Author’s Note: Thank you for reading. I hope my version of pledging meets with your approval. Thanks to Breathesgirl and to Ms Buffy. Your time and willingness to help my momentum is much appreciated!
And thank you to the incomparable Sephrenia for my lovely banner!
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.
“Good thing you took my advice and got extra sleep.” Twy was standing behind Sookie, examining her as closely as a gold digger scrutinizing suspect gems. “Extra bags under your eyes just can’t be covered! I don’t care how much makeup you use!” She looped her finger under Sookie’s chin and angled the telepath’s face so she could see the texture of her cheek. “Although, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you had some kind of dermal abrasion or special spa treatment. Your skin is actually glowing.” She released Sookie’s chin and stalked away to terrorize another part of the room.
When Sookie looked in the mirror she saw Devrah giving her a knowing look. Sookie shrugged. It wasn’t up to her to tell Twy about the restorative qualities of vampire blood although she did find herself looking more closely. It had been the word ‘glowing’ that caught her attention. In her past with Bill she had taken so much of his blood that she found herself close to turning a time or two. While she and Eric were usually careful, they had been reckless last night. Their time in the cemetery was foolish, wonderful, and just thinking about it made Sookie’s lady parts twitch. Of course, she told herself, if she hadn’t sipped as much as she did, tired eyes would be the least of her worries. They raced the sun to return to the hotel. No sooner had they stripped the clothing from each other than Eric was stumbling and drowsy, the trigger of sunrise catching him. He barely made it to the bed in time. He whispered, “Tonight,” and he was gone, lost in slumber. He would call it his day death, but Sookie couldn’t bring herself to think of it that way.
Two women armed with makeup brushes scuttled her way, their expressions carrying the mark of Twy. For over an hour Sookie was pummeled, lotioned, and stretched under Twy’s commanding eye. While the telepath might not look exhausted, inside she was yawning plenty, too tired to offer much fight. Fortunately, Devrah had decided to check in on her. The housekeeper took one long look at the browbeating that was going on and planted herself between Sookie and pretty much everything the thin stick of a woman threw their way. Twy tried bullying, coddling, and even sweet talking. Nothing moved the housekeeper. From that point forward, each treatment had to be approved by Devrah before anyone laid a hand on ‘the Princess.’ Twy even sent Sonder to try and talk sense into them, but the girl hadn’t made much effort. Truth be told, Sookie was pretty sure the assistant sided with Devrah and after a short time, Twy dismissed her in disgust.
Sookie knew she owed her housekeeper. With one roll of her eyes, Devrah changed the plans for the elaborate and painfully complicated design Twy approved for the telepath’s hair. Instead of braids and combs, she wore something upswept but simply elegant. It required fewer pins and less time exposed to hot irons and hairspray. Sookie trusted Devrah to make sure her makeup wouldn’t look like a circus clown. Sookie wanted to look like her own best self.
As the women worked on her eyes, Sookie felt the fluttering and then the warmth that meant Eric had risen. “Good morning, Sweetie,” she murmured, then realized with a start that she’d spoken the words out loud. Sookie glanced in the mirror, meeting Devrah’s gaze. “Eric,” she explained. “He’s up.”
The housekeeper smiled broadly and as Sookie looked at her own reflection, it hit her. She was getting married! It wasn’t some odd request that she didn’t understand like the last pledging. She was doing this with eyes wide open and her smile grew so wide it stretched the corners of her mouth and made her cheeks hurt. ‘Sure ain’t like the last time,’ the thought just sprang into her head and then her smile faltered. It wasn’t her pledging at Fangtasia that she was picturing. It was her marriage to Sam Merlotte.
She remembered being in her Gran’s room at the house on Hummingbird Road. She was sitting on the little seat in front of the vanity mirror. Michele, Jason’s wife, had been pinning the short veil into her hair and Bernie, Sam’s mother, had stepped outside for a cigarette. Sookie remembered how her hands couldn’t stay still. She caught herself clutching the skirt of her dress, wrinkling it, and tried to force her hands to sit flat on her thighs. She had taken a deep breath, focusing on the woman in the mirror, but her nervousness caught her again and again. She wondered if everyone could see what a hot mess she was.
Sookie recalled with perfect clarity Michele’s words that day. Her sister-in-law was standing behind her like Devrah was now and she asked, “Sookie, are you sure about this? You just don’t look like a blushing bride.”
Sookie remembered how she pushed her doubts aside, telling Michele that it was just nerves. She told her sister-in-law what a fine man Sam was and how lucky she was that he wanted to marry her, all things considered.
Then there had been that moment when she and Jason stood in the church entryway waiting for the signal. She remembered how she looked at the door that opened into the church and how all she really wanted to do was turn around and run away. Jason held her hand so tight that morning, Sookie thought her fingers must have turned blue.
Today was not like that day. Sookie was happy from the second her eyes opened. She had trouble eating, but not because of a sinking feeling in her stomach. She couldn’t eat because she was so happy she worried she would burst with it. Every beam of light seemed special. Sounds were more musical today. She laughed spontaneously for no other reason than she was truly joyful.
Now, feeling Eric, she found her joy compounded. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to feel just him. She could tell he was searching for her. She knew when he found her note. She could feel his relief and resignation. Each feeling, each sensation drifted through her, a symphony as eloquent as any musical composition. ‘How did you ever not love this?’ she wondered. But she knew the answer. She had fought these feelings. She had convinced herself that the way Eric Northman unsettled her was a bad thing, that it eroded her control of herself and her life.
