better trading links and education should they want them. The
Council Tree also has a role in punishing criminals if the smaller groups feel
unable to do so.
Description. Upon entering the 100-ped wide clearing along the main path from the south, or indeed from any direction, you will immediately be hit by a flurry of activity. Only in the middle of the night, or on those rare occasions when it is too stormy or cold for the little folk to venture outside, is the place relatively quiet. Brownies of all colourings scamper across the clearing around the base. Groups of youngsters cluster around their Imparter guardians in excitable, chattering herds, or sit listening to stories and learning to make simple clothes. Every so often the crowd of tiny figures is broken by the passage of a saddled rasher or a rat-drawn wain. Even the air space around the trunk and between the branches is full of life. Owls and other birds soar across the larger distances, whilst Brownies scramble up and down rope ladders and bridges strung between the shortest. Everywhere the little folk swoop from branch to branch with the famous artificial wings or “lleeterrs” strapped to their bodies, gliding down onto the forest floor. Their bright colours flash across the background of green and brown foliage, catching the eye and dragging it back and forth.
The next thing which captures the attention is the huge, thick trunk itself. This enormous cinnabark pine was magically enlarged by the life mages, a fact which is startlingly obvious to even the most city-bound visitor. The beautifully rich brownish-red trunk is just over seven and a half peds in diameter and the top of the tree towers over the rest of the forest at reportedly 117 peds. Needle-covered branches reach out to cover about half the well-maintained clearing. The floor beneath your feet is a dark, reddish colour, covered with well-trodden-in pine needles. The earth has the constancy of fine sand, but really well packed down by thousands of tiny feet. Small darker patches show that the clearing is often used to cook meals.
Other trees cast their shade at the edge of the civilised area too, birches and ashwudes mainly. The eagerly-growing plants almost look as if they are only waiting until the Brownies are no longer paying attention before they swarm the place and turn it back into wild forest. The undergrowth becomes wiry and thick here too, although small Brownie-sized tunnels cut their way through it at regular intervals. The dark, slightly foreboding holes in the foliage are only lit when the sun is at just the right angle.
Not all the clearing around the base is free from vegetation. A large portion of the western side (closest to the river) is given over to the Greengrower's gardens. Unlike the fantastically wild mesh which surrounds the clearing, these plants are carefully cultivated and cut to keep them at a manageable Brownie size. The plot is nowhere near large enough to grow the staple food for the tree, but as the Brownies get most of their sustenance from the forest or from the other areas where greybark moss is farmed this is not really necessary. Instead the Greengrowers grow plants which are extremely hard to find or naturally live too far from the Council Tree. In fact the range of greenery extends to those which don't naturally grow within the Vale at all. Especially now, when they have trading links with large cities like New-Santhala and Milkengrad, their collection grows ever wider.
Key Locations. The most important parts and key locations of the Council Tree can be summarized as follows:
The Stairway and Lifts
The main stairway begins at the bottom of the Council Tree's base and winds right up around the outside of the trunk into the topmost branches, with an entrance to each main floor. It is simply made by inserting plank after plank into slots in the trunk of the tree. These are religiously maintained by the Hammer'r Clan, and regularly replaced. On the side away from the tree, a wooden hand rail is all that protects the Brownies from falling, but this is large and also very well looked after. It has been worn smooth and polished to a fine shine by hundreds of years of Brownie hands. Tiny holes into the tree pepper the staircase's passage, as many Brownies in the past have chosen to ignore the level of the official floors, and simply built their cave-like homes wherever they could.
There are seven lifts in total, all of which are placed inside the tree, their vertical tunnels situated at convenient points around the trunk. The oldest one of which was built way back around 1000 b.S., as soon as the Council Tree had reached its full height. This one does not reach past the tenth floor, the last of the public levels, and is the only one not powered by waterwheels. As it predates this ingenious invention, it runs on rat-power – twenty giant rats to be precise, who take turns to run in their treadmills and lift the structure up.
The rest, however, are all lifted by a system of levers and pulleys, powered by the fast-flowing river nearby. Their large wooden boxes, carved with nature-inspired patterns like most public walls, lift between 20 and 100 Brownies slowly up the structure, stopping at every seventh level to drop people off. This process is renowned for being amazingly slow going, because of the number of folk getting on and off at each one, and so a lot of Brownies choose to take the stairs at least part of the way instead. These lifts go much higher up the tree than the original one, encompassing most of the Brownie home levels. There are a few homes built even higher, which can only be reached by stairs, but these have a lot more space than lower down – often enough to keep an owl for transport.
