Author’s Note: Thank you Breathesgirl and thank you Ms Buffy. On to the second act in the “And Now We are One” series!
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.
“If you’re really going to call yourself an event planner, and you think you’re going to live in this part of the country, you’d better learn what a ribbon cake is all about!” Tara rolled her eyes and her expression said ‘Hope you aren’t paying for this!’
Twy’s mouth thinned and Sookie could see a re-enactment of North versus South was brewing so she jumped in. “I guess it isn’t something you do in New York.” She turned to Tara and tilted her head in a ‘make nice’ gesture.
“I just thought something more sophisticated would be appropriate, more in keeping with your royal status,” Twy drawled, her jaw tight.
“Why bless your little heart,” Tara’s voice had only the barest hint of sarcasm, but the words she used made up for it, “I guess our country manners must look pretty quaint to a big city gal like you.”
Sookie’s smile got broader and her eyes got wider as she heard what could only be described as fighting words. Fortunately, Devrah sailed to the rescue. The housekeeper preceded two servants carrying trays of sweet tea and sliced fruit. She looked from one sour face to the next, before arching an eyebrow at Sookie, “Looks like you ladies could do with some refreshment!” The housekeeper poured a glass and set it down in front of Twy, “Here you go, Miss Twy. This is how we cool down, down South.” Then she turned and poured another glass to set in front of Tara, “And I know your Momma taught you better manners.” The housekeeper turned to Sookie, “Mistress? Is there anything else I can have sent up?”
“No,” Sookie said gratefully, “I think we have what we need now.” Sookie glanced at the open chair near the table, “You’ve seen how these events get handled for vampires. Would you mind hanging around?”
There was a small fountain in the corner and the sound of the running water made it seem cooler, but the biggest comfort Sookie felt at the moment was her solid, no nonsense housekeeper saying, “Don’t mind if I do.”
It was only days since the pledging. Sookie barely unpacked before the texts and voicemails began. Jason returned home and within hours was right back into the car taking Michele to the hospital. Everyone was fine and Michael Eric had joined his brothers in the little house on the pond. Michele made clear she wouldn’t allow a baby to delay Sookie’s wedding. Tara volunteered to take over as wedding planner, but so far it hadn’t been easy.
Pam traveled to New Orleans with Eric and Sookie following the Summit while Karin and Thomas continued on to Little Rock. Pam’s excuse was the proximity of the Big Easy’s international airport and Maxwell Lee. She told Sookie and Eric she had Fangtasia business that needed attention, but Sookie believed it was her human wedding that was Pam’s true motivation.
While she was in Indianapolis at the Amun Summit, Sookie could see Pam’s curiosity. During the Summit, when Sookie wasn’t dancing or pledging or playing with Eric, she would see Pam and Jason, their heads together. Thierry was in the mix too and she found them all turning to look at her at the same time more than once and then laughing. If she’d had two seconds to think about it, she would have got riled up and said something, but no sooner would she decide to confront them, than someone would claim her attention and she’d forget.
It came back to her now, though, and she wasn’t surprised when Pam leaned over her shoulder last night as she read through the latest chain of conflicting emails from Tara.
The first email message suggested moving the rehearsal dinner to Fangtasia. Right under it was another marked ‘Urgent.’ Sookie opened it to find Tara telling her to ignore the first email, changing the location of the rehearsal dinner to the town green near the Bellefleur’s house. Sookie was thinking that over when a third email arrived changing the plans again. Sookie sighed and grabbed the glass of red wine beside her. “You need Twy,” Pam announced, and that was how Twy came to be here.
Tara’s volunteering came from the right place, but there were some things that, in spite of all best intentions, were not going to change. Tara had three kids, a husband, a business, and her husband’s business already fighting for her attention. Trying to squeeze in planning for a semi-formal, kind of supernatural, all country wedding in less than three weeks was asking for the impossible.
Sookie said she was at peace with the idea that her human wedding would be a handful of friends standing in Jason’s backyard, and under the circumstances, she wasn’t sure she should expect anything else.
Pam made an effort to look like she was listening to Sookie’s arguments supporting Tara (‘She’s known me since I was little and she wants to repay the favors I’ve done her,’) before dismissing them all. Pam announced there was no way she could allow her Queen to compromise any detail for an occasion that meant as much to her as marrying Eric Northman according to her tradition. “What the fuck, Sookie?” she drawled in typical Pam fashion, “You’ve been waiting for this for ten years. Are you really going to settle for barefoot in blue jeans?”
