The lands of the Zebra are one of some myths, not helped by the fact that most ungulates are not of a curious sort. And those curious sorts are unwilling to brave the sweltering weather of The Savanna in search of legends and tales. Though those that recorded the stories of the great war would find some tales...one that could haunt nightmares.
The war had started outside of The Savanna, in the lands of the most known ungulates tribes. However the Lions, predator kings of The Savanna and nearby jungles, could see what was to come. Their tribes agreed to a plan to eradicate the Zebra and fortify The Savanna as a secured territory that they and other predators could use as the war progressed.
Against the full might of the lions, it would seem the zebra’s fate was sealed. But when the other ungulate tribes came to aid them, the Lion tribes were now scattered, with the Zebra tribes on the offensive.
All by the actions of the old serpent Jaunty the Smiler…
As the Lions begin their attacks, Jaunty came to the Zebra chieftains with an offer. He wished the younger serpents a safe haven from the war in Foenum, and in exchange he would give them what they needed to survive the lions genoside against them.
Whatever discussion was had of this deal is unknown, but the result was the Serpent Shamans.
By a ritual of the old serpent, the zebra warriors who volunteered we bound to a willing serpent. Their lives now linked, and if one died the other would join soon. These zebra could command the power of venom and the serpents power of illusion, and in exchange they would sustain the snake now bound to them.
One humorous aside was that the longer lived snakes were more annoyed but this arrangement. Even so, they were allowed to use the full abilities of their powers at the Zebra’s request, no longer bound to Jaunty’s rules. What would keep them in check was that only their host could feed them, barring them from their worst impulses.
What the Lion’s saw as a clear victory soon bogged down, and then reversed. As their numbers grew sick from toxins, the zebra armies would recover from their wounds quickly. As their mighty paws hit only air, focused hooves struck them at their weakest point. First, the lions were beaten back, then they were on the run from their prey.
Those ungulates that came to aid were the first to report sightings of the Serpent Shamans. First noting some zebra with stark white manes, then realizing in shock that a snake was coiled around the equine’s midsection. These shamans were calm, though direct, seeing as the war was still to be fought and said they would aid others in any way they could.
Thankfully, the war would soon end. The surviving predators were sent to The Hold, though clearly missing the snakes of The Savanna.
Though the stories of the Serpent Shamans would have simply lived as an oddity, one tale made it something else.
One night, after a battle, the Shaman made camp away from the other ungulate forces. This was odd, as even the other zebra were welcome to join the others at rest. A few curious creatures quietly aproched the shaman's camp wanting an answer to the mystery, and found it…
The bodies of slain predators were next to a burning fire, and the odor of heated flesh came to their noses. The shaman seemed to speak to one another, as they partook of the flesh of their foes. Equine teeth tore into cooked flesh in a grisly feast.
Few would believe this story, it’s facts too horrible to be seen a real. Even so, Jaunty did say that only those who bound to the Snake could sustain it...
After the war, none of these shaman would leave The Savanna. They would travel around, offering services as healers and guides. As years would pass their story did fade from memory, except as a campfire tale that still scares foals to this day.
Amid the trials and triumphs of the ungulates tribes, often left aside was the swine of The Outlands.
The Boars somewhat earned that title. Disinterested in the building of much to their name, nor engaging in trade or much discussion with others. The predators were a threat to them as much as any other, but they saw it as someone else's problem. They would always have fresh numbers to replace those eaten, and would always find a new source of food.
Even so, there were no slouches when the time to fight came. Their tusks and size were not simply for show.
Despite this, they saw the war in Foenum as not theirs to fight. Let the other ungulates and paws fight among themselves, so long as it never reaches their territory. Even so, more than a few predators would fall to the boars hooves...and teeth.
Unlike the Longma, the Boars felt no shame in indulging in the full extent of their omnivorous nature. Be they predator or ungulate…
They would find out later that the war they had been avoiding had ended, peace had been restored and that the predators would never trouble them again.
And then they were told to control their numbers...to prevent the starvation of others.
This order from a representative of the Prophet disgusted them, and they could stomach rotten fruit. Why were they to be ordered anything by the other tribes? Why were they even better than them?
This brief sulk would bring about a decision that would bring fear to the future.
They would increase their numbers, uncaring to what they were told by the other ungulates. When food became scarce in their lands, they’d rob their neighbors. More than one picnic would be raided and farm plundered by the boars. And their numbers would continue to swell…
In time, regardless to whom reseals the lock on The Hold, the Boars of The Outlands were soon to be a threat. The other tribes had honored their agreement, and their numbers now lacked. Despite what the boars lacked, they had strength and numbers with the drive of their unending hunger to sustain those numbers.
