Marking the beginning of fledging season and the end of the cold, hard winter, the sparrows venerate Seedsprout over all other holidays. It does not always exactly coincide with the warming of the sun and the plenty of seeds and young shoots to eat, but their arrival is always heralded.

The midsummer celebration of Longday is when the newly fledged chicks take their places as full members of sparrow society. The longest, hottest day of the year, it is also an opportunity to remember that winter has begun its approach and that the halcyon days of summer are fleeting.

The most dour of all sparrow holidays, Flutterleaf is a final feast on the latest-blooming, the cherries and their ilk. One final chance to fatten for the hardships to come, it is also often fledglings’ last chance to seek assistance from their parents before their first winter alone.

The coldest and darkest day of the year, Darkday is a time to remember all those sparrows that have perished in the previous cycle. But it is also a hopeful time, because spring has finally begun its arrival. Darkday Dances are often the place where sparrows meet their mate for the season.

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This is the story of the island of the sparrows.

In the middle of the Greatest Water, over which only the greatest of the great fliers can soar, a land once arose. Completely new to the World Beneath, it was not connected to any other land, and it was too far for any strider or any llew, any predator, to reach. And it was a bountiful land, full of food and good nesting.

Only those with wings could make the trip. So came the segmented scuttlers, the insects; so came the furry gliders, the night-mice; and so too came the sparrows. Though the scuttlers and the night-mice were clever and grew large, the sparrows were far cleverer and grew far larger.

In fact, the nesting and the food was so good that the sparrows grew powerful, almost as large and powerful as the ones who had once upset the Great One. But, knowing as they did the story, they did not make the same mistakes. Instead, they made different ones.

With so many years having passed since llew had feasted upon them, the sparrows grew fat and complacent. They lost their ability to spot llew, to run from llew, to hide from llew, and in direst need to fight llew. So when the striders learned of the great island of birds and swum to it…there was nothing the sparrows there could do.

The striders and the llew they brought killed all but the smallest sparrows on the island of birds and wore their feathers upon their bodies as trophies.

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This is the story of the Age of Sparrows.

In ages past, before time was time and the world was the world, sparrows ruled all. They were great and all and proud and took what they would. They were the striders, and the striders were the sparrows: weak, scattered, prey.

Sparrows took llew rather than llew taking sparrows.

But in their hubris, the sparrows decided that they must be bigger still. So they grew larger an more fierce until they were larger and fiercer than any creature which has ever walked the earth. So much so that they could only eat other sparrows, who they slew in great battles.

The Great One saw this and was much saddened. He implored the sparrows to change their ways, but they regarded him not–they were the great ones now, and needed no counsel. So, in his sadness, the Great One hid himself from the world for a whole year. The sparrows, deprived of light and warmth, had to shrink in order to survive. In turn, the striders–free of the sparrows’ predation–grew and they themselves took on the role of llew, predators.

And that is why things are as they are today, why sparrows pay for the transgressions of our ancestors even unto this day, and why even the few of our brothers who are llew, like the hawk or the owl, feed upon us even now.

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With delighted quibbles, the bird alights. A cuckoo enters the nest, level and light, balancing a bit to clutch twigs for a smaller bird. A nearby sparrow shouts a warning as the interloper lays a fake.

A sparrow weathers the events beside his hen, an apology unspoken between them. The hen runs claws against her clutch, against the interloper. Nearby, in the leaves, the cuckoo waits: ready to wreck nest and meat within should things go ill.

The sparrows have decided. They will keep the child and love it with offerings of chitin as if it were their very own. Perhaps their love will be enough, and their child will no longer savage the nests of others but build its own.

Theirs is the hope of a doomed generation.

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In the old days, when the world was but young and the creatures were but new upon it, a sparrow approached its young mother, the Earth below, with a request.

“Mother,” it said most politely, “I have a boon to ask of thee.”

“Speak, then, little flutterer,” said the Earth. In those days, young and so very proud of her creations, she whispered lovingly to all of them in the dewey mornings and misty evenings. The stony silence she bears now is, after all, borne of the long hurt that only a mother can know, and not of hatred.

“I would like to know why it is that I must die,” the sparrow said.

“Many have asked me this before, and it has ever been a prelude to asking eternal life of me,” answered the Earth.

“I would be lying, dear Mother, if I said it were not so,” said the sparrow. “But Father ever gives off warmth and light, seemingly asking nothing in return, while thine gifts are only good for a time, until we inevitably return them to thee.”

“And yet has your Father in the sky ever held thee, ever whispered to thee, ever provided hollows in which to hide and sticks with which to build?” asked the Earth. “I think not. His gifts are fine and without recompense, but they are the gifts of an absent parent, sent instead of love rather than with love, by one who is too busy flitting and dancing for real responsibility.”

“But I also flit and dance after a fashion, dear Mother,” said the sparrow. “Surely thou can part with what it would take to show me the same regard that Father does.”

This greatly saddened the Earth. “I will make you a bargain then, sparrow. I will hold myself apart from thee and take thee not into my bosom in death. We shall see, then how much regard I show for three.”

The sparrow eagerly agreed, and that very night he sprang from the jaws of one who would otherwise have slain him. But soon he came to see he folly of his request: in holding herself apart from him, the Earth offered neither shelter nor succor. Perches and nests failed to warm, food failed to satisfy, water failed to slake thirst.

Worse, the sparrow came to see how its mate, its chicks, and all of its flock in time came to rest in the embrace of their loving mother. The sparrow was soon cut off from family and flock, regarded as a curious old outsider even by his own descendants.

