Gawain followed as I carried Sookie back to our room…
I should have showered when I rose so we could be ready to leave when the sun set. Delays were risky when we were traveling so far.
I set Sookie on the floor and opened my bag to remove my jeans and T-shirts… Not just the ones I’d wear after my shower, all of them.
I started pulling my clothing off and offered, “My hosts were remarkably well-prepared for skippers… If you’re looking for busy-work, you could make a list of items to have your father preset for visitors.”
“Good idea… Sweetie, are you sure you’re alright?”
I nodded and stepped into the tub, “It won’t take a moment…”
Sookie interrupted, “No rush… The itinerary changed a bit during the day… We have a problem.”
“The time-zones. If we leave right now, we’d return to Eijsden with just enough time to spare before you die for the day.”
“We already knew that.”
There was a thud just before Gawain grunted and answered, “There are thousands of people waiting at the castle… The happy couple’s well-wishers. I received emails from every one of your Lords about their new Queen Consort. This wouldn’t be so bad, because Vampires just gossip about the politics behind every move, but Sookie’s fame adds to the chaos. We have a royal celebrity wedding on our hands… And you’re the first fucking Vampire monarch to wed since Halfdan and Ana.”
Sookie whimpered, “I’m so sorry, Eric.”
That would explain why Hope had been inconsolable until she’d been given to me… The tension in the house had to have been palpable.
I moved the curtain and shook my head. “Don’t be… Have you spoken to Allecks?”
She nodded. “He… he’s not an issue… He’s being pretty cool about the clusterfuck…”
Gawain offered, “We’ve re-strategized. Gerrit is swamped. He’s mustered the whole of Limburg Koninklijk and Standaard and he’s protecting the property with the local police force and Mee’s soldiers. There still isn’t any way to get through the horde between landing and dawn… Even if we took a helicopter from the landing strip to the castle’s lawn, there’s too much risk right now.”
Sookie whined, “Not that there’s room on the lawn… Eric, they’re sending wedding gifts. My fans and your subjects… the other monarchs too…”
Gawain continued, “We aren’t in a rush. Miles left earlier. He’s returning to Eijsden tonight to help with crowd control at the castle. We’re going to New York. You and Sookie will do an interview for Good Morning America to settle the rumors. The crowd should disperse once the viral videos and photos have been debunked.”
“If we’re going to New York, why are the boys and Francesca staying behind?”
“To man the switchboards to get ahead of the Vampire rumor mill. We’ll spend the night in New York, then return to Eijsden the following night.”
Sookie whimpered, “Did I say I’m sorry?”
“It’s not your fault Humans are stupid… Why hasn’t the property been warded?”
Gawain answered, “Sullivan doesn’t think the barrier will work against a swarm of people who don’t mean any harm… but the more important problem is that he’d need to move about on the perimeter undetected while reciting incantations.”
“The perimeter lined with curious Human’s, hoping to be one of the first to lay eyes on the Princess of Hotshot and her new husband… And I assume Gerrit has tried to announce we aren’t in Eijsden, but they either don’t believe him or plan to wait until we return.”
If the situation wasn’t such a threat to security, I might have laughed.
Gawain nodded, but Sookie gasped, “You think this is funny?”
I shrugged and turned back to the water. “How did you live so privately in Bern?”
“The house isn’t in my name. It’s in trust for Lindy. Allecks gets more fans at our old flat… and Selma did her thing. I have a ‘neighbor’ across the street who watches the house on surveillance cameras.”
I chuckled, “The cameras you warned me about when we first met.”
“Yeah… Eric, this is bad. What the hell are we going to do? Everyone knows where we live now.”
“It isn’t everyone. The crowd can’t be much more than Eijsden residents… Are there crowds at my other houses?”
“Yes… so… this is a local thing?”
“I’m sure it is… I’d venture to guess the crowd in Eijsden is larger than the others…”
“You made a public appearance at Daan’s school, Sookie. Most of the locals know I own the castle. I don’t stay anywhere on a schedule so no one knows when I’ll be at any of them. This will die down.”
Gawain offered, “Gerrit needs time. He doesn’t have the resources to add to the Koninklijk. We don’t have a problem once the sun sets, but Sookie’s safety during the day…”
“What kind of wedding gifts?”
There was a brief pause… long enough for me to realize being amused wasn’t practical at the moment.
Gawain offered, “The wrapped gifts have been stored in one of the outbuildings… the bulk of the gifts are accompaniments for your wedding feast.”
Sookie sighed, “Saskia said there are crates of smoked fish, caviar, champagne, mead, wine, chocolates, sweets, blood… A bunch of sheep staged a breakout while Gerrit was trying to figure out what to do with them… It’s complete chaos. How the fuck are we going to send back sheep!?”
