LATE Chapter 107

 

The Fae Realm

 

Sookie woke up naked on the white mink bedspread looking up into a nearly starless sky, rain gently falling on the glass above her. Had she dreamed? Where were the boys? The room was pitch black but she could hear water running somewhere. Wherever it was, she hoped it was alright, because she was too tired to move. She had that “no bones” feeling she always got after an orgasm with Eric. She laughed a little to herself because she realized she’d now had enough orgasms with other people to know that it was only Eric that could reduce her to jelly. “He’s a “magick man,” she laughed to herself, remembering that old Heart song that’s still on the radio all the time.

She ran her hands over her body, enjoying the softness of her skin. Mmmm – she felt cozy and sexy and well-loved – and not a little naughty, she giggled. If someone had asked her ahead of time, she knew she would have balked at the idea of sexy time with two women, but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world when it happened and she just went with it. This was one of those nights when the bond was so awesome – Eric knew how she was feeling every second, and helped her let go and be herself instead of what she was trained to be by her environment.

“My Lover, you are very pleased with yourself,” Eric whispered as he sat on the bed next to her.

“I am very pleased with YOU,” she laughed, not even opening her eyes. “Are the boys in the co-sleeper behind me?

“Of course – you want me to bring the lights up? I forget that you can’t see in the dark.”

“I’ll be able to soon, but yeah, I need a little light now.”

“Ambient ON!” he said and the little lights in the ceiling above the bed twinkled. Sookie leaned toward him and kissed his lips, then rolled over just to look at the boys and see they were sleeping peacefully, then she rolled back into Eric’s arms.

“Do I hear water running?”

“Yes, I thought we’d have a bath before we go to rest – unless you aren’t up to it?”

“That sounds like a good idea. You’ll have to help me – I’m a pile of jelly at the moment,” she laughed as he scooped her up and carried her to the tub that was piled high with bubbles and full of water just a little warmer than her skin. As he let her down in the water, she said, “I’m glad you remembered not to make the water too warm.”

“Yes, I’m afraid I wasn’t thinking of her as I should have been earlier. I was a little rough with you,” he said as he settled into the water next to her.

“No, you weren’t. It was wild and fun, but I’ve had so much of your blood at this point that I don’t think you could hurt me if you tried.”

“You are becoming very strong, my Angel,” he agreed as she snuggled up against his chest. “Your strength surprises even me at times.”

“I wasn’t as out of it earlier as I seemed, either. I mean, I know I was kind of trippy, but I knew you were looking out for me so I just let go.”

“That’s exactly as I hoped you’d do,” he whispered as he kissed her forehead and stroked her hair.

“Yeah, of course. I know you’d never let anyone hurt me. One thing I don’t remember, though – where was Badru during all of this?”

“He had an urgent call so he left before things got interesting. I would not have let things progress if he had been there.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have been into that. I don’t completely trust him.”

“Neither do I. Also, I think you should be careful about how much you tell Amunet about the source of your abilities.”

“I wondered if you interrupted us in the ladies’ room on purpose.”

“Yes – I know she knows you are a direct incarnation, but if she doesn’t know you are literally becoming a Goddess, let’s keep that to ourselves.”

“OK, if you think it’s important.”

“It is. I’m pretty sure that Amunet’s feelings for you are genuine, but when I looked at Badru tonight, I saw a bit of a glow around him – a little stronger than the one I saw around Herveaux when we all met before the Wiccaning. He won’t make an enemy of us just yet, but he has his own agenda that we need to remember. Should his goals lie at odds to ours, he’ll pursue his own best interest.”

“Yeah, I agree. Hey, weren’t we supposed to go home tonight?”

“There were storm warnings so we’re staying until tomorrow night. Badru and Amunet will come back to the New Orleans club with us and stay a few days.”

“Oh, good. Maybe we can practice my magick!”

“That’s what I had hoped. You can still learn a lot from her.”

“It’ll be nice to have company for a few days. Maybe we can go dancing at the club in New Orleans, too?”

“If you’d like, we can do that any time. Also, feel free to show off the skills of the chef at the club and the other facilities. I think Amunet is even planning to swim with you if the weather permits.”

“Oh – fun!” Sookie said as she snuggled into his neck. “You better wash my hair soon – I’m fading fast!” and to emphasize her point, she let out a huge yawn. They washed each other’s hair and soaped and rinsed each other and before long Sookie was tucked into her bed wearing nothing but Chanel No. 5 body lotion, wrapped in Eric’s arms as he fluffed her hair to help it dry nicely. She was sound asleep when the boys woke up for their bottle with Dadee and Eric closed the shutter system so he didn’t have to rush the boys to finish. He took the time to read to Alex and Aubie from the “pish” book, per Alex’s request. Eric had to stifle a laugh when Sookie woke and giggled at Alex coaching Aubie “Woogie, Obee, won doo fee fo fie pish!” and Aubie trying to copy him, “un doo pith!” Bjorn came up the stairs as Eric tucked the boys back in next to Sookie, who was back to sleep already.

