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Eric struggled to crawl out from under the pile of bodies on top of him. He was sure the Kansas King was finally dead, but then the King moaned. Eric sympathized. Having silver embedded in you was excruciating. It didn’t stop Eric from clawing and kicking the vampire, though, and the Kansas King moaned a few more times, although he still didn’t move. It was likely that Kansas was badly wounded, but a moaning vampire, given time and blood, would heal.
Eric could see that Freyda was already falling apart. She was so young; her body could not have offered much resistance to the wooden dart embedded in her heart. An older vampire’s magic might have held off final death a little longer, although even someone as old as Eric would likely have been killed by such a direct strike. Eric struggled harder. Although he knew he didn’t love her, although he knew she was already gone, Eric felt the need to touch Freyda one last time before she crumbled to dust.
It was not easy. He had the use of only one leg. Based on the pain and lack of mobility, he thought his other leg was broken. His shoulder screamed with pain as well and he wondered if he’d suffered a hairline fracture in addition to the other break. Already his bones were knitting and the process added to his discomfort. He needed blood and, from the sounds of the screams from the donors, others did, too.
By the time he was free, Eric’s stiff leg was starting to move. He crawled across the floor to where Freyda lay. Their guards arrived at the same time he did, coming from the areas outside the game room. Eric figured Stan had locked down the doors. It would slow down the guards and courtiers in seeking out their monarchs. “The Queen!” one of his guards sighed.
“Go to our quarters,” Eric said quietly. “There is a box there with her jewels. Empty it and bring it back here.”
“It will be difficult, Lord,” the guard replied and confirming Eric’s suspicions, he said, “The Texas King is sealing the doors.”
It was the smart move. All would be prevented from leaving. The next logical step would be to take everyone’s cell phones. Once Stan knew he controlled what information could get in and out, the questioning would begin. Eric had no doubt there were surveillance cameras in the game room. Stan’s security people were probably already reviewing the tapes, figuring out who brought in the bombs and who had fired the crossbow. “Explain your mission to the men at the door,” Eric told him. “Offer them your phone and your weapon,” and he motioned the guard on his way. The other guard stood over them, his eyes moving around the room.
“How bad?” Eric asked. He waited for the guard to meet his eye. Eric purposely kept his voice low. He could hear certain decibels now, but his full hearing was not restored. Eric relied on the echoes in his head and his ability to read lips to be fully understood.
“Most of the humans are dead,” the guard was telling him. “I think whoever it was used percussion charges.” Eric nodded, it made sense. Unfortunately, for humans with their soft, living organs, percussion charges were usually fatal. Even if you didn’t fall at first, the internal trauma would cause you to bleed out. There was no stopping it. Percussion charges would only stun vampires. Since a vampire’s organs were mostly frozen, they could be hit by the sound waves, but suffer little permanent damage. Based on the Kansas King’s appearance, there was some silver shrapnel used as well. The King was sitting up now, and there were guards and others surrounding him. Eric could see places on his skin and body where small tendrils of smoke escaped, signs of embedded silver burning him.
The shrapnel was intended to slow those vampires who didn’t fall at once. Kansas must have been standing right next to the bomb since Eric couldn’t see many more vampires who were ‘smoking.’ Kansas seemed to have taken the brunt of the impact.
The combination of percussion and limited silver was logical. Whoever planned this hadn’t meant to kill vampires. Everyone knew the wholescale slaughter of vampire rulers, frankly of any large number of vampires, would trigger a blood feud that wouldn’t stop until whomever was responsible, their Maker, all their progeny, and human relations were finally dead. It was this more than any other thing that convinced Eric the attack was the work of another vampire. Any other race would have gone for the kill.
Once you accepted the idea that this was the work of vampires, it led easily to the next conclusion; the point of the operation was to stun the vampires attending, allowing a team to execute a precise kill. In other words, this was an assassination attempt. Eric recalled Stan running. It was his brushing across Freyda that had turned her. The dart that killed his Queen had been meant for Stan Davis.
