Some Aligare sketches

I have lots of final prep to do before Serpents of Sky launches next week! So I don’t have much in the way of bloggish thoughts today, but I did do a few rough sketches. Just some random Aligare folk.aemetfeb14sketch korvifeb14sketch ferrinfeb14sketch


I think it’s about time I update the diagram of the Aligare peoplekinds — the one that appears at the beginning of every Story of Aligare book. In the original image, I was trying for a clean, simplified look. But I’m thinking a more detailed, dynamic art style like these sketches might make it easier for readers to visualize the Aligare races in the story to come. Thoughts?

Aligare wildlife: the basilisk

Aligare’s invented animals are often based on Earth mythology. And as I talked about in the post about the lucky rue plant, Aligare has basilisks.

The traditional Earth basilisk is a monstrous snake/lizard creature with poisonous breath. There’s some confusion and cross-over with the similar legendary creature, the cockatrice. Either way, basilisks are bad news.

Aligare basilisks still aren’t something you want to run into — but they’re not legendary, and not prone to destroying everything in their path. They’re just lizard creatures.

aligarebasiliskThey’re sort of a mixture of Gila monsters and raptor dinosaurs. Aligare basilisks stand about 3 feet/1 meter tall, and have pebbly hide with hard, scale-like feathers. Their spotted colouring and grass-like feathers serve as camofluage in the basilisk’s grassland habitat. They’re active hunters, seeking out animals to ambush, sometimes working together in pairs or stealing kills from other carnivores. The basilisk’s teeth are grooved to let their venom flow into its prey (which is a sort of evolutionary precursor to snakes’ fangs). Basilisks also have innate electricasting magic, which is based in their mouth. It’s used on larger, struggling prey; it’s also used for mating displays and to scare off larger predators.

Opportunistic and aggressive, basilisks usually hunt small animals like birds, lizards, snakes, rodents, and rabbits — but they’ll attack larger animals that seem weak or ill. In an open grassland area, signs of weakness such as heavy breathing or limping might catch the attention of a nearby basilisk. Even peoplekinds need to be careful. Basilisks can be incredibly bold if they think they have a chance to take down a meal.

“Dear gods.” Eyes wide, Tijo hurried close and laid knuckles on the boy’s brow. “Where was he?”

“Two-thirds of the way between Opens and here. I came across the whole family but everything holy forgive me, I couldn’t carry all four of them! The mother was the only one who could cough two words and as if that weren’t enough, she said something about a basilisk hunting them. The miserable beast must’ve–”

“Here, pass him.”

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 13

Basilisk venom kills the small creatures the basilisk usually feeds on. It’s not usually fatal to larger creatures, but causes weakness, numbness, blurred vision and difficulty breathing (hence why the basilisk only attacks larger creatures if they seem weakened already). But animals in the mustelid (weasel) family resist basilisk venom. An adult ferrin is significantly smaller than a basilisk but will only experience mild symptoms if bitten. Ferrin also aren’t easily affected by other creatures’ electricasting, because of the way a ferrin’s own electricasting flows through their fur and basically envelops their entire body. So despite their small size, an adult ferrin has little to fear from a basilisk. Like in Earth mythology, weasels are well-suited to fending off a basilisk.

Although korvi are pretty good at it, too, being much larger and stronger.

Peregrine may have stumbled upon the occasional basilisk, but those beasts turned cowardly as soon as a fellow spat some smoke; a second tooth puncture scar on his leg wouldn’t be the end of him. The Skyfield plains held no trouble Peregrine couldn’t handle alone – oh, this was true and he knew it.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 17

And like any Aligare animal, basilisks aren’t considered evil. They’re dangerous sometimes, and prone to attacking others’ weaknesses — but they’re only following their nature and only trying to kill so they can eat. They’re just a sharp-toothed part of the natural world.

The structure of Aligare homes

You can tell a lot about a culture by what it builds. And in the Aligare world, folk don’t build a lot of structures other than homes and shared social spaces.

An Aligare thatch home would look something like this, although with less square angles. The walls would angle inward and the door frame would be a trapezoid shape.

An Aligare thatch home would look something like this, although its angles wouldn’t be so square. The walls would angle inward and the door frame would be a trapezoid shape.

