Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Politics of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Part 2: The Kingslayers (spoilers)

Read Part 1 if you haven't already.

See Part 3

After making the brief overview for all factions involved, both major and minor, I thought it would be enlightening to look at one of them indepth. The Kingslayers, four Witchers of the viper school led by the giant of a man Letho, are the main antagonists of the game, and their quest to fullfill their mission would lead them to interact, ally with and backsab several factions. This impressive maneuvering orchestrated by Letho, the leader of the kinglsayers, will culminate in a sequence of events that would sow chaos in the North and pave the way for the Third Nothern War.

Before starting, I must emphasize that much of what I wrote is my personal interpretation based on the knowledge we are given. A lot of it is left ambiguous and not explored with great detail, especially considering that a lot of it happened outside the game. The assassin that appeared at the end of The Witcher 1 in particular, is not mentionned at all, barring the first scene and a flashback sequence with seemingly a fourth Witcher in it next to Geralt, Letho, Auckes and Serrit, who most likely is our mysterious assassin. Also, I will not delve into their hunt of...the Wild Hunt with Geralt. My focus will rather be on what transpired in Nilfgaard and after.

I- Caught in Nilfgaard

After a long pursuit, Geralt, thanks to the help provided by Letho and three other Witchers from the viper school, finally caught up with the Wild Hunt in the Hanged Man's tree near Nilfgaard, intent on freeing his lover Yennefer from its grasp. A long and brutal fight ensued and a stalemate was reached. Unable to defeat the King of the Wild Hunt, Geralt exchanged his soul for that of Yennefer, and disappeared with The Hunt. Staying true to his short lived friendship with Geralt and returning the favor after the White Wolf saved his life, Letho took Yennefer under his care. Her time in captivity with the spectral riders caused the sorceress to lose her memory and later behave erratically, much to Letho's annoyance. She attempted to drive a wedge between the remaining Witchers by seducing Auckes, and because of her deliriousness started attracting too much attention.

In Nilfgaard, mages are regarded with much suspicion and little tolerance. It was only a matter of time before the band was caught by the imperial secret police, headed by Vattier de Rideaux. For weeks, Letho and his band were held for questioning, albeit non-violently, before the Nilfgaardians made a significant discovery. Through Yennefer's memories, magically extracted by a Nilfgaardian sorcerer, they learned of the Lodge of Sorceresses, a secret organization of sorceresses de facto led by Philippa Eilhart which aims to spread the influence and political power of mages and save guard the North from the Nilfgaardian empire. Mages have proven to be an obstacle to Nilfgaardian expansionism in the past, in particular during the battle of the Sodden Hill. After weeks in captivity, Letho was led to the emperor of Nilfgaard himself, Emhyr Var Emreis, who had certain plans for the Witcher.

The plan was brilliant in its simplicity. Letho and his fellow witchers were to sow chaos in the North, by assassinating kings and laying blame on the sorceresses. It would veritably be hitting two birds in one stone, causing chaos and weakening the North, softening it up for invasion, while depriving it of a powerful weapon that is the mages by turning it against them. In exchange for this service, the emperor promised to rebuild the School of the Viper, the virtually extinct Witcher school where Letho and his comrades came to be.  Only Emhyr, Letho and Vattier knew of the mission. Letho accepted, most likely realizing that the old ways of Witcher neutrality can no longer be maintained. He was given complete freedom and leeway to complete the mission assigned to him.

The Kingslayers thus came to be.

II. Meeting Sile de Tansarville

Sile de Tansarville was one of the names extracted from Yennefer's memory. She was one of the founding members of the Lodge, and was present in the court of Kovir and Poviss, a wealthy kingdom in the far North. How the Kingslayers met her and under what circumstances is unknown. Letho acted like her personal Witcher for a time, slaying monsters for her, while making sure that reliable witnesses saw them together and were able to link one to the other.

Mages in general, especially those of the North, are highly sophisticated and knowledgeable about a variety of subjects especially politics. In addition sorceresses in particular were known for their glamorous looks. It is also true that mages are not impressed with the magical signs Witchers command. In addition to what can be seen as haughty attitude generally shared by her kin, Sile herself was reserved and had little patience for nonsense. All these traits were easy for Letho to exploit.

