Blood and War

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Chapter 52 - Attack

Catherine greeted Gunter with the hand, but he pulled her into a brief hug instead, and there was an affection to the gesture she would never have expected of the man. Then again, it was not the first time she underestimated him.

“The girls miss you, your highness,” it was the first time he used that phrase, but the warmth in his eyes was the same.

“How are they?” Catherine asked sincerely and Gunther smiled.

“Fine,” he said, and she could see the truth of it in his eyes. She could also hear the love in his voice.

“They found two more women, one older and one very young. Althea cares for them, but they are not entirely healed,” his eyes went significantly over to Gillian.

Catherine hadn’t expected him to be curious, but then again, he would not know that Gillian was more than human.

“We have got a new addition too. A young halfling,” Catherine walked over to Dillon and led him close to Gillian, who cringed nearer to Priest. Her eyes torn between panic and confusion.

“Gillian, this is my husband, Dillon. His friend Derrick and my friend Gunther,” Catherine introduced the men who, wisely, stood still and made no sudden movements.

For a while, it seemed Gillianwould not respond. It was obvious how hard she fought her fear, she trembled with it.

“bbbb...uuu..t, he...s,” Gillian almost seemed to choke on the last word.

“Yes Gillian, my husband is human,” Catherine acknowledged. The incomprehension turned to a frown, but then she seemed to notice their body language.

The way they stood very close to each other and the way his hand rested almost naturally on Catherine’s shoulder. Her frown deepened, and their relationship was clearly puzzling to her.

“We found her in the Eastern camp. She was severely abused by humans. Right now she thinks humans are the ultimate evil,” Catherine explained, and Gillian seemed uneasy with the new additions. Her eyes darted from one to the other, as if she expected one of them to attack her.

“R...ob....Rob....nice,” Gillian protested, and Robert almost swelled to twice his size as his chest expanded with pride. Priest smiled, and Dillon chuckled, but the rest of the men were laughing too. Gillian flushed, uncertain of herself, uncertain if she said something wrong.

“You are an excellent judge of character, young one,” Dillon complimented, and this time Robert flushed at the unexpected if sideways, compliment. Gillian’s eyes went to him, and Robert smiled at her like a proud parent.

Gillian remained wary as the men greeted each other. Dillon, Priest and Robert spent a great deal of time talking and comparing their efforts.

Dillon told them he found their trail marker earlier and expected to find them further along. Gillian watched them intently, and she growled a little if one of the strangers stepped too close.

Later that evening as they ate, Dillon cut off a piece of his meat. He held it out to Gillian, who, to everyone’s astonishment, took it from him even though she skittered away quickly.

Robert sulked a little after that and Catherine hid her smile. These men could be just like naughty children when they felt like it. Odd that they all felt like... family...

It was in that instant that her ears picked out some odd sound, some inconsistency that alerted her vampire senses and the hunter flared to life. Gillian suddenly retreated violently to the end of her rope. She shook with fear and made small keening noises.

The halfling should have been easily capable of uprooting the stake by then. She was no longer as painfully thin as she was a few days before, but Gillian never touched it, nor did she attempt to break the rope.

“To arms!” Catherine’s voice rang out cold and clear in the instant that the Easterners flooded from the darkness. A bolt flew right at her, and she batted it aside with an outrage that flared to hate instantly.

The Easterners came with the callous manner of ones used to easy victory, and their demeanor changed dramatically within seconds. The men brought their swords out, and the first encounter between enemies proved that these were no ordinary travelers.

Despite their surprise, the Easterners quickly recovered, and the battle turned into a short but terrible conflict.

The Easterners had no honor and no code of conduct. They fought with throwing knives, poison darts, crossbows, teeth, fists, chains, whips, swords, lanyards and some weapons Catherine could not even name.

These weren’t soldiers, and it was what made them so dangerous. They were killers. Murderers. Rapists. Butchers. They attacked together, yet there was no pattern, no form and no rules to their conduct. They were like wild animals with deadly skill.

In close quarters like this forest, they would rip through a battalion of ordinary human soldiers like wolves through a flock of lambs.

She could see their tactics in her head, and she was afraid, not for herself, but for what was to come. This would be no formal war with battlefields and sieges, no prisoners of war and no amnesty.

Robert and his men succeeded in capturing two of the Easterners alive. They committed suicide within seconds of being captured, by each breaking a small black vial between their teeth.

They died grinning and spouting obscenities. How could humanity be twisted so far out of shape? Catherine wondered as Robert cursed and shook his head.

Two of Robert’s men were wounded, caught by bolts from the crossbows. Catherine forced the arrows through the skin, broke them off, sealed the wounds and applied salve to them.

“Catherine,” From the tone of Dillon’s voice, she could hear something was wrong. Only then did she remember about Gillian and on cue her eyes found her.

Gillian was pinned to the ground. There was one arrow through her midsection and one through her upper leg. She was sobbing quietly and completely out of it with fear.

Catherine knelt beside her, and the halfling suddenly hissed angrily. Gillian almost managed to unpin herself, and Catherine slapped her once across the face, hard.

She could hear the shock from the men, but Catherine was the only one close enough to see Gillian blink as if confused before the anger drained completely from her. Recognition returned.

“Now, I’m going to break the arrows off, love and it’s going to hurt. Then I’m going to pull them out, and that’s going to be worse, but first I’m going to remove the rope because it’s caught beneath you. Don’t do anything stupid,” Catherine warned sternly, and Gillian nodded weakly, her head barely moved.

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