KING STAN DAVIS POV
I had been born Stanislaus Davidowitz in Eastern Europe. My parents had been poor, but proud. Some sort of political unrest had forced them to flee from Dresden, Germany, where they’d grown up, and settle into a small village in what was now the Czech Republic. My father had been a miller and took on my eldest brother as his apprentice.
I could still remember my mother teaching me and my siblings to read and write, though no one else in our community cared anything about such “impractical” things.
My parents, however, believed that knowing something about the wider world would make my siblings and I somehow “better,” even if we never saw that world.
Of course, I had ultimately seen that world—several times over. And it had been my ability to read which had put me onto my maker’s radar. He’d moved to his country estate about a ten-minute walk from my own home, and the wealthy man had been in need of a helper for his valet, Timothy.
I was made that helper because I knew how to read.
I had been around ten years old at the time—not yet a man, but close enough to move away from my family’s home. In turn, my family was compensated for me. And—it wasn’t as if I was not allowed to see them. Indeed, I could visit them as often as my work allowed, and I was also given leave to provide them with excess things from the estate that they might need.
I could still remember the pleasure I felt in taking my mother a chicken or eggs—and once even a milk cow—when Timothy gave me permission to do so.
From the first, I had known by instinct that my employer—Domingo—was different from others. I had not been afraid of the difference, however. Indeed, Domingo had seemed cultured and civilized in a way that attracted me very much.
Even as Timothy had taught me how to be a valet and to run a household, Domingo had made sure that I continued my studies, tutoring me himself. From him, I received an hour or two of lessons each night. Literature, mathematics, geography, history—these subjects were all opened to me over the years.
And then, one night—a decade after I had entered his household—Domingo kept me in his library after our lesson on military strategy was over and told me what he was.
Even as he’d shown me his fangs to prove his nature, however, I’d not been frightened.
Even when he’d told me that he fed off of and glamoured those in the village, including my own family at times, I’d not been frightened.
Not even when he’d told me that he’d taken my blood on occasion.
Domingo had offered me two choices that night.
One: I could be glamoured to forget all about his nature. If I made that choice, Domingo planned to appoint me as the long-term caretaker of the estate where I’d spent half of my life. I would run the household as Timothy had taught me to do, making a good living and having a comfortable home for the rest of my life. Domingo encouraged that I should marry and assured that any spouse or children I had would find employment on the estate as well. However, he said that he would never again see me. He intended to depart the next night and would not return to the estate until at least two generations had passed from the earth. It was in this way—moving from one of his estates to another—that he’d managed to conceal what he was from humans.
Two: I could leave with Domingo. Timothy was getting up there in years, and Domingo was hoping that I would continue my tutelage with his old “day-man”—as I learned vampires called their trusted human helpers—and eventually take over for him. Domingo also promised me travel, though not to larger cities, for he preferred the country life. However, even the idea of being only a half day’s ride from Paris (for Domingo’s next destination was in the French countryside) excited me.
Domingo showed trust in me by giving me the rest of the night and the next day to decide. If I chose option one, I’d simply be glamoured that night. If I chose option two, Domingo suggested that I take part of the day to say goodbye to my family, for—though letters would be possible—I would likely not see them again.
Of course, being a vampire, Domingo had promised death upon all of my kin if I breathed a word of his true nature to anyone as I was making my decision. In truth, telling Domingo’s secret had never even crossed my mind until he’d given me the warning.
After Domingo had left me to my thoughts, I looked around the library. The books on the shelves represented all of the lands that I might visit—all of the stories within which I might find myself a character.
If I followed my employer.
Leaving my family had been the only thing that had given me any pause—mostly because I contributed part of my wages and other incidentals to my parents’ household.
Given Domingo’s pragmatic nature, I figured that he had another caretaker in mind for his estate if I took him up on his offer. Given his generous nature, I bet that he’d arrange for my youngest brother—who’d just turned twelve—to become that person’s apprentice. And—beyond that—there would be nothing to stop me from continuing to send some of my wages to my mother and father.
I had all but made up my mind when I’d realized that sunlight was streaming through the windows and Timothy had entered the library with several men with crates to pack up the books that would be traveling with Domingo.
After instructing the men upon which shelves to pack, Timothy led me to the kitchen, placed food in front of me, and told me about the night when Domingo had offered him exactly what he’d offered me. When he was done with his story, he’d asked me if I had any questions of him.
I had only one: Did he ever regret saying yes to the vampire?
Timothy had chucked as if my question was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard and then told me to take a horse when I visited my family, for that way I could travel quickly and be back in time to help him arrange for the household’s move.
When I asked him about my brother and whether he thought Domingo would hire him, Timothy instructed me to bring him back with me if my parents approved.
He—according to Timothy—might be able to do one or two things to help with the move too.
And, with that, my decision had been made.
Like Timothy, I never regretted it.
The old valet died a few years later, and it was when I informed Domingo of Timothy’s passing, that I learned that vampires cried tears of blood.
