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Ian brought the papers for the sale with him. Sookie had worked out an arrangement with Joyce to use her breakfast room at ten each morning to meet with the Dayman. It wasn’t the most ideal situation and Sookie was all too aware of the inconvenience it presented the family. She tried to make up for it by loaning Joyce and her husband the use of her car, or running errands, but the old Ben Franklin saying about family and fish smelling after they’d stayed too long came readily to mind.
Ian laughed out loud watching how quickly Sookie signed the papers. “That bad, then?”
“Not really,” and Sookie bit her lip. “It’s just I’m ready to have my own place again.” She brushed her hand over the table, “My own table for business. The ability to offer you a decent cup of tea.” She glanced toward the closed kitchen door. “It’s odd. I miss cooking…baking…making things.”
“I miss it, too,” Ian told her, then patting his stomach, added, “but my pants don’t! When you’re cooking, I’m fair bursting. Since you’ve left Slievemore, I’ve saved money letting my gym membership drop. No need.”
“How is everyone?” Sookie asked.
“Asking about you,” Ian assured her. He glanced again at the deed, “Happy for you, of course.”
“Business as usual, though?” Sookie pressed.
Ian chuckled, “Life in Slievemore during tourist season never changes. Plenty of walkers. Brian’s place had a bit of a dust-up last week. Mick’s doing well at the Kiss. Some new talent. There’s a fiddler that came down from Dublin who’s a wizard, I swear!”
“I do miss the music,” Sookie sighed. “There’s a couple folks here who play, but this is more a by-way along the trail, not a major town.”
“Well, your new place will change that!” Ian told her. He winked, leaning in as he added, “Those walkers will take one taste of that bacon jam you make, they’ll put down tent stakes and never leave.”
“That stuff is a heart attack in a jar!” Sookie laughed.
“And it’s a regular temptress who came up with it!” and Ian winked again. Just seeing the ingredients, you knew it had to be bad, but everyone who tasted Sookie’s concoction wanted more.
Sookie grinned until she caught Ian looking at her wedding band again. She was pretty sure he was interested in her in more than a friendly way. It wasn’t anything overt, but he’d started making a habit of bringing her small gifts, pastries he knew she liked that were only make in Slievemore, or new trinkets sold in the tourist shops along the harbor. He covered it with a story, but Sookie had the impression the day she took off Eric’s ring, Ian would say something.
‘Time to nip this in the bud,’ Sookie thought. “Ian, I was wondering.” It was all she needed to say and her suspicions were confirmed. His eyes widened and he leaned forward a little. ‘Sorry,’ she mentally apologized, before launching into what she wanted to ask. “Daymen… I’ve always wondered. Do you know each other? I mean, is there some network or… You know, informal support group for you?”
Almost unconsciously, he settled back, “Yeah, sure… I guess so. We meet each other around, see each other at business things, social events, like that. Sometimes, we help each other out. The requests we get can be odd, but when you talk with other folks who do my line of work, you find out you’re all searching out the same odd, if you know what I mean.”
“I can guess,” Sookie grinned. “So…” and she glanced at the closed kitchen door again. “If you don’t mind, could we head outside?” If it had been anyone else, Sookie would have invited them upstairs, but, under the circumstances, inviting Ian to her bedroom seemed a foolish idea. The weather wasn’t great, but there was an overhang and a bench. “I’ll just run these upstairs,” she said, waving the papers. “Won’t take a minute. I’ll just grab a sweater.”
Sookie took the satchel and spent a few minutes sorting the envelopes and folders from her customers. There was another envelope marked, ‘Pam.’ The papers inside looked more like things that needed her signature, so she put them back in the satchel, grabbed her cardigan, and slipped back downstairs.
Ian was already outside, leaning on the bench, his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets. It was nippy and damp, but that was Ireland. “Thanks,” and Sookie sat down, placing the satchel between them.
“So,” and Ian’s lip curled as he looked at the satchel, “What is it you wanted to ask?”
“I think you know,” Sookie stumbled. “Eric. Do…the day people you see… Do they ever gossip about Eric? You know, things they might have heard?”
