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.
Sookie’s hike on that third day was almost nostalgic. Her paths kept her just above the roads she’d driven with Amelia when her friend first visited Ireland. Then, it had been January and Sookie was so excited to find out about her Grandmother they barely noticed the cold. She had been living in Killary, and was just beginning to doubt Breandan. It was before The Grand and before Claude.
September was different. Now there were days that were raw, the rain bringing with it the bite of the ocean, but there were still other days when temperatures were balmy. Now, Sookie knew she had a Grandfather. She knew Pam and Maryann, and she knew in her heart that Breandan Brigant was not going to work out.
It was a feeling that had been growing, and, as Sookie walked, the hours passing, she found herself making mental lists of all the things he’d said and all the things he hadn’t. She thought about what it was that attracted her to him and she started to see that while he had some endearing qualities, her choosing Breandan had more to do with listening to others than her choosing what was best for her.
She could hardly think of her Mother without crying, and she appreciated the strong emotions attached to that moment in the hospital when her Mother had laid her hand in Breandan’s, a last wish for her daughter. “I wonder what you’d say now?’ Sookie asked the air, hoping that somewhere Michele heard her.
Sookie thought of those strong heroines in the books she loved, the ones who walked away from bad boyfriends to find the loves of their lives. It gave her strength, because the idea of walking away from Breandan for the second time and finding herself alone in a strange country was daunting. “But you won’t be alone!” she lectured herself. “There’s Pam, and Maryann, and all the other people you’ve met along the way!”
As she walked further, she said, “You could always return to the United States.” She thought of Aunt Linda. She knew the offer to live in Minnesota still held. Aunt Linda emailed her at least once a week. Linda had heard from Jason. He was in San Diego, but scheduled to be deployed to sea very soon. Aunt Linda told Sookie her brother was hurting over the news of their Mother’s death, but it hadn’t inspired him to email Sookie, not even once.
“I could go back,” Sookie assured herself, but, deep down, she knew that going back to the United States felt like losing. “I like it here!” she said with more confidence than she felt.
By late morning, Sookie was back in farm country. The unpaved path became an unpaved road. She found herself walking lanes with high stone walls on either side, but it was hard to see the stones. The walls were encased in solid masses of moss and plants. Fuchsia was everywhere, a riot of reds and pinks, and fat, lazy bees buzzed around her.
Birds followed her, mostly songbirds, pacing the lanes, singing their songs, and then trading places with other songbirds once she walked out of their range. She had a feeling she’d passed into her Grandfather’s kingdom when the songbirds were replaced with great ravens. These birds watched her in a more focused way. Some had black beaks, but others had grey. Sometimes, they landed on the walls or trees nearby, huddling in pairs or groups and Sookie could almost hear words as they croaked to each other.
“Just tell him I’m here!” she yelled at one especially noisy bunch. If they did understand, they didn’t give any sign. They simply sent some of their number to fly ahead, waiting for her to approach, and then making their raucous noise, jangling her nerves.
When she stopped for lunch, the ravens seemed to take that as a sign to gather in greater numbers. There was a stand of trees just across the road from where Sookie perched on a low, stone wall. She pulled the last ham sandwich Mary had made from her speed pack along with cookies and an apple. As she started to eat, the ravens set up such a racket, Sookie could barely hear herself think.
With a huff, she pulled off a piece of her sandwich and tossed it into the road. Immediately two large ravens flew down and fought over it. Looking up at the tree, Sookie took the cookies. She carefully broke them into pieces and threw them on the road, too. More birds flew down and by the time she’d finished, the crowd of birds in the tree had diminished. “Are you going to leave me alone now?” she asked one raven that seemed to be watching her.
Of course, the bird didn’t answer, but then again, maybe it did. The ravens lifted from the road and they accompanied by their fellows in the tree, took wing, flying away into the landscape. It was as though a heaviness in the air flew away with them, and Sookie found her heart lighter when she finished up what was left of her lunch and started to walk again.
Like the two days before, the trail meandered. Today though, it was more civilized than the days before. There were no high hills to traverse. Instead, Sookie found herself on farm lanes and long stretches of pavement, crossing streams and pacing cows. Most of the roads were narrow, and she learned how to lean around corners to look for vehicles. Most times, she had to actually step off the road when a car came toward her, but every driver nodded or waved. Soon Sookie found herself nodding and waving in return.
It was nearing three when the sun suddenly came out in all its glory, and the cool gave way to muggy heat. Within an hour, Sookie’s armpits were prickling and she found herself panting up even slight grades. She sucked at her water and wished she’d kept some of her cookies for the energy the sugar would have given her.
