Author’s Note: And so it concludes, this bridge piece between Far Reach and Distant Horizon. It has been a learning experience for me, which means from a writer’s perspective, I have a new appreciation for bringing discipline to a work. I’ll chalk it up to indulgence, and in some particulars, this cycle (Pledging/Wedding/Handfast) has been that. My thanks to you, my readers. I hope you found some joy in the writing. I hope to see you soon in A Distant Horizon.
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.
The dancing was done for the night and most had drifted away to their chambers. A woman played and sang, her voice rising and falling in descant to the notes plucked from her harp. It was an old song and she sang it well. Niall sat, his arms draped over the arms of his chair, a goblet loosely held in his long, elegant fingers. He rested, his eyes closed, allowing the minute changes in the air to register. They were making love again. He lips curved. His Granddaughter and her Viking were vigorous.
The Prince had ordered the enchantments removed from Branna’s crown and his family’s necklace. Now the jewels would carry the ordinary protection wards and minor magics that enhanced the wearer’s appearance. The Prince’s lip tipped south in annoyance. Trying to use the jewels to further engage Northman’s lust had backfired. Instead, the magic had focused on Sookie. It was an interesting puzzle for another day. As Fae, she was able to handle it, but there had to be some quality of the bond that existed between his Granddaughter and the North Man that unconsciously caused her to shield him, taking any ‘danger’ onto herself.
The same thing appeared to have happened with the gift of knowing he gave her. His Granddaughter should have been able to hear the vampire’s every thought, but instead it had boomeranged. It was his Granddaughter’s thoughts that were open, leaving her at the Viking’s mercy. For the life of him the Prince couldn’t understand how they were not conscious of it.
Niall sighed. They were still at it, the intensity growing. He could feel the magics that had been placed above and below the bed sparking to life. It would be more potent under the stars. If tonight failed, there was tomorrow night to try again.
It had been a hunt to remember. The North Man had killed a large boar with a spear. Feral pigs were not common here, but this boar was large and aggressive enough to have held off predators. It was at moments like these that you realized the perfection of a vampire’s hunting skills. The weapon had been a way to enjoy the process, not a necessary tool. The Prince shuddered, reveling in the memory. Seeing the Viking with his fangs extended, his blood up was an enticing sight. Niall understood his Granddaughter’s attraction.
The Prince would have enjoyed the process of telling the tale, but there was no one here who had not witnessed it. Desmond Cataliades was the Prince’s usual audience, appreciative and insightful, but the demon had left earlier, shuttling off on his errand to file the marriage contract and treaty. The attorney would take the extra step of posting the contract as a notice for those who were curious. That single act would create many possible paths into the future, but both Dermot and he were in agreement. This trigger was the most likely to end where Niall wished.
It was hard, reading the future. Like the gifts he had made to his Granddaughter, the ones that had produced such unexpected consequences, if he pushed the future hoping for a certain outcome, he could find that events took unwanted turns. As if sensing the direction his thoughts had taken, Dermot joined him, dropping into the nearest chair.
“Finn’s vampire guests are returned to his residence and he sends word all is settled. I see what you mean about Thalia. She would be difficult to defeat.” Dermot turned to watch his Father.
“Do you feel it?” Niall asked, not bothering to open his eyes.
“They are motivated,” Dermot agreed. “The Viking desires it, now. He can probably see glimpses of her visions. The bond between them is extraordinarily strong. It will have triggered all his instincts, his human need to procreate as well as his vampire draw to make progeny.” Dermot sighed, “I do wish she drank a little more of the mead. She is receptive, but aligning her biology couldn’t hurt.”
“There is tomorrow. It will be the high holy day. The wishes of our people will be with them. They will mate under the stars.” Niall opened his eyes and lifted the goblet to his lips. “You have done everything you could to make this the time.”
“It would be the easiest outcome,” Dermot agreed.
“It has little chance of success. I know that will be a hardship for you, but you will have to be prepared to wait a little longer,” the Prince sneered.
Dermot’s eyes flashed, “Do not fault me for not wanting this thing you never wanted me to have! Our people need hope, a future, and we all have seen their progeny as that future. I will play my part.” When the Prince looked away, Dermot leaned forward, “Tell me Father! Have I shirked in any way? Have I failed to give the people their proper attention? Have I failed to put in the requisite effort? What is it you feel that I am not doing?”
“You are doing all I would ask,” the Prince said levelly.
“But it is still not enough,” Dermot sighed. “I am not my brother. I am not your other son. They were more like you, although I think if you had come to know Fintan, you might have decided you didn’t like him as much as you think. He changed in our years in Louisiana. He trusted you less.”
Niall sipped again. The air had changed. The Viking and his Granddaughter had reached completion, but he could also feel they weren’t done and his smile returned. After tonight he anticipated that Sookie would sleep well into the morning. He would send Tamsin into the chamber to retrieve her if his Granddaughter didn’t stir before noon. After all, there were preparations to make.
“There would have been time to resolve that,” the Prince leaned forward, setting his goblet on the small wooden table positioned between their chairs. From behind them a servant stepped forward and refilled the Prince’s glass. Niall’s eyes flicked to the servant and the man bowed and then retreated further away. The Prince looked at his son’s half-empty glass, “Oh! Did you want more?”
And there it was. Dermot was the ruler, but the Prince was the true King in all things, great and small.
Dermot sat back, reminding himself of the greater good. In none of the visions shared between them, including those of the vampire, Finn, had he seen himself as the ultimate ruler of the Fae. That didn’t bother him at all. More encouraging had been that every vision showed him alive and happily engaged in pleasurable pursuits that included playing the role of a favored and beloved uncle to those who would succeed him. It was this sure knowledge that gave Dermot the ability to dismiss the bitter pill of his Father’s disappointment and disdain.
“Did Finn speak with you? Dermot asked Niall.
“About the Britlingen?” And the Prince nodded, “He told me of the guard’s behavior. Of course, she wasn’t engaged for Sookie, so I can understand her actions. Let’s wait until tomorrow. If there is success, the creature will do her duty. If not, I will return her with no dishonor since the particulars of the contract would not be in place.”
“It was premature to have summoned her,” Dermot scolded.
The Prince turned to his son and Dermot realized his error. The Prince’s eyes were wide with cruel intent, “But I believed in you, Dermot! I wanted this to work. After all, you were so certain!”
“I never misled you about the odds!” Dermot shot back. “It is still a possibility. I’m not the only one who saw it.” Finn had also reported a vision where the heir was made here at this time, but between Dermot and Finn, this version of the future had not been frequent.
It was something they all understood. The more you saw a thing, the more likely it was to occur. Of course, if you looked too often it could cause you to miss other things. You would become distracted, gazing at the one thing you desired, like Narcissus in his pool of water. It would be in that moment that things changed and that the outcome you most wished would be lost in the chaos of other events. Dermot found that divining the future was like using your personal shield; two parts locating what you were looking for and then having the strength to blindly trust.
Beside him, his Father was still grumbling about Dermot’s words. Niall hated to be told that he was wrong in any particular. Finally, the Prince sighed and said, “No, you didn’t.” Niall waved his hand and Dermot knew it was the only apology he could expect from his Father. The Prince went on to say, “I am not unfeeling about this. I, too, hope that this making is now. It will save them much trouble.”
“And us much uncertainty,” Dermot added.
The Prince’s answer was a scowl, “There is no uncertainty,” he snapped. “It is only a matter of time.”
Dermot settled back in his chair, “The only certainty, Father, is your willingness to argue every point with me.” The Prince’s eyes narrowed, but in the end he said nothing. It would seem on this point they were indeed in agreement.
