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Translated by Piotr Krasnowolski
As usual, cats and children were the first to notice him. A tabby tomcat sleeping on a pile of logs warmed by the sun, twitched and raised his round head, pulled its ears back, spat and made away among the nettle. Three-year-old Drogomir, son of Trigla the fisherman, who was doing his best to stain his flimsy tunic, already smudged and filthy, on the doorstep of their cottage, fell a-screaming, fixing his tearful eyes on the horseman passing by. The witcher was riding slowly, not attempting to take over the hay- laden wagon which hogged the narrow street. Behind him, with its neck stretched, trotted an overladen donkey every now and then strongly tautening the strap, attached to the pommel horn of his saddle. Apart from the usual saddle-bags the beast was lugging a conspicuous form wrapped in a saddle-cloth on its back. One of the donkey’s greyish-white sides was covered in black streaks of coagulated gore. Eventually, the wagon turned into a side street, leading to a granary and wharf, from where breeze blew the smell of tar and ox urine. Geralt sped up. He did not react to the muffled cry of the vegetable stallholder wenches, her gaze fixed at the bony, clawed paw sticking from under the saddle-cloth, swinging to the rhythm of the donkey’s steps. He did not look back at the growing rabble following him, moving there and back in anxiety. There were plenty of carts and wagons in front of the riff’s house. Geralt alighted from his saddle, adjusted the
sword on his back, tossed the reins over a wooden balustrade. The crowd following him stood in a semicircle round the donkey. Shouting of the riff could already be heard some distance from the entrance. “I’m telling you, It’s not allowed! Not allowed, dammit! Don’t you understand common, you thickwit?” Geralt entered. In front of the little pot-bellied riff, red with anger, there was a peasant standing and holding a struggling goose by the neck. “What... By all the gods! Is that you Geralt? Don’t my eyes deceive me?” and then turning to the peasant, “Off with it, you villain! You deaf, or what?” “They said,” mumbled the peasant squinting at the goose, “that something must be brought to you, sir... or else...” “Who said?, shouted the sheriff, “Who? Meaning what? That I can be greased? I do not allow, I’m telling you! Off, I’m telling you! Welcome, Geralt.” “Welcome, Caldemeyn.” Shaking the witcher’s hand, the sheriff gave him a tap on the arm with the other hand. “You must have been away for two years, Geralt. Eh? Must you be such a rolling stone. Where are you coming from? Well, to hell with it, what difference does it make, where from. Ho there! Someone bring a mug of ale! Sit down, Geralt, take a seat. We’ve got some commotion here, for it’s the fair tomorrow. What’s business like? How’s things with you! Tell me!” “Later, let’s go out first.” Outside, the crowd must have doubled but the free space around the donkey did not reduce. Geralt lifted the blanket energetically. The crowd gasped and backed. Caldemeyn opened his mouth wide. “By all the gods, Geralt! What is that?” “Kikimore. Isn’t there a reward to be got for it, Mr Sheriff?” Caldemeyn moved his weight from one foot to the other, looking at the spidery form, covered by dried black hide, at the glassy eye with a vertical pupil, at the needle-like fangs inside the blood-stained jaws. “Where... Where from did...” “Up on the dike, four miles away from the town. On the marches. Caldemeyn, people must have been getting killed there. Children.” “Well, so it’s been. But no one... Who could presume... Hey, folks, go home, go to work! This is not a circus! Cover it, Geralt. It’s gathering flies.” Back in the chamber and without a word, the sheriff got hold of the tankard of ale and drank it dry, without taking it away from his lips. He sighed deeply, and sniffed. “There is no reward,” he said cheerlessly “No one even supposed that something like that could be dwelling in those salt marshes. True, a few people disappeared thereabouts but... There weren’t many to wander over that dike. And how did you get there? Why didn’t you follow the main road?” “It’s difficult for me to find business on the main roads, Caldemeyn.” “I forgot,” the sheriff muffled a belch by blowing his cheeks, “And such a quiet place it used to be. Even the pixies didn’t frequently piss into milk, here. And there it is! A stone’s throw to that kinky mare. Looks like I would have to thank you. For to pay, I cannot. I’ve got no funds. “Bad luck. Some cash would come in handy for spending the winter,” the witcher took a gulp from the tankard, and the froth from his mouth. - I’m planning to be off to Yspaden but I don’t know if I’ll have made it by the time snow blocks the roads. I may get stuck in one of the fortified boroughs along the Luton road. “Will you tarry long in Blaviken?” “Not long. I’m short of time to tarry. Winter is coming.”
Well.” “In my home. A mighty mage. the witchers..“Where are you going to stay? How about my place? There’s a free room in the attic. Borg. let’s take a stroll to the tower. “With magic..” “D’you need it for anything?” “Pry. many a fisherman got rewarded for that. Where’s my cap?” II The tower. mostly. We will talk. let us risk a meeting with Master Irion. Come. Geralt. and just in case cast some spell on the marsh. Chance be that he may need it for something. the partisan resting against his shoulder. he needs it for making no potions. between me. But what will your Libushe say? Last time.” “You’ve come by a sorcerer? For good. But.” Caldemeyn slapped his forehead with an open palm.” “D’you mean throwing the fork at a rat?” “No.. women don’t have their say. Hey. what for? If there is no reward you may have it thrown into the dung.” The witcher considered it for a little while. I mean hitting it though it was dark. Has lived in Blaviken for a year... chase these brats away and take the beast by the strap.” “I thought it would be funny. or did he get you to work?” “With magic. or for a while?” “For good. and that. with crenellate battlements. Kiki..” “With pleasure. Shall we be going?” “We are. looked impressively. Quite likely your Irion will only abuse me. But. Fishermen carry various bizzarfish. towering over the broken roof-tiles of the houses and caved-in thatched roofs of the cottages. “Renewed it. Caldemeyn. Listen. maybe our local sorcerer kick something back for that carcass. Geralt. as I see. Got it? “Following your order.” said Geralt. why should you let yourself be ripped off by those thieving inn-keepers. We. Carrypebble.” 3 . its blade loudly catching on the door-frame.” “I’ve never heard Master Irion to abuse anyone. I cannot swear he will pay but trying won’t do any harm. you and the doorpost.. in her presence don’t do what you did last time during supper again. “As far as I know. Listen.. “Get someone to help you. Carrypebble.” Geralt made a wry face. built from smooth-hewn granite blocks. or what. you. Master Irion. take it behind the sties and drown in cow dung. are not fond of sorcerers. “ “Well..” “I quite like the idea. clabatres or nerdfish.” “Kikimore. you can tell it just by the way he looks... one could notice that she is not too fond of me. “You’re not that dumb.” “Shan’t we show it to Master Irion. “Point for you.” “It was but do not do it in Libushe’s presence..” said Caldemeyn. and what then? Let the wizard have a look at the creature. take the donkey that’s in front of the cottage together with that shit wrapped in a blanket.” “I doubt if a mighty mage will pay for a kikimore. There may be more of such kikimores in the marshes. octopi. before the horror is to be drowned. Karelka.. Carrypebble! Anybody there?” A town guard entered. you’ll tell me the news of the wide world. “ “What?” “Mabbe. “Carrypebble. Master riff . whatchummacallit..
