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Of all the heraldic beasts, the lion is the most prominent. Many families can trace their lineage back to the House of Diera Leptailura, the Chief Founder of Grimalhame, the most powerful and ancient family being that of Longwhisker. The winged lion of Leptailura became the rampant gold lion on scarlet of Longwhisker. There are many variations of the lion design for the other houses of Arcadia, some of which are now long extinct, but their histories can be found in the clowder archives. No history is ever lost here. 

Much of the stone tracery is found in the oldest sections of the clowder like the Central Council Chamber, hospital, school and university. Many of the doors are bold and very ornate and carved with the emblem and symbols of that particular department. Blind arcades are also a feature of the oldest sections of the clowder and there are cobwebs abound as Grimalkins are reluctant to clear them away before all the spiders have gone into hibernations. Cobwebs also have their uses and are often used in medicinal dressings. There are also beautiful mosaics that can be found all over the clowder, some more than a thousand years old.

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 As Grimalkins evolve, so does the clowder. Grimalkins are always building, renovating and improving the clowder as it grows. As society becomes more complex, so does Grimalhame. Most of the network that extended east and west of the Henge became obsolete around nine-hundred years ago due to subsidence. Architects agreed to close off the east and west wings and rebuild closer to the Henge.

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Even though the majority of the Grimalhame network is underground, the upper levels of the clowder hospital are above ground, as it the Clowder Mother’s and Master Healer’s abode. The outbuildings are, by Grimalkin standards, ostentatious and grandiose, with flying buttresses, decorative stained-glass windows, heavy doors, cloisters, and gargoyles in the shape of fabulous beasts.

  The Central Council Chamber is an open-plan rotunda and level one marks the upper section of the Chamber. The Chamber itself has four floors that encircle the outer walls of the Chamber like the cloisters of a cathedral. It is a wonderful space - airy and expansive and decorated with rich murals carvings and hangings in bright colours, all stitched by paw.

  The ‘beams’ of the ceiling are, in fact, the roots of ancient trees carved in wonderful designs and these roots support the entire ceiling. A magnificent wrought iron chandelier hangs above, some forty feet above the floor, bedecked with huge beeswax candles that can be lit from the upper level using long tapers (one has to watch out for dripping wax). An immense starclock (only one of two) resides over the entrance.

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The original clowder hospital has long since gone (south of the Henge) and the new hospital is now situated on the east side of the Henge. Founded by Soriah Deodar seven-thousand years ago, the hospital forms a huge part of the clowder. The hospital is on three levels and consists of the Master Healer’s abode, wards, healing rooms, the Physician’s Lodge and storerooms.

  The eight-hundred-year-old hospital was probably the most ambitious project of its time with its high-ceilinged, cavernous wards, labyrinthine corridors, ante-rooms and vast storerooms. The upper levels are, perhaps, the most interesting as the architects were given free rein on its design resulting in huge, flying buttresses, carvings, gargoyles, grotesques and strange creatures peering out from under the eaves and from corners. Inside, compound pillars and massive oak hammer-beams support the roof, each carved with its own design. A visitor would be hard-pressed to find two designs the same.

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Non-apotropaic carvings are also present and some a purposefully placed. In the Central Council Chamber you will find carvings of griffins, the symbol of the Democratic Council of Elders. In the library and school, you will find owls, hawks, eagles, herons and unicorns. The grotesques inside the clowder hospital and on the eaves of the outbuilding are in the forms of wild boar, fish, dragons, snakes and cats with faces made of leaves, or cats disgorging verdures from their mouths. But there are many more creatures that make an appearance in and around the clowder, seemingly placed at random – aurochs, foxes, bears, yale, kelpies, mammoths, goats, hares, lions and magpies. They also feature on corbels and on roofline corbel tables.

Gargoyles and grotesques can be found all over Grimalhame, inside and out. All clowders have these fantastic, sometimes monstrous, features. They can be found on the gables, rooflines and on the corners of all the clowder outbuildings.
Gargoyles are waterspouts that channel water from the roof and away from the eaves and walls of a structure and thus limit the damage to the masonry and stonework. A grotesque, on the other hand, serves no purpose but exists purely as a decorative feature. In the earliest days of the clowder, grotesques in the shape of dragons were carved to keep away negative, mischievous or swarthy spirits. These are known as apotropaic carvings. Apotropaic means to repel. Other apotropaic carvings include snarling wolves and grinning boars. Perhaps our ancestors thought that the sharp teeth and tusks of these creatures would be enough to keep mischief at bay.

 

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After seven-thousand years, Grimalhame has had plenty of time to accumulate a great deal of curiosities. Many of these are architectural and one can spend hours, or even days, wandering around the clowder simply looking at all the gargoyles, grotesques, face-pullers, carvings, knobs, knockers and all the other things Grimalkins have created to make this place unique. While most of the grand carvings are heraldic and represent the Great Houses, many are small and unobtrusive and are often hidden away from view either by time, or other buildings or features. Here are just a few of the features one may find in around the clowder.

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Apart from the classrooms, there are also reading rooms where students can study in peace (I say ‘study in peace’ but what I really mean is places where students can escape to clown about without elders watching them.).  In the centre, directly below the Central Chamber, is the Lecture Hall. It is furnished in dark wood with matching benches upholstered in red leather. At the north side of the lecture hall is a rostrum and blackboard as well as a plinth and lectern in the shape of an eagle in the centre of the hall.

  All students from kittens to Initiates are taught here, making this a communal learning experience. Older students can also be given placements to teach younger students if they wish. Responsibility to others is positively encouraged here at Grimalhame.

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It is a warren of corridors and niches each with rows of storage cupboards and storerooms that are home to exercise books, pens, textbooks and all manner of stationary (hence why it is my favourite department!).

   Deodar Section (named after Soriah Deodar) which is where history is taught, although our new assistant Governess, Mavanwy Brindlewing the eagle owl, is a new addition to our staff and she teaches languages. Hellebore Longleap is Governor of Blackthorn Section, Moona Windshadow is Governess of Magnolia Section, and brother of Imeldra Moonpaw, Adharo, is Governor of Oak Section (in addition to his position of Head of Mathematics and Astronomy).

  Level three is divided up into eight departments – botany, herbalism and medicine, philosophy and languages, the first school and kindle, history, midwifery, and study rooms. These are, in turn, divided up into smaller classrooms. The education department is also divided up into sections – Magnolia, Blackthorn, Oak and Deodar section, each with its own staircase leading up to the upper and lower floors. 

 

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Carvings also acts as signposts too. An individual can rarely become lost in a clowder if they know how to read the carvings. If they are familiar with the signs and symbols of the various professions and meanings behind the plants, flowers, animals or sigils, they can navigate their way from one place to another. For example, if an individual finds themselves surrounded by images and carvings of owls, eagles and dragons, they are probably in the University. If they see images of plants, flowers, serpents and wild boar, they are in the clowder hospital. So the carvings also serve an important function, on which was woven into the very fabric of the clowder since its founding. 

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Gefin Marlioch, one of the Three Founders of Grimalhame, knew how large the clowder would grow and so he worked out a system of images and icons for each department, section and area. He was aware that some Grimalkins could not read or write so took this into account and created a wordless system do everyone could understand and follow. This system of signs and symbols has been used in every clowder and settlement ever since.

Heraldic shields are everywhere detailing the extensive family history of all the Great Houses of Grimalhame from the time of the Founders. Grimalkins take great pride in their family history and their heritage, whether it be Grimalkin, Wildcat, or a mix of both. A lot can be learned from reading the shields of the various houses and families of the clowder; where they came from, who they are related to and how far back their lineage goes. 

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