Author’s Note: As much as vacation was a wonderful experience, filled with ideas for a novel and characters, I missed Eric & Sookie. I spent lovely hours perched in front of my tent sketching out the last part of their journey home in more detail.
I thank you for your support and welcome your company on this journey. And thank you to Breathesgirl for your light touch and good counsel.
Nautical Note: The mainstay is just that – it is the line that holds the mainmast straight to the front of the boat. Without the mainstay, there is no sailing. When the mainstay frays at sea there are few options. One of the less risky is to slice (or weave) a new section of rope into the line. It requires skill and some artistry to do it well. The result can be a line that is stronger than it had been before.
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.
She wasn’t there. Eric didn’t need to open his eyes or test the air. It was the first time it struck him; he could ‘feel’ her. Or rather he could feel the lack of Sookie Stackhouse.
As he lay still awaiting the return of full life he considered this. This state of knowing between himself and Sookie was not like the bond they had shared before. That had been more vibrant; her feelings flowing through him in a steady but recognizable stream. Even when Sookie’s emotions were at their most subtle, like when the telepath slept, it had been a unique flavor that brought richness to his life. No. This was other. It was deeper, yet as he tried to grasp it; to savor it, it seemed to disappear, only to reassert itself moments later. It was like an over-arching comfort and at the same time a bone-deep longing. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
‘Tomorrow she will return to me,’ he promised himself. ‘She will not run away.’ The thinking of it, and more importantly the believing of it, made the ache lessen.
Eric’s blood was beginning to flow less sluggishly now. He knew that soon he would be able to open his eyes.
This twilight stage had started to manifest a few hundred years ago. When Eric had first become aware of it; this time when his mind was alert but his body would not answer his commands, it had seemed like a prison. But now, as the years had passed, he had come to appreciate it. It was during this time he tended to be his most productive. He could think over the events of his days; what people had said, what their body language told him. He would plan and strategize; considering alternate actions and outcomes like moving pieces on a chessboard, as he waited for that rush of fluids that meant he was fully animate again.
What’s more, Eric’s time in true death seemed to be waning. Now, even with the sun hovering at the horizon, he could still move about. Eric thought his full waking time was longer by almost a full hour. Although he had no way of truly measuring, he was also certain that of his time in repose, the majority of that was now spent in twilight. Eric thought it was because of this that Sookie had been able to wake him in Rhodes and he had been able to respond as he did.
Most of Eric’s time drifting this night had been spent in thinking about the kingdom and the seemingly impossible challenges that faced him. Eric suspected that most vampires would have been overwhelmed. He had a moment when he seriously considered whether Bartlett Crowe and Amun Clan had named him king of Louisiana and Arkansas more as a punishment than a reward.
After Sookie had gone to sleep; that night when all had pledged their fealty, Eric had rejoined Pam and the sheriffs. Thierry and Thomas had reappeared and they had clearly been given the news of their punishment assignment. Upon entering, Thomas had immediately presented himself, his face repentant and his bow low. Everything about his actions had made Eric more comfortable that the vampire’s assurances were sincere.
The Frenchman’s response had been somewhat different. Like Thomas, he had bowed, but when Eric had leveled him with a stare that invited further comment, Thierry’s response had been a wide grin and a Gallic shrug. “Well, your majesty,” he had said, “C’est fini. Et maintenant, what’s next?” Eric had fastened Thierry with a long hard stare, but the vampire had just smiled wider and wider and Eric suddenly found that he had wanted to smile back. It broke the tension and the work of the night had moved forward.
There were no records. Maxwell, Pam and Eric had looked in all the usual places. There were no laptops or filing cabinets; few folders or letters or documents. Servants and guards who lived in the palace were awoken and questioned in an effort to learn more about how and who was involved in running the business side of things. All the answers pointed back to Melanie, the former chatelaine. Eric knew that killing Melanie had been justified, but in doing so he appeared to have destroyed an important link that could have informed him where most of the financial and political skeletons were buried. During the search of Melanie’s quarters, Maxwell had found several bound ledgers. They were the household accounts and he brought them back to the main rooms. Max had offered to start looking through them, but Eric decided that they should wait for Sookie.
