"Brandestonus", a scholar of natural philosophy to Emperor Rudolph II
George Branston is a most particular individual. Clearly an old man beset by the infirmities of age1 and having a pronounced limp,2 he feigns to use his cane as casually as he may and affects the fashion of a far younger man. He dresses with Protestant sobriety in the style of a respectable academic figure with a substantial beard, black doublet, sleeves and hose and fine white ruff and cuffs, and a black cape. He but rarely doffs hat even within doors, on which occasions he proves — to his evident chagrin — to be entirely bald.
In conversation neither affable nor personable, few details escape him3 and he does not gladly suffer fools. He has a fair grasp of most of Europe’s major languages, and brings a classical education and broad experience to a surprising range of specialist subjects4.
He jealously guards a large leather wallet on a shoulder-strap, and if closely inspected by the suspicious proves to have a pistol in his belt beneath his cape (a snaphaunce pistol manufactured in the Kingdom of Bohemia5).
1 Elderly Hindrance: -1 Pace and Str and Vigour capped to a max d4.
2 Lame Hindrance, -2 Pace.
3 Alertness Edge, +2 to all Notice rolls, including to detect dissembling.
4 Common Knowledge is d10 (Smarts), and the Jack-of-all-Trades Edge gives him a d4 at anything, with no unskilled penalty.
5 Identical in game mechanics to a wheellock pistol.
Despite having the appearance of an elderly man in his 50s, George Branston is only 31 years old…
George was born on 15 November 1571, the third son of Gerald and Margaret Branston, to an established Stafford merchant family of good Protestant credentials and a good family name (descended from gentry: the de Brandestons from just S of Burton-on-Trent). Young Georgie was clearly the promising one, his clever younger sister Edith notwithstanding, and it was of course for him that his father purchased a public education. He was sent to attend the newly founded King Edward’s School in Birmingham, after which he went to Brasenose College at the University of Oxford (1590-94).
In the summer of 1594 he was drawn to London, persuaded by best friend Sir Arthur Billingham to come in search of patronage. (Billingham became a military engineer and blew himself up 5 years later in the Anglo-Spanish War.)
He gained the attention of ‘the Wizard Earl’: Henry Percy, the young 9th Earl of Northumberland, connected to Kit Marlowe, Dr John Dee at Mortlake, Francis Bacon and his circle at Grey’s Inn, etc. and allegedly patron of the ‘School of Night’ that met at his Syon House home on the Middlesex bank of the Thames.
It was in the Earl’s circles that Georgie attended a drunken seance, was solemnly pronounced to have ‘The Gift’, and was feted for a couple of weeks by various of the in-crowd before they became bored by his lacking so much as a party trick.
But then, the year in which he left Oxford, commenced a lifetime of real study. It was from the Earl’s books that he taught himself how to communicate with the angels of the higher spheres, and through their teaching unlock the secrets of God’s Creation, and with their aid reach towards the state which God intended his children to achieve.
Two years later, in 1596 he followed the example of John Dee’s visit to Bohemia a decade earlier. The very evening he disembarked in Rotterdam, he took offence at the superior manner of a Dutch noble cavalry officer, challenged him to a duel and took a wound in the left leg that has left him needing to use a cane to this day.
After a month-long convalescence he eventually reached Prague and the Habsburg court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. The power he was now able to demonstrate gained him a modest commission from the Emperor to pursue his researches in the Alchymistengasse (“Alchemists’ Alley”) in the grounds of Prague Castle, between the menagerie and botanical gardens and the Cabinet of Curiosities. Rudolph was patron to many artists, poets, scientists — including alchemists and astrologers, and lately (1597+) Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler — and occultists of many stripes. As important to Branston as the company of leading occultists from across Europe was access to the finest library on celestial magic outside of the Vatican.
Branston’s researches revolved around a very popular goal: longevity (immortality), but where his peers studied anatomy or alchemical elixirs, he pursued it by pure magic. Eternal life is one of the many benefits attributed to ‘the Philosopher’s Stone’, which Branston maintains is a matter of theurgy disguised as alchemical recipes.
Something went horribly wrong, and he was seared by energies which left him with the appearance and frailty of a man 20 years older. (The abruptness of his hair-loss is something he finds particularly hurtful; he removes his hat only reluctantly.) And the voices of the angels had told him that this was not to be his fate.
The literal overnight change was also summarily dubbed a Mark of the Devil by Don Bartolomé González de Villaverde SJ, leader of the Jesuit contingent at Rudolph’s court (made up). Branston’s presence at court became politically embarrassing, and despite his having clearly tapped something magical, his sudden aging was no advert for his powers.
He was discreetly relocated further south to continue his studies as a guest of the emperor’s friend, the Count of Brno. But here he merely languished for a year, failing to regain his former vitality and little able to pursue his work with the limited library.
[This placed him just a day’s ride from Laa an der Thaya, Castle Falkenstein, and the castle of that notorious immortality-seeker Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560–1614)!]
Then in the November of AD 1602 [something came up] that needed Rudolf to send someone loyal to England, and Branston was the obvious choice.
But ‘fortune’ turned against him yet again, when the Polish merchantman that had brought him from Danzig to nearly the Thames estuary had to run for two days before a huge storm from the south. Somewhere off Norfolk they were driven over shoals at Haisboro Sands and the hull was breached. Though it limped on, the ship foundered before it could reach Kingston upon Hull, and was beached on the North Lincolnshire bank of the Humber estuary. A falling ship’s timber had stoven in Branston’s trunk; his materials, his £200 book collection and the notes of his own work of a decade were all ruined by seawater. Brandestonus’s Magia Angelorum was lost to the world. And without his materials and his references, practically all his magic was lost to him. He took up a fence post as a crude walking stick and set out towards such civilization as could be offered by Barton upon Humber.
He paused partway there to warm himself at the fire of an inn in a village they told him was called Thornton Curtis. And therein lay a new tale…