Once upon a time...
Gretchen stood at the courtyard, her light green eyes filling with tears as she stared at the beautiful setting sunset. The sky was a gorgeous splash of several colors of gray, pink, and blue velvet as the last streaks of the sun, which appeared to be dripped in blood set over the hills. Shivering, she nervously grasped her hands together tightly, before her madam quickly came behind her, letting out a sigh of annoyance.
"Oh damnit to Hell girl. You should count yourself lucky. An orphan with no family crest, a little runt I took in when she was nothing but a starving piece of trash. Now a knight from our kingdom, from the family of Dyrrryn has for some unknown reason has become fixated on you. Wanting to wed you, and lift you up from the sad life of being a lonely whore..."
"I'm not a whore."
Gretchen said through gritted teeth, trying so hard to fight this burning anger that was bubbling up inside of her. Quickly, her madam snatched her ear, roughly yanking it enough to cause Gretchen's head to violently get pulled back as she yelped in pain. This was this the surface of the punishments and beatings she received ever since she was taken into this horrible whore house she had called a home for so long. Her madam hissed in her ear, breathing her warm breath against her face.
"Ah yes, must we forget. The virgin. That's why you earn your keep by sweeping and cleaning the blood and cum soaked sheets from the women who will never be nearly as lucky as you. I believe that's the reason why you caught that dashing knight's eye. Now you will quit those waterworks. You will come inside and meet your suitor, and I swear on my very own life if you cause a scene the knight will have to postpone the wedding when his bride to be suffered a tragic accident after falling down the back stairs. What a pity that would be."
Just when Gretchen believed her ear would be torn out from the building pressing pain, the madam let go, causing her to sway for a second before regaining her posture, and cupping her red and now very sore ear. The madam looked her up and down with nothing but disgust, before she grabbed her hand tightly and yanked her towards the back door.
"Let's try and fix you up a little bit before your suitor comes, even though that seems to be quite the impossible task..."
Together they walked past the crushed gravel, and towards the back door where the whores would often paint their faces and dress. To Gretchen this was simply just another room for her to clean throughout what seemed like her endless years here. Watching men pass through, drunk and stinking, choosing these girls who never even paid Gretchen a second thought besides to order her around and tease. Ever since word got out about an actual knight of Nilfgaardian by chance spotting her and taking interest, the jealousy among them all was nearly unbearable. Still, Gretchen kept her head down and ignored the insults that were shouted at her, or on occasion some rotten food thrown in her direction as she scrubbed and swept the floors silently. To Gretchen who could barley remember where she came from, this terrible whore house was all she could remember...
"Stop squirming about, it doesn't suit you."
The madam snapped as they stood inside. For the past hour she and a few of the kinder girls had done everything they could to present Gretchen. She wore a simple black velvet dress, with a plunging neckline that embarrassed the very modest Gretchen to no end. They painted her face, pinning up her hair, and using light crushed up powder to cover the freckles that were littered across her face. Now by the warmth of the fire, Gretchen saw in the mirror above the mantle she no longer looked like herself. No, even though she did admit they had made her look quite beautiful, she hated it. This wasn't her. This was someone else.
Feeling her stomach knot up, she stood beside her madam as two men in black armor walked in. One she recognized from before, having only spotting him twice before. The first time was when several Nilfgaardian soldiers were visiting the pub down below. She came down to change her wash bucket, keeping her head down as usual by the backstairs as she was taught, ignoring the crowds of drunken men and whores as music played. That's when one of the whores stuck her leg out, causing Gretchen to trip forward, dropping her bucket and falling right on the floor. The table nearby simply roared with laughter, as the whore got up never paying Gretchen a second thought before casual saying...
"Outta watch your step girl..."
And ventured to another table to pursue more customers. The laughter of course blended together with the music as everyone continued of celebrating and forgetting about the poor stupid girl laying sprawled out on the ground. That's when she felt a firm, yet warm hand reach down and take her arm. "My lady, are you alright?" Gretchen too stunned to even think, lifted her head, her hair falling in her eyes as she stared up at the soldier. He had a very intense looking face, narrow cheekbones, light colored blue eyes. His hair seemed to be a dirty blond color, and striking in a strange way. His gaze down at her was extremely intense as he continued staring down at her. They locked eyes in total silence for a moment before Gretchen dropped hers, embarrassed, gathering her dropped bucket before bowing her head once he helped her up. He towered over her.
