“And if it hadn’t been for Yennefer, well even to this day I don’t like to think what might have happened to me. Let’s just say I damn near lost my hands, practically my life and probably wouldn’t be here right this minute, keeping you company on this long and winding road. I’ve still got the scar from the ropes on my left ankle, the one I showed you before, and I swear that’s the very reason my shoulder cracks the way it does if I stretch my arm the wrong way.”
Dandelion took a drink from the flask in his hand, then lowered his arm to rest atop his thigh. Glancing toward his companion he noticed, not for the first time, how far away she seemed of late, and there was nothing he liked less than not getting the attention he deserved.
“Oh, I know,” he said dramatically, “I must be boring you, it’s the only explanation for one to be ignored, I believe. I’ve told you that story before, haven’t I, Nyan? That’s why you’re not listening…”
The sound of her name brought her back to the moment, her green eyes widening before she turned them toward him in a flash of regret. “I’m sorry,” she stuttered. “I was lost for a moment in my thoughts.”
“For a moment…” he muttered. “It’s been longer than a moment. You’ve been far away for days. It may have even been weeks, for all I know, as I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve had to cast a line and pull you back into the conversation. Have you reached your limit at last? Tolerated just about all you can stand of this minstrel’s company? Is nearly three years of adventure with me all you can take?”
The sound of her laughter struck him. “Is that what you really think? That you’ve bored me to tears and I’m ready to part ways with you when we get to Lyria? You’re always such an idiot.”
“Well, I’m simply pointing out here that it’s a rare thing when a woman who’s already been to bed with me, who knows exactly what this gifted tongue of mine is capable of, finds herself distracted by the sound of my dulcet tones,” he pointed out. “Generally, it has just the opposite effect and she can’t get enough. Whisper sweet nothings, Dandelion, she’ll usually say, tell me another story, the one about the lovers, please…”
“You know I love your stories,” she scolded him. “Especially the stories about Geralt and Ciri… and Yennefer. Don’t act like such a baby all the time. I’m just distracted, is all. I have things on my mind.”
“Things? What things?” He felt his brow twitch upward in curiosity, as it was the first time since she’d become distracted that she confessed to their being an actual reason for it.
“Nothing,” she uttered, “nothing you should worry about.”
“Well if it’s nothing, why are you letting it carry you so far away? I need attention,” he proclaimed, “your attention. I crave it the way small, bratty children crave sweets.”
“You’re very much like a small, bratty child sometimes,” she mused with a smirk. “None could ever guess you’ll be fifty in a matter of weeks.”
“Gods, why did you have to bring that up again?” he moaned. “I’ve been trying like hell to forget about it these last weeks, and yet it continues to creep up on me like a plague. Dredged from the darkness by the one who claims to hold me in the highest and most loving regard. You get great pleasure from torturing me, don’t you?”
“You always say you’re into that sort of thing,” she reminded him. “Besides, it’s only another year. If it comes up in conversation, though I highly doubt it will, and it bothers you so much to tell the truth, we can lie and say you’re turning forty-nine again if it will make you feel any younger.”
“Well it won’t! If we’re going to go to all the trouble of lying, we’ll say I’m turning thirty-nine again. That might make me feel younger. You know what kind of man I was at thirty-nine? Gods! The prime of my life.”
“Sometimes I wish I’d known you then,” she sighed almost dreamily.
“Oh no, no you don’t. I was a scoundrel then.”
“And you’re not a scoundrel now?”
“You would have fallen all over yourself trying to get close enough to offer me your virginity. And I probably would have taken it too. I truly have no shame. I never have and I probably never will.”
Her laughter was rich and clear and beautiful, and though her dour and distracted mood had been the source of his ire, that laughter was just the thing he needed to forget she’d made him testy.
“I have no virginity to offer, but if we can make it to Lyria before they close the city gates tonight I’ll offer you a back rub, and maybe a little something else. I can pretend to be a demure virgin.”
“Now we’re talking.”
Spurring her boot-heels into the pony’s sides, she trotted ahead of him, calling back over her shoulder, “Come, old man.” Flashing the most sadistic grin he’d ever seen her offer, he knew she was only teasing him, but he growled at her anyway and kicked up the pace. “We’ve at least another two hours before nightfall, and I’ll be over the moon if I can sleep in a real bed tonight.” She moaned, the long sound of it reaching back to grace his ears, and then added, “My back’s been killing me of late. Too much time in the saddle, I think.”
“It’s the cold,” Dandelion argued. “The trees are flames, the leaves pirouette to carpet the earth in a blazing ballet of eager suicide…”
“That’s so morose,” she laughed. “You’re certainly not growing any cheerier as you approach your golden years. Are you going to start penning nothing but tragedies now? Stories of star-crossed, young lovers who swallow poison and then throw themselves on daggers because rivalry and social convention deem they cannot be together?”
