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Interlude: Touching the Sun

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Yule, the winter solstice 1286, in the great kingdom of Nilfgaard

 

“Ge-eralt!” his daughter screamed from her rooms in the Imperial Palace of Nilfgaard. He was already rushing, going as fast as he could. The shiny black leather boots were too narrow around the toes for his liking, and the stockings underneath pulled on his leg hair as they slipped. The white silk shirt felt too tight in the neck; the black breeches were too tight in the groin. The new doublet had golden stitching and laces on the hems. The cape was even worse: black velvet, held fashionably in place by a golden sun-shaped brooch on his shoulder. Wearing it for the occasion – apparently – was non-negotiable. Emhyr insisted. Mererid had informed the witcher with exasperation that it was a mark of considerable status, all the while the valet had been making a face that none too subtly conveyed that Geralt, in his opinion, was entirely beneath that status. To Geralt, the emblem felt more like a brand on cattle.

Rounding the hallway corner to her dressing room, Geralt was greeted by a sight to remember. There she sat, in front of her dressing table, covered in silks and laces, looking like an ill-tempered cat shoved into a foam bath. Several maids were flocking around her.

“You will need to come here, I can’t move,” she whined.

One of the maids was just finishing something with her hair that involved hot irons and pins. It certainly looked like torture to him. To be painfully honest, though, she looked amazing – not much like the witcher he had spent the last decade with – but beautiful. There were pearls in her hair, hanging from her ears and around her neck.

“Don’t look like that!” she complained, and he walked over to her.

“Like what?” he grunted.

“All sappy and whatnot,” she groused, wincing as the hot iron came close to her ear, before being pulled away to leave a perfect cork-screw curl.

“Please hold still once more, Your Highness, and we are almost done,” the maid begged as she pinned the last curl into a complicated nest on Ciri’s head.

“There, all done,” the maid sighed in relief and escaped. Ciri forcefully got up from her chair, and the witcher swallowed. A lace and feather ruff, open at the front, curved around her neck, like the spread tail of an albino peacock. A beautiful pearl and diamond collier nestled around her collar bones, below which the bodice of her dress was made out of jade green silk and floral golden stitching. The green fabric extended to the outer sleeves and train of the dress, whereas the inner sleeves and skirts were made of layers of pearly white silk. Geralt realised he was staring when Mererid, coming up next to him, dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief.

“Our beautiful Princess…” he whispered. Ciri rolled her eyes and gave Geralt a funny look.

“He’s not entirely wrong,” the witcher admitted with heavy feelings in his chest. Ciri rolled her eyes in response, looking away. “Are you ready?” he added in a softer voice, “If you need any kind of last minute escape...” he trailed off.

She gave him a little smile, sniffed, and then shook her head. He offered his arm gallantly, and she took it with a poised curtsy. Never let it be said an old wolf could not learn a new trick or two. They chuckled, and walked down the corridor towards the Temple. Crossing through the parlour, they caught up with Emhyr, who was pacing before the fireplace. He looked up upon their entry and stilled.

The former Emperor had changed his dress as well for the occasion. Geralt supposed that was to be expected. Gone was the padded long doublet. Instead, Emhyr wore the ceremonial robes of the High Priest of the Golden Sun: a layered white robe, offset with gold, and a golden cloak with red lining. His long hair was combed back as usual, but he now wore a thin golden circlet on his brow. The chain of office had been replaced by a large pendant of the Golden Sun.

“Ready?” he too asked his daughter, who nodded vaguely. Emhyr approached, coming to stand in front of his daughter, carefully assessing her face for a long moment. Then, to Geralt’s surprise – and possibly Ciri’s as well – he touched her chin and placed a gentle kiss upon her forehead. Without further comment, he turned and walked ahead of them, out of the parlour, and out of the palace.

The Impera Brigade, shield beside shield, lined the direct path across the yard to the temple, keeping the many spectators at bay. Rosa var Attre, their new commander, bowed deeply, and walked ahead of them with an entourage of nine officers. Ten further guards followed behind. He had not asked Emhyr what had happened to Matsen once they had returned to the capital, but one day he had ridden past Millenium square to see birds pecking at the rotting remains of a male body, tied onto an iron wheel. Gossip had filled out the maybes. At least he was glad to see Rosa’s familiar face around. She had taken him up on a renewed offer to train, though so far her new duties had kept her too busy. In the present, Geralt tried to ignore the cheering crowd and concentrate on Emhyr’s back. For a stretch or two, he was not sure who was holding onto whom: he onto Ciri, or Ciri onto him. Finally they had made it into the shade of the colonnades of the temple, where only the most select guests had access. They had to wait for a few minutes. Peeking past the shields of the guards, he could see the long gap towards the altar, where several priests had appeared. Down the way, he could see Philippa and Triss. Dandelion’s pink cap was visible somewhere in the front, as well as the head of Hjalmar an Craithe. Then, thunderously, several trumpets sounded once, and an orchestra of harps and strings began to play a ceremonial tune.

Emhyr started to walk towards the altar, and they followed at a measured pace. Where the crowd parted before the altar, he almost forgot that he had to let go of Ciri, but as his eyes fell on a nervous-looking Morvran Voorhis in the finest of clothes, he remembered. Giving her arm a last, encouraging squeeze, he let her go, and stepped to the side where Cerys and Hjalmar were standing in the first row. His eyes remained completely fixed on his daughter’s back. He did not hear the words spoken by Emhyr. Once his gaze swayed to the general, who had turned his head slightly back while looking at Ciri. His gaze met Geralt’s only for a second, before the younger man turned back to listen to Emhyr.

