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An Incomplete History of River's Rest: Part IV

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The River's Rest Irregulars of the Third Elven War
The island of River's Rest virtually ignored the Second Elven War (4770-4772 M.E.). The war was largely fought in areas inaccessible by boat from River's Rest and therefore of no interest to the island's smugglers. A few radical elves and half-elves expressed some fervor for the Ta'Nalfein cause, but even they limited their involvement to placing stone crocks in the various River's Rest taverns to collect money for the aid of the widows and orphans of Nalfein warriors. It should be noted that there is no indication that the silver actually found its way east to Ta'Nalfein. For the most part the Second Elven War passed without much notice in River's Rest. Not so the Third Elven War.

At the outset of the Third Elven War in 4841 M.E. Duke Nyrmont of Kezmon Isle issued a call to arms. Because of the harmony that existed between River's Rest and Kezmon Isle following the krolvin invasion of 4790 the Duke invited the people of River's Rest to join him. Many of River's Rest's ruling families accepted, as did a surprising number of "river rats." When Nyrmont and Sir Hughrond (who was known throughout the Empire as the Golden Knight of Kezmon Isle) set forth to do battle against Ta'Faendryl two hundred and twenty young men and women from River's Rest accompanied them. Thirty were officers from the leading imperial families, the rest were foot soldiers from the island's alleyways and marshlands.

Initially Nyrmont assigned the River's Rest contingent to serve under Sir Hughrond. Hughrond, however, was distressed by the unwillingness -- or inability -- of the officers of the River's Rest corps to maintain what he considered suitable military discipline. For their part, the "river rats" were reluctant to serve under anybody arrogant enough to allow himself to be referred to as "the Golden Knight." Nyrmont quickly realized his mistake and formed the River's Rest unit into an irregular force of scouts and spies, utilizing the "river rat" skills as smugglers and outlaws.

The River's Rest Irregulars set up ambushes, raided behind enemy lines and gathered intelligence (and, whenever possible, lined their own pockets with loot). Because their missions kept them away from the main body of the army none of the Irregulars were present at The Breaking, the ignominious defeat of the Imperial Army by the demonic forces of Ta'Faendryl. Sir Hughrond and many other famous lords were slain, the Imperial Army collapsed in the face of the opposing demon forces, and the remnants of the army fled from the battlefield in panic. The army reorganized at the stronghold at Creyth. The River's Rest Irregulars were left to find their own way to Creyth. Fewer than half made it. The fortress soon found itself under siege by the armies of Ta'Faendryl.

Duke Nyrmont assumed command of the army and held a council meeting to determine the army's course of action. Many argued for a determined last stand even if it resulted in nothing more than a glorious death. Others contended the wisest action was an organized retreat to a fortress stronger than Creyth. The officers of the River's Rest Irregulars were among those in favor of making at stand at Creyth. When the "river rats" heard the course of action proposed by their leaders they began to gather their meager belongings in their packs in preparation for leaving. Their officers ordered the men arrested for mutiny and cowardice.

Nyrmont, observing the disturbance, asked what they were doing. "There's a time to play the fish and a time to cut bait," said the one the Irregulars. "And this fish is too big." Nyrmont said he'd have no men at his side who didn't want to be there. He ordered the men be allowed to leave Creyth. To the outrage of his troops, Nyrmont thanked them for their service and saw to it they had sufficient food for their journey. A few of the River's Rest Irregulars, moved by Nyrmont's nobility, elected to stay in Creyth. The majority of 'river rats,' however, were unmoved by accusations of cowardice and faithlessness. They slipped out of the fortress at Creyth and slowly made their way home. Not long thereafter the Duke and his army also abandoned the fortress, escaping in the night through tunnels that had been dug in preparation for such a retreat.

In later years Nyrmont made conflicting statements about the role of the River's Rest Irregulars. On some occasions he would commend them for the vital role they played behind the lines. At other times he would castigate them for abandoning the fortress, suggesting that had they stayed the Imperial Army might have fared better.

The once amiable relationship between River's Rest and Kezmon Isle never recovered. In 4873 M.E., of course, Kezmon Isle itself disappeared during a terrible storm. Nyrmont, a bitter old man by then, disappeared with his home.


The Necromancer Syssanis
The end of the fifth millennium and the beginning of the sixth was a prosperous time for River's Rest. The town had grown considerably, attracting craftsmen and artisans of all races. The edicts discriminating against non-humans were generally ignored so long as their enterprises did not interfere with those of the favored imperial families. The relative peace in that part of the empire increased commercial traffic...and the silver flowed into River's Rest.

