ERIC POV, CONTINUED
“What do you mean?” Stan asked, responding to Sandy’s declaration that she knew about not only Felipe’s misdeeds toward me and Sookie, but also his reasons for allowing me to live after he’d killed Queen Sophie-Anne.
Sandy glanced again at me and then looked back at the camera. “Appius Livius Ocella, Eric’s maker, contacted Felipe more than a year ago—in early January 2005—to call in a favor.”
I felt myself go rigid at the mention of my maker’s name.
Sookie squeezed my hand, and I felt her instilling our bond with comfort and support. She was learning to use the bond, and—in so doing—she was showing both her acceptance and care of me.
“A favor?” Agnes asked.
Sandy nodded. “Appius had been sensing that his oldest surviving progeny, Eric, was happy. Jealous of what was causing that emotion in his child, he wanted to know why.”
I closed my eyes tightly. In early January 2005, the witch, Hallow, had taken away my memories and I was with Sookie. Yes—I had been so very happy then. And carefree.
“Jealous that Eric was happy?” Agnes asked.
“Yes,” Sandy informed. “Appius did not like that Eric felt contentment.”
“He did not want his own child’s happiness?” Russell frowned, even as I felt Sookie grip my hand more tightly.
“That was the time when Eric and I first loved each other,” Sookie proclaimed proudly. “It stands to reason that one so embittered and jaded as Appius would hate that love.”
“Love?” Michelina scorned. “Vampires don’t love, human.”
“I believe it has been established that I am not fully human,” Sookie said, her back straight and her eyes piercing the camera. “I am a mixture of Fae, Dae, and human, and I am the bonded, pledged mate of a vampire. Oh—and I dare any vampire who has a good relationship with his or her child or maker to claim that he or she cannot love!”
I squeezed my bonded’s hand in support of her and her words.
“You were not addressed, Miss Stackhouse. You ought to learn to keep your thoughts to yourself,” Michelina glared. “And stay in your place.”
“Why? Because you see me as a pet—at best?” Sookie shook her head. “I am no pet! And even if I was an ordinary human pet, y’all should consider joining the new century and gettin’ along with humans, or you’ll be the ones bitten in the ass! Meanwhile, I am a Fae princess! I am a telepath! I have saved the lives of vampires, fairies, the two-natured, and humans! And I claimed Eric Northman as mine—by love—before Appius visited Felipe!”
“Blood is the only claim that matters to a vampire,” Michelina said coldly.
“Apparently not—according to Appius’s actions,” Sookie said, jutting out her chin.
“What do you mean by that?” Agnes asked with interest.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Sookie explained. “The proof is in Appius’s need to punish his child for finding love! The proof is that Appius could never truly control Eric with his blood—not his mind—and that pissed him off to the point that he was willing to hurt Eric in any way he could!” she finished. “Appius, apparently, could not kill my bonded’s heart with his supposedly all-powerful blood, so he enlisted Felipe’s help!”
I could not stop myself from leaning down to kiss Sookie’s brow, even as I heard Nan scoff from behind me. Pity—I thought she’d decided to leave after her “sniffing” duty was completed.
“Finish your testimony, Miss Sechrest,” Nan intoned. “I’m tired of all this love and heart shit.”
Honestly, I did not need to hear Sandy’s answer to know what my maker had likely done.
Sandy gave Nan a threatening look, but nodded in agreement. “When Appius contacted Felipe, Appius had been moving from place to place rather quickly because of his unfortunate younger child, Alexei,” the vampiress relayed. “Appius asked for temporary sanctuary in Las Vegas. Even at that time, my former king had been putting together a plan to align Nevada with the states along the Mississippi to create a gambler’s paradise, but—back then—he didn’t intend to take those states over.
“And then Appius came. He looked over Felipe’s plans and—along with Victor Madden—began filling Felipe’s head with visions of ruling the whole central part of the United States through his control of gambling all along the Mississippi River! Other legal gambling zones, including Atlantic City and other coastline cities were to be targets of the second main phase of the plan.
Sandy looked guilty for a moment. “Appius was keen that Felipe begin in Louisiana. I had no idea of his purpose, but Felipe sent me—at Appius’s bidding—to collect a man named Julian Trout not long after Appius arrived at court.”
“The weather witch!” Sookie cried out.
“Yes. I learned of his nature later when I was auditing the books and found that a huge payment was made to Mr. Trout right after Hurricane Katrina occurred,” Sandy informed.
“Who is this Mr. Trout?” Russell asked.
“A weatherman,” Stan informed. “Sophie-Anne informed the Vampire Council of him the night before the bombing in Rhodes. Miss Stackhouse told her that Trout had at least a cursory knowledge of Hurricane Katrina before it happened. He was, apparently, able to use that knowledge to get the Rhodes conference postponed until after Hurricane Katrina occurred, ensuring Sophie-Anne’s vulnerability. The Council was to investigate further, but Trout died in Rhodes.”
