It might surprise you to know that the concept of independence was heavily frowned upon in my human culture. It might surprise you to know that my human life was never truly my own. My father was a chieftain, though he was little known beyond the people-groups that immediately surrounded our own.
Because of the times and the way of things, he was what one could call “a big fish in a little pond.” I had an older brother, Leifr. He was my father’s heir, and he was to be the one who would take over the village when my father died or became too old or infirmed to rule.
One might think that the fact that I had an older brother let me “off the hook.” But the times were different then—very different. I was a “spare” son—no more, no less. Thus, it was my duty to prepare as if I would one day rule, while at the same time showing clear deference to my brother. It was a difficult proposition to balance these conflicting ideas, but if I showed any ambition while Leifr was alive, I understood—and accepted—that he would kill me. And—if he didn’t—my father would. You must understand; it’s just the way things were. I had no bitterness against them. In fact, “bitterness” was not an emotion I learned until much later.
And, truly, I never had a thought that my life could be any different. I never wanted for it to be different. I simply did my duty—and did it in the way it was required of me. Indeed, the life I led was mapped out from my birth.
I hope that you will indulge me as I further explain.
I was never asked if I wanted to learn the sword. I was never consulted over whether I wanted to learn to hunt and to plant crops. I was simply taught these things. I was deemed a man at twelve and sent on raids with the other men. I was told to kill people I didn’t know and to take things that didn’t belong to me, but I never questioned the morality of such things. Those things simply were. Had I been in a group that took women against their will as a part of the conquest, I am certain that I would have done as they did, but I was not in such a group—for which I am now grateful—so I did not adopt that practice. However, my people did capture slaves when we were on our raids. If they survived and proved cooperative and productive, they would eventually become members of our village.
Sometimes, the slaves would become the lovers of various warriors; whether they were female or male didn’t much matter. I suppose they were similar to the modern individuals who choose to be prostitutes or strippers because their career choices are limited. The other slaves that were taken were most often put into the fields—to work the crops. But they didn’t question their place in the world any more than anyone else did. Most of them simply toiled like the rest of us and were eventually absorbed into our culture—adapting to the roles that they were given and having children of their own that continued in the same vein. Honestly, anyone we captured who was unlikely to fulfill his or her expected role was easy enough to spot, and these people were generally thrown to the sea over the sides of our longboats before our return trip home was finished.
I suppose you would view all of this as savagery. But—to us—it was simply life.
Leifr married a woman named Aude when he was sixteen. I think she was around fourteen, which was closer to my age at the time. Almost immediately, she conceived a child—a sign of my brother’s virility and worth. And when she bore a son, my status changed again. I became much less valuable in a way, but I was still expected to serve a role. I was a trained warrior, and I was to have my father’s and brother’s and nephew’s backs. I was to hunt for the people of the village. I was to kill when needed to increase my people’s worth. I was to perform my duty without question.
Oh—don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my life in a way. I remember laughing as I sparred with my brother or other men in the village. I remember boasting when I killed the largest buck of the season one year. I remember listening to the stories told around fires with smiles of anticipation on my face. But the main aspect of my life was duty.
With the male line secured through my brother, my father was limited in the kinds of marriages that he could arrange for me. I would, of course, have to marry a woman of status, but she could no longer be too valuable of a prize. Thus, my father bided his time in marrying me off, looking for me to further distinguish myself in battle so that my potential breeding stock could become an element he could barter with.
However, things changed when my brother was killed in battle—as my nephew was still an infant. Almost immediately, I was made to marry Aude. Though I think she had affection for my brother, I never saw outward grief from her. And I was in her bed, fulfilling my duties as her husband, within a week of Leifr’s death.
Without pause or question, I took over the raising of my dead brother’s son. And when Aude began to bear my children, I never thought to raise mine above Leifr’s son. In my mind, they were all one; thus, I began training Leifr’s boy to be chieftain.
Eventually, Aude bore a second son—a spare.
Soon after, my own father died. And I took over as the leader of my people. I did my duty to them, though I never felt privileged or happy because I led them. I felt responsible. I felt more weight upon my shoulders, though I never thought to wish that my existence was otherwise.
And then Aude died as she tried to bring a sixth child into the world. The child went with her. He would have been yet another spare son.
After that, it was my duty to marry again—to secure a mother for my children and to create a possible alliance with a neighboring clan. I did not cry for Aude, though she was a good wife. I simply went on about my obligations to my people.
It was when I was returning to my village after I made a new match that my maker found me.
He fucked me. He drained me. He turned me. I cannot remember the order.
And my status altered yet again.
