When Jaskier first started traveling with Geralt twenty years ago, he thought he would see all the wonders the Continent had to offer, visit the most exotic locales, and meet interesting people of all walks of life. Instead, he’s seen a distressing amount of swamps and creepy forests and most of the people he’s met have been assholes who try to cheat Geralt out of his hard-earned coin.
But sometimes, their destinations manage to surprise him.
“Look at this view!” Jaskier spreads out his arms, marveling at the vista before him— a gorgeous canyon with snow-capped mountains in the background. “We don’t get views like that in the north. Why don’t we come south more often?”
Geralt snorts. “Probably all the war and bloodshed. And in all the decent provinces down here, you’re sentenced to death.”
“That’s just in Beauclair! And honestly, threatening to rip out a man’s still-beating heart and roast it is a dreadful overreaction to fucking one’s wife, don’t you think?”
“The Duke of Beauclair clearly doesn’t.”
“Well, he’s always been a joyless old bastard.” Jaskier huffs. “Come now, cheer up. Look at all those rocks and crevices. There have to be some interesting beasties crawling about up there.”
“Easy for you to say. You’ll be sitting on your ass back at the inn.”
“And by that, you mean I’ll be singing for our supper?”
“Don’t think your songs about witchers are going to get us much in the way of supper. This isn’t the north.”
“But that means I have a fresh audience to enthrall with my stories of the fearsome White Wolf!”
“Hm, good luck with that.”
“Just you see, Geralt. They’re going to love you here. I’ll make sure of it.”
A quarter of an hour later, Jaskier can tell that his lover is trying his hardest not to say, “I told you so” as the innkeeper hems and haws over the price of the single available room, clearly reluctant to let a room to a witcher. Jaskier, who hasn’t had a bath in a week and has a crick in his neck from sleeping wrong the night before— his elven parentage keeps him relatively spry, but he’s not eighteen anymore and his body reminds him of this frequently— is ready to reach across the counter and shake the man. Instead, he leans his elbows on the counter and smiles coquettishly up at the innkeeper.
“My good man,” he says. “Surely you know who this is? Geralt of Rivia, the great White Wolf, slayer of monsters and protector of innocents Continent-wide!”
“Never heard of him.”
“Well, then surely you’ve heard of me. Jaskier the bard?” At the man’s blank expression, Jaskier adds, “I sing ‘Toss a Coin to Your Witcher?’”
“Two hundred florens.” Geralt slides the frankly ridiculous amount of coin to the innkeeper.
The innkeeper looks down at the coin. “There’s only one bed.”
“Oh dear.” Jaskier looks up at his lover with wide eyes. “Do you hear that, Geralt? Only one bed. Whatever shall we do? What an uncomfortable night we have ahead of us.”
He turns away from Geralt’s stony expression to smile at the increasingly bemused innkeeper. He holds a certain fondness for innkeepers who try to scare them off by offering them rooms with only one bed. After all, that’s how his and Geralt’s friendship blossomed into a romance over a decade ago.
The innkeeper holds out the room key to Jaskier, who snatches it out of his hand before he can change his mind. “A pleasure doing business with you.”
He and Geralt start up the stairs to the second floor, Jaskier babbling happily about his plans for the day. “The bathhouses in Toussaint are splendid, Geralt, and if they’re half as nice here, we’re in for a treat! And the wine—”
Geralt stops dead in front of him and Jaskier walks right into him. Jaskier yelps, taken off guard by the unexpected impact, and looks around to see what startled his witcher. Geralt is still and when Jaskier peers around him to get a glimpse of his face, he sees that Geralt’s nostrils are flaring. He’s picked up a scent, when all Jaskier can smell is the roasting meat from the tavern downstairs, his own slightly ripe scent, and Geralt’s significantly riper scent.
“What is it?” Jaskier demands.
Jaskier sighs, his romantic plans for the evening evaporating like a puddle of water in the desert. He doesn’t begrudge Yennefer Geralt’s attention. He would be a hypocrite if he did; he’s taken plenty of other lovers over the years. He doesn’t even mind that Geralt vanishes for days on end whenever they run into her. After all, he spends months at a time with Jaskier, while he only runs into Yennefer a few times a year.
The problem is that Jaskier and Yennefer don’t like each other. Maybe it was the attempted castration on their first meeting, though Jaskier likes to think he’s risen above that. Maybe it’s the fact that on their second meeting, Jaskier performed a ditty about a hag who eats the hearts of innocent bards (not his finest moment, he’ll admit, but he was still somewhat salty from the attempted castration.) Geralt once said it’s because they’re too much alike— both too bullheaded for their own good— and Jaskier was so annoyed, he didn’t talk to the witcher for nearly an hour.
Geralt starts up the stairs to the third floor, with Jaskier trailing behind him reluctantly. When they get to a room with the door ajar, Geralt stops in the doorway. Jaskier hears a startled squeak from inside and peers around Geralt’s shoulder to see a young maid looking at the witcher in alarm.
