Black Bard Journal #5

Reflections and a Bottle of Gin Black Bard Journal #5

Setting: Very late at night in the Black Pistol Inn, Roger Black Bard is alone. His Ward, Claude de Bouchet is uncharacteristically absent tonight, almost certainly avoiding the intense glare of the Black Bard’s soul-piercing and judgmental eye.

In the dim candlelight of the inn, the Black Bard spots his reflection in the mirror as he reaches for a dusty bottle on the back shelf no one ever touches. “Genever”, it says on the label, “flavored with juniper berries”.

He talks to himself in Capacian.
“This looks like the drink for me tonight.”

He pours a shot, raising it and saying, “To my long dead brothers-in-arms, may they live forever young in my memory!”

He downs the shot, then pours another.
Addressing his reflection in the mirror he raises his glass again and says, “And to you, Roger, you should not have survived when better men died… and yet… here you are!”

He downs the shot, exhaling sharply.
As he pours another shot of the strong spirit he begins to have a conversation with himself out loud.

“You know, Roger? This feeling we are having, it is called ‘ennui’, no? I wonder, is there a Gothic word for this feeling? Maybe they just say ‘ennui’…”

He shrugs then downs another shot and grimaces.

Waving the empty glass at his reflection he says, “Roger, be honest with yourself, what good are you doing in Stragosa? What is your real purpose here? You’ve come here for coin and now you’re richer than you’ve ever been in your entire miserable life. You have enough money right now, you don’t need to work for years. No one hears your songs of rebuke anyway. If you’re looking for justice, you’ll not find it here! The poor will be fed without you. So why does the melancholy minstrel go back to that bloody butcher shop every day?”

The Black Bard ponders and groans.

“The dark spirits of this town have found you and told you you’re doing nothing good for young Claude. Do they lie? Indeed he seems to be in trouble right now and will not seek your guidance. Do you still care if he’s somewhere safe tonight…?”

He pours another shot, letting it sit on the bar as he continues to rant at his reflection.

“Your associations are empty, Black Bard. You have no one and nothing. Maybe you are cursed. Your family and comrades in war are all long dead. And it seems that anyone who comes close to you meets an unfortunate end. Perhaps Claude is wise to avoid you. Luca the Woodcutter became your friend at dinner one night and died the next day. You sing for Sybill, the little Inquisitor and she died that night. You sing for the famous Balthazar, he died that night too. Corvo has always been good to you, now he’s leaving town. Your bodyguards, they care more about pursuing their own sinful pleasures than learning your songs. Maybe your songs aren’t as good as you think. Lady Gale though, she sees your talent and she commissioned you to write a song about the dead mage Balthazar, of the power of true love, something you don’t even know anything about. You’re a fraud, no?”

The Black Bard picks up his glass, viewing the candlelight through it as he contemplates a moment. He sniffs the piney shot of gin, and again confronts his reflection in the bar mirror.

“Do not come to me for pity or empathy. Your mock gentility is as obvious as a missing limb and your gloomy nature is as prickly as a fretful porcupine. Oh yes, the good people here—Principessa, Guildmaster Borso, Molly the Cook– they care for you, but that is nothing special. They care for everyone. “

The Black Bard looks down into the glass, slowly swirling it without spilling a drop.

“Last Forum, when the angry Gothic man came into the tavern and interrupted the ‘Vendetta’ song, putting a sword right in your face, you forgave him and offered to set things aright. Where was your mighty wrath, your vengeful streak of youth? You stood there in confusion as the tavern goers rushed to your aid. Are you getting soft in your old age? Is that why you are buying up so much ammunition and firearms lately? Are you so afraid of a fair fight you’ll blast a man to smithereens rather than face him with a blade in your hand? Has courage totally abandoned you?”

The Black Bard puts down his glass with an angry clunk and pulls out a loaded pistol, looking dangerously long into the barrel. He pulls back the hammer to half-cock, then full.

“Would you survive a gun blast to the head, Black Bard?”

The Black Bard moves the pistol closer, peering long and hard down its deadly barrel.


He un-cocks the flintlock and sets it on the bar, picking up the resting shot of gin.

“So why do you live, then, out of stubbornness? Existing? Nothing but existing?”

He looks deeply into the shot glass, as if to glean some secret message.

“Yes, the tavern people sometimes dance and sing to your music. They offer good coin, but their troubles are still with them the next day. There is no true victory… is there some point to all of this?”

