The Border Kingdoms12/06/2006

High Mukshar
Travelers Beware

One of three tiny realms named for their common origin, High Mukshar is a land of rocky outcrops, high, rolling meadows, and rubblestone walls between fields, where sheep farming predominates. Many a traveler has become lost in its winding lanes and dense woodlots and heartily cursed the place. More than a few outlanders have gone astray, been forced to camp in the uplands when darkness came, and vanished forever.

Border wisdom says able and well-armed brigands shelter in old, played-out gold and copper mines in the mountains along the realm's western border. The human, gnome, halfling, and half-elven inhabitants of High Mukshar know this to be true -- all except the "played-out" part. Despite the presence of murderous outlaws dwelling in some of the old mines and preying on passersby, many High Muksharran would take up their picks to mine mule-loads of gold but for the deadly presence of mysterious monsters High Muksharran call "the Others." These hunt the highlands and long ago forced abandonment of all three villages in the realm. Despite this, more gold and copper still come out of High Mukshar than out of all the western Heartlands, but in a slow trickle of muleloads, not by gangs of slaves or near-slaves, mages blasting the rocks with spells, and lines of wagons waiting to take the ore away.

The overgrown ruins of the three villages still provide shelter and good wells to any daring to camp there. They are: Tleska, at the mouth of the Tumblestone River, where the crumbling Battleshield Bridge carries the coastal road across its waters; Longsword, where three trails meet and a lone, fortified inn and smithy (Thorn's Smithy) still operates; and Ramshead, high in the mountains at the foot of the distinctive peak known as the Broken Helm.

Most High Muksharran (humans, gnomes, halflings, and half-elves) avoid the mountains and spend their nights in fortified caves and old cellars with barricaded entrances and armed men standing watch, their spears and crossbow bolts coated with blue whinnis sleep-poison or pitch for fiery use. They only that their foes are man-eating creatures that can assume the shapes of friends and loved ones. This is why travelers asking for night shelter are always very closely watched by numerous well-armed warriors.

The Others are in fact druuth -- bands of four to six dopplegangers, each led by a lone illithid. (Elminster of Shadowdale terms these still-generally-unknown perils "the rising scourge of the Realms," and claims they are all-too-common in the lands south of the Shaar and the Dustwall. Thankfully, they are still rare elsewhere.)

At least four druuth uneasily share High Mukshar, raiding stealthily into nearby realms (employing disguises and striking seldom, to escape as much notice as possible). They work together against intruding adventuring bands. They've struck and slain far afield in other Border lands, preying on High Muksharran as little as possible because nearby cattle are easy meat. Muksharran victims, they believe, should be saved for bad weather, hard winters, and other times when hunting is difficult, uncomfortable, or dangerous.

This working truce was arrived at after a series of bloody battles destroyed at least another three druuth. One of the present groups was formed out of the fragments of two or more others. When adventuring bands intrude into the monster-haunted mines or the high meadows, two or more druuth often combine to attack them, sometimes slaughtering the survivors when they're too tired to fight on and haven't enough strength left to mount a watch while part of the band sleeps. Druuth are named for their leaders; of the High Mukshar bands, "Sshreea" and "Oinuth" (probably illithid nicknames) are known.

High Mukshar was not always thus. Twenty winters ago, it boasted a Lord of the Realm in Tleska and two High Knights (one in each of the two upland villages). These three men were all retired adventurers or warriors from Tethyr who liked to wear splendid armor and canter fine horses along the trails of the realm with boarspear-wielding riders as escorts. The druuth made sure they died first -- slain in their beds, lords and armsmen both, until no man who'd ever fought for a living was still alive in the land. The body count to reach that undefended state was less than thirty.

A company of adventurers arrived soon after that, but once stripped of their mage and priests (a task involving one night's work by dopplegangers shifted into the shapes of attractive women backed by strangling tentacles), the dozen swords mustered by the Brave and Bold of Bedorn didn't last long.

The Company of the Tristar Lance out of Baldur's Gate and thirsty for "the gold and gems that spill out of every cupboard and cottage in the Border Kingdoms" was next to arrive and fall. When a caravan of ironmongery disappeared, word of "the fell doings in High Muk" finally began spreading around the Border Kingdoms. After that, new arrivals became few and far between.

The druuth decided more subtlety was in order and began the careful series of expeditions they continue to this day. They've struck and slain as far afield as Oparl and the Duskwood and even spent almost an entire year hunting in Jundarwood. During this time they left the High Muksharran alone so they would gain false hope and begin once more to hunt for gold and graze their flocks on the highest meadows.

Yet fear and sorrow ride the Muksharran. They recall Lord Baelim, "the Laughing Lord," and his three fair ladies with the long, streaming hair. They remember the tall and noble Athkontan, High Knight of Longsword, and the short, stout, lusty Baerben "Three Tankards" Nuim, High Knight of Ramshead. They whisper of the Others that slew them and lurk even now in their land, able to "wear the masks" of folk and so get close enough to rend with claws and thrust with spikes of bone. They wonder who these Others are, why they came to High Mukshar, and who might be powerful enough to destroy them.

Three Harper bands have tried and failed to cleanse the realm. One Harper, out of all those fair folk, survived. She is given to bouts of weeping madness and now keeps to the inner rooms of Twilight Hall. One Red Wizard of Thay, hoping that the Others had magic he could seize, came to the realm with ready spells. He was slain in his sleep, seeing no approaching foe in his dreams.

The closest thing High Mukshar has to a ruler today is the smith at Longsword, Draldimor Thorn (LN male Illuskan human Ftr9; Str 18, Con 17). He is tall, stout-muscled, and humorless, but has a very firm sense of law, order, and right. He trains all of the folk of his stockaded household at arms and warily plies his trade with the few travelers to come through the realm. Under his hearthstone lie 302,800 pieces of gold, amassed from the sale of gold nuggets and from smithing down the years. He will give it all to any adventurers who rid the realm of the Others and let High Mukshar rise again.

Right now, a traveler can get provender (cheese, bread, small beer, and stew) at two farms near Tleska and at Thorn's Smithy in Longsword. The only inn and tavern still operating in High Mukshar face each other across the coastal road east of the Tumblestone, close enough to Middle Mukshar that the river is only a silver ribbon in the distance. They are The Wailing Wolf tavern (Fair/Cheap) and Anglabur's Haven inn (Good/Moderate). Both of them have fenced lands, castle-like walls, and over twenty wary guards each. Both have recently been touched by suspicion and fear, as the druuth (catching men alone and using the guises of their comrades) have begun to slay the best warriors of the guards.

The realm has few landmarks beyond the aforementioned Broken Helm (a riven mountain whose north flank is rounded and conical but that falls away to the south in sheer cliffs) and the Rise, an isolated hill traversed on three sides by the Tumblestone River. Its crest sports an ancient, ring-shaped fort (the base of a long-fallen tower), and from its stones one can look clear across neighboring Nether Mukshar.

Unless one enjoys battling monsters (they swarm in some of the mines almost as thickly as folk tales say they do) or thinks that easy gold can be had by anyone daring enough to ride in and scoop it up (false, unless "scoop it up" refers to tons of raw ore), there's little reason to visit High Mukshar now. At least one of its mines (Ilthamar's Delve, in the heart of the southernmost mountains of the realm) descends to meet passages in the Underdark, which ultimately link up with the Deep Realm of the dwarves. As the ballad goes, "There are faster and easier ways to meet one's doom" than descending a mine in the backlands of High Mukshar.

Adventurers who enter High Mukshar will find welcomes -- of sorts -- from the Muksharran . . . and the Others.

Settlements: None.

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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