Fade to White
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."
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.
"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."