Geralt takes a step back, assuming the relaxed posture he always does when he’s trying to look harmless. Jaskier has never had the heart to tell him that there’s no way to look harmless when one is an armored mountain of muscle with two swords strapped to one’s back. Even Jaskier’s human nose can pick up the faint scent of lilac and gooseberries drifting out of the room. At first, he thinks that Yennefer must have moved on, but then he notices the stunning purple dress hanging from the wardrobe door. Only Yennefer would wear something that elaborate in the middle of nowhere.
“The woman who’s staying here,” Geralt says. “Where is she?”
The girl stammers something unintelligible, eyes flickering back and forth between Geralt and Jaskier. With a sigh, Jaskier hooks his fingers in the back of Geralt’s armor and drags him back. Stepping past the witcher, Jaskier flashes his most radiant smile.
“So sorry to bother you,” he tells the girl. “But the woman staying here is a dear friend of my companion and we were hoping to catch her before she leaves town. If you can point us in the right direction, we would be most grateful.”
The girl’s posture relaxes. “She left, sir. Three days ago. Left all her things, too, which is why my uncle is having me clear it all out.”
“Your uncle’s the innkeeper?” Geralt asks.
She nods, swallowing. “Yes, sir.”
And the woman who was staying here?” Jaskier asks. “Long black hair, violet eyes?”
“That was her. She was here to visit old Isadora, but she left and never came back. She only paid for two nights, sir. We can’t just hold onto the room forever.”
“We’ll take her things, of course.” Unease prickles at the back of Jaskier’s neck. It’s not like Yennefer to just up and leave all her things like that. “Who is this Isadora?”
“She’s the local hedgewitch. She’s—” The girl glances around guiltily. “The one girls go to when they find themselves in trouble.”
“Pregnant and unmarried?”
The girl’s cheeks turn bright red. “Yes. They also say that if a woman is trying to have a baby, she should go to Isadora.”
Behind Jaskier, Geralt mutters a curse. Jaskier doesn’t blame him. Given that Yennefer’s last scheme to regain her lost womb nearly got them all killed by a djinn, this can only lead to tears. “And where do we find her?”
“She might be fine.” Jaskier sits on the edge of their bed and watches Geralt get his gear together. “Maybe her and this Isadora became fast friends and are off having tea and talking about witchy things.”
“For three days?” Geralt’s entire body is tense.
“It would do her good to make a friend. I don’t think she has many of those.” For good reason, though it seems unsporting to bring that up when she’s missing.
“Something’s wrong, Jask. I can feel it.”
Jaskier sighs. “Yennefer won’t appreciate you riding to her rescue again, especially if she’s trying to regain her womb.”
“I’d rather her be alive and angry with me then killed by another djinn.”
“You don’t think there’s another djinn, do you?” Jaskier’s hands fly to his throat.
“Knowing Yennefer, it’s a possibility.” Geralt turns to face Jaskier, the worry clear on his face. “If there’s any chance that she’s in trouble, I can’t just leave her. Just like I wouldn’t be able to leave if it was you and neither of you would be able to leave if it were me.”
“Of course you can’t.” Jaskier rises to his feet. “Give me two minutes to get my things together and we—”
“You’re staying here.” Geralt’s expression goes stony. “I won’t have both of you at risk.”
“And I don’t like staying behind while you’re at risk.” It’s one thing when the monster is a known threat— a kikimore or a grave hag. But it’s another thing when they have no idea what Geralt will be facing. Jaskier’s witcher is walking into this blind, with no idea if he’s facing men, monsters, or mages.
Geralt steps forward to slip his arms around Jaskier’s waist. “Yennefer is a powerful sorceress. If something or someone has managed to hurt her—”
“Then I don’t stand a chance. I know.” Jaskier heaves a sigh. “You’ll be careful?”
“Of course.” Geralt brushes a kiss across Jaskier’s forehead. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Patience has never been Jaskier’s virtue of choice, especially not when Geralt is off risking his life against dangers unknown. He should be used to it. After all, he’s known the witcher for two decades and they’ve been lovers for half that time. He’s waited in plenty of inns while Geralt was out fighting various creatures.
Jaskier tries to keep himself occupied to the best of his ability. He goes to the bathhouse and has a long, indulgent soak before he goes to wander around a bit and see the sights. By the time he’s done, it’s mid-afternoon and Geralt still hasn’t returned. Admitting defeat, Jaskier retreats to the tavern, where he can at least drown his sorrows in ale and people watching.
He’s only halfway through his first ale, when he hears a woman grumble “fucking druids” and perks up. He doesn’t know much about druids, just that they’re not mages; Geralt’s friend, Mousesack, acted like Jaskier had murdered his grandmother the one time Jaskier accidentally referred to him as a sorcerer. He turns to look at the three women at the table next to his.
