Sookie wiped the tears from her cheeks as she ripped her eyes from the pool where she’d so recently seen her beloved’s face. She was tempted to jump into the pool and to try to will herself to Eric’s side, but Niall’s words stopped her. Her hand came up to her heart where the fairy bond lay. “I promise―I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she vowed to the now still water.
After a few minutes, Niall rejoined her and sat next to her on the ground. He filled a cup with the pool water. “Drink, child. Your magic was heavily drained when your body rejected the light fruit. This will help you to feel better.”
Sookie looked at him warily.
Niall grinned at her, “Did you drink from this pool and safely return to your world before?”
“Yes, but again I wasn’t here physically,” Sookie said hesitantly.
Niall chuckled, “Indeed, but as I said before, that does not matter. Plus, does it not stand to reason that your body would reject the drink if it tried to interfere with your bond?”
“I guess,” Sookie said. She took a deep breath and looked at the water in the cup. She thought over Niall’s words. Then, she assessed her own common sense. She had drunk from this pool before, though her physical body had been in the hospital at the time; she still didn’t know how the hell all that worked. She’d also not wanted to eat the light fruit, but something in her wanted to take a drink of the water.
She took a deep breath. The first time she’d been offered the light fruit, she’d felt clear suspicion of it; she’d intuited that she shouldn’t eat it. And earlier―because of her bond with Eric―she had felt physically ill from the moment she’d seen the fruit.
The liquid in her hands was raising none of the instinctual alarms the fruit had. Sookie raised the cup to her lips and took a tentative sip. The magic within her immediately seemed to grow stronger, and the fairy bond she’d created with Eric also felt a little stronger.
Niall smiled. “The magic of our people is very powerful in you, my dear―much more powerful than in most full-blooded fairies, let alone hybrids.” He winked at her, “I have a feeling that your vampire is at these partially to blame for your strength, but I will get to that later. First, if you will indulge an old man, I would like to tell you a bit about my history and about this realm so that you understand why Mab brought you here.”
Sookie glanced at the pool.
Niall spoke kindly. “Remember―your vampire is no longer experiencing long periods of time as you sit here.”
Sookie looked at Niall fiercely. “I believe you about that, but even an extra minute,” her voice caught, “is too much for me.” She shook her head and wiped away another tear. “And it’s definitely too much for him considering all the minutes that have come before it.”
Niall nodded. “I know, my dear.” The fairy sighed. “Trust me when I tell you that I wish I could send you back right away—that I want your happiness above all else, except your safety and the safety of those you love. Those are the things I am thinking about right now.”
Sookie looked at the sincerity on the fairy’s face, even as she dipped into his head. She found certain things blocked from her, but she heard his genuine concern for her and―surprisingly enough―for Eric as well. She took a deep breath. “Okay, I believe you.”
Niall smiled. “I am glad.”
“Exactly how old are you?” Sookie asked, putting the still half-full cup of water down on the grass beside her.
Niall shrugged. “It is difficult to tell you in terms you would understand. As you know, time is quite different in this realm, and it is different for fairies in general as well. We can exist on and visit many planes, and the time patterns of those other realms change the way we age when we are in them. However, the water of pools like this one replenishes our bodies.”
“Are you immortal?”
Niall thought for a moment, “Yes and no. We live in our physical bodies for what you would say is a very long time, but we eventually pass into the Summerlands, where our spirits continue on, but in this way—perhaps—we are not so different than humans. I believe my Viola called what humans possess a soul.”
Sookie tilted her head to the side, “I was really out of it back at the―um―light fruit orchard thingy, but did you call that bitch—I mean Queen Mab—your wife?”
“Yes,” Niall answered ruefully. “I’m afraid so.”
“Yuck!” Sookie exclaimed without thinking.
“Yuck indeed,” Niall chuckled as he nodded. “Still, she was not always so bad—or at least I did not think she was. She is a princess of the water Fae, and I am a prince of the sky Fae. Our marriage was arranged, but I liked her very much at first, and I thought she felt the same way about me. He smiled proudly. We had three children together―triplets.”
