|Age of Edward: Black Swan &the Knights of Quileute
Author: TheRainGirl PM
In a kingdom stable in a far away land, a boy hears tales of the great knight Black Swan. When his kingdom is threatened, the knight and his men come to aid the king, but the knight and the boy find out they have much in common. Here is their story,Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Edward & Bella - Words: 12,547 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 23 - Follows: 14 - Published: 01-29-12 - id: 7787739
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Black Swan and the Knights of Quileute
Category: YA Rating: T
Type of Edward: Stableboyward of an Arthurian land in a time far away.
Disclaimer: Nothing belonging to Lady Meyer belongs to thine storyteller. I am but a humble serf playing with her darlings and recreating them into something of a dream. I am, however, deliriously thankful to mine betas for their grammar and horse sense. Do enjoy your journey, my lords and ladies!
Long, long ago, in the low coastal kingdom of Port Angeles, there was hum throughout the kingdom due to the outlying areas being overrun by pirates and ruffians. When they began marauding their way toward the kingdom of Port Angeles, messages went out to the knights of the neighbouring kingdoms begging for help as the little beach area of Port Angeles hadn't much of an army to ward off the attack. The Quileute knights came forward from their kingdom to save the day. The King of Port Angeles, Michael, was young and although he enjoyed the perks of being royalty, the responsibilities were difficult for him to comprehend and deal with each day.
The leader of the knights of Quileute, Black Swan, known for his coat of arms containing an obsidian swan emerging from flames, was a fierce warrior with a reputation that preceded him. His legend was known throughout the land and the people of Port Angeles prayed for his swift arrival with his men. These knights were a savage tribe of men from the Quileute cliffs known for their brute strength and power. Their kingdom was secluded and had never been taken over in hundreds of years even though the land along the coast was coveted by many a king.
The Black Swan has been the knights' unyielding leader for two years and had never been challenged once knighted by their king. The people of the surrounding lands knew that he would kill, burn, and destroy. But they also knew that Black Swan was a protector of the innocent, not a predator, as he was often the subject of tall tales involving dragons and beasts, pirates and princes. Black Swan and the Knights of Quileute came to Port Angeles at the frantic behest of King Michael, who was coming close to losing his entire kingdom to the pillaging party.
When Black Swan victoriously entered the kingdom after days of violence and fighting, the stories had grown and the celebration began. Black Swan and his tribe of warriors entered the kingdom's court jousting arena in their chain-mail and iron, brandishing weapons and shields upon their massive stallions. The people of the land gathered together to fete the knights who saved their lives. Amazed by the spectacle, the people stood and cheered, flowers rained down from the ladies-in-waiting and the other knights and men of the kingdom slammed their swords and staffs on the floor causing a rumble through the arena.
The horses reared back at the sounds and drifting flowers, the knights waved to the crowd, then a hush fell across the hundreds in the stadium as King Michael stood to address the knights of the Quileute order.
He spoke of the bravery of the knights and of how his kingdom was indebted to King Charles and his knights. He asked them all to stay on with him in the castle as long as they would like and wished to throw a large festival in their honour. Custom would dictate that the king send many a treasure to the Quileute king, but Michael did not think that was best; he felt that dancing and eating would be the grandest way to show the knights his gratitude.
Black Swan was called to the front by the king, so he guided his massive white steed forward through the twenty or so knights encircling him. The king beckoned the stablemaster, Aro, who came to the arena with a trailing sea of boys behind him of varying ages of adolescence. The king offered their service to care for the horses who aided the knights and hastened the knights to disembark their animals. He commanded that they allow the finest stablemen in all of the land to care for the horses while the men were treated to a feast of kings in their honour.
Black Swan motioned to his men to partake, but he did not dismount. The stablehands looked on as a giant warrior with the image of a massive wolf on his shield sidled to the left flank of Black Swan on a large red mare and shouted above the din of the still enthralled crowd that the knights of Quileute were honoured to join them. He announced that they would be honoured to partake in dinner. Accepting a few days lodging, he told the king that they would be moving out again to the coast to check more towns in danger of any surviving marauders.
