Blood and War

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Chapter 45 - Blood Bond

“How can you not hate me after what my father did to you?” Catherine asked with pain and compassion in her eyes when their gazes met and held.

“I just told you. I love you. Aldrich made me see you. He made me see how lonely you were and how isolated. I was there the day in the council chamber when Eduardo made you kill the guy who stole his stupid horse.

I could see your face. I could see the pain and betrayal. I was just twelve at the time. I still hurt and was healing from the cage. It was the first time you realized that your hero had feet of clay.

You were so beautiful and all grown up, not the little girl I pictured in my head, or the teenager. Until then, I trouble understanding that you were almost twenty years older than me.

You knew he wanted to prove to the council that you were malleable and that he could control you. He made them see that he could make you do his bidding and that you would be better applied serving him as a soldier, for the time being.

It was your trial by fire. Eduardo made you take your fill and rip that man’s throat out. To him it was justice served, it wasn’t justice to you. That was the first time you questioned his judgment and his motives.

You felt as if you murdered that thief, despite the fact that he would have hung anyway. Something in you died that day. Your innocence. I watched the light fade from your eyes, and I wanted to kill Eduardo for it.

I wanted to protect you from him. It was the first time in my life I formed an attachment to somebody, an actual bond,” there was nothing but sincerity in Priest’s voice, and yet he opened so many wounds.

“I am not trying to turn your feelings against Eduardo. I just don’t know how else to convince you that I want nothing from you.

All I want is for you to trust me and I know that this is all too much at once. I had almost a forty years to plan what to say to you, and it still came out wrong,” Priest shook his head as if to berate himself and she found a small smile curving her lips.

“How did Aldrich keep you secret from my father for all this time?” Catherine would always be the one to ask the hard questions, and he accepted that. He actually counted on it.

“I lived in the North, and I moved around a lot while I did things for Aldrich. He is the only father I ever knew. He is my brother and my friend. He kept me sane, and he sees so much farther ahead than other people. He seems to see right through to your soul.

He saw me, and he saw the capacity for good in me. He saw more than some evil spawn that needed to be eradicated. Aldrich said that we had to wait and that one day you would be ready to meet me. He said once you found your own feet, you would listen to me.

I thought you would never be ready and that you would always be by Eduardo’s side. You have cast his shadow aside, and now you make your own destiny,” his voice held conviction, and Catherine didn’t think she could take many more of these home truths.

“So all of this was so that we could talk?” Catherine asked. Priest could sense that she tried to distract herself because she needed time to think.

“No, all of this was so that we could see you fight,” Priest stood in one easy motion, and his strength was uncanny as he helped Catherine up.

He handed her a sword, and within minutes Catherine was involved in the most complicated brawl of her life. They did not hold back, and they fought dirty, very dirty.

Dillon got all warm beneath the collar more than once. The Northmen laughed at him and teased him mercilessly. Catherine found his concern touching, but by the time Robert started making dinner noises, she knew what Dillon felt like after fighting her.

They tired her out, and Priest drove her mercilessly. She was more skilled, she was the better strategist, but they were just... endless, and they never called uncle.

Catherine collapsed on the ground and turned a deaf ear to their ribald teasing. She blushed, despite her resolve, when Robert asked Dillon if he had been a little too vigorous with their princess the night before. Dillon told him off in colorful language that had Robert guffawing like a maniac.

It was right in the middle of the banter and traded insults that Catherine realized something, she has never felt this comfortable around anyone in her life.

The thought shook Catherine. She finally belonged and not within the cold marble halls of her youth, but here in this forest with these people. Men her father would have dismissed without a second thought.

“They grow on you, don’t they?′ Catherine was so stunned by the realization, she didn’t hear or sense Priest approach.

Already she learned to listen for his emotions in his voice. There was laughter there now at having caught her unawares and something aching to smugness. She stuck her tongue out at him, and Priest laughed.

“Come, eat,” he invited, and she followed him without reservation.

Dillon noticed her get up and he started to move to follow them, but she shook her head at him. Dillon nodded his understanding. He trusted her judgment, despite the worry in his eyes. She would thank him later, Catherine thought.

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