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Geralt dropped himself with a heavy miserable thump on the bench in the antechamber, and then had to grab the wrist of his useless dangling log of a sword-arm to shove the nerveless fingers back into his belt. He was reasonably sure this was the worst damn day of the worst damn month of his life, and it hadn’t hit bottom yet. That was coming in the next—well, who even knew. When he’d asked to see Emhyr, the chamberlain had looked him up and down like he was something that had been scraped off the boots of someone else who was also totally unworthy to see the emperor. Odds of getting an audience weren’t high. And if he did get in—

He closed his eyes and let his head lean back against the stone wall. No use thinking about it. Any time he did think about it, panic just started scrabbling at the back of his throat. He was here. Either Emhyr would help him, or not. Geralt wasn’t going to find out except by asking. If he was lucky, Emhyr had some suicidal job he needed doing that nobody else was desperate enough to carry out.

He’d expected to be left hanging for at least a few hours, but actually the chamberlain came back in less than ten minutes. “His Imperial Majesty will see you,” he said coldly, and Geralt had the first stirring moment of hope: shit, maybe Emhyr really did have a job he needed done.

“Geralt of Rivia, Your Majesty,” the chamberlain said, showing him in, and bowed back out.

Emhyr put down his pen and looked Geralt over: not like a shoe scraping, more like a battlefield he was considering fighting on. Geralt wasn’t sure he didn’t prefer the chamberlain. Emhyr’s eyes didn’t miss a damn thing. “Well, witcher,” Emhyr said. “What has happened to your arm?”

“Got cursed,” Geralt said grimly. “By Philippa Eilhart.”

“Indeed,” Emhyr said. “And it has brought you to my door.” He cocked his head and considered Geralt a moment more. “As I can think of few men from whom you would less care to solicit a favor, I assume the terms have forced you here, and are both onerous and humiliating. What are they?”

That actually helped a hell of a lot. Geralt hadn’t managed to come up with a single way to lead up to it himself. He still couldn’t actually look Emhyr in the face, but at least he could just say it. “Arm’s going to be useless until—you fuck me.”

He did look over after he got the words out, to see what version of you’ve got to be kidding me Emhyr was wearing. He’d been hoping for the version that included but I could really use a witcher to assassinate somebody right now—but it wasn’t any of them at all. Emhyr just looked coldly disapproving.

“I trust, witcher, that your first order of business will be Eilhart’s chastisement?” he said.

Hell, yes,” Geralt said, and then warily, not even daring to let himself believe, “Uh—does that mean—”

Emhyr stood up from behind the desk and took off his belt. After about a thousandth part of a second staring, Geralt fumbled hastily at his pants with his one good hand and got them shoved down. Emhyr was already walking around behind him, unbuttoning the lower half of his mantle.

Geralt tucked his shirt up out of the way and bent over the desk, avoiding the inkwell, and braced himself. Emhyr took hold of his hip, put it in him, and slid home with three vigorous thrusts. He paused. “Was that sufficient?” he asked.

“No,” Geralt said, gasping a bit. Damn. He certainly felt fucked. But the arm was still just limp and nerveless.

“Very well,” Emhyr said, and proceeded to methodically fuck him with steady, hard strokes. Geralt hung on, panting, sweat breaking out on his skin and a dizzy half-frantic joyful hope starting to climb in his throat: a faint prickling had started in the fingertips of his dead hand. Emhyr’s breath came quicker, and then frayed into gasps, and then his rhythm faltered. He bottomed out one more time, stopped, and as he came, the blazing sensation of pins-and-needles exploded in Geralt’s shoulder and went rushing in a shocking wave the full length down his arm.

“Oh, shit,” Geralt strangled out, and had to grab his own cock hard—with his right hand, his working right hand—to keep from coming himself all over the desk. He gulped for air.

Emhyr was still breathing hard, coming down. After a moment, he slid out. Geralt reached down—with both hands, both hands his brain yelled, going round and round in circles like an overexcited terrier—and got his pants. By the time he was buckling back up, Emhyr was coming back around, hose back in place, his mantle smoothed down like he’d never even opened it. He threw a crumpled handkerchief into the waste basket next to his desk and sat down heavily. He wasn’t very flushed or sweaty, nothing obvious; just softened up around the edges, relaxed a little bit. He gestured to Geralt’s arm. “I trust all is in order?” He barely even sounded breathless.

Yes,” Geralt said, opening and closing his hand back and forth, rolling the shoulder forward, struggling to believe it was back. He looked at Emhyr and said gruffly, “Thanks.” He meant it. He hadn’t even been able to imagine this meeting being anything less than the final excruciating agony at the end of a month of horror, with nothing but a blank wall afterwards he couldn’t even bear to think past, and Emhyr had wiped it all away in ten mildly awkward minutes.

“I do not care to be used as a tool in such a manner,” Emhyr said dismissively. “Which reminds me: when you have Eilhart, I have one condition. If you slay her, so be it. However, if she should throw herself upon your mercy, then no matter what she says, you will put her in dimeritium chains and bring her to me. That is all. Mererid!” he called.

The chamberlain popped in, and Emhyr said, “Give the witcher a room for the night and make him comfortable.” Then he picked up his pen and went back to work.

“Will the gentleman want a bath?” the chamberlain asked coolly, showing Geralt to a bedroom.

“Yeah, actually,” Geralt said. “That would be great.” As soon as the door closed, before they brought up the tub, he went around the screen and jerked himself off—with his sword hand! whoo!—fast and steady and methodical.