The Black Bard ponders that a moment, downs the bitter shot, and closes his eye for a moment.

“And what of the Dark Beauty…? The sight of her is so intoxicating. You cannot look at her, you cannot look away. You cannot tell her how she makes you feel, lest you risk sin. All you can do is sing her song and hope she never notices you.”

Then he opens his eye and looks intensely into it in the mirror.

“Is it really a sin to escape your pain?”

He reaches for the bottle then stops. He turns again to the mirror with resolve and says to himself, “No. You cannot sin if you contend to be the most virtuous man in town.”

The Black Bard sets down his empty glass, then picks up and looks at the bottle of spirits.

“I was going to take you with me, my little juniper berry friend.”

He smiles a wry smile and lovingly places the bottle back on the shelf. He cleans and dries the shot glass and puts it back with the others. The Black Bard holsters his pistol and takes another look at himself in the mirror.

“Be patient, you one-eyed bastard. You can take much more pain than this. You are a soldier, so you soldier on. Don’t worry, young Claude will return. He will,” said the Black Bard as he looked in vain out the front window.

“It’s not ennui. It’s only your 55th birthday and you miss your friends.“

The Black Bard licks his fingers and snuffs out the remaining candles. The late winter sun’s first rays are just peeking through the tavern windows. He trudges upstairs to bed, nodding to his reflection one last time in the bar mirror.

“Good night, sir. Thanks for the drink…”


Black Bard Journal 4

Roger Black Bard Journal 4

Setting: very late at night at the Black Pistol Inn
Some hours earlier Roger and his young minstrel friend Claude heard performances by local bards and poets. They are only patrons left in the tavern. Roger is finishing up a page of lyrics.

“Roger, what are you writing? You seemed to be in a trance during the last performance.”

“Well… ze Night Lord’s Feast eez coming up, an’ I’ve been tinking about someting new. Zat bard wis ze story of heez dead parent inspire me. I have dis music in my ‘ead a long time and now I ‘ave ze story to go wis it… an’… Violá!”

“That’s a new song? May I see it?”

“But of course.”

The tavern is deathly quiet as Claude reads the Black Bard’s latest composition. Upon finishing it young Claude looks ashen and speaks hesitantly.

“My friend… I know you have a… shall we say… darker sense of things than I have… but this… this is the darkest piece I’ve ever read. I think I want to cry.”

“Eef ze piece move you, zen I am pleased.”

“But… why do you want me to feel sad? I thought you cared for me.”

“Oh, oh, oh”, laughed the Black Bard, “Oh, but I absolutely do! Perhaps you need to see ze deeper meaning of zis story. Tell me what you see.”

“I see it opens with a reference to a king and his soldiers on a quest, or conquest, to unite various countries. They all die, whether they were good or bad, and are laid into their graves.”


“And the refrain is about a dance they do, the Danse Macabre. What does that mean?”

“Eet eez ze Dance of Death. Ze dance we all make in ze end.”


“Read on. What else do you see?”

“Then there’s a bishop and his Templars who fight against heretics, apparently with some success.”

“An’ what ‘appen to zem?”

“They all die.”


“And do the Dance of Death too.”

“Read on.”

“Then you write of a cruel and heartless merchant who dies and then his widow uses his wealth to make amends to all the people he wronged in life.”

“An’ what ‘appen to zem?”

“They both do the… Dance of Death.”


“Then there’s a peasant woman who is always afraid, but pretends to have a happy life.”

“An’ zen?”

“She… kills herself?”


“Roger, this is a horrible song! I don’t understand!”

“Read on to ze end.”

Young Claude takes a moment to gather strength, and continues.

“You have a hungry beggar who gets sick and dies alone in a pile of debris. No one notices he’s died and he doesn’t receive any funeral rites. His spirit… can’t be free…”

“An’ yet?”

“He too dances the Dance of Death.”

“An’ finally?”

“You have a happy innocent child drown in a river… and…”

Young Claude’s eyes begin to well up again, his face wet with streaming tears as he reads the last stanza again.

“Ze child too dance wit death, no?”

“But… this song says that nothing matters! It says it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, we all die in the end. I don’t understand. Are you saying… nothing matters in life at all?”

“Au contraire, mon frère. Eez zat all you take from ze lyric? Nutting matter, eh?

Young Claude composes himself, wiping his eyes and looking intently at the tearstained page.

“Maybe it’s saying… we all are doomed to the grave eventually… but…”

The Black Bard smiled cryptically, quietly proud of his young music friend as if he could see the wheels turning inside the younger bard’s head.

