Sookie donned tights, leggings, knee-high boots, and two dresses under a heavy cashmere coat…
She was trying to distract herself from the sketch of Winston on the bed, chiding me for only wearing one layer of clothing on my legs…
I distracted myself from the possibility (if not inevitability) of Winston by asking what she knew about Mata’utia… Watching her add item after item to her body made me miss being in Louisiana, and I had to wonder how welcome I’d be in the playboy’s kingdom. I might have just been looking for an excuse to annex Louisiana as a vacation spot, but if Mata chose to make Sookie’s occasional homecomings difficult, the more I knew about him, the better.
Sookie’s answer was, “Thirty-nine nights.”
She meant that we’d be in Bon Temps in thirty-nine nights, but she didn’t specifically say that… She could have just as easily meant that I’d be able to add to my empire in thirty-nine nights.
The Vampires’ coats, gloves and skull caps had been warmed by the fireplace in the parlor, helping to add much-needed heat to our bodies… and Simon had handed out heat packs for everyone’s pockets…
Everyone was as insulated as we could be as we left… Lars, Simon, Alcide, Gerrit, Swaantje, Gawain, Cornelius, Mee, Selma, Edward, Richard, Sierra, Corbett and Daan…
A friendly four by four formation…
As we walked along the driveway, the birds left the roof of the castle to fly towards the feast, and Sookie concentrated her attention in that direction…
She wrapped her arm around mine, and held Daan’s hand as she coached him through scanning a crowd at a distance… She was doing everything she could to ignore the drawing of Winston, and I was trying to figure out why the fuck anyone would name a child Winston.
There were no less than a hundred Shifters, approximately a dozen Dae or semi-Dae, and two Vampires mixed into nearly a thousand Humans waiting to fawn over Sookie.
The mass waiting for Ana Louis at the barricades along the road bawled and screamed and bellowed.
It might have been a defense mechanism that allowed me to forget how loud the crowd at the airfield had been.
The noise was nearly deafening by the time we’d cleared the archway of the garage…
And the flashes…
Hundreds of flash bulbs burst from the top of the crowd while Sookie smiled and waved, shaking the eager hands being offered from between the shoulders of Igon’s men.
They asked so many questions there was no way for Sookie to answer them all even if some of them weren’t so gallingly crass that Daan wasn’t comfortable translating them.
Once we were led through the gauntlet, we were ushered into the next circle of Dante’s Inferno… Amidst a colony of smaller party tents on the east lawn, the enormous party tent teemed like a bee hive… The rest of the sycophants were waiting.
The interior was arranged with a wall of buffet tables, and dozens of large banquet tables where most of the waiting crowd was seated…
As we realized the tent was equipped with heat, Sookie mumbled that the bright side to the situation was that she didn’t need to worry about anyone. The temperature was high enough that most of the fans inside seemed comfortable without their coats on.
The horde consisted primarily of parents and teens… I couldn’t imagine how much more insane the mood could have been if the food and drink available hadn’t sedated them to an extent.
The Shifters in the crowd offered deep respectful nods in our direction as we moved through the tent to an area where there were hundreds of flower arrangements, stuffed animals, and drawings left as offerings… and the press had preset their equipment.
In all of the madness, I had to remind myself how much worse it could have been.
For the most part, the fans were gathered around tables as normal wedding guests would be, and as the fans from the barricades filed into the tent, their mood had calmed substantially.
We were still being blinded by cameras when Sookie shook her head. “This isn’t going to work.”
The press was already crowding in around us, cornering us… Ana Louis fans had better photos of the reporters’ backs than they did of Sookie.
Sookie pointed to the other side of the tent. “Sorry, but y’all are going to have to back off. I know you’ve got cameras with excellent zooms…”
One of them, an American, argued, “Come on, Miss Louis. You know the drill.”
She corrected, “Mrs. Northman. I’ve never ignored y’all before. You can snap pictures from the other side of the tent.”
“Are you not going to answer any questions?”
“One each…” The seventeen reporters shared a round of looks for a moment before Sookie offered, “Feel free to sidebar and consolidate your lists while I make rounds. Y’all know you want to ask pretty much the same questions anyway.”
I added, “Or you can be detained until your loved ones forget what you look like.”
One of the reporters chuckled to the others as he grabbed a camera case, “That answered one of my questions.”
