“Bards don’t believe in goodbyes—we know that the roads we walk are winding, and we generally tend to come back to people and places we’ve known and been before, and often at just the right time.”
Sean Gibson, The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple
There’s no light in the cell.
Jaskier doesn’t actually know how much time has passed since the black-cloaked Nilfgaardians grabbed him after a performance in a shitty tavern in the backcountry of northern Kaedwen. He’d assumed--foolishly, apparently--that he was far enough north that any Nilfgaardian soldiers would be few and far between, likely just scouts or even deserters. It would have been hard to actually get any further north--the little backwater town where he’d been singing was just a day from the mountains. Anymore travel, and he’d find himself skirting the Trail up to Kaer Morhen, the Warlord’s Keep, and, well. He’s brazen, but not that brazen.
He’s also not a fighter, which is likely why it was horribly easy for the pack of soldiers to corner him in the tavern’s stables, steal his lute, express their extreme displeasure in his music, especially the particularly irreverent Emperor Emhyr’s Empirically Small Cock (a hit even up here, where most of the towns are still relatively untouched by the War itself). When he’d suggested that perhaps their taste in loyalties was as flawed as their taste in music, he’d gotten the pommel of a sword to the back of the head.
And then darkness.
He’d woken in darkness, too, and for a few brief, horrifying moments, was sure the hit had rendered him blind. It’s a total, heavy darkness, an utter lack of light that somehow seems to crawl with even deeper shadows. It’s cold, too, and the soldiers have left him with nothing but his breeches and chemise.
When the light does come, it’s so bright it hurts. The soldiers who carry the torches laugh at him when he shrinks back from the flame even as his body yearns towards the heat. They handle him roughly as they force gruel down his throat and fix the chains around his wrists to the loop on the ceiling to easily access his ribs with their gauntleted fists, can force him to struggle on his tip-toes until he has to drop down to the soles of his feet and then struggle against the overstretched pain in his shoulders until they slacken the chain.
But it’s the sorceress who scares him the most.
The soldiers ask questions--who he is, who he works for, how dare he insult the Emperor in the ways that he does, where does he get his information, where do his loyalties lie. It’s flattering, almost; after all, for soldiers to take such an interest in a bard, his songs must truly be doing their job, which is to utterly undermine the fear and terror of the Empire in favor of absolute mockery.
The sorceress, though.
She asks no questions. In her fine silks and perfect cosmetics, he could almost mistake her for a noblewoman, if not for the power that crackles around her and makes the hair on his arms stand on end. The first time she visits him, she touches him only once: pulling down the back of his chemise until the collar cuts into his throat and pressing two fingers to the skin between his shoulder blades. There’s a brief, choking flare of pain, the air filling with the scent of seared flesh, and then her touch is gone, and Jaskier hangs, gasping, from his bonds.
After that, her touches are worse. They’re light, and cool, just the brush of her fingertips against his brow. And then the visions come, and come, and come, memories and dreams and nightmares, all so vividly real they leave him dizzy and sick and shaking. He doesn’t know what she’s looking for, not that he’d give it to her if he did--he’s not loyal to anyone in particular these days, but it’s the principle of the thing.
Time and time again, she steps away. In the still too-bright torchlight, he can see her face twisted in disappointment and frustration for a half-instant before she smoothes it away, leaving only a horrible sort of blankness.
“Well,” she says each time, as if she’s leaving a particularly boring dinner party, and not a black site torture cell. “I suppose, Master Bard, we will try again tomorrow.”
She sweeps away. The soldiers unhook Jaskier’s chains from the ceiling and reattach them to the loop on the floor. He doesn’t know how long he’s been here, but it’s long enough that his wrists are rubbed raw, the skin broken in places.
Time passes, at least he thinks he does. In the darkness of the cell, he doesn’t know when it’s day, or night. He chooses a corner for a latrine and curls up on a lumpy pallet on the opposite side of the cell, trying to keep at least a semblance of civilization. He wishes for a blanket, for his winter cloak, for his boots, or at least for his socks. He wishes for--
Well. He wishes for a miracle. He’s a bard, after all. He loves a bit of romance.
But no one is coming, he knows. He’ll die in this cell, or they’ll ship him back to the Empire and kill him there. This is the end of the line, Jaskier thinks, for the Viscount de Lettenhove, if he can still even claim the title.
