LATE Chapter 101

Harvest Home

 

 

“You know?”

“Of course, Sweetheart,” he laughed softly and took her hand, “I was there.” He kissed her hand and continued, “everyone in the grove knows.”

“They do?”

“Yes, of course. There were very nearly witnesses, but everyone did actually see the light when it happened.”

“That column of light that shot up through me, you mean?”

“That was the moment of conception, Sookie, you know that.”

“Yeah, but… did you know this was the plan?”

“Honestly, Sookie, I didn’t, but I feel like a fool for not figuring it out ahead of time. Octavia is kicking herself, too. We should have seen this coming.”

“OK, Eric, I’m kind of exhausted and disoriented, so bear with me here. This was the plan all along, that’s what you’re saying?”

“Apparently, yes.”

“And nobody told me?”

“They didn’t tell me either, Sweetheart.”

“Who was in on it?”

“Well, Freyja and Dionysus, certainly, and we think probably at least the Council, maybe the rest of the Pantheon. Ludwig certainly knew – that’s why she was so concerned about your blood pressure.”

Sookie was breathing heavily, nearly panting, trying to figure this out. She’d known the instant she was impregnated but she couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that this was all part of some master plan. “Nivian had to know, too, because She said I had more to do…”

“As I understand it, Lughnasadh is the sabbat at which the Corn or Grain Maiden mates with the newly chosen King to create the crops for the next year. In ancient times, they believe that a King and Queen had sex in the fields to make them fertile. If a child is conceived, she is considered divine.”

Harvest Home,” Sookie said.

“What?” Eric asked her as they each picked up a baby so they could slide together on the seat.

“It’s a book I read once after I saw this rerun of an old made-for-TV movie with Bette Davis in it,” she recalled as she laid her head against his chest and he put his arm around her.

“What about it?”

“This average family moves into this isolated little New England community that has some kind of a corn cult where they hold a harvest festival to choose a new king and he mates with their chosen female, then the guy from the past is sacrificed. Now that I think about it, it must have been a matriarchal cult because men who saw what they did were blinded and had their tongues cut out.”

“Matriarchal groups do not do blood sacrifice, my Angel.”

“Yeah, I know, but this was a scary book written by a man in the 70s, so he would have had no concept of what a real matriarchy would be like. I’m sure Octavia will say the movie was made to appeal to men’s fear of woman’s connection to Nature, but the ritual took place at a harvest festival in August or September, I’m pretty sure.”

“Maybe the writer stumbled on a real group and twisted their tradition for shock value?”

“I wonder. In the movie, one of the divine children born from the ritual is a girl, and she chooses the new king. So our daughter would be that girl, right?”

“We’ll need to talk to Octavia about this to know for sure. I’ll have to go to ground almost as soon as we get home, but you can talk to her when you awake later, or we can talk to her together tonight. You should sleep as late as possible tomorrow and stay off your feet.”

“Right, I’ve got to be careful for the next 8 weeks or so. Is Amunet coming home with us?”

“They’re on the bus with the others. I offered to let them ride in here with us but they didn’t want to crowd us since you were not awake. She’ll come see you when she gets up, which I gather will be some time after noon.”

“Cool. I can’t wait to see what she can teach me.”

Eric laughed softly, “there’s not much left for you to learn, Sookie.”

“Yeah, I think there is. We’ll find out. I know I have to start doing a lot more writing. Nivian was very specific about that. She said our kids will need my book later on, just like I need Titania’s.”

“What did She say to you when She was on the horse?”

“She said “the old Fae,” meaning Niall, tried to kill me and that They knew he would, he was so predictable, so they waited in the woods and killed his assassins. That guy Raphael took with him was the only survivor, I think.”

“It will be interesting to see what we learn from him.”

“I don’t know what he can tell us, really,” Sookie yawned, “Niall tried to kill me, plain and simple, and Nivian said he’s “a lifetime’ away by now if he’s smart and we know he is. I’m sure he’ll lie low for a while since he knows I’ve been going to Elfyria. The gloves have come off, though, we’re officially at war now.”

“You may have one advantage working for you that I just found out tonight.”

“What’s that?”

“If you are killed while you are wearing the amulet, it will return to Avalon automatically. That’s why Ludwig told you not to take it off. She says it will keep Niall from using assassins. The only way she says he can get the amulet from you is to cut your head off and grab it before it goes…”

“Lovely. I guess I’m going to be working with your swords every day now?”

“You know it, and we’ll have to stash a few around the house just in case.”

“I can always materialize one, if need be,” she reminded him.

“Yes, but Bjorn and Jerry can’t. I’m hoping we can avoid a one on one conflict.”

“Can they fight with a sword?”

“In theory, Bjorn has studied sword work in his martial arts training, but he’s only used a bokken made of bamboo or wood.”

“Bokken is a practice sword?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I think I’ve seen those in some of my brother’s catalogs.”

“Catalogs?”

“Yeah, he used to get these catalogs with all kinds of stuff for hunting and fighting. There were scary knives and swords for collectors and they had some wooden things that looked like swords and I remember seeing them one time and wondering what good that would be.”

“They’re used in training so novices don’t hurt each other before they know what they’re doing.”

“You don’t have any, do you? I don’t remember any in the gym?”

“No, I don’t have any, but Vincent is going to pick some up from a dealer he knows and everyone will be training with them.”

“Bobbie, too?”

“And Amelia. Bjorn said he had you do some arm exercises yesterday.”

“Yeah, I can really feel it in my forearms, too.”

“Good – that means your musculature can probably still be improved or there would be no soreness.”

“Will that matter when I’m a Goddess?”

“No, but it could matter very much right now. You’re stronger than a human, but probably not as strong or fast as Sidhe Fae, and there’s always danger from mercenary Weres or other creatures. We need to give you every possible advantage.”

“It won’t work, Eric.”

“What won’t work?”

“You trying to go after Niall before he can come after me. He’ll expect you to do that.”

“Yes, but…”

“No ‘buts,’ Eric. You could probably take him out if you could find him, but he’s not going to be easy to find and you can’t teleport. Besides, I’m pretty sure Nivian has got that covered, just like She did tonight. If he needs to be found, She’ll find him.”

“You seem very sure of that.”

“I am sure. She knows what She’s doing, or She wouldn’t have lived this long.”

“That’s true of me, too, Sookie.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got limitations She doesn’t have. I wonder how many were out in the woods last night?”

“I counted about 50 following Nivian as She rode away, plus the people from the party that were recruited, like Octavia and Amelia…”

“They were out in the woods?”

“Yes, and Bill and Pam, a few others. My own security had to do very little once Nivian had her battle line drawn.”

“Battle line?”

“Yes, there was literally a line of defense all around the perimeter of the grove about 500 feet into the woods where the crowd wouldn’t see. That’s where your Witches were – that’s what Freyja meant when She said “they shall not break through.” We couldn’t keep Fae from getting into the area, but there was an impenetrable wall they couldn’t breach – a physical extension of the circle. The assassins in the trees were picked off by Amazon warriors with bows once they revealed their positions. Freyja had you completely shielded from the arrows.”

Sookie’s eyes and face were burning as she thought about the events of the night. “What the hell was Niall thinking, trying to kill me in front of all those Fae?”

“It was a calculated move, I believe. You said Auberon’s bracelet was altered when you cleaned it, yes?”

“Yes.”

“At that point in the ceremony, they knew he was your heir, and that you were Titania’s. I believe Niall intended to take Auberon as the arrows hit you and hide him from me. The bracelet was enchanted to help move him and cloak him, but you spoiled it.”

“Yeah, but you’d find him eventually.”

“He didn’t think I’d want to. He thought that with you dead, I’d only want Alex and that he’d be free to raise Auberon as he chose, thus keeping control of Elfyria as long as he lived.”

“But you wouldn’t…” she started, but she was afraid of the answer so she stopped.

He tilted her chin so she was looking into his eyes. “He is MY son, Sookie. No one is taking him from me, not now, not ever. Goddess forbid that the worst should happen, but if it did, I’d find him or die trying. Never fear that my love for either of my sons will falter. There’s too much of you in them to ever let them go. Niall miscalculated in that respect. He thinks I am as unfeeling as he.”

It was dark in the car, but Sookie could see dark tears in the corners of Eric’s eyes. It occurred to Sookie that Niall had only briefly seen Eric interact with Aubie. He assumed a Vampire wouldn’t want a Fae child. ‘Well, fuck you, Niall, Eric would have fooled you,’ she thought and Eric laughed. He kissed her lips as he projected, “I love you, Sookie and I love our boys.”

The window between the seats rolled down then and Bjorn said, “We’re home, Your Majesty.”

“Thank Goddess!” Sookie said, more than ready to be in her own bed with her husband and her babies.

“You’re awake!” Bjorn said with excitement and relief and Jerry said, “Hey!” at the same time. They were worried about Sookie when Eric put her in the car unconscious, but Dr. Ludwig had told them to take her straight home and keep her on the compound for a few days.

“Yeah, sorry I passed out on everybody,” she said with an apologetic smile.

“Don’t worry about that, Sookie, we’re just glad you’re OK,” Bjorn said, looking at her in the rearview.

Sookie sat up to look around as they went through the gates to the property. This was really the first time she had seen the front since it was completed and she was tickled pink. “Oh, look at the fountains! It looks amazing!” She was beside herself as they drove to the right of the pool, the big mermaid awash in pink and turquoise lights and sprinkling water sparkling in their headlights. “It looks even better than I hoped! It’s like a real Estate now!”

Eric was about to burst because he felt such happiness coming from her. Considering the events of the evening, he thought it was remarkable that she could get so excited about anything, and nothing in his long life pleased him as much as that big smile. The car pulled in front of the house and Bjorn and Jerry helped them out of the car as they were flanked by 6 guards that moved them all into the house. The rest of the vehicles went around the back to the converted barn, and one of the flanking guards took the BMW back around there, too.

Sookie was surprised to see the light on in the kitchen and den as well as the living room. Margaret came bustling out from the kitchen, “Good morning, Missus!”

“Margaret! Why are you up so late?” Sookie didn’t want them to strain the poor woman, who already worked so hard for them.

“I’m up early to see you all home. I know there was food at the party, but Alicia and I thought you’d all like some breakfast before you go to bed.”

“It does smell really good in here – what have you got?”

“Turkey bacon, eggs, pancakes, strawberries, sausage, biscuits, you name it!”

“Yum!” Sookie said, almost bouncing as she carried Aubie into the kitchen, Eric and Alex following behind them, Eric laughing with delight at Sookie’s reaction.

“Undwy, Mahdwid!” Alex said, rubbing his eyes and looking around to see what kind of food he smelled.

“Alright, Sweetheart, I’ll get you some breakfast!” Margaret patted his back, and he said “dayoo!” and gave her a kiss and a big sleepy smile.

Bjorn helped Sookie get Aubie into the highchair that was already waiting for him and Eric put Alex in his as Jerry went to the back door and turned on the back porch light.

“Jerry, dear, would you tell the others I’ve got breakfast for them if they want it?” Margaret asked him cheerfully.

“Sure, I will. Be right back!”

Eric held Sookie’s chair for her then went around the boys and sat down.

“Dadee, woogie!” Alex pointed to his mouth and held it open so Eric could see.

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” Sookie wondered and Eric said, “Teeth!”

“Well, we knew he had two little slivers, right?”

“He’s got two top and bottom now.”

“Good! If he learns to use them, we won’t have to grind everything up so fine and maybe it will fill him up more.”

That made Eric laugh because he took pride in Alex’s big appetite as a sign he was a true Viking. “Good for you, my son! Now you can try some solid food!”

“Wadiz sowid pood?”

Eric reached for a platter of bacon and gave Alex a strip. Alex took it and started gnawing on it with great enthusiasm. “Ah wyg sowid pood, Dadee!”

“That’s called… ” he looked at Sookie.

