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.
“Claudine,” Sookie greeted the tall, dark-haired woman who opened the door. “I didn’t expect to see you again.” It slipped out, and Sookie realized what she’d said. “I mean, so soon,” she stumbled.
“I am glad your life has been well,” Claudine led her by the arm into the house. “I know if things were not well, you would have called me, as family should.” Claudine didn’t look at her, but Sookie was sure her cousin knew Sookie had no intention of ever calling her.
“Sure,” Sookie should have felt guilty, but she couldn’t. Instead, her eyes were everywhere. The house looked modern on the outside, but inside it was entirely different. The walls were still whitewashed stone, but there were no lamps or fixtures. Candles blazed from every surface and there were chandeliers hanging above them, ablaze with lit tapers. It was a cheery light, but Sookie had the feeling she’d stepped out of time and into somewhere else.
“I hope your journey was easy,” Claudine was saying. The house hadn’t looked that big, but they seemed to be walking a long way to get where they were going.
“What is this place?” Sookie asked.
“Oh, just somewhere that’s available to us,” Claudine replied, her answer not really telling Sookie anything. Still, they walked on, always down, until they stepped into a hall that had a fireplace roaring in the far wall. Overhead, the ceiling appeared to be carved from rock and it stretched so high, parts of it were lost in shadow.
Sitting in the middle of the room was a dining table set that could have been found in any furniture store in America. It seemed out of place with its surroundings. Chairs were pulled around it, and a man rose from the armed chair that sat at the head of the table. He wasn’t tall, like Claudine. He was just a little taller than Sookie, his pale hair tied back from his face in a neat ponytail. He was dressed in a suit and he smiled broadly as he advanced toward them. “Sookie!” he exclaimed. His arms opened and Sookie couldn’t help but step into his embrace. The feeling she received from him was so bright, she sighed. It was as if sunshine and spring found her. “You truly are the very image of Adele!” The man’s words were tinged in grief and any doubt Sookie had as to his identity was gone.
“You must be my Grandfather,” she told him when the man loosened his grip.
“I am Niall,” he confirmed and bowed his head, “Niall Brigant, King of the Southern Realms.”
Curtseying was beyond her skillset, but Sookie had a strong impulse to do just that. The room, the long corridors, and the slightly glowing people standing near her all looked as if they’d stepped out of some romance novel. Instead, Sookie managed an awkward bow. “Sookie Stackhouse,” she answered, “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Claudine told me you had wonderful manners,” Niall smiled. “Are you hungry? I thought we might eat while we visit.” He gestured toward the table, pulling out the chair to the left of his own. Claudine glided to the chair on the King’s right. As Sookie sat, dishes appeared. The magic of the place crackled all around her, and Sookie could feel the tingle of electricity playing up and down her arms.
She couldn’t help staring around the room again, taking in one feature after another, and then she realized how quiet it was. “I’m sorry,” she brought her attention back to Niall, “I’m being rude. The room is very pretty.”
“You are your Grandmother,” he told her. “It is as if my dear Adele was returned to me.”
There was something about the way he was staring at her that made Sookie a little uncomfortable. “I never met her,” Sookie volunteered. “My Father told me his mother’s name was Clare. She died before I was born.”
Niall nodded, and then looked away. It was difficult for Sookie to look directly at him. The masque he was wearing seemed thin and the way his real face moved just beneath the glamour was making Sookie a little seasick. “I know you can see us as we are,” Niall said, not looking at her. “Would it make you more comfortable if we assumed our true appearance?”
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Sookie nodded.
When Niall turned back to her, all disguise was abandoned. His eyes slanted toward his temples and his hair fell to either side of pointed ears. The King’s fingers were more tapered, the ends almost pointed. “Perhaps, you would do us the same courtesy,” Niall suggested.
Sookie make an effort, and she felt the sliding sensation that told her she’d sloughed off the covering she so effortlessly wore. Claudine drew in a breath, but Niall’s smile never faltered. “Yes,” he said, “I see now. It is better that I see you as you are.”
After a moment, Niall gestured toward the food on the table, “Please! Join me!” and he helped himself to asparagus and passed the platter. When Sookie took some for her own plate, Niall asked, “Will you tell me about your Father?”
Sookie spent the next hour telling her Grandfather everything she remembered. She told him how her Father was kind and how devoted he was to their family. Sookie described her Father’s laugh and how he would enthrall them for hours with his stories.
“You moved every few years,” Niall stated when Sookie talked about how much Corbett had enjoyed attending her school events, laughing about how they changed colors with every town.
“We did,” Sookie nodded. She glanced at Claudine, wondering how her Grandfather knew. “His work…” and then Sookie hesitated. Making up her mind, she looked directly at Niall, “Before my Mother died, she told me something about our needing to hide. She said that was the reason we moved so often. I asked her to explain it, but she wouldn’t. Do you know anything about it?”
