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.
Nautical Note: When you are coming to a crossroads at sea, perhaps rounding a marker in the channel, the boat in the downwind position has the right of way. If there are two boats on the same tack, and the marker is to port, the upwind boat needs to give way, allowing the other boat the courtesy of playing through. It’s a hard courtesy to observe when you are in the heat of competition and observing it, despite the lack of any other eyes but your own, is proof of your character.
Jane was walking through the projected income statement for the second time. Stan had dropped any pretense of being goofy or naïve and was drilling her with a laser-like efficiency that left no doubt of the Texas King’s first-hand experience in difficult negotiations. For her part, the blond vampire was doing well. She explained how she had arrived at the figures and her methodology without becoming defensive once. Instead, she looked every inch the confident, slightly arrogant keeper of some great secret. It was an effective sales tool and Eric found himself feeling hopeful as he scanned the audience.
Thierry had likewise done well. The Gallic Sheriff had a flare for understatement and his ability to interweave even highly technical jargon with wry, understated humor had engaged those in the room. Eric had been able to see them lean forward, anxious to catch the next double entendre or quick turn of phrase. ‘I hope we have not gone too far,’ he suddenly worried. It was one thing to draw in potential investors; it was another to be seen more as entertainers than credible business partners.
While Eric acknowledged himself happiest when Sookie was within arm’s length, he was grateful she had not been in attendance this evening. She would learn, he had no doubt, but for now she was likely to ask questions or send her curiosity in a way that would distract him. The stakes were incredibly high, so much was riding on Oklahoma and more so, Texas accepting and supporting the plan. He needed all his focus on appearing worry-free and confident.
The presentation wrapped up and there was a smattering of polite applause which was in and of itself a good sign. Eric stood, smiling smugly and nodding approval toward his Sheriffs. Their peers stepped forward, and with quick head bobs were engaging them in conversation. Most of it was personal, both Jane and Thierry were well-traveled and social which had recommended them for their jobs. Some of the conversations were more business. There was a vampire from Kansas who was asking about timelines and degradation of power over distance for wind. Jane was handling it well. All in all, he hoped that her poor judgement in furthering Niall’s agenda would be a one-time lapse. He would hate to have her meet an unfortunate accident. As he watched her animated face he reminded himself to check and see if her Maker was still among them. If she was to be made finally dead there would doubtless be retribution owed. She would be considered an asset to any vampire.
“They did exceptionally well, Eric. You have every reason to be proud of your retinue,” Sandy stood behind him, her eyes watching Jane. “I have heard of Thierry, and Thomas, but Jane is new to me. Where did you find her?”
“She came through Phoebe Golden’s Court,” Eric crossed his arms, considering again.
“Does she have a New York connection too?” Sandy asked, her voice sounding too friendly and Eric realized it was not a simple question. He turned to her, allowing his eyes to ask the real question.
“Not that I’m aware of, although I suppose it wouldn’t surprise me. She does appear to have been along the Eastern coast for most of her time here. It’s possible she came through the Southern ports, as I did, but I understand she has only been here for the past century. That makes passing through New York almost assured.”
Sandy nodded as she spoke. To the casual observer, it was a manner of showing engagement. Eric knew that she was telling him he was correct. “I suppose that makes sense.” Stan walked over to join them and Sandy turned to include the Texas monarch in her next remark, “Has there been any further word on Robert? Have you heard anything?”
“No, other than it’s likely he’s gone,” Stan shook his head. “He was a real statesman, unlike your former boss who is now pretty much the King of Narayana Clan.”
Eric wasn’t surprised. He looked at Sandy who was nodding again, “Felipe would not have been able to accept the insult Robert handed him. He is vengeful and proud. Robert should have arranged his death when others weren’t looking.” She looked at Eric, “You should look to your own borders, Northman. He’ll want your head next.”
“Oh? I would think you would be more worried, Sandy. You are closer and you betrayed him too. I might have tweaked his pride, but losing you is what started his slide. He made bad investments. It made him vulnerable to criticism,” Even while Eric said the words, he knew they were hollow. De Castro would be angry about money. It created an inconvenience, but an assault against his pride? De Castro would never forgive that.
Stan nodded his agreement with Eric’s words. “I agree with your assessment, Eric. Money was the root of Felipe’s troubles. Now it appears he has found his redemption in the old way. He has killed until he is alone on the battlefield. I’d imagine Washington is shaking in his shoes or offering himself as bedfellow. He’s all that’s left between Felipe and crowned rule over the entire territory.”
