By the time Niall brought her back to Finn’s residence, Eric and Finn were well into a chess game. Mr. Cataliades had pulled up a chair positioned at the midpoint of the board and was leaning over, studying the positions of the pieces. The demon attorney had a glass of port beside him and a plate of cookies. Sookie wished she had taken a picture, the three of them were so perfectly framed.
Eric hadn’t looked up from the board, but he had held out his hand. She walked to him, and he drew her into his lap, nuzzled his nose into her neck where her scent pooled, and breathed in. She could feel him relaxing under her as he exhaled, and she had wrapped her fingers in his shirt. In another life, she would have been embarrassed to be so wrapped up in him, but the realities of their bond seemed to require this level of physical proximity.
Finn had conceded shortly after, and the attorney had excused himself, telling Sookie he would be taking her to the hold in the morning and to be downstairs for breakfast by ten. Eric had taken that as his cue, standing up and lifting her with him. He cradled her against his chest and carried her up the stairs.
There had been nothing hurried about the way he had undressed her, sighing and smelling as each piece of clothing was removed, revealing more and more of her. She returned the favor, holding his eyes as she tugged his belt sharply, the motion moving him toward her. His erection tented his pants and she had taken him in her mouth that first time. ”Mine!” she thought as he came undone, leaning over her, his hands braced against the wall.
Eventually, they ended up on the bed. Sookie flopped on her stomach, “What do you think this custodian thing means?” she asked.
“It means, min hustru, that you are wealthier than me. You need never worry about being a kept woman. It is I that am kept now,” and Eric nuzzled her hair. “I will tell you, that I do not understand your reluctance about being this way. Being kept feels freeing. I intend to stop working and make arrangements for daily massages. I will work out all day to make sure that when you have time for me, I will be in the right condition to take care of all your needs.” He said the last part as a growl against her, and emphasized it by tickling her side.
“Cut it out!” she swatted him. “I know what Niall said, but he also made it sound like I’ll have folks supervising me. He told me he’s arranging business classes.”
“It is a sound idea,” Eric said more seriously. “You have a good head for figures. I would benefit from your insight as well.”
“You really think I can do this?”
“I have always said you were clever, Lover,” and Eric drew her up so he could look her in the eye, “I do not understand why you doubt yourself.”
Her husband actually looked concerned, so Sookie decided to let him off the hook by saying, “I don’t, not really, but I like hearing you say it,” and as she said the words, Sookie realized she really did believe them. She had managed so many things over the years, her household, the restaurant, the palace. Each on the verge of disaster; each made better because she understood how to organize and stretch her resources. There was something in her head that was telling her she would be a natural, and she grinned and kissed her Eric once, and then once again.
Eric saw her enthusiasm as a sign and he took her hand and wrapped it around him, but Sookie stilled. “Eric? You know Grandfather doesn’t think so well of anyone other than Fae.”
Eric was moving her hand back and forth, his eyes half-closed, “I am aware of it,” he replied.
“He said vampires are only interested in two things, feeding and fucking.” While Sookie enjoyed their time together, it occurred to her that it was rare that Eric and she had a night when they weren’t inside each other. There had been something in how her Grandfather had said the words that made her feel a little ashamed.
Eric growled, “It sounds like something the Prince would say. He is your family, but he does not respect your choices.”
Sookie stilled her hand, resisting Eric’s pressure. When he looked her in the eye, she exclaimed, ”You know, that Niall is a real piece of work! We shouldn’t let anything he has to say get to us. We know who we are, and how good we are together.” It was almost convincing until Sookie betrayed herself by asking, “What else did he say?”
“He believes that by marrying me, you lowered yourself.” Eric said it with a smirk, but Sookie could see a slight tightening around his eyes.