It was past five when she finally spotted the town. It came into view until she walked around a bend in the trail, and then it hid again until she cleared the next curve. Every time she saw the cluster of houses, it was a little closer, teasing her with its promise of a shower and a cold drink.
It was another hour before she reached the crossroads, and she headed straight to the B&B where she and Amelia had stayed all those months ago. Christine, the landlady, was just the way Sookie remembered her. She smiled her broad smile and lifted Sookie’s suitcase herself from where it was waiting in the front hall. “Follow me, and you’d better hurry. Your guests are already down the street at the pub. They’ve been waiting some time for you to arrive.”
Sookie did hurry. She stripped out of sweaty clothes and jumped in the shower. She washed her hair and left it to air dry, even though it meant she’d be stuck with a tumble of curls and waves. Opening her suitcase, she found her one light dress. She pulled a sweater over it; evenings were cooler. It didn’t look amazing, but she shrugged at her reflection. ‘What do they expect?’ she thought. ‘I’m hiking!’
The pub was as she remembered. Niall and Claudine were seated at the same table she’d used before. “Granddaughter!” Niall greeted her. He was wearing casual slacks and a fisherman’s sweater. Sookie thought he looked like something out of an Irish Tourist Board commercial, but she bit her tongue, and dutifully kissed his cheek, and then offered hers in return.
Claudine was a little more forward, kissing Sookie on the mouth and hugging her close before stepping back so they could all sit down. Sookie glanced around, half-hoping to see Eric, but then she stopped. The sun was still setting. It wasn’t likely he’d be here for a while.
There was a ripple around them, and Niall dropped his masque. “Please be yourself,” he urged Sookie. “Those around us will see and hear what we wish. You can be perfectly at ease.” Sookie managed to drop her masque, but it made her nervous. She was even more nervous when Niall said, “Claudine described your abilities. You say you can draw in sunlight as well?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” Sookie mumbled.
“Speak up, Sookie!” Niall scowled, “What Claudine described is unusual, and I don’t want to have to strain to hear what you’re describing. Were you always able to manifest it with the size you achieved last night?”
“No,” and Sookie sat straight, placing her hands in her lap. “No, this is the first time it got larger than me. It’s been a while since I tried. Really only once since Daddy died. Of course, I didn’t think about it getting any bigger then. It was… I don’t know, kind of a toy, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t,” Niall sniffed. “Magic is never a toy. Can you make it go where you will it? This energy column?”
“I could,” Sookie told him. “Daddy and I would practice making it jump around the room. I was pretty good at it.”
Niall sat back. “Your Grandmother, Adele, was a special person. She was human, but I always suspected she was something else. I have no other explanation for your abilities. There is no record of a hybrid ever possessing elemental magic and yet, here you are.”
“Elemental?” Sookie couldn’t decipher Claudine’s expression. Her cousin seemed balanced between impressed and appalled.
“You can create your force from even the dimmest light. You can control its size and move it.” Niall turned his odd eyes toward her, “Sookie, you have something rare, and that changes things.”
Sookie looked from her Grandfather to Claudine. Niall had sat back and seemed lost in thought. Claudine wasn’t looking at her. Instead, she was looking at Niall. The waiter came forward. He had plates for all of them. “You ordered dinner for me?” Sookie asked.
“You’re American. I thought you might want one of these.” Niall had ordered Sookie a hamburger with French fries. It wasn’t what Sookie would have picked, but she saw Niall had ordered one for himself as well, so she decided to make the best of it. “Why don’t you tell us about your day while we eat?” Niall suggested. His fingers moved over his sandwich, cutting it in two, and then delicately setting one half to the side before picking up the other. “We’ll consider what to do about your rather surprising gifts later.” His eyes flicked toward the door and Sookie realized he was waiting for someone.
Dinner passed. Sookie talked about the sights she’d seen along the trail. Niall smiled when she told them about the ravens. “They told me you spoke with them. How did you know that feeding them would gain their approval?”
“I didn’t,” Sookie shrugged. “I just figured birds like to eat, I had food, no more complicated than that!”
“You communicate with birds as well?” Claudine hissed.
“And animals, far as I can figure,” Sookie offered. “I can’t talk with them, if that’s what you mean, but we kind of understand each other.”
“They have their own languages,” Niall confirmed. “It’s like our masques. Once you know what to listen for, you can understand them if you have the gift.”
“Which you do,” Claudine was looking even more worried.
“What is it?” Sookie asked, but she had a sinking feeling she knew the answer already.
