This is the story of a hunt for a legendary golden dragon Villentretenmerth. The story also expands on the relationship between the sorceress Yennefer and Geralt the witcher, which began in earlier short stories.
Geralt has been hired to kill a basilisk lurking in a ruined crypt near Barefield. As the story opens, it has been quite some time since the witcher disappeared into the crypt, and the peasants are beginning to mutter amongst themselves that he must be dead by now, otherwise he would have reappeared. Acting on this assumption, they decide to take the witcher's belongings. Just when they are about to reach for the pack, a knight – Borch Three Jackdaws – appears accompanied by two Zerrikanian warriors: Téa and Véa. He makes it clear that this would not be a very good idea at all and the presence of his "entourage" gives the mob pause to consider this.
Fortunately Geralt emerges from the crypt, filthy and dragging the head of the now defunct basilisk. Faced with a very much alive witcher and the knight's party, the peasants back down and flee leaving the alderman to pay Geralt the agreed 200 lintars. The witcher and Borch exchange greetings and thanks, and then the knight invites Geralt to join him at a local inn, "The Pensive Dragon". Geralt is pleased to see that the fact that he is a witcher is no deterrent to potential friendship and agrees to the invitation of an amicable evening.
Once at the inn, the group settles in for an evening of food, wine and conversation. Over the course of their discussion, Borch inquires whether or not Geralt would kill dragons. Geralt explains that no, he would not. It is not dragons who terrorize humans, but the reverse. The knight is pleased to hear this and then excuses himself briefly. While he is away, Geralt takes the opportunity to ask Vea why she travels with Borch. To his surprise, she responds "Because he is the most beautiful".
The next day, Geralt, Borch and the Zerrikanians set out towards Hengfors. Not long into their journey, they are stopped at the border (the only bridge across the Braa for miles) and told that they may not continue without a letter of safe-conduct. As it happens, Dandelion is also among the other travelers who have also recently been barred passage. He tells Geralt that king Niedamir is in the area hunting a dragon who recently appeared.
After this dragon allegedly terrorized a nearby village, the villagers decided to trap and kill it. The local shoemaker, Sheepbagger, planted a dead sheep stuffed with hellebore, belladonna, hemlock, sulfur, pitch and tacks in the middle of their flock as bait for the beast. And just to be sure, the local apothecary added two measures of carbuncle salve to the mixture which was then blessed by the local priest of Kreve.
While there were a few initial concerns that the saurian would decimate the flock before eating the "offering", the locals were happily surprised to see the beast make a bee-line for the bait. The lizard devoured it in one gulp and then tried to fly off, but fell to the ground almost immediately. At this point the local gravedigger and the village idiot decided to go and check to see if the dragon was indeed dead. Not the best move as it was not dead, but severely weakened. So much so, that it was only able to suck their blood before trying once again to fly off. After a few more attempts, it was able to limp away clearly suffering, but the locals want it dead and feel that its treasure belongs to them, after all, dragons always have a hoard of treasure.
The witcher finds the whole story rather preposterous as dragons have not been seen in the area for years, but the bard assures him that while his tales might suffer from a bit of (necessary!) embellishment, they were essentially true. Borch seems interested in the fact that the dragon was not killed but more concerned that they have nothing to drink and sends his "girls" off to get some.
King Niedamir has his own reasons for tracking the beast, and strangely enough the treasure is not his primary goal. The title of "dragon killer" is what he is after. This would help him secure the hand of the princess of Malleore which would satisfy his political objectives and fit nicely into a trumped-up local legend that she may only marry a "dragon-killer". The king does not want this plan exposed so he sends out a call for a dragon hunting crew. This call is answered by: Eyck of Denesle, a knight, Boholt and his men, the Crinfrid Reavers, Yarpen Zigrin, a dwarf and his crew, the shoemaker Sheepbagger and a sorceress.
After a time, Tea and Vea return with beer and a mage in tow: Dorregaray, who is also interested in taking part in the expedition, but not a hunt. The mage is also without a letter of safe conduct and Dandelion wastes no time in pointing out that one of his colleagues apparently already does, the sorceress with the king's party. At this point, Dorregarary guesses quite correctly that said sorceress is none other than Yennefer. Hearing that Yennefer is with the king's party, Geralt decides to join the hunt. He goes to take his leave of Borch, but the latter informs that there is nothing in particular which forces him to go to Hengfors right away and that he would be happy to continue with the witcher.
