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: When you are jockeying for position in a sailing race, it is sometimes that boat that can keep its sail at the most acute angle that manages to pull ahead. You crank and tweak and shift weight, allowing your boat to more efficiently nose into the wind.
‘We’re all male now,’ Eric noticed as he glanced around the room at his fellow Chiefs. Misha had made his announcement and with a self-satisfied smile, proceeded to speak with first Stan and then Felipe. It had been some time since Eric had seen Nabila, really not since the Summit when he turned down her offer of a royal marriage, but he hadn’t anticipated any difficulties. She had shown no signs of bitterness or regret following his refusal. Instead, she had sent a lovely frame that Sookie had used for their Pledging portrait. Eric was aware that his Sheriff, Thierry, and Nabila were closer than friends. Eric was confident that there weren’t any lingering resentments on the part of the Queen, he would have heard of any through his Sheriff’s connection. There had been nothing and it confirmed Eric’s impression that Nabila was a practical woman.
What he did remember was that the Carolinas Queen’s reason for wanting their alliance was to protect her from the ambitions of the barrel-chested man who was just now turning to be formally introduced.
“Of course, you have heard of the North Man,” Felipe was turning on the charm. “But I must confess, I have not heard that you have met before.”
“No, we have not, and it is difficult to believe,” Misha’s eyes crinkled and his cheekbones rose, all pleasure and politeness. Eric schooled his own face into a mask of pleasant neutrality as the Kings exchanged bows. “And yet, we have so much in common,” and Misha glanced to Eric’s right where the Viking knew Thierry stood.
“I am grateful for the skills my Sheriffs bring me,” Eric said smoothly, picking up on the cue. “Thierry speaks well of the training he received in your Court. Thomas has also proven himself most adept.” Eric gestured to the couches but Misha ignored him. “It does seem unusual that in our small world we haven’t had the opportunity to meet face to face before now.”
“Perhaps it is fate,” and the New York monarch rocked back on his heels. He managed to look in Eric’s face without trying to make himself appear taller. It was a common gesture among shorter men Eric found, but somehow the way Misha stood made you forget his height. “We have so many threads that join us, perhaps more than you know,” Misha was speaking in a tone tailored to make the hearer lean in. Eric stood taller. He noticed the slight frown when Misha sighed, “I was saddened to hear of the loss of your Maker. I don’t know if he ever mentioned me, but I did meet him. Appius Livius Ocella was a great vampire.”
Eric involuntarily stiffened and then cursed himself silently when he saw Misha’s recognition. It had been many years since he had heard his Maker’s name. He found as the years passed, he tried to think less and less of him. He knew that the life he now lived would have earned him death at Appius’ hands. The old Roman would not have sanctioned his unorthodox marriage nor his approach to rule. While his Sire might have approved of the alliance with the Fae, he never would have allowed Sookie to stand beside him as his Queen. Misha was waiting, so Eric said, “My Maker was a colossus among us, truly one of the ancients. I regret he never mentioned you, but I was freed from him for over five hundred years. We rarely saw each other.”
Misha nodded, “He was not my Maker, but I do consider him to be the most important influence in my existence. He taught me valuable lessons. You were fortunate to have known him as you did.”
“Yes, fortunate,” Eric agreed, but in that moment, he couldn’t recall a circumstance when the words ‘fortunate’ and ‘Appius’ ever belonged together.
They remained looking at each other until Felipe interrupted, “And now there is yet another thread that dances between you, your shared admiration for a Maker, and now your shared admiration for Pamela. I am surprised Pam did not come this evening.”
“She felt she would not be welcome,” Misha purred, his eyes never leaving Eric’s.
“My progeny is a bright and capable woman with strong opinions. Unlike my Sire, I do not require my children to agree with me in all things. Pam and I will come to an understanding in time. Had she asked, I would have told her I would welcome seeing her here. I chose wisely in making Pam.” Eric let the words hang between them. ‘So,’ he thought, ‘this is the person Pam has met?’ and he decided contacting his progeny through Maude was a risk worth taking. Eric did trust Pam, but he recalled all too well the sound advice others gave him about Sookie. In some ways, had he taken it, his life would have been far less complicated but he was stubborn. Pam was stubborn in her ways as well, and Eric found himself hoping that his instincts about Misha were wrong.
“I am happy to hear Pamela was mistaken,” Misha was watching Eric carefully. “She is different than most female vampires.” He tilted his head, “She is quality.”
“She is more,” Eric replied with a nod. It was hard to decide if the feelings he was experiencing were spurred by the obvious danger this vampire represented, or if jealousy was playing a part. Eric had never before found his affections for Pam challenged by another vampire. It was unsettling.
“I hear you have a solution to our witch problem,” Stan interrupted.
Eric glanced at Felipe. He could see the Narayana Chief would have been happy to watch him spar with Misha longer, ‘So you can find the weakness and exploit it later, Snake!’ Eric thought venomously. “I have much news, and I have brought a guest. She is the head of the covens in New Orleans and is known by witches everywhere. If you agree to meet with her, Thierry will bring her here.”
