Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Nautical Note: In the days before electronics, the way to figure out how fast you were traveling involved throwing a log attached to a line with knots tied at specific intervals. One sailor watched a time glass while the other allowed the line to run. When time was called, you counted the number of knots to see how fast things were moving.
Eric and Sookie were lying on their ‘new’ bed in the master suite at the Bon Temps house. The Fae bed was back and Eric had to admit, there was something to it.
The night they were to leave for their in vitro appointment in Shreveport, Dermot showed up. He asked them to reconsider accepting the bed he’d made for them. “I built it for your benefit,” he explained. “It works with the land here. it will bring you success.”
“It’s up to you, Älskade,” Eric shrugged.
“You are sure?” Sookie asked, pushing her concern at him so hard he felt obligated to say more.
“I have no attachment to the other bed, Lover,” he assured her. “I am not just trying to be kind. It is a bed we only shared a few times before our time here.” Sookie nodded, and then she did something that seemed strange to Eric.
Sookie turned to Dermot and said, “Can I make you something to eat?” There was very little time until they had to leave. Of course, Sookie was ever polite, but there was something about how she said it, and the way she waited that caught Eric’s attention.
Dermot looked startled, but after a pause, he replied, “I would be happy to have cookies, and sweet tea? No one makes sweet tea like you.”
It was only after Dermot ate a bite of the cookie and sipped the tea that Sookie said, “We’d be honored to accept the bed.”
When they got in the car, Sookie explained what she’d learned about feeding Fae. “When he ate, I knew he wasn’t up to mischief, well, bad mischief anyway.”
“If Dermot truly meant us harm, Älskade, the wards would have prevented his approaching the house,” Eric shrugged.
“I don’t know, Eric,” Sookie told him, “I’m not sure how the wards react when the person who made them is the one being tricky. There are things that I’m learning that are making me pretty wary about Fae magic.” By the time they returned from Shreveport, the massive wood frame was in place and their former bed was already disassembled and stacked in their front room.
The procedure itself went well, just as quick and painless as promised. Eric and Sookie were offered the option to implant more than one embryo, but Doctor Ludwig recommended against it. “I’ve been to your place,” Amy rasped, “I have a feeling about this, and unless you want twins right away, I’d suggest you start slow.”
After the procedure, they were told that Sookie should rest as much as possible and Doctor Ludwig would come out to the house to check progress in one week’s time. “Don’t get your hopes up,” she warned them. “Tests can be inconclusive. Even with my nose, it can take several weeks to know for sure,” then turning to Sookie, the Doctor said, “Just try to relax. No travel. No stress.”
That had been two nights ago and all seemed to be going well. In less than an hour, Eric would leave for New Orleans. He had a meeting with Octavia Fant later tonight and tomorrow morning he would travel to Boston in his coffin.
“I wish I could go with you,” Sookie said again.
“You know what the troll said. No travel.” Eric made an effort to appear wholly confident. He knew that with the bond open between them, he would not be able to hide all of his worry, but he hoped by smiling and acting the part it would be harder for Sookie to find what he wished to keep hidden.
Somehow he hadn’t been surprised to hear Octavia Fant’s name. She was the witch who stepped forward to block ectoplasmic reconstruction at Amelia Broadway’s former shop. Sookie had mentioned Octavia’s name twice before, and Eric didn’t think it was coincidence. “Octavia has agreed to meet me at the Palace. Max and Emil both assure me this is a meeting worth the trip.” Eric tightened his grip around his wife, but he was careful not to breathe. The new injections were making Sookie smell even worse. This new hormone added a sharpness to the mildewed laundry smell that emanatedfrom her pores. ‘I will have to replace the sheets,’ he thought. ‘The smell will never come out of them.’ Out loud he said, “It will only be for two nights. I will be back in time for the Doctor’s visit with stories of Boston and, perhaps, a gift.”
“Well, don’t you worry. I’ll have those trestles in place and when you open the lid you’ll be decked out like Sunday’s best china.” There was no elevator at the house, no way to move Eric’s coffin to an upper floor. When Eric returned during daytime hours, his coffin would have to rest in the front room and Sookie teased him that she would order flowers and set up the room to make it look like a wake. “You are dead, after all!” she laughed.
