“I must complain the cards are ill-shuffled till I have a good hand.”-Jonathan Swift
As Magister, Duncan had to preside over the “wedding” trial, though he could think of about a million places he’d rather be—the chiefest being between his bonded’s thighs.
The vampire licked his lips.
However—despite his preferences—it was part of Eric’s plan that he be the arbiter for the conflict between Dulcina and Freyda. At least he could amuse himself with being the theater master as he distracted the other vampires from the machinations going on behind the scenes that night.
The wily Welshman looked around the room. Given the series of attempts on his “un-death,” Isabel, Miguelito, and several other allies were watching over him, though—from what Rasul had reported—no plans were in place to attack him that night. And that was likely the only way he had been able to avoid wearing Klymene like a shadow. He smiled as he thought of his mate and her “attentions” earlier that evening when he rose. She’d been especially thorough, and he’d been especially thorough right back.
With regret, he concentrated on the matter at hand, rather than the way his pledged mate had felt in his hands. Duncan had already studied the layout of the large room, quickly identifying escape routes. Just as quickly, he identified the vampires who were potential threats to him. A few were older than he was; however, his chair was placed on a raised dais at the front of the room. From this position, he would be able to see any enemies coming. And he’d have the higher ground from which to fight—and, therefore, the upper hand.
To conduct all of his business as Magister, Duncan had opted to use a large comfortable leather swivel chair—the kind one might see in an executive’s office. However, his chair was “special,” fully loaded with stakes and silver-tipped throwing daggers. There was even a short sword concealed below the chair’s base. As an added bonus, Duncan had learned over the previous weeks that many were disconcerted when he “swiveled” or “spun” during their testimonies, and that amused him to no end.
He decided to swivel a bit to continue his study of his surroundings. Three conference tables with two seats each were set up about ten feet from him. Mitchell would be using the middle table and his two suitors would be on either side of him. Rows of chairs were packed into the rest of the room.
Duncan took note of the arrival of Thalia and Bubba. He smirked. If Thalia was there, it meant that his “sister-in-law” was safe.
“A fucking circus,” Jacob whispered snidely as he took the seat next to Duncan’s. Roman’s child was acting as the court scribe for the night. Nan had been offered the job—since two of the three states involved in the trial were generally considered to be a part of her jurisdiction, but she’d refrained, claiming that she had work outside of Rhodes that night. Of course, both Duncan and Jacob knew better.
Of course, Duncan certainly preferred Jacob’s company to Nan’s, especially since he was a fellow Welshman and a trusted ally. The two could converse easily in Welsh, and none were the wiser about anything they said.
“Three ring,” Duncan intoned, not bothering to speak quietly.
And, indeed, the “trial” was a circus. Not surprisingly, the room was already practically packed, despite the fact that there were still a few minutes before the monarchs involved in the trial were set to arrive. However, Duncan noticed that some monarchs were missing from the gathering, including Russell, Felipe de Castro, and Bartlett Crowe.
Duncan smirked. His brother had been right. Eric had been certain that Russell and his chief confederates would use the “cover” of the trial to meet and finalize their plans.
“Gods, I hate this motherfucking job,” Duncan commented as he watched Sophie-Anne and Talbot gossiping merrily.
Jacob chuckled. Because of his maker, Jacob had known his fellow Welshman for years, and he’d been present at a few of Duncan’s trial sessions during the last several weeks—mostly as back-up given the several attempts that had already been made on Duncan’s life. Amusingly, Duncan seemed much more annoyed during the trials themselves than during the assassination attempts that almost invariably occurred before or after them. In fact, when—after the last session, which had been held in Portland—there hadn’t been an attempt made on his life, Duncan had seemed downright disappointed, calling the entire evening a waste of time. Indeed, Jacob hoped that Duncan would be “let off the hook” by Roman once the turmoil with Russell was over. Of course, if things didn’t go their way, Duncan would be let off the hook anyway.