“Turkey bacon,” Sookie said, laughing at how much Alex was enjoying himself , gnawing off a piece then chewing it intently with his front teeth, mouth open, of course. “Just watch that he doesn’t get choked, Eric.”

“He will not choke, Sookie, half of it is gone already. He knows what to do. He ate half of that hot dog earlier tonight.”

“Yeah, now that you mention it, I do remember him just leaving a chewed up nub when he was done,” Sookie laughed.

“He’s just been waiting for the equipment to chow down, haven’t you, Alexander?” Eric stroked his cheek and gave him a big smile.

“Eeah! Mo duhgy bago, pweezth.”

The others were coming in the back door as Alex worked on another piece of bacon and Margaret set two small bottles of blood on the boys’ trays.O

“Hey, everybody! I hear there’s breakfast in here?” Amelia laughed, Bobbie and Amunet right behind her.

“Yeah, you all come in an sit down! Amunet, this is Margaret – she feeds us around here,” Sookie said affectionately. “Margaret, this is Amunet Bast. She and her husband are staying in the chalet with Bill and Pam.”

“Very nice to meet you, Missus! Would you like a glass of blueberry pomegranate juice?”

“Hello, Margaret! Yes, that sounds very good! Thanks!” Amunet sat at the back of the table across from Sookie, Amelia sitting next to her and Bobbie on Sookie’s right, as usual. Octavia took her spot at the end of the table, Jerry next to Amelia, and finally Bjorn next to Bobbie. There was room for another person at the table, but one chair usually sat to the side of the room as it did now, right at the doorway to the huge pantry. Alicia came in from the pantry with bottles of juice and cartons of organic milk and helped Margaret serve as she continued to fry up pancakes.

“Everyone have a good night?” Alicia asked as she put a platter of pancakes on the table.

“It was pretty wild,” Sookie laughed, “and I’m glad we did it, but I’m glad it’s over, too. That was a once in a lifetime experience, and then some.”

“It was an amazing ritual, Alicia – you should have seen all the different kinds of people and creatures!” Amelia was still bubbling over with excitement.

“It was like a book of Faerie Tales came to life,” Bobbie said. “The grove they held it in was gorgeous and green, and there were bonfires and people dancing, children running around.”

“It was pretty orderly, too, all considered,” Bjorn said. “There was a little trouble, but someone had anticipated that and kept it from getting out of hand. They say the mess isn’t too bad, either.”

“Really? I was worried about that…” Sookie said seriously.

“Yeah, the grass got trampled pretty good, but people were good about using the trash cans and there weren’t that many humans so the porta-potties were hardly used. The coven was amazed at how good the grounds looked when everyone left, and somebody did some magic to bring the grass back once the caterers had packed up.”

“Where did you hear this, Bjorn?” Eric asked as he got another strip of bacon for Alex and took Aubie out of his chair to hold him so he’d let Sookie eat.

“The high priestess told Vincent and I just talked to him,” Bjorn explained. “They’re very pleased with all the events of tonight.”

“Good, I am glad to hear it. I had thought to offer to have the grove re-landscaped if necessary.”

“No, you won’t need to do any of that.”

“Very good. Amunet, did you find the accommodations satisfactory?”

“Yes, it’s very nice. Badru went rest as soon as we got there, so he’s all tucked in. The bed looks very comfy. I hope we won’t be in Pam and Bill’s way?”

“No, not at all. Everyone is in here most of the time we’re awake,” Eric explained, “we all have family dinner together here most nights and if there’s no activity planned, we go our separate ways.”

“There’s almost always something going on, though,” Sookie said, “Usually about me or the babies or traveling or something.”

“So, is it safe for us to do magick in the daytime?”

“Yeah, there’s no one close enough to see that doesn’t know about me anyway.”

“Good, because I want to do at least some things outside. I want to see if you can command the elements, and manifest large things, call up animals or spirits. Can you shape shift?”

“Some – I can do most aquatic animals, but I haven’t really tried land animals lately.”

“We’ll try that, then, because that’s a very useful skill.”

“Yes, it is,” Bjorn agreed and Jerry nodded.

“Can you become invisible?”

“I never tried.”

“We’ll check that, too.”

“I did do one thing where I was able to cloak my spirit in the wind and people couldn’t detect me.”

“Ooh! That’s fantastic. You might be able to hide from other Supes that way!”

“Yeah, I’m sure I can. I was able to hide from the Daemon guards.”

“Have you possessed another animal yet?”

“No, but Freyja mentioned that.”

“We’ll see what’s around tomorrow. Maybe we can find a rabbit or a squirrel – mammals are easier than birds.”

“How does that differ from shapeshifting?” Eric asked.

“Shapeshifting rearranges the atoms in her body. Possession is her spirit going into another being while she’s conscious. She’ll need to have her body in a safe place for that. Eventually, she might be able to be conscious at the same time she possesses something, which would be ideal, but that’s very advanced.”

“You mean I could, like, sit here and talk to you all, and still be inside an animal somewhere.”

“Yes. Could come in handy around a large group of people if there are animals present.”

“Could she do that with a Were?” Bjorn asked, “or a human or a Vampire?”

“Well, it’s not unheard of, but it’s considered bad form. It’s rude, because you’re infringing on another person’s privacy,” Amunet explained.

“It might be possible, though?” he wondered.

“Yes, if she can do it with one animal, she could do it with another. The other being might be aware of the intrusion, though.”

“Could she influence their behavior?”

“Good question. I know she could control the body, but I don’t know if that means she could make the person do something against their own nature. I’ve never heard of anyone who could do that, but there might be some mythological basis for it,” Amunet speculated. “For example, I know you could make a dog turn on its master, but I don’t think you could make the master harm the dog if he cared for it.”

“OK, and you say they’d know I was there?” Sookie was trying to wrap her mind around all of this.

“With Supes, yes, but not necessarily your identity, just that they’re not alone. A human might feel disoriented or unwell, schizophrenic, even. I don’t know if a Vampire would know, or even if it would work.”

“So how do we test this stuff?”

“We’ll need some volunteers for some of it. A human, a Were, and maybe a Daemon. Badru might be your best bet where Vampires go – you wouldn’t want to use Eric or his child, or anyone you know very well.”

“OK, would he be willing to do that?”

“Yes, he said he’d be happy to help. He’s very curious to see what you can do, too.”

“He is?” Sookie asked, as Eric focused on the conversation now, wondering what relevance it might have to Prince Badru.

“Yes, you see, it’s possible you can bestow powers on others, at least temporarily.”

“Really?”

“Yes, it’s something only the gods and Goddesses can do, so it depends on your stage of development.”

“I just spent some time at Freyja’s castle, and I know some stuff happened there, but I don’t know what stages there are to be at, you know?”

“Yes, well, it’s a very rare process, so there’s no literature on it. Basically, from what I’ve observed, your body is a kind of chrysalis or cocoon. Rather than move forward as simply a divine spirit, your chrysalis is becoming divine, too, so your body will last forever without aging.”

“Would it be better to be a spirit?”

“Not if you want to continue to live the life you have now. As a spirit, you couldn’t nurse your babies or make love to your husband, unless he was a spirit, too.”

“Are Cambions spirits?”

“No, they’re half human – why, do you know one?”

“Yes, the big guy standing behind my chair all night with the pony tail.”

“Oh – Duncan MacLeod, you mean?” Amunet said with delight, obviously familiar with the Highlander TV show,  “I wish I had known, I’d have arranged to be next to him when The Madness hit.”

“The Madness?”

“Yes, The Madness from Dionysus. You know, the orgy in the woods. You were there, Sookie, you were impregnated, right?”

“There was an orgy in the woods?”

“YES!” Everybody at the table spoke at once.

“And I missed it?” Sookie asked, a little bummed about it.

“Missed it? Darling, you were the star of it!” Amunet laughed.

Sookie was horrified, “did people see us?” she asked Eric.

“Not really. One or two might have seen you sitting on top of me, but they wouldn’t really have “seen” anything,” Eric tried to minimize the incident for her.

“Everybody knew?”

“Everybody was doing it, too,” Bobbie laughed.

“But there were children there!”

“Anyone too young to participate slept through it,” Amunet reassured her, “Freyja gave them all candy that put them to sleep. The stage looked like the floor of a kindergarten class where the kiddies all nap on the floor.”

“Who was watching the babies?”

“Freyja!” Eric told her, “You know She wouldn’t allow any harm to come to them.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Didn’t you enjoy yourself, Sookie?” Amunet asked.

“Well…” she stopped and thought for a minute. She’d had a mind-blowing orgasm that culminated when the beam of light shot through her, but her mood at the time was more “desperate,” Sookie said as she tried to remember. “I felt desperate, like my life depended on it, and then it all exploded in light. I flashed back to when Eric met Titania and relived it.”

“I thought I dreamed that,” Eric said distantly.

“You were there, too, right?” Sookie was sure Eric felt it, too.

“Yes, I was.”

“This is our baby!”

“Of course it is, Sookie!”

“No, I mean, Titania was pregnant when she died. This was our baby, and Niall killed her when he poisoned Titania.”

Eric grew pale and sat back, looking at Sookie with tears in his eyes. “I convinced myself it couldn’t be true,” he said softly.

“But it could because you’re…” Sookie caught herself before she gave Eric’s Fae heritage away to Amunet. She knew instinctively that was not a good idea, no matter how trustworthy Amunet was. “But you knew…?”

“I knew she was with child, and Maddy swore it was mine, but I convinced myself it couldn’t be true. If I hadn’t…” he swallowed hard, “I couldn’t have gone on if I’d believed it was true. I barely survived it as it was,” he said as he got up and walked into the den and sat down.

Sookie looked at Amunet, who nodded for her to go on and follow him. Sookie sat in Eric’s lap and they kissed and cried for a good ten minutes while the others continued their meals. Gradually, they all dispersed, Jerry, Amelia and Amunet tip-toeing out the back door as Sookie and Eric sat lost in their own world, she straddling his lap, pressing their foreheads together. After a while, Eric carried her up to their bed, came back for the babies who were being fed by Bobbie and Bjorn, then went back upstairs and gave her a cup of Ambrosia, which was back in its place in the mini-fridge. She drank the cup down then Eric hugged her as she sat up in bed, and held on for a long time.

“It’s OK, Eric, it’s all happening exactly the way it’s supposed to,” Sookie comforted him and stroked his hair. “Go rest, it’ll all be OK!”

He gave her one last, lingering kiss that nearly curled her toenails, then rushed down to his cache because it was getting very light out.

Sookie rolled over on her side to watch the babies sleep and in about 5 minutes Jerry came up the stairs and took his place beside her.

“Hey, Jerry, I thought you went to bed?”

“I just tucked Amelia in. We can’t leave you alone, you know?” he laughed.

“Yeah, I know. I feel bad you have to stay up, but honestly, I like knowing somebody can keep an eye on Aubie when I’m asleep.”

“Yeah, we were talking about that earlier tonight. We’re pretty sure we’d better stay on our toes, so don’t worry, because that’s exactly what we plan to do.”

“Why?”

“We’re pretty sure Niall planned to take him tonight, which is why he hasn’t tried until now. He’s on the run, so that might buy us some time, but eventually he’ll be back in Elfyria plotting to extend his reign again.”

“I wonder what ruling Elfyria actually involves?”

“I imagine you’d have to live there part-time, at least.”

“Maybe. But I go there almost every morning now, so maybe that’s the same as living there?”

“Maybe. I only know about fighting Fae, I don’t know what it’s like living with them.”

“Anything I need to know about fighting them?”

“Yeah – when you try to kill a Supe, always go for the head or the heart. Also, always look for your own weaknesses before they do, and know how to defend against an attack.”

“So try to figure what they could use against me, and figure out what to do if they did?”

“Right. We half expected an attack driving home tonight, and were ready for one, but we have to be aware that any time any of us is off this compound, we can be hit or taken.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes, it does. Make sure you keep your bubble charged.”

“Yeah, definitely. Niall won’t send an assassin against me again. He’ll come for me himself, or try to force me to give him the necklace and/or Aubie, too.”

