Chapter 01: Young Love
LATE FEBRUARY 1864
Captain Eric Northman had been promoted several times during his relatively short tenure in the army. Of course, those three years of service seemed like an eternity. And the promotions had come with the deaths of his commanders—more than from anything he had done, though, by all accounts, he was an excellent soldier and tactician.
That was likely the reason why he lived with such frustration! The Union army was bigger, better armed, and—arguably—better trained than the Confederate force. However, the Union's Commanding Generals had been ill-suited to run the army. Indeed, many of its officers had proven more cowards than fighters!
Eric sighed as he came to the crest of the hill that gave him a view of his family's rolling property just outside of Boston. He could not yet see the house, but he knew that he would see it soon. The road leading to it was soupy due to a late February snow, but that was not uncommon, nor was Eric unused to the cold, given the fact that he had spent the better part of three winters in tents or on the battlefield. He had long since learned what had to be done in order to avoid frostbite or gangrene. And he had been clever and careful—having seen too many others lose fingers, toes, or the tips of their noses to the elements.
And having seen even more fall from disease than from the fighting.
Given the condition of the road and the condition of his tired horse, Eric did not kick in his heels to drive his gelding faster towards his destination. Hell—a part of him was nervous about getting home.
He had not seen his mother or sisters for years, though he had managed to see his father twice since Godric was so often in Washington, D.C. and Eric had been stationed mostly in Virginia.
Because he was a valuable officer, Eric had not been given a leave of absence of more than a week since he had enlisted in May 1861, shortly after word of the fall of Fort Sumter had reached Boston. With working telegraph lines all the way from Florida to Maine, something that was no longer the case, it had not taken long for the North to be hit by the blow that they had lost the Fort.
Eric's father, Godric, had been most displeased by Eric's joining the army. A political advisor to Abraham Lincoln, Godric had wanted Eric to follow in his footsteps. Godric had strongly believed that Eric could better serve his country from Washington—where he would be safe. However, though Eric had graduated from Harvard in 1860 with a law degree, he did not have political aspirations. Of course, he had not planned on being a soldier either.
In fact, his childhood dream had been to open a law practice with his cousin, William Compton. However, that dream had been smashed like so many other things—by the war.
Eric closed his eyes tightly for a moment. In truth, that dream had already been on thin ice—even before the war—because of one woman: Sookie Stackhouse.
FLASHBACK: JUNE 1856 (EIGHT YEARS EARLIER)
"Pamela, settle down!" Rose Northman said to her extremely excitable 16-year-old daughter, who was bouncing more than the carriage on the uneven dirt roads.
"But we haven't seen them in ages!" Pamela pouted.
"We saw them just last year—when they visited us in Boston," Godric reminded indulgently.
"But we didn't see Sookie!" Pamela said of her favorite playmate.
Godric chuckled. "No—we did not at that."
Pamela gave a little nod of vindication and turned to look out the window in anticipation. She had been exchanging letters with Sookie Stackhouse for as long as either of the girls could write, and they had been best friends for even longer. Sookie was the daughter of Corbett and Michelle Stackhouse and was only a few months younger than Pamela.
The sixteen-year-old frowned.
"What is it, dear?" Rose asked of her daughter's changed expression.
"Is Miss Michelle really so sick?" Pamela asked. "Sookie said she was," she paused, "dying."
Godric and Rose exchanged a look.
"I am not sure," Rose said, reaching out to pat her daughter's arm in comfort.
In truth, Michelle was often sick, and Rose and Godric had discussed—privately, of course—the possibility that the high-strung woman had more wrong with her head than with her body. Neither of the Northmans liked to think ill of their friend, but it seemed likely that Michelle used her various illnesses to garner attention and to manipulate those around her.
Having never faced loss or hardship, Pamela was quick to "forget" her friend's mother and to turn her attention toward something else—in this case, her older brother, who had, as always, refused to ride with them in the carriage.
"He's sleeping—again!" Pamela said with exasperation, looking at her brother's tall body slumped slightly forward in his saddle. Godric chuckled as he looked at his son.
"I believe he insists upon riding so that he can sleep," Rose said, looking at Godric knowingly. Eric often complained about his little sister's "prattling." And—indeed—Eric was known for his ability to sleep anywhere, except in Pamela's company.
