Perilous Pages: Spellbooks and Scrolls Under the Dark Sun
A part of The Sands of Athas netzine, Perilous Pages: Spellbooks and Scrolls Under the Dark Sun discusses the unique role of spellbooks on Athas.
Beneath the Veil: Submitted by TLHawkins@aol.com written by Charles Sagui
"My dear nephew, I was pleased to hear from your mother, my sister, that you had completed your apprenticeship and taken up the veil. You will never regret this decision. The way of the alliance is the only hope left for our battered planet and I pray to the elements that it is not a forlorn hope. The questions relayed to me concerning the concealment of spellbooks and other written material shows to me that you have learned well from your master. You should always keep in mind the fact that under the rule of the sorcerer-kings, the penalty for possession of written material - with the implication that you can read it - is instant, painful death. It is as vital that you successfully conceal all written materials as it is to hide evidence of the spells that you cast.
With that in mind, I must still say that the easiest to create and most common manifestation of the spellbook is the parchment or paper scroll. If you choose to design your spellbooks around this material, you must endeavor to conceal the scrolls completely. Items that appear to be solid can be hollowed out or designed with secret compartments to hold these secret materials. Staves, canes, or walking sticks can be designed with a threaded hollow compartment so that it can be unscrewed to reveal a tightly rolled scroll or parchment. A bit of tallow or wax can be applied to the sealed items can help make it element proof for those rare instances where it might be exposed to sand or, rarer still, water exposure.
One often overlooked location for a concealed compartment is the hollow handle of a weapon. The dagger is the obvious choose since it is also a practical weapon when you need it. You should not, however, dismiss the idea of a sword or mace whose handle is larger and therefore capable of containing a larger scroll. I fully understand that your intense study of the arcane arts with a care toward the preservation of the land has left you little time to practice with the cruder implements of destruction common among the rabble of this land, but to openly acknowledge this fact by carrying only dagger and staff gives an unnecessary advantage to those seeking to identify practitioners of our profession.
Also in favor among those who carry their spellbooks on parchment is the practice of placing an unrolled page between two pieces of cloth, a cloak and its lining perhaps, and sewing it in place. The preserver unravels the thread to reveal his or her spell scroll for study and afterwards sews it back in place. When furnished with the many layers of clothing necessary to escape the blistering rays of the Athasian sun, one piece of clothing is almost always available for such use.
While on the subject of clothing, it should be noted that leather clothing might itself be carved or dyed in such a way as to contain a preserver's spells. For those preferring to wear cloth a similar effect can be achieved through embroidery or beadwork on cloth. For safety's sake the decorated portion should be worn on the inside of the clothing covered by many outer layers or sandwiched with more cloth similar to the scrolls mentioned above. Such designs, whether on leather or cloth, must be completed by the preserver himself using an appropriate handicraft skill that he has acquired and perfected for that purpose, for example; leatherworking, artistic ability for bone carving, and a seamstress' stitching for embroidery.
Carving in wooden, metal, or bone items is not uncommon among those who practice behind the veil. But due to its sensitive nature it should be wrapped in leather, fiber, or cloth to prevent casual observation and or recognition by defilers or templars. Carving on the inside of bracers, armbands, or buckles can provide the information without it being obvious. On a similar note the inner surface of belts or straps, the inside surface of backpacks, the leather lining of a soft leather cape, or soft leather boots that can be turned inside-out to display the "spellbook" within can serve to keep your secrets hidden.
Stone tablets or carved stone patterns are popular with those who have taken the veil in the deep desert where stone is more plentiful that wood or plant fiber. A similar type of carving is done by certain other mages in bone or chitin or using one beadwork design sewn onto material threaded onto fringe, or strung onto giant-hair or thread to produce a necklace or bracelet. One inventive associate of mine even threaded bone beads onto her hair in the form of a comrow, which proved to be an effective method of concealing her 'spellbook" while in plain sight.
An acquaintance of mine in Balic had, because of the ministrations of Andropinis' templars, lost the use of his eyes. Although blind, my friend refused to give up the practice of magic. While I was at times disconcerted by his casting of certain spells - fireball and lightning bolt, in particular, are fearful when fired "blind" - I admired his tenacity for insisting on continuing to practice his art. To foster this practice he developed a series of raised bumps and spaces to convey his spells to him each day. This design allows the concealment of "spellbooks" not normally accessible for that purpose. My friend used his skill as a potter and the increased sensitivity in his fingertips to create a spellbook on the inside of a water jug with a neck large enough to allow his hand to be inserted. A carve gourd interior can be utilized for similar effects with carving on the inside and a properly wide opening.
One extreme measure, extreme in the sense that it cannot be readily disposed of if confronted by templars or others who might react negatively to the mage's presence, is the use of tattoos, brands, ritual scarification, or magical writing to impress the spellbook upon the skin or flesh of the preserver himself. If this is the route chosen, one must take the greatest care to camouflage these items with other tattoos or scars that they do not stand out so prominently. Here, my beloved nephew, I would like to caution you against falling into a trap into which some of our brothers have succumbed. Many defilers and a few unscrupulous preservers have chosen to have the tattoos or markings mentioned above, impressed upon slaves under their power. I personally find the idea of forcing a powerless subject to carry my "book", and at the same time carry a death sentence, repulsive in the extreme. Regardless of the fact that the poor slave is of a race that does not practice the arts, and the placement of the tattoo is such to make it obvious that they were not the intended reader of the material, the removal of the tattoo intact, by those greedy for the spells, will probably leave the hapless slave dead or so horribly crippled that he is executed as valueless. I feel that the fate of another being is more important and outweighs the value of deniability or the ease of destruction by fireball. Do not follow this practice, nephew. I do not say that it will destroy your ability as a preserver, but it will erode that which makes up your humanity.
The most effective way for a scroll or other portable spell collection to be guarded is to simply remove them from your person as soon as is practical. In a city or other setting of limited mobility and expanded danger, you should establish a place of safety and create a hiding place in that place. One useful application of a relatively low powered spell is to cast invisibility upon the book rendering it undetectable by unaided sight. This uses up one spell of the second level and can cause extreme problems if you are separated from your book while it is invisible, so care should be used to keep track of it.
A warning might be in order at this point for using spellbooks "liberated" from defilers. To simply copy a spell from a defiler's book to your own can subject you to the evils of the defiler when you study and cast the spells. Such a spellbook can be used by a preserver to research any spell contained in the book subject to the usual research conditions, as you are taking apart the spell inscription and reinscribing it using the safeguards of a preserver for the sake of the dwindling life of the planet. A final word about casting spells from scrolls: Scrolls on Athas can and do take the form of any of the concealment methods described above; including, unfortunately, tattoos and scars on the backs of slaves as well as the traditionally rolled-up papyrus scroll. As you may or may not know, nephew, to cast a spell directly from a spellbook using "read magic" is more akin to using a scroll than to casting a spell, so that using a 'read magic", a defilers spellbook can safely be used to cast each spell within the book once, rather than the long tedious process of reading the magic, researching and coping the spell into a new book which renders the defiler's book unusable for direct casting.
I hope that these tips are helpful to you and that you will uphold those codes of honor and goodness that have been a part of our family and our alliance for many generations. Keep in n-mind my warnings above and destroy this as soon as you finish reading it. Much luck and love, your uncle Gransian."
Mighty Oba, the above missive was found in the possession of a young man in the elven market. Under pressure from a combination of torture and the Way, he revealed that his uncle lived in Draj, and a group of agents have been dispatched to deal with him. The boy was buried alive as per your standing orders.