The day approached for Felipe de Castro’s arrival. Angie had spent much of her time with Freyda and Freyda’s staff making suggestions and providing support. A ball was planned. An intimate dinner with politicians and business people both locally and from Oklahoma City. Outings to local night clubs were vetted out.
Eric noticed that each day seemed to mark the arrival of more of Felipe’s people from Nevada. Angie explained them as advance staff for the King. “He just doesn’t travel light anymore,” she’d said with a shrug. Then she’d turned to Freyda and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Men! Such egos!” And she’d giggled. Freyda giggled too.
Eric couldn’t escape the feeling that they were being invaded; the palace was methodically being infiltrated by an enemy force. He tried to mention it to Freyda but she cut him off. “You want to tell me something? Tell me what that piece of trash Angie has to say that’s oh so important?”
Eric had nothing to tell her. Since the request in the throne room Angie had made no further mention of the message for him. In his current position, Eric did not think that it made much difference if he asked her to tell him. Frankly he wasn’t in a position to ask anything. Angie would tell him when her timing was right. Or it was possible there was no message and the entire episode was staged to determine the state of his relationship with the Queen.
“If there was any question about the degree of harmony in this match, there could be no question now,” the Viking thought. Freyda had treated him like her lap dog since the beginning. She had paraded him and provided his wardrobe. She assigned him rooms but had made clear it she expected him to be waiting attendance on her in her chambers when she called. Eric had quickly realized she had no real duties for him. In fact, she didn’t want him involved in anything that had to do with the running of the kingdom.
“Don’t you worry yourself about that,” was her standard answer to any inquiry he made. “That’s why we pay…” and then she would fill in the blank. She had accountants and lawyers and consultants. From what Eric could see most were lazy. Some were outright corrupt. Some tried to do a decent job but without any kind of supervision or support their performance had fallen into a kind of disconnected apathy. Although he was not allowed to see a balance sheet for the kingdom Eric was fairly certain that Freyda’s wealth was dwindling.
Freyda had no strong vampires around her. There was a small circle of boot lickers who spent their time complimenting her and encouraging her to buy things that profited their own purposes. When Eric had asked about identifying and developing vampires as a defensive force, Freyda had scoffed. “Oh Eric! Like anyone has to worry about that anymore! We’re mainstreaming now. No one does bloody coups! It’s not like when Sophie-Ann was around, you know. Things have changed!” Then she had rubbed herself against him and purred in a voice that sounded like sandpaper, “Besides, everybody loves me.” She had used it as an opportunity to offer herself to him again, dropping to her knees. He had walked away from her and not opened the conversation again.
While their normal relationship was strained the idea of a secret message had put Freyda’s paranoia in overdrive. She would smile broadly at Angie and then hiss at him. She had started to confront him at odd times. If he was out of her sight for more than a few minutes she would find a way to place herself in front of him where Angie couldn’t see. She would demand to know if he had talked with the vampire. She demanded that he promise her he would tell her what was said.
At first Eric would tell her that there had been no conversation. When the stalking and confronting continued he pointed out that he would share with her when the conversation took place but under their contract he was under no obligation to share secrets that were personal with her and he would not promise to do so. She would fly into a flurry of speculation and recrimination. He would hiss at her that next time she should remember to include that clause in any future purchase agreement for a spouse. She would storm away only to replay the scene the next time they had been apart; and then the next.
Even the training areas were not exempt from Freyda’s carping and prying. Eric would move through the fighting forms that allowed him to find his inner peace only to look up and see her. He found that he had started to internally count off the time until Felipe’s arrival as well. He noticed the looks of pity shot his way from De Castro’s people on those occasions that Freyda was unable to restrain herself until she found a private location to berate him. It rankled to be pitied by anyone, much less younger vampires.
