Monday, 14 January 2013

The Politics of The Witcher 2 - Part 4: Emhyr, The Hidden Chessmaster

by KnightofPhoenix

Start reading from Part 1 here.

As previously seen in my previous articles, the Witcher 2 portrays an intricate and complex political plot. It is thus to be expected that there would be several political chessmasters plotting, calculating and scheming in their effort to win the grand game; with the likes of Henselt desiring to conquer Aedirn and spread his influence to Temeria, Philippa Eilhart orchestrating the rise of a new state and the restoration of the Council and Conclave, Radovid plotting the demise of the Lodge and the annexation of Temeria, and Letho backstabbing one ally after the other to achieve his goals. It is interesting then that perhaps the most impressive chessmaster of the game didn’t even appear.  
I am of course talking about the Emperor of Nilfgaard, The White Flame Dancing on the Barrows of His Enemies, Emhyr Var Emreis.
This article will focus on Emhyr’s plan as orchestrated in the game, by following his three agents, Shilard Fitz-Oseterlen, Letho of Gulet and Cynthia, and see how they coordinated with each other to fulfill their objectives to soften the North for an invasion.
Before doing so, I will first briefly introduce the Nilfgaardian Empire and Emhyr Var Emreis. Then I shall provide a quick description of each agent and their goals. I will then proceed with describing the chain of events that they were involved in throughout the game. Finally I will attempt to summarize how they coordinated with each other in a diagram, demonstrating their own ingenuity and resourcefulness, as well as the brilliance of Emhyr’s stratagem.

I. The White Flame
     The mighty Nilfgaardian Empire is the largest polity in the known world, spanning more than half the entire continent. It is mostly inhabited by humans, but they pride themselves on the elven blood running through their veins. Indeed, the Nilfgaardian language is derived from the Elven Elder language.  Thus the Empire, in contrast to the North, treats nonhumans relatively well. On the otherhand mages are distrusted and more restricted than their northern counterparts. The Empire is characterized by its advanced economy, technology and culture. However it is notorious for its highly aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, conquering dozens of realms and aiming to bring the entire continent under its rule. Compared to the North, its political system is more centralized in the hands of the Emperor, making it more authoritarian, though throughout its history emperors had their power disputed and challenged by the nobility

 The current Emperor of Nilfgaard is Emhyr Var Emreis, who bears the title of Deithwen Addan yn Carn aep Morvudd (The White Flame Dancing on the Barrows of His Enemies). He was cursed by a group of conspirators who opposed his father’s rule before coming of age. He was cursed to turn into a hideous creature from dawn till midnight, effectively making it impossible for him to fulfill his birthright. The curse was broken however thanks to Geralt of Rivia and Emhyr was subsequently able to take his throne and exact a terrible vengeance on the conspirators.
Sharing his predecessors’ expansionist ambitions and further motivated by his search for Ciri, his biological daughter who prophecy suggests will give birth to a messianic figure, Emhyr Var Emreis sought to conquer the North.
The First Northern War resulted in the complete and ruthless conquest of Cintra by Nilfgaard, but the advance on the North was halted at the Battle of the Sodden Hill, where Northern mages among whom are future Lodge founders like Philippa Eilhart and Triss Merigold, proved a deciding factor. The Second Northern War was launched preemptively by Nilfgaard as Northern kingdoms were preparing to attack and liberate Cintra. The Thanedd Coup which saw the schism and destruction of the Council and Conclave of Magi, between Nilfgaardian supporters, opponents and neutrals, marked the beginning of the war.  Attacking on three separate fronts and aided by elves in the North who organized in military units known as the Socia’Tael, the Empire made steady progress. However, due to the opposition to Emhyr on the part of Nilfgaardian lords who were responsible for the Western and Eastern armies, in addition to their incompetence, the center army was isolated and defeated in Temeria at the decisive Battle of Brenna. The Northern Kingdoms launched a counter-attack and retook lost grounds. The Peace of Cintra restored the status-quo antebellum, with the notable exception of the creation of an autonomous Dol Blathanna, an Elven state in Aedirnian territory.  Nilfgaardian ambitions however were hardly stopped, only postponed.
As it turns out, they didn’t have to wait long. Six years after the Peace of Cintra, Emhyr Var Emreis concocted a stratagem which will bring the North to its knees and pave the way for another invasion.  After the White Wolf Geralt of Rivia gave himself to the Wild Hunt to free his love Yennefer, his companion and friend Letho cared for and protected the amnesiac sorceress. They were however discovered by the Imperial Intelligence and brought to its head, Vattier de Rideaux. Nilfgaardian mages magically extracted memories from Yennefer and through them learned of the existence of the secret Lodge of Sorceresses led by Philippa Eilhart, who aimed to fortify the North against imperial incursions. This was brought to the Emperor’s attention, who visited Letho in person and offered a proposal. In exchange for assassinating Northern Kings and shifting the blame on the Lodge, Emhyr would revive the now extinct Witcher School of the Viper, where Letho and his comrades came to be. Letho, impressed with the Emperor, agreed and thus Emhyr’s plan was set in motion.
The Emperor of Nilfgaard’s political and strategic brilliance is as we will see aptly demonstrated in his planning and his selection of agents who proved up to the enormous task. 