Sookie’s tone wasn’t rude, but Claudine sucked her breath through her teeth in a hiss. Sookie opened her mouth to apologize, but Niall held up his hand. “It is best not to demand answers of the Fae, Sookie, but I will overlook your rudeness. You were not raised in our ways, although you would do best to learn if you plan to remain in Ireland, which I hope you will. As for your family moving, that may have been my fault.” He settled back in his chair, “When your Grandmother first left, I found ways to travel to see her. I was there when your Father was born. He was…well, he was much as you are, more Fae than human. That presented problems.”
“I don’t understand,” Sookie interrupted.
“The Fae are jealous of their bloodlines,” Claudine explained. “You see, we have lost the ability to reproduce. It only happens rarely now. We research and study, but we haven’t been able to find a cure.” She glanced at Niall, and Sookie saw a look pass between them. “For some among us, our ability to reproduce with other species has suggested a way to continue our race, but, for most of us, to commingle blood that way is considered blasphemy. There are even some who would hunt down and destroy any evidence that Fae blood has been mixed with other races.”
“Hybrids,” Sookie frowned, “Like me, or my Father. Is that what happened to my Father? Did someone kill him?” Bright tears formed in Sookie’s eyes as she remembered her Father’s handsome face.
“Tell me about the day your Father died,” Niall asked instead, and he laid his hand on top of Sookie’s. It wasn’t much, the push he sent her, but it straightened Sookie’s spine and overwhelmed her sorrow with that general sense of well-being.
“We were living in Pennsylvania,” Sookie smiled. “There was fog that morning.” Sookie’s mouth opened as her memories flooded back, “There was someone in the fog.” Sookie thought of that day and it played back in her mind as if she was watching it all over again. She remembered the man who transformed into the boy and she looked back at her Grandfather, “It was you!”
“I was wondering if you’d remember,” Niall’s smile broadened. “You shouldn’t have been able to see me, but you did. I knew then that the spark, my spark, had been passed to you, but you said that was the day your Father died?”
“That night,” Sookie nodded. “He left for work and he didn’t return. The police said it was a failed robbery.”
“He was stabbed with an iron knife,” Niall said. When Sookie’s eyes widened, Niall nodded. “It was how I knew he was murdered. Only a Fae would know to use iron. A human might die from any weapon, but it takes iron to ensure final death to the Fae.” Niall’s eyes filled with tears, “He came to me, your Father. He was confused.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“It is something that happens when Fae are killed. Our spirit stops to speak with our oldest living relative on its way to the Summerlands. For your Father, that relative was me. I barely recognized him, but he was able to tell me the manner of his death and he described the weapon, but he never saw who delivered the blow.” Niall looked away, “He wasn’t sure why he traveled to me, or who I was, and that pained me, but I was able to tell him his heritage and that helped him find peace. I loved your Grandmother, but your Father’s suffering was her doing.” The tears cleared, replaced by an expression that was stormier, “When we realized the purity of Corbett’s essence, we knew that even when things calmed with my people, Adele would not be able to return with our son to Ireland. Your Father would have become a target to every Fae who hated hybrids, so your Grandmother would not risk it. She wished me away. It was a powerful wish, and I did my best to honor it. My Adele changed her name and she promised me she would raise our son to recognize when he was in danger. She wanted him to have a normal life. It never occurred to me that she would refuse to tell him what he truly was.”
“It was cruel wish,” Claudine said sympathetically. “As much as it was meant to protect her child, it was too much to ask of you, Grandfather, and it only served to place them in more danger.” She touched Niall’s arm, passing along what Sookie assumed what the Fae version of consolation.
“Thank you, Claudine,” Niall smiled, and his glow did look a little brighter as he turned back to Sookie. “It was cruel, and I confess that as the years passed, I found it impossible to keep my promise. I found ways to go to that place where they lived so I could see your Father. I was careful, but perhaps not careful enough. When my Adele died…” and Sookie could see the genuine sorrow in her Grandfather’s eyes, “your Father was barely out of school He had only just met your Mother, but he had the luck of our people and they thrived. I don’t know how he spotted me. Perhaps he had the same sight you do. If he did see me, it would explain why he started moving you so often. Things weren’t computerized then, so it was harder to locate you. Each time he moved, it took time, sometimes years, before I could find you again.”
Niall looked genuinely contrite, “Perhaps I should have kept my word and forgotten him, but your Father, and then you, were all I had left of Adele.”
“You’re forgetting Jason,” Sookie said. “My brother. He’s part of my Grandmother, too!”
“Jason is not the same! Your brother is more your Mother’s,” Niall’s tone was dismissive. “He doesn’t have a hint of spark.”
“He’s still family,” Sookie’s chin came up.
“Family who abandoned you as your Father never did,” Claudine said knowingly.
Sookie could see the cold look in the eyes of the Fae and it made her miss Jason, but Sookie could tell there was no love for her brother in this room, and she was sure that if she hadn’t been born as she was, she never would have met her Grandfather at all.
