A/N: Hi! Trying my hand at another story, and another Alternate Universe, this time, going back to the end of the Vampire/Fairy war. This A/U follows the same rules as my last one- Sookie is still a telepath, our favorite Vampires are still Vampires, and for the purposes of this story our favorite Fairies are still Fairies.
Since we're moving pretty far back in time- a la the 13th century, I figured there were some characters whose names weren't completely appropriate, namely Claude, Claudine, and Claudette. I'm not sure if it was ever mentioned in the books that they changed their names to something more modern or pronounceable (after reading so much wonderful fanfiction some details tend to blend together). But in that vein, and because it was fun, I've taken the liberty of giving them back some beautiful and unpronounceable Celtic/Gallic names: Claude= Ceannaideach, Claudine= Ceiridwyn, and Claudette=Caronwyn. Although, except for Claude being a total douche, they don't bare much resemblance to their SVM selves, at least in the beginning! I've given Sookie a different name as well Saoirse, although as the story progresses we'll be using both names.
As always I have to thank my beta Sheknitsnicely! Thank you for sticking with me and working on this new story with me. Your mad editing skills, your unending support, and your awesome friendship make me so glad that I started dabbling in writing! You make it all so much more fun and fulfilling!
Disclaimer: I own nothing! But I do, very much, hope you enjoy!
The war had raged on now for a hundred and twenty years, long enough for the hotheads and idealists who had called for it to have long since perished at the end of an iron sword or a hungry pair of fangs. Long enough for the people to have grown weary from the loss of life and the loss of status, even if their leaders still refused to admit that the stench of defeat had long since tainted the air. Long enough for even a proud prince to see that pride would do naught now but carry his people to their extinction.
Niall watched with a heart heavy with grief as the body of his son, Dermot, flaked away in the early morning haze. One less prince to carry his people into the next century, one less husband to father children, one less voice to call for reason, one more dead son to his father.
Raising his head as he heard the horseman approach, Naill felt his anger rise within him as the figure of his grandson, Ceannaideach, made its way ever closer. The sun was behind Ceannaideach, obscuring his face from the Prince's gaze, but Niall did not need to see the look of triumph that painted it to know that it was there. With Fintan these fifteen years dead, and now Dermot gone as well, Ceannaideach was firmly his heir, and one step closer in his ambitious climb to the throne.
"Grandfather, I grieve with you." Niall heard the words, proper and respectful, coming from Ceannaideach's mouth. Had he not known the boy's true character, he might even have been fooled by the conviction in his tone. But knowing the blazing fire of ambition that burned within the younger man, he felt only rage that he dared to play this game with him here, now.
As Ceannaideach dismounted, he tried mightily to keep the smile from his face. The half breed was dead. Could he, he would personally thank the vampire that had done him this service, this day. But instead, he schooled his features, painting the mask of grief over the joy that swelled in his heart, attempting to look as though his only concern was for his grandfather's wellbeing.
"Lidan is here, with Breadan and Coleman. He requests your presence at once. He awaits you in your tent." Niall only nodded in acknowledgement , rising from the ground and turning towards the tent in the distance to meet his King.
"No, you stay here. I will meet with them alone." Niall barked when he saw the younger man preparing to join him. His heir the boy might be, but he would not, this day, suffer his greedy power mongering in front of the High King. Dealing with Breandan and Coleman without losing his temper would be enough of a strain on his already burdened heart. Taking the horse and leaving Ceannaideach to find his own way back, he turned away with one last pang of sorrow from the body of his son and made towards the encampment where the remainder of his army rested, now that the sun had blessedly come up, ceasing the battle for at least the next few hours.
Dismounting at the flap of his tent, Niall called out to his lieutenant, Rival. Rival came at a run to his master, concern evident as he looked in the billowing tent door and saw who awaited his master there.
"My lord." He acknowledged, bowing low. Niall only waved his hand dismissively, allowing Rival to return to an upright position.
"Take a detachment and search the ground in and around the battlefield." Rival nodded his head, already familiar, after so many decades of war, with the ritual of "cleaning up". He and his men would search, as they always did, for any who had been foolish enough to go to ground in and around the battlefield, dispatching that many more of the enemy before they rose. Taking one last long look inside the tent, Rival went to his task, leaving Niall to enter the lion's den.
