Anyone looking at Eric would have described him as relaxed. Inside, however, he was anything but. He was pissed. He’d arrived at the mansion a little over ten minutes before and had been waiting for King Bill to give him an audience. As soon as he’d arrived, he’d told a young, petite woman, dressed in a business suit and introducing herself as Bill’s executive assistant Kelly, that he needed to see the king immediately about a time-sensitive matter.
Of course, Bill had elected to act like a child. A minute after Kelly had entered Bill’s office, one of the guards “keeping an eye on” Eric had been informed that the king was in the middle of an important business meeting and that Eric would have to wait.
Eric’s sharpened and acute senses told him that the meeting was with the same female who had just walked into his office. Her A+ blood was currently being fed upon by the king, and from the sounds of her annoyingly high-pitched screeching, she was about to fake an orgasm.
Eric was leaning against the doorframe between Bill’s foyer and the den where he’d had his conversation with Sookie. There, he could pick up the faint echo of his beloved’s scent. This, more than anything else, calmed him. He’d give the king five more minutes before he insisted upon an audience. Nan wasn’t expected for another hour and fifteen minutes, but Eric wouldn’t put it past her to come early to gain an extra advantage. After all, that’s what Eric himself would have done.
Still outwardly displaying an air of calm nonchalance, he took in the four guards around him. Each of them was a potential threat since Nan had been the one to “give” them to Bill in the first place. Next, Eric looked at the obviously expensive table in the middle of the foyer; Nan had arranged for the restoration of Bill’s ancestral home as well so that Bill’s public image could be even more established as the genteel Southern gentleman. Eric thought it contemptible that any king or queen would agree to accept such help, but then again, Compton had no other choice really. He did not have many friends among their kind that Eric could discern.
His arrogant, superior attitude about mainstreaming lost him one group of potential supporters. Another group―the one that included Eric―would never be able to forget Bill’s actions in the past. Bill had spent more than eighty years with his maker, basically causing one bloodbath after another. Eric certainly wasn’t an innocent, but the gratuitous violence of Bill and Lorena had been both demented and potentially dangerous to their kind. And when the Authority finally stepped in to put an end to their rampage, Bill had insisted that Lorena was to blame for all his actions, and he’d played his role as the victim to perfection. The Authority had ordered Lorena to free Bill and then had put her in silver for five years, whereas Bill had gotten off scot-free. It was another decade after this incident before Bill “changed his ways” and took on the compassionate, loner vampire persona that must have attracted Nan’s attention.
Of course, Eric knew much that Nan apparently didn’t know or chose to ignore about Compton, who had nested with Malcolm and Diane in the 1930s―right after Lorena had been put in silver―and then again for a short stint in the 1970s after they’d added Liam to the group. By the 70s, Eric was already sheriff of Area 5 and had had to clean up the carnage left behind after one of the nest’s little “parties.” He’d banished them from his area from a quarter century after that episode and had been secretly pleased to hear that Malcolm, Diane, and Liam had been killed. Of course, as sheriff, he’d still had to execute one of the arsonists who had been responsible for the fire that had killed them, but he’d virtually ignored the others involved. He’d done just enough to send a message to other potential vampire killers and to appease the thirst for retribution in his own community. However, part of him had wanted to give the arsonists a reward for dealing with a group that could have potentially become a thorn in Eric’s side―yet again―since they’d taken up residence in Monroe.
Eric could not abide a hypocrite, and Bill’s continual waffling between bloodthirsty killer and tortured saint pissed him off more than anything else. To Eric, this showed a lack of personal integrity and honor, traits Eric had always respected above all others because of the examples of his own human father and Godric.
Eric leaned more fully into the doorframe and internally steadied himself. Bill had one more minute before Eric required an immediate meeting.
Eric looked at one of the guards and gave him a wink. He had already plotted three different escape routes and attack plans, and the guard he was looking at would be the first to die in each of the scenarios. Eric pulled his cell out when it signaled he had a text message. Isabel would be arriving in ten minutes.
When he had thirty seconds to go, Bill appeared at the door of his office, “Sheriff Northman, I thought I told you to arrive at 11:30―sharp. I do not have time to speak to you until then.”
