Author’s Note: I have been looking forward to writing about the Fae. CH said precious little about them. Hints, really. I have done my own research and developed a premise for their civilization that I hope will play as being believable. I drew from stories and myths of the Sidhe, elves, fairies, sprites and other woodland spirits. These stories range across northern Europe and share a great deal, whether they come from Germany, Finland, Sweden or Ireland. It makes me wonder.
Thank you to my wonderful beta readers, Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. And thank you, Sephrenia for my lovely banner.
But most of all, thank you, my readers, for sharing this story with me.
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.
Desmond Cataliades stretched his hands toward the fire. It was a charming feature of this room, the ornate mantle, painted a glossy white, it was covered with carvings that captured the imagination. The surface was a riot of trees and leaves, laughing figures and dancing animals. ‘Ireland,’ the attorney thought. The piece was a gift from Dermot, made with his own hands. The demon attorney ran his finger over a beautifully rendered minstrel, her head thrown back in song, a harp in her lap. Any other son would have been envious of the place Finn held in Niall’s affection, but not Dermott. Instead, the current ruler of the Sky Fae seemed to genuinely like the red-headed vampire King.
“He is that craftsman of old,” Finn had walked into the room while the attorney was musing. “My people would speak of Tom the Blacksmith or the Fairy Tinkerer. They would sing of his skill with tools and with wooing the lasses. Do you suppose that was Dermot himself?”
“Or one like him,” Desmond shrugged. “The Fae are all so different, seemingly born for a particular purpose. Niall to rule. Fintan to laugh. Dermot to make.”
“Dillon was a born ruler too,” Finn sipped at the mug of blood in his hand.
“Dillon was a husband first. Not a father. His children could have used more guidance, but he was a model husband.” Mr. Cataliades sat down in a comfortable armchair. He had spent most of his time here since the pledging in Niall’s halls, working with the Prince on the documents the North Man would be asked to sign before the ceremony this weekend.
“Aye,” Finn agreed. “I only met his lady wife but a few times. They were two peas in a pod. He worshipped her.”
“And you,” the attorney cocked his head, “we both know your purpose.”
“You presume. There’s no proof I have a drop of Fae in me. No magic, well, aside from the pesky problem.” Nebraska grinned at the attorney’s tut-tutting, “Now there’s no use in scolding me nor of reminding me how much I resemble him. They say in this world there is a double for everyone, their doppelgänger. It is just as likely the case. Coincidence and a likely gene pool.”
Finn turned as Daniel, his butler, entered, “Your guests will be joining you shortly,” he announced.
“Tell cook it’s dinner in an hour,” and Finn checked the clock over the mantle.
“Will the Prince or Mr. Dermot be joining you?” It was a reasonable question. Niall and Dermot came here many evenings, though rarely at the same time. Finn had a talent for music, chess, and stories. It was a powerful draw for both Fae.
“The Prince is already here,” a familiar voice announced. Niall stepped from the dining room as if he had been in the house all along. There was so much magic here now that true portals were no longer needed. Transport between the Fae hold and Finn’s residence was as easy as stepping from one room to the next.
Both Finn and the attorney bowed, “Niall,” Mr. Cataliades formally acknowledged.
“All is ready?” It wasn’t really a question. Niall knew that both Finn and the demon would follow their orders. The attorney might be overly fond of his Great Granddaughter, but both he and the Prince were in agreement that the best hope for all Supernaturals in this world was the emergence of a strong leader. This leader would need to bring a balance of strength, strategy, and diplomacy. Where better to look than to a couple who exemplify together all those elements? Granted, Northman would need to climb further. A King of a few territories would have only limited influence. A Clan Chief would be better positioned.
And Sookie? Niall smiled, turning toward the hallway, sensing his Great Granddaughter’s approach. His Sookie was already a Princess of the Fae, acknowledged and accepted as his bloodline and second in line behind Dermot. The Weres were attracted to her and served her readily, as was her gift.
Of course there were others who claimed supernatural status in this world, witches. Niall sneered. He had no use for necromancers. They dabbled, pale mimics of the essence of what was Fae. If it were up to him, Niall would crush them all, finishing the job the Christians started long ago. There were those who believed imitation was the most sincere form of flattery, but they didn’t understand how unpleasant it was to have to witness poorly made magic. It was offensive to the eye and every sensibility. The spells these creatures made were clumsy. You could smell the difference when you ran across it. What’s more, witches were always so childishly proud of their little accomplishments. Laughable, if it wasn’t so pathetic. No, there was no reason to include that subset in any plan.
