The Zhentarim is a mercenary organization that has existed for well over two hundred years. The Zhentarim follow a strict linear hierarchy with Fzoul Chembryl at the head of the organization under the title of High Lord. He has several subordinates that report directly to him, each holding the title of ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’. These lower lords have many subordinates of their own that handle the many reports and requests. The Zhentarim never skips rank in the hierarchy.
In the year 1261 DR a man by the name Manshoon founded the organization to support his rule over the city of Zhentil Keep and to help in his expansion of power. It took him over 30 years to build up his army consisting of mages that he dubbed his “Black Cloaks”. But maybe the worst thing Manshoon ever did was induct a charismatic priest by the name of Fzoul Chembryl in the year 1263. With the Black Cloak’s help, Fzoul used his influence within the church to convert the lower priests and dispose of the higher priest to become head of the temple in the Zhentil Keep. Manshoon, eager to gain more personal power to offset the threat of his new ‘ally’. Fzoul, began searching for magic. During this time he met the beholder, Xantriph. The two concocted a plan in which Xantriph would pose as the ‘Voice of Bane’ and encourage the bantie priest to swear fealty to Manshoon. Xantriph’s lair, which was at the time called Teshendale, became the base for Zhentilar patrols and a network of spies. The eye tyrant gave only the information he wanted to Manshoon though, and spied on members of the Zhentarim as well as part of his own nefarious plans, he also suggested actions that would benefit himself as well as the organization. With the immediate threat of the banites under control, Manshoon’s organization began gaining power, prestige and wealth.
Through careful manipulation of his neighbors, Manshoon gained a significant share of the joint power in the recently refurbished Citadel of the Raven and scared off the humanoids of Thar, though lost out on a chance to absorb the city of Phlan when it was destroyed by those same humanoids. The Keep became an impressive economic power and garnered much wealth for Manshoon and his organization with an army that outnumbered all other people in the city. To ensure this economic superiority continued, Zhentil keep contributed a large part of the army that attacked Mulmaster which controlled the River Lis, an important link to the Sea of Fallen Stars. The lich queen, Varalla, had control of Darkhold and controlled the trade road that led to the Sword Coast. Because she was a lich, it was easy for Manshoon to use her evil as an excuse to seize Darkhold for himself. All but 3 of the local trading routes were firmly under Zhent control. It was now that the Zhentarim revealed their true selves. Attacks on Teshendale and Hillsfar gained them the entire Tesh valley and the village of Voonlar. They then placed Zhent-friendly rulers in Daggerdale and Shadowdale after their former rulers suddenly disappeared. By 1337 DR, Manshoon had fully consolidated his rule over all Zhent lands and forces, eliminating his opposition and declaring himself High Lord of Zhentil Keep. Zhentilar decimated and looted the city of Hulburg. The surrounding areas, especially Mistledale, became paranoid and held hasty and overzealous trials of suspected Zhent spies. Many lives were ruined, but not many of them were those of Zhent spies. Khelben Arunsun killed the puppet ruler of Shadowdale, Jyordhan, and his successor was considered a pretender without the Pendant of Ashaba, which Khelben had stolen. The Dalelands were fortifying their defenses and spreading rumors about hidden treasures to be found in Zhent lands to attract adventurers. The Knights of Myth Drannor were one of the first groups to go after the ‘treasures’. They looted the Flaming Tower and killed Xantriph, making his lair float away. Manshoon restored the lair and tried to replace the Voice of Bane with another beholder named Xulla, but the damage was done. The Voice of Bane was now almost completely impotent. The final blow was when the puppet ruler of Daggerdale, Malyk, was overthrown in a peasant revolt and Randal Morn, the true heir to the Dale’s throne took control.
Whetehr emboldened by his success or pressured by the recent setbacks, Manshoon betrayed his allies in the Citadel of the Raven and took over by force. The others in the Moonsea found out about the treachery and immediately began building up their defenses against the expected Zhentilar attack. They unmasked and killed the Zhent agents in their cities and effectively stopped the Zhentarim in their tracks. Yulash, a city under the sway of the Zhentilar since its founding, erupted in civil war when forces from Mulmaster decided to capitalize on the Zhent’s problems.
By aiding the embattled Cormyrian and Sembian nations when they were attacked by Lashan of Scardale, the Zhentarim managed to set up a secret base in Scardale, where the Knights of Myth Drannor reappeared with the Pendant of Ashaba. All Zhentarim influence in Shadowdale was expunged. Events ground to a stalemate in the organization. Plans to kidnap a Spellfire wielder failed to fear fruit and Fzoul became reclusive for a short while. He dealt with Alias of the Zure bonds and orthodox banites from Mulmaster attempted to bring the temple in Zhentil Keep back under their control.
The Time of Troubles was especially turbulent for the Zhentarim. The avatar of bane landed in Zhentil Keep’s temple and ordered Fzoul and Manshoon’s apprentice Sememmon to attack Shadowdale directly. Bane was defeated thought and briefly possessed Fzoul until he could form a new Avatar. Bane was later killed, throwing the religious aspects of the keep into chaos. Cyric, in a ploy to convert them, granted the banties their spells without them realizing, and they began praying to him unknowingly but angered by the refusal of so many of them to convert, he stopped answering their prayers and initiated a year-long ‘inquisition’ in the keep that was to eradicate the worship of Bane from the keep completely.
Iyachtu Xvim had been trapped beneath the Keep at the beginning of the Godswar and the many banites, which literally went underground, discovered him and would eventually, began worshiping him in lieu of his father. The cyricist, not realizing this, declared their inquisition a success. For 6 years in was Cyric who controlled the center of Zhentarim power, but Manshoon and most of the Zhentarim had relocated to their other strongholds, the Citadel of the Raven and Darkhold, though most of their operations still centered on the Keep. The Zhentarim relocated their operations to the Citadel quietly, but Cyric’s followers enacted another inquisition to try and purge all Zhent holding of non-cyricists. Yulash, still being fought over, was lost to Hillsfar, but was again deemed a success by the inquisitors. Cyric was eventually undermined by a divine conspiracy involving Fzoul. The larger, northern half of Zhentil Keep was left in ruins as a result. 1500 Zhentilar and Zhentarim, many of whom were high-ranking officers fled the city, as well as all of the orc troops.
After four months of siege, the attackers left and Lord Orgauth rose from the ruins and had the Keep rebuilt. Orgauth and Fzoul took over the Keep, declaring themselves free from Manshoon. In 1370 DR, Manshoon, enraged, attacked the Keep with Sememmon, but both were defeated. Manshoon was killed and Sememmon fled.
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