The Swift Talon, colloquially referred to as the Bugeaters among their own ranks, are private military contractors, their ranks made up of highly trained and highly skilled elven aerial cavaliers mounted atop specially bred giant steppe eagles. They originally served as an elite unit in their country's military, specializing in reconissance and as high speed strike teams. They are mounted archers first and foremost, but more than capable soldiers on the ground, weilding their unique short sabres with deadly proficiency.
The Talon hail from a small village named Galanthral in Elvendeep, which is exclusively where the eagles are bred and the riders are trained. Galanthral serves as little more than a training ground and breeding area for the aerial cavaliers. The profession of eagle breeder is an extremely prestigious one, and apprenticeships have been known to last several decades, with many lasting a full century. Even in their own lands, the profession of aerial cavalier is extremely rare, requiring decades of training for both mount and rider, which makes it exclusive to the elven race by virtue of their longevity. Few are truly cut out for such a demanding occupation, as every Talon must be an expert in mounted archery, aerial combat, close combat (armed and unarmed), and animal care.
The Talon left Galanthral some time ago, and though the reasons for their departure are never spoken of to outsiders, rumors abound of a moral disagreement between Captain Nerin Selva and his direct superior and trainer. Whatever the circumstances, the loyalty of the Talon to their captain was such that they followed him upon his departure without question, taking their mounts and equipment with them.
The Talon use their speed and aerial advantage to deadly effect in the field, diving in at speeds in excess of 120mph and unleashing volley after volley of broad tipped arrows upon their unsuspecting foes. Their steppe eagles are nearly as silent as owls, and the Talon use their mounts' stealth and superior eyesight to their advantage while on the wing. Each rider shares a nearly empathic link with their mount, having spent decades training them personally, and the death of a mount or a rider is mourned by the other party like the loss of a sibling. Training a new mount to replace a lost one is a time consuming process, and an eagle that loses its rider is often so inconsolable that it is good for little more than breeding purposes.
While in the air during combat, the Talon communicate with each other by utilizing a system of sharp whistles and aerial maneuvers. Shouting at such altitudes and speeds is very ineffective. Aside from their superior marksmanship and remarkable speed, the Talon's main strength lies in their unparalleled coordination. Capable of operating independently or in small groups, each Talon is a deadly fighting force in their own right.
The giant steppe eagles stand well over 7' at the shoulder, 10' long, and have massive wing spans of up to 25'. The average eagle weighs about 500lbs and can easily carry half of its weight with little impact to its aerial agility. While their riders are dangerous combatants in their own right, the sharp talons and wickedly hooked beaks of the eagles are capable of dealing death at a moment's notice. Remarkably intelligent birds, they have been trained to swoop down at tremendous velocities and tear horsemen from their mounts with their talons, devouring them in midair before the enemy is even fully aware of their presence.
Uniforms and Equipment
The riders' uniforms consist of mottled brown leathers dyed to resemble the coloration of their mounts' plumage, with the Captain in matte black. Leather skull caps, goggles, and thick woolen scarves protect their faces from the wind and the cold, while a thin short of elven mithril offers significant protection against enemy arrows. Their "bomber-style" jackets have a detachable right sleeve to make drawing a bow easier, and the left sleeve is closely fitted to allow the thick leather bracer to be worn over top. Silver tabs affixed to their collars denote rank, with one square tab for private, two for second lieutenant, three for first lieutenant, and a silver winged arrow for captain. All of the Talon favor hair clipped very close to the scalp, setting them apart from the more traditional, long-haired version of the woodland elves.
Aside from their sabres, all of the Talon carry exquisitely crafted composite recurve pyramid bows, sturdy weapons with an extremely impressive pull. The bows are uniform in design and color, covered in a low-gloss black paint. While extra arrows are stored in their large, oiled leather quivers, a member of the Talon will carry up to a dozen arrows in their left hand while holding the bow, making for a much shorter reload time. Sharp, black bladed karambit knives are sometimes worn strapped to the right thigh, but these are worn more as utility knives, being a last resort during combat missions.
Each eagle's barding is made of light, durable leather to preserve the mount's maneuvrability. Riders kneel with their lower legs resting along, and strapped to, each wing base, allowing the rider to sit up vertically for shooting, flatten themselves to their mounts for speed and travel, and keep their hands free at all times. The eagles are directed with a combination of weight distribution, verbal commands, whistles, and their own intuition, which is closely linked to that of their riders.
The Talon is divided into First and Second Wing, with 18 eagles each. One First Lieutenant oversees each Wing with a Second Lieutenant below them, and the Captain oversees both.