“Northman!” Niall interrupted. He rose from his chair and Sookie found herself doing the same. She didn’t feel that open happiness that she’d felt before, so she wondered if the tie was already muting, but then she realized the dampened feelings were coming from Eric. He was cautious and he was urging her to be cautious, too. She almost opened her mouth to tell him she understood, but then she closed it with an audible snap.
“Sookie,” Eric bowed, after bowing more formally to Niall and greeting Claudine. “You are looking quite lovely,” and Sookie realized it was the first time Eric had seen her without her more human face.
“So polite,” Niall observed. “I would have thought you would at least embrace your woman. Don’t let my presence inhibit you.”
“What are you talking about?” Sookie’s eyes narrowed.
“She is not mine,” Eric’s eyes stayed on Niall.
“Tut, tut,” Niall smiled agreeably, “No need for secrets among us! You carry each other’s scents. You can’t think I wouldn’t notice.”
“A tie,” Eric looked uneasy. “I asked for her blood to keep track of her on her journey…”
“And I slipped,” Sookie added. “It was an accident.”
Niall’s eyes flicked between them, reminding Sookie of a cat watching prey. “I see,” he said at last, then once more took his seat, inviting Eric to join them. When they were settled, Niall brought Eric up to speed. “Sookie’s gifts are prodigious and quite unexpected. I suspect her Grandmother may have had something to do with it, but, of course, now we’ll never know.” He looked sad, but soon recovered, “So, now that we know she is capable of killing with magic, she can’t return to Slievemore and Rogan.”
“Hold on!” Sookie’s mouth dropped. “Killing? What are you talking about?”
“You pull energy from the dimmest light. You direct it. If you were to push it against a Fae, you would find that the column would consume them. It is ancient, this gift you possess, but it means that once trained, you would be a weapon worth possessing.” Niall waited a minute for that to sink in before continuing, “If Breandan were to find out about this, he would tell his Father, and you’d be prisoner in some dark place while Rogan figured out how to force you to use your gifts to his benefit.” Niall’s eyes were hard. “This ‘gift’ of yours is more than a pretty trifle. With practice, it will grow. In time, you could be used to destroy armies.”
“I would never do that!” Sookie exclaimed. “I’m not destroying anyone. I pull light together…”
“And form a column that has mass and purpose.” Niall looked at her as if she was a slow child. “Your Father probably knew what this was and he trained you in the rudiments you would need to master it. I’m sure in the Americas what you formed was relatively small, but here, with the residual magic that lives in all things? Here it is the weapon it was meant to be.”
“So, then, I won’t use it,” Sookie didn’t like the direction this was heading. “I won’t do it ever again and no one needs to know. I haven’t told Breandan and there’s no reason I should. I’m engaged, and…”
“To your enemy,” Claudine spoke up.
“Breandan isn’t my enemy!” Sookie huffed. “Just because…”
“You pity him because you think he loves you.” The scorn dripped from Niall’s tongue. The King pulled the bread plate forward and spilled his water onto it, creating a shallow pool.
“Don’t!” Eric leaned forward, but the Fae King had already waved his hand over the plate.
A picture formed. Sookie didn’t want to look, but she found she couldn’t turn her eyes away. It was Killary, their cottage. She recognized the bookshelves. She saw Breandan’s fiddle, laying on the table. Breandan was on the floor on his hands and knees, and Claude was behind him. She didn’t need anyone to tell her. Their movements told the tale. Claude drew her fiancé up and he turned Breandan’s head. They kissed and Sookie felt her heart hurt.
“Sookie, remember that you have been thinking of leaving him,” Eric said sympathetically. “Pam told me,” and when she looked at him, her eyes brimming, he added, “And I felt it.” He covered her hand with his own. “Examine your heart, Sookie. Seeing this is more shock than heartbreak. I think, deep down, you knew he wasn’t the one for you.”
“Still…” and she stood, walking blindly for the door.
“That was cruel!” Eric hissed at Niall, before following Sookie outside.
“You see?” Claudine told her Grandfather as they watched the vampire exit. “He will protect her. He feels compelled.”
“Settle the bill,” Niall nodded. “I will speak with her. I believe they will both see reason.”
Sookie walked across the street to the graveyard that lay beside the Church. This was the place where she’d found the record of her Grandmother’s birth. She remembered that day, how happy she’d been. “I thought you were my one,” she said out loud, and then, lifting her hand, she removed the ring Breandan gave her.
“I’m sorry Niall did that,” Eric was behind her. He stepped closer, and Sookie could feel the comfort he was sending her. “There were other ways you could have found out that would have been kinder.”