Twy was called (apparently she was staying in the palace with Pam), cautioned about Tara (which advice she dismissed with a wave of her bony fingers), and then told by Pam what was needed. The skinny, red head spent what the rest of the evening and most of this morning calling in favors. There was a caterer for the reception who specialized in putting on country barbecues. There was a stager who would recreate some kind of floral cathedral in Jason’s backyard. There would be a rehearsal dinner in Shreveport on the grounds of the Norton Art Gallery complete with a rental company that would deliver tents, tables and chairs and a different caterer who did things with blood.
When they gathered on the rooftop, Sookie also realized that the New Yorker had acquired a new assistant. The young man named Brock looked to be fifteen and sported piercings in less conventional places. He was also clever, flamboyantly gay and took very little crap from Twy. They seemed to be getting on like gangbusters. What Twy didn’t think of, Brock would suggest. It was like watching a ping pong match.
When Tara arrived, she no sooner broke her welcoming hug than she was asked to hand over her cell phone so Brock could collect email addresses. There would be expedited electronic invitations to a shower, a bride’s party, a groom’s gathering, and then the rehearsal and the ceremony. While Brock finished grilling a stunned Tara for the names of all the Bon Temps people, Twy turned to Sookie and asked who else from the area should be invited. Sookie added Calvin Norris and some of the Hotshot Pack to the list. While most of the vampires had been at the pledging, Indira and Rubio had not. They remained behind to protect the kingdom so Sookie added them too.
The other group Sookie realized had to be considered was the Weres. Sookie was a Friend of the Pack, and to not invite the Weres to any of her wedding celebrations would be a major faux pas. Sookie started reeling off a separate list of names starting with Emil Touissant, the Packmaster from New Orleans followed by all those who served as their guards and house staff. Twy looked up and then across at Devrah, “Don’t you think the seven hour drive to Bon Temps is expecting too much for these people?”
Sookie’s mouth fell open,”Yeah, you’re right.”
Twy pulled up her calendar, “So, if you are planning to be there the whole week of the wedding, and most of the week before…”
“Planning, shopping…” Brock explained.
“Planning, shopping,” Twy confirmed, “Then I think we could squeeze in a New Orleans only reception here at the palace on this night,” and she pointed at a Thursday the week before the wedding.
“I’ll have to check with Eric.” Eric had been pretty easy-going, but Sookie wondered how far his patience would stretch, now that she accepted their being married. He seemed perfectly happy that the pledging had done the deed and he made a point of having her declare her new status often.
“Can’t imagine there’s much he wouldn’t give you if you asked for it,” Devrah smiled. “The King says yes, I can take care of the rest.”
“So, those are the only Weres you need to invite?” Twy asked.
There was something so business-like in the New Yorker’s tone that it got Sookie thinking about the LongTooth Pack from Shreveport. There were many times Sookie worked with them in years past, but lately the relationship had cooled. Sookie wasn’t exactly fighting with Alcide, but his treatment of her had been a factor in his decision to step down as Packmaster. Sookie thought about Shari Decker, who was her guard for a time. Shari left New Orleans to throw her hat in the ring as Packmaster. It had been weeks since she left, and Sookie realized she hadn’t heard a word. With a sigh, Sookie realized inviting Long Tooth Pack to the Bon Temps wedding was non-negotiable.
Once the list was finished, Twy launched into her plan for the bride’s party. This was a time that members of the bridal party and close friends would get together to make favors for the guests. Twy envisioned it as an elegant evening tea complete with delicate bone china teacups (anything you drink out of bone china looks marvelous!). She was thinking sophisticated canapes and formal Ascot hats and white gloves. Sookie watched Tara’s lip jut further and further until, unable to contain herself further, Sookie’s friend asked in a belligerent tone about the ribbon cake. That question was met with a blank stare from Twy and it was game on.
“I’m just not feeling this formal restaurant thing at all!” Tara’s opinion was a chip on her shoulder, her tone of voice daring Twy to push it off.
“Really?” the sarcasm could have been scraped off with a knife. “Well, let’s see if risking an outside venue for arts and crafts at this time of year makes sense.” The New Yorker’s fingers flew over the tablet Brock handed her. Twy’s chin pushed forward as she triumphantly handed over a forecast that predicted 40 percent chance of rain. “I suppose you would be happy with these odds?”
