Elminster's Guide to the Realms
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #301)
Many farms tie on both sides of the Skuldask Road running west out of Elturel. They nestle between the countless gentle hills of the rolling, unfenced countryside. Light woods cloak the heights and swampy backwaters of the area, and all else is tilled or grazed - save only very few leaf farms, newly invented hybrids between conservation and commerce.
One of these is Aloum Lyndren, the home and livelihood of Tatha Beruel. It's called a leaf farm because Tatha rears trees that are planted and tended for specific purposes, a relatively recent practice encouraged by some elves to keep human depredations of the forest to a minimum.
Aloum Lyndren is named for the elf who helped Tatha found the farm around a small natural spring. Aloum Lyndren was a sun elf whose kin dwelt among humans along the Sword Coast for several centuries. All of them, Aloum included, have gone to Evermeet, the elven refuge to the west.
Tatha's farm lies on the north side of the Skuldask Road running west out of Elturel, close enough to that city to just be able to see its walls from atop the farm's easternmost hill. Tatha's farm is a destination for many folk not much interested in the brooms she makes or the herbs and wooden spars she sells.
They come for what Tatha calls "her gift from Mystra." Tatha has the ability to see scenes of past uses of a magic item. This ability operates fitfully, sometimes failing altogether and sometimes operating very strongly (though almost always briefly), and it involves Tatha touching the item to be examined and then falling into a brief trance. The curious, the desperate, and the wise come from all corners of Faerûn seeking Tatha's gift, and they pay handsomely to make use of it (from 20 to 2,000 gp per attempt).
During trances, she sees vivid mental images of events involving the use of the item. Most of these images are glimpses of a single instant, but some, usually events involving great magical energies, reveal a short scene lasting no longer than a few seconds. Sounds, smells, and physical sensations are never conferred by Tatha's ability.
Tatha slips out of trance quickly, and she is never disoriented or prevented from immediate action. She remembers what she's seen perfectly, although she's under no compulsion to describe her visions, and over the years has become quite skilled at accurately describing the images she sees. Of course, the fragmentary images quite often reveal some of the powers of the item; the identities, natures, or purposes of previous owners of the item; and uses to which the item has been put.
Tatha Beruel is a chaotic good female half-elf. She has long, lustrous black hair (usually worn bound up with leather in a "mare's tail"), golden-hued skin, delicate features, and large green eyes. She's slender with shoulders and arms corded with muscle and scarred from cuts suffered in farm work. Few things frighten her, and she dislikes individuals who try to coerce or scare her or anyone else to do anything.
Although it's unclear how closely Mystra watches over her, Tatha seems to regard herself as immune to all threats and harm, denying sinister wizards, raiding orcs, and slavers with the same calm demeanor.
She dwells alone at Aloum Lyndren, having survived there for 20 years apparently unscathed despite known encounters with hungry winter wolves, murderous brigands, and at least a dozen slaver bands sent specifically to capture her. "Mystra provides" is her calm explanation for many things, her own survival among them.
Tending farm plants and trees, the ongoing process of making brooms in bulk, and feeding herself keeps Tatha steadily - and apparently, contentedly - busy. She is known to enjoy reading and dancing, and she often buys books from peddlers.
WHAT MEETS THE EYE
Visitors to Aloum Lyndren first see a pleasant, horn-shaped expanse of trees fronting on the Skuldask Road. The farm lies on the north side of the road, between (and including) two hills, and encompassing a third, smaller hill well to the north, about 2 miles off the road. This small forest is surrounded by rolling grazing land belonging to other farmers (the half-orc cattle-breeder Ohlongh Vrurr to the west; the mixed stock farm of the Trindle human family to the north, and the energetic, human rancher Elmair Broruk to both the east and to the south).
Tatha Beruel apparently enjoys cordial relations with all of her neighbors, and she occasionally provides them with herbal remedies for their own complaints and ailments affecting their livestock.
Small trails wind from one small clearing to another in Tatha's forest, and alert observers notice that although trees of all sorts grow mixed together, there's a prevalence of maples on the slopes of Sundown Rise (the hill on the west) and an abundance of oaks across the southern border of the farm to Vixen Rise (the hill that forms the farm's eastern flank).
Heading north through the farm, blueleaf trees take over as far as the summit of Dark Rise (the third hill on the farm), and from there to its end at the Graw Rocks in the northeast, hazel, hornbeam, and ash trees are the most numerous.
