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Swordmage by Richard Baker is the first novel in the Blades of the Moonsea trilogy. It follows the story of Geran Hulmaster and his ghostwise halfling companion Hamil Alderheart as they return to Geran's home town to find things have changed more than expected.
And Aesperus, the King in Copper, rises from the dead once more to terrorize them all, and protect a secret beyond imagination.
Around 1445 DR, Geran Hulmaster was born into the ruling family of Hulburg, a small city on the northeastern shore of the Moonsea. Geran’s uncle, Grigor Hulmaster, was the Harmach (Lord) of Hulburg, and his closest friend growing up was Jarad Erstenwold. Geran and Jarad had numerous minor adventures in Hulburg and in the wilderness that surrounded the town, and they were often joined by Jarad’s younger sister, Mirya, and Geran’s cousin Kara Hulmaster. Over the years, Geran and Mirya became each other’s first loves, but Geran was anxious to explore other parts of the world and he broke Mirya’s heart when he left Hulburg at the age of twenty. Geran studied in the nearby city of Thentia, and he then traveled to train with the swordmasters in the port city of Procampur. Geran later joined an adventuring band called the Company of the Dragon Shield, and the group won a small fortune before they went their separate ways. Geran and his comrade Hamil Alderheart, a ghostwise halfling, bought owners’ shares of the Red Sail Coster, a small trading company in the port city of Tantras that bought and sold various cargoes in the Vast.
In 1473 DR, Geran left his position with the Red Sails and made his way to the elven city of Myth Drannor, where he studied sword magic under the tutelage of the sun elf bladesinger Daried Selsherryn. Geran became a skilled swordmage and earned himself a position in the service of Ilsevele Miritar, the ruler of Myth Drannor, and he even fell in love with the moon elf maiden Alliere. However, this all changed in 1477 DR, when Geran fought the moon elf mage Rhovann Disarnnyl, his rival for the love of Alliere, in a tournament between the defenders of Myth Drannor. The contest quickly escalated into a brutal duel that ended when Geran cut off Rhovann’s hand, which not only shocked and horrified him, but also lost him the love of Alliere and resulted in his banishment from the elven city. Haunted by his memories of Myth Drannor, Geran returned to his old position with the Red Sails in Tantras.
In 1479 DR, Geran, accompanied by Hamil, returned to Hulburg for the first time in ten years after learning that Jarad had been murdered. Unlike Geran, Jarad had remained in Hulburg for the previous decade, and he had become the captain of the Shieldsworn, the harmach’s guards. Jarad had served as the Shieldsworn’s leader until his death while investigating a series of crypt-breaking in the barrowfields outside of the town. Tomb-breaking was one of the most serious crimes in Hulburg due to Aesperus, also known as the King in Copper, a fearsome necromancer who had ruled over the northern Moonsea region hundreds of years earlier and was now a lich who commanded the undead of the barrowfields as his slaves.
When Geran returned to his birthplace, he quickly learned about the many considerable changes that had occurred in Hulburg since his departure. Several years earlier, Sergen Hulmaster, Kara’s ambitious stepbrother, had convinced Grigor to sell out trade concessions for logging and mining in the family’s lands, since demands were very high in the nearby Moonsea cities. The powerful House Veruna of Mulmaster, House Jannarsk of Phlan, and the other merchant companies that moved into Hulburg formed a Merchant Council, and Sergen was named the harmach’s representative on the new committee. Although Sergen acted like a loyal member of his adopted family, in truth he hated the Hulmasters and wanted vengeance for his father, Kamoth Kastelmar, a minor noble from the city of Hillsfar who had married Grigor’s sister but had been driven out of Hulburg years earlier after a failed attempt to seize power. With the ability to control all aspects of the trade concessions, the treacherous Sergen was the unofficial master of the Merchant Council and made himself massive amounts of wealth, while Grigor barely made any at all. Another result of the trading companies moving to Hulburg was that the population of the town significantly increased due to the large number of laborers and other foreign workers who had accompanied the merchants. The Merchant Council hired mercenaries to help police the town in the form of the Council Watch, but this new force, assisted by the soldiers of House Veruna, focused more on enforcing Council edicts and extorting native-born residents of Hulburg than maintaining justice and order. Since the Shieldsworn numbered only one hundred ninety warriors, they barely had enough troops to patrol the town’s borders and garrison the ancestral castle of the Hulmasters, Griffonwatch Keep. The weakened strength of the harmach’s guards resulted in them being replaced by the mercenaries when it came to enforcing law in Hulburg itself, and the Shieldsworn were only allowed to deal with serious crimes such as murder.