“Maybe not,” Tara conceded, “But where are you going to find a place that can hold all of us on this short notice?”
“Wouldn’t be more than ten or so,” Sookie said in what she hoped was a helpful way.
“You’ll see, it’ll be closer to twenty by the time everything gets settled,” Tara replied.
“Not to worry!” Brock handed over a menu for Bistro Byronz in Shreveport. “If I call this afternoon, they’ll give us a private room or put us under their loggia if the weather is nice. They told me they could handle up to thirty and would be happy to do it.”
“I love that place!” Tara looked surprised and then impressed, “How did you do it?”
“Free publicity,” Twy shrugged. “The owner is expanding. He’s heard about Fangtasia’s expansion into event planning. “Most of them would love to be included on the resource roster for a planning group that has national presence, and Fangtasia, Ltd. does. Plus, it’s the wedding of King Gorgeous and his local-gal-makes-good bride. They know there will be media coverage, so by doing this they get free advertising.”
“Okay,” Tara shrugged, “I give. We’re supposed to assemble the favors,” and she handed over pictures. The favor would be an ivory fan strung with ribbons on the plate of each guest since April could be humid. There would also be a small sachet bag fitted into ivory lace and tied. When you looked carefully, you could see the lace had bats in the pattern.
“Really?” Twy laughed when she saw it.
“Where in the world did you find it?” Sookie was laughing too.
“It was supposed to end up in a Hallowe’en costume but it just never got made. I have two whole yards of this stuff. We can make sachets til the cows come home!”
Herb mixes were passed around and Sookie chose a lemongrass and lime combination. “Isn’t the ‘something on the side’ for these events usually honey or some spice combination?” Brock looked skeptical.
“True, but we’ll have vampires attending. They don’t eat but they do appreciate lovely smells,” and Tara beamed.
Devrah settled it, “That’s real thoughtful of you, Tara.”
“Something else,” Tara shook her head, “Hats and gloves? No way! Most of us would have to go shopping for something and we’d be asking folks to spend money on something they’ll never wear again. Besides, that’s what the ribbon cake is for.”
“Okay, then tell me about this ribbon cake,” Twy eye-rolled.
“It started with Mardi Gras and the King Cake,” Devrah explained. “In the King Cake, there’s a baby or a bean baked right in. Whoever found the charm in their piece had good luck for the year. For a bride, there are a whole bunch of charms baked in. They each have a different meaning, and the one you get tells your future.”
“So, there are charms and everyone gets one in their slice. Cute,” and Twy looked around, “So why is it called a ribbon cake?”
“Well, the charms aren’t small but they aren’t big either, and they are baked in. Not too nice to accidentally choke one of your friends to death! So each charm is tied to a ribbon and all the ribbons come out the top of the cake. Each guest picks their color, pulls, and the cake is cut up after.”
“How precious!” Brock gushed. “I love that idea!” Twy tried to look blasé but Brock waved his finger at her, “Liar! You love it! I can tell!” He turned to Tara, “Score one for you!”
The assistant picked up a glass of sweet tea and he and Tara clicked glasses. Devrah laughed, Sookie smiled and Twy rolled her eyes, “Okay, you win. It is precious!”
From that point forward, the mood improved. Twy listened to Tara’s suggestions. Brock ran both a phone and a tablet hunting down items and making calls. As they wrangled over acceptable canapes, Brock sprinted over from the corner of the roof where he’d been talking on the phone. “Do you want an app that can be downloaded to everyone’s phones so they can take photos and then upload them to a group site?”
“You can do that?” Sookie’s eyes shone.
“I’d say that’s a yes,” and Brock pressed a button on his phone and started talking again.
“Do you have a florist in Bon Temps who can handle your bouquets and the centerpieces?” Twy asked.
“I don’t know,” Tara turned to Sookie, “What are your colors anyway?”
Sookie felt herself flailing through her memory for what she imagined as a girl, and then tripped across her memories of her wedding to Sam. Her colors then had been pink and mint green. “I like green,” she said, “but not mint!”
“Good,” Twy huffed, “Green is a difficult color for more people. Pam will want pink…”
“No!” Sookie exclaimed, “No pink!”
Tara realized right away what was going on, “Yeah, no pink,” she echoed. Then she thought for a minute, “You know…” and she waited for Sookie to look her way. “You told me the story one time about the first time you met Eric. You remember?”
“I’ll never forget,” and Sookie blushed. “Bill Compton took me to Fangtasia.”