“You know that’s not true,” Sookie told him. When he didn’t agree right away, she tightened her grip on him and tugged just a bit to make sure she had his attention. His eyes warmed and his cock hardened in her hand, “You know that I wake up most days wondering how I got this lucky?” she asked. “Every day I do the things that need doing. I sit in the sun and I take care of business. I do everything I can to make sure that when you open your eyes for me that everything is ready.” Sookie stroked him now, her fingers giving just the right tension, her nails lightly scratching as she twisted on the upstroke. “It doesn’t matter how bright the day is, Eric. My life begins the minute you rise, and it ends with you, too,” and she lifted her lips to his.
“Lover!” he sighed, and pushed her on her back, drawing her knees up so he could sink into her. “Detta är bäst, min hustru! Jag älskar dig,” and he drew back, capturing her face between his large hands, watching her eyes as he sank into her again. ”I, too, am most alive with you.”
Granted, right now was probably not the best time for talking, but she didn’t want anything between them at a time like this, and there seemed to be plenty that hadn’t been said, so, instead of getting with the program, Sookie asked, ”What else was in the contract?”
Now her Eric stilled again, his head turning, his eyes considered. He sighed and pulled from her, flopping on his back, then pulling her close. He took her hand, wrapping it around him again. ”You are a dog with a bone tonight, Sookie.”
”Well, I’ll take care of your bone again in a minute,” and she gave him a stroke, ”as soon as you come clean about the rest of it. Really, Eric,” and she nodded, ”Don’t make me hear it from Grandfather tomorrow. I’d rather talk about it tonight.”
”You are wise, Lover. It will be as you say,” and he stretched, arching himself into her hand a little more securely, then placing an arm behind his head. ”The contract is specific about the alliance between the Sky Fae and our kingdom,” he began. ”The agreement that if one is attacked, the other will come to its aid; that if one decides to add territory, it must benefit both.”
”You make it sound like we have some kind of standing army, Eric. It’s not like we have all that many vampires to call out,” and Sookie’s brows pulled together.
”It is something that has been less of a priority,” Eric agreed. ”Our money troubles were first, but now it appears our money troubles are over.”
”And you’re sure you’re okay with that?” Sookie asked, referring to her new-found wealth.
Eric winked, ”I will let you know when I hire my personal trainer.”
Sookie thought about what Eric said, ”Isn’t that a little unusual? I mean, it’s all the Fae aligning with just our kingdom? How are the other vampires going to feel about it?”
Eric cut his eyes to hers, ”You see? I told you you were clever! It will take some finesse on our part, a combination of what is said and what is hidden. To say too much is to invite envy,”
”…And envious vampires want what they can’t have,” Sookie finished.
”True,” Eric grinned, ”While vampires who believe that the alliance might favor them in some way?”
”Are interested in forming partnerships,” Sookie grinned back. ”You’ve been giving this some thought.”
”Chess helps me plan,” he told her. ”The time contemplating the moves allows me to see our moves in this life.” He looked at her more closely, ”There is something about Finn and Cataliades. I am aware the demon can read minds. I am wondering if Nebraska can do the same.”
”Grandfather didn’t mention it,” Sookie thought through the conversation. ”I know he’s fond of Finn, though. Truth is, I think he’s closer to Finn than he is to Dermot!”
”Niall never seems to be happy with what he has been given,” Eric agreed. ”That is his tragedy. I did find out we will have more company, though. Sandy Seacrest will stop here tomorrow.”
”You think she rides horses?” Sookie asked.
Eric laughed, “No, I don’t believe she would have learned that skill. Why?”
”Grandfather told me he is hosting a hunt tomorrow night in our honor. I told him I can’t ride, but he wants to take me to his stable to pick out a horse anyway.” The Viking’s look darkened, and Sookie chuckled, ”Don’t worry! I won’t let him strong-arm me into anything! I think he means it as a gift. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it waiting for me in Bon Temps.” She thought about it, ”He said that horses form a bond with Fae. Did you know that?”
”Not exactly,” Eric shrugged. ”I know Fae are superior riders. They and their horses act as one. What you say makes sense.”
