The Tale of Brnin, Riau of the Sparrows

In the oldest times of which out legends speak, the time of the Fledging, birds were the only beasts that roamed the earth. All else was small and scuttling ysgly, prey, or esgyn, the perches that grow and sway and bring forth bountiful harvests of food. The affairs of birds were managed by the Great Council, which selected one of its members to rule for four seasons. The Great Council consisted of the largest and heartiest of birds; some like the eagles and owls were faethwr, predators on their fellow-birds, while others like the crows and gulls were amh, and had no interest in eating other birds but would steal from them and defend themselves against incursion.

No sparrows sat on the Great Council, for they were too small; their interests were represented by the larger amh. Each member of the Council was the riau, or king, of their race. The riau came to power in various ways: the eagles sent their best hunter, the owls sent their eldest, the crows sent their cleverest speaker, and the gulls sent the seniormost of their line of albatross-princes.

Brnin, the largest and strongest sparrow the world has ever seen, was well-known even then to his people. He approached the riau of the crows, asking for the Council’s blessing to recognize him as riau of the sparrows. The crow asked why a race which did not sit on the Council needed a riau at all; Brnin replied that by speaking with a single voice, the sparrows could make their wishes more easily known. This would reduce the number of petitions the crow-riau would receive, and Brnin accompanied his request with a large offering of foodstuffs and shiny trinkets of the sort crows are known to favor. The crow-riau took his request to the Council and they agreed that the sparrows might name a riau of their choosing, endorsing Brnin as the one so chosen.

I don’t need to tell you of Brnin’s great and powerful deeds, from outfoxing the Great White Owl to securing for his people the Fields of Endless Ysgly and the Bountiful Esgyn of the Many Berries. He was therefore acclaimed as riau of the sparrows by the elders of every flock. But then a curious thing happened. Whereas before Brnin had sought to strengthen his flock and other sparrows, he now increasingly sought only to maintain and expand his power. He took for himself the best hens from every flock and tribe, intimidating their mates through his large size and numerous followers. He began replacing the elders of flocks and tribes that displeased him or refused to obey his wishes, often appointing much younger and inexperienced–but loyal–birds to those positions. He demanded of every flock and tribe a tribute in imperishable seed, soon accumulating more than he or his many chicks and hens could ever eat.

These actions occurred gradually, not overnight, but they were anathema to the sparrows nonetheless. A sparrow is loyal to its hen and she to he; Brnin’s harem was a mockery of this. A sparrow eats no more than it needs to support itself and its hen and its chicks; Brnin’s hoarding was a mockery of this. But the bird that snapped the branch came much later, when Brnin chose from among his many sons a particularly large specimen who greatly resembled his father. The sparrow-riau declared that he would be succeeded by this chick, known as Tywy, rather than any of the elders or heroes that sparrowkind had produced during his reign. The elders balked at this, pointing out that Brnin himself had obtained his position through deeds, not through birth, but the sparrow-riau ignored them. Eventually, a delegation of elders presented Brnin with an ultimatum: disinherit Tywy or lose their loyalty.

Brnin’s response cemented how far he had fallen: he slew the foremost of the elders in single combat. This violence had no precedent among his kind, and had a great impression on Tywy. The would-be riau by birth condemned his father as a faethwr, a predator, and in turn slew him in a great battle which lasted nearly a month. Impressed by this deed, the elders offered Tywy the crown–through his deeds, they thought he had earned what they once thought him unworthy of. Tywy instead declared himself faethwr for the crime of killing his father, who had once been a great hero, and declared that henceforth the sparrows would have no riau, only elders. He dispersed his father’s hens and his many siblings, gave away the great store of hoarded seeds, and departed, never to be seen again.

For his deeds, the elders named Tywy riau of his people; in the absence of sure news of his death, most sparrows consider that he holds the position to this day. That is why no sparrow has ever sought to be riau again, and why Tywy’s name is often invoked alongside Ellw’s as the greatest hero known to sparrows. Brnin’s is no less popular in the telling, serving as an example through his great deeds but also a warning in his precipitous fall into selfishness and vanity.

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