“You have to try this!” she said pulling him through the crowd toward another vendor selling food of some kind. They had already eaten their way through Knossos twice. This one was selling some kind of meat pies with cups of wine. She was already halfway through her pie when he asked her what it was.
“Lamb with berry sauce,” she got out as she shoved in another large bite. Following her lead he took a bite and a moment later was shoving it in just as fast as she was. He was still eating when she dragged him off to see the next thing. She had been like a little girl all day, showing him the delights of the city one after another. It was all a blur to him, his only real memories of her in the light as it changed around them telling the passage of time. He could look at her forever and never see everything there was to see.
“Eric!” recognizing Sam’s voice he turned to greet his friend. They hugged and Sam introduced him companion Lela Dimitrios and her daughter Calisto. She was a small thing with dark hair. She seemed every bit at delighted as Sookie was with the festival and its offerings.
“Bacchus would be so pleased with the festival!” Calisto exclaimed clapping her hands. “Can we go make an offering to him, please?” Sam smiled at her.
“Of course little Calisto.” Turning to Eric and Sookie he explained that Calisto was destined for the temple of Bacchus when she became of age. When she entered the temple would become a wife to the god.
“Lo Lo Bromios, Lo Lo Dendrites, Eleutherios, Enorches, Bacchus,” the little girl chanted as she moved through the crowd around them dancing.
“It is a great honor for my daughter to be chosen,” Lela added watching her Calisto with pride. Eric felt a chill pass through him as he watched her. The old expression that someone had just walked over his grave came to mind. He felt Sookie’s hand tighten on his and saw the same look on her face. It passed as quickly as it came. Sam waved farewell and headed with his ladies to the temple of Bacchus.
Looking around Eric spied something he wanted to check out so for a change he dragged her with him yelling, “You’ve to see this!” She was still laughing when then got to the booth. Sam had paid him for his work on the voyage to Knossos and he wanted to buy a gift for his wife.
The vendor was selling dresses like the one he had seen her wearing when she was Minos in the dream. He looked through the wares until he found just the thing. It was a dress of cranberry red that had a bodice of golden threads that would frame and display her breasts in the fashion of the time.
Imagining her in it he felt his mouth go dry and his body respond. “Yes, this is the one I want,” he told the vendor, haggling on the price as Sam had taught him to do. When they finally agreed he triumphantly took his prize and turned to offer it to her. She had tears running down her cheeks. His heart crashed.
“Do you not like it?” he asked ready to return it if she hated it that much.
“I love it,” she said reaching out to touch it. “It’s just what I would have picked for myself, only better because you picked it for me.” He kissed her forehead.
“I will never understand you, Sookie Stackhouse Northman.” She sniffled, a smile bursting through.
“That’s ok, as long as you don’t stop trying.”
“Never. Now let’s go home and try this on?” They walked home hand in hand, picking up a jug of wine and bread for later. They did not plan to come back out that evening.
“Iolas is favored to win the wrestling matches today,” she said as they looked for a seat in the arena the next day. “That’s him there,” she pointed to a dark haired well-muscled man who appeared to be around Eric’s age. He was dressed only in a white loin cloth, his dark skin shiny with oil that would make it easier for him to avoid the holds of his opponents. The matches started as soon as they found a seat. Sookie talked him through the events and he tried to pay attention but his mind kept wandering.
She had told him that she would leave him as soon as the footrace stared to go and prepare for the dance that would start when the race ended. He was trying to prepare himself for seeing her harm’s way with a very large very angry bull that she would be leaping around and on as part of the ritual. As time passed he grew more and more anxious.
“I know you are worried, Eric.” Her words pulled him back to focus on her.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re squeezing my hand nearly in two.” Immediately he eased up, but did not let her go.
“Sorry.” He made himself stop there. To say more would only serve to distract her, perhaps at a crucial moment that could cost her very life. Taking a deep breath he decided to go a different way. She needed him to be there for her. He had made a poor showing of that so far in their lives together. He would not let her down again. Taking a deep breath he turned to face her.
