Last Time: “So—what questions did you have for me?” Eric asked, gesturing toward the papers in her lap.
Sookie looked at him with determination. “The first one is really not about the paperwork. It’s about my training. Eric, I’m ready to start learning everything I need to know to be successful in your world.” She shook her head. “Our world.”
“Good,” the vampire said with a bit of pride in his tone. “Well—you already know something of kings and queens. Are you up for a crash course in the overall vampire power structure?”
She took a deep breath. “Yeah. I’m ready.”
“Alright. Let me start off by telling you about the Supernatural Council,” Eric announced.
“Sounds official,” Sookie observed. “And powerful.”
“The Council has endured for millennia. And its members are quite powerful,” Eric agreed. “Though there is a variety of Supernatural types represented, most of the members are vampires.”
“Frankly, it has a lot to do with vampires having a consistent population—in relationship with the human population. As it grows, so do we, but not too fast. The two-natured have also stayed pretty proportional to humans, but their lives are short compared to vampire lives. However, other than vampires, the two-natured do have the most members.”
“How many people—uh beings—are on the Council?” Sookie inquired as she sat forward with interest.
“Eighteen overall. Twelve of these are vampires—seven from the European and Asian continents; three from the Americas, North and South; one from Pacifica, which includes Australia and island nations like Malaysia and Indonesia; and one from Africa. Vampires, once installed upon the Council, pretty much stay there—unless they are removed by unanimous ruling of the other members or die the true death.”
“Why so many more from Europe and Asia?” Sookie asked. “Is it because that’s the,” she paused, “Old World?”
“Good question,” Eric smiled. “To answer, let me first offer you a little history. Human history has been recorded for around 5,000 years, depending on the culture and the development of written language in a region; however, beyond two-thousand years, most of that history is sketchy—incomplete at best. Vampires have always used the same language to record history, a language unique to ourselves.”
“Do you speak that one?” Sookie asked.
“I don’t know if anyone does. It is only written. And—yes. I do know how to read and write it. Vampires who care for history and those who wish to understand the seats of power all eventually find a vampire who knows the language and is willing to share it. That vampire teaches the other,” Eric relayed.
“Cool!” Sookie said, fascinated by Eric’s story. “Who taught you?”
Eric frowned. “Appius knew the language, but insisted I should be much brawn and little brain.”
“As if we needed another reason to hate that jackass,” Sookie muttered.
Eric chuckled at her ireful response. “I won’t argue that point, Dear One. After Appius cut me loose, it took me a while to find a place I wished to settle—Constantinople; you would know it as Istanbul. It was there that I learned my first written languages beyond the symbols of my own human folk.”
“Which did you learn?” Sookie asked, entranced by Eric’s history, even more than the larger lesson she was being taught.
“I arrived in Constantinople a few centuries following the last Crusade in the area; by that time, many cultures could be studied with ease, and I learned to read and write Greek, Arabic, Latin, and the vampire language. The latter was taught to me by a vampire scholar named Ahmad.”
“Wow!” Sookie said, shaking her head a little. “How long were you there?”
“Twenty years or so. It was a large city and easy to become lost in. And the vampire population was quite organized. They’d needed to be in order to survive the Crusades. Ahmad was a Council member; he is still, actually. And from him, I learned much of vampire history.”
“Wow!” Sookie laughed at herself. “I can’t stop sayin’ that.”
“It is a feeling that I had too during much of my time in Constantinople,” Eric shared. “It was the first time I threw myself into scholarship. It was where I got my thirst to travel to the East too.”
“So—uh—if written human history is 5,000 years old, then how old is vampire history?” the telepath asked.
“The written language was created about 8,000 years ago, but a few of the recorders of history were ancients by then, so our history dates back to more than 12,000 years ago. The oldest of those texts set down the traditions of the Supernatural Council, which had been newly formed when the writing developed. Indeed, it was the Supernatural Council itself that decided that a written language ought to be created.” He smirked.
“What?” Sookie asked, noting his amused expression.
“It was vampires’ interactions with the Dae that gave them the idea for a written language in the first place. And—likely—it was humans emulating vampires that later gave rise to the earlier human languages.”
“Sookie chuckled. “So without the Dae, we might all be a bunch of illiterates.”
“That is what they like to say,” Eric chuckled. “Indeed, most Daemons still view this world as a primitive one.”
