Pigeons

(Tom Clare)

Pigeons have been kept by men for millennia as a ready source of meat in hard times, but they have lately played a new rôle. One of the most innovative ideas brought back from the Holylands is the use of messenger pigeons. Geofric of Borne, chronicler of the Knights Sceptorum, was most impressed by this fast and reliable method of communication, and wrote:

“The native peoples of this place [the city of Ibrahim*, where Geofric was garrisoned] transport, from one city to another, pigeons, who, when released into the air, carry letters back to the city which was recently their home, arriving there long before any mounted messenger could hope to traverse the distance with news. Each letter, written on paper tied to the pigeons’ feet, instructs the finder of whom it is intended and what is to be done”.

The rock pigeon of the Holylands has been carried back to the west and the pigeon-post has flourished; so much so that the best messenger pigeons can fetch between 5 and 10 crowns; one may find oneself parting with 20 florins just for the egg of an especially fast bird. Those gentry, generally lords and ladies with interests far afield, who keep a cot of messenger pigeons, have servants called dovewards, who have a special responsibility for the upkeep and breeding of the birds.

Generally a brace of pigeons is taken abroad by the messenger, steward, or household knight, in carefully made cages (although the ease with which the birds can be temporarily concealed about one’s person is often used to advantage of by scouts and spies). When the birds are needed, a short message is written out in duplicate upon long strips of paper and a copy tied to the ankle of each pigeon. Both are then released into the air, and make their way back to the cot they were raised in as quickly as possible; a pigeon can cover 500 miles in a single day with relative ease. The doveward, upon find a returned messenger pigeon, removes the epistle and delivers it to his master.

Messenger pigeons are fairly reliable, but they do, occasionally, get lost or are brought down by hawks or falcons (which is why two birds are usually sent). A character attempting to shoot a messenger pigeon down with a bow will have quite a shot to make. Bringing it down with a hawk is simpler, if the falconer has his hawk ready and waiting.

Homeward Bound

Sending a pigeon home with a message requires a homeward bound roll; the referee rolls d100 and consults the table below. A particularly good pigeon may add a bonus of 10% to 30% to the chance of success, depending on how effective the bird is. This is largely through breeding rather than training. A success means the bird arrives in the time noted.

% Chance
Distance
Arrives…
90%
Close: A few miles
A hour later.
70%
Fairly Close: 100 miles
The same day.
50%
Far: 500 miles
The next day.
30%
Distant: 1000 miles
Three days later.
10%
Remote: 5000 miles
A week later


A failure doesn’t necessarily mean that the pigeon will not deliver the message – it may just be late. The failure rate will indicate whether or not the bird arrives.

Failed Roll
Failure Rate
Effect
Up to 10%
1d3 days late
11% to 20%
A week late
21% to 30%
A fortnight late
31% to 40%
A month late
More than40%
Never arrives

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