The smell of Were stung my nose and I almost opened my eyes to see what was the matter. Something told me to keep them closed and pretend I was still dead to the world, or they would accuse me of attacking someone and immediately deliver the final death to both Eric and me. That something was my own sense of self-preservation. It was the middle of the day, but my sudden fear woke Eric up, who also remained motionless while two of Victor’s day lackeys carried our bodies through the mansion.
I did what I do best: read minds. The two Weres had been charged to take us to prison cells that Victor had constructed under his mansion. They didn’t know why we were supposed to be there, but they knew we were not to be harmed because some ancient vamp had to see we had both been treated with care. That took the edge off my worry, for the meantime, so I communicated this mentally to Eric, who calmed and chose to trust what I was getting telepathically. Meanwhile, I concentrated on the path to the cells, just in case I had to make an abrupt exit without the benefit of a map, which seemed likely.
It really was amazing how calm I could remain in this situation.
The cells were lined with silver, as one would expect, except for the floor. Eric was put in a cell across from mine, so at least we could see each other. When the Were guards left, I opened my eyes to take in our situation. Eric was awake but unable to move because it was daytime, as well as the silver surrounding us made him weak. Not so with me. I’d wondered if silver would affect me, since I didn’t seem to have an aversion, and now I had my answer. However, other than opening my eyes and taking in my surroundings, I dared not move. There were cameras here and it would be best if I continued to pretend that I was just another normal vampire.
Eric’s thoughts dimmed as he understood that I was awake, safe, and able to watch out for both of us. He soon fell asleep again, but I simply couldn’t. Instead, I threw out a mental net to see who was around and what were they doing.
The Were guards were outside the block of cells, but I’d already gathered as much information as I was going to from them. They didn’t know much and were simply following orders.
There were other vampires kept in the cells, all of them sleeping, and most of them accused of some crime they had committed. For the most part, they were guilty of said crime – feeding in public seemed to be popular. Nothing inside the sleeping minds gave me enough information as to why Eric and I were inside the prison. I would have to wait until nighttime. Our absence would be noticed when we didn’t show up for Victor’s Chinese New Year party, which meant that maybe I shouldn’t worry too much. At the very least Russell Edgington and my own godfather would question Victor as to our whereabouts. I was sure Mr. Cataliades would be with Russell.
Thinking that maybe, if my godfather was around, he might be able to “hear” me, I sent out a loud mental shout to him which he would be sure to hear. At least, I hoped. I’d only done that once with Barry the Bellboy, and Barry had awful mental shields. Mr. C’s shields were formidable.
“Sookie?” My name in Mr. C’s mind had come back so loud that it was almost like hearing him speak. It was definitely him.
Immediately, as fast but as thoroughly as I could, I explained what had just happened to Eric and me, including the part where I’d almost ripped out a donor’s throat the night before because his blood was laced with fairy blood, but I also made it clear that I hadn’t harmed anybody. Now we were inside prison cells accused of God-only-knew-what. Could he find out and figure out a way to get us out?
Mr. Cataliades acknowledged our situation and transmitted calm into my mind. He would make inquiries and keep me informed. In the meantime I should sleep and save my energy; he would wake me if I was in any immediate danger. But, he knew that I wouldn’t sleep, and either sensed it or read it off my mind, because he added that he swore he would come for Eric and me if he felt we were in danger.
With that promise, I slept with my hand over my waist, covering the cluviel dor with my palm, for no other reason than that it made me feel safe just knowing it was still attached to me.
The next time I awoke it was to my godfather’s voice inside my head. It was nearly dusk and the older vampires were already stirring, including Eric. That afforded Mr. Cataliades a better look into some minds which I could not reach, and he was able to fill me in.
“The Ancient Pythoness is here,” he said after making sure I was awake and receptive. “You, not Eric, stand accused of the murder of two of Victor’s assistants. There is camera footage that you left Victor’s bar with them the night they disappeared.”
I filled Mr. Cataliades in on what had happened that night, and that Victor could stand accused of doing it just as surely as I could, since he had left at the same time as us.
“Yes,” my godfather agreed, “but not through the same door.”
