“Sookie!” Bill exclaimed in shock as he saw Sookie sit down next to the Ancient Pythoness, gaining the attention of more than one person in the room.
“Be quiet you fool,” Sophie-Anne hissed.
Sookie bit back a smile as she heard Bill’s shock at seeing her. Unlike the Louisiana party, Sookie was well aware of who would be at the conference. She hadn’t been happy when she had been informed that she would be a part of the Council that would hear the Louisiana vs. Oklahoma case, but as the Ancient One had told her, if she was one day to rule the Council, she would have to learn how to separate her duty from her emotions. She couldn’t listen with her heart. Her role was to be impartial. Unlike the others that sat on the Council, Sookie didn’t have an allegiance to any one faction. She was the representative of the earth itself, she may have had Supe DNA, but she was more than the sum of her parts. She was unique, and the supernatural world would soon learn that for themselves.
“Everyone sit,” the Ancient Pythoness said once all the Council was seated. “Tiger, repeat the case information.”
Standing up again, “Louisiana vs. Oklahoma,” Quinn repeated. “The Queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne Leclerq is challenging the pledging contract between her Sheriff, Eric the Norseman, and the Queen of Oklahoma, Freyda. The contract was arranged by Northman’s Maker, Appius Livius Ocella.”
“Oklahoma, you are up first,” the Ancient One said. “State your case.”
Sookie watched from her seat on the platform as the law counselor for Oklahoma conferred with the Queen and Appius in hushed tones. She smirked as their words reached her ears. Thanks to her training all her senses had improved, she could now hear almost as good as a vampire.
“State your case,” the Ancient One repeated, “or I will decide in Louisiana’s favor.”
Rising to his feet, Johan bowed before the Council. “I beg an indulgence of the Council, your Grace,” he said as he moved in front of the table he had been seated at.
“And what indulgence do you beg of us?” Aine the Fae representative asked.
“He wants to know of my relationship with Louisiana,” Sookie said in his place as she turned her gaze to him. “Although my name was not spoken, Oklahoma suspects I am the “Sookie” that the vampire Compton was referring to. Am I right?”
“You’re not denying it?” Johan challenged.
“I don’t have to,” Sookie replied.
“With all due respect…”Johan started.
“Are you questioning a member of the Council?” Kynan the daemon representative asked, cutting him off.
Swallowing hard, Johan flicked his eyes over the Council fearfully; he could see the anger on the daemon’s representative’s face. “I meant no disrespect,” he said as he lowered his head. “As the council for Oklahoma I have a duty to the Queen to address any of her concerns. A vampire in Louisiana’s retinue spoke the lady Council member’s name. I would be lax in my duties if I didn’t wonder about their relationship.”
“You wonder about the relationship between myself and the vampire Compton,” Sookie said. “I suppose in the interest of fairness, I should reveal the truth behind it.”
“You do not have to,” Langdon the Were said gruffly. “We do not answer to them; they answer to us.”
“I don’t mind,” Sookie replied. “It’s true that I know, or knew, the vampire Compton.”
“How well do you know him?” Johan questioned.
“Well enough to despise him,” Sookie answered truthfully, making a few of the vampires present laugh. “Now, do you have any more personal questions you would like to ask me? Or are you ready to state your case?”
“I will state my case,” Johan replied, realizing he had pushed them far enough. “The case is quite simple. Eric Northman’s Maker, Appius Livius Ocella, in an attempt to secure the future of his most cherished Child, brokered a contract with the Queen of Oklahoma, as is his right as Northman’s Maker, for his Child to pledge to Oklahoma for the standard hundred years. Oklahoma’s most gracious Queen, Freyda, agreed to the contract and promised to make Northman her consort. The contract was signed between the Queen and Appius Livius Ocella making it binding. Louisiana is trying to interfere in a matter that is no business of hers.”
“Eric the Norseman is a Sheriff in her state,” Athena said, representing the magical humans. “That makes it her business. He has a duty to her.”