“Hiding from humans in plain sight,” he laughed. It had been a way vampires had hidden in the past, a macabre reminder of another time. In spite of their joking, they could both feel each other’s unease.
It was Sookie who allowed her smile to drop first, “Much as I love this place?” Sookie picked at his shirt, “I don’t see this being our ultimate home.”
“How so?” Eric asked. Her words took him by surprise. Sookie’s deep attachment to her ancestral home and Bon Temps was something he had taken for granted. This was something new.
“I’m not saying we wouldn’t keep this place. Goodness knows, we have more than enough money to keep it up like a vacation house, but I’ve been thinking it’s probably not the best for us in the long run,” and Sookie sighed.
“But I thought you loved this place. I thought you were happiest surrounded by your friends and in this place where you grew up. Why has that changed?” Sookie pulled away from him so she could face him.
“For one thing, there’s no easy way to get your coffin someplace really safe. I know we have guards, and I know we’re in no danger, but I worry. I’d be happier with you resting behind doors that lock. There was that time we were driving back here and the sun rose. You were in the trunk of that Cadillac and the police wanted to prove you were really in there. I’ll tell you, Eric, the thought that they could fling open that trunk and you’d be gone? It still haunts me. I know your travel coffins lock from the inside, but still…”
When Eric nodded, Sookie continued, “You know I love my woods. I love being out here in nature. It feeds some part of me deep down, but it also exposes us. It takes a lot of guards to keep an eye on what’s going on all around us out here. You always chose to live in a gated community, and the more I think about it, the more I can see some advantages.”
“What has happened to make you worry, Lover? Did you see something?” Eric asked her.
“No, nothing in particular,” and Sookie shrugged. She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him. “Fact is, since we started all this baby business, I don’t feel very magical at all. Mostly I feel cranky and plugged up. I’m doing alright with my lessons. Tamsin’s drilling me every day on changing the appearances of folks, and she has me making things. She says creating with magic builds a good environment for growing other things,” and Sookie blushed a little. “Truth is; I think it’s all the hormones messing with me. I can’t stop thinking about you, about us. I’m happy, Eric, and I have moments I worry that I’m too happy, and something will come to take it all away.”
Eric could feel her anxiety, and so he chuckled, “Of course there will be challenges in our path, Lover. I have lived a very long time and I know for every moment of joy, there will come some moment of worry. But that, min krigare kvinna, is how it should be. If we had nothing but joy, we would grow bored with our existence. It is the troubles that keep things interesting.”
”If you say so!” she whispered against him, ”But do me a favor, Buster, and try to keep things as boring as possible over the next couple days?”
There was a noise from downstairs. It was Eric’s signal. ”Your friends will visit tomorrow. Mr. Cataliades will be here every evening. He has the details on the land I must consider acquiring in Arkansas. If you could handle that while I am gone, it would put my mind at ease.”
When his wife nodded, he rose from the bed, ”You will be busy, Sookie, and I will text you when I rise, but try not to be too busy. In fact, if you wish to stay in bed and watch that Scottish man on television, I will try not to complain,” and Eric waggled his eyebrows at her.
When the cable people had finally come to sort things out, Eric had had a monitor placed in the corner of their bedchamber. It was capable of streaming content and Sookie had rather quickly discovered Outlander, a television show featuring an attractive couple set in ancient Scotland. Eric teased her about it, giving merciless criticism of the accuracy of everything from accents to dress.
”So, you know when we get the green light for sex again, I’m going to want you to dress up in a kilt, right? I mean, it’s only right we should christen the bed in style,” Sookie smirked.
Eric leaned over, and in his best Scottish brogue he growled, ”You dinna need to put me in a skirt to run your hands over my ass, Sassenach. Ye can explore that anytime!” and he nipped her lower lip.
As he straightened up and turned toward the door, Sookie whispered, ”I love you, Eric Northman,” and he felt it coming to him through everything she was. It was a lovely picture she made, her hair messy and the sheets twisted around her hips. She was sitting so straight in the middle of that huge bed in her PowerPuff Girls night shirt and the way she smiled at him made her eyes shine. ”I’m yours,” she told him.
”Yes, you are,” he replied.
