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.
When Eric rose that evening, Sookie was lying beside him. She was smiling in her sleep. She seemed to do it often and it made him smile seeing it. Her scent emanated from the sheets. It didn’t matter how often he covered her with his, it was her essence that won; sun, wheat and spring wind. He caught sight of his face in the mirror across the room and he saw his Father. ‘I’m besotted,’ he chuckled, but he didn’t wish to change a thing. “What wouldn’t I do for you?” he whispered, rolling over just enough to free his hand so he could touch her.
“Bad tempered, ignorant, loyal, brave…” and he couldn’t help laughing again. She moved, and he pulled his hand back. “Wife,” he finished. He remembered his Father sparring with his Mother. Sometimes their banter turned to fighting, their voices raised in such fury it caused him and his siblings to seek shelter in other houses, though they rarely stayed angry. They were passionate people who lived fully. They might push at each other, teasing and challenging, but let someone else say a cross word and they became a fearsome team. ‘Foreplay,’ Eric realized. They never said it, but he had no doubt his parents were devoted to each other. ‘As I am to you,’ he thought, gazing at his sleeping mate.
He was deciding how to wake her. He thought of the steps she would take as she found consciousness. First, she would scrunch her face and try to ignore him. For a moment, her mouth would purse and then, she’d pout. It was his favorite part, when her lower lip pushed forward just a bit.
He was leaning forward when he was interrupted by his phone. It was Kiernan. Eric could tell because he’d had each of his Sheriffs programmed with a different tone, and they knew not to signal him during this hour unless it was important.
With a sigh, Eric rolled over, then stilled while he read the message. ‘Your Maker is on an Anubis flight to Dublin.”
Sookie chose that moment to sigh, and Eric felt his balls shrivel. ‘When?’ he texted and within seconds he had the hangar number and arrival time. He had barely an hour to get there and intercept Appius. If he didn’t, his Maker would be in the wind and it might take Eric some time to track him down.
‘What drew you here?’ he wondered. ‘You returned to Moscow. You decided against coming here. What changed your mind?’ There were many possibilities, but only one made sense. Eric talked too much in Scotland. He boasted of his dealings and relationships and the efficiency of those he trained. It had been so long since he’d seen his Maker, his desire to impress Appius had overcome his better judgement. He’d brought this test on himself. Appius had done it before, shown up to verify what he’d been told. It was his way of making certain his progeny understood the importance of being honest.
Sookie chose that moment to make another sound and Eric stilled. He hadn’t been honest with his Maker, not entirely, not about this. Eric shivered. ‘It will be well,’ he assured himself, but his worry lingered. ‘I will defend you.’ The words sprang into his mind. His mother had wielded a sword when needed, but he knew his father felt his place was standing between his mate and danger. ‘And so is mine.’
Silently, Eric rose and gathered his clothes. He plotted out the next few hours, running through contingencies, his mind racing. Sometimes Appius stayed for a day or two and if that happened, Eric would take him to Ballytyne. With two light-tight chambers, it would be best there.
He turned and found Sookie’s eyes on him. “Where are you going?” she asked. He felt the pull. He wanted nothing more than to rip off his clothes and claim her, warming the cold that had settled in his heart. Her warmth would envelope him and her blood would sing through his veins, yet he held back. He couldn’t have her scent on him. There would be time once the danger had passed and his Maker headed back to Russia.
“Something came up. It was unexpected, but nothing to worry about. I’ll be back before dawn.” He knew he might be lying, but he played the odds.
Appius would be amused to find Eric waiting on the tarmac. His Maker would be satisfied that Eric’s networks had alerted him. If things went as expected, they would talk, and Appius would leave. It was what he’d done in past and with his Maker’s dislike for Queen Sophie-Ann, it was likely.
Eric leaned down to capture his mate’s lips and her hand lay soft against his cheek. He could feel her confusion. He had been making an effort to discuss his official business in advance, bringing her more into their supernatural life, but this was different. As he pulled away, her lip pouted. Another woman might have taken him to task, carping and complaining about his evasiveness, but his Sookie just collapsed back onto their bed, making the air around them move, and perfuming the room with her scent.
“Hurry home,” she said instead, and Eric raced down the stairs, Sookie filling his nostrils.
The traffic on the highway leading to the airport moved easily. Eric multi-tasked, erasing messages and pictures from his phone. It was another habit, handing his phone to Appius. His Maker would amuse himself, scrolling through Eric’s email and contacts list, questioning in his shorthand way. ‘Catching up,’ he called it. Since Eric had already scrubbed the phone before seeing Appius in Scotland, it didn’t take long. He could have purchased a burner phone, but it would have made Appius suspicious. Better the usual messages and documents between himself and his business associates. He considered wiping out all Sookie’s messages, but he left a few. It would not have been credible to have nothing between himself and his bonded, particularly as it was known they shared a residence. Eric scanned the texts, keeping those that didn’t refer to emotions. She’d started texting him nude selfies, so he deleted those, too.