”You hunting?” she asked.
”Niall and I have hunted before. He knows I enjoy it,” and Eric pulled her close to kiss her head and sniff her hair. ”Perhaps you will have time to learn to ride when you are visiting Bon Temps. I have promised in writing to encourage you to continue your training.”
”Niall said he’ll teach me shielding first, you know, so I don’t stink when I do something.”
Now it was Eric’s turn to chuckle, ”You never stink, Lover. Except when you drink too much, and then the smells your body makes would peel the paint from the wall.” He laughed out loud when she removed her hand from him to hit him. He grabbed her hand, kissed it, and wrapped it around him again. With a sigh, he said, ”It would be best if you were able to shield your scent.” Eric seemed to be lost in thought for a bit, and Sookie was about to ask him about it when he said, ”What skill is your favorite, so far?”
Sookie giggled, then shrugged, ”I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, but the whole fetching things is pretty good.” She thought of the time she demonstrated by bringing one of their favorite vibrators and it made her rub her legs together a little.
”That was my favorite time, too,” Eric squeezed her. ”It will be interesting to see what else is possible. It is said the Fae are magic itself. I suspect you will find there is no limit to your abilities, Lover. I will count myself fortunate indeed to have a wife with both wealth and skills.”
Sookie thought about not telling Eric the other thing, but then decided it was unworthy to hide, ”You know I can scry, right?”
Eric glanced at her, his expression lazy, ”I remember you mentioning it,” he confirmed.
”You know what it is, right?” Sookie knew she was tip-toeing around this, and wasn’t sure why, but then she did know. She didn’t know what Eric would say when they got to the part when she told him about her visions. They had talked about children, but talking and knowing were two very different things, and, according to Niall, what she had seen was something that could happen.
”It is fortune telling,” he shrugged.
”Not exactly,” Sookie rolled over on her stomach so she could look at him, ”It’s more like visions.”
”Visions?” Eric looked puzzled.
”Like seeing the future,” Sookie said softly.
Eric stilled, ”The Pythoness sees the future. Is it like that, Lover?”
”According to Grandfather, yeah, pretty much.” Sookie drew in a deep breath through her nose. ”He said they don’t always turn out because you can do things, make choices that change things.”
”And you’ve had these visions?” Sookie knew this was a moment of truth between them, but she felt shy. She looked away, and then lay across his chest, tucking her hands under him so she could hold tighter. It took a minute, but he wrapped his arms around her too, holding her, ”Tell me, Lover. What did you see?”
Sookie closed her eyes. She saw the faces again so clearly in her mind, it was as if she were there. Eric inhaled sharply under her, and she said, ”I saw my son. A boy. I saw him small and running toward me, and then I saw him again today. He was older and we were here, standing in a place Niall showed me.”
”Your son?” Eric asked, and Sookie realized what she had said. She turned her head to press a kiss against his chest.
”Our son, Eric. He looked just like you,” and a single tear slipped from her eye to puddle under her cheek, marking him.
It was as if the Viking could see the face his lover described. He saw hair that was lighter in color than either of theirs, but a jaw that was his own. This boy had high cheekbones and a sharp nose. ’My son,’ and the feelings that the vampire experienced thinking of it were unexpected. Eric the man, had accepted that children came with his coupling. It was expected, his duty to his village. In his life as a vampire, he had found strong, resilient women, warriors who had deserved better than their human life provided. In all his many years, he had only been drawn to two, Karin and Pamela. They were credits to him, and he was proud of them both.
What he was feeling now was different. He and Sookie had talked of this making, of progeny. Eric had not thought of it beyond the making of it. There would be laboratories and injections. They would be monitored by machines and their biology examined, specimens below a microscope. He had not seen what waited beyond. ”My son,” he said out loud, and Sookie giggled. He realized his voice did not sound strong, it was weak with wonder.
