Ironhead

Physical Description

Ironheads are large, herbivorous mammals. They have four legs, a tail with a tuft, and a very short neck. The height of an adult ironhead, measured at the shoulders, lies between 2-2.3 m (6.6-7.5 ft). With a weight of easily over 2,500 kg (~5,500 lbs), they are rather massive beasts. The chest is thicker, vertically and horizontally than the hips, if not by much. Overall, their body is densely packed with muscles. The females have two teats between their hindlegs. The only other difference between males and females is that the males a large, hard crest is attached to the plate on their head. Even their height is roughly the same.

The heads of these animals are rather flat, but seamlessly go over into the neck and body. As stated, their neck is short, so short in fact that they cannot move their head around much, which has made it necessary for them to have their eyes on the side of their heads to keep a rough overview over the area surrounding them. With a mouth that is angled downwards, they have a hard time reaching the leaves of anything that is above their heads. Lacking any kind of teeth with the exception of molars, they rely on their lips to pluck grass out of the ground or leaves from bushes and knocked over trees.

An ironhead is entirely covered in thick, gray skin. The hide can easily be between 1-5 cm (0.4-2 in) thick, depending on the place. The skin tends to be thicker near the head and chest region, and thinner at the back. It is gray-green in color. This natural armor has made it hard to slay the beasts with arrows, as they just get stuck in their hide but barely dig deep enough to actually hinder the animal. In case this isn't enough protection against the environment and predators, ironheads also feature thick plates made out of keratin. These plates cover the entire front of the head and continue along the neck and back of the animal, with gaps in between them, in order to allow mobility of the spine and neck. Not only is the plate on the head hard and thick, it is also supported by an internal bone structure in order to absorb impacts and spread them evenly across the skeleton. The shoulders are also covered with these plates. With a thickness of 3-6 cm (1.2-2.4 in), these plates can even keep arrows out of the ironheads body and it has been reported that even sword blows were fended off, which has lead to their name in the first place. Ironheads are very sturdy animals.

Despite their weight and cumbersome appearance, they are not slow. The average ironhead, if angered, can outrun any lin, making it a stupid idea to upset these mammals. With legs so strong they can rival the Sozkul, a charging ironhead can easily knock over any lin and most smaller creatures. Such an impact is in most cases fatal, or at least ends with many broken bones. Broad feet allow the ironheads to have a steady stand on most surfaces. As they live on plains, they are not build for climbing at steep angles. Each foot has three stubby toes which are tipped with blunt, short nails. The nails serve no special purpose. Due to their short length, the toes are useless for grabbing objects. The bottom of the feet is flat and covered in the thickest hide. This allows ironheads to step across even the most difficult terrain without risking injury of the soles.

Their eyes aren't the best, being bad at spotting things at a distance.Color-wise their eyes can be various shades of brown. Their ears and sense of smell perform alright. Overall, the sensory capabilities of the ironheads is nothing that would be called special. This has not put them at a disadvantage though, given their sheer strength and numbers. Being herbivores, they do not need to spot prey or similar as they just have to sniff out grass and trees.

Behavior

Ironheads are peaceful, albeit not very smart herbivores. They simply move around all day in the search of food or a partner. When hungry, they either eat the grass of the plains or they knock over trees. This is the purpose of the keratin plates on their heads and shoulders after all. After gaining a bit of momentum with a quick charge, the ironhead rams the tree either with their head or with their shoulders. Thanks to its thick skull and plates, it remains unharmed, but the tree might tilt or even fall over. The ironhead repeats this, until the leafy canopy of the tree is in the reach of its lips. Only the thickest trees remain standing when an ironhead herd is in the area. If an ironhead spots a threat it will move closer to the herd and try to scare the threat off by bellowing, snorting, and stomping on the ground. Should the threat, if it is a creature, not take the hint, the ironhead might try to stomp on it or knock it over.

A very interesting trait ironheads have is that they can be tamed, domsticated, and will even listen to simple orders. The Gren have done so. Due to their strength and size, they are good at carrying goods on their back or pull a cart after themselves. They also serve as war mounts. One can enhance their natural armor further by covering the animal in chain mail or even plate armor. No enemy formation can keep their line when faced with charging ironheads. Even pikes become mostly useless when used to brace against a charge, as the weapon will break upon impact, even if it pierces the ironhead's hide. However, their tendency to become mad and thrash around once angered can make them a double edged sword if they have to endure too much pain. This has made their widespread use impractical and only knights are trusted with controlling these beasts. Steering the beasts is handled with reigns. Thanks to their social herding behavior, the ironheads form affectionate bonds with their riders.