‘A test,’ Eric assured himself, pulling up to the far side of the hangar. The plane was visible, starting its journey from the runway. Eric rushed to the other side of the building, so he would be there when the ladder lowered. It was only then he noticed he wasn’t alone. The Queen’s limo was idling nearby and Andre beside it, watching the plane.
“I didn’t expect to see you.” Eric struggled to keep his tone neutral. It was possible there was someone else on the plane, but knowing Appius, it didn’t seem likely.
“You’re in trouble, Northman,” Andre informed him. “You stand accused of conspiring with the Seelie. There’s a story circulating that the purpose in hiring your Sheriffs was so you could be free to spy for Niall Brigant and that you’re conspiring with them to stage a takeover.”
“What are you talking about? That is ridiculous!” It seemed impossible for anyone to believe such a far-fetched story, but, for the first time, Eric felt fear as he watched Appius’ plane approach. “I’ve been straight with you, Andre,” Eric bargained, “You and our Queen have made money because of me. Grant me the favor of knowing what’s being said about me before my Maker arrives.”
“The rumor came through the witches,” Andre hissed-spoke. “There is talk your mate has unusual powers. They say she can destroy us with a glance and you knew about it. Is it true, Northman?”
“Of course not,” Eric lied. His mind raced, running down the list of those who knew about Sookie. There was Claudine and Niall, of course, Rogan and Breandan, too, but he couldn’t see any of them endangering his mate since it would endanger all the Seelie also. He was pretty sure Pam knew about Sookie’s powers and maybe her friend, Maryann, but he eliminated both as well. Niall had been sending various creatures to train his wife. It was possible one of them said something that was blown out of proportion. He didn’t think Octavia would betray Sookie, but he asked, “Was it Octavia Fant who called?”
“No,” Andre shook his head, “No, she’s fled. Everyone knows she was working with your bonded. She was worried for her life.” Eric wondered why he hadn’t heard about this earlier, but Andre added, “I had the warning delivered to her earlier today. She left this afternoon. America.”
“You don’t believe this story,” Eric stated. There were only so many reasons that would bring Andre here to meet his Maker’s plane and none of them good. So far, the Queen’s Second had been cooperative, even cordial, but it didn’t explain why Andre was here.
“I’m reserving judgment,” Andre sniffed. “You’ve always been too laissez-faire toward other races. It makes our kind distrust you…or want to knock you down.” Andre glanced sideways. “The Queen wants you neutralized until this is all sorted,” and Andre’s smile turned grim, “It wasn’t her first instinct. She’s still angry with you and herself. She blames you for your bonding.” When Eric didn’t say anything, Andre chuckled, “You have the worst luck, Eric. Why is that?”
An idea was forming in Eric’s mind, not a good one. What if Appius hadn’t chosen to come? What if he’d been summoned? “Sookie…” He spoke her name. Andre stared at him, and then he could see Andre’s understanding.
“She’ll be safe, Northman,” Andre told him. “Sophie-Ann called Niall first. She told him he needed to reclaim your mate. Under the circumstances, it was the smart move.”
“Was it your suggestion?” Eric asked.
“My Queen’s pleasure,” Andre answered. “Of course, these rumors get started and never turn out to be anything, but our Queen doesn’t want the responsibility of Sookie’s safety while the truth is discovered.” Eric opened his mouth, but Andre held up a hand. “The Seelie told her they have watchers in place. Your bonded will be perfectly safe until her relatives can remove her to Seelie territory.” Andre looked at the plane, which was just starting to make the turn toward them. “She called Appius before I could stop her. You know Sophie-Ann. She was in a fine rage, not thinking about the consequences. Your Maker was her second call, though. She secured your mate first before deciding how to get you out of the way. She’s hoping it’s all a lie. The money she’s pulling in from her partnership with your Good-Father is making her rich.” Andre chuckled, “If it’s any consolation, you know she likes you, at least. She could have just ordered your final death.”
“So, why are you here, Andre?” Eric asked.
“To take your Maker to reclaim you, but since you’re here, we won’t need to track you down. Really most considerate of you, Northman.” Andre gave Eric a long look, “You should know, Sophie-Ann regrets forcing your bonding. She wanted you as her consort, even if we both know it would have been a terrible idea. She thought she could keep you in line, which we both know is impossible, but she is right about this,” and Andre nodded at the plane. “Your Maker is the only one capable of overcoming any influence your mate and the Seelie exert over you.”
“Surely, she doesn’t believe this story!” Eric hissed.