“Your majesty – are you staying up today?”

“Is it that cloudy?”

“Yeah, you could probably get away with it, especially with the shutters down. Sookie has been wondering why you don’t stay in bed at the clubs.”

“She has?”

“Her exact words were “we’re all alone in the world up here – how much safer is life going to get?” Bjorn laughed and Eric nodded, picturing exactly the way she’d say that.

“Do I dare?”

“Nobody will get up here that could do you any harm. It would mean a lot to her.”

“Alright. I’ll lock the shutter system so it can’t be opened and I’ll stay with her.”

Eric opened a control panel in the wall between the closet and the tub and locked the system so it couldn’t be opened accidentally while he rested, then he slid back into the bed next to Sookie. She stirred a little to let him get his arm under her head and she said sleepily, “I thought you would be in your box now?”

“I thought I’d stay in the bed today and we can cuddle and listen to the rain on the roof.”

“Oh, goodie!” she said girlishly, pulling his arm over her and wrapping her arms around it, bringing his hand up so she could kiss it.

“Sleep well, my Angel,” he whispered in her ear as they both fell into a pleasant sleep, lulled by the gentle sounds of the rain on the glass.

“Milady, are you—OH, MY!”

Sookie sat bolt upright and found that she and Eric were in Titania’s bed, Eric sleeping on his usual side so he was between Sookie and Maddie.

“Hey, Maddie!” Sookie said a little loudly, panicking a little more than was really warranted.

“Maddie?” Eric asked sleepily and opened his eyes.

“So nice to see you back, Sir.”

“How did we get here?” Eric asked, stretching a little and acting like this happened every day.

“I was holding your arm when I fell asleep, Sweetie,” Sookie was being apologetic, which Eric found charming though unnecessary.

“Can you bring breakfast in an hour as usual, please, Maddie?” Eric asked, just as he used to, pulling Sookie back down to him.

“As you wish, Sire,” Maddie said with a wink and was out the door before Sookie could react.

“Huh? “As usual?”” Sookie’s brain wasn’t putting it all together yet.

“Sookie, you know I lived here briefly, yes?” Eric said as he moved over her, kissing his way slowly and gently from her ear to her left nipple.

“Uh, yeah…” Sookie sighed, letting herself sink back into a deeply relaxed, but aroused, state.

Eric spoke softly as his hand explored her, “Well, in those days, Maddie would wake us and I’d ask her to come back with breakfast in an hour, so….”

“So you could bang my great grandma?” Sookie said and cracked up, purposely being crude for comic effect.

Eric was shocked, and laughed, then bit her shoulder, “I prefer to think of it as you, Sookie.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to see how you’d react if I said that. So we’ve got an hour to fool around before I have to face my day here?”

“Exactly,” he purred, the last word spoken for the next 57 minutes. Sookie closed her eyes and went with the wave of love and lust that flowed from him all around her. In the back of her mind, she realized this was the first time they’d ever had sex in the morning, because here Eric could be awake in the day. That was a distinct advantage to the Fae realm, Sookie realized, and made being here seem a much more appealing prospect. Still not quite awake, Eric’s touch was soft, sensual and strangely warm in a way Sookie couldn’t remember ever feeling before. Is this what it felt like to sleep with a human? Her mind floated back to her night in Fangtasia’s basement with Eric and Bjorn. That was the first time she’d felt heat from a sex partner’s body, but it was different than this feeling. That was burning, smoldering. This was warm as in “you’re home and you’re safe now” but it was an actual, physical thing. It wouldn’t take much for Sookie to cry right now, but they would be tears of joy. She heard Eric think that he wanted to distract her so she purred a little to let him know she was paying attention. She loved the closeness they were developing by hearing each other’s thoughts. It never felt invasive any more, it felt exactly the way Sookie thought love should feel.

Sookie stopped thinking then and pushed Eric on his back, straddling him with a giggle as she kissed his nose then got down to business. This canopied bed was on a solid platform so they were able to really get wild without causing it to shake or creak like a normal one. There was just enough down in the mattress to cushion Eric’s back without letting it hit the hard surface under, and Sookie was able to lean on her knees more steadily than ever before. They would later agree that this was an ideal surface for having sex, having the best aspects of the floor and a bed and none of the “worsts.”

Sookie finally came and fell down beside him, squealing as he tickled her playfully. “Time to get up, your Majesty!” Eric teased her and pulled her through the velvet curtains into the slightly chilly room. He held a purple velvet robe for her as she slipped into it, then walked to the fireplace naked, enjoying the play of the warmth from the hearth and the nip in the air on his skin. Sookie sat at the little breakfast table watching Eric stretch his arms above his head and turning this way and that to warm up his muscles. How could anything be so beautiful. He looked like one of those Greek or Roman statues, alabaster white, every muscle cut, stretched, toned and defined to the perfect degree, which was muscular but not body builder bulky like Bjorn – she much preferred Eric’s slimmer frame. Sookie was only a little surprised that Eric made no effort to cover himself as Maddie came in with their breakfast. White tea and thick French toast with butter, preserves, honey and maple syrup were set out before Sookie as Maddie chattered away happily.

