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: No one can see the wind, but knowing where it is is essential for sailing. That is why ribbons are sewn to the backs of sails. These ribbons, or telltales, flutter, giving visual proof of the flow of the wind as it moves across canvas, allowing a helmsman to adjust course to take best advantage of the air.
Zeus Summit – Denver
“I wish to thank Berthe, the Queen of Colorado, for hosting our Summit.” Stan was wrapping up his opening remarks. Zeus was the only other of the four Clans that had moved ahead with their Summit for this part of the working year. The Amun Clan Summit, which had been scheduled for upstate Michigan had been canceled in the aftermath of Rhodes and Narayana hadn’t had a regular Summit since the death of Robert of California. Stan swept his eyes across the crowd. Only his and Eric Northman’s Clans were left which could claim enough monarchs to make a Summit worthwhile.
Felipe de Castro, who was standing just below the dais, had benefitted from the deaths of most of the monarchs in his Clan, annexing their territories. Now, only Washington survived as a separate kingdom to remind others that there was more to Narayana Clan than the caped King. Moshup was similarly thin. There were only four monarchs surviving besides Mikhail, or Misha as he insisted on being called, and two of those were virtual recluses. For his part, Stan didn’t understand the interest in spreading one’s rule too thin. A diversity of monarchs meant a diversity of ideas and opportunities. Local representation ensured that humans would see a familiar face and since humans were the species with the most money to be taken, it was in all their interests to form close links with that species. That couldn’t happen if your only representation was states away.
Stan smiled briefly at Felipe, acknowledging his fellow Clan Chief in a way he knew would be recognized and appreciated by the bystanders. According to Stan’s most recent census study, the number of vampires in the consolidated Clans was dropping. Meanwhile, the vampire population in Zeus was growing. At first, Stan discounted the numbers, but now that the rogue invasion had all but stopped, Stan felt comfortable that the rising numbers translated to bright, capable money-makers attracted to his territory and that boded well for him. According to Stan’s data, although the numbers weren’t rising at the same rates, Amun was doing well too. Stan wondered how much of the Amun population growth was really those migrating into the Clan to join the law enforcement organization the Kings, Russell Edgington and Bartlett Crowe, were sponsoring. Vampires liked knowing things; it was something hardwired from lifetimes of hiding, and being part of the law enforcement group meant you would generally find things out first. It was a coveted job.
That didn’t mean the law enforcement group was universally appreciated. Rafe of Kansas had lodged a complaint. Interestingly, his contracted mate, Sandy Seacrest, had chosen not to file a complaint in support of her husband’s. Stan noticed the monarchs were standing well apart from each other and some part of him wondered what had taken so long for the rift to form.
Stan had been called to Kansas a few months ago to adjudicate at a local Assizes matter when the vampire police in Kansas arrested two of Rafe’s Sheriffs along with several other members of his Court. They were accused, and subsequently proven to be radical members of the Vampire First movement. Stan had supported a verdict of final death. He had taken the extra step of privately warning Rafe that there was enough evidence to arrest him as well and only Stan’s intercession had stopped them. At the time it ended any thought Rafe had of protesting the verdict, but with the passage of time, Rafe seemed to have found new courage. The Kansas King told Stan he wanted to make the introduction of these law enforcement arms into Zeus Clan a matter of debate during tonight’s business meetings. Stan had purposely delayed that conversation, moving it to the more private Clan meeting that would happen tomorrow night.
When Berthe and Greyeagle bowed, Stan caught sight of the bright, red head of Finn, the King of Nebraska, across the room. Finn was not known to attend vampire functions, including his own Clan meetings, so there was some speculation as to why he was here. The Nebraska King’s fellow monarchs were suspicious of his known association with the Fae. With the events in recent weeks, including videos of Fae fighters, the speculation was getting louder. Questions about the public appearance of the Fae and what it might mean was on the agenda for tomorrow as well, following the standard inter-Clan business meetings. Stan bowed to the cluster of vampires surrounding Sandy Seacrest. Almost every monarch in his Clan was here. Stan didn’t flatter himself by thinking it was because of the superior agenda or the love between the monarchs.
The real excitement, and the reason they all came, was the scheduled appearance of the Ancient Pythoness before the closing ball. Their titular leader had been unreachable for over a year. Kingdom consolidations had happened and suspicious deaths had gone unanswered. The territories the Pythoness had created and the monarchs she had put in place were very different now, but through all the upheaval she had remained silent. Now, their grand lady would be among them and there was a palpable energy in the room as the vampires speculated as to what she would say and what she would do.