The Inside the Tree
Facing south of the tree, the direction where the sun is strongest and therefore the one the spirits are thought to come from, is the main entrance into the Council Tree itself. The opening lies between the bumps of two large tree roots, unmissable even in that huge structure. The large dark hole of the actual entrance is undecorated from the outside, but as soon as you step into it the number and complexity of the carvings is overwhelming. The room itself it about half a ped high, and many other holes riddle the large trunk, piercing the beautiful cinnabrown bark but letting in valuable light. The patterns carved into the walls flow around these, enhancing and emphasising the openings, as if something more than light were flowing through them. Simplified animals and plants are the main theme for the decoration, some of which are near life size. Lines wind around these and up towards the middle of the roof.
In the centre of the almost cylindrical room sits a huge oven-like structure. A piece of stone about a ped long and two fores wide has been imbedded into the wooden floor to protect it from the flames. Another equally huge slab roof is supported by tens of little pillars, at a height of about half a fore, which stops the flames from rising too high and endangering the ceiling of the room. The structure is actually high enough for a Brownie to get underneath with only minimal stooping. There are several holes in the top to let smoke out, as well as a good number of circular cooking pits chiselled down into it. Most days a Brownie who decides to cook inside rather than in the clearing will make a small fire on the stone surface and sit within the “oven” to tend it.
However, feast days are when this area really comes to life. Every Brownie brings an armload of wood for the fire, and the whole structure is painstakingly filled before being set alight. The stone roof slowly heats up until it is hot enough for food to be cooked on it – the Brownies wear special shoes to walk on top with thick leather soles. More wood can be fed through the smoke holes, and huge pots or leather slings containing stews can be hung over or into the others. The organisation of this is quite a feat, and the responsibility for it lies with the Hotfinger Clan. On rare occasions when the weather is too bad to cook outside, this communal cooking area can be used too.
There are ten more “official” floors, used for clan rooms, communal dining and worship of the spirits. The second floor, which can be reached via a large internal staircase as well as the main one, includes the Public Eating Halls, a huge low area with long benches and tables carved from the living wood of the tree. The Hotfinger and Bubbler Clan rooms are also on this level, providing easy access to drinks and expertly cooked meals as long as someone is cooking at that point. New experimental dishes are often tested here, which is normally but not always a good thing, depending on the experience of the cook.
Another particularly memorable area is the Praiser Room. These are taller and more open than anywhere else in the tree, with huge oval windows facing south. Like all the structures, it does not take up the entire width of the trunk in order to keep it alive, so it stretches out over the sunnier southern half. Light streams through the unusually huge windows, making the room seem even bigger than it is and creating an awe-inspiring view for a Brownie just entering from the rest of the dark passages. A huge pillar in the centre of the room links the ceiling to the floor. Of course, the room was actually carved out and this palmspan-wide column was left, so it is still part of the cinnabark. It is carved with scenes of daily life, Brownies cooking, children playing, or hunters setting traps, pictures of all that the tree’s spirit allows them to do. For this is the shrine to the most important spirit for any Llaoihrr – the Council Tree’s spirit. A stone plate lies at one side, so that offerings of thanks can be left. These are taken downstairs by the priests and left in little tunnels around the tree’s roots.
The rest of the temple is filled with the physical forms of some of the most important spirits. “Important” in this case means the ones who do the most for the Brownies: who provide the most sustenance or help. So, greenbark moss, the staple of the Llaoihrr, blankets its stone shrine in green, and five giant rats have a large walk-in pen around their altar. Various small live birds twitter in their cages, and many flowers drop pollen on the heads of their worshipers. A Brownie will often have a particular spirit who they feel has given them special help at some point in there lives. For example a Ferretmaster will often take a little time each week to thank the ferret spirit for his animal’s health and ongoing usefulness. A Brightler might come to give an offering to the plant which produces a specific dye, or a child for help from a wind spirit for a lleeterr contest.
The Scribblers, the clan in charge of writing and record keeping, store their scrolls in thousands of little cylindrical compartments drilled into the walls of their library. A whole floor is dedicated to these records, which are arranged in chronological order from the beginning of the Council Tree to the present day. The place is legendary for being maze-like and terrifyingly dusty; one of the more dangerous sections of the tree to wander into alone. The scrolls are not sorted in any way apart from the date they got there, and therefore it is very easy to get lost in the low tunnels whilst looking for something in particular. The passages were also excavated with very little logical planning, and often loop over or under each other to exploit whatever space there is. The Scribblers have always kept one common ferret in their clan rooms, chosen for its sense of smell. If a researcher fails to return after a day and a night, the ferret leads the ensuing search party.
