Eric tensed as he noted the New Orleans area code on his caller ID. Few people knew the number of his private line; most of them were members of the court.
“Northman,” he said as a greeting.
“Eric,” the queen responded. “I have just had an interesting conversation with William Compton.”
“Oh?” Eric asked, trying to keep any tension out of his tone.
“He believes that you are undermining me at every turn and compelling the telepath, Sookie Stackhouse, to reject him. He also believes that you intend to use her gifts to help you overthrow me,” the queen stated, seemingly laying all her cards—Bill’s cards—on the table.
“He is misguided—and mistaken. About all,” the Viking responded.
“I have faith that he is,” Sophie-Anne returned after a moment.
“Do you?” Eric questioned. “Do you still have faith that I am a loyal sheriff?” he added, putting some of his own cards out there.
“Apologies are not my strongpoint, Eric. You know that,” Sophie-Anne said after a few moments of tense silence. “That being said, I ought to have made contact with the telepath—with Sookie—through you.”
“Instead of sending Compton to poach her from my territory?” Eric asked, now barely keeping his anger in check.
There was a pause. “Bill was sent to inventory her potential as an asset to my court,” she admitted. “And—for the record—had she proven to be so, I would have compensated you.”
“But not tell me beforehand?” he asked.
“I was persuaded not to inform you,” she relented.
“By Andre,” Eric growled.
“Yes,” she answered honestly. “Given my plans to offer a settlement if the telepath ended up in Area 1, I went along with his suggestion. He needs such victories, Eric. You—as a good maker—know this well.”
“He is paranoid!” Eric retorted. “And that paranoia—left unchecked—might damage us all one day.”
“My child is my business,” Sophie-Anne growled.
“Yet he is interfering in mine,” the Viking said steadily.
The line was silent for almost a minute.
Eric couldn’t help but to wonder if Sophie-Anne was conferring with Andre even then. More ideal would be if the queen was with Wybert. Though the Saxon kept his cards close to the vest, the Viking had known the warrior long enough to recognize both his mental and physical aptitude. Though not as cunning as Andre, Wybert was much wiser in the counsel he would provide to the queen.
And he wasn’t an asshole like his older brother.
Finally, the queen spoke. “I will not allow my child’s desires to cause me to circumvent your authority in the future, Sheriff Northman.”
“Thank you. I do not like circumvention.”
“I believe you would not have minded so much—had you not discovered a personal stake in Bill’s venture.”
“I suspect not,” Eric relented. “But I did.”
“I am beginning to understand that,” the queen said diplomatically.
“On that note, I have a complaint about Bill Compton’s overall treatment of Miss Stackhouse,” he said firmly.
“I am listening,” the queen said with interest.
“He seduced Sookie, which I believe was a part of your instructions to him; however, he acted much more like a stalker and an abuser than a suitor! And—when Lorena called—he arranged for me to see to her safety.”
“Bill did not tell me that,” she returned.
“I’d venture to guess there are many things he did not tell you,” Eric growled.
“I am inclined to agree,” the queen stated. “And I have ordered him to leave Miss Stackhouse alone.”
“Sookie is mine now anyway,” the Viking informed, his tone leaving no room for argument—or negotiation.
“She has accepted your claim then?” the queen asked.
“Yes—in both personal life and as business partners,” the Viking stated. “She will be starting a business and offering her telepathy for hire,” he added resolutely.
The line was silent for a moment. “You feared that I would take her by force and misuse her,” the queen said with some regret in her tone. “I cannot blame you for that assumption—wrong as it may be—given the way I introduced Bill into the picture.” She sighed. “I suppose that sharing her with the world is your way of keeping me and others from exploiting her for ourselves.”
“I would never have thought you capable of that kind of exploitation before,” the Viking specified.
“I am still not,” the queen returned with a bit of annoyance. “But I will forgive you for your current lack of faith. After all, I am responsible for the first slight in this scenario,” she owned. “Let me assure you—now—that I will not attempt to take her from you.”
“I wouldn’t let her be taken,” Eric returned with just a touch of threat in his tone.
