The Dead Pan Contest

Title: 1,001 Louisiana Nights

Story/movie parodied: 1,001 Arabian Nights

Characters: Eric/Sookie, Tara, Pam, Jason

Disclaimer: While 1,001 Arabian Nights falls into the public domain and thus I'm allowed to get my fingerprints all over it, the characters and events from the Southern Vampire Novels / True Blood belong to Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball, respectively.

Summary: Each dawn, he promises to kill her, and each night she tells a tale to save her life.

Note: Thanks very much to nycsnowbird and pixiegiggles for dreaming up and hosting such a fun contest. Thanks to the judges, the authors of all the wonderful entries and the betas who made them fit for reading. And thanks, of course, to all who read and reviewed this story when it was all mysteriously shrouded in anonymity.

^v^

1,001 Louisiana Nights

"Is it possible that by telling these tales, one might indeed save one's self?" —Scheherazade

In the chronicles of the life of Eric (called "Northman") who lived an unlife of more than one-thousand years, which began in the region which is now Scandinavia and ended in the southern territories of the once United States of America, there is a tale of surpassing curiosity. It is said that Eric, a vampire of ancient and remarkable lineage, was the shining example of his kind.

It is said he created his own destiny, distilled his own essence, commanded his own fate. He was merciful, even kind, and never crueler than he had to be. He was a good Maker and a just leader. He fought and lived and laughed and loved.

And then, one night, he forgot it all.

In those days, war, plague, and economic crisis had broken out across many human nations and in the once United States, vampires became a crucial stabilizing influence, the government beneath the government. Still, cities were plagued with violence, poor fashion choices and Facebook addiction. There were epidemics of bad literature and text type spelling. In the beginning, there was Sexy but then God took Sexy back and let there be Twitter instead.

Dire straights had been reached so the former king of the territories of Louisiana and Arkansas elected to consolidate his power in the west, and Eric reluctantly assumed control of those places. Upon his cunning and loyal child, Pamela, he bestowed the kingdom of Arkansas and she ruled with his blessing.

For a time all was well. Louisiana prospered under his rule, vampires and humans flourished. But there were some who suffered great loss under Eric. One such person was Hallow, a shifter and witch who had derived dark power from the blood and chaos (and a rabid Twitter following) that had nearly consumed the human world before Eric's reign. When she found she could not tempt him with blood from the unwilling nor persuade his subjects to turn against him (nor get him to open a Twitter account), she worked her black arts and a vision of great horror fell upon the king. He saw his wife, a woman he loved beyond measure, return to the arms of a former lover.

Distraught, Eric searched the reaches of his mind and heart and in his memories found all the evidence he needed that his wife could not have done such a thing. He knew that he had not been betrayed by the woman but by a spell. And so, Eric set off to confront the witch, to force her to remove the visions that plagued his nights.

But Hallow, suspecting that her spell had failed to sow suspicion between the king and his wife, surrounded herself in the weavings of yet another spell.

When Eric approached her, he could feel the spell tugging at him but knew not what it did. It did not rend his garments nor tear his flesh. It did not drain his strength or cause him blinding pain. It did something much worse. With every step he took toward the witch, the spell stole a piece of his wife away. It took first her kindness, then the color of her hair, it took the magic that bound them together, and her scent, and the taste of lips. It took his every memory of her.

And when Eric finally reached the witch, he fell to his knees before her and thanked her for showing him the truth of his wife's betrayal.

For weeks afterward, the people of Louisiana heard little of their king except that he had declared that his wife should die and then flown into a great and terrible rage and a kind of madness. And updated his Facebook status to 'single.'

After weeks of silence, the king declared that he would marry again. A human woman. The people felt great relief. The marriage would be a sign of the good faith between humans and vampires. Perhaps, they thought, all would be well again.

Young women from around the kingdom flocked to the king's residence in hopes of becoming his bride, for the king had been good and just, and was also very fair to look upon. He chose one from amongst them. She was called Dawn and he wed her at sundown. By morning, the woman was dead with two puncture marks in her neck.

Eric declared that if the wife whom he was told he had loved could betray him, then all humans were bound to be treacherous, given enough time. It was in the nature of the vampire to kill, he said, and, if he had betrayed his own nature for the former queen, then that was just one more grievance to be laid at her feet.

Still, the Tweets from Eric's capital were inanely hopeful. They said: Rockin' a red dress, here [sic] it's the king's fave. And: Day 27, still chasing a crown! And: He just looked at me! I think I might die! Let's hope I get to be Queen 1st! Or just: Squeeeeeeeeee!

