Shine Cycle Character Profile: Agnes of New Tara

This is the next in the series of profiles of characters who will appear in the Shine Cycle, my fantasy-series-in-preparation.

Agnes – Duchess of New Tara, bard, Harpist to the Queen’s Chamber, and Deputy King’s Harpist. A harp instructor at the Bardic College and occasional visiting instructor to the Academy.

A demure, slender woman of medium height, with straight light brown hair flowing down her back, but usually covered with a cap. She generally wears robes cut in the bardic style, loose so she can play a full-size harp without trouble, and usually chooses robes in muted colors.

When she first arrived in the Empire, Agnes was shy and unsure of herself, rarely putting herself forward or making suggestions to anyone. As she advanced in the Bardic College, playing many public performances, this shyness gave way to reserve. But even when taciturn shyness dominated her actions, joy was visible in her countenance through a quiet smile if nothing else.

She spends far less of her time than she would like, only a few months of each year, in her duchy. The remainder of the year she spends either in the capital, teaching at the Bardic College and playing concerts for the public when not playing command performances, or (rarely) following the Queen in some delegation for which her presence and skills are deemed important.

In the first week after she arrived, Agnes borrowed a harp from a street musician and began playing in the capital square; within two more weeks she had made enough to cover her food and lodging for the month, if the grants given to all her peers to help them adjust weren’t paying for that already, and also a harp of her own.

Nearly every day, while she was playing, some listener or other would tell her she was so talented that she should study at the Bardic College, but she constantly demurred. Instead, she continued to make her way as a busker. After two years, an instructor at the Bardic College stopped to listen while passing by, identified himself, and insisted that she audition. When she did, the College warmly accepted her.

In her studies there, she passed quickly through the various requirements made of her as an apprentice. When she was made a journeyman, she departed with a group of friends, three native-born bards and one of her peers from Earth, on a traditional “journey.” They traveled from place to place, “singing for their supper,” usually spending only a few nights in a district before moving on. At first, Agnes served primarily as an accompanist to the others in the group.

After a few months, her friends began to find places where they were offered the chance to settle down for awhile. First one, then another a few months later, and so on, left the group to accept these opportunities. As the ensemble grew smaller, she had to take an increasingly prominent role. Her last companion stayed with her six months after the previous defection, but when he received a lucrative job offer and then that very night was laid low for a week by a severe illness, he decided to take it. Everyone in the inn where they were staying urged Agnes to go on to avoid contracting the illness herself. In the next three small villages, she found even better success than the group had at full strength, and lingered in each for a couple of days longer than she had planned.

The next town after that was New Tara, the capital of the district she and her friend had just entered. After busking for a few days in the capital square, one leading citizen after another insisted that she come and stay with them for a few days as their guest. They also urged her to give a formal concert, in addition to busking and playing to entertain her hosts, and at last she agreed to perform for at least one night and perhaps more.

While she agreed to accept some of the proceeds to fund her ongoing expenses as a journeyman, she insisted that the concert be a benefit, with the bulk of the funds raised going to support the poor of the region. One concert became two, and in the end her popularity and the public demand was such that she had to perform nearly every night for a fortnight.

As she was leaving New Tara to return to Capitol to try for her mastery, several of the town’s leading citizens, who had hosted her, begged her to try to return and settle there. Touched, she promised to consider it, but made no further commitment.

On her return to the Imperial capital and the Bardic College, she played for her teachers and the College’s leaders, impressing them and flying beyond their expectations. As they often did with newly acknowledged masters, they pressed her to give a public concert in the capital. As in New Tara, that one concert became a week of performances, and the King and Queen each came to hear her—though not “officially,” in a “Royal Box.”

Agnes was overwhelmed by this attention, but resolved to continue in her chosen profession with the music she loved. After seeking advice from her teachers, and at their request giving a few master-classes, she returned to New Tara, hoping to make a fairly quiet life there.

As she began to settle down in that province, however, New Tara proved much less idyllic than she had perceived in her earlier visit: there were several factions in the district’s government and populace, all talking past each other and unwilling to agree on much of anything—except their admiration for her music.

For more than a decade, Agnes served as an unofficial mediator in New Tara, helping to keep the peace in the town through music, and learning more than she had ever wanted about the details of municipal and district government. She also taught a few students, who came to her on the recommendation of her friends and her own teachers. For that time, however, she held her peace in the debates she facilitated, instead of herself making any policy proposals.

