He was four the first time he met a witcher. He didn’t particularly want to meet the witcher, but the swats to his bum suggested he was going to. But formal dinners were boring and there were frogs though in the pond, a lot of them and if you went at the right time they all made frog noise and it sounded like a funny song. He wanted to hear the funny song. The third time he tried to sneak out though, they locked him in his room.
That wasn’t going to stop him.
Frog music must be heard!
His nurse had read him a story about a girl who used her hair to help her love climb up a tower. And he overheard a cousin talking about a sheet out a window. He threw open his window. It looked a long way down, from the third floor, but frog music. And maybe he was a little scared of meeting a witcher.
They saved people, but nurse had said their help came at a terrible cost, that they weren’t human at all, just barely managed to pretend. And they ate children. He was pretty sure his papa wasn’t having him meet a witcher to be eaten, but he had avoided eating his peas at dinner. So maybe he was to be eaten. In which case going to see the frogs was definitely the better option.
He took the quilt off his bed, tossed it out the window, and realized a very important lesson. If you want to climb down a sheet, you need to have it stuck to something. Jaskier could see a rider in the distance, but ignored it. It wasn’t a witcher, they had wings and flew like a dragon. He for a moment forgot about frogs thinking about dragons. Sure would be neat to meet a dragon. He would pet it and talk to it, and be its very best friend. He should write a story about a dragon. Ooh maybe if he told a good enough story about a dragon, the witcher wouldn’t eat him. He ran to his desk but his nurse had taken all his paints and paper away for singing too loudly after bedtime.
Then he remembered the frogs again and pulled the sheet off his bed. He needed to make it stay put, so he could climb down. He was getting good at knots. He could tie his own shirt. Well sort of, he mostly left it undone but still. He could. He took the sheet to the leg of the bed, “Over, under, around and through,” he said, pulled hard. It was a great knot. He even tugged and it didn’t seem to move.
To the frogs!
Jaskier climbed out the window and scooted a little down and then realized the problem. He was out of sheet, and nowhere near the ground. He was not even at the second floor. He couldn’t figure out how to climb back up though. And if he called for help it wouldn’t be Mama that swatted his bum, it would be Papa, and he used a belt. He had to think of a solution. He wasn’t as stupid as his cousins said. There would absolutely be a way to fix this.
His hands were getting a little tired holding on though and screaming for help seemed to be needed. He started to cry.
“Lad, I’m here, don’t cry I’ll help you.”
“I won’t get to listen to the frogs!” he wailed.
“You aren’t scared of the fall?” the man asked.
“I just wanna hear the frog music, not be eaten by a witcher!” Jaskier was ready to scream.
“I could take you to the frogs, no being eaten by anyone,” he promised. Jaskier tried to look down at him but down seemed far away, even with the man on horse. “You just have to let go and I’ll catch you, lad.”
“Julian Alfred Pankratz, future Viscount of Lettenhove.”
“That is a very long name, do you like it?”
“No, it is stupid. I was named after my great uncle. I’ve seen his picture. He had a mean nose.” He could hear the man laugh a bit. “My hands are tired.”
“Julian, I will catch you. I’m good at catching things. Things much bigger than you.”
“How big? Because my cousin says I’m pudgy and I’m going to turn into a walrus. I don’t know what a walrus is, are they mean? I don’t want to be mean.”
“No, walrus’s are not mean, and you won’t turn into one. And I’ve caught a griffin with my bare hands, so I think catching you will be fine.”
Jaskier gasped. “A real griffin? Like a real real one. Not a horse someone painted and covered in paper wings? What did it feel like, what noise did it make? Is it your pet now? What about -” His fingers finally gave up and let go of the sheet, exhausted and he was still asking questions as he fell. The man caught him just as promised. “What did you name him? Can I see him and why are your eyes yellow? And thank you for catching me and -”
“Do you still want to see the frogs?”
“Oh, yes, frogs, I do! And you can tell me about your pet griffin.”
“I do not have a pet griffin.”
Jaskier started to cry and hug the man. “I’m so sorry, that is so sad!” The man was holding him close as they rode, and honestly it was a kinder touch than he was used to. He pointed in the direction of the pond. “Over there. We have to be quiet though if we want to hear the frogs.”
“I can manage quiet,” the man said, “Can you?”
“Of course! I can be very very very quiet!” Jaskier said earnestly. He chatted the whole way about how quiet he could be. The man was being awfully nice to him. That was a bit odd. Servants were sometimes nice, but they always looked tired, and Mama tended to make the nice ones go away. “Are you looking for work? We always need stable hands.”
“I am always looking for work,” the man said, “But not in stables. I have another reason to be in Lettenhove. Now quiet, we need to sneak up on the frogs.” The man held a finger to his lips and Jaskier actually quieted. They settled into the reeds and grass and then he heard the frogs start in the evening light. “Now that is definitely worth sneaking out for,” the man whispered.
“Also means I didn’t get eaten by the witcher that was coming to visit,” Jaskier whispered back.
“Witchers don’t eat little boys.”
“Are you sure? I heard that, so it must be true.”
“Fuck,” the man groaned.
“That’s a naughty word. Can I say it?” A word like that would usually mean no supper.
Jaskier giggled. “Fuck,” he said and clapped his hands over his mouth. He looked around like the word would magically make his mother appear. “It is true isn’t it? Why would people lie?”
“So many reasons,” he said. “Witchers don’t eat children. Or people in general. We mostly eat whatever we can afford, which is not a lot.”
“I have coin you can have, I have 5 whole silvers,” Jaskier said proudly. “I can share.” His brain then caught up with what the nice man said. “You said we. Are you a witcher?”
“I am. My name is Vesemir.”
“I like that name. It is better than Julian.”
“What do you wish your name was?”
