Damsel in Wartime - Chapter 5

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The first indication that Elara had been dreaming was the fact it had been raining. In reality, it hadn't rained in nearly five fortnights. A more obvious indication should have been the fact that she was back in her childhood home. Wulfric's childhood home.
 
Everything was just as it had been several years ago. Everyone was just as she remembered them. Her father and two brothers shared a striking resemblance, sharp features paired with dirty brown hair not unlike everyone else in the region.
 
Her fair-haired mother with whom she now shared a name had just placed a cauldron of porridge on the table like she'd often done, much to the excitement of Elara's father and brother.
 
Everything was as she remembered it, everything except her. The woolen dress and apron she found herself wearing would have surely caused an uproar, but here it was treated as the most normal thing in the world. Neither parent raised any alarm as they called her to sit at the table.
 
"Wulf" she'd heard soon after she took her place at the table. The richly textured voice filled her head with bliss. It was the same voice she'd heard so many times over the years, the only voice that knew to call her that.
 
She'd turned around to see her friend standing by the doorway, entirely dry despite coming in from the rain.
 
"Thurstan" she'd tried to say but no words left her mouth.
 
"Elara" Thurstan called out once again.
 
Once again, she'd tried to speak but her voice betrayed her.
 
"My lady" the voice had morphed, once distant now sounding close to her face. Once deep and soothing now sounded feminine and cold.
 
Before she could investigate any further, her body responded to a slight tug.
 
"My lady" she heard once more just before her eyes opened. It was the servant girl from yesterday. She blinked several times taking in her surroundings before she felt comfortable enough to speak.
 
"Did I oversleep?" she asked.
 
"Her Highness is awake, you must bathe and prepare to greet her" the girl warned.
 
Elara turned slightly to view Aoife's empty bed. She hadn't awoken her.
 
She thanked the young girl weakly.
 
"I will show you to the baths"
 
"I don't need a bath" she replied a bit too quickly.
 
"Her Highness insists on regular baths"
 
"Fine" Elara acquiesced, the obvious problem was not lost on her.
 
She sat on the bed as sluggishly as she could manage, desperately searching for a way out. Regular baths were unheard of even among royalty so it was more than a bit odd for the Princess to require that of her.
 
"Are there no private baths?"
 
"They are private, my lady. Please, we must hurry" The girl said impatiently while maintaining the appearance of respect.
 
A much relieved Elara sprung to her feet urging the girl to lead the way.
=^..^=
 
As it turned out, they were private only in a manner of speaking. While, unlike the servants' communal bath, the Princess' ladies shared a chamber of their own. The chamber was unlike anything she'd ever seen. In place of the wooden tubs she'd been expecting, there were depressions in the floor filled with water, large enough for several people.
 
"Please hurry, my lady" The girl pleaded as she handed Elara a linen cloth.
 
Even after acknowledging her request, it quickly became clear that the servant girl had no intention of leaving her alone.
 
"You may go," she told sounding as commanding as she could manage.
 
The young girl looked unsure for a moment but ultimately took her leave following a short bow. Elara quickly parted with the nightgown and chemise and hurried into the water. She was grateful for the limited sunlight and the water's noticeable grey color that was enough to hide her body beneath the surface.
 
The mission had only just begun and it was already exhausting. Elara caught herself wishing that she had all the right parts if only so she'd have nothing to hide.
 
Slowly but surely, she began running the cloth across every inch of her body while enjoying the water. Having all that space made for a much more enjoyable experience. It felt very much like being at sea. If she was to survive, she would have to learn to appreciate the many perks that came with her new status.
 
"Please, my lady. You must come out at once" The girl returned shortly after to say.
 
"Okay," she answered but just like earlier, the girl had no intention of offering her any privacy. "Step outside" she ordered her once more.
 
The girl tried and failed to hide her annoyance and contempt but ultimately stepped away. Making good use of the opportunity, Elara hurriedly exited the water desperate to have her clothes back on before the girl returned.
 
She quickly realized that keeping her identity a secret would prove to be one of the hardest parts of the mission. Understandably, she cursed Cedric for forcing her into this situation.
=^..^=
 
"What's your name?" Elara asked the serving girl who had just finished leading her to yet another one of the castle's many rooms. She wouldn't have said it in as many words but she was truly grateful for the girl's help.
 
Navigating Moat Lynden without her would have been impossible. The old castle was a maze of winding dark corridors, leading to other dark corridors.
 
"Gytha" the girl answered quietly.
 
"Thank you, Gytha" Elara touched her arm briefly before walking past her and through the door to face her next challenge.
 
On the other side sat two girls sitting at a table having what looked to be a spirited conversation, a conversation that seized abruptly as soon as they noticed her presence. The generous selection of food on the table in front of Elara quickly reminded her that she'd been famished.
 
