Chapter 8: The Devil You Know
I stared at the Magister. “Why me?” I finally inquired, wary.
“Because of your relationship with Miss Stackhouse, of course,” Chancellor Kader replied. “And your apparent desire to protect her – and, by extension, those close to her.”
Why the fuck would an Authority Chancellor want to protect Sookie or any other human for that matter? My confusion must have been obvious on my face.
The Magister leaned forward again. “Sheriff Northman, if we have a full trial for Miss Thornton, her entire background will come out. We will have to reveal her relationship with Franklin Mott – and how he met the true death, including the role of Miss Stackhouse’s brother. We will also have to discuss Miss Thornton’s real motive in killing Nan Flanagan, that she was trying to keep Miss Stackhouse from our attention. Everything Miss Thornton told me while under glamour will become known to the full Authority. Everything.” The Chancellor’s look at me was pointed. “Is that an acceptable outcome to you, Sheriff?”
“Not particularly,” I conceded through stiff lips.
“Then the best option is for Miss Thornton to willingly plead guilty to the charges of murdering Nan Flanagan and to accept her punishment. No revelations of her history – or the involvement of Miss Stackhouse or her brother – would then be necessary.”
“But why should you care if any of it comes out?” I asked. “What do you gain by keeping the Stackhouses out of this?”
“Making their involvement known makes things unnecessarily complicated,” the Magister replied. “I am not interested in drawing still more humans into this case. And, frankly, I have more pressing issues to deal with than to create excessive drama over what I believe were understandable acts of personal protection.” Her gaze caught mine. “And while the most compassionate response might be for us to release Miss Thornton, that is simply not possible in the current political climate. I believe my solution to be the best option we can offer her in these circumstances.”
She was silent for a moment before saying in a quiet voice, “I also like the idea of getting to know you better, Sheriff, and I see this as one way to achieve that.” She glanced down at her hands, where the blood red stone of her Authority ring glinted. “I knew your Maker, Godric.” She looked back up at me and her eyes were nostalgic. “He and I found we had much in common in his last years, Sheriff, although I found his choice to meet the sun…troubling.” She studied me. “I am curious to see how like your Maker you truly are. I hoped you might consider my offer to protect the Stackhouses a …friendly gesture… on my part.”
I was silent for a moment before replying gruffly, “I am no Godric, Magister.”
While the Chancellor tried to maintain her neutral expression, I saw a lightning-fast hint of disappointment cross her face. “You mean you do not share his beliefs in the value of humans?”
I pursed my lips as I considered how to answer. I had spent a thousand years using humans for food, sex and entertainment, but unlike many vampires, I had never really felt the need to dismiss them as mere livestock. I simply hadn’t cared about their metaphysical status one way or another so long as my needs were met. They were just…there. To be eaten or fucked or whatever else I found them useful for.
Until Sookie. I had found myself caring about Sookie, long before the witches’ disruptive curse landed me under her roof.
But then, Sookie wasn’t entirely human. Although her feelings…the feelings that kept percolating through me even though we were currently hundreds of miles apart…decidedly were. For a brief moment, I just savored the thrum that was Sookie’s blood in me. She felt busy, maybe a bit harried. But safe. Even if she had pushed me away before I left Bon Temps, I reminded myself that keeping her that way was why I was in this treacherous situation.
Chancellor Kader was still waiting for my answer. Instead of answering her directly, I asked her my own question. “Did you know that Miss Stackhouse was with Godric when he met the sun?” I hesitated as I remembered my own frustration at not being able to stop my Maker from his action. “She kept him company until it was over. Because she did not want him to be alone in that moment.” The thought that Godric might have died alone but for Sookie still stung my heart.
“Really?” The Chancellor startled with surprise. “That was not in Nan’s report on the incident.” She looked at me, understanding crossing her face. “And is this why you are so intrigued by Miss Stackhouse?”
“It may have played a role,” I admitted. “She was very…kind to my Maker,” I said after a moment. “And while kindness is not highly valued among our kind – including by me, if I’m honest – I appreciate her action towards Godric at his true death.”
