If we were to take over the world, as Pam liked to say, we had to make an entrance. Where better than the Biennial Vampire Summit of the Amun Clan? It was to be held in Rhodes, as it turns out. Knowing that many lives were going to perish during that time didn’t deter my maker. He wanted to be there. Pam wanted to be there. Hell! I wanted to be there, too.
Our presence at the summit was essential for Eric’s plan to work. The plan he had set in motion had sown seeds of dissent among many vampires, but in particular those of the Amun clan, and that was THE key.
All of what I had predicted had come to pass. After Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi; after Peter Threadgill had died – this time at the hands of his own bodyguard Jade Flower, who was then sentenced to death for killing her king; after Sophie-Anne Leclerq became Queen of Louisiana and Arkansas; after Eric heard word that the queen of Oklahoma had turned down Ocella’s offer of Eric’s hand – because Eric’s marriage to me had just been announced, plus Eric had gone rogue on his previous queen; only after all this did we know exactly where we stood within our own community. And where we stood was precariously balanced atop a heaping mess of excited kingdoms that were threatening to topple over.
How had this come about? For starters, it became well-known that Queen Sophie-Anne had a telepath within her kingdom and her lack of security meant that one of her most trusted subjects, a sheriff no less, had abducted and absconded with said telepath. As a result, Sophie-Anne’s subjects feared for their safety and the safety of their most special humans.
This hadn’t happened overnight. The seed had been carefully planted by Eric into the minds and hearts of his most trusted allies. Then it had been nurtured by none other than Mr. Desmond Cataliades, but in a very quiet and subdued way. He had made his connection with me known and bemoaned my departure whenever given the chance. My godfather was no longer in the employ of Sophie-Anne, but this had only opened doors for him. He was now working for Russell Edgington in Mississippi.
Then, in the course of all this gossip (a hobby at which vampires excelled admirably), it had come to light that Sophie-Anne had not only lost the telepath to one of her sheriffs, but also he had turned her into a vampire and then married her, all under the auspices of one of the strongest and wealthiest queens in Europe, who also happened to be the sheriff’s child, and OMG! Why hadn’t Sophie-Anne married the maker of a European queen and instead relegated him to a mere employee?! Gasp!
If an old vampire such as Sophie-Anne – who was a smidge older than Eric – could overlook the latent talent within her area and not take care of a little human telepath, then the younger kings and queens of the Amun Clan were probably just as stupid. Not that anybody said it out loud, but it was definitely the implied undercurrent.
This meant that the summit was necessary for many more, elemental, reasons than when I had attended it in my other life. The Amun Clan was disorganized at best, with two whole states about to collapse under Sophie-Anne’s rule, and the subjects of neighboring states wondering if their own kings or queens were as incompetent as her.
That left us with only one problem (the main one among many, I suppose): how to make the entrance that would ensure we wouldn’t get killed, we would be noticed, and we would be welcomed.
The article that Meg Moon had secured for us proved to be a stroke of genius. We became instant celebrities, with several news media sources trying to get us to visit them, talk to them, pose for them. It was not to be believed, quite honestly. Never, ever, had I seen such hunger for more from vampires; not just any vampires, either. Eric’s vampires.
The article’s headline read “The Viking’s Women.” Not very flattering to Eric’s said women, but an attention-grabber when coupled with the impeccable portrait taken by a well-known National Geographic photographer.
Picture this: Eric, looking tall, broad, hair down and shining, eyes glittering with a half a smile, danger and seduction personified. Meg, with her small frame, alabaster skin, dark eyes and hair, along with a smoldering gaze, exuding power. Pam, who I had once compared to a milkmaid, looking as beautiful and innocent and deadly as she ever did, which produced a sort of visual dissonance that was hard to look away from. And little ol’ me, my blond hair down to my waist, taller and more voluptuous than my sisters, looking like a Valkyrie next to Eric, all female sex and strength incarnate.
If I stared at the pictures for too long, I began to imagine that they weren’t us at all. Once I wondered aloud if things like that ever happened to famous people, to which Pam answered that no, because famous people were already too full of themselves to begin with, so that the pictures only reflected the madness within. We all had a good laugh at her cynicism.
