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He gives her a choice: stay and become the monster Stregobor accuses her of being or leave and give up on her revenge.

In the end, it’s not a difficult choice at all. She isn’t stupid enough to believe herself capable of besting a Witcher (and it’s painfully clear that he will feel obligated to stop her). Above all else, Renfri has only ever wanted to live. The way she figures it, Stregobor won’t dare send anyone after her if she’s traveling with Geralt and besides, there will be other chances to kill the wizard. Men like him are incapable of keeping their noses clean. Stregobor will eventually make a mistake and when he does, she’ll be ready.

It’s almost amusing to watch Geralt wake up, realize that his armor is missing, and jump to the (probably logical, if Renfri’s being honest) conclusion that she stole it and returned to town only to turn around and see her sitting right there, cleaning the armor. She’s pretty sure the Witcher is incapable of changing his facial expressions but if she didn’t know better, she’d say he was floored.

“When’s the last time you cleaned this?” she asks casually. “Leather needs regular treatment.”

He grunts. Typical.

She continues, “I was thinking last night—” She doesn’t add a spiteful after you fell asleep; sure he’d given her a spectacular orgasm, but where’s that legendary Witcher stamina she’s heard so much about? “Stregobor knows to watch his back now and that’s almost as good as killing him.” It’s not but he doesn’t need to know that. “Which leaves me at a bit of a loss.” Is he even paying attention to her? Or is he just brushing down the horse? “So I decided I’m coming with you.”

That gets his attention. “No, you’re not.”

She smiles.

Traveling with Geralt is different than traveling on her own. Geralt has expectations and rules. He doesn’t support her murderous, thieving lifestyle, which forces her to adapt if she wants to keep traveling with him—and she does. Life with Geralt is interesting and far safer than her life used to be. Sure he claims to not get involved with the affairs of men, which infuriates her when it’s obvious that it’s not a monster killing the young women of the village but rather the alderman’s son, angered when they spur his advances, and Geralt tells her he won’t put a stop to it. Renfri screams well-deserved abuses at him and stomps off to take care of the problem herself, only realizing much later that not only does Geralt not stop her but also waits for her to return without riding on ahead.

He mildly asks her, “Feel better?”

Renfri, hands stained with the blood of the alderman’s son, grins viciously. “Yes,” she replies and is grateful he doesn’t ask her why she feels better.

In another lifetime, Geralt kills a band of brigands and a cursed princess and earns the moniker the Butcher of Blaviken. In this one, Renfri kills a band of murderers and rapists and Geralt takes credit for it to save her life, becoming the Butcher of Belhaven in the process. It makes their lives so much harder when they’re stoned out of every town they walk into. Renfri tries a few times to apologize—she’d truly never meant to make his life more difficult—but Geralt just waves her off, says that he’s sure the victims would thank her if they could and does anything else really matter?

Renfri gives up on apologizing and instead thanks him by finding someone who will make her silver arrowheads and accompanying him on his next hunt. The least she can do is make sure he doesn’t get himself killed by a drowner.

She isn’t there when Geralt first meets the bard. Instead, Renfri is several days ride away, commissioning new arrowheads after she’d lost most of her inventory to a harpy nest. She doesn’t even know about Geralt meeting the bard for another three weeks—though she does notice the lack of hostilities—when they enter an inn and hear someone singing about Witchers.

“Oh no,” Geralt mutters. She looks confusedly at him but he’s not looking at her or at the bar. He’s looking at the bard singing who lights up as soon as he sees them.

“Friend of yours?” she asks.

“Witchers don’t have—”

“Friends, yes, I know,” she finishes impatiently. She doesn’t know how he can keep claiming that when she’s known and traveled with him for a decade. “That’s not a no.”

He glares at her. She blithely ignores him and goes to find a table in the crowded tavern while he heads to the bar to order drinks. She keeps an eye on him as he orders. They’ve had problems in the past with people turning away Witchers and on one memorable occasion, someone had tried to poison them. They rarely face anything worse than a few hisses of butcher and the stink of fear permeating the air but it never hurts to be on guard. To her surprise though, the innkeeper seems almost cheerful to pour them drinks. It’s been like this for a few weeks now and it never fails to surprise her as she wonders what changed while she and Geralt were separated.