Aside from the search for documents in the palace, Eric had asked that numerous messages be sent. There were inquiries that could wait until daytime hours but the ones to the banks could not. Eric had provided information on his personal accounts to Pam and she had directed Maxwell to start making calls. Max had used the leverage of Eric Northman’s name to inquire about palace accounts with the same banks. Only one bank’s representative had balked at presenting himself at the palace that same evening. Max made note of it and had wondered aloud why the palace’s business wasn’t worth the inconvenience for this one institution.
The rest of the bankers had agreed they would present themselves shortly with all the paperwork necessary to make transfers and designate agents. When Maxwell had finished the list, Eric had told him to assemble a list of those banks in town that remained. “Ask Mr. Cataliades if he will represent us in investigating any connections with the others,” Eric had instructed.
Max had prepared a list of questions and concerns to be presented to the banking representatives as they arrived. The guards at the front gates were informed and two rooms were set aside for discussions. The first would be used for the actual meeting between a bank and the vampires. The second would allow those waiting to see and be seen by their fellow bankers. Eric was certain that any banking firm that had worked with Victor Madden knew what was expected. He couldn’t imagine additional threats would be necessary.
As they paused in their work, Pam had put into words what all of them were thinking; “This is a disaster.”
Eric had called a break and most of them had headed for the donors area. Thalia had pushed the buzzer located in the office to alert those below that vampires were on their way.
When the doors to the donor area opened there had been a number that had assembled in anticipation, all in various degrees of dress. The man Eric had been favoring had looked at him, clearly awaiting his signal. The man’s blood was Eric’s favorite type and it was most pleasing, but the Viking couldn’t shake the conversation he had had with his intended. He found himself looking away and signaling a less pleasing man who was standing in another part of the room. Eric frowned when he saw the first donor; Sookie had called him Denny, react. It was uncomfortable and Eric may have grabbed his selection a little too firmly and removed him to a more private feeding alcove. The sounds around him let him know that many of the sheriffs were taking care of all their needs. It was their way. But Eric could not escape the memory of the look on Sookie’s face and the sound of her voice as she told him what she had heard and how she felt. The king fed quickly and left, returning to the meeting rooms with the intent of going back through the records that had been found so far. He hoped, that although unlikely, something new might be found.
Almost as soon as he sat down, he heard, “You seem to have become an American.” Thierry had walked into the room, a smile on his face. Eric lifted his eyes from the file he was re-reading, not sure how to take the remark.
“And how is that?” the Viking asked.
“You are so very business-like.” The darker vampire took a second file from the pile and dropped gracefully into a nearby chair. His eyebrow arched sardonically. “Life is laid out before you; an infinite variety of tastes and pleasures.” He shrugged again, his hand flipped to illustrate his point, “And yet you rush through the moment to this. C’est dommage. For once a moment is passed, even for us, it can never be reclaimed.”
Eric looked at the vampire sitting across from him. Thierry had come with excellent recommendations. He seemed bright and had already proven his business acumen through several astute observations and suggestions. But there was something more about him. “You do not find this life wearisome, then?” Eric asked in a more conversational tone.
“Au contraire,” Thierry exclaimed. “This life; any life is a series of moments, like pearls on a string. A civilized man takes the time to examine and appreciate the beauty of each one.”
“And Americans don’t,” Eric stated.
Thierry’s face broke into a broad smile. “As you say!” he laughed. “From stone age to technology without touching civilization once! It is such a sad life!” and he turned back to the folder in his hand and started whistling. Eric gave him one more look before returning to his own folder. If Sookie hadn’t looked at the dark haired vampire in the way that she had in Jackson, Eric might have liked him more. As it was, the king was reserving judgment.
Other sheriffs began drifting back. Pam had sat at a table near the corner and talked on the phone. At one point she looked up and Eric caught the excitement she pushed him. “The people in Arkansas have found something. Codes and passwords. There are files as well and copies of financial statements.”
Eric nodded, almost reluctant to become too heartened by the news. “Have them scan everything and start emailing it here.” He glanced at Thomas in a meaningful way and then said to Pam, “I have heard that your new sheriff has some expertise with systems and spreadsheets. May I borrow him?”