One thing they did know: The Ancient Pythoness had refused to hear arguments in the suit Eric Northman, Clan Chief of Amun, had filed against Felipe de Castro, Clan Chief of Narayana. The Viking was claiming damages for a failed takeover attempt in his kingdom. He alleged that De Castro was behind it. The Narayana Chief protested that it was his freed progeny, Angie, who had conceived of the plot on her own and without her Maker’s knowledge. De Castro had been heard to say on more than one occasion that had he really been involved; the attempt would have succeeded.
The Pythoness issued a statement through her people that without sufficient evidence, the claim by the Viking could not move forward. Now there was a persistent rumor that Eric Northman and his Fae wife would not be coming to Denver. They had contacted Stan, alerting him that they might be attending to lend support to their business team, but several vampires who had been to New Orleans recently told Stan they found it unlikely. They told the Texas King that Sookie Northman was visibly pregnant again and they couldn’t see either one of the Northmans leaving New Orleans without a compelling reason. The AP’s refusal to hear the case against De Castro eliminated any such reason.
Stan smiled automatically and pushed his glasses up on his nose as he stepped through the crowd. ‘Sookie Stackhouse,’ he thought to himself. The last time he had seen her she was radiant, standing next to the North Man. They looked like movie stars, so blond and golden. With her telepathy and attractive persona Sookie was always a prize, but now? Northman’s wife had once again confirmed her reputation as a brilliant fighter and no one could deny her tie to the Fae. In a time when allies still counted for something (and when did they not?) having someone who could bring the Fae into the open to fight for you gave you tremendous power. Northman was truly a force to be reckoned with and Stan congratulated himself on being among those able to claim the Viking as both a friend and an ally.
As if reading his mind, Felipe de Castro stepped closer, “Do you know if Northman is coming?” he asked.
“I heard he was,” Stan replied politely, “He has a suite reserved but no one has confirmed his arrival.” Stan looked up to see two of the Viking’s Sheriffs nearby, “Oh, but perhaps his vassals can tell you. Thierry!” Stan said, calling the vampires toward them. “Thank you for giving the presentation this evening. It’s been a profitable year for all of us,” and Stan made of point of including the Nevada King in his head nod, “and I am sure after this evening’s report we will have new investors anxious to join in.”
Thierry and Thomas took care to bow equally to each of the Clan Chiefs. While it was common knowledge that their King was accusing De Castro, the charges had not been proven and it never did to assume things in the matter of Kings. “I am sure we will, Majesty,” Thierry responded, and then turning more fully toward Felipe de Castro, pasted his best courtier smile in place and said, “It is a pleasure to see you both.”
“I am anxious to resolve these awkward matters between our Kingdoms,” Felipe replied, getting right to the heart of the matter. “I have told your King this unfortunate incident was not done with my knowledge or approval. I was very sorry to hear of the loss of Jane. She was an exemplary vampire, a true asset to our race.” Felipe’s face had the appropriate amount of sympathetic regret and they all stood quiet for a moment. With timing that was perfect, the Nevada King flicked his eyes over their shoulder as if he was looking for someone before saying, “I am hoping your King will be coming to the Summit. I believe I have information that would allow us to move past this misunderstanding. After all, we are all business partners. I have an interest in the solar panels portion of our mutual energy operations and I am a business partner with Pamela Ravenscroft. This discord between our kingdoms is bad for business!”
Taking a quick look around, Felipe turned back toward them and in a slightly lower tone said, “I believe we are both victims to someone who seeks to profit by sowing this discord, someone who influenced my poor, impressionable Angie, leading her to her final death.” The King shook his head again and then looked directly at Thierry as he asked again, “Is your King coming?”
“I do not believe he and his Queen will be traveling for this Summit,” Thomas answered instead.
“Ah, you are Thomas!” Felipe greeted him, “You are mated to the Viking’s other progeny, Karin.”
“Karin the Slaughterer is my bonded mate,” Thomas corrected the King. Thierry snorted and Thomas flicked his eyes impatiently toward his companion.
“I congratulate you,” Felipe said courteously, then added, “I hope there are no further troubles in your kingdom that would cause them to remain within their borders?”
“No,” Thomas smiled broadly, “No troubles. It is instead the best of news. The Queen is expecting again and they have decided not to travel at this time.”