“I am excited for you, Sookie. I know how much this means to you. I know what the other Leapers mean to you and I know that you are going to be great today!” She smiled faintly and he was pretty sure that she saw right through him, but then he found the core of the truth that he was trying to convey and his words became more confident.
“When I read your letters of the things you had seen and done I knew that in some way you had prepared for this your whole life. You were able to practice bull leaping in that village where you better than the strongest boy there! You spent your life studying ancient cultures and found yourself where you could best put that use. You are the most beautiful amazing woman in any world, Sookie. I believe in you even when I can’t believe in myself.”
Her jaw had dropped slightly as he talked. “What happened to my sweet shy Eric?” she asked.
“He realized if he didn’t learn to speak up that he would lose the most important thing in his entire life.”
“No danger of that happening now.”
“I love you, you crazy man.”
“That’s the best part.”
“That you love me.”
“Since the first day I saw you.”
“Me, too, and every day since.”
He held her hand until the matches were over. She kissed him softly before she left to go prepare. He smiled at her focused on being supportive and strong until she passed out of his sight. Then he let himself fall apart, all his worst fears rushing in.
Not knowing what to do with himself he went to find a drink. He wound up having several, and completely ignoring the footrace before returning to his seat to wait for the bull leaping to begin. He was glad that she could not see how scared he was for her and for himself. If something happened to her today he would not survive it. He knew that as sure as he knew this was something she had to do.
On his journey there he had read everything he could find about bull leaping. There hadn’t been nearly enough to put him at ease. His wine addled mind kept thinking of the fresco. What if it had been a memorial to his wife?
You’ve got to get a grip!
Right, get a grip. She’s traveled the world and done many things like this, will do many more like this. You can’t let this get to you. This is what it is to love her. This feeling of always being not able to help while she runs off and does something dangerous. If you can’t take the heat, too bad! You are already in the kitchen, Northman.
Would you give it up even if you could? Would you give her up now?
Then get it together man!
He was still arguing with himself when Sam, Lela and Calisto joined him. “Are you excited for the show, Eric?”
“Thrilled,” Eric deadpanned. Sam clapped him on the back smiling.
“She’ll be fine. She trained for this and I saw her when we arrived in the streets. She’s really good at this.” That made the knots in his middle ease up a little.
“Thanks, Sam. I appreciate that.” Sam smiled and sat back ready to watch. Eric took some deep breaths and was just starting to calm down a little when Calisto came up to him and placed her hand on his arm.
“Bacchus gave me a message for you.” She pressed a small round stone into his hand and folded his fingers over it. “He said you would need this soon. There will be just enough light to see where it rolls, and for you to remember that stones roll downhill.”
“What?” Eric asked, confused. She walked away taking her seat just as the horns blew and the bull was released to the arena.
You don’t see a lot of livestock in New York City. He had seen some since he had been in Greece they had been sedate farming animals for the most part. This bull looked like it had been bred in Hell and fed lightning bolts every day since. Standing with its shoulders at six foot, it was taller than Eric and three times as broad. The horns were at least three feet long and razor sharp. When it was released to run out into the arena it charged out at a full gallop head down, looking for a target.
Eric’s heart seized up in his chest. He started to rise but Sam caught his arm and pulled him back down. “Trust her, Eric. You came all the way from Rhodes believing in her. Believe in her now.” I came a lot further than Rhodes, he thought letting Sam pull him down. “Here they come,” Sam said when the horn blew again.
One by one they filed out. There were thirteen in total, seven men and six women. The came out running around the edge of the arena alternating turning right or left as they came out. They ran until they were evenly spaced around the edges of the arena then they turned and faced the crowd bowing and waving as though four hundred pounds of murder wasn’t in the ring with them. Eric’s eyes flipped back and forth from Sookie to the bull.
As one the Leapers clapped and started back flipping to the center of the arena. They were two flips in when they stopped and broke into teams as they had in the street yesterday. Sookie ran back and then toward her two kneeling partners. Before he could take a breath she was in the air flipping. She landed on the bulls back with her hands for just a second and then pushed off and up continuing to flip to the other side where she tucked and rolled coming to her feet then running toward the edge.
