The Adventures of Volo
Lost Treasures Of Cormyr, Part 3 (Dragon #280)
By Ed Greenwood
Volothamp Geddarm at your service, gentles, setting forth truths of the Faerû before you like coins being hurled in a golden shower over the shoulder of a dwarf at work with his hammer, stamping coins out of soft gold. This day I write of another pair of lost treasure tales gleaned from the records of the great kingdom of Cormyr.
The Harp Of Healing
Debate still rages in scholarly Cormyrian circles as to whether the Forest Kingdom once either lost a great magic in the form of a harp that could heal those who touched it while it played by itself, or narrowly won freedom from a great evil.
(989 DR-1066 DR)
An always-laughing, stout-hearted hero of the knights of Cormyr, Aubleth was for some years the youngest member of King Arangor's elite Griffon Guard (an order of griffon-riding knights who acted as the eyes, envoys, and battle-commanders for the king). His lance later helped claim the life of Thauglor1, the last great dragon to hunt in Cormyr.
Aubleth was clean-shaven, wore his blond hair shoulder-long, was inclined to fat, and had amber-hued eyes. He was a close friend of Gardrath Roaringhorn; of the two, Aubleth was more the quick-tongued prankster and wit.
(984 DR-1019 DR)
A tall, thin knight of the Griffon Guard, Gardrath helped to slay the dragon Thauglor with his close friend Aubleth. He was very much a noble in behavior and sentiments, and he had raven-black hair and piercing blue eyes that darkened noticeably when he was angry or amorous.
Gardrath's valiant service raised his family (the clan was considered noble in Waterdeep2) to ennoblement in Cormyr. He's still remembered in Purple Dragon barracks lore for his brave death: When a fever put Gardrath on his deathbed in the harsh winter of 1019, he put on his best boots, took down his best sword, and went out to hunt wolves. He was found dead the next morning under the corpses of six of the beasts.
(996 DR-1059 DR)
A slender, sardonic blade of the court, Lareth befriended Halartan Wyvernspur when the latter arrived at court. When they went drinking together, Lareth's droll observations often had Halartan sputtering and snorting strong drink through his nose.
Lareth had ash-blond hair and a thin moustache, was debonair, and had a deft way with the ladies at court, often romancing several at the same time.
He ended his days happily married to an innkeeper's daughter of common birth, Roatha Ildraen, as the Seneschal of the now-vanished road-fort of Turnstone3.
(1008 DR-1082 DR)
The son of Lord Gerrin Wyvernspur, Aiken had dark brown hair and eyes, a slim build and short stature, and a quiet, loyal nature. A shrewd investor and builder, Aiken solidified the family fortunes by building homes and shops in Suzail.
The Harp That Played By Itself
At a roadside inn north of Suzail, not long after the slaying of the great dragon Thauglor, four men walking home from a night of revelry chanced upon a strange and eerie scene: In a glade just off the road, a radiance softer than firelight glowed. It proved to be coming from a floating harp whose strings were moving as if plucked by unseen hands. Diseased and maimed commoners were crawling or staggering from the trees up to it, touching it, and striding away seemingly cured. Suddenly vigorous and tall, they hurled aside crutches and shawls, laughed and shouted in joy, and ran off into the forest.
The four men on the road were all courtiers: Aubleth Crownsilver, Lareth Huntsilver, Gardrath Roaringhorn, and Aiken Wyvernspur. They were men not given to wild tales, nor were they unused to taking much drink.
The commoners seemed to melt out of the trees and run back into them, and this seemed suspicious to the four - as did the existence of the harp itself, unheard of and yet within an easy stroll of the walls of Suzail. The courtiers duty was clear: Such a magic had to be investigated and given into the custody of the crown. The four moved into the clearing and seized the harp - whereupon the commoners melted away like smoke, both the frail and the joyous, leaving the harp lightless and silent in their hands.
The four took the harp straight to the Royal Court and presented it to the war wizard on duty. In the days that followed, much magic was laid upon them and on the harp, trying to learn the truth about its origin and powers.
