Vilgefortz of Roggeven was, at varying points, a Druid, a Mercenary, a Mage, and eventually, the greatest living sorcerer. His story is long, vague, and convoluted. Most of what we know of the man is said by himself, and he is not a very modest gentleman. The following synopsis is told using information gathered from the Witcher book series, and will thus contain spoilers. Depending on the route taken by the show, this will contain spoilers for that as well.
Despite proving to be the primary antagonist for the series, he doesn’t appear, nor is he mentioned, until the third book (Blood of Elves). His first few mentions (Page 19 of Blood, Chapter 1/Page 1 of Blood, Chapter 3) are positive, telling of the events on Sodden Hill. Triss notes Vilgefortz as one of the brave mages who she stood side by side with on the Hill. He is noted as having done the most at the Hill and is now the lead in magic.
The peace agreement was the work of Vilgefortz of Roggeveen. It is well known that his plan was for the armistice to gradually turn into a permanent peace. Vilgefortz will not back a war. And the Chapter, believe me, will do whatever Vilgefortz wishes. After Sodden he has become the most important person in the Chapter—let other magicians say what they will, Vilgefortz plays first fiddle there.Page 221 of Blood, Chapter 6
This is confirmed later in the same chapter when Artaud Terranova and Tissia de Vries go to converse with him. Despite the fact that the decision on what to do before the opening of the second Northern-Nilfgaardian war was meant to be made by the Chapter, Vilgefortz settled the matter himself. His counsel was taken to heart, and the Chapter did as he wished, nothing. Such a largely political decision is eventful on its own, but the fact that it was made by a single man is… unheard of. However, that belongs to future analysis of his political actions, in a paper designated for that.
We get the origins of the man in the next book, in Chapter 3 of Time of Contempt. Honestly, this is my favorite passage in all of Sapowski’s work. I could write pages on this passage. Unfortunately, our focus is solely on Vilgefortz. We learn his story when asked a simple question: Who is his mother?
You see, Vilgefortz intended to enter a compact with Geralt. Vilgefortz relates a lot with Geralt, and their histories are incredibly similar. Vilgefortz sees Geralt as a potential ally, and Geralt is deeply important to his plans. He needs Geralt to be a mage, however, for the plan.
‘Why didn’t you become a sorcerer, Geralt? Weren’t you ever attracted by the Art?’
Geralt, of course, is frank as ever and always self-critical. He thinks himself becoming a mage is the same as a dwarf turning into an Elf. Of course, Geralt had the skill to use magic, he has one of the strongest natural magical ability among all Witchers, but he chooses not to, because he thinks it would be ridiculous. But Vilgefortz is quite infatuated with Geralt, and so he wants to get him on his side. As Vilgefortz mentions repeatedly, the both of them are Swashbucklers and Churls, vagabonds, killers and vile men. And, as a final mention of their similarity, he mentions their relationship with women. To say Geralt’s relationship with Yen is a healthy one is categorically incorrect. While they both greatly love each other, they both cheat, lie and emotionally abuse one another. However, Geralt is fine with that. He loves Yen, and she loves him, the rest doesn’t matter to him. Geralt is content as a swashbuckling churl to his powerful girlfriend. But Vilgefortz’s inability to feel lesser drove him to rage against the woman he once loved.
Geralt’s mother was a Druidess, you see, and a master mage. Geralt simply accepts that and moves on, but Vilgefortz sees it as another parallel. Vilgefortz was an orphan, thrown into a gutter and raised by Druids. Until, of course, his innate magical talent was discovered, and his heritage was revealed: his was the blood of Magic, just as Geralt’s. But Vilgefortz internalized it. And it arose in relation to his love for a witch.
So Vilgefortz tells his story to Geralt. This story, I think, is exaggerated, enhanced and some may be a lie. Here is the conversation, or at least some of it.
‘The person who discovered my modest abilities was, of course, a sorcerer, whom I met by accident,’ continued Vilgefortz calmly. ‘He offered me a tremendous gift: the chance of an education and of self-improvement, with a view to joining the Brotherhood of Sorcerers.’
‘I rejected it in a rude – even boorish – way… He shrugged and went on his way, by doing so branding himself and his fellows with the stigma of insensitive, arrogant, whoresons, worthy of the greatest contempt.’
‘I’d had a gutful of druids,’ said Vilgefortz. ‘So I gave up my sacred oak groves and set off into the world. I did a variety of things. I’m still ashamed of some of them. I finally became a mercenary. My life after that unfolded, as you might imagine, predictably. Victorious soldier, defeated soldier, marauder, robber, rapist, murderer, and finally a fugitive fleeing the noose. I fled to the ends of the world. And there, at the end of the world, I met a woman. A sorceress.’
‘The similarities are over,’ said the sorcerer without lowering his gaze, ‘since I couldn’t cope with the feelings I felt for that woman. I couldn’t understand her feelings, and she didn’t try to help me with them. I left her. Because she was promiscuous, arrogant, spiteful, unfeeling and cold. Because it was impossible to dominate her, and her domination of me was humiliating. I left her because I knew she was only interested in me because my intelligence, personality and fascinating mystery obscured the fact that I wasn’t a sorcerer, and it was usually only sorcerers she would honour with more than one night. I left her because … What I felt for that woman was hate…’
‘I imagine I don’t need to finish; you can guess what happened next. I became a sorcerer. Out of hatred. And only then did I understand how stupid I was. I mistook stars reflected in a pond at night for those in the sky.’
