I. The first offer of marriage comes when Jaskier is thirteen. The nobleman puts the proposal to her father, not to her, which vexes no one except Jaskier—who, being thirteen and sheltered and thus not at all versed in the cruel intricacies of the patriarchy, finds the whole thing rather gauche and inconsiderate.
It’s not surprising that the Count de Lettenhove refuses; the suitor in question is fast approaching the age of sixty and even among the nobility, marrying your daughter off to someone that much older is just not done. It is surprising that Jaskier’s mother takes the whole episode as an excuse to pick up her skirts, get up on her soapbox, and proclaim that no daughter of hers will marry for anything but love, supposing of course that the object of that love is a man of acceptable social standing, and supposing of course that Jaskier be struck by that love while she is still of childbearing age.
This right of marriage-for-love she vehemently defends, right up until Jaskier races home from Oxenfurt at the age of eighteen and announces that she intends to marry the barbarian king of the north, at which point she faints dramatically and, upon waking, declares that there will be no dowry.
II. Jaskier spends an entire month running about Lettenhove like a chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out how to acquire for herself the equivalent of her father’s smallest vault—the intended aforementioned dowry—before Geralt rides into town with his witcher cohort, invites himself without ceremony into the Count’s house, and finds his bride-to-be passed out amidst a sea of open books in their privy pursekeeper’s library.
“Jaskier,” he murmurs, impossibly fond and impossibly gentle for a man of his size, as he gathers her off the floor. “What are you up to, little bird?” And when she wakes in his arms, her brow creased with consternation, and tells him of the lost dowry, he only chuckles softly and says, “Jask. I would have loved you even if I found you destitute in a brothel in Blaviken, and married you just the same.”
III. The first time she spies the barbarian king, it’s not in a banquet hall, not at a ball, not in any noble nor royal nor even reputable setting, but in a crowded tavern in the seedy part of the city. She’s escaped to the low town, as she often does, to sing; the rectoress at Oxenfurt doesn’t think it proper for female bards to debase themselves by performing in the presence of common, drunken, handsy folk—best leave such pursuits to the men, she cautions, and save your angelic voices for the ears of finer folk—but Jaskier took almost immediately to hiding her face with a yellow mask and belting out bawdy ballads in taverns and brothels and anywhere that would have her under the alias Dandelion.
It’s incomporable, the energy of singing for an inebriated crowd, feeling them surge out of their chairs as one to sing with you, raising their voices because you raised yours, stomping their feet because you leapt on the table and thrummed your lute so well that they couldn’t help it, spinning round and round and tripping and falling and being caught by the crowd, laughing, laughing, and how can Jaskier content herself with working her way laboriously through arias in icy concert halls when she’s experienced this: the warm, shouting meat of life.
She feels his eyes on her all night, and she keeps stealing glances at him between notes—this mysterious man hiding in the corner, gold eyes tracking her from the shadows of his hooded cloak, this man whose hands, for some reason, she can feel on her sides every time he moves to pick up his flagon of ale, strong but not too strong, firm but not too firm, like he knows he could split the flagon in two with the force of his grip alone, but knows himself well enough to keep from doing it.
IV. Three years into their marriage, a messenger comes to Kaer Morhen.
Jaskier’s the one to meet him; Geralt is out on the mountain, taking Ciri on her first hunt. The messenger falls to one knee before her—a sign of deference that always makes Geralt uncomfortable, but which Jaskier accepts as one of those things royalty just has to put up with. She takes the letter from him and reads it right there in the entrance hall, her hands shaking the more she reads. She dismisses the messenger with a sharp thank you and instructions not to wait for their response.
Her immediate instinct is to burn the letter before Geralt comes back, but she knows they would only send another messenger, and another, until they got what they wanted: the barbarian king, on the frontlines of their war.
Horns sound on the south side of the kaer, signaling the hunt’s return. Jaskier doesn’t move right away. She stands in the entrance hall for a long time, breathing the winter draft from the open door, letting the icy air freeze the tears before they can fall from her eyes, wondering if it’s not too much to hope—and knowing already that it is—for Geralt not to go. For him to turn his back on the fight, for once in his life.
