Fade to White
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?"
"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!"
"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.
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.
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."