Each clan has a set of rooms or at least one room like this within the first eleven levels and most of them also have a separate, private area which is only for clan members. Workshops and meeting areas sometimes need to be away from prying eyes, and privacy is highly valued in the busy tree. Above these official floors the space is mostly dedicated to housing, although there are a few public roosts where Brownies can keep an owl, more eating halls with smaller versions of the oven in the entrance hall, and public bathing areas as well. Although a lot of trading for everyday objects is done clan-to-clan rather than Brownie-to-Brownie, special, unusual items are different, and there are several floors with communal areas solely for this purpose too.
The Docks and
One of the tunnel-like pathways through the foliage leads from the Council Tree clearing to the small cluster of constructions at the closest river bank. The buildings themselves are set right into the side of the bank so that they are actually at the same level as the underground cellars of the Council Tree. Wooden planks cover the surfaces as the spray from the river would only turn the dirt into slippery mud.
The dock itself is rather small and unimpressive, a relic of an attempt which never took off. Using boats on the fast-flowing Snake River has always been a fool-hardy pursuit and is popularly referred to as being "more dangerous than flying a myrdinn in a windstorm." (The light, speedy falcons are known for their unpredictable temperament.) Some craft are used on the river by skilled, foolhardy types who are very well paid for the risks they take. There have been attempts to transport goods using it in the past, but there are so few Llaoihrr willing to use a boat with their work that this has been pretty much abandoned. Sometimes the rivermaids who live in the river can be persuaded to tow a boat or raft across too. Goods must be sent downriver by Brownie-wain (a type of wagon pulled by rats), or transported by the fairly new squadron of arrowhead geese. Generally, the wains are used for transport within the Vale, and the geese for the longer trading trips which take place three of four times a month.
The system of waterwheels, on the other hand, is rather larger than one might expect from such tiny craftspeople. The wooden, ingeniously constructed device provides the power for the Council Tree lifts and also pumps water from the river up to most of the levels of the Council Tree. Each of the first eleven floors, and every seventh one after that, has a small fountain at one side, so that the Brownies are not forced to come all the way down to fetch this necessity. Without it there really would be no way that so many Brownies could live so high up away from a water source, and with so many steps to climb to reach the ground. A tunnel from the waterwheel to one of the Council Tree cellars contains the machinery which links the two.
The Quarters for Bigger
People - The Hut
Out of the main circular clearing and about half a stral south of it, lies the part of the Council Tree complex which is big enough for humans. The hut is the official visitors’ quarters for anyone bigger than Brownie size who might decide (and be allowed) to visit. Members of the Tenthrum dwarven clan are always welcome visitors, and several of the Eyelian village of Kytta’erng are trusted too. Otherwise there are only a few individuals of most races who are granted access. It is indeed an honour to be allowed to stay here, for the ever-cautious Brownies are constantly aware of the chaos even one wayward big person could do to their home.
The hut itself is not large, barely the size of a poor villager’s home; a circle of about 12 peds across. Despite its small size it manages to still show off Brownie craftsmanship and magical prowess. The structure of the hut is made entirely from living wood, moulded and shaped by a combination of life magic and more mundane techniques involving tying the trees to wooden supports. The combination of branches and leaves is so tightly packed that it provides a barrier to all but the heaviest rain. In addition to this, fresh water runs up from a wooden pipe in the ground (powered by the waterwheel of course), across the surface of a stone basin and flows back down another pipe to the river. The beds are nothing more than mattresses laid on the floor, but all filled with the softest of goose, owl and falcon down, and covered in furs which the Brownies have traded for.
The Clan Maj’s Quarters
The separate quarters of Clan Maj is by far the oldest of the out buildings which are considered part of the Council Tree complex. This is situated quite a way from the main tree, near the Diamond Falls and is actually older than the Council Tree itself. A slightly stunted bittersweet tree grows in a patch of deeper soil, enjoying the rare open space which the rocky area affords. Its buttress roots bulge around two large boulders before reaching the earth, their twists providing a multitude of little Brownie-sized holes. These seem to have been widened to make them larger than they normally would be, but without actually cutting into the tree. The Brownie magi have used life magic to warp and shape them, making the coils of the roots larger and so making space for themselves underneath.
It may seem strange that this Clan have a settlement so far away from the rest of the Council Tree life, when the Llaoihrr are so focussed on being a community. Traditionally this Clan have been more secretive about their doings than others, but it was originally for the safety of the other inhabitants as well. Young mages learning to work life magic should really be kept away from the main buildings and most important trees.
