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Hesperian Isles

by Chris Wayan, 2006

dedicated to Poul Anderson for his remarkable world-building

Lyr (home) - map - creatures - cultures - evolution - climate - geology - gazetteer - nomenclature - definitions - building Lyr - more worlds? Planetocopia!

First-time orientation--strongly advised! Lyr is weird. Map of the Ythri land-cluster, on Lyr, a world-building experiment.

INTRODUCTION: YTHRI

This tour covers the western and northern Ythri region, an area nearly the size of Earth, dotted with far-flung island chains, from tropical to subarctic. We'll set foot on the largest continent in the world, Corona, but mostly we'll island-hop around its central landmass--Corona deserves a tour of its own.

All told, the Ythri Cluster contains over 15 million square km (6 M sq mi), a bit smaller than South America. Corona, its heart, is over two-thirds of that; a bit larger than Europe, the USA or Canada.

Though they may look small on the map, three of these islands, Wharr and Ferune and Hesperia, are nearly continental themselves--Sumatras and Madagascars. Together, these islands of the Hesperian and Avalon Seas comprise nearly 2 million square km (as big as Indonesia or Greenland--and it partakes, as we'll see, of both.)

Still, this is one of the most oceanic of the regional tours, full of long hard inter-island flights. Make sure your strap-on wings don't chafe. And get used to aching shoulders anyway.

And the color blue.
Orbital photo of the Ayan Islands, a forking chain on a plate boundary, leading to the Ythri region on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world. Click to enlarge.

THE AYANS

We'll enter the Ythri region the way most Lyrans do--from the Ayan Islands in the southwest. This forking chain of modest islets in the southern Hesperian Sea, between Oronesia and Corona, is the safest flyway--by island-hopping, fliers never need cross more than 1600 km (1000 mi) of deep sea. (I said safest, not safe.)

The Ayans are Hawaiian in size but not in origin. This is a plate boundary; the sea floor to the east slips under the west, and at the edge it's stacked double--just enough to raise this modest chain. Earth has a close analogue: the Mariana and Bonin Islands in the western Pacific.

None of the Ayans is over 100 km (65 mi) long, and many vital links in the chain are little bigger than Oahu--on Lyr's scale, mere specks.

The southern Ayans are in a drybelt--savanna and aromatic rather Mediterranean scrub on the coastal plains, rising to patchily wooded hills. Drinking water is scarce, and summer droughts here can interrupt world travel. But day by day, as we fly north, the islands grow a bit greener, water more reliable.

At first the Ayans seem empty of people. In reality you've seen dozens of locals--it takes a day or two before you realize you've mistaken them for grazing animals. Understandable, since they are grazing animals! The only intelligent species comfortable in these hot dry grasslands are antel--small winged deer, with sparse material culture but rich inner lives. Antel woman spreading her wings to show the white underside

Since antel are quite handless, with delicate hooves that could be off any Terran grazer, it may puzzle you I said sparse material culture inastead of no material culture--until they open their mouths. Their tongues are forked and half a meter long--quite able to grasp and manipulate (or should I say langipulate?)

Really, no need to be embarrassed. So you thought the islands were uninhabited! You're an ape from an ape culture that took millennia to notice cetacean and elephant intelligence... and antel are terribly shy. They wheel and gawk at you and whisper, flashing their white underwings to tell the whole archipelago you're here... but not one is brave enough to talk to you.

Things are greener in the northern Ayans, for they merely border the dry belt--denser trees cover the hills and dot the plains. Creeks are reliable now. You spot your first village--of wood and stone, on a clifftop by the sea. Fishers of some sort? Clearly it's not antel-built--you can't raise large beams with your tongue! Great seabirds wheel around in the updrafts over the cliffs.

Oh. Those are the people.

They're sphinxes! Or as near to the Terran myth as no matter--winged cats with rather humanoid heads and clever paws... Arched doorway opening on a cliff over the sea where three sphinxes wheel and dive, fishing.

