The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher

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Introducing Geralt the Witcher – revered and hated – who holds the line against the monsters plaguing humanity in the bestselling series that inspired the Witcher video games and a major Netflix show.

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers and lifelong training have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin.

Yet he is no ordinary killer: he hunts the vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil; not everything fair is good . . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

Andrzej Sapkowski, winner of the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement award, started an international phenomenon with his Witcher series. The Last Wish is the perfect introduction to this one-of-a-kind fantasy world.

 


 

THE VOICE OF REASON 1

 

 

She came to him towards morning. She entered very carefully, moving silently, floating through the chamber like a phantom; the only sound was that of her mantle brushing her naked skin. Yet this faint sound was enough to wake the witcher – or maybe it only tore him from the half-slumber in which he rocked monotonously, as though travelling through fathomless depths, suspended between the sea bed and its calm surface amidst gently undulating strands of seaweed. He did not move, did not stir. The girl flitted closer, threw off her mantle and slowly, hesitantly, rested her knee on the edge of the large bed. He observed her through lowered lashes, still not betraying his wakefulness.

 

The girl carefully climbed onto the bedclothes, and onto him, wrapping her thighs around him. Leaning forward on straining arms, she brushed his face with hair which smelt of chamomile. Determined, and as if impatient, she leant over and touched his eyelids, cheeks, lips with the tips of her breasts.

 

He smiled, very slowly, delicately, grasping her by the shoulders, and she straightened, escaping his fingers. She was radiant, luminous in the misty brilliance of dawn. He moved, but with pressure from both hands, she forbade him to change position and, with a light but decisive movement of her hips, demanded a response.

 

He responded. She no longer backed away from his hands; she threw her head back, shook her hair. Her skin was cool and surprisingly smooth. Her eyes, glimpsed when her face came close to his, were huge and dark as the eyes of a water nymph. Rocked, he sank into a sea of chamomile as it grew agitated and seethed.

 


 

THE WITCHER

 

 

Later, it was said the man came from the north, from Ropers Gate. He came on foot, leading his laden horse by the bridle. It was late afternoon and the ropers’, saddlers’ and tanners’ stalls were already closed, the street empty. It was hot but the man had a black coat thrown over his shoulders. He drew attention to himself. He stopped in front of the Old Narakort Inn, stood there for a moment, listened to the hubbub of voices.

 

As usual, at this hour, it was full of people. The stranger did not enter the Old Narakort. He pulled his horse further down the street to another tavern, a smaller one, called The Fox. Not enjoying the best of reputations, it was almost empty. The innkeeper raised his head above a barrel of pickled cucumbers and measured the man with his gaze. The outsider, still in his coat, stood stiffly in front of the counter, motionless and silent. ‘What will it be?’ ‘Beer,’ said the stranger. His voice was unpleasant.

 

The innkeeper wiped his hands on his canvas apron and filled a chipped earthenware tankard. The stranger was not old but his hair was almost entirely white. Beneath his coat he wore a worn leather jerkin laced up at the neck and shoulders. As he took off his coat those around him noticed that he carried a sword – not something unusual in itself, nearly every man in Wyzim carried a weapon – but no one carried a sword strapped to his back as if it were a bow or a quiver.

 

The stranger did not sit at the table with the few other guests. He remained standing at the counter, piercing the innkeeper with his gaze. He drew from the tankard. ‘I’m looking for a room for the night.’ ‘There’s none,’ grunted the innkeeper, looking at the guest’s boots, dusty and dirty. ‘Ask at the Old Narakort.’ ‘I would rather stay here.’ ‘There is none.’ The innkeeper finally recognised the stranger’s accent. He was Rivian. ‘I’ll pay.’ The outsider spoke quietly, as if unsure, and the whole nasty affair began. A pockmarked beanpole of a man who, from the moment the outsider had entered had not taken his gloomy eyes from him, got up and approached the counter. Two of his companions rose behind him, no more than two paces away.

 

‘There’s no room to be had, you Rivian vagabond,’ rasped the pockmarked man, standing right next to the outsider. ‘We don’t need people like you in Wyzim. This is a decent town!’ The outsider took his tankard and moved away. He glanced at the innkeeper, who avoided his eyes. It did not even occur to him to defend the Rivian. After all, who liked Rivians? ‘All Rivians are thieves,’ the pock-marked man went on, his breath smelling of beer, garlic and anger.

 

‘Do you hear me, you bastard ?’ ‘He can’t hear you. His ears are full of shit,’ said one of the men with him, and the second man cackled. ‘Pay and leave!’ yelled the pocked man. Only now did the Rivian look at him. ‘I’ll finish my beer.’ ‘We’ll give you a hand,’ the pockmarked man hissed.

 

He knocked the tankard from the stranger’s hand and simultaneously grabbing him by the shoulder, dug his fingers into the leather strap which ran diagonally across the outsider’s chest. One of the men behind him raised a fist to strike. The outsider curled up on the spot, throwing the pockmarked man off balance. The sword hissed in its sheath and glistened briefly in the dim light. The place seethed. There was a scream, and one of the few remaining customers tumbled towards the exit. A chair fell with a crash and earthenware smacked hollowly against the floor.

 

The innkeeper, his lips trembling, looked at the horribly slashed face of the pocked man, who, clinging with his fingers to the edge of the counter, was slowly sinking from sight. The other two were lying on the floor, one motionless, the other writhing and convulsing in a dark, spreading puddle. A woman’s hysterical scream vibrated in the air, piercing the ears as the innkeeper shuddered, caught his breath, and vomited. The stranger retreated towards the wall, tense and alert

 

. He held the sword in both hands, sweeping the blade through the air. No one moved. Terror, like cold mud, was clear on their faces, paralysing limbs and blocking throats. Three guards rushed into the tavern with thuds and clangs. They must have been close by.

 

They had truncheons wound with leather straps at the ready, but at the sight of the corpses, drew their swords. The Rivian pressed his back against the wall and, with his left hand, pulled a dagger from his boot. ‘Throw that down!’ one of the guards yelled with a trembling voice. ‘Throw that down, you thug! You’re coming with us!’

 

The second guard kicked aside the table between himself and the Rivian. ‘Go get the men, Treska!’ he shouted to the third guard, who had stayed closer to the door. ‘No need,’ said the stranger, lowering his sword. ‘I’ll come by myself.’ ‘You’ll go, you son of a bitch, on the end of a rope!’ yelled the trembling guard. ‘Throw that sword down or I’ll smash your head in!’ The Rivian straightened. He quickly pinned his blade under his left arm and with his right hand raised towards the guards, swiftly drew a complicated sign in the air. The clout-nails which studded his tunic from his wrists to elbows flashed.

 

The guards drew back, shielding their faces with their arms. One of the customers sprang up while another darted to the door. The woman screamed again, wild and ear-splitting. ‘I’ll come by myself,’ repeated the stranger in his resounding, metallic voice. ‘And the three of you will go in front of me. Take me to the castellan. I don’t know the way.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ mumbled the guard, dropping his head. He made towards the exit, looking around tentatively. The other two guards followed him out backwards, hastily. The stranger followed in their tracks, sheathing his sword and dagger. As they passed the tables the remaining customers hid their faces from the dangerous stranger.

 

 

Author Andrzej Sapkowski & Danusia Stok
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