Damsel in Wartime - Chapter 12

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The real event of the evening for Elara occurred after the dancing began. The other ladies had come to find her and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer as they pulled her onto the ballroom floor.

It had begun quite simply enough. The Carole dance that began the session was a popular circle dance that was familiar even to a peasant like her. The nobles joined hands and moved in a circular pattern while they sang songs joyfully.

She was safely lodged between Aoife and Sybil in the circle allowing herself to get lost in the music and dance. It came as a bit of a surprise that all but the King and two Princesses seemed eager to participate.

After a time, the Carole morphed seamlessly into a Farandole when the circle broke into a line. Elara laughed along with glee as she followed the group and danced without a care in the world.

But almost as if the intention was to catch her off-guard, the line broke apart sending all its participants scattering away. The women gathered on one side of the hall and the men gathered on the other, each person with a partner directly opposite them.

Offering only a brief moment to catch her breath, both groups began making their approach to the center of the ballroom. The man directly opposite Elara, some lord she'd seen roaming the halls once or twice. Both groups advanced until they stood only a few feet from each other.

The women bowed and Elara followed. The men bowed and then stretched forth their left hands. The women took them. His gruff hands swallowed hers and reminded her how different she was from those men.

"Lady Elara" he spoke.

"I am afraid I do not know your name" Elara replied politely.

"Berengar, my lady"

"What an unusual name" Elara commented. It was one she hadn't heard before.

Lord Berengar chucked, "It's foreign like much of my family"

"Foreign? I wasn't aware there were any more foreign nobles in court"

"At your service" he smiled.

"Where are you from exactly?" she asked curiously. Unlike Catalina, he sounded just as native as anyone else.

"Far away" When the minstrels began playing slow music, he held out his second hand, "May I?"

Elara nodded and moved closer allowing him to place his right hand on her waist and guide her the rest of the way.

They swayed together only for a moment before Berengar's movements froze entirely. Elara stepped away and began to inquire about his pause when she noticed the terror on his face with his gaze focused somewhere behind her.

Elara traced his line of sight and it led her to Olmund. He was sitting on his throne, watching them closely.

Berengar cleared his throat loudly then apologized with a forced smile, "My lady, I'm afraid I must go"

It was her turn to be stunned. Without so much as another word, he let go of her hand and turned away. She thought to call out to him but decided against it. She just watched him make his way towards one of the servers to retrieve a cup of wine, and down it in one swig.

Elara watched speechless as Lord Berengar made for the large doors and disappeared through it. Elara couldn't believe what had just happened.

The dancing continued, leaving Elara standing in the middle without a partner and thoroughly embarrassed. She knew she needed to get off the floor but her legs wouldn't obey her. They felt weak.

She closed her eyes in shame as the members of the court danced around her.

"May I?" she heard a voice and recognized it instantly.

She opened her eyes and he had his left hand outstretched towards her. Elara turned back to Olmund and he had turned away, seemingly engaged in conversation with his future bride.

"It's okay" Beorn's steady voice came through once more. She could have heard those words a thousand times and it still wouldn't have been enough.

She placed her hand in his. She could immediately feel the grooves and ridges created by decades of wielding a sword and bow. She unconsciously rubbed her fingers across his palm surface.

Beorn stepped forward and placed his right hand on her waist in standard dancing posture but nothing felt standard about any of it. Slowly, they joined the other dancers and he led her through the different steps. She was all too happy to be led. She would follow him anywhere if this is what it felt like.

In typical fashion, they rarely spoke and only let their bodies do the talking, and their bodies were talking a lot.

The way her right hand gripped his left hand told him that she was grateful for his timely appearance. The way his right hand caressed her back told her that he would always be there for her.

In the end, the dance session didn't last nearly long enough and soon, they were stepping away from each other and bowing with the rest of the guests. She looked around and marveled at how utterly different her life had become.

Olmund took to the forefront once more to thank the guests for arriving.

"Please, eat, drink to your heart's content" he announced, "I am afraid I must retire to prepare for a very important day tomorrow. Once again, I give you my heartfelt appreciation"

The crowd bowed in reverence as Olmund made his way through towards the exit doors.

"Come with me," he said in a hushed tone as she reached and passed Elara's position.

She looked to Beorn with an apologetic expression and joined the King's exiting party. She knew she urgently had to get his attention under control.

=^..^=

As soon as she walked through the doors of Olmund's chamber and the guards closed it behind her, she confronted Olmund.

"What was that about?" She wasn't shy about letting him see how upset she was.

"What are you talking about?" he asked as he began fiddling with his robe, "Help me with this"

"Berengar. What did you say to him... or do to him?" She held her ground.