“We won’t let Eric out of our sight, Sookie. Don’t worry about that.”

“I’m more worried about Margaret and Alicia, or Octavia, Amelia and Bobbie. I don’t want them getting hurt.”

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen, Hon. Nobody has been off the compound in the last week or so without an armed guard, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

“Yeah, but we’re going to New Orleans soon. What are we going to do there?”

“All your guards will be quartered right next door, and we’ve doubled who’ll be on the grounds. It’s going to look like you’ve got company every day, there will be so many men on the porch and in the back yard. Plus, you’re going to cast a bubble there before we leave and reinforce it when you get there.”

“That’s a good idea – I didn’t think of that.”

“Vincent thought of it. He’s pretty impressed with what you can do. He said there’s a lot of things possible now that he had no idea you had the power for – ways to use your telekinesis, ways to move people around, ways to expose assassins and anticipate attacks. He’s going to travel with us a couple of nights this week to school you a bit on different possibilities and he wants a full accounting of what you and Amunet do today.”

“What about the mole?”

“He knows there’s a problem and he’s working on that in his own way. We’re keeping the guy on here so we can see if he leads us back to his employer.”

“I swear, if she wasn’t dead, I’d think it was Sabrina. It just feels like her, you know?”

Jerry just smiled and shook his head because Sookie fell asleep as she pronounced the last word. He was glad she went to sleep, because she needed to get all the rest that she could to be doing all this magick. There were huge forces flowing through that little body now, and no one was sure that little body was up to the strain. If she had the same complications she had with Alex, things could get pretty dangerous for her and the baby. Divine or not, things could still go wrong.

Sookie woke up in Titania’s bed again, stretching lazily and stroking the velvet curtain at her side, enjoying the softness and the scent of her sheets, which smelled like flowers. She could hear the fire crackling in the fireplace and thought she smelled fresh bread.

“Milady? Are ye awake?”

“Yes, Maddy, I’m here.”

Madeleine opened the curtains around the bed, “oh, good! You didn’t bring the Prince. It’s best that he stay where he’s guarded for a bit. You have an audience this morning, so you need to eat and dress quickly.”

“An audience?” Sookie asked as she sat up on the side of the bed.

“Yes, one of the White Ladies is coming to talk about the events of last night and what they’ll mean for Elfyria,” Maddy explained as she helped Sookie into her robe.

“Do I work for them?” Sookie asked as she followed Maddy to the table where her breakfast awaited her.

“No, but you cooperate with them. If you were very unfit, they could challenge your claim to the throne, though that’s not likely. They let Niall keep it this long, and he was far from a benevolent ruler, but they knew replacing him would start another war and they want to avoid that at all costs. ”

“Do they know he tried to have me killed last night?”

“I’d wager they know all about it and they won’t be pleased.”

“I should hope not!” Sookie half-laughed, wondering what these women or Witches or whatever would think of her and her Vampire husband and son. She was sure they’d accept Aubie for some reason, but worried about what they’d think of the rest of her family. Titania hadn’t really had anything nice to say about Vamps in her book, though she was sure all that was before she met Eric. The White Ladies might not have the same soft spot Titania developed when she hooked up with Eric.

Maddy poured Sookie some apple juice as Sookie ate eggs sunny-side-up and whole wheat bread with honey. “Don’t worry, Milady, it’s all unfolding as it needs to.”

“My great grandfather needed to try to kill me?”

“No, but they knew that he would and they did what was necessary to stop it.”

“Why did they let those arrows come at me, though? I mean, yeah, they stopped in mid air but why not stop it way before it got to that point?”

“Maybe the people needed to see it with their own eyes to believe it?”

Sookie sat back and considered that for a minute, then nodded. “Yeah, it was for benefit of the Fae, right? They had to be there when it happened and know that only Freyja and Nivian stopped it. Otherwise, their loyalty would be to Niall. This way, they know he tried to kill the True Heir,” she continued, talking mostly to herself as she worked it all out, “and he did it just as I was about to claim my birthright. People won’t like that, will they?”

“I should say not! The only reason they didn’t follow Niall out of there last night was that Freyja wanted them to stay. Nivian might still be giving chase, for all I know, or maybe She went straight back to Avalon. You never really know what Nivian’s next move will be – it’s why She’s so powerful. She’s good at making ye look left when all the while She’s moving to the right, and before you know it, She’s got ye right where She wants ye.”

“OK, good to know,” Sookie laughed as she brushed crumbs off her lap and let Maddy lead her to her bath. The dress Maddy had laying out for Sookie looked very formal and very regal. It was pale turquoise blue with delicate pink embroidery on the fitted bodice, with a low, square cut neckline trimmed with pink ribbon and lace, and a full length skirt. It had short sleeves, which surprised Sookie for some reason, and there were at least two dozen tiny buttons Maddy had to fasten to get Sookie into it. Maddy expertly brushed Sookie’s hair and twisted it up into a very pretty French twist, fastening it with gold combs decorated with jewels. Maddy washed Sookie’s face and handed her a mirror.

“Don’t I need makeup?”

“Of course not, Milady. Ye look at yourself until your face pleases ye.”

“I do?”

“Give it a try, Milady.”

Sookie took the mirror and looked at herself. Her skin was a little sallow so she wished it was pale and porcelain and gradually she realized it now was. ‘Longer, curled lashes,’ she thought and in no time they were thick and lush like they’d never been before. ‘rosy cheeks, pink lips, perfect cleavage,’ she told herself as she stared into the mirror and each time she saw her image gently morph into exactly what she wanted. “Is this just an illusion, or do I really look like this now?”

“It’s exactly as ye are, Milady, and it will last until you change it.”

“So I can go back home and decide to have a tan and I’ll have it?”

“Of course.”

“See, I knew that, but I forgot. I have to remind myself of what I can do!” she laughed at herself as Maddy put black leather ballet slippers on her feet, then a diamond crown on her head and she lead Sookie down the long hall way past 4 big guards who all went down on one knee as Sookie passed them. They went down a passage with big double wooden doors and she was in a more modern looking hallway with sea blue wallpaper with a gold fleur-de-lis pattern and a beautiful display of full suits of armor that stretched all the way down the long corridor. There were people waiting at the end of the hall and Sookie heard them whisper “the Queen! The Queen!” as she approached.

Sookie was a little nervous so she had her right hand over the aquamarine amulet and it somehow made her feel more secure and grounded. A girl who looked about 18, and older woman in a brown dress and white scarf on her head, and three men dressed just like the guards outside Sookie’s room all knelt and curtsied as Sookie approached. Sookie said, “good morning, everyone” as she walked between them, prompting big smiles from all of them.

“It’s like she’s never been gone at all,” one older guard said to another, and the others nodded in agreement. As far as they were concerned, Queen Titania had come home and they all hoped never to have to deal with Prince Niall again.

They watched her happily as she went through the door into the Great Hall, where a throne sat on a platform before a long purple carpet that ran the length of the long room. Sookie noticed great, long wooden tables pushed to the sides of the hall, and there were people in old fashioned, formal dress milling around. Two trumpets sounded as Sookie entered the room and everyone curtsied and bowed.

Maddy subtly nodded and pointed at the throne when Sookie looked back at her, so she held her head up and sat a little gingerly in the big oak throne with purple velvet upholstery. As she was seated, all the fine ladies and gentlemen in the room applauded softly and smiled at Sookie, who called “good morning,” to them all with a big smile. Two bearded guards in brown leather jerkins and leggings stood behind the throne, spears in their hands and swords on their belts.

A very handsome, dark-haired man about 6 feet tall dressed in a royal blue tunic and black leggings and boots stepped forward and doffed his blue boat-shaped, feathered cap as he bowed at the waist, then rose up and said, “good morning, your Majesty! May I approach?”

Sookie looked at Maddy who smiled and nodded, so Sookie said, “Yes, of course! I’m Sookie H’Eloise Northman. And you are?”

“Sir Robert of Swansea, at your service, Milady!” Sookie had offered her hand and he kissed it.

“It’s nice to meet you, Sir Robert!” she said, a little flushed at the unexpected attention.

“I can’t tell you how happy we all are to have you home, Milady. You look resplendent this morning!”

“Oh, thank you,” Sookie said and blushed, not only from the compliment, but from the fact that the gorgeous Fae man was giving her a dazzling smile with a twinkle in his blue green eyes. It did not escape Sookie’s attention that he looked like a taller, smoother version of Bill with some kind of thick, beautiful brogue.

“I’m your Minister of Days. I see to the administration of your affairs, head the staff who serve the castle, and oversee your guards, your lands and your subjects. I’m here to keep things running smoothly for you.”

“Oh, well, I’m glad to have you here, then. I have a lot to learn.”

“You’ll get the run of it pretty quickly. Unless you choose to get involved in the minutiae of local government, your duties are largely ceremonial. You set general policy, then each district has its own government, each of whom reports to me and to your Minister of Finance.”

“Oh, when will I meet him?”

“Soon, I’d say – he’s a great loyalist to Prince Niall. I’m sure he’ll be anxious to meet you.”

“Yes, I’d expect so.” Sookie said, completely understanding what Sir Robert was telling her – watch your back around that guy, he’s not to be trusted.

“You know about our meeting this morning, I assume, with the Wise Ladies?”

“Yes, I knew I was meeting with one of them – will there be more?”

“Considering the events of last night, Milady, I think we can count on at least three of them.”

“How many are there all together?”

“There are always 13. When one passes on, another is appointed to maintain their number.”

“Were you at the Wiccaning, Sir Robert?”

“Aye, Milady, I was in the woods with Our Lady Nivian.”

“Oh, thank you! I’m sorry if you missed any of the ceremony.”

“I heard the most stirring part, your Majesty, when you declared “there would be peace, so help you!” It’s all anyone is talking about,” he smiled at her proudly.

“I meant what I said. I want an end to all these wars. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves and considering we can be completely separate from others, if we so choose, we don’t need to be fighting with those who need not concern us.”

“Do you plan to allow your subjects to live among humans?”

“That’s their individual choice, but I don’t want problems from that world coming into this one.”

“We’ll be meeting with the Wise Ladies in chambers – perhaps we should adjourn to that room now, and speak privately of these things? I’m sure you have many questions for me.”

Sookie saw Maddy nod and said, “Yes, that might be best.” Sookie stood, causing the whole room to bow, and Maddy pointed her out the opposite door, which opened to a large library. It was furnished with a large meeting table and chairs and some leather chairs and a couch by the fire. Maddy pointed to the head of the table, which had the largest chair, and Sookie took her place as Sir Robert took his usual seat with Niall, which was immediately to Sookie’s right. The large door was closed, only Maddy and two guards just inside the room, and Sir Robert took the lead.

“May I speak frankly, your Majesty?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Keeping that world out of this one will pose a very great problem. Some of your lords are involved in the smuggling of jewels, and they aren’t likely to give it up easily.”

“You’re saying it will take violence to end it?”

“I’m saying that ordering an end to it might provoke violence from those who profit from the trade.”

“Are there very many?”

“No, but they’ve nearly unlimited funds due to the smuggling.”

“Do we have any other lines of commerce, legal or illegal, with humans?”

“Not really. There are some who trade diamonds and shop for food or clothing there, but there are no trade agreements because they don’t know, as a group, that we exist. We’ve got some treaties with the Vampires you’ll have to familiarize yourself with, but if the rumors are true about your husband, they might become moot. I doubt the two of you will wage war against each other.”

“No, we won’t – that’s the whole point. By joining the worlds through my family, these conflicts should be eliminated.”

“It’s very generous of you to dedicate your children to this cause, Milady.”

“It’s not generosity, it’s destiny. The dice have been thrown so here we are. The decision was made long before I was born.”

Sir Robert started to speak again, but there was a knock at the door and they both watched Maddy speak to someone outside the door.

“Pardon me, Milady, but the White Ladies are here.”

