Eric had felt Hunter’s unrest for a few days. Truth be told, he’d felt his son’s unrest since they’d returned from the “in-between place” to a certain extent—just as he’d felt his own. However, that night, Hunter’s disquiet had been stronger than it had been for a long time, and Hunter had been quieter than usual―more speculative.
Eric sat next to Hunter’s bed as his boy got settled in. Odin, as always, got in beside Hunter, and both of them looked at Eric expectantly. Eric smiled at them, “Book? Story? Or maybe it is a talk that we need to have tonight, smár rekkr?” Knowing his son as he did, Eric knew what his answer would be.
“Is Batanya still with Uncle Loki?” Hunter asked.
“Yes, min son,” Eric answered. “Did you want her here?”
Hunter shook his head. “No. I—uh—wanted to talk to you so no one else can hear. Okay?”
Eric closed his eyes for a second. His worst fear was that one day Hunter would tell him that he wanted to live with his mother in Faerie. Eric tried to stifle that thought.
Seeing the serious and nervous look in Hunter’s eyes, Eric nodded. “We are alone, min son. You may say anything you need to me.”
Hunter looked at his hands for a second. “Daddy,” Hunter asked in a small voice, “do you pray? Mommy and my first daddy always had me say prayers at night.”
Eric was a bit taken aback by the question but answered honestly. “Yes, min son, I have prayed before. When I was a child, I prayed with my mother. I prayed that I would become stronger so that I could,” Eric paused in order to keep his voice from catching, “make my father proud. When I was a young man, I prayed to Odin, Freya, Thor, and the other gods of my people. I prayed that I would be brave and honorable in battle. I prayed for the safety of those in my village, especially when I was not there to protect them myself. I prayed that if I died among the men I led into battle that I would be worthy to dwell in the halls of Valhalla with Odin or in Fólkvangr with Freya.”
“Are those like Heaven?” Hunter asked.
Eric considered for a moment. “Valhalla was a great hall, while Fólkvangr was a large field—though there was a hall there too.”
“A hall?” Hunter inquired.
“It is the word that we used for a large building where everyone in the village could gather together to eat or to speak or to just,” he paused “hang out.”
Hunter smiled a little. “We should build one of those here, Daddy.”
Eric chuckled. “Perhaps, one day we will, smár rekkr.” Eric ruffled Hunter’s hair.
“What were Val-hall-a and—um—Folk—uh—the other place like?” Hunter asked, his seven-year-old tongue having difficulty with the new words.
“Well,” Eric began,” they were supposed to be wonderful places and were a reward for those who died honorably. Odin and Freya each took half of the fallen warriors to dwell with them.”
Eric smiled, “In my human days, I always hoped I would go to Fólkvangr so that I could see the beautiful Freya and sit in the meadows surrounding her hall. I have always liked the outside, and the meadows were spoken of as the most glorious and fragrant in existence. However, Odin got to choose who went where. Either way, only the bravest—those who lived and died most honorably—would be allowed to pass. So—I suppose—they were a lot like Heaven, at least a heaven for the very best of my people.”
“Do you still pray?” Hunter asked.
“Sometimes,” Eric said quietly, as he moved his hand to pet Odin. “I prayed when your Aunt Sookie was in danger.” Eric’s voice croaked a bit, “I pray that she will return to us soon. I pray that I will be a good father to you. I pray that I will be able to keep you safe.”
Hunter spoke even more quietly than Eric. “My mommy always told me that if I was good and believed in Jesus, then I would go to Heaven one day. She always prayed that she could be a better person so she could go there too, but she was scared that she wasn’t good enough.”
Hunter paused and looked up at his daddy with large brown eyes that were shining with what Eric knew were tears waiting to fall. The little boy took a deep, steadying breath. “Coby was thinkin’ the other day about how someone on T.V. said that no vampires can go to Heaven.” He paused again. “Do you think that’s true, Daddy?”
“I do not know for sure,” Eric said honestly. “But I will tell you what I think.”
“Okay,” Hunter said with uncertainty.
Eric continued to pet Odin as Hunter’s hand joined him in the task.
