Author’s Note: Thank you for your patience. Hope you find it worth the wait.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
It was midnight, and they were in Eric’s new Corvette racing down dark highways toward Shreveport. Eric turned on Pandora radio, selecting the 80’s playlist. Sookie stared out the passenger window. She wasn’t talking much, but then again, neither was he. Eric knew she was tired; he could feel it in the bond between them. Within minutes, her head rolled slightly letting him know she had fallen asleep.
When they talked earlier about what was planned for the next few weeks, Sookie told him she worried about how busy they would be. Eric was proud that she grasped the reality of their lives, but then she talked on and on about the activities that seemed necessary for her human ceremony in a way that wasn’t worried at all. She described parties and events that would consume an entire week. There would be a reception in New Orleans that would take one night, and the planning that was guaranteed to take more hours of ‘input.’ When he told her he had commitments, Sookie just smiled and told him Pam had ‘cleared his calendar.’ She told him her pastor, The Reverend Collins, needed to speak with them and wanted to see them tomorrow night in Bon Temps. Sookie was giddy, almost bossy. She talked for an hour nonstop about plans for this ceremony and he felt her happiness. Never once did she mention their pledging. She never asked about the kingdom of which she was now Queen. In spite of all the reports he provided her and the explanations he spent his time writing for her benefit, she didn’t ask him one question about the businesses and people for which she was now responsible.
He could feel her surprise when he said they’d leave for Bon Temps immediately. Eric’s intention was to get this all-important meeting with her Reverend Collins out of the way so he could have the next few days to focus on work.
“Are you sure?” and he knew she could feel his annoyance.
“It is best to resolve these things so we can move on to other things,” and he waited, wondering if she would ask what ‘other things’ might be, but she didn’t. Instead she hugged him and kissed him and ran off to inform her co-conspirators.
‘I can’t believe we are doing this,’ ran through his mind for the hundredth time as the miles ticked by. He could still hear Thierry’s mocking words, ‘and she has you.’ He felt that sentiment all the way to his balls, and, at the moment, it wasn’t in a good way. Beside him, Sookie hummed and curled her legs under her, snuggling under the blanket he draped over her. This was one of her traits he admired, his Sookie could sleep anywhere. The music didn’t disturb her and by the time they were halfway to Shreveport, she was making that strangled, gargling snore that she claimed was not her. Maybe it was the way she was positioned, but there was a new quality to the sound and Eric lifted his phone from its cradle to videotape her. He imagined her flushed, angry face and grabbing hands when he shared it with her, and his smile broadened. He knew he was annoyed having to race the sun to Shreveport, but there was one thing that didn’t change. “Jag älskar dig, min hustru,” Eric sighed.
She didn’t wake when they pulled up to Pam’s house. Eric signaled the guards driving behind them to take the luggage. He walked around the car and pulled his sleepy Fairy to her feet before scooping her up and carrying her through the door. Eric glanced at his guard’s drawn face and became annoyed all over again. His wife’s foolish insistence on all these extras was impacting everyone. Eric made a mental note to pay both Charles and Owen a handsome bonus. “I appreciate this,” he said levelly. “I apologize for the inconvenience your families must feel.”
“It’s the job,” Charles shrugged, “but thanks for saying it.”
Eric undressed Sookie who helped in a semi-conscious way. By the time the suitcase was open and clothes hung, she was curled on her side and the wet, gargling noise had resumed. Eric could hear her stomach gurgling, a sure sign of nerves. “You should trust me, Lover,” he whispered. The video he intended to tease her with would not engender trust, so he edited his remark with, “About what’s important.” Eric heard one of the guards walking upstairs. He heard the front door open and close, a signal one was on patrol. With a glance at his wife, Eric took his laptop to spend his last few hours of night working alone on the affairs of the kingdom that was now theirs.
Eric rose to find Sookie already dressed and sitting cross-legged at the end of the bed.
“Well, come on!” she was practically vibrating. As he fed he could feel her disquiet. It flavored her blood. He sought to sooth her, but she batted his hands away, “None of that, buster! Go get showered!” and she left the room to ‘get ready.’ Eric felt his frustration tick up a notch. He could hear her moving around the house, her energy buzzing through their bond, running up and down his nerves like electricity. He stood under the shower spray and stroked himself, holding her image in his head until he came. As he embraced the relaxation that always followed, he realized he was annoyed enough that he hadn’t bothered closing the bond. When he walked into the kitchen, her snapping eyes let him know how she felt about it. “You could have joined me,” he shrugged, and reached for a bottled blood from the refrigerator. Sookie’s nervousness was starting to stress him.
