The evening sun hangs low in the sky as it lowers itself towards the horizon, straining to press a tender kiss to the edge of the wine dark sea. In its efforts, the sun changes the colors of the heavens, siphoning its light away in favor of its lover and turning the wispy clouds pink and gold as the north star shines brightly and the laughing smile of the crescent moon hangs in the indigo sky as it makes its early summer appearance. Silhouetted and balancing on the curve of the earth is a small fleet of ships with their sails raised and the strong ocean current pushing them towards the shore. They dance on the choppy waves and rough currents that make themselves home between the Isles of Skellige and Cintra but the ships do not waver nor stray from their path.
Despite these vessels being the only ones on the water, they aren’t spotted until they’re no longer shadowed by the sun at their backs but two fully-fledged sloops lead by a large and grandiose galleon. It’s a young soldier, baring the patchy facial hair of one just barely out of boyhood, that spots them from his post on the walls of the castle; one of the sloops glimmering with golden accents and gleaming in the setting sun to catch his young eye. He shouts in alarm and calls for his commander, leaving his position to sprint to the guard toward with clanking armor announcing his path but before he can reach the leaders of his squadron, a hand shoots out of the shadows and grabs him.
His blood darkens the stone only moments later and a man in an admiral blue jacket slips away from the boy’s cooling corpse, using keys lifted from the soldier’s body to unlock the door that gives access to the interior of the wall. He slinks through and moves quickly, the ends of his coat billowing around his knees and trailing behind him as he drifts through silent corridors with light footsteps. His scabbard bounces against his thigh as he breaks into a jog, keeping his weight on the balls of his feet so that the heels of his black boots do not click on the stone floors, and as he passes by the light of a torch it reflects on the obsidian sun inlaid on the cross guard of his rapier; a small, golden charm of a crown dangling from the pommel bounces the flickering flames back onto the walls.
The cries of seagulls fell away hours ago as the square-rigged ship sails slowly across the sea, the ocean spray providing a small amount of relief against the blinding heat of the midday sun. Sweat drips down the faces of the sailors working on the quarterdeck, their shirts plastered to their torsos and their visages wavering in the waves rising up from the wooden boards beneath their feet. Those who have boots have wrapped the soles in heavy canvas to avoid the melting of rubber and those without have thick calluses built up on the bottoms of their feet from years of walking superheated decks beneath the punishing sun of the Great Sea.
Geralt sits atop a barrel that’s been stood upright instead of lashed on its side with the other cargo, the salty brine of pickles wafting through the wood and burning his nose while he lounges in the meager shade provided by the mizenmast. The captain stands at the helm with a map spread across a table nearby and weighted down by spare powder bags that have been gathered from the empty cannons that are more of a deterrent than an actual defense. Geralt has a thin piece of rope in his hands as he practices various knots that the sailors have taught him, trying to distract himself from the way he regrets his black clothing and the trickle of sweat down his spine.
Captain Duny removes his hat to mop at his brow with a damp handkerchief, his overcoat hanging on the railing of the helm and the collar of his shirt is unlaced to try to relieve some of the heat. The Skellige colors flap in the breeze at the top of the mainmast and the sails that are raised bulge outward with the wind that fills them, propelling the large merchant ship towards its destination. Duny smiles as a woman with pale blonde hair emerges from below deck, his wife most likely having been sweltering inside the Captain’s Cabin based on her ruddy cheeks and how she’s stripped down to her chemise. Geralt averts his eyes politely, it’s bad luck for a woman to be on board a sailing ship but even worse to look at one in her underthings with her husband nearby, watching the glittering surface of the water as a noose hangs between his fingers.
He squints as he spies something golden gleam on the horizon, tilting his head curiously and leaning forward as though that will help him see it better. There’s still no sea birds soaring on the updrafts above them so it can’t be land, which means it’s either a wreck or another ship. There shouldn’t be any other vessels nearby though, the whole point of his presence on board Duny’s ship was to accompany the Cintran prince and princess as they traveled to Skellige and back along a route that no other merchant nor naval ships should know of. Just as Geralt turns to alert Duny to the odd vision there’s a shout from the crow’s nest.
“Captain! Sails off our starboard aft! Making headway towards us!”
Duny looks up sharply from the map at the sailor in the nest and calls back, “What colors do they fly?”
“None yet, sir!”
The Captain looks over his shoulder towards the golden shine that is quickly taking shape and becoming a small ship that sails smooth and fast atop the water. Geralt pulls out his spyglass and holds it to his eye, shutting the other to get a good look at the vessel. The sloop has a hull of dark oak and the glittering illusion is created by golden accents along the rail and two masts. There’s no figurehead but as it draws closer he can read looping cursive on the bow of the ship, painted in that same gold and accented with white ‘The Dandelion’.
“Prepare a cannon but hold your fire!” Duny commands, picking up one of the powder bags and tossing it to a monkey who salutes and scurries below deck, the boy’s bare feet slapping on the stairs. Geralt keeps his spyglass trained on the ship and the Captain addresses him in a quiet voice, “What do you see, Geralt?”
“It’s a sloop,” the hired sword says, glancing away from his glass to look at the Captain. Pavetta, Duny’s wife, clings to his arm with anxiety painted over her delicate features. “Two masts, four sails. I can’t tell how many on deck, maybe twenty? If it’s a standard sloop it’ll have six cannons on each side and one both the bow and the aft. Named The Dandelion.” At that, both the prince and princess inhale sharply and Geralt frowns, looking back through the glass at the rapidly approaching ship. He opens his mouth to ask why the name caused such a reaction but his words vanish and his mouth dries up as he watches a black flag be raised, the image of the outline of a black sun on it.
“Pirates,” he murmurs, closing the spyglass with a sharp snap and tightening the straps that hold the scabbards of his swords against his back, “You recognize the name?”
Duny has started barking commands to his sailors, tossing the rest of the powder bags to other deckboys and joining the men in hoisting the sails to try and outrun the sloop. They all know they’ll be unsuccessful, the square-rig too large and heavy to exceed more than twelve knots with the wind at their back and an empty cargo hold. With the hold full as it is, even though they have the wind, the ship is doubtful to sail any faster than seven knots while the sloop will skim the surface of the sea at a rapid eleven knots.
“You’ve heard of the Black Sun, yes?” Pavetta asks him, leaning against the railing with a white-knuckled hand, her other hand resting protectively on her swollen belly. At Geralt’s nod she takes a shuddering breath, “The Dandelion is the ship belonging to Captain Renfri’s right hand. Her captain is said to be as blood-thirsty as the pirate queen herself and none of the fleet leave any survivors.”
“If there are no survivors, then how do the stories come about?”
Pavetta doesn’t get a chance to answer before Duny is back and whisking her away below deck, grabbing his coat and putting it on to display his status as Captain of their unmarked merchant ship. Geralt has a sinking feeling of dread in his stomach as he watches The Dandelion pull up alongside their vessel, the noses of cannons emerging from the port side of the sloop and most likely already prepped and ready to fire.
“Drop anchor!” A voice calls across the water and Geralt pulls up his spyglass again to see who might be shouting. A stocky man with dark hair cropped close to his skull and thin scars down the left side of his face has his hands cupped around his mouth as he repeats the command in a booming voice, “Drop your fucking anchor or we’ll fire!” He’s clearly not the captain of the sloop but Duny orders his sailors to lower the sails and lay their starboard anchor, obviously hoping to avoid violent confrontation with the pirates.
