Lambert is on his way to Kaer Morhen for the winter when he hears an odd sniffling from the trees. He's fairly sure it's human, and weighs the pros and cons of checking it out. He can't abide a crying woman, something about the tears and the red face and it's never been particularly beautiful to him in any sense. If it's a crying woman, he's going to turn right back onto the road and keep going.
The source of the mysterious noise is not, in fact, a woman at all. A man dressed in red and white hovers over the remains of a dying fire and shivers. He sniffles again, coughs, and moans. Lambert can hear weakness in the voice, and the straining of overworked lungs. An illness, he decides. He smells sputum and salt, and something familiar. Horse. Roach. There's no horse in sight, just a lump of a bedroll and something that might be a musical instrument, and then he knows who he's seeing. This is Geralt's bard. He thinks a moment about how best to approach, and then his horse whinnies. The bard shoots a hopeful look at him.
"Gera-" their eyes meet. "Hello," says the bard. "I don't think we've met." He's hoarse, there's tear-tracks on his face, and his clothes are ripped and dirty.
His heart rate is entirely too slow and languid for a human. The effort of speaking takes the last of his waning energy, and Lambert moves just fast enough to keep him from falling face-first into the embers. With his arms full of unconscious bard - he still can't remember the name, although the song is now stuck in his head - Lambert swears. If he leaves the man here, he will die. The first heavy snow of the year is not more than a week away. They're too far from the nearest town to get there and allow him to safely finish his trip to Kaer Morhen for the winter.
"Fuck," he says again. If he leaves the bard to die, Geralt may never forgive him. He might never forgive himself. "Alright. You're coming with me." He hoists the man over his horse's withers and sets about breaking the erstwhile camp. He can't figure out what to do with the lute at first, and then swings it over his own shoulder. It twangs musically, and settles beside his swords as if it's meant to be there. His horse, which came to him with the unlikely name of Peaches - and unlike Geralt, he's unwilling to change the name, it's said to be bad luck - stands there with the bard draped over its back like a blanket. Lambert mounts, readjusts the smaller man so he can ride comfortably, and sets off.
The sensation of being slung over the back of a horse is, regrettably, not unfamiliar. Jaskier is only vaguely aware of his surroundings, and he has no recollection of how he got here or whose horse, exactly, he's been heaved over. He's aware of the scent of horse, thick in his nostrils and very familiar after years of trailing after Roach. There's a hard thigh digging into his ribs, too, and for a long while, he's distracted feeling the muscles shift and play beneath leather trousers as the man - it must be a man - not Geralt, never Geralt again - rides easily, posting along with the trot which is, now that he's not unconscious, beginning to become very uncomfortable . He must make some sort of noise or maybe shifts, because suddenly the horse is being reined in and the horrible sea-like heaving has stopped. It takes a long moment for his head to catch up to the lack of motion.
"Alright down there?"
The voice is dreadfully unfamiliar. True fear starts winding it's way through him.
"Relax. We're almost there. Would you like to sit up?"
Jaskier groans something monosyllabic, and nods. Nausea wends its way through him and he swallows it down, feeling saliva flooding his mouth in anticipation of the vomit churning in his stomach. He swallows again and again until the sensation fades. He's heaved upright, one steel-strong arm wrapped around his stomach, and he wiggles until he's seated more firmly in the saddle. The chest he's held against is armored and uncomfortable, but it's more settling than hanging like a sack of potatoes.
"Almost where?" He manages, and is surprised by the gruff sound of his own voice. There's a long pause.
"Kaer Morhen," and Jaskier suddenly realizes that the vision of a Witcher he'd had just before passing out wasn't actually a dream at all. It's frigid, and he can see his breath unspooling in the frosty air before his face; if he panics, he'll be left in the cold and surely die. He swallows again until the fear fades. It's not Geralt behind him, and there's nothing he can do about their destination. The arm about his middle flexes, and the horse resumes it's steady trot. "What's your name, bard?"
A dozen sarcastic replies rise to his tongue, but Jaskier bites them all back. "Jaskier," he says, as calmly as he can. "Yours?"
"Lambert." The voice rumbles through his back and in his ear, but it's not unpleasant. He's saying something else but Jaskier is too dim and far away to hear it, and he gratefully sinks back into darkness.
"Well, fuck." They're still miles from the keep, and Jaskier is clearly too sick to hold himself up. Lambert tightens his grip around the bard, and spurs Peaches on. He rides through the gates just behind Eskel, and they meet in the stables.
Eskel turns to greet him and doesn't get a single word out before one eyebrow lifts nearly to his hairline. "Bringing home strays, now?"
"Geralt's bard," Lambert explains. "Found him dying in the woods."
The other eyebrow raises to meet the other. "Alone?"
Instead of answering, Lambert motions for Eskel to take the unconscious man and dismounts as soon as he can. Jaskier hangs loose and limp in Eskel's arms, looking very small and pale in the flickering light of the stable lanterns. He unpacks Peaches without another word, then takes Jaskier back so Eskel can unload his own horse. Roach isn't in evidence yet, which means Geralt hasn't returned. Lambert tastes the air and decides he's got a few days yet before the passes close with snow, and waits patiently while Eskel rubs down both horses and shakes up the hay in both stalls.
Vesemir is waiting for them when they finally head indoors, and has much the same reaction to the unconscious man as Eskel.
"He's the one behind that damn song," Eskel explains. They all know which one; Lambert had laughed for days when Geralt returned one winter and bitched about a bard who wouldn't take a hint. The following year, the song seemed to travel with them, and in some places, people would suddenly shout, "Hey witcher!" And toss coins at him. Lambert stopped laughing after that. Things had been... difficult, after Geralt's actions at Blaviken. "Butcher," they called him, and "Murderer." Witcher became synonymous with killer. After Jaskier, he'd been hailed as a hero in places. "Friend of humanity!"
That damn song.
"I couldn't leave him to die," Lambert defends himself, although neither of them have accused him of anything. Vesemir glowers a moment, and then nods his assent.
"Bring him inside; we'll see what we can do."
There's a fourth already waiting in the main hall, long fingers wrapped around a mug of ale. Lambert's heart lifts to see him. "Coën!"
Coën rises, then pauses when he sees the bundle in Lambert's arms. "Look what the wolf dragged in!" He grips Lambert's shoulder in greeting, and then examines the bard. "Isn't he Geralt's? He sang that song."
"Toss a Coin," Lambert and Eskel say in unison.
To his surprise, Coën shakes his head. "Something about a poisonous kiss, I thought." He hums a few bars of an unfamiliar tune, then fills in the words. But the story is this, She’ll destroy with her sweet kiss. Her sweet kiss . Lambert puts together what he knows about Jaskier, Geralt, and the sorceress, and huffs.
"Jackass put his foot in it this time," he mutters.