THE FYLJA ("FILGA", "FOLKBEASTS", "FURRED FOLK")

APPEARANCE & ABILITIES - TERRITORY -
HABITAT/BEHAVIOUR - MYTH/LORE

To begin with, we must stress that the Fylja (pronounced FILE-jah) are creatures of story, myth and legend, though there are those in Sarvonia who will swear they exist. With apologies to such believers, we of the Compendium have made it our task to seek out and publish truth wherever and however we find it, and in the interests of bringing education to our readers, we give all that we have been able to establish about the Fylja – as a creation of fiction. You are doubtless aware that Fylja are supposed to be furred shapechangers – intelligent folk who have not only a human shape but a beast one, and can take either at will. We have all heard the nursery tales of the Fylja Boar who eats up babes who stray afield, or the Northern barbarian’s legend of the White Bear. Many other tales and stories of the Fylja exist, some giving them generosity and kindness to the humans they meet, others making them savagely bestial. For further reading, we refer you to Master Tribell, whose wonderfully atypical story of "The Fylja of the Forest" is quoted below in full.

The Fylja Furred Folk

View picture in full size Picture description. Scene from the tale "The Fylja from the Forest", showing a transformation of a Fylja from humanoid to half-shir form. Image drawn by Bard Judith.

Appearance & Abilities. Fylja vary in appearance as they take the form of various beasts. Most frequently mentioned are the shir, the boar, the bear, and some type of feline such as the pard or herin. However, bird forms such as the hraven (jav'veir) and corbie, or the toran eagle, have also been named as Fylja. In their beast form, they are indistinguishable from an ordinary animal, save for the uncanny brightness and focus of their eyes. They will stare at a person and meet their gaze as no real beast would ever do. They also retain their intelligence and are thus portrayed as cunning thieves, dangerous adversaries, and excellent trackers.

In their human shape, though, they are said to have certain characteristics by which one may remark them. They are often strikingly-haired, not only of head or face, but also of body. Fine hairs may grow on their extremities: on the tops of the feet (though not the luxuriantly curly growth of a hobbit), the backs of the hands, and, some say, in tufts between the toes and fingers. The ears point somewhat more than a human’s, both upward as in a maelf (half-elf) and outward as some gnomish ears do. The philtrum, or cleft between upper lip and nose, is often strongly demarcated, even to the point of being darker like a cat’s muzzle. A Fylja’s eyes are also striking, usually mentioned as ‘green’ or ‘golden’, though sometimes a dark amber, or even ‘turkoise’.

Some stories say that they have tails even in human form which they must conceal under long skirts or baggy trews, while others do not mention this detail.
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Territory. Tales of Fylja seem to come almost exclusively from the more northern areas of Sarvonia. Two centers of ‘activity’ are usually identified; the Shaded Forest in the lands of the Kuglimz, and the Icelands along the far northeast coast.
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Habitat/Behaviour. Fylja frequent the wildest and least-used places of a country, particularly forested areas. Tales have them either ripping apart foolish lost travelers in dramatic transformation scenes, or guiding them anonymously back to safety (then vanishing as a beast at the last moment). There is a certain ambiguity to all these tales which matches the very character of the Fylja themselves – perhaps an examination of our own human strengths and weaknesses, which we would like to match with the best and worst of the beasts’ world? Pardon our scholarly digression; stories are as revealing of the teller’s heart as they are of his society and culture.

The Furred Folk also supposedly move among us, going into villages in man or woman-shape to obtain things they desire. Sometimes they barter rare roots and berries for cloth, or jewelry, or wrought metal, though the taletellers never detail what Fylja might want with such things. Female Fylja, like the dor’en and magpie, are said to covet bright sparkling objects without regard to their worth and will trade anything for a cheap necklace – but those sorts of stories we are not documenting at present.

Fylja, when shown as eating or drinking, partake of human foods or wild meats alike. They are at ease with bread, roast taenish, and ale, or with a raw haunch of deer and water lapped from a mountain spring. Again, many a story enjoys making this contrast.
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Myth/Lore. Many a tale is told about the mysterious creatures of the Fyljas, but let us look into a local inn, where we have Master Tribell himself as guest:

The Fylja of the Forest. You are well come to our hearth, friends and neighbors and guests of the inn! We are favoured this night, though the weather is rough and stormy. Meda has built the fire high, and there’s plenty of ale in the tap, so finish off your farmer’s stew and draw round.

