None are more dedicated to firelinking than Ludleth. He considers Kingship as kindling an honor, never wavering from royal duty: when all the other Lords of Cinder abandon the kingly path, he remains in his throne. He is also the weakest Lord of Cinder we encounter, his body small, feeble, and broken by his own admission. If killed, he will resurrect in his sleep, suffering a nightmare of his traumatic experience linking the fire — in sleep talk, he mutters about burning to the bone and unbearable pain. Indeed, his body does look to have turned to ash below the knees. But before he was totally incinerated, he did successfully take on the flame. Overcoming such an arduous trial gives him every reason to be proud, though the feat itself is questionable. He doesn’t come off as a heroic warrior, Undead or otherwise, so how was he just barely able to succeed? The answer is his history with a certain art.

Ahh, you are a fireless ash, a Kingseeker. I am Ludleth of Courland. You might not believe it… but I am a King of Kindling who once linked the fire. As evidence to that, this body is yet burning in smolders. It is a broken body. If you come closer, you should be able to see it.

… Ahh, hot, my bones burn, it hurts…… Help me. Kill me…… I hate it, I hate it. This is too painful…… It’s so hot, help me…

Ludleth calls himself a “researcher” of soul transposition, isolating a soul’s qualities and molding them into various powers with special kilns made from crystal lizard hide. This was an art common to his homeland of Courland, though it isn’t completely original to the culture. Past games established the concept as Seath’s invention, with various parties tracing their knowledge of its secrets back to him. The one exception was Straid, a genius sorcerer who independently recreated many forms of magic lost to the New World during Dark Souls II’s era. It shouldn’t be surprising then that Courland is a blend of the two means, developing their own method with some help from Seath. By stitching together the dragon’s creations into a kiln, residents could manipulate their process for crystallizing magical energy, including souls, into physical matter by hand. This is still a skill-intensive process, since the art is lost with Courland and considered taboo by general society “who would err in using it”. But Ludleth had those skills, so likely collected many souls in the course of his research. And that saved him from incineration.

Before I became King of Kindling, I was a researcher of “molding”. To extract and solidify those qualities from souls… It is a taboo that once debased Courland’s name… But, it is also undoubtedly an art for acquiring power which is hard to come by. Most molding kilns were probably lost with Courland…

Old molding kiln of Courland. Made by sticking crystal lizard husks together.

By giving it to the King of Kindling Ludleth, soul molding becomes possible.

By molding atypical souls in this kiln, special items that solidify their qualities are made. A person who would err in using it would probably call it a taboo.

Even if his occupation did provide enough souls to just make the cut, why was a humble researcher of such questionable qualifications put through Lothric’s firelinking system to begin with? Apparently, it was unplanned. Ludleth claims that he chose to link the fire in reaction to the first Fire Keeper’s vision. This places him at the firelinking facilities during this early period in Lothric history. The man does note the surviving transposing kiln we bring him, and the now defunct Courland by extension, to be quite old, so his lifetime was undoubtedly in an equally bygone era. However, it also implies that his resolve to be a Lord only came after the first Keeper suffered a setback, stepping up to the plate after the entire system was thrown into disarray. He likewise includes himself among those who hid her eyes, pushing his firelinking even later in the timeline. His predecessor didn’t seem to be a factor for concern either, yet they apparently didn’t have time to ferret out a more worthy heir. The choice may have been time sensitive, but not impulsive. In that case, what was his original purpose there?

… Oh, so you found a molding kiln, did you? It is quite old, but well, it seems to be usable…

Killing Ludleth nets us the Skull Ring, a “secret treasure” of Courland transposed from the soul of the Soulfeeder. Much like the Evil Eye, the qualities of this “soul-eater” (魂喰らい) brings the Abyss to mind, particularly with its ravenous hunger for souls it absorbs for power — so many, in fact, that the monster leaves a stench even once the body is burned. It is this smell of countless souls stuffed into one which makes the Skull Ring’s wearer easier to detect, especially by enemies. Why would Ludleth keep such a detrimental treasure of his homeland? Perhaps because he wanted to be immediately noticed by his enemies; in other words, he has a guilt complex. During his nightmares, the man calls out to “everyone”, begging they forgive him now that he has saved the world as a Lord. He at least feels that he has wronged many, presumably Courland’s population. After all, his throne designates him as an exile. His own country threw him out, blaming him for some terrible incident. He seeks to atone and so wore the ring to ensure everyone knew when the malefactor entered the vicinity.

One of the secret treasures that Courland molded. It is derived from the soul of the Soul-Eater.

Makes it easy to be targeted by enemies.

It is said that the Soul-Eater was a monster that absorbed limitless souls and turned them into its own power. “Its cursed corpse was completely burned, and the stench of souls never went away.”

… Say, everyone, I became a King…… Even if a weak flame, I bound the world…… So, forgive me. Forgive me…… Don’t blame me so…..

