Geralt had not forgotten Jaskier, he had simply put the man in the back of his mind. Not in a vindictive way. He just didn’t have the energy. With finding Ciri, traveling with her back to Kaer Morhen, and convincing Yennefer to train her…
There was just so much to do.
Too much to think of, Geralt did not have the time to think about the bard. And he never did, not in the night, not when he looked out at the freshly fallen snow, not when he ate in the hall with Yennefer and Ciri and Vessimir and Eskel and Lambert and the seventh chair at the other end of the table.
Geralt did not miss him, as much as Yennefer had prodded.
He did not miss Jaskier, as much as Ciri asked about the strange bard from her Grandmother’s tales.
He did not miss him. He did not think of him.
It was only when the snow began to melt, Geralt wondered if he and Jaskier would meet somewhere. By accident, as it always seemed to be with them.
Always an accidental running into each other, like a target and a dagger.
Then Geralt remembered the vitriol in his voice, the iron on his tongue, the hatred in his words, and looks away from the growing dandelions in the earth.
Eskel and Lambert had already left, and Ciri was planning to join Yennefer in her travels during the spring.
So Geralt is alone at the keep until Vessimir sends him on his way.
It seems only fitting that Geralt finds his way back to Posada. He can almost feel a smile creeping onto his face.
He wipes it away just as quickly.
Roach is stabled, and he makes his way into the bar, just for a rest, nothing more.
There was no music coming from the inside, but that did not stop him from closing his eyes, breathing in for the smells of Jaskier.
Geralt remembers when Jaskier asked what he smelled like,
“Really, Geralt!” Geralt didn’t have to look behind him to see Jaskier’s arms dramatically flying about, “I bathe more than you do and wear perfume! You must smell something good, c’mon be honest.”
Geralt had rolled his eyes and breathed in deep. His senses were immediately affronted by the smell of a hideous odor Jaskier insisted on wearing,
“I was wrong,” Geralt started.
“HA! I knew it, you cranky old man.”
“You smell like shit,” Geralt smiled “and piss.”
He dodged the ill-aimed rock easily.
Geralt was lying, of course, when Jaskier wasn’t wearing that perfume, he did have a smell.
When it was the dead of night, and Geralt returned to wherever they had decided to sleep that night, and Jaskier was deep asleep, Geralt would watch him. Watch his chest rise and fall, watch his eyes flutter, and his lips twitch in smiles and frowns. He would watch and just breathe. Breathe in the smell of the bard. Geralt had not been able to pinpoint it. It was a mix of earth and wine, of flowers and the sea.
It bothered him. He could not figure it out. A lot of things about Jaskier bothered him.
But that was beyond the bard’s control.
So, Geralt pushes into the bar and makes his way to the back, ignoring the mutterings fluttering around him.
It wasn’t until he was seated that the waitress approached him,
“Sorry about your bard, Witcher.” She was so casual about it while she poured his ale that Geralt almost missed it.
“What?” Had she known about the mountain? Did Jaskier tell the continent about him and their fight, was there a new song that Geralt had yet to hear?
Why was she sorry?
“Oh, I – I thought you knew?” She was embarrassed now, wishing to be rid of the position she put herself in. Wishing she was not in front of a Witcher. Geralt didn’t blame her.
“Knew what?” He wasn’t irritated, just tired. It was not helpful that his voice dipped low, and the words came out as a growl. Always leading to misinterpretation.
“I – he – um…” She was messing with her apron, and it reminded Geralt of the way the bard’s hands would flutter about as he spoke.
“Hona, what’s taking so long?” The barkeeper yelled from across the room. She looked back at him with pleading eyes. Geralt thought she looked as though she might cry as he might hurt her.
He guesses Jaskier’s song could only do so much.
“It’s the bard’s Witcher, sir…that bard.” He almost wants to scream. He is no one’s Witcher. He is no ones.
Geralt belongs to nothing, and nothing belongs to him.
“Oh. Does he know?”
“What don’t I know?” Geralt growled, for real this time. Tired of being talked over like a child, tired of not knowing what happened to his…to the bard.
The barkeep sighed and made his way over to the table, reeking of pity.
Geralt stilled. He knew what he was going to say before he said it. He understood everything laid out before him.
But he still denied it till the barkeep spilled the words from his lips,
“The bard, he died a fortnight ago.”