V. Four years after he leaves and doesn’t return, Jaskier sits for a portrait with an old painter friend of hers in Oxenfurt. She’s only visiting for the season, showing her face in society in a last-ditch effort to maintain the illusion that the white wolf’s kingdom has any power without its king. It should be tedious, sitting in one position for days on end, but her friend lets her keep hold of her lute, lets Jaskier strum and murmur absent, meandering melodies while she’s painting, and it turns out to be rather a peaceful experience.
Jaskier expects, when the portrait’s done, to find an image of herself smiling softly, lit by heavenly light from no apparent source, holding the lute in delicate, gentle hands, as most women are painted. But her friend has painted her honestly. The worried wrinkle between her eyebrows that never seems to go away, no matter how much Jaskier tries to train herself out of it in the looking glass. The white-knuckled tension of her fingers pressed to lute strings, painful-looking, and Jaskier studies the brushstrokes and massages her hands and feels the lingering stress of how she always seems to hold the instrument like she’s strangling it, instead of playing it, these days. He’s captured perfectly the brittle tension in her shoulders, the downturned cast of her gaze, the specter of unrealized grief looming always over her head, waiting to strike—and Jaskier always poised to feel its teeth clamp down.
Portrait of a lady in half, he calls it.
VI. Geralt carved their bed himself.
It’s a sturdy wood, oak from a tree that used to stand in the courtyard at Kaer Morhen. Geralt’s not much of a carpenter, wasn’t at the beginning of the project and still wasn’t when he finished it; one of the posts is shorter than the others, so they had to stuff a stack of books under it to keep it from wobbling—a stack which inevitably topples over every time they use the bed too vigorously. It may not be the prettiest piece of furniture, but it’s durable, unbreakable, and Geralt made it for her, so Jaskier imagines she’d continue to sleep in it even if it were infested with termites, if it creaked in the wind or if that crooked post broke off completely or if it caught fire in the middle of the night.
She expressed that last thought about the fire aloud to Geralt on their wedding night, and he gave her a half-bemused, half-alarmed smile from where he was leaning on his elbows overtop of her, gazing at her for so long that she’d had to say, “Oh, hush. You know us bards are prone to hyperbole,” and pull his mouth back down to her neck herself.
He’d hummed against her throat, a low rumble that she could feel in her chest, in the wet ache between her legs, and she’d called him growly and laughed and laughed when he growled again, deeper, just to appease her.
She remembers that feeling now, standing alone with her hand on the crooked post, foot by the stack of books that hasn’t had occasion to fall in so long. The vibration of Geralt’s voice on her skin. On her own body. She thinks she wasn’t lying when she said what she said about the fire, even if she thought she was at the time. After all, the bed has a ghost in it now. And still Jaskier can’t even entertain the idea of sleeping anywhere else.
VII. She buys the portrait from her friend for much more than it’s worth and hangs it in Geralt’s solar, draped in black. Black, for mourning. Portrait of a lady in half. Well, Jaskier figures she’ll let the painted half do her mourning for her. The other half—the half she retains, the half that will never again exist without her husband—clings desperately to hope in the way only the truly hopeless can. Four years, she knows, is a long time for someone to be missing.
VIII. It doesn’t occur to Jaskier at first that she’s inherited the white wolf’s kingdom. She’s been acting as custodian, of course, with Ciri still too young to inherit her father’s throne, answering missives and hearing petitioners every third week. But she’s been thinking of herself as a temporary substitute, not anything even remotely in the vicinity of queen-regent, at least until Vesemir knocks on the door to the solar and tells her that there are two lords in their westernmost holdings who are refusing to pay tithe.
