The wilderness of the sundered world is inhabited by an array of prehistoric creatures, some of them, like the saber-cats, monstrous and frightening, and others merely monstrous...
The short-faced bear is one of the deadliest predators to be encountered in the foothills and mountains. Much larger than a grizzly, it has long, sinewy limbs, an arched back, and a famously flat muzzle. A swift runner, it is utterly fearless, and contemptuous of man. Ironically, the proportions of its limbs and its flat face together serve to give the short-face an eerily human-like appearance. Short-faced bears rely more on meat for their diet than do their more omnivorous cousins. The threat posed by short-faced bears and saber-cats is the chief reason why the windows of mountain homes and inns are heavily fortified with bars. The aged short-face called Splayfoot was a common sight round Skylingden Wood, high above the town of Shilston Upcot, in The House in the High Wood.
A more solitary species than the short-face, the cave bear is more like your typical omnivorous grizzly in appearance, behavior, and diet. Known to overwinter in mountain caves.
About the size of a timber wolf, dire wolves are common in woods and forests throughout the realm. Their eerie wails are often heard in the night round remote farmsteads and mountain villages.
A blessed ugly creature, flat-heads are especially common in the woods and marshes of the fen counties. The flat-head is almost as fearsome a monster as a saber-cat, if smaller in size. True to its name its head is flat at the top, and sports a thicket of furry black hair. The head itself is oversized as compared to the rest of the body, and littered with an array of bony protuberances. The muzzle is long and tapers to a piggish snout. The ears are elongated and pointed at the tips; the eyes are small, red, and sly. Two pairs of tusks, gnarled and twisted, jut at odd angles from the upper and lower jaws. The limbs and loins of the flat-head are exceedingly stout, and the body is covered with short, thick hair.
According to tradition, sturdy Fenshiremen of yore once hunted flat-heads on the marshes and in Marley Wood; but this was centuries ago, before the sundering. The sport is rumored to persist, however, in certain of the wilder and less-frequented districts of Slopshire. The flat-head has a featured role in A Tangle in Slops.
The island fox is a dwarf species found on the southern islands round Nantle, and is frequently domesticated (see Strange Cargo). The powdered fox is a forest species, having a coppery coat finely stippled with white, and a snowy brush; it is most common in tracts of woodland in the fen counties.
This is a large, tortoise-like mammal native to far southern climes. Over the years infant specimens have been brought north by traders and merchant sea-captains and sold as pets. The body of the glyptodont (or "glypt") is encased in a shell of bony armor, from beneath which four clawed feet protrude on legs very broad and squat. It has the furry cheeks and muzzle and velvet ears of a beaver, and two timid little eyes peering from under a bony head-shield. The tail often terminates in a large, spiked protuberance or club, which serves as an effective weapon. Immature glypts are popularly used as footstools by their owners. (Like footstools, glyptodonts are not known for their speed). A fully-grown adult can reach the size of a drawing-room sofa, at which point it must be housed out-of-doors. In Bertram of Butter Cross, Vicar Ludlow of Market Snailsby owns a pet glypt named Hortense, which he acquired from the trader Hicklebeep of Strange Cargo fame. As a species, glypts are remarkably long-lived; in one instance a lifespan of some 150 years has been documented.
A variant species, similarly long-lived, is the so-called lesser glyptodont, Glyptodontus minutus - also known as a pocket glypt. A toy version of the rather larger Glyptodontus species, a pocket glypt figures prominently in Where The Time Goes.
There are several species of lions. Among them the spotted lion is occasionally seen on the marshes of Fenshire, Slopshire, and Lingonshire. It is larger than a saber-cat, and its clouded spots and thick collar of fur, similar in hue, provide instant identification. By contrast its reclusive cousin the cave lion is an inhabitant of the mountain country, chiefly in Broadshire, Chestershire, and Ruffolk. Generally these animals are not as common as saber-cats or short-faced bears.