“Any idea what will happen tomorrow night?” Sookie ran her fingers through the springy hair that dusted Eric’s chest. When he had spent time on display at Fangtasia he had waxed his chest and arms, but lately he had allowed his hair to grow out. She liked it, this added a handle for holding onto him, and she tightened her grip, pulling it a bit.
She felt him still under her, and then tighten the fingers he had been running over her scalp. Eric pulled her head back so he could look into her face. “Why didn’t you ask your relatives that question, Lover? They are in the best position to answer.”
“Like they answer anything!” Sookie huffed. “I’ve never met folks who could answer questions with questions more than the Fae. It makes my head spin,” and Sookie blushed, “Kind of like that drink they keep pushing at me. What is that stuff?”
“Mead,” her husband answered. “It is a honey wine.”
“You sure seem fond of it,” Sookie teased.
“It reminds me of another time,” her Viking rumbled in reply. “Of how I married long ago.”
“What? This? Is this how you married Aude?” Sookie rose up on her elbow. “Before…”
“Before I was made vampire, yes.” Eric confirmed. “If it is like those times, there will be a ceremony outside. I was not married to my brother’s widow at Beltane. Leif was killed in the summer and Aude was with child. We were joined in the fall, but many couples married on Beltane night.”
“So, you married your brother’s pregnant widow? That sure doesn’t sound romantic,” and Sookie kissed his chest.
“Romance is a new notion,” Eric smiled. “Her family had holdings to the south of us. The marriage assured my father of favorable trade terms. The child she carried was their first so there was no blood binding our families together. Securing the alliance was important. My family was fortunate. I was only a few years younger than her. It would have been awkward if there had been no one to bind her. She might have returned to her family and when the child lived, it would have fallen to my family to pay for the child’s upkeep.”
Sookie thought about it, “How old were you?”
Eric shrugged, “I was a man.”
“Did you love her?” Eric smiled. He had considered this question recently. This business of love, this inconvenient thing that forced him to think of another before himself, had been much in his mind.
“I respected her,” he replied. “I defended her and her children. I did my duty by her.”
“So you didn’t love her, not even a little bit?” and Eric could feel the curiosity and something else.
“No,” Eric stroked her cheek. “In my human time we married for position. It was possible, hoped, that affection would grow. My own parents were arranged, but they had affection, love, you would call it. I remember they laughed a great deal, and teased each other.” Eric remembered his mother, her figure soft and rounded with age and childbearing, laughing as his father pulled her onto his lap. They had played, much as he played now with Sookie. “Aude had loved another in her own village. She never forgot him.”
“How sad!” his sentimental wife exclaimed.
“It is how things were done,” Eric shrugged. There was no use in worrying about what was so long in the past. Eric stared at the canopy above them. The cross members were twined with ivy and sprigs of mistletoe hung from the corners. There was even an animal pelt across the foot of the bed. He could have been in his own father’s hall, merry makers drinking and working up to crashing in on the newlyweds.
“I expect there will be fire,” Eric told her. “We may be expected to jump through it, although why the Fae would encourage us in these rites is a foolish notion.”
“Why do you say that?” Sookie laid her cheek on his chest, her fingers drifting down his side and then following the line of his hip.
“Beltane is the time of turning, the time of rebirth. It is the night the Forest Lord meets his Lady of Light and all creation is renewed.” Eric flipped her on her back and used his knee to push her legs apart. “It is a night of sword and chalice,” and he stroked her lips, pausing to circle her clit, “a night of fucking,” and he pressed a finger within her swollen folds.
“And did you take part in these ceremonies, Mr. Northman?” and Sookie arched into his hand.
“I was handsome. My first was on Beltane. She was an older girl, a slave taken on raid. She had large breasts and I would stare at them.” Eric smirked at the memory, “I didn’t last more than a minute or two and she scolded me. I got mad at her and we stayed out in the woods until dawn. I wanted to get it right.”
Sookie laughed, “I can see it! I’m not surprised you were an overachiever, even then!”
“Should we do some achieving?” and he rose above his wife, taking care to press into her just enough to tease. She really was swollen and he wondered if he should use blood to heal her. She groaned a little and Eric started to withdraw, but she grabbed his hip and pulled until he was fully within her. “You are very tight, Lover,” he sighed.
“Someone has been making himself at home,” Sookie sighed. Her walls were pulsing in that slow, pleasant way, and he propped himself on his elbow, enjoying the sensation. Her nose wrinkled a little, “Did you know Sandy Seacrest was coming?”
Eric smiled. His wife was clever. “You were with me when we heard. Did I not look surprised?”
“Yes,” Sookie nodded. “You did. So good job, you fooled everyone.”
“But not my wife,” Eric purred. “How did you know?”
“Sandy and I talked while you were out killing things.” Sookie brought her hips forward and then reached between them to rub her clit and scissor her fingers around him. “She explained about De Castro.” Sookie stopped moving and wrapped her fingers around him tightly. It made him twitch inside her. “Why would you keep something like that from me? If you are going to put yourself in danger, you better believe I am going to be standing right beside you.” She tightened her fingers using the pressure to punctuate each word, “No more secrets, Buster!” When she released him, he pressed into her, stroking quickly until he felt her flinch.
“You are sore, Lover!” and in spite of her protests, Eric withdrew from her. Leaning back on his heels, he brought her knees up, cocking his head to the side and stroking her with his fingers, like one would pet a cat. “I have used you well,” he smirked. “Allow me to make amends.” Watching her from under hooded eyes, he popped his fangs and then smiled darkly as he pricked his finger. He leaned down, holding her eyes with his own, and licked before rubbing his blood into her abraded flesh. His Sookie arched, her breath catching, and Eric chuckled, trading strokes with blood and tongue, nipping her lips with his own, chasing her until she was panting and writhing. He drove her until she came, arching one last time, her mouth an ‘o’ and her channel gripping his fingers, squeezing and releasing as she had with him only a short time before.
When she was breathing more normally, Sookie whispered, “So, why do you think this is foolish? I’d think you would be, I don’t know, kind of flattered that we’re getting married Viking style.”
Eric rolled to his back, bringing her against him. He held her in place as he thought about how he would explain. “Must be pretty important to have you all worked up this way!” Sookie whispered against him, and Eric realized he’d been rumbling.
Eric smiled, “It is nothing, really. Beltane is a most auspicious time. It was hoped that joining on Beltane would result in…” and he found he was reluctant to finish.
Sookie looked up, her face puzzled, but she figured it out quickly. “It really is all about that here, isn’t it? I feel like I should apologize for my family. You are being really nice about this. I know you aren’t all that enthusiastic about the idea. To tell you the truth, I’m not all that crazy about it either. Who knows what Niall has up his sleeve? I mean, I know plenty of couples need help, but I’ll tell you what, Eric. I’ve been thinking about what I saw? I don’t need that to be happy. I only need you.”
“You mistake me, Lover,” and Eric rolled above her again, positioning himself. “I am the one who feels the need to apologize,” and he stroked again. “I have never regretted my life as a vampire. It is the life I was made to lead and until now, I have never felt that being vampire deprived me of anything I valued. Until now.”
She held him then, and they made love. There were no more words and when they finished, they lay wrapped around each other until dawn came to claim them.
It was a persistent motion, a pestering, that caused Sookie to swim up through her dreams and open her eyes. She could feel Eric’s cool arms around her and that was enough to make her close her eyes again and start retreating back into the dark where Eric awaited her. It was a good dream. They were standing hand in hand near Bill Compton’s house, but there was no house there. It wasn’t in what Eric was saying but instead how happy she felt to be near him. It was odd.