Jaskier, whose liberal arts education didn’t quite extend to dealing with a nascent rebellion, spends three days pacing the ramparts of the keep, chewing on the problem of how to keep an entire country in line with no king, no army, and dwindling coffers. In the end, she decides to do what she always did when she found herself in over her head in a game of Gwent back at Oxenfurt—bluff like her life depends on it.
She selects the scariest of the skeleton crew of witchers remaining in the kaer and rides for their westernmost holdings without delay, to inform the recalcitrant lords that, should they continue to refuse the barbarian king his dues, the next war the north wages shall be against its own people. The witchers are scary enough, and Jaskier’s a good enough liar that it works, this fake show of force. And it keeps working for another year, and very nearly another, and then people begin to wise up to the fact that the white wolf, for all that his seal has been on a lot of letters, hasn’t actually been seen outside of snowy Kaer Morhen since he set out for the war with Nilfgaard. And neither have the vast majority of his men.
IX. “I can never give you children,” Geralt says, on the night he asks her to marry him.
The inn they’re staying in is somewhere between Kaedwen and Redania, nothing fancy. Witchers, Jaskier has learned, are uncomfortable with any luxury beyond warm furs and hot baths, and for all that she’s used to the finer things in life, she finds that she doesn’t mind at all being deprived of silk and smelling salts and delicate jewelry so long as she has this: Geralt’s thighs to sit astride, and Geralt’s hands spanning the small of her back, Geralt looking at her with this fragile sort of acceptance, like he would love her still, even if she left him here with his ribcage spread and his beating heart exposed.
She takes his head in her hands and presses a kiss to his frown, the wrinkle between his eyebrows, his silver lashes. “I won’t lie to you, Geralt,” Jaskier murmurs, soothing her thumbs over the corners of his mouth, “I won’t say that if you and I could have children, I wouldn’t want them. I would want them desperately, and love them desperately, because they would be a part of you, of me.” And when he ducks his head like he thinks she’s rejecting him, she pulls him back around to look at her and says firmly, “But I would only ever want children with you, Geralt. I’d never want them with someone else. If you can’t have them, then we can’t have them. That’s alright. I couldn’t ever want anyone else but you, and this is how you are, so it’s alright.”
It’s practically incoherent, and he still looks grieved, like he’s had a piece of him torn out, but he takes her mouth with his and presses her back into the bed, kisses her chin and her neck and the soft skin between her breasts, frames her stomach with his hands and kisses that too, her navel and the soft insides of her thighs and the blazing heat of her center, and she can’t do anything but wind her hands in his hair and curl her toes in the sweatstained sheets and use the last of the air in her lungs to tell him how much she loves him.
X. The first of the suitors arrives in spring of the fifth year. Jaskier watches his caravan ride in from the window of her solar, Vesemir at her shoulder.
“Take Ciri,” she tells the old wolf, thinking of an avalanche of marriage offers, remembering being thirteen and afraid every morning when she woke up that she would find blood on her sheets. “Take her to the summer palace at Ard Carraigh, and close the doors.”
Vesemir tries to protest, but Jaskier assures him she’ll be quite alright with her cohort of seven witchers, and then, when he tries to protest again, assures him that if one of her suitors manages to force her by sword or by some arcane law to marry him, then he shall rape her and kill Ciri as soon as she is pregnant to ensure his heir becomes king, so it’s best the princess is far away and hidden. Vesemir doesn’t argue with that—possibly because of the vehemence with with she says it, possibly because they haven’t heard from Geralt in half a decade. He only inclines his head, says, “My lady,” and leaves her.
Jaskier goes back to watching the presumptuous dukeling unload his horses in her stables, furious at his brashness and completely incapable of doing anything to stop it.
XI. “I am weak, my love, and I am wanting,” sings the half of Jaskier that still hopes, when she manages to slip away to the village at the bottom of the mountain, in her Dandelion mask. “But do not hasten home. For vipers wait to strike you cold.” It’s quite possibly the worst slant rhyme in history—home/cold—but Jaskier doesn’t want to corrupt the meaning so much that Geralt misses her warning, if he ever hears it.
