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The Lay of Almarandby Geoff Gander
The Lay of Almarand is a narrative poem, almost 2,000 lines in length, composed in AC 810 by Tohm Galadin (AC 786 - 828), who is remembered among Darokinian bards as being the greatest sword singer in Almarand, and perhaps in the entire Streel Plains, in his day. Although not well known today, the Lay of Almarand was very popular during the 9th and early 10th centuries, and it was published numerous times by different publishing houses. The most commonly found edition is the version published by T. Lynnell & Sons in AC 909 - several copies are known to exist in museums, bardic conservatories, and private collections, and it is more than likely that reputable book sellers will have a copy or two for sale. The Lynnell edition is bound in red leather, measuring 8 inches wide and 10 inches tall, containing 135 pages. The title is stamped in gold along the book's spine. This edition is notable in that it contains numerous woodcuts depicting scenes described by the poem.
This epic poem is essentially the history of the Kingdom of Almarand, from its founding in AC 699 until AC 795. The opening verses describe Korlim Strellard, the Duke of Almaren, who declares his dominion's independence during the turmoil that followed the decline of the Darokin kings. Renaming his land Almarand, King Korlim pursues aggressive policies to preserve his kingdom as an oasis of stability. This early period is described as a glorious one, and King Korlim is portrayed as a decisive, insightful monarch. The king's death during a skirmish with bandits from the Streel Marches in AC 713 is described very evocatively.
The next section describes the creation of the Maiden of Ansimont, a statue of almost incomparable beauty that now rests in Darokin City. A strangely- garbed man, claiming to be a famous sculptor from the east, comes to the court of King Korlim II, offering to create for him a sculpture that would enchant all who viewed it, and protect the realm. The king, portrayed as being very greedy, and fearful of his neighbours, agrees, and the statue is carved. After the maiden is unveiled, the sculptor is captured by the king's guards, and left to die in the dungeons, taunted all the while by the king, who never intended to pay for the statue. The dying sculptor curses the king, promising him that his realm will fall should the statue ever be taken from Ansimont.
The third section describes the feats of Prince Lorennal, who is portrayed as a man more in the image of his grandfather. Eager to bring more glory to Almarand, Lorennal embarks on a quest to find the fabled ruins of Comaelle, a legendary Eraedan city of old that was lost centuries ago. After many trials, Lorennal and his companions find the city, and face many more perils as they seek its riches. Eventually, Lorennal finds a gem of incredible brilliance, but is forced to flee an evil sorceress, who kills his remaining companions. The prince escapes and makes his way back to Ansimont, presenting the gem to his father as a tribute. King Korlim II, overcome by the gem's beauty, gazes within its depths and is seized by fright, dying on the spot. Lorennal ascends the throne, claiming the gem for himself and naming it the Star of Comaelle.
The fourth section describes the long and glorious reign of King Lorennal, who, purportedly aided by the magical powers of the Star of Comaelle, is able to foretell his enemies' moves and observe events in their lands. Although Almarand prospers under his leadership, Lorennal becomes increasingly fearful of a vague menace, which he does not describe save for calling it a "foul treachery that spawned the Marches". Despite his lingering fear, the kingdom remains strong, and Ansimont becomes known as one of the "Jewels of the Streel River". In describing Lorennal's peaceful death, and the great tempest that ravaged Ansimont that night, the poem foreshadows the darker days to come.
"And at last he expired,
Dying as the setting Sun
Doth cast ribbons of light
Over a darkening Land.
Thus passed the Kingdom's summer,
Its rich blooms sadly mourned, yet fondly remembered.
And with Summer's passing
Come the storms, the chill winds,
And the pall of the long Winter that must come."
The fifth, and final, section of the poem describes the "fading summer of Almarand". Although King Lorennal II tries initially to maintain the successful policies of his father, it becomes clear that the political game has changed, and Darokin is ascendant once more. Although he averts disaster - likely due to the Star of Comaelle - Lorennal II is killed in battle only a few years into his reign, and a power struggle between his brother, Maragil, and his young son, Orrendol. Orrendol triumphs, forcing his uncle into exile, but he inherits a divided realm. Most evocative is the description of the Battle of Favaro, in which the doings of King Orrendol, and the exploits and heroic death of Jaenelle Lynnwith, sword singer of Daelbar, are detailed. The poem ends with a chronicle of the final years of the great campaign against Irum, which had become such a menace to its neighbours that several nations banded together to defeat it. Orrendol, still a relatively young king, played a decisive role, and was present at the final battle at Greenlee. The poem closes with a note of praise for the defeat of the Red Duke of Irum:
"Ne'er a Man so foul Hath a Blade so ill-omened bore, As the Man who was named the Red Duke, Praises be that his Realm Endures no more."