King Michael waved them on and left the arena trailed by Queen Lauren and his advisers. The knights began to dismount and allowed the stableboys to lead their horses away for care as they ate and slept. However, Black Swan did not dismount even when a tall teenager came to take his reins. Black Swan shook his helmeted head at the lad and moved his horse to follow the line of horses following stablehands out of the arena into the massive barn. The stableboy was completely distraught because he had been hearing of these men, especially Black Swan for as long as he had lived at the castle. He had only hoped to help the knights, this knight in particular. Was it his dress? Did he look like he wasn't capable of handling the mount? Edward continued to wrack his brain while he watched the knight dismounted his steed. He knew he was skinny and lanky, full of wild copper hair and oddly green eyes that he was teased about mercilessly, but he had bathed when he heard the knights were coming and he had tried to tame his hair. He even put on his new shirt. He followed beside Black Swan, stealing glances in his direction hoping the knight would remove his helmet, but even in the darkness of the barn, he didn't lift his shield or remove the head piece.
The boy stood there dumbstruck as the knight lept off the side of the horse and he realized that the knight that was atop the giant stallion was in fact shorter than he was. He was completely befuddled when the knight began taking care of his stallion, not once glancing in his direction.
"Sir?" The boy asked, but no response came. When his friend Peter glanced over from the other paddock where he was watering the red mare, Edward shrugged his shoulders not knowing what to do or say.
"Do you want me to help ya, sir?" Peter said loudly. The knight stood to look up through his helmet then waved Peter off. "Edward there, he's a good lad. The best horseman we got. Knows more about horses than people, I'd bet. He'll take good care of him if yer hungry, sire."
The knight again waved them away. Edward didn't know where to go, there were no other horses in need, so he went to fetch some grain and a bucket of water for Black Swan's horse. He brought them back and encouraged the massive horse to eat. Edward had been around horses his entire life and was always happiest in the barns. When he looked upon Black Swan's stallion, he could not help his smile at the sight of the giant. He was frothing and had obviously been ridden hard, but he could tell he was so well taken care of by Black Swan. This fact warmed Edward's heart. Any warrior who cared for his animal this well must not be cold-hearted or cruel, no matter what the stories told.
"He's a beaut, sire. His coat is fine. You take excellent care of him as if he were your wee one." Suddenly, the knight stopped brushing out the horse's long white mane and regarded Edward. The moment dragged out in Edward's mind as he stared back at the iron-clad warrior. Even though he couldn't see the knight, he was suddenly frightened by the armored being before him with a large sword at his side.
"I'm sorry, sire. I was merely-I just-Oh, god forgive me." He stuttered as he bowed, awaiting the beating he knew would come for speaking so casually to a revered knight. Edward knew his station in life without his parents and tried hard to hold himself to those standards. He accepted the punishment due him, it was a fact of a servant's life. When nothing struck him, Edward glanced up against his better judgement. The knight was gone.
In this kingdom, it was more than rare that a knight did not take advantage of besting anyone at anytime; that was just the way the knights of Port Angeles were. King Michael loved the joust and encouraged competitions at any level. Edward thought all knights were that way. He turned quickly and saw the knight moving out of the back of the barn on the path that led to the garden. He knew he should beg forgiveness, so he latched the gate behind him to keep the horse in his pen and ran after the knight, knowing he would be beaten, but that it would be his beating to take.
"Sire, I beg your forgiveness. Do as you wish to me, but please do not alert King Michael or Master Aro of my impudence. I beg of you, I shall not offend again. Just please allow me to pay penance as I need this position to secure food for my sister. Please, sir, I beg your mercy."
The knight turned quickly and Edward jumped backward, but then stooped before the knight and held himself still in preparation for his penance. "Please sir, do as you wish to me." His heart beat faster than it ever had in his life and flashes of the flames that killed his family danced beneath his eyelids. He had to take what was coming to him and keep his sister safe. Nothing else mattered.
"I won't hurt you."
The voice was foreign and a truly startled Edward raised his head with a genuine lack of understanding. The voice was soft and light, it was... not that of a knight.