“Bydd yn fuan yn cael ei orffen, o leiaf,” Jacob commented. [“It will soon be over, at least.”]
“Gadewch i ni obeithio hynny,” Duncan intoned, knowing that both he and Jacob were referring to the job in its entirety—and not just the insufferable trial that night. [“Let us hope so.”]
Duncan tried to comfort himself. At least, his role for the evening was important for the cause—so to speak. After all, exploiting the “love triangle” was a key element of Eric’s plan; its role was to create diversions at various times during the summit, and so far that had been accomplished in spades. Of course, the outcome of the trial itself had already been determined. Dulcina was to lose, and the wedding of Mitchell and Freyda was to be set for the next night—an appetizer for the Masquerade.
Another occasion for distraction.
An opportunity to move key allies into place.
Duncan felt sorry for King Mitchell, who would have to go through with the farce and be married to Freyda for a few hours. In fact, he felt bad for both Mitchell and Dulcina, who seemed to have true affection for each other. But, then again, their reward would be getting control of Oklahoma, following Freyda’s death the next night.
If Eric’s plan worked—that is.
Personally, Duncan had great confidence in his brother and in his plan. But he was wise enough to know that the odds were still not really in their favor—though he’d give Eric’s plan an even chance against the stacked deck possessed by Russell Edgington.
One of the wild cards in that deck walked into the room. Bill Compton. The Antebellum asshole’s eyes darted around as if he were looking for someone.
“Surely the idiot doesn’t think he’ll find Eric here!” Duncan thought to himself with a smirk.
When Compton’s eyes lingered on him and a scowl found its way to his already constipated-looking face, Duncan knew that Russell had told his minion that Eric and Duncan were brothers.
“Efallai ei fod yn credu fy mod yn cadw fy mrawd yn fy mhoced.,” Duncan whispered so that only Jacob could hear. [“Maybe he thinks I am keeping my brother in my pocket.“]
Jacob chuckled. “Neu hyd eich casgen.” [“Or up your ass.“]
Duncan joined his friend in laughing. “Mae’n rhy fawr i ffitio.” [“He is too big to fit.“]
“Mwy na thebyg yn well y ffordd honno,” Jacob intoned. [“Probably better that way.”]
Deciding to have a moment of fun at the Dixie douchebag’s expense, Duncan glared at Bill, who was still scowling at him; to Bill’s credit, he schooled his face almost immediately and went over to join his party.
Duncan could tell that Thalia, who was seated right behind Talbot, Sophie-Anne, and Bill, was listening carefully to everything the younger vampires were saying. This would be a test of whether Bill was going to keep his trap shut about seeing Sookie. It was already clear that he’d not gone straight to Russell. And since Maggie and Brady were monitoring communications—both in-house and cell signals—they also knew that Bill had not placed any phone calls.
As an added safeguard, Klymene had tailed Bill after his and Sookie’s meeting. According to a text from Klymene, he’d done exactly as Sookie had asked—just like a “good boy.” He’d showered, changed his clothing, and had proceeded immediately to the trial room.
Wearing a disguise and Octavia’s modified scent-concealment potion, Klymene slipped into the room and gave Duncan a little nod, confirming that all was going according to plan. She would be tracking the accented ass for the rest of the night in order to make sure that Billy remained a good little boy.
Quinn, the Weretiger from Nevada and the master of ceremonies at the Summit, came to the front of the room and called the audience to order. Knowing about Quinn’s role in the pursuit of Eric and Sookie in Arizona, Duncan had the impulse to rip the tiger’s head off.
“Tomorrow night,” he promised himself as he swiveled his chair to watch King Mitchell enter the room. He was accompanied by his second and was dressed to impress in a tailored navy suit. His tie was obviously custom-made. Half of it was deep red and the other half was bright yellow—the respective colors of the queens of Texas and Oklahoma.
” Sut diplomyddol,” he intoned to Jacob. [“How diplomatic.”]