Pam nodded. “Of course, Master. You know you can have the use of any asset you need if it is in my control to provide.” She placed her hand on his arm and sent him comfort and reassurance.
One of the immediate concerns that had been identified even before coming to New Orleans was the lack of a formal registry of vampires who lived in this Area. An Area’s vampires were its best source of short term cash. Without a census that included an established tithe, there was no way to budget or estimate.
Thalia had pointed out that it was likely that someone in the palace knew something more than they were telling. Eric knew that what Thalia was really asking was to have Sookie scan everyone and he approved the request. It was only as the small vampire was leaving that Eric remembered to say, “If Sookie agrees. I can’t force her, Thalia. Nor would I.”
Thalia had turned sharply and rushed back at vamp speed. Eric had been certain she was going to lecture him about the needs of kings and kingdoms. Instead she had stopped only when she was within close proximity and then she had bowed. When she rose her eyes were smiling even if her lips were not. “You are learning, Viking,” she had told him.
Eric had nodded to cover his surprise. “Are you and your teams ready to start now?” he asked. It had been agreed that Thalia and her guards would sweep over the city, canvassing for vampires. They had computerized notepads and a software program that held Compton’s full database and a subset for all vampires that were known to be living in the city or were thought to have moved to Louisiana. Thalia’s teams were tasked with two objectives. First, they needed to ‘tag’ vampires and provide them an identification card along with a summons to appear at the palace to pledge themselves personally. Second, Thalia’s teams needed to spread the word that all vampires in the region must register immediately and to provide incentive, all tithes owing to this date would be forgiven.
Everyone knew that unaffiliated vampires were problematic. You couldn’t police what you didn’t know existed and unattached vampires did not pay tithes. It was a losing proposition but one that could also backfire if handled poorly. If the approach Thalia and her teams used was too heavy handed, vampires could leave, or worse, resist. Eric Northman knew that in order to be successful he needed a strong base of working, productive vampires; vampires who could be called to fight if the need arose.
Urban legend was that there were more vampires living in concentration in New Orleans than anywhere else in the United States, even after Katrina. People were tolerant here. Hell, some even revered vampires, giving them the same fascinated regard they saved for Marie Laveau and other legends of the supernatural. Eric had been informed that the tourist shops along Canal Street were making brisk business trading on his image. By all indications, tithes should be flowing and providing the full operating budget for the palace and more. But as far as Eric could tell, there was almost no money trickling into the coffers. Eric based this opinion on the fact that he had been in residence here at the palace for close to a week and yet no bank or asset manager had presented themselves. If you were a best customer, those handling your account were usually quick to make introductions when management changed. Further, based on what the king saw, there appeared to be quite a bit of money flowing out. The payroll for the guards alone must have been considerable.
As he watched Thalia leave, Eric wondered yet again whether his decision to stay in Jackson had been the wrong one. It made him sad to think that something so wonderful; so healing for both himself and his beloved had come at such a high price. Melanie appeared to have used her time alone here well, sabotaging and destroying. Even Maxwell had not been able to hide the scope of the disaster they were facing. They could anticipate that every day would bring a new set of surprises; vendors who hadn’t been paid; accounts that were due but no record to confirm. It was an open invitation to any and all to cheat them, and Eric knew that many would.
To add insult to injury, the kingdom’s one source of known, ready income was something Eric had already pledged to curtail. The monies being made from the harbor at the mouth of the Mississippi were regular and generous. Most of the cash flow was a direct result of trade with companies controlled by the vampires of Amun Clan.
Russell himself had reminded Eric earlier that evening that relief from these costs had been part of the bargain struck in Minnesota; the bargain that made Eric king. Russell had mentioned it at the same time he let the Viking know that he and Bartlett were retiring for the night and that they would be gone in the morning. Eric had a sense that Russell Edgington had not been in favor of the Viking’s delay in Jackson. Still, Eric hadn’t seen the conversation with the Mississippi king as a threat, but it was worth considering that good friends could become the most deadly enemies under the right circumstances. Eric knew from personal experience that nothing made friends into enemies faster than broken promises. All things considered, he figured he had thirty days at most before the gentle reminders from his brethren in Amun took on a more aggressive tone.
