Godric stared into the mirror. Framed in its gilt curves, a thousand versions of himself gazed back. The lives he had lived wore many faces. The stranger. The savage. The killer. The boy. He was always ready to slip on those masks. He fidgeted awkwardly in his black suit. He tried to remember who he was supposed to become. Husband. There was no hiding behind that.
Eric loomed in the background, perfecting the peek of cuff at the wrists of his dress jacket. He inspected the black wool landscape of his legs for lint. Satisfied, he adjusted a gold brooch on the contrasting black lapel of his white coat. The brooch featured an ouroboros snake encircling a longsword – the sigil of Godric’s House. He polished it with a thumb to ensure it shined.
Godric spoke abruptly to his reflection. “If I’m going to die, it had better be for her.”
Eric looked up. The smile evaporated from his face. “What?” he said in alarm.
Godric swallowed. “I’ve been ready for war my entire life. We’ve been in war more than out of it.” Godric’s expression wavered. “This is the first night in all my years that I’ve truly wanted peace. I’ve never wanted something so badly for this family.”
“And so you will have it,” Eric said with conviction.
“I am woefully unprepared to give this to us.”
Eric set his broad palms on his maker’s shoulders. He leaned down to meet Godric’s gaze. “We will not fail. You are not alone in this. We will be victorious.”
“There is so much at stake.” Godric winced. “We’ve never had so much to lose.”
“I swear to you on the god of -“
“Don’t,” Godric said sharply. “Don’t tempt the gods. Please.” He gave Eric a worried look and shrugged out from beneath his touch. “Are the tactical teams in place?”
“Our allies are accounted for?”
“All but Egypt. Seb is running slightly late.”
Godric nodded. “Waiting for Sookie, no doubt.” Eric hummed in agreement. “We won’t begin the ceremony until everyone is in place.” He demanded a dozen more specifics, pacing the floor as he nitpicked every detail.
“Maker,” Eric finally interrupted. “You never get nervous before battle. You’re worried about the wedding itself.” Godric chewed his lip and looked up at his child through dark lashes. Eric chanced a smirk at him. “You’ll be fine.”
“Rosalyn is already bound to me. I’m being ridiculous,” he admitted.
“There hasn’t been a pledging like this in my lifetime. It’s colossal. I’d be concerned if you weren’t having second thoughts about trying to pull off a major coup in the middle of something this important.”
The muscles in Godric’s cheeks tensed. “What if Ros backs out at the last minute?”
Eric let out an exasperated laugh. “Goðí, Ros might be a hippy, but she’s no flake. She’s got the determination of a Valkyrie. She won’t back out.”
Eric took Godric by the arms. “Of all the decisions you have ever made – and you chose to turn me – that woman is the smartest thing you have ever done.” Eric stared at him forcefully. “You’ve given the world something incredible in sharing immortality with her.”
“I don’t deserve her,” Godric said quietly.
“Yes, you do.”
“I don’t. I know I don’t.”
Eric snorted in irritation. “Then you don’t know what is good for you, and you ought to thank the gods you have me. How many have I slain over the centuries to keep you to myself? Surely thousands. Tens of thousands?” Godric said nothing. It was not an exaggeration. More than one army had come between them. Eric stared down at him defiantly. “You asked for my blessing and I gave it. I accept no one else. Rosalyn is worthy of you. You deserve her – and more importantly – she deserves you. That woman wants you as her husband, Godric, so you’d better not let her down. You’ll have me to answer to if you make her unhappy.”
Godric hid an embarrassed smile. “You’re not an enemy I’d like to make.”
“Give yourself to her, Maker. Don’t ‘withhold’, as she calls it. That’s what got me in trouble with her.”
“I will try to love her well.” Godric set a hand on his child’s cheek. “I hope I’ve…” Crimson welled in his eyes. He struggled for words.
Eric sucked in a breath and furrowed his brow. “Gods, don’t start. I’ll make a fool of myself.”
Godric exhaled, blinking back tears. “I…” he tried. Eric’s face danced as he battled his own emotions. “You are everything to me,” Godric finally managed with a gasp.
Eric’s resolve crumpled. “Allfather,” he said in a choked whisper.
Eric was quick with the handkerchiefs. Both men leaned forward, trying desperately not to spoil their clothes. “I’m a masochist for wearing white,” Eric said, snuffling. “What the hell was I thinking?” They both started laughing, still daubing at their tears.
When they managed to collect themselves, Eric gestured for his maker to sit with him at the vanity. He reached down into a leather bag stowed in the footwell and pulled out a small square box. “Really?” Godric said, genuinely surprised. He had not anticipated a gift from Eric.
“You blessed me with immortality and when I least expected it, you gave me someone to share it with. It is the greatest honor of my life to give my bonded sister to you in marriage. I wish you every happiness.”
“Your blessing is the only gift I need.” Godric took the box and blinked hard, preemptively wiping at an eyelid. Inside the box was a pin like Eric’s, only it was three times as large and not a decorative brooch but a functioning circle pin meant to fasten a cloak. The Old-World style harkened back to why they had designed their House sigil as they had.
“It is a work of art,” Godric said softly. Eric’s metalworking skills far surpassed his own. The piece was studded with black diamonds for each member of their clan. Re-used from their own collection, he surmised, to placate Rosalyn’s ethical concerns. The large gemstones and heavy gold winked under the vanity lights. “You don’t think it’s too flashy for me?”