Niall was drinking from his cup. His face was sad, but his sharp eyes kept darting in Sookie’s direction. She could tell there was something about the story he was telling that wasn’t quite right. Niall Brigant had accepted that being near his family would put them in danger, but he did it anyway. He could have revealed himself to his son, but he didn’t. Instead, he spied on them. Sookie remembered the many times she’d see her Father’s anxious face, staring into the darkness outside their windows. She thought of all the friends she’d lost and all the tears she’d shed, how all that sadness could have been caused by a misunderstanding.
But then Sookie considered what she’d just been told about her Father’s death. Someone else had found them, too. When she considered Niall’s motives, she couldn’t fault them, not really. She knew if it was her own child, she wouldn’t be able to stay away. Still, it could have been that Niall’s search had alerted others, who, as Claudine said earlier, would have been motivated to kill hybrids. It was all conjecture, but of one thing Sookie was certain. Having spoken with him, having seen his grief, it wasn’t Niall who had taken her Father’s life.
“You don’t know that spotting you was why my Daddy ran,” she told Niall. “In the end, you weren’t the only person following us. It could have been the killer my Daddy saw, and not you at all.”
“You are very kind to offer me that consolation,” Niall nodded. “I wish to return that kindness,” and he leaned closer to her. “You may ask me one question and I will answer it.”
Sookie glanced across the table at Claudine. Her cousin’s eyes were wide open and her mouth slightly ajar, giving Sookie the impression that the offer was a pretty big thing, and so Sookie scrambled for a question that would be worthy, but in the end, all she could come up with was, “Should I trust Breandan O’Hara?”
“Not entirely,” Niall answered. Sookie thought he would stop there and her heart sank, but instead he leaned toward her, and the glow of the candles reflected in his eyes. They had their own odd light, like summer sun playing through green leaves.
“You know I can’t be glamoured,” Sookie sighed.
“I have no intention of beguiling you,” and the light dimmed, but then returned. “I will tell you the rest of the answer you meant with your question.” He waited for Sookie to settle before starting. “You may know this, but Breandan Brigant is your relative, in a manner of speaking. Rogan, the King of the Northern Shores is my only brother and in the way of the Fae, we were born together, me first and he followed. Breandan is Rogan’s son as Dillon is mine. Claudine,” and he nodded to the woman who sat opposite Sookie, “is Dillon’s child. Her brother’s name is Claude and she had another sister, who died in a war long ago. I tell you this so you will know the names of your family.”
“Can I ask another question?” Sookie asked. She wanted to ask about Claude, but Niall shook his head.
“No, you will wait until I have finished. If there is time, we may discuss whether you can ask another question then.” Sookie’s mouth thinned out and she felt her jaw moving forward, but she bit back her temper. She had a feeling if she challenged Niall, the interview would be over for all he told her he was happy to meet her, and she’d hear nothing more.
“Rogan knew of your Grandmother,” Niall continued. “As we have told you, most Fae are not forgiving when it comes to mingling blood, but I could refuse Adele nothing. She wished a child, and so it became my wish as well.”
“But didn’t you say the Fae can’t reproduce?” The words sprang from her lips, and Sookie realized she had just done what her Grandfather warned her not to; she’d asked another question. Sookie quickly shifted her gaze to Claudine, and assumed an expression that as much as said she was asking her and not Niall.
“You are clever, as the vampire says!” Niall laughed in delight. “You challenge your cousin, when the words are truly directed at me! It is a pity you are not full Fae! I will answer your question! It is true, the Fae rarely reproduce with Fae, but we can choose to reproduce with other species. It is something that, if our heart wishes it, is easily done.” Sookie thought back to the night in Killary when Breandan had accused her of using witchcraft to become pregnant. The feeling between them had been intense, and Sookie thought ‘desire’ a thin word to describe it.
Sookie’s face flushed at the memory. It was in her flustered state that she found herself asking another question, “Does it have to be something the Fae partner chooses?”
Niall leaned forward. He placed his hand over hers, and Sookie felt his interest hone in, “Yes, Grand-daughter, it is a conscious act for us, requiring both consent and desire.” His eyes narrowed and his gaze became so piercing, Sookie had to look away. “But, perhaps you are asking for some reason, Granddaughter? Perhaps you have experienced this with Breandan?”
Sookie felt her cheeks flaming. She was sure her face was a hodge-podge of blotchy red patches and she was sweating. “Well, I’m not pregnant, if that’s what you’re asking,” and Sookie pasted her best, fake smile in place.
Niall sat back anyway, his face carefully neutral again. “Should you trust Breandan?” Niall repeated her question. “I suppose the answer depends on the context of your question. Should you trust him to do as he says? Yes, the Fae can’t lie. We’re incapable of it, although we are masters at using words to hide our meanings. You must remember that Breandan is his Father’s son. His loyalty to his family spans ages in the lives of men, but I remember how he was with his Mother. He was more joyous then and his delight in the world around him more present. Aoife was a rarity among us; a gentle, strong spirit whose mere word could calm the hottest temper.” Niall glanced toward the fire, “Aoife’s loss changed Rogan, or, perhaps, made Rogan more of what he has always been.”
