Over the next several days, I hid behind training. I avoided bathing as long as I could, until even the men were wrinkling their noses. That was when I realized I would have to bathe. It wasn't pleasant.

I decided to go under the cover of nightfall, hoping all the women were asleep, needing their beauty rest and all that. I grinned at that. They had all driven the Captain and Alan to near madness, treating the whole affair as a beauty pageant. Most had requested mud baths, facials, massages, and the like. All the soldiers were clearly not equipped to deal with hundreds of women.

I slipped out of the front tent flap, hoping the Captain was deeply asleep.

"Where the hell do you think you are going?" No such luck. I slowly turned around, and plastered a saccharine smile on my face. Even though he probably couldn't see it.

"Bathing, my dear Captain. I believe I've neglected it long enough." I watched as his face contorted in disbelief in the pale moonlight.

"Tell me no lies. Why are you going so late? Perhaps a lover?" I nearly smacked myself on the forehead. Of course he would jump to such far away conclusions.

"Yes, oh Captain dear. I have taken a lover here in the camp, even though I know you'd execute him. I have realized my love for you could not be, and I have taken solace in another's arms. Please, let me leave to go to him." Most of that was complete bull poop. Except the whole love part. I may have fallen a teeny weenie bit in love with him. Not that I'd wanted to, but love has never had any measure or rhyme.

I watched with a smooth veneer, hiding what I really was. Nervous. Nervous that he would find out about how the women taunted me. Nervous that he would be disgusted with me. Nervous that he might hear the modicum of truth in that ridiculous speech I had just made. Nervous that he would just toss me away, like so many other people had.

"That was ridiculous, even for you." I watched with bated breath, as his emotions fluttered across his face. Anger, sadness, laughter, and then sternness.

"Now the absolute truth. Why are you bathing so late?" I didn't wait to interpret his emotions.

"I get sunburned easily." He squinted, and I squinted right back.

"That's never stopped you from bathing in daylight before." He was getting annoyed.

I gave him a coy smile. "Perhaps I'm shy."

He gave me a hard stare. "As I said, never stopped you before."

I was starting to sweat. "More privacy."

He clenched his fists, knowing that I was continually lying to him. "Bullshit." Oh, well wasn't he Mr. Scary, saying the real word and all.

"Just tell me!" He roared, grabbing my arm. I rolled my eyes, but I was inwardly glad. He hadn't lost his temper in weeks. I threw an imaginary fist up in self-congratulations. I gently removed his shaking fist from my arm and gave him a pointed look.

"Yelling isn't going to help, ever. Unless you have a prisoner that you are interrogating." I let go of his arm, vaguely noticing the lack of warmth. I tapped my chin, deep in thought. "People say you are scary. I personally have yet to see it yet though. But I suppose a new recruit would make a mess in his pants if you gave him that stare." I was referring to the one he was giving me right now. I even pointed at his eyes, making sure he knew which one I was talking about.

"Calanthe. Would you stop avoiding the topic? Tell. Me." Well, when he went all caveman like that-

"Now." I could tell his teeth were grit together. That could be seriously damaging.

"Fine! Thewomenmakefunofme. There! You happy? Let me go!" He had taken possession of my arm again.

"The women are making fun of you? Is that why you want to bathe in the men's area?" He was incredulous. I felt tears coming to my eyes. Damn it. He could interpret fast muttering. I futilely wiped at my eyes.

"Why are you crying?" He grabbed my hands, and I turned my face away.

"Just because I don't fit in down there, and I stay up here, they think I'm a whore, and its worse because I'm in your tent, and they think the worst, but then they are saying, 'Why choose her? She's so ugly, and always dirty and sweaty and gross. I love being here with the guys, and I've never minded this kind of talk before. I guess it's because they are insulting you in a way, and you've done so much and been so nice to me." A hiccup over-rode whatever my blabbering mouth was about to say next. Probably that I loved him, the way things were headed.

I squeezed out more tears, feeling my entire face heat up. Then two rough hands cupped my face and turned it to face him. His thumbs caressed the tears away. His eyes were looking right into my soul, so intense. But I couldn't look away.

"Why haven't you told me about this before?" His normally gruff voice was so gentle now, and it made me cry more.

"Hey, hey. Shush, it's okay." I had to be tired. I only cried when I was tired.

"I thought-" hiccup "that you would be-" hiccup "disgusted with me. I can't ever take care of myself." Hiccup.