Eric reached over and traced the round edge of the serpent. “It’s a fitting reminder of your legacy. In your blood, we are bound. Don’t forget.”
A smile escaped at the corner of Godric’s mouth. “So it’s a threat.”
Eric shook his head. “It is tribute.” He looked away and struggled. “You could have chosen to move on without me. You didn’t. I am eternally grateful.”
Godric scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. You are the reason this House exists.” Godric poked at him with the sword of the pin and Eric batted him away, not finding any humor in the teasing attack. “I will treasure it,” Godric told him. Thinking further, he added, “I gave up long ago trying to discern where I end and you begin. Thank you, blood of my blood.” Eric tightened a fist over his handkerchief, but managed to swallow back another wave of tears. Godric squeezed his knee and Eric nodded in acceptance.
Eric pulled out a second box from his tote, this one large and flat with a simple bow. “From Rosalyn. You’re to wear this with your tux.”
The Celt touched his bowtie self-consciously. “Do I look like a dweeb?”
Eric adjusted the necktie and smoothed a stray hair on his maker’s playboy coif. His cheeks and lips were flushed pink. He had fed extra well. Eric sighed. “You have never looked more handsome in all the years I’ve known you. You’re lucky we’re at your wedding. They’d eat you alive otherwise.”
Sheepish, Godric turned back to the package in his hands. He untied the ribbon slowly, at a loss for what it might be. The package smelled vaguely familiar – something arid and just beyond the reach of his memory.
He gasped when he opened the lid. He looked up in shock. “How?!” He ran his hand over the fabric in the box. He had never touched material like this, much less owned it. There was only one source for cloth this exquisite – and he had never known the Queen of Egypt to share.
“Egypt is in place now, Maker. Forgive me, I may have fibbed slightly. Sorry. Seb was running late because his people were getting this to us.”
“Not another lie out of you, do you understand me?” Godric warned, entirely distracted by his gift. It was not the thick, slubby linen offered in today’s shops around springtime. It was cloth fit only for a pharaoh – a living god. A linen so intricately patterned and delicately spun it was completely sheer. Concern clouded his brow. He set the box down. “Tell me Ros hasn’t indebted us to Queen Neith for this.”
“No, Maker. It was the damnedest thing. Seb called and offered it to her. He had it dyed for you so there wouldn’t be any confusion with Neith’s whites.”
“This wasn’t dyed with indigo,” Godric said to himself, flabbergasted. The deep blue tint had come from precious lapis lazuli stones pulverized into a powder. The process had left flakes of gold embedded in the material. Godric put the cloth to his nose. “Gods above. It smells as Thebes did, two thousand years ago.”
Eric hesitated. “I wasn’t sure we should accept it.”
“Are you going to tell the Vizier no?” Eric cast him a dubious look. Godric chewed his cheek in consideration. “If a child of the First Blood wants to offer his friendship to my wife, so be it. I don’t think we have a say in the matter.”
“He wants something.”
“Of course he wants something.” Godric flexed his jaw. “I promised him a piece of Thea in exchange for his help.”
“To be fair, it was more than I was willing to spare.”
Eric got laughing hysterically, and the more he tried to stop, the harder he laughed. “You ancients and your Code of Hammurabi madness! No wonder he’s playing nice.” Godric hoped that was all there was to Seb’s generosity. He passed Eric a fresh handkerchief.
“One final thing,” Eric said once he was composed. He held out a tin. “Per Madame’s orders. I hope I got the mixture right.” Godric popped the lid and the scent of pounded woad leaves and soda ash hit his nose. It was another smell from his youth. He smiled wickedly.
His wife had sent him war paint.
Sookie’s squeal of excitement cut through the dressing room. “Princess,” Pam winced. “Dial it down an octave. The dogs might come running.” Rosalyn had opened her garment bag. The three women stood in matching robes staring at its contents.
“Sorry,” Sookie gushed and took a sip of her cosmopolitan cocktail. “I know ya’lls hearing is sensitive. It’s just – oh my goodness gracious, Ros! You’re going to look like a goddess!”
Rosalyn let out a breath she had not realized she was holding. She hated all the fuss. Pamela had taken her maid of honor duties very seriously – hence the matching robes and the girlie drinks. She had been all too thrilled with the prospect of finding Ros a new wedding dress – even with such short notice. After all, it meant that she got to wear ten pounds of emeralds in public with a dress custom-made to show them off.
The two women had peered through dozens of fashion lookbooks in search of inspiration, but nothing spoke to Rosalyn. “They all look like someone else’s idea of what is special,” she had declared. “They’re dresses for women who want to look expensive. That’s not me.” Pamela had agreed, but on wholly different grounds. Everything looked too human. She did not want what Rosalyn wore to be dated in the blink of an eye.
Rosalyn came up with a workaround. She asked Pamela to design the dress herself. The vampiress had been beside herself with excitement. In remarkable time, Pam had filled her work desk with fabric samples, sketches, and history books. They agreed on a style and Rosalyn happily delegated the rest of the details to her friend.
“Fuck,” Pam said, after Rosalyn’s silence grew too long. “You hate it.”
“I…” Rosalyn went to touch the gown, then recoiled her hand.
“Please, Ros,” Pamela begged. “Godric will stake me if I’ve fucked this up.”
“I thought we agreed I wasn’t going to wear jewelry.”
“You’re not. Just a dress.”
Rosalyn shifted uncomfortably. “It’s…real?”
