AN: I apologize for the delay. RL has not been conducive to my leisure pursuits as of late, unfortunately.
Much thanks to Virala, my wonderful pre-reader/beta for this story. I know most of you are familiar with her work, but if you haven’t checked out her current WIP, “Finally,” you should because it is awesome!
Thanks so much to everyone for the reviews and encouragement for the previous chapter. I appreciate it more than you know!
By the way, I did not want to even attempt to delve into the time differential between Faery and Earth, so for the purposes of this story time is roughly congruent between the two realms.
Disclaimer: SVM characters and plot belong to Charlaine Harris.
Fintan quickly stepped in between Niall and his niece. “Father! Enough!”
Niall’s eyes blazed in fury as he scowled at his son. Fintan caught the pitiless, crazed grimace on his face and thought his father seemed as a man possessed. He had observed him like this before, often in the midst of battle and Fintan knew there would be no reasoning with him. Nonetheless, he would not allow him to strike Claudine again. He stood motionless, steeling himself for his father’s wrath to turn upon him.
Niall glared at him, breathing heavily with trembling hands. Suddenly, he spun to face Crogher. He also pointed furiously to several of his guards, motioning them to stand with his infamous tracker.
“Depart and locate the nearest portal immediately. I want them both brought back to me. By whatever means necessary!”
Crogher tipped a deferential nod to him. “We have never failed you, my liege. We will find them.”
Crogher selected two of the largest hounds that stood panting in the front of the pack and handed the leashes of the other dogs to his assistant, Crevan. He bowed to Niall and Fintan before teleporting away with the appointed guards.
Fintan knelt down by Claudine, who lay still where she had fallen. He inspected her briefly before turning to Niall. “I must take her to the healers.” Worry lines creased his face as he gazed back at his niece.
Niall shook his head. “No. She does not require succoring. She is under arrest and will be taken to the dungeon.” Niall waved his guards forward.
Fintan slowly stood and faced his father, legs braced apart. He held out his hand to the guards, who paused but looked to the Prince for further command.
“She is my niece and your granddaughter. I will not abide this treatment…as if she were a common criminal.”
Niall bit out his words. “Through her efforts to aid a known enemy and butcher of our people, she has engaged in a conspiracy against the Brigant crown and committed treason. Her familial relations are of no consequence in light of her crimes. She will be taken to the dungeon as befitting anyone who conspires against me.”
Fintan gathered his courage and straightened his stance. “No, father. I won’t allow it. Keep her under house arrest if you will, but I will not let you risk harm to her unborn child.”
Niall had been ready to strike against his errant son, but paused as the gravity of his proclamation sank in.
“What say you? How do you know?” Niall whispered. His face softened momentarily as he gazed at his granddaughter.
“She has the glow about her. Look at her.”
Niall approached Claudine and saw that, indeed, she had the soft golden glow of motherhood emanating from her body, brightest over her womb.
“She has shown no signs,” he murmured.
“She must have cloaked it with a glamour, father. Now that she is unconscious, she is unable to put forth the concentration needed during waking hours to continue such subterfuge. She obviously has taken great pains to hide the baby from us all.”
Niall’s countenance once again hardened, icing a solid veneer over the previous thaw in his features. “I can only hazard a guess as to why she has hidden its existence given the likelihood that its father is mad.”
Fintan’s mouth set in a grim line. “The baby’s paternity is of no consequence to me nor should it be to you. Given the decimation of so many of the men and the dwindling of our people I should think that any child would be a great boon to the kingdom, as well as to you as the grandfather.” Fintan had a sharp pain in his heart as he thought of his twin, who his father had all but abandoned to the súmaire. He ground out, “The child is flesh of your flesh. Does that mean nothing to you?”
Niall glared at him. Fintan took his silence as his answer.
Fintan shook his head in disgust. Despite the arm wound that still ached, he bent down and lifted Claudine, who moaned softly.
“I am taking her to the healers for examination and after their reassurance as to her and the baby’s health, she can be returned to her quarters, where I will tell the guards to keep her under arrest in her chambers.”