Geran viewed these changes as not truly in the best interests of the people of Hulburg, and he hated the idea that Sergen had allowed the foreign merchants to gain such significant power in the town. Geran soon made himself an enemy of the Merchant Council after a confrontation with three armsmen of House Veruna who were trying to extort and intimidate Mirya in the provisions store that she owned. This was the first time that Geran had seen Mirya in ten years, and he was surprised to discover that she had a young daughter named Selsha, but his old lover was still unmarried and she refused to speak of the father. Geran’s actions prompted Sergen and Darsi Veruna, the head of the House Veruna holdings in the town, to discuss the problems that the swordmage could cause in their secret plans for Hulburg, in which Sergen would soon be the new harmach and House Veruna would become the most powerful merchant company in the Moonsea. The two leaders decided that direct action against Geran would be too suspicious, but they agreed it would be in their best interest to spy on his movements, a task that was given to Darsi’s pet, the spectral panther Umbryl.
Meanwhile, in the moorlands of Thar, Kardhel Terov, a fellthane of the Warlock Knights of Vaasa, approached Mhurren, the warlord of the Bloody Skulls orc tribe. Terov offered Mhurren complete control over Thar in exchange for an oath of fealty and an agreement not to endanger cities that would be put under the fellthane’s protection. Terov wanted to have a protected trade route from Vaasa to the Moonsea, and he gained Mhurren the loyalty of several other Tharran tribes, including the ogres of the Skullsmashers and the hobgoblins of the Red Claws. Terov also provided Mhurren with arms and armaments, and he bolstered the orc leader’s army with ten Warlock Knights as well as a number of strong monsters from the high mountains, such as manticores and wyverns, that were under their control. With these powerful forces now under his command, Mhurren led them in an attack on the small mining town of Glister, the only settlement of humans and dwarves in Thar, which easily fell to his troops. After the conquest of Glister, Mhurren prepared his army to march south on Hulburg, but Terov had plans for the coastal town and ordered the orc warlord to only destroy it if the harmach refused to accede to demands of tribute.
Determined to uncover the mysteries surrounding the crypt-breaking and Jarad’s death, Geran and Hamil began to investigate the tombs that had been broken into and soon discovered clues incriminating the mercenaries of House Veruna. The pair also realized that the only burial mounds being entered were those belonging to priests of Lathander, the god of the dawn, and all of them seemed to have been built during the same time period several centuries earlier. After this discovery, Geran and Hamil traveled to the nearby Rosestone Abbey, home to a small group of monks dedicated to Amaunator, the god of the sun. Their leader, Initiate Mother Mara, revealed to the two companions that the Veruna mercenaries had to be looking for the Infiernadex, a book of dark spells and rites that had belonged to Aesperus before his downfall centuries earlier. Mara explained that since the priests of Lathander had been the chief agents of the necromancer’s defeat, the Infiernadex had been entombed with their leader, the High Morninglady Terlannis, and powerful wards had been placed over the book to guard it from evil individuals.
Following Mara’s instructions, Geran and Hamil located the tomb of Terlannis and retrieved the Infiernadex after overcoming the magical traps that protected it. Upon leaving the burial mound, the friends were ambushed by soldiers of House Veruna led by their captain, Anfel Urdinger, who demanded that the pair surrender the book. Geran and Hamil threatened to destroy the Infiernadex unless they were allowed to go free, but Aesperus then appeared and used his magic to reclaim the book. Aesperus declared that Darsi and House Veruna had upheld their end of the bargain by returning the Infiernadex to him, and he gave Urdinger an amulet that would allow the wielder to control the lich’s undead servants for a short time. After Aesperus departed, a vicious fight erupted between the two companions and the mercenaries. However, the Veruna armsmen significantly outnumbered Geran and Hamil, and it seemed that the pair’s deaths would be inevitable, until the arrival of Sarth Khul Riizar, a tiefling sorcerer who had been searching for the Infiernadex to study the arcane knowledge that it contained. With the unexpected assistance of Sarth, Geran and Hamil defeated many of the Veruna troops while Urdinger and the remainder fled. Angry that Geran and Hamil had allowed Aesperus to reclaim the Infiernadex, Sarth used his magic to depart from the tomb of Terlannis, leaving the two friends with a long journey back to Hulburg.
