CHAPTER 1 – REPAYMENT
Eric broke the wax seal already knowing the letter’s sender; the mark of the Fairy Prince was unmistakable. If the contents were as expected, the notice was long overdue relief. The Prince held a debt over the Viking and it was high time it was repaid. While Eric had no idea what task or assignment awaited him, he held no regret over enlisting the Fairy’s help in killing his sadistic maker. Eric chuckled to himself, Niall didn’t help; he handled it. How he discovered that Eric needed to be saved from Appius was something the fairy never disclosed. Over the centuries, Eric realized he didn’t care what other magic or intel was used. Three hundred years of pain, punishment, and violation caused by his maker had the Viking ready to give up, but Niall had saved his life.
Eric pulled the thick paper from the envelope and laughed. As usual, Niall’s words didn’t disclose much, it was an order to leave certain doors open to permit the Fairy entrance to Eric’s private office. The meeting was two nights away; he’d have to wait only a short while longer. For now, he returned to the remaining pile of correspondence on his desk and continued to work. It was work he hated, but necessary. When Felipe DeCastro decided he wanted Louisiana, things changed. Then a Sheriff to the Queen of Louisiana, Eric had to fight for his Queen. The outcome, Felipe and Sophie-Anne perishing, wasn’t expected. Since all Sophie-Anne’s children died in the takeover attempt, the Council stepped in and named Eric King of both Louisiana and Nevada.
He hadn’t wanted either state.
With the better shopping options, his child, Pam, volunteered to handle Nevada. He sent both his children to manage the state on his behalf; his oldest child, Karin, was the named Regent with Pam as her second. Thalia, his trusted and very strong two-thousand-year-old friend, moved to New Orleans to serve as his second in command, state enforcer, and personal protector.
He kept two prizes from the fighting for his occasional entertainment, Victor Madden and Bill Compton sat in cells below his New Orleans palace. Their collaboration brought about the takeover, but it was their other sins that had Eric ‘visiting them’ at least once a week.
“Your Majesty,” his assistant called from the door to his office. “Your next appointment is here.”
“Send him in.” The start of his meeting ended the trip down memory lane.
Two nights later, Eric waited in his private office with his doors open. The Fairy Prince knew that sections of the palace were built with layers of iron to prevent unwanted fairy guests and open doors would be the only route directly into the secluded area. Eric hated hosting Niall in his private chambers since he didn’t share his personal life and history with many. At the same time, he welcomed the opportunity to keep their conversation confidential. As scheduled, the fairy appeared in the room. It had been centuries since Eric had seen Niall. Though he’d aged with some graying hair and faint wrinkles, the prince was an imposing presence in the office. Eric recalled that the man always appeared happy in their prior encounters, yet today he wore the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The debt to be paid was going to be large. Eric could feel it in his bones.
The two greeted each other cordially as they met in Eric’s private office. Niall took in Eric’s casual outfit and almost scolded the King’s appearance, but refrained given the severity of the situation on Fairy. Leave it to the Viking to dress in jeans as a King. “Are you enjoying life as Royalty?” The Prince asked.
“I find it boring. The biggest threats to the Kingdom were eliminated in the takeover, and New Orleans and Nevada are quite profitable,” Eric wasn’t exaggerating. Felipe DeCastro and his fighters had been the only potential threat to Louisiana, the Council fully backed his position and now, for close to a year, Eric sat on a lucrative, but utterly monotonous kingdom.
Niall laughed at Eric’s response, “It might be boring now, but I heard the fight for the Kingdom was epic.”
“As far as battles go, it was satisfactory. Felipe and his senior staff were killed. The loss of the Queen and her court was regrettable.”
“Yes, I understand you aren’t happy with the results,” Niall smirked at the new King.
“My youngest child certainly is. She offered to manage Nevada for me immediately.”
Niall raised an eyebrow and offered, “Let me guess, she’s living on the Strip?”
Eric shrugged, “That’s where the designer shops are. As an added benefit, the stores are all open twenty-four hours.”
“From what I’ve heard, I could see why a wealthy female would enjoy it.” The Prince walked around the office for a moment before settling in one of Eric’s guest chairs. He was stalling, trying to get a read on the vampire before he announced his visit’s purpose, “I teleported quickly, but did see your Palace is under renovations.”
Eric’s scoff was loud, “Sophie-Anne was a fair and shrewd leader, a designer though?” He shook his head. “I’ve been able to pay for all the renovations by selling the gold she used in her trimming, doorways, you name it, she covered it with gold! I did keep some of the paintings.”
Niall looked up to the painting behind Eric’s desk. It looked like a farm with a rustic, narrow, and long building in the center. “I don’t know much of your life’s history,” he pointed to the painting, “Is that from your time as a human? It doesn’t look like something Sophie-Anne would have collected.”