The Prince’s thoughts were interrupted as his Granddaughter walked into the room, her arm linked through her vampire’s. Her eyes lit up and she detached from Northman. He could feel her joy as she rushed forward, genuinely pleased to see him, and she was in his arms, her essence flowing over him and through him. He felt it, the faint shimmer of his Einin, living through her descendant. “I am happy you have come,” he told her.
Her essence had grown in strength, even from their last time together at her house. But, of course, she was more settled. He supposed he had the vampire to thank for that, so he lifted his eyes to Northman and nodded a welcome. He was pleased to see the Viking bow his head with the proper respect. His Granddaughter might not understand how things truly were, but her chosen mate had a healthy appreciation. It all boded well.
As she pulled back from him, Niall took her hand in his, “Come, I am anxious to show you my halls.”
Her smile fell just a fraction, “I’d like that, too,” and then she glanced over her shoulder at the vampire, “We both would.”
Niall locked eyes with her mate, “Your Eric will be welcome, but indulge an old Prince. Let me show my Granddaughter my palace, just the two of us. Let me relive the beauty of my home through your eyes, Sookie.”
She was hesitant, but to give Northman credit, he smiled at her and said, “Go on, Sookie. I’ll be here,” and he winked. Her smile recovered and she detached from the Prince to run over to the vampire and wrap her arms around him. She was thinking about how happy she was to touch him, and then the vampire said, “Me too, Lover,” out loud.
Niall’s eyes narrowed. He listened closely, but she did not acknowledge it. What’s more, the vampire seemed unaware of the exchange and what it signified. He looked at the demon, knowing Cataliades could hear it as well and the attorney briefly shook his head. This would bear investigation, but the Prince had the feeling that some part of what he had meant as a gift to his Granddaughter had gone wrong, and now adjustments would need to be made. “Come, Sookie,” he said gently, holding out his hand, and then to the Viking, “I will return her to you before dawn.”
“Have fun, Älskade,” the North Man kissed her hand and the Prince saw the heavy gold band that sat on her finger. The metal was pure and it sang to him. He had to give the vampire credit. He was doing a good job draping Sookie with tribute.
She was back beside him now, placing her hand in his, and with the slightest wish, they were standing in his hall. Her eyes widened and she physically turned around, taking in feature after feature. Her cheeks flushed and he could feel her happiness and delight. “It’s beautiful, Grandfather!” she gushed, and Niall found that his enjoyment was indeed enhanced by seeing it anew through Sookie’s eyes. It was most satisfying.
There were others there in the great hall, Fae who had met her during their time living in Louisiana. Many had met her at Hooligans in those last days before Niall closed the portal. The Fae had found refuge there, taking comfort in the closeness of their own kind as they waited for their magic to die or a miracle to save them. In the end, it had been Niall who had opened the doors, welcoming them home. They had joined his cause in the latest battle, fighting with a fury. It had made a difference, tilting the outcome in his favor. Still, many had expressed regrets in leaving this world. So many had lived here so long, they missed it. When Niall announced he would be re-opening a portal to Nebraska, a large number had stepped forward, offering to help populate this hold.
Niall glanced at the smooth, gray walls. The shaping from the rock had not taken long. This skill was still known to many. The shaping of wood to flow naturally along the rock, softening rooms and decorating ceilings had also been easy. The creation of the longfires had been trickier. Niall glanced at the electric lights. The self-illuminated torches were lost to them, a talent that had died long ago. Still, in many ways, this hold was the image of his favorite house below the turf in Ireland.
Niall walked her through the hall, encouraging her to acknowledge the bows and sighs of those they passed. The one called Mae pushed forward, “Do you remember me, Sister?” she asked. When Sookie said she did, the Fae embraced her, breathing into her and likewise sharing Sookie’s essence.
When they moved on, into a long corridor that seemed to be winding up and up, Sookie asked, “Where are we?”
“Nebraska,” he answered levelly, never slowing or failing to acknowledge those who bowed at their passing.
“No, I mean are we in some underground cavern? This place seems pretty big. Figure if we were in some building someone would have spotted it, right?”