The king's city of Shreveport was full of cries and lamentations. Mothers and fathers hid their daughters away for fear that they would soon be mourning them. Where once the people had blessed Eric's name, now they uttered curses under their breaths and wished for his demise. Their curses piled atop the one the witch had already laid upon him and the king's madness grew.

And so the king married a new bride every sundown and drained her dry by morning, and the people, human and vampire, cowered under their king's anger and insanity.

By landline and cell, word soon traveled to Pamela in Arkansas and she made the journey to Louisiana. She preached wisdom to the king, saying, "Master, you have made great strides to ensure peace and prosperity for all citizens of your kingdom. And moreover, you have nearly succeeded, single-handledly, in bringing Sexy back. But your current pattern is not sustainable. Your territory will soon become a drab place if you continue to kill all the beautiful women." But the king would not listen to reason and Pam could not stay his hand.

Still, the Queen of Arkansas remained in Shreveport by her Maker's side, undoing what she could of the evil his madness had brought on. She took it upon herself to select the woman who would be the king's next bride and in her prudence and wisdom, she selected the most wicked of women (though, sometimes, the people maintained, she simply chose those who sassed her or were badly dressed).

Pam hoped to find the witch who had cursed her Maker and thus reverse the curse that had been laid upon him and quell the anger in his heart. But her time, split equally between choosing brides and shopping for new pantsuits, was utterly spent.

In Pam's own kingdom were two young women, refugees, called Sookie and Tara (and there also was a man called Jason whom did tag along). And with them also was Tara's cousin, Lafayette whom had fled since it was fairly reasonable to assume that his general excellence overrode paltry matters of gender. Tara was remarkable for her wit and singular sarcasm but Sookie surpassed her in good sense and all around gumption. And though Sookie had had little in the way of formal education, she was well-versed in the art of elbow grease and easily recognized at her local library. And in addition to all this, she had a really excellent rack.

One day, when Sookie called to give the report on the latest happenings in Arkansas, she made a surprising request of Pam. "Pam, I have a favor to ask you."

"Sookie," Pam replied. "You are my dearest human friend. You know I would do anything for you that didn't risk my power, safety, or happiness. Or anything that left me especially bored. Or required me to wear plaid."

"How kind of you," Sookie said skeptically, already having second thoughts. Hadn't Pam said Eric was only eating criminals? Murderers, arsonists, and the occasional repeat jaywalker? But no, she reasoned, those criminals deserved to end up in jail, not as Eric's dinner. Besides, the King of Louisiana was immortal, so he'd eventually run out of delinquents, and, if Pam had her way, he'd end up munching on some girl whose worst crime was getting a bad haircut.

"Pam," Sookie said with resolve. "It is known that Eric's trusted you to choose his brides for him out of all those poor girls hiding in their basements and all those crazy-ass ones who are still lining up to be killed."

"Such harsh words form such a lovely mouth, Sookie! 'Crazy-ass' is a cruel assessment, don't you think?"

So presently Sookie did pull out her smart phone and display for Pam the latest in the crop of Tweets: Tammy, got eaten last night. Hope I'm next … jk?

"It would be a good thing for Louisiana if I could put a stop to all that." Sookie paused and then added, "Even though Eric eating those insane-o fangbangers has undoubtedly improved the regional gene pool."

"Tsk, tsk," Pam scolded. "You are quick to judge, Sookie. Those women cannot be blamed. The king is possessed of large hands and fantastic abdominals. It is known."

"It is known," Sookie agreed.

"But what you say is true, ending this madness would be an excellent thing to do. How do you propose to do it?"

"By asking you to choose me as the king's next bride," Sookie replied. "I shall wed him tomorrow night."

"Now you have gone mad!" Pam cried. "And there is nary a well-sculpted abdomen in sight! You, of all people, know what it means to wed the king. And tomorrow! The late-booking fee on that flight will be outrageous."

"I do know what it means to wed the king since I used to live in Louisiana and since I am telepathic," Sookie said. "Also, I watch the news. But do not worry my friend, I am not afraid. If I die, it will be with a glorious view of well-sculpted abdominals, not to mention some killer inguinal ligaments. And if I succeed, I will have saved the lives of countless women and probably make the cover of Cosmo."

"Eric will treat you as he treats all of the women; if he decides to take your life, I will not be able to stop him."

"I understand, Pam. Please, will you do this for me? If I don't try, I will feel all kinds of guilty."

"Well that's very selfish of you, Sookie. If you die, your blood will be on my hands. Think how I'll feel."

"Pam?"

"Yes, Sookie?"

