"Nothing," Azoun Obarskyr said at last. "Nothing but this."
He regarded the dusty tangle of string rather dubiously, and then held it out to his queen.
Without hesitation Filfaeril ordered, "Undo the knot."
"What?" Azoun frowned at her, and then at the string. There was a knot, a simple knuckle-knot, at one end of it.
He shrugged and teased the knot apart.
And the featureless dun-hued wall nigh his elbow silently melted away to let dappled sunlight spill into the room, heralded by a faint rustling of leaves and birdsong.
Azoun stared at the oval opening that hadn't been there a moment earlier, smelled the fresh forest breeze wafting through it, shrugged again, and offered his wife his arm.
Smiling very faintly, Filfaeril took it, and together they stepped out into green and waiting fastnesses.
Our royal couple have just stumbled upon one of the simpler "emergency ways out" that the creator of a safehold can devise. Safehold creation definitely bears examination -- wherefore, read on. Where Faerûnians say "knuckle-knot," by the way, we would say "half-hitch."
Safeholds can be constructed by epic spellcasters who possess and cast the right spells in the correct (complex) process.
Unless a would-be safehold creator has access to a specific process (either a written record or a fully cooperative creator of safeholds), the character must devise the process -- a difficult endeavor of speculation and trial-and-error that often results in either failure or a spartan, short-lived safehold. (A Dungeon Master may choose to adjudicate success in devising a process by applying modified rules governing Founding Rituals from the Weapons of Legacy sourcebook; meditation, quests to gain the blood or organs of specific planar-traveling or ethereal creatures, and similar elements may be involved).
Available experts on safehold creation (almost all of whom are baelnorn or long-lived elf mages who can wield high magic) are very few -- and safehold experts willing to discuss such matters even rarer. The very best libraries, such as Candlekeep, may hold enough fragmentary hints and references to steer someone trying to devise a process for safehold creation in the right direction, suggesting necessary steps and possible spells (or magical effects to be achieved if precise spells remain unknown).
Safehold creation always involves numerous precise castings of spells and often multiple applications of the same spell. The necessary steps in all successful safehold construction processes can be outlined as follows:
The extradimensional space must first be created and immediately anchored (to a specific spot in the Realms, usually where its entry and exit portal will later be created). Then the space must be shaped (given permanent size and dimensions). Once the space is stable, a specially prepared item (or items, but there must be at least one) must be linked into its "walls" (continuous outer surface), at spots where future expansions or access points are planned.
At least one of these items is then replaced by a portal (allowing access to the interior of the safehold), and the item thereafter is either destroyed or converted -- by still other spells -- into a portal key. (Other items can be left "in the walls" for future use.)
Spells are then cast on the wall (the "skin" or "sphere" of the extradimensional space) to give it specific temperature and humidity characteristics, to link it to Material Plane sources of fresh air, and to give it some measure of permanence and stability.
What's missing from the spell arsenals of most arcane spellcasters today are the vital spells that stabilize a safehold, making it something that persists from year to year (as opposed to being swept away in a matter of days, or twisted into a cavity filled with wild magic or ethereal traits, by planar stresses and energy ripples in the local Weave). These magics were closely guarded elf family secrets even in the days of Myth Drannor's glory, and they are largely forgotten today.
Scarcely better-known are the spells linking walls to fresh air sources, which is why most of the few safeholds of more modern creation instead have tiny invisible portals linked to their immediate surroundings. As one might expect, these holes allow betraying sound and light to pass out into the surroundings, and individuals outside can cast some spells and missiles into a safehold. In fact, those outside can attempt to "smoke out" beings inside the safehold via fires, which can render dead or unconscious those who choose to remain within the safehold.
What happens when a spell takes effect inside a safehold depends entirely on what characteristics its creator gave to the safehold (usually by spells cast on its wall). Safeholds can and have collapsed, usually under magical onslaughts wherein a disintegrate spell is cast, or conjunctions of conflicting magical effects cause wild magic effects that destroy or "twist" the wall.
In a safehold collapse, creatures and items inside the safehold are hurled out of its confines through one of its portals (the portals "suck" at the interior as they collapse, because they collapse out from the safehold to their "other end" destinations). The creatures lose their footing and tumble (DC 15 Reflex save to avoid losing grip on held items), and they (and all worn or carried items) are harmed as if struck by an energy vortex spell cast by a 20th-level caster (Spell Compendium, page 81): an instantaneous blast of electricity that deals 1d8+20 points of damage (Reflex save for half; spell resistance applies, as do any immunities and resistances creatures may have to electricity).
Whew! It's probably a wise idea to leave safeholds behind and step into something entirely new next column. Azoun and Filfaeril are probably hoping it isn't a trap, or terrasque dung, or (gasp) a plot device.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .