Spend carefully, son … or all too soon, your life, your future, and the very damnable air you breathe will belong to the jewelers of Irl.
Halgolyn Wraithblade, Knight of the Three Trees
in a letter to his son Nathlas in the Year of the Harp
Nestled into a sheltering crescent of hills (the Crumblerock Crags, named for the treacherously soft rocks that adorn their weathered faces -- climbers beware) is the quiet village of Irl. Its tile- and slate-roofed cottages squat amid woodlots and hedgerows. A traveler can be forgiven for thinking the entire settlement is somehow trying to hide from passersby.
Irl lies just west of the River Rith, due north of The Realm of the Mount. It boasts an inn as superb as any in haughty Sembia or cosmopolitan Waterdeep, "without the crowding but with the prices" (as the merchant Ithyngo of Athkatla put it). A traveler can't miss the large, three-story, half-timbered mansion of many chimneys ('a hearth in every room') that houses The Bold Ki-rin.
The 'Rin' (Excellent/Expensive) boasts stables second to none (its horsemaster, Ibbyn Albrot, a LN male Illuskan human Ftr5, is skilled at identifying and treating equine ailments and understands how to calm and befriend any horse). Its dining room is famous for roasts, wines, and succulent sauces. The owner and keeper of the Rin is the jovial ex-adventurer Brelmere Baerith (NG male Calishite human Ftr11).
Such luxury awaits visitors in a quiet village thanks to Irl's main claim to fame -- gems. The jewelers of Irl are reputed to be among the richest and most powerful humans in all Faerûn. They're a secretive, reclusive lot of hunched old men whose behind-the-scenes influence can move merchants of Sembia, Zulkirs of Thay, and nobles of Waterdeep alike to do things they'd rather not do.
The traveler (and there have been many, some coming to plunder, and others to kidnap) will find a shortage of impressively sinister, finely-robed esthetes in Irl. Its jewelers have survived down the decades by living simply.
As the veteran adventurer Torbras of Westgate put it, "If you accost a barefoot laborer digging in the mud of a turnip field and stained glass golems suddenly lurch out of nearby sheds or the columns of a barn come to life, and gemstones float out of the man's pockets to circle his head and spit lightning at you -- well, you've found one of those fabled jewelers of Irl, and likely a swift end to your life, too!"
It's certain that many of the larger and wealthier Irlian families do have caryatid columns, stone guardians, or glass golems at their command, and descendants of apprentices of the mage Calagrath Halirl (from whose name Irl is derived) may carry gems that store attacking magics which animate when activated. It's also certain that Irlians refuse to speak of such things. Someone who asks to buy magical gems will be firmly and swiftly shown the door of any shop in Irl.
Most Irlian shops feature jewelry (mainly earrings, pendants, anklets, and rings) set with rubies, emeralds, and moonstones (usually crown-cut, the local fashion). Azurite (a striated, blue-green stone, abundant locally) is also sold carved into smooth 'swirl-spiral' candle-holders, napkin rings, and 'thumb-boxes' (named for their sliding lids, which are usually opened with the thumb while the fingers of the same hand grasp the rounded container -- these are often used to carry small quantities of powders).
Where the muddy village main street curves around the thrusting front of The Bold Ki-rin, a row of six well-established jewelry shops stands. Less famous establishments (whose proprietors may agree to buy stones of uncertain origin or even sell raw or unset gems, things most Irlians utterly refuse to do) are to be found in their owners' cottages, along winding back lanes among orchards and sheep-paddocks. The names Crysgrath Jalack and Ommer Uskyll of Irl circulate among merchants interested in fencing shady gems or getting raw gemstone material. Gentle caution must be used while inquiring after these individuals, or exaggerated news of their deaths is likely to be gained rather than clear directions to them.
The best-known of the 'old family' Irlian gemshops are
- The Black Bracelet, a pricey establishment with a blink dog guardian, run by two increasingly bony but once stunningly-beautiful sisters, Kyadatha and Mrindurla Ephrost (both NG female Tethyrian human Exp4s);
- The Moon In The Window, a shop reputed to have magical guardians and a watchful resident ghost (a crypt warden (BoED) that has the physical form of a wraith), run by the soft-spoken Shabadather clan;
- A Handful of Diamonds, the carving-house of the only Irlian to specialize in diamonds and avoid working local gems, the haughty gnome carver Ahrabbas Fendoun (LN male rock gnome Ftr2/Exp9);
- Felderstone's Five Rings, run by the tall, untidy, always striding about and mumbling, red-haired ringmaker Eddoun Felderstone (CN male Chondathan human Wiz12/Exp14), famous for making ironguard rings (permanent lesser ironguard spell affects wearer) for certain Sembian clients. These rings burst into deadly shrapnel when Felderstone commanded them to do so from afar, after the Sembians wrote, refusing his fees;
- Galabather's Rain of Gold, the newest and most fashionable store, all glittering gold-set pectorals, masks, rings and bracelets in the latest Calishite styles, under many bright lamps tended with scented oils by the fussy and flamboyant Irpar Galabather (CN male Calishite human Rog2/Exp6); and
- The Serpent Biting His Tail, a small, dim shop divided diagonally by many blue beaded curtains, where children and elders of the Tamuraleon family bring buyers trays of samples and serve herbal teas that bring on visions.