“What do you mean is it real? Of course it’s – ” Pam caught herself, recognizing the problem. “The materials are recycled, Rosalyn. It is a gift from your maker.”
“He’s seen it?”
“Of course not. But he was very insistent. He wanted his wedding gift to you to be something timeless and fit for an immortal.”
Rosalyn frowned, then startled Pamela when she threw her arms around her. “It’s stunning! I can’t thank you enough.”
Pamela sighed in relief. She turned to Sookie. “Alright, sugar cube. Let’s get you dressed first and sent downstairs. Your chaperone is waiting.”
“Is Seb really…you know…” Sookie dropped her voice, “twice as old as Godric?”
“Yes. A word of advice about the old crocodile – he is not down for History Channel chitchat. Don’t piss him off.”
Sookie gave an enthusiastic nod. “Gotcha. Anything else?”
Pam huffed, annoyed that she had warmed to the perky breather. “Just be smart. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut.” They were sending her into an incredibly dangerous situation and it was Eric’s ass on the line if she got hurt. Sookie wanted her freedom. Rosalyn had devised a way to appease everyone by having Sookie contract Eric’s security services as an independent business owner operating in his Area. It was more dignified than parading her around as the Sheriff’s claimed asset, but the tactic wasn’t without risks. They had inked the agreement in a rushed affair right after they had arrived, with their half-demon lawyer Cataliades as witness. The only real contracts vampires tended to respect were written in blood, he had reminded them. Parking Sookie next to an ancient ally during the ceremony was the best they could manage while Eric was busy.
When Sookie disappeared into the changing room, Rosalyn turned to Pam. “The boys are awful quiet.” Godric and Eric had muted their bonds. It was not like them to hide in the blood.
“They’ll re-open their connection once we get started.” Pam’s confidence was reassuring.
“What do you think they’re up to?”
She quirked an eyebrow at the younger vampiress. “They’re warriors, Ros. They’re probably ramping each other up with inspirational speeches and big boy tough talk.”
“For some reason I can’t see that.”
Pamela snorted. “Whatever they’re doing, darling, let’s agree that they’re not doing it as fabulously as us. Cheers to the missus.” She held her blood cocktail up in a toast.
A hush fell over the guests as the lithe, Spanish woman swept across the stage. The energy in the crowd was palpable. They had expected Queen Sophie-Anne.
Isabelle raised her arms to the audience in welcome. “Good evening, one and all,” she said. “Your majesties, your honors, mesdames and messieurs, ladies and gentleman.” She curtsied at the King of Spain – an obligatory acknowledgement of her maker. King Antonio took it as an opportunity to rise and bow to the other guests. “A thousand blessings to you on this auspicious night,” she continued. “The House of Godric is pleased to join you this evening in celebrating the sacrament of marriage.”
In the wing of the stage, Godric was restless, hands jammed into his pant pockets. “Where is Rosalyn? Why has Pamela not brought her down yet?”
Eric steadied his maker gently by the shoulders from behind. He leaned down to his ear. “She will come. Everything is going as planned.”
“I want to get this over with.”
“Take a deep breath.”
“Are you mad?” he spat. “I don’t want to smell the stench of these sycophants.”
Godric jerked on his heel to face Eric. “Don’t you ‘maker’ me,” he said in a harsh whisper. A deadly finger was jammed in Eric’s face.
Eric grabbed Godric’s wrist and got close. “If I can feel you panicking this strongly, think of what you’re sending Rosalyn right now,” he said through gritted teeth. “With all due respect, Maker, calm the fuck down.” Godric’s eyelid twitched as he considered clobbering Eric, then he nodded ever so slightly. “Thank you,” Eric said, more than a little relieved. “Now, get out there and see to this business.”
Isabelle was onstage reciting Godric’s titles in introduction. She was careful to leave out the less flattering ones – the sort they used to sing in the sagas to remind wicked children to behave. Godric moved toward the stage and Eric stopped him. Eric pressed his mouth to Godric’s temple, careful not to smear the streaks of blue paint slashed across his face. “Whatever happens, remember: I am with you always.”
They exchanged a look, Godric blinked slowly, and he stepped out into the limelight. He was met with a moment of stunned silence, and then a roar. He wore a chieftain’s sash in an unearthly blue fabric pinned at his left shoulder. It unfurled down the back of his tux and swayed as he walked in shining azure folds. The ornate cloak pin on his shoulder glittered wildly under the lights. Through the thundering noise, he could discern voices. He heard the Queen of Ireland whistle and an old Pictish ally cheered “All hail the Ancient One!”
Godric kept his eyes lowered, avoiding the bright lights hung over the canopy of the stage. He had learned his lesson about this particular theatre setup the hard way. Pamela had covered the powerful beams with colored gel plates to lessen their blinding effect, but he remained wary.
When he reached Isabelle and faced the audience, a stone dropped in his stomach. He did not need to see the crowd to know what he felt. The courtyard was thrumming dangerously with the electric power of too many ancient auras. Among them, only a handful were on his side.
His eyesight adjusted, and he chanced a glance upwards. Amid the sea of faces, he caught Roman’s gaze. Roman’s pouting lips curved into the slightest of smiles, and amusement played in the elder’s amber eyes. Dread bloomed in his belly. He should have asked for more help. He should have trusted more friends. They were hideously outnumbered. Isabelle was talking to the audience. Godric did not hear a word. Only when he heard a collective gasp did he snap out of his rapid recalculations. The King of California, Sean Tan, strode onto the stage with a parchment box.
