Damsel in Wartime - The Final Chapter

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"What did you do?" Cedric yelled at her, "I'm getting reports that the King is dead. What in God's name happened?"

Despite being embarrassed at her appearance, she gathered herself enough to answer, "I killed him"

There was no use lying and if she was being honest with herself, it gave her a sense of pride to say the words.

As much as he'd taken from her, she'd taken from him the one thing he valued above all else, his life.

"You... killed him?" Cedric asked unsure whether he'd heard her correctly.

"He was a monster" she stood her ground, "He didn't deserve to live"

"And who are you to decide that?!" Cedric shouted. He couldn't believe his ears. "He was the rightful king of this country!"

Without warning, Cedric unsheathed his sword and placed it near her neck. Elara had grown too tired of swords and daggers. She'd seen too much to flinch at the mere threat of a blade.

"You didn't know him" She spoke angrily. "You think you know who you were supporting but he was a piece of garbage. He would have killed us all"

"You are a peasant!" Cedric screamed at her. He was so enraged that even Gawen was reluctant to step in. "You obey and you do nothing else! How dare you?!"

"How dare you?!" She retorted despite the knife at her throat. Between the time she spent as a lady of exceedingly high status and the hopelessness she felt in the hours since Olmund had his way with her, she had no more fear, "Look around you, everyone's dying and it's our fault. We did this. We helped him destroy this country and it would have only been the beginning if we let him continue"

"Do you think you're a noble now? Is that it? After pretending for so long, you've forgotten what you are?" Cedric asked in disbelief "You're a commoner. You had no right! I should take your head"

"Maybe you should," Elara glanced down at the sharp blade at her neck. It reminded her of those early days with Olmund. How innocent she used to be, "What are you waiting for? I won't apologize for killing him if that's what you want. I would do it again."

"This is regicide. He was your King!" Cedric said the words as though Olmund's status absolved him of all wrongdoing.

"He was a murderer, and a common rapist!" Like many times before, the words left her lips before she had the chance to stop them. Following those words, scenes from the previous night replayed in her head. As much as she tried to, she just couldn't forget what had happened.

Olmund on top of her, kissing her. Olmund behind her, pressing himself against her. The feel of him inside her. Tears rolled down her cheeks once more despite already being so dehydrated to the point of concern.

"He r-- he raped m--" She froze, unable to speak any further.

There was silence between the three as Elara's voice trailed off. Cedric dropped his arm and let the sword rest by his side.

He knew he'd done everything he'd done for the good of the kingdom but there was some guilt present as he heard her say the words.

The main door creaked open and revealed Thurstan on the other side. The sight of him sent Elara into a frenzy causing her to cry audibly.

Her composure from earlier in the face of Cedric had all but vanished.

To make matters worse, Thurstan stepped forward quickly into the room and made his way for her.

"Wulf, I'm so sorry," He said as he tried to envelop her in a hug the way he always did whenever things went wrong.

She recoiled backward away from him, "No, go away" she screamed.

"It's okay," he said with little success as she hurried back into the inner room and closed the door behind her.

"I told you to leave" Gawen chastised Thurstan.

"This is your fault" Elara heard Thurstan's raised voice, "Where did you send him? What did you make him do?"

"Know your place, soldier. I am still your superior." Cedric replied sternly.

"Go and get yourself something to drink, lad" Gawen advised, "There's nothing you can do here"

Elara listened through the door as she heard Thurstan's footsteps retreat until he was out of the room.

"Sir, maybe go easy on the boy" Elara heard Gawen play the role of peacekeeper.

"Which one?" Cedric asked before his loud but receding footsteps told Elara that he too had left the room.

She couldn't take it anymore. She collapsed on the floor from exhaustion and quickly fell unconscious.

=^..^=

Elara opened her eyes weakly unsure of how much time had passed. Once again, she lay on that bed, but this time Thurstan sat on the chair next to the bed fast asleep.

She arose slowly and used the opportunity to examine him. It had been so long since they were both in the same room and unfortunately, their reunion had turned sour.

The long rest had done her some good at least. She felt calmer and was thinking more logically than she had been the first time around. It also helped that she wasn't in as much pain.

Thurstan looked more grown, older. He had a new scar on his right hand that hadn't been there before and he'd also grown a beard that she thought suited him well. She couldn't help but wonder how his year had gone. Had he suffered a lot? It was her hope that he'd had as easy a time as she had but knew that was very unlikely. Unlike her, he had experienced the war and fought in it.

