The Border Kingdoms
The Grand Duchy of Shantal, pt. 3
The Green Road
By Ed Greenwood

This three-coaches-broad highway runs between Bloutar (in the Barony of Blacksaddle) and the independent trading-town of Oeble (that straddles the River Scelptar). Wagons, horses, and the feet of travelers pound its earth into a hard-packed surface atop gravel and a bed of logs. It is well-drained thanks to the deep ditches flanking it on both sides. The road gets its name from the hue of creeping crushgrass that carpets it, seeming to thrive on the hard and constant travel and keeping the road from eroding.

The Green RoadThe road is one of the busiest in the Border Kingdoms and one of the best roads anywhere in the Realms, with few steep slopes, no sharp bends, and no good ambush sites. Diverse local adventuring bands patrol it, making sure brigands, horse thieves, and wagon plunderers never 'settle in' to ply their trades. Travelers who can afford an armed escort, including all caravans transporting valuable goods, also hire adventuring bands to accompany them, which makes the route far too risky for open brigandry.

The Green Road began more than 70 years ago when the legendary wagon-merchant Ormurr of Oeble hit upon a scheme of benefiting from debtors who couldn't pay. Using hired adventurers (usually the Company of the Galwyvern, long since disbanded) to enforce his authority, anyone who owed Ormurr money was forced to work at maintaining and improving the road. Ormurr judged his creditors' work at fair coin, and he rose greatly in public regard for the continual widening and improvement of the road. Many local families now claim with pride that a coin-poor ancestor "contributed to" the road. (Ormurr, of course, has been dead for decades, his extremely successful coster and great wealth broken up and largely lost by many offspring and former employees.)

The Green Road runs for more than 60 miles, largely skirting the green and mysterious land of Owlhold. An eastward-faring traveler on the road, departing Oeble and bound for Bloutar, would encounter the following features.

Myrax Ford

This shallow, always-safe ford over tiny Arhallow Stream, about 11 miles out from Oeble, is named for a dwarf who died heroically here long ago, single-handedly fighting hobgoblins to allow his friends and family time to escape. No trace remains of the much later wooden manor of Arhallow, named after its owner, a retired adventurer who settled here but was coaxed out on a "last foray" by adventuring colleagues -- an adventure from which he never returned.

The stream rises in woods, is cold and sweetly drinkable, and runs some miles to end in a bog. From time to time, monsters lair in the thickets around the bog but seldom last long if they challenge travelers camped just south of the ford in three overgrown, onetime manor fields.

Tallcandle Inn

Crowning a hill beside the road, this old, continually-rebuilt and expanded hostelry is named for a distinctive stone pinnacle that marks its front gates. The pinnacle is a 60-foot-high natural shaft of weathered stone jutting into the sky beside the road and leaning a little southeast. Large lanterns hang on chains from the Tallcandle and are lit every night to provide a beacon for travelers.

The inn has low rates (Good/Cheap) for stabling and wagon-parking (1 cp/night/mount or wagon). Rates for accommodation are reasonable --

  • 2 cp/night/bed in a common chamber with four beds and shared tables, wardrobes, and chamberpots, or
  • 1 sp/night for a private room, which is a small cubicle almost entirely filled with a bed that can just sleep two adult humans if they're on intimate terms, plus a chamberpot and lots of wall pegs for clothing.

Basic meals (a hearty serving of soup, stew, or a "frymeat" of diced meat and vegetables, fried in various herb sauces, plus free bread and as much mintwater as desired) are 3 cp, but charges are steeper for "full roast platters" (2 sp). Alcoholic drinks cost 1 sp/flagon -- to discourage drunken rowdiness.

The Tallcandle has a reputation for being safe and clean, thanks to the worldly-wise (and armed) vigilance of the staff headed by the urbane, imperturbable, and usually expressionless owner of the inn, "Master" Dantar Brothorr (LN male Tashalan human Ftr 11; has two pet flying snakes that fight and spy for him and sometimes ride about on his shoulders when there are no fearful armed guests nearby). The inn holds this reputation despite serving as the temporary home for some decidedly ready-for-trouble guests. Dantar has been known to tolerate drow and half-orc lodgers, but has attacked orcs, doppelgangers, and mind flayers the instant their true natures were revealed.