“But a vampire’s first duty is to his or her Maker,” Johan argued. “Northman’s duty is first and foremost to his Maker, and Appius Livius Ocella brokered this contract personally. It is his desire that his Child honor it. Louisiana’s Queen should have no say in the matter.”
“The Oklahoma council makes a good argument,” Kynan said, as he turned his head and faced the witch. “A vampire’s duty is to his Maker. Every Monarch knows that. They appoint Sheriff’s knowing they could be called away at any time.”
“True,” Athena agreed with a nod.
“I rest my case,” Johan said with a small smile as he returned to his chair.
“Louisiana, state your case,” the Ancient Pythoness said.
Standing up, Desmond Cataliades straightened his jacket as he took a step forward. “The rights of a Maker are well-documented in the vampire world,” he started. “I am not disputing those facts. For as long as vampires have walked this earth they have been under the complete control of their Makers. It is the old ways. But with the dawning of the Great Revelation it was decided the old ways no longer worked. When vampires decided to reveal themselves to the mass public, when they decided to come out of the shadows, they also decided to follow the laws put forth by the humans of the countries they resided in. And while arranged marriages are not illegal in America, they do require the consent of both parties. The fact that the Norseman is sitting with his Queen should show he doesn’t consent to the marriage…”
“Ask him,” Appius said as he rose to his feet. “He will tell you he wants to honor his Maker.”
“Sit down,” the Ancient Pythoness ordered as she picked up the gavel on the table before her and threw it at him, hitting him on the head.
“I’m starting to think you aren’t really blind,” Sookie whispered as she stifled a laugh, “and you’re wearing just a pair of wicked looking contacts. You hit him right between the eyes.”
“The eyes may not see,” the Ancient Pythoness replied as Quinn returned the gavel to the table.
“—But the soul does,” Sookie finished for her, having heard her say that countless times.
“The Roman does put forth a good suggestion,” Aine remarked. “We could simply ask the Norseman what he wishes.”
“Agreed,” Athena said.
“Eric the Norseman: step forward,” the Ancient Pythoness said.
Sookie’s breath caught in her throat as she watched Eric rise from his chair and step before the Council. She had forgotten how handsome he was. She had missed him a great deal over the last two years. The letters she wrote to him only told of a small part of her life in the last few years.
Standing between the tables of Louisiana and Oklahoma, Eric bowed before the Council. He tried desperately to keep his gaze off of Sookie over fear of what he would do. He didn’t think now was the time to wrap her up in his arms like he wished to.
“Norseman,” Kynan said, “we have heard from both representatives of Louisiana and Oklahoma on the matter of the pledging contract your Maker has brokered; now we would like to hear from you. Do you wish to honor the contract your Maker has made with the Oklahoma Queen?”
“Wait,” Sookie interrupted, holding her hand up, turning her attention to the Oklahoma party, she drew her gaze to Eric’s maker, “Appius Livius Ocella.”
“Yes, Lady Council member,” Appius said as he stood.
“Remove any Maker’s command you have put on your Child,” Sookie ordered as she stared into him and saw the darkness that lived inside him. “I wish to hear his truthful answer, not one he has been commanded to say.”
“You accuse me of such a thing?” Appius said, affronted as he puffed out his chest.
“I do,” Sookie replied truthfully, showing no fear.
Glaring at Sookie, “I release you of any commands I have placed on you,” Appius spat.
“Thank you,” Sookie said sweetly. “You may sit down.”
“Now, Norseman, answer the question,” the Ancient Pythoness said, pleased at how Sookie had handled it. She knew Appius had used his Maker’s command to get Eric to parrot that he wanted the contract to go ahead, but none of her Council mates had even suspected he had. She was planning on making him remove it if no one had spoken up, but Sookie showed she had learned well.