“And what is that?” Sookie asked. She realized a second after she said it she’d violated Niall’s no question rule again, and she worried that if he answered this one, he’d stop telling her things, so she exclaimed, “Don’t answer that! I can wait!”
“Yes,” Niall nodded, “You are truly clever. Interesting, that Northman sees you so clearly. As for Breandan? I believe the Breandan we saw when his Mother lived among us still exists, waiting for someone to draw it from him. I find it curious that he has not done more to secure you. It would be an easy thing, Sookie. He could have married you in the human way. It would not have interfered with his Fae marriage and now that Mae is gone…”
“I told him I wanted to wait,” Sookie reflexively gave her usual answer to the marriage question, and then what her Grandfather said started to sink in. “Wait! What? Breandan’s married already?” Sookie felt as if the air had been knocked from her. “How long? He never told me that!”
“Did you ever ask him?” Claudine laughed.
Sookie was about to answer, but Niall interrupted her, “What’s important is that Breandan is no longer married. Sookie, you must understand that with our need for progeny, someone like Breandan would have been joined to another Fae long ago.”
Sookie was still reeling. Breandan had as much as said he wished to marry her. He’d told her he was angry that she refused him, yet he’d been married all along? And now he wasn’t? Something wasn’t adding up, but her head was whirling too fast for her to think clearly.
“Marriages are arranged for us,” Claudine was saying. “There is care taken to assure bloodlines. Because Breandan and I came from families with a history of children, our mates were carefully chosen for us. Ours aren’t love matches, Sookie. They are hopeful gestures toward our survival.”
“But, as I’ve told you, your Breandan is no longer married, not in your human way nor in ours.” Niall seemed intent on Sookie hearing that point. “He is free to make his own commitments.” Sookie couldn’t miss Claudine’s shocked expression, but then she covered it by sitting back and fiddling with her silverware. Niall continued, “If Breandan has formed an attachment to you, Grand-daughter, and you were to agree, that development would be welcomed by your immediate family.”
“But I’m not Fae!” Niall’s words didn’t sound right. Niall and Claudine had just confirmed what others told her, that hybrids were a problem, and Sookie had experienced firsthand how Breandan’s people treated her. Their disdain was reflected regularly in their sneers and cutting remarks. “I think there’s something you’re not telling me, Grandfather,” Sookie said.
“You should always follow your instincts,” Niall replied, then added, “but you should also listen to the advice of your family.”
“You’ve told me… Hell, everyone’s told me I’m not Fae, and that means I’m not good enough for someone who is,” Sookie replied, “but you’re encouraging me to go back to Breandan? Why would I do that?”
“He has shown affection toward you, otherwise your time in his territory might have been less comfortable. He has not forced you in any way, although without glamour, he could. What’s more, you have affection for him. You could have left his territory, but you didn’t. You chose to remain close to him. I think joining your life with his would be to your advantage,” Niall nodded. “Breandan has standing in this Kingdom and as your mate, he would protect you. As my Granddaughter, even as a hybrid, an alliance would be formed, linking our houses. It may be your fate to remain with him.”
“I don’t know,” Sookie shrugged. “Even if I did want that, we were…well, things have changed. I’m not sure Breandan and I can ever go back to how we were.” For some reason, Sookie thought of Eric. She thought of how excited she was when she thought this was a date and how disappointed she was when she realized she was wrong. Sookie could almost feel the vampire’s lips on hers and it made her breath catch.
“Claude tells me that Breandan is sincere in his affection toward you,” Niall was leaning toward her again. “He tells me Breandan misses having you in his life.”
“Claude?” and Sookie found herself glancing at Claudine. She wanted to scream, ‘Why do you trust Claude?’ Eric and Pam certainly didn’t, and Sookie opened her mouth to say something.
“He is my Grandson,” It was as though Niall could read her mind. Sookie shut her mouth and Niall nodded before adding, “He and Breandan have been friendly for ages, but you should know my Grandson’s first loyalty is to his house.” For all of Niall’s conviction, Sookie couldn’t still the voice inside her that doubted Claude’s intentions. Her instincts screamed that Claude’s first loyalty was to Claude, but she looked from Niall to Claudine. They appeared so certain and so, Sookie decided maybe she should give Claude the benefit of the doubt. After all, she didn’t know Claude well, only what others said of him. Sookie remembered the cruel words and sly innuendo that followed her every time she moved into a new town. She was the outsider, so it was easy to make up stories about her.
In Slievemore, it was Claude who was the outsider. These people in this room had known Breandan and Claude for longer than she could even conceive and they were telling her that both Claude and Breandan were trustworthy in their own ways. It felt wrong and it recalled someone who was always straight with her. “It’s just that Eric…”
“Northman?” and Niall smiled thinly. “I’m sure you are aware of the bad blood between the vampire and Claude?” and the King waited. “Relations between our peoples are never easy, although Northman is less noisome than most vampires. I might even call him friend.”
“What happened between Claude and Eric?” Sookie asked.