Thurstan's eyes opened suddenly as though he sensed he was being watched and Elara unconsciously shifted to the farther end of the bed.

"You're awake" Thurstan's face brightened. "I'll get you something to drink" he added as he hurriedly left the room and returned with a cup of water.

She reached forward with shaky hands and received the cup, "Thank you" she spoke quietly.

"I can get you something stronger. We have ale" Thurstan said as she drank the much-needed water, "It's bitter, but it does the job" he smiled.

She forced a smile as she handed him the empty cup, "I'm fine, thank you"

"I guess you're used to much finer flavors now" he laughed.

She forced another smile before looking away.

"I know-- you don't want to be around me but there's no one else," Thurstan said as he sat back in his chair, "Sir Gawen is away with Major Donahue"

"It's not about you" she replied softly, "It's just me"

"I don't understand" Thurstan rubbed his knees awkwardly. He was uncomfortable, desperately trying not to do or say the wrong thing. Before he left, Gawen had repeatedly stressed the importance of not pushing her any farther than she was willing to go.

"Nevermind" Elara retreated, "How long have I been asleep?"

"A whole day" he answered as he began to stand from the chair, "I was very worried. Wait, I'll get your food"

She wanted to say something about how diligently he was looking after her but decided against it.

Before long, Thurstan placed a platter of goat cheese, stale bread, and a refilled cup of water in front of her. It was a far cry from the food she'd been used to.

"Sorry, food is very hard to come by these days"

"This is good, thank you" She smiled before cautiously tasting the bread.

"Just try to eat as much as you can" He urged her as he returned to his chair.

"Can I-- have some space?" she asked apologetically. She hated the way he was looking at her like a broken toy. She hated being someone he pitied.

"Okay," Thurstan answered. He would be lying if he said it didn't hurt him but he did his best not to show it. "Whatever you need"

=^..^=

Days passed and their relationship didn't improve despite living in close proximity with one another. Maybe that was exactly why it didn't improve. Elara remained in that room day after day and Thurstan did the best he could by bringing her her meals. Every time he walked into the room to assist her with something or the other, she would retreat into herself, and nothing he said ever helped.

She felt dirty and used, and even after bathing that first day, she didn't feel clean enough.

Using the men's bath hadn't helped either. Even if she could get past the constant stares she received when she walked in and throughout her stay, she always felt like an imposter, like she didn't belong there anymore. She felt more out of place than she ever did around Aurelia's ladies.

She'd thought she would feel relief since she was finally able to undress and not have to worry about who might be watching but being naked around strange men had been a new kind of torture so she avoided the baths altogether.

=^..^=

Things didn't change until a week into her time in the capital when Thurstan returned with some important news.

Though the city had been preparing for siege up till that point, their preparations would prove unnecessary after all.

Princess Aurelia had taken over her brother's forces and while she fully intended to finish what he began and force her way into the city, Sigurd had ceded the throne to end the war. His proclamation that morning meant the nation was to have its first-ever Queen. Most importantly, it meant an end to the war and to the blockade.

King Luis' men would remain at Fort Dunn until his arrival for Aurelia's coronation after which they would discuss new terms and compensation for his daughter's disappointment. With the nation in no position to defend itself, it was forced to rely upon Luis' benevolence.

"Princess Aurelia is marching into the city right now to accept her uncle's surrender" Thurstan explained.

"Right now?" Elara asked sitting up from the bed. It was the first time anything had piqued her interest in the past few days.

"She was already through the gates when I last heard" Thurstan replied, "She's on her way to the palace" he added.

Princess Aurelia was here in this city of all places.

"Can you take me there?"

"Are you sure? You're still weak, barely eating. There are lots of people in the street"

"Please" she begged.

He sighed, "Okay if you insist"

=^..^=

Thurstan was right. There was a large crowd in the streets as Aurelia's forces passed with her carriage at the head. They were celebrating an end to the war and the retreat of the invaders. They were overjoyed to finally be able to return to their lives and their abandoned homes.

These people didn't care who won. When nobility battled one another, only the common folk suffered.

Elara understood that now.

She fought through the crowd with Thurstan's help as it approached the Royal Palace and rolled to a final stop. There were mixed opinions in the crowd as Princess Aurelia made her appearance out of the horse-drawn carriages.

Some people cheered her as the woman who ended the war that had gone on for too long. They were willing to put aside her status as a woman for the prospect of food in their bellies.

