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The Commander’s Desire
CHAPTER ONE cont. . .
Castle Iolaire, Galwyddel
“Enter.” Elwytha’s escort had deserted her at the Prince’s drawbridge, which had been lowered so she could cross the deep, swift flowing burn that protected the castle entrance. Elwytha had never visited the enemy keep before, and in a glance had taken in the deep moat about it, the high stone walls at the front, and the tall, spiked wooden poles that surrounded the castle at the rear. It looked impenetrable.
Now she walked silently beneath the arched entrance into the courtyard of the ancient fortress. Men in thick leather chest armor, inlaid with linked metal pieces, walked beside her. Enemy men. Their weapons were sheathed because of the white flag she carried in one hand, and the scroll of peace she held in the other. She felt several of them looking at her, perhaps eyeing the warrior circlet upon her head. No doubt they thought it was a crown for the princess she was. Her lips tightened, suppressing a smile at their foolish gullibility. None knew of the two knives she wore beneath her flowing aqua gown, which was made of the finest linen and decorated with strips of intricate beadwork. Or the dagger at her ankle, just above her delicate kid slippers. Fools, all of them.
Of course, she was no better—a liar. An ambassador of peace, while she plotted murder. Discomfort squeezed inside her. How could she carry off this farce?
A helmeted soldier, who smelled like old sweat, took the white flag from her and pushed open the door to the palace. “Enter,” he ordered, as if she were a subservient maid, and not the princess of Castle Cor na Gaeth.
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With a lift to her chin, Elwytha walked with stately elegance to the double, curved wooden doors ahead. Two guards opened these, and before her lay the main hall of the palace.
A soft gasp escaped her lips as startling white blinded her eyes. The floor was made entirely of inlaid quartz pebbles, and they sparkled in the light streaming through slit windows in the stone walls. Overhead, candles in circular candelabras burned, brightening the room still more. Rich tapestries in elegant dark reds and blues and purples covered the walls. Men in helmets stood in two lines before her, lances crossed overhead, marking her pathway to the Prince, who sat upon his throne at the far end.
The Prince sat erect on a polished, elaborately carved wooden chair, with a plush footstool before him. He wore dark pants and boots, and a fine white tunic embroidered with gold threads. A bulbous crown of gold, encrusted with jewels, sat upon his head. Elwytha had never seen such a splendid crown before.
She moved slowly toward him, mindful of the lances above her. Her neck itched. If only they knew of her treason, surely they would wield them upon her.
The Prince’s straight black hair reached his chin, and he was smooth shaven. She saw more as she neared him. He possessed a thin face, aquiline nose, and a self-indulgent set to thin, cruel lips. His eyes were as black as coal, and opaque. An involuntary shiver rippled through Elwytha. She stopped ten paces distant and knelt to the floor.
“My lord,” she said, in her best obsequious voice. “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.”
“Your forces surrender?” His voice sounded too smooth, as though falsely polite, and her flesh crept.
“Not surrender. My brother wishes for peace. He writes of it in the parchment I carry.”
“Peace.” The single word sounded contemptuous. “Rise. Bring it hence.”
She was surprised. He would allow her to approach him? Was he a fool? She could easily kill him. Of course, she would forfeit her life, and thankfully her brother had not sent her on a martyr’s mission. She arose.
The Prince said, “My Commander will escort you.”
Elwytha’s breath caught. Alarm pierced her, mixed with hatred—and fear. The Commander. The monster who had murdered King Thor. The man she was ordered to kill.
A man appeared behind the ranks of soldiers that stretched to the Prince. Elwytha’s courage faltered as he descended the steps toward her.
He was huge. In a quick, observant warrior’s glance, she took in the essentials. Dark stubble prickled up from his shaven head, and his pugilistic face was shaved clean. Half of his nose was pushed to his right, as if broken and never reset. A scar puckered down through his right brow to his eye, which seemed to make him squint. He had a thick neck and bulky, muscular shoulders covered in a short-sleeved, dark leather jerkin. Beneath this was a long-sleeved, brown woolen tunic. Cloth trousers of the same color encased legs the size of tree trunks.