#

He’d spent the last month planning how to kill Philippa in a large variety of inventive ways. Having to slog all the way to Roggeven across half the war-torn North with his sword-hand stuffed through his belt had given him plenty of time to think of options. He’d had to pry the jewels out of his sword-hilts and sell them to eat. In one town they’d run him out pelting rocks—he had a small new scar on his jaw to remember it by. Half-assed bandits had nearly killed him on the road a dozen times, and once sleeping under a tree he’d almost been taken by a small pack of ghouls. That would’ve been great: Geralt of Rivia, killed by three mangy ghouls, just the way he wanted to go out.

Heading back to her tower at top speed, he narrowed down the choices to half a dozen different slow deaths. He kept having nightmares where he woke up and his arm didn’t work again, and he jerked out of them in a cold sweat and couldn’t get back to sleep until he—well, he had a hard time getting back to sleep.

So of course, because Philippa wasn’t done making his life difficult, as soon as he’d swung himself down through the window of her tower and blasted her with a dimeritium bomb, she threw herself at his feet and grabbed his knees and cried out, “Geralt, wait! Wait! I’m so sorry!” and swore up and down and back and forth that she’d just lost her temper, she hadn’t really meant to leave him without his sword-arm, she’d meant to let him out of it the next day, and she’d been looking for him to try and lift the curse.

Geralt ground his teeth. He didn’t like stabbing unarmed people who were begging him for mercy, even one who’d done her best to take away his sword-arm. Then abruptly he remembered he didn’t have to. “Sure you don’t want to just fight me?”

“Of course not, Geralt,” she said, lowering her eyes, not quite fast enough to hide the flash of satisfaction. “I really am very sorry. Please let me make it up to you.”

“Fine,” he said, and got out the dimeritium chains, and put them on her wrists before she noticed what he was doing. She started yelling and trying to hit him, and spent the next week kicking and scratching while he hauled her all the way back to Roggeven—she tried to seduce him twice, and also managed to get three different sets of random strangers to attack him by screaming for help—and only quit as he was dragging her up the stairs of the palace to say suddenly, “Wait, where are you taking me?” 

 “Where do you think?” he said, and told the scowling chamberlain, “The emperor wanted me to bring her.”

Philippa stopped yowling and spent the next ten minutes smoothing her clothes and rebraiding her hair, peering in a bit of mirror set into a design on the wall and scowling at Geralt when he wouldn’t take off the chains so she could rework her glamours. “You do realize he clearly wants my services,” she said coldly. “You might want to consider whether you really want me to be holding a grudge when these do come off.”

You holding a grudge—” He glared at her, speechlessly, and then the chamberlain came back and showed them in to Emhyr’s study.

Philippa instantly went into a deep curtsey. “Your Imperial Majesty wished to see me.”

Emhyr tossed his pen down on the desk and contemplated her. “Not particularly,” he said. “I merely thought it a prudent safeguard. Witchers are meant to protect humans, not to slay them, and Geralt is the consummate witcher. I suspected he would find it difficult to refuse if you threw yourself upon his mercy. Unfortunately for your sake, you involved me in the matter.”

 The smile had fallen off Philippa’s face as he spoke, and by the end of it, she’d gone pale. “Your Majesty, I beg your forgiveness. Of course I should never have exposed you to harassment. I spoke in the heat of the moment—it was foolish of me, I know—”

“Save your breath,” Emhyr said. “Guards!” Two imperial soldiers came in and saluted instantly. “Take this woman outside and execute her. She is a sorceress, so do not remove the chains until she is dead.”

They saluted again and dragged her back out pleading and screaming, “You can’t do this to me! Your Majesty! I swear I’ll do anything—Geralt, please, anything—” until the door shut firmly after her, and even then Geralt could still hear her going all the way down the hall. It made him feel like shit and savagely, desperately glad at the same time.

He took a deep breath when the last faint noises faded away, and looked over the desk. Emhyr was considering him, head slightly tilted. He reached over to the thin stack of papers in the corner of his desk, extracted one, folded, and held it out.

Geralt took it. “What is this?”

“A contract,” Emhyr said. “My census takers have been working in Temeria this past year. One of them uncovered a discrepancy in a group of villages near Vizima: young women in the area have been dying of wasting illnesses at an unusual rate. It would appear to be the work of a vampire, but a cunning one: my soldiers in the area have been unable to find it. Will you go aid them? The usual fee.”

Geralt swallowed hard. “Yeah,” he said after a moment, and put the contract into his pocket. Emhyr nodded and bent back down over his papers.

Geralt stopped with his hand on the door, staring at the carved wood. He could hear Emhyr’s pen scratching steadily away behind him.

He’d known, he had known Emhyr was going to say no. He’d only come because he just had to try anyway. Philippa had done that to him on purpose. She hadn’t just killed him, she hadn’t just taken his arm, she’d made him go groveling to Emhyr var Emreis to beg to be raped, knowing just as well as he did that Emhyr would say no, and then—well, what was there for a witcher who couldn’t fight anymore, except to turn beggar for as long as it took him to starve to death? Maybe he could’ve made it back to Kaer Morhen and tried to live off rabbit traps and the vegetable garden, alone in the mountains, until he finally lay down and died, useless.

