NORTHERN VIRGINIA, UNION FIELD HOSPITAL
Godric strode into the make-shift hospital as confidently as he was able, scanning the tent for the doctor in charge. He walked up to the woman—the only female doctor known to him.
She had recently been appointed doctor in charge of the hospital closest to Grant’s frontline. And—though Godric had no idea what favor had been cashed in with the appointment—he was certain that one had been.
“Who the fuck are you?” Dr. Ludwig asked without looking up from the patient that she was patching up.
“I am here on an inspection,” Godric lied.
Ludwig scoffed. “Another one?”
“The President is a thorough man,” he returned.
“The President is a tall man, who wears a tall hat, but that is all I can say about him,” Ludwig intoned. “And I am tired of the extra inspections. I save more than I lose; I have already proven that. I challenge any chief surgeon in any of these so-called hospitals to claim more than that.”
“I know,” Godric said. “The President is pleased with your work. The inspection is a,” he paused, “formality. Oh—and I am to make a routine prisoner pick-up while I am here as well.”
“Then do your job and let me do mine,” she gruffed, still not looking up.
Godric nodded in agreement, though he doubted the diminutive doctor noticed. What was important was that he had gotten permission for his pick-up from the doctor in charge, and his army escort had heard that permission being granted.
Godric had to work hard to keep his countenance indifferent when he saw Sookie. She was thinner than she had been the last time he had seen her, but she had also grown into a beautiful woman. Gone was any trace of the girl he had once known.
Though her eyes flashed when she saw him, Sookie did not show any other outward signs of knowing him as he handed her the paperwork which would place William Compton into his custody.
Godric, of course, had had the document manufactured.
“Mr. Bryant,” Sookie said, looking up at him with just a hint of a smirk.
“Yes,” Godric responded. It had been Sookie’s letters—which had finally reached him in a bundle—that had alerted him to his nephew’s hospitalization, his turn for the worse when his infection had taken hold once more, his ultimate recovery, and also his impending trip back to a Union prison where he would likely die.
Godric was not about to allow that.
“This way,” Sookie said with a lisp that covered up her accent.
It was Godric’s turn to smirk.
As Sookie led him to his nephew—to William—Godric agonized over whether to give Sookie Eric’s latest letters. He had not read them, but—if Eric’s letters to him were any indication—Sookie would be upset by the tenor of Eric’s words.
The utter desolation within them.
The war was turning more and more toward the Union’s favor, but it was clear that it was taking its toll on his son nonetheless.
However, as Godric studied Sookie, he could tell that the woman who was leading him to William was no shrinking flower. She was every bit the worthy mate for his child—the one that Godric truly believed would bring Eric back from the horrors of war in a way that even his mother and sisters had not been able to accomplish during Eric’s leave of absence from the frontlines.
Godric decided then and there to slip her the letters Eric had sent to him with Sookie’s name on them. Letters to the South could not be delivered. And, of course, none of the Northmans had had any idea that Sookie had been in Northern Virginia for the better part of two years. Thus, Eric had entrusted Godric with the letters’ safe-keeping.
Just in case.
Godric looked at the guard escorting him. “You are not armed accordingly!” he said accusingly—authoritatively.
“Huh?” the man asked.
“I am transporting a Union officer!” Godric returned somewhat angrily. “Where is your firearm?”
“Um—uh—the doctor in charge does not allow guards to have them in the hospital, sir,” he said sheepishly.
Godric sighed as if exasperated. “Then get your weapon and wait by the door.” He looked at Sookie. “The patient is ambulatory, I assume.”
She nodded. “He can walk now—yes.”
“Fine!” Godric snapped at the guard. “Hop to! I expect you to help me get him into my carriage and to get him shackled for me!”
“Uh—yes sir,” the guard said with a salute.
As soon as he had left, Sookie smiled at Godric, though she made no move to hug him as she wanted to do. Though the guard had been dealt with, there were still the prying eyes of patients all around.
“This way,” Sookie said, leading Godric.
“You are looking well,” Godric said quietly to her.
“You too. How is Rose? Pamela? Willa?”
“Fine. All of them,” Godric whispered, trying to look as if he were not speaking.
“I am so glad you got my letters,” Sookie said, just as quietly. “William was to be sent back to prison by week’s end.”
Godric nodded grimly.
“Is he okay?” Sookie said, asking the question she needed to ask—dreaded to ask.
“I saw him in March. He was scarred, but not broken,” Godric conveyed.
Sookie looked at Godric and then nodded.
As they reached a corner, Godric grabbed her hand and put paper into it.
“Letters—addressed to you,” he whispered.
Sookie sighed and took out a bent letter from her apron. “For him,” she said, looking into Godric’s eyes. “Please get it to him.”
Godric nodded and quickly took the letter before gesturing to Sookie to continue walking.
William gave a little start of surprise when he saw his uncle, though he quickly schooled his features.
“The time has come for you to go back to prison!” Godric said harshly, and much more loudly than he needed to, even as he subtly winked at his nephew.
William looked at Sookie with affection in his eyes and nodded to her in gratefulness.
“I hope to one day be able to repay you for your kindness,” he said, even as he gingerly got up from his bed.
Sookie gave him a hint of a smile and a nod before walking away to continue her duties.
Uncle walked with nephew out of the field hospital.
