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Books and Scrolls

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Like gunpowder, the printing press has been brought to Sartorias-deles once, and once it was invented. But, like gunpowder, the idea never caught on.

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Scrolls and Taerans


Old Sartor wrote on scrolls, called 'taerans' to differentiate them from later scrolls, which are books written in scroll form. The word 'taeran' comes from 'tor' which means 'people' and 'an' which means 'word'; 'tor' became 'taer' in possessive form. The actual Old Sartoran script was vertical, not horizontal, in columns. Some taerans began the columns at the left and wrote to the right, some began at the right and wrote left; if there was a rule governing that, people in the modern day haven't sussed out the symbolism. They've certainly pored over the few rare artifacts from those days, most recopied over time, others hidden away in time.

It is true that the Old Sartoran language was laden with rich metaphor and meaning, but--like any other writing--there was formal writing and everyday writing. The taerans were so old and so rare that later mages, poring earnestly over what little they had, thus assumed that a surviving harvest list, for example, was actually some cryptic reference to great magic and debated quite earnestly over all possible meanings. The one or two mages who knew the truth did not interfere, figuring that such debates are intellectual games and keep the mind nimble and the attitude humble.

However, formal writing did exist, especially when writing about magic. This increased before the end, when the threat of Norsunder drove many mages to write down what they could, so knowledge would pass along even if they didn't survive. And indeed these were written in extremely oblique language, in order to escape Norsundrian comphrehension--and perhaps to be dismissed as mere flowery poetry or persiflage, instead of texts of powerful magic heuristic devices. What the Old Sartorans could not foresee was that the old magic itself would vanish for considerable time thereafter, and magic had to be discovered and reinvented again, far more slowly.


Pass over the Fall of Old Sartor, and the long slow recovery. Artifacts of Old Sartor took on resonance just by existing, when Sartor managed to reassemble itself in what the denizens knew was a sorry semblance of old greatness. So much of the old ways were lost, including much of the written form of the Old Language. There were characters no one could parse. When the Scribes came up with a sensible new alphabet, phonetic and flexible enough to permit vowel alteration, written left to right because most were right handed, there was resistance simply because it wasn't Old Sartoran. The same went for writing on scrolls; the alphabet was accepted grudgingly, but at first only for everyday things. For important occasions, formal matters such as treaties or official correspondence with the weight of law, and for histories, Old Sartoran was still used. Mages, still trying to rediscover the Old Magic, of course kept to Old Sartoran.

But gradually the new alphabet took over more and more of the chores of communication, especially when scribes made the letters exceptionally artistic, with embellishments. The problem was scrolls. How to write effectively on scrolls? People knew about books--they'd been brought over, and many cities kept records in books, because it was practical to turn over leaves when a new page was needed. But scrolls were Old Sartoran! After a period of partisanship wherein this group would turn the scroll sideways, begin at the new top and write all the way down (which looked good when one read to a group--if, that is, one could gracefully roll and unroll, which took practice) and some lined off the pages and kept to left-to-right.

But the book form, like the new alphabet form, gradually took the place of scrolls, which were relegated to Art Form or Treaty. Scrolls are still used for treaties in most places, and they are turned sideways and written down the page. In Colend, scrolls are often the conduit for personal messages by courtiers; as always in Colend, the quality of the paper, the ink, the handwriting, are as important as the grace of the message, and the ribbon or silken tassel that ties it up. Or the bloom tucked down the tube, leaves just peeking out. In Colend, the more personal involvement in the scroll, the more esteem that goes with it. So that, to a courtier, a message written on not-very-good paper, in ink a tad watery, the handwriting a dashing slash, the ribbon a crumpled one, the bloom faded, could mean a great deal more than a scroll on the finest bought paper, written in gold by a scribe, and tied with a ribbon the sender never touched. The latter could actually be an insult of the most extreme degree--measured by the fulsomeness of the compliments--because the sender never touched the letter at all. Whereas the first letter might have been written on paper the courtier made him or herself, the ink as well, the handwriting the dash of passion, the crumpled ribbon one worn at an important moment, the faded blossom pressed from hand to hand, or worn during an event or conversation that the writer wishes the reader to remember.

Books and Annotes


In some lands, there is a Book Guild, which includes binders, paper makers, ink makers, as well as scribes and certain mages. Because mages usually belong to a branch of the Mage Council and color-makers or ink-makers often belong to one of the arts guilds, there can be double memberships--and thus divided loyalties in guild matters. So there can be clusters of small guilds, connected to one another over cities, and sometimes across kingdom boundaries.