Nabila had drifted to join the monarchs. It had been impossible for Eric not to notice her seated with the on-lookers. She had not looked pleased with the presentations, but neither had she looked displeased. “I would think the Ancient Pythoness will have something to say. She has been our final arbiter. She can’t be content with this development,” She turned her considering eyes toward Stan, “Wasn’t she the one who placed Robert on the throne to begin with?”
It was Sandy who answered, “Yes, she did, and Portia in Oregon. I thought as you did, and I have to say, I thought it would be another repeat of Nashville tomorrow, only it would be the Pythoness giving Felipe his put down, but now that looks as if it won’t happen.”
“What do you mean?” Nabila asked, her eyes narrowing.
“The Ancient Pythoness has departed,” Stan said with a shrug that said, ‘What, didn’t you know?’
“But I have an appointment with her for later,” Nabila hissed.
There was an awkward moment. The monarchs looked among themselves, and then Eric said one of the things they were all thinking. “Do you suppose this means that she has abandoned her guardianship over the Clans here? I don’t want to think it, but I believe part of the reason we have remained stable is because we respected her authority in her choices of both territory and monarchs.”
Sandy spoke next, allowing Nabila more time to recover, “It would fit the signs. I still can’t understand her outburst with you, Eric. It was out of character, and to acknowledge Sookie in the way she did? I have never known her to indulge her private speculation when she is on official display.”
“Perhaps her age is finally taking its toll,” Stan suggested.
“We are frozen, Stan. She is neither older nor younger than the day of her making, as are you! She has ever done things without purpose,” Sandy turned toward Eric. Nabila was also staring at him now. “She forced you to place your human beside you, Eric,” then Sandy’s eyes turned considering, “But she didn’t identify her as human. She called her ‘Brigant’s get’,” then Sandy shrugged, and said, “I suppose conjecture won’t help.” She turned to Stan, “Do you know if she just left the Summit or has she fled the country all together?”
Stan shrugged, “I really don’t know. I received a message informing me that her work here was concluded and they checked out.”
“So,” Nabila said gloomily, “Felipe as King of Narayana will stand.”
Stan nodded, “Who would dispute it now?”
Across the room Thierry was chatting with representatives from several kingdoms. There was general interest in the venture and the Sheriff was using this as an opportunity to get to know a little more about the monarchs his peers served. He had learned that Gus and Ralph (‘Rafe’ he reminded himself) often collaborated in their investments. The Wyoming King was nervous about the upcoming marriage with Oklahoma. He viewed Kansas as weaker and likely to be influenced by sex and good advice. It would change the power balance between the two kingdoms and as a result, Wyoming was unlikely to support any venture in which Oklahoma stood to benefit, including this one.
It took some time, but Thierry managed to maneuver himself into a conversation with the Carolinas retinue. The French vampire had noticed Nabila’s presence at the Summit. There was a rumor from his King’s guards that she had a private conversation with his King shortly after their arrival. Since there was no indication of prior friendship or affiliation, Thierry had concluded that the conversation was not well-wishing or general gossip. The Carolinas Queen must have a purpose and the Sheriff knew he was interested in knowing that purpose.
Once the formalities were observed, it hadn’t taken much to fall into a teasing repartee. The Carolinas were visitors, much like his own group. That meant that once the formal presentations of tonight had concluded, the Zeus kingdoms would retire to suites to conduct private meetings. These were the equivalent of ‘at homes.’ If you had particular business with a monarch you could make arrangements to visit. If a monarch had something to impart to their vassals, it was the time for last minute instructions and strategy conversations. For those who were visiting from other Clans, it tended to be a slow night. Retinue followers often made alternate arrangements for entertainment and this was the pitch Thierry was making now.
“I can’t believe you didn’t have more time to explore the City,” Thierry crooned. “The music is somewhat savage, but the enthusiasm of the population can make for some very interesting combinations.” He punctuated his comments by waggling his eyebrows in a suggestive manner and then ran his fangs out. The Carolinas vampires were smiling archly in return. Apparently their Queen was conservative in her appetites and had been keeping everyone under a tighter rein than usual. There was no apparent reason other than some general unsettled aspect to the territory. When Thierry suggested that there was always some trouble or another, and that Felipe de Castro might be the New York of the West he saw the quick glance between them. ‘There it is!’ he thought.
