Some folk call Shantal "the heart of the Border Kingdoms," not just because it's centrally located in the tamer, western half of the region, but because it's almost stereotypical of these realms -- it has bucolic beauty, eccentric rulership, and lurking danger.
The Grand Duchy today is a broad, tranquil-seeming valley of gently rolling farmland studded with woodlots, flanked to east and west by lightly wooded hills, and crisscrossed by winding lanes. At its center rise the triple-spired Duchal Towers, surrounded by a neat ring of cottages -- the village of Shantal. These in turn are encircled by a road, beyond which lie long, narrow vegetable gardens that end in orchards, one for each cottage, radiating outward like the spokes of a wagonwheel.
The Vigilant Bailiffs
It's a curiously neat and ordered settlement for the Border Kingdoms, and the impression of alert, tidy authority is further enhanced by the ever present Grand Patrols of Vigilant Bailiffs, dozen-strong mounted groups of capable-looking warriors who know the ground and work well together in chases, captures, and battle. The Bailiffs are War 4-7s who are all armed with crossbows, swords, javelins, and weighted throwing nets. They wear chainmail beneath black surcoats emblazoned with the badge of the duchy -- an emerald green Kaudraun (human left hand, palm toward viewer, shown from the wrist up; fingers spread and wavering into tongues of flame; thumb tapering into a zig-zag lightning bolt).
The Vigilant Bailiffs dominate the roads of the duchy. They are empowered to defend Shantal's peace with lethal force but are more sternly tolerant than ruthless or zealous. Bribery drives them to quiet fury, and they are never careless, bored, or inattentive.
Visiting mages are closely escorted by Bailiffs at all times while in the Duchy. The Bailiffs won't hesitate to summon reinforcements by horn (more Grand Patrols and certain monsters -- see below) if faced with magical or formidable foes such as adventurers of obvious battle skill.
Shantan farmers keep livestock, grow vegetables, and sell (to way-merchants and passing travelers) smoky-flavored, dark beer known as "Old Oakey" after the casks it's stored in (hand keg, 10 cp; cask, 4 sp; barrel, 1 gp; and butt, 3 gp; not shipped in tuns). They also deal in sausage, hams, and Shantan Slice, a sharp-flavored, red cheese that sells in 10-lb. wheels for 5 sp. Most Shantans sell from covered carts at their gates, or the traveler can stop at The Roping Post and choose from a wide selection of local produce.
What Greets Travelers In Shantal
Almost any visitor can't help but notice at least three things while in Shantal -- visiting mages are watched very closely at all times; there don't seem to be any priests or mages in evidence; and almost all of the villagers are well-armed and look like retired warriors.
In fact, they are retired (or semi-retired) warriors. Most Shantans are well-armed, former warriors who are glad to dwell in a place free of hostile magic and those who wield it. Most are self-sufficient farmers and craftworkers producing such things as helms, shields, and bracers of their own design ('Shantan-make' gear tends to be non-reflective, rust-resistant, and fitted with handy dagger sheaths and coin pouches). Most of these veterans also volunteer for occasional duty as Vigilant Bailiffs.
Visitors to Shantal will notice what seems to be a lack of any resident priests or mages. In fact, this is not the case. A handful of Tempuran priests who call themselves the Battleforges of Tempus dwell in the Duchal Towers. From there, they minister to the spiritual and healing needs of the Vigilant Bailiffs, the Grand Duke, and any visiting warriors who worship the Lord of Battles. They are allowed to function in this manner in return for their vow never to contest the Grand Duke's authority or that of his Bailiffs and never to attempt to reach the Daerndar (caverns under the Towers) or aid any mage who does so.
Amenities also seem scarce. There's only one well-stocked store -- The Roping Post, across the road from the main gates of the Duchal Towers. It's a cluttered barn of old and new hardware, ironmongery, and all manner of flashy peddlers' wares, as well as outright junk. The Roping Post is run by Analytha Kroanarl, a cheerful, talkative, bustling NG female Calishite human Exp1 who knows everyone in the valley and will discuss anything except two features of Shantal -- the Official Mage and the Daerndar.
Beside the Post stands Shantal's lone combined inn and tavern, the Grand Duke's Griffon (Good/Cheap), a typically dingy, old roadhouse run by four leathery-faced, aging sisters (Dratha, Amaela, Horlarra, and Bethra Tarmhand, all NG female Chondathan human Exp1s who are Harper friends and skilled horsebreeders). They have tthe assistance of two quick, quiet, always bustling gnome families, the Haerhogaunts and the Talthwishes. Gorth Talthwish sells a small but good array of long-lasting dyes for hair, skin, and clothing. These are packed in clay pots the size of his own head for 1 sp each. The Griffon was named for an irascible, long-dead, winged steed of the first Grand Duke. Visitors are warned not to step on, capture, or torment any of the pet toads that hop through the establishment -- they're apt to be mages transformed by Flyndara or the Daerndar and can be a mite irascible themselves.
