It starts as a game.
When they’re laying together, content and sated and Jaskier is draped across his chest, Geralt lets him ask a question. The first time they do this, Jaskier runs his fingers across one of the scars on his arm and asks if he could hear the story about that one. Ordinarily, Geralt would never have given up one of stories so easily but Jaskier had done something clever with his tongue earlier and he supposes he’s in a bit of a good mood.
“If you can guess what gave it to me,” he says.
Jaskier pushes himself up so he can look at Geralt’s face. “You mean it?” he asks, blue eyes wide in surprise.
Geralt is already starting to regret it and maybe Jaskier sees that because he immediately continues, “You can’t take it back. You’ve already said yes.” He lowers himself back down, traces the jagged edges of the scar. “A…Drowner?”
He’s correct, of course, which is good considering they’d just come back from fighting with one. For a moment, Geralt thinks about telling him he’s wrong anyway but Jaskier asks him, in that hopeful way, “I’m right, aren’t I?”
And Geralt sighs and tells him about the first time he’d fought a Drowner.
He pretends to be surprised when Jaskier performs a ballad about it the next time they stop at an inn.
When they first start the game, Jaskier gets the scars wrong more often than not. He just doesn’t have the years of experience that Geralt has to immediately tell which bites and slashes came from what. Geralt doesn’t tell him a story on those days. Instead, he rolls them back over and sets Jaskier to singing again.
But, it’s…nice, sometimes when Jaskier’s face lights up when he gets it right. And truthfully, the more he talks about the scars, the less awkward it becomes. He’d never tell Jaskier that though. The bard would never let him live it down.
There’s a night though when Jaskier runs his fingertips over an old scar on Geralt’s thigh, one that he knows intimately well and will never forget. He tenses under Jaskier’s hand at the memories it stirs and immediately, Jaskier pulls back. Geralt wonders when that happened, when they’d become so familiar with each other that Jaskier immediately knows when it’s not the time to push and moreover, actually doesn’t.
It’s that old familiarity that makes Geralt say, before he can regret it, “You can ask about that one.”
Jaskier hesitates. “Actually, I don’t know this one.”
Jaskier doesn’t usually hesitate and he’s never admitted that he doesn’t know what scarred Geralt, only taken wrong guesses. Geralt’s on the verge of ignoring the whole thing and just going to sleep but something, guilt maybe, pushes him to say, “A princess.”
“Ciri gave that to you?” Jaskier gasps, sounding scandalized.
Geralt sits up entirely, pushing Jaskier off his lap. Jaskier makes an affronted noise but Geralt just ignores him as he settles against the headboard. He reaches over and pulls Jaskier back into his lap, seats him between his spread thighs, the bard’s back to his front.
“Not Ciri,” he grunts.
“Who then?” Jaskier asks. He picks up one of Geralt’s hands and runs his thumb soothingly over it. “How many other princesses do we know?”
“You never met her. She died before we met.”
He tells him about Renfri, about her being born under a black sun and how that had, according to Stregobor, given her internal mutations meant to help usher in a new age of Lilit. He talks about how Stregobor had all but killed the girls he believed to be one of the sixty women, performing autopsies on them afterward to confirm his previously unsubstantiated theories, about how Renfri had escaped and sworn revenge on him. He speaks of Stregobor trying to hire him to kill her and how she had tried to get him to tell her where he was hiding and how he had turned down both of them, how he had tried to talk her into leaving Stregobor alone but she had gone back, how he had returned to face her, fearing for the lives of the townspeople. He tells him about their fight and how she died with the prophecy about Ciri’s destiny intertwined with his on her lips.
“Stregobor wanted to take her body,” he finishes. He’s talked more in the last thirty minutes than he has in a very long time and it’s beginning to take a toll on his voice. “He wanted to defile her corpse so he could prove he was right and when I tried to stop him, he turned the people’s fear against me to make them think she used her mutation to sway me to her side.”
“He gave you that name,” Jaskier finishes quietly, more subdued than usual. Geralt doesn’t have to ask him which name. He already knows. “Did she use her mutation on you?”
Geralt doubts it. He probably wouldn’t have killed her if she had. But there’s no way of knowing for sure. “Renfri just wanted her life back,” he says finally. “She didn’t want to be hunted. She wanted her happy childhood and the love of her father and to not have to fear the wizard every time she turned around.”
