The Border Kingdoms
This town has been (and remains) fiercely independent of the surrounding Barony of Blacksaddle. Often harried by brigands sweeping down out of the Shaar, it consists of many stone cottages and attached stonewalled orchards that climb the steep flanks of Beldargan"s Mount, a natural hill crowned by a tiny ring-fort and central stone keep. The keep, a single square tower bristling with catapults, is known as Beldarg"s Folly after its builder.
Beldarg was an ancient warrior with a bristling beard, tusk-like protruding teeth, big nose, and surly manner—all preserved in local children"s" jokes and tall tales, though his deeds and fate have been forgotten down the years. “Beldarg” has become the collective name of the inhabitants of Beldargan.
The conical, 300-foot-high Mount is home to over 450 of the 650 or so inhabitants of the town. It"s surrounded by an unfriendly ring of deliberately planted thorn hedge (taller than two men in most places), pierced in three places by gates (stone arches whose stone doors are fitted with drop-spikes that can be slid down into stone-lined pits to wedge the doors solidly open or shut). A miniature barbican fitted with arbalests (capable of transfixing several horses and their riders with one of their giant quarrels) stands just inside each gate, commanding a clear view through it and along the road leading to it. Forty households in town are forgiven all taxes in return for providing trained, fully-equipped armsmen to man the gates at all times, and defend the town when the war-horns are sounded (from the keep or by one of three senior patrol-leaders who have them).
Beldargan is seldom directly attacked these days, but its peace is almost certainly the result of its readiness for battle; in earlier times it was often raided several dozen times a year, and during many severe winters partially occupied by Shaarans.
Springs rise in the heart of the Mount (which is honeycombed by dungeons, cottage cellars, and natural caverns, in a crazy maze of damp underground ways leading into the Underdark) and cascade down its slopes in lovely little gardens of stone-lined plunge-pools and moss-planted spillways where townfolk rear edible fish (mostly blackfins) and snails. Beldarg bridge these waters with tiny arched, covered follies festooned with small crystals and shaped metal chimes that dangle over the tinkling waters to flash reflected sunlight or moonlight across their vestpocket-sized gardens. Many cottages are built into the hill, and seem to grow out of the heart of an endless garden; at dawn the hill is alive with birdsong.
The orchards of Beldargan grow large, sour green apples, used by the locals in the making of sauces, potent and fiery green wine, cider that"s “like liquid fire” (so saith a Sembian merchant, Mlaxlan Alderguth), and to fatten the shaggy-coated sheep Beldarg tend on the nearby Shaar and its downslopes. The local delicacy of Beldargan Groundworms and Snails in Pepper Butter sounds revolting, but is mouthwatering; the groundworms taste like roasted pecans.
Entrances and Exits
The Mount is a lone spire of beauty in otherwise rugged downslope country dominated by cairns, bramble clumps, and wary, well-armed shepherds—whose youngsters sit on the heights as sentinels. Turf-roofed dugout huts and stone fences with turn-and-turn-back-again entries (openings in field walls too narrow for livestock—or fat or bulky armored humans—to fit through, that open into narrow passages turning diagonally back into the wall, which then sharply double back again to reach the outer world) rather than gates are the usual local building style once away from the central hill and its ring of ponds and pleasant surrounding manors.
A typical exit from a field consists of walking past a jutting post and turning sharply to the left, into a passage perhaps five feet long, wheeling around another post to come diagonally back the way you came for about three feet, and then doubling back around a third post to parallel the same route once more, heading outbound around a last “windcutter” post. This sort of entrance cuts drafts and prevents animals from wandering; when farmers do want to get stock in and out, they use whips and cudgels for herd control, and “slide out the slabs.” These zigzag entries are made with stone posts erected in pairs to bracket upright stone slabs or slates: two strong men can raise these up and out of their “keeper” posts to reveal a much wider opening; locked or even warning spell-enchanted top-bars are often used to prevent unauthorized slab removal. There are many tales of hidden treasures behind loose stones—and waiting traps, both mechanical and magical—in the cozy confines of turn-and-turn-back-again passages.
