Chapter 7: Burdensome Politics
“So, Sheriff Northman,” Chancellor Kader said gently, “Please tell me about Sookie Stackhouse. And why you would so inexplicably risk yourself to protect her, even from the highest of vampire authorities.”
The silence hung between us for just a beat too long.
“She’s a telepath,” I replied flatly. “And the kingdom of Louisiana might be perceived as somewhat…vulnerable…given recent circumstances. I’ve simply tried to protect a very valuable local asset from being appropriated by those who have more resources to draw on than we do. Magister.” I tipped my head slightly towards her, as it attempting to counteract the defiance in my tone.
“You don’t trust the Authority to keep their hands off your property?” the Chancellor asked, her tone deceptively mild.
“The Authority may be in Louisiana, but it is not seen to be of Louisiana, Magister,” I replied, my voice crisp. “While the placement of Authority headquarters here in New Orleans has brought some economic benefit to our kingdom, you can’t deny that the kingdom of Louisiana has fewer resources than some other territories.”
Chancellor Kader chuckled. “And deliberately so, you must realize, Sheriff. More powerful states might forget the proper order of hierarchy and try to advance their local interests were they to have the seat of vampire power in their midst.” Her smile twisted slightly. “Why else do you think we approved the placement of a vampire as young as William Compton on Louisiana’s throne? He’s very… cooperative.”
I couldn’t help but snort. “Magister, I would advise you not to underestimate my king or his ambitions on the basis of his age. My late queen learned that lesson the hard way.” Sophie-Anne had regarded Bill as her most loyal subject – right up until he turned her into a soupy pile of gore-covered couture in his own living room.
“And what of your ambitions, Sheriff?” The Chancellor rose from her seat and walked towards the mantel of a fireplace to one side of the room and stopped, turning back towards me to let one arm rest easily along the mantel’s edge. I noticed she was within easy reach of the fire irons that stood beside the hearth. It was a stance prepared for self-defense, which meant she expected something she would say to provoke me.
Was she going to reveal she knew something about Sookie that she should not?
“I have no ambitions beyond successful management of my area, Magister,” I replied evenly. “I believe higher level politics to be…burdensome.”
“Indeed, they can be,” the Chancellor acknowledged as one slim hand reached out and rested nonchalantly on the handle of one of the metal fire implements. “And speaking of ‘higher level politics,’ I understand that the previous Magister was last known to be in your area. In your bar, in fact, before he so mysteriously disappeared. What can you tell me about those circumstances?”
I should have known that even if the rest of the Authority had been content to let the fate of the last Magister remain a mystery, a new Magister might not be so placid. Especially when dealing with the vampire in whose establishment the missing Magister had last been seen.
I wasn’t particularly eager to reveal the truth, but better to give her something about the disappearance of the former Magister if it meant keeping her off the topic of Sookie.
“I can tell you that Russell Edgington delivered the true death to him in my presence. After forcing the Magister to conduct a rite of union between himself and the Queen of Louisiana, with my progeny and myself as witnesses,” I responded honestly.
The Chancellor’s fingers twitched on the end of the fire iron as she frowned. “Russell married Sophie-Anne? Without Authority approval?”
“As the former Magister was under duress at the time – as were my progeny, myself and my queen –” I said pointedly. “—I have to assume the vows were non-binding. Especially now that the royal parties are both dead.” Or as good as, where Russell was concerned.
“And you told no one of this?” The Magister looked annoyed for the first time.
“Magister, my progeny and I were witnesses to a treasonous act by a madman who was the most powerful vampire I ever encountered. With no living witnesses to verify our coercion in the situation, we were reluctant to bring it to official attention…unnecessarily. Frankly, we had hoped the matter died with their majesties,” I replied. “As I said…I find higher level politics burdensome.” I raised my eyebrows at her.
The new Magister assessed me for a long moment before her body relaxed slightly, her hand dropping away from the fire iron.
