The Bards of Éras hold a unique position in that they do not hold to the idea of loyalty to a specific culture or nation. Instead, they are loyal to each other, and to the truth in their stories—no Bard is allowed, if recounting a true story, to lie or otherwise obscure the truth. The Bards are held above everyday performers by general consensus, and the members of the Bards consider it a definitive insult to be compared to performers, even if the latter are talented. Likewise, for a performer to claim to be a Bard is seen as presumptuous.
The Bards have an established internal hierarchy of four tiers—Bards, Lyric Bards, Eleiac Bards, and High Bards. There is no hard-and-fast method of advancing between tiers; instead, progression is based on one’s acceptance by one’s superiors. Thus, to be admitted into the Bards of Éras, one must be “recognized” by at least four existing Bards; to advance from Bard to Lyric Bard, one must be recognized by at least three Lyric Bards or higher; to advance from Lyric to Eleaic Bard, one must be recognized by at least two Eleaic Bards or higher; and finally, to advance from Eleaic to High Bard, one must be recognized by at least one High Bard.
Historically, there has been one period of time during which no High Bards have existed, because the contemporary group of Eleaic Bards failed to seek recognition before the High Bards of that time passed on. This situation was rectified only by the appointment of Natalia Goldentongue, whose position automatically qualified her for the position of High Bard.
Although the Bards refuse to pledge loyalty to any specific nation or place, it is a point of honor for the High Bards to serve in the Courts of high-standing nobility or royals. The majority of High Bards have served at Esos or Belváros, although some elect to live in Xiros, and one High Bard has also been attributed to Zikari in recent history.
The Bards have a number of different traditions, many of which have been embraced within the non-Bardic populace:
“The right of table” – Customarily, if a Bard appears on the threshold of a house, the occupants of that home are to give the Bard admittance, bread and wine, and a place to sleep. In exchange, the Bard will offer payment in songs and/or stories for as long as he or she remains in the house.
The opening of a “Court of Love” – After a public joust or tournament, a resident Bard may choose to open a Court of Love, in which knights and Bards contend in poetry and song. The Bard will step forward and give a challenge, and a knight or another Bard will accept it. Each competitor recites a story or song on a specially-given theme. When both have finished, the lord or lady of the house will rise, give judgment, and award a prize.
The settling of disputes – If a Bard ever feels slighted or otherwise offended by another Bard, the first may challenge the second to a “song duel.” These involve the use of both traditional and specially-composed songs that are designed to heap insults on an opponent. Upon gathering up at least five spectators to act as witnesses, the challenger begins with a song; when the challenger is finished, the challenged is able to respond in kind. Once both are finished, the witnesses pass judgment in favor of one of them and the dispute—whatever it was—is considered officially settled. No Bard is ever required to honor a challenge issued by a non-Bard.
“The right of challenge” – This tradition is solely internal and allows one Bard to establish the legitimacy of another Bard. Upon admittance to the Bards of Éras, each Bard is given one copper, one silver, and one gold, which he or she is thereafter required to keep in his or her pocket at all times. Any other Bard may, at any time, challenge him or her to show one of each of these three coins; if the challenged Bard cannot display them then and there, he or she could be demoted or even kicked out of the organization. This tradition is in place to demonstrate that the Bard is always self-sufficient enough to safely maintain that kind of coinage upon his or her person.
Laryn Goldentongue was the founder and first-ever Bard of Éras. This individual lived so long ago that scholars no longer know any of the specific details of Laryn’s personality, nationality, or life, or even whether Laryn was male or female; all that is known is that Laryn gained a following of other musicians and performers who wished to emulate his or her style, and that Laryn in turn began to establish rules and acknowledge those of true talent. The original outline of the organization was written into the Black Book of Laryn, of which only fragments remain today. These fragments are safeguarded by the Bards in the Hall of the Unending Verse.
The Hall of the Unending Verse represents the organization’s only official holdings in Éras. A low-slung, rustic wooden feast hall, it is located in the mountains of the contested zone between Braelin and Seren. Tradition requires that at least one Bard must be present and reciting the “Unending Verse” in the Hall at all times; any Bard may be called in to share in this rite, and most Bards end up participating several times over the course of their lives. It is rumored that, should the Verse ever come to a stop, the Gold God itself will appear to continue it.
In keeping with the “right of table,” Bards are afforded a great deal of respect. Non-Bards regard them as speakers of the truth; but beyond that, it is believed that the ill-treatment of a Bard will bring down the wrath of fate upon a house—the Gold God is recognized as the patron of music and has been known to bring ruin upon those who mistreat Bards. There is a famous story about Natalia Goldentongue, for instance: An overzealous baron in Hawksworth, hopelessly taken with the young and beautiful woman, asked her to remain in his court and become his wife. When she refused his advances, the baron imprisoned her. The baron’s home is now a shell, his lands have never yet produced a crop, and his bloodline has been extinguished. The Bards tell this story as a reminder to anyone who becomes too demanding of them.
Generally speaking, Bards are recognizable by the books they carry with them wherever they go. These books contain notes that are designed to remind the Bards of the hundreds of stories they know, and are available for reference during a performance.
There exist several famous Bardic books in Éras, most notably those compiled by the Goldentongues: