The Black Mysteries, Part 1

By Ed Greenwood

As the trading tentacles of Thay spread across Faerûn, so do rumors and gossip about the Land of the Red Wizards. Some of the most energetic whisperings concern the Order of the Black Flame, since shopkeepers and crafters chilled by the sneering menace of the nearest haughty Red Wizard find it comforting to know there are folk even Red Wizards fear.

Some wealthy merchants raise thoughtful eyebrows upon hearing that this mysterious Order seems to go looking for faults in even the mightiest zulkirs -- but only when asked to do so by persons making substantial donations to the glory of Kossuth.

Wherefore the time has come to impart more than rumors about the Order of the Black Flame. The Unapproachable East sourcebook (pages 21 and 22) describes Black Flame zealots, and Faiths and Pantheons (pages 35-37) provides specifics of the worship of Kossuth the Firelord. Yet smaller details (garb, rituals, watchwords, and the like) remain matters of wild misinformation among the ignorant of Thay -- and of course, almost all folk who dwell in other lands.

Let it be said first that the belief that a member of the Order of the Black Flame must bear a black flame-shaped tattoo (or preferably a brand) somewhere on their bodies is just a pretty tale, not the truth. Some Black Flame zealots have chosen to have themselves so branded as a mark of piety, but by no means does the Order require it and neither do members make it a popular practice.

Order members are required to make every effort to have on their persons one of three things at all times: a kukri (the curved knife of the Order), or a flame-hued garment, or a means of making fire (such as a flint and a steel striker, a vial of flammable oil, tindertwig, alchemist's fire, or some of the alchemical substances known in eastern lands that ignite when mixed with each other).

The "flame-hued" garb usually serves as an undergarment, except during Order rituals of worship in temples or shrines, and the member need not display it openly to all eyes. Most often, it takes the form of a breechclout or sash of red or orange cloth, usually silk, of a vari-hued finish that can catch "highlights" from nearby radiances. During rituals, most Order members wear only a simple robe with wrist-length, flowing sleeves (put on over the head and lacking fastenings or a "front" that opens) of flame hue.

Members usually carry flammable oils and "firebirth" alchemicals (liquid oils, oily pastes, and powders) in small, ornate glass vials with metal screw-caps pierced so as to not allow air or water to reach their contents, but to allow a fine chain to pass through the cap so the vial can act as a pendant, or clipped to chains worn under clothing.

Red Wizards do not sell firebirth alchemicals, and they never admit or confirm their flame-producing qualities (for the clergy of Kossuth consider doing so as an affront to the Firelord; these clergy believe only they should be dispensing such substances, and all others who do so profane the holy gift of Kossuth). Thus, information about alchemicals is scanty, and supplies are hard to come by. The most often encountered alchemical pairing is thaebra and maeraede because they both have other, "cover" uses.

More about thaebra, maeraede, and other alchemicals follows in the next installment of this column.

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