Fade to White
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."