Small Presses of Waterdeep, Part Four

II: Titles of Note, Part Three

By Ed Greenwood

Our roster of notable chapbooks concludes:

The Dark Dragon

The Dark Dragon is a frankly lewd tome that is notorious for the vivid details of its largely plotless narrative, which concerns guests overcome with passions in the mysterious castle of the Dark Dragon.

Format: 36 pages, bound in black, with a leather binding-closed loop fashioned to look like a dragon's tail.

Typical Resale Price: 7 gp.

Sample Passage: And beneath her straining fingers -- and the blazing flame of his desire -- his tunic gave way, and. . . .

Nargeth's Roving Eye, and the Wonders It Witnessed

A bawdy tome more humorous and less torridly written than the notorious Dark Dragon, Nargeth's Roving Eye, and the Wonders It Witnessedconcerns many amorous goings-on seen by the arcane eye of the young wizard Nargeth, who seems to have an affinity for hiding in closets in grand mansions and castles and just watching life . . . er . . . unfold.

Format: 34 pages, bound in light buckskin, with a single, staring eye (with a smile just beneath it) embossed on the cover.

Typical Resale Price: 5 gp.

Sample Passage: Giggles and chuckles seemed to be at war with each other on the other side of that door. A passing guard cast a look of frowning envy at its closed darkness as Nargeth urgently sought to find a hole, no matter how small, that would permit his skulking orb to see into the bedchamber of the princess. . . .

The Rose of Neverwinter: Love Conquers Darkness

The most popular of dozens of well-loved feminine romances concerned with matters of the heart rather than of the flesh, The Rose of Neverwinter: Love Conquers Darkness is set in a city of Neverwinter that no inhabitant of the real one would recognize. (The fictional Neverwinter is a remote northern city of linked castles surrounded by a tamed "garden" wood, in an always-warm, always-fair-weather setting.) This long narrative is crammed onto the pages, and it has tiny margins and even tinier script. It follows the Rose, most beautiful of the "seventy lovelorn ladies of Neverwinter," as six rival princes from distant lands arrive one "wolf-howling night," and all set about seeking to conquer her heart.

Format: 36 pages, bound in maroon, with the full title stamped onto the cover in flowing script (the characters painted in silver).

Typical Resale Price: 4 gp.

Sample Passage: They drew off their gloves in unison, saluted each other with full finger-weaving courtesy, and then -- the darkly-glowering Prince Haundrath boldly, and the Rose slowly, the graceful advance of her hand daring yet reluctant -- touched just their fingertips together.

His skin was smooth, firm, and yet shockingly cold, and an icy thrill seemed to race through her. She felt at once chilled and warmed, as his eyes kindled into what could only be called a burst of flame, and the Rose felt heat to match the inferno of his two ardent orbs rising in her own breast and throat and face. Without thought she leaned forward, yearning to meet his warmth -- and was rocked with dashing cold once more when a cheerful voice said very suddenly from close behind her, "How now, you two? Overboldness before highsunfeast? Impetuous as chambermaids, what?"

It was Prince Murnlarreo, as mocking as ever, his stunningly handsome face wearing a smile that did not quite hide the pain lurking in his magnificent storm-gray eyes. Those eyes, those magnificent eyes!

As the Rose turned her head to gaze into his eyes, waving the once-more-glowering Haundrath away, she felt herself drawn helplessly into the welcoming depths of Murnlarreo's warmly regal orbs. . . .

The Mystery of The Black Spur

One oddity among chapbooks that never fails to ignite furious debate among collectors and sages alike is The Black Spur, a curiously stilted work of fiction purporting to recount the disputes, intrigues, and romances within the sprawling, luxurious household of a fictional noble family of Waterdeep. Many folk believe its prose conceals spell incantations, for those who know how to look for them, and this and other strange beliefs about the Spur have been fanned by the fact that every single copy of this chapbook is slightly different, with paragraphs or individual lines added, omitted, or altered. Certain wealthy collectors of the city (who've learned to remain anonymous since those who were more public suffered, one after another, robbery and murder) have for years tried to amass as many copies of the Spur as possible.

At least two thousand copies of the Spur were printed some twenty-four winters ago, by unknown presses acting for an anonymous author. Blackstaff Tower is known to hold more than a dozen copies, and all of the noble houses like to own at least a copy each (to hunt for what are said to be thinly veiled references to real nobles, not necessarily out of any interest in chasing down spells at all). One long-lasting rumor insists the spell hidden in the copies of the Spur is a "hanging" doom spell that will be unleashed to devastate Waterdeep if it is ever properly uttered. Still other whispers say it will set the Walking Statues to performing some unknown task, or cause the Castle to collapse down into Skullport, or force all living things up out Undermountain or the sewers into the city streets.

Production of Chapbooks

Resale prices of used chapbooks vary with demand, but the fees paid by printers to produce a book can be summarized thus:

Most printers pay an author a flat fee per tome (no royalties) of 6-12 gp (8-10 is the average), though the fee can be much higher for books "the public is demanding" such as tell-all tales from celebrities of the moment. Artists are usually paid 1 sp per illustration or 1 gp for all the illustrations needed for a book. (Many printers will recycle these woodcuts for several future tomes with no thought for paying the artist any more coin: once a woodcut is sold, it becomes the buyer's property.)

Newly printed chapbooks are usually sold to vendors (who can rarely add more than 2 or 3 gp to the price, lest they be undercut by another seller) at 2 to 4 gp a copy.

Waterdeep is home to literally hundreds of printers, but the best-known (and regarded) ones are Nanalo's (Nanalo Druen, north-front Keltarn Street, two doors east of the Street of Silver, Castle Ward) and The House of Sharp Quills (Speakers: Immarsk Tanthuulen and Blaela Murrowind; south-front Julthoon Street three doors west of Gothal Street). Generally, the respectable printers, and those with a lot of money, but also a few well-heeled rebels and mavericks, are located north of the Market ("upcastle") and the less respectable makers of lower-quality chapbooks are south of it, or "downcastle." The most notorious "print anything" business, Malikho's Maw, can be contacted only by asking doorguards of certain Dock Ward taverns to arrange clandestine meetings.

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