‘Sookie!” a woman’s voice hissed and there was a poking at her arm again. The telepath’s foggy brain kicked in. She and Eric were resting and they weren’t alone. Sookie was suddenly very awake and naked and standing across the room behind Tamsin who straightened and turned, saying, “Very good, Princess!”
“What are you doing here?” Sookie challenged.
“I am here to retrieve you. It’s nearly noon and there is much to be done. Now, put your claws away. I’m not going to hurt your mate, and let’s get you something to eat.” Now it was Sookie’s turn to straighten up. She was hunched forward, as if ready to spring. She looked at her hands and could see sharpened claws tipping each finger. Her jaw was tight and she had a sinking feeling that if she were to look in the mirror, it would be Neave’s face she saw and not her own, softly rounded one.
Tamsin laughed lightly, “Why are you so upset? You look magnificent!”
“I’m not sure your idea of magnificent and mine are the same,” Sookie said softly. She took the soft robe Tamsin held out to her and slipped it over her head. The minute she straightened she felt cool liquid run down her leg, a souvenir from last night. “I could use a shower and a bathroom first.”
Tamsin was examining the bed, or more specifically the ivy that twined up the bedposts and through the framework that supported the canopy. “You slept well?” she asked, then turned that speculative look on the telepath, the one that made Sookie want to cover herself.
“Sure,” Sookie responded, “The bathroom?” Tamsin smirked, took a step back and gestured toward the hallway. As they closed the door, Sookie glanced around. “I’m not comfortable leaving here without a guard on Eric’s door.” In spite of the pressure on her bladder, Sookie could not step away, knowing there was no one between her resting husband and strangers.
“Of course,” and Tamsin held up her hand, her palm facing the door. There was a shimmer and then a more permanent looking barrier. It almost looked like a wall of water. “That ward will keep all but the two of us outside.”
“And I trust you?” Sookie challenged.
Tamsin laughed. There was a Fae walking toward them, “Test it with Galen,” she offered. The Fae obligingly reached for the doorknob and a sharp crackle caused him to pull his hand back. “And I will be by your side until you decide I am not your enemy,” Tamsin promised.
Together, they walked back down the corridor, entering another sleeping chamber. This one had a great column of sunlight, but what Sookie really noticed was the door leading to a bathroom. She shuffled through and took care of her ‘human needs.’ “Is this your room?” Sookie called out, both out of curiosity and a desire to make sure Tamsin hadn’t left the room.
“No, Princess, this is the bedroom set aside for you. We don’t have vampire accommodations here. You understand,” and Tamsin was laughing.
“So, what is that room we are sleeping in?” Sookie asked.
“It’s a store room,” Tamsin replied. “We use it for linens and other supplies, things we need at this end of the complex. You wouldn’t know it now, though, would you? It was the right size and had no windows.” Sookie walked out to find Tamsin sitting on a chair made of artfully twisted wood and covered in soft cushions. The trainer rose, “Come, there is food waiting.”
“Look, I’m a mess,” Sookie bit her lip. “Why don’t I take a quick shower and get some clothes on first?” Sookie’s stomach chose that moment to growl and Tamsin smiled, her eyes tilting at the corner making her appear more feline.
Tamsin hesitated just a moment more. ‘What’s this all about?’ Sookie wondered, but then the Fae nodded. “There is a shower there,” and she waved back toward the bathroom. “I will set out a fresh robe and summon you a roll or some fruit.”
“What’s the hurry?” Sookie knew there was something, and Tamsin didn’t disappoint.
“Your uncle, Dermot is waiting for you.” Tamsin’s actions made more sense now. Sookie figured that since Dermot was the ruler it was like your boss telling you they wanted to see you and no one kept the boss waiting.
“I’ll hurry, okay? Dermot and I used to enjoy eating breakfast together. Why don’t you ask if that would be okay?” Tamsin nodded and then closed her eyes. Sookie figured the Fae was communicating telepathically. Mr. Cataliades had told Sookie that like all demon attributes, her ability to communicate telepathically was far superior to any other species. In order for Fae to ‘hear’ each other they had to be actively listening, but Tamsin didn’t look like she was having any problems.
Tamsin opened her eyes and asked, “Pancakes?”
Sookie laughed. Dermot had always loved pancakes. “Sure, that would be great.” Sookie headed toward the bathroom again, but before getting under the water thought to ask, “So, what are the plans for me this afternoon?”
“I am happy to talk while you are in the shower,” Tamsin replied, letting Sookie know she understood the real reason Sookie wanted to talk. “You will meet with Dermot. Your Grandfather has asked me to teach you how to minimize the effects of your bonding. He told me you will have need of that skill. It is not difficult, much easier than shielding your scent because the elements you need are in plain sight. Sunset is at eight o’clock but the ceremony doesn’t start until eleven. You will have until almost six tomorrow morning to return here to your chamber, so at some point today you will want to nap. We won’t start preparing you until after you and your mate…”
“His name is Eric,” Sookie called from the shower.
“We will wait until you are both awake,” Tamsin resumed.
Sookie walked out from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. “Can you tell me about the ceremony? What is going to happen?”
“Dermot will be able to provide you with the details,” Tamsin side-stepped and took Sookie’s hand in hers. She brought her face close to Sookie’s and then hugged the telepath. It was hard for Sookie not to relax, the proximity to the Fae woman giving her that wonderful sense of well-being. “There,” Tamsin said, and stepping back, held out a fresh robe. “Now, we should go.”
“Whoa!” Sookie pulled back, “I’m not running around this place in a slip and a smile. I want to get dressed first,” and to emphasize her point, Sookie crossed her arms across her chest.
Sookie almost missed the look of annoyance that flitted across the Fae’s face, and it was gone when Tamsin said, “Oh, of course you should be comfortable.”
Sookie glanced around the room and when she realized there were no clothes for her, exclaimed, “Cheese and rice!” The telepath closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and summoned her clothes. When she opened her eyes, a pile of her clothes lay in the middle of the bed. Sookie sorted her things out only to find that she had forgotten her bra.
As Sookie closed her eyes to summon again, Tamsin scolded. “You forgot to shield your scent, Sookie. You are very fluid in how you summon. That it good, but you must get in the habit of shielding first.” Tamsin waved her hand and Sookie’s clothes disappeared, “Try again.”
Sookie bit back the sharp thing she wanted to say and instead found her shield, pulled it around her and then brought the clothes back. It felt easier than yesterday and the telepath didn’t feel as drained as she had before. It didn’t take long for Sookie to get dressed and soon she was following Tamsin through the corridors. The sun shone down in great pockets of gold, lighting up rooms and placing pools of light at intersections of hallways. Tamsin led her to a smaller room that was furnished simply with several tables and comfortable, graceful chairs. It reminded Sookie of a picture she had seen of a dining room at a bed and breakfast. Dermot was waiting for her at one of the small tables and he rose as they entered.
“Niece!” he greeted her and wrapped her up in that Fae way. Dermot turned his head toward her and Sookie had the impression he was sniffing at her. She froze a little, feeling surprised.
“What the hell, Dermot?” and Sookie shoved against him.
Dermot appeared to be confused, and Sookie almost apologized, but there was something about the way he was looking at her. He offered her a chair, and gave her that same lost soul look he’d had when they were roommates, but there was a voice in the back of Sookie’s head that was yelling that she should exercise caution. “Please niece,” he said in his mild voice, “I hope you like our pancakes.” As they sat, Dermot took her hand in his. He asked how she’d slept and he asked what she thought of the hunt. He asked about her visit with Sandy and Sookie told him about the woman at the Scotts Bluff Airport.