Niall stopped and pointed up, drawing her attention to a window that framed dark sky. “Part of the hold is underground,” he answered, “and part is carved into the rock that is here. We are Sky Fae, after all. Tomorrow you will have the opportunity to see how the light plays through the halls and rooms here. It reminds me of sun through the trees, great shafts of light,” and Sookie could see the pride on his face. “You have quite rightly spotted the concern. Their satellites become ever more sophisticated. Protecting our privacy has become a little more complicated than in past.” The smile he gave her did little to hide the fierce determination on her Grandfather’s face. “But we have our ways,” and he waved her to a door that opened to a balcony cut into the living rock. She found they were far above the prairie floor, looking out across dark ground studded with isolated mountains and then a dark smudge that seemed to go on forever.
“What is that?” Sookie asked, pointing to the dark smudge.
“It is the Nebraska National Forest,” the Prince told her. “One of the largest man-made forests in the world. Most was hand-planted. We supplement that work through a foundation. There are over a million acres in forest in this unlikely place. I intend to double that, providing shelter and a place to roam for all my people.” The smile he turned to her now was one of simple joy, “Our stables open under the leaves already. Tomorrow night we will have a hunt in your honor. I would like you to ride with us,” and then his eyes opened wide, “You do ride?”
“Not a lick!” Sookie shrugged. “Been on a horse all of once in my life.”
“I will have riding lessons added,” Niall shook his head. “There is a joy in rushing over the earth, moving as one with your horse. It runs deep with our race. I will take you to the stables tomorrow so you may choose your partner.”
“Look, Grandfather, I appreciate it, but I have to tell you, horses make me nervous.” Sookie remembered her one adventure. Jason has taken her to a friend’s farm. They had put her on the bare back of a tall, brown horse they swore was gentle, but the creature had taken one look at her and bucked until she fell off. It hadn’t taken much.
As if he could read her mind, and he probably could, he said, “Horses are sensitive to us. It is important to find the right fit. They must accept and come to welcome your presence. It is almost like a bond. Surely you understand how that works,” and he winked at her.
Sookie laughed, it was so improbable, her regal relative winking at her, “Yeah, I understand about bonds.” It was chilly out there, the wind picking at them. “Why are we here, Grandfather? Eric and I are married. Why do you really need another ceremony?”
“Come,” and Niall took her arm, “Let’s go inside and sit.”
Sookie allowed herself to be steered to what appeared to be a throne room. There were tall chairs set at one end of a long, low glowing pit. The pit wasn’t fire, but it was red and it was throwing a comfortable heat into the room. Niall indicated she was to sit in one of the tall chairs. No sooner was she settled than a tall youth with yellow eyes set goblets and sliced fruit on the table between them. There were Fae drifting through the room, seemingly on their way to other places. When she looked at him, he spoke before she had the opportunity to repeat her question.
“Everything around you represents a sliver of the kingdom that I have ruled. Your uncle, Dermot, has charge of it now.”
“Is Dermot here? Will I see him?” Sookie found she was anxious to see her former roommate again. She hadn’t always been comfortable around him, but Dermot had proven himself. He had placed himself between her and harm more than once.
“He is busy in the other realm,” Niall said noncommittally. “It is my hope that you will take an interest in learning more about us,” and he leaned over to take her hand. “In the past, there was no question of your being a part of the Fae. As a hybrid, you were excluded. Being too close to any of this would have put you in danger. That has changed.”
“Bellenos told me,” Mentioning the elf’s name made her remember the time when he had been her trainer and approached her wearing Eric’s face. It made her uncomfortable and she thought about withdrawing her hand.
“I notice you haven’t inquired about the elf,” her Grandfather’s tone was knowing. “What he did was unworthy. He has been banished. You won’t see him and it has served as a warning to others.” He waited until she looked at him before saying, “While you are now accepted and welcomed, there are those among us who see the other supernaturals, Weres, vampires, as lesser beings. Lesser beings among the Fae have been open game for… well, pranks, merriment.”
“So, he was just making a joke? Seemed like it was a little something else,” Sookie was pretty sure the elf was offering to sleep with her, and that he was willing to take Eric’s face to sweeten the deal.
“Perhaps it was something else,” the Prince smiled, “We Fae are a sensual people, but, you know that. And, of course, you have chosen to connect yourself with a race that interprets their world through feeding and fucking. You smell of him.” The Prince ignored the blush that covered Sookie’s face. “It is a reminder to us that under their polished surface, vampires really are animals, marking their territory.” She opened her mouth to give him a piece of her mind. He cut her off by saying, “I mean no insult by it, only to help you understand that it is something you must acknowledge and address in speaking with Fae.”