Sookie looked back at the woman who looked at her from the mirror. Her face was not so different but there was something in her eyes that changed everything. ‘In the end, all I needed to do was give him everything to win everything,’ she thought, and she had not one minute’s doubt. The woman looking at her was a winner.
Pam walked in just as Sookie’s makeup was finished. The blond, pale vampire was wearing an elegant gown that seemed to cascade in wave upon wave. It was deeper in color than blush but cooler than carnation and it complimented Pam’s skin tone perfectly. Sookie caught her eye and held up her hand, turning it so the pink tennis bracelet caught the light, “Well hey!” the telepath greeted the vampire.
“Well, hey yourself,” Pam smiled, dropping fang. “You look almost good enough to be pledged.”
Sookie couldn’t keep the goofy grin from breaking out again. She figured she’d get serious once she was standing under all those lights in the ballroom, but for now, she was one big mush ball. “You’re not going to give me any last minute advice are you?” Sookie was referring to the time she had pledged to Eric without really understanding what it meant. Pam had cautioned her to handle the velvet pouch that held the ceremonial knife with care. “You going to remind me not to fling things or accidentally stab the Pythoness?” and then Sookie snorted. It was so unexpected that she did it again. Devrah laughed out loud and Pam smiled. From across the room Twy turned, the phone plastered to her ear, and shot the telepath a look that dripped venom. Sookie snorted so loud that she had to grab a tissue.
“You are just giddy, Baby Girl,” Devrah smiled.
“I’m getting married… or pledged… or whatever the hell this is,” Sookie giggled, “and when it’s over I get to keep Eric Northman for two hundred years! Damn! From where I’m sitting, I’m the luckiest girl in the whole world!”
“Let’s give it a hundred years and see if you’re still feeling that way,” Pam shook her head. “I’ve seen how he picks up after himself. And there is that thing he does when he thinks…”
“Oh!” Sookie giggled, “You mean the low level rumble?” and she did a reasonable imitation.
Pam laughed, “Yeah, that’s the one. Sounds like he’s grinding rocks.”
“Well, that’s pretty easy to take,” Sookie smiled, “Most fellas have worse habits. He doesn’t crack his knuckles or fart.”
“That’s true,” Devrah laughed, “I never seen him pick his teeth or any other part of his body.”
“He doesn’t burp and you don’t have to remind him to shower. He never smells bad!” Sookie turned so she could face Pam who was sitting on a nearby chair.
“It’s true,” Pam shrugged, a smile playing across her features, “for a vampire he is pretty conservative. He doesn’t insist on dragging those he’s torturing to the dinner table. No showing off his trophies,” Pam continued. “But he does have an unfortunate tendency to gloat when he gets the best of someone.”
“True,” Sookie grinned, “But he has that amazing ass! A girl can forgive a lot of gloating for an ass like that!”
“Well,” Pam drawled, “Promise me you won’t allow yourself to get too ass-struck. My Maker needs to be taken down a peg or two on a regular basis and I wouldn’t mind lending a helping hand from time to time. It’s not that I’m mean,” and she examined her fingernail polish, “it’s for his own good.”
Sookie shook her head, “And how do you figure?”
“Well,” Pam told her as if it were the most reasonable thing, “his ego can inflate his head until it’s just too big to fit through doors. If someone doesn’t stick a pin in him from time to time I think he’d be in actual pain. Think how upset he’d be if he couldn’t fit in that pretty car you got him? I’m just performing a civic duty. I think you’d call it a good Christian act.”
“Sounds like the kind of Christian act that could get parts of you cut off,” Devrah said dryly. “I heard you were the one that circulated the picture of the King in that apron. How did you do that anyway? You get someone to photoshop his head on that body?”
Sookie laughed, “Oh my God, Pam! You shared that?” When Devrah looked up in surprise, Sookie nodded, “When we were together in Jackson, Eric decided he would learn how to cook. I asked him to wear an apron so he wouldn’t ruin his clothes,” and Sookie found herself blushing hot and fast. It hadn’t been clothes that had prompted the suggestion. Eric was naked and trying to fry eggs. Sookie told him he’d burn his Gracious Plenty and he laughed at her, but took her advice. Sookie turned back to Pam, “I thought that picture was private.”
“Oh don’t be silly!” Pam waved her hand, “Something that good deserved to be shared with the world. You’ve seen the magazines! The public wants to know ‘Who is Eric Northman’! I figured at least the monarchs deserved to see the real man, the private man.” Pam punctuated the last catch phrases with air quotes but she dropped her hands as Twy marched back.
“We should have some photographs taken now,” the publicist turned event planner bossed. “I know it’s not traditional for a pledging, but I think having a few shots with the three of you together might be a nice remembrance.” She looked at Pam and her face softened, “Eric-in-an- apron was a classic shot. I have a copy on my desktop.” Pam smiled in return and Sookie had the impression that the on again/off again relationship between Pam and Twy was currently in the on position.
Everyone agreed and the photographs were staged around the mirror. Sookie’s suspicions about the state of Pam’s relationship were confirmed when Pam had a couple shots taken of herself with Twy, just the two of them together.
There were champagne toasts that included Royalty for Pam and then the bag holding the dress was unzipped. Sookie found she was just as awestruck by the fairy princess gown. The dress seemed almost alive, shimmering in the light and Sookie swore she saw colors appearing and disappearing on the skirt as it was removed from the bag. “Leave it to the Fae,” Pam breathed. “I wouldn’t mind having one of these!” She turned to Sookie, “Now that we’re going to be related, you don’t suppose they’d be willing to make me clothing?”