You sleep in their village, a guest. Just don't sleepwalk! If you absent-mindedly step out the west door of your bedroom instead of the east, it's a fifty-meter drop into the sea. Every sphinx house is carved into rock on the sea-cliff brink, so one can step conveniently into air...

Despite the risks, you stay every night after that with the sphinxes. They're too beautiful and friendly to resist... as curious and playful as cats, with minds as agile as their bodies, full of eager questions about your own people. They nap and wake around the clock, and make little distinction between dreaming and waking. Their thoughts leap oddly, tinged with dream-logic.

Now you know why their Trade name translates so neatly as "sphinxes".

You're welcomed with feasts of high-calorie seafood or fruit, nuts and "dairy" products, then a lot of music and partying and toothy flirtation.

Don't expect to get more than, well, catnaps, since quite a few curious singles (and a couple or two) will try crawling into bed with the interesting stranger, just to see what happens. It's not quite the demented snuffling puppy-heap that pegasi prefer (sphinxes have claws, after all) but even for human tourists from relatively uninhibited cultures, sphinxes' public seductiveness can be a bit overwhelming.

But don't panic. Such overtures are less of a minefield than in human cultures; sphinx customs are flexible, a joke is always appropriate; and only coldness is truly rude.
Female sphinx arching her back and raising her tail flirtatiously.

Despite their looks, sphinx psychology is more like Terran bonobos than big cats: touch (sexual or not) is a public tension-reducer and social glue; it's fighting that's taboo. In the ten days or so that it takes to fly the length of the Ayan Chain, it's unlikely you'll see a single claw bared in jealousy or rage.

At last the Ayans end. Now comes the difficult hop to mainland Corona--an all-day flight...

And Corona is a mainland! The largest single landmass in the world: 11.4 million square kilometers, (4.5 M sq mi), larger than Europe, and with much milder winters. It's the heart of Ythri, with 70% of the cluster's land.

CAPE LYTHRAN

You land exhausted on Cape Lythran, the eastern tip of Corona. A hilly oval 1500 km (900 mi) long, it's warm, mild, rainy and wooded. Long beaches, warm water, and fruit everywhere. Take your time exploring--from here, you have a choice to make as to your route.

Below, I'll explore the million square miles of islands in the Hesperian and Avalon Seas, then return through northern Corona--Holm, Long Reach, the Gray Range. But you can skip this part (I admit there's a northern stretch that's lonely, cold, and difficult), and lounge around Centauri Bay for the next month, enjoying the sandy beaches around the mouth of the Sagittarius River, a mere thousand miles east along the shore--a few easy mornings on the wing. There you can wait and swim, rejoining the northern travelers in a month or two, and fly up Corona's spectacular southern coast--the Andromeda Range. Map of Corona, the chief continent of the Ythri cluster, on Lyr, a world-building experiment.

From Centauri Bay in southwest Corona, you fly north, up into the gentle Lythran Hills. They look like Tuscany or parts of northern California, with mixed forests and patchy meadows and small farms (mostly sphinx, but you spot some busy little winged creatures in the distance, cranking a well).

Slowly the hills descend again to the sea. We sleep overlooking the shore, and the next morning, set out over the sea. A few hours later, you spot land--the green hills of Wharr.

THE BRENDAN ISLES

Southernmost of the Brendan Islands, Wharr is huge--a rough crescent 1100 km long (700 mi). The climate's still warm but wetter than Lythran. Subtropical rainforest covers Wharr. Unlike Lythran, there are no gaps, none of the drama from low fields to round "oaks" to tall "pines", from brown to gold to green to dark conifers. Wharr's woods are uniformly tall--and verdant.

Here you meet your first canopy dwellers. Several of Lyr's rainforests--temperate or equatorial--evolved small, clever treetop peoples who have settled worldwide--wherever the understory is so close and dark that ground-dwellers don't do flourish. On Terra, the human response is to "clear" the trees; on Lyr, another species of people simply predominates.