“Sure, none taken,” Sookie wasn’t really comfortable with the direction the conversation was taking, but she could tell her Grandfather was working up to something.
The Prince angled himself so he was facing her a little more directly, “What are your duties, now that you are a Queen among them, these vampires?”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
Now it was her Grandfather’s turn to look perplexed, “The new duties. The tasks you have assumed as part of your rule.”
Sookie shrugged, “I’m not doing much different, to tell you the truth. I had been doing some consulting, contract negotiations and stuff like that for the vampires before, but now they aren’t hiring me. Eric told me it’s because it makes them uncomfortable hiring a Queen like an employee. I work with the housekeeper in New Orleans. It’s a pretty big place and it takes some work to keep everything straight. Really turned the budget around there,” and Sookie felt a surge of pride. It had been a great deal of work, but she felt the accounts were under control and things were running well. “Oh, and we started giving tours of the palace. I’m involved with that. The Weres want me to help them form some kind of organization, kind of like the vampires have, but I’m not sure what they’re thinking. They view me as a Sachem, and that’s pretty important.”
“What about hearing cases with the resident vampires?” Niall asked. “Don’t you sit with your husband when he holds his monthly Assizes?”
Sookie was aware that happened, but she hadn’t asked much about it, and Eric hadn’t mentioned it. “Nope, why? Is that what Queens do?”
Niall’s eyes narrowed, “Your husband oversees a growing business, Northman Enterprises. It controls a great deal of his and his kingdom’s wealth. Did you know that?”
“Yes, Grandfather, I did,” Sookie huffed. “Eric has been giving me copies of balance sheets. He writes up reports explaining it. I do read them!”
“And you understand them?” Niall leaned forward.
“I do!” the telepath exclaimed. “I know how budgets work. These are bigger, but they’re still numbers. Some of it, the projections, I’d like to know more about where they’re getting those, but for the most part, yeah, I get it.”
“Good,” Niall nodded. “I will see that your training includes business courses.” She almost called him high-handed when he continued, “I have reclaimed some part of my prior business concerns in this world and have expanded in other areas. Money buys you a great deal in this world, and once you start making money, it would appear that money begets more money. I want you to be involved in these enterprises. Your uncle has no interest in these matters, and I wish one of my house to be my official representative. But, and this is important, Sookie,” and he leaned forward, “these holdings will never be part of your husband’s empire. Should I pass and you are not ready to take these on in your own name, I will pass them elsewhere.”
“What is your problem with Eric?” Sookie exclaimed.
“I respect the Viking for who and what he is, and I respect him as your chosen consort, but you are Fae royalty, Sookie, and I desire you to assume your responsibilities and titles in this world. I would see you take your rightful place, and that place is not standing in the North Man’s shadow, regardless of how well he treats you.”
“Well, what if I’m happy standing in the shadow? Not that I am! Eric and I are a team.”
“Are you?” and Niall’s look was laser-like. “He meets with his Sheriffs, setting policy for his kingdom. Do you know about those policies? For example, what do you know about the rogue vampires who are turning unwilling humans within your kingdoms’ borders? Did you know those unfortunates are stumbling into your palace and being destroyed for their troubles?”
“I did,” Sookie told him, although she felt ashamed saying it. “I don’t feel good about it, but I do know that’s what’s happening. There are lots of reasons for it and Eric is trying to get to the bottom of it.”
Niall sat back, “I must admit I am pleasantly surprised by this news. I am proud of both of you, him for sharing with you, as he should with his Queen, and you for accepting this course of action.” The Prince’s head cocked to the side, “You have changed, my Granddaughter. You are growing into a person of importance, a true Queen.” He leaned back, “It will be a pleasure continuing your education. I look forward to watching you grow into your heritage.”
“I’m sorry, Grandfather, you seem to have some idea that I want to become some hard person, but I don’t. I’m kind of happy the way things are,” and Sookie shrugged.
“Are you?” and Sookie had the impression her Grandfather knew about her recent anxiety when she thought about her future and working. “I am not suggesting you become some harpy, Sookie. I am suggesting that learning new things might be to your advantage, and having control of the means to shape your own future should be appealing. Of course, if you prefer to pretend you are some weak female who needs a male to make her decisions…”
“I am not weak!” the words sprang from her. “My Gran raised me to be a strong, proud, Southern woman. I can do anything I put my mind to!”
