Chapter 1: Road to Winterfell
Geralt never liked be disarmed, yet often in situations like this he had little choice. Considering they had found the Witcher surrounded by a dozen dead raiders, they were obviously on guard with him. The three men acted quite professional though, not like the rude and bumbling Redanian soldiers he had dealt with in the past. No doubt it was because these men didn't know what he was exactly, although their odd looks were more of curiosity than hate or hostility. For now, two of them were focused on searching the slain Wildlings, examining their wounds and searching for any possible valuables as well.
The only time their soldierly manners faded was when they got a chance to examine his blades, muttering in fascination at the ornate yet deadly craftsmanship. The hand crossbow really had them surprised, showing that such weapons either didn't exist or were very rare.
"The belt pouch please." One of the soldiers asked, making Geralt give a short glare at him. "Have to check that too, don't want any hidden weapons."
Geralt was silent for a moment before speaking. "I don't think it be safe for you to handle what it's carrying." He calmly stated.
The soldier gave an annoyed look at the sudden remark. "You've be behaving so far, yet you shouldn't threaten a soldier of House Stark." He warned.
"Not threat, a warning." Geralt answered back, trying to be reasonable with the man. "This bag has some sensitive mixtures. Keep it away from fire and don't drink anything. It's not safe for you." He'd hand the pouch over, the man surprise at the weight to it before he'd check inside to see the small stash of potions and bombs.
"You're an alchemist and a swordsman?" The guard questioned as he'd set the pouch on his horse saddle along with the Witcher's other weapons.
"More of a jack of all trades." Geralt remarked back. "My line of work requires me to be flexible for any situation."
"And what kind of profession is that?"
Geralt was silent for a moment before he'd answer back. "A Witcher…where I come from it's a title for the most elite sellswords.
"Witcher? Odd name considering."
"Didn't have much of a say on the title." Geralt added with a small shrug.
By this point the other two soldier would finish their searching. "Dozen Wildlings, largest group we've had in a few years." One guard muttered, just enough for Geralt to hear. "You think one man took them all on?" Again both soldiers eyed the white haired man, who calmly watched them both. "Got the look of a warrior about him. Not sure what to make of him…the white hair, pale skin and them eyes." They'd speak in lower voices before the group moved to mount their horses.
"The nearest village is at a day's ride. We'll get a horse for you there, but for now you'll have to walk along with us." The leading soldier explained.
"Great…will we at least be camping soon?" Geralt grumbled, not that eager walking after hours of fighting and running around. If anything, it took a lot of willpower and all the Swallow mixtures keeping him together.
The soldier thought for a moment, seeing the stressed hint that the Witcher's stance had. "Yes…I say in a few hours at least. Just want to give us some distance from this area in case of more Wildlings lurking around."
Geralt nodded as he'd followed the three soldier through the woods, soon arriving at a wide clear stretch of road. He'd be silent the whole walk, taking time to think over what might of happened to Ciri. If anything he could be a world away from her, after all her elder blood was what allowed her to reach the world the White Frost originated at. Right now, he needed help and so far Ned Stark, Warden of the North sounded like his best chance of getting help.
As the sunset, the group would find a clear spot off the King's Road to camp for the night. One of the soldiers would be sitting by the tied up horses on guard duty while the other two and Geralt rested by the fire. The soldiers had been nice enough to share their rations with the Witcher, yet jerky and other dried food wasn't the most appealing dinners he had had of late.
"Heh…you know I realize I haven't bother to introduce myself." The lead soldier remarked as he finished his ration and removed his metal domed helmet. The man with short cut dark hair, least middle aged with quite the worn faced and having a visible three racking scars across his face, no doubt from an animal attack or a certain weapon.
"The name is Graffin, the unofficial leader of this patrol. I've been serving House Stark for twenty years and fought Robert's Rebellion about…Nearly twenty five years back." The man chuckled a bit, scratching his scruffy chin as he'd see Geralt's questioning look. "If you don't know about the Rebellion, then your must have been living under a rock for an over twenty years. Even the most distant realms of Essos knows the story."
"Then perhaps you should tell me everything then. Give me a run down on what the country's situation is like." Geralt remarked back. "Just the basics at least. Then I'll tell you whatever I can about my country and recent events."
"Huh, fair enough...hope you can keep up with all of this." The soldier chuckled as he'd get a big flask and pour up some drink. Geralt already had a feeling this was going to be a long night.