“Then we are agreed,” the queen said, ignoring that threat. “I would hope to be a preferred client on Sookie’s list,” she stated more than requested.
“You are, of course, at the top of the list,” he returned.
“That is good to know,” the queen said, her tone slightly more relaxed. “Hadley is my child now. Do you know that she is Sookie’s cousin?”
“Sookie and I pieced together Hadley’s connection with you a few nights ago,” he confirmed. “Are we correct that is was she who told you of Sookie’s gift?”
“Yes,” Sophie-Anne relayed. “And—in a way—Hadley is responsible for how I went about making contact with your Sookie. She mentioned that love had eluded Miss Stackhouse, so I ventured into matchmaking.”
Eric was silent for a moment.
“Bill was an unworthy candidate. He’s caused her harm,” the Viking stated with barely-controlled rage resonating through the phone line.
“I thought he would be harmless to her,” Sophie-Anne relayed softly. “I misjudged.”
“Yes! You did.”
“I know he attacked Sookie in the trunk,” the queen said cautiously.
“He’s done more than that,” the Viking returned angrily.
To her credit, Sophie-Anne continued to respond to her subordinate’s anger in a composed tone. “Like I said, Compton’s been ordered to desist regarding the telepath, though he will need to contact Sookie one more time in order to reclaim another project he’s been working on for me.”
“The database,” Eric practically spit out.
“Yes. A prototype,” the queen responded casually. “I was thinking about testing the waters with it.”
“It is a dangerous idea. Is it Andre’s?” he asked.
“Eric, you are my favorite sheriff, so I want you to be careful,” she warned sternly. “Whether I go forward with the database or not is my decision. Not yours or my child’s.”
“I cannot imagine that it would be taken well by vampires of power,” Eric returned.
The queen didn’t respond for a moment. “Write up a report regarding your concerns,” she finally said. “Contrary to what you might believe about me right now, I am open to your counsel and would not have gone forward with the release of the database until I’d had it and the opinions of others I trust.”
“That is heartening to hear. However, Sookie no longer has the database in her possession. I do.”
“Thus, you could destroy it. Or have you already?” Sophie-Anne asked, her voice neutral in a way that indicated that Eric had better tread carefully.
“I haven’t, and I won’t,” he decided.
The line was silent for a moment.
Eric speculated that Sophie-Anne was wise enough to know that he’d chosen not to destroy the Pandora’s Box because of her willingness to consider his ideas on the matter. In truth, she had—in the past—valued his opinion greatly, despite Andre’s hesitation in her seeking it. Eric hoped that the queen was being honest about continuing to trust in his counsel and his loyalty.
Especially since he’d never given her a reason to doubt him—despite what Andre may have imagined.
“Wybert’s opinion is that the database ought not to be released beyond the palace walls,” the queen finally shared with her sheriff.
“And Andre is likely filling your head with all the profits that can be made from it,” the sheriff hypothesized, “even as Sigebert simply assures you that he’ll implement your will—with a sword if necessary.”
“You have learned my children almost as well as I have,” she said with a much more relaxed tone than before. “You are my ally, Eric.” She seemed to take a breath. “I would inform you of Bill’s pursuit of Sookie—if I had the situation to relive,” she stated, falling just short of a direct apology.
The Viking noticed also that Sophie-Anne didn’t admit that sending Bill had been a mistake in the first place.
But—for Eric—the half-apology was enough.
“Do you want for me to give Compton the database?” he asked.
She chuckled. “I imagine you intend to copy it first.”
Eric was silent.
“Do not fret; I would expect nothing less of you, and knowing what is inside of the database will enable you to better formulate your report for me. However, be aware that I may very well still release the product,” she warned.
“I understand,” he responded.
“I know,” she returned meaningfully. “And—regarding the database—as I indicated, Bill intends to approach Sookie and ask that she return it to him. You may feel free to stop him from seeing her and let him know that he will have to go through you to get the item back—when you are finished with it, of course.”
“She wishes to see him—to confront him—at the end of the week,” Eric informed, “to gain closure. Until then, I’ve threatened him with the true death if he contacts her in any way.”