Geralt returns to the table. They drink in silence though Renfri is aching to ask about the bard who sings so cheerfully. She knows better than to ask. At best, she’ll get a grunt. At worst, Geralt will insist they leave.

She doesn’t have to wait long for an answer, however, as the bard finishes his set and bounds over to them, sliding onto the bench beside Renfri. “Geralt!” he exclaims. “Hello! Can I get a review?”

“No,” Geralt mutters.

It doesn’t faze the bard in the slightest who seems to expect that answer and promptly turns to Renfri. “And who are you?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before looking back at Geralt. “I’m terribly offended, you know. I thought we had something special and here I find you cavorting with someone else.” He gasps. “Or am I the someone else? Are you his wife?”

It takes Renfri, who had been relishing the way Geralt’s jaw was clenching, a moment to realize that he’s talking to her.

“Witchers don’t have wives,” Geralt replies instead.

The bard scoffs. “Right, because you don’t have feelings. Heard that one before. Except that you do or else you wouldn’t have given all of your coin to Filavandrel.”

“Is that what you did with it?” Renfri asks, trying to hide a laugh at how discomfited Geralt looks. “You said it got lost in a fight with a drowner.” She hadn’t fully believed the story when Geralt had told it to her—they were far too broke to just go around losing money—but she hadn’t known how to keep asking.

“He gave it to the elves to kickstart their revolution,” the bard informs her gleefully.

Renfri says admiringly, “You rebel, you.” Geralt looks away. She suspects that he’d probably be blushing like mad if he knew how to blush.

The bard holds out a hand to her. “I take it he hasn’t mentioned me. Jaskier, traveling bard and Geralt’s new barker, at your service.”

She shakes his hand and replies, “Renfri, Geralt’s backup.”

Jaskier looks at her in a calculating manner. “That would be Renfri the Shrike, yes?” he asks. When she cocks her head, he grins. “I know my folk stories. You running off with the Witcher is quite the legend.”

It’s the first Renfri’s ever heard of it but then, she supposes that it’s hard to hear the local legends when they’re getting run out of every town they enter. “That would be me,” she agrees.

“Excellent,” Jaskier says fervently. “What would you say to me traveling with you? Geralt’s stories make for fantastic songs. I’ll bet yours are just as good.”

“Absolutely not,” Geralt says firmly.

Renfri says, “Sure. Why not?”

She has to admit that Jaskier’s nonstop talking and singing gets a little on her nerves but after the first time she and Geralt both yell for him to shut up, she realizes exactly how much the Witcher finds it annoying. Renfri has made it a habit over the last ten years to annoy Geralt as often as she can because she finds it deeply amusing and here’s this bard who manages it effortlessly. So the next time Jaskier starts humming “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” she sings along. Off-key. At the top of her lungs.

Jaskier travels with them for two months before he splits off from them near Oxenfurt. He tells them why but Renfri doesn’t remember the reason. She just remembers that she’s surprised to find herself more than a little sad to see him go. She’s not entirely certain when he had grown so much on her but he had.

Geralt’s sad to see him leave too. She can tell though he tries to hide it. Geralt…softens around the bard. There’s no better word for it. He pretends that the ceaseless talking irritates him, that the singing grates on his nerves, and maybe they had at the beginning but by the time Jaskier leaves, Geralt’s come to like him just as much as Renfri does—or maybe a little more, she thinks, as she watches the way Geralt’s eyes follow the bard long after he’s out of sight.

Renfri isn’t stupid. She sees the way Jaskier and Geralt circle each other. She sees how Jaskier always patches Geralt up first after a fight before checking on Renfri. She sees how he always seeks out Geralt’s opinion on a song before performing it for the first time. She sees how he pushes his unfinished plate toward the Witcher before even remembering to ask if Renfri wants it instead.

And she sees how Geralt softens around Jaskier, how his eyes crinkle and his lips turn up in a small smile. It took her years to make Geralt smile. It takes Jaskier four months. She sees how Geralt always looks for Jaskier first after a fight to make sure he’s okay before looking at Renfri who had actually fought and not waited on the sidelines. She sees how his shoulders perk up when they’re in their room late at night and they hear Jaskier’s footsteps only to slump when Jaskier keeps going without a pause followed by his soft moans from the room next door.

