Chapter Seven

If Daniela had thought her muscles had ached when she went to bed, it was nothing in comparison to how she felt when she woke up. She thought that if she moved she might pass out from the pain that shot through her entire body. However, it wasn't this sharp pain that worried her. It was the familiar dull ache in her lower stomach and a slight moistness between her legs that made her panic.

Despite the pain she sat bolt upright, her hand brushing the inside of her upper thighs. When her hand came back stained with blood she almost felt her heart stop.

"Not now," she mumbled to herself as she realised her sheets were also stained with blood. There was a slight sense of relief when she realised no one else in the barracks was awake yet, which bought her a bit of time before she was discovered.

The first thought that came into her head after the panic had subsided was that she must get rid of the sheets. The moment someone saw the blood on them her secret would be out. There was no way she could explain it. So she gathered up the sheets as quietly as she could, wrapping the bloodstained area up in the clean sections so no one could see it. As an afterthought, she grabbed a fresh pair of breeches to replace the bloodstained ones she was wearing.

Luckily the hall outside the dormitory Daniela was sleeping in was empty, so she scuttled along it as fast as she could. When she heard a door close somewhere behind her, Daniela threw herself into a concealed doorway in order to remain out of sight. Footsteps padded towards her and her heartbeat quickened, a lump growing in her throat.

She closed her eyes and began to pray so when a hand landed on her shoulder she almost cried out.

"I thought I heard you get up," Ronan said, looking sleepily at Daniela. "Is something wrong?" His eyes scanned her body and focused on the blood on Daniela's breeches. "You're bleeding."

"It's nothing," she insisted, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.

"There's blood on your sheets too," Ronan exclaimed, fear entering his eyes. "You look pale. That's a lot of blood. Wait here, I'll get help."

"No!" Daniela almost shouted, grabbing hold of Ronan's arm before he could escape and reveal her secret to anyone else. "I'm fine, I promise. I just need your help."

"What's going on, Danny?" Ronan asked, his expression somewhere between concern, fear and puzzlement.

"I can't tell you," she said.

"I can't help you if you won't tell me what is wrong."

Daniela fought with her brain to try and work out what she wanted to say to her friend before he lost patience and went to find someone. "I'll tell you what is going on, but first can you please help me?"

"What do you need me to do?"

"Get me a knife and then help me find a way to get rid of these sheets."

"Good thing I always carry a knife on me," Ronan said, producing a blade from his boot. "Let's go get rid of this then. If we get outside the camp then we can burn it." He led the way to the end of the corridor, then to the door that took them outside and into the open. There was no one in the training yard so the pair ran as fast as they could towards the arched gate that led away from the camp.

Once through the arch, Daniela felt she could relax slightly. Even though she had not got rid of her bloody sheets there was a smaller chance that they would get caught outside the boundaries of the camp. Ronan led her a safe distance away from the gate and into the trees before stopping and gathering wood for a fire. While he did that, Daniela borrowed the knife and cut the unstained cloth into strips to use to stop the blood flow.

By the time Ronan had a small fire going, Daniela was ready to burn the stained sheet. She ripped it into smaller sections and slowly let each one catch on fire, then burn before setting light to the next one in order to stop the fire from going out. Ronan did not speak for the entire time that she did this, watching her intently.

When the last piece of cloth was turning to ash on the fire he finally spoke. "So what is this about? I find you wandering around the corridors in the early hours of the morning when you should still be asleep, with a bundle of bloodstained sheets in your hands, and when I go for help you stop me. I need an explanation, Danny."

"I'm sorry for that," Daniela replied. "Believe me, I didn't want you to see me."

"Why?"

"Because you weren't meant to find out."

"Find out what?" Ronan's temper flared and for the first time since arriving at the camp Daniela didn't feel perfectly safe around her friend. "Stop being so cryptic, Danny, and tell me what on earth is going on."

"I have a secret," Daniela explained, "a secret that you cannot tell anyone. Do you promise you won't tell anyone inside the camp?"

"Yes, I promise. Now tell me."

"My real name isn't Danny," she said, forcing the words out carefully and slowly. "I was named Daniela. I am a girl."

"I don't understand," Ronan said after a moment of tense silence.

"My name is Daniela Gilbert, I'm the youngest daughter of my parents Neil and Hanna Gilbert."

"I understand that you say you're a girl. What I don't get is how and why."

"I cut my hair and bound my breasts to look like a boy. Then I dressed in men's clothes, stole a horse and rode for the capital. The rest of my story you know."

