Author’s Note: I am so pleased at the reception the story is receiving. Thank you for reading! And thank you to my amazing betas, Ms Buffy and Breathesgirl!
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.
Eric drifted in the silence of twilight. He knew he was in his travel coffin. If the schedule was in order, he was in the hanger in Shreveport awaiting loading onto his Anubis flight to Detroit. Somewhere nearby, Thierry was resting in his coffin as well.
Thierry had done well. Everyone had complimented Eric on having chosen him. Eric knew he should feel a deep satisfaction in this, but he found it hard to think beyond his homecoming at the end of this trip and what that would mean.
The French vampire was Eric’s Sheriff in western Louisiana. He handled most of the day to day operations for Eric’s energy holdings. Eric Northman was heavily invested in natural gas extraction wells and wind farms. The plan was to use the quick cash generated through gas extraction, or fracking, to create the investment capital needed to build the more expensive wind turbine farms. Over time, the entire enterprise would transition from fracking to more viable, long term energy solutions. The most expensive part of the operation so far was installing the miles and miles of electrical lines capable of carrying current produced by either source. There were co-generation plants, two so far, co-developed with Stan Davis, the Texas King, and Sandy Seacrest, the Oklahoma Queen, and the plan was to rent use of both the lines and plants to others to repay the start-up costs. This cross-kingdom venture was already showing a slight profit for all involved and Thierry deserved much of the credit for bringing it along. His Sheriff was clever, strategic, but detail-oriented enough to not mind getting his hands dirty. Paired with his sharp wit, Thierry was proving an invaluable resource. Yes, Eric knew he should have been feeling a great deal of satisfaction, but he wasn’t.
This trip involved stops in both Detroit and Indianapolis. Eric could have asked Thierry to join him in Indianapolis. Both Maude of Minnesota and Sandy were there, and they were the official reason for bringing his Sheriff. But business wasn’t really why Eric brought Thierry. Eric brought Thierry to serve as a shield between him and his friends; to put a smiling face on the growing depression Eric Northman was experiencing.
In the past, Eric heard people refer to him as an optimistic vampire. They would remark on his ability to laugh, even in dark times, joyously turning problems over and over until he found a solution. That had stopped when he married Freyda. He was so unhappy he tucked away all that was him and hunkered down, willing to wait for two hundred years to find his freedom and his happiness if it meant Sookie Stackhouse would be safe.
But fate had been kind in many ways. Within six years he was free of Freyda. He was named the Regent of Oklahoma under Felipe de Castro, and then the miracle happened. Through a series of events he was reunited with Sookie Stackhouse. She was Sookie Merlotte then and recovering from an abusive marriage. What was more miraculous was she claimed him for her own. There were challenges, but they met each of them together. A year ago they were thrice married; they were pledged by vampire custom, married by human custom, and joined in a Fae ceremony. The one woman who had helped him to reclaim his frozen heart was truly his.
Eric regained his enthusiasm. Life was sweet and it was because he experienced it through Sookie.
They should have lived happily ever after, but instead they had fallen into a routine of busily separate lives. Eric didn’t understand why managing her Great-Grandfather’s business concerns and standing with him in matters of their kingdom were not enough for his wife. She made a token effort at being his Queen, appearing with him in Assizes. She stood by his side, but when those in Court challenged her, she didn’t snarl back, asserting her position. Instead she withdrew. Within a few months Sookie informed him she had other concerns that were more important to her. He was hurt, but he couldn’t find the right words to challenge what she was saying. It was as if she was saying one thing, but she really meant something else entirely.
The Weres’ effort to form a central government was not a new endeavor. Emil Touissant, the New Orleans Packmaster, had approached Sookie about helping the Weres realize this dream shortly after the couple arrived at the Palace to take up the reins of the kingdom. Now that effort was gaining traction and Emil approached Sookie again, asking her to become part of the leadership team and to function as the organizers’ Sachem. His wife threw herself into the project. She was like a woman on fire, the light of her determination shining for all to see. She walked and talked with purpose, and Eric was proud of her. What he didn’t appreciate was that this new purpose left little time for them. With barely a thought for what it would mean for him, she presented her travel schedule, prattling on for hours about who she would meet and the challenges that would be faced.
Before Nebraska, it wouldn’t have been possible. Their bonding and their bonding sickness would have demanded they remain in close physical proximity to each other. But that had changed.