Books are hand written. Everybody prefers hand written. Books are written in colored ink, with variations in letter according to expression, decorated with pictures for those who can afford them. They are well bound, sometimes gilt. That is part of the pleasure of owning a book.

They are produced on what we'd call POD, or "print on demand"--though it rightly ought to be WOD, or "written on demand". Book sellers display books, and customers look at the display copies, then order their own copy. If they want a handsome volume, they pay extra. If they want a plain one, they pay the cheaper price. Then the copyists get to work.

There is nothing to prevent copyists from altering text, and a great many people don't particularly care, or even notice if an impatient copyist leaves out some boring bits, or abbreviates some words, or--if the copyist has literary ambitions--improves the text. But for those who insist on the copy being as written, there is the Fellowship of the Tower. Briefly, this elite group of scribes and mages dedicate themselves to reproducing books and scrolls exactly as written. If one desires a copy of a given book to be just as written, then one looks for that sigil. The price is actually not that much higher; what may add to the price is the shipping--though the Tower books do have display copies in certain cities outside of Sartor.

Books are usually read aloud, or passed from hand to hand. Scribe guilds tend to serve as libraries, and local magnates often have libraries that are open to anyone who wants to borrow a book. Since a simple spell can be put on books to return them (or other more mirthful reminders, depending on the personality, and sense of humor, of the owner) there is seldom a problem with vanishing books. Many established royal palaces, for instance, have enormous library collections on the ground or public floors. People (some places the limit is on courtiers, but that usually means there is at least one library elsewhere) can come in and borrow books. This leads to the existence of private archives, where writings the owners do not wish shared with the public are kept. There can even be three libraries, public, private, and personal.


Annotes are books with marginalia. It has been common for people to write comments on their books. Some of these books have been passed from hand to hand, and the comments garner more comments, or become as famed for the comments as for the original text. These Annotes are easily the most popular type of book offered by Tower scribes. Probably the most expensive one in existence is a Colendi court play that was added to by a famous courtier who described the royal performance, right down to costume and gesture, in the margins. This was during a a period in which the sophistication of the Colendi court attained a degree that was difficult to achieve, even for Colend. The court found out about the book, and it was passed from hand to hand; a fad developed for everyone to comment on the comments, layering wit upon wit, before it made its way back to the owner in his old age.

This book was shoved on the heir's shelves and forgotten in the next generation, as there was a swing toward the elegance of simplicity. But a century later, when the name of the writer and the courtier were legends, court rediscovered it, and delved into the book for details of sophistication with which to score off the rest of the in crowd. That book remains popular not just for its hints about sophsticated social usage, but because the witty comments riffing off one another give just a flavor of that long-ago court. And last but not least, it makes fun reading, if you know enough history to catch the contexts of the remarks. This book, with its many handwritings, little drawings, ink colors, is the most expensive one to reproduce, whether by magic or hand.

Yes, books can be reproduced by magic. But it's also somewhat laborious, as the scribe has to have ink there, so as to prevent a long-distance transfer spell being added to the spell necessary to copy the page upon the page at hand. Nevertheless, a fast mage can reproduce a book in a day; it's just wearily tedious, as there is no way to reproduce it other than page by page, though it's fun for young mages to watch the ink rise out of the well and write itself in twin to the orginal before his or her eyes.


As described above, for most of the world (particularly the southern half) the Sartoran alphabets, old and new, were the ur-alphabets. The southern alphabets in particular all can be traced back to variants on the Sartoran forms, except for Chwahir, which has two alphabet traditions. The oldest is nearly impossible to find traces of, due the systematic eradication of all traces of that culture first by the people who left, and second by those left behind. What was left hints at a pictographic language, with an enormous number of variations--many of which resemble Ancient Chinese in too many ways to seem coincidental. Modern Chwahir was designed outright by a ruler, using marks borrowed from other languages, and from the money-changer guild, whose orthography was fast to write and easy to learn. The Chwahir alphabet has taken some odd turns since then, especially when the Sonscarnas took control of magic learning as well as the kingdom, and forced everyday record-keeping notations from magical learning. The magic alphabet was forbidden.

Elsewhere in the world there are alphabets for use specifically in dealing with foreign words, secret alphabets for poetry, magic, and changing cultures, 'court hands'--which are usually preserved older forms for record keeping--and simplified versions that become popular. Alphabets based on Sartoran modes are usually the easiest to figure out: these are invariably forms based on consonants and blends, with vowel markings added either above each letter or below: when written above, the vowel sound comes before the consonant, and when written below, comes after.

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Page last modified on May 01, 2008, at 02:22 PM