“Why should we trust a witch?” Felipe snarled. “Why risk having some sorcerer place us under a spell? We are capable of cleaning up this problem without being forced into some compromise.”
“I got to tell you,” Stan shrugged, “Folks in my kingdoms have been busy, too. You bring some witch here now and she probably won’t like what I have to say.”
“I’ve been doing the same thing,” Eric nodded, “as have the monarchs in Amun. She knows, but there is also a compelling argument for our not stacking up the body count any higher.”
“A forgive and forget witch?” Stan didn’t bother trying to hide his skepticism.
“A practical witch with a practical solution. Think! We all use their services. How will you ward your properties if we are at war with them? Think of the ways we benefit by buying their services. Like us, they have few friends. Octavia acknowledges they started it. That alone is worth concessions. She tells me she can negotiate for them. I believe her.”
“I have always found witches useful,” Misha nodded. “I would be willing to support this conversation, Viking,” and he tipped his glass in Eric’s direction.
“I lose nothing by listening to a proposition,” Felipe agreed, “and perhaps I gain a hostage who may prove valuable.”
“I have pledged her safe passage,” Eric replied.
Felipe’s eyes narrowed as Stan said, “Fine! Let’s see what your ‘friend’ has to say.”
Eric flicked his eyes at Thierry who moved to the door. Carlo left with the Sheriff, leaving the four Chiefs alone together. “Is Nabila still among us?” Stan asked Misha. Felipe hissed, and Stan shrugged, “You were all wondering, I just said it out loud.”
“Why would I end a talented vassal?” Misha gave the impression the question was beneath him.
“Just wondering,” Stan smirked. “You have a reputation for not suffering rivals well.”
“If you are referring to Tranh, that woman was never my rival. She was not worthy of the high honor that was hers.” He flicked his eyes toward Eric, “She wasn’t able to safeguard the Lady of Sanctum. She was a failure in many ways.”
“Lydia took her own life,” Eric replied, the Viking’s eyes sliding to Felipe. There was no proof, in fact, the evidence pointed elsewhere, but Eric’s instincts told him Felipe was involved in that tragedy. For his part, Felipe didn’t appear to notice and before there could be further conversation, the door opened and Octavia Fant entered.
The witch glanced around her before sitting in the chair Eric held for her. The Viking had to give her credit. Octavia looked remarkably calm for a human being asked to place herself in the midst of vampires. When she settled, Eric made the introductions and then sat himself. There was no offer of refreshment and Eric found he noticed, ‘Sookie!’ he thought irritably. His wife had rubbed off on him in ways that were unexpected.
“I am here to offer our help in dealing with the disaster one of my own has created,” Octavia stated. Her back was straight and she held her head high. “I thank King Northman for allowing me to bring my request to you myself. In such times, it is best that you see me so there can be no misunderstanding as to what I offer.
“For centuries, your kind and mine have made our ways. We sell you skills you value. You honor us with your patronage. It’s a situation that’s worked out well for all of us. This isn’t the first time one of us, or one of you, has decided to use the other. I’m sure any one of us can point to a time there were offenses committed by either my side our yours. But each time, we managed to address it without causing a wholescale split between us. This is different.”
Octavia looked from face to face. Felipe’s fangs were showing and Eric fixed him with a stare. The Narayana Chief seemed to catch himself and with a flourish, sat down on a couch. The witch nodded before saying, “I’m sure each of you has one or more of my kind in some deep, dark hole right about now. Could be some of those are deserved. For many of us, the magic we possess is wild and erratic. When one of our own makes a charm that promises a way to get rich quick, it can bring out the worst in any person, but especially one whose magic has not run strong.”
“You would have us give you back those we have?” Misha asked.
“I would ask that we use the names of those who bought the charms to determine how each person used the charm. Glamour is a tricky thing. For most, it never gives the human involved a moment’s trouble, but for some, it’s a lifetime of nightmares. You know there are documented cases of humans being declared insane. Many witches use their magic as healers. Like Tarot or scrying, they don’t tell what is bad. Instead they use what they find to frame things to help. When we saw the advertisements, there were many in my own coven who talked about using these charms to help humans shut the door on nightmares.”
“You speak as if removing glamour could be done in some surgical way,” Misha was watching Octavia closely. Eric could see the cold in the New York King’s eyes and he recognized the look.
“It is an interesting idea,” Eric added, pulling the attention his way.
“It is possible to only remove some part of it, and leave the rest intact,” Octavia confirmed.
“And how do you know?” Stan asked.
“Because I have one of the charms and I used it,” Octavia replied. Eric had to give her credit. The room became quiet in the way only vampires can, but she held her ground. “I couldn’t bring you a plan if I couldn’t prove it could work,” she added. “The charms were not evenly made. Some work well, in fact, most that I found, but the magic seems to weaken with each use. Others don’t work at all.”
“And you can tell by…” and Felipe allowed the words to float.
“It’s the feel of the charm,” Octavia nodded. “I can feel the draw of its magic and I can feel the potency of the magic it carries.”