"You've got a little drool." Sookie pointed to the vampire's chin.

"Verily," said Pam with a gleam in her eye. "You are very stubborn." And so she informed Eric that the next night she would bring him Sookie Stackhouse.

And so Sookie did purchase a last minute flight to Shreveport, and with her did she bring Tara and her brother, Jason, whom she tasked with raising the morale of the young women of Louisiana. Lafayette remained in Arkansas so as not to distract Eric and so that Arkansas might have a ruler in Pam's absence. And under his rule, it should be said, Arkansas did prosper. Its people preached open-mindedness and did obtain gym memberships universally and were given to spontaneous outbursts of fabulousness.

On the flight, Sookie revealed that she had a plan (duh).

"Tara, my best and dearest friend," Sookie began.

"Damn." Tara interjected. "I knew there was a reason you let me have the window seat."

Undeterred, Sookie went on, "Tara, I need a favor."

"Mhhm," Tara said, which loosely translated to 'saw that coming from a mile away.'

So Tara did eye Sookie's airline snack and Sookie did hand it over and so Tara said, "I'm listening." And munched upon the snack.

"Well," Sookie said sweetly. "The ceremony will be right after sunset and then there'll be the party and then, you know ... So, you packed pajamas right?"

Tara's eyebrows drew lower and lower. It did not please her that her part in these crazy, suicidal shenanigans hadn't been mentioned in the ceremony/reception part. She had a feeling Sookie wasn't trying to ask her to be the maid-of-honor. "Pajamas? What? Sookie, is this a favor I have to change my clothes for?" Tara looked at her friend's face and her friend's face did appear nervous and red in equal quantities. "Sookie! This better not be a favor I have to take my clothes off for."

"No!" Sookie squeaked, significantly horrified. "Nothing like that."

"Mhm," Tara said to her snack, still unconvinced. "Pajamas?"

"Well, Eric hasn't exactly made a big secret about killing all these women after the wedding night, has he? So he has to know I know what's going to happen."

"True," admitted Tara. "Verily."

Jason began humming the tune to "Row your Boat," in the aisle seat.

"So my plan is to ask him if you can stay with us," Sookie said. "Since you're my best friend and it's my last night alive and all."

Jason's attention was hooked. "Ain't that a little … uh, kinky, Sook?" His face struggled very hard to decide between grossed out and turned on for a second. Then grossed out won the battle. Sort of.

"What I need you to do, is wake us up an hour before dawn," said Sookie, ignoring Jason utterly. "And then ask me to finish tellin' you that story I promised since it's my last night alive and all."

"So, you're tryin' to a pull a Scheherazade, are you?" Tara said skeptically, which got amazed looks from Jason and Sookie. So she addressed them respectively. "Yes. That's a real word. It's a lady's name. And, yes, I know 1,001 Nights. You're not the only one who reads."

Sookie bounced in her budget airline seat. Jason turned his legs politely so she could make it out to the bathroom. But, as it turned out, she was just nervous. "So, what do you think?"

"'Bout what?" Tara asked. "This piss-poor economy? The state of modern religion? That ugly-ass sun dress you're wearing? This plan of yours? Or just 'think' in general?"

Sookie took a moment to count and another to be offended about the slight against her dress. "Fourth one."

Tara settled in. From where she was sitting, there were several problems. And they'd probably still be there even if she changed seats (except the spring pressing into her butt, that might be solved by moving). "First, you don't even like to gossip so how're you going to tell a story that'll keep that vampire on the edge of his seat hard enough to let you live?"

"I only have to make it till sunrise," Sookie explained. "Just an hour."

"Okay," Tara conceded. "Then you're gonna keep it up until he falls in love with you or, what, gets bored and eats you mid-sentence?"

"Well, yeah," Sookie said, wishing the airline served some nice, boxed wine. "Hoping for the first one."

"Good to know that love is Plan A." Tara inspected the depths of the crinkly plastic bag for any more snack-on-able items and found them wanting. "You know if that vampire tries to murder you I'm gonna have to try to murder him right back, right? And I've got a mean right hook and all, but I'm pretty sure that way ends with you and me good and dead. And that's after I've had to listen to the two of you do the nasty all night."

Sookie tried for a grin that was half-apologetic and half pleading. In Tara's mind she saw a very clear image of herself being whacked over the head and dragged back to Arkansas. Tara seemed to think Plan C, "kidnap Sookie" was infinitely preferable (not to mention safer) than falling in love or getting eaten.

