Damsel in Wartime - Chapter 10

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If Elara listened carefully enough, she could hear her own heartbeat.

Thump. Thump.

She felt a tightness in her chest that she'd never experienced before. She finally knew what it felt like to be in mortal danger, and she didn't like the feeling.

Her mind raced, she wondered whether she could overpower him and make for the window. While it was a long way down, surely it was preferable to whatever fate Olmund had in store for her. If the princess was to be believed, he was a terrifying person even when he hadn't been lied to.

Her heart beat faster with each passing moment, almost made worse by the fact that Olmund remained unmoving. He simply stared at her with that same look of disbelief and horror.

She should have seen this coming. It was too ambitious to think she could actually live as a woman without anyone finding out the truth. She found herself wishing that she was the woman she had been pretending to be.

"I can explain" she'd began.

"Who are you?" Olmund asked. The disbelief in his eyes slowed changed to suspicion. In his mind, his enemies had succeeded in getting close to him in a manner he could never have expected.

"Your Majesty, I am-- I am an ally" Elara searched her mind for the best way to explain her position but whether as a result of fear or lack of preparation, she was having trouble conveying her thoughts properly.

She made the mistake of attempting to stand from her vulnerable, seated position. Olmund did not take that well.

He quickly made for his sword in the corner and in a quick motion, he unsheathed the blade and positioned it next to her neck.

"Please, don't" she begged mostly out of shock. Her eyes were locked on the long, steel blade that rested dangerously close to her neck. The way the polished metal reflected the lights from the candles that lit the room was both beautiful and terrifying.

"Who are you?" Olmund asked again. He pulled the sword closer to her neck until she could feel the cold steel that had been perfectly crafted with the sole purpose of cutting through flesh.

"I was sent by someone loyal to you. He sees you as the rightful King" Elara uttered as fast as she could.

Olmund scoffed and gripped the blade harder, "Speak the truth or die"

"It is the truth" Elara hurriedly assured him as she tilted her head away from the advancing blade.

"Do you think me foolish enough to believe that? If you are not willing to save yourself then I should cut you down where you stand and feed you to my pigs"

"There is a letter" Elara revealed. "It should explain everything. I am telling you the truth"

Out of the corner of her eyes, Elara saw the blade retreat but not nearly far enough to warrant relaxation.

"An ally who recognizes my right, you say?"

"Yes," Elara nodded although she remained thoroughly terrified.

"Speak his name" Olmund commanded before advancing the blade once more.

"-- Major Donahue" Elara had to force the words out of her mouth despite having little say in the matter. After all, her life still lay firmly in his hands.

"A Major? What use do I have of his support?" Despite his words, Olmund dropped his outstretched sword arm allowing Elara to breathe freely. "Where is this letter?"

"In my chambers, Your Majesty" Elara answered quickly. However, she had gotten to this point, handing Olmund that letter had always been one of her primary objectives so she had no cause to delay.

"You will bring this letter to me immediately. Guards!" he called out and moments later, the armed soldiers made their entrance eager to please the King. "Escort the lady to her room" he spoke the words as though they left a bitter taste in his mouth. "Do not let her out of your sight".

To Olmund, the deception was much worse than the girl's crime of indecency. He had suffered great deceit at the hands of his sister and uncle which left him wary of it. Such was a King's plight, to be deceived by those he holds most dear.

"No, I will accompany her" he amended his command. He was in no hurry to let her out of his sight.

"Yes, Your Majesty" The soldiers echoed.

=^..^=

Elara struggled to breathe as she walked side by side with the King. Together, they made their way through the castle halls with the two guards following in tow.

"I will retrieve the letter" Elara spoke softly and breathlessly as they approached her room door. She feared how far sound could travel in the quiet hallway.

Olmund scoffed, "Lead the way"

"Please, I share the chamber with another one of Her Highness' ladies and I beg you to reconsider intruding on her privacy" Elara pleaded, "She's innocent"

"Does she know?" Olmund paused his advance. It was unconscionable for any man, even him, to intrude on a lady's private affairs. This fact made Elara's actions even more sinister.

She glanced at the guards who stood behind the King pretending they weren't listening to the ensuing conversation.

She shook her head.

"Bring the letter" Olmund ordered. "Do not try anything"

But of course, there was nothing to try. Only one door led in or out of the chamber. All she could do was quietly retrieve the sealed letter and hand it to the King so that is what she did. She was thankful that this time, Aoife was indeed asleep or at least pretending to be.

"Sleep well, my lady," Olmund said as she placed the letter in his hands with a courteous bow "We will speak again soon".

