LATE Chapter 093

The Copper Shield

 

As soon as Eric had paid the tailor, everyone congregated out at the swimming pool, sitting around chatting while the men put their suits away and came back. Alex and Aubie were in the playpen with some toys, the most popular of which was the little shape-sorting house, which Alex was showing to Aubie as he sat propped up against one of the supports.

As soon as Bjorn came out back he was on Sookie’s case. “OK, Sookie, in the pool.”

“Alright,” she said with just a little irritation, pulling off her terry cover and diving in just as Jerry came back. Both of them pulled chairs right up next to the pool as Eric came back in blue swim trunks and a white tank shirt. The various women pretended not to notice how gorgeous and big Eric was in his swim trunks, but he was smiling to himself knowing they were all admiring him and he knew Bjorn and Jerry were feeling minor twinges of jealousy, too. He liked that.

“OK, Bjorn, what do you want me to do?” Sookie called from the pool.

“You said a mermaid is easiest, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Start with that, then try a dolphin, then a shark.”

“Why a shark?”

“It’s about the same size as a dolphin, but it’s an actual fish. Dolphins are mammals, so it’s not that far from a mermaid. You won’t be able to stay that way long because this is not salt water. Just see if you can get there, then come back to mermaid.”

“Alright,” Sookie dived under and swam toward the deep end of the pool. She looped back then on her second time down, she came up as a Mer, splashing Bjorn purposely with her tail.

“Get as smart as you want, Sookie, just do this,” Bjorn knew she was being a little belligerent, but this ability was too important to let her be lazy about honing her skills.

The mermaid did another dive into the deep end and came up a dolphin, which tail-walked as everyone applauded, including Eric, who was sitting with his feet in the pool. It took three passes up and down before the dolphin became a shark, but it was obviously struggling, and suddenly Sookie was herself, treading water and gasping for breath.

“Sookie, are you alright?” Eric was alarmed at seeing her struggle for air that way.

“Yeah, but salt-water fish are out in the pool. The chlorine burns my gills,” she explained, still struggling for breath.

“OK, Sookie, catch your breath and let’s try some other aquatic animals that breathe air then. Do you think you can do a sea otter?”

“I don’t know, let me see…” she took a couple of deep breaths, dived deep again and came up as an otter but couldn’t maintain it more than 30 seconds or so. As she became herself again, she went to the side of the pool next to Eric and took his hand as she laid her head on his thigh and tried to catch her breath as he stroked her wet hair.

“Tired, Sookie?” Bjorn asked her, noticing Bobbie was clearing the toys from the playpen because the boys were asleep.

“Yes, very.”

“Can you do a mermaid again, do you think?”

“Maybe.”

“OK, shift to a mermaid and just play around for a while. Try to do at least 10 minutes, even if you just hang on to the side of the pool.”

“You can do it, Sweetheart,” Eric assured her with a smile and she nodded, diving again and coming up as a mermaid. She swam up and down the pool several times at a relatively slow pace, just enjoying the freedom of slipping through the water so effortlessly. She playfully splashed Eric, who took off his tank shirt and dived into the water with her.

Bjorn and Jerry looked at each other and nodded. Jerry motioned for Amelia to follow him and they headed for their chalet. Alicia and Margaret went into the house, and Bobbie went over to stand with Bjorn. “We’re going to leave them alone, I guess?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell him just to have her maintain it as long as she can and we’ll give them some privacy. He’ll give her a good reason to stay in Mer form, I’m sure,” Bjorn laughed.

Eric and Sookie came up in the middle of the pool in an embrace.

“We’ll see you tomorrow, Eric, just have her stay in Mer form as long as she can,” Bjorn said as they waved and went toward the house.

“Yes, good night, Bjorn, Bobbie.”

“Good night, guys!” Sookie dived again and let Eric chase her playfully. Sookie came up for a deep breath and let Eric catch her, kissing him hard as they floated to the bottom of the pool in each other’s arms. When they came up for air, Sookie was reminded exactly how Mermaids were able to have sex. Wild, wet, Viking Vampire sex. They spiraled around each other, thrusting hard and churning the water as they laughed and tumbled through the water fucking like only a Vampire and a mermaid can.

Eric was impressed at how long Sookie was able to maintain her Mer form. They managed to have sex three wonderful times before she switched back out of sheer exhaustion, both of them laughing with delight. Eric scooped her up and carried her out of the pool.

“Maybe we should do it that way all the time?” Sookie joked as Eric wrapped a towel around her.

“No, I would miss your pretty legs too much. I like my lovely wife just as she is.”

“You always say the perfect thing, you know?”

“I’m just stating a fact, my Angel. Let’s take the boys and go upstairs.”

“Let’s try something. Give me Aubie,” she suggested as Eric bent over to the playpen. He gave Aubie to her, then picked up Alex. Sookie said, “Hang on!” and wrapped her free arm around him, and he wrapped his free arm around her.

“Bedroom!” Sookie said suddenly and the four of them were instantly in their room with a light popping sound.
Eric was stunned. “Sookie! What did you do?”

“I just wanted to see if I could transport us all at once. It wasn’t very far, but I did it!”

“Yes, you did. Give me some warning the next time, my Angel,” Eric laughed, partly at himself because she surprised him so, and partly out of delight that she always had some new surprise or power that made her so special. He kissed her and the boys woke up giggling. “Look who’s awake!” Eric laughed again and they put the boys in the middle of the bed and took turns with quick showers to get the chlorine out of their hair, each taking a turn watching the boys. Sookie smiled to herself the entire time she was in the bathroom because she could hear Eric tickling the boys and making animal sounds as he played with them. The boys giggled and squealed and just as she was wrapping a towel around herself Eric called that he was taking them for fresh diapers. She combed out her hair and went back into the bedroom, putting on a little black nursing gown because she was pretty sure she was going straight to sleep once she fed the boys again, because she was exhausted.

“Here is Mommy!” Eric said to the boys as he brought them back into the bedroom. “Alex is asking for “Mamee ee.”” He gave each boy another kiss and helped Sookie get into position to feed them.

“I expected that,” Sookie laughed as he knelt on the bed and let her get Aubie into place first. “Alex can float and watch while Aubie gets diapered, but what did you do with Aubie while Alex was getting changed?” she asked as she got Aubie balanced on her left leg, then reached for Alex with her right arm as Eric explained.

“I sat him in the glider with their little blue bear and he was too busy looking it over to notice I was changing Alex. He was trying to pull its fur off,” he laughed. “Will you be OK for a minute – I’ll shower very quickly.”

“Yeah, we’ll be fine, won’t we guys?”

The boys giggled a bit but neither stopped nursing, and Sookie was only mildly surprised when they both took blood at the same time. Eric was back very quickly, combing out his hair and putting on the blue and lavender striped boxers.

Sookie whistled at him and said “SE-XY, Daddy,” with a laugh.

“They do look rather good on me,” he preened in front of the mirror a bit, “my wife has very good taste.”

Sookie cracked up at that as Eric came toward the bed, but said “wait, before you lie down, will you see if there’s an RM in the fridge?”

“Of course, Sookie, let me see…” He went around the bed and found one RM in its original bottle and a couple of bottles for the boys plus a covered dish on the top of the fridge that said “for the boys” on it. “Looks like Margaret left a meal for them for later, too, and there’s a salad here in here, and a sandwich of some sort.”

“Is it a turkey sandwich?”

“Yes, that’s what the label says.”

“Let me have that and the RM and is there one of those strawberry things in there?”

“Yes. You’ve worked up an appetite, I see.”

“Yeah, and I’m really tired, so once I finish with the boys and finish that, I’ll probably conk out for the night.”

“Good idea, you’ve done a lot today.”

“You’re telling me. I haven’t been this tired since the day Alex was born!”

“Are you sure you’re up to having company tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, it’s just a cook-out. All I have to do is eat and chat, really, and Jason hasn’t met Aubie yet.”

“True. And I suppose this will be your last chance to see him for a while.”

“Right, so one evening, and maybe I’ll turn in early so I’ll be well-rested for the opening Saturday night.”

“A very sound plan, my lovely wife,” he kissed her forehead as he retrieved her tray from the dresser and prepared her sandwich and drinks so she could have them as soon as the boys finished.

“Let me get started on the RM, now, Sweetie. They’re both taking blood and I’m a little worried about running low,” she laughed.

Eric laughed, too, and opened the RM, putting a straw in it and giving it to her so she could hold it in her right hand, which was balancing Alex, and drink.

“Ah – that’s so good,” she said when she got a good draw of it.

“It amazes me that you still like it,” Eric said, “I wonder if that will persist when you are no longer breast feeding?” He sat next to her on the bed, stroking Alex’s back with the backs of his fingers.

“I don’t know, but that’s going to be years from now, won’t it?”

“I don’t know. The boys are developing so quickly, you might not need to nurse them as long as we expected.”

“Well, we’ll see. For the moment I like doing it. It makes me feel so close to them, and it’s the one thing I can do for them that no one else can.”

“You underestimate your role as their mother, Sookie. There are many things you give the boys that only you can.”

“Thanks,” she smiled and laid her head on his shoulder as he moved closer to her.

“Dada!” Aubie finished first and obviously wanted Eric to play with him some more. Eric took him from Sookie and lay on his back, holding the baby up above him making whooshing sounds as he moved him in the air.

“Not wasting any time, huh, Daddy?” Sookie teased him.

“The sooner he learns to fly, the better.”

“What if he can’t?”

“He’s my son, Sookie, he will fly.”

Sookie cracked up, “that’s what I said about him going outside. He’s my baby, so of course he loves it.”

“It will be the same with flying, mark my words. My little elf will be flying around the house in no time, won’t you, Auberon.”

“Ah!” Aubie said, having no idea what Eric was saying, but happy to go along with the program.

“Aubie fyeen,” Alex said, then went back to nursing.

“He will be soon. You and your brother can fly in the gym together some day very soon, I am sure,” Eric said with determination. Eric tried the move where he sort of dropped Aubie, catching him and kissing him, then putting him back up and Aubie got the giggles and let out a huge burp.

“Oops – careful, Daddy, his meal might come back up on you.”

“It will wash off if it does, but he is not sick, are you, my son?”

Aubie just giggled and reached his arms down toward Eric and said, “Dada,” so Eric brought him down to his chest for a kiss and a hug and let him lie there for a few minutes as Eric stroked his back and talked to him softly. “Daddy loves his little elf. Daddy loves Auberon.” Sookie was beaming at Alex, and at Eric being so sweet to Aubie, and was just about to bust when the kitten came bouncing up onto the bed. “Hey, kitty, where have you been?”

“Ma giddy!” Alex forgot about nursing and wanted to pet his cat, so Sookie pointed him in that direction and he crawled toward the end of the bed. Sookie said “tray” and her tray with her sandwich was quickly in her hands and she sat up a bit more so she could eat. Eric smiled to himself that she did that without even thinking. He put Aubie back up in the air and whooshed him a few more times until he yawned.

“Uh-oh, Daddy, he’s sleepy.”