Curses! He was right. That night that Ocella had come with me to Victor’s bar, we had all left through the front and Victor had joined us a minute later. Most probably he had stopped by his office on his way out. I had erased his memory of the night, or he would know that it was him who had let Bruno and Corinna get killed by Alexei so that he could stay out of the fight. I had no way to defend myself.
“There is always a way. I will see to it,” he said into my head.
Even through my fear and rage, I managed to remain calm and concentrate to give Eric all the information. He sat up from the small cot where he had spent the day and looked like I’d just punched him in the gut. He was getting ready for battle, but I was almost positive that they would make him stay in his cell while I faced the Oracle alone.
Eric looked around his cell for any weakness, but I already knew there wouldn’t be any way out. His emotions started cycling between anger and terror. This is what prompted me to risk some information, if only it would calm him just a little.
I stood up and his eyes immediately followed my every move. Slowly, because I was almost sure but not completely positive that this wouldn’t hurt me, I touched the silver-covered bar in front of me, first with a finger then with my whole hand. Nothing happened and I smiled. I didn’t feel weak or drained; my flesh didn’t melt or burn. I was unaffected by silver. I could escape if I wanted to, except that the vampire guards that had taken over for the Weres just minutes before would probably overpower me. Nevertheless, it gave Eric one tiny bit of relief. Our captors could silver me all they wanted, but I would still remain as strong and vital as if they’d done it with stainless steel.
Eric started giving me instructions mentally, more in pictures than in words. He reminded me that I could manipulate all the minds around me into letting me go, that I didn’t have to fight; in fact he forbade me to fight. I wouldn’t win against any vampire older than me, and nobody was younger than me. He stopped himself time and time again from summoning Pam for help, but instructed me to contact her and have her leave immediately with Miriam, to seek refuge with Meg in Spain. He was desperate to keep us safe and it was maddening that he felt so weak inside the cell.
When a set of vampire guards came to the cell block and made a beeline for my cell, he mouthed the words, “do it now.” But I shook my head in defiance. I was thinking through what would happen if I were to escape as they opened my cell. Besides, I had done nothing wrong and Mr. Cataliades would be there to clear me of all charges if it even came to that. The same tape that showed me leaving Victor’s bar, showed Alexei, who had killed many at Fangtasia that same night. That was a well-documented fact. Bruno and Corinna had left with not just me, but with Alexei as well, the actual murderer.
The guards put silver handcuffs and wrapped me in a thin silver chain, immediately noticing that none of it bothered me. They left it all in place but grabbed their stakes, to keep them at the ready. As soon as they did, it seemed to unleash some feral part of Eric, who had been trying hard to control his emotions. He lost it inside his cell and threw himself at the bars like a caged animal, without regard to how the action would harm him.
One of my guards turned back and was about to hit some button on the wall, but I stopped everything, including Eric’s movements. I didn’t want to manipulate anybody. I wanted to see if I could claim justice all on my own, but I had to talk some sense into my husband first.
“What are you doing?! Why are you still here?!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, unable to move and in fact compelled to sit down on the cot.
“Let me see this through, Eric. Let me try to make this better. I need you to trust me. But your outburst almost made them burn you,” I said, pointing with my chin at the button on the wall. It would turn on UV lights inside his cell.
“I can’t,” he growled. “I won’t.”
“Please, please,” I begged, my heart breaking because he felt so helpless. “I’ve trusted you with everything and never questioned you. Let me do this. If it seems like it’s not going to work, I swear that I’ll stop everything and I’ll come get you myself. We’ll leave this place forever and I’ll never defy you again.”
He looked defeated when he nodded, his expression angry but his feelings in chaos. Then he gave in, his whole body sinking with defeat. “I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you,” I said too before making the guard forget about turning on the UV lights so that we could all exit the cell block.
We walked the length of the basement then took an elevator to the ground floor of Victor’s mansion. When we exited, we didn’t travel very far until we reached a large, utilitarian room. Unlike the rest of the mansion, this room was devoid of color or adornment. I had a sinking feeling that the reason there was a drain at the far edge of the wall was because blood and ash were often cleaned from the rough tile that covered the floor.
At the front of the room, several people stood around a small metal desk, the kind that used to be popular in the fifties. My godfather and Diantha were standing on the left, together with Russell Edgington, his husband Bartlette Crowe, and Stan Davis, the monarch from Texas. On the right were Victor with his soon-to-be-wife Freyda, and Felipe De Castro. The Ancient Pythoness was seated behind the desk, like a judge, flanked by two handmaidens.
