After the mountain, and finding Ciri, and tracking down Jaskier and Yennefer both, and dragging them up to Kaer Morhen, Geralt had looked forward to a nice, relaxing winter. His brothers and Vesemir would train Ciri, Yennefer, with whom he had come to an entirely platonic understanding, would recover from Sodden, and he had Jaskier back.
His apology had been poor, and he knew it, but Geralt had rescued him from the clutches of Nilfgaard and had bought him new lute strings and a notebook to boot.
The strains of Her Sweet Kiss drifted through Kaer Morhen regularly, because his whole family, and yes, Ciri and Yennefer included, kept requesting that damn song. He hated it, Jaskier’s voice broke singing it and his scent was still sad, although less so than it had been the first few times Geralt had heard it.
Amazingly, the sadness had disappeared for the most part after one time, when Jaskier played the song after dinner, Yennefer had looked up from her book and said, cool as an icicle,
“For Melitele’s sake you melodramatic bastard, I’m not dating Geralt and I never want to again.”
And now everyone seemed to want to hear it. Kaer Morhen’s training had not included music or poetry comprehension, so he was unsure why everyone kept looking at him oddly whenever the song was played. As far as he could tell, it was just another tragic love song. When Ciri started requesting Her Sweet Kiss after supper, and eyeing him while it played, he gave in. He cornered Eskel, the most book smart of the wolves beside Vesemir, who he suspected would be just a bit too acerbic, and asked him what was up.
“He’s in love with you.”
“You’re an idiot,” Eskel said. “And a stubborn one to boot. He didn’t like Yennefer when you two were sleeping together, but they’re the friends now, right?”
“They’re not,” Geralt said, brow wrinkling. This was treading much too far into the realm of human emotions, which Geralt had never been good at, but they snarked at each other all the time still and bickered like children. Eskel rolled his eyes.
“They are, its just sparring, but with words not swords. You see?”
That made sense, words were Jaskier’s weapon, and Yennefer’s too, to some extent, and they did both seem to revel in creative insults.
“They’re friends,” Eskel said. “Now that Jaskier isn’t jealous anymore. Do you see where I’m going with this?” He could apparently tell from Geralt’s expression that, no, he did not know where Eskel was going with this.
“Her Sweet Kiss is about Yennefer, who Jaskier thinks you love, and it’s about you, who Jaskier loves, and it’s about him, when he says ‘I’ as in “I am weak, my love’. My love is you, do you understand?”
It was dawning slowly in Geralt’s mind that he had definitely missed this, rather spectacularly, because now it was very, very obvious. He was glad he hadn’t gone to Vesemir, who would probably have given him a cuff ‘round the ear for being stupid, and it would have been deserved.
Eskel, always so much better at reading emotions said, “Ah, you’ve got it, good. Now, what are you going to do about it.”
“I don’t know.”
Eskel rolled his eyes so hard that Geralt hoped he detached a retina. “Of course you don’t.” His voice softened. Eskel had always been the one Geralt turned to for emotions. He knew Geralt didn’t get them, but wanted to understand and tried so hard that it hurt. Apart from a fair amount of good-natured ribbing, he always helped Geralt with the trickier bits of the human (or mutant) heart.
“Let’s start small, do you love the bard?”
That wasn’t small. That was a very, very big question, but Eskel had settled back in his chair and looked prepared to wait for Geralt to figure out the answer.
Did he love the bard? Geralt didn’t have anything to compare it to except Eskel and Lambert, and it certainly wasn’t like that. Except sometimes it was, like Eskel, Jaskier helped Geralt with reading when his head flipped the letters all around. Like Lambert, Jaskier fought anyone who insulted Geralt. But those were the actions of someone who loved Geralt, that was how Geralt could know (or could have known, if he’d been paying better attention) that Jaskier loved him. But how to know if Geralt loved Jaskier, not as a friend, but like a ballad, like the ‘my love’ in the song. But Geralt did love Jaskier like a ballad, because the songs always compared some lady to a bunch of other things. Geralt did that. He saw bright silks in a market and thought of Jaskier, if there were buttercups on the side of the road he thought of Jaskier, he heard a lute and thought of Jaskier, washed his hair and thought of Jaskier. Everything in his life made him think of Jaskier.
And it wasn’t like seeing a goat headbut a farmer and thinking of Eskel and his goat from hell. It was also not the same as using a bomb and thinking of Lambert. Those were everyday things, as commonplace as thinking of Vesemir’s training.
“I love him.”
“Yes,” Eskel said, “You really, really do. Now you just have to court him.” He sat back as if satisfied with a job well done.
“Right, and how do I do that?”
Eskel looked stumped. “I don’t know,” he said. Courting wasn’t part of the Kaer Morhen curriculum.
“Do we ask Lambert?” Geralt asked, feeling a little panicky because now that he realized he loved the bard he wasn’t about to not court him.