Instead, Emhyr hadn’t even made him say please. Had saved his arm, his life, for nothing—and now he’d taken care of Philippa, which probably meant he’d saved it twice. Hadn’t asked him for a damn thing, and now he was even sending Geralt back to the Path with a meat-and-potatoes witcher contract, a fat purse for a monster really worth killing.

“Your Majesty—” Geralt said abruptly, and the pen paused behind him.

Geralt had no idea what to say, so he just hung himself up there struggling for a moment, and then Emhyr said, “Geralt, if someone brought you the broken halves of a magnificent sword for which you had no immediate use, and offered to repair it for a minor fee, would you cast it aside onto a dungheap instead? I dislike egregious waste. You need make no more of it than that. Return to your Path. When I need to hire a witcher, I shall find you. As I would have done, in any case.”

Geralt swallowed hard around a lump. “Yes, Your Majesty,” he managed, and got out the door before he fucking embarrassed himself.

#

It would’ve ended there—should’ve ended there—except four months later, in early spring, Geralt was back in the north, and he found himself turning Roach’s head up into the mountains, towards Kaer Morhen. It had been five years since Vesemir had died.

He took a couple bottles of rye with him, enough food for a few days; he figured he’d be alone with his thoughts up there. Instead as he made the final turning he heard someone talking—yelling, actually—and found Lambert sitting next to the green mound where they’d buried Vesemir’s ashes, already well into a bottle and telling Vesemir angrily how much of an asshole he’d been. Eskel rode up the next morning with four bottles of White Gull crammed into his saddlebags. He didn’t seem surprised to see either of them, just said, simply, “Starting to sink in, you know?”

That night was the anniversary. They lit a new pyre for remembrance and got drunk, and then it started to rain miserable half-frozen sleet and the pyre went out, so they went inside and got completely shitfaced. Somewhere halfway to morning, Geralt vaguely started to think maybe they’d had enough, so he tried to head off any more drinking with gwent, but it was too late by then: he couldn’t even do enough addition to figure out his score, much less come up with any kind of strategy.

“Wha’ bullshit is this, anyway?” Lambert said, waving around a Northern Realms card. “No fucking way is—is this a five. I mean—come on. A nine, aaat least.”

Geralt blinked at it blearily, trying to get the picture to come into focus. “Ves? Good with a…crossbow, but, nine? I don’ know.”

“Fuck you!” Lambert said. “Bet you’d rather have—R-R-Roche or something, you cocksucker. Does he wear his shirt open to his navel? He does not. A nine, my friend. A nine.” He grabbed for the stubby pencil they’d been trying to use to keep score—not successfully—and scribbled over the card.

“We’re gonna—we’re gonna fix all these fuckin’ cards,” he announced after he proudly displayed the alteration, and Geralt could more or less see his point at the time, so they ended up spreading all the cards around and revising their values based on how hot they were.

“The leader cards, though,” Eskel said, deeply grim, resting his chin on his folded hands studying the array of them. “I mean. Scoia’tael’s going to do just fine. But the rest…”

“Yeah, man,” Lambert said, shaking his head. “Fucked. Tru-lee fucked. L-look at this asshole.” He grabbed one of the Foltest cards. “Fucked his own sister. Then he fucked some other guy’s wife. Wouldn’t get married, have an heir. Don’t tell me this fucker was anything but shit in bed.” They all nodded their heads up and down mournfully. “Northern Realms deck, down in flames.”

“Emhyr’s a—a pretty good lay,” Geralt offered after a moment, for consolation.

“The fuck he is,” Lambert said. “The fuck would you know?”

“Uhhh, maybe?” Geralt said, belatedly awake to his danger, but that just made it worse, because Lambert sat right up, swaying but still scenting blood.

“No, no, no!” he said, pointing at Geralt. “That was not mayyyyybe. That was a—a definite fucking statement! Have you fucking laid Emhyr var Emreis?”

“No!” Geralt said.

“Holy shit you have!” Lambert said.

“No!” Geralt said desperately. But even Eskel was just gawking at him.

“And he’s a good lay?” Lambert said. “Did he make sweet love to you all night long?”

Fuck you, Lambert,” Geralt groaned, and put his head down on his arms.

Lambert was already groping wildly across the table for the bottle and Geralt’s cup, sweeping a blizzard of cards off the table as he topped it up and shoved it at him. “Come on, White Wolf, kiss and te-ell! If you don’t, I’ll tell everyone I know that you fucked the Emperor of Nilfgaard.”

“I hate you, Lambert,” Geralt said muffledly.

Lambert reached out and gripped Geralt’s shoulder. “Did he take you to a vast new realm of pleasure?” he said, in a deeply serious tone. “Did he make you see the Great Sun as you came? Did he conquer your pale lovely northern fields—”

Geralt grabbed for Lambert’s throat across the table, which didn’t survive the next ten minutes, along with two of the bottles and most of the gwent cards.

Fortunately there were more bottles, and after about half of another one, Geralt hiccupped and blurted, “Phil-Phil’ppa Eilhart cursed me,” holding a piece of raw meat to his swelling eyelid with one hand and swigging with the other. “Said—my sword-arm would be use-useless un…until Emhyr var Emreis—fucked me.”

“Holy shit, what?” Lambert said, Eskel staring in equal horror.

Geralt bobbed his head up and down and raised his arm, let it flop limply down like the sack of potatoes it had been. “C-couldn’ even hol’ a cup. Like a—like a bag of shit hanging off my shoulder.” He shuddered all over, just remembering it.