Elwytha involuntarily gulped with fear. She would be lucky to match his shoulder height. And she was to kill him?
He stopped before her and inclined his head. “Princess.” His voice was uncommonly deep.
Elwytha snatched back her courage, reminding herself that she was a warrior, trained to kill men. All men. Including this one. She inclined her head. “Commander,” she said with fake sweetness.
“Follow me,” he rumbled.
“Of course.” Perfect. If only she could kill him now! How swiftly she would unsheathe her dagger and plunge it through the monster’s back, as he had done to her beloved brother. Hatred shivered through her, and she clenched her fists, willfully controlling herself.
Three steps from the Prince, the Commander stopped, and so did she. He turned and held out a huge hand. “The scroll.” He spoke with a courtesy that belied his rough appearance.
Elwytha could not look him in the face, for fear her eyes would betray her fury and hatred. Pretending submissiveness, she bowed her head and relinquished the scroll. The giant moved to the side, so she had a full view of the Prince as he unrolled the document. He read quickly, and the beginnings of a smile twisted his mouth as he reached the end.
“Well,” he said. “A fine prize your brother offers me.”
Elwytha lifted her chin in an effort to appear regal, and not as merchandise about to be bartered for peace. The Prince’s eyes drifted down her form, which made her want to shrink in revulsion. With an amused smile, his eyes returned to her face.
“Unfortunately,” he said. “I have no wish for a bride.”
Her spirits plummeted. Now what would she do? She should have killed the Goliath when she’d had the chance.
“How disappointed you look.” He chuckled. “I am flattered you desire me so intensely.”
Elwytha swallowed back repelled words of denial, and said instead, “Shall I tell my brother you do not wish for peace?”
“Nay.” He slapped the document into the hand of his Commander. “I will agree to a marriage of peace. What do you think, Commander?”
Confused, she looked from one to the other. “You do not want me for a bride. Therefore, you do not wish for peace,” she reminded him.
The Prince watched the Commander, who had finished reading the document. She was faintly surprised the hulking giant could read. The Commander imperceptibly nodded to the Prince.
“Good,” the Prince said. “It is agreed.”
“What is agreed?” She frowned with wary suspicion, disliking the silence. Disliking the silent communication between her two enemies.
“Your brother’s marriage of peace has been accepted. I will agree to peace with him if you, Princess, will agree to marry a man of my choosing in my stead.”
Her frown deepened. “How can that be peace between your crown and ours?”
“I will sign your brother’s peace agreement at the marriage supper in two weeks. Peace is peace, is it not, Princess?”
Elwytha drew a deep breath, uncomfortable with the Prince’s trickery. And then she remembered it was a trick—all of it. The marriage would never happen. Peace agreements would never be signed. What did she care if the Prince chose her future fake husband? The wedding would never happen.
She lifted her chin. “Very well. I accept, in the best interests of both of our peoples.”
“Good.” The Prince smiled, and stroked his chin with one finger. “You are a fine specimen. And my Commander agrees you will satisfy him as a wife.”
Her heart faltered. “What?” she sputtered. A sudden roaring filled her ears. It didn’t matter if it was all a lie—she could not countenance even a fake betrothal to that monster! The man who had filthily murdered her brother.
“Never,” she breathed. “Never!”
“No, Princess?” The Prince’s eyes narrowed. “You do not want peace?”
“I wish for peace, but not to that monst…”
“Monster,” the Prince finished. “Do you hear that, Commander? She thinks you are a monster.”
The bulky shoulders tightened, but he did not answer. He did not look at her.
Elwytha heaved a breath and dropped a brief, disrespectful curtsy to the Prince. “I will tell Richard that peace has been rejected.” She spun on her heel and marched back the way she had come.
“Halt,” the Prince said. Instantly, lances clicked down, barring her passage to the door.
Reluctantly, she turned. “What have we left to discuss, Prince?”