“And what would you propose to do with these charms?” Felipe asked, “Perhaps keep them for yourself?”
“No,” Octavia replied, “They must be destroyed. They are unsanctioned magic, irresponsible magic. They must all be accounted for and ground to dust.”
“And what prevents another witch from making more?” Felipe rose now, his eyes narrowed. Eric suspected Felipe de Castro had the least congress with the magic witches offered, which in view of the Nevada King’s investments in casinos seemed oddly ethical of him.
“Our ability to create magic is limited by each individual. You might say that each of us has our own unique stamp. I may be able to create a protection spell, but no other witch will be able to duplicate it. They may be able to create one just as strong, but it won’t be the same. It’s why we collaborate on some spells. It is the combination of our individual magic that can create a larger whole that is better than any one of us is capable of creating individually. Amelia Broadway’s gift was prodigious, but it was hers alone. It died with her.”
“And you killed her?” Misha smiled up at the Viking.
“If he hadn’t, I would have,” Octavia’s voice carried. Misha’s smirk died and all eyes turned back to Octavia. “I have contacts in most major cities. I have examined the list and while it will take some time to track each witch who purchased one of these charms, it can be done within the month. I have already sent out the edict on the charms. Witches have been asked to turn them in to the leader of their local coven. They are ordered to include a recounting of any time they were put to use.”
“And you believe these witches will be honest?” Stan was shaking his head. “Now, I have some that I do trust. Call on them from time to time and I’ve always known them to be good people, but that didn’t stop some others from shaking down vampires in my Areas.”
“Those that show up will be questioned by their coven leaders,” Octavia told them.
“And what if a coven leader is involved?” Felipe hissed.
“We have a list of every charm that was sold and who bought it,” Octavia reminded him. “We will account for every one of them. That is my pledge to all of you. It is the business of vampires that puts food on our tables and clothes our children. We have no interest in a war that will leave us broken.”
“I, for one, appreciate the services that can only come from witches,” Stan stood now. “I’d rather do it this way. I don’t need to be worrying about hiding more bodies. I have humans that were killed over this.” He gave Octavia a direct look, “Witches too.”
Octavia glanced down now, “I am not surprised. If we move now, we can stop any further bloodshed. Where money was paid, we will order it returned. Where humans were left with damaging secrets, I can offer you the knowledge that re-glamouring them will end the crisis. There will be none left who can expose you in this way again.”
Eric glanced at Octavia. He had told the witch about Meg, that she had been immune to glamour. “It must have been something unique to Amelia,” Octavia assured him. They hadn’t decided what would happen if more like Meg were found, but they both agreed there was no need to fuel suspicions with the other Clan Chiefs further.
“What if there is a witch who refuses to give up her charm?” Felipe asked. “What if she or he has decided to keep using this magic to expose us?”
“I would ask that you allow us to handle it,” Octavia told him. When Felipe sneered, Octavia added, “It is better that a witch kills a witch. We will already have our hands full ending any blood feuds or calls for revenge. It is inevitable that there were innocents who were caught in the nets,” and Octavia looked at each face, daring them to challenge her statement.
“You would kill your own?” Misha asked, and Eric could see the new respect on the monarch’s face.
“If you had vampires endangering your kingdom, wouldn’t you?” Octavia challenged him back.
Eric spoke now, “Octavia came to me last night. I have not had the opportunity to contact the rulers of my Clan, but I intend to now. I wished all of us to have the same information at the same time. I hope you consider this offer. With the scrutiny we live under, Witnesses and a public that chases us with their cameras, this was one worry too many.” Eric nodded at Octavia, “I pledge that I will put an end to the killing of witches in my Clan. I will distribute the list and ask that my rulers and their Sheriffs get in touch with their local covens. I will ask that the names of those witches already in custody or dead be provided and we will work out an arrangement that will suit all.”
“And if the witches demand money for survivors?” Stan asked.
“If the death was justified, if the witch was blackmailing our own, then there will be no money,” Eric looked at Octavia. “It was a matter that should have been addressed by the local coven, and it will fall to the coven to care for survivors. However, if the witch was innocent, and just caught up because of what she or he was? Then I will be willing to provide money to help the family. I will decide it on a case by case basis.” Eric knew it was a generous offer, but it seemed best to lead in this case.
“I don’t see any downside to giving it a try,” Stan shrugged. “Count me in.”
“I don’t believe we have the same degree of involvement in my territories the others Clans do, but I will pass instructions to Angie,” Felipe agreed.
It was a ballsy statement, and was Felipe’s way of saying that witches in his territories were less likely to betray him, but Eric remembered all the California addresses on the list Karin retrieved. ‘Still missing the big picture,’ the Viking thought, ‘still looking at your kingdom and Clan as being only those things that affect you personally.’ In that moment, Eric knew that Felipe de Castro would find his end one day soon. The Nevada King simply didn’t have the mental bandwidth to survive as a Clan Chief.
“Well, I suppose it is worth a try,” and Misha smiled thinly. “It was clever of you, Northman, to have found this solution.”