Not surprisingly, the notion of independence was just as foreign to me as a new vampire as it was when I was a human. My maker could command me, but the truth was that I didn’t require much commanding.
I had been conditioned to be obedient and dutiful, both things that Appius required.
And things that he resented in a way. He’d killed other children for resisting too much. I think that he might have killed me if I had I done the same.
During the last several centuries, I have looked back at my time with my maker as being something that I would not choose again, but—as I’ve indicated—the concept of choice was quite foreign to me as a new vampire. As a human too. Beyond simple things, such as, “Would I bed this thrall or that one?” or “Would I eat the stew or the fish?”, I simply didn’t have many choices.
With my maker, I exchanged one set of duties and behaviors for another. Appius Livius Ocella taught me to hunt and to feed the vampire way. And I learned. I never questioned the ethics involved in feeding or glamouring or killing. I did as I was told without rebellion, which was truly a foreign concept to my people. Instinctively, I knew that Appius was more powerful than I was, so when he wanted me to become his sex partner—his thrall—I complied, even though sex with another man was neither something I’d done before him nor something I particularly enjoyed. During my human days, however, I’d performed many duties that I’d not enjoyed. But I had rejected the amorous advances of stronger men during the long journeys at sea. One simply didn’t fuck the son of a chieftain unless he welcomed it; of course, I witnessed other men fuck one another—but only when there was willingness on both sides.
No one thought “less” of the men who took pleasure and release in one another, for homosexuality didn’t carry with it the same kind of taboos that it does for some Americans today. After all, the boats were cold and the journeys were long and lonely.
Anyway, I am sure that—by now—you are wondering why I’ve told you this history about me.
Perhaps, you think I want your pity. But that is not it.
I have told you so that you understand that the world has stayed the same just as much as it has changed.
Some vampires adapt, while others do not.
Some, including my maker, are still utterly footed in old-world views. I am positive that Appius still considers me his property to do with as he wishes. However, now I am—as Pam might describe—a piece of old clothing that was so used that, even if it came back into style, would be left in the back of the closet. And I am more than fine with that.
But here is the salient point: many kings and queens also view their subjects as property—pieces on a chess board that they own.
I’d had hope that Felipe was more modern in his thinking, and perhaps he is. But Victor is not, and Victor has been placed in control of Louisiana, so it seems that the yoke around my neck is to be tighter than I would have wanted.
Still, Felipe has decided to keep me on the chessboard; if you know chess, you might think of me as a knight—a valuable piece, unique in its movements, but ultimately expendable. Certainly, if Victor “helps” Felipe to play the game, he might soon whisper into his master’s ear that he should sacrifice his knight in order to take—say—a queen.
And if that happens, I will be unable to do a damned thing to stop it.
Indeed, despite the fact that it will be deplorable for you to hear, there are some things that cannot be changed. Even by a thousand-year-old Viking.
First, now that he’s my king, I cannot outwardly defy Felipe. The best I could do would be to go into hiding and isolate and kill his minions one by one. But I doubt I would ever get close to Felipe himself. I don’t have the resources to defeat him in open battle, and—even if I did—I would be dealt the true death for treason, for, according to the rules of my world, I have no just cause to challenge him.
A knight might be able to kill a king in a game of chess, but Felipe is not the king in the scenario. He is the one playing the game—the one moving the pieces.
By all rights, he could have killed me at your home on the night of the takeover. But he did not.
In swearing fealty to him, I have become his. If he orders me to perform a can-can dance in his presence, I would have to put on a pretty little skirt and dance away. If I didn’t, I would be punished.
And then I would dance.
Second, another thing that cannot change is that vampires see themselves as superior to all other beings. That is why, according to my world, you are property—currently my property just as much as I am Felipe’s. Actually, your relative status is much less according to the rules of my world. As a human—as my human bonded—you are to, quite literally, heel to me, just as Andre once suggested. In a blood bond between a vampire and a human, the vampire is supposed to have the upper hand. I should be able to command you. But I cannot. Otherwise, you would have handed me that goddamned soda can bomb in Rhodes!
Trust me—I was trying my damnedest to get you to give it up.
Your ability to deny my blood, ironically enough, undermines both of us. If it is seen that you can defy me—deny the blood of your bonded—I will be looked upon as weak, you will be taken from me, I will likely be killed, and you will be forced to bond with another. Once it is known that you cannot be controlled by that vampire either, any freedom you had left would be forfeit. Or you might just be killed.
Vampires, especially old ones who do not like to adapt, prefer to destroy that which they cannot control.
Wouldn’t a chess player destroy any piece capable of moving on its own? Especially a rogue one?
