Chapter 345: For the Future
Night descended, and the witchers mourned for their fallen companions before their graves. A somber dinner took place after the group trudged back to Kaer Morhen. Everyone seemed to be more unenthused about the food than they were a couple of days ago.
Roy scanned his silent friends. Everyone had a different look on their face. Some were sad, some dejected, while some were furious. Emotions took hold of them, and none came forward to break the ice.
"We've given our fallen comrades a proper burial, but that's far from enough," Roy said. "This is a lesson written in blood, and we must learn from it. That is the role of the survivors."
The witchers snapped out of it and turned their attention to Roy. They wanted to hear what he had to say.
"A single school can never fight against a mob, especially when a sorcerer is flaming them. Not even when they're at their prime. We need to act and make sure the tragedy that happened two centuries ago never takes place again." Roy stood up and raised his voice. "We need to band together and defend ourselves from any possible danger."
"Are you talking about an alliance, Roy?" Vesemir gave the young witcher an understanding look and turned to his apprentices. Everyone nodded. "That's not a problem, but about the details—"
"An alliance isn't what I'm talking about." Roy gushed, "I mean a closer, deeper connection. We need to merge our schools and build a bro—"
"A! Hem!" Letho interrupted Roy and shot him a look. "Let's talk about something more practical. Now that we've found all six diagrams, what next? Will you make some equipment?"
"That can wait." Geralt waved Letho down. "We've all seen the diagrams, and we need more alloy if we want to make the new equipment. That's going to cost a lot, and we don't make enough coins for that. Even if Lambert, Eskel, and I scrimped and saved for a whole year, we still wouldn’t make enough for the gear."
Looks of embarrassment filled Eskel and Lambert's faces. They were traditional witchers who only took monster-hunting requests, which were the most dangerous and expensive requests. Equipment maintenance, potions, healing, and travel fees took a lot out of the coins they made. Even after years of saving up, they still didn't have enough coins to refurbish the whole fortress.
The Vipers had seen the diagrams as well, and they were astonished by Elgar's skills. The engineering was state-of-the-art, and the price and complexities were beyond all diagrams they had seen so far. An estimate of about four thousand crowns were needed to make a full set, and that was a conservative estimate.
This was a huge amount of coins. Had the Vipers not stumbled upon the manor's treasury, they would only have about two thousand crowns in reserve.
"Coins aside, we need the right man for the job. The process involved in making these is complex. Nobody can recreate these unless they're a master blacksmith." Eskel shook his head.
"Not even Vesemir can do this?"
"Varin was the blacksmith instructor, not me." Vesemir shook his head sadly. The sight of his fallen comrades still lingered in his mind. "My skills are passable. You live for a few hundred years and you're bound to pick a few tricks up. But my talents leave a lot to be desired. I'm no master blacksmith. Only Be—" Vesemir quickly changed the subject. "We can't make these at the moment. You should make a copy of these first."
"We'll talk about our blacksmith later. Vesemir, we have a suggestion if it's money you need," Serrit said. "Would you like to hear it?"
"Taking requests isn't the best way to make money. We've found another way to get more coins. Not too long ago, we struck it big in Novigrad and managed to take two shops from one of the wealthiest men in town."
"Whoa, what did you do? Do they still have that request up? Wait a minute…" Lambert looked at them suspiciously. "Did you people rob someone?"
"Not the point." Serrit's lips twitched. "We're running an apothecary shop and a ballroom. And we're friends with one of the rulers there. We're planning on setting up new branches in other cities once Novigrad's apothecary shop establishes itself. Since we're forming an alliance, you can help us with the branch. All we need are your skills, alchemical and martial alike. It's a lot better than taking dangerous requests. But if running a shop sounds too boring, we also have another way to make money. Novigrad's Collector is a friend of ours, and he's more than willing to hire a few powerful, noble witchers to train his men and guard his turf. And time is flexible. He also pays well."
Giving out some benefits to the Wolves and strengthening the alliance was one of their plans. Lambert was obviously interested. A young witcher like him wasn't averse to trying out new stuff.
"I have a feeling you had this all planned out. First you help us with the diagrams, and now you're trying to convince us into this little scheme of yours because we need the coins for the gear." Geralt looked at everyone else. "But I'm sorry. Tradition says we make a living by killing monsters. We're not witchers if all we do is alchemy and protecting wealthy men. But thank you for the offer."
"You guys are traditional." Roy shook his head in resignation and exasperation. He just couldn't understand why the Wolves were such sticklers to tradition.
They hold their tradition up like the Bible, suffer the world's insult, live in poverty, watch their school languish, but can’t make enough coins to refurbish it, and they still won’t change. Not even when we're giving them a chance. Why won't they try it out?
Roy couldn't keep quiet about this anymore. He wanted to change this. Letho noticed the look in Roy's eyes, and he gave the young witcher a warning glare, but Roy shook his head. He was resolved to see this through.
