Nenneke wants Geralt to stay a while. If he's hiding from Yennefer, then he should know she already visited the temple, and didn't bother asking about his whereabouts. Geralt would still rather leave before she returns, and asks Nenneke to give Yennefer the jewels he got as payment for slaying the Striga.
'I wouldn't do this if I were you. You'll make her even more furious, if that's possible, believe me. Leave everything as it is, because you're no longer in a position to mend anything or make anything better. Running away from her, you behaved . . . well, let's say, in a manner not particularly worthy of a mature man. By trying to wipe away your guilt with precious stones, you'll behave like a very, very over-mature man. I really don't know what sort of man I can stand less.'
'She was too possessive,' he muttered, turning away his face. 'I couldn't stand it. She treated me like-'
'Stop it,' she said sharply. 'Don't cry on my shoulder. I'm not your mother, and I won't be your confidante either. I don't give a shit how she treated you and I care even less how you treated her. And I don't intend to be a go-between or give these stupid jewels to her. If you want to be a fool, do it without using me as an intermediary.'
Geralt just means the jewels can help pay for a healer that will fix Yennefer's... "condition". Nenneke insists that's impossible - sorceress' pay for their magical power and bodily transformation with irreversible infertility. If anything, Geralt should worry about his own health - that trance session with Iola he keeps avoiding would really help sort him out.
Geralt would just as soon not engage in anything that could cause Iola to peer into the future. He's pretty sure the future doesn't hold anything of value for him. To change the subject, he asks about the greenhouse they're in.
Nenneke smiled. 'You see, Geralt, this bright sun of ours is still shining, but not quite the way it used to. Read the great books if you like. But if you don't want to waste time on it maybe you'll be happy with the explanation that the crystal roof acts like a filter. It eliminates the lethal rays which are increasingly found in sunlight. That's why plants which you can't see growing wild anywhere in the world grow here.'
'I understand,' nodded the witcher. And us, Nenneke? What about us? The sun shines on us, too. Shouldn't we shelter under a roof like that?'
'In principle, yes,' sighed the priestess. 'But . . ..'
'It's too late.'
Huh. I forgot that some early foreshadowing of the White Frost in the very first book. Not quite where it ends up going, but close enough.
Letting the reader know that Geralt and Yennefer won't find a comfortable "happily ever after" before even telling the story of how they've met is a pretty bold move. Let's see if it pays off.
Geralt and Dandelion are fishing for their supper. Dandelion manages to lose his initial catch, but ends up hooking a tangle of branches and ooze with an amphora in the middle, a magic-looking seal upon it. Dandelion has read enough stories to know exactly what that is - a genie that will grant him three wishes! Geralt, on the other, knows enough about magic to assure him that: A) You don't find a Djinn just lying around, sealed in a pot B) Djinns are terribly dangerous, so don't mess with anything that might contain one. They tussle for control, break the damn thing open, and some smoke starts pouring out, coalescing into a monstrous, beaked head.
Dandelion is not the least bit taken aback:
'Run!' yelled the witcher. 'Run, Dandelion!'
'My wishes,' continued the poet, 'are as follows. Firstly, may Valdo Marx, the troubadour of Cidaris, die of apoplexy as soon as possible. Secondly, there's a count's daughter in Caelf called Virginia who refuses all advances. May she succumb to mine. Thirdly-'
The Djinn is not amused.
Geralt strikes with his silver sword and the Aard. The Djinn tosses Dandelion aside, but otherwise seems undamaged, turning to attack the witcher.
Geralt, not having the least idea of what to do, squeezed the seal in his fist and, extending his hand towards the assailant, screamed out the words of an exorcism a priestess had once taught him. He had never used those words until now because, in principle, he didn't believe in superstitions.
The effect surpassed his expectations.
The seal hissed and grew hot, burning his hand. The gigantic head froze in the air, suspended, motionless above the river. It hung like that for a moment then, at last, it began to howl, roar, and dispersed into a pulsating bundle of smoke, into a huge, whirling cloud. The cloud whined shrilly and whisked upstream with incredible speed, leaving a trail of churned-up water on the surface. In a matter of seconds, it had disappeared into the distance; only a dwindling howl lingered across the water.
Dandelion is badly injured, beyond Geralt's healing abilities He takes him to the nearest town, but has to wait for dawn before being allowed to enter. They spend the night in the barbican (guardhouse outside the walls), alongside the city-elves Chireadan and Errdil, as well as the half-elven knight Vratimir. Thankfully, they're able to help take care of Dandelion, and can recommend a healer that will both save his life and leave him able to sing despite the damage to his throat - Yennefer of Vergerburg.