“Nothing new,” Ian told her. He shook his head a little and stared into the yard. “I know it’s hard for you to hear this, but no one thinks he’s coming back, at least, not anytime in this century.” He glanced at her quickly, then looked away again. “You know how they are…or if you don’t, you should. They don’t live like us. They don’t see time the way we do. Their ‘soon’ is our next generation. They are like the rocks, forever, and we’re just drops of water that roll over them, here for a moment and then lost in the ground never to be seen again.”
“Do they say where they think he is?” Sookie persisted.
“With his Maker,” Ian answered, and then turned to look at Sookie more fully. “Now, him, Appius Ocella, or whatever he’s called…him, they talk about. Sookie, the stories they tell are the stuff of nightmares. I think he scares even them. No one wants him here. It’s like the old story, Bloody Mary, where they say his name in whispers so they don’t accidentally summon him to haunt them. If your Eric’s with that vampire, there isn’t anyone who’s going to find him or be willing to try.”
“I miss him,” Sookie whispered. Ian reached over and, for a minute, Sookie thought he meant to take her hand. Sookie almost wondered if she’d let him, but he thought the better of it and patted her hand instead.
“They are good for making money,” Ian told her. “Charming and they lead interesting lives, but, in the end, they aren’t really for the likes of us. At some point, we all have to put away our starry eyes and come to Earth if we’re going to live our own lives in our own way.” Ian stretched back again, “It’s something I have learned, being so close to them. Each moment counts and when your life is so short, it would be a crime to waste even a second.”
Nodding, he leaned over and nudged her. “Take that place you just bought. Now, there’s an adventure. I took the liberty of looking up the listing. It’s got good bones to it. It will take some doing. Have you started lining up the workers you’ll need?”
“No,” Sookie answered. “No, not yet. I don’t know why. I think I was waiting to sign the papers.” She bit her lip, “Somehow it still doesn’t seem quite real.”
“Well, it will seem real enough when the bills start rolling in and the place isn’t near ready for guests,” Ian said quite practically. “When you started the remodel on Goat House…” and then he trailed off. He glanced at her, “Well, I imagine some of the same men are available. You liked their work and they were reasonable.” He shrugged, “Of course, it might do you good to get a recommendation or two from your landlady. Taking care of local folks is never a bad step if you’re planning to live here.”
“Can you help me with that?” Sookie asked.
“Aye,” Ian smiled warmly, but then, instead of leaning toward her, he stood. “After all, it’s what you pay me to do!”
“Yes, I do,” Sookie answered, but she realized with a start that some small part of her was disappointed Ian brought up the money part.
Shaking the mist from his jacket, Ian picked up the satchel, “Well, what say we pop down to the pub and finish signing this lot? You have that chat with your landlady and you can text me what tradespeople you’ll need. I think you have a good inspection report. That shamble of a barn may just be waiting the wrecker’s ball, but it will be up to your pocketbook.”
Joyce’s husband was at the pub and he happily gave Ian a couple names of a mason and a plumber who lived near town. The dayman made no more moves toward her, but, as he drove away, Sookie felt her loneliness press down on her.
That night, Sookie reached out for Eric as she did each night, but this time, she dug deeper than she had before. She found her temper and she stoked the fire she felt at the injustice of being separated until she felt the cold coil of magic forming within her. Instead of recoiling as she had before, Sookie stoked her anger, slight by slight, remembering each denial, each refusal, and then when she felt her magic wrapping around her, reaching through her, so she hurtled through the bond again, demanding it find Eric.
What she found was not Eric. It was something that stopped her like a wall. She felt bruised against it, and then, incredibly cold. There was loathing and spite and Sookie felt as though her fingers had been burned. When she came to herself, she was shivering in her bed even its warmth and she knew without doubt she’d found what held her husband.
Niall hadn’t planned on being gone so long, but his visit to see his brother held him. He had thought to visit the North, checking on assets, but Rogan’s state alarmed him. His younger brother, once blessed with beauty and vigor, was a shadow of himself. He lived in the fort nearest to where his wife had died, hunched and failing. It was rarely seen among the Seelie, this total loss of hope. It was as though Rogan’s body was literally shrinking in upon itself, spine curved, fingers gnarled. His skin looked weathered, stretched across his bones.