The oldest of the three women, a gray-haired matron, is the one who spoke. “They give me the creeps,” she continues. “Every last one of them. Between them asking the blacksmith for the sharpest knives he can make them and the butcher for all the animal blood he can provide, they’re up to something.”
“Whatever they’re doing over there will be done tonight at midnight, I hear,” a younger woman, who’s nursing a babe at her breast, says.
“Good.” The older woman sniffs. “Then they’ll be gone soon. I’d rather have that witcher sniffing around then those druids.”
“At least the witcher’s nice to look at,” the third woman says, which gets a giggle from the young mother and an eye roll from the older woman.
Jaskier clears his throat. When they turn to look at him, he flashes his most charming smile. “Pardon me, ladies, but I couldn’t help but overhear. Tell me more about these druids,”
As Jaskier wanders the area where the druids are allegedly staying, he can practically hear Geralt’s voice in his head. “You’re walking alone into unknown danger,” the imaginary Geralt says. “You should be back at the inn, waiting for me to return.”
“Yes, but I don’t know when you’re coming back,” Jaskier reminds the imaginary Geralt. “I’m only doing recon here. I have no intention of confronting any druids. I’m just going to see what they’re doing, and then go find you.”
Imaginary Geralt doesn’t seem reassured.
Jaskier rounds a rocky outcropping at stops dead, stunned by the view ahead of him. It’s the kind of scene that inspires songs: a red, rocky cliffside with a hole in the side, forming a great archway. Through the arch, there’s a stunning view of the canyon below and the mountains in the distance. Jaskier almost wishes that he hadn’t left his lute and notebook back at the inn.
Only then does he notice the altar under the arch and the footsteps approaching behind him.
“You!” a voice calls behind him. “What are you doing, lurking?”
Jaskier turns, adopting a look of utter innocence as he finds two men striding towards him. They’re both wearing flowing white robes and grim expressions.
“Lurking?” Jaskier asks. “I’m merely taking a walk! I’m a bard, you see, and these views are the type of inspiration—”
One of the men, a brawny fellow who looks more like a debt collector’s bruiser than a druid, seizes Jaskier by the shoulders. “Who are you?”
“Valdo Marx, at your service.” Jaskier gives a little bow. “The troubadour of Cidaris, on sabbatical to travel the Continent, gaining inspiration from all the wonders—”
“Someone was asking about the girl in town this morning,” the second druid, who is less intimidating than his companion, but has a wicked-looking knife on his belt, says.
“A girl? My good sirs, I’m afraid my heart belongs to another, so I haven’t been asking around about any girls. Your wives and daughters are quite safe with me. Speaking of, I really should be getting back—”
“Search him, Caleb,” the second man says and the larger of the two men begins patting Jaskier down, none too gently.
“Excuse me!” Jaskier splutters. “How dare— unhand me! Sir, this doublet costs more than your life is worth, so watch where you put those grubby fingers, or so help me—”
Caleb yanks the knife out of Jaskier’s boot and hands it to his fellow, who weighs it in his hand.
“Good quality for a bard,” he says with a sneer.
“It was a gift.” Seeing the man get his greasy fingerprints over the blade that Geralt lovingly selected for him puts a sour feeling in Jaskier’s throat. “I’m a traveling bard. You can’t expect me to wander about unarmed.”
“Ever used this blade, bard?”
“Once or twice.” Mostly just waving it at oncoming bandits or angry villagers until Geralt was able to come help him, but these men don’t need to know it.
Caleb grunts and looks Jaskier up and down. “We should bring him to Stefan, Henrick. He’ll know what to do.”
“Ah, no thank you.” Jaskier takes a step backwards, shaking his head. “I’m sure this Stefan is a delight, but I really must be— hey!”
Caleb seizes him by the arm and jerks him forward. Jaskier starts to struggle, but Henrick approaches him, Jaskier’s own knife raised with intent, and Jaskier goes still and allows himself to be dragged up the steep hillside. He smells the campfire and roasting meat before they round the corner and find a group of robed druids milling around. And on the other side of the camp, leaned against the base of the cliff…
“Jaskier?” Yennefer really could try to sound a bit happier to see him, or at least not horrified and disgusted.
“Valdo, huh?” Caleb growls in his ear.
“Well, you know how it is, giving different names to different women.” Jaskier looks the other man up and down. “Or perhaps you don’t.”
He gets a fist in the stomach for that, but that only seems fair.
“Who is this?” A tall, thin man with a bushy gray beard comes striding towards them. From the way the crowd of druids parts, this must be the mysterious Stefan.
“We found him lurking,” Caleb says.
“I’ve already told you, I was not—”
Another fist in the stomach silences him.
“And you two know each other?” Stefan looks between Yennefer and Jaskier.
