NOTE: My thanks to Breathesgirl who selflessly gives of her time to polish and prompt. My thanks to AmericanAndroid who has given an image to this story that inspires me. To my readers who question and push and applaud and challenge. I love sharing this journey with you. Enjoy!
Maude moved quickly down the corridors towards her kitchen. As she turned into the doorway she almost ran into Martha. The servant was hurrying to find the Queen.
“Majesty! Kentucky is preparing to leave. He has told our people to call for transport. He intends to leave within the hour.”
Maude shook her head and turned around, speeding back towards Isaiah’s rooms. She found the doors at the end of the corridor were both closed. She knocked on the king’s but there was no answer. She could hear shuffling from behind the opposite door. It opened and she found herself facing Thomas, Isaiah’s second. She could see Karin Slaughterer sitting on the bed behind him. The younger vampire bowed.
“Queen Maude,” he said solemnly.
“What is this I hear, Thomas? You are leaving?”
Thomas kept his eyes trained to the floor. “Yes, majesty. I was informed by my king only a short while ago.”
“Where is he?” Maude asked. She found that she was becoming less pleased with every passing minute. If Isaiah was going to throw a hissy fit he should be man enough to tell her himself and face the music.
“I do not know majesty. He passed me his instructions and told me he would meet us at the front of the house in half an hour. Your staff has informed me that they will handle the transportation.” And Thomas bowed again.
“Oh get up!” Maude snapped. “You’re blood tied to him!” Maude could see that Thomas was about the protest. “Oh don’t bother to lie to me! You forget I was married to him. I know what Isaiah requires when it comes to loyalty so you can save your tale-telling!” Maude fixed him with a fierce eye. “You use your tie and you let him know he needs to get his ass into this house to talk with me.” Thomas was opening his mouth so Maude leaned close to his face, “Now!” Then she looked over his shoulder at Karin. “And as for you missy, I’d like to have a word with you in the hallway.” Before Karin could even start to react Maude followed it with, “In my house you follow my rules. Get your butt out here!”
Maude turned heel, opened the door and walked into the other room leaving the door open. Karin hesitated in the doorway, but when Maude raised her eyebrow she walked forward. She gestured toward the door but Maude shook her head. If Isaiah returned the Queen wanted to know immediately. Maude sat in one of the two armchairs set near the bed. She waved towards the other and waited for Karin to sit. Then she fixed Karin with a sharp gaze and waited.
Karin looked up then away. When the silence stretched she finally looked up at Maude, her face petulant. “What? What do you want from me?”
Maude let her stew. When she saw Karin winding up to say something more she cut her off. “You know exactly what I want to know. You know where we’re sitting. You know whose room this is. I can still smell Sookie Stackhouse on that bed. So can you.” Maude narrowed her eyes. “Start talking.”
There was a movement. Karin’s head turned as Thalia glided into the room and shut the door. She moved to stand next to Maude. “Yes, Karin. I would also like to hear how this happened,” she hissed.
Any fight Karin had seemed to drain out of her. She looked almost resigned as she turned her gaze on the empty bed. “It made sense; Sookie and Kentucky. They would be good for each other.” She turned her face to the women opposite her. “She was never good for my maker. She made him miserable.”
Thalia’s hiss turned to a growl. “How dare you? You purposely pushed her into another’s bed?” Maude likewise gasped, her gaze horrified.
“How could you support bringing them back together? You don’t know what I know. You don’t know how flawed she is. She wasn’t good for him before the shifter. And now? She is not worthy of him.”
Maude shook her head. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Karin! How could you?” It was the first time that Maude had ever seen Thalia at a loss for words. She worried that once Thalia recovered it might prove fatal for the younger vampire.
“I’m not saying that Sookie doesn’t deserve happiness, but Eric? He is something finer. He deserves someone who isn’t broken. He is facing so many challenges ahead of him. We all hope that he will come out of this a king. How can he do what he needs to do; focus on what he needs to accomplish if he is worried about tiptoeing around her? If his concentration is on protecting her from injury he will turn his head at the wrong moment. She would be the death of him!”
Thalia walked forward until she stood directly in front of Karin. Maude found herself rising and standing as well. Maude had never seen her so angry. Even Karin, who never pulled back from battle, leaned away. “You fool!” she growled. “You stupid bitch!” Thalia’s teeth were clenched and her fangs were fully extended. “Broken? Damaged? What do you know of the North Man?” A fine shudder ran through Thalia. Her eyes were wide and her hands clenched and opened and clenched again. She brought her face close to Karin’s. “You share a maker’s bond. Open it! Open it and tell me what you feel.”
