Eric held my arm in his while we walked to the Queen’s digs. This was mostly for my benefit. If I thought about the cold, or focused on the beauty of the French Quarter, I was less liable to be a nervous. I had slept for a long time, purely out of exhaustion, so at least my mind was working properly. The walk calmed me down somewhat. It felt romantic to share that short walk with Eric. He taught me a little bit of architecture. It felt like a date for all of fifteen lazy minutes while we strolled west on Iberville to Dauphine.
The Queen of Louisiana’s compound looked like a giant garish building to me. From where Eric and I stood it looked like it spanned a block and a half. It was recessed from the sidewalk, which was unusual in the French Quarter, but necessary in order to protect it properly. It was also painted purple, dark purple, with swirls of various colors that resembled ribbons all throughout the façade. There were throngs of people wanting in, making the line for the kiosk where one could purchase a ticket for a tour. I couldn’t understand it. It was January! It was cold! Mardi Gras was almost two months away. If it was this busy now, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like then.
Eric and I made a bee line for the guard at the main gate. He was a tall man, beautiful as any other vampire, dark and seemingly friendly. He looked Middle-Eastern to me. It seemed as if he could have looked menacing if he wanted to, but didn’t really want to.
“Sheriff Northman, Mrs. Northman,” he said to us, bowing deeply. Apparently we were expected. We were fifteen minutes early too. Vampires were nothing if not prompt.
“Rasul, always a pleasure,” Eric said, nodding. I nodded too and returned the guard’s smile.
We followed Rasul inside the gates, while another guard took his place. They all looked like they belonged to the Secret Service: black suits and sparkly white shirts. There was only one thing that gave them away. They all wore different colored ties in bright colors. Rasul had an orange one, and the female guard that escorted us next had a bright pink one.
“I’m Melanie, nice to meet you Sheriff Northman, Mrs. Northman,” the girl said smiling widely and bowing to us. She was a true beauty, with curly brown hair, huge light brown eyes, and a pouty mouth. She was shorter than me by a few inches, but with vampires I knew not to put too much stock on size. I’d seen Thalia beat Eric at arm wrestling, and she was just as small as Melanie. It had been funny too: Eric didn’t like losing to a girl.
We followed Melanie inside the building. I was fascinated. The main receiving area had beautiful tile floor of a pink granite, Renaissance furniture a la Louis XVI (I’d only learned what that looked like recently, at the hotel), and French doors that led from one room to the next. Melanie led us straight through a third set of double doors that led to an inside courtyard. That seemed strange to me. I thought inside courtyards were of Spanish origin (something I’d read in a novel, of course). Nevertheless it was beautiful. It was too cold for certain plants, but others were thriving around strategically placed fountains. It was a good thing Eric was holding my hand, or I would have gone exploring.
Melanie took us to the far end of the courtyard and opened the door for us. The room looked just like I imagined a throne room to look like. The walls were covered with medieval tapestries (or reproductions of them), gilded mirrors, each about seven feet tall, and thick red cloth. There were no chairs except for one, raised in steps about three feet above the main floor. It was definitely a throne, upholstered in deep crimson velvet. At each side of the steps was a figure of a golden lion holding a pink granite ball under one paw. There was a main crystal chandelier in the middle of the room, much bigger than the two others at either end.
We were soon joined by Mr. Cataliades, Andre, and the Queen, who immediately sat at her throne. “Eric and Sookie, so nice that you came early. Maybe we can get this unpleasant business done and over with by ten,” Sophie-Anne said, trying to smile, but not quite achieving it. “Melanie, could you please bring Bill in?”
My stomach flipped uncomfortably and Eric squeezed my hand lightly, willing me to keep it together.
“While we wait for Bill, why don’t you tell me how you found out you were related to Prince Niall?” Sophie-Anne asked me.
I didn’t see any reason to tell her that it was Pam who had figured it out. After all, Claudine had confirmed it. “My cousin and guardian told me,” I said.
“And is Hadley also related to Prince Niall?” she asked without missing a beat.
“Yes she is,” I answered quickly. The Queen was smart to have asked that question, and stupid for changing Hadley. Luckily for Sophie-Anne, Hadley had disappeared on her own before reappearing as a vampire.
Melanie returned with Bill at her heels, and another vampire who was, actually, the ugliest one I’d ever seen. May God forgive me for judging people by their appearance, but besides the fact that he was an albino person, he’d been turned past the prime of his life and just didn’t have any handsome features.
