Although the Wampus Country features numerous creatures - many of them strange - it is important to remember that they do not exist in a vacuum. Metaphorically, I mean - surely there are life-forms which dwell in the airless void beyond the sky, but they are not the topic of today's discussion. Animals, plants, sapient species - they all form an interconnected web of life, no one existing in true isolation from the rest. As students of natural philosophy, you of course have some familiarity with the idea of ecology, but I mean to suggest a larger interconnectedness still, combining ecology, culture, and history. We cannot examine a creature's biology or behavior without also taking a look at how it is related to the practices of thinking people and intertwined with our own history.
Let us take, as exemplar, the humble blingdingel. If you are not familiar with the beast, please take a moment to look over the illustration mounted here on the wall. The blingdingel is a semi-bipedal, predatory beast which was once common in the Snowdeeps, now nearly extinct. Note the long, muscular arms - you can easily imagine the beast's lumbering gait. The face and cranial structure resemble that of a short-snouted baboon or banderlog, yet the blingdingel is blessed with these massive tufted ears, which is uses to locate prey in the snowdrifts. Snow-lampreys, certain polar oozes, that sort of thing, but I assure you the blingdingel is quite happy to consume manflesh as well...which leads us to the next step in our journey.
Were the blingdingel a passive species, the men of the north might never have bothered to hunt it. After all, it does not provide much meat, and is generally clever enough to make difficult prey. But the rapacious blingdingel does threaten northern communities, so men and women had to learn to kill it. No mean feat! Look here on the drawing, and consider these overlapping scales which cover the entire torso of the adult blingdingel. Those scales are remarkably tough, and behind them hides a thick layer of subcutaneous fat. The blingdingel is, in essence, a massive, armored, potbellied yeti. You see? Difficult to kill, even with modern firearms. Imagine those early clashes, in which hunters accustomed to mastodons, snow tigers, and the like found themselves faced with a huge, creative predator immune to their weapons. Imagine them describing the blingdingel as a giant bipedal tiger wearing armor. I don't envy them their task.
|A small sculpture of a Blingdingel; such idols are common near hearths in the north, used to ward off evil spirits.|
As the hunters strove against the blingdingels, they came to learn about their natural armor - those brilliant silvery-white scales. First, they came to learn that spears cannot easily threaten a blingdingel. And then - more importantly - they learned that the talons of a blingdingel can cut through the scales. Perhaps they were lucky enough to witness a pair of young blingdingel bulls competing for territory, or tussling over a potential mate during rutting season. But, armed with this knowledge, the hunters knew that the key to killing blingdingels was the acquisition of their claws. One hunting-party, armed with bludgeons and axes, stuns a blingdingel and makes off with a pair of paws. And that singular event set the whole thing into motion. Stolen claws made into weapons; weapons make it easier to kill blingdingels. With each dead blingdingel, it becomes exponentially easier to kill blingdingels. And what do we do with dead blingdingels? Always industrious, we use the claws to skin the damn things, and peel off their natural armor. A quick tanning of the connecting flesh, and very rapidly we have a cottage industry turning dead blingdingels into superior scale armor jackets.
You can surely see where we are headed in this tale: blingdingel extinction, or very nearly so. And indeed, that is precisely what happened. The combination of demand of blingdingel-based armor and weapons, and the ever-progressing ease of killing them -- which I can depict on the blackboard like so - can have only one result. A short Blingdingel Boom, then no more blingdingels. As a side effect, you also end up with a number of northern warrior-types - thanes and mercenaries and such - armed with Blingdingel-claw spears and daggers and superior armor. Most of whom have gotten quite accustomed to living high on the hog, as it were, from blingdingel-related profits. What comes next?
That's right. War, or something resembling it. The blingdingel events directly precede a series of small-scale wars in the Snowdeeps which create some political situations we can discuss later. Let us try to stick to the biology while we can, shall we? Here's another side-effect of the blingdingel boom. While the claws of the beast are a direct way to pierce the scales, there is another way - and of course the clever folk of the north puzzled it out, or some of them, anyhow. A few hunters, who lacked talon-made weapons, took to coating their spear-points in the spoor of snufflehausers. Snufflehauser dung is rather corrosive, and becomes more corrosive and even a bit explosive when exposed to friction and heat. So, in theory, you jab your coated spear into a Blingdingel, and the combination of the acid and minor external pressure from the friction of the point against the scales would serve to force apart the scaling and allow some purchase to your weapon. If you were lucky, of course. Now, compare the snufflehauser to the blingdingel. One creature, the blingdingel, hunted toward extinction; the other, the humble snufflehauser, needs to be kept alive, in order to hunt the blingdingel. For a solid decade, a handful of snufflehauser farms were quite successful in the lands around Dropfinger Pass, and the only thing they produced was snufflehauser dung. Can you imagine? The snufflehauser is edible, but scrawny, you see. Its furs are suboptimal due to the size, but even today you can meet Freeholders who wear heirloom snufflehauser coats or stoles in brilliant blue or purple colors. There are no snufflehauser ranches extant, however - the profit just isn't there.
But back to the blingdingels, and their relation to Freeholder culture. The northmen believe the blingdingels themselves have an unusual origin. One of the ancient heroes in their sagas, a brilliant swordsman called Bjerd Blingding, is thought to be the father of the entire species, in a strange, roundabout way. Blingding was transmogryfied during his adventures into a sentient coat of scale mail armor - these things happen when one is an adventurer by profession, you understand. Although his pillaging days were over, Blingding could still think and speak, and...apparently do other things, as the saga tells us he wedded an auburn-haired ogress. The blingdingels are ostensibly their descendants. Now certainly as reasonable people and inquisitive students, you are wondering whether this isn't just some quaint explanation after the fact. After all, here we have these scaled, ogre-like creatures, let's come up with an amusing fireside tale that explains everything. And you would be right to question it, but in the end it doesn't matter whether it's true - what matters is whether the Freeholders of the north believe it. For they surely do, and it influences their behavior. I shall illustrate.
According to the sagas, Bjerd Blingding had a younger brother called Thurfinn, and Thurfinn and most of his direct descendants were natural shapechangers, able to take on the form of a wolf or several other creatures of the ice and snow. They were not large in number, and mostly lived out in the wilds, as one might expect. But what happens when Thurfinn's great-great-great-grandchildren come to learn about the wholesale slaughter of the Blingdingels? Nothing good. Learning about the mass murder of their cousins, and the very insulting fact that fat Freeholders were wandering about wearing their kin's skin as armor, Thurfinn's line resolved to make war against the offenders. And they, arrived in the civilized areas of the north just as the aforementioned small political battles were dying down. Even the mightiest warriors amongst the Freeholds were worn out, tired, wounded -- and here come scores of skinchangers out for blood. Worth noting, perhaps, that blingdingel armor is not proof against werewolf claws.
So we have much of the north stained crimson with blood, and all of it because of the interplay between the blingdingels and mankind. And there's still more, you see. The devastation of the wars had a deleterious effect on the population in the north, as you might imagine. This gap allowed for an earlier and easier introduction of giant-kind into the north than might otherwise have occurred. The giants stepped in and did the work, and the Freeholders could hardly complain, as they were unable to do all the work themselves. Yet a discussion of the interrelation of giants and men must be left for another time, for I can see by the clock on the wall it's very nearly time for the test match to resume, and I've no intention of lecturing at the sides of your heads as you all stare out the windows at the pitch.