Like A Rock
Up In The Air
Sookie hardly had the time to cut into her steak, she was still giggling and teasing Connelly, when my phone rang.
Without preamble, Pam announced, “I need to talk to you alone.”
I was planning to call her too, but I was sure she was calling about business if she didn’t want our friends to hear…
I found myself in the parking lot again, waving off the chauffer when he attentively leapt from the car to try to open the door for me.
I opted for sitting on the bench on the sidewalk.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Pam?”
“How do we categorize Long Shadow’s death?”
“You actually left your company long enough to dress?”
“We were in the mood for fresh air and decided to go for a hunt.”
He never had a chance.
“Then don’t categorize it. I have an airtight alibi. You’re in the company of three unimpeachable Knights… I’ll call the Queen to report him missing when I return from my vacation and complain he had a tantrum and refused to manage Fangtasia in my absence.”
“I thought you’d say that… Alright… so have you been converted to Baseballism? You’re having too much fun.”
“It hasn’t all been fun and games, but I’m enjoying myself…”
“Because of Sookie.”
“Definitely because of Sookie.”
After a pause she giggled, “You really just said that.”
“Yes. Why deny it?”
“Because if you’re willing to admit it, I can’t tease you for it.”
I chuckled, “I’m sorry… I was planning to call you later, but since Sookie and the boys are eating dinner, it’s as good of a time as any…”
“Are you marrying her?”
“Yes, and we’re taking our honeymoon in the Caymans…” After a moment of shocked silence, I chuckled, “We’re going to the Caymans, but it’s just a vacation.”
She didn’t recover as gracefully as she wanted to. “You want to work on your tan?”
No. I wanted Sookie to work on hers.
“Ursula had a property there. I thought of a use for it when the boys mentioned wanting to be shipwrecked.”
“So you’re taking your girlfriend and her kids to…”
“And her family.”
Pam gasped, “You didn’t correct me!”
“I did… Sookie, Cort and Hunter won’t be the only ones to go… When I initially considered the holiday, I didn’t realize the Stackhouses were planning to go as a group. Jason, Brandon, Julie and Adele will go… Klaasje will b-”
Pam blurted, “Eric! I called her your girlfriend and you didn’t argue!”
“Is there any point?”
“Because she’s your girlfriend?”
“Because she isn’t a pet. Can I continue?”
“About the family vacation?”
“Not really. There isn’t much else to say. The plan is to go for the weekend, but I want to extend it as long as Sookie’s job and Cort and Julie’s school will allow… The other reason I was planning to call is Klaasje…”
“A Stackhouse cousin?”
“Halfdan’s child. I’ve run into Teague here. He’s acting as Sheriff under Saâd for Rodrigo. Halfdan gave Klaasje to Teague as a paycheck…”
Pam gasped, “His child‽”
“We already knew what a bastard he is, but yes. I’ve learned more about him than I ever wanted to know… Teague gave Klaasje to me.”
“She’s been with him for a decade. He’s trying to make a break from her… She’s coming to Shreveport.”
“Another foster, Eric? Why not just make more children?”
“Because you’re everything I could ever want in a child. Why would I risk being disappointed?”
She chuckled, “At least you used a dry tone. If you sounded sincere, you’d make me cry and I hate that… So I should call the Boob and have him-”
“I’ve taken care of Bobby. Klaasje will be staying in my house on Mayflower. If you don’t mind, could you check on the progress at the house? I told him to replace the appliances and stock the refrigerator and a new freezer with meat. Klaasje has Great Danes and they’re on a raw diet…”
“Your Panda was on a poodle diet, if I remember correctly.”
She gasped, “That was shitty!”
“Klaasje needs to go shopping, Pam… She’s physically moving, but she only mentioned a few suitcases.”
“Good God… what the fuck? Is Teague punishing her?”
“I think it’s possible Halfdan didn’t allow her to have much and she’s just accustomed to being deprived. A decade with Teague, even if he’s spoiling her, isn’t going to undo eight centuries of being treated like a slave.”
“So, Friday night, I’ll take her shopping…”
“I’ll explain later, but I want Sookie to go with you.”
“Social experiment or secrets?”
“Both…” My call waiting beeped and it was the same number from earlier. Wouter. “Pam, I have to take my other call.”
I switched lines and greeted, “Majesty.”
“I called Wyannie… Now I know what you were going on about. You have a pet?”