Ironically enough, it is only with the bond that I have any kind of say whatsoever in your life—say that is given precedence to even the king’s say. Of course, I am his subject, so he need only order me in order to order you.
Or he could simply kill me and take you.
As for you? Officially, you no longer have any personal say in your life or choices; I am, quite literally, seen as your master by my kind. Just like the thralls in my human days, you are part of a new society—the supernatural world—though a valuable part.
But make no mistake, Felipe, Victor—everyone who doesn’t know us—believes that you open your legs to me any time I wish it and that you feed me your blood any time I want it. They believe that your telepathy is mine to command. Should it become known that this is not how things are between us, I will be deemed unfit by my king. And if I am unfit in one way—well—Victor will tell Felipe that the knight on his chessboard is useless. I would be killed. Or Felipe could simply have me punished by putting me in silver for a month or so. Then, he could claim the right of “looking out for you” given my lack of fitness for the task.
Knowing you, Sookie, I am certain that you are crying out against the very concept of everything I’ve written, but—like I said—there are things that I cannot change.
But there are some things that I can. I think you know me well enough to know that I am not the sort of vampire who has refused to change—to evolve.
The concepts of independence and choice are likely even more meaningful to me—more valuable—than they are to you. I don’t mean to belittle your own notions of these concepts; I just want you to understand that I view every choice that I am afforded as precious. I value all my days—when no other being commands my actions—as gifts.
Those days had become more and more common when I was Sophie-Anne’s sheriff, but you should know that I never took them for granted.
Not a single one of them.
I covet each choice I have as if I were a greedy child. I revel in them.
I recognize each of them as what it is—the best evidence that I’ve ever had that there is a god.
Following are some of the choices I’ve had that pertain to you—and the choices you have as well. But I must begin with a little context.
When you introduced Barry to Stan, you inadvertently helped your own situation—and, therefore, mine. Barry is clearly not as powerful of a telepath as you are—clearly not as in control. But, by choice, he is one of Stan’s retinue in a way that you have never been forced to be by any monarch of Louisiana.
At least, not yet.
In truth, Barry is part of the reason why Felipe hasn’t already called you to Las Vegas. You see—Felipe called in a favor to Stan and hired Barry to do some screenings before Rhodes. Barry tired easily. He needed days of rest between sessions; after spending only one evening in one of Felipe’s crowded casinos, he suffered from a debilitating headache. Felipe sent him back to Stan before his allotted time was up and demanded a partial refund since he got very little benefit from Barry’s visit.
Apologetically, Stan appeased Felipe, but he later divulged to me that he was pleased that the situation had occurred so that others would be less likely to covet his asset.
Don’t get me wrong, Barry is not seen as useless. You and he are both viewed as heroes of Rhodes; however, your skill level is thought to be equivalent to Barry’s. Sophie-Anne, of course, recognized your usefulness, but—thankfully—she didn’t boast about your level of skill. Thus, it is believed that you have some ability—like Barry.
But that you might be more trouble than you are worth—also like Barry.
I will admit that I have worked to foster this notion. First, after Dallas, you will note that I haven’t asked you to perform your telepathic services for me—at least not officially. Given this fact, and especially now that you are my bonded, others should have assumed that I honestly haven’t found you that useful.
I am known as a practical vampire, after all.
I hoped that no one would suspect that it is my regard for you that dictates my behavior toward you. Of course, from your point of you, you may feel that my behavior toward you is cold and heartless.
I suppose I cannot blame you if you do.
Bill has the luxury to swear up and down that he would die for you—that he loves you.
Those are not words that I would choose to say in the presence of others. Those words would demonstrate that you are valuable to me on both personal and professional levels. My enemies could use you, and my leaders would covet you.
Make no mistake—vampires are predictable in one way: If something is important to another, then they view it as valuable too.
I suppose this is similar to your media telling you that a new technological trinket is valuable just because someone famous has it.
Therefore, the more I seem to notice you, the more others will, too.
Going back to the chess analogy, consider this: a queen is considered a great asset. In many ways, she is the most powerful piece, and the loss of her is often a game-changer. On the other hand, a single pawn isn’t nearly as noticed.
Victor became intrigued with you the night of the takeover. By not approaching you since then, I have been hoping to convey that it was coincidence that I was at your home on the night of the takeover.
That I was there for merely some kind of a booty call.
I was trying to make him think that, instead of a queen, you are a mere pawn.
I can imagine your temper boiling right now.
But you must—at least—acknowledge that my choice to “change the narrative” of the night of the takeover by pretending that you mean very little to me has afforded you the ability to hold on to many of your own choices up until now.