“I have heard two stories, but they agree in some particulars. Claude was teasing humans and Northman took offense. I heard one of the females was someone Northman claimed for his own, but that’s not unusual. Vampires are possessive of their feeding stock. No one was permanently damaged. I usually find that when there are claims on both sides, the truth is found somewhere in the middle,” Niall said smoothly.
“Frankly,” and Niall twirled his wine glass between his fingers, watching the liquid within, “I’m surprised by the Sheriff’s actions where you are concerned, although perhaps not. You are an attractive young woman and I’m sure he wishes to feed from and fuck you, as he would any human female. If his intentions toward you were sincere, as I believe you wish they were, he could have made them known when he had you all to himself in Boston. He didn’t, so I can’t say what motivates his actions now. Mischief, perhaps.”
“What are you talking about?” Sookie felt the color drain from her face. She forced herself to sit back and took several deep breaths before asking, “When was Eric in Boston?”
“Why, Rogan sent the Viking there ahead of Breandan to watch you,” Niall answered. He didn’t look at Sookie. Instead, he studied his napkin as he folded it. “You may not have noticed him. I’m sure he was in some disguise or other; a bat or a dog. Those are his favorites, I believe.”
“A black dog?” Sookie gulped, her throat closing.
“It would be likely,” Niall nodded. “So perhaps you did notice him. He would have been larger than most, and interested in you.” Sookie’s eyes grew wide and she felt faint. “Ah!” the King smiled, “You do recall, but as I said. Northman made no effort to make himself known to you. It doesn’t inspire much trust, does it, but, then again, the Viking has proven himself a worthy adversary over the years. I find he seldom does things without a plan.”
Before Sookie could gather her thoughts, Niall abruptly stood up, “This has been a lovely evening, and I am so pleased to have finally met you, Granddaughter. I know we will see each other again, but it would be best if you didn’t mention our meeting to Breandan. Rogan and I are not on the best of terms, and if he thought I was trespassing on his land without his permission, it would cause problems.”
Claudine stood, too. She pulled out another card, “I am handing this to you in front of our Grandfather, Sookie. I doubt you will ever need to use it, but, in case you do; if you ever feel yourself in danger, you have only to call the number. I will come for you.”
“Consider my advice, Sookie,” Niall didn’t move from his place in front of his chair. “Breandan is in a position to protect you. I am convinced he cares for you. You would do well to encourage any offer he extends.”
Claudine walked Sookie back through the long corridors. The candlelight seemed dimmed, and Sookie felt almost as though she was swimming up from beneath deep waters, clawing her way toward a bright surface. They turned a corner and the door was before them. It opened and Sookie was surprised to see the sky beyond was still dark.
Before Sookie stepped through the doorway, Claudine touched her arm, “He means well,” she told Sookie. “He would see you safe.”
“But?” Sookie asked. “There’s definitely a ‘but’ in there!” but Claudine only smiled and stepped back into the darkness of the hallway.
“Fucking Fae!” Sookie swore softly as she walked down the stairs toward Eric’s waiting car. ‘Eric!’ and Sookie heard her Grandfather’s words. ‘He was in Boston!’ She remembered Eric telling her he hadn’t been in Boston, but then she remembered exactly what he’d said: ‘I wish we had met in Boston in a way that allowed you to know me.’
Sookie knew the Fae couldn’t lie, and her heart sank a bit as she realized that Eric was just as shifty as the rest of them!
“Was it a good meeting?” Eric had moved to her side of the car, opening her door.
“Fine!” Sookie bit out, only beginning to feel her anger. “Lots of great advice about how I should live my life. Nothing like finding out things you should have known all along from strangers. Makes you feel great about trusting the people around you!”
By the time Eric started driving, Sookie’s temper was raging. “You’re sure you’re all right?” Eric asked again. He touched her arm and Sookie jerked it away.
“Like I said, I’m fine!” she bit out. “I just want to go home.”
“You’re upset.” It wasn’t necessary to say and they both knew it. Eric drove for a bit before saying, “I don’t suppose you’re interested in stopping somewhere with me on the way home.”
“What? To meet more relatives, or do you have some other piece of business you owe someone where I’m concerned?” Sookie stared out her window. She realized how close to tears she was and it amplified her anger.
“Niall told you about Boston,” Now Eric sounded angry, and his thinking he had a right made her own fury creep up another notch.
“Would have been nice if you’d told me first,” Sookie couldn’t look at him. “Guess it’s good to know where I stand, though. No more illusions on my part, no Sirree! I get it!”
Eric didn’t try to speak with her anymore. He drove her to her door and when he moved to get out of the car, Sookie snapped, “Don’t bother!” She leaped from his car and fumbled with her key. She couldn’t get into her house fast enough! She was half-way up her stairs when she heard the car engine start. ‘I was never more than a job to him!’ she told herself. She dragged her hand across her mouth, trying to wipe away the feeling of the vampire’s kisses, but she knew it was too late.
