Chapter 13 – The Searchers
Triss and I met Geralt downstairs the next morning. He wasn’t one to ask about personal details, and considering how we were acting with each other, he didn’t really need to put two and two together to find out our relationship was already back on course. Once we had a plate of food in front of us, a mug of juice to wash it all down, Geralt explained his previous night.
He’d found Corinne Tilly without a issue. She was in the middle of a dream, in what the owner had wondered was a haunted house, but Corinne was being teased by, of all things, a godling. She was innocent, and also lonely. Geralt let her remain in the house, of course. Man had a heart of gold at times, but when it came to children, even child-like creatures, he would do anything to help them out. As for Corinne, she offered to help him, following her to the Golden Sturgeon.
After being asked a series of rather personal questions about Ciri, and also his relationship with Ciri, he was asked to lie back, and he dreamed of Ciri, kind of, before he dreamed of Dandelion. That definitely grabbed the attention. I hadn’t seen the bard in a long time, Triss didn’t even know he was in town. “Where is he?” I asked.
“Apparently he is the new owner of the Rosemary and Thyme,” Geralt replied.
“That’s a brothel!” Triss exclaimed, before clearing her throat, “Um, anyway, Dandelion running a brothel perhaps isn’t a stretch of the imagination.”
“I assume we’re heading there?” I asked.
“Soon as you’ve finished eating and got yourself into your armour.”
I turned to Triss. “What about yourself?”
“I have my own things to sort out, Ragnar. But as you’re now here… I don’t plan on being back at The Bits as often, at least.”
Heading upstairs, I put on my armour, grabbed my weapons and small pack, Triss putting back on her grab, though she left the hood down long enough that I could caress her cheek once more, pulling her close so I could kiss her. She then pulled up her hood, hiding herself away from the world once again, as we headed downstairs, Geralt already waiting for us outside.
“I’ll be back tonight, Ragnar,” she said, “I have a feeling our paths might be crossing. Dandelion was in town and I had no idea. Why is that?”
“Maybe he wasn’t aware you were here?”
“Hmmm. Probable, I guess. I haven’t exactly advertised I’m here.” She kissed my cheek, wished us good luck, and she disappeared into the crowds.
Thankfully, Geralt had directions to the Rosemary and Thyme, so I just followed him. Curiosity did get the better of him in the end. Didn’t blame him, to be honest. I would inundate him with questions once Yennefer was back in his life, simply because I knew he was hopelessly in love with her but they spent far more time aside than together. “So how was it?” he asked.
“We talked a lot in addition to other activities that I won’t describe.”
“Tell her about the others?”
“What did she say about that?”
“Nothing. Geralt, she’s understood since the very first day. You know what she asked of me from time to time. I did it willingly because, one, I fucking love her, and two, she knows I… you know…”
He glanced my way. “No, I don’t know, Ragnar. Spell it out for me.”
“Fuck off, Geralt,” I exclaimed with a chuckle. At least he grinned in return as he knew I was joking. We’d fallen out plenty of times but it had never turned physical, mostly because we knew, once gloves were thrown down, it wouldn’t end well. So we would distribute angry words then walk away to cool off.
Approaching the Rosemary and Thyme, all seemed quiet. Apparently this was the Red Light District of the city, so I assumed there must be another couple of brothels around. The only one I knew well was the Passiflora, but that was in a far nicer area of Novigrad than where we were.
Before we could even approach the entrance, and the place looked completely deserted, the door burst open, and a vagrant came tumbling towards it. I position myself so he bumped into my shoulder and fell to the ground. Two other people came tumbling out after him, another hitting me and then the ground, the third tripping over himself and hitting the deck.
Then a dwarf appeared in the doorway, someone both Geralt and I would have recognised immediately. “Next time I’ll rip your fuckin’ legs off and shove ’em up your arse till you’ve toes for teeth!” Then he looked our way and opened his arms. “Geralt! Ragnar! In the nick of time, as always!”
“Who the fuck are these clowns?” I thought, picking one up and holding him by the collar, “Do I need to remove teeth? Some blood and bruises?”
“No, these fuckers just thought they could make themselves at home here. So now they’d be wise to fuck off and not come back.”
The man I was holding was full of fear now so I pulled him closer, though his breath was horrific. “Hear my short friend over there?”
“Who you callin’ short, the lumberin’…”
“Joke, Zoltan. Calm down.”