The conclusions were as follows: For unknown reasons, the harp would fall silent and remain so whenever any of the four men were within about six paces of it, but otherwise would glow, levitate to about chest-height (which was as they'd first seen it), and play tunes that no one in Suzail could identify.
Those who touched it spoke of warm feelings and the banishment of any pain from which they were suffering - but unlike the commoners seen by the four, injuries and afflictions did not pass from the bodies of such persons and their pains soon returned. One war wizard of the time, Thamaeler Mornalar, advanced his suspicions that the harp cast magics on the minds of those who touched it directly (that is, with their bare skin) while it was playing - magics that seemed to sleep but remain in their thoughts.
When spells were cast to cleanse and banish all magics from those who'd touched the harp, many of them reacted with momentary rage and brief but frenzied attacks on folk around them. The frenzy ceased as the magical cleansing took effect.
Aubleth Crownsilver hadn't been given to sleepwalking before the appearance of the harp, but on a night some months after he helped bring it to Suzail, he burst into the room where it was kept, striking senseless both a doorguard and a war wizard whilst in his sleep, and tried to tear the harp apart with his bare hands.
Wild harp music resounded throughout the Royal Court, carrying to impossible distance and arousing many. Guards and war wizards burst into the chamber to find a translucent apparition of a robed human woman-presumably a sorceress, of rather plain countenance but burning, intent eyes standing in the air above the harp. Lightning crackling from her hands seemed to be simultaneously reassembling the shattered harp and draining the life from the writhing Aubleth. When hastily hurled spells interrupted this process, the apparition glared at them, then vanished - with the harp. The woman wasn't seen again, but the harp appeared in many places around Cormyr all through that night, flashing into existence whilst playing loudly and vanishing as quickly. Its music aroused many who'd touched it on previous occasions to rise from their beds and attack others, go to saddle horses, walk purposefully to particular places, and so on. Affected people soon ceased performing their acts, and those so ensorceled had no knowledge of why they'd undertaken such actions or how they'd reached their present locations.
The wasted, withered Aubleth Crownsilver recovered his health completely, but he never remembered anything of his actions or any other events of that evening.
The Harp of Healing has, according to tavern and fireside tales, been seen from time to time around Cormyr ever since, though more recent sightings have been few and separated by decades or entire generations. Many folk say it's a sign of the favor of the gods towards Cormyr, a hope to the injured and afflicted of the realm.
Thamaeler held rather darker conclusions and insisted that his thoughts be recorded in both court records and the annals of the Brotherhood of Wizards of War. He felt that the harp was a device used by a powerful wizard or wizards unknown to bring the minds of many Cormyrians under their magical control for some future purpose probably hostile to the realm or at least to the rule of the Obarskyrs.
Some war wizards believe the sorceress was Thayan, still others that she serves an exiled noble family, the Cult of the Dragon, the Zhentarim, or a Sembian conspiracy; all such beliefs, it must be remembered, are sheer speculation.
Most common folk of Cormyr believe the Harp of Healing is a good thing that was sent by the gods and that the crown attempted to seize for itself - but which by the grace of the gods who sent it escaped, to wander Cormyr playing by itself.
To this day, pranksters, brigands, and rogues often play harps at night to try to draw folk into the forest. Such music brings war wizards and Purple Dragons alike to full and wary alertness. They are likely to deal less than gently with such harpists they apprehend.
The Blackstone Ghost
These same four friends were involved in another matter of lost treasure soon after finding the Harp of Healing: the haunted manor of Blackstone and its missing owners and wealth.
Blackstone stood on the west bank of the Starwater River atop a high, rocky ridge on the inside of the great curve where Starwater turns to rush down to the sea. The same ridge is visible today as an otherwise bare, sheep-grazed hill topped only by a Purple Dragon lookout tower. In those days, a thick wood cloaked the ridge, and Blackstone - today only a shrub-choked dell of tumbled stones, where the manor collapsed into its own cellars - rose like a black, many-fingered hand among them.