The entire drive to Bon Temps, Eric watched his wife fidget. Her fingers picked at her dress and then they drummed on her armrest. When they were within twenty miles of Bon Temps, she started pulling at the ends of her hair. When they got within ten miles of Bon Temps, she added pulling on her seat belt. Finally, he reached across and laid his hand over hers.
“Why are you worried, Lover?”
“I’m fine,” she lied, pulling the ends of her hair from her mouth. Next she tried her scary smile, the one she thought hid everything, but which really hid nothing.
“Why are worried about this meeting with your holy man?” Eric could tell from the way she shifted her eyes that he was right. This meeting was causing her anxiety.
“I’m not,” her mouth lied again, “and you call him Reverend Collins or pastor.”
Eric took his eyes off the road to give her a direct look, “I understand your Christian religion places great value on truthfulness, Sookie. I can tell you are not fine, yet you have used the word twice,” then he looked away. He didn’t need to keep looking at her to know he’d made his point. He could hear her quick exhale and the transition from nervous to grumpy. ‘Good,’ he thought. ‘Your anger is easier to handle than your worrying over something so inconsequential.’ This Reverend Collins would agree to officiate or not. If he did, it would be best. If he didn’t, a Justice of the Peace could handle the job.
Last night Eric received the email confirming Thierry was back in Lafayette. His Sheriff was holding meetings with key suppliers over the next few days and Eric really needed to be there, but instead he was here. Pam left a message asking for a private conversation. He knew she felt slighted by his asking her to resign as Regent. He wanted to take his progeny someplace far away from listening ears to explain why he needed her to step down and travel, collecting information, but he was here instead. Jane’s position, and now Max’s needed to be filled, which meant he needed to reach out for recommendations, but the pool of friends he would ask had become smaller since the pledging. Eric barely completed his list of who he would approach for candidates before dawn took him.
Between Sookie’s agitation and the reality of his responsibilities, Eric felt the ember of his anger flaring to life. His pragmatic brain rode to the rescue and he purposely distracted himself by imagining how Sookie would look spread out for him across the hood of his new car. It was a pleasurable thought and he found the growl forming in his throat replaced by a purr. Sookie glanced at him and he glanced back. She blushed, her mouth a tight line. While she continued drumming her fingers on the armrest, he also saw the way she clenched her thighs together, and that made him smile.
The Corvette glided past the sign that was still riddled with the same buckshot blast it had suffered many years ago. ‘Welcome to Bon Temps’ it read. “You would think someone would replace that,” Sookie groused. Eric watched her fingers migrate to twisting at the hem of her dress again and he willed her to lift it toward her panties. Her eyes narrowed and flashed as she deliberately uncurled her fingers and crossed them in her lap. Eric flashed her a mischievous smile and sighed, signaling defeat.
“Turn left at Crescent Street,” the smooth voice of the on-board GPS intoned. They had flipped for whose programmed voice they would hear before they left New Orleans. Sookie wanted ‘Ramon’ with his sibilant syllables, but Eric won, so it was English Jill whose clipped, superior tone ordered their directions through the computer. Eric had laughed in triumph as his fingers selected the voice, but he wasn’t finding being ordered around by another female so amusing now.
Eric slowed as they drove down the main street of Bon Temps. There were a few stores that lined the way and just ahead was the town center where the Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church faced off from opposite corners. Sookie stared at the solid white building with its steeple and wide double doors, then Sookie started prattling. She told him about the nice green yard on the side of the church where revivals were held. “Not the rowdy kind. Those are the Baptists. Our revivals are more like a family gathering. There’s preaching, of course, and everyone brings something for potluck. Usually there’re games for the kids. Michele is all kinds of involved. Regular Church Lady, I guess you’d say.” Eric could feel Sookie’s nervousness escalate as he turned into the Reverend Collins’ driveway.
“The Catholics across the way at Our Lady of Mercy?” Sookie continued rambling, “They run a Church Fair every spring in their parking lot. They have rides and everything.”
