Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(15)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(15)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I don't know why I bothered with being proud of myself, because no one was going to look at me twice when I was with Claude. He's close to six feet tall, with rippling black hair and brown eyes, the physique of a stripper (six-pack abs(六块腹肌) and all), and the jaw and cheekbones of a Renaissance statue. Unfortunately, he has the personality of a statue, too.

Today Claude was wearing khakis and a tight tank top under an open green silk shirt. He was playing with a pair of dark glasses. Though Claude's facial expressions when he wasn't "on" ranged from blank to sullen, today he actually seemed nervous. He scanned the food court area as if he suspected that someone had followed me, and he didn't relax when I dropped into a chair at his table. He had a Chick-fil-A cup in front of him, but he hadn't gotten anything to eat, so I didn't, either.

"Cousin," he said, "are you well?" He didn't even try to sound sincere, but at least he said the right words. Claude had gotten marginally more polite when I'd discovered my great-grandfather was his grandfather, but he'd never forget I was (mostly) human. Claude had as much contempt for humans as most fairies did, but he was definitely fond of bedding humans - as long as they had beard stubble.

"Yes, thank you, Claude. It's been a while."

"Since we met? Yes." And that was just fine with him. "How can I help you? Oh, here comes Claudine." He looked relieved.

Claudine was wearing a brown suit with big gold buttons and a brown, cream, and tan striped blouse. She dressed very conservatively for work, and though the outfit was becoming, something about the cut made her look somewhat less slim, I noticed. She was Claude's twin; there had been another sister, their triplet Claudette, but Claudette had been murdered. I guess if there are two remaining out of three, you call the living two "twins"? Claudine was as tall as Claude, and as she bent to kiss him on the cheek, their hair (exactly the same shade) mingled in a cascade of dark ripples. She kissed me, too. I wondered if all the fae are as into physical contact as the fairies are. My cousin had a trayful of food: French fries, chicken nuggets, some kind of dessert, a big sugary drink.

"What kind of trouble is Niall in?" I asked, going directly to the point. "What kind of enemies does he have? Are they all actual fairies? Or are they some other kind of fae?"

There was a moment of silence while Claudine and Claude noted my brisk mood. They weren't at all surprised at my questions, which I thought was significant.

"Our enemies are fairies," Claudine said. "The other fae don't mix in our politics, as a rule, though we're all variations on the same theme - like pygmies, Caucasians, and Asians are variations on human beings." She looked sad. "All of us are less than we used to be." She tore open a ketchup package and squirted it all over her fries. She stuck three fries in her mouth at one time. Wow, hungry.

"It would take hours to explain our whole lineage," Claude said, but he wasn't dismissing me. He was simply stating a fact. "We come from the line of fairies that claims kinship to the sky. Our grandfather, your great-grandfather, is one of the few surviving members of our royal family."

"He's a prince," I said, because that was one of the few facts I knew.Prince Charming. Prince Valiant. Prince of the City . The title carried a lot of weight.

"Yes. There is another prince, Breandan." Claude pronounced it "Bren-DAWN." Diantha had mentioned Breandan. "He is the son of Niall's older brother, Rogan. Rogan claimed kinship to the sea, and from there his influence spread to all bodies of water. Rogan recently has gone to the Summerlands."

"Dead," Claudine translated before she took a bite of her chicken.

Claude shrugged. "Yes, Rogan's dead. He was the only one who could rein in Breandan. And you should know, Breandan's the one who - " But Claude stopped in midsentence, because his sister had her hand clamped down on his arm. A woman who was feeding a little boy French fries looked over at us curiously, her attention attracted by Claudine's sudden gesture. Claudine gave Claude a look that could blister paint. He nodded, removed his arm from her grip, and began to speak again. "Breandan disagrees very strongly with Niall about policy. He ..."

The twins looked at each other. Finally Claudine nodded.

"Breandan believes all the humans with fairy blood should be eradicated. He believes every time one of us mates with a human, we lose some of our magic."

