The forest around them was quickly darkening. Geralt had insisted they continue travelling during the evening in the hopes of increasing the distance between them and Nilfgaard. Yennefer had agreed which meant they were now wandering down a dark road, trees surrounding them. After a while, the orange glow of a fire became visible. Geralt had of course noticed this well before Ciri but didn’t seem concerned. Soon the sound of a lute drifted through the air. Jaskier sat by a small fire, leaning against the trunk of a tree, his lute in his lap.
At the sound of them approaching, he looked up, a wide grin appearing on his face. “Geralt! Fancy seeing you here.” Yen and Ciri came into view then and he welcomed them too. He set the lute aside and got to his feet. Ciri couldn’t help but notice he was moving rather stiffly but put it down to sitting on the ground.
He helped set up their bedrolls and in no time they were all sitting around the fire. Geralt offered to go hunting for dinner since they had little supplies of their own. Jaskier apologised for not having anything to offer but he was simply waved off by the witcher.
That left Ciri with Yennefer and Jaskier who were already throwing snide remarks back and forth. When they had all first been travelling together, Ciri could tell their words were meant to hurt, at least a little bit. But over the course of the past few months, the feelings behind the words had mellowed into friendly banter. Ciri couldn’t help but say she was glad. She knew the three adults had some kind of complicated history together but they had come together for her benefit and had formed a weird kind of family.
Once Geralt returned they caught each other up on what they’d been doing since they were last together. Jaskier had left them to take part in some bardic competition for which the first place prize was a large sum of money. He had won, of course and Ciri wished she could have gone to see him perform. She’s seen him singing in many taverns of course, but she couldn’t help but imagine it would be different seeing him on an actual stage instead of a crate or table. Unfortunately, the competition would have taken them all too close to the approaching Nilfgaardian army so Jaskier had decided to go alone.
Geralt had been hesitant to let him go alone, fearing he would get captured or otherwise hurt. Jaskier had assured them all he knew what he was doing. “After all, Geralt,” he had said, “It’s not like I haven’t gone alone before.” Those words hadn’t been intended to hurt but she had noticed the witcher flinch slightly at the words. Jaskier’s voice had gone soft then, inaudible to Ciri who was technically eavesdropping. Jaskier had left shortly after with reassurances that he would find them within a week.
And now here they were, sitting around a small fire and sharing a meal as though the bard had never left. Ciri always felt safest when they were together and soon found herself nodding off where she sat next to Jaskier. “I think someone should get some rest,” he said, running his hand through her hair.
“’M not tired,” she mumbled.
“And I’m Valdo Marx. Come on, I’m sure we could all use some sleep.” It was true, they had been travelling since dawn and had barely had any real sleep in days.
They woke early and broke camp at dawn yet again. Jaskier was slower to get going than usual. When asked if he was alright by Geralt, he simply shrugged him off and claimed he slept funny. Geralt seemed to accept this excuse, as did Yennefer, who continued to help pack their things away.
Ciri didn’t but it. For the rest of the day she kept an eye on the bard. He lacked the usual spring in his step as he walked. He was quieter, if not completely silent, joining conversations but not starting any of his own. His lute remained in its case all day and Ciri missed the sound of it as they travelled.
Before the sun had set, they had come across a town. Geralt lead them to the only inn and tried to get them a room. There was only one left but they took it, handing over a few coins for the key. They ate in the tavern nearby. The stew was surprisingly good for once. Ciri didn’t pay much attention to the conversation. The adults talked about going to the market tomorrow to buy some supplies with the money Jaskier had won and where they would head to next.
Eventually Jaskier announced he was going to head back to the inn. Geralt and Yennefer bid him goodnight, neither pointing out how strange he was acting. Ciri too bid him goodnight but was beginning to form a plan. Maybe if she got Jaskier by himself he would tell her what was wrong. He had always been more like a friend than a parental figure, like a fun uncle, so maybe he would be honest with her.
Shortly after the bard disappeared, Ciri also excused herself. Yennefer tutted. “You should have gone with Jaskier.”
“It’s not like it’s far. I’ll be fine.”
