Chapter 35 - Understanding
Dillon was as restless as Catherine was herself. He finally rose from his bedroll just after three in the morning, walked over to his maps and lit the lamp. Derrick slept like the dead. Once he was out, very little could rouse him.
“Cathy,” Dillon’s voice barely stirred the air, but she heard and dressed before going over to him.
He stared down at his charts with a frown. Now that Catherine paid better attention, she could see more changed than her relationship with Derrick or the tension and sentiment that was stirred against her in camp.
“Sit,” Dillon ordered shortly before he traced their path on the map with his fingers.
Catherine loved watching him when he was this deep in thought. It was the only time Dillon was unguarded, and she could see in the man before her, the boy he must have been.
“There were vampires among this group. Two of them and neither were very strong or very skilled. They are the first we encountered of your kind among the loose bands of Easterners.
They had in their possession detailed maps, drawn over some period of time, of the lay of the land. They were on their way to the border,” Dillon’s voice held very little inflection, but she could feel the way his blood heated, and his heart throbbed. He was angry and scared.
If there were other maps like the ones the Easterners were apparently drawing, then the Eastern army would not come charging blindly. Catherine felt her own pulse quicken, and her mouth went dry.
Surely now Eduardo would have to believe... she stopped the thought cold. Not as long as that Jezebel and Hellenic were around... they would find a way to discredit all this.
“The only hope we have is to convince my father, but he would never listen,” Catherine frowned. His unease made her own stir even deeper.
“We’ve been going about this the wrong way,” she finally murmured into the silence. She did not realize that Dillon was not as lost in thought as he pretended. He watched her face and tried to read her.
“You have to approach Lord Chancellor Aldrich. He might already know of my presence and if he asks, let him think I am simply your chatelaine. He would not believe that I am only your servant.
Get him to meet you privately and send him one of the charts, but also send him the poison and the vampire gold.
Tell him that someone tried to have me kidnapped. Tell him the men were Easterners and say they revealed news he has to judge for himself,” Catherine lifted her eyes to his and their gazes met briefly, before she glanced away.
She felt uneasy with the penetrating stare of his gaze and his undivided attention. It made her heart flutter and her mouth grow dry.
“Why do you think he would meet with me, a mere human? Aldrich would scoff at my arrogance,” Dillon’s words were true, but she knew another truth.
“Lord Chancellor Aldrich is not the eldest of the vampire Council, yet he is the master of it. He is not the most connected of the Council, by blood or bond and yet he is the leader of it. He is not even of royal birth.
Everyone thought my father would be the next Chancellor. Eduardo even thought so, but the Elder Council and the four priests, they saw something more in Aldrich than they saw in my father. They are wise.
Aldrich is not as unbending or as blinded by his own arrogance and ambition. He saved me when another would not have bothered.
He can be ruthlessly cold and without mercy, this I have seen with my own eyes. If he would not listen, then no one will,” Dillon heard the undertones in her voice, the fear and yet the respect.
He just sat staring at his maps for the longest time, until eventually, his eyes lifted to her again. She sensed him wanting her to look up, and she did so deliberately.
His eyes were almost as intense as her own, but there was no distrust in his gaze, only consideration. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach, and Catherine angrily dismissed her own silliness.
“He might simply have you killed and force me to do so,” Dillon cautioned. It was no less than the truth, and she nodded with acceptance.
“Yes, my lord,” Catherine acknowledged, and his expression turned grim. A flash of dark anger stained Dillon’s cheeks and sparked in his eyes.
“Are we worth this potential sacrifice from you? Are we worth your death, just to get an arrogant man to listen to a human?” Dillon asked directly, and she became oddly still.
Her honest answer? No, not all of them, just some of them... mostly him. The answer shocked her, but she didn’t allow Dillon to sense her turmoil.
“Yes,” they both were playing with the idea that only her presence and the fact he brought her along, might intrigue Aldrich enough to grant Dillon an audience. Might being the operative word... Men of such power were often unpredictable.
“If Aldrich finds out I made you disobey Eduardo and allowed you to fight with my men, he would have us both killed,” Dillon reminded, and there was also that.
Catherine did not mind her own death, but she would not condemn this man. She could not... Her heart ached at the mere thought. It was a feeling she never encountered before. She found the thought hard to contain and to hide.
“Then maybe we should find another way,” she would never allow for Dillon to be hurt because of her. Not any one of them... Not even the least of them deserved to die for her, but especially not him...
“No, you are right. If Aldrich doesn’t listen, then we might as well march over to the border and surrender,” Dillon’s face had that familiar edge to it again, and without any further words, Catherine left him to start her day. Despite it being far from dawn.
Dillon needed his space. She needed to occupy her hands and her mind. His mind was made up, and her hands shook at the mere thought, but the practical side of her soul knew that there was no other way.
* * *
It was cold out on the cliff face, especially in the shadows of the overhang. Lord Chancellor Aldrich had yet to appear, and Dillon started to wonder if this was a trap.
He also began to wonder if his men were safe and he if they misinterpreted Aldrich’s loyalties or maybe his vanities.
One moment Dillon was alone, worried and starting to feel the edges of dread build in his chest and the next moment, Aldrich stood out on the moonlit cliff like an apparition. His dark coat fluttered in the wind, and Aldrich was a sinister silhouette of darkness.
Dillon was startled despite himself. Even if he never saw the vampire before in his life, he would have known this was no mere human, and this was no minor vampire.
Aldrich wore authority and power like a second skin, even the Drake himself was not as magnificent or as chillingly direct.
“Your heart is beating like a drum, human, as well it should,” Aldrich managed to sound both dangerous and amused. Dillon forced himself to at least to appear relaxed, but Aldrich was not fooled.
“I am sorry to bring you out here like this, Lord Chancellor, but there is no one else,” the words stung, but Catherine wisely counseled Dillon to stick as close to the truth as humanly possible.
Aldrich would read a lie from changes in Dillon’s heartbeat and breathing as if it was written. Aldrich did not tolerate lies, not from his own kind and not from a human. His justice was swift and merciless.
“I gather this is not about Catherine?” Aldrich asked shrewdly, and Dillon shook his head.
The muscles in his neck were stiff with tension. He feared they would creak and betray him even further. No vampire ever made him feel this human and insignificant. Not even Eduardo.
“No my Lord. This is about the kingdom, both yours and ours,” Dillon said, and Aldrich turned to face him more fully.
Once he discerned the grave tone of the human lord, Aldrich stared into the darkness that surrounded Dillon and saw into it. What he spied disturbed him.
“You are afraid, but not of me. Not even of what might befall you for your disobedience by allowing Catherine to forget her place and disobey her father.
You are beyond the fear of such petty things, and this intrigues me,” Aldrich started to walk past Dillon and Dillon frowned. He dared not detain the vampire, but he could not afford to be dismissed.
“Come human, we cannot speak freely in this place,” he left Dillon no choice but to follow.
Aldrich walked right up to the cliff face. With his hand, he did something that set off some ancient mechanism into shrieking life.
Again Dillon was surprised as a small part of the cliff face opened like a door into oblivion. He hesitated instinctively, but as the door started to close behind Aldrich, he had to choose to follow Aldrich inside or lose the only chance they had.