Chapter Twenty-One: The Trial
“I wish there was more time to prepare you for this, Dear One,” Eric apologized as he drove them far from the outer fringe of Shreveport toward the bayous.
“It’s not anything like a human trial?” Sookie asked curiously.
“Not really. There is no jury, only the Magister and, in this case, the Ancient Pythoness. There are no appeals, only the verdict and the sentencing,” he told her.
Sookie shivered at the idea of ‘the sentencing.’ Looking out at the tree line that zipped by them, she asked, “What will happen tonight?”
“The Overseers of the trial will list the charges. If Sophie-Anne is smart, she will plead guilty, and that will be all.”
Sookie frowned, “Why would pleading guilty be smart? Doesn’t that mean instant death?”
“It does, for her.”
“I don’t understand,” Sookie admitted.
“The Ancient Pythoness is an Oracle… Really The Oracle,” Eric explained. “To be under her direct scrutiny for too long could cause Sophie-Anne to implicate the other members of her plot. If she values the existence of any others who were involved, she will plead guilty and accept her True Death.”
Sookie frowned deeper, “Then why have a Magister at all? Why not just use the Ancient Pythoness for everything?”
Eric smirked, “She is deeply respected in our community, Dear One. We only bring her out on special occasions. If it were not for the severity of our case, she would not be summoned at all.”
“Because of the Bond?”
“And the allegations against a regent as well as the standing of my Maker,” Eric told her. “You may call it the unholy trinity of misfortune for Sophie-Anne.”
Shaking her head at Eric’s jovial mood, Sookie leaned back into her seat and continued gazing out the window until fireflies glittered all around. She knew by their swarms that they were now deep into the swamps.
“Why is it so isolated?” Sookie asked.
“Habit,” Eric shrugged. “For so many vampires to gather in one place, and considering the outcome of the trial, it is best to be undisturbed.”
“So, what would happen if it were just the Magister presiding?” she asked.
Eric lifted his shoulders once more, “Sophie-Anne would attempt to submit an alibi for her whereabouts of the three days surrounding her attempted assassination of you.”
“Why three?” she asked.
“That is the longest amount of time in our recorded history that an order can be implanted in a human’s mind without needing to refresh it,” he told her, “Sometimes a vampire decides to create progeny and glamours a human to protect the burial site until they rise again. The human served as protection as well as a first meal for the newborn. It was particularly common before the Anatomy Act of 1832 when grave robbers would dig up fresh graves so they could sell the corpses to anatomists.”
“Quite,” he agreed.
“So, what if she has an alibi?” Sookie pressed him to continue.
Eric thought for a moment before he admitted, “Then she would have had someone else glamour that rookie who shot you, and then had them use one of her own aliases to make it appear that she was being framed.”
Sookie sneered, “Oh, man, I wish you’d let me at her! I would kill to interrogate the pants off this bitch!”
Eric’s eyebrows rose as he looked briefly at his mate, “You are rather feisty this evening.”
“She practically killed me, Eric! Of course I’m feisty!” she bit back. “I don’t like someone getting the drop on me, especially not some scum rat who deals in human trafficking!”
Eric chuckled, “I see!”
“Seriously,” she continued, “I’ve had years of interrogating others without the slightest suspicion of my abilities. Even the Weres didn’t suspect a thing.”
“That is true. Unfortunately, as I said, with the Ancient Pythoness there, Sophie-Anne would not dare attempt a defense unless she had no regard for her co-conspirators.”
“I dunno,” Sookie said contemplatively, “she let Grosse take the heat for the trafficking without batting an eyelash. I mean, did she even try and get him leniency?”
“She did not,” he confessed.
“What if her game is to incriminate enough vampires that they can’t possibly condemn them all?” she told him. “Maybe she’s looking to strike a deal.”
“Even if she did involve several other vampires, they would be tried separately from her. Their sentencing could even be milder depending on the degree of their involvement. Let us say that a vampire knew that Chlebowski was the perfect subject for the queen’s glamour. The vampire who passed on that information would not be sentenced to True Death unless it was revealed that he knew why the officer was being glamoured. Even if he knew that Chlebowski was glamoured with the purpose of murdering an officer, he would not necessarily be sentenced with death unless he knew that the officer was Bonded. It would be up to the accuser to press charges and begin secondary trials in the event he or she wished to see all of those punished to the fullest extent of our laws.”