“You have displeased me. And if you return empty-handed, you will displease your brother. I have heard he can be most cruel to those who disappoint him.”
Elwytha had heard those rumors. “I am his sister.”
“And a threat to his crown. Perhaps you should take this opportunity before he kills you.” The Prince chewed on a nail, the picture of casual relaxation.
Fear fluttered in Elwytha’s heart, and she hated it. How dare that man place fear in her mind for her own brother? But a better question might be; why was she listening to him? Was it because she knew, deep in her heart, that the Prince might be right? She had heard many stories of men who had mysteriously been killed because they had displeased or failed Richard in some way. And if she resisted peace—a fake peace at that—wouldn’t that anger her brother? His plan would fail. A plan never designed to relinquish her to their enemy at all.
She took a deep breath. “My brother would never harm me. But I…I…”
“You wish to reconsider,” the Prince said with a thin smile.
The giant turned to look at her, and she swallowed back a horrified wave of fear and revulsion. The Commander would not harm her. He would not touch her. She would make sure of it. If he tried, she would kill him early—even if that disrupted her brother’s plans.
“Very well,” she said, in a scratchy voice she barely recognized as her own. “I accept your proposal, Prince.”
“You mean you accept the Commander’s proposal.” The Prince nodded to his first-in-command. “Claim your bride. You have well earned her.”
Unsmilingly, the Commander strode toward her. When he reached for her arm, she flinched, and jerked it close to her side. “Pray, do not touch me,” she gritted. To the Prince, she said, “I must summon my maid and my trunks.”
“No maid,” the Prince said. “One of ours will serve you. If you are literate, write a letter now to your brother, agreeing to our peace proposal. Then my guard will deliver it and retrieve your trunks for you.” He did not wait for her to agree. “Garroway, lead the Princess to the parchments.”
Eyes narrowed in displeasure, and heart filled with a small amount of panic, Elwytha followed the page to a low table. There, she quickly wrote her missive. The Commander lurked at her side, a frightening, hulking presence. He took the note from her when she had finished, and read it. Then he handed it to the Prince. The Prince nodded and then sealed it with wax and the imprint of his signet ring. “Garroway, deliver it to her guard, who is waiting on the edge of the wood.”
“Very good, sir.” The page bowed, and hastily disappeared with his missive.
“As for you, Princess, I leave you in the Commander’s capable care. You are dismissed.” With a flick of his hand, he averted his eyes, as if she no longer existed.
“Follow me,” the giant said, and with stiff, reluctant steps Elwytha followed. Her fingers itched for the dagger strapped to her thigh. She longed to fell him now, before being forced to go anywhere alone with him. Who knew what unspeakable horrors he would force upon her? She swallowed back fear.
“I require a maid. Now,” she informed Goliath’s back.
“You shall have one,” the quiet voice rumbled, but with no inflection of emotion. A shiver of unease rippled through her, but she forbore to ignore it.
He led her through many halls, but Elwytha kept track of each turn, each staircase; plotting her escape with every step. Finally, he opened a thick wooden door leading to a lavishly decorated room. Animal skin rugs lay scattered over the flagged stone floor, and tapestries hung on the walls. Overhead, heavy wooden beams supported a huge candelabra, unlit now, for light poured in through two slitted windows. But what sort of a room was it? Then she spied a chair and table, and beyond them, in the far corner, a large partition.
“You will wish to refresh yourself after your travels,” he told her. “Disrobe and bathe behind the partition. A maid will attend you.”
Elwytha possessed neither the desire nor the intention to disrobe and bathe. And a maid would only attest to this mutiny. “I can bathe without a maid,” she said, and waited for him to leave.
“I will remain, to ensure you don’t try to escape,” he said, and folded his arms across his massive chest.
“How little trust you place in your future bride,” she said, and then unwisely dared to accuse, “I suspect instead you wish to dishonorably inspect your pound of flesh before our marriage nuptials.”
He frowned, which distorted his ugly mug into frightening creases. “I wish to inspect your clothes. If you do not want a maid, disrobe and throw your clothing over the partition.”
