There are few creatures that are truly ill-tempered by nature – but the Mosoly, who need no reason to display their contempt for all who cross their paths, must surely be said to be amongst them. Their reputation among those who farm them would suggest to a bystander some form of terrible demon or malicious ghoul, rather than a kind of sheep. That said, there are aspects of beauty in them – those few who have ventured into the gloomy forests of Ehebion often cherish memories of watching these lightfooted, pale green animals hopping through the treetops, agile and strange. Even the few farmers who spend their lives with these unavoidably unfriendly animals will occasionally admit that there are elements of mystery and wonder hiding behind the bared teeth and baleful glare.
Appearance. Mosoly are probably the strangest looking sheep in Nybelmar, possibly in all the world. Their forest life has given them a build very different from other sheep - slender and gracile, almost lamb-like in its apparent fragility, but still angular of back and solid of rump, as other sheep are. The back legs are considerably longer than front, with long, springy hips and shanks clearly made for jumping. The hooves are large, fairly soft and flexible, but strongly pointed, and the ankles are much more flexible than other hoof-stock. Not only this, but the dew claws, mere vestigial stubs on other ungulates, have developed into long, thickened spurs which give extra help in digging into tree-bark. The Mosoly is a fairly big sheep; an average ram might stand a couple of fores over one ped, head to hoof. Thus their climbing relies on strength, agility and balance rather than the nimble grace of more conventionally arboreal creatures.
The head seems proportionately too big for the body, adding to the gangly, lamb-like appearance (lambs, it should be noted, are one of the funniest creatures to behold, as all these features are accentuated tenfold). The skull is high browed and heavy jawed, with a big, curving aquiline snout that gives a characteristically miserable expression to all Mosoly. The eyes sit on the sides of the head, round, protrusive and very dark. The ears are long and narrow. When relaxed they flop down on either side of the head, and when agitated (more often than not) they are laid flat against the neck. Only males grow horns, which are small and blunt, curving back behind the ears, but rarely growing into the impressive whorls of breeds such as the cuncu, nor into the eminently useful structures displayed by their cousins, the karnarma. Mosoly horns seem to be more useful in protecting male rams’ skulls, when they fall from trees during the breeding season.
The mouth is, on first impressions, typical for sheep – large square teeth and a cleft top lip help them crop awkward or inaccessible vegetation, and incidentally give them a singularly sour expression. Mosoly, however, have a very mobile and muscular top lip, which can be curled back on itself to reveal a startlingly blue underside. This forms a very effective threat display, drawing attention to the strong yellowish teeth that the Mosoly will not hesitate to use on anyone who comes within reach.
The wool is very lightweight and soft, even when untreated. It hangs down in long, tightly curled ringlets, a little like thatch on a roof, and with much the same effect as far as keeping rain off the sheep’s back is concerned. Mosoly are naturally very pale-coloured, usually a shade of cream or beige or milky white. Those that live in or nearby their native forests, however, take on a distinct green tint caused by a plant-like substance that grows in their wool, known as verdovis (lit. “sheep-green”). This, of course, provides excellent camouflage as a herd wanders through the Ehebion forests.
Special Abilities. Though those who work with this breed call it Mosoly, ask anyone in Eastern Nybelmar about Jumping Sheep, and they will almost certainly know what you refer to. In order to find the best vegetation in the dense forests of the Ehebion Peninsula, Mosoly have developed the ability to leap several peds into the air on their muscular back legs, allowing them to scramble about in the canopy of the forest rather than being stuck on the forest floor. Their light build and natural agility allow them to spend about half their time in the treetops, and they wear long networks of sheep-tracks throughout the forests. Of course, these are mostly in the treetops, and therefore invisible to all but the most experienced herders. But a trained eye can pick out the signs of their winding pathways. Often they are boughs that have been worn smooth and barkless by the passage of many Mosoly feet. Sometimes a tunnel through dense canopies and thickets, every twig or leaf clipped neatly away by browsing sheep, leaving a hedge as neat as any palace garden. Some tracks are so old that trees have grown around them – their branches curving away from the area where hungry sheep can nip any bud within reach.