“I do not your Grace,” Eric said with conviction, unable to keep his gaze away from Sookie. He offered her a small smile before turning his gaze away.
“You would dishonor your Maker by refusing to honor the contract he brokered?” Kynan asked.
“I cannot dishonor those who do not have honor to begin with,” Eric retorted.
“You insolent no good…” Appius raged as he jumped up.
“Sit down,” the Ancient Pythoness said as she threw the gavel at Appius again.
“You’re making a game out of this, aren’t you?” Sookie said softly as she saw the gavel hit Appius again. Seeing the Ancient One’s lips curl into a small smile, Sookie smiled. “Next time hit the lawyer,” she added. “The things coming out of his head are disgusting.”
“Oklahoma, control him,” Aine said. “One more outburst from him like that and we will have him removed.”
“Louisiana, continue,” the Ancient Pythoness ordered.
“By Eric the Norseman own admission, he does not want to pledge to Oklahoma,” Desmond said picking up his argument. “Now I know some of you will say that doesn’t matter. His wishes, his desires do not matter in the face of his Maker’s. Oklahoma has argued that his duty lies with his Maker, but I will like to argue his duty also lies with Louisiana. The Norseman signed a contract with the Queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne Leclerq, to take on the position of Sheriff for a hundred years. He signed the contract just under thirty years ago and still has seventy left on it. The contract brokered between Appius and Oklahoma would cause the Norsemen to have to leave Louisiana. As Queen of a thriving state, Sophie-Anne is reluctant to lose one of her most faithful Sheriffs.”
“A fine argument,” Stefan said with a nod. “The Norseman does have a duty to Louisiana and her Queen as well. To my knowledge, there isn’t a time frame on the contract,” he added thoughtfully. “Could the Norseman not finish out his contract with Louisiana and then pledge to Oklahoma’s Queen? Oklahoma, would that not be a suitable compromise?”
“With all due respect,” Freyda said as she stood up. “I don’t want to wait. I am in need of Eric now. Appius Livius Ocella agreed that Eric would come to me and stay in Oklahoma with me for the duration of the contract. As his Maker, Appius has the right to promise me that. Eric should be forced to honor his duty to his Maker.”
“Yes his first duty should always be to his Maker,” Kynan agreed. “It has been that way for millennium.”
“Yes, but at what part of the road does the duties of a child override the wants and desires of the individual,” Athena put forth. “By the Norseman’s own admission, he does not wish to pledge to Oklahoma. Are we to overlook his rights and his desires?”
“As a vampire, his wants and desires are second to his Maker’s,” Kynan countered.
“But to what extreme?” Athena argued. “Do Makers have the right to command their child to death? Do they have the right to command their child to kill? What is to stop the next vampire from commanding his or her child from overthrowing the King or Queen of the state they reside in, so their Maker could become the Monarch?”
As the rest of the Council members argued among themselves, Sookie watched the Oklahoma party. She didn’t miss the look that passed between Appius and Freyda when Athena mentioned overthrowing a Monarch, and she wondered at it.
“Look inside them, child,” the Ancient Pythoness urged in a hushed whisper.
Staring at Appius, Sookie felt a chill wash over her as she slipped inside. She could see the ribbons of his soul, dark and jagged, and she shuddered mentally as she felt slickness of them. His soul was torn and dark due to the centuries of horrors he had committed. There was no light to him, no warmth. Reaching for the ribbons, she tugged on them, unravelling him, leaving him bare to her gaze. She could feel the hatred he held for his child in his soul, the need to hurt him. Digging further, Sookie pushed through his pettiness and searched for the heart of the matter. She might not be able to read vampires minds, but she could read their souls, and unlike the mind, the soul never lied.
Pulling back from Appius, Sookie turned her attention to Freyda. Focusing on the childish Queen, Sookie pushed her way into her soul. The ribbons sprang up around her, their colors dull and worn. They unravelled easily around her fingers as Sookie separated them. She could feel the lust Freyda held for Eric, and the burning desire to consume and own him. She held no actual affection for him. As she twirled the strands around her fingers, Sookie felt another line in Freyda’s mind; she tapped it gently and felt it spark. She smiled mentally as she realized what it was.
