With my eyes still locked onto the ancient vampire before me, the room itself seemed to come to life around us.
Pulsing, as though it had its own heartbeat.
The human saying, ‘Home is where the heart is,’ briefly strayed into my thoughts, but I doubted it had been meant to be taken so literally. And the errant thought was shoved away just as quickly when the sound of Pam’s voice cut through the tension in the room, as she asked, “Is that where the term fairy lights comes from?”
I couldn’t be sure what she was talking about. I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t been the only one to see the glowing aura surrounding us.
I’d thought, perhaps like my hybrid status, it was just me.
But the tingling sensation that was normally confined to my hands could now be felt along the entire length of my body. Each vein and artery was pulsing with an electrical current so strongly, I’d been sure my eyes were trying to deceive me that the room itself was glowing.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was throwing off sparks.
But – again – I couldn’t be sure.
Not when I wouldn’t dare take my eyes from the two thousand year old being in front of me to check.
But it was as if her seemingly innocuous words were in reality a magical spell because no sooner had she spoken them, when the glowing aura emanating in the room pulsed even brighter.
Or perhaps her inability to focus was rubbing off on me.
We shared the blood of her unfocused Maker, after all.
As though he’d heard the unintentional slight through our bond, Eric’s grip on my shoulder tightened. And if I’d had a sword-free hand to spare, I would have pushed away his free one now winding its way around my waist from behind.
And I would have, no matter how soothed I was by the greater contact.
“Calm down, Sookie,” he whispered directly into my ear, likely feeling my desire to shove him away and at the same time, blanket him with my body like a shield.
But all of me outwardly stilled when he added, “You’re glowing, lover.”
Inwardly, his words ignited my blood, forcing the liquid through my body at a faster clip and it was only then that I realized the room was pulsing.
Glowing brighter with every beat of my heart.
Well…that was new.
Maybe our bond was to blame, but there was no time to think about it. Only having my former glowing hands as a reference, I forced myself to calm down further. With his body pressed firmly against mine, I couldn’t risk his life, not knowing if my body would explode like a supernova, if pushed too far.
It would be just my luck to be the one to end him when I’d been the one meant to save him.
The one called Godric just smiled back at us, like he wasn’t the cause of it all. Too blinded by my own rage earlier that day, I could see now that my meeting up with the unknown fairy had been by fate. Without it my own conceit might have made me cocky enough to think I would be infallible in a duel with the ancient being before me.
But with the bitter aftertaste of being bested by a better adversary still on my tongue, I’d been humbled enough to know better than to think I could easily kill the one named Godric. And that bitterness only multiplied, realizing all of it was my own fault for allowing myself to become so complacent.
Comfortable, with the now glaringly false sense of security that as a millennium old being, my king was nearly infallible as well.
Rocket propelled grenades, notwithstanding.
But that was what he had me for.
Also by fate.
But now, squaring off against someone twice his age, it was something I would never take for granted again.
And while it wasn’t in my nature to back down from a fight, sometimes retreating was the best course of action. With Eric’s body still wrapped around my own, I could have us back in Bon Temps before the older vampire could react.
However that would leave his child behind.
Eric was my charge. My vow had been to him.
To protect his life above all others.
But our disagreement only a short while earlier confirmed my suspicions, despite his refusal to verbally respond.
A part of him would die if Pam met her true death.
My pledge had been to safeguard all of him.
Only now did I know that would include her as well.
While I internally worked through various scenarios that would leave the three of us alive, my external focus was still singularly trained on him. Not daring to blink, I could pick apart each dust mote swirling through the air in between us.
At his age, a blink would likely be all the time he needed to kill all three of us.
But two thousand years old or not, this Godric would feel something from me if he dared to blink.
And perhaps sensing I was a part-fairy with a hair trigger, he took a slow step backwards, smiling in amusement at me all the while, as he said, “I am not your enemy, young one. I know from your scent you have bonded with Eric. I would no sooner harm him than I would intentionally harm myself.”
But his words did nothing to assuage the wariness within me. Unlike the Fae, a vampire’s word meant nothing, without any modicum of trust.
Trust was something I had no reason to have in him.
But there must have been some degree of it between him and Eric because I felt his attempts to calm me even more through our bond, just as strongly as I could feel his dual want and refusal to believe the vampire’s words, when he cautiously asked, “Why are you here, Godric?”
