Shine Cycle Background: A Chorus of Bards

A while back I wrote about what I call “applied metaphysics”, the main “fantasy” element in the world of the Shine Cycle. But there is one form of applied metaphysics in that world that doesn’t quite fit in that framework. Just as art, and artists, and particularly the best art and artists, don’t quite fit into our world, so too here.

In the world of the Shine Cycle, some people have the ability to affect more than just the hearts of their viewers or listeners through their artistic abilities. Music is the most common—to such an extent that such musicians, called “bards,” are accredited and usually taught entirely separately from other mages—but oratory, dance, acting, and visual arts all have a few mages who can work through them. This form of applied metaphysics is not necessarily subject to all the ordinary restrictions that most mages discover.

The famous lines (William Congreve) go,

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast
To soften rocks, or bend the knotted oak.

Here on earth only the first part of that seems to be true, and even that I have little experience with except as a listener. But in the world of the Shine Cycle, a bard could easily enough, as the myths said Orpheus did, make everything from the animals to the weather reflect his mourning. More practically, music alone can vastly improve morale, but a bard can inspire troops to extraordinary levels of courage—and more.

This ability—which I generally call “bardic talent” even though it’s not restricted to music—manifests in characters with little regard for musical or artistic ability. While a bard’s metaphysical talent works best with his or her strongest musical or other artistic talent, and in general the strongest in either area are strongest in both, there are powerful bards who are barely musical and have to work very hard to produce their art, and there are also musical prodigies and other masters who don’t have a speck of metaphysical talent.

As I mentioned above, bards—those whose talent works through music—are trained and accredited separately. While there are relevant courses at such schools as the Academy, nearly all bards are trained at the Bardic College in Capitol. Their training includes several musical instruments, music theory, a vast amount of music, and other traditional areas in the subject of music as well as significant concentration on metaphysics.

As with most education in the Empire, this formal education is undertaken at approximately the student’s own pace; in the Bardic College this is followed by a tour of the Empire as a “journeyman.” The equivalent phase for most mages (who use the same term) and other students at the Academy is conducted under the supervision and direction of an older, more experienced master of whatever the student’s field is, but among bards a journeyman only has this close supervision if his or her tour is undertaken in particularly dangerous areas.

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