Niall rapidly approached him, hissing into his face. “You defy me? You fool! She is skilled in magicks, rivaled only by her deranged lover. She will escape at first opportunity. She must be placed in irons to prevent her sorcery.”
Fintan shook his head. “She cannot. The iron will have a negative effect upon the baby’s health.”
Niall’s eyes narrowed as he spoke in a dangerously low tone. “She should have thought of that before she committed treason.”
Fintan held his ground, turning his body to the side to further shield his niece. “No, father. I will not allow the baby to be harmed.”
Niall laughed grimly. “Oh, ho! You will not allow it? Then what, pray tell, do you suggest to keep this harlot’s bastard safe?”
“I will speak to Claudine. I will explain to her the consequences of her actions and potential harm to Colman should she defy you further.” Fintan hated to use Colman as barter to assure Claudine’s compliance but he saw no other way to quickly concoct a plausible deterrent for her behavior that would appease Niall.
Niall gazed at him impassively; his wrathful blue eyes darkening. He got close to Fintan’s ear and spoke low, so that only he would hear. “Very well. Do what you wish with her. But it is upon your head should she defy order of house arrest.”
Niall turned abruptly and spoke to the remaining guards. “You there: Seek out Crogher. The recapture of the and princess Alana is of top priority. You two: Stay with them and make sure that after Claudine is taken to the healers she is placed upon house arrest. She is not to leave her chambers without my express order.”
Several of the guards bowed and vanished. Niall stared at his son and granddaughter for several seconds, an undecipherable expression on his face. Fintan thought he looked conflicted for a brief moment, before he too teleported away, leaving him alone with Claudine and the two appointed guards.
Fintan blinked and let out a long breath he was not aware he had been holding. He wearily stared at Claudine, consumed with worry for both his niece and granddaughter. He turned to the guards and spoke softly: “You heard the Prince. Follow me to the healers.”
The guards bowed before teleporting away with him.
Sookie tumbled out of the portal and fell headlong onto Eric, who caught her as he landed on his back.
Eric untangled his fingers from her hair and helped her to stand.
“Sookie. Are you harmed?” He meticulously catalogued her with his sharp eyes, searching for injury.
She panted and shook her head. “No. I am well, but my breath…knocked out of me for a moment. Just…taken aback.”
She looked around in a daze. She was on the edge of an unfamiliar forest. This world was…different. There was evidence of decay and rot in the air, emanating from the foliage, from the very soil. Even the trees were not as they were in Faery. They were less lush and she could easily discern that this realm was not as wholesome and yet…there was an aching familiarity to the land that she could not define. It struck a powerful chord within her as she gazed at the surroundings in awe.
Eric reached for her, pulling her to him as he scanned for enemies near the portal. “Come, princess! We must not tarry. Niall will not allow our escape. If that fae hunter is as canny as you claim, they will be upon our heels ere long.”
Sookie jolted out of her reverie, staring wide-eyed at his hand, which gripped her wrist. She frowned and shook her head. “No. No! I must return. I have to try to convince great-grandfather to-”
He interrupted her as she tried to pull away from him, tightening his grip to prevent her flight. “No, princess. Niall would not have entertained any explanations as to your role in my escape. I have beheld similar countenances on many men’s faces throughout the centuries. He was beyond reason. He would have taken you prisoner…or worse.” He loosened his grip and caressed her cheek. “Please do not return, princess. Not yet.”
She closed her eyes for a moment and blew out a long sigh. “Perhaps you are correct about Niall, but I cannot leave Colman and Claudine to such a fate…to be wrongly imprisoned.” She paused as she choked out, “Or as you mention, possibly worse. I have to return to help them.”
He nodded. “Yes. I have not forgotten their role in my escape, but first we must leave this place and devise a plan. We have lingered by this portal for too long.” He searched her eyes before softly asking, “Sookie, will you come with me now?”
She looked up at him. “Perhaps you are right and in time great-grandfather will calm enough to hear reason…”
As soon as he saw signs of her acquiescence, the urgency of the situation drove him to action. He stooped down and picked her up, cradling her in his massive arms, without giving her a chance to respond.