I chuckled, “I do… How could I resist? She’s been taunting Connelly and she plays chess without a board. Did Wyannie have a property you can use?”
“She does, actually. Just a mile or two from your property. I’m arriving early to make sure things are in order.”
“Good. I’m sure Klaasje will be happy to see you… How would you feel if I told you I’d known a psychic for a while?”
“I’d think you’re a lucky prick. I’ve never met a legitimate one. I heard of a Faerie who found people. I was told it would take tributes near the Hunnam Fort along Hadrian’s Wall and if it was willing to take the job, it would replace the tribute with a written message… otherwise you’d find your tribute still there the next night. I never hired it, but Nicholas tried. His tribute was still there when he rose.”
“I’d heard the same thing, but… Faeries.”
“I understand, especially after our altercation in Glanzenberg… Why mention your psychic?”
“Because something you said earlier rang a bell…” The Tsar Bell. “My psychic kept journals. She died years ago. She made notes and I used what was valuable…” I would have. “But most of it seemed tediously unrelated to anything of importance to me.”
“It would figure. What did I say that rang a bell?”
“Adléta… It wasn’t a common name.”
After a long pause, he offered, “Of course not, but over the years there are trends. And as old as you are, you’re bound to meet more eventually… Alright, amuse me with what your psychic noted about Adléta then.”
It was almost funny that the last time I’d heard that anxious tone was when he had a sword to his throat.
“After being betrayed by her husband she was objectified by Halfdan…” He actually gulped. “He bred her to servants… Does Klaasje know about Johan and Bronya, Wouter? Do they know about her?”
“What the fuck did your psychic tell you?”
“She told me Klaasje’s more than paid her dues and deserves a life of leisure. I’m only curious. I have no intention of using the information to control her in any way.”
“Truly… I’m asking because Bronya’s in my Area as we speak. She’s visiting Pam.”
“She knows. They all do. Once the children were brought over, it was explained to them. The children only thought of Anna as their mother. They insisted on meeting Klaasje. Johan is far more understanding than Bronya.”
“Is there any acrimony between Bronya and Klaasje?”
“Bronya is… You know she’s strong-willed. She looks down at Klaasje, but they’re polite. Bronya was spoiled…”
“Do you mean she was spoiled by her indulgent adoptive mother, or her doting step-father and Maker?”
He sighed, “Both… She doesn’t understand what Klaasje went through… Klaasje’s actually proud of her for it, and thanked me for giving her a pleasant enough life for Bronya to be cavalier towards her.”
“If you cared for Klaasje, why didn’t you help her?”
“I was a member of Halfdan’s guard for Anna, Eric. I couldn’t take Klaasje. Anna commanded me not to risk my position…” I’d assumed as much. “I did what I could to spare her… I stayed with her unless I was on an errand… I healed her every fucking time Halfdan left to hunt. I was bonded to her… I’d finally had enough after Bronya was born. I took the baby to Anna, and had every intention of taking Klaasje, bringing her over, taking her into seclusion…”
I added, “Defying your Maker.”
“And hoping she’d forgive me, yes… but I rose the night after I began my return to Hamburg to feel nothing of Klaasje. I was sickened to return and discover she’d killed herself and that prick brought her over… He’s been punishing her for eight centuries for stealing from him.”
“Her blood… She was AB-negative… She’d been baking in the sun, tied to a post, when he smelled her. She’d been whipped and raped…”
“And she tasted even ‘better’ pregnant.” Explaining why he’d breed her, only to have someone kill the children.
“He was furious when a set of twins died because they shared Klaasje’s blood type. They were the only two of her children who did… He nearly took Nicholas’s head for suggesting the children might have survived if Klaasje wasn’t being nearly drained… And Klaasje wasn’t the first woman he subjected to that, but she was the first one to survive how he treated them while they were pregnant… Since grieving her children is why she killed herself, he confined her, starved her and only tossed a child into her cell once he couldn’t bear feeling her hunger any longer.”
The poor thing… there was no point in asking how many children she drained. She would have killed all of them because she couldn’t control herself.
“And he finally became bored with tormenting her after 800 years… Wouter…”
“Stop there. I’ve tried to think of something. God knows Europe would celebrate if something was done to cure the madness, but I can’t garner enough support. He’s a cancer and we don’t know who the fuck we can trust as allies.”
“You can start with the ones you trusted the first time.”
