Part 7: Gildenfire
by Eric L. Boyd
Mintiper Moonsilver is one of the legendary bards of the Forgotten Realms, and tales of his adventures have long been recounted around hearthfires across the North in musical, poetic, and narrative forms. Transcribed in Silverymoon's Vault of the Sages by the Keeper of the Vault, Mintiper's Chapbook is a compilation of the Lonely Harpist's ballads, poems, and tales. Selected pages of this chapbook have been annotated and passed into this chronicler's hands and shall be revealed here in a periodic column.
There dwells a wyrm of golden hue amongst the tallest trees of a great forest. Like those venerable forest giants, he has seen the passing of uncounted seasons and yet stands unbowed. By his king, this wyrm was charged to guard against evil, to dispense justice, and to show mercy to all those who dwell beneath the forests boughs, and never has he wavered in his commitment to this trust.
In the early years of his calling, the wyrm of golden hue battled all manner of threats to those who dwelt in his domain, whether they be rampaging orc hordes or the periodic brush fires that broke out from time to time. Yet, despite his efforts, many species within the golden dragons domain fell victim to disease and hunger, and the forests fragile web of life grew weak.
Eventually, there came a day, one scorching hot and dry summer, when bolts of lightning hurled by the Storm Lord set fire to great swaths of the forest just as an orc horde swept down in a frenzy of killing. As was his habit, the wyrm of golden hue strove mightily to arrest the flames and destroy the orcs, but to no avail. The resultant conflagration burned for weeks, killing trees, shrubs, animals, birds, insects, and sentient beings, leaving only devastation in its wake. Those who escaped the flames were driven into the arms of the bloodthirsty orcs. Exhausted by his efforts and his injuries and bewildered by his failures, the draconic steward of the forest settled into his lair for a decades-long nap, plagued by nightmares of what would happen to the woods as he slept.
When the golden dragon finally awoke, the charred forest about his lair had been reborn. A riot of plant life had eagerly overrun the newly opened glens, and the animal, bird, and insect populations had more than regained their original numbers and health. Even the sentient races had greatly increased in number, for the fertility of the forest from which they harvested their sustenance had been greatly renewed, and they seemed less susceptible to the blighted touch of the Mistress of Disease. Amazed by what had unfolded in the years since the great fire, the wyrm of golden hue tasked himself to find the being or beings that had accomplished this miracle and pledge himself to his or their service.
For many years, the wyrm sought the one who had restored his beloved forest, but to no avail. At last, the golden dragon came upon a man garbed in green who was in the process of setting fire to a fallen tree in an ancient tract of forest.
Rushing to smother the blaze, the wyrm of golden hue demanded, "By what right do you destroy these sacred woods and take the lives of those who dwell beneath its boughs?"
The man in green replied, "By what right do you smother new lives and let disease and rot ravage those who live?"
For a cycle of the moon the two did argue, until at last the wyrm did yield. The golden dragon agreed to serve the man in green for as long as the life of an oak tree, and then compare the results of their labors with the wyrms earlier efforts. Although it troubled the wyrm mightily, he followed the commands of the man in green, culling the weak and the old from herds, setting fires all about the forest, and letting all manner of predators stalk the woodseven orcs.
When at last the oak did fall, over two centuries had passed. The man in green summoned his draconic initiate to his side and bade him look about the woods. To the wyrms amazement, the great forest was flourishing with life, and the misfortunes that had previously beset those who dwelt in his domain had largely abated. With newfound insight, the dragon hue spoke these words:
And since that day, the wyrm known as Gildenfire has acted as natures hand, all in the long-term interests of justice and mercy. Truly, the great forest has become his most precious treasure.
entitled "By Gilded Fire"
attributed to Mintiper Moonsilver
Year of the Moonfall (1344 DR)
Oft quoted by the followers of Mielikki and Silvanus, this parable elucidates a central tenet of the various druidic faiths: All species are best served by allowing the hand of nature, however harsh, to cull weakness and disease from the cycle of life and to allow new life to flourish. Mintipers tale also suggests how much damage the righteous can inflict on their environment if their good intentions are misguided, and it speaks to the environmental devastation that even a benevolently inclined wyrm can wreak.
