Fade to White
Tiptoeing through his lounge, Jerek was careful not to wake up Ramo who was still sleeping on the couch. Despite the late night before, he had gotten up early on the account of not being able to sleep anyway. She was the only thing he could think about. Every time he closed his eyes he could see her sitting with her back to him, wearing a long baby pink night gown, pulling her hair out of the braid in shimmering strands of red. He could also remember waking up briefly in the dead of night and listening to her cry.
Ramo hardly ever cried, that heaven for that. Making the decision in the spur of the moment, Jerek tapped Ramo’s foot. “Get up.”
“Uh.” Rolling over, Ramo buried his face into the fabric of the couch. “Why aren’t you tired?”
“I’m a god. Get up or I’ll tell the Commander not to give you any breakfast.”
“Why would you do a thing like that?” Ramo sat up quickly.
“Because I’m a cold-hearted bastard. C’mon, let’s go eat. I haven’t had a proper meal in a couple of days.”
“All right.” Bouncing up, Ramo stretched his arms above his head and asked, “How are you this morning?”
“Progressively worse since you got up.”
Jerek smiled slightly when Ramo punched him in the shoulder, and opened the door to go out into the corridors of the castle. Faint screaming echoed down the hallway, gradually growing louder and soon a girl appeared dashing toward them, followed closely by two soldiers before one of the tackled her.
“Disgusting,” Ramo murmured behind Jerek’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Staying where he was, Jerek watched in amusement. That girl looked familiar.
“Help me!” the girl suddenly cried out, lunging at Jerek. “Please save me! I don’t care what you do to me, so long as it’s not him!”
It was the teenager from Opal. He remembered her now. “Go on and leave,” he told the soldiers who stood and looked at each other with uncertainty before obeying. “Tell me.” Jerek crouched down to look at her in the face better as he addressed the girl. “Were you thinking that I would make use of you? Is that why you struck that deal? You’re a shallow little girl.”
“Save me,” the girl sobbed, reaching up and clinging to the front of his shirt. “I know you have a good heart. Otherwise, you would have never helped the children.”
“The children are dead.” Jerek pried the girl’s fingers from his shirt, then holding both of her wrists with one hand, reached to his leg where he kept a hidden knife. “As you deserve to be.”
The girl began screaming again, repeating the word “no” over and over, struggling against Jerek’s hold on her and trying to escape. Bringing the knife up, Jerek hesitated. She was crying.
“Not right before breakfast,” Jerek grunted, standing up. “I don’t want you ruining my meal.”
“Jerek! Make her stop!” Ramo suddenly burst out, his hands pressed against his ears, droplets sparkling at the corners of his eyes.
“Ramo, it’s okay.” Turning to Ramo, Jerek grabbed his wrists and forced his hands down.
“No Jerek! Make her stop! I can’t stand it! Make her stop!” Tears were flowing freely down Ramo’s cheeks as he grew closer to becoming hysterical.
“Shut the hell up!” Jerek roared, turning around and seizing the girl’s neck, lifting her up into the air. “Never scream like that, ever!” he yelled, shaking the girl forcefully. She choked and gurgled, her eyes bulging as her hands feebly hit and clawed at Jerek. “Stop that!” Thrusting his arm forward, Jerek slammed the girl against the wall, a loud smack sounding as her head made contact with the stone, then she went limp. “Are you okay Ramo?”
Ramo nodded. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . .”
“I know. How did the girl escape anyway? She shouldn’t have been in this part of the castle to begin with.”
“Did you just kill my whore, Jerek?”
Dropping the girl, Jerek dusted his hands. “Commander and King, you’re becoming lax in your security.”
“Perhaps.” Kneeling down, Nosaj put his hand on the girl’s neck, then with a disgusted look he straightened and kicked the girl’s body. “I expect you to replace her. Someone young and fresh like she was.”
“I’ll think about it after breakfast.” Jerek turned around, but Nosaj stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Ramo, go on ahead. Jerek and I are going to take a little walk, then meet up with you later.”
“Okay.” Ramo was barely audible. “I’m sorry.”
“You aren’t that upset over losing one girl, are you?” Jerek shifted around, obviously impatient.
“No, no, this isn’t about that. Perhaps you’ve already heard, but it has recently come to my attention that there’s also a rebel group in the Amber Village. You know I like to have peace in my Twelve Villages, but currently we’re down to eleven, and I don’t want to be forced to destroy another one.” Tapping a bony finger against his lips, Nosaj asked, “What do you suppose I should do?”
Jerek shrugged, giving no other reply.
“Tch, Jerek.” Nosaj shook his head. “That’s disappointing of you. Sometimes I wonder if you’ll make a good heir, or if everything will just fall apart in your hands.”
“That depends on the strength of the kingdom my predecessor builds. If he hands me a weak kingdom, then time will take its course, regardless.”
“At least you’re quick witted in some areas. Now here’s what we’re going to do: we have one city that needs to be rebuilt, and another that needs to be divided. Do you see?”
“A relocation? Won’t that just put the rebels in both towns?”
“Their forces will be divided and communication with their leader will be cut off. We’ll also saturate both of the cities with soldiers so it will be difficult for them to reorganize, and it would take some very determined people to keep that silly little group alive.”
“What if they are that determined?”
Nosaj chuckled. “Then I’ll give them my kudos.”
“And you want me to take care of this for you?”
“I’m getting older, Jerek. I have you. I don’t need to go out on raids anymore. Why else do you think I saved you and raised you as my own?” Smiling, Nosaj reached up and patted Jerek’s face. “Go and join Ramo now, that boy’s waiting for you.”
“Oh goodie,” Jerek grunted.