“What color were you wearing?” Tara asked, “What will the King be wearing?”
Sookie remembered that dress, and she remembered Eric mentioning it to her during dark times. He told her she would always be the woman who walked into his bar in a white dress. “It was a sundress. It was mostly white but it had red flowers scattered over it.”
“And Eric?” Twy asked.
“Signature black!” Sookie laughed.
Brock’s eyebrows raised, “Sophisticated enough for you, boss?”
“White roses with red rosebuds!” Twy declared. “What about your dress? You aren’t thinking frou frou bridal white, are you?”
“No!” The protest came out all too readily. “I mean I don’t think it would be a good idea this time of year,” the telepath moderated her tone.
“You sure you don’t want to think about purples or lavenders?” Tara asked, “Spring colors?”
Sookie thought about it. She looked good in pastels when she had a solid tan but the idea of walking toward Eric in a dress that looked like the first time he’d seen her caught her imagination. “I’m not sure how I’d do it, but I’d really like a dress that looked like the one I had.” She thought about how she’d worn heels and no hose that night, and how the neckline had been low enough that her Gran wanted her to cover up with a sweater. Then she thought of the scars on her lower legs, the ones that never really had gone away regardless of the effects of vampire blood. “I’d want it full length, though.”
Twy signaled Brock and his fingers flew.
The afternoon sun sank and the lights were starting to wink on across the city. Devrah excused herself and Sookie walked Tara downstairs. “You sure you’re not too upset over Twy?”
“She’s not trying to make it something you’d hate, so no. Of course, she did throw in that sweetener.” Twy had offered to place advertisements for Tara’s Togs. How about you, Sookie? You okay with all this Yankee planning?” Tara asked, shoulder-bumping the telepath.
“I wasn’t at first,” Sookie confessed. “That gal makes Eric look like a new-comer to the high-handed department, but she’s growing on me.”
“Probably all that Pam loving I heard about,” and Tara rolled her eyes. “Jason told me they were all ooh-la-la at the Summit.”
“Pam says it’s just fun and games, but they do seem to be hanging out more.”
When they got to Tara’s room, her things were all unpacked. “Sure is nice having servants to do all this for you,” Tara sighed.
“I guess,” Sookie sat down on the bed. “Most times it just makes me want to pitch in. I feel guilty, watching folks clean up my mess without lending a hand. Just feels un-Christian.”
Tara’s mouth dropped open, “Oh my gosh, you just reminded me of something! We have got to call Reverend Collins and make an appointment to get up there and talk with him before the wedding.”
“Is there a problem?” Reverend Collins was the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Bon Temps and he knew her Gran. His was the church Sookie attended when she lived in Bon Temps. It was unusual, having a pastor so long in one place, but every time there was some rumor that Reverend Collins would be rotated to another congregation, his flock would write letters to the Bishop, listing all the reasons the good man needed to stay.
“Wouldn’t call it a problem,” Tara said carefully. “I’d say more of a concern,” and she sat down next to her friend. “You think Eric’s a Christian?”
“No,” Sookie said almost without thinking and then added quickly, “but that don’t make him a bad person.”
Tara nodded, “Jason and I went over to see the pastor after Sunday services this past week to ask if he’d do the ceremony. I know how much it means to you, to have the right words said.”
“He’s not going to do it?” This possibility had not occurred to Sookie.
“He didn’t say that, but when Jason spoke up for him, he told Reverend Collins that Eric was going to stand as Mikey’s godfather. That got the Reverend’s interest and he said it occurred to him he’d never actually met the famous Eric Northman.”
“Well, Holy Jesus, Shepard of Judah! The thought of having the Reverend Collins and Eric sitting down for tea gives me the chill willies,” and Sookie sighed. “Maybe if I call…”
“He mentioned it’s a long time since he saw you sitting in his church, too.”
Sookie rolled her eyes and shook her head slowly. “I’m not sure where we’re going to squeeze all this in. It’s a long drive between here and there, but too close to just jump a plane.” Sookie took Tara’s hand, “Is this really such a smart idea? I mean I’ve told Eric that the pledging is enough; I’m calling myself his wife and I’ve had Mr. Cataliades draw up the paperwork to have my name changed. Am I just holding on to something that’s outlived its usefulness?”
Tara chuckled, “Don’t you go trying to bullshit a bullshitter, Sookie Stackhouse Northman, or whatever it is you’re calling yourself these days! You know, and I know, that until some man of God makes you say the words in front of your brother and all your friends it won’t be real to you. Not deep in your heart where it needs to be.”
