Running through a forest wasn’t easy. This wasn’t news to Jaskier, what with all the times he had foolishly gotten too close to a monster Geralt was fighting. But it was even harder with a young girl who was struggling to keep up. Both he and Geralt had slowed their pace so that Ciri wasn’t left behind but there was no way they could outrun the Nilfgaardians hot on their heels like this.
“Geralt,” he panted, getting the witcher’s attention.
“Keep going Jask.”
“Geralt listen. This isn’t going to work.” Geralt’s expression told him he knew it too, even if he didn’t want to admit it. “We need to find somewhere to hide.”
He only received a hum in response but trusted he was now looking for somewhere they could hide, at least for a little bit. Eventually Geralt pointed out a dip in the ground, hidden by a wide tree. They’d only be able to hide there for a moment but it ought to be enough for them to at least catch their breath.
“Geralt, we can’t keep going like this. We’re going to get caught,” Jaskier said between gasped breaths.
“So what do you suggest then. We just hand ourselves over?” He was getting angry, but Jaskier knew it wasn’t directed at him.
The bard shook his head. “I have a plan but you’re not going to like it.”
“What is it Jaskier?”
Jaskier shook his head again. “I can’t tell you. I just need you to trust me.”
The shouts from the Nilfgaardians were getting closer. They were running out of time. It was now or never for Jaskier’s plan. He looked at the witcher, imploring him to trust him. “Alright. Alright, I trust you.”
“Okay. You two stay here. No matter what don’t come for me. I’ll find you.”
He was cut off as Jaskier darted out from their hiding spot, running in the opposite direction. “Geralt! Wait!” he shouted as though he had been left behind. He heard the Nilfgaardians shout behind him, changing direction to chase after him. He hoped Geralt had listened to him and was still hidden with Ciri or else this would all be for nothing.
He couldn’t outrun them for long, despite his best efforts. One of the soldiers tackled him to the ground, sending him crashing into the forest floor as the soldier landed on top of him, driving what little air was in his lungs out. He tried to fight back but ended up with his arms pinned down against the ground. He tried to shove whoever was on top of him off but they didn't move.
Several soldiers ran ahead, hoping to catch up to Geralt and Ciri who were definitely not in that direction. He tried to pull free of the soldier’s grip but they tired of his struggles quickly and decided they’d rather deal with an unconscious bard instead of one who kept resisting. A swift blow to the back of his head sent a burst of pain through his head, causing his knees to buckle. He tried to hold on to consciousness but only succeeded for a few seconds.
He woke up in a cell, hands now bound in front of him in shackles. There were bars on all but the back wall, allowing him to see down the passageway and into the other cells, all of which were empty which he took to be a good sign. At least Geralt and Ciri had escaped. A soldier noticed he was awake and came to stand in front of his cell.
“So, I’m assuming you must be the witcher’s bard?” he asked in a hughty voice.
“I’m not anyone’s bard, thank you very much.”
“Still, you travel with him, correct?”
“Well, I suppose you could say that. I think of it more as we happen to travel in the same directions more often than not.” He could tell his pedantic answers were starting to get on the soldier’s nerves. His expression had shifted from smug to annoyed as his eyebrows knitted together.
“I’ll offer you the easy way only once," he said. There was the edge of a threat there but he paid it no mind. "Where is Geralt taking his child surprise?”
Jaskier leant forward a little as though he were about to share the secret of Geralt’s location before saying “go fuck yourself,” to the soldier with as much venom as he could muster.
The man’s expression soured further. “Very well, you’ve made your choice bard,” he said before heading out of the dungeons.
Jaskier sat back against the wall. His legs were aching from the run through the forest and he had a pounding headache, but it was all worth it knowing Geralt and Ciri had gotten away. Now he just had to get himself out.
Later that day, the soldier returned along with another man. This man brought with him an assortment of knives. They stripped him down to his smallclothes and strung his hands above his head from the ceiling. Every time Jaskier refused to give up Geralt and Ciri’s location, the man would cut into his skin. Trails of bright crimson ran down his arms, legs and chest until they eventually left him alone hours later. He was weak and hurting all over but they had at least let him lie down.
He couldn’t sleep that night. He was in too much pain for his mind to allow him to rest. Instead, he turned his thoughts to possible ways to escape. He would have to try and go unnoticed since he was in no state to fight his way out like Geralt might. No, he would have to sneak out. Which would involve stealing a key.
The next day passed in much the same manner. He was woken up by a guard who brought him stale bread and water before the soldier from the day before came to wuestion him an hour later. The soldier, who he now suspescted was in fact the captain, would question him while the other man cut into him. He had at first tired to come up with snarky quips but since it only seemed to make things worse for him, he decided to try his best to stay quiet, stifling the sobs and whimpers that threatened to break free with each new cut.
By the second night, he had formulated at least part of a plan, now he only had to wait. He managed to get a few hours of rest that night, exhausted from lack of sleep before and blood loss. Still, he startled awake as the door to the dungeons opened with a screech of hinges. The guard returned, carrying a tray of what he knew to be his rations for the day.
Jaskier stood up on shaking legs and approached the bars at the front of his cell. “Stand back, prisoner,” the Nilfgaardian said.
“Make me,” Jaskier replied, threading his arms through the gap in the bars to casually rest his forearms against the bar. His shackles were long enough to allow the movement, something he was immensely grateful for since his entire plan relied on this step. He tried to look as relaxed and disinterested as possible. It seemed to work as the guard put the tray down before approaching Jaskier, one hand reaching for the hilt of his sword.