“Yes, he’s fed and played a bit and now he will sleep, sleep, sleep.” Eric said playfully as he hugged Aubie and patted his bottom with each “sleep,” then kissed his cheek. Eric sat up and rested his back against the headboard, keeping Aubie at his shoulder, rubbing his little back and letting him drift off to sleep. Aubie let out a big sigh and Eric knew he would be out soon.

Alex was slowing down, too, and the kitty seemed to be brushing against him to encourage him to sleep. It wasn’t long before he was lying on his side, his arm around the kitty, stroking its fur and beginning to doze off. Sookie was watching it all with a sense of contentment and satisfaction, but she didn’t say anything because she was starving and the sandwich was so good.

Eric got up gently and took Aubie around to the co-sleeper. He had an idea and went into nursery quickly and got a blanket to pad the place where the co-sleeper met the bed so it extended the area a bit, then he put Aubie in it sideways and moved Alex, who was asleep now, in beside him.

“Aww.” Sookie said as she took a drink of strawberry stuff.

Eric smiled. “It’s a little tight, but it’s just for a night or two. This is how they’ll sleep when you get the larger co-sleeper. I don’t think they’ll crowd each other too much.”

“Yeah, they’ll like being beside each other. As much as I don’t want them to grow up too fast, I’ll be glad when Aubie can keep up with Alex a little bit because I think they’re going to have a blast.”

“Yes, it will be good for them to have each other to play with. I was worried about Alex being so isolated. Having a twin will make them more social, I think.”

“Yeah, like a built-in best friend,” Sookie laughed as the kitten bounced up the bed and sat next to her with big eyes, and Sookie gave her a bite of turkey. “Good kitty, Erin.” She scratched it behind its ears, to its obvious enjoyment, then it looked at Eric and patted his arm with the paw closest to him. Eric looked at it with surprise, then relented and petted it a few times. The kitten meowed at him then walked across Sookie’s legs to get next to the boys, but apparently decided there was no room so it went down to the foot of the bed and curled up by Eric’s feet.

“If anyone had ever told me I’d be sharing my bed with a cat…” he remarked, but Sookie replied “come on, Eric, as much as you love pussy, it was bound to happen,” which shocked him and she cracked up. He stared at her in amazement as she giggled wickedly, then shook his head quickly and said, “I cannot believe you said that!”

“Shocked you, didn’t I?” Sookie was very pleased with herself.

“Yes, you certainly did!” he finally began to laugh.

“I couldn’t resist – it popped into my head and I just had to say it.”

Eric leaned over and kissed her even though she was still giggling. “You never cease to amaze me, Sookie.”

“Good. I like keeping you on your toes,” she teased him. He laughed and took her tray from her and sat it on the floor in front of his nightstand, then rolled back toward her and she scooted down and let him wrap his arms around her. Her giggles gradually gave way to a big yawn, and he kissed her hair as he held her, turning off the light in the headboard and speaking to her softly as she drifted off. Eric lay there in the dark watching his family sleep for a long time, letting waves of comfort and contentment wash over him. He could remember nothing in his long life that approached this bliss. Battle, conquest, fucking – they all paled in comparison to lying here, listening to Sookie’s soft breath and watching his sons dream, their little hearts beating quickly and nearly in time with one another. Finally he forced himself to get up and go to work.

The most pressing point of the evening involved calling Bill, so he began with that.

“Eric?”

“Yes, Bill. Did you get my email?”

“Yes, I did – 600? Niall can’t be serious!”

“I have no doubt that he’s serious. The question is, about what? Do we think he’d risk starting a war at such an ecumenical event, even in the presence of members of both the Council and Pantheon?”

“You’ll have to function as if that’s a very real possibility.”

“Yes, I will. So how do we defend against a force of 600 when we’ll have 330 on our side, at best, and that’s assuming all the Vampires would support me and the Weres and daemons remain loyal.”

“I hate to say it, Eric, but the only recourse would seem to be divine intervention. How is Sookie’s special relationship evolving?”

“Quite well, but I don’t know if it’s developed enough to allay our fears. I’ll ask her to seek help, but we need to act as if none will be forthcoming.”

“Alright, we’ll need a war council when I arrive Friday night. I suggest we have Sandy, Vincent, Bjorn and Jerry, your captain of the guard, the Daemon Master, Pam, of course, the commandant from the training camp and at least Alcide Herveaux representing the local packs.”

“That would be my assessment.”

“Where shall we hold it?”

“Let’s hold it in your chalet at 9 pm Friday. I’ll have Sookie and the boys stay in the house so they’re as far removed from this as possible.”

“You don’t think she should attend?”

“No, I think she should stay with the babies in a controlled environment while Bjorn, Jerry and I are all occupied.”

“Good point.”

“I’ll have her and her Witches discuss what they can do to help, too.”

“Absolutely – use every tool at your disposal. Perhaps they should work with the Coven?”

“I’ll talk to Octavia about that. My impression was that Sookie felt the High Priestess was hiding something, and I noticed that she misspoke once and referred to Niall as “the Prince” so I’m not sure where her loyalties lie. You know how some Witches are about Fae, especially in America.”

“I forgot about that. Has Sookie had any contact with Niall recently?”

“No – I’ll fill you in on that situation when you get here. It’s very complicated.”

“I can imagine…”

“Honestly, you probably can’t. I’m very anxious for you to get here.”

“Should I come in earlier?”

“Is that possible?”

“I can move my travel up a day or two if you think it will help.”

“Actually, how about coming in Wednesday and you can celebrate the boys’ 1 month birthday with us?’

“Alright, then let’s move the war council to Thursday night – that will give us another day to prepare our defenses.”

“Good, I’ll leave Sookie a note that you’re coming in Wednesday and she can work with Alicia to assure that your chalet is ready in time.”

“Don’t feel you have to go to any trouble, Eric – as long as there’s a secure resting place, I’ll be fine.”

“Well, we want you to be comfortable and I’m gradually giving Sookie more responsibility since she’s adapted to having the babies.”

“The twin didn’t present any additional problems?”

“Only in terms of security, but we’ll cover that in the meeting.”

“Really?” Bill couldn’t imagine what it was Eric couldn’t tell him. “Is there anything else we need to cover?”

“Did you check in with Sandy tonight?”

“Yes, she has everything running smoothly. You might need to sign some contracts this week, which she’ll send via Anubis if that comes about.”

“Alright, then, I have some paperwork to get to, so I’ll talk to you tomorrow night.”

“Thanks, Eric. Good night.”

Eric stopped and thought for a few minutes and decided he needed to leave a note for Sookie. Not that he couldn’t wait until tonight to catch her up, but he had noticed that when he gave her things in writing, they stuck with her and she took them more seriously. Once he had that written, he ploughed through the new batch of paperwork for the shopping center in Ruston and got it nearly complete before he felt that one of the boys – probably Auberon – was awake.

He moved silently into the room and found that Auberon was indeed awake, gnawing on his fingers, looking up at him with those big blue eyes that seemed so deep and soulful in his pretty face. Eric brought him up to his shoulder, enjoying the rush of love and trust that poured out of Auberon towards him. He wondered at himself being so attached to his children. Did all fathers want to cry when they held their sons? He felt this way with Alex, too, but this child, Auberon, was like a deep well of emotion and his focus could be a bit overwhelming, even for Eric.

Taking a bottle from the fridge and the plate of food, Eric took Aubie into the nursery. As he was warming the bottle, he could feel very clearly that Auberon wanted to be quiet and be held close. Eric fed him the bottle, and offered him a few bites of applesauce, but Aubie just shook his little head and sighed after just three, so Eric pulled him back up to his shoulder and rocked him. He noted that this was the first time Auberon had played with his hair as he rocked him. Alex almost always did, but this was the first night Aubie shown any interest in it. He laughed to himself that they even did that differently. Alex sort of ran his fingers through it, but Aubie grabbed a handful and held tightly onto it, almost as if he was trying to pull Eric closer. Eric could have enjoyed sitting there with him for days, but it wasn’t long before Aubie was obviously asleep and Alex was awake, so he went in and changed babies, grabbing another bottle and bringing Alex back into the nursery.

“Book or bottle first, my son?”

“Baddow, Dadee.”

“Oh, you’re hungry tonight?” He chatted with the baby as he put the bottle in the warmer.

“Eeah, ahm undwy.”

“Alright, you will have a bottle and I will tell you a story, alright?”

“Oday,” Alex gave him a big sleepy smile, and Eric hugged and kissed him, patting his little back while the bottle was warming.

“What kind of story do you want to hear Alex? Conquest, or battle? I never finished the story about the bear, did I?”

“Bayah?”

Eric took the bottle from the warmer and sat in the glider, talking to Alex softly the whole time. “Yes, when I was a boy, a big she-bear was stealing our pigs and goats. My father was away on a raid, and my mother and brothers and sisters depended on our animals to live. I was only 12, but already very tall and I thought that I was a man.” Alex watched Eric speak with big eyes, trying to understand all the words. “I was a fool, thinking I could catch a bear myself. I should have dug a pit, but I was too lazy, so I took one of my father’s swords and a spear and I hid out by the pigpen in the dark.

It was very cold that night and I nearly fell asleep. At once, I was roused by the squealing of a small pig, and I scrambled to my feet, seeing that the bear was carrying it out into the woods. I chased it, carrying the spear and the sword, but it was moving very quickly in a line perpendicular to the way I was running. In frustration, I dropped the sword and threw the spear with all my might, actually managing to hit the bear in the leg.

I should have let it go, especially since it dropped the piglet, but as I said, I was foolish and I ran back for the sword, intending to go after the bear. Just before I reached the sword, the bear, which no longer had the spear in its leg and was angry and bleeding a lot, came at me from behind and knocked me to my knees. I should have been killed, and it would have served me right, but I grabbed a big rock and bashed its nose as hard as I could. It was stunned enough to let me scramble away to the sword. I wish I could say I valiantly killed the beast, but I barely escaped with my life, and was only saved when it swiped at my leg and I fell, then it rushed forward and I stuck the sword in its throat. My leg took weeks to heal, and my mother nearly died of shock when she saw me covered in blood and wounds. When she knew I would live, she wouldn’t speak to me for days, she was so angry. The men of the village wanted to have a celebration in my honor, but she would not allow it and my father was not there to overrule her. The women of our village dressed and cooked the bear but my mother wouldn’t allow me to eat any.

There was an old woman in our settlement that could read bones and tell the future and she made a charm of three claws and gave it to me in secret, knowing my mother would be angry if she knew. She told me I was foolish, but determined and brave, so bear was a good companion spirit for me. When you are older, Alexander, you will be wiser than I, because I will teach you these lessons early. I won’t assume that a boy knows he is only a boy. I will know that your instinct is to go forward and fight, and I will teach you to know your limitations, to study your enemy and to plan wisely before you act. I will teach you to dig a pit when you need to, not to be lazy and foolhardy as I was. You will be brave and smart, I’ll see to that, or your mother will skin us both,” he laughed.

Alex had been hanging on his every word, understanding none of it, but he laughed because Eric laughed and he was determined that he would learn all of those words and know what they meant because the one word he did know, SWORD, was one of his favorites.