Thierry handed off the presentation to Stan Davis who spent the second part of the hour they had been allotted talking about the opportunities for wind farms along the Eastern seaboard. This wasn’t exactly news to anyone here. Humans had been working on integrating alternative energy in this part of the country for some time. It was hard to not find his eyes wandering to the door. Thierry knew it was unlikely that Misha would return to the convention center tonight. Thierry recognized the fury in the King’s voice, the barely contained rage. He hadn’t seen it often over the long years he served in the New York Court, and he had been privy to what followed only once. That once had been enough. Somewhere in the city, Thierry knew a youth was meeting his end. He also knew Misha had no qualms about it. At heart, the New York King was a vampire of the old regime. He believed at some level that humans were here to be consumed. Whether they served as his sustenance or served his body in some other way was of no consequence.
Stan finished and the question and answer period began. There were representatives from the Moshup kingdoms, including the Carolinas. Only two of the monarchs were attending, Grace from the Virginias and Luis from Florida. Thierry was not surprised that these monarchs had an interest in wind turbines. Their geography made them optimal candidates. Luis talked over the mechanics of organizing strings of wind farms with Stan, and then turned to Thierry, ”I understand your King will be here tomorrow?”
”You have been well informed,” the French Sheriff replied smoothly, bowing as was appropriate.
”It has been a long time since I’ve seen him,” Grace said, all formal correctness, but then her eyes narrowed, ”but I don’t think it’s possible that he could save our Chief from her disgrace.”
Thierry’s smile froze as Stan nodded, ”Yup, I heard they are really trotting out the big guns to take her down. I don’t know Nabila well, but something about this doesn’t add up.”
”She’ll have to step down,” Luis nodded. ”If this was some common investigation it could be overlooked, an inconvenience, but they are talking about seizing her records.”
”She will have to hand everything over, or run the risk,” Grace’s words were noncommittal, but Thierry was sure he heard just a hint of satisfaction. He wanted to excuse himself to find Nabila. He agreed with Stan. This was not the woman he knew. He wanted to take her in his arms and protect her. ’Think!’ his instincts warned him. ’Think who will be Clan Chief next. If you side with her, he will not forget!’ As he fought with himself, Pam Ravenscroft walked in with Felipe de Castro and his second. Hotel staff were distributing binders and Pam fiddled with her laptop. A presentation blinked up on the screen, and those around him took notice. Thierry saw Pam look around. ’She’s looking for him,’ he realized. With a thin smile, he walked to the row of seats against the wall, the ones for spectators, and settled himself. His fingers itched to pick up his phone, to text Nabila, but he clenched his fingers and instead he focused on Pam’s opening words.
Pam had brought him in as Eric’s Sheriff. Of course, the final decision had been the Northman’s, but it was this woman who had allowed him the opportunity. Still, he found he didn’t fully trust her, at least not enough to tell her everything as he had Thalia. He had seen the way she looked at Misha earlier, that same beguiled look he had seen in the mirror often enough. Pam hadn’t been given the gift that Thierry had, the gift of betrayal so harsh it removed the possibility of seeing the New York monarch as anything but a corrupt, venal bully who played with every creature around him, until tiring, he plucked their wings and left them for dead. She was still enamored by his conversation and the charisma that pulled everyone to him. Even those who didn’t agree with Misha could find themselves charmed.
’I will check with Thalia,’ he thought. ’Thalia will know how much I can tell Pam. She will know what words will tell Pam to be careful.’ He suspected Pam was in touch with Karin, and he figured that probably didn’t work in his favor. Thomas, Karin, and he had been playmates on more than one occasion, but during the last few encounters there had been an undercurrent of jealousy, a possessiveness that tarnished the pleasure. Thierry had returned to New Orleans, and shortly afterward received word that Karin had left Thomas. She used the excuse that she was restless. Thomas had not been forthcoming, but Thierry didn’t accept the explanation. Something had happened, and his instincts told him that he had become Karin’s excuse.
From her position in the front of the room, Pam settled in, walking through her presentation on auto-pilot. This part was always the easiest, the set words that flowed timed to the clicking of presentation slides. Angie would take over the second half, allowing Felipe the freedom to sit back and read the body language of their audience. ’The privilege of kings,’ she thought, and found her eyes heading back to the door.