“We’re Knights, Wouter. As you said, if he wasn’t a King, we’d have taken him out of the running long ago. What he did to Klaasje is barbaric.”
“Nicholas and I have discussed this, but the kingdom would be enormous. A complete housekeeping would need to be done. We couldn’t re-staff the House of Lords.”
“You’d need a collection of Knights on hand regardless, Wouter. There’s a reason Appius enjoys his summers in the Low Countries. That Kingdom is full of miscreants and it would take time to suss them out.”
“Are we really discussing this?”
“No. We’ll discuss this in a couple of weeks. I’ll contact a few old friends in the meantime. You should do the same.”
He chuckled, “You should have taken a Lordship when we offered it.”
But I wouldn’t have met Sookie.
“Probably. Being a Sheriff is wretchedly dull.”
“We’ll need you if we have any chance to get rid of him…”
The door of Outback opened and Cort stepped out… He looked up at me and waited patiently.
“Yes? What can I do for you?”
“Mommy wants ta know if yer talkin’ ta Wouter.”
I nodded assuming she was concentrating on my mind.
“Cuz if ya are, I should suggest askin’ him ‘bout Klaasje… like her favorite colors an’ stuff, cuz they’re friends an’ Klaasje’s too grateful ta ask fer anything.”
“I’ll do that. Tell her I said thank you and I’ll only be a few more minutes.”
“K. Hurry up… Yer missin’ Hunner play lib’rated chess with tha guys…”
“At the same time?”
“Yeah… and they keep fussin’ cuz the other games goin’re confusin’ ‘em.”
I really didn’t want to miss that.
“I’ll be right in.”
Once Cort closed the door, I offered, “I’m aware you’ll need help. I’m not sure how involved I want to be though. Not yet.”
Pitcher, outfielder, third-base coach?
I might, in spite of my Maker, be willing to make more heroic efforts than last time, but… It would all depend on… it would really depend on Sookie.
“Understandable… Was that one of your pet’s children?”
“It was… I should ask you about Klaasje’s preferences. I’m sure the interior designer would find them helpful.”
“She probably doesn’t know, to be honest… It’s been a couple of centuries since I’ve seen her, but Halfdan was still keeping her in dank servants’ quarters… If I were preparing a room for her here, I’d use pastels.”
“No specific type, but she prefers feeding from adult men. She doesn’t feel as guilty about the effects being fed from has on their health.”
“There’s a cornucopia of male donors at my bar nightly… Is there anything else you can think of?”
“Candles, lights… when she was Human, she was afraid to leave her bed because the room she was kept in was so dark. It carried over even though she doesn’t need light any longer… She loves flowers because she was a prisoner for nearly a decade before she was allowed to go outside… And your pet was correct in assuming Klaasje won’t ask for anything. She wouldn’t ask for water if her hair caught fire.”
“Good to know… All of it. You’ll let me know if you think of anything else, yes?”
He actually sighed. “I will… I suppose if anyone knows how to create a brat, it’s you.”
“One would think. I’ll be in contact.”
I knew Sookie could tell my conversation with Wouter had caused a change in my mood… but it wasn’t as though I didn’t have an excuse.
I thought I was taking a foster, teaching a Vampire to fend for herself. Considering how many times I’d done it in the past, the task was only complicated by Klaasje’s age really. She would have been given the same guidance Gawain had given me, Francesca and Simza, the same guidance I’d given to Edward and Richard.
Fostering and being fostered was just how the best of us rounded ourselves out. The best Makers welcomed fresh tutelage for their children. By the time I was 200 years old I’d lost count of how many times something I’d learned from Gawain, Jaro or Atum had saved me… and by the time I was 400 years old, I’d benefited from the varied experiences of my friends. Even if the job was simple, we usually worked in pairs just to expose ourselves to new perspectives and tactics.
It was just how it was done.
Klaasje’s fostering was long overdue, but it should have been simple enough.
Why the fuck did I want to end Halfdan more than I’d ever wanted to free myself?
I’d heard enough about Klaasje’s past to tip the scales. In the span of 24-hours, I’d abandoned my tried and true apathy and decided something drastic needed to be done.
I didn’t want a Lordship any more than I wanted the post I had as a fucking Sheriff, but Halfdan had crossed too many lines.