The Dandelion shoots past their ship and drops its own starboard anchor, the ship tilting dangerously to one side as the anchor catches on the bottom of the sea and the wind continues to push the sloop forward. The rudder is thrown hard to port and Geralt watches in awe as the ship makes a sharp roundabout before they raise their anchor again and sails back towards them. The sloop pulls up alongside them once more, now only a mere ten meters away and facing the opposite direction, their starboard cannons aimed at Duny’s hull and at the ready.
Geralt was slightly off in his estimate of how many pirates were aboard The Dandelion, about thirty men and women standing on deck and armed to the teeth with swords and pistols and even a few Nilfgaardian rifles that they must have plundered. Duny walks to the rail of his ship and clasps his hands behind him in tense silence as he awaits the pirates’ next move. Out of the crew on the opposite deck emerges a young but tall man with broad shoulders, sun-tanned skin, and dark brown hair that’s tied back in a tail at the base of his skull. He’s wearing a brown, leather tricorn with a blood red feather stuck in the band that matches the unlaced, dark red shirt tucked into brown trousers and black boots. He wears a rapier on his hip and a pistol on the other, both partially hidden by the open admiral blue jacket that reaches his knees. Both his coat and his hat are embroidered with gleaming gold thread and as he turns to walk along the railing of The Dandelion, the tails of his coat flap in the breeze and Geralt catches sight of a small golden crown hanging from the pommel of his sword.
The Captain of The Dandelion, for that’s who this man must be despite how incredibly young he looks, steps up onto the railing and holds onto the rigging of his ship for security and balance as he stands across from Duny. They both wear stern expressions as they stare each other down until the pirate captain’s pink lips spread into a broad grin, revealing straight white teeth and a rich voice as he gleefully says, “Parley?”
Duny blinks in surprise and isn’t fast enough to stop the shock that flashes across his face before he schools his features back into a stern visage, “I beg your pardon?”
“You can beg,” the captain teases, crossing one booted foot in front of the other as he brushes the edge of his jacket back and places his free hand on his hip, “I’m into that sort of thing.” He leers at Duny as he rakes his bright blue eyes up and down the prince’s body, pausing on the wedding band on Duny’s left hand, “You can even invite your wife, I’m not opposed.”
“W-what?” Duny splutters, turning bright red. Whether from indignant rage or just plain embarrassment it’s hard to tell, “Now see here-”
“Parley,” the captain repeats, looking vaguely bored and inspecting his nails.
Geralt glances away from the captain to observe the rest of the pirate crew while Duny handles this conversation. Standing behind the captain is the man who shouted, wearing a white shirt and black pants and boots, as well as another man with chin-length dark brown hair and gnarled scars on the right side of his face and wearing a faded, red short-sleeved shirt with brown pants and black boots. Both of them wield broadswords and look just as muscular as Geralt is, not to say that the captain himself isn’t rather built as well based on the way he barely moves while balanced on one foot on the railing of a swaying ship and how his trousers hug thick thighs.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what that…” Duny trails off uncertainly, glancing at the pirates behind the captain as well. Geralt’s surprised by the number of women on board The Dandelion, he would have figured pirate’s to be even more superstitious than your average sailor.
The pirate captain groans dramatically, letting himself fall backwards and hang with one strong hand wrapped around the rigging, “Parley is where you let me board your ship to speak with your captain without attacking me for being a dirty, nasty pirate.” He pulls himself back up again and plops down on the railing, swinging his feet like a child, “So, where’s your captain? I’d like to call a parley.”
“I-I’m the captain,” Duny straightens up again, pulling his shoulders back and puffing out his chest, “Prince Duny Urcheon of Cintra.”
“A prince, are ya?” The pirate’s eyes glitter as he jumps to his feet and sweeps into a low bow, holding his hat to his chest, “Where are my manners? It’s an honor to meet you, your princeliness.”
Duny clears his throat uncomfortably, “I’ll allow the parley on one condition.” The captain raises an eyebrow in amused curiosity and Duny continues, “You tell me your name.”
“Of course, princey,” the captain plunks his tricorn back on his head and flicks the brim up away from his forehead before giving a mocking salute, “I am Julian Alfred Pankratz, otherwise knowns as Captain Jaskier of The Dandelion, at your service.”
The castle shudders and torches rattle in their sconces as another round of cannon fire is unloaded into the stone walls. Screams of terror and shouts of pain can be heard as the people of Cintra scramble like a disrupted line of ants, searching for cover, for escape from the hellfire raining down upon them. While the galleon fires onto the castle, the wrath of the sloops falls upon the wooden structures of homes and establishments, oak splintering beneath the iron and fire spreading through the dry kindling as hearths are blown up and candles are covered by debris. A child cries for their mother with soot on their cheeks as people rush around them until they are scooped up by loving arms and spirited away from the destruction. All of this is muffled to the man within the castle walls as he continues his search.
He kills anyone he comes across, the dagger in his hand moving faster than the soldiers can see as they run to stations that will never be filled. The sharp blade sliding between chinks in their armor to slip between ribs or into jugulars or across the femoral artery while he covers their mouths with his sun-tanned hand and waits for them to bleed out upon the floor. He moves with a purpose, heading deeper into the castle and hunting like a predator on the scent of their prey. When it starts to get too quiet, he begins to hum softly to himself to fill the silence that’s accompanied only by the rumblings of destruction and the shuffling of his clothing.
The corridors he’s been stealthily passing through open up into grand halls with high-vaulted ceilings and delicate stained glass windows that allow the orange light of fire to be recast into soot muted colors on the floor. He starts peering into various rooms as he stays close to the wall, ducking behind columns that he plasters himself to when companies of soldiers jog past him before continuing on his way. He pulls open the large, heavy door of the throne room and pokes his head in before slipping into the room and pulling the door closed with one last furtive glance and then barring it behind him.
Duny’s men stand down as the gangplanks are lowered with dull thunks, the wood bouncing against the railings of their unmarked merchant ship. The sun feels even hotter overhead without the wind from sailing or the sea spray to cool them down and Geralt is certain that his boots will slosh for the rest of the day as he watches Captain Jaskier dance across the gangplank on light feet. His face is flushed from the heat as well but with his shirt inappropriately unlaced as it is, showing off a toned chest covered with a thick layer of dark hair, he doesn’t seem to be as affected as everyone on board either ship.
“Eskel, Lambert, and Yennefer with me, if you please,” Jaskier calls behind him and the two scarred men cross over as well as a beautiful woman with pitch black hair and violet eyes that are nearly as bright as the cerulean ones belonging to the pirate captain. As Jaskier jumps down from the gangplank his eyes land on Geralt and light up but he still turns and walks over to Duny, offering his hand to politely shake the prince’s. The three other pirates remain silent as they follow their captain, Yennefer and the man with short hair aiming glares at Duny’s crew while the man with longer hair just looks bored but has a hand on the hilt of his sword.
Duny hesitantly takes Jaskier’s hand and finds himself being rattled as the pirate enthusiastically shakes it, “An honor, again, your princiness. Now, let’s get down to business.”
“B-business?” Duny looks apprehensive as he takes his hand back and crosses his arms defensively over his chest.
“Aye, business. Surely, you didn’t think I called a parley just to shake your hand, did you?” Jaskier grins and leans against the railing with a languid stretch of his arms above his head, “Unless you were hoping for something else, eh?” He winks and Duny turns red again with a quick shake of his head. “Ah, a shame. I would have been amenable to a nice romp with a fellow royal but it’ll have to wait until another day.”
The prince is becoming increasingly flustered and his eyes dart around nervously, “I-I, uh, what business did you want to discuss?”
“The business of your cargo and crew of course.”
