The City of Golden Towers was a sight to end all sights, and in the 80 odd years since Geralt had last been this far South it had changed considerably.
It was bigger for one thing, the city now built up around the great walls that encircled the largest city known to mankind on the Continent.
He saw the massive aqueducts carrying fresh water to the masses, the port where what looked like a whole fleet of ships lay waiting to dock and be unloaded. The Island town of Deinwareth the Elven settlement that still stood after all this time, a testament to the cooperation of the two races in Nilfgaard's founding. And the towers, all near a thousand of them, loomed over the city, pointed tips glinting golden in the summer sun.
But above it all perched on a hilltop that overlooked the city was the Golden Palace of the Great Sun, a massive structure that transcended everything. Even at the distance he was he could see that the eleven story structure with its towers and bells was opulence given form.
And according to Emhyr it was home.
Bloody hell he was going to be living in a fucking palace.
Gods, he thought, almost in a daze, a place where everyone knew everyone’s business and where intrigue and manipulation abounded.
He was so going to fuck this up. He wasn’t a politician, couldn’t stand court intrigues and that bloody awful Game they all liked to play.
Why the fuck was he even here, he thought grimly as Roach clipped along at a steady trot, half a length behind Emhyr on his right, ard’Enthiel in the same position to Emhyr's left.
He almost sighed and focused on Emhyr, that was why he was here he reminded himself. Emhyr was why here was here.
He took a calming breath and let it out, he was here at the culmination of a journey, he had a job to do. Protect the Emperor.
With that thought in mind he focused and tried to get his mind off what everything meant and back on to his work.
He had been warned that with Emhyr coming home after almost three years away there would be an assassination attempt. Apparently there always was.
He kept his eyes peeled as the procession moved out from the pass and towards the city, the black and gold pennants flying in the wind as almost a thousand men at arms, soldiers of the Impera Brigade marched towards the city.
In the center of it all surrounded by his personal guard, was the Emperor. He sat upon Infinite dressed in his black and gold armour, a light summer cloak on purely for decoration, it moved in the wind fanning out behind him as they rode. Emhyr was crowned and coiffed, regal in the sun warming up the summer day.
And the days were bloody hot, he wasn’t used to the climate being so warm yet here in Nilfgaard he had immediately noticed how different it was. Hot days and balmy humid nights, Loc Grim had been an eye opener on why Nilfgaardian's preferred such open architecture and water features, it kept the place cooler.
It took the meandering procession nearly half an hour to come to the edge of the city, yet people were lining up along the road under trees and awnings to cheer the Emperor through. He had gotten used to it in past few months once they had hit the Southern States. Starting with Toussaint there had been a marked difference to the Grand Procession, the crowds were actually delighted to see Emhyr.
He’d been curious about it and asked Lanfare one evening, Lanfare had smiled, “Emhyr has a formidable reputation in the North, he is a conqueror and has wrested the Nordling Kingdom's under his banner, he is seen to be cruel and unyielding like the blade he wields. However here in the South his leadership has brought prosperity and order to the regions. His reforms have seen the common folk receive state healthcare and rudimentary education as part of their taxes. They also have access to the Great Sun, the temple is not only funded by donations but by the state as well, it has given the people hope and succour when needed the most. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is universally loved, war and conqueror sow much pain in the populace but he is respected and admired.”
Geralt had walked away from that conversation a little bit bewildered, he had assumed what he had seen of Emhyr's governance in Novigrad had been the exception given the situation with the church. Obviously not.
And even more obvious was just how much more enlightened Nilfgaard was compared to the North.
He looked at Emhyr as they moved through the wide clean streets full of cheering people, he was as relaxed as he had seen him through a procession and waving every now and then.
He shrugged and went back to looking for problems.
As Lanfare had said, he wasn’t universally loved and he had many enemies.
As the came to the crenelated city walls he was once again impressed with their breadth and the sheer size of them, they dwarfed anything he had seen in the North.
The noise when they went through the gates was almost deafening, and Geralt couldn’t help the wince, his sensitive ears almost ringing with the volume.