“Well—uh—whatever the Daemons think, I find it amazing that the Supe Council has been around for as long as it has!” Sookie said with awe.
“I agree,” Eric chuckled. “Given all the changes I have seen during my long life, it is difficult for even me to imagine what the world must have been like when the founders of the Supernatural Council came together. Clearly, they understood that some kind of governing body was needed.”
“This is all so cool!” Sookie enthused.
“Well—then—you will enjoy this tidbit,” Eric said with a twinkle in his eyes. “At the beginning of vampire history, vampires were actually known by and lived in peace with humans and other Supernaturals. The secrecy of my kind became necessary only around the beginning of the human Bronze Age.”
Sookie frowned. “I wonder what changed?”
Eric grinned boyishly. “You do not have to wonder. Vampire history spells out the reasoning behind our going into the coffin—so to speak.”
“Wow! What was it?”
“The Supernatural Council agreed unanimously that vampires needed to become secret to humans due to one particular massacre of vampire-kind in the region now known as Germany. A group of humans—a cult of sorts—began to believe that vampires were responsible for a series of crop failures. Once that idea spread, nothing could be done by the region’s Supernaturals to quell the tide of hysteria. Forty vampires met their end in one day, according to the history. Similar incidents had occurred before, but never on such a large scale.”
“So y’all figured humans couldn’t be trusted?” Sookie asked.
“Some still can’t be—especially in a mob,” Eric sighed. “It is a sad testament that the main argument against the Great Revelation involved the study of early massacres perpetrated by fanatical humans who knew of vampire existence.”
“And you were right to worry,” Sookie frowned. “Steve Newlin and his,” she scoffed, “followers would kill every last one of you if they could.”
Eric nodded. “That kind of human has always existed in one form or another. Because of them, the two-natured joined vampires in secrecy when they realized they, too, would be safer as a part of myth only. Other beings stayed more known for longer, but eventually were associated with the gods humans created for their religions. Eventually, beings like nymphs and sirens became mythologized. Again, it became safer for them that way.”
“So—uh—gods like—uh—Zeus aren’t real?” Sookie asked after a few moments spent absorbing her history lesson.
“That question is a complicated one,” Eric responded. “Certain figures from mythology are real, but even I am not altogether sure of which ones. Long ago, for example, fairies were more common in this realm, and people—like my own human culture—would worship them as gods and goddesses because of the magic they wielded and the power they displayed.” He shrugged. “I cannot know for sure, but it is very possible that my own culture’s gods and goddesses—Odin, Hera, Thor, and the others—were fairies. After all, fairies of different kinds can use magic that controls the various elements, including the sea, which is important in Viking mythology. Fairies could have lived amongst humans—without seemingly aging—for generations. They could have then returned to their realm or ascended as angels, which the Fae can do.”
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed, her eyes opening wide. “Angels are real!”
The Viking nodded. “The Christians based their beliefs on them.”
“Wow!” the telepath repeated, again stuck on that word.
“Another theory is that the old gods were vampires,” Eric said with playful glint in his startling blue eyes. “Then again, gods and goddesses could indeed be above us all,” the vampire indicated with another shrug. “Even vampire history cannot pin down a creator, so who knows?”
“It’s a lot to think about,” Sookie frowned. “But—uh—how does it all relate to the make-up of the Council?”
“Ah—yes! Our original topic.” Eric chuckled. “Some of the information doesn’t, but with this topic, it’s easy to go off on a tangent, and your questions make it even easier,” he growled in play, grabbing her foot that she’d stretched out a bit and tickling it lightly.
She giggled and fought his hold—until he stopped his tickling.
“May I?” he asked, indicating her foot.
“May you what?” she returned with some confusion.
“Vampires do not get hurt or sore as humans do, but we enjoy the feeling of a massage nonetheless. I have learned the skill.”
“A Swedish masseuse?” Sookie asked with a chuckle.
“Maybe the oldest on earth,” he responded with mirth.
“Then by all means,” the telepath permitted, wiggling her toes. “Of course, your skill might be lost on me. I’ve never had a massage—for obvious reasons,” she said, indicating her head.
“And I haven’t massaged a human—for obvious reasons,” he returned, referring to the cold temperature of his hands. “It will be new for both of us,” he added, taking off her sock and then pressing slightly into the ball of her feet. “Just tell me if anything is unpleasant. The feet can be,” he paused, “delicate.”