The witcher has had enough of sitting around and attempts to bribe the border guard with 200 gold, but his offer is refused. Borch raises the offer to 500 and tells Geralt to put his purse away. This is enough to sway the guard who then starts fretting about what he will tell his superiors. Dorregaray seals the deal by telling him to simply say he was scared senseless by a magical display and promptly sets a large nearby pine ablaze with a wave of his hand. The new larger party then crosses the river and continues on its way to join the dragon hunting expedition.
Before too long, the witcher and his party meet up with Yarpen Zigrin.
The various camps have rather different plans for the dragon. Boholt and Yarpen formed an alliance with Yennefer, Eyck wanted to kill a dragon in a fair fight, Dandelion wanted to witness the events firsthand and write an epic ballad. Geralt meets with Yennefer but the sorceress is not interested in talking to him. She cannot forgive him for simply disappearing for 4 years. She states that she is here solely to collect dragon tissue with which she hopes to create an elixir to treat her infertility. She desperately wants to be a mother but can't. Niedamir is bored by the bickering and decides to appoint a marshal, Gyllenstiern.
The journey continues. Yennefer and Geralt gritting their teeth, Dorregaray teasing Geralt and calling him a killer of endangered species, and Eyck shouting to cleanse the ranks of non-humans. Meanwhile, the team, having reached a narrow section in an already rocky path, is caught in a rockslide. Most of them manage to get across the next bridge before it collapses, but part of the team is left behind. Geralt and Yennefer fall into the canyon but at the last moment the witcher manages to plant his dagger into the timbers of the bridge and grabs it with both hands. Yen is left clinging to the scabbards on his back. While they dangle perilously, they have ample opportunity to overhear what is being said about them above - not the least of which is a plan to wait until the enchantress becomes exhausted and falls to her death. Eventually, the honorable Eyck decides to throw them a magic elven rope.
Borch and the Zerrikankians disappear. The situation is tense for the team. Eyck considers the avalanche a divine punishment for allowing the presence of heathens, such as the witcher and the dwarves on the team. Geralt quarrels with him briefly but decides not to leave. Suddenly shouts are heard announcing that a dragon is very close at hand, but not the one for which the hunt was organized. The group face an enormous golden dragon, a living legend, in which Geralt had never previously believed. Despite impassioned pleas from Dandelion and Dorregaray, the group decides to kill the beast.
The troubadour sees the dragon as a living legend, and such legends should be left alone. Sheepbagger proposes to use the same ploy he used with the other dragon, namely a poisoned sheep carcass as bait, but the dwarf, Yarpen scoffs at this plan. The dragon himself decides to address the team using telepathy. He gives them two options: leave or face him in a fair duel using conventional weapons (which is to say, without fireballs, flying or other magic).
Eyck is the first to challenge him, as an honorable duel was exactly what he had hoped to engage in. His entrance is rather comically heralded by Yarpen. Sitting very erect in his saddle, he moves to charge the dragon, but the beast is very agile and effortlessly sends the hapless knight (along with his horse!) flying through the air with a flick of one claw. Next please!
Yennefer decides to convince Geralt to kill the dragon, saying that everything between them would be resolved and that they would go back to their previous relationship. The witcher, however, remembers very clearly her earlier comments which had specifically excluded this possibility. He declares that killing the dragon would go beyond "the limits of possibility" provided for in his code of honor.
Meanwhile, Gyllenstiern is getting antsy having seen Eyck go down so quickly and looks to Boholt and his men. Boholt is quite unimpressed with what has happened so far and accuses Gyllenstiern of using Eyck to fight his battles for him and also of intending to run off with the spoils. The leader of the Reavers renounces the "deal" to help the king saying they will kill the dragon themselves and take the treasure saying that the Caingorn contingent of the party has failed in its quest. Sheepbagger begs the king to let the village militia, who are still on their way via a different route, kill the dragon but Gyllenstiern feels the situation is getting out of hand. He asks the king what the group should do.
The king rather sarcastically thanks his marshal for finally asking his opinion and proceeds to state it. He says that while it is true that he has wasted time chasing the dragon, he has also learned much. He decides to gather his men, including the broken Eyck and leave, suggesting the rest of the group do the same. When Gyllenstiern protests, he states that killing the dragon is not necessary to win the hand of the princess, he has at least twice as many troops as the princess' father so winning her hand is militarily assured anyway. Not that he needs her hand, he only needs her womb, to bear him an heir after which time the princess will be conveniently poisoned, even using Sheepbagger's recipe! The king and his men then leave.