Godric winked at his wife, and she leaned into him a little, the subtle touch all that they could "properly" do with their daughter's inquisitive eyes so near. Still, the touch was lovely.
"Why couldn't I have a better brother—like William?" Pamela pouted.
Godric grinned. "Eric is a very good brother to you, dottir," he said, his Scandinavian roots showing. Though the height of his forebears had skipped him–seemingly being saved for his son—Godric was still quite proud of his heritage, and he had taught both of his children Swedish.
"He pulls my hair," Pamela said sullenly, acting very much the child rather than the blossoming young lady that she was.
"He has not done that for years," Godric said. "And—let me tell you something—I used to pull your Aunt Caroline's hair too!"
Pamela gasped. "You did?"
Godric chuckled as he thought about his twin sister. He was older than she was by only ten minutes. And they had remained close, despite the geographical distance between them. However, they could not have looked any more differently if they would have tried. While he was shorter than their father had been—standing at about 5'5"—Caroline was tall and elegant at 5'10". She had inherited the blond hair of their father, while Godric was a brunette like their mother.
In fact, brother and sister often joked that their sons had been switched at birth, for Eric was fair and tall like Caroline, while William was shorter and brunette like Godric. Of course, Caroline and Godric's own parents had been one of each, too. Godric sometimes wondered how and why certain traits were passed along to some and not to others, and he had once considered becoming a doctor, though he was ultimately glad to have followed his father's lead into the study of law.
He glanced back at Eric, proud that his son would soon be going to Harvard—just as Godric and his father had. Selfishly, Godric hoped that Eric would join him in his practice so that he could turn his focus more toward politics.
After their summer visit in Louisiana was over, William would be returning to Boston with the Northmans as well. Practically twins themselves, in that they had been born within days of one other, William and Eric had grown up close, despite the fact that they saw each other for only a couple of months a year.
Godric sighed as he remembered the day that Caroline had told him that she was marrying Jessie Compton, a plantation owner in Northern Louisiana. Oh, Godric liked Jessie—well enough—despite their disagreements over many political issues, the chief of which was slavery. Certainly, Jessie was a good businessman and ran his plantation with more morality than most Southern slave owners; however, Godric was an Abolitionist through and through.
Many years prior, the brother-in-laws had mutually agreed not to speak of that issue—for the sake of keeping peace in their families. But staying quiet was becoming more and more difficult for the progressive Northerner.
Of course, Godric had hated that his sister moved so far away from him and the rest of their family. But Caroline was always anxious to see new places, and twenty-three years before, the romantic notions of the South had enthralled her—as had Jessie's genteel manners. And Caroline had proven to be a wonderful mistress of the large palatial estate that had been in the Compton family for many generations.
Despite the distance, Godric and Caroline had maintained a close relationship, exchanging weekly letters. Both families were well-off; thus, they were able to exchange yearly visits with one another that would last approximately two months at a time. And, as the railroads had gotten better, those visits had, thankfully, become much easier.
Godric chuckled as he saw his son's body lolling slightly to the side, but he knew that Eric would not fall off of his horse, even though he was sleeping. Godric shook his head. Eric had been a natural horseman and swordsman—and had even considered going to West Point for a while. Thankfully, when William had decided upon Harvard, Eric had done the same. From his political contacts, Godric knew well of the horrors of the War with Mexico the decade before. Thus, he was happy that his son was not planning to become a soldier, especially since Godric worried that the conflicts between the North and the South would continue mounting. Though others thought he was foolish to suggest that a war might occur between the two regions, Godric could sense that a boiling point was coming.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering what a war would do to his family. The Comptons and the Northmans were entwined by friendship—as much as by blood. He glanced at Eric again, fearing that he and William might very well be at odds one day soon. The cousins and best friends were actually brothers in their hearts, but would their relationship survive if the country broke in two?
Hell, South Carolina had threated secession—again—only six years before! And the increasingly powerful Abolitionist movement had stirred up a hornet's nest among Southern slave owners—as had Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book which had opened up the eyes of many Northerners to the horrors of slavery. Of course, it had also enraged many Southerners who had denounced the book as false.
Southerners like Jessie defended the practice of slavery and reminded Northerners of their own shortcomings. Sadly, Godric knew their arguments to be accurate, too. He had inspected many of the manufacturing houses of the North—industries that used poor immigrants for cheap labor. Many of those immigrants worked in extremely hazardous conditions and existed in squalor the likes of which he had never seen on his brother-in-law's plantation.