‘How do you even know that word, my swashbuckling friend? From the temple school in Ellander, where they teach the pupils to read and write just twenty-four runes? Oh, my genetic wanderer, upon whom Tissaia de Vries deigned to smile. Oh, my Witcher, my swashbuckler, who fascinates Philippa Eilhart so much her hands tremble. At the recollection of whom Triss Merigold blushes crimson. Not to mention the effect you have on Yennefer of Vengerberg…’
‘Then listen, comrade swashbuckler. Quite a nasty scrap is brewing. A bloody fight for life or death, with no mercy shown. One side will triumph, and the other will be pecked apart by ravens…’Chapter 3 of Contempt
This passage is one of the most important in the whole series. It describes Vilgefortz’s world view, and it announces, loud and clear, that Vilgefortz is an important man, and one to be feared. Indeed, Vilgefortz is one of two characters who we know is a child to a mage. The other being, of course, Geralt of Rivia. These two men are masters of their shared crafts, and both of them are kin, of a sort.
This also reveals Vilgefortz’s life motivation: A feeling of inadequacy. A feeling that some are better. A feeling that he just isn’t… enough. His entire worldview was created by his relationship with his unnamed sorceress lover. He hates and despises weakness and his inability to not be equal. This obsession with power would lead him to one, singular, location.
The Elder Blood.
The full extent of the Elder Blood, like above, cannot be properly explained, but what it is doesn’t matter. What matters is that Vilgefortz wanted it badly. And he knows who has it, and he knows where she was. You see, you’ll notice how he casually mentioned the temple in Ellander, the very same temple in which Ciri resided for a little less than a year. Vilgefortz’s agents have been watching Geralt and his company for years. Vilgefortz has been hunting for the Elder Blood, making plans to have a perfect opportunity to swoop in and take it. He spoke to Elves, Nilfgaardians and killers, trying to find those who would help him. He back-stabbed an emperor, and made every mage in the North his foe. For the Elder Blood.
Everything in the series comes from this desire. The Second Nilfgaardian War, the Thanedd coup, and the murder of all of Geralt’s friends. Vilgefortz was willing to go through hell and back for this blood, even dueling Geralt, in what can only be described as an “Embarrassing” loss for Geralt.
‘A few weeks later, having been healed by the dryads and the waters of Brokilon, Geralt wondered what mistakes he had made during the fight. And came to the conclusion he hadn’t made any. His only mistake was made before the fight. He ought to have fled before it even began.’Page 195 of Contempt, Chapter 4
This desire lead him deep into insanity, forcing this great man to deal with Leo Bonhart, one of the most vile men in the entire story. You see, he didn’t actually need Ciri’s blood. He needs her womb.
‘Why do you need her so much?’
‘I only need her placenta. Her womb. Once I’ve removed it, you can take the rest. What do I hear there, some kind of snorting?’Page 374-5 of Swallow, Chapter 10
Now, I would like to back up my previous statement, about Vilgefortz’s skill at magic. As I already mentioned, he is a powerful enough warrior to shatter Geralt’s knee, and his hip… and most of him, really. But, so far, I haven’t properly shown you his skill in magic. We all know that Yennefer is an incredible mage. How could she not be? She was one of the few who stood on Sodden Hill and survived, as was Vilgefortz. You see, Vilgefortz could turn the great Yennefer of Vengeberg into a screaming fool, and a High Vampire into mush. As those who’ve played Blood and Wine know well, Higher Vampires are some of the most powerful creatures on the planet. Yet Vilgefortz dealt with him as easily as he dealt with Yennefer during the Assault on Stygga Castle in The Lady of the Lake.
“Yennefer, chanting spells, sent flash after flash of lightning towards Vilgefortz. None of them hit the target, all harmlessly bouncing off the magical sphere protecting the sorcerer. Vilgefortz stretched out his arms and suddenly spread them. Yennefer cried out in pain and soared up into the air, levitating. Vilgefortz twisted his hands, exactly as though he were wringing out a wet rag. The sorceress howled piercingly. And began to spin.”Page 378 of Lake, Chapter 9
“Vilgefortz howled in horror and rage. For a moment it seemed as though it would be the end of him. But that was an illusion. The sorcerer had a weapon in his arsenal for every occasion. And for every opponent. Even a vampire. The hands that seized Regis glowed like red-hot iron. The vampire screamed. Geralt also screamed, seeing the sorcerer literally tearing Regis apart… Vilgefortz pushed the mutilated vampire against a column and shot white fire at him from close up out of both hands… And the column simply melted. The vampire melted along with it, fusing into an amorphous lump.”Page 379 of Lake, Chapter 9
Vilgefortz, as a character, is a force to be reckoned with. His skill with magic was able to surpass an incredibly powerful mage and vampire at the same time. He turned Yennefer into a puppet in his hands. No one had a chance against Vilgefortz in the world. He outsmarted the Lodge, Emhyr, even the Aen Elle Elves.
Next time, I’ll be writing about his political moves and their fallout. I’ll also be making clear his various agents and connections, and how they all backfired, with a fun little segment on how he could’ve improved.