“I dunno. Something nice and pretty. Pretty is good isn’t it? My cousin said -”
“Julian, I have a feeling your cousins are idiots, and you should never ever listen to them or believe them. Can you do that for me?”
Jaskier’s eyes widened. “But they are 9 and 12, they are so grown up!”
“I am well well over 200 so I am pretty sure I’m a bit more grown up than them,” Vesemir explained. “And when they tell you things do they get this weird little smile on their face sort of like this?”
“They do!” Jaskier nodded. He knew that look well.
“That means they are lying,” Vesemir explained.
Jaskier gasped, “It does?”
“It does,” Vesemir nodded. “You want to know some other ways to tell if people are lying?” Jasker nodded furiously, frogs completely forgotten and listened carefully to Vesemir.
“I think people lie to me a lot,” Jaskier said after a bit. “Why? That’s not nice.”
“Lots of reasons, and some lies are to keep little boys safe,” Vesemir suggested. “Would you like to know the truth about witchers?”
“Yes, please,” Jaskier said eagerly. “Is it a good story?”
“No, not in spots, because no good fairy tale is all happy is it?”
“Nu-uh, there are always monsters or bad magic! I write stories you know. Well I don’t write much, but I make pictures and then tell the story around it.” Jaskier bit his lip. “Do witchers like stories?”
“Would you like to hear one of mine?”
“How about we exchange stories? I’ll tell you one about Geralt of Rivia, and you can tell me one of yours?”
“That sounds nice,” Jaskier crawled into Vesemir’s lap. He yawned. “If I fall asleep it isn’t because your story is not good, just that climbing out the window was hard.”
“I understand,” Vesemir said. He held Jaskier and Jaskier thought it felt nice. “Do you know why I was coming to Lettenhove?”
Jaskier was quiet. “You were going to betroth my cousin to a witcher.”
“I was,” Vesemir agreed. “But your cousins don’t sound very nice. Are you already betrothed to someone? Future viscounts are often promised from birth.”
“I dunno,” Jaskier said. “Why?”
“Because if I am to sign my charge to a wedding contract, I think it would be much better with you.”
“I’m four,” Jaskier pointed out. “And a half? So we would have to wait until I was grown up. Like 10 or something.”
“I think we would wait until you are finished all your schooling, perhaps 20 or so,” Vesemir suggested.
“That’s super old,” Jaskier nodded. “Is she as nice as you?”
“He, that Geralt I mentioned.”
“Boys can’t have babies to continue the line,” Jaskier said. He remembered hearing his papa saying that when some duke married another man.
“True, but they can take care of each other, and have all sorts of adventures around the whole continent.” Vesemir stroked his hair. “A hero with lots of stories for your very own. People are scared of him, but you won’t be.”
“I won’t be?” Jaskier was surprised about that. “Why not?”
He liked Vesemir’s smile and his eyes that glowed. “Because a little boy who climbed out a window to hear frogs, and asks about pet griffins, well he’s not going to be scared of a bit of a grumpy hero is he?”
“Nu-uh,” Jaskier agreed. “If we don’t go home, I’ll get swats, maybe from Papa’s belt. I don’t like those.”
“Little Dandelion, that will not happen again,” Vesemir said.
“That’s a funny name,” Jaskier giggled. He smiled at him. “Is Geralt as nice as you?”
“He’s…I think when you are grown up, you two will make formidable allies.”
“I don’t know that word.” Jaskier yawned. He was too big to suck his thumb, but there were ties on Vesemir’s shirt. He began to suck on one. “Is he a hero enough to stop my cousin from calling me a walrus?”
“Yes, he is.”
“I’ll marry him when I’m old then,” Jaskier said and fell asleep. When he woke there was a neat wolf medallion around his neck and some huge feathers on his pillow. He wondered if they were griffin feathers, that would be very awesome. He got up and went about his day and his cousins didn’t say anything mean, and there were no bum swats, and he even got dessert which he never got because he was so pudgy.
“I liked Vesemir, I bet I’ll like Geralt too,” he said as he ate the sugared plum. He couldn’t understand why his mama started to cry. “I can give you one of the griffin feathers, that will make you feel better.” She just cried harder. Jaskier decided to go see the frogs and no one stopped him.
He was twelve the second time he met a witcher. He had honestly forgotten about witchers, they were never talked about in Lettenhove. He didn’t know why he wore the wolf medallion around his neck, but he just knew that every time his mother and father suggested he take it off, that he snarled at them. In his sleep, someone had once tried to remove it and he had bit them until they bled. Jaskier didn’t know why he was so protective of the thing, his mother told him he had found it in a forgotten chest and just fell in love with it. Jaskier knew she was lying but couldn’t quite remember why he knew that she was.
He was out playing in the fields by himself, as he often was. People didn’t play with him much, but that was fine, he was happiest lost in the stories in his own head. There was always music in there and he made up words to go with it, of great heroes and the monsters they fought, the princes they rescued. They used to ride off to have adventures but recently in the stories he made up, the hero always kissed the prince’s hand, that seemed like it might be nice too. Gallant, romantic. Not that he cared about that sort of thing. He cared about swords and riding, and whatever it was his father wanted him to learn.
“Oi, Julian,” a voice called.
Joy, the cousins were visiting. He wondered if he could just ignore them, but there they were. He thought he saw a man riding in the distance but he was far away and clearly just cutting through the fields off to somewhere else. And it wasn’t the best idea to take his focus off his cousins. They never hurt him, no one ever hurt him with their hands. But words, well.
“Put on some weight again, I see. Melitele, hoping your betrothed when they come to collect you will just eat you instead of fuck you?”
Julian flinched a bit. He knew he was betrothed to someone, most nobility were paired off at a young age, but no one said who. But if his cousin was suggesting that, it meant something. “I’m in line. I’m betrothed to a woman,” he said, he was sure of it that was the only logical thing.