"But it still doesn't explain why."

"There's someone I need to find," Daniela said cryptically.

"Don't play games with me now Danny- Daniela. Like it or not I know your secret and if I'm going to keep it from everyone else I think I have the right to know the whole story."

"You're going to keep my secret?" Daniela asked, surprised. "You're not going to turn me in?"

"You're my friend, friends protect each other. Of course I'm not going to turn you in. It would go against my honour."

"I didn't think you had any of that," Daniela joked, a small smile creeping onto her face.

"Don't think you can distract me by using insults. Why did you do it? And don't try and mess me around, I want it straight."

"Before the war came I was engaged to be married to a boy from my village called Felix. I love him so much, not being with him causes me pain, like there's something missing. When the call was given out for men to fight Felix signed up to be a soldier and it broke my heart. I need to be with him. That's why I'm here."

"You're here to find your fiancé?" Ronan asked.

"Yes. I want to find him, make sure he is safe and bring him back home alive. I can't bear the thought of having to go through life without him."

Ronan was silent for a few minutes, staring at the fire, his brain processing the information Daniela had just given him. "I can't pretend that I understand how you feel about this man," he finally said. "I have never felt that strongly about anyone before, it's not in my nature to feel that way. But if he means that much to you then I will do what I can to help."

"Thank you so much," Daniela exclaimed, throwing her arms around Ronan and giving him the biggest hug she could.

"I do think that what you're doing is complete madness," he said after pulling away. "You're going to get either one or both of us killed. It's a good thing I've never really seen the benefits in living until I can no longer do anything for myself."

"If you want I can never speak of this ever again," Daniela suggested.

"Definitely not! When we get out of this I want to be able to hold all this over your head until the day we die." Ronan smiled and laughed.

Daniela couldn't understand how Ronan had taken this news so calmly. She had expected shouting, anger and maybe a bit of fear. But what she had got was a calm, carefully thought out response. No explosions or panic. The fact that he was so casual about Daniela's secret sent relief washing over her, but with this relief came a sort of suspicion and uncertainty about whether she could truly trust Ronan. Not that she would voice those concerns. They remained in her head.

"I thought there wasn't something quite right about you from the moment we met," he was rambling. "I'm usually good at spotting these things but with you I just couldn't put my finger on it. I suppose I just didn't expect to meet a woman dressed up as a man. It's not exactly what you expect."

"Then I suppose I'm not someone who always does what is expected."

"I think that is definitely true," Ronan agreed. "If we're done here I think we should make our way back before anyone notices we're gone." He stamped on the dying fire to put it out and kicked some soil over it to camouflage the fact that there had been a fire there.

"Hang on a second," Daniela said, picking up her clean pair of breeches and some of the strips of cloth. "I just need to do one more thing. I'll be back in a moment." She disappeared into the trees, just far enough so Ronan couldn't see her then stripped off her bloodstained trousers and put the fresh ones on, placing the cloth in her underwear to stop the blood from staining them. It wasn't ideal but it would have to do for the moment.

She smiled at Ronan as she reappeared from the trees, her stained trousers in her hands. "I'll find some way to wash the blood out of these," she said. "But until then I'll have to hide them."

"Give them to me," Ronan said, holding out his hand. "I know a way I can get them clean for you."

"How?" Daniela asked as she reluctantly handed them over.

"I have my ways," he replied, winking at her. "Now let's go before we're caught."

People were beginning to emerge from buildings when Ronan and Daniela made it back to the camp. She was amazed that Ronan managed to get them both back inside without anyone stopping them.

"I'll get rid of this," he said once they were inside. "You go back to bed before anyone notices you're not there."

"Hang on," Daniela said, grabbing Ronan's arm before he walked off. "I don't have any sheets on my bed."

"OK then, follow me," he said, leading her down another corridor. About halfway down he turned and opened a door to reveal stacks of clean, white sheets. He pulled some out of the cupboard and thrust them into Daniela's hands.

"How do you know where all this stuff is already?" She asked, astounded.

"Like I said, I have my ways. Now go put those on your bed before anyone can catch you."

Daniela nodded and scurried off back down the corridor towards the dormitories. People were stirring as she walked into the room so Daniela made her bed as quickly as possible, throwing the sheets onto the bed and climbing under them. She lay in bed, pretending to be asleep, as the first few people began to get up. A few moments later the bell that rang to signal that everyone should be up and out of bed sounded and Daniela dragged herself into clothes along with the rest of her fellow soldiers.

