Performers, Politicians and Scholars
The Power of Expression
Authored by Kered Rose
Published by Tower University Press on April the 20th, 2112
In recent months I have been mistakenly identified as both a Paladin of Gorethar and a mage of the Ebony Order. I find this both interesting and amusing, and it has led me to consider my own identity and how I, and others like me, are defined. I have found that I am often described as belonging to a group known as "bards". I found this rather perplexing as I always considered a bard to be a performer, perhaps a storyteller, and acrobat or a musician. After speaking and corresponding with many fine individuals I decided it was time to return to the library and set my thoughts own on paper. Hopefully I can settle in my own mind what it means to be a bard. If I am truly fortunate my own thoughts will inspire others to re-evaluate what a bard is.
Types of Bard
The most common image that comes to mind when someone considers a bard is that of a musician or a singer of some type; the traditional minstrel performing ballads for lords one night, bawdy songs for a group of farmers the next and spending the following night in adventure. Almost as common would probably be the wandering storyteller, conjuring images of far away lands whilst sitting by the fireplace of an inn or a farmstead's common room. Then of course, there is the poet, one who works in a written and spoken medium. The famous Hargas Steelhead has spread happiness with his performances and his books alike.
Less common, but almost certainly classed as bards by most folk would be tumblers, acrobats, authors and artists. The city of Mikona is truly fortunate to have an artist as gifted and industrious as the famed, nay, legendary Janur da Medican, whose magnificent paintings grace walls throughout the city. Famous authors include Barabara Wagonrealm, who wrote the tale of Angora Gend versus the Savage Horde of Bloodthirsty Orcs. Finally, the actor, part of a troupe giving performances night after night, putting on tales from the past or of imagination. Of course, a bard does not have to belong to merely one of those groups, but most will tend to specialise in one of them.
Next we come to some more unusual definitions of a bard. These ideas may seem unusual, but if you give it some thought then many similarities of skill, if not of purpose can be seen. Firstly; politicians. What are they, if not a bard? They spend their days in performance of a sort, plying their wits against each other in a most bard-like fashion. The ability to weave a narrative is as important to them as to any wandering storyteller. Among the least traditionally bard-like races one could think of are the Orcs, but think of how much value a bit of talent in performance and persuasion holds for political animals like Valokian priests. Rest assured that many of the most powerful Orcs in the Valokian church have more than a bit of bard in their make-up.
Another case might be spies. History shows that more spying is done by well-mannered folk eliciting information with a carefully spoken word and gentle persuasion than by rogues dressed in black. This author, for one, would surely tell a slim attractive lady in a nice dress more than my journal would tell a thief in the night.
Can we include library scholars? A thirst for knowledge is something that many bards share. I myself am called a bard and I sit in The Great Mikona Library as I wite this. Other bards are commonly devoted to Vorin, the god of knowledge, among them, for example, Tahni Soulsinger.
Several roles bards play in society have been listed and there are others that have not been delved into very deeply, such as diplomats, business negotiators, messengers, composers, journalists and authors... All of them play a vital role in maintaining our way of life.
It is also worth remembering that few bards are just one of the above types and no others. Bards tend to expand into whatever areas they find they have the talent to fill. As the Warrior Maiden of Dre'Ana, Lisa Kler said when asked to define herself, "You want to push me into a hole? I'll push right back!"
So where are bards found? In the descriptions it could easily be seen that bards can be found almost anywhere, but it goes without saying that they are most commonly found where there are large concentrations of people, for it is that which allows a bard to make a living. Many bards travel around, but they do tend to congregate in familiar areas even when they reach a new place. If you find them somewhere remote then it is most likely because they are accompanying others on a quest to gain inspiration for their next piece of work.
The city of Mikona is home to many bards and is the site of the vibrant members only club "The Canvas", the proprietor of which is Janur da Medican. Mikona is also the site of Bill Burnham's Eventing Hall, where The Festival of the Bard is a regular occurrence.
In Ferrell is located the famous Port Hole Inn. The stage here has seen many famous faces perform and is considered to be one of the best places in Avlis to go to hear fine singing.
Elves are commonly very charismatic and appreciate the finer things in life. This leads to many bards being found in both Elysia and Le'Or T'Nanshi.
Kurathene is home to many rich lords and many of them like to consider themselves among the most refined individuals in Avlis. This leads not only to a large number of Kurathene nobles practicing various arts, but also a program of artistic patronage unrivalled anywhere else in the world.