“Sure wish it was different,” Sookie sighed again.
“No, you don’t,” Tara nudged her. “If there’s a hard way to do things, you find it every time. You could have married Eric Northman way back when and saved yourself a whole bunch of trouble, but you were too busy shillyshallying back and forth about what was right for you.”
“You weren’t exactly on Team Eric, either,” Sookie pointed out.
“No, I wasn’t,” Tara agreed, “but a gal can change her mind, and I have. So let’s just dig deep and find that steel that your Gran told us was the backbone of every true Southern woman and git ‘er done!”
Sookie’s eyes snapped to the door, “Eric’s coming!” and her smile spread across her face as she felt that wave of happiness that was every day. She stood and launched herself forward just as the door opened.
“You two are making make me remember to get my teeth checked, y’all are so sweet!” Tara drawled as she watched them kiss.
“Nice seeing you again, too, Mrs. DuRone,” Eric smiled over Sookie’s head. His eyes traveled back to his wife’s face, “You look like you’ve had a productive day,”
“A busy one,” Sookie agreed. “Twy’s helping out with all the arrangements.” Sookie turned to Tara from her place in Eric’s arms, “Head on downstairs when you’re ready. We usually do a family get-together that includes Sookie feeding time in about an hour. If you don’t run into anyone you know, just ask for Devrah. She’ll get you to the right place.” The telepath took another quick glance around, “You have everything you need?”
“Hell, Sookie, I’m in a palace! I find I need a gold-plated toothpick or platinum toilet paper, I’ll just ring!”
Sookie could feel Eric’s need. He was being patient, but she knew he was hungry. “Dial one on the phone,” and she turned to follow Eric.
As they walked hand in hand to the elevator, Eric asked “You are not allowing Pam’s pet to bully you?” Sookie could feel Eric’s amusement.
“Takes more than her and her skinny-ass boy toy to push around Mrs. Eric Northman!” Sookie sassed.
Saul shut the door of the elevator car and pushed the button that would take them to the top floor. “Yes, that sure has a nice ring to it!” Saul said out loud.
Eric was chuckling as he glanced down at the guard, “I quite agree.”
“Gloating!” Sookie scolded, and her vampire chuckled more before gathering her against him and kissing the top of her head.
“You smell of sunshine, Min Hustru, you know how I love that smell.”
The elevator stopped and Sookie walked out the elevator door and into the hallway. She swayed her hips a little more than usual, then turned and sassed, “Then come catch me!” and took off at a run. It was short-lived, the chase, but she was laughing as he carried her over his shoulder and through the suite door that Charles held open.
Saul walked down the hall to join the guards as shrieks and laughter was heard, “Just makes your heart happy.”
“Some say it’s like the old days, when Sophie-Ann and her boys were here.” James knew Saul had been around then.
“Better,” the older Were told him. “Better people, and that’s saying a lot.”
“I just think he’s a God. I can’t believe you are married to him, Tara!” Sookie could hear Brock’s rising falsetto as she rounded the corner to their informal dining/family room. The table was all of eight feet long and came out of the monastery. They hadn’t decided what to do with the former Queen’s entertainment complex, except that anything valuable had to be removed. This table was one of the finds. Surrounded by chairs, it reminded Sookie of Maude’s kitchen, without all the appliances. Sookie had several favorite spots in the palace now, but this one was the place she felt most relaxed with company.
Sookie heard some muffled sounds and laughter and then she heard Pam say, “You mean women do one of those too?” Sookie came around the corner to see Pam clapping her hands and Tara wiping tears from her eyes.
Brock spotted her first, “Oops, girls!” The other two looked her way and they all sobered up.
Sookie was just about to slip in to see what it was all about when Pam raised her hand, “Don’t you dare! I know what you’re going to do and you’ll be sorry!”
Tara went from suspicious to shocked in a flick, “Oh Christ on a crust, Sookie! Were you going to mind fuck me?”
“Queens don’t pry into their friend’s heads,” Brock scolded in his own best Queen Bee way, “it’s just beneath them!”
“He knows what he’s talking about!” Pam announced.
“Fine!” Sookie exclaimed. “No peeking! But y’all are not my friends!”
“Who is not your friend, Lover?” Eric walked in behind her. “Who would dare to disrespect my Queen?”
