A note on yales. The yale is a “genuine” mythological beast (by “genuine” I mean that I didn’t make it up) that was first described by Pliny. They appear on the coat of arms of the grandmother of Henry VIII. The yale is a horse-sized beast with the body of a goat or antelope, the tusks of a boar and the tale of a lion. Its most interesting features are its horns (which are large, curved and goat-like): it can swivel its horns at will; furthermore, each horn can swivel independently of the other.
The Yale Riders are a tribe of gnomes that live in the high reaches of the Gralbak Mountains. They are not particularly numerous - maybe 2000 of them all told - and they live in small villages of about 100 people in each. Their dwellings are small but well-built, made primarily of stone (due to the shortage of wood at these heights); each village is usually located near to a small valley or otherwise fertile place where the yales can graze and a few crops can be grown.
The Yale Riders are hunters, and much of their meat comes from hunting the swift and agile mountain ibex. However, the heart and soul of the Yale Riders are their yales. A youth of the tribe is not considered to be a man until he has trained a young yale and ridden it in a successful hunt to kill an ibex. The yales are as agile as mountain goats, allowing their riders to move through the mountains far more quickly (and along less accessible routes) than anyone else is likely to be able to.
As stated before, each rider will train his own yale. A rider may own more than one yale at a time, but is unlikely to own more than at most three, due to the difficulties in looking after them all. To not look after your own yale is considered a great shame; if it was unavoidable (perhaps due to injuries) then the injured rider would owe a great debt to the one who cared for his yale. Similarly, no rider would dream of riding another’s yale unless their was no other choice (for example in a battle); again, the rider would owe a great personal debt to the person whose yale it was.
Each village has its own headman, or Narven, a word literally meaning “chief hunter”. The Narven has the final say in any matters of the village, though will usually strive to rule by consensus, conferring with a council of elders (around 6 to 8 men). For matters affecting the whole tribe the Narven of each village will meet in council to discuss matters; though each village is usually autonomous it has been known for them to elect a war leader in times of trouble.
Religion is primitive and simple, consisting mainly of ancestor worship (including the ancestors of the yales). There are no shamen or similar figures; such rituals as occur are conducted by the elders.
The yale riders have a strong tradition of hospitality and will welcome needy travellers, feeding them and giving them shelter. It is a custom that the host gives the guest a gift at his arrival and that the guest gives a gift upon leaving. However, due to their isolation few outsiders come near them and, being self sufficient, they have little reason to travel abroad to trade. Any hostile enemies are slain.
Only the male yales are ridden; the female yales are kept for their milk. Yale milk and butter forms a large part of their diet, as does a hard cheese known as tugar, also made from yale milk. The yale hair is also used for clothing. The women of the tribe look after the female and very young yales (the men look after the males); the women also cultivate a few crops in their valleys, principally a form of wheat from which they make a hard, unleavened bread. The other main source of food is meat from the hunting of the ibex. Overall they eat reasonably well, though there are hard years.
When a male yale becomes too old to be ridden it is ritually sacrificed and eaten. The heart, liver and brain are particularly prized and will either be eaten by the yale’s owner or given by him to someone as a great gift; for example, to his son on the day before his manhood hunt (a hunter might frequently wait until such an even before killing his yale, or else kill it early if he had more than one). A heart, liver and brains could also be given as a gift to one whom the owner owed a great debt. The rest of the yale is then eaten in a ceremonious meal involving the yale’s owner, his male relatives and possibly guests. Women would not eat it. On the other hand, a female yale that becomes too old and must be killed is the sole property of the women of the tribe and no man would think of eating it, even in times of great privation.
The yale riders are self sufficient with regard to food (described above), clothing (animal skins and yale wool), wood (though there isn’t much) and metal (there are some poor iron deposits in the region). They thus have no actual needs from the outside world; however, they might be willing to trade for the odd item which they cannot make. On no account would they ever trade a yale.
Hunting and warfare
Hunting is done from the back of yales. A team of about 5 hunters will usually pursue a herd of ibex (and would kill one or two). Other animals are also hunted, though the ibex is the most prized. The usual hunting weapon is a light throwing javelin, along with a dagger (these are also used when fighting)
Though the yale riders do not seek warfare, they will be ruthless with those who are hostile to them. Their yales give them a formidable advantage with their great agility and manoeuverability. Furthermore, in combat the yale makes as formidable opponent as its rider. In addition to its agility, its sharp boar-like tusks and its strong legs, its long self-swivelling horns are deadly weapons. A yale can parry an opponent’s blows as if its horns were two sabres, as well as using them offensively to great effect.