“Claudine, Claude, and Claudette,” Sookie said, shivering a bit at the last name she spoke.
“Yes,” Niall said. “The magic of two fairies when they join will most often produce only one child―sometimes none―but we were lucky in having three. It was a great blessing.”
“So you live such a long time, but you only have―like―one kid usually?”
“Yes,” Niall said, “But this makes sense for our kind, I think. We live so long that we do not need to replenish our numbers as humans do―at least not generally. But after we mate with one fairy successfully, it becomes progressively harder—especially for our females because it takes so much magic to nourish a child in the womb—to produce other viable offspring. And then there are often marriage agreements that we are bound by. When I married Mab, for example, it was part of our agreement to be faithful to one another. And for a very long time, I held true to my pledge of faithfulness―until Mab had two other children that were not mine.”
Sookie was engrossed in her great-grandfather’s story.
He continued, “Unbeknownst to me, Mab had been in love with another when we were married, and she carried on an affair with him through the years. It was my own brother Rogan that she loved. And she had twins beget by him named Neave and Lochlan. After that, I felt little need to keep my pledge of faith to Mab.”
“I’m sorry,” Sookie couldn’t help her compassion as she reached out and touched Niall’s arm.
Comforted by her gesture, Niall patted her hand.
Sookie tilted her head. “But if fairies have such a hard time having kids, then how was Mab able to have five?”
Niall sighed. “The chances for procreation are increased between fairies of different types, and—as I said—Mab is a water Fae and I am a sky Fae. Also, twins are common in my own family line, so we had many factors in our favor for producing multiple children―though carrying all three of them to term required a huge amount of strength and magic from Mab, which greatly lowered her chances of having other children.” Niall smiled a bit. “But that didn’t matter to me; I felt already greatly blessed to have three healthy children.”
Niall’s expression became clouded. “As for Mab’s children with Rogan—apparently she had dreamed of having his child for many years, and they eventually sought the help of dark magic to fulfill her desire when she couldn’t conceive naturally. The children she produced show the marks of that magic.”
Sookie couldn’t help but to shudder at the foreboding tone of Niall’s voice.
“Do not fret, child,” Niall said. “It was these events that eventually led me to your great-grandmother―to my Viola. I spent many of your years in the human realm with her before her time was cut short by the human disease called cancer. Even my magic and healing powers could do nothing to stop that disease from taking her from me.” Niall’s eyes moistened, and Sookie squeezed his arm tighter. “Still,” Niall continued, “there was our child―our beautiful boy, Earl.”
“Why didn’t Grandpa Earl know about you? He mentioned his mother; I mean, I’ve heard the name Viola and I’ve seen it in the family tree, but I’ve never heard ‘Niall’ before. In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing Grandpa Earl talk about his father at all.”
Niall looked down sadly, “After Viola’s body died, I resolved to stay in the human realm to raise our son. After all, a lifetime there is but a short time here; however, Claude came to me and warned me that Rogan and Rogan’s eldest son, Breandan, knew that I was in the human realm. Mab had asked them to find me and to kill me there―where I was most vulnerable.”
Niall sighed heavily, “So I made a choice―a choice to hide my human son from Mab. And that choice meant that I had to leave him.” The fairy looked down and his eyes brightened once more with emotion. “I used a charm to wipe away Earl’s memories of me and used another on Viola’s sister, who raised Earl after I was gone. And then I covered my tracks there―as best I could―and returned here, to Faerie. And for many human years, Earl and his lineage were safe.”
A fresh tear made its way down Sookie’s cheek as she listened.
Niall looked at her with a smile, “Do not grieve for me, my dear. I was able to watch Earl and then his children and then his grandchildren grow.”
“You were watching?” Sookie asked.
“Yes, through the pool—as much as I could. Of course, the war has kept me much occupied, and I was trying to keep you all a secret, but I have been able to see some things that have happened during your lives.”
Sookie cringed at the thought of her great-grandfather catching her having sex or going to the bathroom.