From the minute Brock saw him, Sookie could see it was lust at first sight. “I don’t know, Eric, maybe you should start with that one,” and Sookie pointed at the star-struck assistant.
Eric swiveled his eyes in Brock’s direction but instead of being intimidated, the assistant mooned, “Yes, please start with me!”
“I have business to attend to,” Eric announced. “Pamela, I need an hour with Thierry and then I’d like to see you and Max. Will you be ready?” Pam bowed her head. Eric looked at Sookie, sending her a feeling that had her rubbing her legs together, and then, smirking, turned and left. Pam looked over at Twy’s assistant and using her manicured finger, pushed his open mouth closed.
“He’s taken, mouth-breather. And she,” Pam jerked her chin at Sookie, “doesn’t share.”
“I could understand why,” Brock intoned in a dreamy tone.
“So, what were y’all talking about before I walked in?” Sookie asked, helping herself to the dinner buffet.
“Stag parties,” Pam answered without hesitation. “Jason told me in Indianapolis what he planned for Eric, but I had no idea women did that too.” She looked at Tara, “although it appears the specifics are a little different.”
Sookie turned to Tara, “I don’t want any male strippers rubbing themselves on me!” she declared. “You know how he smells things. I’ll never hear the end of it,” but somewhere in the back of her head, Evil Sookie was whispering, ‘Go for it! You wouldn’t be able to stand for a week and that wouldn’t be so bad!’ That urgent need to mate was back, just like after the coronation, and Sookie was convinced it was tied to wearing the jewels her Great-Grandfather sent her. Mentally head-slapping herself, Sookie pushed her libido back until it was more itch than roar.
“What makes you automatically think we’re talking strippers?” Tara was looking innocent but that was blown to Hell by Brock’s snort followed by Pam’s snicker.
“You sure you wouldn’t mind?” Sookie asked Tara. “It’s one thing to walk into a big surprise, but it’s another to walk in knowing your husband will be strutting his stuff.” J.B. owned and danced at Hooligan’s, the strip club that had belonged to Sookie’s cousin, Claude.
“I love Hooligans!” Brock gushed. “I used to go there every time I had the cash. There was a dancer there who was amazing! I figured out who I was watching him.”
“Claude,” Sookie didn’t bother asking. She just knew.
“You know him!” and Sookie recognized the fan-boy glaze descending. “Oh My God! What’s he like! I know he’s gay. I would have given anything if he’d just looked my way, but he was a bottom, like me. I could just tell.”
“Claude was Sookie’s cousin,” Pam was a little sharper than necessary, “We don’t talk about him now that he’s gone.”
“Oh,” and Brock blushed, “Oh, I am so sorry. I didn’t know,” and he glanced at Sookie under lowered lids in a way that let her know he’d ask more about it anyway.
Tara shook her head, “I don’t mind about JB. I think it’s kind of funny now. All those gals and guys throwing money at him. I get it, but when I see him? Well, he’s just J.B.”
Sookie smiled, knowing what her friend meant. She could appreciate Eric’s beauty and she didn’t have to look any further than Twy’s bedazzled assistant to understand the impact it had on others, but what she saw was the man underneath.
What Sookie saw now when she looked at Eric was her friend. Somehow, it made him more than her lover. It told her he was permanent in her life. Sookie looked around at the table, the faces of her friends and everything in the room. She wanted to remember this moment for the rest of her life, the moment she realized she was right where she belonged.
“Sookie?” Pam asked. “Are you alright?”
“Right as rain!” Sookie answered, tears of happiness stinging her eyes.
“Well, that’s good to hear,” Twy announced as she quick-stepped into the dining room. With a sniff at the buffet and a kiss on Pam’s cheek she opened her planning book. “I understand you are expected to be in Bon Temps in two weeks. You,” and she looked archly at Sookie, “Will be staying with Tara and her family…”
“Not Jason?” Sookie asked.
“Jason thought it would be better for you than staying in a house with a newborn infant who’s up all hours,” Tara told her.
“…And the King will be staying with Pamela and her guests.” Twy concluded.
Sookie’s eyes were round and Pam chuckled, “Well, we wouldn’t want to skip those traditions, now would we? Sleeping together before the wedding? What would people think?”
“Well, you know that won’t last!” Sookie exclaimed. “Eric and I… well… we get to missing each other,” and she blushed.
“Well, you’ll just have to do what we all do before the wedding,” Tara laughed.
“What’s that?” Sookie was almost afraid to ask.