I became Domingo’s lover a few years after that. And—on the night of my twenty-eighth birthday—my maker made me his child.
After giving me another choice.
I’d never regretted that decision either.
I stayed with Domingo for about a century before the New World beckoned to me. My maker had not wanted to leave Europe, but I had been ambitious, and my maker had given me his blessing to explore.
Many years later—when I informed him that the Vampire Council wanted to appoint me to be King of Texas—since the previous monarch wished to disappear into seclusion for a while—Domingo made his way to the Western Hemisphere for the first time. In front of the Vampire Council, he formally released me from his maker’s command so that I could be a king.
After a short visit, he’d returned to Europe where he still passed his life just as he had before—as a bit of a recluse. Knowing this, I always made it a point to visit him when I could.
However, after Rhodes, where I was injured so badly, Domingo quickly came to my side, protected me, and gave me his own blood to heal me. He even managed to keep Barry, my telepath, from carelessly—though unintentionally—betraying me!
Lucky for Barry.
And for me.
Sensing he was unhappy within the bustle of my court, I’d told my maker several times that he should return to his beloved countryside, but he’d decided to stay on until I was at full strength. He was clearly suspicious of Felipe de Castro’s recent acquisition of Louisiana and Arkansas from the incapacitated Sophie-Anne Leclerq and did not want for Felipe to think that he could get away with adding Texas to his territory.
Originating from around the same region on the Iberian Peninsula as my maker, de Castro had once sought out a friendship with Domingo. My maker had found him to be a waste and had moved on from his estate near Barcelona several years before he’d intended—just to avoid any future visits from the vampire.
My phone beeped, and I looked down to see that I had a message from Nan Flanagan. I cringed. That vampiress was as abrasive as they came, but she was also very effective at her jobs—one of which was as Communications Director for the Vampire Council.
I quickly opened her message. “Bitch,” I muttered as I read her missive.
The message had merely “ordered” that I be ready to take Nan’s call in two minutes.
Why she hadn’t simply called was beyond me! Likely, she enjoyed the idea that I would now have to dread hearing her shrill voice for the next minute and fifty-six seconds!
Indeed, having to deal more directly with Nan was the only reason I’d paused before seeking my current position on the Vampire Council.
But my ambition had overridden the Nan nuisance, and I had lobbied to become the representative for the Zeus Clan on the Council only a few weeks after I’d been made King of Texas. I recalled that the only other Zeus monarch bidding for the role was Freyda. Even as a “new” king, however, I was deemed to be readier for the Council role than Oklahoma was.
Freyda had been placated only with the promise that she would be chosen—without a doubt—when the Zeus position was next available.
In two decades.
The representatives for the four North American clans all had a tenure of twenty years, with our terms of service each ending five years apart (unless there was some emergency which required an earlier appointment). In that way, there would be only one “new” member of the Council of four at any given time.
Not surprisingly, the clans each had different “election” procedures.
The Moshup Clan rotated leadership by state, so they had no election process to speak of.
Narayana decided their representative through election every two decades. The only stipulation was that a monarch could not be re-elected immediately.
Zeus voted just like Narayana did; however, it was custom for us to give each new monarch a “turn” on the Council before those who’d filled the role repeated.
Amun had a freer election process and a more fluid term of service. Not only could a Council member be “re-elected,” but also monarchs could resign from the Council when they wanted or needed to do so. Recently, Phoebe Golden, Queen of Iowa, had done just that when she’d wanted to concentrate upon building up the defense systems for her state following the Rhodes incident.
So Amun had elected a replacement member just a few weeks before.
Felipe de Castro had (heavily) advocated for that position—just as he’d done when the Narayana Clan had last selected a representative. He’d lost that race too. The California queen, Agnes, had been selected instead of him.
Of course, fifteen years before—when Agnes had been selected—I would not have minded Felipe, to be honest. Indeed, I’d even preferred him over Agnes (though, of course, I’d had absolutely no say at the time—as I’d been only a sheriff in a territory in another clan). But—over the years—I’d lost all respect for Felipe, and I’d come to appreciate the fact that Agnes’s focus was on the good of her minions, rather than upon herself.
The same was not true for Felipe.
I mean—I was ambitious—to be sure! By Felipe’s brand of ambition was also damaging to the very places he’d vowed to rule with wisdom and justice!
And recently he had been clamoring to move Louisiana and Arkansas into the Narayana Clan!
It was as I was contemplating the complications of Felipe “owning” territories in more than one clan that my phone rang.
“You are required for an emergency session of Council—to be conducted via conference call,” Nan’s annoying voice announced.
“Why?” I asked, even as I rolled my eyes.
“I don’t have to answer that, but I’m in a generous mood. Apparently, Northman has killed Felipe de Castro tonight,” Nan said with annoyance.
“What?” I asked.
“The Viking wants to make his case to become King of Louisiana,” she said, sounding bored.
“Eric Northman,” I said as a smirk landed on my face.
“That’s what I said. Did the blast at Rhodes ruin your hearing?” she asked sarcastically. Be. Ready. In. An. Hour!” she emphasized slowly and exaggeratedly before hanging up.
