Traveling with Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer was hard. They went slow for Yennefer’s sake, and for that Jaskier was thankful, but his entire body ached.
He’d woken up cold and damp, body sore from lying on the ground in his cheap bedroll, but he didn’t complain. He drank heavily from his water skin to keep his stomach from growling, unwilling to use up precious food for himself. He was being brought along on this journey against Geralt’s -and his own- wishes, but he would not be a burden.
He forged ahead, even, at one point, taking a bag from Yennefer. She didn’t have much to carry but he recognized the full body exhaustion on her face. She didn’t smile at him or thank him, but she nodded gratefully.
Jaskier reflected on that. He had wanted to hate the witch, especially back then, after the djinn, when he’d seen her and Geralt...playing hide the sausage. He found that he couldn’t. He was an artist, he appreciated beauty and pain and the use of words and an excellent storyline. Yennefer checked those boxes. Jaskier felt ashamed to want to dislike her. She’d held back forces at Sodden, she was strong and good with Ciri and cared for Geralt. He appreciated all these things.
It was just...she and Geralt and Ciri were all together. A powerful sorceress, a twice-made Witcher, a hero, and their adopted child with untold power and a regal birthright. It made a family. And just like with his own family, there was no place for Jaskier.
But he wasn’t supposed to be part of the family. He wasn’t there to share in the chatter Ciri directed at Yennefer and Geralt. Geralt even talked back a little, answering in one or two words the stream of questions. He answered them though. Jaskier wished he’d ever answered him.
Then he felt silly. He was jealous of Ciri, who was a child. A brave child, but a child nonetheless, who’d lost her home and her family and everyone she knew in a very short time. Of course Geralt would answer her questions, he was a good man.
He also liked children, Jaskier knew. He let his memory drift to a happier time.
It had been a summer fair in a tiny, agricultural village, tucked among wheat fields like a lost button beneath a patchwork quilt. The sun had been warm and the whole world was amber. Jaskier was playing music with a scratch band of anyone who wanted to join. Lighthearted jigs and reels had unfurled beneath his hands. He played The Willow Wedding and The Flowers of Fairside and other simple country songs that his fellow musicians might know. All around them people were dancing and laughing. Flower crowns were made. Young women shyly offered them and young men shyly took them to indicate blooming romance, but almost everyone in attendance had one, old and young.
Geralt had been standing, looming without intention, at the edge of the crowd, near Jaskier. In the shadows, in his black outfit (Jaskier had insisted he leave the armor back at the in) he looked out of place, like a thistle in a bouquet.
Then a little girl in a neat yellow pinafore, dyed with weld, probably, and carefully embroidered with little yellow roses at the collar stopped by the musician. She was perhaps four years old, and she looked at the dancers and then just sat down and began to cry.. It had been a sight to bend even the hardest heart and Jaskier had been just about to stop playing when Geralt crouched in front of her.
“What ever is the matter?” Jaskier had heard him say, softly.
“Everybody’s dancin,” sniffled the little girl. “An nobody wants to dance wif me.” She reached up and took the dandelion and daisy flower crown from her dark, bushy hair.
Jaskier’s heart just melted and he wanted to cry in sympathy as one big, blobby tear rolled down a round cheek. She scrubbed it away hastily but more were hanging on lashes all around her big, brown eyes.
“Nobody wants to dance with you?” Geralt said, affecting a wide eyed look of surprise. The girl sniffled again and pointed to the edge of the dancing, where a group of kids, a little older than her, where all wheeling about together.
“Not nobody,” Geralt said, gently putting her flower crown back on her head. “You haven’t asked me if I want to dance, have you?”
She sniffed the last of her sniffles and looked up, a slow smile starting. “Do ya wanna dance wif me?”
“Of course,” Geralt had said, then he’d very carefully lifted her so her tiny feet were safely away from trodding, and he’d set her feet on the tops of his big, black boots. Then Geralt had danced, a little awkwardly, but holding her little hands in his large ones and taking big steps so she bounced on his boots, which resulted in her shrieking with delight.
Eventually an older girl had pulled her away to go spin about with the others, but the memory lived in a quiet, warm place in Jaskier’s chest. He thought of it often, and the way the little girl had offered a tiny daisy from her flower crown. It had remained in Geralt’s fingers as he returned to his place, brooding in the shadows, spinning it between thumb and forefinger occasionally.
“Dandelion,” Ciri said, pulling him from his reverie. “Jaskier, can you tell me a story?”
Jaskier glanced back to see the look on Geralt’s face, but then wasn’t sure why he had, the witcher’s expression held no answers, it never did. The story that leapt to mind was, of course, Geralt dancing with that child in the sunshine, but he didn’t tell it. Instead he leapt into a tale, a long one, of the son of a king who wanted to marry the lovely daughter of an evil enchanter.
It was a good story, very long with lot’s of parts, so Ciri could ask for more again and again, and there were amazing characters with strange tales and true love and magic and wishes. Everything a good story needed. Jaskier prided himself on doing the voices for each new character.
Ciri traipsed along beside him, hanging on his every word. She was a good audience, making surprised noises or saying ‘oh no!’ at just the right points. Jaskier even noticed Yennefer listening, occasionally smiling to herself at a joke or a good part of the story.
Geralt walked on ahead. Jaskier had no way of telling if he was listening, but he probably wasn’t. The story was fantastical to the extreme and if Geralt were listening he would probably be scoffing and complaining about how that ‘can’t be done with magic’ and ‘there aren’t river dragons, there’s only water serpents, they’re different species entirely’.