The audience stared on in amazement as the fashionable young king bowed deeply to Godric. He wore a sharply cut suit in bright, Malaya-inspired pastels, along with a more conservatively styled black velvet cap on his head. He set the ceremonial box containing the marriage contract upon a stone altar and took his place next to Godric.
What had been a low rush of whispers turned to steady hum of excitement. Rumors had been flying around about who, precisely, Godric intended to marry. One did not announce such things before a wedding – the wedding was the announcement. Political marriages already tended to have a high casualty rate without giving folks a head start. Godric’s allies and direct superiors knew, of course, and they held that information in the strictest of confidence. Small fortunes had been wagered across the vampire community on Godric’s likely choice of a spouse. Judging by the sound of it, a lot of money was going to be lost.
“As many of you are aware,” Godric said to the audience, “King Tan has led California through some of America’s greatest challenges. Who can forget his heroic actions during the 1906 earthquake?” Godric paused to allow an enthusiastic round of applause. The vapid political speech Eric had written for him was working like a charm. The King waved in acknowledgement, nodded, and waved more.
Youth and ambition were dangerous traits in a vampire – and Sean Tan possessed both in equal measure. Ordinarily, Godric kept such creatures at a measured distance. Their avarice inevitably brought about their undoing. Tan was an interesting exception to that rule. His political aspirations were tempered by a very healthy respect for the wisdom of his elders – Godric’s wisdom, in particular. And that made Sean incredibly useful. It did not hurt that California was the second most influential state in their government after Louisiana. Godric hoped Rosalyn would not be too upset with him for what he was about to do.
He wandered toward the proscenium – a move that allowed him to take stock of everyone’s positions. “Sean has played a crucial role in many of California’s successes. How many of us have benefited from the economic growth in his state?” More clapping followed, and some idiot hooted “Hollywood!” at the top of his lungs – a moniker for the king not actually used in polite company. Tan’s short-lived cinematic career had been a rare misstep. Godric scanned the far courtyard wall. He suspected the offender was a certain waiter he had met here earlier in the year. The progeny of Ken O’Malley of Atlanta, he recalled. Godric made a mental note to have a strong word with him – if he managed to survive this.
Godric continued once the applause waned. “From San Francisco to San Diego, King Tan has brought stability and opportunity for our kind. He has helped us build stronger ties with our allies in Asia and has served as a trusted public figure during the Reveal. Please join me in welcoming King Tan tonight as he forges a new alliance – one of the most important a vampire can make.” Godric gave Sean a knowing look, and Sean beamed a perfect, matinee-idol smile at the crowd.
Pamela bent the end of a bobby pin between her teeth while running. She chased after Rosalyn through the corridor behind the stage. “Hurry up!” Rosalyn hissed at her. “Godric is freaking out!” She burst through a set of double doors and came to a halt. A stage manager with a clipboard and a headset shushed her. In the wings of the theatre, everyone was dressed in black and moving silently. Pamela lunged at Rosalyn and stuck the final bobby pin in place. She used a slick of saliva to fix a few hairs, then settled a dark blue veil over Rosalyn’s head. Rosalyn fluffed it around her dress, panting. “I think I’m hyperventilating.”
“You can’t hyperventilate, you twit. You’re dead,” Pam said, smoothing the veil around her.
“I can’t breathe. It’s the shapewear you forced me to put on.”
“It’s the elders you’re feeling.”
“What?” Rosalyn said in panic.
“Shush!” the stage manager mouthed at them. The microphones were liable to pick up their conversation if they were not careful.
Pam put her mouth near Rosalyn’s ear. “That tingly, electric feeling? The one that makes you want to crawl out of your skin? It’s because there are hundreds of elders out there. Basically every single one of them can kill you.”
“What? It’s not like you didn’t know. Just ignore it. You’ll be fine.”
“Was it this bad for everyone at the fundraiser?”
“Nowhere close. The guests were mostly youngling delegates or humans. This is the real frickin’ deal tonight, girlfriend.”
Rosalyn tried to peek through the thick tab curtains blocking her view of the stage. Pamela stopped her. “You’ll see it all soon enough.” She maneuvered Rosalyn out of the way. A team of burly were-guards gathered by the emergency exit, blocking it. Rosalyn looked at Pam in alarm. “They’re waiting for Isabelle,” she reassured her.
Beyond the wing of the theatre, the courtyard erupted in applause. The clapping built in intensity and held. There was a standing ovation.
“Ready?” Pamela asked.
“Would it matter if I said no?”
Before Pamela could answer, Isabelle emerged between the curtains. A man in a boldly patterned tux followed her. As soon as Isabelle was clear of the audience’s sightline, she sprang into action, issuing orders to the guards.
The stage manager revealed herself to be an undercover security detail. She began feeding Isabelle with a stream of updates on the audience. “Nevada has been neutralized. Oklahoma too. We’re keeping close tabs on New York. He is not a happy camper.”
“And the High Counselor?” Isabelle asked.
“Roman didn’t bat an eye.” Isabelle swore and hiked her skirt. She pulled out a gun and handed it to the man in the tux.
“Congratulations,” Pamela offered.
“Thanks,” Isabelle and Sean said in unison.
“King Tan,” Rosalyn said, recognizing the handsome man from his picture. He had been marked as an important ally. Rosalyn curtsied.
“Madame,” he nodded. “We’ll meet properly later. Good luck.” He took Isabelle’s arm and they rushed out the emergency exit surrounded by the security team.