Devrah smirked, “You don’t think you’re a little past playing Fairy Princess?”
Pam flashed the housekeeper a toothy smile, “No girl is ever too old to play Fairy Princess!”
Devrah picked up the dress, moving her fingers to best help in sliding the fabric home without disturbing Sookie’s hair or streaking makeup. “I know what you’re saying,” she sighed. “It’s like a dream against my fingers.”
Pam stroked the silk, “There is magic sewn into it. I can feel it,” she sighed. The underdress had tight sleeves that needed to be worked carefully up Sookie’s arms. For a minute Sookie panicked, thinking the dress wouldn’t fit, but then the sleeves seemed to breathe out, getting loose, then breathe in so that they now hugged her but didn’t bind. Once everything was straight, the overdress was lowered. It whispered against the silk of the undergarment, flowing in soft folds and puddling around and behind the telepath.
When she turned to look at herself, Sookie felt her breath catch. The creature who stared back at her was gold and silver. She was beautiful and Sookie found herself looking hard to make sure that she could still see Sookie under the sheen. She wasn’t the only one feeling glamoured. As she glanced around her she caught Devrah’s admiring nod and Pam’s Cheshire Cat grin. It was in the open-mouthed admiration she saw on the beauticians and spa workers faces as they packed up to leave. It was in the tight, satisfied look Twy gave her. Sookie was transformed into the Fairy Princess that she was and even she had to admit it was something special.
After a moment Pam walked forward, the jewel cases in her hand. “I believe you are expected to wear these.” Sookie walked back to the mirrored table and sat down. The crown was first. Pam lifted it and the jewel winked and pulsed in the light. Devrah used combs that were on the table to secure it in place. The necklace was next. The large central stone nestled in its arms of platinum burning with a kaleidoscope of colors. “It’s not traditional,” Pam said quietly. “According to custom, you should be wearing your pledging gift. There may be some who won’t understand why you wouldn’t honor Eric by displaying the necklace he gave you.”
“Mr. Cataliades was real specific. He told me I had to be wearing this when I walked out,” and Sookie shrugged and then shivered.
“What is it?” Devrah asked, “You getting cold feet?”
Sookie looked up, her eyes showing how shocked she was by the suggestion, “Cold feet? My feet couldn’t be warmer! I just wish it was over.” She swallowed and looked at Pam, “Mr. Cataliades told me there was something else that would happen tonight. Something involving Finn and a demand my Grandfather made. He wouldn’t tell me what it was and it has me a little nervous is all.”
“Does Eric know?” Pam’s asked levelly.
Sookie nodded, “I told him. He said not to worry, that he has a pretty good idea it’s a kind of blood oath.” Sookie nodded again as if reassuring herself, and she guessed she was, “He told me Niall has an appreciation for the old ways. He said they understood each other and that I should relax,” and then the telepath laughed, “like that makes it any easier!”
Pam did look more relaxed, “If it’s what I think it is, Eric’s right and there’s nothing to worry about. Although,” and her mouth drew together, “these kinds of promises usually happen between the parties involved. It would have to be a pretty gutsy fairy to appear in a room full of vampires!” and Pam laughed. It was what Sookie needed to break the tension.
“I’m happy you’re my sister,” Sookie told the vampire, and in that moment she knew that she really did feel that way about Pam in all the ways that mattered.
Eric lifted the heavy velvet cape. It was a dark purple, so dark it almost looked black. The lining was white and there were bands of gold and green along the lower border, but not where people would notice. This was his ceremonial robe and the colors proclaimed his states. The day he became King the robe had been commissioned. A vampire King who sat as a judge at an Assizes Court or on a Tribunal would be expected to wear his robe. If he was holding formal Court in his own kingdom or traveling to the Court of a fellow monarch, the robe would be worn as well. There was one other formal occasion that required a monarch wear his or her robe, and tonight was that occasion. Eric Northman would be pledged in a ceremony reserved for monarchs.
Had circumstances been different, and Sookie Stackhouse not been accorded the status of Queen by the Ancient Pythoness, the pledging would have been conducted in a smaller meeting room. He could have worn his robe, but he would have been criticized for doing so. Robes were a mark of respect reserved for those who were deserving. A consort would not have ranked it. His Sookie did.
But nothing surrounding his telepath ever seemed to be uncomplicated, and yet another example was in his room now. Finn and Mr. Cataliades had arrived. When Sookie told Eric of her walk-through with the attorney, Eric knew Niall had something ancient in mind. What he did not anticipate were the measures the Prince was willing to take.
“You are sure that this Fae will be able to contain its scent?” Eric was determined that his ceremony not turn into a bloodbath.
Finn nodded, “The one sent is able to mask. There will be no problems.” The Nebraska King was dressed already. The pledging was the only order of business at tonight’s Summit and it was scheduled to start within hours. Eric was certain he understood the basics of what would transpire. Blood oaths were an ancient and binding promise, something warriors understood and honored.
What Eric hadn’t anticipated was that rather than use his own blood to seal the oath, Finn would open a portal allowing a member of the Fae Court to appear on the dais and complete the ritual. Mr. Cataliades assured the Viking that the unusual twist was cleared with the Ancient Pythoness. “It amused her,” the demon said lightly, “she laughed like a girl.” Eric noticed the attorney was not looking humored or pleased.
“Is there something about this you aren’t telling me?” Eric asked. He bared fang so the attorney realized if there were unpleasant surprises tonight there would be equally unpleasant consequences later.