Damn,” Eskel said, and put his arm around Geralt’s shoulders. Lambert jumped up to his feet and started to pace wildly back and forth in front of them in outrage; his fists were clenched, and Geralt had to blink away tears, snuffling in gratitude: they understood, they knew.

“Wow, that is not fucking on,” Lambert said, still seething. “Is that bitch dead? Tell me she’s dead!”

“Yeah,” Geralt said, nodding and wiping his face. He took a deep breath. Eskel gave his shoulder another comforting squeeze.

“Well, fucking good!” Lambert said. “Holy shit. What did he make you do?”

“Nah,” Geralt said, waving a hand. “He was—nice about it. Y’know? Jus’—did it right away. Told him, boom, on the desk.”

“Whoooaaa,” Lambert said, wheeling back and sitting down again next to him, distracted from his rage. “On his desk? Just bent you over and—”

“Yep,” Geralt said. They were all silent, staring straight ahead, contemplating it.

“An’ he really was good?” Eskel said after a few moments.

“He fucked my arm back,” Geralt said. “In five minutes.” Eskel and Lambert both nodded in perfect synchronization and understanding. After a moment, Geralt muttered, “I—jerk off to it sometimes,” and hiccupped again.

 “Wowww,” Lambert said. After a moment he said, “So is he hung?”

“Felt plenty big enough for me,” Geralt said emphatically. Eskel started snort-laughing so hard that he fell over and puked on the floor, and after the smell of that there was a lot of puking all around before they all ended up miserable with their faces pressed to the cold stone of the empty hearth for relief.

“Tell me more,” Lambert said with his eyes closed. “Distract me from the impending sweet release of my certain death.”

“Wha’d’ya wan’ me to tell?” Geralt mumbled. He hadn’t puked enough to not be drunk anymore, so now he was drunk and sick. “He—fucked me on his desk. Tha’s it.”

“That’s fuckin’ boring,” Lambert said. “He still doesn’t get a good score.”

“Yeah he does!” Geralt said indignantly.

“Fuck you, you’re—biased!” Lambert said.

You’re bi-assed,” Geralt said.

They shoved their hands in each other’s faces for a while until Eskel muttered, “Quit moving,” and kicked Geralt’s ankle to make him stop. “Lambert, it was his ass. If he says Emhyr gets a good score, Emhyr gets a good score!”

Thank you, Eskel,” Geralt said, pronouncing the words with care and dignity.

“Fine, whatever,” Lambert said grouchily. “I still say Findabair wins it.”

“Well, yeah,” Geralt said. “I didn’ say he was the fuckin’—immortally beau’fl queen of the elves.”

“Hey,” Lambert said suddenly, doing an about face, “hey, that could be his leader card power. Fucks any discard back onto the board!”

 “Oh, yeahhh,” Eskel said.

“Tha’s not bad,” Geralt agreed. He closed his eyes for a moment. He opened them again the next morning and looked down at his chest where Lambert had propped up a card of Emhyr—it was the Invader of the North one—with the special ability scribbled over and two large round circles drawn into the palm of Emhyr’s outstretched hand labeled Geralt of Rivia’s balls!!! with an arrow. Geralt groaned in horror and agony that had nothing to do with the horror and agony of his hangover and let his eyes close again. He was fucked. Again.

#

“Lambert, if you tell anyone,” Geralt said, tracking him down in the kitchens. Lambert was listing heavily against the stove with his eyes mostly closed, stirring a pot full of White Honey that smelled at least half an hour away from being drinkable.

“Yeah, yeah,” Lambert said. “What the fuck am I, a moron who’s going to blab it to everyone the second he gets stinking drunk?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Geralt said miserably. It hurt because it was true.

“Hey, look on the bright side,” Lambert said. “I mean, sure, you had to take it up the ass from the Emperor of Nilfgaard to get your sword arm back. But at least you really really liked it.”

“I can kick your ass if I have to,” Geralt said.

“Oh, ho, the great White Wolf hath threatened me, I quake in my boots. Fuck you, man, try it and see how well you do,” Lambert said. “Seriously, though. Emhyr’s fucked the entire Continent into submission, what’s one witcher more or less.”

“I’m never going to hear the end of this, am I,” Geralt said.

“Not for one single minute of the rest of your life if I can help it,” Lambert said. “I think I’m going to ride out with you, in fact. The Path feels so cold and lonely this time of year. We don’t all have a memory of searing passion with the White Flame to warm us—”

 Geralt knew when he was beaten. He fled the kitchen, went straight to the stables—Eskel was curled on the stones of the courtyard in the sunshine, asleep, so he’d just have to skip saying goodbye—and saddled Roach up and rode away. He was halfway down the hill when Lambert stuck his head out over the top parapets and yelled in full voice with his hands cupped around his mouth, “Hey! Hey! Did he clean his sword first? Don’t forget what Papa Vesemir taught us!”

“I’m going to strangle that son of a bitch someday,” Geralt muttered under his breath, and rode on faster.

It was too late, of course. He knew it, even as he rode long into the night, until Roach planted her hooves and quit and his own eyes were drooping so much it was an effort to get her picketed and put out his bedroll. He got in and determinedly closed his eyes and tried to go straight to sleep, and all he could think about was Emhyr’s cock steadily and thoroughly pounding him and the smell of fresh ink and parchment and the glorious, stinging rush of his arm coming back to life, and he had to jerk off to it again, even though it had only been five days since the last time and he’d made a private rule in his head that he could only do it once a week at most.