“Well, I am happy to hear it,” Niall smiled. “Your Viking has never shown the need to rule you in all things. His people honored strong women and I have been impressed by his broad-minded approach to all vampires, never mind other creatures. If you had to choose someone outside your own, I suppose Northman was the best of the bad choices.”
“Gee, thanks!” Sookie snapped. “So, what is Mr. Cataliades strong-arming Eric into doing, anyway?” and she was rewarded by her Grandfather’s dry laugh.
“It is a promise, a treaty, if you will. It spells out the rights you will be given and the dowry that will be settled to you. There are assurances of mutual support and protection. For example, if you are attacked, it is agreed that my people will come to your aid.”
“Fight alongside a vampire?” Sookie gasped, “Didn’t that cause problems before?”
“Yes,” Niall shrugged, “Which is why it will now be in a formal treaty. Vampires are ruled by the written word, and once signed, the Fae may grumble but they will honor it.” Niall signaled and the youth returned, refilling their goblets. Once he left, Niall glanced in her direction, “I would also mention that there are some paragraphs that spell out succession, in the event that you and the vampire were to produce progeny.” When Sookie opened her mouth, the Prince held up his hand, “I do not tell you this to pressure you in any way. You have made clear that this will be your decision, and I accept that you may decide not to attempt to procreate. I tell you because the document will be a matter of public record. I assume the Viking will share it with you, as your husband, and I did not wish you to be surprised by it.”
Sookie bit back her protests and took another sip of the juice. It tasted of fruits and honey. Although it didn’t seem alcoholic, she was experiencing the most pleasant buzz in her brain. Her fingertips were tingling and her face felt warm. “So, what does it say?” Sookie felt just by asking the question she was stepping onto a boat that would take her far from the shores she knew.
“It says that if you produce an heir, a child with the spark, it will be named my direct heir. Dermot will become Regent until that child is of the age of majority. If, once the child is an adult, the child decides to abdicate, the right will pass to your next eligible child. If none of your children choose to assume their birth right, the kingdom will remain with Dermot and he will pass it to whomever he declares as fit.”
“Why?” Sookie couldn’t stop the question from tumbling out. “Why would you do this to Dermot? What has he ever done to you?”
“You say that as though Dermot was not aware and in favor of the arrangement.” Niall waited for the telepath to consider it. When her face turned more thoughtful than turbulent, he added, “Your uncle would give up the throne today if he had the option. His heart is in making and wandering, not in sitting on a throne.”
“And you are okay with that.” It wasn’t a question. Sookie could feel the Prince’s ambivalence about Dermot.
“Of course!” Niall said in his reasonable voice. “After all, I wouldn’t wish to force any creature, much less my own son, to follow a course he did not wish. He does me a great favor now, holding the throne until these other matters are settled.”
“Other matters, meaning me,” Sookie added. For his part, the Prince tried to look ashamed at being caught out, but Sookie wasn’t fooled. The Prince was a master manipulator and she was sure if he really wanted Dermot to rule, he would back him into that corner and convince him it was his idea. The whole thing rang false, but Sookie didn’t think calling the Prince a liar in his own hall would be the polite thing to do.
“You are the next in line,” the Prince shrugged. “You have shown little interest until now, I grant you, but neither have you had any information about what was involved, what benefits this might bring you. You will have that option now.”
“But you aren’t pushing for me to come and take the throne, myself?” There were things that were starting to click for Sookie, like pieces of a great puzzle that was only now revealing what before had been nothing more than a jumble of clues.
“You aren’t ready,” Niall said shortly, and then he turned to her, his eyes sharp, “and it would mean leaving the North Man behind. A vampire might visit here, or the other realm under certain circumstances, but it would be too dangerous for your subjects if one were to live here any amount of time.”
“And I can’t leave Eric because of the bond,” Sookie saw another piece click into place, but then realized her mistake as her Grandfather’s eyes widened and she could see him becoming more speculative, “Not that I would want that!” She was rewarded by the Prince settling back a bit. “I’m just saying that I understand why you wouldn’t see me as the best choice.” Sookie found that this idea of being linked into the Fae, being a Queen, was not so hard to accept. Of course, it might have been the way the drink was making her feel, so warm and welcoming. She thought about a world where she would live here part of the year. As she stared into the longfire, her mind drifted and she saw herself standing on that balcony above, a tall, blond-haired youth beside her. He turned to her and called her ‘mother,’ and then she blinked and it was gone.