“That sounds a little foreboding,” she said, right before she moaned with pleasure.
“Let us just say that there are many bones in the foot—bones that could be broken—and leave it at that,” the vampire smirked.
“Fine by me,” Sookie agreed. “Just as long as you keep doing what you’re doin’. Exactly what you’re doin’. It’s pretty much perfect,” she groaned.
Eric nodded in agreement. “Okay—where was I? Oh, yes! I was about to tell you why Europe and Asia have more vampires on the Council than other regions. In simple terms, it’s a matter of population. Ironically enough, the first vampires to record their history were in Eastern Europe—very near Transylvania, which is in present-day Romania.”
“That would explain all the lore in that part of the world,” the telepath commented.
“Indeed,” Eric agreed and then continued his explanation. “From this central point, vampires spread in various directions. Sometimes, a Council member would move to another region—like Ahmed in Constantinople. Other times, a new region would petition for representation. Interestingly, the vampire population in Eastern Asia—China and Japan specifically—rose much more quickly than the vampire population in Western Europe, though the latter did eventually catch up. The Council members in Europe and Asia are the oldest—with the eldest being 3,800 years old.”
“Wow! How old is the oldest vampire?” Sookie asked with curiosity.
“The oldest known is around 4,100; his name is Menelaus. He lives in Switzerland—in the Alps.”
“That’s old, but I figured there might be someone older—uh—since y’all get stronger with age and all.”
“We get weary with age too,” Eric said with a faraway look in his eyes. “As far as I know, there are only 10 vampires who are 3,500 and above currently in existence. There are about ten times that many between 2,500 and 3,500; you know one—Russell.”
Sookie nodded, looking duly impressed by the Mississippi King’s age.
“Most Russell’s age whom I know personally have contemplated meeting the sun. Russell told me that he once spent 50 years seriously weighing the pros of suicide.”
“Wow! But he seems so happy now!” Sookie commented.
“He is experiencing a high time—yes,” Eric agreed. “And the sudden changes in human culture and technology these days help to keep the world more interesting. Still, even at my age, I have experienced periods when life seemed almost too tedious to continue.”
Sookie frowned. “I don’t like to hear that. I don’t wanna hear it—not about you,” she finished quietly.
“It happens,” Eric stated matter-of-factly, as if accepting that, he too, might get to the point of suicide one day. “Luckily, for me, the feeling of tediousness has never taken hold for long. But, the older one gets, the more likely it will. Many older vampires simply disappear—likely into the sun.” He shrugged. “Or, perhaps, there is a way that we ascend too, though there is no evidence for such a thing. Still—I like to believe there is something after all this for vampires, even if it is not a Valkyrie waiting to take me to Valhalla.”
His hand stilled on her foot for a moment as his eyes looked toward the empty fireplace.
“I hope there is too,” Sookie said softly. “Maybe, there’s only one heaven—no matter what kind of being.”
Eric looked at her with a soft smile. “It would be nice to imagine true eternity with you—and not just the kind that I already find myself contemplating,” he added meaningfully.
“Eric—uh—it’s—uh . . . ,” Sookie stammered.
Eric recommenced his rubbing. “Too soon. Yes—I know,” he said comfortingly. “There will be many things that we will do and say together before we need to have a conversation about your turning, but . . . .” He stopped midsentence and frowned.
“But?” she asked pensively.
“You should consider your preferences for an emergency situation so that they can be added to your contract. I am doing all that I can to ensure your safety, but—if something unforeseen happens,” he paused, sitting forward a little, “do you want to be brought over?”
Sookie felt her breath leave her for a moment. “Eric, I just don’t know,” she said after almost a minute of silence.
“If you meet an end in a tragic way, I would wish to turn you. I would turn you—unless I had your clear ‘No’ on that matter,” the vampire admitted. “Sookie, you can always change your mind later—and contracts can be revised to reflect that—but I must have your initial preference before we finish your contract so that it is very clear what can and cannot be done if you are in dire straits.”
Sookie closed her eyes. “What if I’m not ready to give you an answer by then?”
“Sookie, whatever is in the contract, I will consider your answer a ‘Yes’ unless you tell me ‘No’ specifically,” Eric said firmly, looking at her with soft eyes conveying what losing her would already do to him. “If you don’t give me that ‘No,’ I will turn you so that I can keep you.”