It was a sort of out-of-body experience when we arrived at the summit, though. We’d been expected, for one, and not by just vampires. We were true celebrities for whatever reason, and the paparazzi lined the sidewalk to the Pyramid of Gizeh Hotel, blinding us with camera flashes.
Unlike my wedding that had been full of people, but who mostly wanted to have a good time in general, the throng of people waiting for us in front of the hotel had one single-minded purpose: to see us. I could block out their thoughts easily enough, but their excitement would be hard to block as the increased heat in their bodies increased their desire and the smell of their blood. Some of them, like many vampire groupies (the dreaded fangbangers), would sport a cut on their bodies to increase the smell of blood in the air.
I tried, I really did, to hold my breath while passing through so many people, and get inside the hotel. I thought I was in complete control of my instincts. But I had been wrong, oh, so wrong! And because it had only been months since my turning, my human instincts were still very much in evidence, so that the first thing I did when I exited the car that had brought us, when I first set eyes on the multitude of people, was gasp in surprise – taking a breath. Once the smell of blood and desire hit me – cursed human pheromones! – I was beside myself with hunger. So many people wanted us! So many warm bodies! So much sex in the air! Blood on their skin for the taking!
My fangs elongated and I took a breath through my mouth to fully experience the plethora of scents that assaulted me, showing my fangs off without intending to. The cameras went crazy all around me, momentarily blinding my light-sensitive eyes, and capturing the moment for all eternity – or fifteen minutes, whatever! One insane lunatic broke through the throng and got close enough to me to get eaten alive, but Eric put out his arm, blocking the way while issuing a strong, “Back off!” at the same time trying his best to keep my instincts under control, under HIS will. It worked insofar as I didn’t attack anybody.
Once in our two-bedroom suite, one that all three of us would share out of safety, I was beside myself with embarrassment instead of hunger.
“Why?! Why did I react that way?!” I moaned into my hands, hiding my face in shame.
“They smelled really good,” Pam quipped.
“But that didn’t happen at our wedding and there were more than five hundred people there!”
“Yes, but they were all European. You know they’re different.”
“That can’t possibly be right…”
“Get over yourself, Sookie! Look!” said Pam, pointing at the giant TV in our shared living room.
The spin on the story was beyond unbelievable. We were still media darlings, and nothing that had happened would change that; on the contrary. The breaking news was how some random man was about to attack me and that Eric had come to the rescue of his youngest vampire. Little did they know that Eric was actually looking out for that guy’s safety, not mine.
The whole, if brief, incident was doubly scary for one simple reason: I could control Eric. If he hadn’t reacted quicker than me and kept me under his control, I would have stopped him from “protecting” me and made him move away so I could have the person who was so willing and ready for me to feed upon him. In public, no less! Thankfully I couldn’t go against my maker’s edict, whether said aloud or in his mind. That was not something that I could circumvent by using my powers.
With this new turn of events (what with us becoming instantly famous, and me trying to eat people publicly), Pam was jubilant and excited, I was embarrassed and mortified, and Eric was scared out of his wits, something I’d never seen before.
In another life he’d told me what he’d felt when I’d been abducted and tortured by the demented fairies. His fear and subsequent grief over what had been done to me was clearly evident. He had even cried for my fate. But I never felt convinced enough of his feelings, for whatever reason. Now I think that he used to block his emotions from me.
No this time around, though. What I felt from him coming through our love bond – never mind him being my maker – was abject terror; no disguising it and no blocks whatsoever.
My embarrassment waned as I took stock of his feelings. It actually seemed extremely narrow of me to feel embarrassed because of something that was natural for me to do in my new state of being, without taking into account how much Eric was suffering at the thought of losing his lover and child. I wasn’t just one or the other: I was both to him.
When I’d chanced to dip into his mind, it was really difficult for me to fathom the way he thought about me. Not very many vampires would chance to have a love bond with a human, to then turn the human into a vampire, and then marry her (on top of everything else). If ever there was an Achilles’ heel for a vampire, I was that to Eric. The thought of losing Meg or Pam pained him, but the thought of losing me terrified him absolutely.
Because I’d never been able to read his mind before, I’d never quite understood why Eric did the things he did the way he did them. Now it was crystal clear.