Karin’s eyes were on Thalia’s. She darted a look at Maude and then back. The younger vampire took an unnecessary breath and then looked away from the fighter. “He is happy,” she said, her voice flat.
“Happy? Merely happy?”
Karin’s looked up again, her face settled. “He is content. His joy sings.” Karin shook her head.
Thalia nodded. “Yes, his joy sings. With this one person he has found his happiness. Why would you deny him?” She hissed one more time before stepping back again. “Why would you condemn him to anything less than he deserves?”
A red tear fell down Karin’s cheek. “How could you say that? He deserves every happiness. He deserves someone who can love him.” She jutted her chin forward her expression challenging, “He deserves someone who can help him and stand by his side. Can she?” Karin looked at Maude. “Can she ever be a queen?” Karin shook her head. “No. No one in our world will ever truly accept her. He will fight and fight and in the end she will die. How long does she really have? Thirty years? Forty? Old and wrinkled and frail! And then what? More heartbreak?”
Karin sprang from the chair and paced toward Thalia. “You know him! He would give her his word; pledge himself to her. And when she is failing he will not set her aside.” Karin’s anguish was written in the tracks of the tears that now ran down her face. “He might choose to follow her into death. Did you ever consider that? Eric Northman! Over a thousand years and he could end himself for this!”
Thalia’s voice was low. “You do not know what you are saying. You think you understand but you don’t.” Thalia flicked her eyes at the Minnesota queen and then back to Karin. “We have been forced to live our long lives alone; always moving; never belonging anywhere or to anyone. To be connected to another was the way of danger.” Thalia’s face became distant. “We were taught that allowing yourself to feel hope was a death sentence. It was enough to survive. You are right. The North Man is different. He has a joy in how he approaches life. Every day is for him a new adventure; a new chance.” She looked directly into Karin’s eyes. “In spite of everything he never gives up.”
Karin’s voice was broken, “He needs to when it comes to her. He needs to walk away from her.” She looked to Maude. “Did you ever consider that maybe it isn’t her he loves? Maybe it’s just because she keeps telling him ‘no.’ Maybe it’s about chasing the thing you can’t have.”
When the other women didn’t respond Karin continued. “Sookie may think she loves him, but I watched her for a whole year. She was sorry she let him go, but she stayed with that shifter. She let him do unspeakable things to her and she stayed.” Karin wiped her cheeks with her hand. “You don’t recover from that; not really. It haunts you and makes you wonder deep down whether you will ever deserve happiness. She will never be able to fully be his because somewhere in the back of her mind a voice will be telling her that she doesn’t deserve him.” Karin looked away. “I know.”
Thalia’s shoulders relaxed then as she considered the vampire in front of her. She looked at Maude once more before pulling herself to her full height. “I see your pain young one. I see your love for your maker. But I tell you that you are wrong about this. You see I knew the Viking long before he found you. I knew him when he was Appius’ toy.” Thalia’s shoulders slumped a little. “There is nothing that could have been done to the breather that didn’t happen to your maker. You have no idea the existence he was forced to endure. It is the blessing and the curse of our existence that we forget nothing. You think that she is doomed by her knowing; by her experience? Your master will never forget one second of the hundreds of years he endured the kind of pain and humiliation that only Appius could inflict. You think that you suffered? Your pain is a drop in the ocean that is his!”
Maude looked towards Thalia. “Russell told me stories. It made my heart ache.”
“I will ever regret that I was not the one to end that bastard.” Thalia turned back to Karin, “Sookie Stackhouse played a part in bringing the Roman to his final death. You should be thanking her every day for freeing your master once and for all; not looking for ways to bring them more pain.”
Karin shook her head. Maude walked forward and placed a hand on the vampire’s shoulder. “Karin, when Eric finds out it will not go well for you. He will not thank you.”
Thalia nodded. “You know how he values loyalty. He will view this as a betrayal of his trust. When he left you to guard her that should have told you everything you needed to know.” Thalia’s voice dropped. “She is his treasure and he left you, his oldest child, to guard her.” Karin’s shoulders shook. The truth of what she had done came to her and she found that her heart could ache.
Maude spoke, not unkindly, “What do you want to do?”
Thalia snorted. “I will tell you what you should do, Karin the Slaughterer, although why I would stand between you and the final death you deserve for betraying your master is something I can’t explain. You should leave. You should find a way to redeem yourself and then come back and beg your maker’s mercy.”