She sees how they watch each other—warily, carefully, longingly, when they think the other one isn’t looking. Why Jaskier hasn’t made a move yet, when he hits on anything that stands still long enough, is beyond her; or rather, it’s beyond her until the day Geralt is renting rooms for the night and orders two—one for Jaskier and one for Geralt and Renfri.

It’s always been standard practice for them, born out of a decade of Renfri and Geralt sharing a tent and a room to save on the coin (it always seemed prudish not to after they’d already shared a bed even though they haven’t since that first night in the forest), and Geralt’s always gotten a second one for Jaskier if they could afford it out of respect for the bard’s privacy. She’s not even entirely certain why she’s looking at Jaskier this time except that she is and so she sees the way his face crumples when Geralt gets two rooms.

And oh, she gets it then.

When they go up together that night, Jaskier alone for the third night in a row, she shoves them into the same room. Geralt frowns. Renfri puts her hands on her hips and says, “We haven’t shared a bed in ten years, Geralt. Why are we still sharing a room?”

Then she closes the door in their faces, catching the barest glimpse of Jaskier’s face lighting up before the door closes and goes to her room next door, resolving not to hate her decision even when she has to stuff a pillow over her face to muffle the sounds of Jaskier’s cries and Geralt’s grunts.

Jaskier asks her once why she travels with Geralt. They’re sitting beside the fire, late at night, the flames casting shadows on their faces. Geralt is asleep beside them, hand resting on Jaskier’s ankle. It’s unusual for him to sleep while the two of them are awake but Renfri is dealing with her monthly cramps and Jaskier had been struck by inspiration earlier so they’re still awake.

She looks at him. The moonlight turns his hair silver, making her frown thoughtfully. Time passes differently for her and she doesn’t really remember when Jaskier first started traveling with them but she’s sure that he should be aging. She’s occasionally had her suspicions about his humanity—no human has eyes that blue—but Jaskier’s never said anything and she’s never asked. It isn’t her place to care about whether Jaskier is human or not.

“Ren?” he prompts after a moment’s silence.

Renfri doesn’t usually like to share her story. She’s not sure why she ever shared it with Geralt except that she’d been hoping for sympathy that the Witcher would never be able to give. She almost doesn’t want to share it with Jaskier either but it’s late at night and her birthday is coming up in a few weeks—not that either Witcher or bard know—and she’s feeling almost sentimental, if she knew what sentimental felt like, so she tells him.

Jaskier lets her talk, doesn’t once interrupt though she fully expects him to. And once she’s finished, unsure if she’s expecting his pity or his condemnation, he just smiles sadly.

“Sometimes,” he says, more seriously than she thinks she’s ever heard him, “sometimes, I think Geralt hunts the wrong monsters.”

He goes back to his notebook, leaving her to gape at him.

Sometimes, Jaskier sings of a black sun. That’s the most he ever sings about the day Renfri was born though she knows that the song has more verses about a cursed princess and a wizard who wouldn’t let her live. It’s not one of his more popular songs though nothing that Jaskier writes these days is exactly unpopular. She doesn’t catch people absently humming it like they do with “Toss a Coin” but they still mostly sing along when Jaskier performs it.

Renfri likes it. She likes to imagine that Stregobor, locked away in his tower, hears of it and shudders, knowing that someone out there knows the truth of the things he’d done.

Knowing that she is still out there.

She stumbles upon them once, in Cintra after the disaster that had been Princess Pavetta’s betrothal. Queen Calanthe had given them more than enough coin for their actions that night (Geralt had tried to claim the Law of Surprise for his reward; Renfri had smacked him across the back of the head and told the queen they would accept the gold instead) for them to rent rooms at the finest inn in the city so she’s not entirely certain why Geralt has Jaskier pressed up against a wall in the stables instead.

The two had disappeared hours earlier. Renfri had thought they’d gone up to their room and when she’d finally finished drinking away the memory of Pavetta’s scream, she’d decided to take a few sugar cubes to Roach, only to find Geralt and Jaskier there instead.

She hears the moaning first and then she sees the shapes of two men in the darkened stable. She rolls her eyes—some people just have no sense of privacy—and ducks into the shadows so that they won’t notice her.

Then she hears Jaskier pant, “We have—ah!—a perfectly good bed—Geralt—upstairs!”