“Not all of us dismiss such human virtues, Sheriff,” Chancellor Kader replied. “Especially if we are to build a lasting peace with humankind.” She sighed. “So, you may or may not value humans…but you value Miss Stackhouse’s humanity.” She shrugged slightly. “I can work with that.” Her lips twisted in a ghost of a smile before she continued in a more business-like tone, “I have promised Miss Thornton that if she accepts the plea agreement, what I learned from her will not be revealed. She wishes to protect her friends from harm. She has agreed to be made vampire in exchange for our not pursuing any further charges.”
“I don’t know Tara Thornton well, but I know enough to know she wouldn’t normally want to be turned,” I said. “How did you overcome her reluctance to be one of us? By glamour?”
The Magister looked somewhat offended by my (I thought reasonable) suggestion. “Sheriff, I am as capable of manipulation and deceit as any of us, but these circumstances require authenticity. No, I used logic with Miss Thornton. I reminded her that the option of turning was, after all, meant to be a punishment for a crime, but one she might find preferable to human death,” the Magister explained. “And then I assured her that it would save her friends if she cooperated since it will limit any further inquiry into any of her actions. And, finally, I told her that, after she was turned, if she was truly that unhappy, no one would stop her from ending herself. Although she will not be given the opportunity to do that while in our custody, of course.”
“So, I’m to be saddled with a potentially suicidal new vampire,” I observed darkly. “Again, why me? Am I being punished for something?”
The Chancellor raised her eyebrows. “You find creating progeny distasteful?”
“Only if they’re unwilling. It takes the fun out of it,” I said. I had never turned anyone lightly, not even Pam, despite her having forced my hand. But at least I could say I knew Pam had wanted it.
Chancellor Kader shrugged. “It is not truly necessary for it to be you, but I thought you would be the most agreeable in these circumstances. Because of your history with those involved, you might have something to gain from my proposal. We turn Miss Thornton and all inquiry about the Stackhouse siblings will naturally drop. Which is why I am hoping for your discreet cooperation in this matter.”
“Is that ‘cooperation’ an order or a request? “ I asked.
The corner of the Chancellor’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “Sheriff, you are not the only one who has learned when to use coaxing instead of force to get the best results from others. And while I could, indeed, force you to do what I’ve asked, well, as you yourself have said, what’s the fun in that?” Her dark brown eyes shone at me. “No, Sheriff, I want to offer you an opportunity to … protect your interests. Only because they coincidentally align with my own and those of the Guardian. ”
But not those of all the Authority members? Nora had told me that Nan Flanagan’s influence within the vampire power structure had been waning, but I had attributed it to Nan’s strident personality, not her politics. I wondered if perhaps there was more dissent among the members of the Council than was known.
“And if I decline to be the Maker?” I asked.
The Magister shrugged again. “She’ll still be turned, but she will be under the command of another Maker. Someone perhaps not as interested in keeping Miss Stackhouse and her brother out of things as I believe you to be.”
I dipped my head respectfully towards the Magister. “I will be… honored… to fulfill the sentence of the Authority, Magister.”
Chancellor Kader rose. “Excellent. You will be escorted to the Council Chambers when we are ready to begin the formal proceedings.”
It was nearly midnight when my guard finally led me into a large, formal hall gleaming with marble pillars. What I assumed were the Council of Chancellors – the dreaded Vampire Authority – were seated around a large board table, notepads, pens and bottles of Tru-Blood at each seat. In addition to Nora and Magister Kader, there were two other women – a blowsy-looking redhead and a stunningly beautiful but ancient female with delicate features – three men, and a round-faced boy.
For vampires who ruled the world as we knew it, it was a surprisingly soft- looking group. And shockingly young. While I could tell that at least one of the men and the exceptionally beautiful woman – as well as Chancellor Kader – were older than I was, most of them were half my age, if that. As a group, they looked as if they could be blown away by one good blast of Sookie’s fae light.
Except for the male vampire at the head of the table. He was not as tall as I was, but still muscular and imposing, with receding dark hair and piercing eyes. He was only half my age, but he looked as if he would make up for what he might lack in age-based strength with sheer will and determination. He had to have both in spades if he had transformed the motley group before me into the apex of global vampire politics.
“Sheriff Northman, if you will join your friends, we can begin,” the Magister said, rising from her seat. Since visiting my chambers, she had changed into a softly tailored pantsuit in a dark navy blue, an outfit that looked appropriately prosecutorial.
