Russell looked up from his desk as Thalia stepped into his office and walked forward to stand before the King’s desk. “Thank you for coming,” the king said. He gestured toward a chair. The dark-haired vampire narrowed her eyes slightly. She then remained exactly where she was. Her whole expression was a challenge that dared him to question her. Russell couldn’t help smiling. “How are you settling in?”
Thalia watched him with narrowed eyes. She had no change in expression. After a pause that bordered on rude she asked, “Is this a social visit?”
Russell had to bite back a chuckle. Thalia was every bit as surly as he’d heard. She had been giving his security chief fits. She practiced to her own routine. She insisted on her own schedule. She refused the quarters suggested and demanded a more inconvenient arrangement. She kept to herself and didn’t mingle with any of the others. On the other hand she was tireless and pressed his guards during sparring. She had earned the grudging respect of her peers. You could see it in the slightly inclined heads whenever she walked down a hall or into a room.
“Not entirely,” Russell responded.
Thalia nodded. And waited. And waited some more.
The king recognized a power play when he saw one, so he just sat back with his fingers steepled and watched her. Finally Thalia shifted and asked, “What do you wish of me?”
“I wish to understand the nature of the relationship between Eric Northman and Sookie Stackhouse.”
Thalia’s eyes widened for an instant. She quickly controlled her face but Russell saw it. She drawled, “You seem to have me mistaken for a common gossip. I don’t know anything of any relationship. And if I did I would be unlikely to share.”
“It is good to see such loyalty,” said the king “Well let’s start with the things anyone would notice. Were they bonded?” When Thalia looked like she wasn’t going to answer Russell continued. “You were in the same bar with both of them. If they were bonded you would smell it as would any other vampire.”
Thalia leveled her look at the king. She let her eyes bore into his. “They were bonded. Then they were not.”
‘Interesting,” thought Russell. He changed gears. “We expect Sookie Stackhouse to return to Jackson soon. Would you be willing to watch over her? As a bodyguard?”
Thalia gave the impression of thinking it over then she nodded. The king said, “I understand you are fond of her.”
“She’s not bad for a breather.”
Russell couldn’t help smiling again. “What did she do to earn such praise?”
Thalia smiled back. “She engineered Victor Madden’s death.” Without waiting for a dismissal Thalia turned and left, leaving the king open-mouthed behind his desk.
Lydia hung up the phone. The information from Mississippi was brief. Personally Lydia had never heard of a bond being broken. She wondered how it had been accomplished without killing one or both parties.
“Yet another part of the mystery between these two,” Lydia thought.
As planned, Lydia called the number that had been provided by Pam Ravenscroft. The phone rang twice and then she heard a woman’s voice.
“You must be Lydia. This is Pam. How is Sookie doing?” Lydia found herself admiring the calm, slightly accented voice.
“Sookie is doing well; better. Is this a good time to talk?” Pam confirmed that it was. “Thank you for taking time to chat with me. Are you planning to come here in the next week?” There was a pause before Pam answered.
“I had thought I would be visiting. Now it would appear I will not be coming.” Another pause. Lydia had the impression that the vampire on the other end of the phone was angry but trying not to show it. “I will need to be leaving for the West Coast within the next day or so. My king has been following our newest venture and has decided we need to step up the opening.”
“Oh,” said Lydia. “Another Fangtasia club?” It was hard not to know about the success of the franchise.
“Yes. We are opening a venue in L.A. It was planned for three months from now, but Felipe wants it open in time for the upcoming Summit.”
“That’s wonderful,” the healer told her. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you. It is a lot of unplanned work. My partner Maxwell is already there. I don’t expect I’ll be returning before the Summit next month. So between that and training our friend Indira to take on our duties here, my king has made it clear that I have no time for extra travel.”
“Ah,” thought Lydia. “There it is. This is Felipe’s doing.” The healer continued. “Well, that’s a shame. I was looking forward to meeting you. Sookie had been speaking of you with great fondness. She has felt her separation from you most keenly.” Lydia waited. When Pam said nothing she continued. “I understand that Mr. Northman is planning to come here. I won’t say that I’m not a little nervous about that visit. Sookie had been doing well and has started talking about Eric and herself. But it would help me to prepare her if I understood more about their relationship.”
“Why don’t you ask me what you want to know? I will answer it if I can.” Lydia could hear some reticence in the vampire’s voice. Then Pam continued, “Understand that my first loyalty is to Eric. I won’t betray his trust.”
“Of course,” Lydia assured her. “Nor would I expect you to. But I would like to know some of the basics. For example there is a story that they were bonded but the bond was broken. It that true?”
“Yes,” Pam told her. “Sookie has a friend who’s a witch. She was able to break the bond between them.”
Lydia shook her head. “She must be a powerful witch.”
“She is. But she’s no friend of the fang. She was Sookie’s roommate. She may have blamed me for playing with her. She spent a lot of time encouraging Sookie to find someone else; to leave Eric.”