XII. Before Jaskier even knows it’s happening, the suitors have staged a full-scale invasion of Kaer Morhen. There are thirty of them, and countless hangers-on, and Jaskier writes the catchiest song she can and sends it out into the world because she doesn’t know how else to tell her errant husband: walk through the gates without a plan, and you’re dead.
If he’s still alive, she knows he’ll hear of her plight. The entire continent seems to have heard of her plight, and what’s more the entire continent seems to have taken it upon themselves to pile on that plight however they can. There are suitors from families she’s never even heard of camped out in her great hall, eating her stores, drinking her casks, each night barely kept back from following her to her bedchambers by seven witchers and a scant sense of noble propriety.
Jaskier tells them that she intends to take one of them as her husband, because appeasement seems the only strategy once bluffing has failed. She intends to take one of them as her husband, but only once she’s laid her beloved white wolf to rest—a task for which she must compose the finest funeral dirge the world has ever heard.
Each night she retires to her chambers, and each night she writes only love songs, slow and sad and imploring. Come home, she begs the moon, sitting in the open window. Fingers moving over the strings of her lute, white-knuckled, tendons in her wrists strained to the point of agony. Come home. Come home. This game I’m playing is going to kill me cold.
XIII. Geralt’s a perfect gentleman for two months after he makes Jaskier’s acquaintance.
She feels as if she’s trapped in a romance novel, drowning in purple prose; he allows himself light touches to steady her in a crowd, brief meetings of his big hands with her waist and the small of her back and her elbow, and he gives her looks across tavern tables and market streets that feel as if they’re melting her from the inside, but he only once kisses her—kisses her so earnestly and so long, hidden in the stoop of a closed ferrier’s, that she suspects he’s been holding back since the moment he laid eyes on her. It’s such a thorough kiss that she feels it in the soles of her feet, and all she can do is wind her arms around the thick root of his neck and try to give back as good as she gets, smiling against his mouth and pressing her breasts against the hard line of his chest and sliding one of her legs up to hook around his waist. It’s nearly indecent, kissing like that in the middle of a crowded street, but if anything Geralt seems to like that even more; he turns her into the door of the ferrier’s, shielding her with his body, and holds her there for what feels like hours, growling Jask and lark and gods against her lips.
But still, he doesn’t take her to bed. Not until, one month later, Jaskier corners him as he hops down off Roach and tells him if he doesn’t take her upstairs and fuck her this instant, she’s liable to stick a white wig on herself, rub one out, and call it a day.
His witchers cat call them. Geralt’s expression darkens, probably at the idea of her touching herself and hopefully not at the idea of her doing it in a wig. He picks her up, and takes her upstairs.
XIV. Jaskier undresses in the dark next to their bed. Pulls open her own laces, arms contorted uncomfortably behind her back. Lets her outer dress fall to the ground. Tugs at her corset, and flings it at her writing desk with a fury that she didn’t expect. Shrugs out of her shift and lets it pool at her feet, around her ankles, so she’s standing completely naked in the pitch black of a night without fire. The door to the balcony is open, winter air moving through the room like cold water at the bottom of a lake, slow and calm.
Jaskier finds that her wishes are becoming less and less grand as time goes on. She doesn’t wish that he were waiting beneath the furs for her, murmuring in that low, rough voice, come here, little bird. She only wishes that he were in the room with her. Standing on the other side of the bed, maybe, undressing himself. She wishes she could feel him in the dark, the bulk of him and the warmth of him, the displacement of empty space by his familiar, beloved person, like a ship in water. She wishes. But all she feels is the breeze from the balcony, and the absence.
XV. A poet friend of hers sent her a letter from Oxenfurt, on the occasion of her wedding to the barbarian king. A man wept on the bank of a wine-dark river, it began. Suddenly he heard a voice. It was the river itself, and the river told him, “It gets old.” The man was confused. “What gets old?” he asked, and before he was even finished, he noticed the river rising past the edge of the bank. The water rose to his fingers. “This is its hand,” the river said. The man’s shirt became soaked. “This is its heart,” burbled the river. Wine-dark water rose ever higher, to cover the man’s head, swallowing his tears as he swallowed the tide. “This is its blood,” said the river, as the man drowned. “Drink of it.”
