Hey guys! So, does anyone still remember this? I can’t believe it was last updated in December! Shame on me, really! But I’m aiming to wrap this up in three chapters so hopefully now that the goal is set I can find the inspiration from somewhere to give it a good enough ending for the story itself and for you guys reading it! If you’re still with me on this, bless you! It turns out for Sookie being married comes with it’s own set of issues! xo
My first Christmas at the Estate wasn’t the one I had imagined enduring when I first shuffled my way up the seemingly never ending entry path, past the gardens, past the endless trees. It was not the one I could have even dreamed of either, for when I arrived a mere lowly maid, the idea of being Lady of the Manor, quite literally, never once crossed my mind.
Yet, that is exactly what happened.
The day of the gathering was utter chaos, I do not think either Eric or myself, or in fact, the entire household staff had so much as a moment to ourselves until the evening. Everyone had a task, or ten, to take care of and no one was in the mood for dilly-dallying, there was no time even if we’d been in a playful mood. Food was being prepared in every corner of the kitchen; I had been baking up a storm since five am. There was every kind of pie I could think of, including a few Amelia dreamed up. We had cakes, and buns we had muffins and breads. The cooks were dreaming up ways of presenting their food to what basically boiled down to the majority of the village for dinner, sixteen chickens, stacks of trays of beef, game and turkey all graced the pans for frying, roasting and grilling. Utter chaos.
But fantastical chaos.
There were decorations, candles, and well placed lamps in corners so that almost every inch of the grand home could be shown off, apparently it was still one of many things Lord Niall held his pride over, that and his appearance. He had insisted on full dinner garb, even if Eric and I told him it was more casual than formal, he still came down in a three piece suit and his best shoes. He was ill, some might even have said he was on his deathbed, but a man with his pride was a man, in my humble opinion, still full of life.
Seven of the main farmers of the land and their wives arrived, the bar keep, and the tailor and Niall’s GP and their wives too. All the ladies and gents in their Sunday best, looking rather nervous, but I did my best to put them at ease. Even if they looked at me funny and whispered about me behind my back, I had expected that of course. To them I was still Sookie the Maid. Adjusting to being Mrs Northman wasn’t just something that would take me time to do, it was an adjustment for everyone that new me before. However, with Eric by my side, things felt and went a lot smoother. And, by the time we had everyone fed, the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed as the men discussed business and the ladies chattered amongst themselves on all matter of things, from the house to my dress, to Eric and to of course, our wedding.
“Well I think it’s just the most romantic thing, Earl and I, we eloped too.” Sally Watson, Earl Watson’s wife and over all lovely round woman in her late fifties announced. “Family was causing too much of a fuss for us, so off we went.”
“And look at you now, still happy after all these years.” Eric agreed. Earl was a grump, but he was sweet to his wife, holding her hand even at the table, but underneath so we couldn’t see. Nevertheless, I saw, and I thought it was adorable. I gave him extra potatoes for that.
“We just didn’t want a fuss, much like yourselves. And things being as they were, well it seemed like the most peaceful option.”
“I’m sure a big society wedding would have been preferred, much like when Eric married Miss Sophie.”
With that, I internally clenched. Of course she would come up at dinner, with basic strangers who all knew and adored her as the real Lady of the house. Eric clasped my hand gently at the mention of her.
“Not at all, Earl I never did buy into the hysteria of big weddings. Besides, we knew Pamela would provide everyone with a lavish winter wedding that would keep them all in gossip for a least a year.” Eric said with such ease and charm, I tried my best to calm myself. I knew these people had immense respect for the family, and of course, for the girl who was the only daughter of the Lord for which they worked. But, much like the looks they gave me when Eric touched me, I would assume their thoughts on me being her replacement – at least to them – would also be something I would have to get used to.
After dinner and drinks there was dancing, so much dancing that my feet ached but it was wonderful and fun, and everyone seemed to have a jolly old time doing Highland flings, and set dancing and all manner of dances I hadn’t seen before. The household staff mixed with the outdoor staff, and the rest of the workers from town, the famers and their wives. Eric was gentleman enough to dance all the ladies from below stairs, being his ever funny, ever charming self and making every last one of them blush and giggle. It really was a sight to behold. Eric attempting to show me how to Highland Fling however was probably a much more comical sight than it should have been. I really was convinced I had two left feet! But attempts were made, and we danced well into the night, all of us, even Mrs Fortenberry wore a smile, and a red cheek as we used up whatever energy we possessed.
