Bird Among the Branches

[First Chapter]

Kammo barrit emi brannse,

Kamm’ aonoe en seinerann, se

Yatit kammo tit-se pr’ ellibar.

First lines of “Bird Among the Branches,” traditional in Trabessa, Aoskenna, and Olona.


The eagle dropped low in the limitless sky over a land that might have still belonged, for all he knew, to the State of Thoreau, or Upper Canada, or the Ojibwe fires. Or – why not? – to the Nine Days’ Republic, which vanished from history before being properly named, and from historical memory soon afterwards. Or to Algoma District, Ontario, or to any of half a dozen warlords, all brutal and all ephemeral, or, as in fact it did, to Terio Tettio in the Rebblik of Trabessa. Such shifting borders would have seemed immaterial to the eagle, even if he had understood their bare meaning. He was, like most eagles, uninterested in politics. The bird was free and glad of it, though a little hungry and a little lonely, and he passed southwards over the rolling green countryside unconcernedly. He was bound elsewhere (it had been many centuries since his species had summered in this part of the continent) and he was only dropping down to enjoy the view. Below his white head, fields and sparse wood-and-brick houses gave way to a city of thin white buildings with dark glistening roofs, and then a wide river connecting two vast lakes, one of which he saw stretching out beyond the horizon to his right, spotted with the colorful sails of merchant ships. Down in the city there were tempting perches among the high roofs and on the curving parapets of the blue palace by the river, but he passed without stopping out over the river’s bridge and into a belt of forest that stretched for miles to the south. He flew on. In a clearing near the forest’s southwestern fringe, two horses grazed while their humans, dressed in elegant red garments, watched the bird of prey turn peacefully above them.

The eagle was not interested in politics, but politics was interested in him. An arrow shot hotly through his breast. He cried out in pain and a dim sense of injustice. Once, humankind had esteemed bald eagles more properly, and hardly anyone would have shot at his kind, but now the protective laws were gone and the governments that had enforced them were nothing more than stories. Now Gran Kapei Elect Dosaffe, Elector of New Mennsee, was expecting the wings that distinguished the Rebblik’s supreme office. He had spent a good deal of time and money to displace Gran Kapsa Katten, and he was impatient to take her place. One eagle’s life every ten years meant even less to him than it did to the people at large, for whom the tradition and its connection to heroic and barbarous antiquity was a matter for reverent contemplation. That it had first been a bloody joke at the expense of one of the Old Federal governments was, of course, long forgotten.

In one of the palace’s wide south-facing windows, a guard lowered his binoculars and started towards the Gran Kapsa’s office. He was not anxious to bring her the news, but it could be worse for him if she heard over the radio broadcast.