Disclaimer: Southern Vampire Mysteries characters belong to Charlaine Harris.
AN: Reviews=dewberry wine. Thanks to everyone who reviewed last chapter! I had some comments regarding Sookie’s sudden interest and investment in Eric. So…I spent some time delving into that issue, and hopefully what I have written makes it more plausible. CH had Sookie fascinated with Bill rather quickly, so these remarks surprised me a bit…I guess I am biased though, since (true) love at first sight has happened to me! Despite my cynicism, I really am a romantic at heart… ; )
After Sookie had departed, Claudine teleported into Colman’s chambers, which functioned as his laboratory and living quarters. He was housed within the palace given his role as royal sorcerer, seer, and Instructor of Magicks, but Claudine suspected that it was also Niall’s way of keeping a close eye on his whereabouts and doings. His power and knowledge were both coveted and feared…
She knew she would find him awake despite the late hour, as he tended to need little sleep. His mind, though unstable at times, was unparalleled in its brilliance. If not teaching or required to perform official duties for the kingdom, she could usually find him rapidly scanning books and ancient scrolls or writing notes. Sorcery was not an exact science and he was always exploring the bounds of his knowledge.
Colman had anticipated Claudine’s arrival and as soon as she materialized, he lunged at her, smothering her in a passionate embrace and kiss. She was used to his precognition (he was vague when he mentioned it as an unpredictable trait he had acquired years ago through his tinkering with various spells). Thus, she was not startled when he grabbed her and spun her around.
“Beloved! I am so pleased to see you!” He paused, appraising her. “But wait, I saw that you were ill at ease…your mind was roiling in fear and guilt. What bodes ill, my dear?” Colman gently pulled her by the hand into his office, every spare inch cluttered with books, parchment, alchemy supplies, and a myriad assortment of oddities and curios.
He brushed a stack of books off an overstuffed chair in the corner of the room and gestured for her to sit. As she lowered herself, he smiled broadly and bent down, placing his mouth to her belly while whispering, “And you little one, how do you fare, hmmm?”
Claudine relaxed momentarily and laughed softly while running her fingers through his wavy brown locks, smoothing out the tangles. “He…or she…is ravenous! At the rate I have been eating, I will be thrice my current size before the baby comes!”
Colman chuckled and continued kissing from her abdomen up to her breasts, where he lingered before slowly making his way up her neck. He moaned happily, “And I will love every luscious curve, every bit of added flesh!” He nipped and sucked at her throat while he whispered, “Mmmm, it has been too long! Let us teleport to the cottage, where we can make love again without fear of discovery. I must have you!”
Claudine had her head thrown back in ecstasy at her lover’s attentions, but froze and pulled away as soon as he mentioned the cottage. “I want to, Colman, but I have urgent news. And…I desperately need your counsel. I am afraid I have committed a grave error. One that will cost my dear cousin her life!” With this last sentence, Claudine burst into tears.
Colman immediately pulled her into his arms as he crooned, “Dearest, what is the matter? What causes my love such distress?”
Claudine continued to weep for several moments before she was able to respond. “Oh, Col, it’s Sookie! You well know how impulsive and headstrong my little cousin can be…she has it in her head to rescue a prisoner housed here at the palace. The little imp actually bribed her way into the dungeon and conversed with him!”
Colman’s eyebrows raised but he said nothing as he continued to pet her.
Claudine sniffled and whispered, “She means to rescue the súmaire warrior! And against my better judgment, I agreed to help her…but I fear she will not survive if she goes forth with her insane plan!” Claudine started sobbing in earnest, much to Colman’s dismay.
“Claudine, you must calm yourself! You will upset the baby! We do not need another unstable member of our little family, do we?” He laughed softly at his self-deprecating joke as he raised her chin gently with his fingers. Claudine quieted herself and was able to produce a watery and miserable smile at his words.
“Now, tell me what has transpired.”
Claudine proceeded to tell Colman the entire conversation she had held with Sookie. At the end of her recount, she whispered. “Col, She knows about the baby.”
Colman smiled crookedly and tapped his head, “Ah, she “heard” the baby did she? It does not surprise me. It is most inconvenient at times to have a telepath for both a student and a family member, is it not? She is quite precocious…one of the quickest and most promising students I have had in my many centuries. But you are right, she is stubborn, and once she has an idea in her mind, there is no deterring her…I recall once when she…”
“Colman, please focus! This is a dire situation and I am deathly afraid for her safety…and I wasn’t ready for anyone to know about our child.”