“What about it?”
Jaskier looks disappointed then as he pouts at Duny, “You aren’t really that stupid, are you? I’m a pirate, this is a merchant ship, you have quite a few men who pose a threat to my own crew. Can you connect the dots from there?”
“You know,” the pirate captain pushes himself up off of the railing and starts to pace, stalking a slow circle around Duny in a way that can only be described as predatory , “I’ve got a curiosity. What’s a prince doing on an unmarked merchant vessel on a smuggler’s sailing route? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, Yen?”
“Aye, Captain,” the woman replies evenly, her arms crossed tightly over her breast as she glowers at the men of Duny’s crew.
“Seems awfully suspicious to me, Cap’n,” the man with short-cropped hair drawls, lacing his fingers together behind his head.
Jaskier nods and drapes his arm across Duny’s shoulders, “Indeed it does, Lambert. And for them to have the White Wolf himself on board? A hired mercenary to accompany them?”
“Very odd,” the man who must be Eskel adds in a quiet voice as his fingers flex on the hilt of his sword.
Geralt’s bad feeling has only gotten worse and he gets the sense that they’re being toyed with, like they’re nothing more than puppets or players in the production that Jaskier is putting on for his own entertainment as he holds a faux-serious expression. “Makes you think that either the cargo in the hold is something very valuable or…”
Duny swallows audibly, a drop of sweat rolling down his temple, “Or?”
“Or there’s someone valuable on board,” Jaskier looks sideways at Duny and then glances down at the deck beneath their feet and lowering his voice, “Say… the Princess of Cintra?”
“Why are you flying the Skelligen colors? What cargo did you pick up in the Isles, Duny?” Jaskier pulls the prince tighter against his side and his fingers are digging into Duny’s arm, “Come now, we’re all friends here! Ain’t we, lads?” Eskel and Lambert nod in agreement while Yennefer smirks, her violet eyes focused on Geralt now and they dart to his hands when his fingers twitch for the swords on his back. “So, what’d you pick up on Skellige, princeling? Better pray it’s more valuable than your lovely Pavetta or we might be leaving with your cargo and your wife.”
“Guns!” Duny yelps as Jaskier’s fingertips press into the prince’s rotator cuff, “We were sent to pick up guns that are the latest in warfare advancements! Please, just let us go, leave my family be.”
Jaskier’s eyes narrow as a dangerous smile spreads across his lips, “Your family, eh?” He releases Duny and shoves the prince away from himself, making Duny stumble back against Geralt, “Congratulations are in order! Hear that, lads? The princeling said his family , and I doubt he meant his crew since he hasn’t looked at them even once while I’ve been chatting with his hiney.” Jaskier starts dramatically clapping as he walks back over to his small band before doing an about face and clasping his hands together over his chest and bowing, “My sincerest apologies, Duny, but I’m afraid we can’t just let you go. But I can promise you that your wife and unborn child will be safe, I swear it on my life.”
“Safe?” Duny squeaks and Geralt frowns before shoving Duny behind him as Jaskier spreads his arms wide, standing under the Black Sun of his flag, his performance framed by The Dandelion while he shouts:
“Have at ‘em, lads!”
And the ships descend into chaos.
The Dandelion opens fire and six cannonballs rip through the hull of their square-rig, making the ship shudder and careen wildly to the portside and much of the cargo on deck slides towards the railing and piles up until the wood groans and splinters under the weight. Some of Duny’s crew lose their balance and tumble over the side of the ship, hitting the water with loud splashes while the gangplanks fall and clatter noisily against The Dandelion’s hull as ropes catch them. Geralt makes a quick decision and pushes Duny below deck as the pirate’s swords cross with those of the sailors that have swords, the other men running to find weapons or man the cannons.
The pirates haul the gangplanks up again and once Duny’s ship has stopped wildly rocking they lay the boards across the gap and the rest of Jaskier’s crew that aren’t below deck rush over with wild war cries. Swords flash and flesh tears and blood splatters on the wooden deck of the merchant ship as Duny’s crew of 105 men are cut down one by one by a pirate crew of thirty. The sounds fade away as Geralt hurries below deck with the prince, pushing him towards the cabin where Pavetta is hiding away.
“Stay in here,” Geralt growls, yanking open the door to Duny’s quarters and shoving him through. Duny stumbles forward into Pavetta’s arms and they look at him with twin expressions of ashen terror, “Don’t come out or unlock the door until I come to get you, understand?” Duny is trembling too hard to answer but Pavetta nods firmly, releasing her husband to close the door as Geralt turns around and runs back towards the stairs. He hears the scrape of the lock and feels a small amount of relief that he won’t have to worry about the royalty as he races up the stairs and immediately has to draw his sword to parry the flash of steel descending towards him.
“Oh, you’re quite fast,” Jaskier taunts as he swings again, “Are you fast in all types of sword fighting? Be a shame if you were.” He laughs as Geralt parries this second attack and then makes a jab of his own, thrusting his sword forward to try and catch Jaskier in the stomach. The pirate captain spins out of the way while knocking Geralt’s sword upwards with the blade of his rapier. Blood stains the pirate’s blade and is splattered across his tanned face like the freckles that dot his nose and cheeks.
“Shut up and just fight,” Geralt grunts as he swings down towards Jaskier’s shoulder.
The pirate captain brings his sword up to knock Geralt’s aside with a bright, almost manic grin, “Ooh, you’re rather grumpy, aren’t you? Need a release? I can offer you one, or more if you like to marathon. I’m quite good with my hands.” He wiggles the fingers of his free hand as he steps forward and counters Geralt’s attack, their swords clashing with the clanging of steel and the occasional shower of sparks as Geralt’s sword is forged from a meteorite alloy.
Geralt scowls and knocks Jaskier back with a solid kick to his stomach, “Do you ever stop talking?”
The captain wheezes slightly but recovers fast enough to catch Geralt’s next attack, “Not as such, no. I find it’s no fun to fight if there’s no undercurrent of blatant sexual tension.”
“Is that what you’d call this?”
“Mm, I’d call it foreplay. What would you call it?”
“Being fucking annoyed,” he draws his second sword and attacks with them both, pressing his full weight behind each attack. Jaskier is starting to gasp for breath, having been fighting others before attacking Geralt, but that infuriating smile is still on his face. Is the pirate captain genuinely enjoying this?
Geralt finds himself gaining the upper hand and holding it, each swing of his swords that Jaskier parries or blocks pushes the pirate captain closer and closer to the cracked railing of the ship. “You know, you’d make an excellent pirate,” Jaskier pants, his face flushed and sweat dripping down his face. Geralt suddenly realizes he’s getting embarrassingly turned on by this and snarls, raising his swords over his head to bring them down one more time when he’s stopped by a subtle click and something being pressed into his stomach.
His eyes flicker down to see a cocked pistol in Jaskier’s other hand, the muzzle digging into Geralt’s abdomen. Geralt freezes in place and glances up at Jaskier with wide eyes to see an apologetic expression on the pirate captain’s face.
“That’s not fair,” Geralt breathes and Jaskier shrugs lightly.
Jaskier steps forward and leans in, his nose nearly touching Geralt’s, and his breath ghosts across Geralt’s lips as he speaks, “Sorry, mate. Pirate, remember?” He presses his lips to Geralt’s and Geralt is unable to stop himself from letting his eyes flutter shut and kissing back before the gun kicks back in Jaskier’s hand and there’s suddenly a burning fire in his stomach. He tries to stumble away but the pirate has lifted his sword and brings the pommel down on Geralt’s head and he drops to the deck, out like a light.