“Sorry, my king,” Eric said, trying to muster up deference despite Bill’s blatant disrespect. As graceful and lithe as a lion, Eric crossed the foyer to stand in front of Bill. Eric consoled himself with the knowledge that Compton would soon have to learn to respect his elders, or Eric would eventually remove him from the kingship. He’d had about enough of Compton’s arrogance, especially considering the fact that he had so little to be arrogant about. Yet Eric forced himself to be respectful, “Some very important information has come to my attention that I felt you needed to hear.”
Bill sighed dramatically and motioned for Eric to follow him into his office. As they entered, Bill shooed Kelly, who was still fixing her clothing, from the room.
“Care for a taste?” he asked Eric as the petite brunette passed him.
“No thank you,” Eric returned smirking. “I prefer blondes.”
Bill snorted and looked at Eric contemptuously. After Bill closed the door, he grunted toward a seat, which Eric took immediately.
“You can drop the act, Northman,” Bill said. “I know you have about as much respect for me as you do for a Were.”
Eric looked up at Bill and shrugged his shoulders, “Fine Bill. If honesty is what you crave, then let me get right down to it. Nan is coming here tonight to kill us both. She has been ordered to do so by the Authority, and she hopes that in doing so, she can regain the favor she has lost among them and the AVL. After we are dead, I think she will try to find Sookie, tie herself to her, and then present her like a lovely little gift to the Authority so that she will finally get her seat among them. I want to kill her instead so that she is no longer a threat to Sookie; you can either come along for the ride or sit back quietly, waiting for Nan to kill you. Is all that honest enough for you?”
Bill looked dumbfounded. “How could you possibly know all this?”
“Unlike you, Bill, I do not distance myself from other vampires, pretending to act superior. I embraced my nature when I arose vampire.”
“That is why Sookie will always prefer me!” Bill said rising defensively.
Eric had predicted that Bill might act like this, so he answered Bill’s charge immediately and calmly, “Perhaps you are right, Bill. Sookie will soon make her choices, and I, for one, have decided to abide by them no matter what she chooses, even if it is you. As for how I knew about the attack against us tonight, I have many friends in high places who make sure I have the knowledge I need to survive. And tonight, I wish to use that knowledge to protect myself, you, and especially Sookie.”
Bill shook his head. “I do not believe that Nan would betray me in this way. We have been allied for more than two decades! I’ll simply talk to her, and we’ll work all this out.” He went to grab the phone on his desk.
Before he could touch it, Eric had stood up and was covering the phone with his hand. “Two decades is nothing in an 800-year life. Regardless of what you might believe, Nan is always looking out for herself first and foremost. The last few days should have clued you in to that. Plus, I believe that you went against her orders for the first time when you attacked the witch, did you not?”
Bill nodded and took his hand away from the phone. “The Authority would not stand for this!”
No longer feeling the need to placate Bill with deference, Eric responded, “Really, Bill? Do you not study vampire history at all? What happens when a regime is deemed weak by others?” Eric rolled his eyes, and as he answered his own question, his voice was dripping with a level of sarcasm that even Pam would be impressed by, “Oh yes, I have it; that regime dis-a-fucking-pears.”
“This regime is not weak!” Bill yelled, again going into defensive mode.
“Oh let’s see. You have lost four out of five sheriffs. Have you made moves to replace them yet?”
Bill was silent as Eric continued, “And a necromancer was running amuck in your kingdom. Oh, and at least four vampires in this state walked out onto their lawns to enjoy the afternoon sun and were burned up in a very public way. And then there’s the fact that you are a young vampire, and your only ally is Nan, who is currently in deep shit with the Authority because of the Festival of Tolerance fiasco, which she blames on you.”
When Bill still said nothing, Eric continued.
“Make no mistake, Bill. Tonight one of two things WILL happen. Either you will die or Nan will. As for myself, I have contingency plans in place either way, but as much as you annoy me, Sookie would be saddened if you were no more. Plus, I hate that fucking bitch Nan, so I will help you if you accept my help. If not, then I’m going to disappear for a while.” Eric sat down again and began picking invisible lint off his jeans as he waited for Bill’s response. What Eric didn’t tell Bill was that he had a private jet fueled and ready for Pam, Sookie, Isabel and himself if the king didn’t agree to his plan. He also intended to end Nan either way. Whether that occurred before or after Bill met his final death at Nan’s hands was currently a choice in his monarch’s hands.
“Fine―what do you suggest?” Bill finally said.
“I suggest you help the Authority to recognize that you are a fit monarch.”
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Bill said, “Enter,” and Kelly came in.
