AN: Thanks again to everyone who took the time to review last chapter.
Fintan stood blinking in the dungeon corridor for several moments after seeing the súmaire disappear before his very eyes. How had someone teleported past the wards into the cell, and more importantly, who was it?
His thoughts raced furiously. He did not want to lose his only means for Dillon’s barter, but realized he had no choice in the matter: he had to inform Niall. He cursed under his breath and teleported into Niall’s chamber, where the prince was conferring with some of his advisors.
Niall looked up at his son in surprise. “Fintan. What brings you here? I was not expecting you at this hour.”
Fintan glanced at the other men sitting near him. “Father. I apologize for interrupting, but I have must speak to you. It is of the utmost urgency…and for your audience only.”
Niall raised his eyebrows as he appraised his son. “Yes, I see.” He turned to his men and dismissed them. They filed out of the room while glancing at Fintan.
After the last one departed, Fintan approached Niall. He sat heavily on the settee next to his father’s chair. He ran his hand through his hair and blew out a sigh.
“I have news. About the súmaire prisoner.”
Niall narrowed his eyes. “What is it?”
“I…I witnessed a man entering his cell, who then teleported him away.”
Niall jumped up and thundered, “Who dares to defy me? Who was this man? When did this happen?”
Fintan cringed inwardly and said, “Just a few moments ago, father. I beheld him but his back was turned to me. He was small in stature. I know not who it was…but he seemed familiar nonetheless.”
Niall cursed and began pacing. “And the guards? Were they not aware?”
Niall nodded. Suddenly, he froze as a thought occurred to him. “Colman. Yes, I must get Colman. He knows of spells that can trace the paths of teleportation. And then we must ready Crogher and the chúnna draíochta. None escape their hunt.”
Fintan nodded but inside his heart sank as his plans for using the prisoner as barter vanished before his very eyes.
Niall grabbed his son’s arm and teleported to Colman’s chambers. When they arrived, his laboratory was empty. He strode through the room and approached his work table, where heavy tomes lay open and miscellaneous items were strewn.
Niall quickly scanned the pages of the books. His face reddened as he hissed menacingly, “I see that our sorcerer has been busy. He is behind the prisoner’s escape.”
Eric carried Sookie to the bed, where he lay her down gently. Claudine approached gingerly, looking up at the fearsome súmaire warrior with trepidation. She touched her cousin’s cheek, her face etched with lines of concern.
Eric turned to Claudine with a similar expression of worry mirrored on his face. “Why does she faint? Is she ill?”
Claudine brushed Sookie’s hair back from her forehead. She frowned and said, “I know not. I deem she is fatigued, hungry, and under a tremendous amount of strain. She is young and went to great lengths to rescue you from Niall’s prison. She also gave you her blood, which likely further weakened her.” She eyed him critically. “You haven’t much time. I bid you haste. The clothing I brought should fit you well.”
He looked down at her and shook his head. “No, I will not yet leave the little princess. I must be assured she is well.” He sat down on the edge of the bed: a signal for Claudine to move away from Sookie.
He bent down and whispered to her, “Sookie. You must wake.” He lightly brushed his lips over hers while caressing her face. Claudine stood and watched with a mixture of awe and fear coursing through her at the sight of the famous vampire warrior kissing her little cousin. Her eyes widened as he bit into his wrist and let a few drops of blood fall between Sookie’s parted lips.
Sookie moaned softly and instinctively swallowed the small amount of blood. She opened her eyes. As soon as she saw Eric hovering over her, she inhaled sharply and blushed. She sat up straight while she looked around to orient herself. She smiled briefly when she saw Claudine but then turned back to Eric.
“Oh! I remember now! Eric, you must hurry! Crogher’s hounds are renowned: they are said to have never lost their quarry. They are ruthless beasts, equally skilled for the hunt during the day as they are at night…” She paused as she looked at the daylight filtering through the window where her cloak had slipped from the top of the curtain rod. “And yes, Eric…how are you…?”
He completed her sentence. “How am I awake during the day? That is an excellent question, little one.” He paused for a moment before standing to his full height. He stared at Claudine. “I suspect that your cousin may have the answer we are seeking.”
Claudine paled and said, “Yes, I can tell you, in brief, but really sir, I beseech you to first clothe yourself…unless you plan on making your escape from Faery with naught but a sheet covering you.”