“As long as your Queen has her guards, and the security that any Summit affords, surely she could spare you? I know of this one bar where they dance two-step and there are donors of every blood type. We can play and be back long before dawn. Unless cards and checkers are more appealing…” and it was decided.
Thierry logged his plans through his phone. Jane hissed, “Are you sure this is wise? Shouldn’t you be focused on Zeus states?”
Thierry shrugged, “Find your own pigeons, ma petite choux! Carolinas controls banks and why wouldn’t I aim to learn what might influence her? Besides,” he glanced at the group of vampires now waiting to leave, “they are attractive. Why wouldn’t I welcome a night of pleasure in their nest? You know who I’m with and what I stand to gain. Stop worrying!”
Jane watched him walk out of the rooms, his arm around one and his hand on the ass of another. He hiss whispered something that had the whole group laughing and they were gone. It was hard not to feel somewhat out of sorts, but she understood that her actions in conveying the Fae Prince’s requests had caused the French Sheriff to become more cautious in his interactions with her. She supposed it was natural, seeing as they were all still establishing their loyalty and places within the Louisiana retinue. Still, she missed the easy friendship they had established, Thierry, Thomas, and herself in New Orleans. She wondered if she had irreparably damaged that relationship.
Jane glanced at the King. His guards would be waiting just outside the doors. She made a point of chatting with Stan’s followers and Oklahoma’s. There were a couple vampires there who had been monitoring for Colorado and Utah, but neither provided any opening to explore further. With a sigh, Jane headed out of the room and into the general exhibitor’s hall. As she drifted through the exhibits, she felt eyes on her. Jane turned her head to see vampires from Montana and Colorado talking and looking directly at her. Jane sighed. It was to be expected. Gossip traveled like wildfire at these functions. Her being excluded from a party by a member of her own retinue would start speculation.
From behind her a voice asked, “What’s wrong, Chica? All dressed up and no place to go?” Jane turned to find herself face to face with a tall, lovely woman. Her skin was the color of cherries and her eyes were warm amber. Jane had seen her in the retinue of Greyeagle, the King of the Dakotas.
“I have met your King and many of his Court. I don’t recall meeting you,” and Jane made sure her smile was flirty and light.
“That is because I am only recently come from the West,” the woman offered. “My name is Mercedes and you are Jane, the explorer.”
Jane widened her smile, “It’s been many years since I’ve heard that word attached to my name. There was a time that I was attracted to new things.”
“Perhaps spending time with a vampire between your beautiful legs might be new…” and the dark-haired vampire licked her lips.
“No, that would be that path well known and welcome…” Jane allowed her voice to drop an octave in clear invitation, “but perhaps it is the one who offers who is herself that new experience waiting to be revealed.”
Mercedes smiled seductively and reached out to take Jane’s hand, her thumb running across the other woman’s palm. “It will be a revelation for us both, I think.” Jane didn’t see James watching her from the corridor.
Eric texted Sookie, intending to join her in the gaming room. He had a brief vision of her seated bare-assed on one of the machines, and his pounding into her while the machine registered ‘Tilt’ over and over again. It made him smile.
“Going to retrieve your telepath?” Stan asked from behind him. Eric slowed and turned.
“That was the plan. Perhaps you would tell me where the gaming room is located?” but Eric knew from the way Stan was looking at him that he had something to say.
“Sure, why don’t I walk you there?” and Texas used it as an excuse to draw away from their guards and followers. When they started through the lobby, Stan glanced toward the open doors that led outside. “Perhaps you have some time to enjoy a little fresh air first?” Eric nodded and they walked, side by side, out onto the patio and then continued. Patio turned to pool deck turned to putting green. Stan continued to walk forward. Eric could see a green far ahead of them, the flag signaling the third hole. Based on the way the Texas King was marching, the Viking assumed that landmark was his goal. Sure enough, Stan walked without any comment until they stood at the edge of where one grass turned into another, and then he stopped and turned around. The lights of the resort shone brightly against the dark of the landscape behind it. There was a lightening along the horizon that signaled the proximity of San Antonio and the light pollution it generated. The sounds of the country were all around them, the whirr of locust, the yip of coyote, and the rasping of brown grackles. Neither vampire feared natural things. Only two-legged creatures were foolish enough to try and attack them. Stan looked out to assess the distance of their guards. Both could see them. They had stopped at about half the distance from the resort. Were trouble to approach from behind, the Kings would have a few tense moments awaiting their retinue’s arrival, but with the presence of the hotel guards patrolling the edges of the property, such an attack was unlikely. Eric waited. Stan turned to him, “All right, Eric. What was that business with the Pythoness all about?”
