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How and where and when did the Forgotten Realms start? What's at the heart of Ed Greenwood's creation, and how does the Grand Master of the Realms use his own world when he runs D&D adventures for the players in his campaign? "Forging the Forgotten Realms" is a weekly feature wherein Ed answers all those questions and more.
Tales of lost treasures—chests of riches sunken in the holds of ships that have slipped beneath the waves, family heirlooms that can't be found when an elderly family member dies, the hidden hoards of dragons known to have died, buried pirate or bandit loot, and wealth that vanishes in a fire, siege, or time when a building is empty of those who dwell there, just to name a few popular themesabound in the Realms. Recounting them enlivens many an evening spent around a table or across a campfire, and inevitably the tales grow and change in retellings upon retellings.
Yet an unavoidable truth remains: A lot of riches have gotten lost over the centuries in the Realms, and presumably they await anyone who can find them.
Adventurers have a professional interest in such stories, and they need them to be as accurate as possible, both so that they go looking in the right places, and so they're aware of such little details as the presence and nature of deadly traps, guardian monsters, and magical curses that may well complicate treasure hunts.
Here, then, are a few examples Elminster and several other sages could be persuaded to share of lost treasures, using only accounts that are as truthful are possible.
The Wyvernguard Emeralds
In 1146 DR, a human collective, Wyvernguard Trading, was formed in Mirabar by dwarves anxious to get the best prices for gems mined in delves near that city, by trading through experienced and well-connected human merchants based in Waterdeep. The collective consisted of five prominent individuals, plus two noble patriarchs (the heads of the houses of Agundar and Kothont) as sponsors. The members of the collective personally netted twenty percent of the price of any gems they sold, so it was in their interest to sell stones as dearly as possible, using their connections to reach the wealthiest buyers. They did this with notable success for two seasons, in part because the collective began operations at the same time as certain Calishite buyers embarked on an ambitious program of buying as many large and fine gems as they could lay their hands on.
The collective was dissolved abruptly when three of the five merchant members vanished in a handful of days in Memnon, under mysterious circumstances; the shark-gnawed bones of two of the three were later found along the seashore nearby. The nobles involved in the collective accused each other of involvement in the murders, but what really happened was never learned. Nor were the over four thousand large, cut, and polished emeralds (average value of each stone: 5,000 gp) the three missing members had brought to Memnon for viewing by prospective Calishite buyers ever found.
The dwarves behind the collective spent considerable sums over a score of years hiring adventurers to poke and pry into the fortunes of both the two Waterdhavian noble houses and the known Calishite buyers who'd been approached, but the investigations met with no success. Nor has any trace of the stones reaching open markets anywhere in Faerun been detected—and the dwarves are convinced that they learned of the disappearances swiftly enough to make it unlikely that the bulk of the emeralds were shipped out of Memnon before their first investigators were present and searching.
In 1357 DR, the jaded and cynical elf trader who called herself Jonstal Moraeveren among humans—while posing as an aged male elf—died spectacularly when a balcony in Baldur's Gate broke off the building it had adorned for over a century and crashed to the street below. Moraeveren was crushed beneath it and died in an instant. Although the inevitable rumors raged that the balcony had not fallen by accident, no shred of evidence was ever found to suggest any foul play or conspiracy; local authorities all reached the conclusion that it was genuinely an unfortunate accident, and nothing more.
Moraeveren had come to the city with an overland caravan a few days earlier in her usual manner, escorting an ornate marble catafalque that hovered and flew by magic, controlled by a magical rod that was never absent from her person, and that was also shattered by the falling balcony. The large and beautiful floating coffin it controlled was known to bear all sorts of deadly-to-thieves protective magic, and it housed a succession of dead elves Moraeveren was escorting to secret family burial-crypts or groves, after the departed had been brought to still-living kin for certain rituals.