“I see,” Sophie-Anne stated. “Then let him stew about the database until he meets with her. You will,” she paused, “protect her from him?”
Eric let the surprise show on his face since the queen could not see him. That she sincerely seemed to care for Sookie’s safety and wellbeing was something he’d not anticipated.
“My child loves her cousin—you see,” Sophie-Anne continued, her words coming quickly as if in explanation. “She loves Jason too and was heart-broken about the grandmother’s death. Even in her new life, Hadley carries much shame because her actions caused their estrangement. She has hoped for a reconciliation.”
“I will protect Sookie Stackhouse from all threats,” Eric said once the queen had finished her explanation.
“Good,” the queen affirmed. “I know that you will have things well in hand regarding one such as Compton.”
“Yes, though he seems determined to make himself a nuisance. I doubt that he will bow out gracefully when she cuts him irrevocably from her life.”
“Let us hope—for his sake—that he abides by her wishes,” Sophie-Anne stated thoughtfully. “If he does not, it will indicate that he has ignored a direct order—from me.”
Eric could hear a masculine growl coming from the queen’s end of the call.
“I will be sure to inform you then if—when—he disobeys. And please tell Wybert hello from me.”
The Saxon grunted.
“How you can tell them apart so easily—even from something as simple as a sound—has always amused me,” the queen laughed.
The Viking chuckled as well, feeling much lighter, given the nature of his call with his queen. In truth, he’d not wanted to think the worst of Sophie-Anne regarding Sookie. Though he wasn’t pleased with her methods and he certainly didn’t fully trust Andre, he did believe that the queen would not wish to abuse another woman.
Manipulating Sookie to suit her needs—as long as Sookie was mostly unharmed? Well—that was another story. However, that particular plotline had now been closed to Sophie-Anne, and the queen was taking that news better than Eric had anticipated.
“I’d like to meet Miss Stackhouse soon—perhaps a month or so after the New Year? Hadley really does wish to reconnect with both of her cousins as soon as they are accepting of the idea,” Sophie-Anne said, breaking the Viking from his thoughts. “Compton was supposed to have begun arranging such a meeting.”
“I am sure that did not happen,” the Viking shared.
The queen scoffed. “I’m sure it did not. And—Northman—if it aids you or Miss Stackhouse, you have my permission to expel Compton from Area 5.”
Again, Eric let his surprise show on his face. “I will keep that in mind, your majesty. And I will tell Sookie that Hadley wishes to meet with her and Jason Stackhouse,” Eric responded. “But—even if the siblings are not ready for that—Sookie and I will come to New Orleans for work.”
“Can the trip be arranged for when the Arkansas King’s contingent is here?” the queen asked. “I’d like to know what Peter Threadgill’s motives are for seeking a marriage alliance with me.”
“Surely Arkansas doesn’t have enough to offer to tempt you,” Eric ventured.
“Perhaps not, but an alliance with a neighboring state often comes with unforeseen benefits. It was before your time in Louisiana, but you have to have heard about Russell and my marriage alliance from the 1830s to 1930s; I believe it is what kept our kingdoms intact while the humans ravaged one another in the war Compton fought in.”
“I have heard that the marriage was an advantageous one,” Eric returned.
Sophie-Anne chuckled. “Do not tell anyone, but Russell and I forewent all but the first conjugal requirement, as well as the yearly sharing of blood. But the shared business ventures between us increased both of our wealth. The shipping business we were able to maintain throughout the war alone was enough to fill our coffers for centuries! I would offer another alliance to him, but I suspect Russell has his eyes set on Indiana. Indeed—now that I think about it—he is hoping to have his blood and eat it too,” she giggled.
“Your majesty?” Eric questioned her sudden girlish sound.
“I was just wondering when Russell would turn his human lover. I have heard that he is exceedingly fond of young Talbot. However, Indiana is quite handsome. Together, the two would offer Russell the best of both worlds.”
Eric chuckled. “You are right about that. And I see no problem with bringing Sookie to court when Peter Threadgill’s contingent is there—as long as it is understood that myself and other guards of our choosing will be accompanying her.”
