A/N: Okay, so there is quite a bit of Swedish in this chapter, which makes me nervous. If I write something wrong, and you know Swedish or are a Swede, please feel free to help, and I will change it to make more sense. I’m trying to stick with easier things that my trusty dictionary can help me with, and then I try to confirm with Google translate, but I have definitely made errors before, so I am asking for forgiveness even before I begin. Thanks. [Tack.]
That said, what I am “trying” remember to offer the translation right after the lines in italics and brackets so that you can see what I’m trying to have the characters say.
“Ge mig hammaren, Hunter,” Eric requested. [Bring me the hammer.]
Hunter looked around and located the hammer about three feet from where he was sitting and rose to get it. It was slightly heavy for the boy, but he carried it to Eric, who was holding two pieces of wood together.
“Tack.” Eric said with a smile as Hunter handed him the tool. [Thank you.]
“Ingen orsak,” Hunter said a bit awkwardly. [You’re Welcome.]
“Nu, ge mig tre spikar,” Eric asked. [Now, bring me three nails.]
Hunter fished into the bag of nails, pulled out two, and brought them to Eric.
“Good try, Hunter,” Eric said as he took the nails. “But I said tre spikar, not två spikar.”
Hunter looked down at his fingers and began counting on them. “Ett, två, tre, fyra, fem.” [One, two, three, four, five.] Then he counted again, this time stopping on his third finger. “Oh!” he exclaimed and then went back to the bag to retrieve one more nail for Eric.
“Tack, Hunter,” Eric said proudly. “You are learning very well.”
In fact, Eric was quite happy with Hunter’s progress in learning Swedish. The child had learned the words for most of the tools and materials in the workshop, the foods that he ate, and the items in the house. Recently, Eric had begun teaching him common action words, and the boy was picking those up quickly as well—though his conjugations were sometimes a bit off. After Hunter went to bed, Eric would always write some words or small sentences onto notecards so that the boy could practice them the next day as part of his school with Miranda. In fact, Hunter was learning very quickly and progressing well in all of his studies. According to Miranda, he was especially proficient in mathematics and excelled at any logic puzzles he was given.
“Ingen orsak,” Hunter said, a bit more confidently. He smiled at Eric.
“Now, Hunter,” Eric started, “I need for you to hold these pieces steady as I hammer, just as we did with the last chair. Hunter nodded and moved his hands to hold the pieces as he’d been taught before. Of course, Eric was making sure that they did not slip as well, but he wanted for Hunter to see and to feel with his hands how two pieces of wood could be put together to achieve the greatest amount of stability possible.
Hunter asked, “Whose chair will this one be, Uncle Eric?”
Eric smiled. They had already made chairs for Miranda, Jarod, Jason, Lafayette and Jesus. “Who still needs one?” Eric asked.
“Hmm,” Hunter mused. “Bubba, Aunt Pammy, and Jessica. Oh―and you and me too.” He cocked his head to the side, “Batanya doesn’t ever sit down, right Uncle Eric?”
“No―she does not,” Eric confirmed.
“So she doesn’t need one,” Hunter reasoned. “And we need extras for when Coby and them come over or when Emma comes over to play.”
Eric was pleased that Hunter had taken well to his child playmates. Generally, they came over to the property for what Lafayette called ‘play dates’ on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Sometimes, they had even stayed for dinner or night fishing with their families—despite the late hour of the meal for Hunter and the cool winter temperatures.
“We will make three extra chairs as well then. So how many do we have left to make in all?” Eric asked.
Hunter thought for a minute. “Ten,” he said softly. “We need chairs for Mommy and Aunt Sookie too.”
Eric looked down at the boy and gave him a slight smile. Sookie was always inside of Eric, and he unconsciously held to the fairy bond at all times, but he’d become proficient at banishing most of his emotions into the corners of his mind so that he could go on with his day-to-day life. “Yes,” Eric said quietly, “Your mother and Sookie will need chairs too.”
Hunter nodded and turned back to the work, “This one should be for Jessica,” he said with certainty. “Emma says that girl vampires should get chairs before boy vampires, and Jessica likes sitting by the fire more than Aunt Pammy.”
The vampire smiled at Hunter’s unshakeable logic.
