In The Dark
I didn’t need to elaborate. Sookie knew…
She knew something drastic needed to be done. As much as we wanted to sail off into the sunset, it didn’t seem at all likely to happen.
With or without the threat of losing my child and family… it was easier to convince a dog to let go of a bone than to talk a Vampire out of carrying out a ‘brilliant’ plan.
Becoming a Vampire doesn’t turn men into monsters… Pride does.
Everything I could tend to immediately was done over the phone. From contacting old friends, to planning my strategy…
My two most difficult tasks…
- Convincing Jason and Lauren to stuff Pam into a large suitcase to smuggle her out during the day in case she was already being watched.
- And convincing Sookie and the children to get on a plane without me. I couldn’t have them in the middle of the fray. Not so close it would be easy for someone to get to them.
The Stackhouses understood why they needed to leave Louisiana with very little explanation.
My old friends swore to do everything they could to keep my family safe.
But my family made it nearly impossible for me to see them off. Magnusson was the only one who didn’t make pleas or demands to stay and help me. Tina even used her phone to call me from the limo on the way to the airport, sobbing promises to ‘hide good enough’ if something were to happen.
Sending them away was heartbreaking, nerve-wracking and the most impossibly miserable fucking thing I’d ever done. I almost let myself go after them.
Gawain was surprised to hear from me, but when I told him he was the only Vampire I trusted to help me, he promised to be in Bern as quickly as he could.
Somehow he managed to travel from Munich to Bern in under three hours…
But by the time he knocked on the door to the room I was very close to rattling apart. I’d read and reread the new journal Sookie had gotten from her hostess. I’d taken as much information from it as possible…
Gawain’s arrival was the only thing to take my attention from a toothpaste booger in the bathroom sink. I had no idea how long I’d been staring at it.
When I opened the door, he smiled and tilted his head. “Sorry to arrive empty-handed, but when Eric the Northman uses the word emergency, things are reprioritized… What the fuck is that smell?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know… compare it to something.”
He stepped towards me and inhaled. “You… You smell like milk and tears…”
“My family. They all cried when I sent them away.”
“Your fam-” My ring caught his eye as I closed the door. “When did you get a family!?”
Under different circumstances, I would have laughed at his reaction.
“Just in time for them to be used against me… Sookie and I are engaged…”
“You? You and a Human? Is it a PR ploy? Is her name Sookie or is that what you call her because you don’t remember her real name?”
“She’s mostly Human and that’s her real name.”
“She covered you with snot and you’re still interested? It must be true love…”
If my attachment to Sookie wasn’t so unlike me, if he hadn’t known me long enough to know I would have made fun of me too…
“Sookie numbed herself so the children wouldn’t know how scared she is. The snot is from the kids. Misty, Jenny, Junior, Tina, Shelly and Magnusson. In that order. Junior is the only one who isn’t ours. He’s Sookie’s nephew. He was vacationing with us in Zermatt. At the moment, they’re on their way to New York where Francesca and the boys will look after them. The remainder of Sookie’s family is traveling with Pam in a suitcase to rendezvous with them. Their orders are to wait until they hear from me.”
He gave me a confused look. “What happened in Zermatt that you’re sending Pam and your family into hiding? Does this have anything to do with the Vampire who drained a pair of kids down there?”
I nodded. “Appius is the little prick’s Maker. While Alexei was awaiting execution, Appius paid a visit… a few nights later Halfdan just so happened to call me. He tried to send me on an errand as though I was still in his service.”
“So we’re teaming up again? Alright… What does Halfdan want us to do?”
“He wants me to end half of his Lords, including his child…”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me? Why the fuck would that lazy gobshite weed his own garden?”
“And end a handful of Clovis’s Lords as well…”
“Tell me this is a joke. He’s going to have you do the work of trying to annex France.”
“And I’m almost sure Appius is part of his little scheme. Even though he came to see me in Zermatt a few weeks ago, he’s still close.”
“The Roman doesn’t care for places with snow… Doesn’t he usually winter in the south?”
I nodded. “Unless he’s dropped the habit after all this time… Appius was amused by my midlife crisis and Halfdan was a good sport about being turned down…”
He snorted and sat at the desk to watch the screensaver on my laptop as thousands of our photos taken over the past few months appeared randomly.
“My beautiful ass. He’s hoping you’re too stupid to realize he’s waiting to get his hands on leverage… Appius was here to see how you felt about your family, yes?”
