In the world of The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia faces much the same challenges, especially when it comes to the tale of Nivellen. Many of the tales found in Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series of books take inspirations not just from classical fantasy and folklore, but from the myriad of fairy tales born and recycled throughout the Western World. These fairy tales, oft-repeated, provide a glimmer of moral foundation for people, a “Grain of Truth” as it were in terms of how we might treat each other and values we should look to replicate.
Of course, in the context of The Witcher, often these fairy tales are taken as an opportunity to subvert typical fantasy tropes. Not necessarily to devalue fairy tales, but more to align them with realistic expectations we might find today—or, as realistic as one can get with the material. The tale of Nivellen, found in the short story collection The Last Wish, does just that, taking a story that’s familiar with Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast and revealing the potential truths that lie inside.
The story starts off with Geralt of Rivia discovering a pair of mangled bodies in a forest on his travels, noting the slashes and chunks missing from their bodies as well as the contents of their pockets. A merchant and a young woman, who seemed to be leaving Murivel, but decided to trek through the forest instead of the dirt highway. The one thing that catches Geralt’s attention is the blue rose pinned to the dress of the corpse, a sign of beauty against a scene of death.
Following his instincts, Geralt makes his way along the forest path from where the two figures likely came, coming upon a rundown manor, with rosebushes growing along the length of its base; rosebushes with flower buds of a vibrant indigo. Geralt meets two figures here; a young, pale woman with a trailing white dress that leaves just as quickly as she arrives, and a hulking beast that rushes at him from across the manor courtyard. The beast howls and screams, promising the Witcher all manner of violence and despair should he remain, only for Geralt to stand his ground. Not scaring easily, it soon becomes clear that the beast is more bark than bite, and he (rather awkwardly) invites the Witcher inside for a meal.
The two begin to talk as the beast demonstrates the power he has over the manor itself, with its windows, silverware and candle light bending to his will. The monster’s name is Nivellen, and he is, in fact, not a monster at all, but a man that has been cursed. Nivellen explains that he is the third in the line of masters of the manor, with much of the fortune made through the use of robbing passing merchants and even burning settlements for their lack in paying tribute. Becoming the new leader, Nivellen received his own taste of cruel misdeeds and was swept into leading the gang on a series of horrific acts.
One of these involved Nivellen and his gang robbing a temple in Gelibol and then proceeding to strip and sexually assault the young priestess there; during the act, in an act of defiance, the young priestess laid a curse upon Nivellen before taking her own life, saying that “he was a monster in a man’s skin, and he shall become a monster in a monster’s skin.”
Transforming days later, Nivellen chases his gang and remaining family members out of the manor in a fit of panic, and has so spent the past 12 years in the state of a monster. Thinking back to fairy tales and the words the priestess spoke about love and blood, Nivellen believed that his curse might be undone if he were to have a young maiden fall in love with him. Over the course of the past 12 years, Nivellen coerced a number of merchants that visited his manor to leave their daughters with him for a year, in which case he will grant them a small fortune for their trouble.
Of course, the curse never lifts, but Nivellen considers this almost a blessing in disguise; each of the women that he keeps with him wind up warming up to him and enjoying his company, and it becomes clear that Nivellen enjoys the newfound confidence that he has as a beast. The two leave on amicable terms, with Nivellen making Geralt promise him one thing; if he should ever succumb to his monstrous form and lose himself, that the Witcher return and do his duty.
Geralt doesn’t leave the matter entirely alone, however, still concerned about the two dead bodies he found in the forest and realizing that something darker must be in these woods. That’s when he remembers the young woman by the manor, the one that Nivellen told him about; the woman named Vereena. Believing her to be somehow responsible, The Witcher returns, silver sword in hand, to face Vereena head on. The truth is laid bare and Vereena is revealed to be a Bruxa, a female vampiric monster with ties back to Portuguese folklore and beliefs on witchcraft.
Transforming into a large bat, Vereena battles the Witcher, nearly killing him before she’s stabbed through by Nivellen, who tearfully watches the life drain from the woman he truly loved. It’s revealed Vereena truly did love Nivellen, but also needed him under her thrall as a bodyguard so that she could continue to hunt and rule in the land. With the Bruxa killed, Nivellen is returned to his true form, dumbfounded but left with some wise words by Geralt: “there’s a grain of truth in every fairy tale.”
With that said, if you’re interested in seeing any more creatures explored let us know your recommendations! Leave your comments down below and feel free to follow me at @LukeAdaVA on Twitter!