“Well, ‘know’ might be an overstatement.” Jaskier glances over at Yennefer. Her wrists and ankles are bound and there are chains— most likely dimeritium, since these assholes are still alive— wrapped around her torso. She looks rather worse for wear. Her hair is a mess, her dress is torn, and there’s a smudge of dirt on her cheek. Jaskier didn’t know it was possible for Yennefer to look anything less than perfect. Under different circumstances, this would be gratifying. “You know how it is. We’ve shared one or two glorious nights of passion, but—”
Yennefer barks a laugh.
“But we don’t really know each other. Yennefer, what brings you to this corner of the Continent? Here for the views, I imagine?”
“I was here for the peace and quiet.” There’s blood on the corner of her mouth and a bruise on her forehead. Jaskier wonders which one of these bastards had the nerve to hit her.
“Look.” Jaskier glances around at the assembled druids. There are about a dozen of them, mostly men, though there are a handful of women in their mix. They range from an old woman to a couple of boys who hardly look older than teenagers. “Whatever she’s done, I’m sure we can work something out. Yennefer’s bark is really worse than her bite, I assure you, and there’s no need—”
He gets punched in the stomach again. He gasps and doubles over.
“You talk too much,” Caleb growls in his ear.
“Funny,” Jaskier says with a wheeze. “Yennefer would agree with you there. That’s something you two could bond over.”
The druid’s fist cocks back, ready to connect with Jaskier’s face, and he grimaces and turns away. He’s quite fond of his nose and he’s managed to make it twenty years of knowing Geralt without getting it broken once.
“Enough!” Stefan snaps. “What do you want with the girl?”
Jaskier scoffs. Girl. Stefan clearly has no idea that he’s dealing with the most terrifying bloody sorceress on the Continent, the fool. “Let her go. There’s no need for this.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Stefan says. “We need her, you see.”
“For what? I assure you, whatever nefarious plans you’ve concocted, it’s not worth the pain and suffering you’ll endure if she gets loose.”
“They think.” Yennefer’s voice drips disdain that Jaskier has only ever seen directed at him. It’s rather nice to see it directed at someone else. “That if they slit the throat of someone with elven blood and throw them through that hole over there—” She jerks her chin at the arch. “It will create another Conjunction of the Spheres.”
Jaskier’s jaw drops. “Wait, you want to bring about another Continent-rendering catastrophe? Bring over another wave of monsters? Are you—”
“It won’t work.” Yennefer’s lip curls. “I haven’t seen such a sketchy prophecy since the Curse of the Black Sun nonsense.”
“I would say you’ll see, girl,” Stefan says. “But you won’t, because your blood will be the one that brings about a new world order.”
“You say it needs to be elven blood?” Jaskier’s mind races. Those chains render her helpless, but if he can just talk them into letting her go, she could lay waste to these idiots in seconds.
Stefan nods. “It would be better if she were pure elf, but our original sacrifice escaped.”
Yennefer’s eyes meet Jaskier’s. If she knows what he’s thinking, her expression gives nothing away.
“But she’s only a quarter elf,” Jaskier says. “Well, my good man, I have good news for you.” He spreads out his arms and smiles. “My mother was a full-blooded elf, making me half-elf. There’s twice the elven blood for your little ritual. So why don’t you take me instead?”
“You fucking idiot,” Yennefer snarls.
“I could not possibly have seen this coming, Yennefer.”
“Everyone saw it coming. That beetle over there saw it coming.”
“Who needs two human sacrifices?” Jaskier rattles the chains binding his wrists behind his back. “That just seems greedy.”
“I suppose they think because I’m quarter-elf and you’re half-elf, that almost equals a full elf.”
“I don’t think the math on that is right.”
“Don’t tell me one of the seven liberal arts was arithmetic.”
“It was, thank you, and I excelled!” Jaskier groans and collapses back against the cliff. The sun is sinking below the horizon, turning the sky purple and pink. “So, midnight tonight?”
“Yes,” Yennefer says.
“Well, that’s not ideal.”
“It certainly isn’t. That’s hours I have to listen to your chatter.”
“I know you’re trying to be hurtful, Yennefer, but I find it hard to care about your opinion of me when I’m facing imminent throat slitting.”
Yennefer snorts and looks away.
Looking around to make sure that all the druids are too busy planning for the upcoming double murder to be paying attention to them. “Look, Geralt is in town. He was on his way to Isadora’s cottage. Once he talks to her, he’ll realize—”
“Oh, Isadora?” Yennefer nods to the elderly woman, who is currently deep in conversation with Stefan. “The one who drugged my tea and clubbed me over the head when I didn’t fall unconscious fast enough? I don’t think she’s going to tell him much.”
Jaskier grimaces. “Well, fuck.”
“Though if you managed to find me, that gives me hope that Geralt will manage as well,” Yennefer says.
Jaskier ignores the jab. “I’m much better at talking to people than Geralt is. People were only too happy to bitch about the druids to me. They’re not popular in the village.”
