Sookie the Shieldmaiden – Chapter 26
I know it must come as a huge shock to have another chapter to this story since it`s been hibernating since last summer. But I`ve had so many people asking me about whether or not I would continue writing and it was also nominated for several prizes at the Fangreader`s annual award so I just had to come back and write more. This story is very close to my heart so it`s been a joy to be back with Sookie the Shieldmaiden and I can promise you that it won`t go back into hibernation. I`m very close to having written the full story and I`m planning on posting about once a week or so.
I want to thank Suki59 for nudging me into writing again and for taking the time to beta this chapter not only once, but twice, since I sent her the wrong version first.
Charlaine Harris owns all the characters. I`ve just given them a sword and some chainmail.
“Rasul told you not to help Queen Sophie-Anne?” I asked Alcide. “Didn`t you find that a little strange,given that Rasul is Queen Sophie-Anne`s man?”
My question made an interesting change to Alcide`s smile. It had been an open and happy smile and now it was more sinister. Alcide hadn`t found it strange at all. He`d made plans with Rasul. Plans that somehow included me but I couldn`t figure out how. Alcide apparently wanted to marry me but Rasul had put me in mortal danger.
“Is your allegiance still with Sophie-Anne, Sookie?” Alcide asked. “After what happened, I mean?”
“Did you know about Rasul abducting me?” I asked. My hand was on my sword just in case.
“Rasul?” Alcide frowned and from what I could see he was genuinely surprised. “I thought Felipe did that. I pressed my army forward when my scouts told me what had happened to you but you`d escaped before we could come to your rescue.” He took one step forward and I grasped my sword hilt even harder on my sword hilt. “My scouts told me you made a daring escape.”
“You came to … save me?” I could hear how my voice was full of doubt but Alcide didn`t seem to notice.
“Of course. You must know that I always liked you and with the abilities you showed at the blot – they will make me a king like no other.”
“I`m a shieldmaiden, not a vølve,” I stated.
“Amelia said you were the most powerful vølve she`d ever seen. “Alcide must have finally have realized that I hesitated because he stepped even closer. “What`s wrong, Sookie? Can you deny that we were made for one another? Your parents came to help my father. Now you can help me.”
“I don`t hold him against you, Sookie. Rasul explained how Eric forced you to be with him. You were wise to never marry him in truth.” Alcide gave me one of those smiles that could charm anyone. Anyone but me.
“What did you promise Rasul?” I asked.
“Rasul will have a very special role in my kingdom. He`s a very talented …”
“What role?” I interrupted. I just couldn`t listen to Alcide talk about what he`d promised Rasul. “How do you know you can trust him? I`ve seen him double-cross both Sophie-Anne and Felipe. How do you know he isn`t tricking you as well?”
“He swore an oath,” Alcide said, as if people couldn`t break sworn oaths.
“When was this?”
“At the blot. Rasul came to me after Eric had snatched you out my arms and told me the truth about you and Eric. And about your real desires.”
So Rasul had told Alcide I wanted to fight for him against Queen Sophie-Anne, then he`d told Sophie-Anne the same thing, and finally he`d taken me to Felipe, leaving Sophie-Anne to think I was fighting for Felipe. Rasul must be Loke in a different skin and I wondered where his allegiances really lay. Or if he did all this just to cause trouble, like Loke would have.
“Where are your men?” I asked.
“Not far from here. I asked them to wait while I located you.”
“And you found me because of Amelia`s directions?”
Alcide looked proud when he nodded.
“It seems Amelia would be a better vølve than I would, then. I have never been able to see where people will be.”
“Amelia only has more practice. She`s older ….” Alcide`s facial expression told me that Amelia`s age was one of the reasons Alcide hadn`t made her his queen. His nose looked as if he`d smelled something stale.
“Amelia isn`t that old.” I wasn`t sure why I was definding Amelia. Maybe it was my old fear of her.
“She`s my mother`s age,” Alcide spat. “But she`s promised to train you and you`ll be at least as good as she is. If not better. Together we`ll rule the world.” He came another step forward, coming too close for my liking. “I`ll kill Eric for you, Sookie. Don`t worry.”
That was when my gut reaction kicked in. Before I could stop myself – and I wasn`t sure I was going to stop myself if I could have – I pulled my sword out and enjoyed the look of shock on Alcide`s face when I separated his head from his body. Actually I enjoyed the look on Alcide`s face more after his head wasn`t attached to his body anymore. If that made me cold, then so be it. He`d threatened to kill Eric.
