SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13 • 11:35 p.m.
When Sookie and Eric finally exited the ballroom, Thalia and Padma were waiting for them. The elder vampiress was dressed in her customary black—what Sookie had come to call her ass-kicking uniform. Padma was dressed for a ball, wearing a lovely yellow and purple sari.
It would be Padma’s job—along with Pam and the other Area 5 vampires with the exception of Molly and Palomino—to hover near Eric and Sookie at the ball, pretending to socialize. No longer worried about ruffling her eldest child’s feathers (because she planned to ruffle them herself), the queen had authorized Molly to monitor all of the activity on the estate from the control room with Palomino and several of Sophie-Anne’s trusted vampires watching over her. The two-natured in the Area 5 group, led by Maria-Star, were already patrolling the grounds, along with some of the queen’s most trusted security forces.
As for Thalia, her role was to do whatever she thought best to protect Sookie, and she wasn’t about to compromise her ability by dressing the part for the ball—not that anyone would have expected her to do so even if she didn’t have a job to do.
In fact, if she hadn’t been needed at the ball to protect Sookie, there would have been no way in hell that she would have been caught un-dead at such an event!
“The queen and king have gone to the queen’s office,” Padma reported in a hushed voice. “We’re to follow.”
Nodding, Eric picked up Sookie so that the group could rush at vampire speed to the office.
There, they were met by a stony-face Sigebert and Jacob, the king’s preferred guard.
“Andre is back,” Sigebert informed. “My maker is,” he paused, “questioning him.”
“We’ll wait out here then,” Eric said as he put down his bonded.
“No. The queen wants you all to hear,” the Saxon informed. “It will add to his shame,” he further explained, his own disdain for his “brother’s” behavior clear in his tone. He opened the door to the spacious office.
Eric quickly led his group inside and took in those in the room. Peter was leaning casually against the wall near the door they’d just entered. Jennifer stood stoically next to him. Hadley was in the far corner of the room—looking quite upset.
Andre was in a chair, secured by silver chains. He was bare-chested, and the silver was digging into his flesh.
Sophie-Anne was sitting in a chair in front of him, simply staring at her child. Wybert was right behind her.
“If our maker feels any pain whatsoever, I will end you,” Wybert warned.
Eric glanced at Peter.
“Andre arrived minutes before the signing. Sophie-Anne asked him where he’d been, and he clamped-up like someone had cut out his tongue,” the king explained. “We brought him here and chained him up. That’s why we were running a little late to the signing.”
“Where were you, Andre?” Sophie-Anne asked her child. “As your maker, I command you to tell me!”
Andre’s face screwed up with pain. “I cannot. I’m sorry,” he managed.
“That’s all we got out of him before, too,” Peter volunteered.
“What will you tell me?” Sophie-Anne asked, taking a different approach.
“I was doing what you’d asked of me,” Andre swore.
Sophie-Anne reached out for Wybert’s hand—likely for emotional support. “What did you do? As you maker, I command you to tell me!”
“I cannot! But I swear it is all for the good!” Andre gasped, the pain of not following his maker’s command clearly almost unbearable.
Sophie-Anne seemed thoughtful for a moment. “As your maker, I command you to cease blocking our emotional connection!”
Immediately, Sophie-Anne closed her eyes as if in pain. “You are conflicted. You feel a distressing amount of guilt and regret.”
“Yes,” Andre whispered.
“How are you ignoring my other commands?” she asked.
“I cannot say,” he responded, again looking to be in pain. “I want to tell.”
“He speaks true,” the queen reported.
“What did you do tonight? Tell me!” she pushed her command again—this time as hard as she could.
Andre gasped and then yelled out in pain, which his maker seemed to be sharing to a certain extent now.
“I cannot say! Please, let me go! There are things,” he paused, “that I must do.”
“Do they relate to where you were?” his maker asked.
“I cannot say!”
“Does it relate to Compton?”
“I cannot say!” Andre squirmed.
Sophie-Anne looked back at Peter and Eric.
“He is speaking the truth about not being able to tell me what I ask. I could continue pushing my influence upon him, but it would take its toll upon me,” Sophie-Anne explained.
“And we are due at a ball,” Peter reminded.
The queen nodded.
“Majesties?” Padma said softly.
“Yes?” Sophie-Anne asked. “You are Padma—correct?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The beautiful vampiress looked at Eric. “With your permission, Sheriff?”
Eric nodded. “Say what you need to.”
“Magic is my gift,” Padma volunteered, “at least detecting it is. I can detect the presence of magic even when others cannot.”
Sophie-Anne frowned and turned toward Andre. She inhaled deeply. “I smell no magic.”
Padma took a small step forward. “Cedar,” she said softly. “In India, some witches have been known to use it and certain other ingredients to create a soap which can cover up most traces of magic.”
“I have never heard of such a thing,” Sophie-Anne commented.
“I am not surprised. I learned of it only because I made it my purpose to develop my gift. And that meant building relationships with some very secretive witches; over time, I learned many secrets. May I get closer to him? To see if I am right and test whether there is magic beneath the scent of the soap?” Padma asked as she gestured toward Andre.