After Moraeveren's passing, rumors arose that the catafalque had never held elf corpses at all, but rather all manner of minor magic items and mundane currencies—and that the disguised elf female had been a seller of those items and a moneylender and moneychanger to a large and select clientele, mainly elf and half-elf, across the Heartlands and up and down the Sword Coast.
Moraeveren had taken the catafalque to "safe and secure" storage somewhere in the city upon her arrivalbut just where that hiding place was, no one has (publicly, at least) yet discovered. The catafalque is of white marble heavily veined with red, is the size of a slender but long caravan wagon, and hasn't been seen since the day of Moraeveren's death . . . though more than a few elf adventuring bands have quietly come to Baldur's Gate and searched the city, over the more than a century since the afternoon the balcony fell.
Many have heard the legends of the charismatic pretender to the Dragon Throne of Cormyr, who ultimately vanished when the armies of the Forest Kingdom came after him in earnest. Hundreds of conflicting tales insist he went into hiding and subsequently met this or that fate, from dwelling in "another world" to becoming a dragon or other long-lived monster, or embracing undeath, to lurk yet, awaiting a better chance to seize the crown of Cormyr. Few have heard the rumors that Gondegal ordered Sembian smiths to fashion for him a crown, a gilded and bejeweled suit of coat-of-plate armor, a scepter massy and sturdy enough to be used in battle as a mace, and a huge ornate belt (some say codpiece) of magnificent make, gaudily grand appearance, and overlarge size. Of those few folk, fewer still have believed them.
Until very recently, that is, when such a crown was sold by the widow of a smith who died in poverty—the embittered Dajalra Taethnar of Saerloon, who insisted that the rest of the regalia had been made and hidden somewhere in northern rural Sembia by her now-dead husband, in accordance with Gondegal's exacting instructions.
The pretender vanished before ever paying for the regalia, and the secret of where it lies hidden died with the smith, Emglar Taethnar. Dajalra recalls her husband once letting slip that the hiding place wasn't ideal "because the water kept seeping in," but more than that—beyond knowing that it took more than a full day's travel to reach the hidden cache, from Saerloon—she knows nothing.
The Doomhal Treasury
Among the many ill-fated trading costers that collapsed upon the death of their founders or when their insufficient capital ran out is Doomhal Trading. Based in Elturel, it was run by the brothers Athlan and Feldran Doomhal, former ox-breeders and butchers who acquired a wagonmaking business from a family heavily indebted to them, and briefly parlayed it into a flourishing Sword Coast shipping concern. Doomhal Trading operated among Amn, Waterdeep, Secomber, and Scornubel, specializing in swift, inexpensive "small amounts" runs.
The Doomhals were straight-dealing, hard-working, and muscular men who struck up a firm friendship with two shy young sisters gifted in the Art, Yalandra and Jesskra Faednarr, who gave the Doomhal wagons spellcasting-protection services in return for generous fees.
Doomhal Trading began operations in 1461 DR, but collapsed in 1469 DR when a rogue mage named Anthren "Lightning Lord" Anklaros ambushed Doomhal wagons on the road south of Scornubel with the assistance of hired adventuring bands. Both Athlan Doomhal and the sisters Faednarr perished in that battle, and Anklaros then went hunting the surviving brother, Feldran Doomhal. That hunt ended in a spectacular skirmish—and the deaths of both the wizard and Feldran.
Afterward, the widows of both Doomhal brothers went looking for the treasury of the coster, insisting (most folk believe correctly) that Athlan and Feldran were honest, careful men who had no hidden vices and undertook no wild sideline ventures, and that there should be liquid funds amounting to at least 70,000 gp—and most likely twice that or more—hidden somewhere (or in several places, in caches handy to all four settlements served by the coster) that these coins and tradebars could readily be accessed. This treasury has never been found.
These are just a few of the many, many real instances of considerable wealth gone missing that presumably hasn't been found and spent. Yet.
And so the excited talk under lanterns and around fires, late at night, continues . . .