Indeed, those workers were only better off than slaves because they were not "officially" owned. However, in Godric's opinion, that did not make their situation any less deplorable, and he worked tirelessly for the group.
Thus far, William and Eric had managed to skirt around any political differences they might have had; however, Godric knew that—as they attended college together—arguments would likely occur between them.
As if reading his mind, Rose grasped his hand. In that moment, Godric wished that gloves were not in fashion so that he could feel his wife's warm, silky skin against his own. The touch of her flesh would have truly comforted him. But, sadly, that would have to wait for later.
"Sookie!" Pamela squealed.
Eric chuckled as he watched his little sister jump from the carriage before it had even stopped, despite the gargantuan size of her hoop skirt.
"Pamela!" Sookie grinned as she ran to embrace her best friend, her own skirt neither as elaborate nor as large as Pamela's.
Eric noticed this—as he had noticed everything about Sookie Stackhouse for as long as he could remember.
Knowing he would have to wait until it was his "proper" turn to greet the object of his affections, Eric dismounted and greeted his closest friend in the world, William Compton. The two were as jovial as always in their greeting. But Eric wondered how long that would last.
Though his father did not like to recognize it, Eric understood a lot more than Godric thought he did about the world around them.
For example, though the Comptons and the Stackhouses were neighbors and friends—and the relative economic statuses of the families were not spoken of—it was clear that those statuses were disparate, not that this fact had interfered with the friendships that had grown throughout the years.
Friendships between the Comptons and the Stackhouses and between the Northmans and the Stackhouses.
In fact, other than William, Jason Stackhouse was Eric's closest friend. Jason was headed toward West Point in the fall, and—in truth—Eric envied him a little. But Eric had resolved to make his father happy by choosing Harvard.
Unbeknownst to his father and mother, Eric had also noticed many other things throughout the years.
For instance, Godric and Corbett Stackhouse were much better friends than Godric and his brother-in-law, Jessie. And Eric knew why, too. Godric and Corbett shared many of the same philosophies in life. In fact, Godric was helping Corbett invest his limited funds so that the Stackhouse family status could be solidified. Eric knew that his father worked many hours to help Corbett.
And, at nineteen years old, Eric was well-aware of the political turmoil in his country. So far, he and William had been able to remain amiable toward each other because they simply did not discuss some things. But Eric also knew that—although more progressive than his father—William would support Jessie's ideals as long as his father was alive, even if they differed from his own.
Eric grinned as he greeted his Aunt Caroline and Uncle Jessie, even as he noticed Corbett and Adele Stackhouse standing off to the side, waiting for their own turns to greet the Northmans. It did not escape Eric's notice that Michelle was not with them, and—almost immediately after their greeting—Godric and Corbett seemed to be discussing that sad fact in low voices to the side of the gathering.
Having said hello to Adele Stackhouse, who insisted that everyone call her Gran, Eric turned—finally—to greet Sookie, who had been reluctantly let loose by Pamela.
Eric's breath caught. The last time he had seen Sookie, she had been fourteen and—though beautiful to him—she had still looked like a little girl to his eyes, even more than his sister, who had matured early, partially because of her insistence that she wear more "grown-up" fashions.
Now, at almost sixteen, Sookie was a beautiful young woman. And her clear blue eyes held a level of maturity that Pamela's certainly did not.
Standing almost a foot shorter than he stood, Sookie had to look up to greet him, but Eric could still see the firm set of her chin—the strength in her posture.
She entranced him more than ever.
"It is lovely to see you, Sookie," Eric said somewhat formally, suddenly feeling a little awkward. In the past, he had been free to greet her with a hug, but now he realized that her age did not allow for that. Still, he felt the desire to touch her.
Thus, he took her hand gently into his own and brought the back of it to his lips. She was not wearing gloves—though, sadly, he was.
He would not make that mistake again.
The touch seemed to heighten her pulse, and Sookie gasped a little.
He gasped too.
"Hello, Eric. It is nice to see you too," she said, her voice gentle.
Not wanting to let go of her and seeing that the others were heading to the back yard for refreshments, he crooked his arm so that she could move her own to lock with his.
"Shall we?" he asked.
She smiled, nodded, and walked with him.