Immersed in Witcher fantasy: Baptism of Fire
Baptism of Fire holds a place near and dear to my heart. One, it is my favorite book in the Witcher series (just barely beating The Lady of the Lake, which comes in an extremely close second) and second, it is the book that introduced me to my now favorite fantasy series (thank you Barnes & Noble ‘Buy 2 Get 1’ sale!).
Synopsis of Baptism of Fire: The Wizard’s Guild was attacked and now lies in ruins. The wizards who survived are scattered, Geralt is healing from the wounds he sustained from the attack, and Ciri, who has vanished without a trace, is now rumored to marry the Emperor of Nilfgaard. The inevitable war has begun and the surviving wizards are doing everything in their powers to protect the land and the magic flowing within it. The only one who can possibly save the land and stop the war is Ciri and Geralt is doing everything he can to speed up the healing process so he can go out and find her before it is too late.
This book adds so much to the series, mainly with developing Geralt. Sapkowski introduces so many more new characters that are important to not only helping Geralt find Ciri, but also helping shape Geralt into the man gamers know and love. However, looking at my article now, I find it funny that I was not able to find as many references from this book in the game. If anything, readers should simply enjoy this book once they get to it because it is a very enjoyable story. Hang in there, everyone: we have reached the halfway point of my article series!
**SPOILER WARNING: I will give the constant reminder that spoilers will be present in all of these articles. I will also try to refer to spoilers and give warnings as they appear throughout my articles. If anyone has not read or played the games and does not wish for anything to be spoiled, please stop reading now.**
What makes this story to incredibly enjoyable are, in fact, the characters. Many new characters are introduced in this book and they form a rather strange band of individuals that end up working very well together, balancing each other out in a humorous, yet great way like today’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
“’What a company I ended up with,’ Geralt continued, shaking his head. ‘Brothers in arms! A team of heroes! What have I done to deserve it? A poetaster with a lute. A wild and lippy half-dryad, half-woman. A vampire, who’s about to notch up his fifth century. And a bloody Nilfgaardian who insists he isn’t a Nilfgaardian.’
‘And leading the party is the Witcher, who suffers from pangs of conscience, impotence and the inability to take decisions,’ Regis finished calmly. ‘I suggest we travel incognito, to avoid arousing suspicion.’
‘Or raising a laugh,’ Milva added.”[i]
We shall start this character section with one not mentioned in the previous excerpt, but one well-known to both readers and players alike. Zoltan Chivay is the dwarf players will be most familiar with for he is a main character in all three Witcher games. However, he is not introduced in the book series until Baptism of Fire. Geralt, Dandelion, and Milva met him after passing a town that had been destroyed in a battle. Zoltan and a group of dwarves and a gnome were escorting the surviving women and children from the village to someplace safe and they invited Geralt and the others to join their company.[ii]
He actually only makes a semi-brief appearance in Baptism of Fire and then has to go his own way for a while. He doesn’t show up again until The Lady of the Lake, but if you have played even just Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Zoltan is a dwarf that needs no introduction from me. CD Projekt Red did a very good job with his character.
There is one fun reference I found that can be seen in the quest Broken Flowers. After Geralt has spoken with the five women he was supposed to, he goes to talk to Zoltan at the Rosemary and Thyme who now has a new friend: an owl he calls “Poppy.” He tells Geralt that she will be talking and playing Gwent in no time and there is an option for you to have Geralt say that Poppy is an owl, not a parrot. This refers to a parrot Zoltan had in Baptism of Fire who was called Field Marshal Windbag, a bird who had quite the extensive vocabulary.[iii]
Only ever seen as a Gwent card in Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Milva is a master archer for she was raised in Brokilon Forest by the Dryads. As it is mentioned in the story “The Sword of Destiny” in Sword of Destiny, the Dryads of Brokilon Forest would take young human girls, turn them into one of their own, and train them to kill any human who stepped foot into the forest.
Milva was actually Maria Barring at one point in her life and ran into the Brokilon Forest when she was young. She was taken in by the Dryads and raised by them. She most certainly deserves recognition for she is another one of Sapkowski’s powerhouse women. She is a human who acts like an elf, does not take crap from anyone, and is able to easily defend herself and those around her. When she was older, she actually would go on Sc’oitail raids and lead as many survivors as she could from the raids back to the safety of the forest. Yet under her gruff exterior, she has a heart of gold and while Geralt was healing in the forest after his fight with Vilgefortz, she would bring him news from the outside world. It was only after he left the forest with Dandelion that she chose to follow them for she knew they would need her help.
