Geralt stood at the window, looking down onto the snowy training grounds as Ciri worked her way through her katas. Her form was still rough and awkward, but she was improving by the day. The fact that she could hold her own against the chilly winter wind that swept mercilessly through Kaer Morhen was a testament to her budding skills.
He knew she wasn’t destined to be a Witcher, but he knew no other way for a child to be raised. At least now she wouldn’t have to fear dying upon the sword of another. He would be there, to protect her always, but the training soothed him as much as it strengthened her.
But still the safety wasn’t enough. There was more. It was itching and burning its way through him, keeping him from sleep at night. Bringing him nightmares that he longed to have done away with. Nightmares that he had thought would never haunt his mind.
He ignored the footsteps, as silent as they were, as they whispered behind him. Vesemir was not threat to him.
“You’re shit at brooding,” Vesemir snapped, standing beside the younger Witcher and looking down into the training grounds, “I thought I taught you better than that.”
“I must have been sword training that day,” Geralt answered wryly.
Vesemir just snorted, and shook his head as he watched Ciri slip out of form. It was a shame that she was the only student here, if only to spare her from Vesemir’s sharp eyes. He was kind, in his way, as an instructor. But he was a Witcher instructor, and kindness was harsher than cruelty elsewhere.
“You remember what you were taught, after you survived your trials,” Vesemir said, and Geralt nodded.
He remembered every lesson. He made use of them, to the letter. He had lived while on the Path, while others, many others, had not. Geralt was the famous White Wolf, after all, the one that drunkards sang of in taverns.
Geralt bit his tongue at the memory of why people sang of him at all.
“You’re unbalanced,” Vesemir continued, “Haven’t been right since you returned. And it’s not because of her.”
Geralt simply nodded. It was the truth. And he knew if he tried to deny it Vesemir would toss him out the window and give him a few lessons in the training ground below. Witchers don’t lie to themselves, he had been taught. Only the dead lie to themselves.
“You met them,” Vesemir said, and Geralt nodded silently.
He knew what his mentor was talking about. The stories of Witchers of old. That told of partnerships that kept them balanced before their potions and mutagens had been created. Partners that linked soul deep in their Witchers, grounded them, helped them, were the other half of their coin.
Old fairy tales, but half of what Witchers faced were old fairy tales. So he had been taught the lessons, and promptly throw them away. A Witcher should need no one, and no one should need a Witcher.
And yet here he was, fostering his child surprise, watching her blossom in front of him even in the winter chill of the mountains.
“Then why the fuck aren’t they here,” Vesemir demanded, “We only get one, Geralt. One person in all the world destined for a Witcher.”
“Did you have one,” Geralt asked, looking over at the older man.
Vesemir paused, and then nodded, staring out beyond the snow smothered mountains. Geralt’s eyes went wide at the admission.
“Yes, and they’re gone now. Because I was full of myself and tossed them aside.”
“If you survived I can survive,” Geralt said.
“Surviving is all we do these days,” Vesemir spat, “There should be more to life than surviving. You’re a fool for rejecting your other half. All the potions in the world will never bring you to balance again.”
Geralt swallowed at that.
He had been struggling all winter, easily blamed on recovery from the ghoul venom, but that excuse had been wearing thin. His center, his focus, was so threadbare that it could barely contain him. He would lose himself staring at the details of a piece of stone, of listening to the snow whistling through the wind, of his memories. Of his memories of him.
“It’s enough,” Geralt insisted.
“It won’t be enough for her,” Vesemir said, “Soon enough, she’ll notice. And one day you’ll slip and she’ll be the one that pays.”
Geralt’s fist tightened at that. But it was true, he knew it was. A single slip was all that it would take, and something would slip past his guard. He couldn’t hole up with her at Kaer Morhen forever. Soon enough the spring would come, and with it the Witchers would leave their crumbling fortress and return to the Path once more.
People needed them, and they would return to them until there were no more to return.
The halls echoed with the truth of how soon that would be. A handful of Witchers and a little girl. It was a far cry from the school it had once been.
