Blood and War

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Chapter 16 - Rough Start

Catherine glanced up at the castle. It perched securely on the mountainside, and she finally understood that Eduardo, along with his peers, far underestimated these lands and their people.

This castle was roughly as large as her father’s. It was far better protected as much by its environment and its ingenious construction, as it was on a guard level.

It would not last long against an army of vampires, but that was exactly what it would take to overrun it, and it belonged to this human. Vampires rarely traveled to the highlands. They often made it sound rather intimidating and wild, or rather untamed.

From what little she saw, Catherine surmised that the buildings, few as they were, were constructed long ago. They were built by a civilization far more advanced than their peers were at the same time. It puzzled her. Whatever subterfuge led to the views the world held of these people, it succeeded.

Catherine was aware of his guards posted strategically beside the steep mountain road. Her eyes took in the beauty of the setting and the architecture instead. She compared it, subconsciously, to the stark functionality of Draven’s Keep Castle.

The guard signals followed them up and up until they traversed the lowered draw bridge to ride past the first wall. They passed a second inner wall to the courtyard.

The castle was rugged and picturesque all at once, all but stark and cold as Draven’s Keep. Instead, it was stable and old. It spoke to something inside her. Catherine could almost feel the ancient warriors who guarded this castle and the men who ruled it.

Dillon’s servants came to greet him with joy on their faces, and even then, it did not take them long to cast cold glances at her. Curious and defensive, they were easy to read.

These were simple peasant folk. People who were not as schooled as the lords in keeping their thoughts to themselves. It was quaint that they would come out to greet him like this. Catherine only ever heard of such things.

Dillon glanced at her, and in that strange way of theirs, she understood. Without a word, Catherine pulled the cowl of her cloak back from her face. Their reaction was almost comical, and yet it unsettled her.

A gasp of awe at her sheer beauty was followed instantly by the children disappearing behind their mother’s skirts. The men stepped in front of their wives as they shielded what they held most dear from what they considered a threat.

It was men like these who once guarded their families and their homes under the leadership of men like Dillon, who saved humanity from the iron rule of vampires. A titter of fear skittered down her spine, their hostility was a solid wall.

“This is Catherine. She is a gift from the vampires. She is my servant. Find her a room, find her clothes and find work for her hands.

She has been entrusted to my care, and I will tolerate no disrespect toward her. She will harm none who do not attempt to harm her,” Dillon’s carefully chosen words of command, calmed the servants and organized them.

Their fear and unease were almost palpable. Catherine felt mildly sorry for them as they scurried to do their master’s bidding.

Dillon nodded at her, and she nodded back, this is as it should be. The woman that approached her with a stern frown and well-concealed fear had to be the housekeeper with the butler in tow.

His fear and distaste was not concealed at all. Catherine dismounted and lowered her head respectfully. She forced herself to curtsy before her master.

The horse nickered as if it sensed that it would not see her again soon and she absently rubbed its velvety nose. The groom whisked it away as if in fear for the animal’s life.

“Mistress,” Catherine greeted and even her calm cool, well-bred and oh so educated voice, send a shudder of fear through the crowd. She could not be more alien to them if she sprouted another head.

* * *

Even lying in her narrow, uncomfortable cot that night with her fingers plugged in her ears, Catherine could still hear them. Speculation and fear were rife.

She could have enlightened them to her purpose. She could tell them that she meant them no harm, but they would not believe her and Dillon cautioned her not to tell them the whole truth.

They saw Catherine as unholy, a monster, and dangerous. Where human opinions never concerned her before, she found herself feeling stung by their words and the venom of their ill-informed beliefs.

Even so, they were perceptive enough to guess that she was a high-bred lady and that their master was hiding something. It had everything to do with her, but she understood it was more the fact of whose daughter she was that Dillon did not want them to know.

They would only be more afraid of her if they knew just how pure her blood was and that her presence here bought them, powerful enemies.

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