“No, she doesn’t, not really, but she feels by handing you over to Appius, it eliminates possibilities. She may not like The Roman…” and Andre held up his hand to stop Eric’s protest, “but she knows you won’t cross him. You should appreciate how much our kind fears your strength and abilities. Everyone was worried about you being used as an enforcer for the Seelie. They believe if there were a war, your being on their side would tip things in their favor.”
“Who is speaking of war?” Eric asked.
“The witches,” Andre answered.
Time was running out and the reality of what would happen next was settling in. ‘It was a dream,’ Eric thought. ‘I was foolish to believe I could escape my fate. It is as it has always been, I find happiness only to have it ripped away.” Eric felt the bitterness of the moment. There would be no more conversations about turning, no future forever. ‘My forever is vampire,’ he reminded himself, ‘as the child of Appius Livius Ocella.’
The plane was close, and Eric’s mind clicked to the other woman in his life who faced danger from his Maker. He pulled out his phone, texting Pam. ‘Appius is taking me. Niall has Sookie. Don’t interfere. Stockholm.’ He waited until he was sure it went through, then erased the words.
Now the pieces fell into place. The Roman had Queen Sophie-Ann’s support. Appius had been summoned. Appius came. Appius would demand Eric surrender to reinstating his Maker’s command. Eric could fight. He could kill both Andre and Appius, but, if he did, there would be nowhere to hide. No ruler would offer him sanctuary. Sookie and Pam would be in constant danger. Unconsciously, Eric’s head bowed, acknowledging his fate.
Eric thought of texting Sookie, he yearned for it. His non-beating heart ached in his chest, remembering how he’d seen her only an hour before, promising to return to her. ‘I will break my word to you this last time,’ he grieved, and then, “I will miss you.”
Eric imagined his mate, her quick temper and quicker smile. He remembered how her chin lifted and her hands fisted at her hips when her loyalty was challenged, her words angry in defense of him, of them.
As the plane powered down, Eric mentally ran through what he thought of as their best moments. He tucked each one away, deep in his psyche, not knowing when he would have another opportunity to enjoy them. ‘I wish I could explain this to you, my wife,’ he thought, not daring to send his love through their bond, not with Appius so near. It was small consolation, but he knew her Grandfather would do whatever necessary to keep his Sookie safe. ‘He cares for her. He knows I won’t hurt her. He knows I love her,’ Eric thought, and then he cleared his mind, preparing for what was coming.
The door opened, and Appius appeared. Andre squared his shoulders, but Eric did as was expected. He fell to one knee and bowed his head. Eric didn’t look up; he had no need. Soon enough his Maker’s shoes came into view.
“I’m glad your Queen informed me,” Appius told Andre. “I felt something was wrong in Scotland. It appears my progeny was not as precise in his communications with me as he should have been.”
“There is no proof to these rumors,” Andre replied, “none at all. The Queen has asked we track down the source, which is a wise move. After all, war is a dangerous thing. Under the circumstances, without proof, we could find these rumors manipulating us into starting one.”
“I appreciate your kindness in allowing me to remove my progeny from harm’s way,” and Eric felt his Maker’s hand rest on his head. “Still, you would not be taking these steps if there wasn’t some wisp of suspicion.” It was hard not to protest, but Eric knew this was not the time. Instead, he focused on the pool of water he visualized within his mind, diving deep to keep his thoughts clear and calm. He heard Andre assure Appius that Eric’s new Sheriffs would step in, handling his Child’s duties while he was gone. “The Viking is our strong right hand,” Andre added. “As soon as this is resolved, we expect Eric’s return. He is, after all, pledged to our Queen for another fifty years.”
“Which means she would be within her rights to end him for allowing such a story to attach itself,” Appius said. Now, Eric felt the slight pressure that told him Appius wished his attention.
“Master,” and Eric raised his head.
Appius slapped him, hard enough to knock him over. “I am ashamed to be standing here!” Appius snarled.
Eric pulled himself into a kneeling position again. He felt the drip that told him his lip was split. Refusing to show weakness, he balanced on one knee, turned his face to his Maker, and prepared to accept more punishment. “Master,” he said once more.
Appius’ eyes narrowed, “It is possible this is nothing more than a story,” he conceded. “Still, my Child, you allowed this stain on your honor, my honor! It shows lack of care on your part. Didn’t I warn you about the dangers of consorting with those unworthy of you? Now look at what has happened! I have to be called to come and collect you, to guard you from yourself!” Appius sniffed, and then his eyes narrowed. It was a certain expression Eric had come to recognize and he fought to maintain his composure.
