The Border Kingdoms06/14/2006



A winding wagon road through the heart of the land of Owlhold, the Bowshot has a well-deserved "fell and dangerous" reputation, thanks to brigands, monsters, and breakneck ravines and bogs that claim a toll of travelers every season. Far more travelers survive but lose their way, wandering for days on the various backland trails of Owlhold before either finding a way out or succumbing to bogs or the repeated harryings of brigands.

For all its windings, the Bowshot can be said to run north-south, linking The Four Stags inn at the midpoint of the Green Road (a larger, better-traveled trade road between Oeble and Bloutar that largely skirts the land of Owlhold) with The Griffon Aflame inn on Longcrag Ride (a newly-rebuilt road that runs between Talduth Vale and Beldargan), in Owlhold's interior.

Traversing the road from south to north, the traveler will find the following features.

The Griffon Aflame (Good/Moderate) is a rustic, timber-built inn standing in a wooded hollow. Always damp and dimly-lit (like the misty dell around it), it has a certain gloomy charm. Mushrooms sprout unbidden in the wet, rotting wood of this cozy house that throws rambling wings out into the forest in all directions. It's home to many permanent residents (some of them interesting folk indeed, with surprising skills and secrets) as well as way-guests. The Griffon boasts comfortable beds (many slung from the rafters on thick ropes), formidable beer and wine cellars, and generous, tasty stews. It's named for a long-ago aerial battle wherein a dragon rider downed a flight of griffon-back foes. A good way to start an argument at the Griffon is to ask the identities of those warring parties or why they clashed.

Fallenfalcon: Traveling the Bowshot north from the Griffon, the wayfarer will first find Fallenfalcon, a camping pavilion beside a drinkable stream and pool faced by four cottages inhabited by half-elven families. The two closest to the road house Nressa the Weaver and the family of Jlonkin the Bowyer, who both serve hot or cold bread and soups to travelers on short notice and can manage substantial meals by prearrangement. Plentiful herbs and edible berries grow wild for the picking along the trailside north of Fallenfalcon.

Trollhead Bridge: The next site moving north along the road is Trollhead Bridge, a wide, rail-less span across a bog. A message-stone at its south end is carved in the likeness of a long-nosed troll head as tall as a large warrior. (A message stone is rock in whose crevices written missives are left by prearrangement. Anyone who removes or alters a message not meant for them receives an arrow through one hand if any Owlen sees or hears of the deed.) At the Bridge is a sleeping pavilion with firepit and a pump. Travelers are warned that dry firewood is rare in the vicinity, but stinging swamp insects are not.

Hathlock House: The farer north from the Bridge will traverse the road up out of bogs to arrive at Hathlock's Rest, a former foresters' settlement now abandoned except for Hathlock House (Fair/Moderate), a rustic way-inn that offers uninspired food and clean but spartan sleeping and stabling. Luxuries and amenities can't be had no matter how many coins a traveler offers. The House is primarily the common residence of seven hunters and fur-trappers, not a well-supplied inn.

The Wolf Belt: Two days of hard travel through deep, wolf-roamed woods north of the Rest stands the Wolf Belt (Fair/Expensive), a tavern of sorts. It's a large, open campground with privies at one end and a serving-shack at the other. The serving shack is no more than a rough, wooden shed built over a keg cellar, wherein staff serve drinks across a counter to patrons standing on a covered porch. The drink is strong and rough rather than refined, famous, or imported from afar, but the supply is seemingly endless, and in winter the fare is usually supplemented by a hot mushroom-and-herb rabbit broth. The Belt is open at all hours. At night or in severe weather, the porch shutters are fastened down to leave only a single serving-opening.

Apt to host more than its share of drunken brawls and contests, the Belt is policed by the brawniest of its servers, two man-mountain brothers known as Ueval and Ivver Ringam (both LN male Chondathan humans; Ueval is a Ftr4/Rgr2, Str 18, Con 19, and Ivver is a Ftr5/Rgr2, Str 17, Con 18). They are bolstered by bottles thrown hard and accurately by their spiderlike, long-limbed, and lanky female fellow server, Shassra 'Darkeyes' Rurth (whom few know is the owner of the place). Shassra is a CN female Shaaran human Rog9, who never forgets a face or name.

