Chapter 60 - Confrontation
There was no time to mourn. The retaliation from the Eastern army was swift and vicious. They swept over the countryside and destroyed everything in their wake. This time it was not Aldrich and his lone army that repelled the attack.
Finally, the council and the humans were all on the same page and never in the history of the Vampire and Human Alliance, did so many lords gather their armies in such a short time.
All of a sudden, the East found itself surrounded on all sides, but that did not mean that the odds had been entirely shifted.
The Eastern army fought like demons, and they were set on taking as many of their enemy with them to hell as they could. Quite truthfully most of that enemy was in no way prepared for what they were facing.
“We need something more, we need something to give us an edge. We are losing too many men too fast,” Aldrich spoke to the joined generals and allies, but part of his attention was focused on Catherine.
She just got back from the battlefield, and her armor was still stained with blood. Her eyes were focused somewhere out there.
If Aldrich didn’t know her well enough by now, he would think that she was not paying any attention, but he knew her better...
Catherine hated these meetings. She understood the need for them and if she had something to say she would speak up, but she viewed them as a waste of her time. It kept her from being out there and fighting.
She was on edge, energy came off her like a tiger ready to attack, but she was calm, too calm. Catherine barely slept, she was always out on the battlefield, and Aldrich had to keep Priest, Robert, and Derrick with her alternately because she wore her soldiers out.
Catherine fought as if her muscles would never tire. She slew the Easterners as if they were animals and not human. She hated them with a fury that left no room for anything else, and she never flagged. The anger in her never eased, and her thirst for revenge never lessened.
Every easterner was to her the ‘one’ that killed Dillon, and Catherine murdered him over and over again. Aldrich saw the worry in the eyes of her soldiers for her.
They loved her, respected her, wanted her to be safe, but with her mindset at the moment, keeping her safe was a chore that tired them and kept them close to the edge.
Catherine tried to spare them. She often took some of Aldrich’s men, instead. Others volunteered out of their own, but her people were possessive of her.
They didn’t trust ‘strangers’ around her, and under any other circumstances it would have amused Aldrich, but his concern was even deeper than theirs. His fear for Catherine and her child was that of a father watching his only child slowly destroy herself.
No one answered Aldrich, they placed all of their strength on the table, and there was no more to give. He knew that they knew that and he nodded.
“Then we will keep putting men on the field and hope we don’t run out of soldiers before the East does,” Aldrich sounded tired just then, and Catherine’s eyes strayed briefly to his face.
A slight softening in her expression told him she understood the responsibility he felt.
“Do we know yet who the Eastern leader is?” Angus asked, and all the members of the original alliance shook their heads.
“The Easterners all die before they speak and the traitors don’t seem to know, none of the men we sent to the east have returned alive,” Gustav answered for them all, and the mood in the war tent seemed to become more loaded.
“Fine, we will continue as we are,” Aldrich dismissed them with a wave of his hand.
The tent emptied out, and he walked outside with Catherine by his side. She favored her right leg, but he did not ask. Aldrich knew she was wounded, he could feel and smell it, but it was just not worth the aggravation to try and detain her.
Catherine stopped dead in her tracks just outside the tent, and he immediately found the source of her disturbance. Eduardo and Hellenic were making their way to the war tent, and the tension in the air was almost palpable, but her expression just became more closed off.
Eduardo Drake was often in camp, but until then, she was spared his presence by her own absence, now there was nowhere to go. She would not leave Aldrich’s side, and he respected her for her sense of duty and her loyalty to him.
Her men tensed and even some of their allies, Gustav and Angus, men who had fought by her side and learned to respect her.
She was a daughter any man could be proud of, and Aldrich felt a great deal of satisfaction that Eduardo’s foolishness had robbed him of her presence.
They came to a standstill. The usual greetings followed, and although Catherine greeted her father with stilted respect, Hellenic ignored her formal greeting. Her eyes held no expression, but Hellenic’s gaze burnt with hatred.