The outlying farms, home to perhaps three hundred folk, are known as the Horn Meadows because horns typically signal the approach of any traveler, large animal, or band (though it’s rare to hear a local say more than “out Meadow way” or “somewhere in the Meadows”), and look to Beldargan for protection and supplies—and render taxes to its patrol-riders.
For the Visitor
Visitors seeking lodging are directed to the inn just east of the Mount, The Drowned Witch (Good/Moderate), which is named for an unfortunate sorceress who died in the communal pond some eighty years ago, when the enchanted flying broom she was riding was struck by the malicious magic of a rival, and dove down into the waters at great speed—a descent repeated in silent, phantom form on moonless nights of the year, Beldarg swear, whenever an elder citizen of the town is about to die).
The inn serves as the town tavern, a paddock for Beldarg mounts and draft animals and the wagons and beasts of visitors, and as a rooming-house for the many hireswords based in Beldargan when brigand raids are bad, or “grasping Blacksaddle grows belligerent,” as the proprietor, old Enderl Dalvin, puts it. He’s a male Chondathan human who stands almost seven feet tall when he straightens up fully (a rare occurrence), and is known as a deft axe-hurler. More than one headstone out by the pond marks the last bed of an orc or brigand who mistakenly thought the Witch lightly defended.
Many adventurers doing a little brigand-hunting or seeking the legendary Lost Mine of Hollowhill make Beldargan their base. A few have fallen in love with the town and retired to it, among them Alamar Skunder (a male Tethyrian human Cleric of Chauntea, a once-powerful priest whose holy magic and diplomacy remain strong even if he’s set aside all his influence in wider Faerûn), and at least one mage of note: Taranda of the Hooks (a female Calishite human, full name: Astarandra Yl Mahrauda). Taranda is named for the cruel battle-spells she devised that either haul foes into her reach, or stab and tear at their flesh. These days, she spends much time in quiet study and in sculpting windstone chimes, living off the riches she won adventuring (and coins earned by selling spell scrolls to visiting traders).
Beldargan is ruled by all town landowners, voting in council. In practice, policies are drafted, and support for them gathered, by Skunder after gaining the support of Dalvin. Several ambitious or independent-minded local merchants resent this “creeping control” of council interests and votes, and sometimes oppose Skunder more to stand against him than to refute his policies. Taranda often opposes him out of whim or “to take his nose down a bit,” but when she does support him, has the influence to sway Beldarg opinion enough to get any law passed. Government in Beldargan is light. In daily life, the patrol-riders keep order, dispense rough justice (there are prison cells in the Folly, and patrols often just beat thieves and ruffians, and then “ride them out of town”), and carry the sick to local shrines for healing and shelter.
The Lost Mine is said to be a linked series of eight or nine caverns whose walls glisten with sapphires—enough to make many large realms rich for a years. Discovered by Barask Hollowhill over three centuries ago, it was hidden by magic he hired, walled away behind rock and earthshifting magic so that it could only be entered through an invisible portal: a “Moon Door” open just on certain moonlit nights, and that can only be used by someone passing through a particular spot from a certain direction. This entrance is said to be somewhere very close to Beldargan, in the open country on the slopes of the Shaar—but just where the Door is, and when it"s open, are secrets lost when Barask disappeared.
Legend whispers that he died (or was murdered) in his mine, and now awaits would-be plunderers as its undead guardian. Some folk say the land has sunk or worn away since the Door was made, and it can only be found now by someone stepping off a ladder erected in the proper place. Taranda is reported to have dismissed this claim as a cruel local joke put about by someone who just wanted to watch armored adventurers step off ladders and crash to the ground repeatedly, for their own amusement. If someone has found the mine, they haven"t sold, shown around, or given away its gems in any great quantity, anywhere in western Faerun—at least, not yet.