“You have another visitor, your majesty,” Kelly said as she gave a slight bow. “She says her name is Isabel Beaumont.”
Bill looked at Eric, who nodded. Bill turned to Kelly, “Tell her to come in.”
As soon as Isabel came in, Eric and she exchanged respectful nods. Eric was glad to see his old ally.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Ms. Beaumont?” Bill asked.
“If I may, your majesty,” Eric said, taking control of the meeting. “Isabel is here at my request. As I was saying, you need to demonstrate to the Authority tonight―preferably within the next half hour or so―that you are strong and well-supported. Otherwise, you will be deposed by means of your true death. The first thing you must do is to convince them that you have strong sheriffs, ready to ‘stand by your side’.”
Bill looked a bit perplexed. “It would be impossible to arrange such a thing within half an hour Eric―even for you!”
Eric grinned. “Maybe, but I started planning a few hours ago. Bill, I have arranged for three very strong and well-respected vampires to take over the sheriff positions left vacant. Isabel here has agreed to take over Areas 3 and 4, which would have been combined a long time ago if Sophie had not wanted to get tribute from an extra sheriff.”
Bill’s confused look was still in place as he addressed Isabel, “But you are Sheriff of Area 9 in Texas―are you not?”
Isabel shook her head, “No, I gave up that position a little over a week ago; however, Eric has convinced me that seeking a new post in Louisiana would be both profitable and personally satisfying for me.”
Eric continued. “In addition to Isabel, I have asked Rasul Mendez, an old acquaintance of mine to be Sheriff of Area 1.”
“I have heard of him. He works for the Authority. How did you manage that?”
“As I said, he is an old acquaintance,” Eric said being purposely vague.
Bill nodded. “And who is the last?”
Just then, a loud commotion was heard outside in the foyer, and the office door was pushed open. Thalia stood in the doorway dressed in all black with a mood to match. “I do not appreciate having to wait,” was all she said as she calmly took a place next to Eric.
“Ah, the third is Thalia. I believe you met her at my club one evening.”
Taking a step back, Bill nodded. If there was one vampire his didn’t want to cross, it was her. She was known for both her strength and her combustible attitude throughout the vampire world.
“Thalia, Isabel, and I are prepared to stand right behind you tonight as you speak with the Authority, but Rasul could not get here in time. He will be here tomorrow to swear fealty.
With that, Isabel and Thalia each took a knee in front of Bill, pledging themselves to his kingdom.
Bill looked at Eric. “Why would you do this? Why not just become king yourself?”
“That is something I never wanted, Bill. I hated Sophie Ann, but did nothing to overstep her authority as long as she was fair and left me to rule my own area. I have no desires for grand power and wish only to keep me and mine secure.” He gave Bill a meaningful look at these words. “Despite our differences, Bill, I will always serve you loyally if you don’t interfere with my territory. If you think about it, that’s what I have been doing for the last year.”
Bill reluctantly nodded and then asked Thalia and Isabel to rise. Thalia’s look could only be described as menacing.
“What now?” Bill asked.
Eric spoke, his voice full of power, “Now, I suggest you contact the Authority to reassure them that Louisiana is solvent. Then, I’ll tell you how we are going to confront Nan so that we can both kill her and get some information we need.” He looked at Bill significantly.
Understanding that Eric was talking about Sookie, Bill nodded.
Eric continued, “I assume you have video conferencing.”
“Of course,” Bill assured.
“Good―then Isabel, Thalia, and I will stand behind you to be seen. I do not predict that you will have any problems, but we will know if your new regime is accepted by whether or not the Authority asks you to get rid of Nan. That will be your test.”
At Bill’s confused look, Eric continued, “Bill, you must make it seem as if installing more powerful vampires as sheriffs in your realm was always your plan. Act as if you were simply waiting for the chance. If you can convince them of this, they will leave you alone, at least until they need another public appearance from you.”
Bill nodded and sat in his large chair behind his desk. The others gathered behind him with Eric standing in the middle of the two women.
“Oh, and Bill,” Eric said, an edge of sarcasm to his voice, “it wouldn’t hurt to remind them what a wonderful public image you have.”
With that, Bill used his computer to set up the call.
