The first time I learnt of the Redwyne’s shame was right after I was expelled from the Temple of High Worship in Fulcester. I was trying to remain invisible at Redgarden Keep by hiding in my lord-father’s library. Reading became an obsession mostly to dampen the feeling of loneliness I felt after having lost the two real friends I ever had. It also served to give me some direction and chase away the boredom. I occasionally organised trip to other keeps around the duchy to plunder their libraries as I did our own. Lord Mortimer Loxshore’s library at Brayford Keep was especially rich in information on the natural sciences. It helped that lord Mortimer and his daughter lady Laenore, who was of an age with me, were lovely people. He always welcomed me with open arms and invited me to stay for as long as I liked.
The Brayford Library
I had first met lord Mortimer when he came to Redgarden Keep as part of an attache of lords visiting to discuss matters of governance. This was shortly after being expelled from the temple, and my lord-father didn’t feel like he had much use for me so when lord Mortimer expressed a desire to wander the Redgarden library, I was ordered to show him around. We quickly bonded over our mutual love of books, folios, librams and manuscripts and we perused the library for hours. Our family library was rich in books on history with minor sections dedicated to religion, genealogy, heraldry, agriculture and engineering. Through lord Mortimer I discovered just how useful books could be to occupy the mind.
Before lord Mortimer departed later that ride he invited me to come and visit him at his home of Brayford. He wanted me to meet his daughter, the lady Laenore, sail the river Bray and inspect the irrigation works along its southern banks that had been completed only that summer, and of course inspect his renowned library. I was delighted but found my lady-mother hesitant. Later she would intimate to me that lord Mortimer was simply courting the possibility of a marriage between his daughter and myself. I had been expelled from the temple which had made some of the high nobility cautious about marriage, but a lord from a more modest house saw it as an excellent opportunity to elevate his daughter. Or so she reasoned.
Despite her reservations, she was glad to see my enthusiasm and arranged for my visit. With a retinue of men I rode out to Brayford Keep several rides later. My reception was modest and lovely. I had worried that perhaps my arrival would become a grand affair, but it seemed lord Mortimer’s sensibilities were one with my own. I met lord Mortimer’s younger brother, Ser Lorimer, who was the steward of Brayford and captain of the guard. Ser Lorimer was well known among the peasantry and an accomplished and honourable knight whose exploits were the subject of many a bard’s song and tale. Lord Mortimer was a widower and had no interest in marriage and Ser Lorimer had never married, and while the two were as different as night and day, there was an enviable warmth and mutual respect between them that made me long to see my little brother Danan again.
Lady Laenore turned out to be a really clever and sweet young woman, who clearly took after her lord-father. She was warm and caring and we got along very well. Her near constant companion was a young boy by the name of Harlan who I later learned was a bastard sired by Ser Lorimer. His mother had passed and so came to live at Brayford Keep. He was tall and strong like his father. The two of them were delightful companions during my visit.
Brayford Keep sat upon the river Bray, a narrow but deep river whose steep valley had been an excellent source of fruits. The valley required extra military care due to the many places in the hills that rogues and brigands could hide. Ser Lorimer had a tight hold over the lands but was often called to ride out to pursue bandits and keep order. I learned all this in the first few days of my visit as we sailed up and down the river on lord Mortimer’s boat, the Anna-Gabrielle, named so after his late wife, who originally came from Beauclaire, like my own lady-mother.
The rest of my time at Brayford Keep was spent in the company of Laenore and Harlan and wandering the vast library. Laenore was an avid reader, too. Harlan had more desire to leave the grounds and go exploring. They had long since agreed upon a compromise; whatever interesting thing Laenore found in one of her lord-father’s books on natural sciences, they would try and find in the valley of the river Bray. This way it would be exciting and educational. Both lord Mortimer and Ser Lorimer encouraged this and I found it to be incredibly stimulating.
One small section of the Brayford library was dedicated to the arcane arts. Whenever I grew tired of the natural sciences I would read books from that section to satisfy my curiosity. There were treaties on magical theory, books on the planes, like Adam Neville’s “The Conjuncture of Sphere” and the anonymous “Travelling Between Worlds”, magical creatures, like “Remarks on Basilisks and Cockatrices” by Brother Adelbert of Suzail, wonderous items, descriptions of magical swords and their legends, and even some silly books like “Tyromancy, or the Noble Art of Cheese Divination”.