“Will she keep our secret? Well, that is, until it cannot be kept secret any longer.”
“I believe so, despite her ire at my attempt to dissuade her from her mad plot. She believes herself to be enamored with the beast…she tells me of her draw to this súmaire, and yet she cannot fully explain the reason for the suddenness and depth of her attraction to him.”
Colman clapped his hands and laughed, “Well, that is an easy fix, my dear! She is simply glamoured! I have a spell that will release her immediately from his enchantment! There is naught to worry about!”
Claudine shook her head. “No, Col, I think not. She described his attempt to enchant her, though she feels she was immune to his efforts. I suspect it has something to do with her telepathy. In addition to your tutelage, she has had to naturally develop strong wards to protect her mind from a constant barrage of thoughts. She feels she was completely lucid during his attempt.”
Colman sat back and had a confused look on his fair face as he scratched his head. “Well now, that does add more questions as to your cousins motivations then, doesn’t it? Why would she wish to help a mortal enemy of the fae?”
Claudine sighed. “Well, she has always felt as an outlander here in Faery, and treatment by my siblings and others of our kind have only further led to her isolation. I am her only true friend. She is lonely…and she is young, even by human standards. She has the impetuosity of youth. I think she is attracted to the súmaire in part because he is different, an outsider himself.” She paused and then said while shrugging, “She also told me he is very fair to gaze upon…”
Colman chuckled . “Yes, the eyes of youth see straight to the heart, do they not? Pity the heart so often quickly turns a blind eye once smitten…”
“Truly, she does not understand. She has some sort of fleeting…infatuation and pity for the beast. And yet she is risking her very life…and Danu forbid, Niall’s wrath. Should she survive this folly, she will be lucky to be exiled for her treason.” Claudine grabbed her head with her hands and groaned. “And I allowed my pity for her to sway me…” She raised her head and stared at her lover.
“She read my thoughts at one point and heard that I planned to thwart her plans by telling grandfather, and brought it to my attention that she was keeping our secret about the baby. I believe I let my guilt sway me…,” she winced before continuing, “…and I told her she could use our cottage.”
Colman looked at her skeptically before speaking. “Claudine, dearest, what were you thinking?”
She wailed, “I thought that the wards would protect her…and the cottage is near a portal, so the súmaire can make his escape quickly once he is succored. I fear it is already too late, but perhaps we can think of something to prevent her from pursuing this insane scheme?”
She threw her head back against the wall in exasperation as she moaned, “It is if my mind has become lessened since I have been with child! I do and say things that I later second guess because my decisions are questionable! I caved to her but what shall we do, Col? I have to protect my little Sookie…”
Colman stood up and began pacing. “Let me think, love… We shall make sure that your cousin and my prized student is not harmed…” Colman hesitated and stood still for a moment, his eyes glazed. Claudine knew this to be a sign that he was having one of his visions. He gasped suddenly while his eyes rolled in the back of his head. She watched in horror as he dropped heavily to the floor.
Claudine jumped and ran to his side as she screamed, “Colman, love! Come back to me!” She began to sob as her lover was completely unresponsive. She stared up at the ceiling and prayed, “O Danu, please help my love and look after my cousin. I need your help, and pray for guidance and strength. I beg you to hear my plea, blessed mother!”
She placed his head on her lap and caressed his long hair as tears ran down her face. Colman remained unconscious until dawn, at which time he sat up abruptly, startling Claudine out of her dark reverie.
His eyes wide open, he turned to look at Claudine with horror and said with absolute certainty in his voice, “We must help Sookie and the súmaire warrior. I foresee disaster for us all…the end of Faery as we know it, if we do not succeed.”
Fintan paced in his chambers, his mind in turmoil. While the healers had done wonders for his injuries, he would not be able to return to fight for some time due to the maiming of his shield arm. This rankled him, as he desperately desired to take counsel with his brother Dillon, who had stayed behind with his son Claude in the other realm while he and Niall were on furlough.
He was upset with their father, who during their recent brief counsel, would not even entertain the suggestion to use the súmaire warrior as barter. He could not understand why Niall would not exhaust every available resource to rescue Dermot, his twin brother, who had been captured and was purported to be held as prisoner of war.