Good or bad, the arrival of the king would mean that the stalking and screaming could return to the dull roar it had been before the arrival of the King’s minion. This level of disruption forced Eric to react. Reaction required feeling. Feeling reminded him of his position as less than a servant. It was better to have the dull sameness. It made the marking off of his sentence run faster. It made him able to numb himself so he didn’t have to think about everything that he was missing. And everyone.
As he lay on his bed that night following his feeding he found his mind slipping back to those terrible last days in Shreveport. He still could not understand how he had allowed himself to be so betrayed by Sookie Stackhouse. He found himself counting the number of times she had told him she loved him. He remembered the few times she had called herself his wife. The pain of those memories was like a bitter taste in his mouth. He remembered with clarity the joy he had felt. He remembered holding her and laughing with her. He remembered seeing the look in her eyes and thinking; believing with all his heart that she had meant those words. But in the end it had all been a lie.
It had always ever been what was convenient for her. She never wanted to discuss their relationship. When things were hard for him, she never offered to come to his side to help. He thought back on all the times he had put himself in danger to help her. Dallas. The Maenad. Angering Andre. Angering his queen. Never once did she turn to him and offer to make one sacrifice to make his life easier. Instead she had let everyone know that her relationship with him was a source of shame. She hid their union from her family and human friends. She openly associated with other men. Eric turned restlessly on the bed, facing the wall. “What a fool I was,” he thought. “My maker was right. It has been a hard lesson, but even from the grave Appius has taken care of me.”
It was now the evening before Felipe’s arrival. The throne room was being readied. Angie was there overseeing the placement of a throne for the Nevada king. Eric came in trailing Freyda. Angie bowed and then from her position facing the floor said, “Eric Northman? Might you have a few moments you could spare me?”
Freyda looked at her husband. Eric waited for Angie to straighten up before responding, “I am at your service.” Freyda turned her eyes back to Angie. She was clearly angry. Eric could feel the rage emanating from her like a living thing.
Angie glanced at the French doors that led to the snowy patio area. “Perhaps outside?” Eric nodded and motioned that she should precede him. He followed her. He and every other vampire in the area could hear Freyda’s hiss.
Once they were outside, Angie turned to him and said, “Is there a place that is private? What I have to say is for your ears only.”
Eric nodded. “If you will indulge me I can fly us both to an area not far from here. It is unguarded.”
Angie raised her arms indicating her willingness. Eric walked behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. The woman lowered her arms to cover his. Eric lifted her into the sky and flew to a slight rise that held a small clump of trees. Once there he carefully set her down. He stepped away from her and looked back at the palace. It seemed a small pool of light in the dark empty quiet of the land.
The sky this night was a great bowl of stars. There was no moon to wash out the sky. Eric found himself remembering a time in his human life when the sky had looked this way. Those had been the days that he had been a-Viking. He would find himself on night watch helping the helmsman to keep the long boat pointed to the wind. Men would be sleeping all around. The sky would look as it did now; the stars layering above him in an infinity of light and pattern. He remembered feeling how large the world was around him and how for all his troubles he was but a moment in something so much larger than himself. It had given him comfort. Now, facing yet another uncertainty, Eric found the same sense of comfort in the unchanging night sky.
Without turning to face her Eric asked, “Are you going to end me?” It was strange to think that although he had not put that thought into words over the last week it had been in his mind. He found the possibility strangely restful. When Godric had met the sun in Dallas Eric had not been able to understand the motivation that would lead to that kind of decision. Now he felt he did. On his better days he knew that 200 years was a moment in his long life. But on days like today when the strain had been so palpable, he found that he was tired of this existence. He wondered if the same maker that had created the stars in all their glory had a place where those who passed could find their way to try again. As a youth he had believed in Valhalla. He had worshiped Thor and Freya and Odin All Father. He supposed he still did. Perhaps, if this was his moment of Ragnarock they would be waiting to greet him.
When the woman did not respond Eric turned to her. He held his hands at his side. He kept his face neutral. He realized she had been watching him. There was nothing in her hands which made him suppose that ending him was not the plan for today.