No one would stop their unending numbers.
They see the Sheep of Baaaaah as easy prey, and would delight to put the Reindeer of The Tundra into the dirt, rubbing their precious beauty in the mud.
They would eat what they could, and dominate that which they could not. And Foenum was not prepared for the coming tide.
The Sheep of Baaaaah would do what they could to avoid ghost stories, though some feel that they may be in one…
In the year before the Keykeeper Crisis, some sheeple would find their dogs acting unusual. They looked nervous about something, some would look outside at night as if they saw something moving in the darkness.
Most of those sheeple would believe it was nothing, but then a couple of them swore they saw something in the night, the silhouette of a Wolf!
These stories were quickly disproven. There were no paw prints found in these sightings, nor were these wolves seen by others. All in Baaaaah’s commons agreed it was merely the results of imagination, seeing revisiting the issue as poppycock.
Even so, some rumors persisted, even if kept to Those Few Ewe’s that believed them.
One such story, a lamb followed their sheepdog outside on a moonlit night. The dog started growling, and when she looked to see what it was, she saw it.
A wolf, larger than she’d known loomed over her. She recalls her knees giving out, though this dark wolf seemed disinterested in her. First looking at her sheepdog, then to her, then it looked into the horizon.
It’s body was unnatural, like it’s features shifted as she watched. She would swear, at times, it seemed canine teeth formed in the dark mass that made the wolf’s body, creating the look of a fanged jaw from any part of its form. It’s paws could extend like spikes, and it’s mouth! It opened wide enough, she believed it could swallow her whole!
She passed out from the terror.
She awoke later, finding herself back at home, her dog by her side. The sheepdog did it’s best to comfort her as she hugged it tightly.
How she returned was a question that could not be answered. Her dog could not have done such a thing easily, and that this beast would have let her leave defied logic.
The other tales were much less frightful, perhaps as none of the other ewes had gotten so close. As stories of the predators returning spread, Those Few Ewe wondered if this wolf apparition was simply another such messenger of the predators from The Hold. Though one would speak up…
“If it was, why didn’t it say something? And why did it seem so distant?”
And adding a terrifying turn to the story another ewe added. “What if that dark wolf was never in The Hold to begin with? You heard about the drawings in the wolf dens? What if that was The Black Wolf?”
It became quiet for a moment...as the group of ewes felt as though they had all seen the face of death itself.
Understandably, Those Few Ewe watch nervously as new events play out. Though their sheepdogs seem more courageous than they are, they still would wish to find an answer to the questions.
“How much more is there to this? And what is the Black wolf?” Which they admit was the best questions they had.
One upon a time, amid The Tundra, there lived a Reindeer buck. He was friendly, though unassuming. Kind, but boring. The buck lived a more modest life amid the more fabulous neighbors in the village he called home. He lived in such quiet anonymity he would wonder if any remembered his name.
Though, more than once, he feared his mundane nature would leave him single for the rest of his life...
That changed one day, when he saw in the village outskirts the prettiest doe reindeer he had ever laid eyes upon. And she beckoned to him! So entranced by her, he failed to notice his sprite frantically warning him away, before it vanished never to be seen again.
She was nice, and didn’t judge his mundane life, even saying he would make a good husband and father. He followed her to a cave in the northern mountains, her home and now his as well. It looked well furnished for a simple cave, with a door at it’s mouth to keep the cold winds away.
The buck was happy. He had met his dream deer and his boring life was over now. In short time, they would consummate their relationship, and she would give birth to their lovely children.
But that was when something felt amiss…
The buck thought it was nothing at first. His lovely wife insisted on getting food for the little ones, and he couldn’t remember the children eating a single vegetable. And at night, he thought he heard the mewing of a cat.
When the enchantment he had been under for those months ended, he would discover why…
He awoke to find his loving wife had gone, and his children...they were Cougar cubs! His mind reeled in shock, and it only got worse when he saw the blood in the kitchen...and the skulls with antlers!
The buck shivered and wept, not just at a feeling of betrayal to his feelings, but knowing he had lived with a monstrous cougar witch. But it was then he felt the children nuzzling him...
Even if they ate flesh, they still saw him as their father. It helped somewhat. It was then that he saw a leather bound book with a note, addressed to “My loving husband”. It had been left for him, to aid him and to offer some answers.
He learned his wife had taken care of a few things before her departure. She made a point to kill the male cubs, knowing as they grew, they would soon see their father as a rival to slay for dominance. Inside the book there were maps to rabbit warrens, lakes, even other reindeer she had guessed were easy targets...and how the little ones like raspberry jam.