“You have my permission,” the queen responded.
Padma glanced quickly at Eric, who gave her a nod, and then she approached Andre, dipping low and then turning her head as if her goal was to smell into his ear canal.
“Gross,” Sookie muttered.
Eric and Peter both chuckled softly, though not enough to interrupt the activities—or the tension—in the other part of the office.
“There is magic here,” Padma confirmed after about ten seconds of silence. “I would have missed it but, . . . .”
“But?” the queen asked.
“Every witch has his or her own signature when creating magic; it’s almost like a fingerprint for those with the ability to distinguish the differences,” Padma informed.
Sophie-Anne nodded. “I have come to be able to distinguish some witches as I have aged, but I can recognize only witches whom I have encountered many times. I take it that your ability is more refined.”
“It is, Your Majesty. I can, for example, distinguish two witch signatures in the spell that is upon your child. One is from the same being who trapped—and we think captured—Debbie Pelt,” Padma informed.
Sookie gasped, even as Eric’s fangs descended.
“Not a friend—I assume,” Peter observed.
“No,” Sookie responded.
“Can you tell the nature of the magic?” the queen questioned Padma.
“Based upon Andre not responding to your commands, it is safe to assume that the spell stifles him from speaking about his interactions with Bill Compton and whoever else is working with him. Clearly, your maker’s command cannot break through.”
“If I kept trying?” the queen asked.
Padma shook her head. “When a maker’s command and strong magic are at odds with each other, the effect upon the victim is soul-crushing.” She lowered her head. “I have seen such a situation only once. There is no torture that I would not face—if I could avoid such a tearing of my soul.”
Peter stepped forward. “It is nearing midnight, my queen, and we must—at least—make an appearance at the ball. Might I suggest that you bring in Eric’s witch Amelia and her mentor, Octavia, to see if they can lift the magic upon Andre?”
Sophie-Anne considered Peter’s idea for a moment. “Your idea is a good one, but I have something else in mind.”
She leaned forward in her chair until she was touching Andre’s knee. Her touch and gaze were affectionate.
“I have loved you since I made you, my child. I have counted on you. I have trusted you. I don’t want to hurt you—especially not in the way that Padma has described.”
“I am sorry, my queen,” Andre whimpered, a red tear falling from his eyes.
“In this moment, I believe that you are truly contrite, my child.” She smiled softly. “Our bond tells me this. But I must punish you for whatever it is that you have done to get yourself into this position. I must send you from my side.”
Andre shook his head. “Please! No!”
“Yes,” Sophie-Anne said softly. “Beginning tomorrow night, I command you to leave my presence and this state. You are never to contact me or your kin. You are never to contact any person in Louisiana or Arkansas. You are never to be involved in any plan to interfere—either for the good or the bad—with Louisiana or Arkansas. As of tomorrow night, you are cut off from me—with no help beyond access to your personal bank accounts outside of the United States—where you will preferably go.” She brushed away her own tear.
“Please. No!” Andre repeated desperately.
“Perhaps, one night, far into the future, I will contact you. In the meantime, I’d suggest that you find a situation where you can demonstrate all of the admirable qualities that I have seen in you—loved in you—over the years that we have been together.” She stood up. “You lost your way. And—beginning tomorrow night—I am going to let you try to find it again. And—as for tonight—I am going to let you go.”
“Let him go?” Peter asked.
“Yes,” Sophie-Anne said decisively. “Clearly, my child is a part of a plot meant to do harm or to go against my wishes in some way.” She looked back at Eric and Sookie. “I fear it involves you.”
“I believe that you are correct,” Eric said, even as he pulled Sookie closer to his side.
The queen looked back at Andre. “As you maker, I command you to get cleaned up and dressed. You will join us at the ball as if nothing is wrong. And you will go about your night as you had planned before I had you chained to that chair. If you are working with Compton or witches or anyone else, I command you to do as they wanted you to do!”
“Why let him go free?” Wybert asked insistently.
Sophie-Anne gazed up at her trusted child and smiled at him. “You will know when you think with your head and not your heart, dear child. You will know when you can separate your feelings about Andre’s betrayal from that honed ability to strategize that I know that you possess.”
Wybert considered for a moment. “Yes. I understand.”
“I don’t!” Sookie cried. “Why let him go when he’s probably tryin’ to help Bill get to me?”
Eric held her even more closely. “She is going to use him, min kära.” He looked at Thalia. “You are the best for the task needed. Are you ready?”
The vampiress looked at Sookie. Clearly, she was torn, for she preferred to stay by the side of the one that she was guarding. “Yes,” she finally responded. “I am ready to do what is needed to best protect my charge.”
“Wait!” Hadley said, stepping forward. “I’m with Sookie here! I don’t get what’s goin’ on!”
Sophie-Anne stood up. “Andre will be bait. Whatever he does, Thalia will shadow, and—through him—we will learn about our enemies’ plans, even if Andre cannot tell us. Thalia will, then, inform us so that we can act accordingly.” She leaned down and placed a gentle kiss onto Andre’s lips.
“Even when you are not with me, I will love you. But my trust for you is gone for now,” she said softly.