Cahir Mawr Dyffryn aep Ceallach… good luck saying this name even once for I still have no idea how to pronounce it. Cahir is another character, like Milva, who only appears on a Gwent card in Witcher III: Wild Hunt, but is also referred to during the quest The Warble of a Smitten Knight found in the Blood and Wine expansion.
Baptism of Fire is not the first time Cahir makes an appearance. I believe he is briefly mentioned in Blood of Elves and most certainly makes a bit of a larger appearance in The Time of Contempt, but it is not until Baptism of Fire where he becomes one of the main characters that truly helps lead the main story arch for the remaining books of the series.
He was a Nilgaardian who does not consider himself a Nilgaardian. He was also the black knight with the helmet with wings of a bird of prey that haunted Ciri in her nightmares. He was actually sent to Cintra when it fell to retrieve Ciri and bring her to Emhyr, but he scared the young princess so much that she ran away from him. He goes after Ciri again during the battle on the Isle of Thanedd in The Time of Contempt, but this time, Geralt is there and witnesses him almost take Ciri before his eyes. Geralt finally discovers that Cahir was the one haunting Ciri and nearly kills the young man, but chooses instead to spare his life.[iv] Geralt and Dandelion happen across Cahir again by chance in Baptism of Fire and Geralt nearly kills him again, but leaves him alone to fend for himself in the wilderness.
Cahir is a gutsy young soldier who definitely “pokes the bear” a bit too much when it comes to Geralt. He follows Geralt because he wants to find Ciri, Geralt constantly refuses his help and constantly threatens to kill him, and this is an almost never-ending cycle between the two. The Battle of the Bridge (which will be referenced later on in this article) is one of the first moments where they actually work together and Cahir gains a small amount of Geralt’s trust.
LODGE OF SORCERESSES
Sorceresses, as players are well aware, play a large role within all of the Witcher games. They play an even large role within Sapkowski’s series as they are the ones who basically hold the fate of the world, as well as the fate of Ciri, in their hands. Towards the end of Witcher III: Wild Hunt, the Lodge of Sorceresses is mentioned more frequently and, while I believe the second Witcher game focused a lot more on the Lodge, I will, as always, only mention the references found in the third game.
In Witcher III: Wild Hunt, the Lodge is really first brought up when you play the crystal found in Philippa’s hideout. I don’t think it matters if you have Yennefer or Triss play it, I think you get the same video, but from the one I know, you need to give Yennefer the crystal at the end of the quest The Last Wish. During the clip, Philippa talks about reviving the Lodge of Sorceresses which officially came together in Baptism of Fire after the fall of the Wizard Chapter and Council in The Time of Contempt.[v] This secret Lodge was founded to “defend the interests of magic, meant to ensure that magic occupies the place it deserves in the hierarchy of the world”[vi] and to also manipulate the grand scheme of royal politics to ensure Ciri proceeds to the throne with the right man as her husband.
This manipulation goes as far back as the legend of Lara Dorren aep Shiadhal and Cregennan of Lod: the beginning of the Elder Blood line. Elves and sorceresses alike mated certain individuals together so that babies with very specific traits could be born. Baptism of Fire goes deeper than ever into the legend, the line of the Elder Blood, and Falka, as well. I know in my previous article I said I would give more detail about this, but after rereading this part, it is so complex that I would rather not try to write it down for one, I fear I would butcher some part of it, and two, I wish save my readers from reading for this would be a rather large section if I included it all.[vii]
REGIS AND VAMPIRES
I am so excited about this section because I get to talk about one of my favorite characters in the book and players will recognize from the Blood and Wine expansion: Regis the vampire. No, he is not my favorite because he is a vampire (I was not part of that crazed vampire fandom in the early 2000s and honestly hate the book series that I blame for starting it all *cough* Twilight *cough*). He is my favorite because of his characteristics: how he acts, how he speaks, and how he quickly becomes one of Geralt’s closest friends, perhaps only second to Dandelion.
I will begin this section with how Regis is perceived in Witcher III: Wild Hunt. While playing through the main storyline the first time, I was really sad that Regis did not make an appearance. The only reference to him in the main story can be found in a book titled My Evening with a Vampire. I didn’t read it for the longest time, thinking it was like those ridiculous vampire romances (in actuality, CD Projekt Red did put a jab at Twilight that can actually be found in the quest Message From an Old Friend. Find the book on the shelf titled Moribundia: The Vampire’s Last Likeness and you will get a good laugh), but the book turned out to actually be about a man who met Regis and how Regis saved his life.