“I have lived a long time, min son. I have been many places, and I have learned of how a lot of people view religion and God. No two groups view everything the same way, but I have always been struck by the similarities between them all―more than the differences. And then there are other realms too—like the fairy and the demon realms―and those beings have their own belief systems too. I am not sure if there is a Heaven like your mother taught you. Maybe it’s more like the great halls my people visualized, or maybe it’s just a different plain of existing, or maybe it is the Summerlands that fairies and demons talk about.”
Eric shrugged, “I think that any or all of these things are possible, but because of your Aunt Sookie and because of the way I feel about you and about her—the love I feel for you both—I do believe there is a higher power or great force in the universe that can pull us all together. I think that force brought Sookie and me together. I think it brought you into our lives too. I might not know its name or where it is, but I feel its effects.”
“Even though we can’t see it?” Hunter asked.
“Yes,” Eric smiled confidently at his child. “Your aunt Sookie calls this faith.” He paused. “I believe this force has led us all to be a family, min son, so if it is heaven that awaits us after our true deaths, then I will find you there one day. If it is something else, then there too will I seek you out. I do not believe that a true god or a fair and just higher power would exclude a group based on how they believed or what name those people gave to him or her. Maybe my people were right that the unworthy amongst us did not get to go there, but despite the way some people view vampires, there are both good and bad among us―just like every other group. And each individual is capable of and does both good and bad things. I think it is the overall person who is judged as worthy or unworthy.”
Hunter looked up at Eric with a twinge of relief in his eyes.
“So even if you die or if I die,” Hunter began with tears in his eyes.
“I do not believe we will be separated for long, smár rekkr,” Eric assured quietly. “Aldrig. Not ever.” [“Aldrig” means “never” in Swedish.]
Hunter pulled himself into Eric’s lap and let his daddy rock him in silence for a little while.
“Hunter,” Eric asked gently, still holding his son, “do you want me to say your prayers with you, as you used to with your other parents?”
Hunter shook his little head. “My first daddy and then my mommy always took me to church, but I didn’t like it. My head hurt lots when it was over.” His voice grew quieter again, “And I didn’t like it when people prayed, Daddy.”
Hunter pulled away and resettled into bed so that he could look in his daddy’s eyes. His tone was sad. “People think real, real loud when they pray. They think about what they want. Some people are real nice and want nice things like for sick people to feel better. But lots of people pray about stuff they did wrong. Lots of people do real mean things, Daddy.” He paused and began to pet Odin again. “I didn’t like to hear them.”
“I wouldn’t like that either,” Eric said, joining Hunter in petting the dog. This shared action, Eric knew from past experience, would comfort Hunter.
Looking down at Odin, Hunter continued. “My first daddy used to pray about how he wanted to go to a bar but couldn’t ‘cause of me. Sometimes, he felt bad about thinkin’ that and asked God to forgive him ‘cause he didn’t really want me. Sometimes, he just asked God to make me normal so he could leave me with a babysitter and go out.”
The little boy sighed deeply. “And my mommy prayed about how she was sorry for all the stuff she did and for leavin’ me for a long time. She told God she was sorry for lovin’ Sophie more than me.” A tear slipped from his eye. “And, mostly, she prayed that God would fix me too and make the curse I had go away. She thought it was all her fault that I was able to hear people like I do, so I prayed I wouldn’t hear them either. I tried hard not to hear them, Daddy.” More tears were falling now as Hunter looked up at Eric. “I tried so hard ‘cause I wanted to make Mommy feel better so that she wouldn’t think God was mad at her.”
Hunter was crying steadily now, but kept speaking. “I knew it was naughty, but I used to lie and tell Mommy that I wasn’t hearin’ anyone in my head sometimes, and that always made her so happy. When I did that, she would thank God that I was gettin’ better. So I tried harder and harder.”
Eric could tell that his son had more he needed to say, so the vampire stayed silent. He wanted nothing more than to take all of Hunter’ past pains and current anxieties away, but he knew that—in this—he was as powerless as any other parent.