The man walks the length of the throne room with the heels of his boots thumping on the carpeted runner that spans the floor from the door onto the dais to the foot of the thrones. His sharp blue eyes look around the room at the portraits and tapestries on the walls, gaze slipping past the colored hangings and banners and the Cintran flags that hang from the ceiling and behind the thrones. The room is silent except for his footsteps and the soft breath that puffs from his lungs in amusement when he turns his gaze back to the empty thrones.
There are three in total on the dais, all three of them made of wood gilded with gold leaf and padded with blue velvet cushions that are pinned with golden buttons of lion’s faces. The centermost throne is the largest of the three, where the Queen Calanthe of Cintra would sit, with a tall back and a snarling lion carved into the wood. The throne to the left of the center is second largest, the back nearly as tall as the Queen’s but lacking the visage of a lion and instead carved to look like the wings of a bird, King Eist of Skellige’s throne. The final throne, to the right of the Queen’s, is the smallest and not much taller than a high-backed chair but it once again has a lion carved into the wood extending above the cushioning. All of the thrones sport brass, clawed feet and have small tables beside them with empty glass pitchers standing atop them.
He slips past the thrones, running his fingers over the velvet to darken the cerulean fabric as he passes, and he kneels down in front of a door behind the thrones. He withdraws a lockpicking kit from an inner pocket of his coat and slips the thin rod of metal into the keyhole of the door, jiggling it around until he feels the pins holding the lock in place and he lifts the first one before sliding a second rod in to find and lift the second pin. The door unlocks with a quiet click and he leaves the metal jammed into the keyhole so it doesn’t relock behind him as he opens the door and steps into the room, lifting a torch beside the door out of its sconce and lighting the oil lantern inside the room with it. His breath catches in his throat as he’s presented with chests of glittering bronze coins, silver necklaces and gold bracelets and copper rings, and in glass cases in the center of the room are three crowns.
Geralt groans as he awakens slowly with a pounding headache and his arms restrained to his sides. His chin is lolling against his chest and as he peels his crusty eyes open he can see that he’s shirtless and he has white bandages around his midsection as well as thick ropes lashed around his torso. At his back is a stiff surface and he’s seated upon a wooden deck, the spray of the sea leaving him vaguely damp and covered in a thin layer of salt that mingles with the dried sweat on his skin.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” a masculine voice says from above him and there’s something sharp being slid under his chin and tipping his head upward. He blinks hard against the sudden brightness until the black spots fade and his eyes focus on the shadow looming over him.
Captain Jaskier stands before him in all his pirate glory, tricorn tipped back and blood washed from his skin and clothing. His shirt is a soft cream color that’s less form fitting as the red one was but just as open collared and his dark blue coat is hanging over the railing of the stairs that lead up to his helm. Without his coat, he has his sleeves rolled up to his elbows to put on display toned, tanned, and freckled forearms, one of which is heavily tattooed with sea monsters. A story told in ink upon his skin. His long fingers are wrapped around the hilt of his sword, the tip of which is what’s angling Geralt’s head up to force him to gaze upon the captain who looks more like a god of the sea in the fading light of the day and the breeze blowing through the strands of hair that have slipped free of his ponytail.
Geralt’s heart pounds in his chest and he’s not certain whether it’s from fear or… something else and he doesn’t dare glance downwards to check as he keeps his own golden eyes focussed on Jaskier’s sharp blue ones. He has a serious expression on his face, a pensive frown gracing his pink lips and the shadow of facial hair on his jaw makes him look older than he did while clean shaven. Even as he gazes sternly down at Geralt one corner of his lips twitches upwards and he winks, making Geralt’s cheeks flush deep red.
“How are you feeling, Geralt?” Jaskier asks, moving his sword away and sheathing the rapier. Geralt catches sight of the cross guard in this motion and sees the obsidian stone inlaid in the metal that makes up a black sun as Jaskier crouches down to lower himself to Geralt’s eye level. This feels patronizing and Geralt’s face twists into an angry scowl as he spits in Jaskier’s face, a glob of saliva landing on the pirate captain’s cheek. Something dangerous flashes in blue eyes as he stands up again and withdraws a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping his face clean again, “Well enough to be petulant it appears.”
“Where are Duny and Pavetta?” Geralt snarls, pulling at the ropes that bind him to one of the two masts of The Dandelion. Jaskier opens his mouth to reply when Geralt hears a muffled scream come from behind the door to the Captain’s Cabin and Jaskier nods his head towards it. “What the fuck are you doing to them, you bastard?”
Jaskier looks amused by Geralt’s accusation and places his hands on his hips as he feigns indignation, “Why I never! How dare you accuse me of such horrible deeds as torturing a heavily pregnant woman who could go into labor at any minute?” Geralt feels the blood drain from his face as he glances at the door and another scream rings out. “Mm, yes. Good thing we’ve a doctor on board, yeah?”
Geralt’s head is still throbbing and his eyes are starting to ache from being open when he desperately just wants to go back to sleep, the sun warm on his skin and his limbs heavy and he can feel his heartbeat in his stomach. He lets his head fall back against the mast and looks up at Jaskier with a tired sigh, flinching when Pavetta screams again and he can faintly hear a woman’s muffled voice telling the princess to push. “So, what now? You kill me? Ransom the princess and her family back to Cintra?”
Jaskier smiles and perches on the edge of a crate of cannon balls, crossing his ankles and leaning back on his hands, “Well, yes and no. Yes, we’ll ransom the royals, and should get a decent bit of coin from that. But no, I’m not going to kill you, Geralt.”
“How do you know my name?”
“You’re infamous, White Wolf. Known for your loyalty to Calanthe yet also being a sword for hire. You’ve stopped wars in their tracks and bedded a rather astonishing number of people, it’s quite impressive. My body count puts yours to shame, of course, but that’s to be expected,” he shrugs with a rakish smile.
“Because you’re a pirate,” Geralt sneers.
Jaskier winks at him, “And an exceptionally good lover. The offer is still on the table for someone as debonair as yourself, darling.”
He feels his face heat up again and breaks eye contact with Jaskier as he looks towards the door to the cabin again, listening intently. Jaskier seems to have no problem with this, sitting quietly and listening as well as Pavetta continues to scream and wail until it finally quiets down and the shrill cries of a baby can be heard. Geralt chances a glance at Jaskier and is surprised to see a soft smile on his face as he gazes at the golden horizon.
“Can’t say we’ve ever had a baby born on The Dandelion,” Lambert barks a laugh which jolts the captain out of whatever trance he was in, a delighted grin brightening his features as he jumps to his feet.
Jaskier claps a hand on Lambert’s shoulder as he walks towards the cabin, “First time for everything, Lamby.”
“Fuck off, Jaskier.”
The Captain laughs and opens the door to the cabin, slipping inside and closing it behind him gently. Geralt watches it for a few more moments before glancing up at the helm to see Yennefer standing there, a compass in hand and her other slender hand resting on the wheel. The wind whips wisps of her black hair around her face, the rest of it tied neatly back in a long plait that’s tossed over her shoulder. A boot nudges his foot and he looks over to see Lambert watching him with narrowed eyes and a displeased twist to his mouth. Geralt grunts at him and Lambert scowls more.
“Just making sure you’re still alive. Triss does good work but you never know.”
He inhales deeply and winces as it makes the ropes tighten around his chest before he exhales slowly, running his dry tongue over his parched lips, “Can I get some water?”
