“The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.”
– Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress – Benjamin Franklin June 25th, 1745
Eric Northman spent much time traveling throughout Europe in the late eighteenth century, often finding houses of ill-repute to pass the nights with wild sexual encounters and partaking of his evening meals during his escapades. He always left the women with fond memories of their time together and a healthy sum of money, though none could ever recall his name or his exact appearance. For those he fancied most, he would glamour them only to remember his face if they saw him in the brothel where they met, making certain he would again have the woman of his choice, if she had pleased him.
He never spent more than one or two months in the same city at a time. Always adapting to the world around him and leaving those he met with only vague remembrances of their meeting so as not to arouse suspicion of his never changing appearance. This ensured that were he to return, even years later, none would recognize him by sight. His physical appearance alone was enough to draw the attention of any man or woman who saw him, but any person he spoke to or with whom he spent time, would not remember even the slightest detail about him at his departure.
He was a formidable man, standing six foot four inches, with long blonde-hair, and crystal blue eyes that would capture the attention of any who looked at him, whether it was his intention or not. He dressed as a nobleman in rich velvets of the deepest hues and always paid above what was required. Anonymity was of the utmost importance in his world because Eric Northman was a vampire.
It wasn’t until he visited an elite brothel in London that he stopped his wanderings for a time, and made a safe house for himself near the establishment. The brothel was run by a Madam named Freyda. She was a beautiful woman of forty-something years who had obviously passed her prime as a prostitute herself. Her hair was very long and had once been jet black, but now a few gray hairs were beginning to show. She wore it piled high atop her head. Her look was severe. She had inherited the business when the previous Madam passed away prematurely.
In the months he spent there, Eric did not bother to glamour his appearance from the minds of the women in the house, finding that they all pleased him equally. He knew when he moved on again he would erase their memories, but found that he quite enjoyed their company and did not wish to be treated as a stranger upon each visit.
The house itself was in good condition, one of the nicest he had seen. There was rich burgundy wallpaper covered in dark plum filigree and oil paintings of naked women lounging on plush furniture, and cushions adorned the walls. Wainscoting of dark cherry wood surrounded the room. The large parlor was comprised of a settee, a chaise lounge, a long divan, and two armchairs all with cherry wood framing and covered in dark greens and creams with velvet, burgundy throw pillows. An enormous gold chandelier hung in the center of the ceiling. A beautiful marble fireplace was built into one wall and the mantle was covered in gold trinkets. The furniture was always polished and shining, the wood floor always waxed, and a very large intricately designed area rug lay in the center, following the color patterns of the room.
Eric eventually learned that it was maintained that way by Freyda’s domestic servant. She was the daughter of the previous Madam and she toiled all day cleaning and making small repairs until the sun set each night, at which time she would retire to her room to read or rest. Freyda had made an agreement with the girl’s mother before her passing. Instead of working the front of the house, she would be kept on as the house maid and domestic servant. It was her mother’s hope that someday she could leave behind the reputation of being a prostitute’s daughter, start a life of her own, and marry. The girl had taught herself to read from the erotic novels that Freyda kept for the perusal of the men who would come in the evenings.
Freyda often read them aloud to her clientele to entice their fantasies before they would take their lady of choice to one of the bedrooms. Only once did Eric partake of the fruits that Freyda had to offer, and shortly after regretted it when the woman immediately became obsessed with him. Night after night, she continued to try and catch Eric’s eye, but he never again looked at her sexually and often chose those more exotic for his evening dalliances.
Eventually, her tactics became so monotonous that he was forced to glamour her to forget their night together. Although the glamour worked, she remained enamored with him by his appearance and presumed position in society. She continually attempted to coax him into her bed for, what she thought, would be the first time.
It was during one of his regular, nightly visits, that Eric finally saw the servant girl in passing. She was seventeen-years-old, and on that particular night had worked later than usual. Finding herself in the parlor after the sun had set and business had begun, she quickly gathered her supplies from the day. She glanced briefly in his direction as she attempted to scurry from the room unnoticed. Though she was told to keep out of sight and moved rather quickly, Eric took notice of her, much to the chagrin of Freyda. That one glance was enough to capture Eric’s interest.