Ah, well. It’s a fitting end for a bard, maybe. His only regret is that no one will know enough about it to tell his last story.
Not for the first time, he sighs. The exhale hurts his almost certainly broken ribs. The brand--it is a brand, he’s certain--between his shoulder blades feels hot and tight, almost certainly infected. His head hurts, has been pounding since the soldiers first knocked him out, and his vision swims sickly. He wonders when the fever will set in.
Just when he’s beginning to contemplate another round of singing--he doesn’t have much voice or breath support yet, but he figures at least he can annoy the guards, which is always something--torchlight flares outside the door. Jasker winces and turns his face away, just in time to hear the door slam heavily open.
“You can’t do this to me!” someone is shrieking. A very young-sounding someone. The door creaks more, and a young girl, probably somewhere in her teens, with a mane of white-blonde hair and furious green eyes briefly illuminated by the flash of the torches. The guard has a grip on the girl’s arm, wrenching her shoulder up at what looks like a painful angle, but she doesn’t show a lick of fear. “I’m not who you think I am, I’m just--I’m just some kid. You have to let me go!”
“You’re even less of a nobody than our bard friend in there,” one of the guards says, jerking his chin at Jaskier. The girl looks at him, her features cast in stark relief by the torchlight, and Jasker loses what’s left of his breath. It’s been years since that fateful night in Cintra’s court, but he would know this girl anywhere.
She is, after all, the absolute image of her mother.
The guard takes advantage of her momentary distraction to shove her none-too-gently into the cell, sending her careening into Jaskier. She catches herself against his shoulder, and he bites down a wince at the impact against the broken skin under his chemise. Just as quickly, she lets him go.
“Sit tight, little girl,” the guard says, taunting and cruel. “This might be your last night of peaceful sleep. In the morning, you see the mage.”
The door to the cell slams shut, the torchlight vanishing with it. The returning darkness is absolute, skin-crawlingly thick.
In the newly deafening silence, Jaskier swallows around his horribly dry throat. It doesn’t go well, and he coughs. It takes him a few moments to get his breath back, his ribs screaming.
“Um. Here.” A gentle hand touches his arm, and he looks sharply up, trying to make out her shape in the darkness. He can’t, of course, but he can hear the soft sloshing of water. “They--they left me my water skin. Unless you have some?”
“I don't,” he croaked. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she says, and, with the kindest touch he’s felt in far too long, carefully cradles his jaw in one hand as she puts the water skin to his lips. He drinks gratefully but carefully, and makes a quiet sound of gratitude when his stomach starts to protest. “They...said you’re a bard?” she asks, uncertainty clear in her voice.
“I am,” he says wearily, too tired for his usual pomp. “Or at least, I was. It’ll be some time before I’m back in performance form, I think.” Still, there’s no call to be rude. “My name is Jaskier.”
A soft intake of breath. “Jaskier,” she says. “Why...why do I know that name?”
“I spent some time at one court or another,” he says. The water has worked wonders; for the first time in what feels like days, it doesn’t hurt to speak. Too bad he’ll ruin it again with the screaming he’s sure to do when the sorceress returns. “Wrote a few rather catchy tunes. Sometimes I even get credited for them.”
“No,” she says slowly. “I--I know your name. You wrote the songs--one for my parents, and one for--” She breaks off suddenly, sucking in a breath, and, even through his weariness, Jaskier’s heart softens.
“It’s alright, sweetheart,” he says. It’s more familiar than he should be, of course, but he’s tired and in pain, and far too exhausted to try and figure out what title she uses now. “I know who you are,” he says. A murmur, barely a breath of air.
She sounds suspicious. Not afraid, he thinks, but wary, like a prowling animal, uncertain whether to flee or strike. Good girl, he thinks, Your grandmother would be proud.
What he says instead is: “You’re the spitting image of your mother, Princess.”
Princess Cirilla, the Lion Cub of Cintra, the last remaining heir to the Cintran line, sucks in a breath. “You,” she says, and makes a soft, hesitant sound. Her voice, when she speaks again, is very young. “You knew my mother?”
“I did,” he says, remembering nights at court, Queen Calanthe’s roaring laughter, Pavetta’s swirling blonde braid. He closes his eyes. His head hurts again, but it’s been so long, he thinks, since someone has spoken to him kindly. “Would you like me to tell you a story about her?”
