Fade to White
There was simply nothing left to do, and only one thing that Jerek wanted to do. Besides, if he was going to go, then it was best that he do it quickly to avoid running into Nosaj or Ramo again. Deep in his heart, Jerek didn’t really want to oversee the relocation for Nosaj, and by leaving he wouldn’t have to.
With that plan set in his mind, Jerek pulled out a travel bag and he began stuffing his shirts and pants into it, then he slung the bag across his back. Jerek retrieved his sword from where it stood propped up in the corner by his bedroom door, and strung it through his belt, giving him all of the essentials that he needed to go.
Ordinarily Jerek left the castle whenever he wished, but also ordinarily he didn’t have his clothes packed up with a recent history of a long disappearance. It was possible that he could raise a few inquiries because of those two combined facts, so he decided to sneak out. Slinking around the corridors, Jerek found a certain delight in avoiding being seen as the adrenalin pumped through his veins. However, as usual there were very few people wandering around the halls and his thrill was short lived as he found himself outside very quickly. Not even the stable keeper was around to fuss over Jerek saddling his horse and galloping off into the surrounding forest.
Jerek couldn’t keep from chuckling, wondering what Ramo would think if he knew what he was doing. Ramo would certainly be surprised, but Jerek justified his actions because he missed her; the woman who had invaded his thoughts and feelings, who agitated somewhere in the back of his mind a vague memory of something that used to be pure. There was an exception to the rule of women, and Jerek had found that exception.
When Jerek arrived in the clearing, he saw Tryne sitting in her open doorway with her head turned the other way. For some reason, that made him nervous. The constant thudding of the horse’s hooves echoed the pounding in his chest. He wanted her to look over and see him, to notice him before he had to announce his presence, but her head stayed turned the other way, refusing to show him anything other than the back of her orange hair. Five feet away, he dismounted, his feet making noise as they hit the ground and flattened the grass underneath him, his sword also clinking in its sheath. Now she had to be ignoring him, because it was obvious that he was there. Irritated, Jerek strode right up behind Tryne and stopped with his feet apart and arms folded.
“You didn’t say anything when you left,” she said, still refusing to look at him. Slowly she stood up, then in one swift movement turned around and punched Jerek in the shoulder.
He stumbled back a step. “What was that for?”
“I thought that you’d never come back. I thought for sure that . . .”
“You’re crazy!” Jerek rotated his shoulder, almost ashamed that it hurt.
“You deserved that, but I guess that since you did come back I might as well help you.” Tryne reached toward Jerek, but he flinched away. “Oh come on now.” Grabbing Jerek roughly, she turned him around then began massaging his shoulders. It felt surprisingly nice and relaxing. “I’m really glad you came back,” Tryne whispered, stopping and letting her hands rest between his shoulder blades.
Jerek grunted, wanting to say the same but feeling too embarrassed to express any sort of emotion. Instead, he half turned to look at her and with a small grin said, “Don’t worry about it. I was just getting my sword, since I’m your protection after all.”
Tryne’s face lit up with curiosity as she reached for the weapon on Jerek’s belt.
“Hey!” He turned away from her.
“I just want to look at it. I’ve never seen a weapon with a black hilt like that before. It’s got to be high quality, very expensive.”
“Don’t touch my sword,” Jerek said with an almost threatening tone. “Besides, why are you even still here? You should’ve moved to town.”
“I could never leave my farm in the middle of the season. I have to finish this year out so I’m staying right here.” Jerek flinched, remembering what Nosaj had said about the cottage, but Tryne didn’t notice. “Though I admit,” she said as Jerek felt Tryne’s hand slip into his, their fingers interlocking, “it does get lonely.” Feeling excited and unsure of himself, Jerek closed his fingers and gripped her hand, his heart thumping almost painfully as he longed to do something else, but he couldn’t figure out what. It was something that involved her, something that . . . Nosaj flooded his head, repeating the words, “I want that farm destroyed.”
“It’d be easier on you if you left.” Jerek tried to sound casual, not wanting to give away that he knew anything.
“Ken tried to get me to leave too. When we discovered that you were gone, he claimed that Nosaj’s army would be marching down on me at any moment and I would be safer in the town, but now that you’re back I don’t think it matters anymore.”
“I’m only one person,” Jerek said darkly, then caught himself. “I can’t do farmwork, so you’d be working all by yourself. You really should move to the town . . .” No, the town wasn’t any safer. “. . . or somewhere so you don’t have to worry about keeping the farm up.”
“Jerek, what are you getting at? Why are you so insistent on me leaving the farm?” Jerek froze as he heard Tryne say that, fearing that he had given away too much. “Do you hate farmwork that much?”
“Yes.” He couldn’t keep the relief out of his voice.
“Then I won’t make you do any, but I’m not leaving before winter comes. I have a responsibility, after all.”
