In the interior Sward of High Emmerock, the visitor will find wells, covered pavilions to camp at, and spartan watchtowers, but no settlements -- none are permitted. Lance patrols are frequent, and mounted herders armed with wands of polymorphing and wands of monster summoning keep alert watch over the stock (hostile intruders, monsters, or stock rustlers are usually transformed into snails, collected, and imprisoned in a midden-pit at one of the seven towers, or attacked by the strangest beasts brought out of thin air).
The source of these items is the Lake in the Cleft, hidden in its deep ravine at the high heart of the realm. These days, much enlarged, it is more often known as the "Haunted Lake."
A small village, Argan's Leap, grew up south of the lake, after sapphires of unusual size and quality were found in the rocky walls of the ravine. One day the Argann delvers hewed just a bit too far, and subterranean water surged forth, rapidly flooding their mines and then the village itself. Today, its cottages are little more than rings of stone under the stagnant waters.
Somewhere among the drowned ruins, in a flooded cellar or cavern, dwells the dreaded "Water Witch." Local legends insist that she drags those who venture too near her lair down to watery dooms.
The Lords (and many veteran Emmeran warriors) know better. They revere tragic Scsilda Starshield (a LN female Calishite human Sor19/ElementalSavant3 [lich of unique status: unturnable]) who now enjoys playing the Water Witch. She crafts the wands used by the herder commanders (and the rare and highly secret rods of giant whelming that call forth and control imprisoned giants who once ruled the realm and now serve its human inhabitants with magically-enforced loyalty).
Once a Calishite sorceress of some beauty, Scsilda was disfigured by a rival's curse that makes her flesh crawl and melt away from her bones in an endless, revolting surging and flowing. At first she fled to the wilderness of the Cleft to hide and frantically try to undo her condition. Her every effort met with failure, and she tried many times to kill herself, but was always undone by her own fears or the kindness of the Emmeran shepherds. Ultimately, Scsilda came to see the curse that had twisted her life-essence as a means to achieving a strange state of lichdom -- an undead state in which her body does not decay or deteriorate (beyond its current state), and she cannot be turned or disrupted. She prefers to dwell beneath the waters, though she emerges on occasion, and has modified many spells (notably lightning magics) to do widespread, far-reaching damage to those who come unwanted into the waters of the Haunted Lake.
Elminster of Shadowdale isn't one of those undesired guests. Though he's uncharacteristically coy when discussing Scsilda Starshield, it seems clear that he tried -- and failed -- to undo the curse on her. They became firm friends, perhaps even lovers. They remain old and affectionate allies to this day.
More than one ambitious mage who considered High Emmerock ripe for transformation to his or her private realm and decided to make it so has been destroyed by the spells of a certain Old Mage while they were still reeling from the determined defense mounted by the Water Witch. This 'doom count' of foolish foes is known to include at least four ambitious archwizards of Halruaa, the inevitable pair or trio of Red Wizards of Thay, and no less than a dozen Zhentarim magelings anxious to prove themselves and gain power quickly. It also includes at least one Magister, though neither Elminster nor Scsilda took up the vacated office, handing it instead to a weak but ruthless local novice wizard (who soon met his doom).
One of the reasons mages come so eagerly to be killed is that they deem the Water Witch easy prey -- a waterlogged old lich rotting away in fetid waters. The other major reason is that the Haunted Lake is (correctly) reputed to conceal the main treasury of High Emmerock beneath its waters. The exact size of that hoard -- even leaving out the magic that Scsilda guards for the use of Emmeran warriors and the bins upon bins of mined sapphires -- is uncertain, but it must be large. Spell-images have been seen of a large, stone coffer holding five thousand gold pieces, and claims have been made that the lake hides at least sixty such coffers. That much wealth should interest dragons, brigands, and rapacious rulers everywhere … so why isn't High Emmerock trampled under the rush of ambitious, at-all-costs treasure seekers?
The answer is twofold -- widespread tales (the Water Witch has slain many adventurers, including powerful wizards, who came seeking the drowned treasury of High Emmerock) -- and the Haunted Lake itself -- Scsilda has enchanted its waters so they act against intruders. Neither her powers nor those of the Lake are fully known to anyone but the Water Witch, but the known powers of the Haunted Lake follow.
The presence of any being in contact with the waters of the Lake (even if an airy water spell or similar magic is keeping them from 'normal' immersion) for more than three continuous rounds is revealed to Scsilda, along with their race and true alignment. If contact continues for one continuous turn, the general nature and principal functions of any magic items they carry are also revealed to her.
At any time, Scsilda can cause one to three water elementals to arise and strike beings in contact with the water. She can also hurl multiple lighting bolts (a spell of her own devising allows her to unleash up to six fireball-like, spherical, underwater 'lightning storms' in a round).
The Water Witch can also cause an obscuring mist to rise from the Lake and move about above the water at her bidding. She can also work extensive illusion magics under the waters.
Any being carrying memorized spells who remains in continuous contact with the waters of the Haunted Lake for six hours or more has the general nature of all of their spells (level, arcane or divine, and school) revealed to Scsilda. She can cause, at any time after six hours, to force any one spell of her choosing in the mind of an intruder to be forgotten. After the first is gone, she can cause another to go after another hour has passed, and so on.
Moreover, Scsilda can trace any being (distance, direction, plane, above or below ground) whose skin, clothes that they're still wearing, or innards have come into contact with the lake waters during the previous 24-hour period. Within the same time period, she can also cast a suggestion spell on any being who has drunk the waters.
In short, the Water Witch of High Emmerock is not to be crossed. Even the seven Lords respect her wishes. She keeps her realm one of the safest in all the Border Kingdoms -- and, if you like a good gallop (buyers are always allowed to "test out" a horse in this way), a "must visit" land.
According to Elminster, there's a forgotten, still-open sapphire mine somewhere in High Emmerock right now, just waiting for someone to stumble upon it … but he can't guarantee it will stay forgotten forever.
Next week -- Irl.
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 . . .