The key to Yennefer’s room. Geralt had weighed it in his palm many times in the past. The heavy, cool metal was grounding. The key to her room that she had given him when they had finally reunited in Skellige. It had travelled so far with him. He had almost forgotten that he had it. But there it was, rattling around with the coin he kept in a pouch.
It had been three weeks since he and Yen had tackled the djinn together. They were no longer bound by magic, and he had been surprised, in a dull way, to find that he no longer felt a connection to her. When this realization sunk in, he had thought that he was supposed to feel something, like a hollowness, or regret, or sadness. But all he felt was relief. Relief that the question which had been bothering both of them (do we only stay together because of this magically manufactured bond?) was answered. Relief that they could both now go on their own Paths and not feel obligated to keep returning to each other.
“Do you need anything else?” The blacksmith asked, handing the witcher gold coins for the sale of a few runes Geralt had no use for.
Geralt looked up, his cat eyes flashing in the afternoon sun. The smith met his gaze impassibly. They had dealt with each other before, and the smith was not intimidated by Geralt’s unsettling eyes anymore. “Melt this down,” Geralt said, taking the coins but handing the key over. The smith took it, his neutral expression changing only slightly to indicate curiosity.
“Do you want something new made of it?” The smith offered.
“No.” Geralt pocketed the coins and whistled for Roach. “It doesn’t unlock anything anymore.”
When Eskel glanced at Geralt, giving him a sympathetic look as Yennefer gave the dark-haired witcher permission to approach her to wipe Uma's vomit off her, Geralt knew that Yen had come to terms with their relationship ending. It was a strange moment to have that revelation, but Geralt knew if the circumstances were different, Yen would not have let Eskel touch her. She was particular about who was allowed close to her-- emotionally, physically. The djinn had truly broken them apart. Since the day they battled the djinn, they had not had a real chance to talk things out. Everything was moving fast and finding Ciri was more important than picking up the pieces of their broken relationship. He had meant to check in with her, to make sure that she was okay, but they had run out of time. Even if they were no longer entangled romantically, he valued their shared history and their friendship.
Later, the revelation that Avallac’h was the one trapped inside Uma and not Ciri, brought a slough of mixed emotions. Desperate relief that Ciri had not been subjugated to the curse, dismay that she wasn’t Uma and was therefore still in danger, along with formulating quick plans on what to do next. Not a single person in the room, Geralt, Yen, Eskel, Vesemir, or Lambert, thought there was time to hesitate with Avallac’h on the edge of the end of the Path and Ciri lost on the previously unheard of Isle of Mists.
It was time to leave Kaer Morhen. He knew the task set before him, and he had gathered provisions for the road. As he tightened the straps on Roach's saddle, he heard someone enter the stable behind him. He listened to the heavy steps, the breathing. He smelled iron, leather, the faint smell of alcohol from the night before. It was Eskel. Geralt looked over his shoulder, at the other witcher. His shredded features looked troubled. "Wolf," Eskel said in his baritone. Geralt heard the seriousness in Eskel's voice, but did not pause in his movements.
"Eskel," he said evenly.
"I don't like this," Eskel said. He stayed standing in the doorway of the stable.
Geralt had tightened the straps and adjusted the saddle as much as he needed, or could. He had to face whatever Eskel wanted him to confront. He turned towards Eskel. "Which part?"
"Near all of it." Eskel's arms were folded across his chest. "I didn't like Yen sneaking around, I didn't like the Trial, I don’t like that we don’t know this Avallac’h, and I don't like the Hunt."
"Neither do I," Geralt said. "But it's all for Ciri."
"If it wasn’t for Ciri, I don't know if I would have stuck around for this."
Geralt didn't reply. He knew that if it weren't for Ciri being in danger, he wouldn't have gotten involved with kings and the Wild Hunt again, either.