Elara disappeared back through the door as soon as she was dismissed and listened closely as the three pairs of footsteps retreated down the hallway. She'd been running entirely on adrenaline and as she began to wind down, she began to realise just how tired she was. She felt dizzy and her body ached for sleep.

She examined her hands and fingers in the dim, lantern light and was shocked by how much they were shaking. She couldn't keep them still no matter how hard she tried. Had she been that terrified, or had she simply drunk too much too quickly?

Her bed called to her but there was one more thing to do. She moved the lantern from the tabletop and placed it on the window sill. As she took shaky steps to her side of the bed, she prayed for Gawen to answer.

=^..^=

All things considered, it turned out to be a rather uneventful day. Olmund had departed on his journey alone and Aoife spent the entire day attending to the Princess' affairs leaving Elara much to her own devices. Those had been very long hours she'd spent contemplating all the ways Olmund would punish her.

Sometime that afternoon, she'd decided a walk might do her some good and had been on her way to the archery range when she made an interesting discovery. The guards were watching her every move. The guards that patrolled the halls, the guards at the castle entrance, every single one of them kept their eyes trained on her as she passed. She had become a prisoner.

They hadn't made any attempts to stop her as long as she never made for the main gate so she tried not to think too much about it. A little surveillance she could manage.

Unfortunately, the range had been a fruitless journey as Lord Beorn was nowhere to be found. It left her wondering whether he had joined Olmund on his journey or if he was somewhere in the castle away from view. Either way, she quickly resigned to the fact that she wasn't going to see him and she had bigger problems to worry about anyway.

=^..^=

That evening, Elara received a much-awaited guest in the form of a lowly servant girl. It was the first time Elara had laid eyes on the young girl which wasn't surprising since the massive castle had many such servants that worked away from view of the royal household.

The girl performed a deep awkward bow and offered numerous apologies for the disturbance.

"Hello," Elara smiled warmly at the terrified girl. "It's okay"

"I beg your pardon miss- uh, my lady, but I was told to deliver a message"

"From who?" Elara asked curiously but the girl only shook her head in response.

"Please go to the His Majesty's forest to the same location as before" The girl was unsure of what her words meant but was careful enough to get it out exactly as ordered.

"Who gave you this message?" Elara was sure of its source but it was unlikely he'd personally conveyed the message to this castle servant.

Once again, the girl shook her head instead of answering, apologized, and ran off.

=^..^=

Elara hurriedly approached the forest but frequently turned around to ensure that she wasn't being followed. It had been entirely too easy to get lost in the glamour, but in that moment, her real task of espionage came to the forefront and her abilities of deception would be tested soon after.

"I am sorry my lady, but this area is off-limits" Elara was stopped by a Forest guard.

"Not to me surely" Elara took unshaken steps forward.

"To all, I'm afraid" he confirmed.

"I don't think you understand," Elara pressed on, "I am His Majesty's guest and companion and I only require a short walk amongst nature to clear my head"

It was a stroke of genius to take advantage of the rumors that had spread about her involvement with the King.

Though the guard appeared unsure for a moment, he remained resolute.

"My apologies, my lady-"

"The King will return soon enough and I am sure he won't be pleased to hear that I was denied the simple pleasure of a short walk" Elara attempted her most stern expression but was also beginning to accept the possibility that she may not be allowed through.

Her eyes scanned the horizon for an alternate entrance but the sturdy fence ran the entire length of the castle's grasslands towards a large pond in the distance.

"At least allow me to accompany you" The guard conceded after some thought.

Elara's eyes perked up, "Well you can't leave your post unguarded. I assure you there is no need. I won't be going far"

She felt guilty for putting the young man in such an awkward position, but everything she did served a purpose. At least that's how she rationalized it.

She gave him an approving nod as he stepped aside allowing her to walk through.

=^..^=

With how quickly she'd been walking, it didn't take her very long to arrive.

"Gawen!" She exclaimed as he unveiled himself from behind the cover of the trees. He was covered in the dust and leaves of the forest. "How long have you been waiting?"
"You have news?" He asked quickly. Just like before, his watchful eyes constantly scanned for any threats.

"Yes," Elara brought her focus to the most pressing issue, "I need to leave here, Olmund knows about me"

"What exactly?"

"He knows I'm a man"

"How did he find out?" Gawen asked stepping forward.

"He - umm," Elara's voice trailed away due to her reluctance to reveal what had transpired between them.

Thankfully, Gawen sensed her apprehension and didn't press, "What else does he know?"

"I uh, I told him I was sent by people loyal to him and I gave him the letter"

"He's read the letter?" Gawen asked breathing a sigh of relief.

"I think so," Elara paused, "He took it with him so I assume he's read it"

"Then that's good"

"What does the letter say?" Elara asked curiously.

