Fade to White

Fade to White Chapter 18

Fade to White

Chapter Eighteen

“Commander, I know where he’s been going.”

Nosaj looked up as the doors to his Throne Room swung open and Ramo entered with grim determination. “That was fast,” he commented, leaning against his elbow with his chin in his hand.

“There’s a farm in the forest, northeast . . .”

“Of the castle, I know,” Nosaj cut Ramo off, finishing the sentence for him.

“There was a girl, and apparently Jerek is . . .” Ramo trailed off.

“Not too surprising.”

“Commander, what are we going to do?” Ramo pleaded, clasping his hands together and biting his lip.

“Indeed, what can we do?” Nosaj stood up, stretching both of his arms above his head then slowly bringing them down. “Don’t worry so much Ramo. Everything will be right in the end. For now, let’s just wait a couple days. Jerek won’t be going anywhere, his punishment will make sure of that. Then when he’s regained his strength, we’ll go and get him.”

“What?” Ramo frowned. “Wouldn’t it be easier to rush out there right now and bring him back? That girl won’t be able to stop us and Jerek can’t fight because of his wounds.”

Walking up to Ramo, Nosaj put his hand on his shoulder. “You are young, and there are things you don’t understand yet. We will wait.”

“But I can’t stand waiting! Jerek betrayed me, because of that girl!” Tears flooded Ramo’s already red eyes as he screamed, “I want her to die!”

“Hush now,” Nosaj murmured, “don’t get yourself worked up. Let’s sit down and you can tell me about this girl.”

Blinking furiously, Ramo let Nosaj guide him to the side of the room where couches and chairs lined the wall, and sat down on one of the cushioned sofas. Swallowing, Ramo began, “It looked like she lived at the cottage.”

“Yes, it’s quite the possibility.”

“She was . . .” Ramo gritted his teeth together before forcing out the word, “pretty. She was wearing a loose pink nightgown when she came out of the cottage and found Jerek lying unconscious on the ground. Her hair was long, a bright reddish-gold color, and kind of wavy. The morning mist made her seem kind of mystical, like she was some sort of nymph.”

“It sounds as if you’re taken with her too.” Nosaj smirked.

“No, I’m not!” Ramo burst out, then sullenly added, “there was something about her that struck me, is all.”

“There must be something about this girl that makes her considerably more pretty than her mother, because that whore was as plain as dirt.”

“I think she used her siren charms to brainwash Jerek.”

“Oh?”

“Jerek would never kiss or hold anyone like that! He’s too strong for it, too independent.”

Nosaj frowned. “Jerek is just a man, after all. They did that?”

“Yeah. When she came up to him, she touched him and woke him up. After she saw the whip marks on Jerek’s back, they clung to each other for a while, then started kissing each other with such intensity it was disgusting to look at.”

“My poor Ramo. It seems this situation is worse than I had originally thought. Because of Jerek’s stubbornness and hatred toward the more intimate aspects of life, he’s completely unguarded when it comes and hits him. He’s just a child when it comes to love.”

“Then we need to go and get him right now!”

Pausing, Nosaj thoughtfully pursed his lips before soothingly saying, “Ramo, ever since you came to live with us ten years ago, I’ve thought of you as a son. Just as you trusted and obeyed your real father, I want you to trust and obey me. You hate this girl that stole Jerek away from you, right?”

“With all my heart!”

“Then don’t you want her to suffer?”

“Suffer?” Ramo repeated.

“It’s only what she deserves, for manipulating Jerek and turning him against you. I bet if it hadn’t been for her, Jerek would be devoted to only you. You’re the only one he spends any time with, the only one he’s formed any attachments to.”

“Yes . . . I want her to suffer.”

“How much?”

“A lot.”

“Then you’ll help me with what I’m about to do?”

“Yes.”

“Good. We’ll wait to go to the cottage, but when we do we’ll take out our revenge on the girl. We want her to feel a false sense of security, we want her to think that she’s succeeded, so that when we rip everything away from her, she’ll fall from the top to the very bottom. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?”

“Yes. It’s a plan.”

“Out of curiosity,” Nosaj spoke as Ramo stood up, “if I brought her here, would you use her? Is she that pretty?”

Ramo danced slightly on his feet, thinking hard about the question. Finally, he answered, “I probably would. We don’t have any like her in the castle.”

“Thank you, Ramo. You may leave now.” Leaning against the armrest and putting his feet up onto the cushions, Nosaj smirked and stroked his chin. “Beautiful enough for Ramo, eh?” he mused out loud, chuckling, “and beautiful enough for Jerek too. I am lucky, there is no doubt.”

Out inside the corridor, Ramo stopped and leaned against the wall. He couldn’t stop the sick feeling in his stomach, the sense that everything was on the verge of crashing down. No, it already was falling and it was just a matter of time before it exploded. His life as he knew it had already ended, and the future only held uncertainties.

He didn’t want to think about that. It was a scary thought. Without considering what he was doing, Ramo found himself wandering to Jerek’s chambers and pushing his way into the empty room. All of Jerek’s stuff was still there, packed up and sitting on his bed. Jerek didn’t have a shirt and he would need one. He would miss his sword too, and his cigarets. Kneeling down, Ramo retrieved the little tin from underneath Jerek’s bed and went to stuff it into the pack with Jerek’s clothes, but saw that they were all in a bundled mess. That was typical of Jerek. Sitting down, Ramo proceeded to pull out all of Jerek’s shirts and pants, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles as best he could with his hands before neatly folding them up and putting them back into the bag.

He hated the idea that had come into his head, but it was better than sitting and waiting. At least Ramo would be doing something, and helping Jerek, instead of moping around the castle. He had done enough of that recently. It was time for action, even if it was as simple as making sure Jerek had his clothes.

Slinging the bag over his shoulder, Ramo picked up Jerek’s sword and considered it for a moment before strapping it around his waist. Common sense told him that it wouldn’t be a good idea to hand Jerek a weapon like this, considering what they were planning, but for some reason he couldn’t leave it behind. Jerek was proud of his sword, and proud of his ability to use it. It would be a shame to withhold it from him.

Despite his resolution to help Jerek, Ramo’s feet were still heavy as he dragged his way through the corridors of the castle. It would be better if he was going with the intent to bring Jerek back home, instead of going to drop off his things. He couldn’t understand Nosaj’s purpose in delaying such actions, all he knew was that he would have to trust the Commander.