“Expecting…” and every vampire could see the uneasiness that passed over the Nevada King’s face. No one read anything into it. They all felt the same. There was something about this that didn’t sit right. Vampire Kings didn’t marry non-vampires. Vampire Kings didn’t make non-vampires their Queen. Vampire Kings certainly didn’t create some kind of test tube progeny. The Viking expected them all to accept too many new things; things that were not vampire. “Well, I will be certain to send a gift,” Felipe said, his mouth stretching into a polite smile.
“Perhaps we may be of assistance in conveying this new information,” Thierry interrupted. “As you say, we are business partners and this disagreement has created unforeseen difficulties for us all.”
“It is delicate information and best delivered in person,” Felipe smiled apologetically. “I would suggest I do so, but under the circumstances it would mean traveling to Louisiana, something I don’t dare under the circumstances,” Felipe said with a quick laugh.
“Yeah, that firecracker of a Queen would probably stake you where you stand,” and Stan fought to suppress a laugh before adding, “or drive a car over you. Didn’t she almost hit you with a car once?” and losing the battle, Stan laughed out loud, causing those around them to glance their way.
“Actually, she saved my life by killing another vampire with a car,” Felipe was still smiling thinly. Turning back to Thierry, Felipe continued, “Perhaps after the business meetings this evening. What I have to say is not something I’d care to share with a crowd.”
They agreed to meet in Stan’s suite once meetings concluded as it was the closest to neutral territory. Their arrangement concluded, Stan signaled to the Narayana Clan Chief and they moved away to the cluster of vampires surrounding Gus of Wyoming. “What do you think he’s going to say?” Thomas asked.
“That New York was behind it,” Thierry replied, watching Felipe’s retreating back. “It makes sense. Angie was traveling there, Felipe doesn’t want to take the heat for this, and there’s no love lost between Nevada and New York.”
“I almost feel sorry for Misha,” Thomas shook his head. “Everyone is lining up against him.”
“He’s made too many enemies,” Thierry shrugged. “Perhaps it’s time for the crows to come home to roost.”
“Who in a position of power doesn’t make enemies?” Thomas shrugged. “You make decisions; you make someone unhappy.”
“Except our King,” Thierry laughed. “He makes decisions and it serves to attract more to fight for him.”
“That’s true,” Thomas nodded, “But that may not count for much among his own species. Vampires don’t like to mingle with others.”
“That may be true,” Thierry nodded, “but those protests will need to be made in a large room, one big enough to hold the Viking and his whole non-vampire army.”
“No one is saying these police are spies. All I am saying is that we should be able to turn down the ‘offer’ of hosting them in our kingdoms without drawing suspicion onto ourselves.” Chase, the King of Montana was on the podium. The entire business portion of the Zeus Summit had been moved to the largest ballroom. There were vampires still waiting to register their opinion on the matter of the vampire police and this had already been going on for hours. There would be no meeting between the Viking’s Sheriffs and De Castro tonight. Stan glanced at his watch. Dawn was still many hours away but it was clear they would stay here, listening to testimony, until the sun naturally ended the parade of supporters and naysayers.
The evening had started as one would expect in the smaller room reserved for business meetings. The lead presentation in the business break-out session was the team talking about the status of the energy company collaboration between Zeus, Amun, and now Narayana Clans. There was general approval for the returns and no small amount of self-satisfaction that vampires were outstripping greedy humans in developing and subsequently controlling renewable energy sources. Thierry had detailed the currently regulatory climate, recommending that vampires withdraw from fracking and related waste water reclamation operations within five years. Thomas talked about the progress of the wind turbine operations and Sandy Seacrest gave an impressive talk on the future of wire transmission technology and co-generation plants. There were several vampires who expressed an interest in making investments and Stan was basking in thoughts of future profits.
The next team was about to start their presentation on improvements in synthetic blood manufacturing when Rafe of Kansas stood up and said, “I am introducing a new piece of business to the floor.” It wasn’t prohibited to sidestep the agenda, but it was unusual enough that heads turned and murmurs started. “I am opening the floor for a more general discussion about these vampire police.”
Stan couldn’t keep the frown from his face. He had told Rafe he wished to delay this discussion to tomorrow night behind closed doors. Rafe was forcing the conversation into the open, which meant the Sheriffs would have an opportunity to weigh in. While the promise of these new vampire police was that they would be a support and aid to local Sheriffs, the reality was that the Sheriffs saw them as rivals and dangerous interlopers. The business in Kansas where Area Sheriffs were included among the Vampire First arrests and then executions had served to cement that impression and there was more than a little simmering resentment. “We have this on the agenda for tomorrow,” Stan spoke up, but his words were met with a general hiss.