This treetop lifestyle is further aided by their extremely dextrous top lips. As aforementioned, Mosoly have a cleft upper lip, but unlike most sheep, they can use this to manipulate leaves and flowers into reach of their teeth. The bright blue colour of the inside top lip is also used as a very effective threat display – the sheep can curl back their top lips, so that the brightly coloured skin is startlingly revealed. Bright lips are a reliable sign of a healthy sheep, and any discolouration or paleness is often an indication of illness. Though Mosoly have fairly poor vision, relying more on smell, they seem to be quite sensitive to blue, and Mosoly farmers often wear blue around their hands to deter their stock from biting when they are handled, which they do with relish. Mosoly have big teeth and strong jaws, their foremost defence against anything they deem to be threatening or objectionable.
Their second defence is to flee – with their subtly mottled pale green fleeces, they can quickly melt into the forest. The green colour is caused by a specialised coating that accumulates on their fine, greasy wool. It is believed to be important for a healthy Mosoly to support some verdovis, as, quite apart from offering vital camouflage to the otherwise protrusively pale sheep, it keeps the fleece healthy by absorbing excess grease. Many people believe it is formed from some kind of plant, as it smells distinctly herbal, and flourishes only in the natural forest home of the Mosoly.
Territory. Mosoly are found wild throughout the Ehebion peninsula of Eastern Nybelmar, though their fine wool and large size has made them popular enough to spread into surrounding areas. There is historical evidence of them as far west as the lower Zsharkanian Mountains, though it seems they have not become well established outside of Murmillion territories, due to their specific requirements and intractable natures. Generally they are best known in more populated areas, such as the Moon hills, where they form an important part of the livelihood of local farmers.
Habitat/Behaviour. Mosoly are exclusively forest animals, thriving in the gloomy, impenetrable woods of Ehebion Peninsula. They live in nomadic herds, following timeworn sheep-tracks that link up the best areas of fruit trees, so that a herd can move around the forest throughout the year, following the trails to find wherever trees are in fruit, flower, or new leaf.
On the margins of the forest, and in places where people such as the Murmillions live, they are herded for their fleece, kept confined to specific forest “pastures” by their shepherds, where they can be penned at night, and better protected from predators such as wargs.
Each herd is led by a tyrannical matriarch, always the oldest ewe, and she chooses where the herd wanders, and makes sure that nobody strays, or gets a better pick of fruit than herself. Among Mosoly, females are dominant, though males are grudgingly tolerated until the breeding season.
Mosoly are fairly aggressive amongst each other, the matriarch especially asserting her dominance over others by frequently biting or butting. If two herds run into each other outside of the breeding season, they will often react violently, scuffling and chasing each other until one herd is ousted. Mosoly in general are among the most ill-tempered of sheep, with a reputation for malicious wilfulness among all who farm them. This is perhaps best illustrated by an extract of the author’s notes, describing her first close meeting, with a hand reared, and therefore relatively “friendly” individual:
“Anton has helpfully penned the young ram, and says it should be fine for me to spend some time sitting in the pen with it, provided I don’t get too distracted by, as he put it “writing whatever it is that you think’ll be so well received about a green sheep.” Looking at the scrawny little year-old ram, I’ll admit it’s not a question with an obvious answer. The Mosoly is standing at the other end of the pen with the most cynically disgusted expression I’ve ever seen on any living creature. The look in his long, bony face seems to say that he wasn’t expecting anything impressive from his guest, but that I am a truly depressing sight. I don’t think I’ve ever been browbeaten by a sheep, but there’s really no other way to describe it.
Diet. The treetop lifestyle of Mosoly allows them to pick from a wide range of food, including lichens, mosses, young leaves, fruits, flowers and nuts from many trees and plants. Their large teeth and strong jaws allow them to crack the shells and pods of many nuts and seeds, and it is generally accepted that they need a good variety of food to stay healthy. They can be very picky, as they don’t have to rely on large, coarse leaves as a main food source. Particular favourites include sweetsip vine, waterfruit, and especially the bark, flowers and young leaves of birch trees.