"Thank you, my apologizes..."
She went to turn away, get out of there as quickly as possible. Instead the grip on her arm tightened, causing her to stop. Lifting her eyes again, she stared up at him and saw a faint twinkle of amusement in his face. A small smirk came from the side of his mouth as he stared down.
"You aren't frightened of me?"
Gretchen said nothing, just continued staring up at him.
"What is your name girl?"
"Gretchen...Gretchen of what?"
"Of nothing. I'm an orphan. I was taken in here and put to work. I've lived here. I'm nobody."
The man raised an eyebrow closely staring down at her.
"You...aren't a whore?
" Gretchen couldn't hide the color rising in her cheeks. Instead, she simply shook her head no. The man continued closely staring down at her, before she felt his finger underneath her chin, causing her to lift her face and stare up at him. Locking eyes again, he smiled once more.
"I am Chair Mawr Dyffryn. Part of the Nilfgaardian army."
"So I noticed...is your armor heavy?"
Gretchen instantly wanted to curse herself with saying such a childish statement. Instead, Chair seemed yet again amused and stared down at his armor with the Nilfgaardian crest on it.
"No, I wear it proudly."
Just then a whistle came from down the hall and instantly Gretchen knew what that meant. The madam had caught her speaking to the customers which was one of the main rules of living here. Feeling a frightened pit in her stomach, she continued staring down, before muttering a quick apology.
"Forgive me sir, I must be going..."
Chair grasped her arm once more, his grip still tightening on her arm.
"Until we meet again."
Gretchen didn't bother to look up, instead she hurried down the hall and out of sight. Where she was met with a quick slap against the back of the head by the madam. She had gotten used to these slaps, but they never made them any easier due to the rings she often wore, causing dreadful headaches that never seemed to go away. Sighing, she clutched her bucket waiting to get screamed at for talking to that strange and unusual solider. Instead, the madam squeezed her arm forcing her to look up at her.
"There is a sorcerer passing through, he's set up shop in the inn across the courtyard. He's paying a handsome price for dead animals to use and we have those dead cats down in the cellar. Collect them, put them in a sac, and deliver them. Bring me back to coin they fetch and you can have a full bowl for dinner tonight."
Gretchen nodded quickly, thankful she didn't mention her interaction with the solider. Instead she nodded, and hurried down to the cellar, not knowing Chair was still watching her with transfixed eyes.
The sorcerer buzzed about with annoyance with his elf helper who cleverly wore a hat to hide his ears as they buzzed about the small shop he had set up across town. Gretchen had dressed in her simple black cloak and had been instructed to lay down the sac of nearly completely frozen dead cats on the floor as she waited for payment.
"I'm afraid you'll have to wait a few moments my lady, a more pressing issue has arisen. I will have my helper fetch your coin once we're finished."
Gretchen nodded, keeping her eyes down when suddenly a roar of pain came from behind the curtain of the small shop. The sorcerer and the elf had disappeared behind the curtain for a few moments, before another roar came and the elf hurried out limping. Gretchen watched with stunned eyes as he hurried out of the shop holding his wounded arm. From behind the curtain came more grunts and yells of pain, before she heard the sorcerer mutter a few curse words before he stepped out from behind the curtain shaking his head.
"My lady, I'm horrified to ask, but unfortunately my rather useless helper doesn't listen that well with instruction. Could I bother you to help me gather some bandages while I perform a healing spell?"
Gretchen blinked, for a fraction of a second she was ready to shake her head no. She was lived closely under the madam's rules, and worried this would be against them. She was instructed to get there, deliver the dead cats, get the coin, and return to her chores. The sorcerer seemed to have read her mind and chuckled. "I'll toss another five coin in if you do." Gretchen knew this extra coin would go a great way with the madam and didn't pause to think.
Instead she walked quickly across the floorboards as the sorcerer smiled and held onto the curtain.