While that was occurring in the moorlands, an emissary party of Bloody Skull orcs arrived in Hulburg to demand that Grigor pay tribute to Mhurren. Grigor and the Harmach’s Council knew that Hulburg’s armed forces might not be able to defeat Mhurren’s army, but they refused to accept the outrageous demands and decided to stall for time in the hope that the chaotic tendencies of the Thar tribes would end the threat. Meanwhile, Sergen hired the Icehammer Company, a mercenary force that consisted of nearly two hundred fifty experienced human and dwarven soldiers, to be his own clandestine army. Sergen also had Umbryl secretly kill the orc emissaries and bring their heads to Bloodskull Keep in order to ignite a war between Thar and Hulburg. Sergen believed that the menace posed by Mhurren’s horde would be the perfect opportunity to implement his plan to kill the true Hulmasters. After Geran’s actions against House Veruna, Sergen and Darsi agreed that it was time to neutralize the threat that he had become, but instead of directly moving against him, they decided to provoke him into starting a fight with Veruna and the Merchant Council by harassing Mirya, who was the one person he would do anything to protect.
When Geran and Hamil returned to Hulburg a couple of days later, they reported all that had happened in the moorlands to Grigor, Sergen, and Kara, who had become a skilled ranger and was the interim leader of the Shieldsworn. Even with Sergen defending House Veruna and accusing Geran of lying, Grigor believed the swordmage’s story. However, the harmach could not directly act against the merchant company because of the laws of concession, which stated that all matters of justice pertaining to the companies be dealt with by the Merchant Council. Grigor ordered Sergen to bring these charges before the Council and have them impartially investigated, but Geran held no faith in his step-cousin and expected that he was allied with House Veruna. When Geran visited Mirya later that day, he discovered a group of Veruna armsmen threatening her and ransacking her store. After using his swordsmanship and magic to defeat and drive off the mercenaries, Geran faced Urdinger in single combat on the streets of Hulburg and killed the Veruna captain.
The next morning, Sergen approached Grigor to present a demand from House Veruna and the Merchant Council for Geran’s immediate arrest for murder, but the harmach refused to allow this because Urdinger’s death was the result of a fair duel. Wanting a force capable of defending the native-born townspeople from the foreign mercenaries, Geran decided to assemble the Spearmeet, the militia of Hulburg. While in the process of gathering the militia and its captains, Geran and Hamil were ambushed by the Icehammers, and the swordmage was arrested on Sergen’s orders. While Geran endured days of imprisonment in Council Hall, his family persistently tried to secure his release, but House Veruna and the Merchant Council refused, since they were determined to put Geran on trial, a right that they did not lawfully have. As the ruling powers of Hulburg continued to dispute over Geran, Hamil organized the militia, and armed groups of townspeople began patrolling the streets.
While hostility between the native-born Hulburgans and foreigners escalated, word from the outer watchtowers arrived in town warning of the approach of Mhurren and his monstrous army. Faced with such a serious threat, Grigor and the Harmach’s Council had nearly all of the experienced armed forces in Hulburg assembled into an army that could actually stand a chance of defeating Mhurren’s horde. Overall command of this combined force of Shieldsworn, Icehammers, and mercenaries hired by the merchant companies was given to Kara, who hastily led the army to meet the Thar tribes at a defensible position northwest of the town.
Meanwhile, Sergen prepared to soon enact his plan to become the new lord of Hulburg and made a bargain with Grigor in which Geran would face charges under the harmach’s law. In exchange, the Merchant Council agreed to allow the swordmage to be imprisoned in Griffonwatch Keep until a trial could be arranged, but a detachment of the Council Watch would remain in the castle to guard him. During a visit by Sergen shortly after being transported to the keep, Geran observed that his hated step-cousin was wearing the amulet Aesperus had given to Urdinger. Geran realized that Sergen planned on using its powers over the undead to destroy the Hulmaster family and become the new harmach. Determined to stop Sergen, Geran secretly contacted Hamil, and the halfling, with the aid of Mirya and Sarth, orchestrated his friend’s escape that night. Geran was surprised that Sarth was helping him gain his freedom, but he then learned that the tiefling felt guilty about being the one who had originally informed Darsi about the Infiernadex and that he wished to make amends by helping thwart Sergen’s plans. However, Sergen chose that moment to strike Griffonwatch Keep, and the four companions soon found themselves in a desperate fight against spectral wraiths.