“I think we should allow all of those present to weigh in,” Gus of Wyoming stood next. He looked around the room, meeting the eyes of Sheriffs and observers, “This matter is too important to all of us to have it decided by just a few.”
“We are Rulers to our people,” Berthe of Colorado protested, standing next. “Isn’t that our responsibility as monarchs? To find out the facts and then lead our people in the right decisions?”
“This is a delicate matter,” Nascha of New Mexico had stood next. “You can see the emotion it already creates. Bad decisions are made in the heat of the moment. All wise vampires know that.”
But Pandora’s box was open and word traveled. Vampires who had not attended the business presentations were trying to enter the already overcrowded room. Stan looked around and realized to try and push for delay would open him to allegations of favoritism. All knew he already had two police forces in Texas. Forcing a smile into place, he said, “It appears to be the will of those here to have a general discussion ahead of the Clan talk tomorrow. I am sure the Kings and Queens here have heard the concerns of their people, but there is no harm in everyone listening to the thoughts of our colleagues from across the kingdoms of our Clan.” The Zeus Clan Chief hoped no one could hear his back molars grinding, “I will ask our organizers to move us to the larger ballroom. If you would allow us a few minutes…”
It was everything Stan had not to snap Rafe’s head off. He knew the short Kansas King was too stupid to be doing this as a challenge to Stan’s authority as Clan Chief. Instead Kansas was motivated by belligerence and temper. Had Kansas waited for tomorrow night, the monarchs could have worked out some compromise to present to those pressuring for new police in every kingdom. They could have argued their differences behind closed doors, but now it would become an angry, shouting shit show and Zeus could end up looking like the only Clan where the human-friendly police were rejected. It might make outsiders view Zeus Clan as supporting hate groups and that would be fatal to business with the humans.
As the Montana King concluded his remarks, Stan pulled out his phone and texted Bartlett Crowe. Someone representing the police was going to need to come to the Summit to press their cause in person and that someone needed to be in Denver by tomorrow night.
“This is a cause you believe in. You know that a common police force is the only real way for us to protect ourselves from humans. Our own police mean we are kept informed if there are those working against us. What’s more, they will protect us from our own worst element.” Bartlett Crowe was pulling out all the stops. The Kings were technically in debt to Thalia since she had informed them of their security issues here in Mississippi, but Bartlett was certain that deep down, Thalia would do the right thing rather than make this a favor trade. “If you don’t go to Denver,” he continued, “It’s likely those Zeus rulers will decide to ban the police from their territory, and that would be disastrous for all of us!”
“What about Stan?” Thalia hissed. “He’s their Clan Chief! Why doesn’t he just order them to accept your police?”
“If Stan declares openly for one side or the other he won’t remain Clan Chief for long,” Bartlett said dryly. “His role is to listen to all sides and help his rulers to come to common ground. Being Clan Chief is not about ordering.” Bartlett struggled to keep his tone conciliatory. Thalia knew as well as he did how difficult maintaining leadership of a Clan could be. The Indiana King recognized she was being purposely difficult.
“So, I get to be the bad guy and Stan Davis gets to remain out of the fray?” Thalia growled.
“Of course,” Bartlett purred. “You’ve worked so hard on your reputation. I’d think you’d be thanking me for giving you this opportunity to shove it down everyone’s throats, including Stan Davis.”
“What makes you think they would listen to me?” Thalia growled. “The last time I was there I forced your police down Kansas’s throat and we all know how that ended. What makes you think I’ll make it off the airplane, much less through the convention door?”
Bartlett laughed out loud, “Oh, Thalia! You do say the funniest things! Who would dare raise a hand against you? You speaking out for the police will let others know its importance!” Bartlett stopped laughing, “Besides, those executions were the right thing to do, almost everyone agreed. The evidence was overwhelming and the documents were posted for all to review. It was even-handed and above board.”
Bartlett shifted before saying, “For those who are not tainted by fear or paranoia the argument is already made. We get to know things first, we control what the humans know, and in exchange, all we have to do is agree to continue the promises we made when we started mainstreaming. We get everything and humans believe we are doing them a favor.” Bartlett waited, and when Thalia remained silent he added, “Besides, what else of value are you doing with your time? Twy tells me your Facebook group is alive and well. They posted another candid shot of you framed between two death-seekers in black leather last night. They photo-shopped it so you look like you’re smiling.”
“Fangtasia is not what it was,” Thalia snapped.
