Twenty minutes later, Eric landed in his front yard, and feeling a very nervous Pam waiting for him on the porch, he strode immediately toward her.
“What is it? Hunter is fine?” Eric asked with concern, even though he knew that he was. He could hear and smell the child playing happily with Jason and Jessica in the back yard.
“Yes,” Pam said. “But I just got a phone call from Clovache.”
“I received a call from her too,” Eric said.
Pam spoke, “Clovache says that she’s displeased, and they are coming here, Eric. They’ll be here in ten minutes.
“Good,” Eric said. “I won’t have to bother going to Shreveport then; I do not want to leave my son. But we should clear everyone out, except for Hunter. Even Jessica should go, I’m afraid. Send Bubba over to Thalia’s for the night. And tell Miranda and Jarod to stay in the guesthouse until dawn.”
Pam nodded. “Should I go too?”
Eric shook his head. “No―I may need you to give Hunter his dinner and read his bedtime story if she stays long. Plus,” his eyes twinkled, “I find that I like the feeling of having both of my children near me.”
Pam brightened and then quickly went to work getting everyone on their way while Eric sped to the back of the house to greet his son.
“Daddy!” Hunter’s voice said excitedly as he saw Eric.
Eric picked up Hunter and hugged him tightly before swinging him around his shoulders.
Hunter giggled and then noticed that everyone was leaving. “Daddy, where’s everyone goin’?”
Eric sat Hunter down in their seat next to the fire and waited until he knew no one could hear him. “Son, we are having an important visitor tonight. I’m going to tell you who she is, but you must never say anything about her when others can hear, okay?”
Hunter looked nervously over his shoulder. “Can Batanya hear?”
Eric ruffled Hunter’s bangs and smiled proudly at him. “You are very wise to think of this, smár rekkr. But—yes—Batanya can hear our conversation. She used to guard the person who is coming, and she knows about what I’m going to tell you. Plus, Britlingens are well-known for their secrecy. You can trust that anything you say or that occurs in front of Batanya will not be spoken of by her.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Hunter said, nodding. He smiled back at Batanya. “Thanks Batanya.”
The Britlingen nodded at the boy half-formally and half-fondly.
Eric sat down next to Hunter. I have told you a little about my vampire maker, Godric.”
Hunter nodded, “That’s why Miranda named her baby Godric. He was your second father.”
“Yes,” Eric said. “Godric was very good. It is the vampire who made him that is coming to visit tonight. She is very old and powerful.”
Hunter nodded a bit nervously.
Eric smiled, “There is no need to be nervous, Son. She will not harm you. She is a bit,” he paused, “strange, but you need not meet her if you don’t want to. You may stay in your room and play with Pam if you like.”
Hunter shook his head slowly. “No―I wanna meet her. Is she my grandma? I never had one of those.”
Eric chuckled, “Hmm―I suppose that she is your great-grandma in a way.”
“What’s her name?” Hunter asked.
Eric smiled, “I don’t know. She is called the Ancient Pythoness, but that is not her name. I once asked, but she just told me it was none of my business.” Eric laughed again both at his memory and at the way he’d had to censor the A.P.’s words for his son. “She is―as I said―strange. I call her the A.P..”
“Cool,” Hunter said.
Pam came around the corner. “Everyone is gone.” She rolled her eyes. “And Lafayette has ordered that we take his casserole out of the oven in 30 minutes.”
Eric laughed. “You can handle that, Pam.”
Pam sighed dramatically, “I suppose.”
Hunter laughed. “I can help too, Sissy.”
The vampiress smiled at Hunter affectionately.
Eric raised his eyebrow. “Sissy?” he asked in Pam’s direction.
“Yes,” Pam said casually. “It is Hunter’s new name for me.”
Eric chuckled and ruffled Hunter’s bangs as his vampire child sat down nervously. “I like it,” Eric said, trying to keep a straight face.
“Miranda helped me think of it!” Hunter said excitedly.
Pam rolled her eyes but then smiled at Hunter.
“That Miranda—she can sure be helpful,” Eric said with a little smirk.
“Uh-huh,” Hunter innocently agreed.
“Yes—I will definitely have to think of ways to repay her helpfulness,” Pam said evenly.
Eric chuckled. For the next few minutes, he and Hunter talked about what the boy had done that day. Meanwhile Pam had to resist biting a nail due to her nerves. She’d only seen the A.P. once, and to be frank, the power rolling off of the ancient vampiress had intimidated Pam, and she’d hated that feeling.