Gawain added, “And pigs and cattle. Connelly sent horses though. I say you keep those.”
“Give me and Sookie a moment… Actual privacy. Call Gerrit to offer an unlimited budget so he can hire every temporary guard he can find. Call Sullivan and have him ward the property against ill will and to ward the actual castle and moat as tightly as possible. If anyone asks, he’s performing a Norse marriage blessing. They’re Humans, they’ll believe it.”
He was leaving when I opened the curtain and Sookie was on the verge of tears again.
When I stepped out of the tub, she moved to sit on the counter. “I’m not sure I’d enjoy being interviewed.”
She offered a towel and sighed, “That’s what I was afraid of. I can do it by myself though. I understand. This is my mess.”
“I meant that I’m not sure about the tactic…”
“It was the best thing Gawain and I could think of.”
“Sookie, you need to talk to Selma about the effects this could have on your reputation as a children’s author.”
“Fuck my image…”
I shook my head and took the jeans she was holding. “No. You’re in a very fragile position right now… Your books, your crusade to help displaced and estranged children, are more important. You can’t dismiss how significant your image is. Can you afford to risk seeming like my blut hur when your audience is subject to parental supervision? Could your audience think of the gossip as a publicity ploy and become disenchanted?”
She closed her eyes and whimpered, “If I hadn’t been so annoyed by Allecks, we would have just gotten a normal room. I just know the honeymoon suite was the tipping point.”
“What’s done is done. Are you expecting Selma to arrive soon?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Any minute… if her head didn’t explode as soon as she rose…” There was a knock on the front door and Sookie frowned. “Great. I guess they tracked the flophouse down.”
“Gawain will send them away without a memory of the location…”
Proving me wrong, Gawain called for Sookie.
“Or not…” I had to hold her to keep her from leaving. “We’ll tell them we’re married. The Lord Magistrate witnessed our bond. Edward and Richard were our witnesses and the only other people in attendance were your children.”
Her jaw dropped… she stared back at me catatonically for a moment before she breathed, “That’s crazy.”
“You’re already bonded to a monster, Sookie. Between us, what difference does a Human formality make?”
“I don’t guess it makes much difference… but I’m not sure even that will work.”
I left her long enough to take my phone from the nightstand and asked for Selma’s phone number.
I wasn’t daft enough to presume to know more about publicity than Sookie’s publicist.
She answered, “Majesty?”
“Eric. I assume you’ve heard the news.”
“I have… I’m… these videos online…”
“Sookie and Gawain have spent the day making plans. They arranged for Sookie and me to be interviewed on Good Morning America in an effort to correct the rumors.”
“I’m more concerned with safety at the moment. There is footage of the castle taken from a news helicopter. There are thousands… They’re watching the estate from the other side of the river and blocking access to the property… Allecks confirmed she was staying in Eijsden when he was initially confronted by the press…” She paused for a moment and sighed. “If you… pardon my frankness, but if you deny the rumors, this could be spun in several ways… The studio released the news of the deal as soon as I faxed our contracts back to them last night… so this wedding could look like a publicity stunt. And even worse, given the Notorious Series’s perspective on Vampires, a conspiracy theory could be born. Some could think the books were part of an agenda to brainwash children despite their parents’ beliefs… and that your fangbanger has been your puppet… This could be quite bad for Vampires and Sookie’s career.”
Another unpleasant possibility.
“Or Sookie and I can issue a press release acknowledging our marriage…”
There was a long enough pause on Selma’s end for me to realize she was watching the videos that had been taken last night at Waller’s Inn. Watermelon Crawl was playing in the background accompanied by stomping and clapping.
“Selma, Sookie’s overwhelmed. I’m out of my element since this is a matter of public opinion… We’re yielding to your opinion. What is the best way to keep Sookie’s reputation from suffering?”
“My Kingdom isn’t a factor. My Lords are all friends and comrades who were pleased to take their posts. None of them want the Kingdom. Lordship is a guise for their collective retirement from being sent on errands.”
“If keeping a Human wife isn’t a concern for you… Is Sookie with you?”
“She can hear you, yes.”
“You’re already bonded, which some Humans wouldn’t understand if they were spoon-fed…. Honestly, Sookie… I think Eric is right. In addition to the obvious advantages to being protected by every Vampire in the Northern Kingdom, being married and raising your four children with your husband is a much prettier concept than being a pet and subjecting your children to monsters. We’re slaves to public imagination, darling. We can’t help that… I can draft the press release when I return to the flophouse.”
Sookie took a hard swallow and nodded as though Selma could see her.
I offered, “It seems as though we’re choosing the pretty option. Will you return soon?”
“We’re leaving Corbett’s now.”
“Good. I’ll start working towards solving our other problems.”