His cousin laughed harshly. “Everyone’s been protecting you, and I am sick of it. Because you deserve to know the truth, because I care about you.”
“No, you don’t,” Jaskier said and started walking away. That rider was close enough that Jaskier could see that he carried two swords across his back, that was not common at all.
“You are betrothed to a witcher. They aren’t even human,” his cousin shouted. “They are such monsters that no woman will even lay with them.”
Jaskier just kept walking and his cousin followed shouting things that Jaskier didn’t even understand, but knew were about the marriage bed. They sounded mean and wrong, and weren’t about gallant kisses on the hand at all. But he kept walking and that rider kept getting closer.
“Your father sold you to them,” his cousin called and really that was too much. Because that was just stupid.
“Of course he did,” Jaskier turned and stood his ground. It wasn’t much ground, he was short in comparison to other children his age. “That is what happens to most of the children of nobility, we are sold to each other for land, or animals, good trade routes. That is just how it is.”
“You were sold for pest control,” his cousin said. “Betroth someone to a witcher and you never have to pay again for monster hunts. And to the dying lowest house of them all. The wolf house, the ones that everyone hates. How about that Julian, your father sold you to the rat catcher.”
“Julian,” they both heard and looked over.
“Oh shit,” his cousin yelled and ran. Julian couldn’t understand, the man didn’t look that scary. Yes, he had big swords, and several rather vicious facial scars, and some sort of head hanging from his saddle and yellow eyes, but really that was no cause to be rude.
“My apologies for my cousin,” Jaskier said. He gave a bow. “You are traveling through the fields and not the road. Are you lost, perhaps I can guide you?”
“Julian Alfred Pankratz?” the man pressed.
“Dandelion,” he smiled and dismounted. He was so tall, Jaskier had to look rather up to meet that yellow gaze. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Being called Dandelion stirred a vague memory of other yellow eyes. “Frogs,” he whispered trying to remember.
“Do you know how many times Vesemir has told us about your escape to go listen to frogs?” the man laughed. “Did his letters and gifts describe me enough for you to recognize me?”
“Who is Vesemir?” Jaskier asked. He looked at the person. “Could you answer a question for me?” He figured asking a stranger was better than asking his family.
The man was frowning. “Of course, we are yours to command.”
“When I marry my witcher, will he really make me bleed until my insides spill out of me and never let me leave the bed?” That was actually one of the nicer things his cousin had been shouting at him. He was sure it was a lie, because Vesemir had told him how to recognize lies, and he remembered Vesemir between one thought and the next. “I remember Vesemir, he took me to the frogs and said my cousins were idiots.”
“They certainly are if they were spilling that filth. No witcher would ever harm you,” the man swore. “Not when you are ours, you are the person we are all sworn to protect.”
“That’s nice. You said letters and gifts. No one ever writes to me, I don’t matter.” Jaskier looked at him. “Are you the witcher I’m betrothed to? I wouldn’t mind, you are handsome and seem nice.” Jaskier moved forward a little. “Did you get those scars in a thrilling adventure?”
“No, not quite. My name is Eskel. I’m…sort of older brother to the one you are betrothed to - Geralt of Rivia. Usually we send your letters and gifts via the normal ways, but I was traveling in this direction and thought to deliver them myself and I am certainly glad of it. They really haven’t given you our gifts?”
Jaskier shook his head. “Have you had adventures? I haven’t even left Lettenhove.”
“One or two. Here,” Eskel was digging through his saddle bags. He held out some envelopes and a few small packages. “I had to carry it.”
“What’s the thing that is bleeding?”
“Oh, rotfiend, no big deal.”
“Can I see it?” Jaskier was trying to make it out in the netting that held it. “Is it very hideous?”
“Very,” Eskel agreed. “And no seeing such until you are at least fifteen. Come, I’ve been riding hard, let’s go sit under that tree.”
Jaskier nodded and ran over, and collapsed. He tore open the first letter, looking at who signed it. It was from Vesemir, and it was a letter asking after him, and how he fared, and maybe this time, Jaskier would be interested in writing back, and he hoped that Jaskier had been studying the beastiaries that Vesemir sent, and that Jaskier was writing wondrous stories about them. “He’s been sending me books?”
“He has,” Eskel sat down next to him, nibbling on hard tack, “said if you were going to marry a witcher, basic knowledge of creatures was important. Wasn’t sure why, to be honest, Geralt will be able to keep you safe the little you’ll see him.”
“Little?” Jaskier looked at him in confusion. “Why wouldn’t I see him a lot, my parents hate each other and see each other every day. So I would see my husband every day too. Right?” Jaskier looked at all the other things. “None of these say they are from him. They don’t say anything. So I guess Vesemir sent them?” Jaskier poked at the letters and objects. “Does he…why would a witcher care about me, I’m twelve.”
“Twelve is a good age,” Eskel said. “Young enough to still have hope in the world, old enough to desire to seek adventure. Though you’ve always wanted adventure haven’t you?”
Jaskier nodded a bit. “Why would everyone hide I am betrothed to a witcher?”
“That is a question, I am more than willing to ask them today, when I join you for dinner,” Eskel replied. “And one of those things is from Geralt. I’ll tell you a bit about his personality and you try to guess. That will be fun, won’t it?”
Jaskier laid out the gifts. A small knife, a shiny pebble, a bit of chainmail, and he put the book to side because he knew it was from Vesemir. He looked at Eskel. “You are the pebble.”
“Well done, what made you realize that?”
“It is the only gift you’d give a boy, something he could think is magic, even if he would never say because he is almost too old to think such things.”
“How do you know it isn’t magic?” Eskel asked.
“Because, magic costs and no one spends like that on me.” Jaskier touched the pebble and it was so smooth, swirls of yellow in the black. “It carries secrets.”