Most farmed sheep are allowed to roam in carefully defined pastures on the edges of the forest, followed by shepherds, as this lets them select for themselves the food they need to stay healthy. Mosoly kept in captivity outside of the forests are harder to keep, but seem to live well enough off a mixture of fresh fruit, young leaves, seeds and nuts. As the forests of Ehebion are primarily made up of fir and birch trees, Mosoly are particularly adept at feeding off the sap, lichens and seeds of these trees. They often drink water from wells in tree branches, and so rarely need descend to earth to drink.
Mating. Mosoly breed in late autumn, timing their mating so as to give birth just as the first spring leaves and flowers are opening, thus offering rich and easy-to-find food for the mothers and lambs. Females give birth in the treetops, and it is a hazardous process both for mother and lamb, though ewes are skilled at choosing birthing dens within the most secluded tree-tops. Nevertheless, the large size of lambs, and the risk of falling should something go wrong, makes life difficult from the outset for a young Mosoly. Often a herder will have to hand-rear lambs that have fallen but not been killed, as the mother will not accept it once it falls. The majority, though, are killed outright, and form a sad but not-to-be-wasted meal for a herder and family.
During the breeding season, females become even more stand-offish than usual, and frequent fights break out, especially with males. Males from strals around home in on the scent of receptive females, and take to following them around slavishly, undeterred by the frequent lip-curl warnings offered by females. The protracted courtship of this breed can be hazardous both for the males and for any herders trying to safeguard their stock, as this account by the experienced herder Anton Hyntra shows:
“Any herder can tell when summer’s nearly over, because the ewes start losing interest in their food. Of course, if they’re not eating, they like to make sure nobody else is, especially the rams. Round that time, a lot of herders, myself included, will start trying to get them down and penned up on the ground, but anybody who’s tried to tempt an in-season Mosoly down from the trees will know that’s a lot easier said than done. Sometimes it’s just too late, and all a herder can do is follow his flock around – that’s when you get injuries. Once the rams realise there’s a ewe in heat, they starts following her. Often you get a large group of males trailing after a single female, and she’ll blue-lip ‘em, bite and bleat and mock charge, make it absolutely clear that she don’t want their company. Well, the poor fools ne’er get a second warning. Before you can blink, she’ll have turned on her heels and be charging them, doing her best to knock them outta the tree like ripe birch-eggs. Obviously, if you’ve got them penned on the ground, she’ll just charge them; knock ‘em over maybe, so they get a bit trampled, maybe, but nothing too serious. If they’re still in the trees, though, that can be a real problem. I’ve known herders head out to try and get their flock in, hear them scurrying about in the branches, head up towards them, and get hit by a couple of falling rams. It’s a terrible way to go – though more often than not, they survive. But a herder with a couple broken ribs or a cracked skull tends to have a hard time seeing his flock, and his family, through winter. Yeah, we’ve a saying round here – don’t go walking in the woods when the branches quiver, lest the weight of the year drop on you from a great height.”
Eventually the less determined males will give up, and the female will allow the most persistent suitor to mate. Next spring, females give birth to single lambs – twins are very rare, as the large heads of this sheep make multiple births quite hazardous for mother and lamb alike. The lambs are extremely funny-looking, with their great heavy heads and morose expressions, and need close protection from the whole herd, as their fleeces are creamy white until they’ve had a chance to grow the verdovis that will conceal them from predatory eyes.
Usages. The shepherds of the Ehebion Peninsula are a small group, whose lifestyle, perched on the edges of the dim and dangerous forests, is far from easy, especially given the intractable nature of their flocks. The work they do to keep the wealthy people of Nybelmar as richly clothed as they are accustomed to be is little appreciated, but many of them seem to relish their lot in life, purely for the silent mystery of the vast forest landscape they live in. Though only those living close to or within the forests are able to herd Mosoly in the most traditional ways, this is a characteristic sheep breed of the Murmillion people, and can be found in many small farms and small holdings throughout their territories. The Santerrans have also, to a limited extent, adopted Mosoly farming in an attempt to reduce the prices they must pay for the coveted wool of these beasts.
