"A little place called Hardrock"; or the story of how Hardrock came to be
Ankus Aralvan is a Moon Elf from the city of Evereska in the Western Heartlands. He was born in 1229 DR, three years before Archendale destroyed Sessrendale and imprisoned Lord Vraath. His parents were both household cooks, who spend their days concocting fine and delicious meals for the nobility of Evereska. Though they were not wealthy, it was a comfortable life and Ankus and his sister Areya always ate well.
The Aralvan family was of modest means, and they were unable to send both their children to school. Areya was the eldest, and the decision was made to give her an education. Ankus, a shy and tubby child, chose the easiest path open to him: to apprentice as a chef under his parents. Time passed and Ankus grew fat and happy; he did not begrudge his sister her life of discipline and study, even though she was more popular and had more contact with other children. He found a few friends of his own among the other apprentices, and would invite them around regularly to share in his delicious cooking.
Areya, on the other hand, made friends easily. In spite (or perhaps because) of her poor birth she made friends easily; other elf-children found her more easygoing, less haughty than the children of the nobility. One girl she became particularly close friends with – Emalia, granddaughter of one of the Hill Elders, the council of wise men and women who rule over Evereska.
Emalia was an exceptionally attractive, charismatic and ambitious young elf who hoped one day to become a priestess of Corellon Larethian. Needless to say the young Ankus fell hopelessly in love with her, though he lacked the confidence to act on his youthful crush. For many years he admired Emalia from afar, while always cooking his best meals when she came over, and trying to join Emalia and Areya in their games and conversation (he always found himself awkwardly out of place though, lacking the learning to contribute meaningfully to their conversations, or the confidence to play their games well).
Emalia was almost certainly aware of the young Ankus’s affections for her, but he came across as awkward, chubby and shy. She graciously accepted his food and compliments, but was careful not to offer him too much encouragement or discouragement lest he sour against her.
Eventually, tragedy struck: Emalia fell for another elf. Marolis was an elvish male of noble birth, several years her senior – though still a youth – studying to become a wizard. He was everything that Ankus was not; confident (some might say arrogant), handsome and impressively talented. He would tease and impress her with his prestidigations and other magics; she was enchanted, and the two quickly became a couple.
Now when Areya invited the two of them over it was almost unbearable for Ankus. Marolis would tease and play tricks on him, look down on him, and always get the better of him in games. For many years he lived a miserable and despairing existence, wishing there were some way he could be more impressive, give Marolis his comeuppance and win Emalia’s heart.
Now, in 1312 the Zhentarim seized the not-too-distant keep of Darkhold. After several weeks of consideration it was decided by the Hill Elders to expand the Evereskan Guard in response.
Normally Ankus would have little chance at joining as selection is highly competitive and positions with the Guard normally go to the children of nobles who have already received extensive grooming by their parents. Thus, when the call went out for volunteers Ankus was eager to sign up; to get away from his unbearable home life and to try and make a man of himself.
The Evereskan Guard is an elite military unit; one of the best of the best. Its forces are composed entirely of elves, most of whom join before they reach adulthood. The minimum term of service is 20 years, but many stay on for much longer; some senior soldiers have served for hundreds of years. Those who’ve served in the guard are highly respected by Evereskans and even other elves, as the Guard is something of a legend among elfkind.
The guard is strongly supported by wizards and clerics, having some of the best caster support of any military force in faerun. Its more conventional troops are trained as expert scouts, skirmishers and archers. Recruits undergo years of intensive training in swordplay, archery, horsemanship, fieldcraft, camouflage and concealment, tactics, first aid etc.
So for the next decade of his life Ankus spent most of his time outside the city training with the Guard. He grew lean, fit and more confident. His disposition hardened as he faced intense pressure from the other soldiers and his superiors to excel. It took a lot of determination and resolve to make it through basic training, but he made it in the end. Receiving the promotion to Junior Guardsman was one of the proudest days of his life.
His celebrations were short-lived, however. The Guard was eager to test him in the field, and his troop was soon deployed to scout the areas near Darkhold and keep an eye on Zhentarim movements in the area.
Several weeks passed with limited action; they helped fend off the occasional gnoll attack on a stray caravan, but mostly stayed out of trouble. Zhent patrols were fairly predictable and the Elves’ superior camouflage and concealment kept them safe.
Little did they know, shortly after their arrival the Zhentarim began randomly scrying the area near their keep as a security precaution. It took some time, but they were eventually detected and a force sent to capture them.
The commander was taken aback; never in his years of service had any been able to penetrate his masterful camouflage. In his haste he gave an order he would later regret; he ordered his men to attack.
Although the Zhents had originally intended to simply disarm and repatriate these elves in the hopes of avoiding a diplomatic incident, the elves’ unprovoked attack quickly dashed any hopes of a peaceful resolution. Ankus and some other elves managed to surrender, but the rest were butchered mercilessly. It was explained that because they had acted aggressively they would be taken as slaves, though one would be set free to report on their fate.
Upon hearing the news, Evereska hired adventurers to investigate the Zhent slave caravans and to attempt to free any elves that were being transported. Some were freed, but the Zhentarim soon realised what the elves were up to and kept the remaining prisoners rotting in Darkhold. Ankus worked as a cook.
Many, many years passed but the elves of Ereska never forgot about their prisoners. It was a matter of racial pride to discover their fate and rescue those they could. Some forty years after their original capture, as Ankus was just on the cusp of adulthood, the Zhentarim tried once more to move their elf slaves, in response to a surge in demand from the East. The elves would all be moved at once in a single, well-protected caravan.
Elvish scouts and spies quickly realised what was happening, and the Evereskan Guard made plans to fully mobilise and intercept the caravan, meeting the Zhentarim on the field. Detailed plans were made to ambush the convoy when it reached the Stonelands, and executed with expert precision. The Zhentarim were decisively routed and the slaves freed.
The army camped near the road that night to celebrate, and Ankus asked about his beloved Emalia. A soldier nodded enthusiastically: “Oh yes, she will soon come of age and be married to Marolis. The whole city is making preparations to celebrate their wedding. With luck we’ll make it back in time to partake!”
At that, Ankus got up without a word and left, walking through the night until he reached Tilverton (which had been seized by Cormyr several years previously). It seemed there was little left in his life worth living for. For weeks he drank himself into a stupor at the Wand and Bucket in Tilverton. He was eventually befriended by a human barmaid there, who helped him put his life back together. She convinced him to find some adventuring work and earn some money; to look to the future and the possibilities it held (she wants to open a tavern with him). After all, he was an expert scout and his talents were definitely in demand. In a few years of adventuring work, Ankus amasses a small fortune – only to lose it all, and his barmaid friend, in the goblin wars.
Starting again from scratch, Ankus is more cavalier – earning only enough to live on, and only working when he feels like it. Living in the moment, for the fun of it. He’s opened up a bit as a person and is still a regular in Tilverton’s taverns. He begins to realise that he likes people and people like him. He spends a few years living it up when one of his new friends tells him about the changes taking place near Silverton. “Hey, didn’t you want to open up a tavern ages ago? This might be your chance buddy!”
And so Ankus came to settle, and open up The Dead Dale Guesthouse in Silverton.