We have been naughty boys and girls, haven’t we? Sookie thought as she pulled back.
“Did you find what you wanted?” the Ancient Pythoness asked.
“I did,” Sookie whispered.
Banging the gavel on the table, the Ancient Pythoness got everyone’s attention and quietened the room. “Oklahoma, do you have any last statements to make?” she asked.
Rising to his feet again, Johan cleared his throat. “I will simply like to reiterate my earlier argument. The contract was drawn up and agreed upon by Eric Northman’s Maker. By vampire law, a Maker has the right to enter into any contract he or she wishes for a child. A Maker’s rule is absolute.”
“A fine and just argument,” Kynan said as he nodded.
“Louisiana, do you wish to address the Council before we deliver our verdict?” The Ancient Pythoness asked.
“The rights of the Norseman Queen should be considered, as should the wishes of Eric the Norseman himself,” Desmond argued.
“A fine point,” Athena agreed.
“With the arguments put forth, the Council will now decide,” Quinn said once both lawyers were seated again. “Were representative, what vote you?”
“As a werewolf I am familiar with duty to one’s clan,” Langdon said, “As a male it was and is my duty to father as many cubs as possible. I have a wife I love; so I understand the difficulties between balancing your duties, your responsibilities, with your own desires. But as a former packmaster and the were representative, your duties must always come first, and a vampires duty is to their Maker. I vote in favor of Oklahoma.”
“Representative of the magical community, what vote you?” Quinn asked.
“Freedom to choose ones own path is my fundamental belief and one I have based my coven on,” Athena said. “The Norseman, by his own admission, does not wish to go to Oklahoma, and I see no reason to force him just because the vampire that made him wishes it. I vote in the favor of Louisiana.”
“Daemon representative, what vote you?”
“Oklahoma,” Kynan said simply, seeing no point in giving his reason.
“Shifter representative, what vote you?” Quinn asked.
“I too am familiar with the responsibility and duties to your kind,” Stefan said as he pondered his decision. “But I believe Ms. Rodgers said it best. The freedom to choose ones own path, because even with the duties and responsibilities of being a were or a shifter, we still have the right to chose. And having that ability is a right everyone should have regardless of his or her species. I vote in favor of Louisiana.”
“Fae representative, what vote you?”
“As distasteful as it may seem to some, arranged marriages are not uncommon within the supernatural community,” Aine said. “I myself had one, and although it was not my choice, I honored it. The vampire world is very different from my own, and yet it is also the same. They both run on honor. It would be dishonorable to interfere in the relationship of a Maker and Child, as it would be to override his wishes. I vote in favor of Oklahoma.”
“Earth representative, what vote you?” Quinn asked.
“I have a few questions before I deliver my verdict, if the Council will permit,” Sookie said politely.
“Of course, ask any questions you see fit to ask,” Kynan said.
“I find myself curious about the contract and the reasoning behind it,” Sookie said as she rested her hands on the table. “It’s my understanding that most vampire marriages are between two monarchs, the Kings of Mississippi and Indiana for instance, and although that one was done out of love, most are done in the interest of consolidating power, to combine their States and make them stronger. I can see what the Oklahoma Queen gains from this pledging. She would strengthen her Queendom and gain a fierce warrior. But I don’t see what Appius Livius Ocella or Eric Northman gains from this union.”
“I believe I already addressed that,” Johan said.
“Then address it again,” Sookie ordered, her tone taking on a commanding lilt.
“Council, if I may?” Appius asked as he stood. “Perhaps I could address the lady Council members questions myself.”
“Perhaps that would be best,” Sookie replied with a small smile.
“He has no idea what he’s getting into, does he?” Pam whispered almost inaudibly to Eric, making her Maker smile.