Black and gold confetti flew through the air, along with streamers and banners, it was chaotic and he was thankful that the shields that surrounded Emhyr were at full power, he was finding this all very distracting.
And he was going to tell ard’Enthiel that guarding Emhyr in this sort of chaos was maddening and next to impossible. How the hell was he supposed to be able to see potential threats?
He growled under his breath as the Procession came to a crawl, this was going to take a while he realised.
It had taken more than four hours to get to the inner ring, the walls that were the beginning of the Palace complex, three hours of contracted misery really, thought Geralt with a huff.
His ears hurt, his eyes hurt and his back was actually twinging, it seemed travelling in a carriage for most of the day hadn’t done his seat on a horse any good.
He did however breath a sigh of relief as the noise was dampened now, the streets not lined with cheering crowds but soldiers at parade.
And they moved quicker too now, divesting themselves of at least half the men that had traveled through the city with them. However the Palace complex was the governing seat of the Empire, and it was incredibly large. Apparently running an Empire this large meant that the Division's needed space to work and store their important papers.
He was resolved to keep Takara as far away from any of these buildings as much as possible, she would disappear for hours if she was ever let loose.
They were coming up to the entrance of the Palace, and he was trying to focus on his duty and not gape like a country bumpkin. While he wasn’t gaping he couldn’t help but marvel at the impressive architecture as they came into the main courtyard of the Palace, and even that was massive.
The Palace proper was built from a warm granite and marble, large carved columns holding up tiled roofs, with covered walkways between the outbuildings. The Palace itself soared in majestic and elegant lines high above them, and he didn’t even bother counting the large windows that graced the building, many of which were pulled open to let the air and breeze in. The amount of light that must be in the building would put any of the Northern Castles and Palaces to shame.
They clipped at a trot towards the stone staircase that went up to a set of inlaid golden doors adorned with the Sun of Nilfgaard.
They apparently took six men to open or close, looking at the size of them Geralt believed it, but waiting at the top of the stairs with nobles surrounding her, was Ciri.
And she was as beautiful as ever he thought, pride and love in his heart.
She was dressed in a black and gold dress, her white hair adorned with the crown of her office, and the sceptre of the Emperor in her hand, obviously ready to hand that power and responsibility back to her father. Just behind her to her right stood Morvran, the wedding was going ahead so it wasn’t a surprise to see him behind her.
He watched closely as Emhyr dismounted and started up the flight of stairs, Geralt close behind, but out of the corner of his eye he saw the mage that accompanied them drop the shields around the Emperor, a bit prematurely he thought, just as his keen ears picked up the whistle of a bolt.
He didn’t look, he didn’t even think, he acted purely on instinct with his heart in his mouth as he lunged up the two stairs that separated him from Emhyr.
He caught him around the waist and pulled him sideways, reaching out to catch the bolt with his other hand, he missed and cursed up a storm as it went through his palm.
That fucking hurt he thought, as he heard ard’Enthiel yelling orders for Emhyr's personal guard to protect the Emperor.
Emhyr kept low, he knew what to do, had drilled with Geralt so they both knew how to move with each other as the guards closed ranks, their shields coming out to form a barrier, but nothing was going to get past the silver green shield that had suddenly sprung up around them.
Ciri’s strident voice echoed over the courtyard.
“Bring me that mage and find me the assassin, NOW.”
Well, Geralt thought as he all but hauled his lover up the stairs using his own body as a shield, not really caring about anything other than getting Emhyr under the cover of a building, they had been right about an assassination attempt.
Emhyr took it all in stride, it wasn’t the first attempt on his life, although it was the first in 2 years.
Ciri had rooted out the last coup that had started with an attempt in Novigrad, his spies had reported she had been most thorough and effective in her quest to find the traitors.
It almost wasn’t a homecoming without a good assassination attempt, he thought ruefully as Geralt all but carried him up the stairs and into the Palace.
He could sense the single minded purpose behind Geralt's movements and let his lover do what he needed to do.
When they were standing in the Palace, in what was known as the Grand Receiving Room, Geralt stopped.
“I’m not hurt Geralt,” he murmured, trying to let him know he was safe. He heard the slight growl of an angry wolf as said wolf let him go and came to stand behind Emhyr, his ever permanent shadow.