“Well, if the truth be told, Sheriff,” she finally drawled, “The late Magister’s unfortunate disappearance did make it easier for the Guardian to update the position to better suit the current needs of the Council.”
Yes, I imagine having a vampire traditionalist in the second-highest position in the vampire hierarchy would have put a damper on the pro-mainstreaming agenda. No wonder the rest of the Authority might have been willing to let the mystery remain unsolved.
“And, of course, I am considerably older and more powerful than my predecessor. Far more difficult to defeat if challenged.” Chancellor Kader smiled tightly at me, her fangs not necessary to underscore the intended threat behind her words.
Old enough to fucking kill me in a heartbeat. I got the message clearly and acknowledged her unspoken warning with a slight nod. “No one but a madman like Edgington would ever presume to do so, Magister.”
Her body noticeably more fluid now that she had evidently decided I was not an immediate threat to her, Chancellor Kader glided away from the fireplace and its irons and back towards me, stopping a short distance away, her arms still crossed in front of her, with one hand resting lightly against her chin.
I might not have to worry about going down for the death of the last Magister, but her next words proved I was still not off the hook where Sookie was concerned.
“I am still somewhat confused, Sheriff,” Chancellor Kader said, her brow furrowing. “You say you find our politics burdensome and yet you claim your protection of Miss Stackhouse is ‘all for king and kingdom’?” The Magister tilted her head at me quizzically. “I’ve made numerous inquiries about you the past several months, Sheriff Northman. And what I discovered was that you are not – to be quite frank – known for your tremendous loyalty to either your current sovereign or the general well-being of the state of Louisiana.” The Chancellor circled around my chair slowly as she spoke. “In fact, you are – as you yourself have just claimed – noted for your detachment from the usual fray of our politics. So how is it you claim your protection of Miss Stackhouse is politically motivated?” She stopped behind me where I could not see her expression as she asked the question.
My lips tightened. “As I said, I am not interested in politics. Unless, that is, they affect me directly. Miss Stackhouse’s talent has proved useful to me – in business and other matters – several times.”
The Magister came around from behind me and drew close enough that, seated as I was, her standing figure loomed over me. “The glamoured Miss Thornton offered me a somewhat different interpretation of your motives, Sheriff. She seems to think your interest in Miss Stackhouse is not professional, but personal. Very personal.”
The second most politically powerful vampire in the United States leaned in close to me and dropped her voice into a low, confidential tone. “I’m told that you bought Miss Stackhouse’s home while she was ‘missing’ last year and had it renovated – very cozily, according to Miss Thornton. That you had a personal ‘cubby’ for your own day rest built in the home during Miss Stackhouse’s absence. That you had a –” The corner of Theodora Kader’s mouth twitched as if she were stifling amusement. “—a ‘big-ass microwave’ with a large red bow delivered to the home recently as a gift.” The Magister’s dark eyebrows quirked upwards. “Sheriff Northman, that doesn’t sound like mere professional attention to an area asset to me. That sounds like courtship.”
The irony that an Authority Chancellor had identified my actions for what they were while Sookie herself had not was not lost on me.
“I will admit that I do have a personal interest in Miss Stackhouse,” I finally conceded begrudgingly. “Sexual,” I clarified with force. True enough, if not the full truth. Admitting to lust for Sookie was safe; admitting to love for her would make us both vulnerable. “She has proved…resistant to my previous advances.”
The Chancellor actually laughed. “I don’t imagine that has happened to you in a very long time, Sheriff. Perhaps that is her appeal? The allure of the difficult to obtain,” she mused. “But why coax instead of force?” She looked at me with genuine curiosity. “Surely you could just take her? Or were you hesitant because she once belonged to your king?”
Sookie’s affiliation with Bill Compton had been all the more reason to pursue her, at least initially. Until I fell her under spell just as he had.
“She hasn’t been King Compton’s for some time,” I answered, my jaw twitching.
