Chapter 53 - Trust
The rope had chafed Gillian’s neck raw, and Catherine felt guilty for having to use it. Then she untied the hands and here too were angry red marks, but she forced her attention away from that.
These were surface wounds that would go away, so instead, she concentrated on cutting the cloth away from the arrows. She could thankfully smell no stomach fluid.
Gillian made no sound when Catherine broke off the arrows, but she screamed when Catherine lifted her up, and they pulled through her flesh with a wet popping sound.
She cried and growled as Catherine laid her gently on the ground and examined the wounds for splinters and dirt.
A human would have died from similar wounds but the halfling on the other hand, was weak, alive, but very hurt. She would not die from paltry wounds such as these, but they made her suffer. Catherine lowered her head so that their faces were only inches apart. Gillian’s eyes were wide with pain and fear.
“Only a little and do not make me regret it,” she warned and Gillian frowned, but her frown turned to denial as Catherine offered her wrist. Gillian tried to shake her head, regretted the movement and mouthed no. Her eyes never left Catherine’s face.
“I’m not asking Gillian,” she ordered sternly. Catherine tuned the men and their protests out. When Robert moved to try and touch her, Priest laid a hand on his arm. Robert would have shaken that hand off if Dillon had not stepped into his path.
“Trust Catherine if you do not trust the other,” Dillon’s voice was calm, and it was that calm that penetrated where anger would have gotten nowhere.
Catherine herself was nowhere near that calm when Gillian took her wrist, but she schooled herself to allow it. The rip of teeth into her veins hurt.
Gillian did not possess of the finesse a vampire her age would have acquired by now. The knowledge to be effective and gentle. Who would have taught her such things?
Even Priest, almost thirty years older than Gillian had not picked it up, and Catherine felt guilty for the privilege of a life she took for granted.
“Don’t chew, I’m not a cut of meat,” Catherine warned with words so quiet that only Gillian and perhaps Priest heard.
The very fact that Gillian, under the circumstance, gentled her bite, stopped chewing and showed a leaning toward control, was more than Catherine expected.
The wounds on Gillian sealed themselves, and she could hear the reaction of the men. They were now gawping, but she could feel that if Gillian did not let go soon, they would act against Catherine’s orders.
“Enough,” Catherine warned and for a second only, it seemed as if Gillian would not respond and then she did, if a little sluggishly.
Vampire blood was not human blood. It was a potent mix for such as Gillian, but she sealed the wound awkwardly. Then she lay back as if she fought herself and it was a battle she won.
“Do I need to tie you up again?” Catherine asked, some feeling that was suspiciously like pride warmed her heart and Gillian slowly shook her head.
The men protested, but Priest shifted his bedroll nearer to that of Gillian and away from Catherine and Dillon.
Catherine slept lightly, something that Dillon was immediately aware of and although he said nothing, he didn’t sleep too deeply either.
They were both up at first light, and Gillian was just where they left her. Five feet from the wooden peg and she hadn’t moved once in the night.
“Come,” Catherine bade as she did every morning, but she picked up neither stake nor rope. Gillian glanced at both, more than once, until Catherine frowned at her from the edge of the clearing and she scurried to follow.
All the way to the stream Gillian never moved more than five feet from Catherine, it was almost as if the rope was still there.
When they returned to camp, both stake and rope were gone. It all looked so peaceful. As if the night before and the bodies piled with their fellows, never were, but for the stains of blood to one side and the smell of death.
Catherine passed the hole where the stake would be, and Gillian sat down a little ways from it. They all watched her with unease.
They were never uncomfortable with either Priest or Catherine, and yet Gillian accepted their fear. Who knew more about fear than she did herself?
She moved no more than five feet from that hole the entire morning. The unease ebbed, but it wasn’t for their benefit that she stayed put, Catherine and Priest soon realized. Gillian spent so much of her life tied to a stake in the ground that she felt vulnerable without it.
She refused to move from it, not even for the promise of food. The only time she moved was when Catherine took her to do her business and when Priest called to her to take her place behind the horse. It was eerily as if as if there was some invisible rope that tethered her to the horse.
At the evening campsite she stood behind the horse until Catherine came to fetch her and where Catherine told her to sit, she sat down and stayed. It was the saddest thing.
Robert brought her a rabbit, and although everybody tensed uneasily, she took it carefully, and she didn’t eat it raw. Instead, when she was done, Gillian put it where Robert could pick it up to be skinned with the others.
She ate more than hungrily and no one minded that she got more than her fair share. She was hurt, and they all felt just a little guilty for not having protected her better. She seemed none the worse for wear. Physically anyway. Who could imagine the horrors of her life?
Gillian watched the sparring men with avid fascination. She never spoke, unless scared or prompted to do so. She never left her magic circle, and she seemed to learn much like a human child what was and wasn’t acceptable.
Two days later Dillon left to rejoin his men and Catherine watched him go with a heavy heart. It felt worse every time. Would he ever know how it hurt when he left her?
Catherine turned to pack her things and stopped, tears slid down Gillian’s cheeks, but her eyes were nailed to Catherine. She started making a low keening noise that only a vampire would hear. Catherine wanted to join her, but pride kept her tears flowing on the inside.
“They will be back,” she assured Gillian quietly, but the keening noise only slightly eased.
“It’s your pain Gillian feels, sister. She drank your blood, she knows you,” Priest spoke from close by, words only the three of them would hear, and Catherine frowned.
Catherine herself only once tasted strong vampire blood like her own, when she was younger than Gillian was now and badly hurt by a fall from her horse. Her father offered her his wrist, and she dreamed of the mother she never knew for weeks.
At the time she was too young to understand that those were her father’s memories of her mother, the only thing he ever allowed her to see. She was careful to hide her memories from Gillian, but apparently, her feelings leaked through.
She walked over to Gillian, folded the girl into her embrace and just held her for the longest time. It took an effort to soothe herself, to soothe them both, but the keening stopped, and Gillian cuddled into her with the affection of a child.
Oddly Catherine felt comforted as much as she was trying to comfort. It was painful to see the flash of hurt in Priest’s eyes as he looked at the motherly gesture and to understand that no one ever comforted him like this.
It was just as hard to accept that this was probably the first time anybody ever held Gillian in this way. It was worse for Catherine to acknowledge that she learned this behavior from her humans and not her parent or keepers.
“There now,” Catherine said finally, her voice sounded just a little scratchy and Gillian let go reluctantly. Catherine wiped away Gillian’s tears with the heels of her hands.
“Time to go,” she rose, and Gillian rose with her, but she kept glancing at Catherine all day with a little, worried frown between her eyes. Catherine wordlessly bore Priest’s silent satire.
They both knew this wasn’t about Gillian’s worry. This was about a vampire princess in love with a human prince, and they both warily understood that such things never ended well... It was just a matter of time.