When they initially bonded, Eric and Sookie could separate for periods of time, weeks, without feeling the pull to each other. If the bond was ignored, though, the pull could transform into physical pain. As time passed, their ability to remain apart diminished. By the time they were human married, a separation of hours triggered the need to reunite. Eric remembered feeling some little annoyance at the tight nature of their bond, but his primary focus was on figuring out how to change his life to accommodate her standing beside him in all things. It had felt, well, satisfying.
That was not Sookie’s reaction. Sookie was angry. Eric knew his wife well enough to know she hated being dictated to by anyone, even her own body. She railed against it. Eric was sure that in time, she would bow to the inevitable and then they would walk the world, hand in hand.
Eric had not taken Niall, the Prince of the Fae, into consideration. The first piece of magic instruction the old fairy had his wife’s teacher give Sookie was a way to suppress the bond. The experience was less brutal than the time the witch, Amelia Broadway, had ripped their bond away. He didn’t feel that great breaking that made him think his heart would start again. Instead, the bands that held them softened, and then become distant, and then stopped, like a candle that burned itself out. Sookie was triumphant. Eric felt abandoned.
It was in talking about the bond separation on their return from their handfasting that Eric and his wife discovered the other piece of Fae mischief. Eric could read Sookie’s thoughts. Eric was trying to explain his objections to blocking the bond. Sookie was telling him they would just try it and see if they could adjust, but she was thinking she would be perfectly happy leaving the bond in mothballs indefinitely. Eric challenged her on not being wholly honest with him and they realized he could ‘hear’ her.
Sookie was furious, but Eric knew it was fury fueled by fear. Sookie was used to being the only one who knew things. Granted, vampires were silent to her, but every other species were her open book. She used their thoughts to make herself feel confident. Now it was her thoughts that were open, and although Eric knew she trusted him, her fear of exposure ran deep.
Sookie threw the phone against the wall when the well-mannered Fae on the other end informed her that her Great-Grandfather was not taking calls, but they really didn’t need confirmation. They knew it was Niall’s doing.
Sookie cried, and then rounded on him, demanding Eric’s promise that he wouldn’t dip into her head without her express permission. Eric argued for a concession that if the situation was a life safety concern he could imply her permission. It formed the basis of their agreement on the matter.
Eric couldn’t think of anything Niall could have done that would have driven a wall between them faster. For days afterwards, Eric could see Sookie reviewing everything he said, testing to see if it carried even a hint of having come from her thoughts. Eventually, Sookie settled into an easier watchfulness, but she never fully relaxed with him now.
It was the same night of this fight with Sookie that Thalia informed him she wished to see the world again. Although Eric suspected his oldest friend was becoming restless, he wasn’t prepared for the request. Of course, he agreed. He could do no less. He owed Thalia his life and Sookie’s, but he asked if she would give him a month to assess the vampires in his state for battle-readiness. It was something he wished done, but nothing that needed to be done. Eric knew his friend saw through his delay tactic for what it was.
“All will be well, Viking,” Thalia told him and gifted him with one of her rare smiles.
She was gone the next night, moving back to Area 5, telling Eric it made sense since it was more centrally located. Eric heard that Karin, his daughter, joined Thalia there. They were both staying with Indira, his Area 5 Sheriff. Most of the news he received of their work was good. Official reports delivered by email were filled with descriptions of skills and deployment-readiness. A recommendation was made that Sheriffs arrange bi-monthly mandatory training for all vampires in the kingdom, kind of a physical fitness program, in exchange for a reduction in their regular tithe. Maxwell Lee, Eric’s new second, was implementing that change with his usual efficiency.
In addition to the official reports, Eric also received unofficial reports from Mustapha Khan. A long time ago Mustapha had been Eric’s day man. More recently, Mustapha stepped forward when Alcide Herveaux was disgraced. Eric’s former employee was now the Packmaster of the Long Tooth Pack.
Mustapha let the Viking know that Fangtasia Shreveport had become the place to be. People were flocking, sometimes from great distances, to see both Karin and Thalia. When Eric read the report he scoffed, but Maxwell Lee showed the King both Facebook and Tumblr accounts dedicated to both women. They were the darlings of the emo and science fiction sets. There was a petition floating through cyberspace to have Thalia and Karin invited to participate in the next Comic-Con as themselves.