approached.this Irion of yours?” “Decent.” Caldemeyn moved his feet uneasily. The sky was crossed by the multicolour arc of the rainbow. eventually the fish head moved its toothed jaw and discharged a puff of steam. Helps people. Please forgive.” said a voice. He found none. The sensation was so unexpected. Yes. “Just a minute. And what does it change that it is I. “I’m in front of the house.” On the door. Carrypebble. get your finger out of your nose and do as you’ve been told. and looked at Geralt.. Geralt. by the very door. indeed?” “Come closer to the door. A fair-haired girl. said the riff silently. See you later. was picking his nose.” “What about the kikimore?” “Screw the kikimore. cleared his throat and recited: “Greetings from Caldemeyn the riff. the witcher used to meet thieves looking like town councillors. “Just come on.” answered the knocker in a totally different voice. not concealing his anger. Yet.. Carrypebble! Get the monster into cow dung!” “You say!” The witcher approached the intarsiated door. there hung a giant knocker.” “Geralt. among the trees. it is I. Go in peace. good men. Caldemeyn. Hardly leaves the tower. Geralt?” The witcher swore under his breath. Geralt. I’ll have to. The house in the middle of the orchard . “Is that really you. and does not have to entertain me..” repeated the knocker metallically. “You’ll leave and. unstrap the kikimore and dump it here. Caldemeyn. The witcher shrugged his arms. here. Geralt. now solemn and concentrated. The thing on the donkey is a kikimore.” answered a strangely familiar voice. looking like ragged 4 . “Go in peace. The witcher promised himself earnestly never to wonder again. totally naked was walking along a row of bushes.” “What do I care. “At last! Welcome. Only with you. indeed.little and modest . let him see the kikimore and draw conclusions. But he’s a recluse and a man of few words. I killed by the town. good.” “One moment. “I’m losing my patience. and smelled of rain.” For a long while nothing happened. “Take care. shaped into a flat bulgeeyed head of a fish holding a brass ring in its toothed mouth. joining the crowns of the trees with the faraway deep-blue mountain range..” “Stregobor!?” Geralt was amazed. if that’s his will.“What is he like . Carrypebble..was bathed in mallows. “Master Irion sees no man. The orchard was in white and pink bloom. that the witcher reeled and stretched out his hand to find a support. Master Irion does not have to honour me with a talk. I shall let you in. He notice a movement on the left.” said the knocker. In his life. Together with him.” “Let’s go. also having a supplication. Master Irion?” Caldemeyn made a dismissive gesture with his hand.” “I am not a good man. “Hey!” he shouted. adored with a rosette intarsiated in light wood. letting out a puff of smoke. greets witcher Geralt of Rivia.” He walked into the orchard..just enough for him to squeeze through and immediately slammed shut. “I am a witcher. “Master Irion sees no man. “Just you. town councillors. which opened slightly . obviously knowing how the mechanism worked. carrying a basket full of apples. having a supplication to Master Irion. witcher. I want to talk to you. leaving him in complete darkness. Geralt looked under his feet and decided that he was standing up to his knees in wild thyme. Sheriff.” interrupted Geralt loudly. It is a duty of every resident sorcerer to care for security of his whereabouts. Carrypebble. and turned.
” said Geralt “took place at the court of king Idi in Kovir. according to all standards and beliefs. As far as I can remember you used to live in a similar tower in Kovir. up on the trees. smiled. Stregobor. As everything around here. “Why ‘could’? And where’s all that change of the name from?” “Destiny has got many faces. Did you? “ “No. sometimes with the western wind I’d drive the shoals of whiting and cods closer to the shore. A naked blonde. “you can. Along the roads.” “It seems to me. “And I considered you a friend. pallid from poison. That is. What was even more weird: Stregobor was actually a sorcerer. rocking and swaying her hips. He had huge. With every step you take in the cities. This is the last place where I’d expect to meet you. I got used to it. he was wearing a black flowing robe with incredibly wide sleeves. or at furthest the day after. when taking his seat over. and her.” “That was the name of the builder of this tower. I came to collect the reward for killing 5 . He passed away some two hundred years ago. The flight was to no avail: she found me. You are said to be Master Irion. “A-ha. But it is. “That’s what the world is like. Mine is beautiful on the outside. The blossom smells. You can make a living.” Geralt made a wry face. And just think that there are people who do not believe in predestination! Unless you knew about me. I decided he deserved being honoured in some way.beggars.. What is more. approached them. I can. “Also. I am on a residency here. my dear.” sighed the sorcerer.” “Much has changed since then. “You’re talking gibberish.” “Our last meeting.” said the witcher with no emotions. which wants to murder me. grey.” repeated Stregobor ironically.” “You haven’t changed an inch. the hanged are dangling. Geralt? Are you still into killing the members of dying species for money? How much did you get for this kikimore? Presumably nothing: otherwise you wouldn’t have come here. and in the woods highwaymen slash merchants’ throats. Why.. then. she will try to kill me tomorrow. Most of the locals live off the sea and. “you could”.” “Maybe later. They sat in wicker armchairs on a porch surrounded by mallows. and in his hand he was holding a longish stave with a crystal orb. sometimes I start another. Two peasants keep killing each other for the footpath in the middle of the field that tomorrow will be trampled by the horses of the knights of two barons trying to kill each other. thin and slouching. “Now I understand. I reached this faraway place hiding and escaping from a horrible creature.. crooked nose. you trip on corpses in sewers. I didn’t.” said Geralt.” the sorcerer pointed at the blonde. a sorcerer should.” “Like what they call you. and horrible inside. You see plenty travelling. in the olden times. turned round and returned to the orchard. bushy eyebrows and a long. All probabilities considered. princesses looking like cows about to calve and kings looking like thieves. and at feasts every now and then someone crashes under the table. apart from illusions. And it has stretched its blooddripping claws out towards me... the threat of death should impress me.. as you may remember. by a table made of a slab of white marble. especially if it threatens you?” “Especially if it threatens me. “if this is to make you happy. Sometimes I calm a storm.” “Well said. you can eat the apples. pending death does not impress you much?” “Stregobor. He was tall. “Is that also an illusion?” asked Geralt. a first-class illusion. Can’t you just speak plainly?” “I can. What are you doing here. I counted on your aid. making wise and meaningful faces at the same time. weather has been my cup of fish.” he added bitterly. the bees may sting you. None of the sorcerers known to Geralt looked like Stregobor. But Stregobor always looked like. admiring the sway. harlots looking like princesses. In palaces they stab one another with daggers. carrying a basketful of apples.
They were alleged to be possessed by demons. to strengthen your power. the sorcerer remained silent. “Don’t you get puffed up like a toad. following your witcher’s vocation? Eh? For one may have lupine fangs and do no more than bare them before the maids in an inn. And there you are. “And what is more. “You saw different mutations. So . condemned. To break alliances. But it is impossible to question the fact of emergence of a horrible mutation among girls born shortly after the eclipse. Everything covered in motile cilia and pale-pink shreds. What’d you say to that?” “I saw people with aquiline talons instead of hands. The path for Lilith was to be prepared by ‘sixty maids in golden crowns.we have already come to the first victims. on tombstones in the necropolises of the Wozhgors. a thoughtless murdering machine and . worshipped still in the East under the name of Niya. We’ll see what can be done.” “Each woman may be found to have that. “And how many of them did you bludgeon for money. and the doom of the human race. You say there is a monster after you. And what have you. extra organs and extra senses.” Having turned his head away. magician. and pay attention that no carrion-eating witcher disturbs their peace. couldn’t be unequivocally described. who was not deranged at all. as that is how you called an ordinary eclipse in that bombastic jargon of yours. deciphered the inscriptions on the menhirs of the Dauks. And as his hourglass was out of order. you say.if I recall well . done? “Higher levels of magic were resorted to.” “What makes it unquestionable? I heard something just to the contrary. As a result not only did Idi fail to pay me a penny but he granted me twelve hours to leave Kovir as well. who with blood shall the valleys of rivers fill’. Then you and your confrere Zavist. Tell me what the threat is.” the sorcerer raised his head.” “Balderdash.a carrion crow. They all mentioned the eclipse in a way leaving little place for doubt.” “One can have reservations to Eltibald’s theory. oh potent wizards. sudden outbursts of anger. killed or imprisoned in towers. The Black Sun was to announce the imminent return of Lilith. A sort of red sponge. Stregobor? If it gets you. Though it was called the Mania of Etibald the Deranged. “Geralt. 6 . Internal organs all mixed up. telling me about prophecies which a beggar at a fair would be ashamed of. You used the ravings of a moron. you say that you’re counting on my help. Six-chambered heart? Two practically in atrophy but still. you protect them. a witcher you despise so much. aggression. Ours as well as the priests’.the amphisbena which used to browbeat the neighbourhood. to the interpretation of the prophecy. I did.” Geralt sneered “What are you trying to peddle here?” You’re asking how many mutants I’ve killed . Indeed. and not about the girls.” “I was at the post-mortem of one of them. some of whom were of noble and even royal families. stir in dynasties. And that was the case with the girls born after the eclipse. it will turn out to be horribly ungrateful on the part of the monster. researched the legends and lays of the werebobos.” “Have you heard of the Curse of the Black Sun?” “Surely. some of them absent altogether. in various shrines. which resulted in having a few tens of girls. as well as exuberant appetites were discovered.” said the sorcerer. what we found inside the skull and the medulla. and contaminated by the Black Sun. I hardly managed. unrhymed. And now.” said the witcher. and people with lupine fangs. What are you afraid of. and one may also have a lupine nature and attack children. or in other words to give the strings tied to all the puppets in crown a hearty yank. People with extra joints. ruin marriage plans. Geralt laughed. All attempts have ended in death of the girls. started calling me a charlatan.” “Etibald. All these were the effects of your dabbling with magic.” “Which is only evidence against you. if it guts and devours you.why then you’re not interested in the number of those I freed from a curse or spell? I. Among them a simply insane tendency to cruelty. tell it that you like monsters. For that was the name of the mage who started the whole pickle. vying with each other. It is generally known what Eltibald and the Sorcerers’ Council aimed at then. All decent prophecies rhyme.
