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PEGASI

by Chris Wayan, 2006

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A pegasus hovering over a lake. A ponylike frame, but with wings, feathered tail, and paws with opposable digits. One of a dozen intelligent species on Lyr, an experimental world-model. Based on a painting by Dena Parish (LunaCat) of VCL.

SPECIES

Pictures of pegasi (at least the larger northern subspecies) look so much like the Greek myth, it's hard to remember they're really no bigger than a Terran deer, and massing even less, due to their hollow bones. Even Lyr's dense air can't support a flying horse, or anything close. Still, at first glance, only the tailfeathers visibly violate the legend. Later you notice that instead of hooves, all four non-winged limbs have clever multipurpose paws with opposable digits, adequate for walking but really designed for grasping branches and picking fruit... Last, you notice the eyes would be huge on a horse--and they're angled forward, not on the sides of the head. There's a large stereoscopic zone as well as wide peripheral vision.

You can't see the final difference, though you might deduce it from their taste in home decor and body decoration: those retinas are as color-sensitive as any bird's (fruit eaters tend to have color vision, for obvious reasons.)

Hide- and feather-colors vary widely, from black to red to brown, gold, tan and white; spots and stripes are common, as is a reticulated (giraffe-like) pattern. In several subspecies, colors are seasonal: the illustration shows a northern pegasus in early summer, soon after the molt; in winter this woman's coat will likely turn snow-white.

Originally all pegasi changed, for camouflage, but the number who don't is growing. Camouflage isn't needed today--no gryphon in historical times has attacked a pegasus, and not merely for moral reasons. Like crows, pegasi will mob predators--and unlike crows, they're tool-users. One well-thrown rock can snap a wingbone. That's why no species of Lyran has a history of warfare anything like humanity. Nature "red in tooth and claw" is one thing, but once brains and hands appear, fliers who make enemies are just too vulnerable to retaliation. Most intelligent Lyrans are fliers--and they'd like to stay that way...

HABITAT

A map of Lyr, a large water world with small scattered continents. The range of pegasi (small intelligent winged equines) is marked in yellow.

Pegasi evolved somewhere in the prairie and open woods in Scania or the Shielding Islands, between Troisleons and Corona. They've spread to the high plains of northern Corona, and the opener lands of the Roland Group. Small numbers are also found in the mountains of southern Corona and Oronesia; a few pioneers have entered the uplands of Gaiila.

Pegasi fill the same broad ecological niche as antel do further south in the Gaiila Cluster around the Middle Sea--grazers of patchy woods, grasslands and deserts (all relatively rare, on rainy, forested Lyr). Because pegasi and antel evolved 25,000 km apart in quite different temperature zones, the two species never met or competed, in prehistoric times. Today, small numbers do cohabit the Andromeda Mountains of Corona and the steep volcanic isles of southern Oronesia, where cool alps and warm veldts are mere miles apart. But they still don't mix socially. Pegasi seem to find antels embarrassing, a distorted version of themselves too close for comfort--perhaps the way some humans see apes. What do antel think of pegasi? Well, antel are very shy and polite--too polite to say. A grassy plain, mountains in the distance. Foreground: a pegasus longhouse, like an upturned boat-hull with a tilted mast at one end, flying a banner. Click to enlarge.

In the north, pegasus communities resemble Elizabethan villages, with half-timbered cottages on the ground, usually in valleys sheltered from the wind (a sketch appears later in this article). In the warmer woods of eastern Corona and the Aesir Islands, pegasi share treehouses with (much smaller) griffets. The sketch to the left shows a very different but quite common pattern: on great prairies, like those of Corona's North Reach, semi-nomadism is the rule; clans migrate in loops between boatlike longhouses, each used only in one season.

BEHAVIOR

Omnivores and carnivores can't congregate in great herds like herbivores; they're less social by necessity. Of course, meat-eaters all put a positive spin on that! To hear them talk (particularly gryphons, but I'm sure you've met some humans like this), you'd think carnivores invented individuality! Well, pegasi prove them wrong. Their herd structures resemble those of Terran zebras, with intricate, quirky social relations that cross age, gender and species lines--nothing like the simple fluid pecking order of horses (or wolves, for that matter). It's not their intelligence that makes the difference--several related species, with smaller, simpler brains than pegasi, are equally stubborn and individual about their friends and enemies. They like who they like and that's that.