The next few hours Graffin shared everything he knew about the last two decades about Westeros. The history of the Targaryen reign, the different Houses that managed the vast Seven Kingdoms, life in the north, Robert's Rebellion and much more. Even for a sharp mind like Geralt's it was a lot to take in.
Graffin finished his third mug for the night, giving a sigh after downing the last of his drink. "Alright I've talked your ear off long enough. Your turn I guess."
Geralt smirked a bit at the jesting, already thinking over how to answer. "Sad to say my story may be just a long. How about you decide, would you rather know about where I came from or my past?"
Graffin paused thinking it over. "Tell me about yourself. I've had enough talk on kingdoms and politics for one night." Checking his flask, he'd grumble a bit. "Not enough ale to numb myself even."
"I'd offer some of mine if my horse and saddlebags weren't missing."
"Heh, a good gesture at least." The man said with a small laugh. "Alright then let's start with your little title. You said you're from Rivia, is that the kingdom you were born in? If anything, that is a knightly title as well."
"Right about being knighted, although wrong of being born there. The region is really two kingdoms in a close alliance with the other kingdom being Lyria. The surname I took was part of training as a Witcher." Geralt calmly explained.
"Witcher…Strange name at that. Does that make you some male witch or something?" The soldier jested.
"It's the name for the order of warrior monks I grew up with. My parents left me at one of their holds called Kaer Morhen when I was just a baby. Once I was old enough to swing a practice sword, they began my training. Trained with a lot of other kids…most didn't make it either leaving, being dismissed or…accidents happening." Pausing, he'd continue on. "Once we passed the final tests we go through the Trial of Grasses, a series of rituals involving herbs and potions that that only the order knows about." He kept the details vague since he knew little of the process and didn't want to include the more magical elements the Trial had.
"Is that why you're eyes are all…well...cat like along with your hair being white?" Graffin asked, a true curiosity showing in his eyes. "Heard of odd stories about alchemists, making all sorts of strange mixtures that can change a man."
"Pretty much. The eye change gives me better sight for tracking and low light vision. The hair, that's just a side effect I had from additional mixtures being given to me. I reacted well to the Trial unlike most."
"What do you mean?"
"The Trial stresses the body. Not sure how it does it but it makes the body strong, faster and tougher. However not everyone can handle it. Maybe is a physical issue or just plain bad luck." Pausing, he'd give a small sigh. "Three out of ten who take the Trial don't make it through. They can die, become crippled or go mad." It was a blunt answer that drew a shocked look from the soldier.
"So you meaning you can go through all that rigorous training only for a few herbs to ruin you? Just…what are you Geralt?" A hint of shock showed in the man's eyes, troubled at this new detail.
"Simple, a Witcher." Geralt calmly stated.
"Still haven't explained WHAT a Witcher does." Graffin questioned.
At this point Geralt paused, unsure how to answer back. "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me." He stated after a moment.
"Ha! Try me." Graffin scoffed as he'd lean back where he sat.
"A Witcher's duty is to hunt and kill monsters that threatened human lives. From the fiercest beasts to the most otherworldly specter, curses, wild magic and the like. Whenever someone disappeared suddenly, odd noises in the woods or violent attacks on the road, people would know to hire a Witcher to figure out what is wrong."
For a moment Graffin said nothing yet smirked before chuckling, shaking his head before bursting out laughing. Geralt had expected as much, yet couldn't help but frown in annoyance. "Hahaha. I-I'm sorry but that is rich Geralt. You mean to say you're a monster slayer? Did you go off to slaying ghouls and goblins? That's just superstitious talk that common folk fear over things they can't see or understand."
"I told you wouldn't believe me. Laugh all you want, it's the truth." Geralt kept that calm look while the soldier calmed down from his laughter.
"Look, we have our stories and legends on monsters. Heck we've were ruled by a nobility that rode dragons. Yet in the end, time and war killed the fire breathers while all the talk of fairies and ghosts became little more than fireside tales."
Geralt shrugged, deciding not to argue with the man. At the least his disbelief made the topic short lived. Graffin however spoke up again. "Still, I can tell that training paid off considering what you did to the Wildlings. If one Witcher can do that much, imagine if we had a dozen of you fighting during the Rebellion."
