* This was just something I wanted to write. It takes elements from the Wild Hunt game, the netflix series (which I just started watching), and also the first book (which i just started reading). It only loosely follows canon, and is sort of a prequel before reaching Kaer Morhen. Constructive criticism is welcomed.
Edited By: PrintingPisces
Tags, genres, and warnings: mild peril, swearing, protective Geralt, mentions of fisstech, mentions of alcoholism, no romance.
Their hope was to stay off the main roads for as long as possible. Just because they had found each other did not mean they were completely safe. Yet, by that logic, staying out of the way of the rest of the world did not ensure that either. The frost and haphazard flurries muddled things even further. The nights grew fiercely colder, and the ground was either frozen or slush depending on the day.
There was also a constant chill in the air. The ever-present warning of a blizzard that was yet to come.
They had been lucky so far, until yet another morning of traveling came round. On this particular one, Geralt woke up before Ciri. This was not out of the ordinary, as the mornings used to be warmer than the evenings. He would allow her as much rest as possible, when possible.
Yes. Used to be warmer.
Ciri was still shivering by daybreak, with a leather blanket no longer sufficing. Geralt cast Igni to reignite the fire. Sluggishly, with eyes still closed, Ciri rolled a little closer to the flames. Only when she stopped shivering did Geralt finally look away, putting his attention back on the saddlebags. That was one problem solved, for now. He would have to find her something warmer and soon. They also needed other things. Provisions, and hopefully some medicinals should the need arise. Hunting and foraging could only get them so far with the current climate.
He took out a map and draped it over Roach's back, well out of the way of the slush-covered ground. His aim was to find an unmarked village, which was hardly tedious, knowing what to look for. A village meant merchants, and almost always an inn. Surviving and roughing it was natural for Geralt, but not for Ciri. She was toughing it out, certainly, but he could see her weariness plainly, most of which caused by the cold and near constant nightmares she stubbornly refused to talk to him about. He was hoping a full night's rest in an actual bed might help her.
He had been reluctant of this at first. They both had. She was heavily wary of strangers, as she should be, and Geralt didn't want any attention drawn to themselves, which would be unavoidable should someone recognize him as a witcher. However, they had put plenty of ground under their feet, constantly moving and rarely stopping, only to rest. It had been days since they had seen another soul, and even longer since seeing hoof prints that didn't belong to Roach. Geralt refused to let his guard down, not for a second, but they could at least relax for the moment.
When Geralt found a promising section on the map, one with small crisscrosses that resembled village streets, he put the map away, and readjusted Roach's tack for travel. They set out soon after Ciri awoke.
Some villages set aside specific days to unload specific wares. It was a busy community, with people easily shuffling and bumping into each other. Geralt shook his head slowly. Days like these often brought out the dishonest and thieving sides of others. His acute hearing picked up on a particular conversation, between one of the merchants and a very distraught villager.
"If you haven't got the coin," the merchant said. "then I'll not do business with you."
The woman sounded flustered, and very naïve. "No, you don't understand. I counted it all before I came here. I don't know where it's gone."
Geralt halted Roach, causing Ciri to instantly look down at him from up on the saddle. "Keep her steady," he told her, and she took hold of the reins.
She watched him curiously as he unfastened something from the saddle. When the saddlebags detached, he removed them from the Roach's hips, and instead draped them in front of Ciri, over the horse's withers.
Roach huffed, a cold mist coming from her nostrils.
Geralt regarded her calmly as he took back the reins. "Yes, I know they don't go there."
She shook her mane, almost indignantly, causing Ciri to chuckle.
He almost rolled his eyes at the horse. "It'll only be for a little while." Then, he looked at Ciri, and he tapped the saddlebags with his index finger. "Will you keep an eye on this?"
Ciri nodded. "But why, though," she asked. "What's wrong?"
They continued walking, with Geralt guiding them through the busy streets. "A precaution," he explained. For all his gruffness and no matter how alert he was, he almost always exuded calmness. Something that Ciri was grateful for. "Not everyone in this world is honorable," he continued. "If you have anything valuable on your person, I suggest you put them in the bags."
Ciri made no move to do so. She just kept her sights forward, as much as her hooded cloak would allow.