Of course, Karin’s presence in Area 5 meant that she was not with her mate, Thomas. Thomas was Eric’s Sheriff and de facto Regent in Arkansas. When Karin was injured, losing her hand, Thomas traveled halfway across the country to retrieve her. Eric knew his headstrong daughter loved the Sheriff, but he also knew she was fiercely independent. While it was possible Karin might settle down, Eric continued to view it as an unlikely possibility. Thomas’ belief never wavered.
It was Thomas and Karin’s relationship that Eric’s found gave him inspiration. The Viking asked himself what he would be willing to endure to remain bonded with the woman he loved. Were days of happiness worth the long periods of separation? Of course, there was a critical difference between Thomas and Karin and his own bond with his wife. If Eric or Sookie were ended, the other would wither and die. It was the nature of their bond and Eric didn’t question it.
And so, Eric Northman resolved that he would cherish the moments he had with his stubborn wife. He would treat each second they had together as a gift and allow her to leave him on her adventures with as much grace as he could muster. He arranged Registry donors on a rotating basis. He organized the remaining palace tours, even showing up from time to time until the contract expired and he shut them down. He found ways to fill his nights that didn’t involve holding his wife, or sharing time in the sanctuary he created for them in the room across from their sleeping chamber. He stepped in to manage the household bills and discuss the replacement of human staff with vampires or Weres with Devrah, their Palace housekeeper.
Most evenings Eric was able to rise to the challenge. Other nights he would do what was necessary and escape into downtime, his mind at rest.
Eric told himself things were going reasonably well and it seemed they were until the time Sookie returned from a convention in San Antonio. She was so tired. Eric could no longer ignore the smudges under her eyes or the way her vertebrae rose, a dragon’s spine, poking through her skin. She was leaving almost as soon as she arrived home and he despaired. He wondered if this was what she truly wished, to be done with him and to live in the world beyond instead. He dipped into her head without her permission and she caught him. Her fury was outsized, the way only a truly exhausted person can rage. In spite of his best efforts, he got caught up in it and vented his own frustration. Sookie headed down the hall to the room that had been Pam’s and slammed the door behind her, leaving him sitting alone in their retreat.
Several hours later, he opened the hall door. Charles was standing guard at his chamber and James stood outside Pam’s. Neither guard met his eyes. He texted her, not wanting to escalate their anger any further, but she didn’t answer. He searched for her again, not caring if it made things worse, and found the quiet that told him she slept. He arranged flowers to be sent to the hotel where she would be staying along with a note of apology. When he rose the next night, she was gone.
Things improved after that. They spoke more often, even if they didn’t physically see each other. It was in the timbre of her voice when she said hello and the slight tremor when she said goodbye. He had almost asked her to come with him on this trip. He thought it would do her good to see friends who wouldn’t demand things of her. Unfortunately, it was also Fae training week in Bon Temps.
The great Were Convention, which was how Eric thought of the effort to create the central government, had interfered with her schedule last month and when Sookie cancelled her training. Eric received a message from Niall within days, reminding the Viking that he had a contractual obligation to encourage his wife to attend her training every month, and not just when it proved convenient. In spite of his own desires, Eric reminded Sookie of the importance of her training. Driving away from her had been very difficult. It was as if a part of him stretched and stretched until it gave way.
When the plane touched down, Eric found Detroit to be every bit as gritty as he remembered. There was a kind of strong-armed bravado about the place. You knew this was a city that knew how to work and how to play. Rasul was settling into his role as monarch, but there remained much of that funny, capable guard Eric first met in New Orleans in the days of Sophie Ann. Eric and Thierry arrived to find vampire transportation awaiting them at the Anubis charter terminal. The palace staff was ready for their arrival. Thierry was shown to the donor pool while Eric was shown to a room with a registry donor. Unlike donor pools, feeding from someone who came through the federally administered Registry Donor program did not involve having sex. The Viking knew some registry donors were open to fucking, but those were the exceptions. If a registry donor did hint at more it was something that could be easily ignored.
Once they were settled, the three vampires headed out with a coterie of guards to enjoy jazz and the other nightlife the city offered. The swagger in their step told Eric that feeding had not been Rasul and Thierry’s only activity in the donor pool. There were jokes and Rasul told the story of how he took the then Sookie Stackhouse along with Andre and Sophie-Anne to her cousin Hadley’s apartment for an ectoplasmic reconstruction. The New Orleans Queen had been engaged to the Arkansas King at the time, an engagement that was already riddled with mistrust and deceit. One of the King’s spies arrived and so the trio pretended their purpose in being at the apartment was for group sex. Rasul described Sookie’s unconvincing performance in such round terms that even Eric was smiling.