"Sort of against our teachings to be involved on matters of politics and kingdoms. Last time that happened we had a whole order wiped out." Geralt remarked back. "The Witchers had multiple school across the kingdoms, yet false rumors and fear led to most of them being wiped out." He remembered Vesemir's harrowing story of the attack at Kaer Morhen. It was ironic how in the end the fearful peasants killed the ones who had been raised and trained to protect them from the true dangers on their lives.
Graffin saw the distant look Geralt had, getting an idea on what had happened. "Damn…unfair of that to happen." The soldier didn't really know what to say on the matter, shifting a bit uncomfortably. "So, I guess I should get to the point Geralt, how did you end up in the middle of nowhere in the North?"
Geralt was silent, again unsure to be blunt or not. "I was looking for someone. My adopted daughter." He answered back, deciding to give a half the reason. "She had gone on a long journey looking for something and I followed her. As for how I ended up in those woods…I don't remember…" He'd shrug, keeping that neutral look to the soldier. "Just woke up, aching and worn before those raiders and then you showed up."
The soldier was silent for a long moment before nodding. "Sounds quite personal really. Still, never heard of a father letting his daughter go fighting on her own."
"Ciri isn't any normal woman. My own mentor and I taught her everything about fighting and surviving out on the wilds. Those wildlings wouldn't have stood a chance with her." He remarked, a small prideful smirk hinting his lips.
"Ha, I'll take your word on that. If you are looking for her then Lord Eddard can help. There isn't a man in the Seven Kingdoms more honorable and trustworthy then him. Taking care of all those wildlings will surely gain you a good standing with the lordship, maybe even King Robert himself." Graffin said with a small chuckle.
Geralt thought over what the soldier said. If anything the man had a point, right now he was on his own in a completely new world. No allies to back him up, his supplies all stuck on Roach and just a sack full of Orins that maybe worthless here.
The soldier nodded back before shifting up to stand. "Anyway, enough chatting for tonight. I need some shut eye. Tomorrow we'll be heading to town, get some fresh supplies and a horse for you. Then we'll be riding hard for Winterfell, Lord Stark needs to know of the Wildlings sneaking pass the Wall. It shows the Night's Watch is lacking in numbers…or motivation to do their duty." Sighing and shaking his head, he'd shift up to stand. "Anyway, my turn to be on watch. You get some rest, if anything you look like you need it." With that the man moved off to his bedroll, leaving Garelt with more questions now.
However, he was too tired to think over what the man had mentioned of this Night's Watch or this Wall. The Witcher moved to his own bedroll, moving to lay down and relax his sore body. While he felt he should be more on guard, he was just too tired to care. Giving a tired sigh, he'd close his eyes and was quickly into a deep restless sleep.
Geralt's dreams were vivid and confusing. He saw visions of Ciri, yelling out in pain a swirling storm of magical energy roared around her. He'd see a vast wasteland rapidly shifting from day to night. A large hall with an empty spiked throne of melted iron. The flashes of the dream became more intense, making his heart race yet suddenly a hand shook him.
"Geralt! Geralt! Wake up!"
The Witcher gasped, almost using Arad in surprise before realizing it was Graffin. "Gods man, you were muttering and shaking in your sleep." The soldier muttered.
"Nothing. Just a bad dream. Stress I guess." Geralt answered back calmly, sitting up and rubbing his head as a small migraine coursed through.
"Alright…" Still the soldier had a concerned look even as Geralt got up, stretching a bit before refitting his fine leather and chain armor.
Soon the camp was packed up and the small group continued their way south down the main road. The weather was brisk yet comforting, being warmer then Geralt had expected. Garffin had said that Westeros had prolonged seasons, which would explain the summer like conditions. By now they had traveled south far enough as all traces of snow were gone.
"Ah here we are!" Graffin pointed out, having the Witcher's attention shift south west.
The woodland cleared away to a wide view of hills and valleys that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Lush fields, thick forests and distant snowcapped peaks were spread across the landscape in a quite breathtaking scene. Down the short hill was a town, a quite well kept one when compared to the war-torn homes he was used to seeing. The villagers were out and about, doing chores or busy out in the nearby farms set close by. It was a quite comforting sight, a normal and peaceful scene really.
As group rode into town, a few villagers gathered up to greet them. "Greetings soldiers. Roads safe and clear today?" One of the older men asked quite politely. It was obvious the people had good respect for Stark soldiers.
"For now. We had discovered a Wildling band a day north from here. Close to the King's Road even." Graffin answered back.