“You will agree to come under my command again,” Appius proclaimed. He looked at Andre, “If it turns out to be nothing more than a rumor, you will contact me, and I will release my Child to fulfill his duty. If it turns out he was involved in some plot against his Queen,” and Appius smiled, “if that is the case, I will return him and order him to meet the sun.” He turned to Eric. “Do you agree?”
Without warning, Eric thought of laying hands on his Maker and it chilled him. It wasn’t possible. There were times he hated this vampire, but, in the end, this was his Maker. To destroy him was to destroy himself.
‘…and Sookie!’ the voice within reminded. If Appius survived and Eric was killed, His Maker would take retribution by killing Sookie… Maybe Pam as well. “I consent,” Eric agreed.
It wasn’t done often, the reinstating of a Maker’s hold. Such things were generally reserved for the newly-made when they were freed too soon. Eric felt the shame rest heavy, but he knew the humiliation of being treated as a new vampire was part of his punishment.
“You are witness,” Appius told Andre, and it was done. Eric felt his Maker within him, not through choice, but through the magic that made them. He dove deep in the pool he’d created, remembering how he’d found ways to save small parts of himself from his Maker’s endless scrutiny.
“Get up!” his Maker ordered, and Eric rose. Together, they returned to the plane. Eric handed Appius his phone before taking his seat. “You will like Russia,” Appius said, “once we dispense with your punishment.”
There was a sound as Eric’s phone received a text. It was her tone, the one he’d programmed for Sookie. Appius glanced and then turned the phone to Eric. She’d sent him a boob shot. Eric tried not to react, returning his eyes to Appius. “It seems we have a great deal to talk about,” his Maker purred, and Appius entered his thoughts, forcing his way, cudgeling his progeny mentally as he had when Eric was new.
Niall Brigant rarely answered his phone. He preferred to allow calls to roll to voicemail. If it were truly an emergency, the caller would know to contact Dillon or Claudine. However, there were some calls he didn’t screen, including calls from the vampire Queen. “My dear Sofie-Ann,” he answered, using his ‘most delighted’ voice, “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“You must think yourself very clever!” the vampire hissed. “Planting your ugly duckling in my Court! You must have laughed at how I’ve allowed her to swan around, flaunting her Seelie face! I can’t believe I trusted you!”
“I don’t understand. What has Sookie done?” Niall was confused. His spies at the Queen’s Ball reported his Granddaughter was well-received. She was charming, and the vampires treated her well. If anyone had a complaint, it was him! Sookie was being too easily assimilated into vampire society, which was weakening any allegiance he might try to claim.
“I suppose you’ll expect an invitation to my parties next, hmm?” the Queen growled. “As my business associate, you’d tell me. You’d bring guards, and then, you’d turn her loose!”
His sixth sense told him this conversation was more serious than it sounded. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he soothed the Queen. “Our partnership has proven lucrative for both of us. Assume I am innocent in this and please explain to me what’s upset you so.”
“I received a message tonight from one of my subjects, Chow. He’s a partner with Sheriff Northman in one of those pub ventures. He passed along information he received from one of his employees, some witch.”
“You consort with those creatures?” Niall sneered. He knew Sookie was taking magic lessons from one, still, it didn’t make witches palatable. If hybrids were distasteful, witches were worse.
“So does your Granddaughter!” Sofie-Ann snapped, proving she was just as well-informed.
“Point taken,” Niall conceded. “So, what did this witch have to say about my Granddaughter?”
“It wasn’t about her directly,” and Sofie-Ann’s voice dropped an octave. “Chow wanted us to pass a message to your Granddaughter’s witch, Octavia Fant. The coven in Carrack is moving to have her killed.”
“Assassinating one of their own?” For some reason, Niall found the thought amusing. “I didn’t know those creatures did that. What has this to do with Sookie?”
“It’s because the witch is teaching your Granddaughter magic. You told me Sookie had magic. You didn’t tell me it’s the kind of magic able to kill our kind!” Sofie-Ann threw it out, like a gauntlet, and Niall gasped.
It was involuntary, and the Seelie scrambled to cover his lapse. “What a preposterous story!” he blustered. “Sookie is a hybrid. Of course, she has the Fae face, most hybrids do, and, yes, I’ve looked the other way while she plays with her witch lessons. I don’t know if she’s learning anything, but if it makes her feel more Fae in the circles in which she travels, then I don’t object. My Granddaughter is in a difficult position and you know how grateful I am that you have given her a place. Without you and Northman…”
“So you’re telling me Sookie doesn’t have high magic?” There was something in her tone that told Niall the Queen knew something; the question was, how much?
“She has simple magics,” Niall temporized. “She manages household chores, attracts birds, that sort of thing. If she were truly magic, Rogan and Breandan would have discovered it long ago. What does Northman say? He’s close to her.”