“Oh, it’s so nice to have you both here! I can’t tell you how I’ve longed for this!” she said as she unloaded her tray and then rubbed Sookie’s back briskly with her hand. “And don’t you worry, Sire, I’ve still got some clothes here for you! Titania made me promise to be ready to receive you!” she said happily as she bustled over to a wardrobe that had a selection of clothes for each of them. In no time at all Eric was clad in a pair of tight brown breeches and a blue cotton tunic, a large, gorgeous leather belt with a large knife in a sheath and some pointy brown boots that Sookie had to stifle a giggle at because they looked decidedly not 21st Century American.

“You don’t like my boots, my Angel?” He teased her, posing and showing them off. He knew he wouldn’t wear these back home, but they suited his purpose in this world in that they were very sturdy and had a short blade concealed in the outer right seam of the right boot, the hilt of which was hidden by the wide turned-down cuff of the shaft.

The two of them ate French toast with strawberry jam, the scent of which Eric remembered from his time with Titania, though he could not taste it then without getting sick. He was buttering more toast as he asked about a large glass vessel on the table. “Sookie, this is a vase?” He pronounced it “vaahhzz” which was a little funny to Sookie.

“No, Sweetie, it’s a pitcher – a pitcher of milk.”

“Cow’s milk, yes?”

“Yes, of course! What else would it be?”

“Goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, many animals make milk – they’re called mammals.”

Sookie laughed, “Yeah, I know about mammals,” she laughed, “I guess they do use other animals’ milk, especially for making cheese. I’m pretty sure this is from a cow, though,” she laughed as she poured some into a blue goblet on the table and handed it to him. “See if you like it!”

Eric sniffed it, frowned, and drank it down. “Interesting.”

“You’ve been around when we’ve had milk before…?”

“Yes, and I’ve poured glasses of it for you per your doctor’s instructions, but I never asked about it. There are usually others around when we eat.”

“Oh – yeah, I guess so, huh?”

“Yes, of course, and I have wondered why grown humans drink milk from animals? It is intended for their infants.”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“It does not seem unappetizing to you to drink milk that is not from a human?”

“Eww – who’d want to drink human milk! I mean, yeah, babies do because that’s natural, but a person would never want to drink another person’s milk! That’s gross.”

“But fluid squeezed from the teat of a cow is not?”

“Well… I never really thought about it before. We just always drank milk. It’s supposed to be really good for you.”

“I remember mothers using animal milk when a baby had no wet nurse available, and giving cups to toddlers, but adults do not require it,” Eric replied.

“No, but most people like it.”

“Many cannot drink it – they are lactose intolerant.”

“Yeah, true, but I don’t know why some are and some aren’t. Why are you thinking about this all of a sudden?”

“I dreamt about it recently.”

“Drinking milk?”

“Drinking cow’s milk.”

“You dreamt you were drinking cow’s milk?”

“No, the children were.”

“Alex and Aubie?”

“Yes, and their sister was there, though I’m not sure of her name. That part was fuzzy.”

“How old were they?”

“It’s hard to say. They were very small, but very articulate.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. They’re learning to speak really quickly. What were they doing?”

“You poured milk for the boys as you nursed the girl, and Auberon asked why he couldn’t drink your milk anymore.”

“Oh. Was he too big, I guess?”

“I don’t know, but I know he asked where this milk came from and you said from a cow. He reacted badly.”

“Badly?”

“He threw it at you.”

“AUBIE? Threw something at me? But he’s my baby!”

“I know, it was very surprising. I thought I should tell you.”

“Your dreams usually come true!”

“Sometimes. I thought you should know there might be friction if you wean Auberon before the girl is weaned.”

“I’ll have to think about this. I can’t picture Aubie being so angry – he’s so sweet – but I can see where he might be jealous if he thought I was favoring his little sister. When did you dream this?”

“The other day. This is the first time that seemed convenient to mention it.”

“OK, well, I guess it’s good to know.”

Maddie, who had been making the bed and straightening the room turned her attention back to them. “Did you enjoy the jam? Would you like something else?”

“I’m full!” Sookie laughed, “Eric, do you want anything else.”

“I’ll need to feed later on, but that can wait until we get home.”

“Oh, OK. What’s up for today, Maddie? Sir Robert said I was needed. Is it something Eric can do with me?”

“It would be best to ask Sir Robert, Milady, but I think he wanted to take you on a tour of your Queendom. People will be wild to see you, and probably you too, Sire.”

“I’d be wild to see you if it was me, Eric,” Sookie teased him.

“I’m always wild to see you, too, Sookie,” he smiled and kissed her as Maddie cleared the table and took the tray to a girl waiting in the hall. 