The rule went out the window afterwards. Talking about it out loud had smashed his hard-won self delusion. It was all he wanted to jerk off to. He even shut his eyes one night and imagined Emhyr actually holding his balls in his hand, squeezing them a little maybe while he coolly reamed out Geralt’s ass.

Lambert caught up to him three weeks later in Kaedwen—Geralt was steering far wide of Redania for now—and parked himself at Geralt’s table with a beer and leaned in and said softly, tenderly, “If you want, I’ll fuck you and let you pretend it’s him.”

“Oh you fucking bastard,” Geralt said, and paid for a room, and they went upstairs and pulled a table into the middle of the room, and Geralt actually let Lambert fuck him up the ass the way Lambert had desperately wanted to ever since the day that Geralt had first beat him over the training course when they’d been eleven years old, so at least someone was happy, and Geralt shut his eyes and held on to the table and came without ever touching his cock.

“Man, you are completely fucked,” Lambert said afterwards, with real sympathy, slightly shocked, and even got him a drink.

Geralt ran a hand over his face and muttered, “I’ll get over it eventually.”

“Good luck with that,” Lambert said.

On the very faint bright side, now that Geralt had just caved completely, it turned out that getting fucked by the emperor was a popular theme, and the more expensive brothels had specialists. There was a really good one in Ard Carraigh who had a voice that wasn’t completely wrong, and a cock roughly the right size, and the brothel even had a room with a bookcase and a desk. Geralt got fucked on it every single day of the three weeks it took him to run out of money. He made himself take a contract to guard a caravan going all the way to Vengerberg just to remove the temptation to go back.

The crazed binge did at least help get it out of his system and put him back on the Path. In Vengerberg he bumped into one of Roche’s men looking for a witcher: there was a bad infestation of alghouls outside the city of Maribor that they were having a hell of a time putting down. The next day Geralt rode over the mountains into Temeria, found the worn-down soldiers struggling just to keep the alghouls from spilling onto the city roads, and carved his way through the monsters until he found what was luring them: a horrible mass grave hidden in the woods just lightly covered with dirt, half dug up. It held the remains of a small troop of fifteen Nilfgaardian soldiers who’d recently been reported missing, and nearly thirty elves—in civilian clothes, not Scoia’tael. Roche arrived the next morning and asked Geralt to investigate personally.

“This wasn’t my people,” he said grimly, “but if Nilfgaard thinks it was, for lack of a better culprit—or if Emhyr simply decides he has to punish someone—it could mean the end of self-rule after all.”

Geralt blew out a breath. “And if it turns out it was your people?” he said bluntly. Roche stiffened. “There’s a lot of bodies here. Whoever did this, wasn’t just one or two killers, not even a bandit gang. Could be some troop of partisans took the Nilfgaardians out, and then decided to kill elven witnesses they didn’t trust not to tell on them.”

Roche was silent a moment, and then he said, “If it was, then better I should know, and deliver Emhyr a solution along with the problem. My people know the agreement we made for self-rule. Taking vengeance against Nilfgaardian soldiers can form no part of it.”

“Fair enough,” Geralt said.

The corpses were in pretty bad shape by then, so he couldn’t get much from them, but he thought it was interesting that he couldn’t find other wounds on any of the few places that hadn’t been chewed. Also, the alghouls had left big chunks of the livers, normally their favorite. Poison, maybe? He did find one piece of armor with a couple of stab wounds in the back, though, so it could just have been a coincidence.

Any scent trail was long gone, but he rode around all the towns and villages bordering on the woods looking for empty houses or ones burned down, someplace the dead elves might have lived. He didn’t find any even in a complete circuit, so he turned around and went back the other way more slowly, looking instead at clothing. At a large, prosperous village about two-thirds of the way back around, he spotted two different human women and one man wearing clothing with elven embroidery around the hems.

He waited until nightfall and poked around the town some more. There was a small cluster of about eight nice solid houses at one end of the village that all had elven runes carved into the undersides of the shutters. But there were no elves, only humans sleeping in the beds inside. Also there were fewer people than bedrooms. He hid himself out of the way the next morning and watched the life of the village, people going between houses: all interconnected. There was a well near the elven houses, a small new well that had been dug in the last few months with obvious care, fresh paint on the carved wooden roof. No one was using it, not even the people who lived right next door.

That night, he started walking widening circles around the village in the fields, sniffing, until he found it. They’d made a lot more of an effort here near their own houses and fields: the pit they’d used was deep, and it had been scoured with lye and filled in again with dirt after they took the bodies out to dump them further away.

Geralt rode back to Maribor to tell Roche what he’d found. He arrived late that night, but Ves—still in fact wearing her shirt open to her navel—was waiting for him to come in. She grabbed his reins out of his hand, threw them to a groom, demanded, “Did you find out who did it? Was it our people?”

“Yeah, and no, it was—”

“Don’t tell me, tell Roche,” she said, and dragged him up the stairs and shoved him through the door into Roche’s office without any formality, or for that matter warning, so when Emhyr glanced up at him from behind the desk, it was like that time Geralt had gone into the wrong hut investigating and a small quiet woman hiding behind the door had whacked him solidly in the face with a cast-iron frying pan.

Roche was standing at grim attention; he turned to Geralt urgently. Geralt dragged his eyes away from Emhyr. Thank all the gods there were, he was still wearing his armor, and the breastplate came down over his thighs, and also goddammit he was an idiot, he’d made it so much worse. He was hard instantly the moment Emhyr said, “Well?”

