It’s time for a new project. It’s also time for a totally new direction by the look of it. Ballad of Oara was one of these things that never would have happened had I not given myself this deadline, and something that ended up being almost totally different from what it started out as. It began as a big orchestral/choral project, and for most of the time I was composing it, that was totally the idea I had in mind. I even have this sketchup of what the opening would sound like for string quartet and choir:
I think it’s for that reason that this project will always feel partly incomplete to me. I had a really solid idea for it on conception but in reality, it came out totally different. I wanted to retain the idea of a choir where possible, and I wanted to see how much of a varied, orchestral feel I could achieve with just guitar and mandolin. This was also one of the first projects I wrote as sheet music first, as opposed to on an instrument. I’m really fine with the new direction of it, and no amount of additional time or budget will have lived up to the exact strange fantasy I had for it, so ultimately, I’m happy with what this is. But what exactly is it?
Ballad of Oara is a short fantasy concept EP, split into vignettes of a series of events set in the fantasy land of Longacre, a sprawling continent surrounded by water, but so vast that nobody from the central part of the realm has made it to a coast and made it back. The particular part this story is set in is a town called Newforge, a makeshift settlement in the Southern Dominion. Still very far from the sea, it’s a landlocked little town. Everyone who lives here used to be the working class of Mutefall, a far more established town fifty-or-so miles to the north-east of them. Mutefall’s main export used to be ores, having been established on one of the largest known iron deposits in the world. Because of that, it was a huge attraction for people looking for reliable work. But as time went on, and as the mines grew exhausted, as did the opportunities for employment in the mines. People who had been there for generations argued that this was theirs by right, and that they were entitled to the few opportunities that were actually left. Power changed hands, and the newly appointed Mayor Mauger was quick to hand out eviction notices to anyone who hadn’t been in Mutefall for longer than two generations’ worth of time. His reasoning was that economically, this was a town that ran on its’ traditions, and in order to preserve that, it needed to downsize until it could re-establish what it’s economic role in the kingdom was. Everyone knew this was only really half true, but nobody wanted to say it.
Hence, the creation of Newforge. The people who had come to Mutefall in search of certainty ended up turning to each other and came together with what resources they had left and started on making somewhere they could live together. They had no mines like Mutefall, no strong army like the one up in Wildmire, but this was a group of intuitive, resourceful people. They started where anyone would, rearing animals and sowing seeds, hoping that it would eventually pay off and that they could export the excess. Nevertheless, for the time being, they were a poor group out on their own. The main thing they lacked was direction. They had no banner to rally under, and nobody to get behind and this is where Oara came in.
The stonemasons of the town came together and created a statue. Like the town itself, she was simple, but dignified. She was standing straight up, with one hand raised, palm facing forward. The other arm lay harmlessly at her side. She symbolised claiming your spot in the world and fighting to keep it with as little bloodshed as possible. The self-proclaimed Oarans had had enough of being displaced and treated like they didn’t deserve somewhere they could feel established in, and under Oara, this was the start of their time as a community as opposed to simply a gathering of people, together by circumstance.
The first song is the end of this story. One night, a huge rainstorm hits the area and the statue finally falls after decades. An official burial ceremony is held, and everyone in the town is in attendance. Many of them here remember a time where this idol and her values essentially saved their lives. This event is attended by many younger people who weren’t around at the time, so one of the people who was there on the day explains what happened.
At the height of Newforge’s existence, it was a vibrant and accepting to community. Plants had grown, animals had multiplied, and eventually it was a totally self-serving community. Skilled people started to find their way there, hearing of the simpler, more peaceful existence that could be had, and eventually Newforge was home to various small industries, and a totally self-sufficient, peace-oriented settlement. Word of this got to Mutefall’s government, who weren’t pleased. They believed that this town was stepping on their toes, and that 50 miles wasn’t enough of a distance between the two places. They started getting a plan to move these people on yet again. They knew that Newforge had next to no military presence, so sending a fraction of their army would be enough to pressure them out. Violence wasn’t what they intended at all, but they would do what they must to get rid of these people. They couldn't have a community living a way of life that flew directly in the face of theirs so close-by.
Word of Mutefall’s impending actions has reached Newforge. For whatever reason, the vast majority of people who live there don’t seem to be too worried. The Oarans believed that simply staying put would be resistance enough, but one man in the village is far more concerned. He wants to raise some kind of force to counter Mutefall’s army if it comes to it, but he knows he’ll never be able to find people who would either want to, or even have the knowledge to. Newforge built itself up without much of an army in mind, and that was very much intentional on their part. Their problem now was they didn’t have anything by way of protection should they need it. This lone dissenter finds a small group of people who have the same fear, and under the cover of night they ride out to the nearest towns and appeal for their help. In order to adhere to Oara’s values, they have one specific request; that any soldier who agrees to defend Newforge and its people must never use any weapons, only shields.
Mutefall’s march on Newforge is met with an army from surrounding cities. Said army is far larger than anyone could have anticipated. It came as a shock to the locals that this many people had come to their aid, as they expected most places to have the same opinion of them as Mutefall did. But these soldiers couldn’t simply stand by while people who are already displaced were needlessly uprooted again and have decided to take action in the Oaran spirit. They have sworn to only defend, and not to inflict harm on anyone. Mutefall’s small force attempt to break through this shield formation, but to no real avail. Mauger, who was among those who rode on the town, sees this act of cruelty for what it actually is first hand. He was ordering his men to attack people who wanted nothing more than a safe, quiet existence. Before long, he orders a retreat, leaving the people of Newforge in peace.
Coming back to the ceremony the Oarans say a final goodbye to this statue that got destroyed by the storm. Obviously, it’s entirely within their means to make a new one from scratch, and before long that’s exactly what they’ll do. But for so long, the existence of the statue and the spirit it encompasses has almost been a given. The storm gave people a chance to reflect on where they came from, and how they mean to go on with Oara’s spirit as a guidance for it.