Randal Vrenn was a well-liked magician and trickster, who made a decent living with his wife and young son in their home outside Silverymoon by selling entertaining magical trinkets and joke items. His wife, Miri, was an artist and sculptor of considerable talent, and when the two collaborated on a project, the results were often some of their best creations. The most successful of these projects was a slender stone hoop, attachable to a wall or (with another of Randal’s products) sturdily suspendable from a ceiling. The ring itself had a natural, slightly-elliptical look, with intricate engravings on all sides. The device was actually a windowbox of sorts—plants could be grown in the ring at any angle, without roots or soil; the hoop would magically fertilize and suspend the plants in its center, gently supported to be perpendicular to its plane. Now, Miri saw them relatively often around Silverymoon; they were easy to recognize because no other devices allowed saffron to grow atop upside-down lilies. When she and Randal had shown off their first one a year ago, it had been quite a hit, and they were suddenly swamped with orders, including one from the High Palace itself.
Randal and Miri had worked long hours to meet all the requests for the flower rings, and both had grown quite tired of making them long before the orders stopped coming, but neither was much inclined to turn away the excited customers—for two artists, a constant flow of commissions was a rare gift.
Soon, the tides of work calmed down enough for the couple to stop and think for more than a few moments at a time. With another child on the way, they decided to use the substantial amount of money they had made on flower rings to buy a spot of land within Silverymoon proper, in the growing Southbank area. The move left them exhausted and poor once again, but they were happy, even receiving a wholly unexpected visit from Alustriel on the opening day of their modest new shop, to thank them both personally for the flower ring. The move also turned out to have saved their life—only a few tendays after they had left their house, the demons from Hellgate Keep drew up to the very edges of Silverymoon, and by the time they were defeated, the couple’s old home was long destroyed.
Born to these two artisans in the Year of the Shield, Laelah Vrenn was the second child in the modest but happy family living in new Southbank Silverymoon. Her brother Ander, two years Laelah’s senior, was fascinated by the new baby, spending copious amounts of time attempting to get her to play with him. This took all forms, from challenging the infant to races, to yelling contests, to feeding her things he found in dark corners. By the time Laelah was old enough to appreciate the companionship, the two were loyal friends and partners in all mischief.
Their parents wasted no part of their children’s youths. The pair were encouraged to play in the front part of the house, which served as the shop area. As energetic children always do, Ander and Laelah drew attention to themselves, and (Randal certainly believed) into the shop. He was the salesman, outgoing and friendly to the dourest Dwarven warlock, and it was rare to see someone leave the Vrenn household without a smile on his face. There were no more runaway successes like the flower rings had been, but the Vrenns made enough to live on inside the city walls, and they lived happily, indeed.
As Ander and Laelah grew older, they took more of an interest in their parents’ crafts. Both Randal and Miri happily answered their children’s (frequent) questions, indulged their (equally-common) requests to try things for themselves, and dealt with the (inevitable) messes in high spirits. Both children showed considerable talent with each of their parents’ crafts. Laelah especially enjoyed calligraphy, which she learned at the same age as all children who could afford education did, but she picked it up phenomenally quickly. She loved crafting the letters and occasionally got carried away, looking down at a bit of parchment to find that she had scrawled innumerable ‘L’s onto it, chasing the perfect figure across the page.
When her mother deemed she was old enough to start experimenting with pottery and sculpting, Laelah was quickly entranced by the beautiful, flowing shapes she could make, and her mother was secretly astounded at the precision with which her 8-year-old daughter worked the clay and the chisel.
Laelah’s brother was little different, though he was more interested (perhaps because of his age) in his father’s craft—that of fun, jokes, and magical games. Still, the day came when 12-year-old Ander came home looking tired and flushed, and proudly announced that he would be learning the way of the sword as a squire under Sorn Aluthair. A gleam shone in the boy’s eyes as he talked, then, of joining the Knights in Silver one day.
Randal recognized that gleam—his own brother had had it once, and had in fact become one of those fabled Knights. No doubt his visit two months ago had had something to do with the newfound warrior that Ander had discovered within himself. Randal had no desire for such activities himself—sure, the Knights were fabled across Toril, but his interests lay closer to the home. Nevertheless, he gave Ander his consent with a wink, which was when Laelah ran up to him, urgency in her eyes.