He shrugged but turned and reached down to the pile of clothing that Claudine had dropped on the floor. He went to the bathroom and emerged in just a few seconds, dressed in leather breeches, a woolen tunic, and heavy boots. He appraised the fit while he approached the two women.
“You seem to have a good eye for my size, fairy. A lucky guess, I suspect?’
Sookie looked at Claudine, who actually blushed. “Yes, well. I was here earlier and saw that you are a large man. I got the clothes from our most prodigious warrior…I reckoned you to be the same size.”
Eric nodded and turned to Sookie. “How are you feeling, little one?”
Sookie shook her head. “I know not why I fainted, but I seem to feel fine now.” She stood slowly, assessing her stability before approaching Eric, who smiled at her. She gazed at him. “In truth, I feel to be in the bloom of health.”
“That is good.” He took her hand in his and kissed it. He turned to Claudine. “Is there food available?”
Sookie answered. “I brought some. It is in the kitchen.”
“I will get it, cousin.” Claudine quickly left and returned with bread, fruit, dried meat, and water. She nibbled an apple and handed the rest to Sookie, who began devouring it. Eric nodded in approval.
Now,” he murmured while glancing at the window, “I need to know why I am awake and fully alert. You say it is hours from sunset…I should be dead for the day by all rights.” He turned to Claudine, an expectant look on his face.
She replied, “I do not know for sure, but I believe it has something to do with Colman’s healing spell.”
Eric raised his eyebrows and said, “Colman? The other fae I scented in this house. He was the one who healed me?”
Claudine nodded her head. “Yes. Sookie had removed your bindings and attempted to succor you to the best of her abilities…but your injuries were grim. Your eyes…” She paused. “Colman had to perform a powerful spell to restore you.”
Eric stood silent for several moments, an impassive expression on his face.
Sookie finished the last of her impromptu meal and said with a sigh, “We must go. We need to find the fairy portal before we are found.”
“Yes, cousin, though this cottage is cloaked with magicks, it is only a matter of time before they are able to track you here through a tracing spell.” Claudine swallowed thickly. “I fear they will discover that you were the one to rescue the súmaire from the dungeon despite Colman’s attempt to further cloak your movements to throw off and confuse the nose of the hounds.” She kissed Sookie on the head.
“I must go check on Colman’s progress. Please be careful, cousin. You saw firsthand Colman’s terrible vision. It is of the utmost importance that Eric returns to his realm through the portal. Our future hangs in the balance and hinges upon his survival.”
Sookie whispered, “Yes, Claudine, I understand.”
“Either Colman or myself will return soon once we finalize the cloaking spell. Then you will be able to travel safely to the portal and return to the palace without fear of discovery.”
As if on cue, Colman popped into the room, his handsome face flushed and his hair wild.
Eric startled but soon calmed when he took in the expression on Sookie’s face. She smiled at Eric and said, “This is Colman, the one who healed you. He is a great sorcerer and my teacher. He is also the father of Claudine’s unborn child.”
Claudine blushed and turned to Colman. “It is good you are here. I was ready to leave here and seek you out. Were you able to complete the enchantment? I do not want my little cousin or us, for that matter, to be implicated in his escape.”
Colman let out a great breath and smoothed his hair out of his face. “I have begun the initial stages of the spell but require your assistance to complete it. Unfortunately, Niall has already enacted a tracer, which requires use of stronger counter magicks. And I…am not fully recovered from my earlier efforts to revive the warrior.”
Colman then turned to Eric and appraised him. “Speaking of…Sir, I see you are well.”
Eric bowed slightly. “You are Colman, the one who healed me. I am grateful. Beyond measure. Indeed, I owe you and Sookie a blood debt. I know that time runs short, but first you must tell me why I am not dead for the day.”
Colman appeared nervous. “Um, yes. I would imagine you would be curious about that…unfortunately, as you say, time is short and I cannot divulge all the details. Let it suffice to say that I, uh, transferred some of my fae essence into you as part of my healing spell.”
Eric paused. “Fae…essence? What is the meaning of this? Am I no longer vampire? I have regenerated my fangs and am still attracted to your scent, but…verily, I do not feel an overwhelming desire for fae blood.” His face mirrored his surprise as he spoke.