The twenty-odd staff of the Belt dwell under the serving-shack in cellars arranged in a series of defensible points, with the keg-cellars outermost, a firewood cellar next, then living quarters (with beast-screened airshafts that come to the surface halfway down the side of a wooded hill behind the Belt, under the concealing greenery of many broadleaf shrubs), and a pantry innermost.

Much of the drink sold at the Belt is brewed or distilled in the woods behind the serving-shack. There are rumors that an altar to a dark god (tales vary as to just which one) stands back there, too, and that the staff of the Belt worships this dark power. Such tales, it should be noted, do little to discourage clientele or consumption. The truth is that two local trappers worship Shar at an old altar, and the staff of the Belt (who dwell together in one large, multispouse family) avoid it.

Sabroar's Hold: Sabroar was a locally famous priest of Silvanus who consecrated many groves to the Green Father but here established herb gardens for the use of his followers. They continued to tend them after his death. So many buyers came here, needing a place to stay overnight, that the two-story inn of Sabroar's Hold (Excellent/Moderate) was built. In turn, its presence spurred artisans (weavers, glassblowers, and sellers-of-seeds) to take rooms here from time to time to sell their wares and then melt back into the forest until next they have enough to sell to make the trip. Priests of Silvanus police the inn against thefts, swindlers, and to settle trade disputes, acting as moneychangers and bankers (keeping the funds of the nervous hidden safe in exchange for trade-tokens).

Chief among them are Erendin Speaker-for-Sabroar (LN male Calishite human Cleric 10 [Silvanus]) and his assistants Snaruldar (N male Shaaran human Cleric 5 [Silvanus]) and Jessilleia (CG female Calishite human Cleric 4 [Silvanus]), who use no surnames since taking service with the Oak Father. They heal only in emergencies, directing most ill and injured on to Jester's Hollow, and have nothing to do with running the inn.

The master of the Hold is the jovial, slender, agile prankster (and avid dancer) Imryn Roaringhorn (CG male Tethyrian human Rog7/Shadowdancer2), a distant relation to that noble Waterdhavian family. He directs a staff of almost twenty (notably a dozen stout, matronly women who know far more of the world than they let on -- both are good cooks and skilled street fighters who once wore armor for Tethyr). Roaringhorn tries to be a friend to all. He's sensitive and thoughtful enough to be regarded as such by most in the Hold.

The inn kitchens turn out wonderful breads, cakes, and pastries. In addition, there are satisfying stews and roasts garnished only with forest fowl, which owe most of their hearty taste to forest vegetables and sauces seasoned by fare found in the woods around the Hold (mushrooms, mosses, roots, and berries). This would come as a surprise to many of the travelers who delight in the hearty "boar" and "stag" roasts that seldom have anything to do with either beast.

Jester's Hollow: This broad, wooded stream valley is hung with lanterns and is often adrift with pleasing cooking-smokes. It holds the inn that bears its name and a dozen charming cottages. Six are the clearly-signed homes of folk who welcome customers.

A rock-studded brook meanders through the hollow. Laughing Lady Stream is named for a long-dead sorceress who once dwelt in the hollow (the inn stands on the foundations of her tiny tower) and whose proper name, Jestra, became corrupted into "Jester" to give the hollow its present name.

Jestra Illowhand liked to preserve music to hear over and over in the privacy of her tower without musicians. She devised a spell that captured short snatches of sound in rock crystals and gemstones. Any human touch on a stone caused it to 'play' the captured sounds.

Somewhere in the woods near the hollow is the buried entrance to the cavern where Jestra stored the gems she'd thus treated, now a priceless collection of not just music but of long-dead kings, wizards, bards, and sages speaking on everything from the whereabouts of buried treasure to philosophical musings on the purposes of life and ruling and wars. Its finder can literally name his price for most of the gems.