“I’m not surprised.” Yennefer is quiet for a moment. “Why did you try to trade yourself for me, bard? You’ve survived twenty years traveling with Geralt by being a coward—”
“Now, that’s uncalled for.”
“And now you’ve decided to play the hero? That’s not like you, bardling.”
Jaskier huffs. “I figured if they let you go, you would go running to Geralt and then the two of you could stage a daring rescue.”
“Must I point out all the holes in that plan? Because I can see at least four.”
“I was trying to stop you from getting sacrificed at midnight, Yennefer, so I’m sorry if it wasn’t my best work.”
“And now we’re both going to die at midnight,” she snaps. “Well done, Jaskier. Truly, I can see why the horse is the brains of the operation.”
“Was that an attempt to insult Roach, because she’s quite a brilliant horse. I’m convinced she has some unicorn in her, but Geralt assures me that unicorns aren’t—”
“Bard.” Yennefer closes her eyes. “If I only have hours left to live, could you do me the courtesy of being less annoying than usual?”
Jaskier sniffs. “Geralt’s going to find us, so I’ll be annoying you for years to come.”
“Perhaps I can convince them to kill us before midnight.”
Despite his fear and the discomfort of a rock poking him in the ass, Jaskier grins. “Caleb finds me pretty damn annoying, so if I talk to him enough, he might.”
“Everyone finds you annoying.”
“Yes, he does. He just loves you despite it. Or maybe because of it. I can’t even begin to understand his reasoning.” Yennefer sighs.
Jaskier can’t really argue with that, so he changes the subject. “You’ve been here for three days?”
“I think so. I was unconscious for most of that first day, so I can’t be sure.” Yennefer sighs. “They let me up twice a day to eat and relieve myself, but they keep the dimeritium cuffs on at all times.”
“I figured. I didn’t think any of them would still be alive if you’d ever gotten out of the dimeritium.” Jaskier tries to stretch out his legs, wincing as another little rock stabs him in the back of his knee. “So, any brilliant escape plans?”
“If I had one, do you think I would still be here?” I wasn’t exactly sitting around, waiting for your heroic rescue, bard.”
“Well, at least you admit it was heroic.”
She makes a disgusted noise. “I’ve spent days watching them, trying to figure out what their weak points are. They have plenty. Stefan and Isadora both think that they’re the leader here. Caleb would like to be the leader. The two boys are both in love with the same girl. But I can’t exploit any of them, because they only come close to feed me and let me relieve myself. They have no interest in conversation with me. They don’t even know who I am. They call me girl.” Her mouth twists. “That’s the part that infuriates me. I have so many enemies, so many people who want to kill me for various things I’ve done. And these morons have never heard the name ‘Yennefer of Vengerberg’ before. They would have done this to any part-elf traveler passing through.”
Jaskier swallows back the lump in his throat. “Well, think of how satisfying it will be when we get loose and you can show them their mistake.”
Her smile turns vicious. “Oh, they’ll learn their mistake one way or another, no matter what happens to me.”
Nighttime falls and the air grows chilly. The druids are gathered around a blazing fire nearby, chanting and singing together, but the warmth of their fire doesn’t quite reach Jaskier and Yennefer. In his thin doublet and breeches, Jaskier is shivering. He finds himself scooting closer to Yennefer.
“Don’t even think about it,” she growls.
Jaskier stops scooting closer.
Yennefer is watching the druids with narrow-eyed disdain, the light of the flames reflecting in her eyes. “The worst part is that they aren’t even proper druids. They have none of the traditions or the knowledge. They’re amateurs at best, people who think that dressing in white robes and dancing around a fire makes them connected to nature.”
“That’s the worst part?” Jaskier’s teeth are chattering. The closer they get to midnight, the harder time he’s having keeping himself calm. “The whole ‘we’re about to be bled out like slaughtered cows’ isn’t the worst part?”
“I do regret that I won’t be alive to see the look on their face when they throw us through the arch and nothing happens.”
“I regret that they’re probably going to go find a full elf and try again.”
Yennefer shifts around, chains clanking. “I fucking hate this.”
Jaskier closes his eyes and tries to listen to the sounds of hoofbeats approaching, but all he can hear are the druids’ voices and the crackling of the flames. “Geralt’s going to come. He always does.”
“We have no guarantee that he’ll find us in time.”
“He hasn’t failed me yet. I’ve known him for years, and he always is there when I find myself in danger.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Have you met me, Yennefer? Of course it happens often. Djinns try to rip my throat out, sorceresses try to castrate me—”
“This again? I’ve apologized for that.”
“How quickly is one supposed to recover from attempted castration? And no, you haven’t.”
Yennefer is quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry I tried to castrate you. I wasn’t at my best in Rinde.”
Jaskier did not know Yennefer was capable of apologies. He wants to crow about it, but with midnight approaching, it seems silly to waste time on boasting. “I’m sorry too, for what it’s worth. For that song about you eating hearts and for, well, everything.”
