Elminster's Guide to the Realms
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #296)
Perhaps a mile in from the southern edge of the Moonwood, almost straight north from the Hunters' Gate of Silverymoon, is a tranquil green glade, long known to Harpers, wherein lies "Starfall Pool".
The pool has given its name to the entire glade - a name now famous throughout the Silver Marches because of the ballad also called "Starfall Pool." Composed by an unknown minstrel, this long lay sings of the glade's dryad and strange magics.
"Starfall Pool" has many verses, differing from minstrel to minstrel, but its refrain is widely known:
Though to stray so deep is the act of a fool
I regret no stride toward Starfall Pool
A sampling of verses follows:
There is a place in the deep green wood
Where the dryad Olsheirie dwells
Dancing where a keep once stood
Girt with magic of chiming bells.
Came I there by happy chance
And there I'll thither go again
To dream more dreams of fair romance
For by the pool/know no pain.
Trees old and green, dark and still
Ring 'round an oak as old as time
Fall down keep and rise up hill
Rest and hear the dryad rhyme.
Kindled by the dying embers
Of a fire that must not stay
Magic soars and then remembers
Warding me again away.
Back I'll go when lam able
Though long rides may lie between
Peace again upon my table
Lying on the moss so green.
Most versions of this ballad speak of the singer finding a refuge where he can rest deeply, in slumbers that seem to heal hurts and bring dreams of folk he doesn't know - half-elves and humans - wooing, laughing, and frolicking in the same glade where the singer rests. Some variants introduce dark, lurking magic around the pool that will snare the unwary, or a fell wizard who threatens the glade's continued existence, but the song is clearly meant to be of the "somewhere there's a fair and happy place, a refuge we can all take comfort in" sort.
There is indeed a Starfall Pool, a placid pond of drinkable water that lies in a small glade in the Moonwood. It was named for how many reflected stars it mirrors by night, and it is surprisingly small; it by no means dominates the glade.
What does dominate the glade is a huge oak tree, and a dryad does dwell therein - though her name is not "Olsheirie." She'll answer to Olsheirie, but if she doesn't like the look of the intruders, she'll hide in her oak and not show herself.
What Meets the Eye
Despite the ballad's theme of returning to the peaceful glade again and again, no trail leads to Starfall Pool; the only folk to regularly visit it are Harpers, and they take care to approach by slightly different routes each time.
The forest around the glade is typical of cold, damp northern Sword Coast forests. Dawn and dusk mists are common, and the trees are a mix of evergreens competing with gnarled oaks and many young, soaring duskwoods and maples.
The glade of Starfall Pool is surprisingly small, but it's hard to miss if one draws near by daylight because the forest floor in the area isn't rugged enough to block vision for any great distance, and sunlight striking down into the glade illuminates it in a shaft of light.
Save when snow buries everything, the glade is floored in ferns, lush green moss, and grass - everything looks green and growing. The gnarled old oak standing at its center towers over both the clearing and the surrounding forest. Just visible in the grass and ferns near the base of the oak is a curving line of old, massive, largely overgrown stones: part of the ring-shaped foundation of a fallen and largely vanished castle tower, Northwind Keep.
The pool is small and placid, though thankfully free of the floating weed and scum that cloak many standing waters in warmer climes. Its banks are covered in moss, it has a population of trilling frogs, and its water is cool, clear, and drinkable. Visitors expecting natural beauty won't be disappointed; as the ballad claims, Starfall Pool is a pleasant spot to lounge or sleep beside, but those expecting something large and grand are apt to be downcast.
There is something striking to be seen in the glade, though: a floating shield.
The Floating Shield
Many folk have tried to seize this handsome large shield - only to discover that it's an illusion: All attempts to grasp the shield simply pass through it. The shield always floats upright, usually about 7 feet off the ground, but it can be encountered anywhere in the glade, even above the pool. What causes it to move about isn't known; some visitors report seeing it drift silently from one spot to another, and others say it "winked out" in one spot, and then shortly thereafter "blinked into being" elsewhere - but there's general agreement that it doesn't move often. As for the dryad of the glade, the Harper Horthil of Elturel put it best: "She ignores the shield, and it ignores her." Olsheirie won't talk about the floating shield; if pressed about it, she'll say firmly that she doesn't know anything about it beyond the fact that it has "always been here" (for as long as she can remember).
