Author’s Note: Wow, it seems like this started a long time ago, and how far our heroes have come! Thank each of you for coming along with me as The Far Reach concludes. My gratitude to Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. This story was so much more fun walking with you! And thank you to the lovely and talented American Android. Your art has inspired me!
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.
From the minute she awoke up the next morning, Sookie found herself swept up in the hustle and bustle of the household. It felt comforting to chip in, getting rooms ready and answering messages. Flowers arrived steadily throughout the day, along with a staggering number of fruit baskets, cards, and even a mass card or two. Each item needed received, papers signed, and spaces within the house found to place them. There was a large notebook on the front table where they could log things so if cards were lost in the hubbub that would only grow tomorrow, thank-you notes could still get sent. Last night Maude had decided that a service would be held by torchlight in the field below the house. If it rained, the service would be moved inside.
Deirdre and Barbara had already arranged the caterers and they would be arriving tomorrow afternoon to set up tents, chairs, and high-top tables. The movers were coming today and tomorrow to remove all the furniture from the common areas, placing it into temporary storage. Dishes, cups, and silverware were arriving and there was a full staff hired to handle everything, including the cleaning up afterward. Barbara had had a difficult time picking out the music. In the end, Deirdre had placed a call to a nearby private high school. Their string quartet was engaged to play chamber music in exchange for a large donation. Maude was, of course, the lead speaker for the memorial. A website was launched so that others could queue up electronically for their turn to say a few words for the Lady of Sanctum. Within hours there were so many names on the list that Deirdre suggested they shut it down so the testimonials wouldn’t run over beyond dawn. At eight o’clock tomorrow evening things would be rolling and if all went to plan, by midnight Lydia’s ashes would be scattered.
Once Inger and Maude rose, Barbara and Deirdre shifted their attention from cleaning to finalizing plans for Lydia’s funeral. Sookie heard that Maude’s initial plan was to build a pyre on a high hill and burn her friend, sending her ashes to the winds. That was rather quickly squashed. The first naysayer had been the hospital care coordinator who contacted them to arrange transport of Lydia’s remains. Maude had been somewhat incredulous. After all, there was a great deal of land here and what one did on their own property shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern. However, the Queen was finally convinced when it was confirmed that her plans were illegal by the local funeral director. He explained in some detail the requirements of Connecticut laws. When Maude hung up after that call she was literally growling, “Why couldn’t she have been just a little more Fae? She’d be dust already and we wouldn’t be wrangling with every local yokel!”
Sookie took that as her cue to get out of the kitchen. She was slated to spend more time with Mr. Cataliades working on the marriage contract. She had expected to see the attorney earlier, but he had sent word he would be spending the day in his room and asked if it would be convenient to meet in the aviary for a few hours this evening. Sookie checked her watch as she walked by the empty aviary space. She was still early for the appointed time, but she really had expected to see Mr. Cataliades lounging around or visiting in the kitchen. His actions seemed odd, but she told herself that it may have been too busy around the house and maybe he was just trying to stay out from underfoot. Sookie shrugged and headed to see Karin.
Her ‘sister,’ (Sookie couldn’t really think of either of Eric’s progeny as future ‘step children’) Karin had said very clearly last night that she would be keeping to her rooms and would not be participating in any of the activities associated with the funeral. Sookie asked Maude about it and the Queen explained that it was a perfectly normal reaction under the circumstances. Damaged vampires were vulnerable vampires. In her current state Karin was unable to protect herself. Any vampire would feel an instinctual need to dig deep in the dirt and lay low if they had taken the kind of damage she had suffered. At one point, it would have been a given that Karin would have been ended unless she had someone willing to stake their own life for hers. Sookie remembered the weeks following Rhodes, the weeks immediately after she had bonded with Eric the first time. She had heard that both Eric and Pam were hiding in a basement while they recovered from their wounds. There was something about that memory, particularly now that she had seen how Karin was suffering, that made her feel uncomfortable. She knew she would mention it the next time she saw Eric and let him know how sorry she was that she had abandoned him.
Still, there was something about Karin’s holing up and snarling at all comers that didn’t sit well, and the first thing Sookie had done when she walked away from their visit last night was to call Pam. Sookie knew the relationship between Karin and Eric was strained, if not broken, but she wasn’t sure how things stood between the vampire sisters. She had the impression the two of them were close and there was something telling her that Pam would want to know. As soon as Sookie explained what was happening and how she found Karin, Pam hung up on her mid-sentence. Sookie was pretty sure that if there were a t-shirt, Karin would be wearing the one that said ‘My sister loves me best.’
Now, as she knocked and entered the dark room to visit, Karin wheezed a laugh, “Pam tells me if you’ve promised that I can recuperate in Louisiana, it’s a done deal. She says she’s never seen Eric so pussy-whipped and she figures it’s a terminal case.”
“Well, that’s just nasty,” Sookie told her, “But don’t say I didn’t tell you so.”
Karin chuckled, “As fun as that would be to watch, I’ll be staying with Pam in Arkansas. Pam’s blood will help me to heal faster than donors or bagged. Pam said she’ll come for me as soon as the funeral crowd clears out.”
“So, you’ll stay in Little Rock?” Sookie asked.
“Why not? I’ll grant you it’s not Paris, but it’s not the end of the Earth either. Besides, someone needs to keep an eye on Ravenscroft. She may be a clothes-horse, but she could use some backup in the thinking department.”
Sookie rolled her eyes, “I’ll be sure to slip that into my next conversation with her.” When Karin chuckled again, Sookie asked, “Would you mind if I travel back with you? I’m thinking I can continue to New Orleans from there.”
“Doesn’t bother me, Madame Vampire Slayer,” Karin sniffed. When Sookie stood to leave Karin wheezed, “I owe you another one.”
“Don’t be silly!” Sookie exclaimed, “You’ve just handed Eric and me our freedom and it’s the second time you’ve saved my skin. I owe you everything, Karin. It was a lucky day I met you.”
“Pam is right,” Karin said sourly, “You are a bad influence,” but Sookie could tell that the vampire meant just the opposite.
Sookie headed back down the corridor to the aviary and was relieved to see Mr. Cataliades waiting for her. He had spread his papers back out in front of him and he was staring out the large windows, his fingers tented over his round belly.
“Ah, Miss Stackhouse, are you ready to continue?” he asked. There was no other way to describe it. Mr. Cataliades was acting strangely. The smile was friendly and there was nothing angry about him, but he wasn’t volunteering much. As she walked toward him and watched his carefully neutral eyes slide past her, Sookie wondered if she had done something wrong or if this was the demon attorney’s evil twin and any minute he was going to reveal his true identity.
Sookie sat down across from him and realized she was half-expecting the attorney to offer to shake her hand as if they didn’t know each other at all. He didn’t, but he did give her a very professional smile before leaning forward to pick up what looked to be a rather thick contract. “Since you have expressed an interest in exploring a royal marriage, I have taken the liberty of procuring what I might consider one of the better standard agreements. I thought we could review this as a starting place.”
