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.
Niall offered his hand to help Sookie off the floor. She half-expected him to pull her into a hug, kissing her, and making her feel better as he had in past, but he didn’t. Instead, he touched the back of her arm, signaling she should precede him to the table. She’d started to shake. It wasn’t much, a tremor really, and she pressed her fingers to the tabletop, forcing them to still.
Niall glanced up to what was now just the ceiling before seating himself. His tone was grave as he said, “Something has happened to you, Sookie. I think you should tell me about it.”
Sookie found herself staring into her Grandfather’s eyes. The flashing green light within them, drawing her and, in an instant, she was back at Ballytyne. She gasped as Eric’s pain knifed through her. Her hand flew to her breast as the room around her melted away. Eric was on the ground, his eyes closed. Appius was at her neck, humming, as he bit deeper and she realized the crunching noises were him, killing her. She remembered her Father’s smile and the way the Monster’s flat, black eyes widened. He’d looked surprised when her light took him, and she remembered how good his fear felt. Appius’ face melted to Claude’s face and she felt her smile stretch wider.
“Enough!” Niall’s command startled her, and she was back in the dining room of her home near Glenglas, staring into her Grandfather’s troubled eyes.
“I killed him,” Sookie stammered, and she no longer felt smart or strong. Instead, the enormity of her actions engulfed her, twisting at her emotions.
“I saw,” Niall acknowledged. After a moment, he placed his hand over hers. “It was a clean kill and righteous. No one will dispute your actions and I will attest to the circumstances.” He cocked his head to the side, “But, I can tell this troubles you.”
“I’m so sorry!” It burst out. Sookie did feel regret. Good girls didn’t kill people, even evil, old vampires.
“You are wasting sentiment on the Roman,” Niall chuckled. “No one will miss his passing.” When Sookie didn’t brighten, he patted her hand. “It will become easier,” he told her, which didn’t make her feel better, until it did. “He was what you called him, Sookie, a monster. The world is a better place without Appius Livius Ocella and no one will mourn him,” but then Niall’s eyes pressed her, “except his child.”
‘Eric!’ and Sookie’s mouth dried. She thought of Eric’s face, his words. “We fought,” Sookie swallowed, and the tears she thought she’d finished came back. “He was so angry! He called me a mistake.”
“Then Northman is a fool,” her Grandfather replied. He seemed to think that resolved things because he turned, staring out into the night. He seemed lost in thought, his fingers automatically stroking hers. “Your path is not the one I foresaw for you,” he said after a bit. “It is clearer now, and I am relieved at last you have established your place among us.”
When he didn’t seem inclined to say more, Sookie hissed. “I’m so tired of riddles! Just tell me what’s happening to me!” Tears still stained her cheeks, her sadness replaced by anger, and the now familiar surge of magic started building in her chest.
“Stop that at once!” Niall ordered, His eyes flared in that peculiar way that told her she was only seeing the masque he chose to show. “Sookie, you must learn to control yourself!” he scolded.
Sookie was sick of it, the half-answers and convenient support. Her inner voice whispered she didn’t have to accept these platitudes any more. ‘Force him to tell you!’ the new voice whispered. ‘He’s no different than the rest!’
“Is that truly what you wish?” Niall asked, and Sookie flushed, realizing he’d heard her inner thoughts as clearly as if she’d said them aloud. “Is this the woman you wish to embrace?” and Niall waved a little, causing the air in front of her to become a mirror.
Sookie was confronted by the woman she’d seen in Ballytyne, her hair floating and her features shadowed by something she didn’t want to acknowledge. It was as if cold water was thrown on her and she cried out, “Grandfather!”
“There, there,” he whispered, and Sookie knew she had come back to herself. She was regular Sookie, the woman from America who was opening a B&B and doing other people’s books. “Now you know what to look for, Sookie, and you must work to keep that part of you under control,” Niall told her.
It was in the way he said it that let Sookie know her Grandfather knew more than he was saying. “You know what’s happening to me,” she confronted him. “Please, tell me. I need to know.”
The Fae King stared and Sookie felt judged, but not in a bad way. “I should have recognized the signs when the Leann Sidhe sought you out, but I wanted to believe she was part of the ill wish that followed you.” Niall leaned in and pulled her toward him. It seemed only natural to flow forward, curling into the Fae King’s lap. As it always did, the physical contact with her Grandfather dissolved any lingering anger or bitter grief, replacing those emotions with a sweet sense of well-being Sookie most associated with being in contact with the Seelie.
“Yes,” Niall crooned, “Calm yourself, Sookie. You will always have a place among the Seelie, both in your mortal form and beyond. You are truly becoming a part of our world now and no one will ever be able to take it away from you again.”
“What am I becoming?” Sookie asked.
“A Leann Sidhe,” Niall told her. “A banshee.”
“What? Do I have to?” Sookie sniffed.