High orbital view of western Corona and the Brendan Isles, on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world.
Sketches of griffets, small, intelligent quadrupedal mammals with birdlike wings but fur, claws, and large, nocturnal eyes set in a rather human face--except for the huge ears.

Here on Wharr, they're griffets--winged little creatures, half-parrot half-cat, living in basket-villages in the rainforest canopy, cultivating fruit and nut trees. Every griffet village has an oversize guest hut. They welcome you--chattering, noisy, friendly catbirds who perch and climb on you trustingly. You find yourself petting them without thinking, then worry you'll offend them--but you can't. Griffets are demonstrative with each other, too.

And expressive! For every word, a gesture--for every thought, a pose. It's not drama--griffet thoughts are kinesthetic, not visual or verbal. They can't help acting out! It's surprisingly readable to a human--more so than their fast, chittered speech, though they do use the common tongue.

There's no space here to detail griffet culture... but as you cross Wharr your impression changes--from comical, chattering little creatures to mercurial, unpretentious, warm-hearted... people.

Flying north, we hop through the Lesser Brendans, a flock of green little islands sheltered between the two giants, Wharr and Ferune, like chicks in a nest. We'll take the shorter western route to Ferune, skipping the long eastern arc that culminates in Brendan proper, a chunk of lowland, temperate rainforest 300 km long. The western islets are pretty enough, and at this latitude, every little rock has fruit trees and a spring. Scattered Edens!

At least if you like sphinx sushi.
Orbital view of the green Brendan Is. (Ferune at top, Wharr in foreground), on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world.

At last, what seems a continent creeps over the long Lyran horizon. Ferune's like a warmer Britain, 1500 km long (950 mi) and half as wide--plains and gentle hills, all mantled in green woods. But not rainforest; at last we're past the rainbelt's heart. More sphinxes live here, for it's a bit too cool for griffets, who evolved on the southeastern isle of Lokon, near the equator. They've managed to settle Wharr, but... maybe in another century.

After the chattering, crowded woods of Wharr, Ferune's forests feel silent. They aren't, in the literal sense--small winged and arboreal creatures hoot and sing--but villages are small and lonely. Inland Ferune's simply between ranges, too cold for griffets, too densely wooded for sphinxes, too warm for gryphons... but you'll meet them soon enough.
An elaffe picking fruit in a sunny clearing in dense woods. Giraffe-like legs and body, but atop the tall but stouter neck is a large head anchoring a prehensile trunk.

Ahead, in an inland valley, you spot tall but rather crude wooden castles. You spiral in and find they're not defensive, but simple barnlike structures. Tall and narrow, a single story, yet up to 10 m (33') high! What are they, barns for farmed giraffes instead of cows?

Half right. The giraffes are the farmers. Their common name translates nicely as elaffes, for reasons that become obvious as soon as you see one's trunk close up, lugging a basket of produce home from her orchards.

Few elaffes live outside their native continent, Troisleons. Their sheer size makes them awkward passengers on a sailboat. But a few families of elaffes are trade and cultural representatives on Hrill and Arinnian, in southern Oronesia; and one visionary family heard of the emptiness of Ferune's interior, and suspected from maps and descriptions that its cool forests resembled those of northern Troisleons.

This is an experimental colony, less than a century old. It's going well, but elaffes live long and reproduce slowly; they still farm only this one valley. Less than an hour later, over silent woods again, you wonder if you dreamed it.

Now we fly west, into the wind, along the spine of Ferune, to the sea. Sleep on a bare green hill above the surf, windswept clear of the somber wood--the first open space, aside from village gardens, you've seen here. Sleep well--it's a long flight out to Hesperia--and it's not just physically far. Prepare for another world.

HESPERIA

The Hesperian Isles stretch 4000 km (2500 mi) west of the Brendans. Hesperia proper is the largest by far, but five more islands are over 300 km across: Keshchyi, Thuriat, Nat, Trauvey and (lastly) First. A curve of red cliffs rising from the sea; the result of a volcanic explosion/caldera collaps larger than Thira.