Over the next hour Mr. Cataliades read and then explained what he considered the more common traditional clauses. Most of them were not a surprise. For example, Sookie had anticipated that there would be a requirement that neither of them could share blood with another without the express permission of their contracted party. There was another part that addressed more of the business side of the agreement, it spelled out that anything of value acquired after the marriage was mutually owned and should be divided equally on the expiration of the contract unless a written amendment to the contract was made. For her part, Sookie had some ideas about what she should ask or what clarifications she might need, after all she had been listening to business negotiations as part of her work for Amun Clan, and that had taught her quite a bit. What was preventing her was a sense that making the right decision right now was critical, and that she didn’t have the luxury of asking advice from the attorney. Each time they finished reading through a section, he looked at her expectantly. Sookie had no idea what he was waiting for her to do, and she was starting to feel foolish and distinctly inadequate.
Finally, when the attorney had raised his head to stare at her yet again, offering no advice, she cracked, “Desmond?” her voice was tight with frustration, “Did I do something to hurt you or piss you off?”
“Of course not, Princess!” he exclaimed. “I am mortified that you would think so.” Then he did something odd. He rather abruptly looked away and over her shoulder. “Don’t you think it’s time for dinner? I’m sure the Queen is in the kitchen. Perhaps it would be a good time to eat,” and he didn’t wait for her to answer, he just got up and walked down the hall.
“What the hell?” It fell out of Sookie’s mouth and she wasn’t quiet about it. A small part of her wanted to kick the table, scattering the papers, or better yet, kick the demon for being a jerk. As if everything wasn’t stressful enough, now her friend wasn’t acting like her friend nor was he acting like her attorney. He was acting as if she had something gross hanging out of her nose and he couldn’t wait to get away from her.
When she trailed him into the kitchen, every eye trained on her and she almost touched her nose to see if there was really something there, and then Inger moved forward, took her arm, and walked her to the table. Deirdre set dishes and silverware in front of her, and Barbara followed up by plating salmon, rice and fresh tomatoes. Sookie couldn’t keep from looking around her. There was no way she could eat. Maude looked at her, looked at her plate, and then in an exaggerated way leaned forward,“So, Sookie, how goes the contract?”
Sookie’s eyes rolled to Mr. Cataliades who shrugged. “Okay…I guess?” she stammered.
Maude fixed her with a level gaze, “This is the kind of thing that deserves many opinions. I’m sure if you asked it of him, your attorney would let me take a look at what you have so far.” There was something about the way the Queen was looking at her that told Sookie there was something up.
Sookie waited a beat, turned to Mr. Cataliades, and said in her most polite, southern lady way, “Mr. Cataliades, I would appreciate your sharing what we have drafted with the Queen of Minnesota, please.”
When Sookie had finished, the attorney bowed formally, and then excused himself to retrieve it. While they waited, Maude asked, “So, are you feeling like your interests are being represented?”
Sookie shrugged, “I guess. Pretty much everything I’ve seen so far looks like I’d expect. I mean, I don’t want to make this too hard! We all know I want to marry Eric, so how complicated should this get?”
Inger laughed and Maude shook her head, “You are approaching this all wrong,” Maude told her. “Hasn’t Desmond explained the purpose?” The attorney entered the kitchen, sat down, removed the contract from his case, and placed it in the Queen’s outstretched hand. She glanced down the first page. She nodded at some things, but as she read more her eyes drew closer together and her mouth seemed to get tighter. She glanced up at the demon taking in his placid, neutral appearance. Sookie could see the Queen was puzzling over something, and then she smiled. “Good evening, Desmond!” she said as if he hadn’t been sitting across the table from them not five minutes before.
“Good evening, Your Majesty,” Mr. Cataliades returned and managed to bow from the waist just a little in spite of the fact that he was sitting.
“I appreciate your sharing this contract with me. I can imagine you find yourself in a delicate position drafting this arrangement for our young friend. As someone who was a close friend of her grandfather you wish to do your best to honor the wishes of Miss Stackhouse. On the other hand, you are pledged to represent the House of Brigant and you may find yourself without instruction from the Prince on how he regards this matter.”
Sookie’s eyes widened and her head snapped over to look at the attorney. “Is this why you’re acting strange? Did you hear from Great Grandfather?” Sookie asked. “Has he changed his mind?”
Now it was Mr. Cataliades’ turn to look at Sookie with surprise. “What do you mean ‘changed his mind,’ Sookie? You have discussed your marriage contract with the Prince?” Maude and Inger both stopped what they were doing to stare at her and Sookie had to dig deep to suppress the urge to squirm in her chair.
“Well, we didn’t talk about a formal contract, but Grandfather knows Eric and I are bonded and he… well… he accepted it,” Sookie wasn’t sure how much she wanted to say about the cluviel dor and children.
Mr. Cataliades eyes narrowed, “Did the Prince have any… requests?” and Sookie had the impression that the attorney had been thinking of another word.
“He did say he wanted me to go to Bon Temps once a month and he is sending me a different trainer…”
“I am not surprised,” the demon said flatly, “Bellenos made mention of some foolishness involving shape shifting that I thought was in poor taste.” Sookie remembered the elf appearing as Eric and she nodded quickly. Mr. Cataliades pursed his lips, “I will confess that I had thought to delay contacting your Great Grandfather until negotiations were underway. It would have placed me in a precarious position with the Prince, but it would have made interference more difficult if things were already moving along.”
“You would have done that for me?” Sookie smiled, jumped up, walked around the table, and hugged the attorney. Maude rolled her eyes and for his part, Desmond looked very pleased. Sookie walked back to her place, “I really think he’s in favor of it. He sent me that crown for the Coronation, which reminds me, I need to have a chat with him too,” and thoughts of how hungry she had been for her vampire had her nodding, “Oh yeah, I think Great Grandfather is on board with Team Eric.”
“Well, that will make things much less complicated,” Mr. Cataliades was looking relieved, “and I will contact the Prince this evening.”
“Still, Desmond,” Maude spoke up, “it sounds to me like you will have your hands full walking the line here, so this is what I’m going to do. I feel it only right to take over as Sookie’s primary advisor in this matter,” and the look she gave Sookie made clear she wasn’t going to listen to arguments, “ After all, who better than a Queen who has gone through this process a time or two to help a future Queen in navigating these tricky waters?”
“Of course, Majesty,” Mr. Cataliades answered too smoothly, “How could I possibly argue with a vampire Queen? That is, as long as it is Miss Stackhouse’s wish,” and he winked at Sookie. After that things seemed to shift. Inger smiled and Mr. Cataliades asked if there were any cookies in the cabinet.
Over the course of the next thirty minutes they made a great deal of progress and Sookie learned more than she had in the hour she had spent earlier. She found out that the contract was separated into specific sections, each pertaining to a particular concern. The first section the Queen had them discuss in detail was the one addressing financial assets. “Of course we would expect that our demands be considered preliminary until we have his financial affidavits,” Maude said in a matter of fact way.