And never would be again, if I could help it.
“And yes, I could just take her. But what would be the fun in that?” I smirked at the Magister before admitting more candidly, “Frankly, Miss Stackhouse is a valuable asset to us. And I have found over time that she responds best to requests when she does not feel … forced.” I grimaced to myself, thinking about how foolish I had been not to consider that in terms of our blood bond. In retrospect, I should have known Sookie would react the way she had, and kept my own temper in check. Instead, I had vented my own frustration at her in a very human way.
That was something that hadn’t happened in many centuries, but my self-control seemed to have continuously eroded since the day I met Sookie Stackhouse.
“Mmmm,” Chancellor Kader made a noncommittal noise, straightening and drifting a step or two away. “So, you want her. And perhaps even respect her?” The question sounded like it was intended to draw me into some sort of questionable admission. Depending on the Magister’s own view of humans, expressing respect for one could work either for or against me. I hedged.
“As much as I can respect any human,” I answered with a shrug. “What should a good, mainstreaming vampire answer in these circumstances, Magister?” I drawled sarcastically. My patience with this cat and mouse game was growing thin. While she seemed satisfied with my explanation about the true death of the previous Magister, Theodora Kader was clearly trying to test me in some way, but it wasn’t obvious to me what answer she was looking for.
“A ‘good, mainstreaming vampire’ wouldn’t even have to ask that question,” the Magister replied. “Which is precisely why I find your actions concerning Miss Stackhouse so intriguing, Sheriff. From all I have learned about you, you’re clearly not the passionate devotee of the mainstreaming cause that your king is. And yet, your behavior towards your telepath is remarkably courteous. I’m simply trying to understand your motivation.”
I’m in love with her. That truth was definitely not a safe answer for either Sookie or me.
“If you have been making inquiries about me, I’m sure you have heard that I am, above all, a pragmatist. If one approach does not work in getting what I want, I try another,” I replied bluntly. “I have been…as you say…coaxing her into giving me what I want.”
“I see,” the Chancellor said, again suppressing what looked like some unshared amusement. She began to move around me again, slowly. “Tell me, Sheriff Northman: does this urge to protect Miss Stackhouse – only for your own interests, of course – extend to her family and her friends?”
“Not often,” I answered shortly. In the past, such protection beyond Sookie herself might have been a tool I used to win her favor, but I suddenly realized I felt a new and strange sense of obligation to those Sookie loved. Even Tara Thornton, despite what she had done to me.
The unexpected emotional response made me pause. Perhaps that was another unexpected effect of Sookie’s blood in me?
Given the number of surprises the bond was holding for both of us, maybe Sookie had been right to be concerned. If I found myself wanting to protect Sookie’s rather sizeable circle of friends in Bon Temps because of our bond, my life was certainly going to get complicated. Sookie’s friends – much like her brother and even my Sookie herself – seemed to attract trouble.
The Chancellor had moved around in front of me again and her dark eyes studied me thoughtfully for a moment before she spoke. “Sheriff Northman, are you aware of Miss Thornton’s history with a vampire named Franklin Mott?”
Speaking of Sookie’s friends who attracted trouble…although I was relieved to be off the subject of Sookie herself.
“I know that they were involved at one point, yes,” I answered cautiously. I had been subjected to the drama that followed Tara and Sookie’s escape from Russell Edgington’s mansion, including the late Talbot’s angst over Franklin’s blood on the bed linens. Franklin had survived Tara’s attack on him, although I had not hung around long enough to find out how long it would take to regrow the amount of brain tissue Tara Thornton had splattered on the walls of the King of Mississippi’s guest room. For all I knew, Mott had met the true death after being left behind, still incapacitated, when Russell’s minions had fled the royal compound.
“Did you know that Franklin Mott met the true death while visiting your area?”
Shit. Well, evidently Mott had survived long enough to make it to northern Louisiana. “No. I was not aware of that. Are you saying Tara Thornton ended him?” I asked grimly.