For all Niall’s talking, Rogan barely registered his presence. When Niall ordered a fiddler to play songs from their youth, the King thought he saw his brother’s eyes spark, but all too soon, even that sign was gone.
“He has willed it,” one of Rogan’s courtiers informed the King. The life of a Fae was long, but it was known if he, or she, lost the will to continue, this was the result. They withered and eventually became inert until they were so much a part of the rock and earth around them it was impossible to tell where the Fae ended, and the earth began.
Niall cried tears, the water revealing the great age he carried. Everywhere the tracks ran, his skin wrinkled. His hair sprang grey around his head as he held Rogan’s limp hand. Finally, there was nothing to do but accept his brother’s decision. Kissing Rogan’s head, Niall whispered, “There will never be another like you. Please, reconsider. Do not let this world see your end.”
As he returned to the world above, Niall cursed Breandan and any pride that condemned one of their race. As his car drove back South, he worked the phone, calling in favors. He reached out to both Selkies and Merrows, begging them to persuade Breandan to visit Rogan before it was too late. The sun shone between the rainclouds, bathing far hills with quick beams. Niall watched the interplay of light and shadow, “So like the passing of our kind,” he thought morosely.
The road back to Carreigh was long and they hit traffic several times. Finally, the car pulled in front of the B&B where Sookie was staying. Niall rested while his driver went inside to collect his Granddaughter, but he returned a short while later. “She is not here,” he informed the King.
The driver had directions. It seemed Sookie had purchased a house on the ocean. ‘She is moving ahead,’ Niall nodded. It was a relief. Niall liked Eric Northman. He’d done his best to fix the situation, offering a King’s ransom for the vampire, but Appius refused. While there was something unnatural about the idea of the vampire and his Granddaughter, seeing them together made the difficulties seem possible. ‘And now, not to be,’ Niall sighed.
Initially, he worried for her. Humans rarely survived these types of separations intact, but Sookie surprised him. She had bonding sickness, he could feel it, but her symptoms were muted. She did better being in contact with their kind, but it was clear she was capable of maintaining her equilibrium regardless. It was as though her body was healing itself.
For a while, Niall thought to tempt a Seelie into seducing her. Sookie was attractive. She had ensorcelled Breandan, and then the Viking. There were Seelie without mates, but no amount of hinting or inducement could sway his subjects. At first, it was because Sookie was too hybrid, but as her harsh lines and crude manner softened, the problem became something else.
Sookie was different. She had magic, but it wasn’t the magic of the Seelie. Instead, it was a wild, flowing thing from some place that made those around her uncomfortable. Dillon reported his work with her had revealed an alarming lack of boundaries. Everything he threw at her, she absorbed and mirrored. There seemed no limit to her capabilities and, for the sake of caution, he stopped working with her. “She is like a door that opens,” he told his Father. “Everything she learns becomes a road to another door. I don’t dare show her anymore lest her powers overcome me.” He told Niall he was now convinced Sookie would become a danger to herself and all of those around her. “She has no sense of what she is or the power she commands. Her temper is becoming less balanced. In her ignorance, she will cause a calamity.”
Dillon had paused before telling Niall the thing he most feared, “I think if would be for the best if you ended her. She is a kind soul, but the damage she can unleash would haunt her.” When Niall scoffed, telling Dillon he was overreacting, his son said, “I know you don’t wish to hear it, Father, but she is no longer what she was. She is grown too different, even for us. She can never be one of the Trooping Fae. She is unique and the marks she carries will condemn her to live alone.”
The car turned into a driveway and Niall noted the rolling hills. The sun was just setting over the western ocean, turning the waving grasses gold. The ocean waves sparkled and birds wheeled in the sky above.
He found himself stepping out into a white stone parking area surrounded by a house, a barn, and a stone wall. The far end was open and through the gap in the buildings, the Fae saw Sookie. She was sitting on the edge of the hill that led to the beach, her golden head resting on her knees. For a minute, Niall remembered another time. He was riding his horse over the hills near Carreigh, watching a golden-haired girl, her head crowned in daisies, resting her chin on her knees as her sheep gamboled about her.
