“Your Grace, if I may?” A voice interrupted before anyone had a chance to reply.
All eyes turned to the vampire who spoke. Eric let out a small groan when he recognized the vampire who had interrupted. He pulled Sookie closer to him as Peter Threadgill, King of Arkansas, stepped forward.
Sookie frowned as she watched the young-looking vampire stand before the panel of judges. To Sookie’s eyes he looked like a child dressing up in his father’s clothes with his ill-fitting suit practically hanging off him, but Sookie knew all too well that when it came to the supernatural, looks could be very deceiving.
“It’s no secret that before the trial of the vampire Compton was brought forward, the now-deposed Queen of Louisiana was to pledge to myself, King of Arkansas,” Peter said, in his haughty voice. “All parties were in agreement and the contract was finalized. I respectfully request this trial and the council honor that contract and appoint me the new King of Louisiana. I’ll be only too happy to honor all of Louisiana’s outstanding contracts and claim all assets for myself and both of my Kingdoms.”
A growl ripped from Eric’s throat as Peter spoke the last words. The Viking hadn’t missed the way Peter’s eyes flicked to Sookie as he mentioned Louisiana’s assets. His body coiled in preparation; one wrong move on Arkansas’ part and another state would need a new monarch.
“Your request is denied,” the Ancient Pythoness replied, refusing to even consider his request.
“What?” Peter said, his cool exterior crumbling under the Ancient One’s refusal. “You can’t do that. Louisiana should be mine. You’ve got no right to deny me!”
“I have every right,” the Ancient Pythoness informed him, her tone deathly calm.
“With all due respect, Ancient One,” Salome cut in before Peter had a chance to say anything else. She kept her tone respectful as she continued, “Arkansas does have a strong case to claim Louisiana. There is a contract in place. On what grounds do you refuse his claim?”
“Roman,” the Ancient Pythoness prompted in no mood to answer the question herself.
“While there was a contract between Arkansas and the former Queen of Louisiana, it hadn’t been honored as the pledging ceremony hadn’t taken place. They hadn’t exchanged blood, nor had the marriage between consummated. Arkansas has no claim to Louisiana.”
“This is outrageous!” Peter raged after listening to Roman’s explanation. “Louisiana and its assets should be mine!”
“You claim has been denied,” Roman growled, staring the much younger vampire down. “Now if you don’t want to lose your state as well as your head, sit down and shut the fuck up!”
Peter snapped his mouth shut at the threat of losing his state and life. Returning to his seat, Peter sat down and glared at anyone who dared look at him. He seethed internally. Louisiana and its telepath should have been his, and he swore they both would be one day.
“Louisiana is still in need of a new monarch,” Salome said, stating the obvious. “I suggest the council meet in private to decide on a suitable replacement for the late Sophie-Anne.”
“That will not be necessary,” the Ancient Pythoness replied dismissively. The Ancient One already knew who the new monarch would be. She had known before she even stepped into the hotel. She just hoped the Viking and his Fairy were ready for the outcome. “Norseman, step forward.”
Placing a hand on Sookie’s lower back, Eric guided his wife to where Thalia stood before moving to stand in front of the Ancient Pythoness. Eric had a good idea what was about to happen. He couldn’t say he was happy, but it was expected. From the moment the Ancient One had announced that Sookie was a telepath, he knew there was only one outcome. He would have to take the mantle of King. It would be the only way to keep his lover safe. He had already noticed the looks Sookie was getting from various monarchs, and Threadgill himself had announced his desire to claim his wife for his kingdoms when he had referred to her as an asset.
Flicking her eyes between Eric and the Ancient One, Salome let out a small huff of displeasure as the realization of what the Ancient Pythoness was preparing to formalize. “Surely you don’t intend to reward him for killing his Queen?” she asked, her tone argumentative. “He should be punished.”
“The Norseman defended his bonded mate from an unprovoked attack. The deceased Sophie-Anne was guilty of committing a blood offense when she spilled the blood of the Norseman’s bonded,” the Ancient Pythoness said, her tone firm. “It was the right of the Norseman to extract retribution. Sophie-Anne Leclerq conspired to come between the Norseman and his bonded wife. She disregarded our laws and lied to us when confronted. Sophie-Anne would have met the true death for her crimes regardless of the Norseman’s actions. However, in killing the ruling monarch of Louisiana, the Norseman has earned the right to claim the throne as a spoil of war. So I ask this of you, Eric the Norseman, do you claim the state of Louisiana as your own?”
“I do, Your Grace,” Eric answered without a second’s hesitation.