“Why are you saying that?” Sookie could hear that her words sounded whiny. There was something about the tone of the Queen’s voice and how they were talking about her Eric that was making Sookie feel all kinds of uncomfortable.
Maude’s look reminded Sookie of the look her Gran used to give her when she felt Sookie was being foolish, “You are bringing great wealth to his kingdom. You deserve full disclosure of his financial position.” Inger was standing within line of sight and she was nodding vigorously in agreement.
“But, this is Eric we’re talking about…” the telepath stammered.
“Yes, and we all know that he is in a bit of a financial scrape at the moment. I don’t believe it’s a long-term concern, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to protect you from some of the less pleasant aspects of his finances and those are the kind of secrets that come back to bite you later. “Sookie could hear herself calling Eric ‘Mr. High and Mighty’ and she figured the Queen had him pegged pretty well. “Why not get full disclosure now and avoid any future problems? What’s more, any vampire queen worth her salt would accept nothing less. When these documents are filed they become available for anyone interested to pull and review. If you are going to play the part, you can’t go halfway! You have to show that you came at this from a position of strength and are worthy of respect,” and the Queen gave Sookie a stern look and turned back to the attorney, “I can assume you have the information necessary to create affidavits for Sookie?” and Mr. Cataliades gave a rather enthusiastic nod of his head.
Once that section’s review met the Queen’s satisfaction and changes made, she pulled apart the next section that seemed to have an endless and somewhat confusing series of statements about who would have precedence in their relationship. The first thing Maude insisted on adding was language that the relationship between Eric and Sookie would have primary priority. When Sookie asked what that meant, the Queen said rather flatly, “Monogamy is not a vampire concept. I am clear it would be a condition for you. Would you like me to retract my suggestion?”
“No! No, I appreciate that you thought of it!” Sookie sat back listening closely as Maude and Mr. Cataliades read through each condition. Sookie was asked to confirm her preference to bar either party from an amazingly creative list of potential types of partners. She confirmed there would be no consorts, concubines, pets, slaves, or consenting friends (‘Friends with benefits,’ Inger supplied to Sookie’s confused look). When they got to the end, Sookie thought through all the combinations she had heard and then she asked, “What about donors?”
Maude shrugged, “What about them?” Sookie saw the same blank look on the Queen’s face that she had seen on Eric’s back in New Orleans.
“I don’t want him consorting with donors either. No touching or fondling,” and Sookie crossed her arms.
From behind her Inger said, “Selfish!”
Sookie knew she was tired when she felt her eyes narrow and she snapped at the vampire, “He’s mine!”
“Bravo!” Maude chuckled. “Now you really do sound like a Queen, although I’m not sure it would be of the vampire variety. If you were a vampire Queen you would not draw the lines so strictly, allowing the possibility of other partners for mutual benefit.”
Sookie looked confused. “Orgy,” Inger supplied. Mr. Cataliades shrugged helplessly and Maude smirked as Sookie blazed bright red. There was a part of her that was thinking maybe she didn’t want to draw that line so strictly, the small, naughty part of her that loved the adventurous way they both approached sex, but she blushed even harder thinking about mentioning it, much less putting it in writing.
As if reading her mind, Maude said, “Of course, if that were something you might be willing to bend on, it would give you a bargaining chip,” and she left it as she reached for the next section.
“Ahh,” the Queen said, “It’s the requirements around conjugal visits…” and before Sookie could get too embarrassed the front door bell sounded.
Maude glanced up as Deirdre walked from the office through the kitchen. Sookie took the interruption as an excuse to run to the bathroom. When she returned she found someone standing in the kitchen she had not expected.
“Hello, Thomas,” she greeted Pam’s Sheriff.
“Mistress,” the dark-haired vampire greeted her formally, bowing low. Maude and Inger were already standing and Sookie got the impression there had been some teasing taking place before she interrupted. “I have come to fetch Karin,” he said, levelly keeping his eyes on the telepath.
There was something about this that wasn’t quite adding up. Karin had said she was going to stay with Pam, but that the Regent would be coming herself after the funeral. “Does Pam know you’re here?” Sookie asked on a hunch. The Sheriff’s face barely changed, but there was a slight widening of his eyes.
“The Regent expressed an interest in having Karin returned to Little Rock,” he said smoothly, not answering the question at all.
“And who better than you to fetch her, right Thomas?” Maude teased. Sookie could hear that was something else going on, but she couldn’t quite puzzle it out. Maude turned to her second, “Inger? You know where Karin is resting. Why don’t you show Thomas the way?” As they turned to head down the hall the Queen added, “Oh, and Thomas, do you have arrangements to transport you back or can we help you with that?”
Thomas said nothing and the Queen chuckled, “Did you even bring your coffin?”
“It follows,” he told her. The Queen nodded, releasing the two to get going. Once they turned the corner, Maude said, “I hope she is kind to him.” The Queen looked at Sookie as if the telepath understood what was happening. If she hadn’t been so tired, Sookie might have connected the dots sooner, but instead Sookie chose that moment to yawn. It was a large yawn and included all the hours of scrubbing, dusting, and straightening that had been her day.
“I sometimes forget you keep different hours,” Maude said sympathetically.
“It is a good time to break,” Mr. Cataliades agreed. “I will call the Prince and we should plan to reconvene following the funeral.
“I guess,” Sookie shrugged, “but I was going to head home. Does this mean you are coming to New Orleans with me?”
Maude’s eyes widened, “You really don’t know anything about how this is done, do you?” she shook her head. “There are conventions to be observed. We need to send an emissary to New Orleans. You should not return to his house until you are formally invited.”
“What?” Sookie wailed. “What… are you kidding me? I told him I’d be back. Fact is, I miss him and I want to get home.”
Maude gave Sookie a long look and then turned to Mr. Cataliades. “I can see my young friend is exhausted. It has been a stressful time for her. I am sure that like any Coronation, she spent hours in preparation, even though it was not her own. I trust you will let me know if there are any difficulties that arise as a result of your conversation with the Prince this evening and I expect you to touch base with me before dawn.” Then the Queen turned to Sookie, “And as for you, young lady, I want you to get to bed and get some sleep. There should be very little you will need to do except wait for night. I will do a preliminary read through and make some edits this evening. I do want you to make a list of all the things you think should be addressed.” When Sookie looked lost, Maude smiled gently, “Start with the things you would like to do with your life. For example, your guard mentioned that you have offered to give service as a Sachem for the Packs. That would be on your list. Perhaps you would like to extend formal protection to your human family members? You may wish to be active with civic or charitable causes. Anything that would require time not directly spent with your mate should be on the list. Now, I know that you won’t think of everything, and as time passes everyone expects your interests to change. The purpose is to give your mate fair warning as to your commitments outside of the relationship so that they can tailor their demands on your time accordingly.”
“Well, I guess that makes sense. Kind of takes the guesswork out of it,” Sookie nodded.