‘My friends’ – Pam and Bill – were seated at opposite ends of a long marble bench to one side of the chamber, with armed guards much like my own standing ‘casually’ behind them. I silently strode over to the bench and seated myself beside my progeny. Pam subtly slid closer to me and nonchalantly placed one hand on the cool marble between us with the edge of her fingers just brushing against my leg, unobtrusively seeking comfort. I could feel that she was frightened, although you would never know it from her placid expression. My king was grim and didn’t even nod in acknowledgment as I took my place beside him.
The vampire at the head of the table rose and with a jerk of his head indicated that we peons on the bench should rise as well. “As we weigh the scales of justice, let us now invoke Lilith, that she may guide us to a fair accounting,” he intoned before beginning to speak in what sounded to me like ancient Aramaic. Around the table, the Authority members bowed their heads and closed their eyes, as did Bill, but Pam and I continued to stand neutrally, our eyes still open. Nora raised a sidelong glance at me and frowned in irritation, trying to gesture silently at me with her head to indicate I needed to follow the other vampires in their reverent attitude, but I just raised a sardonic brow at her. I didn’t mind being respectful, but to pretend to pray to a god I didn’t believe in seemed excessively hypocritical to me.
Fortunately, if anyone else noticed my lack of true veneration, they didn’t comment, although the leader of the Authority shot me a narrow-eyed, speculative look as he raised his head and finished his invocation. The icy eyes rested on me for only a few seconds before he turned and signaled to Authority guards near the door. “Bring the prisoner in and let’s get this judgment underway. I’d like to get the PR aspects of this clusterfuck under control as soon as possible.”
The ethereally lovely female Chancellor spoke in a quiet but firm voice as two sentries left the room. “Guardian, we would be done with this matter already if you had simply put down Nan’s killer as readily as we did the necromancers. We all agreed that the witches were too dangerous to survive. Why should we treat this coconspirator of theirs differently? I don’t see why we need to go through this charade when –”
“Chancellor Agrippa,” the Guardian cut the female vampire off. “Our idiot friends in Northern Louisiana have placed us in this position with their ineptitude.” The steely glance towards the bench where Bill, Pam and I sat left no doubt who the Guardian was referring to. Beside me, Bill’s posture grew more rigid and I could feel Pam tense. “But we’re going to try to make some sort of fucking silk purse out of this sow’s ear. We can’t give the press the necromancers since they were so…intractable…up until the end. But perhaps we can salvage something from this fucking mess. Let’s at least make a goddamn effort, shall we?” Around the conference table, the other Chancellors had grown tense as the Guardian growled out his response, but only Chancellor Agrippa’s gaze battled with his for several long seconds before she murmured, “Yes, Guardian,” and lowered her eyes.
At the door, the guards entered, half-dragging a handcuffed Tara Thornton with them. They came to a stop between the bench where I sat with the rest of the Louisiana contingent and the table full of Authority members, and Tara collapsed to the floor. I could see that she had been treated – using human methods, not vampire blood – for the arm she had injured in the hotel, but she showed no other signs of physical abuse. However, she did look as if she was emotionally exhausted and she stank of tears and despair.
The redheaded Chancellor at the table let out a shrill squawk of laughter before blurting in a thick Texas accent, “That scrawny little thing is what killed Nan Flanagan? You have got to be kidding me!”
Tara raised her head, her expression dull, only to mutter thickly, “And I’d do it again, motherfu—”
In a flash of movement, Chancellor Kader was kneeling beside Tara, her stern face within inches of the prisoner’s. I could see what the table full of Chancellors could not, as they were behind Kader’s back: the Magister was warning Tara with her expression not to be foolish. With a shudder, the brief flash of defiance died from Tara’s reddened and swollen eyes and she closed them as if trying to pretend she was somewhere else.
“I thought you said she was remorseful after your conversation with her,” my sister said in her crisp British voice to Magister Kader. “That doesn’t sound particularly repentant to me.”
Chancellor Kader moved to stand, positioning herself between the crumpled form on the ground and the other vampires. “I never said she was remorseful,” the Magister replied evenly, “Only that she had admitted her guilt to me, openly and honestly.”
