As you can imagine, the transmedial storytelling around Wiedźmin [The Witcher] combines many of my interests. Therefore, one of my resolutions for 2020 is to contribute to this phenomenon by means of a new translation (from Polish to English). Every month, I shall translate one of the short stories from the collection Ostatnie życzenie (The Last Wish) by Andrzej Sapkowski. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.
The first story about the witcher Geralt. It was the beginning of other stories and – indirectly – the saga.
Later they would say, that this man had come from the North, from the Powroźnicza gate.
He walked on foot and by the bridle, he led a heavily packed horse, loaded to the limit. It was late afternoon and the stalls of rope makers and saddlers were closed and the street was empty. It was warm, and the man was wearing a black coat over his shoulders. He attracted attention. He stopped in front of the tavern called “Old Narakort”, stood still for a moment, listening to the bustle of voices. The inn was full of people, as usual at this time. The stranger did not enter the Old Narakort. He walked with his horse, further down the street. There was a second tavern, a smaller one, called “Under the Fox”. It was empty there, as usual. The inn did not have the best reputation.
The host raised his head from a barrel of pickled cucumbers and looked at the visitor. The stranger, still in his coat, stood rigidly, motionless in front of the bar, silent.
“What can I get you?”
“Beer,” said the stranger. His voice was unpleasant.
The host wiped his hand on his apron and filled a clay beer mug.
The mug was chipped.
The stranger was not old, but his hair was almost completely white.
Under his coat, he wore a leather jerkin, laced up under the neck and on the shoulders.
When he took off his coat, everyone noticed that he had a sword in his belt on his back. This was not surprising, in Wyzim almost everyone walked around with weapons, but no one would carry a sword on the back like one would do with a bow or a quiver.
The stranger did not sit down at the table, he just stood at the tavern, among the few guests, looking at the innkeeper with piercing eyes.
He took a swig from the cup
– I am looking for a room to stay.
“Not here,” the innkeeper grunted, looking at the visitor’s shoes, dusty and dirty.
– Go ask it at the “Old Narakort”.
– I want to stay here.
– Not here, you’re not.
The innkeeper finally recognised the stranger’s accent. He was from Rivia.
“I’ll pay,” the stranger said quietly, as if there would be doubts about that.
That’s when the whole nasty story began.
A pockmarked prick, who from the moment the stranger came in had not taken his gloomy eyes off him, stood up and walked over to the counter. His two comrades stood behind him, no more than two steps away.
– There is no place, you vagabond from Rivia, growled the pockmarked man standing beside the stranger.
– We don’t need people like you here in Wyzim. It’s a decent place!
The stranger took his mug and stepped back. He looked at the innkeeper, but he avoided his eyes. He did not think of defending Rivia. After all, who would like Rivia’s inhabitants?
“Every person from Rivia is a thief,” the pockmarked man continued, breathing out the smell of beer, garlic and anger. – Can you hear what I say, you dirty nettle face?
“He can’t hear. He’s got shit in his ears” said one of those in the back and the other snickered.
“Pay and get out!” shouted the bearded man.
The stranger just looked at him.
– I’ll finish my beer.
“We shall help you,” the prick hissed. He knocked the Rivian’s mug out of his hand and, at the same time, while grabbing his arm, he stuck his fingers under the leather belt on the stranger’s chest.
Someone from the back was the first to deliver a punch
The stranger curled up in his place, knocking the pox-puff off balance. A sword hissed out of its scabbard and flashed briefly in the light of the oil lamps.
Things got hot. A scream.
Some of the other guests rushed to the door. A chair collapsed with a crash, and clay pots slammed heavily to the floor.
With a trembling mouth, the innkeeper looked at the terribly cleaved apart poxface, who clinged his fingers to the edge of the counter, but still slipped away and disappeared from sight, as if he was sinking. The other two lay on the floor. One was motionless, while the other writhed and twitched in a rapidly growing dark puddle.
The air vibrated as a thin, hysterical woman’s scream penetrated the ears. The innkeeper shook, took a breath and started to vomit.
The stranger stepped back against the wall. Shrunken, uptight, alert. He held the sword with both hands, his blade high up in the air. Nobody moved. Horror, like cold mud, froze faces, bound members, and blocked throats.
With a bang, three guards burst into the tavern. They must have been around. They had their sticks at the ready, but when they saw the bodies, they immediately drew their swords. The man from Rivia pressed his back against the wall, and with his left hand he took a knife from the upper part of his boot.
– Drop it! one of the guards shouted in a shaky voice. – Drop it, robber! You’ll go with us!
The second guard kicked a table, preventing the man from Rivia from bypassing from the side.
– Fly and go get some more people, Tereska! – he shouted at the third guard, who stood closer to the door.
“You don’t have to,” said the stranger, lowering his sword. – I’ll go alone.
– You will go, you son of a bitch, but on a leash! – the torn and trembling guard shook.
– Throw your sword down, or I’ll knock you on your head!
The man from Rivia straightened up. He quickly grabbed the blade under his left armpit, and raised up his right arm, towards the guards, making a complicated, quick mark in the air.
The guards immediately backed away, covering their faces with their forearms. One of the guests jumped up, another went towards the door again. The woman screamed again, wildly, terribly.
“I’ll go alone,” the stranger repeated in his characteristic metallic voice. – And you three go ahead. Lead me to the castellan. I don’t know the way.
“Yes, sir,” the guard muttered, lowering his head. He started to move towards the exit, looking uncertainly.
The other two followed him hurriedly backwards. The stranger followed, putting the sword in the scabbard and sheathing his knife. As they rolled over the tables, guests covered their faces with flaps of their jackets.