“And he walked away knowing that any one of them could be used as leverage.”
“That Sookie of yours looks like a delicious little handful.”
“She is… I couldn’t stand to lose any of them though. Especially not to Appius’s greed. Not again.”
“Planning to end him, are we?”
“Appius and Halfdan.”
“You want to be King of the Low Countries?”
I shook my head and took my retirement countdown from the dresser and tossed it to him. “That’s the last thing I want… Sookie and I have been looking forward to my retirement, but it doesn’t seem like I have a choice.”
“So we’re going to waltz into Kiel and end Halfdan?”
“Eventually. First we’re going to meet Nicolas and Wouter in Paris. I’m sure Appius will follow us there since he’s waiting to follow me home.”
“Why not return to Louisiana and end him there? I doubt he’s realized you’re onto him.”
“Because once he knows where I live with my family, he could report back to any number of co-conspirators. They’d all be at risk. I can’t even go to Sophie-Anne for help protecting them because I haven’t claimed them officially. Bond or not, Sophie-Anne isn’t going to be pleased to hear I’ve been keeping my telepathic Faerie family to myself.”
I nodded. “A distant relation. It only effects Sookie’s scent and flavor slightly.”
“Do you feed from her?”
“You feed regularly from a Faerie.”
“Exclusively. Is that a problem?”
“It brings your sanity into question.”
“You’re feeding from Fae. It can make us go mad.”
“Being in her father’s company is tolerable even for Pam. At best, I’ve been high when we exchange blood at the same time. I’m quite lucid.”
“Are you? You’re preoccupied with this Sookie’s safety as much as I’d imagine you’d be with Pam’s…”
“I’m not arguing that. I love her. I’m going to bring her over when the children are grown.”
“And her blood has nothing to do with it?”
“No. I loved her before we began sharing blood. I assume you’ve seen Vampires in a frenzy.”
He gave me a level stare and nodded. “How long did you know her before you began feeding from her?”
“She and the children lived with me for a few months… Does it help to know Pam and I were with her when she delivered Magnusson and we behaved?”
“You managed to resist bloodlust with a bleeding Faerie in the room?”
I nodded. “And it was a very small room.”
He leaned back in his chair and huffed, “I suppose it says something that you were willing to send your little delicacy away for any length of time.”
“Only for her safety, but it isn’t her blood I’ll miss. Even the baby cried while they were climbing into the limo… He’s very attached to me.”
“He won’t sleep during the day unless he’s put on my chest.”
He stared at me for what seemed like forever, but every second had dragged by since Sookie and the children left. He finally said, “Then we’ll proceed, but my role depends on my conversation with Pam… When will the sun set in New York?”
“It’s already set. She’ll be calling me shortly. I’m sure Jason and Corbett are explaining as much as they can at the moment. She’s livid.”
“Francesca and the boys are babysitting… Wouter and Nicolas are meeting us in Paris… What is your plan?”
“I have a list. Our old friends I intend to appoint as Lords. I’m willing to take over just to ensure my family’s safety.”
A few months ago I would have done nearly anything to avoid the political clusterfuck and obligations of any station higher than Sheriff… Sookie helped adjust my priorities.
“It might be easier to take out Sophie-Anne. The smaller territory would be easier to manage.”
“It would be easier to manage, but she has a telepathic connection to her children that would make ending them all nearly impossible. Not to mention how many barbarians she has at the gate already. Taking over Louisiana would only add to the nonsense because she’s in a fragile position…”
“You’re assuming most of Europe will be grateful for Halfdan’s demise because it will finally put an end to his shite.”
“After what he did to Ana, yes. Hence my involvement of Wouter and Nicolas.”
“And who are your appointees? You said old friends.”
“Bronya, Atum, Tilda, Salome- that’s the name Selma’s been using for decades- Cornelius, Mee, Jaro, Simza…”
“Jaro and Simza? Maker and child?”
“Absolutely. There are only a few of us who are stupid enough to cross them. They’re suffering the same problems I did. They’re unable to settle anywhere because of their reputations.”
“Knights. You plan to take over the Northern Empire by appointing Knights to replace Halfdan’s Lords.”
“What better way to make sure everyone stays in line?”
“Or scare the shit out of Clovis and incite a bloodbath.”
“That’s why we’re going to Paris first. Clovis is going to be given the opportunity to take the Empire himself. I’ll tell him where to find betrayal in his House of Lords either way.”