“I need a job, too!” she said, dirty-blonde hair leaping about frantically. “I want to learn to be a Knight, too!”
“You’re too—” Miri began to call from the back of the house, but Randal, kneeling in front of his excitable daughter, interrupted her in a soft voice; “No one can be a Silver Knight ‘til they’ve seen fifteen years, which is a little while yet even for your brother. He’s just going to be following some other low-ranking Knight around, doing errands for him and learning what he can from what he sees,” Randal spoke for the benefit of his son, as much as his daughter. “You wouldn’t want to do that, would you? He’s just going to be cleaning up horse poop!”
“I guess not…” Laelah started, but then Ander cut in with new information:
“Yeah, but I’ll be getting paid!”
A brief pause shot through the air, and then Laelah’s frenetic jumping resumed, to the new tune of “I want to get paid! I want a job, too!”
Her father laughed heartily as he stood up. “Well, my little flower, there’s something I bet we can find for you!”
Laelah soon found herself in a job she’d never known was a job—a herald-in-training, that’s what she was! She worked at the Map House, helping people find all the maps they wanted to see, and making sure to tell them not to copy or take them. It was a lot of work, but she’d been told to expect that, and at the end of her first long day, she remembered why it was worth it: she left the Map House that evening with 2cp in her pocket!
At first, working in the Map House was hard. There was a lot that Laelah didn’t know, and Esklindrar, the man who ran the place, didn’t have any patience for mistakes—they usually ended up in arguments when the patrons went up front to pay when they were done. It made Laelah nervous, so after her first day (into which she had been thrust without much more training than “show people what they want to see. You can take your time, but don’t look like you’re taking your time”), she came in early the next morning to ask one of the friendlier-looking loremasters to show her where everything was before she was supposed to start work. The older woman kindly obliged, taking Laelah around and explaining the layout and organization of the place to her. They were only about halfway through when Laelah’s first customers arrived, but she had already figured out the rest of the layout—or what she thought it ought to be, anyway—from the parts she’d seen so far, and so thanked the elderly loremaster and scurried off to help the young pair of Elves who’d just entered the House.
When taking patrons around now, Laelah was already much more confident, and a couple times took a patron on a short detour through another part of the House, just to see if she’d been right about how it was organized—she had. The whole building was actually a cross-sectioned map of Faerûn, so that information was grouped roughly geographically and by population. There was a fantastic amount of information there about the North and the Heartlands, whose sections took up many floors each, progressing approximately East the higher up in the tower they were stored. Because of the cross-sectional nature, she realized, patrons would often get confused, because to go North-South across Faerûn they would have to stay on the same level, but any great distance East-West could take them up or down several floors, respectively. There were no directional mistakes from Laelah that day, or any other day after, and Esklindrar (and the other staff) noticed.
For the first couple of days, Laelah returned home earlier than her brother did. After just a couple of his stories—of how he got to ride out (with escort, his mother pried out of him) to meet a platoon of the Knights in Silver, of how Sorn Aluthair had said Ander might get a sword of his own one day soon, and so on—she began staying later at the Map House, spending extra time simply browsing the maps herself. Crossing the Moonbridge after work in the eveningtime was one of her favorite things—the place seemed enchanted (of course, Laelah knew it really was), and she often stood at its peak for tens of minutes, twirling around on the smooth, softly-glowing bridge. Later, at home, she would show off her superior knowledge of the geography of the League of the Silver Marches, to her brother’s ill-disguised chagrin.
This friendly rivalry lasted for some time. As Laelah had thought, it took much longer than Ander had tried to tell her it would be before he got a sword of his own. When, one summer evening, he finally did come home with one, it was old and a little worn, but he cherished and polished it late by the evening fire. It was two days later that Ali, the friendly old loremaster who had shown Laelah around on her second day, sat down with the young girl for her noontime meal.
“Mind if I sit here, Laelah?”
“Of course not! Is that all you’re eating today?” Laelah knew that the old woman always brought a small lunch of purple hipporafi mushrooms and flex moss, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say—Ali normally ate in the staff lounge, not out on the sun-baked sandstone steps of the entryway.
