Gus, the Bard
Legendary bard and main player in The War. Gender undertermined. (Written by K)
Among the land, there is one story that each Student of the Song is required to learn and take to heart before they may take up the mantle of the bard. That song is the Legend of Gus, Favored of Laundromat and Ehlenestra, and beloved of the Half-Elves. The bard who played a major role in The War. The bard who reminded the world of the Power of the Song.
At this point in time, nobody remembers the full name of Gus. According to the journals and accounts prepared by the clerics of Laundromat, Gus herself has requested this ommission as a way to ensure that future generations may know that she achieved what she was able to achieve with her own power, and without having to resort to the protection or backing of a mere family name. She indicated that she wanted to impart that lineage does not matter, and it should not be a barrier for an individual to do great things.
Now, the significance of this act may not be so obvious in this age, but it should be remembered that in the days of Gus, Half-Elves were frowned upon as either mongrels, abominations, or simply strangers who would fit nowhere. Unlike today’s society wherein Half-Elves are accepted and loved by both their Elven and Human kin, in those dark days, Half-Elves found very few friends, and much less followers.
As for the history of Gus herself, the story goes that she was born to an Elven mother and a Human father. Nobody knows any details about the father, and the only information that could be gleaned was that he fell in battle, in a skirmish against a troop of orcs, shortly before Gus was born into the world.
As for the mother, it is said that her name was Mirialis. Upon learning of her husband’s death, she grieved, and the only way she knew how to express her utmost sorrow was to sing. According to stories, up until the day of Gus’ birth, Mirialis sung nothing but hymns of mourning, and songs of her lost love. After the birth, however, she sang a Song of Joy to welcome her daughter to the light, much to the relief of all members of their Elven home.
GUS, THE YOUTH
The child grew up as a striking image of her mother. Silver hair. Emerald eyes. As the child blossomed over the years, Mirialis taught Gus her own songs. Those could have been happy days for the two, and gods know they tried to make it so, but the onlookers that surrounded them were not pleased.
Mirialis had five elder sisters, all of whom disapproved of their sibling’s union with a mere human. To them, Gus was a burden. A mortal burden who will only cause their sibling even more grief when in a mere seventy or eighty Turns, the pall of old age would begin to creep upon the rosy youth, and the Gods of Death will finally take her. To them, it was pure folly, and they tried their best to marry off their sibling to another Elf of their choosing, and bear pure-blooded children who will not wither like a leaf and crumble into ash in a mere blink of an Elven eye.
Gus’ mother would have none of this, and because of this conflict, Mirialis was constantly in quarrel with her sisters, and Gus was a witness to each and every one of those quarrels that arose. So, at a very early age, Gus understood what it was like to be a Half-Elf in the world that she lived in.
To get away from the constant feuds with her kin, Mirialis and her child decided to isolate themselves from the others of their community, and they took up shelter in a small residence overlooking the sea. Here, they lived off of the land, and shared their joy in the Song. On starry nights, they would sing the Hymns of Ehlenestra, Mirialis’ patron goddess.
GIFT OF THE GODDESS
In Gus’ 14th year, however, their peace was disturbed when their abode was attacked by a troop of orc raiders. Being in an isolated place with no one to turn to, Mirialis fiercely tried to defend her child, and in a moment of desperation, she led the raiders to the edge of the cliff near their home. Unfortunately, one of the raiders did not follow suit and discovered Gus hidden in their home’s small granary. Gus was dragged kicking and screaming from her hiding place, and was brought outside by the bandit, possibly with the intention of enjoying the kill with his comrades.
Mirialis heard Gus’ screams and saw her daughter held captive by the brute. Gus reached out and called out for her mother in tears… and this was when it happened.
According to Gus’ own recounting of the event, Mirialis raised her face to the heavens, and in a voice amplified by magic, called out Ehlenestra’s name. Apparently, the Goddess answered her plea, for in the next instant, Mirialis was bathed in light and levitating a full ten or fifteen feet in the air.