Gawain laughed, “Leave it to you to start a house-keeping service for Europe…”
When my phone began to ring, he took it from the desk and answered, “The Northman’s phone.”
Lauren whimpered, “This is Lauren. I need to talk to Eric, please. It’s urgent.”
“Lauren Stackhouse. His sister-in-law… please, it’s urgent.”
He shrugged and tossed the phone to me.
“Lauren, what’s wrong?”
“Ema. She’s been… Is it safe to say anything?”
“Gawain’s an old friend. I was just about to explain Ema to him. Go ahead.”
“Thank God… Alright. It started on the plane. She did her thing, but no sooner than the first drawing was done, she zoned out again… three hours on the plane, and… She hasn’t been with it long enough to meet Francesca yet. We’ve been here for two hours now… Jas is scanning pics and emailing them to you as fast as he can while he and Corbett try to corral Pam. She’s going nuts. She said she’s getting on a plane…”
“Put her on.”
“On my way… Any ideas about Ema?”
“Explain to Francesca and the boys what she is. Given how much we don’t know about her ability, just have Jason monitor her. She might eventually need to be restrained so she can eat or rest.”
“Got it, chief… I’m going in…”
I could hear the argument before Lauren opened a door.
Jason growled, “Dammit woman, if Eric wanted you there, he wouldn’t have had us bring you here. He’s takin’ care of it!”
Francesca cooed, “You know he’ll do anything to keep you safe…”
Lauren sighed, “I tattled, Pammy. I’m sorry, but you know we love ya too much to-”
Lauren yelped just before Pam said, “Eric?”
“As your Maker…”
“Don’t you dare! I need to know what the fuck is going on!”
I finished, “I command you to stay in Manhattan until I say otherwise.”
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!”
“I love you too.”
“What the fuck happened?”
“Sookie skipped. She woke in Eijsden to meet King Eric of the Northern Empire. He was still mourning the loss of Liz decades later. You WILL NOT be part of the fray.”
“Gawain’s here. I’ve been in contact with several old friends…”
“Including the ones babysitting me.”
“Yes, including them. Long story short, I’m either moving our family to Eijsden as King of the Northern Empire or as a Lord under Clovis. Sookie will fully explain when she arrives.”
“You’re going to move all of the Stackhouses to Eijsden?”
“Unless they want to risk staying in the States. They’ll be invited, not abducted. It’s the safest solution to all the issues we’re facing.”
She demanded, “What issues? You fucking laughed when you heard about the other Yous who got stuck on a throne.”
“Keeping Sophie-Anne from trying to get her hooks into Sookie. Keeping Hadley from trying to take the girls back. Keeping my Sibyl from ending up in the wrong hands. And keeping my Maker from ending my child… You know I hate variables. Suffering a throne will eliminate several.”
“I fucking hate Dutch.”
“You’ll speak English at home with the family we have no intention of loosing. Are you done complaining?”
“Probably not. I don’t want you to be King. You’ll be a bitch…”
“I’d be worse if I lost any of you… The children’s safety is the only reason Sookie left me. Once they’re all in New York, she’ll try to help…”
“No. Not good. I can’t command her to stay there. I need you to…”
“If I keep her here, she’ll hate me if something happens to you!”
“You asshole! I love her too and she’d NEVER forgive me! FUCK, I’d never forgive me either!”
“Pam, I need to know she’s safe. I need to be able to focus. I need you to keep her with you.”
“How am I supposed to keep that woman from doing whatever she wants? She’s more pig-headed than both of us combined.”
“Tell her I’ve given you orders to turn her. It’ll buy three nights and you’ll be able to command her.”
“She’ll know I’m full of shit, Eric. Even if…”
“Pam, you’re to bring Sookie over to keep her from interfering. Do you understand?”
“I’m not. This is how you’re going to help me. This is your part. I know what I’m doing, Pam. She’ll understand how serious I am because she knows I want to be her Maker.”
“But if she risks it…”
“Then I’ll have you both to deal with the next time I try to overthrow an Empire… Gawain wants to speak to you. He wants to make sure I haven’t gone mad from feeding on Faeries.”
“Fuck him. If you’d gone mad, he would have been the first one I called…” He smirked at me, satisfied and amused by her reaction. “You called Gawain?”
“And Nicholas and Wouter.”
After a long pause she sighed, “That makes me feel better.”
“Perhaps hearing how efficient my allies are will help keep Sookie from doing something we’ll all regret.”