“Of course,” she confirmed her understanding of the situation. “I really do look forward to meeting her,” she said. “I’ll have someone call you about the logistics.”
“I will be waiting,” Eric said, his words conveying multiple meanings, which he knew that the queen would not miss.
He would be waiting for the queen’s call to set up the trip. But he would also be waiting to confirm that Sophie-Anne was actually “innocent” of malignant intentions towards Sookie. And—more than that—he’d be waiting to make sure that Andre didn’t cause trouble.
Sophie-Anne hung up the phone with a slight nod in Wybert’s direction.
“Is the sheriff satisfied?” her child asked.
“Mostly,” Sophie-Anne confirmed, “though it will take a while before I earn his full trust again.”
“Whose trust?” Andre asked as he entered the throne room.
“I phoned Sheriff Northman to assuage any unease on his part regarding the telepath,” the queen stated, giving her child a look that let him know that she did not want to hear any displeasure at her actions.
“Oh?” Andre asked, keeping his voice steady, though his maker—of course—could feel that he disagreed with her smoothing things over with Eric. “How was the conversation? Anything enlightening come from it?”
“Actually, I learned that Bill may have done Miss Stackhouse substantially more harm than he told us about. Also, Eric indicated that the telepath has accepted his claim.”
“And you believe him?” Andre asked.
“Yes,” Sophie-Anne said simply.
“Would you like for me to go to Bon Temps? To confirm the telepath’s preferences?” Andre asked.
“No. I do not think so,” the queen said contemplatively. “Indeed, we shall meet Miss Stackhouse soon enough. She is to start a telepathy-for-hire business in the near future, and Eric has agreed to bring her to New Orleans to work when Threadgill’s contingent is here.”
“A business?” Andre asked suspiciously. “It seems Compton was right. Northman is clearly using the telepath for his own profit and purposes.” He scoffed. “We will be lucky if he allows us her services at all,” he added sarcastically.
“I believe the business is a safety measure for Miss Stackhouse—and a sage one,” Sophie-Anne returned calmly. “And let us wait to gage how Sheriff Northman will hire her out—shall we? It is quite possible that we will be first on her clientele list—just as Eric assured me not ten minutes ago.”
“You should have waited until I was here before speaking with him,” Andre practically pouted. “I might have heard deception in his tone.”
Sophie-Anne stroked her eldest child’s cheek to soothe his rising passion. “Do not fear, dear child. I had Wybert here, and—as you know—it is his ears that are best at sussing out deception over the phone. And—do not forget—my ears are even better than your brother’s,” she winked at her eldest, purposely keeping her mood playful.
Andre could not help but to be soothed a bit. “I worry for you, my mistress.”
“I know, dear child,” she smiled. “And I love you for it. But I need you to trust me in this situation. I know that things did not go as you would have wished in this situation, but things are as they are now.”
“You should have the telepath here. Such creatures are too rare not to be used by a queen or king,” Andre said with a stubborn air about him.
“I will be able to hire her for her services, and you know that such an arrangement suits my own sensibilities better than other alternatives,” she said significantly. Indeed, Andre—above all others—knew just how abused his maker had been before she’d turned him.
The child nodded. “Yes, mistress. I will trust your judgement.”
“Thank you, child,” she said, leaning forward to kiss his lips chastely. The two rarely engaged in sexual intercourse anymore, but their intimacy with each other had only grown stronger in other ways.
“You heard no duplicity on Northman’s part?” Andre asked over the queen’s shoulder.
“None,” Wybert confirmed.
“See?” Sophie-Anne smiled. “All is well.”
Andre nodded with acceptance.
Yes—he would accept his maker’s wishes regarding Northman and the telepath for now.
But he was glad to have his spy deployed nonetheless.
A/N: I hope that you enjoyed this conversation. Again, I’m trying to portray Sophie-Anne as politically savvy, though—perhaps—too easily swayed by Andre sometimes. And, of course, Eric is too wise to alienate her too much—especially if she is extending the olive branch here. Let me know what you think if you have the time and inclination.