For many years rumors have been circulating that members of this majestic race still tread the snowy wilderness to the north of Saxbridge, but sightings have been extremely rare. Little is known of the movements and habits of these giants, if they do indeed still exist. It is thought they may share some similarities with those of their distant cousins the mastodons.
Island dwarf mammoth
By comparison this species of mammoth can still be found, albeit reduced in numbers, on the southern islands off the coast of Nantle. As indicated by the name, this is a dwarf branch of the family, a kind of "pocket edition" pachyderm - a stout little creature with a woolly head, an impish eye, and an inquisitive trunk. The coat is thick and shaggy, like that of the red mastodon, and varies in hue from black to brown to yellow (the latter being the color of Mustard, Mr. Threadneedle's pet mammoth at Smithy Bank, as described in Strange Cargo). Like its distant cousins the mastodons, the island dwarf mammoth is a long-lived creature; in one instance a lifespan of eighty years has been recorded.
There are two chief varieties of mastodon, or "thunder-beast" - so named because of the shaking of the ground that often is felt upon their approach, owing to their tremendous size and bulk. "There's nothing can stop a thunder-beast" is a common saying among the mastodon men.
This is the most common type of mastodon. It is characterized by a shaggy, mahogany-colored hide that resembles thatching, arched tusks, large ears and eyes, and a knobby head. Fully grown a red mastodon stands some fifteen to eighteen feet at the shoulder. Until recently red mastodons were used extensively throughout the realm for the long-distance transport of both cargo and passengers. Since the clearing of the coach-roads, however, their numbers have been in decline. Indeed the sight of a mastodon train - two or more thunder-beasts traveling in single-file under the control of drivers, the so-called "mastodon men" - on the highways of the sundered world is slowly turning into a rarity. They are most common in the mountainous districts, where coach travel remains treacherous. Ironically most of the coach-roads follow the paths of ancient trackways that thunder-beasts of all stripes have been traversing for centuries.
Mastodon equipage includes a passenger-cab, which is mounted at the shoulders and carries a driver and up to six or seven passengers. Cord-ladders unfurled from the cabs are used for the loading and unloading of passengers. Mastodons carrying freight have as well a series of canvas-covered compartments (called a "freight platform") mounted along the flanks on either side of the animal, behind the cab. The straps or surcingles supporting the platform are slung across the back, with blankets underneath them to protect the hide, and with a girth or cinch round the belly, and attached tug-lines. The harness, including the reins, usually is black, with silver points, and often carries an assortment of bells - providing the "merry jingle of bells and harness" that accompanies the thunder of a mastodon's pounding limbs.
Most mastodon trains are run as true family concerns. Not only are the mastodon men (and women) usually members of the same family, but the mastodons themselves often are brothers, sisters, or cousins of one another. From earliest infancy mastodons are trained to follow a bright red pennant held aloft on a long pole - the so-called "flutter-stick." Flutter-sticks are useful when driving a herd, or in long trains for freight transport when individual drivers are unavailable. Every passenger-cab is required to have a driver, however, in which case flutter-sticks need not be employed. Mr. Icks and his associates in Dark Sleeper, having acquired the mastodons of Mr. Hoakum, used flutter-sticks when driving the beasts southward towards Crow's-end on the old fell trail.
This southern cousin of the red mastodon has been found to be eminently useful for the clearing and mending of coach-roads. The coat of the shovel-tusker is steely gray and shorter than that of the shaggy red. In size shovel-tuskers are even larger than their cousins, standing some eighteen to twenty feet at the shoulder. They have broad, elongated scoop- or shovel-like jaws and tusks, which are ideally suited to logging and digging. Typically a working team of some dozen or so shovel-tuskers is needed when clearing a roadway. Such a team of road-builders is featured in Bertram of Butter Cross. A lesser variety of the tusker breed is the so-called "dwarf tusker", as exemplified by Cowcatcher in The Thing in the Close.