Bringing her attention back to the girls who had their eyes trained on her, she couldn't help but notice how pretty they both were. Even behind their cold stares, Elara knew immediately that they were everything she should aspire to. She recognized the importance of becoming fast friends with them.
 
"Hello," Elara said as warmly as she could.
 
No response from either girl, other than a glance between them. In that brief moment, they had confirmed that they were on the same page, Elara was an intruder.
 
Elara bowed her head slightly signaling that she meant no harm. When the girls refused to acknowledge her beyond their searching stares, Elara made her way toward one of the chairs farthest away from theirs.
 
"Who told you to sit?" A shrill voice escaped one of the girl's lips.
 
Elara had been intent on avoiding confrontation and had begun to stand, but quickly recognized what was going on. It looked to her like a show of force to assert dominance.
 
It was her turn to keep her words scarce. Staying seated, she turned her attention to the meal in front of her. As a show of her own, she made for the pudding on the table, pouring a healthy portion into her bowl.
 
With a glance in their direction, she confirmed her suspicions, both girls were furious. Every step of the way, Elara questioned her actions.
 
Would submission have been the better move, she wondered?
 
No matter, the events were already set in motion and there was no turning back now. With each spoonful of porridge that she ferried past her lips, she cemented her defiance.
 
One of the girls had had enough, she pulled herself out of her chair and to her feet. Like a stampeding bull, she made her way towards Elara. Elara of course dreaded the girl's approach but kept up her facade of indifference.
 
The girl quickly rounded the table, grabbed a handful of Elara's hair, and yanked as hard as she could which caused the spoon to fall from her hands as her neck bent violently backward.
 
Elara gasped from the pain.
 
"Are you afflicted?" The girl asked pulling wildly at her hair. Elara worried that she might pull them from their roots.
 
"Let me go!" Elaea yelled halfway between commanding and pleading.
 
"Get up" the girl commanded and without even allowing her the opportunity to obey, pulled harder forcing her to her feet.
 
Elara reached for her hand desperate to free herself from the girl's painful grip but she wouldn't relent.
 
"Do you know what family I belong to?" The girl asked angrily.
 
The pain had brought tears to Elara's eyes but also a newfound defiance.
 
"Let go of me immediately, or else-"
 
"How dare you?" the girl exclaimed. She truly believed she was untouchable which caused Elara to falter. She wondered whether she had gone about this the wrong way.
 
It turned out Elara had underestimated the girl's aggressiveness because a moment later, she raised her hand to strike her in her already vulnerable state.
 
"Alicent!" Elara heard just as she began to brace. The voice belonged to Aoife who had just walked into the room. Gytha stood shyly in the doorway behind her.
 
Slowly but surely, the pressure on Elara's head faded. She only just managed to catch herself from falling as a sudden dizzy spell enveloped her.
 
"What are you doing?" Aoife asked sternly. The girl named Alicent responded only by stepping away and back to her seat.
 
Aoife let out an exasperated sigh before turning her attention to a weakened Elara who nursed not only her injuries but also her pride. She'd been utterly helpless.
 
"Are you okay?" Aoife asked, her eyes apologizing for the recent ordeal.
 
"Mm-hmm" Elara muttered as she fell back on the chair.
 
Aoife stared daggers at Alicent which caused her to turn away. Realizing there was nothing to say on the matter, she informed the girls, "Her Highness is ready for us".
 
Before they exited the room, Aoife did her best to smooth Elara's disheveled hair. Unkempt was no way to meet a princess.
=^..^=
 
The doors of the Great Hall opened and Alicent as well as the other girl named Sybil rushed to the princess' side. Elara quickly surveyed the surroundings as she stepped through the door.
 
Princess Aurelia sat beside a middle-aged man on one side of a large table, on the other side sat two more men who eyed the group of girls as they made their entrance.
 
Other than the princess, Elara recognized no one. The man that sat beside the Princess was dressed almost as exquisitely as she was, so Elara thought it a reasonable assumption that he was Lord Eadric. An assumption that was confirmed when the Princess caressed his hand.
 
"Elara, you should return to your room" Princess Aurelia suddenly called out to her stopping her approach. "You've had a long journey"
 
Elara bowed before speaking, "I am well rested, Your Highness"
 
"Is that the girl?" Lord Eadric subtly asked the princess.
 
"Yes, this is Elara, my new lady-in-waiting" Princess Aurelia announced.
 
Elara kept the interest of all three men in the room much to her dismay.
 
Lord Eadric simply grunted his acknowledgment. Elara tried and failed to identify the reason behind the Lord's interest in her.
 
Where did he fall in the grand scheme of things? To everyone else, he was losing his wife and taking it lying down.
 
"Elara my dear" the Princess spoke again, her true intentions hidden behind a forced smile "Return to your room and I will hear no more about it. We have yet another journey to make tomorrow"
 
Both Alicent and Sybil squealed happily at the princess' proclamation. Their time at dreary Moat Lynden was nearing its end.
 