“Yes, I do,” he said, ripping Geralt out of his stupor.

“And do you,” Emhyr directed the word to Ciri, his voice strong but gentle, “Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon var Emreis, wish to marry this man, Morvran Fergus Etienne Voorhis, honour and support him in light and dark times, give care and council, protect and support him until death do thee part?”

“I do,” she said clearly and without hesitation. Geralt felt his heart pause.

“Then by the eternal light of the Golden Sun, I declare the wed,” Emhyr said to them, and rings were exchanged. Then the High Priest of the Golden Sun raised his voice to the audience, “I give you the Empress and Emperor of Nilfgaard.”

Two priests, previously standing behind the altar, picked up something golden from a dais and walked around the altar. Geralt witnessed how two identical chains of office were fastened to the shoulders of Ciri and Morvran. They had turned towards the onlookers. He held her by the waist as they looked at each other hesitantly. Then Ciri lifted her hand into his neck and he bent to kiss her. Thunderous applause and whistles rang from the audience, and thrice more the trumpets sounded. Geralt breathed deeply, when Hjalmar clapped him on the back.

“A glamorous celebration,” Crach’s son remarked, dragging at his collar. Geralt groaned audibly.

“My dearest friend! How good to see you well!” Dandelion called, approaching him with open arms. They embraced heartily. Then he excused himself to congratulate the bride and groom.

“A mighty big party you are havin’ ere”, Zoltan said from below. Geralt could not keep in the laugh as he saw his dear friend in his fine garb. “Don’t do that, I borrowed the whole thing from Vivaldi. Can’t get his face out of my head when I had to ask him… apart from that, you are looking pretty fancy yourself these days, wolf. If you’re not careful, you might wake up as a tamed pet dog one of these days.”

Geralt winced, scratching the short curls in the back of his neck.

“Already too late, is it?” Zoltan laughed. Then he waved Geralt down to him: “Now where can one get away here and find a decent place to drink? Wouldn’t want to offend anybody Ciri still needs to deal with though, I reckon.”

Not that Geralt would not have loved to follow that suggestion, but in that moment Rideaux, in the company of Regis and Meara, made his way over to chat. There was no rest to be had from polite conversation, which largely meant for Geralt to distantly nod along with whatever was being said around him. It was for her sake, he told himself. By the time everyone had made their way back to the palace and into the ballroom, he almost wished for a monster, and assassination attempt, anything that would let him rip the peace tie and draw the sword at his belt. But everything went absolutely smoothly, if one ignored that the little Geralt, having escaped his father’s watch once, began to eat the decoration on the wedding cake before it was formally served. Dandelion had noticed fast enough to rescue his son from Mererid’s reprisal.

There was dancing, in lines, and squares, and couples. Ciri and Morvran had opened the floor. From a safe distance, Geralt had seen his daughter dance the second set with her father. There was a lightness and grace in the former Emperor’s bearing as he twirled his daughter over the dance floor that gave the witcher a jealous pang. The two talked to each other, about what, he could not hear. She looked happy, he thought, albeit he could not entirely fathom why. Ciri said something that made her laugh, and even Emhyr chuckled in reaction. Geralt managed to avoid the dance floor well enough. The present sorceresses made to claim on him, and Priscilla left him be after he refused a third time. Holding onto a glass of extremely good wine, he spent most of the afternoon talking to Dandelion, and later to a remarkably grumpy Vernon Roche. The Temerian had returned to the capital with Queen Anaïs entourage. Regis stopped by briefly, but had become caught up in conversation with Rideaux.

Dinner was a reprieve from most small talk, as he was seated between Emhyr and Cerys, further flanked by Ciri and Hjalmar. Most rulers had been invited to the wedding, and next to the royal family they took up the seats at the high table. What his own presence among them meant worried the witcher greatly, but the fixed seating order had left him no choice. Down the table, Morvran was talking to King Tankred of Kovir and Queen Anaïs of Temeria. To his embarrassment and pride, Anaïs had greeted the witcher briefly to thank him for her rescue all those years ago. Among the royalty of the Empire, Adda of Redania was present, and so was Francesca Findabair. Trying to avoid any thought of politics, at least for the day, Geralt spent most of the meal talking to Cerys and Hjalmar. He became distracted once when he felt Emhyr tense beside him, pulse going up. But when Geralt inquired after his well-being, Emhyr had tersely brushed him off. Following the former Emperor’s gaze across the room, he spied Yennefer at one of the lower tables. Her eyes looked devastatingly sad as she watched Ciri. With worry he followed her hardening expression as she glanced at Voorhis, Emhyr, and lastly at Geralt himself. He averted his gaze first. Yen was another line of thought he really preferred not to contemplate today. Upon the return of the sorceress from her state as a compressed miniature, Ciri and Yen had fought terribly. On that day, Emhyr – still the acting regent until the crowning – had coldly asked Yennefer to conduct her business from Imbaelk Tower, and only visit the palace if she was summoned. It had taken a few days of stewing and a long conversation one night for Ciri to open up about what had happened. Since that talk, Geralt grappled with the certainty that Yen had orchestrated the blackmailing attempt of the Lodge. And while there was ample evidence, Ciri had refused to sentence the woman she had called mother. A pardon with  a long list obligations it had been instead.

“It would be prudent to keep a close eye on her,” Emhyr said lowly, leaning towards him. Apparently the man had followed his gaze as well, coming to a similar conclusion. Geralt nodded regretfully. “There is something I want to discuss with you, in private,” Emhyr added.

“When?” Geralt replied unobtrusively.

“Tomorrow for breakfast?” Emhyr suggested, but Geralt shook his head.