Aemets were mostly responsible for the advent of house construction. In ancient times, when ferrin lived in the trees and korvi lived on mountaintops, travelling families of aemets began building shelters out of fallen wood and plant debris, propped against living trees. As they developed their plantcasting magic into full-blown agriculture, they also developed the art of permanent(-ish) buildings made of plant materials. And like many Aligare developments, the process picked up speed as aemetkind befriended korvikind and the two races pooled their skills. In the timeframe of the Stories of Aligare, the vast majority of buildings are built in the aemet style.

Building a house in Aligare isn’t as simple as chopping up trees into lumber and nailing them together. Aemets treat the plant goddess’s gift of wood with great respect,  so there are rules about how wood should be used. To respect the tree’s death, wood is never placed with its grain running perpendicular to the ground — which would be akin to propping up a dead body and pretending it’s alive. When wood is used to make the structural poles of a house, those poles are set into the ground at a slant. The exact angle isn’t important as long as it’s clearly not a 90 degree angle. Korvi often find the necessary wood for these poles, since they respect aemet ways but don’t have the same qualms about breaking a tree down into needed material. In some places, korvi metalsmiths provide steel poles for buildings — which don’t need to be placed in any particular way.

Widely was also a fine example of cooperation between the peoplekinds. Syril couldn’t help thinking that every time he landed; today, falling earthward on wide-held wings, he thought the very same. The buildings were roofed and walled with grass thatch, but built on metal poles so that aemet folk wouldn’t fuss about which direction the wood grain in the poles was running. Truly a revelation. The result was good, large buildings that tapered only slightly inward, instead of the drastically slanted pole homes that stifled out every bit of headspace a korvi could possibly put his horns in. All around, Widely made excellent use of materials, in Syril’s opinion.

Render, a story of Aligare, Chapter 8

But when possible, aemets like to tie their house walls around living trees. The house is dismantled and retied each year, to accomodate the trees’ growth and avoid stunting them. With some plantcasting energy spent, it’s possible to grow trees specifically for house structure. If a village is founded in the plains and a few strong casters decide to put the effort in, that village can become a new patch of forest.

The roof (and sometimes the walls, too) are made of woven thatch. Polegrass — which can grow as tall as a person — is used, or else cornstalks from the town’s crops. Strongly scented flowers such as marigold are worked into the thatch to repel insects. Gaps are filled in with moss, cotton fibre or clay. If not thatch, the walls can also be made of wood boards, since the wood is laid horizontally. In fact, wood boards for houses are very valuable, usually given as gifts of love and esteem.

How lively everyone’s hopes had been, giving Arnon more precious boards than the remnants of the Tellig family could possibly use for their two selves. The newly named Fenwater had wanted a leader, someone too stalwart to fear demons, someone surrounded by children learning the trade. They gave their saviour Arnon more house boards, so he could make all the home he would ever need. Father had supposed – in a thoughtful moment years past, candlelight snagging on the lines around his eyes – that he would use the boards for extra training space until Rose had her children.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 5

What about korvi-style homes? Their major contribution to housing is pretty much the skill of mining. Hotrock Volcano is a network of tunnel-towns, where korvi live in the warm rock and scrape out spaces large enough to live in. Occasionally, nice slabs of rock are brought beyond Aligare’s mountains and mines, for use as furniture or walls. But for the most part, korvi make use of aemet-style homes when they travel beyond their ancestral Volcano home. If a social space is made with korvi visitors in mind, it’ll usually have a ceiling height that’s really excessive by aemet standards.  That gives enough head space for the often-claustrophobic korvi to feel comfortable, and keeps them from catching their horns on the ceiling thatch.

And ferrin? When they first met the other peoplekinds, they hadn’t developed structural techniques other than their natural way of sheltering in hollow trees, or building squirrel-like nests of clumped plant matter. So ferrin usually accept whatever sturdy homes the other kinds build, or learn to build in the aemet way.

In the current time frame, Aligare hasn’t had much motivation to advance their building techniques. The climate is mild, so dirt floors and thatch walls suit everyone fine. And since aemet-majority villages often fold under the pressures of illness demons, it’s helpful that a village’s buildings can be easily taken apart for their boards and poles. Maybe in a few thousand years, Aligare homes will look different. Maybe.