“I love you! I’d do anything for you! Don’t send me away! Please!” Andre begged.
“I command you not to speak to your confederates about us knowing anything at all about your duplicity,” she said as she leaned away from him. “I command you not to give away—in any way—that Thalia is watching you. You are to go on as if we did not know and as if she was not there. And I command you to not speak with me again or to beg of me another fate for yourself. If you have a situation regarding your confederates that you can relate, you are to do so to Eric, Wybert, or Thalia. Do you understand? I do not want to hear your voice again!”
More tears streaming down his cheeks, Andre nodded.
Sophie-Anne’s gaze turned cold. “You made this fate for yourself, child. You will be banished from me after you have served your purpose tonight.”
With that, she turned to Peter. “We have a ball to get to.”
The Arkansas king pushed himself from the wall against which he’d remained leaning throughout the encounter between the queen and her eldest child. “Remind me never to cross you, Sophie-Anne,” he said as he offered her his arm. “You know, too well, how to hit where it hurts.”
“Even when it’s hard,” the queen agreed. She looked at Eric. “If Sookie is harmed tonight—or at any time after due in any way to Andre—you have my permission to end him. Otherwise, I ask that you accept his banishment as punishment enough.”
“I do,” the sheriff agreed.
“And you, Sookie?” the queen asked the telepath, surprising everyone in the room by seeking Sookie’s permission for the way she intended to punish her own child.
The telepath’s reply was spoken almost shyly. “Your plan’s fine by me, Your Majesty. I’m sorry this is causing you pain,” she added sympathetically.
Sophie-Anne put her hand gently onto Sookie’s arm and gave her a little nod.
“Our ball awaits us!” she said brightly to Peter, even as she resisted the urge to turn back to look at Andre.
Everyone followed except for Wybert, left behind to free his brother and Thalia—left behind to shadow him.
Eric paused at the door with Sookie in order to speak to the latter. “Thalia, we will follow your lead in whatever is coming. Keep me informed about everything that he does.”
The vampiress nodded and then looked at Sookie. “The Viking will watch over you. He is not as good as me, but he’ll do for a few hours,” she said with a glint in her eyes.
Sookie couldn’t help herself. She moved away from Eric to give the vampiress a quick hug. “You look out for yourself—okay? I’ll worry about you.”
Thalia’s eyebrow rose in surprise and a small smile touched her lips—but only for a moment.
Perhaps, after all, the vampiress was thawing a bit—but only where the telepath was concerned. As Sookie and Eric left the room, Thalia turned back to set her neutral gaze upon Andre. She felt uneasy being out of sight of Sookie Stackhouse, but she knew that following Andre was their best bet for getting the upper hand on whatever enemies they were to face.
The Viking was right. She was the best one for the job.
Still there was no way she would have agreed if it wasn’t for the fact that there was a Britlingen somewhere nearby—always watching over Sookie as well.
She quickly texted Maria-Star with an update and asked the Were to inform the others about the relevant details. Then, she turned her focus onto Wybert, who had put on gloves before removing Andre’s silver chains.
Andre virtually collapsed against his chair as tears continued to stream down his face.
“You have brought this upon yourself, brother,” the Saxon said at a low volume. “Begin re-proving yourself tonight by doing as our maker asked, and one night—many years from now—she will forgive you.”
A tortured look upon his face, Andre nodded and stood up. “I will go to my chambers and ready myself for the ball,” he informed. He looked at Thalia. “I am going to clean myself, but I will take only the bare minimum of blood so that no wounds will be obvious.”
The vampiress and Wybert both nodded their approval, for Andre had just signaled to them that he was choosing to go through the night in a weakened state; thus, he’d be less capable when attempting to fulfill whatever goals had been laid out for him by his confederates.
In other words, he’d be easier to stop, though vulnerable to be killed.
“That is a good start, Brother,” Wybert said.
“Protect her—if I fall,” Andre grunted as if in pain.
“I will make sure she is not vulnerable,” Wybert promised before turning to Thalia. “You have this?”
Thalia gave the Saxon a look.
He chuckled as he left the room. “Sorry I asked.”
Thalia and Andre stood silent for a moment.
“I do not trust you to do the right thing; that is another reason why I was chosen,” Thalia said to Andre, her fangs clicking down.
“I know,” he responded, his expression that of a broken vampire.
“One foot out of line and I will end you.”
“I know,” he repeated.
A/N: So? What do you think? Should Sophie-Anne have let Andre go? Do you like the idea of her using him as bait in a way? Or do you think her scheme will backfire?
I thought about having her chain Andre up, but—ultimately—I liked the idea of the “good guys” using Andre. Up next—it’s time for the Valentine’s Night ball to begin! Fasten your seat belt. Things are getting tense.
Please leave me a comment if you have the time and inclination.
P.S. I have been drafting ahead–or trying to. I’d hoped to get this entire piece done over my winter break, but there was too many other things going on. And I also just needed a few days when I didn’t do anything. I do have next week’s chapter banked already. And I’ve got a few more in rough draft form, so I’m hoping I won’t have to hit the pause button. Please, though, send good thoughts; they are like bribes to my muse. 🙂