Within the next few moments, the struggle was over. The entire band was exterminated, cut apart and torn by sharp pillars of sea water, all apparently summoned and controlled by Mirialis. Eventually, the pillars of water lost their shape and fell back into the sea, and they finally realized that the gift of the Goddess had come with a price.
Mirialis was released from her trance, but the act had taken a toll on her being. According to sages and scholars, it is possible that the Elven woman’s delicate features may have been an insufficient vessel for whatever power Ehlenestra has decided to bestow upon her at that moment. Some even speculate that Ehlenestra herself may have descended into Mirialis’ corporeal form, an act that could destroy an individual’s flesh.
Gus knew that something was amiss, and she only had enough time to run to her mother, hold her hand, weep and exchange a few short, loving words. And then, Mirialis turned into a million tiny stars which drifted away when the wind blew.
THE SILENT YEARS
The next day, Elven scouts were deployed to where Mirialis and Gus had lived, upon the command of a local wizard who felt the surge of magic the night before. The scouts were horrified to find the gruesome remains of the slain orcs, but were even more puzzled to find the young Gus, sitting on the edge of the cliff, singing the Hymn of Ehlenestra.
Gus was then brought to her next of kin, Mirialis’ sisters. They questioned the young child relentlessly, demanding to know where their sister is, and never believing a word that Gus had told them. They have decided amongst themselves that the mongrel child had harmed or killed their sister, but did not have enough proof of this to present to the Council, try as they might to find the evidence that they wanted.
They were then forced to take the youngling into their care, but they made no effort to disguise the fact that they were merely fulfilling an obligation. Here, Gus received formal Elven education, shelter and food, but no affection or friendship. In this whole time, Gus never sang.
For the next five years, Gus mourned for her lost mother, the same way that Mirialis had mourned for her lover all those years before. The only difference was that Gus could only suffer in silence for fear of displeasing her bigoted aunts. Gus herself is known to have recounted how she always felt the songs in her veins and in her mind, and yet her voice never came to her. This doubled her grief, and all she could do was hope, and pray to Ehlenestra as her mother had done.
Then one day, during a tenday-long festival for Ehlenestra which is held only once every decade, a caravan arrived at their commune to join the festivities. Among them was a Human troubadour.
Gus, having lived her years in the confines of her Elven community and never venturing out, was fascinated by this being in a garrishly-colored cape and an equally-garrish hat with a peacock feather stuck in it. The man talked in a voice like an untuned horn, and bellowed laughter like a drunken bugbear. And, oh, how he flourished, stumbled, laughed, traipsed and made a fool of himself… and how he didn’t seem to care! How he made so lightly of his mistakes! How he laughed… at himself!
As the festival went on, Gus found herself seated among the audience whenever the troubadour performed a song or told a story. Everyone else took it as light amusement, but Gus absorbed every single word. The man told of his journeys to various places and of various peoples he met along the way. He told of how Dwarves drink ale like fishes, and how he once fell in love with a Tiefling sorceress (and how it did not end well). He told stories that others have passed on to him.
On the morning of the last day of the festival, Gus awoke from her bed with a sudden pang in her heart. She felt the throb in her head. It was a calling, a yearning. An epiphany. Suddenly, the vast commune was stifling and stagnant. Everything… the place, her education, the land, the world… was just too small. She HAD to know what was out there.
Not comprehending the feeling of wanderlust, she stumbled through the day, with the sole thought of just wanting to listen to the troubadour one last time before the caravan departs again. It will be another decade before another festival will be held, and she railed at the thought.
Finally, after stepping on some toes and getting some angry glares from several audience members, she finally made it to her place among the troubadour’s audience. The performer walked up to the small dais prepared for him, as he always had done for the past nine nights. However, tonight was different. He was somber. The smile was not on his lips, and the laughter Gus wanted to hear was not coming.
Gus wept quietly, in disappointment, and muttered, “Ehlenestra. Help me.”
It was at this point that the troubadour opened his mouth and began to sing. He sang of love and war, of evil and kindness, of loss and salvation. He sang praises to various gods and deities, that even Gus has never heard of. He sang of the beauty of a desert, and the love of the sea. He sang of cold nights and blue skies. He sang of heroes who fell in battle for the sake of the land. He sang of those who defied the gods because of their love for another.
