Time of Contempt

By: Andrzej Sapkowski


Blood on your hands, Falka,

Blood on your dress.

Burn, burn, Falka, and die,

Die in agony for your crimes!

Vedymins, called witchers among the Nordlings (q.v.), a mysterious and elite caste of warriorpriests, probably an offshoot of the druids (q.v.). In the folk consciousness, they are endowed with magical powers and superhuman abilities; v. were said to fight evil spirits, monsters and all manner of dark forces. In reality, since they were unparalleled in their ability to wield weapons, v. were used by the rulers of the north in the tribal fighting they waged with each other. In combat v. fell into a trance, brought on, it is believed, by autohypnosis or intoxicating substances, and fought with pure energy, being utterly invulnerable to pain or even grave wounds, which reinforced the superstitions about their superhuman powers. The theory, according to which v. were said to have been the products of mutation or genetic engineering, has not found confirmation. V. are the heroes of numerous Nordling tales (cf. F. Delannoy, Myths and Legends of the Nordlings).

Effenberg and Talbot

Encyclopaedia Maxima Mundi, Vol. XV

When talking to youngsters entering the service, Aplegatt usually told them that in order to make their living as mounted messengers two things would be necessary: a head of gold and an arse of iron.

A head of gold is essential, Aplegatt instructed the young messengers, since in the flat leather pouch strapped to his chest beneath his clothing the messenger only carries news of less vital importance, which could without fear be entrusted to treacherous paper or manuscript. The really important, secret tidings – those on which a great deal depended – must be committed to memory by the messenger and only repeated to the intended recipient. Word for word; and at times those words are far from simple. Difficult to pronounce, let alone remember. In order to memorise them and not make a mistake when they are recounted, one has to have a truly golden head.

And the benefits of an arse of iron, oh, every messenger will swiftly learn those for himself. When the moment comes for him to spend three days and nights in the saddle, riding a hundred or even two hundred miles along roads or sometimes, when necessary, trackless terrain, then it is needed. No, of course you don’t sit in the saddle without respite; sometimes you dismount and rest. For a man can bear a great deal, but a horse less. However, when it’s time to get back in the saddle after resting, it’s as though your arse were shouting, ‘Help! Murder!’

‘But who needs mounted messengers now, Master Aplegatt?’ young people would occasionally ask in astonishment. ‘Take Vengerberg to Vizima; no one could knock that off in less than four – or even five – days, even on the swiftest steed. But how long does a sorcerer from Vengerberg need to send news to a sorcerer from Vizima? Half an hour, or not even that. A messenger’s horse may go lame, but a sorcerer’s message always arrives. It never loses its way. It never arrives late or gets lost. What’s the point of messengers, if there are sorcerers everywhere, at every kingly court? Messengers are no longer necessary, Master Aplegatt.’

For some time Aplegatt had also been thinking he was no longer of any use to anyone. He was thirty-six and small but strong and wiry, wasn’t afraid of hard work and had – naturally – a head of gold. He could have found other work to support himself and his wife, to put a bit of money by for the dowries of his two as yet unmarried daughters and to continue helping the married one whose husband, the sad loser, was always unlucky in his business ventures. But Aplegatt couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine any other job. He was a royal mounted messenger and that was that.

And then suddenly, after a long period of being forgotten and humiliatingly idle, Aplegatt was once again needed. And the highways and forest tracks once again echoed to the sound of hooves. Just like the old days, messengers began to travel the land bearing news from town to town.

Aplegatt knew why. He saw a lot and heard even more. It was expected that he would immediately erase each message from his memory once it had been given, that he would forget it so as to be unable to recall it even under torture. But Aplegatt remembered. He knew why kings had suddenly stopped communicating with the help of magic and sorcerers. The news that the messengers were carrying was meant to remain a secret from them. Kings had suddenly stopped trusting sorcerers; stopped confiding their secrets in them.

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