Eric bowed slightly before saying, “It was fortunate the solution found me. I am grateful for Octavia’s offer.” He physically turned back toward the witch, drawing attention away from him. Octavia nodded her head, but remained silent. He suspected she was shaking inside. Rising, Eric said, “I thank you again, Ms Fant. I will instruct my second to send out the message. I understand you will be sending copies of the list to your contacts, and we will furnish identical lists to our own. I consider this a good day in furthering our relationship with the witches.”
Octavia rose and, after inclining her head to each of the vampires in turn, said, “I thank you for listening, and I will notify my people.” Eric walked her to the door where Thierry was waiting for her in the hall.
“I believe Ms Fant has a flight waiting for her,” he said, pitching his voice so he could be heard, “Please have her car summoned,” and he turned back into the room.
As soon as the door closed, Felipe spoke. He was angry and didn’t bother to hide it. “So, you don’t trust her here with us?”
“Why delay?” Eric asked. He didn’t need to say it. None of them trusted each other. It would have been tempting to kidnap the witch and this move prevented the possibility.
“Not like you really need their services anyway, right Partner?” Stan laughed. “You get your magic straight from the source. Nothing beats the Fae!”
“Your lovely wife grows in powers, does she not?” Felipe lisped, his tone just this side of oily. “I will long remember the look of her, glowing in that way fairies do on the night you were pledged. It’s not often we vampires get the opportunity to see them up close, and to see the King of them all, spilling blood and pledging you his support? You are indeed most fortunate.”
Eric could feel the New York monarch’s eyes on him, but he refused to turn that way, “Sookie has grown into her place, both in the vampire world and with those Fae that remain here. She stands beside me in all things.”
“I heard she gave quite the show at your last Assizes,” Stan laughed and then turned back toward Felipe, “It was a regular World of Warcraft moment, long talons and everything!”
“It is hard to think of Sookie Stackhouse in that way,” Felipe scowled, but then he shrugged and he smiled in a cruel way, “Of course, I do recall her being rather talented in her ability to kill vampires. She had quite the body count by the time I met her.”
“And don’t forget the Fae and Weres,” Stan smirked. He laughed again, “Leave it to you, Northman. Married yourself to a real killer. Wonder what they’d call her if they made her into a Barbie doll? Malibu Maniac? Sookie Slaughter?” Stan was clearly enjoying himself, “Nope, can’t call her that, can we? You already have one of those!” Stan was laughing and Felipe started laughing, too. Eric ground his teeth but stood his ground.
The Nevada king wiped a blood tear from his eye before asking, “What is it with you, anyway, Eric? You have surrounded yourself with these little, blond killing machines. It shows an alarming lack of imagination!”
“I prefer to think it shows a discerning eye,” Eric tried to not sound defensive. “Each of my progeny is talented in her own right. They make me proud in all things. And as for my wife…” and he found his fangs descending, “I don’t find her to be a laughing matter. She is my partner by contract for the next one hundred and ninety-eight years. It is a contract I honor, along with the alliances she brings.”
“Quite right,” although Misha also sounded angry. “I do not approve of this kind of teasing. It can be interpreted as a lack of respect; I am sure that was not the purpose.” Stan sobered and Felipe bowed to Misha. “We are in your debt, North Man,” Misha continued. “You have brought us a workable solution to an unhappy situation. Perhaps King Davis is right, the luck of the Fae truly does shine on you.” Misha rose and while he bowed to Felipe, he ignored Stan.
Once he was out of the room, Stan asked, “What did I say? Figured you were up for some teasing, Northman. You didn’t take it personal, did you?”
Eric found it hard not to place his hands on Stan, but he managed a smile, “You have a reputation for lacking social graces, Stan. I took it in the way you meant it.”
“Yeah, just joking!” Stan chuckled, but neither of them really believed it.
“You may want to restrict teasing about our friend’s progeny when Misha’s around,” Felipe poured himself a blood. “I think our new friend may prove sensitive on that front.”
“Something going on?” Stan flicked his eyes to Eric, “You getting yourself another alliance?” Although Stan’s mouth was laughing, his eyes were not.
“I have heard that my Pam has been seen with Misha,” Eric shrugged. “Pam is free. Her personal relationships do not have any bearing on me.”
“Sure, if you say so,” Stan replied, showing he was willing to drop it, “So, tell me what Bubba’s been up to,” and the conversation moved to more social matters. As they traded gossip, Eric considered the pool he had stepped into in accepting Clan Chief, and how fewer faces didn’t translate to fewer troubles. In fact, it seemed the opposite.
Eric watched his Sheriff closely. He made a point of seating himself, but leaving the Sheriff standing. Thalia had provided more details about the long-standing relationship between Thierry and Nabila. Thierry had done nothing to hide it, but neither had he been open. Now, that was a problem.
Eric had been surprised to see Misha walk into their meeting, announcing he was now the Moshup Clan Chief. While Eric appreciated many kinds of surprises, being caught unaware of the direction politics were taking was not one of them. Thierry was close to Nabila. Nabila was the former Moshup Clan Chief. Thierry had been here, at the Summit days in advance, and still Eric had received no advance warning of this change. Thierry had failed him, and now there was explaining to be done.