Eric put him up to his shoulder and kissed his cheek, then spoke softly to him. “I know you are too young to understand, my son, but I will tell you this story often. You’ll be sick of it before you are five, mark my words, and I will take you to a zoo and let you see a real bear. There are some that are open into the evenings now so Vampires can visit them, too. Mommy would take you, but I want to be with you and tell you this story and then you will understand.”

Eric realized he had food for Alex, but he was already asleep. He decided not to wake him, but to tuck him back in next to Sookie and give her the nightly dose of Ambrosia. Once Alex was back in bed, he retrieved the note for Sookie and left it on the dresser, then poured her a cup of the electric blue syrup and woke her.

“Sookie, my Angel, you must drink!”

“Mmm? Oh, cool,” she barely opened her eyes, but kicked the drink back like a shot and then threw her arm around Eric’s neck and wouldn’t let him go. “I wish you could stay here.”

“So do I, Sookie, but it’s best if I do not.”

“I didn’t drink from you tonight.”

“That’s right, you didn’t. Roll over toward the boys and I’ll spoon behind you. Hurry, before Jerry gets here.”

Sookie rolled toward the co-sleeper and Eric lay behind her, tearing his wrist and letting her feed. She was greedy as she sucked on his arm, and didn’t want to let him go even after the wound had closed and they had both had a very deep release.

He began to pull his arm away, but Sookie wouldn’t let him. “Uh-uh! Stay!”

“Sookie, it’s not a good time to do this.”

“Then take me with you.”

“My Angel, the boys need you here.”

“Yeah, I guess they do,” she said with a yawn. He doubted she was really awake enough to know what she was saying. “Have sweet dreams, Sookie and I will see you tonight.”

“‘K, nite-nite,” she let him go just as Jerry came up the stairs.

“Your majesty?”

“Yes, come in, Jerry. I’m just saying good night,” Eric smiled as he stood up, picking up his jeans and putting them on. “Please be sure Sookie reads my note as soon as she awakes. I need her to take care of several things today in preparation for the Wiccaning.”

“Oh, OK, sure. Have a good rest, your majesty.”

“Thank you, Jerry. Have a good day.”

Eric went quietly down the stairs, feeling both sad that he had to leave and glad that she wanted so badly for him to stay. He would be able to stay in bed with her at the clubs, he reminded himself, and that would be something for her to look forward to. Sleep took him as soon as his head hit the pillow, which was very rare for him.

“Read, Sookie, quickly!”

Sookie opened her eyes and flipped the hourglass, then said aloud, hoping Freyja would hear her, “I need away to keep Auberon safe around Vampires!”

A strong wind blew through the huge white room, and the book, already open in front of her, seemed to respond. The wind lifted the pages and blew to the Spells & Charms section, settling on a page that said Charm to protect the Sidhe from Vampires and other predators. ‘OK,’ Sookie thought, ‘not the most politically correct attitude, but this is probably what I need.’ It was a simple thing to make, apparently, as long as she could find the ingredients. The words were written in Titania’s delicate script

Garlic and silver will not do if you must be in the presence of Vampires. The Ancient Pythoness prescribes this charm so that I may attend the Council without danger from Vampires, daemons and other evil entities.

Dedicate a pentacle of copper to Our Lady, anoint it with hemlock, mugwort and sage and chant these words thereon:

Creature of Arts I charge thee

By the power of sun and moon

Let Creatures of Dark now ignore me,

Protect me from noon to noon

Creature of Arts I conjure thee

By the power of land and sea

Shield me, mine Aura, and person, 

They shall bring no harm to me.

Wear on this charm on a copper chain, do not dare take it off in a Vampire’s presence. Protection will cease if the charm is removed, for the magick lies within it. Store it in salt when not in use, repeat the chant by 3 when next worn.

“OK,” Sookie spoke aloud again, “how do I remember all of this?”

“It is in your journal, my Angel. Time to go home now.”

“Trygg i min säng, trygg i min säng, trygg i min säng!”

Sookie’s eyes flew open. “Bjorn?”

“Good morning!” Bjorn laughed, because he expected her to do just what she did. He was learning to tell when she was dreaming and about to wake up.

“Hey – is my journal over there?”

“Yeah, here you go.” He handed her the book from the table.

Sookie opened it and to her surprise, the spell was written in the book in her own handwriting. “Holy shit!”

“You OK, Sookie?”

“Yeah, just amazed. I just read something in the book and I asked Freyja how to remember it and she said it was in my journal and it is! And in my own handwriting!”

“You didn’t put it there?”

“NO! Is Bobbie up yet?”

“I think she’s having breakfast. You can probably buzz her on the monitor.”

“OK, where are the boys?”

“Aubie is being fed in the nursery and Alex is in the gym with Amelia.”

“Am I up early?”

“A bit, yeah. You can sleep more if you want, but now that I think about it, Eric wanted you to read his note right away,” Bjorn said as he went to the dresser and brought the note back to her.

“OK, he must have something important for me to do.”

“Things about the Wiccaning, I think’s what Jerry said.”

“OK,” Sookie took the note and opened it.

My Dearest Wife,

Things are about to get very busy, I’m afraid. You are having company this evening, of course, and we’ll be traveling this weekend. Some of the plans for next week have changed, and I need you to see what you can do to help things along. 

Bill will now be arriving from New Orleans on Wednesday instead of Friday, so please see what you can do to ensure the completion of the chalet. 

Also, you must find a way to protect Auberon at the Wiccaning. I hope Freyja can guide you in this.

‘Well,’ Sookie thought, ‘I’ve got that one covered.’

You should also consult with Freyja and Octavia about the potential for war at the Wiccaning since Niall is bringing so many Fairies with him, and you need to decide how to approach the High Priestess about changing your vows, and whether to call Niall. Talk to Octavia first, consult Freyja if necessary, and you can always call Dr. Ludwig if you think it’s necessary. Please get started on this today. 

I’ll be hosting a war council in the chalet on Thursday night, so we need to know what help you can provide before then. You and the boys will remain in the house during the meeting, because I feel that is safest. 

I love you very much, min Vackra Gudinna,

Your husband, 

Eric

“You OK, Sookie?”

“Yeah, it’s just war, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. We’ll be talking about it all week so we’ll be ready for the Wiccaning.”

“He wants me to see what I can contribute.”

“You might be the best defense we’ve got, Hon.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes, ma’am. Maybe we should have a talk with Octavia today and you can do some magick before your guests get here, if necessary.”

“OK, let’s get on with the day.” Sookie popped up and headed to the dresser. Bjorn was relieved to see she was wearing a gown for a change. It would make it easier to concentrate when they talked to Octavia if he wasn’t already revved up. Sookie went into the bathroom with a cute pink paisley nursing tank and a pair of black drawstring shorts and was ready, make-up, ponytail and all in just about 15 minutes. She found a cute little pair of pink faux-suede Birkenstock sandals in the closet and nearly jumped up and down when she saw how well they matched her top. She looked herself over in the dresser mirror, trying to see how she looked from the back.

“You look great, Sookie,” Bjorn laughed because she didn’t usually let that girly, vain side of herself show that way.

“Not too fat?”

“You don’t look fat, Sookie. We’d all like you to gain a little weight.”

“I’m afraid if I gain weight it’s all going to go into my chest.”

“That’s a bad thing?”

“They’re already huge!” She was still twisting and turning in front of the mirror.

“Yeah, but not in a bad way. They look awesome.”

“Yeah, but they’re so heavy. I don’t want to develop back problems.”

“I don’t think that will happen to you, Sookie. I know you feel a little strain now, but I think the longer you drink the Ambrosia, the less things like that will affect you.”

“That would be good, because at the moment, it’s getting worse,” she confided as she went to the mirror that concealed her jewelry and opened it.

“Ask Freyja what to do about it.”

“I’ve got so many things to ask Freyja about – I’m afraid She’s going to get sick of me.” She was looking through the little pink drawers and cubbies to see what all was in there.

“Not likely, Sookie.”

“Yeah, I know. It takes a lot of energy, though.” She pulled one drawer completely out and sorted through it, finding the big diamond studs she wanted to wear since her hair was up.

“Yeah, I can see that being a problem. You were pretty worn out last night, weren’t you?”

“I told Eric I hadn’t been that tired since I had Alex.” She was taking her little gold earrings out and putting the diamond studs in as they talked.

“We’re still going to push you, though, because eventually, it will make you strong.”

“I hope you’re right. I haven’t worked out in a while, you know?”

“You’re in good shape, though, and you’re burning calories like crazy just feeding the boys. It’s your magickal muscles we need to build.”

“Where’s Aubie, again?”

“I thought Alicia was feeding him in the nursery.”

“Let’s go find them, and then Alex, and then I’ll talk to Octavia,” she suggested as she grabbed her journal off the bed.

Bjorn followed her into the hallway and she looked into the nursery but no one was there. “Let’s go up to the gym and see if they’re there,” he suggested, taking her shoulders and pointing her toward the stairs playfully.

They could hear Alex giggling and talking as he flew around, and it sounded as if Aubie was in there, too, as they approached.

“Hey, where are my babies?” Sookie laughed as they got into the big room.

“Ah, Mamee!” Alex waved down at her from the rafters.

“Mmamma!” Aubie, who was in Alicia’s arms watching Alex, got excited and pointed at Sookie when he saw her.

“Good morning, Pookie!” she called and waved to Alex, then “Good morning, Cookie!” she tickled Aubie as she reached him. “Hey, Alicia, Amelia.”

Aubie was anxious for Mama to hold him and that made Sookie very happy. “There’s my sweet boy. Are you watching Buddy fly?”

“Bumby!” Aubie pointed at Alex on the ceiling, showing Mama what he was doing.

“Yeah, Buddy’s way up there, isn’t he? You gonna fly up there with him some day?”

“Nah.”

“Hey – did you just say ‘no?'”

“Nah!” Aubie giggled.

“Good boy, Aubie, you learned a new word! Have they both eaten, Alicia?”

“They’ve both had bottles, but I think we should get them some breakfast pretty soon.”

“I could stand to eat a little, too. How long has Alex been up there, Amelia?”

“We’ve been up here about an hour altogether, but he’s been up to the ceiling and down here looking around and flying in front of the mirror. He loves the mirror.”

“Mamee!”

“Whatcha want, Pookie?”

“Ahm undwy por bwepuss!”

“Come on down, then, and we’ll go ask Margaret for some breakfast.”

“Oday!” Alex flew quickly down to Sookie who barely got Aubie shifted to one arm in time to catch him. She did catch him, but the others were a little startled.

“Hey, Buddy,” Bjorn said, stepping forward, “come with me and let’s go see Margaret. Maybe Bobbie’s still down there, too.”

“Ah wyg Babee!” Alex said happily as Bjorn took him from Sookie and they all headed for the elevator.

“Yeah, Aunt Bobbie is fun, isn’t she?” Bjorn was entertaining Alex and everyone else just enjoyed listening to the chatter.

“Eeah, Babee pundy. Ah pash Babee ina poo!”

“Yeah, you like to splash Bobbie in the pool. Maybe she’ll take you in the pool today while Mommy is busy.”

