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Why I Sent Shandril Where in Faerun

By Ed Greenwood

The first novel in the saga of Shandril Shessair, Spellfire, ends with the maid of Highmoon (accompanied by her husband Narm Tamaraith, and her sometime adventuring companion in the Company of the Bright Spear, the dwarf Delg Ironstar), traversing the Thunder Gap, which is a pass through the Thunder Peaks mountain range. Our three heroes head west through the pass, from the independent, forest-girt farm settlements of the Dales into the mighty kingdom of Cormyr*, which is famous for its Purple Dragon warriors, knights, watchful War Wizards, fractious nobles, and strong Obarskyr ruling family.

Crown of Fire, the second Shandril novel, begins as our three heroes trudge down into Cormyr and reach the border village of Thundarlun. Shandril is fleeing Shadowdale, despite having come to love it in the brief time she's known it, because she can see that to stay there would bring the full fury of Zhentarim attack after Zhentarim attack (armies of pillaging and slaying warriors, not merely wizards) down on it. She would have been trapped and slain there -- probably after watching all of her newfound friends and the beautiful dale be destroyed around her. She also would have felt the guilt of knowing many people died because of her presence or knowing that they were blasted or butchered while directly defending her.

Shandril also has other reasons for leaving Shadowdale despite not wanting to do so. Even if somehow everyone who was trying to get her spellfire forgot about both it and her, and even if she was free to stay in Shadowdale as long as she wanted, she couldn't make her own decisions, see Faerûn, and taste adventure. (Adventure is the very reason she first left the safety of the inn where she'd grown up in Highmoon.) She would also not be free (at least, her idea of free, which means she would be free of ever-present scrutiny and instruction) to act as a Harper agent or take guidance from the High Lady Alustriel of distant Silverymoon. She sees the latter as vital to understanding her spellfire and achieving lasting happiness.

Shandril wants to return to Shadowdale someday, but for now, and for all of these reasons, she must run.

So, these are Shandril's reasons to be on the move. In many fantasy trilogies, the middle book becomes the "everybody travels everywhere but nothing gets resolved" book. (Consider some of the fantasy trilogies you've read; isn't that so?) Crown of Fire doesn't quite fit that mold, but it certainly has its share of travel. So, apart from a writer's desires to have interesting and colorful hardships befall characters and to show that life in fantasy stories can be as trouble-prone and decision-laden as real life, why did I send Shandril off across Faerûn? And why did I send her to the specific places she visits in Crown of Fire?

Well, first of all, I must be bluntly honest and say that I've always had a not-so-secret agenda of trying to show and nudge others into showing (in novels and short stories and game adventures and hopefully in television someday soon, too) how broad and vast and rich and varied Faerûn is. It's a big world out there, with lots of different settings to peer at and use and enjoy! Look, over there -- past the roaring dragons and toppling castle towers! Isn't the scenery wonderful?

Ahem. So, Shandril sets off into Cormyr, and she has her own good reasons for wanting to avoid "civilization." (Civilization is where Zhent agents and the soldiery and War Wizards and nobles of Cormyr might all want to capture or slay her -- and where fights with and for her bring death and chaos to everyone around her, as she sees all too vividly in Thundarlun.) This leads her into running around settled Cormyr, through the dark and wild Hullack Forest, and toward the Stonelands. She intends to skirt "Cormyr proper" and hide in the wilderness as she makes the long trek around the Great Desert Anauroch to the Sword Coast North -- to Silverymoon.