In my past life he’d chosen not to turn me. I’d asked him not to do it; he had agreed. Sometimes I thought he’d been respecting me, and that was true enough, but now I understood that he was also keeping himself safe from what I was witnessing just now.
Slowly I approached him. He’d been pacing the suite trying to calm himself. He stopped when I got closer, but didn’t look at me. I reached for his hand and he directed his gaze there. I opened my mind to read his thoughts and they were chaotic. He was busy imagining all sorts of danger that could befall us, some of the images so gruesome that I winced. Invariably, more of his thoughts were about me meeting my final death, and how the grief would sink him if that came to pass.
I could have been underhanded and taken away all such thoughts, leaving him peaceful. But he had asked me once not to do that when I had offered, and I respected him – even if he never found out that I had done so. He had said that feelings had a purpose, whether it was to keep us safe or to keep us in love; he relied on what he felt and didn’t want me to mess with any of his emotions, or Pam’s or Meg’s. He wouldn’t do it to me, so I couldn’t do it to him.
Still, there was something he needed from me: reassurance. I could give him that without using my power.
Gently I led him to our bedroom and closed the door, leaving Pam to her own devices. His face became impassive, his brow softening from a frown, his lips easing to a straight line, even his shoulders relaxing ever so slightly. However, his thoughts and feelings pointed to curiosity. Very slowly I brought his hand up and began kissing his fingertips: the pad, the nail, the knuckle. He had beautiful, manly hands, thick and strong from the work he did when he was a human, and if I put my hand against his, he could bend the top of his fingers over the tips of mine, as long as they were.
By degrees I felt his scattered thoughts settle. He was still worried, but no longer flat out scared out of his mind. All he needed was a little show of love. By the time I began kissing the inside of his wrist he was completely in control of his own emotions.
“We don’t have to do this, you know?” I offered. “We can go back to Europe and live with Meg if you want.”
“Sookie,” he said softly, lifting my chin so that I would look into his eyes. “Is that what you want?”
I blinked. What DID I want? “I want to be with you.”
“Yes, I know that because I feel the same about you. But, aside from that, what do you want?”
It took all this time and effort so that Eric would finally ask me what I wanted and I didn’t even have a ready answer! So I went with my heart. “I want to go home.”
“All right, we’ll go home. We are here so that our return will be safe. I know that, but I need YOU to know it too.”
“I don’t want to see you that scared again. If going home means you losing your mind, then it’s not worth it, Eric.”
His eyebrows took a swift dive. “Are you reading my mind?”
“Not right this minute, but how could I not? I was worried about you when I felt your fear.”
“Block me,” came his edict, and sure enough it was that of a maker. “You will not read my mind no matter what you feel coming from me.”
I wasn’t stupid enough to test whether or not I could read his mind, fearing a headache the likes of which I hadn’t suffered since I’d been turned. However, Eric didn’t have to explain why he’d done that. It was bad enough I could feel his emotions – his fear and near panic. I didn’t need to read his mind as well and have those thoughts make me even more scared for our fate. My fear would feed on his, his on mine, and THEN where would we be?
“We shall go downstairs now. You are not to breathe or speak.”
My pride suffered at his order, but I had no choice than to do as told for the simple fact that he was right: I shouldn’t breathe in any of those humans that wanted so badly to be with me or Eric or Pam. There were sure to be more of them on the convention floor. Without breathing, I wouldn’t be able to speak – not for long anyway. So, before we left our suite, I took a deep lungful of air (just in case I DID need to speak briefly), boobs out, shoulders back, head held high, and then off we went to the basement of the hotel where they were holding the convention.
The first surprise of the evening, for me, was seeing Quinn. Of course, he didn’t know me one bit and I was happy about that. Nevertheless he eyed me with open desire, just like everyone else. I knew the look well. Still, I couldn’t help the peace I felt knowing that weretiger didn’t know me. I had missed so much pain this time around, the literal (such as being staked on my side while trying to save Bill), and the figurative (all that heartache!).
The second surprise was noticing how much awe we inspired in others. It was the same in vampires as in humans: we were famous. Pam, the only member of our trio that was unattached, elicited the most longing among the vampires we met. One after another, male or female, kings, queens, and regents, they all tried their best to get a word in with Pam. Even the otherwise reclusive King of Kentucky, flanked as he was by his invisible Britlingens, approached us so he could talk to Pam.