“He did?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Stan informed. “He and his wife both perished when the hotel collapsed.”
I could feel Sookie’s sadness.
“Mr. Trout did more than just predict Hurricane Katrina,” Sandy informed. “I learned only a few weeks ago that Appius threatened the weather witch’s wife. He coerced Mr. Trout to predict the next hurricane that would develop in the Caribbean and then to strengthen it before driving it right at New Orleans. Appius then glamoured Trout to forget all but the prediction element of the plot, for he had received intelligence—by that time—that Eric had a blood tie with a telepath.”
“Dead God,” Sookie gasped.
Sandy continued. “After Hurricane Katrina, Felipe became like a buzzard, circling an injured prey. He already had a spy in Sophie-Anne’s court.”
“And one in Area 5,” I observed.
Sandy nodded. “Yes. Felicia. She did not, however, begin as a spy. Her maker owed a lot of money to Felipe, and he threatened to call in the marker if Felicia did not cooperate. Felicia’s maker could not cover his losses, so Felicia complied. She informed Felipe about your businesses and power structure. She informed Appius about more,” she paused, “personal matters.”
Sandy looked at me apologetically. “I know that Felicia hated betraying you. About a month before her death, she contacted me, asking for my help, but there was nothing that I could do for her at the time. I did, however, learn that Felipe had begun using coercion over gambling debts more and more often in order to implant spies in a variety of states.” She looked back toward the camera. “After the takeover of Louisiana, Felipe decided Felicia had outlived her usefulness; she was killed by Appius’s child Alexei partly because of what she knew.”
I shook my head. Felicia—I had known—had been a spy. But she had also been a loyal soldier for most of her time with me.
Sandy continued her story. “One of the earliest things that Felicia told Felipe and Appius was that she felt Eric had found a true companion—at least potentially—in Sookie Stackhouse, the telepath. That was when John Quinn was deployed to figure out if Sookie’s affections matched the Viking’s affections. It was,” Sandy paused, “hoped by Appius that Quinn could steal Sookie’s affections away from Eric and leave him desolate.”
I heard Sookie gasp next to me and I squeezed her hand in support.
I was not surprised that Quinn’s involvement in her life was even more of a contrivance than we’d thought, but I regretted my bonded’s pain.
“Of course, Felipe also used Quinn to help gauge the weaknesses of Louisiana, even as the weretiger seemed to be in the state for work,” Sandy reported. “Appius was pleased to learn that Sookie—though tied to Eric by blood at the time—would,” she paused and continued as if reluctant, “form an attachment with Quinn.”
“Have you more to report?” Russell asked when Sandy paused.
The vampiress nodded. “Appius stayed in Las Vegas only a few months before Alexei got into trouble there. Felipe covered it up, of course. But it was thought that somewhere with fewer temptations would be best for the young one.”
“A stake would have been best,” Thalia muttered.
“Amen,” Maxwell Lee agreed.
Sandy continued. “Felipe was the one who suggested that Appius go to Oklahoma. At one point or another, Freyda had mentioned her interest in Eric. And Felipe and Appius thought it would be amusing if Eric was basically sold to Freyda. Both vampires knew that it would only be a matter of time before Alexei got himself into some kind of trouble or another. And that would offer Appius the perfect opportunity to broker a deal with Freyda that did not indicate his true motive.”
“His motive to hurt you,” Sookie said to me, her eyes now shining with tears.
I squeezed her hand and accepted her love through our bond with gratefulness.
“Of course,” Sandy continued, “the motives of neither Appius nor Felipe were to be known. Appius wanted to punish Eric for his contentment. Felipe wanted to further weaken Louisiana after Katrina. And then Rhodes happened. Felipe saw his opportunity to take Louisiana, and he did just that, after promising Appius that Eric would be left alive. Felipe was happy to leave Eric in place, for he knew that it would be only a matter of time before Eric was dealt to Oklahoma anyway. And—in the meantime—Eric was a big money-maker. Felipe wanted to seize Sookie right after the takeover, but Victor sensed that Sookie had bonded with Eric—something that threw a wrench into Appius and Felipe’s plans. After Victor informed Felipe about the pledging, Felipe told Appius, who was incensed that Eric had not gotten his permission to pledge. Felipe, too, was frustrated, for Eric was working vigilantly and craftily to protect Sookie’s independence.”
Sookie leaned a little closer to my body, and I could feel her love ricocheting through our bond. I could also feel a little regret from her. I knew that she wished she’d doubted me less. I forcefully pushed love and acceptance her way.
I wanted her to know that I had no regrets and that she shouldn’t either. We had lessons to draw on, but we’d never fucked up to the point where we couldn’t salvage our relationship.
Thank the gods!