Next into the room was Dulcina, who was dressed in a sharp red business suit—the same hue as half of Mitchell’s tie. Jasper Fant, a well-respected demon lawyer (and the husband of one of his brother’s helpful witch friends), accompanied her. The Queen of Texas looked professional and well-put-together.
A few minutes after Quinn announced her—and then announced her again—Freyda finally swept into the room dramatically, wearing an extremely full yellow ball gown. There were garish white flowers sewn into the bodice, and the queen wore a crown. Freyda was followed by Desmond Cataliades, whom Duncan knew had been asked to represent Freyda by Russell Edgington.
“Dim cystadleuaeth fucking,” Jacob muttered under his breath. [“No fucking contest.”]
Duncan chuckled at Jacob amalgamation of Welsh and English as he shared an eye roll at the Oklahoma queen’s gaudy display with his fellow Welshman. Dulcina outclassed her in spades!
“Are there hoops in those sleeves or just the skirt?” Duncan—loudly—asked the pretentious queen as she passed in front of the dais.
“This is a one of a kind Oscar de la Renta, designed in honor of my future husband,” the Oklahoma queen preened as she leered at Mitchell.
“Delectable,” Duncan lied. “Now sit,” he instructed, as if he were speaking to a dog, “if you can.”
Freyda scoffed, but Duncan didn’t give a fuck.
Of course, it took several minutes for Freyda to get herself seated since the small table and chair were not designed to accommodate a skirt the volume of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float! Many of the vampires in the room had heckled or made comments about the pretentious queen by the time she was settled.
After Quinn read a description of the conflict between the queens of Texas and Oklahoma, Duncan had to endure almost an hour of “testimony.” Only an occasional glance at his mate and feeling her amusement through their bond every time his swiveling distracted Freyda kept him from ripping the Oklahoma queen’s head from her shoulders—just to shut her the fuck up!
Finally, it came time to “consider” his judgment. In the end, the case—as it was argued convincingly by Cataliades—was simple mathematics. Russell had lent Freyda an enormous amount of money in order to “change” Mitchell’s affections—though the true source of the money, obviously, hadn’t been revealed during the trial. Although there had been an agreement between the Texas and New Mexico monarchs before Freyda had entered the equation, Texas didn’t have as much money to offer the New Mexico king for his affections. Ruining Dulcina’s chances was that the signed documents between herself and Mitchell had been conveniently “stolen” from her lawyer’s office and “lost” on Mitchell’s end.
Duncan had to hand it to Dulcina. She played her part flawlessly—as did Mitchell, who seemed truly indifferent to the woman he ended up with, as long as he ended up with the one offering his state the most money.
Just to amuse himself, Duncan swiveled for quite a while, looking at Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico in turn. Then, he spun around in a circle a few times while looking upward as if waiting for the answer from God.
However, eventually—just as Eric had scripted—Duncan ruled in Oklahoma’s favor, though seeing her cry out in triumph turned his stomach in a way that he would have thought impossible for a vampire.
He cringed as he watched Freyda squeal and lunge at Mitchell.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” he smirked in Mitchell’s direction, before moving his eyes to Bill, who was listening to a gossiping Sophie-Anne.
“Good boy,” he muttered under his breath as he left the room.
MEANWHILE IN ERIC’S SUITE
“Russell, Bartlett, and Felipe are meeting in Russell’s suite,” Maggie reported.
“And the trial?” Eric asked Brady, who was monitoring surveillance in the ballroom, even as his mother was keeping track of the traffic on Russell’s floor.
“It’s going smoothly,” he responded, “though Duncan looks like he’s about ready to kill someone.”
“Compton is there and seems to be operating as expected,” the Were added.
Eric’s laughter turned to a growl. “Keep an eye on that fucker.”
“Nan just entered Russell’s suite,” Maggie reported.
“No doubt to give him the most up-to-date information on me,” Roman intoned.
The Guardian was sitting at one end of the dining room. “It’s a pity we cannot overhear their conversation,” he added, looking at Eric piercingly.