Colman appeared discomfited. “Well…I can assure you that you are still vampire, but…beyond that I know not, truthfully. I have never performed the spell on someone who is not fae born. The uh, effects of day walking are unforeseen. And there could be…other potential changes as well…”
Eric stared at him with a bemused look on his face. “Unforeseen? So it would seem the length of such an effect is unknown, given that you have never had the opportunity to heal one such as myself.”
Colman shrugged. “I know not…the ability to day walk could last mere minutes, hours, days, or years. Have you tested whether you are truly immune to the effects of sunlight?”
Eric shook his head. “No, I have not.”
“Well, I suggest you experiment to determine the limits of your seeming immunity. It could give you an extraordinary power that your brethren do not share. You would have near invincibility.”
Eric’s face remained impassive as he appeared to be considering the implications of Colman’s words.
Colman turned to Claudine and Sookie. “Have you told him? About the…” he gestured at his head while his words trailed off. He looked knowingly at his pupil.
Sookie shook her head and appeared sheepish. “Ah, Claudine and I discussed it with each other in brief, but no, I have not.”
He gave Claudine a loaded stare. “Ah, yes, dearest. As I mentioned, I need your assistance with finalizing the counter cloaking spell.”
Claudine gazed at him worriedly. “Colman. You look exhausted.” She scanned his face.
“Don’t worry, love. I am well.” He smiled to assure her but his eyes looked pinched at the corners. Claudine knew that he was hiding something. She nodded.
Colman turned to Sookie and Eric. “We will return after the spell is cast. Be ready to leave for the portal upon our return. Sookie, in our absence, please apprise Sir…Eric, correct?”
“Yes. Although I have been known by different names through the centuries, I am now called Eric Norðrmæn.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance Sir Eric Norðrmæn. I apologize that I do not have time or circumstance to further explain, but I am in need of haste. When the spell has been cast, we will let you know when it is safe to approach the portal.”
He kissed Claudine on the cheek. “Ready love?”
She nodded and returned his kiss. “I will meet you in your chambers.” Colman bowed and vanished.
Claudine looked up at Eric and said, “Fare thee well, warrior. Do not fail us.” Without another word, she also popped out of the room.
Eric stood and stared at the spot she had been standing in with a shocked expression on his face. He turned to Sookie and said, “Princess?”
Sookie blanched. “Uh, yes. I must tell you something Eric. I beg your pardon. I was going to explain earlier, but was interrupted when Claudine popped into the room. I am afraid we do not have time now for me to give you a lengthy explanation, but let it suffice to say that I beheld a terrible vision in Colman’s mind. I…”
“You…beheld?” Eric interrupted. He seemed to recall her mentioning “hearing” thoughts when he was in the prison cell, though the recollection was hazy.
“Yes, I am able to read minds. I saw a horrible vision of…”
“You can read my mind?” he asked incredulously.
“No. I cannot…for some reason I am unable to see your thoughts.”
He nodded slowly with a curious expression on his face.
She studied him for a moment before continuing. “I beheld a vision of the future in Colman’s mind. One of Faery falling to the súmaire. Legions of vampire invading our lands, laying waste and pillaging. Colman said that you are to be our only hope…somehow you are the key to stopping the terrible invasion…I know not how. He said that you entered his vision as it was ending, and it was unclear as to how you would intercede.”
He felt stunned. He paused for a moment and then said, “This Colman…the sorcerer and healer. He is also a prophet? This omen he foresaw…my kind invading this realm.”
Sookie nodded. “Yes, he foresees the future. But his visions do not always come to pass. He is hoping that this calamity can be stopped.” She approached him and stretched her arm, placing a hand on his cheek. She said softly, “We pray you can alter the path of destruction that lies before us.”
He turned his head into her soft hand, inhaling the perfume of her skin. When he turned to look at her, his eyes glowed and his face abruptly took on a grim expression.
