Geralt doesn’t take much notice at first when the small brown bird alights on his table.
It’s not uncommon for daemons to pass close by in a public space, and there are plenty of people around him in the tavern: servers bustling with tankards of ale, a good number of folk comprising a somewhat somber crowd, and even a bard in the corner performing for the lukewarm audience.
However, the small bird lingers, and she pointedly looks him over.
Geralt purposely chose the quieter corner of the tavern so that he could drink in peace before seeking out this Devil of Posada, and so that Skorry, large as she is, could perch on the back of his chair without drawing undue attention.
He doesn’t welcome any intrusion, even this small feathered one. He knows a witcher and his daemon draw cautious and suspicious appraisal, but he’s tired of it.
However, the visiting daemon seems merely curious. Her head turns and tilts this way and that as she examines him with bright eyes that linger on his hair and medallion. After giving him a thorough inspection, the daring thing hops closer to look over Skorry as well, undaunted by a set of talons that’s bigger than she is.
The little bird is rather drab, so he’s surprised to see that she flits away to return to the shoulder of the opulently garbed bard that's performing for the lackluster crowd. The small bird joins him for the chorus, blending her voice with his in a harmonious burst of song that has Geralt lifting his eyebrows in surprise. When they finish the piece, the crowd tosses offerings at the pair in such a way that’s clearly more of an excuse to pelt them with fruit and bread rather than to show approval.
He watches the bird run her beak through the bard’s hair behind his ear. It might look like a quick affirming touch exchanged between anyone and their daemon, or perhaps a gesture of vanity. But, because he’s watching, he sees that the two are clearly taking the opportunity to subtly discuss something. He appreciates what’s obviously a smooth and practiced move until both bird and bard snap their eyes on him.
The musician has as clear an eye as his daemon for reading the cues that Geralt wishes to be left alone, which is to say that he strolls up purposefully and sits down as if inviting himself to lunch with an old friend. The bard’s daemon doesn’t return to bouncing around the table, but is snugged into the corner of his doublet. At a distance, she’s a mismatch for the bright jewel-tone colors her human is sporting, but up close, Geralt can see she’s about the same color as the bard’s dark hair.
“We know who you are,” the bard says pleasantly, and Geralt stands up to leave.
The witcher drops a few coins on the table and holds his arm out for Skorry, who pushes the chair slightly backwards as she launches to his fist. They leave, but not before he has a chance to see the bard’s undaunted face, and hear his small daemon’s cheerful whistling.
He had left Roach tethered loosely outside. It’s wise to always be ready to leave quickly from a town that might easily turn on a witcher. As he leads her down the path, away from the town, Skorry shifts uneasily from her constructed perch on the back of his saddle.
“He’s following,” she rumbles quietly, and Geralt doesn’t need to ask who she means.
Sure enough, the bard is trotting after them, kicking up dust from the road onto his beetle-bright finery.
“In a hurry to get on with it? That’s fine, fine, that’s what I was hoping for really. I’m Jaskier, by the way, thank you for asking. And, this is my Luscinia.” The small bird is bouncing lightly on Jaskier’s shoulder as he runs to catch up, but flutters briefly in greeting. “And you’re Geralt of Rivia, of course.”
Jaskier slows to a stroll as he reaches them and walks, panting slightly, at Geralt’s side. The bard’s daemon, Luscinia, actually looks for a moment as if she means to go ride companionably next to Skorry on her perch, but then thinks better of it and flies onto the front of Roach’s saddleblanket instead.
“No.” Geralt says flatly.
“Anyway, I was h-...’no’? I haven’t even said anything yet!”
“Fine. Say what you were going to, then.”
“Well, I was hoping, if we’re being honest, that I might join you on the road for a bit? Share in some adventure? It’ll make for richer stories and songs.”
Geralt looks at the bard pointedly, and says again “No,” though he catches a sidelong glance from Skorry that he knows means she is slightly amused.
“Come on,” Jaskier coaxes. “You must want to share some details. You’ve slain so many beasts, saved so many people. They’re rather ungrateful, aren’t they? I know what that’s like.”
“You don’t.” Geralt cuts him off. “They think my presence might curse them for their entire lives. They’re only concerned you might give them a headache for a day.”
Jaskier gives him a quick grin, and Geralt realizes the bard’s gotten him to answer, drawn him into conversation despite himself.