Matters were going from bad to worse. Elwytha flushed with horrified mortification, and also with unreasoning anger at Richard for placing her in this position. Why couldn’t she finish the fiendish brute now and escape out the window? How simple it would be. But no. Anger pushed rash words past her lips. “Perhaps you would like to search me, as well?”
His gaze ran down her form. “All in good time,” he said.
Alarm shot through her. With all of her heart, she longed for her own maid; for a friend she could trust in this lair of the enemy. But it was not to be. Elwytha struggled to think logically, like the trained warrior she was. She could not allow one of the Prince’s maids to come—at least not yet—or her daggers would quickly become obvious when she took off her clothes. At the same time, she felt vulnerable—not to mention the inappropriateness of the situation—to be alone in a room with a man. And not just any man. A dishonorable, murdering heathen, which likely explained his illiteracy concerning social graces.
“Stay near the door and I will comply,” she agreed, but with acute trepidation.
He said nothing, and after she slipped behind the partition, she peeked to make sure he stayed far from her. The dark-clad giant remained near the door, arms crossed, one eye squinting beneath his scar.
Only the kind hand of fate had saved his eye, she realized now. Too bad. If it hadn’t, perhaps Thor would be alive today.
Swiftly, she disrobed and flung her long gown and white linen shift over the partition. Afraid he might decide to leer at her after all, she unstrapped her three flat daggers and hid them beneath the edge of a rug, which lay near the wall. No one would notice them there now, or perhaps ever.
A rustling sound came from the other side of the partition, and she quickly slipped into the large, steaming tub. Sweet smelling bubbles floated across her shoulders, covering her entirely from any leering gaze. “Satisfied?” she called out. She smiled to herself. How simple it had been to hide her weapons. And after he returned her clothes, how easy it would be to strap them back on her person.
The warm water lapped about her shoulders, but apprehension slid through Elwytha. She refused to acknowledge the fear swirling through her insides like so many viperous snakes. She felt vulnerable in the tub, and wished she had brought a knife in with her. Foolish of her. Now she would have to live by her wits alone.
Perhaps she should wash. Who knew when she’d next have the opportunity? She did so quickly, anxious to escape and speedily clothe herself from his prying eyes.
Now she heard nothing. “May I have my clothes back now?”
“As you suggested, I must inspect your person,” the deep voice rumbled. “Or I can call for a maid to do so.” To her alarm, the giant appeared at the edge of the partition.
With a horrified gasp, she crossed her arms to cover herself. “Have you no social graces?” Elwytha endeavored to sound disdainful, as though he were a worm, and beneath contempt. But underneath the concealing warm water her limbs trembled. Thankfully, he couldn’t see it. Never would she let him see her fear.
“Bubbles protect you. For now.” The frightening face looked harder now, as if covering anger. But anger at what?
“I will accept a maid. Leave me,” she commanded.
After a hesitation, he disappeared from view, to her relief.
Soon afterward a maid appeared, clutching a white, fine linen robe and a thick woolen towel. Her hair was plaited in a circle about her head, and she looked to be Elwytha’s age. Her shoulders were hunched, and she looked frightened. “These are for you, miss.”
Elwytha took the towel, but refused help with drying herself off. At home her maid only accompanied her for propriety’s sake, for she conversed with many men. Never did she require help with dressing.
“Hagma,” rumbled the giant. “Weapons?”
“None.” The maid’s voice sounded breathless and squeaky. “Miss, he said you are to wear the white robe and then go sit in the chair.”
Elwytha stiffened her spine and tightened the sash on the flimsy robe. Although it belonged to the enemy, she couldn’t help but admire the fine golden embroidery and beadwork edging the lapels and sleeves. “Very well.”
She moved into the main room and stood beside the chair, which was pushed next to a small, round table.
“Hagma, you may go.” Voice mild, the Commander dismissed the maid.
“This is inappropriate,” Elwytha flared. “My brother will be most displeased with your treatment of me.”