As soon as Eric heard a car pulling off the road, he stiffened a bit. Truth be told, he was working hard to keep his temper in check. He wanted to yell at the A.P.―to demand why she had refused to speak with him earlier regarding Sookie―but he had to keep himself calm in front of Hunter.
Pam stood up when she heard the car several seconds later. Eric gestured for her to go to the front, and then he looked at Hunter. “She is here, Son.”
Hunter quickly moved from his seat on their chair to sit on Eric’s lap, and Eric unconsciously rocked his son a little bit to comfort him. A minute later, Pam led two figures around to the back of the house: Clovache, the A.P.’s current Britlingen guard, and the Ancient Pythoness herself.
Eric stood with Hunter still held next to his body and bowed with as much respect as he could muster in that moment before sitting them back down.
The A.P. gestured toward Clovache, who went over to stand next to Batanya.
Eric nodded toward Pam to stand a bit away from them.
The A.P. sat across the fire from Eric and Hunter. There was silence for a few minutes as the seemingly blind vampire studied them.
Hunter was fidgeting nervously and eventually broke the silence himself. “Hi, I’m Hunter.”
The A.P. seemed to smile―though just a bit. “I am called the Ancient Pythoness by most, but your,” she paused and seemed to smile again, “father has a nickname for me. Has he told it to you?”
Hunter nodded, “You’re the A.P.”
She nodded, “You may call me this as well if you wish.”
“Okay,” Hunter said with a nod of his head.
The A.P. chuckled, “You are a fine son for Eric. You are much like my little cat.”
“Little cat?” Hunter asked.
“Ah―I see your father has not told you of my nickname for him. I call him ‘little cat.’”
“Why?” Hunter asked, tilting his head.
“He has nine lives, but like the clever creature he is, he’s used very few of them. He―like a little cat―always seems able to escape most of the dangers he finds himself in―with only a bit of ruffled fur.”
Hunter giggled a little at her analogy, though he was quite certain that he didn’t understand it all.
“He is also my little cat because he tends to attack with both his claws and his cunning. You, little one, are also cunning, but you will be able to keep your claws sheathed―for the most part.”
Hunter tilted his head to the side. “Can you see into my head like I can with people?”
The A.P. chuckled again, “No, I do not have the gift of telepathy. But I can see into the future to some extent.” She paused and then added, “When I choose to.”
Eric stiffened a bit behind Hunter but controlled his anger.
Hunter’s eyes widened, “You can see the future?” The boy stammered out nervously, “Is my mommy coming home from the bad place she was taken to?”
Eric straightened, just as anxious to hear the A.P.’s answer as Hunter was.
The A.P. smiled at Hunter, “It is not my place to give you this knowledge.”
Eric’s anger was near the boiling point. From behind Hunter, he gritted out, “Whose place is it then? If you know, why not say it? Why not make the child feel better?”
The A.P. did not acknowledge Eric. Instead, she continued speaking to Hunter. “I can tell you, little one, that your life will contain many more times of happiness than sorrow. I can tell you that you will be beloved by many and will love many in return. I can tell you that you will one day have a great love in your life but that you will have to earn it first. And I can tell you that you will see your mother again.”
“When?” Hunter asked with a little sob.
“That, I cannot say,” the A.P. answered.
“Will not!” Eric said, though he didn’t shout like he wanted to. He called Pam to his side through their bond. “Pamela, take Hunter inside.” The vampire looked down at his son and spoke softly, “I’ll be in to join you soon, my son. I need to finish speaking to the A.P. I promise that I will tell you anything that I learn about your mother and your aunt.”
Hunter looked at the A.P. and then at Eric. He could tell that his Daddy was mad at her. He nodded, “Okay, Daddy.”
Eric handed Hunter to Pam. As the two walked inside, Eric moved away from the fire a bit and began to pace. The vampire waited a full minute after Hunter was inside before he turned around and face his grandsire.
“Will Sookie return?” he finally asked, his voice a mixture of pain and anger.
“I cannot say,” the A.P. said.
Eric was in front of her in a flash. “You mean―you will not.”
The A.P. nodded and smirked a bit, “Yes―that is what I mean. But I will not because I cannot.”
Eric clenched his fists in frustration. “I am in no mood to solve your riddles!”
The A.P. continued calmly, “And I am not here to speak in them.”
Eric snarled, “Then why―why did you even come? Do you enjoy playing with me, dangling me around like a mouse in front of you?”
“I have never enjoyed your pain,” the A.P. said quietly and evenly, “nor will I ever enjoy it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me then―warn me―that Sookie was going to be taken? If you do not like my pain, then why?”
“I have my reasons,” the A.P. answered.