“Yes, things are always so quiet after a failed takeover,” Bartlett sighed. “Besides, there is another reason to go to Denver. Stan Davis informs me the Ancient Pythoness will be there. You know we’ve been trying to get her to agree to take over leadership of the police but she hasn’t returned our call. If you were there…”
“You want me to invite myself to speak with the Pythoness?” Thalia growled.
“I have to imagine you’ve met her,” Bartlett shrugged. “Two strong women, hundreds of years…”
“She was ancient when I was turned,” Thalia answered which wasn’t really an answer at all.
“Yes,” Bartlett continued, “You would be in the right place at the right time to ask her to assume authority and that would finish any resistance from the states.”
“So why don’t you just do this yourself?” Thalia snarled. “You know what needs to be said. This army was your idea. You should be the one peddling it.”
“Well, that’s the problem” Bartlett sighed. “Russell and I are the ones who came up with the idea and we bankrolled the first graduating class. If we show up to defend it followed by a private chat with the Pythoness, everyone is going to think we are attempting a countrywide takeover at worst, that these are our paid spies at best. No one has to peel the veneer back far to accuse the force of being a private army. They can’t be associated with anyone who has prior allegiances. Russell and I are Amun, which is a rival Clan. I am a former Clan Chief, while you…”
“I am also Amun,” Thalia reminded him.
“No one counts you as belonging to any Clan,” Bartlett countered. “To vampires, you are viewed as independent, perhaps the only vampire in this country that is seen as outside any ruling structure, except for the Pythoness herself.”
“I have no way of getting there.” As soon as she said it, Thalia knew she was going. Bartlett knew it as well.
Thalia could hear the triumph in his voice as he told her, “There will be an Anubis flight awaiting you in Shreveport within the hour. There will be charge accounts ready for you at the hotel and you can use the Viking’s suite. He is not going and the rooms are there.” When she didn’t say anything, Bartlett said, “Thank you, Thalia. This is important.”
When he hung up, Bartlett turned toward Russell Edgington, who had been listening to the entire conversation. “So that’s done,” he told his mate.
“When do you think Thalia will figure out she just inherited the police force?” Russell asked.
“It won’t take long,” Bartlett smiled. “She’ll be angry for about two seconds and then she’ll realize what a favor we’ve done her. She is uniquely suited for it and who would question her? Even if people think she’s using the force as her personal spies, who would be brave enough to say it? Pushing her into this position was genius, Rusty.”
“And we can step back and regain our lives,” Russell nodded. “No more worries about Vampires First. No more worries about sabotage. As soon as these police take root around the country, even takeovers will become a threat from our past. If we have problems we can’t solve ourselves, we will know who to call and we’ll know she’ll be a friend.”
The Mississippi King extended his hand toward his mate, “I am looking forward to just being us again.”
“You may find that being King becomes pretty boring,” Bartlett purred as he perched on Russell’s chair arm. “We’ll have to find new ways to fill our time.”
Russell tilted his head back, enjoying his mate’s fingers running through his hair, “Well, no time like the present. I heard there is a new quartet playing at Josephine’s this evening.”
“Then we should go,” Bartlett smiled back, “Just two happy vampires, out on the town.”
“Where is your doppelgänger?” the Ancient Pythoness asked Niall Brigant. The vampire sat in the high-backed chair she dragged from place to place. It was carved wood, a souvenir from her days in France during the Dark Ages.
“Finn is downstairs,” Niall sat easily in an opposing armchair, his hands crossed over the head of his cane. “I suppose you could tell me about him if I asked you.”
“I suppose,” the Pythoness grinned mirthlessly, her eyes shining in the dim light like a snake. “But you won’t ask me, Sky Prince, because you are too proud to give me the price I would ask.”
“I am so pleased you are still with us,” the Prince said caustically. “My existence would be much less colorful without you in it.”
“Do you suppose we have fulfilled the social niceties?” the Pythoness hissed. “You are here to ask something of me. Stop mincing and wincing your way up to it.”
The smile didn’t drop from Niall’s face, but his eyes turned as cold as the vampire’s across from him, “It’s not what I want, crone. It’s what you want, what you’ve wanted for some time.”
“You think to suggest my successor?” the Pythoness’ lips curved upwards. “Who? Your bastard child downstairs?”
“Of course not,” Niall finessed. “Finn is still too young and his gifts have yet to be tested. Besides, I’m not suggesting a replacement for you. I’m suggesting you consider handing over those parts of your duties you find most trying. Of course you should continue to be a seer to the people. It was your destiny before you were turned and remains your destiny now.”