She sat back on her heels then, ”Well, we have time to figure all that out,” she said more lightly than she felt, dashing away another tear. ”And Grandfather said that just because I see it, it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. Things can change. Might not happen at all.”
”Now would not be best,” Eric agreed, but as he looked at her, her face shining, he knew that somehow no time would be best. He launched forward, knocking her to her back, and entered her swiftly. With a purr, he hooked her leg and wrapped it around his waist, using the angle to push deeper within her.
As he stroked, making sure to strike her clit with his pubic bone, he thought of how much he wished his seed would take root within her. He wished to make children with his wife, he wished his passion to find her open and receptive to him. As he grabbed her wrists, pulling them over her head, listening to her cry out, begging him, he wished that in this moment, the face he had seen so clearly would be made real, but he knew in his heart it could not be.
”I have been looking forward to meeting you,” and the tall, thin Fae woman drew herself up, and then bowed formally.
”I’m pleased to meet you too, Tamsin,” Sookie bit her lip, ”but you are going to have to do me a favor. If we’re going to spend time together, I’d appreciate it if you would just treat me like everyone else.” When the woman cocked her head a little to the side, Sookie explained, ”Call me Sookie. Don’t bow.”
”Lydia said you were unconventional,” and the Fae cocked her eyebrow.
”You knew Lydia?” Sookie exhaled.
”Of course,” Tamsin nodded. ”She chose to exile herself among the humans, but she lived most of her life among us.”
”I miss her,” Sookie sighed. ”She helped me when I really needed it.”
Tamsin nodded, ”And her story was much like your own.” Sookie blushed. She figured that was true, except she hoped with all her heart that the end of her story would not be like theirs, not like Lydia and her Robert. ”I will not be moving to Louisiana, but the portal is close to your ancestral home. You will have Aife with you. When you have time to work on your craft, you tell her. She will alert me.”
Sookie stared again at the tall, tattooed woman standing silent against the wall. She was a Britlingen. Sookie had met women from this dimension before, but they hadn’t seemed so forbidding. She wondered if her Grandfather had specified that the guard needed to be burly and unattractive. If he had, he’d gotten his money’s worth. Aife looked as if her face had met the ugly shovel a couple times. Still, Sookie knew if she were to meet this person on a dark street, she’d walk the other way, and there was no greater compliment anyone could pay a bodyguard.
”Grandfather said we would work on shielding first,” Sookie offered.
”We can start now, if that suits you,” Tamsin answered.
Sookie glanced around, surprised that the Fae agreed, and then shrugged, ”Yeah, sure.” As she stepped forward to stand closer to the longfire in the place Tamsin indicated, she thought she saw Aife sneer at her. She felt a blush start at the back of her neck and she dug deep, found her resolve, and squared off, ready for what would come next.
The next few hours were harder than she thought. She was given to understand that every Fae had a shield, but they were within you and slippery. You had to find them, and then grab them and drag them out and then around you. Coaxing didn’t work. Sookie would sense the edge and mentally snag it, only to have her concentration break or have doubt work itself into her thoughts, and it would be gone again. By the end she was sweaty and lightheaded, but she was able to slip it around her with increasing ease.
”She is a natural,” Tamsin informed the Prince, who walked into the room in time to see Sookie’s triumphant face.
”I expected no less,” he smiled. Glancing at Aife, he said, ”Escort the Princess to her guest chamber. There are clothes awaiting her.” He turned to Sookie, ”After lunch, I will show you the stables.” He didn’t wait for her answer. Instead he turned, walking from the hall, a group of Fae courtiers trailing after him.
”So, guess you’ll show me the way, huh?” Sookie grinned at the Britlingen. She was rewarded by a really sour look and a walk so brisk that she was gasping for air by the time the woman pulled up short and turned aside, gesturing to a door that opened from the hallway. ”Thanks,” Sookie bit out, then opened the door. She waited to shut the door before making it over to the chair and collapsing. ”What a bitch!” she groused under her breath.