Eric placed the first nail and spoke to Hunter in a steady tone—a tone that Hunter now associated with his Uncle Eric teaching him something. “I’m going to put the nail here so that it will best secure the pieces together.” He moved the nail to the other end. “Do you remember what would happen if I put it here?”
“The wood will split,” Hunter answered.
“Good,” Eric said. “Now hold tight.”
Eric hammered the nail into place carefully so that the wood would not shift and cause Hunter to get a splinter. After he was done, he asked, “Do you remember where the next one goes?”
Hunter pointed, and Eric positioned the second nail. Once all three were in place, Eric said, “You may continue with what you were doing before, smár rekkr.”
Hunter smiled up at Eric and returned to his project, which was sanding the rough edges from some of the smaller pieces that would be needed for the chairs. He was stationed next to a small heating unit that Eric turned on when Hunter was with him in the workshop since the February nights were often bitterly cold.
Hunter spent a minute or two petting his puppy, whom he’d named Odin. Eric smiled at the sight of the boy and his dog. For Hunter’s Christmas gift, Eric had selected a Swedish Vallhund because that was the kind of dog that he himself had had as a young boy. The dog breed would not grow to be tall, but Eric remembered them to be fearless and protective as well as intelligent dogs. Odin was always on Hunter’s heels, just as Eric remembered his own dog had been.
Eric closed his eyes for a moment as he remembered his days as a young human. His dog had been his constant companion for more than a decade, which was an extremely long lifespan for such an animal in his time. Eric recalled finding the canine dead the morning after Russell’s wolves had killed his family. The little dog was lying next to a naked man with the tell-tale tattoo on his neck and a large bite wound in his throat made by the dog before it had been killed―obviously by another wolf. Eric had burned the body of the dog―on the same funeral pyre as the rest of his family―in order to honor its bravery.
Eric opened his eyes and looked at Hunter, who had gone back to his sanding. Odin was stretched out, lazily chewing on a toy the Eric had gotten him so that he wouldn’t be tempted to chew on the wood that Hunter was working with. So far, the clever dog had been easily trained and quite well-behaved, though he was also a spirited play companion for Hunter.
He knew that Odin would be just as fierce of a protector as his own dog had been. Plus, since Hunter had gotten the animal, he had been able to stay in his own bed through the night, comforted by his protective companion. Eric smiled. The kitten was often curled up right along with Hunter and Odin when Eric went to his day rest now, but there had been a rough adjustment for the kitten as the puppy had―at first―tried to herd the feline around. Eric chuckled a bit as he recalled the night that the kitten had had enough, turned around, and asserted himself as the alpha male in the household. Miranda had smiled smugly all evening long and had taken to feeding the cat a can of tuna every day after that. That—the creature would eat from her, though he still stubbornly took his other food only from Eric. Miranda and Pam had had many discussions since then about the relative superiority of cats over dogs.
Eric did not know about that, but he did know that if push came to shove, he would bet on the kitten to win over the puppy, despite Odin’s size advantage. He chuckled, thinking about how Sookie would enjoy seeing her kitten being so feisty and strong. The errant thought of Sookie momentarily stopped his work, but he quickly pushed that thought off to the side.
“Hunter,” he said after about ten more minutes of work, “it is time for our dinner.”
Hunter jumped up and put on his green winter coat and hat as Eric turned off the heater. Knowing the drill, Odin stood up, yawned, and waited by the door. As Eric opened the door, he noticed that the lights in the guest house were still on. The well-made dwelling, finished the week before, was currently inhabited by only Miranda and Jarod, but one of its spare bedrooms had been made into an office for Jesus’s work and a space where he and Lafayette could hang out during the day and sleep over if need be.
As always, Hunter’s little hand had found Eric’s during the short trek inside, and as soon as they had walked into the back door, Hunter took off his coat and hung it up on the rack Eric had installed that was appropriate for the boy’s height. Eric removed the boy’s hat and ruffled his unruly bangs as always. Then Hunter and Odin went traipsing upstairs to wash up as Eric went to the kitchen to pull out the meal Lafayette had prepared for Hunter’s dinner. He put it into the microwave to warm and took in the ingredients with his nose. He’d been cataloging ingredient combinations for some time and planned to begin having Lafayette teach him how to prepare human food since the others raved about the man’s meals.
So far, Eric had learned how to cook a few simple things like grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. Hunter seemed to enjoy things with cheese very much.