When I went for a much-needed breather, I found Niall standing in the hallway, just gazing up at the portrait that hung there, one of his entire family from when his children were small and he stood a tall and proud man in uniform.
“Oh Sookie dear, I think that time for such address are long past, don’t you?”
I smiled awkwardly, because while they should have been, old habits were hard to break.
“Niall, are you alright?” I said as the music and laughter continued inside the other rooms, we were alone in the large hallway, our stillness such contrast to the life and party going on in the other rooms.
“I was just thinking, this time of year is terrible for such things really.” He sighed. “I miss my wife most this time of year, and now my children too. But do not let me keep you out here with my ghosts, you are doing a wonderful job tonight, Sookie. I’ve never seen Eric smile so much.”
That made me smile, I was glad.
“I was wondering, Sir, if I might have a waltz?” I asked as the recognisable tune to waltz to started up.
“I would never refuse a woman a dance, my dear but I’m afraid in there with all eyes –“
“Out here then? I asked boldly, taking his hand in mine, he took my other and placed it on his shoulder, and we took off gingerly, around in a tiny circle we waltzed.
“I am sorry I was so cold in the beginning my dear, I assumed like most you were after him for the money.”
“I can see why, but I’m glad you now see the truth.”
“I know I have said this before but I really never wanted him unhappy, after Sophie, he was so terribly lost. I’m glad with you he seems to have found his reason for being again.”
“I’m glad too, for he’s my reason now too, for living as I do. I want so badly to make him happy.”
“And he of you, don’t forget that.”
“I just worry… my history… the things that I have gone through I worry for our ability to have children if I am honest.” I didn’t know why I was telling him, but something about that empty echoing hallway somehow made it seem okay to tell him my secrets.
He frowned then.
“Never worry girl, if it is meant to be it will be, if all my years on this questionable earth taught me anything it’s that.”
“I know, I just also know how much he wants it.”
“And do you?”
I did, but the fear of losing again made me unsure.
“I want children, I want Eric’s children more than anything, I just wish there was a guarantee.”
“There are no guarantees in life, Sookie. Not even life itself.” He said quietly as our dance slowed and he took a deep breath. “Thank you for the dance, my dear, and for … all of that tonight. It has truly lifted my spirits.”
“I’m glad, Sir.”
He smiled, softly and quickly, but it was still something that made me proud. Months before I could not nor wouldn’t have gotten as much as a frown from him.
“If you don’t mind I must really take my leave, I am so very tired.”
“I will see everyone out at the end and make sure things are spick and span.”
“I’m sure you will dear, I am sure you will. Bid Eric goodnight for me too, will you?”
I promised I would, and I watched as he slowly made his way up the large staircase alone.
I didn’t know it then, but in a week, Niall would be dead.
“It was a good night, wasn’t it? I think it went well.” I smiled as I hopped into bed with my wife, shutting out the world for the night with her was my idea of heaven.
“It was, tiring but very good. I’m glad everyone had a good time. Even if the ‘yank maid thought much of herself’.” Sookie said rolling her eyes.
“They’ll soon get used to you.”
“They may, to my face, but it’s what they’ll say behind closed doors that annoys me.”
“Does it really?”
“A little. I mean it should not, I know that, but…” she shrugged, “I’ll get used to it.”
I saw her admiring her engagement rings then and it reminded me. So I got out of bed and searched around in my travel bag that still sat on my chair. The box that held her wedding ring was there, so I pulled it out and brought it back to bed with me.
“Merry Christmas, Sookie.” I said with a grin before I planted a soft kiss on her cheek. She looked slightly taken aback but soon smiled to match mine when she opened the box.
“Oh, Eric! I love it.”
“I just wish I had had the forethought of having it before our wedding.”
“That’s what happens when we’re spontaneous my darling. I thought we agreed we weren’t exchanging Christmas presents.”
I huffed out air then, as if she really believed I would agree to such nonsense!
She just rolled her eyes and moved to her bed side table, and opened the drawer.
“Well, it’s just a good job I know you so well isn’t it, husband?” She said with a grin, a sly grin, as she handed me a similar box. A similar box that held my wedding ring, the same shade of yellow gold with a sweet trim pressed into the gold. It was a beauty of a ring for a man.
“I love it.” I kissed her again, this time we let it grow and linger longer than before.
We both pulled apart to admire our new rings, like the fools we were. Sookie let out a slight giggle then.
I poked her in the side, making her giggle even further.
“It’s nothing, I just… a year ago… I mean my life was the polar opposite of this… I was living in fear. I was living in poverty, and I was tired and feeling so old beyond my years.”
