*Chapter 4*: Chapter 3
Disclaimer: Southern Vampire Mystery characters belong to Charlaine Harris. My original characters, however, belong to moi.
Day of the Wedding
Sookie paced nervously back and forth in her living room. She was waiting for the limo service to pick her up and take her to the airport. In direct opposition to Pam’s last directive, she had packed a change of casual clothes and a simple but elegant black floor length sheath dress to wear to the wedding, which was draped over the small suitcase in a modest (and non-matching) garment bag. The dress was form fitting and highlighted her (two) best features. She had tried on the dress earlier in the day and noticed that it hung a bit looser as she had recently lost weight (at least some good had come out of all the stress she had been under!). She thought it looked more flattering on her since the last time she wore it. It had been a bit too snug when she had gone on a dinner/dancing date with Eric (much to his delight at the time, leading to him impatiently strip her out of it as soon as they had returned to his house). Her abdomen clenched as she thought about their frenzied lovemaking that night…reliving the feel of his skillful tongue, hands, and gracious plenty with a sharp pang of longing.
She shook herself out of her bittersweet (and overstimulating!) reverie and glanced out the window for the millionth time as she nervously reflected over the events of the past few days.
~~~~~~Flashback to Earlier in the Week~~~~~~~~
On Tuesday, at closing time at Merlotte’s after all the other employees had left for the night, she and Sam had gotten into another heated exchange. However, she had put her foot down and told him that she had made up her mind and for him to drop the subject. He had begrudgingly conceded defeat, but not without energetically reiterating his laundry list of concerns and warnings. He had even offered to go to the wedding with her, much to her surprise, but she had gently declined.
She had tried to stay as busy as possible during the rest of the week, and had also called Jason to let him know she would be out of town for a couple of days. Being Jason, he had initially seemed distracted during the conversation until she mentioned where she kept her will and other important documents. Even being as slow on the uptake as Jason was, he had read between the lines and called her out on the underlying subtext to her message.
“Sook, what kind of shit have you gotten yerself into now? Are you plannin’ on somethin’ happenin’ to you? It ain’t got somethin’ to do with those damned vampers, does it?”
“Yes, Jason, it does. I’m going to Eric’s wedding. And no, I don’t plan on anything bad happening to me.” She paused but then added, “But knowing my track record, something bad will probably happen.” She sighed. “I just want you to be prepared in the event of…” She let her voice trail off and changed the subject by asking him about how things were going at work and the Hotshot clan.
Jason had tried to pump her for more information, but she remained evasive and also had turned him down when he had also (touchingly) offered to accompany her.
To top things off, Bill had paid her a visit Friday night after she had returned home from work. She had just gotten out of her car and was heading for the back door when she felt his void approaching from the direction of his house.
She turned to him and waited until he emerged out of the shadows. She didn’t waste time getting to the point. “Hello Bill. Not to be rude, but I am pretty tired and my feet are killing me. I’m not feeling much like talking right now.”
His dark eyes appraised her coolly. “Sookie. We must talk and I apparently do not have the luxury of time to wait to broach the subject.”
She let out a huge sigh. “Bill, I’m not sure what you are referring to, but I guess we can talk a few minutes in the house. After I take off my shoes and sit for a spell, mind you. I’ve been on my feet all day and night.”
Bill followed her into the house and sat patiently on a wingback chair as she toed her shoes and socks off and plopped down across from on the couch. She grimaced as she rubbed her sore and reddened feet.
“Okay, Bill, I’m all ears. Shoot.”
“Sookie,” he said in his heavy Southern drawl. “It has come to my attention that you are planning to attend Eric’s wedding this weekend. Is this correct?”
“Cut the crap, Bill. You obviously already know that I damned well intend on going. What’s your point?”
Bill looked at her, his face expressionless. “Sookie. In the interest of brevity, I will cut to the chase: I am afraid for you. As you can well imagine, you will be walking into a situation where you are not welcomed. Freyda views you as a serious rival, though she does not want this to be common knowledge. Your life could well be forfeit should you attempt to attend the wedding.”
Sookie frowned. “Bill. I am already well aware of the risks,” here Bill opened up his mouth to interrupt but she held up her hand to continue, “And, I have discussed them with Pam. I plan on attending the wedding with her. Plus,” she gritted out, “Freyda has granted her “permission” to “allow” me to be there.” She closed her eyes for a moment and got her temper reigned in before continuing, “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask, have you been invited? Are you planning on going?”