“I have a sparring match with Rosa, but how about afterwards?”

“That will do,” Emhyr muttered, and poked at his dessert. His body language was carefully controlled, but by the way he rested most of his weight on the back and armrests, Geralt suspected the former emperor was rather tired. He had recuperated slowly from his ordeal, but if the repeated sounds of somebody walking down the hallway in the middle of the night were any indication, he slept as badly as Geralt. The curse had passed, for all they could tell, but his sleeping mind kept replaying the nightmares of the last days. He wondered how much worse it must be for Emhyr, on whose vulnerabilities and guilt the nightmares had been built.

“When will it be polite to excuse oneself?” he whispered to his table neighbour.

Emhyr huffed, and Geralt could not quite tell whether it was in derision or sympathy: “The wedded couple is expected to retire soon, a time upon which the formal part of the festivities has ended.”

That Geralt really had not wanted to think about. He knew that Ciri was a grownup and strong woman capable of making her own decisions, which included facing the consequences. But some part of him could not help but worry that he would hurt her.

Emhyr considered him with a frown, something moving behind those dark eyes of his: “Perhaps you would care for a nightcap, somewhere more private?”

Geralt did not quite know what to make of the offer, but anywhere more private seemed like a great idea. He nodded, and took a long sip of his wine. It was excellent.

“Erveluce, pressed at Castel Ravello 1282,” he commented nonchalantly.

Emhyr’s eyebrows rose just a little: “So you know something about wine after all. I don’t suppose owning a vineyard has anything to do with it?”

“Not much,” Geralt considered, “Barnabas-Basilius runs the vineyard as you know. I only drink the produce – so long as I am in the country. But the witcher mutagens enhance all senses, including smell and taste. It comes in handy in unexpected ways.”

“An unintended application for the mutations, but useful,” the other considered.

At that moment, Morvran Voorhis rose from the table and drew out the chair for his wife. At least, Geralt thought, the nobility of the Empire was too polite to whistle as the couple said their good-byes and retired for the night. She was a grown woman, he reminded himself. If anybody needed protection, it was Voorhis. He sighed, still looking at the doorway through which she had disappeared.

“If you are quite done mimicking a kicked dog, we can leave,” Emhyr’s voice rang with slight impatience. A servant immediately drew back his chair, and he rose to walk away. Geralt got up as well, swiftly saying farewell to Cerys and Hjalmar. Then he followed Emhyr var Emreis out of the ballroom.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

The night of Yule, 1286

 

She thought about letting go of his arm once they had reached the private wing of the palace, but then she considered the slight sway to her gait and the uncounted cups of wine she’d had, and figured it might be for the best to rely on his steadiness.

“I need to get out of this bodice,” she thought aloud. A guard almost dropped his halberd. When Morvran coughed awkwardly, she giggled. Together they walked the rest of the way to where the corridors to his and her quarters parted. When she had been given her first proper tour of the palace, her father had informed her that a second private wing had been built for his grandmother, later to be inhabited by his mother, Queen Estrella var Emreis. She was also aware that Becca had lived in these rooms, but refrained from bringing her up. Emhyr had reacted badly when first being informed about his wife’s role in the curse, even more so when he had thought that Becca had thrown herself off the cliffs of Ard Skellig. Now they had become Morvran’s rooms, while Ciri was about to move into her father’s wing. Emhyr had offered the full set of rooms to her exclusively, but given that he would advise her in her role as Empress for the foreseeable future, she had asked him to stay. The closer at hand he was, the saver she felt. There was plenty of space anyhow. Geralt was staying as well for the time being, and he had kept his assigned room.

“Which way?” he asked neutrally, and after a moment of thought, she dragged him down the corridor to her bedroom. The servants and guards in front of her door were pointedly dismissed. Then she closed the door behind them and slumped against the wood. The fishbone of the bodies poked into her shoulder.

“Ugh,” she said eloquently. Walking over to her dressing table, she pulled the earrings from her lobes. The feathery collar, chain of office, and necklaces were disposed of next. Trying to undo her hair, she found some of the pins in the front, but there were likely more in the back. “I think I may need some assistance here…”

He picked up a chair from the wall and placed it behind her stool: “You realise this is what the servant was here for?” he chuckled.

“Don’t be lazy,” she huffed, covering up her ignorance. She simply forgot about these kind of… issues.

He fixed the back of her head with a contemplative gaze, then carefully started to pick the pins out of her hair. One after another, the curls tumbled down her back. He gently gathered her hair and laid it over her shoulder, before loosening the laces of her bodice. She opened the hooks in the front and he drew the garment away, carefully placing it on the floor beside them. She breathed in deeply with an audible sign. The ties of the green layer of the dress were in the front. She undid them as well. Left in the white underdress, she considered him in the mirror.

“You are wearing too much,” she attested, and his mirror image gave her a long glace. One eyebrow rose a little. Getting up from his chair, Morvran stood next to her.

“I may require some assistance myself,” he suggested pointedly.

She rose, scrutinising his clothes. She undid the chain of office first, placing it next to hers on the dresser. Then she unclasped his long cape. She unbuttoned his vest. He balanced on one leg to drag the boot of the other. She tried the same, but swayed. Sitting down made it easier. He looked at her in amused disbelief as she dragged up her skirts and began to untie the flat leather boots.

“Can’t fight in slippers,” she muttered.

“But in a dress?” he commented.

“If need be,” she considered, “probably yes. Though I’d need to find a way of hiding a weapon or two.”

