The Border Kingdoms
Dunbridges
By Ed Greenwood

This picturesque, sleepy-looking village meets the eye as a chaotic tangle of hedges, meandering paths, and walled gardens studded here and there with thatched, thick-walled cottages. Surrounded by rolling pastureland, the settlement is dominated by mills and their millponds, freely-wandering sheep and goats, and the many small bridges for which the place is named. The Dunbridges (named for Aldunn, the dwarf stonemason who built them centuries ago) leap over ponds -- and the springs that feed them -- in railless arches too narrow for many an outland merchant's wagon.

As a result, Dunbradar spend a lot of time hauling overturned wagons out of normally-placid local waters by means of blocks, pulleys, spars, and horse-winches (almost as much time as visiting merchants spend heartily cursing the bridges).

The Dunbradar take such things with patient good humor, secure in the prosperity won by their sharp-flavored, Dunbradar cheese made of nuts and goats' milk, well-stocked fish ponds, and woolen mills which produce distinctive Dunbradar blankets -- always woven in green-on-green, swirling patterns that make good camouflage.

Defenses

Dunbradar can call on no less than three resident adventuring companies of note to repel attempts at brigandry, invasion (almost always by the legendarily greedy and belligerent folk of Thuntar, who rise every decade or so in another attempt at building an empire), and enforced bridge improvements (even by their nominal superiors, the Sunbright Lances of High Emmerock). All three companies have defended Dunbridges on occasion and have done so in full muster together at least twice -- during the Wyrmstrike of 1332 DR (a dragon attack) and at the battle of Six Smoking Shields in 1348 DR (the most recent resounding defeat of invading Thuntarran armies).

These three stalwart bands are a rollicking, pranksome, tankard-tossing rabble of dwarves known as the Merciless Manticoreslayers (all outlaws from the dwarven Deep Realm, led by Khaladaen of the Double-ended Axe, a LN male gold dwarf Ftr14); the all-female Company of the Bent Blade, formed some eighty years ago by the daughters of the Company of Sun Knights (who founded High Emmerock; half-elven and human, uniformly magnificent in gleaming plate armor and mounted on glossy chargers, led by Belabranta Sheltress -- CG female Tethyrian human Ftr12/Sor4); and the Deadhelms of Dunbridges, a motley crew of semi-retired adventurers and mercenaries from a score of kingdoms and a dozen races. The Deadhelms have no real leader, but their spokesman is usually the jovially profane and garrulous "One-Eyed Dog," more properly known as Haeronth Blaedaerer (CN male Chondathan human Ftr9/Rog7/Streetfighter5 [CA] who wears an eyepatch of shooting stars [properties identical to a ring of shooting stars]; most Dunbradar don't know his black cloth eyepatch has magical powers, but are aware it's false because he shifts it from one eye to the other as the whim takes him).

The brawling, boisterous Manticoreslayers make steady coin by distilling a strong, rough whisky called "Slayers' Fire" which is growing in popularity as merchants take it throughout Faerūn. Local rumor insists that they are girt in battle with strong defensive magic and that their annual "long vacations" are spent hunting and slaying dragons for sport.

Rumor further asserts that the ever-wary Deadhelms, who dwell in a fortified keep at the western edge of Dunbridges, wield an array of strange and powerful magic items. Further, it whispers that their leaders are the remnants (human and otherwise) of the crew of a ship that sailed through the sky and between the stars!

Not to be done yet, the same ever-tireless rumor mill holds that the "Blade Queens" (as the warrior-women of the Company of the Bent Blade are affectionately known) are all sorceresses and Harpers, or at the very least allies of and spies for Those Who Harp.

The daring exploits (and domestic dalliances, as the Blade Queens are endlessly courted by various stalwarts of both other companies) provide constant entertainment for Dunbradar and also leave them unimpressed by most visiting adventurers. Brigands may be able to force Dunbradar folk into doing things, but they'll fail to scare them into doing anything. (Adventurers and others given to strong language are warned that local folk will only tolerate fellow Dunbradar uttering the oath "By the bottoms of the Blade Queens!" Any outlander daring to use it will be set upon angrily by all Dunbradar within hearing.)

Governance

Dunbridges is governed by the Mouth, a council of local merchants (nominated by any citizen) who serve for three seasons and have equal votes. No councilor can serve two consecutive terms. The Mouth has eleven members-at-large and a speaker, the Lord of the Bridges (currently the fat, sharp-tongued, but essentially good-natured Anarassa Ghoeble, a LN female Calishite human Sor12 known to most Dunbradar, despite her gender, as "Lord Rassa"). The Lord directly commands the only employees of the Mouth -- the Fingers, a dozen-strong mounted constabulary (LN male human War6s) who patrol the streets, lead the militia, and keep close watch on visitors -- all under the direction of their leader, the Lord High Protector.

