Players of the Dark Souls III Network Beta have revealed some information from the parts of the game that have been playable. I was able to play the Dark Souls II open network beta a few years ago, but I missed the beta for III. So I haven't seen any of this information first-hand; I'm going off what I've read and seen from the internet. Anyway, according to the Dark Souls III wiki on fextralife, there are gravestones throughout the game that have epitaphs that provide some amount of game lore (similar to the lore notes from Bloodborne). One of these gravestones apparently says "Grave of a nameless retainer. Raised his sword for the Lord of Cinder". This is one of several references to the Lord of Cinder that are present in Dark Souls III.
The following blog will speculate as to the identity of this "nameless retainer" and the Lord of Cinder mentioned in the Network Beta test. This is only an educated guess being made by a fan a month prior to the game's release, but it may contain significant possible spoilers for Dark Souls III. There will also be spoilers for the previous Dark Souls games. Read ahead at your own risk.
The Lord of Cinder
Apparently, the player character in Dark Souls III is not an undead. As such, there may not be a human form and a hollow form for the player. Instead, the player is supposedly able to enter a "Lord of Cinder" mode, which increases their maximum hit points and enables co-op play. Basically, becoming a "Lord of Cinder" is replacing humanity restoration from the previous games. There's only one character so far who has been identified as the "Lord of Cinder" in the Dark Souls games: Lord Gwyn. He is the final boss of the first game, and by defeating him and activating the bonfire in the Kiln of the First Flame, the player presumably sacrifices his or herself to take on Gwyn's role and become the next Lord of Cinder.
The player defeated Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, and may have replaced him to become the new Lord of Cinder
Plenty of speculation has already been made online that the Gravestone epitaph may be referring to the player character from DSI being the Lord of Cinder in question, and that it may be possible that the final boss of Dark Souls III might be the player character from the first game. Is this possible? Sure. Heck, maybe FromSoft will even load up an avatar of your player character from the first game to act as a Lord of Cinder boss in the third game. For players of the PC version, it could hypothetically be easy enough to pull a character profile from the first game's save file if it exists on the PC. It's not quite so easy on consoles. Dark Souls III is only being released on PS4 and XBox One, and is not seeing a PS3 or XBox 360 release. Thus, the game can't simply load up our DSI character profiles because they'll be on another machine. However, it is possible that FromSoft could pull off some clever trickery and load some version of our character profile that was saved on the servers. Perhaps they've been saving our characters who have defeated Gwyn and beaten the game, and they might be able to create an avatar of that character as a boss in the third game, assuming that you play on the same PSN, Live, or Steam account that you used for the first game. In fact, I just recently proposed a similar idea for spawning an NPC avatar of a player character profile as a hollow enemy in other player's worlds. It would be a neat trick, if From had the forethought to save characters on their servers.
In this case, could the "nameless retainer" be a reference to Solaire? He was available as a summon for the Gwyn boss fight, assuming you saved him from the Sunlight Maggot. So if your old character is the Lord of Cinder being referenced, then Solaire was there to "raise his sword for the Lord of Cinder". If he is being referred to as a "nameless retainer", then it might be possible that he's somehow being erased from history again. Poor guy.
Perhaps a beloved NPC managed to find his sun after all
But there's another possibility that would be technically easier for From to accomplish, as it would re-use an old NPC instead of having to somehow utilize an avatar of the player character as a boss. Instead of Solaire being a "nameless retainer", he could be the Lord of Cinder.
Solaire has a summon sign in the Kiln, implying that he progresses at least this far in his world.
This could happen in one of a few ways. The first being Solaire was somehow given credit for the player's actions (similar to how Artorias received credit as the Abysswalker, even though it was the player who traveled back in time to beat Manus). Or, Solaire could have deposed the player after the player links the flame. Another possibility is that Dark Souls III could take place in Solaire's world, in which Solaire defeated Gwyn, linked the fire, and became the Lord of Cinder, ushering in a prolonged Age of Fire. Solaire's soul, after all, would have been strong. He may have been a former god whose soul was not split into parts like Gwyn's, and so his soul might have fueled the First Flame far longer than a mere undead. After all, Solaire's dialogue does make reference to multiple worlds (or times) that phase in and out (this being the in-game explanation for how summoning works).
Could Dark Souls III force us to have to fight the beloved NPC Solaire as the final boss of the game? That would be a devious twist, indeed.
But if Solaire is the Lord of Cinder, then who is this "nameless retainer"? Well, that could be a reference to the player character from the first game. After all, you probably fought alongside Solaire in at least one battle in the first Dark Souls, and if you saved him from the Sunlight Maggot, then that could certainly count as having "raised your sword" for him. Your deeds are remembered, even though your name has been lost to history.
A name? A title? Or just a status?
This is all, of course, speculative. It might be that the Lord of Cinder isn't even a character in Dark Souls III. After all, the status of "Lord of Cinder" is granted to anyone who consumes an ember item, the description of which [currently] simply says "The dying flame seeks its new master.". Perhaps there is no Lord of Cinder presently. Perhaps the First Flame has become nothing but petrified embers that have somehow been scattered around the world. This does beg the question of "who is the nameless retainer?" Maybe nobody. Maybe it's just a red herring. Or maybe the final boss is the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten? I guess we'll just have to play the game to find out. And in any case, Hidetaka Miyazaki is back in charge, so I'm confident and excited about this game.