He took the opportunity to unclasp his belt, laying the peace-bound, gold-hilted ceremonial sword on a settee. Left in his breeches and loose shirt, he approached her calmly. The mood shifted. The drunken levity she had previously felt gave way to something heavier. She had defeated the Wild Hunt, she told herself. She had survived her stay in Tir na Lia as a girl, the touch of Auberon, the disgust of Eredin. At least she was pretty sure that Morvran Voorhis found her attractive. She had accepted that theirs was a political union, or so she had thought, but coming face to face with the physicality of him tore away that veneer of pragmatism. In the candlelight, she considered him again. Dry and rested, he looked a lot less like the wet barsoi she had encountered in Velen. The shadows under his eyes had lightened, or maybe they were just covered in the same powder they had covered her face in. He seemed younger.

“When is your birthday?” she wondered, suddenly realising how little she still knew about him.

“13th Feainn”, he startled, “1253.”

“We’re the same age…” she realised in surprise. He nodded in slight confusion.

“Never mind,” she shook her head. He had just seemed older to her. Looking at his face more closely, she noticed for the first time that his eyes were hazel. They looked at her questioningly, perhaps nervously.

“I’ve never really had a man,” she admitted then. It just slipped out in a small moment of courage. “I don’t know what to do.” She refused to let the unwanted touch of the impotent king of the Aen Elle count.

It was his time to look surprised. She shrugged helplessly, biting her lip. He drew his eyebrows together, then let his gaze fall down her body. Tentatively, he reached for her shoulder, brushing the hem of her underdress. She stood still, looking at his moving Adam’s apple as he swallowed. There was the faintest hint of golden stubble on his chin. His hand traced the collar of her dress over her shoulder. Stepping behind her, he opened the first few buttons in her neck, until the dress began to slide over her shoulders. He gazed over her shoulder into the mirror of the dressing table, watching as the gown caught on her pale breasts. Then, very carefully, he placed a kiss into the crook of her neck. Shifting her shoulders slightly, she let the dress drop further. Bare-chested, she followed his eyes as he looked at her. Definitely no disgust in his eyes so far. His hand trailed over her shoulder, down her arm, coming to rest on her waist. He placed another chaste kiss onto her shoulder, before turning her around. She looked at his neck again. He waited. Trying to overcome the awkward pause, and also maybe because she was curious, she untied the laces in the front of his shirt. Then, more boldly, she dragged it out of his breeches. Her hands touched the warm skin of his stomach, and he flinched a little.

“Just ticklish,” he muttered, holding onto her hands when she started to pull away. Swallowing, she returned her hands to his sides, pulling up the fabric. He helped to get rid of the shirt. The muscles of his flat chest flexed as he raised his arms in the process. Mesmerised, she placed her palm on his sternum, experimentally dragging one fingernail over his nipple. The dusky bud tightened, and she was rewarded with a surprised breath. Trailing her fingers further down his side, she felt him tense again. She chuckled and he huffed. She tickled her fingers over his side more purposefully, and he twisted away and caught her hand. Their eyes locked and she grinned.

“Careful,” he warned her, disbelief making way for a spark of playfulness in his gaze. She stopped fighting his hold on her hand, and he relaxed his grip. She was about to return her attention to his chest, when his palm dropped to her collarbone, and then slowly dropped deeper. Forgetting her own movement, she watched as his hand brushed over her breast, coming to gently play with the nipple. It tingled. He stepped closer, the other arm coming around her. Gripping the fabric there, he dragged the dress down completely, leaving her in her underpants. To even the odds, she intended to find the ties of his breeches. Miscalculating slightly, her palm brushed over his crotch. He exhaled deeply into her hair, curling forward to bury his face against her neck. Ok, so he was definitely not uninterested. The space that was created between their bodies let her open his breeches more easily. After a moment’s hesitation, she dragged them down in one go with the underwear below. He wriggled them off and the garment was dropped to the floor. Catching her hand, he dragged her over to the bed, where he sat down and pulled her closer until she stood between his legs. She had no chance to look at his manhood as he began to kiss her stomach and did away with her own pants. Naked, she tentatively ran her hands through his long blond hair and over his shoulders, while he straightened up to look at her, chin resting against her breastbone.

“A rose,” he commented on the tattoo on her hip.

“A memory,” she whispered. Mistle. She was gone so long.

He nodded without further question, gently running his finger along the outlines.

“Whatever happens tonight will be your decision,” he spoke against her chest.

She swallowed, unsure. Looking up, he considered her face, hands stroking over her hips.

“I want to kiss you,” he said probingly, “I think you might like that.”

She stared at him in confusion, and he smiled mischievously, placing another kiss further down her belly. ‘Oh!’ she thought, and blushed.

“You are right, I’d rather enjoy that,” she admitted. The look on his face conveyed a moment of success. Taking her hand, he leaned back and drew her with him. She came to lie next to him, their lower legs still hanging off the bed. Then he got up to kneel before the bed, dragging her hips a little further down. She leaned up on her elbows to see what he was doing. His gaze was fixed on her lower body as he gently drew her knees apart. She blushed, but felt a quiver of excitement go through her lower belly as he caressed the insides of her thighs. Every other stroke brought his hands closer to her centre, and where his hands had been, his lips followed with wet kisses. Her breath hitched when his finger drew a line over the seam of her folds, then a second. Hunching closer, he gently raised one of her legs over his shoulder, curling one arm around her thigh to part her folds. Then he dove in and dragged his tongue all the way up her pussy.

Gods, had she missed this! Not since Mistle had she felt like this…

And he was good at it, too. His tongue lapped at her, steady, up and down, back and forth, once in a while flicking and circling her clit. After a while, a finger began to play with her slick entrance, pushing in carefully. She gasped as he began to finger her, gently at first. Then he added a second finger, caressing her insides in even strokes. She clenched when he found her sweet spot, and then he curled his fingers just so.