Rasul took them to a karaoke bar and the Michigan monarch and Thierry had the whole bar standing and singing along to ‘Sweet Caroline.’ They moved on to ‘Wild Thing’ and then ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’ Eric guarded the table until they started singing ‘I Have Friends in Low Places’ and the Viking found himself standing beside the other vampires, singing in his true baritone to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. It was the first time he felt so carefree since the week he spent with Sookie celebrating their first wedding anniversary and the realization made him miss her again.
The next evening, they spent together discussing the Witness movement. Rasul initially destroyed those new vampires abandoned in his kingdom, but now was deporting them to Canada. It was self-serving, but with stepped-up surveillance from the Witnesses, it seemed the only prudent move. He warned Eric their singing last night would likely be featured in local news stories, so if he needed to tell someone, he should do so. Those media outlets in favor of vampires would highlight the fun had by all. Those news channels that were favoring the Witnesses, the more conservative stations, would suggest there was some nefarious purpose in the vampires being out and about. Rasul shrugged, “It’s a matter of deciding whether or not we should go back into hiding or stand up for ourselves,” the Michigan monarch concluded. “What I am tired of doing is ignoring them and hoping they will go away. They won’t, and not answering them makes sure the only voice heard it theirs.”
They spoke of the upcoming Amun Summit. The initial plan had been for Wisconsin to host, but Roland had a sudden change of heart and declined. Rasul stepped up and the event was to be staged on Mackinac Island, far to the north. It was a resort island and they would be a bit off season. “Your progeny feels the quiet of the place will be a welcome change for many of us,” Rasul said with a wink. “Besides the accommodations there are splendid and some of us could do with some quiet communing with nature.”
Eric knew his daughter, Pam, was involved. Pam was living in Minnesota now and running both the Fangtasia club franchise and the newly-created Fangtasia Events Ltd. Eric had staged a public break with his daughter shortly after his marriage so that she would be free from any taint of being associated with him. Secretly, he asked her to gather information about the nomads. He knew with the controversy surrounding his pledging to Sookie, Pam wouldn’t be able to move freely among the kingdoms if she was too closely tied to him. The Viking received her reports in roundabout ways. Pam was convinced there was some single arm behind all of this, but whether the money was coming from the west or the east was something she still hadn’t been able to determine.
“It won’t be a problem, will it? You and Pam in the same place?” Rasul looked concerned and Eric felt some small satisfaction, realizing that even those who were closer to him believed the fiction.
“Pam and I are cordial,” Eric replied with a shrug as if to say, ‘she is nothing to me.’
“That’s good,” Rasul nodded. “Your friendship is important to me, Northman. I wouldn’t wish to jeopardize it over something like organizing a Summit. Since the Triple E went under, there just hasn’t been anyone else.” Rasul was referring to Extremely (Elegant) Events, E(E)E, the former event-planning and catering company preferred by Supernaturals. When John Quinn, a Weretiger and the CEO, became incapacitated, the company took a hit. Service slipped and there were complaints. Pam, and Maxwell Lee, her silent partner, stepped into the void with their new venture, Fangtasia Events, Ltd. It was the right business at the right time. Their company was now the premier party and event planning operation in this country. Eric had heard through Maxwell they were planning on using their Fangtasia club franchise’s international connections to branch out even further.
“You have nothing to worry about,” Eric assured him. “I released her many years ago. She is free to live her own life and should she reconsider her attitude toward my choices, I would be pleased. She will always be my child. What Maker can truly disown their progeny?” and the Viking punctuated his speech with a wink.
Rasul smiled thinly. Eric could tell he was still worried, but that was all to the good. There were only a handful of people who knew that this break between Eric and Pam was manufactured. Sookie knew, and Thalia. Eric suspected that Maude of Minnesota also knew. Maude was a close friend and Pam’s mentor. Pam chose the Minnesota Court as her current base of operations. Knowing Maude, Eric doubted Pam was able to keep a secret from her for long. No one did.
As dawn approached, Rasul waited until Thierry preceded them to his rest. The Michigan monarch knew Eric’s next stop was Indianapolis, and so as they headed for their chambers, Rasul pulled Eric aside. “Bartlett Crowe is in trouble,” Rasul told the Viking. “His mate, Russell, is worried about him, but he is afraid to suggest Bartlett step down as Clan Chief. He doesn’t want to be the one to say it, but it needs to be said.”