“I`m not worried,” I said to his body.
Afterwards, I wasn`t so sure that what I`d done had been wise. This could mean my death if Alcide`s men caught me and it certainly made the whole situation more complicated. Now we had Felipe`s men with no leader, Alcide`s men with no leader and Sophie-Anne was ruling a country from her sickbed. Healing a lost leg would take time. A lot of time. It was almost an open invitation for foreign powers – a kingdom and two chiefdoms with no leaders. If one looked at it like that I should have kept Alcide alive.
But it had felt good to kill him. Amazing, actually.
I turned around quickly at the snap of a branch behind me, my blood-dripping sword still in my hand.
“Sookie?” Eric came forward, staring at Alcide`s body. “What happened?”
“He wanted me to be his queen.” My voice was completely calm and I think that was what made Eric smile. I did notice a little nervous flicker in his eyes, though.
“Remind me to never do that to you, then.”
I didn`t want to laugh standing next to a dead body – a dead body I`d been responsible for – but Eric`s remark made my lips twitch and I may have made a snort-like sound. Then my smile dropped and I realized how cold I`d become. How callous. I was a warrior and a killer but my honor was important to me. Laughing at Alcide, his dead face still carrying that innocent look he was so good at, was not honorable.
I wanted to give Eric a shove or maybe kick his shin for having made the joke that had me biting the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from laughing. Instead I focused on the task ahead.
“I think we should leave. Alcide`s army is close by. I`ll tell you what happened on the way.”
Eric picked a few oak leaves and handed them to me so I could wipe off my sword. When my sword was back in my belt, he pulled me into his arms, one hand pressing my head into his chest and the other hand at the small of my back.
He kissed the top of my head and inhaled. Then he kissed me on my head again and released me.
There was a cough behind Eric and when he turned around, I noticed both Pam and Claude standing there.
“If you`re through pillaging each other, we have to clean up the mess Sookie has made. As much as I support her in not wanting to become Alcide`s queen, we now have another army with no leader.” Pam came forward and gave Alcide`s body a slight kick.
I looked away.
“Did you have to kill him, Sookie?” Claude asked. “This is not helping our cause.” He pointed at Alcide`s body and I couldn`t help following the wave of his hand even though I would rather not look at the man I`d killed in the heat of the moment. “Felipe is dead, Alcide is dead, and Sophie-Anne might as well be dead …“
“She`ll be dead when I find her,” Pam interrupted.
“Yes, but you know as well as I do what happens to armies with no leaders,” Claude continued. “There`ll be anarchy and soon Nordby will be overrun by angry hordes looking for something to loot.”
“Why would Alcide`s men be leaderless?” I asked. “We could have them follow us.”
“They would follow the woman who`d killed their chief?” Claude asked in his most sarcastic voice.
“Stranger things have happened,” I argued. “And they don`t have to know I was the one who landed the blow.”
Pam, Eric and Claude were quiet and then, as if a silent command had been given, they all smiled.
“You will go to Alcide`s men and bring them to your side, Sookie,” Pam said.
“Me?” A chill ran down my back, thinking about Amelia. If she could tell where I was at any given time, surely she would also know that I`d killed her chief.
Unfortunately, I was the one who`d made the mess of killing Alcide and I was the one who needed to make it right. I was a shieldmaiden, and shieldmaidens never feared for their lives. Or if they did, they never shrank back from a challenge. Not even if that challenge involved magic.
Alcide`s army was so close by, for a moment I worried about what they`d heard in the forest. One never knew how voices were muffled by trees or reflected by rocks. Luckily, it seemed the trees had worked harder than the rocks, at least judging from Amelia`s reception when she saw me. She clearly thought Alcide had convinced me to join their ranks. In a way, he had, only it was they who needed to join our army, not the other way around.
And Alcide was dead.
I held back when Amelia tried to draw me into an embrace and schooled my features into sad ones, which wasn`t hard. I was terrified of the witch, and apparently terror and grief looked approximately the same on my face.
A few warriors stood close by and the rest of them rested on the ground with their swords within reaching distance.
“What`s wrong?” she asked. She touched my arm and then she pulled back as if she`d been burned.