II. The agents of the Emperor
The Assassins:
The Emissary:
The Spy:

III. The Viper strikes
Three months prior the events of the game, Demavend, king of Aedirn, took a cruise on the Pontar River amidst a civil war threatening his reign. Saskia the Dragonslayer had risen to lead a peasant revolt to overthrow the feudal system and the monarchy, commanding it with military efficiency.  The weakened and unpopular Demavend evaded his kingly responsibilities and the defeats he suffered, indulging in his debauchery on the mighty Pontar. Little did he know that the river that demarcates the Aedirnian-Kaedweni border would prove to be his watery grave.  For the Viper moved in for the kill.
Emhyr’s gambit of turning the North against the mages was unwittingly and ironically assisted by the Lodge of Sorceresses itself ordering the King of Aedirn’s death, to pave the way for Saskia to create a new state that they would control. Sile, who Letho was with for a period of time, asked the giant of a man who she believed was easy to manipulate, to kill Demavend for her. Letho mused that if Nilfgaard wanted to sow chaos, the North was a very fertile soil; all it needs is a little push. Utilizing the bomb Sile gave him in addition to his own Witcher skills and speed, Letho made short work of Demavend and his guards, and then went into hiding with the Scoia’Tael where he forged an alliance with their leader Iorveth.  During that time, the fourth Witcher of the Vipers attempted to assassinate King Foltest of Temeria, but fell to Witcher Geralt’s blade. Letho, in league with Iorveth, aimed to rectify this failure contrary to Sile’s wishes and the Lodge’s interests.
After dealing with the Vizima uprising and attempted coup from the Order, Foltest faced another challenge to his reign. The La Valettes rose up in rebellion using Foltest’s bastard children, Anais and Boussy, from the baroness as their banner.  Letho planted himself in the La Valette castle disguised as a monk months in advance, predicting that Foltest’s children would be taken to the monastery where their unsuspecting father would rush to retrieve them.  The trap was set.
It is during this war that Shilard Fitz-Osterlen, the emissary of Emhyr, began his assignment under the guise of trying to minimalize instability in the kingdoms bordering Nilfgaard. Emhyr being aware of the timing of Foltest’s assassination seems unlikely as it’s improbable that he had been in contact with Letho. However the emperor could have very well sensed that this rebellion presented the perfect opportunity for Letho to carry out his mission, where Fotlest could be isolated and eliminated in the chaos of battle. He might have sent Shilard there in time to take advantage of Foltest’s murder, should it take place. Regardless, Shilard’s presence amidst internal instability in Temeria is in and of itself an opportunity to test the waters, expose the Temerian monarchy’s weaknesses and take advantage of them.  Furthermore, Shilard’s presence in Temeria is a pit stop in his journey to Kaedwen. As shown in the emissary’s second letter to the emperor, Emhyr had planned to have Shilard meet with King Henselt of Kaedwen.
      Ambassador Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen’s second letter to the Emperor
    To His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Nilfgaard Emhyr var Emreis - private and confidential
    Your Imperial Majesty! After visiting Foltest (may he rest in peace), as planned I am now the guest of Henselt , whom I aim to present Your Imperial Majesty’s offer. Kaedwen is a quarrelsome nation with an unreliable king and a wild nobility. Sympathies and allegiances shift time and again. Manipulating them takes no real skill. I note that Renuald aep Matsen has also taken up station in the barbarous North. I would take this occasion to express my doubt that sending him was necessary. Your Imperial Majesty knows that I do not trust the man and suspect he is hiding something from me.
    Your Imperial Majesty’s Ever Faithful Servant,
    Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen

Furthermore, the first letter shows that Emhyr was aware of the planned Conference of Loc Muinne, which aimed to restore the Council and Conclave of magi. The major rulers of the North as well as some of the most influential mages will be present. It would be the perfect setting to execute the grand stratagem, a fact both Emhyr and Shilard are aware of. 
Letho and Iorveth’s predictions unfolded perfectly, as Foltest was struck unawares by the Viper. Geralt, who had been working as Foltest’s bodyguard ever since his first assassination attempt, was powerless to stop his old friend Letho, who he did not recognize due to his amnesia. Shilard aimed to take full advantage of what has transpired, to fulfill his primary and secondary objectives.
If Geralt killed Aryan La Valette, the male heir of the rebelling family, during the battle, the baroness Mary Louisa La Valette finds herself imprisoned and forced to testify that Foltest’s children by her are not his but in fact her own son’s. Already we see Temerian nobles attempting to remove the bastards’ claim to the throne for their own interests, something that Shilard intends to take full advantage of. He offers the baroness protection for her and her children, which would for all intents and purposes make the La Valettes subservient to the empire, a fact Mary Louisa is aware of but unable to avoid if she wanted protection for herself and her children. Little did she know however that Shilard had other plans for Anais and Boussy, which he would concoct regardless of Aryan’s fate.  The Imperial emissary set sail to Henselt’s camp on the banks of the Pontar as the Kaedweni army prepared to conquer Upper Aedirn.

IV. Preparation for Loc Muinne
As was mentioned earlier, Emhyr planned for Shilard to meet with King Henselt and present a proposal. The proposal in question is unknown and as the third letter from Shilard to the Emperor shows, it was rejected. Perhaps Nilfgaard proposed an alliance with Kaedwen, or sought to enlist Henselt’s aid in destroying the Lodge. Whatever the emperor’s specific plans in this affair were, they are unknown and up for speculation. What we do know is that Shilard’s presence in the Loc Muinne Conference was paramount for the plan to succeed; it was insured by Henselt, who invited the ambassador to the talks.
It is doubtful that Henselt invited a Nilfgaardian ambassador to a talk concerning the North, when he is faced with notoriety and dissent at home in large part due to his dealings with the Empire during the 2nd Northern War,  without something substantial in return. Without a doubt, the reward for Henselt’s compliance is Anais La Valette, Foltest’s bastard daughter and heir.
The Nilfgaardian Empire always attracted the loyalty and subservience of a number of Northern nobles seeking to advance their own power. Count Maravel, the most powerful of Temerian lords alongside Baron Kimbolt, was one such noble who sought the Temerian crown and desired Imperial assistance.  Receiving instructions from Shilard, Count Maravel arranged for the convoy carrying Anais and Boussy to Loc Muinne to be ambushed and the children kidnapped, though Boussy died by accident during the attack. He also implicated his rival Kimbolt in the deed, who ironically was also planning to attack the convoy but was beaten to it by Maravel. As instructed, Maravel then sent Anais to the Kaedwenis. This plan allowed Shilard to secure a seat in the talks of Loc Muinne.
However, one additional element was needed for Emhyr’s plan to be executed. Shilard required official proof of the Lodge’s existence as well as the names of its leaders, to push the Northern Kings to act against them. Yennefer would not be a reliable source considering her amnesia and the North would be ill-pressed to believe Niflgaardian mages. Fate presented the Nilfgaardians with an opportunity: Triss’ presence in the Pontar Valley. 
Triss, as Emhyr knew, is a founding member of the Lodge, though she did not participate in their plan to assassinate Demavend. As Letho was beset by the White Wolf, the Blue Stripes, Sile de Tansarville and the Scoia’Tael that he had betrayed, he resorted to kidnapping Triss and forcing her to teleport them both away from Flotsam to Upper Aedirn. Once there, Letho let Triss go and went his way to join his comrades, Serrit and Auckes, in planning Henselt’s assassination. Sensing her presence, Philippa Eilhart sent her apprentice Cynthia to turn her into a statuette and bring her to Vergen, where she would not interfere with the Lodge’s plans. In addition, Philippa most likely acquired a petal from the rose of remembrance from Triss at that moment, which she would end up using to influence Saskia’s mind and ensure her obedience.   
It is very unlikely that Emhyr predicted that Triss would end up in the Pontar Valley. But it is an opportunity he certainly takes advantage of, being able to do so by the brilliant placement of his agents in critical locations ahead of time. The Black Ones succeeded in spite of the apparition of a spectral mist seperating the Kaedwenis and Vergen. In the events surrounding Triss’ capture by the Nilfgaardians, Cynthia proved the most critical piece.
After his discovery of Philippa Eilhart’s de facto leadership of the Lodge and her adamant opposition to Nilfgaard, Emhyr surely identified her as a serious threat and one he needed to keep under surveillance. He had an agent planted at Philippa’s side months in advance. That agent was Cynthia, sorceress apprentice of Vanhemar and a member of Imperial Intelligence.  How she met Philippa is unknown, but she became the apprentice of the veteran sorceress. She masqueraded as Philippa’s masochist lover, allowing the leader of the Lodge to indulge in her domineering tastes to lull her into complacency.  It must be reminded that Philippa Eilhart is, as Dandelion describes, the mistress of politics and manipulation. Cynthia being able to trick the great Eilhart speaks volume about her ability.  
As Shilard’s first letter declares, the sorcerer Vanhemar directed Cynthia’s actions.
      Ambassador Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen’s first letter to the Emperor
    To His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Nilgaard Emhyr var Emreis – private and confidential
    Your Imperial Majesty! I hasten to report that the sorcerer Vanhemar has indeed proven right for the role assigned to him. He keeps his apprentice Cynthia on a short leash and displays nothing approaching excessive ambition. I believe him to be of unquestionable loyalty, and his abilities are more than adequate to server Your Imperial Majesty’s objectives. The summit will be the final test. We will see how he behaves there, and if he proves more capable of resisting temptation than his female colleagues did. Please convey my kindest regards to Your Consort.
    Your Imperial Majesty’s Ever Faithful Servant,
    Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen

This seems to imply that Vanhemar and Cynthia were in some sort of contact, either via magical means or conventional ones.  We have examples of people being able to cross the mist and Vanhemar could certainly provide magical assistance in the same fashion as Dethmold to do so, so communication between the Nilfgaardian agents is not impossible. Thus the most likely scenario that might have occurred is that Shilard was informed by Cynthia of Triss’ presence in Upper Aedirn, which led him to issue these orders:
   “To all unit commanders:
By order of His Imperial Majesty, I hereby command the capture of the sorceress Triss Merigold, considered to be at large in Upper Aedirn. The sorceress should be brought to me alive and in secret. Not a single hair is to fall from her head.
   Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen”

The letter also implies that emperor Emhyr became aware of Triss’ predicament, though that could be a figure of speech used by Shilard or the capture of Triss Merigold had always been part of Shilard’s objective.
Then Cynthia would have informed the emissary of Triss’ imprisonment in a statuette by Philippa, and was instructed by him to deliver the statuette to his soldiers who waited at the other side of the mist for the rendezvous.  Shilard’s conversation with Geralt in Henselt’s camp, on Roche’s path, further demonstrates the likelihood of this scenario. During the conversation, Shilard makes allusions to a beauty trapped within a statuette, which leaves Geralt confounded. Shilard had not captured Triss by that time, so his knowledge of the statuette must have been given to him by Cynthia, showing that communication and effective coordination between the two agents had happened.  
Cynthia proved supremely successful in this critical maneuver and subsequently disappeared to avoid Philippa’s retaliation. Triss, the proof the Nilfgaardians needed, was now in their hands. It is also important to note that Emhyr, as Shilard says, had taken interest in Geralt’s reemergence after his presumed death. Indeed it is likely for this reason that Shilard assisted in Geralt’s escape from the La Valettes dungeon should Aryan be killed. It is very possible that the capture of Triss Merigold, the Witcher’s friend and / or lover, would also serve the secondary purpose of luring the White Wolf to Emhyr Var Emreis.
Armed with proof of the Lodge’s existence and guaranteed a presence in the Conference, Shilard was ready to set for Loc Muinne. Letho, becoming aware of the critical talks, determined that Henselt’s assassination was no longer necessary, and he also set for the ruined city, leaving behind his comrades to murder the Kaedweni king. Cynthia as well was redeployed to Loc Muinne to carry out a mission of a different nature with vital and terrifying implications.