Vampires didn’t like to stand on ceremony for long. Victor read the charges and quickly produced the tape that showed me leaving his bar along with Ocella and Alexei. A moment later Bruno and Corinna followed with the two donors.
The Oracle cleared her voice to draw attention to herself. “The child, Alexei Romanov. Tell me, did he not he kill the sheriff of Area 5 that same night?”
Victor hesitated but then answered truthfully. “Ah, yes, milady.”
“Please explain why you are accusing this young vampire of killing your bodyguards,” she prompted. “Surely they would have been stronger than her.”
“We cannot find the vampire named Appius Livius Ocella and Alexei Romanov was destroyed when he attacked police officers. We have to wonder if she was the one who killed my bodyguards as well as Ocella.”
The Oracle frowned unconvinced. “I have it on good authority that Appius Livius Ocella was older than yours truly. Try your argument again, Mr. Madden.”
But he had nothing and he knew it. Everyone present, except for Victor, saw this for what it was: a witch hunt and a waste of time.
It took all of ten minutes for the Ancient Pythoness to dismiss the charges against me and have the guards remove the silver restraints, as well as for my husband to be brought up to the chamber. Eric hugged me tightly and asked for my forgiveness over and over, kissing my hair because it was the only part of me he could reach while his arms refused to let me go.
There was another matter that the Oracle wanted to address with Victor Madden. In her mind she was nearly ecstatic that they had made her come all the way to Louisiana, because several Amun clan members had complained to her about what Felipe De Castro had let Victor do as regent. To say that she loved to impart justice was an understatement.
“It has been brought to my attention that you have repeatedly ignored your sheriffs’ requests, not just Mr. Northman’s, but others’ as well. Is this correct, Mr. Madden?”
Victor would have blanched had he not been a vampire. “As you know, setting up a new order is…”
“Silence!” the Oracle roared and we all held our breaths. “The question merely necessitated a short answer,” she explained more calmly. She stood up with difficulty, but what she needed to say had to be taken to heart by all present. Not only that, she directed her unseeing eyes towards Felipe, not Victor. “Where have you been, sir?”
Felipe took a step forward, walking cane in hand, looking as regal as ever while wearing a cape on top of his immaculate black suit. His many rings shone under the stark lights, clear symbols of his status. Of all the monarchs present, he was the best dressed. Even Freyda, though elegant in a pants suit, wasn’t flashy like Felipe. “I have been in Nevada, but I did visit Arkansas two months ago.”
“When did you last visit this kingdom?” She swept her arm wide, signifying all of Louisiana.
“I have been remiss and just now was able to visit.”
The old lady smiled and shook her head. “You mean to tell me that Sophie-Anne Leclerq’s death was not by your hand?”
We all gasped in unison. If Felipe said he’d killed her, he’d be guilty of murder. If he said he hadn’t and blamed the person who had done it, then Victor would be guilty of murder. And if he simply claimed that Sophie-Anne was already dead of natural causes, aside from it being a lie, then he would have to give a detailed account of when he actually sent Victor to take over the state – since the sheriffs of the area hadn’t told the Oracle anything about her death.
Felipe chose to lie. “Sophie-Anne passed away from the injuries she sustained at the summit in September.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Cataliades and I looked at each other in understanding: we were both reading Victor’s mind and Sophie-Anne’s exact manner of death.
“Miss Stackhouse,” the Pythoness said my name and startled me. When I looked her way she asked me the question that I’d been dreading. “Is what Mr. De Castro says true?”
“No, ma’am,” I answered immediately. There was no sense in lying to her. She knew I could read minds.
In a sudden moment that nearly made me scream “Eureka!” at the top of my lungs, I’d finally figured out why I couldn’t control the Oracle’s mind and why she was the Oracle and nobody dared to put something over her. She just wanted to see if I could be courageous enough to admit that I was just like her, and wise enough to figure it all out. I didn’t really need to expand on my comment. After I answered, she was satisfied and didn’t need me to explain further. My dread evaporated just as suddenly as I’d felt it.
