Fade to White
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.