Twenty Five - Sacrifices

Paris, France

Chateau Rinardi

"My lady, my lord." 

Catherine and Renard arrived at the peak of Samira family's power. Even though the Constantines hold most of the country, Renard's ancestors were wise enough to put their prime power elsewhere. The Samira family has been in nobility for centuries. The mansion in front of them is the symbol of their surviving place in that. Things that went back generations of wealth which Catherine has managed to marry into. They quietly went inside.

Steven has called for an emergency meeting with the High Council of Samira, the High Tables and the Horsemen. The latter has yet to confirm their attendance given the tasks handed to them by Viktor. The Alderige also declined to avoid any suspicions from the House Drax and promised to support any conclusions the council may have decided to consider.

The couple were stunned to see a familiar person descending from the grand staircase. Harbouring his famous obnoxious smile and arrogant stand. He immediately embraced each of them.

"What are you doing here, Vincent?" Catherine asked calmly. She is trying not to hint anything to Renard. "I thought you were a bit occupied?"

"I happened to be in Paris when Lord Viktor generously offered for me to stay here. Who am I to decline?" He then smiled sweetly to Catherine.

Renard cleared his throat and took a step forward covering Catherine from Vincent's sight. Vincent shook his head in amusement and paced towards the dining area. 

"Vincent, a word?" Catherine said firmly.

"Ofcourse," Vincent turned around.

Catherine held her husband's hands. Vincent swallowed a few times and look away. He thought he had grown accustomed to the scenery but he was wrong.

"I'd like to speak with him alone," Catherine said softly.

There was defiance in Renard. He may have doubts in them but he has this trust with Catherine. Trust that will lead to his demise. 

Catherine dragged Vincent to the parlor room. She was worried. Vincent's appearance was not merely a coincidence. Something's boiling under her and she doesn't know what is it.

"Why are you here?" She asked again. 

"I already told you," Vincent faced the wide lawn outside the huge window.

"Do not take me for a fool, Vincent. First was Renard's uncle? Now, you? Samira is the only lifeline left for us!" 

Catherine swallowed back the moment Vincent turned around with full of emotions in his eyes. Head's up but she's slowly stepping back to the wall. If it's up to Vincent, he has all the grounds to put Catherine down. But he is here not for that reason.

"Just trust me, Catherine," he pleaded.

"Trust you? A lot of people are waiting for our downfall. Let's skip the part where we pretend that your family is not one of them. The only thing that's keeping my faith on your family is that you honor our friendship," Catherine muttered almost in tears.

He took a seat. Looked at her in pity. There's nothing he can do. This is beyond their controls.

"I'm sorry," again, he looked away.

"That's what I thought," Catherine laugh with no humor at all. "Can you now tell me why you're here?" 

"I'm here to convince Renard's father to support your house."

"Can we stop calling it house Drax. We both know we are neither noble nor influential. We are just the parasites who benefited to our host until it died."

That host was Vincent's ancestors. Yet here they are once again, remaking history. She wiped the small teardrop threatening to pop out.

"You've done enough, Vincent. I don't want you to be involved," she smiled at him. It was weak but it was sincere.

He held her hand tightly. Catherine felt a series of emotions running in her veins but she let go. Her family has been the worst ally to the Clements. This is the least she could do.

***

DINNER

07:00 PM

The butler went inside the dining area to announce Vincent's arrival. He was then led to his chair next to Renard. Viktor was across them.

"So glad you could join us, doctor," Steven nodded at Vincent. "It's refreshing to see some new faces here."

"Pleasure, Lord Steven," and he returned the courtesy.

"Catherine's not joining us for dinner, Renard? Again?" Viktor asked. His tone is an expression of dismay to Catherine's actions.

Renard put down his cutlery and wiped his mouth. He took his wine glass. 

"She was deeply sorry, uncle. You know how hard it is for her given the circumstances," he put down his glass and continue eating.

"But it's not an excuse not showing up especially that we have company such as Doctor Vincent Clement Alderige," Steven motion his head towards the man beside his son.