Fintan had hoped that the defeat of the ancient general and capture of the warrior would be a devastating blow to the súmaire. The Great War had been raging for years, and Fintan was weary of blood and death. The fae kept dying while the súmaire had the advantage of creating more soldiers to replace those that were destroyed. Now, after several years had passed, males of the sky clan had been sorely depleted, and Niall had been forced to draw truce with Prince Breanden of the water clan. He had also called upon the earth and fire fae, as well as the elves, to form an alliance. Had it not been for their allies, the sky fae would have fallen long ago.
Fintan knew that Dillon was also desperate for the return of their brother, who, if he even remained alive, was likely being subjected to unimaginable horrors. Fintan had no stomach for torture, and indeed had departed from the súmaire’s cell shortly after the “interrogation” began, begging off due to his injury. He also thought that the torture was pointless as a means to confession, as he suspected that the Viking would refuse to yield information on the enemy’s machinations.
Fintan was also angry with himself, for once again acquiescing and cowing to his father. He should have insisted that he be heard, to force his father to entertain the idea of parley using the warrior as barter. But…he feared his father’s stormy moods, and was aware from experience that there would be no discourse when Niall was in a wrathful frame of mind.
Additionally, he resented that part of the reason for his father’s stubborn refusal was because Dermot had fallen out of favor with Niall long ago due to his sympathies for the water fae. Dermot’s feelings were largely due to his love of a water maiden, Meara, who had died in childbirth along with their child. Although centuries had passed, Niall had never forgiven him for his clandestine romance with a member of a rival clan and his rejection of his pre-arranged choice of bride for his son.
But Fintan loved his twin dearly, and it consumed his soul that he was imprisoned and likely tortured by their enemy. A slow rage burned inside of him…that his father thought so little of his own son stoked his resolve to take action.
Fintan began to devise a plan, one that would go against Niall, true, and one that would incur his wrath. He cringed at the thought of his father’s ire, but Fintan planned to use the súmaire warrior for hostage negotiations. He knew he would need to get to the vampire before his father completely lost his temper and brought him the true death, as Niall’s hatred and thirst for vengeance against the súmaire only grew stronger over time. Indeed, he suspected that the warrior had very little time left if he had not been ended already…
Fintan decided that he would first visit the dungeon to determine if the vampire had even survived the torture. After he assured that he was still “alive,” Fintan would further develop his plans for arranging barter for his twin, but he needed Dillon’s assistance. Thus, he would need to return to the front before his father did.
He changed clothing and teleported down to the catacombs, approaching the door to the dungeon as the guards bowed before him.
Sookie had had great difficulty sending Muirne away after she was roused later that morning. Her nurse loomed over her, touching her face to assess for fever as she admonished, “Lady, you must let me fetch one of the healers. You are normally fit, and this bodes ill! You must suffer me to call upon Seanan to examine you!”
Sookie tried to suppress her exasperation while struggling to maintain the appearance of frailty. “Truly, Muirne, with some rest, I will be fit as ever…but really, I fear it will require much needed sleep. Should I still feel ill on the morrow, I will summon a healer. Agreed?”
Muirne reluctantly relented though continued to fuss over her charge for several more minutes and insisted she sip some broth before she departed.
As soon as Muirne exited her chambers, Sookie jumped up and rapidly dressed, donning breeches and a pair of suede boots that buckled at the knee, as well as a leather jerkin laced over a silken doublet. Sookie, much to Muirne’s dismay, preferred to don masculine garb when she practiced the martial arts or rode her horse, Banan. Secretly, Sookie preferred the pants to skirts, and so had several changes of such clothing in her wardrobe.
She hurriedly plaited her long tresses, tucking the end of her braid into her shirt and placed a simple fabric cap on her head to hide the rest of her hair. She hoped that her impromptu disguise would throw off anyone who might unwittingly see her.
Sookie then popped into the palace’s larder and hastily grabbed foods that were meant to last without spoiling, generally fit for soldiers and hunters, such as cured meat, cheese, apples, and twice-baked bread. After assuring she had not been detected by the kitchen staff, she teleported back into her room and packed a satchel with a heavy cloak, her dagger, and several soft cloths used for bathing. Sookie looked around her room, feeling as if she was forgetting something, but not having the luxury of time to sit and ponder.