Sookie followed Maddie into her closet to put her clothes on while Eric waited at the table. As soon as he was sure the women were occupied in the other room, Eric quickly and silently opened the beautiful trunk at the end of the bed. He had to remove several things to access the panel covering the false bottom, but he was pleased to see that his bronze amulet was still where he had left it. He slipped the leather cord over his head and adjusted the string and his tunic so it wasn’t visible as it hung beneath his shirt. He would tell Sookie about it later, when they were alone. Probably. There still might be a thing or two that warranted secrecy at least for a while longer. A part of him still believed, deep down, that Sookie would come to fear him when she understood him. He wanted to delay that as long as possible and this amulet’s particular powers were among those things better delayed. He could have chosen not to wear it, but truth be told, he was afraid not to be under its protection if they should encounter Niall and his band of assassins. He was at a disadvantage in this realm because he could not move in and out of it as a full Fae could and as usual he intended to tip the scales in his own favor in every possible way. You don’t live a thousand years without a strict policy of cheating when you can. This amulet was most definitely a cheat, and a dangerous one at that.

Sookie was back in a few minutes wearing a deep pink satin gown with a heart-shaped panel of lace in the bodice that left her back nearly naked. She turned in front of Eric, knowing she looked good and fishing shamelessly for a compliment.

“You look very lovely, Sookie, that color is very becoming. I do, however, wonder if the dress maker ran out of fabric for the back of the garment?” He said raising an eyebrow and pretending to disapprove.

“Too much?” She was only a little concerned. She wouldn’t have thought twice about it before but since Eric did ask her not to wear that other dress that night it did flash through her mind that he might be serious. “Seriously, is it too much?”

Eric laughed and stroked her cheek. “It’s fine, Sookie, though you can expect me to stay close to you, just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“In case anyone gets brave enough to touch your bare back.”

“It’s not really bare…”

“It’s not really not, either,”

“Bu-” She started to disagree but there was a loud knock at the door. Maddie scampered to answer it and Sookie grabbed Eric’s arm and held on because it surprised her. As cozy as this morning had been so far, it never left Sookie’s mind that Niall might come busting in after her at any second.

Maddie was relieved to see the friendly face of Sir Robert at the chamber door. “Good morning, Sir Robert!”

“Good morning, Maddie – is our Lady fit for company yet?”

“Yes, come in, Sir Robert,” Sookie said with relief, still holding on to Eric a little tighter than she needed to. Eric made note of the fact that she was nervous in this world, which was wise as long a Niall Brigant roamed free. He wanted her to be cautious, and at some point would he’d try to explain why she should never let her guard down around Faerie men. He knew that no true Fae could harm her, but the Fae concept of harm might not include rape, or the theft of the child in her womb for that matter. Fae had strange ideas that Eric didn’t completely understand, and he was less than secure in his ability to prepare Sookie for dealing with them. He only hoped her instincts would serve her when he couldn’t be with her, and he was glad he was here this day if the agenda was as he expected.

Sir Robert bowed low to Sookie as he entered the room. “Your majesty! You look lovely today!” He gave her a dazzling smile as he stood tall, making no move to acknowledge Eric.

“Sir Robert, I don’t think you’ve met my husband? This is King Eric Northman,” Sookie said enthusiastically, still holding on to Eric’s arm.

“Very pleased to meet you, Sire. Welcome back to Elfyria!” Sir Robert bowed his head slightly to Eric, his smile constant, his eyes betraying nothing about how he felt toward his Queen’s consort.

“Thank you,” Eric said stiffly, nodding his head and stretching his full height to present the most imposing figure possible. It did not escape Eric’s notice that Sir Robert had welcomed him “back.” How would Sir Robert know Eric had been here before? Did he know about Eric and Titania, and if so, how?

Sookie could hear Eric’s thoughts as he sized up Sir Robert and she squeezed his arm when he made note of the “welcome back” comment. “So, Sir Robert, do you have plans for us today?”

Sir Robert seemed delighted to redirect his attention to Sookie, “Yes, Milady, your carriage awaits! I thought we’d take a tour of your inland territories and let the neighborhood see you. The towns have been buzzing with excitement that you might ride by.”

“Oh, that sounds nice,” Sookie smiled and nodded at Eric thinking “please just go along?” at him, getting a comforting look and a warm smile in return.

Sir Robert led them down a long corridor that led to the back of the castle, bringing them out to an open air walkway that ran the length of the castle’s west side. The sunshine was brilliant though it was early, and you could hear birds chirping in the trees. Sookie thought the stone the castle was built from must contain a lot of quartz because it seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. Everything here was just a little bit hazy, like being in a dream, though Sookie knew she was wide awake.

“Out this way, Your Majesty,” Sir Robert pointed out to the west “You can see the Royal Stables. Do you ride, Milady?”

“Well, I’ve ridden a horse, but not like a trained rider. My parents liked to camp at this one place where we’d rent horses and wander through the woods with a guide.”