Geralt chuckles lowly. “And we were using it until you decided to get out of bed.” In the dark, Renfri can just barely make out the shape of Geralt’s hips rolling into Jaskier’s. Jaskier throws his head back and groans. Renfri stuffs a hand against her mouth to muffle her gasp. She would never call herself a prude but there’s something terribly intimate about watching the two of them together. Renfri remembers her own night with Geralt, how sharp it had felt, how perfunctory. There’s none of that here. Geralt and Jaskier are gorgeous, perfectly in-sync with each other. Here, it’s painfully obvious that this isn’t a mere fumble in the hay, this is affection bleeding into love that she only gets glimpses of when they’re relaxing around the campfire.

“To feed Roach, you asshole, not so that you could follow meeee,” Jaskier says, voice tapering off into a sharp whine.

There’s the sound of kissing and that is familiar. For all that Jaskier and Geralt are surprisingly subtle when they’re not alone, they are, at least, willing to share a kiss in front of Renfri’s watching eyes. It’s too dark for Renfri to really see wandering hands but she hears it when Jaskier moans again, sees him rise nearly half a foot before wrapping his legs around Geralt’s waist, and guesses at what’s just happened.

“Sing for me, little lark,” Geralt murmurs and Jaskier whimpers.

Renfri turns around. She can feed Roach later.

Renfri hears about the dark magic Nilfgaard’s court mage has gotten herself involved in through the spy network she never bothered to disable after leaving Blaviken and convinces Geralt that she needs to be stopped.

“Women like that will never be content with what they have,” she tells him. “I should know.”

He stops and considers her. “I don’t get involved in the affairs of men,” he tells her but he sounds less sure than he usually would.

She doesn’t tell him that he actually does all the time. Jaskier does that enough for the both of them. Instead she nods and says, “Then let me go instead.” It’s really just a courtesy. She’ll go with or without Geralt’s permission. Someone like Nilfgaard’s mage cannot be allowed to be in a position like the one she holds.

He lets her go.

The mage never even sees her coming.

There are stories, Renfri knows. Stories mostly about the Witcher and his bard but sometimes about his shadow too. Jaskier doesn’t write them. He knows how much she appreciates keeping to dark corners and moonless nights, how she never wants anyone to see her coming. The most he ever sings about her is the song about the black sun that never even mentions a princess.

But still, there are stories and when Renfri hears them, she smiles.

“Do you ever think about killing him?” Jaskier asks her. They’re staying at a witch’s home in Temeria while Geralt hunts a creature too dangerous for Renfri to accompany him. Jaskier doesn’t much like the witch, Triss—Renfri can see the jealousy in his eyes, which she thinks is hilarious because Geralt hasn’t so much as looked at anyone other than Jaskier in years.

(Renfri likes Triss just fine—maybe more than fine, if she’s being honest—but she likes Jaskier more so she dislikes Triss on principle.)

“All the time,” she says before she realizes it’s a lie. She hasn’t thought of Stregobor in months, too distracted by her hunts with Geralt and Jaskier’s songs and the simple joy of living that she’s come to enjoy during their travels. She’s not even certain if he’s even in Blaviken still or if he’s moved on.

When had that happened?

Magic doesn’t work on Geralt and it doesn’t work on Renfri either but it does work on Jaskier who sees a wizard readying a spell as Geralt and Renfri battle his summoned hellhounds and throws himself in the path of the spell. He collapses as Geralt starts to turn, perhaps sensing the danger, perhaps hearing Jaskier’s movement. It doesn’t matter either way. Geralt is crying out, an anguished scream that Renfri’s never heard before, catching the bard in his arms and Renfri pivots, aims, and fires in the span of half a breath.

The wizard never even sees the arrow that takes his life.

She fumbles for the xenovox Triss had given her, pleading for help. Triss brings them through a portal, studies the still—too still, Renfri’s mind tells her—Jaskier and sends them to another witch.

Renfri doesn’t trust this one, this one with her fine features and violet eyes and power-hungry, lust-filled expression. It’s good, she thinks, that Geralt is too panicked over Jaskier to even look at her because Yennefer is the kind of woman that draws men’s attention, who ties herself to power—and Geralt, whether he likes it or not, has power.