“It isn’t your choice,” Niall shrugged. “It is a gift that’s found you.”
Sookie thought of the ghostly Leann Sidhe who’d confronted her in Killary. Sookie’s hand had passed through her and Sookie had felt the bone-chilling cold of the woman’s touch. “I don’t want to be like that!” she gasped. “I don’t want to be some ghost!”
“But Granddaughter,” Niall protested, “you said you wished immortality. As a banshee, you will have that. When your mortal life ends, you will continue, ever powerful, all knowing.”
“A ghost!” Sookie protested. “When I said it I meant like this,” and she pinched the skin on her arm, “with Eric, forever!”
“But not a vampire.” Sookie could hear the scolding tone in her Grandfather’s voice. “You will be transformed. You will realize your wish and still, you aren’t satisfied.”
“But, why me?” Sookie whined.
“It’s not known how banshees are chosen, my Sookie, and yet, they endure.” Niall sighed. Sookie thought of her Grandfather as being only slightly taller than herself, but somehow, he seemed much larger as he held her. “Perhaps you were chosen because of the magic that surrounds you. It is only right you should be magical. There is the heritage you have from me, and there’s your vampire’s blood.”
“I don’t know if he’d say he’s ‘my’ vampire anymore,” Sookie sighed. Scolding herself, she added, “And then, there’s my Grandmother. The woman who knew her in Minnesota said she was a witch. She called me a witch, too.”
“Being spelled doesn’t make you a witch,” Niall scoffed. Sookie glanced up and recognized the jut of her Grandfather’s lower lip. It seemed she wasn’t the only one who was stubborn, and she’d already realized Niall’s blind spot when it came to Adele.
From out of nowhere, Sookie shivered, and when her Grandfather questioned it, she gave him the truth. “I’m afraid.”
“There’s no need,” Niall soothed her. “Still, this is a dangerous time for you,” and Niall shifted so he could look in her eyes. “You have manifested your powers early. You must be careful or you may find calling forth your magic becomes too easy. These kinds of power can be addicting…” and then Niall looked away, his voice trailing off.
“What is it?” Sookie asked.
“It’s just…” and Niall smiled. “I’ve not heard of a banshee who is able to manifest so many gifts. You mimic us all, you have an affinity for nature,” and he shook his head. “But the death’s head upon you is unmistakable. Banshees are those who deal with death and you, my Granddaughter, have that power.”
“I don’t deal in death,” Sookie protested.
“But, you bring it,” Niall retorted, and then his mouth pursed a bit, a sharp line appearing between his eyebrows as he thought. After a bit, he shifted her, “You must bow to your fate, Granddaughter,” Niall told her. “We have not had a new banshee among us in longer than I can remember. This transformation will be taken as a sign of hope by all the Fae.”
Sookie didn’t think growing old and becoming a banshee sounded all that hopeful. She didn’t care what her Grandfather said, the only fate she wanted was the one Eric whispered in her ear as he held her in the park in Slievemore, the one where they were fated to end up together.
“I appreciate you’re trying to make this sound wonderful,” Sookie said levelly, “but there’s only thing I really want and that’s my husband.”
Niall snorted, “If that’s the case, why are you teasing Claude?”
Now it was Sookie’s turn to be taken aback. “I wasn’t!” she exclaimed. Swiping at her cheeks, Sookie scrambled from Niall’s lap, settling back in the chair next to him. “I don’t like Claude! In case you forgot, he was trying to strangle me! He hates me and I’m pretty close to feeling the same way about him. The last thing I’d want to do is tease him. I wouldn’t care if I ever saw him again!”
The tea kettle chose that moment to whistle, and Sookie found herself remembering Ian was right next door, listening to all of this. Sookie felt her cheeks burning and she felt a twinge of something that might have been magic gather in her chest. “Don’t worry!” Niall assured her, “Your Dayman is blissfully unaware. He’s dreaming of women and sunshine and when I release him, he’ll drive home and have no recollection of this day or anything that was said.”
Niall pushed back his chair and walked toward the doors that led to Sookie’s back deck. The rain still fell, beating against the glass. The cod Claude had been holding lay on the floor. It wasn’t gasping or wriggling anymore and there was a slight puddle around it. “Claude doesn’t hate you,” Niall said, toeing the fish. “He’s jealous. His Father told me, but I didn’t believe he could be so affected. Still, I wouldn’t have thought of you as someone willing to goad him this way. It shows a new cruelty in you, Sookie, a cruelty worthy of the Fae.”
“I wasn’t being cruel to Claude!” Sookie huffed. “He started in on me the minute he showed up. He said all kinds of nasty things and he said he wanted sex…”
“You see?” Niall said, suddenly beaming. “You were misinterpreting. Your cousin was being hospitable.”