“I am Eric’s, Grandfather,” she said in a rush. “I don’t want it any other way.” She swallowed and then turned to see the Prince watching her closely. “Stop staring at me like that,” she mumbled.
The Prince’s mouth twitched, “Of course, Granddaughter.” He sat back, staring in the direction she had been looking, “He will be very handsome,” the Prince said.
“Who?” Sookie asked.
“The son you see in your future,” the Prince replied as if it was the most reasonable thing in the world. “You have sight, Sookie. It is a gift of my house. It is not a common gift. Are there others who know of this ability?”
“You mean scrying?” the telepath asked. When the Prince nodded, she said, “Well, Bellenos. He taught me how to do it. The Ancient Pythoness…” and Sookie shuddered. “I don’t know if she knows exactly, but when I asked her to look into the future, she told me to do it myself.”
“You did not confirm your ability to the crone?” The Prince’s voice was mild, but Sookie could sense the tension in him.
“No, I didn’t. She said something snarky later, like she knew what I’d seen, but I didn’t discuss it with her.”
“And what did you see, Granddaughter?” Sookie found herself looking into the Prince’s deep, green eyes, the flickering within them looking like light through leaves.
“I saw myself standing in a crowd. Eric was on a stage. He was wearing a crown and talking with Pam. I was…” and Sookie blushed.
“Pregnant,” the Prince was smiling. “You were looking for your oldest. It was a ceremony. Yes, I have seen this as well. It will come to pass, Sookie, if all continues. But the future is never certain. If you make other decisions, other choices, the visions change. The trick is in knowing how to accept the circumstances as they appear and to take actions without trying to influence your future. If you try to steer things, I can tell you it is almost certain you will be doomed to fail. Even now, with all my years of experience, I can’t explain it. I can only acknowledge it is true.” The Prince sipped from his cup again, “And what about the Viking? He knows of your ability?”
“Not exactly,” Sookie shrugged. “When I did it the last time, I kind of flooded our room with Fairy. He was pretty upset.”
“He worries he will harm you. Yes, flexing your magic would release endorphins. Apex predators, like vampires, can smell it. We have learned to shield our scent, even when we practice our magic. Shielding will be the first thing you must learn. It is a little tricky, but one of those skills that once learned feels completely natural. What is it humans say? ‘Like riding a bicycle.’ It will become effortless for you.”
Hearing those words from her Grandfather’s mouth had Sookie giggling. “Seems strange to think of any supernatural on a bicycle,” and she giggled again. Sookie realized the drink was making her silly, so she set the goblet down. “Pretty strong, whatever that is,” and she gestured toward the drink.
“My apologies, Granddaughter. I took you away before you had an opportunity to eat!” and the Prince stood up. “Come with me. I will take you to the great hall. There is food there, and music.”
The attorney turned the page and then presented a new clause to the Viking. Thalia was sitting across from him, her attention fully engaged. “Item 8. If there should be a circumstance where one side or the other is called to War, there will be no claim of compensation from one side or the other, whatever the outcome of the war might be.”
“That is fair,” Thalia nodded.
“Agreed,” Eric confirmed.
“Good,” the attorney checked the page, “and the last of the formal covenants, Item 9. In the event that one side is offered a truce or treaty, then that party may not consent without the express agreement of the other.”
“That is more troubling,” Thalia growled. “The Fae are known for their disputes. It is likely we will be offered terms, but your Master’s endless blood feuds will keep us from peace. With the differences in how time flows between realms, we could find ourselves ground to dust by the time Niall agrees.”
“My Master is now related to you by blood,” Mr. Cataliades stated. “What motive would he have to see your people decimated?”
“The tie is through marriage and bond,” Thalia countered, “Not blood.”
Eric glanced from one to the other. Thalia was right. The Prince had a history of battles, the kind of thing that could ruin the Viking. ‘Quick to anger, slow to forgive,’ seemed the Sky Fae watchword. Still, the Prince was Sookie’s blood kin, her family. While it was unlikely she would leave their marriage if the Prince asked, having her family support their marriage still seemed preferable. Eric glanced at the document in the demon’s hand. There were still several pages to go. “I agree,” Eric bit out, and then held up his hand when Thalia fumed, “My Queen is important to me, and I wish her family to understand that.”