Jerek almost wanted to growl at her stubbornness. Perhaps Nosaj would wait a few days before he sent his forces without Jerek.
“Would you like to have a picnic? I’ll prepare the food while you move your stuff in and settle down some,” Tryne said.
“It’s all about food with you, isn’t it?”
“If you feed a stray animal enough, it’ll never leave.”
“Are you saying that I’m a stray animal?”
“Think about it. I found you injured one day after you ran into a tree.” Tryne paused and giggled as Jerek winced. “Then I nursed you back to health. Ever since then you’ve been in and out, and I really hope that this time you’re here to stay. By the way.” Tryne reached up and brushed Jerek’s hair aside, gently touching the scab on the side of his head. “How are you feeling?”
“That’s good, and it doesn’t look infected so I’d dare say you’ll live through this experience.”
“I’m not too sure about that, you might end up smothering me to death.” Jerek grabbed Tryne’s hand, holding it in place. “Same bed?”
“What?” Tryne gave Jerek a strange look.
“Am I in the same bed as the last time? I didn’t mean . . .” Jerek’s face turned red, and he quickly let go of Tryne’s hand.
“Oh, yeah. We should probably get ready for our picnic now, so we can have as much time as we’d like.”
Fifteen minutes later they were sitting in a sunny patch of grass with lunch spread out before them on an old blanket.
“Tell me about yourself,” Tryne said. “I want to know everything about you.”
“For starters, cats or dogs?”
Jerek thought for a moment. Ramo kept a cat, a fluffy fur ball with a squashed face that gave him a permanently grumpy look. He liked that cat better than the guard dogs that barked and tried to jump on him. The cat, at least, left him alone. “Cats.”
“Me too. How about your favorite color?”
“Why on earth would someone have a favorite color?”
“I don’t know, everyone just has a color that they like better than the others. Don’t you have one?”
Jerek looked around, then his gaze settled on Tryne’s hair. “Reddish-orange gold.”
Tryne giggled and blushed. “You’re just trying to flatter me.” Leaning forward she whispered into Jerek’s ear, “It’s working,” then sat back, continuing their conversation. “My favorite is pale pink. What’s your favorite food?”
“How long do we have to keep doing this?”
“Okay, I get your hint, you don’t have any favorites. What do you do in your spare time?”
“And yet you still keep up with the questions. All I do is sit in my window and smoke!”
“You didn’t have to snap at me like that.” Sulking, Tryne looked at the sky away from Jerek.
In that moment Jerek deeply regretted that he had been rude. He didn’t think that he would hurt her feelings, but he couldn’t take the harshness of his voice back. Instead, he acted on his first impulse. Wrapping his arms around Tryne in an embrace, he pulled her close to him and whispered, “I’m sorry.” Tryne’s eyes opened wide, then slowly closed as she smiled slightly, moving to rest her head against his chest.
“It’s all right,” she murmured. “Let’s just stay like this for a little bit.”
Jerek nodded, moving one of his hands to stroke the back of Tryne’s head. Her hair was soft and smooth to his touch, and it felt good to hold her even though it made his heart beat a little faster. He wanted them to stay like that for a long time, with the warm sun bathing them in a way that made the whole world stand still in peaceful serenity.
However, after awhile Jerek’s muscles started to feel stiff and Tryne was more like a heavy weight pushing against his chest, constricting his breathing. Gently taking Tryne’s shoulders and pushing her away, he shifted and stretched, easing the aches in his back and legs. Tryne stretched a little bit too, raising her arms to the sky and falling backwards onto the grass.
“Jerek,” Tryne said grinning. “You turned me into something sappy. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“You’ve done far worse to me. You know, there’s someone who would die to be you right now.” Jerek chuckled.
“Really? Who is she?”
“Just someone I grew up with,” Jerek vaguely replied, starting to feel like he had given away to much information.
“I’m feeling a little deflated. I was under the impression that I was your only acquaintance, and now I find out that you’re leading along other girls as well.” Tryne folded her arms and puckered out her lips in exaggerated pouting.
“I don’t lead anyone along. If I don’t like someone, I tell them, and if they still insist on obsessing over me then that’s their problem.”
“Do you like me?”
Jerek was caught off guard by Tryne’s question, even though he should have been able to see it coming. “I haven’t said otherwise.”
Suddenly standing up, Tryne said, “I have chores to get to, and I insist that you escort me back.”
“Why?” Jerek asked, pushing himself up as well.
“Because that’s what gentlemen do for ladies.” Linking her arm with Jerek’s, Tryne began to pull him off. “Come on, we have lots of work to do. It’s just the two of us running this farm, after all.”
“You told me that I wouldn’t have to do any farmwork.”
“I’d still appreciate it if you helped me out a little. It won’t be that bad.”
Jerek sighed and rolled his eyes. “I don’t have a choice in this, do I.”