“Is it as bad as all that?” Eric frowned.
“Worse. It’s as though the nomads and Witnesses have made Crowe their pet project. You’ll see when you get there. I’d suggest you take guards, but I know Bartlett will send them to you anyway. It’s like entering a war zone,” and then the Michigan monarch smiled. “You’ll be glad you came here first. No night life in Indiana, that’s for sure!”
Eric thanked Rasul but as he turned to continue to the rooms Rasul arranged, the vampire laid his hand on Eric’s arm, “And what about you, my friend?”
“What about me?” Eric shrugged.
“You look terrible,” Rasul told him, “Sick.”
“It is nothing,” Eric told him, but that night he looked at himself in the mirror before lying down for his rest. There were lines beside his eyes and a paleness to his lips that was new. He was sure it was the strain of these past few months. ‘Only a few more days and I will be home. All will be well,’ he told himself.
Rasul had not exaggerated about Indiana. Noise barriers along the highways were scrawled with anti-vampire graffiti. The compound walls surrounding the residence where Russell Edgington and Bartlett Crowe lived in Fishers were covered with placards of sad faces and splashed with paint meant to represent blood. The crowd of Witnesses blocking the drive was larger and louder than those that stalked the Palace in New Orleans. Eric also noticed the personnel maintaining order looked like private security. They had to be costing Indiana a pretty penny. “Where are the police?” Thierry asked beside him.
Their drivers honked and the security force formed a cordon, pushing the angry faces back from the remote gate. Eric recalled the gates from his prior trip were gracious, separating in the middle to swing in on long arcs. Now the gate was tall and solid. It slid quickly behind the wall and just as quickly moved back into place as their car cleared it.
As they pulled onto the apron in front of the tall house, Bartlett Crowe and his mate, Russell Edgington walked down the steps, every bit as welcoming and gracious as if the mob outside was well-wishers and not terrorists brandishing stakes and hate messages. “Well, you’ve made it!” Bartlett bowed. “I am so pleased to see you again, Eric. I heard all kinds of stories about your wedding celebrations. I have to say, you don’t do anything by halves. I told Russell that now I feel as if our own pledging was too simple an affair. Sandy was just telling us about Nebraska. Did you really get to participate in the Great Hunt?”
“Slow down, Bartie!” Russell laid his hand on his mate’s arm. “Let our guests come inside.”
“It is good to see you as well,” Eric replied as he bowed in return, and he realized it was. These were his friends and he felt comfortable among them. Russell and Bartlett were responsible in many ways for his ascension to his throne. They supported his marriage to Sookie and acknowledged her as his Queen. They took personal risks for him and he was grateful.
Eric noticed the way Russell wrapped his arm around Bartlett, supporting him. He saw the way the Indiana monarch leaned into his mate and thought of his Sookie. Once inside, the other visitors greeted them. Sandy Seacrest nodded to Eric and then turned to Thierry, “I am so pleased to see you again, Sheriff. I was reviewing our quarterly reports and everything is ahead of schedule and below cost. I believe you are the reason and I am most grateful.” The Oklahoma Queen turned back to Eric, her intelligent eyes crinkling under her short, grey curls. “You do know how to pick them, Northman. He is a real credit to you. Even Stan sings his praises, and you know what a cautious boy he is!”
“I half expected to see him here,” Eric glanced toward Russell. Stan Davis had once been a frequent and welcome guest here, but lately the Texas monarch was rarely seen.
“Stan finds that his duties as Zeus Clan Chief keep him too busy to gad about, offering advice about problems that are truly not his concern,” Russell said, examining his fingernails. Eric interpreted that to mean that Stan, ever the opportunist, had cut his beleaguered friends loose. Eric was close enough to the Texas border to know that any trouble Stan experienced in dealing with nomad vampires or Witnesses was minor. For whatever reason, the Witness movement had not taken firm root in the Lone Star state, and few, if any nomads, made it past Eric’s sentries in Arkansas or Louisiana.
Eric’s policy on nomads and the progeny they made and abandoned was elimination. Abandoned offspring were systematically gathered and killed. Any nomads captured were tortured and then killed as well.
