Waterdeep was used as a trading site for trade activities between northern tribesmen and southern merchants more than two millennia ago. By 1,000 years ago, permanent farms had sprung up in the area. The first mention of a Waterdeep (not as a city, but as a collection of warlords) occurs only 400 years ago. The city was truly established as a going concern by 1032 DR, the year Ahghairon became the first Lord of Waterdeep, and the date from which Northreckoning is counted.
The city grew spectacularly, such that by 1248 DR both the City of the Dead and the guilds had been developed. The guildmasters seized control soon afterwards, ushering in a period of unrest and bitter conflict known as the Guildwars. The Guildwars ended only when the two surviving guildmasters brought in their own period of misrule. It was only in 1273 DR that the present system of government (or lack thereof was instituted. This was the year that the Magisters were established and the secret Lords of Waterdeep were firmly reestablished. Since that time, the city has continued to grow and prosper.
Humankind and other races come from all over the Realms to earn hard coin in the City of Splendors. Over the years these successful merchants have set up guilds and themselves become nobility, supporting the secretive Lords of Waterdeep who police the city fairly, yet with a light hand, by means of the superb city guard (soldiers), city watch (police), and over 20 black-robed magistrates. As a result, Waterdeep is a place tolerant of different races, religions, and lifestyles. This in turn has encouraged commerce, and Waterdeep has grown into a huge, eclectic city.
Few now know the true history of this great city, which had its beginnings over a thousand years ago, when the North was truly what Southerners still sneeringly call it: "the Savage North." In those days, most of the North was covered with vast, tall forests of ancient green, and inhabited by dwarves and goblinkind (in the most northern mountains and foothills) and elves (in widely scattered forest enclaves everywhere else). A few primitive human tribes lived along the Sword Coast, fishing and hunting and gathering in spring and fall to trade their furs for the merchants' jewelry and metal tools, or the occasionally-available weapon or two, with vessels sailing in from the South. In the spring, these vessels came primarily to cut and take huge trees for shipbuilding, trees being no longer available in such large sizes farther south.
In the fall, the vessels came in to cut timber for their own repairs, or to take on a cargo of wood if the misfortunes of trading had left their holds low or empty. Most of these trademoots were at a certain place where there was a great natural deepwater harbor, protected from the sea by a rocky spur of land, an arm of an isolated coastal crag, and a rocky island beyond it.
Over the years, the forest was cut back farther and farther from the shore, and tribes began to stay most of the year there, farming the cleared land. The wiser among them claimed and controlled some of the timber in order to trade for more weaponry and tools. Such claims angered many who found the squatters rich from frequent trade, and brought attacks from land and sea, the more warlike tribes slaughtering the more sedentary settlers. Noted among these tribes was that led by Nimoar, a chieftain who ordered his people to seize the farms, crude wooden docks, trading sheds, and storage barns built up around the bay.
They settled there themselves, and erected a log palisade within an earthen embankment to protect the holdings, After several abortive pirate and tribal raids, Nimoar's people thrived in their new home, a fledgling town referred to as "the town of Water-deep." Farther north, orc tribes had outgrown their mountain strongholds. Attempts to expand underground met with fierce dwarven resistance (although many small gnomish colonies were overwhelmed and wiped out), and the orcs spread out on the surface of the land, coming south and down out of the mountains, hurling their seemingly endless numbers against all who stood in their path.
Here and there elven enclaves held out, but the push southward displaced many other northern inhabitants, including the "everlasting ones" (trolls), who came down into the newly-cleared lands northeast of Nimoar's Hold, those lands now known as the Trollmoors. Nimoar died of old age during this time of increasing danger. Younger War Lords led the men of Waterdeep (for so the ship-captains called the harbor) in battles against the trolls. There were many bloody struggles between men and trolls for a decade, until the magic of a Northem youth named Ahghairon turned the fortunes of war against the trolls, and the "everlasting ones" were destroyed or scattered.
Ahghairon rose slowly in skill and power with the passage of years, until he became a great mage. He discovered a supply of potions of longevity (or learned the art of making such), for he lived on, still physically a man in his prime, for decade upon decade. Fearing further attacks, the men of Waterdeep raised a small keep on the slopes of Mount Waterdeep above their farms, where fire arrows from on high could defend against attacking trolls. Many outlying tribes who had come to the settlement for safety from the trolls stayed, and expanded the walls with new farms several times. War Lords ruled the Free City of Waterdeep, holding it independent and increasingly wealthy as years passed.