“Show them in, please?” Sookie asked, and she started to stand as Sir Robert did, but Maddy motioned for her to stay seated. Three very old women, one tall and thin with salt and pepper hair in a braid over one shoulder, one short and plump with ruddy cheeks and a big smile, the third one a little younger and pretty (like Shirley Jones, Sookie thought) came through the door, dressed identically in black robes with white wimples like nuns wear on their head. Sookie later found out they only dressed that way for official business, and that at other times they dressed like any other rich Faerie. The prettiest sat immediately to Sookie’s left and the tall one next to her. The plump one sat next to Sir Robert, who held her chair for her and gave her a big smile.

‘Your Majesty,” Robert began, “I’d like you to meet three of our Witte Wieven, the governing body of Elfyria.” He pointed to the pretty one, “This is Lady Ariel,” then the tall one, “Lady Berthe,” then the plump one, “and Lady Jocelyn.”

“It’s very nice to meet all of you,” Sookie said sincerely, smiling and looking each woman in the eye.

The tall one, Lady Berthe, spoke first, “We want you to know we have deliberated how best to proceed from this point forward. We are aware that you have a family and a life elsewhere, but as your duties here are largely ceremonial, that should not present a problem. Except for an occasional seasonal festival, our schedule is fluid and you will be an acceptable placeholder until the Prince is old enough to take the reigns if you choose. Of course, should war become necessary, according to our traditions, the soldiers will answer to you above anyone else, which would require much more of your attention. Our primary concern today,” she continued, “is what to do about Niall Brigant.”

The pretty one, Lady Ariel, spoke next. “His assassination attempt last night has put your great grandfather at odds with the Council, the Pantheon, and with us, most of all. It will be announced before dark that we have declared him an outlaw, and that anyone who offers him quarter in Elfyria will be sentenced to death for treason against the Crown. If he is caught, he will be killed immediately, but the chances of catching him are not good.”

“You see,” Lady Jocelyn continued, “he is far more likely to hide in your world than ours, and that is a line we do not wish to cross. We will leave his pursuit in that realm to you, and you may administer that process however you like. The Elfyrian army is, as always, at your service.”

“Assuming they can be trusted,” Lady Berthe added. “Niall had to think he had the support to hold the throne to make such an attempt, so there may be some who are still loyal to him.”

“His assassins were Fae, weren’t they?” Sookie asked, wanting to be sure she understood the situation.

“Yes, but all had been banished from our world for various crimes. There are parts of Elfyria that have suffered near lawlessness since Queen Titania was assassinated. Except for the aggression of the Brigant clan, crime was nearly unheard of during the H’Eloise reign.”

“There were others who challenged Niall’s reign, though, like Cullach?” Sookie asked.

“Yes, but he made a fatal miscalculation in trying to kill the Heir Apparent,” Ariel told her. “He lost sight of the real goal and lost support from the Council when he erred.”

“The Council was behind Cullach?”

“Not behind him, just not against him.” Berthe explained. “We had no idea if you would choose to rule, and almost anyone had as much right to the throne as Niall.”

“So Niall has lost everything?”

“We’re sure he has resources hidden away, but we are equally sure he will not rest while you are alive and on the throne, so be assured that he will be back. Speaking of which, there is one more formality to which we must attend, Milady.”

Uh-oh. “What is that?” Sookie smiled, dreading the answer.

“Your coronation. You’ve claimed your throne, so the office is yours, but the people will want to see you ascend to the throne officially in the presence of the Council, our body of Witte Wieven, and your family.”

“My family? You mean my husband and children have to be here?”

“Yes, of course – we’ll expect to see them now and then, especially little Auberon,” Jocelyn laughed. “What a beauty he is, with that white hair! Both babies are just adorable.”

“Will they be accepted here? My husband…”

“…Is half Fae,” Berthe said firmly as the others nodded in agreement, “and so are both babies for all practical purposes. We have all decided that it would be best to focus on that, since his offices do not affect yours and the blending of families, and orders, is conducive to the cause of Peace.”

“When I have this… coronation?” (they nodded) “will humans be able to attend?”

“Only Witches, please. We understand you have three who offer you regular council?”

“Yes, I…”

“The older woman, Octavia – we’d like very much if at least she were to attend. We are very anxious to meet her.”

“How do you know about Octavia?”

“Freyja has mentioned her, and she’s known to the Council, but that’s a topic for another time. Your official coronation will take place on the first full moon after Harvest Home – October 3 in your time. It’s a couple of months from now, so it gives us all time to plan and to take necessary precautions.”

“What kind of precautions?”

“Why, killing Niall Brigant, of course!” Lady Jocelyn laughed as the three of them stood. “Now don’t you hesitate to bring that wonderful family to visit us!”

“How do I do that?” Sookie wished they wouldn’t leave yet.

The three women cackled, “My Dear,” Ariel laughed, “with that amulet around your neck you can move an army between the worlds. Don’t take it off outside of Elfyria.”

Sookie played with the amulet nervously. “Yeah, I heard about that. He’s going to try to cut my head off.”

Berthe showed genuine surprise, “not if you cut his off, first! We all know you’re perfectly capable of that,” she said with a wink, so Sookie knew they knew she killed Liam Cullach.

“So I’m supposed to go after Niall?”

“No need for that, Milady – sooner or later, he’ll find you,” Berthe said with as much passion as one would use when asking someone to pass the salt, then they turned to go, but Sookie needed more information.

“Wait – what about Were and Daemon guards?”

“As few Weres as possible, and no Daemons, please. Your Cambion may attend your King, if you wish. Sir Robert will see to the rest of your questions. You’ll find his council indispensible, I’m sure,” Berthe said without looking back.

Sookie sat back a little dazed because they left so quickly, so she turned to Sir Robert. “Is it my imagination, or were they in a hurry to leave?”

“They were scared to death Niall would attack while they were here. Those wishing to stay alive would be wise to avoid your company until your grandfather is dispatched.”

“You mean “dead,” right?”

“Yes, Milady.”

“And I have to do it…” she said mostly to herself.

“Look at it this way, it will settle definitively his claim to the throne.”

“Yes, it will. You know, I made him an offer, I don’t know why he didn’t take it.”

“What offer is that, Milady?” Sir Robert needed to know things like this to give Sookie proper advice. She already had enemies in this world and that, so keeping him informed was essential to her safety.

“I wanted him to stay in office until 2027. Then either I’d take over, or I’d give it to Eric Auberon, but the jerk had to try to kill me and take my baby instead,” she said with some perfectly understandable exasperation.

“May I speak bluntly, Milady?”

“Please!”

“Your grandfather is not one to compromise. As long as you live, in his mind, you stand between him and what he most wants. That baby is the key to securing his control of the throne.”

“Why? If Aubie grows up and doesn’t want to give him the throne, it’s gone anyway.”

“That child would never reach adulthood with all of his faculties intact.”

“What?” Sookie prayed he wasn’t saying what she thought he was saying.

“If Brigant had succeeded in taking the child, he’d see that he were crippled in some way before he reached puberty, so Niall could continue as Prince Regent since the heir was unable to serve.”

Sookie was seeing red. “Are you telling me that that son of a bitch not only tried to steal my baby, he was going to permanently MAIM him so he could keep this throne?”

“Oh, yes, Milady, his plan was well known in certain quarters to which I have been privy.”

“You were on his side?”

“I was his advisor, but I advise the crown at the request of the Wise Ladies, and as of last night, you are she.”

“If he takes the throne back…?”

“He won’t. If he ever succeeded in harming you, he could never return to Elfyria now. The people are in love with you and your little boys and the little one now on the way.”

“You know about that?”

“Everyone knows who was in the grove. It was an honor to be there.”

Sookie blushed a little at the idea of thousands of people knowing she got knocked up in the woods, but she didn’t have time to think about that.

“So, I can trust you?”

“With your very life, Milady. If Brigant comes back, I will kill him myself. Elfyria is well rid of him, I assure you.”

“He won’t do anything nearly that convenient,” Sookie said sarcastically and Sir Robert laughed. “What do I do if I have questions about all of this?”

He handed her a beautiful calling card done in calligraphy. Sookie looked at it.

“You have a cell phone?”

“Yes, of course, Milady. You call any time, and of course, you can come here, or I can come to you whenever you wish.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes, I can, and I’ll be dressed like a human instead of a Faerie tale character,” he laughed.

“I like the way you’re dressed!” Sookie said, laughing. She was determined to keep her sense of humor in all of this.

“I wanted you to get the full effect on your first day here. Most times you see me, I’ll be wearing a boring dress shirt, jacket and pants.”

“So you’ll be here tomorrow?”

“Unless I need to see you before. I may “pop in” on you from time to time.”

“Oh…”

“Don’t worry, Milady, I’ll take care not to interrupt any intimate moments, unless it’s a matter of life or death.”

“Yeah, there are a lot of those matters these days, though. Is there anything else I need to do here today?”

“No, you can go back to your babies any time now, Milady.”

“Alright, then, please excuse me – trygg i min säng, trygg i min säng, trygg i min säng!”

POP/FLASH

Sookie was back in her bed, still wearing the lovely dress, and Bjorn was on the floor. Shit! Sookie jumped up with almost Vampire speed and ran to Bjorn, smacking his cheeks gently, trying to wake him up. “Bjorn! Are you OK? Bjorn?”

Bjorn groaned and shook his head, trying to respond, and finally opened his eyes. He looked Sookie up and down, knowing this dress was not of this world, and shook his head laughing, “damn, Sookie! If you’re going to keep coming home this way, I’m going to need combat pay!”

He was joking, but Sookie knew he was a little hurt, too, so she rubbed his head to see if he bumped it. Yep, there was a big old knot on the back of his head. “Oh, Bjorn, I’m so sorry,” she said as she rubbed the knot which suddenly went away.

Bjorn frowned and looked confused. “What did you do, Sookie?”

“I don’t know. It was there, then it wasn’t.”

“You healed it!”

“Can I do that?”

“Apparently. It went from hurting like hell to not hurting at all,” Bjorn said, suddenly realizing Sookie was bending over him in a low-cut dress and they were bulging over… ‘get up, dummy, don’t stare at her chest!’ he berated himself. “I’m OK, now, Hon, let me get up.”

“OK, if you’re sure you’re OK?” Sookie was too worried about Bjorn to worry about the fact that he was looking down her dress in spite of himself.

“I’m fine now, honest.”

“Knock, knock!” they heard from the hallway.

“Come in, Octavia!” Sookie called as she stood and helped Bjorn get up.

“Well, what’d you bring back today?” Octavia said, having heard the now familiar sound.

“This dress, maybe? Or the amulet again?” she said as stood back to let Bjorn pick up his chair. She felt the top of her head, “this crown, I guess?”

“Well, they’re getting smaller and smaller, and you’re awake this time. Bjorn, did you get hurt again?”

“Yeah, but I think Sookie healed me.”

“She did?”

“Yeah, she rubbed the spot and it stopped hurting,”

“We’ll have to test that out. When are you girls going to start play time?”

“Is Amunet up?”

“I haven’t been downstairs yet – I was just getting dressed. You look like you’re all ready to go.”

“I shouldn’t wear this, should I?”

“You can if you want to – might be a little hard to breast feed in that.”

“Right, I need to change. The boys are in the gym, I guess?”

“Yes, they’re with Bobbie and Amelia. Alex was teaching Aubie to do flips in the air right over you,” Bjorn laughed, “so they took them on up.”

“OK, unbutton me, Bjorn,” Sookie said, turning her back to him and pulling her hair to the side. Bjorn was a little embarrassed that she asked in front of Octavia, but he slowly started undoing the tiny buttons on her gown.

Octavia chuckled to herself, knowing what conflict Bjorn was feeling, “OK, I’m goin’ down for coffee. See you in the kitchen.” Octavia was pretty sure why Sookie was so unselfconscious in front of Bjorn and she thought it was funny he was so prudish about it when she wasn’t. If she were thirty years younger, she’d show Bjorn a trick or two he’d not forget.