“Mamee bithy?”

“Yeah, Mommy has some things to do today, so you and Aubie might want to hang out with Bobbie and Amelia while she does stuff to get ready for company.”

“Wadiz dompamy?”

“Company is when people come to visit. Your Uncle Jason and his friends are going to come for cook-out tonight.”

“Una Dastha!”

“Yeah, your Uncle Jason. You like him, don’t you?”

“Obee nah nah Una Dastha.”

Bjorn looked at Sookie, who said, “Yeah, Aubie hasn’t met Uncle Jason yet, has he? He will tonight, though, and we’ll have some barbecue. You loved that last time, didn’t you? Remember Daddy fed you barbecue?”

“Babagoo atha B inid.”

“Yes, barbecue has a B in it.” Sookie repeated and everyone reacted once she interpreted what Alex said.

“Good job, Alex,” Amelia gushed.

“Wow,” Alicia couldn’t believe it.

Aubie giggled and said “Um Bumby!” and clapped his little hands because he knew Alex had done something good.

They reached the pantry and filed into the kitchen where Bobbie was eating breakfast and Margaret was getting ready to cook for the rest of them.

“Well! Good morning, everyone!” Margaret was in a good mood this morning, “look at those little Angels!”

“Ah, Mahdwid!” Alex reached for her and she gave him a hug and a kiss.

“Ah!” Aubie waved like Bumby did and Margaret kissed him, too, which delighted him. He loved anything he got to do that was just like Bumby.

Alex cracked up and clapped his hands, “Obee wyg kithteth!”

“And Alex likes to fight!” Bjorn held Alex up over his head and shook him a little to make him laugh.

Amelia had pulled their highchairs out of the pantry and set them up so Sookie and Bjorn got each baby settled as usual. Alicia warmed up the plates of food Margaret had waiting for them and brought them to the table. Bobbie put her plate in the sink and sat in Eric’s chair to feed them, but Alex said, “nah nah, Babee, Borhd wiw peed me bwepuss, dayoo.”

“Alex,” Sookie called his attention, “let Bobbie feed you, Sweetheart!”

“Nah, nah, Dadee an Borhd.”

“It’s OK, Sookie, I’ll feed them,” Bjorn laughed. He actually got a kick out of the fact that Alex thought feeding him was a guy thing. Bobbie let him have Eric’s chair and he got Alex started feeding himself and began to feed Aubie, who still opened his mouth really wide when he was offered a spoonful of food. Bjorn would occasionally scrape the food back into Alex’s mouth, but other than that, he let Alex feed himself.

“Abuh!”

“No, Aubie, I don’t think you have apples,” Bjorn told him.

“Nah abuh?”

“No apples.”

“ABUH!” Auberon said very distinctly.

“Aubie, do want us to get you some apples?” Sookie asked him

“Ah!”

“Margaret…”

“Coming right up, Missus,” Margaret laughed as she went back to the pantry and came out with a big jar of applesauce.

“Here you go, Aubie, we got you some apples,” Bjorn told him as he spooned some onto his plate. Aubie stuck his finger in them, then in his mouth and made a happy sound almost like Alex’s happy sound. Everyone around the table laughed at how cute it was and Aubie giggled and kicked. Alex was humming, bouncing his leg and slurping up cereal as Bjorn spooned some apples out for him, too.

“Dayoo, Borhd.”

“You’re welcome, Alex,” Bjorn laughed. Breakfast with the babies was Bjorn’s favorite part of the day these days. He got the biggest kick out of Alex, and Aubie was so sweet, that it was just fun to sit with them for a bit.

Sookie was working her way through a big rare steak and decided to look through her journal and see what all she and Eric had written when she made an amazing discovery.

“Holy shit!”

“Sookie – language!” Bjorn teased her by imitating On Eric.

“Even Eric wouldn’t object to my language under these circumstances, Bjorn – there’s stuff in here in my handwriting that I didn’t put in here.”

“Sookie, are you serious?” Amelia asked her

“Yes. This morning, I read a spell in the book and Freyja told me it would be in my journal and it was, but now I’m looking through here and there’s stuff in here I know I didn’t write but it’s in my handwriting.”

“What kind of stuff is it, Sookie?” Bobbie wondered

“Stuff that Freyja has told me that I forgot to write down, Titania’s last couple of book entries in HER HANDWRITING! There are some spells, some information about Alex and Aubie that I didn’t even know and a rewritten version of the vows for Aubie for the Wiccaning.”

“That’s amazing, Sookie – I never even heard of anything like that,” Amelia was mighty impressed.

“How is this possible?”

“Remember, Sookie – possible for you is a much more elastic concept than for most people,” Bobbie was so excited she couldn’t believe it.

“Is any of that going to make Aubie safer at the Wiccaning?” Bjorn asked hopefully

“Actually, yeah – the spell I read this morning is for making a charm to shield Fae from Vampires and other “creatures of the night.””

“What do you need for that, Sookie?” Amelia knew this was very important and they might need to order things from the Internet.

“I need a copper pentacle and a copper chain, hemlock, mugwort and sage.”

“Oils or herbs?” Bobbie asked

“It didn’t say.”

“We’ll ask Octavia,” Amelia suggested. “Want me to go get her up?”

“I hate to wake her,” Sookie said with concern.

“You need to talk to her Sookie and you’ve only got hours to get some things done today,” Bjorn reminded her. “See if you can materialize a copper pentacle and chain.”

“Materialize?”

“Yeah, make it appear out of thin air.”

“What makes you think I can do that?”

“It’s one of the things Jerry and I have on the list to see if you can do. Try it.”

“Good morning, everybody.” Octavia came into the kitchen.

“Hey, Octavia – we were just talking about you.”

“Anything good?”

“I need your help today to do some planning and/or magick about the Wiccaning.”

“She’s got a charm she needs to work for Aubie and I want her to try to materialize it,” Bjorn explained.

“What is it that she needs?”

Sookie handed Octavia her journal and she quickly read through the spell.

“You got this from Freyja?”

“Yeah, it was in the book and I asked Her how to remember it and She said it was in my journal and it and a bunch of stuff is in there that I didn’t write, but it’s in my handwriting and there’s stuff from Titania in HER handwriting! How is that possible?”

“Stop questioning your magick, girl. You needed it, you got it, say ‘Thank You’ to the Goddess and get on with using it.”

“OK,” Sookie was taken aback for a minute, then she realized Octavia was right. She was thinking like a human, not a Goddess, and this was a habit she needed to break. “How do I go about materializing something?”

“Try it.” Octavia said simply as Margaret brought her a plate of eggs, bacon and biscuits. “Put your hands together in front of you, concentrate on them, visualize what you need and call it.”

Sookie finished her plate and asked for an RM as Margaret took it away, then she took a few deep breaths and closed her eyes to get centered.

“Margaret, bring Sookie about half a glass of red wine, please?” Octavia asked with a smile. Sookie looked at her and she explained, “it will help you loosen up and get grounded.”

Sookie continued to watch her breathing and think about what she needed to do. She needed a copper pentacle and a copper chain and they needed to be small enough to fit Aubie. Margaret set the wine in front of Sookie and she sipped it slowly, thinking of the pentacle and chain and letting the warmth of the wine slowly move through her, relaxing her muscles and settling her energy so it rooted firmly in the ground beneath her.

“That’s good, Sookie. Now stretch that energy you feel in the ground up through your spine and out through the top of your head.”

Sookie pictured her energy flowing up through her and it instantly went out around the property into the golden bubble she had seen before. “I’m seeing that bubble again.”

“What bubble, Sookie?” Octavia hadn’t heard about this, either.

“Sometimes, when I give the energy we generate having sex out with intention, it makes this big golden bubble that encompasses the whole property way up into the air and down into the ground. I feel like it keeps us safe.”

“I’m sure it does. You make sure you reinforce that bubble often, Sookie. It might explain a lot. So you’re seeing the bubble now?”

“Yeah, it’s throbbing or breathing. I think I could make it bigger or smaller…”

“Just focus on feeding it and making it stronger.”

“Ok, I am.”

“Now look at your palms, and picture that charm.”

Sookie held her hands up in front of her and they began to glow. Her vision blurred as a small line of orange sparkles swirled like a tiny tornado in her palms as everyone in the kitchen held their breath. Even the babies were quiet and attentive as the tiny whirl began to consolidate into a round, copper shape and sparkles fell in a line to form a ball chain. A tiny star flared brightly and burned into the round shape, forming a perfect pentacle within the copper ring. Sookie’s vision cleared and she let out a deep breath as she felt the heat of the chain in her palms and dropped it. “Ouch!”

“Hot?” Octavia laughed a little. Bjorn was just shaking his head, knowing this girl still had no concept of what she could probably do, but more determined than ever that she learn.

“Yeah, crazy hot – but it worked!”

“OK, it’s about 11:45 now. If you shake a tail feather you can be in your circle and dedicate that thing at noon- that would be the most effective, since it’s in the spell.”

Leroy came in through the back door and asked Margaret for a Pepsi. While she was getting it for him, he overheard the conversation.

“I still need hemlock, mugwort and sage, though…”

“You’ve got sage in your cabinet downstairs.”

“I’ve got some mugwort in a dream pillow,” Bobbie offered. “Hemlock might be a problem, because it’s poisonous.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Northman?”

“Yes, Leroy?”

“If you need hemlock, I’ll be glad to go out back and pick you some. There’s a bunch of it growing wild in the woods out back.”

“There is?”

“Yes, ma’am. How much do you need?”

“Just a sprig or two would be enough,” Octavia said, “but you wear gloves if you handle it. It can absorb through the skin.”

“OK, I’ll take my gardening gloves and get you some. Be right back.” He hurried out the back door drinking his soda, always glad to help the Mrs. with anything she needed, even when it was a little weird, because she was a really nice lady and such a sweet mommy to her boys.

“OK, I’ll get the mugwort,” Bobbie headed for the elevator.

“Octavia, if I have more than one thing I need to do, can I do both in the same circle?”

“Yeah, as long as you wrap up the deal for the locket first. Say that chant over at least three times, until you really feel it working, and say specifically who it’s intended to protect.”

“OK, because I need to talk to Freyja about whether there’s going to be war at the Wiccaning.”

“I threw some cards on that, and I think it’s unlikely once they find out you’re Titania’s heir, though I have a feeling they already know.”

“Do we have any way to confirm that?”

“Talk to Dr. Ludwig. She’ll know what’s happening in the Fae world.”

“Wouldn’t she tell me what’s going on?”

“Not unless you ask. She didn’t get the reputation she’s got by running around telling tales, but if you ask, she’ll answer your questions.”

“OK, ritual first, then I call her.”

“Take your hair down before you cast your circle. You can put it back up when you’re done,” Octavia instructed.

“Why?”

“Spirits are drawn to women’s hair. There are even spells you can do just by brushing or braiding long hair. That’s why you’re supposed to cover your hair in church.”

“OK, good to know.”

Leroy came back with a handful of hemlock and Octavia wrapped it in a paper towel so Sookie didn’t touch it with her hand. She recommended tearing some leaves and burning them on charcoal, passing the charm through the smoke, and doing the same with the mugwort Bobbie got out of a little pink satin pillow that had “LOVE” embroidered on it in deeper pink.