They had known each other since boyhood, training and taking trials together. Geralt knew every expression Eskel could make, knew his limits, and could sometimes guess what the other witcher was thinking. In this moment, he wasn’t sure what exactly was on Eskel’s mind, but he felt that it was probably similar to his own thoughts. However, he counted himself lucky that Eskel, as well as the others, were so loyal.
The silent moment ended as Eskel sighed, and dropped his folded arms. Geralt’s chest tightened. They stared at each other for another moment, quiet, eyes holding eyes. They could've stayed trapped in that moment, much like the villager in the story Eskel had told the night before who had been enchanted by a monster’s magic dance. The tightness in Geralt’s chest was almost making it hard to breathe. This is what he should have felt when the djinn broke the spell that held him and Yennefer together. Coming out of the mild trance, Geralt stepped forward. It freed his breath, and his chest released tension. Seeing the movement, Eskel stepped forward, too.
Standing inches apart, Geralt breathed in deeply. Eskel’s scent, the unique scent of his skin and hair hidden beneath the iron and alcohol, was comforting. Eskel was comforting, as was their surroundings. Kaer Morhen. Home. Geralt brought his hands up, cupping the sides of Eskel’s face gently. Here they were again. Different circumstances than before, but here. Together, soon to be separated. Geralt rushing off without a moment to spare to gather allies. Eskel remaining behind to prepare. Eskel’s skin was warm. Geralt’s left thumb ran along one of the twisting scars on Eskel’s cheek.
Here they were again.
As young witchers, they had a brief fling. The first time they left Kaer Morhen as full-fledged witchers, they travelled together, working. It was daunting, when they began their steps down the Path, to be alone and no longer sheltered by Kaer Morehn, which back then had just begun to crumble. They, including Lambert, had always been together since they were small boys. Lambert, with the same dour attitude he always had, was more willing to set off alone. He left the group sooner than Eskel and Geralt had. But, as time went on and they came into their own, Geralt and Eskel eventually split up. They needed to explore the world alone, to discover themselves and their talents, and discover how hard the world was.
Although the witchers wintered together at Kaer Morhen every year, it was only every couple of years that Eskel and Geralt took up with each other again. Usually when they were both between lovers, both looking for some sort of connection. It had never been more than that. Geralt always returned to Yennefer after all. Well, until now.
Eskel looked Geralt directly in the eyes. “So.” Eskel said. A single word, a statement.
“So.” Geralt repeated, not having anything to say, simply wanting to stay in this moment a while longer before he had to leave.
Eskel kissed him, surprising Geralt, who was accustomed to making first moves. Eskel’s torn lips were so different from Yennefer’s or Triss’, but the kiss was just as sweet. Eskel moved closer, their bodies pressed against each other. Eskel’s hands grasped Geralt’s waist, fingers digging into the sides of Geralt’s armour.
Then, Eskel put his hands on Geralt’s chest and pushed him gently away. “Go,” he said. “We both have work to do.”
“I’ll be back soon,” Geralt said, and tried to kiss Eskel once more. But the dark-haired witcher adamantly, but not unkindly, pushed Geralt away again. If they tarried for longer, the goodbye would be harder.
Geralt watched Eskel leave the stable, looking longly at his broad shoulders and confident stride. “See you, Wolf,” Eskel called without turning.
It would be weeks, which turned to months, before they saw each other.
Later that year, Eskel would find some place else to winter after Vesemir’s death, and Geralt would lose track of him amidst the chaos of fighting the Wild Hunt.
Yet, on the night of Vesemir’s funeral, Eskel had confided his plan to leave Kaer Morhen to Geralt. Upon hearing Eskel’s idea, something inside Geralt made him want to pick up and follow the other witcher, to some place quiet and isolated and simply disappear from the world for a while. The loss of Vesemir didn’t feel real yet, on that night. As stupid as that sounded, with the funeral pyre burning before them. Geralt had lost plenty before in his long life, but he never thought he could lose Vesemir. At least, not like this.