“Wasn’t the partisans,” Geralt said, trying not to sound like he was talking to someone who had a hand wrapped around his balls. “Town about fifteen miles away through the forest, small elven community starting to take root. The humans poisoned their well, took their houses. I found the pit where they buried them out in the fields. The patrol probably came into town a little while after. One of the soldiers died of stab wounds—I’m guessing he got suspicious and found something, so they jumped him. Then they murdered the rest of the patrol with poison, too. They were scared by then, so they emptied out the first pit and carted all the bodies across the woods and dumped them far away.”

Roche’s shoulders sagged a little with relief. Emhyr nodded and then said to Roche, “You have reported honestly, and handled the situation effectively. I trust you will now see to its appropriate conclusion.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Roche said, bowing. “An example will be made.”

“Good,” Emhyr said. “You too have done well, witcher. You will double the fee promised,” he told Roche, who nodded. “And have it paid at once. I leave for Brugge in the morning, and you will accompany me,” he added, to Geralt. “On a matter that will require some explanation. I will tell you in the carriage tomorrow.”

Geralt went blankly upstairs to the bedroom they gave him and lay down and didn’t even jerk off. He was going to be locked in a carriage with Emhyr for an entire day. It was like someone had come up with a way to torture him.

#

The torture was just getting started. The next day in the carriage—the huge, plush, velvet-upholstered carriage; Emhyr could’ve bent him over the seat and—Geralt dragged his eyes away from it and tried to pay attention while Emhyr told him about a recent series of failed assassination attempts on him. “The attacks themselves have been minor and easily thwarted, nothing out of the ordinary, but I dislike the close repetition,” Emhyr said. “You will investigate—while also ensuring no future attacks have any more success than they have had so far,” he added dryly.

“Right,” Geralt said, grimly. Bodyguarding Emhyr. This was going to be just perfect.

He tried to investigate as fast as he could, but the problem was the people behind this were very smart. They also apparently had a long reach, since they’d staged attacks in half a dozen different cities in the North, all the way from Redania to Cintra, and each one had used different kinds of assassins and methods. He was sure there was someone behind it; the pattern of the attacks was too systematic for his taste, like the real goal had been to probe Emhyr’s defenses and his guards. The problem was he couldn’t find anything to connect them on the other end.

So all that left was waiting for them to try again. Geralt spent three weeks following Emhyr around, standing in his office all day, keeping watch in his bedroom. One night Emhyr even had company, a beautiful noblewoman who came up with him after dinner, and Geralt got to stand out on the balcony listening to her moan and gasp while Emhyr fucked her. Emhyr didn’t do it quite as efficiently as he’d fucked Geralt, but he ordered her to take off her clothes and to lie back, and he did things to her for a while until Geralt could smell that she was wet, and then he took her steady and methodical until she was giving small cries of pleasure and climax before he came himself.

So he really was a good lay, Geralt silently told Lambert, wherever he was, with something between vindication and calm despair, his cock hard and pleasurably throbbing against his leg. Fuck, he had to get out of this.

Then it suddenly occurred to him, putting the attacks together, that the one defense the attackers hadn’t tested yet was the magical shield on Emhyr’s bed; they’d managed to get assassins and weapons close enough to the bedroom that just upping the number of attackers would get them there, but as soon as someone got into the bedroom unannounced, a completely impenetrable shield went up on the bed that could only be lowered from inside

He turned and dived into the bedroom and yelled, “Emhyr, hold her,” just as the portal opened and twenty assassins came pouring through with glowing blue daggers.

They were all very, very good. Geralt could barely spare a glance to see Emhyr pinning the woman to the bed as she struggled to touch the shield, a ring on her hand glowing. Then the assassins came at him in a deadly whirl of knives and men. One of them managed to slice Geralt’s arm, which blazed painfully with the touch. Another threw a dagger, and he had to pick throat or shoulder, so he picked shoulder; when it thunked into him, a crackling electric agony exploded through his body. He snarled and ripped it out and threw it back right into the man’s gut: the assassin screamed and fell to the ground writhing around it for several seconds before he went limp in death. Geralt whipped around and killed another three of them coming at him, but another man standing at a distance with a crossbow fired a bolt that seared along the inside of his calf, coated with some kind of poison.

But then, thankfully, the imperial guards finally came charging in and swarmed the remaining men. Geralt fell back and let them finish the job, gripping his shoulder in agony as he sank down on top of a heavy chest along the wall, breathing hard, his head slumped forward. A migraine was pounding savagely at his temples, probably the poison. He felt vaguely seasick.

A blurred time later, a hand caught his face and firmly tilted him back up. Geralt stared up at Emhyr dazedly. Emhyr was frowning. “How badly are you hurt?” he demanded. “Are you poisoned?”

“Yeah,” Geralt managed. Emhyr was touching the pulsing veins at his temple with his fingertips. They felt cool and good. “Just need—some celandine petals and—” He winced hard into Emhyr’s hand as another stabbing pain hit. Emhyr was already calling his mage-healer over, commandingly.

Geralt woke up in Emhyr’s bed the next morning, sat up and cracked his neck: damn, he was hungry. The healer dozing at the foot of the bed jumped awake wildly as Geralt got up to look for clothes, and grabbed him and started gabbling out something about how Geralt was on the verge of death and he had to rest—

“No, look, I’m fine, I’m just going to go to the kitchens,” Geralt tried, but the man was practically in tears of panic, so finally he gave up and said, “All right, just get me some food, will you?” and got back in bed, only to be presented ten minutes later with a bowl of thin restorative gruel. He sighed.