Despite the din of the villagers and merchants, they lapsed into a tense silence, with Geralt feeling particularly irritated at himself. Of course she wouldn't put anything in them. Whatever she had before fleeing Cintra, anything she might've owned, had all been reduced to ash and blood and ruin. Right in front of her eyes. It was one of the many things he had been too late to save her from.
The next half hour was spent going from stand to stand. It took a while, but he finally found one that sold winter gear. There was a cloak, lined heavily with fur. It was quite big, but it was good enough for Ciri. And Geralt figured she could always grow into it.
He should have had the foresight to get it for her sooner, long before that winter had begun settling in. Traveling with anyone other than Roach was a rarity, let alone with a child. He was still figuring all of this out, having to care for another. But he would. He would get it right eventually, and he hoped it was sooner rather than later. She had been running for so long, and had survived for this long. She deserved much more.
After buying her the cloak, he stopped them by a row of merchants peddling fresh food. Geralt hummed agitatedly under his breath as he waited his turn, listening intently to the exchanges around him. He knew that a busy day like today would mean price hikes, and it couldn't be helped. They needed provisions before moving on tomorrow. As he perused, he noticed movement from Roach's saddle.
Ciri briefly stood on the stirrups to stretch her legs. She hid a wince behind a scowl, but a wince nonetheless, and one that certainly didn't escape his attention. She lowered herself back in the saddle, but wasn't there for very long.
Geralt reached up and held his hand out towards her. He had done that plenty of times before and she knew what he was asking, but even as she moved her feet out of the stirrups, she asked, "What about the saddlebags?"
His arm went snug around her middle, helping her off the saddle. He let her go once her feet were as steady as they could be on the muddy ground.
"I have Roach in my sights right now," he said. "And you've been in that saddle all day."
Ciri stroked Roach's face, which the mare usually detested unless it was Geralt doing so. Roach nudged her palms, and she shrugged. "She'd probably no sooner kick anyone who got too close."
Geralt chuckled under his breath at that. "That she might," he agreed.
Ciri's tired grin suddenly faltered, letting out a harsh and startled gasp at being abruptly shoved sideways. Without even needing to think about it, Geralt's hand shot out to clasp her shoulder and steady her against his side. He glared scathingly at whatever drunken idiot – no, not drunk. The villager stumbling away from them had the gate of a fisstech addict.
Geralt only scowled, knowing how oblivious the addict was and that such things were none of his business. He looked down at Ciri. She seemed a little rattled, but nodded reassuringly at him. He relaxed his hand, but it still remained on her shoulder, keeping her close.
Although Ciri was a lot more talkative than him, they both had many moments of silent communication. Which came in handy, especially when stealth was needed. Ciri was still on the run, and still had a target on her back. He frowned harshly. Would that target ever leave her? He could only hope so, once she was in the safety of Kaer Morhen.
Ciri listened intently while Geralt talked prices with the merchants. This was all still foreign to her. The need to haggle, be frugal, and to keep track of one's coin. Prior to the fall of her kingdom, she had never needed to be involved in anything like this. She loathed it, and yet was also slowly accepting it. She had been for a while now, even before finding Geralt. This was her life now, as a highly sought-after runaway, with a supposed destiny tied with the witcher at her side. Geralt and the merchant kept talking, with Geralt expertly haggling in his favor almost every time.
Move from place to place, find contracts, spend coin only when needed, and repeat. That's all his life was, for as long as he could remember, and as natural as breathing. Ciri inhaled and exhaled. It was her life now, too, and she was ready to accept it completely. For too many weeks now, she mourned and lamented for her previous life.
She was done crying.
Stepping slightly away from Geralt, Ciri patted her cloak and clothes, searching.
He startled at her sudden movement, dropped his hand from her shoulder, and stared at her. "What are you looking for," he asked.
Indeed, what was she looking for? She had never carried money on her before, always leaving that up to whatever guard or companion that accompanied her. However, through all her recent travels, she hoped to find at least something that she might've stashed away. Unfortunately, she came up short.
She huffed, and pointed to a nearby merchant. "I was hoping to buy something from that food stand. But…never mind."