“I’m not ready to give you a ‘No,'” she said after a moment’s hesitation. She had given Bill a ‘No’—told him that she didn’t want to be a vampire. However, with Eric, something had shifted in her when it came to the Supernatural. When she’d denied Bill before, it had been because she was still denying that she wanted to belong to the Supernatural world at all. Now that she was working to embrace her unique place within that world, the thought of being a vampire no longer “felt” the same way.
Eric sighed with relief. “Your ‘non-no’ is much better than the answer I feared,” he shared.
“When I have a solid answer, I’ll tell you. And—uh—in the initial contract, it can be a ‘Yes’—as long as it can be changed as needed,” Sookie said.
Eric smiled softly and nodded. “Thank you. And—rest assured—we will put it into the contract that you can change your preference at any time.”
“Okay. And I want to make a list of vampires I’m okay with turning me—in case of emergency,” Sookie said after a few moments. “I could do that—right?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. I believe such a preference should be included in all employment contracts made as well—with anyone who breaks that clause subject to the true death.”
“Okay,” Sookie nodded. “So—uh—then—if some random vampire gets to me and changes me, he’ll be killed, and I can be set free?”
“Yes. Also, such a clause would deter anyone who hires you from even entertaining the idea of turning you,” Eric said darkly—as if the possibility inflamed his rage.
“Eric—I won’t lie—my final answer might be ‘No,'” the telepath shared after a few moments of silent contemplation on both of their parts—her thinking about immortality and him thinking about proving to any vampire who dared to harm Sookie just how fickle immortality could be.
“I will respect and accept whatever choice you make,” Eric said sincerely, “no matter how much it might pain me.”
Sookie bowed her head slightly. “Thank you.”
The vampire squeezed her foot lightly and then put her sock back on before taking her other foot into his large, cool hands. “So—as I was saying about the Council,” he returned to the previous topic, taking them away from the disturbing subject of her becoming (or not becoming) a vampire, “vampires in the Old World were its founding members. However, instead of cutting down on member numbers from the Old World as the population spread, it was determined that—if a new region needed representation—the Council would simply grow to suit the needs of the new population. The Americas share three members. Currently, one is from Canada, one from California, and one from Brazil. Unlike our Old-World compatriots, which stay in place pretty much until true death, the monarchs of the Americas have determined that the kings and queens will vote to renew Council membership—or to change out Council members—every three hundred years.”
Resettling herself after their unsettling conversation about turning, Sookie asked, “What about the other continents? I mean—I get why Australia and its neighbors . . . uh—what did you call it?”
“Pacifica,” he reminded.
“Yes. Thanks,” she smiled. “I get why Pacifica has only one representative since—uh—I’d imagine that settling that part of the world happened later for vampires. But what about Africa? I mean—if y’all moved in all directions from—uh—Transylvania, wouldn’t y’all get to Africa—even before—uh—China?” She blushed. “I think I’m right about the geography and distance.”
Eric smiled. “You are. But quite a few factors caused the late migration of my kind deep into the African continent. Mostly, that delay was related to practicality. Simply put, it is difficult to dig a safe resting place in shifting sands. And—heading into Africa overland from the north—it is difficult to avoid desert. Plus—until relatively recently—sea travel was not something many vampires undertook. When ship travel did become more reliable, parts of the African continent did get settled by vampires. Indeed, there is quite a large vampire population in South Africa. However, because the earliest vampires to venture to Africa stood out or were lumped in with Colonialists, our position on that continent has always been precarious—though I do not wish to overgeneralize. Some African nations have been quite welcoming since the Great Revelation—the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Ghana, for example. Others are basically ‘no-go zones’ for vampires. The reactions of the African nations are truly as diverse as those nations themselves.”
Sookie sighed. “I admit that I don’t know much about Africa. I mean, we were taught about South Africa and Apartheid in school, and I know a little about Libya from the news. Oh—and—of course, I know more about Egypt and the Great Pyramids because the Egyptian culture is more studied here in the U.S., but beyond that . . . .” She shrugged. “I really do hope I eventually learn more.”