V. The Coup de Grâce
Shilard and his military attaché commanded by Renuald aep Matsen set up camp in the ruins of Loc Muinne, away from the Temerian, Kaedweni and Redanian camps. Their distaste of northerners notwithstanding, the elven ruins of Loc Muinne must have struck a chord in Nilfgaardian hearts, considering their elven heritage. King Radovid’s Order of the Flaming Rose was present in force to maintain order, and of course to be used by the young Redanian king to further his interests.    Tensions were high in what was expected to be a decisive moment in Northern history.
Emhyr set his eyes on Loc Muinne for an additional reason. Receiving her new objectives, Cynthia organized a “scientific expedition,” comprised of Adalbert, the two alchemists Gaspar and Farid, and herself.  The expedition aimed to discover an ancient forgotten secret deep within the city’s catacombs where the famed sorcerer Deahernna spent some time researching the fate of the original inhabitants of the city, the Vrans. On Iorveth’s path, Gaspar and Farid enlist Geralt’s aid, which he can refuse and kill the Nilfgaardians then and there before they even start the expedition. Or he can join them with the promise from Cynthia that she would reveal part of Geralt’s past that she learned from intelligence reports.  Once they reach Deahernna’s chamber after dealing with its golem guardian, they find a prototype megascope, a magical device that would allow the user to see people they have a connection to regardless of distance. Its potential spying application made it an attractive prize.
Geralt can decide that letting the Nilfgaardians take the device is too dangerous and ends up killing Cynthia and Adalbert. Or he can allow them to leave. Or he can demand trying the device once before letting them leave, a proposition Cynthia finds agreeable but which angers Adalbert and pushes him to attack the Witcher. Cynthia sides with Geralt and helps him eliminate her colleague, which considering the competitiveness of mages and intelligence operatives is probably not done out of a sense of altruism on her part. After using the device, Cynthia reveals to Geralt that he was once a rider in the Wild Hunt and the fact that he survived the ordeal has caught the attention of many important people. The Witcher and Cynthia then part ways, potentially on rather amicable terms.  
As it turns out, Cynthia was lying and hiding the true goal of the expedition. While the megascope is a valuable bonus, her true objective was Deahernna’s research notes. Deahernna discovered that the Vrans were wiped out by an artificially made virus, created by the elves. His notes reveal how the virus was created. If Cynthia succeeds in her objectives, Emhyr acquires the formula for creating a deadly virus which causes infertility to its victims. The Nilfgaardian Empire has shown itself capable of extreme ruthlessness in the past to achieve its goals, and now it was armed with a terrifyingly effective biological weapon.
While Cynthia was working towards fulfilling her directives, Shilard had begun to set the stage for the grand finale. He summoned the Nilfgaardian sorceress, Assire Var Anahid, to release Triss from the statuette. After doing so, he and Renuald kill Assire, who they know is part of the Lodge. He then joined king Radovid’s side.
Radovid the Stern had been planning to destroy the Lodge of sorceresses and Philippa Eilhart in particular long before the events of the game. Philippa Eilhart was now the only person challenging his otherwise undisputed rule, which he ruthlessly imposed on the unsuspecting nobles who had ignored and mistreated him as a child. Radovid did not require Shilard to motivate him to do so. Indeed Radovid was already ready to make his move, thanks to his absorption of the Order of the Flaming Rose, a militant order that harbors extreme distrust towards mages, and his sway over Carduin of Lan Exeter, the would be main spokesman of the Council and Conclave who would fight the Lodge to earn the king’s approval. He immediately cornered and captured Philippa Eilhart when she reached Loc Muinne, and threw her in his dungeon.
However Radovid, as demonstrated in the game, is one who generally prefers to be seen as acting within the confines of the law. Furthermore, he speaks of Nilfgaard owing him a favor. It seems likely that he is referring to the elimination of the Lodge. While Radovid wanted to do it anyways irrespective of the Empire’s wishes, he could have believed it doubly beneficial to make it look like Nilfgaard owed him this.  The exact dealings between Radovid and Shilard are a mystery for now, but it does seem that Radovid sees the empire itself as a pawn on his chessboard. Whether it is delusion, or masterful planning and calculation, or perhaps a mixture of both is unknown.  
Regardless, Shilard reveals Philippa Eilhart’s complicity in the assassinations to the Stern King and gives him a list of Lodge members compiled from Triss’ confession. Radovid deals with Philippa brutally and promises that she will be executed after trial. At around that time, Letho of Gulet reached Loc Muinne and met with Shilard, where they planned their coup de grâce.
 The plan was for Letho to feign capture at the hands of the Nilfgaardians after a failed attempt on Shilard’s life. Dragged into the talks, Letho would confess to being behind the assassinations on the orders of the Lodge of Sorceresses. This public confession would turn the Northern Monarchs against the Lodge and prevent the creation of the Council and Conclave. Depending on Geralt’s choice, one of two scenarios takes place.
If he decides to help Roche or Iorveth and leave Triss in Nilfgaardian hands, the Nilfgaardian plot proceeds as planned. Letho confesses publically and Radovid orders his Knights of the Flaming Rose to seize all mages until they can be trialed. Sile de Tanserville is rescued by the intervention of the dragon controlled by Philippa, who was freed from prison thanks to Iorveth. The dragon attack subsequently leads to chaos as a mage pogrom ensued. Mages in Loc Muinne were massacred without pity, as Radovid looks at a burning Loc Muinne with grim satisfaction at the beginning of a new order. 
If Geralt on the other hand chooses to rescue Triss, she reveals to the attendees of the conference the culpability of the Lodge in the assassinations of Demavend and Foltest but makes sure to dissociate the rest of the mages from it. This results in Radovid destroying the Lodge, but he allows the Council and Conclave to be established.  As mentioned earlier, his sway over Carduin enables him to put the mages on a short leash and demand their support in hunting down associates of the Lodge. However a massacre instigated by Kaedweni and Temerian elements erupts in Loc Muinne, due to Kaedwen and Redania’s plan to divide the leaderless Temeria amongst themselves. The Order of the Flaming Rose intervenes and massacres Temerian nobles and knights, who most likely were deemed an obstacle by Radovid to his ambitions regarding his southern neighbor.
When trying to free Triss, Geralt takes Shilard hostage to bargain for an exchange. He and Shilard however were shocked when Renuald aep Matsen killed the ambassador without hesitation. It is in fact revealed that Renuald, a member of the Elite Impera Brigade which acts as the personal guard of the emperor, had received instructions from Emhyr that Shilard had become disposable.
     Letter of the Emperor of Nilfgaard to Renuald aep Matsen
    Private and confidential
    I agree with the conclusions of your reports. Fitz-Oesterlen has failed and we cannot allow his ineptitude to foil my plans. I hereby authorize you to resolve this problem by any means you deem fit, should such a need arise.

