THE LLAOIHRR MOUNTS AND RIDING TECHNIQUES

EQUIPMENT - TRAINING - RIDING - HISTORY - MYTH/LORE

The Llaoihrr Clan are well known for their wide range of mounts; almost any creature capable of being tamed has been used at some point by a determined little Brownie. The fearless little ferrets (the Leaf Ferrets or “Rashers” mostly, although some male Common Ferrets too), the willing, gentle wood owls and even the ginormous foxes are the most widely used. However other woodland animals such as the giant rat are also not uncommon. Mammals are far easier to train than other species simply because of their more predictable reactions and thinking processes, and therefore the range of mammal mounts is somewhat wider. Some reptiles are possible, but their dependency on temperature makes them unstable year-round mounts, and no insects are really big enough to hold the Brownie’s weight.

A general rule is that a mount needs to be around a fore in body length, not including neck or tail, to be able to support a Brownie’s weight. Of course this does depend somewhat on the Brownie and the muscle structure of the animal itself, but it is one of the reasons why the myrddin falcon does not serve as a larger part of the Flying Militia. Upper size is only limited by training and expense. The Ferretmaster clan have even successfully trained a few wolves, although the amount they need to eat is too much for any single Brownie to support.

Brownie Gryphon Rider

View picture in full size Picture description. While a more unusual sight, Brownies are also known to ride baby gryphons as depicted here. Image drawn by Sandara.

Equipment. Depending on the mount the harnessing equipemnt varies. Here's a short overview concerning this matter:

Training. All mounts, whether bred in captivity or captured from the wild, need to be trained from the youngest age possible, and defiantly before they are eating solids. The reasoning behind this is simple; most of the mounts are predatory and their natural prey is around Brownie-sized. Therefore, the Brownie needs to be the one teaching the animal what to eat. This is also the period when the animal would naturally be learning about the world and the necessary skills for survival, so an ideal time for the Brownie to bond with it.

In fact almost all animals are raised and given basic training by the Ferretmaster or Skydiver Clans, as they have the skill and resources to do the best job. There is also a common interest in making sure that all creatures allowed near the general public are well-trained and safe. Brownies who do not belong to these clans and wish to have a mount can trade for one, usually spending anything from a few days to a few weeks with its original trainer to transfer the bond to the new owner. Most animals would naturally associate with more than one of their own species in the wild, and therefore will accept commands from people other than their trainer. However, depending on the species and individual animal this may require longer, and birds of prey will generally only show true loyalty to one master. It is important to understand how the animal perceives its rider for there is a great difference in behaviour towards a mate-substitute and a pack-leader-substitute. If the animal bonds as it would do to a life-long mate then it can be much harder, or even impossible in some cases, to change its main handler. This is one of the main reasons why the domesticated Rasher is so popular – it can generally be trained to respond to the commands of any Brownie and, once the time is taken to gain their trust, they become vicious and loyal fighting machines too.
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Riding. Unlike a horse, steering most Llaoihrr mounts with something held in their mouth would really hinder their usefulness. The mammal's teeth are needed for fighting with, and a bird's beak is pretty insensitive. With the exception of the fox (whose special steering device is described in its own section) Llaoihrr mounts are guided by a series of verbal commands and pressure points. All the important instructions have both so that the Brownie can control its mount in any situation. Stop, go faster, slow down, turn, be silent/still, attack, are all good examples of the essentials. As these are the basics taught to every animal by the Ferretmaster/Skydiver clan, it is possible to include this short list of how they are communicated to the mount:

Of course there are many more commands which can be taught to a clever animal, but these vary depending on the species, purpose and trainer. For example, there are several specific ones for working animals, and a few specific to birds of prey. There is also one instruction which is different for every mount; a whistle meaning “come here”. The riders, especially those who normally hunt/work together, try to make sure these are all unique so as not to confuse the animals with other Brownie’s commands. The whistles should also be fairly unobtrusive and birdlike, as they may need to be used whilst out hunting or patrolling the forest. Trainers take great pride in their own repertoire of whistles, and in remembering which one applies to which particular animal. Return to the top

History. The idea of using creatures as mounts and work animals is so far embedded in Llaoihrr culture that it is impossible to put a mark on exactly when the practice began. There is no doubt at all in most clan member’s minds that they would have perished long ago without their companion’s help, despite the secluded location of their home. It is widely thought that the leaf ferret was the first animal to be domesticated and used as a mount by the Brownies, and indeed the long breeding history of some lines seems to support this. It would make sense that the first rats were also domesticated around this time, but almost exclusively as working animals, as only the larger giant rats reach a rideable size. Rashers have always been the preferred mount of the military, and even post-owl-domestication they retain a lot of that status for several reasons. Firstly, they breed extremely well in captivity which eliminates the constant need to capture young for training. Secondly, they have a more vicious nature than the owls, which makes them more of an active fighting animal and easier to train as such. Also, their size makes them more comfortable to ride than foxes, as well as less of a drain on food supplies.