“Who is the girl?” Eric inquired of Freyda as she, the girl in question, disappeared through the door leading to the domestic side of the house.
“She is no one. A poor orphaned beggar that I found outside in the alley. I gave her a home and a job so that she would not need to sleep in the streets,” Freyda replied, trying to impress upon Eric her benevolence to the poor wretch, though she knew that was not the actual truth.
“What is her name?” he asked.
“You need not concern yourself with her. She should not have been seen and will be disciplined for being out of her place,” Freyda stated firmly.
“I did not ask so that you might punish her. It is no crime that you keep your house immaculate. The work must be done by someone. It is simply curiosity,” Eric replied cordially, but pointedly.
“She is of no consequence,” Freyda replied, attempting to end the topic of the girl.
“I only asked her name. I see no harm in that. After the time I have spent here getting to know you, I find it reasonable to want to know more,” Eric said provocatively, playing to Freyda’s affections.
“Well, if you really must know, her name is Sookie. I treat her like my own daughter and want to keep her apart from this life,” she replied, changing her tune regarding Sookie in response to Eric’s interest in her own life.
“Why does she stay hidden?”
“She is not hidden. Her work is done for the day and she has no reason to be outside of her room at this hour unless she is behind the house disposing of rubbish or beating the rugs,” Freyda said, becoming slightly annoyed at his attention to the girl.
“I would like to meet her.”
“No! She does not work in the main house in the evening. She is a child, is treated as such, and will remain that way,” Freyda stated coolly, demeaning the girl. Her jealousy was making its appearance known.
In his human life, Eric had been married at a younger age than the girl seemed to be, and still had the appearance of a twenty year old man, which he was at the time of his turning over eight hundred years prior. However, this was a new age and he knew that, more than likely, Sookie was still untouched due to her status and the way she conducted herself in that shared moment. She smelled of innocence and her clear blue eyes showed the same as did the look on her face when their eyes met. He was instantly drawn to her.
“I can only guess that she is removing the trash from the house, seeing as she stayed so late in the parlor this evening. Normally she takes care of it after her daily chores,” Freyda said off-handedly.
Her words roused Eric’s curiosity to find out. Was it true? Could Sookie could be alone outside at that very moment?
“Have you decided on your choice for the evening? It appears that most of the girls are occupied, but my time is free if you would like to accompany me to my chambers,” Freyda cooed.
“Another night, I’m afraid. I feel that I am not at my best health this evening and had only stopped in on the chance that you might be reciting from one of your books. Seeing as that isn’t so, I believe I will return tomorrow night.”
“Oh, no, there’s no need for you to go! I will fetch a book directly and return. I believe I know your favorite,” Freyda said hurriedly, beginning to leave for her room to retrieve the book.
“Tomorrow night will be soon enough. I really must take my leave,” Eric said quickly.
“Very well then, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night, Mr. Northman.” She replied dejectedly.
“As do I,” he replied as he stepped out the front door hastily, making his escape in search of the girl.
When he walked into the alley leading to the back of the house, Eric could hear her humming as she worked. He glided silently, not to frighten, but to observe her. She had removed her cap and her long blonde hair was shining as it hung in waves down her back. Her ample bosom heaved from the top of her bodice and her apron cinched her waist before flaring out over her skirt and hips. The dress she wore was plain and the same would be said of the girl, by any of the women inside, wearing their dresses of satin, trimmed with lace and gaudy baubles. To Eric, she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and if he could breathe, his breath would have hitched at the sight of her standing there in the moonlight humming quietly. To him, she looked like an angel.
She was hanging laundry on a clothes line with her arms stretched high over her head when Eric cleared his throat to announce his presence. The noise startled her and she jumped. She glanced to her side in his direction and when she saw who it was, she froze in place.