It is not clear which failure Emhyr is referring to. It is possibly a reference to the failure to convince Henselt to agree to Emhyr’s as of yet unknown proposal, as shown in Shilard’s second letter. However as far as the primary objective is concerned (that we are aware of) , Shilard performed rather well, as regardless of the outcome the Lodge of Sorceresses is destroyed. It seems more likely that the “failure’ refers to Shilard’s desire to have Geralt killed.
      Ambassador Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen’s third letter to the Emperor
    To His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Nilfgaard Emhyr var Emreis - private and confidential
    Your Imperial Majesty! As Your Imperial Majesty foresaw, my negotiations with Henselt proved an uphill battle. He rejected Your Imperial Majesty’s proposition. Furthermore, I believe the so-called Lodge will soon cease to serve our aims. For now, the headstrong sorceresses are mitigated by the actions of witcher Geralt, but in my opinion he knows too much already and will need to be eliminated soon. Upon the conclusion of the summit in Loc Muinne, I will immediately inform Your Imperial Majesty of the summit’s results and of the circumstances of the witcher’s death.
    Your Imperial Majesty’s Ever Faithful Servant,
    Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen

The letter reveals two things. Firstly, that Henselt’s rejection of the proposal seems to have been foreseen by Emhyr. If that is true, then it would seem improbable that he would have Shilard killed for a failure they both were prepared for. Secondly, that Shilard determined that Geralt’s death was necessary. As Shilard said earlier, the emperor had taken personal interest in Geralt’s return. Indeed, considering their history together and the respect Emhyr has for the Witcher, it is possible that he is adamant about Geralt remaining alive. In addition as Cynthia reveals, Imperial Intelligence had taken interest in Geralt and his experience with the Wild Hunt, providing more reason for wanting him alive. It thus seems more likely that Emhyr sought to punish Shilard for the liberty he’s taken when it comes to the White Wolf. But this hypothesis is undermined by Renuald attempting to kill Geralt after he storms the Nilfgaardian camp anyways. Perhaps even Renuald did not fully know the extent of Emhyr’s plans or thought that self-defense is a valid enough excuse. For now, we can only speculate the reasons behind Emhyr’s letter to Renuald. 
As for Letho, he replaced Sile’s diamond used to operate her teleporter with a defective one that would kill her. Geralt either saves Sile from being torn to bits, or elects not to. Letho rescues Triss for Geralt if he didn’t do so himself and waits for him in the ruins. After explaining everything to his old friend and offering vodka, the two Witchers either clash, resulting in Letho’s death, or bid each other farewell. 
Regardless of the outcome at Loc Muinne, the stage was set for the Nilfgaardian invasion.