Bards tend to be scarce in such harsh environments as Tyedu. Although campfire singing is an important aspect of Tyeduan life it is almost impossible to survive on ones singing voice alone. The skills of a warrior are far more important in that unforgiving land. Many of the functions of a bard, such as the keeping or tribal lore and knowledge, are entrusted to the druids, who may devote some of their energies to bardly pursuits. The same applies to a lesser extent among the woods of Jechran.
In Orcish lands the traditional ideas of a bard are scarce. Orcs have little time for entertainment and prefer more violent amusements, but nevertheless politics flourish in the Orcish nations and the bardic skills are much admired among the best public orators and political minds.
The lizardman mindset seems different to most others and they take little pleasure from bards, and their politics tends to respect only strength. This means lizardmen bards are rare indeed and those few who have found success have done so in foreign countries.
Wemics, of course, are renowned as Loremasters and preservers of knowledge. If a scholar or a lorewarden can be considered a bard then some of the greatest bards of all time have been Wemics, who are famous for passing on their insights and knowledge to any who ask
Physical Characteristics & Appearance
Few bards are possessed of great strength. Although strength can be useful to anyone the typical bard has little time to spend honing their strength and while they are not necessarily weak, they are unlikely to be strong. It is also logical for physical weakness and the inability to swing a sword to lead an individual to choose to entertain their colleagues or move into politics.
A certain amount of nimbleness is of more benefit however. Many bards are able to cast spells, but they are hampered in this whilst wearing any but the lightest armour, meaning most bards rely on dexterity to avoid blows. Deftness of touch is also a factor for those who play instruments or create works of art. Acrobats require more grace than almost anyone.
A bard's resistance to injury, disease and hardship is also highly variable. As most bards avoid conflict they need less fortitude and constitution than say, a ranger or paladin, but it is not fair to say that all bards are weaklings or easily succumb to illness.
A bard will often rely on his reputation for much of his influence, income and reward. For this reason most bards choose to dress flamboyantly, and bright colours, fine cloths, silks and even highly decorative armour are the order of the day. A bard is often at the cutting edge of fashion and is often known to change clothing frequently. The tailors Smeec and Ed, whilst not bards themselves, are much sought after by bards.
A bard will generally rely on his mind more than his body. Most bards will have at least one aspect of their wits which stand out. Most commonly this will be their charm and charisma. Bards may often possess a towering intellect, or may be considered wise and sagacious beyond comprehension.
An intelligent bard will often be a problem solver, the brains behind an organisation, someone who can get things done, see patterns and links where others see only a muddle. Although a wizard may be possessed of awesome intelligence, it is often specialised and when it comes to the real world it is often the bard who can see the way ahead and understand the bigger picture.
A bard with great wisdom may be a teacher. Great sages gather in schools and University and confront the greatest issues that surround us. It was Tahni Soulsinger, passing on the words of a wise old scholar, who said, "Those who hold the Torch of Wisdom, should let others light their candles from it."
Most important of all though is the bard's way with people, her ability to reach out to them in some way, to touch them through words, action, thought or art. The power of expression, the ability to articulate their thoughts in such a way that people understand and see what the bard is trying to show them. Of course, this may be the bard's true feelings, or part of a performance, or a manipulation to get what they want, but nevertheless, this is what a bard is about - communication. A bard's other talents may make her good, but her ability to touch people's hearts and minds is what will make her great.
Curiousity drives many bards. A desire to know everything and understand it. There is also commonly an urge to pass what is learnt on to others and inspire them to think too, though that is not always so common. A desire to learn and accumulate knowledge is a very closely related motivation. Janur da Medican once said, "I feel that especially (researching historical things) is something that no bard should neglect", and it is impossible for this author to disagree.
Many bards want to make an impression on those around them. To quote Janur da Medican again, many bards "seek a way to leave a footprint in the world." Sometimes this manifests as a desire to achieve some great work, other times as wanting to be famous, but recognition seems to be craved by many bards. It is hard to say whether this comes from an excess of confidence, or a secret and innermost lack of it. Indeed, it could be either or both, sometimes even in the same person.
Whatever their innermost feelings, most bards have more than their fair share of self-belief. There may be nervousness about a performance or how work will be received, but it will not stop the bard pressing ahead. When he was interviewed for this piece, Ayren Milen said something with his tongue in his cheek, but although he was laughing as he said it, it is revealing nevertheless, "We are the most charismatic, interesting people on Avlis. Why, pray tell, do you think we occupy so many important positions?" It is easy to see the point he is making. Confidence can take a person a long way.
