Geralt tightened the rope binding the leshen’s head to Roach’s saddle once more. Satisfied the trophy wouldn’t be going anywhere, he patted his horse’s shoulder, and then moved to lead her back toward the road.
Roach huffed as she walked alongside Geralt, likely tired after a long day’s ride. The sun had been low in the sky when the leshen made itself known, and it took Geralt longer than he would have liked to slay the beast. It was a young thing, not even strong enough to summon more than a few crows to its call, but the fight had still eaten up the last of the daylight.
“We’ll find somewhere to camp,” Geralt promised her, reigns secure in his hand. “Not much longer. Then we can sleep.”
Roach nudged her nose against Geralt’s arm, likely looking for a treat for having to put up with the delay.
Distracted by her antics, Geralt nearly missed the sight of a spare bit of cloth tied to a branch. As they neared it, Geralt’s eyes narrowed. It was white, high-quality silk, damn near reflective in the moonlight. It was also familiar. Geralt could recall Jaskier using a handkerchief with a similar lacy trim.
Could be nothing. Some maiden’s property, or a strange custom of the nearby village, to tie handkerchiefs to trees.
Still, curiosity spurred Geralt into taking a closer look.
The witcher untied the cloth from the tree with care, finding it was perfectly unblemished. Someone had definitely left it here on purpose. And, judging by the scent of the perfumes emanating from it, that someone was definitely Jaskier.
With a frustrated sigh, Geralt tucked the handkerchief under his breastplate for safekeeping. “C’mon, Roach,” he urged, tugging gently on the reins.
Leave it to Jaskier’s hare-brained schemes to further deny Geralt his sleep.
The signs of the bard passing through the trees were clear enough for Geralt to spot, even as dark as it was. The scent of perfume had dissipated, but the witcher could still catch whiffs of it in the air, and he followed Jaskier’s trail through the woods with ease.
Oddly, Geralt couldn’t spot any signs of struggle. Nothing to indicate Jaskier had fled this way, pursued or in pursuit of something.
Surprisingly quickly, Geralt stumbled upon a small campsite. The campfire was burning low, providing little light and even less heat to the form bundled under a blanket nearby. Geralt frowned at the sight, quickly scanning the area for any sort of threat. An ambush, maybe.
Nothing. Just the quiet, steady breathing of the person under the blanket.
Geralt threw Roach’s reins over a branch, moving to kneel next to what he hoped was his slumbering bard. He pulled the top of the blanket back gently, finding that, sure enough, it was Jaskier.
So, not in danger, for once. Just sleeping without a care in the world, in a forest that previously housed a leshen. Typical.
“Jaskier,” Geralt grunted, prodding the bard’s shoulder. When Jaskier only continued to softly snore, Geralt opted to poke his cheek instead. “Jaskier.”
With a sharp intake of breath, Jaskier’s eyes opened blearily. “Mrmph?” He startled upon spotting Geralt, but just as quickly let out a surprised huff of laughter. “Oh, Geralt—You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing out here?”
“Hunting,” Geralt answered, nodding his head toward the trophy.
“Right, well, of course hunting; you’re a witcher,” Jaskier scoffed. “I meant—Wow, what in Melitele’s name is that—?” he asked, mouth agape at the horned head resting against Roach’s rump.
“Leshen,” Geralt supplied. “What are you doing out here?”
“Hm? Oh, now that’s a harrowing tale—”
“Summarize,” the witcher cut him off.
Jaskier shot Geralt a half-hearted glare, more a pout than anything. Then he yawned. “I suppose the full story can wait until morning,” he conceded. “Basically, bandits attacked the caravan I was travelling with. No one actually got hurt, as far as I saw, but the horses panicked, and I fell out the back. I had to walk the rest of the day.”
Geralt’s fingers clenched around his own thigh at the thought of Jaskier so near danger, yet so far from Geralt himself. He checked emotions, taking in Jaskier’s safe and sleep-muddled appearance. “Lucky you got away.”
“Ah, but was it luck, or was it years of experience trailing after a witcher?” Jaskier questioned proudly, a broad grin on his face. “I’ve run from so many monsters at this point, I’d say I’m the fastest bard on the Continent.”
“You would,” Geralt acknowledged with a smirk and shake of his head. He retrieved Jaskier’s handkerchief from beneath his breastplate and held it out for the bard. “Here.”
“You found it!” Jaskier cheered, taking the silk with a smile, only to scrunch his nose at the sight of many wrinkles in the fabric. After a tentative sniff, he held it at arm’s length, tossing it in the direction of his pack. “That—yeah, that’s definitely going to need a wash.”
“Dare I ask why it was tied to a tree?”
“A clue to lead an experienced tracker to my position, should harm to befall me in the night,” Jaskier explained, “Which worked exactly as intended, might I add.”
“Could’ve led the bandits to you, too,” Geralt scolded, unimpressed.
Jaskier thought for a moment, only yawn again, and stretch. “Y’know, I think it’s awfully late to be debating all the what-if scenarios of my untimely demise—Why don’t we turn in for the night? I’m sure Roach would agree it’s time for bed.”
Roach huffed at the sound of her name.
“See? She agrees. C’mon, witcher,” Jaskier said, pulling his blanket up and patting the space on his bedroll.
Geralt couldn’t keep himself from chuckling. “You’re ridiculous,” he told the bard, even as he removed his swords and slipped under the blanket.
“I think the word you meant to say is clever,” Jaskier argued, scooching to give Geralt room as the witcher situated himself.
Jaskier hummed. “Alright, we can compromise and say you did.”
Geralt sighed quietly, giving up in favor of getting some sleep that night. Before laying down fully, he flicked the sign for Igni at the campfire, bringing the blaze back up to a bright, cozy warmth.
Jaskier made a pleased noise of contentment, curling up close to Geralt and resting his head on the witcher’s arm. “Much better. Guess that bandit attack wasn’t such a setback in the grand scheme of things.”
“There’s a village a few miles out,” Geralt informed him. “Could’ve had a bed if you’d stayed on the wagon.”
“Alas, for that,” Jaskier chuckled as he shut his eyes. He patted Geralt’s chest amiably. “You’ll just have to suffer being my pillow, instead. I know it’s a hardship, but I think you’ll survive.”
Geralt hummed in response, pulling the blanket over them both. He rested his free arm over Jaskier’s waist, letting himself relax.
In no time, Jaskier’s breathing was deep and even again, the bard fast asleep on Geralt’s bicep.
As Geralt watched his bard slumber, warm and comfortable and safe, he found being a pillow wasn’t much of a hardship at all.