The boy at the table huffed. “Then why are we waiting? Let’s end her if she is guilty by her own admission. Death to the human!” he blurted out with relish.
The Guardian frowned at the boy, who failed to notice the chilly regard.
“Actually, I proposed an alternative punishment for Miss Thornton and the Guardian has agreed that it could be a creative solution,” the Magister said calmly. “One that benefits us more than another execution would, especially as we try to maintain our détente with humans.”
The vampire child’s eyes shifted as if he were about to roll them in mockery, but he finally noticed the Guardian’s eyes on him and instead simply pinched his mouth tight with dissatisfaction.
“In exchange for willingly pleading guilty to the charge of murdering Nan Flanagan, Miss Thornton has agreed to be made vampire,” the Magister proclaimed.
There was a rustle of reaction around the table and I caught two of the adult male Chancellors – one African in appearance and the other a pale, bearded European of great age – glancing at each other. “One Steve Newlin wasn’t enough?” the ancient European drawled in a faintly Teutonic accent. “Granted, he has worked out better than we ever hoped, but he had a public role before his turning that we can eventually make use of. All this woman has is her hatred for our kind. She’s a nobody.”
“Precisely,” interjected the Guardian with satisfaction. “She has no public position for us to exploit, no friends in high places, nothing obvious we can gain by turning her. Instead of getting a well-deserved death penalty for her terrorist act, she not only lives, but gets a chance to, let’s say, move past her admittedly strong anti-vampire bigotry by becoming one of us. This makes us look generous in our verdict.” The Guardian actually grinned. “And if she turns out to be as happy a vampire as Reverend Newlin has, we may be able to do something with her later. And if not – well, if she is decides to meet the true death of her own accord, at least we gave her a chance. I think we’ve got a win-win here.”
“You mean you are going to reward a – an anti-vampire terrorist by making her one of us?” Chancellor Agrippa sputtered. “Roman – Guardian – is that a wise use of the sacred blood?” It was obvious the sultry Chancellor was shocked and angry, but I could see that she was hastily trying to regroup from her initial outburst and regain self-control.
“Oh, come now, Salome,” the Guardian responded. I started, looking with fresh eyes at the beautiful Chancellor he addressed. I had known she was significantly older than I was, but could she truly be the Biblical Salome? That would make her nearly 2,000 years old, of an age with Godric. The Guardian continued, “You know as well as I do that all sorts of twits and lowlifes are turned with the sacred blood on a daily basis. At least Miss Thornton would serve a useful purpose to the vampire cause. Turning her is hardly that shocking.” The Guardian’s cold eyes rested on Tara, who was still huddled on the floor, trembling. “And Miss Thornton, you have agreed to this, haven’t you?”
“Y-yes,” Tara stuttered out faintly. “Yes, I agreed.” She sounded broken and resigned, and I felt a pang of respect since I knew she was only doing this to protect Sookie and her brother. She could easily have given them up to the Authority, and I had to give her credit for being friend enough not to let that happen.
“And who would do this turning?” Nora asked. “Are you expecting one of us to take Nan’s killer on as a child? Because that is just –”
My sister was still searching for a word vile enough to express her disgust with the idea when Magister Kader responded, “As the problem arose in northern Louisiana, I was actually going to ask the local authorities there to administer the sentence and tend to Miss Thornton’s care.”
Beside me, Bill Compton twitched reflexively. Did he think he was going to be called upon to do the deed? Given his reluctance to turn Jessica Hamby, I could see why he might fear yet another forced turning. Jessica seemed to be turning out well, but I hadn’t forgotten Bill’s initially poor parenting of his unexpected child.
“I recommend that Sheriff Northman be the one to administer the sentence,” Chancellor Kader continued. Beside me, Pam was unable to stifle her gasp and I could see by Nora’s shocked face that she hadn’t been expecting the pronouncement either.
“No – Guardian, if you would permit me, I would be willing to take responsibility for Miss Thornton,” Bill ground out. I glanced at him in surprise. I didn’t know what he felt he owed Tara Thornton to do it, but I knew it cost him something to volunteer himself.
“No!” choked out Tara from her position on the floor. “No, not Bill Compton. Please.” Her voice was trembling along with her body and I knew that as terrified as she was, for her to speak up at all was an effort.