“This might have a little lavender mixed in with it…” Bobbie said as they opened the pillow.

“That will just be an extra treat for the spirits. There’s nothing in it that would contradict the purpose of it,” Octavia assured Sookie.

“OK, another question – since this is supposed to protect Aubie, should I take him with me?”

“Yes, you should. I was waiting to see if you’d come up with that on your own.” 

Bobbie took that as a cue to go into the den and get the bouncer for Aubie to sit in during the ritual.

“OK, you guys will have to watch Alex while we’re downstairs.”

“Sookie, I’m going to stay outside with Alex and put Jerry on the door with you – is that alright?”

“Yeah, Bjorn, whatever you think is best.”

“OK, go ahead and set up and I’ll send him down.”

“I’ll get Alex’s plastic pants…” Bobbie volunteered.

“They’re hanging up in the bathroom in the den, Bobbie,” Alicia told her.

Sookie took the herbs, pendant and chain all wrapped in a towel and stuck them in her waistband, then put Aubie in the bouncer and carried him downstairs. When they approached the back room, Aubie said, “NnnDADA!”

“Yeah, you can smell Daddy down here, can’t you, Sweetie? He’s close by. You know what we’re going to do, Aubie? We’re going to do magick!”

Aubie squealed and clapped his hands and Sookie wondered if he didn’t know exactly what she meant. She set him in the circle in her little room and closed the door. She chatted with him as she gathered up the other things she needed – candles, anointing oil, wine, a ho-ho from the box in the cabinet, her athame, the broom, anisette, dried roses and the sage. “Have you ever done a ritual, Aubie?”

“Ah!”

“You have?” She didn’t think he really knew what she was saying.

“Ah! Papaw!”

Sookie looked at him as she set her altar up in front of him. “Aubie, you did a ritual with Papaw?”

“Ah!”

Maybe Aubie did know  what she was saying. She got a jug of water from the cabinet and filled a chalice, then filled her scrying mirror, too. She lit the candles, “Blessed be thou creature of fire,” then went through all the other steps of casting her circle as Aubie sucked on his fingers happily and watched her with big eyes.

“Book!” Sookie meant to call down her journal from the kitchen but to her surprise, Titania’s Book of Shadows appeared in her hands. Aubie giggled and kicked his feet, clapping his hands. It was really heavy, but Sookie settled it on the floor next to them and the book opened itself to the page she needed. As it instructed, she anointed the pentacle and chain with smoke from mugwort, sage, and then the hemlock, which didn’t burn well, but it smoked enough to do what she needed. She chanted over the necklace, holding it first to her forehead, then to her lips, kissing it and saying the spell, then to her heart. Finally, she put the necklace around Aubie’s neck, held her right hand over it and said the spell with the necessary adjustment:

Creature of Arts I charge thee

By the power of sun and moon

Let Creatures of Dark now ignore thee,

Protect thee from noon to noon

Creature of Arts I conjure thee

By the power of land and sea

Shield thee, thine Aura, and person, 

They shall bring no harm to thee.

She said the chant 9 times and on the last round she saw bright yellow energy flow from her hand, into the charm and then all around Aubie, sealing him in the light.

“Don’t take it off of him – not until after,” Freyja said as She appeared before her.

“Is it going to be enough?”

“For the Vampires, at least, and the Weres and Shifters.”

“What about the Fae? Is Niall planning to wage war?”

“That was his plan all along, but you’ve stopped him so far.”

“Has he done magick on or with Aubie?”

“Yes, he thought to cloak him from you so you could never find him.”

“But You showed him to me and took me there.”

“Your magick is stronger than Niall’s, My Angel.”

“What if he tries to start a war at the Wiccaning?”

“No Fae will harm You, Sookie, not when they know what You are.”

“How will they know?”

“Leave that to Me. Let Our husband make his war preparations, but have faith in Your true Nature, Darling Girl . Never doubt Your power as a Warrior, a Witch, a Queen, a Mother and a Goddess.” Freyja waved Her hand toward the Book and it opened to an empty page, then the words she had said appeared as flames, then settled into writing in Sookie’s own hand.

“Can I keep this book here?”

“In the circle, yes, in the house, no. No one but You can touch it where it is.”

“You mean Niall doesn’t know what’s in it?”

“Niall has never touched it. It will kill him if he tries and he knows that.” Freyja disappeared then, but Sookie felt satisfied with their conversation for the first time. She felt as if Freyja was revealing more, and listening more and she took it as a compliment.

Sookie made an offering of rose petals and wine, opening the circle, the Book disappearing with a POP at the instant the circle was no longer intact. She mashed a bite of the ho-ho for Aubie and they ate, then she put a drop of wine in Aubie’s mouth and drank the rest. She took Aubie out of the bouncer and snuggled him close for a bit until she felt that they were both grounded.

“Hey, Jerry, are you out there?”

“Yes, your majesty?”

“Come in, please?” He opened the door and she asked, “would you please carry this upstairs for me?” She indicated the bouncer as she tried to stand. Jerry took her elbow and helped her get up, then picked up the bouncer and followed her upstairs as she cuddled Aubie closely and headed for the kitchen.

When she got upstairs, everyone had already had lunch and were playing in the pool as Margaret, Alicia and Carrie were preparing for the cook-out.

“Hey, ladies!” Sookie said brightly as she came back into the kitchen. “Anything I need to do now?”

“There’s one of the decorator’s people out in the empty chalet – did you need to speak to him?” Alicia suggested.

“Yes, I did. Thanks.”

Sookie kept Aubie with her as she went outside to the chalet.

“Hey, guys – everybody having fun?” she laughed as she walked around the pool. Octavia was reading in the shade, and Bobbie and Amelia were in the water playing with Alex.

“Ah, Mamee!”

“Hi, Pookie! Are you having a good time?”

“Eeah, pasheen Babee an Meeah!”

“OK, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Everything OK, Sookie?” Bjorn asked as she came around the pool.

“Yeah, everything is fine. I’m going to talk to a decorator. I’ll fill you and Eric in later, OK?”

“OK,” he laughed, figuring she had a good ritual.

Sookie went to the chalet that was more to the middle of the property and knocked on the door, which was standing open. “Knock, Knock!”

“Yes?”

“Hi, I’m Sookie Northman…”

“OH, Mrs. Northman! So nice to meet you! I’m Gerald Dupree – I’m one of Giselle’s helpers.” Sookie figured him to be about 6 feet tall, probably of French Acadian extraction and completely gay.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Sookie shifted Aubie to the left and offered her hand. “This is Aubie.”

“Well, hello, little one!”

“Ah!” Aubie smiled and waved as Sookie continued, “I just wanted to check with you and see if there’s anything we can do to speed things up? It turns out we’re going to be having company here Wednesday, and I’d like it to be as nice as possible for him.”

“Oh, my – well, I could ask the painters to come in tomorrow, and we could perhaps get the carpeting in Monday. That’s also when the furniture will be delivered. If we work overtime Monday and Tuesday, we could certainly have things ready by Wednesday if you’ll approve the additional cost?”

“Yes, just do what you need to do. If you can at least get the living room and dining area and one bedroom in shape, I’ll be very grateful.”

“Not a problem at all. We do have some artwork and wall fixtures and such we could put in the rooms that are painted if you want us to stay later tonight and tomorrow?”

“Yes, please do as much as you can. My husband won’t mind the extra charges as long as our guests are comfortable. I’ll check and be sure there’s going to be someone to let you in Saturday since we’ll be traveling, but I’m sure there will be. I guess you’re coordinating things with Alicia?”

“Yes, and a man named Vincent, I think?”

“Right, he’s the head of security. I’ll let everyone know you’ll be staying late tonight and coming in tomorrow and all. I really appreciate you making these adjustments for us.”

“Oh, we’re always pleased to accommodate a good customer like you and your husband.”

“I’m going to look around a bit, if you don’t mind?”

“No problem at all.”

Sookie and Aubie went upstairs to check out the bedrooms, one of which still needed to be painted. The bathroom was really nice and pretty much finished, and she lovedthe view of her house from the upper level looking forward. She looked around the first floor a bit, then let Gerald know she was leaving.

“Thanks. I’ll let you get back to work now. It was nice meeting you,” Sookie gave him a big smile and got out of his way, then went to tell Bjorn and Alicia what was up.

Sookie really liked the way the walk looked as she came back toward the back of her house. “Hey, Bjorn?” she said as she sat at the table next to him, still holding Aubie because she didn’t feel like letting him go just yet.

“Yeah?”

“How are they doing on the landscaping? I haven’t seen the front of the house in a long time.”

Bjorn laughed, “so go out and look. Want me to walk with you?”

“Yeah. Is that silly?”

“No, it’s what I’d prefer if Eric is not with you.”

“OK, let’s go. By the way, the decorators are going to work late tonight, come in tomorrow and work late, then stay late Monday and Tuesday, too.”

“OK, I’ll have to let everyone know.”

“Is there going to be someone here to let them in tomorrow?”

“Yes, Margaret and Carrie will be here. Margaret isn’t going to go with us this time around.”

“OK, good. Walk out front with me.” She and Aubie followed Bjorn around the side of the house and came down beside the rosebushes that lined the dining room windows. The first thing they came to was the new flowering tree that was just out from the fountain in front. “Ok, that’s not bad, even though it’s on the small side.” It was only about 7 feet tall.

“That’s as big as you can buy those,” Bjorn explained.

“OK, and I see they put miles of sod grass out here…”

“Yes, and these flower beds going toward your water feature and these pink quartz walks are in place.”

“OK, where are the statues, the benches and the water feature?”

“Well, as you can see the pool is in place, but it’s empty because they haven’t finished installing the fountains yet. That should be done early next week, then they’ll fill it, set the statues and benches, and add some flowers around here.”

“How long will that take?” Sookie shifted Aubie a bit as he lay his head on her shoulder and went to sleep.

“Hopefully no later than Wednesday since Eric asked that everything be moved up so we’re ready for company, right?”

“Yeah, I didn’t know he told you yet.”

“Yeah, he told me we had to get ready for Bill to get here Wednesday and there’s a war council Thursday.”

“Yeah, that I’m not invited to…”

“It’s safer that way, Sookie.”

“Why?”

“Because if anyone were going to target the meeting, they’ll aim at the chalet instead of the main house. You and the boys will be safer that way since Jerry and I will be busy.”

“OK, so if somebody targets the chalet and you, Eric and Jerry are all there, who protects us?”

“You do.”

That hit Sookie like a ton of bricks.

“What?”

“If anything were to happen to me, Jerry, and Eric all at once, you’re the best qualified person to protect the boys.”

“What about the Kingdom?”

“If anything happens to Eric and no one steps up, there’s going to be war. Neither Bill nor Pam has any interest in being regent. Without him, it all goes to hell until Alex is old enough to rule unless you rule as his mother while he’s Prince Regent. You’re Eric’s second, Sookie, not Bill.” Bjorn thought it was time Sookie understood the situation, and he knew Eric was hesitant to scare her.