I stroked her cheek then, I hated that faraway look in her eye that meant sad thoughts.
With that she smiled briefly, “Now I’m happier than I ever thought possible, I know I’m loved and I no longer fear the world.”
The world was a kinder place when you had people in your corner that is for sure.
She touched my cheek then, brushing my hair from my eyes, grazing my neck.
“And I know most of that has to do with you”
“I’m glad, really I am, but some of it might be because of me, but most of it – most of it was you and your wit, and strength and fight. Important things and just some of the things that made me fall for you. I just hope those stick with you… I just hope you know that everything else … there’s no pressure.”
I knew her well; we might not have known each other dozens of years like the couples we had spent the evening with, but I felt like I knew her well enough by now to know her worried face.
“Only from myself.” She said with a sigh as we snuggled beneath the blankets finally, I reached over and switched off the light, washing us with darkness.
“Never mind the whispers, Sookie. People talk, it’s what they do, it’s how we pass our time, it never really means anything.”
“I know, I know I should know that by now but still. I can’t help but wanting people to like me for who I am, I’ve always been that way. Now they don’t like me because I was a maid or they don’t like me because I was a maid who became a so-called Lady, or they don’t like me because –“
“Because they’re idiots, idiots we don’t concern ourselves with.” I said giving her a quick reassuring squeeze.
“Yes, you’re right. We must live our lives for ourselves after all.”
I wanted us to take things a day at a time and just live life, live it and do with the flow. It was how I lived before I moved here and met Sophie and became so involved in a ‘society approved’ life. Now, I was old enough to know what I really wanted, and that was on my terms with the people I loved the most. Everything else was just details.
One important detail however came a week later, when I was awakened by a very startled looking Amelia.
“He’s… not… he’s not moving or breathing, Eric. I think he’s –“
And he was. Still wrapped up in his blankets, his hands clasped and looking as peaceful as any person could, but he was indeed dead. Niall’s wake and funeral was one of the largest the area had ever seen, and according to Eric just about everyone alive that knew Niall managed to show up to show their respects, even in the snow and sharp winds, the people showed up in force to give Lord Niall Brigant the biggest farewell they could. While the high society ladies and gents tattled behind our backs, and the towns folk did the same
Flowers came by messenger almost every day while the wake was going on, then after the overtly large funeral there came more, each wreath and bouquet bigger than the other did. The house smelled wonderful for a couple of weeks, but after that, the flowers like the occasion they represented, died and the smell of life died with them. The staffs downstairs were in a daze for a long time afterward, each of them not really ‘themselves’, particularly those who had been working for Lord Niall for the majority of their lives. I barely knew the man compared to them and I was grieving, I could only really imagine what they were going through. I was grieving however, and I was smart enough this time to acknowledge those feelings. Unlike with Sophie and the baby, where I didn’t know what I was experiencing and sort of dug myself my own little hole in the world and stayed there unhappily for much too long. Now though I had the one person who had dragged me all but kicking and screaming from that hole in the world, and she was the bright light of my life, whether she knew it or not.
By Spring Sookie had really come into her own as far as running the house was concerned, she had even decided that twice a week the staff would take off days, it meant they got to have their one day off, but now another that meant she and I were left largely to fend for ourselves on another as well. It meant that she got to teach me about breakfast foods she learned to cook from her parents, I watched her bake, I helped her bake – though I was more a hindrance than a help – but still it was fun and something I loved doing with her. We got adventurous with our cooking then, and she soon was letting me ‘do breakfast’ all by myself, the trust was there, because my Sookie loved her breakfast foods more than life it seemed. The shock on everyone’s face though that one morning they all came back from town, or awoke from their sleep in, and found me balancing a tray of food and tea as I stood there in nothing but my pyjama pants was priceless. It gave me a good giggle watching Mrs Fortenberry avert her eyes while the others simply stared on. I knew internally Sookie’s struggle was still on going, she never brought up the subject but I knew just by how she was, and more importantly how she was when guests would come to stay, particularly ones with children.
By April of that year, after a visit from the Lord Bron Worthington, his wife Marie and their two children for three days to discuss my title exchange and what it all meant for me. It meant the gain of a title, lands and more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime, it was lovely, but unnecessary, as I had sold the factory and business in Sweden. I was now minority shareholder, for the sake of the family name, but I allowed my employees to buy me out and run the printing business as they saw fit. It seemed only fair, I was never there and when I was, I was more of a distraction than a help – much like to Sookie in the kitchen. But there visit left my wife melancholy, and I knew why. The son and daughter of the Lord and Lady had filled the house with life and noise and play. For that weekend Sookie was so involved with Marie and the children, to see them go left her at a bit of a loose end and the pressure she was putting on herself to get pregnant reared its ugly head again.