Wizards aren't particularly welcome in Redania, particularly powerful females who are notorious for giving absolutely no fucks about public opinion. She is forced to stay at the home of a trade ambassador from Novigrad to avoid persecution.
Geralt races there with the dawning sun. The guard won't let him through at this hour, so he knocks him out. The household is still experiencing the after-effects of yesterday's party, the ambassador wandering the kitchen in a naked alcoholic daze, looking for apple juice for his honored guest. Geralt fetches the juice upstairs:
A heavy smell of sour wine, candles and overripe fruit hung in the air. And something else, that brought to mind a mixture of the scents of lilac and gooseberries.
He looked around. The table in the middle of the chamber bore a battlefield of jugs, carafes, goblets, silver plates, dishes and ivory-handled cutlery. A creased tablecloth, which had been pushed aside, was soaked in wine, covered in purple stains and stiff with wax which had trickled down the candlesticks. Orange peel glowed like flowers among plum and peach stones, pear cores and grape stalks. A goblet had fallen over and smashed. The other was in one piece, half full, with a turkey bone sticking out of it. Next to the goblet stood a black, high-heeled slipper. It was made of basilisk skin. There wasn't a more expensive raw material which could be used in the making of shoes.
The other slipper lay under a chair on top of a carelessly discarded black dress with white frills and an embroidered flowery pattern.
For a moment Geralt stood undecided, struggling with embarrassment and the desire to turn on his heel and leave.
Maybe that would have been a better idea?
He manages to Heliotrop a defense, so that he's not knocked out on the spot, and explain that he's here to get help for his friend.
'May I?' She touched his cheek and looked him in the eyes. He clenched his jaw. 'Do your pupils automatically adapt to light or can you narrow and dilate them according to your will?'
'Yennefer,' he said calmly, 'I rode nonstop all day from Rinde. I waited all night for the gates to open. I gave your doorman, who didn't want to let me in, a blow to the head. I disturbed your sleep and peace, discourteously and importunately. All because my friend needs help which only you can give him. Give it to him, please, and then, if you like, we can talk about mutations and aberrations.'
'If it's all that complicated then wait. An aftertaste in my mouth, dishevelled hair, sticky eyes and other morning inconveniences strongly affect my perceptive faculties. Go downstairs to the bath-chamber in the cellar. I'll be there in a minute and then you'll tell me everything.'
'Yennefer, I don't want to be persistent but time is pressing. My friend-'
'Geralt,' she interrupted sharply, 'I climbed out of bed for you and I didn't intend to do that before the chime of midday. I'm prepared to do without breakfast. Do you know why? Because you brought me the apple juice. You were in a hurry, your head was troubled with your friend's suffering, you forced your way in here by breaking heads, and yet you thought of a thirsty woman. You won me over, so my help is not out of the question. But I won't do anything without hot water and soap. Go. Please.'
'Yes?' he stopped on the threshold.
'Make use of the opportunity to have a bath yourself. I can not only guess the age and breed of your horse, but also its colour, by the smell.'
'Beautiful scar,' she smiled, looking at his chest. 'What was it? Did you fall under the blade in a saw-mill?'
He didn't answer. The sorceress continued to observe him, tilting her head coquettishly.
'The first witcher I can look at from close up, and completely naked at that. Aha!' She leant over, listening. 'I can hear your heart beat. It's very slow. Can you control how much adrenalin you secrete? Oh, forgive me my professional curiosity. Apparently, you're touchy about the qualities of your own body. You're wont to describe these qualities using words which I greatly dislike, lapsing into pompous sarcasm with it, something I dislike even more.'
Yennefer turns invisible so that they may continue their conversation while she bathes. Water and soap do mark contours, and Geralt stares, distracted, as she interrogates him about the nature of the Djinn in question. Dandelion is resting at Errdil's, supervised by Chireadan. Yennefer conjures a portal there - Geralt may hate portals, but she isn't going to set foot on the street.
'I can't walk the streets of this town,' she cut him short. 'They're not too crazy about me here. They might insult me and throw stones - or do something worse. Several people are effectively ruining my reputation here, thinking they can get away with it. Don't worry, my portals are safe.'
Geralt had once watched as only half a traveller using a safe portal flew through. The other half was never found. He knew of several cases where people had entered a portal and never been seen again.
Needs must though - Geralt hugs the sorceress and jumps through.
