Fade to White
Making it to the edge of the clearing of Tryne’s farm, Jerek felt his strength drain completely from his body, and suddenly he was lying horizontal on the ground. His horse stopped this time, lowering its head down to bite at the soft grass. Rolling onto his back, Jerek stared up at the blue sky, resting his hands across his stomach and feeling relaxed. He didn’t want to ever move again. In fact, what he felt like doing was going to sleep. Seemingly on their own, his eyelids closed and blocked out the view he had of the world around him.
Soft warm hands touched his face, and he slowly opened one eye. The sky was lighter, a pinkish hue that signified dawn. Her hair was loose around her face, and hanging down toward him as she leaned over him, her facial features seeming to be even softer and more beautiful in the pale light.
“Come on Jerek,” Tryne whispered, “We’re going inside.”
Jerek sat up, and put his hand to his forehead as dizziness suddenly washed over him. Feeling sick, he leaned forward, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his teeth. He could hear Tryne gasp, then her hot hands touched his shoulders and guided him forward so he was braced up against her body. Putting both of his arms around her, Jerek pulled her tightly against his cold chest, resting his cheek against her hair.
“I need you to stand up Jerek. I can’t carry you to the cottage.”
“Just . . .” Jerek’s voice cracked, “. . . a little bit . . .”
“Shh, don’t speak. We’ll wait as long as we need to.”
“Tryne, I’m sorry.”
A hot tear splashed against Jerek’s frozen skin, surprising him. Tryne buried her head in the crook of his neck, and he could feel more of her tears falling. “I shouldn’t,” she sobbed, “but I do. I love you, Jerek.”
Jerek pushed Tryne slightly away from him so he could see into her eyes. He brushed away a tear with his thumb, putting both of his hands against her cheeks. Then, lips slightly parted, he kissed her, holding her so tightly against him he almost couldn’t breathe. But, he didn’t really want to breathe. He just wanted her.
Something inside Ramo broke, and he pulled himself back behind the tree, sinking to the ground. Water flowed freely from his eyes as he rested his head against his knees, and he put his hands up to his ears. Everything made so much sense to him now, and he felt stupid for not realizing it sooner, for not being able to see this coming.
Jerek was in love with a woman.
Ramo knew he had no claims over Jerek, and he had no right to be as upset as he was. Jerek had made it very clear that he would never feel any tender emotions toward him, yet despite that Ramo had continued holding on to the hope that some day Jerek would. At the very least, he had hoped that he would forever be Jerek’s one and only friend. Even that had been ripped away from him, because of that girl. A sudden and deep hatred filled Ramo’s chest, directed toward the female who had the gall to touch Jerek. She had gotten into Jerek’s head, manipulating and controlling him to the point where Jerek had turned against the Commander and King. That had to be the answer. There was no other way that Jerek could possibly be in love with someone, no other reason for the things that he had said to Ramo. Someone else was controlling him.
That girl needed to be exterminated before she could cause any more damage.
Standing up, Ramo pressed his hand against his heart. Even if Jerek wasn’t himself, it still hurt to see him kiss a girl like that. It hurt a lot. Treading softly, Ramo walked deeper into the forest to where he had dismounted his horse and headed back to the castle. It was important that the Commander heard about this right away.
“You’re so cold,” Tryne whispered, brushing her hand through the side of Jerek’s hair and feeling along his arm. “Can you come inside?”
Nodding, Jerek pushed himself up but faltered slightly. Tryne caught hold of him, and putting his arm around her shoulders, supported him as they slowly shuffled their way to the cottage. Inside, Tryne sat Jerek down on one of the beds, then immediately filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove.
“What happened to you?” she asked, pulling out a few rags and dumping them on the floor next to the bed, sitting on her knees next to them.
“I was whipped for disobedience.”
“Didn’t you say that you were the heir to Nosaj?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Will you please tell me the truth now?”
Taking a deep breath, Jerek looked away for a moment then met Tryne’s eyes again. “Nosaj adopted me when I was five years old after my parents died in a fire. I was raised for the sole purpose of being his successor, and recently I had started carrying out Nosaj’s dirty work for him. Destroying Opal was my doing.”
“What about the orphans? Did you really take their sister in exchange for letting them go?”
“Heh, yeah.” Jerek shook his head, grinning slightly but using his hand to cover it. “I shouldn’t have, since I was supposed to kill everyone and leave no survivors. If Nosaj had known about the orphans, he would have been furious with me. He chastised me over the girl, though I knew he was pleased with her.”
“Is she still there with him?”
“No, I killed her.”
Pulling a disgusted face, Tryne looked away and stood up, walking over to the stove and looking at the kettle.
“Tryne.” Jerek stood up as well, moving right behind her. “I didn’t mean to kill her.”
“Did you have anything to do with my Mother’s death?”
“No. From the very first day I met you, I didn’t have anything to do with Nosaj’s actions at all. I was completely unaware of them until after they happened.”
Turning around to face Jerek, Tryne asked, “How do I know I can trust you?”
“My loyalty lies only with you, isn’t this proof enough?” Jerek spread out his arms and twisted around to show the cuts in his back.
“The water is warm enough now, go lie down on your stomach.”
Jerek did as he was ordered, feeling pained at Tryne’s unemotional tone. Dipping the rag into the water, Tryne rung it out then dabbed it at the wounds in his back, causing them to sting. Wincing, Jerek gritted his teeth and clutched at the blankets on the bed.
“I’m sorry, I know it hurts.” There was a pause, before Tryne continued asking, “Did you really sever all your ties with Nosaj? Are you really loyal only to me or is this some sort of set up?”
“I’m telling you the truth! I’m not stupid enough to do something like this just to get one person. If I intended to hurt you, I would have done it a long time ago.”
“Well I don’t know. I thought I knew you, but it turned out that I was wrong. You could be capable of anything.”
“I won’t ever deceive you ever again.” Sitting up, Jerek grabbed both of Tryne’s wrists and held them. “I love you, Tryne! I shouldn’t, I have no right to, but I do! I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you! I loved you when you forced me to do menial labor, and I loved you for all of your silly little activities you insisted on making me do with you! I love you!”
Tryne was surprised for a second, but then smiled very warmly as she gently pushed Jerek back down. “I can’t clean your wounds if you keep moving around like that.” Putting one of her hands on Jerek’s head, she stroked his hair and whispered, “I’ll never doubt you again, my love. Stay with me for always.”
“I’ll never leave you, even if you tell me to.”
“I’m glad. Your back is probably going to be extremely sore after this. I mean, you were whipped and you rode your horse all the way here without it being bandaged up or anything. You might not even be able to move.”
Jerek grunted in reply.
“Do you still want to run away with me?”
“I intend to as soon as I can.”
“Maybe I ought to go into town and buy you some clothes. Have you ever considered wearing a black or red shirt? I bet that you would look very good in those colors.”
“White suits me just fine,” Jerek grumbled, then yawned.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You’re probably exhausted. Go ahead and sleep.”
“Don’t leave the cottage without me,” Jerek murmured, closing his eyes. “I don’t want anything happening to you. It isn’t safe in Amber.”
“I won’t.” Smiling, Tryne dipped the rag into the water again and continued wiping up Jerek’s blood. “I’ve got enough to do around here just worrying about you. I swear, you always seem to be getting yourself injured, like a wild cat that gets into fights. I have to stick around to make sure you don’t hurt yourself any more.”
Taking a deep breath, Jerek mouthed the words, “I love you,” once more before slipping off into sleep.