by Chris Wayan, 2006
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First-time orientation--strongly advised! Lyr is weird.
Welcome to the Troisleons Cluster, a temperate region sprawling across the north. The group totals 16 M sq km (6.3 million sq mi), nearly as big as South America; Troisleons itself is two-thirds of that (a little bigger than Europe, and one of the largest continents on Lyr--so large it needs its own tour.)
So on this tour we'll enter the cluster by the most common route, from Ythri, and travel to Troisleon via Scania, the next largest land in the cluster. Scania is million square miles (2.5 M sq km) of Nordic islands--mostly cool and misty forest with long winters, where ice-capped volcanoes loom over the dark woods. But this isn't Scandinavia scaled up--southwestern Scania is open prairie, even desert in places, and those desert canyons hide surprises. And winters are far milder than Scandinavia--Lyr's deep, everpresent sea and dense, moist air are too big a heat reservoir for that. Snow blankets the north and the great volcanoes, but only occasionally dusts the desert or southern coast.
With Lyr tilting 36 degrees, much of Scania's past the arctic circle--the midwinter dark should last months, by the logic of geometry. But it doesn't. Lyr's an example of how heavyweights can bend rules. The dense atmosphere, six times Earth's, drops off quickly in the higher gravity. This highly layered air creates a strong lensing effect, bending sunlight five to ten degrees around the big planet's curve. At the equinox, days last seven hours, nights only five! It happens on Earth, too, by the way--the setting sun you see is already a degree or so below the horizon, extending our days several minutes. Similarly, in Scania the sun lies below the horizon in midwinter, yet there it is low in the noonday skies, shining innocently...
Still, winter days are short, and the far north really does see a month-long winter dark--well, dusk. But all Scania has a midnight sun through much of the summer--if you see any sun at all.
For across much of Scania, the chill rains never let up. Seattle squared! Cooped up during these long, damp winters, the local people, gryphons, tend to drive each other crazy and start fighting. Even well-insulated gryphons prefer to migrate to the bright summer isles far to the south, letting the megachickens forage on their own, even if they end up half mad and half dead. Better them than you. Instead of Milton's "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven", the gryphonic equivalent is:
Better to starve in SpringTROLLHEIM
Than duel in Winter.
The northern half of Scania, Trollheim is as big as Alaska, and nearly as cold. Massive Mt Bolverk dominates north Trollheim--a glaciated shield volcano over 3 km (2 mi) high, like an arctic Mauna Loa. Bolverk's the largest single icefield in the northern hemisphere, 400 km (250 mi) across. Around the icy heights lies a broad ring of foothills, just low grass and frost-tossed stone--it could be Iceland. But the weather's damper, the winters milder; some of these south-facing valleys have stunted, pioneer trees.
And as we fly southeast, the land drops and softens. Trees straighten up and grow denser, until low woodlands huddle around milky Lake Gora. This is by far the largest lake on Trollheim, some 240 km across (150 mi). The Gora Basin is lush compared to the north, looking more Swedish than Icelandic--a Sweden dotted with stone gryphon keeps.
At the Gora River's mouth, though, the cold wind returns; Cape Gora's a chill, windy finger crooking 500 km (320 mi) northeast. Back in the Arctic again! To the south are the low, rocky Leea Hills--just pale grass ridges and black woods in the hollows, until you cross the crest and reach the south-facing side. Tall, luxuriant evergreens, deep green in the low sun, and rich meadows full of flowers. Not warm, exactly, but mild; to a well-insulated gryphon, it's a subtropical paradise. You ride the gentle wind down to the shores of Leea Sound.
This strait divides Trollheim from Ilrede, the southern half of Scania. Leea Sound is deep and cold, with very fast currents. It's 650 km long and 150-200 km wide; though horizons are wide on Lyr, the low hills of the far shore are just over it, invisible except near each end of the strait. We'll veer east, where Leea narrows to 40 km (25 mi), and cross to Ilrede ("eel raid a").
The high-orbital photo to right shows all Scania in low sunset light, emphasizing the rugged terrain. Unfortunately the fjords are largely lost in the shadow of the Imric Range, stretching miles out to sea. This dramatic shot also catches something rare: notice the specular gleam on the great sea-swells south of Ilrede? That's not the sun glaring on the water--it's to the left, remember? That's the combined light of Lyr's two largest moons, Manannan (as big as Pluto) and Oisin, as big as Mercury. Their icy faces shine far brighter than dull rocky Luna. Pooled, their moonlight's almost a second sun.
This shore of Leea sound is a bit cooler, since it slopes away from the sun. It resembles ancient Ireland--dark conifer woods, cool and damp, but rarely freezing at sea level. But as we fly south, Ilrede's hills hump into the jagged Imric Mts, with wide alpine meadows and, increasingly, small glaciers. The Imrics run north-south 1600 km (1000 mi), with peaks up to 3600 meters high (12,000').