“I’ve had that pebble for sixty or so years,” Eskel said. “It comforted when I had growing pains, and you’ll be having those soon enough I imagine. So thought holding it tight might help you. You now know I am that sort of man. And you are left with a knife, and some chainmail. Geralt is quiet, he doesn’t talk a lot. And he can be a bit grumpy. Because he’s been hurt. He didn’t -” Eskel sighed. “No, you are too young to know about that.”
Jaskier glared at him, “I’m twelve,” he snapped.
Eskel laughed a bit. “Well, your cousins are assholes and the story is enough out in the world that they’ll try to stab you with it. And I would remove the sting. Geralt has been betrothed before. A woman.”
“Was she beautiful? Was she royalty? Did he love her? Was she betrothed young to him like me? What was her name, where was she from? Did he -”
“He killed her,” Eskel cut him off gently. “He didn’t want to. Geralt tried to do everything he could for that not to happen. They had exchanged letters and then she disappeared. He went to find her, marry her, and when he found her...”
“Was she kidnapped? Did he have to rescue her from a tower?”
“She had been kidnapped and hurt enough that she wasn’t the same carefree person she had been. There was a trap and a fight, and Geralt was forced to kill her. And the mage who had hurt her was there and convinced everyone that Geralt was a cold blooded killer when the truth is he was pushed past where he could stop what was happening. They started calling him the Butcher of Blaviken, and I know every time he hears that name it hurts him.”
“I’ll never call him that,” Jaskier said swiftly. “So this is that sort of story is it?”
“What sort, Dandelion?”
“Where the hero is the one who needs rescuing? I love those ones. Because the fair maiden turns out to have secret skills that save the day! There is a story I love that -” Jaskier dimmed. “I don’t have any secret skills though.”
“Vesemir talked about your stories, that you loved telling them.”
“They aren’t stories though, they are songs. And it is unseemly the sort of singing I want to do.”
“What sort of singing to you want to do?” Eskel nudged.
“I want to be a bard.”
“Have you written a song?”
“A bit,” Jaskier bit his lip. “Would you like to hear?” Eskel nodded and Jaskier sang the song. It was a version of his favourite story, and his voice cracked a lot because it was doing that these days, but Eskel never laughed and even applauded when he was done. “I always hear music in my head, is that weird?”
“We hear everything so not very weird to me.” Eskel nodded to the knife and chainmail. “He tries very hard not to hurt people, because it is so very easy for us to hurt. And he really likes onion in his food.”
Jaskier giggled at that. “The chainmail, because he would protect me, shield me?”
“Good guess. Lambert the youngest of us sent you the knife saying if you are twelve you are getting to the age where you will realize you want to stab people and you should be able to stab them.” Eskel shook his head. “I would recommend you use that knife for defensive purposes only.”
“I wouldn’t even know how,” Jaskier said.
“Well, shall I show you a couple things?” Eskel said and Jaskier had a swift lesson in how to stab people, and more importantly how to get away after you stab people. The run was low in the sky and Eskel said that they should head home, that he wanted to talk with people. The talk happened behind closed doors, and Jaskier was listening carefully. Apparently talking meant a lot of growling and yelling about Jaskier being a wolf now, and they couldn’t keep the bullshit they were doing going on. That he was to get their letters or gifts or one day they’d wake up and Jaskier would be gone, taken to a home where people actually gave a damn about him and he could finish growing up right.
Jaskier rather liked that idea.
“So, is that your betrothed?” His cousin whispered as he slid up next to Jaskier. “He is really ugly, can you imagine having to pretend to like that face when you - Ow what the fuck!” his cousin screamed as Jaskier jammed the knife into his shoulder. “Owwwww! Arg help!”
The doors swung open and Jaskier wrenched the knife out. “He needed stabbing!” he shouted and bolted just as Eskel had taught him. He locked himself in his room and knew he’d be in trouble in the morning. It took forever to fall asleep. When he woke, there was another knife on the pillow next to him, with a sheath, that could tied around his waist to hold in the small of his back. It went around him twice meant for an adult.
Jaskier grinned, a bit, wondered if he could stab his cousin again. He went down to breakfast and there was a stack of letters and gifts at his spot, everything the wolves had sent and he had been denied. No one in his family spoke to him for three months. But that was fine, he had Vesemir’s letters to keep him company.
He was seventeen when he met his third witcher. In a brothel, so that was all sorts of awkward. His friends had all insisted they celebrate finishing that exams of their first term, with ale and company. Jaskier hadn’t actually understood what company meant until he saw his first naked body once they were inside. They had a table and everyone was drinking and happy, and he was trying to figure out what to do.
“Come now, Julian,” Valdo said. “Stop staring at your ale, and stare at the women, pick who you want. I’m going for that redhead, bet she pays me for how good I am.”
“That’d be bad business praxis,” Jaskier muttered and kept his eyes firmly on his ale.
“Come on, if you don’t have enough coin, I’ll spot you some,” Valdo pressed. “Which woman appeals?” Jaskier shrugged, there were many that were attractive but he wasn’t interested. “Maybe you’d prefer a man?” Valdo pressed. There was something in his eyes. Jaskier was trying to figure it out. It wasn’t distaste, it was a weird angry hunger.
“I’m good,” Jaskier said.
“Let me buy you a whore, Julian,” Valdo snapped.
“I’m betrothed you jackass,” Jaskier glared at him and the table went silent. He sighed, he didn’t really talk about his home life at school.
“You are?” Ina asked. She had a woman in her lap. “Who’s the lucky lady?”
“Man,” Jaskier said, “And don’t know, never actually met him. Contract since I was four,” he explained. His hand automatically went to the medallion under his shirt, that he kept hidden. “More ale?” he said and went to the bar to get them more drinks.
Of course Valdo followed him and was pressing for more details that Jaskier refused to give. Valdo was getting creepy suggesting that Jaskier really needed to buy a whore now so he didn’t disappoint his betrothed by being rubbish in bed and it was getting to the point where Jaskier was reaching for the knife in the small of his back. Valdo clearly needed stabbing.
