“You know what to do if the Council asks for my head,” I said to Thalia quietly.
My ancient friend nodded.
The look that passed between us convinced me that Thalia did—indeed—know what to do. In many ways, killing Victor and de Castro had been the easy part of the plan. What now followed was harder, for I no longer had any control over my fate; it was in the hands of a Vampire Council of four.
And I figured that I was already beginning with one vote against me.
The Moshup Clan’s representative, I knew, would celebrate the opportunity to have my head. The Queen of New York, Michelina, was no fan of mine. I had turned down an overture that she’d made toward me centuries before because—frankly—she’d come across as a little desperate and fucking her held no political advantage for me.
To make matters even more complicated, Karin had been the one to assassinate her sire about ninety years before. Oh—there had been good reason to do away with Mateo; though once he’d been a great vampire, he’d become an unimaginably dangerous entity during his final years of undeath.
Not only had he become obsessive and erratic, but he’d also “forgotten” that it was necessary to cover up the fact that vampires were real! I did not know who had hired Karin to “take care of the problem,” but I had heard rumors that many older vampires (including several of the older European monarchs) had gotten together to pay for Mateo to be “euthanized” as it were.
Michelina could not “officially” hold a grudge against Karin (or me)—because my child had been acting for the betterment of all vampires and it had been Mateo’s fading sanity which had left him vulnerable to attack—but I knew that her private opinions would most likely not allow for leniency toward me.
Agnes, the current leader of the Narayana Clan was logical. But de Castro had never wronged her directly, and he had been a part of her clan for several decades; she’d worked directly with him on many projects, which could work for or against me. Plus, Agnes was known to be old-fashioned in her thinking—when it came to vampire tradition—something else that could work either for or against me. The California queen’s support would be a coin flip.
Russell Edgington, the current leader of my own Amun Clan, would be on my side. Of that, I had little doubt. Russell had liked Sophie-Anne. And he’d despised de Castro and Madden.
Stan of Texas was the current leader of the Zeus Clan. He had become a “friend” of mine since I’d presented myself as Leif in Dallas in order to keep an eye on Sookie. And Sookie had saved the lives of many in his retinue on that horrible night when the Fellowship attacked Stan’s nest. Plus, her involvement had led to Stan’s rescue in Rhodes, though his child, Rachel, had died that day.
However, Stan was pragmatic, so he might vote in whichever way was best for his own interest.
Thus, his vote, too, was a coin flip in my mind.
But I needed one vote—at least—between Agnes and Stan.
The Ancient Pythoness would be called to break a tie amongst the Council if need be. I could only hope that—if I got two Council members on my side—the old biddy would support me.
But I’d rather not have the situation come to that point.
And that meant that I needed both Agnes’s and Stan’s votes.
“Ready?” Desmond asked me. Nargal, having already helped my vampire children eliminate Freyda’s guards, had just arrived and was at his brother’s side. “My daughters?” I asked Nargal.
“Skilled,” Nargal said with a nod of his head. “And selfish,” he seemed to pout a little. “Indeed, I am quite upset that I got to kill only a few because they were so efficient. Still, I had fun.” He looked at me piercingly. “My brother figured that my visible support would help you and your bonded during your hearing.”
“Mine too,” Octavia said as she approached.
I looked from the full-Dae, to the witch, to Desmond.
“When you present your case to the Vampire Council, it will be with the clear backing of a variety of Supernaturals,” the lawyer informed.
“That could backfire,” I commented, watching Sookie as she greeted and hugged Amelia and Bob. “And it could put you all in danger as well,” I said, turning my attention specifically toward Octavia. “You reside in this state, and—if things do not go my way—I have no idea who will be made ruler.”
The elder witch shrugged. “I believe that helping you will be helping my coven,” she said matter-of-factly. “Having to deal with the effects of de Castro’s rule—and Madden’s misrule—has taught me that some vampires are better than others.” She shook her head almost sadly. “For many years, I did not wish to be a leader among my kind. Oh—I took on some students, like Amelia,” she said, gesturing toward the younger witch, “but I avoided Supernatural politics. If I had not, I might have better helped my fellows after events like Rhodes or Hurricane Katrina.” She sighed deeply. “Instead, I retreated and buried my head in the sand—even leaving New Orleans after Katrina! And—because of the inaction of those like me—otherwise good witches were coerced into performing magic for Regent Madden against their will and without payment.” She looked again at Amelia. “I have little legacy to show for my life, but I would try to make this state better for her. So I am placing my faith in you; do not let me down, Viking.”