Geralt watched her face and tried to make sense of her emotions. Her eyes had started out determined, until very quickly forming a scowl that spoke of frustration. He felt a sharp clenching in his chest at seeing such despondency from her.
Almost of its own accord, though it was an easy decision, his hand fished some coins from his pocket, and he held them out to Ciri.
She blinked, and she shook her head. "I can't. It's your money."
He was unbothered. "Ekimmara contracts are always generous," he said. "It's fine."
Slowly, giving him enough time to take it all back if he wanted, she took the money from him.
"Don't go far," he instructed. "Stay in my sights."
She nodded. "Do you want anything while I'm over there?"
Geralt stalled at the question.
Most people considered witchers to be completely capable, never needing or wanting help from anyone. Conveniently, it was an easy excuse for people to continue keeping their distance from him, which was often for the best. He had never been asked this from someone who wasn't a fellow witcher, or a bard.
He shook his head. "No," he responded. "I have almost everything we need. Buy what you wish."
The merchant in front of him looked exasperated. "We'd be done already," he grumbled. "if someone wasn't picky and wasting my time."
Geralt smirked at the man. "Actually, we would've been done at the start. If you weren't so hell-bent on stealing my coin." The merchant began to protest, but Geralt continued. "Prices of which were surprisingly lower for your last customer."
His smirk remained as the merchant's face turned red. Ciri couldn't help but grin amusedly, assuming that Geralt's incredible hearing had no doubt picked up on haggling that had happened right before him.
She walked away, and her smile fell slightly upon looking at the coins in her hand. She knew that Geralt was genuinely fine with it, but she still wished she hadn't needed to take money from him. So, even though he declined, she was hoping to find jerky or honeycomb, as the witcher often hankered for either. Some fruit also didn't sound half-bad.
The merchant at this stand leaned an elbow on his counter, wearing a rather bored expression. However, he perked up upon noticing Ciri.
"Ah, step right up," he coaxed. "Best fruit in the village. Grow everything meself, so I know where it all comes from."
Ciri smiled politely at him. "Do you have any jerky, too?"
"Of course, right here," the merchant gestured. "And from my own livestock, as well. Nothing but the best."
When Ciri asked how much for it all, he rattled off a price. She wouldn't be able to afford all of what she wanted, but she wasn't too disappointed. Besides, she didn't know how to haggle anyway, and whatever money was left over she would give back to Geralt. The merchant, however, was none too pleased to watch extra money get away, and saw it as an opportunity.
"How much for you?"
Ciri hadn't even begun to walk away from the stand, and she froze at his question. "…Sorry?"
The merchant shrugged. "Been needing a maid, and someone to tend to my orchard." He moved out from behind the stand. "How much for you?"
Involuntarily, Ciri took a small step back, but no further than that. "Nothing," she replied, her shoulders tensing apprehensively. "I'm not – Since when are people for sale?"
He snorted derisively. "Oh, what a sheltered life you must have. Everyone has a price. Including themselves." He kept walking towards her, his strides small and not in any hurry.
Ciri wanted to think that it was sheer stubbornness that made her hold her ground. Even if it was, she could still feel it, just under the surface.
She had no weapon, nothing to intimidate with, and knowing that all these strangers around her would slow her down should she run. She felt cornered.
And she refused to move.
She glared anxiously at the man. "Stay back," she managed to say.
The merchant acted like he didn't hear, although her voice was low enough that he probably genuinely hadn't. Her eyes were darting around, searching for anything that could help her. Before she could register that the merchant was reaching his hand out to her, he suddenly stopped, but not of his own volition. As still as a statue.
The edge of a steel blade rested against the merchant's throat, right beneath his chin, forcing his breath to hitch.
The wielder stared down the length of the sword, his menacing yellow eyes reflected clearly off its surface.
"I advise you to rethink that." Geralt's voice was low, an almost imperceptible snarl that kept the merchant from moving.
Ciri also had yet to move, but she was no longer as afraid.
Somehow, the merchant managed a nervous laugh. "I ain't scared of you. Witchers only slay monsters."
Geralt hummed, and his eyes narrowed. He hefted the sword higher, forcing the merchant's mouth shut with a painful clack of teeth.
"You're not wrong," Geralt said through clenched teeth.