“Grandfather?” Sookie cried, and the vision was gone. She slipped her human face, and Niall saw that Dillon hadn’t been wrong. The features were even more pronounced. Her eyes slanted and they flashed like storms at sea. Still, her lips were soft as they kissed his cheek, “I wasn’t expecting you,” she greeted him.
“I came directly here,” he told her. “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long, but it looks as though you’ve been well employed.”
“Claudine helped me find this place,” Sookie acknowledged, and taking the King’s arm, she pulled him back toward the house. “Come on. Let me make you some tea and you can tell me about your trip in the North.”
The house was cluttered. Sookie had moved into a set of bedrooms located off the main house, keeping out of the way while workmen crawled through the wiring, upgrading some and installing more. “I’m having fiber optics installed,” Sookie told her Grandfather. “More stable.” She walked through the kitchen and put the kettle on. There was a working table and chairs now, and Sookie laid out the tea things. As Niall sat, Sookie found several biscuits and placed them on a plate, setting them down alongside the honey pot and some of her bacon jam.
“You seem to have made a great deal of progress,” her Grandfather praised.
“Not really,” Sookie shrugged. “It was in really good shape to begin with. I added a couple pieces of furniture, but I’m waiting to see what comes here from Slievemore.”
Niall leaned forward, catching Sookie’s hands, “I am sorry about that. I know how much that house meant to you. You transformed it.”
“I’ll transform this one,” Sookie replied. “Not everyone’s on board yet, but the architect will be back with designs for the barn tomorrow.”
“Oh?” and Niall sipped the tea. “What are you planning to do with the barn? Have you decided to keep animals?”
“Chickens,” Sookie nodded, “but not in the barn. I’m having the barn renovated into my living space. That way I’ll have plenty of rooms to let. I like the idea of being around, but not too close.” Sookie gestured toward the window, “We’re far enough out here to be a problem in terms of taking guests into town for dinner every night. It’s a good twenty minutes down the road. I figure I can hire someone to help and we can offer both dinner and breakfast a couple times a week. Should save on the wear and tear and having to go out in bad weather.”
“You think you’ll be that busy?” Niall chuckled.
“I don’t think I’ve been here one day there haven’t been walkers going by,” Sookie informed him. “The trail on this end of the island is popular and from what I’ve heard from the services I’ve contacted, they’ve been hoping there would be another place open on this stretch. I think I’ll do okay.”
Niall finished his cup of tea and encouraged Sookie to give him the tour. He complimented the size of the rooms and agreed with her plans to give every bedroom its own bathroom. “I can tell you from my experience in the hotel business, guests like their privacy. It you were able to install a bathtub in one or two of these rooms, you will be rewarded. Dusty travelers enjoy a good soak. Add a handmade soap and a cleverly folded washcloth and they consider you a luxury establishment!”
Sookie laughed at the idea of her courtly Grandfather twisting towels. Taking his hand, she pulled him toward the door. “Come on! I want to show you what I have in mind for the barn.”
Together, they stood in the courtyard, and Sookie sketched out how she saw the front of the barn opening, and walking him around to the back, showed him where the large, private deck would stretch out over the hill, giving her an unobstructed view of the ocean. “I know it will be chilly in winter, but I’m going to put in a couple café doors,” she told him. Walking into the cool interior, Sookie sketched out where she saw the kitchen and dining room. “The living room and fireplace will go here,” she told Niall, “and over there, where the ladder went down to the cow basement, I’ll have stairs. There’s room for a guest bedroom on this floor if I want one, and then, the master will be downstairs.”
“Why would you do that?” Niall asked. “Don’t you want windows in your bedroom?”
“Of course not,” Sookie laughed, “It wouldn’t be light-tight, then.” Sookie kept walking, describing how the bookcases would be installed and her decision to expose the original stone walls inside.
Niall watched her, his heart hurting. “You may find it difficult to sleep underground after a while,” he ventured.
“It will be okay,” she replied, and he saw her chin lift. “I know what you’re going to say, and I know I can’t expect anything right away, but I intend to wait.”