After a minute, Hunter sniffed and continued, “I didn’t like to pray with Mommy and my first daddy at all. It hurt my head bad ‘cause I could hear them so loud.” He paused. “Do you think God got mad at me ‘cause I didn’t like prayin’ or ‘cause I lied to my mommy? Is that why Mommy had to go away? Is that why it’s takin’ Aunt Sookie so long to come back?”
Eric placed a kiss on Hunter’s forehead and reached to get a Kleenex to wipe away his son’s tears. He gave his son a few moments as his sobs waned and contemplated what he needed to say to make Hunter feel better. What he really wanted to do, however, was to take out his frustration on Remy Savoy. But he knew that would do Hunter no good.
“Hunter,” Eric began gently, “I know you cannot hear into my head, but I also know that you trust my words.”
Eric waited until Hunter nodded.
“God is not angry with you, min son. Your mother and your first father, Remy, were wrong to think what they thought. They were wrong to pray what they prayed. It was not fair that their prayers hurt you. It was not fair that you were ever made to feel like you were broken in any way. You are not. You have an ability that humans are frightened of and do not understand, but it is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It just is. And you now know that you have that ability because you are part fairy—not because of anything you did wrong.”
Eric continued, “Like I said before, there is good and bad in everyone, and it is unfortunately the bad people who usually seek God’s help to fix their mistakes. You should take comfort in the fact that both your mother and your first father wanted to be better enough to pray about it. They didn’t understand your telepathy, so they wanted to pray it away, but that was a mistake on their part. It was not a problem about you. Do you understand?”
Hunter nodded, though tentatively.
“I want you to know, Son, that I do pray with you in mind—as I said before. But I do not pray, nor will I ever pray―to fix you. You do not need to be fixed. I will never have to ask for forgiveness for not wanting you—because I have wanted you to be with me since the first day I met you, and that will not change—not ever. I pray to be a good father because that is what I want to be more than anything; you are such a good son already.”
Eric’s voice cracked a bit. “You are my son. You are the best son I could ever have, and I am proud of you. I love you as you are. I will always—always—feel that way. I chose you to be mine, and I will never regret that choice.”
Hunter spoke a little more confidently. “I know, Daddy.”
“Good,” Eric said. “Now—I want you to know that it is your choice whether you wish to pray. I think that God will know what is in your heart either way, and you have a good heart, Son—a strong heart that any god would admire. Do not be afraid to pray to him or her if that is what you wish to do, Son. God will listen to you. God may not always do things as you wish them done, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is not listening to you.”
Hunter nodded, and moved his hand on Odin’s fur so that it rested on Eric’s. “I think I wanna start to pray again at night, Daddy. I wanna pray with you here too if that’s okay.”
Eric smiled and grasped his son’s hand. “I would be honored to be by your side as you pray, min son.”
Hunter smiled a little and then scrunched together his eyebrows. “Mommy taught me a prayer to say when I was going to bed every night. Should I say that?”
Eric shrugged. “You can pray as you wish. Sometimes my people said prayers that everyone knew. Other times we would just speak what we thought at the time. I do not think there is one right or wrong way.”
Hunter nodded, closed his eyes, and bowed his head, all the while keeping Eric’s hand in his.
The boy spoke a little tentatively, “God, I’m not gonna pray Mommy’s prayer tonight―okay? I just wanna pray that Mommy is safe with my little sister. I wanna pray that Aunt Sookie is gettin’ her trainin’ done quick ‘cause Daddy and me want her to be home with us.” Eric couldn’t help but to smile and agree wholeheartedly. Hunter went on. “I wanna thank you for my family here. I’m so glad they like me ‘cause I like them all too. Oh—and could you make sure that Batanya goes out on a date since she likes Uncle Loki? Cool.” Eric held in his chuckle as Hunter finished, “And, God, thanks especially for Daddy. I think the man on T.V. was wrong. I think Daddy can be in Heaven with me too. Amen.”
Hunter looked up at Eric expectantly.
Eric smiled proudly and squeezed Hunter’s hand a bit. “That was a very good prayer, min son.”
Hunter looked content. His restlessness from earlier in the night was all but gone.