Leea and Imric, by the way, are the names of legendary lovers--probably real people, leaders of their day, though now as overlain with archetypes as the many layers of Troy. Today they're rolemodels for the sexes in gryphon society: Imric the loyal but jealous and impetuous male, forced to become a resistance leader when their homeland was invaded after drought disturbed the hunting ranges of Scania, and forced (far harder) to forgive Leea's many affairs; Leea, the gentler, more thoughtful female who risks her bond with Imric by mating with traditional enemy nomadic chiefs, winning their support and bringing peace to the land. The message, "make love not war", resonates for gryphons precisely because they find it so hard to avoid squabbling over territory and mates.
Sphinxes or pegasi find Leea's behavior simple commonsense and Imric's absurd, but gryphons still struggle with a double standard: males promiscuous but jealous, herding "their" females, who, as sensuous as lionesses, like to mate outside the clan. In marital squabbles all over Scania, Imric and Leea still come up daily, arguing for sexual equality, tolerance and forgiveness, outbreeding, and peacemaking.
On our left, the Imrics drop steeply into the sea, in spectacular misty fjords with cliffs up to a km tall (3300'), green and laced with waterfalls. None of the fjords are too long, for a small trench offshore makes the drop-off quite steep.
Though we're getting pretty far south for gryphons, the wretched weather keeps them comfortably cool.
You see light under the clouds to the west, over the crest, and veer over a pass. It's true--the clouds quickly thin to streamers. The sunny side of Ilrede! But there's a cost: drought. The alpine meadows grow scruffy like a worn rug, and great gashes dissect the Imrics into a maze of canyons. The walls are largely bare red rock, their bottoms dry grass.
You spot a line of round holes in a cliff, like the nests of swallows the size of movie producers. But they're not any such low, unintelligent form of life--they're floxes, winged coyote-like creatures who dig elaborate cliffdwellings and farm these sunny canyon bottoms--warmer than their altitude or latitude suggests, because they're so wind-sheltered.
You grab hold of your courage and land on a ledge and walk into the darkness...
Some Lyrans you've met described floxes as not fully people, preferring to call them things like "pre-people", so you're wondering if they'll say hello, hump your leg, or try to eat you. It's almost disappointing--all they do is enthusiastically show you their apartments, their (quite elegant) pottery, and invite you to dinner. Clearly, floxes are friendly as dogs, and a lot smarter.
Flox cuisine makes you a convert. These scruffy little winged canines may be lousy at math but they're the best cooks you've met on Lyr--starchy reed-piths tasting like potatoes spiked with cardamom, huge rubbery flowers tasting like mint and mustard, a fiery-sour-smoky sauce on what you'd swear were thumb-sized beans, and blue salad smelling like ginger, cucumber-cool, washed down with a startling, strongly aromatic wine (well, fermented fruit juice of some kind) rather like Greek retsina. These canines could argue food with the French--and win. It's enough to make you wish for a big wet doggy nose yourself...
Downstream, these dry flox-canyons open out into a great prairie or steppe covering all western Ilrede, out to the sea. Those readers who came here from the previous regional tour, of Ythri, will find it familiar--this coastal steppe is much like the Shielding Islands 1-2000 km to the west. But the Ilrede Steppe is even drier, with badlands, mesas capped in dry grass, and broad, shallow, stony riverchannels, only navigable during the spring melt, and even then only in small boats and trade-rafts. What'd the pioneers say about the Platte River, "a mile wide and an inch deep"?
To a Terran this sounds all wrong--deserts should be inland and hot, shouldn't they? But Lyr's rather stripy climate belts, driven by its fast rotation (think of Jupiter!) create two desert zones: a quite Earthlike one centered on 18 degrees north/south, and a cooler zone of dry falling air and winds from the east at this latitude: the Dry Fifties. Even so, the desert wouldn't be here except for bad geological luck: the Imric Range rises upwind, casting a rain-shadow. All those misty fjords weren't just Nordic scenery thrown in for drama. They're water-thieves! Level the mountains, and all Ilrede would be a rolling green prairie. Instead, the fjords are mist-wrapped and rain-soaked most of the year, while the steppe is dry gold streaked with rusts and reds: drought-tolerant bunch-grass fraying to bare earth in spots. On Lyr, as it is on Earth, "if it ain't flood it's drought..."
These broad dry prairies are pegasus country. At first glance the name's appropriate: winged horselike creatures. Of course, even Lyr's dense air can't support fliers as heavy as horses. Pegasi are smaller than Terran deer (and MUCH lighter: hollow bones!). No hooves, of course: clever paws adept at perching in trees and picking fruit.