“Did Sookie ask for it? Did she ask to have the bond broken?” Lydia asked.
“I don’t know,” Pam told her. “But she went along with it. Eric was frantic when he felt her gone. But he was even more frantic when he realized what she’d done. He knew that without the bond she was in terrible danger. He had to act quickly to make sure she had cover.”
“Yes,” Pam confirmed. “He stopped fighting it. He hammered out the terms to include protection for Sookie. Felipe sensed something was wrong and he and Oklahoma doubled the usual 100 years. And Eric agreed.”
Lydia thought about this. “Do you think he still feels that way about her?”
Pam thought about it. She thought about the time in Oklahoma. She thought about what Eric had said and what she had felt and what he hadn’t said. “Yes. But I’m not sure he can let himself admit it. He told me that Felipe has charged him to bring her back here; back to Louisiana. He knows that with the contract voided there’s nothing to stop someone from snatching her.”
“Mr. Northman is scheduled to arrive here next week,” Lydia told her. “Your king’s office called to confirm the arrangements.” The healer sighed. “Is this going to be a problem?”
Pam considered. To create problems in Sanctum was to court disaster. Aside from the wards that guarded the place there were curses that ensured that no one was able to approach with malice. If her maker was going with ill intent he could suffer great harm. “I don’t know. But my gut tells me that he’s in more danger from her than the other way around.” When Lydia didn’t speak Pam continued. “Eric may try to persuade her; tell her stories about home and how her friends are waiting for her. But he won’t force her. It‘s not in him to force any woman.”
Lydia decided to ask a question that she had considered. “There can be a thin line between love and hate. It can happen that those we love most can become those we wish to punish. Does he feel that she deserves punishment? Does he feel that she betrayed him or crossed him in some way?”
“Oh, she betrayed him,” Pam stated. “She made him crazy with her inability to accept what was between them. But don’t get me wrong. You had to see them together. When they were good they laughed and played and the whole world shone around them. But most times they’d fight.” Pam smiled a little. “You probably wouldn’t know what I’m talking about but for those two, fighting was foreplay. They’d piss each other off and do stupid things to needle the other one. Then they’d yell at each other or glare. Sookie would run off and do some hare-brained thing and get herself in all kinds of trouble. Then Eric would come to her rescue and they’d have one minute of happiness before they did something stupid and pissed each other off all over again.”
“So,” Lydia said, “They weren’t good for each other?”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Pam told her. “They are probably the only ones that are good for each other. Like two halves of a coin.”
They spoke of other things but it was this part of the conversation that stayed with Lydia.
In the days following Jason Stackhouse’s visit it became clear that Sookie had started to see herself in a different way. The siblings had many conversations over the days that Jason visited. They shared memories and made small talk. Jason had an easy way about him and soon he had everyone around him laughing, including his sister. They sat together in sunlight and spun stories about the south and their childhoods and what things might have been. When Jason left he hugged Sookie and made her promise to stay in touch.
“You deserve to be happy, Sook. But remember what Gran used to say about God helps those that help themselves.”
Sookie had hugged him back. “If I ever do find my fortune again you better believe I won’t ever let it go!”
Lydia stood alongside the telepath on the front step as they waved goodbye to Jason. Together they turned to walk back into the building. As Lydia glanced at Sookie she thought about the upcoming visit. Sookie had made such progress. Would a visit from the Viking set her back?
Eric Northman was legend. You would be hard pressed to find any supernatural person in North America who hadn’t heard of him. He was among the oldest of his kind here. She had asked her staff if they knew about him. All of them did. Over the years everyone here had contact with guests and all the guests were supernatural. It was common that they would talk about small things of interest in their respective worlds. By asking Lydia confirmed what she had suspected; Northman’s reach was such that he was guaranteed to be common gossip at some point In most of their lives.
The other thing that impressed the healer was how similar the comments were. The consensus was that he was a Viking warrior and a great fighter; he was fair to those who dealt fairly with him and ruthless to those who didn’t. Most of those she asked thought he was famously aloof but brilliant. There were also a growing number who had seen his face and heard him in the media. Most recently he had been featured on a nightly syndicated talk show that spot lighted trending celebrities. The people who had seen him on the television added ‘handsome’ or ‘hot’ to the list of traits that people knew or thought they knew about Eric Northman.
People were also widely aware of the fact that he had been married to a vampire in Oklahoma. During his recent appearance on television the commentator had expressed condolences on the loss of his wife. Lydia found a clip of the interview on Youtube and was impressed by Eric’s response. He appeared genuinely sad. Lydia knew enough about the circumstances that had brought Sookie to her to know that what she was seeing was a masterful performance.
If this actor was the Eric Northman that came to Sanctum there could be problems. Lydia needed to know more and today’s sessions could help with more insight. If Sookie was going to weather this encounter she needed to be clear in her purpose and strong enough to remain true to what she wanted.
