Disclaimer: Southern Vampire Mysteries characters belong to Charlaine Harris.
AN: Thanks to everyone who took the time to leave a review for the last chapter.
WARNING: This chapter contains graphic descriptions of torture and war, so reader discretion is advised.
Eric hung heavily in his chains, his arms wrenched above his head to the point of dislocation by the manacles. He was in a murky stupor, floating in and out of consciousness. He had withstood hours of torture during his “interrogation” by Niall and his cronies, refusing to reveal any of his battalion’s secrets. He had deliberately fed them false information but the cursed bastards had used a device that could detect deception, and so he was punished all the more cruelly when his deceit was discovered.
After a certain point during the torture, likely after they had pried out his eyes and wedged silver orbs into the sockets, he had finally passed out from the excruciating pain and blood loss. When he had awakened, he was relieved that they had departed. However, he found they had not been idle while he was unconscious, as there were multiple silver blades left imbedded in his flesh. Eric had withstood torture throughout the centuries (indeed, some of which was inflicted by his maker), but he was painfully aware that the fae were particularly skilled at the craft.
He thought about the sequence of events that led to his current captivity. He had been a forced mercenary, drafted unwillingly into joining Appius Ocella’s folly of a war. His maker had masterminded the invasion of Faery, with the ultimate goal of enslaving and breeding the fae for their blood. He also coveted their magicks and use of their portals, both of which would have led to his near invincibility in their own realm. Appius had created legions of vampire warriors, in order to carry out his mad plot. When Eric had initially declined Appius’s demand to serve as his colonel, he had commanded him, using his power as his maker over him to force compliance.
On the night of his capture, Eric had been a deadly force on the battlefield, slaying his enemy with great speed and skill. All who stood before him fell beneath his sword.
And then, suddenly…he had been stopped in his tracks by his maker’s call. Against Eric’s counsel, Appius, in his haste and greed, attempted to prematurely breach one of the Faery portals. But unlike Eric, his maker had underestimated the fae, who fought as men possessed while fiercely defending their lands.
Eric had beheld Appius smiting lord Fintan’s shield with his iron sword, cleaving it in half and wounding his arm. However, as his maker raised his weapon for a final strike to end the prince’s son, lord Dillon and Prince Niall himself had leapt to his aid. Niall had severed his sword arm with a mighty blow from his silver broadsword, as Dillon hewed his legs asunder. Incapacitated by his injuries and the sudden swarm of fae, he had fallen but commanded Eric to save him from final death with his last breath.
He had no choice but to heed the maker’s call, despite the obvious futility of the situation. By the time Eric had fought his way to his maker’s side, he had witnessed Niall beheading him.
Eric had been brought to his knees by the severing of the maker-child bond. At that point, silver nets had been thrown over him and he had been bludgeoned mercilessly and hewn with their swords. He had heard the prince call out to incapacitate and capture him but not deliver final death before he had been beaten to the point of blacking out. When he had awakened, he bound in silver chains and shackled to the stone walls of the underground prison.
And now, now…he had been literally brought to his knees, blinded, with no hope of escape. He knew that his death was imminent.
But Eric did not fear the true death. As a human man, his people had been great voyagers and warriors. They viewed death, especially one well met on the battlefield, to be a great honor. Indeed, death in battle would be rewarded in the great halls of Valhalla if the warrior was deemed worthy. But now, humiliated and brought to new lows in the dungeon of his enemy, he began to feel hopeless and bereft, abandoned by his gods.
As he slumped in misery in his shackles, he thought himself to be dreaming. It almost seemed as if he could detect the sweet scent of the young woman who had visited him earlier that night. He thought he could hear her softly weeping, and then it seemed as if her feminine voice was whispering to him.
“Sir, Eric, I…am so sorry! I could not stop them…I…I could hear their thoughts, I knew what they had planned, but there was naught to be done!” She choked back a soft sob and it seemed as if she was lightly touching his cheek.
He painfully raised his head in her direction and heard a gasp of shock as she beheld his mutilated face.
“Oh, oh…this is most horrible! For pity’s sake, they took your beautiful eyes!” She struggled to stifle her sobs while she lightly caressed his face.
Eric croaked in a hoarse voice, “Princess? Am I dreaming?”
She gently tried to comb his blood-matted hair back from his face with her fingers before responding with heart wrenching pity, “No…you are not dreaming. I come to tell you that I plan to help you…I do not know how much longer they plan to keep you here, but I beseech you to not lose hope. I am devising a plan for your escape…”
He began to laugh, a disturbing and maniacal sound that echoed in the cell. He rasped, “Escape, little one? I think not! My escape will be the true death…even if you were to unbind me and get me out of this dungeon, I am blinded. Even if the silver were removed, I have lost too much blood and cannot regenerate the tissue. They have effectively hobbled me.”