She whimpered, “Eric… you have a family now… don’t you dare get hurt. It’ll ruin all of us.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
Gawain didn’t wait until my phone was back in my pocket.
“You can pick which one is first, but I’m dying to hear about your Sybil and what you called skipping.”
If it hadn’t been for a photo of a Gawain teaching a little girl how to jump a horse, my Gawain could have continued to accuse me of discovering his heritage and playing a prank by claiming to be ‘part of the braid’.
We made our plans, basing them on the best scenarios offered in the journals… Over the course of the night, we heard from each of our old friends as they moved into position… Gawain complained several times that he wished we had the journal as a ‘cheat sheet’ all along…
And Ema’s drawings… the initial batch of sketches gave Gawain the proof he needed to realize she was a Sybil… She’d drawn me in the hotel’s portico covered by clinging children. She’d drawn Gawain’s Audi crossing into Liechtenstein. She’d drawn the façade of Francesca’s building. She’d drawn all three of her hosts separately. She’d drawn my house in Eijsden and a plethora of sketches I assumed were the staff I’d be hiring based on the journals. She’d drawn Clovis’s deranged, rat-like laugh…
Seeing that the Sybil was drawing the house I intended to take my family home to gave me hope my plan would be successful… and the later scans were that much more promising.
One at a time…
Jaro, standing over a puddle, sword in hand…
Cornelius, standing over a puddle, sword in hand…
Mee, covered with blood and standing over a puddle, stake in hand…
The silhouette that could only be Atum, watching a house burn…
Bronya watching a Bentley explode.
All of them. My old friends were shown to be successful in their tasks. The few we didn’t receive a sketch of that night, were waiting in my email when I rose the next night. Gawain jokingly suggested that the two sketches of me covered by blood could have been any two of a thousand other times he’d seen me just as soiled in the past… until I pointed out that Ema sketched my ring, the Christmas gift from ‘the children’.
The only ambiguity Ema delivered was the sketch of Halfdan’s child, Klaasje… but by the time we arrived in Paris, we’d decided he would take Klaasje out of the scenario and hold her… and save her for later.
If Clovis left it to me…
And, of course, he did. He laughed at my offer to help him take over, chided me for ‘stealing’ all of his first choices to replace those of his Lords who were on borrowed time, sent three of his envoys to Halfdan to demand satisfaction on an old loan as a diversion, and wished me the best of luck.
I knew he wouldn’t want the Northern Kingdom, but I still hoped he’d be pissed enough to take it just to spite Halfdan for trying to overthrow him.
That was almost three weeks ago.
The night after we met with Clovis, we began the long drive to Keil…
I left alone, expecting Appius to follow just as he’d done when I left Bern for Paris… I called Gawain once I could feel my Maker trailing behind me… the metaphorical loose end.
When I stopped in Cologne, Appius stopped in Leige… Once Gawain had Appius, I doubled back…
I stood over the swampy remains of my Maker when I called Sookie with a progress report…
I wasn’t sure why Gawain used his phone to take a photo of me until he reminded me of Ema’s drawing. A stake in my right hand, my phone in my left, and the Del Cur Monument behind me. We hadn’t chosen the location because of the drawing. Appius seemed to be planning to use an old resting place just a few blocks away.
When I arrived at Halfdan’s palace, I was greeted by Klaasje. Even though she was sure to know about part of Halfdan’s plans for me, she didn’t seem pleased to see I was entertaining the idea of taking the job.
She was sociable enough to ask about my family because she’d heard I had one. She was gracious enough to offer a donor to me while I waited for the King to excuse business associates… She offered to make arrangements for my stay in Keil for the day. She was babysitting me while Halfdan was busy… and did everything she could to keep small talk going in the hopes that I wouldn’t hear Halfdan demanding early tribute payments from his Lords.
The woman, who seemed to be completely resigned to her role as a glorified valet, was nonplussed by Gawain’s arrival… Gawain’s reputation meant that his presence demanded attention, but she couldn’t leave me to hear the King try to scrape together the millions he owed to Clovis.
I raised my voice and jokingly asked, “How much do you owe Clovis? I could cover your debt and keep your child as collateral.”
Yes, it was loud enough for him to hear me…
Klaasje left me in the sitting room she’d been entertaining me in to greet Gawain, knowing she hadn’t been able to keep me from overhearing her Maker’s panicked phone calls… but she balked when Halfdan accepted my offer.