You land on Trauvey, a great ridge 600 km long (360 mi), curled into a C shape, never more than 80 km (50 mi) across. Like Ferune, thick cool-temperate forest covers Trauvey. Only a few coastal sphinx villages break the great silence. Not just of people: the chatter of small creatures is muted too, for you're a thousand miles straight upwind from Ferune; few small winged species have made it here, and next to no wingless ones. You beat slowly up the slope, fighting the wind, wishing the climb would end... and then it does.

Jagged cliffs yawn beneath you, falling into a dark gulf--Trauvey's hollow heart. Here's the real reason so few species have settled Trauvey. Only five thousand years ago, the volcanic island was twice this size--until, like Thera/Atlantis, it exploded. Today's Trauvey is just a flank of the caldera rising above sea level. All life here died, of course--it might as well have been an H-bomb. Trees have re-covered the slopes, but for an isle this big the species count is abysmally low.
Map of the Hesperian Isles in the western Ythri cluster, on Lyr, a world-building experiment.

One shattered islet rises west of Trauvey--the only shard of the old isle's western half that's still above water. There you sleep in a sphinx village on the cliff-brink. Your bed shudders slightly, though it's carved from living stone: the Hesperian Sea, gnawing at the cliff below.

At dawn, you fly on, into the wind. Just an hour later, a peak humps over the horizon, and in two hours, you land on the shore of First (pronounced more like "fierce" than "furst"). First is a single great shield volcano 250 km (140 mi) wide, a gentler twin to lost Trauvey. No, it more closely resembles Olympus Mons on Mars, for in most places, First drops suddenly away in terminal scarps--cliffs a mile high! Most of the island's a near-plateau 2000 meters up, above most of the clouds--a wide alpine meadow round the summit crater at 3100 m (10,300'). The steep lower slopes are mantled in dark forest and dissected into ridges by the cold rains.

Wheeling over the plateau are great hawklike shapes, soaring where you plod and shiver in the cold headwind. You're plodding out of more than fatigue--Lyr's gravity makes air pressure drop off faster than Earth's. Here, at 2500 m (8000'), your wings have less air to grab--a mere four atmospheres, not six! In Lyr's high gravity, you struggle to stay aloft, nearly dependent on updrafts--reduced to mere Terran hang-gliding.

But the falcon-shapes above you soar. This is the realm of the gryphons. These austere, beautiful, dignified beings dominate the north--not least in their own judgment! Modesty's not a gryphonic virtue.

Over a narrow, islet-studded strait lies Hesperia--a gryphon heartland. It's near-continental--1600 km long by up to 800 wide (1000 by 500 mi). Like First, it's mountainous--fully half the island's over a mile high, and the central Chasuble Range has no passes under 2400 m (8000'), with peaks up to 3800 m (12,600').

Orbital photo of Hesperia, a large island on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world. Click to enlarge.
A crouching gryphon in profile--a large, leonine, winged, beaked, intelligent creature with opposable thumbs. Sketch based on a drawing by Kyle Sarrif of VCL.

The coasts are dense cool-temperate "pine" forest; the inland ridges, a chilly cloudforest wreathed in perpetual mist and drizzle; and above the clouds, alpine meadows sprawl. The southwest coast, in a rainshadow, is the only really dry strip: canyons and steppes falling in shelves to the sea.

Hesperian culture isn't quite typical of gryphons. They evolved 25,000 km away, in the Roland Cluster; Hesperia is a very recent offshoot, founded by spiritual radicals a mere 3600 years ago. Our hosts (and gryphons eagerly host you, hungry for news and new faces) boast they're more progressive than the Old Country--though, really, their once-radical ideas are more mainstream now.

For example, take sexual equality--preached worldwide now in theory at least. In practice, gryphon genes still drive males toward jealousy, overprotection and duels--their ancestral pattern was an alphamale ruling a pack or flock and guarding a (small) harem. But at least no living gryphon culture sanctions wife-biting.