Her touch had set the bull in motion. Another Leaper came in head on somersaulting toward the bull. He flipped around catching the horns and using them to push up and over the charging form landing safely behind him as he ran by. One by one the Leapers took turns jumping over, around and on the bull when he came near. Sometimes they worked together, sometimes alone but always in practiced and graceful moves that kept the audience on the edge of its seat. They made it look easy. They made it look like the bull had practiced and trained with them, which was Eric supposed what made their actions special.
Though he never relaxed he came soon to see the dance for what it was, a celebration of life. Their moves said no matter how well you planned there was always the unknown, the charging bull that could make it all obsolete in a moment. Their dance spoke of how control was only an illusion no matter how they all clung to it every day.
If he hadn’t already been madly in love with her he would have fallen when she took the bull by the horns one last time flipping up onto his back as her two partners each took a horn pushing up with their lithe muscular bodies. It was not a pose they could have held for more than a second, but a second was all she needed to slide the knife into the bull’s neck severing an artery, completing the sacrifice of the magnificent animal that was the culmination of the ritual.
Leaping off they continued to dance around him as he bled out on the ground, finally collapsing in a great heap. Then one by one the Leapers came forth and used the blood to mark their faces. The crowd was on its feet screaming, clapping and cheering. Eric was on his feet, too but only so that he never lost sight of his wife.
Now that it was over he felt such a strange mix of emotions churning through him. Love, always love, admiration, and anger at her for putting him through so much. He knew it wasn’t rational, but he couldn’t change how he felt. He wasn’t even sure it was anger because it was mixed with desire and a need to touch her that could no longer be denied. It was as if he had to make sure for himself that she was truly all right.
When the Leapers left the stadium through the same door they had entered by he said his farewells to Sam and his women moving quickly through the crowd. Gracefully he vaulted the wall landing in the sandy arena jogging toward the door he had seen her enter a few minutes before. He pushed through and found himself in a long dimly lit corridor. The corridor twisted and turned causing him to get lost several times. The longer it took for him to find her the more he lost emotional control of himself.
After what seemed forever he stumbled into an open room where again the river had been directed through troughs of clay to create a waterfall shower. That was a luxury he didn’t even have at home. For some reason this unhinged him further. The others were finishing when he came in. Like everyone else in this time their nudity was taken as a matter of daily occurrence. He had grown used to that now, the scant loincloths the willingness to lose them at a moment’s notice.
He stood in the doorway and watched her turn under the water, wetting her hair and washing the blood from her face. Her eyes were closed as she enjoyed the sensation of the cool water running down her body. He did not speak, nor did the other Leapers as they gathered their clothing and slipped away leaving him there with her. They could have stayed it wouldn’t have changed what he intended to do. A part of him almost wished they had. They would have left here knowing what he was only beginning to understand himself.
This woman had tied him in knots all day. She had held him in her hand, and she had kept him safe, but that wasn’t enough. The emotional exposure he felt, the vulnerability was unbearable unless he know that he was not alone in it. He had to know that she was just as exposed, just as vulnerable to him.
He had to know if he meant as much to her as she did to him. That if he lost himself to this feeling of helplessness and mindless need he would turn and find her at his side.
He walked in shower so focused on her that he didn’t even bother to remove his clothes. He was already shirtless, but the white toga he wore around his hips was soaked as soon as he pressed his large frame next to hers under the stream. She jumped, jerking her eyes open hands clenched and ready to strike. They relaxed immediately when she saw that it was him.
“Eric? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said, his voice deep. “Everything,” he added a moment later his hands roaming her body looking for damage from her bull dance, but she was as perfect now as she had been last night and this morning. This pleased and frustrated him in equal measure. For all the torment he had been subjected to shouldn’t there be some visible evidence for its justification?
His hand moved between her legs touching her in the way that took her breath away. He continued for several moments, watching her desire build as her hands clutched his shoulders. “That feeling you have now, that need for more, the heaviness in your breasts that make your nipples hard, the pressure in your belly that makes you work against my hand…is it me you want, sweet Sookie? Is it me you need or would anyone do?”