Eric shrugged, “I really don’t know.” Eric had known Stan a long time, long enough to know that the Texas King was an opportunist. There was no loyalty between them. Their interactions had always been on a cash basis. “The last time I saw her was in Rhodes. She hasn’t corresponded with me or given me any indication as to her purpose. I remembered she noticed me following Sookie before. We had just been bonded. It was under some duress and the pinch of it was tighter than I liked. She summoned Sookie forward to answer some questions and before I knew what was happening, I was following her, protecting her, I suppose.” Eric found himself smiling as he thought back on those days.
“I knew you were in for trouble with that one from the moment you snuck into my nest calling yourself Leif. As if I wouldn’t know who you were.”
Eric smiled more broadly, “I was more interested in her than I was willing to admit. She has that effect on many.”
“Her belonging to Compton didn’t hurt. There’s nothing like fighting over trinkets to get the old instincts humming.” Eric felt himself becoming uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking, but before he could protest, Stan switched direction. “Of course, I didn’t exactly come out here to comment on your domestic situation. I liked the prospects of what I saw tonight. There is a lot of money to be made and long term potential to continue generating cash with very little effort. But you have a problem, which is besides being an interesting idea and owning some real estate; you have nothing to contribute to the party.” Eric smiled and was going to say something, but Stan cut him off, “Don’t embarrass us both with some charming lie about your financial situation. You have two choices. You can marry money, which I don’t think you’ll do. It’s the practical solution, but you’d have to share yourself and I don’t think your little fairy is going to allow it.” Eric reared back, and Stan just threw his hands wide and smiled a goofy smile, “Don’t try! She has you by the short ones and it doesn’t matter what you say. Your actions have said it all. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for her. Even the Pythoness is making it clear. You’re tied and there’s no escape! Nabila is fooling herself. She’d be well advised to seek her protection someplace else, but she is going to make another play for you, so head’s up. buddy! She’s been in touch with my bank and while I don’t have all the details, I know it was about making sure you won’t get the time of day without her say so.” Eric turned his head, looking out into the night. This was a bitter pill. Beside him Stan stilled. “Sorry. I wish things were different.”
“So, the second option involves handing you majority ownership of any venture,” Eric knew this was the real reason Stan had pulled him aside. Now it was just waiting to find out how deep the Texas ruler’s avarice ran.
Stan rocked a little on his heels, “85%,” he said.
“I’m assuming there’s room for negotiation,” Eric said gravely.
“Sure, we can split 60/40, but you sign over development rights to all the lands involved in the venture and ownership cedes to me in fifty years.” Eric drew in a deep breath. What the Texas King proposed was outrageous. It would make him a virtual tenant in his own kingdom and Stan knew it. Eric looked at the shorter man. Stan looked at the guards standing at some distance, “It’s the best offer you’ll get, Northman. Sandy is in no position to offer anything. You left her in decent shape, but not exactly swimming in funds. She’s got to keep Kansas happy and ol’ Rafe doesn’t like you. Go figure! The others here in any position to help you out know my interest and they won’t play against me. Sorry, Eric. You have a short hand and the draw is closed. I can give you until your Coronation, but then I’ll need your answer.”
Eric nodded, “Thank you, Stan. I think I’ll go find Sookie now.”
“I think you’ll find she headed back to your rooms. Guess Bubba got frustrated that she couldn’t match his skills and they may have had some words. Bubba decided to go cat hunting and your lady’s dogs took her home,” Stan smiled briefly, “How do you find working with Were guards? With all the scrutiny we’re under, it’s not as if we are making children these days.”
“They are loyal,” Eric nodded. “And amusing in a different way. Of course, I have the advantage of screening them regularly to assure that nothing changes.”
“Not as fast, though,” Stan was looking thoughtful.
“If you plan well, is speed really an issue? And they work for less. It’s wages, mostly. No donors to arrange. Most live away from the Palace. My local Packmaster is strong and he keeps them in line. I also have his personal bond as to the integrity of those he sends me.”
“Interesting,” Stan replied. “Something to think about.”
“You have a telepath who could assure you their loyalty,” Eric mentioned.
