Ahh, yes, the Border Kingdoms. I was born there -- in a little cottage built into the shoulder of a flower-girt hill in High Emmerock. I destroyed the place with my first fireball spell, of course.
-- Jalankhan Harmister, Archmage of Lyrabar
in a talk at an Inner Sea Conclave, Year of the Prince
High Emmerock is, as its name suggests, a region of high, grassy meadows suited for grazing livestock. One of the more prosperous Border Kingdoms, it is unusually verdant. (A property born of magical causes, some locals believe. That belief has persisted, it should be noted, down many centuries.) As a result, it has always provided ample grazing, and so has teemed with wild beasts.
After the dragons that ruled it perished battling each other, the lesser beasts they fed upon flourished. Giants moved in to rule and defend this gigantic "food pen" against goblins, orcs, and other predators.
Under their husbandry, the edible grazing animals grew even more numerous. Some three centuries ago, Calishite adventurers came exploring. Finding wild horses of superb quality in the high meadows, the humans set about exterminating the giants.
From that time on, the Sward (as those first Calishite explorers called the meadows) has served certain Calishite horse-dealers as a secret breeding ground. Both to camouflage their best stock and to use every inch of grazing land, the breeders hunted down as many predators as they could and put in their place horned cattle, sheep, and goats. These swiftly multiplied, and their increasing numbers led to a proliferation of rustlers, monsters -- and mercenary guards hired by the distant Calishite stock-owners to deal with both sorts of raiders.
The loyalty of such hirelings in turn became a problem. After several minor defiances, there came outright rebellion -- the leader of the Unsleeping Eye Guardians, the warrior Ithkyl Halgart, decided to declare the Sward his own kingdom.
Halgart, an experienced and well-prepared warrior who employed pitfall traps, retreats into the nearby woods (and, some say, mysterious magical aid) to advantage, won a series of bitter battles with forces sent by Calishite satraps who disagreed with the notion of paying for beasts that they considered their own. The armies came in earnest for three seasons and were followed by sporadic expeditions of hired mages and renowned adventuring bands in the decade that followed -- but Halgart prevailed.
His end came after seventeen summers of ruling his realm from a cave stronghold (today a monster-haunted labyrinth of chambers and natural caverns known as "the Ghostways"). A rapacious blue dragon descended on the realm, dining at will on the Sward's best horseflesh.
The Lord of the Sward rode out to do battle with it and was torn limb from limb for his troubles. The wyrm died under repeated volleys of fire arrows at the hands of Halgart's men and was cooked and eaten at the Lord's funeral feast.
After the Lord's death, the watching Calishites expected the fledgling realm to fall apart in the inevitable struggle for the throne among Halgart's underlings. But a warrior named Maeradyn swiftly and ruthlessly took power, and the Sward survived.
So the Calishites watched and waited for the new Lord's rule to fail. When it continued on, they sent more hired armies to smash Maeradyn's troops. The fast-riding Swardar met them with deadly arrow-volleys, striking swiftly and racing on before the larger, better-equipped Calishite forces could strike camp and respond. Whenever the Swardar were brought to bay, giants appeared out of thin air, as if by magic, to pounce on the Calishite forces. Soon the satraps grew tired of throwing away money on armed hosts whose few survivors brought back only news of futility. They abandoned their efforts to reconquer the Sward.
Over the years that followed, a succession of fiercely independent local rulers kept the realm strong. They used the money gained from the sale of their famous horses and lesser livestock to carefully build, equip, and train an elite force of mounted crossbowmen and lancers to guard the herds and horse-meadows.
Priests of Helm were encouraged to settle in the realm and guard its borders, as were adventurers who wanted a safe haven to dwell in -- provided they agreed to submit to the worship and instruction of the Helmite clergy. The famous Company of Sun Knights adventuring band did so, retiring to the Sward at the end of a long and colorful career to found the now equally famous Sunbright Lances of the realm.