Suddenly, as Bjorn worked the buttons, Aubie flew in the door with Alex, Amelia and Bobbie close behind. “Mama! Mama!” he was so happy to see her.

“Hi, Sweetie!” Sookie caught him and kissed him all over his little face, then shifted him so she could catch Alex, too.

“Sookie, that’s gorgeous!” Amelia said when she saw Sookie standing there in the gown.

“Thanks. It’s from Elfyria – it followed me home,” she laughed.

“Bobbie, you do this, please!” Bjorn was relieved to have someone else to work with those little buttons. He was breaking out into a sweat at the prospect of undressing Sookie. He went back to his seat and crossed his foot over his knee so they couldn’t see his hard on.

Bobbie took Bjorn’s place behind her as Amelia took the babies and put them on the bed one at a time. “Did the crown come with it, Sookie?”

“Yeah, this was sort of my first official day as Queen. I met my Minister of Days and three of the Witte Wieven or White Ladies or Wise Ladies, or whatever. Anyway, they told me what’s what.”

“And…?” Amelia wanted her to go on, quickly. She sat on Eric’s side of the bed and gave Sookie her attention as she tickled the boys.

“And Niall has been declared an outlaw. Giving him quarter in Elfyria is punishable by death and they fully expect me to kill him when he comes after me, which they assure me he will.”

“Well, you sort of knew that already, Sookie,” Amelia laughed.

“Yeah, but when three wise women dressed like nuns tell you about it, it suddenly loses its glamour,” Sookie said sarcastically. “You should have seen them, you guys. They couldn’t wait to get the hell away from me, because they were afraid he’d come busting in after me.”

“So what’s this Minister of Days person like?” Bobbie asked.

“Oh, you two will love him. Sir Robert of Swansea. Imagine a taller, prettier Bill with blue-green eyes and a thick brogue.”

“Wow!” Amelia said as she and Bobbie laughed. Bjorn didn’t think it was funny, and he was pretty sure Eric wouldn’t, either.

“Will we get to meet him?” Bobbie thought that sounded pretty tasty.

“Yeah, he could pop in at any second, but if you don’t see him before, you’ll see him at my coronation on October 3.”

“Why’d they pick that date?” Amelia asked

“It’s the first full moon after Harvest Home, which I need to ask you all questions about.”

“What’s “Harvest Home?”” Bobbie asked

“Mabon – the Autumnal Equinox,” Amelia answered.

“It wasn’t last night?” Sookie asked.

“No, it’s the Equinox. Why?”

“I saw this movie once…”

“With Bette Davis?” Amelia asked.

“Yeah, you know it?”

“Yeah, it’s a Witch movie, right up there with The Wicker Man, but not as well known.”

“I’ve heard of The Wicker Man, but I’ve never seen it,” Bobbie said.

“Well, they’re similar in plot. An outsider finds his way into a remote village which turns out to be a Pagan cult and he ends up being a sacrifice to bring good crops.”

“Are they matriarchal?” Sookie asked

“In Harvest Home, yes. In the original Wicker Man, I don’t think so, but in the new one with Nicholas Cage, yeah, they’re matriarchal and worship bees.”

“Because bees have a Queen?”

“They have more than that. Did you know all worker bees are female? The males are called drones and there aren’t that many of them. They only exist to fertilize the Queen and they usually die from mating.”

“Yikes!” Bobbie laughed

“Yep, and the worker bees decide which egg will become Queen and if they end up with more than one, they fight to the death.”

“Glad I’m not a bee,” Sookie said.

“Me, too.” Bjorn joked and made them all laugh.

Bobbie finished with the buttons, so Sookie looked in her top drawer and found a little pink knit dress that was easy to pull down and she took it and a pink thong into the bathroom to change. She was back in no time, almost ready to go. “Anyway, in Harvest Home they conceive a girl in the ritual, right?”

“Yeah,” Amelia remembered, “they did have a little girl who was conceived during the rite some years before. We’re all kicking ourselves today, you know? Some of us should have realized what the plan was last night.”

Sookie was brushing her hair into a ponytail, leaving the crown and combs on her dresser. She started to speak when Sir Robert popped into the room and scared everyone almost to death.

“Forgive me, your Majesty, are you done with the crown and the dress?”

“Oh, yeah, here you go,” she handed him the crown and pointed to the dress on the foot of the bed.

“Thank you. Sorry to interrupt, everyone!” He bowed to Sookie, nodded to the others and disappeared with the dress and crown.

Amelia and Bobbie cracked up, “damn, Sookie! He’s your what?” Amelia laughed

“Minister of Days. He’s the one who really runs things unless there’s war or some ceremonial function they need me for.”

“Who runs things if there’s a war?” Bjorn asked, a little pissed for some reason he refused to call jealousy where a Faerie was concerned.

“I do. They said it’s tradition – if there’s war, the army will follow me over anyone.”

“That could come in handy,” Bjorn thought out loud.

“Yeah, if they’re loyal. Some might be loyal to Niall.”

“I doubt it,” Bjorn said.

“You do? Why?”

“From a soldier’s perspective, you’re the smart bet. You’ve got all the authorities on your side, plus I assume the people love you already and you’ve got their little Prince. The only thing Niall might offer is money or some other form of treasure, and even if he offers them the moon, they give up living in Elfyria if they lose. I’d say Niall is a lone wolf at this point.”

“They told me the assassins he used were outcasts who were banished for committing crimes.”

“How many of those could there be?” Bobbie asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure that’s where the real danger is. If they can’t go back, they need money, and I’ll bet Niall has a pile of it somewhere,” Sookie said, already having it worked out in her head.

“Yeah, that sounds right,” Bjorn agreed. “You have to find out how many we could be talking about. Who would know?”

“The Wise Women, I guess? They said parts of Elfyria have been nearly lawless since Titania was killed.”

“Because some of them never considered Niall legitimate, I’ll bet,” Bjorn said.

“Right – they said almost anybody had as much right to it as he did.”

“He was a bastard, too, from what I hear,” Bjorn recalled.

“He still is,” Sookie said darkly, looking in the mirror and willing her lashes a little longer, “but not for long.”

“You going after him, Sookie?” Bobbie asked as she and Amelia exchanged looks of concern. This was a lot to expect of a pregnant woman, Goddess or not.

“I’m going to let him come to me, then I’m taking his ass out. We all start training with swords tonight, and if he shows his fucking face, whoever gets a swipe at him takes him down. I should have killed the SOB last night when I had a chance. I won’t let him get away next time, no matter who’s around to witness it,” Sookie said in such a casual way it made the others’ blood run cold. Something had changed in Sookie. Something in her really had accepted that she had to do this to keep herself and her kids safe, and there was a new darkness within her that was almost visible.

“So, let’s go downstairs!” Sookie said, making a conscious decision to brighten her mood and get on with her day. “Come on, sweet boys, let’s all go downstairs.”

“Sthimmeen, Mamee?” Alex asked as he was perched on Amelia’s lap.

“Swimming? I’ve got company, baby, so I can’t, but if Bobbie and Amelia want to take you, you can. Mommy has to do some magick!”

“Doo machig wif Mamee!”

“You want to do magick, too, Sweetie?” Sookie loved that he’d rather work with her than go swimming.

“Eeah, doo machig!”

“Ah!” Aubie agreed as he crawled down the bed toward Sookie.

“You want to do magick, too, Aubie?” She laughed as she scooped him up and held him over her head.

“Ah! Mama!” Aubie reached for her face and patted her cheeks.

“Yeah, Mama’s got you. OK, darlin’ boys, let’s get breakfast and go do magick!”

“EEAY!” Alex was waving his arms, ready to go, so Amelia brought him and they, Bobbie, and Bjorn followed Sookie downstairs.

Everyone in the kitchen was surprised to see them all so early.

“Mrs. Northman! We didn’t dream you’d be up yet!” Alicia teased her.

“Yeah, I had another eventful morning and I thought I’d just get up and get on with the day. I want to make the most of my time with Amunet.”

“Alright, what would you like for breakfast?”

“Do we have plenty of smoked salmon? I know she likes it, too.”

“Yes, of course! Coming right up.”

“Sthama?” Alex said hopefully as Amelia put him in his highchair.

“Yes, Baby E, I’ll make you some salmon!” Alicia tickled him and made him laugh.

“Dayoo!”

Alex and Sookie were chowing down on their breakfast, Aubie suckling from Sookie’s breast, when Amunet came dragging in wearing a pair of khaki short shorts, a peach camisole, long pearl necklace with a knot in the front and huge Dior sun glasses. Sookie laughed to herself when she noticed she was wearing really expensive wedge sandals with that outfit.

“Amunet! Good Morning!” Sookie was so happy to have her here, she couldn’t believe it.

“Uuuhh! Darling – you’re so cheerful,” she laughed. “I’m wiped out!” Amelia and Bobbie laughed and nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, it was a big party last night,” Sookie teased her, “but seems like I had the most to do.”

“True, but I’ve been traveling non-stop for a few months. It loses its glamour after a while.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Bast, would you prefer coffee or espresso? Alicia offered

“Espresso would save my life right now!” she laughed.

“Coming right up,” Alicia laughed.

“I didn’t know we had espresso around here?” Sookie laughed.

“We don’t make it often, but we were told it’s one of Mrs. Bast’s favorites.”

“That it is! Thanks so much!” Amunet laughed, finally taking her sunglasses off. “Ugh – it’s so bright today! I’m not used to human hours.”

“You normally keep your husband’s hours?” Sookie wanted to know all about Amunet’s lifestyle, it seemed so glamorous.

“Yes, we normally sleep in the same bed for the same hours. It’s just easier that way. If I wake earlier, I use the time to read, but I try to be there when he wakes up.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Of course, Darling, that’s the point,” she laughed. “It keeps things zesty!” she wiggled her perfectly drawn eyebrows and made Sookie laugh.

“I did it one time, and it was pretty wild. I think it scared Eric, though,” Sookie said. “He’s always afraid he’s going to lose control and hurt me, but he’s got so much control, I don’t think it’s possible.”

“Well, you’re a lot tougher than a human girl, too, but it’s good for him to be a little cautious. The more you do it, though, the more control he’ll have.”

“Oh – I never thought about that…” Sookie said with surprise. “So the more we do it, the safer it is?”

“Yes, unless he’s wounded or something. That’s when you need to be careful.”

“Yeah, I learned that the hard way one time,” Sookie said, trying not to flash back on being in the trunk of the car with Bill.

Alicia brought Amunet a little cup of espresso, which Amunet filled with sugar, and asked, “would you like some lox and bagels?”

“Well, I’d like to have some salmon and do you have cream cheese or crème fraiche?”

“We have both – which would you prefer?”

“Just some salmon and crème fraiche, please? Thanks!”

“You don’t like bagels, Amunet?” Sookie asked

“I like them, but I try to keep the carbs to a minimum most of the time so I can splurge on pasta or at a party now and then. I’ll be good this week so you and I can go crazy next Saturday.”

“What’s Saturday?”

“The opening for Sang Riche Austin,” Amunet laughed, “We’re going to try to make all of the openings since we’re in the States on business, anyway.”

“Oh, cool! I’ll have someone to play with if Bobbie and Amelia are busy with their guys or the babies. Eric needs time to schmooze all the rich Vamps, anyway.”

“He’s good at that. The others are in awe of him, and well they should be.”

“Will they still be now that they know about my Fae heritage?”

“It did cause a little shock wave last night, but you’re well known as a friend to the Vampires, so I think they’ll come around. Nobody wants another war with the Fae, and this is a perfect way to create harmony. Plus, people were absolutely in love with these children. The Vamps couldn’t figure out why they didn’t feel Auberon was truly Fae.”

“He’s still wearing that shield I made for him. It protects him from them.”

“It seemed to work perfectly. Some of the Vamps don’t really believe he’s Fae. That can work to his advantage. It helps Alexander, too.”

“It does?”