“Fuck…” she groaned, pressing her hips down against his hand. He raised his face, glowering at her as she fucked herself on his hand. He turned his wrist, so that his thumb could stimulate her clit. His other hand had disappeared below the edge of the bed, and listening to the soft noises, she realised he was stroking himself. It turned her on.

“Come up here,” she whispered, and he did not hesitate for a second. Climbing right over her, she crawled back so that their legs fit on the bed. Then she reached for his shoulders to wrap her arms around him. His chest came down against her breasts, and he buried his erection against the wet hair of her mound. His pulse was fast against her lips when she kissed his neck, then his chin. He turned towards her and fervently brought their lips together. He had wiped his chin with his discarded shirt, but she could still taste herself on him. Trying to get a message across, she wrapped her legs around his hips. He groaned into her mouth. Raising himself enough to look at her, he gave her a searching glance and she nodded nervously. Something softened in his face, and he gave her a gentler kiss. Moving away, he piled a few pillows against the headboard and leaned back on them.

“Come here,” he asked her, and with his physical guidance she came to straddle his lap. His hands caressed her hovering hips; then he used one hand to position himself against her entrance. Carefully lowering herself, it took a bit of back and forth to find the right angle. Then she felt the tip of his cock push against her. Trying to relax, she closed her eyes and lowered herself a bit further and felt the head slip inside her. It felt big and tight, but not unpleasantly so. He removed his hand from his shaft, and began to play with her clit again. Bit by bit, she dropped lower on him, figuring out how to relax her muscles. It was not exactly enjoyable, but there was no pain either. She knew she was not a maiden in the technical sense, not after a life as a fighter and what Auberon had done to her. But still… Feeling the last of her give, and to banish the bad memories, she opened her eyes to look at him. His mouth was clenched, eyes closed and nostrils wide. His right still lazily caressed her folds, while the other was clenched in the sheets. His stomach muscles were quivering with every forceful breath he took. Experimentally, she rolled her hips a little. He moaned, and then bent his legs, planting his feet on the mattress. The angle shifted. The next time she curled down, he pushed up – gently at first. His hands found her hips, and he steadied her as they found a rhythm together. At first she barely noticed it, still concentrating on her motions, but then the pleasure began to coil more heavily. She placed her hands on his chest, raking her fingernails over his pecs. He opened his molten eyes while trusting up more forcefully, brushing over her clit with every stroke. That way the kept going. Heat spread in her groin more and more, and then she clenched suddenly, her whole body convulsing. Groaning, she curled forward, and he wrapped his arms around her. The movement brought their pace apart and he slipped out of her. She was about to rise back up, when he spun them around. Looking up, half-surprised, she saw his glowing face and darkened eyes. She kissed him once more as he spread her legs over his shoulders, settling between them and leaning forward. He entered her again, and the position gave him a different range of movement. His pace sped up, picking up on the tendrils of pleasure still coiling within her. Burying his face against her neck, he plunged into her a few more times, less in control than before, gasping something unarticulated. Then his lower body tightened, and he shuddered against her. She felt their wild heartbeats thrumming between their sweaty chests. Everything was warm, and heady, and tingling. He shuffled to take some of his weight off her, but she kept her arms locked around his neck long enough for their sweat to start cooling. When his softening member slipped out of her, and their shared juices became sticky and itchy, they quietly pulled apart.

On a nearby table, a basin and jug of water were waiting, but she was too lazy to move. Lying next to him on her back, she glanced over to see him smiling stupidly. It made her grin as well. With a huff, she crawled out of bed to clean up, awkwardly aware of the trail of semen that ran down her inner thigh. He followed her after a bit. In a less sticky condition, she returned to the warm sheets, reaching for the duvet. Pulling it over her legs, she found him standing by the basin, looking at her uncertainly.

“Do you-“, “Should we-“, they both started, broke off, and he waved for her to go first.

“Should we get some sleep?” she wondered, still fairly awake but unsure what else to suggest.

He scratched his neck, then nodded. Blowing out the candles, he padded back over to the bed in the dark. Slipping in on the other side, she felt the mattress shift as he rolled toward her. Feeling his body heat, she carefully shifted a little closer. His hand found her back, and after a moment’s breath, he curled his arm around her.

“When is your birthday?” he whispered with a yawn.

“Belleteyn 1253” she whispered back.

He grunted softly. Lost in her own thoughts, she listened as his breathing evened out. What a strange day, she thought. And, she could not suppress an impish grin, a rather more memorable wedding night than she had expected.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The night of Yule, 1286

 

They had finally made all the unavoidable farewells to the wedding guests and just entered the royal wing of the palace, when Geralt suddenly blanched and started off back into the direction they had come from. Upon Emhyr’s irate question about the apparent change of plans, the witcher muttered something about enhanced hearing and too much information about their daughter. After a tactful clearing of his throat, the erstwhile monarch followed without complaint. Their quest for a nightcap led them into the wine cellars, from where they procured a priceless bottle of the finest Fiorano of 1277, and upon a hunch took a second bottle with them. With access to their chambers barred, Emhyr led the witcher through a stairwell and secret corridor below the royal palace gardens. In the dim light of an oil lamp they had nicked on the way, they emerged through the hatch in the dark and deserted bathhouse. Immediately, the witcher got rid of his doublet, cape, and boots, though he refrained from undressing further. Emhyr considered the merit of less confining clothing, and divested himself of the outer layers of his robes as well. Amongst several lavish bouquets of fragrant flowers from Nazair and Zerrikania stood the new Ophiri divan, wide enough for three, and decorated with colourful blankets and several cushions. It was a wedding gift from the Sultan. A small table, usually meant to hold refreshments, was used to deposit the oil lamp and wine bottles.  It was then that they realised they had forgotten a bottle opener and goblets, but the witcher fished a small knife from his boot and made quick work of the first cork. Drinking straight from the bottle, they listened to the distant sounds of the ongoing celebrations.