“Sounds like she’s not a fan of yours, Compton,” the Guardian drawled. “Not much of a recommendation, especially if she’s from that same little podunk town you’re made the seat of your kingdom. What in the hell goes on in that place, anyhow? Nan was always telling us stories.” He shook his head as if baffled. “Anyone else in this room eager to sire Miss Thornton in the Sheriff’s place?”
Beside me, I felt Pam’s body tense and through our bond I sensed an internal struggle. For reasons I couldn’t begin to understand, she was actually considering speaking up herself. Without looking her way, I put my hand out and covered hers warningly, willing her to remain quiet.
At the silence in the chamber, the Guardian suddenly slapped his hand flat on the table with a meaty thud. “Fine, Sheriff Northman it is! Miss Thornton, stand up. I’m going to ask you one more time for the record and then you will be escorted back to your cell to await imposition of your sentence.”
The two guards with Tara helped her to her feet and she stood, still shaking and subdued, clutching at her pained arm.
“Tara Thornton, you have been charged with the murder of Nan Flanagan. How do you plead?” the Guardian asked briskly.
“I plead guilty,” Tara replied, her voice stronger than I would have expected.
“And, acknowledging your guilt, you have agreed to be made vampire in recompense. You do this freely and while not under compulsion of any kind, including glamour. Do you verify this?”
“Yes,” Tara murmured.
“Then, Tara Thornton, you will be made vampire by Sheriff Eric Northman of Louisiana Area 5 before dawn this morning. Tomorrow night you will rise as vampire and will be released to his custody.” The Guardian turned towards me and he dropped his official tone. “Northman, I expect you to keep her alive for at least a month to say we gave her a chance to acclimate. She will not be offing herself while still anywhere near New Orleans or for the next 30 days, am I understood?”
“Yes, Guardian,” I replied.
“Roslyn, I’m going to ask you to prepare a press release explaining our creative and compassionate sentence for our misinformed human friend. Be sure to emphasize how we hope that seeing vampire life from the other side will open her mind to the equality of all races,” the Guardian dictated.
“Certainly, Guardian,” the blowsy redhead responded as she was jotting down a flurry of handwritten notes on the pad in front of her. “I’ll see that it is released ASAP, and contact Nancy Grace directly.”
The Guardian rubbed his hands together in satisfaction and stood up. “Great, then let’s get on to more interesting subjects. Compton, I’d like you to stay a bit with us and chat. Northman, you and your current progeny are dismissed until the time comes for you to turn Miss Thornton.”
I couldn’t imagine what the Authority wanted with Bill Compton, but better him than me. I wanted to do what I needed to and get the hell out of New Orleans. Sookie may have told me she needed time and space, but our bond was tugging at me insistently to be closer to her, and as soon as possible. If that mean respecting the distance between Shreveport and Bon Temps, fine, but being here in New Orleans was increasingly uncomfortable in a physically literal sense. I felt as if I had to fight taking to the sky to go to Sookie and to hell with the consequences.
As we stood to leave, Pam clutched at my arm and leaned in to whisper to me, her distress evident only through our bond. “Eric, maybe they will accept me as her Maker instead? I don’t like the bitch, but it isn’t fair to you to have to do this.” She knew better than to say the words where we were, but I could feel her internal reaction: fucking Authority.
I raised an eyebrow at my progeny. “And exactly how would you treat Tara as a Maker, Pam?”
Pam’s face darkened. “The little twat would learn the meaning of punishment. I would make her life a living hell for what she and those witches did to us. And I’d have a whole month to do it before she could even look forward to the True Death,” she added spitefully.
I sighed and then put my hand on Pam’s cheek. “And that is exactly why it’s better for me to be her Maker, Pam. I have my reasons for doing as the Magister asked, and using it as an excuse to torture Tara Thornton is not one of them.”
Pam stared at me before saying, “Eric, you are still not truly back to yourself, are you? Those goddamn witches and that fucking –”
I hastily pressed my fingers across her lips to silence her. “Don’t make me command you, Pam. I’m sure I’ll have enough of that with Tara in the next few days. But understand me here: you are not going to give your new sibling shit.” At her rebellious look, I compromised. “At least not more than she can stand. And I will be the one who determines what that is.”