It was some comfort to know he could look to his own monies to tide the kingdom over, but it was at best a short term answer. Additionally, there was now some uncertainty about those funds. When Eric had been sent to Oklahoma to become Freyda’s toy, he had placed his personal accounts on hold, choosing to go to the Queen a virtual pauper.
Eric had been determined to make his transition to Oklahoma as difficult as possible for all parties. Only now had he started to unravel the measures he had put in place to tie up his funds. But during his time away, it would appear someone or many someones had been targeting him and there was a fair amount of money missing from at least two of the more liquid accounts he had set aside. Most aggravating was that Eric had fully anticipated spending 200 years in servitude, and so the vast majority of his wealth was tied up in long term investments which could only be liquidated by taking substantial penalties. He had growled as Max walked him through the mechanics. Some accounts would likely cost him more in taxes and penalties than the value of the monies that would be left to spend.
But potential financial ruin had not been the only challenge that the night had presented.
There were reports from Area 5 of several incidences involving violent attacks against weres and shifters. Indira had received a report from Parker at Fangtasia mentioning that things were so unsettled that the vampires in the Area were starting to take steps to assure their own safety. Indira and Rubio had left earlier to investigate. They would go to Monroe first, where Rubio would establish himself. Eric had regretted not having more time to spend with both vampires. He considered Indira a friend. Rubio he knew from that night that Victor Madden had been killed. Eric had asked for help and Rubio had come with his nest mates. It was a debt of honor between them now.
But the perfectly miserable cap to his perfectly miserable evening had been the messenger who had arrived from Sibyl, the Alabama monarch. The vampire who had carried the message had been shown into Queen Sophie-Anne’s former office. Eric had found her there along with a were guard. He had Pam standing at his shoulder and all the formalities had been observed. That this was an official visit had been confirmed by the thick crème envelope that had been extended for his hand.
Sibyl had laid out the argument for them to be officially married. It was all executed right down to the ribbons and seals. Eric found himself happy that Sookie was not here. As his head scrambled for the right words to use he also found himself cataloging everyone who would know about this and what would be needed to suppress all information that this visit ever happened.
Eric had handed the proposal to Pam with some ceremony. He could feel her amusement through the bond and he sent her censure, which seemed to dim her enthusiasm just a bit. “Her majesty does me great honor,” Eric opened.
“Her majesty is aware,” the messenger countered. “After all, you are a new king, but one of such promise. Her majesty hopes you will consider the many benefits that would accrue to both kingdoms should a joining be formalized.”
“It is something that is due all consideration,” Eric agreed pleasantly. “But, as you say, I am new to this role. And I have only recently come into the palace. I would want time to arrange all matters here and complete the transition. I would not wish to unduly burden your kind Queen with unknown worries.”
The messenger smiled and nodded. Then, as she stood up she said, “And the Queen most specifically wished me to convey that although it is not in the draft of the contract I have provided, there would be no objection to your retaining the companionship of your telepath. The Queen would wish the formal title, of course. But she was informed that you had no designs on trying to use the title for your companion at any rate. Miss Stackhouse can use the title ‘consort.’ My Queen would require the annual consummation and would ask that you escort her as husband and co-ruler at any official functions that you would both attend. Once you fulfill your mutual formal obligations, it would be understood that the remainder of your time would be your own to use as you wish and with the companions of your heart, rather than the companions of your duty.”
Eric found he was having trouble maintaining an even look. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or roar in anger. As it was, he managed to bow stiffly and assure the messenger he would give all consideration to the Queen’s generous offer and would prepare his response within the week. As soon as the door closed Pam said, “You can’t be surprised. The betting started the minute you were named king in Nashville. No one believes you can make a marriage stick with Sookie, Eric. You have to know that.”