It was a gamble, but Niall was certain Eric would never betray the woman he’d professed to love. “Of course, you’d throw up my Sheriff!” and Sofie-Ann’s anger escalated once again. “How exactly did you subvert him? Money? The promise of some part of the kingdom?”
“Perhaps we should meet.” Niall was running out of patience. “I would be amenable, although it would need to be somewhere neutral. With the direction this conversation is taking, I’m sure you’d agree.”
“I have no interest in meeting with you…” and then the Queen’s voice was replaced by Andre’s.
“Greetings, Niall Brigant,” Andre greeted. There was the sound of something breaking in the background, but Andre appeared to take no notice. “As my Queen informed you, the message came through one of our subjects. This coven accuses Octavia Fant of training your Granddaughter to tap into the darker arts. The rumor is that Sookie is capable of creating columns of white light that can consume flesh.” Niall’s throat closed, and he bit his lip to avoid making a sound, congratulating himself once again on resisting the use of Skype for these calls. “The inference is that you planted her among us, so once she is fully capable and has gained our trust, she will be the primary actor in killing our Queen and taking over our kingdom.”
Niall laughed. There was nothing else to do. He had purposely discouraged Sookie from practicing that skill, focusing her attention on other magics. Only a handful of creatures had seen her form the column of light, and even fewer had seen her move it to her will. While he hadn’t specifically forbidden Sookie from practicing it, Niall wondered if she’d exposed herself by showing off. It seemed unlikely. Sookie was still ignorant of the many dangers surrounding her, but her wary nature governed her. She had resisted Claudine’s request when her cousin prodded her to demonstrate her skills. Niall couldn’t see Sookie setting up in some public place, running through her repertoire for strangers.
Putting on his most jovial appearance, knowing it would carry to his voice, Niall offered, “If I promise on the lives of my family that neither Sookie nor any of my subjects have the slightest interest in taking over your kingdom, will this satisfy your Queen?”
Andre made a sound and Niall got the impression the Queen’s Second was distracted, but then he was back. “It helps,” Andre replied, “but I’m afraid this is something that may take some time to settle. You see, Northman’s name has been tied into this…”
“What makes your Queen think Northman would betray her?” Niall asked.
“His association with you,” Andre chuckled. “It’s not just you, of course. The Sheriff’s become cozy with many creatures.”
“You vampires are too narrow,” Niall sneered.
“Look who’s talking,” Andre shot back. “The Seelie aren’t exactly known for their open and welcoming attitude. After all, there’s a reason you parked your Granddaughter with us…” and Andre left it hang.
“Still,” Niall sniffed, “Eric was instrumental in saving you from that American King. If the Viking hadn’t come forward, you’d be finally dead…”
“As would he,” Andre pointed out. “There are some who say it gave him the idea. Of course, he can’t be King in his own right, not while his Maker walks, but if he were the Good-Son of the King…”
“Make up your mind!” Niall snapped. “Either the Seelie are too narrow, or we welcome the world. We can’t incorporate our own half-blood. What madness would suggest us capable of welcoming those who have no claim on our blood at all?” Niall took a deep breath, “I wish in some ways it were possible. You know the fate we face, and it edges closer every day.”
“Then, why not kill all those who continue?” Andre asked. “Why should others continue, when you won’t?”
“A stark idea,” Niall sniffed, “a world where the Fae are gone. No, Andre. The Seelie are selfish, but not in that way. Frankly, I refuse to give up all hope.” Niall sighed, “You may know that when I asked for sanctuary for Sookie, I told your Queen I considered her alliance with Northman temporary. You see, Sookie may be capable of breeding…”
“It must have angered you to have them bonded, then,” Andre suggested.
“For a bit,” Niall conceded, “but the magic of our kind can overcome the effects, if not the reality of a vampire bond. You vampires bond with your humans for any number of reasons.”
“To monitor,” Andre agreed, “but those relationships are one way. That’s not what happened with them. Northman opened himself to your Granddaughter as well.”
“A gallant gesture,” Niall agreed. “It is one of the many reasons I consider Northman a friend.” Niall waited a moment before pushing Andre to come to the point. “What are you asking of me?”
“Northman is under suspicion because of his association with your Granddaughter. Sofie-Ann is sending him somewhere safe until the rumors stop. She would also like you to remove Sookie to some other guardian…” and Niall could visualize the Second’s smile, “for her own protection, you understand.”
Niall thought of the happiness his Granddaughter found with the vampire, and Northman’s own vows. “I doubt the vampire will leave voluntarily,” Niall ventured.
“I agree,” and Niall was certain he detected some sympathy. “That is why the Queen has decided to contact Northman’s Maker. She is certain The Roman will be able to remind Northman what it means to be vampire. He will also be able to overcome any consequences of their bonding by using his Command.”
