December 2019

The sparrows recognize two deities, two powers to whom they give thanks and from whom they seek favor. The first is Aurin, the Father, the Great One–the sun. He bestows gifts like abundant sunshine and milt temperatures when he is pleased, but can also curse his adherents with rain, clouds, and storms if displeased. He is celebrated on Longday and Darkday, as the former is when he is closest and most present to his children, and the latter is when he is at his most distant, drawn away by affairs in the sky from his erstwhile romance with Iurra. Aurin does not have a code as such; he simply responds to what his followers do. If they show him proper respect, he is kind; if they insult him, he will be vengeful.

Iurra, the Mother, the Dear One–the earth–is the second great god of the sparrows. Unlike Aurin the Father, who has never deigned to speak to his children, the sparrows believe that Iurra once spoke to, and granted requests from, sparrows. They believe that she has withdrawn in sadness due to the wickedness of her children, but that she can be coaxed back through good behavior and sacrifice. Tywy, the sparrow of legend who was and is his people’s eternal leader, set down a series of commandments known as Iurra’s Word. If the Word be followed, many believe, Iurra will once again speak to her children and grant them boons.

Iurra’s Word is as follows:
-Be true to your mate unto their death, and to your chicks unto their fledging.
-Let no sparrow be faethwr (a bird of prey) or llew, a predator. (Sparrows do not consider insects to be alive.)
-Share your bounty with the flock, and in turn the flock will share its bounty with you.
-Sing strongly and well, but only when the time is right.

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For Xori had in fact dined on the flesh of another bird, in direct contravention of Iurra’s word.

The striders had prepared the bird’s flesh so artfully, and so flavorfully breaded it with crumbs and spices, that Xori had simply not noticed. But Echyda, with her father’s prowling eye, had noticed the subtle bones, the secret sinews, and had reported them to Oesoeddi, who still possessed his father’s keen mind and impressive memory for the word of Iurra, the Mother.

Despite Xori’s protests of ignorance, the remedy was clear. Xori was stripped of his title of riau, leader, and declared to be faethwr, a bird of prey, along with all his followers who had joined him in the forbidden repast. They were cast out, shunned for their cannibalism. All but his daughter Xoria, of course, who had been the first to sound the alarm and now stood to become the new riau, clear of suspicion.

After all, what daughter would report her father who did not have the best interests of the flock at heart?

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“He is imprisoned, you see, in a temple of nightmares. Every brick is a night terror, a primal fear pored over in the wee hours and given shape by subconscious dread. For some, the prison is a small one. A single room. Others, those who have known true pain, true fear, true darkness…they can make labyrinths, you see. Walls of living pain.”

I must have looked very old, then, and very tired in the harsh light of the monitors. “You’re saying he’s lost, then.”

“Lost? No. We know where he is. Getting there is possible, if difficult. Finding him is tricky, not impossible. But…”


“But it is convincing him to leave that will be the hardest part.” Alyce also looked rather poorly by the artificial light as she looked through the glass at his body. “A temple of nightmares can become rather homely if you spend every day there. If you built it.”

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A selection of words and terms from Passerine, the language of sparrows.

strider – A human being, so named for their curious gait. “Strider” is used rather than the Passerine word, llewe, to reduce confusion.

llew – A predator, which takes and eats sparrows. Can be more generally applied to any creature that sparrows find frightening, including striders

ysgly – Prey, that which is preyed upon by llew. Can include sparrows, but more often refers to other creatures.

faethwr – Birds of prey, eagles and hawks. While they can be–and are–called llew, their ability to fly makes them more dangerous.

amh – Birds that are often indifferent to sparrows. Typically applied to crows, gulls, and the like, which rarely harm sparrows so long as the sparrows are not foolish.

riau – A king or leader. Can be used in a metaphorical or honorary sense, often for a particularly old or respected sparrow.

esgyn – Good places in trees. They can be fine perches, or highly suitable nesting material, but most often refer to excellent sources of food like wild berries.

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Once upon a time, two twins lived in Trondheim in Viking Norway. They were known as Byog and Byob Halvorsen, and while they made their livings as hunters, their primary notoriety about the Trondheimsfjorden was their great love of, and incredible appetite for, alcohol. Byog Halvorsen preferred beer, Byob Halvorsen preferred mead, and together they could be found drinking, singing, and carousing whenever they were not out hunting.

One day, a dispute abut which beverage–mead or beer–was superior caused the brothers to break into angry fisticuffs. The fight, which lasted a whole day, wound up with both Halvorsens locked away for disturbing the peace. Speaking through the bars of their cells, the two brothers made a wager: whomever could return a year hence with the best written endorsement of their chosen drink would win, and the other brother would have to pay a year’s supply.

Time passed, and most townsfolk forgot about the whole incident. But the brothers did not, and their increasingly bold boasts in the weeks leading up to their contest resulted in a fair number of spectators. Byob went first, proudly producing a note from the Bishop of Nidaros in favor of mead. But Byog, grinning, then flashed a missive from the King endorsing beer. Byob protested that the King was a foreigner, a German prince ruling from Denmark and therefore biased, but the crowd declared him the winner.

