Blood and War

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Chapter 66 - Widow's Right

Goran rose slowly to his feet, but it wasn’t the motion of him rising that had the attention of every person in the room fixed upon him. It was the cold coiled anger that radiated from him in waves and the dangerous glint in his eyes.

Right at that moment, Goran was the man of legend. He looked seven feet tall, and his presence filled the room. It dwarfed all the men in it into submission, all but Aldrich who regarded him with less than well-concealed amusement.

“Madness!! Do you call my strategy madness? What strategy did you have in mind? Fight until the Easterners ran out of soldiers and assassins? Hope for the best?

You didn’t even realize the war was happening until my son proved it to you!” Goran’s glare brought the room to silence, and not one of the protestors could hold his glare.

“Your strategy is short term, it won’t solve your problem,” their voices sounded so much the same, but Darcon’s voice held none of the anger in his father’s, only a slight boredom that only a few seemed to notice.

“At this rate, your war would last for years until you all run out of men, money or supplies. It might work, but we don’t have years, end this now and end it permanently,” Darcon reasoned, and Goran glared down at him for a second, before he conceded to his son’s strategy and seated himself.

“What would be the point of destroying ourselves in one go?” Another asked snidely, and Darcon pinned him with a glare, much resembling that of his father.

“Do you have so little faith in your fighting men and generals?” Darcon asked with a touch of amused spite, and the whole council stuttered into chaos.

“Shut up,” Aldrich did not even have to raise his voice.

“We will discuss this later, Goran, you will have your answer by sunset. We will convene in an hour to reach a decision,” the elders rose, still quibbling among themselves like strident school children. Goran and Darcon did not move. The elders hesitated.

“This is not your concern, this is a private matter,” Aldrich intoned, and reluctantly the rest left. Catherine would have followed, but Aldrich shook his head, and she slowly sat back down.

“Now for a more personal matter,” gone was the arrogance and air of cold command, but the wariness and the way Goran’s eyes missed nothing, was still there. Catherine felt unaccountably on edge. They looked so much like Dillon that it hurt.

“You married my son by Northern custom?” Goran asked irrelevantly, and she found herself frowning.

Her eyes moved automatically to Aldrich, whose expression of wariness said that he already knew what came next and she felt her tension rise.

“Are you familiar with our customs?” Goran’s gaze suddenly fixed on her, and she felt cornered.

“Are you speaking of the ‘widow’s right’?” Aldrich asked cautiously, and this time it was Catherine that almost launched up out of her chair.

Aldrich glared at her once, and she shut her mouth with a snap. She sat back down and firmly kept a hold on the emotions that bubbled into anger in the beat of a heart.

“Are you suggesting that you want my daughter to marry one of your son’s?” Aldrich asked with a reserve that brimmed with quiet anger.

“Want? As a Northern man, it is the duty of my eldest, unmarried son to marry the widow of his brother and give her the protection of our family that she deserves,” Goran calmly stated, but his eyes were hooded.

“I do not need protection, Sire, I have protection,” Catherine gritted out, trying not to offend him and reign in her raging temper at the same time.

The slight smile on Goran’s lips was an indication that she had failed to hide her rage and he looked for all the world like a proud father.

“This isn’t a choice love, it’s a contract. The ceremony will occur on the first night of the full moon with the blessing of your father, either or both of them, or we will leave taking you with us.

I have a feeling all of your men would follow,” Goran’s calm reasoning was just as dangerous as his anger.

Catherine’smouth opened to protest, but then she caught sight of the tight control on Aldrich’s face, and she knew that there would be no choice, she felt like screaming.

“So your sons are interchangeable?” Catherine asked with more venom than she ever felt and Goran very nearly lost control of his temper, but he regained it with a massive effort.

Goran was impressively intimidating when angered, but she was too shocked and too furious to care.

“No, but you would not understand that, not yet,” he grit out the words between his teeth and his son glanced at him with worry.

“Dillon would not have allowed this,” Catherine was facing off with Goran and Aldrich both, even as she knew it was futile.

“Then Dillon should not have married you by our rights,” Goran’s voice was final, and she had no defense against that.

She could not be mad at the man she loved in vain. He must have thought his father would never honor the marriage and that there would be no danger of this happening.

“Don’t worry, fiance, if my father’s plan fails, this will be the shortest royal marriage in history,” Darcon taunted, and Catherine glared at him.

She heard the satire in his voice, and she realized he was as pissed off about this as she was, but Darcon accepted his fate.

Darcon was the heir, the man that would be king when his father died, and he had to marry a vampire that carried his brother’s child.

There was also every possibility that she would not conceive again and then this child that was not his, would be his only heir, she realized. Darcon had every right to be pissed off.

This was also about more than duty and the two of them. If they got married, this would be an alliance between Goran and Aldrich, the two singularly most powerful men in their world.

It would be an alliance between vampires and humans that would put the two species on a more equal footing. The weight of that realization was a heavy burden that she did not appreciate at that moment. She had enough on her young shoulders as it was.

“Leave children, Aldrich and I have business to discuss,” Goran watched them leave, and he noted that they did not even glance at each other, once.

“This is not going to work, Goran,” Aldrich warned, but Goran smiled.

“You should know better than to doubt one of my offspring,” Goran’s pride in his children was apparent, and he was so much different than any man would have thought.

Aldrich did not want to force this marriage on Catherine, but he didn’t have a choice, the stakes were far too high. He knew she would have grasped that by now and he was as proud of her as Goran was of his sons.

Catherine would do the right thing, Aldrich knew that. He just wished it was not a sacrifice she had to make. After Dillon, this would be difficult for her.

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