Like he had told Eskel on the night of the funeral, Kaer Morhen was the only home they had known, and Vesemir was basically their father. Vesemir’s death weighed heavily on everyone’s mind, but the shared sadness did little to comfort any of them.
There had been unfinished business. Too much of it for Geralt to justify chasing after Eskel into the valley and the lowlands and the forest. He had to look after Ciri, follow her story through to the end, no matter how it would end.
It was only months after everything had a chance to die down that Geralt was finally left with his emotions. Ciri had taken her place on the throne, and Geralt was left where he always ended up—standing alone.
Fresh fallen snow that fell too early in the start of winter brought back the memory of Vesemir’s funeral with an almost physical blow. It hadn’t even snowed on that night, but Eskel’s words about finding a new place to winter echoed in Geralt’s head. Kaer Morhen held too much sadness to be home again. Eskel had said it himself. It didn’t feel the same without Vesemir.
This left Geralt feeling lost—profoundly lost—for the first time. He wasn’t like Lambert, who was bitter at being made into a witcher and cursed his situation with frustration and anger. Geralt didn’t really remember his life before Kaer Morhen. He was ‘of Rivia’, but that’s just what he told people. As a young man, he had chosen Rivia to be his homeland, perfected the Rivian accent, and introduced himself as such. But as Vesemir sometimes to told him—no, used to tell him, Vesemir was dead— he had been forged in the crucible of the Trials as a boy and raised up to be a man in Kaer Morhen.
Now, Kaer Morhen wasn’t home. Yennefer wasn’t home, either. And neither was Triss. Geralt still had a great amount of love and affection for her, but they had both proven once again to be incompatible. She had gotten the offer to go to Kovir and become part of the royal court. She had wanted him to go with her, but he had not been ready to settle down somewhere permanently. That was not what he was meant to do. He had told her he would think about it when she proposed the idea, and he did. But in the end, witchering was what he was made to do, and he couldn’t keep working in Kovir. Although, they did stay together until it was time for her to depart. He had left her with his sincerest best wishes, and she had done the same.
Ciri’s new empire couldn’t become his new home either. She had assured him that he would always have a place in court, and he knew she meant it. It did not change the fact that he had never developed a taste for it. He didn’t want to be known as the Empress’ pet witcher. Ciri would have quelled all of that type of talk, but he knew it would persist behind her back. Besides, no witcher with proper teaching would align himself with any political faction, no matter how much love was held for the ruler. Ciri knew the witcher rules better than any other human, and knew Geralt. She would respect why he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, stay at court.
Amongst all of it, Geralt knew what he was missing most of all. Eskel. Perhaps Eskel could become home, or could help make some place into a new one.
He wondered where Eskel had settled. Somewhere towards Lormark, maybe, if the other witcher had gone there like he had said he would long ago. He had said after the funeral that he was considering going there. Geralt had always been able to find the other witcher at the end of the year in the past, since they all tried to meet up in Kaer Morhen to wait out the slow, cold season. This year, it would be different.
Winter had just started. The roads were still clear enough to easily travel, and the cold wasn’t bitingly deep yet. It took little thinking to saddle up Roach with supplies and equipment and set off to the East, the last direction he knew Eskel had been heading. There was a lot of ground to cover, and Eskel could be anywhere, but Geralt knew the other witcher well enough that he could make an educated guess on what Eskel’s movements would be.
After all, they had the same upbringing and education. Raised by the same man with the same sensibilities. Geralt was sure that he could find Eskel. He had Vesemir’s voice in his head, guiding him.
Eskel’s voice made it real. They were standing facing each other in a clearing, like they had that day in the stable before Geralt had left to gather their allies to defend against the Wild Hunt. Roach stood not far back, although she had retreated to the tree line to crop shrubbery that hadn’t been completely covered in snow yet. Snow was deeper now, but the trees had kept most of the heavy snow fall clear, as had some animal activity and evidently Eskel’s own tramping through the woods. These details all jumped out at Geralt in clear relief, but he processed it subconsciously, something all witchers did.
