The Border Kingdoms10/25/2006

The Wood of Many Monsters

Aye, I recall the Border Kingdoms. Thirty nights of battling monsters and thirty days of trying to sleep while cheerful local farmers tried to plow us under or make us go sleep in their pigyards instead of on top of their radishes. We were deep in the woods near Hawkgarth before I discovered our commander had been replaced by a succubus. Wha td'you mean, how'd I find out? It was my turn to find the softest radishes for her bed, o'course. Hey? What'd I do then? Bid her a pleasant evening, made my apologies to the poor lad she was kneeling on -- and ran like a summer storm all the way back to the Vilhon!

Urdagus Malawree, adventurer of Nimpeth
speaking in The Rum Duck tavern, Year of the Turret

HawkgarthNamed for the now-dead pirate and soldier-of-fortune who founded it, Hawkgarth was for a long time known as "the Wood of Many Monsters." Fighting men who loved to hunt beasts came here by the score to battle "the last" (or so it was said) giant owlbears, giant stags, greater perytons, and other rare and deadly predators -- monsters that dwelt here because of an earlier, resident wizard. That man, Histokle Rireetha, is said by some to be a refugee from Netheril, while others clam he still survives somewhere in Hawkgarth as a demi-lich. Histokle assembled the monsters to prowl as guardians around his floating manor house and brought in scores of deepspawn to disgorge minor beasts in profusion so his guardians would have plentiful food and little inclination to wander elsewhere.

Today, Hawkgarth's grave is a grassy barrow, almost all of the wild woods and monsters are gone, and Histokle's manor house is an open-roofed, ruined shell floating 50 feet above Floating Shadow Bog. It still attracts adventurers and sages by the score, for its fading magics bring forth illusions of beings who cast spells therein ages ago and creatures brought forth by Histokle's arts. Such silent visions are especially numerous by moonlight, which is also when the vampires that lurk around the floating manor like to hunt.

Yet many adventurers brave the perils of the ruined manor when the moon is high, because the entrance to Histokle's hidden lair is reputed to be through a "moon-gate," a magical portal visible and useable only when moonlight shines on a certain, secret spot in the ruins.

Histokle's Lair

Histokle's lair is a labyrinth of rooms containing guardian monsters (such as bone nagas, cloakers, slaughterstone eviscerators, and gray render zombies); treasure (its stone pillars, in particular, are said to hide many storage niches behind their curving stones containing wands, rare and strange potions, and spellbooks); a large, metal automaton (abilities and means of controlling unknown -- it attacks intruders who "do the wrong things" in the chamber in which it stands); and a magic throne of unknown origin (a simple seat carved from one piece of smooth black stone -- it's said to permanently augment one random ability score of any being who dares sit upon it). Floating watchfully above the throne is the demi-lich himself.

Histokle's Dark Throne

The ability augmentation of the throne affects each being only once, instantly upon contact, but doesn't manifest until the sitter sleeps and then awakens. Beings who manage to remain alive on the throne for a continuous hour also gain immediate and fully-detailed knowledge of all magic items and artifacts they're wearing, holding, or carrying. No detail, hidden power, or unawakened ability is omitted, and every command word or procedure is impressed into the sitter's memory.

Where the throne came from and who gave it this power are mysteries. There are persistent rumors that the divine hand of Oghma himself had something to do with its creation. Others insist it was Azuth, or Mystra and Oghma working together, or that it is the last surviving manifestation of the great power that once belonged to Savras the All-Seeing. Given the fate of the last dozen priests who tried to examine the throne, it seems likely that the genesis of this enchanted stone seat will remain a mystery.

Histokle's Company

Many powerful mages don't seek out the manor to gain treasure but rather to survive an hour on the throne Histokle guards, keeping the demi-lich's attacks at bay by giving interesting answers to the questions it asks (primarily about recent events in the Realms). The lonely, undead mage retains more awareness and sanity than most liches who have degenerated to this floating skull state, and it can carry on long conversations, appreciate jokes and well-told anecdotes, and exhibit curiosity and even envy. Histokle is quite willing to hear alternative information offered by an intruder in lieu of an answer the intruder doesn't know, provided it is interesting.

Sometimes -- as when those openly purporting to be priests visit -- Histokle delights in destroying visitors, and on other occasions he seems merely to want to talk. Wherever his lair truly is, teleport spells can safely return intruders from it to intended destinations in Faerûn, but dimension door and passwall spells that breach its 'walls' cause vortices of wild magic that separate casters from all clothing and gear before whirling them off to random locales in the Realms, often badly injured.

A few mages have so impressed or befriended Histokle that he's freely given them a spell or implanted a particular boon in their minds -- a single-use summoning of one of Histokle's guardian beasts (typically a gargoyle, gauth, or death kiss beholderkin) to fight for or aid the summoner, serving even to the point of unhesitatingly performing suicidal acts.

One such visitor was the sorceress Harathralee of Calimport. She agreed to provide Histokle with a child of her own birthing for him to raise and train as his heir. If the demi-lich's plan proceeds as he envisions it, he will one day pass on all of his knowledge mind-to-mind to his heir, then pass on into eternal sleep.

Hawkgarth's Hill

Though wooded, the resting place of the dead founder of Hawkgarth is readily identifiable by the stone doors on its southeastern face. They are graven with the device of a crown transfixed by a vertical, point-down sword. Hawkgarth's barrow-tomb is, of course, said to hold treasure -- a cursed, floating, magical long sword of powerful abilities that can be borne off by anyone who defeats its watchghost guardian but must soon be returned to the tomb. If not returned, it will spew new watchghosts to attack and slay its wielder before eventually finding its own way back to its hovering place above Hawkgarth's casket.

One wizard's chapbook (A Life of Wonders by Harluth the Mighty, pub. 1342 DR) recounts the writer's examination of this blade after it was brought to him by an adventurer. Harluth identified the sword from Hawkgarth's tomb as the Aershivar Blackblade, a long sword that does no damage at all to undead but strikes the living at +2 to hit for 2d8 (Medium-sized or smaller) or 2d12 (Large-sized and bigger) slicing and chilling damage. Once per day, when grasped and ordered to do so, it can deliver a shrewd strike (a +5 attack that deals 4d12 damage to a foe). It can also, with the same preconditions, also defend its wearer with spell turning (against one magical attack only, chosen by sword wielder rather than automatic -- the bearer feels tingling from incoming magic, strong if magic is powerful -- the sword turns away 100% of the magic, reflecting it at any target of the wielder's choosing, including the source).

Next installment -- Hawkgarth part 2.

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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