"At once, my love," the King of Cormyr agreed, using his thumb to turn the ring on his middle finger, his sword still raised and ready in his other hand.
There was a sudden flare of dancing ruby light, and he cursed sharply, shaking his hand in pain.
"Someth -- fell magic!" he snarled. "I can feel a mind reaching for mine, and it's not friendly. Hasn't seen me yet, but it's stopping Vangey's ring from taking us away from here!"
Filfaeril caught hold of her husband's hand, plucked a pendant up out of her bodice, and touched its stone to Azoun's teleport ring.
There was a blinding flash, Azoun cursed again as it smote his eyes -- and a sudden scream echoed in their minds.
Then blue mists were rising around them again, as Filfaeril smiled a catlike little smile.
"What was that?" Azoun hissed, as the chamber vanished, and something more grasslike and uneven came into view beneath their boots.
"One of my little secrets, lord of my heart," the Dragon Queen purred, wisps of smoke rising from the gem in her fingers.
Azoun gave her a sharp look. It was enough to tell him prudence suggested strongly that he now smile, bow and thank his lady.
So he did.
The mists rolled away again, revealing rather surprising new surroundings.
The self-styled Baron of Maerantede leaves peddlers, pilgrims, royal envoys, and small caravans traveling overland alone (as long as they avail themselves of the protection of his camp, and pay their fees to do so), but secretly orders -- and profits from -- attacks on large caravans, including many that avoid Maerantede altogether and seek to pass overland well to the north.
Guests in Maerantede Castle are never mistreated, nor do they ever vanish, but most remember having horrible nightmares (caused by the clumsy attempts of Darkyn's mages to learn their current business and what wealth and secrets they're carrying), and depart uneasy as to the morals and happiness of the Baron's knights. Their misgivings, and some observations by travelers who fled from attacked caravans, are the source of the handful of quiet but dark rumors about the "fair new barony."
The keep is centuries old and was built atop large storage chambers hewn out of the ridge by dwarves in even earlier times; Darkyn's wizards called up elementals to repair its walls and roofs, raising up and fusing together shattered stone. The Castle is spartan, cold, and drafty, but the Baron has had a few guest chambers within it, and living quarters for himself and his knights, paneled and decorated with tapestries, fur rugs, and fine furnishings. The coins he makes "lawfully" and openly, in fees for providing a safe haven, can just serve to feed the folk of the Castle, if they gather much of their own firewood and food.
However, the raids mounted by his people (often thirty or forty mounted fighters of levels 6-10, bolstered by a wizard or two who remain in hiding rather than directly joining any fray) while posing as outlaws allow Azadarr Darkyn to make far more coin than that, and he has already hidden caches of gems, weapons, and even magic items (seized from caravans) in various places around his keep.
Robber baron or not, Darkyn is growing wealthy enough to become of interest to various trading costers, the Zhentarim, and even the Red Wizards of Thay. (Once it has more permanent residents to support and feed the Castle, Maerantede's strategic location would make it an ideal enclave.) He could well be swept away by someone seeking to seize his keep, or he could grow in power enough to become a blackguard openly and forge his own alliances with Westgate or interests in Amn or Scornubel, and to gird himself against attacks from those who would see him as a threat growing too powerful not to strike down.
Azadarr Darkyn is a glib-tongued, broad-shouldered, stiffly erect man with almost-white blond hair but arrestingly dark eyebrows over smoldering dark blue (almost black) eyes. Though born in Calimshan, the Baron of Maerantede is of Illuskan stock, and he is a chaotic evil male human fighter 15/rogue 4 (Str 17, Int 16, Cha 16) who customarily wears +2 full plate armor of greater electricity resistance when outside his castle. He always wears his bracers of the blinding strike, a ring of mind shielding, and a ring of regeneration. He habitually wears and uses bastard swords, longswords, and daggers in battle, and it's assumed that at least some of his favorite weapons have magical powers.
Darkyn is also known to possess a gauntlet of fury, a skull plaque, at least three magic suits of plate armor of unknown properties, and a pair of gloves of lightning, but even Elminster's prying hasn't revealed all the magics the Baron of Maerantede has been able to seize. The very names and numbers of his wizard allies remain mysterious.
The Baron of Maerantede is a skilled actor ("very slick," one Harper termed him), both persuasive and good at seeming to have wise and benevolent aims and motives, tempered with a stern manner and resolve. He will take no action at all against potential targets who pass within reach if he suspects they're adventurers or otherwise more than they seem. He prefers to avoid a potential trap set by such folk since a successful one could severely weaken his forces or reveal his true nature for all Faerûn to see.
The name "Maerantede," by the way, is derived from Thalantede, the given name of Darkyn's father, and Maerana, his mother's name. They were weaponsmiths from the Moonshaes, and a Calishite pasha (whom Darkyn later slew) enslaved them before Darkyn's birth.
Our next column will leave the villainous baron behind and turn to a long-neglected and surprisingly common intriguing feature of the Realms. By plunging Azoun and Filfaeril right into a sample, of course.
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 . . .