The past two nights had been hectic. Twy left this morning during daylight hours. Twy and Pam had handled the transition with Nabila’s people like adults, and, for that, Pam was grateful. Twy was officially back on her own payroll, and probably already in Indiana bullying the media. The thought of the pushy publicist and Brock in partnership with Russell and Bartlett almost caused Pam to stumble in her speech. She had a feeling they would get along famously. Pam scanned the small crowd assembled. She saw the Virginia Queen and the Florida King. Judith of Pennsylvania was not here, but Pam wasn’t surprised. Judith rarely spoke above a whisper anymore. Tranh’s death had finished any desire Judith had to assert herself. She really needed to step down before someone ended her. Pam wondered if this would be the Pennsylvania Queen’s last Summit. Charles of Georgia wasn’t here either, but Charles rarely left his beloved Savannah. He had sent representatives. That left only Misha and Nabila, and from what Pam had seen in the suite earlier this evening, Nabila might be the next to go.
The Carolinas Queen had been polite, but no one had that many attorneys talking on phones if they weren’t in deep trouble. It was all the gossip that the Queen would return from the Summit to a waiting subpoena. There was a rumor that her assets were already frozen, or would be soon.
As Pam swung into her last two slides, she spotted Thierry sitting against the wall. She found herself thinking about something Karin had told her, that the French vampire had the morals of an alley cat. There was something more than waspish in the way Karin spoke of him, and Pam had almost called her sister out on it. She knew Karin was running again, which was what her sister did when her feelings started crowding her. Pam knew Karin was desperately in love with Thomas, but she also knew that Karin might hurt herself before she would admit to it. ’Pride and fear,’ Pam thought, ’a deadly combination.’ Still, Pam knew that Thierry was also Nabila’s current favored bed warmer. The Carolinas Queen was nothing if not in need of all the comfort she could get, and yet, here sat the Sheriff, watching her as if she was the most interesting thing in the room. It was cold, almost as cold as the man Karin had described.
Angie stepped forward and started talking. When Pam sat down, she glanced over to find Thierry still staring at her. She knew Eric liked this Sheriff. He admired Thierry’s intelligence and wit, but Pam knew that wouldn’t be enough for Eric to accept him. Eric was a good judge of character, but it was hard not to compare this Sheriff’s behavior toward Nabila with Misha’s treatment of herself. Misha was funny, but not in the smirking, teasing way Thierry had. Instead, Misha was charming. He was interested in everything she said, everything she did. He was open in his admiration and demanded that others admire her, too. He fed her ego in a way even Eric never had, and Pam had to admit, it felt good.
She glanced toward the door again, ’Where is he?’ she wondered. She saw Felipe. He was stroking his thin mustache. Pam knew Felipe intended to offer Misha a piece of the clubs in New England, and she was fine with that. She found herself thinking about Eric. He would be here tomorrow night, which meant she would need to make herself scarce. It hardly seemed worth it. There were almost no rogues in this part of the country, and, as far as she could tell, few to none up and down the coastline. Luis mentioned some reports in the panhandle of Florida. Judith seemed the only one to consider them anything more than a minor inconvenience.
The presentation ended and Felipe rose smoothly to take his place in the front of the room. Pam purposely deferred to him. There was some money here, but mostly the concessions sought were permission to open clubs in territories with reasonable tithes. Thierry was approaching her when Pam saw a movement at the door. It was Andrew, Misha’s houseman. Andrew stepped forward, but then his face lit up with pleasure, ”Thierry!”
”Mon ami!” the Sheriff replied smoothly, and they bowed in the way of friends.
”He will be so happy to know you are here!” Andrew gushed.
”He knows,” Thierry kept his face neutral, ”I saw him earlier.”
”And he didn’t invite you home?” Andrew continued, ”I can’t imagine such a thing!”
”He is doubtless busy,” Thierry replied, but there was something careful about his tone, and Pam saw the French vampire slide his eyes toward her.
’Were you his bedmate too?’ she found herself wondering, and Karin’s unkind words came back to her. Thierry’s eyes met hers, and she knew he could see her doubt. He stood taller then, bowed, and made his apologies.
”Please, convey my greetings to your King,” he said to Andrew in a formal voice. ”It was good to see you.”