And Geralt feels like running, just getting up out of his chair, and bolting. Forgetting Roach and running as far as his mutated legs will take him. Running until he collapses, until his lungs break and bleed, running until the guilt eats him alive.
Instead, he sits and stares at the man in front of him, “What happened?” His voice is nothing but a whisper, and he isn’t sure he wants to know.
But he owes it to Jaskier because he owed the bard too much for him to ever repay.
“He came into town, delirious with fever. It took about three of us to wrestle him into the inn so we could get the healer to look at him,” the man sighs, “There wasn’t anything she could do. The fever had consumed his mind. His skin was burning, but his lips were blue like he had been out in the snow.”
Geralt grips his chair, splintering the wood, if he was with me if I…
If he what? Geralt wasn’t sure.
Perhaps he never would have fallen ill if he was with Geralt. He would be safe in Oxenfurt, or maybe…he could have been in the seventh chair in the dining hall.
Ciri would have loved the music.
She would never hear it now.
“We made him comfortable as we could, but he died a few days later.”
“Did he…say anything?” Geralt had to know, Jaskier was a bard, probably one of the greatest that ever lived. Or had lived.
He could spin stories out of nothing. He had to say something,
“Geralt,” Jaskier was breathing heavy, a barghest had chased him out of his hiding spot, and Geralt was forced to deal with it, “When I die,” Geralt huffed, something akin to a laugh, “No laughing Witcher! When I die, make sure it is a grand exit, something fitting for a bard.”
“You think I’ll have something to do with it?” Did the bard think Geralt would kill him? Not that he cared at all.
Geralt’s slow heart skipped a beat. He would not admit to it.
“Of course,” Geralt refused to acknowledge the pang of…whatever it was, “I am going to write your ballads for as long as we both live. And I plan to go out with a bang.”
“Witchers live longer than bards.”
“And bards die young.”
Geralt hadn’t thought Jaskier was serious. But here he was, in Posada, where it all began and ended.
“He mostly mumbled,” Hona spoke up, “something about his parents? And wolves?”
Geralt breathes in, and then out, and releases his grip from the broken wood,
“What were his last words?” Maybe…maybe…maybe…
The barkeep and waitress tensed and looked to each other, wondering who would speak first.
The barkeep decided to take whatever blow was waiting for him,
“I decided, my dear Witcher, that I’ll die in the arms of a beautiful woman.” It was months later, Jaskier had just returned to their table after a bountiful set. The sweat on his face made it look as though he was a fae.
Geralt looked down at his beer and huffed, “Thought you wanted to die an exciting death, bard.”
“Of course, I will be mortally wounded in a terrible battle,” Geralt rolled his eyes as Jaskier waxed poetic, “and then make my way to the love of my life, where she will cradle me in her arms and give me one last passionate kiss as I make my way from this world to the next.”
“Why are you so invested in how you’ll die?”
Jaskier looked out at the bar and took a sip of his ale,
“We all do one day, Geralt.”
“No one, um…no one was in the room with him.” The words were clumsy, but they still bit as hard.
Geralt sat and thought of the bard, thought of Jaskier, alone cold and burning, slipping from the world without any hand or lips to guide him.
His stomach twisted in knots, and his heart that beat too slow tightened.
Geralt stood, tired of sitting, tired of being so helpless, tired of being worthless to the man who had followed him to the edge of the world, the man he chased away.
“Where is his body?”
“They burned him. The townsfolk were worried he might spread the sickness.”
Geralt’s heart tightened, and the nails of his fingers dug into the leather of his gloves, alone and turned to ash.
Hona told him the way to the healers, and he left. Patting Roach as he made his way by the stables, the mare just stared back at him.
“You spoil her, she’ll get fat and lazy.” Geralt watched as Jaskier fed the mare sugar cubes after he had already given her an apple.
“Oh, hush Witcher, someone has to.”
Geralt decided to walk, to trick his legs into thinking they were running. It was the only thing he could do, just pretend he was walking away from everything. Deep down, he knew he couldn’t, Ciri needed him, and he had to care for her.
But he could pretend for a while.
The healer was out in the garden, pulling weeds. She looked up at the Witcher and sighed,
“Are you here for the bard?”