Although Mintiper takes care to keep the setting and principal characters of this parable obscure, the reference to the "tallest trees of the great forest" coupled with an awareness of the Lonely Harpists trek through the High Forest suggests that Mintiper speaks of the Tall Trees settlement in the northeastern region of that great woods.  Moreover, several accounts in recent centuries of a great gold dragon winging its way above the High Forest and using its fiery breath to spark precisely placed forest fires gives additional weight to this conclusion.
Given that this parable first came into common circulation in the Year of the Moonfall (1346 DR), it seems likely that Mintiper encountered the "wyrm of golden hue" of whom he speaks during his southward trek through the High Forest, and that Gildenfire, as some have taken to calling the gold dragon of the parable, is in some way allied with the druids of the High Forest.  In addition, although the identity of the "man in green" in this parable is not disclosed, I suspect he may have been Sinklayr Greenstroke, the former Grand Druid of the North of the Mielikkian faith, and now a Hierophant Adept, for who else is better suited to instruct a golden wyrm in the tenets of the various druidic faiths? 
The last line of "By Gilded Fire" suggests that Gildenfire has adopted the entire High Forest as his hoard, and that, in its entirety, the High Forest is truly one of the greatest treasures of the North. Some, however, have interpreted the Lonely Harpists words to mean that Gildenfires hoard includes other precious treasures as well and is hidden somewhere within the High Forest. If such is the case, however, I know of no account in which any portion of the Druid Dragons hoard is said to have been recovered. 
 From its founding circa 4,500 DR, the elven tree-city of Teuveamanthaar was the capitol and largest city of Eaerlann, the moon elven realm that lay within the northern and eastern reaches of the High Forest amongst the ruins of Aryvandaar. Built atop a steep-sided ridge, Teuveamanthaar was known for its soaring oak trees, which towered over the rest of the forest like hill giants to human youth and whose trunks were said to be the width of most northern human villages.
The fall of Eaerlann in the Year of the Curse (882 DR) led to the abandonment of Teuveamanthaar, but prompt action by the followers of Mielikki kept the abandoned tree-city from falling into the clutches of the demons of Hellgate Keep. Despite the dangers of the nearby Upvale, the Supreme Rangers followers have maintained a strong presence in the abandoned elven city ever since, having driven off the concerted attacks of both orc hordes and demon-led ghoul packs on repeated occasions.
Teuveamanthaar is now known as Tall Trees, and the citys ancient treesbelieved to be among the oldest of the High Forestare home to nearly two dozen mostly senior druids of the Mielikkian faith. The druids of Tall Trees occupy only a tiny fraction of the entire city, but they seek to preserve as much of the ancient Eaerlanni settlement as possible. Uthgang Jyarl (N hm D14), Great Druid of the North, leads the Tall Trees Circle and is acknowledged by humans and elves alike as the Regent of Teuveamanthaar, a title that suggests the TeuTelQuessir may one day return. Three Initiates of the 11th Circle, Elighaer Teushandor (N hem D11Mielikki), Sarragh of the Sparrows (N hf D11Mielikki), and "Vaeros Fireshield" (see below), serve the Great Druid directly, and fifteen lower-ranking initiates serve them in turn. In addition, several other senior druids of the faith make their home amidst the former tree-city, including Dalanaer Llundlar (N hef M15/D13Mielikki), Sinklayr Greenstroke (N hm D18Mielikki), and Vanuseed (N treant D12Mielikki).
