Blood and War

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Chapter 63 - The Unexpected

It wasn’t Dillon... A sob caught in her throat as logic brought sorrow. He didn’t smell like Dillon, he didn’t feel like Dillon, and his eyes were the wrong color, an almost haunting sea green.

He was slightly taller, wider in the shoulders, more muscled and there was a cold hard concentration to his face, not the heated fierceness Dillon carried into battle.

How could two people look so much alike? The pain tore through her chest like a sword and almost crushed her into the dirt. The grief she held back with so much fierce determination, crashed over her like a wave and Catherine had no defense against it.

She sank to her knees in the dirt. The camp was so close that she could hear the men scurrying about. Catherine was hidden from them by a single bush, and even if she weren’t, she had no way to stop the grief that felt like an iron fist ripping out her heart.

“He must have been some man,” the voice shocked her from her paralysis and to her feet, sword drawn and ready. One look had her heart clenching, and there was no denying it.

He was even taller than the other man, broader of shoulder. There were gray streaks in his short dark hair, his beard was almost entirely gray and neatly trimmed on a face that was still more handsome than any man deserved to be. The resemblance was startling.

“King Goran...” It was a shock, but he could be no other, yet she never expected him to look like Dillon.

In her head she pictured him as his legend, a man almost eight foot tall as wide as a barn with fists the size of watermelons. A wild head of hair and a long beard, dressed in animal skins and the ears of the dead, ridiculous, but true.

In her head he was cold as a statue, murder in his eyes, cruelty written all over him, instead, he was just a man. He looked at her with something that brooked on compassion, but she could sense the coiled strength of him.

Catherine could sense the danger of Goran and authority lay on his shoulders like a mantle. He was nothing at all as she expected.

“If you mean Dillon, yes, he was,” she could not help the slight hostility in her voice, nor the slight hitch of emotion.

She expected him to be annoyed by it. Instead, a small grimace of pain fleetingly lined his mouth and pulled at the corners of his blue eyes, Dillon’s eyes.

“He must have been, he chose you for a wife,” his words seemed incongruously sincere, almost as if he were really proud of Dillon.

“What do you mean by that?” Catherine asked, not capable of keeping the suspicion from her voice, she thought he meant the alliance it gave Dillon.

“I watched you fight. I saw you command your men, I observed you take care of them, even your humans. You defied Lord Drake, your own father.

You impressed that rascal Aldrich enough to let go of his foolish pride and choose his family. Despite my son’s opinion of me and the past, I knew him better than Dillon ever knew,” Goran’s voice went from respect to slightly teasing, to dark pain, all of which did not fit the man Dillon had painted.

Dillon would have never lied to her, but no man on earth was that good an actor. His emotions were too potent underneath the surface.

Catherine could sense the turmoil there. She knew that a man with his reputation was no angel. He would be cruel if he had to, Goran would kill if he had to, he would do what it took to protect his country and his crown, but his sorrow for Dillon was as real as her own.

“The truth is always open to interpretation Catherine, and sometimes there are forces at work that one does not reckon on, until it is too late,” Goran’s eyes measured her. Without him having to say it, Catherine knew what he asked of her, a chance to tell his side of the story.

“Isn’t that a conversation you should have had with Dillon?” She asked almost coldly of him, and Goran nodded slowly, his eyes wary on her.

“No,” he watched her eyes widen in shock and then narrow in anger. He knew that Dillon had more than chosen well, although he was not too thrilled at first.

“Dillon could never be told the truth,” his words made Catherine frown, but just then an arrow hit the dirt mere inches from them, and they both turned to fight an enemy that wasn’t there.

“Perhaps this is a conversation better left for another time?” Goran asked, and Catherine nodded as they strode purposefully forward, side by side.

Goran saw her frown and glance at him, but there was no time to explain his presence, or his army, as they fought their way free of a stray group of enemies.

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