Geralt considers giving the bard a quick punch in the stomach to dissuade him, not to actually hurt him so much as just knock the wind out of him. Luscinia’s eyes gleam, dangerously close to his face with how she’s chosen to ride, and he decides it’s not worth the headache for a day should she shriek in his ear.
“You’re not suited for the road,” Geralt says, going for a verbal strike instead of the physical punch. “You should be spending your nights comfortably in taverns or by the fire in some lord’s hall. Traveling like I do wouldn’t be good for you and your….sparrow.”
He hadn’t been sure what type of bird the bard has a daemon, and judging by the way they both puff up indignantly, he’d guessed wrong.
“A ‘sparrow’? Excuse you,” Jaskier says, incredulous. “Perhaps I shouldn’t be asking to journey with you at all if that’s the extent of your fine senses. You wouldn’t know a corncob from a cockatrice. She’s a nightingale, obviously, aren’t you, my pretty Lucy?” Jaskier blows a quick kiss towards his bird affectionately. “What if I said yours was a chickenhawk?”
Skorry clacks her beak in warning, and Jaskier hastily reaches out a hand to catch Luscinia as she bounces off Roach to land in his palm. They both move a little further away across the path, out of reach of Geralt’s fist and Skorry’s talons.
“Sorry, sorry. Not a chickenhawk, then. What is she?” Jaskier asks, and his contriteness seems sincere. He tosses his daemon up in the air so that she can ride on the neck of his lute, slung over his shoulder.
“Skorry’s a Kaedwen mountain eagle.” Geralt says, after a pause. He hates that the bard has gotten him to speak, again, but it’s been so long since somebody actually asked about his daemon, rather than drawing away.
“They hatch them big up there, don’t they?”
“No. They’re all dead.” The nesting sites on the peaks near Kaer Morhen, already inhospitable, were ravaged by battle when the fortress had been attacked. The remaining eagles had not been enough to sustain the population. It was, perhaps, the least of all the tragedies that followed the siege, but a blow he felt all the same. He’d forever have a daemon now a symbol for what was lost due to people’s hatred.
Skorry turns her head, murmuring softly, too softly for the bard at the other side of the path to hear. “You and I are not yet extinct, Geralt.” He reaches up to his soul and feels her gently push her face into the side of his hand as he gives the feathers on the back of her head a quick brush.
“So, um. I hadn’t finished my pitch?” Jaskier says, plaintively turning the statement into a question.
Geralt hauls himself into the saddle and prepares to leave.
“Skorry, was it?” Jaskier asks, before continuing astonishingly with “I don’t suppose a bird of your size sings, but, it’d be helpful to know what sort of noise you do make? Only, if it’s something I can say is a ‘piercing cry to the moon’ I’ve got a lovely bridge I’m improvising as we speak. I mean, I can say that anyway, but it seems polite to ask, since you’re here.”
It’s not polite at all, actually. In most places, it’s considered highly intrusive to speak directly to somebody’s daemon. But, again, just as it didn’t feel like suspicion when Jaskier’s daemon was examining him in the tavern, it doesn’t feel like Jaskier is mocking him or Skorry now.
Geralt sets off on a steady pace that will eat up the distance of the road without over-wearying Roach. It’s not a gait that would easily outmatch a man on foot, should he want to follow. Jaskier hurries back over to him and begins trotting down the road at his side, Luscinia riding comfortably on his lute.
Geralt won’t tell him to go, but he doesn’t think that Jaskier will stay for long.
The days turn into months, turn into years, and Jaskier has stayed and is staying and Geralt would be lying if he were to say that the bard hasn’t become someone close in his life.
People still greet the witcher and his daemon with a bit of coldness, but Jaskier’s songs have also traveled. He hears, now and then, the lines about the fierce gaze of an eagle, wings spread like a protecting cloak, and with a piercing cry that serenades the gentle moon.
Honestly, he hates that last line, but it makes Skorry chuckle.
Jaskier and his Luscinia aren’t quite the hindrance he’d expected. They do take some looking after while Geralt is tracking monsters, and they seem to have a natural inclination for beelining to trouble in towns, but they often make life between jobs fairly pleasant. Jaskier knows how to find nicer lodging, how to charm the innkeepers for extra food and ale, and has played for their stay in several places.
The bard and his nightingale also make a natural pair of spies.