The last of the famed styracotheres, this peculiar race of giant quadrupeds is a rarity now everywhere but in Slopshire, where for centuries they have been employed in local hauling and transport. All megalops in harness are females, the male of the species being considered too fierce for taming.
They are enormous animals - easily the match of the largest bull mastodon ever to have walked the boggy shire of Slops. The megalops is enveloped in a thick coat of fur of a dismal dun color, from its long swish-tail (of which it makes considerable use) to its great heaving mountain of shoulder and gigantic head. It is the head that most attracts the attention of onlookers - an immense ugly long gourd of a thing, with a blunt nose and a hanging jaw, a limp tongue, two big quenched-looking sleepy eyes, and a pair of backswept horns, high-arched and flattened at the tips like the claws of a hammer. (Hence "claw-horn," the other term by which the homely megalops is known.) The megalops walks with a curious lurching, swaying gait, caused by the animal's being a pacer - both feet on the same side lifting in unison, the which, in rhythm with the swing of the head and tail to and fro, acts to produce the ungainly lunging from side to side.
In animals used for transport, the backward rake of the horns and incessant turnings of the head dictate that the cab be placed atop the skull - of necessity a small cab with space only for the driver, who maneuvers his mount with a pair of driving-reins and a whip - rather than at the shoulders as is common with mastodons. Upon each side of the animal is hung a sort of combined passenger-cab and freight platform - so-called "side cabs" - in which travelers are subjected to a ceaseless ordeal of pitching and tossing, like so many corns in a pepper-pot. For this reason, persons in the know who are going into Slopshire frequently travel by mastodon train, or even by coach, both being preferable to a harrowing journey in the side cab of a snorting, swaying, galumphing megalops. The megalops has a featured role in A Tangle in Slops.
The megathere is a species of giant ground sloth, common in forested areas of the lowlands and mountains. Adults of the species grow to an immense size - as large as a crofter's cottage, and twice as tall when standing upon their hind limbs to feed in the trees. The coat is dense and wiry, and the underlying flesh embedded with scores of minute bony nodules, or ossicles, which act as a discouragement to predators. The face of the megathere is long and heavy, with massive jaws and squared-off nostrils, sleepy eyes, and tiny ears planted far back on the head. The limbs are long and paddle-like with a queer inward curvature. The claws are enormously powerful and are used to scour the earth for tubers, and for self-defense. The movements of a megathere are slow and ponderous, and most of its daily activities are centered around feeding. Megatheres have a serene disregard for the human species, owing no doubt to their size and the strength and power of this limbs, claws, and teeth. Not actively aggressive, they can be fearsome fighters when aroused. Megatheres have been featured in both Dark Sleeper and The House in the High Wood.
The mylodon, a smaller, more agile, more aggressive cousin of the megathere, is occasionally seen in the foothills and in the marshy counties of the realm. It easily can be mistaken for a juvenile megathere - with unfortunate results. Like its cousin, the mylodon's coppery hide is embedded with scores of bony ossicles, which cause arrows to glance harmlessly from its hide. The mylodon has a featured role in A Tangle in Slops.
A relative rarity, the moropus is a formidable and disagreeable beast, and, in the words of young Tim Christmas, "a proper stinkpot." The odor given off by a moropus is not to be believed; it is said to be something like a boar's stall and something like bilge, compounded by the stench of rotting orchids - only worse! The moropus is a hulking creature standing some twenty hands at the withers, and resembles a cross between a Shire horse and a megathere. Its coat is of an odd purplish hue like mulberries, with a jet-black mane and markings. The hind limbs are considerably shorter than the forelegs, and as a result the back of the megathere slopes sharply downward from the withers to its immense loins and hocks. In place of hooves the moropus has padded feet and megathere-like claws, which it uses for rooting in the ground. It has a long, thick head with ears slung far back, and a dim, sleepy gaze (the latter does not impair its eyesight, however, for the aim of the moropus when spitting is as legendary as its aroma). Mr. Threadneedle of Smithy Bank found himself the unfortunate owner of a moropus named Ladycake, a holdover from his late wife's time, in Strange Cargo.