“Only… (Oh) you, Eric! Only you!” He sped up his movements needing her to break at his touch. Needing to break her as she had him today. A moment later she did. He fell to his knees and buried his face between her legs sucking at her nub making her scream again. Only his hands on her hips kept her standing as he licked and sucked her until she was a quivering mass of emotion.
“Eric! Please…I can’t! It feels like I’m dying from need of you!”
Rising from her feet, water cascading off him like Poseidon himself, he ripped away his clothing and picked her up so fast she couldn’t follow his movements. Her back met the wall of the alcove, his hands holding her there while he pressed into her slick center. “Tell me again,” his deep voice in her ear as he thrust deeply into her. “Tell me again that you are mine, Sookie.” Her arms came around his neck, soft grunts of pleasure and satisfaction coming from deep inside her each time he thrust his hips.
When she didn’t answer fast enough he took a nipple into his mouth. Her head fell back and he felt her walls flutter around his shaft. “Tell me,” he commanded her when he released her swollen nipple, his hips rocking into her faster and harder as he commands echoed on the walls with her screams of pleasure.
She clung to him, her legs around his flexing hips, and her mouth on his as he swallowed her passionate sounds in lieu of the words he wanted. Tearing his mouth from hers he pressed his lips to her ear. “Give yourself to me, Sookie. Give me everything,” with a strangled cry from somewhere between ecstasy and insanity she said his name just as her body squeezed his orgasm from him. Her eyes rolled back in her head as he came hard inside her, meeting some instinctive primal need that was as new to him as it was to her.
Moving to a nearby alcove seat in the shower he kept their bodies joined while he rocked her gently in his arms, kissing her shoulder softly from time to time. He thought she was asleep until she spoke. “That was amazing, Eric.” She turned, rubbing her face on him as met his eyes, hers barely open she was so relaxed from the pleasure they had just shared. He felt much as he had before, suspended over a chasm that was pulling at him. He held on tighter to Sookie, believing she could save him from falling. “Tell me, baby. What’s wrong?”
“I read your letters. I know what you do. I’ve just never seen it before. You’ve never been mine before. I thought…I thought that if I meant as much to you as you do me…that if I could know that…then I wouldn’t be in this all alone! It’s…this feeling I have for you, Sookie, it’s so big that I can’t see or think my way around it. If you had died today…I felt like I would have died with you. Why did I come here for you to risk everything like that?”
“But I didn’t die, baby,” she soothed him, bringing her hands up to his head so they could thread through his wet hair. “I’m right here. Can’t you feel me?” She flexed on him still buried inside her and felt him grow harder. “I know how hard it can be to pour your heart out and not get anything in return.” His face grimaced as his guilt came back with biting teeth of regret for his silence over so many years. “No, listen,” her hands came to his face waiting until he looked her in the eye. “I know how big this feeling is between us. My eyes opened wider every year since I was eight.
“Then I wanted to run and play with you all day, every day. As time passed, the feeling grew and changed. When I had a first awkward breathless kiss to give it was only your face I saw. When I was confronted with the needs of a mature female body it was only you I could imagine taking away the need I felt. It was only your touch I craved. I have walked the world Eric Northman and met many people. You are the only one who has ever mattered to me. You are not alone, Eric. I am always with you, even when you can’t see me or touch me I am always with you.”
“Sookie,” he moaned her words reassuring him, catching him, holding him safe like he needed to feel. His body rocked into hers gently making her eyes close at the sensation of pressing so deeply into the center of her. “My sweet Sookie.”
“Always with you,” she said again as she kissed him to seal her vow. His hands came down to her hips pressing her down as he rocked up. “Always,” she whispered again as she trembled in his arms.
“Always,” he said as he pressed his face into her neck and worked toward his release inside her. It wasn’t too big anymore, not with the two of them there together.
She dressed him first, wringing the water from his toga before tying it around his slim muscular hips. She placed a soft kiss on his chest. “If I had known what was under that stodgy old suit that day in your office I would have tried harder to get you naked and have my way with you.” He chuckled.
“This is result of working a fishing boat, so it wasn’t there then.”