Aligare greetings

In any society, real or fictional, the way people greet each other can be very telling. Greeting etiquette is directly linked to other social rules. Which gestures to make, what to say, whether people’s rank or social status have to be addressed.


Aligare society is all about cooperation and mutual gain, and so the social rules are quite relaxed. When meeting a new person, folk assume that the new person is friendly, because why wouldn’t they be? There’s no such thing as class or caste: everyone is born equal and encouraged to make friends. Everyone can freely address everyone else. If a given person doesn’t like meeting strangers, they tend to go live in an isolated place where they won’t need to bump into any.

Greetings are mostly verbal. Just a simple “hello” or “good day” or “welcome”. It’s acceptable to address a complete stranger as “friend” and then ask a favour, like you actually are friends (“Pardon me, friend. Which way to the mage’s home?”).

Aligare society does have a form of handshake, but it’s specific to ferrin. Ferrin are small folk — about the size of an Earth housecat — with a lot of natural predators. They’re more likely to feel nervous in the presence of a big stranger. So when meeting a new ferrin and introducing themselves, aemet and korvi folk traditionally offer their hand. Palm up and held loosely, in an unthreatening way. This is an invitation to sniff the new person and get to know them better, in the same way that we humans introduce ourselves to dogs, cats, and other creatures with a good sense of smell. Even wild ferrin who have never met other peoplekinds will usually figure out the intent of this body language. At this point, the ferrin can actually sniff the offered hand if they want to — if they’re actually feeling uneasy, or if the new person simply smells interesting. The ferrin answers the greeting by grasping the aemet/korvi’s hand in both of their little hands and giving it one light shake.


In Remedy, Rose the aemet has known Breeli the ferrin for years. But in the early story, Rose is so rattled thinking about her mage responsibilities that she forgets herself, and offers her palm to Breeli as though they’re meeting for the first time. Breeli is nice enough not to comment. She just shakes the offered hand. Hey, what are friends for if not putting up with your brain farts?

Korvi have a more generalised physical greeting: they open their wings slightly, fanning out the flight feathers. This can be done for anyone, not just newly-met strangers. It might be a token movement that shows a featherwidth or two — or it might be a three-quarter spread of the wingspan, a dramatic gesture like a spur-of-the-moment performance.


Syril of Reyardine, I’m looking at you. (Art by TwilightSaint.)

Fanning the wings in greeting is very much optional. Korvi with outgoing personalities tend to do it along with their “hello”, “good day” or “welcome”. If a korvi is extroverted enough to chat up everyone they meet, they’re probably fanning their wings for those same folk. (And if they have any sense in their heads, they tone down the greeting for a nervous-looking ferrin.)

Greetings are appreciated in Aligare society, but like anything, the customs aren’t set in stone. Wild ferrin might not be familiar with town customs. Practical folk might skip the pleasantries and get right to the point. It’s all valid, and it’s all part of daily socialising.

Salterra sickness


Remedy is a story of medical drama. Mostly because of the gripthia, which strikes aemet villages in sudden epidemics — but there’s also the minor player, salterra.

Salterra is a ferrin illness, and a genetic one. “A demon that clings to family lines”, Aligare folk say. It makes sticky fluid accumulate in the airways, causing coughing and breathing difficulty in young kittens — sometimes severe enough breathing difficulty to kill them.

Steam and herbal medicines can ease the symptoms and save lives. If a salterra-afflicted ferrin survives to adulthood, they’re out of the woods. The symptom left is lower fertility than normal. If that ferrin tries to have children, they’ll have moderate difficulty concieving and a smaller litter of kittens than usual, maybe only two or three. That’s why I called the sickness salterra: it salts a person’s earth, making it harder for them to grow children of their own bloodline.

In Remedy, salterra adds another layer to Peregrine and Tillian’s complex relationship. Peregrine promised to look after his first earferrin’s family line, which took on a greater significance when that first earferrin’s mate brought salterra to the bloodline. Long-lived Peregrine and his mate Giala have tended several litters of ferrin kittens and helped them survive. They set pails of water on the hearth fire and sat up late with coughing kittens.