The one thing which does have a precise date and founder is the introduction of wood owls and other predatory birds into the mount scene. General Greybark Ferretmaster began to train the first Flying Militia on his return to the Vale in 290 b.S., using the docile wood owls to create a silent and deadly force to fight the orc hordes in Carmalad. These beasts quickly replaced the artificial wings or Lleeters which the Brownies had been using before this time, and the added maneuverability of the army was well worth the extra effort they cost as mounts. Suddenly the Llaoihrr had a line of contact with the world over the mountains too.

Once trained the owls are gentle creatures and they have never been replaced by another bird, simply because they are by far the safest to ride. Since then several other birds have been tested, and there are a smattering of Brownies who own a corbie or a female myrddin falcon as a mount. Every century or so someone attempts to train an eagle hatchling, bought or traded at great cost from its natural habitat. However, this has so far only resulted in two Brownie deaths and several injuries, thus leading to the conclusion, at least among most of the populous, that eagles are far too vicious and unpredictable to be tamed. The Council is seriously considering banning these attempts in the future, although it has traditionally tried not to limit progressive experimentation.

Historically, harnesses of any kind were not common until bigger animals like foxes started to be used as extra-strong battle mounts. Before then it was thought that any sort of leather contraption would simply hinder the animal’s movement more than it would help the owner. However, as the fox harnesses developed, they began to see the clear advantage of the extra support, particularly the leather foot loops. Being able to stand up and get that extra bit of height away from the animal’s head helped so much with their shooting accuracy that the tribe began to develop a version for the other, more common mounts as well.

Greybark's steed Ookpik

View picture in full size Picture description. The steed of the Brownie general Greybark Ferretmaster, the snow owl Ookpik. Image by Quellion.

Unfortunately it is still pretty uncertain when exactly foxes began to be tamed as mounts, or when the modern version of the harness was developed, as the records that far back are rather fuzzy. They were definitely being used when Greybark developed the flying military, and indeed were a normal and essential part of the army at that time, but there are also mentions of pet foxes as far back as the Birni era. However, whether these were ridden or not is still unknown, and even if they were, the details of how to do so were lost during the Harsh years, so the Llaoihrr’s invention is purely their own. Some older fox harnesses (although no way near the first created) still remain, and some are still used for ceremonial purposes. These are generally a lot finer than everyday military wear, larger and heavier, with a covered cushioned seat for a driver and passenger. They are of course wooden, but beautifully carved and decorated with jewels and paints from all over the Brownie trading sphere. It is actually possible to date them pretty accurately from their ornamentation, as this was the time when trading was really taking off and new trimmings becoming available. Return to the top

Myth/Lore. With such an everyday, essentially practical device, the lack of mysticism surrounding the harnesses can be no surprise. However, one common superstition tells the Brownies to be careful with storing any items of value for that short period in late spring/early summer when the dalór beetles are mating. Nothing of importance should be hung from the branches during this time, as it is said that the beetle’s green flashes can distract the object’s “spirit” or essence and lure it away. An object without its spirit will be very unlucky; prone to snapping or slipping, and so most Brownies avoid cleaning their harnesses (and therefore having to hang it out to dry) during this time. This goes for other pursuits too – anything which would require leaving an object outside overnight can wait until the beetles mating season is over.

However, the wealth of stories, legends and myths about the mounts themselves is another thing indeed. Most legendary heroes come attached to a particularly loyal, strong, or spirited mount, showing how essential the Llaoihrr consider the animals for defense. Different colours of animals are thought to have different abilities for example, and most of these distinctions cross over from one animal species to another. Albinos have always been considered unlucky, possibly due to their unnatural pink eyes, or maybe because the white fur makes them so hard to hide in the forest. Greys are thought to be reliable, whilst browns more spirited, which has probably grown up from the difference in temperament between the gentle grey wood owls and the rather vicious ferrets, whose most common colouring has a brown base. True blacks, which are often quite rare naturally, are considered the luckiest and therefore the most prized.

Mounts are highly valued by the tribe in general, as they take time and effort to train and bond with. Even working beasts are respected and looked after, even if they do not have one specific handler. They are carefully trained and mistreatment is seriously looked down on to the point where a creature might be taken away from its owner and given to someone more deserving. Even older or injured animals which can no longer perform their function as a military mount are found homes as training mounts for Brownie children, or somewhere else where they can be of use. The bond between rider and a regular mount is often very strong, as both have to be able to rely on each other when situations become dangerous, and so caring for the animal properly is defiantly in the Brownie’s best interest.
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 Date of last edit 19th Changing Winds 1668 a.S.

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