Eric tested his leg. It was sturdy enough to allow him to move into a sitting position next to Freyda. Her skin had gone grey. Her eyelids were flaking. Eric glanced over to see the Nebraska Queen leaning over her human companion. She was feeding from him, draining him dry. She was trying to turn him, and Eric felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. If the human was too badly damaged, the transformation wouldn’t take, but the Queen’s desperation spoke of the depth of her feeling for the man lying before her and, for some reason, Eric thought of Sookie Stackhouse.
The donors had stopped screaming. Eric glanced in their direction. He could see them, lying in bloody heaps. It was likely most were killed in the blast anyway, but the screams he’d heard while he struggled to escape the weight of bodies told him not all had died right away. They were dead now, and that would enrage Stan. If the tapes showed any involvement by those humans, there could be no questioning. The dead made poor witnesses. Eric could see a few waiters in the piles, too, their jackets stark against the bare flesh of the donors. Injured vampires were hungry vampires and as he was thinking that, Stan’s palace guards started moving among those still on the floor, distributing bags of blood.
Eric swung his gaze around the room and was surprised to see Amy Ludwig. She was moving among the wounded. Eric looked around and recognized at least one other supernatural doctor he knew, walking from group to group. Stan must have summoned them.
“Your phone, please,” a guard was saying. He held out a bag of warmed blood. Eric reached into his pocket and handed over his phone, exchanging it for the bag. Holding the bag in one hand, he sank his fangs into it. The blood tasted amazing and he felt strength and vitality flow through him, rushing toward his injuries and helping his healing process accelerate.
“You hurt?” Amy Ludwig was standing behind him. At the same time, his other guard returned, the Queen’s enamel jewelry box in his hands.
“No, I was lucky. I was shielded from the blast by Kansas. If he wasn’t so fat, I would have escaped injury altogether. I’m fine,” he told her. He couldn’t look at the Doctor. He couldn’t stop looking at his still wife lying on the floor, the fletching of the arrow bolt standing up like some sort of bizarre handle from its place in her chest.
“She caught the cross bolt meant for Stan,” the Doctor confirmed. “Stan has the place locked down. He called a bunch of us, but there’s not much for us to do. I’ll probably spend the next hour or so digging out some silver, but, other than that, the butcher bill was pretty light.”
“For some,” Eric replied.
The doctor lay her hand on his shoulder in a rare show of affection. “I’m sorry for your loss, Viking. Freyda seemed to have suited you.”
“Yes, she was a good Queen,” Eric replied. He knew he needed to find Stan. He knew he needed to start the conversation about who would take over the throne in Oklahoma before another did, but somehow he couldn’t find the strength to rise.
Eric decided that Stan could wait. Everything could wait for Freyda to complete her fading. He would gather her dust, according her one last moment of respect from the vampire mate she chose.
Eric nodded, a dismissal to the doctor and the guards, and then allowed himself to slip into downtime. He thought about Freyda. He remembered each interaction, each expression. He could not find it in his heart to return the love she said she felt for him, but he could find affection. It hardly seemed enough, but it was all he had to give.
When Amy Ludwig saw Eric Northman sitting over his dead Queen, she was tempted to tell him about Sookie Stackhouse and the son he didn’t know he had. She imagined his face when she dropped her own bombshell, telling him that now that he was free he could get on with the poorly considered, unconventional life he thought he’d left behind. She walked over, chuckling under her breath, but then she stopped. There was something in the Viking’s face that stilled her laughter. Amy was many things, but somewhere, under her bluster and bad attitude, she was someone who liked Eric Northman. He was a pain in the ass and he thought too much of himself, but he was basically a decent vampire, which was rare.
She could see he was suffering. She had heard that he and Freyda were actually a couple, that it had become a love match. It was the kind of thing soft-headed fools talked about, and Amy had scoffed at the suggestion, telling her source he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about. Now, seeing Eric slip into downtime, holding Freyda’s hand, she wasn’t so sure.
“Well, I’m glad you weren’t hurt,” she said instead, and, turning, walked away to examine others.
“It is a pity you lost your Queen,” Stan acknowledged Eric, but then turned away, giving the Viking the clear message that he was being brushed off.
“I would appreciate being included in the interrogations,” Eric persisted. “I don’t dispute the attack was aimed at you, but it was my Queen who paid the price.” Freyda was the only vampire casualty. While there were injuries, no other vampire would be finally dead as a result of the attack.
