The R’rruthren are a felinoid race – they have fur, tails, large motile ears, whiskers, and retractable claws on both hands and feet. They generally stand on two, rather than four feet, but can drop to all fours to achieve extra speed when on a hunt. Like all members of the cat family, they walk on their toes, having a high heel on their back legs and elongated palms connecting their fingers to their arms.
They are shorter than humans, with adult heights averaging around a metre and a half when standing in a relaxed pose. Fur colours tend to be dark, although paler variants can be found among northern prides, and markings range from stripes, through swirled and brindled coats, to single coloured coats. White, or light tips to tails, and digits are fairly common, as are paler flashes on stomachs and chests. Eyes can be green, gold, blue, or silver grey, with no white edges, and deeper colouration. Some R’rruthren develop odd coloured eyes – one green, one gold, for instance – and these are thought to be marked by their gods and able to call upon them for guidance and aid.
They can be found all across the Known Kingdoms, but their primary hunting grounds lie on either side of the Midmerle Sea, in the Farren Fields and the Jungles to the south. Prides also roam the the Northern Wilds, and the lands south of Greenhaven – both the in the mountain ranges and the deserts that lie beyond them.
R’rruthren are tribal by nature, preferring to live in family groups or prides, but coming together as larger groupings for festivals and co-operative projects. Many of these prides are nomadic, or semi-nomadic, moving with the wild herds that they hunt as the seasons change. Some raise and train luprrin – a form of domesticated large hunting cat, sleek as leopards and as swift as cheetahs. The less nomadic prides also keep kir’rritle – smaller, striped and spotted cats bred for their skills in hunting small prey such as rabbits, game brirds, and even fish. The interbreeding of kir’rrtile with domestic cats kept by humans has created the Kirtle Cat – a breed known to be remarkably smart, able to learn a few words, and to understand simple instructions. Kirtle cats are rare, and much prized in human settlements. R’rruthrens find them amusing and tend to keep them as pets rather than working hunters.
R’rruthrens love luxury, but are at home in the wilds as much as they are curled up in lavishly furnished tents, in cosy cover dwellings, or lazing by the fire in human homes and castles. They are hunters, and obligate carnivores, although many that live in human lands find other occupations and enjoy very varied diets. They can – and do – drink alcohol, but prefer fragrant wines and sweet ciders to coarse beers and ales. They have an acute sense of smell, and sensitive ears: they can also perceive a much wider range of sounds than human ears, being able to catch the squeak of bats on the wing and the faint flutter of both insect and flitter wings. They see well in the dark, but can struggle in bright light, their eyes better attuned to movement than minute details.
Their most unique feature, however, is literally having nine lives.
Every R’rruthren born will be born again another eight times, each time retaining the knowledge and experience they have gained in their previous life. The thren – the soul and spirit of each life – is drawn back to their original birthing pride to be reincarnated in a new body, and to grow again from kit to adult. This cycle can only be disrupted by the extinction of their family line, and even then, a displaced thren may find shelter in a distantly related pride. This gift – or perhaps curse – can lead to interesting encounters where a pride’s youngest kit may also be one of their elders. Contrary to what humans may think, the knowledge that they will be returned from death does not make them reckless, although the first-born may have less awareness of the value of each life than those further through the cycle.
They have a life-span of around forty to fifty years, but can live up to sixty or so in their final lives, given them an overall lifetime of between 350 to 500 years. That tends to give them more in common with Elfin, and with Dragons, than it does humankind – they live for the moment, but are aware of the longer cycles of time and the value of prudent foreplanning.
Because the prides know that their first-born will come back, they are encouraged to roam the world. Most – if not all – of the lone R’rruthren wanderers, the adventurers and explorers found far from their homelands – are first or second born. They experience everything they can, knowing they will eventually bring that knowledge and experience back to share with their families. These wanders find work in human cities, take passage on ships serving as crew (or pirates), climb distant mountains, seek out ancient dragons, and talk to the spirits of earth, water, air and sky. Because this early wanderlust, human’s tend to view R’rruthrens with a level of suspicion, thinking they might be thieves (some are), or troublemakers (they like to live in ‘interesting’ times). Mostly they are just curious and eager to experience and learn – but they have wild nature, and may not always follow local rules and laws.
One thing is certain, though – despite appearances, they do value their lives and try very hard not to lose one if they can avoid it. If they can’t – well, they accept that as the Hunter’s will, and do not fear death, choosing to welcome it as something that will become familiar over time.
Should they come to that acceptance, only to find that their current life is spared due to some other being’s intervention, then they owe that being a life debt – and will – if possible, spend the rest of that life serving, protecting, and generally watching over their saviour.