The Queen pulled a pad of paper from the pile in front of the attorney and a pen, handed them to Sookie and said, “There, now that’s enough for tonight. Go see what naughty things your vampire has sent you and let him know you will be delayed a day or two.”
Sookie looked from Maude to Mr. Cataliades, “I feel like I should mention this to Eric.”
“I wouldn’t mention the contract yet,” Mr. Cataliades added. “I will speak with your Great Grandfather this evening. Even if he is in favor of your relations with Mr. Northman he may have… requests, that make the forming of a contract… challenging.”
Sookie’s lower lip budged out as her temper made her face feel hot, “If Great Grandfather has problems with this you just tell him I would like to talk with him! I’m doing this and he better get on the train!”
The attorney chuckled, “Thank you, Princess, I believe your whole-hearted declaration will help form my conversation. However, I still would suggest you wait for a day or two before committing yourself to the idea of a formal contract.”
“Besides,” Maude was almost bursting with suppressed laughter, “You don’t want to spoil the surprise. I am going to make sure that Pam has a camera ready when The North Man realizes the next marriage proposition is coming from you!”
Sookie thought about the proposals Eric had received so far and the dread on her Viking’s face, and she could just imagine how he would react to the next ‘Marriage Calling” messenger. “You’re right. This would be too good to waste!” she agreed.
Maude pointed to the pad of paper and pen in Sookie’s hands and cocked her eyebrow “Go get some rest!” the Queen ordered. “We have a busy day tomorrow,” and Sookie padded off, looking forward to pillow and pillow talk.
Maude turned back to Mr. Cataliades, “Do you think the Prince will be a problem?”
“There is only one way to find out,” the attorney replied. “I will see if he is available,” and he fished his phone from his jacket and started to walk toward the external doors.
“Well, while you’re finding out what that crafty old bird is up to I’ll keep sifting through this,” and the Queen gestured toward the contract. She chuckled again, “I think I’ll send Inger as the emissary. She does great imitations,” and she started to hum a bright tune as the demon walked into the night.
Sookie’s eyes didn’t open until late afternoon. ‘Vampire time,’ she thought to herself. She dressed and made a point of walking to the kitchen by going outside and walking around the outside of the building, using the brick and stone pathways she learned when she was a guest here. The day was bright and Sookie felt as if her skin was eating up the sunshine, recharging her energy reserves. As she rounded the corner she could see the front doorway. It was crowded with vans and trucks. There were coffins coming in and a coffin going out. The catering truck was parked to the side and there were wood planks on the grass to accommodate the wheeled carts loaded with materials. There were movers maneuvering a couch into a van that was already packed with furniture wrapped in padding. Sookie wondered if she would still be able to get some breakfast or if the kitchen was in too much of an uproar.
The kitchen was full of unfamiliar faces, but Deirdre was perched on a high stool near a landline telephone, writing in a book. As soon as she saw the telepath walking through the exterior doors and before Sookie could even ask, she had prepared a cup of coffee and had walked it over to place in Sookie’s hand. “How’d you sleep?” the redhead asked, “Can I get you something to eat?”
“If it’s not too much bother,” Sookie agreed. Deirdre flashed her a smile and before Sookie had finished her coffee, she was looking at a stack of cinnamon French toast.
“Real maple syrup,” Deirdre said as she set a small jug full of amber syrup near her. “Locally made. You’ve got to love New England!”
Sookie took a couple bites, and then cleaned off the plate faster than a proper lady should. She brought her dish to the sink and poured a second cup of coffee. “I saw some coffins arriving,” she observed.
“Bartlett Crowe and some members of his retinue,” Deirdre confirmed. “The New York King will be here later. Since he is closer he will travel up tonight, and then he and his retinue will stay close by.”
“Oh,” Sookie had heard the others talking about New York and most of it didn’t sound good. “Does anyone think there will be trouble?” she whispered. There were people moving all around them and Sookie had learned that taking care not to underestimate humans and Weres paid off.
Deirdre shook her head quickly, acknowledging the need for caution, then said more loudly, “Of course this is New York’s territory now, so it is kind that he is taking the time to acknowledge the Lady,” then more softly Deirdre added, “besides, the wards here prevent anyone from doing any violence.”
Sookie nodded, “I noticed there was a coffin leaving?” she asked.
“Thomas and Karin,” Deirdre smirked. “I would imagine it’s a comfy fit,” and her smile broadened as she shook her head. “Maude bet me he’d hot-footed it up here so fast he’d forgotten to arrange a coffin. She can always tell!” Sookie was clearly puzzled so Deirdre filled in, “Thomas has been chasing Karin as long as any of us can remember. When Maude was married to Kentucky we got a front row seat to it.”
“I had no idea,” Sookie told the housekeeper. “Karin never mentioned it.”
“It looks to me as if she pretends he’s a convenient booty call. He used to pretend she was just his preferred bed warmer too, but lately he has stopped pretending. I will say this is the first time I’ve ever seen him go to these lengths for her, though. Pretty close to a declaration and she must have been receptive or they wouldn’t have traveled out of here together,” and then Deirdre’s face wrinkled, “Of course Karin was pretty badly off. Maybe he just kidnapped her,” and she laughed gaily.
“Where did they go?” Sookie asked. She thought about Pam and wondered if she knew about this.
“Not sure,” Deirdre shrugged. “Thomas is resourceful and he’ll guard her with his unlife. It’s what she needs right now.”
Mr. Cataliades walked into the kitchen and he looked happy to see Sookie, “Miss Stackhouse! Have you had your breakfast?” When she assured him she had, he asked, “Well then, may I ask for an hour or two of your time?”
Sookie shrugged, “Well, no time like the present, I guess,” and she allowed Mr. Cataliades to steer her back into Lydia’s office. Sookie took a quick glance around, but found that most of the personal items that would have most reminded her of the lost healer were gone.
“The furniture is gone in the other room,” the lawyer said apologetically. They sat in the chairs near the back window. It was still a small room so it felt cozy. Mr. Cataliades smiled briefly and then said, “I had a long conversation with your Great Grandfather.”
“And?” Sookie asked.
“And he is in favor of the marriage,” Sookie shrugged in a ‘told you’ kind of way. “But…”
“But? What ‘but’ is there?”
“The Prince wants certain assurances from both yourself and Mr. Northman.”
“Now what?” Sookie exclaimed, “What more do we have to do?” She was exasperated. Two steps forward, one step back, and now it was her own relatives meddling? “It better be small stuff or I’m calling him and telling him he can pack up his whole bag of tricks, head back to Fairyland, and never blacken my door again!”