“How many years have you got, girl? Thirteen? Fourteen?” the woman asked, her eyes crinkling energetically as she talked, and popped a mushroom into her mouth. “These are so good. Would you like one?”
“No, thanks,” Laelah replied, “I don’t like mushrooms that don’t grow on trees.” She wrinkled her nose at the prospect, and her companion laughed. “And I’m only ten-and-two-thirds,” the girl added as an afterthought.
Ali’s eyes widened for a moment. “Ten and—well, it’s no wonder you haven’t—” her voice became a mumble that Laelah couldn’t hear.
“What did you say, Ali? Why haven’t I what?”
Ali cleared her throat before answering. “You’re a bright girl; you know that? I mean, really talented.”
“Well, my ma says I’m a good writer, and my pa calls me ‘his little Moonstar,’ but I don’t think—”
“A good writer, eh? I’ve never seen you write, Laelah, though it comes as no surprise that you’d excel—your Chondathan is beautifully expressive for a girl your age. Will you do something for me?” The old scholar produced a quill, inkwell, and a scrap of parchment from the folds of her robes. “Would you write my name on here for me?”
Only the briefest of half-eye-rolls separated the end of Ali’s sentence from Laelah’s accepting of the proffered quill. Adults were always surprised if she could write anything beyond her own name—though she knew that was because many of them didn’t know the symbols for anything else. Laelah dipped the quill in the inkwell, inspected its tip for a brief moment—this was a very nice quill—and then wrote “Ali Felaidinai is a very nice woman who likes smelly mushrooms.” When she handed the quill and parchment back to the loremaster for inspection, the old woman’s eyes were wide and her jaw a bit slack.
“Woha ne inpedit…” She took the parchment, still staring at the younger girl, who quickly asked, “What does that mean?”
Ali gathered herself finally, and managed to respond “It’s Illuskan, and—”
“Oh, I know. I was wondering what it meant; I haven’t heard those words before. ‘Woha’ sounds kind of like ‘Waohe’, for ‘skill.’ What does it mean?”
A moment’s pause, and then “It means ‘prodigy,’ dearie. You were very close. It's an idiom meaning approximately ‘what incredible talent,’ which is what you have. I’ve seen very few people—full Scholars and Mages, mind you—write like that, so fast and clear. And you know Illuskan?”
Now it was Laelah’s turn to be shocked—Ali had just compared her script to that of the Mages! “I-I, but, well yes. Yes, I know Illuskan—my parents insisted—”
“Well, young Lady. I believe I have seen and heard just about enough.”
Laelah opened her mouth to speak, but the old woman cut her off: “Did you know, when you first came here, I thought you were a new young girl from the Conclave looking to make a little extra coin without joining the Spellguard. Well, obviously I soon learned that was not the case, and did a little looking around to find out who you were. The daughter of Randal Vrenn, no less! My grandson Ubil positively adores your father's toys. But then I had to wonder why you weren't attending school, and now it's obvious; you're still underage. But, I wasn't lying before, girl. You’re something special. I watched you that day, when you'd just started working here. You had the whole place mapped out long before you let me leave, didn't you?”
Laelah nodded shyly.
“See, I knew it! A bona fide lauenth al lauetar!”
Laelah’s cheeks burned, and she lowered her eyes to trace a beetle across the light sandstone. “I practice writing a lot; it's not that special! I'm certainly no—”
“You know Elven, too, do you? I should have guessed. Well, Laelah, you must know you can't stay here forever, as much as Esklindrar might wish it. You're going places, young lady! I've talked to your parents, and they have given me permission—if you wish it—to petition the High Lady Alustriel for your early admission into the Lady's College.”
Laelah sat in stunned silence on the smooth stone steps, and Ali chided her, “Oh, come on, it's not that bad, is it? Come now, what do you say?”
The young girl turned her head up to look into the face of the old woman. “I—I—yes! But I—”
Now Ali smiled. “No buts about it, kiddo. I'll send a petition to Alustriel right now. And you, dear, need to get back to work.” A smile winked in her eyes as she stood, and swept gracefully back inside the old building, leaving Laelah on the stairs, blinking in wonder.