Chapter 274: Enter Redania
It was a cool night, a good night, but the witchers were sparring in the field outside their abode. Roy held Gwyhyr tightly by his side, pointing the tip at the throat of his sparring partner. He stood firmly, slowly moving to the side, holding up the ox stance.
Auckes crouched a little, pointing his blade at Roy's eyes. He held his other blade in his right hand, pointing the blade backward. The veteran witcher stood on his tiptoes, circling Roy.
Eventually they clashed, and sparks flew in the air. Their blades were nothing but blurs zipping through the air. They glinted under the moonlight like little shooting stars. The witchers clashed for a few dozen times before they eventually broke up. Once again, they started another staring contest.
Roy was holding Gwyhyr by his cheek. He looked like a bull pointing its horns at an enemy. He kept circling Auckes, his blade pointed at the veteran witcher. The young witcher was ready to fight, but his hand was trembling. His chest was heaving, and sweat drenched his whole body. Roy was exhausted.
A drop of sweat fell from his chin.
When that glistening drop of liquid landed on the ground, Auckes heaved a sigh and let go of his blades. He held the hilt of his sword, holding it like a crutch. For once, there was no smile on his face. His magical shield had been broken, and a lock of his hair was cut off. "Well, I guess it's finally time for someone to take my place. From now on, you're our top swordmaster." Auckes tilted his head, staring at Roy. He looked a little lamentable, but there was also a smirk in his eyes. He held his sword and poked the air three times, as if he were knighting Roy.
"What are you doing?" Roy rolled his eyes. He swung his blade around and sheathed it. "I lost to you a thousand times. This is just one win. It's nothing to write home about."
"You don't understand. I'm eighty years old, and yet I was distracted in a battle. That hasn't happened since I was fifty. It's mortifying." Auckes pulled his hoodie down to cover his look of embarrassment. "Serrit would laugh his boots off if he ever heard of this."
"He won't. This'll be our little secret." Roy smiled. He held his laughter down and asked, "Why'd you get distracted anyway?"
"I dunno. I was probably seeing things, but I saw a bunch of bloody… stuff, and they broke my flow. My muscles felt sore right after I started sparring with you." Auckes massaged his arm. He muttered under his breath solemnly, "I probably had too much to drink with Felix."
"Bloody stuff. Tell me more." Roy wanted to know more.
"It's some sort of tentacle." Auckes spread his arms and wiggled them, trying to imitate how molluscs would swim underwater. "Looked like octopus tentacles, but they were red. And they were wriggling right behind you. I must have been seeing things. Just looking at them brought back bad memories." Auckes looked at Roy curiously.
"Why are you staring at me?"
"That was really odd. Are you still haunted by the guy you met in the castle?"
"Impossible. You just had too much to drink," Roy lied. Red tentacles? So that's how everyone sees my bloodlust. That's a spooky way to put it. Why tentacles though? I'm not an eldritch god, Roy thought. He put that aside and replayed the sparring session in his mind.
He could only activate Fear once every four minutes, though it was a powerful skill. Suppression was a continuous debuff, though it was a lot gentler on his enemies than Fear was. Ten minutes wasn’t enough to do any damage, but if the battle were to drag on longer than that, his enemy would start to slip up.
If the battle could run up to twenty minutes, Suppression could reduce Auckes' speed and strength by a third of their original amount, and it could distract him as well. Roy made use of that opening and, for once in a thousand battles, triumphed against the veteran witcher. He wasn't happy about it though. He lost more than thirty times in that sparring session before Suppression took full effect and gave him that opening. He would have died more than ten times if that was a real battle. Suppression wouldn't even have enough time to take effect. Well, he has more than ten points in Will. Any other creature would have fallen in less than twenty minutes, Roy told himself.
"Take ten. I need to sober up before we continue." Auckes sat down. He was about to meditate.
Roy smiled apologetically. I can't let him find out I'm using Suppression on him. "Why don't we change things up a little? Let's try out my marksmanship this time. You said you could deflect crossbow bolts with nothing but your sword."
"Sure. I'll show you how I deal with crossbowmen. You'll love it." Auckes smiled confidently, wrinkles forming on his forehead.
Ten minutes later.
Auckes was nothing but a moving target for Roy. He leaned against the stables and looked up into the sky. There was a look of astonishment on his face. He wondered if the side effects of his trial were starting to kick in again. "I'm probably getting old. That's sooner than I thought. I really have to cut down on the alcohol."