VI. The Black Sun Rises
Around the time of the Conerence, the massive Nilfgaardian army marched north and forded the Yaruga River meeting no resistance. They attacked both Temeria and Lyria / Aedirn simultaneously, mirroring their attempted invasion during the Second War.  The White Flame’s plan was, thanks to brilliant execution from Letho, Shilard and Cynthia, supremely successful.
King Foltest of Temeria, one of the mightiest kings of the North who was instrumental in their victory over the Empire at Brenna, was dead and his kingdom destabilized.  If Henselt is dead and Anais is not acquired by Radovid or Natalis, Temeria is divided amongst its lords into provinces, making it an easy meal for the Black Ones. Or Interex Natalis becomes regent to Anais and attempts to rally a united defense. Or Henselt and Radovid divide Temeria amongst themselves in an attempt to halt the Nilfgaardian advance. Or Radovid, who had been building up his forces, acquires Anais and makes Temeria his protectorate.  Regardless, the Nilfgaardians penetrate deeply into Temerian territory, closing in on its capital Vizima.
Aedirn had fallen in civil war during King Demavend’s final days and the Aedirnian army was severely weakened by Saskia’s rebellion.  The situation is further exacerbated with Demavend’s death and Henselt’s campaign to take the Pontar Valley. Henselt can succeed in his invasion, though could end up dead in the process at the hands of Vernon Roche, spelling potential disaster for Kaedwen as he has no heirs.  Or he survives, annexes the Pontar Valley, and brings the rest of Aedirn under his sphere of influence as Demavend’s sole heir, Prince Stennis is dead.  Or Saskia successfully defends her nascent state, the Free Pontar, which is officially recognized in Loc Muinne.  In that scenario, Stennis is either dead or crowned king of Aedirn minus the Pontar Valley. Saskia can end up dead, or freed from Philippa’s control, or still enthralled to her will. The Nilfgaardians however overcome the whole of Lyria and advance on Vengerberg, the capital of Aedirn.
Moreover the Empire potentially acquires the megascope but more importantly, schematics for creating a deadly virus.  
Finally, the Conference in Loc Muinne ends with the defeat and scattering of the Lodge of Sorceresses, a principal opponent of Nilfgaard’s expansionism. Philippa Eilhart runs for her life, beaten though not necessarily out of the game yet. Potentially, the Council and Conclave is never created and a witch hunt ensues in the ruined city, which spreads to the whole North as news of the sorceresses’ plots reaches the masses. The North turned on the mages as Emhyr had planned. Or the Council and Conclave is established, aiding Radovid in hunting down members of the Lodge, and a mage pogrom never took place, although this would preclude Geralt from ameliorating the situation as far as Temeria or Aedirn is concerned. In this scenario, tension between Temerians, Kaedwenis and Redanians escalate into a massacre. Regardless of scenario, the talks go out of hand and slip into chaos, with the Lodge ending up virtually annihilated.  
Below is a diagram attempting to summarize the actions of Shilard Fitz-Oestleren, Cynthia and Letho of Gulet. The star denotes outcomes depending on Geralt’s choices.(click image to enlarge)
In all possible outcomes, Emhyr Var Emreis’ brainchild proves successful and the Nilfgaardian Empire now holds the upper hand.
Letho remarks: “No matter the war’s outcome, the Northern monarchs will accuse one another, pursue their god given rights, seek vengeance and be at each other’s throats for years to come.”
 The chaos and instability engineered by Emhyr could indeed result in such an outcome, which Nilfgaard would benefit from for years even in the case of a military stalemate or setback.
The complexity of the orchestrated plan, the surgical nature of the stratagem, and the effective communication and coordination between the handpicked agents who proved themselves resourceful, cunning and proactive, truly marks the Emperor of Nilfgaard, Emhyr Var Emreis, whose shadow fell over the North, as the most impressive chessmaster of The Witcher 2.