Bardic College, City of Fairhaven
Well curl my horns and call me a Satyr – I actually made it! Who would have ever thought that a guildless nobody from the Dregs would be able to earn his place at the most prestigious bardic college in the Boiling Seas! Yet here I am – official graduate and Journeyman Bard of Fairhaven!
What a tumultuous whirlwind of a day – literally non-stop from sunup to sunset. It began with costumes and makeup over a light breakfast before dawn, then last minute rehearsals of our graduate performances, followed by a long meeting with the Headmasters of the Graduate Colleges that took up the rest of our morning. The meeting was ostensibly to review the day’s schedule of events and the College’s expectations of us as Bards of the Realm. Don’t want anyone embarrassing the school, right? Really, though, I felt we were more like prize mares at auction and the Headmasters were sizing us up before the bidding started. Making a game of trying to sway the year’s brightest stars into declaring for their College’s post-graduate programs.
Tormeia Highthicket, a dazzlingly talented Halfling girl with the voice of an angel, was particularly courted by several Headmasters from the Colleges of Creation, Eloquence, Glamour, and Swords. Personally, I was never that impressed with her bladework… but as the best dancer in the class, her footwork is spectacular… Hmmm, it will be interesting to see which College she chooses.
Faldon Voste spent the entire meeting silently stalking along in Headmaster Brevan’s wake – no surprise there. Brevan is supposedly the Headmaster of public relations, communications, and the mail network, but we all know what College he is actually recruiting for. Mind you, the College of Whispers isn’t supposed to exist, but it is hard to keep secrets in a school full of thespians and gossips. And Faldon, the creepy little miscreant, will be perfect for them.
As expected, I was also approached by the Headmaster for the College of Creation, Zarius Hendern. Wilona Krispen, my mentor, was apprenticed to Zarius years ago and the two are still close, so I know him fairly well. Most seem to expect that I will follow in both of their footsteps – but one of the greatest lessons Wilona taught me was to never let others make my decisions for me. Still… I do hear some of the notes and harmonies from The Song of Creation… not many can. Ah well, I have at least a year before I have to make that decision.
Once the Headmasters finally dismissed us, we were whisked off into the city for our public performances. Every year the graduating bards tour the five main outdoor stages spread throughout the city and perform for the people. These graduation performances, and a number of other free shows spread throughout the year, are one of the ways the College gives back to the citizens of Fairhaven. Our graduation pieces are top notch entertainment, of course, and are so beloved that an unofficial holiday has sprung up around them. Now each year the Loversmoon Commencement Festival fills the streets surrounding these stages with revelers, street vendors, amateur performers, pickpockets, and con artists.
Thank the Gods for the food vendors, though! Our schedule today was so tight that all they sent with us for lunch was hard bread and salt beef to choke on between sets. Disgusting. The fresh meat pie, treacle tart, and flagon of wine (tragically weak, but beggars can’t be wine-snobs) from a devastatingly handsome victualer was a most welcome alternative. The charming oaf wouldn’t even take my money, insisting my “magic story” was payment enough. Should I see him again, I shall have to thank him properly for rescuing me from the horrors of hardtack.
After our crazed relay race through the districts of Fairhaven, our final graduation performances were held at the college’s outdoor amphitheater that evening. We were late, of course, but it’s not like they could start without us, haha! Poor Professor Quentill was absolutely beside himself as he herded us to the foot of the spiraling ramp that led up to the Marble Stage.
If you’ve never seen the Marble Stage, by the way, I highly recommend signing up for one of the monthly tours of the College campus – it is simply stunning.
The entire amphitheater is recessed into the earth like a perfectly round, steep-sided bowl of polished marble the size of a city block. A twenty foot high wall encircles the rim of the recessed colosseum, and the audience enters through one of the eight sweeping archways spaced evenly around the outside. Inside, rows of stadium seating are ornately carved directly into the marble walls, and extend the full circumference of the theater in countless descending rings towards the stage. The seats are spacious and well cushioned, but if you visit, please be careful – the stairs in the upper stands are very steep. There are enchantments against falling, but watch your step just the same.
The sky above the amphitheater is enchanted to block all but the worst weather and can be magically tinted, darkened, or colored for different performances. From your seats you can also see a myriad of lights in all shapes and sizes angled down towards the center of the bowl from the top of the outer wall. And far below you is the Marble Stage itself. Though if a show is about to start, all you will see is the swirling, inky blue curtain of the Azure Veil.
