Damsel in Wartime - Chapter 14

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Olmund woke up clawing at his throat and for that brief moment after he felt the knife sticking out of his neck, his eyes widened in fear.

Elara remained kneeling over him as she watched the blood drip down his neck staining the expensive fur beneath. There was a hint of disbelief in his eyes as though he couldn't understand why she'd done it.

The fear overpowered him and he tried to scream for help but he coughed up blood instead, getting a large amount of it on Elara's face.

She couldn't move whether from the shock or something else. Something perverse.

When Olmund felt hopeless enough, he reached out to grab her causing her to step out of reach. He looked so pitiful as he clawed at the air around him. He would occasionally cough and send blood flying everywhere, over his own face and bare chest.

It was a horrible way to go.

Elara watched with disgust on her face as Olmund grew hard one last time before his arms fell to his side. His body would occasionally jerk expelling more blood through his lips. The fur on which he'd assaulted her was ruined.

Elara watched the entire scene breathlessly even as Olmund's movements came to a stop altogether and he began to cry.

The sound of roaring laughter outside the tent brought her back to reality. She knew she would suffer a worse fate than him if she remained there so she had to run.

She approached him cautiously and slowly extracted the silver knife from his neck causing blood to pour freely out of the open hole. The fear in his eyes even as he lay there unmoving scared her so she moved to close them permanently.

"Elara" she heard him mutter in garbled sounds which caused her to jump backward. He was like a cockroach still clinging to life, "Don't leave me" he said.

While holding the knife in a tight grip, she stepped away from him forever.

She quickly made her way to the back of the tent and tore a long slit with the knife, large enough to slip through.

She kept her head down as she made her way through the camp. The drunk soldiers who were deep in their celebrations were too busy to even notice her scurrying around in the dark.

She tossed the knife into a barrel of water and wiped her bloody hands and face with her dress as best as she could before navigating her way toward the camp's rear.

Along the path, she found herself at a weapons tent which to her great relief, she found unguarded. Defenses were lax throughout camp as every last soldier celebrated their victory with food and drink, dancing, and fighting.

Still, Elara had no time to waste. With one last glance to ensure she had no onlookers, she retrieved a bow and a full quiver from the storage before continuing on her journey, head down and careful not to draw any attention to herself.

She eventually reached a particularly large, jolly group of soldiers drinking and wrestling. She couldn't risk attracting their attention so she took a detour between some tents.

She had only walked a few more steps before she heard a voice cut through the noise, calling her name. She ignored it and walked faster.

"Lady Elara" The voice came again, louder this time.

She ignored it once more.

When she began hearing footsteps behind her growing louder with each passing moment, she turned quickly, raised the bow, and pointed it at her target.

It was Beorn.

'Why now? Why couldn't he just ignore her like he usually did' She thought to herself frustrated. The expression on her face conveyed her frustration at the turn of events as she drew at the bowstring with all her strength.

She'd readied the arrow just as he'd taught her. The shiny steel glistened in the moonlight, ready to fly.

Beorn raised his hand in an attempt to calm her. His expression showed his confusion and surprise as well.

He examined her. In the limited light, he could only just make out the blood on her face, as well as the blood on the right side of her dress skirt.

"Lady Elara, what happened? Are you hurt?"

"Turn around and walk away" she pleaded.

The air was silent between them as Beorn examined the manner in which she held the bow and the look in her eyes. She was ready to fire.

She didn't look injured so he quickly decided it wasn't her blood. Something was up.

"Is His Majesty hurt?"

"Just go, please. Pretend you didn't see anything" She loosened her grip due to the string cutting into her fingers.

"Elara, what's going on?" Beorn took a step towards her.

She fought through the pain and pulled hard at the bow once again ready to fire.

"Okay, okay" Beorn raised his hand once again, "Calm down. It's okay"

"I didn't want this to happen" she explained as tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Everything will be okay. Just put down the bow" Beorn tried to reason with her.

She used her shoulder to clean the tears from her right eye that were clouding her vision.

"You won't shoot me" Beorn bluffed. He dropped his hand and took another step forward.

Elara let the arrow fly and it barely whizzed past his face lodging itself in a wooden post nearby.

Elara quickly removed another arrow from her quiver and readied it to fire.

"Damn it, Elara!" he cursed, "Tell me what is going on!"

"Walk away!" She threatened him. She had wasted too much time already. The king was dead in a tent and it was only a matter of time before someone checked.

"Is the King alright?" Beorn repeated. When it was clear he wasn't getting anywhere with her, he cursed one more time and ran in the direction of the King's tent.

Elara took this as her cue turned, and ran in the opposite direction.

She quickly made her way towards the camp's rear where only one soldier remained guarding. Another consequence of the celebrations occurring all around camp. She slowed to a walk before she approached the lone soldier.

"Lady Elara, good evening" He greeted her. "You're- armed. Are you alright?" he examined her disheveled appearance.

"I'm alright, just stepping out for a walk" she replied forcing a smile.

He quickly noticed the blood on her dress and stepped in front of her.