Pam’s look was sympathetic and she walked forward, laying her hand on his arm. “It’s known that you were to name her consort. That kind of thing moves through the gossip hotline quickly. And you have to know that the lack of bond at this point is general gossip too.” Pam’s eyes dropped. “I received a message from Maude.” When Eric’s eyebrows lifted, Pam continued, “She was asking about some co-venturing possibilities involving agriculture in my state. But, Eric? She specifically asked if the rumor about the bond was true. Someone talked and if Maude knows, others do too.”
Eric didn’t know why the Kentucky king, Isaiah, came to mind. “I will discuss it with Sookie when she returns,” he said.
“Eric,” Pam continued. “If this doesn’t resolve and soon, you can expect that things are going to start getting harder. A wedding proposal,” and Pam shook the paper in her hand, “from a vain Queen may be the least of your worries. At best people will figure you are having second thoughts. At worst, people will think that you are somehow under Sookie’s sway and that puts a big target on your back.” Pam looked down and allowed her concern for him to flow freely. “I like Sookie, Eric. I was ready to get in trouble with De Castro to save her. But Eric, maybe you should consider something like this,” and Pam held out the paper. When she could feel Eric’s rising emotion she said, “Not Sibyl, of course. But someone with standing who will have resources you can both tap into to get things stable.”
Eric could feel Pam’s worry. It was the first time he’d felt that level of fear from her directed toward him. Pam interpreted his silence for consideration. “Phoebe might be a better choice. Or Maude. Neither one of them are nasty and they would allow Sookie to keep her dignity.”
“Enough,” Eric roared. “Enough Pam. I can’t consider it. You don’t understand,” he said. Then he saw Pam’s eyes grow wide and her fear ratcheted and he realized he was rubbing his chest; that the thought of setting his fairy down even a little was causing him actual physical discomfort. Eric took a deep steadying breath. He moved his hands to reach out to Pam and he pulled her close, deliberately sending warmth and comfort to her. “You are worrying unnecessarily. Today was a bad day. We learned things that were uncomfortable. But knowing is the first step to fixing.” And he kissed her hair.
“Now, why don’t we set that aside,” he jerked his chin towards the Alabama’s Queen’s letter, “and ask Mr. Cataliades to draft a formal rejection.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to leave it linger for a bit?” Pam asked.
“You said it yourself,” Eric sighed. “Gossip is a vampire’s stock in trade. If this is not dealt with swiftly, it will encourage others. Sookie is bound to hear of it.” Then Eric sighed again. “And I wish to be the one to tell her,” he finished.
“Why tell her at all?” Pam asked. “It’s unlikely she will find out. And you know her. She’ll assume the worst and make you pay in all kinds of ways.”
Eric started to smile and then, for some reason, he pulled back. “I do not wish to discuss this further with you, Pam,” he found himself saying. “There are things that are between us and those are ours alone. But this; this matter of my heart: This I must share only with Sookie.”
Pam pulled back from him, her eyes wide. “You would shut me out, Eric?”
“No, my child,” he told her. “Not shut you out. But I also respect that there is something between Sookie and myself that is different. So you must know that there will be things that are between her and me that will remain there; just as there were concerns between your former sister and myself that were private. And Pam? There were things and remain things private between us that I do not share with others. It is the bond I hold with each of you.” Pam had hugged him, but he could sense there was something more she wished to say.
The meetings that evening with the bankers had gone well. Papers were signed and Eric had designated a handful of others to act in his name, including Pam and Maxwell. It was when Eric added Sookie Stackhouse’s name to the list of those authorized to access and make changes to accounts that he felt a wave of surprise come and linger.
Eric had looked up to find Pam staring at him. At the rise of his eyebrow Pam had nodded, but Eric had felt a stab of jealousy from her. It was most disquieting.
Now, as he worried over Pam’s reaction, Eric felt his life return. He knew that despite all that had happened the previous night, he faced another night that promised to be more of the same.
The Viking rose, sat up and surveyed the bedroom and then, almost unconsciously, he reached behind him and took Sookie’s pillow. He buried his face in it, breathing her essence deep within himself. He rubbed the pillow over his face, relaxing into her scent as it coated his cheeks and chin. ‘You are my strength, min krigare kvinna,’ he thought. Although he knew she couldn’t feel him, he pressed his yearning to her anyway. “Jag älskar dig,” he said to the air around him. Then Eric stood up and walked to the bathroom. A hot shower seemed a good way to start the work that lay ahead.