“Most of your litter took herbed steam for three weeks.” Peregrine swallowed; the motion didn’t loosen his tongue any. “Wellis needed the steam longer that. It wasn’t as trying for him as for your mother, though.”

A pause – like Tillian could taste the vinegar of understatement, or imagine the way Kelria had nearly smothered to death – and she squirmed deeper into Peregrine’s feathers. “The steam really helped us?”

Their breathing had seemed to flow easier after a steam treatment, to Peregrine’s panic-sharp senses, but he had never once asked a Redessence kitten. He was too busy with the thought that they might choke so soon and never have their chance to live – Ambri help them, it wasn’t fair.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 9


It only adds to Peregrine’s burden of guilt. He doesn’t see this as just saving sick kittens’ lives; somewhere in his deepest-buried thoughts, he believes that these friends wouldn’t be sick at all if he hadn’t asked them to be hearing assistants to a deafened miner. It’s another imposition Peregrine has made. And since Tillian was sick when she was small, she’ll have a hard time having a litter if she decides to do that. That’s just one more reason Peregrine wants to push her away, so she’ll stop being an earferrin and find a life that’s really hers. (Not that Peregrine wouldn’t look after Tillian’s kittens if they carry salterra. He’d just think angsty, angsty thoughts and not tell anyone about them.)

I added salterra as a parallel to the main gripthia plotline. Both sicknesses force a person to rely on the generosity of others or else they won’t be able to draw another breath. Relying on others is how Aligare society works, but usually not in such an immediate way. It’s an element I added to early drafts as an experiement, and hey, salterra ended up being another serving of food for thought.

The lucky rue plant

With the explosive popularity of The Hunger Games, people have been talking about the character Rue. It caught me a little off-guard, because before I had ever heard of the Hunger Games, I was writing about Rue Tennel, an aemet. Another writer remembered that rue is a plant that would make a good female name? Cool, I guess! (Another thing I learned: Katniss’s name isn’t just a weird variation of Katherine or something. It’s another plant.)

But yes, rue is a plant easily grown in gardens. Also known as the Herb-of-Grace, it’s a flowering shrub in the genus Rutaceae, related to citrus trees. Rue can be used to season food, but it’s very bitter and can be toxic in large amounts. The sap can also make human skin hypersensitive to sunlight, causing blisters.

European history considers rue a symbol of loss, regret and bitter lessons.  It was also used as a medicinal herb in earlier centuries. Along with being an insect repellant, antiseptic and abortificant, rue was thought to ward off witchcraft and cure all sorts of poisons. Rue is often mentioned as a counter to the mythical basilisk, since it’s the only plant able to withstand the basilisk’s deadly poison breath. Weasels — the only animals resistant enough to fight a basilisk — would wet their teeth with rue to poison the monster, or they would eat rue to speed their own healing after the battle.

In the Aligare world, aemets have a ready understanding of plants, so folk see rue quite differently. They see no regret or pain in this simple flowering shrub — just another one of the goddess Verdana’s children with its own virtues and dangers. Rue leaf is a minor ingredient in most medicinal tonics, thought to aid sleep, soothe minor pain and neutralize toxins. It has only mild effects on aemets and korvi, but it’s a potent treatment for ferrin. Wild ferrin will seek out some rue to eat whenever they’re feeling unwell — particularly if they’ve been fighting with a very real Aligare basilisk. (When building my fantasy world, I thought the basilisk-weasel-rue lore was cool and I specifically wanted to work it in.)

Although rue isn’t the most potent medicine for aemetkind, many aemets still regard it as a lucky plant. Wherever rue grows, a ferrin might show up to partake of it. Rue is a symbol of the way otherkind friends will arrive whenever there’s a need. If a person has rue leaf tonic on hand or keeps some rue growing nearby, they’ll be able to ensure the health of any new allies they meet.

That’s why rue is thought to be a fortuitous plant. And that’s why the character Rue is seen as a lucky young woman, although she doesn’t personally believe in luck.

“And let’s meet at this same time, next eightday. This shade of daylight.” [Felixi] turned a crooked smile to the sky. “It’s the colour of rue flowers, wouldn’t you say?”
It was — a late afternoon light, fully yellow without making itself obtrusive.