"You're hurt, my lady"

"I'm fine" It was hard to keep a convincing smile with her heart beating so terribly quickly.

"I'll get someone to escort you to the Medic"

"I said I'm fine!" she raised her voice. She was already exhausted from the night's ordeal and had no more patience to spare. "Step out of the way now!"

In that next moment, the warning bells began ringing all around the camp. The guard grew emboldened and stepped towards her.

"My lady, I'm afraid you must come with me"

She quickly nocked an arrow and pointed it at the lone guard, "Step aside" she hissed.

He froze for a moment before eyeing the sword at his hip. Elara had noticed his attention shift and his right arm advance in the direction of the sword.

She shook her head to stop him to no avail. He made a quick play to grab the sword and she let the arrow fly the short distance before piercing his left cheek. The guard fell unbelievably fast into the dirt. Elara covered her mouth in shock over what she'd just done.

She stared at his seemingly lifeless body for a moment before the approaching footsteps brought her back to reality.

She ran.

=^..^=

Through the forest, she ran, pursued by men in the distance but gaining ground with each passing moment.

Her story began by running away wearing a pretty dress and there she was once again, running away, wearing another pretty dress. Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed.

The person she'd been at the start seemed no more than a distant memory, an unrecognizable version of herself whose hands were still clean. She balled her free hand into a fist and gripped her bow tightly as she traversed the forest path. Those hands had taken many lives, directly and indirectly.

She was directly responsible for the death of the soldiers she'd met on the battlefield, the nameless soldier who lay dying in the dirt and Olmund.

She was indirectly responsible for the deaths of too many to count.

So much suffering was brought on because she was too cowardly to fight and die for her country. She had clung to life by running away in the dead of night and there she was, still running, still clinging to life.

She could hear the soldiers grow closer and wondered whether she should simply stop fighting. Allow herself to be caught and face her fate with courage like she should have done so long ago.

She turned and fired an arrow in the direction of the lanterns that relentlessly chased after her. The arrow cut through the air and found its target. One of the lanterns fell as its wielder was struck by an arrow.

Plus one to her kill count. She was still clinging to life.

=^..^=

She ran until her legs couldn't carry her any further and she stumbled and fell into the dirt. Months of living in comfort had made her weak.

She struggled to her feet and retrieved another arrow from her quiver, readying the bow. She shot it at the approaching soldiers catching another in the chest. Plus one.

The rest of the soldiers closed in on her and readied their weapons.

Elara retrieved another arrow, nocked, and fired quickly, she caught one of the soldiers in his shoulder. He yelled and cursed in pain.

She reached for another arrow but couldn't find one in time before another soldier closed the gap between them and struck her across the face with his left hand. She fell back into the dirt, reeling from the pain. He had launched her off her feet with one hit so she knew resistance was futile but she fought anyway.

What would they do when they found out she'd been lying about who she was? She'd killed the only person who knew her secret. She dreaded what would happen to her if they captured her. What would Beorn do?

She crawled backward on the ground, grabbed a handful of dirt, and threw it in the soldier's face. He cursed angrily in that unknown language.

She must have pissed him off enough because he quickly raised his sword to strike her before he was stopped by another soldier.

The man reluctantly sheathed his sword and walked up to Elara as she crawled backward. He'd only managed to grab her arm when a small dagger seemed to come through the trees and hit the side of his head.

He fell lifelessly on top of her causing her to scream in panic. It was too much chaos and loss, too much death.

The soldiers panicked as well as they looked around confused.

"Who's there?" The soldiers called out.

As if answering their questions, he emerged from the trees and placed himself between Elara and the men. Elara struggled to push the dead soldier off her before gazing up at her savior. It was Gawen.

"I'm sorry I'm late" he apologized before turning back to the remaining soldiers, "You did well," he said finally.

Elara's fingers shook from the distress, her heart beat too quickly in her chest, and everything hurt but her cheek most of all where she'd been struck twice that night. It was all too much. She didn't know when she fell unconscious.

=^..^=

By the time she awoke, sunlight was streaming through the windows into what looked to be a small room. The bed, although much smaller than what she'd been used to was comfortable at least.

Elara slowly rose from the bed to examine her surroundings having no idea where she was. The room was relatively simple with little else other than the bed, a table, and a chair.

She staggered to her feet and was hit with a wave of pain. She felt pain everywhere from her head, torso, arms, legs, and most embarrassingly her backside. The previous day's events began to replay in her head.

It felt like the old her had died with Olmund and she would have to learn to live with the person she'd become.

Slowly she made her way to the window and looked through. Outside was a large city with many people lining the streets. They all looked much worse for wear than she was. Starving, malnourished, dirty. Eventually, she concluded that she was in the capital city though she'd never been herself.

Suddenly, she heard the door handle rattle and keys fumble with the lock which caused her heart to jump. She quickly searched the room for her bow which she found in the corner but the quiver was empty. With few other choices, she hurriedly picked up the bow ready to use it as a stick at least.

She let out a sigh of relief when Gawen walked through the door carrying a filled cloth bag.

