It was cold.
It was always cold but that didn’t change the fact that tremors periodically raked through Jaskier’s body, his teeth grinding in an attempt to stop them from chattering. The cold made the scars littering his body ache.
The ex-bard pulled his blanket over his mouth and scooched closer to the decent fire he had managed to start. His stomach ached for food but his supplies were running low and it would be at least three days till he reached the next town. He supposed he could try his hand at hunting but he doubted he would find many animals out this time of year. Geralt could have. The witcher would have used his heightened witcher-y senses and caught them both dinner before the bard could get a fire started. But Geralt wasn’t there. He hadn’t been there for a very long time. Guess life had given him his one wish Jaskier mused bitterly.
Jaskier scolded himself for bringing up old memories, Old memories were dangerous. They lead to other thoughts, other feelings. He forced himself to watch the flickering of the fire instead. A poor attempt to drown out the ever-present thoughts in his head.
Just as Jaskier felt himself being pulled to sleep by the gentle crackling of the fire the sound of small footsteps caused him to shoot upwards, hand leaping to the daggers next to his makeshift pillow. A flash of blonde hair caught his eye before it disappeared behind a tree. His nerves sang with adrenaline.
“I know you’re there, you might as well come out into the open,” he reasoned.
His voice rasped from disuse, ruining the gentle tone he had been going for.
Slowly the blonde hair made a reappearance, accompanied by a pale face and vibrant blue eyes.
It was only a child.
A smile worked it’s way only Jaskier’s face.
“Hello, little one, what are you doing all the way out here?” He asked gently removing his hands from his precious daggers and sat up completely.
“Got lost,” the little girl uttered softly.
As she stepped closer Jaskier noticed just how awful she looked. Her hair was matted, caked with mud, lips blue, body trembling like a leaf. The bard felt his heart melt with pity. How long had she been out here alone? The poor thing must have been freezing
“Well, that just won’t do. Would you like some food?” He asked gently, pulling the bread he was saving from his bag, along with his canteen.
He wasn’t about the hoard it when the girl was clearly starving.
Wordlessly the girl crept closer until she was about three feet away from him, lightening quick she snatched the bread from his hands and moved around to the other side of the fire, trying to soak in some of its warmth as she tore into the bread like a feral animal. Jaskier couldn’t help but wince. Seriously, who could leave such a young thing out in the cold? A war could, the bard reminded himself. She was probably a refugee, running from Nilfgaard just like everyone else was these days.
“What’s your name, my dear?” Jaskier thought to ask after the girl had finished off the last of his bread.
“Fiona,” the girl answered bluntly, “not that it’s any of your business,” she muttered under her breath as she hunched into herself.
Jaskier couldn’t stop the laugh the worked its way up to his throat. He was starting to understand how the girl had made it this far on her own.
“Well, Fiona, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Do you have anyone that might be looking for you? I wouldn’t want someone to worry about you,” he prodded gently.
The bard was met with silence.
“Your parents perhaps? Or maybe a relative?” He pushed farther.
He couldn’t very well abandon her, but without at least a little information he was at a loss for what to do.
“My parents died when I was young. My grandmother she--,” Fiona paused, “she died in the fall of Cintra.” She finished softly
“I’m sorry,” Jaskier whispered, for once at a loss for words.
“It’s ok,” the younger whispered back, shivering as she tucked her mittenless hand into her filthy, blue cloak.
Without a second thought, Jaskier moves to cover the girl with his blanket, wrapping it tightly around her shoulders. He looks at her and gestures to the empty space next to her, asking for her permission. With a small nod from the girl, he sat down next to her.
“You haven’t told me your name,” Fiona stated rather than asked, her gaze still held by the fire.
This caused the bard to hesitate. He didn’t want to lie to her, they had only just meant, but telling her his name would be running the risk of her recognizing him. With a heavy sigh, he folded.
“My name is Jaskier.”
Immediately her eyes lit up as if he had just given her the greatest gift. He winced, waiting for it.
“I know you! You played for my birthday party! Oh fishmonger, oh fishmonger, come quell your daughter’s hunger!” The girl sang in a shrill voice that would have had Jaskier wincing if it wasn’t for his shock.
The quiet, somber girl from moments ago was gone, replaced with a lively, young spirit. With enthusiasm, she stood up and belted the lyrics,
“To pull on my horn as it rises in the morn,” She pranced around the fire as she sang, “for it’s not but bad luck to--”
“Okay! That’s enough of that song! Did I really sing that at a child’s birthday party? What is wrong with me?” the bard cut off the excited girl and gently pulled her back down next to him.
“Oh, it was wonderful! I still remember all of your songs! My grandmother was furious but I thought it was spectacular! Where is your lute? Have you written any new songs because I could help you write some if you want--” The girl talked faster than Jaskier could comprehend, is this what he had been like?
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. Who is… who was your grandmother? I didn’t play many private parties and certainly not at many children’s birthday parties! the only time I can recall playing--” the bard cut himself with a strangled cry.
It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be.
The young princess had the sense to look guilty.
“Princess Cirilla,” he breathed in disbelief.
“I’m sorry for lying, but you have to understand! There aren’t many people I can trust. The man with the bird head has been chasing me for months, and everyone seems to hate my grandmother, and she killed Dara’s family just because they were elves and--” Ciri took a deep breath, “I was scared.”
Jaskier smiled sadly,
“It’s alright, but what are you doing out here princess? Shouldn’t you be surrounded by royal guards? Somewhere safe and far away from here, preferably?” He questioned
The girl shrugged,
“Not many made it out of Cintra, I escaped through a secret passage. My friend, Mousesack, sacrificed himself so that I could get away. I’ve been on the run ever since,” she shivered at the memory. All her memories of Mousesack had been tainted by the disgusting imposter.
For a while, there’s quiet between the two of them. Jaskier half thought the girl had fallen asleep when her gentle voice cut the silence in two,
“What happened to you, Jaskier?”
Her smaller hands grabbed his, tracing over scars that had replaced his once delicate skin. The calluses that once formed on his fingertips from playing his beloved lute were fading with time, replaced by the raw marks on his palms from the leather grip of his daggers. The bard mourned the loss. Like a piece of him was slowly crumbling.
He didn’t know what to say. How do you explain to a child that you lost everything? How do you explain that to a child who has also lost everything? How do you explain that you had seen the worst humanity had to offer and now you couldn’t stand to be around people because he believed all they could do was cause him pain?
“I had a,” he grasped at straws, “a run-in with some bad people,” he conceded.
Ciri didn’t say anything for a very long time. Her blue eyes searched the fire intently.
“Do you still sing?” She asked softly.
“I haven’t for a very long time.”
“Would you? For me?”
“Of course, princess.”
Jaskier sang for the first time in over half a year. Softly humming to the young princess until she slumped against him, snoring lightly. His heart swelled as he watched her chest slowly rise and fall, her warmth against his side warming him to the core.
He knew then and there he would do anything for her.