Mr. Cataliades held up his hands, “Hear me out. You may decide that the terms are acceptable.” Sookie sat back and gave a terse nod for the attorney to continue. “You did not mention yesterday that part of your conversation with the Prince involved the possibility of your having children with Mr. Northman.” Mr. Cataliades was watching her for her acknowledgement and she nodded to let him know he was correct. He didn’t say it, but Sookie could almost hear the attorney’s mind racing. She kind of knew that the idea of a vampire procreating in a small baby way was a big deal and seeing the attorney’s struggle to retain his professional appearance was just confirming it. Mr. Cataliades leaned forward to take a sip of coffee and Sookie saw it for the stall tactic it was. When he was composed again, he told her, “The Prince would like to add wording into your contract. He wants a stipulation that you will be given both freedom and support in your training regularly at the house in Bon Temps, preferably once a month.” Sookie nodded. This was something they had discussed and she knew Eric was also amenable. “The Prince wants an agreement that you will hold a formal pledging ceremony that includes your coronation as Queen in Nebraska, close to the portal so that members of the Sky Fae may stand witness.” Sookie nodded a little less certainly. Of course, in the end it’s not like there was a law about how many times or ways you could be married. She knew at least one was going to be in Bon Temps in front of a preacher. “You will be provided the protection of the Fae as a part of your dowry to this marriage and your Great Grandfather intends to provide you a Britlingen guard at his expense.”
Sookie sighed, “I’m not sure that’s necessary. We have the Weres and I’m plenty happy with their services.”
“I appreciate that,” the attorney replied, “but the Prince pointed out that there are plans to have you involved in helping the Weres with consolidating their political forces. That could give rise to jealousies. He also made clear that this protection extends only to you and your role in the kingdom.” Mr. Cataliades pursed his lips so she knew he was not exactly supporting the next bit he had to say, “To put a point on it, Sookie, the protection and support of the Fae will not extend to the person of Eric Northman until such time as you produce a viable child. Once you have a child who demonstrates its heritage, the protection of the Fae will extend to Mr. Northman as well.”
“Son of a bitch!” It flew from Sookie’s mouth, and if the Prince had been in the room when the attorney said it, those words could have followed flying hands too. “So this has to be in the marriage contract?” Mr. Cataliades nodded. “And other people will see it?”
The attorney backed up a little, “I believe that the traditional wording in cases like this is somewhat vague and usually says ‘the outcome the parties agree to,’ or ‘to the agreed benefit of the parties,’ so that there is some privacy maintained. I have crafted this language for others, but this is the first time the requirement was children.”
Sookie bit her lip, “Niall thinks I will learn enough magic to create a cluviel dor. He thinks once I make one I can wish us to make children.”
The attorney’s eyes narrowed, “That is not a certain outcome,” he said almost to himself. “Are you sure that is the only way the Prince proposed?”
Sookie could see that something was puzzling the demon, “Why? Did Grandfather say something different?”
“Not exactly,” the attorney smiled and patted her hand, “it’s just he gave me the impression that there weren’t many variables. Forming a cluviel dor is far from certain. To the best of my knowledge, there are no clear instructions on how it’s done. While you have exhibited the spark, and it is growing, it is still nowhere near the strength that would be needed to create that degree of magic, no offense intended.”
“None taken,” Sookie was becoming impatient for the attorney to get to the point. Something was troubling him and with it involving possible children, Sookie was finding that she was mightily interested.
“When the Prince told me of this, he had given the matter some thought. He has made decisions about how protection will be provided your children and what rights he would extend them into the Fae realm. I believe he wishes them to be eligible as rulers should the need arise.”
“That sounds like he’s banking on us being able to do this,” Sookie couldn’t help the feeling of hope that was rising within her.
“Which is why all of this hinging on your ability to form a cluviel dor makes no sense,” the attorney concluded.
“Maybe I should call him,” Sookie said, half to herself.
“He thought you might wish to discuss this with him and let me know he will be available by phone tomorrow. He has given me the contact number and time,” Sookie groaned in frustration and Mr. Cataliades shrugged apologetically. “In the meantime, the Queen and I reviewed the remainder of the contract and if you are feeling up to it, we could review it now. After that, we should take a look at the lists you made and see if we addressed all of your concerns.”
Sookie and the attorney reviewed no less than ten sections covering everything from sexual preferences (Sookie felt like she should take a shower and wash her mouth out with soap following those conditions) to how major purchasing decisions would be made. Finally there was one section left. “Generally this section is one, or at most, four statements. With your unique situation, I would like to re-work this area so that we say enough without saying too much. So,” and he fixed Sookie with a serious stare,” how would you see the responsibilities for progeny falling?”
“Well, to both of us,” Sookie shrugged.
“Yes, if the progeny are from both of you, but what about progeny that Eric may make?” the attorney prompted.
“Oh,” Sookie realized the topic might be a little more complicated, “Eric and I discussed that and he won’t make any more children like Pam or Karin without my permission.” The attorney seemed clearly shocked by her statement so Sookie continued, “What? Why is that so startling? He has two and I get along fine with them, but as far as I’m concerned the only new children that are coming into this relationship are the ones we make… I mean… if we make them.”
Mr. Cataliades nodded, “I think I can work with that. I will have to word it correctly. Now, let’s say the marriage expires and you decide not to renew it, who would retain responsibility for any children made during the marriage?”
“Wow,” Sookie said, “I hadn’t really thought of it that way, that the marriage would expire. I guess by the time it expires it’ll be one hundred years, so it’s not likely we’d have young children.”
The attorney winked, “Well, if you are capable of biological reproduction and you are ageless, there would be a possibility…” and he looked at Sookie expectantly again.
“Well, if the children were young I’d expect them to remain with me, I mean, if we don’t renew the contract…” and she felt a small thrill running through her chest. She found her eyes drifting a minute and she glanced down, ‘I want them,’ she said in her head, ‘I want to be a mother.’ She swallowed and then smiled brightly, returning to her conversation.
“Fine, fine,” Mr. Cataliades nodded. “I think that’s all I need.” He glanced out the small window. “You may want to take some time preparing for this evening. Guests will start arriving shortly, and the ceremony will start once Mikhail gives his official permission. Have you ever met the New York king?”
“No,” Sookie told him, “But folks sure seem to talk about him a lot.”
“It would be best to make your connections to the Prince known,” Mr. Cataliades mentioned in an off handed manner as he prepared to leave.
“Guess I’m going to wish I brought my crown,” Sookie smiled thinly. In truth, she had no intention of wearing the crown again until she asked Niall about its properties, and now it sounded like that could happen tomorrow.
Sookie took several deep breaths as she opened the door. There had been noise coming from the corridor and the reality of why she was in Connecticut was finally sinking in. Shari was standing outside the door this evening looking crisply professional in a black skirt suit and flat shoes. The Were bowed, “Evening Mistress. There are lots of folks here already. Minnesota and Indiana are in the front hall greeting people.”
Sookie smiled, “Evening right back at ya. You looking good tonight. How’s my dress hanging? Any tags showing?” The Were asked Sookie to slowly turn around as she checked her and then, once satisfied, nodded approval. “Thanks,” Sookie gave a tight smile and the two of them turned to walk toward the front hall.