With that, she too stepped outside. The inn was located down the road on the opposite side. She could see Jaskier up ahead. He seemed to be walking slightly hunched over and wish his left hand on his side. Had he been hurt? Something in her gut told her to hang back and simply watch what he did. Once reaching the inn, she crept up the stairs on silent feet and made her way to their room. The door was slightly ajar, allowing her to peek inside. She felt silly, spying on the bard. It wasn’t like he had anything to hide.
Except, as it turned out, he did. Jaskier had already removed his doublet and was pulling his chemise over his head, revealing a bandage wrapped around his stomach. There was a patch where blood had soaked through but it was dark with age. She watched as he sat on the edge of the bed and unwound it, revealing a gauze pad that had stuck to whatever injury he had. He tried to pull it away, eliciting a small pained noise as it tore at a scab, causing a drop of blood to run down his side.
“Shit,” he hissed through his teeth. With a hand pressing back on the gauze, he stood and moved out of view. She heard water splashing and assumed he was using the basin they had been provided with in their room to loosen the dried blood. He eventually came back to sit on the bed with a fresh bandage and a small jar of what was probably a healing salve.
The wound on his stomach was long, stretching from above his navel down to his left hip. It had been neatly stitched, thread evenly spaced along the cut. The wound itself was pink and scabby, although her experience with Geralt told her it was nothing to worry about. He applied a layer of salve to the area, sucking in a breath every time his fingers brushed a sensitive spot. Eventually he applied another gauze pad and bandaged it.
Ciri snuck back to the stairs before coming toward the door, footsteps audible, but not suspiciously loud. She knocked on the door before entering. Jaskier was now laying out his bedroll on the floor, chemise back on and the bloody bandage and gauze nowhere to be seen. “I was tired, thought I’d go to bed early too.”
A few minutes later she was sitting on the bed, much in the same way Jaskier had been earlier. The bard was sitting on his bedroll, idly tuning his lute, despite it not having been used all day. Ciri couldn’t help but feel a little guilty, both for spying on him and for the fact that he was sleeping on the floor whilst injured. He must have a reason for not telling the others but she couldn’t figure out what it could be. She couldn’t ask if he wanted to sleep on the bed with her instead of Yennefer like they usually did without raising suspicions and admitting she had been sticking her nose where it shouldn’t be.
Jaskier must have sensed her inner turmoil as he stood, moving to sit next to her and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “What’s troubling you, little lion cub?”
“Nothing,” she said, pulling her knees to her chest.
“I can tell there’s something going on in that head of yours.”
What could she say? It’s nothing Jaskier, I just spied on you and I know you’re hurt but you don’t want to tell anyone about it and I feel bad for spying but I also feel bad for not telling Geralt or Yennefer. Instead, she said, “Will you play me a song?”
“Of course. What kind of song do you want?”
“A happy one.”
Jaskier did just that, and that was how Geralt and Yennefer found them, Ciri giggling at Jaskier’s absurd lyrics and jokes, trying his best to cheer the girl up.
“I though you two were tired,” Yennefer said, a smile on her face as she entered.
“Yes, well. Sometimes princesses need a little cheering up,” Jaskier, said, leaning back against the wall at the head of the bed. Ciri couldn’t help but notice the slight wince as he did so, likely forgetting for a moment that he was hurt.
“You alright Ciri?” Geralt asked.
“I’m fine. I just missed Jaskier.”
“I am, after all, the life of the party,” the bard remarked, earning an eye roll from the witcher and a laugh from Ciri.
“Then I hate to break up the party, but we should all get some sleep. We’ll have to leave early if we want to keep our lead on Nilfgaard,” Yennefer said.
She had a point, of course. Ciri didn’t like being reminded of the constant danger she was in, but the mage was right. They had been pushing themselves hard to stay ahead. Slacking now could very easily cost them dearly.
Within minutes, they were finally settling down. She and Yennefer shared the bed while Geralt and Jaskier had their bedrolls on the floor. It was how they had always done this whenever there was only one bed availible since the men were used to sleeping outdoors and on hard ground whereas both Ciri and Yen were used to more comfortable surroundings.