"Very well. We won't push you into this, but I'd like to talk about what I think of you guys. Just from my observation alone." He scanned all the Wolves.
"I knew you had no concept of respect, kid." Lambert cocked his eyebrow and smiled. "But I like your honesty. So you have a problem with us? I'm all ears."
Roy counted his fingers as he told the Wolves about their obstinance. "I've noticed what you do. You guys rely on the Law of Surprise to recruit new blood, but you gave up on your Unexpected Children. Yeah, I'm talking about you people. Geralt, you gave up on Ciri of Cintra, and Eskel, you refused to take Deidre of Caingorn back with you. She's the one who left that scar on your face."
The looks on Geralt and Eskel's face changed. Eskel didn't remember telling Roy who his Unexpected Child was.
Vesemir was staring at the young witcher in silence, while Lambert wiggled his eyebrows at his berated companions.
"As if that's not enough, you insist on only making a living by taking requests. What, you think that's a noble pursuit? Most employers won't thank you. You'd be lucky they didn’t insult you! And the number of monsters are dwindling by the day! Coins won't come by as easily anymore. If you keep holding onto those traditions, you'll eventually run out of coins to even heal your wounds. And you can forget about making your gear!" Roy raised his voice. "If you don't change, sooner or later Kaer Morhen is going to be nothing but a ghost town!"
"That's enough, kid!" Letho rebuked.
"You might be a guest, but that doesn't mean you get to lecture us!" Lambert slammed the table and shot up angrily. "You're not even half my age! What do you know? Just because you're young doesn't mean you get to run your mouth!"
The other Wolves said nothing.
"I didn't say anything wrong. Even the ghost at the Bastion remembers the glory days of Kaer Morhen. Even he wished to be a witcher long after he died. Don't you want to revive your school? It's not every day we get to gather around the same table. The chance to change is right in front of you. Don't you want to take it?"
"I said that's enough!"
"It's alright, Letho. Let him speak." Vesemir crossed his arms, but there was praise in his eyes. "The young should always be rambunctious. Speak your mind, Roy. Tell us what you think of Kaer Morhen. We're too old and stubborn to see the error in our ways, but perhaps a bystander would be astute enough to point it out to us."
Roy took a deep breath and stared at the Wolves. "I know what you're worried about. Geralt, Eskel, you think witchers give up more than they gain, so you refuse to take in any new students lest they suffer the trials and tribulations of our line of work, am I right?"
They're both more than eighty years old, but they never took in even a single apprentice. Or maybe they won't.
Vesemir nodded quietly.
"You know the pain we have to go through, Roy," Geralt argued.
"Of course. I had to go through months of hell for the Trial." Roy said, "But that can be solved. We can improve the recipe and up the chances of survival! Reduce the suffering. We'll do it like how Alzur and Cosimo did. Create a better future for the witchers who come after us!"
A few of the witchers had longing in their eyes. All witchers would love to reduce the death rate of the Trial.
"Told you you knew nothing, kid." Lambert scoffed. "Even if we band together, what can a few witchers do? Not like we have enough knowledge to improve the recipe. Without a sorcerer, we can't even use those alchemical tools. And the death rate will still not change!"
Roy rebutted calmly, "First, I am on good terms with a sorceress, and she's interested in witcher mutations. She helped me with my Trial, and she's willing to help more apprentices out in exchange for data!"
The looks on the Wolves' faces changed.
"And Geralt, you know Yennefer. She's a royal consultant and a decent mage. Why haven't you asked her to help you guys with the Trial? Don't tell me you haven't thought about it."
Geralt had nothing to say. He and Yennefer went back a long way. They dated and broke up many times, but not once did he ask Yennefer to help with the Trial. Geralt was more of a 'go with the flow' type of person who abided by the creed of neutrality. He upheld tradition but never considered his dying school's future, and Roy's line of questioning embarrassed him.
"Think about it. You keep talking about how the lack of a sorcerer makes the Trial risky, but none of you ever tried to change that!" Roy's voice was getting louder. "We'll band together and pool our resources to build the brotherhood's foundation. And then we'll hire mages and spellcasters to grow that brotherhood. We live far longer lives than most people, and we have enough time to plan and reach our goals. I know that's a difficult mission, but giving up without even trying and coming up with an excuse is just running away from the problem. Only cowards do that."
Roy stopped for a moment to let reality sink in. Silence grasped the hall, and the Wolves stared at Roy in surprise. The Vipers didn't look too happy either.
Serrit stared daggers at Roy. "I thought we were just going to build an alliance this time, kid," he hissed.
Letho sighed. The boy's all grown up. Auckes was wiggling his eyebrows approvingly at Roy, while Eskel gulped down his liquor. His scar seemed to burn under the light of the flames.
"So that's what he said to you back in Cintra, Geralt."
Geralt nodded and took a swig of his booze as well. The barrage of questioning and mention of Yennefer put him in a bad mood. He was blaming himself for the decline of Kaer Morhen, and he had to say that Roy made some good points.