"My Lord." This time it was Niall who bent low, making the proper obeisance to his King.
"Niall, sit" Lidan commanded, without further ado. Looking around at the King and his two other lieutenants, Niall took the nearest place, thankful that it put him closer to Coleman. To even sit in the same room with Breandan was enough to prick at his honor. Especially on this day, when he had lost yet another son, the sight of the other Fairy made his rage rise up almost uncontrollably. Stifling the blood lust that he knew would do him no good, he turned to his Majesty, ready to hear what had brought him and his other lieutenants to Niall's door this wretched morning.
"I have heard each of you." Lidan began, his voice grave. "After seeing the carnage for myself, I cannot continue to ignore Niall's warning. Today alone we have lost another two hundred. If this were a singular event or only a bad battle I would continue on in the path we have chosen, but it is not. The people cry out for an end to the suffering, an end to the death, and I can no longer turn a blind eye." Niall held his peace, but the King's words only served to anger him more. Indeed, now that it looked as though the people might turn on their King, forcing him and his accursed war out of both realms, now at last was he ready to listen to words of sense. Now, only after the war had been lost a hundred times over, was he willing to admit his error. Now, when the Fae were weakened to the point that centuries would be needed for them to recover, was Lidan realizing the colossal waste that it all had been. Only now was he finally willing to stop being goaded by Breandan's constant, greed filled whisperings, and actually see for himself all that had been lost. Only now, when it was almost too late.
"My Lord, No…!" Breandan began, all too predictably. But this time Lidan, as he should have done a hundred times before, held up his hand, silencing his most favored lieutenant.
"We must make peace. There is no longer any other way." Breandan's anger was visible, as were Niall's relief and Coleman's neutrality. "Coleman," Lidan said, getting the attention of his most apathetic commander, "you will travel to Anotonius of Rome. Brendan, you to Sa'ida of Castile. And you, Niall, to Halbjorn in Upsala. Make the peace, whatever you must concede, as long as our people remain free and continue to have access to this realm. Those are my only stipulations. I have sent messengers on ahead already. Therefore go, each of you, to your homes and prepare yourselves for what must be done." With that, Lidan was out of his chair and the tent, re-calling the men he had brought with him, preparing to depart for the portal and the safety of Faery.
The three lieutenants he left behind, sat in stunned silence for a beat. It only took another moment before Breandan was up from his seat, knocking it over and stalking out of the tent, his rage already being taken out on his own men as they prepared to return to their stronghold in Europe.
"If you have no objections, my Prince, I will return with you to your home. It has been some months since I have been able to see Ceiridwyn, and I would like the opportunity to visit with her before leaving for Rome." Niall nodded his head, rising from his chair, somewhat dazed from the abrupt about face of his King.
"Yes, come. I am sure she is anxious to see you as well. I will leave Callum with instructions and then we will go." An hour later, having given his own commanders their orders, Niall again found Coleman and prepared to return home.
"Do we not wait for Ceannaideach?" Coleman asked, confusion evident on his face. Niall felt his features darken perceptibly for the hundredth time in this already endless morning.
"The boy has magic enough to get himself home if he so desires. For myself, I care not whether he returns home or stays and fights." With that, Niall enveloped Coleman in his magic and the two made the instantaneous journey from the ragged hell of the battlefield, somewhere in the borderland between England and Scotland, back to the lush, verdant hills of his home on his beloved island of Ireland.
Re-forming in the village at the base of his stronghold, Niall heard the first hearty exclamations of joy as his people realized he was home once more, Fairy and Human alike leaving their duties, if only for a short while, to greet their Prince. Niall worked his way through the crowd, Coleman in tow, making the journey up to the castle on foot, receiving and returning greetings as they went. Ireland was a special place for Niall, one that he knew would remain in his heart even when he returned to the beauty and safety of Faery. It was one of the few places in this day and age where the old ways still prevailed, and where his people could walk freely among the Humans without needing to keep their existence hidden. The Humans here were their willing servants, still bowing in awe to what they perceived, correctly, as a great and magical race, one which ought to rule this realm as they did their own.