Eric and Sir Robert both laughed with delight at the picture of a young Sookie learning to master a horse. “If you’d ever like to try it again, Milady, we have some very fine stock from which you may choose. There’s a very pretty spotted mare that you might like – sweet tempered and steady, a perfect mount for an untrained rider.”

“Oh, that sounds nice.”

Sir Robert continued pointing out special facts about this part of the castle or that, pointing out where the kitchens were located, and the barracks that housed the Queen’s guard. At the end of the walk way there were winding stone stairs that took them down to the ground where a gorgeous black carriage with four beautiful white Welsh ponies in front. The carriage had a top which was folded down so the riders would be in the open air. Eric wasn’t thrilled with that, but he didn’t say anything, knowing Sookie wanted to make a good impression on the Fae around them. The carriage held four people, two facing front and two back, with a bench for the driver in front. Sir Robert held the door open and Eric helped Sookie step up into the carriage, then walked quickly around to the other side. Sir Robert sat opposite Sookie, facing backwards, but half turned in his seat so he could see both ways. Their procession included four individual mounted officers in front of the carriage and 12 behind, plus one officer who seemed to be in charge as he moved around the party.

“We have fancier steeds in the stables, Milady – Lipizzaners, of course – that we’ll use for your coronation, but we thought it best to use good Welsh stock for our outing today. They’re not as skittish as the fancy ones, and these are friendlier with children.”

“Children?”

“Oh, yes, the children will run out to meet us in some places. I brought bags of candy and coins you can throw to them when you want.”

“Oh, that sounds like fun!”

“I thought you might feel that way.” Sir Robert smiled at her proudly, very happy to be in service to this lovely young Queen – even if it meant dealing with her Vampire husband, though he had to admit that Eric was much easier to be around than he’d expected and was as lovely in his way as Sookie was in hers. At least he was half Fae, Robert reminded himself. He smiled to himself remembering when he first saw the whole family on the stage at the Wiccaning. They clearly adored each other and their boys were delightful as they greeted guests and played with little butterfly fairies. A slight chill ran through him as he remembered Sookie’s vows: “There will be Peace, So Help Me!”

“Sir Robert?” Sookie broke his concentration with a little laugh.

“Yes, Your Majesty?”

“You were laughing to yourself. Did I do something wrong?”

“No, of course not, Milady. I was just thinking of your sons’ dedications and how you sent a thrill through the crowd with your vows.”

Eric laughed at that. “I was very proud of Sookie that night. She was every inch a Queen.”

“I agree,” Sir Robert said warmly. Eric was becoming more comfortable with this Faerie because he seemed to genuinely admire Sookie. Eric hoped that meant he’d respect her too much to be untoward with her. He’d still keep his guard up, and encourage her to do the same, but he did relax enough to enjoy the beautiful view as they approached the top of a gently sloping hill.

The cart moved easily through the orchards and lanes that lay in front of the castle, gradually moving upward toward another small hill. Sookie was taking it all in with wide eyes, enjoying the scent of the woods and the fields as they passed, waving at the men working with hay or the women spinning wool on their front porches. They passed a small lake where some Fae children were diving off a wooden dock into the water, slogging back up to the shore, then running down the dock to jump again. There were three little red-haired girls sitting on quilts with some picnic baskets who called attention to the small procession.

“The Queen! Everybody, look, it’s Queen Sookie!” The tallest girl, only about 3 feet tall, jumped up and ran to a small bridge that went over the far end of the lake down to the road where the carriage would pass, her sisters following as quickly as they could. Two of the boys flew up out of the water, water dripping from their little wings, while others scrambled to the shore or swam toward the shore near the carriage. The girls were wearing flowered frocks in pastels of pink, green and blue, the tops of which were like the top of a pair of over-alls, buttoned at each shoulder, leaving their white little arms bear. The boys were mostly wearing cut-off pants to swim, though a couple of them were completely naked and apparently had no qualms about showing it.

“Oh, look how sweet!” Sookie said, excited to see the children running across the bridge and climbing out of the water to greet them.

“Hazzah! Queen Sookie! Hazzah!” the flying boys laughed and waved, invoking some high pitched chattering from the far woods. As the larger children reached the road, a colorful spiral swarm of butterfly wings swooped toward the carriage from the woods, still chattering, dropping wild flowers on the ground and the water beneath them.

“Ohh, look!” a dark haired boy with wings called to the others, “King Eric Is with her!”

“King Eric?” the girls squealed almost in unison, jumping and waving as the carriage reached them. “Hazzah, it’s the King! Hail, Queen Sookie, Hail the Vampire King!”

“Good morning, everyone!” Sookie was tickled pink at their reactions. Her fear that they’d dislike Eric was obviously needless – the girls acted like they were meeting a rock star, and the boys presented him with small wreaths of ivy they made from a patch near the woods.

Sir Robert was very pleased that the children made a good show for Sookie, and they did shower her with gleeful adoration, and wild flowers, and questions as she talked with them. They were breathless as they pelted her with questions too quick to answer:

“Queen Sookie, do you swim?”