Pam shook her head and walked away, just as the Magister approached me. “Sheriff, we should talk logistical details.” She looked relieved and pleased that things were going according to her plan.
“After we do that, may I see my would-be progeny? I’d like to talk to her before we perform the procedure.” I glanced at the Magister’s face. “Establish a few ground rules.”
Magister Kader smiled. “Certainly, Sheriff.”
Tara was lying in a huddle on the cot in her cell when they let me in. I lowered myself lightly onto the edge of the bed, careful not to move too close to her too quickly. It was clear that she had been weeping again.
“Tara.” I kept my voice soft and non-threatening. “I want to talk to you about what is going to happen.”
She slowly struggled to sit up and edged away from me further on the narrow mattress. “You’re going to finally get a chance to kill me is what is going to happen,” she ground out. “Just like you wanted. But it’s going to get me what I need out of it, so fuck you.”
“Now, there’s the Tara Thornton I am familiar with,” I said with a half-smile. “I’m glad to see you haven’t completely lost your spirit. You’re going to need it after you’ve been made vampire.”
“Not for long. Y’all can stake me or put me in the sun to fry the minute that month is up. Or maybe I’ll do it myself before that and let you get in trouble with that head honcho in there. That could be fun, even if I won’t be around to see it.” Tara glared at me, a spark of her normal defiance back in her eyes.
“That is not going to happen, Tara. The moment we’re up tomorrow night, I’m going to have to command you not to harm yourself – at least for a month. You will find it physically impossible not to obey me.” I shrugged. “After the month is over, we’ll see. If you’re that unhappy, I may let you do what you wish. But, Tara –” I leaned a little closer, trying to engage her. “—I’m hoping that you won’t find being a vampire as bad as you fear. That you’ll adapt.”
Tara snorted. “Oh, because I’ve always wanted to be a fucking blood-sucking murderer,” she said, her voice dripping in sarcasm. “I know you know why I’m doing this, and it isn’t because I want to be one of you evil motherfuckers.”
“So, don’t be an evil motherfucker,” I replied bluntly. “One thing you need to understand, Tara, is that vampires, just like humans, are what we choose to be so long as they have freedom. Becoming vampire doesn’t do anything to the kind of person you are inside. This is not ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and vampires don’t lose their souls when they are turned.” I looked at her earnestly. “You will still be able to make choices after you are turned.”
“Oh, except the choice not to eat people!” Tara spat.
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Hey, you want to fill up on TruBlood, be my guest, but you’re going to find it tastes like shit. But unlike meat-eating humans, you will not have to kill to eat. Since the Great Revelation, there are many people willing to let vampires feed on them, even without glamour. Pam and I will teach you how to do it so that you don’t harm anyone you don’t want to.” I shot her a glance. “Of course, if you do want to hurt someone, you’re going to be able to because of your increased abilities. But whether you use that power is going to be your call once I am satisfied you are self-controlled enough to manage it. Like I said, a lot of what is to come is going to be your choice. I’m going to teach you to survive the best way I know how.”
Tara’s eyes narrowed at me. “You’re going ‘teach me to survive’?” she asked skeptically. “You trying to tell me you’re not planning on killing me the very second you are able to?”
“I have never killed a progeny and prefer not to start,” I answered.
She snorted. “So, you’re just going to torture me in that basement dungeon of yours, then? Make me just wish I was dead?” She glared defiantly at me.
“That would be Pam’s idea of how to treat you,” I said honestly. “But, no, I’m planning on treating you the way I would any child of mine. And I’m not big on torturing family members.”
Tara frowned at me. “After what I did, turning you over to Marnie? Taking you to that rally to kill other vampires? You trying to tell me you’re going to forgive that?” She sounded skeptical.
I sat and studied her silently as I thought about how to answer that. “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m still pretty pissed off about it,” I finally said. “And, in the past, yes, I’d probably have killed you for it and not regretted it for a moment.”
There was a fleeting expression of triumph on Tara’s face.
“But I’m willing to overlook a lot for Sookie’s sake,” I continued. “What you’ve agreed to do…I know why you’re doing it and I value that. Enough to let bygones be bygones between us.”
Tara regarded me doubtfully.