The Tallcandle is a rambling, single-story structure of fieldstone below and timber above, laid out in long halls flanked by guest-rooms that, at irregular intervals and directions, extend short, spider-like 'legs' (added-on niches, closets, sitting areas, and entire rooms). It's surrounded by a smokehouse, wagon repair shed, and extensive paddocks for caravans to camp in, all of which entirely cover its hilltop.

The inn stands in its present location because of the deep, cold-water well in its kitchen. This well has never run dry. Tallcandle Inn is about 26 miles from Oeble, and it is the usual first-night stopover for fast-moving travelers.

Skulls Hollow

One of the few "wiggles" in the Green Road is a great sinkhole known as Skulls Hollow, about 28 miles out on the Green Road from Oeble. A lightly-wooded, pleasant place of many ferns, mosses, and edible forest shrubs, it also hosts an eerie apparition by night -- seven glowing, bobbing human skulls that rise up from the earth to whisper cryptic warnings and phrases to all living creatures who approach them. People have reported being told such things as

Beware the six-blades man, for he knows the dire spell!
There were three crowns -- one is now claimed, one is broken, and if you take the third, they will hunt you!
Tell the wizard that his chained queen awakens, and it is time for him to flee!

The glowing, flying human skulls are intangible phantoms. If they move through anyone, that being receives a vivid vision (never forgotten) of some place or exciting incident in the life of the undead when it was a living human. This image may or may not prove useful to the recipient. Each contact between a skull and a living person yields a different image. Such contact does no apparent harm to the living or the skulls, though the skulls seem to avoid most contacts. Casting any sort of spell on a skull will cause it to sink into the ground, and it will not reappear that night. It seems impossible, however, to destroy the skulls. They are not associated with any buried remains that diggers have been able to unearth.

Tales told in Owlhold say (correctly) that the Hollow formed when part of a small, ancient, subterranean city or stronghold, not very far beneath the surface, collapsed into itself. That cavern-fall created the current bowl-shaped depression on the surface (though it's large enough that its precise shape is hard to discern). The underground remainders of the collapsed passages served as the lair of bugbears for years, but who constructed them originally is unknown. Legend insists they are crowded with old treasures that the bugbears largely ignored. Other legends say the skulls are the harmless, intangible, undead remnants of adventurers killed in the cavern-fall while battling the bugbears, and whose spells may even have caused the collapse.

The Four Stags

This bustling establishment (Good/Expensive) stands just east of "halfway along" the Green Road (about 36 miles out from Oeble) at its moot with the Bowshot. That winding, far-more-perilous road runs deep into Owlhold, where it meets the trade road known as the Longcrag Ride.

The Stags is where many Owlen come to trade with way-merchants, hire guards or agents or a night's companionship, and meet outlanders. It was detailed in an earlier installment of Border Kingdoms.

Dragontail Lake

About 50 miles along the Green Road from Oeble (and just under 14 miles outbound from Bloutar, for travelers heading west), the highway curves gently around a small, placid, spring-fed lake that lies only a few strides south of the road.

There's room to camp on its grassy shores (in a long roadside strip rather than any large field), and many travelers do, for the lake holds abundant fish but never, local lore insists, anything larger and more nasty.

The lake got its name for a long-ago aerial battle between two young dragons, wherein one wyrm had its tail bitten off, and the severed tail fell into the lake. Although many similar tales are told of various locales across the Realms, this one is true. Only a few sages know a more impressive truth about the lake -- that in its shallow depths lies the overgrown, encrusted skeleton of a black dragon that perished of natural causes long, long ago when the lake was a hillock in a swamp. Presumably the dragon's hoard still lies beneath it.

The Green Road remains a busy route. By day, in dry summer weather, it's unusual to be traveling on it and not have other wayfarers in view both before and behind, traveling in both directions. Much of Bloutar's recent prosperity -- and not a little of Oeble's, too -- can be explained by the presence and condition of this relatively safe, wide, ever-more-heavily-traveled highway.

Next installment -- Hawkgarth.

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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