Lydia knew based on what she was seeing and hearing that Sookie Stackhouse was well on the path to recovery. Not for the first time the healer found herself wondering about the source of the telepath’s resilience. There were still moments when Sookie’s eyes were haunted, but more often she was smiling and joking in her unique way with the other guests and staff.
Barbara, the Sanctum housekeeper had developed a fondness for Sookie. The two of them had organized a down home Southern dinner for everyone at Sanctum one night. Sookie had them in stitches as she taught them ‘southern-ese.’ They’d tried out phrases like ‘if that boy had an idea it would die of loneliness,’ and ‘even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.’ They ate fried chicken and fried pickles and creamed corn with lemon icebox cake. Lydia remembered feeling like her arteries were closing but the warmth and laughter of that night had helped everyone involved.
Lydia knew the time was coming when Sookie would return back into the world. That world would be different than the one she left. She would be faced with the stress of making a new home in a new place. Lydia had no doubt that the Kings Edgington and Crowe would make the telepath welcome. They would see to her comfort and they would not force her into some kind of servitude. It didn’t seem to be in their nature. What was more to the point was that respect for the telepath’s right to choice when she returned had been included as a condition to Lydia’s agreeing to bringing Sookie to Sanctum. Lydia knew too well the importance of independence for women with a history of domestic violence.
As the two settled into their chairs in the room that they had adopted for their discussions it was hard not to notice the lighter, happier feeling that was Sookie Stackhouse. Before Lydia even sat down, Sookie started. “You know it was Jason that was the reason I met Eric Northman.”
Lydia’s eyebrows raised. She finished settling into her chair and picked up her notebook. Sookie smiled and continued. “Jason was being accused of killing girls that had been with vampires. I was with Bill at the time. I heard that those girls had been going to a vampire bar in Shreveport and I talked Bill into taking me to see if I could learn anything to help my brother.” Sookie looked at her hands.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said; how my life might have different if I’d acted like Eric’s wife. It got me thinking about what would have happened if I had never met Eric or Bill or any vampires. Makes me wonder if my Gran would still be alive.”
Lydia took a deep breath. “Sookie, you know that our world; our supernatural world is a hard one. I don’t know about your grandmother. I do have a pretty good idea what would have happened to you.” She waited until Sookie was looking at her. “Your cousin had already told the Queen about you. Meeting Bill was inevitable. If it hadn’t been Bill it would have been someone else. You would have been taken to New Orleans and when they realized you couldn’t be glamoured they’d have turned you. They would have bound you to someone like Andre so you could be controlled. If they hadn’t killed you or sold you for money you would have passed to Felipe de Castro during the takeover. If you agreed to offer him fealty and if he believed you had value you’d be living right now in Las Vegas as part of his retinue.”
Sookie’s eyes were wide. It was one thing to sort of know how things work. It was another to have it spelled out in stark fact. It occurred to Sookie that she had spent a great deal of time trying not to have too many facts about how things in the supernatural world worked. She nodded and continued.
“Like I said, I was with Bill Compton then. I remember that he was pretty mad at me that night. He was worried about my dress.” Sookie smiled. “I really liked that dress. It was cut low enough in front that my Gran told me to take a sweater to cover up. But it was white with red flowers and it fit me real nice.” Sookie blushed a little. “I thought that Fangtasia looked like a cheap tourist trap. Vampire movie posters and black everywhere. And of course there were the fang bangers. They would paint fangs on their faces or fake bite marks on their necks. It was embarrassing.” Sookie shook her head. “Bill was getting hit on by women and even a man and he was pissy that I wasn’t pushing his admirers away. When he took me over to meet Eric on his throne I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
“Eric was on a throne?”
Sookie nodded. “Real gaudy one. It was Pam’s idea, having some vampire sit there on display. She called it ‘enthralling the vermin.’” Lydia smiled. Sookie got a dreamy look in her eyes. “I’d never seen anything like him. He was all in black, tall and sprawled out like he owned the place – which he did – and dangerous looking. He was just about the sexiest thing I’d ever seen.”
“What did you do?” Lydia prompted.
“Well, Bill had us stand just so and he bowed. I introduced myself since Bill seemed to have forgotten his manners. Then Eric said ‘Aren’t you sweet?’ I thought he was being a little forward and I was nervous so I said, ‘Not especially.’ I guess it just tickled him because he laughed. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. His whole face lit up and he was just.. well he was just… just beautiful.”
Sookie bit her lip and looked down. “He answered my questions and he was real nice. ‘Course then he ruined it by asking if he could borrow me from Bill.” Sookie shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I ended up telling him about my being a telepath that night. Eric thought maybe I was a psychic and he was flirty. So I sassed him some more and he just laughed again.”
“Bill couldn’t have been happy about that.” Sookie nodded.