Taking advantage of his bulky looks, Letho acted like the oaf Sile seemed to think he is. Perhaps exploiting pride in her sophistication, Letho presented himself as a naive melancholic man who thought the world was simply unfair. This seems to mirror Geralt's exchange with Zoltan in The Witcher 1, where he genuinely expressed how his antiquated world views no longer fit the new order. It seems likely that Letho wanted Sile to believe that he had a naive antiquated world view as well and was easy to manipulate. Since sorceresses in particular also use their looks to manipulate, it is not impossible for Letho to have faked physical attraction to her as well.

During this "rapprochement", Letho planned to strike the first blow. He planned to assassinate the king of Kovir and Poviss, Thyssen, and probably shift the blame to Sile. Kovir is the largest exporter of mineral ressources in the continent, and it financially supported Northern Kingdoms against Nilfgaard. Causing chaos there would be a decisive blow against the North. But fate smiled on the Viper as a better opportunity presented itself. Before he can carry the deed, Sile herself, thinking that the naive oaf is easy to manipulate and use, came to him and asked him to assassinate King Demavend of Aedirn for her.

Could there have been a more fertile soil to sow chaos in? The Lodge signed its own death warrant by ordering a regicide which Letho was all too happy to carry out.

III- Assassinating King Demavend

The Lodge of Sorceresses wanted King Demavend out of the of the picture to pave the way for the rise of Saskia, the dragonslayer who had rallied peasants in open revolt against the unpopular king, and the establishment of an independent Pontar State with egalitarian principles, treating nonhumans equally. The Pontar Valley is a land rich in mineral wealth and of high strategic importance. The Lodge secretly controlling it behind the scenes would go a long way to spread its influence in the North.

Sile thus provided Letho with the financial and magical assistance to assassinate the King of Aedirn. To facilitate his escape, Sile also contacted a group of Scoia'Tael whom were part of Iorveth's cell (the Scoia'Tael leader however was in Eastern Temeria at the time and seems to have been unaware of this alliance). They were to support the kingslayers and help them escape and hide. Sile's plan was well though-out, and thanks to the Scoia'Tael, no one would be able to trace the "big oaf" to her. Except she severily miscalculated.

Letho managed to assassinate King Demavend, and despite Scoia'Tael assistance, barely escaped with his life. Most probably led there by his Scoia'Tael allies, Letho found Iorveth in his hideout near Flotsam, and struck an alliance with the veteran warrior. The crowned severed head of Demavend was to be the first of several more decapitated heads, contrary to what Sile wished.

At around the same time, it appears that the Kingslayers also aimed to assassinate the king of Temeria, Foltest. Perhaps seeking to take advantage of the chaos caused by the Vizima uprising and the attempted coup d'Etat by the Order of the Flaming Rose. The mysterious fourth assassin failed however as Foltest was narrowly rescued by Geralt of Rivia. The Witcher assassin was killed in the process. Very little is known of him and the game makes almost no mention of him at all barring the first scene. So a lot of it is speculation and hopefully it will be clarified in the future.

IV- King Foltest is next

Following the first failed attempt, Letho and Iorveth planned a second attempt on the king of Temeria's life. Temeria is a main bulwark against Nilfgaard and was key to inflicting a severe defeat at Brenna on the empire in the Second Northern War. Despite the victory, the kingdom suffered from internal instability, starting with the Vizima uprising and then spreading to La Valettes on the Pontar river. Spreading further chaos in Temeria would be greatly beneficial to Nilfgaard. Baroness La Valette gave birth to Foltest's illegitimate children, unknown to him, whom several barons sought to use as their banner to overthrow the king.

Tensions rose and it was only a matter of time before king Foltest delt with the rebels and recovered his bastard children. This Letho and Iorveth knew. Children were usually taken to the monastery during a siege, so Letho had to become a monk, for he was sure Foltest would seek them out. He had to become a monk ahead of time however,  so Aryan La Valette's patrols one day stumbled on a defenseless blind monk who was being tortured by Scoia'Tael. They were driven off, and Letho was taken to be healed. He paid a large sum of money to the healer to be quiet about his lack of recent injuries, only to kill him later as only the dead could keep a secret. Letho was thus exactly where he wanted to be.