Others feared she was no different than her brother willing to employ a foreign army to lay waste to their country. They wondered how different two people could be if they were birthed by the same womb.

Aurelia was unphased and waved to her new subjects with a confident smile. In the end, the spy girl that she'd disregarded had handed her everything she could have ever asked for and she hadn't even had to lift a finger.

She knew she'd have to thank her if she ever laid eyes on her but no one had heard anything regarding the girl's whereabouts since she ran into the night after putting an end to her brother's wickedness.

Little did she know the girl to which she owed everything was close by, watching her prepare to climb the palace steps.

Elara hid among the crowds as the other carriage doors opened. She gasped when Aoife emerged with Alicent and Sybil. The last time she'd seen them had been that morning when she departed with Olmund. There was no telling then how things would turn out.

After everything that had happened, she realized she missed them. Elara watched the girls jealously as they giggled at one another without a care in the world.

Aoife suddenly turned in Elara's direction and scanned the crowd. Elara quickly stepped behind Thurstan and out of sight. It may have been too little too late but since news reached Aoife that Elara had murdered the King, she'd begun to consider that her friend might have been telling the truth after all. She felt terribly guilty for turning her back on her friend and saddened because she knew she'd never get the opportunity to apologize.

Aoife scanned some more before returning to laughing with the two girls who stood beside her.

"Do you know them?" Thurstan asked as Elara cowered behind him.

"They were my best friends" she answered, "Are they still looking?"

"They're gone" he informed her as the group began ascending the steps.

Elara emerged slowly to continue watching the scenes with watery eyes. The last person to exit his carriage was Lord Beorn, the nation's Grand Marshal. Upon confirming the King's death, he'd quickly pledged the army to the Princess effectively shutting out any plays for power. He was another person Aurelia owed a great debt.

Elara's world seemed to quiet around her as the numerous cheers faded away. It was just the two of them. She watched him, and he paid no mind to his surroundings briskly walking up the palace steps.

More than anything, she wanted to call out to him. She just wanted to scream that she was standing right there but she knew she couldn't. She was wanted for the crime of regicide and he was more likely to put her in chains than welcome her with open arms.

So she simply watched in silence as he ascended the steps with the Princess and disappeared through the palace doors.

"Thur?" Elara called to her friend.

"Yes?"

"Let's go far away. To a little farm like we talked about"

The proximity was torturing her. She couldn't live in this city knowing they were right there, within her reach.

"I want to" Thurstan turned to her, "But I still serve Major Donahue. I can't just leave"

"The war is over" She turned to him, "I don't care what Cedric says or what anyone else says, let's just go as soon as possible"

His hand moved to take hers but paused halfway, "I can't" he answered, "I can't be a deserter"

"Like me?"

"I didn't mean--"

"I know, I'm sorry" She interrupted, "Can we go? I'm tired"

"Okay," he sighed.

=^..^=

Gawen returned a few days later with news of Cedric's exploits. They had ridden out to intercept Princess Aurelia on her journey from Olmund's castle. After revealing that he was the mastermind behind Elara's espionage and how through him, Elara had aided Olmund, he was granted an audience.

There, he offered his services to her and even helped arrange Sigurd's surrender in the end and peaceful transition of power. Through whatever roundabout manner things had happened, he'd ultimately achieved his goal. He had a rightful monarch that was now indebted to him and his family.

And so he had no more need for two peasants. Neither one would ever see him again.

"He's tossing us aside now that he has what he wants?" Elara shook her head.

"Not empty handed" Gawen corrected and gestured to the chest full of gold that was meant for the two of them. "He didn't have to give you anything. In his own way, he cares about the two of you. And he won't say it, but he's sorry about what happened to you, Elara"

Elara turned away, upset at the revelation that she'd been used and discarded.

"Thank you, sir" Thurstan thanked the ranking officer.

Gawen nodded graciously.

"Isn't this great?" Thurstan tried to cheer up his friend, "We can go anywhere now, like we always wanted"

She hissed to show she wouldn't so easily let go of her dissatisfaction with Cedric.

Gawen walked over to her and placed his hand on her head rubbing it through her unkempt hair playfully.

"Thank you for your service," he said with warmth in his words. It was just enough to soothe her.

"Thank you for saving me" she offered in return. She dared not think what might have happened to her if Gawen hadn't shown up exactly when he did.

"Take care of her," Gawen said to Thurstan.

Thurstan nodded. That went without saying. They were never going to be apart ever again.