They stared at each other, with Geralt waiting expectantly. Finally, unable to vocalize, the merchant closed his eyes in deference.
Any other time, Geralt would've backed off, not normally having patience for squabbles of the human sort. But it wasn't enough for him. Not this time. Not for this.
"Go," he spat.
The merchant was choking against the steel. "It's my damn stand-"
Geralt repositioned the sword. The point was against his throat now. This made the merchant take a step back. And he continued stepping away, until he abandoned his stand altogether.
Geralt sheathed his sword, strode towards Ciri, and knelt down in front of her. He gently clasped her upper arms. His fury was gone, being replaced with furrowed brows that spoke only of worry.
"Are you alright," he asked. "Did he harm you?"
Even though Ciri was looking right at him, she was lost in her thoughts, and she only responded with, "No."
Before Geralt could ask her to clarify which question she was answering, she was handing him the jerky and remaining coins. He stared down at the objects in his hands, and then looked back to her. There was something haunted in her eyes, tired and terrified. He couldn't make sense of it, and he didn't know how to help her.
As if remembering how tired she was, her eyes drooped a little, and her jaw clenched to suppress a yawn. Geralt nodded once at her. He stood up, whistled for Roach, and steered them in the direction of an inn. It was now evening and they both needed a proper meal and rest. With the latter being hard to come by.
Ciri, even if she wasn't always aware of it, tended to wake up, screaming from nightmares. Though it wasn't every night, it was often enough, and with Geralt always waking her up from them. She couldn't control them. She knew that. Just as she couldn't control her kingdom from falling, her people from being massacred, or her family from being slaughtered. She could do nothing. And here she was now, with Geralt having saved her from yet another thing she couldn't control.
While Geralt paid the innkeeper for lodging and meals, Ciri tried to shove down her frustration and anguish with everything she had.
The inn was warm, thanks to the spitfire that was cooking a pig, and the scent of ham was everywhere. The candlelight adorning the walls added to the coziness. Ciri didn't take notice to any of it, at least not until she saw something moving past a candle, almost directly behind her. Candlelight reflected off a bloodstained helmet, the shadows wisping like black feathers –
Ciri whipped her gaze around, her entire being as tense as a bow string –
…Until she saw the helmet. Which had no feathers, and was being held by a soldier from a kingdom unknown to her. He was laughing drunkenly with his friends, not paying the least bit of attention to her or Geralt.
Yet she couldn't breathe a sigh of relief. Even now, so many weeks later, she still saw the soldier that plagued her nightmares, so much so that it felt like he was always there. Watching and waiting for her.
All of this chaos, bloodshed, worry, and panic. Everything up until now was because of her. It was clear as day. Simply because she had no idea what to do, let alone how to navigate this world!
The room they were staying in had two beds. After Ciri was done eating her meal, which she barely tasted, she laid down and faced the wall. Her eyes clenched shut, and she inhaled sharply.
She thought she was done with crying, but alas.
The snow crunched and flattened beneath Roach's hooves. A blanket of white, as far as the eye could see. The woods were peaceful as they trekked, but they knew it couldn't last. That impending blizzard was still hanging in the air. They could no longer see the sky beyond the canvas of clouds. Ciri pulled her cloak tighter around herself.
The snow was just past Geralt's ankles, and he could feel that the ground was slippery beneath his boots. This night would be icy and unforgiving. They needed to make camp and a fire. He hitched Roach to a tree, and then helped Ciri down from the saddle.
The fire would be easy for him, but it was setting up camp that would prove to be intricate. He thought about shoving up some snow to create a windbreaker and insulation against the cold. As he contemplated this, Ciri spoke up.
"Teach me how to fight."
He jolted his gaze to her. Though she fidgeted where she stood, she maintained solid and determined eye contact with him.
He shook his head slowly at her. "Not now," he said. "Kaer Morhen's the safest place you can train. We'll start there."
He took his attention away from her to walk around and lightly kick at the snow. He was hoping to find some rocks to use as a fire ring. Ciri followed him. She didn't care if her next words were petulant, or if they held a hint of complaining. She didn't care that she would be badgering him with this.
When she spoke again, he stopped in his tracks, but didn't look at her quite yet.
