The Tyranny of Dragons: Dawn of Heroes
The great keep never fails to take my breath away: it stands on a volcanic crag a hundred or so feet from the coastline, a flat-topped spur of rough stone out in the midst of the surging sea. Imagine, if you can, the top of this crag hemmed in entirely by a tall wall. This wall is interrupted by several towers all the way around, and it encloses a large space from which even more of these same towers rise. Those who have seen this vista from above have said that it looks like nothing so much as a cake decorated with too many candles. The mist of sea-spray fills the air nearest the western walls, and in winter, this moisture can cause treacherous build-ups of ice. Sometimes entire towers along the western edge of the keep have to be abandoned for the season, they become so overtaken by frost.
From the center rises the largest and thickest tower of Candlekeep. If the other towers are well-wrought branches and blossoms, then this surely is the bole of the tree: strong, massive, and rising well above the perimeter structures. About the central keep a garden spirals in rising steps, and those lucky enough to enter the library proper do so by passing around and up through this green space to the keep’s main door. How- ever, most folk who visit Candlekeep see this structure only from the courtyard east of it, where the facilities for arriving scholars lie.
The only gate into Candlekeep stands at the end of the Way of the Lion, which is the only road that provides access to and from the outside world. The route extends from Beregost, leagues away, and winds a lonely path out on the peninsula where Candlekeep stands.
The Great Library
Candlekeep is the largest repository of lore and writings in all the Realms (although my scholarly kin in Evereska don’t like being reminded of that). It was once the home of the great prophet Alaundo the Seer, and within its walls were written the Prophecies of Alaundo. Its vaults, it is said, contain hidden knowledge enough to make any person with the ability to discover and absorb it all powerful beyond compare. The problem with doing that, of course, is the same as with secrets in any other location: one must know that a secret exists before its details can be sussed out.
To that end, Candlekeep’s vast library is something of a defense in and of itself: for every bit of hidden lore of potentially great power that lies within, there are thousands of inconsequential recipes, old songs, bits of history, journals of long-dead folk, and myriad other pieces of writing of no lasting importance save to the monks of this place, and the sages who come seeking such trifles.
Of course, before this treasure trove can be plumbed, one must gain entry to its hallowed halls. The cloistered scholar-monks of Candlekeep, who are called the Avowed, guard this place and work tirelessly to ensure the library’s protection and preservation. Though they are friendly enough in a workaday fashion, they are also suspicious of all visitors to the library.
I have assisted more than one visitor with entry into the library, so I know the process well. The price of admission is the donation of a work of writing not already in the possession of Candlekeep. Though the monks refer to this offering as the “entrance-gift," it is a toll to be paid, and often a quite high one.
To most, this requirement might seem difficult or even impossible to fulfill. After all, how is the would-be visitor to know exactly what Candlekeep does and does not have in its labyrinthine stacks? To this end, most visitors come to Candlekeep with multiple books they suspect might meet with approval.
Fortunately for some, the donation need not be utterly unique. Some tome or treatise the library doesn't have in its archives is preferable, but the monks are open to a few other possibilities: rare editions, books with a great deal of history tied to them, even tomes with insightful (or just interesting) notes scribbled in the margins have all been accepted, as have the journals of folk who are well traveled or highly learned.
Most of those who come as petitioners to the gates of Candlekeep already know the cost of entry; those who don’t are told of it at the gates, and turned away kindly if they have no such gift. Heralds; priests of the gods Oghma, Gond, Deneir, and Milil; certain archmages; and others acknowledged as “friends of Candlekeep" are permitted to enter without making such a donation (though such folk often contribute to the library’s vaults as a matter of course anyway).
The great double gates of Candlekeep are as three times the height of a human, and wrought of strange black metal that seems to repel lightning and to be immune to magical divinations, according to at least one wizard I’ve accompanied here. Both of these panels are emblazoned with the castle-and-flame sigil of Candlekeep in their upper reaches. One of the two gates stands open far enough to admit visitors during the day, with the other kept shut.
Five purple-vestmented monks tend this entrance. One of them steps forward to greet those seeking admission, discussing with new arrivals their intentions and examining what gifts they have brought. As the first monk examines an offered gift, determining its title and provenance, a second gate guard performs a casting of the message spell. The Waterdhavian sage Waldrop tells me that the recipient of this spell is an Avowed in a room nearby with a massive tome that notes the books in Candlekeep’s vaults. Apparently aided by magic of some kind, that tome-keeper determines if the library has the book being offered, and responds concerning whether the gift is accepted or not.
