We landed at a private runway of Stockholm-Arlanda International Airport two hours after the sun had set on the Swedish capital. Willa and Tara had just risen from their day rest and were still a little groggy. Lafayette had apparently indulged in the plane’s mini-bar and was quite intoxicated. As for me, flying still scared me. Luckily this time I had anticipated in advance and had taken sleeping pills before boarding the plane.
What hit me first as we exited the jet wasn’t the temperature. Yes, it was colder than Louisiana, but no. What hit me first was the tall man waiting on the tarmac next to two heavily tinted black cars. Although I was sure I had never met him before, the man seemed quite familiar. One thing was sure, he was a vampire.
“Did that Cataliades guy told you he was sendin’ a welcome committee, Sook?” asked Tara, looking at the stranger suspiciously.
“Those Swedes sure are yummy!” said Lafayette, walking straight to the man.
“Miss Stackhouse?” asked the stranger, in slightly accented English.
“Yes, that’s me…” I replied.
His expression suddenly softened and a bright smile illuminated his face.
“My name is Thorfinn Gustafson, second to King Gustaf Olafson. His Majesty asked me to collect you and your party and bring you to his residence for an audience.”
Two tall men – vampires, swiftly showed Willa, Lafayette and Tara toward a SUV.
“Wait a minute! Where are your… goons taking my friends?”
The smile he gave me sent a chill down my spine. I knew that smile. I had been on the receiving end of such a smile many times, the last one being the night I had gotten my house back. It hit me like a ton of bricks, that man reminded me of Eric. Was I missing him so much that every new man I met reminded me of him?
“Miklos and Jorund are going to take good care of your friends, Miss Stackhouse. They will show them the many things Stockholm has to offer before joining us later tonight.”
I was still weary, but one look at Willa, Lafayette and even Tara and my worry were gone.
“Please, Miss Stackhouse…”
I nodded and sat in the passenger seat of the Sedan. Mr. Gustafson took the wheel and drove away.
“We will go Stockholms Centralstation and from there we will take his Majesty’s coach to Linköping. I understand it is your first time in Sweden…”
“It’s actually my first time outside of the States…”
Unless you counted my time in Faeland… But it was better to keep this information secret. I still didn’t know if I could trust this Thorfinn guy. The drive to the train station was a rather short one, less than thirty minutes. We then boarded the Royal Coach, a luxurious light tight coach.
“The train ride to Linköping should take about an hour and a half.”
I nodded and thanked the steward who offered me a cup of tea. There was an awkward silence as the train left the station.
“I wasn’t expecting his Majesty to send somebody to personally collect us from the airport…”
“His Majesty is very curious about meeting Eric the Norseman’s bonded one.”
“My past experience tells me that a vampire Monarch’s curiosity is never a good thing…”
“From what Eric told me, I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
I couldn’t hide my surprise. “Eric? You’ve seen Eric?! When? You do know we’re…”
“My excuses, Miss Stackhouse. I meant from what Eric told me when I last saw him a little more than a year ago.”
“Please, excuse my outburst, Mr. Gustafson. The last couple of days have been quite taxing…”
Again I was rewarded by this oh so familiar smile.
“No need to excuse you, Miss. And please, I would be honoured if you were to call me Thorfinn.”
“Well in that case… Thorfinn… Please, drop the Miss Stackhouse and call me Sookie.”
“As I was saying, Sookie, the last time I saw Eric was about a year and a half ago. He came for the polar nights in Kiruna.”
“The polar nights?”
“Eternal night, Sookie. 25 days of night. Many vampires congregated to those few cities located inside the polar circle. His Majesty normally holds court there every year. Eric is a regular at those gatherings. During his last trip, he told us a lot about this young telepathic fairy hybrid that had captured his attention and, although he didn’t quite acknowledged it verbally, his heart. You had been missing at the time, I think…”
It sank in that all along, Eric had loved me, or at least cared about me. I felt tears threatening to fall down. Thorfinn quickly vamped toward me, a box of tissues in his hand.
“I’m sorry, Sookie. I’m… Fan (fuck), I’ve never been good with crying women!”
I let a small laugh. “Neither was… IS Eric…”
The rest of the trip was spent chatting about everything and anything. Well, Thorfinn did most of the talking, I simply listened to everything he told me with great interest. Apparently Scandinavian countries were quite advance in their integration of vampires. While in America the VRA still hadn’t been passed and only Vermont allowed vampire-human marriage, Sweden had passed his own version of the VRA less than a year after the Great Reveal and interspecies marriage and adoption were quite common.