Karin nodded. She looked at Thalia. “Will you tell him?”
Maude spoke. “He will know that you brought her to Isaiah’s room. But I can tell him that it is possible that you were mistaken. The arrangements were changed at the last minute. It’s plausible. Isaiah has no idea of your part in this. It is only the three of us who know what you did and why.”
“I will leave with Kentucky. Tell Eric…” the tears flowed down her cheeks as she looked up. “Tell Eric that I decided to take some time with Thomas. Tell him I will contact him and that I wish him every happiness.”
Maude nodded. Thalia crossed her arms, her face turned forbidding. “Know this Karin. If you interfere again I will hunt you down and end you myself. Tell me my faith in you is not mistaken. Tell me that you do not deserve a stake now.”
Karin looked at Thalia. “I never meant to betray him. I give you my word.”
Thalia nodded and stepped aside. Maude placed her hand briefly on Karin’s shoulder. Neither watched her as the younger vampire walked out the door.
Eric licked the thin shimmer of sweat from between Sookie’s breasts. He couldn’t decide which was better; inhaling the smell of sunshine that rose from her or tasting the faint sweetness that her body carried. Sookie’s fingers were stroking his hair and he realized he was humming.
“What is that song?” she asked him. Her voice was thick and lazy. He smiled. He was surprised she was still awake.
“It is old. Something my mother used to sing to me.” Eric turned his face to her and kissed her skin. It struck him that he was remembering that time long ago. It was not something he had allowed himself to recall; not in a very long time.
Sookie tugged at him and he moved up towards her face. He wrapped her in his long arms and she snuggled into his chest making a soft sound. Eric closed his eyes. Every sense seemed to radiate his contentment. ‘Mine,’ his body sang. At one point earlier he had felt a tremor; a disturbance. He thought it had been Karin. He had continued stroking his Sookie into another release but had half expected to be interrupted. Luckily the tremor had stopped and he had turned his full attention back to his beloved.
Later when he had returned them inside the house and pulled her under the covers of the bed he had asked, “Why outdoors my lover? Not that I’m complaining; I greatly enjoyed the sight of you bent over the chair. The angle was most entertaining.” He could feel the heat of her blush.
“I can’t explain it, Eric,” she said. “It’s like I just knew that I had to. When I walked outside with Maude earlier and I saw the stars and I heard all the spring sounds…” Sookie felt strange. It was as if there was some part of her that she didn’t understand pulling at her. She bit her lip a little. “I really didn’t feel like I had a choice,” she said.
Eric pulled her head back then and pressed his lips to her forehead. “If this were my human time I would blame the woods spirits pulling you to celebrate the turning of the season. “ Eric looked toward the ceiling, his eyes far away. “We would light fires and dance and you and I would mate under the stars to honor the fertility of earth.” Eric chuckled and shook his head a little. “I believe you have become more fae. Does it bother you?”
Sookie thought about it. “No. Not really.” She snuggled into his chest. “King, Eric? You never wanted that before.”
Eric sighed and looked away. “It was never an option. My maker lived. No vampire can be king whose maker lives. To be a maker is to have absolute power and absolute power…”
“Corrupts absolutely. I know the saying. But it was more than that with you. It wasn’t that you couldn’t. I really had the impression that you didn’t want it.”
Eric looked at her upturned face. “I was content as Sheriff. To be a king carries more responsibility. It is enough to be responsible for a handful of vampires. As king of a state; two states is what is proposed, I would be responsible for many more. I will need to appoint Sheriffs and have more interaction with my fellow monarchs. There will be Clan business and occasionally issues involving our larger world.”
“You know that you can handle it,” Sookie said.
“I know that I will learn,” he told her. Sookie could see sadness in Eric’s eyes.
“What?” she asked. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he said and he stroked her head again. Sookie found herself getting angry; her temper didn’t creep. It roared forward and she pushed herself from Eric’s chest, startling him and herself.
“Don’t you patronize me, Eric Northman! There is something troubling you. I can see it. Don’t you lie to me. There is nothing we can’t handle together but you not telling me stuff just pisses me off!” Sookie looked at her Eric; really looked at him. She saw his strong jaw and his straight nose. She saw the look of concern that transformed his face from mere beauty into the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Her heart hurt just looking at him. “I love you, Eric Northman. You trust me? Well I trust you.”
He nodded then and traced her lower lip with his thumb. “Do you wish to be queen?”