"No one deserves to be harmed for speaking kindly to another." Then the knight pulled the helmet from his head and there before Edward stood the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Soft brown hair cascaded along the metal of the chain-mail, luscious pink lips mouthed words he wasn't hearing. As he looked into the chocolate brown eyes, he squeaked.
"B-Black Swan?" he finally asked.
Edward stood frozen before the stunning girl with the dark locks and cherubic face. He was unable to blink, seeing her bite her lip and look away, and when her eyes returned to his he noticed how deeply brown they were and the small freckles along her cheeks and nose. His fingers twitched at the thought of touching her.
Edward knew she was an immense warrior, but she was more. He was awestruck by her. She stared up at him uneasily, but a smile formed at her perfect lips. "You are the best horseman?" Edward smiled and nodded humbly, looking at his boots. The noise of a clattering door alerted them both. Edward looked toward the barn and when he turned back, Black Swan had begun to walk away into the garden.
"Edward!" bellowed Aro. He knew he would be lashed for dereliction of duty. He returned to the barn at once with Aro hot on his tail, berating him about what his job was and how leaving the Black Swan's stallion because he was busy chasing butterflies in the garden was beyond unacceptable. Edward knelt before Aro and caught a right hook to his cheek. Edward fell backward into the stall where the horse reared backward, nearly stepping on Edward. In that moment, he was glad Bella Swanley had walked away from him.
"Get yourself cleaned up and be sure this horse is treated better than you'll ever deserve, boy. Or you and your pretty little sister are dropped in a sea-town looking for slaves! Do you understand me?"
Edward grimaced, his greatest fears held in front of him for all to see. He nodded and spoke a soft, "Yes, sire." Aro stormed off shouting orders to other stablehands and Edward got to work making sure Black Swan's horse was taken care of before Aro returned.
He had been finished with the horse for a while, but he stayed near him to keep an eye out for Bella Swanley. Every time he thought her name, goose bumps charged his skin. He knew in his bones he had to see her again.
"Edward?" A soft voice pulled him from his deep thoughts of Bella Swanley, the warrior knightress. He looked up and his sister stood before him. "What are you doing, brother?" she asked in a small voice, her dark hair so unlike his, but her green eyes shared with him by his mother gleamed like small emeralds.
"I am making sure Black Swan's steed is fine before going for supper." Alice's eyes went wide as she stared up at the massive beast. She looked torn between running away and a desire to pet the monster.
"These are the horses that the knights rode in battle to save the kingdom?" she asked with wonder and Edward smiled at her innocence. "Why are they bigger than our horses?"
"These are a different breed." Edward spoke as he opened the gate and walked his sister into the stall. "A larger stock from hot bloods. Big and wild, but loyal," he assured her.
"I did not know horses could be this large. Lucy says the warriors fed the flesh of their enemies to their horses." Edward scoffed at his sister's story and reached up to the horse. "They- they don't seem mean," Alice hedged as she touched the white horse's mane and he nudged her softly with his nose.
"Aye." Edward was amazed at the docile creatures as well that the fierce warriors rode. "And what are you up to, little sister?" He stood taller as he spoke to the one family member he held in this world. She hugged him tightly and recalled the other kitchen girls teasing her for her short hair. When their family was killed in a fire a year ago, Alice's long locks were singed and had to be nearly cut off completely. Her hair had not grown quickly, much to Alice's dismay. Couple her short hair with her slight frame and the other scullery girls taunted her for being a boy in the kitchen.
"You are a lovely girl, Alice. A prize to behold and a sweet spirit on top of that. Don't you dare worry your mind what those little rats say." She squeezed him tighter around his waist and they headed to the kitchens to find their late meal.
After eating, Edward returned Alice to their loft above the barn. Whenever they had time to themselves, they would sit with a lamp between them and read the few books they were able to salvage from the fire. The only reason they were not dropped off at a slave auction when their parents passed was because Aro had been close with their father. He took ward of Edward to apprentice him as a horseman. Alice was too young to marry, but too old for the church's home for orphans. Aro didn't know what to do with her, but she refused to leave Edward's side. He said they could live above the stables if the weather was warm and they didn't bother the horses. Since they came in from the cold and lonely streets, they had been sleeping up there, even after winter had come through. It was surprisingly warm amongst the hay and Edward knew he could keep his sister safe if she was with him. One small comfort for a boy who was forced to become the head of his household at sixteen. He was determined to keep her safe and cared for and worked diligently to do so.