They arrive in one piece, and Yennefer kicks everyone out of Dandelion's room, leaving Geralt and Chireadan to discuss why she might be offering her services:
'I didn't think you'd find it so easy, if I'm to be honest,' Chireadan went on. 'Yennefer isn't the most spontaneous of people when it comes to help. Others' troubles don't particularly bother her, and don't disturb her sleep. In a word, I've never heard of her helping anyone if there wasn't something in it for her. I wonder what's in it for her to help you and Dandilion.'
'Aren't you exaggerating?' The witcher smiled. 'I didn't have such a bad impression of her. She likes to demonstrate her superiority, it's true, but compared with other wizards, with that whole arrogant bunch, she's walking charm and kindliness personified.'
Chireadan also smiled. 'It's almost as though you thought a scorpion were prettier than a spider,' he said, 'because it's got such a lovely tail. Be careful, Geralt. You're not the first to have judged her like that without knowing she's turned her charm and beauty into weapons. Weapons she uses skillfully and without scruple. Which, of course, doesn't change the fact that she's a fascinating and good-looking woman. You wouldn't disagree, would you?'
Geralt glanced keenly at the elf. For a second time, he thought he saw traces of a blush on his face. It surprised him no less than Chireadan's words. Pure-blooded elves were not wont to admire human women, even the very beautiful ones, and Yennefer, although attractive in her own way, couldn't pass as a great beauty.
Each to their own taste but, in actual fact, not many would describe sorceresses as good-looking. Indeed, all of them came from social circles where the only Fate for daughters would be marriage. Who would have thought of condemning their daughter to years of tedious studies and the tortures of somatic mutations if she could be given away in marriage and advantageously allied? Who wished to have a sorceress in their family? Despite the respect enjoyed by magicians, a sorceress's family did not benefit from her in the least because by the time the girl had completed her education, nothing tied her to her family anymore - only brotherhood counted, to the exclusion of all else. So only daughters with no chance of finding a husband become sorceresses.
Unlike priestesses and druidesses, who only unwillingly took ugly or crippled girls, sorcerers took anyone who showed evidence of a predisposition. If the child passed the first years of training, magic entered into the equation - straightening and evening out legs, repairing bones which had badly knitted, patching hare-lips, removing scars, birthmarks and pox scars. The young sorceress would become attractive because the prestige of her profession demanded it. The result was pseudo-pretty women with the angry and cold eyes of ugly girls. Girls who couldn't forget their ugliness had been covered by the mask of magic only for the prestige of their profession.
No, Geralt couldn't understand Chireadan. His eyes, the eyes of a witcher, registered too many details.
Yennefer summons Geralt to Dandelion's room. The floor is covered in runes and pentagrams, Dandelion is having happy dreams of Virginia, and Yennefer asks Geralt for the seal on the Djinn's bottle, so that she may try to summon it. Geralt is willing to part with the seal, provided he's allowed to escort Dandelion to safety... but while they banter, the slow background magic woven about the room renders him helpless.
Yennefer need Dandelion to make a third wish, so that she is free to bind the Djinn to her will. Meanwhile, Geralt will run a few errands for her:
'Don't struggle, my little witcher.' She smiled spitefully. 'It's pointless. You've got a strong will and quite a bit of resistance to magic but you can't contend with me and my spell. And don't act out a farce for me, don't try to charm me with your hard and insolent masculinity. You are the only one to think you're insolent and hard. You'd do anything for me in order to save your friend, even without spells at that. You'd pay any price. You'd lick my boots. And maybe something else, too, if I suddenly wished to amuse myself.'
He remained silent. Yennefer was standing in front of him, smiling and fiddling with the obsidian star sparkling with diamonds pinned to her velvet ribbon.
'I already knew what you were like,' she continued, 'after exchanging a few words with you in Beau's bedroom. And I knew what form of payment I'd demand from you. My accounts in Rinde could be settled by anyone, including Chireadan. But you're the one who's going to do it because you have to pay me. For your insolence, for the cold way you look at me, for the eyes which fish for every detail, for your stony face and sarcastic tone of voice. For thinking that you could stand face to face with Yennefer of Vergerberg and believe her to be full of self-admiration and arrogance, a calculating witch, while staring at her soapy tits. Pay up, Geralt of Rivia!'
She grabbed his hair with both hands and kissed him violently on the lips, sinking her teeth into them like a vampire. The medallion on his neck quivered and it felt to Geralt as if the chain was shrinking and strangling him. Something blazed in his head while a terrible humming filled his ears. He stopped seeing the sorceress's violet eyes and fell into darkness.