“I sketched what I could from memory and worked with a painter to create something as close to my human home as I remember. The large building was my house. I raised six children there,” his expression changed and for a moment, his normally stoic mask softened. Eric shook his head, “I guess I can’t say that I raised all of them since my maker had other plans.” After a pause, the king stood now with his hands on his hips and was slightly angry that Niall had opened the door to difficult memories, “That painting is one the reasons this office is not for the public. I have a meeting room instead.”
Niall nodded, “I realize that, but I didn’t want to be part of a public meeting, fairy in a vampire palace and all that.” He smirked at his joke. Niall could see that his attempt at humor failed, so he dropped his smile, maintaining a pleasant outlook was difficult these days anyway. “Hence my request for you to open the door and allow me directly into your chamber office,” Niall was taken aback by Eric’s anger, but after a moment, he realized Eric’s attachment to his family would serve him well with the favor he needed. Satisfied that Eric would be up to the task he was about to bestow on him, he started, “I’m certain you’ve figured out why I’m here.” Eric nodded in affirmation. “The favor I’m about to request will cancel your debt to me.”
“It’s been a long time coming, and I’m prepared to pay as we discussed. Killing my maker is worth any price, nothing could be worse than living under the thumb of that sadist.” Niall noticed that Eric’s face was tight as he mentioned his maker.
Niall paused and thought that Eric might change his mind when he learned of the favor, but then he recalled what he’d learned about Appius and decided Eric was correct. This favor would be nothing in comparison, “I have a great-granddaughter. She needs protection.”
Eric was immediately concerned, “A fairy? A young fairy? Can she cover her scent?”
“She’s a human fairy hybrid, she smells sweet, but not of fairy. She’s prepared to live in a gilded cage, if you will. Her safety is paramount until I can deal with certain…threats.”
A hybrid to protect? Never did Eric consider this could be the favor. When he thought about it over the centuries, he was sure Niall would request someone’s death. The comment about the gilded cage bothered him, but it was accurate. He would take the woman’s protection seriously, and frolicking outside the palace would be forbidden. Her happiness with that situation would depend on how long this protection would last. “Perhaps you should start at the beginning. What is the threat? How long will I have this woman?”
Niall sighed and began his story. Fairy, his realm, was currently engaged in a civil war. At the root of the conflict was reproduction. The Fae had seen a dramatic drop in birthrates over the past four centuries. “Some fairies came to Earth specifically to breed. My wife, Queen Mab, agreed with the method of breeding with humans, but only if the resulting children were raised on Fae.”
Eric couldn’t hide his disgust, “So she’s been kidnapping the hybrids?”
Niall lowered his face, ashamed of his wife’s actions, “Not at first. She yielded to my wishes to allow them to remain on Earth. About ten years ago, our birth rate dropped to almost zero, and she disregarded my edict. We’ve been fighting over this for years now.” Niall sighed and rubbed his face. “Now the hybrids are brought to our realm to mate. Mab isn’t a proponent of Fairies approaching and courting the hybrids. Rather, her soldiers capture hybrids on Earth and move them to Fairy. There, they are forced to breed. The resulting children are treated as members of the Fae race in adopted families and the hybrids are kept as breeding slaves. My granddaughter was one of the hybrids captured.”
Eric was startled that Mab would go as far as capturing her granddaughter, “She kidnapped her own family?”
Niall looked down, “No…no. My Earth relations resulted from a relationship I had with a human before I married Mab.”
Eric nodded in understanding, “You got her out though?” A ghost of pain crossed Niall’s face while he responded with a nod. Eric realized the situation with the great-granddaughter and war with his wife explained the somber look Niall was sporting.
Both men were quiet for a moment. Eric’s head was spinning on how to fulfill his debt to Niall while he kept a young fairy hybrid safe. Keeping her at a distance was out of the question seeing as he felt compelled to have her live in his secure chamber and if she went anywhere, it would be with him. He glanced at Niall while he deliberated. The Fairy prince said he needed time to deal with a threat. Knowing that time worked differently in Fairy, Eric wondered just how much time would be needed. In addition, many fairies, like Niall, could teleport and he considered this to be the biggest security risk. Since Eric’s chamber was protected from teleporting fairies, he worried that the hybrid might become sick due to the exposure for he knew iron was lethal to fairies. So, in addition to time, he needed to understand how to prepare his palace for the woman. The more he thought, the longer his list of to-dos grew, mostly human needs. Currently, his chamber had a shower and a tub, but no other equipment for human needs, access to food was only in the donor residence (a separate building), and given the pained look on Niall’s face, the hybrid could be delivered to him in a broken condition. Dealing with an injured human, emotional or otherwise, wasn’t something he was prepared to handle.