“As an observer,” Stan agreed, “and so long as you intend to do something with the information.” And there it was. Eric might not like Stan much, but he had to admire his cunning. The Texas King had managed to set aside the stress of his near-fatal accident and already figured out who he could strong arm into risking revenge. Eric was that patsy.
“And if I am successful?” Eric asked.
“Well, there is no question of your assuming the Oklahoma throne,” Stan said it in the most offhand manner, as though it was self-evident. He did go on to explain his rationale, “After all, you were never more than a consort. Had Freyda named you King, or had you bonded, it might have been different. As things are, you had one job, which was to keep her safe, and we all know how that turned out.” Eric couldn’t stop the quick flare of anger, and he realized it showed. Stan’s eyes widened, and then he relaxed, leaning forward as one friend might do for another.
“Eric! You never wanted to be in Oklahoma to begin with. I can understand how you might have become fond of Freyda. She was a charming vampire, but if you return and take the crown you will never have more than temporary reign of a beggar kingdom. Because you didn’t save her, every eligible vampire with an ounce of ambition will think to challenge you. How many will it take? Ten? A hundred before either you fall or the foolish stop trying? And then what? You think vampire monarchs will be clambering to do business with you? You will be shunned, and even those who will greet you as a friend will have something else to say when you leave the room.” Eric listened to Stan’s words and heard too much truth in them.
“You travel under a black cloud,” Stan told him. “You stayed Sheriff when you could have aimed higher. You were at Rhodes. You were the only one who remained in existence following Felipe de Castro’s takeover, and there are those who say you were secretly in league with him.” Eric growled, but Stan held up his hand, “I don’t think that, but it is part of the bad luck that follows you. You married a human! A human, Eric! And you fought for her! Your actions in that Fae business could have cost us all! Felipe would have been within his rights to end you! But he didn’t. De Castro allowed you to continue, and how did you repay him? By murdering his favored Lieutenant, and don’t deny it. Victor Madden was a small vampire with a tiny dick, but he was still your superior. Not exactly the kind of thing that inspires trust in others!”
“Then, you would prefer that I not return to Oklahoma.” Eric prided himself on his ability to read a situation, but today the ground was shifting too fast, even for him.
“I don’t think anyone would object to your returning temporarily,” Stan shrugged. “After all, you would have things to pack.”
“I want to provide Freyda a proper memorial service,” Eric drew himself up, using the words as a cover to his mental scrambling. He was suddenly a vampire with no country, no allegiances. It was terrifying and heady, all at the same time.
“You were fond of her, weren’t you?” Stan asked. His voice was not unkind. “I had heard that, that your marriage was becoming something more.”
“She was an exceptional vampire,” Eric agreed, “As you say.”
“Look, as Clan Chief, I’ll make it known that I expect you to be in Oklahoma for a few months, tying up loose ends. I’ll give it until then to convene a tribunal to name Freyda’s successor. Will that give you enough time to find a place to land?” And with that, Eric knew that Stan didn’t mean Eric to land anywhere within Zeus. It was everything he could do not to hiss in frustration.
Instead, Eric pulled his lips up into a smile, “Thank you, Majesty,” he bowed. “I am sure I will have things well in hand by then.”
Eric was among the crowd who headed down to Stan’s dungeons. The Viking’s thoughts twisted and twirled. It had been many years since he’d found himself in a position where he literally had no one offering him a position. When he was within Sophie-Ann’s retinue, the offers were frequent. When Felipe de Castro took over, the number of offers escalated. Then, Appius returned with his paper chains and the offers dried up. Of course, Eric was contracted, and, by his own hand, he’d doubled his sentence. He lost his freedom and everyone knew it, but it was more than that.
Eric was certain that the offers that came now would be few and far between. Vampires didn’t respect other vampires who showed too much attachment to humans, and that was what Eric had done. He’d made no secret of his anger over his Maker’s arrangement. He was public in his battles to set the contract aside, and, most damning, he doubled the time of what everyone knew he considered to be a sentence as opposed to a favor, all to secure a future for his human.