The pancakes arrived. They looked just like hers on the plate, but she stopped eating after a few bites. They tasted off. She looked up to find Dermot watching her.
“What?” she challenged, “What is it?”
Dermot sighed, “Nothing, niece. Nothing at all.” He looked disappointed, but then his face brightened, “I understand you have questions about tonight’s ceremony.”
Sookie could tell there was something else, but she decided to take advantage of having someone being willing to explain what would happen. When Dermot told her she would be wearing flowers in her hair, Sookie laughed, “Finally! I was beginning to think I was just another business transaction for you all! I figured what with a Fae wedding, there had to be butterflies and unicorns in there somewhere!”
Dermot laughed too, his eyes flashing and his mouth tipping up, the mirror image of Sookie’s brother, Jason. “There is a reason they call them fairytale weddings, niece,” Dermot agreed.
“Jason is never going to have a place here, is he?” Sookie asked.
“No, Sookie,” Dermot stilled, “Neither he nor his children. The spark has missed him. It is possible it will reassert itself in a future generation, but his path will not lead him here.”
“Well, he is in Bon Temps, and I intend to have his whole family over to the house. Hope you’re not telling me you won’t be coming if he’s around. I thought you two got along.”
“I have no problem seeing your brother,” and Dermot looked like her roommate again, the uncle who sat across the table, his eyes open and friendly. “If there is a reason for me to visit, I would welcome the chance. Of course, I do have other duties now. Depending on how things turn out, I may be too busy for some time.”
“Why do I get the feeling you won’t be around much?” and Sookie sighed. “I got used to having you around, and then I got used to having lost you. Now that you’re back, in the country, so to speak, I kind of like the idea of seeing you again.”
“Your vampire would not be happy to have me living under your roof again,” Dermot arched his eyebrow and winked, reminding Sookie he had offered to share her bed on more than one occasion.
“Well, I was just thinking about a visit!” Sookie scowled, “Not room mate privileges!” Sookie leaned across the table, impulsively taking her uncle’s hand in her own, “You know you are always welcome!”
Dermot breathed in deeply again, then looked at her plate. “You didn’t like them?”
“Guess I’m not hungry,” she responded, trying to be polite, but her stomach growled, exposing her lie.
“Perhaps something else,” Dermot smiled gently. Sookie was presented with juices and fruits, soft scrambled eggs and buttered toast. Everything looked wonderful, but all carried the same funny aftertaste.
‘Guess those stories about eating the food of the fairies are just that,’ Sookie thought. ‘If I had to live here, I’d starve!’
Tamsin returned and the two of them left for lessons. They weren’t gone long when Niall joined his son. “Are you satisfied?” the Prince asked. He looked at the food on the table, wrinkled his nose and dismissed it with a wave of his hand.
“It was hard to tell,” Dermot shrugged. “She had showered and her clothes carried her former scent.”
“You are reaching,” Niall did not look unsympathetic. “If she were, you would already sense it, the shift. She is close kin and we are both attuned to her.” Niall sighed, “There is still tonight. She will practice skills now. It will bring her magic close to the surface. Once Northman rises they will both be prepared. All the runes will be in place and they are hanging extra charms.”
“He is stronger. She could be injured,” and Dermot looked away.
“They are bonded,” Niall reminded his son. “Northman can feel her every emotion. He wears her like a second skin. He cares for her deeply. She is in no danger.”
“You are sure that’s all there is to it?” Sookie asked one last time.
“Don’t you feel it?” Tamsin challenged her. Sookie had to admit, the spell she had practiced had lessened what she had come to think of as a rubber band around her heart. As silly as it sounded, she had become used to only feeling totally at rest when she was glued up next to Eric. Now, with the pressure gone, she realized just how tight their bond had become.
“Do you think Eric was feeling the same thing?” It slipped out of her mouth before she really considered it and Sookie quickly added, “I don’t expect you to answer that!” Without waiting for Tamsin to say anything more, Sookie opened the door and slipped into the chamber where her Viking was resting. She was slightly sweaty but Sookie figured she and Eric would be bathed again in just a few short hours. For now, she wanted to stretch around him. She wanted to luxuriate in the feeling of him slowly coming to life and the jolt she always felt when he first opened his eyes, her face the first thing he looked for. It didn’t take long.
Even as dark as it was, Sookie could see his head turn, the slight glow growing as he returned to her. His lips lifted and his hand brushed along her cheek. “Lover!” he sighed. His lips quickly followed and he rolled over, his hands moving across her skin. “You have been in the sun,” he purred and ran his nose up the column of her neck. He kissed that place just below her ear as his clever fingers stroked and parted her, making her breath quicken. Eric’s erection lay heavy against her thigh and Sookie ran her own fingers over the hard planes of his chest, scratching his nipples until they hardened to the size of pencil erasers.
Eric was licking her now, preparing her for his bite. Sookie arched toward him, anticipating the act of feeding him every bit as much as she anticipated his cock sliding within her. He was inhaling her scent in great gulps, his exhale cool, tickling her damp skin, and then his fangs slid into her and she moved in his arms, trying to draw closer. He gripped her, holding her still. Sookie knew he worried about ripping or damaging her. His fangs were sharp and capable of cutting laterally, but there was something so sensual in the act of feeding Eric that she felt her lady parts clenching each time he swallowed.
After only a few draws, Eric lifted his head. He sat back and pricked his finger on his fang, rubbing his blood into her neck to heal the punctures he had made. His cock rose proudly from its nest of curls and Sookie drifted her fingernails up its length. His eyes watched her, “Good evening, wife,” he said mildly, but Sookie wasn’t fooled. He was coiled tightly and so she sat up as well. She lifted one hand to his cheek while stroking him with the other. Without a word, she smiled and leaned forward, allowing her hair to fall across his hips as she took him in her mouth. “Lover!” he hissed, then pulled her head up
“What?” Sookie breathed, but Eric answered with his own smile. He turned her around and then moved backwards so that she could lie down flat on the bed. He rose over her, his lips traveling from shoulder to belly until he was suspended over her, his knees framing her head, his hands parting her thighs so his mouth could follow. Arching her neck, Sookie opened her mouth to take him within her. As his talented tongue plundered, she moaned, moving her hands to grasp the backs of his thighs, using the long, strong muscles of his legs to allow her to pull herself up so she could take him deeper. His fingers joined his tongue and Sookie felt her walls trembling. She ran her teeth over his head the way he liked and then, breathing through her nose, took him into her throat. It wasn’t something she did often, but she felt like she was on fire. She was Sookie, but she was also someone else, someone primal and free. She moaned again and from somewhere far away, she could hear Eric cry out. She came to herself with him in her, moving quickly, chanting her name over and over. She felt him come, every pulse of cool essence coating her walls, every twitch of his balls against her. He was so deep and she wrapped her arms and legs around him, holding him close.
Eric wasn’t certain how long they lay there, winded, sated. Her skin had that sweet smell and his fingers felt the sheen of her sweat on her chest. There was something in the taste of her, the scent of her skin that was compelling. He supposed it was caused by whatever she was eating.
There was a sound at the door. “Lover?” he nudged her. His Sookie had closed her eyes as soon as he had pulled her against him and her breathing had evened out, letting him know she had slipped into sleep. “It is time for you to come back to me, Älskade. Our evening begins.”