Even with slow-moving feet, it didn’t take too long for Ramo to reach the stables. After asking the Stable Keeper to saddle a horse for him, Ramo stared out at the trees. It felt strange to be leaving the castle a second time like this, especially with both of the trips being so close together. The sun didn’t even seem to be shining as brightly as it should have been.

When the horse was ready, Ramo mounted it and kicked it lightly to urge it forward. In a few hours he would be safely back in the castle. He would do this for Jerek.

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Fade to White chapter 16

Fade to White

Chapter Sixteen

“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?”

“None whatsoever.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“Ah Jerek,” Nosaj sighed, “I almost wish you excuse was more elaborate. You realize you went directly against my wishes.”

“I realize.”

“And you will be punished for it.”

“Of course.”

“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.”

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?”

“Anything.”

“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.

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Fade to White Chapter 14

Fade to White

Chapter Fourteen

“Are we leaving now?”

Tryne stopped and straightened up so fast she nearly bent herself over backwards. “I forgot to mention that to Ken.”

“So we’re going to have to wait until you remember to tell him that you’re going away and never coming back?” Jerek asked sarcastically, lying on his bed with his elbow propping him up.

“No, I think I’ll just leave him a note or something.” Tryne sighed, slopping some of the jam she was spreading onto a slice of bread. “Is there anything else you would like to eat?”

“I’m fine. When do you think you’ll be ready to leave?”

“I don’t know, really.” Tryne laughed slightly. “I have to pack, clean some more, and make sure that everything is all set before I’d feel comfortable leaving, and don’t you dare make fun of me!”

Jerek growled. “I’ll be outside.”

After all of the events that had transpired over the last couple of days, his white shirt was stained almost black, to the point where he doubted he could ever get it clean again, and it left him with a grimy feeling. Walking a way with a bucket full of water, Jerek sat down on the grass with the sun hitting his back, and as he took off his shirt he realized that he had forgotten to grab another one to wear. Because he was already feeling comfortably settled, he decided that it didn’t matter much. Dumping the shirt into the bucket, Jerek reached in and began swirling it around.

He knew that he sounded suspicious with how much he was urging Tryne to leave, and perhaps that was why she kept delaying. Jerek couldn’t help himself though. Every moment longer that Tryne stayed, the more he worried about her safety. Nosaj knew about the place and his soldiers had obviously been there already. They could be back at any moment, and they would recognize Jerek, exposing who he was. Then Tryne would be killed, or worse . . . Jerek winced, feeling sick at the thought of Nosaj brushing his boney fingers against her smooth face, or clamping his thin yellow lips over her soft pink mouth. Leaving was the only way he could protect her from Nosaj. Keeping Tryne safe and happy was all he cared about, seeing her smile was all he lived for . . .

Jerek stopped that train of thoughts. He was getting too sappy. Suddenly, he realized that he had been doing it all wrong. Instead of waiting for Tryne to decide she was ready to leave, he should have swept her up onto his horse and ridden off with her. Eventually she would go along with it, and even thank him for stopping her from wasting valuable time, though she was probably going to be angry at him at first for doing something like that. Maybe that was what he should do, put down his washing and burst into the cottage, picking Tryne up and throwing her over his shoulder, then carry her to his horse. Jerek almost laughed at the thought.

A soft thud sounded faintly behind him, and Jerek looked over his shoulder to see Tryne, a cloth bundle at her feet and a strange, alarming expression on her face. Slowly Jerek stood up to face her, wondering what it was that caused her to react like that. In a flash he remembered, and the black rose tattoo burned into the back of his shoulder, shamefully marking him for what he really was. She had seen it.

“Tryne, I . . .”

“You work for him.”

“Tryne . . .”

“You lied to me! You said you had nothing to do with him!”

“Listen to me!” Jerek shouted, getting angry at the fact that she didn’t seem to hear him at all.

“You really are evil!”

“I never said that I wasn’t,” Jerek retorted.

“I can’t believe you’ve been working for him all this time.”

“Yeah, I have been. And you know what? I’m Nosaj’s heir. I’m the future ruler of this God-awful land. I’m his right-hand man.”

Tryne stood stunned, then shook her head. “I’m so stupid! Ken even told me I couldn’t trust you, but I didn’t listen because I . . . How could you be so manipulative?”

“I didn’t manipulate you into anything. Everything you did, you did on your own,” Jerek answered coldly. “And that was stupid of you.”

“Get out! Get away from me!” Tryne screamed, droplets forming in her eyes. “I never want to see you again!”

A pang went through Jerek’s heart, and he found himself lost for a second, unsure of how he should act, fighting against the desire to hold her. “Tryne, I . . .”

“Leave now.” She squeezed her eyes shut, turning her head away.

Silently Jerek moved past her, walking to the cottage and hastily grabbing his things, first putting on a new shirt to cover up the offending tattoo that he now loathed more than anything else in the world. Tryne was standing outside when he left, going inside and slamming the door shut as soon as he was out. Getting up on his horse, Jerek kicked its sides hard and the horse bolted forward.

Inside the cottage in the dim light that came through the window, Tryne knelt down at the side of her bed, and clasping her hands together she began to cry. In her heart she was still attached to him, she still loved him deeply, and she knew that it was wrong for her to feel that way.

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Fade to White chapter 12

FadetoWhite

Fade to White

Chapter Twelve

Night had fallen before Jerek finally felt safe enough to leave the mausoleum, and after spending so much time in the graveyard he doubted all the stories he had heard. However, Tryne still kept moving her head around quickly, clinging tightly to Jerek’s arm as they walked. The horse was still there, eating the sparse leaves off the tree. Helping Tryne up first, Jerek mounted behind her, taking the reigns and urging the horse back toward the village.

“None of the buildings were destroyed,” Tryne murmured. “I wonder why.”

“I don’t think that Nosaj meant to destroy the town.”

“Head back to my house, that’s where Ken will be contacting me with any information he has.” Tryne cracked a grin. “I know you were going to suggest that we go somewhere else.”

“I can’t fight you. The only way you’ll ever leave is if your entire farm is destroyed and turned into a camping ground for Nosaj’s troops.”

“Hey, you really are learning.”

“All I had to do was figure out how stubbornly stupid you are.”

Tryne elbowed Jerek in the stomach, causing him to grunt. “You are so mean sometimes.”

“At least I’m not half as violent as you are.”

A pause. “I guess you’re right.” Tryne continued thinking as they entered the forest. “I still feel tired, even though all I’ve done is sleep. How about you?”