“Sit.” The word was quiet, with the force of thunder behind it.
She sat, feeling fear curl in her stomach. Perhaps now she should choose her battles carefully.
He fingered her golden circlet headband, inlaid with jewels. Each acknowledged her skill level with the different weapons of war. Swords, spears…and knives. She felt naked without her knives. Defenseless.
He lay the circlet on the table before her, but she made no move to touch it.
“Take it. It is yours.” The voice still sounded mild, and that scared her still more. She decided to look at him to gauge his mood, and therefore her responses. Something told her that now was the time to take care.
Her eyes met his for the first time at close range, and a disconcerted jolt went through her. They were a clear, light gray, and keenly intelligent. Disturbed, she looked away. “Yes,” she said shortly. “It is mine.”
“Tell me its significance.”
She narrowed her eyes and lied. “It is a crown. I am a princess. Remember?”
He grunted and paced away, as if thinking.
“May I dress now?” she inquired. “Savage though you are, surely you know the basics of propriety.”
He did not answer, and fear mixed with her burning desire to be rid of his vile, monstrous presence.
She stood. “Leave. I wish to dress.” Elwytha snatched the clothes his filthy paws had soiled by his touch, and headed for the partition.
A huge hand clamped on her wrist and she gasped, startled. How had he done that? A second ago he had been six paces distant.
“Sit,” he told her again.
“I do not wish to sit. Release me.” She wrenched at her arm. His grip tightened, hurting her, but she did not cry out. She stared up at his hulking presence and swallowed, unable to deny a sharp sting of fear. If he knew her true identity…her true capabilities…would he kill her? No one knew of her secret, that she often rode into battle dressed like a page. No one except for her only living sibling.
The Commander said, “Give me your knives.”
Elwytha drew a quick breath. “I have no knives,” she lied coolly.
“You are a warrior.” He lifted the circlet with one finger. “You carry knives.”
She wrenched at her arm again. “No.”
“I am no fool. But perhaps you think I look stupid. You have decided I am a monster with gruel for brains?”
She was fast beginning to think the opposite, which only made him a more formidable foe. “You said it, not me,” she returned, seeking for a cool sounding bravado.
“You think I will kill you if I discover you are a warrior.”
She glared up at him, lips sealed. Exactly. That was exactly her fear. How easily he could kill her now, since she was defenseless, with no knives. A twist of his hands around her neck and that would be it. After killing her brother in such a despicable manner, what would stop him from killing her, an unarmed woman, if he believed her to be a threat?
Desperately, she glanced about the room, searching for any potential weapon. A sash. Pottery she could smash for a sharp edge—anything.
“You will find no weapon.” The Commander’s uncommonly deep voice wrenched her attention back to his face and the keen gray eyes, which disturbed her, because she would rather believe him an unthinking brute beast. “I would prefer to treat you kindly, but first you must surrender your blades.”
“I have no knives. No blades. Do you live in paranoia in this palace?”
“You are our enemy.”
“Then why take a wife who might cut your throat?”
If she had wanted to jar him, she had succeeded. The grip on her wrist tightened, and a large hand gripped her other wrist, too. He drew her near to him. His jerkin was made of supple brown leather with leather laces, she noticed with some fragmented part of her brain.
“Give me your blades,” he growled down at her.
Fear pounded in her chest, and she licked her dry lips. “You found no blades when you pawed through my clothes. The maid found none on my person. Perhaps that is because I have none.”
“I don’t trust you.”
She smiled. As well you shouldn’t. However, she said, “How can we have a marriage with no trust?”
“Come with me.” He forced her toward the door. “You will not return to this room.”
“But my clothes!”
“You will have new clothes. Clothes with no holes for pockets. Clothes that provide no access to the blade at your thigh.”
“Nonsense.” Unthinking, she struggled and then, to her consternation, he picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder. She cried out in fear and horrified humiliation. “Put me down!” She pounded on his broad back. “Put me down, you monstrous serf!”
