Jaskier had gone quiet a while ago. Geralt assumed he was getting tired as he would occasionally stop walking for no apparent reason. The lack of mindless chatter, lute playing and even complaining was worrying the witcher, so he’d already begun to scan the roadside for a place to stop and rest. For now, he simply settled for listening to the bard’s footsteps behind Roach to make sure he was still following along. When the footsteps stopped for longer than before, he called his name without turning around. "Jaskier, keep up."
"Bad," the bard muttered, barely audible.
Geralt turned in the saddle to find Jaskier a good few paces behind, hand on his forehead and staring at a point in the distance. As Geralt dismounted Roach, the bard suddenly collapsed, as if he was a puppet with his strings cut. He wasn’t fast enough to catch the man as he fell down into the dirt.
"Jaskier!" he called out as he knelt next to him, carefully lifting the bard to a sitting position. He was conscious but seemed confused as to what had just happened. “Are you hurt?” Jaskier looked at Geralt, or at least in his direction as his eyes were still unfocused. "mmm" was the only reply. He couldn’t tell if it was an answer or just an acknowledgement of Geralt’s presence.
The witcher was becoming concerned now, trying to fight down the cold feeling of dread that something was horribly wrong. Jaskier had been fine for most of the day, talking and singing and playing his lute. He hadn't skipped any meals and the witcher had made sure he'd drank plenty of water. It was only about an hour ago that he started to go quiet.
"Are you ill?"
There was a moment of silence as the bard seemed to assess himself before answering with an uncertain "no."
“Did you hit your head?” He couldn’t see any sign of injury but he wanted to rule it out. Jaskier only shook his head this time.
"Can you tell me what's wrong then? Did something happen?" he asked, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Geralt tried to subdue the small spike of fear as the bard repeated himself. "What's bad?"
Another pause, then "Feel bad... wrong. Dunno."
He was still holding a hand to his head. Geralt gently removed the hand to check for any injury. Despite Jaskier denying hitting his head, he doubted the bard would really be able to tell at the moment. There was nothing he could see, and his skin was cool so he could rule out a fever.
“Fuck,” Geralt grumbled under his breath. If something was wrong with Jaskier and he needed a healer, then they were in deep trouble. They were at least a few days away from the nearest town.
"I wanna stop," the bard mumbled, slurring his words slightly.
“We can't yet. This isn't a safe place.” He tried to make his voice as gentle as possible as the bard seemed uncharacteristically close to tears.
Jaskier only nodded. Geralt helped him to his feet and took his wrist, leading him over to Roach. "You're going to ride Roach," he said as he helped him in the saddle. Jaskier still seemed unaware of his surroundings and barely reacted to the change in position. Geralt took the reins and led them onward. He hoped to spot a decent place to rest soon.
As the day wore on, there was no change in Jaskier’s condition, whatever was going on. He had a permanent look of confusion on his face as he seemed to be constantly trying to figure out what was happening. He would occasionally place his hand on his head again but when asked denied he was in any pain. He only uttered a few words at a time when prompted by the witcher about how he was feeling which was highly unnerving for the usually talkative bard. He never seemed to be able to recall what had been said more than a few minutes previously. If it weren’t for a lack of actual injury, Geralt would’ve assumed he’d sustained a serious blow to his head.
An hour or so later, Geralt finally led them off the path into the nearby trees. They stopped in a small clearing with some nearby grass for Roach to graze on. He left Jaskier on the horse as he set up his bedroll before helping him down. Jaskier stood in place, not moving until Geralt gently took his arm and led him to the bedroll. He sat him down and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. The witcher still couldn't detect any hint of illness on him. As they’d walked he had briefly entertained the thought that it was some kind of curse, except his medallion would have detected it if that were the case and they hadn’t come across any mages in a long time.
"Jaskier, how do you feel?"
He turned to face him but didn't seem to know how to answer. Geralt tried a more direct question.
"Do you still feel bad?"
"Are you hungry?"
"I’ll go find something. Stay here," he added, not really thinking he would wander off but making sure anyway.
It wasn't long before he'd managed to catch two rabbits and returned to camp. He found Jaskier exactly as he’d left him, staring blankly at the ground and hand on his head again. He started a fire and prepared the rabbits, skewering them on some sticks to roast. He watched Jaskier as he waited for the meat to cook. His brows furrowed for a moment and some recognition came back to his eyes. He dropped his hand and looked up.
“Geralt?” Jaskier’s voice was quiet but he sounded mostly like himself.
“Where are we? What happened?” He looked around the small clearing in confusion. It was clear he had no idea what happened over the past few hours.
“You collapsed about an hour ago and said you felt “bad”. You didn’t seem to know what was going on, so I put you on Roach and we stopped here.”
“I collapsed? Wait but it’s midday. It was just sunrise when we left camp.”
Geralt raised an eyebrow. “We’ve been travelling since then. Do you not remember anything?” Jaskier only shook his head. He started picking at his hands, a familiar tick Geralt had noticed he did when anxious.
When the meat was ready, he handed one of the rabbits to the bard who took it gratefully. He ate slowly but seemed mostly himself, occasionally blabbering on about nonsense as he usually did. Once they’d finished Geralt asked how he was feeling. Jaskier admitted to still feeling a bit strange but otherwise being okay.
With that they set off again, Jaskier on Roach while Geralt led her on. Jaskier might say he was fine but Geralt didn’t want him collapsing again and this way he could keep a much closer eye on him. This time, their travels were accompanied by snippets of songs half-finished, lute playing and whatever else popped into Jaskier’s head.
Geralt had begun to relax as the bard returned to his usual self. However, just before sunset the bard went quiet again. “Jaskier?” the witcher asked. When he didn’t give a reply Geralt brought Roach to a stop. He lay a hand on the bard’s arm to try and get his attention. He turned to look at Geralt but didn’t say anything, the same vacant look on his face from earlier.
The witcher cursed under his breath before taking the reins again and leading Roach into the forest. They would have to stop for the night soon. They came to a small area mostly devoid of roots sticking up from the ground with a stream nearby. Geralt led Roach to a patch of grass for her to graze on before pulling Jaskier out of the saddle. Not trusting the bard to support himself he carried him to the centre of the clearing and sat him on the ground. He retrieved their bedrolls and lay them out before moving Jaskier onto his. He quickly gathered some wood and cast igni. He didn’t want to leave the bard by himself to go hunting, not knowing if he would take a turn for the worst.
Instead he returned to Roach to relieve her of their bags and the saddle. He gave her a pat on the neck before returning to the fire. He found some dried meat and stale bread and offered it to Jaskier. He only stared at it, not making a move to take it. “You should eat.” Still no reaction. He sat beside the bard and placed the bread in his hand, hoping he would do something. It took a moment for him to realise something was in his hand but when he did, he began eating. Geralt ate his own meagre meal in silence as usual, finding he missed the bard’s idle chatter.
He offered a waterskin to Jaskier which he also took and managed to take a few unsteady sips. Night had fallen by the time Geralt was satisfied Jaskier wasn’t hungry or thirsty. He coaxed him into lying down and covered him with a blanket. “Sleep,” he said, hoping the bard would understand.
Geralt set up his own bedroll on the opposite side of the fire. He didn’t close his eyes until he could hear Jaskier’s breathing even out with sleep.