“Sneak,” and Tara giggled.
“This should be fun,” Pam laughed. “Eric’s a big man. Sneaking will be a trick.”
“I could help,” Brock volunteered at which every female turned to him with sharp eyes.
Twy cleared her throat, “We decided the bridal shower will combine with the bride’s party. There will be a separate groom’s gathering which will be before the stag party.” Sookie’s eyebrows shot up but before she could say a word, Twy said, “and we will use that evening for your stag,” and Brock giggled. “The next day we spend finalizing things…”
“And recovering…” Tara volunteered.
“And recovering,” Twy smiled, “then it’s rehearsal dinner. You will be spending the day at a spa with your friends. We made arrangements at one of the hotels in Shreveport. The groom’s party will be joining us at the restaurant, then it’s back to home base and the next night, you’re married. So that’s the big week.”
Twy sat down next to Sookie, laying the book open on the table, “Now here are the other festivities. Next Thursday is the reception here for the New Orleans people. Devrah has sent out invitations. “We need to finalize your wardrobe. Selections will be delivered starting tomorrow, but I’d suggest you wait a day or two before browsing. I took the liberty of contacting your Reverend Collins and he’ll be available to meet with you and Eric tomorrow night,” and Twy fastened her beady gaze on Sookie.
“I can’t commit to that,” Sookie gasped. “I don’t know what Eric has planned.”
“I cleared his calendar,” Pam purred. “Eric making small talk with the local pastor? I hope you won’t mind if I tag along. Friend of the family.”
Sookie was finding it getting hard to catch her breath.
“Oh, and we need to land on a theme for the groom’s cake,” Twy said with a flourish.
“Groom’s cake?” Sookie asked weakly.
“There’s a restaurant in Shreveport that is doing some interesting things with freezing that would be vampire-friendly,” Pam giggled. “We could mold it into something appropriate, like a Viking horn…”
“Or a helmet!” Tara laughed.
“How about his long boat?” Brock smirked. Sookie blushed and Twy looked sour, but Pam and Tara roared.
“You were in his Court. What do you say?”
Thierry studied the move his King made. It was bolder than the play the Sheriff had seen in past. He glanced up to see Eric watching him closely. “I don’t believe Thalia is right. It’s not a threat.” He glanced to where Thalia stood. “If it was a threat he wouldn’t have had it delivered by a messenger in a public place. He has no reason to injure your Queen.” Thierry looked back at the board and then moved a knight to counter the move he sensed was behind the initial feint. “No, this was a warning to stay out of his territory and his business.”
“Then why send the fang?” Thalia challenged. “The jewel of a dead Queen was enough.”
Thierry sat back, “That’s what convinces me. There was only one fang. He will have kept the other. I think he meant it to say that if you travel to him, reunite the fangs, he’ll make sure you meet the same fate. He likes to think he’s clever. He’s not an educated man, although he has taken some pains to acquire more classical knowledge. Still, he is cunning.”
“Then you don’t believe he’ll try to attack Sookie or my kingdom?” Eric was leaning forward. His Sheriff had correctly divined his strategy, but the Viking had a backup plan and moved a pawn to open the play.
“I believe Misha will take any opportunity that presents itself, but I have only seen him initiate battle when it comes looking for him.” Thierry cocked his head to the side, a gesture Eric recognized as his opponent running combinations through his head. It was this ability to run scenarios and draw conclusions that Eric was coming to admire with this Sheriff. “That doesn’t mean he would stop other activities that may affect you, but those activities would not be aimed at you.”
“Like the damaged ones that are petitioning for help,” Thalia shifted her stance. The growing number of homeless and other lost souls turning up on their doorstep for support was something Eric intended to discuss when Max arrived. The frequency of their arrival and the numbers asking for help were increasing every week.
“What makes you think the New York King is behind this?” The Viking asked of Thalia.
“The nomads we captured, those moving through. The original ones were from New York. Now, we capture second generation made in places closer to us. We can assume that some who are turned here go on to other kingdoms to sow their troubles.” Eric nodded. The monarchs at Amun mentioned they were seeing the same thing and being forced to spend their resources. It was as if someone purposely searched to find those with the fewest skills, and in some cases, those with mental deficits to turn into new vampires. It ran against everything Eric had been taught about the sacred nature of their blood.
Eric smiled tightly at Thalia, “The very thing they would fault her for is the thing we all face.” Everyone knew Eric was referring to the frosty reception his pledging received from many monarchs. Eric looked at Thierry who still had not made his move, “And what about you? Do you believe these newest parasites are gifts from your former King.”