Although Colman’s cottage was cloaked from sight by his wards, she had seen it in vivid detail in Claudine’s mind, which allowed her to teleport straight into the living area of the little house. She quickly put the food in the small kitchen and went to the bathroom, which had a shower that used rainwater collected from an outside reservoir. She placed the cloths on a shelf and was pleased to see that the room was fully stocked with towels and toiletries (obviously brought by Claudine, as she favored honeysuckle-scented soaps and shampoo).
She paused as she slowly walked into the living area and sank onto a chair near a small stone fireplace, the gravity of the situation finally striking her full force. She was actually going to attempt the rescue of a súmaire, someone who was a deadly foe and a prisoner of war. One who was to blame for the deaths of numerous fae and elves, perhaps one who had even her killed relatives. Why? Why was she risking it all?
Once again, as she searched herself for truth, she had difficulty pinpointing a definitive, solitary answer. On a superficial level, Sookie could not abide the pain and torture of any creature, even a vampire.
She also felt a strange sort of kindred with the súmaire, being that she had never truly felt a part of Faery despite the love doted on her by grandfathers, uncles, and cousin. Her other cousins and their friends had made aspects of her life in Faery quite unpleasant, and as a child she was frequently reminded of her “impure” blood and was teased mercilessly by other fae children because of her distractibility caused by telepathy.
Ah yes, her telepathy…both a blessing and a curse! Although it was not common knowledge, it was a driving force behind her loneliness. Despite the interest shown to her by would be suitors, much to Niall’s chagrin, Sookie would not entertain their offers of courtship. She did not tell her great-grandfather that she was repelled by their thoughts, which ranged from simple lust to aspirations of marrying into the royal family. Not one of them had true interest in her or desire for her companionship. Thus, the fact that Sookie could not read Eric’s mind fascinated her. Here was a man that she could not anticipate, one that would not repel her by his thoughts.
And then, of course…Eric was truly a beautiful man. Though there were countless fae males who might rival his physical beauty, there was something intangible about her instantaneous attraction to him. Her people had taught her that the súmaire were monsters, rabid beasts, and yet the vampire did not appear as such from her limited contact with him. Did he truly enchant her? Sookie doubted this to be the case, as he had seemed surprised at her imperviousness during his attempt to glamour her. No, he had bewitched her, but she was certain it was not due to glamour.
Sookie shook herself out of her musings. Was she truly going to go forth and risk punishment by her great-grandfather? As she stood and straightened her jerkin, she decided that she would indeed go forth with her plan. She would assure the súmaire’s safety through the portal and hopefully would evade detection of her complicity. Perhaps her act of goodwill would have some effect on Eric, and thus, the other vampires? She had heard he was a leader of the súmaire. Perhaps his rescue could have some unforeseen positive outcome?
But a darker, more realistic part of Sookie feared it could have the opposite effect of inciting his wrath upon the fae in retribution for his torture. Sookie decided she would discuss her thoughts with Eric. He had been gracious and thankful for her donation of blood to him and she hoped that he would also feel indebted to her kindness by agreeing to help her people. If this could be achieved, mayhap her great-grandfather would forgive her methods should he discover her role in his escape…
Feeling more secure in her decision, Sookie teleported into Eric’s cell. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. The air smelled foul due to the blackened and congealed blood on his body and on the floor of the cell, though much of it had drained down the hole in the center of the room.
She looked at Eric, who slumped in his chains while dead for the day. Sookie had obtained a generic unbinding spell from one of her textbooks, which she hoped would work to undo his binds. She quickly chanted the words and was pleased to see that his manacles spontaneously opened and the locks on the chains dropped to the floor.
Eric also heavily fell forward with a thud, which made her cringe, but there was no way she could have caught the tall mountain of a man, who looked to be made of pure muscle. She was thankful that he was unaware, as she noticed with a wince that some of the knives that were imbedded in his flesh had been driven deeper by the weight of his body.
Sookie knelt by him, her back turned to the cell door, and touched his shoulder as she popped them both away to the cottage.
She was so engrossed in her activity, she did not notice that Fintan had walked down the corridor of the dungeon and was watching them. Before he could react, he witnessed the small male and súmaire disappear into thin air. He was left with his mouth hanging open in shock as he stared into the empty cell…
AN: I know…no real Eric/Sookie interaction, but there will be next chapter. : )