“Crazy,” Sookie muttered as she felt the car slow to a coast.
“Besides,” Eric continued to inform her, “there is no interrogating between the defense and prosecution in vampire trials. Evidence is submitted directly to the Magister. He is the one who asks the questions.”
“Oh,” was all she could reply.
“We are here,” he told her as the wheels eased to a stop and he smoothly moved the car into park.
Sookie took a deep, unneeded breath while Eric slid out of the car and came to open her door. She accepted his hand hesitantly and blinked through the darkness with ease, spying several high-end vehicles amongst the bayou and fireflies.
“There’s so many cars!” she gasped in surprise.
“This is a very big trial,” Eric reminded as he led Sookie down some invisible pathway. His steps were so assured that it seemed to the female that the route was marked, but she could not see it herself.
As they came closer to their destination, Sookie’s stomach turned at all of the minds she heard. There were nearly fifty vampires gathered in the clearing, one of which would have made goosebumps erupt all over her skin if she were still human. She recognized the internal ‘voice’ that had echoed in Chlebowski’s brain the day she had been shot. She would only need to hear the vampire actually speak to determine if the mind was Sophie-Anne’s.
Eric frowned as the seas parted upon their arrival. Confusion flooded him as centering the trial were the seats occupied only by the disinterested and bald Magister, Jorge Alonso de San Diego, and Sophie-Anne. His eyes discretely scanned the crowd, but the Ancient Pythoness was nowhere to be seen. The smirk on the queen’s face was all he needed to ascertain that the Oracle would not be attending.
“It appears we are not in for a simple evening, Dear One,” Eric told her quietly as they walked down the aisle those attending had formed.
“There’s no Ancient Pythoness?” Sookie asked with unease trembling at her lips that she dutifully subdued.
“No, she is not here.”
“What do I do if I’m questioned too? I’m really new to vampire law,” she said.
“I trust your abilities. I will be by your side the entire time if you should falter,” he assured her.
“I got this, Darlin’,” she replied firmly, in her element for the first time since becoming a vampire. She had never been a lawyer, but this was not exactly a court room. Sookie knew how to stick to her report when under scrutiny. She was not afraid of the queen’s answers in the least. She knew with ninety-nine percent certainty that Sophie-Anne was responsible for her untimely demise. Once the royal opened her mouth, and judging by her smug disposition it would not be very long, Sookie would have the final scrap of confirmation she needed to go after her murderer like a charging bull.
Once the pair met Sophie-Anne in front of the Magister, Sookie’s posture went ramrod straight, her expression clinically patient. The queen spoke in a snide, over-confident manner that made Sookie’s teeth grind.
“Magister,” Sophie-Anne pompously insisted, “I ask that you grant a motion for me to bring a charge of treason against Sheriff Eric Northman and his Mate and for this waste of all our time! This is an obvious attempt to dethrone me and take my crown! This is treason and I demand the highest penalty once I have proven my innocence!”
“Motion heard,” Jorge waved his hand impartially. Sookie could not help but acknowledge that the Magister was anything except bored. He was practically vibrating with excitement and though it made her nervous, an intriguing thought amongst the crowd set her at ease.
At Sookie’s sudden explosion of confidence, Eric looked down at her in surprise, and then looked at the Magister.
Jorge’s eyebrows were raised at Eric’s expression, and he looked at the Viking for an explanation.
“Sookie was rather hyper-observant as a human. Now that she is vampire, she is all the more adept at reading body language and facial expressions. I suppose there must be something she sees that reads in our favor,” Eric shrugged nonchalantly while internally belittling himself for openly responding to her emotions. Her Confidence had left him staggered, and he had yet to feel that sort of assuredness from her since her rising the previous night. Its sudden presence had yanked away his usual stoic demeanor.
“I see,” the Magister eyed the smaller blonde curiously. “I would like to inform you that I interviewed the officer allegedly glamoured to shoot you. There was evidence of a glamour when he was put under my review, but we have no way of knowing who it was that instilled the command. The presence has been duly noted, nonetheless.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Sookie nodded at him. “Though we can’t log it as evidence, your confirmation may sway your opinion as the interview presents more coincidences.”