“Why, do you think it’s a lucky colour?”
“Of course not. Luck is fool’s magic.”
Rue couldn’t hold back her grin. “Right. It’s just a time, then.”

–Render, a story of Aligare, draft version

There’s an awful lot of history and symbolism in this one little plant. I think that’s why it’s so easy to add more symbolism through speculative fiction: because rue already has lots to work with.

Food culture of Aligare (Part 2: Daily meals)

In Part 1, I talked about the eating habits of the Aligare races in their ancient history. But in the timeframe of Remedy and Ravel, what would mealtime be like?

Family meals are a valued time for Aligare folk — especially since they might define “family” as everyone they care about. Most folk have at least one hot meal a day together, sitting together by the hearth fire on a designated meal blanket. But there are also vendors selling street food and snacks —

It had turned out to be a plain stretch of town street, with milling people of all kinds, with vendors sitting behind rainbow blankets.

Yes, here, Zitan had said. The vendor to their left was selling cider; Zitan heard liquid splashing and Peregrine had mentioned something about wetting his throat, hadn’t he?

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 2

— and ultimately, Aligare folk don’t wait for a particular time to eat food or share it.

Aemetkind prefers stewed meals — finished with wholesome greens and seasoned with chutney, accompanied by pan bread. Korvikind tend more toward roasted and fried meals, cooking up items that can be carried in the hand, making hash out of the leftovers. Folk influence each other, though, and it’s not unusual for aemets to roast corn or for korvi to stew up some thornwood root.

What are these meals made of? Because of the heavy aemet influence on food production, most meals are plant-based. It only makes sense when a third of the population is very good with plants!

Grain: Corn is common, mostly dried and ground into corn flour or cornmeal. Legends say that corn grew up from the ground as a response to Maize, an aemet woman who asked plantkind for a gift of aid. Barley is used to thicken stews and make barley crackers. Wheat is present but it’s not seen as a very nutritious food, and it’s certainly not the civilization-builder it was for Western humans. In Aligare, wheat is pretty much a niche crop used by artisan bakers and brewers.

Instead of one grain being the overall favourite (like how some countries on Earth rely heavily on wheat, or rice), variety is preferred. Each village and town tends to have a majority grain, and they might trade with neighbouring communities for a different type.

Vegetables and legumes: Along with a majority grain, villages have a few preferred crops that add bulk to the diet. Usually one root (like potato, turnip or the roots of thornwood shrubs), and one green vegetable (spinach or peas). White beans are also grown, so that a handful can go into every stewpot. But major crops grown in fields don’t provide a lot of variety. So some folk work as foragers and spend their days searching out wild nuts, shoots and mushrooms. Folk of all kinds might keep a small garden of vegetables and herbs — because even if you’re a korvi or a ferrin with no plantcasting magic, growing a bit of mint and onions is manageable. This bounty is improved further by travelling merchants who carry food crops around. Aligare folk eat what we would consider a varied, healthy, organic diet.

Fruit: In the Aligare land, fruit is mostly used the way we’d expect. Much of the fruit harvest is eaten fresh. There are honeyed fruit treats, and fruit biscuits baked in small tin ovens, and stewed condiments like jam and chutney. But a notable Aligare custom is the sharing of mull.

Mull is a boiled (or, um, mulled) drink. It consists of water, fruit/berries, and sometimes herbs or spices. The end result is sort of like tea, but with more pulp and body to it. Mull is a common hospitality drink — mages in busy towns often keep a pot of mull brewing at all times, to be offered to anyone who drops by.

And there are bird cherries, which make aemets and ferrin sick. Bird-like korvi have no trouble digesting them, so korvi-majority communities might quietly make birdcherry wine or other specialty treats.

Meat: With aemets providing an abundance of vegetable foods, meat is quite optional in the Aligare diet. Pigeons are the most common livestock. They’re kept in cages, raised for their eggs and for occasional stewing birds. Wild animals like rabbits, partridge, deer and nurls (a breed of giant, herbivorous weasels) are sometimes hunted. Folk also raise horses, which aren’t thought of as primarily food animals but when one goes lame and needs to be put down, its meat doesn’t go to waste.