The smile on his face became just a little smaller, but it no longer reached his eyes as he said, “I wish I could say this was merely a social call, brother. But I’m afraid that isn’t the case.”
Taking his eyes away from me for the first time, he looked just over my shoulder, where I knew Eric to be, and answered, “I was sent by The Council to help secure your throne. The kingdoms are under attack.”
Kingdoms? More than just Amun and Zeus?
And giving me even more reason to suspect our blood tie acted like a two-way radio, Eric more or less repeated my thoughts out loud by asking, “The kingdoms are under attack?” and added, “Which ones?”
My raised swords lowered in concert with the corners of the ancient vampire’s lips, just as the weight of his words sunk in when he replied, “All of them.”
No longer pulsing with my beating heart, the room fell quiet for a long moment, until the forgotten human’s sniffle got all of our attention. The conversation had taken place in Old Norse, but my gift told me his mind had imagined my defensive stance had been to protect the king’s tasty meal for himself.
So it would appear I wasn’t the only one who needed a lesson in humility on this day.
However he wasn’t worth the effort it would take to plunge my sword into his chest and Eric seemed to be of the same mindset because I heard him say – to his child, I assumed – “Glamour Burnham and send him away.”
Her responding huff and stomping feet filled the room next, but I was still leery of taking my eyes away from the one called Godric. He’d given no indication he would attack, but it was his age that gave me cause for concern.
I would remain on alert, so long as he was near.
Once the human had been dealt with, we all retreated to Eric’s private chambers, where he once again asked the ancient vampire, “How did you know about the debt with the Fae?”
A part of me still marveled over how inconsequential Great-grandfather’s sacrifice had been in this world. While I could now see how much greater an asset I would be, with my heritage and abilities kept secret – well, mostly secret, I still had a difficult time reconciling it all.
But even Eric hadn’t given any weight to my great-grandfather’s promise all of those years ago.
I went from being the revered pariah to the unknown and assumed favored pet/perhaps witch of the king.
Although, I was sure my status as his bonded was now known to at least the rest of his guards.
The wolf had been dying to inform everyone else, knowing how much Kitty would seethe now that his claws would have to remain retracted.
“You forget, brother,” he smiled. “I was there, fighting in the war against the Fae too. While I may not have been witness to the events that directly led up to the debt being formed, there were whispers of its creation. Did you believe it to be merely happenstance I showed up in the hours afterwards, with my offer to foster you?”
I felt a sting of betrayal shoot through our bond. One I’d felt myself only hours earlier at the thought my great-grandfather had somehow managed the impossible and lied to me.
I now had a better understanding of Eric’s desire to seek vengeance on my behalf.
And I likely would have gotten myself killed in the process of leaping forward to end the vampire in front of us had he not quickly followed up with, “My offer to teach you stemmed from my admiration of you, brother. The only worthy thing Ocella did as a vampire was when he made you.”
I could sense Eric’s attempts to compartmentalize all of the information being given to him. To deal with the rewritten history of his past, by choosing to not deal with it at all at the moment.
I couldn’t blame him.
We were very alike in that way.
So his expression gave away none of the turmoil inside of him when he shoved it aside and asked, “You work for the council now?”
And at Eric’s raised brow, he explained, “After we parted ways, the council learned of a fairy left behind in this world after the war. By mistake or by design, we had no way of knowing. So I was tasked with finding him and I’ve spent the last few centuries tracking him around the world.”
He smiled again and added in an impressed tone, “He’s very good at keeping himself hidden. I never imagined all of those years ago that I would still be hunting him now.”
“Do you know his name?” I asked, unable to keep myself silent.
The fairy I encountered was more than likely the same one he’d been tracking. If I had a name to go with the face, perhaps I could find a way to get word to Great-grandfather.
He would know who the fairy was.
“Ailill,” he replied, just as his eyes fell to me, seemingly to study my reaction.
And I involuntarily gave him one, with my wide-eyed blink.
And then another.
It couldn’t be.
My stomach dropped and a cold sweat sprung up on my skin upon hearing the name that was only spoken in careful whispers in my homeland.