They could be deadly, if they wanted to be. Geralt has watched as Jaskier works a room, playing and weaving around tables, accompanied by his daemon as she hops and flutters beside him. She passes close to drinks and food and could easily poison any of them while the crowd’s eyes are on the bard, or even on her, so lightly and quickly does she flit from table to table.
No one questions a bard’s wandering - they could easily slip into a town, assassinate a target, and leave without ever being suspected.
Their ability to gather information isn’t to be discounted, either. People talk, thinking the conversation to be covered by music, and Luscinia brings the words back to Jaskier ears. They both tell Geralt tidbits of gossip, bringing him information like small presents.
“The village is undercharging you for your work. Ask for more.”
“The man in green is drinking more than he normally does, and his pack bulges. He has secrets. Buy him a drink, and he might share them.”
And, once, while he’s drinking in the common-room of an inn: “The pair of men at the back of the room are planning to rob you. They are waiting for you to sleep so that they can take your saddlebags.”
After Luscinia whispers that to him, Geralt exchanges a glance with Skorry, who nods.
He walks her to the door on his fist, so that she doesn’t have to wrangle her way through the air of a crowded room. Once outside, she launches and wings her way to the stables. Anyone who is still bold enough to enter Roach's stall can expect a face full of talon, and Geralt will know who to beat in the morning from the bloody gauges on their face.
He wades through silence on the way back to his seat, as everyone stares at a man who can be so abnormally far away from his daemon.
He sips his ale and feels the muttering buzz build around him, and wonders if it would be better to leave now, before things get ugly.
However, Jaskier strikes a chord and fills the silence, pouring his song into the void as if he’s noticed nothing. Slowly, conversation resumes. The would-be robbers sneer at him, and leave. Geralt notices, with satisfaction, that they are walking in the opposite direction from the stables.
“It’s unnatural.” someone whispers behind him. “It’s cursed magic, is what it is.”
Geralt is used to it. He’s heard worse.
He turns around, though, when the speaker yelps. Luscinia, suddenly clumsy in her takeoff, has knocked the man’s ale onto his lap. As she returns to Jaskier’s shoulder, the bard executes a graceful twirl and winks in Geralt’s direction.
Both bard and bird look incredibly smug, and they all spend the night under a warm roof.
The next night finds them in the hills that surround the village. Jaskier’s shivering in the still twilight hours of the morning while Geralt examines the slain creature at their feet. The fight had been brutal, but short.
“What is it, and can we go back now?” Jaskier asks, teeth chattering. Luscinia’s tucked up in his collar, warm against his neck.
“A vampire. One of the alpor.” Geralt says, bending down to search the body. Most of the higher undead carry some kind of figurine to represent the daemon they had in life. He finds a small jade sculpture of a snake with two glittering chips of topaz for eyes. It’s clutched in the alp’s hand in death, for whatever cold comfort was brought by unyielding and unliving stone. He’ll present the figurine to the village as proof of the monster’s death, and bury it later.
Skorry, on his shoulder, leans her weight into his cheek, and they both sigh. The years blend into themselves, but he and Skorry still have each other, despite ugly rumors about witchers and their daemons being no different from the undead.
“A vampire?” Jaskier muses. “Didn’t seem like much of a fight. I’ll have to add some details. Later. When it’s warm. Can we go?”
It’s not unknown for the alpor to travel in pairs. Semi-intelligent undead frequently do.
“You’re bleeding.” Skorry rumbles into his ear. “Not a good state to track the undead. Shall I scout?”
“I’ll keep.” Geralt tells her. “Go back with Jaskier. If this one had a mate, it’ll be close, and if it were stronger, it would have come out already to defend the one we killed. I’ll be fine to finish the job.”
They’d made a rough campsite on the edge of the woods, a spot to retreat to for a rest if the night’s tracking had proved fruitless. Skorry returns there with Jaskier and watches, staring with a raptor’s impassive gaze as he rekindles the fire.
“Are you cold, Skorry? You can come closer.” Jaskier asks, after a bit.
She tosses her head, and he smiles. “I know that means you think I’m entertaining, even if you don’t want to say so. Either of you.”
Luscinia leaves the front of Jaskier’s shirt where she’d been huddling, and sits on his knee as Jaskier slumps down in front of the fire, holding his hands out for warmth.
“So....” Jaskier pauses, searching for words. “I know I’ve seen you two apart. I’ve, ah, heard stories of mages.”