Descending into the hollow from the south, the traveler comes first to the home and shop of "Belomeier Tathchant, Dealer in Locks, Keys, Chains, Hinges, Coffers, and Lanterns." Belomeier is a fat and affable man of pleasant ugliness and deft skill (NG male Calishite human Exp6) who makes and repairs small and dainty specimens of all the items his sign proclaims. He also sells tiny, razor-sharp daggers with sheaths for strapping onto forearms, into boots, and onto belts. His prices are just slightly above average, but his wares are of the best quality.

Next to Belomeier stands the abode of "Jarvathra Ploorst, Talismans and Fortunes." In her spicy-scented, cluttered home, Jarvathra -- a dreamy-eyed, gushing woman who never seems to sleep or close her business -- dispenses all manner of talismans which may or may not have any real power to ward anything. Some of them are unique mixtures of feathers, carved glass, stones, and smoked leather bindings. She tells fortunes, specializing in the reading of candles lit by a client and in the interpretation of card games played between her and the client.

Jarvathra (CG female Shaaran human Exp1) has many male patrons who delight in her affectionate, comforting ways, but her oft-used bed is not for sale, and she'd be furious to be considered an escort-for-hire.

Her neighbors to the north, on the other hand, are happy to be sought out as just that. "Dalethra and Tasheera: Twice The Pleasure," declares their signboard, though in truth they usually work in shifts rather than together.

Their stone house is decorated like a vampire-haunted castle --all guttering braziers and manacles (purely for show). It has chambers furnished in great variety, one resembling a dungeon cell, two others princesses' bedchambers, another a shoproom, and so on.

These two tall, raven-haired, and strikingly beautiful sisters were once palace poisoners to a Calishite pasha. They now restrict their mixings to the making, use, and selling of 'love philtres' that could more accurately be described as ardor-inducing drinks. Dalethra and Tasheera Olombrys (both CG female Tashalan human Exp2s) do what has politely been described as "a roaring trade," making necessary the hiring of a dwarf doorguard and appointment secretary by the name of Grint Galathammer. This gruff, efficient dwarf dispenses free beer to those kept waiting. He is as wide as he is tall and as strong as a warhorse (LN male dwarf Ftr8, Str 18, Con 16). He reports that his employers need more sleep, and he may soon connive with one of the healers in the hollow to give them enforced vacations by putting them to sleep for a tenday here and there.

One of those healers, "Nalbeth Thortir/Salves and Gentle Healings," is located next door. Nalbeth is a kindly, gaunt young man (NG male Tethyrian human Exp8) who has little skill at internal illnesses. He freely admits this, directing folk with such complaints to Aratha, across the hollow. Nalbeth is very capable in matters of staunching bleeding, cleaning and closing open wounds, banishing infections, and dealing with sprains, torn muscles, broken bones, and eye injuries.

He also sells a few powerful pain-banishing drinks for those who must continue to travel or work despite pain or nausea, but recommends these not be used in place of proper care. Nalbeth's prices are high, but his work is worth it.

Entirely unembarrassed by nudity and seemingly uninterested in sex, Nalbeth does become alarmed when asked to deal with problems of pregnancy. He'll hastily declare that he knows nothing about such things and direct those who request aid to Erendin of Silvanus.

Next to Nalbeth's little stone cottage is the inn itself. The handsome, fieldstone Jester's Hollow (Excellent/Moderate) stands on a little knoll at the bottom of the hollow where a simple bridge crosses Laughing Lady Stream.

This wayhouse makes its coins as a resting-place for those who come to trade with the artisans of the hollow. Apt to be damp (and clammy in winter), it's breezy year round, bright and welcoming within (all rooms having pleasant window views and solid, comfortable furnishings). It features a common, heated herbal bathing tub just off the taproom, where tired travelers can relax and banish the aches of weary feet.