His eyes were so serious. "What gave you that idea? You've done a fine job of that so far." I laughed. I guess that was true, remembering the guy I had kneed between the legs the other week for trying to cop a feel after I sparred him.

"Don't let anybody tell you that you're worth less than you really are. And the way I see it, you are worth way more than any of those women down there. And it's in no way related to the Prophecy. You are an amazing, beautiful, talented young woman." I laugh bitterly. How I wished he was telling me this as a lover, not as a friend.

"Thanks, Captain. What would I do without you?" The huge man in front of me wrapped his arms around my tiny body, encasing me in warmth. I slowly put my arms around him too, unwilling to give this moment up.

"Hopefully nothing." Was whispered into my hair, so low I barely heard him.

I suddenly remembered how stinky I was. I wriggled out of his arms.

"Well, I have to go bathe. I'll see you later." I waved, and slinked into the darkness, unaware of two pairs of eyes watching me leave.

The Captain watched Calla walk away, stunned at how much it hurt. He remembered the moment he thought she was sneaking out to go see a lover. His heart had clenched and fury had filled him. The Captain was coming about to the slow realization that he was falling in love. He crossed his arms and thought about he could fix this. He heard a snap behind him. He smoothly grabbed his sword. When the sneaker was right behind him, he whirled.

He recognized one of the most prominent and beautiful women they had collected thus far. His shining sword was at her creamy throat. He couldn't help but compare it to Calla's slightly freckled one. Normally, he would find the throat in front of him more appealing, but now…

He slowly took his sword away. "What are you doing here?"

The woman, Rose he suddenly remembered, slinked up closer to him. He saw her eyes, and immediately saw the coldness. This had to be one of Calla's tormentors. He barely kept himself from slashing her head off that very moment. As it was, the hand that clenched his sword twitched towards the gorgeous woman in front of him.

"You didn't possibly mean that? Surely her father paid you to be kind to her? Oh wait." She tittered. "She has no father. Or mother either. The great Captain reduced to seducing mere peasant witches, just because he isn't allowed to touch the bounty before him." She slid a pale white finger; soft as the day she had been born, down his chest. He let loose a shudder of disgust, but she took it as a shudder of excitement.

"I'd be willing to keep my mouth shut for you, great, mighty Captain." She pressed her entire body flush up against his. "In return for a tiny favor. A mention of my name to whoever picks this mighty heroine. That's all."

He was quivering in anger by that time, forcing himself to not harm the woman in front of him. If he hadn't known her true nature before, he knew it now. He shoved her off of him, exploding in a heated whisper.

"Leave me woman. I want no part of you. And Calanthe is no witch." He turned to stalk off, having more work to do. Then he felt nails digging into his arm. He turned, only to have his head whipped back by a slap. It resounded throughout the camp. He grit his teeth, while smiling inside. Calla would have punched him, and done way more damage.

"You don't know what you've done, Captain. You'll pay for this, both of you will." If the threat had been directed only at him, he would have scoffed. He had dealt with threats before. But Calla? This woman could do anything to her.

"You-" He was cut off by the woman being punched in the face.

"Bitch. Don't threaten him. And I am in no way threatened by you. Give it up. And don't ever touch him again." He couldn't help himself. He grinned at Calla's entrance. The blasted blond haired woman would have a shiner tomorrow.

The now pathetic figure of Rose writhed in the dust, clutching her face. He could see Calla's smirk.

"Weren't you bathing?" He questioned her calmly.

She grinned at him, like she hadn't just punched another woman. "I forgot something. Glad I came back." She actually winked. He was stunned at her audacity.

"You'll pay." Rose's blond hair dripped into her eyes, blood dripped down her face. Calla just rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, yeah. We've heard it before. Just get out of my way." The blond woman picked herself up and slithered away, reminding him of a snake.

Calla brushed past him into the tent, and he rolled his eyes and followed. He really had to finish some work. When she passed him a second time, he lifted up a hand for a wave, and then went back to work.

Sure, at first I had been crushed, watching the bitch press up against my man. Even though he wasn't technically mine. I thought he was responding too, hell, he'd have to be blind or in love to refuse her. But then he pushed her away. I had been warmed from my toes to my hairline at the sight. Then she had slapped him. That was the last straw for me.

Now I walked happily to bathe, keeping a hand on my dagger, just in case. Which turned out to be a wise idea.

"You love him." She was right in the middle of the path. I brushed past her.