Sookie made a soft sound and he rolled her head so that he could see her face. Her eyes opened and he leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Come, Lover. Your Grandfather is anxious. He would have us joined before his people,” and Eric rolled to the side of the bed. He leaned down and retrieved the pants he had worn last night for the hunt. Sookie was sitting up, holding the sheet against her breasts and blinking owlishly. Her hair was ratted up on one side of her head. She looked fucked out and he couldn’t help feeling satisfied. When she flopped back down he leaned over and tickled her until she begged him to stop.
Eric noticed the light switch and flipped it up, bathing the room in a harsh, bright light. Sookie threw her arm across her eyes and groaned. As he pulled his boots on, she reached for a robe she must have acquired during the day. It was made of some silky material and whispered across her skin. It was the perfect shade of blue and Eric found his fingers itching to caress her through it. Sookie must have recognized it because she batted at him as he stepped forward to open to the door.
Tamsin was standing immediately in front of him. “We are ready,” he said mildly, then held out his hand for his wife. He could hear Sookie step forward to place her hand within his and he closed his fingers, squeezing briefly. He drew his wife into the hall with him. Her hair was still a mess so he released her hand and made an effort to pull her hair down. As soon as he started he could see her recognition. She raised her own hands to her head, her eyes widening and her face flushing. He could feel her coiling, her fight or flight instinct leaning toward ‘run away.’ “You are beautiful to me,” he said directly to her, holding her eyes and willing her to stand straighter. He felt her calm and then her chin lifted. She was messy, but she was still his Queen.
Tamsin bowed to Sookie, “Princess, the day of blessings has arrived. We are here to prepare you.” Aife stood behind the Fae and there were other women Eric didn’t recognize. Niall and Finn stood nearby and Eric realized they were there as his escorts. Eric nodded and then he looked down at Sookie once more, “I will see you soon, Lover.” He ran his fingers along her jawline, tracing her lower lip with his thumb. Her eyes shone as she smiled that smile that was just theirs. They were both grinning as Eric turned to follow his appointed groomsmen.
The chamber was hewn from the rock. There was soft lighting above and bright lights that lit the water from below. The water in the pool was either heated and piped in from another source or the result of a natural hot spring. Eric couldn’t tell. He was sitting loosely on an ornate stool studying the chess board. He was playing against Niall. The Prince had already played Finn while Fae had milled around Eric, scraping every hair from his body in preparation for tonight. The game had been swift and brutal, the Prince willing to take great risks which had paid off. The Fairy’s penchant for taking chances made for unpredictable play.
Others would join them shortly, mystics and adepts who would paint symbols and runes on the Viking’s now-smooth body. He was certain that they would use some natural dye that would take days to wear away. It was what would have happened in his own human days and he was coming to appreciate that many of the customs his people had followed seemed to have come to them from the Fae.
“So, I am to play the role of the Hunter tonight?” Eric asked mildly.
“The Lord of the Forest, yes,” Niall’s tone indicated he was only half-engaged in the conversation.
Eric remembered the role-playing that was Beltane and struggled to keep his expression neutral, “You have informed Sookie of this?” Eric didn’t think his wife would be comfortable with public mating. To be chosen as the year’s Lord and Lady was considered a great honor. It was a rite meant to ensure the fertility of the coming year and the couple chosen was expected to fuck on a special table surrounded by fires, witnessed by the entire village. It was a spectacle designed to inspire others to follow suit.
Niall frowned, lifting his head from his study of the board, “I will not expect the consummation to be witnessed. I respect my Granddaughter’s sensibilities, for all they are too human. You, on the other hand, understand the meaning and importance of this. Beltane is our high holy day. As our Lord of Forest, you will be expected to uphold our shared traditions.”
“And which traditions would those be?” Eric felt he was on slippery ground in this. To assume that their traditions were identical would be dangerous. He was already tied to Niall more closely than was comfortable or advisable.
“You don’t trust me,” Niall spoke aloud what the vampire had been thinking and Eric was reminded of the look that had passed between Finn and the demon attorney.
Eric turned to Finn, “Are you telepathic?” he asked.
It was Niall who answered, “No, Finn’s gift is something else. I give you credit, North Man, you have managed to stay on the right side of me for centuries. Now, you will become an official part of my family, though not linked through blood,” and the Prince smiled through sharp teeth, “yet. I can understand how you would feel hesitant to give me your trust, so let me help by giving you the gift of my trust.” The Prince glanced at the door to the chamber and Eric felt the surge of power crackle through the air. Eric was sure the Fairy had bound the door. “Finn’s gift is sight. He sees what will come.”
“Sookie has that gift as well,” Eric found himself puzzled. It seemed so improbable.
“It is a common gift for those of my house,” Niall sat back, giving Eric his full attention. “It is something we have not used often. Playing the strands of the future is a beguiling thing and one can become lost in it. But recently,” and the Prince glanced at Finn, “there have been signs that tell us it is time to risk taking a more active role in our fate and trying to keep our affairs from the worst perils.”
Eric’s eyes flicked to the Nebraska King and then back, “You are telling me he is one of yours?”
“I don’t know,” Niall answered and Eric felt certain it was a fully honest answer. “But he is destined to take his place beyond the hierarchy of Kings and Queens.” Niall’s eyes remained on Finn as he said, “A time of unrest is coming. There will be struggles that will threaten the peace in this country. The Pythoness knows, but chooses to do nothing.” Niall’s eyes returned to Eric, “She is bitter and tired of carrying her burden. She would seek her true death, leaving your people without the discipline that comes with her guidance.”
“Why do you care?” Eric asked. “If vampires were to return to their former ways, recklessly killing each other for territory and jealousy, wouldn’t the Fae stand to benefit?”
“Yes,” Niall chuckled, “you would think so. But things have changed. If vampires are allowed to be seen as vicious creatures that need to be imprisoned or eliminated, the persecution that would follow would soon envelop other Supernaturals as well. Weres and shifters would be next and with each removal of magic from this realm, the Fae would be weakened. At some point, someone will tell about us and we will find ourselves in the crosshairs of whatever zealot feels the need to cleanse the world of our contagion. It will be as it was before in the early days of the Christian God, but now, instead of the righteous hunting us with pitchforks and torches they will use satellite imagery and DNA scans.”
“So why not ask the Pythoness to name Finn her successor? He would walk in her shadow but from what you say, it would only be a brief time. She would find her rest and he would be where you wish him.”
“And you think that would be accepted?” Niall sneered. “He has sat here among you too long. He would be challenged at every turn. No, Finn’s rise will come with a new order.”
“Do you hear yourself, old friend?” Eric shook his head. “You talk like every maniac clawing for power from the dawn of time. ‘Your day of reckoning is at hand! Follow me and I will save you!’ What will be the price you demand for saving this time? Subjugation? Bowing to the Fae?”
“Survival!” Niall hissed. “Think, Northman! If one goes, we all go. I have no grand desire to rule the world. I only wish for a place in it for me and my people!”
“What’s to keep me from letting the Pythoness know about Finn?” As soon as Eric said it, he knew the answer.
“Aye,” Finn nodded, “Himself will tell the Pythoness about the Princess. The old crone won’t care who it is she grabs, and someone who is immortal but not a vampire would be preferred. Sookie is neither fish nor fowl. She is supernatural but not truly one of any single species. It would be easy to position her as the neutral choice.”
Eric hissed at the Prince, “You would do that? She would be taken from me and you know that can’t happen.”
“It is likely you would be separated, yes, but my Granddaughter now knows how to suppress the effects of the bond between you. I had her taught that skill this afternoon and Tamsin informs me she was a star pupil. Your life tie remains in place. Who knows? The Pythoness may require that you be brought to live under her rule as a safeguard for my Granddaughter’s life,” and the Prince’s smile was cruel. “I don’t think that would suit you, Viking, living wrapped up and locked away.”