“He wasn’t,” she told the healer. “And he was not happy when Eric told him to bring me back to Fangtasia to help out with an embezzling issue he had.”
“Did you figure out who the thief was?”
Sookie smiled. “Sure did. It was his business partner, Longshadow. Eric saved me by staking Longshadow when he came after me.” Sookie found herself remembering something else too. She remembered hearing Eric’s thoughts. But she didn’t share that with Lydia. “I didn’t really hear from Eric again for awhile. But he did send me flowers once when I was in the hospital.” And Sookie blushed again remembering that red flower that had looked just like lady parts.
Lydia smiled up at her. “Must have been some flowers.”
Sookie smiled back. “Bill had so many bad stories to tell me about Eric. And Eric? Eric was so… irritating! He was like that bad boy that hands you a cupcake and you feel happy until you find the worm he shoved inside it!”
“So, he was teasing you.” Sookie nodded her head. “You must have made some impression to have him so distracted.”
Sookie shrugged. “Bill and I were together and he asked me to move in with him, but I just couldn’t. There was something that told me to keep one foot in my own world.”
“From what you described it doesn’t sound like Bill was particularly kind to you.”
“I know that now. It didn’t matter much. Eric just kept finding a way to get into my life.” When Lydia looked in a way that was a question Sookie provided “Well, there was a maenad. Then there was Dallas and the bombing. Oh and then I asked him for help in Mississippi. That’s where I met Russell Edgington.”
Sookie nodded. “It’s when I killed Lorena Ball.” Now Lydia’s eyebrows flew up.
“You have a reputation as being a vampire killer,” Lydia told her.
Sookie suddenly giggled. “Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Then her face sobered.
“Bill had left me for Lorena, his maker. He’d set aside money with Eric to pay me off; pension me like an old mistress. Eric told me he was going after Bill. You see, he needed to find a database Bill had been working on before the Queen realized Bill was gone.” Sookie looked at Lydia closely. “Lorena was the first person I actually wanted to kill and I asked Eric to do it.” Lydia waited. “Eric asked me if it was because she was a vampire. He asked if I would have felt the same way about killing a human. I told him if she was human I would have done it myself. That time in Mississippi was one long running bad joke. I learned how to hide a body in a bayou. I found out Bubba was a killer. I found out what it was like to get staked.” Sookie nodded her head toward Lydia. “Hurts like hell. Russell found someone who could clot my blood fast enough so I wouldn’t bleed out. And Eric is the one that got me through it all. He gave me courage I didn’t know I had. He gave me blood too and he arranged for me to rescue Bill and get away.”
“What about Lorena?” Lydia asked.
“I killed her. With a stake, the same one that was used on me.” Sookie laughed. “My thanks were I ended up in the trunk of the rental car with Bill Compton. He’d been tortured. Still, when he woke up he just about drained me and he raped me.” Sookie bit her lip. “Eric drove me home. He never looked at me with pity or made me feel bad about myself. I ended up telling him all the reasons that I was angry and hurt about Bill. And you know what he did? He bought me a new driveway.” Lydia looked puzzled. “I know,” said Sookie. “You had to be there, but believe me when I tell you it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me.”
“Sounds unusual for any vampire. And we’re talking about Eric Northman. The vampire you’re describing; this thoughtful and kind person doesn’t fit any of the stories that people tell about the Viking.” Lydia said.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I hear. Don’t get me wrong. Eric is always all kinds of scary. It’s probably why I feel so safe when I’m with him. He’s smart and canny. When he walks into a room you don’t see anyone else. I guess that’s why I couldn’t believe that he was doing all this out of any genuine feeling for me.”
“What happened to change that?” Lydia asked.
“The best and the worst thing that ever could have happened. Eric was cursed by witches and he lost his memory. I found him running to my house. I ended up taking him in and hiding him. And I fell in love with Eric Northman. I fell in love with a vampire who didn’t really remember who he was or who I was. He was so sweet and so happy with me. He told me he didn’t ever want to return to who he had been. He wanted to bring me to his side and stay with me forever. I told him it sounded like a marriage and he told me ‘Yes.’ It’s the closest he ever came to proposing to me. I’ll never forget that time and how happy we were together.” Sookie felt tears threatening to spill over her eyes.
“So how was it the worst thing?” Lydia asked.
“He got his memory back. But the time we’d been together; all those things we said to each other; all the times we laughed and made love; he forgot all of it. I hurt when I found out how Bill had betrayed me. But I hurt different when I stood in front of this man I had fallen so completely and totally in love with and he was asking me if I’d yielded to him in a snarky way, like I was just some cheap goods he kind of knew. My heart broke all to pieces. It took a long time for me to forgive him.”
“Sookie that was not his fault. It’s like saying that someone is to blame for catching cancer or losing an arm. He had no control over that.”