“Sookie,” and Niall took his Granddaughter’s hand. “You are worrying me. I am happy to see you moving on with your life and that is what you need to do, but you must move on in every regard.” Niall couldn’t help it, he cupped her face. She looked so brave, so determined. “I do not say this to hurt you, my Dear, but you must not plan a life that includes Northman. If he returns…well, it is likely this barn and everything here will be dust. Do you understand?”
“Well,” Sookie said, squaring her shoulders, “I know you’re wrong because I’ll be here to maintain it, however long it takes, and you’re going to help me.”
Niall pulled back, “What are you talking about?”
“The Seelie can gift a human with long life,” Sookie declared, “and I will do anything you wish in return for that favor.”
“Oh, Sookie!” Niall sighed, “I can’t do that. Not for you, not for anyone! It is something that is not done, not anymore!” Her chin lifted higher and Niall found himself becoming angry. “To even suggest it is rude. If I were someone else, another Seelie, I would report you.” Niall turned away, unable to look at her. “Hasn’t Claudine explained how her sister died? My people fought, brother killing brother, because there was a hint I might have violated our law and given your Grandmother long life. Granddaughter!” and Niall turned back. “I love you most dearly, but to even consider this would be a death sentence for both of us!”
“And if you don’t, I’m under a death sentence anyway,” Sookie cried.
“You’re mortal!” Niall spat back. “You are as you should be!”
“None of this is ‘as it should be’” Sookie spat back. “I’m supposed to be with Eric. I know it to my toes, and I am not giving up!”
Her eyes flashed and Niall could see magic gathering around her. ‘Macha,’ he thought. She reminded him of the warrior queen of legend, a fearsome Fae who danced among the slain. “I will not violate my laws,” Niall told her, “Not even for you.”
She stood, trembling before him, and then the magic drained from her. Tears stood in her eyes, but she remained defiant. “I will get him back,” she vowed. “I don’t know how, but I will.”
It was the single tear that broke the tension. Niall stepped forward and in a moment, she was in his arms, a sad woman, crying for her broken heart.
More time passed. Eric noticed for every young man who arrived, his small bag of possessions in hand, another one ‘graduated.’ There had been two of these leave-takings in the months since the Viking arrived. Each time, the young man would be cheered, his fellows chasing the car as it drove down the long driveway. The leave-taker would have his head out the window, shouting promises to write soon. Eric wondered if he was the only one to notice Gregor’s truck leave soon after. Appius might appear to be charming, but Eric wasn’t fooled.
One warm evening things changed. Generally, Eric spent his evenings standing along the wall, taking up the post of protector, observer to Appius’ games. The boys were gathered around his Maker watching a movie when Appius stood, detaching himself from the group. He motioned to Eric and they retreated outside to a patio. “Your Queen has stopped bothering even the appearance of clearing up this problem!” he hissed. “She tells me the investigation could take years, decades. It’s clear to me she has no interest in retrieving you. What is your explanation?”
Eric drew himself up and then exhaled. He felt the sting. To take criticism from Appius’ toys was one thing. Eric understood their motivation, but hearing he’d fallen from favor with Sophie-Ann as well was something else. “I have none. It was I who warned her of the take-over,” he stammered, “I saved her…”
“She is not returning my calls!” Appius retorted. “After all that fuss Andre made! I don’t think they had any intention of taking you back. They just wanted to make sure your continued existence would be a thorn in my side!”
“I regret…” Eric started, but Appius cut him off.
“I don’t need your apologies! You chose to serve an unworthy Queen. You brought the Seelie into her life and it seems she values their gold more than the duty she owes you as her sworn vassal. Let that be a lesson to you!” and Appius stalked away. He paced back and forth several times, his hands crossed behind his back.
“I have waited centuries for you to fulfill your destiny, Eric. You show moments of great promise, and then, just as you are close, you do something or say something to throw it all away! How many times have I told you that you are judged by the company you keep? And now, look at you! You are back where you started, a Child waiting its Master’s command.” Appius made a disgusted noise before stopping in front of Eric. “You are my responsibility again and I will do what is best to make sure you are positioned to succeed this time. I can’t have you finding yourself disgraced and returned to me again and again. It’s not good for you,” by which Eric knew is wasn’t convenient for Appius.