Sookie was confused. “Eric, what are you? Oh, oh, oh!” Her voice rose in volume as Eric shot up in the sky, flying above the tree line. She looked down and gasped as they continued to ascend.
“You…you can fly!” She blinked furiously as the wind whipped around them.
“Yes, Sookie. I can fly. I am sorry to startle you, but truly we are in need of haste. Can those damnable hounds scent an aerial trail?”
Sookie clutched his neck in a tight grip and tucked her head against his chest. Eric felt her shake her head.
“It will be more difficult to track, but not impossible. I am afraid to try to teleport us because I am unfamiliar with this land. I have learned how to cloak myself, up to a certain point, but I am not sure if I can extend the enchantment to both of us.”
“Can you try, little one?”
“Yes, give me a moment to get my wits about me. You startled me so when you, uh, took to the sky.”
She clung tighter as she felt them rise higher in the air and gasped as she peeked down at the trees so far below.
“Where are we going? Do you know where we are?”
“I believe I have a rough idea of our whereabouts based upon the lay and scent of the land, but exact location, no. My battalion was bivouacked near a fairy portal, close to a wood similar to the one we just departed from.”
Sookie was silent for a moment but inhaled sharply as an idea occurred to her.
“I can find them.”
Eric looked down at her. “Who?”
“My people, the ones defending the portal near your battalion. I could seek them out by using a simple homing enchantment.”
Eric considered her words for several moments before replying. “One thing at a time, Sookie. Focus on cloaking our trail, and then we shall determine our next course of action. Yes?”
She nodded and began chanting softly under her breath for several moments and then sighed loudly. “There! It is done. That should muddle them for a while…I tried to cloak our tracks while at the same time planting false trails. Pray keep in mind, tis just a temporary measure to cause the trackers bewilderment as to our true whereabouts.”
Eric nodded. “That is good. How do you fare?”
Sookie looked up at him, while trying to control her hair that whipped about her face. “I am thirsty. Perhaps we can touch down should you spy a brook?”
“Yes, of course, little one.” Eric continued flying for many miles before nodding his head in a northeastern direction, where Sookie could see a winding creek through a wooded copse.
Eric decreased his speed and began slowly descending. He landed gently, at a brisk run and Sookie giggled when she realized he was being especially careful not to jar her. She reached up and caressed his cheek as he sat her on her feet.
“Eric, that was the most extraordinary experience! Pity it was under such desperate circumstances.”
Eric chuckled grimly. “Indeed. I would much rather take you flying when we are not under pursuit and risk of imprisonment.”
Sookie knelt down by the bubbling brook and pushed the sleeves of Claudine’s dressing gown up over her elbows to avoid trailing them in the water. She cupped her hands and took several long draughts of the cool water before standing and wiping her hands on her gown.
“The water here tastes so different…I can certainly detect traces of iron, but I do not feel any ill effects. It is not completely unpleasant, though I daresay less wholesome than the waters of Faery.”
“My experience in your land was primarily spent in the palace dungeon, but I can see how this realm pales in comparison. From what I saw of the land behind the cottage and the purity of the air, Faery is indeed the fairer of the two realms. However, for me this world is much less hazardous, and therefore preferable!”
“Tis a shame, because Faery is indeed a wondrous place. I am sorry that your experience there was so harsh, and I regret I could not rescue you earlier, before…” She suppressed a shiver at the memory of his torture. “No one questioned your treatment, as your kind are thought to be naught but vicious beasts. I now see that the reputation of the súmaire was unfounded.”
Eric shook his head. “No, Sookie. Please keep in mind: Vampire are indeed vicious and ruthless. I am ruthless, when the circumstances call for it. Never forget, little one, all beings have the capacity for evil and violence.” He chuckled. “Even you. I beheld you kicking that guard. It was most impressive, if not somewhat surprising.”
Sookie bristled at his words. “I will have you know, good sir, that I am skilled in the martial arts, including hand to hand combat. I also am quite adept at archery and fencing.”
He bowed in mock apology. “It is apparent that such skills have served you well.” He straightened and gazed at her with a mirthful expression on his face while snickering, “My little warrior!”