If it was true that Tara had killed Franklin Mott before she killed Nan Flanagan, her fate was inescapable. Killing one vampire might be viewed as circumstantial; killing two looked you were trying to eradicate us. We didn’t take kindly to that. Although I had to admit, for a regular human to kill two vampires was surprisingly badass. Maybe I should have been more afraid of Tara Thornton when she was waving that fire poker at me in Sookie’s living room.
“No, not at all.” Chancellor Kader lowered herself gracefully into the chair across from me. “According to Miss Thornton, she was attacked by Franklin Mott outside the tavern where she worked in Bon Temps last autumn before she relocated here to New Orleans. He was apparently very unhappy with how they had…parted.” Remembering the smashed melon of his head, I wasn’t surprised. “Franklin Mott was about to kill her when someone else intervened and shot him with a wooden bullet.”
“The shifter who owns the bar?” I speculated.
“No, Sheriff Northman. The shooter was your telepath’s brother – Jason Stackhouse.”
Fuck me. No wonder the Magister wanted to know if my sense of protection extended to Sookie’s family. Was min blóðfrig’s brother ever not in trouble? Maybe I should have killed him over that broken window when I had the chance, I thought dourly.
My face must have shown my feelings without my even being conscious of it, as the Magister said coolly, “I see that this is news to you. What can you tell me about Jason Stackhouse?”
That he’s a fucking irresponsible idiot of a brother. In my mind’s eye, I saw the broken window that had finally pushed me to buy Sookie’s house rather than let it continue to deteriorate under Jason Stackhouse’s care. No, better to stick to facts, not the feelings Sookie’s brother provoked in me. “He’s a relatively new member of the Renard Parish police force,” I replied. “Not particularly bright, although his athletic skills are excellent for a human. And he’s well-known for his popularity with the local female population.”
“Yes, Miss Thornton described him quite colorfully as a ‘man-whore,’” the Magister observed with a half-smile.
In glamour, veritas.
“But a non-telepathic man-whore,” I responded shortly. “He’s never shown any signs of his sister’s special talent.” Not the telepathy or any of those talents – like Sookie’s light-ball-throwing hands – of which the Authority knew nothing. The mystery of why Jason Stackhouse did not show signs of a fae heritage like his sister was something to consider another day. If I didn’t kill him myself for once again putting his sister at risk, even accidently, that is.
“And what of his history with vampires before Franklin Mott?” Chancellor Kader asked.
I weighed my response carefully. This was not the time to bring up Jason’s involvement in Eddie Fournier’s true death, especially since I had turned a blind eye his involvement in it for Sookie’s sake. Nor did it seem wise to mention Jason’s history as a V addict. Or his time with the Fellowship of the Sun.
Shit. If he wasn’t Sookie’s brother, I wouldn’t be sitting here trying to think of what I could say that would not put a target on the fool. But so long as Sookie loved him, I owed him some protection.
There was that goddamned strange emotion again.
“He was critical in defusing the incident at the Fellowship of the Sun in Dallas,” I finally said, picking the one positive thing I could say about Sookie’s brother. “He put himself in potential harm’s way to rescue both his sister and me from the Reverend Newlin.” That he had done so using excellent marksmanship with a paintball gun – when his shooting skills had also been used against Franklin Mott – seemed, again, like a detail better not shared.
“Is he a danger to our kind?” Chancellor Kader asked.
“Only if you try to hurt someone he cares about,” I replied. “And he cares very much for his sister.” I had to concede the point, even if I didn’t think he did enough to show that care for Sookie at times. “And evidently for Tara Thornton.”
“But he is not likely to kill vampires as a matter of principle?” The Magister probed.
“According to Miss Stackhouse, he has a close friendship with King Compton’s progeny, Jessica Hamby, so I hope not,” I answered drily.