"Just trust me on this, please?" Sookie tried

And so did Tara set aside her plans of proactive bludgeoning and lay her faith in her friend and the wedding commenced with much pomp and circumstance. There was a large turn out prompted by the king's Tweet at sundown. (MrJanuarySays: T minus 60 minutes till matrimony.) And all went off splendidly with only one minor hitch. Sookie did insist on a traditional wedding and since those typically did not involve blood-letting, her intended was a bit disappointed. But, seeing as he had plans to kill her before sunrise, he got over it.

There were the traditional toasts and dances and the less traditional copious tears from several single ladies present. For the humans, the finest of foods were served: foreign fruits, chicken-fried meats, and plenty of chocolate. For the vampires there was a vast array of blood donors for many of the young hopefuls waiting to be queen were content to bide their time as snack food.

When enough dancing had occurred so that Sookie would rather face near certain death than stand another minute in her heels, Pamela approached her with a flute of champagne. "On the bright side, you do get to have sex with Eric before you die," she said, handing Sookie the glass.

"Why do I feel like that's the inspirational speech you give all the girls?" Sookie snorted and accepted the champagne.

"Because you are telepathic?" Pam suggested.

To which Sookie replied, "Or because you're Pam."

"Verily," said Pam.

So Sookie stepped out of her heels and sighed with a relief so great that it did pique her husband's interest. "Wife," he said with an appraising glance, "I have had enough of this kind of gluttony for the night. Care to join me for another?"

The gaze upon Sookie was hungry. It did burn with lust and deep anger and still deeper pain. And within Sookie did rise the first whispers of change, harbingers of hope or death. For she had come to save the kingdom but now she found herself wanting to save the king.

Thus, Sookie nodded but did not take the king's arm. Instead, she walked beside him to the suite of rooms that were to be hers. For tonight, at least.

The king appeared slightly uneasy. From the corner of his eye his gaze did fall on her repeatedly and sometimes he went so far as to look back over his shoulder. "Wife," he said, "you seem to have brought an entourage to our wedding night."

For behind them walked Pamela, Tara, Jason, and a bridesmaid Jason had met at the reception. "Well I am a queen. Queens have entourages. It is known." Sookie pointed out.

Eric conceded that it was known. "Though now I am wondering about all my other queens."

"They were selfish," Pam diagnosed.

"And crazy," Tara supplied helpfully.

"Ah, yes," Eric agreed. "Do they plan on staying?" He was not being prudish so much as wondering if it was rude to neglect to eat the queen's entourage along with the queen for he had spoiled his appetite on True Blood.

"Just Tara," replied Sookie. "Because she's my best friend in the whole world." At a skeptical look from the king, Sookie adjusted her statement for hyperbole. "Or, at least in this hallway."

So the couple and the entourage entered the bridal suite which was decorated in lush fabrics and adorned with antique furniture and heavy drapes. All of which clashed strangely with the floor which was linoleum for easy clean up.

Jason bore an armload of bedding, for Tara's balance had grown less certain as the festivities progressed. She had indulged mightily that evening since she would have to witness her friend being violated then murdered by an insane vampire. Also, there was an open bar.

Tara and the bridesmaid arranged the sleeping bag and Tara did grumble about the drawbacks of linoleum. "Cold," she said and, "hard."

The bridesmaid giggled. "Sounds like a vampire!"

Annoyed, Sookie put on her best manners. "Thanks for your help, Jason. Now I know you're going to treat this young lady right. I wouldn't want to think ya'll spent my wedding night being disrespectful to …." She'd been counting on hearing the bridesmaid's name in someone's thoughts but since Tara didn't know it, and two people in the room were dead, and the other was Jason, she was left decidedly S.O.L.. "Pam, who is this?"

Pam shrugged. "One of the queens in waiting. We keep them on bridesmaid rotation. Gives them something to do besides shriek and swoon."

"Well that's very sensible of you, Pam," Sookie said.

"Oh yes," Pam replied. "We employ them in a variety of tasks, cooking, decorating, tailoring. That way, they'll either become queen or leave here ready to host their own shows on HGTV or Bravo. It seemed like the responsible thing to do in this economy."

Sookie nodded her support though she often struggled to sympathize with the everyday men and women who were wrestling with the unstable economy since she was a barmaid and a telepath and both careers are pretty much soundly recession proof. "You just treat this gal well, Jason Stackhouse. I won't have you breakin' any hearts from my wedding party and putting a taint on my wedding day."

"Sure, sis," Jason said, stepping up to give Sookie a hug. "And you don't go getting yourself eaten, 'cause that'd sure taint the day too."