Sophie-Anne turned a loving gaze to him, and I almost recoiled. After all, real vampire ages aside, she looked like a teenager mooning over a middle-aged man. “Waldo, dear, did you keep Bill company?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Waldo said. I had a newfound respect for the man, since he’d been the one assigned to babysit Bill. He hadn’t sounded too thrilled when he’d answered. Poor guy.
“Very good,” Sophie-Anne said, and blew him a kiss. “You and Melanie can go. Thank you both for your help.” She waited until they were both gone before speaking again. “Bill, you’ve been a bad boy, I’m told. Mr. Cataliades, can you please read the charges?”
“Yes, your majesty,” Mr. C. already had the piece of paper ready. “Mr. Compton is accused of the following: spying on Sheriff Northman’s blood bonded; spying on Sheriff Northman’s brother-in-law; spying on Sheriff Northman’s relations with his wife; and providing information regarding Sookie Northman’s special ability to the general public.”
“You know, and from all of those charges nothing bothers me more than that last one, Bill,” the Queen said as soon as Mr. C. stopped talking. “What were you thinking? She has no way to protect herself during the day. That was plain stupidity, Bill. The other things are just sick.” Whoa! Miss Sophie-Anne didn’t mince words, huh?
“I am sorry, my lady,” Bill said looking down at the floor.
“As punishment I will have to keep you in my compound while you finish your project, and for two years thereafter. However, you have disrespected a beloved Sheriff and his blood bonded, not to mention that she’s of royal fairy blood and they’re very upset at you,” the Queen said, eyeing Bill carefully. He lifted his gaze at this new information, and looked scared. “It’s up to Sheriff Northman to choose the punishment for your disrespect,” she turned to Eric, “as long as you don’t cause his final death. I need him to keep working on the database.”
Eric nodded deeply. “If it pleases your majesty, I would like to remove my wife from the room.”
“Go ahead,” Sophie-Anne said, waving her hand like we were already boring her.
Eric pulled me away from the room, and I was too shocked to say anything or object. We left the room, passing by two of the hugest men I’d ever seen, ever. Melanie was nearby, keeping guard as well. Eric bent to me. “Please forgive me, Sookie. I cannot bear for you to watch what I have planned for Compton,” he said in a very low gruff voice. His fangs started descending and our bond started to fill with rage.
I swallowed the huge lump that had formed in my throat. “Is there any way I can persuade you to show a little mercy?” I asked. It was too late for that, I knew it, but I still had to ask.
“No. This is one too many times. Remember he brought the three vampires to your house, caused me pain, and caused you pain and embarrassment. I cannot show mercy. I have shown enough,” he said. His voice had completely slipped into a prolonged growl.
I looked down at my hands and nodded. He was right. I could no longer care for Bill Compton. He’d sealed his own fate.
Sookie seemed devoid of all emotion, but in reality she was trying to reel them in. It wasn’t as easy to read her as I usually did. I brought her face up, to look at me again. “I’m trying to keep you safe,” I said.
She looked into my eyes, her own wide with understanding. “I know. Go, get it over with. I wanna go home.”
I looked up at Melanie, who was eyeing us, trying to decipher whether I needed her help or not. “Can you keep my wife company for a few minutes?”
“Of course, Sheriff,” the small woman said, moving to stand next to Sookie. I knew Sookie would be safe with Melanie, and Wybert and Sigebert were both there as well. I was leaving her in the most capable hands.
Inside the throne room they had already laid out the tarp for Compton, and he was standing on it, studying my every move. I removed my clothing, not wanting to stain it and give Sookie a fright. She’d had enough stress these past two weeks to last her a lifetime. Compton’s face was priceless, misunderstanding my actions. Nobody else questioned my nudity. The Queen, Andre, and Mr. Cataliades were mere spectators, witnesses to the punishment. They were also old enough to know why I chose to protect my clothing.
“Bill,” I said his name as a question. “What did you do with the photo you had of my wife? What was the purpose of seeing her naked, on your wall, in your bedroom?”
Compton’s eyes widened. He wasn’t going to answer. I circled around him, imagining everything I could do to him, but choosing the one thing, the only punishment befitting someone like him.
“ANSWER ME!” I screamed in his ear.
“I don’t see how that is relevant,” he answered. I could have punched him, but I was letting my anger build to serve its ultimate function.
“Why did you have the picture?” I asked again, slowly and in a low voice.
“What did you do when the picture was hanging on your wall, Bill?” I gave him one more chance.
“I cannot say,” he answered.
My ire began to consume me. I took his wrists in my hands and held them up in front of him. “Are you right-handed or left-handed, Bill?”
He didn’t answer for too long.
“Mr. Cataliades?” the Queen spoke.
“He’s right-handed, Sheriff,” Mr. Cataliades answered.