Blackstone was the seat of the Theresparin, a swiftly-rising family of weavers and landowners most known to their fellow Cormyrians for their large herds of sheep.
There came a day when the fussy, careful-over-details head of the house, Naronder Theresparin, failed to appear at a long-awaited meeting with court officials. Then other appointments were missed, and it dawned on authorities and neighbors that none of the Theresparin - or their servants - had been seen for some days.
Mindful of their experiences with the Harp (and its aftermath, wherein their eager cooperation surprised him), the king sent Aubleth Crownsilver, Lareth Huntsilver, Gardrath Roaringhorn, and Aiken Wyvernspur to investigate.
They found Blackstone utterly empty - stripped to the walls, with no sign of life. The only sign of death was a huge bloodstain, such as could only have been made by the shed life-blood of many humans or lesser numbers of larger creatures. This stain covered most of the floor of the grand, ornately-balconied feast hall.
The four courtiers explored Blackstone from top to bottom, even to its drains, cellars, and roofs (murderers in those days had begun to leave bodies on rooftops for carrion birds and the weather to dispose of), but found nothing more. Two of them stood guard while the other two fetched war wizards to try spell-searching the emptiness.
They, too, found nothing. The Theresparin, their servants, and all the furnishings and riches4 of their house - even to the horses and fodder in the stables - had disappeared, never to be seen again. To this day, no one knows what became of them, though for everyone but those who dwelt near, the tale soon faded into an oddity of the past.
Whispers about Blackstone being haunted were born of what befell the four courtiers after their first day of searching. They decided to remain in the house and sleep in watches, suspecting that brigands in the woods might have stripped the house - and just might return to search its walls for secret passages and the like, perhaps having tortured information out of captives as to the whereabouts of secret hiding places.
No brigands appeared, but the four courtiers did hear a tremulous woman's voice whispering nigh their ears. No visible person was speaking. Their blades passed through where such a person should have been. It said such things as, "Gone, all gone away," and, "Elven work, without a doubt."
Lareth Huntsilver alone heard another voice, male, this time, speaking dreamily or uncaringly: "The blood calls them down. There is no escaping them." and, much later, "Watch for the sword that turns into a pegasus. She who bears it can break the gates."
Who these ghostly speakers were, and what they meant, can only remain a matter of conjecture - for two nights after the four heard these voices (and a night after war wizards had scoured Blackstone as thoroughly as they knew how), the manor house burned like a torch despite being almost bare stones inside and out, blazing away with a blistering heat that almost melted its walls. Shortly before morning, it collapsed into the state in which it lies today - and in later years was reclaimed by the crown, who awaits the possible return of the vanished Theresparins.
1. In full, as dragons style such things, "Thauglorimorgorus, the Black Doom." As for Volo's foolish comment about the "last great dragon to hunt in Cormyr," know ye that such words are a beckoning horn-call to dragons everywhere to descend on the fair Forest Kingdom in fury, just to prove Volo wrong - as if such proof were needed.
2. This is true, though blood relations no longer seem - if they ever were - any measure of common cause, loyalty, looks or behavior. The Roaringhorns in both places are known for a certain lusty boldness, one might say; others have termed it "recklessness," "boorish impetuosity," and worse. Mind that ye do not confuse the Roaringhorns with the Rallyhorns; duels get started that way.
3. Turnstone, know ye, stood on the east side of Calantar's Way north of Immersea. Lareth made himself quite a fortune and reputation raising swift and beautiful horses there, and selling them to all who passed by - including me. He had three little daughters, rough-and-tumble spitfires as I recall; they pelted me with apples for run, so I enspelled three little spheres of water out of the horse pond - one to drench each tousled little blonde head. Collect such memories, mind ye, as ye go through life; that remembered moment is all that's left of those lasses now.
4. These were estimated by their scribe-of-accounts at the time to muster over 80,000 gold coins, plus several times that in gems and trade-bars, hidden or stored in a dozen places that he knew of.