All along the hallway and through the first rooms, flowers followed them. There were bouquets on tables and large baskets in every corner and cranny, set on the floor. There were even small nosegays hanging in front of pictures on the wall. It was almost as if they were walking through a fairy land and Sookie couldn’t help but be struck by how appropriate it all seemed. As they rounded the corner that emptied into the front hall they found themselves walking into a knot of people. The front doors were wide open and Shari jerked her chin, “They’ve moved out to the driveway,” she said close to Sookie’s ear. Together they navigated through those who were arriving until they were able to make their way outside.
The monarchs had created a receiving line of sorts and were greeting arrivals. Sookie made her way to the end of the line and waited her turn. When she made it to Maude, the Queen’s eyes brightened, “Oh, here you are! I was wondering when I’d see you. Come stand next to me,” and the Queen shuffled to make room for Sookie between herself and Bartlett. Sookie found herself shaking hands and greeting people she didn’t know and feeling like an interloper. After all, most of these people had been guests or were the friends of guests. What gave her the right to stand in line, shaking hands like she had some greater claim on this place? Every third or fourth person, Bartlett would lean forward, resting his hand on her arm, and introduce her to the person approaching them as ‘my dear friend’ or as ‘the Viking’s Intended.’ There were raised eyebrows, but most everyone accorded Sookie the bow of the head that denoted respect for a person of presence.
After a while, Sookie got the idea that forcing others to acknowledge her was the purpose of the whole exercise and in some ways it made her even more uncomfortable. She was about to excuse herself to check on how things were going inside when a long cavalcade of cars pulled into the circular drive. The middle car, a black sedan with an extended back door, pulled up just level with Maude. Vampires jumped from the cars and, in a movement that was just a blur, formed a cordon from the sedan door to the Minnesota Monarch. Sookie could see the Queen rock back on her heels and cross her hands before her from her peripheral vision. There was a warning blaring in her head to not take her eyes from the car, and she registered Bartlett’s hand as it wrapped around her upper arm and pulled her a little closer.
Sookie’s first impression of Mikhail, King of New York, was that he was wearing a costume. He was only a little taller than her, but his shoulders were so broad that Sookie was sure that his jacket had been custom made. His suit was perfect and his shoes were polished to a high shine. His hair was longer, falling just to the tops of his shoulders and it was brushed straight back from his forehead looking slightly damp with what Sookie thought was probably some kind of hair product. The King’s lips were narrow and his cheekbones high, but his nose was slightly flat and off center, the souvenir of someone’s fist from before he had been turned. As he stood up, he automatically looked around as he reached to fasten the button on his suit jacket. Sookie didn’t see the signal, but she was sure there was one from his guards that all was well. As his eyes slid forward, Sookie thought of a hawk, cataloging everything around him with a beady black stare. The cold look was just as quickly replaced by a crinkle-eyed smile and the monarch stepped forward, his hands extended, “Maude! It has been many years! Too many!” and he grasped her hand and slightly turned her. Suddenly she went from standing as first in line to second, and with just one movement, the King of New York asserted himself as the host of Lydia’s funeral.
The cars rolled off, others arrived, and the receiving line resumed. Sookie slid her eyes to Bartlett, but his tight smile and swift shake of the head convinced her to behave as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Thirty minutes crept by, Sookie’s hand starting to ache with the pressure of so many well-wishers. She was sure the house was filled beyond capacity and was relieved that the weather had held.
Mikhail sighed loudly and looked at the fancy watch on his wrist, “Look at the time!” he said, his patrician accent fully on display, “We need to get inside if we are to get this moving,” and he offered his arm to Maude. As she took it, Sookie felt his eyes on her. She looked up quickly and managed a nervous smile, “And look! It’s Miss Stackhouse, isn’t it?” Sookie didn’t care how much he was trying to make himself look like a jolly man, she had seen the way his eyes had swept over them with reptilian indifference before and she wasn’t fooled. Then the King’s eyes slid past her as well, “Oh, and Indiana! It’s been many years since we have had any commerce. I am surprised to see you in my territories.”
Bartlett had placed her hand on his arm, she felt the King grow still beneath her, and saw his guards tense around them. “It has been many years, Misha! Of course, I am sorry the last gift was sent back slightly broken. It was rude of me. Perhaps I should return the favor and send some of my toys your way.”
“Perhaps,” Misha smiled and laughed out loud. Misha’s guards seemed to find whatever their king had said funny, too, because they chuckled with him. Sookie couldn’t figure out the joke, so she smiled politely and waited. “Ah, but all’s well that ends well, right Miss Stackhouse? I understand Thierry is in your area now. He does well?” There was something there, some trace of an accent Sookie couldn’t quite place her finger on.
“Thierry is a trusted Sheriff for his King, if that’s what you’re asking,” Sookie smiled. “He is a most charming person and we are grateful for his service.”
“As well you should be,” the King smiled with real charm, “He would be welcome in the Court of any civilized person,” and Sookie couldn’t miss the ice as the King’s eyes slid back over Bartlett before returning to Maude, “But more time for reminiscing later. For now, it is a time to remember a great Lady,” and he turned toward the house, escorting Maude who hadn’t said a word.
The evening was a blur to Sookie. Maude had delivered the first testimonial and Misha gave the next. Each speaker then followed, one after the other, a candle in their hand. As they finished their remarks, each speaker stuck the end of their candle into a box of sand that had been set up on the hilltop for that purpose. As the evening wore on, the box grew brighter and brighter. For those who had not been able to make the list of those who would speak aloud, paper and pen had been provided. The words and remarks were tied to paper balloons under which each had a tiny candle, and as the King of New York gave a final eulogy, the paper balloons were sent into the night sky, beautiful points of light shining against the great darkness. Sookie watched the spectacle, tears streaming down her face. It was a moment she would remember for the rest of her life.
They walked back to the house, the crowd muted. Most headed for the front doors, retrieving hats and coats. Some shook hands or bowed, acknowledging old acquaintances or rivalries in this place where none dared to break the peace.
Maude and Bartlett walked with the New York King through the house until they came to the aviary. At a sign from Misha, his guards escorted others from the room. Sookie found herself inside, standing next to Maude. “So,” the King asked, reaching for a goblet of blood, “What are your plans for this place?” He looked expectantly from one face to the next.
Maude sighed and spoke, identifying herself as the heir, “Lydia has left me the facility and the charge of its running. It would be my preference to find someone suitable to continue her good works. She cannot be replaced, but until our world is different, there will always be a need for a Sanctum.”
“What do you say, Miss Stackhouse?” the King swung his head toward her, “Are you that replacement? You are a fae hybrid and have the gift of telepathy. You were a guest here with a great need. You seem a sympathetic person,” and the King stepped forward, his eyes locking on hers as he encapsulated her hand in his great one. Sookie could feel him pushing his glamour at her, “Surely you would be a proper candidate?”
“Well, I’m sure I’m all kinds of flattered that you would think so, Your Majesty,” Sookie smiled her best Southern Belle smile, “But I have a place in Louisiana.”