“Fine,” the attorney let out a breath that Eric realized he had been holding. He had anticipated a problem and the clause seemed to be an important one to the Prince. “So, if you will sign here,” and he indicated a line, “And here,” he pointed to a second after Eric placed his signature ‘E,’ and Eric signed again. “Now, we can move forward with the dowry provisions,” and the attorney flipped the page again.
“As you know, the Prince has gifted his Granddaughter with controlling interest in the new research facility that the vampire known as Jane is building in partnership with Dr. Amy Ludwig. It is the Prince’s hope that his Granddaughter will use the facility both for her own purposes and for the betterment of her community. It is the Prince’s impression that his Granddaughter wishes to give back to her community, and providing this type of advanced fertility treatment and research is a boon. Of course, there will be profits as well and the Prince estimates the value of the facility at….” And the attorney found another piece of paper that held a prospectus and presented copies to both Thalia and the Viking.
Eric glanced at the figures, “The Prince is aware of the value of the necklace I presented Sookie at our Pledging,” and Eric retrieved the estimate for the collar he had presented before the Pythoness. The value for the first year of profitability and the cost of the necklace were approximately equal.
The attorney made a note and took the estimate, “It is noted and acceptable,” he said formally. “There is more, though,” and he presented another piece of paper to the Viking. The North Man scanned it quickly, and his eyes widened.
“What is it?” Thalia asked.
“Niall is making her his agent for all his holdings in this realm. My wife will be a very wealthy woman.” He set the paper down.
“It is not appropriate that your wife should have this kind of independent wealth,” Thalia said after reviewing the paper. “Your pledging contract required that all wealth acquired after your pledging was to be mutual.”
“The Prince wishes the annual commission to be considered part of the dowry and therefore, exempt from the pledging contract,” Mr. Cataliades’ eyes seemed to be everywhere.
“You know I can’t match this figure,” Eric growled. “Even if I were to pledge every penny of the earnings from our combined operations for the next five years, I couldn’t match it.”
The attorney nodded, “The Prince is not asking that you match the pledge in dollars.” The attorney looked nervous.
“Then what?” Eric asked, but even as he asked, he had a sneaking suspicion. The Prince had backed away from his demands that he and his mate submit to the fertility clinic, but this seemed a way to push the issue by strong-arming Eric into doing his dirty work. “I will not force Sookie to do anything that is against her wishes! Know that!”
“The Prince would not ask that of you,” the demon said quickly, “No, that’s not it. The Prince asks that if you, Eric Northman, are presented with an opportunity to climb further, say Clan Chief or more, that you will accept it.”
Eric frowned, “Bartlett Crowe is Clan Chief. What are you saying?”
“I am not saying anything,” the attorney stated, “Other than if the opportunity were to present itself, the Prince asks that you pledge yourself to accept.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Thalia hissed.
“Why would he?” Finn asked gently. “The higher he climbs, the more he could become a target. We vampires are a greedy bunch. The Viking has already stirred trouble by allowing himself to be seen as being bound to the Fae. To accept a more prominent position in the vampire hierarchy could stir jealousies further.”
“The Prince may feel that you yearn for a simpler life, but in taking a step back, or resting, you would not be fulfilling your obligation to the Princess,” Mr. Cataliades was not meeting Eric’s eyes, and the Viking was sure he was hearing the Prince’s own words. “She has a destiny, and, as her husband, you should aspire to improve your situation.”
“In other words, the Fairy King believes your Sookie married beneath her,” Thalia snarled.
“I will not manufacture the circumstance,” Eric said carefully.
“No one expects you to,” Finn confirmed.
“How is the Prince so sure?” and Eric’s eyes narrowed. Mr. Cataliades almost unconsciously turned to look at Finn. ‘Interesting,’ Eric thought, ‘What is that about?’
Finn shrugged, “I think Niall is looking at the circumstances. King Crowe is beleaguered. His mate is in some financial distress. They will need to focus if they are to solve their troubles. Leading a Clan as large as Amun is a distraction. If Crowe were to step aside, who would be the logical choice?”
Mr. Cataliades laced his fingers over his round belly, “They won’t want Isaiah. He is too erratic and set in his ways. Rasul is too young. Phoebe Golden is married to her research. Maude would be the logical choice, but she will refuse it as she has in past. That leaves who? James of Illinois has not recovered from Rhodes. Jesse of Missouri or Roland of Wisconsin? Neither have shown any interest nor talent in that direction.”
