Tuesday Tales, Part XV: The Lady of the River

The Lady of the River.  Once, a young maiden was pushed into a river by her eldest sister, Anne, who was jealous and wanted to marry the maid’s true love, a prince by the name of William.  The maiden drowned, but the latent power within the river transformed her into a swan; and, in that form, she was discovered far downstream by a miller’s daughter.  As the miller and his child admired the swan, a passing harper shot it with bow and arrow so that he could make a harp of the feathers and bones.  When he finished building the harp, however, it began to play by itself, and so the astonished harper brought it to Court.  There, the king, queen, and princes—one of whom was William—listened as the harp told the tale of the young maiden’s murder at the hands of her sister, Anne.  This tale has been captured in a folkloric ballad, entitled “The Bonny Swans,” as written by (it is rumored) Laryn Goldentongue.

[See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsNJuhBfbPg  All credit for the song “The Bonny Swans” goes to Loreena McKennitt.]

Tuesday Tales, Part X: The Bards of Éras

  • 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:
  1. “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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. “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:
  1. The Black Book of Laryn, by Laryn Goldentongue
  2. The Book of Dawn, by Natalia Goldentongue
  3. The Verses, by Dominic Goldentongue

Tuesday Tales, Part III: The Shankill Butchers

The Shankill Butchers. The Shankill Butchers were a group of three peasant siblings—Leon, Rowen, and Erik Shankill—born and bred in Stemma. Rowen and Erik excelled at fighting, each favoring blades, while Leon pursued the shaman profession. As they grew older, they turned to banditry to make a living. Their signature trademark was to kidnap children, who were easy targets, and cut their throats; Leon would then raise the bodies as undead servants and send them to raid their own homes. For more than five years, the Shankill siblings—quickly becoming known as the “Shankill Butchers”—terrorized villages in the area where Stemma, Hawksworth, and Blacknall intersect. Finally, their hideout was located and the bandits executed. Over time, they have become legends; parents often warn their children to behave, lest the Shankill Butchers come after them. There is a popular folksong to this effect, by the name of “Shankill Butchers.”

[See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLY0HNds_tE All credit for the song “The Shankill Butchers” goes to the Decemberists.]

Folkloric Fridays, Part II: Eli Whitaker of Ravensgate

[I apologize that this post is belated–due to family obligations yesterday, I was unable to post in a timely fashion.  I hope you will forgive me!]

The following tale is considered a regional tale, particularly well-known to those who live in and around Ravensgate in Stemma.

Eli Whitaker, “the Barrow-boy.”  God-chosen of the Black God, Eli Whitaker lived many centuries ago as a near-penniless peasant-merchant of odds and ends.  The exact reasons for his ongoing servitude to the god are unclear, but it is fairly well-known how and why he originally went to his final death:  After saving up his humble earnings for a very long time in the hopes of winning the hand of a local noble’s daughter, Eli was informed that she had, in fact, passed on many years ago of disease.  Some people blame heartbreak, while others claim he simply went mad, having lusted after a wandering spirit for so long without understanding that she was dead; whatever the case, the unfortunate boy dressed in an outfit of heavy corduroy, tied stones to his wrists and feet, and drowned himself in the nearby river.

Since that time, Eli—now referred to by his colloquial nickname, “Eli the barrow-boy”—has appeared from time to time near the graveyard in which his body is interred, in order to continue his earlier sales.  Although he still offers his strange assortment of knickknacks, it is rumored that he also deals in stranger wares.  These fantastic rumors have led to a rash of attempts to steal the barrow-boy’s body from its resting place, which is currently located within the Ravensgate cemetery.

There is a popular folksong by the name “Eli the Barrow-boy” which references Eli Whitaker.

[See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz7wKhVa_VE  All credit for the song “Eli the Barrow-boy” goes to the Decemberists.  Note that the lyrics need to be changed from “silk Arabian thread” to “and Stemman thread” to keep them in-game and appropriate to the world.]