She waits until Yennefer has healed Jaskier, until the bard is asleep as he heals and Geralt is curled around him, before she sits down across from the witch. “I don’t know what you want as payment,” she says evenly, “but I will be the one paying it, not Geralt.”

“You don’t get to make that decision,” Yennefer sneers.

“I do,” Renfri says. “Because your powers won’t work on me and neither will your beauty. So tell me what you want and then leave us alone.”

She never tells Geralt what payment Yennefer requested and when he complains about his inability to find the monster that stole a nearby baby from its parents, she just shrugs and listens until he runs out of breath.

Besides, Renfri saw the bruises around the mother’s wrists. That baby will be happier with Yennefer anyway.

There are rumors that Cintra’s princess has magic, whispers that she must be stopped before she becomes too powerful. Renfri visits the court when Jaskier is invited to play for Princess Cirilla’s birthday and Geralt is too busy hunting a werewolf to go with him. She sees the girl interact with her grandparents and thinks that there is nothing to fear from the young princess. Cirilla will never become like Nilfgaard’s mage or even like Yennefer. If anything, she reminds Renfri of Triss—more power than she lets on but too good-hearted to misuse it.

But just in case—she sidles along the edges of the room until she’s standing just behind Queen Calanthe. “One queen to another,” she murmurs, digging the sharp tip of a dagger into Calanthe’s back. “If you even think about handing her over to Stregobor, I will find you.”

The Calanthe she remembers from Pavetta’s betrothal would have called for her guards or fought Renfri herself. But age, it seems, has muted her. Calanthe’s mouth twists. “If I think about handing her over to that monster,” she replies, “I’ll strike myself down before you can find me.”

Renfri smiles and steps away. “Be sure that you do,” she says, both a warning and a promise.

“Renfri?” Calanthe calls after her when she’s no more than five steps away. Renfri stops. She’d ask how Calanthe knows who she is but there are any number of ways, Jaskier speaking out of turn being only the most likely one. “There’s a red moon in three months.”

Her brow furrows. “Those aren’t omens,” she says. But that isn’t wholly true, now is it? Red moons are omens on a grand scale, heralding a time of war, just like black suns herald a time of darkness. Neither though is on an omen on a small scale, not that that had stopped Stregobor any.

From the way Calanthe looks steadily at her, she suspects that this is all something the queen already knows. “I heard your boy’s song,” Calanthe says.

“Not my boy,” Renfri corrects her. If anything, Jaskier is Geralt’s boy though sometimes, when Jaskier talks about history with an easy familiarity, she wonders if he’s older than either of them.

“The Witcher’s boy then,” Calanthe says impatiently and Renfri doesn’t bother correcting her this time. “I thought you might want to know.”

“I do,” she says. She hasn’t cared about Stregobor in a long time but if he plans to ruin any more lives, she cares now. “Thank you.”

It’s easy enough to find out that Stregobor still lives in Blaviken. Whether that’s due to his arrogance and belief that Geralt will be enough to stop her or his cowardice and fear that she’ll strike him down if he ventures out, she doesn’t know. And frankly, she doesn’t care. If he’s still in that tower of his, then it just makes him easier to find.

It’s easier still to confirm that there is, in fact, a red moon in a few months. It’s not something that the average person would know, which would surprise Renfri that Calanthe knew but for the fact that she knows any court magician worth their salt would be able to foresee such a thing. She takes a week away from Geralt and Jaskier, leaving them in Oxenfurt on a sort of vacation while Jaskier is teaching, to travel to see Triss and ask about the moon. Triss confirms it and then asks why it matters. Renfri could tell her, she knows she could, knows that Geralt trusts her, but it’s not like telling Jaskier around a campfire. Triss, if she so wanted to, could go right to Stregobor. So she just shrugs and tells her that it’s something she overheard when she and Jaskier were at court. Triss looks at her like she knows that there’s more to it than that but she doesn’t stop Renfri from leaving.

To her surprise, the easiest part of all comes after the red moon, after her spy in Blaviken tells her that Stregobor is indeed kidnapping babies born that night and experimenting on them to confirm that they have mutations. She had always known that he would mess up and maybe it had taken longer than she had expected but it had happened. She reads the letter and then knocks on Jaskier and Geralt’s door.

