Catharine, looking left towards her sister, smiled a small smile, and nodded once. Edrea left, and Catharine soon fell into a deep and seemingly dreamless sleep. However, shortly before dawn, Catharine dreamed an odd dream. She seemed to be walking amongst the woods near The Plains, where she had previously scouted from. She wore a plain dress, the skirt of which hung lower on her left side, halfway down her calf; the skirt itself hung lower than her knees. There were shoulders of the dress for both her shoulders, though one or both frequently slid from her shoulders, and there was a shawl, attached to the back, which led down her arms to her fingers, with a small loop slid over her middle finger. Her hair, usually up in an untidy bun, was now tied back with a diamond barrette. Her feet were bare, but she was walking on what appeared to be a simple stone paved path, with no stones sticking up to hurt her feet. Catharine had no idea where she was going, but she followed the path until she reached a lake. There were four, well made steps leading down to it; the lake shore seemed completely deserted. Catharine stepped down the steps slowly, looking around as she did so. She was not there long, before Alexander arrived behind her, dressed in a white linen shirt, but with a wine red jacket, and his usual brown leather trousers and boots.
He paused at the top of the steps, and then stepped down two of the steps. Catharine, a hand reaching up subconsciously to her hair, brushed it over her left shoulder and turned to face him slowly. For a moment, neither of them said anything. Then Alexander said, “What is this?” Catharine replied, “A dream. At least... I think it’s a dream.” Looking away from him, she added in a softer voice, “I can no longer tell any more.” There was another pause, and then Alexander stepped down from the remaining steps. Catharine looked up at him quickly, and then just as quickly looked away again, across the lake. Alexander stepped forwards again, and Catharine asked quickly, “do you regret... that night. In Serckrea?” Alexander, stepping up next to her on her right, replied, “Which one?” Catharine replied, “The night when you brought me back from the Nether Realm?” Alexander was silent for a moment, and then looking to Catharine, he replied, “no. No I don’t – not at all. Do you?” Catharine replied, strong at first, but weaker the second time, “no... No” as she looked up at him. She looked away as he met her gaze, and Alexander turned away from her, to his right; after a moment’s pause, he said, “I should never have told you I didn’t love you.” Catharine looked up to him, and turning back to her, Alexander went on, “it was a stupid lie – I should never have believed it, let alone try to make you believe it as well.” Catharine, frowning slightly, asked, “Then... why? Why say a lie you never wanted to say... believe, even?”
Alexander, stepping very close towards her, replied, “I said it because I was cruel, Cathy. I was cold, numb; I had no emotion. You showed me it was alright to feel, to have emotions like everyone else.” Catharine, looking down, looked up and resting a hand over his heart, she said, “don’t... don’t say a thing like that, Alex. It sounds like you have no heart there; as though your heart is only stone.” Alexander's fingers brushed her cheek, and then slid down her neck as his palm came to rest on her chest as well. “I don’t have my heart anymore. You’ve taken it from me,” he said softly. Catharine’s eyes avoided his seemingly invasive gaze, and Alexander held her in his arms. Neither of them spoke for a few moments. Alexander, looking up slightly, said gently, “would that you could be mine.” Catharine was motionless and quiet for a moment, and then looking up at Alexander, she said in a quiet voice, “Alex, I will always – ALWAYS be yours.” Alexander's mouth met hers in passionate greed, and Catharine melted in his embrace, her hands brushing through his hair. She woke suddenly, but sat up slowly; saw it was close to dawn. When she left her tent in her armour, Catharine gave no sign that she had had any dreams whatsoever, let alone one she found disturbing. Alexander, however, soon found her saddling up Alexis, and stepping up behind her, his arms slid around her waist. “Alex - !” Catharine gasped this out, taken completely by surprise. “What I said last night... down by that lake, I meant every word,” Alexander breathed in her ear. “So did I,” Catharine replied, and smiled faintly as Alexander's lips met her neck.
