Blood and War

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Chapter 39 - Visitors

Derrick could not yet have returned, Dillon reasoned to himself as he watched her. She was listening intently, which meant their visitors were strangers and the way she gripped the dagger, told Dillon she wasn’t sure if they were enemies.

“Who?” He asked, and Catherine blinked at his perception, but she wasn’t surprised by it anymore.

“Eight men, heavily armed and they came in on foot... they have strange accents, but not Eastern. They are at the edge of camp, and they want to speak to you,” Catherine explained, and Dillon nodded, but she did not move as she waited for him to decide how to proceed.

“Put the dagger away and come,” Dillon suggested and the way Catherine frowned at the blade, told him she hadn’t even noticed that she took it.

She was gone in an instant and back at his side in a heartbeat. He nodded at her, and when Dillon started on his way, Catherine fell into step behind him.

The early light shone down on an odd and slightly intimidating sight. Eight huge, heavily armed men of no creed Dillon could identify, stood at the edge of the camp.

They were bearded, savage looking men, but for the menace, they wore even in repose.

Their eyes settled instantly on Dillon, their gazes were cold, hard and unflinching. Their manner that of coiled, tensed unease and danger sat easily in the shadows of their eyes.

They were quite obviously not intimidated by the men before them, or the display of weapons pointed at them.

“Northmen,” Catherine marveled just within range of Dillon’s hearing and understanding dawned upon him.

Something in him stirred in recognition and acknowledged them, even before he knew who they were. They were his kinsmen his heart muttered and traitor his mind chastened his heart.

Dillon sub consciously walked taller and slower. He allowed his eyes to wander over them more carefully and only then did he notice Catherine stare.

Something she was not prone to doing and Dillon frowned as he wondered what perplexed her enough for her to be rude. He could almost felt how bothered she was and then he caught on.

These rugged men were all missing an appendage. A hand, a few fingers, an eye, a foot, and all of those were battle wounds which would always bar them from warrior heaven, from Dalgedad.

That would be according to the beliefs he remembered from his youth, but they were warriors, not invalids. Their pride of bearing even rivaled Catherine’s.

They would cower before no man, and no twist of fate would bar them from their destiny. They would not allow themselves to be cast away and they refused to end up dying a cowardly death as old men in their sleep. No one had to tell Dillon this.

He knew this was the reason they left their homeland and traveled to lands where a man’s value lay in what he could accomplish with his sword, not the wholeness of his body.

They did not have to tell him their tale. He knew their world, their beliefs and their pride. It was part a part of him, whether he liked it or not.

“Who stands before me?” Dillon demanded in a voice laden with authority, but he chose to speak the common trade tongue. He afforded them the respect he knew they deserved, by addressing them directly. Their own people would not be so kind.

Dillon did also not have to see them fight, to know that three of the of his best men could not take on any one of these rugged mountain men. There was a reason they were called the Bears of the North.

“Aldrich sent us,” the Northman who spoke was slightly shorter than the others, but broader of shoulder.

He looked much like the images Catherine had in her head from the stories she remembered from her childhood. He resembled the dwarfs in those drawings, except that he was almost six foot tall. He carried a short, broad sword, not the traditional battle ax of the dwarves.

His dark brown eyes shifted briefly to her, and he caught Catherine staring at him. A small smile touched his stern lips.

“For her,” he did not have to point. Since he spoke in the Northern tongue, only Dillon and Catherine understood. She frowned and her eyes were suddenly much warier. Her stance became more erect, and her eyes measured them openly.

“I do not understand,” Dillon’s tone became very quiet and very deadly. The large man frowned and then he directed something in the vampire dialect at Catherine, which changed her stance from wary to relaxed.

The sudden change in her attitude caused Dillon to frown at her, not to mention that she was distinctly trying to hide a smile.

Dillon did not relax, underneath it all Catherine was still perplexed, not completely as at ease as she seemed. It was reason enough for him to remain as he was.

“They are my army,” Catherine translated, and it took Dillon a second to realize that she addressed him in the Northern tongue.

It took a second longer before Dillon caught onto her amusement and her satire, but he also understood the calculation in her.

Catherine studied each man more carefully. Already she was less the vampire slave and more the vampire princess, even if she didn’t know it.

The change in her did not go unnoticed. Dillon’s men were frowning and uneasy. They kept glancing from her to Dillon and from him to the intruders into their camp.

Dillon did not give the order for them to be at their ease because he wasn’t yet convinced that this wasn’t a trap.

Only when Catherine stared at something with sudden concentration, did he notice the badge each man had somewhere on their armor.

Half a griffon with the tail of a dragon, half of both family crests and it even featured the falling comet which was Dillon’s own crest. Dillon frowned as he understood the implications of that badge as quickly as she did.

“It seems Aldrich was expecting us,” Catherine spoke quietly and only within his hearing. He understood as well as she did. Aldrich had his suspicions of their activities, and now his suspicions were confirmed.

Aldrich moved to back them up, and even though he acted behind the scenes, he moved.

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