I cleared my throat, trying to get rid of the lump of fear that had risen to block it. "So Breandan's an enemy. Any more royalty on Niall's side?" I asked in a choked voice.

"A less-than-prince. His title doesn't translate," Claude said. "Our father, Dillon son of Niall, and his first wife, Branna. Our mother is Binne. If Niall goes to the Summerlands, Dillon will replace him as prince. But of course he must wait."

The names were unfamiliar. The first one sounded almost like Dylan, the second sounded like BEE-nah. "Spell those, please," I said, and Claudine said, "B-I-N-N-E. D-I-L-L-O-N. Niall didn't live happily with Branna, and it took him a long time to love our father, Dillon. Niall preferred his half-human sons." She smiled at me to reassure me that humans were okay with her, I guess.

Niall had told me once I was his only living relative. But that wasn't true. Niall was definitely swayed by emotion, not facts. I needed to remember that. Claude and Claudine didn't seem to blame Niall's partiality on me, to my huge relief.

"So who's on Breandan's side?" I asked.

"Dermot," said Claudine. She looked at me expectantly.

I knew that name. I struggled to remember where I'd heard it.

"He's my grandfather Fintan's brother," I said slowly. "Niall's other son by Einin. But he's half human." Einin had been a human woman seduced by Niall centuries ago. (She'd thought he was an angel, which gives you some idea how good fairies can look when they don't need to look human.) My half-human great-uncle was trying to kill his dad?

"Did Niall tell you that Fintan and Dermot were twins?" Claude asked.

"No," I said, astonished.

"Dermot was the younger by a few minutes. The twins were not identical, you understand," he said. He was enjoying my ignorance. "They were ..." He paused, looked baffled. "I don't know the right term," he said.

"Fraternal. Okay, interesting, but so?"

"Actually," Claudine said, looking down intently at her chicken, "your brother, Jason, is the spitting image of Dermot."

"Are you suggesting that ... What are you suggesting?" I was ready to be indignant, once I knew why.

"We're only telling you that this is why Niall has been naturally inclined to favor you over your brother," Claude said. "Niall loved Fintan, but Dermot defied Niall at every turn. He openly rebelled against our grandfather and pledged his loyalty to Breandan, though Breandan despises him. In addition to Dermot's resemblance to Jason, which is only a quirk of genes, Dermot is an a**hole like Jason. You can see why Niall doesn't claim kinship with your brother."

I felt a moment's pity for Jason until my common sense woke me up. "So Niall has enemies besides Breandan and Dermot?"

"They have their own followers and associates, including a few assassins."

"But your dad and your mom are on Niall's side?"

"Yes. Others are, too, of course. All of us sky people."

"So I have to watch out for any approaching fairies, and they might attack me at any time because I'm Niall's blood."

"Yes. The fae world is too dangerous. Especially now. That's one reason we live in the human world." Claude glanced at Claudine, who was wolfing chicken nuggets like she'd been starving.

Claudine swallowed, patted her mouth with the paper napkin, and said, "Here's the most important point." She popped in another nugget and glanced at Claude, signaling him to take over.

"If you see someone who looks like your brother, but isn't ..." Claude said.

Claudine swallowed. "Run like hell," she advised.

Chapter 9

I drove home more confused than ever. Though I loved mygreat-grandfather as much as I could on our short acquaintance ... and I was absolutely ready to love him even more, and I was willing to back him up to the limit because we were kin ... I still didn't know how to fight this war, or how to dodge it, either. Fairies did not want to be known to the human world, and they never would. They weren't like the wereanimals or the vampires, who wanted to share in the planet with us. There was much less reason for the fairies to keep in line with human policies and rules. They could do anything they wished and vanish back into their secret place.

For about the millionth time, I wished I had a normal great-grandfather instead of this improbable, glorious, and inconvenient fairy prince version.

Then I was ashamed of myself. I should be happy for what I'd been given. I hoped God hadn't noticed my lapse of appreciation.

I'd already had a busy day, and it was only two o'clock. This wasn't shaping up to be my normal day off. Usually I did laundry, cleaned house, went to the store, read, paid bills... . But today was so pretty I wanted to stay outside. I wanted to work on something that would allow me to think at the same time. There sure was plenty to mull over.