Roy was cleaning his crossbow, though his thoughts were on something else. Gabriel had gone through a few powerups. Thanks to Crossbow Mastery, he could destroy Auckes' Quen in two shots. Thanks to Guided Arrows, it was nigh impossible for Auckes to dodge the bolts, no matter how agile he was. On top of that, he just got Stun Bolts. Even if he managed to deflect the bolts with his sword and shield, Auckes would still be stunned for 0.1 second. It wasn't much, but it was enough to mess with his tempo, putting the witchers in a stalemate.
Roy managed to pin the veteran witcher down thanks to his crossbow. It took all Auckes had just to deflect the arrows. He couldn't even launch a counterattack. However, he could turn things around after Roy exhausted all eight Stun Bolts, so the young witcher fled into the house before Auckes could realize what was happening. He looks confused.
Dawn eventually shone on the city, basking the statue of Kreve in its golden glory. The majestic god's statue was glaring at the plaza's corner, as if he were raining down divine punishment on the filth of this land.
The people of the fief came to the plaza, huddling around a stage. There were four wooden stakes on it, and one of the troupe members was burned to death here once. That day, they witnessed another corpse on the stake. It was a horrifying sight. A wooden stake bigger than a human's thigh pierced its body, its tip protruding from the corpse's mouth, tearing its face apart. The corpse's eyes bulged, its face contorted in fear and terror. Its neck, arms and body were covered in gashes and bruises. Apparently, it had been subjected to hellish torture before it died. The corpse looked like a rotisserie chicken from afar.
An obese woman gasped. "Gods, what's happening? This isn't the first time something like this happened here." She muttered a prayer under her breath, "Open your eyes, o great Kreve. Put the violence to a halt. Protect your people, prithee."
Her prayer was drowned out by the people's noise.
"There's no way this is a natural death. Someone did this. It's the devil! The devil is sacrificing us to summon an even worse evil! It's coming for us all! Run!" an unkempt tramp shouted hysterically.
"Shut up, fool! This is obviously divine retribution! Don't you see who this guy is? It's Dylan the executioner! He's killed more innocents than we can even count! And now his sins have caught up with him!"
"Let's go, Kantilla." Roy looked away from the body and quickly retreated from the throng.
"You have no idea what he did to us, Roy. He deserved it." Kantilla stared at the corpse, gleaning a grim satisfaction from the sight. She sighed. "I honestly wanted him to die a bit slower though. He should've suffered like we suffered."
"I can understand why you did this. You did nothing wrong. A quick death is nothing but a gift for someone like Dylan." Roy thought this was lamentable though. Eveline had changed. She had to. A tender soul could never survive Dol Blathanna. She had to be tough and cruel if she wanted to survive the fight between humans and elves. "She's probably back in the mountains by now."
Roy took Kantilla back to the witchers' abode. He told his companions about her the day before. Kantilla was an agile fighter who was also adept with a bow and fighting on horseback. She was a straightforward woman and could talk with anyone if she wanted. She didn't care about identities or outward appearances. Everyone agreed to take her to Novigrad with them.
Before they made the journey, Sasilie came and invited them to Fyke Isle. He needed their help with a request. However, the witchers were the ladies' sworn enemies. Until they were sure they could vanquish the hags, they would never step into Velen, lest they incurred the ladies' wrath. Sasilie's request was turned down. Roy told him he could try his luck at Vizima. If Berengar was still around, he might take the request. If Berengar wasn't around, he could also contact Kalkstein. The mad scientist had an imaginative mind, deft hands, and great power. He might be interested in Sasilie's request.
After Sasilie was gone, the witchers, Carl, and Kantilla rode on their horses, passing through the White Bridge. It was once again open after Aryan was saved. Once they made their way across the misty Pontar, the witchers, at last, officially left the fief. Temeria was already behind them. They eventually stepped into Redania. It was only a river across, but Redania was a different beast compared to Temeria.
Redania was a kingdom with developed trade and agricultural systems. It was the granary of the north. Wheat was their main crop. Most lands were occupied by wheat. Not long after the witchers made their way past the bridge, they saw fields of wheat flanking the path. There were merchant carriages ahead of them, and they were filled with goods.
It was already October, the time for harvest. The wind blew through the fields, dancing with the wheat. The air was filled with the scent of the crops, as if they were blessing the travelers' journey ahead.
"Will you quit it, lady? You're choking me!" Roy was on Wilt. He was holding the horse's reins with one hand and patting Gryphon the owl's head with the other. "Someone's blocking the path, and Wilt's not even going that fast. You wouldn't fall even if you let me go."
