Trusting in Lore, Part One

By Ed Greenwood

The Legend of Tharnwood

Centuries ago, some bards and sages learned in the Art (magic) insist that the meddling wizard Elminster, he who stands among the Chosen of Mystra and now dwells in Shadowdale, briefly ruled a shining realm of female sorcerers hight Tharnwood.

Some say Tharnwood is lost and fallen -- and certainly it appears on no map today -- and others whisper that it's now hidden, cloaked from seeking eyes in a misty "otherwhere" through titanic spells spun by its folk, the Tharanna, female humans and half-elves who scheme to become the most powerful "hurlers of the Art" of all.

Some tales insist the Tharanna plot the founding of a new elven realm, and that Alustriel of Silverymoon works with them -- or even intends to reveal them, in time, as her loyal army to remake the League of the Silver Marches into a realm that kneels to her as Queen, much as distant Aglarond bends the knee to her sister the Simbul.

At MageFairs and late at night in secluded bowers during nobles' revels in fair Waterdeep, wizards -- and those bright-eyed with the hope or promise of becoming wizards -- trade muttered tales of lost or hidden Tharnwood.

And this is some of what they say . . .

A thousand years ago (or six hundred), somewhere in the wilderlands of the Sword Coast North, Elminster gathered to him (or seduced, or kidnapped and held captive until he commanded their love by spell laid upon spell) many beautiful young women.

These he reared and trained in magic, awakening their inherent mastery of sorcery (or gave them sorcerous powers by taking them as his wives and so infusing their bodies with the Sacred Fire of Mystra). Elminster did this for his own pleasure (or to forge a conquering mage-army, with which he struck down archmage after lone wizard, seizing their magic for his own), and when he tired of them (or was done with his conquering, and powerful enough to please Mystra and be accepted as her Chosen), he cast them off (or drained their lives and sorcery in cruel lovemaking, taking their vitality for his own so he still lives today, all these years later).

The place where Elminster dwelt with these (forty, sixty, or seventy) women was a great plateau in the upland forests, cloaked in an ancient tangle of trees in the same manner as the land all about, and the Old Mage -- not so old then, of course -- named it Tharnwood after the elf-prince he slew to seize it (a moon elf by the name of Tharan, who ruled the plateau as his own demesne of elves outcast from Evereska and other realms of the Fair Folk). Elminster slew all the elves with cunning spells and took their tree citadels for his own, girding his realm with many warding and concealing spells to impress Mystra into selecting him as her Chosen (or to keep all eyes from finding him, thus defending him from the reprisals of angry elves or the kin of the women he'd seized).

Tharnwood became no realm of roads, farm-fields, and stone towers, but remained a place of garden-glades, upper-bough gardens and nigh-unbroken trees, easily missed by eyes aloft -- and cloaked by magics so cunning and thickly woven as to confuse even great dragons into not noticing it.

So it was that the spurned Tharanna could readily hide after Elminster abandoned them. (Or after they were all destroyed, being melted entirely away as the cruel Elminster subsumed them. The Old Mage could keep his now-deserted realm hidden, as a place to hide treasure, captives, lorebooks -- and as a hidehold to run to when beset or wounded.)

Those who believe the Tharanna still exist debate their present powers and motives. Some say they shapeshift freely, or steal forth to mate with mortal men by night and so spawn swanmays, babes they abandon in human villages or switch for stillbirths where women give birth alone. Some say Tharanna can become as ghosts or wraiths, passing through locked doors and walking in shadows, and others that they can fly but are otherwise normal elves, half-elves, or humans.

All agree they are mighty in Art and cast arcane spells as sorcerers do, but sharp disagreements arise over whether they are friendly to elves (and support the founding of new elf realms) or to Alustriel and her dreams of a new realm of "Luruar" -- or not. Some even believe they covertly obey Elminster still and are the true secret of his power.

Read more about Tharnwood next week.

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