“Catholics and their priests used to burn us,” Eric remarked dryly and that ended the conversation.
He pulled into the paved area that was meant for visitors. “Come, Lover. Let’s get this over.” Beside him, his wife made no move to unbuckle her seatbelt. He pushed the button that released it and then got out of the car to open to her door. “Come, Sookie,” he took her hand, pulling her toward him. “It will be fine. This is important to you, to have this Christian say the right words. You will have your wish.”
“Don’t glamour him!” He could see that she regretted the words.
“You might try having as much faith in me as you do this Christian God of yours,” then in an effort to defuse the tension between them, Eric smiled. He wound his arm around her as he steered her toward the front door saying, “Please trust me, Älskade. All will be fine.”
It didn’t help. With each step, his telepath seemed to hold back a little more. Finally, stopping, he took her hand in his, “Min krigare kvinna, I have seen you stare down Werewolves. You stood your ground with vampires who meant to kill you. You withstood torture. You told me that this Reverend Collins is a good man. Surely he will wish you to be happy.”
“I think he will,” Sookie agreed.
“Then why are you worried? You are making much of nothing.” Eric smiled in a way that he hoped she’d find comforting, and she must have because her smile curved a bit. He raised her hand to his lips, and that’s when her eyes went wide.
“Oh my God! The rings!” She snatched her hand back and started pulling at her pledging rings.
“Sookie! What are you doing?” Her frantic pulling and twisting resurrected the growl he’d felt since rising.
Sookie’s stare darted upward and then she looked back at her hand. “Oh, Eric! I guess I kind of panicked. See, in human ceremonies we exchange rings. It’s part of how we marry. I can’t explain it.”
Eric clenched his jaw. The words he wanted to say would hurt her as much she just hurt him, so he pressed his lips together until he felt his anger replaced by a kind of resigned knowing. He realized he was surprised he expected any other reaction from her and then other words found their way to his lips. “You have just explained it perfectly. Once more, you tell me our pledging was just words to you. I told you that these rings,” and he held up his own, “This ring, will mark me as yours until my final end and you,” he couldn’t help the way his words became a hiss, “you promised! It has been only a week and already you would take the mark that I placed on your body and hide it from your human friends? Nothing changes.”
“Eric!” she protested, “I’m sorry! It was a mistake.” She was pushing him warm feelings and contrition. She laid both her hands against his chest and he felt her. “I was wrong. I never want to be anyone but yours, and if you don’t want to go through with this, well…” and then Sookie’s head whipped up as the Reverend Mrs. Collins opened her door.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” the human female said, “but I’ve been wondering if you were going to keep standing out there all evening or if you were coming in. I decided to end the suspense,” and the Reverend Mrs. Collins opened the door wider.
Eric knew Sookie’s contrition was sincere, but he couldn’t forget her instincts had pushed her to pull off his ring. He smiled his best business smile and smoothly said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Collins. I’m Eric Northman.”
The Reverend Mrs. Collins smiled up at him in a way that didn’t appear hard or suspicious. Instead she said, “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you right back. I’ve heard about you for ages. Didn’t think I’d ever have the chance to meet, much less invite you into my parlor! But, let me make sure I do this right,” and the older woman drew herself up and said rather formally, “Won’t you please come in, Mr. Northman?” She smiled as if laughing at herself and then said, “Sookie! It is so good to see you again! You just look radiant. Something just seems to be lighting you up from the inside out!” and she wrapped Sookie in a hug.
The smell in the house struck Eric as soon as he crossed the threshold. It was more than the fustiness of an old house. He identified pipe tobacco and musty books. The Reverend Collins came hustling from the back
“Sookie!” Reverend Collins said warmly. He slipped a pipe into his jacket pocket, and reached out to clasp Sookie’s hands between both of his own. He had the same way with people his wife had, and when he smiled his whole face lifted in a way that placed you at ease. “It seems life is agreeing with you, my dear. I heard Polly use the word radiant and so you are!” The older man glanced up at Eric, “Which is just how I would expect since you’re here to talk about getting married,” and he winked so that Sookie could see it.