After working on the facts and figures of the take over with the lawyers for a day. I was weary and beyond ready for something – anything else – to take my mind off of land and business and general responsibilities of that nature when I found her by the stables having a very sweet conversation with Thor and one of the horse, Marbella.
“It’s really not her fault, Thor look how big her feet are. If you were that tall and had that big of feet on you, you’d step on things too. Besides you shouldn’t have been in there with your nose or your poor tail.”
I looked and sure enough, she was inspecting his tail, seemed to be okay from where I was standing but what I gathered was the horse had stood on him.
Not so good.
What was good was Sookie’s connection to my dog, and his to her. Ever since Thor realised the change in relationship with Sookie he had as I had, become rather protective of my wife. She talked to him like she would anyone else, and I think he appreciated that, well, that and the bacon scraps I knew she sneaked to him when she thought I was not looking. However, I figured every dog should have his treats, and if they were helping them to bond who was I to stand in the way.
She looked at me then and smiled.
A sad smile but an attempt at a happy one.
“There you are, meeting all finished?”
“All finished. I was hoping since it’s a nice evening we might take one of our walks?”
The weather had been typical for Scotland in April for a couple of weeks before, which meant rain and lots of it. It confined us to the house or the car when moving and I knew her love for walking, and I knew I loved to walk with her, so now that the sun was actually shining – setting as it was – it seemed like the time to get back out there.
Thankfully, she agreed and she linked my arm, with Thor following us both as we took off out of the yard and into the grounds. After initially conversing about the weather, the land and my meetings I got around to what I wanted to ask.
“Sookie, are you lonely here?”
She looked at me quickly but then looked away. That was a yes then.
“No … I … I mean… I’m…”
“You are.” I sighed, having hoped this wouldn’t happen but wasn’t all that surprised that it had. Of course she was lonely, her best friend was in another county, her friend was her lady’s maid but married and off with her own husband when not at work, and then there was me. I was filling Niall’s shoes a little too well to start and it all revolved around the estate and land and not my wife. I felt horrible.
“I am. I mean don’t get me wrong I love it here…to an extent, but yes, if this past weekend taught me anything it’s that I’m at a crossroads in my life and I’m lonely in the process.”
I knew the crossroads metaphor was motherhood. It was one road – babies, or another road – no babies.
“I love you Eric this has really nothing to do with –“
“I know that, I just wish I was… not enough, I don’t want you to just have ‘enough’ I want you to have … well… it all really? Does that make sense?”
She smiled, genuinely then.
“It does and I love you all the more for it.”
“Perhaps if Pam came and stayed a while?”
“Perhaps, but at this point I don’t really think it’s Pam I crave the company of. I want to be pregnant, Eric and I’m not and I think we need to start… I don’t know… fixing that problem.”
“It’s not a problem, not from where I’m standing.”
She sighed again letting go of our linked arms then.
“But it is a problem from where I’m standing. I will be thirty this coming year and that is just… I feel like we are wasting time not knowing. I just want to know at this point. One way or another, can I have your children or not. Waiting each month to see is killing me and the feeling of the stab of loss whenever I take my monthly meaning there is no pregnancy… God you have no idea how frustrating it is.”
I nodded hearing that frustration and pain in her voice was like a knife to the heart. So I did the one thing I could do, I reassured her.
“Okay… Okay.” I took her hands in mine once more. “We’ll give it ‘till June, I’ll get everything settled here… and we’ll go to London and find the best doctors we can and we’ll… fix this. How does that sound?”
She nodded squeezing my hands then.
“I just think I’m…”
“It might be me, so do not whatever you do take this as blame and certainly don’t take it alone. I could be… what is the phrase? Firing blanks?” I quirked my brows at that and made her laugh, before she reached out for a hug. We probably looked a sight, standing in the middle of an empty field hugging, but I didn’t care. I lived for her hugs, and her kisses, her all really.
“Until June then.” She stated with a heavy sadness to her voice, it killed me.
Until June, we tried, repeatedly, often and in various places and positions, and while it was fun and amazing having my wife jump me on a daily basis I know it was all trying to make a baby for her. But June would arrive and the only one that was pregnant around us was Amelia.
Which sent Sookie over the emotional edge.