It was those actions that destroyed his standing with his fellows, but, Eric knew, faced with the same circumstances, he’d do it again. He was sure that other vampires knew it, too. It made Eric Northman a weak vampire, at best, a laughingstock at worst.
Vampires didn’t offer vampires like him a place of honor. They offered vampires like him a grudging favor and made him pay for it over and over again. He would have no more value than Bill Compton, maybe less.
‘I need something to change my status,’ Eric thought to himself, and he knew that whatever it was, it would have to be a bold stroke to reinstate the respect he’d lost.
The human under the knife was gibbering with pain. Considering the body parts scattered around him, Eric wasn’t surprised. Eric examined the man’s face, trying to place him from the party upstairs. The man’s costume, or lack thereof, didn’t offer clues. In the end, it didn’t matter. The vampire Stan used as his torturer had a deft hand and Stan seemed convinced he had the right person.
The stink in the air explained why the human hadn’t bled out. As quickly as a toe, or finger or ear was removed, the torturer leaned forward and used a glowing knife to cauterize the wound. The method stopped bleeding in humans and Weres as effectively as vampire saliva, but far less pleasantly. Eric could hear the human’s heart galloping in his chest as the knife approached again. There was a slight whine in the man’s blood, which Eric associated with high stress. If the torturer didn’t get the outcome Stan wanted soon, they might be robbed of the opportunity. This human sounded as if he was headed for a stroke or heart attack soon and, if that happened, Eric thought it likely the torturer would suffer for his incompetence.
But the torturer proved he was well-suited for the challenge. “Isabel…” the human wheezed. “Isabel…” and he looked out into the crowd, his bloodshot eyes wild. Eric wondered if Stan suspected someone among them. Usually taking an eye early was a favored method with these interrogations. With both eyes, the human would be able to see his confederate.
It was a fraught moment. The torturer paused, the knife hovering over the human’s face. Every vampire stopped, turning to look at Stan’s Second, and then became more still in that way vampires had.
For her part, Isabel stood her ground. Eric wasn’t sure whether he admired her or pitied her foolishness. She had to know coming down here that the human would betray her and yet, she did anyway, standing where the human could see her. Isabel had been with Stan for a long time, as long as Eric had known either of them.
In an instant, Stan was before her. Guards moved to either side, but no one placed a hand on her. For her part, Isabel stood her ground, a slight smile playing across her lips. “Why?” Stan demanded, his fangs extended.
“I never forgave you,” she said, and boldly met his eye. “I know you can’t understand, that you never will, but you took the only thing that was important to me.”
Stan leaned forward, and, as Eric watched, Isabel’s head bowed and, after a few moments, bowed lower. Her face contorted and finally she fell to her knees. Eric recalled Sookie telling him after an adventure here in Dallas that she was pretty sure Stan could communicate with his retinue telepathically. Eric hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but watching the scene playing out in front of him suggested possibilities. There was no doubt in Eric’s mind that Stan was using his psychic connection with Isabel to punish her.
Stan’s clenched jaw and Isabel’s sudden frown told Eric that the connection went beyond telepathy. It was as though the Texas King was literally digging in Isabel’s skull. “Hugo,” Stan growled. “You betrayed me and all here for a human?”
Eric remembered Hugo. Obsessed with Isabel, he had divorced his human wife and devoted himself to her. Hugo had betrayed vampires to the Fellowship of the Sun, a human hate group masquerading as a religious cult. Vampires were taken and Hugo was sentenced to death. Isabel was punished, too, but, in time, she had been forgiven. Now, it was clear that for Isabel, it was not something she forgot or forgave.
“Hugo loved me!” Isabel gritted out. “He was foolish enough to try and destroy my rivals. I told you I could help him understand, but you wouldn’t listen!”
Stan was furious, “He sought to injure vampires! There is no excuse for that! They are not like us, not equals!” For Eric, the exchange highlighted so much of what he saw around him. Vampires had chosen mainstreaming. For vampires like Stan, it was a way to come out from the shadows and assert what they felt was their natural domination. For others, like Isabel and, in many ways, for himself, it had opened a dangerous door. Through that door was a reawakening of sorts, but it was also sentiment, and sentiment was not tolerated by vampires.