"Wait, Jason," Tara said in her most imploring tone. "Could you get me some more pillows. Like, a lot more pillows?"

"A lot?" Jason asked, needing further clarification. "Like two to sleep on and a hugger, or like enough to build a fort?"

"More like the fort," Tara said, eyeing the telepath and the vampire sulkily.

"You bet," said Jason with a grin.

And so Jason and the bridesmaid did depart in search of pillows and Pam did offer Sookie a saucy congratulatory wink and Tara did grit her teeth and apply her earplugs.

Now upon Sookie did happen the notion that it might be far more practical to withhold her magnificent rack and other lovely lady bits from the king than the ending of a good story. She had it on good authority that most people would rather hear repeated descriptions of her womanly assets than actual exposition, dialogue, or character development, so it should follow that the prospect of touching, caressing, and otherwise fondling said assets should hold exponentially more power than some trivial little plotline.

But when she paused to weigh the two possibilities, having the sex with Eric versus not having the sex with Eric, she found herself halfway to the night's first orgasm before she had time to list a single pro or con.

"Is something wrong, wife?" Eric asked, noticing her momentary distress.

"Sookie," she corrected.

"That is your name," he reminded her, well aware that his bedroom skills often proved mind-altering.

"I know that," Sookie said tersely. "Just making sure you did."

"Making a point, are we?" Eric asked, driving the question home with his very own brand of punctuation.

"I was trying to," Sookie huffed. "Had planned to tell you to keep your hands to yourself."

Eric raised an eyebrow, dark against the faint glow of his skin.

"It was a terrible plan," Sookie clarified with a gasp. "Really, really terrible."

An hour before sunrise, the alarm on Tara's cell phone did sound. And though Tara was mightily groggy, the ring had been set to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" which had suffered so much recent overexposure in all venues of pop culture that Tara could not bear to let it ring on.

"Sookie!" She called to her sleeping friend.

When Sookie did not stir, Tara called again. "Sookie!" And under her breath Tara did mutter, "Never been a morning person. Maybe she shoulda thought of that when she was coming up with this brilliant plan. Now we're gonna die while she's looking for the snooze button." Then, "Sookie!"

"What?" Sookie finally managed.

"Tell me a story."

"Huh," said Sookie who was far too tired to be her usual, eloquent self.

"'Huh?'" Tara asked. "What do you mean 'huh?' miss Word-of-the-Day." She shook her head pityingly, "I try to ask my best friend in the whole world for one more of her amazing stories before she dies and she says 'huh'."

Eric, who had been awake the whole time, was fully aware that something was rotten in city of Shreveport but he found the antics of the two women in his bedroom amusing enough that he let them proceed without comment. Just to see what would happen.

"Story. Right!" Sookie said, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "Once, in the small, North West peninsular town of Forks there was a girl of surpassing loveliness with an impressive lack of balance who chanced to meet a smoldering stranger …."

"Veto!" Tara called. "Maybe I should have said 'make it a good one.'"

"Oh. Yeah, okay." Sookie said, still trying to collect her thoughts and cursing her choice in summer reading.

"But why was the stranger smoldering?" Eric asked with distaste. He was disturbed enough to be interested. "Will the clumsy girl put the fire out? Did he never learn to stop, drop, and roll?"

Sookie tried again, "Into every generation a Slayer is born …."

"Veto!" Tara called again. "Seen it. And own all seven seasons on DVD."

So Sookie did grit her teeth and did vehemently pray that the Lord make her best friend telepathic so she could be discreetly reminded that she wasn't here to make this harder. But she'd settle for Tara being within kicking range. "Fine!" She said with frustration. "Once upon a time a handsome vampire fell victim to two fools with a silver net.

"The night was dark and the gas station was around the backside of nowhere. The two passengers in a borrowed car noted these facts but the gas gage read empty and they were a plucky telepath and formidable vampire, so no big deal, right? Plus, though each one hated the other less than had once been the case, both had had very long weeks. So their interstate ride had been mostly quiet and a little strained."

Sookie went on to tell of the young heroine's harrowing venture to the convenience store bathroom and the narrow, daring aversion of the two hit men who had been trailing the car for hours. Tara, contrary to her expectations, found herself leaning in to catch Sookie's every word. When Sookie told of the young woman's clever efforts to liberate a shotgun from the store clerk's truck, Tara broke in, "What'd she think she was gonna do with a gun?"

"Maybe she's plannin' on saving the day," Sookie responded tartly.

At this Tara and Eric did laugh uproariously at the expense of the heroine. "Didn't you just say she wanted to get out of all that vampire bullshit and violence?" Tara pointed out.