“Only now I would no longer be burdened with governing them,” and the Pythoness leaned back. Her face softened and she tapped a long, bony finger on the arm of the chair. “And who would you suggest to relieve me of so much? Certainly not yourself! We would suck you dry in an instant!” and then she smiled, “Of course! The Viking!”
“Why not?” Niall said reasonably. “He has proven himself. He has made strong alliances with the other species. He has survived any number of trials and for every time he is dropped down he rises ever higher. He is both skilled and lucky. Who better?”
“I think you overstate his worthiness,” the Pythoness rasped. “The Weres don’t openly support him.”
“Easily fixed,” the Prince replied with a flip of his hand. “The Weres are held by an ancestral blood oath to the Fae. They are our traditional guardians and bound generation on generation to us. I will openly declare our alliance to Northman. It only takes my sending word that we are calling their oaths and they will be bound to him as they are to me.”
“Magnanimous,” the Pythoness nodded, “Quite the concession from a Fae Prince to a lowly vampire. I have to wonder. What’s in this for you? Northman is notoriously independent. He has the strength needed to enforce his will and that strength could just as easily be turned against you. I suppose there is the obvious. You have linked your grand-daughter to him and a little more tightly than you intended if I’m not mistaken. She may be immortal, Niall, but there will ever be resistance from vampires in accepting her as full Queen.”
“Perhaps things have changed since the last time you looked into our future. Perhaps you should cast your sight forward now.” Niall shifted forward, “But why are we squabbling? You have given much of yourself to bring the vampires of this country out of the darkness. Years of your existence have been spent running from Summit to Summit, a sideshow attraction settling their petty disputes because they were incapable of it. But now you tire. Why not put someone with both the skills and backing needed into the chair? You would still advise him. You would be his Ancient Pythoness and he would lift the heavy loads you hand to him.”
When the Pythoness didn’t reply, Niall nodded and continued, “In recent years, some of these vampires you put in positions of power and responsibility have done their best to step back into all that was worst and petty about their race. They chase money and power. They fight for nothing better than jealousy and ego, but there are some now, like Northman, who see and accept the future you would have for them.”
“There are still a few of the old ones left,” the Pythoness sighed. “You are right about one thing. Most that are thriving are the better of the lot.” The Pythoness turned her sightless eyes toward the Fae Prince, “And again I ask, Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae, what do you get from this?”
“And again, Lady of the Dark Ones, I ask you to seek that answer yourself.” Niall sat back and watched as the Ancient Pythoness stared out before her. After several long minutes her focus returned to him. Her mouth was pursed and her face thoughtful. “Children,” she said, “Part Fae, part vampire. That is quite the trick you pulled.”
“They are our future,” Niall told her, “both our races. These children will be capable of walking in sunlight and darkness. They will wield both Fae magic and the powers of the vampires. And they will be able to reproduce naturally.”
“And you believe they will thank you for their gifts,” the Pythoness was smiling.
“They will be special. I have declared the firstborn my heir when he is of age. He will show the way forward for us all.” Niall’s eyes shone. He had seen many visions of these children. They would grow in grace and wisdom. The North Man would honor his obligations to climb up the vampire hierarchy. When his children came of age, there would be no barriers standing between their taking over rule of the combined races. There would be a supreme leader, and that leader would be of Niall’s bloodline and beholden to him.
“I can see that you believe this is for the best,” the Ancient Pythoness said mildly. “Far be it for me to stand in your way. But I caution you, Prince of the Air, be careful what you wish for, for you may surely get it.”
“That sounds like silly human nonsense,” Niall scoffed.
“Silly human nonsense often carries great wisdom for all it comes from an inferior race,” the Pythoness observed.
“So, you will suggest appointing the North Man as High King to the Clans?” Niall pressed.
“He won’t thank me for it,” the Pythoness nodded, “but yes, Niall. I will do as you ask.”
The Prince stood up and swiftly bowed. “I thank you, Lady,” he drew himself up. “This will be a great day for us all.”
When the door shut, the Ancient Pythoness said, “You can come out now.”
Thalia stepped from the shadows, “How did he not detect me?” the fierce vampire asked the old one.
“The Fae are not the only ones with tricks,” the Pythoness replied.
“You would allow this?” Thalia asked. “The North Man and his mate would not wish their children to be used in this way. They would have them retain their choices.”