He could still hear Ciri barking out the same orders he would be, in the same tone of voice actually, so he let her continue, watching her in action was a revelation.
Her emerald green eyes had a faint shine to them and her shields were up and cracking with power.
And while everyone snapped to attention, including the Senate members who had come to greet him, he couldn’t help but feel proud at her. She was magnificent.
And she was ready to rule, but from their conversations he knew she didn’t think she was. It was now his job to show her she was ready.
As the palace was made secure, she dropped the shields she was holding and her eyes returned to normal, she then turned to him and held out his sceptre. “I don’t want this anymore.”
“You’re more than ready for it,” he murmured to her as he took it, but she shook her head.
“Not quite yet.”
Emhyr wanted to sigh, she was as stubborn as he was.
“Very well Princess Cirilla, I will leave this matter in your capable hands.”
As she bowed to him and left, her aids with her, she was still giving orders. He knew his safety was in the best of hands if Ciri was hunting down an assassin, besides an assassination in the Palace complex was rare, there were too many wards and shields that helped pinpoint an assassin to be able to get away cleanly.
The other nobles were jostling to try and get his attention and Emhyr thought hard, he didn’t want to play their game.
So he wasn’t going to.
He looked at Geralt who was standing behind him, arms behind his back with a paleness and a tightness to his mouth that spoke to Emhyr of pain.
“Geralt?” He asked calmly knowing something was wrong.
Geralt grimaced and brought out his hand, Emhyr felt his stomach drop, there was a bolt sticking out of Geralt hand, blood slowly dripping down the shaft.
He stared at it for all of a few seconds and then his voice clipped out, “Find me my healer and send him to my quarters, Geralt come let's have that seen to.”
With that he ignored the senate members and others gathered, taking his lover far from the circus that was the Golden Court of Nilfgaard and to the sanctuary of his wing.
“You can’t blame me for this one Lanfare,” Geralt teased as the healer inspected the cut off in the shaft he had just made, making sure there were no splinters.
Geralt had been escorted by Emhyr into the Imperial wing so fast that he hadn’t really taken much in. What he had taken in when he found himself sitting in a chair in the bedroom that was that Emhyr's Quarters were palatial, luxurious and lavish. And that bed held a damn lot of promise.
The thing was so big that Geralt was positive a fiend could sleep on it comfortably. No wonder Emhyr had fallen out of Geralt's bed at Corvo Bianco several times.
“Can’t I?” Replied Lanfare mildly to Geralt’s teasing.
“Then you really don’t know me, you’re meant to catch an arrow not let it go through your hand.”
They both heard the slight growl come from a grumpy Emperor who was pacing near them.
“I have no idea why you even tried to catch it,” snapped Emhyr.
“Because I didn’t actually know the angle it was coming in from, I heard it not saw it. So I reached out to make sure it wasn’t going to strike anyone else.” Geralt grumbled back and then cursed in several languages as Lanfare, with no warning what so ever, pulled the bolt from his hand.
“Fuck Lanfare, a little warning next time,” he managed to say at the end of his impressive cursing streak.
“I didn’t want you to tense up, it would be more painful then.”
“It was painful then as well,” he snapped growling as Lanfare applied more pressure to the wound.
Lanfare ignored him,“I will be able to stop the bleeding but your hand will have to have several healing sessions over the next five days before it's fully healed. Or you can let your mutations heal it. Which do you prefer?”
Geralt thought about it, knowing that a wound like this would heal in about 2 weeks, “The healing sessions,” he said, and felt the warmth of magic in his hand as Lanfare started healing it.
He let the elf concentrate and turned his attention to his clearly irate lover.
“Soooo, what else is on for today?”
Emhyr just stared at him, “You were just shot in the hand and you want to know what the days plans entail? You’re no longer my bodyguard until that injury heals.”
“Yes but I’m not sitting here on my ass doing bug all, you leave, I hunt you down.”
Emhyr narrowed his eyes at Geralt, Geralt tried for a winning smile, Emhyr narrowed his eyes further and folded his arms across his chest.
