In the old days, the great and wise Sun brought all birds to it and told them that they were to elect one bird to be leader over the others. When that bird died, another election would be held, and that bird would receive dominion.

The birds soon fell to squabbling over what qualities would qualify one for election. The strong birds argued for strength, the quick birds for speed, and the heavy birds for weight. But the great patriarch of the cardinals suggested another route: that they ought to elect, in turn the birds that most resembled the wise and holy Sun. He suggested a bright yellow warbler as the first candidate, as their fine yellow feathers were as the noonday sun.

The others agreed to this readily, especially as it promised them all an eventual turn in order of their likeness to the great Sun. The cardinal was also the only bird to have suggested a candidate other than himself, which gave him an air of detachment and neutrality.

After a number of other birds had been lord and ruler of the others for the span of their short lives, the cardinal declared that a cardinal should be next, as their red feathers were as the setting Sun. The other birds agreed, and the cardinal patriarch was told that he had been elected soon after.

He demurred, however, declaring that while he was honored, he was not the cardinal that had been the candidate. It was, in fact, the cardinal’s son, then just a stripling coming into his red. There was some grumbling, but the birds agreed that they had elected the cardinal’s son to be their lord until his death.

In time, the cardinal’s son was taken by a bobcat and his life ended. The patriarch, who lived still, declared his grandson to be the new ruler. The other birds objected, calling for a new election and proposing a tanager as a new candidate.

But the cardinal patriarch pointed out that the election had been won by “the cardinal’s son.” His grandson, then, was indeed the cardinal’s son and the ruler, and whenever a man-egg was laid and hatched, another cardinal’s son arose with an equal right to rule.

The other birds balked at this, but could not fault the patriarch’s logic. They begrudgingly agreed that the cardinals were their rulers, if only in name, until their line failed.

This is why, to this day, all cardinals continue to bear many sons. For when their line fails for the last and final time, they will lose their place and their dominion over all other birds.

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