I ended the call and turned to leave the bathroom, but Sookie caught my arm. “Eric… I don’t want… this isn’t… I don’t want to marry you because it’s the lesser of two evils.”
I chuckled at her. “You won’t… you already committed yourself to me, turning my existence inside out in the most infuriating and enjoyable ways I can imagine. When I died this morning, I’d already come to realize I wouldn’t allow you to escape me… This isn’t an evil. It’s a formality… With or without a press release, you’re Mine.”
Her lip trembled. “I don’t want you to regret this.”
I took her hand and led her from the bathroom. “I doubt that will happen… I’m already regretting that I didn’t treat you like a queen from the moment we met.”
Gawain was waiting in the living room with the children… Edward and Richard were pacing, awaiting instructions… Francesca was fawning over Hope while Jenny changed her into a sleeper that actually fit.
Gawain started, “Gerrit said he’d do his best, but given the size of the property, he’s expecting to need dozens of rovers. Sullivan was already working on a spell but he’s concerned about exceptions. Sookie’s company is on the porch. Alcide Herveaux and Simon Saint-Cyr.”
At least it wasn’t the press.
“Change of plans… Girls, get used to the title Lady. I’m your new step-father…”
Hope was the only one whose eyes didn’t bulge.
Misty snorted, “Mon cul. I’m no Lady.”
I chuckled as I continued, “We’re concerned the media coverage being debunked could send the wrong message to Ana Louis’s readers… and to my subjects… King Eric Northman wed Queen Consort Ana Louis Friday night in Eijsden. Lords Gawain, Edward and Richard were witnesses. Hope’s adoption was already planned… Gawain, Hadley needs to be glamoured into non-disclosure otherwise she’s likely to expose Sookie’s identity or try to blackmail her somehow. Edward, Richard, call the other Lords to make the official announcement. Make sure they know the children are under their protection as well, and have each of them send at least three guards to Eijsden tonight. We’ll wait to leave until dawn. We’ll return to Maastricht just after sunset.”
Everyone gawked for a moment before the boys and Gawain wandered in different directions, lifting their phones…
Francesca asked, “Is there anything I can do, Eric?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think there is… Selma will draft the press release when she arrives… Girls, would you like to call Dinh and Saskia about making arrangements for a banquet? Perhaps on the east lawn on the other side of gate. They’ll need catering, music and tents. We need a way to entertain the horde so my Witch can ward the castle and grounds inconspicuously.”
Lindy gave me an excited nod. “That sounds fun, but… there’s so many people out there.”
“They’ll need to call every catering company they can find. The celebration should continue non-stop for days, starting as soon as the first truck can be unloaded. We’ll make occasional appearances, but boundaries need to be established.”
Misty and Lindy left the living room, barreling to their bedroom… and I led Sookie to the porch.
Alcide and Simon were standing, taut and anxious, at the base of the steps.
Simon took a deep breath and started, “I abjured the fool. Chaz Lowry. Couyon sold video a’you celebration… for the price’a new truck. He came’a Inn to show off, for true… Couldn’t be sorrier for your misère, me.”
Sookie actually felt sympathetic. “Thanks Simon… We don’t blame you. The wedding rumors started because we wear matching pendants. The seed was planted before we let ourselves have so much fun at your place.”
He gave her a relieved nod and Alcide offered, “Everything still got set off by a member of Cane River. We want to know if there’s anything we can do to help out. I’m surprised the property isn’t crawling with reporters.”
Sookie shrugged, “The place is in my dad’s name… We’re leaving to go home tonight so we should be alright for the time being.”
I asked, “Do you have any men you can spare? Temporary guards? We have a crowd control problem during the day. $2000 per week plus travel and expenses.”
Alcide and Simon shared a loaded glance before they started nodding.
Alcide offered, “We have a handful of guys… Would a dozen help?”
“Can they be mustered by midnight?”
“As early as it is, I don’t see why not.”
“We’ll have a plane waiting for them. They’ll go in advance so my Morph Baas can issue orders before we return.”
Sookie turned and darted into the house, returning with a pen… She quickly took Alcide and Simon’s hands to write her phone number and then jotted theirs on her hand.
Even though she was excitedly thanking them for their offer to help, they seemed uneasy to have her touch them… and that was before she gave them both grateful hugs and pecks on their cheeks.
Better her than me. An extra dozen Wolves on the property would definitely relieve some of Gerrit’s burden… and my worry.
Dying for the day with thousands of ‘adoring fans’ surrounding the property.
As soon as we were in the house again, Sookie ran for her phone so she could charter another flight and make reservations for the temporary guards…
And I dialed Allecks’s number.
I settled onto the sofa next to Jenny and she rested her head against my arm while the phone rang.
Allecks answered, grunting, “Hallo.”