“This will cause them both to suffer,” Niall said aloud.
Andre’s voice dropped, “It can’t be helped. The Queen is determined, and I would think this would satisfy you, as well. This alliance was, as you said, meant to be temporary.”
“I’ve changed my attitude on this point,” Niall confessed. “I have come to believe that they are at their best together. Do you think the Queen will be open to negotiation on that point?”
“How would you breed her if she’s Northman’s?” Andre scoffed.
“Many couples seek outside intervention if they find themselves unable to procreate,” Niall replied, “But that doesn’t answer my question. If she understood my interest…my devotion to my Granddaughter’s happiness, would the Queen consider allowing Northman to remain here?”
“You are not helping your cause,” Andre said stiffly. “Besides, it won’t matter. You see, she’s already called him.”
“My Granddaughter will see this as an abduction,” Niall said sadly.
“You will need to educate her,” Andre replied.
“She is strong-willed,” Niall sighed. “She will ask my help in rescuing…”
“If you move against Appius, it will be seen as a declaration of war,” Andre flared, then moderating his tone, said, “You know how this works. Northman is vampire, and this is vampire business. They are pledged before the Queen, so that will be honored, but Northman must serve his punishment first.”
“Which could take many years,” Niall pointed out.
“Which wouldn’t matter if she were vampire.” Andre sighed, too, “I am not unsympathetic, but she is not truly one of us. If she were, this wouldn’t feel so final.”
“Of course,” Niall replied. He repeated his best wishes for the Queen’s good fortune and disconnected the phone. “Oh, Sookie!” he sighed.
He was still sitting in the chair, the room grown dark around him, when Claudine found him.
“Appius is coming,” he told her. The Seelie King sat loose-fingered in the chair, forward, lost in thought.
“Why would that worthless sack of shit…?” and then Claudine stilled. “Eric didn’t invite him, did he?”
“Northman is in trouble,” Niall replied. His eyes narrowed, “It appears someone is talking about Sookie’s magic.”
“Who?” Claudine asked.
Niall sat back, then pulled his cane to him, turning the curved handle back and forth under his hand. “Sofie-Ann says the story came through the witches. That vampire who works with Northman in Carrack, Chow, he called someone at the vampire Court with the news.”
“Was it Octavia?” Claudine asked, her eyes flashing. “I told Sookie witches aren’t to be trusted!”
“I have no time for them either,” Niall sniffed, “but, no. It seems Chow wished a warning to be sent to Octavia, but appears to have been unwilling to tell her himself. He asked for the warning to be passed along.” Niall glanced at Claudine, “It seems things are serious enough that Octavia Fant has fled the country.”
“Does she think Sookie threatens her?” Claudine snorted, “Stupid witches!”
“Troublesome witches,” Niall corrected. “One of Chow’s employees is a member of a local coven. They were planning to kill Octavia. They blame her for teaching Sookie their tricks. They described Sookie’s powers in some detail, including those I’ve discouraged her from showing anyone.”
“The white light,” Claudine breathed.
“Chow described the column exactly. I believe I’ve convinced the vampires there’s nothing to these rumors, but the story was enough to convince Sofie-Ann that Eric Northman is in league with us. They are accusing us of developing Sookie into a weapon and mating her to Northman to use him in our plan to take over Ireland.” Niall’s green eyes glittered as he watched his full-blooded Fae Granddaughter absorb the news.
After a few moments, Claudine asked, “Is it true?”
Niall laughed, filling the room with light, “Of course not, although in some ways I wish I had thought of it! No, no…” and he shook his hair back, “I like things the way they are! Vampires have their use, as do all Fae. Besides, it they were all subject to me, how could I cheat them or charge them too much? It would make our lives far too tame!”
“If Appius is coming, we can’t leave Sookie with Northman,” Claudine concluded.
“Appius is not staying,” Niall informed his Granddaughter. “He’s come to claim Eric. He will reinstate his Maker’s command and then Northman is leaving with him.”
“Poor Sookie!” Claudine sighed.
“Indeed,” Niall nodded. “She can’t be left defenseless, not with these kinds of stories being circulated. She will be a target for every wandering Fae with a grudge or an eye toward blackmail.”
“And there’s bonding sickness,” Claudine added.
“Contact with our kind will offset the worst of it,” and Niall stood. “She will have to be brought to us. There’s no other option.”
“But Father!” Claudine exclaimed.
“I suspect Dillon will be more kindly disposed toward her.” Niall winked, “He ate her food and told me he was charmed by her.”
“Not the same thing as allowing her to walk among us!” Claudine replied. “You saw what happened when there was just a suggestion of her joining us for Beltane! I had a headache for days from the shouting.”