"I fear this woman is not very honest with herself," Eric agreed. "She is quick to throw herself into volatile situations. Perhaps she has a lust for glory."

"She does not! She couldn't just let them threaten the poor kid in the store," Sookie said defensively.

"Nah," Tara said, shooing the suggestion with a flip of her wrist, "She's totally getting off on all this G.I. Jane shit. Bet she shoots those guys and gets in on with that vampire in the big back seat of that stolen car."

Eric nodded his agreement, "An excellent prediction." Then he yawned mightily.

Sookie, doing her best not to appear too obviously relieved at the king's fatigue, went on. "So she checked to see that the gun was loaded and crept around the back of the store, low to the ground, and quiet as possible. The last thing she needed was for the biker-hitman guys to see her. The next to last thing she needed was for some well-meaning redneck to happen by for a slushie and to think she was robbing the place. She crouched so low and so long that most of her body below the waist fell asleep and the parts she could feel burned with the effort. Still, she inched along, step-by-silent-step.

"And then she heard it."

Eric yawned so widely that Tara rubbed her own jaw in sympathy. "Heard what?" They asked together.

"I'm sorry, your majesty," Sookie said more demurely than she'd ever said anything in her life. "It seems the sun is about to rise."

"Verily," said Tara, surprised an hour had passed.

"Very well," said Eric, with perfect postures of boredom and disinterest. "I'll kill you tomorrow night instead."

"Your majesty is too kind," Sookie said. And Eric did promptly pass out.

"Sookie," Tara said, stretching limbs that had grown cramped after a long night on the floor. "You just thanked that vampire for promising to kill you tomorrow."

"I did, didn't I?"

"Sure did," Tara agreed, standing. "That's fucked up."

Though they were both quite exhausted (Sookie from her vigorous nuptial exercise and Tara from the efforts she'd gone to block out all sensory evidence of said exercise) the two friends spent the day exploring the grand scale and general magnificence of the king's city. Which was neither particularly large nor impressive in any way except in comparison to their mostly tiny and drab existence.

A few minutes after sundown, Facebook was flooded and Twitter abuzz for the king had failed to Tweet news of his daily engagement and left only a cryptic message. (MrJanuarySays: Ain't sayin she's a fangdigger. But she ain't messin with no mouth-breathers.)

The hours that day had flown by, and though Sookie did take an afternoon nap, she was so worn out by the day and her husband's ministrations that she did not wake to her friend's attempts to rouse her but instead woke to Tara's own rendition of the end of the tale.

"'Oh, God, yes!' She cried. 'Yes, mmm. Harder!'"

"Tara!" Sookie nearly shrieked in alarm, blushing from head to toe. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Finishing the story," Tara replied from her seat on the floor next to an impressive pillow fort. "I mean you kinda left us hanging."

"That is not how it ends!" Sookie shouted, still thoroughly in the throes of scandal.

"Why not?" Tara asked. "It's just a story. And trust me, you do sound just like—"

"Tara!"

"Fine. How's it go then? Bet my version's about a million times better," Tara said sullenly.

"But there was no depth to your tale, Tara," Eric argued. "Passionate lovemaking, yes, but there was no time for tension to build adequately between the characters."

Tara turned a skeptical eyebrow on the king. "Well what about you two? You met each other yesterday and I've already seen adequate 'tension' to last the rest of my life."

Eric shrugged. "I've always said Pam has excellent taste." He grinned at Sookie who was still brooding over the debauched hijacking of her story. "I will almost be sorry to be obliged to marry another when your tale ends, wife."

Sookie snorted at the epithet but continued the story of the shotgun and the silver net. Both Eric and Tara were impressed by the heroine's cool handling of the shotgun and appalled by the web of burns that criss-crossed the handsome vampire's body. "And so," Sookie concluded, "tired but triumphant, they drove home."

"That's it?" Eric asked, picking his chin up from the pillow tucked under his chest. "That's your ending?" He was clearly rethinking his assessment of Tara's smut.

"There wasn't even a kiss!" Tara protested.

"No, there wasn't," Sookie agreed. "But that wasn't the only time our heroes ran afoul of a shotgun. A few weeks later, the young woman was forced to take up arms once again."

And so Sookie launched into the tale of the woman, the vampire, and a vengeful shifter who invaded the woman's house one night. She'd just gotten to the part where the handsome vampire was shot in the gut and bleeding copiously on the kitchen floor when Eric began to yawn. "Tomorrow night," Eric said dismissively when the gaping of his maw abated. "I'll kill you tomorrow night."