"Come help me get this off" he nodded her over.

"Don't you have servants for that?"

"I want you to do it" he spoke sternly.

She sighed before making her way over to him. She began by undoing the clasp around his neck that held his robe in place, then walked behind him to lift the robe off his shoulders.

Olmund rubbed his neck and shoulders as she placed the heavy robe atop his bed.

He turned around to face her once more, "Continue," he said with outstretched arms gesturing to the rest of his clothes.

"I can call your servants" she replied.

"Continue" he repeated.

She sighed again before reaching up and loosening the ties that held his tunic in place.

"Such delicate hands" he commented as soon as she finished her task, allowing him to raise the tunic off his body.

"It's clear you don't intend to answer my question so may I leave?" she looked away from his bare chest.

"I thought I was saving you" Olmund replied, "I wouldn't have thought you'd want to dance with a man, being a man yourself. Let alone with an oaf like Berengar"

Olmund stepped away from Elara to retrieve a tunic from a nearby chair. He quickly sniffed it before putting it over his head.

"You did seem rather happy dancing with the Grand Marshal so maybe you didn't need saving after all" he looked intently at her, "Maybe you favor the company of men despite being one yourself"

Once more, Elara looked away from his piercing gaze, "I was just grateful to him for saving me from embarrassment"

"Sometimes I wonder whether you're a man at all" Olmund confessed, "I wonder whether you played a trick on me. Witchcraft even? I should check again to be sure" Olmund stepped towards Elara causing her to step backwards.

She retreated until she was backed against the wall and only then did he stop his advance.

"Show it to me" he ordered.

The color vanished from her face as she pleaded, "No".

"Now!" he followed with a raised voice.

Her expression begged him to reconsider.

He took another threatening step forward and she quickly reconsidered.

She began raising the skirt of the pink dress she'd specially chosen until her underskirt was revealed. Slowly but surely, she began raising that too but to her surprise, as her thighs began to come into view, Olmund had a change of heart.

"Stop" he ordered and turned away.

She breathed a sigh of relief as she let the dress fall. He'd tried to hide it but she'd clearly seen the tent he'd been pitching in his breeches. It made her feel dirty.

Olmund took a seat in his usual armchair and ordered her to give him a massage. She was exhausted.

"I should return to my chambers, Your Majesty" she protested, "Princess Catalina has arrived. You shouldn't summon me anymore"

"You presume to give me orders?" he asked without turning to face her.

"No, I-- I just don't want to give people the wrong impression"

With only a finger wag, he ordered her approach, "I feel sore. Massage me"

He never listened to her. She admitted defeat, closed the gap between them, and began massaging his shoulder like she'd done several times before.

She cringed when he let out that horrible moan. To this day, it always brings back memories of that horrible day. Without any other options, she worked in silence.

Frustratingly, even after completing that task, Olmund still wasn't through with her.

"Don't go" she heard him say.

"Your Majesty, I have been here too long" she warned him, "What will people think?"

"That I bed you every night? Is that so wrong? I am the King. Every woman should be so lucky" he replied.

"What will Princess Catalina think?" Elara added.

"She can think whatever she wants" Olmund dismissed her, "Take a seat, fill our cups, drink with me"

"I am tired, I want to sleep" Elara argued.

With an outstretched arm, Olmund gestured to his bed, "Please, go ahead"

"Your Majesty, this isn't right. Please permit me to return to my chambers"

Olmund stood abruptly from the chair, "I grow weary of arguing with you. You can sleep on the bed, or would you prefer the floor?"

Elara resigned with an exasperated sigh.

She walked over to the bed and sat on it obediently.

"You shouldn't ruin your pretty dress" Olmund smiled, "Why don't you remove it?"

She obeyed quietly now clear on the futility of arguing. Equipped with nothing but her chemise and underskirt, she lay in the large, admittedly comfortable bed.

It smelled entirely like Olmund.

That night, he climbed into the bed with her, and many times throughout the night, she felt him embrace her tightly from behind. As horrible as it turned out, she was thankful that things never progressed further than that.

=^..^=

Elara had never felt as shameful as she felt walking the halls of the castle the next morning wearing last night's dress.

The servants she passed as she made her way to her chamber would bow and greet her as she approached but whisper as soon as she passed.

They all thought her despicable believing she'd thrown herself at the King even after his betrothed's arrival.

She felt so terrible, that she couldn't look the servants in the face as they passed.

Even worse, she found one of the servants standing outside her chambers, knocking on the door and calling out to her.

"Lady Elara, may I speak with you?" Elara found the young girl calling out.

"What is it?" Elara asked as she approached the door. The girl bowed quickly.

