Chapter 42 - Ceremony
Dillon moved into the light from the shadows and her breath caught in her throat. Catherine had often seen him in the finery of his seat as the Southern Lord, but never in full battledress.
She was not the only one left in awe. If she’d ever been the type to dream of a knight in shining armor, he would be that knight. Her heart missed a beat, could life be so unfair?
Catherine had never seen pure white armor in her life, but she heard of it. He looked as broad as the men around him, as tall, but he was more handsome.
Dillon was actually more attractive than any man she saw before and not even the cold, perfect beauty of her cousins compared to him.
His dark hair contrasted strikingly with his blue eyes. It was unfair for a human to look like that. It was more than the armor that made him look different. It was the look in his eyes.
The look of a man who finally turned the page and embraced who he was and now she finally understood him. The only problem was her understanding of him and what drove him, made the situation even worse.
Dillon lived under a shadow as great as the one she had. The far Northern Lands were under human rule. They were under the dominion of a man that humans and vampires feared alike.
Goran was a man rumored to be seven feet tall that could fight ten men at a time and who survived being assassinated so many times that it was rumored he was immortal.
He sired seven son’s just like him. Eight if you counted the man before her. No one invaded the North and survived to tell about it. No one stepped onto Goran’s lands without his explicit permission, no human and no vampire.
His brand of justice was swift and merciless. Bandits avoided the North. Trappers, thieves, and fugitives were all unwelcome in Goran’s lands and quickly dispatched with.
Goran’s kingdom would be the last that the East would try to invade. There were no maps of the North among any of the groups they fought and killed. To defeat Goran would take time, wealth and manpower. All of which could be gained by defeating this kingdom first.
Goran would be righteously pissed that his son formed an alliance with vampires, a species he was renowned for hating.
He would be even more pissed that Dillon married one. Yet these cast out Northmen were Aldrich’s men and they were here to cement this alliance.
This was all so confusing and overwhelming to her senses that Catherine almost panicked. A soft touch to her back urged her forward. It was Robert again, it was as if he sensed her hesitation.
Dillon saw Catherine all dressed up before, but not like this. The dress made her pale skin even paler, so much so that it looked like alabaster and it seemed to glow.
Her eyes were blazing with stress, which made them look like mysterious pools of light and dark. Her dark hair looked like silk as it was piled atop her head, with little curls escaping to make her perfect face look softer.
She took his breath away and made his heart stutter. He never even imagined that one day a woman like her, would be his wife, nor had he imagined the circumstances of this union.
Their eyes met and held for the longest moment. Dillon was taken aback that Catherine seemed hurt that he had not told her his secret when she told him so many of her own.
He watched Robert escort her down the aisle. Dillon’s eyes never strayed from her, while she avoided his gaze even as she accepted his arm. He turned to the priest, who was now wearing dark wine-colored robes over a white cassock.
“Today we are gathered here to desecrate the immortal vows of the vampire and to make impure the rites of humanity by joining together the two families that can bring an end to the suffering this war will cause.
Catherine, you are a purebred among your kind and tonight you are restored to your rightful place. You are a woman by birth, and you will be that for this man on this night.
You are also a warrior and that you will be until the battle is lost or won. This ceremony will be fulfilled with the blessing of your new father, Aldrich von Gateau.
He who stands for you as brother and as guardian for as long as you both shall live, but a princess, a ruler among your clan, that is your true place.
You will take this man, who is lesser than you and human, frail, weak if measured against you, but strong of heart. He will be your path, and you will stand beside him.
You will fight with him and for him. You will protect him, serve him and bow to him until separated by death or joined in life. Say this is so,” Priest caught her gaze and Catherine felt her chin go up. It was almost as if he silently dared her to say nay. There was a glitter of mirth in his eyes.
“This is so,” she repeated. Priest took her hand and turned the wrist. He cut across it in one smooth motion, and her blood spilled into the golden goblet.