Rosalyn understood they were operating on a need-to-know basis, but this was absurd. She turned to Pamela. “What the hell is going on?”
“Isabelle just married the King of California. Isn’t that great?” Pamela patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry. She was the one who proposed.”
“Oh,” Rosalyn managed.
Pamela smirked and glanced at the security agent posing as a stage manager. The agent had her back turned and was busy talking on her headset. “Everyone came here thinking Godric was going to marry someone like Tan with more political power to cover his ass. He just pulled a switcheroo on these jerkoffs while they were trapped in their seats.”
“People thought Godric was going to marry that guy? I mean, he seems like a catch, but -“
“Cupcake, a demon attacked Godric’s human toy in his own home and the Fellowship blew up a house in his backyard. He looks weak and old.”
“Jesus. Right. And they think I’m still alive.”
“We told you, remember? Sean is a very loyal ally.” Pamela arched an eyebrow meaningfully.
They had told her. If things went sideways, Rosalyn was to run to King Tan for help if she could not first get to Eric’s colleagues, Thalia and Indira. “Tan and Godric go way back?” she asked.
Pamela smiled deviously. “All the way back.”
Rosalyn made a quick assessment. Vampires were endlessly tallying old scores and unsettled debts. If the king had known Godric since he was a newborn, he likely owed Godric a great deal. Tan must be Godric’s man. And with Isabelle now married to him…
Rosalyn was new to plotting and subterfuge, but she did her best to fill in the blanks. She had a sneaking suspicion it was exactly what Godric wanted to her to do – as her maker. He had sheltered her from tonight’s plans and cut her off from the news only to protect her. He did not want her naïve. She was about to officially become consort of his bloodline. She needed to starting thinking like one – and fast.
She tried to imagine what had just happened on stage and how it must have appeared to the audience. If Godric’s reputation had suffered as badly as Pam was suggesting, people likely thought they had just witnessed a popular, dashing king sweep in to lift a respected Second-in-Command out from her scandal-beleaguered Area. Godric must have seemed like the sheepish host, helping his colleague out of his embattled Area by footing the bill.
But Isabelle was not going anywhere. She had effectively taken over Louisiana the moment their retinue had crossed the threshold – and no one in the audience even yet knew. America’s biggest political players had cheered on as the two most powerful states in the country married right before their eyes.
“New York is unhappy?” Rosalyn asked cautiously, keeping an eye on the undercover agent. “Was the king not informed?” As far as she understood, New York was the only state with enough clout to make a problem.
Pamela shrugged. “Jude is no concern. He can’t afford to lose the edge we offer his subjects in the London and Tokyo markets. Eric has always done right by him.”
Rosalyn shook her head in disbelief. She wasn’t prepared for the audacity of Godric’s plans. The royalty in the crowd had applauded as an unstoppable alliance took shape that would all but obliterate their own national influence. A power bloc between California and Louisiana, with New York’s support, would crush any opposition. And the three monarchs in question answered to Godric.
Godric had just taken over the United States.
Godric gestured for the guests to quiet down. “I know you are eager to congratulate the happy couple in person. We would ask that you keep your seats a moment longer. There is one more union we wish to share with you – a union I think some of you will not have witnessed before.”
Conducting multiple marriages at once was common enough, although such affairs were usually held at official summits. Godric certainly appeared to be dressed as a groom. Those with outstanding bets retained hope they might still win big. Chatter echoed off the courtyard walls as the guests speculated about the nature of the next marriage. Eric’s name passed more than a few lips, but the prospect seemed ridiculous. Maker-child marriages were all but pointless. By vampire law, Godric already had the right to dispose of all of Eric’s assets. He would gain nothing which he did not already have.
The guests’ heads pivoted as they tried to take stock of who was missing. London was not present. Reports out of the UK suggested he had been deposed, though the Queen had remained tight-lipped. Illinois and Mexico were not in their seats; either might be a plausible candidate. Some wondered whether it was to be an extended contract nuptial. An extra century penned on the agreement meant little when one was as old as Godric. But who? Attention shifted as the guests began to suspect Sophie-Anne. Her debts made her vulnerable to such a lengthy match. But no one could quite believe that Godric was desperate enough to take on the young queen.
“Well come on, old boy, don’t keep us in suspense!” Russell Edgington called out. Godric’s mouth quirked at the King of Mississippi. Russell was antsy to get on with the real fun. Godric looked off-stage. It was now or never. He gave the sign.
Visions of kings and coronations were still reeling in Rosalyn’s head when Pamela urged her out onto the stage. Rosalyn forgot about the political intrigue the moment she stepped through the curtains. She did not hear the chorus of singers and their sweet, tinkling instruments. She did not see the swags of flowers and jars of floating lightning bugs. She did not smell the warm incense burning. Time stopped.
The wedding was only meant to be a performance. The real pledging had already occurred. And yet, there was nothing staged about her reaction when she saw Godric. Beneath her veil, she pressed a hand against her mouth. She was his and he was hers. He stood at the altar, waiting. A Celtic warrior, time’s shadow, the first and last true Gael.
Eric beckoned her forward, a hand outstretched. He was as impossibly beautiful as their maker. Mine, she thought at them, and Eric’s grin split into a beaming smile. Godric was frozen, his expression illegible. Pamela whispered behind her to keep walking. Rosalyn let out a breath. She was surrounded by more family than she ever thought she would have.