He muttered to himself as I looked back at the vagrant. “I would make you walk back in and clean up after yourselves, but my dwarven friend…”
“Much better, Ragnar.”
“Has asked you to kindly fuck off. So unless you want my sword shoved up your arse alongside your legs, I would suggest you make haste and fuck off.”
I let him go and the three vagrants scarpered rather quickly. Following Zoltan inside, he was surprised to see both of us, though we hadn’t seen him in years, so we were just as surprised to see him in Novigrad. Still, it was good to unite with another old friend, He found some ale for us to drink, a clean enough table for us to sit at, and we sat down, enjoying a morning beer, when he asked what had brought us there.
Geralt wasted no time explaining that we were looking for Ciri, and that caught Zoltan by surprise. Like many, he’d at all times had a soft spot for her, but his soft spot for her was larger than most. Wore his heart on his sleeve, despite his rough and tumble exterior. We explained what we’d discovered so far, our reunion in White Orchard the meeting with Emhyr, then the weeks in Velen investigating any rumour we’d had.
“Shit, you two have been busy then,” he muttered.
“So you haven’t seen her by any chance?” Geralt asked, no hope or expectation.
“Sorry, old friend. I haven’t seen her since… I’m not sure I’d even recognise her if she even did try and attempt contact.”
“Okay, we’ll leave that apart for now. I have a feeling the rumours of Ciri being here might not be true. What about Dandelion? I had no idea he was in Novigrad.”
“I don’t know either, Geralt. When he took over this tavern, he made contact with me, askin’ if I’d like to be involved. He has ideas, Geralt. Big fuckin’ great ideas. But I returned just this mornin’ to discover the tavern full of those pricks I just kicked out.”
“Fuck,” Geralt muttered to himself.
“Okay, Ciri can just disappear but someone like Dandelion is bound to leave some kind of trail,” I suggested, “Though this place is a mess, surely there is something that will give us a clue.”
The three of us had a good look around. What became obvious to Geralt and I is that Dandelion seemed to be taking the tavern business quite seriously. It was obvious he aimed to turn it away from being a brothel, though whether he wanted just an ordinary tavern or something closer to his heart remained to be seen. He’d certainly spent plenty of his own coin, though.
Geralt eventually found a ledger that listed everything Dandelion had been spending, his incomings and outgoings, the type of purchases he had been making, and of course there was also a private list, which had the three of us chuckling away, as there was a list of obviously women who Dandelion had been courting.
“Still not sure who is worse,” Zoltan stated, giving me a sideways glance.
“Recognise anyone on the list?” I asked Geralt.
“Why don’t we take a few names each?”
“Something you and Ragnar can handle, Geralt? I wouldn’t mind getting this place in some kind of order.”
“Sure thing. Ragnar, you take half, I’ll take the other?” I nodded, and he handed me a sheet of paper. The very first name had my eyes widen in surprise. “Rosa var Attre? He was ploughing the… wife? Daughter of the Nilfgaardian ambassador?” I glanced at Zoltan. “So we’re gonna discover him with his bollocks missing, right?”
“It’s a long story, Ragnar. She might just be right up your alley, though. Apparently prefers a sword above everything else.” Before I could retort, he raised a hand. “Don’t be uncouth. I mean the kind of sword…” He sighed. “You know what, I know for a fact there is no way I can complete that sentence without you making a crude joke.”
I grinned at him and looked at the rest of the list. “Molly. Who is that?”
“Chambermaid for the Baroness la Valette.”
I raised eyebrows at that. “Hang on, are you talking about Foltest’s one-time mistress?”
“The same one.”
“Holy shit,” I muttered, “That’s not good.”
“Why not?” Geralt asked carefully.
I just gave them both a look. Zoltan burst into laughter. “Ragnar, are you seriously suggesting you fucked King Foltest’s mistress?” the dwarf asked through his chuckles.
“She seduced me!” I stated, then I grinned, “Well, I was never gonna say no. I won’t say it was Triss who suggested it, sleeping with her that is, but she knew I could earn her ear and suggest certain things that would certainly discover their way to the ears of Foltest.”
“Ragnar, who the fuck have you not slept with?” Zoltan asked.
“Yennefer.” I cast Geralt a quick glance and grinned. “I think she’d take my balls if I even suggested such a thing. And then there is what Geralt would do to me. Honestly, I generally avoid married women and whatnot but… Triss suggested, if she were to seduce me, to let it happen. So I let it happen.”