Haven’t you got a few more of them?” “I have.. luckily. as she seized the power really quick. sudden outbursts of anger. dare criticise witchers? Eh.” “Naturally.” the witcher snapped. “Take Yamurlac for one.. Indeed. er. as you put it. Another proof of mutation.” said Stregobor having stayed silent for a long while.. refused to eat. “Our towers.” “Butting in none of these caustic remarks of yours?” “This I can’t promise. sons of the bitch.“Don’t forget that we were acting in defence of people. blinded. and she most 7 .. he is said to have been called Abrad the Tearskirt in his youth. You know too well that more victims followed. escaped from the tower. “As far as I know. That was yet another mistake.” “Don’t you even think about it!” You’ll never convince me to your point of view. a small duchy in the north. will you?” “Let it be. he’s biding his time in the dungeon. in that hunt for the would-be mutants of yours. duke of Creyden’s wife was Aridea. and even less to lose. disposing of them and we took to isolating them. But let us return to the monster which is allegedly threatening you. Yet.at present she’s the terror of Northern Velhad.. there are. unless someone is cruelly murdered in his presence. say looking down at everything from your nimbus of infallibility.” . “Your famed towers. Fredefalk. although I shouldn’t.. . magicians. the whole business started in Creyden. We made a mistake. In one case it was a vivisection. “I’ll be frank with you. having been imprisoned in towers they started passing away quickly. know that I don’t like the whole story.” Stregobor shoved his palms in the sleeves of his robes. Don’t look at me like that. So. using a rope braided from her plaits .” “I don’t think such a day is near. Yeah. Now. where the old Abrad rules: he’s got scrofula and not a single tooth. “Each next proof is less and less convincing. he must have been born a good hundred years before all that eclipse. they quickly became apathetic. the lady of Narok -we never managed even to approach her. dozens. “Listen. Most of them.. Silvena.” “A lie.” “Well. She had in her lineage a number of eminent sorcerers accomplished in the art. He has butchered up all his relatives and depopulated a half of his country in insane. Stregobor. and he won’t fall asleep. even less so that Eltibald wasn’t a nefarious moron. We underestimated them and quite a number of them escaped. All were examined. After the introduction you have made. who did not have much to do. In my very interest. and the most prominent element of the Talgar countryside are gallows.” “And you. and more than once it was. What’s interesting. you won’t tell me that you mistook not even once. as we’re already talking about. Stregobor. Initially it was decided that they all should be eliminated. especially the younger ones.. then.. It was rumoured that it wasn’t without your help. Yet I will listen to you telling me the whole of it. it would be great if the atrocities of rulers could be explained with a mutation or a curse.I understand they all received a post-mortem?” “Not only. Some mad fashion of setting the imprisoned beauties free developed among princes and dukes. Selecting them was extremely difficult.” said the witcher. a wise and educated woman.. the daughter of Evermir. broke their necks. a day will come when people will wizen and get you a good trashing. shortly before their death they manifested the gift of clairvoyance.said the sorcerer tartly. Therefore we stopped. Bernica of Talgar was freed by an idiot prince. There are other examples. We disposed of a few. “The longer it will take. There are also traces of exuberant appetites..” “That is what you. Geralt. These female mutants would drown whole kingdoms in blood. Now horror is alive in that country. Fialka.
She spied the little one who was living in Mahakam with seven gnomes. Aridea did her best to spread the news to the Council. We met eye to eye: she recognised me in an instant and realised what role I played then in Creyden.. And when asked.” Geralt interrupted. We found him later in the shrubs.” “You’re wrong. where the picturesque rainbow was still glimmering with its many colours. She learned her sword so well that not many a man could face her.” the sorcerer continued after a while’s break. Why was there nobody to break her neck.” “Sure. I went to tell that to Aridea. and my hands were trembling as anything. and the Council sent me to Creyden. “I was in favour of isolating her only. as I have mentioned. Aridea was more interested in the fate of her country.” Stregobor continued.” Geralt interrupted again. “You’re mistaken. as Fredefalk began suspecting something. by the duke’s wife was of different opinion. and of plenty of people. I can guess what followed..” Stregobor Sighed. Aridea quite often addressed her Looking-Glass. “But we lost trace of her. She’s commonly called the Shrike. But at that time. I arrived there in secrecy only to learn that Aridea had been poisoned. I call her ‘little one’. Only the Shrike did. Aridea hired a few assassins. Geralt.” “We made a comb-out. whether it was sharing the loot. “‘Who’s the fairest of them all?’ As far as I know all Looking-Glasses of Nehalenia can be divided into the polite and the broken ones. I don’t know what that was about. she also plucked out her handmaid’s eye with the handle of a comb. so it wasn’t too difficult to guess what happened. I was already in the vicinity. as I deem.probably inherited a potent and rather uncommon artefact: the Looking-Glass of Nehalenia. the Looking-Glass divined a nasty death of Aridea herself.” “If you think I pity him. “She and her gnomes were a true terror of the whole Mahakam. She shoved the pin of her brooch into his brain through the ear. Having been summoned to Creyden. As you know. “She can’t have been too fond of her step-daughter. was quite a wise woman. I told you. Then it was difficult to find anyone willing to: the little one was quite famous. I’m telling you. And she was well developed. or taking turns during the nights of the week . I watched her secretly for a short time. I do not have to mention that Fredefalk’s firstborn was born shortly after the eclipse.” “With the customary question. And she alone. Yet. though in a very muddled way.” “At that time. Most probably when he had his attention turned to something else. as she’s been particularly partial to impaling those she caught alive on sharpened poles. I hardly had time to say the words of the spell. He wasn’t wearing any trousers.” “Renfri?” “That’s what she called herself. and most of them confirmed that she was a mutant. but t seems to me it was Renfri. Shortly afterwards Duke Fredefalk died in a strange accident while hunting.” Geralt muttered. yours as well. I wrapped her in a neat block of rhinestone: six 8 .. Those must have been the dealings of the little one as well. as Fredefalk was too much infatuated with his daughter. The seven gnomes failed to survive this knife business. as they foretell the future with no mistake. Only four years later I had news from Aridea. raised his eyes to heaven. and Aridea’s eldest son was lost without a trace.enough to say they butchered each other with their knives. She’d rather her own children inherited the throne. when that wild vixen was running at me with her sword. Aridea. And I had to hurry away from Creyden. but none of them returned. whom she convinced that it paid better to waylay merchants than to chance their lungs to anthracosis in the mines. Fredefalk himself was commonly believed to have done so. either from the hand or Fredefalk’s daughter from his first wife or due to her doings.. the Looking-Glasses of Nehalenia were used mostly by prophets and oracles. In the meantime she managed to tortured to death a canary and two puppies. yet she was seventeen at that time. And by the way. as he had sought a younger and a fleshier msalliance for himself. one day they quarrelled over something. I made a few tests with my spells. She sent the little one to the forest with a hired thug: her Master of the Hunt. she had poisoned Aridea.