Letho and Iorveth's prediction was vindicated, when Foltest mounted a siege on La Valette Castle and defeated the rebels relatively easily despite the chaos caused by the unexpected intervention of a dragon. As Letho predicted, Foltest rushed to the monastery to recover his children. Only he was accompanied by Geralt of Rivia! How could Letho ever have predicted this? How did he escape from the Wild Hunt? Geralt would have no trouble recognizing an old friend and exposing him! Thankfully for Letho however, Geralt was suffering from amnesia and was not able to recognize his old companion.

This proved fatal to Foltest. One of the mightiest kings of the North was slain, with Geralt being unable to prevent it. Letho escaped thanks to the Scoia'Tael, and Geralt was accused of the assassination. The plan was proceeding well, the complications caused by Geralt's return notwithstanding.

V- Hiding in Flotsam

In a span of three months, two kings of the North were assassinated by the Kingslayers, and both their kingdoms plunged into chaos and civil war. But Letho's mission was far from complete. He opted however to wait for two weeks after his murder of Foltest. Letho was likely waiting for King Henselt of Kaedwen, who had been mobalizing his army south, to start his campaign on Upper Aedirn. His comrades Auckes and Serrit were in Uppper Aedirn at the time, preparing with a group of Iorveth's Scoia'Tael to kill the Kaedweni king.

The Kingslayer also felt that his hands were tied so long as Iorveth was around. He recognized that Iorveth was a cunning fox who could see through him at any moment. The Scoia'Tael were betrayed by Nilfgaard after the last war, so them discovering Letho's true purpose would lead to unpleasant results. So the viper attempted to orchestrate an internal coup d'Etat, by overthrowing Iorveth and replacing him with another Scoia'Tael, one more amenable to manipulation. He tried to persuade Ciaran to do so, but miscalculated and underestimated the loyalty the Scoia'Tael showed to their leader. He was forced to slay Ciaran and his unit to keep what happened from Iorveth.

Letho was thus in a precarious position. It was exacerbated when Sile de Tansarville arrived in Flotsam to pursue her betrayer. She was followed by Geralt of Rivia and Vernon Roche, who were also hunting Foltest's killer. Letho's miscalculation with regards to Ciaran almost proved fatal, as the elf was not dead, but taken captive by Loredo's men. Geralt learned from him of Letho's attemted backstabbing of Iorveth, and used that to drive a wedge between them. Geralt and Iorveth set a trap for Letho, where the two old friends confronted each other for the first time, in the elven gardens where he often spent time thinking. But the trap was jeopardized by the intervention of the Blue Stripes and Loredo's men. Letho and Geralt crossed blades during the ensuing the skirmish.

Trading blows, both verbal and with the sword, the two former friends clashed in the elven ruins, matching each other in skills and abilities. Letho however proved to be the better fighter in this round. He defeated The White Wolf and had him at his mercy. He was the only obstacle in his mission, removing him would make life easier for the viper. But Letho did not kill him. Didn't Geralt save his life once? Weren't they friends who fought the Wild Hunt together? Wasn't Letho doing all of this to revive the Witchers? Geralt was not his enemy.

The Kingslayer walked away from his beaten foe, and rushed to take hold of the sorceress Triss Merigold, Geralt's present lover or friend. He caught her in Sile's room using her megascope, fatally wounded Cedric who was assisting her, and forced her to teleport both of them to Upper Aedirn. Letho had eluded Geralt, the Blue Stripes, the angered Scoia'Tael and Sile de Tansarville.

VI- Time at the Pontar Valley

The teleportation was successful; Letho let Triss go and went on to join his brothers Auckes and Serrit. They massacred the Scoia'Tael unit they were preparing with considering what has transpired in Flotsam, and proceeded with planning King Henselt's assassination. It was shot down however as the curse Sabrina Glessivig inflicted on King Henselt three years ago while being burned alive, activated and summoned a spectral mist. It delayed the Kaedweni invasion, and the kingslayers' attempt.