“And if I chain you to the bed?” Geralt opened his mouth to answer, not quite believing he was about to be chained to the bed in less than an hour of being in Emhyr's quarters.
“No chaining, I want his hand down and nothing binding his wrist until his hands healed.”
Saved by the healer, Geralt's grin turned into a victory smirk, which was quickly wiped off his face with Lanfare's next order.
“And no sex for the next two days.”
Huh? Thought Geralt as he blinked in surprise, he did not just say that? “It's my hand that’s injured, not my cock,” he growled turning his amber eyes on Lanfare, who was wrapping a bandage around the poultice on his hand.
“I am well aware of what's injured Geralt, but you’re still not having sex, I want this to remain on, I don’t want you to undo the work that I’ve just done and if I have to act as a bloody chaperone again I will.”
“Do you take pleasure in cockblocking me,”
“It will be as you have ordered Lanfare,” replied Emhyr, “Geralt will attend me, and we have the return Banquet to attend this evening. I’ll keep him out of mischief.”
Lanfare nodded and gathered his things, placing the bloody rags and the bolt into another bag. And then with a slight bow to Emhyr, walked out of the bedroom, leaving Emhyr and Geralt alone.
Geralt scowled, “All you’ve done for the last 2 weeks is talk about that bed, and now we can’t do anything in it?”
“Oh yes, I assure you beloved there is something we can be doing in it.”
Geralt perked up, “Oh yeah?” He tried to purr back, all for circumventing Lanfare's order.
Well if that wasn’t a let down, he thought sarcastically, Emhyr laughed, “Such a grumpy little witcher,” he teased, uncrossing his arms and moving over to the chair Geralt was still sitting in. He kissed him on the cheek and then held out a hand, “Come beloved, let me show you this wing of the palace. Then you will accompany me to a gathering that I really must attend to.”
Geralt sighed and took Emhyr's hand, standing as he did, “Alright, show me your home.”
Emhyr smiled, and then gestured to the room, “This is the bedroom.”
Geralt rolled his eyes at him and Emhyr chuckled, then started telling him the features of the room.
The marble tiled floors, the rugs from Zerrikania, the large black velvet drapes pulled back from massive windows that lead onto a balcony overlooking a lush and colourful garden. He took Geralt through to a bathing chamber that put the one in Novigrad to shame, Emhyr had three pools to choose from, but he was certain there was an order to it, gauzy curtains blew out from open windows and he was impressed at the sheer decadence in front of him. Emhyr pointed out features that he was obviously proud of then moved on back to the door, bypassing another 2 doors that Geralt assumed was a servants entry and maybe storage.
No wonder Emhyr liked to bathe so damn much.
The dressing room was massive, with so much clothing that Geralt had no idea how Emhyr could wear it all, much of it was in his customary black but some was in other colours.
He was pretty sure that he was in the heart of Mererid's domain as Emhyr pointed out where the Crown Jewels were kept, any transgression met with rigid disapproval.
Emhyr led him through a tall corridor and pointed out an opulent dining room with a table that could comfortably seat twelve, all in black wood from the Nazairi forests with gold upholstery.
Geralt was beginning to think black and gold was a theme.
He couldn’t help but marvel at the carpentry of the sandalwood screens that divided sections of the rooms and gave off a pleasant aroma. He saw the recreation room set up for card games and other types of strategy games, he could see himself in that room. Then he was lead to a huge lounge room with upholstered chairs and divans, love seats and cushions all scattered round a fireplace that he was sure he could stand in.
“And the final room,” said Emhyr as he opened another door, it was a library and study, “This is where I work when I am not in my study in the Governance wing of the Palace.”
It was beautifully appointed, the books of the very highest quality and Geralt could see that they were of varying subjects, Emhyr like Geralt was a prodigious reader. Unlike Geralt however his time was not often his own.
The desk itself was large, the carvings ornate and it was well worn, that desk held the weight of an Empire, he thought.
“Don’t let Takara in here, you may find some of your books missing.”
Emhyr chuckled, “Duly warned,” he said easily, “The rest of the wing has the Empresses quarters, which belong to Ciri and several guest rooms for important guests of state, I may just set one aside for Takara so she has one of her own when visiting.”