There’s a rhythmic thumping sound coming from behind the door that stops as soon as she knocks. “Is it important?” Jaskier yells a second later, sounding out of breath.

“Only if you don’t want me to leave without saying goodbye!” she calls back.

She waits a moment more and then the door swings open, revealing a very nude Geralt. She gives him a deeply unimpressed look. “Really?”

Geralt shrugs. “Jaskier didn’t know how long you would wait,” he deadpans.

Renfri pointedly looks past him to Jaskier, who is sitting up in bed but at least wearing a bedsheet wrapped around him. She slips by him into the room, holding the letter up for Geralt to take.

“I’m going back to Blaviken,” she tells them as she sits at the small table in the room.

Jaskier cocks his head. “What for?” he asks curiously.

“Stregobor is hunting children born on the red moon,” she says.

“I didn’t think there were any prophecies about red moons,” Geralt mutters, scanning over the letter.

“There aren’t. Rumor has it, according to my spies, that he thinks Lilit may be trying again since the black sun didn’t work.” She pauses, trying to gauge either man’s reaction but Geralt is as taciturn as ever and Jaskier is for once hiding his expression. “I think he’s just sick.”

“So you’re putting a stop to it then?” Jaskier asks. She still can’t tell what he’s thinking.

“I told myself I wouldn’t let him hurt anyone else the way he hurt me.” She thinks to herself that she’s already failed, that he’s already kidnapping babies, but how could she have known that he would move so quickly? He’d waited years to confirm that she had her mutations.

Jaskier nods a little to himself and then he turns to Geralt. “Are you coming too?” he asks.

“Too?” Geralt asks as Renfri says, “Coming?”

He looks at them both, surprised. “You can’t possibly think I’m going to let you do this alone. We’re a team, a family.”

“No we’re not,” Geralt says automatically.

Jaskier just raises an eyebrow. “It’s too late to pretend you don’t like me.”

“No it’s not,” Geralt says.

Jaskier ignores him and turns back to Renfri. “Alright so he’s not coming then. When are we going?”

And maybe she should stop him, tell him it’ll be no place for a humble bard, but she’s too touched by his automatic acceptance of her quest, that he would just assume that she was coming to tell him that they were all leaving, rather than just her. “Tomorrow morning. First light,” she says, instead of listing all the reasons he should stay behind.

She’s half-expecting, when she goes down the next morning, to find that Jaskier had been lying or that he doesn’t care as much as he says he does, to find that he’s still in bed. But he’s already waiting for her, their horses already saddled and—to her immense surprise—Geralt by his side.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” she tells Geralt as they ride out of town.

He grunts. For a moment, she thinks that’s it but then he continues, “Someone keeps telling me it’s too late to pretend I don’t care.” She starts to smile and then he looks at Jaskier. “And that one told me he wouldn’t share my bed anymore if I made you go alone.”

She laughs and it feels more freeing than she’s felt since the day Stregobor’s man had taken her to the woods.

In the end, it’s almost…anticlimactic, in a way.

Jaskier keeps people off the streets, in the tavern listening to his songs, as Renfri and Geralt stalk to the tower. Renfri would feel bad about making him stay behind but Geralt insists this time and Jaskier doesn’t put up too much of a fight. Actually, he puts up more of a fight than Stregobor does, who clearly isn’t expecting Renfri to break down his front door.

The wizard has grown complacent since she left, complacent and fat and old in his luxurious lifestyle. Renfri slices through his illusions, disgusted by what he finds acceptable to live with. She had lived in fear and hunger and poverty and he had lived in this obscene pornographic paradise. If Geralt had told her about Stregobor’s tower the first time they met, she wouldn’t have left Blaviken until she had sent the wizard’s head rolling in the street. She separates from Geralt at the base of the tower, tells him to find anyone still living and get them out while she faces Stregobor.

She finds him standing over the body of an infant, readying to bring the knife down, slice through the thin skin of his stomach.

“Still killing children, I see,” she says, her own stomach turned by his depravity.

His hand stills before slowly putting the knife down. “Renfri,” he says in a pleased lilt but Renfri sees the way his hands shake before he clasps them together. He turns to face her. There’s a calculating gleam in his eyes, one that used to terrify her when she was younger but now she just thinks pathetic. This man has the ability to do practically anything and he uses it for his own personal gain and his depraved fantasies.