Sookie nodded. She looked miserable. “I know. I really do know it wasn’t fair. But it’s how I felt. He would come by after that. I could tell he was unhappy. He kept asking me to tell him what had happened between us. He knew something had and he couldn’t put his finger on it. I just held it inside. I thought that if I said it out loud I would just break apart and there’d be nothing left.
But then I needed him to do me a favor, like I always seemed to need. It was like he won a prize he was so happy he could finally get me to tell him the truth. When I did it was like I’d poleaxed him. I could see that he believed me. And then he left and I didn’t see him for a while after that.
I had met John Quinn by then. Everyone around me seemed to think Quinn was all that and a bag of hammers. He was a pretty handsome package. He seemed like a better prospect than Mr. Baggage Northman. But I couldn’t avoid Eric. I was in the supe world and so was he. Of course things were never quiet. I always seemed to be in trouble. And Eric was always showing up to rescue me or make sure I was okay.” Sookie bit her lip. “I’d start to feel a little tender towards him. You know, think I might be thankful. And then I’d remember how he lost his memory and I’d get mad all over again. I wasn’t very nice to him.”
“Did he say anything to you about his feelings?” Lydia asked.
Sookie looked away. “He didn’t. But Pam did. Pam told me something around that time that stuck with me. She begged me to be merciful to Eric. She told me that he had ‘inappropriate’ feelings for me. She told me that I was putting him in danger by being a distraction.”
“Did you think that meant he loved you?” Lydia asked.
“I didn’t want to think about it. But now, I think it did. I think that somehow he did love me. But I couldn’t see my way to loving him. I just kept thinking about how hurt I had been; how betrayed I felt when I lost the vampire who hid out in my house and loved me.” Sookie laughed a little. “Silly huh? All I wanted was to be loved by The Eric Northman and there he was standing there the whole time wanting to be loved by me.”
“And then we went to Rhodes. We weren’t really together. He was mad. The Queen had pulled rank and I was a part of her retinue; not Eric’s. I had no idea how dangerous that was for me. Eric knew. He watched me like a hawk. I took it the wrong way and made him pay every step of the way. Andre- the Queen’s child? Andre tried to start a blood bond with me. He told me that he intended to bind me to him so that they could control me and my gift. He had me pinned in a little shabby hallway. There was nothing I could have done to stop it. Somehow Eric knew. He showed up and he talked Andre into letting him be the one to bond with me.”
Lydia looked closely at Sookie. “Hadn’t you already had Eric’s blood? “
Sookie nodded. “And he had mine. He knew that by doing this we would be permanently bonded.”
Lydia sat back. “He was willing to do that for you?” Sookie nodded. “Did you understand what that would mean to Eric?” Lydia sat back. “Sookie, the story of the two of you is so hard to reconcile with what people believe they know about you. People believe that Eric Northman is a calculating killer who is able to function in the human world. He is the ultimate bad boy. And you? People believe you are a sweet southern belle who is everyone’s sweetheart. But who and what you are to each other is different. It’s special. You had to know that for a vampire of his age to have bound himself to you in that way was extraordinary.”
Sookie shook her head. “No I really didn’t understand. All I knew was I was mad. I was so angry I couldn’t see straight. All I knew was that I’d been manipulated and somehow Eric had to be to blame.
“I know there was some part of me; some small part that was flattered and happy to be his. We danced that night and I never felt more alive. There are moments in your life that stick with you; when everything is so perfect that it seems unreal. Dancing with Eric; feeling his arms around me and feeling his emotions running through our bond; that night was a perfect moment.” Sookie smiled and exhaled.
Sookie seemed to gather herself. “Then there was the explosion. I had to find him. I saved him and Pam. I was in shock I think but happy that he was still among the living.”
Lydia nodded. “There were so many who lost their lives that night.”
Sookie nodded in return and they sat in silence for a period.
“What happened when you returned home, Sookie? Were you together?”
Sookie returned her gaze to the window. She could see the grass just starting to turn back to green. The light of the day was that thin, washed light that meant Spring was getting ready. Everything seemed fresh and new. “Eric wasn’t around for a while after Rhodes. Then I think he was avoiding me. But one day he called. He took me to meet my great grandfather Niall Brigant. Niall knew I was bonded to Eric. He could sense it. That’s why he’d asked Eric to arrange the meeting.” Sookie thought back to that night. “It was so strange. I remember talking about all kinds of things with Niall. He knew Eric and he asked me a couple times about my relationship with him. But what I remember most is the drive home.
“Eric told me everything he knew about fairies. And then on the way back we were pulled over by an assassin dressed like a police officer. He was going to shoot me but Eric blocked him. Eric let himself get shot for me – again. I felt bad, but Eric healed and we kept going.
“And then it was so odd. As we drove towards my house I got this overwhelming feeling that I wanted Eric as a mate. My mind was running a million miles a minute. I kept thinking about how Eric was the best provider and a superior gene donor for children, like that was even possible.