"It's a list of names," Gawen revealed in only a whisper "Everyone in Sigurd's court that secretly supports the Prince's claim. A very sensitive document that could have been dangerous in the wrong hands"

Gawen's expression told Elara that he was deep in thought. It was the man's duty to determine if she was in any real danger and ultimately whether she should be extracted prematurely.

"-But if Olmund has it, then everything is proceeding according to plan" He reasoned. The only disturbance in Cedric's plan was that the King had discovered her identity and he had a reputation of being erratic and unpredictable.

"I don't believe Olmund will harm you" Gawen decided, "You gave him the letter, he should see that you are on his side"

"'He should'?" Elara repeated the words skeptically.

"Remain calm and remember everything I taught you. He has no reason to turn against you" Gawen said solidifying his position.

"I want to go home," Elara said to him.

She was understandably worried. She had knowledge that Gawen didn't. She knew Olmund's true nature. He was a viper, striking at all who came near and she didn't want to spend one more moment in his presence.

"Please, let me go home" she begged.

"Not yet" Gawen replied "This plan hinges on your access to the Prince. The future of our nation rests on your shoulders"

"You don't understand. You don't know what kind of person he is. We shouldn't be helping him" Elara's emotions were clearly displayed on her face as she spoke.

"Did something happen?" Gawen asked, her reactions had begun to worry him. Not just about the mission but about the child that they heartlessly sent into the lion's den.

Elara shook her head.

Once again, Gawen didn't press at her silence.

"Do you have anything to report?"

Elara quickly informed him of all the matters that were discussed at the previous day's court proceedings and the decisions that were made. She finished with the news of Olmund's bride's imminent arrival.

They spoke until there was nothing else to discuss. Gawen had made his decision. She would remain there and if her situation devolved in any way, she knew how to reach him.

In the final minutes of their meeting, he handed her a new letter, sealed just like the last one.

"Find a good moment to give this to him"

"What does this one say?" Elara asked. She had accepted her fate.

"Troop movements, supply routes, crucial information" Gawen revealed nonchalantly.

"We shouldn't be helping him" Elara repeated despite knowing it would achieve nothing. In her thoughts, she entertained the idea of keeping the letters away from him. Doing whatever she could to keep him from the throne was surely a noble effort. Cedric didn't know him as she did. He would understand if he did.

"Maybe" Gawen replied simply, "I will make sure Major Donahue receives your opinion. For now, give him the letter" Gawen instructed her sternly. "And be careful"

That was the last thing Gawen said before he disappeared into the trees.

=^..^=

Elara had stuffed the letter into her stockings underneath her dress before hurrying back towards the castle. Under her breath, she'd rehearsed what she would say to the young Forest guard but unfortunately, he was not the one waiting for her.

Just at the exit stood four guardsmen expecting her return.

"Lady Elara" One who looked to be their leader spoke as soon as she made her appearance.

"What is going on?" she asked after clearing her throat.

"The King summons you, my lady"

"Oh he's returned?" she forced a smile at the man before attempting to walk past them "I will just hurry along to my chambers to freshen up then"

The three other guardsmen subtly stepped in to block her path.

"I'm afraid he insists you come immediately" The first guard informed her, "If you'll just come with us"

Without waiting for an answer, the three guards stepped behind her which gave her no other option but to follow the leader.

=^..^=

There was that same sinking feeling as Elara was led back through the familiar path that led to the King's private chambers. The tension was made several times worse by the guards who urged her to keep moving every time her pace slowed. She felt like what she was, a prisoner.

It had been a privilege to be treated like a guest up till that point. A privilege she now felt was lost forever.

"Lady Elara here to see His Majesty" The guard leader informed the two that stood stationed outside Olmund's door.

Elara's heart skipped a bit as her arrival was announced.

"Bring her in"

Her heart beat faster as the door opened and she was ushered in. Her first thoughts were of how menacing he looked sitting in that armchair polishing his sword with a rag. His face twisted into a smile as he saw her.

She had rattled him last night when he'd discovered the truth but seeing him now, he was collected, poised, and looked very dangerous.

She jumped a little when the door closed behind her. Without losing that smile, he ordered her forward. She obeyed.

He remained polishing his sword and kept at it until it held the most beautiful sheen and reflected their surroundings.

"Elara, Elara, Elara" he sang her name as he inspected the blade, "Where have you been? I was looking for you"

She opened her mouth but had no words.

"It's okay, you don't have to answer, I already know where you were" he raised the sword and pointed it in her direction "What I really want to know is what you were doing. Meeting someone, were you?"

She almost wished he would frown or appear angry at her. That cocky smile was even more unsettling.

Olmund waited for an answer but got silence in return.