The third surprise were the aforementioned Britlingens. Batanya and Clovache were definitely there, standing behind Isaiah. I’d almost expected to hear their thoughts, but they were just as static-filled as ever. However, they were not completely invisible to me. There was a shimmer in the air behind Isaiah. I dared not continue looking at them and pretended to scan the room instead, while listening closely to the king’s thoughts as they revealed just how scared he was of being at the summit, and just how much information he actually had about what the Fellowship of the Sun was planning on doing – which wasn’t as much as I’d guessed.
King Isaiah’s thoughts were cycling between how much he would dread the company of a consort, how good he would look if he had Pam as a consort, how lucky he felt that we had even stopped to speak to him, and what an idiot Sophie-Anne was, which I thought was unfair. Sophie-Anne hadn’t had all the information and made decisions based on what she did have. In a lot of ways she was like Eric, but more ruthless. If Eric had been just as merciless and ambitious as Sophie-Anne, he too would have been a powerful king.
Among the many other thoughts that were passing through King Isaiah’s mind was the threat from the FotS. Now I understood that it was simple conjecture that made him hire the Britlingens, although the way he had taken the information he’d received from his spies, arrived at a probable outcome, and then proceeded to heed his own infallible sense of self-preservation, was quite dignified of any king or queen. Most of them, I knew, saw the summit as potentially dangerous. None of them (except for Kentucky) knew, or would even entertain the idea that the danger would come from humans, not each other.
Eric and Pam knew all this because we had gone over every detail I remembered from the “first” summit, including how Eric and I had exchanged blood for a third time mostly out of necessity. We weren’t staying longer than this one night and subsequent day. Time and time again we’d gone over whether we could stop the bombs from going off, but reconsidered when I kept reminding Eric and Pam (not that they needed reminding) that all the people that died were fated to die one way or another. If the bombs didn’t kill people, then some other catastrophe would befall the hotel.
By the time we reached Louisiana’s table, the one where Bill Compton was selling his vampire database, we had a rather large entourage following us. Sophie-Anne had been near the table, and my own mind registered her presence as grating, like she was screaming inside her own head, even though her outward demeanor was hospitably gracious.
Now, now was the moment of truth: in front of hundreds of eager people, fans of Eric and “his women,” kings and queens that would give anything to have us live within the borders they governed, the most important people of the Amun Clan… this was the chance that Eric seized.
Whenever there was a need for silence, no other species could be as quiet as vampires, and all the vampires present at the busy convention held their collective breath in order to listen to Eric’s simple request.
He prepared by letting go of my arm as we all curtsied and bowed in Sophie-Anne’s direction. While still bent at the waist he made his request. “Your Highness; we would be ever so honored if you would see us as your subjects.” In other words, he was asking if she’d let us go home.
It would behoove Sophie-Anne to let us return and to keep us safe, but she also had to make a show of strength, somehow. “You do understand that you left your area suddenly without a sheriff to replace you,” she said to Eric. That had been a deplorable thing for Eric to do, actually, and she was being wise by pointing it out to a room-full of Eric’s fans.
“And that trying to find one to fill your shoes was nearly impossible.”
“So why did you do it? I would have protected you and your new offspring.”
“I was under the impression that I was not allowed to turn Sookie, so I fled under this misapprehension. My deepest apologies for my mistake.”
Sophie-Anne paused, as if considering his words, but I could read her easily. She had already foreseen this conversation, and every single word that left her mouth had been carefully studied and weighed, like moves on a chessboard.
“Do you still have your home in Shreveport, Eric?” she asked. It was her “out,” the way she would be both lenient and tough on Eric.
“In that case, you may return to your home and to your post as Sheriff of Area 5,” way to keep her enemies closer, “but you will not collect your salary for one full year. See me after the summit and we will talk more about your area. And, Eric,” she waited until he straightened from his bow, “I’m happy you’ve returned.” Her voice dripped sweetness and honey, but the venom I saw in her mind would be her undoing. What I had gathered from reading her thoughts, everyone else perceived from using good ol’ common sense. It’s what they all would have done.