Because of their carnivorous origins, korvi don’t require large amounts of meat but they’re usually happy to have it. If a korvi has performed a valuable service, a big piece of roast meat would be an ideal payment. Aemets, on the other hand, are often uneasy at the thought of eating a big chunk of animal. Aemet villages that go through a lot of meat are usually feeding it to others — korvi allies, or sometimes service animals like dogs or chakdaw birds.

Since salt is a relatively expensive commodity for Aligare folk, salt-preserved meats aren’t common. It’s more typical to dry meat over the hearth fire.

Fish: The Aligare world doesn’t have any oceans or similarly huge bodies of water. Aquatic foods are usually crusteceans — little crawfish-type things that make great soup. A handful of lakes are large enough to harvest finned fish from, and towns near these lakes are renowned for their fried and stewed fish.

Eggs: Pigeons produce a steady supply of eggs, and foragers occasionally find wild bird nests. But most eggs go into baked goods and products like glue. Eating a boiled or fried egg is a very special treat for Aligare folk.

So if a human fell through a portal and landed in the Aligare world, they’d have a hard time finding a steak or a piece of wheat bread. But they could still eat a delicious meal. And the Aligare peoplekinds would be glad to share.

Food culture of Aligare (Part 1: History)

When I was designing the Aligare society, I had to involve food. Because I’m a chef-trained foodie who finds it interesting? Well, yes. But food is also an important part of life as we know it — not just on a basic survival level, but as a huge component of culture and development.

Take humans, for example. We’ve changed a lot over the eons and a lot of it is directly related to our food. First, we gathered whatever we could cram into our mouths. Hunting developed, and so did customs of who ate meat when. We learned to use fire for cooking and preservation. We refined methods like fermenting and pickling, and took up agriculture, both of which made it possible to stay in one settlement instead of wandering to find more food. Every province and region produced its own style variations of those basic food methods. Now, in our modern era, there are long-standing food cultures developed by our ancestors,  as well as a rapid new encroachment of processed convenience food brought on by technology. And all of our products and methods are trades around to places they didn’t originate from. Our food is actually kind of crazy complicated if you think about it.

The Aligare land doesn’t have as much cuisine complexity as our Earth. Mostly because it’s a relatively small region: the entire habitable land is the size of a small-ish Earth country. There isn’t wide enough distribution to cause a lot of variation in the races’ views. There simply aren’t enough aemet settlements, for example, for there to be hundreds of aemet subcultures and accompanying styles of cooking. But I still felt it was important to figure out each race’s ancestral eating habits and development.

Aemets: As pacifists with plant elemental magic, the first aemets found their food through large-scale foraging. Aemet groups would graze their way through forests, using a light touch of plantcasting to ensure that the harvested plants lived to grow more food. They eventually learned to use their plantcasting for agriculture, allowing them to settle and form towns. Now, aemets produce a wide variety of vegetable and grain crops, providing the majority of Aligare food. Foraging is still a common trade, to harvest wild-grown foods and lessen the burden on aemets’ magical skills. Most aemets aren’t strictly vegetarian, but meat is not considered a requirement for a meal.
Korvi: With their fiesty nature, sharp claws and ability to fly over distances, the first korvi were primarily carnivores. They dropped onto their prey from the sky — everything from small snakes to full-grown deer. Korvi also ate small amounts of fruit and green vegetables, developing these into condiments to season their meat. Aemets were mostly responsible for introducing grains, roots, and other carbohydrate-heavy foods to the korvi diet. Since its predatory origins, the korvi diet has changed radically. Most korvi now eat a chiefly plant-based diet, especially if they live in an aemet-majority community. Hunting large game is a niche profession, often considered brutal and frightening despite the resources it provides. But the korvi knack for boldness has found plenty of other uses, including slaughtering livestock and beekeeping.
Ferrin: Wild ferrin have changed their ways very little since ancient times. They’re omnivores, searching the forest floor as well as the treetops. Nuts, fruit, eggs and insects are preferred — especially nuts, which ferrin can easily crack with their powerful mustelid jaws. When those preferred foods aren’t available, green vegetables or carrion will do. All of it is eaten raw; other races’ cooked foods are a valuable trade commodity.

Town-dwelling ferrin adopt the eating habits of the aemets and/or korvi they live with. Because of their small size and high metabolism, they prefer snack-like foods and frequent meals. It’s customary to offer food to a ferrin guest more often than an aemet or korvi guest.

