When you think Fantasy Fiction, certain elements automatically come to mind, three of which, you can almost bet on:
Most fantasy worlds—excluding Contemporary/Urban Fantasy—come devoid of any means of modern amenities. “No phone, no lights, no motor car.” So how do people get around in fantasy fiction? A horse, of course, of course.
Well, not so in The Fallen Odyssey. When I started writing these stories, I decided it would be kind of a neat challenge to rebel against the convention of using horses. What if, in this world, the horse never existed, and humans instead relied on some other breed of animal for transportation? (I sense a disturbance in the Force… As if a million horse-lovers suddenly cried out in terror…)
The result of my experiment was the steed.
Standing nearby were three ranch animals… They had umber-brown, muscular bodies, similar in size and shape to a horse– standing tall enough to look Justin eye-to-eye. Like horses, they had short hair, hooves, and wiry tails, but their long faces had the pronounced brow ridge of a camel, and their snouts were elephant-like trunks that hung halfway to the ground. To Justin, they looked like the kind of bizarre, extinct species you might see painted on the wall at a natural history museum; an ice-age, mammalian precursor to modern life. He stared at the odd creatures, watching their trunks pull up clumps of grass and place it in their awaiting mouths. All three had saddles on their backs.
Justin approached… but he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. The thing seemed to be watching him, and despite its docile manner, he was suddenly wondering what kind of teeth were under that trunk.
– from The Fallen Odyssey by C.B. McCullough
This creature is referred to only by the simple moniker, steed. Steeds play a key role in our story from here on out, and while they are very similar to horses in implementation, we find out that their hardiness makes them suitable for all sorts of conditions.
It is for good reason that Justin compares them to museum exhibits, as the steed is based on an actual species that existed on Earth, long ago…
The Macrauchenia (Macrauchenia patachonica)
Macraucheniidae was a family of ungulates of the Litopterna order. This animal would have looked, to our eyes, like a combination horse-llama-camel, with a goofy little trunk-like appendage hanging from its snout. Macrauchenia went extinct 10-20,000 years ago, during the late Pleistocene, along with many other unique and strange looking mammals.
While Macrauchenia was the basis for steeds in the world of The Fallen Odyssey, the steed does not adhere to the scientifically-accurate Macrauchenia, nor is it meant to. For one thing, Macrauchenia was larger than a horse—almost ten feet long, and about a thousand pounds heavier. And for another matter, steeds have long, opposable trunks, more like an elephant.
I’ve found the development of new and interesting animals to be one of my favorite parts of world-building. It’s fun to imagine what human culture would be like, had one little thing happened differently—like the horse. It’s not that farfetched to imagine—if the horse never existed—cowboys riding across the American west on the backs of camels.
Stay creative, friends! Write long, and prosper.