Fifty minutes later, Bill’s authority had been solidified, and the king of Louisiana had been ordered to kill Nan Flanagan, who, conveniently enough, was headed his way for a “completely unrelated appointment,” according to the Authority’s spokesperson. Just in case any were loyal to Nan, all the human guards had been locked into the basement by a jubilant Thalia, who had given herself permission to rough them up a bit. Any donors on the premises had also been locked up as had Kelly, both for their safety and because they could have been spies for Nan as well. Isabel and Thalia were stationed upstairs, ready to kill any guards that Nan brought with her who remained outside Bill’s office.
And, of course, Eric had taken the opportunities offered to plant his listening devises in Bill’s office as well as his study, the library, and even his bedroom, where he’d gone―all with Bill’s permission―to secure donors who were still in the house. Avoiding the range of Bill’s video surveillance equipment had been the most challenging part of the operation, but Eric had been able to assess the blind spots quickly enough and plant the bugs in places where he was certain they wouldn’t be found.
Now at 11:55, Eric sat casually on the porch waiting for Nan. Jessica, who had arrived fifteen minutes before looking incredibly pink, had been placed as sentry to the locked-up guards.
Nan arrived in a limousine at 12:01. “Where are Bill’s guards?” Nan asked, getting out of the vehicle. She was dressed in all black. Three guards of her own, heavily armed with automatic weapons that were most certainly loaded with silver or wooden bullets, got out immediately after Nan. The driver stayed in the car.
Eric rose and inhaled subtly. Three other unfamiliar human scents were located several hundred yards away, probably in the cemetery, just beyond Bill’s property line. Eric walked toward Nan slowly. “I arrived only a few minutes before you, but the king has informed me that the guards simply left about half an hour ago. He called the Authority to try to find out the problem but has not yet gotten through.”
Nan smirked, thinking the Authority had arranged for the guards to leave so that her job would be even easier.
She looked at the vampire sheriff in front of her. She knew that Eric would be―by far―the harder of the two vampires to kill. The key would be getting him off his game, but luckily, she knew just how to do this. A quick, well-timed mention of Sookie Stackhouse ought to do the trick.
Nan spoke, her voice as grating as ever. “Whatever. I don’t have time for all this shit. I need to talk to you and Compton.”
Eric gestured his arm in a wide sweep inviting her into the house. “The king is, I believe, still in his office trying to get ahold of someone in the Authority. Perhaps, you can help him get through while you’re here.” He winked at her.
“Let’s get on with this!” Nan said rudely.
Eric trailed Nan and her guards into Bill’s office and closed the door behind him. From past experience, he knew that Thalia would easily track the three additional humans outside, and he expected that the limo driver and they would be dead in a matter of minutes.
Keeping his seat behind his desk, Bill greeted Nan, “Miss Flanagan, to what do I owe the honor?”
Eric noted that the three guards had stationed themselves between Nan and the door, their guns draped seemingly casually against their arms. However, Eric recognized that the guards would be ready to fire at a moment’s notice. He and Bill had agreed to hold out as long as they could before killing Nan so that she could give them a good indication of whether she’d spoken to anyone about Sookie’s powers.
“Can it, Compton,” Nan yelled. “I have not live 860 years to listen to your drivel. Now you will listen to me. The Authority has basically threatened to fire me! Can you fucking believe that! I am the reason the AVL has any status in this country at all!”
“Why are you here then, Nan?” Bill asked, tightly gripping the stake that was in his lap and hidden out of view.
“That’s the funniest part, Bill. I’m here to find out what you can tell me about your little barmaid so that she can be my ticket to getting back into favor.” At that the guards pulled their guns out and pointed them at Eric’s chest. “But I don’t need the Viking for that.” The guards fired immediately, sending a hoard of wooden bullets toward Eric’s chest.
As the gunfire stopped and the smoked cleared, Nan noticed that all three of her guards had been decapitated. She was currently being held by the throat, at least a foot up in the air―by Eric Northman.
Nan was barely able to mutter, “How?”
“A type of Kevlar,” Eric answered, his smirk obvious. “It’s not just for humans anymore. Plus, I’m just that damned fast. See?” he said looking down at his chest. “No holes―which is lucky for you. I quite like this jacket.”
Bill said, “Set Ms. Flanagan down, Eric. I think that we might be able to make a deal with her.”
Eric nodded deferentially, performing this part of their predetermined performance to perfection.
Bill gestured for Nan to take a seat, and she straightened her jacket as she sat primly in the offered chair.
“As you said, Nan,” Bill began, “you are over 800 years old. But here we are, all at risk from the Authority.” He seemed to choke out the last word.