When the Reverend Collins released Sookie’s hand and reached out for Eric’s, “And you will be Mr. Northman, of course!” Eric eyed the Reverend’s hand before executing a perfect handshake. He felt Sookie’s gratitude. Eric didn’t enjoy random physical contact with humans, particularly ones that smelled of old clothes and smoke.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Eric made sure his smile was extra dazzling, “Over the years Sookie and I have known each other, she has spoken of you and the comfort she finds in her Christian faith.”
Eric saw the Reverend’s eyes narrow, but his smile didn’t change. He turned to his wife, “Polly, I think Sookie could give you that second opinion on the cookies you said you needed. Why don’t you take her into the kitchen and while you’re figuring out which batch you’ll take for Sunday coffee. Mr. Northman and I can become acquainted?” Eric felt his wife’s optimism failing. He wondered if this was something she heard from the Reverend before, something that signaled bad news. Eric turned his eyes back to the Reverend and dropped his pleasant demeanor. The pastor was regarding him in a way that wasn’t unfriendly, but was somehow less than it had been before. The pastor gestured toward the door, making clear he wanted Eric to precede him, “Why don’t you come into my study?”
The study walls were lined with books and held two small chairs covered in fussy floral print. The chairs were positioned in front of a table, and the Reverend walked to the other side and sat down. “Please, Mr. Northman,” the Reverend smiled thinly, “take a seat.” Eric sank down and then down some more into one of the armchairs. Eric saw the source of the pipe smell when the Reverend reached into his pocket and then placed the pipe beside several others that were perched around a broad, bronze plate.
“I must say, our Sookie does look wonderful,” the pastor opened and he leaned forward and folded his hands on the table.
“She is remarkable,” Eric said replied, ‘Special.”
“She is indeed,” the Reverend nodded and then he seemed to make a decision as he said, “I find myself at a strange place, Mr. Northman.”
“How so?” Eric remained completely still. He knew this was important to Sookie.
“There are some among my flock, including my deacon, who say I should not consider officiating at your marriage,” and the Reverend looked directly at Eric.
“Is the objection that I am a vampire?” Eric found himself tempted to simply glamour the man, but he knew Sookie would be able to tell and that she would be furious.
The Reverend’s ready agreement surprised Eric, “Yes, I expect prejudice is at the heart of it. What people say is they are concerned about the ambiguous nature of your faith, but fortunately our rules are not clear about interfaith marriage. What is clear is that it is at my discretion as to whether I am willing to officiate. Yours would not be my first involving a human and someone who was ‘special,’ but it will be my first involving a vampire.”
The Reverend Collins looked out the window, “I have known Sookie and her family since the day I took over this Church. I have watched her sit in the same seat her Grandmother occupied year after year. I have seen her come into my Church in happiness, and I have seen her come carrying the worries of the world on her shoulders. She always has a kind word, even when I can see that life had not been especially kind to her.” The Reverend Collins’ look turned more pointed, “And even though I am not supposed to know, I recognized some time ago that Sookie, and her family are also… shall we say, special?”
“You are an odd human,” Eric stood tall, in ‘King’ mode. He no longer felt the need to hide himself from this man. “You seem comfortable with supernaturals.”
The Reverend Collins’ respiration increased, but to give him credit, it was the only sign Eric detected that the human was feeling alarmed. “Well, I do have a number of special people in my church, don’t I? I don’t have vampires among my flock at present, but there are a number of Weres and one shifter that I know of. The people of Hotshot drive here to attend services, and I have the impression that they are different, too.” The pastor smiled quickly, “As for Sookie and her Uncle, Dermot? They are in a league of their own, aren’t they?” When Eric didn’t respond, the Reverend Collins glanced around, “I would like to think that Dermot and I became friends. He is skilled at carpentry and has done work for me both here in the house and over at the Church. He is a very charming man, much like his nephew, young Jason.”
“So, you will perform this ceremony?” Eric was pleased with the direction things were taking and decided to go for a commitment and he waited for the catch.
“Well, as I mentioned, there is some resistance, but from me? No, Mr. Northman,” and the Reverend Collins stood up and walked around the table to lay his hand on Eric’s arm, “I am delighted to do this for you both.” The Reverend sat down in the chair and his look said he wished Eric would sit down again.
“Of course, there are some questions I would like to ask.”
‘Of course,’ Eric thought, ‘Here it is.’