Within minutes, the castle walls themselves were vibrating with excitement, one and all dropping their mundane tasks to make sure that the Prince's unexpected arrival was given its proper due. It was at that moment that Amena burst through the doors to the Princess's chamber, her round face as red as her hair.
"My lady, he's here! Your great grandfather has come home! Why are you sitting there like a stump on a log? Get up!" Saoirse only smiled as she turned around, acknowledging her nursemaid's presence. Indeed, his Highness was home and no one had probably been as aware of that as she, who could "hear" as well as hear the commotion going through the halls.
"I'm well aware, Amena. Will you help me change? I've pulled everything out already." Saoirse asked, her voice far too subdued for Amena's taste. Yet, looking over the girl, she couldn't help but agree that changing the simple, almost shabby, woolen dress was the first order of business.
As Amena helped her into her nicest gown, Saoirse tried to remain calm. She had always been very good about keeping her face neutral, but it was hard to do so when she thought of having to be in the same room as the rest of her Fairy kin. She loved her great grandfather dearly and longed for the moment when they could be alone together and she could let herself simply be in his easy and accepting presence, but she dreaded having to present herself formally in front of the others. She had never told Niall about the way things were when he was not at home, fearing that, in his anger, he would punish the others, only making things that much worse when he again left. So she knew that he would dote and faun on her as he always did, and that it would only serve to increase the ire of her kinsfolk.
"Tonight it will not be possible," Saoirse began," but perhaps tomorrow I will go down to the beach for a bit. I am sure his Highness cannot stay for long." Saoirse did not need to see Amena's expression behind her to know that the nursemaid was displeased by her statement. She could hear Amena's disproval loudly and clearly. Still, it had been days since she'd been able to escape to the solitude of the shore and she felt, now more than ever, that she would need the peace it provided. When Niall left again, as he inevitably must , her Fairy kin would redouble their cruelty.
An hour later, Saoirse found herself entering the audience chamber, Amena just behind her. She tried with all her might to ignore the silence that descended on the assemblage and the disapproving looks that were sent her way, looks that ranged from simple indifference to outright hostility. She could see Ceiridwyn and Caronwyn, in particular, openly sneering at her dress, and it caused a shiver to run down her spine as she remembered the many times they had torn or destroyed her clothing in the past, jealous that Niall chose to give such finery to a half breed.
But before a word could be uttered, the doors swung open once more and Saoirse was forgotten as the Prince entered and all rushed to greet him. Saoirse watched as first the male members of her family came, one and all, to bow before their Prince and patriarch and welcome him home, and then the female members. She watched with just a touch of jealousy as Ceiridwyn came forward and greeted Niall and was then turned over to Coleman, her betrothed, so that they might sweetly become reacquainted. It was not jealousy over Coleman himself that sparked within Saoirse at that moment, but a general heartache that it would probably never be her making her grandfather happy through a marriage alliance, or greeting the man that would soon be her husband.
Saoirse knew only too well that, though her grandfather loved her greatly, he was also often blinded by that love. He would never find a full Fairy willing to mate with her, but neither would he accept the truth of her mostly Human nature and allow her to find a husband among men. He considered her a Princess of his house and, as a Princess, she must marry a Fairy Prince, regardless of the fact that none would touch her.
Saoirse's musings were cut short when the crowd surrounding Niall parted and she beheld her great grandfather, his arms open, calling her name. All eyes were on them as she walked forward and into his embrace and the minds in the room, though she could not fully read them, spoke volumes of their displeasure at her reception. Niall embraced her heartily and laid enthusiastic kisses on her forehead, eyes and cheeks, before he dismissed all and took her by the arm, leading her back to his personal chambers.
As they left the audience chamber behind, Saoirse tried to swallow back the wave of hatred that hit her from behind and concentrate only on the joy that having her great grandfather all to herself always brought her. They were in his apartments only long enough for him to stoke the fire, before he sat in the great comfortable chair before it and beckoned her to come to him. Smiling with her joy, she did just that, sitting at his feet and laying her head on his knee.
"How has it been with you child?" Niall asked, his hand coming down gently to pet her hair. Saoirse reveled in his touch and allowed herself to truly relax here, in the confines of the castle, for the first time in months.
