Concluding - for now, at least - a short, primarily in-character chronicle of adventures in The Witcher 3. Please be aware that this entry contains spoilers for 'The Bloody Baron' line of sub-quests, though does not reference the wider story. Please also be aware that it covers subjects which some readers may find upsetting.
This man, this mountain of fat and scar tissue and pride and contempt, calls himself The Bloody Baron - a nickname bestowed upon him in the wake of an accident involving red paint, but one which he embraces as it helps him retain an iron rule over the fearful peasantry here. Unbeknownst to him, it's also name heavy with foreshadowing. Tragedy has lately visited his door, though he conceals it with bluster and evasion as he tries to conscript my help. His wife and daughter are missing, he knows not where. I'm not at all surprised by his request that I find them for him - I've seen 'Missing' posters all over the struggling villages. So many people eking out a pitiful existence of subsistence and fear, but one man's need is forcibly made to trump them all. Of course he expects me to be here for him. Who else is there but him?
Brief investigation of his family's rooms reveals assorted clues - there was a struggle, there was a hidden amulet, there were secrets. A local pellar - a ramshackle mystic man who lives out in the woods - may know more.
He does, but he won't tell me until I help find his beloved goat, Princess, who has gone missing. The absurdity and humilation of this quest, as I roam through the trees ringing a tiny bell, does not belie the darkness ahead.
The mad Pellar hugs his damnfool goat, then tells me what he knows.
An abusive husband.
A pregnant wife.
An argument, violent.
I strongly suspected the Baron's family had fled out of fear, that his talk of closeness and love was lies to mask his cruelty. The loss of a child I did not expect, and I dread discovering its exact circumstances. But before I can do that, matters take a turn for the yet worse.
The unborn child is not gone. Thrown into an unmarked grave, an attempt to put its woeful fate out of mind, it has been denied the respect and mourning it deserved. The dark forces of this land, the ones which warp so many minds and bodies here, have brought it back. I don't yet know quite what this entails, but the very concept is monstrous. The name its new form is given is worse. "Botchling."
A name that implies so many sad things, a name which might as well say "Unwanted, Unloved, Twisted. Aborted." And I know I have to face it. And I know that first, I have to face the man who, unwittingly or not, turned his baby into this thing.
I hope I can kill him.
Not hours later, all I want to do is put my arm around him and say how sorry I am.
The Baron is a monster, and while he first tries to blame his violence on booze and war and, most damningly, his wife's attitude towards him, he soon admits it.
And that he regrets it.
And that he had hoped a second child might mend he and Anna's broken bond.
And that his grief at the loss of the child - a girl, another girl, like this writer's child, this man who is not the stony-faced Witcher, this man who has tears then more tears in his eyes as a videogame cutscene depicting a fat, alcholoic wife-beater mourning a miscarriage he caused plays out, this man who cannot help but imagine the loss, grief, horror of his daughter, his wonderful daughter, his Connie, having never become more than a tiny thing, defenceless, on bloodied sheets, dead - is boundless.
He hangs his head.
All I want to do is put my arm around him and say how sorry I am.
I don't. Geralt of Rivia, the mutant whose emotions have been numbed by weird chemicals, does not do that. But he can choose not to show cruelty too. So I do not.
But I do have to tell him about the Botchling.
And we do have to do something about it.
His eyes widen in horror, but there's wonder too. His lost child, the offspring slaughtered by his savage attack upon his own wife, is alive. Well, not alive, but... Well, we don't know yet. Whatever form it now takes, the Baron now must meet what should have been, look his terrible crime in the eyes, acknowledge what was lost and what he did.
Or we could just kill it. The Pellar told us that it would turn deadly in time, a wretched killer, vengeance incarnate.
I don't give my reasons - this writer's child - but I refuse this option. Others might not. They might prefer the easier road, they might thrill to the moral gruesomeness of the act, but I must refuse it.
So, at nightfall we go to meet the Botchling, which lurks near the unmarked grave it recently clawed its way out of. It is hideous and horrifying, but it is desperately sad: the tiny frame, the stubby limbs, the outsize eyes, the transluscent skin, the hanging tubes of a not-quite-cooked oven-bun. She's terrible to behold, but I can see traces of the beautiful thing she should have been.
I want to look away from its split and gnashing face, and the Baron does too, but we must witness it, see the waiting humanity within. He has to hold and cradle the wriggling thing, part demon and part innocent, and grimly carry it - her - back to his keep, to the doorstep where it - she - will be buried anew, while I slay wraiths attracted to whatever foul magic seeps from it - from her. The Baron and his daughter are face-to-face throughout. He cannot look away from his sin.
This penitent pilgrimage done, the Botchling must be interred respectfully at last, and for that to happen she must first be named. She must be given the identity she was denied.
Forgive me, you who came but I did not embrace.
I name thee Dea and embrace thee as my daughter.
Dea, then. It is a lovely name. It would have been a lovely name.
The thing, the unspeakable thing, finally stops writhing, its madness stilled as she hears her withheld name and looks her father, her killer, right in the eyes. There is love. Maybe there is love.
The Bloody Baron, that name so completely and so terribly deserved, buries the monster, buries the daughter he did not know, and weeps into the rain.
Monster. All I want to do is put my arm around him and say how sorry I am.
Geralt of Rivia's hard, feline eyes soften at last, real sadness bubbling to the surface of a world-weary road warrior who is supposed to (wants to?) feel nothing. And this writer weeps too.
Thank you, Dea. Go in peace.