His desire was subtly obvious as his lips brushed up her neck. Edrea’s voice was audible from behind them, and Alexander quickly left; he wasn’t quick enough. Edrea saw him leave, and stood next to her sister as Catharine quickly finished saddling Alexis. Catharine saw the look on Edrea’s face, and eventually her blank expression slid into a smile. Edrea smiled as well, and said, “I’m happy for you both. You’ve chosen well, my sister.” They hugged as best as their armour would allow, and Catharine, stepping back, took Alexis’s reins and said, “Come on, Edrea – we’ve got a war to fight and win here.” They walked off together, and once she reached the front lines, Catharine mounted up, and pulled her helmet on. Looking towards Edward, on her right, she nodded once. Looking to Alexander, she simply smiled. With that, the latest battle began, and Catharine soon lost sight of both father and son. Her mind was preoccupied with giving mental orders to her soldiers, and fighting all Doleans who came her way. All too soon, she found an injured Eleayan soldier, trying desperately to parry the fatal blow of a Dolean soldier standing over him. Her hand instinctively thrust out, and the Dolean’s sword flew from his hand. Catharine leapt at him, her sword piercing through his stomach. Drawing her sword clear, Catharine looked down to the soldier to see it was Thomas.
His arm looked broken, and he had a serious nosebleed. Catharine helped him to his feet, and pushing him towards Leucia, she shouted, “LEUC, TAKE THOMAS BACK TO THE CAMP!” Leucia nodded, and pulling Thomas's uninjured arm around her neck, she half carried, half dragged the injured young man back to the Eleayan camp, as Catharine continued fighting and relaying orders to the remaining Keleysanel. By the time the battle ended, by the almost predictable time of sundown, Catharine had a cut to her forearm, which ran from her elbow to her wrist, a scratch on her left cheek and a bruise on the right hand side of her jaw. She also had a deep stab wound to her right shoulder, but she refused point blank to let anyone heal her until she had finished healing others. She first went straight to Thomas, who was sitting patiently with his arm up in a sling. Catharine went to him with a medicine bag and Thomas said, “Cathy, heal yourself first, please, I –” Catharine ignored his protests and untied the sling from around his neck. Thomas winced as she helped him to stretch his arm out, and pulled a handful of dark seeds from her bag; she handed them to him and said, “Poppy seeds, to dull the pain. Eat them, and be glad I have a large supply.” Thomas ate them, wincing at the taste, and he did not protest as Catharine began cleaning the wound on his arm.
She then shifted the two ends of the bone he had broken in his forearm together, and after a moment, she put a poultice on it and said, “Come straight to me in the morning to get that taken off. Apart from that, don’t even touch it, OK – not even if you really feel like itching. If you need, come to see me and I’ll do what I can to get rid of the itch.” As she had been healing Thomas, Alexander had been standing nearby, watching her calmly do her job. Turning back towards the prince, Catharine took a few steps forwards with her head bowed, and then looking up, she startled back slightly, and then smiled a small smile. Alexander smiled, and they both looked down at his left arm, which Alexander had his right hand pressed on. “You’ve gone and gotten yourself hurt,” Catharine said, concern slipping into her voice, “let’s go to your tent; there aren’t any flat enough surfaces out here for my bag.” She led the way quietly to his tent, and as he sat down, she pulled up a stool and resting her bag on his bed, she opened it and pulled out the bottle of distilled of alcohol, a fresh piece of cloth, some bandages and some poppy seeds. Alexander frowned at them slightly and Catharine said, “It’s OK, Alex, they’re poppy seeds. To dull the pain – I wasn’t planning on ever killing you.” Alexander smirked briefly, and as he chewed on the poppy seeds, Catharine began cleaning the wound on his forearm. Before long, she was ready to heal the wound up, but only managed to half heal it before a splitting headache told her she needed to rest to regain her strength.
Releasing Alexander's arm to reveal a faint but angry red line on his arm where the wound had been, Catharine pinched the bridge of her nose, and brushed her hands over her face. “Cathy, are you alright?” Alexander asked; now his voice was the one filled with concern. Edward entered as she replied. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just close to exhausting myself to death through my powers,” Catharine replied. She quickly fixed a poultice on Alexander's arm, and said, “Come to me in the morning to get that off. If it’s still the same, I’ll fix it up again.” Alexander nodded as she tied off the bandage, and she looked up at Edward. “I’m fine. Your sister fixed my injuries,” Edward said and Catharine, nodding once, said, “I’d best see if there are any others.” Standing, she packed up her bag and as she turned to go, Alexander's hand caught her fingers. Catharine looked back at him, and smiling faintly, she pulled away and left the tent. “Is this really the same son of mine who had a problem with Catharine being his servant a year and some months ago?” Edward asked. “What’s wrong with it? You know how I feel about Catharine,” Alexander replied, standing up and moving around his bed, pulling his shirt up. “I’m just glad you’ve warmed to her so much. It’s not so much the influence she’s had on you as the man you’ve become of it,” Edward said as Alexander pulled on a fresh top. There was a slight pause, and then Edward said, “I’m proud of you, Alex.”