a mutant. Reason is the limit. as they pompously called it. A kikimore kills because it is hungry.” “You’re not a thug. I know that. The girl has her reasons to pick a bone or two with you. True. I dropped the block into the gnomes’ mine and caved the shaft in. Yes. You brought your kikimore here. and I will not meddle.” “The question of taste. he brought her back and triumphantly carried her home. When she became lethargic.” “I’m not a hired thug. “She is not alone. as their palace seemed more like a cow-shed. The Shrike is worse than a kikimore. Not my specialty. The Shrike will not give up as long as I am alive. to the magistrates. she is a monster. That time I escaped to Angren. I’ve seen her in the crystal. and the Shrike took the post of the first pet. “What do you mean?” “It’s natural. but she found me even there.” “She is not a human. It somehow happened that the very next day that son of his.” “It is monsters that I kill for money. he was assisted by his eldest son. and decided to interrogate the Shrike.” “Which means she’s not that ugly. as I mask my trail well and leave no tracks. to some god-forgotten kingdom of the east. on the riff and his aid!” Stregobor exclaimed. Beasts threatening people. I had no such thing. “That could be disspelled. which is progressing.” “It is.” “I’m spitting on law. He asked her about the treasures she had come by together with the gnomes and hidden deviously. The fact that you arrived here in this very moment. She wasn’t a pet long. I want you to kill her! No one will enter this tower. Couldn’t you incinerate her to cinder? You know so many well-suited spells. Turn to the riff. Kill her. in Blaviken. She’s leading a gang.was stretched on the executioner’s bench. Abominations summoned by magic and spells of the likes of you. I had a year’s rest.” “What hindered or prevented you from repeating your crystal spell? Remorse?” “No.” “I told you I believe all this thing about the mutation and curse of Lilith to be rubbish. You are the local sorcerer. But what good is it? I don’t intend to stay here until the end of my days. It is enough to posses an appropriate artefact or aura. But you are right.” “Where do you know it from? Is she already in the town?” “Yes. It soon turned out that she did not forget about me either. Verily. The king’s mistake was that when she . isn’t it? You’ll kill her. cannot be a coincidence. Until the first palace revolution. The witcher raised his brows. Not humans. Am I to stay in this tower and await death?” “They stayed. turned out to be more sensible. She found me again. I botched. I have nowhere to run. I don’t know how she does it. already an orphan bereft of all the siblings. It turned out that she became immune to magic.” “A botch. a cursed freak. You know what. and I will pay you any sum you name.” “This can’t be. an old brigand. you are protected by the local law. His father. this may again be caused by her mutation. magician? You should have left hunting the girls to other. An idiot of a prince found her and spent a fortune for a counterspell.stark-naked . Yet.” “Not me. It’s destiny. the Shrike for pleasure. which means that she’s preparing something grave. 9 .ells by nine. Geralt. I decided not to risk and wait until all was over in Pontar. I’m fully safe here. “I need no defence. Stregobor. yet she tracked me again.” Geralt commented. ruled the kingdom.” The sorcerer raised his wand. more potent sorcerers. He gave his son thrashing. In Kovir she had three assassins hired to kill me. and I know of no place where I could hide. It must be a feature of her mutation. I fled from Angren and I hid myself here in the Baycoves. it is to be understood.
many of us had their doubts.” “Please. “Here. “Lesser. Geralt lifted the curtain covering the entrance to the alcove .the last being described in stimulating detail. so that he could be heard in the general humdrum. “I want to see the Shrike. I am not a saintly hermit and it is not only good that I have done in my life. yet all at swords. and not with all of these present. they were clad in the same tight black leather clothes. courage of captains. and the beauty of mermaids . glistening with silver 10 . locals and travellers alike. black clad in silver studded leather. Not very professional merchants kept pinching the bottoms of the girls carrying around beer and pork stew.” .” “I’ll go there alone. raising from his seat.” III The Golden Manor.” Two identical people stood up from the table. Yet we decided to choose the lesser evil.” said the witcher solemnly. leaning over the bar. The un-true sun on the un-true skies moved towards the zenith.” “Maybe. . Centurion . Girlies were trying to look agreeable to those who had money. I saw them at the toll-gates. Patrons.said Caldemeyn to the keeper.” said Stregobor. Now I am asking you for a similar choice. “Well. We’ll see each other tomorrow. were mostly busy with doing things typical for their nations or professions. I prefer to make no choice at all. base of the nose and the right cheek.Six lads and a minx. Geralt. Sailors were singing a song praising sea waves. at least not yet. Stregobor. Their faces were identically immobile. “Cudgel thy brains some more. greater. Time for me. thinning on top. “Geralt. at the same time discouraging those who had none. it doesn’t matter. “It may be a right thing to do. Local fools pretended to be well informed.” “In the lesser alcove. riff.” “Judging by the increasing concentration of obscenities. But if I am to choose between one evil and another.” The sorcerer remained silent.” said Geralt. But be careful! I want no turmoil here.stiff and clammy with dirt. the representative inn of the town. even the damsel. They paid in gold. with his face disfigured by a scar running across the left brow. . average.” “No. fair hair reaching their shoulders was identically disheveled. as thou speakest. the sailors’ song was already close to its grand finale.” “I shall be careful. “Where are they now? I can’t see them here. as is the fashion in Novigrad. He felt hungry.” said the sorcerer. Very professional merchants were haggling with dwarves about the prices of goods or interests from loans. Stregobor. There were six men at the table in the alcove.“They spake that they arrived for the fair.he eventually said.you should have foresee the consequences. “What?” yelled the one who noticed him first. She whom he expected to see was not there. “If you make it on time.” the riff nodded. Black. proportions are debatable and the boundaries are blurred.” “Evil is evil. Coachmen and fishermen drank as if tomorrow a ban on hops was to be introduced. clad. but the witcher knew that it was already dusk in Blaviken. Are they staying here or at the Tuna? Wrinkles could be seen on the bulging forehead of the inn-keeper busily wiping a mug with his striped apron. I’ll get here to here. “There’s no point in making it an official case. was crowded and noisy. “When we listened to Eltibald.
Tavik.” said the stout weather-beaten fellow with plaited hair.” said Geralt calmly.ornaments.” giggled a slim dark-haired man sitting beside Nohorn. “But I at least knew my mother. He brought some kind of a dragon for sale. “D’you know him. So? Will you go out with Civril? The evening’s so boring.” Nohorn said. the twins raised their identical swords from the bench. There must be more than one of them.” “Have you heard. “How can earth bear the likes of you? Who spawns you. that you say.” That was said by the man with the scar.” Nohorn raised his head and looked at the twins.” said Nohorn. brother. such a cross between a spider and a crocodile. “Easy. the silver buckles of their high boots jingling. eh?” “One may not. Nohorn. the staff will carry you out. the naked one. if I pour this fish soup on your noddle? the half-naked one chuckled.” “Who’s he?” asked the half-naked roughneck. brother? Who is that Shrike?” “You know well who I mean. “A trickster for a handful of silver coins. Nohorn?” “I don’t.” “That may be. Sit down. “Now I remember where I saw him!” “What are you muttering. a prank of mother nature. Such as him should be burnt. they took a step forward. “And will you challenge me. “It doesn’t matter where you’ve seen him. Renfri. People thought him to be a witcher.” the half-caste grinned. huge black eyes and sharply-tipped ears were unmistakable signs of a half-elf. What you’ve got on your back seems to be a sword. who placed his elbows on the table.” said the witcher calmly.” 11 . if you could. brother. An abhorrence in the eyes of gods and people. “He wants to see Renfri. as far as I can see must have used to walk in the forest often enough for you to have reasons to reflect over your own ancestry. Vyr. and he said it. As a witcher you cannot say it about yourself. Delicate features. “Eh? Civril?” “A hired witch.” said the one with the plait suddenly. lads?” Nohorn looked round at the company. if one may know. Tavik?” “In front of the riff’s house. Something tells me. who didn’t fail to notice that. “An albino.” Geralt went slightly pale and bit his lips. I want to see the Shrike.” Replied the man with the scar. brother. you want to see. unrelentingly scanning Geralt with his half-closed bloodshot eyes.” “What is a witcher?” asked Fifteen. Told you he was a prank of mother nature. freaks?” “More tolerance. Tavik grinned. and they are known to keep company. laughed loudly. “Must be an albino. “I know. “Easy. If you don’t jump at it. Civril has dreadfully offended you a moment ago. Civril. And why is that so. sweating and cross.” “I have nothing to tell you. “No means no.” answered the half-elf without losing his smile. Won’t you challenge him? Such a boring evening. With the same type of movement. a mutant. Why are the likes of him allowed in an inn. Fifteen. scanning Geralt with an evil stare of his half-closed eyes. “Who’s that.” answered the half-elf.belted.” “No.” “Birds of a feather flock together.” “Uh.” “I Must have seen him already somewhere. among decent folks. Nimir.” “We don’t like witches. “Just listen. brother! An offence like this! You just can’t let it pass. that we’ll have more work in this dump than we thought we would. with spiked gauntlets on his forearms. say what you’ve got to say and out you are! It’s your chance to go out by yourself. Well. “Your mother.