“The interview?” the Magister raised his eyebrows once more toward Eric.
“As you know, Sookie was a police officer. She is merely using the terminology with which she is familiar,” Eric responded.
“I see,” Jorge chuckled to himself. “Shall we commence the trial, then?”
“Whenever you are ready, Sir,” Sookie nodded.
“I like this one, Northman,” Jorge commented as he appraised the new vampire. “Confident, respectful without brown nosing… It is good to see a young one of this era who is not a grand disappointment of whining and ignorance.” The Magister’s eyes swept over the Mated vampiress and Sookie would have blushed if she still could. There was no hunger in his eyes or thoughts, but his blatant appraisal made her feel as though he was seeing something in her that was very private. “A seemingly good choice to raise from the lower race. I look forward to seeing what this new one offers in the future… We will begin in a moment if you wish to prepare her any further.”
Pulling his Bonded against his side, Eric kissed the top of her head, sending Comfort. Eric could sense the unease within His Sookie, and he offered both emotional and physical consolations.
‘Beautiful, confident, and self-controlled. Good for you, Eric!’
Sookie turned her head toward the thought and saw a young man in the crowd standing beside Pam and another female vampire. The young man had short, brown hair and stone-gray eyes. She stared at him for a moment, seeing a strange shimmer around him and the unidentified blonde girl. Realization struck swiftly and she tilted her head toward the trio.
“The pair by Pam, they are Godric and Emily?” Sookie guessed.
Eric did not need to look where she was staring as he nodded, “Yes.”
“They’re a cute couple,” she offered. When Godric smirked, she realized that everyone had heard her. “Seeing another Bonded couple… I couldn’t see the aura we put off in our Bond, but I can see theirs. That shimmer…?”
“Yes, that is what others see when they are looking at us,” Eric confirmed.
“It’s subtle, but I guess it’s obvious when you know what you’re looking at,” she replied proudly.
“Yes,” Eric rasped as he kissed the top of his Bonded’s head and turned toward Pam. “You have my documents prepared?” he held out his hand expectantly, receiving a thick envelope that Pam produced from her oversized purse.
“Everything that Roary managed to scrounge up,” Pam nodded.
“Roary?” Sookie looked to her Mate curiously.
“An FBI agent based in New Orleans. Pam was very busy last week convincing him to do a server scan for Sophie-Anne’s email accounts. She was so persuasive that she managed to get cell phone dumps for Compton, the queen, and all of her progeny. Lorena even came to the trial to force Billy to testify against Sophie-Anne under the condition that we would not prosecute him as well.”
Sookie shrugged, “That’s fair enough. Other than being a creep, he didn’t really do anything to me.”
Eric nodded distractedly as he scanned the email printouts, cross-referenced several phone calls and the towers from where they had bounced, and compared them to copies of the moving violation committed by Sophia Cesira.
Satisfied, Eric took the envelope to Jorge and handed it over. “These are documents collected by my progeny over the last week. Unfortunately, the cell phone records are not as incriminating as I had hoped.
A list of phone numbers generated the week I Bonded with Sookie was compiled. It was reduced by confirmed registrations, and then reduced further by incoming and outgoing calls that were deemed benign or related to drug dealing. Fifteen phones were unable to be determined, but only three were purchased at the same location, the same day and at the same time. Two of those burner phones were used in proximity to the Area 1 estate judging by the tower from which they bounced. The third phone transmitted from Shreveport several times earlier this week. The emails I have in my possession imply that the Queen had deadly interests toward my Bonded prior to the appearance of these numbers,” Eric told the Magister as he quickly skimmed his eyes across the papers.
“Is Bill Compton present?” the Magister called.
“I am, Sir,” Bill wove through the throng of vampires to the center of the trial.
“These correspondence suggest that you knowingly and willingly conspired to murder a human police officer,” Jorge accused.
“Yes, Sir,” Bill nodded gravely. “The plan was to not allow any connection be made to vampires. However, once I witnessed that Northman and Stackhouse had Bonded, I abandoned my mission.”