And perhaps it was due to my ingrained fear of speaking the name out loud that I whisper repeated in return, “Ailill?”
He nodded again, while I internally reeled, wondering if they could be one and the same.
But it was Eric who managed to get my mind to refocus by putting himself in front of me. Reaching out, he put his hands on my shoulders and quietly asked, “You know of this fairy, Ailill?”
I involuntarily blanched again, hearing his name spoken so casually, but I nodded nonetheless and said, “If he is the same one of the legends, then he was Queen Maeve’s second husband.”
According to the legend, Queen Maeve had left her king for Ailill because he was a man without meanness, fear, or jealousy.
A man who had matched her own greatness.
But there had been some sort of strife between them later on. He had betrayed Queen Maeve – although how he had betrayed her was up for debate – but he was supposedly killed during the war with vampire before he could answer for his treason against his queen.
And a short time later, Great-grandfather had become her third husband.
A title he still held now.
Ailill’s prior existence at all was the only reason why I didn’t hold the Crown of Pariah in the Fae Realm.
But I was a close runner-up.
No other had been given the name of Ailill since that time. It was forbidden to even speak it aloud, unless you were denouncing his actions and spitting it out with all of the venom due to one the likes of the child predator, Hale.
And even then you’d do well to whisper his name as though he was a monster who would kill you where you stood.
But could he really be the Ailill?
He didn’t look like a monster.
But then neither did his former wife.
And I knew firsthand that she undoubtedly was.
And I would think later on whether or not that was the greatness that had matched her own.
“What else is there?” Eric asked. “Why are you reacting this way?”
He could feel my fear, just as I could feel his inclination to kill whoever was the cause of it, so I reined in my emotions and tried to be aloof to the impossible revelation, as I explained, “I was just surprised. I thought he was dead.”
I quickly repeated the stories I’d been told as a child and when I was done, Eric felt a cautious kind of relief as he asked, “So he doesn’t share your blood?”
“No,” I smiled, now feeling relieved as well. “And Great-grandfather’s marriage produced no children with Queen Maeve, so there’s no shared blood between us at all.”
Her children with Ailill, Neave and Lochlan, were…different.
I was the product of his coupling with a human woman he’d met, during his time spent in this realm fighting against the vampires.
Einin was her name.
He didn’t speak of her at all, really. And having seen the pain on his face the only time he had gone into depth about their relationship, when explaining my origins, I never asked about her again.
I didn’t need to, to know that he’d loved her.
And I was sure my likeness to her was yet another reason why he’d always favored me.
However his second marriage to Maeve, like his marriage to his first wife Branna, had been for politics instead of love. But at least his first union had been a fruitful one and produced my Uncle Dillon. He was my cousins’ father.
“You have seen Ailill?” Godric guessed, having been a silent spectator to our conversation.
Whether or not the bond was the cause for our matching scowls could be up for debate, but Eric answered him with a snarled, “She has. He came to her just this afternoon and offered to run away with her.”
His child snickered and began humming the sitting in a tree song, until he shot his angry glare her way to silence her.
But it only managed to turn down her volume.
“Interesting,” Godric replied.
Our bond told me ‘Infuriating’ was Eric’s unspoken response.
Instead he told him of our suspicions as to Madden’s suspicious end in his basement, which only led to me confirming that the Fae could find the blood of their own and I repeated the fairy’s implied reason for giving him his true death.
Something Godric confirmed he had already suspected.
“So he must have mated with a human in his time here,” he pondered aloud and then added, “Unless Madden had had the blood of someone in his vampire lineage.”
The inane humming from Pam ceased altogether, just as Eric hissed, “Vampire lineage?”
“Yes,” Godric nodded. “He was turned roughly five centuries ago, but who made him is still a mystery.”
My emotions were thrown back into turmoil, so I locked down every muscle I could manage. Eric hadn’t shared my telepathic gift with him, so I couldn’t say what was on my mind.
That it would explain why his mental light had been encased inside of a bubble, similar to the void of a vampire’s mind.
Then turning his eyes towards me, Godric added something else I hadn’t yet considered when he added, “And thanks to your bonded, I now know what I suspected is true. How he’s managed to evade me for all of these years. Ailill is a daywalker.”
And in spite of my best efforts to keep my muscles locked down, I couldn’t help it.