The attorney smiled tightly and shook his head, “No, it’s just that requiring a Fae to appear here, even for this important a purpose, is asking quite a lot.” Mr. Cataliades sighed, “I’m sure that the reason the Prince asked this of his representative is because of the importance of the gesture.”
Thalia asked the question that everyone was thinking, “Who is he sending?” Thalia and Karin were both there to help Eric prepare. Thalia would stand behind him during the ceremony. Karin would stand with Pam near the contract, their presence signifying their acceptance and support of the arrangement. In some royal marriages the progeny were expected to sign their own contracts pledging support. There were even legends of progeny being expected to exchange blood with the respective spouse to ensure their loyalty to the marriage, but that wouldn’t happen tonight. Eric’s children would sign as witnesses and that would satisfy all parties.
“It would be Dermot,” Karin filled in the blank. “Niall accepted his child back, but he has never loved him.”
“You are correct,” Mr. Cataliades nodded slightly in Karin’s direction. “Dermot is his heir and currently sits on the throne. Niall is willing to risk him to make clear that Miss Stackhouse is his preferred choice.”
Finn rolled his eyes, “You’re in for it now, boyo!” he grinned at Eric. “The old fairy will be fair up your ass and your mate’s, as well! I could see him showing up in your bedroom and offering pointers.” Karin unexpectedly laughed and Eric sent her a quick shot of displeasure.
“Don’t be short with her,” Thalia correctly interpreted, “You had to have your breather, and I will admit, you are better with her. But this is the baggage that comes with the package. You will need to grow a thicker skin. There will be many vampires who will not see your alliance with the Fae as strength.”
Mr. Cataliades could see that although the King’s face was relaxed there was something in his eyes. When Eric spoke, Mr. Cataliades realized that his tenuous relationship with Eric Northman might be beyond salvage. “I want Sookie told that her uncle is coming. It won’t serve anyone’s interest to have her behave in a foolish fashion in front of the kingdoms.” The Viking’s eyes narrowed more, “You might have told her this. Surely it can’t serve anyone to have her win her position only to lose it again because she is surprised into acting too human.”
Mr. Cataliades quickly answered, “I did intend to tell her myself before the ceremony. Even I was not told it would be Dermot until tonight. The Prince was most cagey about it. All I knew was it was his intent that Fae blood be used to seal the oath.”
Thalia’s fangs dropped, “And we are certain that the Fae will be able to mask himself? Fresh Fae blood will be a siren song.” She looked sharply at Eric, “Even you might be unable to restrain yourself. It could go from blood bond to blood feud in a moment,” and she sharpened her gaze at the Nebraska King.
Finn held up his hands and used laughter to defuse the situation, “I swear to you they have become skilled at masking themselves! If they didn’t we couldn’t live as we do. I’ll grant you they have their territory and we avoid it by the terms of their lease, but they travel among us with some fair frequency and we’ve not had an accident yet.”
“But their blood?” Thalia asked.
“We hunt together,” Finn told her, “like in the old days. There are Weres who hunt with us too. Accidents happen. Bones are broken. Blood is spilt. Those Fae who haven’t mastered the skill are banned from it. They learn because if there’s one thing those creatures are keen to do, it’s riding down the deer and antelope that range on the land. Fair fierce hunters they are. Aye, and if there’s an occasional human who finds themselves running before them? Well, who am I to look too close at the doings of others?” Eric knew there were some among the Fae who preferred the taste of human flesh to all else. Usually those ones kept to the other side of the portal, but Finn’s remark made Eric wonder what exactly Niall was doing in Nebraska. The Viking viewed the trip he and Sookie would make to Finn’s kingdom with a mixture of annoyance and frustration. Now he added curiosity to the churn of emotions he experienced when he thought about his upcoming visit.
Eric started to draw the robe on and Karin rushed behind him to hold the weight of it as he slid his arms home. As his daughter lifted the garment to sit correctly across his shoulders, Finn continued, “We will follow the old form. The Prince thought you’d appreciate it. I will open the portal and Dermot will emerge. I will offer the token,” and Finn drew from his pocket a piece of amber that almost covered his palm.
Eric’s eyes fastened to the dome of gold that lay in Nebraska’s hand and he couldn’t help the smirk that accompanied the lift of his eyebrow . “The Prince wishes the bond to be performed on amber?” he asked. From behind him he heard the dry, hacking noise that was Thalia laughing.
Karin frowned, “Amber was used for healing in my day. What am I missing?”
“Amber was used by the women of the North as a talisman to promote pregnancy,” Thalia explained. She turned back to Eric, “I will be watching regardless, North Man. If this is some trick, I will be ready,” and she glanced at Finn, “to punish all those who would betray us.”
Finn laughed aloud then, “It is always a pleasure to be in the presence of the famous Thalia,” he chortled and bowed, “You live up to every part of your reputation!”
Eric’s eyes remained on the amber and he felt trapped by it. For a brief moment he could feel his freedom being stripped from him as surely as if Freyda had returned with Felipe at her back and his Maker’s contract grasped firmly in her bony fingers.
But then, he closed his eyes and opened their bond. He could feel her, somewhere in the hotel, and his lips lifted back in a smile. She had promised. She could honor this ceremony and there would be no more outbursts or denials. Sookie Stackhouse would freely give herself to him and she would acknowledge herself as his wife for the next two hundred years. In that moment, Eric knew all the rest of this noise meant nothing. “Mine!” the word sprang to his lips.
“You may find that the having is not as sweet as the wanting,” Thalia observed dryly and Eric opened his eyes to find himself alone in the room with only Thalia beside him. “It’s time,” she said.