“Even I am old enough to pick up the sound of a bug—even one which is using passive technology,” Eric said cautiously. He didn’t want to alienate Roman Zimojic; he already knew that it was a stretch for the older vampire—the fucking Guardian of the Authority, no less—to follow Eric’s directions.
Roman nodded to concede the point. “Shall we get started then?” he asked.
“Certainly,” Eric replied, deferring to the Guardian’s directive, though the Viking’s posture conveyed that he was clearly the one in charge. Eric took a moment to look around the table. Roman, Brady, Maggie, Pam, and Octavia were the only ones present, for—other than Klymene, Leonie, Duncan, and Sookie, who were all busy elsewhere—they were the only ones who knew all of the elements of his plan.
Or, at least, most of them.
Even Sookie didn’t know all of them. She wasn’t aware of the cluviel dor, which he kept in his pocket at all times as if it was an answer to a prayer.
Of course, he wasn’t aware of all the details of Sookie’s conversation with the Ancient Pythoness either.
However, Eric had learned that asking too many questions could be even more dangerous than asking none. And he trusted the Ancient Pythoness. Most importantly, however, he trusted in his wife—just as she trusted in him.
“Where is Sookie?” Octavia asked. “Are we not gonna wait for her?” she added, somewhat teasingly.
“Sookie and Leonie will be here soon,” Eric said in response, ignoring Octavia’s playful lilt. “What of the improved concealment potion?” he asked the witch.
“We are testing it tonight on Klymene,” Octavia reported, her accent as thick as ever. “Apparently, not even Duncan can smell her—not even when dey were touching. ‘T’will work to conceal your scents completely.” She grinned.
“Proud of yourself?” Eric asked her with a smirk.
“Yes, but I’m most happy because my Jasper and I were celebrating my new discovery—right up until dee moment I had to get dressed to come here. ‘Course, he couldn’t have gone to dee trial naked either,” she cackled.
Eric chuckled. “I take it the celebration was satisfactory.”
“‘T’always is with my mate,” Octavia giggled.
“How many doses of your new invention were you able to make? How long does it last?” the Viking asked, getting back to business.
“It don’t last long—only ’bout six hours. I’ve enough to give dosages to you, Klymene, Pam, and Claude,” she reported. “And one other.”
“What of Pythia?” Roman asked, obviously concerned about his maker’s ability to make a surprise entrance.
Octavia smirked. “Dat lady called me to visit her earlier dis night. She told me dat she needed no part of my potions. She also said dat we would need her dosage for someone else, but dee lady would not tell me who. She said dat Sookie would have an idea of who should have it, so I will leave dee extra with you.” She chuckled and looked at Roman. “Your maker seems to like keeping her secrets.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Roman muttered under his breath.
Eric considered this new information for a moment and then shrugged. “I’m sure its use will come to light. Are the Authority members ready?” Eric asked, looking at Roman.
“We are all meeting later; they will be prepared,” Roman responded. “They are all ready to fight for their lives—to fight for the mainstreaming cause.”
“Likely, Russell will have someone ready to take them out—specific assassins assigned to each of them. And you will likely be his intended target,” Eric commented.
“How can you be sure?” Roman asked.
“That would be my strategy if I were him.”
Roman nodded. “It makes sense. If each of his allies has but one main goal, their energy will not be divided.”
“Did you ensure that Nan’s spy knows of all but two of the Councilors?” Eric asked.
“Yes. I called Mirabel into my office before I left last night. I’m sure that she overheard the tail end of my conference call with most of the Councilors. Isaiah of Kentucky and Lena of Quebec have remained unknown since they are the oldest of the Councilors.”
Eric nodded. “If I am right, Russell will task Felipe and Bartlett with engaging the unknown members. He will choose the assassins for the others very carefully.”
The Viking looked at the papers in front of him. “Bill Compton met with the Queen of Georgia earlier tonight. If I had to speculate, I would guess that Lilah will target Rosalyn.”
