Took and Cheer had their first brood early that year. Three eggs, laid just as the spring rains were dying down.

The eggs hatched, and the chicks emerged. As was tradition, the chicks were not to be named until they were able to fledge and leave the nest. Cheer was in charge of names, though Took would veto any he did not like. The first chick stopped moving after three days, and Cheer sorrowfully dropped it to the ground below, chirping out the name she had hoped to give it.

A day later, a squirrel found and raided the nest, making off with another nestling. Took had not been fond of Cheer’s proposed name for the child, but her sadness led him to grudgingly agree to consider it for one of the others. Then came the massive thunderstorm that washed out the treetops with high winds and torrents. The two remaining chicks perished, drowned along with their names.

Cheer dutifully began building another nest, but with no successful broods the year before, their first, she told Took that he was free to seek a more successful nestbuilder and mate. He refused, saying that he would stay true to Cheer even if she were sitting on rocks.

Took and Cheer’s second nest was four eggs that year, and a greedy raccoon took all four in one night, while Cheer and Took were out hunting for food. Devastated, Cheer promised that the next nest would be the last of the season. Took agreed, but repeated his early statement of fidelity.

As it was now mid-spring and food was plentiful, Cheer had no trouble laying, and soon two fresh eggs glinted in her new nest. One day, though, Cheer returned to the nest to find an egg she did not remember laying. It was slightly smaller, with subtle variations in color and pattern compared to her others. Her first thought was to eject it, but a warning pip from Took stayed her. He would explain why later, he said. For now, best to brood it.

For her part, Cheer whispered the names of her children–forbidden names not yet fit to be given–through the shells. Purty, you will be called, she said to the first. Sweet will be your name, she said to the second. And to the third, the odd egg she did not recall laying, she pipped the name Tsee.

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