She’d not thought it a particularly kind thing to send to someone on their wedding day, but upon further examination she realized her friend was trying, in his own way, to cheer her up. Don’t let grief consume you, he’d been saying. You can live a happy life as long as you recognize sadness for what it is before it swallows you whole, before you become the weeping man. Jaskier hadn’t been grieved, then; she’d discarded the letter.
But now she stares at her hands, her fingertips bloody from playing her lute all the time like she’s trying to kill something, and thinks This is its hand. Thinks, It does get old. It really does.
XVI. He comes to her in her dreams. He comes to her whole. He comes to her in half, missing pieces of himself. He comes to her as a skeleton, and she winds her fingers through his ribs and clings to him and kisses each of his knuckles, one at a time, careful not to break them. He comes to her warm, shouting; comes and presses his hands to her skin and pulls them away with bits of her still sticking to him like clay. He comes to her furious, and desperate, and sobbing, face contorted in anguish, noises pulled from his breast like someone has their hand in there, scooping him out. He comes to her phantomlike at the foot of the bed, where she can see but can’t touch, and no matter how much she begs, he always turns around in the end and goes where she can’t follow.
XVII. What scares her most of all is the fact that she may never talk to him again. There’s an entire language that she only ever speaks with Geralt, with eyes and brows and quirks of the mouth, with grunts and hums and slight shifts in intonation. She doesn’t think she could bear it, to be the last living speaker of their private tongue; she needs Geralt to come home, so she can look at him across a crowded room, and he can know.
XVIII. She receives a coded raven in the dead of winter during the fifth year.
It’s been months since the suitors arrived, and she can sense them starting to realize that Jaskier’s taking much longer to write a single song than she ought. She lives every day on a razor’s edge, waiting to fall off.
But the coded raven comes, and when she reads the first line, she bursts into tears. It’s partly the stress, and mostly the fact that when she uses the wolf school’s cypher on the first line of familiar handwriting, it reads, The gods have kept me from our marriage bed five years. I have slain them; they shall keep me no longer.
Jaskier cries so hard it’s disgusting, but she can’t help it—briefly, she contemplates running downstairs and scaring all the suitors away with her snot bubble, but figures they’re in it more for the kingdom than they are for her, and anyway she doesn’t have to scare them away, because Geralt’s going to do it. She’s not alone anymore; not for much longer, at least. Before the year is out, she’s going to be able to sleep without curling into a tight, protective ball against the headboard.
I heard your song, the letter ends. Help me slay the vipers.
XIX. It’s four days yet before she manages to sneak out as Dandelion. She absconds out the back door disguised as a scullery maid, then takes the more perilous path down the mountain, to avoid running into anyone who might recognize her. It’s more precaution than she’d normally bother with, but this is more important than scratching her bardic itch; this is Geralt’s life. It takes her hours to get down the path in the dark, moving slowly to keep from slipping on ice and breaking her neck at the bottom of a ravine.
She’s not sure what she expects to find when she makes the valley where Geralt’s hiding—her husband huddled in pitiful rags atop Roach, maybe, because she knows he would die before he let anything happen to that horse.
But she’s certainly not expecting to find the entire witcher army, alive and intact and looking no worse for wear than they did half a decade ago. Torches blaze, welcoming beacons in the freezing night, and Jaskier throws off her hood as she reaches the first tent without an ounce of fear. They’re here, they’re home, and Jaskier has such a huge luminous feeling in her chest that she feels like she might have to scream, just to get some of it out.