Casual observers traveling on the Skuldask Road could easily mistake the farm for a remnant of a larger forest left behind after woodcutters had felled all the best and biggest timber, home now to nothing larger than deer. Tatha's home and main broom barn are both hard to spot, because they're stone structures sunk so greatly into the ground that their sod roofs (both planted with herb gardens) seem to be no more than tiny hillocks.
Tatha's home has a main room and two sleeping chambers, one of them largely used for storage (housing the products of Tatha's whittling, a large loom, and general household oddments). Most of her broom making is done outside, before the doors of her broom-barn, unless poor weather drives her inside its doors. She keeps her shavings for kindling.
The buildings occupy two of the smaller clearings on the farm. Cutting has created three larger clearings spaced about the forest. Tatha owns two draft horses (boarded at a neighboring farm) that she uses to pull out stumps and the largest tree trunks. However, she prefers to cut and carry everything herself.
Tatha's preferred method of harvesting trees is to climb the largest ones if need be to trim branches, fell the trees, cut them on-site, split them on the spot if she's making firewood, and take finished cuts back to her barn, collecting the bark and shavings last of all.
On most days, visitors can readily locate Tatha by either the sound of her axe or by spotting her sitting out in front of her barn at work on brooms. Her house is the stone-walled garden mound that has the bell and sign out front and the pair of outhouses out back, whereas the barn sports a chopping-block, two sawhorses, and three large, rustic wooden chairs.
AN EXAMINATION OF MAGIC
A recent example of how Tatha's gift works is provided by a caravan merchant from Scornubel, who on a run through Elturel to the coast called in at the Broomworks and asked Tatha to examine a wand he'd found in a cottage he'd seized in lieu of debts after its owner died. The merchant suspected he had a wand, at least, because it was a rare polished, foot-long stick of tapering bone that was stored in its own box, wrapped in moldering silk. Tatha charged him 100 gp (if he'd been a kinder, more polite, or poorer man, her fee might have been as low as 50 gp), laid herself down on a patch of moss outside the door of her house, and he put the wand into her hands.
She saw a dark cave, lit by lantern-light, and the eager faces of men with picks and shovels, moving purposefully to a spot on one stone cavern wall with the wand held in front of them. That vision faded into darkness, and next she saw the furious face of a dwarf in armor, glaring at her as his greataxe whirled back behind his shoulder - and then came cleaving down. The vision exploded into brightness that left her blinking and shuddering . . . and gave way to a third vision: the item being placed onto a heap of treasure at the feet of a dead dwarf laid out in splendor, with grim dwarves standing all around. That vision in turn gave way to the last: torchlight in the same tomb, and eager human faces crowding close as someone reached down into the thick dust all over the same treasure-heap and grasped the item.
In all of the visions, the item looked like an ornately worked (smooth, but chased and riddled with sculpted holes), rod of shining silver with a flared end.
When Tatha emerged from her trance, she asked the merchant what the bone stick had looked like while in her grasp. He confirmed that it flickered momentarily into a semblance of a "rod of fine silver" on several occasions. Tatha then told him that it was her guess that he was the owner of a rod of metal and mineral detection that resembled a wand when inactive. This guess later proved to be correct, but it was a rare instance - usually Tatha doesn't venture opinions, but limits herself to careful and extensive descriptions of her visions.
Tatha regards her gift from Mystra as a sacred trust, not to be misused - and has said as much, several times, to visitors who desired to hire her services for themselves alone, or offered her coin to mislead other individuals as to the nature and powers of a particular magic item.
However, I know that she does mislead clients from time to time - either by saying she can't learn anything about an item, and therefore only owe her the minimum 20 gp fee, or by understating or omitting powers she's discerned. She does this when she judges that owners of items she examines will misuse them based on information she gives. Usually, she fears they'll be emboldened into tyranny and wanton destruction.
Tatha told me that she doesn't view this as slighting Mystra, because those who misuse magic in such ways destroy the lives and freedoms of others who would otherwise be free to use magic themselves, and thereby also increase the general fear and oppression of wizards and sorcerers. Further, she informed me that Mystra hath personally and directly assured her that she is correct in this view - and her description of the manifestation of the goddess leads me to the inescapable conclusion that Mystra did indeed appear to her.
Additional evidence of the Mother of magic's personal interest in Tatha is this: On several occasions, unscrupulous merchants and slavers have attempted to take advantage of Tatha's trances to confine her and transport her elsewhere.
In all such instances, she has been teleported back to her farm, and those who made such attempts against her were affected as if by a feeblemind spell, their feebleness lasing for two tendays or more. Tatha herself has no trained skill in magic, and no means of causing such effects.