Alexander looked at his father, surprised, as he went on, “You’ve made a good choice in Catharine.” Alexander smiled a small smile and replied, “I know.” They then left Alexander's tent. The Keleysanel were setting up a fire, as they had done some times before, in the middle of the camp, alongside the fires started by Eleayan soldiers. All the while as this was going on, Edrea and Leucia were trying to coax, persuade and even bully Catharine into sitting down and letting someone take a look at the injuries she’d received. She moved round to the pile of firewood stacked to one side, as Alexander and Edward entered the middle of the camp, and told Leucia and Edrea firmly, “look, I told you, I’m fine, and I’ll be fine once I’ve had some sleep.” Leucia replied, “no, Catharine, but that’s the unpredictable side of any healing power, you know that better than anyone. At least allow your sister to help you – just an energy transfer or something.” Catharine replied firmly, “NO”, and with that, she tried to take several pieces of firewood to the fire. She winced slightly, and sliding her left hand out from under the pile of wood, she put it on her right shoulder, where the stab wound was still bleeding slightly. “Now you can’t argue with us,” Leucia said, taking Catharine’s arm firmly. Alexander, having watched this briefly, stepped forwards and said, “Leucia –mind if I try and talk to Catharine?” Leucia replied, “of course,” and she and Edrea stepped back out of earshot.
Alexander stepped up and leaned gently against the pile of firewood. Catharine looked to him, and briefly, he saw a flicker of vulnerability in her eyes. “Catharine, they’re just trying to help their leader,” he said in a quiet voice, “what are you afraid they’ll see?” Catharine replied, “Nothing, I just... no, I can’t. I can’t lie to you. I have Jelassenik influence – an intense kind of berserker blood. I don’t want to be the cause of someone else falling under its effects.” Alexander replied, “And they won’t fall under its effects, Catharine. Just have confidence in yourself, and it won’t affect them. But let someone heal you, please. I hate seeing you like this.” Catharine looked at him briefly, and then nodded, whispering, “Yes. Very well; just for you.” She slid her other hand out from under the pile of firewood she had tried to carry, and went to sit by the fire, pulling a splinter from the palm of her hand. Edrea went to crouch in front of her and quickly healed the stab wound in her shoulder and the cut on her forearm. Catharine, not moving until Edrea had completely finished, then brushed her hands across her face, and said, “Gods, I feel so tired.” Leucia, sitting next to her, held out the guitar Catharine had used the day before, and said, “Maybe this will help.” Catharine, looking at Leucia, grinned broadly, and taking the guitar, she began strumming a well known Eleayan drinking song. Several soldiers grinned, and Catharine stopped, blushing slightly. After a brief moment of silence from the guitar, Catharine began absently playing a tune. It sounded like nothing anyone there had ever heard, eerie, and yet beautiful at the same time.
Unknown to any of them but Catharine, the sound travelled far and wide, until it reached Seleucia, the capital of Serckrea. Keleya, standing out on her balcony terrace, heard the sound, and she turned, falling unnaturally still and silent as she listened to the unerring, unnatural music. Then she was on the move, down to the main hallway of the palace. Part of the floor had come apart, in an intricate movement of machinery set cleverly beneath it. A round hole that was roughly the size of a human head appeared in the very centre of the hall floor, and a white staff that appeared to be made of three separate pieces of wood twisted together appeared, seemingly floating up from the hole in the floor. At the top, the three pieces of wood broke away jaggedly in a dozen directions. Here, a piece of moonstone was set. The colour of pure milk, the moonstone was the size of a human fist and half that size again. Keleya stood at the centre of a small crowd of members of the same council that had gathered to discuss the war with Serckrea. “So it is come down to this,” Keleya said, and reached towards the staff, which now lay horizontal in midair. Before her fingers could touch it, a small spark of energy zapped to her fingers, and she withdrew them quickly.
