Yuyarni

A portrait of Zakrusepi by Louisa WatsonThe yuyarni are a winged people who came to dwell in Askamar long ago. Many serve the Ankaykari, but a few clans have returned to Udaris to settle on remote islands and mountains.

Humans regard the yuyarni with terror, since they can descend on their foes from the air, weave spells and rip through human flesh with their talons. Many consider them no more than animals, yet human kings often long to have such fearsome warriors under their command. They dispatch gifts and envoys to the Ankaykari, asking them to send the yuyarni against their foes.

Despite their reputation, yuyarni are no more bloodthirsty than any other people. They feel animosity towards the ‘cunning and treacherous human worms’, who hide behind armor, snare them in nets, spear them or shoot them with arrows. In their legends, they remember a time before the Ankaykari fell under the influence of humans and became determined to rule Udaris – a time when yuyarni were allowed to live in peace.

Description

Yuyarni are lean and muscular, with webbed wings and leathery skin. They are most comfortable in the air, but are skilled at climbing rock-faces and can walk on land using their feet and wing-knuckles.

Mountain Yuyarni Female
Female Mountain Yuyarni by Louisa Watson
Mountain Yuyarni Male
Male Mountain Yuyarni by Louisa Watson

Yuyarni have a reputation for gluttony, and will eat almost anything – including their own kind, in some lands. They hunt porrucans, angarba and vungarba, swoop down to catch fish from the water and dig up roots with their clawed wing-fingers.

While yuyarni make formidable hunters – especially when working in a group – they must be careful not to fall prey to the more fearsome creatures of Askamar. They have a particular terror of the feline xernats, which ambush them when they are on land, and the xarrakas, which leap out of the water to seize them when they are fishing.

There are believed to be four yuyarni ethnic groups: the Nugatoi, who dwell in the mountains and are the most numerous of the yuyarni people; the Datkai, who hunt on the plains; the fleet-winged Yatho, who roost along the coasts; and the Sya-athui, who have distinctive white hides and live in the Outer reaches.

Society and Culture

The yuyarni call themselves the Elder Race, claiming a history which stretches back ‘a hundred thousand thousand years’. They live in tribes, each of which has a territory based around a series of roosts. Those who dwell within the Ankaykari lands serve the immortals, while those on the borders rule themselves and are known as qua’hanakai.

The yuyarni tribes each have their own ceremonies marking births, first flights, coming-of-ages, marriages and deaths. Most often, these ceremonies involve dances and songs. For example, when a yuyarni of the Zetayu tribe dies, the family gather to chant laments, then leave the body to decay so that the spirit can soar into the sky.

On certain occasions, large groups of yuyarni gather to re-enforce the bond between clans. Their celebrations feature mock-battles, riddles, singing, dancing and storytelling. There are many elaborate land dances, with head-shaking, leaping and flapping. There are also races and aerial dances, in which yuyarni compete to demonstrate their flying skill.

Family Life

Most yuyarni tribes are matriarchal, tracing their descend down the female line. Yuyarni form lasting marriage-bonds, and once their courtship rituals have been concluded, they usually join the clan of the female. The members of a family all look out for each other, sharing food, caring for the sick and elderly and raising the next generation.

Yuyarni give birth to live young. While couples can roam great distances, a pregnant female will always try to return to the aerie where she was raised so that she can give birth in the land of her ancestors. During the final stages of pregnancy, she finds it hard to fly, and so must be protected by her mate and close kin.

Within a few hours of birth, the infant is able to climb onto its mothers’ back and cling, enabling her to carry it with her. Mothers and fathers care for their offspring together, feeding them on regurgitated food. By the time the infants are a month old, they are able to crawl about by themselves. They can move fast, climb fearlessly, and use their ‘hands’ and feet to grab anything that looks interesting or edible.

Young yuyarni start flying at about two years old. At first, they can only hop and glide, but they are gradually able to fly beside their parents over longer distances. In many tribes, a yuyarni’s First Flight is considered a grand occasion, marked by feasting and chants. Yuyarni reach adulthood around the age of eighteen, by which time they are powerful fliers. Those yuyarni who remain in good health can live for a hundred years.

Hunting and Warfare

Yuyarni hunt in groups, since they are often not strong or swift enough to bring down prey by themselves. Hunting is dangerous, as yuyarni can easily dash themselves against the ground, be kicked by flailing hooves, gored, crushed or trampled. Even when the kill has been made, a rival clan may appear to drive the hunters away.

Although some tribes such as the Bantagri seek glory in combat, most yuyarni do not relish battle, and would rather chase away a weaker group than face an enemy who might actually defeat them. Usually, when two rival tribes meet, they attempt to intimidate each other by flapping their wings, leaping, hissing and clacking their fangs.

The Ankaykari disapprove of feuds between the yuyarni, since they would rather see their servants battle the humans of Udaris, and they endeavor to maintain peace between the tribes. However, the qua’hanakai who dwell beyond the Ankaykari territories are known for their constant raiding, poaching and feuding.

When two fighters challenge each other, they leap up and claw their opponents, trying to pin them down with their feet and buffet them with their wings. When hostile groups meet, they take to the air and try to attack from above. Since their bones are easily broken, yuyarni do not slam into their foes, but prefer to swerve in and out of battle, clawing and biting. Two yuyarni locked in close combat will grapple with their powerful legs, trying to force each other to the ground.

Yuyarni Mages

All yuyarni have innate magical abilities, and many are trained as mages. While humans weave their spells using hand gestures, yuyarni spit or breathe their magic.

Healing is the most common and valued magical art. Since yuyarni cannot mix medicines or tie bandages by themselves, the only way to treat an injury or infection is to swallow herbs, seek the assistance of an Ankaykari, or use magic. Yuyarni are especially vulnerable to fractures, eye problems and skin-diseases, and they hold all healers in high regard.

The other most common branch of magical study is combat. During battle, yuyarni mages will spit fire or breathe icy mists onto their foes. Humans sometimes describe being felled by yuyarni ‘screams’, which freeze their limbs. However, yuyarni who wish to weave magic in the mundane world must wear azuhans, like the Ankaykari, or they quickly become enfeebled.

Yuyarni and Humans

Despite the legendary enmity between humans and yuyarni, the two peoples often work together. Sometimes they even become friends. Many yuyarni are delighted by music, jewelry and spiced meats. Some even like to have their hides painted with decorative patterns when they visit the human world.

On some campaigns, yuyarni war-leaders and mages have human attendants who play them music, cook their favorite meals and rub oils into their skin. More usefully, humans create pots called kuvusi in which the yuyarni can carry food, medicines and water. These are usually fashioned of gourds and fastened with ropes or nets which the yuyarni hold in their jaws when they are flying.

An epic fantasy saga