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A Question of Price
"A Question of Price" is a short story included in The Last Wish collection. This short story serves as a study on what witchers are, how they are observed, and paying prices.
Plotline[edit | edit source]
The story begins with Geralt being clean-shaven, washed and nicely clothed by the servants and castellan of the royal family's castle in Cintra. Cintra's crown-princess, Pavetta, has turned fifteen years old and as is the custom, contenders for her hand have turned up by the dozen. Geralt asks the castellan, Haxo, why he was invited and is told that the queen very much wants to ensure that Cintra becomes allied with Skellige and that a witchers services are likely required to ensure this outcome.
Geralt, who is officially invited to the party as the honourable Lord Ravix of Fourhorn, sits next to Queen Calanthe, yet has still not been told what the exact reason is for his invitation. During dinner, he has a long discussion with the queen about how she and other rulers see witchers, what she thinks their profession is, and whether or not she has invited him for the right reasons. In fact, the queen spends so much time conversing with the witcher that she begins to annoy one of her guests, Eist Tuirseach. Geralt also notices that Mousesack is quite interested in the conversation.
Otherwise the banquet proceeds much as expected with much general merriment. Coodcoodak amusing the guests with his wide repertoire of animal impressions. The younger Skelligans discussing military strategy and the music being supplied by Drogodar and Draig Bon-Dhu. Eventually Pavetta makes her appearance, but is unusually quiet and reserved, barely looking up. She is clearly pleasing to the gathering of potential suitors. Suddenly there is a commotion outside the throne room and an uninvited guest is announced. The gathering hear the clanging of armored footsteps approach and finally a spiked-helmed knight who introduces himself as "Urcheon of Erlenwald" appears. The queen insists that he remove his helmet, but Urcheon explains that he cannot do so before midnight, due to a knight's vow. Calanthe rather reluctantly allows him to keep his helmet and grants him leave to speak. He then proceeds to explain that he has come to collect the promised reward for saving King Roegner's life; by the Law of Surprise, princess Pavetta has belonged to him from the day of her birth.
Geralt and Mousesack have been communicating silently throughout the banquet, mostly through meaningful glances and the druids magical arrangements of breadcrumbs, but both have noticed that something is afoot. The Force seems to be slowly filling the room. Urcheon also seems to emanate the Force.
Although Queen Calanthe admits that what he says is true, she does not have any intention of giving her daughter away to a stranger and there is general uproar among the guests. A clock strikes midnight and the queen realizes that she has another trick up her sleeve. She insists that Urcheon remove his helm. When he does, everyone sees not the head and face of a man, but some hedgehog-like creature, covered in spines with a muzzle full of fangs. The queen triumphantly announces that for the Law of Surprise to be invoked, Pavetta herself must agree, assuming that naturally the princess would not willingly choose to go off with some monster.
When the queen asks princess Pavetta if she chooses to leave with the knight, Calanthe is astounded when the princess answers yes. The queen collapses onto her chair and a fight breaks out, with the guards and knights attacking Urcheon. Several guests try to charge Urcheon pushing him backwards until he is pinned by two guards. A force, The Force that Geralt and the druid Mousesack have already felt for some time, explodes from princess Pavetta as she sees her lover being attacked. As the guests fight, the princess' power grows and becomes very dangerous to everyone. Furniture is flying in all directions, individuals are being thrown about, it's pandemonium.
Geralt steps in to defend Urcheon, as does Eist, but Pavetta is out of control. Both the witcher and the druid focus all of their energy on Pavetta, trying to isolate her, but her power is too strong. Suddenly Coodcoodak lets loose what seems like his entire repertoire of animal noises. This proves sufficient to distract the princess and allow Geralt and Mousesack to get her back to her senses.
When the ruckus has calmed down, Urcheon, or Duny, and Pavetta explain the situation. They have been seeing each other for over a year now, and have fallen in love. Having calmed down, queen Calanthe agrees with their love, and their forthcoming marriage. Eist Tuirseach, who came that night to chaperone the younger suitors for the hand of princess Pavetta, ends up proposing to Queen Calanthe (there are several references during the story to an existing history between the two).
Thanking Geralt for saving his life earlier, Duny offers him whatever he asks for. Geralt asks for "that which you already have but do not know", breaking the news to everyone, including Duny and Pavetta, that the princess is pregnant. He asks that their child be raised as a witcher.
Characters[edit | edit source]
Royal family of Cintra
- Adalia (mentioned only)
- Queen Calanthe
- King Roegner (mentioned only)
- Princess Pavetta
- Castellan Haxo
- Marshal Vissegerd
Friends of the royal family of Cintra
Contenders for the hand of princess Pavetta
- Urcheon of Erlenwald (Duny)
- Crach an Craite
- Prince Windhalm of Attre, accompanied by Rainfarn, a knight
- Tinglant, Fodcat and Wieldhill (sons of Lord Strept)
- King Vridank the Elf (mentioned only)
- Queen Cerro (mentioned only)
- Zatret Voruta (mentioned only)
- Mad Deï (mentioned only)
- Supree (mentioned only)
- Zivelina of Metinna (mentioned only)
- Rumplestelt (mentioned only)
- Akerspaark (mentioned only)
Notes[edit | edit source]
- This short story takes place most likely during the seventh or eighth savaed (Lammas or Velen) of 1250.
- Brothers Grimm fairy tale, "Hans My Hedgehog", can be argued to have served as an inspiration for this short story.