“Let’s start with the less troubling matter,” and the Reverend smiled, “the matter of Jason and Michele’s son. They have informed me they wish you and Sookie to stand as godparents to their boy and that you consented. Am I correct?” Eric nodded and the pastor rubbed his hands together, “Good, good! Of course, that the Stackhouses would name their child for you speaks to their trust in you.” The Reverend paused until Eric nodded again. It seemed to satisfy the man because he continued, “Now, there are no requirements that a godfather be a Methodist, or even a Christian for that matter. I have had several Jewish members of our community stand as godparents. What is important,” and he fixed Eric with what Eric assumed was his stern, serious look. “What is important is that you are willing to be a good friend to Michael Eric. You are expected to be a part of his life and counsel him when he has questions. Of course, I hope you would be open to encouraging his attendance and participation in our Church, but even that is not required, merely suggested.”
The pastor sat back, “So, Mr. Northman, now that you understand these duties, are you still willing to stand as godfather?”
Eric thought about the Stackhouses. While he was fine with Sookie being involved with her family, there was a part of him that wished she was not so close. Had they been married in his human days, she would have come to his village and rarely seen her family. She would have been declared a member of his Clan and her former ties would have been secondary. As things stood, they were seeing more of the Stackhouse family than he liked. The children made him uneasy. Still, he gave his word. “I am willing,” he heard himself say.
“Splendid!” the Reverend patted him on the knee. Eric forced himself to stay still and not pull back from the man’s too familiar touch. “Now why don’t we get to the real reason you’re here today. While it’s permissible for interfaith couples to be married by a minister like myself, I do wish to ask whether you will support your wife in her religion, even if it means attending services with her from time to time?”
“I will not interfere with Sookie’s beliefs,” Eric watched the pastor closely, “but I am no Christian. I have no interest in betraying my own Gods.”
The Reverend’s eyes widened, “Oh, I hadn’t considered…” The pastor opened his mouth and then closed it again before he asked, “Would you be willing to listen and consider what Christianity has to offer?”
“I have listened to many ideas over my existence,” Eric glanced at a picture of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement that the Reverend had hanging on the wall, “including his. He was a man who meant well.”
The Reverend’s eyes widened, “You met him?” he gasped.
“Yes,” and Eric glanced down at the shorter man, “He was in Savannah many years ago. He was a pastor to the colony then.”
“It was 1731 or thereabouts…” the pastor volunteered. Eric noted the look the pastor threw toward the picture. Eric phrased his response carefully.
“Before the British left,” Eric agreed. “Your John Wesley wished to convert the first peoples here, but he was restricted to the colony. He went home frustrated.” Eric kept his face neutral, seeing no need to tell the Reverend he had been pleased to see John Wesley head back home.
“Yes,” the Reverend Collins agreed, “That wish to bring the word to others became a basic tenet for us,” and his eyes drifted back to the picture. “Perhaps…” and Eric watched him struggle to refocus.
“But that’s not why we are here.” Reverend Collins glanced at Eric’s hands. “I noticed your ring,” and the pastor looked at Eric carefully, “Is that from your previous marriage?” When Eric didn’t respond, he continued,“I will admit I have followed your career with some interest. You come from this area, and you have been a part of Sookie’s life for some time.” The Reverend’s face took on a sympathetic look, “If you are still mourning your former wife, I wouldn’t recommend you move forward. I don’t wish to act against Sookie’s wishes, but a marriage is something you should enter into with no impediment between you. Sookie is a wonderful woman and she deserves someone who can give his whole heart. It wouldn’t be fair to marry her if the shadow of your former wife, may she rest in peace, stands between you.” Eric found himself uncharacteristically at a loss. He wanted to laugh, but he knew it was the wrong reaction. The Reverend Collins interpreted Eric’s silence as an affirmation and his tone of voice changed to a professionally comforting tone, “I understand she was a vampire, like you. I saw a photograph. She was very beautiful.”
Eric decided to cut off the Reverend Collins’ train of thought before it went any further. “Both my marriages were arranged,” He wanted the pastor to know that he considered these past marriages to be inconsequential, however, the effect was other than he wished.
“Oh, you were married twice?” and the Reverend’s eyebrows rose. “I only read about your wife in Oklahoma.” The concern that Eric was still emotionally tied to Freyda was replaced by a more scandalized expression. Eric sensed he was on dangerous ground so he decided to distract the Reverend Green with more history.