After I told him my change of heart was caused by boredom, Halfdan explained my errands. My to-do list was supposedly comprised of conspirators in a plot to assassinate him.
The whole time I was listening to him, I was close to laughing. He used the word ‘list’ at least a dozen times… every time he had, I remembered the ‘honey-do’ lists Sookie would leave for me.
Imagining a Vampire his age, with Sookie’s delicate southern twang was hysterical.
Once my ‘honey-do’ was thoroughly explained, we settled on the terms of his loan. He offered Lordship and a favor in exchange for the loan, and since his child was originally on my list of errands, she was mine to do with as I pleased.
That sack of shit actually put a price tag on his child… and called her to join us to tell her she had a new Master.
Klaasje was sent to wait for her new Master in the parlor, and I was offered the use of the phone on his desk.
He was scribbling the routing number he wanted me to wire his loan to… and he never saw the stake in my hand.
That time, instead of calling Sookie, I sent a photo of the way Halfdan was oozing to the floor from his desk chair and sent it to her. It was a live version of the second sketch from Ema.
Gawain teased me for the next couple of weeks… I’d spent as much time on the phone with my family as possible and he thought it was adorable…
He stayed with me while I took meetings and settled affairs as quickly as possible so I could leave time for shopping to set up my house for my families arrival.
It was hilarious to him that ‘the King missed his Queen’… until he realized I wasn’t correcting him.
I would have been perfectly content to have Sookie leave New York to join me in Eijsden the night I ended Halfdan, but I needed at least a few nights.
Not only would I be miserably bogged down by the formalities of taking over an Empire, but my house in Eijsden wasn’t prepared for anyone to live there. It had been years since the caretakers had done much more than make sure the landscaping and buildings were maintained.
My first official call as King of the Low Countries had been to hire the steward and housekeeper other Mes had been using.
I missed my family, but I was bored from sunset to dawn by official meetings and errands.
They missed me, but they filled their time with the chaos of orchestrating the relocation of four families…
All of them. Jason and Lauren. Brandon and Ashley. Corbett and Teddi… not that we needed a nanny. No. Teddi was joining the rest of the Stackhouses in Eijsden because, while the rest of us had been vacationing, Teddi and Corbett had enough spare time on their hands for her to get pregnant… The positive pregnancy test Ema had drawn to make Sookie hopeful for a niece or nephew was Teddi’s. Sookie was going to be a ‘big sister’.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that they were all planning to join us, I would have had too much idle time and not enough excuses to call Sookie. The guest rooms wouldn’t have been difficult to furnish, so meeting with contractors about renovating the barracks to transform them into apartments had been the perfect project for Sookie to send honey-dos for.
After wandering the property until I found the perfect place to (eventually) take Sookie to ground, I retired… I laid to rest that night on black Egyptian cotton sheets on the largest mattress Dinh could find (a ‘Grand King’), knowing it would be the last time I’d die without Sookie at my side.
I’d spoken to her while she packed and checked off her honey-dos until I died for the day, expecting my family to be arriving shortly after sunset…
And when I rose, Sookie was purring against my side.
The house was quiet other than the sounds of someone moving in the kitchen… most likely the new maid, Saskia, double-checking everything as she had been the night before.
I’d sporadically considered that house home for a decade off and on, or an occasional retreat… Gawain had used it as a hotel… Edward’s Human family had occupied it for close to a century…
The house had enough history for it to be considered a landmark, but I was more concerned with its future.
I was fantasizing about the firsts ‘Kasteel Eijsden’ would host (from Magnusson’s first steps to the girls’ first dates, perhaps a wedding or two), when Sookie began stirring.
Her arm and leg tightened over me as she let out a content sigh…
As soon as I could speak, I offered, “You have no idea how much I missed you.” I’d been keeping as much as I could from our bond.
Sookie was completely still.
I expected her to automatically complain, like she had the night before, that I’d been doing everything I could to spare her from how much I wanted her and the children with me…
In the amount of time Sookie held her breath, I realized the excitement and happiness I felt in our bond wasn’t snuggled up next to me, but still miles away…
Just as Sookie lifted her head to look at me, a voice said, “Anyone else might complain they can’t keep their woman out of bed with other men.”
Sookie jerked her head to look behind her, finding her Eric and she rolled over to snuggle him instead. She mumbled, “No. I reject this skip. It’s not happening.”
I couldn’t have agreed more.