Also, strange arcane writings. Details for rituals with blood, bone, and flesh. Her daughters would need to know their heritage after all. And in some notes were written the means of how he could use these spells as well...
And lastly, a promise to return to him and plea that he look after their daughters for now.
This den was his now and the children were his responsibility. In time, the little ones would grow and hunt. That fact scared him. Would he be forced to feed others to them? Even so, they were family now, and he’d rather not see his frightening wife return angry.
At least, for awhile, he may convince others the cubs are just strange kittens...
A Unicorn scholar of The Woodlands has finished his long journey through The Tundra, finally reaching the city of Rien. He had come on a trip of research, to interview one of the last Deer-hunters in the city.
The stories among the Deerfolk painted the old buck as a codger with morbid interests. Some wondered if it was his age or his hunts that made old Corduroy into the eerie old buck he had become.
As expected, the hunters home was luxurious to behold. After a knock at the door, and telling the old codger his interest in research, the unicorn was quickly let in. For an elderly reindeer, Corduroy was very welcoming.
He was more than happy to talk about topics, even having his sprite fetch some gold oat porridge and tea for his guest. In the lounge he would talk about war stories, his hunts, and the trophies he still had. The old deer-hunter lit his pipe as he pointed out his old hunting gear in the room.
In a glass case sat a long tattered scarf and a button vest with iron plates sewn into it, alongside a few hats. Notably, the vest had more than a few claw marks. Some had even left a gash in the plates under the fabric.
In time, to the unicorns relief, the conversation came to the trophies. Corduroy had made a point to collect the remains with great care, not just as a trophy, but as a way to remember the quarry he had conquered.
He nearly had a full gallery of specimens. Wolf, Cougar, even the elusive Snake and Alligator! He did lament his lack of Bear remains though.
“Either the beast was broken before it’s demise, or it’s very bones melt on death. Right shame. It would be a delight to examine such a powerful creature in detail.” And the hunters ramblings would go to those moments he pieced together the predators anatomy.
The unicorn scholar was impressed, Corduroy’s ramblings aside, the glass cased specimens were well kept and assembled. He could feel the size of them, and could get the closest look any ungulate had at the predators teeth...though it felt unnerving to say the least. The skeletons stood as they would have in life, looking ready to pounce!
When asked why the old deer-hunter was not part of The Tundra Tournament, Corduroy replied “I’m much too old for these new adventures, and I smoke too much you see.” At which he coughed. “Besides, a real hunter isn’t the kind who stands hoof to paw in a simple fight. They track and they find the best opportunity to strike. The young ones will never know the feel of a methodical battle, always rushing into things to show how strong they are.” He had a brief chuckle for a moment, when they were interrupted.
It was a buzzing insect flying around the room, with the unicorn swatting away at it with his hooves. Corduroy looked undeterred by the interruption, taking a long drag from his pipe. He then blew a cloud of smoke into the air. As the unicorn watched, the hunter eyed the insect before the cloud contracted and became a block of ice. It hit the floor, the insect now trapped inside, it’s frozen wings still posed in flight. The unicorns mouth hung open for a moment.
“Sometimes, a slower approach can do wonders, sir.” Corduroy added, taking an idle puff from his pipe. “More tea?”
For a moment, the unicorn had to wonder what this old hunter was like in his prime...
While stories of the surviving Alligators in the swamps are few, one had some popularity.
When the Marsh Tacky became neighbors to the Swamp Gators, they would see some of the gator’s habits. One unsettling habit was the eating of their own dead at times. To the Alligators, meat was meat, even their own. While some did ask to eat dead Tacky, they understood when the answer was no.
Another strange tradition was the gators placing their uneaten dead at certain places in the marshes. Not merely leftovers, these dead were taken aside so no one could partake of them.
These areas reeked with a smell that would draw appreciation from the Condors of The Prairie. In these wet, muddy, canopy shadowed places were Alligator bodies lain to rest. Either atop the wet soil or placed in the murky waters.
The sight of aged wooden markers told the Tacky that the Gators had been doing this for some time now.
And they were not merely dumped. Care was given so that the gator was belly up, on the ground or as they sank. Those on the soil had a moist mud-like substance applied to the bodies, which the Gators kept in wood vessels. Once finished, the dead Alligators were left to the elements.
In days they would putrefy, explaining the smell. Within weeks all that remained were eroded bone fragments...and that stench.