That touched Geralt deeply and he couldn’t help but lean in and give Emhyr a kiss, Emhyr kept it light and sweet, a gentle melding of lips.
“Not to cut it short,” Emhyr said, slightly husky, “But I have a greeting to get to.”
“I’m going to be bored out of my brain aren’t I?”
“More than likely,” chuckled Emhyr.
Geralt sat at the table just down from the head table where Emhyr and most of the more important nobles sat with him, he was relegated to a table that held the not so important people, but don’t tell them that they’re not important.
They all believed they were more important than anyone else.
It was giving him a headache to go with his aching hand. He was dressed in another of those long light surcoats that came to his knees, it was silk not arachnophore silk and it was in black and green, he wore it with leather pants and knee high boots. It was comfortable and cool as while it was long sleeved he didn’t need to wear anything under it. In a fact Mererid had sneered and said it would destroy the line of his dress.
And he was still loving that cane.
The greeting with Emhyr's personal council hadn’t been as boring as he had expected, he had become entrenched in a conversation with Field Marshal var Orden, the military man he had met back in Novigrad. The man had been singing the Witchers praises, most happy at the progress in the training the Empires soldiers were receiving in monster slaying. Geralt knew that there were 8 witchers in total who were working on training forms and drills for the military, he had thought he would be helping them but being the Emperors lover and bodyguard gave him enough problems. Which was the reason Eskel had been sent on ahead of the progress.
Var Orden has been thrilled that there were fewer casualties in the southern divisions in the last year, he had also wanted Geralt to pass on his personal thanks to, ‘that dear Lady Ayakashi’. The books she had sent had been most informative and were part of the lessons that all new officers received by Balik of the Bear school.
Geralt had resolved to track down Balik when he could, he hadn’t seen the old Witcher in several decades. The talk had been informative and interesting.
Geralt picked up the new glass of wine that had been set in front of him a little while ago, thankful that his right hand wasn’t the one injured, and went to take a sip. The scent of hemlock and wolvesbane hit his nose and he paused then placed the glass to his lips and pretended to take a sip.
Someone was trying to poison him, the idea was so completely out of touch with what a Witcher was that all he wanted to do was collapse into a ball and laugh.
Long and loudly.
He glanced at everyone else’s glasses and noticed that most were refilled or still being drunk, the amount in his glass hadn’t been small and the virility of the poison meant that vomiting, hallucinations and confusion would be showing up in about ten minutes from ingestion. Since no one was showing signs Geralt knew his glass was the only one poisoned.
First Emhyr's assassination attempt and now one for him. He had no idea who he’d pissed off but someone obviously objected to his presence. Ahhh, he thought, there might be a reason - he had just foiled an assassination attempt.
“How is the wine Master Witcher?” he looked at the Baroness that had asked him the question, she was nice he thought, had included him in the conversations and had asked him several questions about his craft.
She seemed interested. And she liked her wine.
“Its a good drop,” he rasped.
“Her Imperial Highness is partial to that particular red and it's hard to get hold of now, I was very happy to see it on the table when we arrived for dinner.” The first set of courses had come and gone with some of the most incredible foods he had ever seen.
“I know,” he replied, “I sent her Highness a crate of it when the harvest came in and the first batch of wine was produced. I own the winery.”
“Oh, well isn’t that interesting.” another of the nobles, a Lord this time gushed, “I was just saying to my wife that we would have to order a crate or two when the next harvest is released.” He leant forward trying to get a good look at Geralt, nosy bastard, he thought as the man kept looking between his hand and his eyes.
“I thank you for your patronage.” He said, trying to be polite when all he wanted to do was grab the bottle and hide behind one of the intricate tapestries lining the wall.
A gong sounded and he frowned, not knowing what it meant, but his table mates obviously did as they started whispering to each other, everyone at every table was whispering to each other.
“Yes, most suitable Baroness var Ornah.”
Well whatever agreement had been brokered had been done, he thought as he picked up his water to drink.
“Sir Geralt, it's decided, you will address the Emperor when it's our tables turn.”