Stan was standing over Isabel. He was using some kind of mental push, punishing his Second further. Isabel was cowering, her face contorted with pain.
“Who?” he growled at her. “Tell me who paid you and I will give you a clean death for all the service you gave me.”
“No…” she whimpered, but Stan was on her immediately, redoubling his efforts.
“Don’t lie to me!” he yelled. “I see it in you! I see you checking the balance! I hear you saying the date! I will make this continue for a long time, this pain you are feeling. Tell me!”
Isabel didn’t say a word, but then, without warning, Stan backed off. “Wrap her in silver,” he told his torturer. “Make it tight. I want the flesh to burn from her bones. Feed her enough blood to keep her alive. Make it last until I tell you otherwise.” The Texas King leaned over Isabel, “You bitch!” and he kicked her. Isabel didn’t resist, the blow landing in her belly, sounding like a shoe deflating a balloon. “You couldn’t just tell me? After everything I’ve done for you? You had to make me scrape it out of your head?”
Eric almost pitied her. Isabel’s end would take a long time and she would suffer mightily until she found it. As Stan stalked toward the stairs that led back to the main palace, he caught Eric’s eye. “Come with me, Viking,” he said stiffly.
Eric fell in line behind the Texas King and followed him into what appeared to be Stan’s office. “So, are you interested in taking me up my offer?” the Texas King sat down behind his desk and gave Eric an expectant look.
“You would give me the name and expect me kill him under the guise of taking my revenge,” Eric didn’t ask. He didn’t have to.
“It would go a long way toward resurrecting your reputation,” Stan shrugged. “Of course, you could end up finally dead, and that would end your troubles, too.”
“I take it the vampire in question is powerful,” Eric watched Stan. The Texas King was practically gloating.
“He won’t be easy to kill,” Stan shrugged, “but, on the other hand, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if you were the one to go after him.”
“Felipe de Castro,” Eric supplied the name. He was the only vampire who could create this reaction with Stan.
Stan sat back waiting for Eric’s commitment. It was the smart move. There was no point in providing further information until the Viking agreed, and they both knew it. Eric nodded a single time.
“I won’t wait forever,” Stan smiled, after all, they were all friends now. “If you can’t get this thing done quickly, I will have to take matters into my own hands. It’s a matter of honor, but, if you have the balls, it may interest you to know that your former King is currently in New Orleans. I’m sure even now he’s waiting for news of my demise, so he can move into Texas.”
“It would seem Felipe is working on establishing a trade corridor,” Eric replied dryly.
“I think you give him too much credit,” Stan scoffed. “He’s old school. He thinks it’s all about the real estate. The vampire with the largest territory wins.” Stan laughed, “Tool!” Stan didn’t offer a chair, and Eric didn’t expect him to. “If you want to move tonight, I am prepared to offer you some support. No guards, of course, but I have a private jet. It could have you in New Orleans in a little over an hour.”
“What is Felipe saying about why he’s in New Orleans?” Eric asked. The Nevada King’s cover story would suggest how long the King would linger once news of the failed attempt filtered out of Dallas.
“His usual tour,” Stan steepled his fingers. “Business audits. Strong-arming for tithes. He arrived just yesterday. I’d expect him to linger for another week or two.” Stan grinned, his look feral, “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you? If you could pull this off, you’d regain ground with many of us. Do you think you still have the assets on the ground?”
“I accept your offer of the plane,” Eric told Stan. It was clear Stan would swing his support to Eric if he succeeded, but the Dallas King had no interest in offering an actual alliance, and certainly not at this stage. Stan didn’t want to be implicated if Eric was taken down, and the Viking couldn’t blame him. “I will consider it a favor to be repaid in future trade deals,” he added. It was better to make the terms of these offers clear from the beginning. Stan was likely to press any advantage.
Stan was laughing, “Well, if you succeed, I’ll expect to collect in the first three opportunities…”
“The first two opportunities,” Eric countered, “and they must be opportunities of advantage to both of us.”