“How could you think it would suit Sookie, either?” Eric asked.
“I don’t,” the Prince confirmed, “So do the right thing and allow this to play out as it should. I promise you, I have no intention of toppling governments or rallying armies to some banner. I merely wish our voice to carry weight and our rights and protections to be preserved.” The Prince moved a piece on the board that remained between them, “After all, isn’t that the reason you launched yourself and my Granddaughter into the public eye, to preserve your protections and safety? What I propose is no different, just on a larger scale.”
Eric forced himself to focus on the board between them, “You intend to make the presence of the Fae public, then?”
“Not exactly,” Niall leaned back, “Oh, but look at the time. You are a credit to your race, Northman. Do we have an accord?”
“I will say nothing of Finn,” Eric nodded.
“I would not have chosen you as my good son,” the Prince stood up, “I would not have thought it possible for a vampire to put another who was not its Maker first. You have proven me wrong. You do my Granddaughter credit. I have trusted you in lesser things. I believe I can trust you in more.” Niall waved his hand and the pressure that had protected their conversation evaporated. The Prince bowed slightly, “I will look forward to seeing you in a few hours.” As he walked through the door, others entered carrying paints and pots.
Eric stood, his arms out-stretched while symbols were painted on the clean planes of his body. Some he recognized, but many he didn’t. Finn stepped forward, helping in robing. “You agree with this?” Eric asked him.
“It is a future that will allow great things,” Finn nodded. Eric wondered what it was that wasn’t being said.
This first ceremony would be the joining of King to Princess. Eric stood on the shores of the lake. Around him the Fae stood with torches in hand. Sandy Seacrest and Thalia stood beside him. Finn was there too, but standing at some little distance. It wasn’t that Eric trusted the Nebraska vampire less than before; instead it was that there was simply too much that was unknown. Eric could smell the food and drink that awaited them. Their handfasting would be followed by a banquet.
The night was clear and the moon was just rising. There was no sound other than the soft lapping of water on the shore. Somewhere a fish jumped. Eric stood tall. He had been dressed in soft pants and tall boots. A warm shirt that was richly embroidered in a style from another time hid the markings that had been painted on him. A long, rich coat that was almost a cape swayed around him in the slight breeze. The crown of his combined kingdoms rested lightly on his brow.
They seemed to have been waiting for some time when he felt her. From across the water there came the sound of a harp. It was a simple string of notes and the sound of it echoed. Eric turned to see a fairy step forward with a harp balanced against her hip and she answered the notes. Two more times the refrain was played, a question from the water and an answer from the shore. Although there was no change in the temperature, a mist appeared on the water’s surface. It gathered and thickened. Eric remained facing the waters and soon was rewarded by the glow of torches that he knew signaled the approach of the prow that carried Sookie to him.
The Fae on the shore began singing. Eric smiled. If there was one thing you could count on, it was the Fae knowing how to make the most of a moment. They all seemed to be musical and the sound of their voices rose and fell, weaving melody and harmony. Eric wondered if he should ask Niall how this particular gift had managed to skip his wife. He had heard Sookie sing and only the most generous person could call it pleasing.
The flat-bottomed boat slid to a stop on the sandy bottom and Eric stepped onto it, walking forward until he stood before her. She was dressed in another of those filmy fairy dresses, long, pointed sleeves and trailing skirts. She wore the necklace and crown that she had worn to their pledging. Eric frowned. The jewels still glowed, but they seemed different.
In the next moment, Sookie smiled at him and everything else stilled as he was captured by her. It didn’t matter how many times he stood before her or how many years passed. He would see in her smile that first time she met him at Fangtasia, that night he picked glass from her body in Dallas, the evening she lay beneath him on the hood of his car, the time in her home he braided her hair and she welcomed his calling her his wife, the moment she opened her eyes at Sanctum and claimed him as her own. “Mine!” he said, the answer to every wish he had, and he lifted his hand to touch her face.
“Yours,” she replied, and his Sookie lifted her hand to rest inside his own. Eric led her toward shore and then lifted her up, lightly flying them both to land. Although they still sang, Eric could feel the approval from the Fae around them. They appreciated any display of magic and flying was something unique.
The pathway through the woods was marked with torches. It was too early in the year for fireflies, and yet the trees seemed to be full of soft, glowing lights. The party arrived in a clearing that was surrounded with tables and chairs. Candles burned and everywhere was the dull glow of gold. The forks and knives were gold. The plates were gold. The cloths that covered the tables and drifted from tree limbs were gold. Eric and Sookie walked forward until they stood in the center of the circle made by the banqueting tables, to the place where Niall and Dermot awaited them. Finn continued to walk across the clearing, then returned with the fairy sword he had carried at the pledging. Thalia stepped to Eric’s side. He turned to see she held his broadsword upright before her.
At Niall’s glance, the song that had drifted soft as a whisper fell silent. “It has been many ages since a member of my house was joined in a formal alliance. We are pleased that our Granddaughter, a Princess of our people, will be joined to Eric, the North Man, in this way.” Eric fought to keep his face neutral. It was just like the Prince to throw in a reminder of what he viewed as their unequal status.
The Prince turned to Sookie, “My daughter, do you consent to this?”
Sookie tilted her chin up, “Yes,” she answered, her voice strong and sure.
The Prince turned to Eric, “Do you, Northman, swear to honor this alliance with my house? Do you swear to keep the peace between us and fulfill the covenants of our treaty? Will you respect and defend the daughter who stands as a living bond between us?”
“I will honor my word and I will cherish the gift your Granddaughter has given me by consenting to be mine,” Eric bowed briefly.
Niall nodded, and Eric turned to Thalia, holding his hands out. The smaller vampire laid his blade across his hands and then Eric turned to Sookie. The approved form was to lay the sword across her hands, but instead he fell to one knee and lifted it to her. “Accept my sword, Princess, and the protection of my body with it. There is neither line nor life between us. We are one.”
There were murmurs of approval as Sookie smiled and lifted his blade. She handed the great sword to Dermot and then took the fairy blade from Finn’s hand. Turning back to Eric, she lay that blade across his palms. “You are of my house,” she said the traditional words carefully.
Eric stood up and lifted the sword so he could kiss the blade. “I swear this will hold a place of honor in our home. It will be an heirloom of our line,” and then Eric handed the blade back to her. Niall stepped behind Sookie and unclipped her heavy necklace.
“Eric the North Man, I give you this necklace which carries the blessings of the first Fae. It has been an heirloom of our house and those who wear it are given the gift of good fortune. I charge you to pass this to the one who will bring the next leaf to our tree.”
Eric bowed and accepting the necklace, handed it to Sandy Seacrest for safe-keeping. A gold scarf was brought forward and the sword taken from Sookie’s hands. Niall held up a jeweled dagger. It resembled the dagger Eric had used in Rhodes to bond with Sookie the first time. His wife held out her arm and Eric held out his own. Niall’s movements were swift and their arms were brought together so the blood met between them. Then their wrists were tied with a knot of power. Niall rested his hand on the knot and chanted words in the Fae tongue. Eric could feel Sookie’s blood jumping within him. It wasn’t uncomfortable but was enough to remind him how much his wife was now a part of him.
Niall opened his arms and pulled Sookie close to him. He kissed her forehead in benediction. Then he turned to Eric and opened his arms. In all the ages Eric had known Niall, the Fae Prince had never willingly touched him. Eric leaned down a little and Niall wrapped his arms around the Viking’s shoulders. “Blood of my blood,” the Fae said.