However, Eric’s concern and disquiet had only grown. How could it not? He was a father; his son had been hurt. Worst of all—there was no enemy that he could simply slay in order to prevent that from happening again.
And he certainly couldn’t isolate Hunter from his friends, nor did he feel that Terry Bellefleur—or even Arlene—would have one of the Fellowship of the Sun’s “special interest programs” turned on in their house. And there was no way that Coby was anti-vampire. Given how Coby still looked at Eric with hero-worship in his eyes, the child was probably disturbed by what he had heard about vampires as well. That’s likely why it had been on the forefront of his mind—so that Hunter would hear it.
No. There was no one to vanquish―no one to kill in order to prevent Hunter from hearing such things again and being upset by them. Eric’s thousand years had taught him that hate and prejudice could never be completely eradicated.
Eric brought his hand up to push Hunter’s bangs to the side and gave him another kiss on his forehead. “Good night, Son. I will stay with you until you are asleep.”
“Night, Daddy,” Hunter smiled as he snuggled into Odin. The cat soon jumped onto the bed and tucked into Hunter’s side as well.
As soon as Hunter’s little snores filled the room, Batanya took up her position. She’d returned even as Hunter had been saying his little prayer, but the intuitive Britlingen had given them their space.
Eric glanced over at her and then looked back at Hunter quickly in order to hide his smirk. He could not, however, hide the amusement in his voice. “You have a piece of straw in your hair,” he quietly informed her.
Not unexpectedly, Batanya did not make a move to brush it away. “I imagine there is more than one,” she returned casually. “Your vampire brother put up quite a fight.”
Eric’s brow quirked up, and this time he didn’t try to hide his smirk from her. “You did not kill him—did you?” he asked with mirth.
Batanya scoffed. “I do not believe he was crying out in pain.” She paused. “He was vigorous,” she smiled. “And he was right.”
“Right?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” she answered matter-of-factly. “Pamela must truly prefer women—much more than men. Otherwise, she would not have rejected him after experiencing him. He was very vigorous.”
Eric couldn’t hold in his snort and looked back at Hunter to make sure that his sleep had not been disturbed.
Once certain that Hunter was still resting soundly, he turned again to Batanya.
The Britlingen still had not bothered to take the straw from her hair, and Eric noticed that her clothing was also a bit rumpled.
“It seems that I shall have to send your vampire child a thank you card for being a lesbian,” Batanya said evenly.
With difficulty, Eric managed to hold in another snort.
“May I be the one to deliver it?” he asked, not wanting to miss the expression on Pam’s face if she got such a card.
“No—that honor will be mine,” Batanya smirked, “but I will make sure you are near.”
Eric bowed a little. “I would appreciate it.”
Batanya nodded toward Hunter. “Since my young charge has so graciously requested of his god that I have what humans call a date, you may tell your brother that he will take me out on Tuesday. I will arrange for my daughter to be here to guard Hunter.”
“Your daughter is a guardian as well?” Eric asked.
Batanya puffed up quite proudly. “Breeta has just finished her resting period after having been in the service of the vampire king of Brazil. She distinguished herself and is wanted back, but she found that vampire too pompous. She is—I assure you—quite skilled in her work. The child will be as safe with her as he is with me,” she said with certainty.
Eric nodded. “That would be acceptable. And I will be here Tuesday evening as well, so you may stay out,” he paused and smirked again, “as long as you should wish.”
“I will contact Breeta then,” she smiled.
As Eric left the room, he noticed that Batanya had been right; there was more than one piece of straw stuck in her hair.
Here is who I’m “casting” as Breeta.
On a personal note: There are some of you who write a comment/tell me what you think after every chapter, and you feel like a part of what I am doing in the story (and you are definitely WHY I am posting it).
But even if you have never written a comment—or don’t get to every time due to your busy lives—I still very much appreciate you! Almost every day, there is at least one person adding this story as a favorite or requesting an alert for it. The feeling of having this story appreciated by people other than myself is amazing! The fact that it is read by hundreds (maybe even thousands of people) is wonderful—and I mean that in two ways. It is wonderful because it makes me feel great. But it also fills me with wonder. I cannot thank you enough.