"You're not going anywhere, Roy!" Kantilla laughed heartily. She tightened her hug, leaning closer to Roy. The young witcher could feel her chest pressing against his back. "And you should relax a little. You're stiff as a board. I'm holding your lower back, not your neck. There's no way you're being choked." She laughed again. "I'm a mercenary. It's my job to keep my employer safe."
Kantilla started joking around after she got along with the team, though her jokes could be crude at times. She also loved embarrassing Roy.
Roy couldn't do anything about it. That was how Zerrikanians worked. "Kantilla, how many times do I have to tell you that you're not a mercenary? You're a friend. Isn't that right, Wilt, Gryphon?"
Wilt neighed, and Gryphon hooted.
"Stop resisting it, kid. Just go with the flow." Letho was riding a red horse. He huddled closer to Roy and looked at Kantilla's mohican hairstyle. He, for once, winked at Roy. As long as Roy's girlfriend wasn't a scheming sorceress, he could date anyone he wanted.
"We'll keep it a secret, Roy." Auckes suddenly pulled on the reins and rubbed his thumb and index finger together. "I'm not telling anyone as long as I have money for booze. But if I don't get drunk once in a while, I'll grow grumpy and let everything slip to Lytta. I've been in your place once, Roy. And an angry sorceress is a scary sorceress."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Roy glared at him without hesitation.
"Who's Lytta?" Kantilla asked curiously.
"Alright, stop messing around." Serrit stared into the distance. There was a long line of carriages in front of them. There was a checkpoint outside the gates, and the soldiers were vetting the people. Everyone fell silent.
The checkpoint was made out of two rows of big wooden logs with sharpened tips. About a dozen armed soldiers were standing right behind the obstacles. The emblem of Redania was emblazoned on their chestpiece. The coat-of-arms was made up of a red background and a pattern of a silver eagle holding an evil spirit in its talons. Its wings were spread, and a black shield with a golden cross covered its chest.
The soldiers looked solemn. Everyone had a role to play. There were archers, shield-bearers, lancers, and even a cavalry. Thanks to Redania's wheat, the horses grew big and strong, making Redania's troops a force to be reckoned with.
The merchants had to stop for the vetting process, and the witchers were no exception. Because of the White Bridge's previous lockdown, most of the merchants' stock had piled up, and the vetting process was eating up even more time, costing them more money. The good news was that everything went fine.
This was the third checkpoint after they passed the white bridge, and it hadn't even been a day. The witchers were in a peculiar spot. If they went due northeast, they would reach Tretogor in two days. If they went due northwest, they would pass Pontar's delta that led out into the sea. The famous institution, Oxenfurt, was located nearby. If they keep going northwest of Oxenfurt, they would reach Novigrad in no time at all.
As the border between two nations and a place that neighbored multiple crucial cities, the paths were filled with checkpoints and patrol teams. One, they had to keep the spies out and arrest any escaped fugitives, and two, there was profit to be made here. The trade route between the White Bridge and Novigrad had been established for years. It was safe and developed, making it the top choice of most merchants. The checkpoints could ensure the merchants' safety, and they could tax them on their merchandise. The tax was low though. Even though they had to pass through a few checkpoints before reaching Novigrad, the merchants barely felt a dent in their profit.
Naturally, there were stingier merchants who would rather take their chances with the wilds of Redania. It was filled with ferocious beasts and dangerous monsters. There were also bandits along the way as well. One wrong step was all it took to lose their money and lives.
The witchers were lucky they didn't have any expensive items on them. Roy and Letho tucked their valuable weapons away, so the toll was all they had to pay.
They spent their first day in Redania going through checkpoints and traveling to Novigrad. When the skies were turning yellow and the sun was starting to set, some of the convoys had started making camp in the fields beside the wheat fields. There was a distance between each convoy, though not too much.
Some opted to keep going on despite the imminent descent of night time, though only a few of them. The night was far more dangerous than daytime.
The witchers made camp on a big boulder beside the path. They tied their mounts to a tree and created simple beds made out of hay and ferns. And then they made a campfire.
Auckes whistled at Roy and looked at the empty cauldron above the crackling fire.
"Slacking off again, Auckes? You're gonna hunt, or you're gonna starve."
Auckes sighed. "When I meet Lytta again, I'll—"
"Stop!" Roy sighed. He looked at his other companions. Felix was training Carl. The boy was getting clobbered with a wooden sword. Sometimes he would spin around like a top and end up confused and disoriented.