There had been one spot of good news. Thalia’s teams reported some success and the list of vampires located during that first evening was greater than Eric had anticipated. Eric was too aware that the number of vampires available as staff and support was slim. He was hoping that one of the outcomes of this effort would be to identify talent that could help with the work of the kingdom. As an incentive to any identified who were lawyers or accountants or detectives, options would be offered to trade work in lieu of cash to satisfy tithing responsibilities.
The plans were already laid and waiting. Thomas was to be set up in a room near the doors. His job would be to interview the vampires that presented themselves and reconcile names against the lists provided by Thalia’s teams. He would inventory businesses and addresses; nests and affiliations: All the information that was required to both govern and support a vampire population. He would have staff supporting him, building an electronic record that would help the palace understand the kingdom in their immediate area.
Jane and Thierry were set up in another room; their job was to find new business ventures and identify those that existed currently that would need to be considered for termination. They had computers and very little else. There had been so few documents found that any they had on the current businesses under fealty were stacked near them in slim piles. Eric asked them to spend some time researching natural gas and oil studies for both Louisiana and Arkansas while they awaited those who would be referred from Thomas. Thierry had suggested that they include information on wind production. Jane concurred. “With the agricultural land either owned or leased to the kingdom through Arkansas, we may have the space to erect turbines if it appears we could produce at a profit.” Eric had nodded as Pam beamed.
Eric couldn’t escape the feeling that the operation now underway was ramshackle at best; knee jerk at worst. But he was at a loss to come up with another plan that would get him what he needed. Eric was also well aware that similar efforts would be needed in each of the Areas and that the work they were starting would take years to complete.
With a sigh the King left his suite, and followed first by Charles and then by Thalia he proceeded to the donor area to feed and then start his night.
Pam was coming from the donor’s area as Eric approached. Eric realized it had been some days since he had abandoned TruBlood altogether. It was yet another indication as to the extreme level of stress he was experiencing. And he was feeding more often. That too was not promising.
“Master,” Pam acknowledged. She smiled and he knew she was purposely using his older title to put him more at ease.
“My child,” Eric responded and stepped forward to kiss her on the forehead. “You are well?”
“Of course,” Pam smiled. “And I know that tonight is another step in getting this all moving. You’ll see.”
Eric couldn’t help but smile at her. “Of course you would wish that. How else will you afford your luxuries? I can’t think of you not being able to take at least one trip to the continent. Or being able to update your fabulous shoe collection.”
“Or my handbags,” Pam added. “Have you seen the precious collection from Prada this year?” Then Pam brought her arms around him. “I know all will be well. And you will be a hero to everyone.”
“Of course,” Eric smiled over her head. “How could it be otherwise?” Eric squeezed her and sent her comfort and she returned the favor. Then they parted and Eric headed past her into the donor’s area.
The man Eric had been using stepped forward at once. His eyes were soft and he was smiling in a welcoming way. Eric felt himself drawn to this man; the memory of the blood calling to him. He could almost feel the taste in his mouth. It caused him to harden his eyes and step back. “No,” he said. “You are no longer to offer to me.”
“But lord,” the man stammered. “How have I offended?”
Eric couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. Why was he being forced to acknowledge what simply was? He turned and glanced around but only saw a woman. From behind him the man was starting to cry. Eric gestured to the woman and took her in a corner, his back to the man and struck, barely preparing her. Her blood tasted off and he was angry with himself and everything about this. From behind him a stern voice said, “What is wrong with you? Get yourself out of here and send others forward. You are a disgrace to this place.” Eric turned his head to see Thierry dismissing the male donor. ‘Denny,’ Eric could hear Sookie telling him.
Eric turned back to the woman and mumbled, “Sorry,” and he applied saliva to the wounds on her neck.
“You are only a pleasure, majesty,” she smiled. But Eric could tell he had hurt her. He turned on his heel and left. As he cleared the doors, Thalia fell in step behind his shoulder. Then Thierry came up quickly to walk by his side.