“It seems... I am not to carry the staff this time,” Keleya said, absently rubbing the tips of her fingers together, and looking up to the open doors, out into the night, she asked absently, “if not me... then who will it be?” Catharine, meanwhile, was not aware of the happenings in her homeland. Leucia was once again cooking the meal, mindful this time as numerous times before, to add plenty of basil under the watchful and helpful eye of Catharine. Someone tapped Catharine on the shoulder, and looking up, she found it was Thomas. “Alexander and his father want to see you – the tent behind me,” Thomas said, jerking his thumb at Edward’s tent. Catharine nodded, and looking to Edrea, she said, “Help Leucia while I’m gone?” Edrea nodded, and Catharine almost strode to the King’s tent. She found Alexander and Edward talking alone. Edward said, “Ah, Catharine, there you are. I take it you know of our dilemma in this stage of the war?” Catharine replied, “I know we’re in dire need of reinforcements, sire.” Edward replied, “Yes, we are. And both Alexander and I thought it would be best if you went to Serckrea in three days’ time to request more reinforcements.” Catharine replied, “I will, sire. I will need to let my sister know, and my women, so they know why Edrea is taking command of them while I’m away.” Edward replied, “of course. Thank you, Catharine – it’s a big favour you and your people are doing all this for us.” Catharine replied, “I saw reason in the favour where most of the Serckrean council did not. You have nothing to thank me for, sire.” She left the tent after that; Leucia had finished the stew, and only a few of the Keleysanel did not notice Catharine’s unusual quietness.
It was soon replaced by her usual personality. Alexander surprised many of the soldiers by joining them; usually he joined his father in his tent discussing plans for the battle the next day. None could fail to notice that his eyes rested mostly on Catharine, and their eyes met frequently across the fire. Edward arrived to remind them they had yet another battle to face, which was the signal for them to go to their tents. Catharine moved silently through the camp, an unnaturally good night vision helping her to find her way through the tents. Alexander stepped out from the far side of her tent, and both of them were motionless in the moonlight. Catharine eventually smiled faintly, and Alexander said, “I’ve not been able to think about anything but you all day.” Catharine replied, “I know how you feel. You’ve never been off my mind, despite all the things going on in this, crazy war.” They had both walked forwards as they said these things, and before long, Alexander held Catharine in his arms. He kissed her gently and then again with more passion than he’d thought he could ever feel. “How can you love me so much?” Catharine asked in a whisper, still in his arms. “Can’t you see? I can’t love you enough,” Alexander replied, and just as he was about to kiss her again, Edward's voice said from the shadows to Catharine’s right, “and yet, now is not the time for romance.”
Catharine stepped away from Alexander in surprise as Edward stepped out of the shadows. Looking from father to son, she smiled faintly, and then stepped into her tent. Edward said, “I know you feel about her strongly, Alex, but frankly now is not the time.” Alexander replied, “I’m not going to ruin our relationship this time, father. You’ve already known what this is, that’s true, but let me figure it out on my own, please!” without giving his father a chance to reply, he stalked away. The next two days passed without much difference in routine. More lives were lost, and many men were injured. Finally, in the afternoon of the day before Catharine was due to return to Serckrea for reinforcements, there was a lull in the fighting. Many of the Eleayan soldiers wondered aloud what was going on, and all too soon, the telltale movement of a horseman on a white horse carrying an olive branch rode out from the Doleayan camp. Alexander, Edward and Catharine stepped out from the Eleayan camp boundary, without armour but with weapons, to meet him a few feet from the camp. “Yet another truce offering,” Edward remarked, as the rider slowed to a halt in front of them. “King Desnekos has been more than lenient offering you chances to save the lives of your remaining people,” the rider replied, handing over a scroll. Edward opened it, scanned through it, and said out loud, as a brief summary, “complete disarmament, half of all taxes payable to Doleatraya, Eleayan royalty replaced.”
Edward closed the scroll, and said, “Tell that so called King I think I’ll pass, thank you”. The rider, taking back the scroll, replied, “You’re making a mistake.” Alexander grabbed the rider, but the rider managed to slice a shallow cut in his chest with a dagger hidden up his sleeve. The rider fell to the ground as Alexander stepped back, and as Alexander tried to grab him again, the rider grabbed a medium sized pebble, and slammed it into the side of Alexander's temple. Alexander fell back, and Catharine, grabbing him around the shoulders, pulled him back from the rider, saying, “Alex, just leave it!” Edward said to the rider, “tell your master we said burn in hell.” With that, he helped Catharine take Alexander back to the camp. By this time, the sun had almost completely set, and many of the men were already cooking the evening meal. Catharine sat Alexander down by a fire, and taking two bowls of stew from a soldier who had handed them to her with spoons, she held one to Alexander. He didn’t move, and Catharine said softly, “Alex. Alex, listen to me. You need to keep your strength up. The men need to see you are still strong, despite being injured.” Alexander still did not move, and Catharine, leaning closer to him, said in almost a whisper, “Alex... Alex, don’t do this. Eat something... for me, please.” Looking up at her, Alexander was still silent; slowly, he took a bowl from her, and began eating.
