Welcome to Witcher Wednesdays, where I read and comment on The Witcher series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski. Today I’m covering the next two stories in The Last Wish , through page 144 in this edition.
This post CONTAINS SPOILERS so don’t read it until you’re caught up with the book. Ready? Let’s go!
The Voice of Reason 3
Frame story time! While Geralt is at the temple, a group of guards claiming to represent Prince Hereward, demand that the Witcher leave at once. Nenneke, being the priestess in charge of the temple, doesn’t like them throwing their weight around and tells them that Geralt will stay as long as he likes. Geralt, however, agrees to leave in three days. The knights are not happy with this and a verbal spat ensues, ending with one of the knights challenging Geralt to a duel.
Things are heating up at the Temple. This is an interesting view of Geralt’s character. He’s willing to leave to avoid a fight, but when the knights threaten Nenneke, he won’t stand for that. Odd that he’s willing to defend another but not himself. It’s probably part of the whole being a Witcher thing. Geralt is used to being run out of town.
Nenneke is really interesting here. She clearly doesn’t recognize the Prince’s authority, and that goes double about what goes on at her temple. You could argue that the duel is largely her fault, and I’m wondering if it was an accident or part of an overarching plan of hers. Time will tell.
The Lesser Evil
In the previous edition of the frame story, one of the knights refers to Geralt as the Butcher of Blaviken, and this story starts out with Geralt entering the town of Blaviken. Hmmm…
Geralt enters the town having just killed a kikimora nearby and tries to get a reward from the alderman, a friend of his named Caldemeyn. Caldemeyn tells Geralt there is no reward but suggests he might be able to sell the monster’s body to the local wizard, Irion (we later learn that his real name is Stregabor). Geralt goes to the tower and talks with Stregabor. The two know each other and don’t like each other, mainly because Stregabor was part of a group of wizards who hunted down and killed women born at a certain time of year who they thought were cursed. Geralt did not believe in the curse and thought that Stregabor’s actions resulted in a lot of innocent bloodshed.
Stregabor asks for Geralt’s help. One of the cursed women, Shrike, escaped Stregabor’s attempts to kill her and is now coming to get her revenge. Stregabor doesn’t think he will survive without the Witcher’s help. He paints a picture of Shrike as a cold, heartless killer who tortures and murders for pleasure. Geralt tells Stregabor he won’t help and leaves, but later tracks down Shrike and her men at the local inn in an attempt to prevent bloodshed. Shrike presents Geralt and Caldemeyn with a letter from the king that grants her safe passage, effectively preventing Caldemeyn from doing anything to stop her.
Geralt returns to his room after dinner to find Shrike waiting for him. She tells Geralt her side of the story, that Stregabor and the other wizards hunted her because she threatened another woman’s sucession to the crown and has spent her life since running from murders and rapists, killing to protect herself. She tells Geralt that if he or any of the town guards try to stop her, she will kill them. At one point, Geralt seems to use his Witcher medallion to hypnotize her into saying more than she would want to. Afterward, the two have sex.
The next morning, Geralt realizes that Shrike plans to hold the town market hostage and kill the townspeople one by one until Stregabor comes out of his tower. Geralt runs to the market and kills all six of Shrike’s men. Shrike arrives and says that she had given up on that plan anyway, because Stregabor is too much of a coward to come out of his tower, even if it means innocent lives will be lost. She and Geralt fight, and he kills her. Caldemeyn arrives at the market, furious, and tells Geralt to leave Blaviken and never return.
There’s a lot going on here. Let’s start with the concept of “a lesser evil.”
The world of The Witcher is not a happy fantasy world with clear delineations between good and bad or right and wrong. It’s a more realistic world, where everything is a shade of gray, and some grays are darker than others. You could probably file this under the more modern genre of ‘grimdark’, but it feels more sword and sorcery to me. The point is that each person that Geralt meets has a different idea of what the lesser evil is. For Stregabor, it’s to kill Shrike. For Shrike, it’s for Geralt to let her get her revenge on Stregabor. For Caldemeyn, it’s to stand by and do nothing so that his family is safe from the king’s wrath. The lesser evil that Geralt chooses is to kill Shrike and her men to protect the townspeople in the market.
It’s interesting to note that at the beginning of the story, Geralt tells Stregabor that there is no such thing as a lesser evil. Evil is evil, whether lesser or greater. But, by the end of the story, Geralt himself is trying to rationalize his actions by calling them the lesser evil. The question seems to be, did Geralt make the right decision? And the answer I find is that there is no right decision. Any answer ended in bloodshed. The men Geralt killed were thieves and murderers, but Shrike is more of a victim that a monster herself. Ultimately, the price is paid by Geralt himself. He feels genuine guilt and remorse over Shrike’s death and loses a friend and safe haven when Caldemeyn kicks him out of town.
What’s interesting is just how much Geralt has changed since Blaviken. We can assume that all of the other stories, except the frame story, take place before The Witcher, because Geralt heads to the temple to heal from wounds he suffered in that story. If you recall, the first story in the collection starts with Geralt killing several men who harass him at a tower. Men who are not necessarily bad people, just drunk and in the mood for a fight. Yet, Geralt kills them without a second thought. In Blaviken however, Geralt is a killer of monsters, not men, and he agonizes over Shrike’s death. It will be interesting to find out if Blaviken is the incident that changes him from monster slayer to simple killer, or if there will be other incidents that lead him down that path. And, once he’s gone down that path, is there any way for him to go back?
For next week, I’m reading The Voice of Reason 4 and A Question of Price. That’s through page 201 in the mass market paperback edition of the book. See you next Wednesday!