She adopted an indignant air though her eyes mirrored his humor. “Well, if I am to live up to my new warrior status, I will need to find other garb than this dressing gown. It is hardly proper attire for a fighter as fearsome as myself.”
He laughed loudly. “Aye, those sleeves and the hemline are not conducive to battle, are they? What do you have in mind?” He gestured at the forest as he continued, “It is not as if we have access to a clothier at the moment.”
“Well, we have no means to pay or barter for goods…I think we must try to find a nearby village where I fear I will be obliged to obtain necessities by less than honest means. I am assuming that I can teleport in this realm?”
Eric nodded. “I have beheld fae warriors teleporting on the battlefield. It is one of the reasons that they make such formidable opponents.”
“That is good…and it seems that your immunity to sunlight has continued to follow you. I wonder how long it will last since Colman had said it was an unforeseen outcome to his healing spell.”
“The unpredictability of the power makes me uneasy. I am loath to find myself in a position where I am once again at the sun’s mercy.”
“Well, until we know more about the extent of your day walking ability, mayhap we should try to keep our travels confined to night?”
Eric shrugged. “I think we have not much choice in the matter. We are being pursued and so are forced to continue to push our luck. However, I find your suggestion to locate a village prudent. We will obtain a change of clothing and food for you and then we must decide on our next move…but I will need to return to my battalion soon.”
Sookie grimaced and bit her lip. “Yes…about that. I need to return to Faery to help Claudine and Colman, who are likely in irons to prevent their use of magick, but I must first rescue my great-uncle Dermot. I cannot allow him to continue to be subjected to torture or ill treatment.” She began tearing up. “If he even remains alive, that is.”
Eric came to her and pulled her close, enfolding her in his arms. “Shh, little one. It is possible that he yet lives. Before I was captured, he was still alive. My maker had ordered that he was not to be drained, upon threat of final death.”
“Why? Why was he spared?” Sookie looked up at him hopefully, her blue eyes wide and innocent.
“Well….his royal lineage was known to my maker. He planned to try to use Niall’s son as a means for forcing the fae to surrender. I will not lie to you, Sookie…He was alive but had been treated…roughly.”
Tears began to roll heavily down her cheeks “Oh! That is terrible! We must make haste. Poor Dermot!” She pressed her face into his tunic as she continued to cry.
“Harken, little one. I will do everything in my power to help your uncle. But I will not risk your safety. I cannot under any circumstances permit you to enter my battalion’s camp.”
Sookie stepped back and narrowed her eyes. “I must.”
Eric smoothed her hair back and gently wiped the tears from her face. “Shh. Let us not argue now. Time runs short. We must take to the sky once again.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and didn’t answer him.
He waited for several moments, studying the stubborn set of her jaw. He would have to keep a close eye on her, as he was certain she was plotting to rescue her uncle despite his admonition. He had not yet decided on how he would assure her safety prior to his return to camp, though a plan was beginning to take root. One that would undoubtedly anger her, but he would risk her wrath if it assured her well-being.
He shook his head, focusing on the tasks at hand. He bent down and gently cradled her in his arms. Without a word, Eric shot up into the sky. She was stiff in his arms for some time, apparently continuing to brood. Eric bent his head and kissed her cheek, which seemed to put her in a better humor given that her body began to relax into him.
After several miles, he spoke into her ear.
“There. Do you see?”
Sookie nodded. She could discern that a large village lay nestled in the valley between two small mountains. A river wound it’s way through the center of the town.
Eric began descending well before they would be within eyesight of any of the villagers. He landed at a run, near the edge of a great forest.
Sookie began to make movement to stand but he shook his head.
“No. I will run us up to the edge of the village. Hold on.”
Sookie gasped as Eric ran at preternatural speed. Had she not been flying with him, she would have been overcome with fear and exhilaration. She had a newfound respect for the súmaire. If they could all run so fast, it was no small wonder they were such deadly foes. In the blink of an eye, they were standing just inside the forest line, with a clear view of the simple homes that were sprinkled along the outskirts of the village.
“Goodness! I had no idea you could run so fast!”