I asked, “Which one is that?”
“How the most private King in Europe feels about the attention his blushing bride gets.”
“Don’t confuse how proud I am of my wife’s accomplishments with how irritating reporters’ senses of entitlement are.”
“Have a problem with the press, Your Majesty?”
“Saying yes would be like saying I hate all people because a select few are insufferable gobshites.”
Another reporter, a French woman, chuckled, “Before we’re off, Ana, can we get a shot of your necklace?”
Sookie giggled, “Hell no. That means I’d have to unwrap…” She began removing her left glove and offered, “You can get the wedding ring though. I’m going to lose my gloves when I sign autographs anyway.”
The reporter who’d asked, began photographing Sookie’s hand immediately, but the one who’d been argumentative snorted, “Covering up bite marks, are we?”
Without warning, Simon grabbed the back of the prick’s coat and yanked him through the tent while Selma explained, “King Northman’s patience for the press is limited to his respect for his wife and her audience. You’ll all be doing yourselves a tremendous favor to keep in mind that Ana’s audience, by extension yours, is too young to be inundated with graphic information. If you don’t respect their privacy as a couple, you’ll never get another quote from Mrs. Northman. Are we clear on the matter of decorum?”
An Englishman offered, “Good little boys and girls, mum… Don’t forget, some of us are trophy wives. Mrs. Northman spoils us, but we know our place.”
Good boy indeed.
As one of them backed away, moving towards the other side of the tent as Sookie suggested, she offered, “We’ll be adding to the stock photos of Ana playing with her fans… and keeping our fingers crossed that we might get a shot of the happy couple kissing or cutting one of the wedding cakes? Maybe?”
Sookie giggled at the hint while the Englishman asked, “Will the King be answering any questions?”
“Why would you have questions for me?”
The man shrugged. “You’re a recluse, no offense. You’ve got thousands of people on your lawn. You’ve suddenly got a house full of guests… Your peaceful existence was so completely shattered I doubt you’ll ever find all the pieces. I’m curious about the adjustments you’re making… And I’m curious about the political reaction to the nuptials. Both Tyson and Maximo seemed to be quite taken with your bride. And I’m curious about how your stepdaughters feel about their new stepdad… Was the baby planned before your relationship with Miss Louis or did you decide to adopt together? That sort of thing.”
Sookie cringed when she looked up at me, knowing I was annoyed, but not realizing the reporter’s attempt to ask his questions prematurely was why… I’d expected a certain amount of curiosity.
I answered, “We’ve been very busy since we returned. My wife and I will be facing plenty of adjustments. Case in point, I’m meeting her fans now, but in a few nights, she’ll be presented to the Lords of the Northern Empire… Kings Tyson and Maximo were quite taken with my wife, but they’re old enough to know how to lose gracefully… I can only hope the girls are as fond of me as I am of them… and Hope was an unexpected windfall… Now that your collective only needs to think of twelve more questions, why don’t you run along.”
One of his comrades slapped the back of his head and started pulling his arm, calling him a pushy twat and declaring that he didn’t get to ask more questions.
One of them backed away, continuing to take photos, as he asked, “So… you’re the first Vampire King with a Human family?”
I nodded. “Since the Revelation, that I’m aware of…”
His eyes bulged and he lowered the camera as he stopped. “Holy shit, dude… How freaking nuts is it to you to have a baby around? That’s got to be a huge change of pace. I cringed every time I opened my medicine cabinet for a year after I married my wife… and I needed a straitjacket by the time she went into labor.”
Honestly, I couldn’t begrudge him for asking the question… but it occurred to me that I was more comfortable answering the former bachelor to former bachelor questions…
“Babies aren’t any different now than they were when I was alive, but out of all of the innovations I’ve seen, I can say that disposable diapers and wipes are noteworthy. And I have to acknowledge the medical advancements that reduce a great deal of variables. It’s not as likely for parents to find a cold cradle or lose a child to a simple infection… Parents today don’t realize how spoiled they are.”
Gawain and Selma quietly offered, “Amen,” behind me.
The reporter’s chin bounced a few times before he stammered, “You’re like a thousand, right? That’s what I found online…” When I nodded, he turned to Sookie and chuckled, “You’re not such a mystery anymore… Supernatural author with a love for history and anthropology marries a millennium of bedtime stories.”