“As soon as the ink was dry on the contract with Oklahoma,” Sandy went on, “Appius decided to come to Area 5 and fuck things up for Eric in a more direct manner. He spoke with Felipe about his progress almost nightly. Appius was about to drop the bomb of the marriage contract when he and Alexei were killed. Right after that, Felipe contacted Freyda and instructed her to claim Eric as her consort. Meanwhile, Felipe let Victor know that he should make life as uncomfortable as possible in Area 5 for Eric. Felipe became more and more impatient for Miss Stackhouse to be in Las Vegas as his. I have no doubt that Felipe was ready to steal her tonight—no matter what he had to do to get her.”
“Even if all you say is true,” Michelina frowned, “that does not prove that Felipe intended to kill his sheriff tonight. And, though a maker treating one as old as Northman in such a way is unprecedented—disturbing even—that doesn’t negate the fact that Appius had the right to negotiate that contract with the Oklahoma queen.”
“But Miss Sechrest’s testimony does prove that Felipe has not been on the side of his sheriff,” Agnes argued. She shook her head. “I think upon those whom I have tasked with fulfilling the duty of sheriff for me. I rely on their loyalty. If they fail me, they are punished—but for just cause! There is no proof that Eric ever failed his king! Indeed, it was rumored that the profits from Area 5 ensured that Louisiana was kept solvent. And we all have heard the gossip about Victor’s interference. To learn that Felipe sanctioned—even encouraged that interference—is an outrage!”
“Northman’s effectiveness is not on trial here, nor is Felipe’s mismanagement of resources,” Michelina snarled. “Northman’s treason is inarguable!”
“Can there be treason against a monarch who has already broken the covenant of fealty?” Agnes challenged.
When Michelina seemed ready to argue, the California queen continued forcefully. “You are younger than me by 500 years, Micky! You know how much I admire you, but you and those of your generation seem to believe that the one in power is somehow less obliged to fulfill the covenant of fealty than the one in the more subservient role. But both leader and follower should be—must be—held to the same promise. Based on what I have heard tonight, it seems clear that Felipe was ultimately an illegitimate king to Northman long before the Viking executed him.”
The California queen glared at me. “You did make the death swift—yes? If you tortured Felipe, that would change my opinion on this matter.”
“His death was immediate,” I averred.
“You could prove that?” Agnes asked.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“And you killed to protect yourself and ensure the safety of your bonded? Not for personal gain?” Agnes asked.
“Yes,” I answered one more time. “Felipe died because he threatened my bonded.”
“Bonded!” Michelina scorned. “Whatever! Eric Northman belongs to Freyda of Oklahoma—if he lives through the night. We all know this!”
“Eric is mine!” Sookie snarled from next to me. “I claimed him and bonded with him before Appius finalized his contract with Freyda! Eric Northman is my bonded and pledged mate! He. Is. Mine! And I am prepared to fight for him!”
In my pride, I could not help but to grip my beloved’s hand more tightly than was likely comfortable. Still, she squeezed back.
“She’ll have help in her fight,” Nargal said from behind us. I heard several other affirmations from around the room as well.
“Again with the threats!” Michelina charged.
“Sookie has filed an official challenge against Freyda’s claim of her bonded,” Desmond piped in. “My goddaughter’s own heritage is also on record as of,” he glanced at his watch, “two minutes ago.”
“Here’s a threat for you, New York Queen. Fuck with Sookie and her bonded, and you will have the Dae at your gates,” Nargal warned.
“And all others who hold faith with these two,” Octavia added.
“You threaten us! Was that your strategy all along, Northman? To coerce us into making you king?” Michelina challenged me.
I shook my head. “No. If this Council decides that I am to die for Felipe’s death, I will accept that, and there will be no retaliation. However, my bonded will not willingly give me up. Should I live through this night by your mercy, I will be hers and no other’s. For that, we will all fight with all that we are.”
“Your love for her is that strong,” Agnes said with some awe in her tone.
“Yes,” I responded.
“Then you are lucky,” the California queen smiled.
“Whether Northman loves or not is not the question,” Michelina said, sounding a little tired. “The question is whether Felipe’s crimes outweigh his. Tell me, Viking,” she challenged. “What kind of king would you be?”
I was somewhat surprised by her question, but answered quickly and honestly. “I want to take Louisiana into the next generation with honor—in remembrance of Queen Sophie-Anne and in remembrance of my own human father, who once taught me that to rule was the most fearsome, humbling, and grand responsibility one could have. I will honor the Vampire Council as I have attempted to honor all the monarchs I have served.”
“And what of Freyda’s claim to you?” Michelina asked. “You could align with Oklahoma as an equal! Indeed, the wisest choice you could make—if you live through the night—is to accept Freyda as your wife and queen!”
She sat back in her chair. “Indeed, if you agreed to that stipulation, I’d be willing to vote that you are not guilty of de Castro’s death right now,” she added with a smirk.
A/N: I hope you are still enjoying the vampire politics. I promise that the council’s resolution is coming. 🙂 I hope you will leave a comment if you are inclined and have time.
Many thanks to Seph and Kleannhouse!!!