“Should I call you Papa?” Eric whispered in Niall’s ear and as he straightened said in a louder voice, “I am honored.” Niall’s lips stretched in his best political smile and he raised the bound hands of the couple. There was a cheer and music started while those assembled moved toward the waiting tables.
Thalia untied their hands, her actions quick and purposeful. It took longer than it had taken to weave the knot. Beside them, Dermot said, “A good omen. It should be harder to separate you than to bring you together.”
“When does the rest happen?” Sookie asked him. She was nibbling her lower lip and Eric could feel her nervousness.
“Later, when the moon is directly overhead,” he told her. He led her to the head table where Dermot and Niall were already seated. Thalia was seated at the table just to their right and Eric nudged Sookie so she could watch those Fae nearest the small vampire shifting their chairs away, making Thalia laugh. Blood was placed in front of Eric while another Fae set cheeses and fine bread in front of Sookie. When the telepath didn’t eat, Eric asked, “Aren’t you hungry?”
“Everything here tastes odd,” she shrugged. She glanced at the mead in front of her and grinned, “Though I guess you’d like to taste that.”
“I have made arrangements for your travel back to Louisiana in two days,” Niall interrupted.
“I have already booked a charter flight for tomorrow,” Eric frowned. “While we appreciate your hospitality, we have obligations. There are meetings that are awaiting our return.”
“It is Beltane and you have been chosen,” Niall scowled. “You would expect my Granddaughter to travel tomorrow? You would not allow her a day to rest?”
“Your Granddaughter is sitting right here and I’m fine leaving tomorrow,” Sookie snapped. “If I have a problem I’ll be happy to speak up, thank you very much!”
“Perhaps it has been too long and you have forgotten your obligation to our Gods,” Niall continued as if Sookie hadn’t spoken.
Eric flinched. It was a low blow and the Prince knew it. To be chosen as Lord and Lady meant they were expected to sleep late the next day and then remain quiet and out of sight until the following night. It was a time of reflection and thanks for the return of the sun. “I honor my Gods still. A day of rest is acceptable,” Eric heard himself say.
“What the hell, Eric?” Sookie said out loud, and then caught herself. She took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sorry. You surprised me, is all. I know you’ll explain it to me later.” Eric nodded to his wife, acknowledging her attempt to save face. In the past she wouldn’t have hesitated to lose her temper, accusing him of all sorts of ill intent regardless of the many ears surrounding them. Sookie had changed. She was still fiery and quick to speak, but she was now his ally. Eric locked eyes with the Prince wondering if Niall understood that in any contest, his Granddaughter would side with her husband. Instead he saw the smug look of satisfaction on the old Fae’s face and found he was annoyed again.
Tamsin spoke up from her seat next to Finn, “I can arrange to be in Bon Temps the third week of every month. That would allow us time to focus on your training.”
“I would like my Granddaughter to receive training with a sword as well,” Niall added. “It is part of her heritage. She should develop some proficiency.”
Thalia replied, “The Mistress has demonstrated a natural talent, and a quickness that is unexpected. If she is able to combine that with her Fae skills, she will make a worthy adversary.”
“Thanks, Thalia!” Sookie smiled brightly, shooting Niall her ‘I told you so’ face. When she turned to Eric, so pleased with herself, he smiled back, but he couldn’t stop thinking of the conversation he had earlier with the Fae Prince. Niall’s request that Sookie learn defensive skills suggested that Niall was convinced the troubles in their future would require more than harsh words and legal battles.
“I will see to it,” Eric nodded. Sookie stilled beside him, sensing his uneasiness so he grinned to lighten his mood. “There is something about the idea of you handling sharp weapons that gives me ideas,” he purred and was rewarded with her quick blush. He turned back to Niall, “I also understand you are sending Sookie livestock.”
“A horse,” the Prince confirmed. “Yes, I will arrange for it to be delivered. The Fae have an affinity for horses.”
“So I have been informed,” Eric said dryly, nodding his head. A horse on the premises would require someone to be there every day. It was a commitment and a certain draw for his wife to visit more than once a month. “I am making arrangements for the extra housing we agreed upon. I will ask that the builders add a barn to house the animal.” Sookie was eyeing him again so he reached over to press her knee under the table. There would be plenty of time to dissect this when they were not on display.
While they spoke servants continued placing various dishes before his wife. An artfully crafted bouquet of candied violets and roses made by dipping the blooms in sugar syrup was presented. Sookie was impressed and when she tried one, he could feel her pleasure. The Prince noticed it too and soon there was a parade of enticing sweets. Eric noticed Dermot offering her something that looked like baklava. Eric had seen it in the Middle East. He heard Dermot describing how their chefs alternated rosewater and orange flower water to paint the layers of pastry. Sookie had never shown much of a sweet tooth and Eric suspected there was some type of spell or push just under the sugary disguises. He could feel her relaxing and he was thinking about how to warn her when bells sounded.
“Oh!” Sookie laughed, “We’re supposed to kiss!” and she turned her flushed face to his. Her joy was infectious and he found himself smiling. She sipped from her goblet and rewarded him with the flavor of mead on her tongue. There was something in the honey wine that exploded across his tongue and he felt his cock twitch. He suspected the wine had been laced with Fae blood or something that had similar properties. He looked up to see Niall watching him, his eyes hooded.
“I expect you have a grove here,” Eric said, anxious for an acceptable excuse for both he and Sookie to escape the table and the traps that seemed to appear with every smile.
Dermot answered, “We do. Would you like to visit it?”
Eric looked at the moon. It was almost time, “Yes, before the ceremony begins. I would ask my Gods’ blessing.” He looked at Sookie, “Would you come with me, wife?” He could feel her question, but she just nodded her head. Dermot led them away from the banquet and the lights to a clearing in the woods. There was a beaten path that led around a single oak. Trailing cloth and bits of glass and shell hung from the oak’s branches. Eric wished he had brought an offering. Beside him, Sookie stilled and then walked forward, her hand extended. She set her hand against the great truck and Eric could see a glow forming under her palm. She sighed and closed her eyes, a slight smile playing over her face. Eric had never seen her look so Fae.
“Ask for her blessing,” Eric said. Sookie turned around and he could see her confusion. He realized she was acting on instinct. “Please, Lover. Do as I say.” His wife nodded and placed her hand against the tree again, her head bowed and her eyes closed. Whatever she asked, the light that had been under her hand seemed to grow, glowing up the rough bark and shimmering among the leaves. Eric didn’t know what it meant, but he hoped that his Gods had heard him and this was an auspicious sign.
The woods behind them had grown quiet and Eric could see the moon almost overhead. “Come, Sookie. It is time.” He didn’t need a guide. He could smell the fires. Taking her by the hand, he led his wide-eyed wife to the clearing. There were five bonfires here and the Fae danced around them. From time to time, someone would leap through the flames, landing on the other side to the cheers of his fellows. When Eric led her to the center of the clearing, the Fae stopped their revelry to crowd around them. Dermot and Niall approached, their garments white and shining like stars. Niall raised his arms and the whole host turned their faces to the sky. Eric watched as tendrils of moonlight reached down from the night sky, gathering to bath each Fae in silvery light. Sookie turned her face skywards as well and it was as though she was collecting the starlight. Her dress glowed and her crown winked and pulsed. Tamsin approached and removed the crown from Sookie’s head. She slipped the dress from over his wife’s shoulders. He thought Sookie would protest, but she didn’t. A crown of flowers was placed on her head and her hair was fanned over her bare arms. She was left in the thinnest of slips and Eric could see that Sookie’s body had been covered with symbols and runes.