Chancellor Kader did not respond but toyed with the Authority ring on one of her fingers as she sat in a thoughtful silence.
It was nearly two excruciatingly long minutes later that she finally puffed out a sigh. I tensed; it sounded like the sort of sigh one made when one had reached a decision. Whatever test she had been administering to me, I was about to find out if I had passed or failed.
“Sheriff Northman, the Guardian feels very strongly about maintaining a truly cooperative relationship between our kind and humans,” the Magister finally began. “Although he is personally distressed by the death of Nan Flanagan, he feels it is necessary that we treat her accused killer with a due process that will satisfy the humans. That said, naturally we do not wish to leave our deliberations entirely up to chance.”
I suppressed a skeptical noise. I found it hard to believe the Authority ever left anything up to chance.
The Magister continued. “The Guardian asked me to personally investigate the circumstances of Nan’s death and make recommendations for what would best serve justice where Miss Thornton is concerned – and yet ensure that our ruling does not inflame human-vampire tensions unnecessarily.”
I speculated aloud, as my own mind worked through the possibilities. “I assume you’re going to claim that Tara Thornton was an anti-vampire terrorist in order to explain why she will be given the death penalty if found guilty.” Which I was sure Tara would be; I had no illusions about how far our power structure was likely to bend in order to accommodate human values. A human killing a vampire in self-defense, regardless of how understandable it seemed to humans, had not been a viable defense in a vampire court in centuries. Tara Thornton was going to be found guilty of something.
“Well, I would have, if I had found that Miss Thornton was an anti-vampire terrorist,” Chancellor Kader acknowledged with a wry look. “But the problem, of course, is that she isn’t. Yes, she does hate vampire kind, but she clearly killed Nan Flanagan for very personal reasons – in order to protect your telepath from being taken by us. This does not seem to be a political act.”
Chancellor Kader steepled her delicate fingers together before she continued. “Frankly, given Miss Thornton’s brutal maltreatment by Franklin Mott and what I see as Mott’s justifiable true death at Jason Stackhouse’s hands, I cannot blame her for her feelings towards vampires. I can appreciate her suspicion of us and her worry about what could happen to her friend in the hands of the most powerful vampires known in the New World. It is my opinion that Miss Thornton appears to have been acting in a loyal and well-meaning, if misguided, intent to protect Miss Stackhouse from what she felt was a real threat. I must take those extenuating circumstances into account, even if she is guilty of killing Nan.”
I stared at Magister, unable to process what she had just said. She could understand Tara killing Nan? And excuse Jason killing Franklin Mott? In the hundreds of years since the position of Magister had been created, I doubted any one of them previous to Theodora Kader had sided with humans in any dispute.
“So, here is my dilemma, Sheriff Northman,” Chancellor Kader said, spreading her hands palms up, in front of her and leaning towards me. “I have a human who is undoubtedly guilty of killing one of the most well-known vampires in America. Failure to hold her accountable for that death in some way is not an option. She must be punished – but punished fairly, in a way that will satisfy both human and vampire values.” The Magister shook her dark head. “Of course, the traditional vampire punishment would be to simply execute her, just as we did the necromancers. And I do believe we could make a case for that decision in the court of public opinion, both human and vampire, especially in a state like Louisiana that imposes capital punishment for human on human murder.”
The Magister paused and pursed her lips. “But this is a new era and we of the Authority are striving to try innovative approaches. So I intend to make a different recommendation. One that would allow Miss Thornton the opportunity to be – shall we say – rehabilitated. To perhaps learn that not all vampires are as brutal as Franklin Mott, and that some of us truly do wish to have a cooperative relationship with humans.”
I could feel my lips gaping slightly open in astonishment at what I was hearing and made a concerted effort to close my mouth. “You’re going to turn her,” I stated rather than asked, half hoping she would deny my obviously outrageous deduction.
“No, Sheriff Northman,” the Magister corrected. “I’m going to ask you to turn her.”