There’s a moment of silence, and then, with a soft clink of chains, Cirilla sits next to him, close enough that he feels the warmth of her against his side. Wincing slightly, he lifts his arm to tuck it wordlessly around her shoulders.
“It started,” he says, his voice still hoarse, but the familiarity of storytelling coming back so sweetly, like a dear old friend, “at a banquet.”
“What does Nilfgaard want with you?”
Jaskier rouses himself from the half-doze he’s slipped into, lulled by the pounding in his head and the throbbing in his ribs and the soft rush of the princess’s-- “Ciri,” she’d said, sleepily, “Call me Ciri”--breathing. She’d nodded off sometime after he’d finished telling her the story of her parents’ fateful engagement, then soothed her sudden tears with as many Cintran lullabies as his ragged throat could handle. It hurts a bit where her head has slumped against his shoulder, but he’s missed human contact—at least, nonviolent human contact—so badly that he can’t bring himself to nudge her off.
“I sang a few songs I shouldn’t have,” he says, which is more true than not. He’s sung, in fact, almost exclusively songs he shouldn’t have sung for the better part of the last three years, ever since His Excellency the Emperor down in the City of Golden Towers got it into his mind to try and conquer the rest of the Continent. Jaskier has been out on the road for less than fifteen years, but he’s made a name for himself--fortunately or unfortunately, he’s still not sure--for the way his songs blend irreverence with hope, humor with political metaphor. Every bard needs a reputation, of course, but at times like this, he finds himself wishing he’d stuck to tavern ditties and love songs.
It’s not a thought he’s particularly proud of.
“Anyway, enough about me,” he says, because if he lets them go down that path any further, he’s quite sure Ciri will ask about the blood she can surely feel under her cheek where it rests on his shoulder, the hitches in his breath at every movement. “Where have you been, Princess? I hear the Emperor’s been scouring the Continent for you, while you vanished without a trace.” There’s no light for him to see her now, but in the brief glimpse he’d gotten of her face, she looked well-fed and healthy, her clothes well-made and well-fitted, despite the wear-and-tear one might expect from someone recently kidnapped by extremely determined soldiers. “It doesn’t seem like you’ve been on the run.”
“No, I…” She hesitates, a hint of wariness coming into her voice. Smart girl, Jaskier thinks again. Someone taught her well.
“You don’t have to tell me,” he says, as kindly as he can manage.
“It’s okay.” She sits up, her touch vanishing away into the darkness, and Jaskier doesn’t even have time to miss the reassuring human contact before her hand reaches out to grasp his arm, then feel along his sleeve until she can clasp his hand. He squeezes as reassuringly as he can. “I’ve been in Kaer Morhen.”
Whatever Jaskier was expecting, that wasn’t it. “The White Wolf’s keep?” he asks, incredulous.
“Shh,” Ciri hisses, and then gives a small, self-deprecating laugh, as if she’s just realized that they’re alone here, in the dark. No one is listening. Jaskier knows--he’s spent enough time shouting curses on the Emperor’s name down here that if anyone was listening, the absolute Nilfgaardian loyalty of his captors wouldn’t have let him get away with it without breaking his fingers.
Well. Another of his fingers.
“Sorry,” Jaskier says. Quieter, now. “But--Kaer Morhen? How? Why?”
The warmth of Ciri’s body shifts slightly as she resettles herself against his side. “Geralt,” she says.
Jaskier frowns. The name is familiar, but he can’t place it. “Geralt?”
“Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher. He’s my…” She trails off, and it doesn’t sound hesitant so much as uncertain. “I don’t know what he is to me, exactly. But I’m his Child of Surprise.”
If she could see him, he would have had to try to keep his expression even. In the utter darkness of the cell, he lets his jaw drop. “You’re his what?”
“His Child Surprise,” she repeats. “He saved my father’s life, and claimed the Law of Surprise when my father insisted on repaying him.” There’s a soft scraping sound of her boots moving against the floor of the cell, the only indication that she’s fidgeting. “It was the night my parents got engaged. Weren’t you there?”
“I was,” Jaskier says slowly. He remembers the Witcher, of course, with his striking features and stark white hair, leaping into the fray of the fighting in Calanthe’s hall, but nothing about the Law of Surprise. Then again, he’d been briefly distracted by the Countess de Stael clinging to his arm and whispering numerous promises into his ear.