“That’s not a bad idea,” he looked toward the treetops pensively, then returned his full attention to the conversation. “You should really stop calling me old. You’re giving me a complex, you know.”
“And you know full well I’m only teasing. You’re like a stallion,” she decided. “Fierce and strong and… virile.” There was a strange drop in her voice when she uttered that last word, but he didn’t pay much attention and attributed it to her continued mockery of him.
“Precisely,” he trotted up beside her, leaning out to smack the flat of his palm against her backside before it bounced back into the saddle. “And don’t you forget it, my little Buttercup!”
“I hate it when you call me that.”
“It’s a term of endearment, my love. We’re two bright flowers floating in the stream…”
“It’s a silly name. No one’s going to take it seriously.”
“Sure they will. Everyone loves a pretty flower. They take Dandelion very seriously.”
“No they don’t.”
“They do when they want him to perform at their parties. I think you may be the only person on the planet who doesn’t take Dandelion seriously.”
Perhaps because she was one of the few remaining people on the planet who knew who he really was. She had from the start, from the very first moment he’d met her. It was how he knew she was the one, the one he wanted to travel through the rest of his days with, however numbered they might be with old age creeping up behind him like a ghost.
“It’s hard to take a man seriously when he’s referring to himself in the third person.”
“We’ll see how seriously you take him after the sun goes down and he’s gotten you into the best available room in Lyria. We’ll see how serious things get when he’s got your back against a proper mattress giving you the best plough you’ve had in weeks.”
The grin began to fade from her face, a grim seriousness furrowing her brow. “Do we have much money left?”
“Not much, no,” he said, “but enough.”
So long as enough got them a hot meal, a room with a bed and access to a bath. It was growing too cold to bathe in the streams, not that they couldn’t find ways to warm each other after. But winter was coming, Saovine would be upon them by nightfall the next day, and he wanted more than anything find to a semi-comfortable place to spend the winter months. They could both find work in Lyria to fill their purses before spring returned and the road called them away to another adventure.
They had wintered with Nyannah’s mother the year before, in Tretogor, and though it had been an amicable enough visit, winter seemed to wear on forever and he’d never been happier to get on with his life as he was the day they said farewell to Alessandrey Vel Andolay.
The woman nagged endlessly about marriage and children, begged to know when they were going to settle down and lead a proper life together. Nyannah was her only daughter, her only opportunity for grandchildren to bounce on her knee, and so long as she was chasing an old bard with a nasty reputation around the world, she wasn’t like to get any grandchildren at all.
When Nyannah told her she had no desire to be proper, her mother called them a couple of Bohemians, as if such a label might insult them. They’d spent weeks after departing from Tretogor using it as a playful term of endearment.
Pass me the flask, you Bohemian. Do we have any cheese left in that tattered Bohemian bag of ours? Iambic or dactylic, my fellow Bohemian? Do you like that, you naughty little Bohemian? Oh gods, plough me harder, you filthy, filthy Bohemian.
The last two, in particular, had been his favorite, and for a moment he considered pulling that rabbit out of his hat later on when he had her back upon that mattress he’d promised to plough her on.
But the fact remained that neither of them was interested in being proper or conventional, not for the moment. Maybe not ever.
Dandelion was perfectly content with their arrangement just the way it was. Committed to the open road, the next adventure, their art and one another in the only ways that mattered.
In fact, Nyannah’s lack of desire for conventional commitment made her the perfect companion in every way because he never grew tired of her since he didn’t actually own her in the customary way most men longed to desperately possess a woman they loved.
Their commitment was unspoken. She already knew he was madly in love with her, so she didn’t ceremoniously demand he declare the sentiment every time a pretty barmaid cooed, squeezed her tits together and shoved them in his face while bending over to pour him another drink.
It was actually kind of nice, so different from all of his previous romantic relationships before he met her that it felt… well… perfect.
She was perfect. The other half to his whole, the moon to his sun, the light in his darkness.
“Nyan,” he called to her, as she’d gotten ahead of him again in her eagerness to get closer to Lyria.
“I love you, you know that, right?”
Glancing over her shoulder at him she smiled in that way that always made his heart feel like a hand reached into his chest and squeezed. That smile was the stuff of inspiration.
“I know you do.”
“Good,” he tipped his hat and urged his horse to ride a little faster so he could catch up with her again. “And you love me?”
“Don’t be so insecure. Of course I love you,” she assured him. “I love you like the moon loves the sun just before the dawn comes,” and then as an afterthought she added, “always.”
“Always,” he nodded again.
And they rode for Lyria, him picking up his story right where he left off, about the night a beautiful sorceress with a wild head of curls the color of raven feathers and eyes the most incredible shade of violet he’d ever seen, saved his life and his hands, which in the end were far more important than his life. Because without his hands what would it even matter if he was still alive?
He’d be utterly useless.