“For being a pain in the ass?”
“No, that’s just my personality. I can’t apologize for that. I am sorry that I never took the time to get to know you better. I think it would have meant a lot to Geralt if I had tried.” Jaskier is quiet for a moment. “We should do this more often.”
“What, nearly die?”
“No, talk. When we get out of here, we should go get drinks. Just the two of us, no Geralt.”
“I can’t imagine why we would do that.”
“Because I think it would mean a lot to Geralt, if we made an attempt to get along. And when you’re not holding a knife to my balls, you’re actually nice to talk to.” At Yennefer’s raised eyebrow, he grins. “Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll bring that up.”
“I’ve known you long enough to know that’s bullshit.”
“He told me once, that you and I were too much alike and that’s why we don’t like each other,” Yennefer says.
“He told me that too! What bullshit, right?”
“Absolute bullshit. He told me that I was as dramatic as you.”
“Well, you were holding a magical orgy the first time we met.”
She sniffs. “You are a ridiculous peacock of a man—”
“Wait, I thought we were bonding here.”
“But you make him happy.” Her voice softens.
“So do you, Yenn,” Jaskier says.
Her composed expression wavers. “If I don’t make it out of here, take care of him, will you? Make sure he doesn’t piss off any more djinns.”
“I’ll always take care of him.” Jaskier swallows. “And if I don’t make it out of here, you know you’ll need to take up singing to continue spreading the word of his deeds to the Continent.”
“I think I would rather end up a human sacrifice.”
“Will you two stop jabbering?” They both look up to see Caleb stalking towards them, face red with irritation. “There’s a sacred ritual going on and you’re disrespecting it.”
“Your sacred ritual is about as complex as a child’s tea party,” Yennefer says acidly. “It’s hard to disrespect something that has earned no respect.”
Caleb’s mouth twists into an ugly expression and Jaskier drags himself to his knees, placing himself between the oncoming druid and Yennefer to the best of his ability. She can take care of herself, but he’s still not going to let this asshole anywhere near her when she’s tied up. It’s only then that he notices the key dangling from Caleb’s belt, right next to his knife.
“Go back to your sacred ritual,” he tells Caleb. “Unless terrorizing helpless women is a part of it.”
Yennefer makes a noise of protest at the word ‘helpless.’
Caleb spits at Jaskier. “Midnight can’t come soon enough.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Jaskier says coldly. “I look forward to watching from the afterlife as you realize that you’ve failed miserably and that you’ve devoted your lives to a false prophecy.”
“You’re too much of a fool to realize that your legacy will be a failed ritual in the middle of nowhere. You won’t change the world. You won’t change shit.”
Caleb’s fist slams into the side of Jaskier’s face. Jaskier knows it’s coming, but it’s impossible to brace for it in his current state. He’s thrown sideways, head slamming into the ground. Caleb kicks him in the ribs and then hauls him upwards, turning him around and slamming him against the side of the cliff. Jaskier tastes blood as Caleb seizes the back of his head, grinding his face against the rock.
“You don’t know shit,” Caleb growls. “And the best thing you can do for the world is die.”
Jaskier’s bound hands manage to find Caleb’s belt. “That isn’t what your mother was saying last night.”
Caleb slams his head against the cliff and Jaskier sinks to the ground, hands fisted behind his back.
“Caleb, that’s enough!” Stefan shouts and Caleb delivers one final kick to Jaskier’s gut before stalking away.
Jaskier lays there, wheezing.
“His mother?” Yennefer asks dryly. “Really?”
“It wasn’t my finest comeback, but men like that always get angry when you insult their mother.” Wincing, Jaskier forces himself to sit up. “You know, not long after we met, Geralt and I were having a terrible row, and he told me my greatest talent in life was pissing people off.”
“He’s not wrong.”
“No.” Jaskier turns around and opens his palm so she can see the key resting in it. “He rarely is.”
Hardly any time at all seems to have passed before Stefan, Caleb, and Henrick leave the fireside to come striding towards Jaskier and Yennefer. Both captives stay still.
“It’s time,” Stefan says as Caleb and Henrick drag Jaskier to his feet.
Jaskier swallows convulsively, forcing himself not to look at Yennefer. “It can’t be. Have you double checked? It hardly feels like midnight. Closer to eight o’clock, I would say. Or maybe time just flies when you’re having fun.”
“Jaskier, try to have some dignity,” Yennefer growls.
“And why am I going first?” Jaskier demands. “Shouldn’t it be ladies’ first? Honestly, do they not teach manners at druid school?”
“Caleb’s request,” Stefan says and Caleb smiles nastily at Jaskier.
That was exactly what they were counting on, but Jaskier still twists to face Stefan as he’s marched towards the arch. “Look, I wasn’t around when the Conjunction of the Spheres happened, but from what I’ve heard, it was pretty fucking miserable, so why would you want a redo?”
