Chapter 340: Sacrifice
The witchers spent their day on the training grounds. Heliotrop training aside, something interesting happened. Lambert and Auckes got into a fight twice from their constant bantering, and Vesemir was the referee.
Lambert got the beating of his life twice. Auckes was far more experienced in terms of swordplay and Signs after all, but Lambert refused to give up and kept fighting.
Roy decided to sit this one out. While everyone was busy training and watching the fights, he went on a tour around Kaer Morhen, and Eskel was his guide. In days long past, these turrets and towers were inhabited by hundreds of Wolves. Roy could imagine how prosperous this castle must have been once upon a time.
Marks of ages long past lingered in the halls. Old portraits and paintings hung on the walls, and some of them depicted pictures of famous Wolves, like Rennes, the leader of the pack, Vesemir, the last grandmaster, and Vesemir's apprentices.
There was also a portrait of another school's witcher, namely George of Kagen, the Dragonslayer. In the portrait, he was casting Igni with one hand and Aard with the other. Standing before him was a green dragon close to its defeat.
According to Eskel, their school's teachers thought having their apprentices see how George bravely took down the dragon would work wonders for their training, but in reality, George died a humiliating death.
After he killed the treacherous dragon, he was barely left with any energy in the tank. The famed Dragonslayer couldn't even muster up enough strength to drink a potion, and a thief smuggled his gear and diagrams away. He pretended to help only to kill George in the end. And thus the Dragonslayer came to an unceremonious end.
Irony at its finest. A Griffin who abided by the knight's creed lost his life to humanity's darkest side after killing a village-burning monster. The Wolves never respected this Dragonslayer despite his heroic deed. They drew a mustache and some male genitalia on his face.
But that was in the past. Kaer Morhen was mostly deserted now. Not even a silhouette could be glimpsed in most places, and they had barely any decorations. Winds blew through the corridors with ease, and not an echo was even heard. This was a fortress that stood alone and desolate.
Roy and Eskel went through the corridors and up the spiral staircase. The Wolf explained everything about every room and building, from its use to its history. Past the drawing room, training grounds, lectern, alchemy room, blacksmithing hall, and library they went. Most of the rooms were broken and unusable, however. Only their basic functions remained.
"Has it always only been the four of you here, Eskel? How long have things been this way?"
Eskel fell into a long silence. "There used to be about eight of us, but most of them died in a witcher tournament."
A witcher tournament? Is that some sort of competition between witcher schools? Roy flipped through his memory. The tournament happened in Geralt's younger years. Radowit II of Kaedwen convinced the Cats to betray the Wolves and sent them on a massacre mission. At the same time, the king sent out his troops on a mission to vanquish all mutants. The ploy failed, but most of the Northern witchers died in that battle. Geralt only escaped with his life thanks to Ermion's interjection.
"We also have a few missing Wolves and traitors, but I guess they too died in a battle somewhere out there."
Roy shook his head in silence. I won't be too sure about that. One of those traitors, Berengar, is alive and well in Vizima.
"It has been more than twenty years since we had any new blood. The last one was an orphan Vesemir brought back with him, but without any sorcerer's help, he failed the Trial. Death was… an unpleasant experience for him."
There was dejection in his eyes. "The four of us have been holding this whole place together. For more than twenty years now. Vesemir spent most of his time in the castle, while Geralt, Lambert, and I would return every winter to eat, drink, and talk about our experiences. Spring would come, and the cycle would continue."
Roy felt a little sad for Vesemir. Geralt and his friends could at least go on adventures and have some fun, but Vesemir had to stay in this forlorn castle for decades. All by himself. Roy wondered how that must feel. But why? Why wouldn't the Wolves make any change? Are they just going to let the annals of history take them?
He asked, "Vesemir aside, have any of you taken in new apprentices?"
Eskel froze in his tracks and touched the scar on his face again. He was reminded of the one who gave him this scar. It was his Unexpected Child. Eskel made the choice to let her go. She didn't become a witcher, though her life took an unexpected trajectory toward brilliance. "Geralt and I don't have much luck with apprentices. Witchers are bound to fate a lot of times. Our rise and fall are but pages in a history book. If the Law of Surprise dictates that I can't get any apprentice, then so be it."
Roy cocked his eyebrow. Never took him as a pessimist. He's just going to wait for an apprentice to show up all wrapped up like a present from Destiny? Nothing good comes from waiting and twiddling your thumbs.
"Eskel, if none of you are willing to make a change, there's only going to be fewer of you who can come back every winter. Doesn't that make you sad?"
"I'm used to it." Eskel shook his head. "Witchers die all the time. You went through the Trial. You know how painful the mutation is." Eskel stared at the empty hall and said something Roy would remember for the rest of his life. "Every Unexpected Child who goes through that Trial is a family broken. Every aspirant that passes that Trial becomes a mutant haunted by loneliness and discrimination from the world."
"But that pain comes with a reward. The sacrifice means something," Roy argued. "At least witchers possess incredible power and lifespan. We can knock back bandits and intruders and survive in most hostile environments. The world is our oyster!"
"You're still young, Roy. I don't blame you for not understanding where I'm coming from. Most people prefer a peaceful life." Eskel shook his head. "Witchers stand to lose far more than what they gain. At least that's what most people think. And we lost our sorcerer a long time ago. Nobody knows how to use most of the alchemical tools here. Holding the Trial in these conditions is too risky. A death sentence for the aspirants, if you will."
"Is that what Geralt thinks as well?"
Eskel didn't answer. Or to be precise, that was a silent yes.
No wonder they wouldn't talk about change. Vesemir is probably the only one who still takes in new students. Lambert is in an awkward position, so the fall of this school partly lies on Eskel and Geralt's shoulders. They don't want to see any more children suffer the Trial, so they gave up on their Unexpected Children. If Destiny never gives them an orphaned child, they'll probably never take new students.
Roy heaved a sigh. It wouldn't be hard to get into an agreement with the Wolves, but Roy had a strong feeling that getting them to join the brotherhood would be a tall order. How should I change their perception? No, first I gotta gain their trust.
"Let's go, Roy. You've seen all there is to be seen. Time to make dinner."
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