In their first days, a new vampire was disoriented, particularly if it rose with no Maker to order it, bringing it calm, helping it discover its purpose. New vampires were easily spotted and either staked or staked out for the sun to clean up the next morning. Eric offered a bounty for these orphans, and a richer bounty for capture of the nomads. The activity of hunting and staking turned into a popular pay for play opportunity for Weres, vampires, and a certain kind of enterprising human. Eric felt it was inevitable that the Witnesses or law enforcement or some other do-good group would stumble across the plan. When that happened, there would be a loud protest and a possible, indeed, probable investigation.
It was why they were all here, to discuss what should be done about the nomads and their offspring.
“I know you don’t care, and you know she won’t say it, but Pam sends her love,” Maude walked up and hugged Eric, who took more than a second to return the embrace. Thierry was grinning widely by the time the Minnesota monarch released her much taller counterpart. “Tell me how your Queen is doing. I half expected to see her here with you,” and Maude fixed the Viking with a considered look.
“Sookie is in Bon Temps,” Eric said briefly, turning his face from her. Maude’s eyes narrowed and he could see that he was hiding nothing of his condition.
“Tamsin is there with her?” Sandy asked. Sandy had attended Eric and Sookie’s hand fasting at Eric’s invitation. Nebraska was neutral ground for them and Eric had felt the need to clear the air with the Oklahoma Queen.
Eric had agreed to form an alliance with their common foe, Felipe de Castro. The Viking allowed himself to be pressured into the agreement in front of witnesses. It was not his best moment, and Eric worried about Sandy’s reaction. The Oklahoma monarch was more than an ally and business partner to Eric. He counted her a friend. As much as it would have run against everything he believed, he offered to break the alliance for the sake of their friendship. It was an offer that would have placed Eric in more danger from his peers and at a time when he was already finding himself mired in controversy.
Sandy did not ask it of him. Instead she asked that he work to broker reconciliation between herself and De Castro. Her ability to place her personal agenda aside for the sake of business was one of the things Eric admired about her.
One of the side benefits of being in Nebraska was that it allowed Sandy to witness both the pageantry and machinations of the Fae. It was something that few creatures and fewer vampires would ever see in their lifetime. The Fae were secretive by nature, one of the few Supernatural groups that refused to ‘come out’ to humans. Eric asked Niall, his Grandfather-in-law, if that would change, but the Fae ruler had smiled and changed the subject.
Eric forced his tight smile to become more natural, “Yes, Sookie is training, as she agreed.”
“That’s quite the contract the Prince put together for you,” Bartlett said with a raised eyebrow. When Eric looked surprised, Bart chuckled, “The old bastard had it posted, and surely you knew that! It’s in big old electronic black and white, welcoming any and all readers. As your Clan Chief I considered it my duty…”
“Don’t listen to a word of it,” Russell interrupted. “He read it out loud one night for me, complete with hand gestures. I’m afraid we both had a good laugh at your expense, Eric. For a fairy, Niall certainly figured out how to grab you by the short ones.”
“Niall is a superior strategist,” Eric agreed, “but weak in the long game. He prefers grand gestures. It will be the death of him some day.”
“Pshaw!” Maude waved her hand, “To the bold go the rewards. Big brass ones, in my opinion.” When Eric looked her way, she nodded, “Pam and I both read it. You have to figure that there are a lot of us who have. After all, you two are news and your father-in-law pretty much posted it on the Supe front page.”
At Russell’s urging they moved from the hall into the sitting area. There was a fireplace merrily blazing at one end of the room. A vampire in an evening jacket stepped forward, offering everyone blood. Bartlett looked up expectantly, “Do either of you need a donor? I must admit, we are maintaining several here again. I know it’s a risk, but it’s just too difficult to get Registry at the moment.”
Eric shook his head. He would make do with Royalty or bagged blood until he returned to New Orleans. It was a promise he made to himself, that he would not go beyond feeding from any living being other than Sookie. It was not difficult on most days, but if the donor had a hint of Fae or some other odd combination, and was physically aggressive, Eric could find he became hard. It was troubling. He had not had this problem in all the years of his marriage to Freyda. He thought about the changes he saw in the mirror. He was a vampire. He was never supposed to change, and yet, he had.
When Thierry also declined the offer of a trip to the donors, the monarchs settled down.
“Why don’t you drink some Royalty while I finish my story?” Maude smiled at Eric. “I was just telling everyone about your daughter and how she’s taken over my city,” and Maude turned so that her remarks were aimed away from the Viking. While Maude described Pam Ravenscroft as a peacock stranded in a snowy, frozen wilderness, Eric drank first one glass of blood and then another. Now that he was aware of it, he could feel it, the thinning within him. It was an odd sensation, subtle but truly foreign.
