Friday, January 31, 2020


What are birds?  There are many who say that they don't exist, except as a conspiracy of the trees.

The Arovila and the Iphinno

The arovila is a sluggish beast, a sinuous crocodilian as long as your house.  She shines like white clay, and basks on sunny riverbanks.  She is a cousin to the river, which rises to meet her when she enters, but is afraid of the sea, which drowns her every time she touches it.

The arovila lays a single egg every few years.  It is a massive thing, a vast rubbery ball half-buried at the waters edge.  The arovila waters it with her tears, which are pale and nourishing like milk.

Inside the egg are two daughters, as serpentine as their mother, with the same discerning eyes and hooked teeth.  They will follow their mother for years.  When she stops biting her daughter's tails off (for the tails regrow) her daughters have grown enough to live on their own, and they will leave to start their own life.

Or perhaps the egg doesn't hold a pair of daughters.  Perhaps it holds a hundred sons.

There are always exactly a hundred, excepting the stillborn (which are useful in a certain elixir which can make any animal permanently carnivorous).  And each of the hundred sons is a small, red bird called an iphinno, resembling their mother not in the least.

Each iphinno is an insect-catcher and a nectar-drinker.  They will never grow larger than your hand.  They help their mother hunt by leading her to prey, and by driving prey to her.  When she sickens, they feed her depositing drops of honey on her tongue.  It is not much, but she may have many hundreds of sons.

Only when their mother dies, will they disperse.  Each one desires the absence of his brothers, and seeks a new horizon.  No two will ever fly in the same direction.  On some distant riverbank, they will find a fertile arovela of their own.  After they mate with her, they will pluck all of their own feathers and lie down on her tongue, curled up into a ball so as to be easier to swallow.

The men of Basharna believe the iphinnos to be inimitably romantic, and wear their feathers in their hair during courtships.

The People of Binlah

They are a sluggish folk, slow to trade, and slower to war.  They are isolated by the coils of the Shunatula river (which they know well), the choking tangergluss vines (which struggle to overcome their masks), and dwindle pox and dauntledregs (to which they are immune).

The people of bianlah all wear masks depicting the faces of monstrous baby birds.  There is a certain kind of swamp-dwelling passerine called the ponli bird which regards them as their own offspring.  An inhabitant of Binlah has only to tilt their head up and open their mouth, and within minutes, a dun-colored ponli bird will perch on their shoulder and regurgitate fish into their mouths.

There are a great many ponli birds, and a great many fish.  It is rare for the people of Binlah to go hungry.

As a result, they have grown idle and contemplative.  But they do not debate philosophy, nor art; instead, they discuss the smells of fish and the sound of rain.  It is only halfway accurate to call them lazy, for they are not lazy--they simply never learned how to properly want.  They desire little and obtain less.

They would have been invaded and killed long ago by some ferocious people, were it not for the ponli birds, which fight like demons to protect their babies.

The Cloak of the Simurgh

The cloak of the Simurgh is not a cloak.  It is a phenomenon which has been independently observed in many places and times, and by many disparate parties.

You when know when the cloak of the Simurgh is near, because all birds become indistinguishable from each other.

A farmer goes out to feed his chickens and finds that he is not able to identify them as chickens.  He recognizes that they are birds of some sort.  Their size is difficult to discern.  Only by counting the number of them inside his chicken coop can he rationalize, slowly, that the birds cannot be any larger than cats. 

A hunter comes across a pond and startles some birds, which take to the air.  Of their size and distance, she cannot say.  The sounds from their throats are indescribable.  Are they rocs or ducks?
It is believed that this phenomenon occurs whenever the Simurgh passes by.  One of the unidentifiable birds, then, is her.

The Simurgh

The Simurgh is the queen of all birds.  She is all birds, and none.

All birds have a secret lust for milk--this is the mechanism by which the Simurgh ensures their loyalty.  A bird that is blessed by the Simurgh will lay an egg containing the sweetest milk imaginable.  (A bird that is cursed by the Simurgh will lay only black stones.)

There are some who say that she appears as a women clothed in every bird of the world, a woman inside an insane tornado of birds.  Her voice is lost among the hurricane of their wings.  It is very difficult to communicate with the Simurgh.

The Hummingbird Chariot

It is a bamboo cage with a set of simple seats on the inside.  It looks like simple scaffolding.  The bamboo is brittle and old.  A few unrecognizable letters are painted onto the bamboo, seemingly at random.  There is space for a few people to sit around a brass basin, and a tiny bell hangs from the roof.  Ten-thousand shaggy strings hang from the exterior.

If the basin is filled with honey and the bell rung, hummingbirds will gather.  They will slip into the traces (for that is the purpose of the strings) and begin to fly.  They will carry you wherever you wish, as you sit inside your sphere of beating wings.  

It is difficult to see in any direction except down.  Navigation is possible, but scouting is difficult.

Their strength is in their maneuverability.  No winged creature can turn as quickly as a hummingbird.  But there is a weakness, too.  Hummingbirds are easily startled, and any loud noises or intimidating gestures are liable to scare them off.  Laugh too loudly, and you might find yourself in freefall.

The chariot was originally created by men, but the traces were woven by mice.