“Humanity has lost its way. The south is torn by war, the north by sin and vice. It requires a reset.”
Jaskier blinks at him. “Then become a street preacher and yell about the end of days like everyone else. Don’t fucking slit people’s throats.”
“You don’t understand, and I don’t have the time to enlighten you.” Stefan shakes his head sadly. “But know that you’re giving your lives to start a new world order. This is for the greater good.”
“Bullshit. There is no greater good. That’s just an excuse people use to do whatever the hell they want.” Jaskier has heard Geralt give some version of the same speech many times.
“You don’t understand.” Stefan shakes his head sadly. “And I don’t have the time to enlighten you. Midnight is nigh.”
Jaskier is shoved to his knees under the arch. “You know, the current world order certainly leaves room for improvement, but summoning an apocalypse really seems like an overreaction. Perhaps we could talk about it? You see, I’m a bard. I’ve traveled the Continent, seen all the beauty it has to offer and—”
“Caleb,” Stefan says and the burly druid slaps him.
Jaskier wonders what the fuck is taking Yennefer so long. Was it the wrong key? Did something go wrong? He looks out into the inky blackness of the canyon and tries not to let his panic show. If his hands are sweaty and shaking behind his back and his heart is thundering with terror in his throat, no one needs to know that.
He doesn’t realize that the druids have lined up behind them until they start chanting. The coppery smell of blood fills his nose as Stefan dips his fingers into a bowl held out to him by another druid and draws a symbol on Jaskier’s forehead. When the cold steel of a knife presses against Jaskier’s throat, he closes his eyes and thinks of slit-pupiled yellow eyes, a wry smile, and messy white hair. He tries not to think of Geralt returning to the inn, unable to find Yennefer, and finding Jaskier gone too. Or worse, finding Jaskier and Yennefer’s cooling corpses.
Behind him, there’s a scream. Jaskier has never been so happy to hear someone screaming. There’s another shout, cut off with a gurgle, and the blade withdraws from Jaskier’s throat. Jaskier sags, feeling like a puppet whose strings have been cut.
He looks up to see Yennefer advancing on the druids, flames crackling on her palms and her face a mask of fury. The druids, seeming to realize that they’ve deeply fucked up, scatter. Henrick lunges at Yennefer and falls before he can make it two steps towards her, neck obviously broken,
“Quick, the ritual!” Stefan cries and Caleb seems to recover from his shock, turning back towards Jaskier. Jaskier tries to scramble backwards as the druid advances on him.
“Yennefer!” he cries, but she’s battling with Isadora, who seems to have some genuine magical power, even if she chose to associate with the likes of these false druids.
Caleb raises the knife over Jaskier, who slams both his feet into the druid’s groin with all his might. Caleb’s face goes slack with pain and he doubles over, dropping his knife. Jaskier kicks him again and Caleb goes stumbling backwards. Stefan makes no move to help his fellow and Caleb tumbles through the archway. There’s a long, thin scream as he falls, then silence.
Stefan makes a disgusted noise and picks up Caleb’s fallen knife. “Foolish boy, don’t you understand? Your life means nothing in the face of the greater—”
His words cut off in a shriek and he goes flying backwards, following Caleb through the arch. Jaskier looks around to see Yennefer standing there, hand extended. Blood has joined the dirt and grime on her face and the bodies of the druids who didn’t run lie crumpled on the ground behind her. Jaskier has never found her as attractive as he does in that moment.
“Fuck, Yenn.” He doubles over, breathing heavily. “Way to wait until the last possible second to come to my rescue.”
“I was letting you have your moment,” she says. “That was quite a kick.”
“I have strong legs. It’s all the walking.” Jaskier flashes when he intends to be a flirtatious grin, but he’s still shaking too hard for it to have the desired effect.
She snorts and flicks her fingers, making the chains fall away from Jaskier’s wrists and ankles. He throws them over the cliff after Stefan and Caleb, scrambling away from the edge.
Yennefer comes to sit next to him and they’re quiet for a moment, both breathing heavily. “I have to hand it to you,” Yennefer finally says. “We wouldn’t have made it out of this if you weren’t such an irritating little shit.”
Jaskier grins. “I would gloat terribly, if we weren’t friends now.”
She cocks an eyebrow. “Are we friends?”
“Of course we are, Yennefer. You know what they say about the bonds forged during wartime. Just wait until you hear all the songs I’m going to write about you.”
“I could kill you with a thought.”
“So could most people. I’m really not much of a fighter.”
Footsteps crunch in the dirt and they both look up to see Geralt standing there among the fallen druids, swords in hand and eyes black from Cat, looking at them with something between relief and confusion.
“Oh, Geralt!” Jaskier calls, smiling brightly. “You’re just in time.”
Geralt looks between them. “Are you both okay?”
“Never better! We were just taking in the view.”