She found her spot at the altar, where a priestess presided. The woman had been turned at an advanced age. She was bent, with thickly braided white hair, and a twisted pupil in one eye. Her voice was clear and quick. Only a fool would think her transition had left her infirm. “Who brings this vampiress to the altar?” she asked.
Eric stepped forward. “Bless this bride, priestess, for she is mine, bound to me forever in the sacred bonds of blood.” Murmurs of shock rippled through the crowd as Eric revealed that he was fully blood bonded to the bride – and that he was giving her to his maker. No one could fathom how someone had secretly worked their claws into the unyielding Viking. More than a few guests burst into tears.
The bride on stage was swathed head to toe in sparkling azure linen. In the candlelight, the shrouded figure looked like the night sky, studded with so many twinkling stars. Eric bowed to the priestess. “I present you with my bonded sister, Madame Rosalyn Euphrenia Murray – of House Godric.”
A collective gasp came from the audience, then shouts and cries of astonishment. The gossip in the tabloids was one thing, idle talk in the courts another. But to have the most outrageous of rumors confirmed?
The audience devolved into chaos. Godric had turned his human – the one he refused to call ‘pet.’ The marriage was not at all to improve Godric’s political fortunes. It was to elevate a newborn to a status unheard of among their kind. He was anointing her consort of his bloodline.
“Silence!” the priestess demanded. The commotion settled. Chairs that had been tipped in outrage were righted. The tension in the air remained.
Pamela knelt at Rosalyn’s feet and lifted her veil. Godric had not moved. He stared at his beloved, a hand over his heart. A film of crimson misted in his eyes. Pamela worked efficiently. She pinned the veil at Rosalyn’s left shoulder so that it cascaded magnificently over her back in a sweep of sky that matched her maker’s sash. Eric stared at her in open admiration. “Valkyrie,” he mouthed. Pamela had outdone herself. Rosalyn wore a dress made entirely of pearls, beaded in such a manner that it appeared to be armor.
“Who represents this vampire at the altar?” the priestess asked.
“I do,” Eric said, turning to his maker. “Bless this groom, priestess, for I am his, bound to him through the sacred bonds of creation. I present you with Godric the Great, Lord of his House and Line.”
“Sir Northman,” the priestess continued. “Do both parties enter into this marriage free and of their own accord? Uncompelled and with full recognition of its most sacred order?”
“They do,” Eric said.
“Then let us proceed.”
Vampire protocol tended to err on the side of rapidity, lest things become complicated by the presence of so many old acquaintances. And it was always complicated.
The priestess invited the couple towards the altar. Godric licked his lower lip, awe etched in his features. “My muse,” he whispered and Rosalyn clenched her eyes against a tide of tears. There were sighs and sniffles from the guests. The priestess poured a wide ring of salt around the altar, encircling the entire family. When she was finished, she set an ornately carved box on the altar. Godric went to it and withdrew something that flashed beneath the lights. It was not a piece of parchment.
“My god!” someone shouted in the audience. “A pledging! They are pledging!” Guests shot to their feet. Godric took up an oathing knife and held it aloft. He spoke in his ancient tongue, his voice carrying far into the Louisiana night, then he dropped to one knee. Lowering his head, he offered Rosalyn the blade.
There was absolute silence. No one had ever seen Death kneel.
“Do you understand this vampire’s offer?” the priestess asked Rosalyn.
Rosalyn could feel a thousand old eyes shift onto her. They wanted to know why she was chosen. Why she was so important. They wanted to know the sweet potato’s secret, she thought, with a sudden pang. She nearly stumbled over her line. “I understand, Mother Priestess, and I accept this oath. I pledge myself to you, Godric, for all time, or may this holy blade deliver the true death unto me.” Rosalyn took the knife, kissed it, then dropped to her knees.
Godric looked at her in alarm. “What…” he began, then stopped himself before he said something regrettable in front of all of vampiredom’s nobility.
Rosalyn gripped the knife by its blade. She had learned a thing or two from Eric. “So you know what forever means when I say it, blood of my blood.” She stared at him defiantly, eyes fierce with love. Godric’s expression turned to astonishment. Tentatively, he grasped the other half of the blade. The official photographers’ cameras had been steadily clicking throughout the ceremony. They now sounded off in another blitz. Eric pulled a strip of the blue linen from his inner jacket pocket and handed it to the priestess. She began binding the couple’s hands around the knife, uttering a mysterious incantation as she worked. The priestess held her gnarled hands over their heads and sanctified their pledged union.
“Blessed be they who enter into the holiest of oaths. Cursed be those who would break it.” The priestess looked out onto the audience with her twisted eye and let her pronouncement sink in. The fool who dared harm a pledged maker-progeny couple would be hunted to the end of time.
Russell Edgington clapped his invitation against his knee. He leaned to the elder beside him. “The trouble is, Counselor, it always feels a bit like a dare when Godric tries to tell us not to do something, doesn’t it?”
Roman cut his eyes at the russet-haired vampire. He did not take the bait. “Russell,” he said. “Talbot.” He nodded politely at the King of Mississippi and his husband, then stood. “It is a night for elegant consorts, I see.” He winked at Talbot and made his way toward the aisle. The younger vampires were scrambling to form greeting lines at a low dais where the newlyweds would sit. Talbot turned to Russell, flustered. “I told you this purple shirt worked with my coloring.”
Russell shut his eyes in forbearance. “Do shut up, my love.”
