“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.”