Eric continued, “The Authority would have had you kill two powerful vampires tonight. And then they were planning to kill you later. But the days of the Authority are numbered.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Nan said defensively.
“We mean to lead a movement against the Authority,” Eric said. “You must know of the dissention in the ranks.”
Eric continued, “Then you know that there are more powerful forces than the Authority.”
At this, Bill looked a bit surprised, but luckily Nan was focused on Eric and didn’t catch it.
She nodded again.
Eric said, “You should join us, Nan. We will soon have enough forces to topple the Authority and to take control of the AVL; from there, we will be able to lift the antiquated rules that stifle our ambitions.”
Nan looked thoughtful and then smug, “Or I can just take the knowledge of your little fairy to the Authority. That would make me the favorite again. And you two would be killed for hiding her nature.”
“Fairy?” Bill asked unconvincingly.
“Please,” Nan said, “don’t insult my intelligence. The lights from the hands thing is proof enough, and then there’s the fact that she has both of your sets of balls securely wrapped up in her hands. It’s clear what she is.”
“Ah, Nan,” Eric said. “You have figured us out, but don’t you think that her powers will be beneficial to our cause? After all, she has proven to be a match for a witch already, and her power is, as of yet, undisciplined.”
Bill continued, “But we need time to train the fairy, obviously, so that she is capable of being a powerful ally against enemy vampires as well.”
Eric took over, “You have not done anything to prevent us that time, have you, Nan?”
“If you mean, have I told anyone about Sookie Stackhouse and her magic hands, then no, I have not, but I better get something good for my discretion.”
“Oh you will,” Bill stated. “How about a seat at the table in the new Authority?”
Nan nodded in agreement. “In that case, I am most definitely in, gentlemen.”
There was a blur of movement in the room that Bill couldn’t follow, but when it came into focus, Bill saw that Nan’s body was already disintegrating on the floor. Eric was standing over her, holding her head in his hands. He dropped it onto the rest of her corpse before reaching down to grab an expensive looking necklace from the vampire’s remains. “Pam will just love this,” he commented, putting the bauble in his jacket pocket.
“Well,” Bill stated, “at least we know that Sookie’s secret is secure.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed, “and so is your kingdom.” He bowed slightly to Bill. “I meant what I said earlier, Bill. I will not challenge you unless you interfere with me and mine.”
Bill was immediately defensive again. “Sookie is not yours.”
“No,” Eric stated evenly. “But she is not yours at this moment either. I will agree to back off completely from her if she chooses you. I will even let her out of the bargain we made long ago that she help me with her telepathy whenever I wish. I will do this if you agree to back down if she chooses me or if she chooses a life without either of us.”
In his confidence that Sookie would choose him, Bill agreed immediately, “Those terms are acceptable.”
Eric nodded and then looked at Bill sharply. “If you renege on this promise, Bill, I will put my own desires to the side and take this state from you. Your sheriffs, as you may guess, would support me. They will be absolutely loyal to you while I am, but they will fall to my side if I decide that you are no longer worthy to be king.”
“Are you threatening me, Eric?” Bill asked.
“Yes,” Eric said looking at Bill with the cold, deadly eyes of a thousand-year-old warrior. “Sookie will soon decide what she wants for her life, and I will abide by that; I require only that you do the same. If that happens, then your kingdom will remain secure as long as I draw breath to secure it.”
“Agreed,” Bill said confidently.
Eric bowed and turned to leave.
“Oh by the way, sheriff,” Bill said, arrogantly, “Sookie has asked me to come to her home tomorrow night.”
Eric showed no emotion as he exited Bill’s office, closing the doors behind him. He went outside onto the front porch where Thalia and Isabel waited. “How many did you kill?” he asked.
“Only four,” Thalia said, a bit saddened by the lack of numbers.
Eric smirked, amused by Thalia and glad they’d eliminated the entire threat. “In that case, I think we can all go now. There are no more.”
“Can he be a good king?” Isabel asked as she stood by the car she had rented to get her there from the airport.
“Soon we will be able to see if he is worthy,” Eric answered. “He is no longer under Nan’s yoke and may begin to rule the state with some vision. If he does, then he may grow into his title well.” Eric spoke honestly even though he hated thinking well of Bill at all.
“And if not?” Thalia asked.
“If not,” Eric answered, “then you ladies will help me become a king.”
With that Eric bowed to both women and took to the sky, leaving their mouths gaping in his wake.