“By the time we pulled up to my house and I got out it took bit of me to walk away from him. I got mad to make myself stop thinking about how much I wanted to take him inside and have crazy monkey sex. It was like my inner cavewoman wanted me to claim him. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before – or since. Even now, thinking about it, it’s like my whole body is telling me it’s a piece of unfinished business. I can’t explain it.”
Lydia looked up. “Did Niall offer you a blessing that night?”
Sookie thought about it. “Yeah, he did. Then he kissed me and told me Eric was waiting for me.”
“Hmm,” Lydia said. When Sookie looked at her Lydia just shook her head.
“What?” Sookie asked.
Lydia let her breath out slowly. “I’m not sure.” Lydia looked up. “I would want to talk with Niall before I say anything more.”
Sookie snorted. “Well, that will be a trick. He’s gone and he’s closed all the portals.” Lydia nodded.
When Sookie realized Lydia wasn’t going to say more she continued. “It’s possible that everything might have gone back to normal after that, but then the takeover came.”
“Felipe de Castro?”
Sookie nodded. “I was so afraid. Eric showed up at my house. Bill was there too. All the other sheriffs in Louisiana had been killed. Sophie-Ann was dead. I thought for sure they were going to kill us. It was Victor Madden, that little weasel. Bill was telling anyone who would listen that he would defend me with his life, like that was any kind of deterrent. But Eric. Eric told them that if they hurt me forces beyond their imagining would strike them down. He was sure that they would let me live.”
“He was so pragmatic. He found the bright side of all of it. And we lived through the night; all of us.” Sookie looked at Lydia. “I never really appreciated how brave he was but I believe that he saved us all. I didn’t see him again for almost two months. And I was pretty unhappy that whole time. I think it was feeling Eric through the bond. I didn’t really know what to do. Then I got a call from him. I was being summoned to Fangtasia. He had arranged for me to hand him the knife…”
Sookie nodded her head. “Yeah. A pledging knife. He had his day man tell me what I needed to do when I got the Fangtasia I did what he wanted and handed it to him in front of Victor. I had no idea what it was or what it meant. Mr. High-handed couldn’t share that little piece of information.”
“But Victor spelled it out. I started yelling at Eric. He told me it was for my protection and that just pissed me off more. It never occurred to him to just tell me what it was about. Victor was laughing and being nasty like he always was.” Sookie looked at Lydia. “I was angry, but not in a hot mess kind of way. I just didn’t like having these decisions made for me and no one even giving me the courtesy to ask.”
“Sookie, did Eric ever tell you what pledging meant to him?”
Sookie shook her head. “Not that night. But he did tell me once he was married to me in the only way that mattered to him.”
Lydia nodded. “He was. It’s been over a thousand years since he would have experienced a human wedding. And it would have been very different from what you would expect. For one thing he isn’t Christian.” Lydia looked up at Sookie. “Have you ever asked him about his spiritual beliefs? Does he believe in some form of god or deity?”
Sookie found herself surprised. As much as she prided herself on her own religion she had never asked Eric about his. She realized there were probably a lot of things she should know about him but never took the time to ask. She shook her head.
Lydia nodded. “I’m sure you know this but vampires rarely marry. It stems from before the Revelation. It was just too dangerous to have too many vampires together in any one place. A maker traveling with a child was dangerous enough and the survival rates were low. To allow yourself to become emotionally involved and to bond and pledge would have been extraordinarily dangerous.” Lydia took a deep breath. “Of course there are the royal marriages. But even in those strategic arrangements the tradition to stay apart continues. It’s a matter of form that any marriage contract only require that the couple come together once a year to mate and renew the pledge. That Eric Northman would pledge himself to anyone and in particular someone not vampire is.. well it’s very different.”
Sookie looked at her hands. “It occurred to me after it was all over; after he’d left that his loving me is what made Appius, his maker come back.”
Lydia nodded. “It may be so. But I don’t know how we would find that out now.” Lydia adjusted her notebook and then smiled. “How long did it take you to forgive him?”
Sookie smiled. “I waited for him to come to me. And I waited awhile. Then my brother Jason was going through a hard time. My sister in law was murdered.” Sookie shut her eyes. She could still see Crystal’s body nailed to that cross. “I didn’t know what else to do. I just knew I wanted to see Eric. So I got in my car and I drove all the way to Fangtasia just so I could sit by him and hold his hand.
Sookie smiled. “You know? He was so happy to see me. It was like he had been waiting for me all along. He called me his wife but I just threw that back at him. I told him we weren’t married. I could tell that I hurt him. You know he told me then about his past; his human life and his time with Appius.” Sookie looked at Lydia. “How did he survive that? I couldn’t imagine turning out like Eric, you know? Until Victor came into our lives Eric was mostly a happy vampire. He was a scamp and a scallywag and he made me laugh. After that night he sent me a card with a nudie photo of himself with his hand extended, like he was holding out his hand? He wrote a message on it saying he was waiting for me to join him.” Sookie smiled again. “I do wonder sometimes what would have happened if I’d moved in with him.”