“And their children will have that, even if the Viking and his mate do not,” the Pythoness replied. “It is why you are here. You will ensure that the Fae Prince remembers his place.” The Pythoness leaned back, “Niall Brigant is an old, greedy troll of a man. He forgets the warmth of emotion and the softness of a mother’s heart. I am ancient but I remember it still. Niall discounts the power of his Granddaughter and the fierceness of a parent’s protection. He sees the future but colored by his own ambition.”
“You must watch over them, this family of yours. Use Northman’s alliance with the witches when you must. They have magic that can bar the Fae when needed. I can’t stop the choice that will stand before those children, but we can make certain that their childhood is spent with their parents, away from the influence that Niall would exert.”
The Pythoness held out her hand and kept it there until Thalia placed hers upon it. The crone’s bony fingers wrapped around Thalia’s with surprising strength. “When the time is right,” the Pythoness told Thalia, “you will tell them what Niall showed you and when. You will tell them of his instructions and all will be well.”
“How will I know when that time comes?” Thalia asked.
“You will know,” the Pythoness answered, and she dropped Thalia’s hand and turned her head. When Thalia didn’t start to move, the Pythoness intoned, “Now go!”
Thalia turned and as if on cue, the door to the suite opened. As Thalia stalked down the hall, she thought, ‘Great! First the Fae and now the Pythoness! Would it kill you to just give a straight answer?’ Somewhere deep down, Thalia suspected it might.
Maude was walking past Inger’s resting chamber. Her second was not due to rise for another twenty minutes which was why Maude stopped when she saw the door handle turn.
“Good morning, Pam,” she greeted her favorite adopted daughter.
“Good morning back,” Pam smiled. Maude could see that Pam didn’t want to look guilty, but then she did.
“I am just headed downstairs. The donor selection from the University continues to improve. Perhaps you would care to join me?” Maude continued down the corridor, allowing Pam a moment to collect herself.
The donor selection this evening was delightful. There was a rather muscular young man with curly brown hair and snapping eyes and Maude couldn’t help breaking into a smile. To give him credit, he glanced at Pam who had trailed the Queen, but then snapped his eyes back toward Maude and nodded. Delighting her even further, he whispered, “Perhaps somewhere private?”
Maude glanced around. There was also a tall, blond man and he smiled as well. “The possibilities!” she sighed, but then said, “Unfortunately, I have guests and business to attend to. Perhaps another time.”
As she fed from the brunette, the blond slipped behind her, rubbing her back then slipping his hands around to her breasts. Maude sighed as she pulled back, sealing the puncture wounds she had made. “You should both come back,” she smiled. “But you should know, I think the best things cum in twos!”
Pam lifted her head from the strawberry blond woman and laughed, “Some things never change!”
“I could say the same,” Maude replied, her eyebrow lifting. Checking her shirt for blood and finding none, Maude headed toward the back of the palace where her large kitchen stretched.
“It’s not exactly cheating,” Pam told her as she walked over to the large table and took a seat.
“It’s not what you think it is,” Maude replied, picking up an apron and tying the strings, “It’s what the other person says it is. Fidelity is never how you define it; it’s how your partner defines it!” The Queen picked up a pot lid and waved the steam toward her face. “Interesting!” she remarked.
“Basil with teriyaki,” Deirdre was chopping cilantro. “There is a pasta dish we’re trying and the sauce needs to be piquant enough to energize the palate.”
“I don’t think I ever had pasta growing up,” Pam remarked, picking at the fringe of the placemat before her. “It looks bland.”
“It is,” Deirdre confirmed, “Which is one of its benefits. It absorbs and mutes strong flavors into something that is agreeable and filling for humans,” then Deirdre smirked, “So, cheating already?”
This time Pam didn’t deny it. “I can’t deny it’s a beautiful life. We go everywhere, we meet everyone. I have more couture than I can wear. I get free shoes; beautiful signed, designer shoes! We’re photographed. People recognize me on the street. He is courteous, imaginative. He lives very well.”
“You’re bored, Pammie!” and Maude laughed. “You’ve got everything you thought would make your life perfect and you’re bored out of your mind!”
“I don’t even know what to think!” Pam sighed, “It’s ‘Pamela’ this and ‘Zolotse’ that. Andrew hovers and I don’t even have to think. I barely consider having a bath and the water is drawn. If I mention I’m interested in a book or that a scent intrigues me? It’s there the next day! It’s more than bored… I feel smothered,” Pam shrugged. “I ended up walking to the Park by myself just so I could take my shoes off and feel free.” Pam threw herself back in the chair, “I’m manufacturing reasons to travel. Max wanted to come up to see the New York operations for himself and I convinced him that Boston really needed the look, just so I could get away from the brownstone for awhile.”