Sookie giggled, “You got me… Now get out of here before you get docked for asking more questions.”
For the next two hours, Sookie and I moved from table to table, making rounds to visit Sookie’s doting fans…
The most popular questions regarded the ceremony that didn’t happen and Hope’s perfect health… For the most part, Sookie’s fans acted as though they’d known her for years once they introduced themselves… respectful, excited, flattering.
Gerrit and Lars offered a few of the introductions as several members of Limburg Standaard and Rotterdam Domein were in attendance…
Daan dutifully translated for Sookie whenever it was necessary, but it seemed to be that Daan was suddenly very popular thanks to his new position as Sookie’s Dutch tutor… Sookie didn’t show any preferences to his schoolmates. The one exception was a girl wearing a trilby over her multicolored hair (dyed black with several braided rainbows). Whatever made Greta different was probably the same thing that made Daan blush until his ears glowed.
And then there was the matter of the young Vampires Brandon had mentioned… I was quite sure I’d felt Sookie focusing on them several times while she posed for photos with her fans…
The first one was a constant fixture in the buffet area. He’d been sent by Clovis to keep an eye on the pastry chefs he’d sent. A simple, yet brilliant, maneuver… If he’d sent an older Vampire, it could have been perceived as a threat or a spy. At Yves’s age he was so harmlessly nervous, he looked like he could break a sweat while Sookie sampled a truffle prepared by Clovis’s chefs. He actually looked like he might faint when Sookie asked one of the chefs to package some of the sweets so she could take them home.
The second newborn was much more interesting… Corrado DiPolito was lurking until Sookie noticed him, so Gawain interrupted Corrado’s nonchalant exit… He’d driven from Lisbon on the off chance that he might meet Ana Louis, but barely into his third decade, he was hilariously tongue-tied. Language wasn’t as much of a barrier as his anxiety, but his Italian accent was extremely thick.
It didn’t seem as though we were going to hear more than his name and origin from him…
Sookie finally tried, “Corrado’s not a common name, but I met one a couple of years ago… He even looked like you.”
I was sure Sookie wouldn’t have mentioned it unless there was a connection… even if his eyes hadn’t lit up.
Sookie offered, “The poor guy was ten, and his sister was eight, when their parents disappeared between a friend’s wedding and home. Corrado and Daniela’s cousin was already staying with them. She took very good care of them until Corrado was old enough to take over the farm…”
More of Sookie’s bread and butter…
Corrado asked, “How you meet him?”
Sookie whispered, “Because his daughter loves the Notorious books. She’s a telepath like me…” Corrado began crying as Sookie continued, “Concetta, named after her grandmother, suggested she’d be perfect in the role of Tina if movies were made from the books, but her twin brother, Primo, was distracted. They found us on holiday and Sierra’s bikini was too much for him.”
He choked, “Corrado e Daniela must hate their parents. Running away.”
“To the contrary… Daniela discovered the existence of Vampires while she was on her honeymoon in Milan. They decided to hope their parents had become Vampires so they’d be reunited eventually. They’re an incredible family. If you’re ever in Como…”
He gulped and croaked, “They never left?”
Sookie shook her head. “Of course not. If they left, their parents wouldn’t know where to find their six grandchildren… What happened, Corrado?”
“Car accident… e tire burst, car crashe over railing… My wife didn’t survive, but mi Allevare…”
“The scent of your blood baited your Maker, huh?”
He nodded, too dumbfounded to acknowledge that his face was streaked with bloody tears. “Tell me about them.”
“I don’t want to take the fun out of it for Corrado…” She reached for her cell phone, and asked for his.
He watched, too frightened to stop her, while she dialed his phone with the help of her own contact list.
A man with a smooth baritone answered, “Buonasera.”
Sookie offered, “Corrado, this is Ana Louis.”
His voice rumbled when he laughed, “Ah. Of course! Froma you honeymoon, you call me. We hava something especial, some chemistry, eh? Mi Connie, she tella you her mother come aftera me with a knife cuzza you bathing suit, eh?”
Sookie giggled, “Should I have woken up Primo or Concetta?”
After a moment of stunned silence, he asked, “Es you? Es really Ana?”
“Mi scusi! I thought is joke.”
“I expected as much… I was wondering how serious you were when you told me to keep an eye out for your father…”
“Eh. You gotta betteh things to worry about, but iffa you new husband knows e Lombardi Vampire, you tella him we hava party to make.”