After the passage of much time, the sparrow returned to his mother. “O mother, I beg of thee, take back this gift which has been my curse,” he wept. “I see now what you meant all those many years ago.”

“Do you now, little flutterer?” The Earth was much saddened in those later days, and already beginning to withdraw herself from her beloved children into solitude. “What would you ask of me now? What impossible and selfish demands?”

“I ask only to return that which I once borrowed from thee and, in my impudence, sought to keep,” said the sparrow. “I can hear the keening call of the Great Flock, and wish only to be reunited with them.”

“You see now what your pride has wrought?” said the Earth.

“I do.”

“Then embrace me, O flutterer.”

That was the last time a sparrow ever spoke to the Earth, our mother, and the last request she granted unto us. And yet we remain grateful all the same, for without her daily gifts, we would perish. And without returning to her in time, we would not have repaid all that we owe.

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In what became an internet sensation, an ornithologist once wrote about a colony of sparrows who, due to a genetic mutation exacerbated by the founder effect on their small offshore island home, could not sing within the range of other sparrows’ hearing. Forced to inbreed, their population grew smaller and smaller due to infertile eggs and the slow arch of time.

These birds–the “loneliest sparrows on the planet” were the subject of a documentary, a Kickstarter, and even some internet innovations aimed at making their high-pitched songs understandable to mainland sparrows (who could presumably then flit over and add fresh new blood to the isolate population dynamics). But the sparrows proved elusive; the island often varied from description to description, and those islands matching the descriptions often contained no sparrows. Those that did typically featured thoroughly natural birdsong audible to human and bird alike.

There was a reason. The ornithologist’s piece had been a fabrication–they claimed it was a piece of fiction, though they’d had no qualms about basking in the adulation of internet denizens.

The elusive sparrows were in fact illusive sparrows, more a metaphor of the longing of human nature to fit creatures into anthropomorphic narratives than anything else.

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Echyd told tales, and Oesoedd related parables. The younger fledgelings of the flock much preferred Echyd’s rollicking and often bawdy yarns of nuthatches and titmice, but Oesoedd was the elder bird–close to the eldest, in fact, near as anyone could tell–and respect demanded that his windy moralistic tales be aired and heard.

Sparrows who had lived with Oesoedd or heard his father speak once upon a time knew that certain situations would automatically result in certain stories. For instance, when a fledgeling began to accept food too readily from llew, the great striding two-legged predators, showing signs of tameness, Oesoedd would flap over to them and relate one of his favorite parables.

“Have I told you, youngster, the tale of the Cat and the Birdfeeder?”

The fledgelings always knew better than to answer that they had, so Oesoedd would continue.

“Once, there was a birdfeeder with a cat that lived nearby. A sparrow that frequented the feeder was wary of the cat, as he should have been, despite the cat’s assurances. ‘You have nothing to fear from me, sparrow, the cat would say, ‘for I am a housecat and well-fed by the humans, and your scrawny bones aren’t worth the effort to catch.’ The sparrow decided to simply ignore the cat and keep eating at the feeder every day. And, seemingly true to its word, the cat seemed content to sun itself lazily nearby. In time, the sparrow grew used to the cat’s presence and regarded it almost as it would a rock or a shrub. But then, one day, the housecat was not fed as it usually was, and the sparrow approached unawares. In a flash of teeth and claws, the cat caught the bird, toyed with it for a bit, and then slew it to be devoured. For you see, the cat had let the sparrow grow accustomed to its presence just so it might strike easily when the time came.”

The implication of Oesoedd’s parables was always the same: tameness of any sort led inexorably to grisly death.

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It happened that, in the course of a hard-fought pursuit, a sparrow tricked a hawk into diving at its reflection in a human window. The sparrow, which had eaten seeds from the yard for many weeks, knew of the window’s presence and pulled up at the last second; the hawk did not know and was killed on impact.

Such a situation was quite unprecedented. Hawks were killed all the time in botched pursuits, but never in such a way that their prey could be blamed for the deed. The hawks claimed that their ancient prerogative as predators, recognized by all the avian elders who implicitly acquiesced thereto, had been upset by the act. They demanded the offending sparrow be surrendered to them for summary execution along with its kinsfolk–enough to equal the weight of the dead hawk.

The sparrows, for their part, held that they were well within their rights as prey to trick hawks–only the most foolish or clumsy birds would actually die or be injured, and weeding them out would actually be doing the hawks a favor. The hawk elders, they argued, implicitly recognized the right of prey to flee or defend itself.

Squabbles over the dispute continued for months; eventually the sparrows and the hawks were forced to agree to an outside party to review the situation and mediate. That was easier said than done, though, as the raptors would not countenance prey birds standing in judgement over them and the sparrows maintained that any bird of prey would be unfairly biased toward the hawk.

Eventually they agreed to ask the vultures, who ate meat but did not kill it, to mediate. Geier, the elder vulture of the area, agreed to study the case on the condition that whatever judgement he rendered be accepted without question. When the time came, this is what he said:

“We vultures can soar on thermals as well as any raptor and our talons are just as sharp, yet you have long derided us as weaklings as we do not kill. We are as clever and adept at locating food as any forager, yet the sparrows and their ilk shun us because we eat not nuts or berries but the honored dead. Our own view, that we are purifiers who guide the souls of the dead to oneness with the land, has never been seriously entertained by any but our own.”

“We will therefore carry a petition to the Creator to ask that the offending sparrow and the nestmate of the slain hawk be made to change places. Since they despise each other so, this will serve many constructive purposes from punishment to enlightenment. If they return after one full cycle of the night orb, we will hold the matter settled.”

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