It was Greta who shared with him the tale that buried all happiness Geralt may have built up in the past ten years.
The trail on Ciri was cold at best, but it warmed like a morning rise when he bribed the Baron long enough to pull some clues out of him. A lubberkin, a fiend, a gaggle of crones; it all built up and never ended up amounting to the tiny shitty tidbit the man loosed before taking off with his derailed wife.
So he returned back to Crow’s Perch, pent up and frustrated, and found himself wandering the kitchens once free of his gear.
‘Twas a particularly tasty serving of bread, albeit a little stale, that pulled the child's attention to him in the first place. She bumbled about, feigning aloofness, before rounding the corner and catching Geralt with his mouth full of wheat. A chuckle, “‘Allo, mister witcher! Got the fancy new maple rolls, I see. Old Missus Portia made them herself, she did,very yummy,” the girl took a seat at the table next to him, scooting closer with a screech on cobble.
Geralt mumbled and took another bite off, viciously. Greta gave him a toothy grin, “Missus Portia told me she got that recipe from the elves! I didn't believe her, at first, but she told me all about them in return if I stayed very quiet while she baked.”
That earned his attention. He swivelled to face the child and set his morsel aside, “elves? I'm intrigued. Care to share more?”
Another cheeky smile, Greta waving her legs back and forth beneath the stool. She had caught the mighty attention of a witcher.
“I can tell you what she says to me, aye,” she says, “she tells me she visited Temeria as a lass, before lines wrought her beauty. The forests near Flotsam and between Vergen, she met a gaggle of elves! Hungry, was she. So she told me she asked the elves if they could spare a bite and they invited her to the fire for bread.”
By this point Greta was rambling and Geralt could nary keep focus. He nodded, locked eye and remained polite, but the words grew droning, he remembered Temeria and what had once transpired there.
He missed Ciri.
“...And this elf was real tall, bigger than a thoroughbred she says. And she tanked the gods his face was all hidden, ‘cuz what she could see would turn any bandit’s knickers wet,” a yawn, “so missus Portia asks what he’s doing in such a place and the elf-man says he’s waiting for someone dear. He gave her some bread and ale and escorted her safely to a ship headed for Skellige.”
His attention tumbled back in a flurry of thoughts which vanished without word.
Geralt interrupted, “covered, you say?”
Greta nodded furiously, “‘said he was missing half his mouth! A hole torn right through his lips ‘like some lady got too rough’, she said he covered his face with a red bandana.”
A hum. Iorveth. Many fond memories resurfaced and he blinked slowly, trying to catch sight of black branches sprawled across dark skin behind his eyelids.
But the girl was not finished.
“I asks missus Portia about elves now, but she refuses to answer. Says I’d do better visiting Oxenfurt if I wanted to learn. But I shan’t leave here, here’s where I get raisin pastries.”
Geralt smiled and ruffled her hair as he stood, nudging his leftover treat towards her, “thanks for the story, kiddo. Go ahead and finish that for me, will ya?
“I’ll tell Ciri you said hello.”
He was horsebound for Novigrad the fortnight after. A boat headed for Skellige would board him hopefully, but a nights stay at an inn was long overdue. Sleep yanked his sinews like a snake compressing a deer.
The tavern was filled floorboard to fireplace with drunkards and harlots alike, each and both scrabbling overtop one another like bitches. Roach whinnied from her spot tasseled outside the tavern and Geralt felt a tug on his heartstrings.
A drink before bed wouldn’t hurt. He flagged down the barmaid with an underbust of velvet and a skirt of wool and ordered himself a mug. Tuning into the ruckus of the bar, he nursed in peace.
“Have you heard the latest rumors about Iorveth?”
“So riddled with arrows he resembled a hedgehog. I tell you, Iorveth is dead. Deireadh.”
The bar shut down with a halt and the voices filled a mead-addled mind until all that remained was silence.
“Dead? No, he's been spotted here, in Novigrad.”
“Rubbish. They also said Isengrim had escaped.”
“When in fact he's been worm food for years.”
“He’s dead, I tell ye. Saw it with me own eyes. Staked like a mule by the Nilfs to the ground and left as wolf kibble. Nothing left but bones by now, I say.”
“Bullshit. No fucking Nilf could bring that sunova bitch down.”
“Shut yer trap ya wank. I know what I saw. Ride yer ass out to Condyle if you don’t believe me, you’ll find em. Otherwise, fuck off.”
The door hinges creaked and the wood swung amiably in the dead night air. No one took notice.
Condyle was still a mess of a town. Scorched and trashed, bodies of bandits and villagers alike sprawled among the wreckage like an oil painting. The smell was horrific, but the witcher made due. He was only here to pass, to search for some clue, to hope dearly that what he heard be false.
Yet it was five hundred yards outside the village a too-straight tree stood out on the gloom of the dawn. Nearly a hundred years of love and heartbreak did naught to steel his chest from the pain that seared it at the sight.
Closer, he could see it. Roped like a rabid beast to a peg, crumpled and twisted in a way no man nor elf should have to go. There were naught but bones, ‘twas true. The skull was covered by his bandanna, a faded red in the beating sun and rotting by the mouth of moth.
He refused to acknowledge the sting behind his eye. He took knee besides the body, hastily sliced the rope and held the skeleton close, babe to breast, and mourned.
Arrows, silver-tipped by the Nilfgaardians, hung loose where they tangled the ribcage, and Geralt yanked them all free one by one, snapping the brittle wood and tossing them as far as possible.
A heave of breath, “ I am so, so sorry. Forgive me.”
A howl, a scream, the forest life surrounding scampering away from the sounds of utter grief, anticipating a hunt they knew that cry would bring.