Despite the stereotypes, of bards as great talkers a bard is often a good listener too. Maybe the best of this is Hargas Steelhead who has an ability to create a silence that others want to fill that is truly impressive. A bard will often find people want to open up to them, tell them their hopes and fears, share their secrets and ambitions. Anecdotes from Tahni Soulsinger would have you believe she spends her time doing little other than listening to other people. Perhaps the ability to listen as well as talk and write is the sign of a truly memorable bard.
Sometimes the price of being able to influence others is that the bard themself is too sensitive and this can lead to feelings of oppression when things go badly. It is not uncommon for bards to turn to drink or even stronger substances when all is not going well.
Weapons, Armour & Magic
A typical bard makes much use of magic and this means that they are unlikely to favour heavy armour. Combined with the tendency for grace and dexterity, light armour is the most common. A light weapon such as a rapier is also very common. Small shields or a light off hand weapon often complete the picture.
There are exceptions to every rule however, and in this case that exception is myself. A lack of dexterity means I am ill suited to lighter armours and so I complement heavy armour and a tower shield with magics which I can cast before donning my battle gear and which will continue to protect me when I am faced with danger.
It is certainly true that in many cases a bard's best weapon is words. Many bards have a wicked tongue that can drive a normally ice-calm warrior to distraction, opening them up to attack. Such taunts can undo the mightiest of warriors if they are not self-disciplined enough. The same bard may be able to bolster their allies with a song or rousing battle speech. Turned on their enemies the same words may shatter resolve, sap morale and send them fleeing from the field. Such "curse songs" were first brought to my attention by Kellid D'Prey, one more dedicated to symphony and music than any other this author has met.
Many bards supplement their combat ability with magic, and it is common to see a bard with a magical shield up, or using magic circles to protect their allies. Most bardic magic tends to be subtle, increasing the ability of them and their allies rather than direct offensive magic.
Although bards may worship any gods there are, naturally, some that are more prevalent than others. Among the good aligned gods, Dre'ana seems strangely prevalent. The Warrior Maidens of Dre'Ana includes amongst their number Lisa Kler, their Lore Mistress and Arena Helerin, their Arch Mistress. Such followers represent much of the good side of bards; compassion, determination.
Vorin is commonly worshipped by bards, particularly those who focus on knowledge and learning. Tahni Soulsinger numbers among those who follow Vorin, learning, teaching and understanding. In Tahni's words, those who follow Vorin are "Torch bearer[s] of knowledge" Those bards who follow Vorin may serve mainly in the library, but often they are found on the road, seeking items to be studied and books to be copied and circulated.
The less savoury side of religion is, surprisingly to some, represented by not one, but two gods. Referring to N'uquerni-Delothion's excellent An objective review of the Divinity of Avlis will reveal that The'ton, God of Fear and Intimidation, is widely followed among bards. Although such followers are not necessarily evil, and certainly represent the lighter side of the church of The'ton, they nevertheless recognise the entertainment value of a healthy dose of fear and suspense. There is a very good living to be made scaring the wits out of people it seems.
Finally comes The Harpinger. Most relevant information can be found once again in N'uquerni-Delothion's work. In recognition of the importance to bards of the Harpinger I shall quote the relevant section in full.
The Harpinger is a mysterious figure among the gods of Avlis. No one knows its true name, or even its gender. Most accounts of The Harpinger give a different description of what it looks like, depending on what function it was fullfilling at the time. Some have described it as a beautiful maiden in flowing light blue robes, carrying a magical harp which can charm even an elven onlooker. Others have told tales of The Harpinger appearing as some form of skeletal undead in tattered black robes, with a one-handed sickle hanging on its belt, and that good old trusty harp in its hands once more. Less common accounts have described encounters with a charismatic bard who seems to have an endless supply of tales to tell, set to music once more with a harp. Stories of a female bard of this same description are also told. The mystery of The Harpinger deepens when one considers its function. It is said that musical inspiration is granted by this entity. Bards who are looking to write a new tune often turn to The Harpinger with cautious prayer, for those who get too close often run into The Harpinger's other major function: the agent of Death. In this function, The Harpinger is said to be in charge of escorting a departed person's soul to their proper afterlife, making sure they arrive safely and then departing. Those who have been on the edge of death often tell tales of hearing a harp playing, and following the sound through a wide open grey area and a bright light, which seems to be the origin of the sound. When they pass through the light, they find themselves in the afterlife.