To his surprise, Geralt drops his swords and closes the space between them in three strides. He falls to his knees, trying to wipe the blood from Yennefer’s face, but only smearing it. Yennefer laughs and kisses him.
“Geralt, we’re fine,” she murmurs.
Geralt turns to kiss Jaskier, gathering them both close to him. “I thought I was too late. It was past midnight and I couldn’t find you.”
“Well, luckily for all of us, I discovered previously unheard of reserves of heroics,” Jaskier says proudly.
Yennefer snorts. “Meaning, he annoyed the shit out of the druids.”
“However you want to put it, it worked.” Jaskier looks around at the bodies scattered all over the clearing. “Well, I don’t know about the two of you, but I am ready to get the fuck out of here.”
“For once, bard,” Yennefer says. “You and I are in perfect agreement.”
Once they’ve returned to the inn, Jaskier makes a beeline for the kitchen, where he talks three bowls of stew, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine from the innkeeper’s wife, who is an altogether more pleasant— and more attractive— person than her husband. When he returns to their room, he finds Geralt and Yennefer locked in an embrace. Yennefer’s head is tucked under Geralt’s chin and he has one hand cradling the back of her neck, the other one on her lower back. His eyes are closed, his face buried in her hair. Jaskier has walked in on them in all kinds of compromising situations, but somehow, this seems the most intimate. It’s clearly not a moment meant for him, so he backs towards the door.
“Jaskier,” Geralt says.
“Ah, I’m sorry to intrude,” Jaskier says. “I’ll just be downstairs in the tavern.”
“Don’t be foolish.” Yennefer turns away from Geralt. Somehow, she looks perfectly put together again, not a trace of three days’ captivity on her. “I’m starving.”
“So you only want me around for the food. I see how this is.” But Jaskier sets the tray down on the edge of the bed, pours a generous glass of wine, and hands it and one of the bowls of stew to Yennefer. With a sigh, she settles down on the bed and begins to eat.
“My room is gone,” she tells Jaskier. “That useless innkeeper gave it away.”
“So Yennefer will be staying here tonight.” Geralt eyes Jaskier questioningly, as if making sure he’s okay with this.
Jaskier glances at the single bed. “Well, I suppose that’s alright, so long as she doesn’t hog the bed.”
“Who says you’ll be sharing the bed with us, bard?” Yennefer asks.
Jaskier’s jaw drops. “Excuse me, I was here first, so if anyone is going to share a bed with Geralt, it will be—” He cuts off, noticing her smirk. “Oh, excellent, now I have to share a room with two smartasses. Just my luck.”
She rolls her eyes and Jaskier finds himself smiling companionably, surprised when she smiles back. Something seems to have shifted between them in those hours they spent chained up next to each other in what they thought would be their last moments alive. He shudders a little at the memory of how close they came to death, happy that he’ll be spending tonight sandwiched between a scary witcher and an even scarier sorceress. Maybe that will chase away the nightmares that he’s sure he’ll suffer otherwise.
There’s a long silence while the three of them eat and drink their wine. Finally, Geralt breaks it by asking, “Are you both okay?”
“You already asked that, Geralt.” Yennefer gives him a fond look.
“Besides the trauma, I’m fine.” Jaskier stretches, leaning back against the headboard. “Just a couple of bumps and bruises.”
“Trauma?” Yennefer snorts. “You were only a prisoner for a couple of hours.”
“I was the one who was about to get my throat cut! And we really need to discuss you waiting until the last minute to stage a rescue. It’s not good for my poor heart.”
“You’re right,” Yennefer says dryly. “I forgot that you’re almost forty.”
Jaskier gasps. “I’m a half-elf. I look barely twenty!”
“Perhaps in the dark.”
“You awful—” Jaskier turns to Geralt with a beseeching look. “Geralt, you can’t expect me to put up with this.”
“Leave me out of this.”
“Not possible.” Jaskier shoots him a sunny smile.
“We could see what would happen if we shoved him through the archway,” Yennefer tells Geralt. “Ritual or no ritual.”
Jaskier gasps. “Oh, you wouldn’t. Mostly because Geralt would never allow it.”
“Hm.” The corners of Geralt’s eyes crinkle fondly. “Can’t risk bringing about another Conjunction of the Spheres.”
“No, I suppose not.” Yennefer gives Jaskier an appraising look. “And I suppose there could be benefits to keeping him around.”
Under her gaze, Jaskier feels a prickle of interest, because he knows what it looks like when he’s being evaluated as a potential bed partner. Tonight, he’s tired and achy, but tomorrow, that’s a possibility he would be more than happy to explore.
“So many benefits, Yennefer.” Jaskier pops a piece of bread into his mouth. “Like my talking, which saved our life tonight. And my singing.”
“Start singing, bard, and I really will find a cliff to drop you off of.”
“Do your worst.”
As the three of them spend the evening eating, talking, and laughing, Jaskier decides that whatever this thing is that’s changed between him and Yennefer, he’s going to like it.