Sookie thought about it. Why was this a problem unless… “There would be a problem with my being queen?”
“If you wish it I will fight to have the title made yours.”
“Because I’m not vampire.” Eric nodded. “And you think that makes one bit of difference to me?” When Eric didn’t answer Sookie asked, “What would I be to you then?”
“Consort and bonded. My pledged.” Sookie figured if Eric had to breathe he’d probably be holding his breath waiting for her to get angry and storm off.
Sookie felt something shift in her. It was some small piece of hurt. “What would happen if there was some vampire queen who wanted to form an alliance with you, Eric? Would you have to set me aside?”
He hissed. “No! Never.”
“Well then,” Sookie shrugged. “No problem.” She waited for Eric to relax before saying, “Of course there would be something you would have to do for me.”
Eric stilled beneath her. “What would that be, lover?”
Sookie couldn’t keep herself from grinning. “You are going to have to marry me. And I mean human style. As soon as my divorce comes through.” Sookie grinned back up and saw the expression again. “What? What is it? You don’t want to marry me?”
“It’s not that, Sookie. Yes,” he kissed her, “yes I wish to marry you. But to marry you in your tradition? It would require a religious ceremony?”
“It wouldn’t have to be religious. Why Eric?” Sookie gripped his chin and looked him in the eye. “I never took you for a religious guy.”
Eric shrugged. “I have never betrayed my gods. They have seen me through many trials.”
“Then that’s settled. Human ceremony with a judge or justice of the peace.” Sookie snuggled back into Eric’s chest. “Course you don’t have to worry about it until I’m divorced. Goodness knows when that will be. Mr. Cataliades said he’d work on it for me.”
“It will be easier for him now that he knows where Merlotte has been hiding,” Eric said.
Now it was Sookie’s turn to still. “You found him?”
“Yes, lover. He is in Las Vegas. He is using another name. He was working for Felipe de Castro.”
Sookie felt anger roar forward again. “Jeez, Eric! Is there some label stuck on my back saying ‘Use me?’ cause it sure feels like there is someone ready to kick me every time I turn around.” Sookie took a deep breath and let it out. “I knew he was a bastard. But goddamn! Another person paid to screw me over!” Sookie’s hand formed into a fist. She was so angry she roared and then punched the mattress for good measure.
“Do you want me to kill him?” Eric asked. Sookie looked up at him. Eric’s face was open and sincere. He could have just as well been asking if she wanted regular tea or sweet tea.
“No thanks,” she said. “But it was sweet of you to offer. Be better if I was divorced from him first. Then if there’s killing to do, I’d like first whack at it.”
“Of course, my warrior,” Eric smiled. “Anything you say.”
Maude tapped her foot, her arms crossed over her chest. “I can’t believe you are being so snarly about this,” she said.
Isaiah was making an effort not to look at her. The cars around them were rapidly packed and Isaiah’s people were almost ready. Thomas had already cleared Karin’s returning with him. ‘It would appear some get their happiness,’ he thought. He felt an odd pain. The group would make their way to Minneapolis where there were a series of safe houses they would use. It was only an hour away and there was no danger of running out of night before they arrived. Tomorrow transport would take them to the airport and then home to Louisville.
“So, are you going to talk with me or are you going to leave things this way? Lot of water under a lot of bridges between us. Would have thought we were beyond something like this.”
Finally Isaiah glanced her way. “Ain’t your fault, Maude. Ain’t no one’s fault. Just wish she’d of told me instead of having to figure it out.”
Maude shook her head. “Did you ask her straight out? I know you and I’m willing to bet good money you didn’t. And besides, she hardly knows you well. With all the trouble they have following them, not like it was something she’d mention to a new acquaintance.” Maude had almost said ‘stranger’ but knew the word would feel like lemon in a paper cut.
Isaiah nodded. “Likely you’re right. But way I see it Northman abandoned her once. We’ll see how being king suits him. My guess is that he’ll abandon her again.” Isaiah turned more fully towards her. “And when he does I’ll be there. I’m a patient man.”
Maude came forward and bowed. She couldn’t help the smile. “You always were too stubborn for your own good.” She straightened and kissed his cheek. “I wouldn’t be placing any bets on this one though. I think he means to keep her. But what’s more, I think she means to keep him . I think you may have met your match in one respect. She might be just as stubborn as you.”
Isaiah smiled then and nodded as he stepped into the waiting limo. “I’d put a dollar on that.” He waved and said, “See you in Nashville.” Maude waited on the driveway until the taillights of the vehicles disappeared.