Chapter 2 - Prpperty
The sun would shine upon her bloodied, burnt, aching body for the last time, in less than thirty beats of Catherine’s thundering heart. There would be no reprieve... this time she would burn.
She would roast slowly, an inch at a time until there was nothing left of her, but ashes... Ashes that no one would keep in remembrance of her, as tradition dictated—her father would scatter her remains to the four winds along with her memory.
It would be as if she never existed or mattered. As if her life had no meaning, no impact upon this world, and was of no importance to anyone.
Catherine would just cease to be. They would forget about her and erase all evidence of her existence, even blacking out the record of her birth.
Her knee still smoldered, blackening to charcoal, where the skin was not red and raised. Pus flowed freely from her flesh, giving birth to almost unbearable pain.
The skin had burnt down to the raw nerves, sending shudders of reaction through her body. Icy cold settled into her core as she went into shock.
Catherine managed, with a massive effort of will, to regain control of her sobbing, and the animal sounds torn from her by her suffering.
Her loss of control only served as the ultimate humiliation—a show of weakness Eduardo watched with intense disappointment, extreme dissatisfaction, and furious anger.
He would have remained stoically in control of himself under the same circumstances.
Catherine steadfastly refused to beg for the quick death she knew her father would not grant. Especially not if she asked or broke down and begged, dragging their hallowed family name through the mud.
None of their people would plead for her life or ask for mercy on her behalf.
They feared and respected her father too much to insult him in such a manner.
In this time of need, she was utterly alone, abandoned, and lost.
Eduardo could and would not see the way Hellenic coerced both her and the facts. This two-faced traitor caught her in his trap and humiliated her on purpose, but her father denied the truth.
Their king refused to see Hellenic for the monster he was, and it left King Eduardo with no choice but to administer the ultimate punishment for the crime of betrayal.
With everything she experienced at Eduardo’s side and all she did for him during a lifetime, he should know that she would never deceive him. How could he not understand?
Catherine struggled uselessly against the unbreakable shackles, and her efforts cut the metal deeper into her skin with each violent movement.
The bleeding wounds increased her discomfort, and the silver burned her raw wrists, but the fighter in her would not submit and accept defeat.
“Enough, Eduardo!” The commanding, authoritative voice of the head chancellor, Aldrich, rang out across the courtyard.
Aldrich always made Catherine uncomfortable, and his intercession was more unexpected than a sudden eclipse.
His watchful gaze on her all these years had created the impression that he awaited something, what she did not know, perhaps this day. Aldrich was not an easy man to read, and he spoke only when he had something to say.
His cold nature was legendary, and his mere presence overshadowed all but her father. His voice held both satin and steel, but beneath it lay a threat... a promise of something dangerous.
It made the hair on the back of her neck rise, and it demanded respect even from Eduardo, who had a secret but healthy disrespect for most of the elder council.
“Is there not one among you, who will stand for this woman?” Aldrich asked, nay demanded, with his thick Spanish accent and the distinct tone of impatience laced with disgust.
His eyes roamed to that surrounded her, her entire life, and they shrunk away from that gaze like guilty, cowardly dogs.
All of her caretakers and friends, all of the men who were supposed to protect her, stood before Aldrich with eyes downcast.
None of them met his steely gaze, nor spoke a single word in her defense. His cold eyes narrowed upon them with an unreadable expression and the unmistakable glare of disdain.
Aldrich was more handsome than most vampires, strong and wiry of build, and although not as tall as Eduardo, the way he stood made him seem larger than life.
He was the type of man that inspired legends and fed nightmares. It just depended on whether he was your friend or your enemy.
They remained like statues before him, immovable. Their eyes guarded and expressions cold. Yet not one among them could keep from shuddering as his glare became sterner upon them.
They were caught between Aldrich and Eduardo, damned if they spoke and damned if they kept their own counsel.
The silence stretched, and the sun inexorably moved along its ascending path... soon enough, there would be no need for an answer.
Aldrich’s almost palpable anger tinged the air, yet his face remained intensely impassive, only loathing revealed in his eyes.
Being the overseer, a neutral party in this matter, he could not speak for her. Even by interfering in the first place, Aldrich overstepped his bounds, and he knew that.
Aldrich could not allow Eduardo to do this to his only child. However, it was not his primary reason for acting in her defense, or for his desperate need to find a way to help her. It was something no one else could know, for her sake and his own.
“I will speak for this woman,” a firm voice stated impassionately.
Her head jerked involuntarily, and a low gasp of shock escaped the startled crowd.
Before then, she would have staked her life on the fact that the silence could not be any more complete or any more substantial. It became a wall that surrounded and isolated her—a barrier that opened up to include one more.
All of them recognized that sultry baritone voice.
They knew to whom it belonged.
You could almost feel the ripple of unease that passed through the crowd in a restless wave, followed by anger at his arrogance.
Aldrich was not the only one driven to overstep his bounds.
“Human, you do not know this creature. What would you say that could save her life?” It was Eduardo that spoke of her like a stray animal.
As if she were one of his horses or human pets. Nay, he would not speak so of his dogs.
Eduardo’s voice dripped with mocking disdain, his expression betraying a wave of potent anger. Her father did not like being thwarted, and this might not end well for the human.
“Sometimes mercy can be crueler than punishment,” the human’s words echoed in the quiet.
He straightened his shoulders, squared his chin, and stood his ground, obstinately refusing to be cowed.
It was no plea for her life.
None of them expected anyone to have the guts to stand for her, and least of all, that a human would have such unequaled arrogance.
In their minds, the die was cast, and her fate settled. Catherine was already dead, and she just didn’t know it yet.
Their very lack of response was reaction enough. It spoke volumes of their sneering disdain.
Eduardo did not immediately reply. Instead, his gaze narrowed on the human, and the calculation in his eyes didn’t bode well for her.
Catherine knew that expression. She saw it on his face a million times, and it never benefitted his opponents.
“What brought you to that conclusion?” Hellenic asked with all the aplomb of innocence.
Catherine no longer bought his act. She saw through him... now that it was far too late.
She noticed the snide disrespect he reserved for humans and anyone he viewed as lesser than himself, and in Hellenic’s eyes, this human was inconsequential.
Humans were a tool for him to use and discard at his whim, nothing more.
Catherine could not help but wonder how he fooled her for so long.
“Speak up, we’re runni...” The Lord Chancellor halted mid-word.
It could only mean one thing—Eduardo silenced him. Cut him off, with that arrogant wave of his hand, a gesture she knew well.
Aldrich frowned with a brief flash of irritated anger showing in his eyes, but he quickly mastered and masked the emotion.
It got harder to concentrate on the words they spoke as pain, shock, and fear drained the last of her strength.
A tremor of weakness started in her core, and she could not fight anymore.
“You are right, Lord Dillon. Mercy can be crueler,” the chill in Eduardo’s words overrode her fear of the sun as the threat of its destructive light progressed, and there was no way to escape it this time.
She’d run out of both chain and leverage, while it was a mere hair’s breadth away from her destruction.