Once the Veil is lifted, you will see the stage itself is actually made of mahogany. A massive, round wooden platform that seems to float in mid-air – slowly revolving about five feet below the last row of seating. Don’t worry, though, whether you are seated in the front row or the nosebleeds, you will be able to see and hear it all. Between the natural acoustics of the marble and the enchantments of the Azure Veil surrounding the stage, every guest feels like they are sitting right at the stage!
Hidden beneath the main stage is an open air orchestra pit – a second platform small enough to remain invisible to the crowd, but large enough to hold a full orchestra. And up through the center of it all, in a marvelous synergy of magic and engineering, runs a massive spiraling ramp that opens onto the center of the stage. Impossibly slender beams lined with cork extend out from this central structure like the spokes of a wheel; supporting both of the performance spaces without anything touching the marble sides of the bowl.
The view from the stage itself is simply daunting. Rows of intently staring faces completely surround you in an endless sea, rising so high that the topmost seats disappear in the glare of the spotlights. And for a moment, as you step out into the spotlight, you feel like you are standing at the bottom of the Great Maelstrom itself, just waiting to be swept away… Let me tell you, taking this stage is always intimidating – even when it’s just for a class. Tonight there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
Great Gods Above and Dark Ancestors Below; I was terrified as I took the stage tonight!
Fortunately, though, I am a professional, and as the first melodic chords of the orchestra’s score began to float around me I stepped forward, just as I’d been doing all day, and began the first stanza of my tale…. Wait a minute… Bless my soul, I wonder if that is why they paraded us around the city all day first… nothing like 5 full dress rehearsals in a row to make it second nature for the Big Show tonight. Those clever bastards.
Since most of our known history began just over 250 years ago, finding a tale new and distinct enough to stand out as a graduation piece can be a challenge. That’s why so few choose an oration for their capstone – too easy to get lost in the crowd of recent tellings. But storytelling is my art, so I decided to take our oldest tale – the story of the century long war that broke our world – and make it new again. A dangerous gamble, since a few of the judges were alive during the cataclysm – and they all favor the classic tellings of the tale. The sentimental old fools cling to a past that nearly destroyed us – and they are notoriously merciless if you vary even one stanza. I knew they would want a perfect telling… a pure monologue set to the exact cadence of High Cant.
But, please, I have way too much hubris to sheepishly mimic a thousand forgotten Bards of yesteryear. For good or ill, I am Revelry, and my spirit dips at least its toes into everything I do. I would give them a telling of Kraken’s Fall and the Great Maelstrom unlike any they had ever heard!
As I began to spin my tale, I spoon fed them the first verse in High Cant, exactly as expected. I could even see small smiles forming on the old timers faces as they started bobbing along to the rise and fall of my voice. Easy marks lulled into a false sense of security by their outdated traditions. No one remembers who or what started the war, or even how long it truly raged across our former continent. Only that the ravages of war had already claimed the lives of our elders and most of our history long before the cataclysm swallowed the rest. So, the tale begins with what we do know, as the Gods themselves chose sides and joined the fray.
At the start of the second verse, I began to carefully weave chords from The Song of Creation into the accompaniment floating up from the orchestra below. Not the flashy cantrips most bard’s throw in for loud effects and startling flashes, but more subtly. Just the whispers of shouting voices and clashing of blades blended into the rhythm of a battle scene to tug at the audiences’ senses, ensnaring them deeper into my tale. The effect is haunting, I am told, and can actually enchant the listener into seeing the story unfold in vivid detail – almost like a memory or a daydream. Master Bards train for years to develop this technique, but it’s almost easy for me – something about the way my innate magic harmonizes with The Song is the only way I can explain it (much to my dear Wilona’s dismay).
At first there were frowns and furrowed brows from the judges – which slowly gave way to wide-eyed wonder on every face I could see.
That stoked the 9 Hells out of my ego, I’m not ashamed to say! Deservedly, I suppose, as I had been practicing this skill night and day in secret. Only Wilona had heard me perform it before today. One last feather in my cap, with the magnificent bonus of infuriating my many haters. Unfortunately, one of the inconveniences of rubbing elbows with the best and brightest is that the jealous hacks are always waiting in the wings to tear you down. Ah well, from this day onward, the reputations we build for ourselves will tell the tale plain enough.
As the stage slowly spun beneath me, I watched the shocked awe and wonder sweep through my audience as the epic battles I brought to life for them raged and burned across our world. Cities, villages, and farmland alike were incinerated by the inferno of hatred sweeping the countryside. Whole armies – almost entire races – were annihilated. No one was spared the war’s ravagings – all civilizations; even those hidden beneath the earth and the waves; were pulled into the great conflict. As I began to set the scene for the final battle, the riveted eyes of every elder, parent, and child listening showed me they were mine.