“I feel fine. You can sleep on the way home if you want.”

“I appreciate the thought, but there is no way I’m going to get any rest on top of a horse.”

“Especially if you keep falling off.”

“Huh?”

Pushing on Tryne’s shoulder, Jerek laughed as she yelped and scrambled to grab hold of the saddle horn, slowly sliding more and more to the side. “You make a terrible rider.”

Glaring, Tryne looked over her shoulder at Jerek and let go, hitting the dirt with a thud. Alarmed, Jerek stopped his horse and dismounted. “Are you okay?”

“That hurt more than I thought it would,” Tryne said as Jerek grabbed her hand and helped her stand. Dusting off her skirt, Tryne tilted her head up to look down her nose at Jerek. “I hope you learned your lesson.”

“Not really,” Jerek answered, laughing. “That was pretty fun.”

“You have no idea how to treat a lady, do you?”

“I haven’t ever met one.”

“You are the biggest jerk I have ever met.”

“That’s all right. I don’t mind.” Lifting Tryne onto the horse again, Jerek mounted in front of her. “You still seem to like me.”

“I’m an idiot for that.”

“Yes you are.”

Making a move to hit Jerek, Tryne stopped herself before landing the blow. Instead, she placed her arms against Jerek’s back and rested her forehead against her hands. “Oh Jerek, why do we keep hurting each other?”

“Because we’re both malicious and cruel?”

“No.”

“Then I don’t know.”

Tryne started laughing so hard she almost fell again, preventing herself from doing so by grabbing Jerek around the middle. “Let’s go faster!” she called out. “Let’s gallop!”

Urging his horse to speed up, Jerek quickly complied.

They had been trotting for a while before they reached Tryne’s cottage, and when they came into sight of it they slowed down even more. Sliding off the horse and landing lightly on her feet, Tryne stood still, staring at the building.

“The door is open,” she whispered, slowly stepping forward.

Suddenly Jerek took off on the horse, rushing past Tryne. Before the horse even stopped he flung himself down, and stumbling slightly pushed the door completely open, looking in. His eyes couldn’t penetrate the darkness, but his other senses told him that there was something severely wrong inside. Overcome, he shivered, backing away.

“What’s wrong?” Tryne asked, looking around.

“I don’t know.” Jerek paused. “We need light.”

“We have a lantern hanging on the side of the house, if you have a match to light it with.”

Feeling in his pocket for the small box of matches he always kept, Jerek then went to retrieve the lamp. Lighting it, he held the lantern out in front of him and slowly walked toward the cottage, his feet almost dragging as he was filled with the deepest sense of dread. Jerek hesitated, but Tryne pressed against his back.

Slowly the circle of light moved forward, reaching the open doorway and spilling inside, until it eventually filled a good portion of the cottage. As soon as his gaze settled on what was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, Jerek immediately turned around and pushed Tryne away, but she had already seen. Shrieking, she put her hands up to her ears, closing her eyes as the tears flowed down her cheeks. Jerek tried to wrap her in an embrace, but she pushed away, screaming and crying, “Oh my God! My mom!” hysterically.

“Tryne!” Jerek shouted at her, forcefully grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her, but she didn’t respond to him, instead fighting to break free. Putting his arms around her, Jerek squeezed her so tightly he almost expected to hear her bones crack. Unable to move, Tryne’s body collapsed and she stopped screaming, sinking to the ground and sobbing heavily in Jerek’s arms. Loosening his grip, Jerek rubbed and patted her back, trying to whisper soothingly to her but only coming up with the words, “It’s all right.” It seemed to work, because Tryne’s sobs subsided until they were both sitting silently.

Standing up, Jerek picked up the lantern and walked into the cottage, then a moment later he came back out, a bundle of blankets in his arms. Grabbing Tryne’s hand and pulling her to her feet, he began leading her to the woods.

“Where are we going?” Tryne asked with a strained voice.

“We’re sleeping under the stars tonight.” Jerek glanced sideways at her, smiling slightly. “And we need to get away from your house.”

“How could they . . . do that?”

Clutching Tryne’s hand tightly, Jerek replied, “I don’t know.”

“It was Nosaj . . . he knows.”

“It seems that way.”

“But how?”

“Sh. Let’s not worry about it tonight.” Jerek stopped, looking around and toeing the grass with his boot. “I think here is a good spot.” Throwing a blanket at Tryne, he advised, “You’ll want to fold it in half and sleep in between.”

Tryne pulled the blanket off her face, and laughing slightly said, “I know.” Becoming serious again, she dropped the blanket on the ground and stepped closer to Jerek. “I don’t know what I would do without you. You’ve been a major help, and it really means a lot to me that you care. I mean, you saved my life after all, and you’re always there for me.” Tryne stopped, looking briefly down then back up to Jerek, her eyes shining. “Thank you,” she whispered, leaning forward and kissing Jerek on the cheek.

It struck Jerek then what he had been longing to do for a while. It was a way to express how he felt without ever having to say the words, and with such immense emotion behind it he couldn’t see it as vulgar and disgusting, but rather desirable. Stroking his hand through Tryne’s hair and along the side of her face, stopping with his fingers underneath her chin, he tilted her head up and touched her lips with his. Shyly and briefly at first, he hovered just a centimeter away, feeling her hot breath on his lips before kissing her again, longer and deeper, growing more passionate as he put his pent up frustration, love, and anxiety into it.

Reaching around Jerek, Tryne pulled him and herself more into the kiss, closing her eyes and letting herself sink into the emotion of the kiss, feeling and loving each sensation of it. Then, disappointingly, Jerek broke it and pulled Tryne’s head against his shoulder.

“We should sleep. We’ve had a long day and tomorrow will be rough as well.” Then he let her go, leaving a cold and empty feeling where they had been touching. Jerek spread his blanket out on the grass and folded it in half, then crawling inside he lay with his back turned toward Tryne.

For the first time Jerek realized the full extent of what was happening, of what he was doing, though his heart pounded against his chest and he longed to touch Tryne again. He knew that he had already made his decision when he left the castle the last time, but now he also knew the full impact of it. His brain told him he should go away so she could be safe, but his heart told him that he should stay with her so he could ensure her safety. Even though he had wanted to continue feeling and sensing only Tryne, he was scared.

 

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Fade to White Chapter 10

Fade to White

Chapter Ten

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?”

“Fine.”

“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.”

“Like what?”

“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.”

