I liked drawing a lot back when I was a dorky teenager, but never considered myself to be a proper artist (I prioritized writing too much). Mostly for fun, I decided to illustrate a cover for my current posting of Fade to White.
Fade to White
That morning Tryne had made the suggestion, and half an hour later they were riding Jerek’s horse through the forest on their way to the Amber Village. Before leaving, Jerek had tied back his hair and pressed his hat over his head, though he had become confident that no one could identify him. He was happy that they were finally leaving the farm, since the number of chores that Tryne had set for him had become irritating.
“This is nice,” Tryne murmured, resting her cheek against Jerek’s back and closing her eyes. “I never realized how much work my mom was doing just to keep that farm running.”
“You can always move somewhere else,” Jerek suggested once again.
“No, I’ll just scale back next year.” Tryne laughed. “Besides, where would I go?”
“Anywhere. Somewhere far away from here.”
“Jerek, are you suggesting that I run away with you?” Jerek didn’t answer so Tryne continued, “I’ll admit it’s tempting, but I like what we have now. We don’t need to go anywhere.”
“You’re way too stubborn.” Dismounting his horse, Jerek helped Tryne get down. “I want to . . .” he trailed off, searching for the words he wanted to say. “Buy you something . . .”
“I don’t know, something.”
Tryne smiled, putting her hand in Jerek’s. “I know where we should go.”
Taking his horse’s reigns, Jerek let Tryne lead him through the town. “We can get dinner too, I have the money.” He had helped himself to Nosaj’s funds whenever he had felt like it, and thus had accumulated quite a bit of money over the years.
“How much mercenary work do you do?”
“Enough.” She was asking too many questions again and Jerek needed to think of a way to get her off that topic. “So what do you want to get?”
“This, here.” Tryne pointed to a shop that was in front of them. “It sells dresses, I hope you don’t mind.”
Jerek stopped, seeing the women come and leave out the front door. He didn’t want to go in there, not with all those females crowding around, and a sort of deep resentment rose up in him as he watched those women, wondering how many of them were whores. Reaching into his pocket, Jerek pulled out a coin bag and put it into Tryne’s hand. “I’ll wait out here,” he said stiffly.
Tryne paused before saying, “Okay, I’ll be fast.” She gave him a light, somewhat awkward hug, before turning around and heading into the shop.
Jerek looked around, wondering what he was going to do now. This wasn’t what he had imagined happening, and yet he didn’t even know what it was that he had imagined. A little way down the street was a tavern, so Jerek set off to it. Stepping in and sitting down, he ordered a sarsparilla to drink, having always been wary of anything alcoholic and preferring to stay sober. Without even thinking, he reached for a cigaret, then remembered that he had left them back at Nosaj’s castle. Minutes seemed to stretch themselves out, and by the time Jerek finished his first drink he was thoroughly bored. He felt tempted to go and find Tryne, despite what other sort of trash might be there. At least then something would be happening.
Almost starting to laugh, Jerek raised his second sarsparilla to his lips. He really liked Tryne, to the point where he would withstand being surrounded by women just to be with her. That made him pathetic and he didn’t even mind. For once he didn’t care about looking stupid; he didn’t care about always appearing to be the big bad guy, since none of that mattered to the person he wanted to impress the most. It was Tryne’s fault for turning him that way, yet that only made him like her more. There really had to be something wrong with him.
“It’s those damn terrorists!” a man suddenly yelled, pounding his fist against the table and rattling the bottles on it.
Jerek jumped at the noise, but now that his attention had been drawn to the two men sitting close to him, he found himself listening to their conversation with interest.
“If they would stop rebelling and agitating the Commander, then the rest of us would be able to live in peace!”
The man’s companion murmured something inaudible, but the man responded with, “I mean that Opal would have never been destroyed if it wasn’t for them. I tell you, they are the ones who should be considered bad, not the Commander. What has the Commander and King ever done to us?”
“He didn’t have to resort to violence so quickly,” the second man replied, his voice growing louder. “He could have taken care of the terrorists without killing everyone in the village.”
“They deserved what they got, for letting the terrorists take over like that. If I knew that there were members of that group here in Amber, I’d hunt them down myself.”
“I heard a rumor that a woman had been picked up in this village for claiming to be a member of the group, so they’re definitely in this village too.”
“That’s what I heard too, and that’s why I’ve decided to personally start keeping my eyes open for more of them. If I see anyone acting suspicious, I’ll get a group together to lynch them.”
Jerek slowly took a sip of his drink. Listening to Tryne talk about the same event made it seem like it was a black and white situation, with everyone clearly against Nosaj’s tyranny, but apparently the villagers themselves had mixed feelings about the rebel group. Jerek wondered what Tryne was doing at that moment.
The tavern door bashed open and a man stood hunched over, trying to catch his breath as he gasped out, “Nosaj – troops – attacking!”
Jerek was the first one to push past the man and run outside, immediately turning to the shop Tryne was in. Reaching for his sword yet feeling nothing, he realized that he had left it back at the cottage, carefully stashed under his bed. Armored men were scattered around the village, rounding up everyone they were able to hold at weapon point, holding them in the center of the town. Jerek kept his head down, fearing that if he was recognized it would be the end of everything.
It seemed to take him forever to get to the shop and barge his way inside. He almost ran into one of Nosaj’s soldiers, surprising both of them for a moment. The soldier relaxed, starting to salute when Jerek clubbed him on the side of his head, knocking him over. Jerek cursed, looking at the stinging cut on his hand, wishing he hadn’t hit the soldier’s helmet. Reaching down he lifted the man up and clamped one hand around the soldier’s neck, causing the soldier’s mouth to gape open and closed, his eyes bulging out of his head. “You . . . !” he gasped. Placing his other hand on the top of the man’s head, Jerek gave it a sharp twist, snapping the man’s neck.