The Viking felt the first tendril of concern. There had been times in this existence that he had been damaged. Many times. He thought of the pains and aches he had experienced. This was different. He considered silver poisoning. No, this was not that either, although it had some features in common with poisoning.
“Eric? Eric!” Sandy’s voice called and Eric realized with a start that he had slipped into downtime again. The monarchs were looking at him.
“Sorry,” Eric said briefly. He jerked his chin at Thierry and the Sheriff began to describe the precautions they had taken in the kingdom to deter the nomads.
Thierry talked of the interlocking grids of sentries and cameras that were being used to patrol his borders. “It is a great deal of territory,” Thierry said, “But much of the terrain is not conducive to easy travel. It is puzzling that in this day of mass transit, these creatures travel almost exclusively on foot. It is odd, but if you eliminate main thoroughfares and those high traffic areas from those areas you search, the opportunities to intercept them increases.”
“The other thing we discovered was that they form nesting sites,” Eric added. “We stumbled across our first over a year ago. We have since discovered several more. They are near cities in rural areas. They find sandy soil. Several nomads will use the same site. New nomads will know of the location and use these sites as well. We still don’t know how they communicate this.”
“We think they have common Makers,” Bartlett said. “There are characteristics, ways of talking that you almost unconsciously take from your Maker, especially when you are newly made. It is their influence over you.”
“That’s a scary thought,” Maude shook her head. “If they are all coming from one place…”
“We don’t have proof,” Russell shook his head. “It’s just a feeling,” and he laid his hand over Bartlett’s.
“Are you destroying the nesting sites?” Sandy asked Eric.
“No,” the Viking replied. “We maintain them. We have placed surveillance cameras on them. We intercept nomads as they leave. I offer money for the fangs of the newly-risen. Weres and others patrol the places. They know there are cameras so they are pretty good about following the rules. They take them some distance before they destroy them.”
“Bounty hunting?” Bartlett shuddered. “For vampires?”
“New fangs are easy to spot. Fortunately, these nesting spots are rural. I know there are more than the ones I’ve found. We have more of the newly-made staggering into towns, creating havoc.”
Russell nodded, “We get calls here on a regular basis about vampire incidents. Feelings are running high. It makes our Sheriffs’ jobs almost impossible.”
“And once we do catch them we can’t just eliminate them,” Bartlett stated. “We are under constant surveillance now. Witnesses and everyday people take photos of everyone. We are watched. If we are caught just eliminating our own, how do we argue for justice in their system? Killing some but demanding due process for others is a slippery slope.”
“We have a similar issue,” Eric agreed. “We have moved around collection sites, making them remote and controlling how they are publicized, but it’s a short term solution.”
“If you don’t eliminate them, then what?” Sandy asked.
“We will need to find a way to assimilate them, or we will have to reach out to the human authorities for assistance,” Bartlett sighed.
“You know I don’t agree with that,” Russell shook his head. “Once we invite breathers into this, in particular law enforcement breathers, we’ll never get them out of our affairs.”
“There are places where we have vampires as members of their police forces,” Thierry pointed out. “My own Area has three vampires now. Their presence has made a difference, although their colleagues still treat them differently.” When Sandy asked about it Thierry elaborated, “Police forces tend to be a band of brothers. They socialize with each other. The vampires on the force are not invited to participate. People are polite with them, even cordial, but the bonding one might expect is not there. Promotions and certain jobs are not made available.” There were nods around the table. This was not really news.
“It would be better to be on the inside of these things,” Maude agreed.
“Good luck here,” Bartlett said bitterly.
“Actually, this is a perfect test case,” Eric’s eyes narrowed. “We have an equal rights advocacy group in New Orleans. They are building a national network. There are usually openings for police forces advertised. We all know vampires will pass their physical fitness requirements…”
“Too easily!” Russell laughed.
Eric nodded, “As soon as you hit a barrier, we turn to this group and hand it to them. They are looking for something to ignite their cause. What I passed through outside was worse than anything I’ve seen in a hundred years. Understandable if not forgivable in view of attacks by these orphans, but how do our critics argue if we are trying to get vampires on the police forces to help humans deal with the problem according to their laws?”
“SHUER,” Thierry supplied.
Eric nodded. When he saw Maude’s puzzled face he supplied, “Supernaturals and Humans United for Equal Rights.”
“That’s a mouthful,” the Minnesota monarch laughed.