Niall―of course being able to read her mind―chuckled. “Do not worry, dear. I would not have watched during such occasions, though fairies do not have the same kinds of taboos as humans do.”
Sookie sighed with relief.
Niall smiled, “Mostly I caught small snippets of your life. One time I saw you playing in some sheets that your grandmother Adele had hung up. Once, I saw you crying as you read a book called Pride and Prejudice. And more recently, I saw you speaking to your vampire about a human food you called a peach. Of course, one aspect of fairy magic―what you call telepathy―has allowed me to know other things about your essence and your life as well.” He paused. “Whenever I have watched you, I have gone into your mind in order to ‘get caught up’ with your life.”
Sookie cocked her head, “Then why didn’t you help me when I was in trouble as a kid or when Bill was tryin’ to manipulate me?”
“It is difficult to explain, my dear. I often knew about things in your life only well after the fact. But when you met a vampire, I sent someone to watch over you. She stayed by this pool in order to keep an eye on you and to help if you were ever in grave danger.”
“But she was on Mab’s side, right? She brought me here to eat the light fruit.”
“Yes,” Niall said sadly. “I’m afraid that Claudine switched allegiances.”
“Mab abducted and imprisoned Claudine’s husband.”
“So she basically blackmailed her?”
Sookie shook her head sadly, “You know that Claudine is dead, right?”
“Yes―and I know the circumstances of that death, but I do not hold your mate responsible.”
Sookie was quiet for a moment. “What about Claudette?”
“She is―I’m afraid―very much like her mother and very angry at me.”
Sookie sighed, “Why were all of us―what did you call us, hybrids?―brought here anyway?”
Niall sighed, “There has been conflict in Faerie for many years, Sookie. It began even before my birth―if you can believe it. Some fairies wish to keep only to ourselves―to maintain the purity of our race―but as I said before, it is not so easy for us to procreate, and it has been getting more and more difficult over the years. Mab and I, for instance, remained childless for a very long time, despite the factors that were in our favor, which I have already told you about.”
Niall composed himself and then continued, “Our numbers have been dwindling slowly for millennia. So a number of fairies, especially those that did not have spouses or had not bonded with another, began looking to other realms to find compatible species with which to procreate. Humans have always been the most successful race for us to mate with because the children often inherit our spark―our magical essence―and these offspring do not have the problem full-blooded fairies have in conceiving children.”
“Oh my God,” Sookie said. “Is that why Queen Mab wanted us here? To procreate? To be incubators for fairy babies?”
Niall nodded. “Rogan was always on the side of keeping the fairy race pure, and I was always on the side of letting each fairy choose where to find love for himself or herself, which is why I did not shy away from love when I first saw my beautiful Viola. Eventually, the factions of purists and the rest of us stopped arguing with words and began fighting with swords―a damned fool thing to do for a race already suffering in numbers. Mab ultimately gave up all pretense of being my wife and went to live with Rogan after she’d gotten pregnant with his children. Claude and Claudine joined my side, and Claudette went with her mother. In the first fifty years of outright war, more than half of our number was decimated. And among the dead after the last major battle were Rogan as well as Claude’s wife.”
Niall continued, “To keep ourselves from dying out completely, Mab and I made a treaty and split this realm into two equal parts. Now―the irony is that the so-called purists are bringing hybrids here to rebuild their numbers. Among the first they brought was my son, Earl. Mab took great pleasure in that act―let me assure you,” Niall said bitterly. “I found out about it only after he had eaten the light fruit, and I could do nothing except try to watch over his family in his stead, but I failed even there. Your father―along with his wife―were killed by Lochlan and Neave.”
“They died in a flash flood,” Sookie said gasping at the information Niall had told her.
“No―they died at the hands of two half water Fae, who controlled the river to make it look like a flash flood,” Niall said sadly. “After that, I tried to be more diligent and had fairies I trusted watching you at all times; luckily, Mab’s information about your family has always been incomplete. She didn’t know about you or Hadley until recently. And because you showed the spark of the Fae, I had already officially claimed you by the time she did find out. For Mab to take one whom I had claimed would constitute an act of war, so I thought Mab would leave you alone. I was wrong about that too. And now, she knows about Hunter as well, though she seems uninterested in him for the time being.” Niall smiled a little, “And I believe that your vampire is keeping him as safe as he can be kept in your realm.”
