Zirta And Beyond
The very first Realms short story—as opposed to just a Mirt story—has been given away in chapbook form (photocopied, folded, and stapled by me) and given away at a Milwaukee-era GenCon, with the full approval of TSR. We often tried to give fans some “neat little lore keepsake” at the annual GenCon conventions, “just because.”
It is entitled “One Comes, Unheralded, To Zirta,” and was later reprinted in The Best Of The Realms, Book II: The Stories of Ed Greenwood, a mass market paperback anthology published by Wizards of the Coast in 2005.
“Unheralded” features a meeting of Mirt; his adventuring companion (when they were both young and reckless teenagers) Durnan (a “thinking man’s Conan” in his youth, massively muscled yet agile, who when he and Mirt struck it rich promptly married his youthful sweetheart and settled down to run The Yawning Portal inn in the city of Waterdeep, which happens to be the “public” entrance to the notorious dungeon known as Undermountain—whereas Mirt kept right on adventuring, plunging in running his own mercenary company); the wizard Elminster; the Harper and Sister (that is, one of the silver-haired Seven Sisters who are Chosen and in one sense daughters of the goddess Mystra, though the story doesn’t say much about such things for the very good reason that I hadn’t thought them through, back then) Storm Silverhand; another of the Seven, Alustriel (she who later ruled Silverymoon and now heads the Silver Marches, and I came up with her name by adding feminine-seeming prefixes and suffixes to the word “lust” until I came up with something that looked and sounded sufficiently lovely to me); and Queen Filfaeril of Cormyr (bride of the famous Azoun IV, King of the Realm of the Purple Dragon for a long and golden age—and herself a formidable actress and swift-witted power behind the throne who is almost solely responsible for keeping Cormyr from falling entirely under the daily rule of the formidable wizard Vangerdahast).
“Unheralded” is rather static. As in, not much happens. I make no apologies for this; I was writing it for personal fun, bringing six important characters together and bouncing them off each other, just bringing them to life for me, not to make any other reader turn pages. In short, I was playing.
Before and after “Unheralded,” I wrote Mirt escapades, but “Unheralded” took Mirt inland for the first time—still to a port, but this was a river port, Zirta being the collective name of several south-bank settlements that later got swallowed up by the north-bank city of Scornubel, which is why you’ll look in vain for “Zirta” on the published Realms maps—and had him share center stage in my writings for the first time.
The original version of “Unheralded” was written in June 1965, but it included a “Mirt flees from merchants he’s swindled” series of breakneck chase scenes that just stopped, with Mirt’s pursuers vanishing into thin air without explanation, upon Mirt meeting Elminster (and the rest of the story the world has seen unfolding from there. So I went back to it in late 1967, took those scenes out to make into their own story, and the result was the version of “Unheralded” I handed to Jeff Grubb for GenCon handout use, all those years later.
After the initial version of Zirta, I wrote many other Mirt escapades, ghost stories and urban intrigue derring-do, then several “Mirt and Durnan adventuring” stories, both as mature men, teaming up “one last time”—that’s in quotes because we both know it never really is the last time, until one of the pair is dead “for good” (there’s a D&D® joke of long standing), and as teenagers seeking fortune. I also stepped back with my pen from Mirt for the first time, and explored the characters of the Seven, too.
And after Zirta, I wanted to know a lot more about this cool-sounding “noble knights” (Arthurian?) kingdom of Cormyr. And for that matter, about Scornubel and how it was serving as the more-lawless alternative to the larger, wealthier Waterdeep—which in turn meant I wanted to know, had to know, a lot more about this City of Splendors place, too!
And writing thoughts down about that, and about Harpers, spurred me to write “The Long Sword,” which was our first glimpse of the villainous Manshoon, arranging the death of his older and more capable brother, and starting on the road to founding the Zhentarim. And just who were the Zhentarim? An organization of evil mages working with monsters and priests, yes, but why? As in, why did they exist and why were they working together? Spreading their tentacles across the Realms—and why do that? “Evil” doesn’t equate with “empire building,” necessarily, so why were they going to all the trouble of traveling, getting the runs from unfamiliar food and having to deal with strangers in distant places that have different customs? Going wherever caravan merchants went? Hmmm, perhaps they were engaged in trade, just as the merchants were . . . oho, must think more on this!
And I was off, galloping madly in all directions at once (to paraphrase Leacock), exploring my fascinating new world.
The Realms was growing, spreading out from Mirt far more vigorously than as mere hazy horizons of far places that strange merchants hailed from.
The Realms was coming alive.
Image borrowed from “The Best Of The Realms, Book II: The Stories of Ed Greenwood” ©Wizards of the Coast