“There’s always Sibyl,” Eric smiled wryly and was rewarded by Thalia’s snort. The Viking turned his eyes to the attorney. He felt he was opening the door to something he would regret, but he said, “I agree,” anyway.
With a brisk nod, the attorney continued, “You will be expected to give a morning gift.”
It was those words that brought Eric back to that night so long ago. He had sat across the table from the girl’s father as he sat across the table from Cataliades now. He had pledged two cows as a morning gift to his bride, a gift that she would keep as her own, even if she divorced him later. Her father had insisted on bee hives as well, promising the girl was a virgin. Eric had been drinking quite a bit and the girl seemed comely. He was anxious to be home to his children, and the idea of having a virgin in his bed was attractive. He had offered three bee hives instead of the two they requested, and there had been another round of drinks. He had been so happy that night, so positive about his future. It hadn’t occurred to him that bad luck would cross his path in the form of a stranger on a dark road.
Thalia was watching him. When she saw the look in his eyes, she answered, “The North Man will build two guest houses at the residence in Bon Temps. They will be luxurious enough to accommodate the Prince or any other who chooses to visit. The North Man will support and encourage the Queen to participate in the training needed to develop her magic. There is also the gift of his shares in Fangtasia, Ltd, the new events company being started by Pam Ravenscroft and Maxwell Lee.”
The attorney scribed down the offerings in his neat hand, then turned the page toward Eric. “If you would initial?” he asked. Eric read over the lines and affixed his mark.
“Now we come to the matter of succession,” the attorney said quickly.
The attorney read through each of the clauses. When it became clear that Niall was settling his kingdom in its entirety on any child with the spark, Eric sat back. It seemed so unlikely, that this thing that would be made of his back teeth would be anything but mortal. From what he had read, the DNA that would be within his bone would be dead, frozen in time. His body re-animated with magic, but it was not magic in itself. Eric nodded his consent. If the old Fae was willing to engage in this kind of pipe dream, who was he to stop him?
“This last war seems to have changed a great many things,” Thalia growled.
“Yes,” Finn spoke up. “More than anyone anticipated. Ten years ago, a hybrid carried a death sentence just for existing. Now, the Fae are convinced that hybrids are the answer to their future.”
“Is that how they view you?” Thalia asked, her eyes narrowed.
“Are you flirting with me, Love?” he quipped back. If Thalia had been a cat, her ears would have flattened. “No, I’m but a vampire. Not a bit Fae that I know of,” and Finn winked at her dark face.
“Where do I sign?” Eric asked. When it was done, the attorney scooped the papers back together and straightened them by banging them along their short edge.
“You will be invited to hunt with the Prince tomorrow night. There are guests coming, of course. The local Weres and several vampires, including someone I believe you know.”
“Sandy Seacrest,” Finn added. “She was traveling back from Kansas and let me know she was in the area. I invited her. She doesn’t have to stay if you would not be comfortable.”
Eric found himself delighted by the news, with one proviso. “Her husband?” Eric didn’t like Rafe. If the Kansas monarch was also coming, Eric would ask to keep the visit short.
“Stayed home,” Finn acknowledged with a wink.
“Have you hunted with the Fae before?” the attorney asked.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. He looked at Thalia, “Several times, but very long ago.”
“I’m sure it hasn’t changed, Viking. Hope the horse is tall enough and hold on!” Thalia stood then, bowed, and took her leave.
Eric’s eyes drifted toward the front hall. “Don’t worry, Niall will have her back soon,” Finn smiled. “In the meantime, perhaps you’d indulge me in a game of chess? I’ve been playing the demon here, and he’s barely adequate to the task.”
“I have better things to do than shift toys around the board,” Mr. Cataliades announced, and sniffed.
“Now, don’t be pouting!” Finn laughed, but he turned speculative eyes back in Eric’s direction. At the Viking’s nod, Nebraska picked up a small table which was inlaid with a board. He carried it back, and once in position, held out the back with the pieces. Eric reached in, the piece in his hand determining he’d play black.
Eric laid out his pieces, the ghosts of past negotiations laid back to rest. As he set his strategy and began play, Eric considered the look that had passed between the attorney and the Nebraska King. There was something about it that left the Viking feeling that his future was an open book to some.