"That's okay," Olmund said sheathing the long blade, "The grounds are surrounded, we'll find them soon enough".

She did her best to avoid showing a reaction. He was trying to unnerve her, and while it was working, she didn't have to give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

"What are you planning?" Olmund asked her.

"We're not - I'm not planning anything, Your Majesty" She spoke for the first time, "I am on your side"

"Maybe you are," Olmund stood from his armchair, "-maybe you aren't. Remove your clothes"

She was stunned by the command. For the life of her, she couldn't think what might have brought that on.

"Your Majesty--"

"Now" Olmund's smile faded away for the first time that evening. She noticed his fingers clench tightly around the sheathed blade.

She quickly began fumbling with the clasps at the back of her dress. Aoife had helped her fasten the uppermost clasps and it was proving to be a challenge to get them undone.

She looked to Olmund who she expected to be upset over the time wasted but instead, he wore a soft expression once more.

"Let me" he offered. Elara remained motionless as he placed the blade gently on the table and made his way over to her.

His fingers traced the back of her neck as he positioned himself behind her. It sent chills down her spine.

Olmund moved in close and without warning, took a long, hard sniff and let out a satisfied exhale.

"You even smell like a woman" he commented.

Her eyes moved quickly to the unprotected sword on the table but she quickly dispatched the idea.

Elara stayed quiet as he undid the clasps of her dress one by one. Upon finishing, he ran his fingers along the small of her back until she audibly cleared her throat.

She was perplexed by his actions. Unlike before, he now knew she wasn't a woman so why did he still touch her in that manner? He pulled the dress off her shoulder and let it fall to the floor leaving just the chemise and underskirt. She felt so vulnerable.

Suddenly, she felt his hands trace the entire circumference of her waist from behind and then her legs. His touch caused her to squirm but the worst was yet to come. Slowly, his hand went beneath the underskirt tracing her laps. His hand rose higher and higher still until it reached the sealed letter secured by her stockings.

"What do we have here?" He asked whimsically.

Elara kicked herself. The idea of helping him tormented her and now in his hands, he held the letter that did just that.

Olmund tore open the letter ravenously and consumed its contents with a smile. It took him no more than a minute of reading before he tossed it on the table with a very satisfied look on his face.

"It would seem we indeed are allies," Olmund said as he turned his gaze back to her.

She nodded and tried not to appear so vulnerable. Despite her current appearance and status as a puppet for his ascension, she tried to hold her head up with dignity if only as a sign of rebellion.

"I am at your service, Your Majesty" she pronounced reluctantly.

"So you are" Olmund agreed. "Come, let us drink to celebrate" He walked briskly back to the table and gestured for her to take the same chair opposite him.

She knew better than to argue. Olmund didn't make requests, only commands.

She crossed the stretch of the room and sat down leaving her dress on the floor. As always, Olmund poured her a cup as if nothing between them had changed.

"We may be aligned in the moment but if you seek to betray me, I will make you beg for death," Olmund said the words with a straight face as if he spoke only about the weather.

"I won't" Elara felt obligated to assure him.

"I could just castrate you," Olmund said nonchalantly before taking a sip from his cup, "It's so small I doubt you'd miss it" he let out a small laugh.

The look on Elara's face was exactly what Olmund had been seeking. He had her exactly where he wanted her.

"Who knows how far I'd go?" he took another sip from his cup then moaned, "But then, it depends on how I'm feeling in the moment".

Their eyes met once again and remained locked to one another. Elara wished for nothing more than to be far away from this place.

=^..^=

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Hiya, sorry for the late upload. Busy week indeed. Hope you're enjoying this story. As always, thanks for reading.

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Comments

Yeah…… the king is definitely…….

D. Eden's picture

A sick person. He obviously takes joy in tormenting Elara - and others.

Methinks she and her friends are supporting the wrong side. Perhaps Elara will end up being in the right place at the right time to put an end to this issue. Regicide perhaps?

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Who is he?

He feels that his sister and uncle have wronged him. But have they? Princess seems to feel neither should be king. Who's side is the Princess on? Odd that once he had the letter he just wished her goodnight. He did seriously threaten her and Gawen did think that he could be erratic and unpredictable. Sooooo.

Sociopath Or Psychopath

joannebarbarella's picture

The king is definitely not a very nice person. Poor Elara is firmly within his clutches and there is no gratitude on his part for her delivering the messages.

Seems like the kingdom would benefit

Emma Anne Tate's picture

None of the candidates for the throne — including the Princess, as far as we’ve seen — seem like they are anything but trouble at best and horrors at worst. You know, Republics have their downsides, too, but . . . under the circumstances in this story, it’s looking like an extremely good idea!

Emma