He strode silently through the halls. She squeezed her eyes shut, unwilling to see the others witnessing her humiliation. “Put me down. Put me down at once!” she gasped. She bit her lip, trying to stop the weak tears of a woman, not a warrior. She sniffed and finally stopped struggling, and hung down his back. His belt about his jerkin was within reach. If only she could loosen it, she could cinch it around his massive neck! It was only a hopeless fantasy, of course.
“Where are you taking me?” she demanded, voice muffled. Perhaps if she pretended submission he would return her to her feet. And if she found a dagger, she’d gladly plunge it through his heart.
“To my chambers.”
“Nay!” she gasped out, and struggled in earnest then. “I have decided you are unacceptable to me. You have none of the finer qualities I require in a husband.”
“This surprises you?”
“I will not marry you!”
“Yet, you mean,” he rumbled, and stopped before a door. She took the opportunity of his distraction while opening it and flung her body off his shoulder. She fell with crash to the floor, on her back. The breath whumped out of her. She saw stars for a moment, and then her vision cleared. She stared up at her captor, who regarded her with some surprise.
She flew to her feet, ignoring twinges of pain, but before she could run one step, his hand gripped her arm. He pushed open the door to his chambers with his foot.
“No,” she cried out, and fell to her knees, forcing him to drag her. “I will not be defiled by you. Unhand me, or I’ll scream!”
“Scream all you wish. It will fuel my reputation.”
He scooped her up in his rock-like arms, slammed the door, and strode across the room. He dumped her into the middle of a massive bed. “You are home. You will stay here, where I can watch you.”
She sprang up, utterly horrified. “No! You vile, filthy man! This is inappropriate. I will break the peace agreement.”
“It is done.”
“It is not done until I am wed to you,” she snarled.
“Do you wish for a maid? I will send for Hagma.”
“I wish for my own room.” Elwytha trembled with stark fear, but struggled to cling to her self-possession. “I will not have my reputation soiled by a beast such as you.”
“You will have your own room. There.” He pointed, and she twisted her neck to look. A door led off his room to a small chamber beyond.
“Never,” she gasped. “I wish to be in a different wing of the palace. I wish for solitude to contemplate marriage to one as despicable as yourself!”
“You wish for much. I will grant you a maid. Do you want one?” he asked again.
On some level, she was surprised he asked. But what good would a maid do her? If he tried to have his way with her, would the maid save her? No. And what if Elwytha retrieved her blades? A maid would go through her clothes, her room, and perhaps find them.
“I want no maid to witness my humiliation at your hands.” She glared, trying to suppress the fear struggling for control.
He smiled. “I will wait until our wedding night.”
Horror spiraled in her. She quickly turned away. Surely her brother would rescue her in time. Elwytha swallowed, and finally part of her warrior mind clicked into action again. Vulnerable though her position was, his was equally vulnerable. Only one door separated her room from his. Perfect for her opportunity to kill him, when the time came. First, though, and quickly, she would retrieve her knives. This faint bit of hope lightened her spirits, and with a lifted chin, she turned back to her enemy.
“How much does your word mean?” she challenged. “How do I know I can trust you?”
The Commander stared at her with his mutilated, squinting face. Her brother was right. He was as ugly as sin. “The Prince trusts me implicitly. You may, as well.”
“Trust is earned,” she told him. As if she would ever trust a murdering knave who dishonorably stabbed men in the back! “We will see if I can trust your word. In the meantime,” she straightened her shoulders, affecting a brave pose, “I wish for my trunks and my clothes to be delivered here.”
“No,” he said calmly, arms crossed.
Her temper sparked at his unreasonable response. The Prince himself had promised that she could have her belongings. “I insist.”
“You wish?” The monster didn’t sound amused, did he?
Her temper threatened to boil. “I will not beg, if that is what you want. I need my clothes. Give them to me!”
He continued to watch her, arms crossed, as though she were some unusual form of entertainment.