This general-cum-chief of police is an office which, in the past, was often occupied by corrupt villains (several of whom tried to take direct rule of Dunbridges and paid for the attempt with their lives or were forced to flee far, fast, and permanently). At present it is graced by a onetime High Sword (force leader) of Tethyr, the principled Tharorgaun Tarntree (a capable, diligent, and ruggedly handsome LG male Tethyrian human Ftr16).

Protector Tarntree is square-jawed, tall, keen-eyed, and much sought after by local ladies. Though he seems willing to spend time in their company, he is always alert and attentive to his duty to keep the peace in Dunbridges and guard it against brigand attack. Not only does the man never seem to sleep, he has an uncanny knack for anticipating trouble and warning a patrol to "check just a little more thoroughly than usual there, and tarry a bit in the lee of Sarglar's Hill, to watch if wolves slip down." Over the years, the Fingers (and the half-dozen different militia members who ride with every Fingers patrol) have learned to trust in their Lord Protector's hunches. Time and time again, he has directed them into the heart of a stealthy brigand advance or hungry winter wolf pack.

This is not to say Tarntree is all grand general. He's legendary among the women of Dunbridges for leaping literally out of the arms of one amorous lady to snatch up his sword and rush out unclad into her barnyard, where he faced a would-be horse thief blade to blade. On another occasion, he wrestled a wild dog to death after it tried to savage a drunken Dunbradar merchant in the wee hours close enough to his open bedchamber window for him to overhear its snarling charge.

Some folk whisper that Tarntree has a colorful past and is a polymorphed wizard, courtier, or even Tethyrian princess in hiding from foes who would slay him (or her) in an instant if his true identity were revealed. Others believe he's a spy for the Harpers -- or the Zhentarim -- or even the mysterious island nation of Nimbral (though what a spy dwelling in Dunbridges might learn of international value remains a matter of unresolved speculation).

The Lord Protector seems to be on wary but cordial terms with the three resident adventuring companies. Dunbradar either love him (most of the female citizenry) or at least grudgingly respect him (most of the men), but even members of the Mouth seem to be spreading word of the many strange and close-cloaked visitors who slip in the back gate of the Lord High Protector's home, Tarntowers, in the moonlit hours of many a night. Lord Rassa donned a cloak and mask of her own once to investigate these nocturnal visitations and made it as far as halfway down the garden before a lamia noble and a swanmay rose from a garden bench to bar her way. In cold, unison tones, they advised her to "take a number -- preferably by daylight and at the front gate."

Whatever the truth about Tarntree's visitors, past, and secret activities, he guards Dunbridges diligently against attempts to do violence to its folk or seize control of it.

And he's not gentle in his methods, either. A mind flayer merchant with a wizard in thrall once came to town and tried to take over the minds of local millers. Tarntree beheaded the illithid in single combat. The grateful, freed wizard cast a preservative spell over the head, and today it hangs on pike-point above the Tarntowers front gate, eyes glowing faintly and tentacles endlessly and gently curling (an eerie sight that has made many a visitor hurry past but of which locals have grown quite proud).

Mysteries

Under the eye of its widely-famed Lord High Protector, Dunbridges is becoming a supply center of sorts for folk who dislike overly tight scrutiny and local laws -- or rather, a place for such folk to leave their supplies. The Six Whistlers Lockhouse in the side of Sarglar's Hill just northeast of the settlement is a fortress mated to a network of caverns where folk can rent space to store whatever they need to keep hidden for a while. No one but the Whistlers knows how many human warriors guard the Lockhouse fortress gate. The Bold Bards adventuring band of Tashluta, who are known to have disputed the fees charged by the Whistlers, say that the humans are commanded by dopplegangers who shift their appearances so as to make clients think there are far more guards than the place really possesses. The Bards also claim that the Whistlers themselves are mongrelfolk[FF]. Local legend insists that great treasures are hidden in some of the Lockhouse caverns -- treasures that would "rock all Faerūn and tumble not a few of its thrones" should they ever be released.

Perhaps only the watchful gods know what other mysteries lurk behind the cozy cottages and bustling little shops of Dunbridges. Visitors from larger and more sophisticated places are warned that local legend has always hinted that great power lies "hidden, unsleeping" in and about the mills and their placid ponds.

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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