On the far end of the courtyard, Stan pretended to scratch his beard while he spoke into his earpiece. “Affirmative, Team One is a go. Team Two is a go.” Unseen among the guests, Godric’s security teams were ready to snatch their targets unawares. The exits and private rooms were prime locations.
Some rows over, Sookie sat stiffly beside Seb. Panic was evident in her eyes. Seb spoke in a rich baritone. “You do not like crowds,” he observed.
“These vampires will not bother you while you’re with me.”
“Wish that were true about the humans.”
Seb studied her curiously. His aristocratic features and dry manner unsettled her. “There are hardly any humans in attendance.” He offered her a pocket silk for the sweat on her forehead. “We will wait here while the children give their blessings. I do not care for queues myself.”
Sookie turned to her chaperone. Her eyes darted around and she spoke in a low whisper. “Lord Seb, forgive me. I hate to be a nuisance. Would you escort me to the ladies’ room? It’s just over there, by the stage door.”
“Are you ill?”
“I have…human needs,” she explained. “The blood cocktail table is on the way if you wanna make a pit stop.”
“For my vampire needs?” he asked. Sookie’s face fell. The ancient let out a rolling chuckle. “Of course, little quail. Let’s find you a toilet.”
“You cunning creature!” Godric said huskily. He pushed Rosalyn against the wall of the green room offstage. “A handbinding?”
“I said I wouldn’t give you a crappy political marriage. I didn’t say I wasn’t going to make it special.” They had agreed they would not do the blood rites in public. Rosalyn had somehow made their ceremony intimate, even as the world looked on.
Godric’s tongue found hers. He could hardly bear to hold himself back. He rucked her skirt up around her hips. “My daggers! They’re silver-tipped!” she tried to warn him.
He smothered her protests with a kiss. “They’re sheathed.”
“So are you.” She ground against the bulge pressing at her underwear. He nipped her neck and drank with a growl. Rosalyn gasped in pleasure. Godric lathed her throat with his tongue, leaving no trace of his feeding. He leaned back and leveled a feral gaze at her.
“We don’t have time,” she told him.
“My party, my rules,” he purred and tugged at her skirt.
“Careful. Pam will kill me if we ruin this dress.”
He straightened. “This is her doing?”
“She designed it. Do you like it?”
He gave a crooked smile. Pamela must have known that losing Rosalyn’s engagement ring in the bombing irked him more than he was willing to admit. “I hope she sent the seamstresses every last pearl in our vault.”
“I think she might have.”
“You look divine.” Godric softed his hands over the strands of pearls capping Rosalyn’s shoulders. The cap sleeves looked like a warrior’s pauldrons, the bodice like a breastplate. He wore a strange expression.
“What?” Rosalyn laughed.
“What goddess am I sworn to? Who do I serve?”
He didn’t. In fact, he seemed quite serious. “You make everything better, Ros. Your magic is a mystery to me, one I accept wholeheartedly. Take me as your sacrifice. Perhaps one day you’ll reveal yourself, goddess of mine.”
Just as he was about to bite into his wrist, the green room door handle rattled. In a movement Rosalyn never saw, one of her seamless blades shot into the door as it opened. “Next one is through your heart,” Godric warned.
“Throw a knife at me again and your bride will be a widow.” A leggy Egyptian stood in the doorway, Sookie at his side. He started laughing.
“Seb,” Godric said in relief and quickly dropped Rosalyn’s skirt back to her ankles. He took his arm. “Apologies. I could have done with a knock.”
“You have much to celebrate. Congratulations.”
“I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve your generosity – “
“Nevermind that now. Your human insisted she speak with you. She was very crafty about it.”
Godric snapped his attention toward Sookie. “What is it?”
Sookie appeared rattled. “Sorry to interrupt ya’ll. It’s just…Bill Compton’s here. He brought a date. Sheriff Bellfleur’s sister?”
“Why is that creep at my wedding?” Rosalyn demanded.
“Sophie-Anne’s doing,” Godric said dismissively.
“Who is this Sheriff Bellfleur?” Seb asked. “What Area does he enforce?”
“Not vampire. A human police officer in Eric’s territory,” Godric clarified. “What’s your point, Miss Stackhouse?”
“Portia Bellfleur sounds ‘fuzzy’ tonight, if you catch my drift.”
Godric gave a slight shrug. “So she’s been glamoured. She’s with Bill. Are you surprised?”
“No. But I doubt he’d glamour her to get away from him at all costs so that she can lure Madame Rosalyn into a trap.”
A growl ripped from Godric’s throat. “Did you see who glamoured her?”
“No, but I can try to find out.”
“Come. Eric will help you.” Godric took Sookie by the elbow and slipped past Seb, leaving him standing alone with Rosalyn.
“What is she?” he asked calmly, blocking the exit.
Rosalyn struggled to find air. The ancient’s power felt like it could melt the paint off the brick walls. “She’s a business associate.”
He quirked an eyebrow, then let out a deep, rolling laugh. “She’s more than that. She’s not a witch.”
Seb hummed. “She is precious enough that the Northman wanted me to watch over her. You will tell me,” he said, then added thoughtfully, “In time.” Before Rosalyn could mangle a reply, Godric returned. Seb gazed down his knife blade nose at him. “It strikes me that there is far more afoot tonight than you and your children have let on. I expect my pound of flesh, Blue One.”
Godric dipped his head. “Your price is fair. You will have it, gods willing.”