Boholt, Yarpen and Yennefer are all still intent on killing a dragon, but Dorregaray decides to personally put an end to the dragon hunt. Yennefer, however, has other plans and is a bit faster than Dorregaray expects. The mage is soon overwhelmed by the Reavers and the dwarves. Geralt and Dandelion then join the frey, trying to help him but just as the witcher is gaining the upper hand in the fight, Yennefer paralyses him and he falls numbly to the ground, helpless. The sorceress then orders that the three men be tied to the nearby wagons to keep them out of the way.
Yennefer then unexpectedly turns on the Reavers and the dwarves, telling them that they had better high-tail it out of there as well and threatens to geld them all with a spell if they don't comply. The sorceress is not quite as attentive as she should be and Yarpen manages to knock her momentarily senseless with a metal ball to the forehead. While Yennefer is disoriented, the Reavers pounce on her and bind her hands (including, especially her fingers!) with rope and then gag her to make sure she can't use magic against them.
Boholt then takes the opportunity to rip open her blouse and fondle her breasts as she tries in vain to protest. She then ends up also lashed to a wagon wheel, next to the witcher and in full view of the bard. Dandelion, true to his nature seems more concerned at that point with staring at the sorceress' breasts which have been conveniently left exposed.
This leaves Boholt, his men and the dwarves to face off against the dragon. As they stand around discussing and preparing for their next move, the dragon decides to come to them, stating that they were simply taking too long. The Reavers start out confidently enough but they are no more successful than Eyck was. The dragon is simply far better at this than any of them. Yarpen and his entire crew are knocked over with one sweep of Villentretenmerth's tail. Picking themselves up, they high-tail it for the cliffs running rather faster than one might imagine dwarf legs could.
Finally it becomes clear just what the dragon had been so fervently protecting. Not some hoard of treasure as expected, but a baby dragon. The tiny newly hatched dragon immediately makes its way over to Yennefer, nuzzling up to her, much to the envy of Dandelion. It now becomes clear that the dragon Sheepbagger had poisoned back in the village must have been the mother.
Suddenly, the rumbling of wagons alerts everyone to the fact that the local militia, lead by Sheepbagger has finally arrived and what seems like the entire village sets upon the dragon. The beast is simply outnumbered by the villagers who eventually manage to wrap him up in nets. At this point, Yennefer is finally able to speak and demands that the witcher burn the ropes around her ankles using his Igni sign. Geralt initially refuses saying that he can't see what he is doing and will burn her as well. She insists, saying that she'll endure the pain, and that this is their only hope, so he relents.
Once free (if not uninjured!) Yennefer uses her foot to cast a spell at the villagers. Her first effort only manages to change one wagon to a buttery shade of yellow which goes entirely unnoticed by the charging horde. Her next spells are more effective and she manages to turn an entire garrison into toads, square the wheels on another wagon and then, just for spite, change random other villagers into various and sundry beasts.
Meanwhile, the Zerrikanians reappear and start making quick work of the remaining locals, freeing the dragon who promptly takes off after Sheepbagger. The cobbler meets a rather grisly end which is witnessed by all present, but their attention soon turns back to their own predicament as Vea now prepares to kill Yennefer. Luckily for the sorceress, Villentretenmerth intervenes and declares that they will not be killing Lady Yennefer, in fact, they are grateful for her help and orders Vea to untie the prisoners. He then calls down the dwarves who are still clinging to the nearby cliff, telling them to go tend to the Reavers who do need help. He assures everyone that the killing spree is over.
The golden dragon then returns to human form, that of the knight called Borch Three Jackdaws. It seems that Borch is actually a dragon who simply takes human form because he can and because, not surprisingly, he attracts too much attention otherwise. Geralt asks him why he chose human form. Borch says that while it is true that humans normally inspire only revulsion in dragons, personally, he likes them.
Borch thanks Geralt and Yennefer for their help and tells them that anyone can see that the witcher and the sorceress were meant for each other, but sadly, nothing will come of their union. Additionally, and to Yennefer's obvious personal disappointment - he cannot cure her infertility. Even the magic of golden dragons has its limits. In less than the blink of an eye, Borch turns back into a dragon and promises his eternal friendship to Geralt, then heads off into the sunset with his new ward and his Zerrikanian companions. Watching him recede, the witcher finally understands Vea's words: Borch truly is the most beautiful.