 

Fade to White

Fade to White Chapter 7

Fade to White

Chapter Seven

During the morning Jerek and Tryne worked on small and menial jobs that felt more along the lines of busy work. Jerek couldn’t help the feeling that Tryne had turned her back on her normal routine, at least for the time being since all the things Tryne ordered him to do were directly related to their immediate needs. Just after midday, Tryne hung up her last wet apron on the clothes’ line and with a smile watched Jerek as he worked.

“Come on, let’s go have some fun,” Tryne called, waving to Jerek.

“Don’t you want me to . . . ?”

“No,” Tryne cut him off. Dropping the axe, Jerek walked over to Tryne who took him by the arm, once again leading him to the brook. Tryne hitched up her skirt, exposing her bare legs as she kicked off her shoes.

Jerek blinked. “What are you doing?”

“Haven’t you ever done this before?” Tryne asked, stepping into the water.

“No.” Jerek watched her curiously.

“What kind of rock do you live under?” Tryne kicked some water at Jerek. “Come on, it’s fun!”

“Wait.” Jerek shook his head, leaning against the tree with his arms folded. “You expect me to take off my boots and step into cold water where sharp rocks can injure my feet?”

“Yeah, that’s the basic idea.” Tryne tilted her head to one side, placing her hands on her hips.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“You’re as much fun as a wet blanket.” Sticking her tongue out at Jerek, Tryne turned and walked out deeper to where the water was rushing around her knees. “Are you coming?”

“No.”

“All right then.” Tryne took a couple more steps, then almost fell with a loud and painful gasp. “Ow!”

“What is it?” Jerek asked, stepping closer to the bank.

“I stepped on something sharp. Oh my gosh, I’m bleeding!”

“I told you so. Well, come up over here, I’ll look at it.”

Tryne took a hobbling step, then looked pleadingly at Jerek. “I don’t think I can walk.”

With a sigh, Jerek plunged into the water, getting his boots and pants wet. He walked over to her, put his arm around her waist and lifted Tryne out of the water, then looked down at her feet which were clean and white, the clear droplets of water reflecting the sunlight.

“You aren’t . . .”

“Oh Jerek, my hero!” Tryne threw her arms around his neck. “You rescued me!”

“Liar.”

“No, I’m . . .” Tryne didn’t finish her sentence, cutting it off with a scream as Jerek dropped her. The splashes completely soaked her and plastered her hair against her head as she sat stunned while the water swirled around her chest.

“Maybe next time you’ll think twice before lying to me.” Smirking, Jerek turned and looked at the shore, suddenly stopping.

“Tryne.”

Scrambling to her feet, Tryne exclaimed, “Ken! What are you doing here?”

“You’re wearing a white shirt.”

Turning to face the other way, Tryne looked over her shoulder. “I wasn’t expecting anyone till later.”

“I came early to see how you were doing.” Taking off his long brown coat, Ken held it ready. “But I see you already have help.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Tryne waded to the shore. “Come on Jerek,” she muttered as she passed him. Ken wrapped his coat around her shoulders when she reached him, then began pushing her back to her cottage. Stopping only to pick up Tryne’s shoes, Jerek followed closely after them.

“Don’t you . . . need your shoes?” Jerek asked, feeling an immediate dislike for Ken.

“Yes, thank you, Jerek.” Moving away from Ken, Tryne took her shoes from Jerek, her hands brushing his as she did so. Bending over, Tryne yanked on her boots before she then continued walking with distance between her and both of the men.

When she entered the cottage, Tryne shut the door on her followers and the clanking of the chain was heard as the latch was drawn. Jerek settled into a waiting position, leaning against the wall near the door with his arms crossed, but Ken paced around anxiously, looking up at the sky then into the forest repeatedly. Several minutes later, Tryne opened the door and Ken sprang to her.

“I’ll set up everything inside,” he whispered, glancing at Jerek then looking expectantly at Tryne before he disappeared into the darkened interior.

Tryne stepped outside, pulling the door partially shut behind her. “Jerek,” she said softly. “I trust you enough to include you in this.” Watching her silently, Jerek felt suspicious of what was going to come next. “I told you before that I hated Nosaj. Well, there’s a little bit more to it than that.” Lowering her voice, Tryne stepped closer to him. “I’m one of the leaders of a rebel group.” Taking his hand, she pulled Jerek inside, causing Ken to look disapprovingly at them as he set a large rolled parchment on the table. Opening up the parchment to reveal it was a map, Tryne continued, “There’s a leader for each of the Twelve Villages, each of them able to function as an individual group, but corresponding with one another. Now, I am . . .” Tryne paused, “digressing. Sorry about that.”

“Tryne,” Ken said gruffly. “Are you sure you want him to be here?”

“Yes. Tonight I’m announcing that the leadership over all the villages has transferred to me after my mother’s death. From now on, I’ll be deciding where we’ll go in the future and I’ll keep the communication lines open. Before anyone can make any major decisions, they must consult with me.”

“Do you know what you’re saying?!” Ken exclaimed in alarm, grabbing Tryne by her upper arms then almost immediately letting her go, looking away. “You’d do well,” he said, forcing each word out. “You’re determined enough.”

Tryne smiled. “Help me make a snack. These meetings always go better when there’s something to eat.”

“You are such a woman Tryne. Sometimes I can’t help but think that you’re time would be better spent raising children.”

Tryne laughed but didn’t answer, busying herself in preparations. Slinking down, Jerek sat on the floor by the door, retrieving his hat and putting it on before he did so. As the sky darkened, men and women showed up one by one, until the room was filled with newcomers. Both Tryne and Ken were familiar with the people, greeting each of them warmly by name and with the shake of the hand. Most of the gatherers didn’t notice Jerek in his position, talking to each other with delight mixed in with graveness.

After the door remained closed for several minutes, Tryne loudly cleared her throat. “I suppose we should get right down to business. As some of you may know, our sister village Opal was destroyed the other day by Nosaj and his troops!”

One of the members of the meeting spoke up with a calm and methodical voice. “I heard rumors that the one in charge of destroying the village was some sort of an heir for Nosaj, though no one seemed to know any specifics about this new person. Apparently though, this heir is supposed to be very talented at fighting and leadership. As soon as I get anymore information, I’ll pass it on.”

“An heir?” Tryne frowned. “If that’s the case, we’ll just have to get rid of them both. We can’t let them continue to ravage our neighbors anymore! The time is coming close for all of us to declare open rebellion!”