The villager seemed nervous hearing that news. "Were they chased or killed off?"
"Aye, by this fellow here." The soldier chuckled, patting Geralt quite roughly on the shoulder although the Witcher didn't budge even slightly. "This he is Geralt. He's ummm…a wanderer from the far north eastern region of the north." Geralt was surprised at Graffin cover a story about him, yet thankful for it. The villager eyed the Witcher, a surprised look showing across his face when he noticed cat like eyes.
"He has a northerner look about him. Although …what's with his eyes? Plus never seen a man with hair and skin that ghostly." The villager questioned.
"Long story." Geralt quickly remarked back. "Right now these men are escorting me to Winterfell to report what happened. From my understanding these Wildlings aren't meant to be this far south, much less a dozen of them."
The villager nodded, seeming more focused on the matter relating to the Wildlings. "Indeed. They shouldn't be even be on this side of The Wall. Does this mean the Night's Watch is faulting on their watch?"
"That will be a matter that Lord Stark will deal with. Right now we need a good horse for Geralt here and are willing to pay for it being loaned to us. I'll make sure it's returned and that patrols are increased on the road." Graffin offered up, getting out silver from a pouch.
Soon the soldier and villager where busy haggling as they went to the nearby stables, while the other two guards decided to take a moment to rest.
Geralt took a moment to be by himself as he checked around the village notice board, sort of a force of habit really. Quickly he saw there was no unique requests, just local news, offers for labor work and the like. "No disappearances, odd sighting or monsters…" He muttered. It was odd thinking about it, a world where people didn't have to fear of ghouls lurking at night, ghosts haunting their graveyards or griffins stalking the skies. Yet where did that leave him? He was a monster hunter in a world without monsters. However he remembered that wasn't important. Right now, it was finding Ciri, wherever she was in this world.
"Geralt. Got a horse saddled up and ready."
Again Graffin snapped Geralt out of his thoughts as the soldier had a dark brown horse guided over to him, hanging the reins over to the Witcher. "Thank you." Geralt muttered before pulling himself onto the saddle. Turning the horse back towards the road, he'd wait for the soldiers to gather up, yet when Graffin neared, he'd suddenly tug the two Witcher swords off his saddle and offering them back to Geralt.
"Trusting me with my swords?" Geralt questioned as he grasped both weapons, strapping them both across his back.
"Consider this a sign of trust with me. You've behaved well enough and you never know, may need you blade if we run into trouble." Graffin explained with a small chuckle.
"Glad I made such a good impression." Geralt remarked back with a small nod.
"Heh, anyway…let's get moving. I want to get to Winterfell within two days, so no lagging behind!
The group of four rode hard down the King's Road, slowing only when their mounts became tired or stopping when nightfall came. Geralt took more time to ask about Westeros, questioning more about topics mentioned earlier. He'd learn more about the folklore of the North ranging from the legends of the First Men and Children of the Forest, The Wall, Night's Watch and the Wildlings. Again, it was a lot to take in yet he take the time to learn as much as possible.
Once morning came, the group resumed their quick pace until Graffin slowed everyone down. "Damn, must be a new record getting here that fast." Geralt looked off to the west, seeing across the green plains a large castle set in the distance. Even from here he could tell it was an old structure yet despite the worn look it seemed maintained and sturdy in design.
"There it is. Winterfell, crowning jewel of the North. Tales say the hold has stood for 8,000 years…quite grand age and sure looks the part."
Geralt just nodded as he and the others rode more casually off the main road, taking another major route towards the keep. He'd see more soldiers patrolling the fields, a horn being blown in the distance to alert the group's approach. "Heh, seems their rolling the welcoming mat for us." Graffin chuckled as the group quickened their pace. Soon the tall walls and sturdy gate of the castle was before them, guards quickly coming to inspect them, yet letting them by after a few hushed words with Graffin.
As the gate opened, Geralt could sense something about the castle…or perhaps someone within in. As the rode into the courtyard he felt a familiar feeling against his neck, making one hand drift to his wolf medallion. For the first time since he arrived on this world it trembled, a sign of some powerful magic about.
Yet what…he wasn't certain yet as he scanned the court yard, pausing only when he saw a young boy standing by an archery range. The boy nocked and arrow yet paused in drawing it back as he glanced at the Witcher. His head tilted slightly in curiosity as Geralt rode by before focusing back on the archery. Already Geralt had a strange feeling about the boy…one that troubled him.