“The vampire council accepts your claim. In witness of the Council members present, I declare Eric the Norseman the new King of Louisiana,” the Ancient Pythoness decreed. “Louisiana and its wealth now belong to you.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Eric replied. He bowed respectfully to the Ancient Pythoness before stepping back and pulling Sookie to his side again, wanting her close. He could tell his bonded was curious but she had the sense not to ask any questions. There would be time for that later once they were alone, which Eric hoped was soon. His bloodlust was still high after killing Sophie-Anne and he wanted nothing more than to tear the dress of his wife’s body and claim her for his own.
“Christian Baruch, Cameron Michaels, and Hadley Delahoussaye, step forward,” Roman ordered, taking the lead once more and setting the proceedings back on track. He watched with barely concealed amusement as the three of them shuffled forward. “The three of you are just as guilty as Sophie-Anne and the vampire Compton. Although in Cameron Michaels case I will say his guilt is down to poor judgement and bad taste…”
“Hey!” Hadley interrupted, realizing it was a dig against her.
“Be quiet, you foolish girl!” Roman snapped. “I think it’s clear to all present that Mr. Michaels had no idea of the web in which he found himself entangled. While Christian Baruch and Hadley Delahoussaye were not only aware, they were complicit.”
“The actions of Christian Baruch and Hadley Delahoussaye could have had far reaching consequences,” Roman continued. Despite not being the eldest, nor most powerful vampire present at the trial, Roman had quite the reputation for judging numerous guilty vampires. “Greed, jealousy, and hatred caused their actions and they will be punished accordingly. Christian Baruch, for your actions here tonight, I fine you two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and sentence you to five years in silver.”
Christian’s eyes widened as he heard the sentence, and he once again cursed getting involved with Sophie-Anne but he had the good sense to not to speak out.
“Cameron Michaels, you were the only one who had the wisdom to tell the truth and admit your guilt,” Roman added. “For that I will show leniency. All events that transpired here tonight shall be glamoured from your mind, and then you will be free to go.” Roman smirked as his eyes fell on Hadley. “And as for you, Ms. Delahoussaye, I shall leave your fate up to the Ancient One.”
The Ancient One turned her milky white eyes to Hadley and stared at the bitter and twisted young woman. The Ancient Pythoness didn’t have to be able to see, to notice the ugliness in Hadley. It was clear to her that Hadley had no remorse for what she had done. She was only sorry that she had been caught. Greed and childhood jealousy were mostly to blame for Hadley’s actions. She blamed Sookie for things that were not her fault.
“Hadley Delahoussaye, your role in the events of the last several months is most egregious. You betrayed your cousin for financial and personal gain. You conspired to come between a bonded pair, and you knowingly and willingly put those plans into action. At no point were you coerced or glamoured. You took pleasure in trying to cause your cousin pain, and when the schemes of Sophie-Anne Leclerq were discovered, you stood before this council and lied.
“It is my decision that you suffer the fate you intended for your cousin. For the next year you will be the slave to a vampire of my choosing. You will suffer as you intended for Sookie Northman. You will have no voice, no rights, and you will be no one. Once the year is up, you will be tossed out into the street where you belong.” The Ancient Pythoness turned her gaze to the vampires present as she continued, “All vampires are prohibited from having anything to do with Hadley Delahoussaye. She is to be considered an enemy to us all. If any vampire is discovered aiding or using her in any way, they will be sentenced to fifty years in silver. Once they are released they will meet the true death. This is my decision. This is law.”
“What? No!” Hadley cried, hearing her sentence. They couldn’t do this to her. She wasn’t a nobody. She was a Queen’s favorite pet! Tears pooled in her eyes as the thought of losing all that she had schemed to get. “Sookie, please!” she begged, turning to face her cousin. “Help me! Don’t let them do this to me. Let me come and live with you. I’ll be good. I swear.”
“Are you kidding?” Sookie said, a look of disbelief spreading across her face at Hadley’s plea. “After everything you’ve done, you want me to help you?”
“Please, we’re family!” Hadley pleaded. She didn’t care what she had to say or do. She would offer up her body to Lucifer himself if it meant she could stay on top.
“Family?” Sookie snarled, disgust dripping off her words. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. You sold me out so you could be Sophie-Anne’s favorite pet. You don’t give a damn about me and the feeling is more than mutual. You’re no family of mine.”
“Think of what Gran would say,” Hadley said, trying to guilt Sookie into helping her.
Red-hot fury rose in Sookie as Hadley once again pushed her past her limit. Lunging forward, she tackled Hadley to the ground and rained down a number of blows on her before she felt an arm around her waist lifting her off her cousin.
“Relax, Lover,” Eric said as he pulled her into his body. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her against him as he turned his head to face the panel of judges. “I suggest you get that,” he jerked his head in the direction of Hadley, “out of here before my wife kills her.”
“Tiger, remove her from the room and lock her in one of the cells,” Roman ordered.
Hadley screamed and pleaded with Sookie to help her as Quinn hoisted her over his shoulder and carried her out of the room.