As she entered the hall to get some food, Daniela was amazed to see Ronan already sitting at a table, breakfast in front of him. Once she had collected her food, Daniela made her way over to the seat beside him.

"It's sorted," he whispered as she sat down.

"Thank you," she replied, not wanting to ask how he managed it when they were in such a public place.

"You're looking a bit rough," Ian Jones commented to Daniela as he passed her seat, pausing as if he were waiting to be invited to join them.

"Bad night's sleep," she mumbled in reply.

"After all the work you did yesterday? I'm surprised. Most people sleep like a log after a training session with Garrett."

"Want to join us?" Ronan asked, diverting the conversation away from Daniela. "We've got room."

"Thanks," Ian said, placing his tray down next to Daniela's and sliding into the space beside her. "So you guys settling into the routine well then? How are the beds in your part of the camp? Ours are terrible."

"Not too bad," Ronan said, shoveling some food onto his fork. "But I'm used to sleeping on roofs so any sort of bed is a step up from that."

"Sleeping on roofs?" Ian asked, shocked. "Where on earth did we find you from? Join up to take advantage of the free food and bed?"

"No," he replied calmly. "Someone asked me to join. Someone I couldn't refuse." A small smile began to pull at Ronan's lips, his eyes flashing momentarily in Daniela's direction.

"Oh really?" Ian replied with a smirk. "And would this someone happen to be a special lady?"

"You could say that." Ronan replied, Daniela's heart beating a little faster as she saw the mischievous look in his eyes. "But maybe not in the way you're thinking. I barely knew anything about too girl who asked me to join the army. I wasn't even planning on fighting."

"So what convinced you to change your mind?"

"She had particularly beautiful and persuasive eyes." Ronan winked almost imperceptibly at Daniela. The adrenaline that had been pumping through her body when she was afraid of being discovered began to drain from her veins. Ronan wouldn't give her away. He was just winding her up, knowing exactly which buttons to press in order to get the best reaction.

"Will you excuse us?" Daniela said to Ian, rising from her chair and grabbing Ronan's arm, dragging him up with her. "I've just remembered something Ronan and I need to do urgently before training."

"But you've hardly touched your food, Danny," Ian protested. "You'll need all the energy you can get."

"I'm not hungry," she said over her shoulder as she hurried out of the room, Ronan in tow.

"What's up with you? Ronan asked jokily when they were alone.

"What was that?" Daniela said, ignoring his unworried tone, her remaining fear turning to anger. "You could have blown my cover, he could have guessed who I was."

"I didn't say anything that would point him towards you."

"Yes, but a little bit of asking around and he'll find that we joined up together. He's not stupid."

"Why would he look into where I joined up and who was with me? We're just unimportant foot soldiers. Besides, it's a big leap for him to assume that you were the woman who convinced me to join up. He's more likely to think that the same woman convinced us to join, or that we just happened to bump into each other. Ian might not be stupid but he'd never think that a woman could fool enough people to make it to training. You need to relax, Danny."

"I'm sorry," Daniela said as she began to realise that Ronan's words did make some sort of sense. "I'm just on edge. I can't afford to be caught."

"And you won't be," Ronan reassured her. "I'll look after you, I promise." The mischievous glint had gone from his eyes and his face was deadly serious. Before Daniela could do anything about it, her face was pressed against Ronan's chest and his arms were holding her in a tight hug.

After the initial shock of being embraced, Daniela began to relax and remember how good it felt to have someone's arms around her.

"Thank you," she mumbled into his chest, breathing in the musky scent that clung to Ronan's clothes.

The sudden sound of footsteps approaching down the corridor made Daniela come crashing back down to earth, pushing Ronan away from her and escaping from his embrace. Her face flushed when she saw Garrett coming towards them, a confused expression on his face.

"You alright?" He asked, pausing as he reached the spot where Daniela and Ronan were standing.

"Yes, sir,' Daniela replied a little too quickly, immediately realising how guilty she sounded.

"Good," Garrett replied. "Don't be late for training then." He walked away, his eyes lingering slightly on Daniela before he turned his head the other way to turn a corner.

"I should go," Daniela said, not waiting for Ronan to reply. She was angry with herself for letting her guard down and allowing Ronan in. Now Garrett was suspicious that something was going on. But the fear Daniela felt when his eyes were on her wasn't the kind she expected. It was a simmering, excited fear, like she wanted him to look at her.