It took three months of rigorous searching and Eskel had finally turned up. Living in an abandoned logger’s cabin in the woods, east of a far village, just like he said he was going to do. Geralt had stopped in every village he came across, asking villagers and inn-keeps if they had seen a witcher with dark hair and a scarred face come through. When he first started out, Geralt had been discouraged by the lack of information he could find. Then, he passed through some small, forgettable village, and the inn-keep recognized Eskel’s description.
“He had eyes like yours,” the inn-keep said in a thick, Easterly accent. “An’ two swords strapped to his back. The scars on his face were something fierce. We must be talking about the same witcher.”
“Must be,” Geralt had agreed, sipping his beer.
"Not many witchers come through these parts,” the inn-keep said. He seemed to be a friendly, talkative man. Nice enough, which was rare for a witcher to find in Geralt’s experience. “Why’re you looking for him? A friend?”
“A friend,” Geralt confirmed, though Eskel was so much more.
Now, standing before him, arms cradling firewood, Eskel didn’t seem real. Geralt hadn’t understood exactly how much he missed the other witcher until this moment. Eskel’s greeting of ‘White Wolf’ was more grounding than actually seeing him. Eskel dumped the firewood, it could be picked up later, and both men started quickly walking towards the other.
The distance between them closed, their hands making contact first as they reached towards each other. Eskel’s hands were slightly bigger than Geralt’s, but their fingers intertwined comfortably. Hands clasped, Geralt yanked Eskel towards him. Eskel kept his footing but allowed Geralt to pull him. A smile ghosted his torn lips. “You found me.”
“I can always find you,” Geralt said, taking his hand back to throw both arms around Eskel in an embrace.
They hugged. This time, Eskel smelled like leather, firewood and copper. Geralt knew he smelled similar, although with the added fragrance of horse. When they finally stepped back from each other, Geralt couldn’t help but gaze at Eskel with warmth. For the first time in a very long time, they had the opportunity to be together, to talk, to sort out everything that needed sorting. Gods knew there was a lot that needed sorting.
There was a lot of catching up to do, too.
“I think we should go to Toussaint before winter sets in too much,” Geralt said, clutching the load of firewood as they walked into the logger’s cabin Eskel had repurposed for himself. Geralt had insisted on carrying the wood. Eskel had let him, with a bemused smile.
“Jumping into it so soon,” Eskel replied, already sounding tired. “What’s in Toussaint that’s so important?”
Geralt shrugged his shoulders. “Might be surprising, but I’m a land owner now.”
This prompted a burst of laughter from Eskel. It was good to hear. He sounded much better than the last time Geralt had seen him two years ago. “A landowner? In Toussaint? What, did you clear a ghoul nest and pitch a tent?”
A wry smile spread over Geralt’s face. “I was given a vineyard by the Duchess Anna Henrietta.”
“A vineyard!” Eskel shook his head, still laughing in disbelief. “You own a fucking vineyard.”
“It’s called Corvo Bianco,” Geralt said mildly. Of course they both had to laugh at it. A witcher, owning a fair amount of land? Having a title from a Duchess? Not totally unheard of, but it certainly was amusing, considering that they were both used to mud, road dust, and camping on the side of the road.
“Corvo Bianco,” Eskel repeated, shaking his head again. “Alright, Wolf. If you’re so hung up on going to Toussaint, we’d better go. Besides, I wanna see what kind of place you own anyway.”
Scars. They both had scars. Geralt could remember what Eskel looked like before the scarring, but he didn’t miss Eskel’s old face. He didn’t miss his own unscarred face, either. There was no point longing for the past. Not when he had a present that he did not want to let go of.
Eskel breathed deeply in his sleep, and shifted slightly. Geralt, who was lying next to him, turned his head. In the dark, his enhanced vision still allowed him to see everything. Scars crossed Eskel’s broad back as well as his face. Thin ropes of hard tissue that Geralt had run his hands over time and time again. His own back paralleled Eskel’s. Geralt did not think that there was a witcher anywhere in the world that was not covered in scars.