“The fortress needs some repairs,” Vesemir said nonchalantly, “I’ll stay on this year. Her form is atrocious, it’s best you leave her to the training.”
I’ll keep her safe, he was saying, while you attend business elsewhere.
Geralt nodded, turning and wondering where to start. There were so many small little taverns in the world, finding the one that held what he needed seemed as impossible as throwing an apple to the moon.
“Geralt,” Vesemir called after him, “Better dead than rabid.”
Geralt closed his eyes for a moment, and then continued toward his room. Rabid wolves, Witchers of the wolf school that went mad, were the worst monsters there were. Cunning, ruthless, bloodthirsty, and insane. Rumors and stories that young trainees had frightened themselves with around campfires. Wolves who killed their mates, who tossed away their souls, and then prowled the lands as psychotic, unstoppable killers.
He wouldn’t become that, he swore. He wasn’t the monster they said he was.
Jaskier accepted a mug of ale as the crowd roared, and was happy to watch the coins flash his way. True, he had fallen into the bad habit of writing about creatures that weren’t real, but he had run dry of material the year before. So now, here he stood, nailing further adventures to the White Wolf’s resume, and enjoying the profits.
And how profitable they were! Food, drink, a bed, and, give the eyes he had seen the pretty young barmaid making at him earlier, quite the company this evening. But he had also noticed the small group of men toward the back, and how they eyed him.
Nothing good came of being eyed that way by men with swords. Especially not clean men with swords, all wearing the same oversized dark cloaks. There was trouble looking for him, and even he wasn’t fool enough not to notice it.
Although, for once, he wasn’t quite sure what he had done the earn the ire of trained swordsmen. He hadn’t bedded anyone of note as of late, not that there was much chance to with the political tensions. He had been a good little bard, with a few tumbles in the hay here and there, but nothing that would afford him this sort of attention.
Clearly he was going to have to rethink his evening plans. Oh well, there would be a warm bed and a bed warmer in the next tavern he was sure. Though, given the frosty cold of the early spring nights, he was going to deeply miss that warm bed.
“Thank you,” Jaskier smiled, collecting up his coins and making a show of finishing the performance.
Through the back door would be easy enough. Just a slip into the forest, and he could be on his way. A few bread rolls snuck into his pocket, and he would be fine until morning, though cold. He couldn’t risk a fire with men tracking him.
A few steps out the back door, barely past the light of the windows, and he was surprised to find that three men in matching cloaks stood before him. He swallowed tightly. Damn. They were trained men, now weren’t they.
“Gentlemen,” he smiled, easing his daggers into his hands as he backed toward the tavern, “I’m sure there’s no need to stand around and looming in the darkness! Let’s go back inside and have a drink, shall we?”
“We only need one piece of information, bard,” the man in front said, stepping forward, “We’ll even pay you for it, and then be on our way.”
“Oh,” Jaskier asked, looking between the three men.
He wasn’t fool enough to believe them, but they were certainly making a good argument at listening to them.
“Where is Geralt of Rivia,” the man demanded.
Jaskier let out a sharp guffaw at that. He knew he was fucked, he could take one man, but not three. But he had to laugh about it. Where was the asshole that blamed him for his own misery? Who had thrown away over a decade of companionship? Had left him to fend for himself on a mountain?
Where the fuck indeed.
“Off fucking your mother,” Jaskier snarked, “I heard he’s cheeky like that.”
“A poor choice of words, bard,” the man hissed, and three sword were drawn.
Jaskier let his lute drop gently, his own blades in hand, and hoped his death would be swift. The thought of bleeding out slowly in the horse shit behind a tavern didn’t appeal to him. Leave it to Geralt to get him killed even when he wasn’t here.
Jaskier dodged past the man on the right, twisting thrusting his blade under his armpit. A killing blow, bloody and fierce, and about as good as he was going to get with daggers. The two other men turned on him, and the bard saw his death staring angrily down at him.
But, instead steel cleaving into his flesh, he saw the two men drop, one minus part of his head, and stared at the fiery eyed man that had saved him. Jaskier dropped the still bleeding man he was holding in surprise.
“Geralt,” he said, still quite shocked, “They were looking for you.”