"Usually I could do this myself, but I am quite ill myself and my powers are shaking. I need to focus on the spell at hand as you dress the wound. It won't take long and if you have a steady hand I promise you won't be harmed."
Gretchen stared up and nodded before the sorcerer pulled back the curtain and instantly Gretchen felt her head nearly freeze in her chest. Laying on the table wasn't a man.
No...he was a Witcher.
She had heard tall tales about that kind, and once when she was just a child had seen one pass through visiting the whore house. The madam had told her stories of evil magic, and cursed souls. As always, Gretchen listened and stayed away, but couldn't help her curiosity. The man on the table was massive as muscular, long white hair, and scars all over his body. He had a terrible claw wound across his chest. From what Gretchen knew of the Witcher lifestyle was that it was a lonely and dangerous one. They were bounty hunters, and fought creatures and monsters. This made perfect scene. In just a matter of second, Gretchen guessed that the Witcher had been wounded in a battle, and had come to town for a healing magical spell. Gulping, she nervously twisted the sides of her dress before the sorcerer snapped at her, waving her on with his hand.
"Come on girl! This damn servant of mine dropped all my bottles, grab the green one by my feet, the bandages are right beside him. Quickly!"
This snapped Gretchen into action. Without so much as another thought she quickly hurried across the way, and saw several glass bottles sprawled by the sorcerer's feet. She spotted the green one with some sparkling liquid inside and snatched it up quick. The sorcerer nodded as both moved to the Witcher's side.
He twisted and groaned in pain, his eyes snapped shut as sweat poured from his forehead.
"Open the bottle quickly and pour it over the wounds, I'll say the spell and once I tell you start dressing the wounds, but do so quickly!"
Nodding, Gretchen grasped the bottle, and twisted the cork, fighting with it to become unstuck. When she did, it ripped out with such force that the rim of the bottle cracked, slicing into her thin finger. Crying out in surprise, she watched as tiny droplets of her own blood mixed with the sparking liquid that poured down into the wounds, making a soft hissing sound. Instantly the Witcher gritted his teeth, moaning in pain when the sorcerer froze. Gretchen was ready to grab the cloth to bandage him when like lighting, the sorcerer's hand flashed out and violently grasped her wrist. Caught off by surprise, Gretchen cried out once more before the sorcerer stared down at the Witcher's wounds. Instantly he looked disturbed. Gretchen watched, her hand still fighting being held by him. "What is it?!" "This isn't right..." The sorcerer said, muttering under his breath, before he stared down at the scattered bottles and looked disgusted.
"Blast that dreadful useless creature..."
Gretchen asked again, confused. Instead of answering, the sorcerer stared down at the wound before shaking his head.
"The coin is on the bench in the front room. I'll believe you're an honest young lad and fetch that extra coin...in fact make it ten instead."
"Leave at once child! Don't come back! Not a word to this to anyone!"
Suddenly feeling very scared, Gretchen nodded quickly, very much wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible. Instead, at the exact moment that the sorcerer let go of her wrist, the Witcher's striking amber eyes flew open as his own hand shot up and roughly grasped onto Gretchen's own tender wrist with enough strength to break it. Gretchen gasped as the sorcerer stepped back for a moment as The Witcher stared up at her, locking his eyes with hers.
The sorcerer waved his hand, causing the Witcher to snap his eyes shut again and cry out in pain. This allowed his massive hand to free Gretchen's raw wrist, allowing her to stumble back. The sorcerer casted her one last look before pointing to the door.
"LEAVE NOW CHILD!"
Gretchen didn't need to be told twice. Instead, she spun around and hurried into the next room. As fast as she could she counted the coin, still hearing the moans of pain from the other room from The Witcher as she heard the sorcerer begin to shout. Once she gathered the right amount, she ran off outside against he cobble stoned streets, nearly running into the elf who held an empty green bottle, nearly exactly the same as the one that had just been used on The Witcher. His frightened eyes stared at Gretchen long enough for her to see sudden horror and guilt fill into them before he took off inside. Not wanting to wait another second, she ran straight through the market, not risking to glance back even once. By the time she reached the whore house, hearing the music and laughter from inside drift out into the freezing cold air, she had calmed herself down. She was sure the madam wouldn't question the extra coin and might even mean it on giving her enough food for tonight. She knew she could risk in keeping the extra coin hidden away, but the risk of being found out was too great. She had suffered too many broken bones due to her punishments. Standing in the cold, she stared down at her finger and saw that the bleeding had slowed to a faint trickle.