“Were the - uh - noises that you heard… giving cause for concern?” Emhyr asked quietly, biting his lip.

The witcher coughed on wine going down the wrong way, but eventually shook his head: “No, she – uh, seemed to be enjoying herself.”

“Ah,” he cleared his throat delicately, “General, that is, Emperor Voorhis’ reputation as a lover left little to worry, but marriage for reasons of state certainly has different dynamics than a dalliance rooted in mutual affection.” He took a drag from the bottle, and passed it on to the incredulous-looking witcher.

“You kept tabs on his reputation in bed?” the other spluttered.

Emhyr frowned, slightly offended: “Exclusively to ascertain his suitability as a husband for my daughter, I assure you. Even among noblemen of the highest breeding one may find brutish characters.”

The witcher made a face, and drank: “Henselt was a brute, Radovid was a complete ploughing sadist,” he muttered under his breath.

“King Henselt died in Vergen, ostensibly by the hand of the Scioa’tel commander Iorveth,” Emhyr pondered, watching the witcher with careful interest, “You were in Vergen that day, were you not?” He did not miss the sardonic glance Geralt gave him over the mouth of the bottle.

“Wasn’t Iorveth,” the witcher stated with narrowed eyebrows. Emhyr was not surprised to learn that the other knew more than he was willing to share.

“And Radovid supposedly died in Novigrad by the hands of Vernon Roche and Sigismund Djikstra,” he added nonchalantly.

“Wasn’t them, either, though they tried. Philippa was quicker, and Djikstra would have killed Roche’s Temerians to double-cross on the alliance with you and make himself King of the North,” Geralt huffed, and Emhyr blinked - hard. He would need to have words with Rideaux about never hearing about the last bit.

“I can’t help but wonder,” he began.

“They were both monsters,” the white wolf growled, “insane sadists, torturers, rapists drunk on power. And with Djikstra, I liked him, somehow, but I had no choice. Couldn’t abandon Roche and Ves.”

“And after all, witchers kill monsters?” Emhyr wondered coldly, and something sharp flashed in the other’s catlike eyes.

“Only dangerous monsters,” the witcher pronounced pointedly, regarding him with a strange expression. Emhyr looked away, wondering when he had ceased to qualify in either category. What, truly, kept him apart from the two dead monarchs and the Redanian grey eminence? Morosely, he took another swig and stared away into the depth of the bathhouse as the oil lamp began to flicker and went out.

“You don’t seem to enjoy hurting others,” Geralt’s earnest voice came softly to his ear in the dark. He almost flinched, then allowed himself to ponder the statement. Was it true? And had it always been?

“I have given orders I am not proud of”, he admitted to the dark. But had he enjoyed giving them? He could not remember joy: vengeful seething rage, yes, on occasion; political rationality, certainly so; fear, too. But pleasure? He swallowed shakily. No, never with pleasure, he thought and felt a sense of terrifying relief that made him gasp.

The witcher’s arm wrapped around his shoulders securely, and he could not deny himself the comfort. Finding the other man’s chest in the dark, he curled closer. Their breaths met, and impulsively he allowed his head to dip forward until their noses brushed. Then, with a ragged groan, Geralt brought his other hand to his neck and pressed their mouths together. Needing a moment to overcome a sudden flare of anxiety, he suddenly felt the witcher withdraw.

“I’m a fool,” the other said weakly in the dark.

Emhyr huffed. “You certainly are,” he replied irritably.

Be that as it may, he curled his fist into the other man’s hair, and pulled him back in. Their noses clashed briefly, but that did not stop him from reclaiming the lips he had secretly craved, perhaps longer so than he cared to admit. Much, much longer. Geralt’s final approval was balm on the sores of his existence.

With lightheaded desperation, he latched onto his mouth now, drawing a strangled groan from the other as he bit his lower lip, then soothed it with soft kisses. He felt his torso be dragged half on top of the witcher, the strong arms tightening around his back enough to make any resistance futile. A shiver curled in his guts. He had felt the same thrill when weeks ago the witcher had practiced his mind-control on him. Ever since Emhyr had found himself unable to taste the juice of pears without a serious challenge to his resolve to keep his distance. He snorted ungainly against the coarse cheek of the other: what resolve was left now? None, he gasped, coming undone as Geralt’s teeth nipped at his throat, just below the pounding jugular. The lower hand on his back moved down to firmly squeeze his buttock, and on reflex he ground his hips against the other man’s. The second hand moved to his rear as well, holding him close, which resulted in a tantalising friction as their groins rubbed together with the motion of their frantic embrace.

“Show me what you need,” the witcher whispered raggedly.

Shivering with unleashed need, Emhyr rucked up the long folds of the priest’s robes he was still wearing, vastly reducing the layers of fabric between them. With only his braies and Geralt’s soft woollen breeches between them, the growing hardness of their erections could be felt quite clearly. In the meantime the witcher’s hands had travelled beneath the robes, and found the naked skin of his lower back. He caressed him firmly, then began to pull up the fabric. Emhyr helped by loosening the fastenings at the neck, and then lifting his arms. The mass of cloth fell limply by the side of the divan, and the erstwhile Emperor found himself naked but for the thin underclothes still covering his hips. The fabric in the front was noticeably tented. Almost leisurely, the witcher caressed his fingers over the cloth, and Emhyr pushed himself into the touch with a wanton groan. Then, with a gentle drag on his hips, the witcher spun them around.