Since the mages have lived there, the area has become home to a number of silkel. The magic-loving trees grow around the base of the falls, on the spots where there is enough soil, with a couple more bittersweets towering over them. The soft sheen of the silkel and the roaring rush of the falls give the area an appropriately magical feel, enhanced by the occasional call of an unseen watersprog.
The Skydiver Roost
A pair of huge, ancient oaks on the edge of the clearing around the cinnabark provides housing for most of the flying mounts. Not only are the upper trunks and branches riddled with holes to allow the birds to get into the structures, but more shelters are hung between the two trees as well. The white stains on their trunks and on the ground below leave no one in any doubt of their use. During a large part of the night the tree is fairly peaceful, as most of the mounts are owls, and their riders take them out to hunt for food in the darkness. Although most have been successfully trained to work in daytime too, they are still much better hunters once the sun has set.
The general rule is that the smaller and lighter the bird, the higher up the tree it roosts. The famous oioiLLoiao – the arrowhead geese which carry the Llaoihrr’s trading goods across Santharia – have a large walk-in shelter at the bottom of the trunk. These birds are far too large to be threatened by the predators housed above them, although there is a separate, more secluded area for the very young gooslings. There have been a few incidences of attacks by particularly brave or stupid falcons, but these are thankfully very rare as they usually result in injuries to both sides. Goose beaks may not be sharp, but they can snap the bones of the smaller birds.
The New Stables
The mounts of the Ferretmaster clan long since became too numerous to be housed within the tree itself. The separate lodging was founded around 670 b.S., and has been added to ever since. It now encompasses 19 trees in total, and sits a little way into the forest, downstream from the Council Tree. The space between the trees functions as a training and exercise area, with sections fenced off from each other to provide a selection of useful spaces. The mounts are housed within the trunks of the surrounding trees and also underneath around the root system. Being trained to fight and be aggressive, each separate creature needs its own stall, and there are normally around 15,000 animals here (mounts and food animals) at any one time, so it is a huge effort of organisation.
That number of creatures naturally produces a large amount of manure, and naturally this is not wasted. The lodging was intentionally built in a stand of urban trees, the favourite habitat of the Brownie’s stable food – greenbark moss. The animal waste is smeared onto the lower portion of the trunk and around the already-growing moss, which considerably speeds up its growth rate. It does make the area smell a little strongly, but not that much stronger than it would anyway. In fact the deep undertones of the manure compliment the tang of ferret musk very well, and many Brownies consider the mix more pleasant than the later on its own. The scent has another advantage too - the Brownies have noticed that wild predators seem unwilling to approach the stand of urban trees, and think it might be due to the smell of such a huge colony of ferrets.
As the most important Llaoihrr settlement, and arguably the centre of Browniedom, the protection of the potentially vulnerable Council Tree is a priority for the Llaoihrr. The natural surroundings are a great help in this: the whole Vale only has one possible entrance, and that is a long, winding track through a deeply cut gorge. The path is fairly flat, but traitorously slippery in places and seldom wide enough to admit two humans comfortably walking side by side. At certain points it appears to have been widened, cut into the solid rock face, forming a low-ceilinged tunnel for a few peds before the river gorge recedes again. Strangely enough these short, covered parts of the path are never much higher than a ped and a half – perfect dwarf height. Humans are often forced to stoop, which naturally slows them down and affects how fast they can walk along it. Donkeys and smaller pack animals can navigate the way with few problems, but any beast bigger than a Centoraurian horse is simply too tall to fit through, with or without its rider. The constant rush of water below draws the eye of man and beast to a dangerously frightening extent, helped by the lack of any sort of barrier between path and the vertical drop into the swirling, foaming Snake River.
Even once inside the Vale, the dense foliage prevents big people from advancing quickly through it. Anywhere there is water available for the thirsty underbrush, the floor is forested with a fine mesh of plants struggling towards sunlight. The most direct way to the Council Tree is to simply follow the river, but this route is very overgrown, with paths only of Brownie height. A longer but easier route winds away from this water source, and through the middle of the forest. Here it is best to either have a very good sense of direction or a Brownie guide to prevent getting lost in the confusing woodland.
In order to further defend the approach, the Brownies have used their ingenuity to design several interesting trap mechanisms which could severely impair the progress of an attacker. You'll find pits which open at the pull of a rope, piles of strategically placed rocks which can be tumbled onto heads and even large crushing implements which can be swung from the trees above. These were put in place when the path was built around 843 a.S., a building project to make entry easier for small groups of traders, but harder for large numbers of attackers at the same time. Thankfully, they have seldom - if ever - been used.