“Since you will probably be dust before the end of the month, I am willing to concede the point,” Stan was all good humor now. Eric figured he was a good diversion for a King who had just found out his Second was betraying him. Stan would have his own reputational shoring up to do over the next few weeks. To not have detected the rot so close to his core would suggest a certain carelessness and Eric was certain it would figure in Stan’s future conversations with Zeus monarchs; it might even cost him his role as Clan Chief.
Eric made his excuses and walked back toward the game room. There were already personnel there, cleaning things. ‘We are so used to violence, we have those who erase its traces on speed dial,’ Eric thought to himself. There was something about the implications of mainstreaming that told Eric that the world they knew, the world of torture and retribution, would change.
His guards were waiting for him. One was holding the enamel box that contained Freyda’s dust and fangs. Eric took it from the guard’s hands. “I will be asking you to take the Queen back to Oklahoma without me,” he told them. “I will not be returning to the capital immediately, but will follow in a few days. I will alert the Chancellor and he will meet you at the plane. There will be a memorial service.” The guards were watching him closely and it was everything Eric had not to smile. He could see their suspicion, their loyalties slipping from him with each passing minute. “For tonight, Freyda will rest with me,” he told them, and then turning, walked away. The guards didn’t follow. It told Eric everything he needed to know.
As he walked, Eric’s mind raced. He thought through what he needed, and how things would have to be arranged. He had thought of this possibility. He hadn’t planned on taking Louisiana until his time with Freyda was served, but it was something he had considered. To be King of Louisiana meant he would not have to be looking over his shoulder. He would be in a place he enjoyed and with a larger population of vampires than most kingdoms had available. He had done well there, and he knew there were many in Louisiana who still pledged their loyalty to him personally.
While this was not what Eric planned, it was hard not to see how Freyda’s early demise was, in some ways, providential. It had not been so many years since he’d been in Louisiana. Most of the vampires he knew, especially those who helped him kill Victor Madden, were still in place. Although he rarely heard from them, he didn’t doubt they would answer his call.
There was the matter of clearing his plan with Amun Clan. Prior to a takeover, and that was how Eric wished this to be viewed, the Clan Chief needed to give approval. It was a formality, but an important one. Eric was sure Stan was surveilling guest rooms, but, in this case, it was probably for the best. Anything the Texas King overheard would increase Stan’s confidence in the Viking, and that might prove helpful later.
Eric booted up his laptop. The top story on the blogs was Stan Davis surviving a failed assassination attempt. The story went on to say the perpetrator was assumed to be a disgruntled human employee and there was a warning to vampires about screening their human staff. There was a line that said there were no reported casualties, although several were injured. The article never mentioned Freyda, and Eric knew it was purposeful. It was well done and, although Felipe de Castro wouldn’t be certain, the story should serve to keep the Nevada King from beefing up his security or fleeing the state, fearing reprisals. He would have no reason to suspect that Eric Northman would be coming for vengeance.
Next, Eric opened the back of his travel coffin and removed one of the row of burner phones. He found the stairs and walked up toward the roof of the palace, Eric acknowledging the sympathetic looks he received from those he passed. He murmured thanks for the kind words vampires gave him about Freyda.
When he reached the door, he told the guard, “I wish to be alone for a few minutes.” The guard nodded and stepped aside, allowing Eric to exit the building.
As soon as the door to the roof closed, Eric took off into the sky, flying toward a dark place in the landscape. As soon as he landed, he texted Pamela Ravenscroft, letting her know the number was his. He followed it by placing a phone call, and Pam answered right away,
“Are you in Dallas?” she asked.
“I am,” he told his daughter. “Can you talk?”
“Wait,” she told him, and the line disconnected.
While he waited, Eric texted Karin, letting her know he’d call her shortly. He texted Thalia, telling her he needed to talk privately with her and that he’d call her within the hour. He raced through his contacts, one after the other, setting up times, and warning them to move to a safe place for their conversation.
The phone rang and the caller ID told Eric it was Pam. “Freyda is finally dead,” he told her. “I am free and I intend to take Louisiana. I won’t order you.”
“You never need to,” Pam answered. “You know I’m with you,” and they worked through the basic plan.