“Barry? Not likely! I’d have to trust the telepath, and I’m not inclined to trust that one ever again,” Stan looked thoughtful, “Don’t suppose I could borrow your Intended, Northman?”
“She is under contract with Amun Clan,” Eric supplied smoothly. “Take it up with Russell Edgington.”
“Ever the modern vampire! You don’t even assert your rights to her time? What is the world coming to?”
Eric smiled, “If you ever find yourself in a committed relationship, Stan, I would suggest you practice providing your mate enough leash to breathe. Sookie has always run her own life and her own business affairs. I wouldn’t presume to impose myself where there is no possible benefit for either of us. We are better working in tandem.”
“She’s not vampire, Eric! Surely you see that this kind of attitude is going to work against you!”
Eric nodded. “There will be traditionalists who will not understand it, but neither is she human. She is Niall Brigant’s granddaughter. I would impose my will upon her at my peril.”
“If you say so,” Stan shrugged, and then the two monarchs walked back toward the lights and noise of the large building blazing under the night sky.
Eric was having a difficult time maintaining his confident persona. The walk into the hotel with the Texas King had been cordial. Eric had inquired about Isabel, whom he hadn’t seen yet. (She was back in Dallas acting as Stan’s agent while he was away). Stan inquired about Pam and Max and passed along some stories about nights spent in the local Fangtasia. When they entered the door, Stan had turned, bowed, and whispered, “Nothing personal,” and turned to walk the other way. Eric walked as well, the elevators in sight, when Sandy approached him.
“May I have a word, Eric?” she asked. It had taken everything he had to smile, nod, and gesture toward the open front doors. As they cleared the porch, Sandy turned and asked, “Would you mind taking me flying? It’s a beautiful night and I would so appreciate it.”
“Of course,” Eric agreed. He placed his arms around Oklahoma and carried her up and into the cooler air. They circled the resort, and Eric could feel himself calming with the quiet of the night sky around them. There was no ambient sound here, no buzz of cars or the ever-present whine of electrical current. Here there was only wind.
“That looks pretty,” Sandy pointed to a small hill. Eric descended, setting her lightly on the ground before coming completely to ground himself. “What an amazing skill! I wish I had something even half as wonderful!” She smiled at Eric and patted his arm. “But you always have had the most amazing luck! You have talented children, you make more money than Midas, and you stumble onto a woman who loves you who is also telepathic and related to the last known Fae royals. Is there anything you ever touch that turns to shit?”
Eric smiled, “Well, energy production doesn’t seem to be going so well,” he offered.
“I am sorry about that,” Sandy sighed. “You understand my situation. Even if I were in a position to bankroll you, I couldn’t. It would create too much tension in the marriage.”
“Stan tells me that Rafe is not a fan,” and Eric opened his eyes wide, making a silly face. Sandy laughed easily.
“Surely you are not surprised! He’s jealous! Most of the male vampires are jealous of you. Every female wants in your pants. You tower over them all. As I said earlier, you have the devil’s own luck. It’s a powerful combination and it makes you powerful enemies,” Sandy placed her hand on the Viking’s arm. “But it also makes you powerful friends. Those who are jealous are the weak among us. Those who are likewise powerful see you for the ally you are. Take comfort in that.”
“You didn’t bring us out here for the view or to make me feel better about myself. You have something to tell me, old friend,” and Eric stilled, his hands resting on her shoulders.
“Oh, if you weren’t tied to a fairy!” Sandy said with a laugh. “You’re right. I do have information and I thought it better to chat without so many interested ears.” Sandy looked up into the sky. “Perhaps there are drones up there, listening anyway.”
Eric scanned the skies, “No, only the tracking of satellites too high above us. If we are of interest to those who use them, there is really nowhere left for us to hide.” Sandy nodded her agreement. “What is it you feel I should know?” Eric prompted.
“Don’t be fooled by his posturing. Stan knows Robert is finally dead. Felipe has been all but crowing in the halls of his Vegas Rancho celebrating. My source tells me he took a trophy although he wasn’t anywhere near the kill. It was part of the price.” Eric hissed.
“You have kept your contacts close!” he exclaimed. “I salute your abilities.”
“Even those he loves don’t trust him, Eric. Felipe had betrayed too many over the past few years. Everyone wants insurance in place in case they are next on his list,” Sandy looked at him sharply, “He hired someone you know to do the deed.” Eric had a sinking feeling. He thought he would hear a different name when Sandy said, “Horst was paid very well. I heard the figure was over $22 million.”
