Chapter 10 - Middle Ground
Dillon rode on long past the time it was wise for the horses to continue without rest.
Catherine felt her own fatigue, despite feeding earlier. Her wounds healed and were gone now, but in healing drained her strength.
Dillon was tired too. He had traveled far to reach the castle and was allowed no rest before being sent on his way as if he were some lackey and not a man of influence.
He finally brought his horse to a standstill in a secluded patch of woodland. They dismounted, and their eyes scanned their surroundings with unease.
The fire Dillon made was small and well hidden. It would not shield them from a vampire, but it would keep humans from noticing them and carrying the message on to their masters.
Dillon took many precautions along the road. He crossed several streams to dilute their scent. He changed the angle and the direction of their travel.
He was now going more south than they could afford. They had a head start, and Catherine knew, Dillon understood that Hellenic would not dare move on them before nightfall.
Hellenic would wait until the halls were silent and the humans were gone. He would make certain that no one would be able to lay their deaths at his feet. Even though she suspected that Hellenic had far worse things in mind for her than death.
Catherine knew Hellenic had a good tracker and was capable of tracking himself. His vampire senses would give him an unfair advantage, and despite their caution, there was the strong possibility that they would still be found.
For the first time in her life, Catherine tended to the horses not out of whim, but because from now on caring for Dillon and what belonged to him, was her duty.
She found caring for the restless beasts oddly soothing. She could distract herself from the events of the day, her fate and the danger they were in. If only for a little while.
Dillon cooked a small piece of meat, boiled it in water to dim the smell somewhat. A vampire would still pick up the scent from a distance, but she suspected as did Dillon that their company was as yet, far enough away to chance it.
Dillon had to eat. He could not afford to be weak from hunger. She unobtrusively paid attention to the preparation of his meal.
It would be her duty to prepare his meals until they reached their destination, or died in the process. Yet it was something she never had to learn. How quickly her world shrunk to nothing.
Catherine cleaned Dillon’s tack. She fed the fire and unobtrusively watched him eat and saw the way he kept scanning the forest with his eyes. He was listening, waiting and she felt sorry for him, for them, humans in general.
They were so ill-equipped to deal with vampire kind. Her kind... and yet, a long time ago before the alliance was forged, the humans almost managed to hunt vampires into extinction. What humans lacked in skill, they compensated for in numbers and sheer persistence.
Somehow as the centuries passed and vampires re-established their dominance, humans forgot they formed this alliance from a position of strength.
They forgot they dealt with vampires as equals. They forgot they defeated their nemesis and in forgetting they became somehow lesser, weaker. Vampire kind insidiously fed that perception of weakness.
“There is nothing out there my lord... not yet,” Catherine understood it was more than his human senses that kept him alert. It was the knowledge that sooner or later they would come... It was... inevitable.
Dillon just stared at her for the longest time, as if he could not decide whether it would be wise to take her word at face value.
Catherine took the knife from his fingers more swiftly than the human eye could ever hope to follow. She turned it and pressed it against her own heart, before kneeling at his feet.
Dillon was startled into not reacting at all. Her speed alone was a weapon he could not best, or defend against. His jaw set into a hard line.
Their eyes met and held, vampire and human. She took his hand and put it on the handle of the knife. She would not tell him a lie that would allow for him to be hurt, not for her own ends. This would only work if she could convince him of her loyalty.
“I do not want to die, my lord, that urge has passed. If you feel you cannot trust me, then it is better you end this now,” Catherine challenged him. Her gaze was both frank and honest.
They measured each other, took stock of their position and options, each in their own way. Nothing happened and time passed as neither of them relented.
Finally, Catherine just let go of the knife and his hand, allowing him to make his choice for himself. He was more aware of her cool touch than she knew.
His hand took a firmer grip on the weapon, and she found she could not read him. Her heart stuttered briefly as some odd, dark expression flitted fleetingly across his face. His hand shifted away from her body, and he put the knife resolutely away.
“I’m going to sleep a while. We ride before dawn,” his voice was gruff, and she knew her very vampireness was intimidating to him.
Being this close to a predator could not be comforting. Especially while Dillon probably imagined all the horrible things she could do to him on a whim...
Catherine could understand his unease. Yet he was a man whose very strength lay in his ability to adapt and find a way around what he could not go through. If they survived this night, he would adjust to her presence. She was certain of that.
“Do you require any other services, my lord?” The words almost strangled her. Not that Catherine was innocent, but before, sharing her body was always on her terms and with her own kind.
Dillon frowned momentarily before his quick mind caught on and his face became unreadable.