chalkhaired. neighing of horses and the smell of blood. Geralt wasn’t surprised. stood straight and crossed his hands on the chest. Something that could be associated with red reflections of a fire on the blades. of the colour of straw. as far as I am concerned. Make room. raising his fists.. In an instant. He inhaled and adjusted the his silverstudded gauntlets on the forearms. “Well. Civril. it’s such an important event in the life of this nice little town?” In the silence that followed a silent... “If you’ve got any doubts. and you’ll be looking for your hand on the floor. boys.” said Nohorn.” Nohorn and Tavik sprang to their feet. “A shitting chicken!” Tavik hissed. asymmetrical: on the left it reached the calf.” the half-caste grumbled. Others must have had similar associations.. You can’t possibly want your pranks to spoil the fair. was laughing.. go on with having fun on your own.” Fifteen got closer. still carelessly sprawling on his bench. waiting at the bar. “We don’t like witches. and a dagger with a large ruby in the pommel at the right. Tomorrow’s a fair day. The silent twins unsheathed theirs with identical motions. growl Tavik.The witcher did not react. Geralt placed his hand on the handle of the sword. she had cut unevenly just over the ears. “What has he said about Civril’s mother?” Nohorn continued monotonously. “Important. “So what?” “He wanted to talk to you. “Eh. Renfri. She was nearly as tall as he. event!” “Shut up. girdled tightly by an ornamented belt. nasty snigger could be heard.” he said. “Fifteen is just challenging you to a fist-fight.” thundered Fifteen. with whom you came here. Civril. Fifteen backed.” said the girl. “Easy. 12 . This instant!” Civril stopped laughing.” Nohorn ventured. does it become to listen how some rover offends the mother of a companion? Mother’s motherfirkng holy!” Fifteen eagerly stood up. Her skirt was uneven. and that’s no crime. Her hair. unbuckled the sword and hurled it onto the table.” Renfri broke the silence. you. resting his chin on clasped hands. And no disturbance. “You lost speech?” “This is a witcher. spat and took one step forward. as there was paleness creeping even over Tavik’s weather-beaten kisser. “Let’s go into a larger room. “One more step. “He wants to talk to me. She was standing with one hand leaning against the door. or whatnot? Hey. in a short tight velvet doublet. There was a sword at her left side. and on the right it exposed a strong thigh over the bootleg of a high boot made of elk skin. That she was smutty. broke his silent dialogue with the inn-keeper. “Something horribly gross. He must be willing to talk to me as well. “Beware. Only Civril made no move. You. I told you you’d be carried out. There was a very peculiar note sounding in Renfri’s voice. let’s join the riff. clutching their swords. Fifteen.” “So what?” “He’s a witch. yells of the murdered. “Dammit! What’s going on in here? Can’t you just be left alone for a moment?” Geralt turned back very slowly and looked into the eyes of the colour of sea water.” As soon as he noticed them Caldemeyn.
lass? Renfri reached into the purse she had at her belt. the king.” she said quietly.“Listen. For now. I don’t like it. “I’ve heard about you. “Stregobor will die tomorrow. “To my barons. So what?” asked Renfri quietly.” Renfri’s eyes narrowed. losing no time for exchanging brief cordialities. also in not too polite a manner.” “With you. “It was sealed by Audoen. you bear our sorcerer a grudge. Allegedly. Shrike. I see no other way out. I swear by all gods. “You are Geralt of Rivia. your graceful sire. Got it.” “This makes the matter easier. pre. Audoen. “‘I am making it known to all and the sundry that Renfri. the results may be pitiful for you. Is she at least pretty. Libushe’s waiting.. I’m not going to watch it idly. How d’you say that.. if you’re literate. but . wrenching the parchment from his hands.” he said harshly.. . put me into the hole. “I’ll have you in the hole together with the parchment.I know from the Rivian witcher present here.’” the witcher read aloud. But now go. my riff.” “If. the Duchess of Creyden.” “If you violate it even an inch. knights and free subjects.” Renfri touched Geralt’s arm “one more word. You will not. ma’am. Geralt? “Preventively.well Libushe’s waiting. casting her unevenly cut hair off the forehead. witcher.. in the Baycoves. lass. the white-haired witcher. Nor address me as ‘lass’. They’d be worth a talk.” “Don’t be late for supper. “So that for such grudges we have either borough or castellan’s courts. “Just read that riff. Though the seal looks authentic.” Caldemeyn looked as if he wanted to spit.” Geralt leaned against the bar. And also that either early in the morning you leave Blaviken together with your black company.” IV 13 .” “I won’t be late. or rather before Stregobor dies. “It would be a lesser evil if only he died. he was looking in the blue-green eyes of the girl.” “Don’t call me Shrike.” “A few.” “Not too much. Geralt. I have not disobey any law. and fished out a folded parchment. what brings you to here.” she said.’ ‘Difficulties’ spells differently.” “I may.” “For it is authentic. Playing with the medallion with wolf’s head that was hanging on his neck. a few other people will.” said Renfri. And ho wants to use iron to avenge a grudge here. Come. that Libushe?” “Is that all you’ve had to tell me?” “No. Therefore I would advise raising me no difficulties whatsoever. or I’ll put you into the hole. “Because Libushe will be furious. at our service remains and is pleasant to our eyes. therefore our anger shall follow the one who should raise difficultys to her.” “That’s it. Stregobor’s your friend?” “No. The thing is that I see other ways out. However you spell it. And call me ‘lass’ no more.” “I need more than words to be alarmed.” Caldemeyn took the parchment and having read it for a long while. is an understatement. he passed it to Geralt without a word. is oft considered a common thug. to Blaviken.” said the riff over his shoulder. witcher.
who trip on their halberds with every step they make?” “And do you. He got a dagger out of his bootleg. There is no warrior in this world who would manage against seven swordsmen. Next second. Stregobor is in his sorcerer’s tower. Something was wrong. Listen: there are two things we can do. “It’s almost midnight. Please.” “And I do not doubt that you would. made one long leap.” The witcher chose the first option. stood up. “You.” she said. Your health. but I did not think we’ll land in bed so soon. in order to get him you would have to besiege him there. presenting her predatory white teeth. which he had used to light the stairs. Will I finally learn what you stole into here through the window for?” “How dumb you are. “Quite well begun. He did not draw it. If you do so. Can you imagine what will happen if there is a fight between them and those numskulls from the guard. I am staying at the riff’s. “Light a candle.” Renfri smiled. He pressed the handle. pressing the person into the bedding. thrusting his left forearm under the man’s chin.” “That’s you?” “That’s me. Purposefully. he stepped casually over the threshold. closing the door behind him at a leisurely pace. No man can accomplish this.” she said in a muffled voice. Audoen will not be protecting you if you openly break the law. She had no weapons visible. And to discuss that with you I crept along roofs. probably alone. take this hand off my throat. he took a mighty push. “Got something to drink here?” “Nope.Someone was in his little room in the attic.” “Shit! My name’s Renfri. Shrike. but you will at least let me take my boots off. drink. and adjusted her hair and skirt. there are two people who can achieve that. Everything’s fair. he understood it from the hardly perceptible vibration of the medallion. The riff. “I let you skip the ducal title. Renfri. like a tabby cat in March.” “Same to you. I said: slaughter and bloodshed can be prevented. let’s stop frightening each other. it’s good I have brought some. and landed on the someone sitting on his bed. stretching her legs in high boots in front of her. He extinguished the oil lamp. I want to save Blaviken from a slaughter.” said Geralt coldly.” 14 . or you’ll wake all the house up. Namely. placing a travel wineskin and two leather cups on the table. and sat down. if you could.” “If all of Blaviken do so. Just you appreciate it! “I do. slender. as all the rest will be hiding in the cellars. imagine that I will be standing and idly watching such a fight? As you see. The first is: you go off me and we have a chat. he reached for the dagger.” said Geralt. In case of need it would become to stand at his side. and I like seeing the man I talk to. But.” Renfri became serious. It was dark in the room.” “In that case. witcher. they will be seriously sorry they had not. the guards. “May we proceed to the matter?” “In a while. “Have you had a good look at my boys? I guarantee they know their craft well. The other: we remain in this position.” “I’m all ears. Not for a witcher. your writ will be of no help. Take it. “I cannot see in darkness like you. Geralt. The girl sighed.” she laughed. but stop calling me Shrike!” “Hush. “I took this into consideration. tall. lying motionless under him. chalkhaired. and nimble. “Yet I know not what such a discussion may yield. and stuck it behind the belt on the back.” She approached the table. Geralt knew it before he approached the door. all of Blaviken will stand against you.” she tossed her head.