This form of identification also implicates the Soulfeeder in the aforesaid incident — how else were outsiders to know who the exile was unless they heard stories of the monster in relation to the man? Soul transposition was characteristic of Courland, likely uplifting transposers as the societal elite. There were sure to be plenty of large and atypical souls amassed there for Ludleth and others to mold into new treasures. This makes it a ripe target for the gluttonous Soulfeeder. True enough, Ludleth claims that the transposing kilns at some point sullied Courland’s reputation. Because foreigners didn’t like the country’s disrespect for the dead, or because that culture ended up attracting a cursed monster? In short, the Soulfeeder most likely assailed Courland. If it was anything like the Evil Eye’s attack on Astora, it probably brought the nation near ruin before being slain, the body burned to cleanse the unholy beast while Ludleth or some other transposer took possession of its soul.

This event explains why the Skull Ring is a secret treasure. Transposition became incredibly controversial in the aftermath, requiring such an item to be kept hidden from the public even if it was for punishing the fall guy. Whether he was personally to blame or just in charge of the wider system responsible, Ludleth accepted all guilt. And possibly recognizing his status or extenuating circumstances, he was exiled instead of executed. This probably didn’t resolve the issue, however. Ludleth knows that Courland is long gone and assumes the transposing kilns were largely lost with it. This implies that the country collapsed well before him slumbering as a Lord. Perhaps it was due to internal strife? Even with Ludleth out of the picture, there was sure to be more tension between the populace and the other transposers. With the art being so ingrained in the culture, it might have torn the country apart.

Regardless, Ludleth’s exile gave Lothric the opportunity to recruit him. And if the kingdom wanted to bring him into its most sacred and safeguarded ritual place, it must have been for his expertise. This isn’t to say that he performed soul transposition there; if he did, the shrine didn’t preserve his kiln after his firelinking, at least. More likely, it was Ludleth’s general knowledge on manipulating souls that made his mind so coveted. There is plenty of work to that effect happening at these facilities — the Fire Keeper folds souls into our own to manifest power of our choosing, takes dark souls offered to bonfires into her own as a surrogate, and by extension links her soul to the bonfire. Ludleth was probably brought in to improve upon these old arts with the most state of the art methods. This was when Lothric was already iterating on the firelinking system of previous eras, so why not update other aspects to meet modern standards?

But if so, this work hit a snag when the Fire Keeper was struck with a most terrible future. In fact, given the timing, one has to wonder if Ludleth somehow contributed to this otherwise random occurrence, too. If they were experimenting with the Fire Keeper’s connection to her bonfire, then they may have inadvertently induced the vision. Whatever the case, the Fire Keeper lost her life and Ludleth put his on the line, becoming the first Lord for Lothric’s emergency system with it. He may have been originally involved in setting this up as well. Ludleth is still unconscious when we find him revived yet makes no comment on us killing him once woken. Everyone else captured by the shrine’s curse is aware of our actions, save the Fire Keeper if deprived of the first’s eyes beforehand — with that, the Abyss can only restore her to the state before she receives them, evidently. But Ludleth doesn’t share in their outrage or pleas, and there is no reason for him to suffer memory loss. Is it because he knows how this all works, having helped create the system?

Overall, the man is resigned to any of our actions. If we choose betrayal, he will be disappointed but do nothing to stop us. As he explains, our mission is to reenact Gwyn’s firelinking in order to “bind” the world again. Just like how “linking” the fire more colloquially means to inherit it, binding the world has a meaning to preserve it as is. By inheriting the flame, we tether it not just to us but also the world at large so accustomed to its warm light. Ludleth sought to maintain the current era and banish the Dark, and so claimed the appropriate crown. If we want to usher in the Dark, he thinks that is our decision to make, just as he stands by his. He takes pride in being one of the “last” Lords for our ritual. But as his nightmares confirm, this pride is very much rooted in deep-seated insecurities. He would have committed to Lordship to escape guilt and would have given up to escape excruciating pain. But in the end, he was helpless to do anything about his present situation in either instance, and this time is no different.

Say, do you know the meaning of the mission? Five Kings to five thrones. It is preparation for the firelinking. For linking the fire, increasingly darkening and just about to go out, and binding the world once more. For reenacting the oldest firelinking… For that, I became a King of Kindling. This tiny man received a King’s honor.

Ah, seems you have assembled them all at last? Five Kings to five thrones… And we will possibly be the last…? The “Last King” is an exceeding honor for a tiny man, I would say.

I became a King of Kindling by my own will. I am proud of that. That is why you too must choose with your own will… If it be terrible betrayal, all the more.

What those eyes show is the end of firelinking, a world of darkness lasting for eternity. I thought it a betrayal. And so I became a King and hoped our firelinking may change that sight… What will you do?

Ludleth can only plea that we don’t show the first Fire Keeper’s eyes to our Keeper. Curiously enough, the woman in question already suspects that he is hiding something so critical to her occupation from her. The two have apparently talked at length while we are out gallivanting across Lothric, where Ludleth must have slipped a little too much about the history of her line. The Fire Keeper, of course, is shocked to learn the truth, but she ultimately puts her duty to us over her fear of what will become of both her and the world. The woman’s fascination with her role’s secrets is likely a byproduct of the training to be the holiest of her persuasion — doubtless plenty of elements were obscured in Lothric’s framing of their history and purpose. And with so many lies weaved to deny reality, something was bound to fray. Ludleth hoped to change the inevitable. But feeble or powerful, all must accept that they are unable to mold the foundations to this world.