"The Lesser Evil" (Polish: Mniejsze zło) is a short story written by Andrzej Sapkowski and is the fourth story in The Last Wish, having been originally published in the now obsolete book, Wiedźmin. This short story tells the tale of how Geralt came to be known as the Butcher of Blaviken.
On the eve of market day, Geralt rides into Blaviken with a kikimore-carcass in tow. He seeks out Caldemeyn, the town's alderman, to try and get a reward for the dead critter. He's out of luck, though, and Caldemeyn suggests throwing the carcass in the local cesspool. However, one of the town guards, Carrypebble, mentions that the local wizard, Master Irion, might fancy a look at the creature. All agree it's worth a try and head to Irion's tower to find the mage.
Master Irion is far more interested in Geralt than in some kikimore carcass, however. When Geralt steps inside the tower, he steps straight into an illusion. Finding the wizard surrounded by a veritable garden of Eden (complete with a naked, young woman casually picking apples), Geralt recognizes the man as Stregobor, a mage whom he'd last seen in King Idi's court in Kovir, and not "Master Irion" at all. The wizard explains that since he is occupying Irion's tower, that it seemed a fitting tribute to call himself by that name. It also did not hurt to conceal his true identity.
After a few pleasantries, Stregobor finally gets to the point. He pleads for Geralt's help claiming that a "monster" is pursuing him, seeking to kill him. After a little bit of prodding, the wizard confesses to Geralt that the monster is in fact a young woman, whom he says was born under the Curse of the Black Sun. Geralt scoffs at the idea, calling it absurd. Stregobor begs the witcher to help him, to kill the girl saying that she is far more of a monster than the kikimore the witcher recently slew. He insists that it would be "the lesser evil" to kill her. Geralt refuses, and leaves.
Meanwhile, Renfri has entered Blaviken along with her band of miscreants. Geralt meets them all in the tavern the Golden Court and is about to be drawn into a fight when Renfri herself steps in. She asks Geralt to hear her out, and while they are at it, to let the alderman know of her plans. She proceeds to explain that she bears a letter from King Audoen which essentially makes her and her band untouchable. Caldemeyn confirms this.
That night, when Geralt withdraws to his attic room at Caldemeyn's home, he finds Renfri has beaten him there. They talk, the young woman proceeds to tell the witcher her life story. She also compares Stregobor to the kikimore that Geralt brought into town, saying he is a worse monster and offers Geralt the same deal Stregobor did: choose the lesser evil, kill the other, receive any reward within reason.
Geralt refuses, again. He pleads with Renfri to forgive Stregobor, to prove the wizard and the alleged Curse were wrong. She refuses but before she leaves, she gives the impression that she and her band will leave town peacefully, possibly to meet Stregobor somewhere else for a final showdown. Then, she and Geralt make love.
In the morning, during breakfast with Caldemeyn and his family, the alderman casually mentions Tridam, which immediately piques the witcher's interest as Renfri had specifically mentioned a certain "Tridam ultimatum" the night before. When Caldemeyn relates the full story, Geralt suddenly realizes what Renfri's real plan is, and that she is not in fact preparing to leave town at all. She plans to use the fact that the local mage in any given town is duty bound to do what he can to protect the town, so she plans to massacre the townsfolk in the marketplace to draw the wizard out.
Geralt races immediately to the marketplace and finds Renfri's band sizing it up. He chooses to engage them in battle rather than wait for them to fulfill their plan and start killing the townsfolk. Renfri is not with them as she is trying to lure Stregobor from his tower, but she has left a message for the witcher, one final plea to side with her. Civril decides to finish off the witcher with a swift crossbow bolt but is surprised to learn that the witcher can deflect these in flight with his blade. He then orders the band to close ranks and charge the witcher as one. Their plan is quickly and decisively thwarted by Geralt and Renfri only returns in time to see the last of her men fall. She reveals that Stregobor ignored her ultimatum, telling her to do as she will to the townsfolk and the neighbouring towns. She then confronts Geralt and they cross blades.
When it's all over, Stregobor approaches the witcher, intent on performing an autopsy on the girl's body, to prove his theory that the Curse was the cause. But, surprising even himself, Geralt refuses to let him touch her body. Stregobor leaves telling the witcher that he's free to follow, just as the townsfolk begin hurling rocks at the witcher. Geralt protects himself with the quen sign until Caldemeyn orders them to stop. That is however the last favour the alderman plans to extend Geralt and he tells the witcher to leave Blaviken and never come back.
- Bernika of Talgar
- Renfri's band
- The short story touches several classic fairy tales, most notably: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Rapunzel.
The short story has been adapted as a graphic novel entitled "Mniejsze zło", written by Maciej Parowski, with art by Bogusław Polch. While the original short story did not feature Dandelion, he appears in the comic and meets Geralt for the first time (their first canon adventure was "The Edge of the World", not adapted as a graphic novel).
Renfri's role was expanded in the series compared to the short story, and she appears in two other episodes before the ones adapted from this story - "Człowiek - pierwsze spotkanie" (Human - First Meeting), where she is rescued by Geralt, and "Świątynia Melitele" (The Temple of Melitele), where she is hired by Count Falwick to kill Nenneke and other priestesses of Melitele.
While The Witcher is not based directly on any of the short stories or novels, it features some references to this story:
- The shadow of this tale is present even in The Witcher, for then and again, there are comments about and references to the Butcher of Blaviken.
- This story features the first mention of the Curse of the Black Sun and Nehalenia's Mirror.
The Netflix series adapted the short story as part of the series premiere episode titled The End's Beginning.
The Price of Neutrality premium module
The game's The Price of Neutrality premium module, while not a direct adaptation, features many similarities with this story:
- Noble girl born under the Black Sun and the mage after her.
- A mage with a highly realistic illusionary abode, complete with a partner of the opposite gender.
- A letter of safe conduct from a king with a spelling error.
The story also quotes quite a lot about the Black Sun and the girls born under it, and the discussions Geralt may partake in with Sabrina Glevissig are more or less a repetition of the ones he shared with Stregobor, whereas certain parts of the dialogue exchanged between Geralt and Deidre Ademeyn echo conversations between Geralt and Renfri. There is even a book within the game called The Curse of the Black Sun.