Eric hissed again, “Where did he get that kind of cash? He was almost bankrupt! How?”
Sandy’s soft smile belied the harsh tone her words carried, “Why, from you and me! I’m hoping you unhooked the parasites in your bank accounts. It took me a bit to find all of them. That bastard was draining both of us, and he’s draining Oregon now. With California in his hands, his income is limitless. Believe me, the minute Robert was gone and Felipe declared his successor, the river of gold started.”
Eric looked out into the darkness. “Perhaps that explains why Karin has returned to this country,” he said to the air.
Sandy squeezed his arm. “You think she followed him?”
“I’m not sure,” Eric told her. “She had something to help Sookie…”
“The video,” Sandy stated. Before Eric could follow his shock with the question, Sandy told him, “Horst told me he had it in Los Angeles. It’s logical he would give it to her as safeguard against you. But, maybe he was hoping it would buy him safe harbor if he needed it.” Sandy’s look turned speculative. “Did Karin give it up?”
Eric nodded, “Yes, she gave it to Sookie. Cataliades has it now. I believe he is in Louisiana using it as proof for the divorce.”
Sandy looked out into the darkness as well. Eric could see the wheels turning within her as she thought through the possibilities. Eric couldn’t help but consider for a moment what a wonderful mate she would make. “You are wasted on Kansas,” he told her.
“Perhaps,” she smiled back, “but I will be able to run my own show with his money. It’s not a bad bargain.” Then she turned more thoughtful, “If Karin was willing to part with it for no consideration, she must feel herself in some end game.” The older vampire’s head tilted, “Did she tell Sookie why she was here?”
“If she did, Sookie didn’t mention it,” Eric shrugged. “She did tell Sookie she didn’t think she would be returning.”
“She has gone to kill Horst,” Sandy said, her conclusion making perfect sense. “But I can’t believe she would do it out of the goodness of her heart. Someone hired her. Someone with plenty of money and motive. But who?” The question hung between them, but neither could come up with a possibility. Although the monarchs weren’t happy about the outcome, assassinating Felipe was not in character for any of them. Finally Sandy shrugged, “I think you better take me back. Rafe will be getting frantic.”
“How will you stand being in the same room with him for more than an hour?” Eric asked, his distress for his friend genuine. “He is a truly stupid vampire. Being in any type of conversation with him must be painful for you.”
“Well, it is true that he has many hobbies. They are pleasurable pastimes for him and help him to broaden his acquaintance. I encourage him to improve his skills often.” Eric’s eyebrow started to arch, “In fact I find that there may be days we won’t see each other at all. And once we are married, the work of our kingdoms will require that we be apart for even longer periods of time. It is a hardship I find I can bear very well.” Eric looked at Sandy’s bright, intelligent eyes and her small, knowing smile, and he threw his head back and laughed to the stars.
“I find it hard to believe you aren’t musical.”
Eric heard Nebraska’s statement as the door opened before him. He heard Sookie’s answering snort, “I’ve said it before and anyone who’s heard me at Sunday service can attest. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it!”
“And you never learned to play an instrument?” the King asked.
“Nope, never did,” his Intended confirmed.
Both of them turned as Eric walked into the suite. Shari was standing near the wall that opened to the outside deck. There was another vampire Eric assumed was Finn’s guard standing opposite the Were. Sookie stood up and ran to him, “I was just about to send out a search party to look for you,” she said in a rush and she stood on tiptoes, pulling his head down so she could kiss his cheek. She turned back and pulled him with her. He could see the chess board set up on the coffee table between the sofas. “I heard everything went well tonight. Why don’t I get you a TruBlood?” She turned to Finn, “Can I get you one too?”
Finn gestured toward the bottle that was sitting on the table near his seat, only half gone, “No, no, I’m fine. I thank you for the asking, though.”
Eric remained where he was standing. He knew that Sookie would expect to steer him toward a chair, but until she insisted, he was comfortable taking up space, looking as intimidating as possible. For his part, Finn was doing the same. Eric was aware it was a vampire thing, this expression of territoriality. As if answering an unasked question, Finn nodded after a moment and took a small step back. It was the signal that he acknowledged Eric as being the dominant one in the room. Sookie walked back into the area from the small kitchenette and looked from one to the other. Eric could feel her aggravation. She flicked him impatiently with her eyes and then stepped forward to place his warmed blood on the coffee table in front of the couch. Eric walked toward her, his eyes never leaving Finn. Sookie sat down to one side of the couch, and then ran her eyes to him, her hands crossed on her lap. Eric seated himself, barely keeping himself from sprawling as large as possible to take up the remaining space. Finn sat in the smaller chair across from the couple and Eric could feel that some part of him, some instinctual need had been satisfied. He knew Sookie could feel it too.