The roof was a soft, adobe color and the walls were smooth as glass. There was a great shaft of sunlight pouring in from a round window above. When Sookie’s breathing was less ragged, she walked over to stand directly in the light. She could feel the aches and weariness slide from her, replaced by an overall sense of health and contentedness. It was like lying on the chair in her backyard, listening to songs and flipping to fry, first her back and then her front. She brought her head back so the sun hit her on the lids of her eyes. She breathed in several times, then looked around, taking her time.
There was a door in one wall, and the telepath walked through the arch to find a bathroom. The shower had no walls, just a raised square on the floor with a drain in the middle. She pressed a button and water fell from a huge shower head in a gentle pattern. There was no soap, but there was something in the water that felt pure and wholesome. When she felt she was done, Sookie touched the button again and then reached over for a towel. The clothes that awaited her were soft earth tones. There were pants that cinched at the waist with a wide leather belt of a kind she had not seen before. The top was a kind of tunic that was the same color as the pants and fastened with toggles set to the side. The shoes reminded her of ballet flats, except they were more substantial, and were made of the same leather as the belt. There were no undergarments, so she just put her own back on. When she was ready, she walked out and into the hall to find Aife standing at the door.
”Lunch?” Sookie asked, and was rewarded by the tall Amazon bounding off down the hall. ”Screw this!” Sookie said out loud and stood her ground. It was almost five minutes and Sookie had leaned against the wall by the time the Britlingen returned. ”Forget someone?” Sookie asked her.
Aife stared down her broken nose, so Sookie decided it was time to lay down some ground rules. ”Maybe we should start again, without all the well-wishers, what do you think?” Sookie said pleasantly, her hands on her hips and her head cocked to the side. Aife seemed to know this was Sookie’s ’business’ stance because she turned her head to the side as well. ”My Grandfather tells me you have been hired as my guard. Now, I have a pretty good idea what that means, and it does not mean leaving me standing by myself in a corridor.” The Britlingen scowled, but didn’t protest. ”I figure you may not have guarded someone like me before, so I’m prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. I am not a vampire. I am not a Were. I don’t move fast the way they do. I am not a full Fae either, so I can’t just pop from one place to another. Fact is, I move and act a lot more like a plain old human being, so you are going to have to slow your roll if this is going to work.”
Aife did not look particularly impressed by Sookie’s speech, but when Sookie indicated she was ready to go to lunch, the Britlingen stepped aside, apparently waiting for the telepath to precede her. ”I don’t know where we’re going,” Sookie huffed, ”and I assume you do. So if you wouldn’t mind.”
The guard smiled a bit, and it didn’t feel warm or friendly even a little bit, but she started back down the corridor at a more normal pace.
When they reached the lunchroom, Tamsin and Mr. Cataliades were awaiting her. The attorney shot a look at her guard and Sookie could see that Aife had not made a good impression with the demon either. ’Good,’ she thought peevishly, and then felt guilty that she was so ready to judge without really knowing this person.
Mr. Cataliades held her chair for her and in no time, there were Fae bringing them plates of food. Other servers were pouring that drink she had last night with her Grandfather, but she was careful this time and asked for water as well.
When they were settled, Mr. Cataliades asked, ”Did you bring your crown and necklace with you?”
Sookie knew the attorney was referring to Branna’s crown and the necklace of pearls and diamonds she had worn at her pledging. They were gifts from her Grandfather, but Mr. Cataliades had explained they were also heirlooms of her house. ”Yes,” she confirmed, ”but they are both at Finn’s house. I didn’t know I’d need them today.”
”Why don’t you call them?” Tamsin suggested. Sookie glanced around her. She knew she was capable, but she found herself checking, almost automatically, to make sure there were no vampires around.
”That is impressive,” Aife said from her place near the wall. ”Your instincts are sound. You check first for danger.” Sookie realized it was the first thing the Britlingen had really said to her, and she felt better that it was a compliment.