She levels her sword at his throat. “This will be the last child you touch,” she promises.

“Will it?” he asks. “You come here alone and think that you can best me in my own home?”

“I didn’t come here alone.”

“Didn’t you? You left your band of murderers behind decades ago.” He takes a step away from the table, toward her. Her sword hovers at the delicate skin of his throat but he seems unafraid now.

She tilts her head, smiling just a little. “Haven’t you heard? I travel with a Witcher now.”

There’s a flicker of fear in his eyes and her smile widens. “He wouldn’t have come,” Stregobor says but there’s just the slightest hint of uncertainty. “He doesn’t get involved in our affairs.”

“He’s changed.”

“He didn’t.”

Renfri presses her blade deeper into his throat, pricking at the skin. “Are you willing to stake your life on that?”

He swallows. Good. She wants him terrified, shitting himself in his final moments because his past has come back to haunt him. She wants him as scared as she had been when his man had thrown her to the forest floor.

“Renfri,” he tries. “Killing me won’t bring your life back.”

No, it won’t. But he’s wrong where it counts. Because he thinks she wants her old life back. He thinks she hasn’t come to love killing monsters—both creature and human—at Geralt’s side. He thinks she can’t bear to listen to Jaskier’s songs, strummed softly at a campfire and sung at the top of his lungs in a crowded bar. He thinks she hates sleeping beneath the stars, that she wants to trade that in for constricting dresses and court politics and stone walls. And maybe he would have been right once upon a time. Maybe she would have pleaded with him to give her the love of her father and stepmother, to return her to the castle of her ancestors, to let her live with her mutations, swearing to never bring about the end of civilization.

He thinks that’s what she wants.

She could tell him he’s wrong. He could die knowing that Princess Renfri of Creyden died in a forest, trapped beneath a dying man’s weight; that the Shrike died in a forest outside of Blaviken; that the girl who is going to kill him today is just—just Renfri. But he doesn’t deserve that. She starts to dig the point of her sword deeper into his throat.

And then she stops.

She isn’t even entirely certain why she turns, swinging her sword around in a wide arc. It slices through oddly resistant air—blood splatters—out of the corner of her eye, she sees the illusion behind her flicker and disappear—a figure in front of her appears—and Stregobor’s head—the real Stregobor, that is—separates from his body, falling to the side and rolling to a stop against the table leg.

It doesn’t seem…real, almost.

Geralt finds her, curled up on the floor, sobbing because it’s over, it’s finally over. She’s been fueled by hate and rage for so long and even though she had been starting to let go of it, she had never fully forgotten what had been done to her. He bundles her up, gets her away from the tower, and into the inn where Jaskier has rented two rooms.

“The children?” she asks, not even sure if any of them had still been alive by the time Geralt found them.

“Already taken care of,” Geralt promises her as he tucks her into bed. “Jaskier contacted Triss. She’s delivering them safely home now.”

Renfri wishes she could have seen them so that she could have reassured herself that she had succeeded in sparing at least one person from her fate but she accepts that they newborns must have needed to go home.

When she awakens hours later, night has fallen, letting soft moonlight in through the window. She dresses and returns downstairs to find Jaskier singing to an enthralled crowd. Geralt is sitting in a back corner, the way he always does, though he’s not alone this time. There’s a woman sitting beside him, chattering on about something. She keeps leaning into him, pressing her breasts into his arm, and Renfri has to laugh, both at the hopelessness of the woman’s situation and the discomfited expression on Geralt’s face. She’s not sure why Geralt hasn’t pushed her away yet but as Renfri winds her way through the tables, she realizes that the woman looks somewhat familiar and wonders if he remembers her from the last time they were in Blaviken.

Geralt spots her while she’s still a few tables away and his whole body relaxes. “Feeling better?” he asks as she sits down across from him.

“A bit,” she says. She’d been thinking about something as she came down but she doesn’t want to say in front of this stranger. She nods toward Jaskier. “He’s in fine form tonight. Good afternoon, was it?”

Geralt smirks. “Hmm.”

He pushes his mug toward her. She wrinkles her nose at the smell of cheap beer but accepts it anyway. Jaskier finishes up his set, collects his earnings, and bounds toward them, that perpetually bright, cheerful smile on his face.

