Chapter 28 - Help
Dillon walked into the tent, and his face was grim. He looked tired, and his features had acquired a new hardness these last few weeks. Catherine pitied him, as she pitied them all.
Theirs had become a hard and lonely road. They moved from place to place and never actually allowed themselves to rest, while they endeavored to keep their presence as innocent as possible.
They wore disguises and moved in separate groups. They traveled different paths because they were doing things the Eastern way. They hid in plain sight while pretending to be what they were not.
Unless they acquired help and a lot more of it, their efforts would be for naught. They came upon traveling Easterners almost nightly. Some of them wandered alone, and some kept in small groups. Some moved in large enough groups to be worrying.
Dillon and his people traveled by day and set up camp every afternoon. They allowed the men to rest a little and as soon as darkness fell, they would sneak out of camp and hunt for Easterners.
They never moved far from the camp. They swept the night in a circle around the central encampment, and they would return before dawn to rest a little before they moved on.
The Easterners were invariably armed. They were skilled, and despite the element of surprise combined with great leadership, Dillon lost three men already. Two had injuries that hampered them, and several others were hurt, but mobile.
Being assassins did not sit well with any of their men, but they had no choice. Their enemies were not soldiers. They did not fight by the rules, and they were merciless.
The Easterners had a fondness for abducting young women and that angered the Northmen. In their eyes, there was no greater sin.
As they followed in the footsteps of their foes, they found several dead females along the way, and they were human. As they raided the camps, they even found three alive.
Unfortunately, one of them succumbed to her wounds and to be honest, it was a mercy. Words could not describe what was done to her. Not even Catherine could prevent herself from feeling nauseous as she tried in vain to save the girl.
The two remaining women were a liability. They were ruined and disfigured. With nowhere left to go, they just persisted in following the men. The soldiers felt sorry for them, and they took pity.
The women reciprocated by doing chores. They cooked the meals and cleaned the dishes. They washed clothes, and it made the group look more believable as a whole. Time passed, and their presence was accepted.
The women gave Catherine a wide berth and strenuously avoided Lord Dillon, but for different reasons. Catherine noted this and ignored it.
Their unfounded fear of her did not bother Catherine overly much and their fear that Dillon would abandon them was equally erroneous.
* * *
After another hard night, Catherine cleaned the blood and mud off their armor. She was alone in the privacy of their tent, when one of the women peeked uneasily inside.
Catherine noticed her, but she chose to wait for the lady to gather her courage in hand and convince herself to approach. She understood their fear. They saw her fight and kill, but it still managed to mildly annoy her.
Her name was Althea, Catherine recalled, and she uneasily walked up to where Catherine sat. They quietly took stock of each other.
Catherine didn’t know that her sheer inhuman beauty was as intimidating to these scarred and mistreated women as her cool reserve. Catherine so obviously did not belong among humans and especially not as their servant.
Althea’s clothes hid most of her scars, but there was an uneven crescent just above her right brow. There was also a thin cut across her left cheek which almost touched the side of her mouth. The Easterners had marred her beauty, but Catherine could still see it.
“Mistress...” Althea hesitated briefly and her face set with determination as she overcame her natural fear. Catherine silently approved as she waited for Althea to speak.
“Zaïre says you know about herbs... he tells me you’re good with wounds,” the horrors Althea suffered gave her a grave dignity and pride of manner, many would not expect or understand, but Catherine knew and understood.
“I am a servant, mistress Althea. I am no Lady to be called Mistress, and yes, I know herbs,” it was something Catherine idly picked up on her travels and often needed of late. Not for herself, but for the men.
“I think we both understand, my Lady, that just because a man harms you and life kicks you down, it doesn’t take away who you are,” Althea insisted. It was as Catherine guessed, despite a compelling act to the contrary. Althea was not from around here, and whoever she was before she was no Miller’s daughter.
The lie too, Catherine could understand. She moved the armor aside and stood. The very way she handled the heavy armor as if it weighed no more than a cloth garment, made Althea falter as she stepped away.
“What ails you?” Catherine asked the obvious question as a distraction. She already knew Althea had no physical wound because Catherine would have detected the smell.
Catherine did pick up something, it had the smell of sickness or fever, but it was faint. It originated from someone else who Althea was in close contact with.
Despite her brave words, Althea still eyed Catherine with uncertainty, if not doubt. What would a vampire know about human herbs and why would such a creature know medicine?
She, no doubt, wondered and Catherine could not criticize her. Humans had no idea of how many idle minutes, how many endless hours and how many unending days filled the life of a vampire.
“Dina bleeds,” Althea admitted, and her gaze shied away briefly before it returned to Catherine, as she uncomfortably indicated the general direction of her womanly parts, “a bit, for the last few days. It got worse,” Althea blushed as she explained her problem and Catherine knew that asking for her help was left as a last resort.
Some instinct warned Catherine that in their reluctance to ask for her assistance, they may have left it too late. She nodded her agreement and followed Althea out of the tent.
Zaire was Derrick’s right-hand man, and he shared a tent with Gunther, who was Dillon’s captain. The other soldiers had small tents or slept outside.
The smell hit her a few feet from the entrance to the tent, and it was far worse inside. Catherine’s trepidation escalated.
Dina was in a lot of pain, but she bore it stoically. She glanced at Catherine but didn’t much react. She was too far gone for fear, and obviously of baser stock than Althea.
She possessed of an earthy, untamed beauty. There were no scars on her face, but there were plenty on her body. Catherine knew because she saw to them herself, but like Althea, Dina was unconscious at the time.
Dina’s right eye was blinded, and it contrasted, stark white, to the brown of the other. It was eerie to look at... as if one eye saw you and the other saw into you.
Dina had the look of a gypsy about her, but Catherine knew she came from farm country. There was no gypsy blood in her veins, or at least there wasn’t supposed to be.
Gunther was his usual stoic self, except paler. Catherine glanced at him, and for the first time since she knew Gunther, there was emotion in his eyes.
That emotion was fear to be exact... not of Catherine, but for Dina. He was in love, and Catherine almost pitied him at that moment. She had her doubts whether Dina would survive her affliction.
Getting Dina to lay back required Gunther and Althea to hold her down, not because she resisted, but because the pain did.
Catherine already suspected the woman had an abscess in one of her ovaries. Despite taking great care to be gentle in her examination, Dina screamed when Catherine gently pushed against her lower abdomen.
“It’s an abscess. I can smell it and feel it. Dina needs a surgeon and not just today, right now,” Catherine concluded, and they all knew that would be impossible.
They were days from the nearest town, and small villages rarely had surgeons of any skill. Some of them were quacks or charlatans, most of them should not be allowed near a dying horse.
“You cut Denver, and you cut Siron, they lived. You will cut Dina too,” Gunther said it with slow deliberation. His eyes were pleading with Catherine. She could see in their depths what she already knew, and Catherine started to shake her head.
“She’s going to die, maybe you can save her, perhaps you can’t,” Althea said, and they were both looking at her as if she were their only hope.
How could Catherine explain to them that she hadn’t fed in days? How could she tell them that she was as afraid of attempting to save this woman’s life, because of inner beast?
Catherine felt herself slowly nod when everything inside of her screamed at her to not do it. Warned her that this was madness and that it would not end well for her or them.