“Of course not, he’s the least romantic bastard in existence,” Eskel said, rubbing a thumb over the scarred part of his lip.
“Not true, he reads romance novels,” Geralt said, proud to introduce this new and frankly hilarious bit of information.
“No.” Eskel’s eyes were wide.
“I found it in his pack last week, when I was looking for a sharpening stone, it had a picture of a lady in a torn dress and a shirtless man almost kissing, and the title said Tortured Hearts.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“I’m not,” Geralt said huffily, “I read a bit of a page too and it mentioned a lot of throbbing.”
Eskel cackled and, over come with mirth, fell from his chair. That set off Geralt and they both howled with laughter, wiping a few stray tears from their eyes when they heard the door creak open.
It was Lambert.
That set Eskel off again, which made Geralt laugh too, and Lambert just stared at them.
“Did you two get into the vodka again?”
“No,” Eskel said, righting himself in his chair, “We were just discussing your reading habits.”
Lambert turned pale, then pink, then pursed his lips and turned up his nose haughtily. “Shows what you two know about literature. It’s a fine way to pass the time.” His cheeks were still a bit pink.
“All jokes aside,” Geralt said, when he’d stopped snorting, “I need to know how to court the bard.”
“Ah, finally pulled your head from your arse then?”
“It was me that did the pulling,” Eskel said. Lambert sprawled onto the couch next to Geralt.
“Of course you did,” he said. “What you gotta do,” he paused. “No that’ll never work.”
Geralt scowled at him.
“No really,” Lambert said, “It’d never work.”
“Lambert, c’mon, we’re really stumped,” said Eskel.
“Yes?” said Geralt, leaning towards him a little.
“In the books the man always writes her a poem, to proclaim his love, you know? Or failing that he writes her a letter, all curly writing, maybe some pressed flowers.”
“Oh,” said Geralt.
“Oh,” said Eskel. “Yeah you’re right that’s really not gonna work.”
“Jaskier’s all courtly,” Geralt said. “So I should do it, you know, courtly.”
“Ciri’s royalty,” Lambert said. “She might know, and Yennefer spends a bunch of time with nobles. They could help.”
“You said his family’s kind of old fashioned,” said Eskel. “Vesemir’s really old too, so he can help.
And that was how everyone in Kaer Morhen, except Jaskier, who had been distracted by Vesemir showing him a room with a nice echo, met in the library to begin plan Court the Bard. Eskel was scribbling ideas onto a sheet of parchment.
“You should kiss his hand,” Ciri said. “And say please and thank you.” She thought of her grandparents. “And tell him how beautiful he looks when he’s covered in blood.”
“Kill things for him,” Lambert chipped in. “Show’s him how big and strong you are, makes him feel safe.” A few curious eyes turned to him. He shifted uncomfortably. “One of the books was about a hunter and and a dairy maid. He killed a bear for her.”
“Always ask before you hold his hand or kiss him,” Vesemir said, seemingly unfazed by Lamberts reading habits. No reason he should be, Geralt thought, we all know he has a stack of romance novels by his bed. “Take it slow, Geralt, be patient, and put in the work, he was patient for twenty years, repay it now.”
Yennefer spoke up. “You don’t have to stop being sarcastic with him, he likes it, but compliment him too. Tell him how much you like his music. He likes music, so you like music because it makes him happy, understood?”
“Good,” she said. “And dance with him. He’d like that. Also get him flowers.”
“Not just flowers, get him stuff,” Eskel said.
“I bought him lute strings and a notebook,” Geralt said.
Ciri wrinkled her nose. “Yeah but those were apology gifts, these are courting gifts.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Not much,” Yennefer said, “Lute strings and notebooks are good because they’re useful and they show that you know what he needs, but courting gifts should also be more…” she waved a hand vaguely, purple sparks twirling about her fingers.
“Romantic,” Eskel said.
“Pretty,” Ciri said firmly.
“They should be able to show you can provide for him,” Vesemir cut in.
At the end the list was short and confusing, but at least they had a plan. In the spring Ciri would go learn about magic with Yennefer, and Geralt’s heart swelled at the way they both glowed with excitement at the prospect. Geralt would then be back on the path alone with Jaskier and he could court him.
The list said, in Eskel’s simple, neat hand, Number One, kiss his hand. Number Two, use manners. Number Three, compliment him (his music, his features, how he looks after a battle?) Number Four, kill things and bring them to him. Number Five, bring him gifts that aren’t dead things. There was an asterisk by number five and it said, gifts should be useful, romantic, pretty, and provide for him.
It wasn’t much, but it was a plan.
That night at dinner Jaskier wondered why everyone kept looking at him and Geralt. He figured he had stew on his face, there was some in Geralt’s hair. Geralt wondered why Jaskier kept swiping his face with a napkin and why Ciri kept pointedly running fingers through her hair.
He couldn’t figure out all of human emotions, but he was going to defeat courting, once and for all.