Fade to White
“Commander and King,” Jerek said, turning around to face him and taking an almost defensive pose. “I was just on my way to see you.”
“Yes, perhaps you were. It seems however, that you were delayed. Are there any announcements the two of you would like to make?”
“Very well then. Jerek, would you be so kind as to tell me where you have been for these past few days?”
“I was in Amber.”
“And what were you doing in Amber?”
“Scouting it out.” Jerek’s eyes were cold and emotionless, refusing to let Nosaj glean any information from them as they stared at each other.
“You took so long to just scout it out?”
“Ah Jerek,” Nosaj sighed, “I almost wish you excuse was more elaborate. You realize you went directly against my wishes.”
“And you will be punished for it.”
“No!” Ramo called out, coming around Jerek to stand between him and Nosaj. “You don’t need to punish Jerek!”
“Hold your place Ramo. It’s no concern of yours.”
Jerek placed a hand on Ramo’s shoulder. “It’s okay Ramo. You don’t need to defend me.”
“But you aren’t even defending yourself! How can I just sit by and let something bad happen to you? So what if you made a mistake, you’re here now and the mission was completed anyway!”
“Ramo, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to die.” Jerek smiled, softly tapping his fist against the top of Ramo’s head. “Quit acting so stupid.”
“Unless the two of you decide to come out together, I suggest you stop it with the cutesy love scenes.” Nosaj pulled his upper lip back in disgust. “Come with me.”
Jerek was unable to keep his face from heating up, and he mouthed a couple inappropriate words at Nosaj’s back, which Ramo saw and nervously giggled at despite his fearful expression. Nosaj looked over his shoulder and glared at the two of them, then continued leading the way down the corridors and stairways, into the dungeon.
“You will receive five lashes for your actions, understand? And let’s hope you never do anything like this ever again, or your punishment will be more severe.” Nosaj stopped in front of a dark wooden door with a barred window cut out near the top. Pushing it open, a soldier jumped to attention as they entered the room. “Shackle him,” Nosaj ordered.
“Jerek, fight this!” Ramo whispered, catching hold of Jerek’s sleeve.
Jerek smiled and pulled Ramo’s hand away, then put his own hands out for the soldier to fasten the metal bands around.
Furious, Nosaj stepped forward and backhanded Jerek across the side of his face, then stabbing his finger into Jerek’s chest, he snarled, “Quit acting like a bloody martyr! You’re not going to die, and no one gives a damn about what happens to you anyway. Do you get that?”
“Am I supposed to be fighting?” Jerek jeered. “Why? So I can give you the satisfaction of ruling over me? I don’t think so.”
Nostrils flaring, Nosaj hit Jerek again, this time cutting Jerek’s lip so that a small trickle of blood appeared. “Shut the hell up! Give him ten lashings, and by God make sure they hurt!” Spinning around, Nosaj stomped out of the room, but before he closed the door he turned and looked at Ramo. “Come with me Ramo. You shouldn’t watch your precious Jerek be reduced to a crying bloody heap. I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to see that.”
“No, I want to . . .”
“GET OVER HERE!”
Hopping slightly, Ramo scurried out the door and Nosaj slammed it shut.
“You heard him.” The soldier chuckled, taking the chain attached to Jerek’s shackles and pulling it through a loop high up on the stone wall to extend Jerek’s arms above his head, then fastened the chain in place. “Just because you’re the heir, doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you.”
“You realize that once I take control, you are dead.”
“No one lives forever.” Picking up the whip, the soldier pulled it tight in both hands, then letting go with one hand sung it back and forward, lashing Jerek’s back, cutting both cloth and skin. Jerek grunted, clenching his fists so tightly his knuckles shined white as the next stinging blow hit him.
Walking back up the stairs behind Nosaj, Ramo looked backwards with a worried expression, biting his lower lip.
Ramo’s head swung forward. “Yes Commander?”
“I want you to follow Jerek everywhere he goes from now on. Especially when he leaves the castle.”
“Commander . . .”
“Never let him out of your sight, and when you find out where he’s been going, come back and report to me.”
“But Commander, that would mean . . .”
Taking Ramo’s chin in his hand, Nosaj tilted his head up to look at his eyes. “Do you love Jerek?”
“Yes, but . . .”
“Would you do anything for him?”
“Then you’ll do this for me. I have a feeling that our dear little Jerek is drifting farther and farther away from us, and we need to bring him back before it’s too late.”
“You won’t hurt Jerek if I do find something out?”
“Heh, no.” Nosaj’s lips curled in amusement. “I’ve invested too much time into him. He’s the only one who can take over for me.”
“Then . . .” Ramo bit his lip, looking down hesitantly for a moment, before returning his gaze to Nosaj with determination. “I’ll follow him. For his sake.”
“Good boy.” Nosaj patted the top of Ramo’s head. “Make sure you don’t let him know about this. It could turn out badly if you did.”
When they reached the top, Nosaj turned and strode away, leaving Ramo to stare down at the bottom of the steps as he waited.
An hour later Jerek made his way up the same stairs, hunched over with his hand against the wall, slowly taking each step. His shirt had been discarded since the back had been sliced open, it had become a nuisance to continue wearing it. Red covered his skin, some of it running down and soaking into the top of his pants while other areas of his blood were dark and dry.
He wasn’t even going to bother returning to his room. He only wanted one thing, and he wasn’t going to waste the time and effort on actions that would only delay him from achieving it. The cuts that laced his back still stung, throbbing each time his heart beat and burning with the hatred he felt inside. He no longer wanted to passively disappear, never to be seen or heard of again. He wanted revenge. But first, he was returning to the one he loved.
Tired and sore, he slowly staggered his way out of the castle and into the stable where he mounted his horse without the saddle, and riding bareback trotted off into the dark forest, leaning forward with his head down, barely noticing the scenery that passed by around him.
Trembling, Ramo saddled and mounted a brown mare then awkwardly steered after Jerek, keeping as far away from him as he dared but still keeping an eye on him. The idea of spying on Jerek still sickened him, but Jerek’s quick departure reinforced in his mind how necessary it was.