The story begins with a merchant, Yurga, alone on a crumbling bridge trying to fix the wheel of his cart which has become stuck in the rotting planks of the bridge. Below the bridge is a dry river bed covered in nettles and strewn with human remains, and worse still, he can hear the sounds of a horse approaching. He quickly hides under the tarp, hoping to escape detection. The horseman stops and seems to be aware that someone is hiding in the cart and calls out that he means no harm. After some reflection, Yurga decides to chance it and surfaces.
The horseman turns out to be a witcher; not just any witcher, but Geralt of Rivia himself. The two men discuss the merchant's predicament. Geralt remarks that the wagon is too big for the two of them to pull it free and asks if Yurga was traveling alone. The merchant admits that he did have two traveling companions, his servants Profit and Vell, who took flight leaving him to his own devices. Geralt then suggests simply abandoning the cart and getting to safety before whatever was responsible for the other bodies decides to make a feast of them, but Yurga won't hear of it. That cart is worth a year's income (at least) to him and he's not about to leave it. Geralt shrugs this off and makes to leave when Yurga begs him to help, saying that he'll give him whatever he desires.
Those are the magic words, the invoking of the Law of Surprise. Things settled, Geralt then suggests that Yurga get back in his cart and stay there quietly. He then prepares for the battle to come, and come it does. While Geralt does prevail, he is left gravely wounded and collapses after the fight. Yurga's servants return and help the merchant load the witcher onto the cart. Yurga, it turns out, is a good man and he undertakes to get the witcher to a healer. The rest of the story takes place as Geralt drifts in and out of consciousness on the road back to Yurga's house in Sodden.
They cross the Trava and Geralt regains consciousness long enough for Yurga to explain that they are now out of Temeria and into Sodden. The witcher asks the merchant to hand him one of his potions, which he takes and slips back into unconsciousness. He dreams of the first time he returned to Cintra to claim Ciri, his surprise child from Duny and Pavetta. At first, Geralt does not know the gender of the child and assumes it is a boy. He asks Mousesack which of the gang of playing children is the one, but the druid tells him that Calanthe has forbidden him from telling the witcher. She doesn't want to give Ciri to the witchers and is making things as difficult as possible. The druid also reveals that Calanthe had hired him after the child was born to kill the witcher. At the last moment, she cancelled the plan without any explanation, but Mousesack admits that he would have done her bidding, or at least tried.
Geralt and Calanthe meet and have a protracted discussion about the Law of Surprise and whether or not she will give up the child, but in the end, the witcher explains that he doesn't believe in destiny. It's not enough, there must be something more. He tells the queen that he has no intention of taking Pavetta and Duny's son (as he still doesn't know that they had a daughter). They also discuss witchers and the trials as well as how Geralt himself became a witcher. Here we are told that Mousesack's assertions that Geralt was a surprise child are just stories, that Geralt was abandoned to the witchers by his mother, a sorceress.
The next scene opens at night as Geralt wakes up to find himself being treated by a sorceress and healer, Visenna. Up until this point, he had always wondered if he would ever cross paths with the woman who gave him up to the witchers. He had thought about her from time to time over the years contemplating what he would tell to her, what question he would ask should they ever meet. He assumed it would cause some twisted pleasure to him. Now that the meeting has happened, he's too tired and weak and plans to look her in the eyes and ask his question the next day in the daylight. However Visenna steers Geralt to rest stating he won't want that anymore when he's awake again. By asking rhetorical questions she further dismisses the idea of doing what he plans as it won't change anything. As she finally says a goodbye, Geralt tries to resist her soothing activity and prevent her from disappearing again, but fails.
In the following scene Geralt and Yurga hold a conversation about the aftermath of the second battle of Sodden, Visenna's self-sacrifice while Geralt was unconscious and the locals' feelings towards mages, which stem from the experienced battle and its outcome. When Yurga mentions the number of the fallen mages, Geralt shows signs of instability. Enumerating the mages name by name makes Geralt stop his companion.
Some time after we have Geralt climbing up the Sodden hill towards an obelisk erected there, to read himself the names carved on it. Reading from top down reminiscing about the individuals, three names remain to be read and a rustle interrupts him. A blond haired lady passes by, radiating cold. She kneels down in front of the obelisk covering so the last name of a mage. They talk, he realizes who she is following him all the time. He is tired and peacefully asks about how it happens. She describes her duty. Geralt states he's been afraid of her, but he is not anymore. His appearance tells otherwise though. She challenges him to hear the last name, he says it himself and asks her to do her duty. She declines for today. He states she's taken all from him, but she interrupts him saying she doesn't take anything but hands to hold and accompany those alone, in a mist, which is what everything around fades to.
Yurga wakes Geralt up wondering why the witcher went up there, when he could have been told everything by Yurga. Geralt tests Yurga's memory by asking for the last name of the mage, it turnes out not to be who Geralt has thought. The scene ends by Geralt glancing at all the names on the menhir answering Yurga's question whether Geralt knew the last mage.
The journey continues, and while a good deal better, the witcher is still not out of the woods health-wise. Geralt continues to spend much of the trip resting. When they finally arrive in Sodden. Yurga proceeds to explain that it is more than just unlikely that the witcher will find what he asked for as a reward when they ultimately get there. He and his wife are well past their child-bearing years, so a new family addition is far from likely. They do, however, have two strong, bright sons and having one of them train to be a witcher would not be so bad. Geralt insists that for all the medical care and transportation that the merchant has provided, they are now even and that no further reward is required, but again Yurga proves obstinate and insists.
Just as the river Yaruga comes into view, Geralt slips into one final dream about the same crossing. In the dream, the witcher sees what looks like pandemonium on the banks. The crossing is the scene of quite a commotion as soldiers retreating from the Nilfgaardian assault are preventing peasants who are also trying to flee from crossing the river. The soldiers are intent on getting themselves across and then preventing the Nilfgaardians from following. They tell the peasants to get out their axes and build a raft if they want to cross, the ferry is the army's.
Amidst the furor, Geralt spies Dandelion who has apparently been abandoned along with a cartful of chickens and geese in cages. Geralt calls the bard over and helps him onto his horse and the two catch up on news, but the news is particularly bad. It seems that Cintra, the witcher's original destination on this trip, has been completely overrun by the enemy army and sacked. Worse still, it appears that the entire royal family was either massacred or chose to kill themselves rather than surrender. Calanthe is dead, and most likely Ciri. Since its appears that there is no longer any point to trying to reach Cintra, Geralt decides to join Dandelion and try to find a new crossing.
As they finally near the merchant's home, his wife, Złotolitka, comes running out to meet him, clearly thrilled that he has returned safe and sound. She does have a concern though. While he was away, she took in an extra child, a girl who had been orphaned. Surprise! And now she's worried that Yurga will be angry at having another mouth to feed. It does not take long for the children to come back and among them is a certain ash blonde haired girl with green eyes, Ciri. Geralt and Ciri run to each other and embrace like father and daughter. Ciri says, “It's just like they predicted, Geralt! Like they predicted... I'm your destiny? Say it! I'm your destiny?” In reply Geralt says, “You're more than that, Ciri. More than that.”
- Geralt of Rivia
- Calanthe (flashback)
- Dandelion (flashback)
- Yennefer (flashback)
- Triss Merigold (mentioned-only)