“Thank you,” Eric said sincerely, giving Sookie a nod of respect. He couldn’t believe she was so close; if he wanted he could’ve reached out and touched her, and oh how he wanted that. He wanted it so desperately; he longed to pull her into his arms and hold her close. But as much as it pained him, Eric knew now was not the time. As if she knew what he was thinking, Sookie smiled softly at him. “Can we talk later?” she asked, her tone low.
“I would like nothing more,” Eric replied.
Seeing the pout on Pam’s face, Sookie chuckled. “You as well, Pam,” she said. “I think this is a story you’ll want to hear.” Ignoring an eager-looking Bill, Sookie offered Eric another smile before making her way back onto the platform and retaking her seat. Her interaction with Eric and Pam hadn’t gone unnoticed by de Castro, and he eyed her suspiciously.
“Your Grace, I ask you to reconsider your verdict,” de Castro said, once again addressing the council. “Although I made an error with the paperwork it doesn’t change the wishes of both myself and Appius. We desire to see our children wed.”
“The Council’s decision stands,” the Ancient replied dismissing his plea. “You will either have to seek a contract with the Norseman himself or find your child another husband…” She trailed off as Sookie leaned in close and whispered something in her ear. A dry laugh escaped her lips as she patted Sookie on the hand. “A fine suggestion child,” she croaked as she turned to face de Castro again. “Your child desires a mate: someone who is powerful, strong and can protect her and her state, correct?”
“Yes, your Grace,” de Castro answered. “Although my child is a capable Queen, her young age makes many believe she is weak, something that she is not. I simply wish to help strengthen her standing. Northman would be the perfect consort for her.”
“But he is not interested,” Sookie said. “Something he has stated publicly. Although you weren’t present for that.”
“I’m sure we could come to an arrangement,” Freyda said interjecting herself back into the proceedings. “After all it was not that long though we were enjoying each other’s company.”
“Another lie,” Sookie sighed. “I do wish you would stop doing that it is getting annoying.”
“I think it is obvious to everyone, except your child, that the Norseman wants nothing to do with Oklahoma or its Queen,” the Ancient Pythoness said. “However, the Soul Seer has presented a possible solution to Oklahoma’s desires.”
“And what would that be?” de Castro asked hesitantly. He didn’t like the twinkle in Sookie’s eyes or the smile tugging at her lips.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Sookie replied. “Oklahoma wishes to marry to strengthen her state. You wish to protect your child. The solution is staring you both right in the face. I propose the Queen of Oklahoma pledges to the King of Nevada.”
“What?” Freyda shrilled, not believing her ears.
“A fine proposal,” Kynan praised, his eyes dancing with amusement. Life on the council had certainly become more entertaining since Sookie had been appointed to it. “The two of you are already Maker and child, so you won’t have to worry about a possible betrayal from the other. A fine suggestion, Miss Stackhouse, a fine suggestion.”
“You can’t be serious!” de Castro exclaimed. The council was supposed to make Eric marry Freyda, not suggest he pledged to his child instead. “It is preposterous.”
“Would an alliance between your two states not give Oklahoma the protection you desire? Would it not protect your child?” Sookie questioned feigning confusion. “Isn’t that what you want?”
“Yes, it would,” de Castro admitted reluctantly.
“Then I’m afraid I don’t understand your objections,” Sookie said, a frown marring her face. ”If you marry your child… And I think that might be the most disturbing sentence I have ever said,” she added, making a few people laugh, “she will be protected, and it would strengthen both of your states.”
“I don’t want to marry my Maker,” Freyda replied petulantly. “No disrespect, Master,” she hastened to add. “I want Eric.”
“Yes, but Eric doesn’t want you,” Sookie informed the Queen in a sickly sweet tone.
“Pledging to the Norseman is no longer an option,” Kynan reiterated. “His Maker will meet the true death tonight, and without him you have no one willing to broker a contract with you. The Soul Seer’s suggestion is a good one, and I personally offer my services to I officiate the ceremony if you choose to follow it.”
“That is the most generous offer,” de Castro said choosing his words carefully. “Although I am not going to decline, I do require time to discuss the option with my child.”
“We will all be here for the next three nights,” Kynan replied. “The time is yours.”
With the trial over and the last of the business seen to, Quinn instructed the people in the room to stand as the council all rose and exited the room.
“Eric, what the hell is going on?” Pam asked as she watched Sookie leave the room with the other council members. “Since when is Sookie a member of the council?”
“I do not know, Pam,” Eric replied, “and here is not the place to discuss it.” He was just as curious as his child, but unlike Pam, Eric knew better than to speak about it publicly. Especially considering they had once again garnered the attention of de Castro and Freyda. Eric smirked as he watched the two of them make their way over towards him. It was clear from the looks on both their faces that they expected the trial to have a different outcome. de Castro, Freyda, and Appius had over two thousand years of experience between them all, and a twenty-eight-year-old girl had outsmarted them.
Everyone always did underestimate my Sookie, Eric thought.
“This is not over,” Freda hissed as she stepped in front of him. “Appius promised me you.”