One of the priests of Deneir whom I regularly accompany to Candlekeep has mentioned truth-seeking magics being at work on this threshold. The doorguard’s fellows watch closely for any trouble, and other monks peer from the high towers that flank the gates, ready to summon help or lend magical support in case of attack.
Those who are admitted are referred to as “seeker," but also addressed by name if the monk knows it, or by “goodsir" or “goodlady" otherwise. Once a visitor is admitted, the monks at the gate part ranks to allow the seeker inside to the Court of Air. Visitors are instructed to cross that area and stand before the Emerald Door, where another monk receives them, offers them food, bath, and sleeping quarters, and arranges for each to meet a monk who will help to plan and then supervise the seeker’s visit to the library.
The Court of Air
The Court of Air is aptly named. This cobbled courtyard is empty, containing neither tree nor well. Its southern wall is the southern wall of Candlekeep itself, with a number of fieldstone-wrought buildings intended for visitors’ use built along it. Nearest the western wall of the courtyard stand two buildings: the House of the Binder, a large temple of Oghma with plenty of space to allow his faithful to camp and socialize, and the Baths, a public facility that draws water from the natural spring beneath the keep.
On the other side of the baths is the Hearth, a great eating-place and social hall for seekers, which has shrines to Deneir, Gond, and Milil built into it. The Hearth connects to the House of Rest, a structure with four-bunk rooms where seekers are assigned quarters upon their acceptance. Finally, next to the House of Rest, and built up against the eastern wall of the courtyard, are the stables, where mounts are housed and provisioned for the length of a seeker’s stay, and the granary.
The northern edge of the Court of Air is made up of a wall into which are set twelve towers. These are the towers within which visitors are allowed to study.
The famous Emerald Door stands in the western wall. Here a Keeper of the Emerald Door stands at all times, assisted by a small group of under-monks who act as messengers and runners. It is the Keeper who officially welcomes newly arrived seekers, and makes arrangements for their stay. Only this door leads deeper into the inner ward; the other towers have entrances onto the Court of Air, but don’t have points of egress into the inner ward and thus the rest of the library.
These court-facing towers in the north wall, called the “necessariums" by the monks, are the main places in which visitors interact with the treasures of Candlekeep. They are honeycombed with reading rooms and small gathering chambers, where monks may bring individual tomes to seekers to be read, and where seekers may consult with monks on further materials to enable their research. Despite being adjacent to other towers and having bridges to more distant ones, the chambers that guests can reach in the necessariums don’t allow access to the rest of the keep.
Within the Keep
Unfortunately, the foregoing is the extent of the information I have about the interior of Candlekeep. My personal experience is limited (as is the case with most visitors) to the Court of Air. Though the stories fly fast and thick in the Hearth about what lies beyond the necessariums, it is almost all conjecture and hearsay, with a heavy dose of fable, you can wager safely.
From the Court of Air, one can see that the tall towers that rise up above the northern court wall are interconnected by covered walkways. Many of these are roofed, but not walled, and monks— some of them under quite prodigious burdens of books— scramble to and fro along them. The passages are sometimes interrupted by small spiral staircases that provide access to higher and lower levels, and some of the larger walkways slope gently from one floor in a given tower to the different level in another.
The only other fact I know about Candlekeep’s interior is that it extends even beneath the level of the courtyards, with staircases in the cellars of certain of the towers that lead down into the very bedrock of the pillar upon which the keep is built. A monk once confided to me that these caverns store emergency supplies and provide access to great wells, all of which would enable the great fortification to survive entire seasons— if not years— of siege.
The monks of Candlekeep are all cloistered scholars. Most of them have no magical power to speak of (though many of them are trained to know about such things); a notable handful, though, are spellcasters either clerics of gods that represent the pursuit of knowledge or wizards. Even warrior-monks and paladins have been known among the Avowed, though never many at once.
The Avowed are the sworn servants of the great keep, each rigorously tested to weed out any deceit before being permitted to take the oaths of the order. The monks' first priority is the defense of the library’s knowledge against those who would steal or destroy it, but also against natural effects that might do likewise, such as mold, wet, and decay. Many of the monks wield
various kinds of magic items to aid in these endeavors, and Candlekeep’s facilities include more than a few scriptoria to facilitate the copying of books becoming worn, binderies to repair the same, and even magical storage that preserve rare books from any further decay or damage.
I've never made a detailed study of the Avowed, as it’s never been terribly needful for me to do so, but from my time spent in Candlekeep’s Court of Air, as well as my conversations with Waldrop, I’ve picked up a few things.