“Tryne,” Ken said softly, leaning close to her. “The support for Nosaj still runs too deeply in some villages, especially in mine. They would kill us before Nosaj’s troops even lift a finger. We can’t openly declare ourselves yet.”

“But we have to do something! We can’t let anyone else die!”

“I suppose now is as good of time as any.” Ken reached over, wrapping his fingers around Tryne’s hand. “Alara, Tryne’s mother, is dead. Nosaj’s soldiers killed her, though they didn’t know about her position. As usual, they took her body with them so we can’t have a regular funeral for her . . .”

“I wasn’t planning on a funeral,” Tryne interjected. “I’m going to take my mother’s place.”

There was somewhat of an uneasy silence, until it was broken by a female voice, “You’re such a nice girl.”

“Will you let me take this position?” Tryne asked.

Several people murmured, while others nodded. That seemed to be the final decision, because Tryne smiled in relief, but it was instantly replaced with surprise and fear as banging sounded on the door, hushing the group.

“Everyone’s here though, aren’t they?” Tryne looked at Ken, who was calm and somewhat smug.

“I thought I’d bring along a surprise for you,” he said, flinging open the door. A couple children shyly entered the room, seeming small and unsure of themselves as they were herded inside by their caretaker.

Clapping her hands, Tryne jumped forward and dragged the kids more into the center of the room, taking the baby in her arms. “Don’t be scared. Would you like something to eat?”

It was time to leave. Standing up, Jerek managed to slip out unnoticed into the cool and earthy air, which calmed him after the commotion inside. Walking past a few trees into the forest, he stopped with his back against the rough bark of a tree trunk and pulled out a cigaret, lighting it.

Everything made sense to him now. He had been wasting time cutting at the branches and trunks of the aspen trees while the roots remained hidden and safe right underneath his feet, sending up new shoots the instant his back was turned. The only way that he was ever going to destroy this rebel force was to strike at the roots themselves, and the main root seemed to be . . .

Jerek nearly dropped his cigaret, then chided himself. What happened to her shouldn’t be any concern of his. Yet he could picture her. He could see her long orange hair, her brilliant eyes, and her laughing smile, fading into deep sorrow as he . . . Jerek refused to think about that anymore. If Tryne had been more like a woman, then he could do it to her easily. Despite the fact that Ken had said that she was just like one, Jerek couldn’t make the connection in his mind. To compare her to the sniveling objects he had known all his life was an insult to Tryne. She was better than that. She was . . .

“Excuse me, what are you doing?” Tryne’s voice said right behind his head.

With a startled jump, Jerek turned to face her and the baby in her arms. “Huh?”

“Those are disgusting, and they smell bad.” Reaching up, Tryne took the cigaret out of Jerek’s mouth, dropping it and smashing it into the ground with her foot. “From now on, I forbid you from smoking.”

“What? You can’t do that.” Jerek didn’t really feel annoyed though. In face, he was smiling.

“And especially around a baby. You have no honor.” Tryne laughed, putting a finger against the infant’s nose and saying in baby talk, “Isn’t that right?”

“What are you doing out here?” Jerek asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be inside leading everything?”

“Nope, everything official has been said already. Besides,” Tryne gently twirled around with the baby, “I noticed you were gone so I came out looking for you.” As Tryne stepped closer to Jerek, the infant reached out and caught hold of the baggy sleeve of Jerek’s white shirt, trying to put it into his mouth to suck on. “He likes you.”

“I can see that.”

“Do you want to hold him?”

“No. I don’t want to.” Jerek took a step away, holding his hands up.

“Aw, c’mon.” Grabbing one of Jerek’s arms Tryne set the baby against it, waiting until he moved his second arm into position to hold the baby before letting go. The infant immediately reached up with a wet fist and pulled Jerek’s hair.

“He’s just like you,” Jerek said, looking and feeling very awkward. “He has an obsession with my hair.”

“He has good taste.” Reaching up, Tryne mimicked the baby and tugged slightly on Jerek’s hair, but he leveraged the baby to one arm and grabbed her wrist with a free hand, pulling it up so Tryne had to stand on tiptoes. In this position her body was brushing against his and he could see more detail in her eyes. There was a darker rim of azure around her irises, with a mixture of turquoise along with the blue, and there seemed to be more light reflecting in her eyes than there was in the air around them. Her eyes slowly closed, and in a sharp suddenness Jerek realized just how close they were. Letting her go, he thrust the baby to her.

“Take him back.”

Taking the baby and holding him against her hip, Tryne smiled slightly. “You know, after you left Ken openly said he didn’t trust you at all.”

“So? Why should he?”

“I don’t know, it just kind of seems like he’s jealous to me.” Giggling, Tryne added, “I’m going back inside now,” before she turned around and began meandering back toward the cottage. Jerek sat down on the ground with his back against a tree, planning when he was going to leave.

“Tryne.”

She stopped, and smiling turned around. “Ken! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. I guess it’s getting too dark.”

Ken stepped out of the shadows, his dark eyes even more sullen that usual. After a moment, he said, “You remember my proposal? You didn’t turn me down, but you didn’t accept it either. You said . . .”

“‘I need to stay home and take care of the farm with my mom,’ I know.”

“I thought that was noble of you, putting off your future for your mother’s sake, knowing that I was in no position to take care of your mother as well as you. So we promised to wait.”

“I need to harvest this year’s crop . . .”

“No, Tryne.” Ken let out an exasperated sigh. “Quit making excuses.” An uncomfortable silence fell heavily over them, then finally Ken broke it. “You wanted him to kiss you, didn’t you.”

“You know I never felt anything like that toward you,” Tryne said softly. “I always thought of you as more like a brother.”

“I hope you’re making the right decision.” Moving one arm, Ken embraced Tryne and the baby. “You deserve to be a mother,” he said, patting the baby’s head but his eyes locked with Tryne’s. Smiling, he added, “You can always come back to me if he ever makes you cry. I promise.”

 

Fade to White

Fade to White Chapter 6

Fade to White

Chapter Six

A cigaret burned low in Jerek’s mouth as he watched Tryne, the tiny glowing light disappearing, so he took the dead cigaret and flipped it into the brook nearby, then looked up at the darkening sky and wondered how long it had been. It felt like hours, and Tryne was still asleep, but Jerek found himself unwilling to wake her. Thankfully the burden was taken off his shoulders when Tryne stirred and partially pushed herself up, looking blankly at the deep shadows around her.

“What time is it?” she asked, sitting up completely and rubbing her eyes.