“You knew?” and Sookie turned, swiping away the quick tear that coursed down her cheek.
“Breandan has been Claude’s for as long as I’ve known them, and that’s centuries,” Eric nodded. “If it’s any consolation, I believe Breandan was sincere in his effort to break with Claude for you, but, in the end, he couldn’t.”
“Because I wasn’t enough,” Sookie sighed.
“Because he wasn’t enough,” Eric corrected her, and pulled her into his arms.
“As I thought,” Niall interrupted. Sookie jumped back and Eric let her. She knew her face was burning, and suddenly she wasn’t sad, she was furious.
“Was this all just a set up?” she challenged her Grandfather. “Was this all about forcing me dance to your tune, because if it was, you are just fucked up.”
“That’s enough!” Niall commanded, and Sookie found her voice lost. She clutched at her throat, but no sounds came out.
“Release her,” Eric snarled, and Sookie could feel the pressure on her throat ease.
“I can do the same to you, Vampire!” Niall threatened. He turned to Sookie, “I need you to listen to me. You are right. I was cruel, but you needed to know the truth. Without seeing what Breandan Brigant is, you would doubt what I tell you. Your all too-human heart would quibble about promises and nights spent under him, and that would only place you in danger.” Niall turned to Eric, “You know that I am speaking the truth. Tell her.”
“He doesn’t need to tell me anything!” Sookie’s chin jutted forward, “I know you can’t lie, but why?”
“Would you have believed me in your heart if I told you Slievemore held no future for you?” Niall questioned. “You know Breandan’s limitations, but hearing a thing and seeing a thing are different.”
Sookie looked again at Breandan’s ring. She was holding it in the palm of her hand. “I guess I should send this back,” she sniffed. “I was thinking about ending it, Eric’s right. I was wondering how we’d live in the same town…”
“You can’t go back there,” Niall said shortly.
Sookie’s mouth dropped open, and then she said, “What are you talking about? My friends are there. My things are there. I…”
“You can’t go back,” Niall repeated. “This power of yours will become known. You were seen.”
“By birds!” Sookie spit out. “By Claudine and Eric. You think they’re going to blab?”
“The birds have already. It’s why the ravens followed you and they weren’t sent by me,” Niall waited. Sookie could feel a wariness from Eric, but she wouldn’t ask him about it in front of her Fae family.
“You must believe me, Sookie. Rogan will know of your powers by now. If Breandan wasn’t distracted… well, Breandan would know as well.” Niall waited, watching Sookie with sharp eyes. When she didn’t say anything, he said, “I understand this is difficult for you. You have just arrived in this country, just made a new life, and already you are being asked to change, but, that’s not unusual for you, is it? You’ve moved all your life. In fact, weren’t you already considering making another move?”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“Northman tells me you wanted to start your own B&B,” and he turned to Eric, “Isn’t that what you said?”
Sookie threw a quick look at Eric and answered herself, “I was thinking I’d like to do that.”
“Yet you were willing to give it up to make a life with Breandan,” and Niall shook his head as though he thought Sookie was selling herself short. It was different emotions Sookie was picking up from Eric now, more annoyance and some slight anger.
“You should be able to follow your dreams,” Claudine added as she joined them. “A mate who truly cares for you doesn’t ask you to give up the things you truly wish.” Sookie had turned to listen to Claudine. She didn’t see Niall’s knowing smile aimed at Eric.
“I wish I could keep you here in my kingdom,” Niall stepped forward, taking Sookie’s hand in his. “You are my family. It is my fondest wish that I could keep you here, but it is not possible. As I have told you, there are many here who will hate you because of what you are, and so I must find other ways to protect you,” and Niall looked sad. He squeezed her hand hard and when she looked at him, he smiled as he said, “Fortunately, there is such a solution at hand,” and he stared at Eric.
“The vampire has told me of his fondness for you…” Sookie felt the blood drain from her face. She could feel Eric’s shock and it amplified her own. Niall took her numb hand and grabbing the vampire’s hand, he placed her hand in his. “Northman’s Queen has a wide territory. It passes between Rogan’s kingdom and my own. You walked through it for two days. If you ally yourself with Northman, you will become part of the Unseelie Court. No Fae would dare touch you. Queen Sophie-Ann protects those sworn to her, and our treaties of non-aggression with vampires are of long standing.”
Eric seemed to be at a loss for words while Sookie felt as if her feet were cemented to the ground. She swallowed, and then swallowed again before grabbing her hand back as if Eric’s was on fire. “What would that mean? Being allied?” she demanded.
“He could declare you His,” Niall shrugged.