As I discussed in a previous post, none of the Aligare races have a good reason to consume other animals’ milk. There’s no cheese or butter in this society’s meals. But other than that, the cuisine in mixed-race towns has a lot in common with familiar human foods. Grain flour for breads and crackers. Fruit preserved into condiments and alcoholic beverages. Root vegetables stewed into a hearty dinner. I imagine that if our hundreds of human cultures have commonalities (like how nearly every cuisine has some sort of dumpling), surely a three-species compromise would come up with many of the same ideas we did.

Okay! I don’t know about you guys, but I’m hungry after all this talk of food! Let’s break for lunch. Next post, I’ll get into a bit more detail about how a typical Aligare character eats day-to-day.

How lifespan affects the fantasy viewpoint

Among humans, a long life is generally considered a good thing. We pity insects that only live for days, or flowers that bloom only briefly. And we’re often awed at the thought of trees living for thousands of years.

Lifespan affects viewpoint. Hundreds of years ago, when disease and hazaards kept the average human life expectancy low, it was considered important to marry and have children as soon as possible, or to make a name for oneself. But as first-world conditions improved, lifespan lengthened and now, people have more time to accomplish life goals. Our development process also shifted: we developed the concept of a teenager, a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood with a different set of expectations. This isn’t an option in a harsher, shorter lifetime, where children have to assume their adult roles as quickly as possible.

At any rate, the current life expectancy for an Earth human is about 67 years. Some die sooner. A handful live to see their 125th birthday. But if alien beings came to visit and asked how long a human lives, we could probably say that 70 or 80 years is typical, and we arrange our lives accordingly.

One of the strengths of fantasy writing is the ability to discard norms. When we can have characters with a span of hundreds or thousands of years — not redwood trees, but cool things like dragons or immortals — why wouldn’t we? That adds many more options to the “what can be done in a lifetime” list. And it allows us to reflect more broadly on how a life’s time can be used.

While I developed the Aligare world, lifespan difference was always a big part of the social structure. It only made sense to me that these 3 races would be allotted different amounts of time. Aemets, korvi and ferrin are aware of each other’s typical lifespans, and they acknowledge that “old and wise” means something different depending on what kind you’re born as.

[Llarez the korvi] wasn’t Aster’s kin by number of years. How foolish of her to suppose otherwise. Llarez of Arkiere was surely thirty years old, or forty, or fifty. Some measure of time that made an aemet wither with age, but let a korvi only begin their bountiful long life.

Ravel, a story of Aligare, Chapter 1

Aemets: Their lifespan is about 50 years — similar to the life of a human in difficult circumstances, but aemets don’t have long-lived outliers like humans do. 45 t0 50 years is old age for an aemet, and living for 60 years is rare enough to be thought impossible. That means aemets don’t have time for a teenage phase. Children begin shadowing their elders at age 5 or 6, observing the adult lifestyle and transitioning in. A 12 or 13-year-old aemet is physically mature and is expected to be a responsible person with a chosen job field.

What about Rose Tellig? In Remedy, she’s a 14-year-old aemet leading her village, but she’s often referred to as young or “a child”. That’s more of a reaction to how much responsibility she’s been saddled with. A village’s mage is typically someone with life experience and confidence, which are the tools needed to manage a scary, complex event like a plague outbreak. Even though Rose is technically an adult, she’s out of her depth. In particular, Peregrine often thinks of Rose as a poor, overwhelmed kid — because Peregrine is a 169-year-old korvi who has seen what sickness can do to a community.

Korvi: In line with traditional fantasy dragons, korvi have the longest lifespan of the Aligare races. They can reasonably expect to live 200 years, and outlying individuals might live much longer than that. When Peregrine thinks of himself as a crusty old man, he’s being a bit overdramatic, although his loss of flight muscle makes him feel farther along in his life cycle than he actually is. Korvi heal well and are typically healthy until the very end of their lives.

Since they have centuries ahead of them, young korvi mature at a leisurely pace. They’re physically mature at about 15 years old, and they spend another 20 years or so in a teenage-like phase where they’re still finding themselves. Many travel the land, busking or doing odd jobs until they find their calling. Even beyond that youthful time, korvi are prone to trying new walks of life just because they can.