“And Jerek,” Nosaj suddenly turned back around to face him again. “There was a woman brought in here the other day, claiming to be the leader of the rebels. I was really quite surprised to see her, especially under those circumstances, considering that for quite some time she had been paying me to turn a blind eye on her godforsaken farm. I’ll have a map of its location sent to you, and I want that farm destroyed. I’m beginning to think that maybe the house had been a meeting place for miscreants.” Starting to laugh, Nosaj added, “And all this time I thought it was a brothel!”
Turning around, Jerek walked off without a word in reply. He couldn’t decide which made him angrier, the fact that Nosaj didn’t tell him about the cottage until now, or that he had actually been talking about Tryne’s farm. He doubted that Tryne knew that her mother had been paying off Nosaj, because it was something that she would never accept. It had been hard fighting the urge to reach out to forcefully remove that smile from Nosaj’s face. It was insulting that Nosaj kept information from him, and as the future heir to the title of Commander and King, he deserved to know all of Nosaj’s business. He needed that trust, so that when he did take over he would be able to hold the Twelve Villages together.
Bursting into the dining room, Jerek caught Ramo by surprise and caused him to jump. Jerek huffed slightly as he looked at the place set for him, the plate piled high with scrambled eggs and warm fruit croissants. Taking a seat, Jerek used his fork to viciously stab a sausage.
“What did Nosaj want to talk about?” Ramo asked, leaning casually against his hand but looking at Jerek intently.
“Strategy,” Jerek replied, then quietly whispered, “And to flaunt in my face how much he keeps from me.”
“Oh.” Putting his fork into his mouth, Ramo paused thoughtfully. “So what are our future moves?”
“Massive relocation, from Amber to Opal. Half the city’s population with as few fatalities as possible, but we have to keep up the scare factor.”
“How are you planning on moving all those people?”
“Soldiers surrounding everyone with guns and swords. They’ll have no choice but to walk.”
“You can do it, no problem.” Ramo smiled, swirling his fork through the air before scooping up more eggs with it. “This morning’s breakfast is really good.”
“Yeah, it is.” After pausing for a moment, Jerek said, “I want to train.”
“Ooo Jerek, can I fight with you? It’s been forever since we’ve done that.” Excited, Ramo leaned forward.
“That’s because I’m way better than you. I’d break you.”
“Then you can fix me. Please?”
Standing up, Jerek turned to the door. “Better hurry then,” he said, looking sideways at Ramo. Jumping up, Ramo skipped as he followed Jerek to his personal training room. The walls were lined with swords, though most of them were nothing more than sparkly decorations. Turning, Jerek retrieved two wooden swords from the corner where they had been standing propped up. Tossing one of the practice swords to Ramo, Jerek then took off his shirt and dropped it to the floor where it landed lightly in a white pile. Flexing his muscles, Jerek picked up the second sword and looking over his shoulder at Ramo said, “I won’t go easy on you.”
Then he paused as the black mark on the back of his shoulder caught his eye. He was always thrown off by that tattoo, because he could never seem to remember that he had it, despite the fact that the ink in his skin was years old. It was Nosaj’s symbol, a snake twisted around a black rose that bore venomously sharp thorns. Ramo took off his shirt too, revealing a similar mark on the back of his shoulder, and picked up a sword, pointing it at Jerek and saying “En garde.”
Jerek chuckled, standing ready for Ramo’s attack. “I hope you don’t try any fencing moves. These are the wrong weapons for that.”
“I won’t,” Ramo said as he took a swing at Jerek, who brought up his wooden blade and blocked the blow, then thrust Ramo’s sword to the side and in almost the same movement struck Ramo’s leg.
“Well, you hit me rather hard,” Ramo said as he gingerly touched where his leg had been hit. “It’ll probably bruise.”
“Go on and sit down, I’ll just do some exercises.” Turning his back to Ramo, Jerek continued to swing his sword at the air. Ramo nodded and limped over to the wall, sitting on the ground with his back leaning against it.
“You’ve gotten a lot better.”
“I told you so.” There was a moment of silence before Jerek plunged into words. “So what does it mean when you can’t stop thinking about someone?” he asked, trying hard to sound casual.
“It depends, what kind of feelings do you have when you think of them?” Ramo’s back arched as he leaned forward with piqued curiosity.
“I don’t know. Kind of happy, kind of annoyed, I guess. I think I want to spend more time with this person.”
“Jerek, are you in love?”
“No!” Jerek brought his sword swinging down so quickly it made a hissing noise in the air. Sullenly, he added, “I’m just intrigued, that’s all.”
Ramo laughed, sounding relieved. “So such emotion has yet to happen to the great and wonderful Jerek, but who knows, maybe that’ll change sometime in the future.”
“Don’t look at me like that.” Jerek hunched his shoulders, keeping his back to Ramo. “And don’t talk like that.”
The door swung open, revealing Nosaj who looked at them for a second before cracking a grin. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
Jerek put down his sword and picked up his shirt, then pulling it on he walked up to Nosaj and said loudly, “We were finished anyway,” then continued past Nosaj.
“I meant to tell you, Jerek. I want the relocation done today.”
Jerek stopped. “Today?”
“Yes, if you would.”
“I don’t feel up to it today. I had a late night.”
Nosaj seemed to be a little surprised. “Very well then, tomorrow. We have to get this done quickly, you know.”
Nodding, Jerek pushed his way through the door into his sitting room and from there into his bedroom, locking the door behind him. Getting down on his hands and knees, he pulled out his secret stash of cigarets and lit one, but failing to receive any sort of enjoyment, he tossed it out the window. What he was craving was Tryne’s simple and wholesome cooking. What he wanted was to see Tryne again. He wasn’t in love, he couldn’t be, and yet he felt something in his chest . . . Maybe he was. The thought made him smile.