“My first marriage was in my human days,” Eric shrugged. “I was married to my brother’s wife over a thousand years ago. When my brother fell in battle, I stepped into his shoes. It was what was expected.” Eric knew he had chosen wisely when he heard the Reverend’s response.
“You still remember her?” The Reverend Collins’ face held that vacant stare humans get when confronted by the reality of what a vampire’s immortality meant.
“I honored those women,” Eric answered the real question, “but it is Sookie I choose. She is the only woman I have ever chosen to be my wife.”
“Forgive me for being persistent,” the Reverend Collins leaned forward. “Does that ring have some significance for you? You see, it is a tradition among humans to wear a wedding band on that particular hand…”
Eric eyes never left the pastor’s, “It is my wedding band. Sookie and I are pledged. It is, for vampires, a marriage. There was a ceremony. We exchanged promises and signed a contract.”
“I have heard of vampires who married humans now that the laws have changed, but I have never heard of pledging.” The Reverend Collins didn’t look skeptical, merely curious.
“It is rare,” Eric nodded. “Even among vampires. We are immortal. To pledge is to tie your life with another’s for a very long time.”
The pastor leaned forward, “I studied the law in my youth, Mr. Northman. I remember that contracts may not have indefinite terms under human law. Would this pledging contract expire? You see, a human marriage is valid until the death of one of the parties. Well, unless there is a divorce,” and the other man had the good grace to look flustered.
“Yes,” Eric couldn’t help his smile from turning more genuine as he thought of the days leading up to his pledging, “Our contract will expire. I will need to find a way to win her consent again in two hundred years,” but the Viking’s amusement was short-lived when he heard the pastor gasp.
“Does that mean you intend to…” and The Reverend Collins glanced at the kitchen, “That you and Sookie have decided to…”
“Turn her? No. It is complicated, but Sookie will never be vampire.” Eric struggled to hide his disgust. This was another of those in Sookie’s life who helped her form her resistance to considering life as a vampire. Of course, now it wasn’t possible, but it rankled that this person who claimed to be so tolerant was not.
The Reverend worked something around in his head, “But she will be around in two hundred years?” When Eric nodded, the pastor’s mouth fell as he seemed to put something together, “Oh! This would have to do with her, well; we’ll call it her special gifts.” The man seemed to be smiling at some secret joke, then he asked, “I am curious. What would a pledged couple call each other? For example, how would you introduce Sookie?”
“Sookie is my wife,” Eric said without hesitation.
The Reverend Collins sat back and looked long and hard at Eric. “You have no use for this, do you, Mr. Northman? You really see no purpose in having this religious ceremony.”
“It is something Sookie wants,” and the Viking shrugged. The more he talked of it, the more it aggravated him. He was reminded of every time she denied him, every time she refused to call him husband. Now they were pledged again. He walked through fire for her. He endangered his kingdom and all who depended upon him for her, and yet here he was, sitting in this human’s musty office begging for human words that meant more to his wife than the vows she made to him before the Pythoness and all his Clan.
Eric stared at his hand. He had no intention of ever removing the band. The vow he made in his heart was until his final death and he felt his aggravation sliding toward anger.
The Reverend cleared his throat, “It must be confusing to you, and not a little upsetting to have married her by your customs, only to find she wishes a different ceremony.” The Reverend nodded his head, “I would imagine in your days there were many peoples who believed in different deities. I suppose if you married someone from a different tribe or clan you would celebrate both traditions,” and the Reverend smiled gently.
“You celebrated the tradition of the Clan you joined,” Eric corrected him. “It was understood.”
“That must have been difficult,” the Reverend continued. “It was like that for humans, too until recently. Now, we honor the traditions of both partners. It is a way to maintain equality in the relationship.”
Eric’s voice was tight as he said, “I am here. I will complete this ritual for her sake.”
“Yet you feel it is a waste of time,” the pastor nodded. “And Sookie’s insistence makes you angry.” The Reverend looked down at his hands before he said, “You must forgive me. I saw you earlier through the window. I didn’t need to be a telepath to know you were at odds,” and he winked. “But I can tell you that these traditions in this part of the country, are important to the people here. They are a rite of passage, a way of marking for the entire community that something of great importance has transpired. I suppose you could say it symbolizes the end of one life and the beginning of another.”