“Ohh… maybe it means, we are all the same in one way, no matter what position we hold in this life.”

“An’ zo…?”

“Maybe we could all be a little kinder to each other, while we still live and breathe?”

“Yes, I tink zo. I tink zat eez exactamente what eet mean. You see?”


“Zo… now you like?”

“I’m moved, yes, but I think I’ll enjoy the one about the Mother Pheasant Plucker a little better.


Gibbets and Crows

Black Bard Journal 3
Setting: very late at night in a small roadside tavern
Some hours earlier Roger and his young minstrel friend Claude heard a performance by a local bard called Bumsen Goodhand. They are only patrons left in the tavern.

“Roger, what did you think of Bumsen Goodhand?”

“Well… heez left hand eez obviously ze good one. But his songwriting impress me ze most. I trade ‘im one of mine for eez closing number. Eef I can learn ‘ow ‘e plays it.”

“That tune is getting popular, I’ve been hearing it all over, it’s very catchy. Roger, why do you play another bard’s tune, you have so many?”

“Well… nobody can know everything, zo I like to listen to stories I don’t know, maybe I learn someting new. Ze music world is a paradox, you know? Ze more you give away, ze more you ‘ave.”

“What do you mean? I don’t get it.”

“Well, take zis local bard, he’s a nobody. But ‘e come up wis someting good one time, everybody want to do ‘is song. Ze more he share, ze more people ‘ear ‘is song. He become popular maybe. Now ‘e ‘as more power to influence ze world. To make ze world a little brighter, make people feel someting. Zat eez what eez all about, no? Maybe ‘e become famous because everybody know ‘is song and zey feel ‘appy, uh?”

“He just gives away his song for other bards to play?”

“If zey are honest, zey give ‘im ze credit when zey perform. And I usually offer a song in exchange eef I want to play someone else’s tune, zo ‘e comes away wis someting.”

“How come you never traded songs with me?”

“Well, I don’t tink I can sing any of your songs, your vocal style eez… um, too advanced for me to follow. I cannot hit ze high note anymore…”

“Can I have one of your songs anyway?”

“Ha-ha-ha! Which one deed you ‘ave in mind, Claude?”

“I sort of like that new one you wrote this winter—‘Gibbets and Crows’. It’s cute! Wherever did you get the idea for such darkly humorous story?”

“Mm, well, zis winter was… ‘ow should one say…? A challenge.”

“I’m all ears, my good fellow! Do tell!”

“Well, since leaving Stragosa last winter, ze hunting game seem not so profitable, you know, an’ I find myself wis an opportunity to do some good for ze poor people living in the city. Zey need farm workers tout de suite. Zere eez a food shortage, ze poor are ‘ungry, an’ I see zere eez need for my assistance.”

“I didn’t know you were a Farmer!”

“Oh, I’m not.”


“Ze good man in charge tell me, uh, go study Farming from a book an’ zen you can staff ze dairy providing milk, cheese, curds, and whey to ze ‘ungry poor. I say yes.”

“Sounds like a lot of effort!”

“I never found out. Zere was a ‘orrible dark secret about zat dairy and zis enterprise… I will spare your tender ‘eart ze details. Suffice to say eet would curdle your blood to see what I saw.”

“Oh, dear! What did you do?”

“Zo I left zat ‘orrible place and went back to ze good man who wish to ‘elp ze poor, an’ I say, hey, I am ze Black Bard of Capacionne! I don’t ‘ave to put up wis zees kind of disgusting nonsense!”

“What did he say?”

“I explain what happen an’ he understand. Zo, I’m tinking I just go out into ze woods and live off ze land all winter, but he say, hey, I have anozer way you can help feed ze poor—staffing ze butcher shop behind ze prison, next to ze gallows. I still want to ‘elp, zo I say ‘fine’.”

“The butcher shop behind the prison, next to the gallows. THAT was less disgusting than the dairy?!”

“Oh, yes, most certainly.”

“But you’re cutting up meat and dealing with blood and customers! Right next to where they hang criminals! It sounds… absolutely ghastly!”

“No, eet ees important work to ‘elp ze poor, eet eez honorable and just. I know what I’m doing.”

Claude let out a horrified gasp.
“THAT’s where you wrote ‘Gibbets and Crows’?”


“In the butcher shop next to the gallows?”


“Well, if it’s all the same to you… will you let me do ’Behind the Farmer’s Daughter’ instead?”