“Oh! I didn’t hear you!” she said, clearly surprised.
“I apologize if I frightened you.”
“No, it’s not that, I just usually hear people from a mile away. My mind must have been wandering,” she said, looking at him oddly and unsure.
“It is awfully late to be hanging out clothing. The sun has set. Does that not defeat the purpose?”
“The sun will be up in the morning to dry them, and I won’t have the time to do it then. Besides, they are already wet and if I don’t take care of it now, they will begin to sour by morning,” she replied, going back to her work while simultaneously keeping an eye on him.
“Are you not afraid to be out here alone at night?”
“Why should I be? No one will approach this house that doesn’t want to go inside,” she scoffed.
“Are you certain of that?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Even you were inside a short while ago. The only others who pass by are drunks, and they are generally so out of their minds with drink that they can barely walk straight, much less do harm to a capable woman,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Is that what you are? Are you a capable woman?” he smiled at her fire.
“I can defend myself,” she said seriously, patting the pocket of the apron she was wearing.
“So I see,” Eric could smell the gun oil from where he was standing. “Do you often need to defend yourself in that manner?”
“No, like I said, I can usually hear people coming, and there’s no one around but the drunks and the men who want to see Ms. Freyda’s friends.”
“Are you not one of Ms. Freyda’s friends?”
Sookie looked at him horrified.
“No! I most certainly am not! I am a lady or I will be! I am educating myself,” she retorted.
Eric smiled again at her feistiness. For one so young, she certainly did seem sure of herself. He would enjoy getting to know her.
“I have learned your name is Sookie.”
A moment passed.
“Do you not wish to know my name?”
“Why would I need you to tell me? I’ve heard all about you from just about everyone inside, Mr. Northman.”
“What is it they say to you about me?” he chuckled.
“They don’t really say anything directly to me. I can just hear them…I mean…the walls are not thick enough to keep out their gossiping or anything else for that matter.”
“That must be difficult for you.”
“I can’t say one way or another. I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I guess it’s like that all around. Of course, I doubt that it’s the same kind of noise everywhere else all night long.”
She realized, then, what she had said and even in the dark with only the light of the moon, Eric could tell she was blushing. The top of her breasts had taken on a darker hue and the look on her face was clearly one of embarrassment. Perhaps she was finally realizing who she was talking to or what she was speaking about. The conversation was certainly not what Eric had expected. She must have heard most everything from wherever her room was if she lived in the house. Taking pity on her situation, Eric changed the subject.
“Tell me, how are you educating yourself to become a lady?”
“Well, I have taught myself to read. Although, I’ve read everything in the house about a hundred times, so there’s not much more I can do on that front. I can’t go to school, but the newsboy does bring the paper around every morning and I read that before Ms. Freyda gets up in the morning. I listen to people when I go out to do the shopping, so that I will know what’s going on in the world, but mostly people are just telling stories about each other. Still, it’s nice to be out when I can be.”
“Why don’t you buy some new books you haven’t yet read?”
“I would if I could, but I generally have a list that I have to stick to and Ms. Freyda only leaves out enough to cover the cost of what is on the list.”
“You should ask her if she would give you a little extra for some reading material.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Mr. Northman, you should get back inside before Ms. Freyda wonders what happened to you. I don’t think she would be too happy if she saw you out here talking with me,” Sookie said suddenly worried.
“I am not returning inside this evening. You have no need to worry. I was on my way home and heard you humming. I only wished to stop and introduce myself, but I see now that you already know who I am.”
“I saw you inside and wanted to make your acquaintance.”
“Oh.” She replied, blushing again.
“Do you often come out like this at night?” Eric asked.
“Not always, but I was late tonight finishing my work and this is the first chance that I have had to get the laundry done.”
“Do you think you will be late finishing your work tomorrow night?”
“Maybe?” Sookie said, trying not to smile.
“In that case, maybe I will see you here at this time tomorrow?” Eric smiled back.