When I discussed some of these books with Laenore and Harlan, it was Harlan who was keen on going out into the valley to see if we could find a magical sword or a wyvern’s lair. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we never found out exactly where to look. When reading about animals, plants and local legends, we always had some inkling on where to look or what to do, and usually we were quite successful. Unfortunately, in this case we had none, and that bothered me.
At least once a year, until my admission at the Circle, I would return to Brayford Keep, as a guest of Lord Mortimer. Unfortunately, lord Mortimer’s age meant that Laenore was being groomed to become the Lady Loxshore of Brayford. Harlan was training under the supervision of his legendary father and was sure to be an accomplished soldier. Responsibilities got in the way of our expeditions, but that time was very precious to me, since it gave me some much needed direction after being expelled from the temple.
Ulster the Black’s Grimoire
The vast Redgarden library became a safe haven from my lord-father’s disappointment. Much larger than the Brayford library it was an endless source of interesting books to read. I would still organise field trips as a result of some things I read in the books, but the frequency and the nature of them was different than from the trips I undertook with Laenore and Harlan.
Like I mentioned before, the Redgarden library had a different focus, mostly historical. My trips often surrounded legends and ruins that could be found dotting the Fulcestershire countryside. I started to delight in roaming around hidden and forgotten places, climbing through moss-covered ruins and searching through the cellars of long collapsed holdfasts. Most of what I found there were decayed larders and stores of soured wine, but every time I stumbled upon something I’d pretend I had found some hidden treasure.
In the wintertime the options for field trips were limited and despite having a variety of books at my disposal, I occasionally grew bored. One such time I found a few shelves of curious books, mostly written in archaic languages I had not mastered. I quickly identified some of them as Netherese books and started trying to master the dead language. I did it for the challenge of it, to stave off the boredom, but ultimately didn’t lead to any great insights.
However, in the search for materials to help me puzzle through the Netherese books I came across a nearby set of black, leather-bound librams, adorned with some macabre silver skulls. There were four in total, each containing curious writing accompanied by diagrams, drawings and formulae that I couldn’t comprehend. There was a name on the inside of each of the books, penned in the same ink as the rest, written in the same steady hand as the rest; Ulster Redwyne.
I had not heard the name before and at the time I could not have known just how deeply my ancestor would affect my life from that moment going forward. Initially, I did what I always did and did research on the Redwyne family. I went through books of genealogy and traced our family back as far as I could in search of Ulster Redwyne. I quickly found that the name Ulster was nowhere to be found.
I started to suspect that the books I was consulting had been curated and sanitised of the information I was looking for. I noticed that sometimes a particular name had been crossed out, or was omitted altogether. Once I had identified the generation and the family relations, I focused my attention there and found some references to someone disparagingly referred to as “the Blackwyne.” Initially I thought it referred to the bastard child of Lord Riordan Redwyne the Second, Sixth Lord of Fulcestershire, but when I found a book on lord Riordan and his children, several pages had been torn out of the book a long time ago, with many others being heavily damaged.
The information that was left convinced me that this was not a matter of a bastard child. Great effort had been taken to erase one of lord Riordan’s children from the annals of history. I put the book aside and started going around the keep, asking anyone who would listen questions about lord Riordan and his children. Eventually I worked my way up to Ser Osmund Waynewood, the steward of Redgarden Keep. He would not budge and told me nothing of value, until, out of frustration, I dropped the names “Blackwyne”.
The old knight grabbed my arm and pulled me close. They say a man’s strength is the last to leave him as he grows older, and it certainly seemed true of Ser Osmund judging by the bruises he left on my upper arm. He told me never to mention that name again, to give up on my foolishness and that I was going down the path of ruin. Naturally that only made me more determined.
I decided to give up on finding more information on Ulster Redwyne. Ulster was was almost certainly the third child of lord Riordan, behind his son Graemme and daughter Gwynneth. I also knew that Ulster had brought shame to our house and had earned the name Blackwyne for it. And apparently, the shame was so bad that it still made people act strangely generations later.