“They are well-funded. They have attorneys. They have asked Sookie and myself to become involved as spokespeople, but I think an introduction to you,” and Eric nodded to Bartlett and Russell, “would give them a more interesting face.”
“Because we’re gay,” Bartlett shook his head.
“It is trendy,” Eric smirked, “And something that humans can understand more easily than the nature of my mixed marriage.”
“She’s looking more Fae these days?” Sandy asked, but her tone was light.
“Only when she’s angry,” Eric sighed.
“Well, don’t we all!” Russell sighed dramatically as well and was rewarded for it by his mate swatting him on the arm.
The conversation turned to news of friends and gossip from around the kingdom. They talked of the upcoming Amun Summit. Eric and Thierry talked about their visit with Rasul, and Eric texted them the video of Rasul and his Sheriff strutting on the stage in Mick Jagger mode. They talked of the Moshup Summit that would be held weeks before their own. “Are you attending?” Maude asked Bartlett.
“No,” the Amun Clan Chief replied. “I just can’t right now. I will want to send a delegate, though.”
Russell looked at his mate with concern, “Our famous house guest will be there, though. There is going to be a media event and a teaser showing of the famous film,” and Russell turned his eyes to look at Eric speculatively. “Perhaps they would welcome the appearance of the Viking that inspired it?”
Eric shook his head as Thierry laughed aloud. The palace in New Orleans was being overrun with photos and posters of the upcoming saga, ‘A Viking’s Bond.’ The tall, blond actor who was portraying Leif in the movie had captured the imagination of both young and old. He had recently been named one of America’s sexiest men. There were many in New Orleans who felt that Eric Northman deserved that award, too, and they were not shy about superimposing Eric’s face on the actor’s body and posting it with captions like, “Love the Original!” or “I Want A Real Viking!”
“I have no particular business that would suggest I attend,” Eric said briefly.
Dawn was approaching and Eric was grateful the evening was over. It was a quick visit, this one. By tomorrow evening he would be back in the airport and on his way home. Sookie would be there, he hoped. Eric excused himself, stood, and followed the servant to the chambers that had been set aside.
“Does he look right to you?” Maude asked Russell after the others had gone.
“No,” Mississippi replied. “I was going to talk with him tomorrow night about taking over as Amun Clan Chief. Now I’m not so sure.”
Maude shook her head, “It is a shame, but I understand. Bartlett is under such pressure. Perhaps this plan Northman suggested will help.” She waited a second before adding, “Don’t count the Viking out yet. Let me make a call.” Minnesota frowned, “It could be some kind of old vampire thing or the result of some prank. I’ve never seen vampires torture each other for fun the way Eric and his progeny do. I don’t know whether to laugh or wince.” and Maude smiled broadly to give the impression that it was probably nothing important.
When she reached her chamber she checked the time and then placed a call to Pam Ravenscroft. She knew Pam was in another time zone to the West, so she would still be up. When Pam answered, Maude sighed, “It’s so good to be right all the time!” Pam snorted, but before her friend could say anything more, Maude said, “I have something to tell you, Pam, and you need to let me know if you’ve seen this before or if there’s anything you know.”
Maude described Eric’s appearance, the haggard expression, the distracted way he presented himself. Because she was vampire, she could describe each clue in precise detail. She could hear Pam’s voice catch, “I should come back,” the younger vampire said, her voice stressed.
“Don’t be crazy,” Maude scolded her. “You have both worked hard to set this up. You come running home now, you’ll ruin everything. There has to be someone you trust who can check him out…”
“Amy Ludwig!” Pam interrupted. “She’s a doctor. She’s a piece of work, but she can bully Eric into letting her take a good look. I think she scares him.”
Maude laughed, “Something tells me I need to meet this woman!” Pam texted the phone number and Maude called.
“What?” a snappish voice demanded.
“I am Maude, the Queen of Minnesota…”
“I don’t need an episode of Biography,” the sharp voice on the other end cut Maude off. “Who gave you my private number so I can cut them off my patient list?”
“Fine!” Maude snapped back, her tone equally sharp, “Eric Northman looks ill. He will be returning to New Orleans tomorrow evening. I trust you will look into it.”
“Is his breather sick too?” the voice asked, the tone a bit nicer.
“I wouldn’t know,” Maude replied. “She’s not with him.”
The sound on the other end of the phone could have been disgust and the voice said, “Lose this number!” before hanging up.