“I doubt it,” Eric replied, his tone equally as low.
“I sought the contract with Oklahoma’s most gracious Queen so I could secure the safety and future of my ungrateful child,” Appius said.
“You feared for his safety?” Sookie questioned.
“I did,” Appius replied with a nod. “Since joining the retinue of Louisiana, my child has been placed in constant danger.”
“The life of a vampire is dangerous,” Sookie countered. “I don’t think that alters from state to state.”
“True,” Appius agreed. “However, since Eric took his position of Sheriff he has been placed in more danger than ever before. I simply wish to protect my child. The pledging to Oklahoma would do that.”
“Perhaps you would like to give us some examples of the dangers he has faced since joining Louisiana?” Sookie asked.
“In the last three years alone he has been forced into neighboring states under the guise of one of aliases to protect or rescue someone of the Queen’s retinue,” Appius said as he started to list off some of the dangers. “He has had to deal with a Maenad, I believe we all know about the dangers they pose to a vampire. He has also faced a witches incursion into his area…”
“You’re referring to the witch, Hallow, yes?” Athena asked.
“I am,” Appius replied. “It was only due to a tip off from an anonymous source that he managed to defeat the witch. Then there were the events of Rhodes…”
“Rhodes was not the fault of Louisiana,” Aine interrupted. “And the entire American vampire community suffered there, Oklahoma included.”
“True. However, the events of Rhodes led to a takeover attempt on Louisiana,” Appius argued. “My child was placed in danger due to the vanity of the Queen of Louisiana. After Rhodes she was too injured to continue to rule, but instead of doing the right thing and stepping aside, she ordered my Child to defend her state while her children guarded her.”
“As her Sheriff, wasn’t that his duty?” Sookie asked curiously.
“It was her children’s duty to protect her state,” Appius replied simply.
“I see,” Sookie mused. “I thank you for answering my questions.”
“It was my pleasure,” Appius said smarmily as he retook his seat.
“You’re well informed of the events that transpired in Louisiana over the last few years,” Sookie remarked, “but I suppose as his Maker it is understandable that you would keep an eye on him.”
“He’s a little too well informed,” Pam whispered.
“A spy,” Eric murmured as he flicked his eyes to Sophie-Anne, he saw her subtle nod and realized she suspected the same thing.
“I have one more question,” Sookie said, drawing their attention back to her. “Oklahoma Queen?”
“Yes,” Freyda said, a smile etched firmly on her face as she stood. As far as she could tell, things were going her way. She would soon have Eric and she couldn’t wait. She already planned to make him pay for his treatment of her yesterday.
“What is your relationship with Nevada?” Sookie asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Freyda answered somewhat uncomfortably. “I have no relationship with Nevada.”
“Now that is a lie,” Sookie replied.
“You accuse me of lying?” Freyda growled.
“With all due respect,” Johan said as he rose from his seat, hoping to stop the Oklahoma Queen from saying something she shouldn’t, “on what grounds do you accuse the Queen of lying?””
“On the grounds that she is,” Sookie retorted. “The words that came out of her mouth were a lie.”
“What proof of this do you have?” Johan asked. “You can’t accuse a respectable Queen without any proof. The Queen states she has no relationship with Nevada. Why would she lie about it if she did?”
“Why indeed,” Sookie replied with a smirk. “And as for proof, I am the only proof I need.”
“So you have no proof other than your own feelings?” Johan questioned. “That is not proof. Feelings have no part in this.”
“Perhaps you didn’t hear Miss Stackhouse’s introduction,” Athena said, interjecting herself into the discussion. “She is the Soul Seer. She is the only proof she needs.”
“I do not understand,” Johan said confused.
“Your ignorance is an insult to this Council,” Kynan said. “She is the Soul Seer, the truth teller. She sees the truth behind every lie. She is our future.”