Still, Hesperia is progressive, the heart of reform: you see females out herding, trading in pegasus towns, everywhere, confident and relaxed. Even back in Roland, elders rarely try to arrange mates any more, but there, only males initiate courting. Here, one gryphon girl cheerfully tells you she plans to propose a mating flight with a boy she likes, and no one is shocked.

Another sign of change: in two weeks' travel, you see only one near-duel at dinner (an accusation of infidelity, as usual) and everyone at the table jumped in to stop them--even other males! In Roland the women would, but the men? In the heat of the moment? Oh, they'd feel ashamed later, but...

Really, you have to admire warriors who set out to become peaceful if it kills them...
Two gryphons, with hawklike heads and wings and leonine bodies, between stone arches. One leaps in rage at the other who rears up, claws spread.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. A temperate western continent invaded by quarrelsome, idealistic religious nuts... it's a crude allegory for the Puritan invasion of North America, right?

Wrong. The gryphons weren't invaders--there was no native intelligent life at all, an unusual situation on Lyr. A better analogy might be Ao Tearoa (New Zealand) with the gryphons cast as the Maori--if the Maori had the good luck to be left alone and modernize for a few thousand years without European interference. As on New Zealand, nonintelligent native life on Hesperia did suffer, though fewer species went extinct, since gryphons are tender conservationists of tasty, huntable game populations... and Trauvey's explosion had done a lot of the dirty work already. Few large animals had survived the blastwave, forest fires and ash clouds 1400 Lyran years earlier. The gryphons had no chance to make quasimoas go extinct--they already were.

We won't detour down the southern Hesperian Isles--they're beautiful, but a dead end, and we have far to go. First is Nat, 300 km long, then Thuriat, shaped like a shark tooth 350 km long, and biggest, loneliest, and warmest of all, Keshchyi, 550 km (350 mi) long and nearly 300 wide--a paradise cursed (or blessed) by its isolation. These islands, covered by lush temperate rainforest, are home only to sphinxes and griffets--just too warm for gryphons.

From Hesperia, our way lies northeast--first to the Susin Islands, a 1200-km atoll chain. The Susins are narrow and low but up 120 km (75 mi) long. Wooded, mostly, but with open meadows--way less rain here, without Hesperia's high wall to catch the clouds and pile them up. We rest a full day, for we face a week or two of hard, cold, steady flying. The next isles north are the Outer Brendans--and they're far out indeed. We're now 6400 km (4000 mi) off the mainland of Corona--and much further from anywhere else.

Orbital photo of the small, dry islands northwest of Corona on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world.

Rested? You'd better be. It's fully twenty hours, nonstop, with no rock to perch on, from Susin to Enherrian. 1900 km, 1200 miles. The worst flight I'll make you suffer. I only wish the Outer Brendans were worth it. But they're really just the only flyway available.

THE FAR NORTH Map of the Ythri land-cluster, on Lyr, a world-building experiment.

Well, you were lucky. Only 14 hours, not 20--flying east, there was a steady, strong tailwind to speed you. Winds only modestly affect human jumbo jets, but muscle-powered flight is in the same speed range as the winds. It's why Lyrans are all weather nuts. That, and the way their world's shaped by wind belts.

For example, on this long flight northeast, we left Hesperia's rainbelt, and entered a strange zone unlike any on Earth--a steppe belt. A cool zone (but not polar--part of an extra convection loop we don't have) of dry, descending air, it can sustain some east-coast forests where hills catch rain, but interiors are usually steppe or prairie--even desert--and it often runs right to the western sea, unheard of on Earth. Patagonia's our nearest analogy--and it's an east coast.

But here on Enherrian, at 50 north, the whole island's tall-grass hills, 320 km of them, coast to coast, with woods only along watercourses.

It may not be scenic, but we spend three days here, recovering. You hurt all over. Even 14 hours of ANYTHING nonstop...