“Such a bitch,” I glared at the phone before a smile crossed my lips.
I sat down heavily at my desk. “Northman actually did it!”
“Did what?” my maker asked as he entered my office. Domingo looked handsome as always. Opposite of myself, he was a vampire who was steadfastly—purposely—behind the times. Indeed, he even dressed in fashions that were a century and a half old!
But he looked damned good! I licked my lips before I responded.
“Eric killed de Castro,” I informed.
“A bad precedent,” Domingo said as he sat down in the chair in front of my desk.
I nodded. A sheriff killing his king—and getting away with it—is not a good thing.
“But it is a welcome gift nonetheless,” Domingo added.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Felipe was overly ambitious in the end. It makes my life easier that he is gone from this world. But to allow the Viking to become king may not be the prudent thing—despite how much I like him. And if the Council doesn’t make him king . . . .”
“You will have to kill him,” my maker finished for me. Even though Domingo hated to be involved in vampire politics, he still knew them well—for he was a true scholar.
My maker looked out the large window of my office. My garden of Texas native vegetation had fascinated him, for many of the cacti and succulents there had been unknown to him.
“I knew the Norseman in Europe,” Domingo said quietly. “I was living in Tuscany at the time—at the estate with the vineyard.”
I nodded to confirm that I knew to which of his many properties my maker was referring.
“I had to check in with the King of Florence. You know how I despise that kind of chore.”
Again, I nodded. Indeed, I had taken over that duty after I’d been turned because my maker hated being at court so much.
“Eric was also in the Florentine court at the time. His maker was treating him like a dog. No,” he paused, “Appius was treating him worse than an animal. I did not even learn Eric’s name then, for Appius had forbidden him from having one.” Domingo shook his head sadly. “In my years, I have seen several makers who turned children just because they wanted someone they could abuse or torment. Most such makers do not have the ability to be so cruel, however, for a blood bond—after all—is strong on both sides. And affection is automatic to all but the coldest of soul.”
“I know,” I whispered. I’d lost my own child, Rachel, in Rhodes and still felt the loss acutely.
Sensing my pain, Domingo reached across the desk for my hand.
I was comforted immeasurably by his touch.
“What struck me about Northman was that—despite his maker’s abuse—there was an honor within him that even a monster could never touch,” my maker said thoughtfully.
“I never met Eric’s maker,” I responded.
“I would not have let you when you were with me. And I am glad you were never subjected to him when he made his way to this continent either,” Domingo commented. “Being in the same space as Appius was toxic.”
“Eric’s child, Pamela, has already involved me in all this,” I sighed.
“I am aware,” Domingo said. “The newly turned girl—the one who has not yet risen—is Northman’s child’s child.”
I nodded. “Of course, I did not know why Pam asked me to care for her child. I figured she might have regretted making her, and with my Rachel gone . . . .” My voice trailed off. “Not that anyone could replace my child.”
Domingo nodded in understanding. “You will find a new child when it is time—if that is the will of the gods.”
I bowed my head a little. “Pam said that she would return before her young one rose. So I felt that I was doing only a small favor for her.”
Domingo gave me a little smile. “I have heard that Northman’s younger child can be persuasive—and misleading when she needs to be.”
“Still—I believe that you were aware that Pam was fleeing from de Castro when you accepted her into the state,” my maker observed.
I sighed. “Yes, but I didn’t mind sticking it to de Castro a bit—not that I would have ever staked him myself. Plus, I owed Eric a debt for his aid to one of my nest-mates. You know Farrell?”
Domingo nodded. “Yes—he is the one you enjoy as your lover upon occasion.”
“When I am craving a man, and I cannot have you—yes,” I confirmed.
My maker smiled at me. “I will always crave you, Stanislaus.”
I smiled back at him and would have gone with him to my bedchamber if I didn’t have to take a conference call in a few minutes.
“I am torn,” I told my maker honestly. “I want to help Northman no matter what, but—as you said earlier—a sheriff killing a king sets a bad example.”
“Unless there is a justified reason for it,” Domingo returned.
“You mean beyond the fact that de Castro was a prick?” I smirked.
“Officially, there must be a legitimate reason. But you are excellent at reasoning legitimate reasons from seemingly nothing,” he added with a smirk of his own.
He rose and walked over to me before giving me a kiss on my cheek. “I have a book to finish. I will see you after your obligations have been met.”
I nodded. “Do not spoil the ending of this book to me—as you did the last one. I have not finished it yet.”
Domingo grinned. “No promises if it is bad.”
I chuckled and watched as he moved gracefully toward the door of my office. He turned right before opening the door.
“Save the Viking if you can, my child; I know you like him, and he would be a good king and ally to you. But do not compromise yourself.”
I nodded to Domingo. He may have no longer been able to command me or advise me in an official capacity, but I still listened to his advice when he honored me with it.
A/N: Oh-Vampire Politics! I decided to really rethink some of how I thought about the Vampire Council, etc. I hope that came through clearly enough.