Eric chuckled. “Aye. And that was only at but a pittance of my capability. I did not wish to overwhelm you.”
Sookie shook her head as he gently stood her on her feet, which were a bit wobbly after their travels.
They gazed out from behind the trees for several moments until Sookie spied a youth, who was shepherding a flock of sheep.
“Hm.m…He looks to be close to my size. I am going to cloak myself and teleport into that house, which mayhap, with a little luck, is his home. I am going to grab some breeches and a shirt, as well as some food if I am able.”
Eric frowned. “I do not like for you to be out of my sight, little one.”
She laughed, “Fear not. I will be fine. Watch! Now it will be my turn to impress you with fae magick.” She chanted softly and disappeared from Eric’s vision.
He hissed a sharp intake of breath. “I do not like this. I cannot see you but I can sense you nearby!”
He smiled when he felt her soft lips on his cheek. He lowered his head and reached out to her, but she giggled and darted away. He narrowed his eyes and paused a moment, relying on his vampire senses to track her whereabouts. He could scent her, as well as feel her presence and hear her sneaking up behind him. He stood still as she crept closer, and then rapidly spun and caught her by the waist. He heard her gasp as he chuckled and pulled her roughly to his chest. He gently nipped her neck and whispered in her ear, which caused a thrill of chill bumps down her flesh.
“There, take that you wicked little fairy!”
He heard an indignant huff before he felt her presence completely disappear.
How he hated that she was out of his sight! He paced nervously like a caged predator until after several minutes she finally popped back in front of him. He lunged for her and spun her around before kissing her forehead and setting her down. He gazed down at her and saw that she had changed into some simple brown worsted breeches and tunic. She had secured the top with a leather belt, on which was attached a sheathed knife. She shrugged as she glanced down.
“The boy’s clothing fit well enough, but I daresay his feet were twice my size and so was obliged to keep Claudine’s slippers. Not ideal for the tasks before us, I’m afraid, but it will have to do.”
She held up a small knapsack and pulled out half a loaf of bread, wedge of cheese, and small canteen. “They are a humble family and I could not in good conscience take any more from their kitchen. Once this war between our people is ended, I must return and repay them!”
Eric smiled at the little fairy. Her unending thoughtfulness and bravery never ceased to surprise him and coaxed out a long buried, loving aspect of his nature, something that he had not allowed to surface for countless years. He was a legendary killer, a war machine forged in the fires of hell at the mercy of his master’s bidding. To show kindness or gentleness was a weakness and potentially fatal. Out of the simple necessity of self-preservation, he had had to shut off all feeling, all emotion…but now, as he stared at the beautiful young woman with the long golden hair, his heart soared. He stepped toward her and pulled her to him.
He held her small face in his large, calloused hands as his eyes searched hers. “I cannot allow anyone or anything to harm you. In a very short space of time, you have become…precious to me.”
Her cheeks reddened when hearing his tender words and she tingled under the intensity of his gaze, but she held his eyes with her own. Her gaze betrayed the years of pain, feeling as an outcast to her fae brethren. “I wonder…is it that you merely feel indebted to me?”
He shook his head and gently drew his thumb across her lower lip. “I do owe you a blood debt, princess. You saved me when I thought I was beyond hope, blinded and bereft…as I awaited my true death. But, no…It is much more than that. I want…you…” His voice trailed as he bent down and placed a whisper soft kiss on her petal lips.
The heated look in his eyes made her breath catch in her throat. She replied in a whisper, “I feel the same, Eric. I felt compelled to be with you since I first laid eyes on you. You called to me, not with your words, but with your very soul.” She laughed softly. “Does that sound…mad?’
“No, little one. I feel drawn to you as well. I…forgive me, I know we have but recently found each other, but when all is settled, I want you to think about coming with me, back to my home.”
Sookie inhaled a sharp breath. She began to reply, but was silenced as he placed a finger against her lips. “No need for a response now. Ponder the offer and we will revisit after we have gotten through the challenges that lay before us.”
She looked at him with wide eyes and slowly nodded her head.
He smiled and kissed her brow. “Now, I want to ask something else of you. Please hear me out.”