Say what now? He thought with a blink just as a Lord stood up from the last table in the room and launched into a flowery speech about the Glory of the Emperor. It was an impressive ass kissing speech he’d give him that, and saluted the Emperor and the Empire at the end with his wine. And the same thing happened again and again.
Oh for fucks sake, he thought with horror as they came to his table, they were expecting him to get up and say something about the Emperor's return.
Oh he was trying to stay out of trouble, but trouble it seemed was all about finding him.
He stood up, and with his enhanced vision got to see Emhyr’s surprise before it was quickly masked, Ciri on the other hand didn’t bother to mask her amusement. That child would be the death of him one day.
He took a deep breath and thought fast, what to say? What to do?
What the hell would Takara say? he thought, thinking back to how noble she was, she was an Empress and she had taught him much. And then he knew, he wouldn’t lie, he would tell what he had seen.
“Your Imperial Majesty, Your Imperial Highness, Genteel Lords and Ladies of the Court. I have seen the devastation of war too many times to recall in the century I’ve lived,” he saw everyone’s shock at his age but continued on, “I wouldn’t rightly call war glory, however I have seen what Nilfgaard can give the people of the North and with the events in Novigrad I have seen the populace start the journey of thriving under the leadership of an Emperor who cares for the wellbeing of the people. I have seen the towns and cities that have thrived here in the South and wonder at all that Nilfgaard is willing to give. I consider that glorious, and I truly believe that in time, the North will thrive as well as the South. The Emperor has started the Northern Realm on that journey and he has done so with blood and war but he has tempered that with relief and a reason to live under a guidance that cares. That is what we witchers of the School of the Wolf strive to see in the people that we fight for, that the lives we save have a reason to live and thrive. In time a united Empire will flourish and it started here in this era. That is Glorious.”
He reached out and picked up his glass and raised it. “To the future of the Empire, both North and South”. He drank to the toast, tasting the wine and the poison. As he did he couldn’t help but close his eyes as he felt his body respond to the poisons in it, his table mates gasped as his veins darkened and he braced himself as he felt the mutations kick in.
He opened his eyes, well aware that the night-shine would make them glitter in the light, he swept his gaze over the gathered nobles, most now coming to realise something was wrong.
“And to whoever poisoned my wine with hemlock and wolvesbane, you can’t kill a Witcher with poison. Try something else next time.”
“I cannot believe you willingly drank that and then challenged an assassin to try again, of all the stupid things to say Geralt, that tops it all.”
Emhyr was in a furious fine form and Geralt was coping with a lecture that put anything Vesemir had growled at him to shame.
He was thankful that Emhyr had tossed out the servants with a barked out order to ‘leave’ so this particular embarrassment was private.
“I’ll admit it probably wasn’t my best idea,” he tried, and got a scathing look in return.
Whatever gave you that impression?” Emhyr said with such sweet sarcasm that Geralt blinked, he’d never heard that tone before, he opened his mouth intending to shoot him down, but paused.
He got it.
Emhyr was scared for him and didn’t know how to respond to that fear. It was like that time in Novigrad when Emhyr reacted with polite disdain to him being allowed on light duties. Geralt admitted to himself that Emhyr's response to his lover being poisoned was to order a massive investigation, and he had never seen so many people jump to Emhyr's furious orders. He’d also said in front of everyone that he wanted an answer on his desk by morning or heads would roll. Geralt was pretty sure he meant literally too.
“You’re right, it was an idiotic move, I should have thought about it more and not challenged the assassin to get more creative.” He saw Emhyr's shoulders sag a little and Geralt suddenly saw it more clearly, Emhyr was tired. The weight of an Empire was clearly a heavy burden, and he had just added to it.
Emhyr had taken off his crown and chain of office, and removed his outer tunic. He walked the few reps to where Geralt was seated on a divan in the dressing room to reach out and touch Geralt's cheek.
“This place is filled with danger and most you will not see coming for you, it's not a front on assault Geralt, it’s a subtle danger from any angle.” And then Emhyr gave a rough chuckle, “Although I have to admit, you drinking the poison and then declaring to my entire court that it does nothing to a Witcher was certainly shocking. They didn’t quite know what to say or do.”
