Chapter 23 - Hunter
Dillon took most of his army along with most of the servants and slaves with him the next day. He was going to fortify the defenses of the small towns under his guard as well as create hiding places for the women and children.
He left the castle with only a guard of twenty men and a skeleton staff in the main hold. That left Derrick in charge of reinforcing the walls and training the soldiers.
Ten of the men were on the walls. Two or three down the road and the others trained with Derrick in the open arena, most days. They slept in shifts and by working hard, they managed a lot in a little time.
Catherine watched them. She knew she had ample time to finish her chores and she liked watching the men train, she always did.
It was odd how much Catherine pitied these men. It was also odd how much empathy she felt with humans now that she lived among them. They never mattered to her much when she was among her own kind.
Both Derrick and Dillon were excellent instructors. Her lessons did not go to waste, and the basics were firmly laid down, but these soldiers were not their master or his second in command.
It would take a long time for them to learn what Dillon and Derrick picked up with such ease. Yet the improvement in their skill was tremendous.
Catherine frowned. The vampires honed their skills over time. They possessed knowledge these men would never gain and yet they sat on that knowledge. They guarded the skills they picked up from mankind with an almost jealousy.
They defended humanity to a point and to a point they allowed them to fight and lose. The children of men were not allowed the knowledge to defend themselves against better enemies, solely because vampires feared to put knowledge in the hands of an ally that could turn on them again.
Catherine could see how her kind did humanity an injustice. With what she overheard and saw, the approaching enemy would overrun these lands quickly and mercilessly.
When her people would finally move to defend these people, it might be far too late. Humans did not have the numbers or weapons to fight this war alone. When help eventually arrived, the Eastern armies would have conquered and moved on.
Divided, neither vampires nor humans stood a chance. The only thing that stood in the way was basic vampire arrogance and the deigned superiority of a species which was never completely defeated.
It was a species who buried their near brush with extinction from even their own conscious thoughts, in their determination to never allow humans such power again.
When Derrick joined Catherine in the armory, he caught onto her mood with an uncanny ease which left her feeling slightly unsettled.
“What’s wrong?” Derrick asked as he sheathed his sword. She could have played coy, but he deserved better.
“We’re all going to die,” Catherine said without a doubt. He grew still at the gravity of her words.
Instead of nodding and agreeing with her, there was a fire in his eyes. It was something she’d heard of but never seen. The fanatic belief of humanity that good would find a way.
“We’re not dead yet,” Derrick’s simple words lifted the feeling of despair a little. They were not dead yet and giving up before the fight even started, would not fit in human nature. They were rarely coldly pragmatic, unlike vampire kind.
“Yes, we’re not dead yet,” Catherine agreed. They survived well as a species, these frail human creatures, despite all the odds against them.
There was a little human in each of her kind. It was what allowed them to coexist when it should be impossible. It was a classic tale of the lion lying, peacefully beside the lamb.
Derrick fought until he could barely lift his sword. Every time Catherine thought now he must be done, he found some fresh spurt of energy that surprised her. When Derrick eventually shook his head, she found a new respect for him.
If there were enough humans with this never say die attitude, maybe they stood a chance. It was a small glimmer of hope, but it was there. Catherine found she could cling to it.
She saw humans in a new light. There was something to each and every one of them, something that almost touched greatness. Some small thing which made them more than they should be.
* * *
Derrick took Catherine hunting because he liked hunting himself. It turned into a little competition and yet, he was surprisingly skilled.
Catherine didn’t like it when Derrick caught her feeding and yet it seemed to inspire no horror in him, only a little distance. As if he finally, fully understood how different she was.
It was almost a week later when they happened upon the trappers. They were men with dark hair, dark eyes, and olive toned skin.
They were also shorter than the humans Catherine were used to but muscled, grim-faced men who spoke little and cast a trail of destruction in their path. They left very little alive.
Derrick slid from his horse. Like Dillon, his thread was remarkably light for a human. He motioned to her, and they followed the trappers for a while.
They shadowed the men. These were no ordinary poachers. They were unmistakably scanning the defenses of the castle and drew detailed diagrams on crude pieces of paper.
Catherine glanced at Derrick, and he was already watching her. He communicated to her his intention to attack, and she shook her head. She curved her hand as she indicated the rock face and his understanding was instant.
If the men rounded the rocks and followed the narrow strip that led closer to the castle, they would be boxed in. They would not realize it until they were physically around the bend.
The strip was wide at the mouth and appeared to move closer to the castle in a gentle arc. It was a deceptive piece of ground. Dillon would call it a killing field.
They allowed the men to walk into the lee-side of the large rocks and let them move in deeper. Derrick tossed Catherine his hunting knife, but she tossed it back. She still had the knife Dillon gave her. Derrick would do better to keep the weapon.
The men drifted slightly apart, and when Derrick nodded, Catherine left him and moved in on the nearest enemy, the straggler. It was exhilarating, to feel the thrill of the chase again. To do what she was born to do. Hunt.
Catherine moved on the dark easterner in silence and yet he turned before she was upon him. She didn’t allow herself to be fazed. The fight was short and brutal. His skill and swiftness astounded her, but he was no match for her.
She moved behind him, used her speed to get near him. With one swift jerk, the snap of breaking bone told her Catherine cleanly broke his neck. Derrick slipped past her.
The next was upon her almost before she released the first. His attack was even more finely honed, but her skill and superior strength brought the attacker up short.
He bellowed a warning before Catherine could stop him. Yet she knew his signal meant only one thing: he alerted the others to the presence of a vampire. She did not have to understand his tongue.
Catherine moved faster. There were five of them. She could hear Derrick fight, but she could judge nothing from the sounds. She just caught up with the third, when Derrick stumbled into the clearing.