Location. The Council Tree is situated well into the Vale of the Brownies, about 200 strals from the beginning of the gorge entrance. It lies at the point where the two smaller rivers meet and become the Snake River, the fast-flowing flush of water which cut out the gorge. The Vale of Brownies itself is in mid-Santharia and lies just north of the Quallian Forest - west of New-Santhala and the Rimmerins Ring. The nearest settlements are Kor Donion, home of the Tenthrum dwarven clan and Kytta’erng, an Eyelian trading village.
Llaoihrr of the Council
Tree tend to be more forward than those who live elsewhere. They are less
cautious, and often lack the almost silent movement of their other cousins, as
they don’t rely on hunting as much. Of course, those of the Prowler Clan, which
specialises in hunting, form an exception to this rule, but the huge collection
Brownies living in one spot means they can generally afford what the
humans might call a more “civilised” outlook.
They are not quite the ever-cautious, stealth-hunters they once were, but have
actually come out of hiding and gained enough confidence to trade with other
races. Whilst a
Brownie from the outer settlements might sooner attack a full-grown
shir than approach a
human, most Council Tree
Llaoihrr are at least open
to the idea that a good proportion do not want to cage and eat them.
The Council Tree folk also has a broader education than the other Llaoihrr, and a wider choice of career too. The outer groups are typically better hunters, and experts in finding something edible in any weather, whilst the Council Tree children are taught a range of everything, from Tharian to carving to preserving fruit. They are in general fair hunters, but not exceptional, surviving on farming and trade as well as the gifts of the woodland around them. Council Tree Brownies often swap specialised goods with the other Llaoihrr in return for food or raw materials. Nowhere else in the Vale is it possible to devote your whole life to something other than hunting and gathering things to eat.
In fact, nowhere else in the Vale is the settlement so rigidly split into clans. At the Council Tree, a clan is where a Brownie spends at least half of their time, working and learning those specific skills. However, elsewhere, the focus has to be on getting what they can from the environment around them, and the clans are somewhere to group together and work on a particular talent when you have the time to spare. The things that the Brownies specialise in outside the Council Tree are luxuries to them, rather than the basis of their whole career. The Council Tree Brownies have far more chance to develop their talents, and so it is the natural centre for beautiful carvings, strange devices, inventions, experimentation and recording. The people here encourage new ideas and inspiration more than anywhere else in the Vale. If other Llaoihrr wish to practice these things, they often move to the Council Tree to do it, making it a veritable melting pot of talent.
Contrary to popular belief, the Brownies are not the only sentient life in the Vale. The secluded nature of the rivers within the Vale makes them a great habitat for the freshwater varieties of merfolk. Rivermaids are found all along the length of the fast-flowing Snake River - the turbulent length of water which flows past the Council Tree. Some of them can be persuaded to help the Browniefolk for the payment of certain flowers and edible greens. They have been known to pull small boats or rafts across to ferry travellers to the other side, or to fetch a particularly prized water plant which the Brownies cannot get to. Watersprogs also live at the Diamond Falls, and can sometimes be glimpsed from Clan Maj’s settlement, flitting up the rocks in search of the plants they eat.
Government. Brownie life is very much dependent on the support and co-operation of those around them. The world is a very dangerous place for a lone Brownie, and even getting all the necessary ingredients for living would be challenging without help. Hence, the Council Tree Brownies have a very clear, solid structure of people to look to in times of need. This has become engrained in these Brownies' lore, and it is now used as a system for legal disagreements and retribution as well.
The first people a Llaoihrr will turn to is their family. This includes any blood kin still living and still in contact, but not automatically those who have joined through a partnership with one of the family. So they could go to any of their great-grand-father’s great-grand-children for help (as long as they see them once a month or so) but not necessarily their sister’s partner. However, friends can become so close that a Brownie considers them like part of their family, and in this case they may be counted on for support as well. One of the greatest compliments which a Llaoihrr can pay to a non-relation is to ask them for aid.
If a Brownie has no family left to them, or their family is not able to provide the support they need, their clan will step in. Many an old Llaoihrr ends up turning to the clan they have worked for all their life for help during the harder winter months, when their family is struggling to find enough for the extra mouth. As the clan has so many members, and each will give what they can to help out, this is rarely a problem, and a Council Tree Brownie is never allowed to starve unless the problem is very widespread. Brownie youngsters who have not yet chosen a clan can go to either of their parents’ clans for help. If the worst happens and a child is orphaned, then the Imparter Clan will usually take care of them until they are old enough to choose.