“You don’t understand!” Sookie protested. “I’m telling you, he was being nasty. You can pull it out of my head if you don’t believe me. He’s nice only until he can figure out some way to be a jerk! He did it with Breandan and he still does it, now that I’m with Eric.”
“He doesn’t like Northman,” Niall conceded. “He has stolen the Northman’s companions in past, but surely, he wouldn’t try something like that with you.” Niall appeared satisfied with his own conclusion, because he scolded, “Still, flaunting his loss in front of him was cruel,” and Niall toed the fish.
“How can a fish be cruel?” Sookie asked. She grabbed a napkin from the table and threw it on the floor to soak up the water.
“Are you meaning to take him back?” Niall asked.
Sookie wasn’t sure she was following. “Eric?” she asked. “I already told you! Of course!”
“Not Northman,” Niall countered, and his eyes remained on the fish. “Breandan! How long has he been visiting you?”
“He hasn’t!” Sookie protested, and something started to come together. “I thought the fish came from Moira,” Sookie gasped. “I mean, I’ve seen Moira since we stopped training and I gave the merrows permission to use the tunnel under Goat House. I just assumed she was repaying the favor.”
“Don’t be stupid!” Niall hissed, and his eyes flashed in that dangerous way. “Merrows are tricksters, not lovers! This is a courting gift. Surely you couldn’t be so naïve!”
“Courting gift? That’s crazy! It’s a fish!” and Sookie found herself staring at the fish as well. After a bit, Sookie sighed. She looked out at the storm raging outside her doors, “Okay, maybe I thought he might be out there. There’s a lot of seals here, Grandfather, but I really didn’t make the connection between these fish showing up and Breandan.”
“So, he’s brought you other gifts, before this one?” and with a wave of his hand, Niall sent the fish outside. Sookie could see it’s form at the far end of her deck, the rain beating down on it.
“There have been other fish,” Sookie nodded. “A couple…three…” Sookie sniffed. “You’re sure it’s from Breandan?”
“Aren’t you?” Niall asked and Sookie realized she was. In fact, she felt foolish for not seeing it before. With eyes wide open, she understood why her Grandfather was suspicious and she wondered at her own motivations. Giving her a deliberate stare, he asked, “Did you eat them?”
“Yes,” Sookie answered, feeling her face flush again as Niall clucked his tongue in disapproval.
“Have you learned nothing of our ways, Granddaughter? You, of all people, should know what it means to eat the food of the Fae! These aren’t your Seelie relatives, Sookie, they’re selkies and merrows. Breandan would be right to see this as encouragement. You do know by eating the food he provides, it allows him to track you? Surely, you knew that?”
Sookie felt the air rush from her lungs. She felt at once stupid and foolish. “I didn’t,” she confessed. “I mean, I know eating Fae food is tricky. It’s just, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me. I’ve been so worried…” and a tear sprang from nowhere, falling down her cheek.
“And, I suppose you’ve found yourself standing at the water’s edge, crying your tears.” Niall handed her a handkerchief. He didn’t look amused as he shook his head. “I know you say you want the vampire, but perhaps you should reconsider. It isn’t too late. Breandan clearly wants you back. Your transformation into a banshee would be overcome by another. You could assume seal form if you joined him. He has pledged to their King and must remain among them for a hundred years, but at the end of it, you could regain human form from time to time, if you wished.”
“I’m married to Eric,” Sookie protested. “I don’t want to change that. I don’t want Breandan or Claude or anyone else.” Beside her, Sookie could see her Grandfather nod at their reflections in the glass. Together, they stood, watching the rain. After a flash of lightning, Sookie asked, “What did you mean about my tears?”
“A sad woman who spills seven tears at the ocean’s edge, calls a selkie,” Niall told her. “They are attracted, compelled actually, to try and comfort her.” Sookie remembered that day in Boston harbor again, and how she’d cried as she stood on the rock. It had been just before she saw the seal.
“Does that always happen?” she asked.
“For those like you who have our blood? Yes,” her Grandfather answered, and Sookie wondered if all of this; Breandan and Ireland and Eric, were because she’d cried on a boating trip one afternoon long ago. Then just as quickly, she dismissed the notion. She knew her path to this place had started long before Boston, with the first time her Father showed her how to spin light, and on a foggy field in Pennsylvania. It had been her Grandfather who found her then, although he had taken on the appearance of a young man.
“When you found me in Pennsylvania, did you know this was how things would turn out?” Sookie asked.
“In its entirety? No,” her Grandfather answered, “but I hoped.” He turned and Sookie saw Ian standing next to the kitchen door. She had no idea how long he’d been standing there, holding the tray with the teapot and tea things, but it must have been a while. His arms were shaking and there was sweat on his brow, but his eyes were somewhere far away, dreamy and blank. Shooting Sookie a quick smile, Niall drawled, “We would like our tea served in the front parlor,” using the same tone he would for any servant.