“As the North Man’s consort?” the King smiled, not quite a smirk.
“As the Viking’s Queen,” Maude said smoothly, “Her Great Grandfather has insisted on no less a title. Of course, Mr. Northman will still need to ratify the marriage contract, but we all believe he will.”
Misha’s eyes flared a minute, and then looked angry in that they discovered him. In a flash the warm, slightly curious look returned as he bent over Sookie’s hand, stroking it gently, “It is nice to know that the Prince looks after his own,” and he bent again, almost kissing her hand and then releasing it. He looked around him, then back at Sookie, “I had expected to see your… step daughter? Karin the Slaughterer,” and his eyes were only a little hard as he projected his interest.
‘She left this morning,” Sookie smiled back. “Already back in Arkansas. Sorry,” and Sookie made an effort to make her face match her words. The King knew far too much about all of them for her comfort.
“A pity,” he nodded. “Perhaps another time,” and he turned, and then turned back, “Oh, and Miss Stackhouse, please let your King know that the next time he sends Sheriffs into my territory, he should ask my permission first.”
“Sure,” Sookie smiled, “I’ll let him know. Nice to meet ya!” and Sookie gave him her best Crazy Sookie smile.
Misha’s eyes narrowed, and then his whole face crinkled as he laughed a great booming laugh. When he stopped, there was genuine amusement in his eyes and there were red tears on his face, “You have the heart of a lion, little kitten! I look forward to our next meeting.” He bowed to Bartlett and then to Maude. When he left the room it was as if the temperature rose a few degrees and Sookie couldn’t help letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
Once he was well and truly gone, Maude turned to Bartlett, “I wouldn’t wait if I were you. He doesn’t look any more ‘forgive and forget’ than he was before. You should think about getting home tomorrow during the day.”
“Don’t be silly,” Bartlett shrugged. “He won’t make a move against me here. First of all, the wards would damage him. When he made his little comment earlier the barriers started to glow. He noticed,” and then the Indiana King turned to Sookie, “And what did you think of our most gracious peer?”
“I believe he could strip the skin off his mother and never blink an eye,” Sookie said, her own eyes flicking back nervously to the door the King and his retinue had used as their exit. “Are you all going to do something about him?”
“As long as he stays in his own kingdom?” Maude shrugged. “No, we will leave him alone. If he does move against another of us that may change.”
They retreated to their own rooms to change and Sookie rejoined them in the kitchen. The caterers had left, but they would return tomorrow to finish picking up and taking away. Barbara had collapsed in her room and Deirdre had followed soon after. Only Bartlett, Maude, Inger, and Sookie remained. Shari stood in the corner, a constant shadow, and Sookie found herself comforted by knowing the woman was there. Mr. Cataliades had already reappeared. Sookie hadn’t thought to mention his absence earlier and had assumed he left for other assignments.
“Evening, Desmond,” she said, making it sound like a question.
“You had interesting visitors here,” the attorney observed in return, “Some of whom would like to engage my services. Always so pesky, those who won’t take a simple ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Guess so,” Sookie agreed, as she joined the others at the table.
Sookie wasn’t surprised when her marriage contract was pulled back out and the revisions reviewed. When Mr. Cataliades walked through the progeny section, the looks on the faces of the two Monarchs went from alarmed to speculative. The words didn’t sound like biological children exactly, but there was a clear expectation that there would be some form of issue from the union and that was unusual. Finally the reading was finished and Maude turned to Sookie, “Well, it’s all done except for the presentation. I’d like to suggest Inger as an emissary.”
“I can escort Inger,” Bartlett volunteered. “That places me close to Mississippi and, frankly, I can’t wait to tell Russell the news. He’ll claim he knew all along, but I still want to be the one to give him all the details about the proposal and Northman’s reaction.”
Sookie looked around the table and felt herself among friends. ‘Y’all just need to do me one favor,” she asked, “Make sure someone has a camera on Eric when he figures it out.”
Breakfast the next morning was quiet. Sookie took her coffee outside to enjoy the sun on the back patio. She watched the way the early morning light seemed to play over the tree line, colors changing from gold to green as the light strengthened. “It’s my favorite time of the day too,” Mr. Cataliades’ voice caused her to jump a little, but he was not unexpected. This was the hour she was to call her Great Grandfather.
The demon walked out of the house and sat on the cast iron chair next to her, pulling a phone from his jacket and nimbly moving his fingers around the screen. He handed the phone to Sookie and she heard her Great Grandfather’s voice, “ Granddaughter, I was looking forward to your call. It is dawn here and a propitious time to talk of the future of our people.”
“I was looking forward to talking with you, too,” Sookie replied. She could almost see him, his face long and elegant, his fingers too tapered. “The funeral here was real pretty. I almost expected to see you.” Sookie wasn’t sure why she said it, but she realized it was true.
“There were too many different souls there in that place. We will hold our own remembrance for Lydia. She will be missed among us,” There was a pause and Niall added, “You should come to be here for it.”
“Here, where?” Sookie asked.
“Nebraska, near the portal,” Niall told her. “There are many of your kin and kind here. We are making a place for ourselves again. You would learn things about your heritage.”
“Thank you for the invitation,” Sookie said politely, “but I have a few things I need to attend to here first.”
The Prince sighed over the phone, “Of course, you must conclude your contract binding you to your vampire.”
Sookie decided to overlook her Grandfather’s lack of enthusiasm and asked the question foremost in her own mind, “What’s the crown?” Sookie asked.
“The crown I sent you?” the Prince asked in return. When Sookie make an affirmative noise he told her. “That was Branna’s crown. She was my consort and Queen of the Sky Fae. She was a great lady among our kind and she ruled with grace. I expect that when the time comes you will pass it to the one who will rule next in Fae.”
“Won’t Dermot want it?” Sookie asked, “He’ll have a wife someday and she’ll want it. It sounds important.”
Niall snorted, “Your uncle, Dermot, has no inclination nor ability to join with another. He rules, but prefers to fill his days making things rather than making judgments. He will hold the throne until another more worthy is found.”
Sookie heard her Grandfather’s words with growing alarm, “Well, it won’t be me!” Sookie figured she needed to lay that right out.
“Is that what you were thinking?” the Prince said slowly, “That I would try to convince you to take the throne? You misunderstand. You have chosen to bind yourself to a vampire. Taking the throne is no longer a possibility for you, but if you were to have children, they might inherit as long as they have the spark.”
“Is that what this is all about?” Sookie no longer cared that the attorney was standing by. “You want me to start pumping out babies so you can steal them away?”
“You forget yourself!” the Prince was angry and even over the phone the command in his voice stopped Sookie from escalating further. “You wish children. I wish to give you something you desire, and it is within my power to grant your wish. If your children should be born with the essence that is their heritage, why shouldn’t they be allowed the opportunity to explore their birthright?” The Prince continued more temperately, “No one would take your children from you. I have made clear to Mr. Cataliades that I will settle both protection and wealth on each and every child you have with your vampire. I wish you and them to think well of me, and to have an open mind when considering taking a place in the Fae world. Surely, you can’t object to that.”
