WARNING: CONTAINS BOOK SPOILERS!
Having seen a number of previews and summaries about the world of The Witcher 3, I wanted to throw in my amateurish two cents in anticipation for May 19th. This is my summary of the main events that led to the beginning of The Witcher 3, and contains spoilers both from the original series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, but I focus exclusively on the plot elements that seem relevant to the game, omitting as much as I can to save as much for those interested in reading The Witcher Saga to discover with their own eyes as humanly possible. Without further ado, I give you the events that led to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt:
The world of The Witcher 3 is in the middle of turmoil and conflict. The expansionist and ruthless Empire of Nilfgaard is invading the scattered Northern Kingdoms for a third time, with an unprecedented ferocity and speed, and several realms have already fallen under their iron heel. Can the bickering kingdoms close their ranks and avoid falling to their internal struggle, or will the Empire finally swallow them up, finalising its conquest of the known world once and for all? In a conventional fantasy game this set up could function as the main plot in itself, but for The Witcher 3 all this is merely a backdrop to the true story, which is simultaneously more epic and more personal in scope.
After the prologue section of the game, the main plot kicks in as Geralt of Rivia finds himself summoned before Emhyr var Emreis, the Emperor of Nilfgaard himself. In a conventional story this feared man, who claims as his official title Deithwen Addan yn Carn aep Morvudd, the White Flame Dancing on the Barrows of His Foes, played in the game by Charles Dance of Game of Thrones’ fame, would easily fit in the role of the main adversary, but in this game his role is to commission our protagonist for his penultimate quest. While the lowly witcher and the dark Emperor are worlds apart from each other, there is one thing that connects the two: family.
The Lion Cub of Cintra
Princess Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon of Cintra, the Child Surprise, the Child of the Elder Blood was conceived by Emhyr under the cover of a false identity with the daughter of the legendary Queen Calanthe of Cintra to tie himself to the royal lineages of the North, as well as for more esoteric purposes, but the destiny of this unusual child proved tangled from the very beginning. The witcher, Geralt, unwittingly twisted himself into the story when he helped to break a curse that had bound Emhyr in his youth, and for his reward he invoked the old Law of Surprise by asking “that which you already have but do not know”, and sure enough, Pavetta, his wife-to-be was already pregnant with his child. The witchers of old had used the Law to bring new recruits to their ranks, and it is said that all the children who are touched by the Law of Surprise have a great destiny ahead of them.
And so Geralt reluctantly ended up becoming a part of a greater story, and when Emhyr’s subterfuge failed and the armies of Nilfgaard sacked Cintra at his behest, the young Ciri found herself a ward of the witcher and his sorceress lover, Yennefer of Vengeberg. They hid her from the world, knowing that she would be hunted for her political status, and though Geralt and the witchers first helped to raise her the only way they knew at their forgotten fortress of Kaer Moerhen, they were later convinced to send her back among the common people under Yennefer’s care and tutelage, and she grew up to be a very unusual young lady, indeed.
As Ciri was not simply a princess of a conquered kingdom, but also a carrier of the Elder Blood, half an ancient prophecy, half a eugenics experiment that the elves of old lost control over, and through it a powerful magical Source full of raw potential, sought after by many parties to exploit her power to their own ends. One of them was her own biological father, Emperor Emhyr, who intended to marry his own child in order to co-opt the prophecy that her descendants would one day rule the world, and that they would save humanity from the Wolf’s Blizzard, an impending ice age foretold long ago. In the end he was unable to go through with his plan, discovering that in spite of a lifetime of dog kicking he still had some scruples left, and ultimately he chose to let her follow her own path.
‘The world will die amidst frost and be reborn with the new sun. It will be reborn of Elder Blood, of Hen Ichaer, of the seed that has been sown. A seed which will not sprout but burst into flame!’
But among the forces after Ciri, some were not even from the same world. Dearg Ruadhri, the Red Riders, known in The Witcher’s world as the Wild Hunt, consider the Elder Blood as their rightful property, and have been chasing after its heirs for centuries, projecting their wraiths across the worlds in search for them, sowing terror wherever they go. Forced to flee the world they originally called home long ago, they are full of scorn and hatred, and lust after the power they once lost to fully control the gates between worlds and lay indiscriminate waste to avenge the wrongs they have endured. Although she briefly fell to their deception, Ciri managed to slip their bony fingers once, but Eredin Bréacc Glas, the dread King of the Wild Hunt foretold that he would find her again at the Spiral, an eldritch location where the worlds meet.
‘The Lord of the Wild Hunt desires the gene of the Elder Blood. He seeks to fling open the gates between the worlds, so that terror and destruction may reign.’
Ultimately Ciri would end up leaving the Saga in one of the strangest possible ways. After leaving Geralt and Yennefer to recover from their wounds to the mystical Isle of Avallac’h, she would end up following Sir Galahad of the Arthurian mythos, who appears in the finale with little fanfare and who believes her to be the Lady of the Lake, leaving all the build-up of her role in determining the fate of the world unresolved. Was this a post-modern subversion of the Hero’s Journey, or was Sapkowski simply tired with his creation and burning bridges behind him? Either way, most fans were not happy with the plot threads left hanging by this conclusion.
In The Witcher 2 we learn what happened to Geralt and Yennefer after Ciri’s disappearance through a series of flashbacks. They lived peacefully on the Isle of Avallac’h until the Wild Hunt came for them, no longer as wraiths but in the flesh, and with their superior magic kidnapped Yennefer, but left Geralt untouched. He followed them, finding allies from fellow witchers of the Viper School on his pursuit, eventually tracking the Hunt to the Hanged Man’s Tree. There, discovering that they had no means to win against the Red Riders, Geralt managed to strike a deal with the King of the Wild Hunt, to exchange his own soul for Yennefer’s. The King agreed, as to him they both were simply means to lure Ciri back to his reach. Geralt spent several years bound to the Hunt as one of its riders, until he eventually escaped through means unknown back to his own world, beginning The Witcher game trilogy.
Now Ciri has returned to the world for reasons unknown and the Riders of the Hunt are not far behind. Now, years after the Saga officially ended, we can finally see the great conflict teased by the books but never fulfilled. Now The Witcher-games shall finally touch both an epic conflict that determines the fate of the world, and a more personal story, where Geralt can finally show a parental side that the fans of the previous games have not yet seen. Now it’s time to be excited, not only for a great video game, but also for conclusion of a story that has been too long in a limbo, as unofficial as it may be.