“Pledging by the knife would be better,” Claudine added.
“Pledging…” and Sookie looked at her Grandfather. She could feel Eric behind her, but she didn’t trust herself to look at him.
“It’s the vampire form of marriage,” It was Eric who said it. “It would give you standing and make clear that any who harmed you, even my own people, would face me.”
“You are a formidable foe, Sheriff,” Niall nodded. “Only someone truly brave or foolhardy would risk facing you in combat.”
Claudine was smiling at Sookie, “There are many lovely places in Sophie-Ann’s kingdom, and the trail wanders through it at two different points. The return trail runs right along the sea. I seem to recall you liked being on the ocean. It would be a perfect place for your B&B. You could finally have your home and with the laws that govern the vampires, and the strength of the Unseelie, you could live a long and happy life there.”
“Marriage?” Sookie whispered.
“A vampire marriage,” Niall confirmed. “You could train. I could help you and once you are capable of defending yourself and your reputation is established, after a year or so, you can divorce him.” He looked at Eric, “It’s rather easy to do, isn’t it? You each cut your hand with your pledging knife and declare your union dissolved. Isn’t that it?”
“She doesn’t want to marry me,” Eric said shortly.
“I think you’re selling yourself short, Northman,” Niall chuckled. “She is just as interested in you as you are in her.”
“Why would I do this?” Sookie felt as if her head was spinning. Nothing was making sense.
“Because it’s the easiest way for you to get your freedom, your safety, and everything you want,” Claudine shrugged.
Sookie turned to Eric, “But you can’t want this. This is crazy!”
“You could return to America,” Eric told her.
Claudine and Niall both turned to look at Sookie. “But I don’t want to go back there,” Sookie told them. “There’s nothing for me in America.”
“And, as we’ve seen, trouble could just as easily follow her there and no one would be close enough to protect her. No, it would be better if Sookie stayed here,” Niall added. “I know you probably don’t believe it, Granddaughter, but I do wish you well. Were my people ready to accept the inevitable, that we must mate with other species or fade from all worlds, you would have a place of honor in my own house. You would have my acknowledgement and all I could give you.” He looked fondly at Claudine, “Although you might find that being within this family has its own troubles.”
“What I can do for you is advocate for your happiness.” The King looked at Eric, “The vampire does care for you. He may not have told you, but he is fond of you, enough that he is willing to defy me and plot ways to stay close to you.”
Sookie glanced at Eric, but Eric remained staring at Niall. “I trust him, Sookie,” Niall continued. “He is an honorable man. He would have pursued you earlier, but I commanded him to let you go. I interfered,” and he nodded to Eric. “I confess to you, Northman, I was wrong. I believed Sookie would be safest remaining in Rogan’s realm, even though I knew my brother saw her as a hostage, not some future daughter.”
“Hostage?” Sookie whispered.
“You should know, I have been paying Rogan blackmail money, Sookie, tribute,” Niall told her.
“Because I am so terrible?” Sookie stammered.
“Because you are so precious,” Niall corrected and he smiled, cupping her cheek. “You told Claudine you were happy with Breandan. Rogan had every reason to keep you content living in his land. Paying my brother and listening to his crowing seemed a small price to pay for knowing you were well and content.”
“And now my magic changes that?” and Sookie found the air seemed heavy.
“You are a force,” Niall nodded. “You have a gift that can be used in times of war. It is a gift that can create mischief in times of peace as well. The vampire is a worthy protector. You are fond of him and you’ve exchanged blood. What could be better? And,” and Niall leaned forward to kiss Sookie’s cheek, “It doesn’t have to be permanent. You don’t have to stay married. Vampires are practical like that.”
“Even the Selkies will have to honor a union with the Northman,” Claudine was grinning like this was the happiest news. “They will honor the laws of the Unseelie, even if that means breaking with Rogan, for all they have some distant shared relation.”
“The best of solutions!” and Niall looked positively exuberant.
Sookie felt all the energy drain from her. “I’d like to go back to the B&B,” she told Eric.
“I’ll take you,” he replied and stepped forward, placing his hand on her arm.
“Think about it,” Niall urged his Granddaughter. “Talk about it together. Northman knows the ways of our world. I think you’ll find that this solution works best for both of you.”
Sookie didn’t know what to say. Eric’s hand had dropped from her arm and he walked, equally silent, behind her.
When they got to the door, Sookie stopped. There was a bench sitting outside and although the breeze was cool, she sat down. Eric sat beside her and after a minute, he reached over and took her hand.
Sookie sighed. Touching Eric, feeling his emotions, realizing he was unsettled, made her feel better. “Are you thinking about this?” she asked.