"Don't make me punch you again. I was happy enough to do it the first time." I heard rustling, then the sound of metal being slid out of a sheath. My dagger was out and pressed up against her throat in a blink. My training had been good for something.

"Don't even think about it." It was clear by her trembling that she was scared, even for a moment. The sword she had carried hidden sunk back into the sheath. I smirked.

"There are better ways for you to get rid of me. I suggest you actually use your brain this time." Sure. It was probably a bad idea to give her ideas, but hey. I was practically invincible.

She took a deep breath in when I pulled my dagger back. I tucked it back to its hidden place, it being too dark for her to see where. Even if she had, I had strategically placed about five more on my person. I liked to be prepared.

"You love him." She said again. I rolled my eyes and continued walking. Who put her on repeat?

"You said that already. And you'll have to be clearer. Whom am I supposed to love again?" She was taken aback by my direct tone. I hadn't spoken much to her in our relationship. Just the other night and tonight. But I was no longer cowed.

"The Captain. It was so obvious." She sneered, like I was supposed to react.

"Oh, him? Yes, I suppose I do. That generally happens when two people spend time together. He's like the brother I never had. Funny, though. I seemed to have gained about fifty brothers this summer so far. Odd how things work, isn't it?" I gave her a genuine smile, and continued on.

She gave me a baffled look, clearly not expecting that answer. "You mean you aren't in love with him?" I cheerfully shook my head.

"Not at all deary. You were completely mistaken." I glanced sideways at her. Her face was dumbstruck. Funny how she was still gorgeous with her mouth gaping open and her eyes glazed over. It wasn't fair.

"I take it that being mistaken isn't something you are used to? Oh well. Oh, I'm here all ready. I'll see you later, yes?" I dismissed her with a shooing motion. She glared at me and trounced off.

Just in case she got any ideas, as soon as I took off my clothes, I waded over to the other shore to place them there. I really didn't want to give the night guards a streak show.

I took my time, reveling in the clean feeling I was slowly getting. I had brought my scented soap and used it liberally. Soon enough, though, my eyes were drooping. I was tired. Despite this, I carefully gathered up my clothes and dressed in the clean pair. I was wary as I walked back, knowing I had made an enemy that night.

The Captain sat back in his chair, having just thought of a perfect way to let everyone know just how amazing Calla was. They had one more town left, before the tour was over. After they collected the women there, they would have a contest. It would be completely informal. If anyone asked, it was to help him decide which woman to recommend to the King. Anyone who had a clue though, would know it was Calla. But he knew she would win, and he wanted to give her the confidence boost.

The only thing he was worried about though was the whole lady part. The Court would want to know that their future heroine was well versed in manners and the things of Ladyship. She would need them, at the Castle… The Captain's heart missed a beat. The heroine was to marry the King's son. If Calla won, she would get the choice to choose him. And who would choose a Captain over a Prince Charming? And the Prince truly was. There was nothing wrong with the lad. And he was much better looking with far less scars.

The Captain wiped a hand over his face, overwhelmed with his new thoughts. He put them aside though, and turned his attention to his previous problem. Though there were some things that Calla knew how to do, like curtsy, she was completely uncultured everywhere else. Jus the way she ate would make all the Ladies faint. He grinned at the thought.

He would get her a teacher. Hopefully there was enough time. They were close enough to the Palace to have some Court Ladies and Lords come out to judge. It would have a festival air. Maybe the King would even come. He grinned as he lost himself in the planning, eager to commence it.

He was so lost that he barely noticed Calla when she slipped in. But she tripped on his rug. He chuckled as he was brought out of his reverie.

"You've done that thousands of times. You would think you would learn." He lifted his gaze to hers. She was scowling at him, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. His breath caught in his throat. Her hair was down, trailing wet fire down to her waist. Her tunic clung to her body, revealing her curves. She didn't wear the Leather Corset of Death, as she had come to call it. He was sure his eyes were glazed over.

"You would think." She laughed, and he snapped his eyes up to her throat, admiring the freckles that dotted it. He nearly smiled at the way she laughed at herself. Not many could do that.

"I hope I learn. Well, I'm off to bed. See you tomorrow, Captain my Captain." She was kidding, he thought as she sauntered to her section. Her hips swung minutely, making his mouth water. How he wished he was hers.

Thoughts of the upcoming contest were drowned out by the dread growing in his gut. The rest of the night was spent thinking of the impossible, and dreading what was to inevitably come.