“Now for the final sentence,” Roman said once the room had quieted after Hadley’s little outburst. “William T. Compton, stand and face your judgement.”
For the first time since he was turned Bill felt his age as he rose slowly to his feet. He had trouble believing it was all real. Sophie-Anne was supposed to have saved him. She was supposed to have rewarded him. She wasn’t supposed to have been a bloody mess on the floor. As he stood before the Council awaiting his sentence, Bill cursed Eric and Sookie. His predicament was entirely their fault. Why couldn’t Eric have been a loyal and respectful subject to Sophie-Anne and just handed the telepathic blood bag over?
“William T. Compton,” the Ancient Pythoness began, preparing to finish the trial. “You have been found guilty of all charges. You are a disgrace to all vampires. Do not ask for leniency for I will show none. As the Head of the Vampire Council, I sentence you to the true death. As your crimes are against Eric the Norseman and his bonded mate, I will allow him to carry out your sentence.”
Eric dropped a kiss to the top of Sookie’s head before guiding her to Thalia and stepping forward again. He ignored the stake offered him by the Council guards as he approached Bill. Eric sneered at the younger vampire as he wrapped his hand around his throat and yanked him forward. His fingers dug into the pale flesh of Bill’s throat, and Eric could feel the blood trickling down his hand as his grip tightened around Bill’s neck. Memories of the attack Bill orchestrated on Sookie flicked through Eric’s mind as he recalled the pain his wife suffered due to the Civil War vampire, and Eric wanted Bill to suffer the same fate.
“You won’t keep her,” Bill gurgled as he struggled in Eric’s grasp. “Everyone knows about your whore now. Someone will take her.”
Before Eric had a chance to reply, Godric stepped onto the platform and called for everyone’s attention. He, just as everyone present, had heard Bill’s words and he wanted to send Bill a final message before his child sent him to his true death.
“Before you send him to his death, Compton should hear this,” Godric said, facing the whole room, but speaking to Eric. “The events here tonight could have been avoided if those who have perished and are about to would have followed the laws put in place by the Council. Humans, no matter their blood type, appearance, or special abilities are not trinkets to collect, nor toys with which to be played. In the past, the practice of procurement was accepted but no more. When we revealed our existence, we all agreed to move forward.
“As I look out among you, I can see the same hunger in many of your eyes as you gaze upon Mrs. Northman as I saw in Sophie-Anne’s. I will remind you all that Sophie-Anne Leclerq lost her life because she tried to procure a woman who is bonded and married to Eric the Norseman. I would hate for that to be the fate of anyone else, but I warn you now, any attempt to remove Mrs. Northman from her husband’s side or the state of Louisiana will be considered an act of treason against the Council. Eric the Norseman and Sookie Stackhouse Northman are bonded by blood, married by human laws, and pledged by the knife. Their bond is accepted and approved by the Council. Do not make the same mistake as Sophie-Anne. Do not make the mistake William T. Compton made.”
Silence descended upon the room as Godric finished his speech. He could tell most vampires had taken his words to heart. They knew trying to take Sookie would be a suicide mission, but he could also tell there were those who chose to ignore him. He could see it in their eyes. They had the same mentality as Sophie-Anne, and those would be the ones Eric had to watch.
Turning his gaze back to Bill, Eric grinned as he saw the look of horror in the younger vampires’ face. “Sookie is mine!” he growled. “No one will ever take her from me. I will spend forever with her by my side, while you will be nothing but a forgotten memory.”
Not giving Bill a chance to reply, Eric lifted his other hand and gripped Bill’s head tightly. He let out a vicious roar as he twisted Bill’s head violently, tearing his head clean off his shoulders and throwing it to the floor.
“The sentence is complete. This trial is over,” the Ancient Pythoness said, banging a gavel on the table. Rising to her feet, she turned her milky eyes to Eric and added in Old Norse, “There is blood in the water and the sharks will soon be circling. Prepare yourself, Viking,” before calling for one of her handmaidens to help her out of the room.
Eric felt a shiver go down his spine at her warning. Despite Godric’s words he knew that some vampires would still try to take his wife from him. He would have to put on a good showing at the rest of the Summit. For now that could wait. He had more pressing things to take care of then play games with a few greedy monarchs. No one would make a move against him while the summit was still going on. To do so would be suicide. So that gave him time.
Reaching for Sookie, Eric pulled her into his arms and raced out of the room, ignoring the vampires who were approaching him to offer congratulations or searching for a weakness. He held Sookie tightly to him as he sped through the hotel toward their room. Eric knew there was still a much to deal with: Arkansas wouldn’t give up without a fight, Hadley, although punished, was still alive, and he had a new Kingdom to run. At the moment, none of it mattered. All that mattered was the woman in his arms. As long as he had Sookie by his side, Eric knew he could deal with anything.