When the Marsh Tackey asked why the gators did this, they were told: “Swamp gits’ ‘ungry like an’one else. So’mn has’ ta’ keep it fed.”
While it was easy to see this as simple reptile superstition(and hard to understand), there were some facts that said otherwise. Trees and bushes in the area bore fruit quickly, and long grasses grew in days. Somehow, the marsh’s soil had properties unseen in any part of Foenum.
They say this may be the reason that the Marsh Tacky would offer their own dead to the swamps hunger as well…
In time, the terrible cost of war would be forgotten. But, for a time, the dead left in its wake was a problem for the ungulates. The slain needed to be counted, and brave warriors returned home for burial, and beasts for what was decided best.
While the Sheep were not active in combat, a few did help in non combat roles. Giving aid and managing supplies. For an unusual sheep named Jimmy, he took the unenviable job managing collected bodies from battles.
While he would joke about how his job is quite easy, “Check ‘em in, verify a few things, do the paperwork, be ‘round pub after.”even some capable Longma would wince at what Jimmy saw doing his job.
But one day he would find something even he would find unusual. Jimmy had seen all manner of broken, bloodied, and torn….but never desiccated. Asking the understandably moody cow that pulled the cart in, he was told it was the condition the bodies were found in.
They were both predator and prey from a pitched battle. And when one retreated the other followed, with one ungulate reporting the skirmish to a base camp. These slain had been in a corner of the Green Acre, near a group of shrubs and trees. And by the cows report, allegedly had been left unattended to for only a single day. She could not answer him as to why the bodies looked dried.
With a sigh, Jimmy got to work.
It was more than obvious the dead were killed in battle, and wasn’t too hard to identify which ungulate community needed to be informed of their lost members. But as he looked closer, he found that none of the bodies had blood in them. The killing wounds were dry, and organs visible in the torn flesh were shriveled. And that was when he realized, despite the dead being left alone a day, no scavenger bird had touched them…
Prying the cart pulling cow after his findings, Jimmy would learn about a longma who helped load the corpses for her. The good news was that this longma warrior was still in town, not far from the makeshift mortuary. The bad news what that the warrior was in the pub, several cups in by the time he found them.
When Jimmy met the warrior, this brave fighter looked haunted as his eyes swam in a drunken haze. He was thankfully able to talk. Though his peculiar ramble started with the trees and shrubs as opposed to how he had found the bodies.
This longma had found that spot months earlier. He spoke of how the trees looked bony without any leaves and how the bushes looked wilted. It was strange, as the autumn months were far off. He had once wondered about trying to tend to them, but concerns as the conflicts near Huoshan escalated called his attention elsewhere.
When his story finally arrived to his discovery of the war dead, he paused, checking to see if he had any drink left in his cup. The longma warrior did indeed find the bodies in their desiccated state. But it was what he also saw that unnerves him.
The trees were lush now, branches thick with leaves. And the bushes were similarly vibrant, with a small scattering of flowers budding from them. The corpses aside, this corner of the plains were quite lively. More lively than the shaken warrior remembered it from his prior visit.
Having had his cup refilled, the warrior told of what he imagined from that sight. While Jimmy found such a story unlikely, he could see the correlation that lead to that conclusion.
In the year after the war, Jimmy would visit that isolated area. It had gone from a few trees and shrubbery, to almost a tiny forest. There were several trees now, and even a garden worth of flowers in full bloom.
It was beautiful. But if he believed the story he heard, Jimmy knew what might have breathed life into this copse...
Figure one of these days, I get to fleshing out those OCs.....
Understandably, The Prairie where the cattlefolk roamed was vast. Even after generations, no cow or bull had fully mapped it. And, as not known places do invite mystery, even foals ponder what might dwell over the next hill.
The cattlefolk’s neighbors, tribes of buffalo and wild horses, would tell stories of strange places. Though, they would often refuse to tell where such places were.
The only exception was “The Spotted Mountain”. It’s name is derived from how ,on its surface, parts of the stone face were visibly much darker than others. And it’s location was only known as a small town which cows called home had been built several miles from it. One inquisitive bovine believed those dark spots may have come from “an unknown something” burning hot enough to leave deep burn marks on the stone.
While said cows found the landmark a curiosity, the buffalo warned of its dangers. Speaking of a “curse” and “a place creatures die”. While certainly superstitious, even outlandish, the sight of circling vultures near the mountain did discourage travelers. Any bovine that had survived the war against the predators, and even those after, knew what circling vultures often signaled.
Death was not far away there.