“Oh my God―Hadley!” Sookie exclaimed, covering her mouth with her hand. “Mab’s plannin’ to breed her?”
Shamefaced, Niall looked down, “I would go for her if I could, but to go to Mab’s castle in order to retrieve Hadley, whom I have not previously claimed as being under my protection, would lead us into another Civil War. And I cannot risk that. Plus, I would not be able to enter into the castle—as I said before. Mab’s magic is very powerful there, and it has been designed with the express purpose of keeping me and my people out.”
“What about me? Would it keep me out?” Sookie asked desperately.
“I do not know,” Niall shook his head.
Niall sighed deeply. The Ancient Pythoness almost always spoke enigmatically and in paradoxes; thus, it was only when the events she spoke of came to pass that he was able to understand the full implications of her words. During one of their meetings, she had told him that Sookie would need to become powerless in order to feel where her power truly came from. And she had told him that he would have to send Sookie to almost certain doom in order to keep her alive. She had said that the two lovers would sit in the same place next to the pool but not touch. And most importantly, she had commanded Niall to say nothing of any of these premonitions to Sookie.
Yes—the ancient vampiress had spoken in riddles as always. Of course, she had not told him any of the details surrounding the danger that Sookie would have to face, but he knew now. She would be walking into the den of his great enemy and wife. She would be risking her life to do what he was powerless to do now—to save his other great-granddaughter. Yes—in that moment, Niall understood all of the implications of the Ancient Pythoness’s words to him. If she were captured by Mab, Sookie would likely be killed, or—perhaps worse for Sookie—she might be forced to breed.
Niall’s thoughts were interrupted by Sookie making the choice that would put her into certain danger. And he could say and do nothing to stop her, or she would certainly die according to the seer. But he did intend to arm her as much as he could in the next few minutes. The vampiress had not told that he couldn’t do that much at least!
“I can’t just leave her all alone there. Even if she’s had the light fruit and will be stuck in this realm forever, I can’t just leave her with Queen Mab to be used like a brood mare―to be,” she paused and let out a sob, “raped. It’s not right! I can’t let that happen!”
Niall sighed and looked at Sookie closely. He knew it was probably against the vampiress’s ‘rules,’ but he had to be sure that his great-granddaughter was fully aware of the implications of her choice. “You will lose more time with your vampire if you go back into the fairy realm proper to fight Mab. Once you leave this garden and the area of this pool, time will no longer be the same for you and your Eric.” He sighed heavily. “And if you are captured, Mab will either kill you or force you to breed. And once you are inside of her walls, I will be able to do nothing to help you.”
“I know the risks, but I won’t leave Hadley. I can’t leave her like that,” Sookie insisted as the tears streamed down her cheeks again. She looked at Niall, “Please, can’t you do anything to help me.”
Niall looked at her closely. “I can send Claude to lead you to the palace, and he will wait for you outside its walls, but he will not be able to pass the barriers of Mab’s magic. I am not even sure you will be able to pass inside.”
“I have to try,” Sookie said. “I have to.”
“Fine,” Niall said, trying not to betray the fear he felt inside. “Drink as much of the water as you can to strengthen the magic that is within you. And listen to me carefully,” Niall continued. “You have been having difficulty sustaining the power of your magic because you have it in your head that it can be depleted. But you are wrong. Your magic cannot be lessened by use if you take it from its true source.”
“What source? How do I do that?”
“It generally takes a lot of training for a hybrid to use his or her gifts efficiently,” Niall said shaking his head. “But it will help if you think of the source of your magic coming from your heart and not your head or your hands. You must feel your magic to use it. That is why it was―especially at first―drawn from you mostly in times of great fear or emotion.”