The rank-and-file of the Avowed are divided into acolytes, who are newcomers to the order, and scribes, who tend to the majority of the work in the keep. Acolytes provide labor, doing the cleaning, lifting, and general sweating that a place of such size requires, and work at their studies, hoping to prove themselves and be accepted into the ranks of the scribes. The scribes do most of the archival labor required of the Avowed, and often pitch in with hands-on efforts when a particularly large chore needs doing.
The master readers are the sages and elder monks who oversee the scribes and teach the acolytes. All are possessed of significant experience and dedicated to the great library, and it is from this group that individuals are chosen to fill in the upper ranks when positions open up.
Above the master readers are other high-ranking posts, each with specialized duty, from the Gatewarden who tends to the security of the keep to the Guide who instructs and educates the Avowed. Of particular note is the Chanter, who is responsible for continuing the ongoing recitation of the prophecies of the great seer Alaundo, who once made his home here.
I remember the first time I came upon the Endless Chant. It starts at the edge of one’s hearing (I was one of the first in the courtyard to sense it), and slowly grows closer and louder. As it does so, everything else falls silent around you. In short order, a procession of Avowed arrive on the scene, and the only sound anyone can perceive is their echoing, sonorous chant. The Chanter or one of his subordinates (called “voices”) leads this procession, and each of the Avowed is expected to lend his voice to the procession occasionally.
It was through my friendship with Waldrop that I met one of the eight Great Readers, the council of elder Avowed who oversee the operation of Candlekeep. She was tall, and I remember thinking that she was one of the most erudite folk I’d ever spoken with. Each of the Great Readers is given an arena of responsibility within the Avowed, usually a topic of scholarly importance, and acknowledged and treated as the foremost expert in that field.
Finally, above them all are two others: the Keeper of Tomes and the First Reader. Where the First Reader’s focus is maintaining the integrity of Candlekeep’s scholarship, and ever expanding its literary resources and base of knowledge, the Keeper governs the great library. The Keeper’s word is law, quite literally— each Keeper’s edicts are recorded for the edification of future Keepers, and all are maintained as ongoing traditions until changed by the word of a future Keeper. Waldrop tells me that traditionally the Keeper and the First Reader are supposed to have an antagonistic relationship, one focused on the cloistered monks and the enlightened goals of the library and the other on the mundane aspects of scholarship and Candlekeep’s interactions with the outside world.
Although these high-ranking monks keep most visitors at arm’s length, it isn’t unknown for them to deal with adventurers directly when they need such services. While these scholars rarely have much coin to pay for the services of a company of venturers, they do possess the precious currency of Candlekeep: knowledge. I know of many companies who have been shown lore concerning lost ruins, then asked to brave some dangerous place and return with prizes that can be found only in that location. If the treasure that might be found in such places isn’t enough of a reward, some Avowed are empowered to offer inducements such as procedures for creating magic items and written copies of rare spells to sweeten the deal.
Those who come to Candlekeep are permitted to remain for one tenday before departing, and must remain away for at least a full month before returning. During this tenday, they may ask to read specific tomes known to be in the possession of the library, or they may ask the monks to find them tomes concerning certain topics. These works are brought to the reading rooms in the towers that face the Court of Air. Guests are permitted to ascend into those towers and read (but not copy) the tomes there, always in the company of one of the monks.
One of Candlekeep’s main sources of income is the sale of books. Three kinds of such books exist: copies of tomes of nonmagical lore, copies of spellbooks and other magical formulae, and works of the Avowed.
Copied Lore. The copying and binding of a work of nonmagical lore in Candlekeep’s library is generally performed at a cost of 100 gp or so (though quite large books are always more). This manufacture may take several weeks, particularly for large tomes, so it isn’t uncommon for those who desire such a work to commission it in writing, along with advance payment, and then come to the gate to pick up the book, or pay an additional price to have it delivered.
Spellbooks. In contrast, magical books of spells and formulae cost much, much more— a spellbook might be priced at thousands or even tens of thousands of gold pieces. Each simple spell or cantrip in such a tome costs 25 gp or so, with the more complex and powerful spells fetching 150 gp or more each.
Works of the Avowed. Each year, the monks of Candlekeep release a small book stamped with the sigil of the keep, and credited to “The Avowed of Candlekeep.” These books are always focused on singular topics, and contain short essays, excerpts, and other writings germane to the topic. They are sold at Candlekeep and by representatives in large cities for between 50 gp and 100 gp per book, though some are often resold for a great deal more.
Candlekeep also buys books and even sponsors adventurers on expeditions to seek out lost sources of lore across the Realms. The exchange of coin in such undertakings is, of course, open to the usual sort of negotiation.