When Eric finished sipping his blood, he turned his attention to Thierry. If the French Sheriff was feeling the tension, he gave no sign. Eric remembered the cold gaze of the New York monarch and considered for a moment the hard training Thierry had received. “Do you enjoy your position with me?” Eric set the goblet on the table.
“Yes, Majesty,” and Thierry kept his eyes on the floor.
“Do you understand why I ask this question?” Eric remembered hearing Appius ask him this same question. It usually preceded a display that involved inflicting pain, and Eric realized he would do the same.
“I have failed you, Majesty,” Thierry replied. His tone was perfect, his stance perfect, and that served to make it all the more important to Eric that the lesson be taught.
In a blur, the Sheriff was against the wall, Eric’s hand at his throat, his feet dangling. Eric’s fangs descended and he pressed his anger against Thierry, knowing on some level, the Sheriff would register it. “Yes,” he hissed, “You have failed me! You, you have grown your own reputation eating the scraps from my table, building your own fortune! You have had every benefit I could offer and this is how I am repaid. Now, it is a matter of whether failure is your only sin. I must decide whether you have betrayed me as well,” and Eric leaned in further, searching the Sheriff’s eyes until he finally saw the fear he sought. He threw Thierry across the room, purposely aiming for the breakfront. The glass shattered as he knew it would, cutting the Sheriff and causing him to bleed.
Eric resumed his seat. It would be telling, the Sheriff’s next move. Thierry was stunned. The impact might have caused another vampire to lose consciousness, but Eric could see when the Sheriff recovered himself. Thierry didn’t try to stand, instead he remained on his knees. He raised his face and said, with complete sincerity, “My existence is yours, Majesty. If you feel I have betrayed you, then it is your right to end me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about Nabila?” Eric made sure his displeasure was clear.
“I should have, Majesty. It…” and there was a moment Eric was sure he saw the real vampire under the pleasant veneer he maintained. The face Eric saw held sorrow and Eric found himself feeling sympathetic, but he refused to allow any external sign of it. The Sheriff clasped his hands and then continued, “I told myself it was a convenience, this thing that was between us. She is talented…” and his head dipped further. “She is a woman of great… she is more than I anticipated,” and Thierry stopped talking again.
“So, she is your bedmate. It is common gossip,” Eric sneered. “It doesn’t explain why you failed to keep your King informed.”
“I knew coming here she was in trouble.” The Sheriff glanced up, “She told me, texted me. She told me she thought Misha was behind her troubles at home.”
“What proof did she have?” Eric asked.
“None, Majesty. I didn’t help. I was happy she had no proof,” and Thierry hung his head again.
Eric stood and walked toward the Sheriff. On the surface, the Frenchman had just confessed to being Misha’s first. It was a damning statement, and Eric found himself regretting what he was sure would be the outcome of this conversation. “So, you chose between your loyalties and the beautiful Queen lost?” he said carefully. “But why? There is a mystery here that I have overlooked too long. I think it is past time you tell me your tale, Thierry. You should know that Thalia has told me some part of it, enough that I have verified some parts of it myself, so I will know if you lie.”
Eric resumed his seat and sipped blood. His Sheriff’s cuts healed, bits of glass pressing from him, and falling to the carpet around him. The story spilled out, words tumbling over words. Eric found himself admiring the single-minded determination that steered Thierry’s actions, while at the same time appreciating the danger that determination represented to anyone who found themselves in the way. When Thierry confirmed he had chosen to keep his background from Eric for no better reason than his belief that Eric’s not knowing was safer, Eric moved with the speed only the oldest of vampires had and stepped on the Sheriff’s leg, breaking it with a snap. As the Sheriff fell over in agony, Eric said, “That is for assuming you know better than your King.”
“Yes, Majesty,” Thierry groaned. In a minute, the bone started knitting. Eric was well aware of the pain involved. It was expected, and to do less might give the Sheriff the idea that his transgressions were not serious.
When the Sheriff regained his balance, Eric said, “Resume,” as if nothing had happened.
Thierry continued, telling of his coming here. He told Eric of Misha and what he overheard when Misha saw Bartlett Crowe and Russell Edgington on television. He told Eric about Misha’s ritual. Thierry was staring at the floor and missed the shadow that passed over Eric’s face. The Viking recalled Misha telling him that Appius had created the vampire Misha had become, and in this moment, Eric understood what he had been told. When Thierry finished, Eric gestured that Thierry should approach him. When Thierry started to stand, Eric shook his head, “On your knees, Frenchman.”
Eric could see it, the defeat on Thierry’s face. He was sure he was about to meet his final death, and Eric admired his courage. When he got close, Eric struck him sharply, breaking his shoulder blade. “You are not as smart as you think you are,” he hissed, and then he sat back. “Get yourself in that room,” and he gestured to the second bedroom in his suite, “I will send you some donors. Get yourself cleaned up and then we will talk.”
“You aren’t going to end me?”