Herds of this giant species are said to roam the snowy wastes north of Saxbridge, but, as in the case of the imperial mammoth, sightings have been rare.
There are two chief varieties:
A mountain species, the highland reindeer can be recognized by its sooty brown fur, white belly and hind parts, and towering antlers. It is relatively uncommon, having been reduced now in range to the fringes of the realm. In the mountains of Ruffolk, highland reindeer have been trained by some of the locals to draw sledges through the snow (see Anchorwick).
This white-coated species is rumored to inhabit the snowy wilderness north of Saxbridge, in company with the imperial mammoth, musk ox, and woolly rhinoceros.
Saber-cats are far and away the most common and deadliest creatures to be encountered on the road and in the mountains. There are several varieties:
Tawny mountain cat
This is the standard highland species. Like all saber-cats it is of enormous size - as big as a plough-horse and twice as strong, with a curved pair of saber-teeth protruding from its upper jaw. These teeth, which are as long, sharp, and glistening as carving-knives, are used for stabbing prey. The neck of the cat is thick and powerful, the limbs short and sturdy, and the feet armed with deadly claws. The back slopes downward to the haunches and a tail that is short and brush-like. It is the female of the species that does most of the hunting (a feature common to most saber-cat varieties). In color the mountain cat is a tawny yellow. The ferocity and ill-temper of these creatures are well-known throughout the realm, and it is no coincidence that mastodon trains have retained their dominance in those districts of where mountain cats are plentiful.
A stripe-bodied variety of saber-cat with shorter sabers, the scimitar-cat is found most often in southern counties such as Gloamshire (see Strange Cargo).
The dirk-tooth cat or "marsh devil" is common in the fen counties (see Bertram of ButterCross and A Tangle in Slops). The twin saber-teeth of this species are straight rather than curved, hence the name "dirk-tooth." It can be recognized as well by its flaming yellow eyes and tawny hide. Like its cousins it is a ferocious, ill-tempered beast, and greatly feared. The dirk-tooth is at home on the marshes of Fenshire, Slopshire, and Lingonshire as it is in the gloomy dark aisles of Marley Wood.
Several species of tapir can be found in the mountain meadows, on the high moorland of Broadshire, and on the southern islands off the coast of Nantle.
The teratorn is a huge, vulture-like bird of prey. Its feathers are pitchy-black in color save for those of the head and neck, which are a brilliant crimson. It has sharp, cold eyes, a fearsome beak that is strongly hooked, and talons as cutting as razors. Not only a scavenger but a formidable hunter as well, its keen sense of smell is the stuff of legend. It has been claimed that several teratorns acting in concert are powerful enough to bring down a saber-cat. Teratorns are known to abhor coastal fogs, and as a result are rarely to be found near the seacoast cities. When spotted there their appearance is popularly viewed as a sign of bad luck to come. It is for this reason that teratorns are known commonly as "birds of evil omen." Teratorns are specially featured in The House in the High Wood.
Like the imperial mammoth and musk ox, herds of woolly rhinoceros are rumored to exist in the snowy wastes to the north of Saxbridge town.
A species of toothed whale, the zeug is the chief predator inhabiting the sundered seas. Vastly larger and more ferocious than sharks, zeugs are greatly feared by mariners. With their long, serpent-like bodies, glossy backs and arching spines, and ferocious mouths filled with teeth, zeugs are true leviathans of the deep. Commonly referred to as "serpent-behemoths" and "great gliding monsters of the deep," they can be viewed as the saber-cats of the sea. Their teeth, which along with their lightning-like speed are their chief weapons, are widely sought-after by mariners and landlubbers alike as collectors' items. Zeugs have a featured role in Strange Cargo.
Featured image of Rancho LaBrea by Charles R. Knight.