Writers, as we have seen, can do whatever they want to classic monsters and with how Sapkowski wrote his vampires, or at least the one vampire readers meet, you can just tell that he was having fun while creating this character. He took the classic monster, gave it a few tweaks that turn out to be an absolute joy to read, and, in my opinion, brings justice to vampires. I will actually focus on My Evening with a Vampire a little bit longer for after rereading it, there are facts about the vampires that Sapkowski created that are first referenced to in Baptism of Fire.
The writer begins by saying shortly after he met Regis, the establishment they were in caught fire. While he was badly burned, Regis was left untouched and actually carried him out of the burning building, saving his life. This refers to the first time Geralt and his companions see Regis do something out of the ordinary in Baptism of Fire and Sapkowski’s first introduction to his vampires being impervious to fire.
Shortly after Regis joins them on their travels, they come across a small camp where a girl is being tried as a witch and is about to be burned at the stake. Geralt, Zoltan, and Milva come to the girl’s defense, challenging anyone on her behalf, but the priest tells them the only way to prove the girl’s innocence is through a baptism of fire: they must pick up a white-hot horseshoe and bring it to the priest without any burn marks on their hand. While the group tries to figure out how to make such a miracle happen, Regis just walks up to the horseshoe, reaches into the fire to take it out, then calmly walks it over to the priest and shows he has no marks on his hands.[viii] I’ll just say real quick that at this point in the story, Regis had not told the others what he was.
There is actually a whole section where Regis busts some myths for Geralt and the others when they do find out what he is and readers are introduced to Sapkowski’s kind of vampire. Many of these facts can be found in the game by reading My Evening with a Vampire or Biography of the Vampire Regis, from the Quill of Dandelion, a book only found in Regis’ crypt in the Blood and Wine expansion. Let us first begin with where the vampires in Sapkowski’s world came from.
During the Conjunction of Spheres, when all the races and creatures found in the world all came together, vampires were among one of the races to be stuck in this world. Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy was a higher vampire, a being who did not differ much from a human man, who had lived on the earth for four hundred and forty-two years.[ix] He was never a violent vampire, never went after humans for sport, but in his younger years (whatever years those are to a vampire), he did indulge in drinking blood. Sapkowski’s vampires do not drink blood to survive, but drink blood for recreational purposes as a human would drink wine. This leads to one of my favorites stories ever told about any of the characters in the whole Witcher series and one that I must share with you all.
When Regis was a young rambunctious vampire, he would go out at night and drink blood with his fellow vampires. He met a nice vampire lady who, unfortunately, ended up leaving him. Regis drank a lot of blood to drown his sorrows and became intoxicated. He flew under the influence and crashed into a well in a village. The villagers, knowing what he was, tore him apart and buried him, believing they had killed him; however, Regis was very much alive and, while it took 50 years to literally pull himself together, it gave him a lot of time to think. Thus, when he came out of the ground, he swore he would never drink blood again.[x]
After his oath, Regis became a barber surgeon. Players should know the bag Regis always carries with him. This refers to a bag Regis always has in Baptism of Fire for it contains various herbs to mask his smell from animals that may sense what he truly is. It is mentioned a few times in the book that he smells like wormwood, basil, sage, aniseed, and cinnamon.[xi] Regis’ story and his profession are both referenced within the Blood and Wine quest La Cage Au Fou. First, when Geralt and Regis have their nightly chat in the graveyard, Regis mentions Mandrake Hooch, a rather potent alcohol that makes anyone who drinks it tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Regis had brewed some when Geralt and his companions met him and he shared it with them, leading to a rather funny scene of confessions from each of the characters.[xii] This is also the quest where Regis’ abstinence is brought up.
Other myths[xiii] are busted by Regis such as how a vampire’s bite does not turn a human into a vampire, This was actually a very clever element on Sapkowski’s part for those who know the folklore of vampires don’t really think about this. If every person bitten by a vampire turned into one, wouldn’t there be a lot of vampires running around? Sapkowski has Regis explain this aspect in the lengthy and detailed descriptions that he loves to give.[xiv]
I know I have gone on much too long with Regis and vampires, but I will conclude with one more thing that I noticed while reading. In Baptism of Fire, it is mentioned numerous times how whenever Regis smiles, it is always described as a “faint smile”[xv] or a smile through “pursed lips”.[xvi] This refers to the fact that if a vampire gives someone a full on smile, their fangs show.[xvii] This smile is referenced one time in the Blood and Wine expansion if you chose the ending where Dettlaff kills Syanna and you let Dettlaff go. The quest Burlap is the New Stripe is the short quest you spend in prison, but when you are released, Regis is waiting for you outside. Geralt tells him to not smile so wide for someone could notice him.