The History of Shantal
The reasons for these three local peculiarities must be discovered by most visitors for themselves, because there is a curious silence around the Border realms as to the history of Shanta. Persistent investigators can discover the following facts.
The Grand Duchy was founded three generations ago by Pelindar Slendyn, the last surviving warrior-servant of the archmage known as the Arcanauh (after a duel that destroyed the Arcanauh, his Red Tower, and his onetime consort-turned-bitter-foe, the Thayan sorceress Ithcatra Llumen). Present-day Shantal stands on the site of the Red Tower, which was reduced to rubble in the battle.
Pelindar forbade the use of magic in Shantal, as did his son Thaerin, the second Grand Duke. Almost continuous incursions by Daerndar seekers made necessary the establishment of an Official Mage early in the reign of the current Grand Duke, Orsarr Slendyn. Orsarr is a bluff, burly, fun-loving man (NG male Tashalan human Ftr10) who but reluctantly retired from wenching his way through Sword Coast taverns upon the death of his father Thaerin.
Orsarr tried to persuade his adventuring companion -- the tall, battered, widowed, old sorceress Athamundra Rildar of Zazesspur (LN female Tethyrian human Wiz17) -- to come to Shantal and be his mage, but Athamundra was elderly, increasingly feeble, and reluctant to leave the cottage and friends she'd been longing to settle down with. She sent her daughter instead, the stunningly beautiful Flyndara Rildar (CN female Tethyrian human Wiz14/Sor6). Flyndara stands almost seven feet tall and sports flame-orange hair, sparkling green eyes, and a temper swifter and fiercer than most thunderstorms.
Flyndara Rildar gave the Grand Duke what he wanted -- her promise to defend the duchy from severe attacks, backed by wards to protect his lands (most sages believe she modified wards powered by a hidden artifac, created by the Arcanauh). She then spell-built herself the smallest, most northerly of the Duchal Towers and vanished inside to pursue her studies (she dropped vague hints about "spending time on other planes"). Shantans respect her order that she wasn't to be disturbed unless the safety of the Duchy was at stake.
Flyndara has been seen only rarely since. Typically, she strides unannounced into evening feasts, half-dressed and with tangled and matted hair, and falls on food like a starving prisoner, gorging herself until sated. She welcomes no visitors nor apprentices, and there's a widespread rumor among Shantans that she stalks the Grand Duke's lands in bird or beast shape, keeping watch for thieves and other miscreants. There's also talk that she indulges in cruel bloodlust by hunting and slaying the usual prey of whatever animal shape she's currently adopted. Even darker rumors hint that she's commanded the Grand Duke not to marry, because he will be her mate when she feels ready to bear a daughter to be her magical heir.
Whatever the truth about the Official Mage's sanity or marital intentions, it is certain that on three occasions she's blasted intruding mages to dust. These incidents eliminated at least twelve spellcasters, including a Red Wizard of Thay, a Halruaan archmage of senior years (and, presumably, accomplishments), and a Zhentarim of rising reputation and demonstrated battle skill. Common wisdom holds that Flyndara prevailed through a combination of reckless lack of dignity, strange spells acquired in distant lands and perhaps even worlds, and the use of multiple artifacts of power. Just what those artifacts might be is a topic much whispered about in the Grand Duchy (by one Shantan to another, never to outsiders), because the use of lethal artifacts is widely rumored to have been the cause of the explosion that destroyed the Red Tower and its battling occupants and left the Daerndar the way they are today.
Wards of the Duchy
Shantal is protected by strong, mythal-like wards that have the powers of a dimensional anchor spell, absorb all natural and magical lightning and electrical discharges and all magical fire, and prevent the following magics from functioning: web, hold person, and all invisibility spells. They force the cessation of such ongoing effects as they enter the Duchy. (A disguised mage riding into the valley would lose his magical disguise, and one teleporting in would experience an abrupt end to his journey just outside the border of the wards. Flyndara, as the creator of the wards, and Chosen of Mystra and other accomplished masters of Weave manipulation are exceptions). Note that the wards themselves accomplish certain magical translocations (details in the next installment of Border Kingdoms).
The wards may also have other, as-yet-unrevealed effects. It is rumored that within the Duchal Towers proper, cold-based magic is negated, and all shapechanging beings (such as lycanthropes and doppelgangers) are forced through a slow, continual cycle of all of the shapes they customarily employ.
These wards are absolute in the village of Shantal (and the Daerndar) as bordered by the surrounding ring road. Beyond that reach, their invisible borders fluctuate from time to time, shifting here and there through the outlying farms of the duchy. Some Shantans believe Flyndara didn't truly create the wards but merely awakened and modified wards created earlier by the Arcanauh. There is general agreement that the wards must be powered by some hidden, secret artifact (both beliefs are correct, but only Flyndara knows the item that powers the wards and its location). The wards were raised to hamper unwanted visitors seeking to reach the Daerndar.
Next installment -- the Daerndar.
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 . . .