Lying on his back, Emhyr blinked to see the witcher rise from the divan and conjure a flame from his hand. He watched as a nearby lantern was lit, once more illuminating the room in dim, warm light; then, leaving him with a small kiss, the witcher dashed away. It did not take long for him to return with a wooden basket, the contents of which were the familiar bathing soaps and oils. Depositing the basket on the small table, Geralt sat on the side of the divan to pull off his stockings and breeches. Left in their underwear, they stretched back out together.

~*~

Being able to see each other again, Geralt took the opportunity to study his partner’s face. Emhyr’s amber eyes were wide and soft, more open than he had ever seen them. They carried a raw emotional need that both aroused and terrified him. The witcher knew beyond doubt that whatever happened tonight, there would be no return. Aware of the risk of ruining their tentative truce, he still followed his feelings without much of a second thought. It simply felt right. Drawing the beautiful man back into his arms, he gradually covered his skin with kisses, starting from below his ear and following a track all over his collarbones and chest. The second to last kiss was placed on top of Emhyr’s shoulder, before he gently claimed his lover’s lips again. Emhyr’s relaxed mouth gave his tongue entrance, and he teased against the other’s tongue, lazily sucking on it, and then retreating to rub their noses together.

He was not surprised at the submissive gesture when Emhyr let his head drop back to expose his throat. Gently, Geralt found the right spot, and carefully bit down on the soft skin, suckling. Simultaneously, he dragged his fingertips down the chest and belly of his lover, and pressed his palm over the cloth covering the jutting erection. Emhyr keened, bucking his hips, his arms coming around the witcher’s neck while his legs parted to give him more access. Releasing the flesh of his neck, Geralt was pleased to see a darkening spot blooming on the pale skin, before he gazed down to find the fastenings of the other’s underwear. Dragging on a tie, the fabric gave way to free the former Emperor’s straining member. The heady scent of arousal rose to the witcher’s senses.

~*~

He was keening shamefully with need, craving the other’s touch as he spread his legs semiconsciously, asking for more. His throat ached where the witcher had latched onto him, and the certainty of the spot marking aroused him in ways he cared not to admit. When his genitals were finally freed from their confines, he bucked wantonly into the descending touch. The calloused palms felt so good on him, and he wished for more when they briefly disappeared to grapple with a flask from the wooden bucket. His eyes closed again in bliss when a slick, oiled hand wrapped around his cock firmly and started to pull. The other hand had moved to strip the last bits of fabric off their legs. From somewhere close he heard the ripping of cloth, but could not be bothered to check. Searching for the warmth of the other body, he drew Geralt close to him, and their mouths found each other again. A hot, naked erection pressed into his thigh, and he took hold of it, hearing an encouraging moan as he encircled the shaft in his grip.

Emhyr was vaguely aware that he whined in the most undignified manner as the other man’s slick palm languidly dragged over his plum glans, setting his nerves on fire. The thumb came to play with the slit, brushing over the hypersensitive skin. Then, to his abashment, the witcher dove down his body and with a single fluid motion sucked the tip of his cock into his mouth. He sucked firmly once, then drew back to gaze down at the man below him. Something wild and fierce burned in Geralt’s eyes as he stared down at him:

“Would you beg me for this too?” he asked roughly, raw pain mixed with raw desire on his flushed face.

Emhyr stared back at him, his arousal spiking abruptly.

“I would,” he whispered in revelation, heart beating frantically. They both saw how his cock twitched. The witcher raised an eyebrow, and Emhyr lowered his gaze, swallowing.

“Please,” he said softly, “please touch me.” He felt ashamed and liberated all at once. “Please,” he repeated, more and more often, as Geralt bent back down to lick at him, at the same time applying yet more oil to his hands. A searching finger slowly caressed around the curve of his sack to find his anus. “Please,” he breathed once more. With gentle circling and slowly increasing pressure, the finger dipped into his hole. It had been a while, but the former Emperor was sufficiently familiar with the sensation to relax quickly under the witcher’s tender ministrations. His fingers combed through the white hair lovingly while Geralt kissed the soft plane halfway between his manhood and hipbone, settling on a spot to suck another mark onto his skin. At that point he found himself relaxed enough to ask for a second finger. His erection was painfully hard, yet he knew that impatience in these matters was misplaced. Thus he focussed on the pleasure the fingers gave him and allowed the witcher ample time to open him up. At some point Geralt had begun to suck him again, and he was caught between heaven and hell trying not to find release prematurely. By that time he was ready to add a third finger. When he felt the edge coming, he abruptly pushed the witcher’s head and hand away. Sweaty and flushed, they stared at each other. Then Emhyr turned onto his elbows and knees, lower arms curling around a pillow on which he rested his head. He felt his cock and balls hanging heavily between his legs, deprived of any touch or friction.

When the witcher’s returning fingers ceased to encounter any tension and were slipping in and out of him with ease, he voiced his readiness. Drawing his knees up further, Emhyr curled into a child pose, extending a hand to guide the witcher to cover his back with his chest. The position maximised their skin contact and allowed him enough access to reach between his folded legs.