Andrew bowed, but Pam could see he was confused. He turned to her, ”If you are ready, Miss. I have the car here. We can head back.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse, but she didn’t. She walked ahead of Andrew to the lobby, and then through the doors the staff held open for her to exit onto the street where the black car awaited them. The ride back to Beacon Hill was quick this time of night. As they turned onto the first of the cobblestone streets, Pam thought she saw a cleaner’s van ahead of them, but that didn’t make any sense. In a few more minutes, Andrew opened her door and she stepped into the formal entry. Above her, she heard the sounds of a piano. Climbing the stairs, she could hear the waltz more clearly, “The Waves of the Amur,” slow and sad. Misha was wearing a robe tied loosely around his waist. His hair was wet. He glanced up at her, then moved a little on the bench, giving her space. She sat down, watching his hands. He played well, but as someone who was self-taught. His hands stilled, and she reached forward with her own, her fingers gracefully poised over the keys, her wrists arched. Almost unconsciously, she straightened her posture.
”You had a strict governess,” Misha laughed dryly.
”Very strict,” Pam agreed. ”She’d hit my wrists with a ruler if I dropped them.” She began a Chopin piece she remembered loathing because it had been so difficult. Now, her fingers floated through the melody, muscle memory making the playing effortless. She concluded and turned her head to see Misha’s face close to her own.
”You will dance with me at the ball?” he asked.
”For this Summit?” Pam asked, and when he smiled hopefully, she said, ”No. I’ll be gone by then.”
”But, why, Zolotse?” he asked. ”What business could be so pressing that you couldn’t spare a night to float in my arms?”
”I need to get back to Minnesota,” Pam shrugged. ”There’s no pretending between us. You know my Maker comes tomorrow night. Things are… difficult between us. I’m not banished. He hasn’t shunned me, but I have every reason to put some distance between us. This isn’t any surprise. You knew.”
”Yes,” Misha nodded, ”I knew. But it seems selfish that he should come from his Clan territory to cast a pall over mine. There is truly no reason you shouldn’t be here,” and he leaned toward her a little, ”by my side, Pam.” he whispered.
”You are very sweet,” she smiled, and then turning back to the keyboard, said, ”but there is no reason to be sad while we are together, so…” and she allowed her fingers to strike up the “Maple Leaf Rag,” her hands moving freely as she banged out the syncopated rhythms. Misha laughed aloud, and with a flourish, inserted his own hands between hers, taking over the melody and then transitioning into a raucous version of “Baby Face.” They finished together, their hands playing in tandem, laughing, racing each other up and down the keys to the end. As they sat back, Misha’s smile dropped, but his eyes warmed further.
”You have captured the heart of a King, Pamela,” he told her. His lips were warm and Pam wondered if this is what love felt like.
Octavia Fant sat in the crème and peach office of the Palace in New Orleans. Devrah sat across from her and Eric didn’t need to be told the women knew each other. It was in their easy way and quiet conversation. If Eric had to guess, he’d say they were old acquaintances. It made him feel more at ease.
Karin walked in behind him, taking a station near the door. ’Thalia has taught you well,’ he thought, and then realized she could just as easily have learned her guarded reactions from him. Emil Touissant, the Packmaster of New Orleans, and Maxwell Lee, Eric’s second, also walked in behind the King. Until they received the request from Octavia, Eric had been working on a plan that involved turning the zip drive of names Karin had retrieved from Amelia Broadway’s computer over to the vampire monarchs of the respective states or countries. These were the names of witches who had purchased the charm from Amelia, the one that allowed the user to remove glamour. As those whose subjects were now the subject of blackmail, Eric considered the monarchs in best position to take swift action.
Emil advocated killing everyone on the list. ”Why take chances?” he told them. ”Now that this knowledge is out in the world, what stops another witch from doing it again? You’ve eliminated the source,” he told Eric, ”now let’s clean up the rest of the mess. With the Internet, it will need to be coordinated. I believe you can count on the Weres to help carry out what needs to be done.”
This plan had the benefit of simplicity, but the more Eric turned it over in his mind, the worse it felt. It meant war with the witches, and on a larger scale than any of them had ever seen. Witches weren’t like Fae. They were less predictable in their magic. Some were famous, witches who could alter weather or slow time. Others needed the collective skill of their covens, but when they did combine their efforts became a force to be reckoned with. Most witches were what Eric considered garden variety witches, dabblers in love spells and wards to protect property and person. To turn all witches against the vampires created too many variables.