Sookie raised a knowing eyebrow at the young Vampire. “What if a Lombardi Vampire showed up at the wedding feast on the off chance I’ve been networking?”
Corrado (the younger) boomed, “Babbo!? He there! Witha you!? He…”
Sookie offered, “He introduced himself as Corrado DiPolito, but Daniela wasn’t exaggerating when she said you look like him. I actually called from his phone…”
“TI AMO! TI AMO!”
Sookie giggled again, “Do you want to talk to him?”
“Si! Si! Certamente! Grazie! Grazie!”
Sookie smiled at the Vampire as she offered his phone to him. When he took it, he kissed the back of her hand. “Any favor, Signora Northman, grazie.”
“You’re welcome… Now go get warmed up.”
As Corrado walked away, Cornelius asked, “You found his family?”
Sookie shook her head. “I know of a hybrid who can do that, but Corrado’s family found me. Curiosity draws hybrids out. Eric and Gawain saw it at my most recent signing.”
“Curiosity about what?”
“A lot of us don’t know why we have extra abilities and we tend to feel isolated because of it. Some of us have a clue, but they’re older like my father. There were a lot of us who were orphaned in the 70s and 80s… That just so happens to coincide with a flare-up between clans.”
And thanks to the braid, we knew Corbett had been the intended target of the flood that killed his mother instead.
Cornelius and Mee looked like they’d been hit…
Alcide chuckled quietly, “You’re like a Supernatural lost and found… So, the kid… Daan lost his folks the same way?”
Daan shook his head. “My mom messed up her heart taking diet pills because she modeled. I’ve never met my father. He was American though.”
Most of our entourage turned to look at Corbett.
He chuckled, “No Dutch models for me… I’m pretty sure I’m innocent.”
Daan added, “He’s a fireman in Boston. I don’t know much else…”
Sierra actually gasped, so Selma rolled her eyes and grumbled, “We’ve discussed your poker face, have we not?”
Sierra bit her bottom lip and cringed as she apologized, so Daan urged, “Do you know him? Did you meet him because of Notorious too?”
That would be poetic.
Sookie took the boy’s face in her hands and sighed, “I know you dug for info about him. How did your mother remember him?”
While they stared at each other, I asked, “Boston? Kate Driscoll? She made corned beef and cabbage and introduced you to her six adopted children and nineteen grandchildren…”
I was actually surprised I remembered the details.
Sookie released Daan and grinned at him. “And I tripped over her twentieth grandbaby right here in Eijsden…”
Daan blurted, “What do you know about him?”
“He’s still a firefighter. He goes by Dan. His wife’s a hybrid too. You’ve got a half-sister; Kathryn… Kat.”
He mumbled, “Scheiße.”
“It’s still early enough in the States. We’ll call him when we get back to the house if you want to.”
He nodded. “Can I…”
Sookie snickered when he didn’t finish. “You won’t puke. You’ll be fine… He’s a great guy. His wife’s a sweetheart. You can listen in and decide if you want to talk to him… The girls met him. Your grandmother monopolized my time, but they got to hang out with Dan and Kat.”
He repeated, “Scheiße.”
She chuckled and put her arm over his shoulder as she led us towards the eager little reporters.
The reporters had gotten their photos of Sookie choosing a favorite wedding cake, and serving a piece (to Daan’s friend Grette), and more than a few photos of Sookie holding my hand between autographs…
But the pool of reporters was docked three questions when they were finally given the chance to photograph a kiss… One of the morons demanded a second kiss ‘with fangs’.
And they wasted one of their question rations to probe about Sookie’s conversation with Corrado DiPolito.
Even though they only had eight questions left, Sookie’s interview still lasted half an hour because they’d had time to carefully word their questions to garner longer answers.
They’d saved the ‘best’ question for last…
“So Mrs. Northman, after centuries of bachelorhood, how short is your husband’s leash?”
I managed to suppress the urge to growl, but Sookie was less than amused.
She very flippantly answered, “I need a leash more than he does… but he needs to get used to sharing his house with people. I mean, if he thinks I’m going to keep scrubbing dead Vampires out of the grout he’s got another thing coming…”
I chuckled, “I started taking them outside,” and they all assumed we were joking, especially considering the laughter coming from our entourage.
If they only knew.