Mosoly are primarily kept for their wool, which, by the high prices it fetches, just about makes up for the aggression, uncooperativeness and general surliness showed to herders by their flocks. The fleece is of very high quality, being fine, light and soft. The verdovis which tints the otherwise creamy white wool is usually washed off, but leaves a lingering pleasant scent prized by weavers. The pale colour allows it to be dyed easily with many delicate colours, especially the dark, rich hues favoured by the Murmillion people; the primary market for Mosoly wool.
When kept away from the forests, Mosoly produce white wool with no verdovis, which is generally cheaper as it needs less washing, but of slightly lower quality, as it tends to be more greasy and without the characteristic forest fragrance. Of late, this farmed rather than herded wool is gathering popularity as a cheaper alternative to what is called “greened” wool. Still, for the traditional herders of the moon hills, it’s worth putting up with the Mosoly’s fussy eating, foul temper and nasty bite for the price their fleeces can fetch amongst those who value the best quality.
Less widespread, but more quirky, is the practise among many Murmillions of using Mosoly wool as a charm against sleeplessness. It is said that a hank of untreated fleece tied round the wrist with purple thread will help alleviate the suffering of those who have problems such as sleep-ill, and related conditions. The effectiveness of this remedy is questionable, but those who use it swear that the combination of the natural soporific qualities of Mosoly wool, and the invocation to Mari implied by the use of purple thread, work wonders and guarantee pleasant dreams. Many shepherds wear these charms every night, in the belief that they banish nightmares. Certainly it does seem possible that either the oil from the wool, or some chymical from the verdovis, have properties which encourage relaxation, though as of yet none have been convinced enough to brew “Mosoly-wool cha” and test the theory more thoroughly.
Mosoly meat isn’t often eaten except by shepherds, who make use of those sheep that are too old to keep. Mosoly give a rich, gamey mutton, which makes a nice stew, despite being a little tough. The horn is too small to be of much use, though, and the leather is very poor quality, barely worth the effort. To use the milk would require the bravery to try to milk a ewe, something generally considered not worth it, even if Mosoly milk were liquid gold. Thus those who keep Mosoly generally find it a lot easier and less stressful for all concerned to obtain their dairy products from other sources.
Myth/Lore. The breeding behaviour of Mosoly has given rise to a popular belief that Mosoly are born when a ram breeds with a tree – something perhaps more understandable when one considers that the ewes give birth in secluded canopy dens, from which, it would seem to a terrestrial observer, the lambs appear as if they have simply budded like new leaves. This is further reinforced by the fact that Mosoly accumulate the plant-like verdovis on their wool, causing them to look slightly mossy, and to smell pleasantly leafy, a far cry from the more down-to-earth scents of other livestock. Many believe that the Mosoly’s flesh tastes of birch-eggs, (the edible gall found on some birch trees) and that their blood is akin to pine resin. Though most shepherds would dismiss such lore as the tall tales of non-herders, these beliefs still carry significant weight with many who haven’t had a chance to test their truth.
It’s interesting to compare the stories surrounding Mosoly with those relating to the closely related karnarma sheep. A popular origin myth concerning the smaller, desert-living karnarma tells how the first of them grew from a tree which miraculously appeared on the back of a great ram. There is evidence that both breeds of sheep originated from an even older, extinct breed which spread across Nybelmar from the East, diversifying into the different species as it moved into the contrasting habitats of the continent. If this is the case, perhaps the common themes in the mythology of Mosoly and karnarma point towards some truth about the mysterious originator of all Nybelmarian sheep.
Researchers. The information upon which this entry was built was provided by various Mosoly herders of the Ehebion peninsula. The author would like to reiterate her gratitude to them all for their generosity and cooperation, and especially to Anton Hyntra, for so willingly sharing his impressive knowledge of Mosoly and their ways.