Everyday Writing in the Realms (Part One)
By Ed Greenwood
Blue mists swirled, and the whistle of the wind was suddenly -- gone.
Along with the ship they'd been standing on, the looming cliff-face, and the daylight.
"Fee?" Azoun asked from near at hand, his voice low and level. Filfaeril blinked away that horrific image of onrushing jagged rock, unclenched her teeth -- Queens of Cormyr do not scream, even when certain death is hurtling to meet them -- and replied, "Here I stand. Unharmed. Should I draw dagger and give us ghostlight?"
Soft radiance occurred somewhere in front of her nose, showing her Azoun's grave face, his own glowing sword below it, and . . . a dusty stone floor all around them.
The King and Queen of Cormyr were standing in a great, lofty, empty stone chamber -- or at least, all they could see of it in their little sphere of pale light seemed empty. Filfaeril caught sight of something moving and whirled to face it, her belt-dagger flashing out.
A tortoise was walking slowly and laboriously across the flagstones past them, neither pausing at their sudden appearance nor looking up at them. In one long, swift stride, Azoun was bending low over it. "There's something written on its shell," he murmured. "Script, definitely, but I can't read it."
Filfaeril joined him. "Let me see. 'Tisn't likely to be of import, but you know the maxim."
"The message unread, should have been," Azoun quoted, a little wearily. "Should I have Vangey flogged? Or --"
"Just tonguelashed for an evening," Filfaeril replied. "And let the tongue be mine. At least, thus far that seems sufficient -- though we're far from being home yet." She shrugged, and straightened up again. "All it says is 'Daethor Wrote This.' 'Tis in Old High Wyrm."
The Purple Dragon blinked. "You never told me you could read Old High Wyrm."
His queen gave him a look whose weight and sharpness he'd felt a time or two before, but said only, "You never asked."
The Realms has scrolls galore, books by the thousand, and daily broadsheets in many cities, and it has hundreds of libraries, hidden caches -- and even roomy caskets in tombs -- in which to store it all.
Some cities even have shops filled with drawings folk can view and copy (or have copied) for fees, to aid them in imparting designs or descriptions to others. These "eyehouses" are especially useful to illiterate folk, and include Darraeker's Eye in Scornubel (next door to Mooroo's Spices & Wines, to the south along the same street; streets have no names in Scornubel), Dathchant Engravings on the west side of the Street of Bells in Waterdeep's Castle Ward (six doors south of Lightsinger Theater), Larelko's Splendors on the south side of the Promenade in Suzail (three doors west of the Old Dwarf tavern), and Muremettor's in Selgaunt (in the center of the city block immediately northwest of the Black Stag inn and tavern). Rather than being allowed to rummage through the images in an eyehouse, clients enter, stop at a deep, across-the-shop counter and ask to be shown something, pay a viewing fee of 2 cp to 3 sp, and the proprietors fetch relevant images "from the back" to the counter for viewing.
Copies, if desired, vary widely in price, from place to place and by the quality of result desired. (Results start at reasonable facsimile to exact likeness, and it costs even more if the image contains writing of any kind. Prices also go much higher if clients want a specific costume or scene but with faces and bodies changed to match themselves or an image they provide or elements from another image.) The cheapest copying fee will be for a swift sketch, for 6 gp or so, and the cheapest rough facsimile of any image will cost about 20 gp. Copies are almost always of black ink on a white ground only; the making of colored copies is rarely offered and is always much more expensive.
In cities across the Realms, rag paper is widely used, but (rightly) considered short-lived; unless it's kept well away from all damp and cold, it tends to start deteriorating rapidly after ten years. In damp seaports, rag paper may last as little as three months. For this reason, rag paper is avoided for legal documents, royal proclamations, and archives of any sort, and parchment is used instead.
Parchment is scraped and cured -- while stretched -- hide. The skins of horses, squirrels, rabbits, sheep, calves, and goats are all used for parchment. The finest (smoothest, palest, and most free of oily patches and blemishes) parchment is vellum, made from the best calfskin (though some unscrupulous shopkeepers call their best sheepskin and goatskin parchment "vellum," too).
Parchment tends to be expensive, running 2 sp for an average quality sheet and 4 sp for an average sheet of vellum, up to 1 gp for superb or very large sheets. Parchment doesn't disintegrate as readily in damp as rag paper does, but it will buckle.
Most Faerûnian monasteries house monks who are expert makers of parchment and vellum, from birthing and rearing the beasts to preparing the hide into ready "sheets" (both for their own purposes, and to sell).
So as most of us lack handy passing tortoises to jot notes on, 'tis good we now know all about what to write on. Our next column (of course) will delve into inks -- and some alternatives.
© 2006 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.