Eric’s mouth twitched and he answered, “Are you?”
Sookie couldn’t help it. She smiled. She could feel Eric’s odd sense of humor, the one that matched her own. “This feels like something out of one of my crazy romance novels,” she sighed.
“Oh?” and Eric turned to her. “And what happens next? Do I sweep you into my arms and you swoon?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever swooned,” and Sookie rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know,” Eric drawled, “I think you’d make a great swooner. You might even find that swooning becomes your favorite thing,” and he waggled his eyebrows.
Sookie laughed and she did feel better. Eric brought his arm around her and Sookie snuggled against him. “Do you think I’m really in danger?” she asked.
“Yes, Älskare,” Eric said solemnly. “Breandan won’t want to hurt you, but Rogan will be angry and it will suit Claude’s purpose.” Eric settled a little, moving Sookie closer. “Claude is cruel and he enjoys hurting people. He is attached to Breandan, as much as a creature like him can be attached to anyone. Even if Breandan didn’t care for you, Claude would still be jealous, which would compel him to make sure you suffered.”
“Sticks and stones, Eric!” Sookie shrugged. “They were nasty to me at The Grand. That Mae…”
“Did you know Mae was Breandan’s wife?” Eric asked.
Sookie stilled. She had figured it out, but hearing it confirmed caused her to feel a small pinch to her heart. “I do now,” she nodded, and then, embarrassed at how small her voice had become, Sookie took a breath, lifted her chin, and added, “Breandan told me, well, kind of.”
“And did you know Rogan killed her?”
Now Sookie did still. The cold spot that had found her heart seemed to spread throughout her body and she shivered. The breeze, which was tolerable enough a few minutes ago, became chilly, and Sookie straightened. “I think I should go inside,” she announced.
“There is more to discuss,” Eric persisted.
It would be easy to run away, telling Eric they could talk about it later. Sookie wanted time to think over what Eric had just told her, how that changed her opinion of Rogan and the peril she faced, but she knew that wasn’t the wise move. “There’s a sitting room downstairs,” she replied. “We can talk inside.”
“It would be more private if we spoke in your room,” Eric persisted.
Biting her lip, Sookie nodded, and together they climbed the stairs. Eric glanced at the bed and then seated himself, leaning against the headboard. He lifted the blankets and said, “Get under the blankets and warm up.” Sookie slipped off her shoes and did just that. Eric got up, grabbed the extra blanket from the closet, and wrapped it around Sookie’s shoulders before resuming his place on the bed and pulling her close to him. When she shifted enough to be comfortable, Eric sighed, “I like this.”
Eric stroked her head with one hand, while holding her hand against his chest. Sookie marveled at how being like this calmed her enough to ask her next question. “Did he really kill Mae?”
“Yes,” Eric was calm. She could sense that he was both amused and waiting. Sookie realized Eric knew she would have more questions, and the fact that he ‘got’ her made her like the vampire more.
Sitting up a little, Sookie asked, “Why would he do that?”
“From what I’ve heard, Rogan was enraged when Mae’s petty cruelty drove you from The Grand. He meant her to be both your warden and a reminder to Breandan not to become too attached to you.” Eric’s thumb brushed over the hand that Sookie was resting on his chest. “Rogan’s temper is known to run hot. I’m sure Mae’s relatives are demanding retribution, although her purpose was to provide an heir and she failed.”
“If Rogan’s so dangerous, why did my Grandfather send me back the first time?” Sookie asked.
“For all the reasons he gave you,” Eric shrugged. “He believed Breandan and Slievemore were the best of bad choices, and I’m sure your happiness was a factor.”
“And now he doesn’t believe that,” Sookie said sadly.
“No one knew about your magic, Sookie. Now we do, and, although others won’t know the strength of your power, they will know you are in possession of something special. You must believe that Rogan will hesitate at nothing to force you to his will,” Eric told her. “He hates Niall, but he lusts for power and approval more. And Breandan? Breandan is a pale reflection of his Father. He will do things to you to please his Father, unpleasant things, torture. You understand that, don’t you?”
Sookie nodded, but when she didn’t say anything else, Eric continued, “I can feel your sadness. Do you still love him very much?”
It surprised Sookie how quickly the tears sprang to her eyes, “I thought I did,” she nodded. Shifting, she pulled the ring from her pocket. It was so beautiful, sparkling and perfect in her hand. “I wanted to,” she confessed. Glancing up, she asked, “Could you return this to him?” and she held out the ring.
Eric nodded, “I will see that it’s returned.”