We finally reached Linköping and did the rest of the trip by car. We pulled in front of what could only call a palace.
“Welcome to Bjärka-Säby Castle, Sookie.”
I exited the car and took in the sight. For an American girl it was quite a shock to stand in front of a genuine European castle. The big brick building was impressive.
“It was build at the end of the 18th century and has been in the Royal Residence of his Majesty since the mid eighteen hundred.”
“Wow… It’s really nothing like I had expected.”
“King Compton’s palace doesn’t compare?” he asked, showing me toward the entrance.
“Bill’s ‘palace’ is nothing like that! It’s just an old antebellum mansion. Kinda like Tara in Gone With The Wind if you know what I mean…”
“I do. My sister, Bryn, liked this movie a lot. She had quite the crush on Clark Gable back in those days…”
We entered the castle and the interior literally took my breath away.
“Before the Great Reveal, human thought Bjärka-Säby had been turned in a museum. Of course, since then the subterfuge isn’t necessary anymore. In addition to the foreign vampire monarchs, his Majesty often hosted the Swedish human Royal family. Just last year, we held a party in honour of Crown Princess Victoria and her new husband, Prince Daniel.”
We were swiftly joined by a young woman in her early twenties – or at least she looked to have been turned in her early twenties, who vamped down the large staircase.
“Thorfinn, det är hon? Hon Erics bundna? (Thorfinn, it’s her? She’s Eric’s bonded?)”
“Brynhildr, it’s extremely rude to speak in language that our guest is unfamiliar with…”
The young vampire looked at the ground, apologetic.
“Please excuse me, Miss Stackhouse.”
“Sookie, may I introduce you to Brynhildr Gustafdotter, his Majesty’s PR and my sister.”
Sister… They looked too much alike to have only been vampire sibling.
“Miss Stackhouse, it’s a pleasure to meet Eric’s chosen one. You are really pretty.”
I blushed. “Thank you, Miss Gustafdotter. Please, call me Sookie.”
“Of course! But you must call me Bryn, then! It’s what father and Thorfinn calls me.”
Father? Was she talking about their Maker…
“Is his Majesty ready to receive Sookie, Bryn?”
The young woman nodded and took my hand, showing me to a closed door, on the left of the building.
“He is very eager to meet you, Sookie. As soon as he rose this afternoon, he has been waiting anxiously for your arrival.”
Afternoon? This Vampire King must be quite old, then. I remembered Bill telling me once that the older the vampire, the earlier he or she could rise from their day rest.
The door opened on what I deduced was some sort of throne room. Pacing the floor was a tall man who, upon our arrival, turned toward the entrance. I stopped right away. Now I knew why Thorfinn had looked so familiar.
“Sookie, allow me to introduce you to his Majesty, Gustaf Olafson, the vampire King of Sweden. Father, Miss Sookie Stackhouse, the bonded one of Eiríkr inn sigrsæli.”
Instead of vamping to us, the king walked toward us at human pace. The closer he got, the more my knees turned into jelly. Looking at him was like looking at an older version of Eric, or at least what Eric would have looked like had he not been turned in his late twenties, early thirties. Same eyes, same nose, same chin. When the king finally reached us he took my hand and dropped a kiss on it.
“Miss Stackhouse, welcome to Sweden…”
“You must call her Sookie, father” said Bryn, nearly jumping up and down with excitement.
“Please excuse my daughter, Sookie… May I call you Sookie?”
I could barely nod.
“Brynhildr has been quite eager to meet you ever since Eric told us about you during his last visit.”
“Father!” exclaimed the young woman.
“Bryn, why don’t we leave father and Sookie alone” suggested Thorfinn.
“But I wanted…”
“Sookie won’t vanish into thin air, min dotter. You won’t, won’t you Sookie? You haven’t mastered this fae trait of popping yet?”
I frowned, a little lost. “No, I…”
“You see, Brynhildr, Sookie will still be here. Now, why don’t you go and call Jorund and Miklos and see when they plan to bring the rest of our American visitors.”
The two younger vampires left, the young woman pouting. I was now alone with the vampire King. I was so intimated that I couldn’t even mutter a word.
“From your expression I can tell you are a little surprised. Please, follow me. My chef has prepared a light lunch. I imagine that after such a long trip you must be hungry.”
We sat down at a little bistro type table full of pastry.
“Please, you must call me Gustaf. You are, afterall, Eric’s bonded one, which makes you family.”
“You… Eric… He looks just like you!”
The king laughed, a laughed so much like Eric’s.