The pride emanating from my godfather was an unbelievable boost to my self-esteem. He had read my mind and was beyond happy that he didn’t need to explain the Oracle to me, that I had deciphered her all on my own. He had figured it out not too long ago, after he’d seen what I was capable of as a vampire. That’s when it all became clear to him, but he didn’t feel he was at liberty to explain.
Eric was confused, but since he only felt my elation, his own emotions settled to curiosity as he planted another kiss on my person.
My curiosity got the better of me and I kept listening to her thoughts and how her mind worked while she listened to others’ minds. It was fascinating. She nudged Victor to confess about killing Sophie-Anne while she was convalescing but alive. She didn’t make him lie about anything. She simply opened the way for a true and honest confession.
The Oracle was not a seer: she was a telepath like me, had been one while human, had used her wisdom to interpret what she saw in others’ minds, and had become famous because of it. When her maker turned her, she gained all the same powers that I had, no more, no less. During a time when magic was more readily accepted than nowadays, the Ancient Pythoness used her ability for gain and in the service of her gods. It only made sense.
I came back to the room, so to speak, and began paying attention to what was going on when Victor Madden was being sentenced to death. Open acts of hostility against monarchs during peaceful times called for the immediate execution of the transgressor. Freyda was highly disturbed, since she was almost married to the man. The guards were holding Victor so that he had nowhere to go, but he kept repeating that Felipe had ordered him to kill Sophie-Anne. Felipe looked impassive, but his mind was reeling with the repercussions of his order to kill the weakened queen.
Meanwhile, standing next to three monarchs that had been on Eric’s side since we had decided to leave Louisiana and traipse through Europe, they were all elated by this turn of events. Monarchs like Russell, Bartlette, and Stan didn’t like it when someone from a different clan like Felipe tried to usurp thrones from a clan so far away from his home state. Stan, though technically from a different clan than us, stood in solidarity with Louisiana by virtue of being neighbors. Plus, he preferred having friendly ties to whoever was in charge of Louisiana. He’d always admired Sophie-Anne and she had always been a friend to him. Her death had been a blow to both Stan and Russell.
Finally, the punishment was delivered by Felipe. He was the one who staked Victor that very evening, then was ordered to pay the kingdom of Louisiana and Arkansas a mighty hefty sum for damages arising from Victor’s shortcomings as regent. The Ancient Pythoness, lacking any other seasoned sheriffs – since Victor had done away with all except Eric – named Eric as monarch of Louisiana and Arkansas, to be crowned during the party that would start any moment to celebrate the Chinese New Year. As much as Eric disliked the idea of being king, he acceded graciously. One did not simply turn down a monarchy.
As for me, the Oracle asked me to stay behind so we could speak privately while Eric was readied to receive his crown, so to speak.
“Our kind is not common,” she confided as she took my offered arm. We slowly made our way to the ballroom, which was clear on the other side of the mansion.
“Do you mean telepaths that have been turned to vampires?” I asked in a low voice because her attendants were walking behind us. I wasn’t sure how much they knew. I needn’t have worried; they were loyal to the Oracle by virtue of being her progeny.
“Exactly. I suspect any others would have been drained rather than turned. I admit it disturbed me to find you capable of draining so many fairies.”
“I apologize,” I said and truly felt regret for my actions.
“You are young in body and spirit. It is a lethal combination. By the time I was turned I was already tired, but I can understand you. Ocella’s death, in particular,” she smiled, reading exactly how that had come about. “He was evil and lacked empathy for his own offspring. I am glad that he no longer walks this earth. However, now you are married to a powerful monarch, therefore you must act accordingly.”
“He didn’t want to be king,” I confessed aloud, knowing she knew but needing her to understand.
“Yes, child, I know. However, Eric is fair, wise, and capable. If he can find a replacement, he may do so with my full blessing. He knows this. Now you know this too.”
“Thank you, milady.”
“Promise me that you will come to me to seek justice,” she said stopping in the middle of the long hall. She looked up into my eyes and I finally understood that she couldn’t really see me with her eyes, but her mind was seeking mine and found it easily. She “saw” through others’ eyes.
“I promise, milady.” Of course, and I mentally swore that I would never take justice into my own hands again.
“The fact that you so thoroughly understand the need for justice gives me serenity. Perhaps you would enjoy helping me from time to time. I would like for you learn my craft.”