Ian walked forward, the tea tray balanced in his hands. “You’re going to release him, right?” Sookie asked. She liked Ian and seeing him this way made her anxious.
Niall watched as Ian executed the pouring out as neatly as any butler. “If Northman doesn’t return, this one wouldn’t be a bad choice,” he shrugged. “He’s handsome in a human way. He would be devoted to you and malleable. He appears vigorous and would allow you to live your own life.”
“You don’t think Eric is going to return to me, do you?” Sookie sighed.
“I think of all your choices, Northman is the best,” Niall replied, “but there are some things even I can’t fix. I know he’s attached to you, but there may be circumstances that present too much of an impediment to overcome.”
“Like what?” Sookie asked.
“I couldn’t say,” Niall shrugged, “but I know your vampire leads a complicated life. In the end, you may decide it’s too complicated for you. Still,” and Niall’s head cocked to the side, “if this could be arranged, Northman remains the best of your choices. He tolerates other species and I hear from my friends in Sophie-Ann’s court he’s been freed of all obligations. Perhaps he would be open to a monetary arrangement…”
“What are you talking about?” Sookie hissed. She found herself glancing at Ian again. She wasn’t sure what her Grandfather was saying, but she felt embarrassed by it. “Eric is my husband! I’m not sure what you’d have to pay him for…not to mention, I have plenty of my own money. So does Eric…”
“Of course, you’re right!” Niall nodded as if she was giving him new information, “Now that the old Roman’s dead, Eric is likely wealthier than any of us. That may not work in our favor.”
“Stop!” Sookie begged. “What are you suggesting? Why would any of this involve money?”
“You killed his Maker,” Niall said reasonably. “That’s a blood offense. On the other hand, you are his mate, so to take revenge against you is also a blood offense; however,” and Niall smiled his sly smile, “if he were hired as a mercenary to protect you, it would be a business arrangement. With the right contract, it would take precedence over retribution and honor would be served.”
“So, you’re saying the only way to get him back is to pay him?” Sookie asked. She didn’t bother hiding her tone. “Of all the things you could have said to hurt my feelings, this might be the worst.” Niall gave her a stern look, but Sookie suddenly felt her exhaustion. “He is my husband,” she said again. “I love him, but if the only way he’d be with me now is because I paid him? I’m sorry, but my pride has limits.”
“You’re tired,” Niall shushed. “Night has fallen and you’ve had a hard day. I will sleep here and tomorrow, we will talk some more.”
Sookie thought about the sleeping accommodations. Across the barnyard was a house full of beds, but to get there, Niall would have to walk through rain and sleep in a large, empty house. Here, there was only the large attic bed sitting in the corner bedroom. She glanced up and her eyes settled on Ian. “Fuck a zombie!” she exclaimed, using Pam’s favorite saying. “I forgot all about Ian!”
Niall chuckled as he released her Dayman. Sookie didn’t know what her Grandfather whispered, but Ian looked happy. He waved to her and told her he’d be back next week, as if he hadn’t lost any time at all.
As she watched Ian drive away, her stomach rumbled. “I don’t have much, but I think I can pull together some dinner,” Sookie offered her Grandfather.
“It would give me great pleasure to watch you cook,” Niall answered. There were a couple bottles of wine and Sookie started with those. She whipped up omelets and toasted some stale bread. After the second bottle of wine, the informality and lack of dessert no longer mattered. While she washed dishes, Niall opened her freezer.
“Fish!” he exclaimed. With a wave of his hands, all the frozen packages were gone.
“Hey!” Sookie cried out, then remembered all the reasons fish was off the menu. “Whoops! she giggled. ‘You’re drunk!’ she thought, but she couldn’t stop laughing. Waving her fingers, she called out, “Never mind!”
It seemed perfectly logical to crawl into bed with Grandfather and cuddle into him. Just touching him made her believe anything was possible. “Do I have to become a banshee?” she whispered.
“Banshees are revered by all the Fae,” her Grandfather assured her. “Surely, you wouldn’t mind being a creature we all respect?”
“But, I’d have to be cold, and folks would see through me,” Sookie mumbled before stifling a Cabernet burp. “And then there’s the death thing. Do I have to do the death thing?”
“Too late,” her Grandfather said slowly, stroking her head. “You already do that and very well.”
Desmond Cataliades was as good as his word. He tracked down Appius Livius Ocella’s attorney and relayed contact information to both Pam and Eric.
“It’s someone named Dimitri Costyn. Do you know him?” Pam made a stop at Sophie-Ann’s palace on her way back to Ballytyne. Eric without a Dayman meant Pam was running errands, which gave her the opportunity to pass information to Andre.
“Vaguely,” Andre shrugged. “Russian, obviously, but that’s not surprising. From what I’m told it’s where Appius spent most of his time. Have you had a chance to do a first read of the will?”
“Not yet,” Pam shook her head.