“I do not care what he promised you,” Eric replied truthfully. “I will never pledge to you. The council dissolved the contract; it is voided. This is over. After this conference I’ll never have to put up with your disgusting presence or your shrill voice again.”
“How dare you speak to my child like that!” de Castro said as he took a step forward to defend Freyda. “How dare you speak to a Queen like that.”
“She may be a Queen, your majesty,” Eric replied is tone filled with mockery, “but she is not my Queen and never will be.”
“What is your relationship with Miss Stackhouse?” de Castro asked suddenly, seemingly changing the subject.
“None of your concern,” Eric replied without missing a beat. He had been expecting them to ask the question, especially after seeing the short interaction he had with Sookie, and he was prepared. Although, he would admit he was expecting them to do it while the Council was still in the room. Not that it would have made any difference to the outcome of the trial. As Sookie had said to Appius: their failure lied with them.
“I find it curious that you would be on such friendly terms with a Council member,” de Castro mused as he tried to unnerve Eric. “Miss Stackhouse went out of her way to free you from the contract. I can’t help but wonder why that was. Did you give her an incentive to decide in your favor?”
Sophie-Anne let out a gasp of disbelief as she stepped around Eric and joined the conversation. “Felipe,” she said as she faced the Nevada King. “Surely you’re not accusing a Council member of treachery and accepting a bribe; are you?” she asked as she raised the pitch of her voice making sure everyone could hear.
de Castro glared at Sophie-Anne, hatred clear in his eyes. In his mind Louisiana should have been his, and he knew if it had not been for Eric, it would have been. “Of course not,” he replied through gritted teeth. “I’m just wondering about the relationship between your Sheriff and Miss Stackhouse.”
“Which is really just another way of saying you were questioning Miss Stackhouse’s impartiality,” Sophie-Anne responded. “A word of advice, from one Monarch to another: instead of questioning our council and trying to find a conspiracy where there isn’t one, look to your own shortcomings and problems instead. Because they are exposed for the whole world to see, and darling,” Sophie-Anne angled her head to the side indicating a vampire who had been watching them closely from the doorway, “the sharks are circling.”
de Castro flicked his eyes from Sophie-Anne to the vampire standing in the doorway. If it would have been possible he will paled all at the sight of the Queen of California’s second watching him. Grabbing Freyda by the arm, de Castro pulled her out of the room with him, offering no words of pardon. If California was circling like Sophie-Anne suspected it, he would need to strengthen his hold on Nevada, and much as it pained him to admit it, pledging to Oklahoma and his child might just do that.
“Well, that was entertaining,” Sophie-Anne remarked. “So that is Sookie Stackhouse. She was prettier than I imagined. Not to mention a lot more powerful.” Turning to Eric, she offered him a small smile. “I’m glad that the council decided in your favor, Sheriff.”
“Thank you, my Queen,” Eric replied sincerely. He raised an eyebrow as he saw the young girl who had stepped in and separated Louisiana and Oklahoma the evening before approaching them.
Bowing before for Sophie-Anne in a sign of respect, “My apologies for interrupting, your majesty,” Cahira said. “But I bring a message for the Norseman.” She handed Eric a folded piece of paper before bowing again and backing away.
Unfolding the paper, Eric smiled as he recognized the familiar looking handwriting.
Room 272. Twenty minutes. SS.
He read the note quickly before folding it and slipping it into his pocket, planning on putting it with all the rest.
“Sookie,” Eric said, not needing to offer any other words.
“Go,” Sophie-Anne replied as she patted him lightly on the chest.
“Thank you, your majesty,” Eric said. He bowed his head in respect before turning and making his way out the room, Pam hot on his heels. After two long years he was finally going to get to speak to Sookie face-to-face.
Once the hearing was over, the council members were escorted into a lush reception room where there were offered any refreshments they might desire.
“Why didn’t you tell us about your relationship with Louisiana?” Langdon asked as soon as they were left alone.
“Probably for the same reason you never mentioned your relationship with Nevada,” Sookie replied without missing a beat. “It slipped my mind.”
“Nevada wasn’t on trial, so I had no reason to disclose that relationship,” Langdon countered, hiding his shock at how she knew about it. “You should’ve informed as all of your connections to Louisiana when the trial was first announced and excused yourself.”
“So a miscarriage of justice could’ve been done? I don’t think so,” Sookie replied. “Besides, who said I didn’t disclose my relationship with Louisiana?”
“I do,” Langdon growled. “It wasn’t until you admitted it in front of everyone did I know about it.”
“So you’re really angry because you didn’t know,” Sookie said, “not because you think I hid it. And for the record, I never did.” She shrugged. A smile lit up her face as she added, “I sent a memo out about it.”
“Sookie,” Kynan chastised good-naturedly.
“Did you know about this? Langdon asked, addressing the demon.
“I did,” Kynan admitted. “I knew Sookie once resided in the Norseman’s area in Louisiana. She’s never hidden the fact. Your ignorance of the matter is your fault, not hers.”
“She should have excused herself from the trial,” Langdon argued, not like being called to task by Kynan. “She wasn’t impartial. She manipulated de Castro into exposing himself.”