Huh? Wh-What happened?
Serrit and Letho were sitting right beside them, talking about the boy's performance. They ignored Roy's withering glare. The veteran witchers refused to move.
Roy heaved a sigh and grabbed his crossbow. He went into the fields with nobody but Gryphon. Good thing it was an owl. Owls make for good rabbit hunters.
"Take me too, Roy," Kantilla volunteered herself readily.
"You're still hurt."
"It's alright. Zerrikanians can still hunt even if we're paralyzed. Why don't we race and see who's the better hunter?"
The moon had climbed up into the sky, and the campfire was swaying in the night. Smoke billowed in the air from the campfires of the other convoys.
Roy came back with a pair of fat rabbits, a snake the size of an adult's forearm, and some humble plants.
"See? Told you I'm a good hunter." Kantilla came back with him, holding up two colorful pheasants happily.
Roy nodded. "Help me out. You'll have a feast today." Roy skinned the animals, fileted, and disemboweled them. He had become a great cook thanks to his days of surviving in the wilds. Most of it was because the veteran witchers were too lazy to hunt for themselves.
Thanks to Observe, Roy could easily get some herbs that would spice up their meals, like fennels, cloves, and nutmegs. Because of that, the food he made was vastly superior to most witchers', who only focused on filling their bellies.
"Letho chomped into the glistening, golden brown rabbit drumstick. The salt and spices added to the flavor, and the texture of the meat was succulent enough to make Letho close his eyes in enjoyment.
"Make us a grilled boar tomorrow, Roy. It's been a while since we had one." Auckes took a swig of the snake soup. The meat melted on his tongue, and a unique sweetness exploded in his mouth. He could feel his taste buds dance just from taking a sip.
"Nah. I'm sick of that. I'd like a grilled marmot next. I like how chewy it is." Felix gave Carl a piece of glistening pheasant meat. The boy rubbed his belly. He frowned, but he powered through and finished the meat.
Kantilla was holding half a pheasant, wolfing it down. She'd stop and lick her fingers like a cat sometimes though. Sometimes she would speak through a full mouth. "Dis ish the 'est grilled 'eat I 'ad e'er 'since I le't 'erri'a'ia."
"You can have as much as you want." Roy crossed his arms and looked at them. He felt content for some reason. I wonder when we're going to see all six schools having a feast together. "What kinda place is Zerrikania anyway, Kantilla?" Roy sipped the snake soup.
"I's di'erent 'rom the 'orthern 'ands." She stopped for a moment to swallow all her food, then Kantilla said, "Deserts as far as the eye can see. There's the occasional oasis, though the place is crawling with gigantic bugs. Venomous bugs. We got a lot of beautiful but deadly creatures there too. Zerrikanians worship dragons. We spend our whole lives trying to chase them down. That includes me."
The northerners considered the Blue Mountains as the world's edge, though only a few of the people had the guts to take on the challenge and make the hike. Even fewer make it through and reach Zerrikania. Roy was curious about the land. "I'll have to see it for myself if I ever get the chance."
"You'll love the place. I can be your guide and give you a tour." Kantilla licked the meat off her lips, her eyes shining.
"Is that a promise?"
"Of course. Zerrikanians never go back on their word."
"Hey." Auckes tossed the pheasant bone away and tore off its pygostyle. He popped it into his mouth. "Tone down on flirting. We have children here. Put your homeland and dragons aside. We have much more immediate business at hand." He burped. "We'll be reaching Pontar's delta in a few days. Say, wanna take a look at Oxenfurt?"
"Sure," Serrit said. "It's one of the two shining beacons of the world. One is Nilfgaard's academy, and the other is Oxenfurt. We saw the academy, so might as well take a look at Oxenfurt."
"I wanna see Oxenfurt too, master!" Carl held Felix's leg. His eyes were shining. Most parents encouraged their children to make their way into Oxenfurt if they could, though most kids couldn't even go to a proper school. Carl was one of those kids.
"We'll be visiting Oxenfurt then. I heard they have a faculty for herbs and medicine. And there's even a faculty for alchemy. I think that'll be of some help to me," Roy said.
Roy had an acquaintance in Oxenfurt as well—Linus Pitt from Natural History. He was the one who bought the kayran from Roy back on the boat in Yaruga. I wonder if Peter the Octopus is still alive. Jaskier and Shani are the academy's alumni. Even Geralt dropped in before. I'm not gonna pass this chance up.
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