“Niall,” he paused, “Understand that I’m not declining you this repayment, but I will need to learn more before I can agree.”
“Of course. What do you need to know?”
For the next hour, Niall and Eric reviewed his concerns and made plans for the next steps. In the end, Eric realized that while for Niall, he might end the threat to hybrids in a few months, on Earth, that same time-frame could be years. That lead to a dizzying discussion on how time worked between the two realms. Niall had somehow synced the time on Earth to his great-granddaughter, so for her, the time that passed in Fae was the same as how the time passed on Earth.
The time difference would now work to Eric’s benefit as Niall had agreed to cut the time hold with his great-granddaughter while Eric prepared his home. So while it could take several months for Eric to line his iron with copper (the trick he learned that would prevent fairies from entering while protecting the fairy within from iron poisoning) for his new charge, the time in Fairy could be minutes.
The hardest part was dealing with the emotional healing of this hybrid. Niall agreed that she needed the additional time for healing in Fairy, but he needed her gone so he could fight the war without her getting caught in the fray. For this situation, Niall suggested a demon counselor and Eric agreed, a demon would know about the Fae realm and could offer better support.
“So we have a plan?” Eric asked to confirm.
“One more thing, Eric. This will impact you the most and I have an offer to ease your…inconvenience.”
Warning lights went off in Eric’s head. So far, hosting and protecting his great-granddaughter was already more than an inconvenience. He couldn’t imagine what more could be coming. Niall spoke and Eric couldn’t contain his reaction.
“I want you to bond with her for protection from your own kind.”
“Do you know what you’re asking? A bond is forever. If either of us die…does she plan to be turned? I’ll be tied to her…”
“VIKING! Hear me out!” Eric stopped talking, nearly embarrassed that he’d rambled out of his reaction. “I can break the bond when I’ve stopped the madness in Fairy.”
“I appreciate that suggestion, but I’m still not comfortable with a bond.”
“I’m prepared to offer you something in exchange,” Niall pulled a box from his pocket and approached Eric. “This.”
The King’s brow furrowed in confusion, “This looks like a ring box. Are you proposing, Niall?”
Niall smirked, “You’re not my type, nor am I yours.” The Fairy Prince joked. “Speaking of type, I didn’t ask…you’re not currently linked to anyone? A bond won’t be an issue for that reason?” Niall was fishing for information.
This time, Eric’s face projected hurt before he schooled his features, “No.”
Niall nodded, Eric’s answer confirmed something for him. Rather, Eric’s hurt face confirmed he had someone of interest, but no longer. “I had heard rumors of an… attraction a while back,” Niall opened the box. “Back to my offer. When you wear this ring, you’ll be immune to silver and sunlight. You’ll feel no pull to rest, though your body will need sleep like a human.”
“WHAT?! How is this possible?” Eric put his hand out for the box
Niall shrugged, “I’m a powerful fairy, you know…lots of magic.”
“There are two rings in here.”
“I believe you’ll need additional coverage. Share as needed.”
Eric was puzzled by the comment for additional coverage, he was shocked by the promise of daylight, and he was concerned about the trouble this woman would bring to his doorstep, “What am I missing, Niall? Are you taking these rings back when you collect the woman? This seems like overkill to compensate for a bond, especially as you confirmed, I am not tied to anyone.”
“My research showed that bonds are sacred for your kind, I felt the need to compensate for it. Repaying my debt is her protection from fairies and the bond ensures she won’t have problems with your kind either,” as an afterthought, he added, “The rings are yours to keep.” Eric had been studying Niall carefully throughout the entire conversation and felt something was being left out, but when pushed, Niall kept quiet, “You’ll understand more once you meet her. I’ll teleport her here now for a quick meeting, and then we’ll leave so you can begin preparations.”
Eric tried once again for full disclosure from Niall, “There’s nothing else you need to tell me? Nothing I’ll need to prepare for meeting her?” He shook his head. “I’m agreeing to fulfill my debt, and I promise no harm will come to her that I can control.” He stood and moved closer to the fairy. “The thing is,” Eric paused, “She doesn’t know that, or me, and I don’t want to scare her.”
Niall put his hands up to calm Eric, “She’s been primed for this brief meeting. I anticipated that you would need time to prepare for her arrival. I’ve studied your current history, and shared it with her so she knows something of you. Most importantly, I’ve told her I would not introduce her if I had any concerns about her safety.” He stared into Eric’s eyes. “You will not frighten her.”
Reluctantly, Eric nodded his head, “If you’re sure, then I am ready.”
Niall disappeared in a blink and returned as quickly. Eric’s eyes bulged out of his head and he ran around his desk to get to the woman. Before anyone registered his movements, he had the great-granddaughter in his arms, and he called out her name, “SOOKIE!”