Ending one’s Maker was frowned upon, but the precedent had been set ages before Halfdan ended Rígr. It was usually a last resort, a desperate act of self-preservation, and even though Halfdan had been motivated by hubris and greed, it wasn’t loathsome enough… And that was just my reality. Halfdan ended Rígr before I was brought over. He’d ‘always’ been the King.
But betraying one’s own child… That was unforgivable. Who the fuck would want to be associated with someone who’d brutalize and abandon their own child? It said something that Halfdan was the only one of my former employers who hadn’t banished my Maker. Once one made an enemy of their own child, they were pariahs.
Unfortunately, Anna had been right to deny Wouter’s wishes to free Klaasje. One blood slave wasn’t worth starting a war. Yes, it was frowned upon to keep a blood slave under the conditions Klaasje endured, but again, it wasn’t unheard of. It actually sickened me to realize he’d probably only allowed Klaasje to serve as a midwife to ensure the health of future pregnant blood slaves.
But once Klaasje rose, all bets were off. There was no excuse to feed her live children. There was no excuse to keep her as a captive. There was no excuse to deny her…
There was no excuse to disregard what he was capable of any longer.
How many Klaasjes had there been over the centuries?
I hadn’t been completely engaged while Sookie and the boys finished their meal, but I managed to appreciate Hunter’s victory over Edward. He’d lost to Richard and Connelly, but it was impressive that a three year old could focus on an invisible game well enough to put on a fair performance.
Cort was dependably inquisitive, asking, “So what’s up yer butt?” as soon as the chauffeur closed the door to the limo behind us.
My friends knew better than to ask, but they were amused by the way Cort had worded his question.
“I learned more about how Klaasje was treated… Sookie, do you by any chance have any landscaping friends?”
She nodded. “What do you need?”
“Flowers. Everything that would be blooming now. Klaasje’s house has azaleas, lantanas and butterfly bushes, but they won’t bloom until spring. Flowering houseplants and hanging baskets as well…” She’d already opened her phone and started dialing. “Whatever they can gather on short notice.”
She nodded as Alcide answered, “If you’re calling to rub it in…”
She giggled, “Shut up… I’m not rubbing anything in. I’ve got a job for Jeff.”
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“Rush jobby. Like, ten minutes ago… Every flower he can get his hands on. Anything blooming now. No replacing, just adding new beds. Potted flowers inside and out…”
I nodded when she looked to me for approval.
“Yeah. Home & Garden’s style… Oh- dog friendly. There’s going to be three Danes living there.”
“He’s gonna cream his shorts, you realize that, right?”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m calling you instead of sharing that awkward moment with him and four Vampires.”
Alcide chuckled, “I don’t know… I can’t help but think I’d want to be a fly on the wall for that.”
She snickered, “He needs to hustle. His deadline is sunset tomorrow.”
“I’ll let you go then… so you can enjoy your game.”
“Okay. Bitter ass…” She ended the call and offered, “Member of the pack owns the nursery on Red Chute, Billings Garden Center. The son’s trying to build up a landscape architecture portfolio… Anything else I can do for you?”
“Wouter suggested pastels.”
She narrowed her eyes and I was almost positive she’d connected the flowers and the light color pallet to Klaasje’s ‘dark room’… and she began texting Keira.
“Minimal window treatments? Something like white sheers downstairs?”
I nodded and Connelly offered, “Someone really needs to end that prick. His own child? How the fuck does he have any Lords? Who the fuck would align themselves with someone who’d gift wrap their own child for a cleaner?”
Coming from him that meant a lot. His children would never use synonyms for lenient or gentle for him. He wasn’t cruel, but he did ‘it’ correctly. He explained the rules and he doled out discipline accordingly. His children learned quickly how to avoid being punished. Connelly didn’t invent new reasons to make them suffer. He didn’t enjoy punishing his children. Punishments were lessons, meant to be learned from, not enjoyed. He was their friend and mentor until he had no other choice.
“That goes without saying, but if someone were to end him, his House Of Lords would need to be cleaned out as well… Would you accept a Lordship?”
His eyes widened, but he managed to keep his jaw from sagging when he realized what I meant.
While he contemplated the idea of coming out of political retirement to help serve as a Lord for Wouter and Nicholas, I raised an eyebrow at Edward and Richard so they’d realize they were included in the survey.
Their jaws did sag, but when Connelly eventually nodded, they did too.
That was a relief… at least I wouldn’t find myself taking nothing to the think tank.