There was a moment where Geralt lived in a time where Jaskier was still alive, waiting for Geralt to come by the hut. Rescue him from the latest injury he had found himself stricken with,
“Come in.” She opened the door to the hut and beckoned Geralt in. He breathed in, waiting for the scent of the ocean and flowers and earth and wine to come to him,
“Sit down. I’ll be right back.” There wasn’t much else for him to do, so he did as he was told.
His eyes wandered across the small home, filled to the brim with drying herbs and jars filled with creatures long dead.
What was the point of all of this if he was still dead?
She came back with a satchel that Jaskier had bought at a market outside of Skellige and a wooden box.
The box was plain, nothing of the beautifully intricate coffins Jaskier swore would be commissioned for him after his untimely but heroic death.
Geralt didn’t bother smelling it. He knew there was only ash there. Not even horrendous perfume.
“Where is his lute?” Geralt had almost forgotten, almost. But it was hard to forget the instrument, always strapped to the man’s back. Always in his hands, always by his side.
The clearing that they had made camp in that night was quiet, except for the lute.
Jaskier was picking at the strings, mumbling under his breath, trying to find the perfect chords to match his lyrics.
Geralt didn’t mind, not that he would tell the bard that. But lying on his back, watching the stars, and listening to the quiet song with whispered lyrics was…nice.
“Cause when it’s cold,” another twang, another curse,
“Cause when it’s cold I’ll wrap my scarf around you,
and when it’s hard I’ll place your head into my hands
and when you scream that it’s not fair, It’s like I’ve…”
He trails off, and the strumming becomes harsher. Geralt wants to ask him what the song is for.
Instead, he turns his head from the stars and closes his eyes.
“I sold it.” She turns away from him, a mistake.
Geralt grabs her by the shoulders and whips her around. Her eyes that hid behind a veil of indifference begin to beg for mercy.
“You what?” His grip becomes tighter. He could splinter bones as easily as he did to the chair.
She cries in pain, and Geralt can feel the phantom of a hand on his shoulder. He lets her go.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” She’s crying, holding her body close to her. Geralt looks away from her, “I just took it as pay. I didn’t think…I didn’t think anyone would care.”
Geralt growls, and she winces again, “Who?”
“W—what?” She looks up at him. She’s scared of me…good.
“Who did you sell it to?”
“A traveling merchant, he…he said it was well made…”
“Where did he go.”
“He went east, I think…” Geralt starts for her, and she backs away, “He went east! I swear!”
“If I do not find this merchant, I will come for your head.” Geralt silently apologizes to Jaskier. The bard had worked so hard to help his image.
He takes the box and leaves the hut.
“He mentioned you,” The healer followed him to the door, “when he was having a fit, he would yell out your name. Thought you should know.”
Geralt keeps walking.
He keeps running.
The merchant wasn’t hard to find. He was a middle-aged man, sunburnt from days standing out in markets, dressed in clothing that Jaskier would have scoffed at.
“Too gaudy for me.”
Geralt would roll his eyes, except there was no one there. So, he kept walking towards the man, eyeing his stall for Filavandrel’s lute.
“Where’s the lute?”
“Witcher! Perhaps I could interest you in something more…fitting?”
“It is a rather odd picture, Geralt, a Witcher asking for a lute? You are aware of how this looks, right?”
“I want the lute.” Geralt is not a patient man, and currently, he was wound tighter than usual.
“Ah, well, you see…” The merchant’s heart began speeding up, and sweat began to protrude from his pores. He smelled terrified.
“Where is the lute?” Geralt growled, and the man began to look around, trying to catch the eye of a nearby guard. Geralt would kill them till he got his hands on that stupid instrument.
“I sold it!” The man squealed,
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit that note.”
Geralt inched closer, “To who?”
“A nobleman! He came to the market a few days ago, said it was a present for his daughter.”
“Do you think Filavandrel would mind? I mean, it was a gift from the King of elves, but you know I am dead.”
Geralt breathes in and centers himself, “His name.”
“Finnan of Vizima, please don’t kill me.” The man looks as though he’s about to piss his pants. Geralt rolls his eyes,
“If you’re telling the truth, I won’t have to.”
He gets back onto Roach and rides.
“Geralt, we’ve been traveling for ages. Can’t we take a rest?” Jaskier’s feet are dragging, even though they’ve only been on the road for an hour.
“You’re welcome to rest, bard.”
“Yes, but then you’ll leave me!”
“I’m a very busy man.”