With his sister finally full and sleeping, he returned to the stalls to check on Black Swan's horse. When he arrived, the horse immediately greeted him and he made sure to give him the carrot end that he had saved from dinner. "You are a beaut. What's your name? Something like Maximus or Magnus? The great soldier that you are." Edward smiled as he stroked the horse's nose. When he was amongst his horses, he felt a calm that never showed itself otherwise. Edward's parents read to their children nightly and were both literate, which could not be said about most of the stablehands. Alice and Edward both kept their abilities to read and write to themselves as it was frowned upon for serfs to rise above their station.
Edward loved working with the horses; he knew they were his calling. "You're a good horse, there. Your master is good, too, I can feel it." Edward thought about the stunning brown eyes that met him earlier as he brushed out the horse again, but was startled when a figure moved before him. Thinking it was Aro, he called out, "I'm making sure Black Swan's horse is tended in case a ride is called for in the morning, sire." Edward was good at appeasing Aro and kept on his good side most days.
"I am not your sire," a soft voice stated from the shadow.
Edward jumped and came toward the voice without thinking of his place. "You..." Whatever he planned to say was lost in his frantic thoughts of pale skin and brown eyes.
She was standing before him in a loose linen shirt and breeches not all that different from his own. Her hair was tied back, but the tendrils fell against her shoulder in a long brown cascade. Edward found himself staring unabashedly at the girl before him, uncomprehending how this small creature was the same as Black Swan-the warrior-who rescues those in need, the subject of so many tales and stories.
"What's your name?" she asked of him in a voice not to be trifled with, for even as her body was small, she was still mighty.
"Edward, m'lor-m'lady?" he hedged.
"Yes, I am a girl. And you are a boy. Let's not make it a matter of it, aye? I need to keep people knowing Black Swan, not Bella Swanley, all right?" He nodded, realizing that a female knight would not be welcome in his kingdom. "Well, Edward, how is my Pegasus?"
"Pegasus?" Edward didn't understand the name.
"Yes, Pegasus is the winged horse that came from the blood of the evil snake-haired witch Medusa." Edward's eyes must have belied his shock at her words because she laughed then reassured him. "It's a Greek mythological tale of a vicious, scorned woman with snakes growing from her head. When the son of the Water God, Perseus, killed her, her blood ran out and from her blood sprang out a beautiful stallion with wings that carried the horse through the sky. My Pegasus is the fasted animal known in our kingdom. He's been mine since the day I won him in a joust. He was named Cantor, but I didn't think that suited him. A white horse named white seemed daft. He's been Pegasus since he came to me and I think he is much happier." As she spoke, she walked into the stable and put her arms around her horse's neck, and he bowed his massive head almost embracing the woman.
Edward was stunned by her candor and intelligence and the fact that this girl had jousted a knight right out of his stallion. The women he was familiar with who spoke as she did were ladies-in-waiting or courtesans, not girls in breeches. The girls who wore pants were usually mucking stalls or beheading chickens. He thought this girl, woman, who stood in front of him hugging her horse like an old friend would be able to do all that and more.
"I'd like to ride tonight." Her words were soft as though she were speaking to Pegasus more than to Edward. For a moment he stood soaking in the image of the girl and her horse, but then she turned to him and he tried in vain to look as if he were inspecting the brush in his hand.
"May I have his bridle?" Dumbstruck by her request, not a demand, Edward stood seconds longer than it should have taken to process the question. He then shook his head of the haze and fetched her bit, reins, and saddle that had been stored with the others.
"I won't be needing a saddle," Bella Swanley said with a nod. She stood on the small stool beside the horse that Edward had been sitting on when tending to the hooves. Before Edward could move to her, she launched herself onto Pegasus' back. The horse whinnied happily as she coaxed him from the stall.
