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The Bardic Circle

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With the sun still high above the horizon and your responsibilities for the day complete, you decide to take a walk through the woods once again. Today might be the last day of warmth that remains before winter sets in, and you aim to take advantage of it. You still remain unsure of how your explorations will continue when snow covers the land beyond the monastery.

You set out by taking the long way out of the monastery, to the opposite side from your quarters. Past the high bell tower, you dive into the brush where you last left, hoping to pick up your old trail. You know the wood near the monastery like the back of your hand now, having remained close in your first month. Past the old tree that refuses to grow straight, with four trunks that curve outward as though a hand were reaching from the ground. A few minutes later, across a clear creek that bubbles over stones covered in green and yellow moss where a fallen maple sits against another as a wounded soldier would his brother. Finally, you find the small meadow that marks the end of your last stroll.

Knowing you have the time, you continue forward, away from the monastery rather than the long, loping circles you have been making around it. Soon after, you come upon a worn path. It holds no tracks from horse or cart, but is too large to be from deer or panther. As you walk farther from home, the ground becomes steeper, drawing out sweat upon your brow and back. The brush is thinner here, but trees still block out the sun, giving you some relief. Soon, you are lifting your legs high, and constantly changing course due to small cliffs and large boulders blocking your way.

Eventually, you reach a small, rocky plateau facing the way you have come. The view is spectacular: an orange, yellow, and red sea of trees sloping away from you as they race toward the monastery’s stone complex and grounds, surrounding it and crashing against the stones and cliffs on the other side of the valley. Behind the mountains do the same, turning into stone walls without much vegetation. You gauge the cracks and crevices, but determine it would take all day to scale, time you don’t have.

From the left runs a road, marked by a thin line of space between trees, connecting the monastery with towns beyond. The monastery itself is tiny, the size of your thumb, and you realize how far you’ve come. Knowing you should head back shortly, you take a break in the open air. Unlike the crowded forest, a cool breeze reaches your spot, refreshing your body after its strenuous climb.

As you sit you hear a distant sound. At first you think it to be simply the wind blowing across a strange formation or leaves rustling, but it begins to grow louder. You concentrate, trying to discern the sounds from natural sounds. As it grows closer, you make out words.

    The Bardic Circle, a glorious bunch

    Arm of the Order of D’Avenant

    Singing, writing, chroniclers they were

    For any who crossed them, satire

    Poets, musicians, they were named

    Yet more than that they could claim.

You stand up quickly, straining your eyes to see the source of the voice, but the canopy below is too thick. Thinking of the small trail you found earlier, you scrabble down the rocks quickly, attempting to avoid a fall, or worse.

    Warriors many of them were not

    That role, the Archers of Avenant

    Ruled by the Suzeraine, all

    Beautiful, strong, her principal

    A matriarchal society

    Sexes balanced in quantity

    Ordered, just so, each with a role

    The Bardic Circle, mouth of all.

When you enter the trees and brush once again, the voice fades noticeably. Without the clear air to carry the sound, it is hard to hear. Yet the direction is more acute within the confines of trunks and bushes, and you are certain it comes from the earlier trail.

You rush as fast as you can, knowing a full run could mean injury. As the brush gets thicker, your pace becomes slower, branches resisting you with every step. The voice dissolves even further into an unintelligible noise.

As you break through into the open path, your head lashes from side to side, to no avail. There is no one visible, human or animal, and the voice has melded with the rustling of foliage. Not wanting to accept defeat, you hurry on the direction of the path for a ways before trying the other, but see no one. Whoever it was must have been moving quickly.

With no results from your search and the hour growing late, you turn toward the monastery. As you make your way through the forest, you can’t help but wonder—Who was singing, and what was he doing in the foothills? Who made the path he walked along? And what was he singing of?

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