Aldrich felt his hackles rise, felt his teeth start to show and stopped himself just short of growling. He knew exactly what Hellenic had done to her.
He saw it in her blood memories when he claimed her as his kin, and only propriety kept him from coming at Hellenic himself, but he would bide his time.
Eduardo, always a stickler for formalities, frowned at Hellenic. No matter his feelings on the matter, most of the council was here, and Hellenic just humiliated his mentor by ignoring the daughter of the head of the council, no matter the facts. Aldrich felt just a little smug at that.
“Eduardo,” Aldrich purposefully didn’t offer the title of Lord Drake as he extended permission to speak.
“There have been some new developments, it would be better if we spoke somewhere... less public,” Drake felt the barb, but he kept his pose as he spoke.
“I will hear you out, gentlemen,” Aldrich dismissed the others, and they moved off. What they had to do was as important as whatever Drake was about to say, if not more so and they did not argue.
Inside the tent, Catherine took her place by Aldrich’s side. Neither Aldrich nor Drake could fail to notice that Hellenic disrespected her by sitting before she was seated. She outranked him, and it was an unforgivable breach of etiquette.
Catherine raised a brow, and both elder men felt their hearts tear. At that moment she looked just like her mother, except for the lack of expression in her eyes.
“Speak Eduardo, we have a war to fight,” Aldrich held his tone neutral, but he got the rise he expected from both men, and he enjoyed that they dared not retaliate.
“The caravan taking the wives of the councilors to safety was attacked. Five of them were kidnapped, the rest escaped. They were hacked apart, their torsos and heads spiked on poles and planted beside the road,” Eduardo’s face held no expression, but there was anger in his eyes.
“Ten of my best men died,” Eduardo hesitated before he turned his gaze to Catherine.
“They abandoned the dead to save the living. When they returned the bodies had been robbed and burned,” Eduardo’s words rung hollowly in the silence... Nothing happened for all of ten heartbeats as Catherine absorbed the words.
The edge of the table broke off in the grip of her hands, and her eyes slowly turned to her hands, before she put the broken piece of hardwood on the table.
“You entrusted Lord Drake with the body of my husband, Father?” Catherine asked coldly, but Aldrich could feel the hurt and the terrible pain in her.
“No, the council did,” Aldrich answered quietly, and he had to work to not let his suspicions show.
“I know what you are thinking, Catherine, you know me better than that,” Drake bit the words out by one, his pride was in question, and he was a man of pride.
“Do I?” She asked, and for the first time since her father cast her away, she looked directly into his eyes. Their eyes met and held, he was the one to concede.
“What concern is one dead human to us, in the face of the loss of five our kind?” Hellenic snickered, and Catherine let her eyes stray to him. This time her hatred was barely concealed.
“Dillon, son of Goran the Great, born the sixth heir to the Northern throne was more of a man than ten of you Hellenic. He fought and died for his people and for this kingdom. He brought together the alliance that saved you all from a messy death.
If not for Dillon Ad Goran and Catherine, those women would not have lived, not any of them,” Aldrich rose as he spoke and he half leaned forward until his gaze had Hellenic pinned to his seat, the power of him too much for the younger vampire.
“What have you done in your life that compares to that? What claim to fame do you have? That you are a vampire? That you have found a mentor that is powerful? Your father is not a king, your father is not even a lord of the council,” with each word spoken by Aldrich, Hellenic paled.
His anger became more visible, and as if he blamed all of this on Catherine, his eyes kept straying to her.
“I am a warrior, I earned my place...” Hellenic spat out as he rose too.
“Yet you have not fought a single battle yet, despite the fact that Eduardo has been in several skirmishes,” Catherine needled, and his hatred exploded.
“You whore, you do not get to speak while the men are speaking,” Hellenic growled at her. She moved to stand, but Hellenic crashed right through his chair to the floor as Eduardo rose and hit him with a closed fist right in the face.
Blood exploded from his nose and dripped over his expensive white trimmed tunic.