“Oh, yes, they’re mostly convinced that Alex is all Vampire, as if it’s a dominant gene or something. They were surprised to see him eat food, but I heard they were all very happy to see him drink RM. Of course, the Fae think they’re both all Fae, so everyone is happy. Alex has a strong aura of Fae magick about him, too, and the Fae could feel that, but the Vamps can’t.”

“Good – it means they’ll be able to blend into either world if they need to.”

“Yes, and each group is very happy to have its own little Prince.”

“Good,” Sookie was happy with that and with her breakfast. Alex had finished his “sthama” and was asking for more, which Amelia got up to get from the fridge while Bobbie went up in the elevator to get her journal so she could take notes on what Sookie and Amunet did.

“Mamee, Waby Amuduh doo machig?”

“Yes, she’s going to do magick with us.” Sookie stroked Alex’s cheek with the backs of her fingers and Aubie giggled against her breast. “Aubie wants to do magick, too, don’t you, Sweetie?”

He giggled again but he didn’t stop feeding. “Aubie is really hungry this morning!” Sookie teased him, but he kept feeding as she looked in his eyes and rubbed his little back.

Margaret put a glass of juice and a plate of scrambled eggs and link turkey sausage on the table in front of Amelia, who was feeding Alex salmon. Amelia turned to take a drink of juice and when she turned, Alex threw his spoon on the floor. “Uh-oh!”

“Alex!” Sookie said as Amelia bent to get the spoon, but before anyone, even Sookie, could react, Alex had “called” two of Amelia’s sausages off her plate. He had one in his mouth with one hand and one in the other fist, ready to stick it in, too. “Alex! No! You don’t take food off people’s plates!” Sookie started to pull his hand away from his mouth but he popped his fangs and hissed at her. Sookie was so shocked she jumped back and just stared at him with her mouth open as he went back to gnawing on the pieces of sausage.

“It’s OK, Sookie, we should have given him some,” Amelia tried to downplay the problem as Amunet and Bjorn, who was at the other end of the table drinking coffee, cracked up.

Alex was jamming the second sausage into his mouth, which was already full of the first one. “Alex, Sweetie, hold on, you’re eating too fast. Just a little at a time,” Sookie was more concerned that he was going to choke now than that he’d attack her. She did manage to pull his hand away with a little more than half of the second sausage in it, and was considering sticking her fingers in his mouth to take some of the sausage out of it, but he had swallowed most of it and seemed fine.

“Eric Alexander, you apologize to Amelia! You say, “I’m sorry, Amelia!” Alex just looked at her and kept chewing. “You say you’re sorry, young man!”

Whoa! Alex never heard Mommy get that mad before and it shocked him a little. When he swallowed what was left in his mouth, Sookie kept him from putting the other piece in and he yelled, “Mo, Mamee!” defiantly.

“No! You say, “I’m sorry, Amelia,” first! Say it!”

Alex didn’t know whether to scream or cry but he was mad, too, but after a minute of trying to stare Sookie down he said, “Ahm sthowwy, Ameeah.”

Everyone at the table instantly relaxed, all having been afraid Sookie and Alex were going to really throw down.

“Alright, now you finish that and if you want more, you ASK for it. Don’t you do that again!”

“Undwy!” he pouted.

“Then you tell us that and we’ll get you food. You can’t just take things off other people’s plates. It’s not nice.”

“Wadiz nisth?”

“Nice is a good boy. You be a good boy and ask, alright.”

“Eeah, undwy.”

“Alright, how about some apple sauce?”

“Eeah!” Alex liked the sound of that, and Aubie leaned back from Sookie and said, “abuh!”

“I’ll get it,” Amelia started to get up and Sookie said, “no, Amelia, eat your breakfast.”

“What’s all the yelling in here?” Bobbie asked, amused, as she came back with her journal.

“The little Viking stole food off Amelia’s plate and I made him apologize.”

“Go ahead and eat, Amelia – what did he want?” Bobbie put her book on the table and Amelia said, “they both want apple sauce.”

“OK, I’ll get it. Everybody relax a little, he didn’t hurt anyone,” she deliberately tried to joke Sookie out of it.

“I know,” Sookie said, still embarrassed and irritated, “I just won’t have him behaving that way. Like Eric says, we can’t let bad behavior take root. He can be a badass everywhere else, but at the breakfast table, he’s going to use some manners.”

Alex finished his other sausage and reached for Amelia with his “come here” motion. Amelia leaned toward him and he said, “ahm sthowwy, Ameeah,” very softly and Amelia said, “that’s OK, baby, you just got excited,” and kissed his lips as he wanted and rubbed his head and back a little.

“Alright, Alex, that’s a good boy,” Sookie was much happier with that reaction so she let it go. Bobbie gave Alex a little bowl and a little spoon and he happily tried to feed himself and Sookie pulled her top up and fed Aubie as he sat on her lap.

Once the boys had finished their applesauce, everyone was ready to get started with the magick. Jerry was up now and he and Bjorn stood by as Amunet and Sookie went to the middle of the yard back toward the chalets. Bobbie and Amelia had Aubie and Alex respectively and they sat on the grass off to the side of the summer kitchen.

“OK, Amunet, how do we start?” Sookie asked as Bobbie opened her book to take notes.

“Well, we know you’re pretty powerful in circle, so we’re going to try some things off the cuff.”

“No Circle?” Amelia was surprised.

“Yes,” Amunet said, “in an emergency there won’t be time for all that. I want to see her raw power as it is right now. Ready, Sookie?”

“Yep.”

“Make the wind blow.”

Sookie held her hands up to the side and said, “wind,” and in a second, a strong wind blew across the yard.

“OK, Sookie, make a mini-tornado right there on the walk.”

Sookie looked at the walk and said “spin!” and a little whirl wind blew up and danced along the walk.

“Send it up into the sky, Sookie, then make it bigger, then let it disperse.”

Sookie pointed at the small funnel and guided it up into the air where it settled right above the barn. “Bigger,” she said softly and it grew larger, causing the wind to kick up all over the yard. “Calm,” Sookie said and the funnel spread wide and thin, and was gone.

“OK, you can command at least one element,” Amunet said happily, “now, make it rain right there over that flowerbed,” she pointed to the bed in front of the garage. “Wet,” Sookie said softly and a small dark cloud gathered up in the sky and rained right over the flowerbed and the walk next to it. “OK, Sookie send the cloud up and back over the woods back there.”

Sookie pointed at it and it followed her direction backward, raining on the guard shack in back as it passed over.

“Now, Sookie, make it bigger and darker, and hit that big tree off to the right there with lightning.”

Sookie had to concentrate for a minute to make the cloud get bigger and darker and in a minute it was really storming over the woods. Sookie hesitated, and Amunet could tell something was wrong. “Sookie, you’re doing fine. How do you feel?”

“Scared. I’m afraid of lightning.”

“Don’t be afraid, Sookie. You’re in control of it. Just hit that tree and if it catches fire, you make it rain hard enough to put it out.”

Sookie took a deep breath and looked at the cloud raging over the woods. She concentrated and snapped her fingers and a bolt struck the tree with a loud CRACK! Rafael came out of the guardhouse and saw Sookie and Amunet, then looked back at the woods. He flew up over the fence and was gone for a few minutes, then flew back to where Sookie and Amunet stood. “You were aiming for the tall tree?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Direct hit, but there is no fire. It’s smoldering from the rain. You might want to let it continue a while to be sure there are no sparks.”

“Good idea,” Amunet agreed, “thank you.”

Rafael nodded, smiled at Sookie in a way that made her skin crawl, then walked back toward the guard shack.

“Alright, Sookie, find a small animal around here. What’s in the area?”

Sookie looked all around and pointed out beyond the summer kitchen. “There are rabbits in the grass out there. One mother with two babies and there’s another mom and 4, then there’s a male rabbit over toward the highway. I think there are more but they’re way back that way.

“Alright, bring the male here.”

“Should I call him so he’s here right now?”

“No, see if you can influence him to come through the fence on his own.”

“OK, let’s see,” Sookie stared at the ground a bit, picturing the rabbit in her head. She willed him to come quickly toward the fence and after about 5 minutes she said, “there, he’ll come right through those bushes.” Sure enough, a big brown buck rabbit hopped through the fence and came directly toward Sookie. The rabbit hopped in a zigzag pattern once it was half way through the yard. “He’s confused,” Sookie said, “he doesn’t want to be out in the open this way.”

“OK, Sookie, get into his head. Be the rabbit. See what he sees, feel what he feels.”

Sookie knelt down, “come on, Bunny, it’s OK,” she held out her hand and the rabbit cautiously made its way to her. Sookie stroked his ears, “he’s trembling, I don’t want to do this very long.”

“OK, get into his head and go back into the field with him. Be the bunny all the way to his hutch, then come back to your body.”

Sookie sat cross-legged on the ground and stroked the bunny, then pointed him back toward the fence. In a minute, she wasn’t Sookie anymore. Her tiny heart fluttered, her tiny paws felt around the soft grass and her powerful back legs moved her forward. She pinned back her ears and listened for sounds of predators, but heard nothing but the sounds of the field and the cars on the road in the distance. A sudden crack of thunder from back in the woods sounded and the rabbit ran bouncing through the tall grass to a safe spot burrowed into some weeds near a scrub raspberry bush. Sookie snuggled into the little soft spot and the rabbit went to sleep.

Amunet waited a long while before she spoke to Sookie. “Sookie? Time to come back now,” she said softly. Sookie jumped just a little and you could almost literally see her snap back into herself. “Wow!” was all she could say.

“What’s it like being a rabbit?”

“Scary, but comfy once you’re in your little hole,” she laughed softly as Amunet helped her stand.

“OK, now we’re going to see if you can conjure an animal.”

“Like, create one out of nothing?”

“Yes.”

“How will we know I didn’t just call it in from the field.”

“You’re going to conjure a baby dragon.”

“What?”

“I want you to conjure a small dragon, right there.”

“Is there any such thing?”

“Only one way to find out. Put a little dragon right there.”

Sookie thought for a minute then she knelt down on one knee. She held her hands in front of her, as if there was an invisible ball in them, and she focused her intention between them. Before too long there was a glow between her hands that grew more solid as she moved to set it on the ground. She spread her hands slowly and the glow became denser, darker, and at once she stood up and back and there was a small reptile with wings! It was about 4 feet tall, scaly and dark green everywhere, except its sort of smooth yellow belly, with spiny bone-like protrusions aligned down its back. It stood on its stout hind legs and had smaller arms that it could use almost like hands. Its wings were leathery and bat-like and it let out a small sound Sookie had never heard before, though later she realized it sounded like a Wookie from Star Wars.

“DWADON!” Alex yelled, jumping up and down in Amelia’s lap. Bjorn and Jerry were frozen, not believing their eyes. Sookie was in shock, but it looked at her and cried out and Amunet said, “give it some food, Sookie!”

“Like what?”

“Fish, put some trout right in front of it and see if it eats.”

Sookie pointed at the ground and said “fish,” and there were three big trout flopping on the ground. The little creature leaned down and picked a fish up in a sharp claw and into its mouth it went with two chomps and down his gullet. The dragon sort of growled, sort of purred, and sniffed the other two fish. The second was soon in its sharp teeth, then the dragon threw its head back and swallowed. Number three was chomped in half before the dragon picked it all the way up, but in no time there was nothing left of it, either. The dragon smacked and licked his chops with a serpent’s forked tongue as Sookie said, “OK, now what do we do.”

“Send it back where it came from.”

“I don’t know where it came from.”

“You don’t need to know – send it back.”

Sookie pointed at the thing as it looked at her curiously, and said “go back” with all her intention. There was a flash and a shimmer, but the dragon remained. “It’s still there!”

“So I see. Try again.”

Sookie sent all of her power into her hands and the dragon shimmered and looked like a negative for a brief second, then it shimmered and became solid again. “OK, what do I do?”

“I have no idea.”

“What?” Sookie asked as the baby dragon cried again.

“I didn’t think you could do it. I have no idea where to put it now that you did.”

“HUH?”