He was still trying to explain witcher metabolism to the frantic healer, who seemed to think it was as much as his life was worth for Geralt to stub his toe on the way downstairs, when Emhyr came into the room. Geralt had just finally lost patience, got out of the bed naked and yelled at the guy, “The only thing I’m in danger of dying from is hunger, so shut up and tell me where my damn pants are.”

“We will have them restored to you shortly,” Emhyr said, and Geralt desperately snatched a pillow off the bed before Emhyr could get a good look at the automatic reaction Geralt’s cock had developed to him saying words. Emhyr completely ignored his nakedness, came up to Geralt and reached out to him, cupping the line of his jaw, studying his face. “You look much recovered. Are you?”

“Yes,” Geralt managed.

“Good. Master Ethrin, you may consider yourself relieved.” The healer practically sagged with relief and fled the room as fast as he could bow.

“Did you tell that guy you were going to cut off his head if I died or something?” Geralt said, trying for flippant.

“Yes,” Emhyr said.

“Oh,” Geralt said. He swallowed. “Did you find out who they were?” he tried, in desperation.

“Not yet, but we will have them soon,” Emhyr said. “Lady Einera—or rather the false one—was taken alive, and in any case, this force was too large and too expensively equipped for it to be possible to completely conceal the source of funds. My spies are already tracing the blades and the poison. I am informed,” he added, “that either would have killed an ordinary man. The four men you left alive still killed a dozen of my guard before they were stopped.”

“Damn,” Geralt said, grimacing.

“That was not meant as a critique. But I will not keep you standing hungry. Come.” Emhyr called in the servants, and in rapid succession Geralt got shoved into a dressing gown—that gloriously and agonizingly smelled of Emhyr—and sat down in front of a table, and fed an extremely good breakfast. And then Emhyr sent them all away again, and sat down with him and said, “You once seemed to think yourself in my debt. You can do so no longer, but I find myself by no means inclined to give up your services.”

Oh, shit. Panic scrabbled at the back of Geralt’s head. “I got lucky,” he blurted.

“Hardly,” Emhyr said. “Do not imagine that I desire you for the wrong reasons. I am grateful for your strong right arm, but I have many guards. None of them, however, could have warned me before the assassins even came through the door.

“I am not proposing to make you a dull and idle bodyguard, cooling your heels at my door for the sake of caution when there is no imminent sign of threat,” Emhyr added. “If you wish to slay monsters, I have reports of hundreds; choose the worst, and go strike them down in my name, with a troop of soldiers at your back and my treasury behind you. If you wish to protect the helpless, I will give you the power to direct my patrols wherever bandits roam.”

Geralt was frozen, staring at him, locked somewhere between desperately wanting every word, and desperately wanting Emhyr to stop; he could have thrown himself over the table, or jumped out the window. Emhyr raised his eyebrow. “I trust I am making my point. A man who can see a threat before I do is priceless to me. Name yours, and stay by my side, and you shall choose your work.”

It was—horrible. He could say yes; he even wanted to—he could hand himself over, and spend the rest of his life wanting absolutely nothing except the one thing he couldn’t have. And what really sucked was realizing that it wasn’t being bent over a desk and fucked; it wasn’t even the grace of finding generosity where he’d expected only contempt. It was Emhyr var Emreis with his cold, clear eyes looking at him and seeing—something priceless, and Geralt had the awful sinking realization that he wasn’t going to get over this at all.

“I can’t,” he said, raw, without looking Emhyr in the face; he felt like absolute shit. It was a hell of an offer to turn down at all, much less from the man who’d pulled him out of a living grave. He almost hoped Emhyr would rip him a new one for it, order him to get the hell out of his sight and never come near him again.

Except Emhyr didn’t say a thing, and when Geralt couldn’t fucking stand it anymore and glanced at his face, he didn’t look angry at all, only a small furrow in his forehead. Emhyr said finally, “I said you were no longer in my debt, but once I asked you why you had come to me. If I did not make you regret your honesty then, perhaps you will answer me now: why?”

Geralt dragged in a breath. Goddammit. He didn’t want to; he wanted to tell Emhyr just about as much as he’d wanted to tell him the last time. But he couldn’t refuse. On those terms, he owed Emhyr an answer if he’d ever owed anyone in the world anything, so he looked away and said harshly, “Because what I want is you.”

He stopped, his jaw clenched, and then Emhyr said, sounding faintly impatient, “Geralt, when I tell a man he is priceless, and ask him to name anything he desires of me, I do not mean it by half measures. Do you want to be made imperial consort? That would be a considerable undertaking, but not entirely impossible.”

What?” Geralt squawked.

Emhyr shrugged. “It seemed unlikely, but clarifying. Do you want me to take you to my bed at once?”

There really weren’t two answers to that question. “Yes?” Geralt said, almost blankly, and then he followed Emhyr to the bed and Emhyr told him to lie down and then fucked him steadily and purposefully while Geralt lay there in dazed and glorious submission with his head pillowed on his folded arms, his breath coming in gasps with every thrust, staring unfocused at the wall and trying to convince himself it was really happening. It was so perfectly out of his fantasies that it almost didn’t seem real. He came twice. Afterwards Emhyr slid out of him, breathing only a little hard, task accomplished.