“Was that a joke, Witcher?”
Geralt wakes up on the dirt outside of Vizima. It’s cold,
“The snow on my bones was colder.”
He rises and brushes Roach before getting on the saddle, “We’re almost done, girl.”
Geralt makes it a foot into the city walls when a guard stops him,
“You a Witcher?”
He’s so tired, he just wants this stupid lute.
“If I say no?”
The guard looks to his friend, not sure what to say, “We’ll throw you in jail.” He sounds unsure of the threat, and Geralt fights the urge to roll his eyes.
“What do you want?”
“Noble needs some help, says he has a haunted lute?” The guard sounds even more unsure of this statement, but it doesn’t stop Geralt’s heart from seizing.
“Take me to him.”
“I’m dead, Geralt.”
The noble’s home wasn’t as ostentatious as he thought it would be. It was a modest size, tucked into the surrounding buildings of the city.
“You must be him!” A girl, maybe a few years younger, approached him. Children were usually kinder to Witchers.
“Children don’t know any better.”
“Ah, yes, I am Geralt of Rivia.” Just because children were kinder doesn’t mean Geralt knew how to speak to them any better, “What is your name?”
“Fiona. You should come inside, father wants to speak to you.” The girl, Fiona, walked inside, leaving Geralt and the guards a bit stunned at the bravery of this small child.
He collects himself and walks inside, following Fiona through the halls to her father’s office.
Finnan, Geralt presumes, stands by the window overlooking the city streets.
He looks as though he hasn’t slept for a few days, but he still smiles at his daughter when she enters the room after Geralt.
“Thank you, Fiona. Witcher, we need your aid in a certain matter.”
“So I’ve heard.” Geralt sits down, uninvited, but most things he does are.
“The lute that I bought for my daughter,” Finnan wrings his hands, “I believe its…haunted.”
“What makes you say that?” Geralt guards himself. A Witcher cannot be so stupid as to have hope.
“Fiona, tell him.”
She smiles, as though a haunted lute is the same as the average doll, “When my father brought the lute home, I tried to play it on my own. The man in the lute said I had to practice lots and lots if I wanted to be any good.”
“The man in the lute?”
“Yes! He says he doesn’t really remember his name, but he knows that he loves the lute, but he tried playing it and couldn’t, and he got mad and threw some of my books across the room,” Fiona frowns, “He apologized and left.”
Finnan sighs, “I know this sounds like a tall tale, but I assure you it’s true.”
Geralt hums. He has seen stranger, “Where is it?”
They lead him to Fiona’s room, the door is closed, and Geralt stands in front of it and breathes in.
And it’s there, Jaskier is there,
Geralt opens the door, and there he is.
And there he is, just sitting there, Geralt could reach out and touch him.
He tries, and his hand passes through the bard’s shoulder. It feels like ice water. Like if he kept his hand near him any longer, it would freeze and break off. Jaskier just smiles.
“I’m dead, don’t you know?” His smile doesn’t reach his eyes, glazed over and distant, dead.
“I…I heard what happened, Jaskier I…” What is Geralt even supposed to say? I’m sorry for your loss? I’m sorry your dead? I’m sorry you died alone? I’m sorry I chased you away? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
“Hm…I don’t remember it,” he looks past Geralt, “I don’t remember much. I only know my name now that you’ve said it. How sad is that?” Jaskier laughs, bitter and hollow.
“Oh, I remember now, I am the shit shoveler.”
Geralt sucks in a breathe, he hadn’t wanted it to happen this way. If Jaskier were still alive, maybe one day Geralt would have had the courage, but now he has to have this conversation with his ghost.
Geralt never worked out the words to say to him either.
“Remember, Geralt? Remember? You wanted me off your hands…you wanted me…” Jaskier fades into nothing, and Geralt feels the salt from his eyes on his lips.
“You knew him?” Finnan asks, still standing at the door with Fiona.
Geralt wipes his face, “Yes. I’d like the lute…please.”
“We could head to the coast.”
Geralt isn’t sure what he’s doing as he sits in front of the fire, across from the ghost of the bard.
“Geralt, tell me about your fight with the cockatrice again. I’m trying to figure out the right rhythm of the story.”
Sometimes Jaskier forgets, that he’s dead. He’ll pick up off of a conversation they had years ago and disappear and come back while he’s in the middle of dying.