“Bjorn,” Sookie said in an urgent whisper, though no one was near them, “everybody knows I’m Fae, and after the Wiccaning, they’re going to know I’m Titania’s heir. Vampires are not going to sit still for me ruling their territories.”

“People will be loyal to Alex, Sookie, if you step up. You’re beloved among the Vampires and so is Alex. There will always be some opposition – there’s opposition now – but if you hold it together until Alex can rule, it will stay together. Pam, Bill and Sandy will all follow you, Eric has seen to that, and the other regents will back you up. You’re not just his consort, you’re his Queen in the most literal way.”

“OK, so isn’t it dangerous for us all to travel to the clubs?”

“Yes, but it’s just as dangerous for Eric to go alone. It’s not just him protecting you and the boys, Sookie, it’s you protecting him, too. Keeping you two together is the best way to keep you both alive.”

“Isn’t that just the opposite of the reason you just gave me for staying in the house?”

“Different circumstances, different strategies. Eric wouldn’t have this council here at the property if he could avoid it, but Fangtasia just isn’t as secure as it needs to be for something like this. If he can create the expectation that none of this stuff happens in the main house, the main house stays safer.”

“You think there’s already a mole here?”

“We aren’t sure, but we have to act as if there is. Ready to walk back now? I’d rather not stand around out here.”

“Are we ever going to see any peace?” She asked softly as they started back toward the house.

“Technically, you’ve got peace now. There are two threats of war, but they’re only threats. A lot of people think it’s impossible for Niall to amass war against your family. If that’s true, all of this worrying is for nothing. We’re preparing for the contingency because that’s the right thing to do, but if Fae know who you are, they won’t strike against you.”

“Even if I’m a Vampire Queen?”

“Haven’t you put this together yet, Sookie?”

“Put what together?”

“Your family is supposed to end all the fighting, and in return for bringing peace, you’re going to be the most powerful family since the Borgias.”

“Weren’t they horrible, though?”

“Yeah, but you won’t be. A Vampire King marries a Faerie Queen, so neither realm will war with the other. They have twins, one to rule each world, and they’ll never war with each other. Eric goes to the Council, you go to the Pantheon along with your daughter some day, and most of the Supe world has a kind of détente that hasn’t existed in 10,000 years. It’s why the daemons will work for Eric and it’s why the Weres are backing his play, too.”

“Why us? Did Freyja do all of this – ALL OF THIS – by Herself?”

“No, Sookie, that’s just it, one Goddess couldn’t pull all of this off alone. Think about the visitors you had in Vegas – an American Goddess, a Priestess, the Pythoness, the Oldest living Were and Niall. At that point, everybody thought Niall was playing straight, so you had a rep from the Fae, the Vamps, the Weres, the Witches and the Pantheon – it was one of everything.”

“Wait – what about Daemons?”

“Tied into the Fae.”

“Witches?”

“Penelope, Priestess of Vesta.”

“But Niall had his own scheme…”

“And he’s got someone on the Pantheon that has kept him alive in spite of it. That’s the real source of opposition from the Divine realm.”

“How do we find out who it is?”

“The speculation is that Freyja has the backing of several other aspects of the Goddess. One moves up, They all do, in a way, and it will shift the balance of power. Some of the male gods are most likely the ones that object and Niall would sell his soul to keep the control he has now.”

“You mean that literally, don’t you? You think he’s made some kind of deal with the dark side to stay in power?”

“Yes, and I think the dark side is the patriarchal side of the pantheon.”

“Why is any of it patriarchal if it all goes back to one Goddess?”

“The same reason it always does, Sookie – greed and power. Individuals thinking about getting all they can right now and not worrying about forever. The Goddesses finally got into a position to use the patriarchal system against the patriarchs. They figured out how to fight fire with fire.”

“And their goal is peace?”

“Right. Things were thrown out of whack by power and greed that has finally become so centralized it can be fought directly. It’s not just pockets of warring humans any more.”

“How long will all of this take?”

“A few hundred years, I’d think, maybe more.”

“But things are moving so quickly…”

“They’ve got to get you and Eric into your places so you can prepare the places for your kids. The next step is to keep you all there until people learn a new way of thinking. Imagine people who’ve lived for 3,000 years suddenly having to unlearn the idea of a blood offense, and forgetting about all the carnage of the wars they’ve lived through. It’s going to take a long time for people to make a shift in their thinking. Your family might have to reign a few hundred, or even a few thousand, years to make it happen.”

“Where does New Centurion come into all this?”

“They’re a symptom, like a flare up of a disease.”

“And the disease is patriarchy?”

“Right.”

“I still don’t get why you’d be in favor of this – you’re a soldier.”

“I’ve seen a lot of death for no good reason, Sookie. I want to live in peace just like everyone else, and I’m willing to spend my life trying to help that happen. That’s why I’m still here, and that’s why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. If we can create peace in the Supe world, it makes creating peace in the human world almost inevitable.”

“Have we had this conversation before?”

“Parts of it, probably.”

“I’m getting these weird waves of déjà vu lately, like everything is happening over and over…”

“Have you talked to Octavia about it?”

“No, not yet.”

“Do it now, Hon, even a few hours delay is affecting what we do. We dodged a bullet with that Book of Shadows problem. You’ve got to keep her better informed.”

“OK, I’ll talk to her now if she’s around,” Sookie assured him as they came back around the house.

“Hey, Sookie,” Bobbie called to her as they returned, “You know it’s just about an hour before your company is due. Do you need to change clothes or put on your bathing suit?”

“I’m not going to wear a suit, but you and Amelia feel free to keep yours on. For some reason, I don’t think Eric will want me in a suit tonight.”

“Because of your brother’s friends?”

“This is so weird, but I’ve had this feeling for days that they’re bringing someone with them I don’t know about and whoever it is, I don’t want to wear a bathing suit in front of them.”

“Good thinking, Sookie,” Bjorn nodded.

“You think I’m right?”

“Yes, and I think you need to follow your intuition about everything right now,” he told her as he returned to his usual seat.

“OK, good. Bobbie, where is Octavia?”

“In her room, I think.”

“I need to talk to her, will you take Aubie?”

“Sure, Sweetie.”

Sookie gave Aubie a big kiss and handed him, still sleeping, to Bobbie so she could tuck him in next to Alex, who was napping in the playpen in the den.

Sookie skipped through the kitchen to the elevator, saying “Hey, Alicia, I’ll be right back, I need to talk to Octavia.”

“Alright, Dear, we’ll let you know if your guests arrive.”

Sookie knock lightly on Octavia’s door and looked in, “Octavia?”

“What’s up, Queenie?”

“I hope I didn’t wake you?”

“No, I was just thinking – what happened?”

“Bjorn thought I should tell you that I’m getting these waves of déjà vu. I feel like I’m having the same conversations over and over again…”

“Get used to it. You’re remembering precognitive dreams, mostly, but you’re dealing with big issues that are going to come up again and again until you really grok what’s happening.”

“Grok?”

“Haven’t you read Stranger in a Strange Land, yet?”

“No, but I’ve heard of it – is it about magick?”

“No, but it might give you a broader perspective on things like sex and politics and religion. See if Bobbie or Amelia has a copy. You can read it while we travel.”

“OK, if you say so…”

“I do. Write down your déjà vu in your journal, too, and read through it again. I think there’s more stuff in it. It’s writing itself.”

“OK, I will. Will you be down for supper or should I have it sent up for you?”

“You’re having company, right?”

“Yes, just my brother and his friends.”

“Would you be offended if I skipped it? I’d like to write a letter and go to bed early since we’re traveling next two days.”

“Not at all. I’ll ask Carrie to bring you a tray.”

“Thank you, Darlin’.”

“See you in the morning. Thanks for your help!” Sookie gave her a kiss on the cheek and went back downstairs.

Sookie was just making it back to the kitchen when Bjorn came in, “Hey, Sookie – your guests are here. There’s somebody extra with them I need you to approve – a Sam Merlotte.”

“Sam’s here? That’s great!”

“OK, they’ll direct them back to the garage,” he smiled and called the front gate to tell them what to do.

“Carrie, would you take Octavia a tray when dinner is ready, please?”

“Sure, Mrs. Northman.”

“Thanks. I guess I better go welcome everybody, How’s dinner coming along?”

“Ribs and chicken will be coming off the grill in about 10 minutes, Missus, along with corn on the cob and there’s potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, a big green salad, 7 layer salad, crudités and there’s watermelon for dessert.”

“Awesome! Thanks, Margaret!”

Sookie bounced out back just as Jason, Hoyt, Catfish and Sam were walking in from the garage. “Hey, y’all!” She waved and almost skipped toward them. “Sam, it’s so nice to see you!”

“Hey, Sis!” “Hi, Sookie,” “Hey, Sookie,” “Hello, stranger!”

She gave Jason a kiss on the cheek and led them all back up to the patio where the tables were set up. “Come on in and have a seat. Everybody want beer or do you want a soda pop?”

Everybody was good with beer, so Sookie got cold cans of Bud Ice out of a tub of ice and passed them to all the guys as the rest of the family wandered out. “You guys all know Amelia, right? And Bobbie, and here’s Bjorn and Jerry coming up the walk…”

“I don’t think I know Jerry, but I remember the others. How you all doin’?'” Sam nodded to Bobbie and Bjorn, shook hands with Jerry and gave Amelia a kiss on the cheek. Sookie heard Sam think he wished he could kiss her, too, but he knew Eric wouldn’t like it.

“OK, Sookie, before we do anything else, do I have one nephew or two?”

“You’ve got two, but you’ve only met one.”

“OK, so there’s Alex and who else?”

“Alex has a twin, but he was very small and had to stay with a nurse for a bit. We kept it quiet so he’d be safe and have time to sort of catch up before we introduced him to the world.”

“I never heard of nothin’ like that before, Sookie…”

“Jason, do you think I’m a good mom?”

“Yeah, of course…”

“Then just trust that I’m doing the very best I can for my kids and that I’ve got my reasons for doing things the way I do, OK? Things can be very complicated for us.”

“Because of your husband being King and all?”

“Right. I’m doing what I can to keep them both safe and healthy, and it hasn’t been easy, but they’re both doing fine now. You’ll see them in a bit. They should wake up from their naps any time now.”

“Actually, I think I hear Alex,” Bobbie said, “I’ll change them and bring them out.”

“Sookie, this place sure looks different than the last time we were here!” Hoyt said. “You had some landscaping done?”

“Yeah, I wish they had the water feature ready so you could see it all but that won’t be done until next week.”

“How come you didn’t wait and have the party then, Sookie?” Jason asked.

“Well, today is the end of my vacation, and next week is the Wiccaning, so we thought tonight would be the best chance to do it. We’re going to be traveling a lot over the next few months and we won’t have much time to visit. I thought this was my best chance to see you, Jason, before we’re so busy.”

“You’ve been on vacation? From what?”

“Being Queen. Eric gave me two weeks off to spend time with the boys, but as the fall comes, I have a lot of responsibilities I have to meet.”