By the next evening, the queens-in-waiting had begun to wander aimlessly about the grounds as an air of panic had seized the internet. And after another long day exploring and a satisfying climax or ten, Sookie woke to her husband arguing with her best friend.

"You are entirely wrong on this matter, human," Eric said heatedly.

"As if!" Tara shot back. "She talks like a twelve year-old and she's too damn smug for her own good."

"Nonsense," Eric replied. "Her features are striking and her body is by far the most pleasing of the options you've provided."

"I still say Rachel McAdams is the only choice," Tara had moved from the floor to the foot of the bed and was squared off against Eric. "She pretty and I feel like punching her in the face a lot less often."

"What in the name of all that's holy are you two yapping about?" Sookie demanded, sitting up so sharply that all the blood rushed out of her head. The sickening sensation prompted her to remember something that had occurred to her earlier that day. She had not been permitting Eric to feed from her, and since it had been a few days since he'd drained a woman dry, she'd have to figure out a way to get him to feed before he bloodlust overcame his interest in her stories.

But when she examined the scene more closely, she saw that Tara and Eric had cracked open a few Cokes and True Bloods respectively in preparation for the night's story. "Well, what the hell were you talking about?" Sookie demanded again as she tried to pat her hopelessly tangled hair into order.

"Eric," Tara somehow made his name an accusation, "thinks Scarlett Johansson would make an excellent heroine in your story."

Sookie's face became uncertain. And then she did speculate alongside them. "What do you think about that girl from X-Men?"

"No," said Eric and Tara together. "Verily!"

"Alright, geez. I'll just go ahead with the story then."

So Sookie told of the death of the shifter and the stealthy disposal of the body which led to the mysterious case of the body in the Jackson hotel room and the velvet vocals of the murderer. Days passed in joyful exploration of the king's estate and the city. Nights passed in tales of maenads and stakes and coffin rides out of exploding hotels. There were witches and assassins and enchanted cats. Also, there was plenty of hanky-panky. And the occasional death threat on Twitter.

While waiting out Sookie's brief hour or two of sleep between glorious orgasms and spectacular tales, Eric and Tara did form first a grudging respect and then a tentative friendship. One night, a few months after the wedding, Sookie had not yet woken and the dawn was fast approaching.

Tara's laughter over Eric's anecdote that involved a maiden, a glass slipper, a bull elephant, and a stolen Venetian gondola was just fading as she realized how late the hour had grown. "I don't think she's going to—"

"Shhh," Eric said quietly, for Sookie had stirred at the hint of fear in her friend's voice.

"You're not going to—" Tara began, momentarily forgetting that she and Sookie had made a point of not mentioning the usual fate of Eric's wives.

"No," Eric said with patient and deliberate misunderstanding. "I am not going to wake her."

Tara swallowed and blinked up at the vampire. Then the air went out of her lungs with a relieved sigh.

"Neither of you sleeps enough," Eric said mildly.

"Yeah, well, whose fault is that?" Tara joked, really feeling the humor for the first time in months.

Eric inclined his head in agreement. "My Sookie needs her sleep if she is to complete her tale tomorrow night and begin another. I am eager to discover what becomes of Amelia and Bob."

The vampire and the young woman gazed at one another in quiet agreement and then were content to watch Sookie sleep until dawn.

When the king's latest marriage and the peace in the kingdom of Louisiana were a year old, Tara woke to screeching Top 40 hit by Miley Cyrus. She then roused her attractive male companion, for by this time, she had taken to bringing friends. Some of her guests were uncertain about the notion of witnessing the private moments between the king and queen. But Tara laughed off their discomfort and promised popcorn. "Trust me," she said. "It's better than having HBO."

And so the stories continued and the people of Louisiana began to forget the nightmarish days before Queen Sookie (though it must be said, the queens in waiting did not take as kindly to the queen and they did curse her name openly and they did name their domesticated animals after her). Tourism flourished again. Young women resigned themselves to marrying ordinary young men. And 'Sookie' surpassed "Megan Fox" and "Justin Bieber" for hits on the Google search engine.

Then one night, when Sookie entered her bedchamber, she did not find her husband in easy conversation with her best friend. In fact, her husband stood alone near the open balcony doors, in company of moon and stars but not Tara Thornton. Sookie was struck by the way her husband commanded the room, his presence filled every corner, his scent bathed her skin. "Where's Tara?" she asked in a resigned voice. Nothing could have prepared her for this. Their nights had been filled with passion and stories. Eric had given no hint of unrest. He hadn't even tweeted in months.

