Realms by Night: Part Two
The Phantom Milkmaid
Every ghost has a sad tale to tell, but figuring out how to communicate without getting attacked by them is always the hard part. What were the circumstances around their death, and what will it take to release their tortured spirit? Join designer Steven Schend as he reveals ghosts from Waterdeep, the City of Splendors.
by Steven E. Schend
Typical Location: North Ward/South Ward City Walls-North of the city beyond the Northgate or just east of the South Gate.
"She comes just over the rise and runs like her heels is on fire! I seen her `bout five times, all told, and every time she takes me by surprise and leaves me with a clammy sweat that comes from sharin' her terror. Now me and my mates on the Guard don't scare easy, but Mary-that's what we calls her-has this way of making you feel her, and it makes you feel that much worse as you can't help her at all. Whatever killed her catches up with her every time, and seeing Mary's never a good thing, no sir."
While the city guard have adopted this ghost and given her the name of Mary in attempts to comfort themselves slightly about her appearances, the Phantom Milkmaid has never been identified beyond the shadow of a doubt. A raven-haired woman in simple but rent peasant's garb, "Mary" seems terrified and exhausted, her every panicked effort on reaching the gates of the city alive. Every so often, she glances behind herself, screams in terror, and continues. Something invisible snags her tattered blue shawl and snatches it away, rending it into many rags, but the ghost continues. Once within 50 yards of the Northgate, she screams one last time, and here is where accounts vary: "Mary" either trips over something and stumbles forward or she seems to be attacked from behind by something unseen. In either case, where she would normally fall to the ground, she vanishes instead, and under particular circumstances.
Local lore suggests the Phantom Milkmaid is the ghost of Saaryl Vilantor, a maiden of Red Larch whose first visit to Waterdeep ended in tragedy. In the Year of the Wagon (1273 DR), she and her family attended Midsummer revels in Waterdeep. During the return trip to Red Larch, her family's wagon fell to brigands and she was slain within sight of the Northgate; many stories say the city guards on duty were drunk or merely asleep at their posts, but some hint that they were accomplices out to rob her rich father and they watched their comrades shoot arrows in her back. Regardless of her origins, she has never failed to manifest to warn of danger on the road. Many once believed the Phantom Milkmaid only appeared on nights of the full moon within 200 yards of one of the gates of Waterdeep, but others have reported seeing the ghost along the roadside, heading toward them for safety.
Only once did anyone interfere in the manifestation of the Phantom Milkmaid, and his example ended the attempts forever. A patrolling guard leaving the city spotted the ghost running toward him in terror, and he unknowingly spurred his horse in between "Mary" and her invisible pursuers. Three local ballads of the "Phantom Milkmaid and the Gallant Guard" (or related titles) describe the bloody end of the young man. Just as the ghost's cloak tore from her shoulders as normal, the guard's horse bucked in terror, and the horse, guard, and ghostly shawl were each torn into four gory quarters. Ever since this incident 85 winters ago, none have attempted to interrupt or aid the heartrending chase of the Phantom Milkmaid.
DM's Notes: While long just reacted to with chills and further vigilance on the gate and road before it, the Phantom Milkmaid's appearances coincide and signal attacks upon anyone traveling the roads within 10 miles of Waterdeep. Clues in the ghost's manifestation aid in interpreting the dangers.
If Mary only screams once, just as she is about to disappear, the attack has not yet happened and the guard swiftly mobilizes a patrol to head down the path from which the ghost came in search of the trouble. If travelers encounter "Mary" in this way, she warns of their potential death within the next four hours. If the ghost trips forward after her last scream, what she trips over is often significant, showing a hint of what was stolen or who was attacked. On the night of King Jaszur of Tethyr's death on the road from Waterdeep, "Mary" appeared, and that night, she had tripped over a phantom crown which lingered only a moment more in the moonlight before dissipating as she did. The number of rags her shawl is rent into tells how many were or may yet be killed on the road.
Realms by Night Archive