“A tempest in a teapot,” Niall sniffed. “It is past time Sookie joined us. She has proven her powers. She has impressed both leprechauns and merrows. She showed her true face to the vampires. She has earned this.” Niall started walking toward the rooms where Dillon held Court.
Claudine shook her head, and then half-ran, half-walked, dogging her Grandfather’s elbow. “If you simply bring Sookie without warning, things will not go well. You know this!” When Niall showed no signs of stopping, Claudine protested, “You have made Father King of the South. That gives him a voice in this. If he objects and you install her in the North Kingdom, it will create friction where none should exist!”
Claudine’s words finally seemed to make an impression. Niall slowed, and then stopped. “I will have this,” he told her. “Still, it may be that some groundwork could ease the way.” Placing his hands on Claudine’s shoulders, he drew her toward him. “You think clearly, a good trait. I still believe your Father will agree, but I also agree he’s not always at his best when confronted with surprises. I will begin working on him tonight, but, in the meantime, we must set a guard on Sookie.”
“I believe the house she shares with Northman has wards in place,” Claudine sniffed.
“Wards placed by witches?” Niall smirked. “Are you telling me that now you believe in their powers?” He didn’t wait for Claudine’s answer, “Besides, these are the same witches who object to Sookie’s use of magic. Who knows what they may be capable of, perhaps removing the wards, or turning them against her? No, we must send someone to keep an eye on Sookie until she may be brought within our sphere.”
Claudine had a sinking feeling her Grandfather meant to volunteer her, but then, Niall said, “Of course! There is someone there already, someone Sookie knows! Claude spends more time in that town than any other. No one would question his being there every day. He could say it’s an audit or inventory.”
“Claude?” and Claudine’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t think Claude…”
“Just because you are vying with your brother doesn’t mean you should doubt him!” Niall cut Claudine off. “Your brother has made great strides in putting his past behind him. He has been industrious and quite solicitous. Your Father speaks well of him…”
“It’s just I don’t think Claude and Sookie get along,” Claudine said, trying a different tack.
“Nonsense!” Niall laughed. “Claude told me they have even forged some business arrangements that benefit both the vampire’s pub and our hotel.” He placed his hand over Claudine’s cheek, “Be at peace, my dear one! Your brother will understand the importance of this assignment. He will watch over Sookie for my sake. Have faith!”
Pam stared at her phone. Her fingers hovered, but she knew better than to reply. ‘Stockholm.’ It was their code word.
The existences of vampires had improved in the last hundred years, but there were still risks. Having your Maker taken and possibly forced to do things was a risk. There were rival factions, other species… Stockholm was the plan they devised for this scenario.
Pam glanced at Maryann and her heart broke. Their future, hers and Eric’s, rested on her shoulders. She couldn’t tell anyone what she was doing, and she’d have to leave, hiding someplace far away, until Eric could be freed. ‘And I can’t fight to free him,’ Pam realized. ‘There is no enemy to defeat. We must wait for Appius to release him.’ Maryann turned, smiling to see Pam watching her. ‘Please, don’t make it too long!’ Pam pleaded, not sure what Gods might answer.
“I have to go,” she announced, holding up her phone. “I’ll call you when I know how things are going.”
“You and your business!” Maryann shrugged. “Well, you know where I’ll be. Full house tonight. Use your key.”
Pam kissed Maryann. She wanted to pledge to this woman, but to do that required Eric’s permission. As she drove out of town, Pam thought about the last time she’d asked Eric. He had asked her if Maryann agreed to be turned and when Pam admitted they hadn’t talked about it, Eric refused to give his permission. “It’s something you should know before you commit yourself,” he’d told her.
Pam ran through the conversation again, her perfect memory playing it out like a movie in her mind. She’d asked Eric if knowing what he did about Sookie’s reluctance would have changed his decision to pledge to his mate. “No,” he’d admitted, “but my circumstances were different.”
“Not really,” Pam challenged him. “You took advantage of the opportunity to get what you wanted. You loved her, you still do.”
“I don’t want you to face the same problems I have,” Eric admitted. “You are my Child. I wish better for you.”
‘Is this better?’ Pam growled, feeling blood tears prick at her eyes. ‘Bitter,’ was the word that seemed most appropriate.
Pam’s first stop was the Queen’s Court. Sofie-Ann greeted her personally, which was out of character. “It had to be done,” the Queen blustered. Pam had seen this before, the quick movements and fluttering hands that signaled the Queen had done something she now regretted.
“How long?” Pam asked.
“As long as it takes to clear things,” the Queen replied. She told Pam the story and confirmed Andre was on his way back from the airport. “He thought they would need to find Northman, but your Maker appeared at the airport. Perhaps he was summoned.”
