Blood and War

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Chapter 69 - Silence

Catherine stared coldly at her own image in the mirror. It was hard not to shy away from her reflected gaze, and she felt like a traitor.

The white dress felt wrong. The beautiful woman with the baby bump that stared back at her from the full-length, polished steel was someone else... some stranger with her face.

Catherine’s eyes kept straying down to her abdomen. Every time she did, the eyes of the stranger in the mirror blazed blue with anger. She and her baby deserved more than a loveless marriage of convenience.

Catherine was barely aware of Dina and Althea, but for once they were quiet and respectful of her silence. She ignored their worried glances and the pity in their eyes. She could not deal with their emotions, hell, she could barely deal with her own.

She kept seeing Dillon in his white armor as he turned to face her with that endearing smile of his, trying to encourage her. She kept seeing the blade bursting through his heart, seeing the light fade from his eyes. Every sharp and agonizing moment of his death was etched in her head.

Catherine kept feeling his lips on hers and his hands on her body. She kept being haunted by his voice and his eyes. It was as if he were watching her from the grave, angered that she would betray him like this.

How could she accept Darcon’s touch? How would she cope being a wife to the brother of the man she loved? A man that was almost a twin to Dillon? So alike and so incredibly different. Dillon would have hated this. She hated this...

If she’d had a choice in the matter, she would have fled in the night, but it was the bump in her stomach and the thought of once again being alone, alienated, that kept her from leaving.

Catherine could not do that to her daughter. She would not allow her child to spend her life being an outcast and a traitor. She would not damn her.

Catherine squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. She would do this for Elizabeth. Darcon could not be too happy himself.

A man like him, in the prime of his life, would have someone he cared about. She stilled, that was what he was pissed about. He already loved someone. He was sacrificing his life as much as she was.

Catherine and Darcon had subtly avoided each other this past three days. It hadn’t helped, but she could not face him. She needed the time to settle, to accept, to think... to breathe... They would have enough time to get to know each other.

The council was furious that she would consent to marry yet another human. They were kind of hostile too, despite Aldrich’s explanations of the situation. She was being subtly shunned.

“Catherine, it’s time...” Althea sounded subdued, and for the first time in days, Catherine actually looked at the woman who became her best friend.

They were suffering because she was suffering, but she didn’t have the heart left to soothe their fears. The little of her soul that remained was dying inside of her.

Catherine didn’t know it, but Aldrich did. The second she walked over to him, and he saw her face, he knew. This was not Dillon’s Cathy, Cathy was gone, and his heart broke for her.

This wasn’t even Catherine Drake. Catherine hadn’t lived this much life, hadn’t known this much pain, hadn’t caused, lived and seen so much death.

At that moment she was so much Elizabeth’s daughter, that he could barely breathe and yet she was so much more...

Both Elizabeth and Catherine were wronged in so many ways. Not all the authority and power in his hands could stop either one of them from being hurt.

Aldrich wanted to pick her up in his arms and run away with her, save her from this final blow, but he was as helpless as she.

Aldrich held his arm out, and she took it, but she did not even glance at him. Gillian fell in behind Catherine, her worry for her mistress, the only mother she knew, as plain as day.

Gillian was not as schooled as the rest of them at hiding her feelings, but she was getting there, and it was a shame.

If it were not for the circumstances, Aldrich would have stared. Gillian was in a dress, and she was not the waif they picked up. She had grown into a stunningly beautiful young woman. Not as beautiful as Catherine, but she would be, soon.

Gillian was not the only one that kept glancing at Catherine with worried eyes. The two human women that saw to her, the giant Gunther and the young man Derrick, they all kept glancing at her. They loved her, and he had a feeling they felt just like him. They wanted to save her and didn’t know how.

Robert stared him down as if Aldrich betrayed them, and so did his men. They knew all that was at stake, but still, they blamed him for not doing something... anything...

Catherine walked down the short makeshift isle into the big tent. She made herself look at Darcon, and he nodded at her. His eyes were dark and troubled, but his resolve set in stone.

She glanced once at Goran, and he looked as if he expected her to bolt at any second.

Catherine’s back straightened, he would wait forever if he waited for a Drake to bolt. Even if it felt as if she could barely breathe and nausea roiled in the pit of her stomach.

Grief pushed at her from all sides, and her heart ached in her chest, but nothing showed on her face. She actually looked slightly austere, and her eyes were very cool in their expression.

Her stomach lurched when she saw the golden goblet and the white cloth. The only thing that steadied her was the knowledge that she could not embarrass Aldrich in front of almost the entire council and so many human royals.

She didn’t hear a single word the priest spoke because her mind kept replaying another ceremony, another man, and another priest...

Finally, she forced herself to pay attention, if only to distract herself... She was short of breath, her chest felt tight as if she was being crushed. She knew it was panic and Catherine crushed the feeling ruthlessly.

Darcon stared down at the woman beside him, and he knew they were destroying something in her. The last bit of humanity she clung to.

She was cool, controlled, beautiful and untouchable, but if you looked into her eyes for more than a second, you just knew she had lived too much life in too short a time, and it altered her irrevocably.

Darcon would have eased her troubled mind, if only he knew how. He could barely remember his little brother, but he knew all about the man he became.

Despite the opinions Dillon harbored about his father and his brothers, Dillon was a man worthy of respect, especially if he managed to make a woman like this, fall for him.

“Now, is there one who objects to this union?” The priest asked into the respectful quiet.

“Speak now or forever hold your peace,” he intoned as he took their hands and picked up the white cloth to bind their hands in union.

“Hell yes, I object,” his voice was cold with fury, his anger sharp and almost tangible in every syllable.

The guests all tried to see who dared speak, Catherine stood frozen. The voice had a familiarity she could not credit, and her insides felt like ice.

Shock and outrage from the assembled guests died into silence as the two cloaked men entered the assembly together and almost as one, threw back their hoods.

Catherine stilled when she recognized the smell of Eduardo and clenched her hands into fists when she recognized the voice of the speaker...

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