Eric watched the emotions play across his Sheriff’s face. First there was skepticism, followed by hope. When the Viking didn’t move, Thierry managed the small smile that spoke of wonder and gratitude. ‘This is when Appius would have ended you, just when you began to believe,’ Eric thought, ‘but I am not him.’ Instead, Eric said out loud, “No, I am not ending you, Frenchman, but know this! You will not be given another chance.”
When calls had been placed and Thierry was busy replenishing himself, Eric texted Thalia. The answer that came back confirmed he had made the right choice. Thalia wasn’t convinced Thierry was worth his blood, much less capable of the ambitions that drove him, but she didn’t believe him a traitor. It was enough.
When the donors emerged, Thierry was behind them. He paid them from his own funds and closed the door behind them. He turned back to where Eric sat and approached. When he was within five feet, he fell back to his knees and approached the remaining distance in that way.
“I will recall Pam,” Eric said, “I would not have her within his sphere.”
“If you do so, Misha will find a way to punish you.” Thierry kept his head bowed, his voice respectful.
“In what way?” Eric asked.
“It will not be directly,” Thierry told Eric. “He will find someone or something of value to you and he will punish you through them.”
“As he did with you?” Eric confirmed. When Thierry nodded, Eric said half to himself, “Another lesson he learned from my Sire, it would appear.” Eric gave Thierry a long look, “I do not expect to find ourselves in this place again.”
“No, Majesty,” Thierry bowed low and offered his arm, “And I offer you my blood that you may never doubt me again.” It was a strong move and Eric did not hesitate to take the arm offered and sink in his fangs.
“So, we are going to let the witches go?” Carlo asked. He poured Misha another warmed blood. The King was running his fingers over the piano keys. They had returned to the townhouse on Beacon Hill. Carlo didn’t need to be told the Ravenscroft woman was gone. It was in his King’s expression. In all his years as Misha’s second, and before that, he had never seen the King so attached to another creature. It sparked his jealousy, but it also gave him hope that this King might develop a weakness that could be exploited later.
“Once we have everything we need,” Misha said absently, then he looked up. “So, your spies saw the author, Compton, leave the apartment of that woman?”
“Sonder? Yes, it appears he used her well because she didn’t appear at work until two days later. She was as before, heavily glamoured. Compton is an animal. I’m surprised he hasn’t been caught out.”
“So, explain why this of interest to me?” Misha sighed.
“Because, Majesty, Sonder came here by way of a publicist who was an employee of Eric Northman.” Carlo was aware the publicist had also been Pam’s employee and lover, but that information might be more useful to him personally. “It’s likely Compton knew her while she was in Northman’s palace. They were together again at the Summit where Northman pledged. If she has been his fuck and feed all that time, there is no telling what little stories he has shared while he used her.”
Misha sniffed and, after a moment, nodded. “Pick her up. Get one of the witches to remove the glamour. Let’s see what we have.”
“As you wish, Lord,” Carlo smiled as he left.
Sookie moved her hand back to cover her abdomen. It was way too early to know whether or not she was pregnant, but she had a strong feeling, one that seemed to grow with each hour. Michele had come over with the boys earlier that afternoon and stayed. Tara and her children were here, too. It was coming to evening and they all sat on the porch watching the boys and Sara chasing each other across the lawn. Michael Eric was in his fussy time, and he was being handed from lap to lap. Michele’s stated purpose in coming to visit was to cook meals and divide them into individual portions, stacking piles of see-through plastic ware in the large freezer. “If you are, you’ll be tired before you know,” Michele had laughed. “Gets me out of the house and it’s little enough in exchange for babysitting!”
It had been a welcome distraction. From the minute Sookie rose this morning, she’d found herself thinking of Eric. There was a text waiting for her, letting her know he was traveling with Octavia Fant. Soon he would be rising, one hour behind her, and doing his best to convince his fellow Clan Chiefs to forego a war. There was a sharp sound from the yard and a shriek, but it was laughter, and Sookie settled back again.
“You should have seen the way you jumped!” Tara teased her. “It’s just the children!”
Sookie smiled, but she thought of their conversation last night, the one where she suggested they find another house. This was the life she had always told herself was her dream. Sitting on the porch surrounded by friends, children around them. This was the dream she told Eric she wanted. She thought of what Michele or Tara would say if they saw her at Assizes. She thought about how her Bon Temps friends would feel about Nebraska and the Fae center there.
As the sun set, Bubba appeared on the edge of the woods. With almost no effort, Sookie cloaked her smell and transformed her friend into a facsimile of Dougal, the crusty uncle from the Outlander television show she had been watching.
Bubba walked closer and Sookie could ‘hear’ Michele’s surprise, “You look just like…”
“I get that a lot!” Bubba laughed, interrupting her. It was the standard phrase he used now for all the different faces Sookie gave him. Tonight, Bubba was sounding like Bubba, but it was amazing how different someone could sound when you didn’t see their rightful face anymore. Even Sookie didn’t think he sounded like his more famous self.