Eskel is the first one to see her—he drops his armful of armor and exclaims Jask! and takes off toward her across the frozen mud, sweeping her in a bear hug the moment he reaches her. She squeezes him harder than she’s ever squeezed anyone in her life, tears burbling over hot and helpless, and then she’s being passed from witcher to witcher, all of them trying to squeeze the life out of her, clapping her on the back and saying milady in that joking, companionable way she almost forgot about, and she’s surrounded by men who would never, never hurt her, and the relief is indescribable. It’s the best she’s ever felt. She’s not sure she’ll ever feel better.
And then behind her, Geralt shouts, “Jaskier.”
XX. She doesn’t remember running to him.
She doesn’t think she had to run far, because he was coming toward her too, charging through the crowd with this urgent look in his gold eyes, but all she really remembers is suddenly being in his arms, suddenly being able to hide her face in his neck, suddenly feeling the two halves of herself crashing back together, hoping and grieving, getting snot and ugly tears all over his leather armor and knowing that there’s no way in the world he minds.
He winds his hand in her hair and presses a single, long kiss to the side of her head, puts his lips right next to her ear and leaves them there, his arms strong and solid and safe around her, and she digs her nails into him because she’s afraid he’s going to disappear, but he doesn’t, and he doesn’t mind that either. She could run him through with a sword and he wouldn’t mind, he’d just keep holding her, and gods she’s missed him.
She’s missed him, she’s missed him, and she’s saying it out loud before she realizes, mumbling into his shoulder, Geralt, Geralt, and he draws her away gently so he can see her face, his brow shadowed, furrowed in consternation.
“Little bird,” he rumbles, and Jaskier makes a soft, hurt sound in the back of her throat, but it’s alright, because he kisses her. She grabs him by the hair and hauls him closer, and his grip on her sides is almost too strong, strong enough to bruise, like he’s not worried about breaking her anymore—like he knows, finally, after all these years, that it’s a waste of time to think that he can.
XXI. There is, of course, the matter of reclaiming Kaer Morhen. Once Jaskier knows what specific information Geralt and his men need, she takes to sending coded ravens at a rate of a dozen a day, telling him where the suitors are camped in the keep, how many of them carry swords that look like they’ve actually been used, which of their servants are loyal and which are liable to turn tail and run in the face of an angry army of witchers. Of the battle, Jaskier will say only this: it is bloody, and it is swift.
XXII. “No one else has ever been in this bed,” she tells Geralt, when she finds him standing at his side of it, his shirt in his hands, staring at the furs. She rests her forehead between his shoulder blades and slides her hands around his middle, fingers spread over his ribcage. She forgot how sturdy he felt. How solid.
“No one but me,” she nips at his skin, “and you.”
He turns and touches her jaw, his fingers gentle. “I know, Jask."
As big as he is, he lets her tumble him back into the furs, lets her climb on top of him and turn him over and bite her way down his back, leaving livid marks with her teeth, her fingernails, marks that will bruise in the morning. His happiness is a low rumble under her mouth, almost like he’s purring, and he must sense how badly she needs to test him, needs to check over every inch of his body and reclaim it as hers, because he lets her handle him like he usually handles her, lets her press open his leg and lick the inside of his thigh, lets her rub her fingers over his hole and only watches, catlike eyes intent and patient, as she knocks her knuckles lightly behind his balls, not doing anything his wife doesn’t guide him to do until at last she tugs his hand between her legs and presses two of his giant fingers inside her and says, “Please.”
XXIII. She wakes one morning to the smell of smoke. Her first thought is that, after all that talk, their bed really is on fire. Her second thought is—no, it’s only that the doors to the balcony are open, and Geralt’s outside burning something.
Jaskier draws a fur from the bed around her shoulders and goes out to join him. He might be able to prance about in a light flurry fully nude, but she’s made of less mutated stuff. He smiles when he sees her and kisses her. He always kisses her differently when she’s just awoken, when she’s bleary-eyed. His lips are quieter, somehow. Jaskier hums as he pulls away, and asks, “What are you burning?”
In lieu of answering, he takes his sword and pokes at the embers. With a lurch, Jaskier recognizes her own face in the flames. It’s her portrait. She opens her mouth to say that wasn’t Geralt’s to burn, but before she can he says, “It was in my solar, lark, so I can burn it.”