Roman nodded. “I will tell Rosalyn to watch herself; however, Lilah is older than Rosalyn.”
Eric nodded. “Others will be assigned to aid Rosalyn.”
“Good,” Roman said. “I imagine that the King of Alabama has been enlisted to fight Kibwe, given their past disagreements.”
“Agreed,” Eric responded. “They are evenly matched. But Johnathan will be expecting surprise to be on his side. And Kibwe will be ready.”
“There’s no prize for guessing who will go after the King of Arkansas,” Brady intoned.
Roman nodded in agreement. “Very true. Now that we know Bartlett Crowe is one of Russell’s cronies, it is logical that his child, Jade Flower, was placed in Peter’s court to eventually betray and murder him. Peter is very anxious to kill his two-faced lieutenant—and you know how volatile he can be. But I have convinced him to wait until tomorrow night.”
The group spent the next several minutes speculating about who might target the other now-known Councilors, who included Agnes, the Queen of California; Edwin, the king of Oregon and Washington; and Dieter Braun, the former King of Germany, the vampire brother to the Queen of New York, and a prominent businessman.
The allies also made a list of other likely targets, including Duncan, Jacob, Dulcina, Isabel, and Miguelito. Then they worked to list Russell’s other known allies.
After all the likely pieces were identified, Eric assigned each of his own allies to handle weaker or equivalent opponents on the figurative chessboard in his mind.
When he was done, he was pleased with the configurations. In their guise as hotel employees, Maggie and Brady were tasked with informing all the non-Authority members of their particular assignments. Roman would take care of the Councilors.
“Our people should be ready to strike as soon as the last Authority member makes himself known,” Eric said.
“Why not before then?” Roman asked.
“Because—as much as we prepare—we are currently unaware of all of Russell’s allies. Just as he is unaware of all of yours,” Eric responded with a respectful nod in Roman’s direction. “And—unless you want potential enemies to remain alive or un-dead—we must allow Russell to unleash his full army first. Ours will be waiting.”
“Russell will come after me,” Roman stated flatly. “And I cannot defeat him. If I thought I could, I would have done so years ago.”
“Don’t worry. Russell will be distracted when Sookie and I will reveal ourselves, and—as soon as he sees us—he won’t give a fuck about you. No offense.”
“None taken,” the Guardian chuckled.
“After he’s busy, you can turn your attention to making sure the rest of Russell’s army is stopped,” Eric said.
Roman nodded as he looked at the schematics of the first floor of the hotel. He pointed to the large ballroom where the Masquerade was being held. “I will have my guards stationed in the lobby and along these three corridors,” he said, pointing at the blueprints.
“But we have to assume that Russell will plan on your bringing troopers,” Eric remarked. “He will have forces beyond his Were pack.”
“Who?” Pam asked, speaking up for the first time.
“Additional Weres?” Eric speculated. “Ones we don’t know about yet? Maybe vampires who owe him favors. Russell had alienated most in Europe before he left the Old World, but there are a few who still owe him their loyalty. We must expect the unexpected.”
“Wildcards,” Roman observed.
“Speaking of wildcards,” Maggie said with a little growl, “guess what bastard just entered Russell’s room?”
A/N: Hope you enjoyed getting to know some of the people a bit better. Duncan is fun to write (so is Jacob—who, remember, is Roman’s child). And it’s been fun working with Roman in this piece. I wanted to make him quite different from his television incarnation. And, remember, that the AP is his maker. If you forget who is who, visit the cast page for this story. Along with the character “plates” I make that include the actors’ names, I’ve also begun putting in descriptions for characters that are “new” or OOC or whom I’ve given relationships that aren’t cannon. I hope this will help you keep things straight.
The cast was huge for this chapter too! It seems like a good time to remind everyone of the amazing work that Sephrenia does with the art and that Kleannhouse does with the beta-work. What would I do without them?!?
And a preview of the Authority!!