I hesitated for a moment. “That and what Sookie said to you in her living room about me having changed was true,” I explained tentatively. “Not quite the way she thought when she said it, because I can’t claim to be the innocent I was when I was with her. I remember everything I did now and I can’t deny that. But while I can’t undo the past, I can try to do things differently in the future. Not just because I love Sookie – and I do – but because she showed me something about myself I didn’t like. Whether she ends up loving me or not, that’s something I need to deal with.”
Tara speculated, her eyes narrowed, “So, you’re going to help me become some kind of ‘good’ vampire so you can show Sookie how much you’ve changed or something?”
Apparently my new progeny was going to rival her elder sister for cynicism. At least my century with Pam had given me experience in dealing with this level of pessimism.
“At the moment, she’s told me to stay the hell away from her, and frankly, I don’t think telling her I’ve turned her best friend is going to win any points with her immediately,” I replied drily. “Although I’m hoping she’ll eventually understand why both you and I made this choice and get past it.”
“Yeah, it would kind of suck if I end up a vampire and you become my vampire daddy for eternity for her sake and she never spoke to either of us again,” Tara finally muttered.
The very thought of Sookie never speaking to me again sent a sharp pang through my heart – and through the bond. I felt Sookie react, tentatively tracing the pain back to me, and I very deliberately took a deep breath to calm myself. I couldn’t afford the persistent tug of the bond to distract me from what needed to be done here and now to protect the woman on the other end of it. I concentrated on subtly but firmly damping down my awareness of the connection again. I was finding that the key was to be focused on other things.
Trying to redirect my attention away from Sookie, I asked Tara a question I had been wondering about since we were in the Council chamber. “Why did you refuse Bill’s offer to be your Maker?”
“I don’t trust Bill Compton,” Tara replied flatly. “I asked him once for help when I knew I was going to die without it, and he flat out told me ‘no’ – and meant it. Then he nearly drained Sookie dry even though he supposedly loved her while doing it.” She shot me a look. “And I’m not stupid. I’m guessing he got all that money and power he got in the last year by doing something to somebody. Probably somebody who trusted him only to end up stabbed in the back.” She shook her head. “No way I was gonna take a chance on trusting him.”
“Don’t tell me you trusted me more than him,” I said. “Because I won’t believe it after the way you went after me with that fire poker in Sookie’s house. So why didn’t you object to my being your Maker?”
Tara shrugged. “Better the devil you know, I guess. I don’t know any of these other vampires except Pam and you know that woman hates me much as I hate her.” Tara picked at the blanket on her cot with her fingers before continuing slowly, “And I was thinking, while it may be that Sookie is wrong about you changing, at least there was a slim chance it could be true.” She looked up at me. “You didn’t kill me that night in her house when you could have. And you didn’t kill me in the hotel when you probably should have, after what I did.” Tara looked down at the bed and shrugged again. “You were the best choice out of a lot of really shitty options, basically.”
I felt my mouth twist up in a wry smile. “Tara Thornton, if that’s the way you think as a human, you are going to make one hell of a vampire. You’re clearly a natural at surviving and that’s what vampires do best.”
I was prepared to sacrifice anything to protect Sookie – but I was suddenly optimistic that taking Tara Thornton as a child might not be as big a sacrifice as I had feared.
Before I left Tara’s cell, I made sure she understand exactly what was going to happen – including disconcertingly having to reassure her at one point that I did not intend to have sex with her as part of the turning process.
Tara said it was something she’d seen on one of those TV shows where lots of screaming and fistfights broke out, with the theme on the day she’d watched being “My Maker made me a sex slave!”
I was somewhat affronted as I pointed out that, no matter what I had done in order to feed over the course of 1,000 years, I had never, while living or undead, had to either force or glamour a woman into sex, and I wasn’t about to start with her.
Nora was waiting for me in my room when I finally returned.
“Eric, what the fuck is going on?” My sister almost reached out to touch me, but the memory of what had happened the last time must have stopped her at the last moment, as her hand stalled in mid-air before dropping restlessly to her side. “What did the Magister say to you to force you to do this?”
“She didn’t force me,” I answered honestly. “She proposed it as a PR-friendly solution and I agreed.”