Lastly, any Llaoihrr whose settlement sticks to the rules of the Council Tree’s Council can come to that Council for help. The most common thing asked for at this level is help to punish the few inevitable criminals who need to be dealt with at the highest level. Banishment from the Vale, a punishment used for those who kill another Brownie or repeatedly commit other crimes, can only be given from the Council Tree, as only then will it be recognised by the other settlements too. The Council Tree is also the centre for trade and contact with the outside world, and almost all trips outside the Vale are organised by the group as a whole.
The Council itself is made up of Llaoihrr from as far and wide as possible. There is no set number; rather any well-respected Brownie who has completed an apprenticeship can apply to join at any time. The Council members will then discuss and vote on whether they think the applicant should become one of them, and if two-thirds or more want them, they can. Not only the merit of the individual is considered, but also whether someone of their background is needed on the team. So, for example, if there are already a large number of Life Mages on the Council, it is unlikely another will be accepted unless they really are outstandingly worthy of the position. They usually stay a member until they leave of their own vocation unless they fail in their duties in any way. One Llaoihrr was removed after flying a set of his child’s lleeterrs into the middle of an Imparter meeting after too much auhu’o sweet mead, and another for persistent non-turning-up. The Council numbers around 100 Brownies at any one time.
The Council Tree and the settlements that live under its rule consider themselves a sort of unofficial kingdom of Llaoihrr. There are only two villages which do not come under this heading, and Brownies of these two are generally looked on with some scorn by the rest. They are sometimes nicknamed “Lloooihrr” by the Council-aligned Brownies, a word play using the expression “oooi” (lit: “tracks/scents”). This doesn’t translate well into Tharian, but the idea is that if you were following their tracks you would think they were “real” Llaoihrr, but once you’re up close they cannot be mistaken for “Outsiders”. In fact the Brownies in these two settlements live pretty much like any other Llaoihrr, they just do not trade with any others at all and prefer to keep completely to themselves. They stick to traditions a little more rigidly than elsewhere and live in some of the more out-of-the-way areas of the Vale.
Trade. The Council Tree Brownies are becoming more and more open to new trading links, even though they still try and conduct them in as Brownie-like a way as possible. They tend to view a village or town as one entity which works together, like a Llaoihrr settlement does, and much prefer to do their business through one spokesman than deal with a range of merchants. This way they feel they can build up a relationship with this one person, rather than having to trade with many unknown faces. This is really worth knowing if you wish to trade with them, as although they are keen to develop new trading links, they will give hugely better deals to someone they know and trust.
As far as goods go, the Llaoihrr are known for their amazing craftsmanship of wood, as well as their mechanical prowess. For almost a thousand years they have helped the dwarven people, particularly the Tenthrum Clan, to make the delicate, intricate machines that allow them to speak to their flittermice, and provided them with a wealth of other Brownie technology. The mechanisms they make can be so tiny as to seem impossible or even magical. Sometimes they are in fact boosted with life magic.
The quality of their carving is similarly amazing – with such small hands and delicate instruments their master Brightlers (the clan who specialises in decorating anything and everything) can work far finer than any Bigfolk craftsman. This is usually used to decorate their own furniture and home walls, but they also trade carved pendants and other items to outsiders. Beads are another speciality, and the Llaoihrr bead industry is known for its tiny, perfectly regular specimens. Feathers of birds they kill and don’t want to use themselves are often traded too, or pretty pieces of wood and the much loved sweet mead whose recipe comes from the Auhu’o. Groups of more intrepid Greengrowers (another clan) often farm the Bladeleaf which grow at the edges of the Vale for the healing goo inside which is usually traded with the Eyelians at Kytta’erng.
In return the Brownies prefer things which they cannot easily get or make themselves. Light, tight-woven fabrics are in high demand for making lleeterrs and for decoration. Useful parts of large animals are great too, such as big skins or pieces of a large herbivore’s intestines or stomach. The seeds or young specimens of exotic plants which just may be able to grow in the Vale are prized by all members of the Greengrower Clan. They do trade some food and drink too – mainly exotic things they would not normally have access to or food stuffs which will last a long time and can be stored against a problem in the future.