“I have friendships, relationships,” Eric pleaded. “If I had my phone, I could reach out…”
“To make another mess for me as you did this last time? To align yourself with someone as unworthy as that child Queen? You think I don’t understand you? I understand you all too well! You seek those who are weaker, thinking yourself clever enough to manipulate them into letting you do as you wish. You make bad choices!” Appius lifted his chin a bit and gave Eric a long, steady stare. “No, the least I can do this time is get you off to the right start. I have made overtures to several Kings and I believe I will have an agreement in hand shortly. Of course, the best I can do for you is consort, but aligned with a strong ruler, someone who understands the meaning of being vampire. It should reinforce your best tendencies instead of your basic laziness.”
“But, I’m bonded!” The words tumbled out. If Eric could have taken them back, he would have. Bonding presented an impediment, not an obstacle, and he knew it.
Appius eyes narrowed, “I notice you didn’t bother to mention the pledging. So, you still think of her?” and Appius waited. When Eric didn’t respond, his Maker’s smile simply widened, “Don’t bother to deny it. I know you do.” From his jacket, Appius drew out Eric’s phone. “She texts you,” he purred. “She pleads with you to contact her. She misses you. She loves you.”
Eric dug deep. He knew these words were meant to elicit a response and he was determined not to provide one. He failed.
“You know the dangers of emotions.” Appius shook his head, sending Eric the full weight of his disappointment. “How many lessons did I give you? How many years spent showing you the error in following human ways?” Eric braced himself, ready for the quick movement and the resulting pain that accompanied Appius’ preferred punishments, but, to Eric’s surprise, his Maker stepped back.
“You are too old for lessons that have clearly failed to have their intended effect,” his Maker sighed. “I can see this Seelie truly is a sickness for you. She haunts you and you are unable to give her up. I know it will anger Brigant, but I would be remiss if I didn’t do something to free you from her.”
“I will agree to anything you say!” Eric exclaimed. “She is what you say, a sickness, but ending her… Niall Brigant would not rest until retribution is paid. He will use every asset to destroy you and all you hold dear.” Eric opened his feelings, truly opened them. He invited his Maker into every deep and dark part of him, desperate to impress his Maker of his sincerity.
Appius did venture through Eric’s thoughts, but not as far nor as brutally as Eric anticipated. Instead, his Maker appeared wearied, “I asked you before, Eric, is this woman truly Seelie?” The question hung between them.
“No,” Eric conceded, but when his Maker’s eyebrow lifted, Eric added, “I believe she is something more.”
In a moment, Appius was in Eric’s face, his fangs bared. “I want you to be more specific!” he ordered.
“I can’t say what she is,” Eric stammered. “Not with any certainty. She is not a witch, but she’s not human. She isn’t Seelie either. Sookie is…her own,” Eric concluded.
Appius didn’t look satisfied and his eyes narrowed. Eric felt his suspicion, and then, for a brief moment, Eric thought he felt fear, but just as quickly, it was gone. “I will make inquiries,” Appius nodded. “If things are as you say, I will reward the warning you provided. As you can see, my life has become sweet to me. I live well, and I have no wish to end this existence. But,” and he walked close to Eric, “if it appears you have misled me, my Child, know that it will be on your head. I will order it to be your hands to snuff the life from your beloved, your Älskade.” Eric was prepared for Appius’ anger, but instead, there was only that deep sense of disappointment and Eric found it cut just as deeply.
Appius didn’t bring it up again. Nights passed and life at the dacha carried on, small party following small party, Appius, the happy center of laughing boys who hastened to tease and spoil him. Eric wondered if Appius had decided to simply trust him and not pursue it further, but his rational self knew better.
It was nearing the promise of Samhain. The moon rose full and there had been the first chill of winter on the wind. Eric was standing in the garden, listening to the sound of dry birch leaves rustling in the forests surrounding them. Soon, there would be nothing but the deep green of evergreen, stark against the white of snow. “Do you wonder if she stares at the same moon?” his Maker asked.