Not that Ciri needs to know that--
A white-haired Witcher, claiming the Law of Surprise. Ciri, swept away from Cintra just before Nilfgaard marched on the gates. Ciri, in Kaer Morhen.
“Ciri,” he says, realization dawning. “Your Geralt--is he the White Wolf?”
Ciri’s silence is answer enough.
The White Wolf of Kaer Morhen, the Warlord of the North, is almost more of a legend and a bogeyman as much as a reality. He’d come to power when he and a pack of fifty Witchers--notoriously independent, free-roaming warriors, suddenly united under a single banner--stormed the capital of Kaedwen and killed the king.
(Who had, if the rumors were true, entirely deserved it.)
In the five years since, the White Wolf’s army had become an unstoppable force, his empire in the North growing almost as quickly as Nilgaard’s in the South. He’d started with Kaedwen, and taken Caingorn, Kovir, and half of Aedirn and Redania in quick succession. The difference, of course, is that while the Emperor has left a trail of blood and gore and death in the wake of his army, the White Wolf, by all reports, has done nothing but improve the fortunes of most of his new subjects. Kings fear him, nobles guard their gold and build their guards, but the common folk--at least the ones Jaskier has met--speak of nothing but more food, cleaner water, a sudden drop in fear and violence.
For all that the Witchers of the White Wolf’s army are deadly and terrifying, and the White Wolf himself even moreso, the people of his empire are...well, if not thriving, something close to it. Little is known about the White Wolf himself. A Witcher, of course, rumored to have undergone more mutations than his peers, rendering him faster, stronger, even harder to kill. He’s spoken of in whispers, described as a monster as much as a man.
Jaskier remembers broad shoulders and golden eyes, a firm voice and a complete lack of hesitation to do right. He tries to match that to the ghost stories of the White Wolf, and finds it simultaneously obvious and strange. Handsome and deadly and noble.
“Jaskier?” Ciri says, her voice small. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” he croaks, and then clears his throat. It hurts, but no more than anything else, and it’s grounding. “Fine,” he repeats. He swallows. “Ciri, I don’t--what are you doing here? Is Kaer Morhen...Weren’t you safe?”
For a long moment, Ciri is silent. And then, very quietly, she sniffles--once, twice--and bursts into tears.
Alarm builds rapidly in the pit of Jaskier’s gut. Strange, he thinks, that he’s become pretty much immune to the fear of torture, but a crying child is still enough to alarm him. Then again, he supposes, that crying child is related to Calanthe of Cintra, so her bar for tears is probably horrifyingly high.
“Ciri,” he says, as gently as he can. “Cirilla. Princess.” That makes her stop mid-sob, gasping a hiccuping breath. “Princess,” he says again. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, it’s okay. You can tell me.” He hesitates. “If they--the Witchers, if they hurt you--”
“No,” she says, sounding horrified. “No, they’d never. They’re good, they’re so good, they’re…”
She trails off, sniffling. Jaskier says, carefully, “Cirilla?”
“It’s my fault,” she whispers. “It’s my fault I’m here. I--I ran away.”
She sounds miserable, and Jaskier clicks his tongue sympathetically. “Come here, love,” he murmurs, and she curls up against his side again, tucking her head against his shoulder. He winces and does his best to wrap his arm around her. “It’s alright. It’s okay.” He waits until her breathing settles again.”What do you mean, you ran away?”
Ciri rubs her face against the bloody fabric of his chemise, and he cringes. Her skin wasn’t perfectly clean when she was tossed into the cell, but it’ll be a mess now. “I just felt so useless,” she says. “They were training me--with a sword, with magic--” Magic? Jaskier thinks, a little wildly, and then, Oh, Pavetta, “But they wouldn’t let me--”
She breaks off, and he hears a rustling, an arm dragged under a nose. “They killed my family,” she says, fierce and angry, the misery gone from her voice and replaced by a rage that’s all too reminiscent of Calanthe at her finest. “Those--those Nilfgaardian bastards. My grandmother. Eist. Everyone I cared about--Cintra. I wanted...I wanted them hurt.”
“Princess, that’s…” He chooses his words with care. “It’s not your job to do that.”
“It is,” she says. “It is. I’m--I’m all that’s left.”
“Oh, Ciri,” Jaskier says, sympathetic before he can stop the tone. He knows better than to say something stupid like you’re just a child, but gods, she’s just a child.