Alas, a few cattle foals decided to venture to the spotted mountain. And days later, a search party went looking for them. Their main concern, at first, was the calves had gotten lost or trapped and needed to be guided back home. It was when they found one walking alone that they would fear for the worst.
The cow’s name was Delia. They found her near stumbling and wild eyed, stained with blood. She was badly dehydrated, and collapsed as the search party called out to her.
The town’s doctor quickly carted her to his clinic as the search party continued on. The girl was badly ill with a malady he had never seen before, but despite the blood stains was apparently uninjured. She claimed her very skin burned during her lucid moments, but otherwise she only groaned and cried. She was clearly feverish.
As she rested at the clinic, with the doctor doing what he could, the search party returned with grim news. Officially, the other calves had died tragically from misadventure and the vultures had found them first. The head of the search party refused to say more than that, only going to the parents of the lost to give the bad news.
Though one parent was heard crying, “What do you mean their skulls were smashed?! No bird or vulture could have done that!”
Any further was mere speculations, though the buffalo told the town doc that he should keep the stricken cow near a source of “good water”. The doctor felt that meant to keep her well hydrated.
While Delia’s condition became more stable she remained bedridden. Despite available water, she often needed someone to help her drink and help with swallowing it. Meanwhile, her parents and older brother grimly put together her sadly expected funeral. Only her brother would visit on occasion, but was pained to she her is this miserable state. She was once energetic, now it is uncertain if she would survive.
The fact that some cattlefolk in town had seen a vulture either circling above or perching on nearby homes felt like an ominous portent of things to come. Whatever the poor girl was afflicted with, death wasn’t far away.
As the days passed, Delia became more lucid. She was happy to talk with her brother and doctor during visits, though had no memory of what had happened to her. While the burning had mostly passed, her limbs were still weak.
It was around this point she would mention a “Mr Crowley”.
She spoke well of him, saying he would visit her with a strange encouragement, claiming she had lasted longer than others. Both the doctor and her brother would wonder who this mystery visitor, but found few answers. No cattlefolk in town had such a name, nor had the doctor seen such a person enter the clinic.
While there were new worries of Delia mental state, her physical condition did not offer much good news. One of her hind legs was now crippled, she could no longer feel or move it. The doctor worried now that her body might be wasting away despite his care.
Though over the next couple days, other events would eclipse those concerns.
Somehow, Delia learned about her family's funeral arrangements for her despite her brother having forbidden anyone to speak of them to her. While this was certainly upsetting to all involved, what came next had her family frightened.
Delia had a doll she kept in her room at home. As her family had been busy with other concerns, none had time to deliver it to her at the clinic. Then one day, it was at her bedside one morning. Delia claimed Mr. Crowley had brought it to her. Meanwhile, her parents were in near panic as this mystery creature had somehow gotten into their house.
And then there were the “gifts”. Strange, sun dried morsels that Delia had been given by her visitor. She claimed Mr. Crowley told her they would keep her from getting sicker. He had even promised to keep an eye on her condition. Whatever these morsels were, her condition seemed to improve.
Lastly, she spoke of odd dreams.
In one, she saw what she described as “A giant chicken with teeth but no beak” and a giant city of bright stones. In another, she saw a storm that seemed to throw mountains through the sky. She said Mr. Crowley told her they were the memories on a thing long forgotten, and that her sickness had come from her “taken in” a portion of it’s essence.
While she didn’t understand what he meant, she did recall then that she drank from a pond in a cave. She was still unable to recall where that pond was.
Eventually, the doctor would ask “What does this Mr. Crowley know about this sickness ya gotten, little girl?” Delia would at least begin with the fact that even she wasn’t fully sure.
From what she understood of what Mr. Crowley had told her, the water she drank was tainted with “the essences of burning stone”. And that it had been burning away at her body. That most creatures that drank that water died quickly or entered a violent state before succumbing. He had even said some buffalo had drank of those waters, and almost always saw the drinkers die in a few days. Worse, the violent ones would rush to devour live creatures nearby.
When asked why any buffalo would even risk such a thing, Delia said it had something to do with the dreams. Those that survived beyond those few days could now see the world beyond. Mr. Crowley even explained it was “Like trading a portion of one's living flesh for knowledge beyond.''
The poor calf had no idea as to what it all meant. But did claim he added “It helped to have the flesh of other creatures during the burning. The consumed flesh would be taken instead of their own.”
While it was a strange story to hear, it made the doctor uneasy. He recalled the strange morsels Mr. Crowley had been giving Delia.
