Blood and War

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Chapter 41 - Marriage

“I am a Southerner,” Dillon stated with quiet inflexibility. He straightened his shoulders and squared his chin.

His voice brooked no argument, and not even Derek would have dared question his master in the mood the man was in. It made no impression on the mountain men.

“No mere Southern Lord can marry a vampire princess,” the words were almost spat from Priest’s mouth, and the blue eye blazed with anger.

Although Catherine only ever heard of such things, she suddenly knew that although Priest was born to a human, he was half vampire.

Catherine’s senses picked up on the fact that he was not human, but not on the fact that he was half vampire. It perplexed her, and it unsettled her.

“We are what we are by birth. Even while cleaning your chamber pot, Catherine is still a princess, a vampire, and a pure breed.

Just as you are no mere southern lord. We have no choices in what we are,” Priest motioned with his hand toward the exit and two Northmen gave Catherine no choice. They herded her out of the tent before she could fathom more than the fact that Lord Dillon was more than he seemed.

The men beside her gave such large strides that Catherine barely touched the ground as they led her away. She didn’t like it, and she had to stop herself from attacking them.

The two human women literally had to run to keep up. She could see the questions in their eyes, and she knew she could not give them much to ease their minds.

* * *

Althea and Dina were very quiet as they helped Catherine bathe and prepare for her wedding. She sensed many things they wanted to say, but because she was quiet, so were they.

They were scared, but not of her, they were scared for her. She was afraid too. It almost felt like the same fear she experienced as she awaited her own execution and yet now... This time there was hope too.

If this worked, then they had a chance, and if it didn’t then, they were all going to die. Horribly... Catherine could not look these women in the eye and assure them that their fears were unfounded.

“Who are those men?” Althea finally asked. She sounded less afraid and more uneasy. There was as much danger in knowing as not knowing and Catherine could not bear their fear along with her own.

She did not realize that her eyes were blazing blue and the vein in her neck throbbed almost visibly with her tension.

Catherine was so afraid of what would happen if the rest of the elder council found out about this unsanctioned marriage, that she dared not even think of how this would change the relationship between her and Dillon. Her secret dream has become part of her nightmare.

“They are here to help us,” Catherine finally answered in a voice which held very little of the assurance she meant to project. Dina frowned as she glanced at Althea.

They had so many questions, but they dared not ask. They always knew Catherine wasn’t a slave, but to know she was a real princess, put up a barrier they could not breach.

“Why are you marrying Lord Dillon like this? You are of different worlds...” Dina tried to be tactful as her worry overwhelmed her sense of propriety.

Althea shushed her almost angrily, but their eyes were twin mirrors of fear and worry as they stared each other down. Dina finally glanced away, and Althea nodded to herself.

“That is not our place to ask,” Althea almost hissed. She stared at the door, and it broke Catherine’s heart to not be able to tell them the truth, but she dared not.

“You will understand one day, and until then, this is a secret no one must know,” Catherine cautioned. Even as she held their gazes one by one, she knew they would never tell, not even the little they knew.

“No word of what was said in there bears repeating. Nothing will be mentioned about royalty and marriages. There will also be no talk of the man Aldrich to anyone...” Catherine clarified, and still, the questions were easy to see in their eyes.

“Why do you trust these strangers, but not our own?” Dina asked. Althea only glared this time, but Dina shrugged it off. It was a valid question.

“Their master is one of my kind. He is the one helping us and if anybody finds out, we will all die,” Catherine’s words carried all the strength of her conviction, and it was enough for them. It was only then that she understood how much they trusted her.

Catherine glanced at the door. Her mind was on the men outside and then her eyes caught on her wedding dress. The responsibility that came with that dress weighed heavily on her shoulders.

It suffocated her, even before they started the process of pulling it over her head. Then they were tightening the bodice, they pulled the bindings in until she felt as if she could just rip it off and run away, but she did not move.

Her eyes strayed to the mirror as they finally stopped fussing and she found herself frowning at the woman in her reflection.

Catherine was not one to dream of dresses and bridesmaids, flowers and ribbons, but given a choice, she would have chosen this dress.

Her hair was up on her head in a braided style that allowed small ringlets to frame her face. Her eyes were darker, mysterious, and blazing.

Catherine did not feel like the strange woman in the mirror, and she could not recognize her face there. Only the tension that seemed to radiate from her form.

What would Dillon see when he looked at her? What were his thoughts on all this? She wondered. He was, after all, being forced to marry a vampire.

“It is midnight in the land of good and evil, mistress,” Robert was at the door, and Catherine hadn’t even heard him approach.

It shook her from her reverie and in his hands, he held a dark hooded cape. He folded it around her before they left the tent.

She might have imagined it, but for a second his hand lay reassuringly against her shoulder and then they were outside in the cool air.

The time to change her mind was gone. The short walk to Dillon’s tent felt like a walk to the gallows.

What expression would she see on Dillon’s face when she entered? She wondered. At that moment Catherine knew she was more afraid of his reaction to all this than the consequences. She would find it impossible to take if he ever started hating her.

Catherine halted just inside the door to Dillon’s tent, and she felt the two women come to stand behind her. Her heart beat inside her chest like a drum, and her hands were clammy. In fact, they were icy to her own touch. Her breathing felt shallow and labored.

The tent had many candles inside it now and near the front was a low wooden bench, covered with a pure white silk tablecloth.

It was embroidered with tiny seed pearls around the edges and on top of that lay the dagger Aldrich gave her. Beside it, there was a pure white handkerchief.

The atmosphere changed to one of expectation. The whole place smelled of pine, wax, wild grasses, something earthy and sweet.

Catherine’s eyes sought out only one thing. All of her senses strained, and she found Dillon almost instantly. All she could hear, see and smell was him.

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