“I am loyal to you, Grandfather,” Claudine couldn’t look at her King, “but why would you do this? Why send the child of this woman who meant so much to you into the arms of your enemy?”
“Where else can I send her?” Niall answered. “I can’t bring her into our kingdom. The memory of our people is long, Claudine. Branna and your own sister died, fighting for the right to end my human family. You are here because your own Father refused to come. Every day that ends with no child born to our people sees our anguish grow. There are many who feel our days are meant to reach their end. They embrace our destruction and argue that it is our fate to fade from this place. They refuse to accept a future where we are saved through our joining with the humans. They say to do that is to betray our essence, to become less. That blind hatred is not something that is within my power to command.”
“But Rogan?” Claudine sighed, “By pushing her to Breandan, you condemn Sookie to an uncertain life.”
“Whose life is certain?” Niall asked, and then he sighed. “I have given this much thought. News of her existence is already circulating among the Fae, both Seelie and Unseelie. Rogan is not the only one who will be interested in her and each would take her for their own reasons. I had to consider who could best protect her and for now, that is Rogan.”
“As Rogan’s prisoner?” Claudine protested. “And what defense will she have if she wanders away from his territory? It’s clear the hold Rogan has on her is tenuous. If she was truly tied to Breandan, she wouldn’t have been able to come here. The borders would have held and she would have been compelled to remain within them. In her current state, she could blunder anywhere and find herself taken prisoner or killed outright.”
“Which is why she should attach herself to Breandan,” Niall replied. “Where you see uncertainty, Claudine, I see possibilities. Consider this! What if Breandan is truly attached to her? You feel her! There is some underlying magic that makes us wish to help her. Claude tells me Breandan complains that her tears compel him. We have both witnessed her ability to see through disguise and her true appearance is more Fae than human.” Niall’s lip curled up, not bothering to hide his pride, “It would seem our essence runs more purely in her.”
“Perhaps we should determine the full nature of her magic, Grandfather. What if she does possess larger gifts? It could be dangerous for her if that were the case,” but Niall shook his head.
“It is unlikely. I have never heard of any hybrid manifesting anything beyond the softer powers and if she did, calling them out would only increase her peril. What purpose would be served? As long as my Granddaughter is unaware, any gifts she possesses will be muted. She has already attracted enough attention. There is no need to draw a target on her.” Niall shook his head, “If she is unaware, it is most likely any other powers she has will never manifest. That would be safest for her.”
“But Breandan?” Claudine persisted. “Since when has he asserted himself on any point? I know Sookie told me she loves him and it is possible he will rediscover his backbone, but after all these years, I doubt it! You might also consider that Breandan is magic and uses his magic often. What’s to say he won’t draw her powers from her, revealing her in some way?”
“Perhaps he already has,” Niall shrugged. “She is more Fae now than when I saw her as a child. Sookie is an attractive person for all she is head-strong, but she is still a hybrid. What is important is that whatever power she has to beguile has proven effective on Breandan.” Niall grinned, “Claude reports that Breandan is obsessed with her. It is possible Breandan will be the one who becomes enthralled.”
“I think you over-estimate her charms!” Claudine protested.
“Did you see her reaction when I told her about children?” Niall asked. “Her questions were too pointed. She experienced something. Think of it! What would Rogan do if his own son produced a hybrid?”
“Breandan wouldn’t be that foolhardy!” Claudine huffed.
“As foolhardy as I was?” Niall asked. His voice was quiet, but Claudine stilled, sensing the threat beneath the words. The silence stretched before Niall released her by saying, “Don’t underestimate the power of love in these things, Claudine.” Niall settled back in his chair, “And if Breandan did fill her belly, that child would place Rogan in the same peril in which I find myself.”
“Provided Rogan allowed that child to live,” Claudine said sadly.
“Yes,” Niall nodded. “If she were to become pregnant, we would have to take her. It would be difficult to explain to my people, but having a hostage to even things between our kingdoms might be explanation enough to guarantee her safety here.”
“But not her happiness,” Claudine observed.
“No, it would not be pleasant,” Niall agreed. “Rogan would rail. He might even punish Breandan but, in the end, a child would be of their blood. I believe Breandan would feel compelled to watch over it, even as I feel compelled to watch over Sookie.” Niall stood again and walked toward the fire. “So, better she remains where she it. You saw her! She is happy enough in her surroundings. Granted, Rogan’s Selkies watch her, although she seems unaware. She works and she dreams. She has hope, and there is no reason to believe that her life can’t be as she wishes. I will continue to pay tribute and Rogan will continue to crow, thinking he has finally bested me and my ugly duckling will remain in her nest, transforming those around her.”
“What of the vampire?” Claudine asked.
“Northman?” and Niall’s brows drew together. “What of him?”
“He won’t be happy you revealed his role in Boston,” Claudine replied. When Niall shrugged, Claudine added, “You may not have noticed, Grandfather, but he is also attached to Sookie.”
“The vampire?” Niall asked again. “Why would you say that?” and then the King added, “And if he were, he would have said something!”