The abandoned remnants of Teuveamanthaar lie high above the forest floor, linked by a network of magically warded and preserved rope bridges. Only a handful of rope ladders lead down to the ground, and they are normally drawn up into the trees. Ancient wards dating back to the earliest days of Eaerlann still protect the Tall Trees settlement from magical and nonmagical fire, the danger of lightning strikes, and the threat of rot and disease. The inhabitants of Teuveamanthaar created fabulous dwellings from hollows painstakingly shaped into the trunks and branches of the great trees as they grew, and these chambers still exist today, largely unchanged from the day their elven inhabitants departed for lands to the south and west. Although the Fair Folk of Eaerlann took nearly everything of value with them when Teuveamanthaar was abandoned, a few magical and nonmagical artifacts that they left behind are still found on occasion.
 Born in the Year of the Burning Tree (890 DR), "Gildenfire" is an old male gold dragon whose true name is Aerosclughpalar. For many years the "wyrm of golden hue" has dwelt in human guise among the druids of Tall Trees, who know him as Vaeros Fireshield. (Only Sinklayr Greenstroke, Uthgang Jyarl, and a few gold and silver dragons know Gildenfires true identity.) "Vaeros" (N(LG) gold dragon male D11-Mielikki) is in fact an Initiate of the 11th Circle of the Forestarm branch of the church of Mielikki, and many followers of Our Lady of the Forest suspect that "Vaeros" may eventually succeed Uthgang Jyarl as Great Druid of the North.
Although Aerosclughpalar is not considered a rogue by other gold dragons, he does hold to philosophical positions at odds with most others of his kind. The Druid Dragon, as those who are aware of his true identity sometimes call him, still acknowledges His Resplendence Lareth, King of Justice, as his liege and the sovereign of all gold dragons on Abeir-Toril. However, the great gold wyrm and Aerosclughpalar have engaged in a series of lengthy philosophical debates on the few occasions they have met, each endeavoring, so far without success, to convince the other of the merits of their philosophical approach to life.
 Each of the various nature faiths, including the churches of Chauntea, Eldath, Silvanus, and Mielikki, have their own druidic hierarchies, including Circles, Initiates, Druids, Archdruids, Great Druids, Grand Druids, and Hierophant Druids. Thus, for example, there are four Great Druids of the North at any given time, each of which venerates one of the aforementioned powers.
In addition to Sinklayr Greenstroke, known Hierophant Druids active in the Realms include Aubaerus the Ravenmaster of the Thunder Peaks (N hm D16Silvanus), who dwells in a cave high above Lake Sember, Khamlautas Iriphar of Cormyr (N hm D17Silvanus), who vanished into the Stonelands ere the Time of Troubles with plans to restore its natural ecology, Pheszeltan of the Forgotten Forest (N hm D16Silvanus), whose has taken to wandering and training other druids, Lady Shadowmoon Crystalembers of Ilighôn (N ef D22Silvanus), one of three leaders of the Emerald Enclave, and Shinthala Deepcrest of Ilighôn (N hf D30Silvanus), Grand Cabal of the Emerald Enclave.
 Gildenfires hoard is barely recognizable as such, for he truly cherishes the High Forest in its entirety. Nevertheless, the Druid Dragon has established what might be called "treasure caches" throughout the great northern woods. Each such "cache" consists of a grove of weir trees, a highly prized species that is now quite rare, carefully shaped over the centuries into living sculptures of dragons of yore. Lingering enchantments (akin to a dancing lights spell) placed by Gildenfire cause these weir trees to flicker with dancing balls of light, leading some travelers to mistakenly conclude such groves are inhabited by will o wisps. Gildenfires groves are indeed warded against interlopers, but those of pure heart may wander through them unhindered. At the center of each such grove lies a single tree fashioned of gold, silver, or some other precious metal and cloaked in a permanent illusion to resemble a living weir tree. Such trees are typically worth more than 20,000 gp in precious metal alone, and some have one or more magic items encased in their trunks, such as the Amber Acorns of the Moonwood Circle, the Haircloth Mantle of Tappan, and the Silver Sickles of Soranth.
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