APRIL 4, 1865, NEAR PETERSBURG, VIRGINIA
My Dearest Sookie,
I can report that the war is winding down. It—like so many of its soldiers—is in its death throes.
And I pray that it dies soon.
The Southerners continue to fight valiantly, but I can tell that even they are disheartened. And now, as we prepare once again to meet the enemy near Petersburg, I wonder how much damage will have to be done before the war is done.
I wonder how many days it will take before I see the men across the lines as my friends again—not my enemies.
I fear it will be many, even when the war is over.
Only two things keep me going—your picture in my pocket.
And the letter you sent me.
In it, you told me that you still love me.
In it, you told me that you have become a nurse just so that you can tend to all the Erics in the world for all of the Sookies.
In it, you asked me to promise that I would never come to your hospital until the day I come for you once the war is over.
In it, you told me that you intend to marry me as soon as possible.
And that your father and Gran have given us their permission.
Far be it for me to defy Gran!
My father told me—when he put your letter into my hand—that you looked even more beautiful than ever, and I cannot wait to see that sight.
He also told me that—because of you—William is safe. According to him, our friend has also forgiven me for shooting him—though I imagine you already knew that. William is, at the moment, hiding out in my parents’ home, and Pamela is tending to him. William is—apparently—ready to kill her.
But I am sure that he appreciates her nonetheless.
I must go now, my love.
General Grant has called his commanders to him. Did you know that I have been promoted again? I am now a Lieutenant Colonel. However, I do not want you to be a Colonel’s wife. I want you to be a lawyer’s wife—my wife. I pray to God that I can survive this war so that I can call you that.
APRIL 7, 1865, HIGH BRIDGE, VIRGINIA
General Lee was a tenacious man—a great man in Eric Northman’s opinion. But Lee was also on the wrong side of history. The practice of slavery had run its course in the United States of America, a group of states that still included the Southern ones in Eric’s view.
Eric knew that all of the states would soon be brought back together, though he also knew that the rejoining would be a difficult one.
However, Eric figured that if his cousin could forgive him for shooting him and “stealing” his fiancé, then the North and the South might forgive one another for the damage they had wrought to one another. Maybe the analogy was a bit oversimplified, but it was all Eric had left to make sense of the world.
Eric mustered all of his strength, confidence—and humility—as he rode with two men and a white flag—a large one. He prayed it would be the only white marker he ever had to carry.
General Grant had entrusted Eric and two of his best soldiers to ride into Lee’s camp. And they made sure their white flag of truce was quite visible as they rode through the no- man’s land that Eric was certain contained Confederate sharpshooters.
He breathed a sigh of relief when his group was met by a Confederate Brigadier General and two other officers.
“Your business?” the general asked.
“My commander has asked me to make a request of yours,” Eric relayed formally.
The Confederate soldier looked at Eric through narrowed eyes, but still escorted him to the camp. Not surprisingly, Eric’s weapons were held for “safe keeping.”
It was General Robert E. Lee himself who welcomed Eric into his command tent.
The tall Northerner saluted Lee as crisply as he had ever saluted anyone.
“Lieutenant Colonel?” Lee asked.
“Northman,” Eric supplied.
Lee smirked. “A fitting name. Did you know that you have a nickname among my army?”
“I do?” Eric asked, definitely surprised.
“Yes. You are called the Viking. Your height and hair color distinguish you—as does your valor.”
Eric could not help but to smile a little.
“I am complimented,” he said.
“If I had had but twenty of you, I could have won this war,” Lee said wistfully.
The general shrugged. “True warriors are difficult to find, and I have followed the progress of the best soldiers I have faced. You are one of them.”
Eric bowed a little. “You honor me, sir.”
“You have done yourself much honor, son.” He gestured for Eric to sit.
Still amazed by Lee’s words, Eric followed the general’s direction, though he suddenly hated the words that he had been charged to say by his own general. “Your attempt to reestablish your supply lines was valiant, but . . . ,” Eric found himself stopping midsentence.
“But is was ultimately unsuccessful,” Lee relented. “Yes. I know. It was always a longshot.”
“My general has tasked me with the assignment of asking for your surrender,” Eric said, almost apologetically.
“Yet I cannot give it—not yet,” Lee sighed. “Almost—perhaps—but not yet.”
Eric nodded sadly. “More will die,” he sighed.
“We are not quite done,” Lee returned.
“Please,” Eric found himself begging. “I remember what you wrote before the war. You wanted the Union to stay intact. And you were never really a proponent of slavery. Lincoln even offered you a commission in the Union army.”
“Yes,” Lee agreed. “But I could not accept it. Though I disagree with her, I would die for my native land, for my beloved Virginia.”
Eric felt his frown etch into his face. “I know others who feel the same.”
“Maybe that is why you fight with your very soul,” Lee returned.
“Maybe,” Eric responded.
“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it,” Lee said.
“It is horrible,” Eric concurred.
“Tell your general that I still have a trick or two up my sleeve—will you?” Lee asked, standing up.
“I would rather tell him that your trick was peace,” Eric sighed as he stood.
“Part of me would too,” Lee admitted. “But I will do my duty—until there is no longer hope.”
Eric nodded in understanding and then crisply saluted the general again.
“Be safe, young man,” Lee said as Eric was escorted from the tent.