I bowed in response to her as Calvin approached.
I frowned as the werepanther nodded toward Desmond.
“You should hold off on letting your involvement with me be known until after a good outcome is had,” I cautioned Calvin.
“I know that you’ve already lived up to your commitments to me and my people.” He chuckled. “And my banker is very pleased!” His expression sobered. “The demon said that you could use someone of the two-natured variety sittin’ in your cheerin’ section tonight. Mustapha is kick-ass, but he’s your day-man and not affiliated with a pack. And don’t worry ’bout me.” He shrugged. “Good luck to anyone who wants to find me if I have to go into hiding. Hotshot might be small, but few have any idea of how deep our dens go.”
I reached out to shake the werepanther’s hand out of respect, even as Sookie approached me.
She, too, had insisted upon being by my side during my trial with the Vampire Council—come what may. I’d tried to talk her out of it—just as she’d tried to talk me into running if things did not go our way. But I knew that running from a Council order of execution was futile.
Eternity was a long time to be caught, and a judgment from the Council didn’t expire—even once a completely new regime was formed. And—once caught—I would not simply be executed. I would be tortured for a very long time.
And my punishment would be extended to every one of my blood.
I would allow none of them to be lost.
I looked around the room. In addition to the non-vampire Supernaturals in my corner, Rasul was also prepared to speak for me if Felipe and Victor’s mishandling of the state needed to be explained. Sandy was prepared to speak too. And Thalia would be clearly visible behind me and Sookie as well.
Pam and Karin—much to my relief (thanks to Desmond’s careful planning)—would await the outcome of the proceedings with Freyda. If the best-case scenario occurred, they’d have one of the demons escort the Oklahoma Queen to her state and then join me and Sookie at Fangtasia for instructions. If the worst happened, they’d kill Freyda and disappear. Of course, I would “confess” to Freyda’s death right before my execution in order to tie up that loose end so that my children and my other allies would never be implicated.
“The time is here,” Desmond said kindly as he gestured toward two seats in front of where a video camera had been set up; the camera would broadcast our images to the members of the Vampire Council.
I took a breath I hadn’t needed in a very long time—and then I took my bonded’s hand. “There’s still time for you to go.”
“No!” she said loudly. I felt her fire and a little irritation at me in our bond. “No more of that kind of talk. We’re gonna face our fate together,” she said quietly, her voice steady and sure.
I was certain that I had never loved her more than I did in that moment.
I was certain that she’d never been more “mine.”
I was certain that—if I survived the night—I would endeavor all my remaining days to make sure she understood just how much her commitment to “us” meant to me.
I’d seen fancy televisions that could show more than one channel at a time. But I will admit that I was impressed when Desmond turned on the television and I saw a screen split into four chunks.
I could tell immediately that the figures in the four images weren’t the kings or queens of the Vampire Council. Indeed, some kind of “sound and video check” was clearly taking place. I noted that one of the younger vampiresses in Eric’s area, a brunette named Molly, was tinkering with some equipment on our end, focusing a camera on Eric and me. Nargal moved to stand behind her.
“Pan out a little to show the whole group,” he said, even as I turned my head to see those gathering right behind Eric and me. Calvin winked at me. Octavia gave me a little smile, and I could tell from her head that she had come to appreciate me greatly; after all, not many would have opened their homes like I’d done for her. Of course, she still thought that I was “trouble.” But—as I dipped into her thoughts for a moment longer—I could hear that she thought that Eric and I would be worth that trouble if we ruled the state as fairly she thought we would. As if she knew I was listening, she projected that she was ready to truly lead the witches of Louisiana and that she hoped they would build a good partnership with the vampires.
I smiled at her. “I hope so too,” I said.
She nodded and I looked at Nargal, who had left Molly’s side and was now standing next to Thalia. I’d not had the chance to interact much with him, but there was a twinkle in his eyes as he looked back at me.