“Close to sunset is my guess,” Jerek replied.

“Oh.” Tryne shivered slightly, though Jerek didn’t know why; it felt warm to him.

“Are you cold?”

“A little bit. We should head home now, and we probably ought to think about dinner.” Yawning, Tryne stretched her arms above her head.

Jerek got to his feet, then helped Tryne up. Her hand was cold, so when she started to move away he tightened his grip and began walking with her. Tryne smiled, slipping her fingers in between Jerek’s so that they were interlocking.

“I don’t even know anything about you,” she whispered. “Where do you come from?”

Jerek set his jaw, hoping he didn’t seem too hesitant in answering. “Several miles west. You could say I’m a hermit of sorts.”

“You dress pretty nice for a hermit.” Tryne closed her eyes. “I would’ve pegged you as someone of prestige.”

Jerek scowled. “So what if I dress nice? I like to look good.”

“You do look good, so don’t worry about that. What do you do for a living?”

Jerek solemnly swore in his heart that if Tryne was going to ask anymore questions, he’d shove her to the ground and walk away. “I’m a mercenary.”

Tryne’s eyes snapped open and she looked at Jerek narrowly. “You don’t work for Nosaj, do you?”

“No, never have.”

“I hate him! I hate his stupid dictatorship!” Listening, Jerek kept his mouth closed as Tryne talked. “I want . . .” she seemed to struggle to find the words she wanted to say, but she could only come up with, “to get rid of him.”

“Why?”

Jerek’s question shocked Tryne. “Why? Because he destroys villages and rapes women. That isn’t exactly what a good leader does.”

“But you can’t just get rid of him, that would create a power vacuum.”

“I know.” Tryne sighed. “Say, how do you get hired as a mercenary if you’re a hermit? How are people supposed to find you?”

“I go into the nearby villages. It’s not like I spend all my time alone in the forest.”

As they reached the cottage, Tryne gripped Jerek’s hand harder as she pushed the door open. “I can’t pay you much, but I can feed you anytime you want. Will you work for me?”

“Eh . . . sure,” Jerek grumbled, “But just as a personal body guard, I don’t want to get involved in your politics.”

“Of course, I wouldn’t dream of forcing someone to fight for something they don’t believe in, no matter how right or just the cause is.”

“What do you want to hire me for anyways?” Letting go of Tryne’s hand, Jerek pulled a chair out from the table and sat in it backwards with his arms crossed over the back.

“My mom got killed, didn’t she?” Tryne answered coldly, before flushing with embarrassment. “I’d like you to help me out for awhile, taking care of the farm and going with me to the village.”

“You would’ve forced me to do that anyways.”

“I don’t have to feed you.” Tryne hummed as she pulled out a large knife with some carrots and broccoli. “Would you get the fire going?”

Jerek looked at the cast iron stove. The door to the fire chamber was open, revealing gray ashes with some partially burned wood. “It looks dead.”

“Underneath that. Stir the ashes a bit and put that dry grass on it, then blow.” Tryne shook her head. “Honestly, do you have servants that do everything for you?”

Jerek kept his mouth shut, fighting the urge to give her a sarcastic reply and following the instructions Tryne had given him. When he saw the little flame crackling up and consuming the grass, he couldn’t help but to feel accomplished. In his satisfaction, he grabbed a log and tossed it on the small fire, snuffing it out.

“Idiot,” Tryne said.

“What did you call me?!” Jerek sprang to his feet, clenching his fists.

“I think I’ve figured you out now. You probably have a tab a mile wide at all the taverns and inns in all of the Twelve Villages. I guess you really do spend a lot of time in town.” Tryne laughed, kneeling down on the ground in front of the fire. “You have to build the logs around it in a little fort, like this.” Reaching in, Tryne grabbed the wood and propped it up against a couple other pieces as Jerek crouched down to watch. “That way the air can get to it, and it doesn’t go out. Understand?” Tryne said as she patted Jerek’s cheek, leaving dirty soot marks.

Touching his face, Jerek smeared the black powder even more and he looked at the ash on his hand feeling rather shocked. On impulse, he reached over to Tryne to do the same thing to her, but she caught his wrist and pushed it away, using the motion to lever herself up.

“Water,” she said.

“Huh?”

“We need to fill that pot with water. We keep it stored in that barrel over in the corner.” Tryne pointed to the objects in discussion.

“Oh, right.” Getting up, Jerek retrieved the water like he had been asked.

“We’re just going to have vegetable soup, since I’m not much in the mood for slaughtering, and I doubt that you can.” Tryne dumped the chopped greens into the pot then put it on top of the stove, also grabbing a rag. Before Jerek realized she was even that close to him, she was wiping his cheek clean. “Soot doesn’t suit you,” she chuckled. Jerek stood still, unsure of how to act, but after a moment Tryne put the rag down and sat in the chair Jerek had occupied earlier, leaning with her chin in her hand.

Jerek gave her a strange look, cautiously sitting down in the only other chair at the table.

“You think I’m weird, don’t you?” Tryne buried her head in her arms against the table.

“Different,” Jerek mumbled, and even more quietly added, “Gutsy.”

“I know I just met you,” Tryne’s voice was muffled, “But could you stay tonight?”

Jerek jerked backwards and his chair started tipping. He scrambled to grab hold of the table edge, but failed and crashed onto the floor, dazed for a moment after hitting his head.

“Are you alright?” Tryne asked, standing up.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Jerek attempted to pull himself up but fell back down.

“Let me help you.” Hurrying over, Tryne bent and caught hold of Jerek’s arm.

“I’m fine!” Jerek yanked away. “Don’t touch me!”

Tryne popped down in surprise. “You didn’t seem to mind before.”

“That was before you asked me to stay.”

“What does that have to do with anything? I don’t see what’s wrong with it.” Furrowing her eyebrows, Tryne looked very confused.

“Oh dear God, woman! You’re sick! Perverted!” Shuffling back, Jerek seemed unable to get up to his feet without falling again.

“Wha-oh.” Tryne hit her forehead with the heel of her palm. “You’re the one who’s mind is in the trash, not me.”

“What?” Jerek stopped.

Bursting out laughing, Tryne explained, “You sleep in my mom’s bed while I sleep in my own. We’re not going to–eww.”

“But what was up with that whole ‘we just barely met’ line?” Jerek was suddenly feeling very stupid.

“You could kill me in my sleep for all I know, but I’m willing to take that risk.”