“She really did use you to her benefit?”
“Willingly,” I stated happily, “And I’d do it all again too. She didn’t use me. I happily assisted her in regards to her objectives.”
“You really love her, don’t you?” Zoltan asked, seeing the knowing grin form.
“I told her I’d marry her in a heartbeat and commit completely and utterly to her. But it’s never been the right time.”
“Who’s the last name?” Geralt asked.
“She’s a college teacher, Ragnar. Nearby. I can give you…” The thought of kids… I didn’t need that reminder. Geralt didn’t either. Zoltan recognised our faces immediately. “Something I said?”
I waved away his concerns. “We’ll tell you later. Right, Geralt, meet you back here or elsewhere?”
“Depending on how long it takes for you to do all this. I’ll drop back between her and the Kingfisher.”
Thankfully, in addition to all the flowery words Dandelion had written about his lovers, he also listed the address and directions to each of them. Marabella was the closest, so I headed off to see her first. The area around the school was effectively a slum and, approaching the schoolhouse, it was obvious that everyone who resided in the area was poor. The building itself was dilapidated, but it certainly looked like needed a bit of TLC.
The door was open so I headed inside, a lone teacher in front of around a dozen or so children. She looked up, noticing my approach. She probably thought I was there for some other reason. “Who are you?”
“Apologies, I’m looking for someone by the name of Marabella.”
“I am she. Wait outside, please. Class is still in session.”
I only had to wait an hour or so, occasionally listening into the lesson inside, but spending most of my time sharpening my blade. The lesson finally ended, the kids running by shouting and screaming, an argument and a fight eventually breaking out, Marabella storming out, telling them to stop and go home. She then turned and noticed I was waiting, no doubt having forgotten I existed, though she politely invited me inside.
She didn’t have much information for me. The affair she’d had with Dandelion had been brief but passionate, like most I was aware of, but had fizzled quickly. Apparently their last meeting had occurred recently, though he had spent the entire afternoon reading a booked titled the Illustrated Guide to Fungi.
“Why was he reading that?” I wondered.
Marabella shrugged. “No idea. I certainly had no interest in it. And that was when I realised he’d lost any real interest in me. I haven’t seen him since.”
“Any idea what he was up to?”
“We didn’t really discuss his private life.”
Realising I wasn’t going to get much out of her, I thanked her for taking the time to talk to me, heading outside and checking the other two names I had. “Hmmm. Not sure I’ll go see the baroness today. Rosa var Attre might be a little safer.”
I didn’t know how wrong I was until sometime later. Finding the var Attre residence wasn’t particularly difficult as it was the home of the Nilfgaardian ambassador. Thankfully, Zoltan had given a hint as to her interests, so when questioned by the guards posted outside as to my intention, I suggested I was the new instructor.
The guard captain waved me forward, following him into the house. “Hope you realise what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
“What do you mean?” I wondered as we headed downstairs.
“Miss Rosa’s got a downright beastly temper. Shows no mercy once she grips a sword. Grab a wooden one. And take care not to hurt the little miss, or you’ll earn the ambassador’s ire.”
We ended up in what can only be called a training arena, and that’s where I was introduced to Rosa var Attre. And I was immediately reminded of Tamara, though only in that she was young and rather attractive. She certainly seemed to approve of me immediately. “You’re my new instructor? Well, well, papa clearly went out of his way this time. Wood to begin with. I must know your worth.”
I glanced at the guard captain, who simply shrugged and made his way upstairs, as I looked at Rosa and grinned. “Wood, you say?”
I shrugged off my chest armour, placing my sword and shield on the ground, before I picked up a wooden sword. It was incredibly light as I walked towards the centre of the room. “Sure about this?”
“Scared of hitting a woman?”
“No. But I am concerned about hitting the ambassador’s daughter.”
She scoffed. “You have to hit me first.” Then she strode forward, intent on striking me. I parried her first few swings, and I’ll admit, she had talent. More than most idiots I fought. I didn’t exactly want to get stuck in a long fight with her, so took to hitting her with the flat of my blade whenever given the opportunity, including a couple of taps on that rather tight little butt of hers, which made her chuckle and blush at the same time. Of course, doing that also riled her a little bit, and disarming her ended up being rather easy as her technique went out the window.
Picking up the blade on the ground, I handed it over. “You’ve got some talent, at least,” I offered.
She nodded. “Well fought,” she replied, taking in a deep breath, “You’re much better than the last one.”