“Well, if I am late, then I suppose I might see you then…maybe.”
“Have a good evening, Miss.”
“Stackhouse. Sookie Stackhouse.”
“Good evening, Miss Stackhouse,” Eric nodded his head to her and turned to leave.
“Good evening, Mr. Northman.”
He smiled as he walked away, his evening meal forgotten.
When the sun had set the next night, Eric stood down the alley, in the shadows, waiting for Sookie to appear. He knew he had told Freyda he would come by that evening, but he did not enter the house yet, fearing that he would not be able to escape quickly enough to see his Sookie. My Sookie, he thought to himself. Yes, she is mine already. The mere thought of her made him smile. He had thought of nothing else after their brief conversation the night before and had spent the remaining hours of the night finding the perfect token to give her.
After about an hour, he was sure she wasn’t coming. He thought perhaps he had been too bold and frightened her, despite her bravado and coquettish smile. Disheartened and disappointed, but resigned to the outcome, Eric began to walk toward the front of the house. If nothing else, now that he knew her scent, he would be able to smell her and know that she was nearby. He hoped he would have the opportunity to glamour one of the women, if not Freyda herself, to give Sookie his gift. It was then that he heard the latch to the backdoor open and smelled the sweet scent of his new friend waft by in the breeze.
He concealed the smile that had overtaken his face at the sound of her and portrayed a calm façade as he strolled back to meet her.
“Good evening, Miss Stackhouse. I apologize if I kept you waiting,” he said smoothly as he tipped his hat to her. Eric did not want her to know that he had been waiting for over an hour in the dark, staring at the door in anticipation of her appearance.
Her hair was down and pleated in a long braid. She was wearing a simple, pale dress adorned with tiny red flowers. The dress was well worn and had obviously been repaired in various places over time. Still, she was as lovely as he remembered. He could sense this dress was special to her and she had worn it for him. She wore no apron and there were no clothes baskets or any other indications of her work with her this time.
“I am afraid it’s me who kept you waiting, Mr. Northman. I finished my work earlier in the afternoon, but had to attend to Ms. Freyda and help her prepare for the evening before I could retire to my room,” she told him as she lit one of the gas lanterns attached to the back of the house.
“The time is not important. Quite frankly, I am only glad I did not frighten you away last night.”
“Why should I be afraid of you?”
“You should not. I have no questionable intentions toward you. Though, I am a stranger to you and as I said last night, it is dark and you are alone.”
“Well, I can’t be alone if you are here with me, now can I?”
“That is a fair point, Miss Stackhouse,” Eric said, smiling widely. Yes, she certainly did have spirit.
“I don’t think I should stay long, though. It’s true that Ms. Freyda normally pays no attention to me after the house is open at night, but it would be better if she did not come looking for me, only to find me here and not in my room. She is aware that I have no more work this evening.”
“Then your time is your own and you should be allowed to sit in the evening air, if that is your desire.”
“I should,” Sookie said wistfully and sighed.
“I have brought something for you,” Eric said, holding out a package.
“Oh! You shouldn’t have done that, Mr. Northman! I can’t accept a gift from you,” she said, shaking her head.
“Then let us not consider it a gift, but a loan. You may return it, at any time, when you no longer find it useful,” Eric smiled and took a step closer to her, extending his arm that was holding the package.
Sookie stepped forward and hesitantly took the box from him. As she did, their fingers touched and Eric felt a jolt of electricity run between him. Her eyes widened and he knew she had felt it, too. She stepped back to the light to open the box. Inside was a leather-bound book. It was like no book she had ever seen. The title was ‘Evelina’.
“I have never heard of this book,” she said as she opened it and studied the first page.
“This is a manuscript. It is a book not yet published, but I have many friends and obtained one of the first drafts not long ago. It is the story of a girl your age, Evelina, who is finding her way through society and the start of her life in London. It is both humorous and, at times, a story of love. If I am correct, you have not had an opportunity to read such a book. I think you will enjoy it,” Eric said with hope in his voice.