“Outsider” Relations. The term “Outsider” officially includes any settlement which doesn’t abide by the Council Tree rules. However, it is mostly used for anyone who is not a Llaoihrr Brownie – literally anyone who lives outside the Vale. It describes someone who is expected to have some strange quirks and so should not be thought badly of if they do or say something which would normally be offensive. It is often put before a name when the stranger is introduced, rather like a title. For example, a Milken Brownie might be called “Outsider Halen Gilmp”. In fact introducing a non-Llaoihrr without the prefix is a real compliment. Only those who know the Llaoihrr way of life very well and can be guaranteed not to make any social mistakes have the “Outsider” label removed and are treated like any other Llaoihrr.
Those who have been invited to visit the Council Tree by a Llaoihrr are welcomed. Well, there may be a few Brownies who still stick to the old fashioned notion that outsiders cannot be trusted in any way, but they tend to argue with the other Llaoihrr rather than the visitors themselves. Accommodation is provided for them within the tree or at the Bigfolk hut, and they are usually given some sort of tour by their host. The best food available is prepared by the Hotfinger Clan, and every effort is made to impress them with the Brownie’s hospitality.
However, an uninvited guest is something else altogether. Entering the Vale as a stranger is something which should only be done for a very good reason. If the scouts have not been warned of your arrival, a large group of Skydivers and Ferretmasters will come and ask why you are there. Curiosity in their home is not a sufficient reason, and it is likely that you will be asked to leave if you try and use this. If you do have a good enough reason for visiting the Council Tree, such as a new offer of trade, expect to be escorted there by an increasingly growing crowd of well-armed little folk, and supervised for most of your stay.
Coat of Arms/Sign. Not being a tribe which regularly goes to war, or that needs to distinguish itself from other troops when it does, the Council Tree does not have the traditional coat of arms like other cities. The style of clothes and the manner of speaking is usually enough to tell other Llaoihrr where they come from. However, when it is needed, anything which represents a cinnabark pine can be used for identification. A stick of the spice made from the bark, or a crude, simplified drawing of a pine tree stitched onto clothes will suffice. The Llaoihrr even have a habit of dipping wooden beads into the sticky sap of the Council Tree, and you can be sure that any Llaoihrr wearing one will be from the Brownie City.
Climate. The Vale is a haven for a huge range of animals and plants. It is well sheltered by the cliffs surrounding it, meaning that it very rarely sees strong, tree-breaking storms or heavy rain. A lot of rainfall drops on the high ground instead and then flows down into the basin in a number of unpredictable streams and run-offs. This means that even though the Vale does not get rain very frequently, water is not in short supply for most of the year. The thick, fertile soil - a product of literally thousands of years of leaf fall – retains the moisture, and only after a particularly hot or dry summer do you start to see wilting plants and thirsty animals.
The location also makes their home ideal for plants and Brownies alike. Situated around the centre of southern Sarvonia, it rarely sees more than a few days snow each year if that. This is essential for the Llaoihrr, as there could not be so many living in one place with so many animals if they had to rely on stored food for any length of time. Bright sunny summers warm the Brownie colony, sometimes causing outbreaks of sunblood, a disease caused by sitting too long in the rays. The winters are generally mild, and only a danger to the delicate plants which the Greengrowers’ cultivate.
Flora. Most of the plants within the Llaoihrr clearing belong to the Greengrower clan, who specialise in producing the biggest range of greenery possible. Food flavourings like common basiloc, chives and rosemint are grown for festival meals, with enough to supply a good portion of the Brownies too. Poisonous plants from around Santharia are cultivated for the Bubbler clan’s experiments, another clan who specialises in concoctions and potions. There are also a few different types of coloured moss, and other things which can be used for paints and dyes.
One particular type of vegetation is grown by every Brownie who has enough space and water to do so: the glowcap mushroom. The community lives in wooden homes, on a huge pine tree which is soaked with resin, and the fungi provide light at night without needing a fire. When grown in wooden tubs of dried grass and what can be most politely referred to as “Brownie manure”, the mushrooms seem to do quite well. At night the Council Tree lets out a faint, eerie glow from each of its branches.
Caring for the Tree. Whilst the Hamm’rer Clan is responsible for the structures built in and around the Council Tree, caring for the living plant is the duty of the Life Magi. As the home of so many Brownies boring into its trunk or weighing down its branches with their houses, keeping it in good health is more and more of an issue. The Magi check its levels of energy normally at least every week, and almost constantly if any major building work is being carried out. Any scars or wounds are healed as quickly as possible, and all of their knowledge and abilities are used to keep it living. It is over two thousand years old, so however they are doing it, they seem to be succeeding so far.