The Discovery of Magic
Instead, I decided to focus on the curious writing in the books. I quickly found that the writing in the books was arcane writing, with a healthy mix of draconic, abyssal, infernal and celestial mixed in. I mastered none of these languages, but I was determined to learn more. I excavated every dark corner of the Redgarden library, made trips to other libraries and slowly started to translate small parts of each page of the first book. The further I got into the first book, the harder the text became to decipher.
Eventually, after rides and months, I concluded that the first book was a book of spells and formulae. As that conclusion formed in my mind over time, so did both the excitement and trepidation. I knew I was dealing with forbidden and potentially dangerous books, and I was also quite aware of the laws of the lands; none were to practice or study magic without supervision and approval of the Circle of Magi.
I ended up focusing on one single chapter in the first book and after long months I managed to translate it fully. At least, to the point where I roughly understand what the text said and what the purpose of the spell was; it was a transmutation spell which could repair and restore simple objects.
The spell only required a very specific incantation and gestures, no complicated alchemical ingredients like with some others which I had given up translating. I wanted to see if I could try and cast the spell, but I was so terrified that for rides after completing the translation I didn’t dare to attempt it. When I finally worked up the courage I made sure to try it in seclusion. The first few attempts made me feel foolish for thinking I could ever really work magic.
But then something happened. Or at least, I think it did. I couldn’t be sure, but I did think I saw something happening to the quill I had broken in half which was the focus of the spell. With every concurrent ride I spent trying to make the spell work I was bolstered in my confidence as I saw more and more of an effect on the quill. First the feather of the quill started to unruffle. Then ink-spots started to disappear. And then finally the two pieces were joined together, only to fall apart again. Finally, after hours and hours of practice, I managed to do it! The quill was made whole again. Brand new! I had trouble believing it!
For days I checked whether the quill would remain whole. When it did, I started to turn my attention back to the book on lord Riordan. I took it out and laid out the damaged, illegible pages and started, one by one, repairing and restoring the them.
It told the story of the renegade wizard Ulster Redwyne, son of lord Riordan of House Redwyne, who had been unwilling to practice magic within the confines of the king’s laws. Who was unwilling to submit to the Circle of Magi and escaped during his trial only to be the subject of a months long manhunt across the kingdom. Who was responsible for the loss of countless lives in his pursuit to practice magic without constraints.
I felt like a great mystery had been solved. I had an ancestor who was a wizard and whose spell books sat forgotten in the Redgarden library. The discovery of my family history had gone hand in hand with the discovery of my own abilities to manipulate the arcane forces, albeit in a very minor way. I realised that this was something important, something I was not allowed to keep from my parents.
My parents had started to focus their attention fully on Danan and an equilibrium had fallen over our house. As long as they were not too often reminded of me things moved on smoothly. When, one night during supper, I told them about what I had been able to do everyone was stunned to silence. For long moments my lord-father and lady-mother said nothing. Danan and Ser Osmund looked from my lord-father to me and back in anticipation of his response.
I got anxious for him to say something and I lost my patience. I grabbed a wooden ladle which one of the servants had used to serve our food and snapped it across my knee. Stunned the others looked on as I executed the gestures and spoke the incantation of the spell. When the ladle had once again been repaired in my hands my lord father stood up, wide eyed, pushing off from the table so hard that he knocked over his chair and several cups on the table.
I do not remember very well all that he said. It was not good. When he calmed down again, Ser Osmund suggested that I might apply to the Circle of Magi and study there. He said that the Circle had a lot of influence and could aid the family at court. My father did not want to hear about it. I would bring ruin to our family the way the Blackwyne had, all those generations ago. When my lady-mother stood in support of Ser Osmund my father became furious. He had already been shouting, but I was certain he could now be heard all the way from Colwyn Bay to the Warrington Hills.