“You’re right and this is a wonderful surprise, but I really can’t accept. It must be very valuable and I wouldn’t want to risk anything happening to it,” Sookie said as she returned the book to the box and stretched it toward him. Eric held his hands up, palms facing out, to prevent her from handing it back.
“Think of me as your personal library. I will loan books to you and when you have completed or tired of them, you may return them to me. Believe me, I have many, many books and I will not miss one from time to time.”
“Maybe I will read it tonight and I’ll be able to return it to you tomorrow, if I see you?”
“There are no more maybes, Miss Stackhouse. If you wish to see me again, you only need to tell me and I will be here.”
“Then I will see you tomorrow, Mr. Northman,” she said definitively, and gave a small curtsy, smiling brightly at him.
“As your official librarian, I will choose another book for you and bring it with me to our meeting,” Eric said, returning her smile.
Her face lit up like a child at the thought of that.
“Thank you. That is very generous.”
“I will say good night. Until tomorrow, Miss Stackhouse.”
“Good night, Mr. Northman.”
Though, he was loath to see Freyda that night, Eric entered the house after leaving his friend. He listened to Freyda drone on about nothing of importance and feigned interest when she read from a book of carnal pleasures trying to entice him. He had a good poker face and while she prattled, his mind and senses wandered to the back of the house wondering if Sookie had begun her book and imagined her reactions to the story while she curled up in her bed to read.
Eric did not leave the parlor that night or any night thereafter for quite some time. He no longer had an interest in any of the other women or their sexual encounters. His only desire was to befriend the tenacious girl. He could think of nothing else.
For the next two months, Eric and Sookie met each night behind the house to exchange books and pleasantries. They would discuss her thoughts on what she had read and he would tell her of the world outside of London. He was growing fonder of her with each visit and it appeared the feelings were mutual. The length of their conversations became longer and though Eric always made his appearance in the front of the house after he left her, his arrival became later each evening as the nights passed.
Eric took care to hide whatever book Sookie had returned to him outside before entering the parlor. He was unsure if Freyda would have seen any of her books, but wanted to be certain that there could be no question of him having one in his possession.
The single reason he continued to visit the brothel was to listen for Sookie turning the pages of her newest tale and breathe in her scent that still lingered in the parlor, despite the perfumes and powders that the others wore. Every night he sat smiling and in good spirits pretending he was somewhere else. His mind was always focusing on the visit he had just had with his Sookie. He wondered and hoped that she did not believe he was there to spend time with anyone else.
Eric explained away the fact that he did not bed any of the women by telling Freyda that he felt he had still not overcome his slight affliction, which he had invented the first night he spoke to Sookie. He told her that he was there to enjoy her recitations or to pass the time in the comfortable surroundings of the house. However, he would leave as soon as he heard Sookie settle in to sleep for the night and would find his evening meal on the way to his home.
So wrapped up in his new nightly routine, it did not occur to him that Freyda would start to become suspicious of his new behavior.
“…well knowing that a Woman’s happiness depends entirely on the Husband she is united to; it is a step that requires more deliberation than girls generally take…; the risk tho always great, is doubled when they marry very young; it is impossible for them to know each other’s disposition; for at sixteen and nineteen we think everybody perfect that we take a fancy to…”
– Mrs. Anne Randolph to St. George Tucker, 1788.
“My birthday is in two days! I’m turning eighteen!” Sookie said excitedly one evening near the end of their nightly visit.
“Oh yes? What is it that you wish for your special day, little one?” Eric smiled. His mind was already churning to find the perfect present for his friend.
“I don’t want anything…,” she paused.
“I can hardly believe that is true. It is an important day and you deserve something grand.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right as usual, Mr. Northman. I do want something, but I’m afraid to ask,” Sookie said nervously.
“You may have anything I am able to give you,” Eric replied attempting to put her at ease.
“I want…I wish to have an outing, Mr. Northman…with you,” she said quickly.
Eric thrilled at her words.