“Are we really considering going through with this pledging thing?” Sookie asked as she brushed a single tear from her cheek.
“I have been thinking on it,” Eric wasn’t looking at her. “I believe it would be the best move under these circumstances.”
“Because getting pledged to you will protect me?” Sookie’s voice was small again. Eric tucked the ring in his pants pocket and then pulled her close again.
“It is a practical solution on many levels,” Eric replied. “I have standing in my Queen’s Court. If you were my mate, to injure or abduct you would cause a war.” He chuckled, “Niall was right. I do have a reputation and that will encourage our kind to give you a wide berth.”
“But…marriage…vampire marriage… How does that work?” Sookie couldn’t believe she was asking.
“The ceremony or after?” and Sookie felt Eric’s uneasiness returning.
“The ceremony, after… All of it,” and Sookie waited, staring into the room.
“The ceremony is simple,” Eric shifted, putting his arm in back of his head. Sookie could feel a certain unsettled feeling coming from him, and it made her wonder how sure he really was about all this. “There is a knife, a ceremonial knife. You hand it to me in front of witnesses and I kiss the blade.”
When he didn’t say any more, Sookie asked, “That’s it?”
“Sometimes couples will add a blood exchange,” Eric shrugged. “We won’t, of course.”
“And after?” Sookie could feel Eric shifting into something she interpreted as thinking mode. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either, more like a low level electrical hum.
“I have a safe house in a town called Ballytyne. It’s not far from the Queen’s fort. It would be safest if we both lived there for a while, at least until news travels and things settle down.”
“You think there’ll be trouble?” Sookie asked.
“With you, Älskare?” Eric grinned down at her, “Always! You were made for trouble.”
“What will I do there at your safe house?” Sookie asked. The question was directed as much to herself as it was to Eric.
“Do?” and then Eric nodded, “The house is much like any other house. It will be equipped with technology, Internet. I suppose you think it’s some crypt. There is a place within its walls where I rest, but, other than that, it’s a regular house. It you wish, I can place your name on the deed, and then it will be yours as well. You can use your time to do the same things you would do any other place you call your home. You can look for a suitable place to start your business. You can correspond with your friends. The townspeople are pleasant. You can find a job if that will amuse you.”
“I don’t want hand-outs,” Sookie bit out, then realizing how rude she sounded, mumbled, “Sorry.” Taking a breath, she asked, “And what about you? What would this mean for your pub in Slievemore?”
Eric shrugged, but Sookie could tell he wasn’t as nonchalant as he was trying to appear, “I will make arrangements. Rogan may be willing to let it remain open under different management, or I may have to sell it.”
“Pam told me you have another place in Rogan’s kingdom as well. And what about all the people who work for you? They’d lose their jobs and you’d lose a lot of money by doing this.” Sookie felt terrible, “Why would you even consider it?”
“Perhaps it’s because I don’t like Rogan,” Eric smirked, “Or perhaps it’s because I want Niall to owe me a favor,” and he shifted until he was turned more toward her, “Or perhaps it’s because I want you closer to me,” and Eric leaned down and kissed her.
Sookie shouldn’t have, but she did return the kiss. Her lips grew soft under his and she readily opened to his tongue, jousting and nipping. His hand strayed toward her chest and then pulled back, impeded by the layers of blanket wrapped around her. “You see?” he laughed. “Trouble!”
Sookie sighed and settled back against him, her head on his chest. He wrapped his arm around her as she asked, “Have you ever been married before?”
“Pledged? No,” and he shook his head, “not in my vampire form.”
“But you were?” and Sookie waited.
Eric sighed, “It was another time, Sookie. I married my brother’s wife after he died. Her family’s alliance and her dowry were too important. She was older than me. It was how things were done.”
“What happened to her?” Sookie realized how little she really knew about Eric and it started to make her nervous.
“I don’t know,” he said simply. “I was taken by my Maker, and I never saw her or my children again.” Eric pulled Sookie’s head back so he could look into her eyes, “It was a different time. Things among the Fae, among vampires, were different.”
“And in all this time, you never found someone else you wanted to pledge yourself to?” Sookie persisted.
“No,” and he grinned, shaking his head. “When I take you before the Queen, you will be a surprise.”
“Why?” and then Sookie sighed, “Never mind! When do you think we should do this?”
“Questions!” and Eric threw his head back, but Sookie could tell he wasn’t really irritated. After a minute, and more of those low level electrical feelings, he said, “Tomorrow night would be best. There is no reason to delay.”
“Tomorrow night?” and things started to feel very real. There were a million questions reeling around in her head, but the only one that made it out of her was, “What would I wear?”
