|"Far be it for me to interfere," said the old man. Her heart sunk. She'd heard those words before, and they only meant one thing. He was going to interfere, as usual, and launch into a long and meandering monologue to explain why she was doing it all wrong.
"Uncle, it's my essay, " she said. "I have to do it myself, otherwise what's the point?" The great bushy eyebrows rose, creating even more wrinkles on an ancient, lined forehead. The old man fixed her with a hawk-like glare. "You have to do it properly, that's the point! Do you know how lucky you are even to receive an education? Your parents pay these expensive tutors, while many people out there can barely read or write!"
She sighed. It was time to accept the inevitable. Leaning back in her chair, she kept her mouth shut and listened. The old man's rasping voice continued. "Now, if you are going to write about Battledale you need to start at the beginning. With the Dales. The Dales Compact is where it began. The Dales, where you and I both live, were once deep woods hunted only lightly by the dragons. As the wyrms declined and elven might grew, the elven realm of Cormanthyr flourished!
"But then came the humans - hailing from the lands known today as Chondath and Impiltur, they settled the edges of the great forest of Cormanthor. Soon the trickle turned into a flood, as exiles, fugitives and adventurers from across Faerun made their way to a new land which seemed bright with promise. The humans wanted to cut down the trees, to build their hamlets and farmsteads. The elves wanted the trees to stay. The result was bloodshed.
"But the elves are long-lived people, and wise. The elven coronal Eltargrim knew his people were doomed if they waged war against the ubiquitous humans. And so, he negotiated the Dales Compact, between the elves of the forest kingdom of Cormanthyr and the humans who would become known as Dalesfolk. Human and elven wizards together raised the Standing Stone in the centre of Cormanthor as a symbol of unity between the two races.
"In return for promising not to cut deeper into Cormanthor forest, the ancestors of the current Dalesfolk were allowed to settle around the forest's edges, or in places where the great trees did not grow." She yawned, slowly and deliberately. "Uncle," she said. "I know all that. Everyone knows all that." Ignoring the insult, he asked her: "And do you know when this happened?" "Of course!" she replied. "One thousand, three hundred and seventy nine years ago."
He smiled. "Yes. You know because the year now is 1379. The calendar used, not just here in the Dales but all across the continent of Faerun, is based around that day. Think about it! Think what that tells you, about the significance of it!" "But," she said, "how is it significant? How does it affect you and me?" He paused, and took a deep puff on his pipe. The acrid smoke drifted towards her, and she waved it away with an exaggerated gesture.
The old man said: "Well you know what happened next. Cormanthyr entered a golden age, and the city of Myth Drannor was built in the heart of the forest. Humans, elves and even other races lived there together, reaching heights of arts, culture and crafting which have never been surpassed. "Then came the Weeping War, in which a dark army fell upon Cormanthor. It was in the year 712 that 3,000 elves and their allies were trapped in Myth Drannor, as the army laid siege. Only 200 escaped to tell the tale of the city's destruction."
The girl said: "But they won in the end, didn't they? The elves won the war." "Oh yes," said the old man. "Nobody could force the elves out of Cormanthor. When they finally left, they did it of their own accord. The Year of Moonfall, we call it - 1344. That was when The Retreat began. There was no great council which proclaimed it. No king gave the order. It just happened. One by one, the elves simply decided to pack their bags and go. West, they headed. To that mythical refuge across the Trackless Sea, the island kingdom of Evermeet. 1800 miles away from Faerun!"
She looked at him quizzically. He sometimes said these things, and she never knew if he was making it up. "I never heard it was 1800 miles away. Nobody knows where it is! How could you know that?" A frown crossed the old man's face. He appeared to stoop, a large body sinking into a small frame. His beard, and what hair was left upon his head, seemed grey and lifeless. She remembered a time, when she was a small child, that it had appeared to her to shine like silver.
"But I'll tell you something else. Since I am giving away all my secrets today, here's another one. The elves are no longer leaving. Those few that are still here show no sign of wanting to desert Faerun. And some, even, are coming back. The Retreat is over. You mark my words.And I don't know what that means for the Dales. Nobody does." She waited for him to continue, but he was silent. Clearly, he had finished.
She said: "Uncle - why don't you do something to solve these problems? You live here in Shadowdale. And everyone I know says, oh, you are related to Elminster, Elminster the mage, Elminster the hero. Ask him to cure my wife's sickness, ask him to make my crops grow. "They say you battled dragons, and survived the pits of hell. Why can't you bring peace to Battledale?" He smiled at her, the tired eyes twinkling. He said: "Too busy. Too busy, and too little time. I can't solve every problem, can I?" Elminster banged his pipe on the table beside him. He grunted. "I need more smoking weed," he said. And with that, he turned and shuffled out of the room. She sat in her chair, and thought about the story he had told her. It was true enough, she supposed. But how was this supposed to help her write about Battledale? What did it mean for Essembra, and Spiritwood, and Brighthaven?
She got up, and walked through the doorway. She had more questions to ask him. But when she found him, sitting in the study, he had not refilled his pipe. Instead he sat in a grand wooden seat, eyes closed, snoring softly. Silently, she thought to herself: "Too old, that's what you are. Too old and worn out. You can't help us, not any more. We need new heroes."