I dropped Bill’s left hand and kept the right in my grasp. “Is this the hand that took my wife’s picture, printed it and posted it on your wall? Is this the hand that has embarrassed not only her but me as well? Is this the hand you used to masturbate while looking at my wife’s naked picture?” I did not raise my voice.
Compton was looking at me directly, his eyes cold and defiant. After what he’d done to us, he still dared to confront me. “I am not sorry. I love Sookie, and I would never defile her body the way you do every night.”
All I saw was blood. Red. Rage. Bone. Sinew. I invoked my god Óðinn, but only to help me control my rage and thirst for battle enough not to kill Compton once and for all. I held onto his shoulder and pulled on his upper arm, enjoying the sound of tearing cloth, then ripping muscle, the slime that was Compton’s blood as it spilled before me, until finally I held his arm above him as he sank to the floor.
That was nothing compared to the final blow. I bent over Compton’s thrashing form, putting my mouth close to his ear and whispering the words he most likely did not want to hear. “Sookie begs for my cock every night, and every night I make love to that tight pussy. And do you know why?” I stood up. “BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO ME!”
I walked away, lest I did something else to the motherfucker. Andre was beside me, probably at the behest of Sophie-Anne, pointing me in the direction of a small door at the far end of the room. I was covered in blood, and to my great disappointment it was Compton’s unappetizing blood. I hadn’t even become aroused with battle lust. I only wanted to clean up, get dressed, and return to my Sookie who must have heard at least some of what had transpired, if her feelings of fear were any indication.
Inside the Queen’s bathroom was a small shower, and I made use of it quickly, simply to get the blood off me. Later I would entice Sookie to take a bath with me, so I could defile her inside the warm water.
Compton had been removed from the throne room by the time I returned. Sophie-Anne was signing some papers that Mr. Cataliades was holding for her, and Andre was her ever-present shadow standing behind her chair.
“Sheriff, I’m giving you power of attorney to Bill’s business in Bon Temps, as well as his checking account and his… house,” the Queen said with disdain. “I only ask that you keep them in good order, though I hardly need to remind you. The more profitable Bill’s business is, the more we get in our coffers. Besides, now he owes me money. You’re in charge of seeing that I get it back.”
This would be the punishment for breaking into Compton’s house: to watch over it. The Queen could be conniving when she wanted to. It couldn’t be helped, and perhaps if I gave the task to Sookie, she’d think twice about committing another felony regardless of the motive.
I signed whatever papers Mr. Cataliades gave me. They all had to do with transferring power of attorney to me.
“Sheriff, perhaps you can let your wife know that her cousin Miss Delahoussaye has named her sole beneficiary of her estate,” Mr. Cataliades said while I was signing papers. I must have looked confused, because the attorney expanded on his statement. “Her Majesty asks that we are all prepared for every eventuality, particularly after what happened during Katrina. We lost many and the estates have remained unclaimed. It is a hassle to fight the human government in probate court.”
I understood now. “Thank you, Mr. Cataliades. I will let her know.”
“I will come visit you soon with all of Mr. Compton’s information and the finalized paperwork,” Mr. Cataliades bowed and returned to his Queen’s side.
“Eric, go home,” Sophie-Anne said. “It strikes me that your wife is a magnet for trouble, and I don’t want her lingering in New Orleans. Please keep her safe for my Hadley’s and your sakes, but keep her away from me.”
With that our meeting ended. I waited until they left to rejoin my bonded. Her fear was no longer there, but she was worried. At this rate she’d end up with no fingernails.
I found her talking to Sigebert and Wybert, in that way she always had of thinking vampires were human. The admirable part of that was that she’d gotten the two lugs to speak. I’d never heard them talk before, not even to Sophie-Anne, since she had the ability to communicate with her children telepathically. But only with her children.
Sookie turned to me without giving away any of her emotions, though I could see she was examining me, as if scared I’d been harmed. I extended my hand, asking silently for hers. I wanted to take her away, give her the honeymoon I’d promised her months before.
“What did you do to Bill?” she whispered as we walked through the courtyard.
“I will tell you everything when we get to our room,” I said, anticipating her reaction. It was best to give her bad or shocking news in private, since she became easily embarrassed by her emotions.
She seemed deep in thought as we walked back to our hotel, holding on to my hand with undue strength. “I’d rather you tell me what happened at home,” she said finally, once we were inside the elevator.
“Do you want to leave tonight?” I asked her, although I was almost positive of her answer.
“Yes! The sooner the better,” she said, walking fast out of the elevator as soon as it opened its doors on the fifteenth floor.