Lydia started. “He was asking you to share his home?”
“Did you have the impression that the offer was a one-time thing, or was he asking something else?”
Sookie hung her head a little. “Eric was always kind of hinting that he wanted me to move to Shreveport and give up my job.”
Sookie smiled but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I wish now that I had. I wish that I could tell him what I know is true. “Sookie looked at Lydia with conviction. “Eric Northman is the best thing that ever happened to me. He isn’t like any romance story hero. He didn’t fall on one knee and spout all kinds of lovey-dovey words. He was something better. He never wanted to change me. He loved me just as I am, warts and all.” Sookie swallowed hard.
“I believe that for everyone there is a book of life. I know now right down to my backbone that Eric was my most important page. If I had held on and just said yes it was a page that led to my happily ever after. But I didn’t know; I couldn’t see what we were. I turned that page and I let him go.” Tears slipped down Sookie’s cheeks.
Lydia closed her book. “Sookie, you know Eric is coming here. There are things you need to know about what has happened out in the world.” Lydia waited. She watched Sookie wipe the tears from her cheeks and draw herself straight. Sookie nodded and Lydia continued. “There was a takeover.”
“Eric?” Fear tracked across Sookie’s face.
“He’s fine. He is now regent for Oklahoma. Felipe is king.”
Lydia sighed. “She’s gone. I suspect she’s dead. It’s usually how these things happen.” Lydia gave the telepath a minute to absorb the news. Then she leveled a look at Sookie. “That means that the protection of the contract is done. It’s a good thing that you are now in the retinue of Mississippi and Indiana.” Sookie nodded and bit her lip.
“Why do I get the impression there’s more?” Sookie asked.
“I spoke with Pam. Sookie? Eric has been asked by his king to bring you back to Louisiana.”
Sookie gasped and there was a brief flash of fear across her face. Then she drew a deep breath and Lydia could see fear being replaced by something else; resolve. “Does Pam think he’s going to try?”
Lydia nodded. “Pam tells me that it’s a matter of honor. It’s a favor asked of his king. You know Eric Northman. He is nothing if not an honorable man. He will do what is necessary to meet his obligation.”
Sookie sat forward. “Eric is honorable and I never appreciated how important that was. I expected him to break his word for me. I wasn’t right and I don’t think either of us would have been able to respect the other if he had. But Eric is something else too. Eric is sneaky. He knows exactly how far to go to do what he promises and still get his way.”
Lydia couldn’t keep the pride from her face. The strength that she now saw in Sookie explained so much more about what attracted the attention of a thousand year old warrior.
The telepath’s face was calm, the look in her eyes steady and determined. “When Eric gets here we are going to come up with a plan. Make no mistake. Eric Northman is mine and I’m going to get him back.”
Felipe leaned back against the captain’s chair in the main cabin of the airplane. Angie was in the back near the galley swiveling to the music that was playing through her headphones. Horst was seated across from the king. He had been silent since their departure. Actually he had been quiet ever since the takeover.
Felipe smiled. He was well aware of the issue. Horst had been surprised at Felipe’s appointing Eric Northman as regent of Oklahoma. Felipe had seen the shock and a flash of anger on his second’s face when Felipe made the announcement. Felipe had learned his lesson with Victor Madden. Loyalty was everything. You never give prizes until you are sure that the person you are rewarding won’t use that reward as leverage to take more.
Victor had been a clever vampire. He was also ambitious; too ambitious. Felipe liked initiative but didn’t like to have those around him make trouble. Victor had made lots of trouble. He had upset his subjects. He had lost money. He had lied and manipulated to make himself look better. That last part was not considered a black mark by Felipe unless he himself was the one to suffer. And Felipe had suffered.
Horst was not clever. He was a blunt instrument that excelled at those physical tasks that were needed to keep others in line. Had he been clever he would have understood that Oklahoma was a poor prize; financially bankrupt and unlikely to turn a profit any time soon. What’s more, by tying the Viking in one place and holding his beloved progeny in another Felipe could assure himself that he would have obedience from both. One could not step out of line without endangering the other. They were in different geographic areas and surveillance would help to ensure that they were subservient. ‘Yes,’ the king thought. ‘A perfect solution.’
Still, having Horst pout would not do. Felipe leaned forward. “Horst?” Horst turned from the window and met his king’s eyes. No slight head bow. ‘Hmm,’ Felipe thought. ‘He is clearly put out.’ Felipe continued. “I am pleased by your actions in Oklahoma. It was a difficult task and I’m sure my appointing the Viking was a surprise.”
Horst’s expression relaxed a touch. “Your wishes are not mine to question majesty.” And the slight head bow returned. Felipe smiled.
“It is a tight box the Viking sits in now. Certainly tighter than anything he experienced while his Queen was at his side.” And Felipe laughed. Horst laughed as well.