“Allecks, this is Eric.”
He grunted again and asked, “Has something happened?”
“Of sorts. There’s no need to worry though. Everyone is quite well.”
“Then what is it?”
“You weren’t the only person who believed that Sookie and I married. I hear there’s quite the party happening in Eijsden.”
He mumbled, “It looked like a mob online.”
“Allecks, when we spoke earlier, I told you Sookie and I hadn’t married. I told you there would be an official announcement.”
He cautiously said, “I remember.”
“The media coverage has caused a bit of a PR nightmare. Selma’s opinion on the matter is that Sookie and I should confirm the rumors because publicizing the truth could harm Sookie’s reputation.”
“What does that mean?”
“This is the conversation I promised earlier. Admittedly, I didn’t expect for this to happen, but as of just a few moments ago, Sookie and I are married. We’re backdating to Friday as far as the public is concerned though.”
“You… you’re telling me the rumors were wrong, but you and Sookie have been forced to marry because of them.”
“I wouldn’t say forced… Since Sookie and I are bonded, an official marriage is superfluous… I’d compare it to a Vampire paying taxes for health care.”
After a moment he asked, “A marriage of convenience?”
“As opposed to allowing Ana Louis to seem like a blut hur who was used as part of an agenda to temper public opinion of Vampires… yes.”
He cleared his throat and sighed, “Why are you calling me then?”
“Sookie is preoccupied with making arrangements for us to return to Eijsden amidst the insanity… I promised you wouldn’t be blindsided…”
“Thank you… Should I delay my trip to Eijsden?”
“I don’t see why that will be necessary. We’ll have to make obligatory appearances, but that shouldn’t be cause to cancel your visit… The chaos could continue for a while…”
Sookie walked into the living room, half speaking to herself, “I’ve got to call Allecks… If he hears the announcement, his head will explode.”
I held my phone out to her. “I have him on the line now…” She froze mid-stride and cringed. “You should invite him to stay at the castle. He’ll have no peace if he tries to stay at a hotel. He’ll be recognized by the press.”
She covered the receiver and whispered, “I know we’ll already have guys in the house, but are you going to be comfortable with a constant presence for a weekend?”
I nodded. “I prefer the idea of him being in a warded castle with the children than traveling from place to place. He’s been cornered by reporters twice this week.”
She sighed and offered, “The temporary guards are taking our New York flight to Eijsden. They’ll room at the hotel just off the property… Our new flight leaves for Eijsden at four. Are you sure you’re okay with that?”
I nodded. “Just this once. We’ll die and rise during the flight… The primary risks come from being moved between locations while we’re dead. Too many things can go wrong.”
She sighed again and took my phone to the back of the house to talk to Allecks…
Jenny asked, “Do you want to see the video?” She wasn’t nearly as cheerful as usual.
“I don’t know. Does it make me look fat?”
She almost smiled. “It’s very flattering.”
“Do you not want to help your sisters plan the feast?”
She took a hard swallow and began scooting towards the edge of the sofa… but she looked like she was going to cry.
“I wasn’t trying to get rid of you… I was only curious…” I took her wrist to keep her from leaving. “Hold on… Francesca, since you offered…”
She nodded eagerly. “Anything you need.”
“Do you know if your designer friends make wedding gowns?”
“Formal gowns available in white, yes.”
I reminded her of what she’d said last night, “With a celebrity model like Sookie…”
She smiled as she left her seat. “I’ll contact them about sending photos of what they have…”
“Tell me what’s bothering you.”
She shook her head slightly, using Hope as a distraction. “Nothing.”
“I learned, a long time ago, to never believe a female when she says ‘nothing’ is bothering them. It’s just a trap so they can throw something when their target is distracted.”
She almost smiled again. “Liz?”
“My mother was first. Her weapon of choice was firewood… What’s keeping you from joining in the fun with your sisters? Lindy is vying for wedding cakes and balloon releases.”
She shrugged. “I just don’t want to do the wrong thing.”
“You couldn’t possibly. You’re too clever to be overambitious. You’re too considerate to be insensitive. And you’re too lovely to hide your smile under so much anxiety. Don’t agonize and keep yourself from having fun.”
She nodded. “K… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for all the idiots who didn’t know better than to treat you like just another child. They’re beneath you.”
Gawain jogged down the stairs chuckling, “I’m off to see Hadley. I have my phone…”
“We’ll call if we think of anything, but a simple glamour for her to-”
He leaned over the back of the sofa to kiss my cheek and cooed, “Welcome back. I missed you.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I promise. The next time I go to Wal-Mart with Elvis, I’ll take you with me.”
He chuckled, “Not the braid… You. It’s been too long since you’ve taken a situation by the short hairs. I’d almost forgotten how sexy it is.”