“Your attitude towards them has changed,” the French vampire offered, and he gestured with his chin so that Eric knew he was talking about the donors.
“I have been asked to consider certain facts,” Eric acknowledged.
Thierry nodded but said nothing. As they entered the meeting room Thierry and Jane would use for their research, the vampire turned to the king and began to talk again. “Misha rotated his pool regularly. It prevented that kind of outburst. They knew it was not appropriate to get too comfortable.”
Eric looked at the dark-haired vampire closely. The Viking had heard many things about Misha, the New York King, and his court. Some stories had seemed interesting; others had seemed farfetched. One common thread in all the stories Eric had heard was the larger-than-life way the king lived. If there was a game, Misha had to make it bigger. If there was an orgy, one night was never enough. He was surrounded by the most and the best and the biggest. He was famously generous and just as famously cruel. “What was it like, living in that palace?” Eric asked.
“One never grew bored,” Thierry offered. “And if you did it would be better that you left. Otherwise you could find yourself finally dead.” Thierry’s eyebrows lifted and he nodded to emphasize his words. “Misha required that you were delightful and delighted every day. If you weren’t he would find ways to help you find that state.”
“Ways?” Eric asked, his own eyebrows lifting.
“Bridge running was a favorite,” and Thierry lifted his shoulder in that shrug again.
Eric had heard about bridge running. Misha would gather gangs of vampires and other supernaturals and they would be lifted to the tops of the suspension bridges that surrounded the city. The contests were ones of speed and dexterity. You were allowed to tip or trip opponents. Those who made it to the other side first were feted and celebrated. But the casualty list was high. If you fell you hoped that you didn’t hit something that would impale you or tear limbs from your body. Your worst nightmare was striking wood from a passing barge or some trash that jutted from the roadway. In that case you could be finally dead. In all his long years and travels, Eric Northman had never passed through Misha’s territory. Part of the reason was Eric’s preference for the South. He had come to this country through New Orleans and never seen a reason to leave. But part of the reason; perhaps a larger part than he liked to believe was that Misha had been Appius Livius Ocella’s friend. Eric could not foresee any good thing that could come from the two of them meeting.
But many vampires had come to this country through Misha’s court, including Thierry and Thomas. Most recently, Eric had heard the Russian was feuding with Tranh, the Queen of Boston. The dispute was kept quiet but the limited reports he had heard since his release from Oklahoma made him believe the casualties were high. Eric turned back to the French sheriff. He asked, “Do you miss it?”
“No,” Thierry said quickly. “There may be times when one can have too much excitement. I think I will be happier here, settling for a quieter life.” The dark vampire seemed to be thinking about something, then he looked into Eric’s face, all trace of humor gone. “I believe that I have offended you in some way, majesty. I am most anxious to right any wrong I may have done.”
Eric wasn’t sure what to say. He could sense Thalia shifting behind him. So he turned to Thierry and said, “There is nothing you have done to offend me. It is a misunderstanding that I will address.”
Thierry looked at Eric in a searching way again. “Does this have to do with the Mistress?” he asked. Eric found himself stiffening almost involuntarily, then cursed himself silently for being so transparent. But the other vampire’s gaze turned inward. He had interpreted Eric’s gesture as being other than it was and he offered, “I admit I did not understand or appreciate her place here. I pledge to you, Majesty that I will respect her and even if she is not Queen in name I will treat her as Queen in this place.”
Eric glanced at Thalia who rolled her eyes a bit. Eric nodded. “It is common gossip then that Sookie is not to be Queen.”
Thierry shrugged again. It was a gesture that said everything. Eric nodded. “It is something that I must consider further.” Then he looked more directly at Thierry. “It is as you say. She has a place here that is more as a Queen. I thank you for your pledge.”
“De rien,” the sheriff said, and then with a smile he said, “I have heard you play chess, your majesty. Would you be interested in a game one evening?”
Eric considered the man beside him. “Yes,” he heard himself say. “I would appreciate it, if I were to find a worthy opponent.”
Thierry rolled his eyes at the challenge implied in the words. “There is a story that you won your freedom from the fairies playing chess. Is that story true?” he asked.