Pegasi loves, hates and loyalties are fierce and long-lasting. As their neighbors the elaffes say: "A pegasus never forgets." Sketch of a palomino pegasus, of the lightly built southern subspecies, sitting in a meadow by a pond. She has paws not hooves, green eyes, brown hawk-wings, bracelets, anklets, and necklaces. Based on a dream image. Click to enlarge.

Pegasi whistle like elk when pleased or excited. Well, not a true whistle, but a high, oddly birdlike cry, like a small child's squeal of delight. Incongruous from such equine creatures! Think of it as a very, very loud purring--suppressable, with effort, but involuntary. A pegasus performer knows when an audience is hooked--they're unable to quiet down. Laughter and applause all in one--and whistles can't lie.

Whistling has socio-sexual consequences. Pegasi can't easily mate on the sly--unless you fly far out into the fields or woods, everyone knows. Human-style sexual discretion (or repression) is quite impractical and no pegasus culture bothers. Villages are noisy at night--though it's happy noise.

Their analogous taboo might be violent anger--pegasi have, as I said, strong feelings, and small public squabbles are common, but in a serious quarrel, even strangers will intervene, demanding fighters "take it out of the village", and shielding colts from witnessing bloodshed the way many human cultures hide sex from the young. Colts over a year old who nip or bite can expect a serious scolding.

It seems as if the sight or scent of blood instinctively panics even such intelligent herbivores (sound strange they'd remain slaves to instinct? Ever been caught in a human stampede, in a stadium or theater?)--but it can be modified by culture--by early experience. For pegasi in the northern end of their range, where they have much more contact with gryphons, are far less squeamish--all colts witness plenty of gryphon duels (not to mention dinners). They still seem to grow up fine--no more violent, and less fearful of blood per se, than southerners.

Northern and southern pegasi differ in more than culture. Down at the warmer end of their range, pegasi run noticeably smaller and leaner, with a short pelt--looking more like winged greyhounds than the shaggy Icelandic ponies the northerners resemble. They're not a distinct race--there's plenty of inter-migration and interbreeding. The sketch (above right) of a palomino woman from South Holm Island gives some idea of the difference--in style as well as body. Foreground: grinning equine face. Blue eyes, bright lavender mane, obviously dyed. Background: half-timbered, thatched houses with riotous flowergardens, around a cove with orange outriggers (wishbone masts); dun hills on horizon.

Far northerners tend to be rough, boisterous, tactile, snuggling like puppies. And why not? They need the warmth.

But in the southern Aesirs, pegasi stretch and fan their wings to enjoy the cool breeze, and, of course, flirt--but visually, not via full-body touch. They still pet and lick in public displays of intimacy no human would dare, at least off the dance floor--but strangers don't greet you with a rugby pile-up on top of you! And that's exactly how they say hi in the north.

Pegasi love body decoration, especially loud color. In the sketch to the left, this northern girl's lavender-dyed mane isn't that unusual. In her town, Whell Harbor, I also saw one male whose entire coat, including wings, were dyed with red-and-white checkers, like some walking cafe table!

The love for color is everywhere. Pegasi don't distinguish between food- and flower-gardens; even their orchard species are bred partly for interesting leaf- and flower-colors. You see luxuriant flowerbushes and vines all over pegasus communities.

They're never trimmed, though. Pegasus eyes seem to care more for hue and texture than precise shape...

Map of Lyr, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.

Gazetteer: index of places, with descriptions. Or...

TOUR LYR! Climb volcanoes, swim seas, meet weird creatures. First: survival tips! Then, pick a region:
Ythri -- Polesotechnic Chain -- Troisleons -- Roland -- Oronesia -- Gaiila -- Flandry -- Diomedes -- Ak'hai'i -- Averorn

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