In his 112th winter, Ahghairon had a sharp disagreement with Raurlor, who was then Warlord of Waterdeep. Raurlor wanted to use Waterdeep's acquired wealth and strength-of-arms to create a Northern empire, with Waterdeep its capital (and Raurlor its ruler), and gathered armies for the purpose. Ahghairon defied him before all the people, and Raurlor ordered the mage be chained. Ahghairon magically struck aside all who sought to lay hands on him. In a fury Raurlor struck at the mage with his own blade.
Ahghairon rose into the air, just out of reach, and, as the infuriated Warlord slashed repeatedly at his rising feet, gestured. Raurlor's blade transmuted in his hand, from steel into a hissing serpent, which promptly bit him. The Warlord died of the venom before the shocked people assembled there. Ahghairon then gathered all the captains of Waterdeep's army, and all the seniors of the 'families of Waterdeep. While runners sought to bring them to the Castle, flames roared and crackled in the Warlord's empty chair-of-state at Ahghairon's bidding, so that no one sat there.
Then at a gesture from the mage, the flames were gone as though they had never been, leaving the chair unmarked. Ahghairon seated himself, then, and proclaimed himself the first Lord of Waterdeep, saying that henceforth wisdom and not armed might would rule in the city. He would gather some few - in secret - to rule as Lords with him, masked and disguised when they appeared to the people, but equal to him in authority and free of coercion by any, himself included. These Lords were to be drawn from all walks of life in the city, and could serve as long as they wished.
The people heard, and agreed, and for the next two hundred years, Ahghairon ruled Waterdeep with his unknown fellow Lords, Over the years, the masked Lords were a group of sometimes five, six, or seven, who appeared seldom and said little. Some whispered that they were Ahghairon's servants, or even magical automatons controlled by the Old Mage. Still, Ahghairon's justice was swift and fair, his laws good, his guardsmen polite and just as ready to help as apprehend, and the people approved. The years passed in peace and prosperity. The North was opened to humans. Roads built under Ahghairon's direction linked it together, from the ruins of "the Fallen Kingdom," which had been shattered by goblin races' attacks before men were numerous in the North, to the cities that would later become Amn.
Waterdeep grew fivefold in size and wealth. From all over the Realms, folk began to come to the "Crown of the North," drawn by money - and among them came those who rob, cheat, and steal. When word of doings extending beyond simple theft to deception-in-workmanship and the appearance of many fly-by-night impostor craftsmen reached Ahghairon's ears, he called together the senior merchants, "the Noble Ones," and suggested that they form guilds as was done in the far South to police the unscrupulous of their own professions. Some resisted, or were furious, but most saw the advantages of such an arrangement, particularly if they were free to set matters up themselves, and not have less favorable arrangements forced upon them.
The Guilds were created forthwith, Waterdeep continued to grow in size and prosperity, Twice more the city walls were expanded, and its merchants traveled the world over, bringing back exotic goods from afar, and spreading word of the city's wealth to remote lands. In the South, some listened with an eye to conquest or at least plunder, but swords were already out in those southern lands in a time of widespread strife, and no invaders came.
Ahghairon's health eventually failed and he died. He was buried with ceremony in his tower, which was secured against thieves and fools. Those who learned the arts arcane from the Old Mage cast the most potent protective magics known upon his home and resting-place (which, many believe, remains inviolated today).
There was great turmoil in the City as the Guildmasters argued amongst themselves as to who should govern the City, and more than one merchant of power was found murdered. Groups of liveried bodyguards appeared openly armed on the streets, accompanying their masters and two very troubled months passed as they bickered and parleyed (and occasionally dueled in the streets).
At last, they decided that all Masters should rule Waterdeep together, in a council, The lesser nobles and many townsfolk protested, saying that the Lords ruled by right and by the peoples' consent, but the Guildmasters said that the Lords had not been seen since Ahghairon's death, and that they must always have been golems or zombies controlled by Ahghairon himself, to conceal his lone rule, and indeed, the Lords were silent and unseen, and continued to be so. In truth, the Lords were real men and women whose identities had been compromised, over the years, by certain curious Guildmasters who had ordered them slain by their own closemouthed, loyal servants following Ahghairon's death.
The only Lords still surviving (those who had remained secret) were Baeron, a woodworker, and Shilam, an apprentice wizard. These surviving Lords kept very quiet, and waited. The Guildmasters thought all the living Lords of the City had been eliminated, and took firm rule over Waterdeep. The Guildmasters ruled Waterdeep for only six years ere their self-interested squabbling led to bloodshed. Open quarrels and a few murders quickly erupted into a brief but vicious series of street fights and midnight attacks. This strife, oftimes termed "the Guildwars" by sages (although it was never as long-drawn-out or so formal as to be called a "war" when it was taking place), left all but two Guildmasters dead, most of the City's best minds stilled, and much of the City's gold wasted or plundered with the Guilds in disarray.