All the while, Gus sat there, dumbfounded and wide-eyed, tears still streaming down her cheeks. For that moment, the world was lost. It was just her, and the man, and the Song. Then, the man sang a Hymn to Ehlenestra that Gus has never heard before. She was aware that the tune has never been taught to her, and yet in her mind, the words and the melody were coming as if she had known it all along.
Suddenly, Gus found the man looking straight at her as he sang, and everything that has been binding her all those years suddenly seemed to have fallen off of her shoulders. Slowly, she stood up, and mouthed the words of the Song, unsure of her voice, but little by little, the words flowed through her with more confidence, and the melody was strong within her mind. The two sang. Two different melodies, with the same words, harmonizing as one haunting number.
Soon after, the song ended, and the audience applauded coldly and eyed her with suspicion while they filed out to join the rest of the festivities. She, on the other hand, amazed at what had just happened, continued to just stand at her spot… but she no longer cared. She knew that THAT was Ehlenestra’s answer to her prayers, and she knew what she must do. Gus took another look at the Troubadour then, and was surprised at the wide grin he flashed her as he removed his hat and made a graceful but exaggerated bow, before exiting stage left, and leaving her to her thoughts.
The next morning, before the sun was even up, the caravan left their commune, leaving only the tracks of animals and wheels to show they were ever there. Gus felt no more sadness over this, however, and instead set about making her own preparations.
After the troubadour left her alone the night before, she decided to return to her chambers and retrieved a small sack among her belongings, and while the rest of the household had left to join the merrymaking, Gus went through their larders and acquired provisions for herself. She also ventured into their armory and pilfered gear and hardier clothing, as well as weapons which she may use, as she had been taught in the Academy. Lastly, she broke into one of her aunt’s chambers and retrieved an old mandolin. The one inscribed with her mother’s name which her aunts refused to give to her.
After that, she returned to her own chambers, and waited.
Now that the caravan has gone, the rest of the community were busy with cleaning the premises, while the nobles and clerics were occupied with making their final and closing prayers for the night. Gus, in her new-found clothes and with a hood over her head, avoided the crowds and made for the direction where the caravan headed.
The tracks were still there and were very easy to follow. As she reached the edge of a wooded area where the tracks led to, she cast one last look at the home she was leaving behind, looked at the stars above her, and said her own prayers of thanks.
FISH, ALOE VERA AND DISEASED CATTLE
The next account of Gus is a full Turn after she had left her home, with her having decided to strike out on her own instead of remaining with the caravan, and arriving in the sleepy streets of Fishtown. Merely wanting to make a bit of coin and head for the next city, Gus entered the local tavern, and here met the Elf Magiqa Bloomshadow, Jyli the wizard, Zulu the sorcerer, a pair of monks, and Wudsy, a rather strange Wood Elf.
Fate shifted for Gus again, at this meeting, as she agreed to go along with these strangers and run an errand for the local herbalist. They were asked to retrieve some Aloe Vera, to which Gus readily agreed as it sounded easy enough and she needed the coin. However, instead of being a mere errand, this became the first of many adventures for the group.
Ultimately, after many discoveries and encounters, they found themselves serving directly under King Leopold VII, Ruler of the Realm. The kingdom was then in the brink of war against an evil god and his orc minions—a war that would not have even been known to the ruler, had he not been informed about it by Gus and her group.
Thankfully, the warning that they brought came just in time, and defenses were set up just before the first wave of attacks came crashing upon the city walls. The citizens and the troops were able to keep up the defense for a good while with minimal losses, but then the enemy began catapulting a great number of diseased and rotten cattle carcasses into the city. With the air foul with rot, and the possiblity of their water supply being contaminated, they knew that it had to end once and for all.
THE DAY OF THE WAR
Several days later, the troops of Leopold VII, his generals, his clerics and sorcerers, as well as Gus and his group, went on an all-out offensive to repulse the invaders. Through the first wave of covert operations carried out by Magiqa and the others, the catapults and various other siege weapons were destroyed, and the ammunition of pitch-soaked bales of hay were set upon their own creators. The chaos among the orc ranks that ensued was then the signal for the troops to launch their own attacks, and in this effort, Gus’ role was threefold.