"Yes'm?" She turned the horse to face Edward and leaned forward a bit.
"See that red mare?" Edward nodded then looked toward the horse that Lord Jacob had been riding. "Fetch her and ride with me."
"I cannot take a knight's horse."
"That horse, Hedwyn, is mine. You'll ride whatever I tell you to. Mount now."
Edward stood again in shock for a few seconds before she raised her eyebrow at him, and he moved as fast as his body would allow. He had never ridden bareback before, but he tried his best and when he exited the barn, he met the infamous Black Swan in the moonlight of the kingdom.
They rode out of the castle and down a large hill in silence. Edward was regretting not putting a saddle on the red mare, but he was enamored to watch Bella Swanley fly through the night just before him. Her long hair trailed behind her like a banner. Pegasus seemed to fly like his namesake as they volleyed over brush and valleys. Edward kept the mare close to Pegasus, but he stayed behind her, mainly out of position, but also a selfish need to keep sight of the girl atop the stallion. She amazed him.
When they approached the beach, rather than turning back as Edward had seen on most of his rides with Aro and the other stablehands, Bella Swanley moved her stallion down and into the surf. They rode along the coast under a large half moon and Edward vacillated between keeping his mouth shut and confessing his enthrallment with the girl who rode her horse through the water.
"Shall we race?"
"I'm sorry, m'lady?"
"Enough with the lady nonsense. I'm just a body on a horse," she said. Edward suddenly felt heat crawling up his neck as he thought of her body. "I'll race you back to the cliffs. Last one up has to muck the stalls, aye?"
Edward couldn't help the laugh as he thought of her mucking out the horse manure, but before he had the chance to decline in good conscience, she kicked her stallion and he reared back like something Edward would have dreamt of after hearing a tale of the Black Swan.
"Hee-ya!" she cried and Pegasus took the command and unleashed a mighty gait. Edward tried to gain the same response from the red mare, but she was not quite as eager to move. She moved fast, though, and began gaining on the stallion.
"You're not as fast as I thought," he shouted after her. "That lumbering monster has a lot of weight to carry on his hooves," Edward yelled as the mare shouldered up to the stallion.
"Ah, but your mare isn't comfortable with water. If I were to do this," she steered the stallion into the mare so she would move closer to the waters, "then you'd be quite out of luck, I should think." She laughed as Edward's horse nipped at the stallion in vain and slowed to let him pass so she could move out of the ocean.
"Trickery!" Edward called after her as she laughed. Edward trailed behind her for a bit longer, but the mare seemed to feel his tension and reared up and pushed forward. Hedwyn gained her ground back and then overtook the stallion as he slowed from the long ride and his sprint. Edward whooped as he passed the beautiful girl upon the horse, and when he looked at her as he passed, she smiled.
He reached the cliffs before her and the mare traversed the rocks easily. When he rounded her back to look out on the beach, Bella Swanley and her stallion approached.
"Well, Edward, it seems I'll need to get up earlier than I had planned tomorrow."
Edward's smile no longer matched hers. "No, m'lady. You shan't be cleaning up after horses. I can't- you can't..."
"Nonsense. It was a wager you won and I'll pay my debt. I might be a guest, but I'm not lout."
"But-" Edward's well-ingrained manners were grating at him.
"Enough." Edward ceased immediately. "Let's ride back through the trees and take the river route back to the castle." And off she went, leading the way.
Edward kept pace with her this time, only slightly behind her. As they rode on, he began to get more and more curious.
"If you continue to stare, I'll start to think I'm a hideous beast upon a stag."
"No, it's just... you... I'm just not used to seeing a woman as a knight. Or a woman so accomplished on a horse. And in breeches!" She laughed out loud and turned her horse in front of Edward's.
"You think because I was born a girl, I couldn't or shouldn't ride? Or fight? Or protect?"
"It's not usually the case, no. Not that you can't, obviously, it's just not how it's done here."
"In my kingdom, I'm more than just a girl."
"I can imagine." Edward grimaced at his unheld tongue.