BATTLE OF THE BRIDGE
These last two main sections contain MAJOR SPOILERS for both of these events happen at the end of Baptism of Fire, so please stop reading now if you don’t want anything spoiled. I will talk about them in chronological order, so let us begin with the Battle of the Bridge.
No, this is not a battle that was fought within Witcher III: Wild Hunt, although it is referenced, nor was it a battle fought in either of the other Witcher games. This was an unexpected battle that Geralt and his companions found themselves in the middle of and one Geralt had no choice but to fight within.
Let us first talk about where it is referenced in Witcher III: Wild Hunt. This reference was actually a really fun find for me in the Blood and Wine expansion. During the quest The Warble of a Smitten Knight, you must speak to the Scribe before the tourney and chose which name you wish to enter the tourney under. There is a story behind both sets of armor and we actually talked about the story behind Ravix of Fourhorn in The Last Wish, found in the story “A Question of Price,” but what about the other name? Obviously, you can also enter the tourney as Geralt of Rivia, but it is the story the Scribe tells about his name that caught my attention.
It is briefly mentioned that Geralt took part in the Battle of the Bridge in the year 1267 and was knighted by Queen Meve as Geralt of Rivia after the battle was won. Geralt tells the Scribe that the battle was won because he absolutely had to cross the river Yaruga and that he and Cahir led Nordlings to fight against the Nilfgaardians. This battle was one of my favorite scenes in the book and here is how it panned out.
Geralt, Dandelion, Milva, Cahir, and Regis reached the river Yaruga and they had to cross it to continue their search to find Ciri (Zoltan and his party of dwarves had to leave earlier, which is why he is not with them here). They rented a barge and were in the middle of the river when the battle began. The Nordlings were on one side and the Nilfgaardians on the other and while they were fighting each other, they were also fighting Geralt and the others for, I believe, the Nilfgaardians wanted the boat. And if the battle couldn’t get any worse, two more factors came into play. One, they reach a bridge that is too low to the water for the boat to sail under and the second actually happens with Milva. Earlier in the novel, Milva admitted to the guys that she was pregnant, but still wished to travel with them until she couldn’t anymore (and no, none of these guys are the father — the father was an elf from Brokilon), but due to the stress of the battle, she began to miscarry.
They are forced to dock the boat on the Nordling shore. Regis took Milva under the bridge to protect her while he saved her from her miscarriage. Dandelion was left in charge of protecting Milva and Regis while the vampire completed the procedure. This left Geralt and Cahir to rally the small army of Nordlings and lead them to fight against the larger army of Nilfgaardians. After a long battle, they finally won.[xviii]
Granted, this is a very short version of all that transpired during the battle, but it is a lot of fun to read and it shows the five of them working well as a team. Although, now that I look at the book again, there is a minor inconsistency to the reference in the game. At the end of the battle, it says: “And thus, for Geralt, ended the great battle for the bridge on the Yaruga. A battle which later chroniclers did not, of course, even mention.”[xix] So where was the Scribe able to dig this information up in the game? Regardless, this is still a fun reference and even leads into our next reference which occurred after the battle was won.
GERALT ‘OF RIVIA’
So, ever wonder where Geralt acquired his title? Being Geralt of Rivia must mean he is from Rivia, right? In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure where Geralt is from. The first story “The Witcher” found in The Last Wish said that Geralt was a man with a Rivian accent. This may have just been something Sapkowski came up with when he first wrote the story as “Spellmaker”[xx] and then decided to give Geralt’s name a backstory later. For while this is not directly addressed within Witcher III: Wild Hunt, there are a couple references that point to parts in Baptism of Fire where the title is mentioned.
On their travels in Baptism of Fire, Geralt and his companions get on the topic of names. Geralt said he calls himself that because it makes his name sound fancier and thus inspires his clients to trust him. When asked why he chose Rivia, Geralt said that he drew sticks marked with names that sounded grand and Rivia was the one he chose. He said it sounded better than the name he had originally planned to call himself: Geralt Roger Eric du Haute-Bellegarde.[xxi] Sound familiar, players? This is briefly mentioned in the quest Something Ends, Something Begins, the final quest that gets you the perfect ending with Ciri becoming empress. I am sorry, but I must point out another minor inconsistency the game made for they changed “Bellegarde” to “Bellagarcie”. Minor, very minor, I know. It’s just something I noticed, that’s all.