At the same time that the undead were attacking Griffonwatch Keep, the nine hundred warriors who constituted the army of Hulburg confronted Mhurren and his horde, which numbered in the thousands. While Mhurren led his orc and ogre forces in a ferocious direct assault against the defensive position held by the humans and dwarves, the worg-riding hobgoblins of the Red Claws attacked the Hulburgan army’s vulnerable right flank. Faced with a relentless assault from two sides, the forces of Hulburg were pushed back, and the soldiers hired by the merchant companies soon broke and retreated from the field, only to be preyed on by the flying monsters controlled by the Vaasans. Realizing that the battle was lost, Kara ordered the battered Hulburgan army to withdraw while she personally led a small force of Shieldsworn cavalry against the Tharran warriors to cover the retreat. After successfully delaying the Tharran horde’s advance for the short time that the army of Hulburg needed to escape from the field, Kara and her surviving horsemen joined their comrades in retreating toward the town while Mhurren’s victorious forces closely pursued them.
As the wraiths massacred the servants, guards, and other inhabitants of Griffonwatch Keep, Geran and his friends fought their way through the castle to find Grigor and the other Hulmasters. After rescuing his family from the spectral warriors, Geran decided that their best option would be to escape through the small postern gate on the side of the keep. However, when the group reached the gate, they discovered that Sergen and a dozen Veruna mercenaries were waiting to ambush anyone attempting to escape from the castle. Geran, Hamil, and Sarth defeated or drove off the armsmen, but the halfling was seriously injured during the fight, and Sergen escaped after being wounded by Geran. With Sergen and his Veruna allies still a major threat to the Hulmasters, Geran and Grigor immediately ordered all of the Spearmeet companies to muster and be prepared for battle against the Merchant Council’s soldiers.
However, at that time, a messenger from Kara arrived and informed Grigor that the Bloody Skulls and their allies had overwhelmed the army of Hulburg and that Kara’s forces were retreating toward the town while fighting to slow the Tharran horde’s advance. Kara warned that Mhurren’s forces would reach Hulburg sometime before sunrise and recommended that all of the townspeople should seek refuge in any fortified buildings available. Instead of heeding Kara’s advice and allowing the town to be sacked, Grigor and the people of Hulburg decided to follow Geran’s suggestion of making a final stand against the Tharran army at Lendon’s Dike, the last defensible position between the approaching horde and the town itself.
Led by Geran and Grigor, a mostly untrained force of eight hundred militia members and other Hulburgan volunteers assembled at Lendon’s Dike. The makeshift army was soon joined by the six hundred exhausted soldiers who were all that remained of Kara’s forces after the long night of fighting. Even with all of the defenders of Hulburg combining their strength, they were still outnumbered by a margin of over two to one by Mhurren’s horde. The initial assault by the Tharran troops nearly shattered the Hulburgan army’s defensive line, but the attackers were eventually pushed back. As the Bloody Skulls and their allies prepared for a second strike, Sergen summoned skeletal soldiers to assail the forces loyal to the Hulmasters and murder his adopted family. Geran stopped Sergen and prevented the annihilation of the already battered army by stealing the magical amulet that his step-cousin was using to control the undead. Geran then used the gift from Aesperus to turn the skeletal warriors on Mhurren’s forces, but when the sun rose, the amulet crumbled and the undead disappeared, giving the Tharran horde another opportunity to attack the Hulburgans. His plans to seize power ruined, Sergen then retreated from the battle with all of the soldiers of House Veruna. Although the remaining defenders fought valiantly against the brutal onslaught of the Thar tribes, it seemed that they would be overrun until Mhurren was killed by Kara and Geran. The warlord’s death immediately caused his forces to retreat from the field, and the Tharran army swiftly fell apart as feuds for control began to erupt between the Bloody Skulls and their allies.
Due to House Veruna’s actions in dealing with Aesperus and abandoning the field during the battle at Lendon’s Dike, Grigor revoked the trading company’s concessions and banned them from Hulburg, a promulgation that the Merchant Council chose not to protest. As a result, Darsi and Sergen, along with the Veruna armsmen and all of the other members of the company, were forced to flee the town when it became obvious that they would be burned out of their fortified compound by a Hulburgan mob if they remained any longer. After recovering for a few weeks from the serious injuries he had sustained, Hamil returned to Tantras to organize the establishment of a Red Sails concession in Hulburg, as Grigor had promised the halfling’s company the best of the Veruna docks and storehouses. Since the forbidden Myth Drannor still called to Geran’s heart, the swordmage decided to remain in his birthplace for a time.
The relationship between Sergen and Darsi was severely damaged after House Veruna was forced to abandon its extensive investments and properties in Hulburg. Since the merchant company’s loss was due in large part to Sergen’s failure to seize power, the exiled Hulmaster decided to leave Mulmaster and move to the nearby city of Melvaunt. Soon after his arrival, Sergen was visited by Rhovann, who proposed that they work together to destroy their common enemy, Geran.
Swordmage was the first full fourth-edition Forgotten Realms novel.