“From what I could tell she would open her legs for anyone who asked and beg those that didn’t. She was a waste of vampire blood and a disgrace to our race.” Horst was now visibly more relaxed and inclining toward the king.
‘It takes so little,’ Felipe thought. ‘So little to bring him to me.’ “Well,” the king continued out loud, “The Viking seems to be making some headway in organizing his area. He seems properly grateful. Sandy’s reports are promising. So now it is a matter of testing whether he is truly loyal.”
Horst smiled. “You have arranged a test?”
Felipe smiled back. “Of course! And of the best sort. A test of the heart.”
Horst’s eyebrows raised. “His progeny?”
“No. The creature he truly loves. The creature he tells himself no longer matters. Sookie Stackhouse.”
Horst shook his head. “Majesty, Northman walked away from her. He divorced her in front of us. He humiliated her. She renounced him and took another. I never wish to disagree with you my king. But in this thing I worry you are mistaken.”
Felipe smiled broadly. “Horst, had I only seen the time during the final negotiations, I too would have come to your conclusion.” Actually Felipe did not believe that. He could see throughout the final days how torn the Viking had been; how he had tried and twisted to spare his lover; how he had sacrificed himself to spare her. “What you don’t know is that the Viking and I discussed Miss Stackhouse the night she saved me from Siegbert. It is the knowledge I gained that night that makes me so sure.”
Horst waited, his hands clasped. ‘How like a pupil awaiting his teacher,’ Felipe thought. “It was after the takeover. Victor had been pushing Northman hard for months. Mostly it was to punish the Viking for trapping the telepath into pledging herself. Victor was certain that the pledge was the result of trickery and that there was no true feeling between them. I suspect he wanted to claim the telepath for his own. She is very attractive and her gift would make someone powerful. Of course, Victor told me he was securing her for me.” The king waved his hand. “But that was Victor. Telling you what you wanted to hear but playing his own game and hoping you didn’t catch him switching the dice while your head was turned.” Felipe shrugged.
“I was reviewing progress in Shreveport that evening. The Viking got a call and made excuses to leave. I was curious to see what could be so important that he would risk my anger. I followed him. He led me to a human restaurant. It was where she worked. He was inside but not for long and then he walked to an old car in the parking lot and leaned against it. He was clearly waiting, so I waited too to see what would happen.
“After a while Sookie Stackhouse walked out of the restaurant. Of course, I didn’t know who she was then. When I heard them speak to each other I knew who she was and that the relationship between them was not as Victor said. It was more. I revealed myself and she made excuses and left. I decided it was time to understand what I was seeing.” Felipe leaned forward, a sly smile playing across his face. “And it was delicious. He loved her. He was in love with her and was willing to do anything; give anything to keep her safe. He was ready to promise any kind of service or action to assure that she would not be harmed or made to do anything against her will.”
Horst was taken aback. This was Eric Northman; the Viking. His reputation as a ruthless adversary was well known. There were stories and witnesses to attest to the accuracy of those claims. He was not some love-struck child to give himself away in this fashion. It was inconceivable.
Felipe nodded seeing the disbelief on his second’s face. “Yes, Horst. I could have asked him to drop to his knees and offer himself to me and I believe he would have done it without a moment’s hesitation. I had his balls in my hand.” Felipe smiled. “Then Siegbert attacked us. I was so stunned by what I heard from Northman I was taken by surprise. And then I found out the best part. Northman had bonded himself to her. She came back because she could feel him. “Felipe shrugged. “She was magnificent. She ran over the Bert with her car – twice! I was so impressed I promised her my protection. A fair trade for the power she gave me over Eric Northman!”
Horst shook his head. “But surely my liege that has changed. He was so cold about her when we were there with Oklahoma. He set her aside.”
Felipe smiled again. “Horst, how little you understand the heart of a vampire. Once engaged it changes little, like ourselves. The Viking showed how much he cared. He spared her in every way he could. He knew that it was only a matter of time before we found out that she had broken their blood bond and that we could have taken her. He would have been powerless to stop us. He pushed things forward to make sure the contract was already in place before they were divorced. It ensured she would be protected. He sacrificed his body and his freedom for her. What more proof of the depth of his devotion do you require?”
The captain announced that they would be landing in 20 minutes. Felipe leaned back. “Now I have given him his test. She is in Sanctum. I can’t touch her there. Eric Northman is to bring her back.”
The king continued. “She is likely under the protection of Amun Clan.” Horst hissed. “Yes. Inconvenient. But I will have her back and I will bring her to Las Vegas where I can keep a close eye on her. She is valuable and she will perform for me.” Felipe smiled. “Northman can deny her all he wishes. We both know that as long as she is within my grasp he will make no move against me. And if he does not succeed in convincing her to return, I have his progeny to show him the price that is paid for failure.”
Horst smiled. “You are wise my king.” Felipe noticed his second wasn’t pouting any more.