Elara could see the obvious excitement written on their faces, even the much more reserved Aoife seemed pleased. They had their sights set on Prince Olmund's castle, which was by all accounts, a castle fit for a king.
 
With no further words of complaint, Elara retired to her room on the princess' order. It wasn't lost on her that the princess was keeping her at arm's length. That same treatment would continue throughout what turned out to be a rather uneventful day, and even into the next day as they gathered on Moat Lynden's lawn making their preparations to depart.

=^..^=

Princess Aurelia held her former husband tightly as the servants and guards prepared the carriage that was meant to take her away. It was obvious to Elara and anyone else watching that she wasn't eager to part from him.

It begged the question, why had she agreed to the exchange in the first place? Did she simply miss her brother that bit more than she would miss her husband? Whatever the case, it put her in a quite pitiful position.

It was a very windy morning. Several times already, the part of Elara's hair that hadn't been secured beneath the elaborate headdress, as well as her dress skirt had been sent flying. That morning, she looked like the perfect embodiment of elegance. The corset beneath the tight-fitting bodice gave her a figure that most women would have been jealous of, and one most men would have had trouble averting their gaze from.

Aoife had also helped her prepare that morning. She'd repeatedly brushed her hair and applied just enough makeup to compliment the princess but not overshadow her.

Aoife had been shocked to learn of Elara's inexperience in the field of beautification and promised to teach her whenever the opportunity presented itself. Elara was extremely grateful for her friendship and had said just as much.

She was rescued from her thoughts when Aoife took hold of her arm, flashing her the brightest smile.

"What are you thinking of?" she asked as she dragged Elara towards the carriages.

"Nothing" Elara muttered. "I just wish you were staying with me" she pouted.

As the most senior of Her Highness' retinue, Aoife had the privilege of riding in the princess' carriage. Elara was to share the second one with Alicent and Sybil. This naturally made her very distraught.

"You'll be fine" She promised Elara. "The girls are harmless, and they wouldn't dare to disrupt her highness' journey"

The preparations were ready, the horses and riders were in position, and the ladies' trunks had been properly secured in the wagon behind the procession. All that remained was the final goodbye between the princess and lord.

Elara and Aoife glanced in the direction of the royal couple but quickly turned away when they saw the two locked in the most intimate embrace, their lips refusing to part from one another.

Elara blushed and Aoife giggled.

"I want nothing more than to be that much in love," Aoife told her new friend.

"Me too" Elara smiled. She hadn't been sure whether she had only been keeping up the ruse, or if she'd truly meant it.

"I want a big wedding" Aoife continued, "Everyone will be invited. There'll be flowers and music and dancing- oh and so much food!" she exclaimed.
Elara realized she'd never thought about marriage even before all this.

Life as a peasant was mostly about survival and so, you had very little time to dream or fantasize. The few times she'd thought about her future, she'd only dreamt of finding a nice quiet place to spend the rest of her life.

If Cedric kept his promise, she knew this mission would bring her closer to her dream.

"What about y-" Aoife had begun to ask but abruptly paused and bowed. Elara quickly turned and followed the girl's lead.

The princess stood before them, the earlier weakness on her face had vanished. Now she showed her newfound resolve in the form of a scowl.

"Get in, girls," Princess Aurelia said as she walked passed them towards her awaiting carriage.

"Yes, Your Highness" Both girls echoed.

Aoife touched Elara's hand one last time with an expression that urged her to stay strong. She appreciated the gesture.

With one last deep breath, she climbed into her carriage where Alicent and Sybil were already seated, rearing to get on the way.

As the horses slowly began their march and the wheels of the carriage turned in response, Elara said her goodbye to Moat Lynden and watched as the ugly stone castle grew smaller with each passing moment.

The two girls that sat across from her seemed more interested in the world away from the castle, their eyes glued to the trees and mountains in the distance as if they were seeing them for the first time.

'Good' Elara thought to herself. Every moment the girls spent engulfed in the scenery was time they didn't spend torturing her.

She made good use of the peace she was allowed and prepared herself for her true mission, Prince Olmund and his court.

=^..^=
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Thanks for reading, hope you're enjoying it so far.

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Comments

A dead give-away

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Anyone who uses some variation of the phrase, “don’t you know who I am?” is a jackass. And now “Elara” has to deal with two of them? Oy!

Emma

The proper response to that…..

D. Eden's picture

Is, “No - should I?”

People who ask that have a much higher opinion of themselves than they should, or than others do. They feel the need to belittle others in order to make themselves feel better or superior.

I have known a few like that in my day.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Did They Have American Express?

joannebarbarella's picture

Before you attack somebody you should make sure you know who you're attacking. Those girls are fools.

You are keeping our attention on the boil, Emma. We want to see Elara win.