“Why ever not?” Andre pressed. “Surely this Costyn forwarded the electronic copy.”
“No,” Pam shook her head. “There’s no electronic version of anything! Apparently, Appius was old school. Every document is paper. He didn’t trust computers and he refused to have any of his papers digitized. According to Cataliades, Costyn has a whole room full of metal cases and a safe. A safe! Who uses a safe anymore? It’s costing me a fortune to have it all flown here on private charter. I had to arrange a cargo plane and special transport at the airport. I can’t imagine it. I know we read fast, but it’s going to take some time to sort through everything.”
Andre’s eyebrows drew together, “And you didn’t consider simply going the Russia?”
“It’s part of why I’m here. I know Eric isn’t technically your vassal anymore, but he’d like to stay in Ireland longer. He knows this terrain and he would be more comfortable sorting at Ballytyne, among friends.” Pam didn’t pose it as a question, but they both knew it was.
Andre smiled tightly, “You know Sophie-Ann will say yes. There’s a rumor the Viking’s no longer bonded.”
Pam struggled not to look surprised, but she was. It had been barely forty-eight hours. Eric hadn’t been anywhere near Andre when the Queen’s Second came to the house. “He’s not,” Pam confirmed, knowing there was no point in lying.
“I see.” Pam was pretty sure she saw, too. Eric unbonded would be of some interest to Sophie-Ann, but the compelling reason came with Andre’s second question. “And do you know if Eric is the Roman’s sole heir?”
“It’s verified,” Pam nodded. “Costyn would never have released the records unless he was.”
“Any idea how much money we’re talking about?” Andre asked. He had a distinctly feral look. It confirmed the rumors Pam heard, despite her success with Niall Brigant, the Queen had managed to out-spend her treasury again.
“Money? A lot,” Pam shrugged, “Look, I’m not here to talk about the money. There’s something else. Before they left Russia, Appius negotiated a match for Eric.”
Andre frowned, “Even though Northman was bonded? That must have been tricky. Who would have been desperate enough to take the Viking under those circumstances?”
“Desperate or devious,” Pam sniffed. “My Grandsire sold Eric to the highest bidder and if you give it a minute, I bet you can guess who wanted him.” Andre frowned, but when he continued to look puzzled, Pam supplied the answer. “Robert.”
Andre’s fangs descended and he hunched forward, hissing his displeasure. It took a moment before he wrestled himself back under control. “That bastard! How could he? And Northman knew?”
“If you mean did Appius ask my Maker’s permission, then hell, no! He had Eric back under his sway. You know that and you know Appius. My Grandsire didn’t bother to say one word about it until they were leaving for the airport. Eric tells me he boasted about how much money Robert paid for the contract.”
“That must have hurt,” Andre frowned.
“There was nothing Eric could do about it. Appius wanted Eric out of his hair. He’d made a couple inquiries, but word got out. Robert sought Appius out and the old Roman was pleased as punch to do the deal. Eric told me it was more than the money. Appius wanted pay back from Sophie-Ann. When she didn’t pursue the investigation and reclaim Eric, my Grandsire felt she insulted him.”
“He was right,” Andre shrugged. “I told Sophie-Ann it was better having Northman here, but she was tired of the drama. She thought to wait for the human’s passing.”
“Sookie isn’t exactly human,” Pam pointed out.
Andre glanced behind him, “I know. I also know how angry the Roman was. You were there. He didn’t exactly mince words in his negotiations,” Pam nodded. There had been moments she thought it would come to blows. “But, Eric is his child. Why would Appius do this to him? He knows Eric was responsible for the death of Robert’s people. Surely, as his only progeny….”
Pam sighed, “Appius hated Eric. I know Eric doesn’t believe that, but I don’t see any other way you can explain how Appius treated him.”
Andre seemed to consider Pam’s words before sighing, “Appius hated everyone. So why are you telling me this? Do you think I’ll spare Eric when he marches into Sophie-Ann’s Court at the head of Robert’s army? I can understand why Robert wants him. The Viking is a mighty warrior. If he trains Robert’s people, it may well come to a fight to the death.”
“It doesn’t have to come to that at all,” Pam winked.
An answering smile played along Andre’s lips. “Why, Miss Ravenscroft, I believe you have something in mind. Do you plan to steal and destroy the contract? Or maybe you’re telling me the contract wasn’t finalized.”
“Oh, I have no doubt we’re going to find that contract,” Pam laughed. “My Grandsire never said anything unless he knew it was a done deal.”
“Then what? Do you think Eric will choose to ignore it?” Andre asked.
“The great Eric Northman? Ignore a contract? Never happen!” Pam replied.
Andre stalked closer, “And yet, you have a plan and you believe it’s one I’ll appreciate.”
“It has a certain justice,” Pam nodded. “You see, being bonded doesn’t create an insurmountable impediment to being pledged to another, but a pre-existing legal claim? Well, you know how we are about our laws!”