“You know, young one, your grandfather was a good friend to me,” Nargal offered. “And—after tonight—you will be officially seen as a part of the Cataliades clan,” he added.
“Welcometothefamily,” Diantha giggled from behind her father.
“Really?” I asked him. I’d known that Desmond was helping me and would be declaring himself as my “official”guardian, but I hadn’t thought that the rest of his family would accept me in such a way.
As Nargal nodded in confirmation, I found myself smiling at the thought of Desmond’s family adopting me. I already loved him and Diantha, after all. Indeed, I found myself happy that my recent choices were going to be making me more attached to the Supernatural world. I took a moment to chastise myself for resisting my place among everyone in the room I was in, especially Eric.
Indeed, I couldn’t imagine better company!
“What’s wrong, min kära?” Eric asked as he squeezed my hand lightly.
“Other than the fact that we are about to find out if you’re gonna be a king or be executed—you mean?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes. “Yes—I can feel that you are nervous about that; however, a moment ago, there was more.”
I nodded in confirmation. “Yeah—just looking around, I was mad at myself for not realizing that being part of the people in this room was better than being part of a human community that never really accepted me.” I sat up a little straighter, knowing that every pair of supernatural ears in the room could hear me, and I spoke to all of them—in addition to my vampire. “I’ll never take any of you for granted again.”
“Do not take yourself for granted either,” Eric whispered, leaning down to kiss me.
I smiled into the kiss.
Desmond cleared his throat. “It is time,” he said.
I felt my nervousness ratchet upward.
“Time to face the music,” I muttered, even as I hoped that the song would be a good one.
I faced the camera (and the proverbial music) as I saw the four monarchs on the Vampire Council take their places.
“Desmond Cataliades representing Eric Northman,” the demon lawyer said as he moved to stand next to where I sat. “Mr. Northman has requested this emergency session to inform you that he was forced to kill Felipe de Castro and wishes to take the Louisiana throne. Mr. Northman is aware that—since he once swore fealty to Felipe—his act could be seen as treason, yet he asks that you take into consideration extenuating circumstances, including the fact that King Felipe was in Area 5 tonight to murder Mr. Northman without just cause and to take his bonded and pledged mate—both clear violations of Supernatural law and Felipe’s oath as king.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Desmond nod slightly as he finished his opening.
I was not surprised when Michelina, the Queen of New York, was the first of the four Council members to speak up. “So, Northman, you have killed your king. And why am I not surprised that you would try to get out of your rightful punishment by using underhanded excuses?”
I looked into the camera directly. “My reasons are not underhanded, your majesty. They are simply true. Felipe wanted me out of the way. And he intended to leave this state with my bonded.”
“Come now, Eric; you cannot actually expect us to believe that Felipe was out to kill you. After all, when he took over Louisiana, he left you alive—a magnanimous move on his part. And an unwise one, in my opinion. I would have killed you,” the Queen of New York added coldly.
“I’m sure you would have,” Russell mumbled as he rolled his eyes.
Michelina ignored him. “Not to mention that Felipe had much to gain from your impending marriage with Freyda of Oklahoma. Plus,” she smirked, “I have it on good authority that your bond with your pet telepath has been broken. So—if Felipe wanted her—he could simply claim her. As could any of us now,” she said, her threat clear.
“Sookie Stackhouse is not a pet,” I said firmly, though calmly. “She is my mate, and our bond it stronger than ever. As for Felipe keeping me alive after he took over the state—that is true. I swore fealty to him, and—had he not broken covenant with me, first by allowing Regent Madden to undermine me, my territory, and my businesses, and then by trying to take my life and my bonded—I would never have acted against him. But, perhaps, I should have—even from the start.”
“What do you mean by that?” Russell asked.
I looked at my bonded and then at the camera. “The night of the takeover, I would have fought—had Sophie-Anne not already have been murdered. I chose survival, and—as I said—if Felipe had been worthy, I would have been his loyal sheriff indefinitely.”
“It seems that—to you—loyalty is synonymous with murder!” Michelina yelled out. “Thus, I call that Eric Northman be put to death immediately! For high treason!”
A/N: Good morning all! I hope you are having a good weekend and enjoyed the chapter. If you have the time and inclination, I’d love to hear your comments.
As always, many thanks to the best team out there: Kleannhouse and Seph!