“But you were there. I wish I had held onto my faith a little longer and tried harder. I was only teasing, baby. What you look like doesn’t matter to me, it’s the man and his heart that I hold above all others.” The look in his eyes at her words was so intense that she had to look away. It left her feeling to naked under his gaze, as though he could touch a part of her that she could barely look at herself.
“No regrets for the past, my sweet Sookie. It led us here. There is no better place to be.” He kissed her then with a tenderness that made her want to weep, the emotion he caused in her was too big to be contained and she had to let it go in tears of joy. All those years, all those steps to get here. He was right, there was no better place to be.
When the kiss ended she looked down and saw a small round stone on the floor of the alcove. “What’s this?” she asked handing it to him. Before he could answer they were interrupted.
“Sookie? What keeps you?”
“King Minos!” Sookie exclaimed falling to her knees in front the King beside Eric. Eric saw Minos’ lustful gaze on Sookie and immediately reached for her clothing to hold in front of her before taking a knee to the great King as well.
Sookie had pointed the King out at the wrestling earlier that day but he had been on the other side of the arena and seated. This was Eric’s first look at the monarch outside the dream where he had made his interest in Sookie quite plain. Eric bowed his head, but not before he saw the King appraise him not as a subject but as a man he was in competition with.
By comparison Eric was over a foot taller, his frame lithe and graceful whereas the King was muscled and compact. Eric’s hair was blond like Sookie’s, Minos had dark hair and eyes. They were both attractive, but Eric had something that the King plainly wanted for his own, something that he could take if the mood struck him and if Eric opposed him in anyway it would result in his death.
“The Leapers have returned to the palace for a small celebration before we retire for the evening in anticipation of tomorrow’s great banquet. They said that you had been delayed. Is all well?”
“Very well, my King. May I present my husband, Eric?”
“Ah, my loyal subject, Eric, arrived in Knossos at last.” Minos took a step closer to them. “Rise that I may see your face, Eric.” Slowly Eric stood looking at the King. Remembering Sookie’s dream words and how she had evaded him by playing to his ego over his manly desires he tried the same route.
“Great King Minos, I am your humble servant who sings your praises as a wise and generous King to all who have ears.” In truth he had never said a word about Minos, but was willing to do whatever it took to his love safe from the King’s bed. He actually saw Minos puff up at his words of praise.
“Your wife has told me of your words and that you consider me an honorable King.”
“Most honorable, King Minos.” He didn’t like where this was going.
“It is only that honor that has kept your wife from my bed.” And there it was. No more cat and mouse.
“You prove yourself in your every action and deed, great Minos,” Eric said thinking quickly. Sookie was still kneeling beside him but her watchful gaze was on them both ready to intercede if needed. He knew then that if it came down to his life or her taking Minos bed that she would sacrifice herself for him.
“And as a King do I need to prove myself?”
“No, great King that is what makes it and you so unique and wonderful that I honor you with my every word.” For a moment he thought how pleased Appius would be with this show. He felt a small bloom of appreciation for his hard teachings. Perhaps Sookie wasn’t the only one who had prepared for this her entire life.
Minos stared at him long and hard, knowing that he had just been outmaneuvered but unwilling to let Eric and Sookie see it on his face. “Sookie,” he said, still looking at Eric. He extended a hand toward her. “You will come now, join me and the others in wine and celebration before returning to your husband’s side.”
“As you wish, my King,” she said rising and dressing quickly. “See you back at the house?” Eric nodded hating with every fiber of his being that she was about to walk away with the King, but unable to do anything. She paused a moment, reaching up with her free hand to touch his face. “Always,” she said again, echoing their pledge from earlier. He nodded to show his understand and forced himself to remain still until they were gone. Taking a caning from Appius had been easier.
“This Eric, he is worthy of you?” Minos asked as they walked back to the palace.
“In every way.”
“And if he were no more?”
“There would never be another for me.” Her words were steel lined in velvet, but Minos was the King of Crete. He could find a way to get what he wanted and still keep his honor intact. He smiled and changed the subject praising her for her performance today. It would be important to keep her at ease for the next few hours.