Sookie winced as she beheld his agonizing injuries. The silver plugs that were cruelly wedged in his eye sockets continued to sizzle his flesh and bone, and his entire lower face was caked in congealed blood. He had numerous, large gaping wounds over his body, in some areas revealing bone and innards. One of the most grievous wounds, besides his mutilated eyes, was one that sliced across his sternum, leaving his ribs revealed, his heart and lung left exposed. He also had numerous silver blades imbedded through his torso, groin, and limbs.
It was heinous and sickening: a living nightmare. Sookie was shocked, undead though he was, that he had survived such brutality.
She whispered in desperation, “Eric, I cannot free you at this moment, but I can offer my blood. It will help strengthen you to endure but for a little while longer, until I can return.”
He smiled a pitiful smile, his chapped lips cracking open. “Princess. That is a kind gesture, but I would not be able to pierce your skin…they have removed my fangs…”
Sookie thought furiously for a moment, looking around the cell. The cart with the evil looking instruments remained in the room. Most were covered in blood, but she was able to find a smaller, razor sharp knife that she tried to wipe clean on her dress.
Sookie blanched as she thought about slicing her flesh, but quickly swallowed down her fear. “Then I shall cut a wound on my wrist. I can hold it up to your lips and you can drink from me.”
Even in the midst of his agony and mental haze, he was completely shocked at her offer. Here was a fae princess, offering to bleed herself for a vampire, a mortal enemy of her kind.
He spoke to her in a quiet, pained voice. “Why, princess? Why attempt to help one such as myself? I have slain countless of your kind, and feasted upon their dying bodies on the battlefield. Why offer yourself to me?”
Sookie paused as she held the knife to her wrist. “Eric… truthfully, I know not….I feel strangely drawn to you. You are not at all as my people describe the súmaire to be…I know you have killed my kind, and I know they have likewise slaughtered yours.” She paused, embarrassed. “You are fair of face and speech…and your mind is quiet. I feel compelled to help you, to be near you…I know not why.”
Eric was confused. What did she mean by “quiet mind”? And had she mentioned “hearing thoughts” earlier? Surely he misheard her. He tried to rise up on his knees but was so weakened, he just fell back and hung limply.
Sookie quickly made a deep wound on her wrist and held it up to the vampire’s mouth. He latched on, and began making deep pulls, moaning in relief all the while. He continued to gulp from the wound until Sookie began to feel lightheaded. She pulled her hand back from his mouth and began to bind her wrist with a strip of fabric she tore from the hem of her skirt.
Eric, feeling some of his strength return, called out with a steadier voice. “Princess, if you rub my blood on your wound, it will heal the cut and none will be the wiser.”
Sookie gaped at him, as she had not heard of the healing properties of vampire blood before. Somewhat skeptical of his claims, she gently touched her finger to his cheek, lightly coating the tip with his clotting blood. She marveled as she watched her own wound close as she ran her finger over her wrist.
“Ah, it is gone! Thank you for that. I had not thought how to explain a bandage on my wrist, and now it is if I had never been cut!”
Eric nodded slightly and said, “It is you who I should thank. That was a most unexpected and generous gift, and freely given at that.” He paused before offering a tired smile. “My only regret is the circumstances under which it was partaken. You are…extraordinary. Would that I could gaze upon your beauty one last time before my true death…”
Sookie grimaced as she inspected him closely. While she was pleased to see that he was able to support his weight with his knees and noticed that some of his wounds had begun to heal, he was still in deplorable condition. She suspected that her blood was likely a temporary balm and nothing more. He would need more infusions if he was to return to even a semblance of his former self.
She began weeping as she once again tried to gently pull his hair from his face. “Eric…I wish I could remove this cursed silver from your eyes…but I cannot. They would know that someone had been inside your cell. I hate that they have done this to you! It must cause you unbearable pain…”
Eric chuckled mirthlessly. “It is…a most excruciating torment.” He was silent as she caressed the side of his face and he nuzzled her hand with his cheek before she pulled away. She noticed that he was once again sagging, unable to hold his weight up any longer. With a jolt, she realized that dawn was fast approaching.
She spoke softly in his ear, “I must go. I will return later…they will not be expecting your escape, and especially not during the day. I have to make preparations before I come to get you.”
He mumbled in a barely perceptible whisper, “Princess, I cannot go outside in daylight. I will be…” His voice trailed off as he died for the day, and so he did not hear Sookie breathe out, “It matters not, you will be protected.” He also did not feel her softly touch her lips to his before she teleported away.