Some theories exist on the connection between inspiration and death. One theory put forth by The Harpinger's priests states that inspiration, especially musical inspiration, is granted directly to the soul by this entity. In order for the inspiration to come through, a person must loosen their bond with their own soul so that it may soar to the heights of the planes and receive the new gift. If this is true, then it would mean that The Harpinger is really just a keeper of souls, who insures that they go through their proper changes and receptions during the course of their life and death.
The Harpinger's followers can be everywhere. Many times they are bards, who devoutly pray to this deity as their source of musical skill. Other times, they are individuals who deal with death in one way or another, whether they are a murderer, or a white necromancer trying to insure that a patient does not die.
The Harpinger's clergy are also diverse in this respect. Many concern themselves with music, preferring to enrich the art itself. Some concern themselves with death, by either dealing it out swiftly to those they believe deserve it, or by insuring that proper internment rituals are performed on the deceased.
The Harpinger's symbol is that of an upright harp, with the straight edge of the harp being a blade. Colors are black when dealing with death, and light blue when dealing with music.
Words from the greats
I decided to save a little bit of space for a few more words from some of the best known bards in Avlis, including advice for aspiring bards.
'Well, the world is too large and too vast to comprehend it all in any one lifetime, I've figured that out by now. So relying on reason and logic alone is something that is illogical in itself. We can never hope to understand or comprehend all factors involved, so logic is only an illusion we impose on ourselves to make our meagre lives understandable - Lisa Kler's philosophy
The process of perfecting an art form never stops. - Pussycat Lovely
When I'm up on the stage, I must admit I feel more than a wee bit o power - Hargas Steelhead
'To read, to write, to research, to play, and to simply savour the wonders and delights of life are as integeral to my being as the water I drink or the air I breathe - Ayren Milen
Anyone can have a eulogy or tombstone written, me? I intend to live forever! - Ayren Milen, being literal or thinking about carving himself a place in history?
'Live your life to the maximum of your potential, live it like you should play your music: full abandon, as if it was the last thing you would ever do. - Lisa Kler
Friends are more important than gold, fame, music or even life itself. - Lisa Kler
Be fair and truthful to yourself, even if it's not in your heart to be like that towards others. - Lisa Kler
Don't try to reach that high E if you know you can't, the audience will thank you for it. - Lisa Kler
Don't be afraid to turn down an offer - Janur da Medican
In his YOUTH, rumors say, Ayren Milen,
Was once CAUGHT in a fruit orchard stealin'.
An' tha PRIESTESS who caught him,
Well she PADDLED his bottom,
And then LOVINGLY gave et some healin'!
An' young LISA, years past, in her teens,
Had a PASSIONATE urge ta eat beans.
'Twas a SHAME, for thes hunger,
For her ACTING, was a blunder,
For et LOUDLY horned into her scenes! - Some Limericks from the master, Hargas Stelhead.
As for advice, ah can say et in one word: Listen. Ye gotta be listenin' ta other performers, no gettin' 'round et. There's a great performance every night in thes city, an' et's a sin not ta be takin' advantage of et. Tha same with books! Well, hmm.. ah guess ye cannae "listen" ta books. Ok, two words then: Listen an' Read! Some o' tha greatest bards known ta Avlis are long dead, so tha only way ye're gonna hear 'em es by readin'! Oh, an' practice! Three words: Listen, Read, an' Practice! That's me advice an' ah'm stickin' to et! - Some very specific advice from Hargas Steelhead, reproduced in his own accent.
Find your own unique self, to stand out from other bards - Pussycat Lovely
In writing this piece I found I returned often to the theme of expression, the ability to convey ideas, feelings, meaning and thoughts. I hope you will see that I eventually found this to be the most compelling basis for judging someone to be a bard - their focus on the power and the joy of communication.
This work could not have been completed without the insight and involvement of Janur da Medican, Tahni Soulsinger, Ayren Milen, Rego Jerd, Bill Burnham, Lisa Kler, Pussycat Lovely, Hargas Steelhead and Arena Helerin.
My thanks also go to all those who attended my lecture at the Magus Tower University many of whom made very interesting observations and asked many interesting questions, in particular, V'Heress.