Bill sighed. “No. I have been asked to help oversee Area 5 in Pam’s absence…Sookie. I can see that you have made up your mind, but please, reconsider. I…”
Sookie interrupted him and stood up. “Bill, I really am dead on my feet right now and just want to go to bed. I appreciate your concern, I really do, and I do think you have my, ah, best interests at heart here, but I am going to the wedding. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t worried and didn’t have reservations, but I’ve thought it through…I’ve got my reasons. It’s something I have to do.”
Bill stood and nodded his head. He approached her and gave her a dry kiss on her forehead before heading out the door without another word. She couldn’t shake the feeling that it somehow it felt like he was giving her a final farewell.
She stood at the door for several minutes after he left, staring out at the dark night long after her security motion lights had shut off.
Sookie’s heart beat faster as she heard the limo make its way down her gravel driveway. She picked up her small travel bags and stood on the porch after locking her door. She waited for the chauffeur to exit the limousine, but she was surprised when the lone passenger in the back of the car first emerged from the vehicle, a smile on his rotund face.
Her mouth opened in shock but she recovered her manners quickly as she hurriedly made her way down the porch steps to wrap her arms around his thick middle in a hug. “Mr. Cataliades! I am so glad to see you. Boy, you have good timing! I need some advice!”
He beamed. “Yes, my dear, I am sure you are full of questions regarding the upcoming wedding and…our arrangements. I believe Ms. Ravenscroft has filled you in to some extent about the contract?”
Sookie nodded. And he continued. “Excellent. I have brought the document with me and can answer any questions or concerns you may have on our way to the airport. Please do not be upset that I had not brought it to your attention sooner my dear, but time was of the essence and I had to move quickly to finalize the contract at Pam’s urging.” He smiled apologetically. “Come, let our “chauffer” get your bags while we make ourselves comfortable.”
At his cue, Diantha popped out of the driver’s side and up to the porch in a blink of an eye. “HiyaSookiegladtoseeya,” she blurted as she gave Sookie a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. Sookie smiled fondly at her and returned the greeting. She watched as the diminutive demon (wearing a chauffer’s cap, purple lycra leggings, hot pink mini tutu, and black corset) quickly tossed her bags in the trunk and disappeared back into the driver’s seat.
Sookie approached the door that Mr. Cataliades held open for her and slid into the leather back seat. As the car started backing out of her drive, she realized for the first time in a long time, she felt…hope.
Ponca City, Oklahoma…The Night Before the Wedding
Eric strode down the loggia of Freyda’s mansion, which separated the north and south salons of the grand structure. The property had been specifically chosen for the site of the wedding. The “Marland Mansion” aka, “The Palace of the Prairies” was one of her favorite homes. It was located on an isolated and sprawling estate in Ponca City. It had been built in the 1920’s by oil baron and former governor of Oklahoma, E.W. Marland. The mansion had four levels and was over 43,500 square feet, consisting of 55 rooms. In the mansion itself, (not including the servant’s quarters, artist studio, boathouse, and other buildings) there were 10 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, and 3 kitchens. The architect, John Duncan Forsyth, had incorporated European elements heavily into his design, and the integrity of the original structures had been maintained over time, with only minor renovations and additions made to the original structures (primarily centered around making sleeping quarters light tight for the vampire inhabitants).
One of the most unique features of the estate was the tunnel system that connected the mansion to both the lake house and the artist’s studio. The mansion itself was intricate and unusual, and under other circumstances, Eric would have enjoyed further exploring the home and the grounds at his leisure…that is, if he had truly been a guest and not a captive audience.
As it was, as soon as he had approached the gate in his corvette, he had been intercepted by guards and flagged to pull around to follow the winding drive in back of the mansion to another, smaller two-story home that was attached to a multi-car garage.
As soon as he stepped out of his car, one of the two vampire guards who had initially flagged him approached cautiously and nodded a terse greeting. “Northman. As you know, we have incorporated heightened security measures prior to the wedding and have been instructed to inspect all vehicles and persons entering the estate. At her majesty’s behest, anyone entering the estate prior to the ceremony is subject to these precautionary measures. No exceptions.”
Eric had expected as much, and deduced that it was in part driven by his recent “disappearance.” He knew it was folly to argue, but thought it would be suspicious if he did not at least make a half-hearted objection regarding the newly instated policy.
“Am I to understand that even the queen’s consort is to be subjected to this indignity?” He glared severely at the guard.
The guard visibly gulped. “Sorry sir, but there is to be no exceptions…and…,” here the vamp visibly cringed as he eyed Eric’s sword that had been slung across his broad shoulder as he exited the car. “I apologize, but your weapon, your sword…it must be surrendered. All weapons that are not in the service of the royal guard are to be confiscated.”