“Wow, so it’s like a real job and not just a title?” Hoyt asked

“Yeah, I have decisions to make, contracts to sign, houses to oversee, and especially functions I have to attend to represent the kingdom.”

“Like those times you went on TV?” Catfish asked

“Yeah – they have a ton of things for me to do when we go back to New Orleans, plus we’re getting a new residence in Las Vegas and Eric has business all over the country over the next few months…”

She heard Sam wonder whether she knew what kind of business it was.

“So I hear…” Sam started to say something, but Bobbie came back with Alex and Aubie, Alicia opening the sliding door for her and Bjorn following right behind her with the highchairs. Bobbie had dressed the boys in matching black creepers, one on Alex that said “party in my crib, byob,” and one on Aubie that said “Hey, Dude, your wife is checking me out,” and Sookie was tickled to death, especially to see they were wearing the two different pairs of skull and cross-bones shoes.

“There are my boys!” Sookie jumped up to give them both kisses, taking Alex from Bobbie first. “Look, Alex, there’s Uncle Jason!”

“Una Dastha!” Alex reached for him anxiously and Jason took him, giving him a kiss and a hug, and holding onto him for a few minutes. “Hey, Alex! How you doin’, buddy?”

“Dood! Sthimmeen ina poo!”

“Huh?” Jason looked at Sookie.

“He says he’s good, he’s been swimming in the pool,” Sookie translated, laughing.

“Can he swim already?”

“Yeah, actually, he can, but mostly he floats around in a little pool toy and plays on the steps in the water. Alex, Sweetie, say ‘hi’ to Hoyt and Catfish, remember them? And this is Mommy’s friend, Sam.”

“Ah!” Alex waved to everybody as Sookie took him and put him in his highchair, then took Aubie from Bobbie.

“OK, everybody, this is Eric Auberon H’Eloise Northman…”

“H’Eloise?” Sam said with surprise, but Sookie gave him a look begging him not to say anything in front of the others.

“Yeah, it’s a family name.”

“I ain’t never heard it before…” Jason said.

“I know, but trust me, it is. Anyway, we call him Aubie for short. Aubie, this is your Uncle Jason. He’s Mommy’s Buddy, just like Alex is your Buddy. See, Uncle Jason?”

“Ah!” Aubie waved at Jason, but was hesitant to go to him from Sookie.

“It’s OK, Aubie, Mommy’s right here. I’m not going anywhere,” she encouraged him and he finally went to Jason, who hugged him and gave him a kiss.

“Wow, they couldn’t look more alike, could they?” Jason laughed. “you’re a mighty good lookin’ kid, Aubie!”

Aubie didn’t know what he was saying, but he liked the attention so he giggled and clapped his hands.

“He just learned to clap his hands, so he does that a lot,” Sookie explained.

“Mmamma!” Aubie wanted to go back to Sookie now, so Jason handed him off, then tickled him once she had him and Aubie loved it.

“He’s a sweet tempered kid, ain’t he?” Jason bragged on him.

“Yeah, he is,” Sookie said, “he’s a little shy about being away from me, but he’s just as sweet and happy as he can be. He and Alex get along really well.”

“So they’re born at the same time, but Alex seems a lot older and bigger…” Jason was trying to figure this all out.

“Yeah, Aubie’s not as advanced as Alex, but he’s still more advanced than a human baby.”

“NnDADA!” Aubie called out just before Eric walked out the back door, and Alex yelled, “vìg!”

“Yeah, there’s Daddy! Hey, Sweetie!” She reached up and kissed Eric, who then kissed Aubie and took him from Sookie for a cuddle.

“Hello, my lovely wife! Stackhouse – good to see you! Hoyt, and Catfish, and Sam Merlotte, welcome, all of you.” Eric was being gracious but he was less than thrilled to see Sam there and Sookie knew it. She also knew that was why she had the intuition not to wear a bathing suit. She didn’t want to think about how Eric would react to Sam seeing her in a bikini.

“Hey, Eric – the construction’s coming right along, I see,” Jason couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Yes, we’ve had very good workers and I’m hoping it will all be done before we head back to New Orleans next month. Have you all eaten?”

“No, they’re just taking things off the grill, I think…”

“Yes, everybody have a seat at the table, if you want,” Sookie suggested. “Can I get anybody another beer?”

Jason and Catfish accepted another one each and everyone sat at or near the tables.

Eric took a seat next to the highchairs after putting Aubie in his, and Alicia brought a little bowl of barbecue for Alex and a plate of apples and chicken gravy for Aubie since they thought the barbecue would be too spicy for him.

“Wow – Alex can feed himself already?” Even Jason knew it was way too early for that.

“Yes,” Eric said proudly, “he just learned and he does very well. He’s a very smart boy, aren’t you, Alexander?”

“Ahm smard!” Alex said with his mouthful and Eric laughed with delight, and most of the others did, too.

Hoyt got a big kick out of the way Aubie opened his mouth so wide when Eric gave him a spoonful of food. “That’s so cute how he tries to help out,” Hoyt bragged.

“He just started eating solid food a few days ago,” Eric explained, “so it is a very new thing for him. He already loves apples, don’t you, Auberon?”

“Ah! Abuh!” Aubie smacked the tray of the highchair with both hands for emphasis then stuck his finger in the apples and took a taste, then giggled and said “Abuh!” in a really high, playful voice. Everybody laughed and Eric took the spoon for a second and scraped a little food off Alex’s face and back into his mouth. Alex made smacking noises as he ate, then said, “Dadee, babagoo atha B inid.”

“Very good, Alex! Barbecue does have a B in it!” Eric was very pleased to see Alex show off a bit.

“Can he read already?”

“Not yet, but I am sure it won’t be long. I read a few pages of a Dr. Seuss alphabet book to him the other night and he immediately began picking out the letter B and even realized on his own that Bobbie’s name has a B in it. He’s very good at making connections of that sort.”

“You read to them?” That surprised all of them.

“Yes, of course. We have some quiet time when they have their last feeding around 4:30 so Sookie can sleep. They have a bottle and a bit of food, and most nights we read, don’t we Alex?”

“BAYAH!”

Eric laughed, “yes, last night I told him a story about killing a bear when I was a boy and was nearly killed. I’ll make sure he is smarter than that.”

“How old were you?” Jason asked.

“Twelve, but I was already very tall and thought I was a man.”

“You get hurt?” Hoyt wanted to know the story, too.

“Yes, my leg was clawed very badly, but there was no permanent damage. My mother nearly died of shock when I came home covered in blood with wounds, and wouldn’t allow me to eat any of the bear when the women in the village cooked it. I still have the three claws one of them kept for me, though.”

“You do? From when you were 12?” Sookie couldn’t believe that.

“Yes, even after all these years, I’ve managed to hang onto them. I don’t know how, but I have. The original bag it was a part of has long since deteriorated, but the claws themselves are in the little wooden box on my chest of drawers.”

“I want to see them, Eric!”

“That would be pretty cool…” Hoyt hinted.

“Alright, I’ll go get them,” Eric laughed, happy for a chance to show off. He went in through the kitchen and zipped up the stairs at Vampire speed, returning almost instantly with the three claws held together with black string. “Here they are,” he said proudly as he handed them to Sookie.

“Oh, my Goddess!” Sookie said and started to cry, surprising everyone.

“Sookie, what is wrong?” Eric couldn’t believe she was crying but she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly for a long time. “Sookie?”

“It’s just… it’s something from when you were human, when you were a little boy…”

“I was well over 6 feet tall, Sweetheart…”

“Yeah, but, you know, it’s from so long ago and you still have it and the boys can see them… It’s so special!”

“Women, huh, Eric?” Jason sympathized, knowing this was a girl thing and no guy would know how to handle it no matter how old and smart he was.

“Yes, indeed,” he laughed as he held Sookie.

“Show them to the boys!” she urged him as she began to get control of herself.

“Alex,” Eric knelt down next to his chair, “these are from the bear Daddy killed when he was a boy.”

“BAYAH!” Alex felt them with his fingers. “Sthordsth por FIDEEN!”

“Yes, Daddy used a sword and a spear. You’ve never seen a spear, yet, though, have you, my son?”

“Is he saying “swords for fighting?”” Sam asked, appalled.

“Yes, he’s quite the little warrior. The first time he saw my sword collection he went wild, but he was smart enough not to touch them. He loves to see me practice with them, don’t you, Alex?”

“Eeah, Dadee sthordsth in da dim! Vìg!” He threw his little arm up for emphasis.

“Daddy’s swords are in the gym,” Bjorn translated. “He likes to go up there every morning and… play.’ Bjorn barely caught himself, almost saying “fly.”

“What was that other thing he said?” Jason asked.

“Vìg – an old Swedish word for fight,” Eric beamed at him.

“Does Aubie go, too?” Hoyt asked

“He did this morning. He likes to watch Alex play – he’s a lot more mobile than Aubie is right now,” Sookie explained. “He cheers Alex on, though, don’t you, Cookie?” she laughed as she took Aubie out of his highchair for a snuggle.

“Una Dastha, ahm wokkeen!” Alex said proudly

“He’s telling Uncle Jason that he’s walking now,” Eric translated. Sookie was horrified, but Eric didn’t see any reason to hide it.

“He can walk already?”

“Yes, would you like to see? Want to show off, Alex?”

“Eeah!”

Eric was proud as a peacock as he took Alex out of his highchair. Jason got up from the table and knelt down and Eric knelt with Alex facing him. “Alright, Alex, go to Uncle Jason,” though Alex didn’t need any urging. He ran right over to Jason’s open hands. Aubie squealed and clapped his hands. “UM BUMBY!”

Sookie cracked up, “Yeah, go Buddy!” Then, when they all looked at her, she explained, “Aubie calls Alex “Bumby” – he’s trying to say “Buddy” but that’s how it comes out.”

“He doesn’t like swords and fighting?”

“Not like Alex. Alex came out of me spoiling for a fight. Aubie’s a Lover, not a fighter, right, Cookie?” Sookie laughed. “Anybody need anything from the grill? Eat all you want, there’s a ton of food.”

“I could take some more ribs,” Jason led the way and everyone filled their plates again as they wanted. Margaret brought another platter of chicken and ribs, and Hoyt said, “this sure is good food, ma’am,” and everyone else agreed.

“Oh, thank you, sir. Don’t be shy, now, there’s a lot of it. Mrs. Northman, did we tell you that the new little bed for the twins is in place?”

“No – it is?”

“Yes, it came today and we’ve already attached it to your bed. It looks very cozy and they won’t be so crowded now.”

“Great – thank you for doing that!”

“Wow, Sookie, you don’t have to do much around here, do you?” Jason couldn’t believe all these servants.

“No, I really don’t. Eric has things set up so all I have to do is focus on my work and my babies – mostly my babies.”

“Sookie has finer things to offer my sons than wrangling their diapers and running sweepers. I want as much of her time and attention focused on the boys and me as possible. The boys are as healthy and happy as they are because of her. I’ve never seen a more loving mother,” Eric smiled at her and raised her hand to his lips for a kiss. “The time she spends with the boys in the mornings and afternoons is invaluable – don’t you agree, Bjorn?”