Miranda and he had taken over preparation of Hunter’s food on Mondays and Tuesdays in order to give Lafayette and Jesus two days off, but there were always leftovers that Lafayette had placed in the freezer to tide them over if need be. The Monday before, Eric had found a frozen container that housed the rest of the soup that Sookie had made for herself when they’d had their first “date” after the blood severing spell. He’d tucked it into the back of the freezer so as not to see it.
Hunter’s food warmed, Eric took out a TruBlood and started it in the microwave. He hurriedly filled the dog’s food bowl, and when the cat looked annoyed, he topped off his bowl as well, chuckling at the kitten as he reached down to pet him.
The renovations to the main house had been completed just two weeks earlier, delayed by a patch of rough weather in late December and early January, but Eric was pleased with the results.
Eric monitored Hunter’s progress in his new bathroom since the boy sometimes overlooked the necessity of soap as he washed up for dinner. Eric chuckled as he heard the boy humming a song from Eric’s own youth. Apparently, Eric hummed as he worked at times, and the boy had unconsciously picked up the tunes and now hummed them as well. Miranda reported that Hunter often hummed as he played on the new swing set and jungle gym he’d gotten from Santa Claus for Christmas.
Eric heard the boy and the puppy on the stairs and moved his and Hunter’s meals into the dining room. The two settled into what had become their routine during their evening meal. Hunter told Eric what he had done in school that day or other things that he’d done before Eric rose for the night.
After dinner, they always did the dishes together, and then Eric helped Hunter with the short homework assignments he’d been given. After that, the two settled into the rocking chair and watched a movie or a child-appropriate television program that Miranda had recorded on the DVR from the morning. Other times, they watched a recorded sporting event.
Then, Hunter went to bathe as Eric took Odin out for a short nightly walk. During these times, Bubba would come in and hang out in the living room in case Hunter needed anything. Batanya was always nearby as well, though her presence was more felt by Hunter, rather than seen. True to the terms of their contract as well as her personality, she always stayed a bit to the side. For example, during the night, she had taken to standing in the hall on the second floor, and when Hunter was outside, she was always at the perimeter of his life, close enough to watch and protect if need be, but not to interfere. Eric was quite pleased with her performance and was already in negotiations to renew the contract with her. And, just as Eric had hoped, Hunter had gotten used to Batanya’s presence after only a week or so.
After Hunter’s bath time, Eric had started telling Hunter bedtime stories, another task that Hunter had asked Eric to do for him in place of his mother. Eric often recounted legends that his own mother had told him or the stories of other peoples he had learned during his long travels. Hunter had an excellent memory and often asked questions about the people in the stories. Like Eric, the boy had also gravitated toward stories of Odin, which was―Eric was certain―why he had chosen that name for his dog. Other nights, Eric would read a story to Hunter from a book, with Hunter pointing out words that he did not know as they read. Then Eric would make sure that Hunter was tucked in and prepared for the night with his water, companions, and nightlight, which Hunter still asked for.
The boy’s hair dye had faded over the last months, and with the shorter haircut he had received the previous week from Pam, his blond hair was even lighter and brighter than Eric’s. Eric still always tousled the boy’s bangs―since they seemed to grow like weeds―as he gave Hunter his required goodnight kiss on the forehead. As Eric passed out of Hunter’s room each night, he saw Batanya at her station in the hall. He always nodded and then went into his and Sookie’s new office/library to complete Area 5 work.
That particular night, Eric was restless after he left Hunter’s room. It was February 25—actually now February 26—exactly 100 nights since Sookie had been torn from his side, a hundred nights since he’d felt the connection to her from the vampire bond. The fairy bond was intact, but she was still distant from him. Therefore, he knew her to be alive, but the vampire bond was numb.
He sat down to check his email. The A.P. still hadn’t contacted him, nor could he figure out where she was. Every night he hoped for acknowledgment that she’d received his messages, and when it didn’t come yet again, he was more than a little irritated. He moved that frustration carefully to the side of his mind and opened an email from the witch Amelia. She had been working with Jesus for months to find out additional information about fairies. The email contained some details that confirmed what Eric had surmised―that the only known way for him to get to the fairy realm was to be taken there through a portal in the company of a fairy. And there was no way to access such a portal without a fairy present who knew how to find one or who could create one.