“I daresay at the moment I am not kindly disposed to the prince.” He clasped her hand in his and his eyes became more luminous in his anger. “Had you not rescued me, I doubt that I would have survived another day…if not for your bravery and kindness…” The look passed and he let out a sigh. “But, despite my treatment in the dungeon, I understand that such atrocities occur in time of war. And…the beauty and magick of the fae are truly deceiving. Your people are known to be quite vicious and…”
Sookie interrupted. “And the súmaire are not? Even now, my great-uncle Dermot, if he remains alive, is likely suffering a similar fate, and I would have you know that…” her voice rose and trembled as she became more upset thinking about the torture of her kindly relative.
Eric bent down and placed a finger over her lips. “Princess. Please understand. I am not placing blame upon your people. I more than anyone am familiar with the cruelty of my kind. My very maker was barbarous; his wickedness was legendary among vampires. He used his maker’s command upon me to force me into this folly of a war…” His voice trailed off as he became lost in his reverie. Sookie thought that he looked sad, the trials of his many centuries laying heavy upon his brow.
Sookie gazed at him in pity. “I am sorry to hear that you suffered at the hand of this tyrant. I was not aware that a “maker” could so force their will upon their progeny.”
“Yes, he could have made me do anything and I would have no choice but to obey.”
“That is terrible…and I never even considered your role in the war. Although, I admit I had heard rumor that you were a legendary warrior and that it took several of our knights to bring you down.”
He looked at her with a neutral expression on his face. “Yes, they attacked me when my maker was slain. He had called me to his side as a last effort to save himself after the prince and his son had grievously wounded him. He called me even knowing that his final death was imminent. The breaking of our bond was…devastating and it brought me to my knees.” He stared at her. “Had I been out of reach when he fell and had time to recover from the severing of the bond, I would have been commander of the troops.”
Sookie’s eyes widened. “You would be in charge? What would you have done?”
He smiled grimly. “Truthfully? I was battle fatigued and was against the war from its onset. I would have likely called my troops to retreat and requested parley with the prince.” He shook his head. “This was a war that my maker envisioned as a way to harness your people as a means for invincibility. He planned on using fae blood to allow him to day walk and use your portals for transport of his troops …he would have had mastery over vampire, fae, weres, and humans. The irony is not lost upon me that I now have the power to day walk.” He marveled as he held his hand up into a ray of light that filtered through the window.
Sookie shuddered. “That is…that is horrible!”
Eric smiled. “It would have been for your people and for the weres and humans that reside in my world.” He shook his head. “That kind of power and control is something I have no desire for. I was content in my own way, living my life simply, before he had called me.”
Sookie looked at him in wonder. “What…where did you live?”
He smiled. “I dwelled on the outskirts of a seaside city not far from where I had lived as a human. I had traveled the world as both human and vampire, but after a few centuries I became road weary and longed for the land and sea of my youth.” His eyes glazed as he talked about his home. “I crafted a vessel and sailed regularly, gazing at the stars, feeling the cold wind in my hair…it was good.” He paused and looked at her. “As I said, it was a simple life…but it was mine to live as I wanted.”
“Did you…I mean, was there a woman…?” Sookie blushed and cast her eyes down.
He lifted her chin gently with his large hand. “No…there had been…occasional dalliances but no one that I brought home to be with me. No permanent companion if that is what you mean. Not for centuries.”
“Oh-well…” Her voice trailed as she glanced up at him.
He smiled. “And what about you, little princess? Isn’t it common for fae royalty to be betrothed? An arranged marriage?”
Sookie nodded her head, her chin jutting out defiantly. “Niall has encouraged my courtship with some of the men in the kingdom but many have gone off to war, and some have not returned. And I…was not interested.”
His eyebrow raised, he asked, “And why is that?”
“I could read their thoughts. They thought me beneath them because of my human heritage. And many only wanted to marry into the royal family.”
He nodded his head. “Ah, I see. But why is it that Niall has not forced your hand?”
“Well…I have read his thoughts, and he is considering my betrothal to Kathel…as a reward for his role in your capture.”
Eric’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Hmm, yes. I deem that your hand in marriage would be a great prize…”
Sookie blushed furiously but then an angry expression set on her face. “I do not wish to be a “prize” or “reward” and I do not wish to marry Kathel. I do not love him and he is quite arrogant. He thinks me beneath him and would only revel in the raising of his status in the royal house.”
Eric began to reply but stopped when Claudine popped back into the room. She was out of breath and appeared pale. Tears rolled down her face as she choked out, “Cousin. They have arrested Colman for treason. Niall has discovered his role in the rescue.”