Finn stepped behind him and stripped him down to his trousers and boots. The symbols on his chest and arms glowed in the light. Niall was offering a goblet of mead to Sookie and she drank willingly, her eyes soft and glazed. Finn held out a crown of ivy and Eric took it, setting it on his head. Someone was beating a drum and Sookie swayed just a little.
Dermot stepped forward and said, “It is to the east, Viking. Look for the lights. When dawn approaches the doors of the hold will be open and there will be guides waiting to show you the way.” Eric nodded his thanks, and picking up his wife, launched into the air.
Niall stood over the bed staring down at his Granddaughter and Northman. He chuckled, remembering Northman’s offer to call him ‘Papa.’ Being related to the vampire might not be such a bad thing.
The guards had come to where the Prince had been waiting immediately after leading the vampire back to his chamber. Niall had not been worried that the vampire would miss the cut-off. Vampires could always sense the turn of the day. Of course, there was the possibility that the inducements provided would have distracted Northman enough that he would have had to bury himself in the ground. Niall suppressed a chuckle, thinking of the man stretched out before him wriggling into the earth like a worm.
They had not showered before collapsing on the bed, and Niall could smell dirt and damp and the mixed smells of sex. Sookie had dirt smears on her face but he couldn’t see blood or bite marks anywhere on her body. It was another reason to like the vampire.
The guards reported that Northman had landed from the sky with Sookie in his arms. His Granddaughter was sleeping soundly and both were skyclad. Niall leaned over the still forms, sniffing delicately. It would be a full day before any conclusions could be reached, but sometimes the signs were there right away.
Niall took his time, careful in his movements. There was no chance the vampire would wake but his Granddaughter was another matter. Tamsin had told him of Sookie’s reaction earlier. His Granddaughter and managed to transport herself across the room, not an easy skill. Sookie’s drive to defend the vampire was strong. It would probably be many months before she could master the ability, but when motivated, she had proven she had the gift. He thought of how his Granddaughter had behaved tonight, ignoring opportunities to open Northman to criticism, forming a united front. It would seem she had the skill to be a Queen as well.
After a few minutes, Niall shook his head and transported himself to the small room where he knew Dermot was waiting. “It is not certain, but I do not believe it was successful. There is something missing,” Niall sat heavily into the chair, “Some catalyst. Every ingredient was in place, every nuance observed, but it needed…”
“A spark,” Dermot said gloomily.
“A spark,” Niall agreed. “So, we plan for the next opportunity. I will summon the brownie. She can take Northman’s teeth before they leave. That will give the facility enough time to isolate his DNA and prepare it for cloning.”
Dermot nodded, “I wish there was another way.”
“But there isn’t,” Niall snapped. “Now all the signs point clearly to the next step. We must allow it to unfold.”
“I will have Finn invite Thalia here,” Dermot sighed.
“She will be wondering why I asked her to attend. Now she will find out.”
Dermot picked at the arm of his chair, “We can show her and ask her help. But if she refuses?”
“We have the Britlingen kill her,” Niall said quickly, “We have been over this.”
“Yes, Father,” Dermot sighed. “To kill Thalia would satisfy the test. You could send Aife back without paying a penalty.”
“On the other hand, if the vampire agrees, the penalty I pay the Britlingen will be well worth the ends, don’t you agree?”
Dermot stared into the contents of his cup. He had such high hopes, but as the evening progressed, he could tell nothing had changed. Sighing he said, “You may find you have a harder time attracting another Britlingen when the time is right.”
“Don’t be foolish, Son,” Niall smirked. “Britlingens look for honor and money. I offer both,” and Niall twirled the gold goblet between his fingers.
The evening sky was clear and the moon rising. Eric thought of how the moon had sent down its light in spidery swaths to wrap the Fae. It was a sight he would remember for the rest of his existence. The cars were all assembled in the wide driveway of Finn’s residence.
“I will send an invitation for next month,” Finn was telling Sandy. “I had not realized your husband hunted.”
“You realize now that you’ve shown your face, Zeus Clan won’t want you to step back into retirement. You can expect to hear from Stan soon. He’s looking for strong allies and he’s been bringing up your name.” Sandy kept one eye on her luggage while she spoke. She would be driving to Denver and flying directly to Oklahoma tonight.
“Of course I would consider any offer from my Clan Chief,” Finn said agreeably, “but I find that the excitement of these past few months makes me yearn for the quiet of the woods. I don’t know how you manage to keep up with all the meetings and scheming,” and he winked.
Eric could read between the lines. Finn would return to his semi-retirement, keeping his secret safe. He wondered if the vampire struggled with visions the way Sookie struggled with protecting herself against the intrusion of others’ thoughts. Sandy walked close, “Northman, can I have a word?”
They stepped away from the cars and Sandy brought her head close to talk in a quick whisper-hiss designed to prevent eavesdropping. “I will see you in Lafayette next week. We can tack the wind farm expansion plans onto your existing meetings.”
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?” Eric asked.
Sandy shook her head. “Thierry is a credit to you, Northman. If I’d known how clever he was, I would have tried to take him myself.”
“You would have found him to be a handful,” Eric smirked. “He is clever, but perhaps too clever for his own good. He requires constant challenges.”
“You know he is playing with Nabila?” Sandy asked.
Eric nodded, “They are discreet, but yes. Thalia is well informed of the comings and goings.”
Thalia stepped from the shadows. She had visited with Niall yesterday evening. Eric had found her in the Fae hold and they had traveled back to Finn’s together. She had not told him the purpose of the meeting other than to sneer at Fae scheming, but Eric could see she was troubled. “It would seem you are well informed. Perhaps your placement of spies extends beyond Nevada.” Sandy’s eyebrows lifted, but Eric knew she would have been surprised had he not shared that information with his second.
“Spies are a useful tool,” Sandy replied as easily as if she was commenting on the price of bread. “I invested in the Carolinas. After all, there is all that money!” She smiled at Eric, “I look forward to seeing you again. Let me go say goodbye to your Queen,” and Sandy Seacrest walked back to the limos.
“She didn’t say whether she had spies within our borders,” Thalia said flatly.
“Did you expect she would?” and Eric grinned. It was good to be vampire.
As they drove the short distance to Chadron Airport, Sookie sighed again. “What is it, Lover?” Eric traced the symbol on her exposed arm. The Fae had used woad and ink and it was clear it would be many weeks, maybe a month before the markings would entirely fade.
“I’m pretty sure I won’t be seeing Grandfather or Dermot again for a long time. They both made a pretty big production of saying goodbye.”
Eric nodded, “Will you find that a hardship?”
Sookie pursed her lips, “No, I guess not. Grandfather shows up and creates all kinds of havoc and I wish he’d leave, but now? I know it sounds silly, but I’ll miss him all over again. When I think of that Fae wedding thing? It was like some pretty dream.”
“There are legends that those who go to the fairy realm are captured and never return. They say that those who escape are changed and find themselves filled with a great yearning.” Eric smiled at his wife, “Do you feel that way? Would you live your life singing and dancing through great stone halls?”
“Singing?” Sookie snorted. “Give me a half hour and the only person left in those stone halls would be me! Besides,” and she snuggled into his side, burrowing her head against him until he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, “I only have so much yearning to go around, and right now, Mr. Northman, you have it all.”
In typical Sookie fashion, she sighed once, closed her eyes and relaxed against him. He smiled as he felt her slip into sleep. Her mouth opened and she made the slightly nasal sound that meant she would be full-on snoring soon. Eric chuckled. It was all the singing he needed.