“Geralt, Geralt, Geralt!” he exclaims once he gets close enough for them to hear him. “You’ll never believe what that man just—oh hello, Renfri, feeling better?—just told me.” He doesn’t wait for either of them to say anything else before continuing, “He said another Witcher came through Blaviken maybe two weeks ago. Think about it, Geralt. Another. Witcher. We could catch up to him—”


“—I could hear his stories—”


“—Maybe write some new songs—”


“—Better songs—”

Better?” Geralt repeats. He reaches out, snags Jaskier’s flailing wrist, and tugs him into his lap. Jaskier goes without a word of complaint though his leg accidentally catches on the other woman, nearly sending her off the bench (or perhaps not so accidentally; Renfri knows how jealous he can get). “What’s wrong with my songs?”

Jaskier gazes up at him with a dopey, besotted expression, running his hand gently up and down Geralt’s arm. “Nothing. Don’t know what I was thinking. Your songs are great, very strong and long and thick—”

“Are you sure you’re still talking about his songs?” Renfri asks amusedly, barely noticing as the other woman gets up with a huff and stalks away. Jaskier flashes a quick grin at her before he leans forward, turning serious in an instant.

“Truly though, are you okay?” he asks quietly.

She quirks a small smile. “I think so,” she says honestly. It still seems surreal to her that she is finally free from Stregobor but it’s growing more real by the moment. She suspects that there will be at least a few more times when she has to face that old fear again, remind herself that he’s finally gone, but for now at least, she is content.

“Okay,” Jaskier says, apparently taking her at her word. “In that case, Geralt and I overheard someone talking about a noonwraith a few days east—”

“Actually,” Renfri interrupts. “I don’t think I’ll be traveling with you anymore.”

Abruptly, Jaskier stops talking to gape at her until Geralt reaches over to close his mouth. “You’re not?” Geralt asks.

She shakes her head. “I travelled with you because I thought it was a better option than thieving and murder and you wouldn’t let me kill Stregobor so I needed something else to do. But now he’s dead and—and I am free.” She studies her hands clasped together on the table in front of her. “I have loved our time together but I think it’s time I find out if there’s anything else out there that makes me…happy, I suppose.”

“No one deserves it more than you,” Geralt tells her, a quiet intensity to his words that tells her just how honest he’s being. “Where will you go?”

She shrugs. “Jaskier keeps talking about the coast so maybe there. Maybe I’ll go see if Triss has room for a houseguest.”

“Triss, huh?” Jaskier asks, waggling his eyebrows a bit. She laughs and reaches across the table to shove at his shoulder.

“I’ll miss you both,” she tells them. “And you’ll probably see me again but I just need time.”

“We can give you that,” Geralt agrees.

Jaskier nods. “As long as you need it.”

She sees them off the next morning as the sun is just starting to rise over the horizon. Jaskier is yawning sleepily, listing against Roach, and eventually Geralt bodily picks him up and sets him on the saddle to drape over the horse’s neck so he can finish tying the saddlebags on without having to worry about Jaskier falling over.

“More trouble than you’re worth,” she hears Geralt mutter but his tone is fond and his face is soft.

He joins Renfri once he’s finished. “I won’t ask you if you’re sure,” he tells her.

“Good,” she says firmly. “Then I won’t have to tell you that I am.”

“We won’t come find you. You’ll have to find us if you decide you want to come back.”

“I can do that, probably more easily than you could find me.”

He grunts. “You’ll take care of yourself,” he says and it isn’t really a question but not exactly an order either. “No getting killed by Drowners or eaten by an alghoul.”

“I won’t do that to you,” she promises. “The same to you, you know, and doubly for Jaskier.” They both turn to look at the bard who has completely fallen asleep against Roach’s neck and is in the process of falling off the saddle.

“Hmm,” Geralt mutters. “I should probably go catch him.”

“Probably,” Renfri agrees. Then, softly urging, “Go on. I’ll be fine.”

Renfri watches them go, riding off into the early dawn, the Witcher and his bard, no need for a shadow anymore. Long after they’ve disappeared, she stands there with a small, sad smile on her face. Then she shakes herself just a little and turns around to go back inside. Maybe she’ll go back to bed for a few hours.

She’s free to do it now.