Brownies are no longer allowed to cut into the pine’s flesh, or hollow it out for homes without the specific permission of the Council. In fact any action which releases tree sap can be fined, even if it was an accident. They try to ensure that no more than half the width of the trunk is carved out at any point along the structure, and even the huge entrance hall only takes up a portion of the trunk. This is by far one of the strictest laws of the Council Tree, who usually try to place as few restrictions on Brownie life as possible, but the safety of the cinnabark is of the utmost importance. They realise that it cannot live for ever, but are determined to stretch its life as far as they can into the future.
Fauna. The Council Tree must be unique, in that it is a city which actually contains a larger variety and density of life than the forest around it. The huge range of Llaoihrr mounts is one reason for this, for where else would such a huge number of predators live together? The Skydiver clan, the Llaoihrr's flying army, breed and care for literally hundreds of owls, falcons and other rideable birds including a dozen or so arrowhead geese. The Ferretmasters are their version of infantry, and are in charge of the ground troops and working beasts. They add leaf ferrets, common ferrets, shir, a range of rats and mice, plus even the occasional wolf. Giant Rats are kept for their meat, milk and also to pull the Brownie-wains and power the oldest of the lifts.
Dalór grubs or glowworms are kept for the steady, flameless glow they produce, which is so much safer than a fire. If stored in a dark box during the day, and only brought out after dark, they show no ill effects from being kept above ground. As soon as they grow to full size, the insects are eaten, as the Brownies dislike the green flashes they excrete when searching for a mate. Unfortunately the strange gooey stuff which comes from the place they make the flashes has a really horrible bitter flavour, so they have to be specially prepared with this liquid drained off before they are cooked. Some are even allowed to get to the cocoon stage, as the soft threads they wrap around themselves make excellent padding inside gloves and boots.
In addition to the Ferretmaster clan’s small herd, fairy mice can be seen tied up outside the doors of larger houses. Their milk is prized for its flavour, their fur for its softness and length, and their meat isn’t bad either. Luck bugs are bred by the Greengrowers and used to keep pests off their precious gardens, although there are always a few vermin who still manage to damage the plants.
Another persistent pest is the styruine round worm. This horrible little grub is known to attack the precious winter stores which are kept in the storage rooms under the Council Tree. Fortunately the Brownies have discovered a simple way of getting rid of it – they attract it to certain parts of the cellars with generous handfuls of rrihoorr moss, a crop which can often be found growing alongside greenbark moss and has a strange spicy flavour. The Brownies then collect up all the worms and eat them. The bug seems to have a preference for this spicy plant, and can be easily rounded up for the pot. It goes nicely with any dark green leaves, and adds a good, slightly spicy flavour when mashed into a sauce.
The Council Tree Brownies are also at risk from several large predators who roam the area. Wild foxes, birds of prey and mimsy will easily take a lone Llaoihrr, and will occasionally try and attack the settlement too. The Ferretmaster Clan is always on stand by to defend against these rare threats, and has been known to search out and kill any predators that make their homes too close to the tree. For one thing, the pelt of a fox will make beds for up to a dozen Brownies, depending on the size and quality.
Resources. Despite their farming, the Council Tree Llaoihrr still rely on the surrounding forest for a large part of their diet. Nuts, berries, fruits, insects, small mammals and reptiles, greens, mosses and lichens are all plentiful enough to support them, and the Browniefolk will take pretty much anything that is available, eat the edible bits and find some other use for most of the rest. No feather, bone or skin is wasted, partly due to a practical and inventive nature, but also because of their religious beliefs. They hold that the spirit of the animal essentially allows them to make the kill, so it is common politeness to use that gift to its best advantage. Even the occasional predator which has to be destroyed for roaming too close to the village is used to feed hungry mounts.
The Vale is also a great source of many different types of wood. The Brownies never actually chop down a whole tree, as the process would simply require too much effort for something they can pick off the ground in far more manageable sizes. They may however cut off a particularly desirable branch if they need it, or chop pieces off a fallen tree. Hardwood and softwood, plain or beautifully grained are all readily available to the Brownies who want them. However, they rarely trade any of this wood as a raw material to outsiders, because of the limited amount an arrowhead goose can carry. Instead they use it to make a variety of machinery and decorations such as beads, some of which they then trade.
The only resource which the Brownies actually mine is mica – a strange, translucent rock which is used for windows in the largest and most elegant homes. It is extremely hard to break across the grain, but very easy along it. This makes it simple to split into fine, strong panes, and ideal for use in Brownie buildings. Large deposits are found near the Diamond Falls – in fact the tiny glittering shards of it which can be found washed up at the side of the pool are what gave the place its name. Pieces of a useful size can be found in the river mud, or buried in the ground above the falls.