The dragon let out a weird shriek and ran straight toward the pool, diving in before anyone could react. “Amunet, there’s a dragon in my pool!”

“I know,” Amunet laughed, “You might have to call in your Goddess for this one. Let’s try a few other things in the mean time.”

“But…”

“He’s not hurting anything, Sookie. Call your little journal out to you.”

“Book and pen,” Sookie said in a daze and they appeared in her hand.

“Alright, send them back in on the kitchen table.”

“Can I send?”

“Why not? Do it.”

Sookie said, “kitchen table,” and the book disappeared.

“Can someone run in and see if the book is on the table now?”

“I will,” Jerry said, running toward the house, staring into the pool as he walked past it.

“Sthimmeen wif dwadon, Mamee!”

“No, you can’t swim with the dragon! He might eat little boys!”

“Sookie, turn invisible.”

“What?”

“Turn invisible.” Amunet stepped forward, “sneak around behind Bjorn and scare him,” she whispered very softly in Sookie’s ear.

“Fuck it, INVISIBLE!” Sookie said and she was gone.

“What the hell!” Bjorn cried out. “Is she still here? Or did she teleport? I need to know where she is!”

“Look behind you,” Amunet laughed.

“Hey!” Sookie said as she appeared at his shoulder. Bjorn jumped half a foot. “Were you here the whole time?”

“Yeah, I walked right up to you. Couldn’t you smell me?”

“No, it’s as if you were just gone.”

“That’s good, right?”

“Yes, I suppose, but damn, Sookie!”

“OK, now you know she can do it, the question is how long can she maintain it. You’ll have to work with her to see how long she can go,” Amunet told him, still laughing.

“Yes, we will,” Bjorn said, his head spinning, not the least of his worries the four-foot reptile swimming in his boss’s pool. “So that’s a real, live dragon, right? It’s not an illusion? Or a spirit?”

“No, it’s real,” Sookie said, “I’m sure of that, but for some reason, it won’t go back.”

“OK, has your magick ever not worked before?” Bjorn really needed to know what they were going to do with a baby dragon.

“Yeah, the other morning I couldn’t get into my body, but it turned out that was because I needed to find the intruder.”

“OK, what’s the reason it won’t work now?”

“Good question.”

“What did you do the other morning?”

“I went to my circle and asked Freyja what to do.”

“Jerry’s already in the house. Take him down with you real quick and ask Her what to do with the dragon. I need an answer before Eric gets up.”

“Eric won’t be mad at you…”

“Sookie, I stood here and watched you do magick we didn’t know how to resolve because I didn’t think there was any such thing as dragons. I’m supposed to be protecting you – I should have stepped in.”

“It’s not your fault, Bjorn, but I’ll run in and take Jerry with me. Watch the boys closely because Alex wants to swim with him.”

“OK, go on.”

Sookie kicked it into Superhuman speed and ran down to her magick room, grabbing Jerry from the kitchen where he was explaining to an amused Margaret why a book and pen appeared on the table while she and Alicia were sitting at it.

She closed the door and saw that her scrying mirror was still in the circle of salt, which she refreshed by doing her “thrice-around” thing with her athame. She knelt to the mirror and said, “Freyja, my Goddess, I need you again!”

Freyja appeared before Sookie laughing. “I see your family has grown, My Angel!”

“The dragon, you mean?”

“Yes, of course! Do the boys like it?”

“Yes, but couldn’t it hurt them?”

“It could, but it won’t. I’ve seen to that.”

“You… how did you do that? I didn’t even know…”

“I knew, Sookie. You need him!”

“I NEED a dragon?”

“Well, more precisely, the boys do, but you do, too. They make wonderful pets. They’re very, very intelligent. He’ll help the guards keep an eye on the place and they can see spirits, like daemons who are out of their bodies or Fae who think they can sneak in on you. He’ll be better than 20 watch dogs, I promise.”

“But I don’t know anything about taking care of a dragon!”

“You haven’t spent any time with the book Nivian sent you, have you?”

“No, there hasn’t been time.”

“Make time. You need to describe the Wiccaning, and what happened when you and Eric made your daughter. It will be important to her future. Toward the back of the book you’ll find everything you need to know about the care and feeding of a pet dragon.”

“You’re joking?’

“Not at all. Make him a pen in the summer kitchen and put him in there if there are humans around. The rest of the time, let him run in the yard and swim in the pool. He won’t hurt the babies, and that one is housebroken.”

“I should let him in the house?”

Freyja cracked up, “of course not, Sookie, at least not past the den, I just meant he won’t foul the pool. Teach him where you want him to go. Humans call it “paper-training.”

“Oh… OK. Where did he come from?”

“Let’s just say he’s a gift from a Friend. If you really can’t handle him, we can send him to Elfyria, but I want you to give it a try for the boys. What will you name him?”

“Shouldn’t you know that, too?”

“Of course, Sookie, but it is your choice.”

“Can he breath fire?”

“No, not at this stage – he’s just a baby.”

“When will he be grown?”

“Fully grown – a century or so, but he’ll stay cuddly for 50 or 60 years, and you can always make him bigger or smaller for short periods of time, so he can travel with you. By the time he becomes a real problem, Eric Auberon will have taken him back to the H’Eloise home.”

“OK, I have to ask this – You know the future, right?”

“In some cases, yes, but not all.”

“So You know most of what I’m going to do?”

“Yes, but not necessarily how or why you will do it.”

“So why don’t You just tell me up front and be done with it?”

Freyja howled with laughter, “Sookie, you are so funny. This is why Eric loves you so much – you are delightful! The future is fluid, My Angel, and the very act of telling you the future, changes the future, like butterfly wings creating storms. We have to go slowly and let things unfold naturally. You’re still thinking like a human, Sookie, but you no longer are.”

“If I died right now, would I die or become a Goddess?”

“You won’t die right now, Sookie, that is all I can tell you.”

“So this dragon is a pet? Can I pet him without getting bitten?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t instantly bond with you. Don’t bother him when he is eating, but that would be true of any animal. Pay attention to him, Sookie. He could save your life if you let him.”

“But…”

She was gone. Sookie wondered why She was back to disappearing when she still had more questions, and her mind quickly told her there WAS a reason she’d find out later. Sookie took a deep breath and puffed out her cheeks, exhaling and holding her hands out. “My Book!” She was instantly holding the book that Nivian sent her and she flipped toward the back of the book. Just as Freyja promised, there were pages called “The Care and Feeding of Dragon Whelps.” Sookie skimmed the pages – give them a cool, dark place to nest; put straw on the floor; remember that they’re naturally shy of strangers, especially humans, and that they can see spirits and things that humans cannot. They like to swim and bask in the sun; need access to fresh water; and you should feed them twice a day but never give them access to unlimited food; they only eat fish, meat or fowl; they’re natural hunters but won’t if they have steady access to food. It is possible for a competent magician to make them smaller or larger for ease of movement or concealment except on the Dark Moon.

“The Dark Moon,” Sookie thought as she walked out of her circle and opened the door.

“Find out anything?”

“Yeah, we’ve got a pet dragon,” she told him as they headed back through the basement.

“You’re keeping him?” Jerry couldn’t believe his ears.

“Yep – Freyja said I need him around and its good for the boys.”

“You need him?”

“Yeah, he can see spirits and sneaky Fae and stuff like that.”

“How is Eric going to feel about that?”

“How am I going to feel about what?” Eric said, right behind them on the steps.

“Hi, Sweetie!” Sookie waited at the top step for a hug and a kiss, handing her book to Jerry so her hands were free.

“Hi,” he stayed on a lower step so they were face to face as he kissed her. “What do you need to tell me?”

“We have a new pet.”

“According to whom?” Eric didn’t think that was a decision that should be made by anyone but himself.

“Freyja. She says we need him.”

“Freyja says we need a … what? A dog?”

“No, a dragon.”

Eric just looked at her. “Are you telling me that…?”

“There’s a dragon in the pool – or at least the back yard. He was in the pool when I came in here.”

“Show me.” Eric motioned for her to go forward and Sookie walked through the pantry, taking her book back from Jerry as they moved through the kitchen. The three of them went out the back, where everyone else had migrated to the chairs around the pool to watch the dragon.

“How’s he doing?” Sookie asked as they approached the others.

“He’s still swimming, but I think he wants to come out,” Amunet explained. “What are you going to do about him?”

“We’re supposed to keep him,” Sookie shrugged as she laid her book on a table next to Bobbie and Aubie.

“Mama! Dahban!” Aubie said to Sookie, waving his little arms.

“Yeah, that’s a dragon, isn’t it?” Sookie bent and kissed his head, but let Bobbie hold onto him. Eric was standing at the side of the pool, trying to absorb the idea of a dragon in Shreveport, trying to remember when was the last time he saw one. “Amelia, hang on to Alex,” because he was beside himself watching the thing swim in his pool. Sookie walked to the end of the pool where the steps were and said “fish!” so she was holding another trout. “Come on, Puff! Come on, Baby!”

The dragon made its Wookie sound and swam toward Sookie, finding the steps. It walked on all fours as it came out, hesitating as it got close to Sookie, sniffing at the fish she offered him, finally sitting back on the concrete and holding its mouth open like a baby bird. Sookie dropped the fish into its mouth and stood still while he gobbled it down, then waited to see what he did next. He looked at her with big sad eyes, and Sookie felt like he was scared. She slowly held her hand out and the dragon lowered its head, letting her pet him as she spoke to him.

“It’s OK, nobody is going to hurt you. I’m going to call you Puff, OK?” The dragon did that growl/purr thing it did when it ate earlier and Sookie realized that was a sound of pleasure. She was just getting comfortable with him when he decided to dry his wings. With a big flapping motion he sprayed water everywhere. Sookie backed up instinctively, but laughed at getting splashed and the dragon looked at her curiously, not knowing what that sound meant. She realized she startled him, too, so she soothed him, “it’s OK, Puff, that’s a good boy.”

The dragon stretched and settled down on its haunches, and Sookie knew he was feeling safe, so she turned back to her friends. “OK, everybody, his name is Puff and Freyja says he won’t hurt anybody as long as we don’t bother him when he’s feeding. We need a few bales of hay to make him a bed in the summer kitchen and we’ll need to clear a space for him. He eats about any kind of meat. We’re to feed him twice a day, and never give him access to unlimited food…”

“Why not?” Bobbie asked

“The book doesn’t say, but I assume it’s because he’ll founder if we don’t limit him. Also, feeding him regularly should keep him from hunting. He’s going to be a watch dragon – he can see spirits and Fae and Daemons who might try to sneak in so if he reacts to something, pay attention, even if you can’t see what it is.”

“He is not a danger to my sons?” Eric wasn’t crazy about this idea.

“Freyja says not. If you’re worried, go talk to Her. She says we need him around and that it will be good for the boys. She thinks eventually Aubie will take him to Elfyria, and if we really can’t handle him, we can send him now, but She wants us to try.”

“How did it get here?”

“That’s my fault…” Amunet said as she played with her pearls and watched the baby reptile with sheer fascination.

“You brought it?”

“No, Sookie was trying to do different things I suggested, all of which she did successfully, so I was trying to think of something she wouldn’t be able to do, but she did.”

“You told her to call a dragon?”

“To conjure a dragon, to be exact, but naturally, I didn’t think there was such a thing…”

“…But there is and I couldn’t send him back,” Sookie took it from there.

“‘Let me be clear – you’ve spoken to Freyja about this?”

“Yes, and She told me where in my book to find instructions to care for him.”

“Whose idea was it to keep him in the summer kitchen?” he asked as Sookie opened her book and turned to the relevant pages to show him.

“Freyja’s.”

“Alright,” he said as he read the pages quickly, “it defies logic, but I trust Freyja and I trust you, Sookie, so we will try it. Bjorn, where do we get hay or straw to make his nest?”

“Well, we only probably need about three bales, so I’d say we should check that horse farm outside of town and see if they can spare any.”

“They wouldn’t have Vampire hours, would they?”