“I manipulated a vampire,” Sookie snorted. “Naughty ol’ me.”
“You verbally attacked a vampire King,” Langdon accused.
“No, I forced the vampire King to stop lying and admit the truth,” Sookie countered. “There is a difference. Manipulation was what de Castro, ‘his child,’ and Appius Livius Ocella was doing. I got to the truth. Which was what I was supposed to do. What we are all supposed to do.”
“You were hostile and argumentative,” Langdon argued. “You attacked a vampire King. From the second King de Castro entered the room you were hostile towards him. You never gave him the opportunity to defend or acknowledge his role in the whole affair, you just attacked.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Sookie asked, disbelief ringing in her tone. “I gave all three of them ample opportunity to come clean, and none of them took it. Even after I revealed the truth de Castro continued to lie try to manipulate the Council.”
“Perhaps it’s not Miss Stackhouse’s impartiality we should be questioning,” Athena said as she observed the two arguing.
“What are you accusing me of?” Langdon growled.
“Nothing, I’m simply making an observation,” Athena replied serenely. “You seem more concerned about the perceived slight against de Castro from Miss Stackhouse than the fact that the Nevada King was exposed at lying to us.”
Realizing the truth of Athena’s words, Langdon finally had the good sense to back down. Taking a look around the room, he realized he had aroused the suspicion of the other Council members. “My apologies,” he said, feigning remorse. “I was out of line questioning Miss Stackhouse the way I did.”
Seeing his words for what they were, Sookie simply nodded her head and turn to face the Ancient Pythoness; she quirked her lips as she saw the look of amusement on the Ancient ones face. “Enjoying yourself, Pythia?” she asked.
“I am, child,” the Ancient Pythoness replied. ”Council meetings have not been this much fun in centuries.”
Shaking her head, “I’m glad I can be of amusement,” Sookie said as she crossed the room to where a large desk stood and grabbed a piece of paper and a pen; scribbling down a quick note she folded the paper and made her way to the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I have something I must do.” she added before slipping out the door.
“You’re right, old friend,” Kynan said to the Pythoness as he watched Sookie leave. “The meetings haven’t been this much fun in centuries.”
“And they are about to get even more so,” the Ancient Pythoness said as she gazed off into the distance, a smile tugging at her lips. “Child, you really were born for this world,” she added in a whisper.
“You did good, kiddo,” Stella said as she fell into step beside Sookie. The two of them made their way through the hotel lobby. “For a second I thought Oklahoma was going to throw a tantrum.”
“So did I. Annie is better behaved than her,” Sookie scoffed, referring to her one-year-old goddaughter.
Stella smiled as she thought about her daughter. “And a lot cuter too,” Stella chortled. “She’s going to be a problem, you know? Oklahoma. She’s not going to give up. Even though the Council voted against her, she still thinks the Norseman should be hers. And she blames you; I saw the way she was looking at you, Sookie. She really doesn’t like you.”
“I doubt I lose any sleep over that,” Sookie replied with a shrug. “But I know, Freyda is spoiled, selfish, and used to getting what she wants.”
“And de Castro still wants Louisiana,” Stella said. “For a vampire, he’s not very good at hiding his desires. Neither of them are going to give up and go away.”
“I hate vampire politics,” Sookie sighed. Seeing she had drawn the attention of some nearby vampires, Sookie snorted. “Oh, don’t look at me like that; you’re all vampires and even you hate the politics,” she told them defensively before walking away. Taking a look around the lobby, a mischievous twinkle entered her eyes as she spied a group of vampires across from her. “Would it be terribly wrong of me if I stirred the pot, so to speak?”
Following her gaze, Stella let out a laugh. “Not at all,” she said. “After all they have done, I’d go as far to say it’s only right.”
“It would be, wouldn’t it?” Sookie said as she made her way across the lobby.
“You may not like the politics, Sookie,” Stella said as she walked with her. “But you play them better than most vampires.”
“I had a great teacher,” Sookie replied, thinking about The Ancient Pythoness “Good evening, your majesty,” she greeted as she stopped in front of the Queen of California.
Twenty minutes later, Sookie was pacing in her hotel room as she waited for Eric to arrive. She had been imaging this moment for the last two years – the night they finally got to meet again – and now that the moment had arrived she found herself overcome with nerves.
Sookie had missed Eric more than she ever thought was possible. Their relationship had been strange before she left. She wasn’t sure how to describe it. They weren’t lovers, despite Eric’s best efforts, and she couldn’t really say they were friends, but they were definitely more than just associates. The best way she could think of describing them was: they were Eric and Sookie. They just were. Out of everyone in her life, Eric was the first person ever to be completely truthful with her. Although she wasn’t aware of that the last time they saw each other. At that point she was too broken to see clearly. The two years she had spent away had been hard, but so rewarding and worth it. She only hoped she had the chance to tell and show Eric that.
She was pulled from her thoughts by a knock on the hotel’s door; she froze as her heart hammered in her chest. Taking a deep breath, she willed her legs to move as she headed to the door. Pulling it open, Sookie smiled. “Hello, Eric.”