“I wonder who that is?” Tara asked, and they all looked from their chairs at the headlights approaching down the road. This time of year you could see traffic coming from some ways away. With the Compton place empty, there was only one reason for headlights, and it was to come visiting here.
“I think it’s Portia Vicks and Halleigh Bellefleur,” Sookie said absently, pulling the phone from her pocket, “They said they were planning on visiting this afternoon.” Almost as if she knew, the phone buzzed. It was a text from Eric.
“Welcome them for me?” she asked Michele, “I’ll be right back.” As she walked into her house, she said out loud, “Gran would skin me alive for being so rude,” but it didn’t stop her. She headed up the stairs so she could call Eric back, just so she could hear his voice.
When she returned, it was to find everyone still on the porch. More chairs had been brought out, and there was tea and brownies set out on plates. Halleigh saw her and rose. Sookie turned to see Portia sitting in the chair closest to the door, her shirt belled out over her belly. ”Don’t get up!” Sookie exclaimed, hugging and greeting. As Sookie took a step toward Halleigh, she realized Bubba/Dougal was scowling, his arms crossed. He was looking at the person sitting behind Halleigh and when that person rose, Sookie wasn’t surprised.
“Hello, Bill,” Sookie made her voice sound pleasant.
“Sookie,” he said in that way that was just his own. He bowed slightly, a smile playing at the edges of his mouth, “I hope you don’t mind my coming over. I was visiting Portia and my grandchildren,” and Bill winked at Portia. It made his face look piggy, but Portia seemed to think it was cute, “when Halleigh called. She was having some car trouble so I offered to drive my girls.”
“It was the nicest thing,” Halleigh was all smiles, too. “I don’t know what happened. The car ran fine this morning, but it just wouldn’t start tonight. Anyway, I didn’t want to miss our visit. I am so sorry we’re late!”
“You shouldn’t be here, Mr. Bill,” Bubba/Dougal said, “Mr. Eric told me you aren’t allowed in Bon Temps.”
Every female face turned first to Bubba/Dougal, then Bill, and then Sookie. Sookie felt her face flush a little. If this was true and Bill was violating an edict, this was a serious offense. Sookie’s first instinct was to confront him, holding nothing back. She would have Bubba take hold of him and she would find a way to force the truth from him, preferably at the edge of a silver knife, but that couldn’t happen here, not in front of all these women. Every non-Supe face, women and children alike, saw her as one thing and it wasn’t a Fae Queen. So, instead Sookie asked, “What about it, Bill? You breaking Supe law by being here?”
Sookie saw the way Bill’s face twisted when he realized there was nothing she could do. It was only a moment, but it was telling. Instead he said, “Of course not, Sookie! I have my traveling papers from Maxwell Lee himself! It was all a misunderstanding. Eric knows how much I mean to my family here. Why, I’d do anything for them,” and he gave her what she figured was his ‘meaningful’ look.
“Well, then we’ll be taking your word for it,” Sookie smiled brightly, but it confirmed her intention not to invite him into her house. She glanced out at the children who were starting to chase fireflies. Portia and Halleigh’s daughters had joined them, “Sure is a beautiful night for sitting outside,” and as she said it, she smiled directly at Bill, knowing he got the message.
“Sure is,” Bubba/Dougal said in confirmation. “No need to be moving inside on a beautiful night like tonight.”
“It is a beautiful night,” Michele repeated. Her eyes moved from Bubba/Dougal to Bill. Sookie could ‘hear’ she was getting worried, so Sookie changed the subject. She took the seat beside Portia and asked how the woman was feeling. Within seconds, the conversation shifted to swollen ankles and how often the new baby played jump rope on Portia’s bladder. They talked about how her daughter, Andrea, and Halleigh’s daughter, Caroline, were taking to the idea of another little girl in their circle.
Halleigh pulled out a crocheted blanket she made for her new niece and everyone complimented it. Halleigh explained how her mother-in-law, Miss Caroline, had taught her the stitches before she passed, and then Halleigh said, “And when it’s your turn, Sookie, I’m making your baby one, too!” Everyone sighed, and Portia patted Sookie’s knee. Sookie refused to look at Bill, even though she could feel his eyes boring into her.
There was a commotion on the lawn and Michele got up, “Those boys!” she huffed. She handed Michael Eric to Tara and stalked down the porch stairs.
“This is how I always hoped it would be,” Tara said to no one in particular, “All of us grown up, surrounded by our babies, and all together.” Sookie smiled along with everyone else. She had said the same thing herself often enough, and believed it, but something had changed.
‘I will want this,’ Sookie thought to herself, ‘but it will not be my life.’ She felt a great calm come over her which was just as well because Michele walked back on the porch dragging her second son, Bit, by the hand.
“If you can’t play nice with the other children, you can just sit up here with the grownups,” Michele was saying. Bit’s lip was sticking out and when they got to the top stair, Michele dropped his hand and gestured toward the far end of the porch, “Just go sit yourself down over there until you can learn how to play nice!” Her son, who of all of them looked most like Jason, gave her that small child poisonous look and stalked to the opposite end that was the one his mother had indicated, and then collapsed, cross legged and arms crossed. “He is not adjusting to Michael Eric,” Michele sighed. “He was the baby and now he’s that classic middle child!”