Master Tribell has a new tale for us, he says. You all know of the Fyljas, the shapechangers who live in the wild places and who munch up children who wander off? Well, this tale is no children’s tale, t’ is about a Fylja of the forest, and she… there, now, I’ve gone and given away his title. I’d best be quiet now and let Master Tribell tell his story ere I ruin it for him… Here, a new glass of beer to whet your pipes, sir, and we’re all listening!

"This is a tale they tell in the North, along the Liben and the Luquador Rivers. In Worldquest they say it happened at Vermoth, and in Vermoth they tell it of Weil. But I think t’was a smaller village myself, closer to the Shaded Forest, and no one now will know the name. Let us call it… Dhrum.

Dhrum was a town where nothing much changed from week to week, or year to year. Or, as the young folk of Dhrum were wont to say, even from century to century. So when the pretty lass with a rich head of auburn hair came into the marketplace one fresh fall day, slipping shyly from booth to booth with a creel of fresh-caught trout on her back, everyone noticed. Four of those trout went to the baker, and the lass dropped the bread he gave her straight back into the creel with the fish.

Well, the lads of the village wanted a word with her, but there she was, gone round the edge of the square and off. And next week, come marketday, Auburnhair was back with her basket, and something else from the Wild Forest in it. One day it would be a brace of neck-wrung kingell from the river’s edge. Next week, perhaps two wild doves, live and flutter-frantic, tied by their feet. Healing herbs and privy leaves, berries from the highest vines on the forest trees.

She would trade with whoever wanted her goods, point to what she would take in exchange, and when her basket was full, back to the forest. And never a word could any of the lads get from her before she was gone again.

Bright-eyed she was, and ruddy-lipped, and all that walking to and fro seemed to do her good, for she was slim where she ought to be and curved out the rest. Jak the Butcher and Ralf Smithy weren’t the only two of the men who thought she’d be wasted on the lads, but they were the two who put their heads together and thought to do something about it.

So next marketday they thought to stop her on her way back from trading, for, as they reasoned, the folk would notice if she didn’t come in. And though they didn’t know the way she’d be coming, they could follow her when she left. They’d have a word from her, aye, and a smile too, and if there was any more to come it wouldn’t be wasted on the callow pip-faced boys, now, would it?

It was eggs that week she wanted, newlaid taenish eggs. So when she dropped the creel, there was yolk and shell and slime all over the ground. But still there wasn’t a sound from her, not a yelp or even a breath of surprise. And when they got angry because she wouldn’t answer a word to any of their jests and japery and questions, and her hair came down, and her shift got torn in the pushing and jostling, there was no answer to that. Her eyes got bigger, and brighter, and her red lips got tighter, and it just made the two men madder.

“Well, m’ high-n-mighty lady, if there’s no gettin’ anything out of you, there’ll be getting’ something into you!” That was Jak, who thought himself a wit at the pub with a skinful of ale. Ralf let go her arm to grab for her skirt, and the lass made a break for it.

But fast as she was, the two were bigger, and faster, and the smith had arms that could hold a carthorse to a standstill. He got a handful of cloth, it ripped, and the girl went down.

I don’t need to tell you what they were thinking in their hearts, or what they wanted with her then. No more did the girl. The two were over her, and Jak’s hands to his belt, when she made her first noise.

It wasn’t a scream, either. It was a laugh, and something about it froze the two where they were. It was a soft, low, merry little laugh, but with a note of knowledge and wicked anticipation about it, if that’s the way to put it. Not teasing pleasure, either, but as if she knew now exactly what they were and what they deserved. And then she began to change, just as she was pushing her way up off the leaves again.

Those eyes got even brighter, and her lips opened to show her very white, very long teeth. And flicking through the torn skirt was a ruddy auburn tail, bright as the hair lashing round her shoulders in the autumn wind. Black claws came spitting through her finger ends where her nails should have been. Deep red ears pushing up and flattening back at the two lusting louts. Half lovely lass, half-shir beast she was, and more beast all the time. The laugh changed to a purr, a hiss, a growl, and she sprang…

Jak and Ralf hadn’t closed up their stalls the evening before, and they were missed, but no one would venture out to the Forest by night – so the folk of Dhrum found what was left of the two the next morning. And Auburnhair came never again to the village with her wild wares, though she was remembered long. And this I would that you remember: play not with the Fylja, nor any lass unwilling, for good and evil both have teeth you may not see..."
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