Although the Lay of Almarand is a fine work of poetry, its main value to players lies in the potential campaign hooks it contains, and the spellsong hidden within its pages. Tohm wrote this work with the intent to praise his nation and its rulers; but he had another motive entirely. While writing his poem, he came across people who had either witnessed the events he described, or who had heard accounts of them, passed down through the generations. Relatively few of these tales, which in some cases deviated considerably from the more popular accounts, were widely known, and Tohm realised that what he understood to be Almarand's history was not necessarily correct. He knew that a divergent account of the kingdom's history would not go over well, and could cause him problems.
Thus, in composing the Lay of Almarand, Tohm added new information to each section in the form of metaphor and eloquent writing, which would be passed over by all but the most critical, and educated, readers. Anyone familiar with Darokinian history will have a nagging thought that something does not seem right with a casual reading, but nothing more. To obtain the hidden information in each section, a thorough reading - taking 1d4 hours and requiring a quartered Intelligence check, or a halved Darokinian history check - is required. Extracting all of the hidden information will require five such checks. The additional pieces of information are as follows:
First section: During the battle that cost King Korlim I his life, his sword, Greatfang, was lost. The descriptive account of the battle will provide the reader with enough information to locate the blade's likely resting place - roughly 20 miles northeast of Ansimont. It is up to the DM to determine Greatfang's properties, but it should be a normal sword +2 or better, with at least one special ability.
Second section: The Maiden of Ansimont is fully described, allowing players to locate it in Darokin City, where it has rested since AC 910. It also provides the name of the artisan who carved it, allowing the PCs to track down his descendants, who now live in Wrasseldown. The crafter's magical technique, a gift of the faeries, remains in the family. This knowledge may lead the PCs to seek out the faery court, as well.
Third section: Some hints are provided as to the possible location of Comaelle, in the southwestern fringes of the Canolbarth Forest. Also contained are some indications of the creatures, most of which are undead, thought to inhabit the ruins. PCs using this information will have a reasonable chance of locating the ruins, at the DM's discretion. Also significant is the description of the Star of Comaelle, a powerful magic item that was lost in the years following the conquest of Almarand by Darokin in AC 914, and which is now believed to have never existed. The star is a very useful tool for divination, and it allows its possessor to wander the world of dreams - definitely an item worth seeking.
Fourth section: Tohm identifies the menace that stalked Lorennal as Lowetha, the former princess of Dirnath who caused that realm's downfall in AC 686 - an event that led to the creation of the Streel Marches. Widely believed to have died in the turmoil that followed, Lowetha wandered the region for many years before discovering the ruins of Comaelle, using her powers as a sorceress to dominate the local undead. She had been seeking the Star of Comaelle for her own purposes, and stalked Lorennal in his dreams for many years afterwards. It is up to the DM to decide whether Lowetha is still alive today; although she would certainly have the resources to prolong her life.
Fifth section: This section indicates that Prince Maragil lived out his exile in Daelbar, and his descendants may live in that region still, if they were not killed or driven forth when that kingdom fell to the orcs. It is entirely possible that Maragil's family might know other secrets of Almarand that the PCs would be interested in learning. This section also describes Winnower, the fearsome battle axe wielded by the Red Duke of Irum.
Bards who read this poem may also find the hidden spellsong, which has been divided among the sections, and whose musical score has been concealed within the illustrations. Tohm had heard of this spellsong during his travels, but had learned it after meeting the family of the artisan who crafted the Maiden of Ansimont.
The Maiden's Guard
Duration: 1d6 rounds, +1 round per level of caster
Effect: Summons 1d10 warrior spirits to protect the bard.
When sung within 20 feet of the Maiden of Ansimont, this spellsong summons 1d10 spirits of Eraedan warriors who died honourably, who will protect the bard so long as he or she remains within sight of the statue. While the spellsong is in effect, the spirits may be directed to attack any creature desired, so long as the target is within sight of the bard. In combat terms, the spirits should be treated as spectres, and may be turned by a cleric. No other spirits may be summoned until all of the existing warriors have been killed, or until the spellsong runs its course. Should the bard and the Maiden of Ansimont somehow be obstructed from being in view of each other - by a wall, the bard falling down a hole, etc. - the spellsong expires immediately.