Geralt wakes up in the city jail, accompanied by Chireadan. He went through the town, battering and humiliating various notables and councilmen who had besmirched Yennefer's honor. He also managed to take out a whole squad of the local guard, barehanded. Just before he assaulted the town temple and its guards, to get a priest Krepp, Geralt grasped his head and fell over. Chireadan is in jail because he stopped the guard from murdering the witcher on the spot.
The prison guards were asked to have a word with Geralt, on behalf of the notables he had insulted. In-between brief bursts of excitement, the guards want to know whether Geralt has anything to say. Eventually, he admits he has a minor complaint about the beating he's currently enduring - he dearly wishes the guard would go ahead and blow the fuck up.
That causes enough of a ruckus for the mayor and Krepp the priest (the one who exorcised Yennefer's influence over Geralt) to summon Geralt and Chireadan for an interview. Reviewing the evidence, the matter is clear; Geralt is the one who first got his hands on the magic seal, and the one who gets the wishes. Blowing up the torturer was his second wish. Expelling the Djinn was his first - the incantation he was taught was "go fuck yourself" in an ancient tongue. Needless to say, the Djinn is a bit upset.
Yennefer rouses Dandelion and tosses him into a portal which lands him at Geralt's feet.
I repeat, that the last thing I remember was an elegant woman dressed in tastefully co-ordinated black and white. She threw me into a shiny hole, a magic portal for sure. But first she gave me a clear and precise errand. As soon as I'd arrived I was immediately to say, I quote: "My wish is for you to believe the witcher is not guilty for what occurred. That, and no other, is my wish." Word for word. Indeed, I tried to ask what all this was, what it was all about, and why. The black-haired woman didn't let me get a word in edgeways. She scolded me most inelegantly, grasped me by the neck and threw me into the portal.
Yennefer assumes that Dandelion used up his wishes, and the Djinn can now be captured and controlled. At the moment, it has transformed into a hugely destructive cyclone, destroying the town around Erridil's home. Krepp is of the opinion that letting the Djinn have his vengeance on the witch before it flies away is the smartest course of action, but Geralt would rather reconstruct the portal and come to Yennefer's rescue.'You must be mad. Even if a passage like that doesn't tear you to pieces, what do you expect to gain by it? Do you want to find yourself in the middle of a cyclone?'
'I asked if you can cast a spell which could stabilise the trace.'
'Spell?' the priest proudly raised his head. 'I'm not a godless sorcerer! I don't cast spells! My power comes from faith and prayer!'
'Can you or can't you?'
'Then get on with it, because time's pressing on.'
'I'll stay,' said Krepp, when the door had closed behind Dandelion and the elf. He waved his hands in the air, creating a pulsating aura around himself. 'I'll spread some protection, just in case. And if the portal does burst . . . I'll try and pull you out, witcher. What are eardrums to me? They grow back.'
Geralt looked at him more kindly.
The priest smiled. 'You're a brave man,' he said. 'You want to save her, don't you? But bravery isn't going to be of much use to you. Djinns are vengeful beings. The sorceress is lost. And if you go there, you'll be lost, too. Examine your conscience.'
The house is being battered by the Djinn, but the defenses hold - until it manages to create a portal inside to bypass them.
But the genie didn't attack. He hung in the air just below the ceiling, swelled to an impressive size, goggled at Geralt with his pale eyes and roared. There was something in that roar, something like a command, an order. He didn't understand what it was.
'This way!' shouted Yennefer, indicating the portal which she had conjured up on the wall by the stairs. In comparison to the one created by the genie, the sorceress's portal looked feeble, extremely inferior. 'This way, Geralt! Run for it!'
'Only with you!'
They flew out in a tight embrace, fell onto a marble floor and slid across it, knocking over an enormous candlestick and a table from which crystal goblets, platters of fruit and a huge bowl of crushed ice, seaweed and oysters showered down with a crash. Screams and squeals came from around the room.
They were lying in the very centre of a ballroom, bright with candelabra. Richly-clad gentlemen and ladies, sparkling with jewels, had stopped dancing and were watching them in stunned silence. The musicians in the gallery finished their piece in a cacophony which grated on the ears.
'You moron!' Yennefer yelled, trying to scratch out his eyes. You bloody idiot! You stopped me! I nearly had him!'
'You had shit-all!' he shouted back, furious. 'I saved your life, you stupid witch!'
She hissed like a furious cat, her palms showered sparks.