Then he placed the silk handkerchief around her wrist to allow the long end to dangle and the blood stained the silk red. Priest blessed the wine and poured it into the goblet as well.
“You frail human, Callum Dillon who is the son of Goran, King of the Northlands, you will become a man this night. You will stand proud of your place and allow no man to take from you what is yours.
You will be a husband this night, and you will be a warrior until your fate chooses, but you will also be a prince among your kind. You are a ruler. You are a man that leads and will be followed, and fate has been foreseen.
You will stand beside this vampire. You will fight with her and for her. You will protect her, serve her and bow to her until separated by death or bound in life. Now say this is so,” Dillon felt the weight behind those words as if he was being knighted by fate. Those odd eyes challenged Dillon, but all he saw was the woman who stood beside him.
“I say so,” Priest took his hand and cut him shallowly. Dillon did not jerk as his blood flowed into the cup.
He watched the red of his blood spill into the container, and he felt as if by joining their blood in that vessel, they challenged fate itself. Somewhere a ripple formed and a dark fate woke to come for the both of them.
“Seal the wound,” Priest commanded of her and Catherine obliged, but her glance conveyed a certain trepidation that had Dillon worried at what came next.
No human had ever seen this part of a vampire wedding. He could not help but feel a certain coldness settle in his stomach.
Priest bound his wrist to hers, then he wiped the blood from her lips like a father and motioned for them to face each other. He blessed the wine again, filled the cup to the brim until a single drop spilled over the side and stained the gold with red in its path. Dillon felt transfixed by the sight for no reason he could name.
“Blood to blood, family to family, heart to heart, I bind thee and you are bound. Catherine as you have been to one of these before, your vows please,” Priest commanded, and she put her hand over Dillon’s heart.
For the first time that evening, she visibly hesitated. Then her chin rose, and Catherine stared right into Dillon’s eyes as if she saw into his very soul.
“I am one no longer, I am now both mistress and slave, lover and... mother, I am yours,” Catherine took her hand away, and for the life of him, Dillon could not get the thought of a child with her eyes and her smile out of his head. Impossible as it was.
“I am one no longer, I am now both master and slave, lover and... father, I am yours,” Dillon repeated the words he knew was expected of him and yet they hit him right in the gut.
The loss of those children he would never have caught him unawares, and he could see it in her eyes too.
They turned back to face the priest as if they were puppets on strings and the magnitude of this was settling in on them both. Her hand shook ever so slightly in his, and he had never seen her anything but steady, even as she was dying.
“Kneel, Callum,” Priest ordered, and Dillon knelt awkwardly in the heavy armor. Man was not made to kneel down in armor. He stared up at the cup being raised above his head, and he half expected the contents to be dumped on him.
“Drink this cup to your half measure, it is your vow and your solemn oath to this woman,” Dillon felt his throat close, but he took the goblet, and he drank.
Both Priest and Catherine were afraid he would balk, but he did not. Dillon was a man like no other, even Robert shuddered at the thought, where he was still at the edge of her vision.
“Kneel, Catherine and drink this cup to its dregs, it is your vow and your solemn oath to this man,” she took the cup from Dillon and emptied it. Then she upturned it upon the cloth, and the blood stained its perfection.
Priest removed the handkerchief and wiped both their mouths. He picked up the glass and upon the silk was a perfect red circle.
“This union was blessed by fate. The circle is unbroken, face your guests and your witnesses,” Priest announced. They turned to face the solemn men and women behind them.
On some of their faces were awe and on some of their faces a touch of horror. None of them knew the full extent of this ceremony, and it was the reason it was kept secret.
By drinking even that little bit of vampire blood, Dillon was tainted in the eyes of the humans, even though he would not turn. It did open a bond between him and Catherine, and it made him hers. It bound him to her and her will.
“At dawn, we will administer the Northern Tradition of the Blessing of the Bride and Groom. After that Catherine and Dillon leave with us for two days,” they both glanced at Priest warily. There was no menace in his manner, and his gaze said they had no choice in this matter.