Enherrian's not so dull after all. Those herds grazing in the distance, that you assumed were some arctic race of antel and thus too shy to talk to you, weren't antel at all, but pegasi. You should have known, by all the body decoration. Pegasi have four clever paws, not hooves. And they use them--to examine your strap-on wings, your gear, your body, while chatting nonstop. One lands on another's back, squashing her wings, and a squabble ensues. Others pat you reassuringly, then grope you, curious to see if you perhaps have new and interesting genitalia. Definitely not antel! A pegasus, an intelligent, social herbivore of the subpolar zones of Lyr. A small, slender pony with paws not hooves, a short face with large eyes, and large white wings, hovering briefly over a lake; pine woods and snowy peaks behind. Based on a painting by Dena Parrish (LunaCat) of VCL.

In fact, they're not even distant cousins. Pure parallel evolution! Pegasi and antel evolved on grasslands on opposite sides of Lyr--40,000 km apart!

The pegasi seem to wish it was even further. The only time you really insult one is when you say "At first I mistook you for antel." Many pegasi see them as embarrasing parodies of themselves, as some humans feel about monkeys. But do they really see such graceful creatures as ugly? Maybe what they scorn is the antel's shyness. One does mutter "Those deerish wimps!" But you're not sure--they hate even mentioning antel. Hard to trace the roots of a bias!

Let's skip Arrach. Another pegasus isle, cool, turfy, nearly treeless, 95 km long and only 30 wide... and it's 1000 km out of our way, due west, straight into the wind. An exhausting flight at best, and sometimes dangerous--the ocean out there gets rough. The pegasi, hardly a timid bunch, warn against it.

Instead, you head for the Rusa Islands. It's long, but feels easy after that last horror--a mere 1200 km (750 mi) north this time! The Rusas are stark--in the heart of the steppe belt, they're just semi-arid grass hills, treeless even along the few streams. But they offer solid ground, fresh water, and sleep--alone, if you want, or with a heap of novelty-seeking pegasi, if that's your thing.

Orbital photo of the Hesperian Islands north of Corona on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world. Click to enlarge.
Slowly, exhausted from the two long flights, you drift east, downwind, along the three Rusas--each narrow, low, and under 120 km (75 mi) long, and monotonous--just golden prairies. Only at midday when you land for lunch and rest, lying down in the grass to get out of the wind, do you begin to appreciate this country--the hidden flowers, the immense sky. Slowly you recover. Each day's modest gliding gets you further. Cheer up! You've done the worst, gone nearly as far north as you need to.

low, treeless, golden grassy hills.
1000 km downwind is the West Whell group--seven isles in the steppe belt, all of them nearly treeless. Most are narrow and low, but Whell proper is 360 km long (220 mi); it's the only one with a sheltered harbor. Whell Bay's slopes are wooded and the soil rich; the pegasi farm much of it with specialty crops that won't grow out in the wind. Foreground: grinning equine face. Blue eyes, bright lavender mane, obviously dyed. Background: half-timbered, thatched houses wound with flowers, around cove with orange outriggers (wishbone masts); dun hills on horizon.

By now you've adjusted a bit to pegasus ways, and find the busy little town charming, almost Elizabethan--half-timbered houses with whitewashed cob walls (cob is straw-reinforced adobe--it lasts surprisingly well in this prairie belt) with shaggy, rounded woven straw roofs (pretty, but firetraps--everyone belongs to a fire brigade). Aerial courtship dances every clear sunset...

I sketched this mane-dyed pegasus girl down by Whell Harbor. Yes, her mane really was lavender, I'm not exaggerating. Pegasi seem to love lurid color. I saw one young male whose entire coat, including wings, were dyed with red-and-white checkers, like some walking cafe table!

You see luxuriant flowerbushes and vines all over, too. They're never trimmed, though--the more riotous the better. Pegasus eyes seem tuned more to hue than shape.