~*~

“Please,” Emhyr asked softly one more time, and Geralt pressed a fierce, desperate kiss behind his ear to express somehow the scorching feelings in his chest. Then he reached down to position himself. It took a lot of willpower to not just rip into the former Emperor, but he grit his teeth and slowly exercised enough pressure for the tip of his erection to slip past the ring of muscles. Then he waited, only pressing on when he felt Emhyr relax around him. Time seemed to stretch slowly as he felt himself sinking into the other’s heated flesh, inch by inch, slowly all the way to the hilt. Geralt whimpered, face pressed into the shoulder beneath his cheek, finding himself immersed in the warmth of his lover. When Emhyr exhaled and rolled his hips questioningly, the witcher drew back a little and began to thrust. It was tight, and hot, and incredibly intimate, to be inside of him and hold him at the same time, be wrapped around the man he so deeply wished to soothe and protect. Feeling tears run down his cheeks and mingle with their sweat, he buried his nose deeper against Emhyr’s neck and began to rock into him more deeply. It was slow. Slow, and deep, and fulfilling. His lover was moaning softly, rocking in pace against him while their arms curled into each other, fingers nestled together on the blankets. Geralt found himself melting into the motion, speeding up just a little to accommodate his hunger for friction. Emhyr unwound one of his hands and reached down below himself. Geralt did not need to see to know that the former Emperor was pleasuring himself. His senses were sufficiently precise to hear the slick motion of oiled skin on skin. Consumed by the heat they shared, the witcher’s control weakened and he thrust with more abandon, feeling his testicles tense, his innards constrict, when pure, blinding pleasure rolled out of his hips and he came so hard he almost blacked out for a second. His hips twitched powerfully a few more times, before the sensation became too much and he stilled, still burrowed in his lover’s depths. Emhyr meanwhile kept moving his hand, breath coming in harsh pants and heartbeat thumping. With his eyes closed, Geralt reached around him with his left to lift their bodies up from the divan, coming to sit back on his heels. His softening erection slipped from his lover’s anus together with a good deal of his own come. He used his right to relieve the other man’s hand on his cock. Emhyr moaned weakly when Geralt dragged his left hand all the way down to dip behind his balls and slip two fingers into his slick channel. When Geralt curled his fingertips and rubbed them firmly over the other man’s prostrate, his lover clenched around him hard and came with a stifled cry, spilling his seed in thick strands all over his hand and the blankets beneath them. Wringing out his last bit of pleasure, the witcher gave the other man’s penis a final gentle squeeze. Then he wrapped both arms tightly around Emhyr’s chest and stomach, and held on, battling to breathe down his raw and intense feelings.

~*~

He was floating, distant to his own senses, and filled with unspeakable emotions. His body was on fire, between the legs, and where his skin was moulded to that of the witcher. Elsewhere, he felt cool. He was suspended between darkness and light, pain and euphoria, passion and lethargy. He could not move, so safe and loved did he feel in the arms of the other. So they rested, and drifted, until his legs began to tingle for a lack of circulation, and he half-collapsed forward back onto the stained blankets. Geralt followed with him, and somehow they managed to drag one of the blankets over them, before falling asleep curled up in each other’s arms. The passion of their touch followed them into their dreams, and when he awoke it was to the desperate kisses of the other littering his skin. He was too spent and exhausted to resume their previous activities, but he watched the witcher tenderly as he jerked himself off a second time, curled up against Emhyr’s chest. When they had lain silently afterwards, not even the itches of their bodies could have made them move apart. It was only the fear of being found by the servants – or worse, by their child –that eventually made them tumble to the shower, where they embraced and kissed some more, before reclining on the hot stone until the sun had fully risen. Only then, with the green of the gardens sparking in the morning dew, they returned to the palace and found their respective rooms for a fresh change of clothing and some much needed time alone to consider what had happened between them on that wondrous night.

~*~

 

And sometimes when the night is slow

 

The wretched and the meek

 

We gather up our hearts and go

 

A thousand kisses deep

 

 

 

- Leonard Cohen, “A Thousand Kisses Deep”

Chapter Text

In the hallway, later that day, he saw Mererid conversing with another servant in front of Emhyr’s chambers, whom he promptly dismissed when Geralt neared: “Have you seen Ciri?” he asked the valet, who suddenly looked quite flustered.

“Her Highness has… not yet left her chambers”, Mererid uttered carefully with a cough, “Does His Highness require anything else for the coming great day?”

“I don’t know what Emhyr needs…” Geralt began, but Mererid shook his head with a pointed frown:

“Not His Excellency, His Highness.”

The witcher gave him a deeply perplexed look. With a sigh, the valet took it upon himself to relieve him from his deplorable state of ignorance: “His Excellency is the proper title for the former Emperor, who will retain his role as High Priest of the Golden Sun. By the traditions of our country, the spiritual role of leadership remains for life - it is thus not affected by the abdication that liberates His Excellency from the worldly duties of the Emperor. His Highness is the proper address for Geralt of Rivia, Prince of Nilfgaard, by recent Imperial Decree member of the royal House of Emreis. The status may also be inferred from the heraldry, given that His Highness’ coat of arms displays the royal symbol of the sun.”

“Damn you,” the witcher muttered against the closed door of Emhyr’s chamber. He had been missing the forest for the tree again: The thing with returning to the continent was not just that somehow you ended up in the middle of portals, politics, and angry sorceresses, never quite knowing how you got there, or what the hell you were supposed to do about it. The thing he had apparently forgotten in the comfortable years away was that, directly or indirectly, you also ended up in the machinations of Emhyr var Emreis, the White Flame having a Ball on the Graves of his Enemies. And yesterday, the witcher realised with a pitiful groan, he had officially become the father of Empress Cirilla var Emreis. He was never going to get out of court banquets again.

“Just give me another cockatrice…please!” he prayed to the bloody Great Sun, when Emhyr’s chamber doors opened and the day seemed to brighten with the slightly sleepy, tentative, and utterly adorable smile of His Excellency.