Jaskier had done as he was instructed this time, remaining at camp while Geralt went off to do his witchering. It wasn’t his fault the fight had strayed ever closer to where he and Roach were waiting. The mare had run away as soon as the leshen appeared. Jaskier, somewhat lacking the same common sense, had decided to stay, partially hidden behind a nearby tree. He’ll claim later it was so that he could better make the fight into a song but really it was so he could keep an eye on the witcher.
That was his mistake of course, he should have run at the first sign of trouble. The leshen had caught sight of the bard and decided it would be easier to deal with him rather than the witcher armed with a silver sword and igni. It had buried its arms in the ground, sending roots straight for him. Jaskier barely managed to get out of the way in time, one of the jagged edges of the roots catching on his doublet, ripping the fabric.
“Get out of here!” Geralt yelled, already casting igni at the monster. Jaskier did as he was told and began sprinting into the woods. The leshen sent more roots at him but he managed to keep out of range, the leshen now distracted buy Geralt’s attacks. Jaskier slowed down, believing he was a safe distance away. It seemed he was wrong however when out of nowhere a pack of wolves appeared. He vaguely remembered Geralt saying something about leshens being able to control wolves.
The wolf pack first focused its attacks on Geralt but one of the wolves spotted Jaskier still standing nearby. With a bark, the wolf began running toward Jaskier, soon followed by the others. Jaskier began running again, knowing he had no chance of outrunning the wolves for long but hoping to at least prolong the inevitable.
Branches whipped past him, snagging on his clothes and causing him to stumble more than once. The wolves were gaining on him now, he could hear them running behind him, their growls only meters away. He dared not look back for fear of tripping.
Something large and heavy collided with his legs, threatening to send him crashing to the ground. He stumbled but managed to keep his footing. He was beginning to tire now but he kept pushing on, relying on adrenaline to keep him going. There was another growl so close it sounded like it was right next to his ear.
He didn’t know how long he ran for, letting his mind go blank with blind panic. It wasn’t until he had to slow down that he realised he was no longer being chased. The wolves must have retreated at some point, returning to the leshen and Geralt.
He stumbled to a stop, his legs suddenly giving way beneath him as adrenaline abandoned him. He knelt there on the forest floor, breathing hard and shaking both from exertion and residual fear. He had no idea where he was nor which direction he had come from. He had made enough turns while running that he wouldn’t even be able to use the sun to try and retrace his steps.
He could hardly stay here however, wherever here was. He had no idea if Geralt had managed to kill the leshen or if he had been killed himself. He couldn’t just wait for Geralt to come find him, what if the wolves came back? No, he would have to try and make his own way. There were no sounds of fighting that could help him orient himself. All he knew was the general direction he had come. With no better ideas, he tried to pull himself to his feet but was stopped by a sudden sharp pain in his calf. Looking down, he saw his trouser leg was stained by a large patch of crimson. Damn, the wolf must have bitten him or something when it almost tripped him up.
Doing his best to tear off the already soiled fabric, Jaskier made a makeshift bandage, tieing it tight around the gash in his leg. It would do for now, just until he found Geralt again. Better prepared for the pain this time, he managed to get to his feet. He turned in the direction he had come from and began walking.
He tried his best to keep going in a straight line. He tried calling for Geralt but instead of the witcher, he only heard the distant howl of a wolf. He decided trying to call for Geralt again wasn’t worth the risk of being killed by wolves, so he kept going in silence. He could hear them every so often. Sometimes they sounded like they were getting closer, others he could barely make them out. Still, even if they weren’t after him it put him on edge.
He knew he had made a mistake when the sun began to set, bathing the forest in golden light. He had no idea how long he had been walking for, but he should have come close to the clearing they had been camping in hours ago. Feeling defeated, Jaskier sat down heavily at the base of the nearest tree. He was exhausted, tired and hungry and seemingly without hope of being found. His leg had only gotten worse, causing him to limp more and more, blood still dribbling down his leg. He had to fight back tears; it would do no good to anyone if he started crying now.
Once he felt reasonably back in control of his emotions, he came up with another plan. His only hope now would be for Geralt to find him. In the meantime, he ought to look for food and water. He had spent enough time on the path by now that he felt reasonably confident he could identify whether certain plants were edible or not so he was sure he could forage something. He wished he knew how to set traps but that wasn’t something Geralt had ever bothered to show him. He didn’t know how to start a fire without flint so warmth and light were out of the question too. He really ought to ask Geralt to teach him some survival skills when he found him again.
After half an hour of foraging in the growing darkness, he had managed to find a reasonable amount of various berries. It wasn’t much, and he’d much rather an actual meal, but it stopped the rumbling in his stomach and went some way to relieving his thirst. He felt almost proud of himself for managing to find as much as he did, a small achievement in his rather dire situation.
The only thing left to do now was to find somewhere sheltered enough to spend the night. Easier said than done considering there wasn’t much around beside trees and shrubs. He wandered around for a little while, hoping to find something that could be used as shelter. He gave up shortly after since the light was almost completely gone. With a sigh, he sat down against a tree, clearing the area of larger twigs and rocks before laying down.
Sleep came to him quickly, despite how exposed he felt. He supposed that had a lot to do with the fact he had been walking pretty much all day.
A howl caused Jaskier to jolt awake. It sounded closer than it had before. Immediately Jaskier was sitting up, heart beating fast. A moment later, the howling returned, closer still.
Jaskier scrambled to his feet, ignoring the pain in his leg for now, sure that the wolves had found him. There was little he could do to defend himself and there was no way he could outrun them again. Looking around, he spotted a tree with a few low hanging branches. It wasn’t ideal but he managed to pull himself up, climbing high enough that he could be sure he would be safe.
He was glad he was high up when only ten minutes later, the first wolf came into view, swiftly followed by others. They spotted Jaskier easily and circled the tree, barking and snapping their teeth at him. Jaskier tried to ignore them. There was no way for them to reach him but it was hard to keep calm when he was surrounded by wolves who wanted to kill him.
The wolves calmed down somewhat when it was clear they couldn’t reach the bard. They took it in turns to scrabble at the trunk, snapping and yowling at Jaskier.
Under all the noise, Jaskier though he could hear a voice, echoing through the trees. “Hello!” he called, hoping that his ears weren’t deceiving him.
“Jaskier!” Geralt came through the undergrowth, sword drawn. The wolves spotted him immediately abandoning the tree for an easier target. The fight didn’t last long, the wolves falling dead at the witchers sword in mere minutes.
Once the last one fell, Jaskier began climbing down, now mindful of his injured leg. “Geralt! Are you hurt? What happened with the leshen?”
“I’m fine. The leshen called the wolves back to it after you disappeared but I killed it before they arrived. They tried to fight me but they just ran away. I guessed they would try and find you again.”
“Why? The leshen’s dead.”
“I assume it scrambled their brains. It’s likely that the only thought left in their minds was getting to you after the leshen died.”
“Well, Jaskier said, clapping Geralt on the shoulder, I’m glad you found me.”
Geralt frowned at him then, loking down at his badly bandaged leg. "You're hurt."
"Hmm? Oh, one of the wolves got me when I was running. I don't think it's too bad."
"Come on, Roach is nearby. We can make camp and I can take a look at that for you."