Sookie popped back into her bedroom and changed into her long silk nightgown before falling into her bed. She was exhausted and wanted to get some sleep, however brief, before Muirne came to rouse her for the day. She had planned to feign illness to get out of her studies so she could instead beginning enacting her plan to rescue Eric. Despite her fatigue, her mind continued to reflect back on the sudden and strange path her life was now taking.
Earlier that night…
After reaching the decision to aid Eric, she had dried her tears and sought out the one person who could help her: Claudine. But how to approach her? How would she react to hear that her little cousin planned to help a sumaire warrior escape, one who had slaughtered countless of their kin? She knew Claudine would vehemently disapprove of her plans, but she was desperate for her assistance.
Claudine was the obvious choice, as she and Sookie were quite close. Also, she was one of the most gifted and powerful practitioners of magicks in the kingdom, in part due to her clandestine romance with the sorcerer, Colman (who was also Sookie’s tutor in the arts). Niall and Dillon had disapproved of their burgeoning love and summarily forbade their formal union, as Colman was deemed unstable. They allowed him to teach and provide wards for the kingdom, however, as his skill and powers were undeniable. But…it was whispered that his delving too long and deeply into the magicks had permanently damaged him.
However, Claudine was a kind and gentle soul, and one that always saw far beneath the surface. Whenever she spent time with him, Colman’s instability seemed to lessen and his sanity reemerged under her loving attentions. Likewise, Claudine had learned much from him, particularly in regards to wards and enchantments.
Sookie surprised Claudine when she had popped into the grand ballroom, where the nobility continued to make merry into the wee hours of the morning. Sookie had once again cloaked herself, and so was unobserved when she appeared at Claudine’s side, urgently whispering into her ear. “Cousin. I need your help! Please come with me at once!”
Claudine kept her composure, the only telltale sign that she was startled was a slight raising of her eyebrows. However, Claudette, ever observant, had noticed the surprise on her sister’s face and likewise raised her brow inquiringly.
Claudine ignored her and announced to the group of nobles, “Please excuse me, I just recalled that I needed to relay a message to Colman that is of the utmost importance regarding a request from the prince. I will return as quickly as I may.”
Claudette rolled her eyes and said with a sneer, “Oh, let it be, sister! Stay, and make merry! That madman will likely not even recall your “message” upon the morrow. And besides, he will not be pleased that you are interrupting the riveting conversation he is having with himself !” She shrieked with laughter, as did the others in the small group.
Claudine’s eyes narrowed as she said gratingly, “I won’t be but a moment.” She reached out and subtly touched Sookie’s arm as she teleported, bringing her along.
Claudine popped back into her own chambers, as Sookie removed her cloaking spell and reappeared. She gestured to the sitting area in her adjoining parlor. As they lowered themselves onto an elaborately embroidered settee, Claudine turned and looked at her younger cousin, who was obviously in great emotional turmoil as she bit her lip and wrung her hands.
“What bothers you little Sookie?”
Sookie gave her cousin a nervous but warm smile. Claudine was her only fae relative who referred to her by her human name. The others ignored her request, thinking it uncouth and unbefitting a princess, even one with a diluted bloodline.
“Oh, Claudine! I am in great need of your help. I have no one else to turn to!” She paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “Do you recall Kathel’s boast about aiding in the capture of the súmaire warrior?”
Claudine was confused about where Sookie’s thoughts were leading, but slowly answered, “Of course, cousin. It was the focus of much discussion while we supped. What of it?”
Sookie grimaced before blurting out, “I have met him and I…I want to rescue him from the dungeon!” Sookie braced herself for the coming verbal onslaught and waited for her cousin’s response.
Claudine was stunned into silence. Several moments passed before she responded incredulously, “Sookie…I….” She paused while a thought occurred to her. “Wait, how did you gain admission to the dungeon? You should not have been allowed entry, and there are powerful wards that Colman himself bestowed upon the catacomb to prevent teleportation inside.” Her eyes narrowed in suspicion at her cousin.
Sookie mumbled sheepishly, “Well, er, I bribed the guards with dewberry wine.”
Claudine’s mouth popped open in surprise. “Why, you little devious…” her voice trailed off before continuing. “Grandfather will have their heads for allowing you into that horrible place! And allowing you to converse with the súmaire? Unforgiveable!”
Sookie came to their defense quickly, “No, Claudine, you mustn’t tell on them. I promised them my discretion…and I was only in there but for short while, and the man was chained and shackled. He could not have harmed me. Please, please say nothing about this,” she beseeched.
Claudine sat back and closed her eyes, blowing out a great breath. “Sookie, that was beyond foolish and dangerous. That súmaire beast could have glamoured you with his gaze despite his restraints. He could have manipulated you into doing his bidding without your knowledge. In fact,…”
Sookie interrupted her. “I think he tried to, but he was not successful.”