Bill Compton sat at the bar, slowly twirling the stem of the martini glass back and forth between the palms of his hands. He watched the Royalty blood shift first to one side of the glass and then the other, the entire surface moving as if it was one solid whole. That was the beauty of Royalty, so little separation. He was sitting close, so close he had to allow his knees to fall slightly apart. He was wearing a new pair of Dockers and he wore a precisely starched and pressed white shirt. He rolled the sleeves up just one turn past the cuff and he unbuttoned just the top button. He was the only one here. Everyone else was moving toward the main ballroom to witness the pledging.
There would be a fancy ball afterwards, compliments of Bartlett Crowe, Clan Chief of Amun and his spouse, Russell Edgington of Mississippi. There were representatives from Narayana and Zeus Clans. Moshup would not attend. Nabila sent her regrets, but no one thought that unusual. The Carolina Queen was public about her proposal to join with Eric in a royal marriage and was willing to go so far as to offer Sookie open recognition as a partner in the arrangement. Had Nabila attended, it would have caused unnecessary speculation. Better to think the Queen felt slighted than worry that her presence signified some public retribution.
‘No one worries about my retribution,’ Bill though morosely. ‘No one thinks about what this means to me. How hurtful this is,’ and he lifted the glass and sipped. He couldn’t bring himself to stand among the others and watch his sweetheart as she pasted that painful smile on her face and tried to do her best. He couldn’t stand by and watch how vampires, a race he was now a part of, used her and condemned her to two hundred years of servitude! When he heard that the term had been doubled from its customary length he was torn between anguish and such sharp and bright hatred for Eric Northman that if he had had something sharp at hand the person telling him would have been finally dead.
This hatred of vampires had always been with him on some level. He had loved Caroline, his wife. He had loved his children. He had loved his life, living in their beautiful home in the Louisiana high country, not really a plantation but no sharecropper shack either. He had leisure time to read and learn. His wife played piano and was widely acknowledged as an accomplished hostess. He had left for the war because all men did and he had promised her he would return to her. It was vampires that turned him into a liar. Lorena seduced him away from his wife and then stole him away from his life. His Maker whom he loved and hated showed him he could never return without endangering all he valued. He would never again hold his Caroline without wishing more; her blood, her body. Lorena made him desire sex in all its variety, baring within him a desire to bend others to his will, sometimes damaging them along the way. Bill learned how to satisfy these baser needs, sometimes with prostitutes and sometimes with those not so willing.
Sookie could be his perfect mate. He had sensed it the first time he encountered her. The telepath was an assignment from the Queen in the days when he was still the Royal procurer. He remembered how she looked that night in Merlotte’s, her breasts straining against the tight t-shirt and her rounded ass filling out those short shorts. Of course, he’d seen her before. It was his job to determine the right approach and that required hours spent watching her from the woods surrounding her house, or following her as she drove to and from work, or chauffeuring her aged grandmother.
Bill smiled, remembering the first time he smelled her and realized that Sookie was still a virgin. He got so hard his cock ached. Had he not been under orders, he might have taken her then. Of course, that would have ruined things and he thanked the now dead Queen for restraining him from following the instincts Lorena has so assiduously drilled into him.
As he spent time with the telepath, he came to appreciate that there was a daring side to Sookie Stackhouse. In spite of her demure upbringing, she welcomed his darker appetites. That time he had gone to ground in the cemetery, hiding from those who killed Malcolm and his nest mates. Bill had emerged hungry and shaking with blood lust. He took her hard that night, and he could feel he hurt her, but she still held him. He carefully orchestrated their relationship, first demanding things of her, then dismissing her until she begged for his attention. She rose to each challenge, unconsciously and naturally performing as he wished. He knew then that she had all the makings of his perfect submissive.
There were other opportunities. He pushed her and each time she wept, but each time she forgave him, inviting him back into her arms. The time in the trunk of the car had been different, but by then Eric Northman had been there to cloud her mind and confuse her. The Viking took her away before Bill had a chance to explain and show her how her willingness would be rewarded. He may not have been able to feel her as strongly as he had before, but he didn’t doubt of her devotion. She came to find him. She killed Lorena for him. She was his.
Of course, Eric told her that he was watching out for her, that he cared about her, but Bill knew it was really about having her. Bill was a vampire. He knew how vampires worked. It was never about affection or love. Once you became a vampire that was no longer a part of you. The virus or contagion or whatever this was, it burned the ability to feel those emotions from you. It replaced all the kinder and gentler things with needs; the need to possess, the need to feed, the need to own, the need to inflict pain and then reward the tears that followed. It took a special person to be happy being possessed that way. Bill knew that Sookie Stackhouse was that person.
Any lingering doubts he had about her appetites were ended when he watched her marry Sam Merlotte. Bill knew the depth of Sam’s rage. Sam never hid it. Every relationship Sam had from the Maenad to Jannalyn had included an aspect of domination. Sookie knew him well and she stayed with him, even when Bill could smell the damage that had been inflicted on her. It made him by turns jealous and despairing, but he would not interfere. He was sure it was only a matter of time before the shifter left her. The way Sam bad-mouthed her around town made it inevitable. But then it hadn’t happened. Years passed and she stayed. When he saw her willingly wasting away, Bill had a moment of clarity when he realized that she would not be his. She would not be able to see past her hatred of vampires to the man that could give her more than Sam ever could.