Geralt, turning his face away, caught her by both wrists and they rolled among the oysters, seaweed and crushed ice.
'Do you have an invitation?' A portly man with the golden chain of a chamberlain on his chest was looking at them with a haughty expression.
'Screw yourself!' screamed Yennefer, still trying to scratch Ger-alt's eyes out.
'It's a scandal,' the chamberlain said emphatically. 'Verily, you're exaggerating with this teleportation. I'm going to complain to the Council of Wizards. I'll demand-'
No one ever heard what the chamberlain would demand. Yennefer wrenched herself free, slapped the witcher in the ear with her open palm, kicked him forcefully in the shin and jumped into the fading portal in the wall.
Geralt is intent on getting Yennefer away. She is intent on controlling the Djinn and kicking Geralt in the balls. Eventually, she throws him around and magically binds him. He clues her in on the basic mistake she's making.
'You haven't got enough strength left, Yennefer.' '
You underestimate my strength. The wish,
'No, Yennefer. I can't . . . The djinn might fulfil it, but it won't spare you. It'll kill you when it's free. It'll take its revenge on you . . . You won't manage to catch it and you won't manage to defend yourself against it. You're weakened, you can barely stand. You'll die, Yennefer.'
'That's my risk!' she shouted, enraged. 'What's it to you what happens to me? Think rather what the djinn can give you! You've still got one wish! You can ask what you like! Make use of it! Use it, witcher! You can have anything! Anything!'
Dandilion snatched the hat decorated with a heron's feather from his head, spat into it, threw it in the mud and trampled on it, spitting out words in various languages as he did.
'But he's . . . 'he groaned suddenly, 'still got one wish in reserve! He could save both her and himself! Mr Krepp!'
'It's not that simple,' the priest pondered. 'But if . . . If he expressed the right wish ... If he somehow tied his fate to the fate . . . No, I don't think it would occur to him. And it's probably better that it doesn't.'
But he suddenly knew the truth. He knew it. He knew what she used to be. What she remembered, what she couldn't forget, what she lived with. Who she really was before she had become a sorceress.
Her cold, penetrating, angry and wise eyes were those of a hunchback.
He was horrified. No, not of the truth. He was horrified that she would read his thoughts, find out what he had guessed. That she would never forgive him for it. He deadened that thought within himself, killed it, threw it from his memory forever, without trace, feeling, as he did so, enormous relief. Feeling that-
The djinn opened his mouth and stretched his paws towards her.
The witcher suddenly understood what it was he wanted.
And he made his wish.
'It's shattered the entire house! Nobody could survive that! Nobody, I tell you!'
'The witcher, Geralt of Rivia, has sacrificed himself for the town,' mayor Neville said ceremoniously. 'We won't forget him. We'll revere him. We'll think of a statue . . .'
Dandilion shook a piece of wicker matting bound with clay from his shoulder, brushed his jerkin free of lumps of rain-dampened plaster, looked at the mayor and, in a few well-chosen words, expressed his opinion about sacrifice, reverence, memory and all the statues in the world.
But of course, the two live.
'Your wish,' she whispered, her lips very near his ear. 'I don't know whether such a wish can ever be fulfilled. I don't know whether there's such a Force in Nature that could fulfill such a wish. But if there is, then you've condemned yourself. Condemned yourself to me.'
So there you have it - the main cast of the books is now all introduced. The magical connection between Yennefer and Geralt forms the basis for those parts of the overarching plot of the Witcher-verse that aren't concerned with his unexpected child.
They're both deeply broken people, full of pride that won't allow them to ask for the emotional support they desperately need. And, on a more superficial level, Yennefer is a control-freak (and a bitch) while Geralt is a freaking teenager, unable to handle his feelings to the point he pretends he doesn't have any. He flees responsibility despite outright wishing for it.
We'll have a chance to go over their relationship in the following books though. Besides establishing this relationship, there really isn't much to talk about. Krepp is possibly the most decent member of the clergy ever depicted in the witcher universe.
By the way, the story (as opposed to my summary) actually keeps the nature of Geralt's first wish secret up to a point, to act as a punchline - but then shows its cards way before the reveal, when Yennefer titters about the meaning of the "exorcism spell". Lame.
We've come to the end of the first book. Only took me a few months. There's still an epilogue left though, so stay tuned for that.
* Heliotrop proves to be a defensive charm against magical attacks as well as sonic damage.
* The witcher medallion more explicitly acts to resist magic.
* Geralt uses "a Sign" to strike at the Djinn, to no avail. Could be a specialized attack sign, could be another Aard.