“What do I look like? Your errand boy?” Lambert sneers and rolls his eyes, “Dara! Get the dick some water!” A dark-skinned deckboy nods and jumps up from where he was playing a game with a pale deckboy, both of them wearing caps to protect their faces from the sun. Dara runs off and returns with a filled waterskin, holding it to Geralt’s lips and carefully dribbling cool water into his mouth. He sighs in relief as the tacky sensation of dehydration abates and his saliva thins out again, allowing him to lick his lips again and actually wet them.
Lambert watches him out of the corner of his eye, obviously curious about him but deciding to just scowl and glower at nothing instead of speaking. It’s probably because of the same rumors that Jaskier was spouting earlier and Geralt sighs, letting his head fall back again and his eyes close as he thinks. If they’re not going to kill him he wonders what they’re going to do with him. They’ve got him tied up for now, so they clearly don’t trust him, but also they treated his injuries. That Jaskier gave him, he reminds himself. He finds his thoughts drifting to the captain who he, disgustingly, finds incredibly fascinating. It’s not often he comes across someone who can hold their own in a fight against him, even though Jaskier did end it dirty, and the amount the man flirts is astounding.
Speaking of flirting… it brings to mind something the captain said earlier and Geralt opens his eyes again to look over at Lambert, who quickly averts his own eyes to pretend he wasn’t blatantly staring. “Your captain… earlier when he was speaking to Duny he mentioned being a fellow royal. What’s all that about?”
Lambert glances at the cabin at the mention of his captain before looking back over at Geralt, “I guess it’s not exactly common knowledge. Jaskier is Renfri’s brother.”
Geralt’s eyes pop wider, “As in Pirate Queen Renfri? Admiral of the Black Sun fleet?” Lambert hums and nods. “So Jaskier is a prince ?”
“I prefer Captain, still,” Jaskier says as he walks over, having emerged from the cabin a moment earlier, “But yes, my sister is the Dread Pirate Queen, Bane of the Great Sea, Captain of The Shrike and Admiral of the Black Sun. Etcetera, etcetera.”
“Captain, land ho!” A small, blonde woman calls from the crow’s nest and Jaskier looks up at her and then across the water as the sun dips below the horizon. The shadow of land is visible along the curve of the sea and Jaskier looks inordinately pleased as he walks to the bow, planting his hands on his hips and taking a deep breath of the sea air. A seagull caws overhead as they get closer to the land and the stars appear in the darkening sky.
“Where are you taking me?” Geralt asks, looking up at Lambert when he gets tired of staring at the land, “Why aren’t you just killing me?”
“Captain’s orders,” Lambert shrugs and walks away then. No one else talks to him until the ship pulls up to the land and lays anchor, dropping its sails and he’s untied from the mast, his wrists bound together even as his swords are re-strapped to his chest.
One of the gangplanks is lowered on the railing and Geralt is led up onto it and spun around so he’s facing the crew. Jaskier steps forward with a grin and opens the chamber of a pistol, emptying it of all of its bullets sans one and then spinning the chamber before closing it. “Something to remember me by,” he winks and stuffs the firearm in the front of Geralt’s pants before spinning him around again and pushing him towards the end of the plank, “Now off you go, Geralt.”
“Wait, what?” Geralt looks over his shoulder in shock, “You’re not gonna kill me, you’re just gonna drop me off on an abandoned island?”
“Not just any abandoned island, don’t be silly,” Jaskier waves his hand for Geralt to get moving, “One of the Isles of Skellige. Right where you came from.”
Geralt scowls, oddly feeling like he got whiplash from the pirate captain and despising feeling like he’s out of his element, “Go fuck your-” before he can finish, Jaskier kicks the end of the plank and Geralt loses his balance, falling into the cold sea below.
He pulls a bag out of his coat and starts shoveling jewelry and gems and coins and gold into it, topping it off with the two of the three crowns and then cinching the bag shut. He carries the last crown with him and grabs a sword off of the wall as he leaves the room, kicking the door shut behind him and walking to the largest of the three thrones. He drives the sword into the seat of it, the blade tearing through the velvet with ease and biting into the wood. He then hangs the final crown on the hilt of the sword, the gems set into the gold band glittering in the polluted evening sunlight that burns bright as fire through the tall windows that line the throne room.
Calanthe will be dead by now, struck down by Renfri’s blade, so this is his tribute to the fierce Lioness of Cintra. He turns and hurries away from the thrones, his heels thumping on the carpet runner as he makes his way out of the throne room. He pauses at the grand doors and listens for a moment until he’s certain he doesn’t hear any soldiers in the hall outside before slipping out and quickly making his way back the way he came until he finds a door that leads out into the courtyard. He doesn’t bother with the lockpicks again, just kicking it open and the wood splinters as the lock gives way to his foot.
The air is thick with an acrid smell of fire and soot falls over the courtyard like filthy snow, coating everything in a layer of grime and the scent of flames. He steps onto the gravel and listens as it crunches underfoot while he strolls through the grounds, the bag of his bounty clinking and rattling over his shoulder. He smoothes a hand over his dark hair, pushing the loose strands back off of his sweat damp face as he glances towards the sea where a smoke black sun kisses the horizon.
Geralt’s swim to the island is a cold one but, thankfully, not a long one. He doesn’t want to credit anything to that pirate bastard but he has to admit it was courteous of Jaskier to make him walk the plank only a half kilometer away from the shore. Once on the sand he makes quick work of freeing himself from his bindings and then gathering wood for as long as the last lingering threads of daylight will permit, willing himself not to turn and watch The Dandelion sail away into the darkness. The majority of his wood he tosses into the shallows to dampen while he makes a small fire for warmth through the night, as Skellige isn’t known for its tropical weather, pulling the wet wood after an hour or so to use it for a signal fire in the morning.
It doesn’t take long for an inhabited island to spot the large plumes of smoke his signal fire sends up into the clear sky the following day and a sailing ship is sent to pick him up, ferrying him back to Skellige main where he awaits either news of the Cintran royals or a new vessel to return him to the mainland. The vessel comes first, a week after Geralt’s rescue, and he spends a week upon the sea as it makes its way to Cintra. It’s been a fortnight since he saw Pavetta and Duny and it is to his immense relief that they’re both fine, learning this when he meets with the Queen to discuss his employ and receive some payment. He gets stiffed on part of his coin for not preventing the pirates from plundering the guns but at least he gets paid at all.
Calanthe also demands that, in a few years when the babe is old enough to require her own guard, Geralt returns to Cintra to act as private security to the little princess. He hesitantly agrees, reminding the Queen that something could happen to him in the time before he next sees her, but she dismisses his concerns and sends him on his way. Before he can leave the castle proper, Duny catches him and thanks him for his work, paying Geralt the rest of the money he was owed and also introducing him to Cirilla Fiona Elen Rhiannon, Pavetta and Duny’s daughter who was born aboard a pirate ship.
The babe is tinier than Geralt is comfortable with so he declines the offer to hold her, opting instead to let her clutch his finger with surprising strength for such a little thing. Cirilla gurgles at him and kicks her feet within her swaddle but doesn’t do much else, and he doesn’t think he expects her to anyway. She’s only two weeks old, after all, you can’t learn anything in just a fortnight. He then gives the prince and princess his respect and goes on his way, going first to an inn for a bath and then immediately to a brothel to try and get blue eyes and broad shoulders out of his mind.
The next time he sees Jaskier is a year later in a tavern in Kerack called The Black Bass. Geralt has just finished a contract to rid a duchy of some highwaymen that were plaguing the main roads in and out of it and is making his way North along the coast, as he usually does before winter finds him back in Cintra. The pirate captain is dancing along to stomping feet and tankards that bang on tables to the beat of the music his long fingers deftly coax from the lute in his hands. That rich voice of his, that Geralt had almost nearly forgotten, is smooth and full-bodied, caressing the ears of the tavern’s patrons like a perfectly fermented, cold ale would soothe a parched throat on a hot day.