Octavia Fant stood to greet him, and Devrah rose, too. Eric bowed, ”It has been many years since we have seen each other.” Indeed, the witch looked little changed. She was short, even a little shorter than Sookie. Her graying hair was braided against her head, emphasizing her sharp features. Where Devrah carried the unmistakable mark of French Creole blood, Octavia’s cheekbones rose high and her eyes tilted. She bore herself as straight as any Queen, and Eric supposed in her community, she was. ”The years have been kind to you,” he said. He found this to be an acceptable comment for older females.
Octavia’s lips curved up, ”And I could say you haven’t changed a bit, but I expect you get that a lot.”
Eric grinned, almost in spite of himself. He had not had much occasion to speak with this woman, for all she had also been Sookie’s roommate. Octavia had done Sookie, in fact all of them, several good turns. She had helped with the ectoplasmic reconstruction that revealed Maria-Starr’s murderer and helped to remove an evil influence from the woman who would become mate to the Packmaster of Hotshot. She had come under Sookie’s roof at Amelia Broadway’s request, a fellow witch fallen on hard times in the aftermath of Katrina. As it had turned out, Octavia was not as helpless as she had appeared. Eric gestured, indicating they should all sit down, ”I never heard the full story of how you ended up under my wife’s roof,” he said, hoping a story that linked them would break the ice.
”You know Amelia was a member of my coven?” Octavia began. When Eric nodded, the witch nodded too and settled back. ”She was one of the most talented witches I had ever seen. Natural talent and magic that just seemed to tumble from her. It was exhilarating and terrifying to watch. I thought that she had the potential to develop into someone of greatness, a leader among us.” Octavia exhaled and shook her head, ”I was wrong. I placed myself in her way, knowing she’d find me after Katrina. It was perfect, even if it was a little inconvenient for Sookie,” and Octavia chuckled. ”Your Sookie? She’s good people. Wrong-headed. Hard-headed, but good people.”
Eric nodded. He noticed Devrah glancing at the witch, ”How do you two know each other?”
”We’re cousins,” Devrah answered. ”It’s a bit distant, but we’ve always known each other. Of course, New Orleans is a small town and we talk relations here like some folks read books.”
”I want you to know that we were just about to move on Amelia,” Octavia told him, her back poker-straight. ”We were all set to go to her shop the night after you did, to shut her down. I had several talks with Amelia. I told her what she was doing was wrong, that it created a danger for all of us.” Octavia didn’t show any sign of regret or sorrow when she said, ”If you hadn’t ended her, I would have.”
”Fine words coming now, after the fact,” Emil didn’t look like he was buying any of it. ”And if you were so anxious to end the problem, why didn’t you offer help before? Why let this get so bad? Are you going to say you didn’t know about any of it until it was too late?”
”Amelia, for all she had become a problem for her coven, was not unconnected,” Octavia replied. ”She was still technically married. Her husband is a witch with influence, and their daughter needed to be considered. It is no small thing to be married to a woman whose own coven had to end her. Their child would carry the stigma for the rest of her life. I hoped that her child would mean enough to Amelia to make her stop, but, in the end, the only one who mattered to Amelia was herself.” Octavia leaned forward, ”And you should know something, Majesty, she hated you. She hated your wife, too. She thought that Sookie owed her something. She said she’d tried to call her and Sookie didn’t call back. She felt snubbed, but it was you she really hated.”
”I never did anything to her,” Eric shook his head.
”She blamed you for Tray’s death,” Emil volunteered.
”Tray Dawson?” The Were had been poisoned. He was killed during a battle with Fae involving Sookie. Eric’s eyes narrowed, ”And how did you come by this information?” he asked the Packmaster.
”It is old information,” the Packmaster shrugged. ”The death happened long ago, but the witch was a resident here for years. She wasn’t shy about recounting her grievances against vampires, and you in particular. She was not a happy woman.”
Octavia nodded, ”It’s true. She would spill her venom for the price of a cup of tea. I should have done something about her years ago, but I told myself that she was just a bitter young person who would grow into a bitter old person. Folks were already learning to steer clear of her. If it hadn’t been for her talent, she might have just faded away.”
”Do you know how she developed the charm?” Maxwell asked.