“Do you like Elfyria?”

“Where’s Aubie? And Alex!”

“Can you really fight with a sword, Milady?”

“You’re so beautiful! Your hair is like corn silk!”

“Where are the babies! Will Auberon and Alexander visit us soon? Please, please?”

“Oh, yes! They must! Bring them for a picnic and we’ll show them all the best raspberry and mulberry bushes!

“King Eric, can you fly? Where is your sword?”

“My mommy is already sewing our dresses for your coronation!”

“I get to wear a dagger and a kilt that day!”

“We’re having a picnic – come eat, if you want to!”

Sookie was about to burst as she handed them candies and apples and small gold coins, which the children were wild to receive.

“We’d best continue our trip now, your Majesty,” Sir Robert said softly but firmly to the kids.

“OK! Thank you! Have a bright day!” The oldest girl lead the kids as they all said “thank you” ”we love you!” and “Good day!

At once they all scattered back to the water and the far shore as Sookie’s procession proceeded to town. This was only the first of the greeting parties they encountered as they explored the lands nearest the castle.

“Those kids were so sweet. They were asking about the babies! Eric, should we call and make sure the boys are OK?”

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea, though I’m pretty sure we’re asleep right next to them.”

“Allow me, your Majesty,” Sir Robert smiled as he pulled his bewitched cell phone from his pocket and dialed Bjorn’s number. As it rang, he handed her the phone and said, “your bodyguard, Milady.”

“Hello,” Bjorn sounded a little sleepy and grumpy.

“Hey, Bjorn, it’s Sookie.”

“Huh? Sookie is asleep not ten feet away from me,” Bjorn was reading, but felt like the phone had awakened him.

“Yeah, I’m in Elfyria with Eric – I’m holding his arm, right?”

“Yeah, you are. I didn’t know you could call me from there while you’re here, or there, or whatever?”

“Me, neither. Quantum physics or string theory or somethin’, I guess. Anyway, I just wanted to check on the boys. We might be a while.”

“OK, yeah, they’re good. Bobbie and Alicia have them downstairs for breakfast. I’ll put the guards on alert until you two get back.”

“OK, good. You can call me at this number if you need us, right, Sir Robert?”

“Yes, Milady, that number will always reach us here.”

“K, bye, Bjorn!” Sookie said and hung up. Bjorn called Cody to spread a low level alert, then called Bobbie and explained the deal as best he understood it. He’d be glad when Jerry and Amelia got here, which would hopefully be sometime today. Cody was good, but Bjorn never worried at all when Jerry had his back.

The next stop for Sookie’s tour was a lovely small town called “Lochlinn.”

“This is the capital of the Lakes Region, Milady.”

“Is there a map I can see somewhere of what my Queendom includes?”

“Yes, Milady, in the study where we met with the Wise Ladies.”

“OK, I want to take a good look at it soon. You said this is the capital?”

“Yes, Milady, and therefore one of the richest regions in your realm. Only Avalon has more wealth or power.”

“What’s the poorest region?”

“Nottingham, Milady.”

“Are we going there today?”

“If you like, your majesty, but we thought to limit your visit to the nicer spots today…”

“No, I want to know the extent of the bad spots. If people are suffering, that’s my priority. After this town we go straight to Nottingham where the gold coins really count.”

“As you wish, Milady. In the mean time, that carnival up the road on the left is the edge of Lochlinn. I told them not to fuss, but their excitement obviously got the better of them.”

“Oh, they knew we were coming?”

“Only the Wise Ladies knew our itinerary today, but word leaks out.”

“Yeah, I want to know about all those leaks, too.”

Eric nodded his head in agreement, though he was looking out to the side. He wouldn’t mention anything just yet, but their party had a shadow off in the Eastern woods. The shadow might be friendlies under Sir Robert’s orders, or they might not. Either way, Eric thought it best to keep his observations to himself at the moment.

Sookie could hear Eric’s concern, squeezing his hand as it held hers, just enough to let him know she was aware. Robert was telling Sookie a bit about the history of Locklinn, which had seen many decades of war since the Brigants challenged the H’Eloise claim to the throne. It was a wealthy province, but had endured years of martial law under Niall’s regime.

“Martial law? You mean run by the military?” Sookie hated the idea of her people being terrorized.

“In a sense, Milady. It was somewhat oppressive toward all but the few nobles who were dishonorable enough to help Brigant maintain his throne. They became very rich, indeed, cooperating with Niall. The local government is in a bit of an uproar now that Niall has been declared an outlaw. The people are beginning to exercise their freedom and there are hard feelings toward the very wealthy because they profited from their collusion. There might have been revolution if the change hadn’t come when it did.”

“What do you mean by “oppressive?”

“It might be better not to delve into that too deeply just now, Milady. We’ll have a meeting with your generals in the near future and you can direct their activities going forward. In the mean time, the Wise Ladies are working with the regional councils to restore order.”