Ferrin: Ferrin live about 20 years. Between that and their small physical size, ferrin mature rapidly. Their kittens learn speech and social cues in a few months, often leaving home before their 2-year point of physical maturity. In Remedy, some 9-month-old kittens help with the simpler aspects of caring for sick people. At that age, they’re able to follow directions and sense the seriousness of the situation, although their level of tact could still use work.

Ferrin keep their ability to rapidly learn throughout their lives, but they tend to be jacks of all trades and masters of none. With a lifespan so short, becoming an expert or a leader would mean passing the position on every few years. Awfully labour-intensive. It makes more sense for ferrin to assist the longer-lived races with whatever they’re doing. In their social roles with other species, you might say that ferrin are children and adults simultaneously.

Humans can have a hard time relating to each other when we’re just a generation apart. It changes things to have different measures of time under our belts. So fantasy can take the possibilities even farther and it’s something I’m always glad to explore in my writing.

Ferrin clothing: what my weasels wear

I’ve been working on some art. Boy, am I rusty at inking a drawing and digitally colouring it, but I wanted to give you a look at my ferrin race and their clothing. So here are a couple of ferrin trying on new clothes and accessories.

Looks like these two made an excellent trade with a merchant.

Cute, aren’t they? But that cuteness made me wary. I didn’t want my ferrin to be just another race of Adorable Talking Animals with human-type clothing plunked onto them. Fantasy does that a lot, especially in juvenile literature. And to be frank, it bothers the hell out of me. This mindset assumes that all civilized beings will follow human norms, because obviously a non-human character isn’t a real person and can’t come up with their own clothing culture. Either that, or the writer is just writing for kids, so who cares if the premise makes any sense? Either way, I find that most “clothed animals” lack substance and are insulting to everyone’s intelligence.

So if my ferrin were to wear things on their bodies, there had to be reasons. They’re short-limbed folk who move around a lot and switch frequently from two feet to four, so their garments would need to allow free movement. Their fur is perfectly suitable to keep them warm in the mild Aligare climate, so warm clothes would be unnecessary. And because of that fur, modesty isn’t considered a big deal: the delicate parts are more or less covered already.

There are a few practical ferrin garments. One is the apron, modelled by the white ferrin in my picture. These are usually made of leather or canvas. They’re common clothing for hard-working ferrin who need physical protection — for farm work, handling fire or hot liquids, that sort of thing.

The other practical choice is a collar, modelled by the grey ferrin. Ferrin who cast a lot of magic might pick a collar with a gemstone in it, so that the gem will collect residual casting from their fur. Every bit of casting is valuable, after all. Ferrin who cast enough to merit a gemstone collar are typically magelings or healers — highly skilled, valuable members of society. (I didn’t set out to make collars a point of irony, it just sort of happened.)

Most ferrin clothes and accessories are less practical. They’re for self-expression — wearing a favourite colour, or a shiny item they just like, or an item gifted by a friend. Ferrin don’t often keep property or a lot of material things, so their valued items tend to be something small that can be worn on their person. It might be a pendant of precious metals, or it might be just a bit of string tied around their tail.

Sarongs are a popular choice of garment — these big, scarf-like garments can be wrapped, tucked and tied according to the wearer’s tastes. Sarongs can be plain or they can have ruffles, tassels or patterns.

Tillian’s concept art. She wears a hawk-eye stone pendant passed down through her family, and a blue-black sarong edged with periwinkle frills, neatly wrapped.

Many ferrin put one on when they’re heading into a populated area, so that they match their aemet and korvi friends’ clothing customs.

Breeli crowed a laugh and bounded off to choose a sitting cushion. Her sarong flapped loose, tied with one fist-clumsy knot; that she had put clothing on at all was a nicety.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 5

So, in the same way that ferrin settle into niches in Aligare society, they find apparel that works for them. These aren’t hard and fast rules. Are there ferrin who wear pants? I dunno, I can’t imagine the waistband would be very comfortable when you have fur and walk on all fours, but I’d still bet that a handful of ferrin wear pants modelled after korvi clothing. It’s a very individual process and, when I’m writing about a race of individual people, that’s exactly what I want.