Niall paused as he had a sudden idea. “Think of the love you have for your vampire, and concentrate on that feeling. Do not focus on trying to protect yourself or on saving Hadley; don’t even think about fighting anyone. If you do, you will not be tapping into the source, and you will only get one or two powerful blasts off before you are overcome.”
Sookie nodded and took a long swig of the water before refilling the cup and downing that one too. She looked at the pool longingly and thought of her husband.
Niall knelt beside her and grasped her free hand; he had another idea about how to help Sookie understand where the true source of her magic could be found. He closed his eyes and activated his magic.
Into the pool came the image of Hunter curled into his bed. There was a beautiful dinosaur scene―which Sookie knew immediately that Eric had made―carved into the headboard. A dog as well as their kitten, now looking more like a grown cat, lay next to Hunter. Eric was sitting next to the bed, and his face was animated as if he were telling Hunter a story. The boy smiled as Eric finished speaking. Eric tucked Hunter even more tightly into his covers and then kissed the boy affectionately on his forehead before tousling his bangs a bit. Hunter grinned at Eric and then reached his small hands up to muss up Eric’s bangs too. The vampire laughed, as did Sookie.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, looking into the pool. “If something happens to me, will you tell him―tell Eric how much I love him. Will you go there and tell him? And watch over them?”
The image of Eric turned away from Hunter and left the room; he went to what looked to be the new office they’d planned. Eric sat down on the edge of the desk; he seemed to be looking right at Sookie.
Niall also spoke quietly, “Yes, I will watch over them or have others watch over them as much as I can.” He took the cup from Sookie even as the image of Eric continued to look right at her. “Your bonded one and you share a magic that is beyond even me―beyond fairy and beyond vampire.” He dipped the cup into the water, as Eric’s image in the pool touched the area above his heart, the place where the fairy bond was housed inside of him. “He somehow feels you here—sees you here. And he somehow knows that you need him. Even now, he is sending you his strength and his devotion through both of the bonds you made with him.” Niall paused, “Can you feel it?”
Sookie nodded. “Yes, I can feel him.”
Niall spoke again, “Send him the love you feel for him in this moment.”
It was not difficult for Sookie to obey; her love for Eric seemed to be flowing from her very pores in that moment.
Sookie saw a red tear fall from Eric’s eye, and she knew that he had felt her too. She raised her hand to touch the area over the fairy bond in her own chest.
Niall spoke, “It is there. Do you feel that? It is from there that you must draw your strength and your power when you use your fairy gifts? If you can do that, you will use them with more formidability than any I have ever seen, for you will have his strength behind yours. The fairy bond allows for the strength of each mate to fuel the other’s gifts. Remember this as you fight Mab. That which he is pouring into you even now will fortify you.”
Sookie nodded but could not speak as her love for Eric and his love for her traveled through space and time and from realm to realm. Niall handed her the cup. “Drink one last time,” he said quietly. “Drink and feel. If you can tap into the power of your shared strength, then Mab will not be able to stop you from saving Hadley.”
Sookie took the cup and drank as she continued to watch her husband looking at her. Eric smiled a little as another tear slipped down his cheek. The tears had not stopped streaming down her own cheeks for several minutes.
The image disappeared as the water did from the cup, but Sookie felt full―full of magic and full of her love for Eric, which―as Niall had said―seemed to feed that same magic.
Niall turned Sookie around to face him and kissed her cheek. “Be safe,” great-granddaughter. “You are brave and I am proud to be your great-grandfather.”
He called Claude to his side.
Niall added to Sookie, “If you get lost inside the palace, communicate an image to Claude. Just think about what you see, and he will think back to you about how to get where you need to go. As I said, he will not be able to pass the barrier of the castle’s magic, but he will help you telepathically if he can. Use your own telepathy to hear Hadley, but try to block others out.”
Looking toward the pool longingly one last time, Sookie nodded, stood up, and then walked away from the garden. Knowing that the seconds were once again becoming days to her beloved, she quickened her pace.
Niall closed his eyes tightly as she walked away. If the Ancient Pythoness was correct, then a guest would be arriving the next night. He prayed to his ancestors that Sookie would still be alive when he got there.