"I'm sure Vincent knows the situation. They had some kind of understanding earlier," Renard commented.

"I wouldn't call it an understanding. We just had a conversation," Vincent defended.

Viktor snapped a look to his nephew. He did not like Renard's humorless statements. He cleared his throat.

"Forgive my nephew, doctor. That's what you get when you marry someone beneath you," Viktor stated calmly but casted a shade on the table.

Renard was first to acknowledge the insult and held himself from barking back. Vincent was taken aback by that statement though. He knew from which class Catherine originated. They were not rich but they were not poor either. But in their standards, she is indeed beneath them.

"So what's your itinerary, doctor?" Steven diverted the conversation noticing his son was already gone from the table.

***

"I can't do it." 

Catherine closed her chamber. She faced the maid who has been reminding her about her real purpose her. The woman in her mid twenties pressed the issue.

"Milady, Lord Viktor has intervened. There's nothing left to do."

"You don't understand! He is Renard's father!" Tears glowing in her eyes.

"If you let your emotions control you, milady. You won't save your family," the maid held her hand. "His Malevolence is counting on his granddaughter."

By the mention of her grandfather made her quiet. If she fails to accomplish this mission all of them will be gone. Renard can save her but her grandfather, her uncle and the house Drax will fall.

She picked up her purse and went straight to Lord Steven's office. It is in the west wing. She has all the time to assess her decisions before she will have to make the decision behind the gun.

The huge door full of gold with very intricate carvings stood in front of her. This is the only choice. They already planned everything. How they will point someone else for this crime.

"Milady, do you wish to see Lord Steven?" The butler suddenly spoke behind her making her startle. She quickly turned around and smiled.

"Oh, yes. I was just taking up the courage to knock. Thank you," she smiled again making sure no suspicions will arise.

She paced back and forth. Called the maid who is her insider. The maid arrived with worried expression.

"Milady, what happened?"

"The butler saw me! If something happens tonight, I was the last person to see lord Steven," she whispered harshly. "We need to delay."

The maid held her arm tightly. Looked into her eyes.

"It has to be tonight, milady. Lord Steven will see Lord Constantine tomorrow and that meeting does not include the future of your house. If he survives tonight, your house won't," the maid said firmly.

"But I can't! How could they put this on my shoulder," Catherine is already in the verge of crying.

"This is the reason of your marriage, milady. With Samira, your house has the best chance of survival even without any seat in the council. This is no longer about your happiness, milady. I'm sorry," the maid sincerely said.

Catherine swallowed a few times. The maid held her shoulders and turned her towards the door. She nodded to Catherine giving her the courage she could not build. But before her knuckles could hit the door, someone arrived.

"Catherine? What are you doing here?"

"Lord Vincent," the maid quickly curtsey.

"Vincent?" Catherine's heartbeat doubled. She anxiously glanced at the maid.

"Leave us, Leonor," she waived her hand. 

Leonor wanted to protest but Catherine glared at her. Vincent might find out what this is about. They have to delay.

To her surprise, Vincent knocked on the door. Panic creeps in to her. She fixed her dress and stood properly.

"What are you doing?" She asked him.

Lord Steven shouted from the other side welcoming whoever is knocking. He pushed the door and went inside. She immediately followed him inside worrying that Vincent might divulge her true intentions.

"I'm sorry for this interruption, milord," Vincent said apologetically.

Steven was still scanning through the shelves. He was aware of his visitors but he was not aware to the threat.

"Doctor Alderige, to what do I owe this pleasure?" He asked blindly, still reading through his collections of books.

Vincent started drawing something from his coat which made Catherine covered her mouth. Lord Steven turned around to see Vincent pointing a gun at him. Steven smirked and glanced at Catherine.

"Vincent! No! You don't have to do this!" Catherine tried to go near him.

"I need to do this so you don't have to."

Catherine did not know what to do next after she watched how Lord Steven slowly drop to the carpeted floor. The look of utter shock was on her. She slowly kneeled in front of the dying lord. But even in his last breath, Catherine couldn't get the blessing she always seek from him.

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