“This is an easy gift to give. I will call on you properly in two nights. Perhaps in anticipation, we should not see each other tomorrow? It will give me time to plan something memorable that you will enjoy. It is also my hope you will then, finally, consent to call me by my given name. You will be of age on that night and it will not be improper, if we are to begin our courting for you to call me Eric. I will speak to Ms. Freyda tonight and make the arrangements,” he said, getting excited at the thought of the two of them away from the house.
“What if she says no?” Sookie said, her nerves returning in full force.
“She will not. Have no fear, Miss Stackhouse. I will take care of everything and I will assuage any doubts Ms. Freyda may have,” he said confidently.
“Oh, thank you! I am so happy! Though I will miss you tomorrow,” she added somberly.
“As will I, little one. I will think of you each moment until I see you again,” he replied and bowed to her.
“Good night, Mr. Northman,” she giggled.
“Good night, Miss Stackhouse,” he smiled, taking her hand and kissing it for the first time.
Sookie blushed and giggled again before running into the house, closing the door behind her.
Overcome with happiness and excitement, Eric he did not sense Freyda watching and listening to them from an upstairs window as he departed from Sookie that night.
He did not know that after hearing their plans, Freyda and her jealousy, had already decided how Sookie would be spending her ‘special’ day.
He could not and would never have guessed at the horrors Freyda was planning for the first night in months that they were spending apart. If she had her way, tonight would be the last night they were ever together.
Closing the window silently, Freyda sat on her bed and re-read the letter addressed to Sookie. When she found it, it was still unopened and obviously undiscovered. It had been hidden at the bottom of the clothes basket underneath neatly folded sheets, where the girl had negligently left it setting on the kitchen table the night before. Apparently, Sookie had not known of its existence.
Freyda had long suspected something amiss with Sookie’s new forgetful behaviors and it was for that reason she had been watching the girl. Before discovering the letter, she had not known the cause. Until hearing the two of them speaking, she had not known the author.
She opened the letter and scowled at his words.
“My dearest Sookie,
It has been long since I have had the inclination to write a letter such as this. I find it difficult to put on paper that which reflects the thoughts of my mind. Therefore, I have borrowed the words of another to express my sentiments. These fragments are from a poem I discovered though I am unsure of its origin…
‘Could I see you without passion, or be absent from you without pain, I need not beg your pardon for my vows that I care for you more than health, or any happiness here or hereafter.
Everything you do is a new charm to me, and though I have languished for long tedious years of desire, jealously despairing, yet every minute I see you I discover something new and more bewitching. Consider how I love you; what would I not renounce or enterprise for you?
I must have you mine, or I am miserable, and nothing but knowing which shall be the happy hour can make the rest of my years that are to come tolerable. Give me a word or two of comfort, or resolve never to look on me more, for I cannot bear a kind look and after it a cruel denial.
Even this minute my heart aches for you; and, if I cannot have a right in yours, I wish it would ache till I could complain to you no longer.’
I find truth in this, Miss Stackhouse. It is my hope that this letter has, without doubt, expressed to you what is in my heart. I must confess to you that I have a secret I am keeping, that which I have shared with no other. I wait a time that I may find the will to finally speak the words to you and hear your response. That, above all else, will determine any future you might wish to share with me.
Until that day comes, I am forever yours, my little one.”
Freyda tore the letter into pieces and kept them held in her hand. When she heard the door open to the parlor marking his arrival, anger rose in her at the thought of him sharing his most private thoughts with his precious Sookie. She sneered at her own plans to deny him his request to ‘court’ her.
Freyda moved downstairs to greet him. As she passed the fireplace, she threw in what was left of the letter and let the pieces burn with a wicked smile on her face.
“Be careful what you wish for. You never know who will be listening.”
– Terry Pratchett
Alexander Skarsgård as Eric Northman
Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse
Angelica Huston as Freyda
A/N – A big thank you goes out to MsBuffy for editing this before I posted! She did, as always, an amazing job cleaning up my mess!