Blood and War

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Chapter 51 - Fear

They moved on for three more days before they came across another group of Easterners. From that moment on, the girl, who somehow become Gillian, which meant waif in the Northern tongue, became frantic and hard to control.

She was out of her mind with fear, and only when Priest threatened to knock her out, did she start to calm a little.

The group of Easterners were small, so Catherine decided they would make camp and leave Gillian with three of the men, where she would be safe. Gillian went ballistic.

Priest tried to talk to her, Robert sought to reassure her, nothing worked, and they were forced to tie her down.

“,” the words brought the whole group to a standstill. No one could believe their ears, and they all stared down at her. Even the forest stilled.

“Pl....l..l..eas..e. they...will...hurt...” Gillian’s eyes were rolling in her head.

The words came with great difficulty as if they did not fit in her mouth, but were ripped from some raw, wild place inside of her.

“No they won’t,” Catherine tried to reassure her. If these were Dillon’s men, she would never leave Gillian alone with them. Not for one second.

“No man here would harm you, I promise you that,” the words seemed to offer no consolation. The three men looked honestly offended, but not too much.

Life did not teach Gillian much use of trust. She whined like a dog when Catherine and Priest turned their horses. Robert lingered the longest before he finally tore himself away.

* * *

They were back within hours, tired, but with a job well done. It would have gone faster with the help of the rest of the men, but no one complained.

The three humans sat around a small fire, they quietly kept themselves busy, and Gillian sat as far from them as the rope would allow, rocking herself and folded into a small bundle.

Gillian did not react as they dismounted, only as Catherine approach did she spring into motion. The men tensed, Catherine tensed, but suddenly Gillian clung to her, holding onto Catherine for dear life and sobbing like a child.

“We didn’t do anything, your highness,” one of the men instantly defended, looking honestly baffled and Catherine folded Gillian into her arms. Gillian’s tears soaked through her blouse.

“I know you didn’t,” there was no smell of the humans anywhere on Gillian. She was simply so terrified of being alone with the men that she had, at some point, even soiled herself.

“Priest,” Catherine had to say no more. He uprooted the stake and walked with them into the darkness. Gillian never let go of Catherine, all the way to the nearby stream.

“You’re safe, nothing happened,” Catherine soothed quietly until finally, her words seemed to penetrate.

“Clean yourself,” Catherine commanded more insistently, and Gillian appeared to loathe to let go of her, but she did. Priest was nearby.

He watched the forest, being out there in the dark was dangerous, even foolish, but Catherine would not allow Gillian to sleep with her disgrace and neither would Priest.

Unbidden, Robert brought some female clothes to Priest. It came from among the things pillaged from the Eastern camp. Priest brought them over, never once even glancing at Gillian before he moved away.

Gillian’s teeth were chattering from the cold by the time she managed to clean herself. She balked at the clothes, but one look at Catherine’s stern expression and she relented.

Catherine helped her dress and folded a blanket around her. Some small creature moved in the bushes and Gillian tensed. It was hunger Catherine sensed in the girl then, not fear. Her emotions had drained her, and there was nothing to feed the child at camp.

“Gillian’s hungry,” Catherine murmured quietly, and she could feel Priest debate the wisdom of leaving them, but he returned before Gillian was even completely dry.

They both watched her almost fall upon the small deer he caught. The wildness was still so achingly close to the surface.

Back at camp, the men were subdued. They ignored the three coming out of the woods, and although all three noticed that Gillian’s little accident was cleared up, no one said anything.

Gillian flushed deeply, something only her two companions saw and understood. It was more than shame, it was anger at those who made her as she was.

* * *

The fire burned brightly, and the guards were posted. The meat was welcomed with a muted cheer and routine settled around the camp like a safety blanket. Catherine took the stake from Priest and pinned it near where they slept. She wanted to be close if Gillian needed her.

She woke to some small noise in the early morning and found Gillian had crawled as close to her as the stake would allow. Their hands were almost touching, but before the sorrow could fully form, a second sound registered and Catherine was up in an instant.

Her sword was fully drawn. Priest was beside her in half a heartbeat, and the men stirred from sleep with weapons drawn. The guards were tensed and ready.

The first thing Catherine recognized was Derrick. He appeared through the gap in the undergrowth with Gunther beside him. Their attempt at stealth was good, but not good enough, they conceded warily. Her eyes found Dillon as if some invisible force led her to him.

Their eyes met and held across the space that separated them, and it took all of her willpower to stroll over to him until they stood barely an inch apart.

Nothing happened for the longest time, and then he reached for her. Their lips met in a slow kiss that sent heat searing through Catherine’s blood like fire.

The guys whistled, and they broke apart almost guiltily. If they were alone, she would have made a fool of herself and betrayed the depths of her feelings. They smiled, amused at themselves and a little self-conscious.

“Wife,” Dillon greeted. He had no idea how that word both heated her heart and scared her.

“Husband,” Catherine answered with a smile. She had to fight to keep her voice light and level.

He walked with her as she kissed Derrick on his cheek. His resentment was gone, but the pain was still in his eyes. Only he saw the fleeting jealousy in Dillon’s Gaze, and he had to restrain his mild spate of glee.

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