Understandably, he would ask what Delia thought of Mr. Crowley. She did at least find him unusual, saying she would wake at night to find him at the foot of her bed. He was nice enough though, keeping her company when she felt alone and telling her strange stories...and of the tenderness of rabbit flesh.
Perhaps it was her unfortunate state, but the talk of flesh eating didn’t bother her. She had already felt near death for some time by that point. Mr. Crowley even stated “Death will have all our flesh. It is the most patient of all predators.”
A few more days would pass without any other major incident. While Delia had recovered enough that she could get out of bed, she needed a leg brace for her crippled leg. She would never be able to trample or stampede like other cows.
As she left the clinic with her brother, a vulture landed in front of them. While her brother leapt back in fear, she smiled at it.
“Hi there, Mr. Crowley!” She said happily.
The vulture squawked in response. Whether the family knew it or not, the child had made the most unsettling friend.
The Warmbloods have had many villages in their time of expansion after the war. Some merely harvest crops, others housed cavalry barracks, and some were more fortresses than towns. It was not so much an empire as many colonies in parts of Foenum, each with lords reporting back to the equine monarchs.
In one such village a strange visitor arrived quite some time ago. A ram sheep pulled a small cart, containing what few items he had, and asked for a place to stay. Not one to say no to an extra set of hooves, he was allowed such, so long as he could help out around town.
And help he did…
This mystery ram was quite competent for a mere sheep. From offering advice to farmers, to finding misplaced items, to even helping the horses that were illiterate. Much of the village was surprised to find such a well read sheep, let alone one that would leave Baaaaah. Surely, in the land of the bleating, the smartest sheep could be king!
And his ability to find things was near magical! A misplaced hammer, a tome forgotten in an attic, even a foal named Timmy who fell down a sinkhole. Ewine magic seemed unlikely, but how else could the warmbloods explain such a feat? It was like he could find anything and anyone in a short time.
Though, for the strangest reason, smaller animals seem to fear that ram. Rabbits fled, chickens began to panic, and even small cats would back away from that sheep. And while other horses would have to chase vermin from their gardens, his would always be untouched. This, and his unnatural abilities, were what drew the first questions.
Who exactly was this ram?
He preferred to stay silent on his past, only saying his name was “Jim”. Beyond that, the only other secret that could be pried was his lament for leaving Baaaaah and his family behind.
And that was after several rounds of salted ale…
It was that secret that had a couple of warmbloods seek answers in The Meadow about their mystery guest. And what they heard painted a worrying picture.
They would learn about a recent exile, a ram consumed by a kind of “madness”, and driven by a frightful obsession. He’d been seen yelling at the trees after the loss of his wife. And before that, he’d been seen consorting with a wayward looking unicorn. Talk of strange books and a green mixture he had drank.
Then, one spoken story mentioned seeing the ram coated in red. It was at that point the other sheep shushed it’s teller.
While the pair of horses were able to pull that sheep aside, if only to discover what in Foenum they had meant, the answer only created more questions...Terrible questions.
It was the reason this ram’s name was deemed to never be uttered in public…
It started when he had gathered several small animals. Some purchased chickens and captured rabbits. The ram was witnessed leaving Baaaaah, carrying the living cargo in a small cart. While no other sheep saw his return, this sheep that had told of a horrific sight.
She had seen the ram return to his house coated with flicks of red. Her assumptions were wild. From that ram descending into further insanity, to them embracing carnivorism, to a dread that he had dealings with beasts unseen and unknown. While few other sheep believed her words, it was the straw that broke the ungulates back for the others.
Baaaaah’s prime minister had a vote and it was agreed unanimously this ram should be banished. He had left behind a son, a daughter in law, and his granddaughter. Still, several sheep in town feared that this ram’s madness could be infectious, as some felt the son had similar interests to his father.
The warmblood’s had to ponder then. The facts and rumors they now knew did line up with what they had guessed on their mystery ram. But how could the manic ram be the kindly old Jim, the ram that had been eager to help their own townsfolk?
They ultimately decided not to make any accusations. But they would then watch that old ram, eying for any cause for worry. Then a month passed, then a year past, then two years….
In that time, Jim had befriended many of the equine folk, even having contacts in neighboring settlements. Very little felt out of place, as Jim was as friendly as any sheep his age and had never shown any sign of a threat.
Even so, there was one strange story.
One horse, who had imbibed a bit too much salt, was laying on his side late at night. While his recollection was suspect, he swore what he had seen and felt was true.
As he lay there, he swore that the darkness around him began breathing. He could feel a warm breath near his mane and, as he began to panic, Jim was suddenly there. The elderly ram offered the drunk horse a hoof and helped them up. He swore the sheep looked more worried than usual, but even so, was helpful in getting the poor equine home to sleep off the salts.