“Ever practical!” Eric smirked and, in a move that felt more intimate, he kissed her forehead, resting his own against hers. “The dress you have on is perfectly acceptable. Frankly, I think you could wear your hiking pants and no one would comment.”
Sookie was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen, and she told him so. “So, should I just walk back?” she asked.
“It would be better if you weren’t alone on the road from now on,” Eric told her. “Stay here tomorrow. It’s your Grandfather’s territory. No one will bother you. I will come for you tomorrow at sunset and fly you back.”
“There goes my vacation,” Sookie chuckled, trying to make light of the situation.
“Look at it this way,” Eric shrugged, “You lose a vacation and gain a husband.”
Sookie was sure he meant to be funny, but she was feeling something more akin to panic. “Is that what I’d call you?” she stammered.
“Of course,” and Eric sat up, making sure she could see his face. “We would be mated, pledged. I would be your husband. You would be my wife.”
He said it so calmly, but Sookie wasn’t feeling calm. She felt first Eric’s concern, and then his overt effort to send her confidence. It wasn’t helping, “Cut it out!” she sat up herself, pushing the blankets down, feeling all too trapped by everything. “This… I mean…” and Sookie started to hyperventilate.
“You don’t want me?” Eric’s brows drew together.
“No! I mean, yes! I mean… This is going really fast.” Eric’s head cocked to the side and Sookie was pretty sure he was analyzing her emotional state.
“It is overwhelming,” he nodded. He leaned back and put his arm around her, pulling her to him again. Sookie resisted, and then she didn’t. “There,” he soothed her. “Just let the idea settle. You will have more questions,” and he chuckled, “Many more questions, and we will find the answers together until you are satisfied.”
“You really aren’t worried about this?” Sookie couldn’t help it. Eric’s easy acceptance was making her own acceptance easier.
“No,” Eric laughed. “I find that I like the idea. It was unexpected for me, too, but I like you, and our being pledged would be agreeable.”
“And your Queen? She isn’t going to have a problem with you being pledged to me?” Sookie hadn’t realized until this moment how the Fae’s reaction to her being a hybrid had affected her. She wasn’t sure if she could stand being treated as an inferior by another group of Supernaturals.
Eric wasn’t feeling so settled now either, and Sookie was sure her worst fears were realized, but then he said, “She will be curious. As I said, I have resisted pledging in past. Understand that I owe her my fealty, but I am also much older than she is. While she may wonder, she won’t challenge my choice.” Eric smirked, “I placed her on her throne. If she is smart, she will be happy there is another reason to keep me here and working for her.”
“So, my being…you know,” and Sookie couldn’t finish.
“Not full Fae?” Eric guessed. “I will make sure Niall acknowledges you to Sophie-Ann. She may think I’m marrying above myself, but my willingness to stay here may stop her from being too suspicious of my motives.”
“Feast or famine!” Sookie exclaimed. “Either I’m not good enough, or I’m too good?”
“You are just right,” and Eric pulled Sookie closer. “Are you finished with your questions for now? The night is passing and there is much to do.”
“I guess,” Sookie sniffed.
“Then, I will leave you for now. I will return at first dark. Be prepared to leave. Sophie-Ann holds her Court early, so she can spend the remainder of the night hours playing with her children. It’s best to pledge with her as our witness, then no one can dispute it.” Eric had risen from the bed and started straightening his clothes as he spoke.
“You’re sure about this?” Sookie asked again. It was occurring to her that she’d be living with Eric and he’d be calling her his wife, and there was a rather large elephant in the room they were both avoiding.
Eric squinted at her, “What is it?” he asked, and Sookie smiled to think that it was the vampire’s turn to ask a question.
“I guess I just don’t want you to feel forced into this,” Sookie fumbled.
He moved so quickly she didn’t realize she was in his arms until she was. “No one forces me,” he whispered against her lips. “I told you, I am happy with this. And you, Sookie? Do you want me?”
And there it was. Sookie’s mouth dropped open and Eric took it as an invitation. His mouth slanted over hers and, despite of the slight chill of his mouth, Sookie felt her blood rush, warming her all over. She moaned and he took that as further invitation, his arms snaking around her, freeing her from blankets and pulling her closer. He drew his head back and she was pretty sure she looked like she wanted him a whole lot. “Do you?” he asked, squeezing her chest against his.
“Uh,” Sookie stuttered, and Eric loosened his grip, allowing her boneless body to drop back on the bed.
“The correct answer is, ‘I do,’” he teased, and then kissing the end her nose, Eric Northman was gone.