“I thought I could do something,” she says. “I was so sick of doing nothing. Geralt told me that Kaer Morhen kept me safe, but I heard him talking about the patrols in Kaedwen, and I thought--I thought if I could just prove…” She cuts herself off with a sob. “I’m so stupid.”
“No, love, you’re not.” He strokes a careful hand over the crown of her head. “You were trying to make a difference. That’s not stupid.”
Ciri scoffs, but she still leans into his touch. “I should have listened.”
“Don’t get hung up on the shoulds. That way madness lies.” He pets her hair quietly for a moment, and then asks, “How did they find you?”
“I found them,” she says dully. “Walked right into their camp. I thought my magic would give me an advantage--I didn’t realize they’d have a mage.”
Jaskier shudders, remembering a burning brand between his shoulder blades, the cold tickle of phantom fingers through his mind. “Yes,” he says. “She’s...something.”
Ciri’s fingers find the sleeve of his chemise and hold tight. “She hurt you, didn’t she?”
Her grip twists. “Will she hurt me, too?”
The question comes out small and young, but he knows she’s too old to be comforted by lies. “She might. I don’t know.” He pauses, not sure what to say. “It might depend on...on why they want you.” It makes him sick to even think about it, but she’s a lovely girl, and the only legitimate heir to Cintra. There are only so many reasons that a man like Emhyr var Emreis would put so much effort into finding her, and none of them are good. “I wish I could tell you something kinder.”
“No, it’s…” She takes an audible breath, lets it out in a rushing sigh. “It’s better this way. Geralt says--he says it’s easier to be brave when you know what to expect. You can prepare yourself.”
Geralt, Jaskier thinks, and shakes his head. Lucky thing he took on that White Wolf moniker; Geralt isn’t exactly a name that can strike fear into a Continent. “What’s he like?” he asks, figuring it’s a safe way to get her talking about something less terrifying than impending torture--or worse. “The White Wolf?”
Ciri makes a soft hm noise, something between a hum and a grunt. “He’s hard to describe,” she says. “He’s quiet, I guess. Kinder than he’d like people to think. He’s...commanding. I mean--” She laughs a little. It’s a good sound, Jaskier thinks. He prays she’ll get to keep laughing for years. “He’d have to be, to keep all the Witchers in line. But there’s something about him that makes it work, even if it’s not…well. I don’t think he ever expected to be where he is now. But it makes sense, when you know him. It seems like he was made for it.”
Jaskier inclines his head, though he knows she can’t see it. “And--Kaer Morhen?”
There’s a crash outside, and the sound of footsteps. Ciri breaks off with gasp.
“Behind me,” Jaskier says. It’s useless, probably, it’s not like he can do anything to protect her, chained to the floor like this, but gods, he has to try, he can’t let this sweet girl get hurt--
The cell door clangs open, and he and Ciri both shrink back from the sudden light. The Nilfgaardian captain steps in, followed by the mage, velvet-robed and stone-faced. “Good evening,” the captain says, the slightest curl in his lip. He makes Ciri a bow that almost seems genuine. “Your Highness.”
Ciri says nothing. Her fingers tighten on Jaskier’s sleeve.
“The Emperor sends his regards, Princess,” the mage says. Her gaze sweeps over Ciri and then shifts to Jaskier, and he suppresses a shudder. She has a face that seems, at first glance, kind--soft eyes, as if there could be warmth there, if things had been different for her. But instead there’s only ice, stony and cold, an utter lack of compassion. “Bard.”
“My lady,” Jaskier says, with more calm than he feels, because he may be an utter disappointment to his parents in every possible way, but at least he remembers his manners.
Her expression doesn’t change, but she still gives off the impression of amusement. “Are you feeling more talkative today?”
“I’m always talkative,” he says. It’s not what she means, and he knows it. They’re convinced that he’s part of the Redanian Secret Service, his bardic talents a means for sowing dissension rather than searching for fame. They’re half-right, he supposes, he is trying to sow dissension and the Service did try to recruit him while he was at Oxenfurt, but it only took one sit-down with Dijkstra for him to determine that he wanted nothing at all to do with that, thanks ever so much. “I could even sing, if you’d like. I have a few new songs about His Eminence I’ve been working on down here; it would be lovely to have an audience to try them out on. The rats just aren’t giving me the feedback I’m used to.”