Drawing out the final scene, I savored the way my spellbound audience hung on my every word. They gasped as one when Tidus the Kraken, God of the Moons and Seas, was laid low by his sister Gaelena Sheildmaiden. They moaned in terror as the mourning keen of the sea grew to a deafening roar as the tides threw off their shackles and rushed inland to their fallen God.
When I unleashed the devastating ~CRACK~ of our world breaking, everyone in the amphitheater leapt to their feet. I let the horror of it echo off the walls for a long moment. As the sound criss-crossed and fractured around the massive chamber, one CRACK became the sound of hundreds of chasms splintering across the surface of our world. Huge swathes of land fell away and the rushing sea boiled and steamed as it mixed with the flowing magma of our world’s lifeblood.
Amidst this echoing apocalypse I delivered the last stanza, once again in High Cant, but timed to the poignant rhythm of everything we had ever known…. Ending.
The scalding steam and volcanic ash of the great cataclysm blotted out the sun – plunging the amphitheater into total darkness. And still the splintering cracks echoed and shook the crowd to their very bones as the acrid stink of sulfur, blood, and salt water assaulted their senses. A few low moans of fear reached me on the stage as some onlookers quailed in the blackness. Accounts from the years of darkness that followed are vague, but when the land finally stilled and the skies cleared, the bright dawn of a new day blossomed across the concert hall.
The audience let out a collective sigh as the light spread across a new landscape and our ancestors who had survived crept out and began to rebuild. What was once part of a lush and verdant continent had been reduced to a shattered archipelago tossing in a sea perpetually stirred by the Great Maelstrom – still churning on the now sunken site where The Kraken fell. A thick bank of mist and steam now encircled the Boiling Seas as well, cutting its people off from the rest of the world – but they were alive! And their jubilant cries as they greeted the Light brought a glimmer of joy back to the faces encircling me. The tale closed in the hope of new beginnings, with people from all races banding together and building a new society – our great realm of Fairhaven. A shining beacon of unity and colaboration, where what you could provide to the community was far more important than your lineage.
It took a moment for the crowd to react as the last words of my tale hung in the air – then they erupted! Still on their feet from the first Crack, the thunderous applause exploded all around me, moving me to tears. I have had standing ovations before, but THIS – this was the greatest moment of my life!
The post-bow high carried me through the rest of my classmates’ performances almost in a trance. The next thing I fully remember was settling into my seat with the other graduates as the Guild Masters of the Unified Thespians, Performers, Singers and Entertainers Guild took the stage to begin our graduation ceremony.
The ceremony itself was nice, for the most part. Hells, even a commencement speech is usually halfway decent when most of the speakers involved are bards. Things took a sleepy turn, though, as the Supreme Guildmaster of the Unified Thespians, Performers, etc, Merrylynn Perryweather, took the stage. If she was ever a bard, it seems to have been lost somewhere in the years spent stymied in the city’s bureaucracy. I nearly nodded off as she droned on and on about our responsibility to the City States of Fairhaven and maintaining the morale of its people. Her speech could have been boiled down to, “we need you to keep the populace distracted and happy so they don’t notice how miserable they really are.” Of course, that does sum up the primary purpose of a bard – to spread hope. But Marylynn’s speech was sad and depressing – without any sense of poetry or sophistication.
Our nation’s leader, First Chairperson Beatrice Knucklestump of the Fairhaven Guildmasters Combine, however, made Merrylynn seem positively eloquent. Our dear First Chairperson may be a keen governor and taker of bribes, but no one should ever let her speak in public again… Ever.
Once everyone had talked themselves out and we had all received our Journeyman’s Papers and Writs of Bardic Privilege, the festivities moved inside to the main banquet hall.
The graduation feast was simply incredible… and at the same time – revoltingly lavish. Our normal evening meals are always impressive, but today our blessed chefs seemed to have left no recipe untried! The decadent excess left me conflicted and speechless. A rare occasion, I assure you. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed with excited anticipation as I imagined sampling so many delicacies from across the realm! But on the other hand, I still vividly remember growing up starving on the streets of this very city – and that hungry child would have done unspeakable things for just a taste of what will fill the College’s waste bins tonight.
Fortunately, Wilona picked that moment to sweep me into a swirling, hugging half-dance, distracting me from my crisis of conscience. Her timing is always impeccable and we were both laughing heartily by the time we spun to a stop.
