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Once upon a time, there was a Princess who lived in a palace in a very solitary kingdom very far from the rest of the world. She was betrothed to another Princess in a land far, far away. And then a Bardling came into the life of the Princess, and the Bardling told the Princess tales both wonderful and terrible.

The Princess fell madly in love with the Bardling. And he stayed for three seasons: the fall, the winter, and the spring, and appeared to be courting her.

But as spring came, the Bardling grew nervous, and told the Princess that he must leave her then: he was being summoned to the far-away land of his birth. And he whispered her a deadly secret: he was not truly a Bardling, but in fact a Prince in disguise, and he had been created to be a perfect warrior by an evil magician. And he gave the Princess a token of his love, and she gave him a token of hers, and then he was whisked away to join the Evil Magician in the land far away.

The Princess was no poor enchantress herself, and devised a spell that would let the Bardling speak to her from afar when he chose to, and once she had finished it and the protections she put upon her Bardling, she fell into an exhausted sleep that lasted nearly an entire day. In her left hand, she clutched the love token that the Bardling had given her. In her right hand, she clutched a beautiful crystal that she had enchanted to represent the spirit of Truth.

She was finally roused from this sleep by the Bardling speaking to her from afar, but she was so groggy and woozy from all the spellwork (plus, the Bardling was in a land so far off that dawn came earlier there, and it was distinctly before the hour when the Princess usually broke her fast) that when the Bardling did speak to her, she was too tired to interpret the coded words he used.

Almost a full course of the moon passed before the Bardling sent her scrolls with runes that indicated that he was gathering arms to stage an uprising, or flee the land into safety, for the Evil Magician's cunning plan was to subject the Bardling to potions and spells that would erase his memories of ever having been a Prince. The Princess worried, but decided that as long as the Bardling was sending her regular updates, that everything was as good as it could be. Each night, she held the love token and the beautiful crystal in her hands, and prayed that everything would work out just fine in the end.

Then the Bardling dropped out of contact, and the Princess grew pale and ill with worry. From Sunday to Sunday, she paced and fretted and was so consumed with her fears that she was too ill to eat anything but broth and gruel. Her betrothed in the far-off land grew worried for the Princess, and expressed her belief that the Bardling was no prince, but a liar who liked weaving tales to fool gullible and pretty Princesses. The Princess grew wroth, and cast the beautiful crystal from her, saying that she loved the Bardling, and she did not care whether what he said was the truth or not, because she loved him so much. That enraged her betrothed, and harsh words were spoken. When the Bardling finally contacted her again after the sun set on Sunday night, the Princess knew there was something seriously wrong, for her Bardling was exhausted and so very sad it made her heart break to hear his voice.

The Bardling contacted her again after the sun rose on Monday, and told the Princess that there was nothing wrong. He had gone on a Quest, he said, and he had met a beautiful golden Lady Bard, a Lady Bard who he loved with all his heart, and they had had many adventures together, and they were to marry. The Princess still believed something was amiss, and refused to eat.

The Bardling contacted her again just before the sun rose on Tuesday, and spoke in urgent tones about some scrolls, the Evil Magician's spells, and how he must get a scroll telling the truth put somewhere safe before the Evil Magician found him. He proposed that he send the scroll to the Princess's betrothed, for he feared that if he sent it to the Princess, the Evil Magician might intercept it. But the Princess's betrothed spoke angry and fearful words about what evil potions the Bardling might have taken, and the Princess grew frantic between her betrothed's anger and fear and her Bardling's fear and urgency.

The Princess knew that the Bardling was in danger, and threw all of her nearly-exhausted energies into maintaining the spells of protection she had put on him, and when the Bardling spoke to her again, she knew that the Bardling had at long last gone mad, for the Evil Magician spoke through the Bardling's lips, and the boy Prince that the Bardling had said he once had been spoke through the Bardling's lips, and the Princess did her best to not go mad herself. She could not hold the mad Bardling. She felt his soul trying to flee his body, and she exerted the last of her strength to keep this from happening. At length, she collapsed upon the floor until someone found her and made her to eat gruel.

When the Bardling contacted her once again, he did not remember where he was, or that he had ever been anything other than a Bardling. He just knew that he was scared, he was alone, and the Princess could help him. And he clutched the love-token she had given him and they cried together.

The Bardling returned in the autumn of the year. The Princess and her betrothed had meanwhile stopped speaking to each other. The Bardling did not speak of his mysterious past or his adventures of the summer, just talked constantly about his love for the beautiful Lady Bard. The Princess grew despondent, for she knew there was still something very wrong. A cold shadow dogged her footsteps, and she knew not what it was. It was not until spring that the Bardling gave her a scroll.

The scroll told the full story: the Bardling had spun the tales about being a Prince for amusement in his childhood, but now that he was becoming a man, he could no longer pretend such things, but wished that someone else could hear the tales before he retired them. He hadn't really intended the Princess to believe them, but he was so flattered that she had that he didn't correct her. And he had met the Lady Bard, but she had died on their Quest. In his grief, he had obtained a potion that would enable him to join her in death, but because the Princess had intervened with her spells of protection, the potion had not worked. But such things do not come without their price, and the potion had made him go mad for a time.

The Princess raged and grieved. She now knew the cold shadow to be the shade of the Lady Bard. She took up the crystal of truth that she had cast aside, researched arcane lore, and prayed, for she knew it was her responsibility to lay this shade to rest. She wept for the Lady Bard all summer, as the Bardling had not grieved for her properly while he was pretending to the world that the Lady Bard was still alive, and at midnight of the day that was the gate between Summer and Fall, the Princess Enchantress pledged to the spirit of the Lady Bard that she would be remembered properly, then sang the spirit of the Lady Bard to rest in Heaven.
Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes roll unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead.
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled?

Where have dragons gone together
Leaving weyrs to wind and weather,
Setting herdbeasts free of tether;
Gone, our safeguards, gone, but whither?

Have they flown to some new weyr
Where cruel Threads some others fear?
Are they worlds away from here?
Why, oh why the empty weyr?

-- "The Question Song", Anne McCaffrey
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