"And you, take care of him" He turned back to the girl, "I've seen your work with that bow. Very scary" he smiled.

She smiled in return, "I will"

"You're both very brave, you'll be alright" Gawen's gaze would occasionally switch from one to the other, "Where will you go? Back home?"

"No, we'll go somewhere far where no one knows us. We'll buy a farm, and work the land like our parents did," Thurstan answered with his attention focused entirely on Elara. "With this gold, we can do that with plenty to spare"

Elara nodded shyly.

"Maybe we could take in a bunch of kids, y'know, war orphans" he continued, "God knows there's plenty of those that need a home"

Elara nodded again. She hadn't fully healed physically or mentally, but living in the countryside with Thur, taking care of kids that had no one else, sounded nice.

Her mind shifted to Maud and her daughters. She wondered what had become of them. She considered that one day when she's up to it, she might visit them. Reward them for helping her.

"I'm proud of you both," Gawen said finally. It had come time to depart. Their fight had ended but his would continue until the new queen had her coronation, King Luis was satisfied and wartime was firmly behind them.

He said his final goodbyes and set out. Deep down, he knew they'd be alright.

=^..^=

In two days, Elara and Thurstan set out very early in the morning. She sat in the back of a wagon pulled by a horse Thurstan had bought with part of their fortune.

Along the way to the city gates, they rode past a large market that had reopened with new supplies from neighboring cities. It would be quite some time before the effects of war disappeared altogether but the people had begun to heal. At the very least, they had food to eat and clothes on their back.

One of the stalls that they passed had the most beautiful brown dress she'd ever seen. The way the skirt flowed in the morning breeze almost called to her. She was mesmerized.

"Thur, please stop the wagon" She called out, and soon after he brought the horse to a stop.

"Is something wrong?" he turned quickly to ask.

"Nothing's wrong" she assured him, "I just need a moment".

She stepped off the wagon and walked up to the stall.

"Is this dress for sale?"

"Yes dear, I made it myself" The woman replied, ecstatic to have a customer. "And if I know my work, it'll suit you perfectly"

It took her only a moment to decide to give in to what her heart truly desired. She decided at that moment, not to allow Olmund to take any more from her.

"How much?" She asked with a bright smile.

=^..^=

THE END.

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Thank you so so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear what you thought about it now that it's finished.

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Comments

All’s (kinda?) well?

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I like where Elara and Thur ended up. I’m not positive that Aurelia will be any better for the kingdom than Olmund or Sigurd — the lot of them seem like a pack of spoiled scorpions. And Lord, she’s welcome to the services of Cedric!

This was a very engaging tale, Emma — thanks for sharing it with us!

Emma

Aaaaah thank you!

Emma's picture

I'm so glad you enjoyed it omg omg. Tysm.

Although I don't have as much distrust for Aurelia as you seem to. She strikes me as more of a victim than offender.

Now that she has the power to decide her fate (and everyone else's), it's anyone's guess if she'll grow better or worse.

Thanks again for reading.

The major problem with the entire feudal system……

D. Eden's picture

Was the disconnect between the nobles and the commoners. The privileged classes had no concept of what the average person dealt with or how they lived, and essentially didn’t care.

It took the rise of a strong middle class to overthrow the whole system, and even today we still have the same disconnect between the priveleged and the less fortunate - we simply have a system which at least allows for mobility between the classes.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Thank you!!

ChasingSerenity's picture

A wonderful tale. Suspenseful throughout. Always the question of what could possibly happen next to our poor main character.

Omg she suffffered

Emma's picture

Thank you for reading though fr. Hope to see you in the next one.

A Damsel in wartime

A very fine ending. Probably about as good as could be expected. Also probably wise to not trust too deeply in the gratitude of the princess. I wonder a little about the relationship between Thurstan and Elara, or is it Wulfric. I've never been sure which one Thurstan sees when he looks at them.

Time is the longest distance to your destination.

I Think We Have It

joannebarbarella's picture

Elara buys the dress. Thurstan has no problem. They will be the perfect couple.

Thanks for a great tale, Emma.

Very enjoyable. Had a fun

Very enjoyable. Had a fun time trying to figure out how the ladies in waiting would take to her and if one of them was on her side. Nicely played out, well wrapped up. Thank you.

Wonderfully told

I'm not usually fond of period pieces but this caught my interest. Loved the reality of the interpersonal relationships and Elara's internal struggles. So glad to read she finally struck back with the knife. Thank you for a sweet ending. You wrote wonderfully.

>>> Kay