I looked at the flower beds around the house and decided to weed. This was my least-favorite chore, maybe because it was the one I'd often been assigned as a child. Gran had believed we should be brought up to work. It was in her honor that I tried to keep the flower beds looking nice, and now I sighed and made up my mind to get the job done. I'd start with the bed by the driveway, on the south side of the house.

I went over to our metal toolshed, the latest in a series of toolsheds that had served the Stackhouse family over the generations we'd lived on this spot. I opened the door with the familiar mingled feelings of pleasure and horror, because someday I was going to have to put in some serious work cleaning out the interior. I still had my grandmother's old trowel; there was no telling who'd used it before her. It was ancient but so well taken care of that it was better than any modern substitute. I stepped into the shadowy shed and found my gardening gloves and the trowel.

I knew from watching   Antiques Roadshow that there were people who collected old farm implements. This toolshed would be an Aladdin's cave to such a collector. My family didn't believe in letting things go if they still worked. Though chock-full, the shed was orderly, because that had been my grandfather's way. When we'd come to live with him and Gran, he'd drawn an outline for every commonly used tool. That was where he'd wanted that tool to be replaced every time it was used, and that was where it was still kept now. I could reach unerringly for the trowel, which was maybe the oldest tool in the shed. It was heavy, sharper, and narrower than its modern counterparts, but its shape was familiar to my hand.

If it had been really, truly spring, I'd have changed back into my bikini to combine business with pleasure. But though the sun was still shining, I wasn't in a carefree mood any longer. I pulled my gardening gloves on, because I didn't want to ruin my fingernails. Some of these weeds seemed to fight back. One grew on a thick, fleshy stalk, and it had sharp points on its leaves. If you let it grow long enough, it blossomed. It was really ugly and prickly, and it had to be removed by its roots. There were quite a few of them springing up among the emerging cannas.

Gran would have had a fit.

I crouched and set to work. With my right hand, I sank the trowel in the soft dirt of the flower bed, loosening the roots of the nasty weed, and pulled it up with my left hand. I shook the stalk to get the dirt off the roots and then tossed it aside. Before I'd started I'd put a radio out on the back porch. In no time at all, I was singing along with LeAnn Rimes. I began to feel less troubled. In a few minutes, I had a respectable pile of uprooted weeds and a glow of virtue.

If he hadn't spoken, it would have ended differently. But since he was full of himself, he had to open his mouth. His pride saved my life.

Also, he picked some unwise words. Saying, "I'll enjoy killing you for my lord," is just not the way to make my acquaintance.

I have good reflexes, and I erupted from my squatting position with the trowel in my hand and I drove it upward into his stomach. It slid right in, as if it were designed to be a fairy-killing weapon.

And that was exactly what it turned out to be, because the trowel was iron and he was a fairy.

I leaped back and dropped into a half crouch, still gripping the bloody trowel, and waited to see what he'd do. He was looking down at the blood seeping through his fingers with an expression of absolute amazement, as if he couldn't believe I'd ruined his ensemble. Then he looked at me, his eyes pale blue and huge, and there was a big question on his face, as if he were asking me if I'd really done that to him, if it wasn't some kind of mistake.

I began backing up to the porch steps, never taking my eyes from him, but he wasn't a threat any longer. As I reached behind me to open the screen door, my would-be murderer crumpled to the ground, still looking surprised.

I retreated into the house and locked the door. Then I walked on trembling legs over to the window above the kitchen sink and peered out, leaning as far over the sink as I could. From this angle I could see only a bit of the crumpled body. "Okay," I said out loud."Okay." He was dead, looked like. It had been so quick .

I started to pick up the wall phone, noticed how my hands were shaking, and spotted my cell phone on the counter where I'd been charging it. Since this was a crisis that definitely called for the head honcho, I speed-dialed my great-grandfather's big, secret emergency number. I thought the situation qualified. A male voice, not Niall's, answered. "Yes?" the voice said with a cautious tone.

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