“Alcide is dead,” I said, something that had all of the dead chief`s men on their feet. In the commotion, I tried to evaluate Amelia`s reaction, to see if she knew how Alcide had died, but too many people demanded my attention and soon I had to tell the tale I`d carefully spun on my way through the forest.
I told them how I`d been kidnapped by the coward, Rasul – I made sure to call him that and noticed how that had Alcide`s men in a frenzy. I then continued telling them how I`d escaped and that I`d spent the night in the forest with Pam and Eric and their army.
“And today, when we were making our way back to Nordby, we saw Rasul …” I stopped to spit on the ground. “With a bloody sword.”
I caught Amelia`s eyes. It was as if she could read my thoughts, and my breath stopped when I saw her open her mouth. I tried to stop her, to speak before her, but it was as if I was left mute by her.
“Rasul has killed Alcide,” Amelia stated. I was about to protest when I realized what she`d said. I stared at her. “Isn`t that right, Sookie? The double-crosser, Rasul, has killed our leader?”
I nodded before I could find my voice. Then it came with all its power and I shouted, “Rasul killed Alcide!” I hoped the gods would see the necessity of that lie, cowardly as it was.
It was like putting fire to dry hay. Everyone was shouting and some had pulled their swords.
Amelia held up her arms and the men went quiet. Apparently, I wasn`t the only one who feared her.
“We will follow Sookie and join Eric and Pam!” she declared in that strong voice of hers. “Alcide will be avenged and we will bring peace to our country.”
The look she gave me when she`d had every soldier agreeing to join Eric even when their former leader, Alcide, had wanted Eric dead, told me that I owed her. And she was not slow in naming her price. She pulled me into the forest while Alcide`s soldiers were packing their things and extinguishing the fires they`d made.
“You have ruined your parents` hopes for you,” she started. When I looked surprised she continued, “your father negotiated for you to be Alcide`s queen even when the two of you were children.”
“But Alcide was the son of a chief, not a king,” I said.
“The signs for his takeover of the kingdom have been there from his birth. My mother read them and when I grew of age and wisdom, I saw them too. And when you were born, I saw you as a queen. A king needs a queen and a queen needs a king. I told your father and he did as I bid.”
“What went wrong?” I asked. I`d never heard of Amelia making a mistake in her predictions. Now it seemed she`d made two.
“You, Sookie. I knew you would kill everyone threatening you but I never realized you would kill your future king and husband. And when I looked for dangers against Alcide, I never saw you as one of them.” She sounded more frustrated with her predictions than angry with me. At least for a moment, because with a nod of her head, her eyes turned round and hard. “And now you will make things right again, Sookie. I cannot bring Alcide back to life and he was my assurance of a prosperous future. Now you will give me a new life in exchange for the one you`ve lost for me.”
“A new life?” I asked. Would she want me to sacrifice someone in exchange for Alcide`s death?
“You will make me head Vølve when you`re queen. I shall be as powerful as I predicted and you shall make it so.”
Eyes cannot change color, but hers looked as if they`d turned black and then silver. I wanted to tell her that I had no ambitions of becoming a queen, but you don`t argue with people with silvery eyes. At least I could do my best to make her head Vølve, whether I ended up as queen or not, so I nodded my consent.
When I came back to Eric and Pam, they were arguing, and loudly. At least loudly enough for me to hear them as I came towards the camp they`d made while waiting for me to bring Alcide`s men over to their cause. They`d pulled away from the camp but in the direction I was coming from.
I soon heard that Eric and Pam weren`t alone even if their voices carried the farthest.
“Maybe we should let the queen live?” It was Bill`s voice. “With Andre gone, Eric, you could rule through her.”
“Sophie-Anne is not going to live and that is the last of that.” Pam`s voice sounded angry. “No one endangers my children and survives.”
I saw them in a clearing and noticed how Pam held her two children close. Eric raised his eyebrows in question and smiled when I nodded affirmation. Yes, I`d brought Alcide`s men with me. I guided the men to our camp and told them to wait while I went back to the small group arguing in the clearing.
“But you can`t fight on two sides,” Bill said in a much louder voice than he normally used. “You can`t both fight Sophie-Anne`s people and Felipe`s army.”
“True.” Pam stopped and looked at Bill. “We will take over Nordby after we`ve killed Sophie-Anne and use our own army against Felipe`s men.”