It took many hours and Eric found he felt far better by the end of it. Thalia, in particular, was enthusiastic. What became clear was that Felipe had arrived in the Palace two nights ago, blustering and pushing people around. He had over twenty vampires with him, but that would change. When the news broke this evening that Stan Davis survived, arrangements were made to ship ten of the King’s retinue back to Las Vegas during the day. Felipe would be remaining in the state for another week, maybe more. The current Lieutenant, Emil, was not performing to Felipe’s standards, and revenue was down.
Things in the palace hadn’t changed much since Eric’s departure. The guard corps was more honey-combed with spies for other kingdoms. Victor Madden had not taken care to root them out when he ruled in De Castro’s stead. Emil was, if anything, lazier, and, if a takeover was attempted, Pam assured Eric that most guards in the palace were unlikely to interfere. None of the old passages had been blocked. Some had been discovered, but not all.
Throughout the evening, Eric texted and planned. Karin would head to that section of the state closest to Texas, near Lafayette. There was a strong Sheriff there, planted by Madden and remaining loyal. He had, at best, five vampires. He was young, they all were, and Thalia scoffed when Eric insisted she take back-up. “What if they surrender?” Thalia asked.
“No prisoners, no pardons,” Eric told her. “If they came with Felipe or Madden, they are ended. It will send a strong message and make sure that others think twice before challenging me for this ground.”
Eric could hear Thalia’s delight. It was her kind of fight, no quarter given and none asked.
“I will spread the word,” she promised him. “What about Karin?”
Eric was sending his older daughter to the Area just north of New Orleans. The loyalty there was to their local Sheriff first and De Castro somewhere down the list. Eric knew the vampire in charge, and Karin did, too. Eric trusted Karin to know the right thing.
“Indira can take care of my Area,” Pam told him when she called back with an update. “I’m in the Palace now. Maxwell Lee is here. I’ll be enlisting him.”
“I would like to arrive tomorrow night,” Eric told her.
“We can have everyone in place for rising the next night,” Pam’s voice was fierce. “I can tell you where he rests.”
“I won’t take him when he’s defenseless,” Eric protested. “I want witnesses. There will be no doubt that I defeated him.”
“Provided you do,” Pam teased.
“I’ll need a sword,” Eric was not interested in humor. There was too much at stake.
“I can arrange that,” Pam said after only a moment. “I know where Wybert’s sword rests. It should be heavy enough for your hand.”
“It will be an honor to carry that blade,” Eric replied. Wybert had been beheaded defending Sophie-Ann. He was an honorable vampire who fell in battle and Eric felt an unreasonable sense of optimism. The plan was thin. It relied almost entirely on old loyalties and speed of execution, and, yet, Eric felt he would certainly win.
He flew back to the Palace roof. The guard was standing there, waiting for him. Eric could see him speaking on his phone as he descended. “The King wishes you to wait here,” the guard told him.
When Stan joined him, he asked, “Why shouldn’t I have you staked? I left instructions that I wanted everyone to stay within the walls.”
“You didn’t mention it to me,” Eric waited. If the King intended to follow through with his threat, Eric would make a run for it, or a fly for it, which amounted to the same thing. “By the way, I will be taking you up on your earlier offer. I’d like to leave tomorrow night, if that suits.”
Stan motioned the guard to leave. “So, you will try?” he asked.
“I will win,” Eric assured him. “There is only one thing left to do. I have to call the Clan Chief of Amun. I don’t want any confusion over what I will do, and the outcome when I succeed.”
“King Northman,” Stan was smiling. “It has a ring to it, Viking. The plane will be ready when you are.”
That night as dawn approached, Eric visualized the way the line that separated sky from earth slowly became visible, revealing itself as light approached. Eric thought about the world that lay ahead, a world where he would be made King or finally die in in trying. “Sookie would laugh,” he said out loud and then laughed to hear the words. It was pathetic, how much he’d lost because of his obsession with her. Now, he stood to gain his freedom and secure his future because he was following vampire rules.
It wasn’t lost on Eric that he was now free. He could reach out to her, but Eric knew now that bringing Sookie Stackhouse to his side would defeat much of what he stood to gain. Sookie Stackhouse was a step he could not afford to make.
Eric Northman thought about his future, and his future was a crown, a throne, and a vampire court if he could live to claim it.