From somewhere in the back of the shop, he heard a scream pierce through the noise and chaos that surrounded him. Tryne. Quickly retrieving the sword from the dead soldier, Jerek bounded to where the scream came from. Tryne was pinned against the back wall by another one of Nosaj’s soldiers, whose helmet was lying by his feet. Long dark scratches ran across the soldier’s face and the fingertips of Tryne’s hand were also bloody. She screamed again, angrily trying to break free but the man kept her held against the wall by her wrists. Red flashed in Jerek’s eyes and like a deadly serpent he came up silently from behind, using his sword to bite into the man’s neck and nearly sever his head completely.
Shocked, Tryne watched the soldier’s corpse fall to the ground, then looked at Jerek. “I . . .” she started to say, but her face, and even her lips, turned a sickly white, so she put her hand up to her mouth, bending over as she retched.
“Come on.” Jerek grabbed Tryne’s wrist, pulling her after him. They needed somewhere to hide; there was no possible way he could fight against his own men. He needed his horse that was still tied up outside the tavern, bucking and neighing fiercely. It was a chance he had to take.
Dragging Tryne, Jerek bolted to his horse, grabbing the reigns and looking around for somewhere to go. Between two buildings he caught a glimpse of the side of a mausoleum next to a few tombstones, and he made the decision to go there. The world around him seemed to blur together as he made his way to his goal, and sound faded into the distance as they entered the graveyard, causing Jerek’s stomach to churn. Although he knew that this was the safest possible place, he couldn’t help the superstitious thoughts that crossed his mind; but it was because of those superstitions that none of Nosaj’s troops would dare to step foot in the graveyard. Simply being there wasn’t enough however, as it was still possible that he could be seen and recognized. Feeling even more wary and hesitant, Jerek led Tryne to the mausoleum in the center of the cemetery, stopping briefly to tie his horse to a tree. When they reached the building, Tryne was the one who stepped forward to push the door open, causing it to groan and creak loudly.
“Is this good enough?” she asked, peering into the dark.
“It should be. Leave the door open.”
Holding hands tightly, they stepped inside at the same time. Thick dust covered the rows of coffins lined up against the walls on both sides, lining the path of stone down the middle. At the other end there was an empty corner, waiting for a wooden box to fill it.
Tryne grabbed Jerek’s arm. “What if what they say about these places is true?”
“I don’t want to think about that.” Taking a deep breath, Jerek closed his eyes then took a step forward. Nothing happened. Slowly he took another step, then another. Still nothing happened. With Tryne clinging tightly to his arm, he walked down the center aisle, all the while searching for something that seemed threatening. When they reached the empty corner, he couldn’t help but let out a deep sigh of relief. There was nothing to worry about.
He sat down in the corner, wrapping his arms around Tryne and holding her tightly. It was pitch black behind the coffins, and Jerek’s eyes searched to break through the darkness but he couldn’t find any light. All he could feel was Tryne’s warm body against his, her lungs expand and contract as she breathed, the slight tremor that ran through her. His heart beat fiercely, overjoyed that she took up all of his senses, that she was all that existed in this place of death.
“Jerek,” Tryne whispered. “Tell me if you see any ghosts.”
“I don’t think there are any.”
They spent the rest of the time settled in silence, Jerek dozing off so he couldn’t tell how many minutes or hours had passed. Tryne had fallen asleep, breathing slowly with her head against his chest. Absentmindedly, Jerek stroked her hair, keeping hold of her as if he was afraid that letting go of her would cause her to slip away into the darkness. His eyelids drooped again, this time staying closed.
Tryne stirred and sat up, her movement pulling Jerek out of his sleep. Standing, Jerek stretched his stiff muscles while Tryne yawned and laid back down on the floor. Light still shone outside of the open doorway.
“Do you suppose we can leave now?” Tryne asked hazily.
Jerek paused before answering, “No. We’ll wait longer.”
“Because they could still be out there. I don’t want to find out that they are and end up . . .”
Tryne pushed herself to her feet, and looked into Jerek’s eyes. “You’re worried about me getting hurt.”
“I wouldn’t be doing my job very well if you did. You hired me to be your protector.”
“I’m not paying you any money.”
Jerek matched Tryne’s gaze, both of them staring at each other intently. This was one thing that Jerek was determined to not concede on, no matter what. She was never going to get him to admit to anything. “Then I don’t care.”
“All right then, I’m going.” Tryne took a step, but Jerek grabbed her arms.
“No! You will listen to me and obey me. You are not going out until I say so!”
Tryne reached up and brushed away strands of hair that had fallen in Jerek’s face. “If you’re that concerned about it then I guess I will stay here with you, but on one condition.” Jerek raised an eyebrow. “I slept in a weird position and now my muscles are sore.”
Sitting down, Tryne bent over with Jerek behind her. Unsure of himself, Jerek put his hands on Tryne’s shoulders and began moving them around in what he hoped was a massage.
“I suppose a graveyard is just too dark and creepy,” Tryne mused.
“I mean, it’d be more appropriate for a ghost or a skeleton to jump out at us, or a . . .” Tryne suddenly shrieked, jumping up and beating at her skirt with her hands.
“What is it?” Alarmed, Jerek stood as well.
“Spider!” Tryne yelped. “I felt it on me!”
Standing for a second in silence, Jerek burst out laughing. Pulling Tryne into a hug, he whispered mockingly, “There, there, I won’t let the spiders get you.”
Tryne hit him with all of her strength.