Bill took one step back. “Can that be done?” he asked and looked at Eric.
Eric looked back at Pam. “If Pam thinks it can be done then it can be done.”
“Of course, we can overthrow Sophie-Anne if we all agree on it.” Her gaze went from one to the other and we all nodded. “I have a plan as to how we can do it,” she continued with a smile that should have Queen Sophie-Anne shaking if she`d seen it. “I just need to speak to my brother first.”
Bill and I, holding the hands of Pam`s children, went back to the camp to rest. I noticed how Amelia had organized Alcide`s men so that they were mixed in with Eric and Pam`s people and I nodded my approval to her.
Bill glanced at me and I could see him smile out of the corner of my eye.
“You are as good with your mouth as you are with your sword,” he said.
“We owe this to Amelia,” I said, trying to plant the first seed for her future position as head Vølve. It wouldn`t hurt that Bill knew what we owed her. What I owed her.
I would make sure Eric and Pam knew too.
I noticed how Alcide`s soldiers and even Eric`s and Pam`s people were growing restless while waiting for them. They`d had both food and drink and were now eager for battle – for Nordby to be won before the city was prepared for what was to come – and now they wanted to move on. The only thing missing was leadership. Eric and Pam were still in that clearing where Bill and I had left them, and Claude and I decided they`d had more than enough time to discuss whatever they were discussing.
But they weren`t having a discussion – they were quarreling. I hadn`t walked far from the camp before I heard their voices – one more angry than the other. Eric was the louder of the two.
“No, Pam! I`m not doing it!”
Pam`s voice didn`t carry as well so I couldn`t hear what she was saying, but we could see her agitation by her arms moving up and down, back and forth and sometimes hitting Eric`s arm in the process.
“You`re older than I am, Pam!” Eric shouted.
I turned to Claude. “Do you know what it`s about?” I asked.
“I can guess,” he said.
“So what`s your guess?” I asked when he didn`t continue.
Claude looked around and when he was sure no one was listening, he leaned in. “Nordby needs a new regent. And I`m guessing they`re fighting over which one of them it`ll be.”
I was just about to ask him more questions when the sibling quarrel stilled and Eric walked over to me. He grabbed my arm, pulled at it and walked me over to Pam.
“Pam wants to talk to you,” he said.
I turned to Pam who was shooting daggers at her brother. Then she took a deep breath and gave me a look that told me to shut up and listen.
“Would you stand by Eric if he were king?” she asked.
I was caught by surprise and looked at Eric.
“Do you want to be a king?” I asked and heard Pam huff in annoyance.
“He has to be king, Sookie,” Pam explained. “It`s the only way we can get through this mess. Eric takes over from Sophie-Anne, and as the new king he takes control of Felipe`s troops. If Eric refuses to take control it`ll be every man for himself and we all know where that will lead.”
Eric`s eyes grew colder while Pam spoke. I took his hand and noticed a light shake of his head. He really didn`t want to be king and I could understand why. I wouldn`t want to be a queen. I was a warrior and so was Eric.
Still holding Eric`s hand I turned to Pam.
“Eric promised me earlier today that he wouldn`t make me his queen,” I said while trying to keep my face serious. Eric had said it as a joke when I`d killed Alcide. “You can`t ask him to go back on that promise.”
Pam had so many things she wanted to say, the words got caught in her mouth. Before she could utter even a single word, I continued.
“Why don`t you take power? You`re older than Eric and therefore more entitled to the crown – if anyone is entitled to it at all.”
“You might not have noticed that I can`t hold onto a sword, Sookie.” Pam was angry. “A queen needs to lead her armies into battle.”
“Or a queen needs someone she trusts who can do that for her. Why not be the head and Eric and I can be your arms and legs?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white. Eric was smiling. “You take control of Nordby, and Eric and I take over Felipe`s army in your name.”
Claude coughed lightly and I took his hand to acknowledge him. “And you wouldn`t only have Eric and me to wield the swords you can`t hold yourself. Claude could stay close to you, guard you and be the head of the army defending Nordby when Eric and I are on foreign soil. You would have more than enough sword hands even if your own lacks a few fingers.”
Claude grinned. “I could be the queen`s consort,” he offered.
That made Pam laugh too. “Indeed you could.” Then she looked back at Eric and me. “And what of your children? This choice will make Quinn and Frannie the next in line to the throne – not your offspring.”