She took a steadying breath. "I'm tired," she repeated. "I know I'm helpless. I know I'm scared. And I'm so tired of being both." Another breath. "Please."
He looked at her, facing her completely. She no longer fidgeted, and the determination had never left her eyes.
He exhaled harshly. "You can't fight the entire world, Ciri."
She shook her head, once. "That's not what this is."
He hummed shortly under his breath, which Ciri was beginning to learn was both a signal of contemplation and acknowledgement. It gave her a spark of hope…until he yet again turned away from her, and began tearing branches from trees. Just as she was beginning to feel the dreaded sting of disappointment, he joined her side.
"Step back," he instructed, holding a hand out towards their campsite. She immediately did so, stepping well out of the way, knowing he was about to cast one of his signs.
With the use of Aard, the majority of the snow in front of them was swept out of the way. He motioned for her to follow him to the center of the campsite. He then faced her again, holding out one of the sticks, which she confusedly took.
"Swords," he explained, holding his own tree limb up to emphasize. "One for me, one for you."
Her nose crinkled. "Mine's smaller."
"Not out of mockery," he assured. "But out of realism. You must choose a sword that's right for you. Its weight and size will either help you in battle, or hinder you. Which would you prefer?"
Ciri grew thoughtful at that. She looked down at the "sword" in her hands, and gripped it the same way Geralt held one of his swords. He nodded approvingly.
"When we can," he said. "we'll find something that suits you. For now, this'll have to do. Position your feet like mine." And she did so.
They started out with how to block attacks, going slow with each jab of the weapon, and gradually picking up speed until Ciri blocked each one consistently. She was clumsy though, with the stick slipping out of her hand on occasion. Geralt expected frustration from her each time, but she always picked it back up without so much as a huff.
Slowing back down again, he instructed her to continue parrying, but also to look for opportunities to fight back. She struggled with this, getting the timing wrong each time. Whether she would find it easier or not, Geralt told her to move her feet, to angle herself for better moments. He moved as well, not wanting to insult her and make it too easy. Something told him that was not what she wanted out of this.
For all her clumsiness, the determination in her eyes never wavered.
Her feet suddenly slipped, but she caught herself well enough.
"Snow is slippery, what a surprise," Geralt commented neutrally. "A good surprise. Watch when your opponent slips and use that – Don't take your eyes off mine."
Ciri scoffed. "How am I supposed to watch you and your feet at the same time, then?"
He half-smirked. "I don't think your opponent would tell you that."
That scoff of hers held a bit of frustration, headstrong as she could be. She almost slipped again.
His words were firm, but still neutral. "Your opponent also won't care if you're upset." He taps her weapon, nudging it higher, encouragingly. "Just focus on the fight."
Taking a breath to steady herself, she tried to do just that. He started them back at the beginning, but with much faster parries and blows. Not enough to hurt her, but enough to motivate her focus. Eventually, Ciri saw it.
Geralt's shoulders suddenly jerked, and his elbow jutted outward at the same time. It was to maintain balance after having just slipped on an icy patch. She waited for it again.
When the moment came, she flicked her weapon against the side of his knee. His foot slipped wider, briefly kicking at the air. His own weapon reflexively arced in front of him to protect himself, but Ciri knew that would have been her opening, had this been a real fight. Geralt knew this, too.
When Geralt found traction again, which took no more than a second thanks to his reflexes, they both lowered their weapons. Ciri wore an exhilarated smile at having just done that, and Geralt grinned cleverly back at her, hoping to silently convey to her the swell of pride that he felt.
It was evening now, with most of the day's light having gone, and a frigid wind flitting through the trees. Ciri's stomach growled to signal dinnertime.
He gestured to the stick in her hand. "Come on," he said. "These swords'll make a good fire."
Ciri shook her head. "I want to go again."
He chuckled. "We can later. When we've eaten, and when the temperature isn't against us."
She agreed with him about all of that, and reluctantly gave up her weapon. She went to sleep that night tired, and with only a few nightmares.
Ciri knew that sparring wouldn't solve everything, especially for the horrors that awaited in her dreams.
However, for the moment and for the first time in a long time, she was less afraid.