Although reports suggest that the details of its appearance have varied over time, the floating shield has in recent years looked the same to all visitors. Painted on the front of the floating shield is a strange but distinctive rune or heraldic device, its meaning now lost. Some have described it as "a crowned fishhook," but its grand complexity makes it clear that it was intended to be no such thing.
Nearly every tale of Starfall Pool advances a different reason for the existence of the shield, including:
- It's the last remnant of an old warding spell.
- It marks a tomb.
- It marks where a great cache of magical arms lies hidden that works only to those who say the right words.
- The ghost of a man was forced into the shield by an evil sorcerer, and so it lingers, hoping for deliverance.
- It mirrors the movements of a real shield, preserved and animated by magic, that floats in a cavern somewhere underground and nearby.
Some three hundred to four hundred years ago, a simple tower stood here - built by humans as a lookout and defensive shelter against orcs - a refuge in which a magic portal could be hidden to allow surprise forays of armed men into the Moonwood.
Some say the portal still exists - invisible, operating whenever anything living passes through it, and floating some twenty, thirty, or forty feet above the ring of foundation stones. As usual, tales disagree on where the other end of the portal is, and if it's safe to use or not.
What is certain is that the majority of the stones of the keep are now missing, blown to dust or carried off elsewhere. What remains of the ruins today are several dozen scattered stones little larger than a human fist, a stone-lined cellar, and a foundation ring with many gaps in it. The sixteen surviving foundation stones average about the size of a large strongchest.
The cellar is a square-sided hole 4 feet deep and 6 feet on a side, lined with small but close-fitted stones; if a visitor gathers fallen saplings and boughs and spreads a cloak over them, the cellar can be temporarily roofed to provide rough shelter and a measure of concealment. Tavern talk insists that a coffer full of gold coins was once found behind a loose stone in the walls of this cellar. True or not, that belief has caused every last stone of the cellar to be dug aside scores of times, to yield nothing more exciting than dirt. Folk in the North say magic or ghosts must rebuild the cellar - for shortly after every demolition, it's back to its intact state.
The Dancing Dryad
Olsheirie is a dryad no different than others. Over the years she's become quite friendly with many of the Harpers who visit the glade, and she emerges to speak with them (for she's always hungry for news of events large and small in the wider world) and dance - even when they have guests with them who are first-time visitors to Starfall Pool.
Olsheirie watches over folk sleeping in the glade, observing them and their gear closely if they're strangers, and arousing them if possibly hostile creatures approach if they are her friends.
To Harp by the Pool
Harpers use Starfall Pool as a meeting-place, a message-drop, and something of a refuge, trusting in their friend Olsheirie to watch over them as they sleep. They clean up the glade as she directs and bring druids to aid her if intruders have done her or her oak more lasting damage. Olsheirie keeps a gift from the Harpers, a magic item that allows her to cast a sending spell at will.
The Northwind Keep portal does still exist, and although the Harpers say its use is dangerous, a silent step through the portal transports the user to a certain room of an old Harper-owned stone house in the oldest part of Silverymoon.
Harpers arriving in haste to answer the dryad's sending emerge 30 feet above ground and fall to the ground unless Olsheirie has time to rig up a tripod of lashed-together poles that she keeps high in the limbs of her oak tree. She's become quite adept at throwing it down so that its legs splay out and it's "set up" with one heave.
The Harpers rebuild the cellar every time a treasure-seeker tears it apart. I know not all of the portal's destinations, beyond the fact that one of them is atop the Stone bridge and another is a bare hilltop not far north of Secomber.
I can say the Olsherie has more magics under that oak than she needs to defend herself against anything short of a large band of marauding orcs (or adventurers) - and that Harpers who find themselves facing such troubles won't hesitate to call upon me.
As to the puzzle of the floating shield, let me share this much: The apparition does mirror the movements of a real shield that floats in a cavern somewhere nearby, and other magic weapons are in that same cavern. A few beings - and no, I'm not going to reveal who they are - can, with the right words, call forth magical discharges from those cached weapons to erupt out of the illusory shield in the glade at foes they designate. There's no way to floating shield to leave the glade nor any way to trace the location of the cavern through the illusory shield.
Lastly, there is a portal hidden in the pool itself, operated by immersed beings uttering the correct words, but it has nothing to do with the cavern of weapons, and it leads somewhere else entirely. Where? Let's just say more than one dragon waits at the other end. I do hope those emboldened by these words will wind up their worldly affairs tidily ere rushing off the Starfall Pool.