First, her songs were known to have placed courage in the heart of every defender that day, and all who previously trembled and cowered before the orc forces then stood tall and ready. Second, those same songs have also broken the spells and curses which the orc shamans have cast among the troops, causing weakness and confusion. And lastly, using an artifact, a magical flute that they had acquired in a previous adventure which was then studied, unlocked and then blessed by Ehlenestra’s and Laundromat’s priestesses, Gus summoned and led a second army of spirit warriors who augmented the numbers of the king’s troops almost fivefold.
The battle was hard-fought, and many a good defender fell before the city walls that day. In the end, however, the orcs were defeated, the evil god was sealed away by the priests and clerics, and the day was won.
THE LEGEND OF THE BARD
Battered, bruised and bleeding, with a rapier in one hand and her broken flute by her side, it is known that Gus, in a voice which was heard in every corner of the city and beyond it, sang the Song of Joy, the Hymn of Ehlenestra, and finally, the Hymn of the Fayth, before collapsing in exhaustion. In the time that she was singing, wounds were healed, hearts were lightened, and the souls of fallen soldiers were said to have been seen walking away from their deceased bodies and vanishing in bursts of light.
The King immediately ordered that Gus be treated for her injuries, and she was cared for day and night by the clerics of Ehlenestra and Laundromat. It took two weeks before she regained consciousness, and even then, was very weak. She gradually regained her strength, but her injuries went too deep and were too many for her frail frame. She could no longer move about without assistance, and could not even find the strength to hold her mandolin in her hands. But despite all this, she never stopped smiling or laughing.
Upon her seeming recovery, King Leopold VII ordered his scribes to take account of all that has transpired. Honors and gifts were also awarded to the group in a grand ceremony, and the people celebrated in their honor, as surprised as they were that they were saved by a mongrel, a Half-Elf. Word spread of the group’s feats, and of Gus, the Half-Elf Bard who summoned the souls of the just in their hour of need, and sent the souls of the fallen to the Grey Fields to get their rewards.
However, a dark day came two Turns later, when Gus’ mortal body could no longer take the strain. By this time, books have been written of their exploits, and the local Academy taught songs and tales which were shared by Gus herself and then recorded by the scribes and scholars.
As she lay in her chambers in King Leopold’s palace, surrounded by friends she had made along the way, she sang the Hymn of the Stars one last time, before smiling, and closing her eyes forever.
And that is the Story of Gus, Favored of Laundromat and Ehlenestra, and beloved of the Half-Elves. To this day, her broken flute may still be found, as half of it lies within the walls of Ehlenestra’s temple, and the other half in Laundromat’s. Her mandolin is among the treasures of King Leopold, which has been handed down and cared for from generation to generation, and used only for special celebrations which are held in honor of the gods.
Another thing that we may bring up while we’re on the subject, is the question of Ehlenestra’s gender. Silly, we know, but there have been rumors in her time that she was actually born male, but through the unwitting use of a magical item, was transformed into a woman. It can be noted that several illustrations of her do exist which show her wearing a particular girdle. Some scholars, claim that the girdle is the culprit and that it does have power to invert the wearer’s gender, while other, more level-headed people point out that it might just simply be a favored piece of garment.
It can be noted that in the days leading upon her death, Gus was no longer wearing such gear. We do find it unfortunate that the scribes from the Followers of Magiqa insist on refuting this piece of logic as a mere effect of having worn the supposedly-magical item for an extended period of time. They also claim to possess journals written by their mistress herself, expressing disappointment at the change that befell the comeliest looking male among their group. They are yet to produce the said journals, however, stating that it was all written on plant leaves, and they’re still trying to put it all back together as the leaves have already crumbled from age. Until then, such rumors are to be disbelieved.
But then again, even if it was true that Gus was in truth male… well… does it matter at this point?
We think not.
Chief Scribe to the King