And she remembers how she felt to sit for it, like one wrong touch could shatter her into a million pieces, like she was missing some vitally important internal organ, and she remembers the nausea when her friend had christened it Portrait of a lady in half, and she figures—she’s not in half anymore. Geralt draws her into his side, and she slips her arms outside the warmth of the fur to snake around his waist, and she figures, good riddance.
XXIV. Of the battle, actually, Jaskier will say, also, this: afterwards, when Lambert comes to retrieve her from her chambers and finds her instead trying to pull her knife out of the sternum of a particularly handsy suitor, she finds Geralt standing alone in the throne room. He doesn’t like to call it a ‘throne room,’ but it is—Jaskier had to sit in that great, cold stone chair to hear petitioners, she knows the power of the seat and she knows why he hates it, but it’s a throne.
He half-turns when he hears her coming, just enough that she can see he’s covered in blood. None of it is his, she trusts. His silvery hair stands wild around his head, a mane of moonlit filaments, and for a moment she’s struck by the distinct image of a lion returning home from a hunt, licking blood from its paws, and her chest sears with such a sudden rush of lust, raw and animalistic and unfiltered, that it tears a noise out of her. In another world, in another life, she might have worried that Geralt would misinterpret it as fear, but he doesn’t. He knows—even after years apart—that his wife has never been, could never be afraid of him. He stalks across the throne room in three long strides and takes Jaskier in his arms, takes her off her feet and kisses her hard enough that their teeth knock together, that she feels the impact in her chest.
Later, when she’s licked the blood of their enemies off his dear, dear face, when she lowers herself, thighs trembling, to take him all the way inside her, knees pressed to the cold stone of the throne on either side of his hips; later, he presses his forehead to hers, holding eye contact from close enough that their eyelashes brush, hands raising her easily up and down on his cock, and she breathes out hard every time he spears into her, breathing at him, like—I don’t have the words, Geralt, but listen. Listen to what you do to me. Listen to how much I missed you.
XXV. One of her professors at Oxenfurt asks her, once, why she sings. She expects most of the young ladies probably answer something about beauty, aestheticism, art for art’s sake. But Jaskier says, “I don’t know how else to go about...feeling, I suppose. Everything always seems so huge and impossible, in my heart, in my stomach. Sticking words to it is the only way I have to give any of it definition. To force it into something I can understand, something I can talk about.” She tucks a flyaway piece of hair back in her bun, angry at it for doing something as girlish as slip away in the breeze when she’s trying to have a serious conversation. “Singing,” she says, frustrated, “it’s who I am. It’s the only thing I can do."
She thinks he probably misunderstands her. He probably thinks she means it’s her only skill, the only thing she’s good for, and that might be true as well, but it’s not what she means. Not at all.
XXVI. When Ciri and Vesemir return from the summer palace, Jaskier gathers all her family together and sings them a song. It’s a ballad. Odyssey of the Wolf, she calls it.
It tells the story of the barbarian king of the north, who, returning from victory in the war against Nilfgaard, found his army driven off-course by the vengeful patron god of the people he had just bested, and in retaliation decided to slay the god himself. It admits, in its last verse, that the return trip took a bit longer than expected, but ends with the triumphant reclamation of the wolf’s den, with the reunion of the wolf and his cub, the wolf and his mate, the wolf and his entire pack.
In Jaskier’s opinion it’s a bit of a rush job; she’s not had much time to meditate on melody and lyric lately, what with a new campaign underway to reassert the white wolf’s dominance in the northern kingdoms and a ravenous husband returned to her marital bed. But when she strums the last note, Eskel is trying to hide tears and Geralt is looking at her the same way he looked at her as they stood up on that dias on their wedding day, with a quiet, contented look on his face, as if, sitting by the fire with Ciri on his lap and a meal in his belly and Jaskier’s voice still echoing off the stone walls, there is nothing more in the world he could want.