"I asked her to sleep elsewhere tonight," Eric said. "I gave her her own suite of rooms." The king did not look at Sookie but stood with his back turned on her. "Still, she fought me." A stiff breeze blew the glass-paned doors so that they jostled and clacked and created all manner of ruckus.

"I had not intended to fall in love again," the king continued, voice darker than the shadows in the room. "And yet I find myself loving three women all at once. The first wife who betrayed me," he said ruefully, "the brave woman in your tales. And the beautiful woman who tells them."

The doors banged together in a sudden gust. Without warning, the king gripped them and threw them open too hard. Shards of glass exploded around his fists. Sharp bits spilled from the tortured panes to rain upon the carpet.

Sluggish trickles of blood shone darkly on Eric's hands and arms. Sookie had stepped back reflexively at the sound of the shattering panes but now she stepped carefully to Eric's side, trying to take his hands to inspect for pieces of imbedded glass.

But Eric shrugged off her touch, and this, more than his words, alarmed her. "Eric, where's Tara?"

"Safe," he replied flatly. "You have deceived me, I think, wife. So tonight you will tell your last tale."

"Eric …."

"Tell your story."

Certain only that everything had changed, Sookie drew a few shaky breaths and began. "You remember the first story, of the shotgun and the silver net?" Sookie didn't wait for his nod. He remembered. "I told you that wasn't the only story of a shotgun. There is one more. In some of the stories, the vampire and the woman were former lovers, but I never told you how that came to pass.

It happened because the handsome vampire was cursed and forgot everything right down to his own name. While he was cursed, he and the woman found that they were quite compatible in the sack. And out of it too, most of the time. But when the curse was lifted he forgot her and, afraid, she kept the secret from him. Until one night, with grave danger lurking outside the walls of her house, he retrieved her shotgun from its hiding place to defend them.

It was then that she knew his memory had returned for no one would have suspected there to be a shotgun in the hall closet. So the danger was evaded and the vampire's memory restored."

Listening to her tale, the king's shoulders had begun to sag under an unseen weight. By the time she finished, he'd dropped to his knees before her amidst the remnants of the window panes. "And they lived happily ever after?" He asked quietly, reverently against the skin of her thigh. She sighed and clutched lightly at his shoulder as his lips inched up her leg. She'd been in this position with her husband before and yet she was still quickly losing all ability to support her own weight.

"Not always happily," she managed. "And not forever after." Glass crunched softly under the soles of her slippers as she tried to maintain her balance with his mouth advancing relentlessly. "If this is the end, if that was the last story … I'd rather you make it quick." She spoke as bravely as she knew how, all the while wondering if he meant to open the big artery in her thigh.

Then, unable to bear the thought of dying like this, standing before him, awaiting the end, she dropped to her knees beside him. Glass shards pricked at her knee caps but she barely noticed the pain.

"You've fed me tales all this time so I would spare your life," he accused.

"And the lives of the other women," Sookie said defiantly. "All the ones you would have killed after me."

The king sniffed the scent of her blood on the air. A frightening certainty bloomed in his voice, infusing it with inevitable vengeance. He gripped Sookie's chin roughly so she could not look away. "Though I have never tasted you, my blood knows your blood," he declared in a deadly voice. "You are the wife who betrayed me and then escaped. And now you betray me again. Quite a moral to the story, Sookie."

With all the love she had been denying she still felt for him, Sookie raised her own hand to the king's face. "I am your wife," she said. "And I have told you stories but I never lied to you. I never betrayed you. There is no moral, just …."

Eric's hand encircled hers, quick as a lightning strike. His eyes burned with a deadly light as he pulled her so close that their faces were bare inches apart. For an instant, her heart went as silent as his and then, in his eyes, sparked sudden recognition. "A spell," he said in disbelief. Then, "In the stories there was always a spell."

So Sookie did kiss him, pressed her lips to his to drown the sorrow of having lost him and to contain the joy of getting him back. And he kissed her back fiercely against all the pain and betrayal that was already becoming a bad memory of what used to be. He pulled her closer still, pressing the full length of her body against his, caressing the decadent curves of the body he'd loved and forgotten and heard so many tales about.

And soon she wanted nothing more in the world than feel all of him, the husband she'd missed so long, in and around and beside her. Except ….

"Eric, I don't want to stop you …."

"But?"

"But if we do this here I just know I'm doing to end up with little pieces of glass in my butt."

The king pondered the dilemma for a short moment and then, in all his wisdom, he said, "Well, by this point it would be strange to make love without Tara present."

Sookie nodded. "True. Where did you say her room was?"

The End