“So it's just the challenge to an assassin you object to?” He asked tentatively.
“Don’t be dense, I object to all of it, but the horror on everyone’s faces as you changed in front of them in hindsight is amusing. It’s not often my court shares its collective shock.”
Emhyr sighed and Geralt reached out a hand took hold of Emhyr's and then tugged him down into his lap. And then held him. Emhyr was stiff at first, Geralt had never actually pulled him into his lap just to cuddle, but then he relaxed leaning into Geralt and put a hand over Geralt's heart.
Obviously feeling the slow methodical beat.
Geralt put his hand over Emhyr's, “I’ll try better,” he swore.
Emhyr just smiled, “Don’t make promises you're going to find difficult to keep beloved. You are you, I don’t want you to play the game of courts, you are so far above its petty nasty nature. I’ll try to temper my response.”
Geralt grinned, “Don’t make promises you cannot keep my heart,” he teased back.
“I’ll be on my guard Emhyr, there's nothing that can creep up on me easily, and I would see an ambush before most would.”
Emhyr was silent for a minute and then made a declaration so softly that Geralt strained to hear it. One that both thrilled Geralt and alarmed him, “I would bathe these halls of marble and gold in blood and fire if you were killed.”
Geralt squeezed Emhyr's hand to let him know he had heard, and resolved himself to never let Emhyr keep that promise.
Takara Ayakashi scented the air and grimaced, so much, too much she thought as she stood upon the newly restored parapet of the Keeps rooftop.
The ringing of hammers, the rasp of the saw, the sound of metal striking stone. There were days when it was too much, today was such a day. She heard the footfalls on the steps leading up to the roof, the sound and tread familiar, the Master Stonemason was coming to deliver his bi-weekly report on their progress. It had been almost two years since they had started, and work had progressed fast, particularly when she had roped in the local mountain trolls for assistance.
The negotiations hadn’t been elegant, it had consisted of her grabbing the Troll Patriarch, picking him up by the throat and telling him she would cook him in his own cook pot if he didn’t stop harassing the workers.
He said his clan was hungry, she could relate, clan was important and food had become scarce since the workers had scared off a good portion of the game with all their infernal noise.
They had made a deal, she would see them fed, if they assisted with the build.
She was impressed with the foreman and the stone masons from Nilfgaard, they had taken it in stride as they utilised trolls on a regular basis across the Empire so they knew just how to manage them. The work pace had almost doubled as the trolls did the heavy workload, freeing up more masons to do the stonework.
“Master Hadrian, good morning,” she said as the middle aged human came out the door, she turned to watch the black haired human as he walked over to her and bowed, she wasn’t used to the humans bowing to her, wasn’t sure if she liked it but when she had queried it she had been told that she was a Lady and polite society dictated the manners. Polite society was annoying she decided.
“Lady Ayakashi, I hope you are well.” He said as he unrolled the maps he carried on the large wooden table that was placed up here for this exact purpose, placing the little weights down on the corners.
“I am, winter is almost here, are you and your men staying this year or will you put down your tools?” They had left last winter and so had she, coming back in the autumn to find that they had completed more work than she had assumed was possible.
Humans could surprise her still.
“We’re staying, the main keep is complete except for the walls, your suggestion of staying within the old witcher rooms that are part of the mountain was discussed with the company directors and we believe that by wintering here we can work on the wooden fixings for the outlying buildings, the bastion and the watchtower. On good days we can work on the walls.”
“Winter here is cold Master Hadrian, ensure that your men are adequately clothed. The lake won’t take long to fully ice over once winter hits and the air is sharp with frozen water. Thats how cold it gets.”
“I will, I’ve already ordered the winter gear, thank you by the way, the two large bucks you brought down yesterday were well received by the men.”
“A pleasure, now show me what you need done.”
He pointed out in the blue prints what had been completed that week and she smiled, the entirely of the Keep of Kaer Morhen was restored, only the walls remained. She had been there when they had finally cleared the rubble from the basements and had seen for the first time in 75 years the large in ground heated bathing chambers, the chambers were elven and had been kept as they were. The Nilfgaardians had been very excited to see it, they liked to bathe and they liked the history that they saw.