In her panic she hadn't even felt it. Holding her hand, she glanced in through the windows, and searched for the solider who earlier had spoken to her. Instead, she didn't seem to find him in the crowd. Sighing with relief, she got herself under control before going inside, putting all of that nonsense behind her.
Now less than two weeks later, she found herself dressed in a velvet gown, and her face painted up and her hair pinned up like the whores she had lived with as far as she could remember. She nervously stood, completely horrified that she was actually happening. Chair, the solider had returned the following morning while she was sweeping up downstairs. He had watched her from afar, his helmet tucked underneath his arm before he went upstairs to visit with the madam. When they returned, he smiled in her direction before leaving, never saying so much as one word to her. The madam came downstairs with a massive sac of jingling coin that she bounced in her hands and laughed looking down at her.
"You'll never believe this...but you my dear are to be married off to one of the most powerful soldiers of Nilfgaadian."
Gretchen stared up completely horrified. Now here she was. After the solider named Chair had visited, the madam wouldn't let Gretchen out of her sight, not even down to the market to fetch her usual errands. Instead she kept her locked up in her chambers. When Gretchen begged to know what was going on, the madam simply shrugged.
"For some God unknown reason this young man was quite taken with your simple charms. He's looking to wed, and learned that you are an orphan. It isn't unheard of for military men to do so. He'll make up some family crest from where you hail, and you'll become his wife."
"But...I don't know him. I can't..."
Before she could say another word the madam's face crumpled as she raised her hand and struck Gretchen's face hard enough to draw blood from her mouth. Her head swung back painful, before the madam grabbed her and gave her a good shake.
"You have absolutely no idea how lucky you are! You ungrateful little shit! I took you in when you were dumped on my doorstep, a screaming hungry infant covered in raven feathers. I could have simply kicked you to die in the rot of the street, but instead I took you in, gave you shelter and a purpose. I had my doubts you would ever become one of my girls...but look around you! Look at the life...my life that you are able to avoid. You'll be married to a noble man and never gave to come back to this stinking shit hole again!"
Gretchen knew better to cry or struggle. It would just mean another beating. Instead she stayed silent, and finally today would be the day that Chair would collect her and bring her to Nifgaardian to wed. Absolutely terrified, she stood never feeling more out of place than she ever did in her simple miserable life here. Finally the door swung open, revealing Chair in his dark armor. His light colored eyes fixed on Gretchen, and he approached her.
"My dear, you look simply lovely."
He knelt before her, taking her hand and kissed it. Never before in her whole life, did anyone ever do such a thing. Gretchen stood there, puzzled, even glancing at the madam's amused expression, before Chair rose and offered his gloved hand. Staring at it, Gretchen gulped, suddenly wanting so badly to run away. Instead, she took his hand as he firmly gripped it and led her outside to the carriage that was waiting. Gretchen had little to no belongings, but one of the men took her trunk that the madam had supplied.
Once she sat down inside, the first time ever being in a carriage, she looked out the window at the madam who glared at her. There wouldn't be any tear filled goodbye. She had been paid, and was finally rid of her. She knew she would simply find another orphan to become her slave once she left. Her thoughts were broken once Chair climbed into the carriage himself, as she heard the gallop of horses as they began to move. Gretchen sat beside this stranger, feeling absolutely terrified.
"Where are we going?"
She asked in a small voice. Chair turned, staring at her before a smile curved on his lips. Reaching, he gently squeezed her hand with his.
"To Nilfgaardian of course...your new home. Once we arrive, we shall wed and you...will bare my heir and be my destiny."
Gretchen stared at this stranger with no words in her throat. She was being taken captive to a life she knew she didn't want. Instead, she sat frozen and silent as the carriage continued on it's way out of the village.
Unknown to her, or to Chair, Geralt sat on his horse Roach, and watched the carriage get pulled away. His amber eyes fixed on the carriage before he grunted to himself, knowing if he kept his distance he would follow.