About twelve years after she gained her mastery, her mentors prevailed on her to return to Capitol to perform again. After a week of public concerts, she gave a command performance for the King and Queen and their court, and the Queen asked her to accept the mostly-honorary position of harpist to her chamber. Because this would require her to be in the capital much more often than she had been in the past, but would not require all that much of her time when she was, she also accepted a long-standing offer to join the Bardic College faculty.

When she returned to New Tara early the next year, the political tension was worse than ever, and members of the district council were not speaking to each other. Emboldened by the memory of the Queen’s praise, she brought all of the disputing councillors together, played to get them into a conciliatory mood, then began the discussion herself with a minor policy proposal of her own for the first time. Later that year, when the post of district governor came up for election, several of the competing factions nominated her, and despite her misgivings she was elected.

The district prospered under her hand, and became somewhat more peaceful, even though she was in Capitol rather than New Tara about half the time. When she was at home, she spent many long hours training deputies to govern lightly and equitably and seek the best resolution amid conflict.

After her first two terms, the King proposed and Parliament approved making her position permanent and the district a duchy. To help convince her to accept the permanent responsibility, he offered her the position of Deputy King’s Harpist.


Shine Cycle Character Profile: Thalia of High Reach

This is the next in the series of profiles of characters who will appear in the Shine Cycle, my fantasy-series-in-preparation.

Thalia – Baroness of High Reach, headmistress of the Imperial Academy, Visiting Scholar, and knight. Known to her friends for her biting wit but across the Empire for her ability to bring out the best in anyone willing to learn. She also coaches several teams on the Academy debate circuit. Continue reading

Shine Cycle Character Profile: Veronica of Kingsfold

This is the next in the series of profiles of characters who will appear in the Shine Cycle, my fantasy-series-in-preparation.

Veronica – Princess-duchess of Kingsfold, bard, nominally in the King’s service in the Imperial Service. An old friend of the King, she is blessed with a gentle personality that makes her nearly unmatched in diplomacy among her peers in the Service. Continue reading

Pre-Birthday Musings

So tomorrow is my birthday. What can I say that I haven’t said before, many times, and at great length?

Last year I made a “birthday sale” of my book; I might do something similar around Easter, but not this week. By this time next year I hope Dreams and Prayers will be out, if not long enough to merit a sale-price promotion, or at least nearly ready, and The Invasion will be well on its way to being ready. But God alone knows how well the summer and autumn will go.

Throughout my years of school, unlike so many of my classmates (and the stereotype), I was never particularly happy to see the end of a year or a semester. (Thus the poem I read at my high school graduation.) But this was only one of the ways, if perhaps the first, in which a reaction, inclination, or idea that seems natural or obvious to me seems completely foreign to those around me, and in retrospect vice versa.

In middle and high school, I would never have believed that my happiest hours would ever be in social situations (and I had only begun to understand how exhausting they would be), nor that I would wish I had fewer books. Nor, once I started writing poetry in high school, did I imagine that a day would come when I would still be writing poetry but when most of my poetry would be deliberate, rather than spontaneous, compositions.

“This, too, is vanity, a chasing after wind.”

Shine Cycle Character Profile: Blanchefleur

This is the next in the series of profiles of characters who will appear in the Shine Cycle, my fantasy-series-in-preparation.

Blanchefleur – Lady in waiting to Rhiannon. When the King was court bard to Arthur as Taliesin he fell in love with her and she with him, but Merlin warned them that unless they postponed their love tragedy would ensue. Much later, she appeared in the Empire at the same time as the rest of the Chosen. Continue reading

Shine Cycle Character Profile: Regina

This is the next in the series of profiles of characters who will appear in the Shine Cycle, my fantasy-series-in-preparation.

Regina Princess at large, journeyman mage under the tutelage of Windstorm of the Rivers Kingdom, and a senior ombudsman in the Imperial Service. She has declined to attempt the great-mage examination even though she is obviously eminently qualified. Continue reading

Shine Cycle Character Profile: Sibyl

This is the next in the series of profiles of characters who will appear in the Shine Cycle, my fantasy-series-in-preparation.

Sibyl – In the Empire, a Visiting Scholar and bard; her primary citizenship is in Elvida, where she is one of Scarlet of Elvida‘s most trusted advisors. She is also a valued Imperial advisor, and spends about half her time in each country. Continue reading