That night I was plagued by feverish dreams of a bearded man in black robes summoning unspeakable evils from the ground and leading them on a nightly assault on a village. I was hiding in a hut. When the skeletal warriors broke down the door, I fell through the floor into darkness and was caught by strong arms. I couldn’t see anything but I could hear a heavy, baritone voice tell me that everything would be alright, that he would watch over me. Everything felt warm.
When I woke up my mother was in my room and she announced that I was to apply to the Circle. She would arrange for everything, but I had to swear to forego the use of the Redwyne name and renounce my claims to the title of Lord of Fulcestershire. I was overjoyed.
The Circle of Magi
My mother wasn’t lying when she said she would arrange for everything. She used gold from her dowry to secure a place at the Tower of High Sorcery for one Ethan of Fulcester. She bought the high wizards’ discretion about my identity and she paid off my punishment for engaging in magecraft against the king’s laws. What she had not bought was a privileged position at the tower. It would undermine my assumed identity as Ethan of Fulcester, and considering what happened at the temple she thought it would be best for me to keep a low profile.
My time at the tower was complicated. I progressed through the curriculum very quickly, which caused some debate among the high wizards. My aptitude for magic was undeniable, but some feared that my ascent was too steep and that the knowledge and power I was attaining should be tempered with the kind of wisdom that only accompanies age. As a result, even though I had shown myself capable, some of the high wizards had revoked my access to their libraries and my progress had slowed down to a tedious pace.
Jealousy reigned among the other apprentices. After my identity was uncovered by some of my peers, no doubt through a loose-lipped high wizard who disapproved of my talents, the rumours started. A popular apprentice by the name of Lynesse of Angersleigh claimed that I was a reincarnation of Ulster the Black and that I had come to the tower to take vengeance on the Circle of Magi by usurping all the knowledge in the libraries and destroying the tower. Even though I denied any relations, the other apprentices did not relent.
There had been a few high wizards who I was on friendly terms with, but no peers I could talk to. I started spending more and more time by myself. I would take books from the libraries and archives that were still available to me and I would take them to the highest balcony in the tower. I would sit there and read, surrounded by the ravens living in the steeple-roof of the tower. The rookery was run by an old wizard who took a liking to me and would later help my summon Blackwing, but that’s another story.
The Trial of Ulster the Black
One day, after classes I decided to skip supper and head up to the balcony. I had decided to scour the archives for mentions of Ulster the Black and had found a book called “Arcane Inquisitions” by Hendrik de Jonkheer, a royal war wizard and a one-time high wizard at the Circle. The book described the case of my ancestor who had been charged as a renegade wizard, one who practices magic while not belonging to the Circle of Magi, which was forbidden under the king’s laws. He also stood accused of being a necromancer.
The circular room was dark except for an orb of light hanging high overhead. Ulster the Black, the renegade, was chained on either side, wrist to floor. His clothing tattered, his hair unkempt, it was clear that his time in the cells had not been kind to him, but there was a gleam of defiance in his eyes that I found troubling.
“Ulster Redwyne of House Redwyne, you are charged with renegacy against the king’s laws, against the traditions of the Circle and the teachings of the recognised religions of our lands. By royal decree, affixed by the seal of the king, I was named inquisitor extraordinary and plenipotentiary in order to adjudicate this case. It is my verdict, and by proxy the verdict of the king, as well as the verdict of the Circle, that you are guilty and sentenced to hanging by the neck until dead. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
The man got up off his knees and walked in my direction until both the chains stood taught and he could advance no further. I must have been a disembodied voice to him, standing in the shadows as I was, but his evil eyes pierced my soul. He responded;
“All nobility are weak, and the Circle members are as arrogant as they are ignorant. They do not deign to implement their own verdict in the same way that they refuse to allow magic to be used freely. Yes, yes, the Circle is the sacred guardian of the secrets of magic, et cetera, et cetera. I was brought up in the Circle, so I am fully aware of their ridiculous dogma. It is the dogma of cowards. Man’s dominance over nature has marked the upward surge of civilisation. It is through the pursuit of power that man can reach his potential.”
He paused, lowered his head, his face hidden in shadow.
“Tonight is Midinváerne,” he continued, “the winter solstice, midwinter. Some call it deadwinter. It is the blackest of night, where light and life are at their weakest. Watch carefully and learn what happens to those who do not respect the power of magic.”