The prosperity extended even to some of the "river rats". Smuggling, brigandage and river piracy continued to be their primary sources of income, but their criminality had become almost regulated. The ruling merchant families had established covert agreements with the "river rats" to insure their shipments were spared. Many old "river rat" families built grand homes and began to move in the social circles dominated by the loyal imperial households. It was a golden time in River's Rest and the town seemed destined to be restored to its former glory.

Then in 5006 M.E. a necromancer known only as Syssanis established himself in an old keep in Oteska's Marsh, a few leagues upriver from River's Rest. The marsh, named for the pirate who had used the fens and bayous as a hideout eight centuries earlier, was still commonly used by smugglers. They were understandably suspicious of this newcomer. However, once they determined Syssanis was no threat to their illicit activities they ignored him. A few of the more desperate "river rats" were even employed by Syssanis as servants.

Smuggling can be a dangerous occupation. When an occasional smuggler who worked out of Oteska's Marsh disappeared little notice was taken. Eventually the number of missing smugglers became suspicious. The "river rats" sent a deputation to Syssanis' Keep to inquire if he knew anything about the disappearances. The deputation never returned.

The pragmatic smugglers of River's Rest abandoned Oteska's Marsh and found other places to conduct their activities. Soon undead creatures and fell beasts were seen stalking the moonlit fens of Oteska's Marsh. Wild rumors of bestial experiments conducted by Syssanis were passed by his servants in the markets and taverns. The mutilated bodies of roltons and kobolds were found on the mainland.

By late 5007 whatever was stalking Oteska's Marsh moved into River's Rest. Several of the more disreputable "river rats" living in the Khan'kel Bazaar went missing. The alleyway taverns began barring their doors at night. "river rats" kept their lanterns burning all night, resulting in several accidental fires. The ruling families no longer allowed their children to play outside unattended and called them inside before dark. Ferrymen refused to operate their boats after sunset.

In the spring of 5008, despite all the precautions taken, a child and a beloved servant of one of the loyalist families disappeared. Most of the servant's bloodless body was later recovered. Frightened and angry merchant families used their political influence to get Count Glavedd, the Torren governor, to send a band of soldiers to investigate.

The County troops ventured into Oteska's Marsh to question Syssanis. Like the deputation of smugglers some months earlier, the troops were never seen again. Glavedd sent a second mission...larger and better armed. Led by "river rat" volunteers they went deep into the marsh looking for Syssanis' Keep. Unnaturally thick fog appeared, confounding even the most experienced guides. As the troops made their way through the marsh they were ambushed by a host of undead creatures and warriors. The County soldiers were quickly overwhelmed and panicked. Many became confused by the fog and fled directly into bogs and quicksand. The "river rats" managed to lead the survivors out of the marsh.

Glavedd sent reinforcements. On two more occasions squads of Torren soldiers entered Oteska's Marsh only to fall victim to either the minions of Syssanis or the marsh itself. The "river rats" refused to lead another expedition into Oteska's Marsh. The troops, aware they could never negotiate the mysterious marshes and fens alone, withdrew to River's Rest to formulate a plan.

When the Torren soldiers withdrew the depredations stopped. Strange creatures and fiendish beings continued to prowl Oteska's Marsh, but no more people went missing and no more bodies were found. The commander of the Torren troops was satisfied with that result. Count Glavedd was relieved as well; he had other matters to concern him. So long as Syssanis restricted himself to Oteska's Marsh, Glavedd was content to let him conduct his experiments without interference.

The ruling families of River's Rest were outraged. They had been loyal supporters of Glavedd and the Turamzzyrian Empire, and Glavedd had let them down. They would not feel entirely safe until Syssanis had been eliminated. No amount of argument or complaint, however, could persuade Glavedd to order his troops back into the marsh. The "river rats" simply chose to avoid Oteska's Marsh.

The events in Oteska's Marsh and Glavedd's decision had far-reaching effects, however. Merchants who had been using River's Rest as a convenient point to transfer goods between river boats and deep sea craft became nervous and began to use Fairport as their transfer point. Many of the island's ruling families, discouraged by Glavedd's lack of support and the falling economy, shifted their homes and businesses from River's Rest to Fairport. The gradual abandonment of River's Rest was accelerated by an influx of orcs and trolls, who saw Glavedd's inability to deal with Syssanis as a sign of weakness.