I wanted to tell her that I was never going to have any children but Eric gave my hand a squeeze.
“I think the events these past days have proven that Quinn would make a great king, and Frannie would be just as fierce a queen. Our children would be honored to serve their cousins.”
The proud look on Pam`s face stopped me from making any further comments on the topic of the next generation on Nordby`s throne. First we needed to actually take over Nordby and we needed to do it quickly.
“To get back to the topic we should be addressing now, Pam,” I said. “I think you and Claude should go back to Nordby and take over the city as quickly as possible.”
“And Rasul and Sophie-Anne?” Pam asked. I couldn`t decipher her voice. Was she mocking me or asking me for advice? I`d just denounced any aspiration to the title of queen of Nordby and now I was giving what could be looked upon as orders.
It was a new situation for me to make suggestions as to the strategy of a battle. I`d always claimed I was a warrior, not a strategist, when Sam had asked me what I thought of this or that situation but now I found myself wanting to be part of planning the solution to our problem – not just the executer of it.
I took a few moments to think; then offered my suggestion. “Kill Sophie-Anne quietly. Everyone knows she`s close to dying, and no one will be surprised if she dies in her sleep. Make sure you`re accepted as the new queen, and quickly.”
I took a deep breath.
“And kill Rasul immediately and very publicly. Execute him and leave him no honor. Cut out his tongue, take his hands and give them to the dogs. Make a public speech where you tell everyone what Rasul has done – how he conspired against everyone.” I thought for a moment, then shook my head. “No, let Amelia touch him first. We need to know who he`s working for and what he`s planning. Then let her say what she has seen so everyone can hear.” I hoped this would be one step in the direction of securing Amelia the position she wanted.
“And then we cut out his tongue, take his hands and give them to the dogs?” Claude asked.
“And then we cut out his tongue, take his hands and give them to the dogs,” I confirmed and though I tried not to smile, I couldn`t help letting my lip curl just a little.
Eric grinned. “I really want to fuck you and rub myself all over you when you`re bloodthirsty like that, Sookie.”
Pam groaned and rolled her eyes. “Please stop, Eric. I don`t want to lose what little I`ve had to eat today.”
We started walking back towards the people waiting for us.
Eric pretended he didn`t hear his sister. “People need to know that Rasul conspired with Felipe. That`s very important. They have to know that you were kidnapped, Sookie.” He gave my hand a squeeze. “I don`t want anyone thinking you double-crossed us.”
“Don`t you think they realized that when they saw me with Felipe`s knife on my throat?” I asked.
“If they knew you, the fact that you`re wearing that…” He pointed at the dress I was still wearing. “… is a sure sign that you weren`t with Felipe voluntarily.”
I looked at Eric who was keeping a straight face but when I started laughing, so did he. Pam and Claude joined in.
It wasn`t that what Eric had said had been that funny, but I suppose we needed to relieve ourselves of some tension.
Pam was the first one to stop laughing and while I dried my face to force it into a more serious look, she started talking again.
“Your idea is good, Sookie. It`s a chance to divide a small group like ours, but I don`t think you or Eric would help us at all in Nordby. Not until Rasul is dead. I`m not sure how the two of you will manage to convince Felipe`s troops to follow you but my brother has a silver tongue …. “
“Oh, Sookie knows all about my talented tongue,” Eric said and then he let out a huff because of that elbow of mine he received between his ribs.
“Thank you for that image, Eric. What I wanted to say was that Eric could sell extra legs to Sleipnir if he wanted to. If they`ll let him speak, he`ll have them following him anywhere.”
“So the challenge is to make them listen to us,” I concluded.
After having figured out the last details to our plan, we asked everyone to get up, and we gave them an outline. Eric and I would try to locate Felipe`s army, and Pam and the rest of the group would go to Nordby where they would kill Sophie-Anne and Rasul and make everyone else follow them.
What could go wrong?
So what did you think?
If you want to go vote at the Fangreader`s award – and it certainly doesn`t have to me for my story since the nomination includes so many great stories (for instance Ooshka`s, FiniteAnarchy`s and Chicpea`s – and several more that I can`t remember off the top of my head) – the address is http://esurv.org/online-survey.php?surveyID=OLEONO_8d5af02a&u=Fangies2013.