“I want you to take more of my blood. It will strengthen you and allow me to easier find you should we become separated. After you fainted, I fed you some of my blood and we had already established a small bond from our prior exchanges. It would…set my mind at ease to know that our bond is strengthened.” He paused and waited for her reaction as he searched her eyes with his.
“Hmm. I did not know that you gave me your blood during my swoon. Mayhap that is why I felt so energized upon my awakening?”
“Indeed. Vampire blood will restore health and vitality to mortals. What say you?”
Sookie pondered his offer for several moments and then nodded her head. “I will take more of your blood. And I am thinking you should take more of mine as well, since as you said, it will further strengthen our bond, and also provide you nourishment.” She blushed. “You will be needing all of your strength, and…if you take some of mine, will it not have the same effect on me? I mean, er, will I be able to feel you as well?”
“Yes. And…if we exchange blood simultaneously, the bond will entwine us even closer.” His eyes glowed as his gaze intensified.
“Closer?” Sookie whispered.
“We will be able to better gauge each other’s whereabouts, moods…” He paused as he hedged, “And perhaps there will be additional…benefits…But after three mutual blood exchanges, we would be permanently bonded at that point. I have never fully bonded with anyone before, and since you have fae blood, there could be effects I am not aware of.”
Sookie looked thoughtful for several seconds. “Permanently bonded?”
Eric gazed steadily at her. “Yes….but after only one mutual exchange, the effects would fade over time if it is not renewed. I apologize for pressing you, Sookie, but unfortunately we do not have the luxury of time on our side.”
She licked her lips in anticipation as her heartbeat quickened. “Yes…I…want to do a mutual exchange.”
His immortal heart soared at her words and he bent down, placing one large hand around her waist while drawing her head closer to his. Up until this point, their kisses had been relatively chaste and he had held back, but now he unleashed his passion upon her, thrusting his tongue deep into her mouth. She moaned but submitted to his intrusion, allowing him to plunder her as he wished. Although she had no experience with suitors, Sookie felt fire consume her as he kissed and caressed her body, liberating her of any shyness. She returned his ardor, unabashedly nipping and sucking at his tongue and lips.
He felt himself getting aroused, feeling near crazed with lust. He began to feel that he felt he might lose control and so with a groan he reluctantly pulled back. Sookie noticed that his eyes glowed with a surprising intensity as he quickly bit into his wrist. Her eyebrows shot up but she didn’t resist as he placed it to her mouth. As she began sucking gently, his manhood hardened even further, to the point of pain. A growl escaped his lips as he bent down and licked the throbbing pulse point on the side of her neck. When her moans began to intensify, he sunk his fangs into her creamy skin and drank deeply.
He grunted and his eyes rolled in the back of his head as they both suckled each other’s blood. He had forgotten how delectable her feminine nectar was, imbued with hints of sunshine and honey. She cried out and shuddered as he drew one last mouthful. With a great effort, he pulled back. He bit his tongue and laved her wound with his blood before lazily licking her clean. She was panting heavily as she let his wrist fall to the side.
She gazed up at him with heavily lidded eyes. “Eric…that was…” She shook her head as words failed her.
“Magic,” he whispered.
She nodded but swayed on her feet. The bond was rapidly taking effect, causing her to fall into a semi-swoon. He bent down and reverently scooped her into his arms. He could feel the close tie with her, even more intensely than he had predicted…likely because of their prior blood exchanges, but was there something more? Another reason for the intensity of their bond?
He shook himself out of his reverie to focus on their immediate situation. He planned on flying for as long as possible and then taking refuge in a stable or church, if he was able to locate one. He smiled to himself as he kissed Sookie’s closed eyes before shooting up into the air.
Several miles away, Crogher knelt on the ground near the brook where Eric had landed to allow Sookie to quench her thirst. His hounds brayed and snuffled as they paced back and forth.
He stood and addressed Crevan and the guards. “Here. They were here. She has tried to cloak herself and the súmaire while trying to lead us astray but a true trail yet remains. Let us hasten forth before the tracks fade.”
He grabbed the leashes of his lead dogs and began running at great speed, followed by the other men.
AN: Review if you like.