"Her Highness, Princess Catalina has asked that you join her for breakfast"

"Now?" Elara asked with an exhausted expression.

"Yes, my lady"

"Fine, where?"

"In the garden, my lady"

Elara sighed, "You may go"

The young girl bowed and hurried along. It was quite a curious thing how easily she'd taken to her new station. Oftentimes, it didn't even feel like an act anymore.

Elara hurried into her room and breathed a sigh of relief when she found that Aoife was already out attending to the Princess.

Ideally, she'd have wanted a bath before facing the foreign princess but didn't want to keep her waiting any longer so she settled for a change of clothes before making her way to the garden.

=^..^=

It was a beautiful morning, warm from the early morning sun. The grass was particularly vibrant and the clear water in the pond brilliantly reflected the sun's rays.

It didn't take Elara long to find Catalina seated in the garden, attended by two equally dark-skinned, brown-haired women. They spoke that whimsical language the envoy had spoken to Catalina the day before.

Elara noted how quickly Catalina had made herself feel at home in what must have been a strange country.

"Lady Elara," Catalina called out to her, "Please join me"

Elara approached and bowed to the Princess before taking a seat.

Catalina turned and said some strange words to the two women after which they bowed in that same strange manner and stepped away.

"You wanted to see me, Your Highness"

"Oh, call me Catalina" she smiled "We are good friends, no?"

"Thank you, but I think should address you as suits your station" Elara replied.

"I don't understand" Catalina looked confused.

"Oh, you are a princess, and Queen soon" Elara explained slowly, "I must call you, 'Your Highness'"

"Oh-- okay" Catalina agreed reluctantly.

"Why did you want to see me?" Elara asked.

Catalina looked troubled for a moment as if she was wrestling with her own thoughts.

"I heard all about you" she began, "Since I was on my journey"

"Umm--"

"You are your King's favourite"

Elara kept her expression neutral although she wasn't sure how accurately the word described her relationship with Olmund.

"I don't--"

"Please, let me finish" Catalina cut in.

"Sorry," she apologized.

"In my country, a man has one woman, and he honors that woman by looking only at her. I hope you understand"

Elara remained quiet.

"Last night, I suffered great shame. The man that is to be my husband, shared his bed with you"

Elara searched her mind for something she could say that could fix everything. How could she tell Catalina that she wasn't Olmund's woman and that in fact, she hated him?

"I don't know how the people of this country are, but I cannot live that way. For thirty years, my father shared a bed with only my mother. It is the-- foundation of my people's culture. I want the same for myself"

Elara felt horrible enough that it appeared clear as day on her face.

"Know that I don't think badly of you. I too dreamed of marrying a King since I was a girl so I understand"

Elara sat quietly and listened to the Princess' words. There was little she could say anyway.

"So I hope you understand me when I ask you to leave my husband" She finished "Stay away from him. That is what I called you here to tell you."

It had all gone wrong. Everything was one big misunderstanding. Elara understood Catalina's position but the Princess couldn't even begin to understand hers.

Her task, the very reason she was sent here by Cedric hinged entirely on her proximity to Olmund. That didn't even consider whether Olmund would so easily allow her out of his sight.

As silence persisted between the two women, Elara could just make out the rumble of Olmund's troop preparing to depart on their busy day.

The horses were being prepared and the soldiers that would accompany him were assembling. Olmund was riding out with Beorn any moment to meet the army Catalina had brought him. Tens of thousands of men were camped outside the city waiting for their orders.

Elara thought back to Beorn's words. Victory was in sight. She simply had to hold on for a little longer. Olmund had his troops, when he triumphs over his uncle, neither he nor Cedric would have any more use for her.

She simply had to hold on a bit longer.

In the end, Elara said the only words she could in response.

"I cannot"

=^..^=

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Thanks for reading. I know it's a bit short but would love to hear what you think about the story so far.

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Comments

Poor Elara

joannebarbarella's picture

Trapped between the mission she has been given and the monster of a King, and now maybe to earn the enmity of the future Queen.

She really is on the horns of multiple dilemmas, with no clear way of escape.

why didn't she just tell her

why didn't she just tell her it wasn't her choice to make.

Good point

Emma's picture

There was originally more to their conversation but I wanted the cliff hanger teehee.

When I make a second pass after the story is done, I'll have to flesh out their conversation a bit more. We're nearing the end here so that should be soon.

Thanks for reading :)

Interesting!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Olmund clearly intended to shame Catalina. The question I’m asking myself is why. Is it a test? Does he just want to humiliate her as a sick sort of power play, because he’s a twisted human being? Does he not actually want the alliance? And poor Elara is caught in the middle . . . .

Emma