Eric growled, “Your reasons are no longer satisfactory to me! Now―tell me! Will Sookie return? And when? And do not leave Hunter twisting in your purposely abstruse words either! You may play with me if you will, but I will not have you play with my son!” Eric was raging now, but the A.P. simply stayed in her seat and kept her countenance calm.
“You will sit?” she commanded as much as asked. “Or will you force me to make you?”
Eric’s eyes flashed at her, “Crone, you will tell me what I want to know, or I will make you!”
Before Eric could even register a movement, he felt himself flying through the air. He landed with a loud thud and went to stand up, but the A.P. was standing over him. Eric froze, marveling at her power and suddenly afraid.
“Do not presume to question me, child,” the A.P. said in a chilly voice. “Do not forget that my sight is much better than yours, little cat.”
In the next moment, she was gone and sitting back by the fire as if nothing amiss had occurred.
Warily, Eric rose to his feet.
The A.P. smirked. “Now―you will sit?”
Eric nodded, returned to the fireside, and sat across from her.
“You questioned me once about Godric. Do you remember?” the A.P. asked.
“Yes,” Eric said softly. “I asked you why you did not do something to save him or to help me to save him.”
“Do you remember what I told you?”
Eric nodded, “You told me that you did not want to see Godric suffer―that you had seen a future with him in it, but that he was in great anguish. You said that you wanted to spare him that pain.”
“Yes―it was,” she paused, “difficult not to command Godric not to meet the sun. It pained me greatly when he left this world, and I thought many times of trying to prevent him, but he could never block his emotions from me as he did from you, and I could not bear to feel him suffering so much.” She was silent for a few moments.
She continued in an almost haunting tone, “I saw Godric’s pain and his fate even as I made him―even before I made him.” She paused as Eric took in her words. “But I am―at heart―a selfish creature and wanted Godric in my life for as long as I could have him. He did have many happy days in his long life. And, of course, I knew that without him, you would not come to exist this way, nor would your progeny, nor would any of the amazing things that are yet to come―that is, if things move along as I wish for them to move.”
“So you allowed for Godric to die so that he could find his peace. I have come to accept that, but why,” he stopped for a moment, his voice catching. “Why let Sookie be taken from me.”
The A.P. shook her head sadly, “I see more than one possible future for you, little cat, but the only way you will survive this coming year is to be without your love for a time. It is a necessity for both you and your mate—if you are to weather the coming storm.”
“I do not understand,” Eric said. “Sookie and I are stronger together. If there is a threat, I will survive it better with her by my side.”
“You will not survive it at all if she is not by your side, child,” the A.P. said enigmatically.
Eric shook his head in frustration. “But she is not here. And I do not have time for your mysteries!”
The A.P. smiled a bit. “Oh―I believe you have already figured things out to a great extent―perhaps with a little help from an errant fairy? If you will just open your eyes, you will see what you already know.”
Eric looked at her confusedly, and then suddenly realization hit him. “Niall said that Sookie had to be there—that we’d have to endure our separation—or we’d both die.”
The A.P.’s lip quirked up into a half-smile. “Continue, little cat.”
“So Sookie and I need to be separated for some reason,” he began and then shook his head. “No―it wasn’t just a separation. Sookie needed to be in the fairy realm for some reason.” He thought for a moment. “Niall said that he had already told her something of using her fairy gift to better effect.” His eyes widened, “And he allowed me into that realm for a fucking reason, didn’t he―so that I would send her love and strength exactly when I did.”
The A.P. smiled a bit wider, “He did not know why you were there, actually. The fairy knew only what I told him―that you would one day knock on the door to Faerie and that he should let you in―one time only. I saw that he would give you the tools you needed to make the necessary connection to Sookie when the time was right.”
“Why?” Eric asked. “Why did she need me right then?” His expression darkened with worry.
“You were needed to help prevent the worst from occurring to your woman. You were needed to teach her where she could find her true light when all other lights were taken away from her. It was a lesson she had to learn the hard way, I’m afraid. Otherwise, she would never have learned it in time.”
There was silence between them for a moment before Eric smiled a bit. “Sookie sent me gratefulness. It worked, didn’t it? She’s safe now, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” the A.P. said. “The worst did not happen, and she is safe now, but the future is not yet set. There are still choices to be made―difficult ones, and you and she must make them together. Neither one of you is yet completely ready for what is to come.”
“Together,” Eric whispered as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his chest.
The A.P. chuckled, “I have lived a very long time, but you have always been my second favorite being, little cat. You are so clever and yet so emotive―no matter what you have done to hide that facet from others and yourself. Yes―together. You will see your mate soon.”
