Last time we delved into the story of Vernon Roche and his Blue Stripes, this time we take a look at one of Nilfgaard's cards; the mage Vilgefortz of Roggeveen.
Vilgefortz is one of the main antagonists in the Witcher Saga, and he is by far one of the most epic villains I have ever read about. Highly intelligent, clever, cunning, strong, talented and admirably handsome (only until a certain explosion). The young mage, skilled with both spells and fighting staff is a true mastermind behind many of the events in Sapkowski’s novels.
With great talent comes great possibility
Despite his title, Geralt does not hail from the city of Rivia. A characteristic he shares with Vilgefortz - Who was born in the northernmost rims of the Northern Realms, somewhere in the Kingdom of Kovir and Poviss, but bears the name Vilgefortz from Roggeveen, which is a city in Redania.
When he was an infant, his parents left him in the gutter. He was raised and brought up by the druids from the local Circle. When his magic talent revealed itself, a travelling mage offered to tutor Vilgefortz, but, embittered by his tough childhood, he refused him vulgarly and left the druids soon after.
The Edge of the World
For a time he lived a life of a common mercenary. After repeatedly breaking the law he left the Realms to seek asylum down south, where his roads crossed with a sorceress. Vilgefortz felt something for her, but as time passed he understood that this feeling wasn’t love - it was hate, for the sorceress was the perfect picture of how he imagined his mother.
During his journey he also met Emhyr var Emreis, an outcast exiled from his country, Nilfgaard, at the time under rule of the Usurper. Vilgefortz, at this point a very powerful mage, especially considering his young age, with his brilliant intellect and clever intrigues helped Emhyr in recapturing his rightful throne. In return, he was to rule over the North once it was conquered. The Kovirian mage was, for a long time, the only wizard Emhyr put his entire trust in.
Chapter of Sorcerers’ Supreme Leader
Vilgefortz’s cunning and skills surely weren’t obstacles when it came to gaining the trust and climbing in position in the Chapter of Sorcerers - a conclave of mages from the Northern Realms. He commanded their forces during the Second Battle of Sodden Hill and negotiated the truce between the Nilfgaardian Empire and the Northern Coalition. Alongside other sorcerers he plotted against the Realms, which resulted in the coup on Thanned, where mages split into the ones loyal to the North and those serving Emhyr.
Vilgefortz and his supporters, from which Francesca Findabair and Artaud Terranova were best known, brought Scoia’tael commando under Cahir and Isengrim's leadership to the island and tried to force other wizards into submission. The plot was however discovered by Philippa Eilhart and Dijkstra, but due to Tissaia de Vries' error in choosing sides, Vilgefortz’s plan partly succeeded.
A comparison to J.R.R. Tolkien's Saruman isn't far fetched - both desired unlimited force, both allied the Dark Lord (The Black King in the case of Vilgefortz, or the White Flame Dancing on the Graves of his Foes, as you like), and both searched for a specific source of power. Saruman’s desire was the Ring. Vilgefortz's, Ciri.
He was so obsessed with possessing the Elder blood gene that he betrayed his protector Emhyr, nearly killed Geralt on two occasions, tortured Yennefer, lost an eye and a big part of his face, and hired catspawns, mercenaries and servants, such as Leo Bonhart, all to fulfill his thirst for power.
One of his many employees was Schirrú, half-elf, sought for manslaughter in Dorian by Codringher and Fenn who hired the Nightingale Gang in order to bring swift end to Geralt. Crimes for which he answered by being burned alive in the Wicker Hag by the druids from Caed Myrkvid, for trespassing in their sacred grove.
The only true Vilgefortz’s apprentice was Rience - a rather powerful mage expelled from Ban Ard for stealing. He tried to interrogate Dandelion in a way that might have left the poor singer at least maimed. Yennefer’s intervention marked Rience’s face with horrifying burns. Though he was certainly close to his master, it didn’t save him when it came to facing the Lady of the Worlds on the frozen lake near the Tower of the Swallow. In my opinion Rience is certainly a character that deserves an appearance in Gwent. Maybe in a Rogues Faction?
A mage to end all mages
Vilgefortz’s ambition pushed him to the edge of sanity. He scarcely underestimated his enemies, but he also never cared about the ones that fell into the cogs of his masterplan’s machine. He didn’t take into consideration what happened to the little ones, instead he always looked on the bigger picture.
Faith in his abilities as well as his ingenious mind was a disadvantage in particular situations. Just for once, during his last, “final boss” fight with Geralt, he underestimated the power of Witcher’s medallion (Not a real one though - this one was made for him by Fringilla Vigo during his stay in Toussaint, which actually explains where its “spark of magic” came from), which eventually lead to his demise (Finally. I mean, one does not simply be so evil, overpowered and villainous and not get killed, unless it’s A Song of Ice and Fire).
Vilgefortz and other characters like him (e.g. Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Snow from ASoIaF) are created in a manner that leaves for the reader no choice but to deeply loath them. It doesn’t mean, however, that they are poorly featured. It only means that the author did an outstanding job creating the villain.
While we all agree that The Witcher would be nothing without Geralt (Pretty obvious, even considering only the title), the storyline would be much more blunt and grey without characters like Dandelion, Ciri or Vilgefortz.
That’s why even the bad guys are sometimes necessary.