Chapter 47 - Cruel People
Catherine sat on her horse, her eyes trained on the humans less than twenty feet away. She knew of the men with her, only Priest could see them.
They were waiting for her signal, waiting for her order, but she needed a few moments to compose herself.
Her anger at that moment was a living thing, a volatile condition that she needed to clamp down on and control. This was the fourth group they’d found in less than a week.
The two smaller groups afforded the men no challenge, and it was a slaughter that would have left a bitter taste in her mouth if it were not for moments like these.
The third group fought like vampires, two of them even managed to escape for two days. Catherine and her men hunted them relentlessly, but finally, it was only herself and Priest that were there when they ran out of room to run.
It was a short but brutal fight and the last soldier Catherine killed, died spitting in her face. She bit him, drank from him and ripped his throat out.
It was only then that Catherine realized how much she had grown to hate these Easterners and she was shocked at herself. Priest realized it immediately, but she shut off from him and left him no way to ease her pain.
Catherine washed the blood from her face in that glade, and she was horrified at the violence of her actions, angry at for her loss of control.
Vampires could be cruel, actual monsters, but these Easterners had an appetite for cruelty that left her feeling soiled.
Catherine pictured women like Helga or little Carmen caught in the merciless hands of these people and the blood lust would boil through her on a tide of crimson rage.
She stared through the slits in her iron helm and although the weight of that suit of armor was nothing to her, it confined her in that instant. It left her with a need to break free, go down there and destroy with her bare hands.
The armor was not meant for protection, it was a disguise. One every last man wore, even Priest, to hide themselves and their identities.
Catherine’s eyes were nailed to the girl, barely more than a child, her hands were tied together behind her back, and her flimsy clothes hid little. A rope was tied in a noose around her pathetically thin neck, and she was seated between the two central bonfires.
The men paid little attention to her at first. They ate their evening meal, but as the wine started to flow among those not on duty, they started throwing things at her. Food, which she ate despite the dirt and then one threw a rock.
The stone hit her right in the face, blood streamed down her cheek and yet she made no sound. Frighteningly, one rock followed another and another, until she bled freely and they laughed as silent sobs rocked the cringing girl. Anger boiled through Catherine.
The soldiers were distracted and even the guards watched. She did not have to glance at Priest to know he stared at her. Catherine nodded, and she could barely hear the tiny movements of her men, but she perceived where each of them were. She also knew the instant they were ready to strike.
It was a bloody battle from the word go. The defenders regrouped quickly, but not swiftly enough.
The sight of the bloodied child, tied down like a dog for their sport, send Catherine’s men into a rage, and that fury did not end before the very last of the enemy fell beneath their blades. There would be no prisoners this night.
Robert took her bloodied sword and wiped it meticulously clean as Catherine slid from her horse and strode over to where Priest waited for her.
It was only as they approached that she caught the strange scent, something she was barely aware of in the midst of battle, but now she realized it came strongly from the girl.
She slowed, glanced at Priest and the set expression on his face told her all she wanted or needed to know. The girl hissed and spat at their approach. She crouched low, but her eyes were filled with a fear too terrible to behold.
“The helmet, sister,” Priest reminded, and Catherine hesitated before she slipped the helmet entirely off her head, but he did not take off his.
The girl glanced from one to the other, seemed to notice their scent, and she cringed down even lower, but her eyes were nailed to Catherine. She unmistakably never saw a female vampire before.
“Shhhh, little one, we mean you no harm,” Catherine soothed. She carefully moved forward just a little, but the girl scuttled away from her and nearly strangled herself with the rope. Catherine squatted down on her heels.
Eduardo would have killed this creature outright. She knew that and Priest knew. It would probably be better for the girl, but Catherine had seen too much injustice. She was tired of it.
It was weak as a kitten, pushed past its limits and very dangerous. They both acknowledged that. Catherine understood that Priest, by distancing himself, allowed her to make the judgment on her own.
They had no time for this and no one they could entrust the girl to. Yet one look at those mismatched eyes and Catherine could not do it.
“It would be a kindness to relieve it of its misery,” Robert spoke behind Catherine, and she was so absorbed in her thoughts, she barely registered his approach.
The girl’s eyes flew to him, and there was instant hate there. Strange that she would understand the common trade tongue, Catherine mused.
“If it could be controlled, we could take it along, but it’s clearly wild. Dangerous. I cannot afford to have any of you hurt,” Catherine decided to test her theory and the sudden comprehension in that one blazing blue eye and one hazel, was hard to miss.
The girl swallowed and sat down hard. Her eyes were now wild and desperate, but it was an entirely different kind of desperation. Although the fear was there, the rope was slack.
“Priest,” Catherine ordered tiredly. She heard him remove his helmet, then draw his sword, but her eyes never left the girl.
At his approach, the girl’s eyes pleaded with them, but once again she retreated until the rope was too tight. Catherine felt guilty, but she had to know.
When the girl realized Priest wasn’t going to retreat, she came at him like a Hellcat. All fangs, and claws, except that she was also desperately sobbing.
Priest caught her with his one hand, held her off the ground and turned away from him. She clawed uselessly at his arm guards and kicked at his shins, she was also whining pitifully.
“Are you going to stop that and prove my mistress wrong or are you going to convince her that you are too much trouble to keep?” Priest asked with so much gentle compassion that the girl stopped struggling almost immediately.
Her eyes went to Catherine, despite the fact that she was strangling in his grip. He did not ease his hold. She was too dangerous to trust.
“Let go,” Catherine ordered, and he opened his hand. He dropped the girl at least a foot and a half, but she twisted and landed on her feet. Catherine wondered if Priest knew how much his eyes begged her for compassion.
“The first time she hurts one of my men or tries to escape, I will kill her myself. Do you understand that?” Catherine demanded of her brother, and he nodded. The girl stared desperately from one to the other as if she thought they were toying with her.
“She is your responsibility,” Catherine let her eyes travel to the child. Her heart broke inside her, but she wasn’t blind to the hardness deep in those eyes, especially not when those odd orbs caught on the humans.
“Disappoint my trust in you, and you will pray for death long before it finds you,” Catherine promised her directly. The girl’s eyes grew wide.
Catherine had no idea how magnificent a figure she made, standing there in her battle gear, her beautiful face a haughty mask of power and stern unyielding, almost forbidding anger.
The girl nodded slowly. Priest strode past her and yanked the rope from the ground. She startled at his show of strength, but she didn’t move. It was as if her feet were glued to the spot.
“Come,” he ordered, and the girl followed. Her eyes rested uneasily on the men, and Priest had to yank her back when she skittered away from one. She was obviously mindlessly afraid of humans.
Priest mounted his horse. He did not release her hands, nor did he remove the rope from around her throat. She had no shoes, but his intention was obviously for her to follow on foot. Catherine mounted her horse, and the men were ready to leave.
Her heart went out to the girl, but she knew as well as Priest did that trust and kindness needed to be earned. The girl was a threat to these good men and the kid needed to understand that her life was nothing compared to one of theirs.
The bodies were gathered and removed to a cave they spotted earlier. Everything else was shoved deeply into a hollow in the ground and covered with rocks. The fires were extinguished, and then they moved off at a fast pace.
The girl stumbled often and fell more than once, but she seemed to sense the urgency in the people around her. They moved as far away from the battleground as time would allow without letting go of caution.