Social

These mammalian creatures form large herds of roughly a hundred of them. The herd is led by the strongest male. He is tasked with guiding his followers to water and grassy plains. Other males may also be in the herd, but they do not have the right to copulate with the same females the leader picks. These herds of ironheads move over the plains, eating whatever plan matter they can find. Once an area has little left to eat, the alpha bull will lead his herd to the next area. Not many herds exist, because ironheads reproduce rather slowly. Neither are the herds large, because the area can only sustain that many ironheads. If a herd risks starvation, it tends to naturally split into chunks of varying sizes, led by males that think they will be able to find greener places for their following. These smaller herds will look for food elsewhere, away from their former group. Some of these smaller groups might end up starving or being picked apart by large predators, if the new alpha bull is not able to provide for them.

Reproduction and Development

Females enter heat in spring, when there is a lot of food and circumstances for breeding are good. Males can smell that the females are ready to breed and mount them unceremoniously just in the middle of the day. Once the deed is done, the two part ways again. It isn't uncommon that one male breeds multiple females a day, even if they have already been bred. If two males try to mate with the same female, they will fight for the mating rights. The alpha bull of the herd has the right to pick whatever female he desires, but sometimes another male might challenge him for that right. This in turn causes a duel, which usually lasts until one of the two fighters is not capable of fighting anymore. Sustaining injuries just enrages them, so they rarely back down once they really got into the duel. The winner becomes the new alpha, while the loser is likely to succumb to his wounds.

After a year and a season of pregnancy, the female will give birth to one calf in the summer of the year after having been inseminated. When born, the calf is around 0.4 m (1.3 ft) tall. The calf can stand within a minute, but is not capable of eating plant matter yet. Instead it will suckle on its mother's teats for the next three seasons before it can start to grass on its own, but it is not yet ready to knock down trees. While they aren't the smartest creatures in Threa, they are still capable of forming bonds. An ironhead calf is quite vulnerable to big predators such as wargs and dire wolves, so the calves are protected by every member of the herd, especially the bulls. Mothers appear to have an affectionate relationship with their young, evident in how they snuggle up. Calves also play with each other, charging against each other and trying to knock each other over once their plates start growing at the age of two. Obviously the young males already try to set the hierarchy of the next generation. It takes them another two years until they have the strength to knock over trees that are thicker than a birch. After around five to six years, the former calf has reached its adult size and is ready to reproduce. An ironhead reaches an age between 30-50 years before dying of natural causes.

The Gren practice selective breeding in order to have the strongest and largest ironheads possible.

Ecology

Habitat

Ironheads inhabit the grassy plains west of the mountains that split the northern, forested areas of Threa in two. Seasons alter the habitat a lot. During summer and spring, food is available in great amounts in the form of grass, flowers and bushes. During fall, the falling leaves enrich the habitat with food once more in that year, before the winter comes and leafy trees can't serve as sources of food anymore. Grazing is possible, however, the ironheads have to shovel the plentiful snow away with their heads.

It is likely that the ironheads are the main reason for the existence of the western plains in the first place, because they knocked down many forests over the centuries of their existence. Once enough trees were knocked down, grassy plains took over which the ironheads fed on instead of the trees. New trees have a tough time coming up, the ironheads will just gobble up the tasty saplings

Diet

Being pure herbivores, ironheads only eat plant matter. All kinds of plant matter can be digested by them, be it pines, leaves, grasses, or fruits. Apples, carrots, and similar can be used as a nice treat for ironheads.

Competition and Predators

Large herds of ironheads have to fear no one. No predator would be dumb enough to attempt and take one of these animals down. However, if an ironhead strays too far from its herd, especially young ones, then they may fall prey to all kinds of hunter packs or large predators. Killing the ironhead has to happen far enough away from the herd, or otherwise the herd will come charging to scare off the predators.

Origin

The origins of the ironheads are unknown, but they've always existed on the western plains and have never been spotted anywhere else.