"You're imaginative and bold." Vesemir sighed. The last time he heard something so daring was more than a few decades ago. He too was once as boisterous as Roy was, but the grandmaster wasn't even fifty years old back then.
Eventually reality knocked him on the head, and he relented. Roy's speech was idealistic, but it was filled with life. Compared to him, the Wolves were like stagnant water—unmoving and never changing. "You're only fifteen, so why did you come up with that kind of idea? The idea of a witcher brotherhood is unprecedented."
Roy noticed the encouraging look in Vesemir's eyes, and he pursed his lips. "I identify as a witcher, and I hate how dead everything is. I despise the people's hostile attitude toward us. And that stemmed from baseless rumors. I… We're doing everything we can to change this."
"You're brave. Is every clairvoyant as ambitious as you?" Lambert quipped. He was tempted, but only a little. The youngest Wolf still had aspiration in his heart, but working in a new organization meant responsibility and countless menial tasks. He didn't have time for that.
"You're like some sort of prince who's trying to revive his country. You know, like the ones in stories."
"What I said might sound mad, but I am no madman. Toppling the monarchy isn't realistic." Roy shook his head. "All we want is a space to survive, and we need to band up for that. We shouldn't live our lives hated by the people like some sort of plague. We want the same rights as any other organization. The right to live proudly, to grow, and to prosper."
The Wolves were slightly invigorated by the pep talk.
"So what do you think, Wolves?" Roy kept coming up with a better future. "We're moving past the alliance. Vipers, Wolves, and even the Cats in Novigrad. We'll build a base together and share everything we have with the members. Alchemy recipes, diagrams, swordplay, Signs… And we'll look for witchers from all the other schools. We'll get some sorcerers we know to be the resident mages, and they can improve the Trial so fewer aspirants will die. We'll take all the good parts from every school's training regime and come up with the best training plan for new witchers."
"Hold on. You said we're going to band with Cats?" Vesemir asked.
"Yes. We befriended a couple of them in Novigrad. The rational ones, so to speak. They're not bloodthirsty murderers, and they've agreed to join the brotherhood."
Serrit covered his face. I don't remember Felix or Kiyan talking about this. But I don't think they'll object.
Geralt was stunned. He always thought Roy's idea was naive and unrealistic, but he didn't expect the young witcher to convince two Cats to join his little band. Is it because they're all mad? But he had reason to be more concerned now, since Roy was starting to show success.
"Sorry, Roy, but this is a big deal. We need to think about it." Vesemir exchanged looks with his apprentices. "We'll give you our answer before you leave."
Roy pouted. What's that supposed to mean? Hey, I know you're just trying to placate me. That was not what he wanted, but then he thought the Wolves had a reason for that. They had been neutral and passive for a century. No way they'll change just because of what I said. Roy's eyes shone. But if they won't make the change, then I'll give them a reason to change, whether they like it or not!
"I'm sure you know of my abilities after everything that has happened."
"Yeah, yeah, stop showing off, prophet." Lambert snorted.
Roy turned his gaze onto the young Wolf until he stopped smiling.
"You have proven your abilities, Roy." Geralt nodded.
"There's a reason I brought this up today, people. An important one," Roy slowly said. He gave the Wolves a look of pity and shame.
Their brows furrowed at the same time, and a bad feeling surged within their hearts. Did he get another glimpse of the future?
"I saw a future of despair. In ten years, an enemy more horrifying than the mages and mob who attacked the keep will mount another siege against Kaer Morhen. It's a battle far bloodier than the witcher tournament. If none of you will change and seek out help, your home, Kaer Morhen, will be burned away into nothingness. Only witchers can save witchers. Either we band together, or we die!"
Roy had taken out Azar Javed, the head of Salamandra, but there might be more enemies out there waiting to get their hands on the Trial recipe. Not to mention the flying knights of the Wild Hunt and Vilgefortz the mage were hiding somewhere, scheming to take down the keep.
Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert looked upset.
"Are you sure there's something else they can take from us?"
"No. All I saw was a powerful enemy. As powerful as an army."
Vesemir's gaze turned downwards. He didn't know how to feel about this, and silence once again grasped them.
The diagrams, the Cats joining us, and Kaer Morhen's dark future. I've given them all the reasons to join. If this still fails, then…
"Thank you for the reminder, Roy." Vesemir took a deep breath. "I support your idea, actually. If I were fifty years younger, I would join your cause. But now I'm too old for this. If the day of your prophecy comes true…" He turned around and looked at the keep lovingly. "I shall stay with it until its very end."
"We stand with Kaer Morhen as allies, Vesemir," Letho said.
Vesemir stood up and gave them a grateful yet apologetic look. "I'm exhausted. Time to retire for the night. Ask the youngins if you want them to join the brotherhood. They have some fight left in them."
Geralt gave Vesemir a knowing look before turning his attention to his companions. "That's one hard question you tossed out, Roy. We'll get back to you after a discussion."
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