The Road to Khôltar,
Besides the three sites mentioned
in my last column, a great number of nameless, tumbled, and overgrown
cairns lie along the eastern verges of the Way, all along its length.
Many see frequent service as tombs: When anything not wanted for stewpots
(such as one's trading partner) dies, the corpse is often laid down beside
a cairn stone, and the stone rolled over onto the remains. This typically
uncovers an older burial, but does cut down on how many vultures and carrion-eaters
are attracted to the travelers who still survive and desire to continue
their journey unmolested.
The western side of the Way
has a much larger, ever-present landmark: the Forest of Amtar (called
"Amlar" by some folk of Dambrath). Though it was once far larger,
the Amtar is still a vast and wild place inhabited by many creatures today.
In fact, I believe there must be several active portals or deepspawn or
both in its heart to account for the abundant life constantly prowling
and warring therein.
The southern and western Amtar
are a battleground between the Trunadar elves of the forest, the gnolls
of the Gate of Iron Fangs (who recently returned in force to reclaim their
ruined city, probably by means of a portal somewhere in its vast
and shattered halls), and the Dambraii dusk elves. So fierce is their
strife (for decades the Dambraii hunted the Trunadar for sport) that they
seldom have time or attention for preying upon caravans using the Way.
Although warlike tribes of the
Shaar have on many occasions swept down on caravans traversing the Way,
doing much bloody slaughter, the chief daily perils to travelers these
days are most likely to come from the Forest. There are even guides (who
conduct riders having no heavy trade goods who can pack all on mules)
who travel between Delzimmer and Khôltar well east of the Way, using its
distant stones only as markers to stay on course so as to avoid the watching
eyes and fangs of the forest.
I know of at least two flourishing
brigand bands who dwell in the eastern fringes of the Amtar: the Raunstrar
and the Maurvurr. The Raunstrar is an all-female human and half-elven
group whose members sell their favors to encamped caravans and trade fabrics
and assorted goods with them (typically loot from earlier plunderings).
They size up the caravans while they do so for covert sneak thefts or
open attacks later along the route. The Maurvurr is a band of wizards
and sorcerers of several races. They are only interested in plundering
spellbooks, magic items, and substances useful in alchemy and magic.
Other brigands (notably a strong
band of orcs and an adventuring band known as Dracil's Raiders) were formerly
dominant in caravan plundering, but these have been slaughtered or scattered
and now survive (if at all) only as desperate remnants.
Aside from the Landrise itself,
the eastern Amtar is dotted with ancient, overgrown stone ruins (the cities
of earlier peoples, at least one giant race among them), and broken by
many small, breakneck cliffs and gulleys, all of them overgrown by the
lush trees. The Amtar boasts stinking black soil overlaid by a foot or
more of wet, rotting leaves in most places; an abundance of snakes; and
vines, vines everywhere in a vast and endless webwork of choking creepers
that drape all living things in a spiderweblike network. Assassin vines,
ropers and even some of the nasty little things called chokers (obviously
adapted to life aboveground) are all too plentiful in this gloom, and
some of them watch the few forest trails just as avidly as other Amtar
predators watch the Traders' Way.
That's not to say that traffic
on the Way is sparse. Far from it: There's safety in numbers, and in the
ability to move fast and have lots of outriders armed with lances, javelins,
darts, and crossbows (hand crossbows in particular). Save in the off season,
it's not uncommon to look around at any point along the Way during daylight
hours and see three caravans (and as many small bands of riders) within
view. At peak periods, there's not enough camping room, and the spillover
must go up onto the Shaar. (It's generally suicidal to camp on the verges
of the Amtar.) Wise spillover campers don't build fires or show lights
to attract the nomads. Knife fights and raids in the dark between encamped
travelers aren't unknown, and the Amlar brigands I mentioned earlier often
instigate or take full advantage of these.
In general, harsh weather off
the desert and water shortages are the main concerns of large caravans
using this stretch of the Way. Only smaller bands need fear brigands and
monsters very much. In hard seasons on the Shaar, of course, the nomads
grow desperate, and then no one within their reach is safe.
Now that I've shared all the
cheery news, 'tis time -- well, in my next missive -- to warn ye
of what awaits in Khôltar. Eartheart is a firmly ruled stone fortress
of dwarf temples and trade halls, wherein all other races are tolerated
but strictly policed, and we'll do what most caravans do: camp outside
its walls for a night, paying to use its pumps to water ourselves and
our beasts. Then we'll head on to the Iron City of Khôltar.
the previous Elminster Speaks
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