Bill moved to Jackson. The Kings were happy to let him mourn his life on their plantation. If he dallied on the rough side of things they either didn’t know or didn’t care. He spent his nights writing. He wrote their story, his and Sookie’s, the way it should have been. He wrote about the passion they felt for each other and the ways they were able to fulfill their mutual needs. The Kings were intrigued, and they seemed to like him. He liked them too, even though they were vampires. They recommended him to a publishing friend of theirs and the rest was history. The success of the book gave Bill hope. People liked him. Not vampires. Real, human people. They read his story and they believed that a trans-species romance was possible, that a human woman could see the man behind the fang and embrace all of him.
Then, as clear as any sign there could be, Sookie arrived in Jackson. She was weak but Bill was assured she would to recover. Bill knew then it was destiny. They were meant to be together. He made a point of visiting her. He allowed her to eat in front of him, anxious for her to recover her strength and flesh. He showed her his book, the book he dedicated to her. It was like a fairy tale come true.
Bill should have known that vampires would interfere. Sookie was in a perfect place for her training to begin. She was quiet and compliant, but instead, the Kings sent her away to Connecticut and out of his reach. Thalia was there too. She was one of Northman’s stooges, and when Sookie returned, smelling of Thalia, Bill’s nose wasn’t fooled. He could still detect the faint whiff of Northman in her.
There was something there in her eyes. It was a haunted look. She improved, but she turned from him. Bill realized then that something more important had happened in Connecticut. The discussion with the Kings changed after that too. They didn’t discourage Bill, but they weren’t as welcoming as they’d been in past. Bill realized they sided with Northman. Thinking back, Bill wasn’t surprised. They were vampires and happy with being vampires. Northman? He was the quintessential vampire. Of course they would back the Viking, even pushing to make him a King and bring him back to Louisiana. Bill hoped Sookie would be strong enough to give him a sign, but in the end, the force of Northman’s blood had overcome all her more natural instincts.
It would be a long time before Bill forgot the harsh words Sookie threw at him in the library at Jackson. He realized now that she had done it because it was what Eric required of her. Why else would she have been so cruel in front of Northman’s minions? The words she stabbed him with in front of Eric Northman were not the words she used for Bill when they were alone. It was that fact that convinced him that Sookie was a victim in this. Still, she would have to be punished once they were together again. Not forever, of course, but if he didn’t, how would she ever respect him?
Bill heard the sound of the staff striking the floor and the hush from the ballroom. He knew that meant his Sookie would be exchanging blood with Eric Northman. She would be signing the contract that would lock her up until two hundred years had passed or one of them was dead. Bill raised his glass and saluted his reflection in the mirror behind the bar, “To Valhalla,” he said out loud. It was the place dead Vikings went.
“You look amazing, Sookie!” Jason’s eyes were shining and Sookie could feel herself tearing up. When she had come around the corner to see her brother, they both stopped dead in their tracks. It was a long time since Sookie had seen Jason cleaned up the way he was tonight. His blond hair was slicked straight back and the black tuxedo jacket he wore fit him like a glove. He was a handsome man and tonight he looked every bit as beautiful as she did.
Even if he didn’t know he shared her Fae heritage, she would have known, just looking at him, that he was something special.
“You’re not really all that married, are you?” Pam drawled from behind her.
Jason winked and flashed that dumb hick smile he’d perfected for beguiling folks, “Well, pretty lady, it depends how much it’s worth to ya!” and he clucked his tongue against his teeth.
“Yeah,” Pam tossed her head, “Yeah, that ruined it,” and Sookie laughed. It was infectious, this joy.
Jason took Sookie’s hands and pulled her closer before he leaned down and kissed her forehead, “I mean it, Sis. You never looked more beautiful.” Sookie leaned into him and closed her eyes for a moment. It struck her that they were standing in a grey corridor outside the service door that led into the main ballroom. It was so like a different grey corridor, one in Rhodes. Eric wore a robe then too, but it hadn’t been for pledging. How things had changed.
The door to the ballroom opened and they all looked in unison. Twy stuck her head out and nodded “Good! You’re here. We’re just waiting on the Pythoness,” and she quirked a smile, “Great name!” Something behind her caught her attention, she looked over her shoulder and she turned back to hiss, “Okay, it’s show time!”
The lights in the ballroom dimmed. Those in the seats went totally silent, their attention focused on the stage. There was a movement and then a single spotlight came to life. The Ancient Pythoness stepped into it, somehow knowing where to step and when to stop so that she stood dead center. The harsh light turned her hooked nose and sharp bones into a caricature of black and white. Her long robe resembled a Greek chiton. The low-scooped neck did nothing to hide the age of her skin. An attendant came up from behind her and wrapped her in an asymmetrical cloak of what looked like white wool. It ran under one arm and tied over the opposite shoulder. She looked exactly like what she was, a holdover from an ancient time. When the cloak was secured, the crone lifted her arms. A second spotlight came to life, lower than the one that shone on the Ancient Pythoness. This one highlighted the golden Ankh that was mounted on the wall behind her.
After a moment, she spoke, “Since our beginning, we have gathered to witness the joining of our rulers. But until now, we have chosen to remain within our own kind. Tonight signals a new age! Tonight will be a joining of kingdoms and a joining of races.” There was a low murmur from the usually silent assembly but the rumbling quieted quickly.
The Pythoness dropped her arms and the doors to either side of the ballroom opened. From the left, Eric Northman walked forward. He looked almost impossibly tall in his dark robe and the lights reflected from his blond hair. Thalia walked behind him and in her hands she held his sword, the blade pointing upward. Karin the Slaughterer, his legendary child followed, but as they walked up the stairs to the stage, the North Man’s progeny stepped aside to stand next to Mr. Cataliades. The demon attorney was positioned to the back of the stage behind a table. On the table there burned two candles. Between them and propped up so the audience could see it, lay an open book and a quill pen.