Thalia snorted. “As if the fae ever had dominion over the Viking!”
Eric smiled back. “Niall was a worthy opponent. But I believe that in the end I got the better end of our games.”
“If you mean the fairy princess, then I would agree,” Thalia said solemnly.
“You won a princess?” Thierry asked.
“Princess Sookie,” Thalia smiled.
Max and Pam were awaiting Eric’s arrival. They had paper in their hands and their faces were serious. Pam looked away and any illusion that this was other than bad news was shattered. “Out with it,” Eric growled.
Max indicated that Eric should sit down. When the king settled, Max and Pam sat as well. “I suppose if we’d thought this through we wouldn’t have been surprised,” Max led off. “We all knew by the end Felipe was in financial trouble. I just hadn’t thought how he might have handled that.”
“He drained pretty much everything,” Pam said. She knew that Eric appreciated candor. If things were bad he wanted to know in the most factual terms. It was unfortunate that those facts were more silver than lining. “Rita was sucking all the money out of the bank accounts right down through the credit limits and wiring it to Las Vegas. Once she was gone, acting pain in the ass Melanie was doing the same thing.”
“It would appear that they put automatic routing in place. Every dollar that was collected was overnighted to Las Vegas accounts, even after you were named king. There was no one to tell the banks to stop,” Max stated. “I have confirmed that the siphons are to be removed and I have assurances from all but two banks that the practice is ended as of start of business tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t think it will make much difference if I attempt to sue Felipe to return the money he took,” Eric said. He realized he was smiling, but it was the kind of smile you had when things were so terrible there was nothing else to do. He took a deep breath and remembered the scent of Sookie and all the other people he was fighting for. “With the transfer ended, is there any way to determine how quickly operating accounts will recover?”
Max nodded. “Sixty days if there are no extraordinary expenses. More, maybe many more if there are.”
“Extraordinary expenses like a coronation,” Pam added.
‘Credit?” Eric asked.
“If we leverage your personal investments we could likely get several working loans. It would be enough to keep you solvent if we are budget-conscious and very lucky.”
Pam shook her head. “I already called to see if I could take loans against the Fangtasia franchise. But we leveraged everything for the European expansion. I have some personal money I can throw in, but I won’t have real cash for you for at least another six months.” She looked at Eric with regret. “I am so sorry.”
Eric smiled at Pam, sending her warmth and gratitude. “Do not worry about this. It is enough that you offered. I am most grateful. You make me proud in all things.”
“Eric, if we delay the coronation, there will be rumors. You know there will. And rumors could lead to the ambitious ones getting curious.” Eric rolled his eyes but Pam walked up and took his hand. “No coronation combined with the lack of bond between yourself and your intended. It makes you look weak, Eric.”
“Do not say another word, Pamela,” Eric growled. “We have a full evening before us.” He turned to Max. “Work your contacts. Let’s get an idea just how much operating capital we need. I know it’s more than household needs. There are businesses and ventures I’m sure we are funding. We may be making friendship payments to others. Let’s find them. Have you made any progress on hiring the accountants?”
Max’s second order of business had been to start the process of hiring a forensic accounting firm. The king could only hope that constructs could be put in place and progress made fast enough to prevent everything from imploding.
Max nodded. “There is a first rate firm that has expressed an interest, but they want an upfront retainer.”
Eric shook his head. “Look to the third and fourth rung firms and see if they will work for a percentage of monies recovered.” Eric turned to Pam. “Contact your real estate people in Shreveport. You have the inventory of my properties. Be discrete. Spread them around. Pick the two most likely with the largest dollar value.” Pam nodded but as she turned he said, “And your antiquities friends. Let’s get some of my collection appraised. Surely this is a good market for art auctions.”
‘Yes, Eric,” Pam nodded. “I’ll go now.”
Eric Northman stared ahead as his minions worked. He could hear the noise of visitors outside; those presenting themselves to be counted. He knew that money would be found. He only hoped it would be enough and in time.
End Note: Your comments and reviews are most appreciated. Thank you for sharing your words. They mean a great deal to me.