He reached out a calloused hand, letting it rest of Eskel’s waist. He moved over, closer, and pressed his face against Eskel’s shoulder. He breathed in, and kissed Eskel’s shoulder softly.
“Mm,” Eskel stirred again, this time waking up.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” Geralt murmured.
Eskel rolled over under Geralt’s touch to face him. “You should be sleeping,” Eskel said, newly woken voice rasping.
“I will,” Geralt said.
They were at Corvo Bianco, in Geralt’s bed. Well, their bed. It had become such sooner than either of them had expected. Their bed, their bedroom. Their shared life. It was a simple existence they were leading, and it was comfortable. They both needed it. Recovering from Vesemir’s death, recovering from the Wild Hunt. Everyone was tired. After the battle of Kaer Morhen, everything was different, even though enough time had passed since then to start to dull the ache of loss. Geralt did not feel the same drive to keep travelling the Path. In all honesty, he was exhausted. He suspected that Eskel felt the same. That’s why the dark-haired witcher had taken off into the wilderness for two years, without telling anyone where he had gone.
Some days, Geralt wondered if it was time to retire. He had Eskel at his side, he owned a large estate. He had a home. Shelter—metaphorical and physical. Stability, for one of the first times in his recent memory. This was what Triss had wanted for the both of them. That thought always made his heart twinge with guilt. He had built her dream for himself, except in another country, and with a man at his side instead of her.
On the other days, which were most days, he knew that he would never retire. It was tough work, but it was work he enjoyed. He was bred for monster killing. Staying in Corvo Bianco was only a break. A well needed and well deserved rest.
But on these still nights in Toussaint, when Eskel was in his arms and the air was cool and fresh, he was almost willing to hang up his swords permanently.
Eskel and Geralt had never discussed exactly what they were. Their official status as a couple remained unspoken. Not that Geralt had ever been one to label all of his relationships. Even though he had spent years tethered to Yennefer, willingly at first and then later held close by magic, they had never said that they were anything. Everyone else labelled it. A couple. Lovers. Whatever they chose to call it, that never bothered Geralt. He knew where he stood with Yen when they were together. And Triss. And others he had pursued in his long life.
Walking through the vineyard one morning, both dressed down in plain trousers and shirts, wearing supple leather boots and their Wolf School medallions, Geralt’s heart was swelling with appreciation and contentedness. The Corvo Bianco vineyard had begun producing wine some time last year, and Geralt was immersing himself in the trade. He liked learning. Eskel was not nearly as interested in the industry as Geralt was, but he was patient when Geralt insisted on going to check the grapes personally. He checked the vineyards himself at least once a week, trusting the vineyard workers to do their jobs well for the most part.
“Have you ever considered what we are?” Geralt asked casually, glancing back at Eskel who had rolled up his sleeves and was basking in the hot Toussaint sun. Geralt found it quite remarkable that they were comfortable enough to wander around the vineyard unarmed. He couldn’t remember feeling secure enough to stay out of armour for longer than a night or two since living in Kaer Morhen. They both took advantage of it, choosing to leave their swords hung in the main house and buying finely made Toussaint clothing that covered skin from burning in the sun, but was thin enough to let the body breathe.
Eskel’s shirt was open at the top, showing midway down his chest. His Wolf School medallion glinted in the sun, hanging on its chain and peeking out from where the shirt laced together. His eyes were partway closed as he enjoyed the heat of the midmorning, with his face turned up towards the sun. Spending time in the sun agreed with Eskel. He was tanned, and looked healthier than he had in years. Geralt soaked in the image, willing Eskel to take his time in answering the question so Geralt could keep looking.
Eskel granted Geralt’s wish, and finally opened his eyes fully, turning his gaze to the white-haired witcher after a minute or two. “What we are, besides being witchers?” Eskel’s husky baritone took on a teasing tone.
