Chapter 3 - Mercy
Something in the tone of Eduardo’s voice brought her head up, but the expressions on both Eduardo and Aldrich’s faces remained unreadable.
They guardedly watched each other while gauging and calculating the thoughts of their opponent.
She sensed some unforeseen threat to her person and found it troubling that she her fear could be greater than it already was.
The glorious, terrible heat touched her skin, and after her previous exposure, she knew exactly what it would feel, smell, and taste like when it inevitably touched her body.
The knowledge increased her anticipation, horror, and terror.
Catherine stiffened, mentally bracing herself, albeit uselessly, against her fate.
“The ultimate punishment for a vampire,” Eduardo murmured, his gaze shifting to the human with an heir of calculation.
Eduardo’s glare would make a vampire crumble to his knees, but didn’t visibly affect the human.
His pupils narrowed, and Lord Dillon straightening his broad, sturdy shoulders as his chin came up, and his feet braced for impact.
“Fine, Lord Dillon...” malice laced those words with an undertone bordering on mockery, worsened by the ghost of a self-satisfied smirk pulling at his lips.
The last time Catherine saw that expression on her father’s face, he invaded their neighboring lands and killed their ruler, Nevac.
Nevac was a vampire who proved himself a particular thorn in Eduardo’s side for years... until he goaded Eduardo into taking direct action.
“You win,” Eduardo drawled.
His comment drew startled glances and confused frowns from his peers.
No one knew how to react or what exactly Eduardo’s comment meant, least of all the princess chained to her death.
Another quiet buzz of noise interrupted the silence as the crowd speculated among themselves in whispers.
Eduardo’s small, annoyed frown abruptly cut them off.
They respected and feared their king in equal measure. And none of them wanted to garner his displeasure in his current unpredictable mood—they might just end up sharing their princess’ fate.
“So, human, for your generosity in speaking up in a matter that does not concern you... I will make this your concern by giving her to you to do with as you please.” The crowd gasped at Eduardo’s declaration, and this time it took more than a frown to silence them.
The guards stepped menacingly forward, and the crowd instantly quieted down.
“She will be your slave. As your property, you will treat her as you would any other servant you own. Catherine will clean your house and feed your animals. We will also no longer consider her one of our kind,” The slow, concise tone of Eduardo’s voice cut into Catherine.
Only the threat of the guards allowed him to continue uninterrupted.
Eduardo turned to Catherine and looked her straight in the eyes for the first time in weeks.
“Catherine Drake, I strike you from my lineage. You are no daughter of mine. You have no ties to me or any other vampire. I now condemn you to being human.” If he ripped her heart from her chest with his bare hands, it would have shocked and hurt her less.
How could he give her to a human and rob her of all she was? Why did he not just allow her to meet her fate with some semblance of pride?
“You will be a servant, a nonentity. You will never again be a lady or soldier. I condemn you to nothingness,” Eduardo saw her eyes widen, and her pupils contract as she absorbed the impact of his words and grasped their meaning.
A frosty smile touched his lips.
“Lord Dillon, you are now the proud owner of your own... personal... nothing,” Eduardo stressed the last words, and each one hit Catherine like an arrow.
He kept staring into her eyes to drive his point home with a ruthlessness she often saw, but never experienced for herself.
Those words left absolute silence in their wake, briefly trapping those present in a vacuum, out of time and out of place. Even nature held its breath.
Being a vampire, Catherine never seriously considered the thought of her own demise. Not that she was a stranger to the concept of death.
She killed many of their enemies, but she never entertained the idea of wanting to die or needing to do so, but she prayed for the sun to reach her and finish this farce.
Catherine pleaded silently for the oblivion it would bring, knowing her desperate hope for a release was in vain.
When the sun touched her this time, Catherine swore she would bear it in silence. She promised it to fate and herself. If only she could die.
“Then stop this,” the Lord Chancellor implored as her knee erupted into searing, scorching flame for the second time.
Catherine’s body shuddered from her effort not to scream again.
She arched against the pain, cutting her bonds deep into her flesh, but there was no relief and no mercy from the devouring flames.
“We teach Catherine this lesson to allow her to appreciate my compassion in letting her live,” Eduardo’s dispassionate tone held neither pity nor compassion, even as her arm ignited, and her love turned to hatred.
Catherine silently disowned as he disowned her. Eduardo was not her father anymore. He was as dead to her as she was to him because no true father would do this to his child.
The scream she swore would not pass her lips, ripped from her, and she had no will left to stop it. Her voice changed pitch, and her shriek turned into an animal howl for a second time.
It grated on the crowd’s nerves like the screech of tearing metal, and the end of it was so abrupt as to be almost unbelievable.
Catherine barely felt the touch on her hand or the familiar cold weight of her ring.
Once the enchanted daylight touched her skin, it warmed, and the heat from the sun became nothing more than the heat of the day.
She was too far gone even to know who replaced the ring and incapable of thanking them.
Barely conscious, her awareness returned in pulsing waves, but her worn-out senses and weakened body struggled to make sense of it.
The flames dispersed almost immediately and left behind charred, raw wounds, oozing puss in rivulets that dripped to the ground.
The fingers of her left hand sported deep burns that revealed the bone.
Even as the wounds oozed ichor and blood, they healed. The familiar, comforting ache of thirst did not compare to the fiery burn of healing, knitting flesh.
Only her anger and shame kept her from giving in to the merciful promise of darkness and oblivion.
Catherine’s indomitable will kept her conscious, not allowing her to be unaware of her fate.
She could not yet move, but fought her weakness with the bitter ashes of her pride and the last dregs of her resolve.