“Like a current pledging,” Andre said, playing along.
“Like a current pledging,” Pam nodded. “So, for Robert’s contract to move forward, Eric needs a divorce.”
“And you don’t think he’ll get one?” Andre guessed. “I would think that after all this time, the divine Miss Stackhouse would be fed up, but she does seem to be persistent.”
“Sookie would have to be dead and cold before she’d agree to a divorce,” Pam answered. “Now, I wouldn’t put it past Robert to try and make that happen, but with her relationship to Niall Brigant? Not even Robert is that ambitious! So, if she refuses, Robert would have to find another way around it. There is precedence, particularly since Sookie isn’t vampire.”
“Northman can petition his Queen,” Andre recited. It was a part of vampire law everyone knew. “Only his liege, Northman’s ruler, can grant the special dispensation setting aside a marriage when one partner balks. Except, of course, Northman doesn’t have a liege anymore which puts him in a gray area. I suppose under the circumstances, Robert could claim as an independent vampire, Eric has the power to sunder the contract on his own, although I would anticipate the fiery Miss Stackhouse wanting to litigate the matter in Court.”
Pam grinned, “Except, as it turns out, it isn’t a gray area of the law. Mr. Cataliades has done some digging and he’s found that in those rare cases where one or both vampires are not vassals, the ruling comes from the authority in whose territory the pledging took place.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that rule,” Andre sniffed.
“Not surprising,” Pam grinned. “We instituted our system of Kings and Queens centuries ago. This rule comes from before that time and Mr. Cataliades assures me it was never revoked. So, since the first pledging took place here and since the authority in place at the time is Sophie-Ann LeClerq…”
“Eric won’t be getting his divorce and Robert will need to look elsewhere for a consort!” Andre laughed aloud. “Brilliant! I do enjoy the way your mind works, Pamela!” He leaned forward, bringing his mouth close to hers, “Perhaps a celebration is in order?”
“You flatter me,” Pam answered, backing away. “But I don’t think Sophie-Ann would appreciate losing you, even on a temporary basis, and Eric is expecting me back. The boxes are being delivered and the sooner we get the bad news delivered to Robert, the better it will be for all of us.”
“You could come back,” Andre pressed. “We wouldn’t have to make it anything formal. We could call it a special friendship. I must admit, you draw me in a way I haven’t felt in decades. You are a rare woman,” Andre purred.
“I like to think so,” Pam answered. “But we both know where this would end. You’d become bored and I’d be angry, so why begin?”
Andre paused, but then, to Pam’s relief, he smiled. “A deft hand at everything, Miss Ravenscroft. Finding solutions, and turning down impetuous men. What other talents, I wonder, do you hide under your pink exterior?”
“Too many to list,” Pam laughed, “Just ask Eric! So, do we have an accord?” and it was done.
Sookie awoke in a wash of sunshine. It was quiet in the house and she was alone in bed. Her head hurt, although not as much as it might, and she stumbled up and into the bathroom. After a quick shower and several glasses of water, she wandered outside onto the deck.
Niall stood there, his long hair lifting in the wind. He was dressed like a tradesman and it startled Sookie to see him attired that way. Aside from the white-blond hair, he looked like someone she’d greet along a country road.
“Good morning, Granddaughter,” he greeted her without turning around.
“I’ll make us some coffee,” Sookie offered, and stepped back into the kitchen. She was expecting Niall to announce he was leaving, but he didn’t. He leaned back and made no sign of going anywhere. “So, where are you off to next?” Sookie asked when one hour turned into two.
“Nowhere,” the King shrugged.
“Oh,” and Sookie cast about for something to say that didn’t sound rude. “Well, of course you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
“Good! I like it here,” Niall beamed, and sat back, half-closing his eyes.
“Well, then maybe you won’t mind hanging around here by yourself while I take a run into town.” Sookie didn’t know why she felt embarrassed to admit she needed to do simple human things, like shop, but she did.
“Splendid!” her Grandfather exclaimed. “I’ll come with you!”
The whole way to Glenglass, Niall pointed out features or places where some piece of Fae legend had occurred. As they pulled into the car park, Sookie asked, “Do you want to wait in the car?” Niall was having none of it. In an instant, his hair matched his clothing and he walked near her elbow, his hands tucked in his pockets. Once inside, Niall didn’t bother hiding his delight in everything he saw. He exclaimed over bright packaging and fruit encased in plastic. He kept up a running commentary on the size of the aisles, the freezer selection, and some of their fellow customers. Sookie didn’t know whether to be alarmed or tickled. In the end, she decided to just roll with it and found herself honestly enjoying herself.
As they were getting ready to go, Sookie caught a couple of her fellow shoppers casting furtive looks their way. The sense of causing a commotion was reinforced when they started unloading the cart at the register. The woman running the register’s eyes were big as saucers.