Eric lowered his head and took a breath to center himself. When he felt himself calm he met her eyes. “What is it you have to ask me?” he said.
Now she smiled. “Ask you? What makes you think that there is a question,Viking?”
“I do not have time for games, Angie. If it were not some request you would not have hesitated to deliver your message in public. You have a full force within the palace walls. You have people placed in every strategic position. If you are not here to end me, what is it you want of me?”
“It would seem to me that all you have is time, Eric,” the woman said. “I would think you would welcome a chance to escape the crowding and harassment that dogs your every step.”
Eric looked back at the palace. “She is not a pleasant companion. She does not make my time here easy.”
“Oh? Because you offered her that opportunity?” When Eric looked at her, Angie nodded. “You know how to push buttons Viking. You can let her know with the lift of an eyebrow how much you dislike her. A woman would need to be made of iron to withstand the weight of your disapproval.”
Eric felt his lip lifting in a sneer. “Are you here to offer marriage counseling, then?”
“No.” Eric could feel the shift to the business at hand. She began. “I bring greetings from King Felipe de Castro. This is his message.” She shifted and Eric could see her remembering the words as they had been told to her.
“Eric Northman. Six years ago I stood as witness and supporter of a marriage contract between yourself and the Queen of Oklahoma. I was reluctant to lose you as a Sheriff. You were ever a loyal supporter. Your progeny does well, but no one can replace you in my retinue. I was only willing to allow you to go because it is only right that loyalty should be rewarded.
This match was one that was arranged by your maker. As a supporter of our ways I honored that wish even after he met his final death. He was ever mindful of you and your future. He spoke well of you during his visit to my kingdom and I was honored to have spent time in his presence. He was a great vampire.
I knew that through this union you would gain power, riches and position. As consort to Oklahoma you would be positioned for greater things. All would be able to see the promise and talent that you demonstrated as my subject. As your king I was pleased at your success. I have ever been your advocate.
The news that I bring you this day through my loyal companion,” at this Angie bowed, “attacks both our honors. I regret to inform you that the conditions and terms of the contract have been broken by your lady wife. As witness to your contract this impacts my honor as well and I place myself at your disposal.”
Eric hissed, his fangs descending. Angie startled and stopped speaking. Eric found he was unsettled. He looked away, then back to her. He nodded for her to continue.
“I have spoken with Narayana Clan. Tomorrow I will arrive and overthrow your Queen. Oklahoma will join my kingdom. It is my desire that you assume the role of Regent reporting only to me.”
Eric started again, turning away. His mind whirred through the news. There had been many possibilities that had occurred to him. This had not been one of them. He turned back to Angie. “What of Pam? What of Louisiana?”
Angie tilted her head, considering him. “I take it you agree?”
Eric realized that he did. “Yes.”
“Pam is a valued sheriff. There is no need for concern. She will remain in Area 5. Felipe will be making some decisions soon about the oversight of that state. It would help him to know that he has two strong vampires; vampires whose loyalty he can trust behind him.” She met his eyes and held them. “Are you that, Viking? Are you a strong and loyal vampire willing to renew your pledge of fealty to my king?”
Eric thought about the implications. He knew the state and had a decent handle on the situation of the assets. He would be free of the contract and Freyda. He would retain his position. In fact his situation would improve. Although he would still have a master he would be Regent. Even Horst would have to defer to him. He would be free to see Pam and Karin again. And Sookie… “ He pulled himself back. Where had that thought come from? If anything that was the fly in the ointment. It was better to be here at some distance. He was not likely to see the telepath or her shifter husband if he remained here.
Eric Northman bowed his head slightly to the woman. “I was honored to be Felipe De Castro’s subject in Louisiana. I would be honored to associate myself with him again. I accept his offer and pledge my fealty.”
Angie smiled. “Oh Eric, he will be so pleased!”