“I apologize for coming so early,” Finn said, his eyes properly downcast. “I had thought you would be here already. Of course, the guards remained.” Eric acknowledged the steps taken to observe the proprieties. It would have been improper for Sookie and this King to have been alone in this way and Eric was not sure he would have been able to control his possessiveness. There was a part of Eric that wondered at the difficulty he was experiencing in controlling his vampire instincts and he made a note of it. Sookie was pushing her love through the bond and Eric felt his nature loosen and his learned behaviors emerge.
“There is no reason to apologize. My Intended is a charming and capable hostess. She makes me proud in all things.”
Finn’s eyes widened. Eric had purposely paid the kind of compliment appropriate for a vampire. He wanted Nebraska in no doubt as to the status Sookie held with him. “Of course. I would expect no less from a daughter of the Sky Fae,” Finn returned.
Eric looked again at the chess board. “Perhaps as our guest, you would prefer to make the first move,” Eric offered. He then turned his head to Shari, “We won’t need you any further tonight.” Finn smiled, nodded, and signaled his own guard to leave. When the door shut behind them, Eric turned back to Finn and waited. Eric’s invitation had not been to open the chess game before them, and everyone in the room knew it.
The Nebraska King shrugged. “It is as I said. I came as a favor for Niall.”
“What exactly does he want with me?” Sookie asked. She placed her hand in Eric’s, willing Finn to witness her attention and affection for her Viking.
Finn watched the couple for a moment, then leaned forward, and moved a pawn. Eric glanced from the King to the board, leaned forward, and moved a pawn of his own. The red-headed King observed the board and then spoke without lifting his eyes. “You know the Fae have been involved in a great war amongst their own. Many were killed, including Niall’s heir, Dillon.” Eric nodded. “There is only Dermot left now, and yourself, Princess,” and Finn nodded in Sookie’s direction, “who carry the blood and the spark of Brigant. There was another, your cousin’s son, but he is gone now too.” Sookie nodded. It had been many years since Hunter had been killed with his father, Remy, in an automobile accident. She felt her heart squeeze as she remembered their brief times together. Eric pushed comfort to her through their bond and she recalled that her vampire had known Hunter as well. “There is always a possibility that your brother will have a child with the spark, but your Grandfather thinks it highly unlikely. Only you, Princess, have had the gift from birth, and now you grow into it with grace and power.”
Eric growled, “You speak like the Fae! Many words but you haven’t answered Sookie’s question. What does Niall want?”
Finn smiled and nodded, “It’s right you are. Only that I’m not sure how best to say the things you should know.” He looked at the board, tilted his head, and moved another pawn forward. Eric studied the board for a minute, and then moved his knight into position. Finn smiled. “I heard you were bold and you appreciate bold gestures, so, I will be bold in my speech as well, and hope you take the words in the spirit in which they are given. The Prince’s years press on him and he worries that his House will pass from all worlds. Fae are different in how they rule. If the Brigant line is gone, the Clan of Sky Fae goes with it. There will be only Fire, Water, and Earth left among them and the magics which belong to the Sky will be lost. It is a great responsibility.
“What of it?” Eric asked. He could feel Sookie’s distress beside him, but he pressed her to remain quiet, sending the weight of his will to her. She made a small, disgruntled sound and he turned to see her eyes narrowed in his direction. “No one likes to think they are truly the last of their kind, but what does the Prince really wish of Sookie? Would he have her mate with another? Her Uncle, perhaps?.”
Eric could feel the minute Sookie’s anger ignited. “Well, you all can just wait a gol-durned minute! I don’t know what you are thinking, but if anyone thinks they can just waltz in here…”
Eric pushed calm and squeezed her hand, “Sookie! It is best to know exactly what was planned and I believe Finn will tell us what your Grandfather has in mind.” He turned to the vampire sitting across from them, “Won’t you?”
Finn nodded, “Aye, I will.”