“It won’t do to be too familiar with folk here,” her Grandfather whispered in her ear. He stared at the cashier and, in an instant, her eyes took on the dreamy expression Ian had worn yesterday. “I’m not entirely unknown here. You are in my kingdom. Just being seen with me has created a question in their minds. They will work hard to please you. They won’t know for sure, but if they associate me….”
“With the Little People?” Sookie huffed.
“I prefer ‘The Gentry,’ don’t you?” Niall laughed. “’The Good People’ isn’t so bad, but we’re not always ‘good,’ as you’ve seen.” It was the oddest conversation Sookie had ever had in a grocery store, but Niall lifted the bags and followed her toward the car as if this was all normal.
Once the supplies were in the car, he glanced around. “Come,” he said. “Let’s take a walk on the beach.”
It was a cool day, so Sookie wasn’t too worried about leaving things in the car. Together, they walked the short blocks until they came to the seawall. There were stairs here and they walked down, one after the other. It was low tide and Niall headed toward the water’s edge. Every so often, he leaned down to pick up a smooth stone and, with a quick flick of his wrist, skipped it over the waves. They had walked some distance and there were fewer houses along the headland when the ravens found them. They were great, noisy birds. Some had gray bills and others had areas of white among their glossy, black feathers. They landed on the sand, pacing along. Some flew ahead, picking at crabs, fighting and squawking. “They’re huge!” Sookie exclaimed.
“Talk to them,” Niall commanded.
“What?” and Sookie stopped walking. “I can’t…”
“Bring them to you,” Niall insisted.
Sookie looked at the crows and the one closest to her looked right back. She’d talked with song birds before and somehow felt she made herself understood, but her time with ravens had been less successful. “Okay,” she sniffed. Feeling more than a little foolish, she held out her hand and called, “Here, Birdie, Birdie.” The raven closest to her cocked his bright eye and with a loud caw and a quick flap, hopped onto her hand.
“Shit!” she exclaimed, her arm falling under the weight of the thing. The bird squawked loudly, flapping wings and digging its talons into her. Sookie shifted her stance and managed to lift her arm, causing the bird to still.
“Move it to your shoulder,” her Grandfather commanded.
‘It’s going to crap all over my coat,’ Sookie’s inner voice told her, but she did as Niall asked.
As soon as it settled on her shoulder, the bird turned to her ear. “Welcome, Mother,” a voice that was not her own whispered. “We have been waiting for you.”
Sookie’s mouth dropped and her eyes widened. “What did he tell you?” Niall asked. He walked slowly toward her, moving so as not to disturb the bird. Around them, the other ravens seemed to be watching.
“He said they’ve been waiting,” Sookie gasped.
“You need to thank them and tell them to spread news of your return,” Niall told her. When Sookie didn’t respond, he squeezed her hand, “Do it, Sookie.”
“Thank you,” she said, hearing all too well the waver in her voice. “I’m back.” As soon as she said it, the bird riding her shoulder lifted from her. For one moment, the weight of him dropped and she thought she’d drop with it, but in the next, he was gone from her. All around them, the ravens lifted, their cries loud and raucous, drowning out the sound of the ocean waves. “What does it mean?” she asked Niall.
“It means you aren’t a banshee.” Niall was smiling, and he pulled her into his arms. She couldn’t help it. Sookie felt better, in fact, she felt better than better, she felt wonderful. “Come now, time to get home.”
“But if I’m not…” Sookie protested, but Niall’s attention had already turned elsewhere.
“Look,” he said, and pointed. The seals were back, dozens of round heads watching them. “Magic drew them,” he said with a wink.
“Is he out there?” Sookie asked shyly. She knew she shouldn’t be curious, but she wanted to know If one of these creatures was the man she thought she loved once upon a time.
“No,” Niall told her. “Breandan’s not there,” but Sookie thought Niall might be lying.
The sun had started to peep in and out of clouds when they pulled into the barnyard and there, standing next to the bell, were four people Sookie immediately recognized as hikers. “Hello!” one called, raising his hand.
“What can I do for you?” Sookie asked.
“I would think that’s obvious,” Niall scolded, already walking forward. “These travelers are looking for a place to stay and they’ve found it.”
“That’s exactly what we were going to ask,” one of the women in the group laughed. “My brochure mentioned this place, but when we didn’t see a sign…”
“Are you open?” the other woman asked.
“Of course, she is,” Niall answered, then turning said, “Sookie, why don’t you show your guests in? I’ll take care of the groceries.”
Sookie opened her mouth and then shut it. “Sure,” she sighed. “This way.”