“Gods, Revelry! Your graduate performance will be the talk of the city! The College Professors will be referring to it in their lessons for years, you mark my words!” she exclaimed as she released me and picked up a package I hadn’t seen her drop on the table. “But, before we get so drunk that I forget… I have a graduation gift for you!”
“Please, Wilona, you have done enough for me already…”
“Nonsense! Buying my former apprentice a gift to celebrate the start of his own story is a time honored tradition! Besides, I ordered it two months ago… I doubt that Helga at Bookbinders Emporium will let me return it.”
Grinning almost from ear point to ear point, Wilona handed me a large, rectangular package wrapped in plain brown paper tied with twine. Gods it was heavy, and there was a tag hanging from the neat little bow that read:
“For Revelry, my brightest pupil and very dear friend. You’ve come so far from that skinny little darkling I met three years ago in the Dregs. I knew you were special then – but it has truly been my honor to watch your talent grow. You have earned your Name a hundred times over and I pray that Lady Delphine, God of Song and Harmony, blesses you always with epic venues, gracious audiences, and the discovery of long forgotten legends. As you carry the Song of Creation out into the world, know that I am with you in spirit – always.
Wilona Krispen, Master Bard of the College of Creation”
“Wilona, you know I haven’t declared for any specific College yet…” I began as I looked up, fresh tears welling in my eyes – but she didn’t let me finish.
“I know, that’s why I didn’t write it on the inside cover,” she chuckled, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, “Just open it.”
She was practically bouncing with schoolgirl excitement as I carefully untied the twine to preserve the card before tearing the paper off.
As the massive book came free in my hands, the tears I had been holding back spilled freely down my cheeks. You’ve probably guessed by now that sweet Wilona’s gift was the very journal you are reading. She even had it dyed a deep reddish-purple to match my skin tone and had my Name carved ornately across the cover. The feel of the finest parchment sent goosebumps down my spine as I ran my fingers over the smooth pages.
“I know how much you love to write. Hell, if you weren’t so talented I’d suggest you try your hand with the Scholars and Historians Guild…” Wilona was interrupted as I threw my arms around her, crushing her graceful form tightly between the journal and myself.
“How am I supposed to do this by myself?” I murmured into her grey streaked chestnut hair, “I’ll forget my lines… or miss a step… what will I do without you there to prompt me?”
“Oh, stop it,” my mentor chided softly, “you haven’t forgotten a line since your first year. We both know you’ll be magnificent. Besides, I expect regular letters through the College mail service.”
“Done!” I eagerly agreed, smiling as I pulled back and kissed her on each damp cheek, “And we must both promise to attend next year’s graduation so we can heckle the bureaucrats and catch up on our adventurers!”
The rest of the evening was an endless blur of show stopping performances and politely refusing the drinks everyone kept trying to hand me. Not that I don’t drink, mind you – remember the cheap wine at lunch? But I learned moderation at an early age… too much alcohol can unchain some of my… darker impulses. But that is a tale for another time – today was a celebration!
Wait… was that a cock crowing? It must be nearly dawn … Oh Gods above, I have my first professional performance tomorrow… or is it today? Perhaps I should have waited to pen this first entry, but how could I – today was the best day of my life!
Oh well, no regrets, but I had best get some sleep! Good night, dear reader. I will write to you again soon.
In these postscript sections I will loosely discuss how the random events generated by The Adventurer’s oracle decks inspired the journal entry you just read. If a solo play journaling rpg sounds like fun to you, pick up a copy of The Adventurer and start writing!
At the start of a game of The Adventurer, after creating your character, you draw a card from the location deck and write a journal entry to detail your starting area. I drew “City” and then worked to answer the prompts provided, like; Why are you here?
The city and realm of Fairhaven are central to the world I am building and were already partially developed, so I decided Revelry grew up there. After fleshing out his backstory (sorry, gonna have to wait for that), I created a bardic college and made Revelry a fresh graduate… the rest, well, you’ll just have to read it. 🙂
In future entries you’ll learn more about Revelry, his past, and the lands of the Boiling Seas – all randomly generated using The Adventurer solo RPG. Some entries will be locations or events, some could be people or performances, some may be bits of lore or backstory…
As Revelry wrote in the front cover note, “…we’ll discover together where the adventures of Revelry the Bard may lead us!”
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions so please leave them in the comments. Some answers may have to wait until the appropriate journal entry to be revealed, but I will be as responsive as I can! 🙂