Elminster's Guide to the Realms
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #286)
In a nameless valley in the Desertsmouth Mountains, due west of Serpentsbridge through difficult wilderland country, stands a lonely stone structure known to prospectors as the Old Tomb. Just who's buried there is a matter of some disagreement; it depends which colorful story one heeds. Popular tavern-tales include such candidates as a lost princess of fabled Anauria (older versions of the tale call her a "lady-lord" and give her name as either Ilmaerile or Yimaerl), the long-ago bandit warlord Loardrin (he who raided both the beast-men of Thar and the steadings that became Sembia with equal daring), and the human wizard known as the Sraedar (thought to have once tutored Malaug, founder of the Malaugrym).
All who fare into these monster-haunted peaks, agree that for a reputedly plundered burial chamber, the Old Tomb seems a very popular place. Adventuring bands visit it often, if not regularly, and their movements have broken a clear trail through the valley. Foresters warn that stags have taken to using this route and that, as a result, the path is now watched by owlbears and worse predators. No large beasts seem to survive for long in the valley, however, and veteran foresters believe that peryton, wyverns, or even dragons must hunt there regularly. The overgrown and boulder-studded valley slopes conceal several half-finished, deserted owlbear lairs.
In Daggerdale, those who drink late by tavern fires sometimes share tales of weird dancing figures composed of "flying light" seen around the Old Tomb, and of adventuring bands devoured all at once by a dozen huge fanged heads that burst out the Tomb doors on long, scaled necks. One also hears the usual "fell witches summoning fiends" and "upright, floating rings of blue fire that disgorged a flood of beasts." Such tales cling to every ruin or strange wilderness site, and none of these have yet been proven.
Curiously, there's no documented lore concerning the Old Tomb. it appears in none of the records held by Candlekeep, the libraries of Cormyr and Sembia, or the Leaves of Learning, the temple of Oghma in Highmoon - or, for that matter, any temple of the Binder. Who built it, and who is buried there, are complete mysteries.
Mysteries and bewilderments to some, perhaps. Know ye that yon "Old Tomb" is but a mock burial-house built for a silver she-dragon, one Shattershree by name. It serves her as lair - or, rather, as a place of enterprise and entertainment. Therein she places written messages and items to be found as "treasure" to manipulate adventurers who come exploring. She lures them hither with rumors she spreads whilst in human form, in Zhentil Keep, Hillsfar, Cormyr, and Sembia. These adventurers aren't prey to her, merely dupes. She manipulates them into attacking certain business rivals in Sembia, exploring possible treasure sites in Anauroch and the Moonsea North, and looking for trouble in particular places. Shattershree invests the riches she gains in various Sembian companies and is very interested in matters of trade and wealth in that realm. If ye dabble in trade in Ordulin, ye might well have met her in one of her many guises. She favors appearing as pretty little ash-blonde female scribes of crisp manner, but I've seen her as male foresters, wheelwrights, and even farmhands.
Clanless dwarves out of the Storm Horns, led by one Hamhaerth "oldhand," built the false Tomb for Shattershree some eighty years ago, but they know that to say so might mean their doom. On a mountainside above the tomb is a ledge where Shattershree can lie in dragon form, to keep watch over her lure.
I've made something of a hobby, down the years, of looking over what she leaves there for adventurers to find. Here are some of her recent written missives, with my notations:
"When the usual sword-heads in Selgaunt start holding back grain, the price will soar. Last year the pirates waited until it was dearer than gold, then swooped in and snatched it all from the warehouses. This year it'll be upland warehouses in the Dales, or on their own country estates, guarded by the best sellswords coins can buy. They'll want to sell quick and quiet, not telling all the thieves in Sembia where the stuff's to be had, so they'll go to markets in Suzail and Tantras to whisper in the right ears. When big wagons start creaking up back roads, look within for the gold."
Such false goods shortages are practiced by all Sembian self-styled nobles and "deep-pocket" merchant cabals from time to time. Here the dragon is hoping adventurers will try to rob or otherwise harass Sembian trade-rivals if she points the way to them. Many Sembians will applaud anything that shatters such "dark trading" deeds.
"Rethgar, come with all haste. They hold the gold at the Teshford Arms all this month and want bones of dragons, wyverns, and undead - skulls get the best price, but even dust is accepted. Ask for Tethtan, but seek me first, as 'Hathla the Red.' Don't expect to recognize me."
Although wizards, Thayan traders in particular, do buy certain bones, this is designed to lure adventurers into attacking trade rivals of Shartershree, who take up seasonal residence in the Arms in Dagger Falls and pay prospectors handsomely for gems brought out of the mountains.
"Starag says the Gethlen band is to blame. Three chests of silver they buried under the westernmost Zhent guardpost in Yûlash. The gems they hid elsewhere, and this little deceit keeps them alive, for Lord raven's men dare not slaughter them until that hising place is found."