Rosalyn suspected they weren’t speaking in metaphors. Seb gestured at her. “I would ask one more thing of you.” Godric blanched and Rosalyn froze in dread. Seb took a silent step towards her. “Introduce me formally,” he demanded.
Godric sent Rosalyn a hair-raising shock of command. He pointed at the floor. Rosalyn curtsied deeply and held it. “Sebek of Thebes, Great Lord and First One, He of the Ancient Waters, Grand Vizier of Kemet, I present you with my consort and progeny, Rosalyn Euphrenia Murray.”
Seb gazed at her a long moment before telling her to rise. He held out a long-fingered hand. Trembling, she took it. He drew her close and inspected her upturned palm, running a thumb over its lines. “Turn for me? Slowly.” Rosalyn rotated, exposing her back. She felt Seb lean in and inhale her scent through the curtain of her hair. Just when she thought she might faint from terror, she was facing the ancient once more. Seb wore a warm expression in the creases of his face. “I welcome you to our ranks, Lady Rosalyn. Your maker honors us with his discriminating taste.” He tipped his head in consideration. “You did not tell me you were made to be a queen.”
Fear made Rosalyn bolder than was strictly wise. “I was made to be a consort, Lord Sebek. I’d ask that you never threaten my husband or my House again – not even as a joke.”
Seb’s mouth curled in appreciation. He reached down to the hem of Rosalyn’s veil and pulled it to his lips. “Never,” he swore and kissed it. Rosalyn was not sure what to say, so she curtsied again. Godric was round-eyed in shock. Seb asked for her hands, and when he took them, he spoke a prayer in his ancient tongue. He finished by placing a delicate kiss on the inside of each of her wrists. “Most Noble Lady Rosalyn, Beloved of Hathor, Mistress of Mirth, may the First Gods watch over you.” A shiver ran down Rosalyn’s spine at his honeyed, whispered words. He turned to Godric. “I approve.”
“You honor us, Great Lord!” Godric gasped and threw himself into a low bow. “May your name never be forgotten.”
Seb smiled and glanced back at Rosalyn. “Don’t let this young rascal drag you into too many of his schemes. You come to Old Seb when there’s trouble. I believe I’ll see whether the Northman has found your traitor.” The Egyptian slapped Godric on his shoulder and left them with a chuckle.
Rosalyn stared after him in bewilderment. Godric rose and dragged a hand over his mouth. What – ?” she began.
“He approved your turning,” Godric said, breathless.
“So I gathered.”
Godric shook his head. “You don’t understand. My elders all have the right to inspect you. But he’s given you his approval. Gods above. I did not expect that.”
“I thought he was going to kill us.”
Godric let out a tense laugh. That he did not contradict her spoke volumes. “That is some first impression you made.”
“So we’re okay?”
“Okay? I’d say.” Godric grabbed his sides and shook his head in wonder. “Sebek just blessed you and gave you your first titles. He has accepted you as an honorary daughter. You will have the protection of House Senusret all the days of your life.”
“That ancient vampire is, what, like my godfather?” she choked.
“Your guardian, yes,” he said gravely. “Exactly that.”
Pamela stuck her head in the green room. “There you two lovebirds are. Everyone is waiting for you out front.” Pam looked between them, then at the dagger in the door. Her tone dropped. “What happened?”
“Seb approved me,” Rosalyn said, shaken.
She froze, then gave Godric a stern look. “Did you try to stab him before or after he touched her?”
“Neither.” Godric shrugged. “It was a reflex. He opened the door.”
Pam pried the arrowhead-shaped blade out of the particle board. “Ros, one day you’ll have to tell me how the fuck you managed to win over the crocodile. You didn’t kill Thalia for him by any chance, did you?”
“No?” Rosalyn said.
“Huh.” She tossed the knife to her and Rosalyn snatched it from the air.
“It’s Neith,” Godric said, lost in thought. “The Queen must want her protected. That’s the only explanation.” He did not have time to ponder why.
“Well, at least our odds are looking better,” Pamela snickered and turned to leave.
“Pamela,” Godric said, in the tone that everyone feared. “Come here.” He opened his arms. Tentatively, she stepped into his embrace. She melted when he wrapped his arms around her. He held her for a long moment. “I am reminded of my duty to you, my lioness,” he whispered and kissed her cheek. “Whatever else happens, I want you to know how proud I am of you and how much I appreciate what you have done for us tonight. I did not think I would enjoy the pledging ceremony, yet here we are. It was magnificent. Thank you.”
“You’re gonna get blue all over me, grandsire,” she sniffed. Godric laughed silently and let her go with a smack to her bottom. Rosalyn dug a handkerchief out of her shapewear and passed it to Pam. The women jumped in fright at the sudden snick of Godric’s fangs. He held out his cupped palm.
“I…I haven’t earned it,” Pamela protested.
“That is for me and me alone to judge. Drink.” She took the offering hastily before the wound closed. When she finished, Godric told her to give him a few more minutes with Rosalyn.
Alone again, Godric kissed away the questions hanging in Rosalyn’s mouth. “No child of my House goes into battle unarmed. Now where were we?”
A/N: To be continued…
Eeek! Thank you all so much for your patience while I’ve put this chapter together. The night is young in New Orleans! This is only the first half of the Wedding. I’ve split this chapter to keep it manageable. Stay tuned!
Thoughts? Reactions? Theories? Commenters get to help Godric and Eric out of their tuxes. xx, M