He will leave his tower of his own will. Do you know what hair I had? Like silk. I had all I dreamt about. Among these there’s for instance the Tridamian ultimatum. not knowing if I were to be hanged the next day. “Is Stregobor himself. witcher. They cast spells. goldfish in a pond. Rather disgusting. I used to steal. just not to perish of hunger. larger than this room of yours here.” said Renfri. Let us then proceed to the other person who can prevent carnage in Blaviken.regal magnanimity indeed and you will renounce vengeance. “And that was the end of the little duchess. there are also offers which cannot be reject. close at the very skin. dresses.” “He was one of the seven gnomes. Renfri. “I killed. the stench. playing with the medallion. Stregobor’s teeth chatter. But I survived. “Geralt. “I was a duchess. cut my throat and bring the heart and liver to them. the whiteness of batiste was lost never to return. wasn’t he?” Renfri. Agreeing to being bonked by any nitwit for a bowl of soup or a place to sleep.” “Your sagacity makes me wonder. and removed the uneven locks from her forehead. To show magnanimity? To forgive him royally? I will tear his head off royally. Then came the dirt.what am I saying . I didn’t. He pitied me and let me go. so that I weren’t killed myself. a sorrel pony. Dolls and a house for them. or only whipped and exiled. There are arguments which cannot be opposed or resisted.” Geralt looked her straight in the eye. and stole my earrings and a golden coronet.” she continued. “What is such an ultimatum?” “My sweet secret. And it went on till the day when that Stregobor of yours and that whore Aridea made her Master of the Hunt take me to the forest. who was busily pouring.” She went silent for a while.” “Aridea and Stregobor tried to poison you?” “True. Yet I doubt if it’s going to be effective.” “Who knows. after which I thought I would turn my insides out like a stocking. And all that time my step-mother and that sorcerer of yours were close on my heels. Have I guessed right?” Renfri tossed her head back and laughed loudly.” “It’s you. She didn’t look down.“One. chalkhaired.” “Let it be.” she said. but in Creyden. I am happy you managed with the Master of the Hunt. When I contracted lice. which would convince him to surrender of his own accord into your beautiful hands would have to be a mighty one. and Blaviken will be allowed to plunge in blessed bucolic idleness again and will soon forget the whole affair. the cudgels. yet not to such an extent. it was cut with scissors for sheep-shearing. and the kicks. He gave me an emetic. paying assassins. And they reached well over an ell beyond my bum. froze with the wineskin over the cup. when talking about you. I will offer him Tridamian ultimatum. fixed her gleaming at the witcher. A gnome saved me. An ultimatum. and attempting to poison.” she continued. Batiste panties. You will display ducal . and I will take him to some wilderness. Jewels and other trinkets. They have never grew back that much. indeed.we shall see. timely covering her mouth with her hand.” “Stregobor may make the impression of a deranged. I shall try to guess who this person is.” “Shit. With an apple. shoes. “The dress was torn. Lovely. but maybe both the legs first . who knows. Renfri. the hunger. wasn’t it?” “No. 15 . You yourself. I spent my time in dungeons reeking of urine. But before that he raped me. Servants at every request. the bastard. and I didn’t even need to ask. Then she became serious again and. laced with banewort essence.
I’ve told you: Stregobor and Aridea chased me like a wild beast as long as they were able to do so.” “I am not a mercenary rogue. The witch will let you into the tower.” she whispered. and I will not spare gold. whom you defend from Evil. You are the other. “Well then. Bring him to me on a donkey.just one unexpected thrust. Stregobor is a savage. Geralt. a monster. they were better for me than most people. When I pig out.. as I was heir apparent to the throne.” she said. I had prepared a special program for her. “I have made up my mind. witcher.. Don’t you think that what I have to offer is the lesser evil. Just the contrary.” “And are you?” For a moment. she was lucky that I hadn’t reached her earlier. this is not what I meant. “It’s quite obvious. sad I swear.” she said “You know quite a lot about me. the defender of people. sod it..” “Renfri. the best solution? Even for that bastard Stregobor. You can kill him with mercy . then in Creyden. a maniac.” she burst. The children of Aridea were of a morganatic wedlock and had no rights to. Your answer. Aridea kicked the bucket in her own bed. Renfri stretched. Then her features went hard again. “For how. Then they stopped being able. Well.” she agreed with a smile. and brought it here on a donkey for pricing.” “A monster. But you shouldn’t care about that. and later?” Renfri suddenly straightened up and took her legs off the table. I have a stomach-ache. “Geralt. I am to be. when we stand eye to eye against each other. and if. “There are offers one cannot reject.. Geralt. fidgeting with a string of pearls running three times around her shapely neck. should I know? If I hurt my finger I bleed. though a very short one. And treat me seriously. I said that there are two people who can prevent bloodshed in Blaviken.” “You aren’t. I am supposed to be accursed.“A-ha. And in this case the Evil is the fire and iron which shall start playing havoc here. And very sad too. “Didn’t you. “But I must know the answer this instant.” “My answer is ‘No.” “I am not a judge. “I don’t know.” said Geralt calmly. she looked defenseless and broken down. Jolly I sing. And now I’ve got one for the wizard.. “I understand your hesitation. which is a mindless beast: it kills for so it was designed by the gods. I am warning you in earnest: mine was one of these... I also bleed every month. and if I get drunk . Shrike. as I am also giving you a serious warning. for the results may be terrible. or not. and teasingly dropping between the two shapely spheres visible in the low cut neckline of her doublet. Corrupted in my mother’s womb.a headache. making not a least effort to cover her thighs with the skirt. She leaned against the back of her chair and crossed her legs up on the table. the hell.” Geralt remained silent. He will die not knowing he is dying. and then you kill him. by any chance. it’s enough.” “That is right. has he deserved death according to you? Tell me.” “Renfri. dammit? They say you killed a kikimore.” she said “Has Stregobor asked you to kill me?” 16 . “They wanted to get rid of the first-born daughter of Fredefalk.” The girl dropped her head but only for a moment Her eyes flashed.” “Do you know why Stregobor and the Duchess wanted to kill you.’” “Do you remember what I said?” she asked after a moment’s silence. Stregobor is worse than a kikimore. If I hate one I kill him. I am a witcher. and I myself turned into the hunter. “You are a witcher. And I won’t vouchsafe that to him..” Renfri remained silent for some time. raising her hands. coming to my room slip off the roof head down?” “Are you a witcher. And what? Got something against gnomes? Or other humanoids? If I am to be precise.” “Finish it.
“And midnight has just passed.” “Why?” “Because I don’t believe in lesser evil. Once I got up when it was still dark and I slit that bastard’s throat. I will not allow fighting and slaughter here. bloodthirsty monster. I did not fancy him. witcher. healthy. nor can I renounce my vengeance. yet we do not have to choose it by ourselves. you are right. This Very Great Evil is capable of forcing us into such a choice. You shall not kill Stregobor in Blaviken. just like you refused a moment ago?” “You can. almost in whisper. Then I did not yet have my skill. Very Great Evil Geralt is one which you cannot even imagine. like midnights do. you say. will it be the same as if I admitted to him. I have told you that but I shall repeat. slightly lesser”. I won’t let you do it. whistling cheerfully. Early in the morning tomorrow. “May I know what you are aiming at?” “At nothing. in the shade. so lonely. and not only to him.” “And you?” asked the witcher quietly. I felt no pain whatsoever in the bruises his cudgel and fists left. With a scythe. And each next time it was the same I. I went away. I’m suggesting for the second time: renounce your vengeance. “You claim that there is lesser evil. You will not leave joyful and happy but you shall leave alive. I’ve had some drink and I’m preaching philosophy. won’t it? In this way I will prove that I am a monster. joyful and happy... You see.“Yes. Whether we want it or not. alone. Geralt. that you are not an inhuman. Yet. even though you thought that nothing can surprise you. the medallion with wolf’s head was glimmering and whirling on its silver chain. And that he wronged you terribly with his mistake. You won’t kill Stregobor in Blaviken. I’m looking for general truths. fella. sometimes it goes so that this Very Great Evil clutches you by the throat and says: “Choose. who would waste time on vengeance?” “Renfri. You were not able but you made it. You shall never know: you shall never be sure .” said Geralt. Give up killing him.” For a while. as the sheriff ordered. a mutant and a freak. And you see. but only to a certain extent. At the very beginning of my banishment I was taken by one freeman under his roof. “You don’t believe. there is the Very Great Evil. He fancied me. “And if I tell you. that they are right.” “Can I take it for granted that you refused then. There is Evil and the Greater Evil. In this way you will prove it to him.” “Who are you?” 17 . And I felt good. and a knife seemed too small.” the witcher smiled tartly.you hear me? And your pay shall be a stone and an unkind word. You’re standing on a market. and not only to him. because you were not able to make a choice. You’ll prove to him that he was wrong. her lips was contorted by a grimace looking nastily in the yellowish glow of the candle. And I’ve just found one: the lesser evil exists.” After Renfri smiled delicately. the pearls in the neckline of her short doublet were glistening. I pity you. “Whatever your justification and reasons are. that I am unable to forgive. Renfri looked at the witcher’s medallion spinning on the chain turned by his fingers. so good that even. staring at the shimmering silver disk. He considered it to be lesser evil. “I cannot choose either. every time he wanted me to be his.” said the girl suddenly and slowly. If it were different. looking at him jerking his legs. he used to beat me so hard I could hardly drag myself off the bunk in the morning. Renfri’s eyes were glowing in the light of the candle. Let us proceed to the matter. “I pity you. listening to the ceorl gurgling and choking. an inhuman demon cursed by gods? Listen.” “I must have drunk too little. on the cobbles bathed in blood. witcher. on the contrary. and behind both of them. Geralt. And you see. either me or that one. you shall not leave from here whistling and you will not feel so good that even.