No sooner had Eric taken his position to the Pythoness’ side than Sookie Stackhouse, the Princess Brigant stepped into the ballroom. There was a light on her, but all could see that she was glowing in a way that had nothing to do with the ballroom spots. The glow that surrounded her and the golden man beside her seemed made of moonlight and magic. There was a low hiss from the assembled vampires. Most had seen this woman at either this Summit or another, but she had never appeared as she did tonight, revealed in her splendor.
On the stage the Ancient Pythoness rapped her staff against the floor, drawing the attention of the audience and rebuking them all in the same motion. The room fell silent again as the glowing woman continued making her way to the stage.
Behind her, the Nebraska King walked , a tapered blade that was clearly Fae make in his hands. Like Thalia, he carried the sword with its blade pointing toward the heavens. Pam Ravenscroft, the Viking’s other child, walked with them and then, like her sister, she continued her progress until she stood on the other side of Mr. Cataliades.
The train of the dress was tricky and Sookie kept a strong grip on Jason’s arm as they navigated the short set of stairs. She was almost shuffling to make sure she didn’t accidentally step on her hem and trip. It was taking all her concentration and it wasn’t until she was standing right next to the Ancient Pythoness that she realized they had stopped. She glanced at her brother as he unwrapped her hand from his arm, and walked away to stand next to Pam. Sookie took a deep breath and glanced across the open space in front of her. She saw the deep velvet column that she knew was Eric and she allowed her eyes to climb and then climb some more until she saw his face. He was gazing down at her, his mouth slightly open. She could see the tips of his fangs. As soon as their eyes met, he sent her a wave of such pure love she gasped. It took everything she had not to take those few steps and wrap herself into this man she loved.
As if sensing the telepath’s thoughts, the Ancient Pythoness cleared her throat. Sookie knew she had a guilty look on her face but it cleared fast. The crone’s expression could have soured milk. “Before you may speak the words that will pledge you each to the other, a blood oath is demanded.” The Pythoness turned to Eric, “Do you consent to this oath, Viking?”
“I consent,” Eric‘s said in a voice that made Sookie see not her Eric but the King. This tall man ruled and seeing him assume that mantle of authority, she found herself standing a little taller.
There was another murmur as Finn walked forward. He turned to Sookie and extended the sword. She realized she was supposed to take it across her hands and no sooner had she raised her palms than the curved blade was hers. She felt a spike of irritation. It had all been so high handed. She worried off and on for days about what her Grandfather was plotting. She wasn’t told until the walk to the ballroom, the attorney biting out the words as they fast-walked along the corridor.
Sookie hadn’t seen Dermot since he crossed into the Fae realm, forgiven at last. She knew he was working on the restoration of her house. Now, he would be showing up like some Vegas magician, shedding Fae blood in a room full of vampires, and then popping back out, presumably before he was captured and drained. It sounded like a truly stupid move on someone’s part and Sookie said as much out loud.
“It is the Prince’s order and it must be done in such a way that there is no doubt.” The attorney sounded almost apologetic and Sookie figured it had to be hard on him. Dermot was Fintan’s brother and she knew Desmond Cataliades counted Fintan as his best friend.
“Well, my Grandfather is a rat and I’ll tell him that when I see him next,” Sookie was mad all the way down to the shiny sequins on her fairy pumps and she didn’t hold back.
“I will be pleased to witness that,” the attorney said with a formal bow, and then he’d been gone.
A trace of that irritation returned as she watched Finn pull a green stone from around his neck. It was on a long chain and as he took it off the Pythoness struck her staff again. Around the room guards moved to close the doors. “None shall move,” the Pythoness said. “If you leave your seat the guards will kill you.” There was a stunned silence and then a hiss, but Sookie barely heard it. The Nebraska King held the stone flat in the palm of his hand while he passed his other hand over it. There was a shimmer in the air beside him, a shimmer Sookie recognized, and her uncle, Dermot, emerged.
It still took her by surprise, how alike he was to Jason. He was wearing some kind of silk robe and a circlet held back his golden hair. “Niece,” he greeted her.
“Hi, Uncle Dermot,” Sookie smiled in return. He glanced at Finn who tucked the stone in his pocket and reached for the sword. Sookie’s movements were sure and she transferred it, hilt first without dropping it, then turned to step into her Uncle’s embrace. He kissed her on the mouth and breathed into her and she felt wonderful. He ended the kiss and brought her closer to him, and she felt such a general sense of well-being that there had to be some physical sign. “I forgot how good it feels,” she whispered.
“You will always be happiest with your own kind,” he whispered back. His eyes looked sad even though he was smiling. He turned and bowed to the Ancient Pythoness and Sookie realized her Uncle was glowing too. “I bring you greetings on behalf of my Father, Niall. It is a glorious day that sees our races united. May the blessings of this union herald a new day between our peoples.”
The Pythoness bowed her head, “It is an historic day indeed,” she replied, her tone dry. “I echo his sentiments. May the next two hundred years signal a time of greater understanding and cooperation.”
Dermot seemed satisfied because he took a step toward Eric and there appeared in his hand the piece of amber. It was large and flat on the bottom but the top was domed and polished. “Will you hold this token, Lady?” he asked the Pythoness, “Will you stand as witness to our oath?”