Eric hadn’t heard Appius approach, but blocking their bond was his Maker’s prerogative. “I was thinking further back,” Eric conceded. “I was thinking of my home in the land of fjords.”
“Where I found you,” and Appius laid his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “You appeared like a vision.”
“You were starving,” Eric replied.
“I was,” Appius agreed, “but even though I’ve been hard on you, I do believe you have the makings of a great vampire. For those of us who are most intelligent, it sometimes takes longer,” and Appius chuckled, thinking it a joke. They stood together, both watching the moon, and then Appius said, “It seems I owe you a debt, Eric. You were right. She is more.”
“Sookie.” Her name spilled from his lips. He hadn’t felt her since that first time when she’d pulled him back from despair. He wasn’t surprised; knew he should be thankful, but still, he thought of her.
“She lives among the Seelie now. They watch over her. It is not anything those creatures would do for some mere hybrid. She’s seen dancing and prancing among them as if she was their own Queen of the May. You were right to warn me, Eric. Damaging her would cause far more trouble than she’s worth.” Eric waited, not daring to think where this conversation might be leading.
He didn’t have to wait long. Appius signaled he wanted to walk. “As you may imagine, the interest in taking on a consort with your…shall we say, disabilities, was not keen. The key is this woman’s mortality. She presents a problem now, but in fifty years, maybe less, she’ll be gone.” Eric didn’t bother to hide the shiver running through him. What was the point? His Maker knew all. “Yes,” Appius acknowledged, “I know it affects you and so would any future mate. This woman could be used to compromise you. Of course,” and Appius stopped pacing, instead sitting and inviting Eric to join him. “weighing against that is her place with Brigant. He has no argument with vampires, in fact, he and your ‘Queen’ are working quite well in their partnership, well enough to be creating some envy with other rulers.
Niall must be doing well, since he is willing to tell others the only purpose of your pledging was to provide that woman safety until her place could be established with her own kind. The bonding was… Well, we can call it an unfortunate accident.”
Appius patted Eric’s knee, “In fact, I did call it that and your Queen is willing to say it as well. It has helped in the negotiations.”
“You have found someone.” Eric could feel his throat tighten. He had agreed to support anything Appius decided. This would happen.
Appius appeared very pleased with himself as he said, “All things considered, I don’t think I could have done better, even had I waited for this woman to die. He is a brilliant King and a great vampire. He is a little younger than you, but you have gotten along well with him in past…”
“Robert,” Eric finished.
“He actually reached out to me to explore the possibilities. He hadn’t been among my first choices, but it’s only because I didn’t think he’d consider you,” Appius said with growing enthusiasm. “He is far enough away so the pull of your bond with the other one will be diminished and if you agree to bond with Robert, in addition to pledging, the pull will be even less.” Appius turned so he could look into Eric’s face, “I don’t want you to feel pressured to bond with him, though. I wouldn’t inflict an unwanted bond on you! If you don’t wish to bond with your consort, I will send vials of my own blood to you every week. It will allow you to ward off any lingering effects from your unfortunate ties to that person.”
“How soon?” Eric asked.
Appius smiled brightly, feeling his Child’s acceptance. “We can fly to Ireland within the week. I will have to buy out your contract with Sofie-Ann. I imagine the bitch will be furious when she finds out what I’ve arranged, so we must take pains to make sure she isn’t told. She has made clear through her foot-dragging how valued she feels you are to her kingdom. I’ll tell her I realized how much I missed you and have decided to keep you under my wing indefinitely until she signs the agreement. She thinks she hates me now? She has no idea how cold revenge tastes. I will have payment for every slight she inflicted on you, that terrible bonding, her forgetting her debt as your Queen, and this exile. Just wait!”
“And my prior pledging?” Eric asked. He already knew the answer.
“Sophie-Ann first. Once she releases you, the bill of divorce won’t hold us up more than another night. You have an attorney there…”
“Cataliades,” Eric provided.
“Yes,” Appius grinned, all happiness, “yes, the demon. He can handle it.” Appius stood and briskly rubbed his hands together. “It has been a lovely interlude having you here, Eric, but it is time for you to return to your world and for me to more fully live in mine.”