“I don’t like the idea of putting it off. Eric, what do you think?”

“I think that you need to know what is happening in your realm if you are to be Queen, and that you particularly need to know if you’re to lead the army. A time of transition is also a time of vulnerability. You don’t want to be caught unaware.”

“I agree. Sir Robert…”

“Give me a week to set it up, Milady. It will take time for the military officials to arrange to meet with you.”

“OK, good. When do I meet all the White Ladies?”

“The next full moon, Milady.”

“When is that?”

“Wednesday.”

“And today is…”

“Monday.”

Eric laughed out loud at that.

“OK, I guess that’s soon enough,” Sookie quipped, making a silly face.

“I was going to tell you before you left this morning,” Sir Robert explained.

“Did you just find out about it?”

“I wasn’t sure all 13 could be in attendance until just this morning.”

“Oh, OK. Hey, look at all the people!” Sookie said as the carriage approached a large walled city, the people of which were spilled out on the land in front of it in a huge party with colorful tents and rides, and other amusements.

“It looks like a Renaissance Faire!” Sookie laughed.

“It is, Milady, but the knights here wear real armor and the jousting is deadly.” He made a little face so it seemed he was joking, but Sookie knew the reality under the joke had flesh and blood and bones.

Children mobbed the carriage first, as they had every stop along the way, but there were hundreds of them. Sookie waved and blew kisses, threw coins and handed out candy as all the men in her procession watched her with pride. Even the gruffest of the soldiers in the party had fallen in love with Sookie as she charmed children and peasants alike while they escorted her through the countryside. They all knew there was danger of an attack from Niall Brigant at any moment, but they were all proud of their young Queen and the way she greeted her subjects so sweetly and sincerely. The crowd was a sea of silk clothes and big smiles, trumpets playing at the gates of the city to announce Sookie’s arrival. They probably only spent an hour in Lochlinn but it seemed like hours to Sookie and she and Eric had a pile of gifts and offerings from the people as they slowly drove through the center of the city. Instead of making a complete circle as planned, Sir Robert directed the party out the opposite gate of the town so they could go through Nottingham as their last stop of the day.

When there were no people around the caravan, Sookie laid her head on Eric’s shoulder and closed her eyes. “Will it be late in the evening when we get home?”

“No, my Angel, I think it will still be morning. You still have the whole day ahead of you.”

“I like that time is fluid that way.”

“It solves a multitude of problems if one knows how to manipulate it,” Eric agreed.

“I hope I learn that really well so I don’t have to miss time with the boys, but I can still do my jobs here and at home.”

“You’re doing very well, Sookie, don’t you agree Sir Robert.” Eric could see Robert was wanting to chime in but hesitated to do so lest he step on Eric’s toes, so Eric brought him into the conversation to encourage Sookie.

“Yes, your Majesty, you’re doing better than most could in such a situation. With the multitude of things happening around you, I’m in awe of your ability to function, let alone thrive, as you seem to do. I know your life at home is complicated and rapidly changing.”

“How do you know that?” Sookie asked in surprise. Eric would like to know that, too.

“I get regular reports from Eddy and Freddy as to your relative safety and comfort.”

“You do? I never see them around.”

“They’re not supposed to be seen unless there is trouble. They’re not spying on you, of course, but since your royal connection was discovered, we’ve stayed near you to ensure your comfort. If you were ever in need or unhappy in any way, we’d take it upon ourselves to ensure your safety.”

“That’s… nice, I guess.” Sookie wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that. Eric knew he didn’t like it, but it would be unwise to challenge that presumption in this setting and Eric did think of it as presumptuous for him to say that to Sookie. He started to speak, but Sookie caught his eyes and pleaded with her own that he let that slide for now.

They passed through some scenic, but also fragrant, dairy farms as they approached Nottingham. “Ew – I know that smell,” Sookie laughed.

“Yes, that’s the smell of spring in the country,” Robert teased her.

“Spring?”

“Yes, it’s spring most of the time in this realm.”

“What about the other seasons?”

“Some change regularly as they do in your world, but some of the outlands stay in the extremes for various reasons.”

“What would cause a land to stay in winter all the time?” Sookie wondered.

“Evil.”

“Evil?”

“Yes, Milady, but you’ll rarely need to concern yourself with those realms.”

Sookie wanted to ask more, but they arrived at a crossroad that led into a bridge that approached a small village. The horses were hesitant to cross the bridge and the soldiers were suddenly very sharp and wary. The procession continued slowly, the horses still reluctant to go forward. Sookie thought she saw something scampering along the bridge below them just as the horses voiced their own objections. Eric squeezed her hand as she looked up at him, sending “trolls” so she’d understand what was happening. The party made it off the bridge without incident, but everyone was still a bit on edge. “Ew – what’s that smell? Is it the water?”