“Dandelion,” a voice said and Jaskier spun around. “Why do we always end up meeting you in interesting ways?”
“I wasn’t going to stab him,” Jaskier said quickly. He wondered how the man recognized him, he hadn't seen a witcher since he had been twelve, though he had sent thank you letters back whenever a parcel had arrived.
“Excuse me,” Valdo puffed himself up.
“You’re excused little boy,” the man sneered. “Shoo.”
Valdo was clearly getting ready to be an ass; Jaskier realized that maybe Valdo wasn’t actually a great person to be a friend with, because he was an ass a lot. “Valdo here,” Jaskier tossed some money over his shoulder. “Go buy the redhead.” Valdo was smart enough to take the money and run. “Lambert?” Jaskier guessed hesitantly.
“Very good, now Dandelion, what are you doing in a whorehouse?”
“What are you doing in a whorehouse?” Jaskier countered and stuck his chin out.
“Well I’m buying whores to fuck, just had two and it was pretty good,” Lambert replied.
“Two in a row!” Jaskier flushed bright red.
“At the same time pup,” Lambert said.
Jaskier frowned. “Where do you put all the limbs?” He flushed even more when Lambert laughed and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Should I buy a whore?” Jaskier asked him. “Was Valdo right?”
“Do you want to buy a whore?” Lambert signaled the barkeep and two ales were in front of them.
“Not really,” Jaskier said. “I mean -” Well this was just insanely awkward. He focused on his ale again. “Geralt has been alive forever, I’m assuming he has had sex.”
“Yup. Who knows, wherever he is right now, could be having sex. People find him attractive. No fucking clue why. He has a weird nose.”
“Weird to me, probably because I’ve broken it,” Lambert grinned, “Happy memories. He’s fucked a lot of women and men, and he’ll keep fucking them until you two are married. After that suppose that is something you’ll be sorting out between you.”
Jaskier frowned and looked back over at his friends. “Oh fucking hell, Valdo is telling them something, and they are going to believe it. Fuck.”
“So what if they do? People always believe the stupidest shit, because most people are stupid. Ignore them. Or stab them. You still stab a lot of people?”
“Stab a cousin once, and you get a reputation,” Jaskier muttered.
“Five times. He kept trying to say stupid shit about witchers, and took a long time to realize that say stupid shit get stabbed. You got lucky you know, that was the cousin who was supposed to betrothed to Geralt until Vesemir met me.”
“Maybe that’s why he keeps saying stupid shit, jealous you are the one getting the goods,” Lambert suggested.
Jaskier paused. “Oh, never thought of that. Could just be they are giant pricks.”
“Don’t insult giant pricks, they are great.” Lambert slapped his shoulder and laughed. “Which you’ll find out in what a couple more years?”
“I will?” Jaskier couldn’t stop his gaze from drifting to Lambert’s trousers, which made him flush red again. “I mean, yes, wonderful. Giant pricks are great.” He thought. Maybe. The filthy books and poems he had read certainly suggested that. And he rather liked the idea when he thought about it, when he jerked off. “Yes. Good.” He thumped his ale on the bar. “Wonderful.”
Lambert snorted. “Right, so do you actually know anything practical about sex?”
“Of course I -” Jaskier looked at him. “No, not a damn clue.” He drank some more ale. He looked over and most of his friends had disappeared into rooms with people. “So I really like the idea of sex. And I jerk off all the damn time.”
“Sure, you’re seventeen, that’s what happens.” Lambert raised his glass in salute. “But?”
“It is so stupid to wait, isn’t it?” Jaskier frowned. “Right?”
Lambert shrugged. “I dunno, suppose it has to be what you want, doesn’t it?”
“But I also want to know everything I possibly can about sex,” Jaskier groaned and banged his head on the bar. “It is all really confusing.” There was a soothing hand on his shoulder and he appreciated that. “And it is all really damn awkward that I meet future kin in a brothel.”
“About to get more awkward,” Lambert said, “Because I had an idea and that never works out for anyone. Well one time, no that really didn’t work out great for the -” he cleared his throat. “Not a story for you until you are thirty and have been dicked down for a decade or so.”
Well now Jaskier was interested. He looked at Lambert. “Do all witchers have scars? Where are yours from? Does Geralt have them too? Is it like a thing wolf witcher facial scar? Will I have to get one to be a part of you? Can I decide where it goes?” Jaskier would have asked more, but Lambert covered his mouth.
“You there, you working currently?” Lambert called to a man.
“Both of you will cost a few crowns.”
“Yeah, fine,” Lambert said.
Jaskier found himself over Lambert’s shoulder and being carried off. “I said I didn’t want a whore,” he punched at Lambert’s kidneys. “I’m going to stab you,” he swore.
“Just relax, this is a great idea,” Lambert said and Jaskier was put down when they were in a room. “Wow, buddy keep the clothes on.”
There was a chair in the corner and Jaskier went and sat in it, stared resolutely at the wall.
“What do you gentlemen want?” the brothel worker asked.
“This here is my future brother in law,” Lambert said. “And eventually he’s gonna take my brother’s dick, and it is giant. But he like wants to wait? I dunno, weird, but whatever I support him, because I am a good man like that. Guessing though his understanding of sex is from romance novels. So paying you to tell him honestly and thoroughly exactly what sex is like. And I’m sticking around to make sure you do it right.”
“Couldn’t you just tell him?” the whore asked.
“Well no, that would be really weird wouldn’t it?” Lambert frowned. “You are the professional.”
“I honestly think you are trying to be helpful and good right now,” Jaskier was a little in awe.
“Of course, start talking.” Lambert looked at the table. “That wine for anyone?”
“Sure?” the whore said.