Skorry cuts him off, knowing the question being asked. “Geralt and I cannot go so far apart as a sorcerer and their daemon could, but we can achieve a considerable distance. It was part of our training and upbringing. All witchers and their daemons can.”
At the thought of being so separated from each other, Luscinia returns to Jaskier’s neck. It’s not for warmth this time, but so that they can feel each other’s physical presence as she presses against his pulse.
She stays for a few heartbeats, and then flutters back to the ground and bounces across the dirt and pine needles over to where Skorry sits.
Jaskier bites his lip, not wanting to call her back, but not sure how the gesture will be received as his Lucy settles down at Skorry’s feet, resting against her chest.
Skorry peers down at the much smaller bird, and then, after a moment, slowly and cautiously runs her huge beak across the nightingale’s head in a whisper of a preening gesture. Luscinia fluffs herself up in contentment and closes her eyes in the warmth of the fire, and Jaskier relaxes.
The bard dozes a bit, knowing that Skorry is keeping watch, but jerks awake when Geralt returns.
“Did you find the other one, then?” he asks the witcher.
Geralt stares at the two daemons sitting together, and doesn’t answer.
“Geralt? Nothing? He’s lost his mind to the cold, his head is frozen. Sit down and get warm, then.”
Geralt crosses to the fire and sits next to Jaskier, briefly showing him the medallion he’d found on the other alpor, but continuing to watch the pair of birds.
“Are you not revolted?” he asks the bard, after a bit.
“What, by the vampires? Not nearly as messy as that, what was it? A katakan? That one a while back that burst like a canteen of mud. I made you sit in the bath for hours.”
“No, Jaskier, not by the vampires. I mean, are you disgusted by me.”
Jaskier looks into his eyes, searching. Across from them, Luscinia, sitting between Skorry’s deadly feet, reaches up and preens the larger bird's chest.
“You’ve surely heard people say that it’s proof of my inhumanity, that witchers cannot feel emotions because they can send their daemons away.” Geralt presses.
“I’ve heard that, yes,” Jaskier allows. “But, I’ve heard all sorts of things. I tell you most of them, if they’re juicy.”
“You don’t fear me at all?”
Jaskier glances at his daemon sitting snuggled against a confused eagle.
“You don’t think it’s unnatural that we can distance ourselves as we do?” Geralt’s not sure why he’s speaking as roughly as he is, but he wants his words, if they describe any grain of truth, to drive the bard away now, before things become even more complicated. “That I’m a monster, myself?”
“I know you’re not,” Jaskier says fondly. “Skorry just kept watch over me while I slept. We’ve traveled for at least six fantastic songs now. Why do you suddenly want to make a fuss about it?”
They’ve somehow gotten closer to each other while talking, Geralt striving for any thread of uneasiness from Jaskier, and Jaskier assuring Geralt that there isn’t any.
“Geralt…” Jaskier looks up at him, and leans in to kiss him.
At least, he tries.
There’s an explosion of sound as Luscinia lunges upward in flight, shrilling “No!” at the top of her impressive voice.
She’s between them before Geralt can react, battering his face with tiny wings, keeping him away from Jaskier.
Geralt holds up a hand, not to hit her or swat her out of the air, never to hurt her, but to show he’s moving away.
He swallows all his questions when she lands, looking ridiculously tiny on his gloved palm compared to how Skorry normally looks.
“Idiots!” she warbles. “You just drank something to help you hunt vampires in the dark! Your eyes are still black with whatever the concoction is. You’ll poison us if you kiss each other while that’s still on your lips.”
Jaskier looks rather sheepish. “Probably should have mentioned that, yes.”
Geralt’s never had to worry about the lingering effects of his potions being transferred to another person in such a way. No one has ever come with him on his hunts like Jaskier has.
Jaskier chuckles. “Well, we’ll find some water or something to rinse your mouth out with, and then, if you’d like, we can try that again. Although, and I know your intentions were good, the moment’s somewhat ruined, Lucy, my love.”
The nightingale daemon chortles, and Geralt realizes he’s holding Jaskier’s soul in his hands.
The two of them, bard and bird, look at Geralt with amusement, and he realizes there’s no better proof that they can offer him that they’re not afraid of him and Skorry, not bothered by what the pair of them are.
Unexpectedly, Geralt’s heart flutters, much like a small brown bird.