That didn’t mean however that when Geralt was injured that he was still made to sleep on the floor. He would try to insist that he didn’t need the bed but they all knew he was in a much better mood than he would be otherwise, and the more sleep he got, the faster he healed.
So the fact that Jaskier still hadn’t told them he was hurt and was now about to sleep on the floor made Ciri’s guilt return. Surely he would say something soon. But the candle went out and the room was plunged into darkness. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it had looked.
Ciri woke to Geralt moving about the room. The sun had barely risen, the sky a pale shade of blue through the window. He had already packed up his bedroll and was dressed. Yennefer, she noticed, was nowhere to be seen, likely at the tavern trying to organise something for their breakfast.
Jaskier was still lying on the floor, curled up under his blanket. He was lying on his right side, his back to her but she could tell from his even breathing he hadn’t woken up just yet. She sat up, rubbing tiredly at her eyes to chase away the remainders of sleep. Geralt gave her a quick nod before turning back to whatever it was he was doing.
He had also noticed Jaskier showed no signs of waking. He stood above him, looking down and contemplating something for a moment before nudging the bard with his foot. In his stomach. Where he was injured.
Before Ciri could do anything to stop him, Jaskier suddenly woke with a gasp, curling tighter into himself. “Jaskier?” Geralt asked, confused at what had just happened.
“You startled me,” he said, trying to play his reaction off. His voice was strained and he was yet to move from his defensive position.
“Nothing.” With visible effort even to Ciri he uncurled and sat up. Geralt continued to stare at him critically, trying to piece things together. “Honestly Geralt, I’m fine.”
“Tell me, Jaskier or I’ll leave you here,” he said, crouching down to Jaskier’s eye level.
“Nothing’s wrong dear witcher.”
It was clear this was going to go around in circles until Geralt lost his temper. Ciri decided to take matters into her own hands. “He’s hurt.”
Two pairs of eyes fixed on her and she couldn’t help but shrink back. “Wha-,“ Jaskier began.
“I saw you, last night. Before I came into the room. You’ve got a cut on your stomach. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have spied on you, but I was worried,” she blurted out before losing her nerve. She buried herself further into the blanket she was clutching, suddenly afraid of being punished.
The fight seemed to leave Jaskier as he sighed. It was no use arguing when Ciri had seen his injury after all. Geralt turned back to the bard. “You’re hurt? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Because I’d promised you nothing was going to happen to me while I was away.” He looked down into his lap.
“Can I see?”
“There isn’t much need. I went to a healer. She stitched me up and gave me some salve. I’ve been keeping it clean. Which is what I’m assuming is what Ciri saw me doing last night.” He looked back over at the princess on the bed. There was no anger or disappointment in his eyes, only a fond look. “Is that why you were upset last night?” Ciri nodded. “I’m sorry for causing you worry. And I’ll forgive you for snooping on me this time. Just, don’t make a habit of it.”
“Come on,” Geralt said, straightening up and holding out his hand to help Jaskier up. “I still want a look at this wound.”
Jaskier allowed himself to be hauled to his feet. Ciri shifted to the side to allow Jaskier to sit next to her. “Do you really want to stay for this?” Jaskier asked, turning to Ciri as he removed his chemise.
Ciri shrugged. “I saw it last night. And Geralt’s head wounds much worse.”
Geralt helped him unwrap the bandage, revealing more spots of blood in on the cloth. The gauze had a sizeable red patch along it, rather worrying considering it had only been changed the night before. Geralt seemed to think the same thing. “How long ago did this happen?”
“Four days I believe.”
“And it still hadn’t stopped bleeding?” Geralt asked, a frown forming on his face as he gently pulled the gauze from his skin. The wound was uglier up close, bleeding in places, scabbed over in others. It was nothing compared to the things she’d seen happen to Geralt, but then Jaskier didn’t have witcher healing.
Geralt knelt down in front of him and began gently inspecting the wound. It was then that Yennefer returned. “What’s suddenly so interesting about the bard?” she asked. From where she was standing, Geralt was blocking her view of his wound.
“He’s been injured,” Geralt mumbled.
“How? He just got up.”
“Not now. Before we found him.” With a sigh Geralt sat back on his heels. “I don’t know why it’s still bleeding. You said you had a salve?”