The witch shook her head, ”No, it’s one of the things that intrigued me about her. The magic in her ran so strong, but it was erratic. She could go for long periods with just common magic, nothing special, and then, all of a sudden, this surge would come from out of nowhere and she’d do something extraordinary. I thought she could be trained to channel it, but Amelia lacked the discipline, the will, needed.” Octavia looked toward Devrah, ”And probably, just as well.”
”You’ve come here for a reason,” Eric opened for her. ”Why don’t you tell me what you are proposing?”
”I’ve heard you’re traveling to a special meeting with the heads of the vampire kingdoms,” Octavia folded her hands on her lap. ”I’d like to come with you. I am proposing an alliance between witches and vampires to clean up this mess.”
”What do you think you can do?” Emil snarled. ”I would think that you and your kind have already done enough!”
”Which is why I am asking Eric, the King of my area, and not you, Packmaster!” Octavia snapped. ”Your kind would have us hunted to extinction!” The witch turned to the Viking, ”You know what it is to be hunted and feared. Witches have shared those experiences with your kind. Whether by religious zealots or small-minded bigots, we have been burned and hung, drowned and stoned. You think I don’t know what something like this could mean? Vampires have been among the few that have hired us, valued us. To make you our enemies, too? Madness.”
Eric nodded, ”I agree,” he said quietly.
Octavia nodded once, and for the first time Eric saw the woman had been afraid. It made him like her more. ”Thank you,” she replied, and then she gave the Viking a direct look. ”There is something else I need to tell you, something that is for you alone.”
It was hard not to see this as some plot to get him alone and use magic on him, and Eric’s face must have shown as much.
Octavia glanced over at Karin, ”She’s your progeny, right?” she asked, and without waiting for an answer, she said, ”She can stay, because if you decide you need to, you can order her to keep quiet.”
Now Eric was intrigued, and he signaled for the others to leave the room. When the door closed, Octavia said, ”I locked down the shop. No one will be able to see what happened there, by magic or any other means, but to do it, I needed to perform a reconstruction. I saw everything.” She waited then and Eric knew she was wondering if he would kill her. When he made no move other than to nod, she took a deep breath and continued, ”I know who that other woman was. She spent a fair amount of time with Amelia. Might say they found common ground in that sack of anger they hauled around.” Eric remembered Meg’s face as she had appeared on the television stations, her mouth down-turned, her voice strident. ”There was a rumor that she had something she was getting ready to hand over to the police, something that would put you in jail or worse.”
Karin moved, but Eric held up her hand. ”What do the rumors say this thing was?” he asked.
”I don’t know,” Octavia shook her head, ”and now this woman is dead. I know where she lived. The police have declared her a missing person. We would have to break in, but it’s possible an ectoplasmic reconstruction there might reveal something.”
”It’s been weeks,” Karin said. ”No news is good news. Maybe this thing died with her.”
”Perhaps,” Eric nodded, ”but I have learned from experience that just because you don’t hear from police, it doesn’t mean they are not working, gathering their bits of information, piecing together their puzzles.”
”If you can arrange it, I can have members of my coven, members I trust, go with someone you trust. They can perform the reconstruction any time you ask, but as more time passes, the images will fade,” and Octavia sat back.
”Karin,” Eric looked at his daughter, ”I would ask that you do this. Work with these people and report to me.” Karin nodded and the Viking turned back to Octavia. ”Thank you,” he said. ”I had hoped there was another option to this problem. You have given that to me, and I am in your debt.”
”I knew I was right coming to you,” Octavia smiled briefly. ”You have always given other species a chance. I hoped getting a crown and a title hadn’t changed you. Devrah told me it hadn’t.” She glanced away before saying, ”This magic Amelia made, this ability to remove glamour, is dangerous, too dangerous to continue. I have already issued a statement declaring it unsanctioned. It will help us weed out those who purchased the charm out of curiosity and those who had ill intent.”
”I leave for Boston tomorrow on a private flight,” Eric told her.
”Well, good thing I already packed my bags,” Octavia replied.
’There are so few of us,’ Nabila thought, looking around the room, ’and none are my allies.’ It was a lonely thought. Of all the monarchs in Moshup Clan, Nabila had gotten on best with Tranh and Charles. Now, Tranh was gone and Charles had his representative decline this meeting, saying he didn’t have the proper authority to represent his kingdom at this level. Luis of Florida would not meet her eye. He was not her enemy, but neither was he willing to extend himself for her. Grace would go wherever the prevailing winds blew and Judith? Judith hadn’t taken her eyes off Mikhail since the meeting started. ”I have no friends left,” the Carolinas Queen realized, and with that, she bowed to the inevitable.