Bella couldn't contain her smile. "I like you, Edward. You are honest and brave. You will make an amazing knight someday." She then turned her horse back to walk. Edward had never really thought of becoming a knight since his parents' deaths. He was more concerned with keeping himself and his sister alive.
"So tell me, young Edward of the horses, why are you a stableboy when it's obvious you were born into nobility?"
Edward blanched at her words. His parents hadn't been nobles. His mother was a courtesan who fell in love with a peasant and when they married, she was tossed out of her kingdom. Edward and Elizabeth made a home in Port Angeles and raised their children in meager existence.
"I am but a stablehand, m'la-" He caught himself, but he wasn't sure what to call her.
"So you are not a nobleman?" He wondered if the blood of his mother gave him a different look.
"No. I am but a boy. I want to take care of my sister since my family is gone and she is all I have."
"So you are brave and kind, just as I thought. Tell me more of you, please, Edward."
Edward relayed his tale of woe. He explained the death of his parents in a fire at their mill and how his older brother and sister had perished with his parents. He told her about how his sister was the only survivor of the fire that killed his family. How he had not been home when the fire began in the mill. He was up much earlier than usual to fish or he would have surely died since he usually slept in a loft above the mill with his brother. His body tensed as he remembered walking back up from the river and smelling the smoke. How he ran into their home searching for his family, but no one was alive. He found his sister, Alice, lying in the kitchen near the back door and how surprised and thankful he was when he hugged her and she cried out. She had barely survived the smoke and burns, but she was now alive and his sole responsibility.
Bella was troubled by his words, her face pinched to keep from crying. She had lost her mother before she even knew her and felt Edward's pain.
"How did you become a knight, Bella Swanley?" Edward ventured it was quite a tale.
"I decided I could be a knight so I became one. No other story to tell." She then urged Pegasus on and they were soon upon the kingdom gates. Edward didn't want the night to end, he wished he could stay in Bella Swanley's company forever. She was an enigma to him and beyond her amazing talents and striking beauty, he felt that Bella Swanley was someone he would want to spend time with, speaking and discussing, something he didn't often get the pleasure of doing.
They said their reluctant good-byes at the stable, the awe-inspiring Bella Swanley reminding him that she would be up early to muck the stalls. He again told her she didn't need to, but she reminded him of his place when she raised her chin at him and looked him square in the eye.
Edward brushed out both horses and made sure they both had some extra oats and fresh water, then crept up to the loft to dream of the beautiful Black Swan.
When dawn crept in, Edward stirred not having slept well that night. The warmth of the hayloft was no comfort as he was restless with visions of Bella Swanley dancing behind his eyes. As he dragged himself from the bed he looked beside him and smiled at little Alice with her blanket wrapped up tight to her chin. She looked so young and helpless, but so beautiful and sweet. He knew he was doing everything he could to keep her safe. If he could prove to Aro that he was a quality stablehand, then he may make him a groom in time and that would give him more than enough of an income to purchase some land for his sister to grow and thrive on. All he wanted was a small place to call his own and to keep her safe.
Shrugging off the thoughts of what threatened his sister, Edward climbed down the ladder from the loft and made his way to Pegasus before any other horse. When he peered into his stall, he was greeted first with a snout, but then when Pegasus shifted, he saw fresh straw lining the stall. He moved toward Hedwyn, and she was also lined with fresh straw. He moved his way around the massive barn, a few hands were making their way in, but every one of the twenty stalls had been mucked and fresh linings put down. The other hands thanked him for his work, but Edward just stood slack-jawed. Bella Swanley, The Black Swan, had mucked every single stall Edward was in charge of and a few others it seemed.
Edward was astounded and wanted to go to her and thank her in some way, but he didn't know where she was. When Peter invited him to swim with some of the other stablehands, he declined saying he had some smithing to do. He had wanted to work with the blacksmith, he was going to practice farrier work, which was true. In all honestly, he wanted to stay around the stables just in case Black Swan called for Pegasus to be readied for a ride.