She opened the door of the main house and showed them in. “It’s late in the season, so we won’t officially open until Spring, but everything’s ready.” She showed them the two ground floor rooms, and then the front parlor and dining room. “The television works and if you’d like, I can make a peat fire.” She checked her watch. “I’ll call into town. There’s a good pub and it’s a night they have a full menu. I’ll give the owner, Brian, a call to let him know you’ll be coming.” She checked her watch, “Say in two hours? At six? And not to worry, I’ll run you in and bring you back. In the meantime, why don’t you settle in and I’ll make up a tea tray.”
“John, call the service and tell them to bring the bags here,” one of the women said, and then, turning to Sookie, asked, “What do you call this place?”
“I don’t have a name yet,” Sookie confessed.
“It’s so quiet,” the other woman commented.
“Baile Siochanta,” the one called John said. “Peaceful home.”
It fit. “That’s beautiful,” Sookie sighed. She wrote down the street address for her guests and turned to head back to the barn for tea supplies, but Niall walked out of the kitchen behind her.
“Why don’t you show me where the dishes are located?” he asked.
Sookie walked into the kitchen to find a tea tray already set up as well as a small tray with a decanter of whisky and six small glasses. “How?” Sookie asked. Niall just laughed and pulled his eye. ‘Magic!’ she told herself. ‘Of course!’ “They aren’t going to get any side effects from eating Fae food, are they?” she teased.
“They will have a strong desire to recommend this place to everyone they know,” Niall laughed. As she carried the tea tray into the main room, followed by Niall who carried the second, she wondered if Niall was really teasing.
Her guests were wandering about, looking at the furnishings. Niall asked, “Would you be willing to join us in a toast?” He didn’t wait, he just started pouring. Everyone seemed willing, in fact eager, and Sookie heaved in inner sigh of relief. Refusing to drink might have been taken as an insult, and that wouldn’t have boded well.
Niall turned to her, glass raised. “To you, Granddaughter, and to Baile Siochanta, your new home.”
It was a moment. Sookie didn’t know if it was magic, or just the magic of being with like-minded people who wished her well, but her heart warmed and she knew that somehow, everything was going to turn out. She felt the slight burn of the alcohol and she saw this room in other days, the lights glowing, as she and Eric brought platters of food from the kitchen. She saw him, standing here, welcoming guests, his hair shining, and his eyes shining more. She realized someone had said something to her. She could tell from the man’s expression what she was expected to say and she did, “Thank you! I couldn’t have asked for a better gift. It’s the perfect name.”
When she called, Brian assured her it was a good night for guests, adding that the musicians were already setting up. At six, Sookie had the car running, and they crammed in. “I’ll meet you in town,” Niall waved from the yard.
“I’m going to stop at the grocery again,” Sookie warned him. They’d bought enough for themselves, but now there were four extra people who would expect a fancy breakfast. The service had dropped off four large suitcases about an hour ago and Sookie introduced herself. “We’ll see how they like you,” the driver said, gesturing toward her chattering guests. “If they give you the nod, I’ll put this place back on the list.”
Sookie finished her shopping and drove the car to park in front of the pub. She figured she’d step inside and have a bite herself while she waited for her guests to finish dinner. She hadn’t seen Niall since she left Baile Siochanta, but she figured she wouldn’t. It wasn’t like her Grandfather to linger too long, but when she walked into the business door of Brian’s place, there Niall was, sitting by the peat fire, thumping the top of the table in time to the music.
“Sookie!” he called out, raising his glass. Sookie saw Brian’s sharp eyes land on her, reminding her of the shoppers earlier. “A dram for my Granddaughter!” Niall exclaimed.
Brian came by himself with a glass of whisky, setting it in front her as she arranged her coat and purse. “Could I have a sandwich, too?” she asked.
“I didn’t know you were an O’Hara,” Brian smiled. It was a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I’m a Northman, now,” Sookie answered. “Do you have ham?”
Brian walked away and Sookie found herself staring at Niall. The musicians were good, and her guests were sitting closer to them, their faces wreathed in smiles. The waitress was bringing them large dishes full of food and signaling Brian to pour them another round. “Don’t worry about the pub owner,” Niall said, not looking at Sookie. “He’s already seeing the luck of my people extends to you. He’ll come to accept you here, as they all will.”
“Why are you still here?” Sookie asked. Niall did look at her now, his eyebrows raised. “Don’t get me wrong. I like having you stay with me, but… I guess I’m just surprised.”
“I’m protecting you,” Niall told her.
“Protecting me?” Sookie asked. “From whom? Myself?”
“Perhaps,” Niall grinned, before saying more soberly, “Claude hasn’t returned home. Dillon will tell me when all is well.” He reached over and patted Sookie’s hand, “I fear that soon I will have to return to kingdoms and worries, but for now,” and he pushed the whisky toward Sookie, “I intend to enjoy this simpler life, drinking with a beautiful woman and listening to music as it was meant to be.”
They would have many more times together and many more memories as the years went by, but for Sookie, this night sitting in a pub, drinking with her Grandfather, was among her best.