Sookie thought about it. If she had been told she was a Fairy Princess when she was a little girl, and she had had protection, would it have made things better? For Sookie it didn’t take long. She knew it would have changed things and probably for the best. “I just don’t think it will be that easy, Grandfather. A cluviel dor won’t be so easy to make. I know I have all the time in the world now, more or less, so we really are fussing over something that won’t happen for a long time, if ever. I have so much to learn about simple things as it is, and making one of those sounds so complicated.”
“DIdn’t the Viking tell you about the other way?” the Prince’s voice sounded almost too reasonable, and Sookie felt like he had been awaiting the opportunity she had just handed it to him.
Unable to help herself, she asked, “What other way would that be?”
There was a slight pause on the other end of the line and Sookie could almost see the Prince smiling, “There is the method we helped to fund through the Iowa vampire’s research facility. It was something that both Dermot and I personally participated in testing,” and then the Prince’s voice lowered. “It was not successful for us. You know how infertility plagues the Fae. We had hoped that the science would provide an answer, like it did for iron sensitivity.” Sookie remembered the invisible gloves her Grandfather always wore and she thought what he said sounded reasonable.
“I’m sorry it didn’t help you,” Sookie said sympathetically. She remembered how much fun Claude had with Hunter in the park one day. The thought that they were both gone now made her sad. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to never see any children.”
“They are the promise that we have a future,” the Prince agreed. “But all was not in vain, Sookie. There were some successes. We realized that we were not able to capture our own DNA outside of our bodies, but we were able to capture the DNA of other supernatural beings.”
“Like living supernatural beings?” Sookie asked, “Like Weres and witches?”
“And vampires,” Niall offered. Sookie found herself sitting perfectly still. She almost held her breath. She was sure her Grandfather was going to say something else, but he didn’t.
When some time elapsed, she asked, “Like how do you mean that?”
“It’s similar to the process humans use today for in vitro fertilization. The DNA is harvested and injected into a fertile egg, and biology does the rest.”
“Yeah, but vampires aren’t human,” Sookie stammered.
“Oh, but they were once human,” Niall replied, “and their human DNA remains in their bones. From what Phoebe Golden tells me it is remarkably well preserved. The testing they have done required minimal donations from the subjects.”
“It can’t be that easy,” Sookie felt her heart racing. This sounded too simple and she was sure there had to be a catch.
“I discussed the possibility with your vampire. He didn’t seem adverse to the idea, if it is something you wish,” and then Niall pressed by saying, “Is it something you wish, Sookie? Do you want to have Eric Northman’s children? Perhaps a son or a daughter? With your combined coloring and facial features, they would be beautiful.”
God help her, Sookie could see them in her mind’s eye. She saw her vision of a small, sturdy boy and she could see a laughing girl with golden curls. She could barely breath but she managed to say, “I’ll talk it over with Eric.”
“You do that, dear,” the Prince purred, and Sookie knew that he knew that he had her.
Eric Northman was not happy. Sookie had been due two days ago and he had received a voicemail that she would not be coming home until tomorrow. Nabila was no longer breathing down their necks, but they would need to give an answer soon, and Eric wanted time to talk with Sookie first. Eric had spent time with Max and Pam, walking through financial outlooks and projections. Tithes were pouring in and with some adept maneuvering; some of his fixed assets liquidated. They were tantalizingly close to being able to sail free and clear of the need for external money. If they only had another twelve months to allow their funds to accumulate, they would be free, even after settling taxes and fixed expenses. But close only counted in hand grenades and horseshoes, and Eric Northman’s kingdom was neither.
There was no question about accepting Stan’s offer. Eric alternated between wanting to be truly angry with the Texas monarch and wanting to find a way to set him down a peg. It was a dick move and everyone knew it. Eric also knew that with Stan’s poor social skills it wouldn’t occur to him that anyone would really take issue with what he was doing and if Eric managed to weasel out, he’d be just as supportive. ‘Asshole,’ Eric thought for the hundredth time.
There really was no way out this time. Eric Northman was going to have to pay the piper or cut and run, leaving his kingdom and all those who relied on him behind, everyone except Sookie. And if he did run away, how would he ever look his Lover in the eye again, much less himself? The unbearable unfairness of it rolled over him again and, with a growl, he launched himself off the couch to prowl restlessly back and forth again. When the knock on the door interrupted him, he almost yelled, “Come in!” Thalia opened the door and bowed. Her face was passive, but Eric could see something in her eyes. “What is it?” he snarled. If this was more bad news he wasn’t sure he would be able to maintain his composure.
“You have an emissary,” his second told him. “She is downstairs and asks a moment of your time.”
“An emissary?” Eric snapped. “Do I look like I have time for an emissary right now? Just take the message and deal with it!”
“Oh, I think you want to come down for this one,” Thalia said carefully, “It looks like another marriage proposal and it’s Minnesota’s second holding the envelope.”
That stopped Eric in his tracks. Of all the persons he might have considered as throwing their hats in the ring, Maude had never crossed his mind. He knew the Queen had been in Connecticut with his Intended. As far as he knew, she still was. Did Sookie know about this? He turned his worried face toward the door and stalked to the elevator, and then he bypassed it and took the stairs to the ground floor. Thalia waved him toward the little office.
Eric walked into the room to see Inger, standing formally, an envelope in her hand. Bartlett was draped over a nearby chair. Pam was on the sofa and Max was standing behind her. Thalia walked forward and bowed formally to Inger, “I believe you have a message for the King,” she stated.
Inger raised her eyes to the Viking and said, “Eric Northman, King of Louisiana and Arkansas, I bring a request from my Lady asking that you consider a formal contract of marriage. She bid me present this,” and Inger extended the envelope toward the King, “as a sign of good faith. It presents the assets the Lady intends to bring to this kingdom if you agree to this union.”
Eric stared at the envelope. He couldn’t bring himself to reach for it. ‘Maude!’ he thought. ‘How could this happen?’ He looked around the room, the faces of Pam and the others so carefully neutral. ‘What will Sookie think?’ he thought. Then he had a wild thought. “You were recently in Minnesota. Is my Intended well?”
Inger smiled and nodded, “She is in very good health. She sends her greetings and looks forward to your response,” and the second extended the envelope again.
Eric reached forward and took the envelope in his hand. He kept his eyes on Inger as he broke the seal. When he had pulled the thick cardstock free he dropped his eyes.
“Sookie Stackhouse, the Princess Brigant, proposes a marriage of one hundred years…”
He didn’t move when the light flashed, but he heard Pam say, “That was worth every penny!”
End Note: Yes, there is an Epilogue. It is already with my beta goddesses, and will publish soon. There will also be three out-takes, because it looks like our vampire and his fairy will be married not once, but three times. Then, look for the next story in our arc, The Distant Horizon. This next tale will take up a year after the events of The Far Reach. Looking forward to seeing you on the trail.