We spent the drive home mostly in silence. She’d shown me what she needed from me during those quiet hours. She took my hand and held it in her lap between her own. That was it. All she needed was my touch. I noticed her stress began to ease once we passed Baton Rouge. By the time we were passing Alexandria I knew she was well and tired.
“Why don’t you sleep, my love?” I asked.
“You don’t mind?” she asked. Always checking.
“Not at all.”
She reclined the seat a few inches and turned to me. I switched the radio station to classical music, since I knew it helped her sleep, and she drifted in only a few minutes.
What had I done? I’d asked myself the same question thousands of times since my memories returned. I’d gone and given Sookie even more to worry about, more burdens to bear, when all I’d ever wanted was to love her and do right by her since nobody else had. Then I’d gone and told her about having children and broken her heart. My only redemption had been that she hadn’t been the one who’d had the fantasy, but me. I wanted a life with Sookie, a normal one, with her as my wife and several children running in our backyard. I’d reverted back to my days as human because Sookie saw me that way. I was able to feel again, and I missed the one thing I’d loved the most about being human: my kids. Alas, it was not to be, and Sookie didn’t seem to mind, but one day she might.
“Why are you so sad?” Sookie asked in a tiny voice. My reminiscing had invaded her dreams enough to wake her up.
Quickly I self-corrected. “You must have had a bad dream, Svanmeyja,” I said, calling her by the name I’d reserved for her, and only her.
“No,” she brought her seat up. “You did that once before, your sadness woke me up and you fell asleep crying. Please, Eric, how can I help you if you won’t speak?”
“Perhaps we can postpone this conversation to when we get home.” I knew she wouldn’t drop it, but maybe we could delay it. “Besides, don’t you want to know what we’ll be doing next week?”
I knew she was looking at me incredulously, wondering about my not-too-subtle change in subject. “Okay, I give. What are we doing next week?”
“Remember I promised you a honeymoon in a nice warm place far away from here?”
She jumped in her seat and her excitement filled the whole car. There! There was my Sookie. “Oh, Eric! Really? Really? Where are we going? Tell me!”
I smiled widely. I loved to give her things, particularly when she didn’t object. She was tired, she wanted a break too. “I will tell you when we get there,” I said, taking her hand and kissing it.
“Wait! Is Pam going to be envious?” she asked. It really filled me with pride that they got along so well. Here was Sookie again, thinking of others before herself.
“Pam dislikes the warmer climes. When we come back I’ll give her a skiing vacation as a present.”
“Wouldn’t you rather go skiing for our honeymoon?”
I shook my head. There she went again. “No I would not. I like the snow, but I’m not one for skiing. I prefer to swim.” Then I thought of something else, something that would seal the deal for her so she’d stop second-guessing her own wish to swim in the ocean and suntan all day. “Wouldn’t you love to fly around in my arms, smelling the fragrant scents of the Caribbean, watching the stars from way up high?”
Sookie’s face was full of wonder and giddy delight. “Yes!” She clapped her hands and started jumping in her seat again. She stopped. “I’ll need new bathing suits…”
“Relax, will you? We’ll order them tonight and have the shipped overnight.”
“Okay! No need to yell…” she said, and pulled on the hand that held hers to kiss it.
If only I could buy the rest of her happiness as easily. Once we got home, she got herself a glass of wine, which was the only alcohol we had in the house. She took a few gulps and sat at the counter in the kitchen.
“Alright, give it to me. What happened to Bill?” she asked, pretending I hadn’t been the one to make “it” happen.
“I tore his right arm,” I said immediately. With Sookie it was best not to drag things out or she would work herself up again.
Her face lost all color, but she seemed to recover somewhat. “How long will it take to grow back?” she asked, making it sound clinical.
“A few months.”
“He will hate us,” she said. “He might come after me again, or come after you.”
Sookie was so young, and there really was no way to explain this properly. “You know how in professional football games the players go at each other with everything they have?” She nodded. “They don’t take it personal, do they? At the end of the game they pat each other in the back and go on their way.”
She thought about it with a disapproving frown. “Tearing someone’s limb off can hardly be compared to a tackle.”
“But that is how we do it in my world. Bill knows he was wrong, he knows he deserves his punishment. It is done, and I don’t bear him any grudge,” I explained. “Of course, it goes both ways. I have to accept that I have exacted payment in full for his indiscretion.”
Sookie put her hands up and closed her eyes, stopping anything further that I’d been about to say. “You know what?” She opened her eyes. “I don’t ever want to hear his name again.”
I didn’t agree or disagree with her statement. I’d let her think the subject was dropped and over with for now. When we returned from our honeymoon, she would be very upset with me. That’s when she would start taking care of Compton’s house.