It was funny, though, when they stopped for dinner-Jaskier picking at the rations offered, reluctant to use up supplies but unwilling to worry Ciri- he continued the story, and Geralt, who had been sharpening his sword, stopped.
Of course, it was probably simply that the blade didn’t need much sharpening, or that Geralt wanted to allow Ciri to listen. Still, Jaskier felt good. He hadn’t complained, he wasn’t eating too much food, and he wasn’t much of a burden.
And Ciri liked the story.
They kept walking after dinner, so long as they still had light, relying on Geralt in the dim twilight to find a spot to camp. Jaskier told more of the story, not even a third of the way through, and occasionally Ciri asked questions.
“Why did the king’s son not want to marry the oldest sister?”
“Because she was too cold,” Jaskier said, inventing, because the story didn’t say. “She was beautiful, but she could not love, so her heart turned to ice and everything she touched froze.”
“And the middle sister?” Ciri asked, wide eyed.
“She was too warm, she was angry, all the time, and so her heart turned to fire and all she touched melted or burned.”
As the story he told progressed, Jaskier used his additions in the story. The king’s son, fleeing with his soon-to-be bride, the youngest sister, had to escape the sorceror’s wrath, but the sisters tried to stop their youngest sister leaving, melting the chains of the drawbridge so that the couple couldn’t escape.
Ciri gasped and wrapped one hand in Jaskier’s traveling cloak, hanging on to him as tightly as she held to his words.
Then the eldest sister in the story sent a blizard after the couple, who had escaped the draw bridge just in time. Yennefer, who looked a little better after their meal and short rest, sent a tiny swirl of snow, a miniature blizzard from her finger, letting it play a moment with Ciri’s hair before dissappearing.
Ciri laughed with delight and Jaskier sent a smile to Yennefer, who nodded at him surprisingly warmly. A good story made everyone happy, he supposed.
They stopped for the night in another clearing. Ciri begged for more of the story before bed. Geralt sat, setting the fire so it could burn through the night, while Yennefer brushed out Ciri’s hair. It was a perfect, domestic little scene, and Jaskier felt odd, seeing it from the outside, but also in the spotlight of Ciri’s focus.
He plucked his lute quietly as he told the story. In truth, there were many little poems buried in the tale, and he’d long ago made little tunes for each so that they could be sung. When he came to one, though, he didn’t sing it. He just plucked out the tune as he talked, and when the poem passed he continued through the story, letting his music be the background.
Hopefully it was less annoying that way.
He wasn’t about to offer this perfect family a fillingless pie.
As he finally lay down to sleep though, he quite felt like a fillingless pie himself. Ciri and Yennefer had once again bedded down in the magic tent and Geralt was rolled up in his bedroll in his tent, across the barely glowing fire. Jaskier lay awake.
His bedroll was thin and his ribs fairly ached with hunger, but Geralt had said they were but a day away from a town. Jaskier could buy supplies there, he still had a little coin, and that way he wouldn’t use up the others’ food.
He could play in the town too, earn more coin. They wouldn’t stay there, he knew, not with half the continent searching for a white haired witcher and his child surprise. But the others needed supplies too, and Yennefer said she had enough magic for a small glamor to hide Geralt and Ciri’s hair and her eyes.
Jaskier settled in for the night. Earning coin made him useful, and therefore not a burden, so he would earn coin.
He made a list in his head of things he should buy to prepare for the trek up to Kaer Morhen. Gloves, his only pair had worn out last year. A thicker cloak, his was practically threadbare. Grapeseed and linseed oil. One for the beard he was growing and the other for his lute. New lute strings.
He rolled over on his bedroll, trying to avoid the root digging into his spine. He’d need to make quite a bit of money. He wasn’t sure he’d be able too. It wasn’t safe to sing about the white wolf, not too much, or someone might recognize him as himself, rather than just some bard singing Jaskier’s songs.
Country ditties then, but they made less money. It wasn’t just his supplies he needed to buy, either. Jaskier didn’t want to just not be a burden, he wanted to help.
They would all need thicker clothes and lots of food to make it to Kaer Morhen. He wasn’t a good hunter so he could really only help by supplying money to buy what they needed. He had little right now, and he felt shame rise in him. He’d had no way of knowing he’d meet up with Geralt and his child surprise, but if he hadn’t drunk so much of his money than he could be a better help.
He could sell his lute.
The thought came into his mind like a knife, and it turned his stomache. He could sell his lute, but the beautiful girl was the only physical thing he had to remind him of Geralt. Filavandrel’s lute. It would be worth a fortune, of course. Elven made, everyone knew they made the best instruments.
It was just...he couldn’t bear the thought of letting the lute go. He loved how she played, loved the memories he had. He knew the story behind every shallow scratch and scuff, and who could love her the same? And when the danger was passed and Geralt never had to see him again, what would Jaskier have then? A handful of memories, turned bittersweet, then bitter. Nothing concrete. He’d go back to Oxenfurt, maybe even Lettenhove. And there would be nothing for him to hold to remind him.
He couldn’t sell his lute.
The thought ate at him as he tried to sleep though. He had in his hands the means to help them all so much, and he was too selfish to do so.
Sleep eventually claimed him, and he dreamt of a mountain, wind whipping about his ears and carrying words to him.
Shit shoveler. Burden. If life could give me one blessing...
He awoke sore and badly rested, tears dried on his face.