The Magister nodded disinterestedly before pushing the papers back into the envelope and thrusting them into the waiting hands of his attendant. Turning to Sophie-Anne, Jorge asked, “What damages were caused that you felt compelled to end the life of a police officer and further, to risk a war with the two-natured community?”
Swallowing hard, Sophie-Anne attempted to explain her defense, “She was unable to be glamoured. I feared that a young one would take her life if they found they could not glamour her. To protect the vampire community from war with the Weres, I put out a commission for execution to Bill Compton.”
“Your Bonded could not be glamoured as a human?” the Magister asked of Eric, his face suspicious.
“She could not,” Eric replied.
Jorge looked prepared to inquire further, but his interest quickly waned, and he returned his attention on Sophie-Anne and demanded, “And when she Bonded?”
“I backed off just as swiftly as Compton had,” Sophie-Anne declared.
Sookie clenched her teeth at the defendant’s claim.
“Tell me why one of your very well-known aliases is listed on this moving violation just two evenings before Sookie Stackhouse was shot and turned?” Jorge pressed.
“It is an obvious ploy to incriminate me,” Sophie-Anne shrugged. “Someone forged documents with my alias and glamoured a cop to shoot Stackhouse. If I had wanted the ugly beast truly dead, I would have ordered a head shot.”
Sookie frowned at the Queen’s comment, wondering why Sophie-Anne had not ordered an instant kill.
“That would have been impressive,” Eric countered. “A potentially fatal wound is much easier to convince someone to do than a kill shot. I doubt anyone could have glamoured an officer to take such extreme measures.” Turning to the Magister, the Viking offered, “It is obvious that she is attempting to make us accept this as truth. She is trying to play the role of the victim.”
“Prove it!” Jorge snapped. “With the grievous nature of the crime of which you are accusing your Regent, I want no doubt in the minds of those attending that her True Death is warranted. If you cannot prove your claims, well… You have wasted your time and your Mate’s when you bothered to bring her over.”
Sophie-Anne grinned smugly as Eric scowled.
Sookie pushed forward awkwardly and bowed her head to the Magister, “Magister,” she requested nervously, “have I, Eric, or any of our Bloodline stood anywhere near Sophie-Anne or her progeny?”
Jorge’s brow furrowed at the strange question, but he replied, “You have not.”
“Please, dial the numbers of the suspected burner phones,” she implored.
There were murmurs through the crowd when the Magister took out his phone and began dialing the highlighted numbers on the submitted evidence. After two “no longer in service” messages, a trilling sound was suddenly heard throughout the dark and still swamp, making all eyes turn to a small brunette vampiress whose body stood rigid and frozen among the crowd.
The Magister smirked, “This just got interesting. Bring her here,” he demanded. “Who might you be?”
“Veronica,” the small vampire squeaked under the overseer’s scrutiny.
“She is not one of Sophie-Anne’s progeny,” Eric mumbled under his breath to Sookie who stood her ground.
“Why do you have that phone?” he asked with a warmth that would not thaw the ice in his eyes.
Veronica cowered behind her huge head of hair that practically eclipsed her slight body while she cried out, “Mercy, please!”
“Tell me why you have that phone!” Jorge bellowed.
“It was mailed to me a week ago,” Veronica hiccupped as bloody tears streamed down her face. Sookie’s heart ached as she realized that Veronica was the Child of Michael Grosse. It was obvious how she had been recruited by Sophie-Anne.
“Before the shooting,” Jorge waved his hand impatiently.
“There was a note that said, ‘If you want him free, call the number in the contact list.’” she continued nervously. “So I called and…” Veronica’s eyes glanced to the Queen’s vehement glare before she blabbed, “Sophie-Anne ordered me to find someone who could shoot Stackhouse during the day. I found a cop who had a really big crush on her. I began glamouring two nights in a row to increase his obsession with Stackhouse so that when he was given the order to kill, it would be easier for him to accept the command due to his fixation on her.”
“Did you know that Stackhouse was Bonded at that time?” Jorge demanded.