“So I will ask again,” Sookie said, smirking at the looks of shock on the vampire’s faces. “What is your relationship with Nevada? And don’t say you don’t have one.”
“I do not see the point of this these questions,” Freyda replied arrogantly. “I am not on trial here.”
“No, you’re not,” Sookie agreed. “And as for the point of my question, well it will become quite clear when you answer it.”
Shooting a glare in Sookie direction, Freyda ignored her question and sat back down. As far as she was concerned the question had no bearing on her rights to Eric.
“It seems the respectable Queen is refusing to answer,” Sookie remarked. “Now I wonder why that would be?”
“Oklahoma, answer the Soul Seer’s question,” Kynan demanded, his voice booming over the room.
“Perhaps we should ask Nevada about their relationship seeing how Oklahoma is so unwilling to answer,” Sookie mused. She didn’t miss the smug look on Freyda’s face as she spoke. Sookie knew Freyda believed Nevada would deny any relationship, just like she had done. Oh, how she couldn’t wait to wipe that look off her face.
“Tiger, send someone to inform the King of Nevada his presence is required before the Council this instant,” Langdon ordered.
“That will not be necessary,” Sookie said, stopping Quinn. Casting her eyes to the large doors at the front of the room, she smiled softly as they opened and Stella and her husband Eddie escorted the King of Nevada in. “I’ve already seen to it.”
“Honored Council,” Stella greeted with a small bow.
“Thank you, Stella,” Sookie replied as she eyed Felipe de Castro. “You’re probably wondering why your presences has been requested, Nevada King. We a have a question for you.”
“Who are you?” Felipe asked as he puffed out his chest. He was unsure why he had been frogmarched out of the hotel bar by the two weres. They hadn’t told him anything other than the Council requested his presence. They refused to answer any of his questions when he had inquired why, and now he was standing before the Council and a strange woman was asking him questions. To say he was curious and concerned would be an understatement.
“I am the one asking the questions,” Sookie replied.
“My apologizes,” Felipe said, somewhat contritely as he angled his head to take a look around the room. He sneered as he saw the Queen of Louisiana; by all rights, Louisiana should have been his. He had plotted hard to get his hands on it, only for Northman and Sophie-Anne’s children to foil him. “How may I be of assistance?” he asked as he turned his attention back to the Council.
“As I said, we have a question for you,” Sookie said.
“It will be my honor to answer it,” Felipe replied smarmily as he offered them all a bow.
“That is good to hear as Oklahoma has been unwilling to answer it,” Sookie said, grinning slightly as she saw him flick his eyes to the Oklahoma party. “My question is quite simple. What is your relationship with Oklahoma? Or more specifically, the Queen of Oklahoma?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. I have no relationship with Oklahoma,” Felipe said, parroting Oklahoma’s denial.
“That seems to be the party line,” Sookie snorted. “As I told Oklahoma, that is a lie. I know you have a relationship with Oklahoma. I just wish for you to explain it to us all.”
“I have no relationship with Oklahoma,” Felipe repeated. “Whoever claims otherwise is a liar.”
“No, I am not,” Sookie retorted. “The claim is mine,” she informed him as she stared him down. “Oklahoma and Nevada, you both stand before the Council and deny any relationship between the two of you?”
“We do,” they both chorused.
“I see,” Sookie said, her tone low. She tapped her fingers against the table as she deliberated her next move. “It is clear to me neither of you are going to admit to the relationship I know exists between you, but I suppose in the grand scheme of things it is unimportant. I apologize for this seemingly pointless excursion. I have just one small point of business to attend to with the King of Nevada before I deliver my verdict. Nevada King?”
“Yes, Lady Council member.”
“Would you be so kind as to do me a small favor?” Sookie asked.
“It would be my honor,” Felipe replied as his lips curled into a smirk.
“Command your child to tell the truth about your relationship,” Sookie said, wiping the smile off both de Castro’s and Freyda’s faces.