“I will,” the crone agreed. A handmaiden stepped out from behind her. Sookie half expected to see Diantha, but it was someone she hadn’t seen before. The woman took the stone from Dermot and placed it on the Pythoness’ upturned palm.
Dermot turned toward the assembled vampires and he unfastened the ties that held his shirt together, baring his chest in a pulse of soft light. He nodded slightly and Finn moved, quicker than a snake. Sookie couldn’t contain her gasp as a long gash appeared on her Uncle’s chest, flowing blood. Eric stepped forward then and opened his robe to reveal his bare chest. He was not wearing his shirt or jacket so Sookie knew he had anticipated this. Likewise he nodded and Thalia moved so fast Sookie didn’t register it at all. One minute his chest shone, alabaster under the light, the next a trail of bright blood flowed like a veil.
Dermot spoke then, “Do you, Eric the Northman, swear yourself and your people to defend the House Brigant? Do you promise to stand as shield and sword for the heirs of the Sky Fae, and do you promise to honor our Princess as your Queen?”
Eric placed his hand against his chest and then raised it to show the blood upon it. He laid his hand on top of the stone the Pythoness held. “I do so swear,” he said, his voice strong and clear.
Dermot nodded, “Then I, Dermot, who rules in Fae now in the name of my Father, Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae, do swear that the blessings of our people will be yours.” The hiss from the vampires grew. It was no small thing to be gifted the luck of the Fae. Dermot continued as if he hadn’t noticed, “Our lands will be made open to you and your kingdom. Our resources will be yours to call upon and our people will help you when you have a need. But beware, Viking,” and Dermot glanced at his niece, “our good nature and our hospitality can be withdrawn if you show yourself to be unworthy. Our Princess is yours by contract and desire, but no written word can hold her if you choose to be unkind.” Eric was irritated but he bowed his head, showing his consent, and Dermot likewise placed his hand against his chest, raised it to show that is was blooded, and then placed it on the stone.
The stone flared with a burst of light and there was a gasp from the vampires in the audience. The attorney walked from his position and accepted the stone from the Pythoness with both hands and carried it back to lay it beside the book.
Dermot turned to his niece and kissed her forehead, “I am happy for you,” he said quietly. “I will see you soon in Nebraska and we will talk,” then he stepped back and was gone along with the shimmer that was the portal.
Sookie blinked but before she could catch her breath, the Pythoness was saying the words Sookie had heard before, the words that would officially pledge her to Eric and he to her.
“Sookie Stackhouse, Princess Brigant, do you agree to this covenant?” Sookie raised her head so that she could give her answer directly to Eric.
“I will,” she heard herself say and her happiness was so strong she bit her lips so she wouldn’t lose it altogether.
“Eric the Northman, King of Louisiana and Arkansas, do you agree to this covenant?”
“I will,” her Eric was not smiling with his mouth but Sookie could feel the warmth he was sending her.
The handmaiden stepped forward, a large chalice in her hand. She knelt before the Pythoness and held the cup up so that it sat just at the crone’s waist. The Pythoness turned to Sookie and there was something so frightening about how she looked that Sookie jumped back. As if anticipating it, Finn stepped forward and cleared his throat. Sookie turned and realized he was waiting for her to take the sword again. Turning back to the Pythoness, she realized the crone had done it purposefully, rightly guessing that Sookie was so caught up in the moment that she had forgotten she needed to be cut with the Fae sword and not the vampire dagger. She accepted the blade and managed to hand it to the Pythoness. She held her wrist over the cup and closed her eyes. How an old blind woman would manage this without cutting her hand off, Sookie was sure she couldn’t guess. She figured if she was going to suffer some new major injury, the least she could do was not see it coming. The slice was so fast she didn’t feel at first and then Eric’s hand was on her, lifting her wrist to his lips and it was over.
She opened her eyes to watch the Pythoness slice Eric’s wrist with the dagger and it was something to see. You would never have guessed the woman couldn’t see, her hand was so steady. Eric’s blood flowed into the chalice and Sookie blushed when he winked at her with the eye the vampires couldn’t see. When the flow stopped, the Pythoness lifted the goblet and offered it first to Sookie and then Eric. Sookie sipped, but Eric drained the rest and Sookie could see the teasing that lay just below his stiffly formal surface. ‘You might fool these folks, but you sure don’t fool me!’ she thought.
Eric’s smile widened, then he motioned to Pam. She walked forward holding out the two rings Sookie saw at the gifting party last night. He lifted the larger of the rings and held it out to the telepath, “Will you claim me as your own, Sookie? Will you mark me in a way that will be visible to all?”
Sookie smirked. It was a cheeky speech considering the circumstances. Sookie took the ring from Eric’s fingers and then placed it on the right finger on his hand. “I do,” she said, automatically using the words that were her custom.
When she looked up it was to see Eric watching her. The feelings she was receiving from him were a jumble, happy but tentative. He held the smaller ring between his fingers, “And will you accept my mark, Sookie? Will you wear this chain I would place upon you willingly?”
“I will,” she told him and she extended her hand, holding her fingers apart so he could easily slip the gold band in place. He took her fingertips in his and pulled her closer.
He lifted the ring to his lips. “Älskade,” he whispered before he positioned it on her finger and slid the ring home. Eric’s eyes remained on the band for a moment, and he ran his thumb across it before lifting his eyes back to hers. “And what does this make you, Lover?” he asked.
Sookie knew what he wanted to hear, “It makes me Mrs. Eric Northman,” she told him.
“My wife,” he said out loud and he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.