“Oh, as if you’ve suddenly become an apologist for the human-rights cause,” Nora spluttered. Her eyes narrowed at me. “Or have you? Is that something else to do with whatever those fucking witches did to you?” She closed her eyes in frustration. “I swear to you, Eric, I will not stop until I find out what kind of spell was put on you and you are put back to rights. And then I don’t care if I am violating every Mainstreaming tenet there is, I’m going to make whoever had anything to do with what happened to you – whoever broke you like this – pay. Including your new progeny as soon as I’m able.”
The fuck she would. I bit my tongue to keep from snarling at Nora in Tara’s defense. Whatever my own concerns about the situation, my bloodline was mine and not to be touched by anyone, even my own sister. “Nora, let it rest. I have my reasons to cooperate with the Magister,” I gritted out.
“Is it a lead in figuring out what sort of magic was used on you?” Nora looked hopeful. “If that’s so, I suppose I must let you do what you think is best for now. I did promise.” Her eyes regarded me with concern. “But Eric, it is just so hard to see you so changed. And for that horrid, human-loving Byzantine cow to use you this way when you’re not yourself –” She bit off what she was saying, dropping her voice lower. “If things continue in this direction, I don’t know how much longer the Guardian will be able to hold sway over the rest of the Council,” she said, her voice serious and grim. “To desecrate the blood – our blood, Eric – by making that dismal creature one of us is just unspeakable. Not that I will hold you accountable for that desecration. No, this is all because of the Guardian and his increasingly radical notions.” Nora twisted her hands together.
I frowned. “Are you telling me that the Guardian’s position is not secure?” I asked warily.
“He’s just pushing us so far beyond what anyone ever expected in regard to our relationship to humans,” Nora muttered, almost to herself. “He seems to have forgotten the rightful order of things.” She glanced up at me and collected herself. “I’m just afraid of what is to come, brother, if he doesn’t become more…moderate in his beliefs.”
“Nora,” I said after a moment of silence. “Are you going to be safe here? You’re not involved in anything dangerous, are you?” For all the things I had withheld from her in order to protect Sookie, Nora was still my sister and I was suddenly afraid for her safety in this pit of vampire vipers.
“I’ll be fine,” she answered absently. She glanced up at me. “This situation just has me overwrought. But I guess it can’t be helped. For now.” She shook her head wearily. “Eric, I will not be there to see you turn this woman. I just can’t stomach it. But I wish you well, brother.” Once again, she reached out to touch me, but again stopping herself and I saw frustration flash across her face. “Let me know if I can help you in any way once you are back home in Shreveport. And keep me posted on whatever you find out about the magics still affecting you.” She turned and left.
With a heavy sigh, I sank onto the edge of the bed in my room. I had loved Nora as a sister, lover and friend for nearly 600 years, and while we had argued before, I had never felt so distant from her as I did at this moment. She kept railing at me about how I had changed, and I couldn’t disagree. And while it disappointed me that Nora and I were shifting apart as a result, I couldn’t undo what Sookie had done to me, to my heart. I wouldn’t undo it.
A couple of hours before dawn, I stood beside a large dirt hole in a field on the outskirts of New Orleans. Tara stood beside me, freshly showered and wearing a clean set of clothes as I had requested, although I had heard one guard mutter that it seemed a waste of both clean water and clothing since we were both just going to ground so shortly. The Magister was there to oversee things and Pam had also joined us, although I think her motivation was a vain hope that some miracle would happen and circumstances would change.
“I’ll return with your progeny – with your eldest progeny, that is, this evening. Once we are assured all is well, you will be free to return to your home territory,” Chancellor Kader explained. “Are you both ready?”
I could hear Tara’s heart beating, hard and fast, but she answered resolutely, “As ready as I’m going to be.”
I hesitated and then asked Tara directly, “Are you sure you don’t want to be glamoured? Just to take the pain away?” The Magister had made it clear that it would be permitted if that was what either Tara or I wanted.
“No,” she answered. “I want to remember what it feels like. So I know afterwards what I’m going to be doing to people.”
Pam rolled her eyes in disgust.
I leaned in close to Tara, and said, only for her to hear, “I won’t forget why you are doing this. And I don’t want you to forget why I am. I’m doing this for Sookie – but once you are my child, you will be mine to protect. So don’t be afraid.”
Tara Thornton simply closed her eyes, trembling, as she raised her chin to give me better access to her neck.
And then I bit her.