“Look, Rosa. I’m gonna level with here. I’m not your new instructor.”
She was immediately suspicious, of course, though seemed willing to hear me out. “If you’re not, who are you?”
I offered my hand. “My friends called me Ragnar. Others call me the Dragonborn.”
“The Dragonborn! I know who you are. Or at least I’ve heard about you from Dandelion. Yes, plenty of stories about the dragon and the wolf.”
“Huh, even made its way to Nilfgaard, I see.”
“So why are you here, Ragnar?”
“I’m looking for Dandelion. I figure out he was a tutor of yours.”
That made her laugh. “Tutor? Good one. That is why papa hired him, but not at all what the bard had in mind. He mostly played his lute and sang for us. I believe he wondered he was wooing…”
The disdain in her tone was a surprise. “So he wasn’t…? I assumed you had a relationship of some sort?”
“If you call him chasing after me a relationship… Even so, there was nothing between us. Seems my sister’s had a bit of fun at our expense.”
She stepped forward, sword dangling at her side. I knew the look well. “Well, if you’re not an instructor, you should certainly be one. Fancy giving me a few private lessons?”
The urge to be completely and utterly crude nearly overwhelmed me. So I just grinned and agreed. That seemed to please her, taking my sword and putting them back in the rack when I heard footsteps come down the stairs, greeted by a woman who was an absolute dead ringer for Rosa.
“What are you two lovebirds whispering about?” she asked.
“You asked about my relationship with Dandelion? Well, here’s the mix-up’s mastermind: Edna var Attre, the greatest mischief-maker north or south of the Yaruga!”
“So you’re twins…” Then I gave it a moment of thought and laughed. “Ah, I can already see what’s going on here. Edna has played Dandelion like a fool, no doubt confusing him, making him think she is you, right?”
Rosa raised her eyebrows but grinned. “Well, there are some brains behind those gorgeous blue eyes of yours, Ragnar. That’s exactly what happened.”
“Okay, I don’t particularly want to discover myself in the middle of a quarrel here, so a simple question. Have either of you seen Dandelion lately?”
“Edna might have. I certainly have not.”
“My dear sister, I would never spend time alone with the man for whom you burn with a secret passion.”
Rosa practically growled, and I think was ready to charge forward and give her sister a smack. “Burn with passion? For one who incessantly praises another woman’s talents? Afraid I’ve more sense than that!”
Before the argument really took off, I simply asked who he praised and what else they might assume he was up to. They could only give me the name ‘Callonetta’, a poetress that was meant to be immensely talented. As for acting strangely, the only thing either could really mentioned was a visit to a graveyard and asking questions about someone called Margrave Henckel. No idea who that was either. But it was more information I had than before entering. I almost didn’t think going to speak to Molly was worthwhile, but I figured questioning everyone was a good idea.
Edna thankfully disappeared as I put my armour back on, Rosa certainly showing more interest in me than she likely ever showed in Dandelion. “Did you fight in the war?” she asked.
“Aye. For Temeria.”
“Ah… That did not end well for you.”
“I lived. Many of my fellow men didn’t. Could have been a hell of a lot worse.”
“What do you think of Nilfgaard?”
“I’d rather your people didn’t stream north, conquering kingdom after kingdom. But I’ve learned that many of your people in uniform are just like me. People earning a living, fighting for causes we believe in, or simply fighting to put food on the table. Wouldn’t be surprised if many are conscripted against their will, told to fight and kill people just like them.” I leaned back against the wall and crossed my arms. “Met your father in Vizima. He was surprisingly honest about your position.”
“Father has to be cautious in his role.”
“What about you, Rosa? Why are you here?”
“I ask the same question often, Ragnar. Life here is boring. My friends are not here. And I detest attending parties and other events on behalf of my father. It’s why I have taken up interests such as swordplay. It keeps me occupied. I would like to escape this house more often, but the guards… They barely let us out of the grounds.”
“Nilfgaard isn’t trendy in these parts, Rosa. Though Novigrad is a free city, it’s technically still part of Redania, and a lot of people would happily welcome you in a manner you wouldn’t like.”
She chewed on that and nodded. “Wise words, Ragnar. I do hate being treated like a child, though.”
“Not a child. The daughter of an essential figure within the Nilfgaardian nobility. Unfortunately for yourself, it does come with certainly expectations. You have privilege, but you also have to put up with constraints on your liberty.”