The most powerful Irlian families are the Belingrosts and the Mammantals. The Ephrost, Gultulbar, Shabadather and Tamurleon clans are the second-rank houses, with the Irlingars rising and the once-proud Relingasters now little more than a memory. Their investments and influence reach as far as the ballads and tales claim, but Irlians seldom issue orders or otherwise inconvenience their debtors -- except when wars or other major crises seem imminent.
For example, Prester Mammantal employs dozens of traveling merchants (who come through Irl twice or thrice a year) as messengers and carriers-of-items to his hundreds of trading contacts. As most of these contacts owe him large amounts of money, he has great influence over them, and they are numerous enough that when they obey his commands to raise prices or cause shortages by refusing to deal in particular goods, their cumulative effect is great. This in turn allows the Mammantals to invest with foreknowledge of coming market trend, and various Mammantal family members 'on the ground' all over the Realms can make deals that win handsome profits. They often use these profits to purchase ships or caravans and get word and profits back to Prester by literally sending their purchases home or swapping them for land (usually in cities and with buildings on it). The Mamantals and the second-rank Irlian families are landlords all over urban Faerûn, earning a huge stream of coins from rents. In contrast, the Belingrosts and the Relingasters have always been primarily sponsors of business ventures or coin-short nobles, gaining large but sporadic windfall profits amid many losses. These ventures also grant them much political influence, which is why Belingrosts are high-salary courtiers in many of the wealthiest lands in the Realms.
Governmental decisions in Irl aren't a matter of courts and grand buildings but rather are made by the Eight-Sided Stone, a covert council whose members are elders of these eight families. An outsider will find no way to contact them. They employ a Master of the Mace (Uldron Alvar, a LN male Tashalan human Ftr7) who commands eight Swords of Justice (armed police: Ftr3s to Ftr5s). These armsmen are battle-hardened former adventurers who patrol Irl, observing attentively; little escapes their notice. They hate strife and tend to be bad-tempered if they must give battle. The village jail is two smelly cells beneath a stable.
At the eastern edge of Irl is The Falcon's Leaning Watchpost, a bakery by day and tavern by night notable for its blackberry wine, gooseberry and spiceapple tarts, and for bread shot through with melted cheese. Some merchants detour through Irl just to dine at the Watchpost, never darkening the doors of any gemshop. Locals bring their problems and gossip alike to the plump, potato-faced proprietress, "Old Post" herself, Numbalaera Shuldasharee (NE female Illuskan human Exp4). She has two flying snakes (RoF) that ride about on her person, hidden beneath her clothes, and will spring out of her bodice to attack anyone who menaces her. Numbalaera is a good listener and wise advisor, a friend to all who never betrays one person's secrets to another. Irlians love their Old Post, and will spring to defend her (or recover anything stolen from her or hunt down anyone who's harmed her) heedless of personal peril.
Irl also has a pond, Umathar's Water, where all are welcome to bathe or sprawl on the banks to chat, snooze, or laze. Years ago, dying Umathar decreed all could freely use his horsepond, since his last horse had died ten summers before he took to his deathbed.
Minstrels and talkative Border tavern lads spin tales of labyrinthine storage tunnels underlying the gardens, cellars, and orchards of Irl, so vast and old that no one alive knows where all of them lead and so crumbling that not a season passes without the ground near this or that cottage collapsing suddenly into a grave-like opening. Legend insists that the jewelers of Irl all have secret storage caches behind false walls in these passages and hidden ways out that surface in stables, thickets, or via the gem-mines in the Crags behind Irl. (Legend exaggerates only slightly: not all Irlian jewelers store their wealth in the passages -- just most of them.) Legend usually speaks of grisly undead wandering these passages but neglects to mention the real guardians -- "loyal sentinels" that stand in the treasure caverns, ready to attack all intruders except specific, approved family members. These sentinels are really slaughterstone eviscerators (MM3).
The most colorful local legend tells of the lost tomb of Calagrath Halirl, somewhere beneath Irl (perhaps deep beneath the front yard of The Bold Ki-Rin itself or the main street nearby). The Wizard of the Gems is said to float forever on his back in glowing, enchanted air above a sparkling bed of gems he enspelled before his death to preserve and defend his body for all time.
How long "for all time" will last in this case, and just how the gems protect Calagrath, are both unknown, though there are wild tavern tales about Calagrath awakening and hurling his own head at intruders. This grisly missile becomes a howling, flame-eyed skull the moment it is out of the glowing shaft of air above the gems -- according to legend, of course. Other tales tell of the jewels under the mage emitting rays that wither, disintegrate, or incinerate.
Best of all for bards and adventurers, the underlying tales are true. There are gem-caches a-plenty under Irl, and somewhere Calagrath Halirl lies entombed in light above a bed of gems. Adventurers haven't found him and emerged to tell the tale, but as the years pass, they still come looking.
Next week -- High Mukshar.
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 . . .