"You shouldn't be out of bed" he spoke as he saw her in her defensive stance.

"Where were you?" She asked as she let the bow fall to the floor.

"I thought you might want some food" the older man replied.

"Where were you? It's been months. I needed you." Her disappointment was clearly written on her face. Elara however didn't wait for a response, "I need new clothes" she added.

Gawen reached into the bag and unveiled a simple grey dress that looked to be about her size. Getting her a change of clothes had also been a priority. He'd had to bribe the innkeeper a substantial amount when he showed up the previous night with an unconscious noble-looking girl with blood on her clothes.

"I'm not wearing that," she said after a single glance at the dress.

"I don't understand"

"I need normal clothes," she continued, "No more dresses or skirts or anything like that"

"This is all I bought" Gawen replied.

"Then I suggest you buy something else," Elara said before turning away to look out the window.

As Gawen turned to leave, she stopped him, "Give me your dagger" she said simply.

There were no arguments from him. He figured she simply needed a way to protect herself but he knew it wasn't necessary. Only a few people in the city knew she existed let alone where she was. Still, he handed her the blade if only to grant her peace of mind and set out to fulfill her request.

=^..^=

He found her in quite a state as he returned. Naked, crying, the dress she'd been wearing ripped in a hundred different pieces, long lengths of her formerly beautiful hair scattered all over the floor. He regretted leaving her alone and dreaded leaving her alone once more.

He'd been searching for the best moment to learn what really happened but that moment was decidedly not it. He quietly placed the bag containing the new tunic and breeches on the floor beside the door and left the room to give her some privacy. There was little else he could do for her.

Elara on the other hand couldn't get the tears to stop. She needed a shower but for that, she would have to get herself together enough to move from that spot.

It had started simply enough. She'd removed the dress since it made her uncomfortable to wear something Olmund had touched but the next thing she knew, she was overcome with anger and could only sate it by destroying the dress.

Then she began blaming herself for looking the way she did which was why she did what she did to her hair. She hadn't meant to, she actually liked the hair and it wasn't as if getting rid of it made her feel any better. It made her feel worse because even dead, Olmund had still managed to take something else from her.

=^..^=

Hours later, as she lay on that cold floor curled up in a ball, surrounded by strands of hair and pieces of fabric, she began hearing voices coming from outside the door.

"Where is he?!" A voice she recognized was loud enough to hear even through the closed door. She recognized the voice because it was the same one that had dragged her into this mess in the first place. The atrocities of the past year were as much his fault as anyone's.

"Apologies sir, I cannot allow you to go in" Gawen stopped him, "She's in no condition to tell you anything right now"

"Wulf?" Elara heard another voice that immediately restarted the stream of tears that had dried up hours ago. She curled into an even tighter ball and prayed that Gawen wouldn't let him in.

"Wulf, it's me" The voice came again "Are you okay?"

The concern in his voice made everything worse. She didn't deserve his concern. She didn't deserve him.

"It's Thur, can I come in?" He asked and sent her heartbeat racing once again.

"N-no!" She yelled through her cracking voice.

"Wulfric, get out here!" Cedric shouted.

"Sir, please!" Gawen cut in.

"I'll come out" She announced, "But send Thurstan away first"

"Wulf!" Thurstan called out in disbelief.

"Just give her some time, lad" Gawen consoled him.

Elara wiped her tears as best as she could before peeling herself off the floor. She felt utterly disgusting as she wore the breeches and then pulled the tunic over her head. She hadn't even taken a bath so she could still feel Olmund all over her body. She felt damaged and undeserving.

"Is he gone?" She asked through the door. She couldn't bear Thurstan seeing her in that state.

"He's gone" Gawen confirmed.

Sheepishly, she pushed open the wooden door and made her appearance. Cedric looked furious and why wouldn't he be? She'd killed his king and if you looked close enough, you could still see specks of his blood on her cheeks.

=^..^=

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Oooh, we've come so far. Thanks for reading. As always, would love to hear your thoughts.

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Comments

Damsel in Wartime

I just discovered this story, what a place to catch up on it. I can hardly wait for the next chapter. Frankly everyone should be grateful, but regicide is taken very seriously, especially by other royalty.

Time is the longest distance to your destination.

Opaque Motives

joannebarbarella's picture

Nobody has been honest with Elara throughout this saga. Will Cedric truly be angry or has he been working both ends? Gawen ostensibly works for Cedric, but what does that mean?

As usual, the last person to know what's going on is Elara (going to become Wulf again?). Probably the only one she/he can trust is Thurstan, but even he may have been 'turned' after all these months.

I'm relying on you, Emma!

Step one

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Elara got away, so . . . step one. But she could only run into the world she helped to create — a world of grieving wives and mothers, fatherless children, and famine. At least, that’s how she appears to see it, and based on what she knows, it’s true enough. And after doing all of that for Thurstan, she ended the ostensible purpose of it all by killing the “rightful king.” It’s a wonder she didn’t use the dagger Gawen provided to end her life, but she appears to be stubborn that way.

Another great chapter!

Emma