Another long day's flight northeast, and you reach the five scattered isles of East Whell. You wish you hadn't. They're cold and drizzly, with low, moss-bearded, sickly-looking trees. You've slipped into the next climate belt north--the sleetwood belt. The only Earth parallels are some south Chilean islets and the Queen Charlotte Islands off British Columbia--dense, low, boggy forests with vile weather, bone-chilling cold and damp.
Small yellow tent by the sea. Dark clouds, heavy rain. Typical scene in the sleetbelt, near the poles on Lyr. Click to enlarge.

The pegasi hate the damp, and though the gryphons can bear the weather, they can't eat moss--and neither can their food animals. A few hardscrabble fishing villages of gryphons are all you find as you ride the winds east, isle to isle, always a bit further north.

On the lee side of an uninhabited, nameless islet at 62 north, the end of the Whells, and our furthest point north (I promise!), you sleep uneasily in your wind-shaken rain-pattering spidersilk tent. The next day you just rest and snack and stretch in your tent all day (only 12 hours, of course; Lyr spins fast).

The next dawn looks promising--mere foggy drizzle and a chill breeze. Splendid for this belt! You take advantage of it to fly east out of the Hesperian Sea. There's a physical boundary, though even on a sunny day (fat chance!) we couldn't see it: Falkayn Trench, beneath us. Way, way beneath: its lowest point is 16 km deep. 52,000 feet of water. Ten miles. And not the deepest trench on Lyr. Big worlds hang on to water.
Three sphinxes, like winged lions, soaring over fluted badlands in low sunset light. Prairie in background. Click to enlarge.

The new sea, the Avalon, is far smaller--barely the size of the Atlantic. It's shallow (for Lyr; a mere 3-4 km deep on average, comparable to Earth's oceans) and dotted with the Aesir and Shielding Islands. They're all the dreary Outer Brendans weren't--big, populous... and south.

You make landfall on Verdandi, first of the Three Norns. Verdandi's like the drier Whells--a rolling windswept prairie 400 km (250 mi) long, dotted with gryphon ranches and pegasus villages. Skald, another thousand km east, but no further south, is quite similar. A five-hour flight the next day brings you to Urd, largest of the Norns, a hillier, broader patch of land 400 km wide, still mostly prairie. At least we're bending south a little, now.

You have high hopes for Utgard, only 55 north, but since the drybelt centers at 54, while Utgard is slightly warmer it's still just one more Dakota floating in the sea, with badlands--or so you see them at first.

But you meet a family of sphinxes passing by, heading north--the way you came. You wheel like gulls, shouting news. You mention the badlands below, and the sphinxes are puzzled.

"You mean the cutelands?" one yells back. Or it could well translate "sexylands."

Apparently, where we ground animals see blocked paths, fatal drops, thirst... these winged Lyrans see sculpture, and not abstract sculpture: huge, rangy bodies, bodies they long to rub up against. Those wonderful sexy shapes! That you see, instinctively and linguistically, as a trap.

You've never had it pointed out so bluntly how much ape biology shapes ape esthetics...
Map of the Shielding Islands in the Ythri region of Lyr, a world-building experiment.

As you reach the greener south coast of Utgard, you know you're not in Dakota anymore. Gryphons and pegasi all over! The two species emigrated from Roland together, where they share a long history. They've learned to coexist well, despite their huge differences. While gryphons can squabble with pegasi over prime grasslands (gryphons tend to overgraze a bit with their (nonintelligent) dairy flocks), they've learned to listen to pegasi, who, as they say, "taste the land directly." Gryphons, despite their size, formality, and ferocity, or perhaps because of them, just plain like pegasi--they seem to find their kookiness relaxing.

In one hold, a family of visiting pegasi romp around with your hosts--not just cubs, but adult gryphons who'd snap in shock at each other for trying any such thing. I don't know--maybe it's like Americans and their pets.

Just don't ask me which are the pets!

From here on Utgard, a major flyway branches east and north, to the near-continental Shielding Islands. But I promised you--south to Corona! So south it is for us.
A flox, an intelligent, social omnivore from the equatorial zone of Lyr. A reddish coyote-like body with opposable thumbs on the forepaws, hollow bones, and hawk-wings.

