The soldiers had come out of nowhere. The four of them had been travelling through the forest, hoping to avoid exactly this. A group of bandits had caught them with their guard down and now they were forced to fight for their lives.
Geralt and Yennefer had charged at their opponents head on while Jaskier rushed to Ciri’s side and pulled her away from their attackers, unsheathing his own dagger. Roach had run away a short distance after Geralt had dropped her reins. The witcher was vaguely aware of Jaskier and Ciri as they made their way to the mare, his focus taken up by the blades swing at his face.
He and Yennefer fought the majority of the bandits. Thankfully there weren’t too many of them and the fight was short. One man slipped past them however, too far from Geralt for him to catch him. “Jaskier!” he yelled, blocking another strike to his chest.
He turned for a split second to see Ciri on Roach, cantering into the trees. Jaskier was already standing ready for the attack, dagger in hand. Geralt couldn’t see what happened next, having to turn back to the immediate threat in front of him. When the last man fell, he ran over to Jaskier who was now lying on his back. The bandit stood above him, ready to make the final strike. Geralt was still too far away to do anything, He was going to be too late.
The witcher felt a pulse of energy fly past him, striking the bandit square in the back and sending him flying. Geralt didn’t check to see if he was dead, leaving him to Yennefer while he went to the bard.
“Jaskier, are you hurt?” he asked, sliding to a stop on his knees beside him. Jaskier propped himself up on his elbows with a wince.
“Just a bit bruised, I think. We should go find Ciri.”
Geralt helped him to his feet, pulling him upright. Yennefer had made sure the bandit was dead and had come to stand at Geralt’s other side at this point. “Which way did they go?”
Jaskier pointed the way Geralt had seen Roach heading. With a noise that sounded more like a grunt than a hum, he stalked off into the trees, followed by the mage and the bard. He quickly managed to pick up the scent trail, leading the other two along the path Roach had taken. She hopefully hadn’t gone too far. It wouldn’t take long for her to cover a great distance in a short amount of time at the speed she had been going.
Yennefer and Jaskier trailed along behind him in near silence. Only near silence because Jaskier, as per usual, was talking away about absolutely nothing. Yet Yennefer would occasionally make a comment or remark which would only cause Jaskier to launch into another topic. He couldn’t help but notice however that he seemed to become more breathless as they walked. Which was Geralt’s first clue something was wrong. Jaskier had spent roughly two decades following him on the path on foot and only when he was ill did he ever seem to be out of breath.
“Jaskier, are you alright?” he said turning to look behind him. The bard looked slightly pale and had wrapped his arm across his left side. Before the bard had a chance to reply, a certain princess came rushing toward them.
“Geralt! Yen! Jaskier!” She barrelled into Geralt, wrapping her arms around him. He returned her embrace before pulling back, keeping his hands on her shoulders as he crouched down.
“Were you hurt?” he asked, eyes scanning over her for any sign of injury.
“I’m fine, Jaskier made sure I got to Roach. She’s just over there by the way,” she said, pointing back the way she had come through. Sure enough Roach was standing some distance away, happily munching on the surrounding flora. “Were any of you hurt?”
“I think we got lucky,” Geralt said. There was a dull thud from behind, accompanied by a surprised sound from Yennefer. Geralt turned to see Jaskier lying on the ground, face pale and eyes unfocussed. “Dammit.”
“Jaskier, what’s wrong?” Yennefer asked, already by his side. She had tried to catch him as he fell but hadn’t quite got to him in time. Geralt was kneeling by his other side in an instant.
“Wha-,” he mumbled. He seemed disoriented which never meant anything good. He'd been fine mere moments ago, so why had he suddenly collapsed?
“Does it hurt anywhere?” the mage asked as calmly as she could manage.
Jaskier seemed to grasp what she meant this time and gestured vaguely to his left side. Yennefer grabbed the hem of his shirt and yanked it up to reveal a massive, dark bruise stretching from his side around his back. “Shit.”
She began pressing on the area, causing him to screw his face up. When she pressed over his stomach he gagged. Geralt helped her roll him to his side just in time for him to throw up. Bright blood spilt on the forest floor. He retched again and more blood came up. That was when he smelt the familiar scent of fear.
It didn’t seem to be coming from the bard though. He suddenly remembered Ciri was standing right there, watching all of this happen. He turned to see tears tracking down her cheeks. She stood frozen, staring at the scene in front of her. “Ciri, why don’t you go back to Roach. Make sure she’s okay,” he said, offering her a way to leave. They both knew what he was doing but she nodded her head before dashing back to the mare.
“Yen,” he said, turning back to the mage. She was holding her hands lightly over Jaskier’s stomach and he could feel his medallion humming with her magic.
“I can slow the bleeding but not much else. His body will have to do the rest.”
Jaskier at this point had passed out which Geralt was slightly grateful for. At least he wasn’t in any pain at the moment. He didn’t know what to do with himself other than wait with bated breath to see if Yennefer could save him. Internal bleeding was tricky, even for a witcher. If he was lucky, he had a vial of swallow on hand to help slow the bleeding. It was that or he bled to death. That wasn't an option for Jaskier.
An eternity later Yennefer sat back on her heels with a sigh. “I’ve done what I can. His body should be able to do the rest, although he’ll still be in pain for a while yet.”
“We need to find somewhere to camp.”
“We can’t move him, not yet. We’ll have to stay here.”
It was less than ideal. Geralt would have preferred to put more distance between them and where the bandits had found them but darkness was descending and under normal circumstances, the clearing they had found themselves in would have been fine. With a sigh, Geralt nodded his understanding. He stood and made his way over to where Ciri was hugging Roach’s neck.
“Is… is he okay?” she said, wiping at the tears still shining on her cheeks.
“He will be. I know that was scary to watch but Yennefer fixed the problem and now he just needs to rest.”
She flung herself at the witcher, clinging to him as though her life depended on it. He wrapped her in his arms and wished he could keep her from the cruelties of the world. She had already suffered so much more than any child should have to, losing her grandparents, friends, home, all within a matter of hours. She deserved to be safe and happy.
“Why don’t you help me set up camp.”
“We’re stopping here?”
“We can’t risk moving Jaskier just yet, he said, releasing her so he could grab Roach’s reins. He took Ciri’s hand in his free hand and led them back to where Yennefer was still sitting with Jaskier. The bard looked so fragile, lying there on the dirt. Yennefer had somehow cleared away the pool of blood from next to him as well as cleaning his face of it. Geralt didn’t question how, he was just glad that she did.
Their camp was set up quickly, a small cooking fire in the centre with their bedrolls lines up around it. With Yennefer’s assistance, he had managed to carefully move Jaskier into his bedroll before setting off to hunt for their dinner.
He returned half an hour later to find Yennefer brewing some kind of potion and Ciri sitting by Jaskier who seemed to be awake if the girl’s laughter was anything to go by. She held his hand in both of hers as she talked to him. There was a small smile on his face and his voice was low and soft when he spoke.
“How is he,” he asked Yennefer as he sat by the fire to prepare the hares he had caught.
“He’s healing although he says he’s still in pain. I think Ciri is helping to distract him from that at the moment.”
“I’m glad she can see he’s alright.”
“He’s going to be weak for at least a week you know. We won’t be able to move at the same pace.”
“I know.” There was a moment of silence before he asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m making something that should help with the pain and speed up his recovery somewhat, although I’m missing some ingredients, so it won’t be as effective as usual.”
“I’m sure it’ll be better than nothing.” He gave her a small reassuring smile.