A mournful sob escaped her mouth before she continued. “We were unable to complete the cloaking spell and I teleported away before I was apprehended, but they now know of my complicity.” She gazed forlornly up at Eric. “You must leave now, warrior, or they will recapture you!”
Sookie shook her head rapidly. “Yes. Follow me.” She turned to Claudine. “Cousin, what will you do?”
Claudine raised her tearstained face to Sookie, and a grim determination shone through her grief. “I will accompany you.”
Sookie grabbed Eric’s hand and guided him to the back door. She paused before opening it. “The nearest portal is nearly a league away, bordering the forest. I can teleport us there, but…are you sure you are immune to sunlight? We must heed Colman and assure that you will not be harmed by exposure.”
Eric nodded and opened the door. He gasped as he gazed outside. He paused and blinked several times before he strode outside. She followed him and saw that his eyes were closed as he held his face upright, basking in the warm glow of the sun. A slow smile spread over his face as he opened his eyes and turned to Sookie.
“I am…speechless. I have not beheld the daylight in centuries and this is…a gift beyond measure.” He laughed as he spun Sookie around but sobered when he beheld her worried expression. He gazed back at Claudine, who continued to cry softly.
“I apologize. This is no time for my wonderment. We must make haste.”
Sookie grabbed his hand and turned with her other hand held out to Claudine.
“Come cousin, we must hurry or all of this will be for naught.”
Claudine approached and clasped her outstretched hand. Sookie took a deep breath and the three of them popped near the portal, which was at the edge of the forest that served as a natural boundary between the fae kingdom and elven realm.
Sookie smiled weakly as tears formed in her eyes. “Well, Eric. This is where we must part ways, I’m afraid. I must stay in Faery. I have to convince my great-grandfather to call off the hunt.” She shook her head forlornly. “And to make him understand that our world is at stake without your help.”
Eric looked down at her with a pained expression on his face. “Little one, come with me. You cannot count on nepotism to protect you from punishment. My rescue will not be without cost, I fear. Niall will be furious and he is not known for his leniency.”
Sookie nodded. “I know well how harsh he can be. After I saw your treatment in the dungeon, I have no doubts of the lengths to which he will go.”
Claudine’s soft sob interrupted them. “That is why I must go back. I have to help Colman. I cannot go on without him. He is my love…he is…” Her voice broke as she put her hand on her stomach.
Eric nodded but kept his eyes riveted on Sookie. “I cannot convince you to accompany me, little one?”
A tear rolled down her face as she shook her head. She gasped and grabbed him around the waist, hugging him to her in desperation. “Mayhap one day we will see each other again.” She cried softly while he caressed her hair.
“I would not count on it, Alana,” Niall said to her. He had suddenly appeared, flanked by Fintan and several guards. Fintan stared at Sookie and Claudine in horror.
Crogher, who held his hounds at bay with his grip on their chains, also accompanied him. The hounds were braying, their needle sharp fangs flashing and mouths slathered with foam in their fury for their cornered quarry.
Niall’s voice thundered, “You are all under arrest for treason. Guards, grab them.”
The guards rushed towards Eric with drawn swords. A silver net was cast upon him. He anticipated pain from where it touched his skin, but immediately noticed that it did not harm him. He shucked it off with his massive arms as he turned towards Sookie. “Princess!”
Another guard had approached her with iron shackles. Sookie dodged to the side and kicked his knee out from under him. He fell, screaming in pain while grabbing his leg. She lunged towards Eric and pushed him with all of her might towards the portal. He lost his balance and fell backwards through the portal opening. At the last moment, he reached out, grabbing her by the hair. She was pulled along with him.
Niall boomed, “Retrieve them now! At all costs they are to be returned to me!”
As soon as Claudine saw Sookie and Eric tumble through the portal, she began muttering a sealing incantation, which was as effective as bolting a door. It was only a temporary spell but she hoped it would give her cousin and the warrior time to evade capture.
Niall motioned to the guards, who manacled her wrists. He turned to her and hissed, “You have defied me for the last time, granddaughter.” She looked at him with a mixture of defiance and fear on her face. Before Fintan could intervene, Niall struck her on the side of her head with his hand.
Claudine fell as darkness overcame her.