At this, Eric bristled, all pretense dropped. “This is my personal sword that is to be used in a ceremonial capacity during the wedding. It is necessary for the pledging and to the swearing of fealty and service to the queen. I do not allow for others to touch it.” He stood with his feet apart, massive arms taut in readiness. “You will contact Freyda now. You will explain the presence of the weapon on my person.” He looked down grimly at the shrunken guard.
“Yes, of course, please permit me a moment.” At this, the guard pulled out a cellphone and walked a few feet away. Eric listened as the guard spoke to Freyda’s lieutenant. There was a pause while he assumed Freyda was consulted.
The guard listened briefly and stated, “Very good, sir, I will let him know.” He returned to Eric and relayed the news that he was allowed to keep the sword, but conditionally: he was to surrender the weapon immediately following the ceremony, ostensibly to “help promote an air of peace and accord within the court” according to the bullshit excuse Freyda had undoubtedly fed her lackey.
As he made his way into the mansion, he was “escorted” by four of her personal guardsmen, two vampire and two were. He knew that he would have to answer to her suspicions given that he had essentially disappeared the previous night. In other words, he had damage control to manage. But, he thought with a mental shrug, it had been a necessary evil and there had been no way to avoid it.
Since he had been under near constant surveillance after he was ordered by Felipe to begin making the transition as future consort to Oklahoma several weeks ago, any subversive movements he made came with a price, of raising red flags. He was able to implement the initiation of his and Pam’s plans without overt detection because he had waylaid and quickly dispatched the two vamps that had been sent to follow him when he had left the estate before doubling back and unobservedly taking flight that night back to his safehouse.
As they approached the mansion, he waited for the guards to open the ornate doors that led to the south salon that was used as Freyda’s formal throne room and waited for them to nod him permission to enter. The fact that she was receiving him in this room and not her personal study was a bad sign.
Freyda sat at the far end of the hall, perched with perfect posture on an ebony black throne, inlaid with 14 carat gold and mother of pearl. The throne was selected to coordinate with the black and white tiles original to the design of the home.
To the right side of her throne stood Hans, her large blonde lieutenant, who strongly resembled Eric in height, build, and coloring, but not in fairness of face. Hans also had a reputation as a formidable warrior. The entire left side of his face was marred by a deep and jagged gash that slanted from forehead to cross an empty eye socket and down his cheek. He glared at Eric with his one remaining eye and stood silently. Freyda was flanked on either side of her throne by four more of her personal guardsmen.
She appraised him coolly as he was allowed to approach her throne. Several moments lapsed before she spoke. “Eric. I see you have found your way back, and seemingly just in time for the wedding. I began to worry about you. I was beginning to think you had absconded with your little barmaid to leave me at the altar,” she said icily with a tight smile.
Eric approached her throne and nodded his head slightly in begrudging deference. “Your majesty. I apologize that I was out of pocket, but as I had informed you, I had several issues to attend to in my area, both of a private and political nature, that demanded my presence prior to our nuptials. I had every intention of returning as soon as my business was completed.”
Freyda eyed him stoically. “Yes. I see. And what pray tell was the nature of your business? You were quite vague before you left so abruptly. As your future wife and queen, I would think you would want me to be privy to your interests, both pertaining to business and that of a…more private nature.”
Eric was stonefaced. He knew it was of crucial importance to tread carefully. He made sure to tell enough of the truth to hopefully placate her while still hiding his true intentions. He also knew that she was aware that her two minions who had been ordered to follow him had failed to report or return back to court…this was indeed a very risky and potentially fatal game of cat and mouse he was playing.
He looked at her with a neutral expression on his face as he began evenly, “I needed to return to my primary residence to retrieve personal belongings, including my sword that you so graciously allowed me to keep on my person, as well as to meet with my underlings in area 5 to make sure that my responsibilities were attended to. Some of the matters demanded my presence, your majesty, and could not be delegated. All issues have now been resolved.” He bowed. “You should rest assured, I had no intention of missing our wedding night. It will truly be a night to remember.”
There was a pregnant silence in the grand hall before Freyda finally replied, “Yes…I am sure it will be.”
Eric bowed without averting his eyes and said, “With your leave, majesty,” and turned and walked out of the throne room. Freyda’s eyes narrowed as she watched him depart, subtly moving her hand to signal her guards to follow him, her mouth set in a grim line.
A/N If you are interested, the Marland mansion is real (which is cool and not a little bit creepy in my opinion), and the website has a lot of pictures and factoids that will help you, the reader, visualize the setting for the wedding. The history behind it is fascinating (at least to me) and I thought it was perfect for my story.
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