“It’s not that late – want me to run out there and see if they can spare some?” Jerry offered

“Yes, I do. Take the truck and at least one other Were and one Daemon with you.”

“Yes, sir,” Jerry headed for the guard shack to get the men he needed and head out.

“Bjorn, are the gardener’s boys still here?”

“No, they’re not, but I can call Cody in and we can clear a space for him.”

“I don’t want you tied up with this. Call two men and tell them we need room for an animal the size of a very large dog.”

“We also need to find some newspapers – he needs paper training,” Sookie said.

“This was not in your book?” Eric asked, still unsure of the whole situation.

“No, Freyja said to paper-train him so he knows where we want him to go. She says they’re very, very intelligent.”

“Let’s hope,” Eric said, watching the dragon carefully as it sniffed around and moved toward Bobbie and Aubie. “I find it hard to believe that it is safe to have him around the babies…” he said with concern as he watched the creature sniff at Aubie, who showed no fear of it, reaching out with his little hand. The creature lowered its head so Aubie could pet him and it made that purring sound Sookie was growing used to already. Aubie giggled and kicked and the dragon sat back on its haunches and watched Aubie for a few minutes. Bobbie got brave and reached for its little claw and sort of shook its hand, which the dragon seemed to like.

Prince Badru was walking in from the chalet with Bill and Pam and the dragon quickly took a defensive position in front of Sookie and gave out a Wookie bark of warning.

“He’s already protecting you, Sookie,” Amelia said with delight. Alex was still wanting to get at the dragon, but it was distracted by the people approaching.

“Yeah, he is, isn’t he? It’s OK, Puff. They’re OK.” Sookie petted his head as he sat upright on his haunches, gently placing one forward claw on Sookie’s arm to show he was protecting her.

Seeing the creature, all three Vampires hesitated to come any closer than the front of the HQ.

“Eric, what is that thing?” Bill called to him.

“It’s Sookie’s new dragon – he’s apparently very protective of her already.” Seeing the little creature defend Sookie that way softened Eric’s opinion of it. If it could be trained to look out for her and for the boys that way, maybe it would be a good thing to have around when they’re playing outside.

“Is it real?” Pam asked, not sure whether to be amused or not.

“Yes, it’s quite real. We’re all just learning about it.”

Sookie spoke softly to it and petted its head, which nuzzled her waist as it purred. “It’s OK, Puffy – they’re friends. Yeah, those are friends so be nice to them, alright? That’s a good boy!”

“MAMEE!”

“Yes, Alex?”

“Me dwadon!”

“OK, come on, Puffy,” Sookie took its little claw in her hand and led it over to Alex and Amelia, finding it was able to walk very slowly on its hind legs – for speed he’d have to go down on all fours. When they were right in front of them Sookie said, “Stay right here, Puff.” She took Alex from Amelia and let the dragon see her snuggle and kiss him, then she held Alex down so he could touch the creature’s head. Puff held his head very still, sensing that this was Sookie’s whelp, like the other one, which he recognized as hers because they smelled different from the rest of these creatures that surrounded them. He already knew that the ones with the sweet scent were the ones he cared about, since she was the one with the food and the others seemed to answer to her, too – Puff knew a Goddess when he saw one. Dragons, like snakes, smell with their tongues and Puff flicked his tongue out to memorize Alex’s scent, tickling his hand and making him giggle. Puffy liked that sound, and he liked this place, though the water was a little bitter compared to home.

“Excuse me, Mr. Northman – OH MY GOODNESS!” Alicia got a surprise as she came out the door.

“It’s OK, Alicia,” Sookie assured her, “he’s friendly. His name is Puff!”

“Puff the magick dragon?” she laughed.

“Yeah, exactly. Think of him as a bigger, smarter guard dog.”

“OK… I was just coming to tell you that dinner is ready when you are.”

“Oh… Eric, do you think he’ll be OK if we go in and leave him alone?”

“You’re going to do it sooner or later, Sookie. The sooner you do, the sooner he learns that you can go and come back.”

The dragon barked a little and nodded toward the pool. “You want to swim, Puffy? That’s good. You go swim and I’ll see you after supper.” Sookie petted his head and and he was in the pool with one big bounce and a splash.

“Eric, may I speak to you, please?” Prince Badru, who was enjoying the show, asked politely.

“Yes, Badru, will you join us for dinner? I usually sit with the others and have an RM.”

“Perhaps another time. I’m afraid we need to leave very soon to make our connecting flight. We’ll be seeing you in Austin on Saturday next, and our wives can explore their powers some more.”

“Wonderful! Let me walk you to the car,” Eric pointed the way as he and Badru headed for the barn. Amunet jumped up and kissed Sookie.

“Oh, I’m going to miss you, Amunet! We hardly got to talk.”

“I’ll see you in a week and maybe between now and then I’ll come up with something you can’t do!” Amunet teased her. “Make sure you check your email every day so we can stay in touch,” she called back as she ran to catch up with Badru.

Alex, still in Sookie’s arms, grabbed her chin and made her look right in his eyes. “Undwy, Mamee!”

“OK, Sweetie, we’re going in. Let’s see what Margaret has for us.”

“Obee undwy, Mamee!”

“Say “Aubie is hungry, too, Mommy.”

“Obee ith undwy doo, Mamee.”

“Good! Tell Aubie “come eat dinner, Aubie!”

“Gum ee dinder, Obee!”

“Um, Bumby!” Aubie tried to answer as Bobbie stood up with him and they all went inside.

Margaret had outdone herself – fried chicken, home made mashed potatoes, green beans, coleslaw, corn bread, and a platter of green onions, tomatoes and cucumber spears. The girls were all chatting with Pam and Bill when Bjorn and Eric came in from showing the other guards where to clear a spot in a back room of the summer kitchen. The babies were both tickled when Eric came in, yelling “Dadee” and “Dada,” wanting his attention. Eric was determined not to let the others know he was a puddle of goo inside, so he put on a big front.

“I see two very good, very hungry boys!”

“They’re waiting for you to feed them, Daddy,” Sookie teased him. She knew he was mush inside when the boys made a fuss for him that way because the bond was oozing with love.

Margaret sat little dishes on each boy’s tray and Alex said, “taytosth!” with great enthusiasm. Aubie looked at Alex with surprise, not knowing what the fuss was about, but sure it was something good. “Dadee, Obee ee taytosth.”

“Alex,” Sookie told him, “say “Daddy, please feed Aubie potatoes.””

“Dadee, pweezth peed Obee taytosth.”

“Alright, my son, let’s see if your brother likes them as much as you do.” He gave Aubie a big bite and Aubie hummed with delight.

“Obee wyg dat!”

“Ah!”

“Apparently, he does,” Eric laughed. “Auberon, want more? More potatoes?”

“MO-ah!”

“Good, Aubie!” Sookie loved hearing him use a new word.

“Yes, that’s very good, my little elf!” Eric rubbed his little cheek, then turned to Alex, taking his little spoon and scooping some potatoes off his chin and back into his mouth. “So what is everyone’s plan for tonight? Pam?”

“Bill and I were going to go to Fangtasia if we are not needed here.”

“Good idea. We’ll be on the road every night this week.”

“Have you given any more thought to what we had discussed, Eric?”

“Yes, but Sookie and I have not discussed it yet.”

“What?”

“If I may,” Bill looked at Eric, who nodded that he could continue, “you know we had a mini-tour of the Louisiana Territories planned for this week so Eric’s subjects can pledge fealty, or discuss any administrative or legal problems they might have…”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“We were thinking, given your condition and the fact that you have so much travel coming up, that it might be better for Eric and I to travel with a small group of guards and you and your Witches would have your evenings free. It will give you more time to rest and it won’t put such stress on you and the boys.”

“I don’t know…” Sookie wasn’t sure she liked the idea of them being apart.

“Most of the destinations are bars, or casinos, Sookie, and you’d have to entertain the boys in less than ideal circumstances. I’ll be home by 2 AM every night and we’d still have our time together then. It would give you time to work on your Book of Shadows, too.”

“Yeah, I do need to do that…”

“I’d be perfectly safe, Sookie – I’d take Vincent and Jerry, plus 2 Weres, a flier and a Daemon. You’d be safe here with Bjorn and the rest of the staff, you’d have time to work on your book and catch up on your sleep.”

“Um…”

“Think about it for a bit and we’ll talk about it again later, alright?”

“Yeah. What if Bjorn went with you and Jerry stayed here?”

“Bjorn is most skilled in hand to hand combat, Sweetheart, I think he should stay with you and the boys.”

“Yeah…. Yeah, I guess.”

“I know you want to keep us together, Sookie, but do you really want to drag the babies into four bars in one week?”

“Well, if you put it that way, I guess not.”

“Eric will be perfectly safe, Sookie, and he won’t have to keep one eye focused on the three of you,” Bill said, trying to help Eric make Sookie see reason.

Sookie puffed her cheeks out again. “OK, I guess I do need to rest as much as I can this early on and it would be better not to drag the boys all over Louisiana when we don’t absolutely have to. And, you’re right, I do need to work on my book before I forget things.”

“Good. It will also give Bobbie time to work on your massages more. You haven’t been keeping up with them, and it will be important for you as time goes by.”

“Yeah, you’re not kidding. I was blessed to have you around the first time, Bobbie!”

“This one is so soon after, too,” Bobbie said, “so we want to make sure you’re as relaxed and well-rested as possible.”

Jerry came in the back door then, two guards following him to pick up their dinner.

“Jerry – how did it go?”

“We’ve got six bales of hay in the summer kitchen and one of the guys is making it a nest and getting it water.”

“Alright, Sookie, when you are finished I think you should tuck your little friend in for the night so he knows he’s safe. You might want to leave him a little snack, too, since we don’t know how much to feed him yet,” Eric told her.

“I’m done – can I do it now, while you finish feeding the boys?”

“Good idea.”

“I’ll go with you, Sookie,” Bjorn said, getting up to follow her.

“Finish your dinner, Bjorn!” Sookie urged him, but he said, “I’m finished, Sookie, let’s check on your dragon.”

Puff was rolling in the grass when they went back out, but he jumped up when he saw Sookie and zipped over to her.

“Hi, Puffy! Come on, I’m going to show you where you can sleep, OK? Come on,” she motioned to him and he followed her. Bjorn was just shaking his head because that girl could charm anything. The guard who’d been spreading hay around motioned for her to come in the back door of the little house, holding the door open for Sookie as she walked in. Puff hesitated at the door, looking around, but Sookie made a small pile of fish appear and he walked forward. He sniffed around at the straw, then lay down in it and wallowed around. “OK, Puffy, I’ll see you in the morning, OK?” She patted his head then went back out the screen door and let it close gently.

“That door will open if he wants to get out, your Majesty. Do you want us to lock it?”

“No, let him roam around if he wants, just make sure if he goes out, he can get back in. Also, please make sure he stays on the property – we don’t want to scare anyone. If there’s a problem, call Eric – he’ll be up until dawn, so you won’t bother him.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“OK, thanks!” Sookie said and she bounced back toward the house, Bjorn lagging behind a little, not too sure about having a strange creature that was free to roam around the grounds if he wanted to. He just kept telling himself that Freyja thought this was a good idea and then he laughed when he realized Eric was thinking the same thing. He just wondered what benefit that thing could possibly give them.

When she got back to the kitchen, Eric had Aubie out of his chair, raising him up over his head and down, growling and making him giggle, while Alex was chowing down on another helping of potatoes. Alex would laugh and let potatoes drip down his chin, then try to push the stuff back into his mouth with his fingers, so he was covered hand to elbow with potatoes. Margaret had been headed for him with a wet washcloth, which she handed to Sookie as she got back.

“Alex, Sweetie, you’re a mess! You’re supposed to eat your potatoes, not swim in them!”

“Me sthimmeen in taytosth!” He laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world. Sookie kissed his head and washed him off as Eric snuggled Aubie with a big smile on his face, looking forward to a quiet night with his family.

 

 

 

 

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