The other reference to his name occurs rather ironically at the very end of Baptism of Fire after the Battle of the Bridge had been won. In the aforementioned quest The Warble of a Smitten Knight, the Scribe mentioned that the Witcher was knighted Geralt of Rivia by Queen Meve at the Battle of the Bridge. What makes this so funny is that long before this point in the books, Geralt had always referred to himself as Geralt of Rivia. Queen Meve, who fought for the Nordlings, was pleased by Geralt’s heroics and asked what his name was. He told her he was Geralt from nowhere. I believe he told her this because Meve was the Queen of Lyria and Rivia and probably would have assumed he was lying. She then asks if he had ever been bestowed a knighthood and when Geralt tells her no, she knights him on the bank of the Yaruga. Since he had held the bridge with soldiers of Rivia, he was thus knighted Geralt of Rivia.[xxii]
“The freshly dubbed knight, Geralt of Rivia, bowed low, so that Queen Meve, his suzerain, would not see the smile — the bitter smile — that he was unable to resist.”[xxiii]
On a side note, there is another reference found in the same quest of The Warble of a Smitten Knight that refers to something that happens early on in the next book The Tower of Swallows (I will mention it here since it pretty much goes hand in hand with this section anyway). During this quest, Geralt meets Prince Anséis, Queen Meve’s son, and he has a bone to pick with Geralt for abandoning his mother. After being knighted by Meve in Baptism of Fire, Geralt and his companions traveled with the Nordling camp for a few days. Dandelion and the others were getting worried that Geralt was letting his new knighthood get to his head and reminded him who they were searching for. After being reminded of Ciri, Geralt and the others abandoned Meve’s camp to go their own way for they knew if they asked to leave, they would not be allowed to.[xxiv] And this is what Geralt tells the Prince, saying he had to abandon Meve’s camp because someone else (Ciri) badly needed his help.
Maybe I should have titled this article “Baptism of Fire: Let’s Talk About Regis” because I did notice he has the largest section here. I found more references to him than I realized and, as I mentioned in my introduction, there really weren’t as many other references from this book found in the game. This book is more about the characters who each play an incredibly important role from this book onwards and they all play a factor in developing Geralt into the man he becomes at the end.
Forgive my long spiels, but if you’re still with me, we are over halfway done! We are almost there and I can’t thank you enough, my wonderful readers, for all of your support! I hope by this point I have at least started getting some people interested in reading the books if they haven’t read them already. It truly is an amazing series and this particular book in the series will always hold a place near and dear to my heart. Next up on the list of articles is The Tower of Swallows!
*Disclaimer: Everything Witcher related belongs to the amazingly talented Andrzej Sapkowski who created this equally amazing fantasy world. Credit also goes to CD Projekt Red for bringing Sapkowski’s world to playable life in Witcher III: Wild Hunt. I take no credit for anything involving the world of the Witcher — I am only entitled to my own opinions.*
*Writer’s Note: While I take great pride in reading and learning about every aspect I can about The Witcher Series, if any reader finds any inconsistencies, any fact that is false, or any facts that are missing in my articles, please let me know either through a comment on the article or through my social media and I will gladly make any necessary changes to make them accurate and truthful. Thank you all so much for your help and support!*
*Book Review: You can find my book review of Baptism of Fire here — originally published on March 25, 2016 on Examiner.com before it was moved to Roll Out Reviews on August 6, 2018*
Sapkowski, A. (2013) The Time of Contempt. New York, NY: Orbit Books.
Sapkowski, A. (2014) Baptism of Fire. New York, NY: Orbit Books.
Sapkowski, A. (2016) The Tower of Swallows. New York, NY: Orbit Books.
Kandel, M. (2010) A Polish Book of Monsters: Five Dark Tales from Contemporary Poland. New York, NY: PIASA Books.
[i] Baptism Sapkowski . 234
[ii] Baptism Sapkowski 75–77
[iii] Baptism Sapkowski 75
[iv] Contempt Sapkowski 188–192
[v] Baptism Sapkowski 36–37
[vi] Baptism Sapkowski 246
[vii] Baptism Sapkowski 264–271
[viii] Baptism Sapkowski 164–165
[ix] Baptism Sapkowski 219
[x] Baptism Sapkowski 292–295
[xi] Baptism Sapkowski 119
[xii] Baptism Sapkowski 125–137
[xiii] Baptism Sapkowski 290–291
[xiv] Baptism Sapkowski 297
[xv] Baptism Sapkowski 152
[xvi] Baptism Sapkowski 129, 165, 233
[xvii] Baptism Sapkowski 220
[xviii] Baptism Sapkowski 332–340
[xix] Baptism Sapkowski 340
[xx] Kandel 51–94
[xxi] Baptism Sapkowski 316
[xxii] Baptism Sapkowski 342–343
[xxiii] Baptism Sapkowski 343
[xxiv] Tower Sapkowski 71
Originally published at rolloutreviews.com on October 8, 2018.