“You didn’t mean . . .”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Okay.” Standing up, Jerek held out his hand to help Tryne. “Sorry about that.”

“I’m glad we understand each other now.” Tryne laughed and turned to stir the pot on the stove. “So will you?”

“You aren’t going to touch me?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Yeah, sure. I guess I could.”

“Jerek, you never fail to amaze me,” Tryne said as she set two bowls and spoons on the table.

Picking up the fallen chair, a small grin snuck into Jerek’s expression. “I could say the same about you.”

Fade to White

Fade to White chapter 5

Fade to White

Chapter Five

As they rode through the crowded market square, Tryne looked around intently at the people in the village, but her eyes never lit up in recognition of the person she was searching for. When he passed a stand selling hats, Jerek leaned over and snatched a wide-brimmed western style hat and put it on to obscure his face, then almost passed Tryne who had stopped her horse to gaze around, seeming very lost.

“Tryne!” a man called, waving and making his way toward them. His face was sullen, with dark brown hair falling into his gray eyes.

“Ken!” she answered as she dismounted from her horse. “Where’s my mother?”

“Come with me Tryne,” Ken said more privately, putting his hand on the back of Tryne’s shoulders and leading her away. It was after they had been walking for awhile when Ken noticed Jerek following, and asked, “Who’s that?”

“It’s okay, he’s with me. Are we going to the inn?” Tryne looked intently at Ken’s face, searching for an answer.

“Yeah, come on then.”

Ken waited until the horses had been tied up and that the three of them were sitting around a table shrouded in darkness inside the inn’s dining room before he began talking.

“I don’t know how to tell this to you Tryne. Yesterday morning the Opal Village was attacked by Nosaj’s soldiers because they had rebelled and refused to pay the taxes. People are getting scared now.”

Tryne clasped her hands together and looked down solemnly at the table. “We still need to keep fighting. If we just keep expressing how important this is, then I’m sure people will gain courage.”

“Some children escaped the attack, and we have them at . . .” The man stopped and looked suspiciously at Jerek who had jumped slightly.

“Hey, where’d you get that hat?” Tryne asked, tilting her head to one side as she looked at Jerek with confusion.

“I’ve always had it,” Jerek grunted. “Didn’t you notice?”

“No, I suppose I didn’t.” Tryne frowned as she tried to think back, then after a moment she said, “I’d love to go visit the orphans. The poor dears must be so scared and lonely right now.”

Jerek shifted around uncomfortably, unconsciously pushing his hat farther onto his head.

“Who is this guy?” Ken gave Jerek a very strange look, leaning closer to Tryne.

“I don’t know,” Tryne whispered loud enough for both Ken and Jerek to hear. “He was around, so I brought him along. Now Ken, answer my question. Where is my mom?”

Ken looked down at the table then back up to Tryne’s eyes and reached forward to take her hand. “Yesterday afternoon a few of Nosaj’s soldiers were hanging around in the village. A couple of them started harassing your mother, and – you know her – she bit back. That made them mad, so . . .”

“No more.” Tryne put her hands up to her ears, staring down.

“Your mother is dead.”

She sank so that her forehead was touching the table, but Tryne didn’t respond in any other way.

“Tryne, I’m sorry. Look at me, please.” Ken moved his hand to touch the top of her head. “Tryne . . .”

Outside there was a sudden loud noise, followed by shouting and cursing. Jerek sprang up and ran outside just in time to see two men running off with Tryne’s horse as his own stallion stood fierce and proud in the middle of the road.

“No, no!” Tryne screamed, standing in the doorway behind him, staring in the direction the thieves ran off, then she furiously kicked at the doorposts, pounding the wood with her fists.

“Tryne, calm down!” Jerek grabbed both of her wrists, but she pushed against him. “Tryne!” he yelled reprovingly, and she stopped, her shoulders sagging heavily as Jerek added, “You can ride my horse.”

“You should go home and get some rest,” Ken said, nodding his head as he moved in between Jerek and Tryne, putting his hands on her shoulders while completely ignoring Jerek.

“I want to call a meeting,” Tryne said darkly. “At my house.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure! Tomorrow evening at my house.”

“Okay, I’ll spread the word.” Ken looked uncertainly at Jerek, then gave Tryne a hug before walking away.

“Is there anything else . . .?” Jerek left his question hanging, his eyes narrowed at Ken’s back.

“I want to go home.”

Nodding, Jerek retrieved his horse and mounted it, waiting as Tryne clambered up behind him. With Tryne’s arms wrapped tightly around his waist and her cheek resting against his back, Jerek urged the horse to a trot.

It started softly at first, but as they rode on Tryne’s sobs grew louder. She clung to Jerek’s back, trying hard to suppress the tears but they forced their way out and shook her entire body. A new desire rose up in Jerek, causing him to feel uncertain. He had never had any sympathy for women before, because their tears had been for a choice they had made on their own, but Tryne wasn’t like them. She didn’t bring this on herself. Jerek wanted to somehow help her stop crying.

“Both of my parents died when I was young,” Jerek said, unsure of how that was supposed to make her feel better, but her sobs did soften.

After some time, she asked, “What were they like?”

“I don’t remember . . .” Jerek set his jaw, thinking. “I just know that they were in a house fire.”

“I don’t remember my dad either and Mom refused to talk about him so I don’t know anything. It was just the two of us growing up, and now she’s . . .” Tryne started crying again, harder than before.

This was counterproductive. Jerek searched through his mind for something he could do, but nothing came forward. He wanted her to stop crying, but he didn’t know what to say. “So . . . you’re alone now. That kind of sucks, I suppose.”

Despite herself, Tryne started giggling, mixing it in with the tears. “You have no idea what you’re saying, do you?” Her arms shifted around Jerek into what felt like a hug. “I appreciate your effort though.”

They continued the rest of the trip in silence. Tears streamed down Tryne’s cheeks, but her body was still and her arms were around Jerek in a tight embrace. When they reached the little cottage, Jerek found himself almost regretful that the moment had to end, but Tryne let go and slid off the horse.

“I’ll fix us something to eat,” she said faintly, walking inside and leaving the door open.

Jerek had barely tied his horse up when Tryne came hurrying out, a cloth bundle in her arms and fresh moisture in her eyes. “We’re going to stay out here,” she said quickly, and Jerek nodded, automatically turning to walk toward the forest where they had met earlier that day, but Tryne caught up to him, and putting her hand in his veered him off the right. “There’s a brook over here. We can sit by it as we eat.”