But they are like deer and horses in one way: rather than herding or hunting like gryphons, these semi-nomadic people can crop the grass themselves! New grass, at least; they're more like gorillas than deer in terms of cracking cellulose. I'm skeptical that any true ruminant can fly--the heavy jaws and teeth needed for grass and the bacterial chemical plant needed to process the stuff are just too heavy.
Not that pegasi really rely on grazing any more, except in drought. Over the last few millennia they've learned to supplement new foliage, buds and wild fruit with a lot of energy-rich produce from irrigated gardens and straggly orchards in wind-sheltered valleys.
Pegasus clans rotate between several sites during the year, following the rains and fresh growth. A typical pegasus village/camp spends much of the year lying empty and bannerless; but the sketch above shows a camp in its active phase, when poles rise before each low earthen lodge, nodding in the cool wind, bearing bright herd banners.
The designs vary freely--it's the color scheme that's fixed. Pegasi read color more than shape, and each palette designates a clan.
Over one badland straight out of Dakota, you meet a family of sphinxes passing by, heading for the neighboring Ythri region (a mere 10,000 km to the west--next door, on Lyr). They pause in their long journey to wheel like gulls, shouting in admiration at the sheer splendor of the fluted crags below.
Humans call such dissected terrain "badlands" because we're ground animals. But these winged Lyrans have a term for them too--and it translates "attractivelands" or even "suggestivelands." Where we picture blocked paths, deadly drops, a maze, thirst... they characterize such badlands as sensual, almost flirtatious--they imagine rubbing up against them, feeling those wonderful, sexy landforms!
This mid-air meeting shows you just how much one's body shapes experience, experience shapes expectation, expectation shapes emotions--and esthetics.
The ultimate sculpture is soul-sculpture, and nature carves us as patiently and deeply as she carves the badlands--no, sexylands--sprawled beneath you... like amorous, tawny sphinxes.
Slowly Ilrede narrows. You return to the mountains, riding the tricky winds south, dodging clouds for an occasional clear view. Out on the eastern horizon, you catch glimpses of the Raimberges, an arc of hilly wooded islands that runs a good 1000 km (625 mi), from Ilrede's shore halfway to Troisleons. Most are modest, but Raimberge itself is 300 km (190 mi) long. We won't veer left to explore them: halfway to Troisleon's not good enough. Our way lies south, riding the crest-winds.
At last the Imric glaciers fail. The alps soften to wooded hills and coastal bluffs, and at last they founder in the sea. Ilrede's mild southern tip! Pegasus country--you haven't seen a gryphon all day. These south-facing lowlands are too warm for them.
Here the pegasi show an unexpected talent: those little arroyo-orchards of the Ilrede Steppe here grow into lush, huge treetop farms, with trees selected for color as well as nutritional value. The pegasi eat foliage, fruit, and nuts with equal gusto. They may have looked horselike in my last sketch, but now you see the evolutionary pressure creating those dexterous paws: no horse ever climbed about in trees like this.
This won't have surprised readers who've journeyed through the Aesir Islands in the Ythri Cluster, 5000 km to the west. Like that mild chain, this warm, sheltered stretch of Ilrede is near the southern end of the pegasi range.
While not a sharply distinct race, these fair-weather pegasi are noticeably smaller and leaner, with a short pelt--looking more like winged greyhounds than the shaggy Icelandic ponies the northerners resembled.
This sketch from Cape Raimberge gives some idea of the difference--in style as well as body. The northerners, though highly sensual, tend to be tactile, snuggling like puppies--and why not? They need the warmth. But here in the balmy south, pegasi stretch and fan their wings to enjoy the cool breeze, flirting visually instead of by touch. Oh, they still pet and lick in public displays of intimacy no human would dare--but strangers here don't greet you with a rugby pile-up on top of you! And that's exactly how they said hello in the longhouses of Trollheim.
The next day, you flap south over an easy channel to a pleasant wooded island. Another lies on the southern horizon. On you go, in hour-long hops all day, south to Durindal.
Durindal's a slender island 650 km (450 mi) long, about midway between Scania and mainland Troisleons to the south. Like Ilrede's southern tip, it's a world apart from the somber Nordic lands we've been traversing. Forests here are lush and streaked with white, pink, yellow, royal blue--flowering pegasus orchards in the valleys and hills. Evergreens on the heights, broken only by alpine meadows on the shoulders of volcanic Mt Durindal, 3200 m high (10,700'), which sports a few glaciers. Base to top, Durindal's more than Himalayan, but it stands in water many miles deep. Lyr hides so much of its ruggedness under that blue veil...
For tomorrow is an unbroken day-long flight of 670 km (420 mi) over deep water rom Channel Isle to one of the few true continents on this ocean-drowned world: Troisleons.
TOUR LYR! The following route snakes around Lyr, covering all major features:
Ythri -- Polesotechnic Chain -- Troisleons -- Roland -- Oronesia -- Gaiila -- Flandry -- Diomedes -- Ak'hai'i -- Averorn
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