“No, Milady, that’s the dwellers beneath the bridge. Remember their scent, and always be wary if you encounter it. Even if they try to clean themselves up to blend into a crowd, there’s still an essence of it that never goes away. They wear a lot of vanilla to cover it so be aware if there’s vanilla in the air, too, that something might be amiss.”

“OK, I’ll remember,” she assured him, thinking she wasn’t likely to forget that stench.

They came over a hill and were almost immediately in a rural community with a large square central to the village. No one had approached the carriage yet, but Sookie looked back and could see children quietly following their group.

“Why are they so quiet?” she wondered aloud.

“They don’t know what to expect. No royal has entered this village in many years. Niall barely let them eek out a living in this area. It was a stronghold of the H’Eloise clan and they were the last group that refused to acknowledge Brigant’s right to the throne. There was almost no one to protect them. Their young men and half the women were killed in opposing Niall’s forces. The women who remain have no husbands unless the man is maimed or ill, so with their children and the elderly, they fight to survive on meager provisions. They are poor, hard working, and they hate your great grandfather, Niall.”

“Yeah, I’m not crazy about him, either. Are the people here hungry?”

“Well, they’re not starving but they aren’t enjoying the abundance of Elfyria as they should be. They’re overtaxed, largely ignored and are also easy targets for thieves and brigands.”

“Brigands,” Sookie said softly to herself. Brigands. Brigant. Her great grandfather was a liar, a thief and murderer. If it took her a thousand years, Sookie was going to undo all the harm Niall had done. The abundance of Elfyria would be shared fairly by all, even if she had to sever their ties to the human world. “Sir Robert, when are they taxed?”

“Weekly, my Lady.”

“By whom? Where does the money go?”

“There’s a Minister of taxes in each area who ultimately answers to the Wise Ladies and the Crown.

“So ultimately, this is up to me?”

“Of course, Your majesty.” Sir Robert liked where this was going.

“I want to speak to the minister of taxes.”

Sir Robert and Eric exchanged a look of pride and understanding. Robert hailed the captain of the guard with a motion of his hand. “Windsor, our Lady asks to see the tax collector.”

“To the financial square, Lord Robert?” The commander wanted to be sure he understood, not clear on why the queen would bother with a lowly tax collector.

“Yes, take us there directly.”

They continued to the center of the town, a large square where the market was held and financial houses traded in commodities and investments. The crowd that followed the procession grew larger, and a little louder, as people came out from their houses and joined them, or leaned out upper windows to see the Queen drive by.

The captain called the group to stop in front of a large, fine house on the corner of the square and a soldier was sent to call out the financier. A scraggly little man with painfully skinny legs and an ugly gnarled nose, wearing a shabby black suit and bifocal glasses came out fussing and irritated that his supper had been interrupted.

“Your majesty, this is the Prince’s tax collector, Caer Couchlain,” Sir Robert introduced the stingy little man whom he could not stand. He was going to enjoy this.

“Why do you interrupt my supper?” he snarled.

“The Queen has summoned you, Couchlain, I’ll thank you to mind your manners,” Robert warned him.

Sookie could feel Sir Robert’s dislike for this man and there were nasty little snips of thought dancing in his mean old head, so Sookie didn’t like him much either.

“Mr. Couchlain, is it?” She said politely expecting a nasty response.

“Yes, and you are the long lost heir to my patron, Niall Brigant. What do you want? Spit it out, whelp, my dinner grows cold.”

“It’s going to get colder.” Sookie told him, instinctively knowing not to let him upset her. “Captain, this man has obviously made no friends in this town. I need a trustworthy man or woman to replace him.”

“REPLACE ME? You half-human brat, you’ll never keep that throne. Your grandfather will be back in power before you learn the names of your provinces. You’ll never get me out of this office.”

“I want him arrested for treason on suspicion that he’s giving aid and comfort to a declared outlaw. Let the guard go with him to gather his clothes, and take him before the White Ladies. In the mean time, Sir Robert is there someone you’d recommend to take his place at least temporarily?”

“There’s a young merchant named Nelly Murphy who has always been a friend to the people, even when Niall made things difficult for her because of it.”

“Alright, I want all the taxes for the last two weeks returned to the people of this district. Is that possible?”

“Oh, yes, Milady, I’m sure there’s at least that much squirrled away in Cuchlain’s house.”

“Alright, take it all and spread it out evenly. If anyone is hungry, I want them fed before the sun falls today. Is there a way to do that?”

“Of course, Milady- the easiest way would be to send them to the public houses with a decree that the crown will cover the cost of their food and drink. Lady Murphy should be able to see that your kindness is not abused.”

“Alright, I want to meet her before we go,” Sookie said as she disappeared. Pandemonium broke out – the guards and the animals all became frightened and aggravated, women shrieked, Sir Robert and Eric were looking around frantically, but there was no sign of Sookie. She was there, then she wasn’t.

Eric had no idea where Sookie had gone and no idea how to get home from Elfyria without her. For the first time in a thousand years, Eric was scared – really, really scared.

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