“Alright,” Jerek grunted as he made his hand go limp, but his fingers still curled slightly around Tryne’s.

After a few minutes they reached the stream, which gurgled and sparkled brilliantly in the sunlight as large smooth stones created dips and waves in the shallow water. Near the rocks that made the initial bank, soft green grass grew around a shady tree. Tryne sat underneath the shade and put down her bundle, adjusting her skirt as she looked up at Jerek.

“Come on and sit down.”

Jerek slowly sank, cautiously sitting on the grass. Tryne pulled out a round loaf of bread and a knife, then cut off a chunk and handed it to Jerek with some cheese.

“I’m glad you came today,” Tryne said, staring at the brook as she chewed. “I ended up needing you after all.”

Jerek shoved some of the soft bread in his mouth with a slice of cheese on it, like Tryne had done. The taste surprised him. Even though it looked plain and meager, the meal was good and satisfying. There was sort of a half-smile playing on Tryne’s lips as she watched him eat.

“You have beautiful eyes.” Resting her chin in her hand, Tryne stared dreamily at Jerek’s face.

“What?” Jerek looked at Tryne, shifting backwards.

“And your hair too. I simply adore it.” Reaching over Tryne took off Jerek’s hat and put it on her own head.

“Um, okay. Your hair is . . . pretty.” Jerek couldn’t help but reach up and touch his own hair to make sure it wasn’t in the shape of the hat.

“Thank you Jerek.” Laying back with her arms behind her head, Tryne moved the hat to cover her forehead and eyes. “I’m so tired . . . would you mind if I took a nap?”

“Go ahead,” Jerek mumbled, furtively reaching for more bread.

“Thank you Jerek, for everything you’ve done today.”

 

Fade to White

Fade to White chapter 4

The first couple of chapters for Fade to White were a collaboration between me and my best friend in high school for our creative writing class. I quickly took over and completed writing the novella on my own, since I was the one who enjoyed spending hours and hours alone lost in my head.

We had a falling out after starting college, and I went back and completely rewrote the first two chapters so that the events would be entirely in my own words. Truthfully, it was more about preserving artistic integrity than petty revenge, because I thought that the differences in writing styles stuck out like a forum role play.

For the life of me, I can’t remember if my former friend ever saw the completed novella.

 

 

Fade to White

Chapter Four

Early morning sunlight spilled from the sky and danced around in patterns on Jerek’s white shirt as he sat on the ground with his back against a tree. Two horses stood tied to a branch nearby, one of them stomping his hooves impatiently. Turning her head curiously toward them, Tryne smiled and set her bucket of water down, wiping her hands on her apron before hurrying over to where Jerek lay. His eyes were closed.

“Hello,” Tryne whispered, kneeling down next to him, but Jerek didn’t stir. Gently, she touched his shoulder and he still didn’t respond. Quivering slightly, Tryne reached to brush the bright white hair away from Jerek’s face, watching the strands shimmer in the sun, then slid her hand down the side of his cheek, marveling at how soft and smooth his hair was. Glancing over at Jerek’s face, Tryne jumped back when she saw that his rainbow eyes were open and watching her. “I’m sorry,” Tryne stammered, “I thought you were . . .”

Jerek stood up and looked down at Tryne for a second before holding out his hand to help her to her feet. “I brought your horse back,” he said, turning to his own stallion to pull down the reigns, but he found himself feeling very reluctant to leave.

“You know, when I first saw you lying there I thought you had run into a tree again.” Jerek grunted and scowled, causing Tryne to smile. “Thank you,” she added, walking around the tree to reach her own horse’s reigns, her smile fading.

“Uh,” Jerek began, feeling very uncertain, “Do you have anything . . . that needs to be done?”

“No, not really.” Tryne sighed, patting her horse’s nose. “I’ll be going into town today.”

Sensing something in her voice, Jerek felt slightly alarmed. “Is there anything wrong?”

Tryne hesitated. “My mother never came home last night.”

“Hm.” Jerek shifted from leaning on one foot to the other, fiddling with his hands.

“I’m really surprised you asked to help,” Tryne said quickly, her voice sounding unnaturally lighter. “Yesterday you seemed so mad when I sent you out to chop wood. Perhaps you want to show off your manly muscles some more, and that’s why you came back?”

“You pry too much. Shut up.”

Looking at Jerek for a moment, Tryne spun around and marched away. “The only reason I’m bringing you along,” she said loudly, retrieving her bucket of water, “Is because it’s not safe for a beautiful young girl to travel on her own, and the only reason I’m inviting you to breakfast is to make sure you don’t go running away.” Tryne turned around and motioned to Jerek. “Come inside now.”

Watching her, Jerek felt unsure of how he should be reacting. Any sort of food sounded extremely appealing, considering how he had skipped a couple meals the day before, but . . . “Why should I eat with you?”

“Then you can watch me, but you’re going inside no matter what.” Putting the bucket of water down, Tryne looped her horse’s reigns around the rail post by her front door, then with her hands on her hips she started back toward Jerek. He remained where he was standing, allowing Tryne to completely close the distance between them. Then to his surprise and excitement, Tryne seized Jerek’s forearm with both of her hands and pulled him.

“Why are you so adamant on getting me into your house? Perhaps you want to show off your womanly manners?” Jerek couldn’t help but congratulate himself for his wit.

Laughing slightly, Tryne muttered, “That’s a good one,” then repeated it to herself faintly. “Pick that up, please.” She pointed to the bucket then opened the front door and waited patiently as Jerek tied his horse up, lifted the bucket, and went inside the cottage.

Tryne prepared the meal in silence while Jerek watched her, and after awhile she set down two bowls filled with hot porridge. “There’s some honey if you’d like,” Tryne said as she pushed one of the bowls to Jerek with a spoon, then she sat down and slowly began eating. Jerek stirred the mush around a bit, then cautiously lifted the spoon to his mouth. Hunger got the better of him at that first taste and he began to quickly shovel more into his mouth. “If you don’t mind,” Tryne said, smiling as she watched Jerek, “I’d like to leave after we finish eating.”

Jerek nodded, putting down his empty bowl. “When you’re ready.”

Several minutes later they were both back outside. Jerek easily mounted his horse, then watched in amusement as Tryne clambered ungracefully onto hers, and he felt tempted to ride around her in mocking circles. Moving in a slow trot, the two of them set off for the nearest village, Jerek riding easily and Tryne holding tightly to the reigns.