“Consider his actions,” Claudine counselled. “He returned from Boston and opened a business in the exact town where she would be located. There were other towns where he might have made more money, but he chose Slievemore. He has befriended her, and his daughter, Pam, is with her often. She works for him, so he has an excuse to see her almost every night. He called you, telling you how she felt the need for family, and asking you for this meeting. I believe he hoped you would tell Sookie to leave Breandan. I believe he was hoping that you would open the door to him.”
“Northman?” Niall asked again. “That doesn’t seem in character!”
“Nonetheless,” Claudine shrugged. “As you’ve said yourself, she has a way of attracting people to her. I believe your counsel will prove disappointing to him.”
‘I never considered it,” Niall thought over what Claudine told him. “To take her into the Unseelie Court would mark her as forever less.”
“No Fae would try to kill her,” Claudine pointed out. “To do so would invite war with the Unseelie. We may squabble among ourselves, but only a fool would tempt battle between our worlds.”
“But even within the Unseelie Court, she would need a protector,” Niall shook his head. “a champion. If she had powers, that would be one thing, but it would be more likely she would be used as their prisoner instead, and I would simply be paying another pocket!”
“Unless Eric Northman bonded with her,” Claudine said. Niall couldn’t help but stare. The idea was preposterous! Eric Northman was older than almost any other of his kind and in all the ages Niall knew him, the Sheriff had never shown any interest in tying his life with another.
“I believe you are a hopeless romantic!” Niall assured his granddaughter. “Eric Northman is many things, but he is not the man you describe!”
Still, Claudine’s words troubled the King, so he decided to put an end to the notion himself.
Eric’s house sat on the hill overlooking Slievemore. It gave him peace of mind to be so high above things, his windows looking in all directions, and the winds of the ocean blowing past him. Tonight, though, he was feeling anything but peaceful.
When he called Niall, asking that he meet his granddaughter, it hadn’t occurred to him that Niall would use the meeting to turn Sookie against him. “No good deed,” Eric growled, and he cursed all Seelie and their ways. Eric’s intentions had been to offer Sookie the consolation of family, but her reaction told him that, if anything, the meeting had left her feeling even more isolated. Niall had even poisoned her trust of him!
As Eric pulled up his driveway, he saw a light on in the front window. He stopped short of pulling into his garage and reached under his seat for the iron knife with its core of silver. Only Pam had the codes to the door and she wasn’t expected back for another night. There had been no whisper of unrest, but violence was something that was never far from the existence of a vampire. There were periodic takeovers attempts from rival kingdoms to consider. Eric served as Sheriff to his Queen, which meant he meted out her justice. The kinds of punishments he delivered could result in vengeance and score settling. And then, there were the Seelie. Claude was back in town and Breandan wasn’t exactly friendly. They might have found out about tonight from their watchers and decided to punish him for it.
No one should have known where his safe house lay, yet someone did. Then Eric considered that the light was left on. If the intentions of whoever was inside were aimed at damaging him, they wouldn’t have advertised their presence. The front door was open and Eric gingerly pushed it further. “Who is here?” Eric called out.
“Come in, Northman!” a familiar voice called back.
It was Niall Brigant. The Fae King was sitting on one side of Eric’s stone chessboard and he’d set the pieces for a game. The Fae King was in his natural state, the glow of his magic generating the light Eric saw from outside. Eric couldn’t smell him and it was just as well.
The pure smell of Seelie magic could trigger the need to feed in vampires. Eric could resist his instincts in most cases, the King being in his house would concentrate any scent, making it almost impossible. Eric had no illusions. Attacking Niall, King of the Fae, would likely end in his final death. Still, the frustration he felt over tonight combined with Niall’s surprise appearance caused Eric’s fangs to drop.
“I’d kill you where you stand,” Niall drawled, as if he’d read Eric’s mind. “I would greatly regret it. I have enjoyed our association over these many ages. You are an interesting man, for as much as you are a vampire, and you brought me my Granddaughter!”
Niall watched Eric. The vampire didn’t react as he had in past. In past, Eric would have laughed and challenged the King to a chess game during which he would move and feint with words as skillfully as he moved and feinted with his game pieces. No, this Eric watched him with cold eyes and Niall decided to test Claudine’s theory. “You are upset that I told Sookie to return to Breandan,” he stated. “You are also upset that I revealed your role in retrieving her from Boston.”
“She is your family,” Eric replied coldly. “You would leave her in harm’s way. She is Rogan’s prisoner. He could kill her at any time!”
“But he won’t!” Niall scoffed. “My brother craves the tribute he collects from me and the humiliation he believes I’m experiencing! He thinks he holds me hostage but, in fact, it is the other way around!” Niall gestured toward the chair opposite him, but when Eric didn’t move forward, he shrugged, moved a chess piece, turned the table, and began contemplating the board from this angle. “My people fought a war over Sookie’s Grandmother. My own granddaughter, Claudia, lost her life, fighting to destroy my human progeny. If Sookie were to come into my kingdom, there are many who would demand her death. Surely you don’t wish that for her?”