The mint wine is excellent and clears the palate for buttery biscuits, served to all guests. Warm robes are also provided for all, and the staff wear them to encourage such casual dress everywhere indoors. The dining room has a wall of windows that opens onto a little dancing green where harpists, singers, and horn players often entertain. Guests are encouraged to dance for fun, not worrying about skill. Those who like the Jester tend to really like it and return to stay year after year, whenever they can, lingering as long as possible. It's said that a disguised Azoun IV of Cormyr was among their ranks more than once, accompanied by a certain grumbling Royal Magician of Cormyr.

Climbing away from the stream going north, the traveler will next come to the home of "Aratha of the Mysteries/Healing Potions For Sale." Aratha (CG female Illuskan human Com3) is a young, plump woman of intense and fiery character, flowing flame-orange hair that brushes the floor behind her as she rushes about, and endless curiosity about her clients and all they've seen or heard recently.

She'll chat in an endless gush of enthusiastic questions and observations as she doles out whatever seems necessary from among her surprisingly effective array of drinkables. These "potions" are sold in a mismatched glass forest of reused and often incongrous bottles (from fanciful perfume containers to former large-guzzle wine bottles from distant royal or noble cellars). Certain clients swear they've imbibed potions of healing from among her wares, though Aratha professes (honestly) to know nothing of magic.

She is quite good at scolding the careless, at diagnosing internal pains and upsets (including poisonings), and at doing what she can to treat them. Aratha knows the basics of birthing and the complaints of mothers-to-be. She's no midwife, but she will summon druidesses (by ringing a special bell) from the nearest grove to set a patient at ease or to assist at an imminent birth.

Aratha's cottage is overrun by many freely-wandering hens, whose eggs she enjoys. She feeds these fowl all manner of special seeds, and some grow to be twice average size.

The lane north of Aratha's leads to a large cottage set among trees. Its signboard proclaims it to be the home of the "Wizard's Choice Companions/All Travelers Welcome." A small army of lady and gentleman escorts retired from city trade shares this house of growing repute, where the style is "relaxed and tender comfort for the weary."

Most patrons think the word "wizard" in the name is mere whimsy, but in truth it refers to the great secret of Jester's Hollow -- all of its businesses have been bankrolled by, and are under the protection of, a reclusive wizard who wears a jester's costume whenever he appears openly.

This archmage slips potions of healing into Aratha's stock, makes some of Jarvatha's talismans work -- and watches patrons come and go, waiting for someone. He's never told anyone who he's seeking, why, or the reason he came to this remote woodland spot to hide. He goes by the obviously-false name of "Tomkins" (a name given to old buffoons in minstrels' plays). Yet he doesn't hesitate to drop his disguise and hurl spells when brigands or adventurers misbehave in 'his' hollow, so he can't be hiding out of fear.

Several of the Companions think he's mad. That may be true, but when one is dealing with wizards, any assumption is dangerous, and one of madness doubly so. It's such a glib reason, so easily misapplied to the mysterious. Jester's Hollow may yet erupt with the truth.

The Four Stags (Good/Expensive) is a large, handsome, cedar-shingled log building with flagstone floors. It sits on a hillock surrounded by a circular earthen wall thickly planted with tall pines. It's a bustling place that has three wings of sleeping-chambers opening off a long, lofty, crosswise common hall dominated by two spit-sizzling cooking hearths at either end (each having an adjacent kitchen). "Below" the inn, on the slopes of the knoll, are sheds where one can rent a secure "long stall" for one's intact team and wagon to be driven into, settled (and locked in) for the night, and then driven out the other end come morning.

"The Stags" is where many Owlen come to trade goods with passing merchants, hire companionship, and see all they desire of the wider world. Fresh news from afar is eagerly devoured while maps and curios from 'the outlands' fascinate the visiting Owlen. The master of the place, Aumrudan Rulhorn (a stern-looking, gray-haired LN male Tethyrian human Ftr16) is regarded by Owlen as a judge, wise sage, rightful ruler, and banker combined. To his credit, he gravely and diligently performs all of those roles without a trace of arrogance or overbearing authority. His quiet, firm word is law up and down the Bowshot. If he's ever attacked or even defied in the Stags, a dozen or more Owlen adventurers (visiting for a night or just for the next meal) will leap to his aid, unbidden.

About the Author

Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .

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