He freezes in the doorway, letting the muggy air of a summer night into the even muggier air of the tavern and a few bugs flit inside before someone shouts at him to close the damned door and breaking him from his spell. Blue eyes alight on him and meet his gaze and the corners of Jaskier’s eyes fold into endearing wrinkles of mirth as the pirate grins at him without missing a beat of his song. Geralt scowls and makes his way to an empty table in a shadowed corner of the tavern, sitting down and ordering an ale and a platter of meats and cheeses from the barmaid that comes over as she warily eyes his swords.
As he savors his booze and eats his dinner, he keeps an eye on the pirate captain as well as casting a glance over the rest of the tavern’s patrons. He recognizes a fair few of them to be crewmembers of The Dandelion, spotting both Lambert and the woman from the crow’s nest in the crowd as well as Yennefer leaning against the bar as she nurses a tankard of her own. Jaskier is singing a sea shanty about a mermaid falling in love with a human and the humorous ways they learn about each other’s cultures, his coat swirling around him as he turns and spins through the tables. His hair is still long and is plaited in a straight line that reaches his shoulder blades, the sun-bleached ends curling upward in the humidity of human breaths and hot summer evenings.
Geralt doesn’t realize he’s staring until that admiral blue coat is directly in front of him, the front of it open like before and showing off a black, unlaced shirt that’s tucked into wine red trousers and his trusty black boots. He still sports his sword on his hip with his pistol on the other and through the open collar of his shirt Geralt can see the edge of a black tattoo upon his breast, making him wonder how many Jaskier has in total. Which makes him think that, if he were to ask, the flirtatious captain would offer to let Geralt count.
“I love the way you just sit in the corner and brood,” Jaskier drawls, leaning his hip against a support pillar that’s next to Geralt’s table as he wears a charming smile on his stubbled face. Someone else, a proper bard decked out in gaudy silks it looks like, has taken over the provision of music as they dance a bow along the strings of a fiddle in the corner of the room. Jaskier’s own lute is slung over his back, the strap pulling the indecently open collar of his shirt even further down until Geralt swears he can just about see one tantalizing nipple.
“I’m here to drink alone,” he grunts and tears his eyes away from the lewd vision in front of him, bringing his tankard to his lips to try and calm his racing heart and finding himself dismayed that it’s empty. He sets the cup back down with a soft sigh and Jaskier swaps it for the full ale in his hand, dropping the empty tankard onto a serving tray as a barmaid walks by and plucking a new one from the same tray.
“Good, yeah, good,” the pirate captain nods before taking a deep drink and Geralt finds himself watching Jaskier’s adam’s apple, dotted with dark stubble and so very tempting, bob with each long swallow, “So, are we going to require another dunk in the cold sea to control ourselves or would you prefer to just…” he jabs his thumb over his shoulder towards the stairs that lead up to the inn, “pop on upstairs.”
Geralt raises an eyebrow at him, “Upstairs? What for?”
“A friendly chat,” Jaskier grins in a way that suggests anything but a simple chat, “nothing more.” Geralt looks at the empty platter on his table before downing the rest of the ale Jaskier gave him and grunting his consent, climbing to his feet and following the man up the stairs to a modest room.
If their friendly chat consists of roaming hands and heavy breaths against hot skin, gasped names and tongues and teeth, tangled hair and pressing lips and Geralt waking to an empty bed the next morning, well, that’s no one’s business but his own. And he learned that Jaskier has twelve tattoos.
The sounds of carnage grow louder as he picks his way across the castle grounds, metal screaming against metal and people shrieking with terror, the splintering of wood and the crackling of roaring flames that send great plumes of smoke into the sky to block out the stars and turn it a flickering orange. Night has fallen in full and he cannot hear anybody else walking around the gardens, having left the courtyard behind some time ago in his quest to find the gates that will lead to the main road. The dirt scratches underfoot and as he turns a corner the gardens open up into a clearing that leads to the road.
He quickens his gait in relief at the sight of freedom but is soon stopped by a shadow on the ground near the base of the castle. Silver upon the lump reflects the flickering of the burning city and catching his eye so he makes his way over to it, his eyes widening at the sight of the broken corpse of Calanthe. He glances upwards, tracking her body to an open window high above the ground, and tuts as he crouches down and slips his fingers under the lion’s head pendant of the necklace that glimmered and grabbed his attention.
“You were always such a coward, Calanthe,” he murmurs, “What fools your people were to call you a lioness.” With those parting words he pulls off the necklace with a sharp yank so the clasp breaks and tucks it into his coat pocket, standing back up again and frowning as he thinks. If Renfri didn’t reach the Queen in time to kill her then it stands to reason that the little princess may not have been captured either. He sighs and runs a hand over his face before setting off again, fading into the shadows of the gates as he lays in wait for the princess and whoever may be accompanying her.
The next time Geralt sees Jaskier is after the following winter, a long and harsh one that leaves the pirate captain leaner and paler than the previous season as he weathered it at sea aboard The Dandelion. Geralt learns this during the very small amount of flirting-slash-small talk they partake in before retiring to a room of the inn in Cidaris and the rest of their time is spent much like the first. Geralt wakes again to an empty bed but this time a note is left on the bedside table of all the planned dockings for The Dandelion for the year and where. He memorizes the paper before burning it over a candle, ensuring that no one else will know the sensitive information Jaskier entrusted to him.
While Geralt’s contracts may find him following those locations, he reassures himself that his interest is purely for the insanely spectacular sex that he partakes in with the captain. Jaskier wasn’t joking when he said he was exceptionally good in bed, and Geralt is no blushing maiden either, able to wring the most delicious sounds out of the pirate during their couplings that have more than once resulted in them almost being kicked out of the inn. They don’t have much conversation before coming together, and almost always they just cuddle and fall asleep together afterwards, so it doesn’t hit Geralt until two years into this unofficial arrangement that he doesn’t know much about Jaskier at all.
They never mention the fact that he is a pirate nor what some of the obvious meanings to a few of his tattoos are, like the black sun over his heart or the jolly roger on his inner thigh. They also never mention the fact that Geralt now carries a pistol with a single shot on him at all times, only removing it when Jaskier’s own firearm has been unbuckled and set aside with his rapier. They don’t address the elephant in the room that is Jaskier’s pseudo-royalty nor that their loyalties lie in sworn enemies, Geralt’s with Cintra and Jaskier’s with the Black Sun. It’s just easier for them not to talk about these things, and the handful of times Geralt has tried Jaskier has shut him up with a touch and a kiss, turning his words to mush in his mouth.
But Geralt discovers that he wants to learn more about Jaskier. He wants to know more about the pirate captain. And not even in a way that could benefit him in the future were they to cross swords again. He wants to know what Jaskier’s favorite color is. What Jaskier thinks of when the ocean is calm and the sails of The Dandelion are full. Whether the shanties he sings and the ballads he croons are his own or something lifted from another. He wants to know where Jaskier grew up and what his life was like as a child and how that made him the man he is today. This desire to know, to learn, builds and grows with each coupling until finally, nearly three years after they began this… whatever it is, he decides to open his mouth and run it while there’s still sweat cooling on their skin and their hearts are pounding in their chests.
“What would you have been?”
Jaskier blinks and looks over, his long hair delightfully mussed and haloed on the pillow around his head and his cheeks still flushed from their activities, “What?”