Sookie glanced over to see Bubba/Dougal and Bit already making eye contact. “That won’t be good,’ she thought.
“Mind if I take the girls on a tour?” Tara asked.
“Suit yourself!” Sookie waved her hand. She glanced at Bill and smiled. If he thought it was a kind smile, he could just go on fooling himself.
When the women headed inside, Bill stood up. He made sure Bubba/Dougal was watching him, and then walked carefully toward Sookie, seating himself in the chair next to hers. He sat back, his eyes remaining on the guard, and rested his hands in his lap. Bit chose that moment to tug on the guard’s pants and Bill used the distraction to lean a little closer, “Are you truly well, Sookie? You look pale.”
“I’m fine, Bill,” Sookie replied, her Crazy Sookie smile in place. “I hope you’re not lying about having a pass. As a standing judge in the Assizes Court, I really should be putting you in detention until it’s sorted out.”
“You can text Maxwell Lee,” Bill didn’t sound pleased to be called out, and he looked even less pleased when Sookie pulled out her phone and did just that. Sookie could tell he was sniffing the air, and when she looked back at him, he said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you sure you’re okay? You don’t seem yourself.”
“You mean I smell,” Sookie said, matter of fact, “You can say it! I know I smell. It’s medicine I’m taking, but it doesn’t have anything to do with being sick, so you can stop looking so mournful. I’ll be finished with it in a few more days and I’ll go back to smelling like normal.” Bubba/Dougal was play-fighting with Bit, but his eyes rarely left her end of the porch and Sookie felt grateful.
“That guard isn’t who he looks like, is he?” Bill asked.
“Could be,” Sookie shrugged.
“I can see you are more comfortable with your Fae roots now,” Bill was looking pleasant, but Sookie could tell it was becoming more of a chore for him. “I think it’s wonderful that you are exploring who you are, your heritage.” He was giving her his friendly look now, “Heritage is important for me too, family. It’s something else we have in common.”
“I guess,” Sookie smiled, then looked out in the yard, wishing the house wasn’t so large and the others were back already.
“I wish it were possible for you, well for any of us, to truly have this life,” Bill turned his face so he was watching the children play as well. “It’s a shame, really. You would make a wonderful mother, Sookie. I’ll talk with Halleigh, Sweetheart. You shouldn’t have to be reminded of things you can’t have.”
“Well, that’s okay, Bill,” Sookie smiled. “You might as well know. Eric and I are trying in vitro. That’s why I smell funny. Fact is, I might be pregnant right now, so, you see? Everything is possible.” It was Eric’s phrase, and just saying it made Sookie feel as if her Viking were here with her.
Bill’s face froze. The smile didn’t move one iota. What did change was his eyes. They went from soft to flat and Sookie was glad she couldn’t hear what was happening in his head because she didn’t think she’d like it. “Can I get you something, Miss Sookie?” Bubba/Dougal was asking. He had Bit under his arm and the small boy was grinning ear to ear.
“Nope, I think we’re all good here,” Sookie shrugged and then she turned to Bill. “We’re all good, right, Bill?”
“Of course,” Bill said. Sookie noticed he’d dropped the ‘Sweetheart’ and it made her happy.
The women walked back out of the house, laughing. “Well, hate to come and run,” Michele walked over, hugging Sookie, “but it’s dinner time and Jason will be wondering where we ran off to.”
“Us, too,” Halleigh hugged her, “You have a beautiful house. Bill? You ready?” Portia waited for Sookie to stand up before leaning over to hug her. Tara and Michele were in the yard, rounding up children. Bill stood, not moving and Bubba/Dougal was standing still in that creepy vampire way, staring at him.
The porch door opened again and Mr. Cataliades walked out. “Good evening, Mrs. Northman,” he bowed, but his eyes were on Bill Compton, too.
“Desmond,” Sookie sighed, “Michele made dinner for us both. I’ll just be a minute. You have the papers for that land purchase? Eric asked me to handle it.”
“I’ll make sure that is the first thing on the agenda,” the demon attorney was pleasant, but the tension on the porch was palpable.
“Bill, I am sorry to cut things short,” Portia was smiling, oblivious to the drama around her, “I know how much you were looking forward to spending some time, but I really do need to get home. My ankles are killing me and I have the oddest pain.”
“Good grief!” Halleigh giggled, “Last time you had an odd pain we got Andrea.” Halleigh looped her arm through Bill’s and just about pulled him off the porch. There were waves and calls for a good evening as kids settled into car seats and cars pulled down the driveway, one by one.
“You need to stay far away from him,” Mr. Cataliades said, his eyes following the cars.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Sookie replied.
Author’s Note: I am headed on vacation as of this week and will be returning May 17th, provided I don’t get lost on my backpacking trip. My solo trip this year is to the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, so anticipate a story coming out of it. Have a great couple weeks and I’ll resume posting Thursdays and Sundays on my return.