While Edward waited for Black Swan, Bella Swanley kept to herself in the knights' chambers. Sir Jacob came to bring a meal, knowing that she would not venture out to eat. Her world revolved around secrecy when not in Quileute and he knew that. He had sworn his loyalty to her long ago and he would always keep her secret. She kept herself hidden when in other kingdoms that didn't hold the same values as her own. When she did visit out of her chambers, she kept her mail on and went straight to the stables. In the few years since Bella Swanley became Black Swan, she was usually left alone, too many tales of horror preceded her and she was fine with that. At eighteen years old, Bella had become the knight's version of a hermit much to every one's dismay, but hers.
She could not ride as the horses needed rest, but she wished she could ride again with Edward. She hardly slept at all that night as she tossed and turned thinking about his laugh, his eyes, his riding her Hedwyn. Jacob's horse recently foaled so she had lent him her mare, but she knew he was uncomfortable on another horse and from Quileute to the battle and then on to Port Angeles, he made sure everyone was aware of his ire.
Edward, however, was a natural even without a saddle. She was sure he would struggle to stay on his mount, but he commanded Hedwyn well. She appreciated his quiet demeanor and his desire to care for Pegasus as his own. All day, as she hid in her rooms and read, she found her mind wandering to the green-eyed stableboy with the crooked grin.
"Yes, Seth?" she called to the young page who had entered her chamber and stood behind her as she combed her hair at the hearth.
"The king asked your presence at the evening meal. Sir Jacob explained your absence. He wishes to thank us and King Charles, so he is sending with us many satchels of goods. He wanted to thank you personally, so he is requesting that you ride with him before we depart tomorrow." She knew that she couldn't offend a king, but she also did not feel the need to pander to the man who ran his kingdom so softly.
"Explain that we are returning to Quileute first off in the morn, but that if he and his men will escort us through the valley, we would be much obliged." Seth bowed as she stared at the fire.
She continued to gaze into the fire long after her hair was dry. Not knowing what to do with herself, being tired but restless, once again she found herself sneaking slowly out of her chambers within the castle, and moving like a ghost along the stony paths to the stables.
"You came back?" Edward jumped up from beside Pegasus when she entered the stall.
"Why are you waiting so late in my horse's pen?" she said with only a hint of irritation. She was actually rather flattered.
"I was hoping you'd want to ride again." He gestured with the bridle in his hand. She nodded and silently mounted her horse. Edward quickly bridled Hedwyn and they both made their way out of the gates and into the forest.
Tonight they did not race. The air was heavier, both with an oncoming rain and the sadness that they knew would come with the Quileute knights departing. Edward had heard from Aro that all the horses were to be rested and watered and to be readied at first light because the king, his knights, and the Quileute warriors would all be leaving. Edward didn't want to think of The Black Swan now; he was concerned for the knightress, concerned that he may never lay eyes on her again.
Edward trailed behind and allowed Hedwyn to follow Pegasus as they made their way through the thick forest toward the beach. When they arrived on the beach, Bella Swanley dismounted and Edward watched her as she let Pegasus go to the tidepools teaming with water and life. He pulled himself off of the mare and ushered her toward the pools as well. Both horses trotted beside each other in the water.
Edward made his way toward Bella Swanley. She held her head high, as she often did, but her face was concerned and that made his heart pull toward her. When he stood beside her, he could not take his gaze from her face. She was so small, yet so fierce. He wanted to worship at her feet and shroud her in his protection all at once. Knowing that she was a warrior, though, made him pause. How does a young woman as beautiful as Bella Swanley turn into a fearsome, deadly, revered mercenary? He knew his own tale was a sad one, but he had also been quite lucky so far and been able to care for his sister. Bella Swanley had her band of men, her brothers of blood and battle, but how did her life turn into a fantastical story of bloodshed and knightdom? He wanted to ask her, but he did not want to bother her as she gathered serenity from the sea that night. He stayed quietly beside her until she spoke, "I'll be leaving tomorrow, Edward."
"I wish you safe travels to your home, Bella Swanley."
"Please call me Bella. And you, Edward... you shall make a girl a good husband. Your kindness knows no bounds even with such a hard life you've led."
"Life has been hard, Bella." The name felt right on his tongue. "But I have worked harder to survive."
"You have. And I am amazed by your kindness. I wish I had that brand of honour."
