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Came for Herbs, Left with a Bard

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The portal shimmered closed as Yennefer stepped through onto the packed dirt road. The town was much like any other. Squat houses crammed together, lining the narrow streets as she passed by the peasants that lived here. It was a place she would never usually visit. What was the point when she could have whatever she wanted from the richest cities on the Continent.

The only reason for her coming here was that she was looking for a rare herb that only grew in this region. Instead of foraging in the forest herself, she was hoping a local herbalist already had some. She found the house soon enough, a well-kept building near the centre of town, a small garden at the front with several common herbs growing in various beds.

She walked up to the door and knocked. “One moment!” a voice called from inside. Yennefer stood waiting, putting on a mask of indifference. After a minute the door swung open, revealing a short man with messy, greying hair. “Oh, forgive me,” he said upon seeing Yennefer’s fine clothes. “I had not realised my guest was someone of importance.” He bowed his head slightly as he stepped aside, letting the mage inside. “To what do I owe the pleasure, my lady?”

“I’m looking for a rare herb that grows in this area. I was hoping you might have some.” She said, sitting at the rickety table as though she owned the place.

The man shut the door and took the seat opposite. “Ponolla, I assume?” Yennefer nodded. “Yes, I think I have some. It doesn’t come cheap though, due to its rarity.”

“Money won’t be an issue.”

With a nod, the man stood, going to the shelves that stood at the side of the room, searching for the herb. He was interrupted however by a dull thud from the next room as something heavy fell to the floor. It was followed by a low groan. “Gods damnit,” the herbalist hissed through his teeth. "Excuse me one moment."

He grabbed a vial of something cloudy before storming into the next room. “Can’t you stay on the gods damned bed,” he said angrily to whoever was in there. If there was a reply, Yennefer didn’t hear it.

After a few minutes the herbalist returned. “Forgive the interruption. I’ll get the ponolla for you now.”

“What was that?” Yennefer asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Some bard a few lads found wandering the forest not far from here. Looks like he was attacked by bandits, all his possessions stolen. He was delusional with fever at the time and has only worsened.”

“And how are you treating the fever?”

“I’m not. No point, the infection has spread too far to be able to do anything. I’m just keeping him sedated until he passes.”

“If was delusional and his possessions were stolen how do you know he’s a bard?”

“That lute,” he said, pointing to the corner of the room, “was the only thing he had. Guess the bandits thought it was worthless.”

Yennefer glanced over at it. A few of the strings were broken. It looked as though it had been used as an improvised weapon, one side of it being badly cracked. There was something familiar about it too. Yennefer had seen many bards perform in her time at court but she wouldn’t recognise any of them. There was only one bard that she could say she actually knew.

“This bard, do you know his name?”

“No, he’s not said anything coherent since he was found. Just keeps rambling about monsters and a witcher.”

Yennefer rose from her seat and walked to the other room. Lying on a small cot was Jaskier. His entire torso was bandaged, blood seeping through the cloth. His face was flushed red, his brown hair matted with sweat to his forehead. His breathing seemed strained and he was clearly seriously unwell.

“Do you know him?” the herbalist asked, following her.

“He’s an acquaintance.” In reality they were somewhere between friends and rivals, but she didn’t need to tell this herbalist that. “Why aren’t you at least trying to lower his fever?” she asked, suddenly angry on his behalf.

“There’s no point,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “It would just be a waste of time and herbs. I can’t save his life.”

“He’s coming with me.” The words were out of her mouth before she could think about it. They may not have the best relationship, but she couldn’t leave him to suffer at the hands of this man, so full of apathy he wouldn’t even try to make him more comfortable beyond drugging him out of his mind.

She opened a portal right there leading back to her house. “Pick him up, would you,” she ordered. When the man didn’t move she snapped at him. “Now.”

Jumping into action, he scooped Jaskier off the cot before following Yennefer through the portal to one of her spare rooms. “Put him there. Carefully,” she said pointing to the large bed occupying most of the space. She went back through the portal to retrieve the lute. The herbalist followed her back through, hovering annoyingly. “The ponolla?”

“Forget it. I’ll be going elsewhere.” With that she stepped back through, closing the portal behind her.

Setting the lute in the corner of the room, she went to her study where she kept her herbs and potions, already going through the list in her head for ingredients to help reduce fever. She didn’t know what the herbalist had been giving Jaskier to keep him sedated so only picked things that weren’t likely to cause adverse reactions when mixed with common sedatives.

She returned to the bard a few minutes later with a strong tea which would hopefully start to bring his temperature down. Even from where she stood at his side she could feel the heat rolling off him. She sat next to his head, propping him up enough to be able to pour the tea into his mouth without him choking. It took several minutes but she managed to get him to drink it all.

The next priority would be to change the grimy bandages on his chest and stomach. They looked as though they hadn’t been changed in days, stained with old and fresh blood. She fetched a roll of bandages and a bowl of lukewarm water. Removing the bandages off was an unpleasant task. The blood had stuck the cloth to his skin, peeling away old scabs and causing blood to run down his sides. For the first time, she was glad he was so heavily sedated. She didn’t think she could bare to do this if he suddenly awoke.

As she worked, the wounds were slowly revealed. There were several across his front, none of which were too deep but it was clear Jaskier hadn’t been able to look after his injuries properly. Foul yellow pus leaked out of the wounds as scabs came loose. It made Yennefer want to gag with the smell alone. The worst one was fairly short but had cut deep into his stomach. None of the wounds were stitched, another small thing to be thankful for as she could flush the wounds without having to remove them first.

She threw the bandages into a corner of the room. She would burn them later, once Jaskier had been seen to. She could see why the herbalist had labelled the bard as a lost cause. He was beyond saving by conventional means at this point. Yennefer may not be an expert in healing magic, but she could give his body a little extra boost, just enough to help him get over the worst of it. She dared not do more for fear of making things worse. Healing magic was a delicate balance and without proper training could easily go horrifically wrong.

She began cleaning the cuts on Jaskier’s skin, lancing the pus-filled areas and washing it all away until only watery blood remained. With each one, she let a little bit of her chaos seep into his flesh, just enough to ensure the infection wouldn’t return. When she had finally done that, she found a needle and thread and began stitching the wounds closed. She didn’t know if she had done enough to ensure the infection wouldn’t return but stitching him up now would give him the best chance of healing and minimise scarring.

Once that was done she let her eyes scan over his prone form, checking to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. It was then that she noticed how thin he looked. The outlines of his ribs were visible where normally he would have a healthy layer of fat and muscle and his cheeks were sunken in. This kind of starvation didn’t happen in a matter of days. How long had he been wandering around in the forest before being found. Had the herbalist even fed him or would that have just been another waste of resources? She tamped down her rising anger. It would do her no good now.

The entire time she was doing this, she couldn’t help but wonder, where was Geralt? She knew the two of them didn’t travel together constantly but it was only the very beginnings of autumn. They usually didn’t separate until midwinter when Geralt would return to Kaer Morhen. So why was Jaskier alone?