Jaskier nods to himself. “She wanted justice.”
And Geralt can’t think of anything more to add on to that besides, “Hmm.”
Jaskier’s quiet over the next couple of days, which is unusual enough that Geralt asks him if he’s feeling okay. And that apparently is out of character enough for Geralt that Jaskier turns it back on him by asking if he’s feeling okay and eventually Geralt gets irritated enough that he shuts the conversation down with a very eloquent, “Shut up.”
To his surprise, Jaskier does shut up and Geralt would ask again if everything’s okay but he doesn’t want to start up that conversation again.
He knows that Jaskier is working on a song. He keeps scribbling in that notebook of his and strumming chords on his lute but he never sings along so Geralt has no idea what the new song is about.
It’s not until the next inn they’re at—where Jaskier is asked to perform just about every witcher song in his repertoire—that he gets to hear any part of it. Jaskier is finishing up the song about the first time Geralt fought a Drowner, making every inch of Geralt regret that he’d ever told Jaskier that tale. Jaskier finishes with a flourish, takes a long drink from one of the mugs a patron shoves into his hand—
And then Jaskier, atop his table, yells, “I have a new song for you! Do you want to hear it?”
The tavern roars its approval.
“This one,” Jaskier begins, lowering to a hush. Even Geralt can’t quite stop himself from leaning in slightly with the rest of the crowd. Jaskier’s face is flushed and his eyes are bright. He’s in his element and Geralt loves him like this. “This one is about the Butcher of Blaviken.”
Geralt’s heart skips a beat. Surely—no—Jaskier wouldn’t do this to him, not after knowing how much that name hurt him.
Jaskier turns to him, something in his face softening. “The Butcher of Blaviken,” he continues, “and the Black Sun Princess.”
Startled, Geralt quirks his head. Jaskier smiles at him and nods encouragingly. Then he plays a chord on his lute and begins to sing—about a girl whose life was brutally snatched from her, about a girl who had to fight to survive, about a girl who knew that no matter what she did she would always be seen as a monster so she sought justice from the sorcerer who made her that way.
And the tavern cries.
And he sings about how she came across the witcher, who only wanted for her to find happiness, who turned away the sorcerer who wanted him to kill her, who faced her when she threatened the townspeople and all he wanted to do was take her away from that place.
And the tavern weeps.
And he tells them about how bravely she fought but how she was no match for the witcher, about how the witcher stood guard over her body as the sorcerer tried to defile her and when the sorcerer realized he wouldn’t get his way, he called the witcher, who had fought to protect a child, a murderer. And as he finishes, he looks directly at Geralt and asks them to tell him who was the real butcher that day: the girl who wanted her life back, the witcher who tried to protect the town, or the sorcerer who destroyed two lives?
And Geralt bows his head and allows himself to cry.
They don’t hear anything more about it for another month. They’re heading north for the winter, north to Kaer Morhen and to Ciri. They stop in an inn for the night. Jaskier is recovering from a head cold and refuses the innkeeper’s request to play. Geralt pays him with what little coin they have left. He would have made them sleep on the ground that night but Jaskier still looks too pale for him to feel comfortable making them sleep outside.
There’s a couple old farmers sitting beside them and it’s from them that Geralt overhears, “That’s right, heard they caught up to him only a few miles outside of Blaviken. Tore him to pieces, they did.”
“Serves him right,” the other one snorts. “Running to his ivory tower?”
“Aye. Shouldn’t have left it in the first place.”
Geralt exchanges a slightly confused glance with Jaskier, who turns to the farmers and asks, “Hope you don’t mind me cutting in. Who was torn to pieces?”
“That wizard from the ballad, Stregobor,” the first one says easily.
“Torn to pieces?” Geralt clarifies even as Jaskier asks, “From the ballad?”
“Aye, the one that bard sings about the black sun princess.”
For the first time, Jaskier doesn’t take credit as that bard. Instead, he leans back in his chair and beams at Geralt until he reluctantly smiles back.
“I think I would have liked Renfri,” Jaskier says a couple days later. He’s completely recovered by now, has his lungs and voice back to sing and complain loudly about the quality of their sleeping arrangements.
“She wouldn’t have liked you,” Geralt returns but there’s no heat to it. There never is anymore. “Would have told you to shut up.”
“Yes, well,” Jaskier says and the slightest blush dusts his cheeks, “all the best muses do.”