She heaved a breath. Clearly, demands would get her nowhere. “Yes, I wish.” She forced out the next galling words. “Please give them to me.” If only she had a blade, she would end her torture now!
“Very well. You will receive your clothes.”
“And my trunks.”
“No,” he said implacably.
Elwytha clenched her fists. She had secreted blades in her trunks, and other weapons, too. “Please.” She bit out the humiliating word.
She heaved a great breath and stared at him, struggling to find a way to win the advantage over this man.
The Commander looked at Elwytha with her dark hair and flashing, brilliant blue eyes. A beauty. This fact stabbed into his calloused soul. And she clearly found him abhorrent. That was plain, and held no surprise for him. He knew the thick muscles which served him so well in battle could look repulsive to a fine-boned creature such as herself. Although she was not short, which pleased him.
His mind returned to his well-understood deficits. The scar that twisted his brow, and his broken nose… Few women, and usually only drunk ones, would have him.
His eyes traced her delicate beauty. He was not worthy of her. He knew that. But for peace… He grew weary of battle. No. He was weary of inflicting death and pain on other humans. A dark emptiness grew larger in his soul after each battle. He feared that soon it would swallow him alive.
But now, for peace—a peace he suspected was only a game the Prince played with Elwytha’s brother—for as long as peace lasted…for as long as he had Elwytha, he would enjoy her fire. A spirit that vibrant could not be broken, and he had no wish to do so. Here was a battle he might enjoy, although he would not trust her one inch. She hated him viciously. Death flared even now in her eyes, and he grinned.
Mutiny gleamed back, and he tried to squash his smile. Here was a worthy opponent. But he would be certain to protect his vulnerable areas. If she attempted a death blow, the game would end.
But for now, he would choose the victory he sought. His mind spun with possibilities. What methods could he employ to tame one such as herself?
Elwytha didn’t like the unreadable thoughts flickering through the giant’s clear gray eyes. Who knew what tortures he planned, even now. Look at that smile. He was clearly pleased with some nefarious plot he’d concocted to further humiliate her. Perhaps, once again, she should take care. After all, she knew the wickedness of which he was capable. Hadn’t she stood at Thor’s graveside funeral only six months ago? Unexpected tears stung, but she managed to swallow them back. Tears had no place in her warrior’s mission.
She raised her chin and stated, “I will retire to my room. You may summon me when my clothing has arrived.” With a majestic sweep of her robe, she stalked to her tiny bedchamber and shut the door. She was surprised when he didn’t follow, or try to stop her. Good. He must never know that right now her courage felt about as substantial as a brittle piece of ice.
Her first order of business was to inspect the door. Any locks, to forestall his unwelcome advances?
None. She turned and surveyed the room, searching for weapons—for any tool to help her succeed in her ultimate quest. A quick glance proved the floor and walls were made of stone, and the ceiling of dark, heavy wooden beams. No candelabra for her; instead, dark, cone-shaped torches flanked the wooden door.
The room possessed only one window. It was high and narrow, with bars. Impossible to climb out. If she wanted to escape, she’d use his—she had noticed a larger window in the other room. Her bed was small, and made of wood. A sheet and blanket with a pillow rested upon it. Elwytha heaved up the mattress and discovered slats of wood beneath. Perhaps she could work one of the slats free and use it as a cudgel. Yes. She smiled with pleasure and continued to survey the room.
A tapestry on the wall. Pretty, but useless. A rug on the floor, white and wooly. Again, useless. A wooden dresser with three drawers. All empty, she discovered. No secret compartments existed. However, she could secrete her blades behind the dresser when she retrieved them.
Elwytha completed her survey of the room. A wooden stand with a porcelain bowl upon it stood in the corner. In a pinch, she could break it for a sharp blade.
Not bad. Crossing her arms, she sat on the bed. That’s when she realized her room was like a cell. A prison. What would she do in here? Lose her mind, most likely. But it was far preferable to the Commander’s presence.
She lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. A light nap would refresh her, and allow her mind to remain sharp. Who knew what further skullduggery the giant intended to pull tonight.
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