”Bring your shield around you,” Tamsin nodded. Sookie found she was easily able to slip it in place, and then she reached out and took the items she wanted. She thought of what they looked like and how she wished them here. There was a quick burst of light and the necklace and crown were on the table, pulsing in soft light.
Sookie smiled in pride. She figured she couldn’t do any better. ”I will take these for safe-keeping until tomorrow evening,” Mr.Cataliades beamed at her. ”With your permission, of course.”
”What’s going to happen tomorrow?” Sookie asked. ”No one has described it to me yet.”
”Nothing that will be a problem for you,” Mr. Cataliades nodded. ”There will be a blood exchange of sorts, but you are not expected to drink blood. It is a quick cut across each of your wrists, and your hands are bound, mingling your blood from your body. There are ceremonial words, of course, and fires.” The attorney beamed, ”Of course you will also remember what I told you about the swords.”
When Sookie looked puzzled, Mr. Cataliades shook his head, ”You recall at your pledging, Mr. Northman had Thalia carry his great sword, and Finn carried your family’s sword.” Sookie did remember and said as much. ”It is tradition that Mr. Northman will present his sword to your Grandfather at this ceremony. It is understood that signifies his bond with your house. Then you will take your family’s sword and present it to Mr. Northman. He will accept it and place it on his hip in the place of the other.” Sookie thought about that slim, curved blade. Somehow Eric’s longer, heavier blade seemed more appropriate in his hand. The attorney shook his head, ”It is largely ceremonial. Mr. Northman’s blade will be returned, but he is expected to set the Fae blade in a place of honor until the right time.”
”And when would that be?” Sookie asked.
Tamsin spoke up, ”Traditionally, you would take it down from the wall and place it in the hands of your son when he is old enough to start training.” Sookie felt the heat rush up her chest and she felt almost light-headed for a minute.
Mr. Cataliades frowned, ”Are you alright, Princess?” Sookie apologized and the attorney patted her hand before stating, ”I have only seen one Fae joining and it was ages ago. I remember it was moving.”
Sookie glanced at Tamsin, ”What about you? Anything else you can tell me?”
”You are too curious,” Aife groused.
”Keeps things lively,” Sookie snapped, then turned her attention back to Tamsin.
”I am sorry, Princess, but there is no ceremony that is like another. As the demon told you, these events are rare.
Sookie looked from one face to the next. ”Well, I have an appointment with Grandfather,” she sighed. There seemed nothing more to say.
Sookie spent the next hour with her Grandfather, meeting horses. Most looked at her with varying levels of curiosity, but one, a soft grey mare with white stockings, seemed happy to see her. The horse stepped forward, holding her head out and then lowering her soft muzzle into Sookie’s hand. The Prince smiled, ”She is Smoke. Her line has been associated with great deeds through the years of our house.” Sookie smiled, thinking her Grandfather was really piling it on. The little grey mare looked as lively as a merry-go-round, and that suited Sookie just fine.
”Guess I’ll be seeing you in Louisiana,” Sookie told the horse as she stroked its long neck and rubbed its neat forehead.
The sun was setting when her Grandfather returned her to Finn’s residence. With a quick hug, she turned to run up the stairs. ”I will expect to see you both in a few hours,” her Grandfather reminded her. ”The hunt starts at midnight, but there is a stirrup cup and a blessing before we go. All are expected to stand in the starlight under the eaves of the woods.”
”We’ll be there!” Sookie told him, ”And Grandfather? Thank you for everything!” As soon as the Prince winked away, the telepath turned and ran lightly up the stairs and then down the corridor to where her husband lay.
She dropped her clothes in a pile on the floor and slid into bed with him, running her hands over his still body, memorizing the lines and valleys that were so sweet to her. She no sooner laid her head on his shoulder than he moved and turned his head, opening his eyes to her. ”Good evening, Lover,” he murmured.
”Sure is,” Sookie whispered back.