“The truth is, I look like him. Not the other way around, since Eric is my elder. I imagine you recognize some family traits upon meeting Thorfinn, right?”
“Yes, I have to admit. Upon meeting him he seemed so familiar.”
“I would imagine. He is Eric’s… what is it in English? Oh, yes. First cousin twice removed.”
I tried to think what it meant, but my mind was still blown away.
“Let me explain” said the King, handing me a plate full of deliciously looking goodies. “As you must have figured out, Thorfinn and Brynhildr are not only my vampire progenies, but my human children. My Maker was, in his human life, a Roman centurion. At the time of my turning, Thorfinn had just reached his tenth winter and Brynhildr was still just a babe.”
There was something in his eyes… Regrets. I had seen it more than once in Eric’s own eyes, especially when we spoke of Godric.
“To put it simply, my Maker was quite the psycho. Nearly twenty years I endured by his side, watching him rape young men and draining them and ordering me to partake in the blood orgy. That is, until we came upon Godric and Eric. I think you had the privilege of meeting the Gaul before he met the True Death.”
I nodded as I remembered the vampire I had once qualified as the most human vampire of my acquaintance.
“Appius held a grudge against Godric since he had turned Eric. You see, my Maker had been stalking Eric in the hope of making him the perfect progeny, but Godric got to him faster. In a way I was second best. Appius challenged Godric and Godric won. And I was finally free. I went back to my village, found that my wife and children had all died, except for Thorfinn and Brynhildr. Seeing my children proved to be too much for me. I’m a little ashamed to say that I turned them without their consent. Luckily neither of them seems to hold it against me.”
I smiled. I remembered Bill telling me how hard it had been to leave his family behind.
“Now, as to our relationship to Eric… We come from a long line of Viking warriors. My great-grandfather was Eiríkr Anundsson, who is now considered one of Sweden legendary King. He had two sons, his heir, Ulfrik, and my own grandfather, Ring, who had my father, Olaf. Ulfrik’s son is now known as Eiríkr inn sigrsæli, Eric the Victorious. His exploits are known throughout Scandinavia. But today, he is simply known as Eric Northman.”
Gosh, Gran would have loved that! I knew that Eric had been a Viking in his human life, but the son of a King? The grandson of a legendary King? No wonder he seemed so at ease on his throne at Fangtasia.
“Eiríkr spent many years trying to avenge the death of his family, until he completely disappeared. Being childless, his crown and throne went to my father, Olaf, then, upon my own father’s death, to me.”
“So you truly are a King?”
It was more a statement than a question.
“In a way, although when I was first offered the vampire crown of Sweden, I felt I had the duty to first offer it to Eric. He was my elder and once I learned he was still alive, although undead, I always felt as some sort of usurper. He, of course, refused stating that he never had any ambitions of being King.”
I knew that already. Eric had had more than one occasion to swiftly dispose of Bill, but he had said he was happy in his piece of Louisiana as a mere Sheriff.
“He then proceeded to tell me how I remembered him of his father and that, even though he was the oldest, he would always view me as a paternal figure.”
The King… Gustaf… took a sip of a gold goblet before taking a deep breath that I knew he didn’t need.
“I want you to know that you will always have allies in me and my children, Sookie. We, Vikings, tend to protect our kin. And this is what you are, Sookie. You are Eric’s bonded.”
He kneeled in front of me, taking my hand.
“Your Majesty… Gustaf…”
“Sookie Stackhouse, bonded one of my kinsman Eiríkr inn sigrsæli, I, Gustaf Olafson, vampire King of Sweden, hereby pledge my allegiance to you. Should you ever find yourself in need, my children and I will stand by your side.”
I wasn’t very knowledgeable on vampire politics and practices, but I knew that such a pledge of allegiance to a human, to a human-fairy hybrid in fact, wasn’t common.
“Thank you, Gustaf” I said, once I was able to talk. “I accept your pledge with great honour.”
He smiled before getting up.
“Now… About Eric’s whereabouts…”
Author Note: So you see, just like with Dead Briefs, I’ve changed some of the TB Cannon story. I hope you like this version where Appius turned Eric’s second cousin since he couldn’t turn our Viking when Godric beat him to it. I’ve also played a little with History, but know that Eiríkr inn sigrsæli, Ring of Sweden and Eiríkr Anundsson are all based on legendary Swedish King. And Bjärka-Säby Castle is actually a real castle in Linköping.
Now for the fun part 😉 I did a casting for these three new characters, Gustaf, Thorfinn and Brynhildr. You will, perhaps, recognized them…