“No one understands anymore. A song, a dance, a merry jig, the odd fact or fable. What does it say about people that when you offer them anything they are content with nothing that is real, or true, or matters? They are content with fiction and legend. We offer truth, we Bards, truthful lies or histories of men and nations and the world. ‘Once upon a time...’ So much assumed. That the past can’t come again, that lightning never strikes twice, that the past is past.

“Now I shall relate a story, which of course makes it a lie simply because it is a story and uses words and speaks of things I never saw. It would still be a lie if I had seen them, but I feel the need to make that point. Don’t interrupt, girl! As I said, I shall tell you all a story now. Not of history, or legend, but a myth, about Bards and truth and, oh, many other things.

“It’s all our fault, you know. No one asks us for truth because we do give them lies. It keeps people happy. The truth, however, is a hard thing to know. There were no bards when we arrived on this land. Not until the war was half done and victory possible over the elves did remembering history seem important. Before then it wasn’t wanted. The butchering of children, the death of helpless innocents, destruction of unborn children ... these were our acts, not those of elves.

“Oh, they did evil as well. Someday, when you’re old enough, I’ll tell you some of the magics they did. And the ones we did in return. Then I’ll give you a drug so you can sleep the next week without nightmares.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me, whelp! There are reasons bards lie, reasons why our stories are truthful lies rather than true, reasons we are permitted - no, encouraged - to exaggerate tales, to make stories larger than life, to give bias to what we see. It’s simple, really. The truth is too much to bear. So we bear it for others, the way mages bear responsibility that others have forsaken or mothers bear children.

“There is nothing noble or beautiful about the past. Nothing pretty to be found in our war with the elves or theirs with us. It’s lies that are beautiful and lovely, not truths. Even more - and this is the secret we bards hold more than any other - there is nothing honourable about the past.

“Got your attention, did I? We have the right to make up truths as we see fit, and in doing so we make them into lies. If the truth is asked of us, we give it. But few want the truth and fewer still can accept it. And this is why we Bards tell stories instead of history, legend instead of myth, fiction instead of truths, facts instead of realities. We get to the future by the past, and our past is a long, sorrid tale of evils done and revenged, of things won or lost. So we give the lies to people so that they can build a future for our people.

“‘And they lived happily ever after.’ Well, not quite. We might, if we build our history on the lies that say we were good, or honourable, or decent, or somehow better than ourselves, and the elves. Otherwise, all we can see is pain, and death - death of hope, of life, of honour. Lies are a light we shine into the darkness of truth to make it a bit brighter, a bit more glittery, a bit more of a story.

“And this, child, is why we bards have the right to make truth into a lie in our stories and songs and epics. It is not something we requested, but something we were given - perhaps even ordered to accept so that Bards could be at all. There is more to the world than the Four Lands, and more to the Four Lands than even we know. To tell a lie and be successful, you must believe it at some level. We believe our lies. We have to, because they’re our only defense against the world. And perhaps, just perhaps, this story is a lie itself, hiding other truths inside it. Sleep on it, and think. We’ll resume lessons in the morning.”

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