Incredibly touched by her faith in me, I agreed readily to spend more time with her. Far from the scary woman with the even scarier name, she was a kindred soul, someone who could finally guide me and help me with my telepathy. I had needed someone like her in my life for so long… When she fully opened her mind to me, to explain exactly what she wanted from and for me, it was like finding a mother and a mentor, a friend.
I almost cried as I confessed what she could readily gather from my own mind. She smiled kindly and understood perfectly. There was no need to explain what I was feeling at that moment, so I just let all my emotions roll through my psyche and hoped that Eric wouldn’t get assaulted by them too much, or think that I was in any kind of danger. Since happiness was the main emotion, I was sure he would continue with his own tasks rather than search for me.
“It has been a most interesting night for you, I gather,” the Oracle smiled as we continued walking slowly.
“From the lowest to the highest, I think I’ve seen it all tonight,” I confessed, remembering how Victor disintegrated at the end of Felipe’s stake, that same stake that I’d seen nearly pierce through Eric’s chest before I used the first cluviel dor to save his life. At that very moment, Felipe was well on his way back to Nevada. Hopefully I would never see him again.
“You have yet to see a coronation,” she pointed out as we walked inside the ballroom.
Everything was in organized chaos as the people from E(E)E had to suddenly rearrange things for there to be a coronation as well as a party. The place looked beautiful, with red silk hangings and stylized golden rabbits adorning the tables and the back of chairs. Each table shined, candlelight bouncing softly off gleaming surfaces like crystal goblets and mirrors set strategically to capture the luminescence. The room was perfumed with giant arrangements of flowers: fire-engine-red roses, calla lilies, crimson gerbera daisies, and white-as-snow germini daisies.
Eric approached me, looking regal in a tuxedo with a red cummerbund. His smile told me more about his state of mind than his thoughts could ever have. Moving regally, already acting like a king, imposing in size and stature, he moved ever closer until he lost all semblance of the monarch and embraced me as a lover, his mouth on mine, his arms holding me flushed against him, dipping me low as if he would simply lay me on the floor and make love to me right then and there.
“My queen,” he whispered against my lips and I smiled, holding him tight. Then his face took on a more somber expression. “Can you forgive me?”
I blinked. “For what?”
He brought me back up and hugged me tight, burying his face against my neck before answering. “For not trusting you earlier.”
I shrugged. “You did eventually.”
Eric took a deep breath before letting me go. He grabbed my hand and led me to a small room off the ballroom, where a stylist was waiting for me. He finished with Russell Edgington’s bowtie quickly, then motioned for me to come closer.
“This is my favorite human in the whole world,” Russell said giving the man a half hug. “Peter will make you look like a queen.”
Russell’s endorsement of the stylist was enough for me, and soon I was in the center of a storm made of red chiffon and silk. In no time at all I was dressed in a floor-length ballgown the same color as Eric’s cummerbund, my hair was piled high atop my head, and my neck was bejeweled with a heavy diamond necklace that probably cost more than the yearly salary of all the citizens of Bon Temps combined. The final accessory: a pair of designer shoes that made me nearly as tall as my husband, and all the boys present were admiring – Russell and Bartlette in deep appreciation of the actual designer, Eric in appreciation of what the shoes did to my figure.
After Eric swore to uphold the vampire laws and to rule the two kingdoms, we danced and danced like we would never tire. It was a happy ending, something that nobody could take away from us. Through my life I’d gone from being Crazy Sookie, to living two whole lives in as many years, to marrying the love of my life, who was now the most powerful vampire in the south of the United States.
Our spirits that night had taken a swift upward swing. In no other instance could we have ever fathomed to be in fear for our lives AND ecstatically celebrating a new chapter of our lives, other than as vampires. Briefly I wondered if it was too good to be true, but the answer was simple: once in a while, what appears to be too good is actually a recompense for good deeds. Or, as the Ancient Pythoness would say, redemption for delivering justice.
That night, my husband was crowned King of Louisiana and Arkansas. His subjects swore loyalty and fealty. His allies were happy to have a just ruler as a part of their community. As his consort, I was revered and offered the same deference and allegiance as Eric. In a world that often let me know that it could very well do without me, I felt, for the first time, that I belonged in it and that it belonged to me.
Nothing had changed in my world. Nothing except me.