“No,” Eric confirmed. “But Breandan? He shows no ability to stand up to his Father!” Eric almost added that Breandan could only belong to Claude, but he didn’t. The rumor was that Niall had forgiven Claude and was unwilling to hear any word against him. Eric knew better. Eric knew that if Sookie remained in Slievemore and if Breandan were to resume a relationship with her, Claude would find a way to torture her.
“Where else would I send her?” Niall continued. “She can’t go back to America! She’s been seen now. There are those, Selkies, your fellow vampires, who know she exists. Rogan’s people will be free to hunt her if she leaves. She wouldn’t last a week! Where else could she go?” Niall looked sharply at Eric, “Your own Queen would gladly take her hostage. She’s wanted tribute from me for a long time and she would be right to think that Sookie would give her leverage.” Niall stared directly at Eric, “And how long before darling Sophie-Ann is unable to resist sampling? I wouldn’t be able to ride to her rescue. To do so would cost me my kingdom, and Rogan might rail that she was his first, but Sookie would soon be little more than a blood slave in your Queen’s Court.”
“Not if I protected her,” Eric walked over to the table and sat down.
“You would do that?” Niall didn’t hide his surprise. “You would take her for your own?”
“She is…unique,” Eric answered. He held Niall’s eyes for a long moment.
“Thank you, Northman,” Niall nodded. “It is good to know there are options for her.” The King allowed himself to sag. “It was easier to send her back to Rogan when I saw her as she truly is. Have you seen it, her Fae state?”
Eric shook his head, “No, not yet.”
“It is pronounced,” Niall told him. “When she wears her human face, she is my Adele. Sending her back when she wore that face was an arrow to my heart. Still, it is her best option. I’m sure you understand.”
“I hope you are right.” Eric looked at the board for the first time, swiftly moving a piece.
The Fae King grinned, moving a piece from his side just as swiftly. “There is no incentive for them to harm her,” he said reasonably, “and every incentive to keep her healthy and safe. And if Breandan…”
“What of Sookie?” Eric interrupted. “What of her dreams?”
“What use are dreams when you’re dead?” Niall scoffed. “Besides, she is a young woman. All young women yearn for home and hearth. Breandan will give her that and she will make his dreams her own.”
“I think you underestimate Sookie,” Eric replied. He moved another piece, taking Niall’s pawn. “She knows her own mind, and she does not seem like someone willing to compromise.”
Niall’s mouth pursed, “And in what way is aligning with the Seelie compromise? I claim her, but she is aware of her position. She questioned me on that very point tonight, at my own table! She is aware of her status. She won’t be foolish enough to wish for more than she should have! Claude told me Breandan would offer her human marriage. It is a great concession and I am sure that now she understands it would be to her benefit.”
“How can you think that Claude would allow it?” Eric didn’t hide his scorn. “Claude claims Breandan for his own! He worked to destroy any happiness Breandan could find in his marriage, and he will work to destroy this as well!”
“You judge my Grandson unfairly!” Niall flared back. “Just because he toyed with your females…”
“She was dear to me,” Eric snarled. “She took her own life!”
“Humans who play with the Fae do that with some regularity,” Niall sniffed. “Holding this grudge for something that common is unworthy of you, Viking. We are, after all, Fae. The rules that govern us are different…”
“Cruelty is not!” and Eric held Niall’s eyes. After a long moment, Eric said, “I understand you planted Desmond Cataliades to handle Sookie’s wealth.”
“Desmond is working for me,” Niall replied carefully.
“I wish to place money in her account without her knowledge,” Eric told the King. “It can be presented as an unknown bequest from her dead Mother, or her Father, if you prefer. It would allow Sookie to buy the B&B she wishes…”
“I forbid it!” Niall snapped. “She needs a reason to remain with Breandan! He must remain close to his family’s holdings. If she buys her own place, it will likely be a house that is far from where she needs to be, even out of Rogan’s territory! No!” and he leaned forward. “I can see that you mean well, Northman, I do, but it would only cause problems in what must be for her.”
“I won’t abandon her.” Niall started at the words and in that moment, he knew that what Claudine said was true.
“It might be best if you made yourself more distant,” Niall answered. “She is most attractive. Consider that some part of what attracts you may be nothing more than her magic.”
“I will remain,” Eric answered. “But I won’t interfere.” He looked at Niall, “I hope that you are right. I hope that Breandan will treat her well and that Claude won’t interfere, but if you’re wrong, Niall, I will be there.” He moved a piece, placing the Fae King in checkmate. Niall’s mouth opened in shock as he realized how easily the vampire had defeated him. “And when I do step forward,” Eric told the Fae, “I expect you to have the dignity to respect my claim.”
“It won’t happen,” and Niall stood to leave, “but if it does, Viking, I won’t stand in your way.”
Eric stood on his doorstep into the night. He watched the stars wheel overhead and considered what madness had made him pledge himself to a human, hybrid woman. “Stupid!” he scolded himself, and he walked inside and readied his home for the day.