“What? What did he say to you?” Claudine gripped her shoulders tightly and shook her.
“Ow! Claudine, stop that!” Sookie admonished her cousin, who let go of her arms but continued to glare at her. “He told me to get the keys to his cell and his manacles. His voice changed and his eyes glowed, but he failed to enchant me.”
Claudine snorted, “I think not, cousin! Here you have me accompany you in secrecy away from the celebration to tell me you wish for me to aid you in this mad scheme. You ask me to assist a monster, a vicious súmaire, who I might add, is legendary for his strength and skill as a warrior, and you tell me his efforts to glamour you were unsuccessful? How else do you explain your folly?”
Sookie held her chin up, determined not to allow her cousin to dissuade her. ” I am NOT enchanted. I heard what he said but I told him I could not help him. I interrupted him in the midst of his mind spell attempt.”
Claudine looked at her and sighed. “O, Danu help us, I know that look! You have it firm in your head to try to save this beast.”
Sookie replied angrily, “He is not a beast! He is beautiful and fair of speech…he is…not at all as our stories proclaim…” she trailed off, blushing.
With sudden clarity, Claudine now realized that her cousin was smitten with the súmaire. She shook her head and smiled sadly at Sookie.
“It appears as though you have feelings for this vampire… Alas, I am familiar with the folly of loving one who is not deemed worthy, fae though he may be….But cousin, you are young and there are many fae males who are fair of face and speech. I understand that you are lonely, but truly, a vampire?
Sookie looked abashed for a moment, but then held her cousin’s gaze steadily as she said, “Despite my royal ties, I am still considered by most to be an outsider here in Faery, Claudine. Many men would have me, but would consider me beneath them because of my human heritage. I care not that they are all beautiful to behold, as most are not truly fair within judging by their thoughts.”
Claudine stared at her cousin, hearing her words and understanding them. She smiled ruefully at Sookie.
“Cousin, I hear you. Fae men are not known for their selflessness, which is one reason I love my Colman. But truly, what are you thinking, Sookie? Even if you were to secret the súmaire out of his cell, where would you take him? How would you assist him back to his realm, assuming he does not immediately drain your body dry of blood? Oh yes, lest you forget, grandfather would be beyond infuriated if you cheated him of his great trophy. It would be considered an act of treason, cousin. Please, give up this madness!”
Sookie stood up and said angrily, “I came to you, Claudine, as I had thought you to be the only one who would understand. I recognize that he is our enemy, and dangerous. But I also saw something in him, something I cannot explain. I feel compelled to help this man, and I will do it, without your help!”
Sookie turned and bit out acidly, “I could divulge your great secret, cousin, but I won’t tell uncle Dillon or Niall that you are carrying Colman’s child!”
Claudine was thunderstruck, her lovely face slack with shock. “How…how did you…?” She placed her hand protectively over her abdomen as she gaped at her cousin.
Sookie glared at her. “I can hear the baby…it doesn’t have actual thoughts yet, but I can hear a humming inside of you that wasn’t there before. Never fear, cousin, I will keep your secret though you plan to tell mine! Your thoughts betray you!”
Sookie turned her back on her cousin and was seconds away from popping back to her room before Claudine called out to her.
“Cousin, wait! I…I want to help. Please…?”
Sookie slowly turned around and searched her cousin’s mind. As she heard the sincerity of her thoughts, her eyes lit up. She walked back over to her and they both sat down on the loveseat. She began to tell her about her thoughts…her plans for rescuing Eric.
And that was how Sookie had learned to bypass Colman’s wards, allowing her to teleport into the dungeon, unbeknownst to the guards. She had also found out about Claudine’s secret love nest, a clandestine cottage that was cloaked with magick, far out on the edge of the kingdom, bordering the Great Forest where the elven people dwelled. There was a portal nearby, used by both fae and elf.
Claudine had given permission to take Eric to their cottage, as it was warded against any harm or ill intent to those who inhabited the little home. However, she warned Sookie that once they left its confines, all wards were nullified and there would be nothing to prevent the vampire from turning on her. She pled for Sookie to teleport away at the first hint of aggression from the súmaire, but truthfully, she feared deep in her heart that her cousin would not survive the ill-fated rescue attempt.
She strongly cautioned Sookie to return as quickly as possible back to the palace, for as soon as the súmaire was found to be missing, a massive hunt would be undertaken for his recapture. Sookie’s absence would also be noted, and Claudine promised to try to stall for as long as she could, using enchantments to throw pursuit off her trail.
As Sookie nestled into her feather bed, exhausted, she knew she only had but a short while to slumber. As she finally succumbed to sleep, her last waking thoughts were about the beautiful vampire. But when she dreamed, it was of herself shackled in her great-grandfather’s dungeon.
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