Lambert grabbed the bottle and pulled the cork out with his teeth and sat on the bed. “Go on, start talking. Oh! Jaskier do you need visual aids with the talking? Because I mean the stretching is important, and we’re paying a fair bit, so he could show you proper fingering and all.”
“With you in the room?” Jaskier squeaked. “I have no idea?”
“Well, let’s see how this goes,” Lambert said. He smiled. “See good idea right?”
Jaskier could only nod as the man started talking. Several hours later, Jaskier had a better understanding of sex than even people who had been fucking for years, a newly developed voice kink and had wanked watching his future brother in law fuck the brothel worker, so that he had a practical demonstration of how cocks fit in asses. It was the weirdest night of his life.
Lambert was walking him back to the university, an arm slung over his shoulder telling him about a harpy hunt that he and Geralt had once gone on.
“Yes, little bro?” Lambert was slightly tipsy. “Our little Dandelion, what is it?”
“I think I’ve come up with a name for myself - Jaskier.”
“Like the flower?” Lambert nodded. “I like it. They are poisonous. Crush them up, boil them and add a little to a sweet wine, you’ll give people the shits and hallucinations. Enough and you’ll kill them. Good strong name.”
“I was mostly thinking because they are pretty?”
“That too,” Lambert agreed. “So you know that Valdo guy? He’s going to be an asshole to you tomorrow. I can always tell an asshole.”
“I know,” Jaskier sighed a bit.
“I vote preemptive stabbing.”
“I think I’ll stick with showing him up in our school work.”
“Each to their own,” Lambert stopped when they reached a door. “You good?”
“I think so?” Jaskier looked at him. “Why do I always meet everyone else but not him?”
“Because…” Lambert frowned. “How the fuck should I know? Probably magic or bullshit fate or something.”
“Is he as nice as you?”
“No one ever thinks I’m nice.”
“You fucked a whore for me, that’s really nice.” Jaskier was maybe a little tipsy too. He hugged Lambert. “I’m going to have such a good family when I marry Geralt!” He maybe started to cry a little. “You are the best!”
“I really am, fuck this was the best idea I ever had. Now off to bed, Jaskier, you need a good night’s sleep for stabbing Valdo in the morning.”
Jaskier stumbled into the building and collapsed when he reached his room. He didn’t actually make his bed, the floor was super comfy anyways. In the morning when he awoke there were a few vials of oil on the bed, and a book showing and explaining a lot of different sexual positions and possibilities. Jaskier quickly began to read, to find out what else he might discover about his sexuality. He was busy enough that he forgot about stabbing Valdo, which was probably good if he wanted to finish school.
He was nineteen when he met his witcher. Jaskier had realized that if he was to marry his witcher next year, he needed some experience out on the road, in the world, because he didn’t want to seem weak, or worse be left behind completely. He was ready for adventures and experiences, and to be taken seriously as a bard. Turned out the road was a bit harder than he expected. He had learned a lot about boots since he had sent out, it seemed more than anything, you wanted to spend your coin on boots. He had also learned a few cost saving measures - chief among them was sing a shit song and people throw food at you, which means free food.
So he was in a tavern and it had been going well, but purses weren’t exactly opening, so he broke out the worst song he could imagine and sure enough food was thrown at him. Jaskier quickly collected it and was debating just walking out when he saw the man in the corner. He knew a witcher when he saw one and eagerly went over, curious which family member of Geralt it was.
He asked for a review and the witcher barely spoke, grunted at him really.
And Jaskier put all the pieces together. This wasn’t a witcher, this was his witcher. “You’re Geralt of Rivia,” he stared at him in shock. It was his betrothed, the man he was marrying next year.
He was fucking gorgeous. His witcher was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. Damn. “Do you, ummm, do you want to know my name?”
“Not particularly,” Geralt replied. He stood up and Jaskier watched him drop a coin onto the table, his last coin. Jaskier watched as Geralt flicked the coin towards him just a little before stalking out of the tavern. Jaskier stared at the coin. His future husband had given him his last coin. He rubbed his hand over his chest, surprised to learn that falling in love in an instant hurt like fuck.
Jaskier ran out of the tavern and followed Geralt, learned getting punched by a witcher hurt more than the falling in love feeling, and learned getting knocked out and kidnapped hurt even more than that. When he woke up, he was a mix of excited and pissed off at being kidnapped. He maybe said not the best words for the situation but it was his first kidnapping, he’d do better on his second one. He cursed when Geralt said he was ready for death, because fuck no he wasn’t he had to marry Jaskier next year. But it worked.
They were freed and he was given a new lute, which fuck, it was a gorgeous lute. And he had a song idea. He was singing, and he and Geralt stayed together. It was probably wrong that Jaskier never really gave Geralt his name, and kept his wolf medallion well hidden. It was absolutely wrong and would likely bite him in the ass later, but he didn’t care.
He really wanted Geralt to bite him in the ass, especially 10 days later, when they were sharing a bed in an inn. Jaskier had actually pulled some decent money from singing Toss a Coin, and he had now seen a drowner hunt, and plants that ate people. The room was hot and neither man was asleep. There was a weird tension in the air. “You are very careful not to say your name, or any details about yourself,” Geralt said. “Are you on the run?”
“No,” Jaskier said softly. He stared at the ceiling. “Not really?”
“If people are looking for you the best thing you can do is stay traveling,” Geralt suggested. “With someone with large swords.”
Jaskier bit his lip. Geralt was asking him to stay. The man barely spoke to him, and was grumpy as he had been told, but there was the heart that Vesemir’s letters always said was underneath the grump. “For how long?” Jaskier asked.
“A year?” Geralt said. “I could keep you safe for a year.”
“Why a year, why not for always?”
“I wed in a year,” Geralt said after a painfully long silence. “One member of a witcher school marries a human. Creates ties to the world, guarantees shelter and food. Gives them the certainty of knowing their lands will be kept safe.”
