The Chalice of Serpents, Part One
By Ed Greenwood
For years, tavern-talk in the Western Heartlands of the Realms settled on the subject of an ancient, nigh-forgotten "God of Gold" and his holy chalice -- talk that grows very guarded around priests, especially clerics of Waukeen. Few have heard of such a deity or want to know of yet another divine power who might frown upon them . . . but the whispers about the Chalice of Serpents never go away entirely.
Where cities exist, so do laws -- and folk who fall afoul of them. Wherefore the wilderlands beyond easy reach of the lances and bows of patrol-riders hold a plentiful share of outlaws, making travel perilous for small groups and lone peddlers.
As a result, most caravans acquire "wayfarers" who pay a few coppers a day to travel with the relative safety of the wagons and the caravan guards. Many of these seek employment in a new city. These wayfarers usually include minstrels, some pleasure-ladies, and more than a few peddlers and small-traders.
Two such peddlers -- a handsome but aging man and his darkly beautiful daughter -- accompany caravans in the lands roughly bounded by Iriaebor, Waterdeep, Nashkel, and Baldur's Gate.
The wayfarers Darvith and Taleene Raldemarr trade in sundries (nonperishable, easily portable, durable small goods -- such as metal bowls, coffers, mirrors, buckles, and locks -- bought cheaply in one place, hopefully to be sold for a few coppers more elsewhere). They also serve as the Guardians of the Chalice of Serpents.
Over the years, word has spread of the curious magic cup they bear -- a cup deadly to all who know not how to use it, and who do not reverence the god it is consecrated to. This cup supposedly gives divine advice in return for a few coins.
Into a tavern they come, bearing the sparkling gold box reverently between them. Darvith immediately asks for a chair. If someone obliges, this generous person usually thinks Darvith means it for the attractive young woman with him -- but Darvis instead puts the box on the chair and kneels before it to murmur a prayer. If anyone asks about this -- or takes any notice of it at all, by look or gesture -- Darvith gravely begins his tale.
"In the box," he says, "rests the Chalice of Serpents, a metal cup older than Waterdeep and perhaps older than fabled Netheril -- a cup consecrated to 'The God of Gold,' who is older than Waukeen herself. Much has been forgotten about this once-puissant Divine One, even his name itself, but his power must have been awesome once, for this much of it still survives, down all the ages and centuries, to work this night. To drive and anoint unworthy Darvith Raldemarr, yea even I who speak to you, and my daughter Taleene -- making our blood, spittle, and sweat poisonous to many, and forcing us to offer the powers of the chalice to all who ask."
Darvith then opens the box, revealing wrappings out of which emerges a squat two-handled metal cup whose bowl is larger than a human's head, and that is capped with a high metal dome.
It looks heavy and is heavy, and in most taverns he puts it on the floor, staggering slightly. In those rare alehouses blessed with a table large and sturdy enough, Darvith installs it on the table, under a lamp. (If the light is bad, he produces a metal oil-lamp with a highly polished reflector out of a niche in the box and backlights the chalice impressively.)
"Behold the Chalice of Serpents," he declares.
"The Divine One," he goes on to explain, "is gold, and hath no need of more of it, but desires mortals to be wealthy and so have as much of it as they can handle. So out of the sheer strength of his ancient will, through this chalice he still speaks."
Darvith reverently takes the domed lid off the cup and gives it to his daughter. Then he tips the cup to show all present that it is empty. Righting it once more, he takes back the lid and displays a small slot in its height. "Through this," he explains, "those who desire the wisdom of the chalice must surrender a copper or silver -- never gold -- coin, while the lid rests upon the cup."
This offering, accompanied by the prayers of himself and his daughter (the words matter little; the holy images that spring to mind while praying hold higher importance), will cause a snake to appear in the chalice.
As might be expected, this is not always popular news.
The next installment of this column will reveal all about the Chalice of Serpents.
© 2005 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.