“When will we go to the fair? To the fair. I’ve got nothing sharp on me.to tell you the truth . Geralt didn’t answer. Audoen. is an easily irritable king. What will you say?” “Renfri. “I hide nothing here. mutiny. and I have a fragile body. what are you saying. “Take my boots off.“I am what I am. in the darkness. Well. he sends you up the gallows for anything. I was trying to grin and bear it.” “Renfri!” Geralt clasped the medallion in his hand. willy-nilly. fight?” “Even then.” the girl frowned. “So. “I prefer to presume that you are scared of walking in the footsteps of that freeman. I am a duchess. as you see. just see for yourself. wiping his plate with bread. naturally.she looked frightened. witcher. Tomorrow morning I am leaving Blaviken. Eh. Daddy!” “Be quiet.” Caldemeyn rumbled.” Marilka wailed monotonously.” “Well. “You’ve won. white-haired. I have a daughter.” Her usual mocking teasing smile returned to her lips when she was putting the empty cup back on the table. aren’t I?” V “Daddy.” “This bloody roof is steep.” Barefoot. Geralt. “does what you say make you a duchess?” “Hell! What can you know about duchesses? I was one and I know that all the pleasure that there is in being one is the possibility of doing what one feels like. When it’s dark I can fall down and hurt myself. Put down that damned candle.” she said in a sudden harsh tone. if there is anything left in the bottle. a cat was caterwauling. For a moment . Never. I didn’t think it will go that smoothly.” “Where are you?” “I’m cold. She put her legs on his knees. “Geralt?” “I’m here.a very short one . She lifted her head up as if suddenly woken up from a dream and blinked her eyes a few times in amazement. Marilka. “You’ve won. I’d rather leave at dawn. They held me by the throat with this parchment sealed by Audeon. and I don’t have to trouble where to get something to go well with my tomorrow’s 18 .I could do nothing at all to them. she stood up and tugged at the clasp of her belt.” “Even if they openly broke the law? Started a brawl. as you see. Outside. Unless it is well stuffed with straw. I like my job.” Geralt smiled. Geralt? Are they moving out from the town?” “Yes. I can sense a pea through a mattress. The bootleg’s the best place to hide a knife. Fill up. Am I to tell you openly. I am married. but . “I do not even want to accept the thought that you don’t fancy me. “Renfri?” “Yes?” “Is that batiste?” “Blast it! Naturally! I am a duchess. never to return to this lousy little town. Nor here. or will you guess yourself?” Still smiling.
” “Where?” “In Tridam.. yes. brats.” shouted Libushe. Their companions. Don’t you understand? They will start murdering people at the fair. or be suddenly assaulted from boats. others were agitated. a highwayman and assassin. The Baron. it was at the time of Nis Festivity. must have been three years ago.. That blackish halfelf is Civril. Some have been identified. They are professionals: they’ll slaughter my people. Or. my head will be forfeit.. As soon as they leave the tavern. It cannot be done. and there I’ll keep my eye on them...” witcher whispered. was also among them. The Baron of Tridam kept some thugs in his dungeon. haven’t you? Apparently you have. “I told you! He brings only evil. “Renfri. They sent to the baron demanded liberation of those. claiming that he had done a great evil: that it was a pre.” “Well?” “The one with a scar across his face is Nohorn.. and that those should have been shot down with crossbows together with the hostages. precedent or what. as was to be expected. I don’t think his name refers to the fifteen good turns he’s done in his life. they let more than ten go down with the current..the fair!” “What?” “Can’t you understand. Your market. they call Fifteen.. blood will be shed.” “What?” “Caldemeyn . How did it really happen?” “Daddy I want to the fair!” “Libushe! Take Marilka away! Well. Geralt?” Marilka. He’s said to have ha something to do with the Tridam massacre. All right. too. I didn’t think so. get good hold of them. You haven’t heard? It was common gossip about three. former Abergard’s sidekick. for there were over a quarter of a hundred people on the ferry: women. who hasn’t. one after another. and he should not have go even an inch their way.” “One must choose lesser evil!” “Geralt! I forbid! As the sheriff. All about this half-elven and Tridam may be only gossip. Civril. before they enter the market. I questioned Centurion. Exile. That bull of a man. the Baron maintained that he chose the lesser evil. Now. woman! Geralt! Sit down!” “They must be prevented.” “It’s good for nothing... I’ll go to the fair. Before the Baron yielded and released those from the dungeon. In one word: it’s good they’re leaving. one by one. for Marilka was two then. here within these walls is a true trap!” “By all the gods. while the market is still empty. Call the guards. and then they started murdering the pilgrims.” “The Tridam ultimatum. the innkeeper of the Golden Manor.” “Shut up. or even the block loomed over the Baron. They must be pacified at once. They will forc Stregobor to leave the tower. they will force me to.. Geralt. Caldemeyn? She deceived me. I’ll gather my men. be sensible. I forbid! Leave the sword! Halt!” 19 . and have them bound or fettered. just like they forced the Baron of Tridam. You’ve heard of the company.” “Geralt. sobbed huddling in a corner of the kitchen “I told you. At the court. from the so-called free Angren company. They will not leave. They are quite a bunch. pointing her hand at the witcher. frightened by the uproar. you won’t prevent panic and carnage. about that Novigrad company.. refused. Well. they captured a river ferry teeming with pilgrims. Geralt! Sit down! Where to.. They will resist.. You may be mistaken. Even if not. If Audeon learns that.groats. We mustn’t touch them if they have done nothing. and what then? Audoen will skin me alive. As soon as the crowd enters the square. Caldemeyn. they say that that cur. “It’s defiance of the law! I may not allow for that. some were vexed by the fact that he yielded only when so many had been killed.
” commanded Civril. He was about forty paces away from the group.” “Round up.’ I’ve been told you sort of know what it means.” Fifteen groaned. being unsheathed. “Where is Renfri?” The half-caste had a scowl written across his pretty face.. mischievous laughter. “Diverted it. The witcher waved his sword. putting his foot on the weapon’s stirrup.Marilka was shouting.” “More will come. later. Nohorn. Choose. “Not a step further. Tavik?” asked Nohorn. and pulled the string back. The witcher quickened his pace. still. Now he was walking among the stalls and making straight for them. seagulls were crying loud. The witcher was walking. the first merchants were already beginning to display their goods on the stalls. encircling it in a closing spiral.” The witcher was walking. there are still few of them in that market. Civril looked at him with disgust but said nothing. 20 . lesser one. the group closed their ranks: now standing hand in hand.. Then. you will get the other thing she asked to pass to you. witcher!” “Geralt halted. “So. She knew you would come.” said Fifteen deep in thought. And you’ll feel like it. Civril. A hammer was banging. The bowstring twanged. witcher. Everything became very quiet. making a certain proposal to the sorcerer. She anticipated that too. clattered on the roof. having put her little hands over her mouth.” “The first is the following message: ‘I am what I am. he changed into a run . Then he carefully placed the bolt in its groove. turning somersaults. with their many blades pointing outward. in a moment. The market was beginning to come alive. and the bolt flew up and.” “Look. Straight between the eyes. sang.” said Fifteen suddenly. “A fine day this is going to be. “Ready and saddled. Wagons and carts were rambling. “Speak. or the other. “She’s at the tower. “Diverted it in flight.” He bowed down. The witcher was walking.” The witcher nodded. drawing an arc over his head. a cockerel was crowing. “What about the horses.” said Civril. Civril raised the crossbow. pulling on his gauntlets. Civril was looking at the sun coming out from behind the trees.. his gait now amazingly soft and smooth. The half-elven raised the crossbow to his cheek.not headlong onto the group spiked with swords but to its side. Swords.” “Sure. The blade flashed. Either me. Give me the crossbow. then raised his hand. You’ll have time. She told me to pass two things to you..” “Later. a prolonged whine of stricken metal could be heard. Civril chuckled with evil. The witcher was approaching from the direction of main street.” “We should eat something. VI Shading his eyes with his hand. and thudded in the rainwater pipe. “Renfri was right. “A-ha. Then he slowly advanced towards the group. grasping the hilt of his sword peeking from over his right shoulder.