This, in turn, lets me show readers the fat, gruff, rollicking, and hearty old Harper Mirt, a ghost he loves in the ruins of Tethgard, and (via Mirt and Baergasra) something of how the Harpers operate. (This is something Shandril also needs to see so that she can strengthen -- or quench -- her desire to become a Harper.) It also allows me to bring onstage a palisaded countryside inn called The Wanton Wyvern, which is typical of many such found in temperate wooded areas across Faerûn and so useful to gamers and writers alike in picturing wayside inns. I also give readers a brief glimpse of the tortured Stonelands: a rocky wilderness of knife-edge ridges, breakneck ravines, and scrub woodlands, where monsters rule and Cormyr's writ has never extended beyond the points of drawn swords. It's great adventuring country, a natural barrier to Cormyrean expansion, and a haven for outlaws, monsters, and the Zhentarim -- and the reason the Zhentarim desire to forge a shorter, more direct caravan route across the inhospitable desert! (This goal is something that governed Zhent activities for years, and it underlies Forgotten Realms novels by other writers.) Specifically, we visit a rallying point in the Stonelands: the distinctive stone needle of Irondrake Rock.

Shandril's spellfire and the wilderness setting also allow me to have some fun, such as pitting Elminster and Storm Silverhand in an eyeball-to-eyeball battle against Manshoon of the Zhentarim and a trio of beholders. We also get to meet a different sort of local ruler: Tessaril Winter, the Lady Lord of Eveningstar. The village of Eveningstar was the first adventuring ground of the fledgling Knights of Myth Drannor years before Shandril dared to leave the inn in Highmoon, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to show readers Tessaril and one of the secrets she guards: the odd, sinister, whimsical, magical, other-dimensional, mysterious, ever-changing labyrinth of the Hidden House. As for Tessaril's other big secret -- well, a lot of people know it, and you will, too, when you read Hand of Fire, the third Shandril book. Let's just say it involves a king.

Now, back to this book, Crown of Fire. The events at Irondrake (What? Read the book and find out!) make Shandril forget her desire to run, and, in her fury, she resolves to turn and take the battle back to the Zhentarim.

Lest you think I'm some sort of happy tour guide for the Forgotten Realms, I should point out five things:

1. Zhentil Keep is not a nice place. It's full of hostile beholders, for one thing.

2. Zhentil Keep has some citizens known as "pleasure queens," and you (and Shandril) get to meet two of them.

3. Traveling anywhere can be noisy, irritating, and sometimes very funny when you're accompanied by Mirt, the Old Wolf, who seems to know almost everybody and have a talent for getting into trouble every few minutes. He's somewhat like an older, fatter Torm. I once wrote a Mirt tale for Dragon Magazine, but that's another story -- though he does feature, for a few moments, in both Elminster in Hell and in Hand of Fire (the third Shandril book, which also features -- well, I'll tell you more at some later time, okay?).

4. I took some measure of glee in showing readers the dripping, noisome sewers under Zhentil Keep. Picture something akin to an endless underground parking garage filled almost to the roof with water and what you find under an outhouse. Everyone has little "back doors" or flush-chutes that lead to the sewers so that they can rid themselves smelly garbage, and some citizens (smugglers, for instance) are even crazy enough to have little boats or rafts to travel around down there. Some people (visiting Harpers like Mirt, for instance) are even crazier: they go wading and swimming in these sewers. Boy, that image should make you want to rush out and read Crown of Fire all by itself! But it gets better! Remember a time when, as a kid, you got very dirty or muddy? Remember getting cleaned up afterwards? Well, what if you could do it (as Mirt and some other characters do) in a pristine mansion of gleaming floors and white fur carpets and . . . oh, I chuckle just remembering this scene. Why do I show you such things? Well, because I can, that's why!

5. Crown of Fire takes many looks at the human side of evil (usually the Zhentarim). We get to see a lot of not very nice people doing not very nice things. Now you'll know what a lot of villains say and do when they're not cackling with triumphant evil glee and menacing the heroes. I did have to cut the scene where Manshoon was making tea, though -- it wouldn't fit -- and I cut the scene I contrasted it with, where Mirt had run out of tea, so he boiled his socks in the kettle to give some cold, clear stream water a tint and taste . . . well, never mind.

I love writing these books. I hope it doesn't show.

Too much.

*Interested? Well, check out the older novels:

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