Geralt stares into the fire. He could burn the lute. He could. Watch the wood turn into ash, and watch Jaskier fade away, never to return. But he can’t bring himself to do it.
In the middle of talking of the different words that rhyme with cockatrice, he fades away. Geralt begs the indifferent gods above to bring him back safe. Geralt cannot bear to hear his screams.
“Where are we?” Jaskier returns, sitting next to Geralt.
“Do you know what happened to you?” It has become a routine. Sometimes Jaskier does not answer, ignoring him to act out a play of a part of his life long since passed.
“I died in an inn in Posada. I caught a cold. I fell into a river. The water trapped my bones in ice. I died alone.”
Geralt shuts his eyes. He can’t look at Jaskier’s pale skin any longer than he has to.
He sighs, “I’m taking you to the coast.”
“That’s nice of you. You hate me. Witcher. Butcher. I love the way you. I. I love. I love. I love.”
Jaskier fades away, Geralt lays down in the grass and sleeps.
The bard was always the first of the two of them to rise, for some reason.
Something about his creativity rising with the Sun or some pretentious shit he spouted.
He wanted to yell at him for playing the lute at this ungodly hour, but he stopped when he heard the bard singing,
“What’s it like, the children ask?
It’s just like falling snow, I am above you
And I love you, don’t you know
That I’ll be with you all along, as long as you are kind
To those who are not strong”
Geralt keeps his eyes closed and just listens and breathes in wine and earth and flowers and the sea.
After a week, they arrived at the coastline,
“What’s the plan?” Jaskier is walking behind Roach. She startles at the sudden appearance but calms when she realizes who it is.
“Do you know what happened to you?”
“I died in Posada.”
They make their way to the cliff’s edge. The sea crashes against it as if it’s reaching for the box in Geralt’s hands.
“What’s the plan, Geralt?” Jaskier watches him with glazed blue eyes.
“I’m…not sure.” Disposing Jaskier’s ashes won’t release him from this plane. Destroying his lute would.
But Geralt can’t bring himself to do it, so he sits on a nearby rock, and Jaskier joins him.
“Did you really hate me?”
“Well, you did a shit job at showing that.”
Geralt laughs, and Jaskier looks at him and smiles and laughs, and it sounds real, and Geralt lets himself believe that Jaskier is still here.
Then he looks at those eyes that used to be so bright, and he’s brought back down to the earth by the crashing waves.
“I’m sorry, Jaskier. I was not a good…friend…to you.” He never would have had this conversation if Jaskier was living, and maybe that is the humor of this tragedy.
Jaskier hums, “No, you weren’t. But I would have followed you anywhere. You know that, right?”
“I knew, but…why?”
“Oh, dear Witcher, shall I spell it out for you?” Jaskier reaches out for him, and gods, what Geralt would give for his touch.
“I wish I would have looked for you sooner, maybe…” Maybe…maybe…
“In another life, perhaps you did. But this is this one, and I am dead Geralt, that’s all there is to it.” It’s the most coherent Jaskier has been these past few days, maybe…
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do without you here.” Geralt feels the salt carve into his skin.
“Just because I left doesn’t mean that I’m not still there.” Jaskier reaches out and touches his face, and Geralt can feel it. He can feel the freezing cold against his cheek, and oh gods how it burns and oh how he wished…
“Jaskier, I am a weak man, I should have never sent you away, I should have –”
“There are lots of things we wished we could have done, my dear heart, I wished that I hadn’t taken that route that day, but I did. I wished I had stood my ground against you, and yet here we are.” His eyes begin to focus, no longer glazed, and everything he says starts to sound more and more like the wind.
“Please, I…Jaskier, I’m so sorry.”
Jaskier just tilts his head and smiles, “Don’t apologize, Geralt. I don’t want sorry to be the last thing I hear from you.”
“I love you,” Geralt breathes, “let that be the last.”
“Remember, Geralt, that you will miss me dearly, and I will be with you always.” Jaskier leans in and kisses him, and oh gods, does it burn of ice and fire and taste like nothing but salt.
When Geralt opens his eyes, Jaskier is gone. He spreads his ashes into the sea below.
He picks up the lute and feels the strings beneath his fingers beg to be played.
Geralt cannot give them what they want, but he knows a little girl that can.
Jaskier would have liked that, Geralt thinks.
So he decides to stop running.