But Emhyr didn’t get businesslike out of bed. He settled on his side next to Geralt and murmured thoughtfully, “Do you know, I find the idea almost irresistible—” and he slid the tips of two fingers back into him and just moved them lightly, dipping in and out, his thumb gently sliding to meet them, and Geralt dragged in a gulp, oh fuck Emhyr was feeling his own—

“Yes,” Emhyr breathed out, and slid them deep. “I want to feel how thoroughly I have possessed you. Move upon my hand.”

Geralt made a strangled noise and writhed on Emhyr’s hand, and Emhyr leaned over and kissed the back of his neck, hungrily, and then slid his hand out and said in a lust-thickened voice, “Turn over,” and Geralt rolled over and Emhyr climbed into his arms, kissing him again hotly, wanting him back, and Geralt wrapped his arms around him and desperately took his mouth, and it wasn’t anything he’d ever imagined, after all.

#

Geralt had about four months to plan for the fact that he was eventually going to see Lambert again before they finally did run into each other, in Dol Blathanna. It had been an unusually warm summer, and a gigantic colony of arachnophores had spawned in the elven kingdom. They were now romping around spitting noxious webs over everything in sight. Francesca Findabair had posted notices everywhere for miles around and also sent Emhyr a desperate plea for help: she’d already lost twenty knights to the things, and the elves couldn’t afford to lose that many people.

Unfortunately, Geralt’s plan went off the rails immediately. “Well, well, look what the spider dragged in,” Lambert called as they whacked off arachna heads and limbs making their way to each other in the middle of the large breeding cavern so they could fight the rest of the swarming things back to back. “Good to see you, man. How’s the Path going?”

Geralt ducked under a pair of snapping mandibles to gut one huge arachna down to the spinnerets. “What the hell, Lambert? Are you trying to be nice to me?” he demanded incredulously.

“As if,” Lambert said, but he was. The asshole was still sorry for him.

“Goddammit, Lambert,” Geralt said. He’d had a careful strategy worked out for keeping Lambert from ever, ever, ever finding out—well, at least for a while—

“What!” Lambert blasted one coming at Geralt’s side with Igni and then held out an arm to get a swing up onto the back of the really big one. “You ask a guy an ordinary civil question—”

Geralt ground his teeth. “Fuck off, I’m fucking him.”

“The fuck you are!” Lambert howled, and stopped fighting to glare at him—and also to get hit in the face by poisoned spidersilk, so Geralt had to dive forward and cut the thing’s head off from underneath, meaning that all its venomous guts splattered down all over him.

“Hey, I’ve always wanted to know, do you do homage on one bended knee or two?” Lambert said afterwards as they sat on a large rock outside the nest, sun steaming the poisoned bile off their armor. “That’s what they call it, right?”

“I hate you so much,” Geralt said, scooping an entire handful of spider innards out of his goddamn codpiece. The stuff had gotten everywhere. He shook it off with a violent jerk of his hand.

“So if you’re a kept witcher now, what are you doing out on a contract? Thinking of trying to bag Findabair and do a comparison? Wouldn’t mind checking her score.”

Geralt rolled his eyes. “She’s his vassal, dickhead. He sent me to help.”

“Oooh, kinky. Does he go for that kind of thing a lot? Hey, just think, play your cards right, and you could have Emhyr var Emreis and Yennefer of Vengerberg ordering you around at the same time.

Geralt let his head sag between his shoulders. Why the hell had he opened his damn mouth? Then he lifted his head with sudden dawning realization that hey, since Lambert already knew— “Come on,” he said, standing up.

“What’s wrong with bunking here?” Lambert said. “They’re all dead now, they probably killed anything else in the area.”  

“Left my stuff down the road.”

“What, did you pitch a tent or something?” Lambert said. “Living large, huh?”

“You could say that,” Geralt said blandly, and kept a straight face through Lambert’s five solid minutes of clever remarks until they crested the hill and came in sight of the pavilion and Lambert’s voice cut off abruptly. There was a tub waiting with steam rising off the surface, and the servants were stirring a pot over the fire.

“Shall I take your gear, sir?” Geralt’s squire asked, coming to join them.

“Thanks, Alric,” Geralt said smugly, handing over his swords and unbuckling his filthy breastplate to lift it off over his head. He could feel Lambert radiating violent indignation and envy beside him.

“So how many times has he fucked you in this tent?” Lambert said bitterly, that night, as he unrolled his musty, weather-stained bedroll atop the thick woolen mattress that Alric had helpfully put out for him across from Geralt’s large, comfortable bed.

“Four times,” Geralt said, letting himself sound exactly as dreamy and satisfied as the memory made him feel.

Actually, Emhyr seemed to consider it a point of honor to make sure Geralt got it as often as he wanted it, which given witcher stamina was pretty damn regularly. “Otherwise, it seems nearly inappropriate,” Emhyr had remarked, slightly out of breath, after a round where Geralt had hinted he didn’t need it a third time that day, but if Emhyr felt like it… “Ordinarily a monarch expects to receive this sort of service.”

Geralt had no plans to argue. “It’s pretty new,” he added to Lambert as he stretched out, and basked in the sound of profound sulking.

“Sell-out,” Lambert muttered, arms folded over his chest and glaring at the roof.

Geralt sighed happily and relaxed with his hands behind his head. “Night, Lambert,” he said, beatifically, and put out the lantern with a flick of his hand.

# End