The Lances are heavily armored men of great height and strength. Their massed charge can smash aside and trample most foes, and their almost fanatical commanders train the Lances in fighting in swamps, rainstorms, thick forest, blizzards, and mud while both mounted and afoot. They become adept at shedding armor while in battle or on the move if need be and in anticipating and reacting to enemy tricks. After a century of such training and victory after victory in battle against various ambitious neighbors, the Lances are widely feared in the Border realms. Very few folk dare to trifle with the laws and peace of High Emmerock.
The Emmerock Dynasty
The present name of the realm comes from one of its most famous kings -- Emmerock the Goblinbane, who hunted orcs, goblins, and their kin as some men hunt stags in the forest, until the enraged goblins mustered an army from their usually-feuding tribes (who dwelt in the land that today is Thuntar) and invaded the Sward. They chased Swardar patrols who 'fled' into the deep ravine at the heart of the realm, leading the goblin army into a waiting trap. There, with the Lake in the Cleft glimmering before them, the goblins died in their thousands, beset from all sides by the rolled rocks, hurled lances, and fired arrows of the Swardar.
A day after the goblin army was eradicated, the Swardar charged down into the goblin lands to the southwest. Goblin warrens were surrounded, haycarts set ablaze and pushed into the tunnels, and the goblins were smoked out to their deaths in the face of withering arrow-volleys. When all of the goblinkin had been hunted down, the King declared that the Sward would henceforth be known as High Emmerock and the goblin lands as Low Emmerock.
Emmerock then sired three sons, all as hard-driving and ambitious as their sire. Almost thirty summers later, the eldest murdered him for the crown -- and was executed by the shocked younger brothers, who then promptly went to war with each other over who should rule the realm. The son known as Esbolder prevailed, proclaiming himself King and banishing his younger brother, Nothlan, to everlasting exile.
Nothlan went straight to Calimshan and offered certain horse-breeding families there a chance to own part of the fabled Land of Horses again if they'd back him in a bid to regain the throne. They did.
Nothlan's forces landed in Low Emmerock only to find the Emmeran armies waiting for them. The struggle that followed ravaged both armies and went on until a harsh winter forced the survivors to stop fighting and scrabble to survive.
At some time during the dark, chilly depths of that cold season, Nothlan vanished. Some say he was murdered by his brother (or an adventuring band hired by the King), others that he simply froze to death and was devoured by wolves before his body could be found and identified. Still other folk whispered that he blundered through a magical portal into "another place," never to return. Minstrels sing of the day when a son of Nothlan, "the rightful king of all Emmerock," will come "striding out of nowhere" to reclaim his realm. A few folk insist Nothlan sickened of the whole affair and went away to take up a life of devotion to a peaceful god or study at Candlekeep.
Whatever Nothlan's true fate, spring found his army reduced to handfuls of scattered, fleeing warriors and Low Emmerock a lawless, ravaged land. The surviving warriors of High Emmerock were unable to hold it. All their attention was needed to defend the original meadowland realm against wave after wave of opportunistic invaders.
It was then that the Company of Sun Knights, who'd been landholders in the realm for more than a decade but spent most of their time off adventuring, came to home to stay. Under their competent leadership, High Emmerock survived, but its forces were never able to retake their former sister realm (which is today the land of Thuntar). The best they could manage was holding this or that small piece of it for scattered days or months at a time.
The last King of the Emmerock dynasty, Belder the Sly, perished in 1344 of a bloating plague while wenching in the port cities of the Lake of Steam. With his death, High Emmerock slid peacefully under the rule of a council of seven warrior lords (the descendants of the Sun Knights). Their policies ensured that Emmerans would stop trying to regain Low Emmerock and instead concentrate on improving their homeland.
They succeeded. Today, High Emmerock is a well-ordered, heavily-policed land that resembles nothing so much as a huge farm in which stock is reared, lands are carefully irrigated and trimmed, and patrols are frequent and vigilant. The towers of the Lords of the Lances ring the land (visitors seeking accommodation or trade are advised to go to the markets, taverns, shops, and inns that cluster about each tower), and its interior consists of rolling, open grasslands still known as the Sward.
Next week -- the Lords of the Lances and their holdings.
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 . . .