Geralt clears his throat and asks again, running his fingers lightly up Jaskier’s back as he pulls the pirate into his arms, “What would you have been? If you weren’t… you know.”
“A pirate,” Jaskier finishes, easily snuggling up to Geralt’s chest and resting his head on Geralt’s shoulder, “Hmm, I haven’t thought about that in a while. What’s brought this on?”
He shrugs lightly, glad that the low light of the night hides the furious blush on his face, “Call it curiosity.”
Jaskier chuckles quietly and his hand gently rubs soothing circles against Geralt’s stomach, “Alright, I shall. And I’ll even indulge your curiosity, Wolf. Had I not become a pirate, I’d probably be a musician. A traveling bard perhaps, or maybe a professor.”
“A professor?” Geralt snorts in surprise and the captain swats his chest lightly.
“Don’t laugh, I went to Oxenfurt, you know.” That shuts Geralt up just by stunning him. “I’ll take your silence to be impressed with awe, even if it’s not. But yes, I attended Oxenfurt for nearly the full four years before I was expelled the night before my graduation as a master of the Seven Liberal Arts.”
“What were you expelled for?” Geralt asks curiously, expecting something like truancy or plagiarism.
He’s harshly reminded of the fact that the man he frequently lays with is the right hand to the Pirate Queen when Jaskier answers simply, “I murdered my rival for stealing my song.”
“So you do kill people,” Geralt’s voice is quiet as he says the words aloud, as though it might make them false.
“I never claimed otherwise.”
Geralt is silent before asking cautiously, “Then what about me?”
Jaskier doesn’t answer and Geralt eventually figures that he isn’t going to and closes his eyes, starting to drift off to sleep in the comfort of the bed with the warm presence in his arms. Just before he’s fallen unconscious he hears Jaskier whisper, “You were the exception, dear heart, you always have been.”
It feels like hours that he’s waiting in the darkness behind the gates of the castle, his eyes flickering between the doors and the stables for signs of movement. It’s more likely only thirty minutes until the stable door opens and a bay mare with a white star on her forehead emerges carrying two riders on her back. The smaller one is cloaked in the colors of Cintra, a hood pulled over their head as they hunch over the horse’s neck and grip the mane of the mare tightly in pale hands. Behind them is a much taller and broader rider, wearing all black with two swords strapped to his back and silver hair that looks dull in the twisted moonlight.
They guide the horse onto the road and start forward, the man’s golden eyes darting around anxiously as he keeps one arm protectively around the child sat in front of him. The man in the shadows withdraws his dagger and takes careful aim before rearing back and throwing it with devastating accuracy, the blade sinking into the eye of the steed and dropping the mare to the ground, sending her riders tumbling off of her back. He takes a deep breath before withdrawing his rapier from its sheath with the hiss of sharp metal against leather and steps into the faded light of the moon.
“I don’t want to do this, Geralt,” he says as the man in black gets to his feet and shoves the child behind him, “Just hand over the princess and no one will get hurt.”
“You know I can’t do that, Jaskier,” Geralt draws one of his own swords and shifts into a ready stance, “My loyalty is to the Queen-”
Jaskier cuts him off, “Calanthe is dead. Threw herself from a window like the coward that she is. I don’t want to fight you, just give me the princess and I’ll go.” Geralt inhales sharply at the news of the Queen’s death and a quiet sob comes from the girl hiding behind him. Geralt murmurs an instruction to the princess and she darts towards the stables, Jaskier’s eyes following her to make sure she doesn't escape.
“You don’t have to do this, Jask,” Geralt’s voice is rough as he looks at the pirate pleadingly, “You can come with us, become a bard like you wanted. Please, Jaskier.”
Jaskier shakes his head and purses his lips together, “You know I can’t. I will not betray my sister, nor the Black Sun. I’d die first with my loyalty intact.”
“Then you leave me no choice.” Almost faster than can be seen, Geralt’s sword is bearing down upon Jaskier’s head and their blades collide with a shower of sparks beneath a flickering orange sky.
It is five and a half years after they meet, five and a half years after their ship was ambushed, five and a half years after the birth of Cirilla, that Duny and Pavetta perish on a wine dark sea beneath a thundering tempest. The day it happens the news reaches the shore is dark and bleak, with thick storm clouds covering many of the Northern Nations. Geralt is sitting in a tavern in Redania, waiting for The Dandelion to dock, when he hears the news pass through covered lips in hushed whispers.
“Have you heard? Pavetta and Duny, lost at sea.”
“Heard there was a massive storm, capsized their vessel.”
“That poor little princess.”
“Orphaned at such a young age.”
His chair scrapes noisily against the wooden floorboards as Geralt abruptly stands and marches out of the tavern, his hands balled into tight fists and his eyes stinging from the cold air and nothing else. Pavetta and Duny were his friends and, if the townspeople are to be believed, now they’re gone forever. He’ll never again see Pavetta’s soft smile or get lashed by her sharp wit or hear Duny’s booming laugh or watch him dangle little Ciri by her ankles as she shrieks with joy. Never again will he spar with Duny in the middle of winter just to keep warm or read a bedtime story to Ciri because her parents are just too exhausted by the toddler’s boundless energy to stay awake long enough to do it themselves so they doze nearby. Geralt is so deep in his memories and grief that he doesn’t hear someone calling his name until their hand is on his shoulder.
He snaps around instantly, defensively grabbing their wrist and squeezing it tightly until he can feel the bones groaning under his fingers. Grief-stricken golden eyes meet compassionate blue and he quickly lets go of Jaskier’s wrist, stepping away in mild shame for most likely bruising his…
“What are you doing here, Jaskier?” He asks gruffly, taking himself out of his thoughts before they go down a dangerous path. His eyes still feel hot and like there’s building pressure behind them so he blinks hard to try and make the sensation fade.
“Originally, I was here to restock my ship,” he gestures towards the docks where the golden accented Dandelion is anchored and being unloaded, “I suppose I still am doing that. But I also am here to offer my most sincere condolences to you. I heard the news about Duny and Pavetta, and I’m so very sorry about their passing. I know you were close with them and if there’s anything I can do-”
“What can you do?” Geralt snarls. He knows he shouldn’t lash out like this, Jaskier hasn’t done him any wrong, but he’s angry and sad and it’s just so unfair that it was Pavetta and Duny whose lives were cut short, “You’re just a filthy fucking pirate. You knew them for a week at most while you held them for a fucking ransom on your ship and once you got your money you threw them away like garbage. What could you possibly do to make me feel any better about the deaths of my best friends, Jaskier?”
Jaskier stands there stoically, his blue eyes impossibly sad, as he allows Geralt to rant and rail against him. Once Geralt finishes speaking, Jaskier asks quietly but not unkindly, “Are you done?”
“Am I- Am I done?” Geralt laughs incredulously and Jaskier falls silent again, “Of all the… you’ve got a lot of fucking nerve, Jaskier. My best friends just died -”
“Do you? Because I don’t think you do. Your fucking crew always comes out on top, I don’t think you’ve ever felt a day of loss in your life!”
Jaskier sighs and lowers his gaze for a moment, “Well, that’s not fair.”
Geralt’s scowl deepens, “What’s not fair is that Pavetta and Duny are dead and Cirilla isn’t even six years old and she’s an orphan. What’s not fair is Calanthe losing her only child and her son-in-law. What’s not fair is how I’m alone now-”
“No,” Jaskier cuts him off sharply and Geralt scoffs.