Jaskier nodded. “It’s in my bag.”
Geralt got up, giving Yennefer a view of the slash across his skin. “Wh- Jaskier! Why didn’t you tell us you were injured?”
Before Jaskier could answer, Geralt held up the small jar Ciri had seen Jaskier use last night. “Is this it?”
“Yeah. The healer said it would help but I can’t say it’s done much.”
Geralt opened it and gave it a sniff. “It’s useless. There might even be a few herbs in here that are causing you to keep bleeding but I can’t be sure.” Jaskier paled somewhat. Ciri took his hand in hers and gave a reassuring squeeze. Noticing this too, Geralt added on, “It would have scabbed over eventually on its own. No damage done, but it’s almost definitely prolonged the healing time.”
Geralt put the jar down before turning to his own bag. Yennefer handed a pastry to Ciri and Jaskier before sitting on the other side of the bard and looking at the cut herself. “Glad to know I’ve become so interesting all of a sudden,” he commented.
“Why are we only finding out about this now?” she asked.
“Geralt kicked him,” Ciri helpfully said.
“I didn’t kick him. And you spied on him,” the witcher shot back with a playfully raised eyebrow.
“You kicked the bard.” Yennefer said.
“No, I just, nudged him with my foot.”
“On my wound Geralt! A kick would have been kinder under normal circumstances.”
“Then just be glad I didn’t actually kick you then. Let me clean that salve off. It’s doing you no favours. You can use mine instead.” Geralt handed the small basin to Yennefer while he knelt back in front of Jaskier. He dipped a cloth into the bowl, squeezing the excess out before gently applying it to Jaskier’s skin. He sucked in a breath at the contact but otherwise remained silent.
Ciri finished her breakfast before jumping off the bed. She took her clothes before leaving the room to go to the washroom at the end of the hall to get dressed. By the time she returned, Geralt was just finishing applying a layer of his own healing salve to Jaskier’s wound.
Yennefer had moved from the bed and seemed to be packing the last of their things. “Ciri, help me take these down to Roach,” she said, handing a bag to her. Ciri followed the mage out to the stables and down to the stall where Roach was waiting for them. They would need to wait for Geralt to come down and get her ready to go since she was extremely picky about who she let put her tack on. She had tried to do it once and earnt several warning nips at her clothes before Geralt had done it for her, gently admonishing the mare. He hadn’t asked her to do it since.
“What was this I heard about you spying?” Yennefer asked once they had placed the bags down.
“I, erm, well yesterday Jaskier seemed off so I wanted to ask if he was alright. But then he looked hurt so I just, sort of… followed him.”
“Was this when you said you were tired?” Ciri nodded. “Did he catch you?”
“No, he didn’t know I was there.” She couldn’t help but feel shame burning her cheeks.
“I’m impressed,” Yennefer said. That was not the response she was expecting. “It’s difficult to sneak up on someone like that. It’s a skill that may serve you well one day. Just, don’t make a habit of spying on us, alright?”
Yennefer smiled then, gently running her hand over the princess’s hair. It wasn’t long before Geralt and Jaskier appeared with the rest of their belongings. They could be heard before they were seen, Jaskier’s voice raising above Geralt’s.
“I’m wounded, not an invalid, Geralt!” he cried with mock outrage.
“I’m just saying we can move faster that way.”
“I didn’t slow you down yesterday, did I?” When Geralt didn’t answer, Jaskier seemed to take that as a win. “So, it’s settled then.”
“Fine,” he grumbled, unceremoniously dropping the packs he was carrying in a pile next to the others. He swiftly set about readying Roach, securing the packs in place before leading her outside.
“What was that about?” Yennefer asked.
“Geralt tried to get me to ride Roach and as you saw, I convinced him there was no need,” he said feeling rather smug.
“If you start complaining you’re in pain, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Is that a threat, dear witcher?”
Geralt only hummed in reply, already helping Ciri into the saddle. “I wouldn’t mind walking, Jaskier,” she offered.
“No, my dear. I shall be fine walking.”
“Suit yourself,” Geralt grumbled. He took up the reins and led them out of town.