I do not know where the wraiths came from, but before any of us could mount a proper defence he had broken his chains and sank away into his own shadow, only to reappear among his accusers and strike terror among them. Glyphs of pain lit up the ground wherever he stepped out of the shadows. Before the wraiths were defeated and chaos had subsided, he had disappeared.
The rest of the entry on Ulster the Black dealt mostly with the fallout of his escape, the subsequent manhunt as he terrorised the countryside for months and to his defeat at the Battle of Exbridges. Something stirred deep inside of me when reading those words of defiance. I felt connected to him on a level that I could not quite comprehend. On a level that surpassed a mere kinship. I felt his words confirmed and underlined what I had been feeling myself, that a few unenlightened and craven high wizards were keeping me from reaching my potential.
I had already given up maintaining my adopted identity in order to please others. I decided to give up worrying about what the people like Lynesse of Angersleigh thought. Hers was a response born out of fear. It was her cowardice that left her a mid-mark student at the tower. I would shed myself of my own cowardice and reach my potential. I started coming up with a plan.
The Final Ordeal
I was keenly aware that only a minority of high wizards at the tower supported me and saw the possibility of greatness in me. Maynard of Cheriton, Mistress Halicent, Joffrey the Evoker and Seer Freya of Huntly. would likely support me. The others were afraid of my ambition or saw in me the potential they could never achieve. It sounds arrogant to say it, but I felt that even though I was still a year away from undergoing the ordeal, the final test, I was ready for it. If I waited for the high wizards to unanimously agree that I was ready to undergo the ordeal and graduate from the tower, it would likely be at the same time as the others, perhaps even later, just to teach me a lesson.
It was possible to undergo the ordeal early if you could get a majority of high wizards to agree that you were ready to try. There was only one attempt and those who failed were forbidden to practice magic forever. If they survived, that is, for the ordeal could be incredibly taxing.
I started by talking to the high wizards who had been supportive and had treated me fairly. Most of them thought I had a good chance of completing the ordeal successfully, while some were cautiously optimistic about my chances. When I started gauging the willingness of the high wizards who had not been so supportive or downright combative towards me, I was surprised to find that the ones who had been the least pleasant were the most ready to agree. Like lady Catrìona Dunfanaghy, who never had a good word to say about me, never called on me, and always derided my work. I quickly determined that they simply wanted to get rid of me, through failure or through death.
It left me unperturbed. The ordeal had cost the lives of many apprentices, but I did not feel like I had a lot to lose. I was unlikely to get more adept at the skills that I had learnt while at the tower due to the restrictions put upon my ascension, so any more time waiting for the high wizards to put me forward for the ordeal themselves would not change my chances at succeeding. I had little to lose. I had no family, no friends and no place at the tower or among the Circle. I wanted to leave. I wanted to leave a wizard.
The evening before the ordeal, I dreamt I was Ulster the Black. Of riding a black steed with flaming hooves, flanked on either side by riders in skeletal armour. Of being pursued by knights bearing purple banners and carrying shields with purple dragons on it. They were the king’s men. We drove our horses hard through the night until we crossed a wooden bridge and came to a halt. The king’s men were bearing down on us lowering their lances, ready to run us through. I cast a spell and felt a surge of cold energy rise up from the ground and rush up my legs, through my body and out of my arms as a deathly chill which froze the wood of the bridge and covered it in a thin layer of ice. The moment the king’s men thundered down the bridge the wood splintered into a thousand pieces and the horses plummeted into the water below.
To this day, I felt like I don’t like talking about the ordeal. I passed, but it took me months to recover. It is a test meant to challenge an aspiring wizard on all aspects of wizardry, but my ordeal was a vicious attack on my obvious physical shortcomings. I cannot be sure if what I am about to say actually happened, or was a product of the illusions I was confronted with during the ordeal, but there were moments were I could hear a strong, baritone voice in my ear. A voice telling me what to do, which spells to cast and which corridor to choose. When my body was close to giving up, the voice told me that everything would be alright. I would feel a renewed vigour in my limbs and a determination I never knew I possessed.