Geralt laughed sarcastically. “I mean, you and I. Being together.”
Unbeknownst to the witchers, the workers at Corvo Bianco had plenty to say on the matter of the two of them being together. The kitchen workers and chambermaids, women from the nearby town, sometimes gossiped about it. A few of the younger ones fancied the witchers. One girl remarked that it was a shame that the two witchers only had eyes for each other, but was promptly scolded by the Majordomo Barnabas-Basil who had happened to overhear things. “It’s not our business,” the Majordomo chided. And it wasn’t. Barnabas-Basil was not concerned with what the master of Corvo Bianco did privately. The estate was producing wine and taking in revenue, so Master Geralt was doing his job.
With this income, the estate ran smoothly and every worker was paid a fair wage, thanks to the duchy’s coffers. Unlike the previous owner, who had an enormous amount of gambling debt and a list of labourers and servants who had not received their pay on time. Master Geralt, in generosity, had paid off the debt owed to the previously employed labourers and servants, even though many had not returned to work at Corvo Bianco. In the Majordomo’s opinion, although Master Geralt was rough around the edges, he was a decent man and deserved respect that was inherent with owning an estate. Respect for Master Geralt included, in his mind, respect for Master Eskel. As such, there was no issue tolerated with the two witchers choosing to reside together.
Out in the vineyard, amongst the grapevines, Eskel answered Geralt’s question. “We’re just us,” he said simply.
Geralt mulled Eskel’s short answer over in his head. Simple. It was simple. They didn’t need to be anything else besides what they were. He held a hand out for Eskel, who took it with a grin.
“What’re you thinking?” Eskel asked, bringing Geralt’s hand to his lacerated lips and kissing it.
The white-haired witcher shook his head. “Nothing. I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m glad you pulled me out of Lormark,” Eskel said, dropping Geralt’s hand to put his hands on the other man’s waist. “I’d be missing out on all the sun.”
Geralt pressed his forehead against Eskel’s. They stood like that, between the grapevines, and enjoyed each other’s presence. It was a peaceful moment, the kind that had been far and few between for most of their lives.
“I wonder what Vesemir would think of this,” Geralt pondered out loud, when they decided to walk back to the main house.
Eskel shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think he’d actually have much to say. He’d probably be too grateful that you’re no longer in the company of sorceresses.”
“And your company is much better?” Geralt teased, wrinkling his nose.
“Much more,” Eskel said with a growl. He grabbed Geralt around the waist and hoisted him in the air. Geralt shouted in surprise, protesting being lifted without warning. Eskel ignored him and laboriously continued walking the the house, with squirming Geralt over his shoulder.
The witchers struggling with each other was witnessed from a distance. The Majordomo and Marlene, who had elected to continue to stay at the estate, watched the roughhousing in amusement. Marlene tilted back a hat she wore to protect from the harsh sun and commented, “The lads seem happy.” Barnabas-Basil had to agree. He had not known Master Geralt for very long, but what he did know was the witcher did not keep the company of happiness easily.
Geralt wiggled free from Eskel’s grasp, and both witchers tumbled to the ground in a fit of laughter. It felt good to laugh, even if Geralt’s laugh sounded rusty and neglected.
“When did you get so heavy?” Eskel asked once he had regained the breath knocked out of him from the fall.
The white-haired witcher held out a hand and hauled Eskel to his feet. “Ever since I hit puberty. I don’t think you’ve tried to lift me since we were kids and wrestled in the dirt all the time.”
“Vesemir always yelled at us for screwing around,” Eskel said fondly as they resumed the trek to the house.
Geralt couldn’t help but laugh quietly. He could practically hear Vesemir’s grumpy voice in his head, chastising the two of them for being ridiculous. Geralt could also here humour in the ghostly echo of Vesemir’s voice. It would not be a true scolding, not really.
Vesemir would have seen that the two of them, Geralt and Eskel, were happy.