Drowners fell by his blade and a werewolf by his ‘bow, all maimed and shredded and left a red pulp ‘mongst the earth. Geralt panted once more, sheathing his sword with shaking hands, still clutching a feather in his palm.
By nightfall the bodies had piled and had burned, money was given in exchange for the deaths by a neighbouring community. A child had offered a swatch of leather strips. He wrapped the stock of the feather into a tight knot and slipped the makeshift necklace around his neck, tucked safe under his cuirass, besides his heart.
There was a boat headed for Skellige, ready to board him.
Yen was indeed the first to notice, as was she the first to greet him upon the isles. Her gloved palm ran down Roach’s snout and she nickered happily, crunching upon a red apple the sorceress fashioned from her hand once reaching the mare’s nose.
“You are not well, witcher.” She had hummed, scritching Roach fondly. Geralt took another long swig from his mug and sniffed in response, grumbling low in his throat where the mead once burned.
“I don’t wan’na talk ‘bout it, Yen.”
A sad smile, “Fair enough, love. When you are ready, you know where to find me.” She pressed a key into his drunken hand and sauntered out of the inn, hips swaying beneath the hug of her tight dress.
Geralt watched her go and tightened his grip, chugging the rest with an unhealthy vigor. The bartender refilled it without a word.
“Late, as almost always, Gwynbleidd.”
“Not all of us possess the internal clock of an Aen Seidhe, Iorveth. Lower your level a bit, hm?” Geralt had teased back.
The elf gave a slick smile, pocketing his flute and dropping from the acacia tree to the dirt below, stopping with the small tilt of his head in greeting. A friendly brush of knuckles on shoulder, a joke that lit up the elf’s eye, the familiar warmth of back pressed to back in battle as beasts circled their prey-turned-predator.
A bow notched thrice that hit only one target.
The bow was broken and so was the heart that it pierced so long ago.
Roach grazed lazily on the sunsets breadth, Yennefer lounging comfortably in his lap whilst she sipped her drink. They both watched the sun fall asleep and the stars waken in its stead, peaceful in the silence where no words could provoke the hurt stirring underneath the netting.
But all infected wounds must be reopened in order to be cleaned. To heal. Her words were only the scrape of a knife; her hands the ointment along the wound, her kisses the bandage.
“It is okay, my love,
“He is at peace, my dear,
“He no longer hurts, my darling,
“You must not, either.”
Her tears may have mingled with his, he did not know, but by the time the moon glowed bright Roach had cushioned their backs against the ground and the saline dried on cheeks both flushed with sorrow. Yennefer was in pain on his behalf. She did not deserve it.
Kaer Morhen was as cold as a harlots heart this time of year. Lambert was constantly stoking fires and complaining like a woman about the frost biting his breeches, and Eskel only put up with it for so long before wrestling him to the snow banks outside and stuffing the white-freeze down his tunic.
Vesemir was used to their antics. He minded his business. Triss visited once a blue moon, to say hi and to reminisce. Keira greeted Lambert once the ice melted to dewdrops and Regis came when the honeysuckle sprouted along the castle walls.
Yen stayed during the seasons he took to grieve. The others knew to keep distance, and when they pushed it, Yennefer asserted her dominance over the situation with a deathly glare. She cared for Roach where Geralt could not, provided a shoulder to those who needed it, a medical source to the lazy and sick. All out of the goodness of her heart. Ciri stopped by, many a-time, mostly to put the boys back in their place in a sparring match which would’ve made any father proud. The Bloody Baron visited once after she returned, a breathing crutch for a still-healing wife who wept her thanks at the witcher’s feet.
Geralt’s gaze wandered his room. The white flanks of the unicorn were rose in the flamelight and the lions glare hung from the mantle, eyes carmine and fangs bared.
A hand idly stroked the plumage on his naked chest, the feather resting against his sternum that was slightly scuffled from wear and tear. The absence of booze in his system for months laid him bare and empty, but it would only stoke the hearth in his head that yearned for the irrational.
A hand ran along his spine, gentle, oddly, because of all the hardship and calluses it adorned it still had the power to be so tender.
Endearments, in Elder Speech. Teasings, jokes, orders, arguments,
The waters swallowed his silhouette as they sailed away. Iorveth stood watching the boat disappear until he too was no more a speck on the sea-break, for he could not dare look away.
Promises to return left unrequited.
Yennefer poked her head through the door, hair cascading around her pale shoulders like midnight sky to a bucket of cream . She wore a nightgown, skin freshly cleaned and the scent of lilac and gooseberries wafted across the room.
“You are alright, love of mine?”
A grunt, a groan. She padded over on delicate feet which surely have stomped a man to death. He found it all that more endearing. Beneath the covers she rested her weary head against his shoulder, hands playing idly with the sparse salt-and-pepper expanse along his chest, dipping when she encountered a scar; the way his right pectoral was disfigured from a fire.
“You will get better, my sweet. I promise you. I am here.”
She prodded the feather as her hand explored and the swell in his chest nearly exploded. Love, loss, lingering ghosts yearning to be set free. It whispered; ‘Go, be free. Let my memories go.’
The feather blew away on the breeze and travelled far and wide, came to rest along the jutted earth beneath a maple, hooked on the wood of a resting bow.
The bard plucked a song on his lyre, voice smooth and blending with the sparrowsong on the sky. A kiss pressed to the forehead of an old friend, the only consolation he could provide, eyebrows knotted and head wrought with sorrow on a brothers behalf.
It called back out to him, again;
‘Let me go…’
And when it hurt too much to bear, when voices threatened to hinder the progress, he stood defiantly and locked eye with the lions eyes. ‘Twas time he let go.
And so, he did.