Know ye that "Lord Raven" is a notorious Sembian crime lord whose identity remains mysterious. I believe both Starag and the Gethlen band are fictitious.
"This blade belongs to Amalthus, heir of the family Roakhier, a decadent Sembian clan indeed. They've not seen Amalthus for a decade, since he began trading with drow out of Scornubel, and wouldn't recognize him if he greeted them in the street. Middling height, hair so dark brown as to be almost black, eyes much lighter brown, and he always wears cast brass full-face masks. So if you've a man in your band who can match this, he can be Amalthus forevermore. He must remember his father is Sandras, his mother Maetha, his two younger sisters Arnsalae and Shimra. His only friend among the servants was his man Tholt, now dead. The family arms is a black raven flying to the sinister with a big gold ring in its talons; the family estate is Stonepost House in the Flametree Hills, and the Roakhier manor in Saerloon is Sevenstars House on Blackpearls Lane. Only I know where Amalthus Roakhier's bones lie, and his father grows desperate for his return - not because he care two coppers for his son, but because a visible heir makes his own neck that much safer in dealings with shady folk."
"This blade" lies in the Tomb now. So far as I can learn without prying overmuch into the sordid lives of Sembians who have more coins than is good for them, all of this is true. It would amuse Shattershree to control a Sembian noble house, but she has no interest in the danger and boredom of impersonating the heir herself when she can get someone else to do it, befriend or seduce him, and then steer his deeds. I'd not expect a long lifespan for Sandras Roakhier, once his false heir "returns" to the fold.
"these should get you past the doorguards. Your tongue will have to work a way past any War Wizards. Nathra awaits those clever enough to reach her in the Red Helm Room. She needs non-mages to be her 'silent agents' in the Dales and around Hullack, and she pays well."
"These" refers to a helm, dagger, and ring of particular design, currently lying in the Tomb. Nathra is a War Wizard loyal to Alusair. She is trying to forge a small, undercover force of adventurers to spy on rebellious Cormyrean nobles and their dealings with Sembia. The Red Helm Room is in the easternmost wing of the Royal Court, on the second floor of the South Front, overlooking the Promenade (with the Low Garden, so named because of its uniformly knee-height plantings) rather than Vangerdahast's Tower, which faces the East Front. Nathra has an office in that chamber of red tapestries - and yes, it has huge tilting helms, painted red, flanking its doors. Some courtiers have very strange ideas of decor.
Shattershree is a whimsical, human-friendly dragon who loves to make wealth (but not necessarily keep it), influence events covertly, and manipulate folk. Nothing gives her greater pleasure than watching trade matters unfold as she's clandestinely caused them to do. She's neither malicious nor a lover of outright lies or law-breaking, but she seeks to punish or frustrate corruption in others and works against those who do ill while remaining technically within the law.
Shattershree has many friendships with humans, in a variety of guises. Sometimes she tests the loyalty of her human friends, or tries to learn more about their characters, by dealing with them in disguise. So far as she knows, thanks to her precautions, no human knows her true nature. In fact, Elminster, the Seven Sisters, and certain other Harpers know, but they try to avoid Shattershree since she is doing things they favor without their meddling, and contacting her might bring her to the attention of their foes. Shattershree has caches of treasure all over the western Dragonreach, from Tunland to Thar. She won't hesitate to spend her wealth to gain items or services she wants.
Shattershree: Female Mature Adult Silver Dragon (CR 17, 290 hp) with the following:
Skills: Alchemy 15, Intimidate 15, Appraise 25, Balance 15, Knowledge (arcana) 25, Bluff 25, Listen 30, Diplomacy 25, Search 30, Escape Artist 15, Scry 25, Spellcraft 30, Gather Information 25, Spot 30, Heal 15
Alertness, Quicken Spell-Like Ability, Improved Initiative, Quicken Spell, Silent Spell, Snatch, Still Spell
A Typical Shattershree Cache
The silver dragon keeps at least one treasure cache hidden in the vale that holds the Old Tomb. Elminster suspects it's in a spot she can see while lying in dragon form on her lookout ledge.
He's found some of her other caches. All had similar contents:
- A ring of various keys to coin vaults, and lock-coffers in those vaults, in Sembian merchant banks, and to warehouses Shattershree owns, mainly in Sembia.
- A hoop-top carry-chest with stout metal handles at both ends, and metal collars - tubes for carrying-poles to be thrust through - on both sides. It contains three drawstring canvas sacks containing 50 gp each, 1 sack of 50 sp, and 6 empty sacks. Not locked or labeled.
- A coffer (1 ft. X 2 ft. x 6 in.) locked with two padlocks and reinforced with an exterior iron "frame" binding, that contains a small cloth bag of 1d6 gems and two unlabeled potions, one of invisibility and one of cure serious wounds. A magic mouth on the coffer speaks when anyone but Shattershree touches it, saying in calm, cold female tones: "The curse is now upon you." (This is a bluff.)
The padlock keys are hidden nearby, not in the cache.