Sookie took a deep breath, She was so angry she was vibrating, “Well, you can speak right to me, because I’m the one that needs to hear this.”
Finn leaned back away from the board. “I believe the Prince did entertain such thoughts. He thought you were bonded as before so you would be open to other choices. He gave me to understand that when he first met you he had arranged things, thinking you were permanently tied to this one,” and Finn jerked his chin toward Eric, “but at your dinner you told him it was not so.”
“Arranged things?” Sookie asked.
“You had a magical thing then, a cluviel dor. It was close to you, perhaps somewhere in your house or belongings. Your Grandfather used the magic of it to make a creating spell. When you told him you were not settled with Eric, he worked to break the spell. Good thing you didn’t mate that night or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Sookie remembered the night she had met her Grandfather at the restaurant. She remembered the drive home when she and Eric had been attacked by the werewolf. The closer they got to the house at Hummingbird Lane, the more she had wanted to claim Eric. It had been everything she had to get out the car and walk away from him. Now, she understood what had happened. “So you’re telling me that if I had… if we had…”
“Magic can make many things happen,” the Nebraska King nodded. “Would have been quite the wonder, and I’ve no doubt would have caused quite a commotion.”
“A dangerous commotion,” Eric hissed. “That kind of selfish action could have condemned us all!” When he felt Sookie’s question he turned to her, “Think, Lover! Who would have believed it? And if they did, what would have followed? Do you think any contract or agreement would have kept you safe?”
Sookie nodded. “Of course, it would have been a disaster!” but Sookie could feel in her heart, her heart of now and not then, that something was taking root. It was a hope borne of impossibilities and vision.
The Nebraska King continued, “Now, of course, such a magic is not possible. The cluviel dor has passed from all worlds. Fintan’s magic was strong that he was able to make such a thing. There are none left among the Fae with the craft and skill to make another.” Sookie nodded, feeling hope draining again.
“So I guess he figured he’d start sending others my way again?” She thought about Bellenos walking toward her with Eric’s face and she felt her heart twist. “He thought he could just shuffle in someone else and I’d go along?”
Finn shrugged, “The Prince says there was some history of you turning to others, particularly when you became angry.”
Eric hissed, but Sookie spoke, “It’s okay, Eric. He’s right. I never treated us as I should have. I can see why Grandfather might think I have problems making commitments, but that’s changed.”
Finn nodded. “Niall could not have understood the bond that exists between you now. I can smell its permanence. Rare, it is, to bond in this way, even among vampires. Not to say that Niall hasn’t been testing you, for he has. But I’m no fool. I heard the words of the Pythoness and saw the mark of respect she forced. It would be harmful to separate you and I’ve sent word to your Grandfather. I’m not the only one who had told him that this time things are different, but I should be the last to have to do it.”
Eric’s eyebrow raised, “So, no more interference from the Fairy Prince? He will accept what is and allow us to live our lives in peace?”
Finn smiled, “He won’t be sending any more suitors your way, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Well, I should hope not!” Sookie snapped. “You can tell Grandfather for me that I am getting married to the love of my life and he’s welcome to come as long as he can be happy for me.”
“I will relay that message, Princess, but perhaps it would be better if you relayed it yourself.”
“Why? How?” Sookie exclaimed. “Is he coming here?” Eric squeezed her hand and when she turned to him, the Viking shook his head.
“Eric is right,” Nebraska confirmed, “The Prince wouldn’t travel to this place now. He is wondering if you would come to see him. There are portals both on my lands and on your own. If you were to appoint a day and time, he would like to see you again and speak with you himself.”
Eric could feel Sookie’s confusion and then her resolve. “We could stop in Bon Temps on our way back to New Orleans,” he said to her, his voice subdued.
Sookie smiled then. “Tell Grandfather we can meet him near my Grandmother’s grave in two nights.”
Eric could feel Sookie’s spike of happiness, but he couldn’t help recalling that up to this time, any interaction with the Fae had only led to complications. As he turned his attention back to the chessboard he hoped for her sake that this time would be different.
Author’s Note: I was re-reading Swimming for the Light, the first part of this trilogy, and realized that I will probably go back at some point and polish it again. The writing has an immediacy, but at the same time lacks some of the polish that The Far Reach has attained. I have two women to thank for the improvements in style, Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. My thanks to both of them!
And thank you to you who read my work. Your comments and suggestions make this a process of story-telling, which is an activity meant to be social. I appreciate it.