It could have been proof or it could have been the ramblings of a salt addled mind.
But in time Jim would pass on….
He had left his few books to a local enthusiast and his few possessions to whomever wanted them. The funeral was somber and his gravestone well carved. The townsfolk would miss him.
Though there was on last surprise…if any could believe such.
Timmy, now much older, looked out his window on the night after the funeral. In the moonlight, he could clearly see an unknown shape lingering in the cemetery. At first it seemed a dire omen, but as he watched that dark silhouette as it stood there he realized it’s head was low, it’s glowing eyes just as somber.
This unknown beast or monster wasn’t there to insight fear or dread. It seemed to be mourning the loss of Jim as well.
It all seemed unbelievable. But, even so, how much of Jim’s story could have been believed? A capable sheep, frightful rumors, and ending with an unnatural creature lamenting his passing. The mystery of that ram would outlive him.
But is it one of unique legend or foreboding infamy?
(Believe it or not, had this idea before I learned we had a goat-pirate)
While Rein is a cold place, just the way they like it, it still also borders the sea. While the deerfolk have longboats they seldom use them. The last adventurous reindeer sailed for some distance, before saying how dismal the distant lands looked from afar and turned back to Rein.
And yet, this glimpse of some distant isle was the reason for the visit of a most uncouth creature.
The first sign of something untoward was the sightings of a flock of black birds flying about the city. They looked like crows, but the red beaks these birds possessed caused them to second guess. A former boatman said they were just coastal Chough, though the sudden number of them was unusual. Some flew above, some took perch on rooftops and streetlamps.
Then that sheep came.
A crowd gathered as they first thought a normal white sheep covered in mud was trotting to Rein’s gates. As he got closer, however, it became clear the darkened wool wasn’t the only thing alien about them.
He had two sets of horns. The first pair were normal, curved, and close to his ears. But this second set seemed to grow out from the sides of his head like the horns of a goat or bull. Stranger still, a few choughs perched on those horns like they were branches of a tree. And while this sheep had his eyes closed, those birds eyed the crowd of deerfolk onlookers.
Then there were unusual things he wore. Coiled rope hung from his body, and around his neck was a kind of totem or fetish. It looked like a bird's skull carved from wood. And while a quick glance wouldn’t be able to tell at first, that fetish looked like the head of a chough.
This was clearly no ordinary sheep...
Even the ice sprites looked unsure of this stranger. While they would seem eager to meet the visitors of their favorite deer, something about this sheep made them uncomfortable.
And then he spoke: “Haven’t seen a wolf or any predator on the way here. Where they go off too?” His tone was somewhat brash, but he clearly had little idea of the events all in Foenum knew.
It was quiet for a moment, only broken by one doe asking “Iz he real?” And, somehow, that seemed to break the ice(metaphorically speaking) with the sprites. They found this stranger as somewhat funny.
Some explanations later, the unusual sheep looked confused. It seemed the first time he had even heard of the war, The Hold, or even the Bearded Prophet Apparently he came from some distant island. Still, he didn’t seem to doubt what he was told.
“Guess that’s why they tell me it seems too quiet.” The sheep said with a smile. “Told me it was strange there weren't a single pack or cat about.” Then he chuckled. “Guess we still have stoats and badgers, eh?”
While he didn’t say much on his origin, he did say he’d seen the long-ships sailing in the distance from a large island. And, apparently, there is a herd of deformed sheep like him there. They call themselves Loaghans.
One moment that caused even the reindeer a slight, if vulgar, chortle was when he learned of the sheep in Baaaaah. When he learned about the sheepdogs he was given pause for a moment, then said:
“Oh, didn’t think sheep and wolves would get ‘that’ friendly.” He said with surprise. “I’ll have to see what these fluffy wolves look like.” Even the most elegant of deerfolk had to say his poor understanding of sheepdogs was almost adorable, even if crude.
After that, he wished the deer a good day and trotted further into town. Despite his closed eyes, he didn’t have any issues navigating past the other locals in the streets. And while one mischievous buck pondered throwing a snowball, he dropped it early when a chough swooped low and squawked at them.
Despite never once asking for directions, the gnarled looking sheep reached a market stall selling grain. He asked for a few small sacks, and while the vendor looked unsure as to how this unkempt stranger was going to pay, he was surprised to see the sheep pay with some gemstones. That deer had to guess this sheep didn’t even know about salt being used in local trade.
Though he wasn’t going to say no to a deal of some gemstones for some grain.