Angry but true to his word, Byob Halvorsen promised to secure a year’s supply of beer for his brother. Byog, for his part, paid to have invitations posted around town for a grand celebration that would use up the supply in a single day. When the day came, though, no beer was forthcoming–instead, all the partygoers brought their own, providing the year’s supply and sharing generously with one another. Byob had cleverly convinced them all, through word of mouth, that they should bring their own drinks because he had been unable to acquire beer of a high quality. He therefore was able to pay off his debt to Byog and please the partygoers without paying a cent.

In recognition of his achievement, any party where guests bring their own spirits was, forever after, known as BYOB.

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The stockings, the tinsel, and more
Went down through the basement door
In those boxes they’ll sleep
A silent vigil they’ll keep
‘Til Xmas bells ring once more

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In my dream, I was walking through a frozen forest. Fresh-fallen snow, pristine icicles on the trees, and a white glow that swallowed up every bit of sunshine into a comforting haze.

I should have been cold, but I was not. The snow was undisturbed by my passage, and I left neither track nor trail. Warm and dry was not how I expected to feel, but I kept on.

There was a figure in front of me, moving into the distance. I could not see them clearly, nor make out any identifying detail, but I felt that I had to find them, stop them, speak to them. Yet the harder I pushed myself, the farther away they drew from me.

I began to see troubling signs, too. Snapped branches, not broken through passage but out of malice. Small animals, broken and bloodied on the driven snow. And, carried on the air, the echoes of dire mutterings. Mean-spirited attacks on the different, the less fortunate. It reminded me of someone even as it repulsed me, even as it drew me still onward to find out who I was following.

Perhaps, I was just afraid that I was following a shade of my future self, seeing in the dream-quarry the shadows of something I had once been, and did not desire to ever be again.

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Deeper, and deeper still. This part of the house is old and dark and ancient. No one lives here, not in this part, and the staff cleans it perfunctorily, by rote, and only once in a great while. They work in pairs on the brightest days, for the shadows are long and limber here, and there is only strong light to keep that dark shape flitting across the periphery of your vision from emerging.

They won’t talk about it, the staff, not because of any threats or recrimination but because they feel that giving the shadows names, giving them currency, gives them power as well. But none of them have escaped the feeling of being watched, none of them have seen only static shadows, and none of them has been spared the sense of helpless fear as beings, formless but for eyes of burning coal, creep out of the darkness.

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Polychrome Cardinal
Cardinalis chromaticus

Cardinals are known for being brightly colored, and the polychrome cardinal takes this to an extreme by appearing to be a different color to each person who sees it. One observer may see a brilliantly blue bird, another may experience it as lime green, and still another might see candy-cane stripes or leopard spots.

While a number of obvious morphological cues can help an experienced birdwatcher establish that they are looking at a polychrome cardinal, the mechanism by which the birds evoke different colors–and, rarely, patterns– in observers is totally unknown. The only constant seems to be that all polychrome cardinals are perceived as being the same color.

Except for females and juveniles, of course, which are mostly brown.

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“The liquor is in the back, in boxes,” drawled Harrison. “Boxes’re labeled. Shelves’re labeled. Just keep everything topped off and that’ll be that.”

Colin looked at the gas station’s dizzying array of intoxicants, which ranged from cheap to cheap but pretentious. “You need a whole temp just for that?” he said.

Harrison squirted his cheekful of dip from one side of his mouth to the other with a sound, and a vision to go with it, that made Colin thoroughly queasy. “You got a family?” he said.

“Of a sort,” Colin said.

“You seeing them this month?”

“Most likely,” Colin said. “Free meal, after all, when you’re living on a temp’s paycheck.”

“Well, it may surprise you, Mr. Evans Jr., but I also got me a family. A big ‘un. And there is nothing on God’s green earth worse than them. Probably even worse for you, seeing as your people have to cook for folks who think gratitude is a kinda flower,” Harrison said. “You know who gets me through it?”

“Your wife?” Colin ventured.

Harrison turned to the shelves, peeling three bottles off and shoving them into Colin’s arms. “Mister Jack Daniels, the Reverend Jim Beam, and His Goddamn Majesty the Crown Royal.”

Colin shifted the bottles uneasily in his arms. “Ah,” he said. “I think I get it.”

“You learn the shapes of those bottles by feel, Mr. Evans Jr., because you’re gonna need it.” Harrison turned away. “Get ready. I’m opening now.”

At the click of the latch, Colin had barely gotten the bottles back on the shelf when the liquor aisle was flooded with people. None of them acknowledged him, not the three mothers, two grandmothers, or the uncle with a shopping basket over each arm. They just shambled over, filled their hands and all other receptacles with wine and whiskey, and shuffled off. Within five minutes, the box wine was already out, to say nothing of the Jack and Jim.

Colin took ten minutes wrestling fresh bottles and boxes out of the back room, and had just begun opening the when a fresh wave hit. The people didn’t even wait for the boxes to open, simply scooping them up and taking them to the register. And there were more behind them.

“I quit,” he whispered, miserably.

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