“We need to dismantle that wooden gauntlet,” he was saying as he pointed out a spot on the wall and she winced.
She extended her hand and stretched out one claw, ignoring the fiery pain that lanced along her arm from the injury sustained during winter, she tapped the plans and hid a growl as her claw pierced the paper as she did, she sighed.
“Please ensure that it's not damaged and it needs to be placed back as it was.”
She pulled back and tucked her hands in to her sleeves and then looked out over to the gauntlet, she was not ready to let that much go.
He hesitated then nodded, “We have new workers coming in today so I’ll have them remove it under Daven’s watch.”
“Are they aware that I am not human?”
“Yes my Lady, they are. After the first lot we took on we haven’t made that mistake.”
“No you haven’t.” The first group of workers had taken one look at her and all but ran for the hills. She didn’t blame them, she had returned bloodied and dragging a great white bear carcass by its neck. By the time that they had been rounded up several had died, one by running off a precipice, two by a water hag. She had killed the hag, but the other men had been so shaken she had asked if they could be returned and new workers gathered. It had been done.
“Well then Master Hadrian, I’ll leave it in your capable hands,” he bowed to her, gathered his blueprints and quickly left.
Takara turned back to survey the land, she missed the days when the strike of steel on silver rang through the crisp air as Witcher’s practiced their craft, the days when she would be challenged to give them a ‘bit of a workout’.
The days when the library had been used as Witcher's would bring her texts, maps and journals and tell her how they came about them, how they studied the reports and came together to discuss tactics on various monsters.
Now the air sounded with the discordant strike of steel on stone. She didn’t like it, but as she looked over the newly roofed sections of the keeps, the inner buildings now rebuilt, she was happy with what she saw.
As she looked out at the valley she removed her injured hand and massaged it, the pain along the nerves flared to life as she did and she allowed herself to grimace. The fight with that creature had been one of the most brutal fights of her life. Considering that Youkai were vicious fighters and she had fought wars with creatures that made the true nightmares of this world seem tame in comparison was something she couldn’t deny, she had won, barely.
She looked at her hand, it was perfect, the bone an muscles had grown back perfectly, the nerves however were taking their time.
It was healing, slowly.
Time was what was needed to heal, she dropped her hand resolved to let it heal in its own time.
She jumped up onto the parapet, crouching down as she watched the small group of about 15 workers being brought in. Then she leapt, jumping down from balcony to balcony, wall to wall, she landed in her clean swept and cobbled courtyard just as the inner gate was opened.
She let the men have a good look at her and then jumped into her tree, settling herself within the branches of the old oak that had stood for centuries. She pulled a book from her sleeve and started to read.
As the new contingent of workers walked by a scent caught her off-guard and she felt her hackles rise, it was a conscious effort of willpower to make sure her power didn’t rise with it.
Takara scented the air, the stench of unwashed bodies, hope, fear and there - hatred bordering on rage and underneath that a human scent she was familiar with.
She looked at the older man that it all emanated from, he was in his 40’s, his brown hair dirty and unkempt, steel grey at the temples, his brown eyes looked at her hatred in his gaze and his beard was as unkempt as his hair. She leapt down from the tree landing in front of the one who had her attention.
“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice a slight snarl, Hadrian and Draven frowned, she had never asked the new workers anything, preferring not to engage with them until they were used to her and the stench of fear was not so prevalent.
“Just makin me livin'.” the man said, his voice masculine but the accent was false.
“It's is quite a step down from the opulence you were once used too,” she replied, her tone falsely sweet. The man froze, the hatred in his eyes giving way to fear. He knew she knew who he was now.
“Don’t rightly knows what you mean,” he croaked sweat beading his brow, stepping back, the scent of terror and anger now mixed with the scent of him, he looked left and right searching for an escape. There was none to be had, he had come into her domain and she would hunt him down like a rabid dog if she must.
“Oh but you do,” she all but purred, her right hand flashing out and gripping the man along his lice ridden jaw. “You didn’t answer my question, I asked why are you here? This is a long way from the Temple of Eternal Fire High Priest Farziel Creivhon”