THE AESIR ISLANDS

It's a long flight to Balder in the Aesir Islands, a good nine hours on the wing, but it's due south, and you'll feel the difference. The Aesirs are a broad cluster sprawling 4000 km (2500 mi) across the Avalon Sea--still grassy but wooded in the river valleys and sheltered spots; even Balder, the first, is notably warmer, wetter and greener than the isles to the north.

Half a dozen Aesirs are over 200 km wide, and in this rainier zone, even the smaller isles have reliable streams, so even islets have villages. And since they're full of pegasi, every village has a party. It's too warm for gryphons now, replaced by more playful sphinxes. And not just sphinxes. The Aesirs are a flyway from Corona to the huge Troisleons Cluster, and travelers have had their usual impact. The culture seems more cosmopolitan--art and ideas matter more here in the kinder south.

People are more diverse here too. You spot faces of new subspecies--even species, like this charming creature called a flox, ten thousand miles from home. Only this is home now--she's married into a local pegasus family. Unusual, but not as crazy as it sounds--it's not as if a Terran fox and horse tried to mate. There's no huge size difference--all fliers on Lyr have a basic weight limit. And from some of this flox's raunchier comments, a modest size difference can be fun, if challenging.

Dietary conflicts, or prey/predator problems? Doesn't a pegasus fear a carnivore like a flox? Well, no. This isn't hay versus meat--pegasi are nominal herbivores not averse to insects and grubs, while floxes are omnivores not pure carnivores--both these strategies are better adapted to Lyr's rich forest canopy, where fruits and nuts are as likely to offer food bonanzas as meat or grass/foliage. Orbital photo of the Aesir and Shielding Islands east of Corona on Lyr, a model of a huge sea-world. Click to enlarge.

The couple's not cross-fertile, of course, but the pegasus husband had a previous colt, they've adopted a second, and the flox (flixen?) has had one pup, with the help of a male flox-tourist passing through. Jealousy is not much of an issue for either species, who raise pups communally and use sex as social glue, like bonobos. Humans forget how few other species have developed tight, jealous pairbonding. We're the weirdos.

The isles and days drift by... You spend just a few hours on the wing per day, and always within sight of land. So easy, after the grim Northern Passage!

First comes Balder's fertile prairies, then a string of fishing islets veined with trees along their creeks, then the huge tall-grass prairies of Thor, broken netted and dotted with groves, then smaller but greener Freya, then half a dozen scattered isles with cooperative villages of pegasi and sphinxes, more wooded than anyplace you've seen pegasi so far. But then, they're not Terran equines preferring grassland, after all. They like fruit, and can pick it off the top of the tree...

In the forests of the southern Aesirs, their tree-gripping paws come into their own; flowering orchards cover the islets, fertilized by sphinx fishery wastes. Mixed group marriages no longer seem exotic to you--the two species routinely live, mate, and raise young together. Indeed, single-species households are seen as backward here. "It takes two wings to balance a pup" as they say.
Sketch of a palomino pegasus sitting in a meadow by a pond. She has paws not hooves, green eyes and reddish hawk-wings. Lean and short-pelted, she looks more like a winged greyhound than a winged horse.

This warm, sheltered region is near the southern end of the pegasus range. While not a distinct race, the locals here are noticeably smaller and leaner, with a short pelt--looking more like winged greyhounds than the shaggy Icelandic ponies the northerners resembled.

This portrait of a woman from South Freya gives some idea of the difference--in style as well as body. The northerners, though equally sensual, tend to be 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, 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 back in Whell Harbor that's exactly how they said hello.

You head southwest, now, a longer flight than usual, over deep water...

At last, over the horizon creep two tall volcanic cones. We've left the Aesirs--these are the Holm Twins. And beyond South Holm, a mountain wall slowly rises until it stretches the length of the immense Lyran horizon. Ahead lies mainland Corona--the biggest continent in the world.

Had enough of islands? Let's go exploring. On land.

Real land...

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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