The mage clicks her tongue. “Little bard,” she says, an almost disappointed note to her voice. “Such a waste.”
She reaches out with a slender, perfectly manicured hand, delicate fingers Jaskier sees in his nightmares. He pushes Ciri further behind him.
Her fingertips touch his forehead, and several things happen at once.
Pain explodes through his temples, ripping down his neck and spine, hot and fierce like lightning.
Cirilla screams, high and wordless, and the cell around them ripples with so much power that Jaskier’s ears start to ring.
And a portal opens in the corner of the cell.
The mage yanks her hand away from Jaskier’s forehead with a curse, flinging her arms up and out just as a man--no, Jaskier realizes dizzily, a Witcher, the Witcher, the White Wolf himself--charges through the portal, golden eyes blazing in the torchlight and the shimmering spiral of the portal. He throws out a hand, the air cracks, and the mage staggers back.
More Witchers stream out of the portal, armor-clad and bellowing, swords drawn. A woman brings up the rear, very beautiful and clearly very furious, and her eyes snap to Ciri, clinging to Jaskier, to Jaskier, still swaying and cloudy with pain, and finally to the mage, struggling to her feet. Her lip curls.
“Fringilla,” she snarls. Her hands burst into flames.
Everything dissolves, very quickly, into absolute chaos.
Jaskier watches through pain-blurred eyes, wavering on his knees. The White Wolf fights like the demon he’s rumored to be, ruthless and already bloodied, his sword swinging silver, his movements graceful and deadly. His Witchers cut down the Nifgaardian soldiers like paper dolls, blood arcing through the air. The cell, already thick with the smells of blood and sweat and piss, fills with the screams of the dying, the stench of gore and bile and shredded guts. Ciri clutches his arm and he’s aware, dimly, of her retching beside him.
“You,” someone snarls, and Jaskier drags himself back to reality as the Nilfgaardian captain looms above them, sword drawn. His face is smeared with blood, his mouth twisted with rage. “You’re more trouble than you’re worth, Princess--”
He reaches for Ciri and Jaskier moves without thinking, putting his body between them. The captain makes a furious sound and raises his sword.
The snap comes from the mage. The captain whirls, and Jaskier follows his frantic gaze to the opposite end of the cell, where the Nilfgaardian mage has one hand extended, holding off three Witchers with a forcefield, the other opening a portal. “Now,” she grits out, and the captain swears and runs. The portal swallows him, and the mage follows him through, just in time for the Witcher’s mage to whirl towards them with a cry of frustration and rage.
A last body slides off a Witcher’s sword with a horrible squelching noise, then falls to the ground with a dull thump. The sounds of battle disappear, replaced by only ragged breathing, the groans of the wounded and dying, and the pounding of Jaskier’s pulse in his ears.
Someone says, soft and winded, “Ciri.”
Ciri’s hand drops away from Jaskier’s arm. “Geralt,” she says, and bursts into tears.
Faster than any normal man could move, the White Wolf is there, sweeping Ciri into his arms. She flings hers around his neck, burying her face in his shoulder, her ash-blonde hair nearly blending into his, the white strands darkened in places with splashed blood. They fit together like parent and child, her body utterly trusting as she clings to him.
Destiny, Jaskier thinks, fuzzy and warm. That’s nice.
Everything dips around him, then, and the world suddenly goes very light. He barely feels it when his head hits the stone floor of the cell.
“Jaskier!” It’s Ciri’s voice, high and frantic. He feels small, gentle hands on his face, and forces his eyes open. Her face is pale and worried. “Jaskier, stay awake--Yennefer, Yen, you have to help him--”
Then the Witcher’s mage is there, her violet eyes very bright and very lovely. Her gaze scans him clinically, but when she reaches out to touch him, all he can see is the memory of other magic. He shrinks away, and pain lances through him again, days of torture and beating rushing back through his nerves. The world spins. His face feels damp, something hot and wet spilling down from his eyes and nose.
“Fuck,” the mage says. “She must have--fuck. Geralt, hold him down.”
Strong hands curl over his shoulders, firm enough to hold him in place, gentle enough not to aggravate his wounds. “I’ve got him,” says a voice, low and rough.
The last thing Jaskier sees before everything falls away is a pair of brilliant golden eyes.