“Why couldn’t I travel with you after you wed?”
“It wouldn’t be fair to my husband to ask him to be around a bard I…” Geralt stopped talking.
Fuck, all of a sudden the game he had been playing the chance to get to know Geralt, unknown himself felt cruel. He had been so excited to get to know Geralt, build a bit of a rapport so that when they wed Geralt would be pleased that Jaskier could keep up. That Jaskier was falling in love with his betrothed was just frosting on the cake.
He hadn’t stopped to think about how Geralt would feel, that maybe Geralt would feel things for him, and have to cope thinking those feelings would have to end in a year.
“I’m sorry,” Jaskier rolled and looked at him. “I made a huge mistake.”
“Why you are on the run,” Geralt nodded. “I could -”
“No, I’ll be leaving in the morning,” Jaskier said.
“Because there are things I need to do, places I need to be.” Jaskier had a better idea what he needed to travel long term with Geralt, and he wanted to make sure that he was fully prepared. “Geralt?”
“When we meet again, I’ll need you to pretend we haven’t met before, at least until we are alone.”
“You’ll understand, when it happens.” Jaskier touched his nose, ran a finger down it. “This has been broken.”
“Hmm, a beast a long time ago.”
Jaskier smiled a bit, Lambert would like that Geralt called him a beast. He couldn’t stop himself and moved a little closer and kissed Geralt’s nose. And his forehead, and his eyelid. And cheek.
Geralt was the one to direct Jaskier into kissing his mouth. Jaskier had had a few kisses, and in that moment he couldn’t remember a single one of them. Geralt’s scruff was scratchy and his mouth tasted stale and a bit gross from the ale they had drunk before retiring, and his lips were dry. And nothing had ever felt better.
Which he learned that was a damn lie when Geralt rolled on top of him and all that strength and weight was pressing him down. Nothing ever felt better than that.
He quickly stopped quantifying the experience after that, because it just kept getting better. And he learned intimately that yes Geralt did have a large dick, and when Geralt promised not to hurt him, Jaskier utterly believed him. But it was exactly like he had been told by that brothel worker, like what was in that book Lambert had left him, and what his own research over the last couple years suggested.
It was odd because it wasn’t the control of his own fingers inside him, but every time he whispered a plea, Geralt met it, gave him everything. When Geralt pressed his cock it, it was so much but didn’t hurt and soon every bit of him felt alive and thrumming. It was like when he heard music in his head just waiting to get out, only every single nerve.
“Stay with me,” Geralt requested. “For a year.” He rolled his hips and Jaskier met every thrust.
“One day, I’m going to stay with you forever,” Jaskier promised. It was over too quick for him, and when Geralt would have pulled out, he wrapped his legs around him. “More,” Jaskier demanded. He tugged at Geralt’s hair. “More,” he repeated, and he held on as Geralt chased his own orgasm. Jaskier watched him, watched the moment it happened, and Geralt was almost painfully gorgeous in that vulnerable moment.
After Geralt was holding him close breathing in. “I’m never going to forget your scent.”
Fuck, right, the ache in those words, Jaskier couldn’t leave him with that. “I promise. One year and you’ll see me again. And you’ll be pissed, and grumpy and then I hope you’ll be happy.”
“What’s your name?”
What did Jaskier say to that, because Geralt would know them all, unless Lambert had been tipsy enough not to remember. Well, what did he have to lose beside everything. “Jaskier,” he said.
“Poisonous, I like it.”
Witchers, he would have laughed, if he wasn’t close to crying. “Geralt?”
“I fell in love with you before I knew you.”
“That makes no sense.”
“You’ll understand, one day,” Jaskier said. He felt a kiss on his head, and fell into a fitful sleep. When he woke in the morning, Geralt was gone. On the bed next to him was a note.
I’ll see you in a year, Dandelion.
Jaskier guessed that Lambert had shared the name after all. He packed up and headed home. There was a lot to prepare.
Jaskier was twenty when he finally met them all together. He was of course climbing out his window, because what else would he be doing a couple days before his wedding? He was actually doing much better than when he was four. He had tied a couple sheets together so it was long enough, and his hands didn’t get tired. But he was hanging there, the end pulled quickly up because his mother and father were in the room below, and it would not go well if they noticed him doing a runner. It was all just so fucking awkward.
Jaskier knew that hmm, and very pointedly stayed staring at the stone a few centimetres away from his face. “Lovely day for a wedding isn’t it?” he said still not looking over.
“I’m sure you are relieved that you didn’t turn into a walrus,” Vesemir called.
“You look well, Dandelion, the bit we can see anyways,” Eskel said.
“So’d you stab someone or fuck them?”
“Hi, Lambert,” Jaskier rested his head against the keep. “Still only fucked Geralt, and it was one damn night.”
“But I bet it was great and that is all thanks to me,” Lambert said. “Geralt was all romantic and soppy about it all fucking winter. Didn’t even thank me for the fact that you weren’t shit in bed.”
“Why am I marrying into this family, again?” Jaskier joked.
“Well, it looks like you are running from me, so not sure you are marrying into fuck all,” Geralt said.
That couldn’t be born. Jaskier pushed off the wall and let go. He really hoped that one of them caught him. He landed with a grunt safe in Geralt’s arms. “Hello,” he said softly. “I missed you Geralt.”
“I didn’t,” Geralt replied. “Caught you easily.”
“Oh don’t encourage his shit humour,” Lambert groaned.
“Lad, why were you climbing out your window again?” Vesemir asked.
“Because my family are idiots,” Jaskier explained. He enjoyed the way that they all nodded in agreement. “I was locked in my room. They were going to tragically inform you of my death from some sort of wasting and carrying disease. They had to burn my body - so sad.”
“Why?” Geralt asked.
