“Of all the controls necessary for the maintenance of a stable state apparatus, second most important is the strict control of magical knowledge (the only factor more critical being the constant suppression of the common people). If spells and their components are circulated outside your control, they will by themselves sow anarchy and ruin.”
— from Control of Minor Realms, Dominator Thauroch
If one wishes to attain the rank of Magus, lowest in the Oracular order to which all spellcasters of the Low Countries are member, they must obtain two writs: one from the noble house of a Karth Treaty signatory, the other from a representative of the Order itself. Only those of solid reputation, stable temperament, and good breeding have any hope of obtaining these writs, and among themselves the prospective magi clamber and claw for top position, the less fortunate among them returning to their humble ranks as nobles, merchants, and officers.
It should go without saying that you never had a chance of obtaining either of these writs.
Casting spells as an unsanctioned commoner is, in all but the most backward places in the world, a serious crime, for which the convicted perform community service by swaying gently on a rope. For the kings and dukes of the Low Countries, this is a matter of survival. A literate commoner holding a scroll might be more dangerous than a hundred men-at-arms. At their least dangerous, they might assassinate a tax collector, or make an attempt at the life of the king. At worst, they might distribute scrolls among conspirators and make a coordinated attack upon the seat of government. The most extreme rulers attempt to smother spellcasting in the cradle, by limiting the literacy of their populace. The more liberal among them concede that this would be the ideal solution, if they could afford to dispense with the economic benefits of literacy.
A single spellbook, nothing but soft vellum bound in leather, contains the destructive power of an army.
Still, underneath the eyes of power, in secret and alone, some so-called ‘hedge wizards’ remain. Exiles from sanctioned academies, or literate commoners who stumbled upon a scroll and learned to use it. Once attuned to the power and mystery of the arcane, they cannot return to their prior lives. On the run, with assumed names, they learn quickly that the only way out for them is forward– to piece together further secrets, to steal fire from the gods until the crown’s word cannot destroy them.
Outside of the Order, no scrolls or books may be sold, copied, or kept. A small number of minor spells circulate in underground markets, known to thieves and brigands, most of whom are illiterate anyway. Of these, enough copies exist that even the efforts of the Order cannot relegate them to obscurity; the box has been opened for good.
Otherwise, there is only one place where the secrets of magic are found: the places of its origin, the ruins of the civilizations which discovered those secrets centuries ago. For a hedge wizard, these ruins contain their final hope. If they discover something powerful enough, they might survive on the fringe of civilization, in a stone tower or fort, alone. Or they may bargain away their freedom, handing hair and flesh to the Order so that their magehunters, if needed, can track them to the ends of the earth, and in exchange be granted status as a Reformed Mage, a provisional title at the bottom of the Order’s hierarchy.