As soon as he got close enough, Jaskier reached out and grabbed the front of his armour before yanking him into the bars hard enough to knock him out. He fell with a thud in front of his cell. Jaskier wasted no time before dragging him close enough to grab the keys from his belt. There were thankfully few keys, so he managed to unlock the door to his cell with little trouble. He then unlocked his shackles, dropping them by the unconscious guard.
Part one of his plan complete, he now needed to get out of wherever the hell he was and back to Geralt. Easier said than done. He had no idea how many Nilfgaardians were here, nor which direction he needed to go to get out.
He unsheathed the guard’s sword, deciding some protection was better than none. He briefly considered taking his clothes since he had none but decided against that. The armour was too complicated to get off easily and would cost him precious minutes he couldn’t afford to waste.
He went over to the still open door, listening for any footsteps echoing down the passageway outside. When he didn’t hear anything, he snuck a glance around the corner. Still nothing. He went forward. If he were caught now, he’d never have a second chance. Geralt wouldn’t be able to come after him, not with Ciri to take care of.
He seemed to be in luck as there were few guards in his path and were easily avoided. The keep, or wherever they were, was on the smaller side, allowing him to find his way to a small courtyard easily enough. He could see the exit, a wide archway, the gate open and with no visible soldiers nearby. That wasn’t to say there weren’t any, however.
Slowly, he made his way around the perimeter, hiding behind various goods piled up along his path. He was almost at the open gate when he caught a glimpse of movement. A soldier had just stepped out into the courtyard and was making his way over to where Jaskier was currently hiding. He ducked down, hoping he hadn’t been spotted. His heart hammered in his chest loud enough that he was sure the man could hear it. He tightened his grip on the sword, prepared to use it if need be. The footsteps kept approaching.
“What the-” the soldier said, along with the sound of his sword being drawn. Jaskier leapt up, pulling the man to the ground behind the barrels he had been hiding behind. Caught off guard, it was easy to get the upper hand. The man opened his mouth to shout for help but Jaskier stabbed him through the throat before he could make a noise.
He didn’t stay to see the light drain from his eyes, already turning to run through the gate. No shouts followed him, not until he was already out of sight. He paid it little mind; his only objective was to keep going deeper into the forest. He was running on pure adrenaline and intended to let it take him as far as possible before he collapsed. His wounds tore open from where they had scabbed over, and his feet hurt from the debris on the forest floor, but he kept going.
It wasn’t until he saw a road that he finally slowed. His legs gave out before he could reach it, although that may be for the best since sitting by the side of the road would hardly give him anywhere to hide. He would have a short rest, he decided, just until he could stand again. He all but collapsed in a heap on the ground, fighting the urge to close his eyes.
Geralt had been a bundle of frantic energy ever since Jaskier had run off into the woods. If he had known the idiot’s plan was to let himself get captured, he never would have let him go. He had to admit however that it had worked. He and Ciri had stayed hidden while Jaskier led the search party away. They had camped there overnight, hoping Jaskier had somehow gotten away and would return any minute.
The morning shattered his hopes. With no other option, he and Ciri had headed back to the farm where he had left Roach after his last contract. The farm belonged to an elderly couple and their daughter, none of whom held any love for Nilfgaard. They had spent the day there, waiting for any sign of Jaskier. Yet again, the night came and went and still Jaskier was nowhere to be seen.
As much as he hated to admit it, they couldn’t wait any longer. Nilfgaard could be on their way this very minute and they’d be trapped. He had readied Roach along with their packs, careful to secure Jaskier’s precious lute. Ciri had almost cried when she realised they were leaving Jaskier behind.
“He knew what he was getting himself into. I can’t go back for him. It’s too dangerous,” he had said gently. The words pained him, but he knew he spoke the truth. Jaskier would have to get himself out of whatever mess he had gotten himsefl into, if he was even still alive.
They had been on the road for just over half an hour when Geralt picked up a strange scent. He couldn’t figure out what it was. It smelt like blood but with an undercurrent of something familiar.
“Stay with Roach,” he said to Ciri, drawing his sword as he stepped off the road to investigate. Only a few paces into the forest, he saw a man, lying on the forest floor and bleeding from several wounds. No, not just any man, it was Jaskier.
“Jask,” he breathed, sheathing his sword before kneeling at his side. He could hear his heart beating in his chest, faster than its usual steady rhythm. He gently shook his shoulder to rouse him, careful of his injuries.
Blue eyes pried themselves open to peer at him. “Geralt,” he said with a small smile, his voice tired, “Said I'd found you.”
“I suppose you did. Come on, Ciri’s waiting with Roach nearby.” He pulled Jaskier to his feet, keeping his arm wrapped around his waist to make sure he didn’t fall. They emerged back onto the road where Ciri was still waiting with the mare.
“Jaskier!” she said. She looked as though she wanted to hug him, but thought better of it seeing the amount of dried blood he was covered in. “What happened?”
“It looks worse than it is,” the bard said. Geralt doubted that but didn’t say anything. Instead he helped Jaskier into the saddle, doing most of the work since Jaskier was too weak to help much.
“We have to keep moving for now, but I can tend to your wounds when we stop,” Geralt said. He wanted to help now but it wasn’t wise to stop here, especially since he had no idea how close wherever Jaskier had escaped from was.
“That’s alright. I thought I’d just take another nap. If Roach doesn’t mind of course.” Geralt could see he was losing the battle to stay awake, eyes already slipping closed. “Go ahead. She won’t notice.”
With a tired hum, Jaskier leant forward to rest against the mare’s neck. It only took a moment for him to fall asleep.