Here is the myth that I chose to project to my new rulers: Sookie Stackhouse isn’t really that valuable to me. In fact, she can’t do much of anything that a little glamour cannot accomplish. Would I really allow her to stay in Bon Temps and work for a lowly shifter if she was an indispensable asset? Hell no! I would keep her close!
I wanted them to assume that you smell better than you taste; otherwise, why wouldn’t I have called you to me and made you be my constant blood source? I am vampire, after all.
I wanted them to assume that you are lousy in bed. Admittedly, to foster this notion, I have insinuated that you were allowed to be with Quinn only because I had no need of your “meagre” services in that capacity, except for the occasional “booty call.”
Are these things lies? Yes.
But they are also choices.
My preference would have been to continue the seduction plan I had begun to implement in Jackson. I wanted you so badly by then—and I want you still.
But after the witch’s curse, I chose with you in mind—not me.
And now that you know how much my choices mean to me, I hope that you will understand the significance of this.
About a week after the Hallow business, Sophie-Anne called me and questioned me about you—about the power of your skills, your disposition, etc. Of course—at that time—I didn’t know that Bill had been sent for you in the first place.
I told her only that you and I had a “contract” so that you would do work for me. I claimed to be your “manager.” I didn’t offer any other particulars, and—thankfully—she didn’t push.
Why was I so grateful that she let the matter drop for the time being? I will admit that I didn’t understand my reasoning at the time. All I knew was that I didn’t want Sophie-Anne to understand your true value to me anymore than I want Victor or Felipe to do so now.
When I told you that I didn’t like having feelings in Jackson, I could have also conveyed that I was unused to most kinds of feelings. The ones I had for you were all but foreign to me. Of course, without the memories of our time living as a wedded couple—which is how I now view our days in your home, by the way—I didn’t understand how my feelings had gotten even stronger during the time I was cursed.
I know now.
As I am certain you can understand, given my explanation of my background, any personal feelings or preferences I had were viewed as irrelevant when I was a human and a young vampire. In fact, they were punished—whipped from me as a human youngster and fucked out of me as Appius’s child.
As I said before, I have evolved over time—becoming more familiar with the concept of personal choice. But it might surprise you to know that some things that you take for granted were hard lessons for me to learn on my own.
For example, even after Appius got tired of me and told me to leave his side, I continued on as if he were still watching me. I moved through life and followed the same kinds of routines he had set for me. Appius trained me to use my superior senses and vampire gifts to become an even better fighter than I had been as a human, but he never taught me how to be an independent being. He’d been an aristocrat and a general during his human life, and that was how he behaved during our time together, too. We would spend time in monarchs’ courts. In exchange for my maker’s and my service, a king or queen would offer Appius payment and shelter. Thus, for a while, I drifted from court to court, offering my soldiering services on a freelance basis.
You will find this strange—perhaps even pathetic—but it took me more than a decade to realize that I could begin fucking women again. For almost two hundred years, Appius allowed me to have sex only with men. Actually, that is not quite accurate. Appius and others more powerful than me would use my body as they willed, so I can’t say that I actually “fucked” anyone else, though I was fucked a lot. In addition, Appius commanded me not to touch my own cock to seek my own pleasure. And he certainly never felt the need to touch me. In fact, he used to find it amusing to fuck me or watch me being fucked for hours—even as I would beg to be touched so that I could have a release.
Perhaps, I should not say these things. Even as I write, I wonder why I am confessing so much to you—explaining things that should go unsaid in “polite company.” Bill wouldn’t speak of such things; he has always thought of you as a “delicate Southern Belle,” however.
I know better. I know that the heroine in your favorite movie shook her fist toward the heavens and defied God himself. I know you would risk your well-being (mental and physical) to find the murderers of a friend and vindicate someone who—at best—was scared of you. I know that you would take a stake for a vampire whom you’d never met. I know you would try to save a vampire with whom you’d just been forced to bond—instead of running from a building full of bombs.
For these reasons, you are beyond the scope of my choices, Sookie. But I have, would, and will kill to be yours. That—I can choose.
Tears clouding my eyes, I stopped reading for a moment. I lay my head against the steering wheel, inadvertently activating the horn. But I barely heard it, for I was weeping too loudly. Sorrow, anger, fear, loss—and something else.
Something a lot like love.
A/N: Okay, that’s the first part of the letter. Hope you like it so far. Eric was long-winded! LOL. But there was/is a lot to say, and it’s probably better that it’s in a letter—since Sookie cannot interrupt Eric.