in. slashed across the whole chest. He got a slash across the face. He made a few little steps to lessen the impact but the witcher had sped by. he withstood and prepared a blow. and attacked with both hands. He deflected a blow. sword in his lowered hand. and now all of a sudden he noticed the witcher. low and flat. Civril used his back to push himself back from the stall.you included . Dropping his head on his knees. he took four staggering paces and fell heavily on a cart full of fish. to the left. running by him in the opposite direction. A moment earlier he had been chasing Geralt. before he had time to raise the sword. and collided with their shoulders. He said I could slaughter all of Blaviken and add a few nearby villages. Already down on his knees. folded in half. With muscles tensed. jumped over the falling Nohorn. losing the rhythm for a moment. Tavik was first. he froze in a red pool. The market swarmed with fleeing salesmen. just below the ear.” said Geralt with effort. half-turned. “Don’t disperse!” yelled Civril turning his head and losing the sight of the witcher. His sword fell off his hand. symmetrical to his old scar. He was slashed across the abdomen. slashed on the inner side. Then he was cut for the second time: on the side of his neck. raising dust and cries. Renfri entered the market. Civril and Nohorn attacked simultaneously from both sides. He did not feel the blow. and were dancing a mad dance among the stalls. The crowd previously buzzing like a swarm of hornets in the streets and by the walls of the houses. and yet.” she unsheathed her sword quickly and smoothly. the collapsing stalls gave a groan. It was enough. and with his head bent low took a few steps and fell into a vegetable stall. “No. running in a semicircle. turned on the spot and dropped into the sewer: heavily. now silenced. Fifteen slid down to the cobbles silver with the scales. 21 . She was coming slowly. Tavik felt a mighty stroke just over his hip. managed to balance on his legs. He swore and jumped aside. Tavik looked at his hip in bewilderment and started to yell. Renfri. “There wouldn’t be one. cutting the distance. tried to stand up but failed. The cart wheeled away. Vyr. And he shall let nobody . he got ready to parry. just above the elbow. tripped.” She laughed. “You sure it is the right one?” “There will be not another Tridam here. if there was a need. I have cheated throughout my life. The girl approached him and stopped ten paces away. Nohorn kneeling. Fifteen turned fast. “You have made a choice. Why are you staring like that? Yes. “From the left. yet he was too slow. he shall not leave the tower. he was trying to pass from a feint to another attack. two metallic clangs resounding together. Attacking simultaneously the black shape rushing at them. The twins followed close. Civril jumped to the side. He turned to find himself falling. meandering among the carts and stalls. seeing that the group went apart. why should I have made an exception for you?” “Go away from here. clutching to the wooden framework of a stall.” she declared. Both the blows were parried. the elf with a powerful cut from above. after a subconscious parry. the twins ran into each other. to get the witcher from behind. Springing to his feet. His legs gave way only when. Stregobor jeered at me. Tremor in his hands. inertly. pretzels and fish. and forced to kneel. Tavik tried to lift his weight on them once again and fell. with catlike steps. It was short. Geralt was standing motionless. hardly covering the hips. Not fast enough. Fifteen!” roared Nohorn. among scattered cabbage. Nimir was hit on the temple. He missed and immediately jumped back. He noticed that she had chain-mail under her short doublet. I have cheated you. Geralt.Tavik couldn’t stand it and moved on quickly. Nohorn rushed forward and covered him with his sword held vertically. so powerful that he was thrust back. He fell down to his knees.
. yet it didn’t break his rhythm. onto the elken shoes. embrace me.. the cloth not even touching him. Blood spurted in a bright stream from between her fingers onto her ornamented belt. aiming at the face. Only the sword. turning close to her. will no longer.“Renfri. Falling to her knee.” he gasped.” He did not answer.” “Renfri. He did not answer. in the left one. she made a flat cut from a reduced distance. “To no avail. Following it close. trying to wrench her weapon. am. The mob.. The sorcerer was hastily approaching. Geralt sheathed the sword.. I cannot do otherwise. avoiding the blade flashing in rapid slashes. “The Shrike. half-turned. with the foible of his sword. outstretched hand there was her sword glistening. “I. and attacked after a fast feint. She bore straight into him... “Don’t go!” she moaned. the witcher raised his head hearing the clatter of Stregobor’s stave on the cobbles. You have made your choice. leaning on the stave. Renfri moaned again. “What a carnage. Geralt took two steps back.she attacked. It was a mistake. white-haired.” With one sharp move she tore her skirt off her hips. curling into a ball. She did not cry.. “Geralt. Geralt mechanically parried it with the middle of the blade. it is my turn. she had the skirt: its end trailing in the dust. and engaged both the swords in a short tierce. Geralt. thrusting her skirt into his eyes and.. making his way among the corpses. She parried his blow and immediately . We’ll take her to the tower. Now. pressed into the little streets swayed and cried out. and Renfri’s blade sliding down his inclined parry.” the sorcerer stood up straight. She turned her head and went still with a cheek touching the cobbles. “Well. I saw everything in the crystal. wrapping the cloth around her left forearm.. Geralt hardly managed to parry that blow. cold. An extremely thin-bladed stiletto. Geralt. through the unprotected thigh and the groin. In his flowing robe.. the sword flickered in a short.” He came closer and bent down. He felt the pain jerking his body.her knees bent.” “I know. sparing cut. and prepared for a cut at head. Geralt retreated. be able . He knew that trick. If we but let the blades cross.” she said. He avoided being hit. very old.. Renfri jumped to the side. get a cart. Renfri laughed again in a short sniggering laughter. Little quick torrents of blood were filling the cracks between stones.” She advanced in light swaying paces.. “Go. Can’t hurt me this way.. partially out of sight. quite dead. deflected the blade driven towards his temple. “One would not believe” he turned his head. on the filthy cobbles.” he repeated. and her hips swaying . Post-mortem is waiting. “But I cannot. “go away.” He did not answer. raised his hand... “I saw all of it. curling up even more. He whirled in a pirouette.. waved her left hand: the skirt swished in the air. I. After a while.” 22 . shaping his fingers together into a Sign. this time the other way. either. Geralt. whirled it in the air. She ran her blade across his chest. You and me.. She turned together with him so that he felt her breath. kneeling in a lunge. he looked old. She jumped forward. He turned once again. so far concealed under her body. and jumped aside from the cloth of the skirt falling down on him. and clung with both her hands to the slashed thigh. I just cannot. slipped from her stiffening fingers..” Geralt did not answer. Geralt. We are what we are.. In her right.. and jumped aside again. swiftly slashed her from below. Geralt backed. she let her sword go.” “No. long as eternity itself.
“Geralt. “Is that.” said the witcher. after a pause. pointing with a sweeping gesture at the still bodies strewn all over the little square.” “Yes. “Just touch her. The witcher. Very slowly. Then he turned slowly. Come with me and stay not here! These people know nothing: they only saw you kill. and unsheathed it very quickly.” “Then. The witcher did not move.” said Caldemeyn. witcher?” “Away!” “As you wish. with an effort. And you kill in a nasty way. “I am going back to Kovir.” The witcher looked round. Geralt.He looked at the witcher and.. “Just touch her. away with thee. raised both the hands and made a quick gesture with them.. What. having received no answer. you hear me.” “What? Geralt? Have you gone mad? You’re wounded. “Never. “Is your wound serious?” “No.” Answered Geralt. sorcerer. reached for the hilt of his sword. “All over now? Is that the lesser evil you have chosen? Have you settled everything you deem necessary?” “Yes. Stregobor shrugged his arms. he didn’t even look at him.” said someone the witcher didn’t know. I’m not staying another day in this whistlestop. standing straight. Stregobor jumped aside and waved his stave. flying low over Geralt’s arm. “Never return. Someone the witcher didn’t know. Another one followed. He kept standing for one more moment. protected with an invisible convex shield. and more stones were hurled but the Sign pushed them aside: they were passing by their target. you coming?” Geralt did not answer. “Right!” He shouted.” he said. dammit all!” The crowd made a sound like a wave of the tide but the stones did not stop flying. “End it. He put back his sword. A stone sailed from the crowd and thudded on the cobbles. tapping his stave rhythmically. bent down over the body. “as you wish! But you will never know! You will never be sure! Never. and left making fast strides. The crowd murmured. avoiding the sheriff’s gaze. in a shock! Post-mortem is the only way to prove.” “Do not touch her!” Seeing the rising blade. and your head rolls down to the cobbles. “Enough!!!” yelled Caldemeyn. The sheriff approached him.” the sorcerer turned and hit his stave against the cobbles. indeed.” 23 .