While the sheep asked about the golden grains, the vendor's sprite spoke to him. While the normal visitors would often ask as to what the ice sprites had said, the sheep merely replied.
“Oh.” He said. “It’s your gift for them. In that case, I will just settle for the regular grain.” The fact this stranger seemed to know what the sprite said earned yet more odd looks.
The sheep took the purchased bags and fastened them to the ropes tied around him, though he stopped with the last bag. Instead, he untied that bag and poured a pile of grain onto the cobblestones of the road. While the deerfolk looked with some humor, like this was the start of some kind of improvised act, that uncouth sheep then let out a loud squawk-like sound from his mouth.
Then came a frightful event.
A swarm of black feathers descended from nearly every direction. Not one deer counted the amount of clough that entered the feeding frenzy on that pile of grain as most simply fled. Ran for their homes, took cover under what steady items were nearby, more than a few just fainted at the sight. Meanwhile, that foreign sheep sat on his knees as the birds on his horns joined the fray.
At least one deer, looking safely through their window, noticed just how calm that sheep was. As if feeding these loud birds was not unusual. The grain vendor, hiding under his stall, heard the sheep chide the feeding clough at one point.
“Calm yourselves, there is enough for all of you. The other sacks will last us for the journey home.”
Eventually, the birds returned to the air, with a few returning to their perch on the sheep's horns. His walk out of Rein was quiet, seeing as most reindeer were now avoiding him. Even so, he seemed more humored than worried about this sudden shift. Even giving the gate guard a respectful nod, apologizing for the excitement he had caused.
“They are quite loud, but I assure you, they are quite nice when you get to know them.”
Still, a few bucks were somewhat incensed about this uncouth visitor. And they intended to find out where that bizarre sheep had come from. They followed that sheep some distance from the city, far enough behind that they believed they couldn’t be noticed. And were led to a quiet shore and a shabby boat.
It was far from an elegant longboat. Though it looked watertight, had a sail, and a crowsnest. While they had to wonder how that brown sheep could manage navigating a boat at sea, it was when one of the reindeer pulled out a spyglass they had an answer. He then saw the crows nest was near literal, with a number of chough either perched or sitting within it.
As they watched, the sheep loaded the grain on the boat and picked up a wood jar from the boat's deck. He then walked to an altar like protrusion near the bow. It was there he opened the wood jar and poured it’s contents. The deer with the glass gasped, as that jar contained grubs and maggots.
A few chough came down from the crows nest and ate the offered insects as the sheep closed the jar. From there, the sheep got to work pushing the ship from the shore.
While it was quiet for a time, just watching this sheep ready his ship to sea, a final surprise came near the end.
It was something terrible, and the deer holding the spyglass dropped it with a shriek of horror. They ran back to Rein, screaming and crying from whatever they had seen. While the other bucks quietly argued if it was a good idea to pick up the glass and continue their observations, it was then they realized the boat was now moving.
The first thought was the sail had found the steady wind. But, even without the spyglass, they could see a group of choughs beating their wings near the sail, giving it blast. It was this last sight that the bucks decided to leave well enough alone.
Once back home, they would ask the frightened one of their group what he had witnessed. While he wasn’t able to describe much, becoming panicked at the memory, he was able to tell one thing clearly.
That sheep they were spying on knew they were there. He even turned in their directions, looking back at the deer holding the spy glass. And then he opened his eyes….
At that point, he began hyperventilating. He couldn’t say what he saw. But he was able to say one more thing.
“They were his eyes…..they could see everything….” For a moment it was quiet, but then it sunk in.
Never once was that stranger looked lost in the many cobbled streets of Rein. He passed others as though he knew they were there, despite never once opening his eyes. And lastly, the clough on his horns always seemed to eye the area around him, and the sky above them always seemed to have a presence in the air or perched nearby.
Thankfully, for the bucks frazzled nerves, the flock of birds had left with their apparent master. And while the fact a once unknown herd of darkened sheep was a historic surprise, few reindeer felt much reason to act on it. No longboat sailor was in a rush to go visit that distant isle, nor was there many deerfolk who wished to share that peculiar tale.
If these Loaghans were a bunch of strange, shabby, uncouth, and almost scary sheep the deerfolk of Rein would just like to keep their distance. As such, that island seen only from a distance still remains unvisited by foreign hooves. Still, now and then, when the reindeer see a flock of red billed choughs, they wonder if that stranger had plans to return.
Perhaps it would help if they had some ungulate help to teach him manners before then? And maybe give him a bath as well...
(one of these days, I got to find a way to finish my other story)