“Yes.” It was said without hesitation. “I don’t understand his motivation, but I know this is his work.”
Thalia hissed, “Do you say this out of a particular knowledge, or are you being clever?”
Thierry met Thalia’s eyes and held them. He knew if she felt he was betraying Eric Northman nothing would stop her from ending him. “Clever, I hope,” and he inclined his head, “clever in the service of my King.”
“Perhaps we should test the strength of that devotion…” and Thalia made to move forward.
“Enough!” Eric raised his hand. He turned back to Thierry, “I trust you, but if I find that you are hiding information I need to protect me and mine, I will give you to her.”
Thalia smiled, her fangs on display. Thierry looked at Thalia for a long minute, then turned back to Eric, smiled, and made his move. “I believe you.”
“Are you ready for us?” Pam and Max walked into the small office.
“Yes,” Eric barely glanced at the board before moving again. The Sheriff had fallen into his trap and Eric silently bet with himself over how many moves it would take for the French Sheriff to realize it. He sat back, “Max, how many more this week?”
“There were five who presented themselves yesterday. Last week there were three. I hoped was slowing down.”
Thalia stepped forward, “It seems the makers move on, stopping long enough to glamour, drain and bury. These new ones come from new makers. We are seeing waves of nomads crossing into our territory almost every night.”
Eric nodded, then looked back to Max, “These were the same as the others?”
“Yes,” Max said tightly. He wasn’t used to this kind of work. In his human life he had been an educated man, a man of means. The strategy they were following was to end the unfortunates. In some cases it was easy, but Max was finding it becoming personally difficult. Most were dirty, which was expected but all were frightened, barely holding on to their composure, moving under the compulsion forced on them before their lives were taken.
“We can’t continue this,” Pam spoke up. “We have people outside and inside the palace all the time. At some point someone is going to notice that there are numbers of people walking in and not walking out.” Eric nodded. “We have got to find the source of this and stop it.”
“I agree,” Eric watched Thierry’s eyes flicking back and forth over the chessboard. He turned back to Pam, “I need your help to do it,” and he turned his head to include Max, “both of you.”
Max bowed, “Of course, my King.”
Thierry moved and Eric moved the next piece with lightning speed. Thierry allowed his shock to show and then his face became more thoughtful as he studied the board more closely. “You are both moving into event planning. It will require travel to meet with those who can set up your hubs.”
“And everyone knows how vampires like their ceremonies.” Thalia’s words didn’t contain one iota of humor, but Eric smiled anyway.
“We do appreciate our moments,” he agreed. “That is tremendous access. It is when we are gathered that we let our guard down. I realize this is asking much, perhaps jeopardizing your operations…”
“We are yours to command, my Maker,” Pam said quickly.
“We will be viewed with more suspicion now…” Max’s words died away.
“Because of your known affiliation with me, yes I know.” Eric acknowledged. “I will let it be known that I have freed you both to pursue your operations. A gift to my beloved progeny.”
Pam hissed, “I would not be Regent?”
”I will not force you,” and Eric turned back to the chess board. “Take this as a time to consider what I ask.” Eric looked back at Pam, “I am proud of you in all things. You can never disappoint me, regardless of your choice.”
“Who would take my place here?” Max asked.
“I will find another,” Eric nodded. “I hope you will continue your relationship with the New Orleans Packmaster. If you were more distanced from me, it would serve his best interests as well.”
“You will watch over him?” Pam asked Thalia.
The small woman sneered, “Why do you insult me with foolish questions?”
Pam sniffed, “Well, someone better let you know what you’re up against starting tomorrow. From what I’m seeing, it’ll make all this trouble look like child’s play.” Pam walked Eric through the schedule and watched his expression run the gamut from amused to annoyed to amused again. “Well, you had to have her!” she concluded.
“And now, it would appear that she definitely has you!” and Thierry laughed out loud as he tipped his King to signify defeat.
End Notes: And so we leave the world of vampire monarchs and their endless maneuvering for the different, but no less interesting worlds of Weres and humans. I spent some time thinking about how this would progress. Vampires blend, but just because they look like you and me, they aren’t. Eric will be in the driver’s seat in terms of point of view more often in this section of the series. In this world he is now the stranger in the strange land. Hope you enjoy the ride, set to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s Sugar Magnolia.