“Land one county over, they just had a daughter. Want to betroth me to them instead. More profit you see.” Jaskier looked at Geralt. “I stabbed one of the guards they hired to lock me in my room.”
“I am glad,” Geralt said. He almost smiled. “So sneaking out the window to warn me of a trap, or a lie?”
“No, sneaking out to marry you,” Jaskier said. “Fuck them and fuck the contracts. They wanted to pretend I was dead - let them. We’ll go find an alderman, get wed, and travel the continent having adventures and being in love and stuff.”
“I think stuff means sex,” Lambert whispered in a whisper that was a shout.
Vesemir sighed. “We bought nice clothes for this, waste of money if it is just an alderman.” But he was smiling at Jaskier snuggled into Geralt’s arms.
“I really continue to dislike your parents, Dandelion, I feel I need to have another conversation with them,” Eskel was nodding solemnly. “They should be…conversed with.”
“No, we’re going to forget about them entirely.” Jaskier smiled at Geralt. “You aren’t mad.”
“Vaguely annoyed we could have spent the last year fucking through every shit hole village between here and the keep.” Geralt kissed him. “Why weren’t we?”
“Because my dear, in just over a week with you, I realized you are an idiot.”
“That’s the fucking truth,” Lambert agreed.
“Come, see.” Jaskier guided them to the pond and had them pull at the chest that were sunk into the water with attached chains. “Here we go, I sort of stole things my parents forgot they owned and sold them for supplies.” He opened the container. There was a travel pack, and sleeping palette, his lute. “Proper gear, some extra money, my lute, a few magical enchantments, some hard to find alchemy ingredients, and of course every gift you ever sent me.” Jaskier beamed at him.
“I never sent you a gift.”
“Yes you did, every year a little thing, symbolic. I’ve written a half dozen songs about those little and perfect gestures.”
“I was 70 and you were a fucking baby,” Geralt said. “It would have been weird and creepy.”
“I was four,” Jaskier snapped. “And Eskel said -” He looked over and Eskel was checking the chest in case anything had been left behind. Lambert was juggling daggers and Vesemir seemed to have a map that needed consulting right then and there. “Not a one was a gift from you?”
“No,” Geralt made a face. “Dear Julian, you are now 9, here is a carved wooden creature to amuse your childish sensibilities from the man old enough to be your great grandfather that you are going to marry in 11 years. Hope you like it! Can’t wait until we are married! I will kill a man who did that for being gross.”
“See, I warned you he is grumpy,” Vesemir explained, “And just thought if you thought he had been sending you gifts it would give you time to look below the surface and see his heart.”
“I see,” Jaskier said. “Well then we can sell all that stuff for money! Because we’ll need the money more than sentiment.”
“I uh, have a gift for you now though,” Geralt said.
“Oh you showing him?” Lambert stopped juggling. “He’ll like it.”
“I had this made, after we parted, after I realized who you were,” Geralt said and scratched his cheek. He lifted up the chain on his neck, and handing with the wolf medallion, was a buttercup flattened and suspended in a clear something. “Just, you know, like you were wearing mine?”
Jaskier pulled the medallion out from under his shirt. They matched. It was really fucking romantic.
“He also didn’t fuck anyone after he fucked you,” Lambert offered. “God all winter calling your name while he jerked off, got annoying.”
“It was romantic,” Eskel smacked Lambert. “We should go,” he was looking towards the keep. “Because a large group of people are coming. With weapons. And hey lit torches, been a while since I was chased with those.”
“We’ll get married after we cross a border or two,” Geralt said and Jaskier found himself hauled up on the back of Roach, his carefully packed bag tossed to Lambert, his lute to Vesemir. “Hold tight,” Geralt ordered and Jaskier didn’t see that as a problem, and squeezed Geralt as hard as he could. They rode hard away from his family, who did actually chase them for a bit with torches, so that was new. And definitely making it into a song.
They did slow eventually, losing them in some woods and they eventually made camp for the night. Lambert went to hunt, Eskel set up camp, Vesemir was consulting a map, and Geralt was staring at him.
“So…” Jaskier smiled. “What next?”
Geralt shrugged. “I think the contract is null and void. You can do what you want.” He kept staring. Like he was trying to will Jaskier into thinking something. “You seemed to want a grand adventure. Suppose you could do that.”
“Would traveling with you be a grand adventure?”
Geralt snorted. “Not really, mostly sucks. Lots of blood and hurt, and towns that hate you.”
“Would you hate me?”
“No,” Geralt said. “I wouldn’t hate you.”
“Would you not hate me enough to marry me?” Jaskier asked casually. “Just because been rather expecting to be married to you for a long time, and you did perform a heroic rescue of a prince in distress, and yes fine I am a future viscount and not a prince and probably not even that anymore, but still very heroic and I did rather enjoy our ten days together last year, especially well the last night and -” Jaskier was cut off by Geralt’s mouth.
“He really does talk a lot, that will drive Geralt mad,” Eskel commented.
“No, it is a good balance for him, save him some of the trouble he creates by being a grumpy bastard. That ray of sunshine will soothe people.” Vesemir was looking at the map. “We can get them married here.”
“Did you say ray of sunshine, because Jaskier stabs like every fifth person he meets, why he is my favourite brother now. I have dead rabbits. Someone skin them.” Lambert dropped a brace of rabbits on Eskel’s head.
“He stabs them with a smile,” Vesemir was clearly planning paths.
Jaskier hadn’t actually been paying that much attention because Geralt kept kissing him, and that was really distracting. Finally Geralt stopped. “Is that how I have to get you to shut up?”
“Pretty much,” Jaskier agreed. “Problem with that?”
Jaskier smiled when Geralt just grunted and kissed him again. Heroes always kissed their true loves at the end of the tale. But this was the fun part. It wasn’t the end at all.
It was just the beginning.