Some years ago, I wrote a quadrology of books that came to be named the Quarters Series. Mostly because I'm bad at titles and terrible at series titles.

The books are Sing the Four Quarters, Fifth Quarter, No Quarter, and The Quartered Sea. They're now all available as ebooks and you can find the covers and the cover copy at the end of this collection. The books are based around the Bards of Shkoder who Sing the four elemental kigh – earth, air, fire, and water – and who act not only as entertainment but as the lines of communication that keep the country together. Most bards Sing one or two quarters, a few Sing three, and a very few Sing all four. The Bardic Captain is always chosen from the bards who Sing all four quarters.

As with all my created world fantasies, I began my worldbuilding with geography. Geography determines not only what crops can be grown and what animals can be raised, but what trade goods exist and how easy or difficult it is for trade to happen. Shkoder is far enough north to have four seasons, and often a long and difficult winter. Essentially Southern Ontario weather. It's surrounded by mountains because I needed a somewhat isolated country that would be more trouble than it was worth for larger countries to try and conquer – geography influencing politics. Rivers are important, because rivers are sources of both potable water and fast transportation. Humans build along rivers.

Next, I decided on a tech level. In this case, early Tudor. Ish.

Religion? Faith of some kind has been tremendously important throughout human history. That said, there are no gods, as such, in Shkoder. They believe in the interconnection of all things, everything contained in the Circle. They have temples, circular temples of course, and priests. The bards, who Sing services in the temples if they're around, often act as lay priests while out Walking.

Walking specifically refers to the planned journeys the bards take around the kingdom and here we are back to geography. What are the building materials of the houses they visit? How do the people make a living? What kind of trees? Of wildlife?

As well as musical ability, the bards have perfect recall and often stand as witnesses in civil cases. Most can Charm and Command and Sing their enemies to sleep – although there are strict rules concerning all three abilities. The Bardic Hall likes to think that Bardic Training weeds out any possibility of a bard abusing their power.

South of Shkoder is the Havakeen Empire. Shkoder is a small country above a large and expanding one – which also gives the books a Canadian feel. (Although I realized that after the fact.) We may be geographically large, but there's not that many of us.

North of Shkoder is a lot of bad weather.

West is Cemandia, who fear the kigh and hate the bards who Sing them. I'm assuming a member of the royal family with talent and no training and who was terrified of what they could do created the situation, but I haven't really explored the details.

East of Shkoder is an ocean. Far east is.... well, that would be The Quartered Sea.

The three stories in this collection can be enjoyed without knowing any of this.

I also believe they can be read without having read any of the books, but as I carry the books in my head, I can't know this for sure. Say.... with ninety percent certainty and those aren't bad odds. Of course, the stories will be more textured if you read the books first, but there's nothing wrong with texture applied after the fact.

Think of this collection as a sampler. An appetizer. A medley...