“But it is done,” Eric growled. He realized his anger was growing so he went to the window, not bothering to slow his speed to a human’s pace. “She promised. She declared herself my wife. I understand the words of her God. I have agreed to that. What I don’t understand is why so many events are required for this wedding? Why should it require more than a pledging would?”
There was only a minor waver in the pastor’s voice, “Perhaps if I understood more about the pledging ceremony?” Eric described the basic rites to which the pastor asked, “Where do these ceremonies take place?” Eric told him that they were usually held at Summits which he described as quarterly business meetings.
“Pledgings are always held on the second night. That allows business meetings to be started and leaves time for additional negotiations.”
“Very practical,” the pastor responded. The way he said it didn’t sound respectful. “I can understand now why the informal gatherings and rehearsals must seem…”
“Wasteful,” Eric supplied.
“Frivolous,” the pastor amended, “frivolous is a kinder word. Michele Stackhouse did mention that they are planning a traditional Southern wedding. I do sympathize. My own Polly put me through much the same thing. Every moment I could spare and many I couldn’t seemed wrapped up in either planning or participating in a confusing round of social obligations. There were people involved in our wedding that I haven’t seen since, and many I wish I wouldn’t. “What I can tell you is that if the two of you plan on residing here in Bon Temps for even a part of the year, going through with these rituals is important. Besides the fact that it means a great deal to Sookie, probably something she has been dreaming about since she was a little girl, the wedding will define your wife’s status here.”
“I understand how this must sound to you,” the Reverend continued. “A pledging should be enough, but I am ashamed to say it is not. Now, for people here who care about her, the knowledge of your pledging will be enough, but for those who don’t know her, and for those who are older or more traditional, being married in a human ceremony means a great deal in terms of how Sookie will be treated. Being married in this part of the country tells people that you honor her and that what is between you is permanent. Going through with a wedding that includes all the bells and whistles instead of standing in some city office with a justice of the peace tells people that you are proud to be with her. It is a way of placing her under your protection, if you will.”
Eric could feel himself coming around to the human’s way of thinking. He remembered how Sookie was hurt by the actions of these people. She struggled with her self-confidence because she saw herself through the eyes and minds of these humans. If this extravagance could change their thoughts and spare Sookie, it might be worth it. “Now, if you were a human couple, I would tell you these marriages set the tone for how any future children would be treated as well. Children who are the product of well-established parents are higher up in the pecking order. I’m not saying it’s fair, but I am close enough to the families of this parish to see it.”
Eric shifted uncomfortably as the Reverend continued, “I don’t mean to pry, Mr. Northman, but I wonder if you might consider adoption. I wouldn’t ask in most cases, but Sookie has such a rare way with people, with children. She would be a wonderful mother.” When Eric said nothing, Reverend Collins leaned forward and patted the Viking’s arm. “Forgive this old man for saying too much. Of course, it’s none of my business. In fact, most of this isn’t. What is important is that you make your decisions together. Whether this is a large wedding or small affair, the way you reach this decision will have lasting implications for your marriage, and from what you have just told me, that sounds to be a very long time.”
“Well!” the Reverend exclaimed, “That covers all the important points.” As the pastor stood up his eyes narrowed and his head cocked in a way that made him look younger, “If you wouldn’t mind, can I ask you a personal question?”
Eric wasn’t sure where this was going, “Does it have to do with my religion?”
“No,” the Reverend shrugged, “I was… well, I was wondering if you ever met our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Eric walked back to the window. This man asked a favor, and Eric found himself thinking of Sookie’s first marriage. He didn’t like to think about it, her being married to the shifter. Freyda insisted on telling him details. It was designed to anger him and make him hate Sookie, but it only made him hate Freyda more. He felt the man’s concern grow as the silence stretched. “I will answer your question if you agree to answer one of mine.” When Eric saw the Reverend nod in the window’s reflection, he said, “I was not made before your Christ walked the Earth. My Maker, Appius Livius Ocella, was. He was a Roman from those days but he never spoke of it. He never spoke of religion at all. Now, it is my turn,” and he faced the pastor, “If you know so much about what goes on in this town, why didn’t you step in when Sam Merlotte was hurting her?”