”I have worries that I do not wish to inflict on any of you,” she said with as much dignity as she could. ”As you have probably heard, I am under investigation. There are allegations of bribery and fraud that are being prepared against me. These are not true, and I believe that in time, I will be able to clear up this confusion. However, it would be wrong of me to insist on retaining my title of Clan Chief when I will be distracted by what must come. I resign this honor, and ask that you decide who among you is best to take over the leadership of our illustrious Clan.” With that, Nabila bowed and taking the badge of office, placed it on the table to await their decision.
”Well, I don’t think there’s really any question, do you?” Judith piped up. Luis looked at the rabbity Pennsylvania Queen and rolled his eyes. It was a foregone conclusion and they all knew it. As each monarch turned to him, Misha uncoiled from his chair. Taking the few steps, he leaned over and picked up the badge.
”I am honored, of course,” he said, a sly smile playing across his lips. He stood still and Nabila wondered if he would insist on killing her anyway. When the silence became almost painful, he looked around at each of his fellow monarchs, smirked, and said, ”I will arrange a reception, of course. Something to commemorate the occasion.” Draping the medallion over his head, he sat, toyed with it briefly, then said to Nabila, ”A wise choice. I would imagine you will want to hurry home now. So much to attend to, so many questions to answer,” and his smile broadened.
”Of course,” Nabila bowed, realizing he had just dismissed her, even though they were all sitting in her hotel suite. She felt the heart she didn’t have clench in her chest just a bit, the humiliation of it stinging as she knew it was meant to. ”If you will excuse me, I will meet with my second and make arrangements.” She almost tripped leaving, but managed to hold her head high as she walked down the hallway.
She decided to take the stairs down one floor. Her second was on the same floor as the visiting kings. Nabila raised her hand to knock on the door when another opened and Thierry stepped out. ”My Queen!” he smiled. She couldn’t maintain her façade and a single blood tear slipped from her eye. She scrubbed it quickly and bit the inside of her cheek, willing her emotions to settle. ”Nabila?” and he stepped closer. It was at that moment the elevator doors opened and Misha exited, followed by Carlo.
”Oh, you’re still here?” he asked, his voice level, looking past her as if the Queen was so much dirt under his shoe. His sneer turned to a smile though as he recognized her companion. ”Thierry! What a pleasure! I was just on my way to introduce myself to your King! What a fortunate circumstance.”
”My King has already gone to the meeting rooms. I believe King Davis is with him,” Thierry bowed. There was an awkward moment. Misha didn’t move. Carlo didn’t move. Thierry glanced up and then straightened. ”Of course, I would be happy to keep you company until the Clan Chief gathering has concluded,” Thierry said carefully.
”Oh, you haven’t heard,” Misha purred, ”I am the new Clan Chief now.” He glanced at Nabila who was standing so still Thierry wondered if she’d gone into downtime. ”Our former Clan Chief is preparing to leave for home. Isn’t that right, Nabila?”
Her eyes flicked to Thierry’s and he saw, just for a moment, the pain they held. Nabila was a proud woman. To have him witness this was torture to her. ”It is as you say,” her voice was steady, ”If you will excuse me.” She turned and knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
”Majesty,” Thierry couldn’t help himself. Every part of him was crying out for her, ”Allow me to summon your second for you. It is the least…”
”But I have need of you,” Misha interrupted. ”I wish you to accompany me now.” Thierry saw it then, the cold calculating stare, the look that said, ’Who is this woman to you? Do you value her?’ Thierry knew what Misha did to those things Thierry valued more than he valued Misha. He cut their throats and drained them. He ripped their heads from them while he forced Thierry to watch.
”Of course, I value your time, Majesty,” Thierry made his lips curve up. ”If it pleases you, we should go,” and the French Sheriff managed to shrug and laugh. He couldn’t look at her face. He couldn’t see how his words; his gestures would appear to her. What was important was the killer standing next to her was appeased, that he stepped away and Nabila continued for another night.
When Misha stepped past him, Thierry fell in beside Carlo. He never looked back.