“N-no!” she wailed. “I had no idea. I’ve just always been exceptional at glamouring, and Sophie-Anne promised that she’d get my Master freed if I helped get rid of the detective that put him in prison! I just wanted my Maker back!”
“Can you prove that Sophie-Anne is the one who sent you that phone?” Jorge demanded.
“I still have the envelope. It was sent from New Orleans… and I saved a voicemail she left me as collateral,” Veronica testified.
“Play it,” Jorge commanded, looking strangely excited. Sookie realized that all of the drama was entertaining him.
Fumbling with the phone, Veronica punched in the password, and then pressed the speaker button so all of the attendees could listen and hear clearly.
“You know better than to not answer this phone,” the unmistakable voice of Sophie-Anne echoed throughout the crowd, “I expect progress to have been made by the time you return my call.”
An automated voice chimed after the call ended:
“To replay this message, press 2, to delete this message press 7, to dial this number, press 8-”
“Press 8,” Jorge instructed.
Veronica followed her orders quickly.
“Dialing, (504) 555-8264… We’re sorry. The number you are trying to reach has been disconnected….”
“And that would be the number of the second burner phone previously submitted into evidence,” Jorge smirked, “which just so conveniently happened to spend a great deal of time in New Orleans the week prior to Stackhouse’s murder, and then bounced off a tower in Shreveport two nights prior to the shooting.” The Magister actually laughed. “My, my,” he shook his head, obviously delighted. “Sophie-Anne, you seem to have been caught!” Looking at Sookie now, he asked, “How did you know Veronica still had her phone?”
Smiling, Sookie replied, “She was clutching her bag rather tightly and her eyes would stray toward it every so often. I knew she was either hiding something or she was debating about turning over evidence.”
“Why did you suspect it was a phone?” the Magister pressed.
Sookie shrugged in a deceptively nonchalant manner, “It was the only means of communication we had suspicions of between the queen and her co-conspirator. I took a stab in the dark that it was one of the burner phones.”
“A detective’s gut instinct?” he sneered at the notion.
“Experience,” Sookie responded. “Vamps have quick and subtle body language, but I can still see it. I actually handled a few contract hits as a human detective, Sir. Mind you, this was one of the more sophisticated ones I’ve seen. Mostly it’s gangbangers that get hired ’round these parts for a kill job, but Veronica did exactly what any one of them would have done. She made sure she got collateral on her buyer. You know what makes catchin’ y’all hard though? Most of what you buy and sell for a hit has nothing to do with money. Money’s easy to track, even when you use multiple accounts. Vamps trade things humans can’t detect, vendettas, favors, allegiances… That’s gonna take me a while to get used to.”
“It would seem that since you have proven your case, you will have that opportunity,” Jorge announced. “Attendees!” he addressed the crowd, “I rule that Sophie-Anne Leclerq is guilty of the attempted murder of another vampire’s Bonded, causing a well-respected ancient serious grief and losses. The penalty for this abhorrent offense is True Death. Is this fair!? Is this just!?” he demanded from the crowd.
Sookie held her breath as an affirming roar came from the crowd, drowning out the few protests over the extreme repercussions.
The Magister turned toward Eric and asked, “Are you ordering the eradication of the Leclerq Bloodline, or will you be satisfied with the final death of Sophie-Anne?”
Eric’s gaze hardened at the question. “When have you known me to be compassionate?” he hissed.
Sookie glanced up at her Bonded with widened eyes that he deliberately ignored. While she looked at him, a skirmish took place in her peripheral vision when Sophie-Anne’s three progeny attempted to flee and several of the trial’s attendants were forced to apprehend them.
The young vampire tried desperately to keep her emotions in check, not wanting to burden her Bonded with her terror. A face, she reminded herself, a face he wears when he is Sheriff. This is vampire law, Stackhouse. Eric knows what he’s doing!
“And the co-conspirator?” the Magister grinned with delight once the Leclerq Line was restrained.
Sookie’s hand tightened in Eric’s, and despite the attempts she made to rein in her prayers for mercy, her Bonded could still sense the Pleading.
“I will not hold her accountable for the attempt on my Bonded. Veronica was unaware of Sookie’s status. I do not seek to condemn her,” Eric announced, and Sookie heard resounding relief in the minds of several Area 5 vampires. Their Sheriff may be ruthless, but not unreasonable. For a moment, Sookie wondered if Eric had spared Veronica for Sookie’s sake, or to allay an uprising in his own Area.