Pam knew Appius couldn’t summon Eric, but she also knew his Maker maintained an unusual influence over him. It explained why Eric invoked the plan he had. “I instructed Andre to let The Roman know that if we prove the story is just a story, he needs to return Eric to finish his service to me,” Sofie-Ann was saying. She delivered the words as if she had been magnanimous, but all Pam could think was how petty the Queen had been to call in Appius at all.
When Sofie-Ann confirmed she hadn’t yet ordered Eric’s Sheriffs to start their investigation, Pam offered to get things started. “I also wish my Maker to be able to complete his service to you,” Pam said with a bow. “Allow me to travel to Carrack. Chow works for us. If this woman is on his staff, we will question her without anyone being the wiser.”
Sofie-Ann looked like a deer in the headlights, and then hissed to Sigebert to let her know when Andre returned. ‘She hasn’t ordered anything be done,’ Pam thought, but then took heart, believing Andre would do what was necessary to put things in motion.
It didn’t take long, the drive to Carrack. “I got a call from the Sheriff just now,” Chow confirmed, “the Irish one. He said he’d be coming here tomorrow.”
“Do we need to wait?” Pam asked. It was acknowledged Pam worked as a Sheriff. Her work and testimony were accepted.
“No, no need,” Chow grinned. “In fact, the witch is working tonight.” All it took was a suggestion about changing around shift schedules and the woman found herself alone with Chow and Pam in Chow’s office. Pam worried about using glamour on a witch, but it turned out to be easy. “Not much of a witch!” Chow chuckled. Both he and Pam had run into the electric buzz that signaled a strong witch. It was tricky. If the witch was strong enough, she could resist glamour altogether. Although neither Chow nor Pam had seen it, there were stories about witches using the moment glamour failed to turn the tables on the vampire, making them the prey, spelling them and causing mayhem.
Patiently, Chow and Pam worked through all the woman remembered and how the story about Sookie’s magic was received.
“So, it was an anonymous tip,” Pam growled once they released the woman. “Nothing more substantive!”
“But someone supplied enough detail to convince the witches of what they were hearing.” Chow shifted. “Someone knew enough about their lore to scare them into wanting to take steps.”
“And now, Eric is gone,” Pam sniffed.
Chow nodded, then asked, “So, what happens now?” Pam knew he was really asking if the pubs would continue.
“Nothing!” Pam shrugged. “Eric’s not finally dead. He’s with his Maker. I provide this information to the Queen, lean on her to press her investigation, and we wait. Sofie-Ann says there’s a deal to release Eric back to Ireland once the rumor is put to rest.”
“You think Sofie-Ann will want him back?” Chow asked. Eric’s complicated relationship with his Queen was well-known.
“I think as a matter of pride she’ll demand he finish his pledged service to her,” Pam said with more confidence than she felt.
Pam headed for her safehouse in town. Opening the floor safe, she extracted one of several packets of documents. ‘One for every occasion,’ she thought bitterly. Each packet was labeled with a code name and each code name corresponded to a specific circumstance. Pam thought about the years that had gone into preparing each packet. ‘We didn’t consider including anyone aside from us, but why would we? Emotions are things for the weak.” It was a mantra Eric had drilled into her and Pam knew it was because her Maker had learned it from his own.
Maryann’s face came to Pam’s mind. She thought of how she already missed this woman and how that loneliness would only grow in the nights to follow. ‘At least we’re not bonded,’ she thought, but it seemed cold comfort.
The papers in the Stockholm package had all the signatures necessary to remove Eric’s name from all assets. The papers transferred ownership of everything to Pam and made her CEO. There were deeds, corporation statements, and bank accounts. There was even a life insurance policy. That last had been a bit of a joke between them. They’d laughed over presenting a pair of fangs to the insurer, arguing it was good as a body for proof of final death. ‘But Appius won’t kill you,’ Pam thought. ‘No, he’ll just make you wish for final death.’
“I’m sorry, Sookie,” Pam whispered. “And you, Maryann.” A single, red tear blotted the paper in her hand.
“Damn you, Eric!” Pam snarled. “Why did you let this happen?” though she knew it wasn’t really his fault. It was just bad luck and with a final sigh, she reached for her phone and texted the code word to Mr. Cataliades.
It would take a couple days, days filled with play-acting, pretending things were fine, before all the papers were signed and executed. When the day came that Pam would take the plane, whisking her away to America and into hiding, Pam considered slipping away before dawn, leaving her lover lost in sleep. In the end, she couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t sneak away, leaving Maryann to wonder what happened. Instead, Pam rose, spent the evening helping with dishes, and told Maryann she had to leave on business. “I love you,” she’d said.
“What’s wrong?” Maryann asked.
“Nothing,” Pam lied. “I’ll come home as soon as I can.” That, at least, was the truth.