The surviving Guildmasters were Lhorar Gildeggh of the Shipwrights and Ehlemm Zoar of the Gemcutters. These two - ruthless manipulators both - were well matched and could not overcome each other, though their private armies clashed often in the streets. At length, they sickened of bloodshed, after many from both families were dead in the gutters, and agreed to rule together. Two thrones were set up in Castle Waterdeep, and from then the two argued bitterly over this and that, and the City was a place of tension and fear. All matters, including the recognition of new Guildmasters to rule the "headless" guilds, had to come before the Two Lords Magister, as Lhorar and Ehlemm were called. Few matters were settled.
One day to the Courts of the Lord Magister came two people masked and robed as the Lords of Waterdeep of old. Where they came from no one knew, but they appeared in the Castle's Great Hall where the Courts were, and commanded the Lords Magister to leave the city forthwith. Laughing, the Lords Magister refused, whereupon the shorter of the masked intruders (the lady Shilam, apprentice to Ahghairon and his undeclared heir as first Lord of the City) blasted them with lightning and fire, and their very thrones were shattered and toppled.
The taller of the two intruders (Baeron) then called for the heads of the noble houses to come to them, or leave the city forthwith and forever, if they cared not to come by nightfall. All in the Courts heard, and the news was cried in the streets. The surviving nobles came, reluctantly and with bodyguards, expecting such a summons to be a trap. Baeron spoke to them and the crowd of curious townsfolk that had also come, saying, "this must not happen again." If Waterdeep was to be safe once more, he told them, all must support what he and his fellow Lord now planned, as they had supported Ahghairon in the past.
The two would choose others to be Lords as before, he said, and they would rule in secret, as before - save for himself. He removed his mask, and said, "I am Baeron. I would be Lord as Ahghairon was before. I would be safe in this my city again." And the folk of Waterdeep there agreed. Shilarn, still masked, commanded that the houses of the Two Lords Magister be Outcast. There was protest, and she raised her hands that had blasted the thrones, and it was still again. And the house of Gildeggh and of Zoar were outcast. Peace returned to the city and Waterdhavians to their labors. To inhibit discovery of who the Lords were, Baeron selected certain men of character whom he knew well, and appointed them Magisters ("Black Robes," they were soon called, from their robes of office) under the Lords, to judge and apply the laws of Waterdeep in daily affairs.
These Magisters he paid well, to raise them from temptation, and gave lodgings to those who feared for safety to dwell among the people. To so serve, he told the city, was a burden, not a proud misuse of authority, and if any wished to no longer serve, or were found wanting, they were not to be vilified, but accorded respect. And over the Magisters the Lords sat in their Court, to correct and overrule the judgments of the Magisters. Baeron told the people that none were to decry or belittle any judgments of Magisters that the Lord saw fit to alter or cast aside. If any thought ill of the offices or those who held them they could turn back to the rule of sword and whim, and perish as had those before them.
Before the Lord's Court Baeron encouraged people to speak freely for the length of a short candle's burning, without fear of chastisement or reproach from the Lords for anything said, as long as they spoke openly and answered questions or opposing views put to them by any there. Thus, he held, just grievances of folk would be heard, no matter how small the matter or lowly the speaker.
And so it was. Slow to take hold, until people knew it for careful justice, but enduring beyond Baeron's time, and beyond Shilarn's time, and beyond the time of their daughter Lhestyn "The Masked Lady," who wed Zelphar Arunsun of Neverwinter, and was mother to Khelben "Blackstaff' Arunsun, a Lord of Waterdeep today, who knows the secrets of long years as Ahghairon did. And as the years have passed, Waterdeep has grown in size and variety, flourishing with good trade under the tolerance and protection of strong defenders and good government.
The years passed not without troubles, varying from the Godswar (when Waterdeep played host to gods dying and ascending) to such occurrences as a green dragon assailing the Field of Triumph (part of a plot by the Knights of the Shield to overthrow the Lords' Rule), but the city and her peoples survived and prevailed against all strife. The Lords' Alliance provides continued safety for all the settlements of the northern Sword Coast and those inland, with Waterdeep as the heart of the alliance. Though it can be matched in size or commerce, there is no city the Realms over that compares to the sheer variety of life and experiences found in fair Waterdeep, Crown of the North.