“My existence is yours, Sheriff,” Veronica bowed her head meekly.
“Yes,” Eric agreed monotonously. Dread settled in Sookie’s chest at her Bonded’s cold reply. His inflection sounded almost hateful, making the telepath wonder if this truly was a favor.
“Finally,” the Magister seemed petulant over Eric’s show of mercy, “how do you side on William Compton and his conspiracy with the Queen?”
“As much as I detest the weasel, to hold him accountable where I did not hold Veronica would be a personal grudge, not a just cause. I submit that he be pardoned,” Eric declared.
There was another murmuring of approval with which Sookie half-heartedly agreed. She did not like Bill Compton, but there had been many people for whom she did not advocate as a police officer.
“If that is your decision, then the execution of the Leclerq Line will commence,” Jorge gestured for his attendants to bring the four vampires before him. “Do you wish to carry out the sentencing yourself, Northman?” he offered.
“As much as I wish, killing Sophie-Anne would make me the new King of Louisiana. I have no desire to rule,” Eric explained while declining, “Sookie, do you wish to end her existence? You are too young to be Regent,” he suggested.
“I’m an officer, not an executioner,” Sookie stated flatly, hoping that her revulsion was not evident in her eyes. Eric automatically reached to stroke her hair in a soothing gesture.
“Such a loving gesture,” Jorge smirked at Eric. “I’m intrigued, really,” he defended with feigned respect, “as to what could tame the ruthless Viking. Seeing your meek Mate, well, I suppose it answers my question.”
“Everything I have needed to prove this evening has been accounted for, Sir,” Sookie began in a husky tone. “I feel no compulsion to display my fortitude as well.”
Jorge shrugged, unimpressed with her words, “I am merely stating that you are rather domesticated for a newborn. Did my statement imply otherwise?” he challenged.
With a strained smile, Sookie responded, “No, Sir. Forgive me, I’m getting thirsty.”
After that comment, Sookie crossed her arms over her chest and took a deep breath, wishing the action could still even out her emotions the way it once had. Dealing with her emotions was far more difficult as a vampire. There were no biological responses to distract her from anxiety or fear; no racing heart to subdue or labored breathing to even out. All there were now were the emotions and lacking physical reactions that were born of instincts, instincts that humans knew to follow without question.
“Jana,” the Magister nodded at a small, fierce looking vampiress, “carry out the sentencing.”
Swiftly, unceremoniously even, Jana strode down the line of the four restrained vampires awaiting execution. Jana’s movements were as swift as viper strikes. Her arm moved almost imperceptibly fast, and then a pile of sinew and blood slopped to the ground.
Sophie-Anne wept in grief and rage as each of her progeny were reduced to bloody masses until Jana stood before her.
“Goodbye, Your Majesty,” Jana grinned toothily before executing the Queen of Louisiana.
Sookie’s fangs popped when Sophie-Anne splashed to the ground, and the Magister grinned at the fledgling’s reaction, “Finally!” he exclaimed, roaring with laughter as Sookie buried her mouth in her hand, “A reasonable response from your Mate!”
Eric’s hand continued soothing his Bonded’s hair. The Magister was mistaken as to the cause of Sookie’s displayed fangs. She was not aroused by the carnage, she was terrified. Eric could feel Vulnerability welling up inside of her, and he tried to send Comfort through the Bond, only to hit a wall. Sookie was accustomed to policing her expression, but her fangs were not a reaction she knew how to control.
“Trial concluded and sentencing carried out,” Jorge announced. “This case is closed.”
Turning toward his Bloodline, Eric lead Sookie to meet his Maker. “Dear one, this is Godric and Emily,” he introduced.
The slight, blonde vampiress smiled kindly at Sookie, “How about we go to Fangtasia and find you a donor, Hun?” Emily suggested sweetly after looking into the younger vampiress’ wide eyes.
“Yeah, sure,” Sookie replied coolly while she was lead out of the bayou and back to Shreveport.
It was time to finally meet the in-laws.