“But you will not tell me that she is coming home? What does that mean?”
“As I said, the future is not set―though I have done as much as I can to push it in the direction I like.” She winked at him. “It would be a great shame if you died and messed up all my plans, but things are,” she paused, “still uncertain. However, I have decided to have faith in you and in your mate.”
“What is the threat?” Eric asked. “What is it that could lead to our deaths?”
The A.P. sighed and looked her age for a moment. “I could tell you, but it would do only harm. In one possible future, the threat leads to the deaths of you and your mate. And my telling you would do nothing to help you. In fact, it would mean your certain death―and that death would come even sooner and would sweep Hunter into its grasp as well. I have seen this. In another possible future, events will occur that lead to your living a long and happy life with your Sookie. I have tried many times to see which future will actually take place, but,” she paused and smirked, “the future has always been in the hands of the young, and they must―at some point―decide their own paths.”
Eric quirked an eyebrow. “I am not so young.”
The A.P. chuckled, “You are, child―quite young to me.”
Eric tilted his head, “What are you to Niall? How is it that you know him and have shared knowledge with him?”
The A.P. rose. “You will―no doubt―put your clever brain to those questions and figure them out, little cat―that is, if you live long enough. And I do hope that you live long enough.”
“And Hunter? What can I tell him of his mother?” Eric asked. “Please―you have said that he will see her again, but you haven’t said when. And you were purposely unclear about whether she would come here. Does that mean that he will see her in the fairy realm?”
The A.P. smirked, “Clever, little cat―so clever. You are so entertaining for one such as myself.” She sighed. “Yes―Hunter will see his mother again in the fairy realm, but she too will have a difficult choice to make, and I am unsure of that choice. Thus, I can say no more.”
The A.P. gestured for Clovache, who nodded to Batanya and came to the A.P.’s side.
Eric spoke up, “Why did you not tell me this before? Why not tell me all of this before or even right after Sookie disappeared.”
The A.P. sighed, “It is only in our darkest moments, Eric, that we find the true source of our strength. Sookie was not the only one who needed that lesson.”
Eric spoke up again, as the A.P. once more turned to leave. His voice was somewhat desperate. “Will I be a good father to him?”
The A.P. turned to Eric and graced him with a sincere smile. “You already are, little cat.”
Eric nodded and then spoke in a somber voice, “I have seen Godric―as a ghost, or in my imagination, or something.” He paused for a moment. “Is he real? Is he only in my head? Am I going insane?”
The A.P. came over to Eric and touched his cheek. “You are not insane, little cat. I do not know if the spirit of Godric has somehow found its way back to this plane. He certainly loved you enough to try. Or perhaps your mind just needs him from time to time, so you create him there.” She smiled, her blind eyes seeming to pierce him. “It is of little matter if his appearances are real or not―as long as they seem real to you. That makes them real enough. You should listen to his words, however. It was I who chose him as worthy to be my own child, after all. And I have always been an excellent judge of character.” She winked at Eric.
The Viking nodded with a little smirk.
The A.P. patted him on the cheek affectionately and then turned to go. She stopped and spoke to him. “Tell my great-grandson that I enjoyed meeting him very much. And tell him that I will see him again.”
With those words, she sped away.
After the A.P. left, Eric sat by the fire for a few minutes contemplating what she had told him and trying to read between the lines of what she hadn’t. Hadley was alive. He guessed that she would have to make a decision that would either keep her in the fairy realm or allow her to return here. Either way, it seemed, Hunter would be able to see her.
As for Sookie, Eric had found out two important things. The first was that she was alive and safe for the time being. The second was that they would soon be reaching a decision together. The word ‘together’ shored him up like nothing else could have. It meant that they would have some kind of contact, and it didn’t matter to Eric what that contact entailed. All that mattered was that it was going to happen. Eric buried his face into his hands and smiled. The old crone had given him what he’d been missing―he realized. She’d given him hope.
He shook his head and smiled as he thought of his grandsire; she was, he now knew, telling him as much as she could, but he also knew that the old biddy was enjoying watching him try to figure out the other pieces of the puzzle.
Eric stood up. He would go inside to his son. He would assure him that both of their women were alive and that they would see them again—hopefully soon. He would tell Hunter that until that time, they would be together and that their lives would go on as they had been. But he would also promise to try to be less ‘sad’ and to accept his separation from Sookie as a necessary evil.
Meanwhile, he would be ever-vigilant. The A.P. had warned that another threat was looming in the future, and Eric was never one to be caught unprepared―not if he could help it.