Revealing the Truth
Laeral of Waterdeep recently visited Candlekeep to prevail on an old friend among the Avowed (monks) to reveal what he wouldn't willingly have made plain to any non-Chosen of Mystra.
This monk, Great Reader Elveraun Mysrym ("ELL-vurr-aun MISS-rim"), is a quiet, calm-in-the-face-of-all man of small stature and great lore-learning. Mysrym believes the lurid and ever-deepening legends of Tharnwood, however unfair they may be to Elminster of Shadowdale, are both good entertainment and a useful curb on those who might otherwise act more boldly against Elminster, Alustriel, elves in the Sword Coast North, or the Silver Marches.
What follows is from Elveraun's careful unraveling of the fancies of Tharnwood, under Laeral's guidance.
"Tharnwood" is the name of a tiny lordship in the Sword Coast North, first appearing in records circa 696 DR: a human "hold" in the then-larger High Forest or woods northwest of it. Tharnwood was but three foresters' hamlets ruled and defended by the Marlestur family, who styled themselves "lords."
Such ephemeral "realms" are numbered in the thousands and cause much confusion in local lore across the Heartlands. Most were small, short-lived, and founded with no fanfare of heralds. Mysrym lists no fewer than seventy-two "lordships" that are no more than names: passing references in caravan log-books, trading ledgers, ballads, heraldic records, and lineage claims for which no precise location, or in most cases even date, can with confidence be assigned.
Laeral, however, remembers Tharnwood and the Marlesturs. In her youth (mainly during the 770s DR) she was reared in the forest near Tharnwood -- by her "Uncle" Elminster. She believes the stories of his gathering "sorceresses" have grown from her years in a forest cottage with her sisters Storm and Dove. Three rebellious, magically gifted silver-haired sisters born with Mystra's silver fire in their veins, to be Chosen of Mystra, could easily have been misunderstood and distorted, over the years, into something else.
The Old Mage is guilty of duping folk, sowing wild oats, and elfslayings, but Laeral knows of no wooded plateau ruled by any "Tharan" -- and that Elminster prefers one (at most two) apprentices at a time, not a harem of seventy.
According to Laeral, Chosen of Mystra can "subsume" beings by draining their life-energies, memories, and magical knowledge through a long and complex manipulation of the Weave. However, she very much doubts Elminster ever so served forty to seventy women, for two reasons. Firstly, the goddess the Chosen of Mystra served until the Time of Troubles forbid her Chosen to subsume anyone with a talent for Art. Secondly, subsumption drives most minds insane under the weight of memories not their own. Although many believe Elminster is insane, Laeral insists the extra memories "leak" forth. As someone often in mental contact with Elminster down the centuries, she would certainly have noticed many unfamiliar memories of female sorcerers sharing lives on some wooded plateau.
A wandering Heartlands minstrel, one Alakhan "Lucky" Morlyl, is credited with popularizing a ballad (if not of his creation, certainly of his embroidering) called "Lost Ladies by Night," circa 1220 DR. Its verses tell of beautiful "ladies" so imprisoned by magic as to be little more than mournful shadows, who call out to mortal men to free them by doing this or that. The mens' deeds allow the ladies to sunder their magical prisons with spells of their own, and win free. In some later versions of this ballad these freed "sorceresses of Tharnwood" cruelly betray or slay those who aided them, but in Morlyl's versions they wed or loved their rescuers, leaving some magical sign behind on the man's body or in his eyes.
A chapbook distributed in Waterdeep in 1269 DR, attributed to "Thalaphondas, Archmage Mighty" (no other trace of whom exists in any records of Candlekeep or Waterdeep), relates the tale of "The Dark Dooms Enacted upon Lady Mages by the One Called Elminster." It tells of Tharan's betrayal and murder by his friend Elminster, who learned how to make wardspells of Tharan's forest plateau realm deadly to all elves -- and so exterminated its inhabitants.
According to Thalaphondas, Elminster (an accomplished shapeshifter) then seduced various wealthy women by posing as husbands, lovers, and men for whom they longed. Translocating them to Tharnwood, he spell-imprisoned them there, using "dark rituals" to make them his slaves and "helpless, talentless channels" through which he could cast multiple simultaneous spells at foes. Thalaphondas urged "all of the Art" to "rise up in unison" to slay Elminster before he destroyed them all individually -- and it's this, Mysrym believes, that years of mages' gossip has built into the fanciful Tharnwood lore of today. The diligent monk of Candlekeep warns that much trusted lore of Faerûn may contain as many distortions.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, sf, 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 . . .