"I am well, grandfather. Life here has been quiet, as it usually is. How has it been with you? We were not expecting you back so soon." Niall felt the frown that seemed to be eternally etched just under the surface of his skin return. With others he blustered, with others he lied, with others he faithfully showed his fealty to his King by repeating the tired phrases of imminent victory. But with Saoirse he was honest. Young and mostly human she might be, sweet and filled with light and life she might be, but she was not stupid; he had not raised her to be. He knew that only this fragile, sweet and innocent girl, who had been the light of his life for fifteen years, could bring him peace after the tumultuous events of the day.
"Dermot is dead. Ceannaideach feels himself one step closer to becoming the next High King and Lidan suddenly desires that I make peace at almost any price. It has not been well." Saoirse pulled away from her grandfather's knee, surprise, grief and shock all warring for dominance on her face. She did not know how to feel about her uncle's death. Of all her kinsman he, more than any of the others, should have been kind to her, understanding of her, but he had always been the most unkind, as though mistreatment of her somehow absolved him of his own human blood. Yet, she had never wished him or anyone dead. News that Ceannaideach was now Niall's heir only caused the bile to rise up into her throat. He and his sisters had been her most ardent tormentors and, now that his station had risen, he would no doubt be making plans to torment her further when Niall was gone. As for the peace, Saoirse had no idea how to feel about that. An end to the death and sorrow that she had grown up surrounded by could only be welcome, but at what price? If, as Niall said, Lidan had realized he had almost no bargaining power, then their enemies might demand anything of them.
"Peace child, all will be well. I have come to rest a bit before I travel to Halbjorn." Saoirse shivered when she heard the Vampire High King's name spoken. Of the three High Monarchs the Vampires had chosen to lead them during their war with her people, Halbjorn was by far the most respected, the most ferocious and the most feared. The terror he inspired in her people had led him to become something of a nightmare figure. She had even heard, a time or two, parents threatening their little ones with abduction by the terrifying Vampire King as a means to gain good behavior. Her own fear began to ratchet up when she thought of Niall traveling to meet with him. Feeling her panic rise, Saoirse rose slightly to her knees, flinging herself into her grandfather's arms.
"Please be careful!" She said, the dam of her emotions breaking and her tears flowing freely. Niall gathered his most precious child into his arms and held her tightly, soothing her with soft, wordless noises and stroking her hair as it fell in golden rivers down her back. He had not held her like this for a long time, not since that first horrible day when he had found her, dirty and frightened, hiding in the tall grass behind the burnt out farmhouses, and he felt himself overwhelmed that she seemed just as frightened now, at the prospect of losing him, as she had been on that day when she had lost everything she had ever known.
Saoirse felt his arms holding her tightly, felt his comfort, both physical and mental, and tried not to think about the possible outcomes of his journey to Upsala. As long as he returned to her safely, she would ask for no more. Her people had fought and lost and they would now have to endure the price of that failure. As long as her grandfather lived, she would accept whatever happened next.
They stayed many hours closeted together, making up for the hundreds of lost days of companionship that the war required of them, until finally Niall knew that they must make their way to the main hall for dinner. When they entered, all were already waiting, and a cheer went up again for the returned Prince.
Saoirse tried all night, for Niall's sake, to smile and to be merry, but she could see the looks the others gave her as Niall insisted that she sit beside him, to his right, in the honored place that was always hers when he was home, making conversation almost exclusively with her and sparing only a moment or two of his time to honor Coleman, as his guest, and talk more about the upcoming wedding.
When it was all finally over, Saoirse returned to her rooms and, after having Amena fuss over putting her dress safely away and brushing her hair, she looked out into the night sky through her window and could just make out the small shadow on the beach that was the little abandoned cottage that she had made her own, many years ago. She longed to be there now, despite her happiness at Niall being home. She longed for the silence and the sound of the waves and the freedom that it gave her, and wished that she might one day perhaps even venture into that sea and be surrounded by nothing but the deep silence of the water.
Turning and climbing into bed, she concentrated on the gentle sounds of the water and used it, just as Niall had taught her so many years ago, to block out the louder, more pressing sounds of the thoughts and feelings surrounding her. As the waves worked their magic on her mind, Saoirse had one last longing thought; the memory of Coleman and Ceiridwyn smiling at each other- and the longing deep within her own heart that had accompanied it.