“I was wondering why I was seeing you more frequently,” Maude laughed. “I’ll try not to take it personally.”
“Me too,” Inger said from the door. The tall, blond woman nodded to Pam.
“I’ll take you any way you offer,” Pam purred and Inger smirked in return.
“I have an Assizes to attend in the Twin Cities,” Inger informed Maude. “I expect to return in two nights.” She looked expectantly at Pam who frowned and shook her head.
“Fine,” Maude replied as if she hadn’t seen the interplay, “I will look forward to your report.”
Deirdre was taking off her apron as well, “I have a class I’m teaching for the local community college,” she announced. “Wouldn’t do for the teacher to be late!” Within seconds Pam realized she was now alone with the Minnesota Queen and she got the distinct impression that was what Maude planned.
“Why haven’t you left him?” Maude asked after a time.
“I can’t believe I would want to,” Pam answered. “He does everything he can to please me. I have never been so pampered! I keep asking myself what’s wrong with me!”
“You haven’t given him your blood?” Maude was looking at Pam curiously. “I can smell his in you.”
“He likes me to bite him,” Pam shrugged. “He says he wishes me to know his heart.” Pam rolled her eyes, “He is really sweet.” When Maude just shook her head, Pam added, “He has started hinting he would like to share. I think he was hoping I’d spontaneously offer, but…”
“You don’t want him to know you don’t love him,” Maude finished.
“He will be really hurt,” Pam agreed.
“So, when are you going to tell him?” Maude’s voice was strong, but the hand that stroked Pam’s shoulder was kind.
“Soon,” Pam whispered. “I don’t know how he’s going to take it.”
“You could tell him you need to head home for a while,” Maude suggested. “I don’t know if you’ve been following the gossip, but it looks like your Maker will be asked to step into some kind of General Counsel role. Sort of a right hand to the Ancient Pythoness herself.”
Pam remembered the scraps of conversation she’d overheard in the brownstone. “Misha is not happy about that,” she told the Minnesota monarch.
“I can’t imagine he would be,” Maude shrugged. “Misha is a throwback in many ways. He believes that powerful vampires rise through strength and guile, not making friends and statesmanship. I’m sure he thought the position would be offered to him.”
“Misha would be a terrible choice!” It was out of Pam’s mouth before she could even think. “I mean…”
“I think you should let your gut do the talking,” Maude said under arched eyebrows. “Your instincts rarely lead you astray, Pammie mine! And I agree with you. Mister New York would lead a reign of terror and none of us would feel safe. Mr. Fae and Fancy has shown he’s more of a think now, act later ruler and that’s exactly what we all need.”
“You should have heard Misha go on about allowing those police into his territories! He was even angrier about that!” Pam was not holding back. This was her friend and Pam realized that she had been monitoring everything she said for a very long time. It was as if something inside her had been telling her not to trust anyone, and now, being able to simply say her mind, Pam felt renewed.
“He won’t have a choice,” Maude told her friend. “I have my own reservations about the amount of pressure being brought to bear. You know me! I hate to be forced into anything, but even I can see that the benefits on this one outweigh the problems. Not going to say that I won’t have my own people watching them watching us, but it makes more jobs! Good for my economy!” and the Minnesota Queen laughed her great, booming laugh. Maude sat down in the chair beside Pam, “Seriously, Pamela, maybe it’s time you went home and paid a visit. Let me show you something.”
Maude walked over to the charging station and grabbed her phone. She tapped a few times and turned the screen so Pam could see a photo of Sookie walking in New Orleans with her friend Tara and Angel, the housekeeper’s daughter. Sookie was smiling and her hand was resting on the side of a distended belly.
“She’s almost six months now,” Pam said, staring at the photo.
“Karin tells me they are starting construction at the Palace to build a nursery. Everything is in an uproar on the upper floors. I’m sure Max told you he’s officially moved out.”
“It was past time,” Pam nodded. “He has an amazing house in the Quarter now, close to where Emil Touissant, the Packmaster and his family live.”
“The entire upper floor is going to be Northman family quarters.” Maude turned the phone, “You should go visit. I think Sookie misses you.”
When Pam looked up, Maude nodded. “I speak with Northman from time to time. He is my Clan Chief after all. Sookie always asks about you. So does he.”
“I wonder what they’re doing now?” Pam sniffed.
“Well, what say I call them and find out?” Maude smiled and before Pam could change her mind, the Minnesota Queen pushed the call button.