Eric smiled as he continued his massage of her foot. “We can travel to the safe countries if you wish. I have spent substantial time in South Africa and enjoy it quite a bit. It would be nice to show that country—and other places on the continent—to you. The natural beauty of the Congo River basin is unparalleled.”
“I’d like that,” the telepath smiled. “But we keep getting sidetracked. So far, I know only about the—uh—twelve vampire members of the Council. Who are the others? How many others are there again?”
Eric chuckled. “Yes. We do tend to get sidetracked. But there will be time for you to learn all you need to know before we travel to New Orleans when Arkansas visits. And—to answer your question—there are six others. Almost half as many as vampires,” Eric responded with a twinkle in his eye.
“Wait. Twelve vampires and then six others is half,” the telepath said with confusion. “My math skills aren’t that bad!”
Eric chuckled. “No. It is just that one of the other members is a vampire hybrid.”
“A vampire hybrid?” Sookie asked with wonder.
Eric nodded. “The Ancient Pythoness. She was known as Pythia in her human life and was an Oracle, a future seer.”
“Those were real?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “Though her kind is extremely rare, they are arguably more real than the gods with whom humans associated them.”
“Okay—so, other than her, who are the other five?”
“There are two two-natured beings on the Council at any given time. Currently, there is one from the Old World and one from the New World. The Old-World representative is from a family that has had a member on the Council for almost as long as I have been undead. The New-World representative gets chosen through an election which occurs when the old member passes away or chooses to retire. All packs or were-groupings with over one hundred members get a vote, and the nomination process can become,” Eric paused, “rather bloody.”
Sookie cringed as Eric continued to rub her foot and calf softly, as if to comfort her.
“The last permanent spot on the Council is held by a witch or a warlock.”
Sookie frowned. “Unless I’ve started having math problems, that leaves two slots left. Who has those?”
“The other Supernatural beings of this world do not occur in as large of numbers as the rest of us. Of those beings—some, like Sirens and Trolls, are native to this world. On the other hand, other groups settle here from other realms; these include Daemons and Faeries.”
“So—uh—my likely family roots immigrated from another realm?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Eric responded. “These ‘immigrants’ elect one member to the Council. Currently it is a Dae member. The remaining native groups elect the final member. There is a Troll in the position now.”
“Is that—uh—what Dr. Ludwig is?” Sookie asked with fascination.
Eric let out a guffaw. “No! As unexpected as it may be to you, trolls are actually quite pleasant, placid creatures, and no one would ever accuse Dr. Ludwig of being that.”
“True,” Sookie giggled. “So—what is she?”
“I cannot tell you,” Eric said with a smirk.
“Why? Is it something you have to keep secret?” the telepath asked.
“No,” Eric chuckled. “I cannot tell you because I honestly cannot pronounce the word for what she is. No one other than her own kind can tackle the damned thing!”
“Really? It’s that hard?”
“Even for my extremely talented tongue,” Eric said suggestively.
Sookie blushed. “Can you try?”
Eric cringed and looked as if in extreme concentration before carefully plodding through the longest ‘word’ Sookie had ever heard.
Sookie’s eyes widened as Eric finished. “Was that really a word?” she asked with a laugh.
Eric shook his head. “No. I know I messed it up—in more than one spot. Ludwig’s language strings together an amalgam of sounds that ought not be mixed!” he pronounced with surety and also frustration. “Of course, most of her kind are just as unpleasant as she, so they might have made up their species name just to fuck with the rest of us.”
Sookie giggled. “You know—knowing her, I could see that.”
A/N: Sorry for the sort of abrupt ending to this chapter. The non-date continues into the next chapter, and I needed a place to do a chapter break, and this was my best option. So—the next chapter will end the non-date. The actual date will be a couple of chapters after that.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please leave me a comment if you have the time and the inclination.
In the meantime—here’s an update. I’ve been working on the next story in the Gift HorseSeries! It’s been slow-going, but I’ve finally got a direction I’m happy with. I’m hoping to have it to you by August. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, this story will continue to come to you at one chapter per week. Sorry that it cannot be more often, but my writing has slowed down in the past couple of years due to illness and work commitments. I can report that The Boot is all drafted and 41 chapters long, so there’s a while to go yet. Then, I plan to begin posting Part 3 of The Trunk Trilogy (I’m still working on its title) the week after The Boot ends, so that there’s no delay. At least, that’s the plan! Fingers crossed!