“Absolutely. Those are the luckiest kids I’ve ever seen. The first thing they see almost every day is that big smile, and she sings to them and tickles them, and feeds them, then they play in the pool and get cuddled and fed. They’ve got all of the rest of us to play with them, too, so they’re showered with attention, and there are so many of us that no one is ever over-tired or cross with them.”

“They like attention from you guys, too. Alex insists on being fed breakfast by Bjorn and dinner by Daddy, then they have their quiet time with Eric every night before he goes to ground. I breast feed them two or three times a day, but they get bottles from Alicia, too, which keeps me from getting too awfully worn out. I’ve been very tired since their birth, but everybody does as much as they can to let me rest.”

“So, Sookie, if you’re going to be traveling so much, what do I do if I need to talk to you about something?”

“Call my cell phone. There’s always someone around, even when I’m asleep, so we’ll know you called. Do you have Eric’s cell number?”

“No, I don’t. I have Pam’s at Fangtasia…”

“You should probably have the house phone here and Alicia’s number, too, just in case.”

“Would you like me to add them for you?” Eric offered, holding out his hand.

“Yeah, please.” Jason handed him his phone and Eric added the numbers very quickly.

“I’ll also include our New Orleans house number, because we’ll be there a lot between now and the first of the year. As Sookie said, though, your best bet is her phone.”

“Oh, yeah, Jason, there will be a security firm watching the house now, so don’t go over there without letting someone know. They’ll be watching Bill’s house, too.”

“I ain’t seen Vampire Bill in a long time – where’s he been?”

“He is in New Orleans, working for me,” Eric explained. “Since both houses will be empty, we thought it best to hire someone to see that they’re undisturbed.”

“Oh, OK. Will there be people here while you all are gone?”

“Yes, Carrie will maintain the inside of the house, the gardener’s boys will be here as usual and there will be guards on duty.”

“Would you ever consider letting me use the pool?”

“Oh, I don’t know…”Sookie looked at Eric.

“If you notify the housekeeper ahead of time, and restrict yourself to the bathroom in the den, I wouldn’t mind. I don’t want people roaming through the house, so no one goes past the den, agreed?”

“Yeah, that’s cool. It would probably just be me and Hoyt hanging…”

“No girls upstairs, Jason, he means it,” Sookie said emphatically. “Remember, Eric can smell it if you go anywhere else in the house, even if you clean up, so don’t do it.”

“No, no, I’m just thinking about drinking a few beers and floating on an air mattress.”

“OK, no showing up at 3 in the morning, Jason – the guards won’t let you in,” Sookie wanted to be sure she covered every contingency. She was shocked Eric didn’t just tell him ‘no’ but she also knew Eric was thinking that Jason wouldn’t dare piss him off. Sookie wasn’t convinced that Jason was smart enough to be as afraid of Eric as he should be.

“Don’t worry, Sis, I’m not going to throw a wild party at your house.”

“No, you’re not, because there will be guards watching everything you do. I just want to make sure you know that, and that you’re smart enough not to mess with them or show up unannounced.”

“They’re like rent-a-cops, though, right?”

“No, Jason, these are not mall cops – these guys are trained killers, every one of them,” Sookie told him seriously.

Bjorn decided to add his 2 cents. “Most of my staff is ex-Special Forces, Jason. This is not a ground crew here – it’s an army serving a Vampire King,” he told him, knowing he’d pay more attention to him than Sookie because he was an idiot and had no idea who or what his sister really was. “There’s not a man on these grounds that hasn’t killed someone with his bare hands – if they haven’t made an actual kill, I don’t even consider them for the job.”

“I might as well just tell you – they’re all werewolves and Vampires and some other things, Jason. Being my brother will only get you so far. They have a job to do and they’ll do it.”

“Your sister’s and nephews’ safety is their primary mission, so anything that impinges on their comfort, let alone their safety, won’t be tolerated,” Bjorn added.

“Have you guys ever had an actual threat or anything?” Jason was a little worried now, but not as much as he should be. Sam was the only one of the four visitors who understood the situation.

Sookie looked at Eric, who said, “yes, we’ve had actual attempts against Sookie, one of the boys, and this property. There are very bad people who want to harm my family, so that is why we’re so adamant about this and why we’re so careful about whom we let through the gates.”

“Who would want to hurt one of the boys?”

“It was a kidnapping attempt, Jason, and by someone I should be able to trust. I won’t ever trust anyone like that again,” Sookie said with such determination that Jason actually got the point.

“Your sister can be quite the tigress when her cubs are threatened,” Eric said proudly and Bjorn and Jerry cracked up.

“What’d she do?”

“We can’t give any details for security reasons, but believe me, Sookie can kick ass and take names when she needs to,” Bjorn said with obvious admiration. “She’s a much stronger woman than you can imagine and she’s fierce when it comes to her kids.”

“Damn straight,” Sookie said in all seriousness, but Bjorn and Jerry laughed, nodding agreement and Eric leaned over to kiss her.

“Is everyone ready for some watermelon?” Alicia asked.

“Yeah, great!” Jason said and everyone agreed. Lonnie and Leroy carried three big melons out of the house where they’d been in the big cooler and Margaret spread newspapers out as Carrie and Alicia cleared away the last of the plates. Margaret carved them up into nice wedges and everyone grabbed a fresh plate and dug in.

Alicia chopped quite a bit of it into tiny chunks so the babies could handle it and gave a big bowl to Eric, as well as a small plate with a small piece of melon on it for him.

“Are you going to eat some, Sweetie?” Sookie was excited – she didn’t know why, but she loved it when he ate food.

“Yes, it smells very good tonight,” he said as he sniffed it and took a bite.

Sam was shocked. “Eric, are you able to eat food?”

“Yes, small amounts of some things. Dr. Ludwig says it is probably due to my age, or to the blood exchanges Sookie and I do. We seem to be exchanging capabilities a bit. It keeps things interesting.”

“Yes, it does,” Sookie said, a bit more suggestively than she intended to, nearly causing Hoyt to choke.

“Me, Dadee!” Alex reached for Eric’s piece of melon.

“You have melon in your bowl there, Alex.”

“Nah, nah, por beebees! Dat, Dadee!”

“He says that’s for babies, Daddy, he wants a whole piece,” Sookie translated, standing up and taking the knife, cutting a small, thin wedge and putting it on Alex’s tray. “Here, baby, be careful with it.”

“We’ll have to hose him down after this,” Bobbie laughed.

“Nah nah, Babee, me ina poo!”

“Oh, you’ve got this all worked out have you, Alex?” She teased him

“EEAH!”

“OK, then, when you’re done, we’ll just throw you in the pool,” she laughed.

“EEAH, ahm sthimmeen dood!” he said enthusiastically as he grabbed the little slice of melon and gnawed the shit out of it, making everyone laugh as he smacked at the melon and had juice running down his arms. Eric was giving spoonfuls of melon to Aubie and he was making his surprised, delighted face, and Eric was about to bust at how cute he was. “Auberon, this is watermelon. Watermelon,” he said slowly.

“Dadee, Obee wyg wadamemom!”

“Yes, Alex, I think Aubie does like watermelon.”

“Wama!”

“Yes, Auberon, that is called watermelon.”

“Wama!”

“Close enough,” Eric laughed and kissed him on the cheek, making him giggle. He kicked his feet a few times then opened his mouth wide because he wanted more wama!

Sookie laughed, “that’s a big hit. I thought he’d had it before.”

“I don’t think so – it’s only been a couple of days,” Eric said.

Alex finished his watermelon and let out a huge belch.

“Alex! My goodness!” Sookie laughed. “Are you alright, Sweetie?”

“Sthimmeen, Mamee.”

“Want me to take him in, Sookie?” Bobbie offered.

“Yeah, why not – it’s plenty warm tonight.”

“Come on, Pookie, let’s show Daddy how well you can swim.” Bobbie took him from his highchair and went to the other end of the pool where the steps down into it were as Alicia brought her the plastic covering for his diaper. Amelia decided to join them, and jumped in from the near end.

“You did not swim today, Sookie?” Eric was surprised she wasn’t in her suit.

“No, I did some work – in the basement, you know? – and then I talked to the decorator and Bjorn took me out front to see the landscaping and by the time I did all that and went up to see Octavia, it was time for dinner. ”

“Bjorn, will you need Sookie to work out tonight?” Eric wondered, though he knew she couldn’t shift in front of Hoyt and Catfish.

“No, she already kicked ass today. She’ll tell you all about it. What she needs right now is rest and we’ll drill her in the morning.”

Eric took Aubie out of his chair and sat back down with him, noticing the little copper necklace he was wearing. He pointed to it and looked at Sookie with raised eyebrows and she nodded, letting him know that was the shield they wanted for him.

“Where did you get it?” he asked softly

“Long story you won’t even believe,” she said in a way that told him she couldn’t go into it in front of company.

Eric nodded and snuggled Aubie under his chin, rubbing his back as he laid his little head on his shoulder and grabbed a handful of hair.

“Is that a pain, having long hair around a baby, Eric?” Jason asked

“Not at all. He’s not pulling it, he just uses it to get closer. Alex plays with it, too, but very gently. Neither of them gets too rough at this stage, though I know that will change as they get older.”

“Dadee! Woogie!” Alex called

“Alright, Alex,” Eric stood and Aubie turned so he could see Alex, too. “Swim!”

Alex took off like a bat out of hell, zipping through the water like a fish, going from Bobbie to Amelia

“Very good, Alex!”

“Um, BUMBY!” Aubie clapped

“Holy shit!” Jason said, “that kid swims like a fish!”

“Yes, babies apparently naturally know how to swim if you start them very early. Alex is much quicker than a human child, of course, and he took to it instantly. All I had to do was let go of him in the water and back away, and he came right to me. He can swim quite far. Auberon, do you want to swim?”

“Nah.” Aubie shook his whole body and then laid his head back against Eric’s chest.

“I think Aubie’s tired today. He was helping me downstairs.” Sookie said as she came to stand beside him, knowing Eric would know what she meant.

“Ah, well, then he’s earned a rest. He’s a very good boy,” Eric kissed his head.

“Yep, not a peep out of him, he just watched everything with those big eyes.”

Jason went to get another beer, and Sam went with him and waited for Sookie to come back to the table to try to talk to her.

“So, Sookie, everything is going well for you, I guess?”

“Yes, it really is. There are problems, of course, but they’re all from the outside. When it’s just us, everything is perfect.”

“Well, you’ve never looked better. Being a mommy agrees with you.”

“Yeah, it’s so much fun, and I get to spend so much time with them and with Eric. It’s like a dream sometimes.”

“So, I got the invitation to the Wiccaning, but I haven’t RSVP’d yet. Is it OK if I come?”

“Of course, Sam! I’m glad you were invited. I haven’t seen the invitations or the guest list. It’s more like a state affair than a family thing, though our family ties will play a big role in it. I think it’s going to be a huge crowd. I want all the friends there I can get.”

“Well, I’ll be glad to be there for you.”

“Thanks so much, Sam.” Sookie knew he was sad to find her so happy and she understood that, but she couldn’t imagine herself anywhere but right where she was. She loved her life.

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