Eric responded and told her to keep digging for alternatives.
Amelia had learned that there were two kinds of portals: the kind that was more permanent, such as the one that had been in the graveyard next to Sookie’s home before it had been destroyed, and the kind that could be opened almost anywhere. This second variety required a lot of magic and could be done only by powerful fairies, such as―Eric assumed―Claudette and the others who had come to take Hadley and Hunter that night in Santa Fe. Since fairy magic seemingly couldn’t be duplicated, the brujo and witch had thus far found no other way to get into the realm without a fairy to provide an escort—so to speak. The magic, apparently, emanated from the fairy himself or herself and wasn’t drawn up by a spell.
Eric had told Amelia and Jesus about Bill’s going to the fairy realm to speak to Claudine after he’d ingested so much of Sookie’s blood, but they had not been able to figure out how he’d accomplished that. And Eric was almost certain that Bill did not know how he’d done it himself. Still―many a night after Hunter had gone to bed, Eric tried to concentrate on his fairy bond with Sookie and on her blood that he still felt inside his body in order to somehow go to her in the fairy realm, but every time, he failed. He even tried staying up during the day at times in order to attempt the connection then―since Bill had told Sookie he’d had the vision of the fairy realm as he’d been in his day rest.
For the last 100 mornings, Eric had gone to his rest, hoping that he’d somehow be transported to Sookie, but so far, there had been nothing, and neither Amelia nor Jesus had been able to find out anything to account for how Bill had been able to go there.
Eric closed down his email with a huff directed at the A.P.; if she could only tell him that Sookie was well and that he would see her again, he would be comforted. He resisted the urge to pound his fists into the desk he’d made for himself out of black walnut. Sookie’s matching desk was still waiting to me made—as were the floor to ceiling bookcases that would eventually cover two of the four walls of the room.
At that thought, the vampire decided to occupy himself with more work in the woodshop. He texted Bubba, checked on Hunter, and then went downstairs. Bubba was waiting in the living room when he got there and would remain in the house as Eric worked outside in case Hunter awoke from a nightmare. Eric continued to worry about that even though Hunter’s last bad dream had been almost three weeks before.
The Viking comforted himself with the knowledge that even if Hunter did have a nightmare, it would take him only twenty-one seconds to reach the child. Bubba would call immediately if the child’s sleep became disturbed, and then Eric would be by Hunter’s side in moments to comfort him. Far more difficult for Eric were the nights when he had to go to Fangtasia―though he tried to limit his time there to only an hour or two at most.
In early December, Hunter had had a night terror during one of Eric’s nights at Fangtasia; Miranda had called him after the boy wouldn’t stop crying for twenty minutes. It had taken Eric another twenty-seven minutes to fly home at full speed. Hunter’s red, swollen eyes when Eric did finally get to him were almost enough to convince him never to leave the child’s side again. In fact, after that episode, Eric had gone to Fangtasia during Hunter’s waking night hours for several weeks just to make sure he was there if the boy had a nightmare.
During the last month, however, Hunter had asked Eric to go after he was asleep again because the boy didn’t like it when Eric wasn’t there for their regular time together each night. Eric didn’t like that either, but the vampire didn’t want to leave the boy alone and at the mercy of his nightmares.
Eric chuckled a bit as he recalled how he and Hunter had finally resolved the issue. Eric agreed to resume going to Fangtasia after Hunter was sleeping if the boy promised to call him immediately if he had a nightmare. That way, Hunter could hear his voice and be comforted until Eric could get to him. Hunter would also be able to wait in Eric and Sookie’s room until Eric could get home, and the little boy had promised Eric to try not to cry for so long and to let Miranda help him to feel better. In turn, Eric promised that he would talk to Hunter on the phone all the way home if the boy needed him to.
Thankfully, however, Hunter had not had any additional nightmares while Eric was away from him. As Eric opened the door to his workshop, he looked up at Hunter’s bedroom window, comforted by the warm light he saw in the window, emanating from the special new nightlight Jesus had gotten him the week before. The fact that the brujo had placed a spell on the object that would help to limit the severity of Hunter’s nightmares if he did have them comforted the vampire even more.
Here is what Odin looks like — as puppy and older dog. I chose the Swedish Vallhund because of all the reasons that Eric recounts and because I liked the idea of Hunter having the same kind of dog as Eric.