The Reverend winced, “The easy answer is, I didn’t know. Sam was a Baptist and he insisted they attend services at his Church. From what I understand, their attendance was, well, not regular. Sam’s restaurant was open Sundays and that was his excuse. You see, unlike yourself, we can’t smell blood or sense injury.” The Reverend looked longingly at the tray of pipes again and he didn’t meet Eric’s eyes. “It is the easy answer. I should have reached out to her. She has been a member of my congregation since she was a little girl. On the days I did see her, she looked the same. She smiled and talked of all the small things people do. Of course, there was that edge of sadness about her. I didn’t think she would remain in that marriage, and I suppose I was waiting for her to approach me when she was ready. It is an assumption for which I am heartily sorry.” He glanced at the door, “When we found out what was going on, my wife, Polly, cried for days. You should know we both took sensitivity training after, well, after, to help us identify the warning signs of abuse. It was a moment that shook our faith and I intend to apologize to your wife for failing her. Perhaps that is why I am so eager to agree to anything she asks, including welcoming you with open arms into our community.”
“We plan to be here more frequently in the future,” Eric volunteered. “Sookie’s home is being rebuilt.”
“By Dermot,” Reverend Collins nodded, “Yes, I know,” and then he glanced at the door, “Well, Mr. Northman, I think we’ve left our women in suspense for long enough. Polly wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t bring you into the kitchen and let her get her fill of staring at you. Do you mind?”
“Being put on display for humans?” Eric’s eyebrow quirked up, “It is an occupational hazard.”
“Of course!” the pastor chuckled and indicated that Eric should precede him. As they walked through the house, The Reverend Collins asked, “John Wesley? Perhaps… perhaps you would be so kind as to share your memory of that time with me when you return?”
“I am sure we will find the opportunity,” Eric replied.
The Reverend placed his hand on Eric’s arm as they walked into the kitchen, “Well, my dear,” he said to his wife, “would you mind taking notes?” He glanced at Sookie, “I am so pleased to finally be able to marry you, Sookie. Even though it is a re-pledging,” And he winked at Eric, “it is special, and, if I may be so bold, more so for me because I will be able to finally say the words for you.”
As they were leaving, the Reverend Collins pulled Eric to the side, “I think I should mention something to you. I don’t know if it means anything, but it seems like something you should know, especially if you are planning to move back to the old homestead. It’s Bill Compton.”
“What about Bill Compton?” Eric could feel himself tensing.
“Well, Dermot mentioned that Vampire Bill…” and the Reverend rocked back a little. “Oh, I am sorry. I don’t mean to be disrespectful by calling him that. It’s kind of a nickname that folks around here settled on, and I’m afraid it’s stuck.” Eric shook his head, signaling no offense had been taken, and the Reverend continued, “Well, Dermot said Bill seemed overly interested in the work being done at the house. Of course, Bill doesn’t attend my Church, but he does interact with many here. People say that he is taking a dark turn. Again…” and the Reverend Collins also glanced at Sookie, “it could be nothing, but I didn’t like the way Mr. Compton used to treat her.” Then he smiled, “Just saying it out loud makes me realize how foolish I’m sounding. I’m sure it’s nothing!” The pastor smiled brightly, “I am very much looking forward to your big day,” and he included Sookie in his gaze as she walked to them. “Thank you both for coming, and I look forward to seeing you again in just a few short weeks.”
Eric managed to avoid another handshake but Sookie made up for it, hugging first Mrs. Collins, and then the pastor, and then Mrs. Collins again. Her relief was so profound that it was an odd vibration, almost as annoying as her earlier nervousness. Eric held her door and she almost bounced into the Corvette. As they pulled out, Eric asked, “Happy?”
“Oh, you bet!” she squealed, and then she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek even though the car was moving. It was a satisfactory ending to this meeting.
“Sookie? We should talk about the plans that are being made…” Eric glanced over to see Sookie texting on her phone. She was smiling at some response when she looked at him.
“What were you saying? Oh! Can we stop at Jason and Michele’s on the way home?” her face alight with excitement.
“I thought we might talk about the ceremony,” Eric tried again.
“It won’t take a minute!” Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes went back to her phone when it dinged in her hand. “Please? I texted that the Reverend ‘s okay and now Tara is headed over. They have some things they want to show us and Michele wants us to look at JC’s suit before they take it for alterations. Please?”
Eric just turned the car in the right direction. Somehow he knew that it wouldn’t be a minute.