In 5014 M.E. an intoxicated "river rat" made a tavern wager that he could make his way to Syssanis' Keep and return. He won the bet. The keep was empty. Syssanis had disappeared. Some people believed he had simply moved away but most assumed he had died, possibly set upon by beasts of his own creation. A local folk legend suggests Syssanis made the fatal error of kidnaping two popular young lovers and using them in his experiments, after which he was murdered in his sleep by his servants. All that can be said with certainty is that by the late summer of 5014 Syssanis no longer inhabited Oteska's Marsh.


Cataclysm
With the revelation of Syssanis' disappearance the restoration of River's Rest as a consequential town might have revived. However, in 5018 M.E. an event took place which forever altered the future of the island. Small earth tremors were not uncommon in western Elanthia; major quakes, though, were exceedingly rare. The quake of 5018 was centered just east of the island of River's Rest. It is reported that the quake was felt as far away as Fairport and Waterford. The only significant damage, however, was in River's Rest.

Most of the town was leveled. The fine stone structures built by the merchant families collapsed and many were killed by falling debris. For the most part the "river rats" still lived in wooden buildings. Fewer were killed by their collapsing house, but many died in the resulting fires which raced through their neighborhoods (the quake struck in the late afternoon when the evening cooking fires were being lighted).

The most radical change, however, was in the Tempest River. The earth to the east of the island shifted dramatically in the quake, rising more than thirty feet high in some places. The Tempest Falls were born.

The falls, of course, had an immediate and profound impact on the economy of River's Rest. The island's primary commercial value was as a transfer station at which goods could be shifted between river boats and sea-going vessels. The newly-created Tempest Falls and rockslides upstream made commercial river travel to River's Rest unfeasible.

With their homes destroyed and their businesses ruined, the merchant families abandoned River's Rest, leaving it to the "river rats".


The Smuggling Wars
The Great Quake of 5018 M.E. and the birth of the Tempest Falls ruined River's Rest as a center of river piracy. The more dedicated river pirates simply relocated their activities farther upriver, closer to Waterford. Many, however, abandoned their traditional illicit occupation and took up another local favorite-smuggling.

River's Rest had been a haven for smugglers ever since the fall of the Citadel and the Kingdom of Elanith in 4058 M.E. To many "river rats" smuggling was considered an honorable craft and over the centuries a sort of hierarchy of smugglers had arisen. It was not as formalized as a guild, but certain informal rules existed and for the most part the smugglers abided by them. There are, after all, only a limited amount of goods to be smuggled. The informal arrangement between smugglers insured there was work for all with a minimum of antagonism.

The quake changed all that. The former river pirates, even if they were aware of the smugglers' traditions, did not feel bound by them. They felt free to engage in the smuggling of any product to any place at any time for any reasonable profit. The veteran smugglers attempted to stop them. So began what became known as the smuggling wars.

It was not war as it is commonly considered. For the most part it took place in the narrow alleyways and in the back rooms of taverns, in the warehouses along the docks, and in the marshes and fens. It consisted of furtive stabbings and assassinations, boats vandalized or set ablaze, barrels and crates of smuggled goods destroyed or stolen. The fighting was mean-spirited, savage, brutal and conducted entirely without any consideration of honor or dignity. Only one pitched battle took place, although it would be more accurately described as a drunken brawl. Nonetheless, it resulted in more than a dozen deaths.

In the end there were no clear winners, only survivors. Smuggling ceased to be a grand tradition and became just another common crime. The animosities sparked by the smuggling wars continue to this day.


River's Rest in the Modern Era
Following the devastation of the Great Quake and the debacle of Syssanis and Oteska's Marsh, the Counts of Torre tended to turn a blind eye toward River's Rest. They continued to collect the annual tribute to the Emperor and to periodically send troops to inspect the island and its environs, but for the most part they were content to let it quietly deteriorate.

This laissez-faire attitude has shifted somewhat with the discovery of a magical portal that links the south bank of the Tempest River with a small boat grounded near the town of Wehnimer's Landing far to the north. The origin of this portal is a topic rife with speculation. One popular theory is that the boat belonged to the necromancer Syssanis who wished to maintain a link with the area when he left Oteska's Marsh. A related school of thought agrees the boat belonged to Syssanis, but was used by his servants who fled the area after murdering him.

The portal has done much to rebuild the population of River's Rest. The town is gradually expanding. At present the town boasts a bank made of stone and a few small shops. In recent years the town has even established a rudimentary form of law enforcement.

The portal, however, is an important resource. It is unlikely it will be long ignored by Claybourne, the current Count of Torre, or by his masters in the Turamzzyrian Empire. The small island of River's Rest may once again become the focus of the attention of the great and the powerful.

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