Catharine smiled faintly, and said quietly, “there you go”, and began eating as well. When they had both finished, Catharine said, “We’d best go to your tent to fix you up. I need quiet for concentration.” As though in a dream, Alexander followed her back to his tent, and at her suggestion, removed his shirt; the cut wasn’t deep, and spanned from his shoulder to the base of his ribcage. There was also a bruise on his left hand cheek and temple. Catharine poured water out into a small bowl, and taking up a piece of cloth, she dipped it in the water. She had soon quickly and efficiently cleaned and healed the wound on Alexander's chest. As she turned her attention to the bruise on his face, her free hand was taken in his. She looked down at it briefly, as his hand brushed over hers. She soon returned her attention to the bruise on his face, though she found Alexander's fingers brushing over her hand distracting. When he stopped, Catharine looked down again, and said softly, “don’t...” Alexander suddenly stood and pressed his lips to hers passionately. Catharine said, as he pressed his lips to her neck, “don’t... I haven’t finished...” Alexander, just before kissing her passionately again, murmured, “It can wait”. His hands slid round her waist, pulling them even closer together, as Catharine stepped back, almost tripping back onto the bed. The passion between them was overwhelming, electric, as Alexander pressed almost desperate kisses to her neck, her shoulder, her lips, as she fumbled eagerly with the buckle on his belt. They didn’t care that they were in the middle of an army’s camp; they forgot that they were in a simple tent on a battlefield; all they could think about was each other.
Catharine moaned with pleasure as his hand brushed up her thigh. Alexander's love was inescapable, uncontrollable; he was consumed utterly by an almost animalistic desire for Catharine, as he made raw, passionate love to her, with her. All thoughts of injuries, of war, of swords slipped away from Catharine’s mind, as far more important matters seemed to jostle and whisper their way into her mind, to her attention: his hands on her body, his lips, seductive on her skin, the taste of his hunger as he pressed his lips strongly to hers; her hands running over his skin, brushing through his hair, and the intoxicating pleasure that broke through all her control like water breaking through an ancient dam. Before she slept in the comforting security of his arms, she healed the bruise away from his face. However, she left just before dawn, to prevent suspicions arising. Catharine left her tent shortly after dawn. While everybody was gearing up for the day’s battle, she pulled on a long, black cloak with a hood. Edrea handed her something in a small, brown leather pouch and said, “Here – something to keep you going on the road.” Catharine said, “Serckrean cured ham! When’d you bring this with you?” Edrea replied, “I knew you were always partial to it. What happened between you and Alexander last night? I went to find you in your tent, but you weren’t there.”
Catharine half smiled, and then looked away, as though slightly embarrassed. “You... you didn’t,” Edrea said. Catharine nodded once, and Edrea said, “You’d never –” Catharine replied, “if I’d been able to keep my emotional control, Edrea, then I’d agree with you: I’d never do something like this. But my emotional control was lost a long time ago.” Alexander suddenly passed them, and Catharine, fumbling in her pocket, said, “oh, I need to give this back to him.” She pulled out the amulet of the dove and olive branch she had given to him in Serckrea, and told Edrea, “Mind saddling up Alexis for me?” Edrea nodded, and Catharine soon found Alexander, mounting Zanzibar. He looked round as she approached; stepping up on the crate he’d used as a mounting block, she pressed the amulet into his hand. “You forgot this,” she said quietly. Alexander, smiling briefly, reached down to take her hand; he said, “Thank you, Cathy,” as his hand closed around her hand very gently. He then leaned down and kissed her gently. Edward, sitting on his horse behind them, smiled and joined in the applause of some of the soldiers, while others rapped their spears hard on their shields. When Catharine came up for air, she watched his eyes briefly, and then, turning away, she looked back only once as she pulled her hood up and mounted Alexis. As the Eleayan and Doleayan armies charged into battle once more, Catharine cantered into the forests, and raised the pace to a gallop.