“ No? ”
“No,” he repeats with a firm nod, “You’re not alone, Geralt. I know you’re hurting and grieving the loss of your friends but you’re not alone.”
He sneers at Jaskier, “Don’t tell me, I have you.”
“And why do you say that?”
Jaskier takes a breath and meets Geralt’s furious gaze as he says evenly, “Because I care for you a great deal, Geralt. It will take more than your grief to make me stop.”
Geralt’s anguished rage abates slightly as he blinks dumbly at the captain for a few moments before his scowl returns full force and he jabs his finger into Jaskier’s chest, “No, you don’t.”
“I can assure you, I do.”
“You don’t! You can’t, Jaskier!”
“And why not?” He challenges Geralt, narrowing his eyes dangerously.
Geralt feels something snap within him and he pokes Jaskier in the chest again as he punctuates his words, “Because if you care about me then I have to come to terms with the fact that I. Love. You! ” His vision is blurry with unshed tears and Jaskier’s touch is gentle as he moves Geralt’s finger away from his chest and pulls the wolf into a tight embrace as he strokes Geralt’s hair and murmurs soothing reassurances.
“Do you want me to distract you?” He eventually asks as Geralt still refuses to let tears fall even as his nose is blocked up and there’s a painful lump in his throat. Geralt nods and Jaskier gently leads him by the hand to the inn, getting a room for them to share and leaving the candle unlit on the bedside table as he strips Geralt with delicate caresses and tender touches. He presses gentle kisses to Geralt’s lips and forces soft gasps and pants from Geralt’s lungs when he goes to his knees, his long fingers rubbing soothing patterns into Geralt’s hips.
If there are tears on Geralt’s cheeks when he finishes with a broken sob, Jaskier politely doesn’t mention it, just pressing Geralt to lay back in bed and climbing in beside him, still fully clothed. He bundles the wolf in the blankets and his arms, allowing Geralt to cry freely into Jaskier’s chest as he soothes Geralt’s grief with tender fingers on his back and in his hair. Eventually, having Jaskier’s heartbeat against his ear and the warmth of his body beneath Geralt’s eases his pain and exhaustion pulls at him as he drifts off to the sensation of lips on the top of his head and Jaskier softly saying, “I love you, too.”
When he wakes up in the morning, he’s curled up against a warm body, his arm wrapped around a thin waist and dark hair tickling his nose. For the first time, Jaskier has stayed the night and Geralt can’t even enjoy it, feeling another wave of grief for an entirely different reason this time as he carefully slips out of bed and redresses. He leaves a note for Jaskier, apologizing for his behavior and thanking the pirate for his company, before leaving the inn and starting to head South towards Cintra. His contract with Calanthe is sure to start now.
He doesn’t see Jaskier again for eight years.
Their swords flash and clang together when they collide with each parried or blocked attack. For each advance that Jaskier makes, Geralt just has to see Cirilla out of the corner of his eye before bearing down twice as hard. Each time Geralt starts to get the upper hand, Jaskier will do a complicated maneuver that leaves Geralt’s head spinning as he scrambles to recover his balance. They’re almost perfectly matched, but eventually someone will falter.
“Why do you want Ciri?” Geralt grunts as he blocks a powerful swing of Jaskier’s rapier, the little crown charm bouncing around and gleaming in the firelight. He pushes back against the sword and swipes at the pirate’s knees, making Jaskier dance out of the way.
“Turns out Duny was the son of the Emperor of Nilfgaard,” Jaskier grits his teeth as Geralt swings again and he parries the attack, taking a two step advancement and forcing Geralt back three steps to avoid being impaled, “Estranged, but you know how it is.”
Geralt feels a flash of pain at Duny’s name and then fierce anger, “You’d sell her out to fucking Nilfgaard? I knew you were a pirate but I thought…” Geralt is momentarily distracted by the hurt in Jaskier’s eyes which gives the pirate just enough leeway to knock Geralt’s sword out of his hand, sending the blade flying until it embeds itself in the soft dirt ten meters away.
“You thought I was better than the others?” Jaskier spits and Geralt only barely gets his other sword drawn in time to block his next attack, falling back as Jaskier strikes again and again and again, “Thought I was better than my sister? Tell me, Geralt, what makes a good pirate versus a bad pirate?”
“You spared my life!”
“I told you, you’re the exception!” Jaskier drops suddenly and the tip of his sword bites across Geralt’s shins, slicing through the leather of his boots like a hot knife through butter. Fiery pain lances up Geralt’s legs and he cries out, stumbling back further as Jaskier continues to advance.
“Jaskier, please, stop this!” Geralt begs, only able to block over and over as the pirate’s rapid blows never slow, “I love you, please!” Jaskier plants his boot on Geralt’s stomach and kicks him back, knocking him to the ground with a pained grunt. He doesn’t want to turn his back on the captain but he has to as he crawls away in his bid to get back on his feet, the dirt clotting the wounds on his shins and making them sting.
“You’re a fool if you think I would sell Cirilla out, Geralt,” Jaskier snarls and once again Geralt is stuck on the defensive as he scrambles to his feet, raising his sword to block the next vicious strike of Jaskier’s rapier. “Really? A child ? I’m a pirate, not a bastard.”
“The deckboys on Duny’s ship,” Geralt gasps for breath as sweat drips down his back, “The powder monkeys. What became of them?”
“Offered positions amongst the Black Sun,” Jaskier suddenly thrusts his blade forward and Geralt’s shirt is torn as it nicks his ribs while he twists away, another hot flare of pain being added to his shins.
While Jaskier is off-balance from the thrust, Geralt drops the tip of his sword to lift the blade of the rapier up and away, parrying the attack. He’s too fatigued to use the opportunity to press the advantage though and soon Jaskier is back on the attack. “Jask, you think you’re fooling them but what if Nilfgaard fools you?”
“But,” he grunts as he blocks Jaskier’s sword too low and the blade bites into his shoulder, “What if they do?”
“I won’t fucking let them!” Jaskier shouts and draws his sword back to deal the final blow when the crack of a gunshot rings out through the road.
In Geralt’s hand is a smoking pistol, the single shot that’s resided in its barrel for thirteen years now discharged. Jaskier’s eyes widen in surprise and he drops his sword, the rapier clattering to the ground as he looks down at his chest. There, right over his heart, there’s a small hole in his admiral blue jacket.
Jaskier staggers back a few steps and pushes his coat aside, placing his hand over his chest and pulling it away to observe the blood on his fingers in morbid fascination. A crimson stain blooms and wilts on his white shirt, the collar of which is unlaced indecently, just like always. Jaskier lifts his eyes from the blood on his hand to look at the pistol in Geralt’s hand and then finally resting his gaze upon Geralt’s stricken face, a ghost of a smile flickering across Jaskier’s lips.
“I told you you’d be an excellent pirate,” he says faintly, a thin dribble of blood dripping from his mouth as he speaks, “Guess I was right.” Jaskier’s knees buckle as he crumples to the ground and Geralt stands frozen in horror until he feels Cirilla tugging at his sleeve and begging him to get onto the horse she tacked up.
He moves like the undead, slow and lumbering as he continues to stare at Jaskier’s motionless body, only mounting the horse at Ciri’s insistence. She clambers up in front of him and grips the reins in her hands, snapping them to urge the horse into a gallop to get them away from the castle as quickly as possible. Geralt twists around in the saddle to see the doors to the castle burst open and a woman with short brown hair and a blood red jacket comes running down the steps, coattails billowing behind her as she sprints across the lawn to the road. She collapses on her knees at Jaskier’s side and as the horse goes around a bend in the road her anguished screams follows them under the laughing moon.