At around this time, Letho found out that fate had once again smiled on him. He learned of the planned conference in Loc Muinne, which aimed to revise the borders in the Northern Kingdoms, and more importantly re-establish the magi Conclave and Council, which were dissolved after the event of the Thanned Coup. The main kings of the North would be there, along with emissaries and the sorceresses as well. This would be the ideal setting to complete his mission.

King Henselt's death no longer became necessary after the discovery, so Letho decided to go to Loc Muinne and prepare; he entrusted the assassination to Serrit and Auckes. They failed however, as either Geralt of Rivia, if he sided with Roche, stopped and defeated them, or most likely Sile managed to do so on her own if Geralt sided with Iorveth and was on the other side of the mist. In either case, Sile finished them off in the hopes of removing all evidence pointing to her and to bring an end to the slaying of Northern Kings that was contrary to the Lodge's plans. Geralt however, via different means depending on location, still managed to find out that Sile was behind King Demavend's murder.

VII- The Grand Finale

Letho arrived at Loc Muinne and met with Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen, the emissary of the Nilfgaardian empire. It is not clear if the latter knew the extent of the emperor's plans or of Letho's mission, but it's clear that he was instructed with dealing with the Lodge. Indeed, Shilard captured Triss Merigold after Letho let her go, most likely to be used as evidence against the Lodge seeing how she is a member. Letho revealed his mission to the emissary, and together they planned for the grand finale where the Lodge would be exposed and the Northern Kingdoms would turn on the mages. It was the ideal setting, for the ampitheatre was protected by a spell that supresses magic. The mages would be defenseless. Depending on Geralt's choice, one of two scenarios took place.

If Geralt decided to help Roche / Iorveth to deal with the Temerian / Pontar Valley question instead of trying to free Triss from Nilfgaardian captivity, Letho is bound and led to the conference by the Nilfgaardians, where he "confessed" to have been behind the assassinations on the orders of the Lodge. King Radovid of Redania and the others turned on the mages, destroyed the Lodge and stopped the Council and Conclave from being created, and soon after a witch hunt ensued. Perhaps still feeling indebted to Geralt, Letho saved Triss and protected her from the Nilfgaardians. They both waited for the White Wolf in the Temerian encampment in the ruined city.

If on the otherhand Geralt decided to save Triss, he takes Shilard hostage. The emissary however was killed by Imperial bodyguard Renuald, revealing that Shilard is expandable in the emperor's plans. He is soon after killed by the witcher, and Triss was freed. She revealed in the conference the Lodge's culpability vis-a-vis the assassinations but made sure to dissociate the rest of the mages from their crime. The Lodge was seemingly destroyed by King Radovid, while the Council and Conclave were established. Letho, knowing that Geralt would continue pursuing him, waited in the Temerian encampment for the final confrontation.

In either case, the dragon controlled by the Lodge intervened during the conference to save Sile de Tansarville, who tried to teleport away using her megascope. As it turns out however, Letho had played his "final prank" by replacing one of the diamonds used to operate the device with a defective one that would cause her to be torn to bits. Geralt either helped her or left her to die. Letho despite his cold demeanor genuinely seemed to want to end her life quickly instead of letting her be caught and suffer painfully.
Wanting to bring the chase to an end, Letho waited for Geralt. In the ruins of Loc Muinne, the two old friends stood face to face in their final confrontation. Geralt had been gradually recovering parts of his memory, and by that time recalled his time and friendship with Letho and the rest of the kingslayers. Letho was willing to put all his cards on the table and answer any question Geralt wished to ask vis-a-vis Yennefer and his mission, but not before offering some of vodka. Geralt can drink some of it with his nemesis, talk with him and walk away, letting the Kingslayer go. Or they both fight to the death this time. Geralt walks away victorious.

Regardless, Letho was in large part successful. Two monarchs were killed (potentially, King Henselt as well depending on Geralt's choice), the two kingdoms standing as bulwarks against Nilfgaard were destabilized, and the Lodge was destroyed possibly alongside the Council and Conclave. With chaos sown, the way was paved for Nilfgaardian invasion. The Third Nothern War had begun, and the kingslayers were pivotal in its erruption.

PS: The Witcher is one of the best games made in today's generation and the entire universe is an epic of its own. Being one of my most favourite games, always wanted to post something and glad founded this to share.



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