"You are honourable." He made to continue, but she stopped him.
"I am but a farce, this Black Swan, I know this. I do what I can to survive and make peace within a world full of war. I could have sat and done nothing in a pretty dress, but I have chosen to stand while others kneel. Our country needed strength, so I volunteered for this life, but fighting doesn't always give you honour though, Edward. Blood on your soul is not an entry way to the heavens." She looked into his face for a moment after she spoke, then turned her head back out to watch the waves.
Edward wasn't sure what to do or what he could say to ease her mind. She had obviously seen so much more than he could ever imagine. He took a deep breath and moved his hand from along his side and curled his fingers into those of Bella, the girl beside him. She did not pull away from him. No, she twined her fingers with his and smiled to the ocean as peace enveloped her.
They stood together quietly. There was a peace that settled over them like a blanket which neither had felt in a long time. Wanting more, she tugged on Edward's hand and led him to the rocks against the cliff. They sat facing the water, watching the horses nibbling along the tall grass near the rocks. "Do you ever wish for more, Edward?" she asked as her arm brushed against his.
"Sometimes, I think of owning land and shoeing horses for knights, keeping my sister safe and healthy and maybe finding her a husband so she can enjoy her life."
Edward nodded. It would be a great pleasure for his sister to find a good man and settle down. He imagined Alice grown and beautiful with her dark hair and big green eyes. She could marry a good man, a soldier or a tradesman, and she could live safely and happily. When he said this to Bella, she turned from him and this made Edward confused, as he wasn't sure what he had said to upset her.
"You think of your sister's future often."
"She is dependent on me. Everything I do is to keep her safe."
"You stand in muck and break your back every day for people who treat you like a slave."
"I have to do what I must." She turned back to him as he said this and she brought her hand up to touch his blackened eye.
"You let that man berate you and hurt you, Edward."
He thought back to Aro hitting him. Small price to pay to know Alice was protected.
"'Tis nothing in the grand scheme of life." His lips turned into a sad smile and he had to restrain from leaning into her palm like a needy pony. He felt a need for Bella deep inside him that was only minutely soothed by her hand against his cheek.
"The grand scheme." Bella nodded, knowing just what was so grand about it all. She still didn't like it, grand or not. She traced his cheek, careful not to put pressure on the bone where the skin was still red and angry. Lightly, she brushed her fingertips along his jaw, the light stubble tickling her hand. She had seen many men in her time as a warrior, but there was something about this boy, here with her right now, that tugged at her heart and gave her the need and desire to lay down her sword tight in a scabbard at her side. She knew she would never put down her sword, but also, she knew deep inside her that he would never ask her to do so. The battle inside her waged between wanting to run from the feelings that sparked up around him, and fueling the embers and allowing her heart to open wide for Edward.
Edward's body coiled at her touch, goosebumps rising to his skin. He looked into her large brown eyes as her hand drifted from the black eye down his cheek and along his jaw. The feel of her close to him gave him pause. He had never felt this way toward anyone. She smiled softly at him as she lifted her hand as it met his neck, returning it to his cheek.
Without thinking further of the future, Bella leaned forward and placed her lips against Edward's. At first he didn't know what to do with himself, but she kept her soft lips against his and as he took a deep breath, the sweetness of Bella wrapped itself around him and pulled him into her. His hands moved shakily to her waist, but once finding purchase, they gripped her tightly. Relishing in the warmth of his safe hands, she allowed herself to relax into his embrace. Bella felt her walls crumbling as their lips melded to his and her hands moved behind him, one winding into his hair, keeping him close to her. The feeling of Edward's body beside hers was something she did not ever want to be without.
When the sky began to turn pink, they pulled away from each other, Edward blushing and Bella smiling. Gathering the horses, they mounted as the sun crested and they made their way quickly back to the stables. The town was barely rubbing the sleep from its eyes as they brushed out the horses and gave them water. Edward went to check on Alice and get her to the kitchen for first meal. When he returned to the stable in search of Bella, he found Black Swan in full gear tending Pegasus. The knights were all about the stables tending and saddling their steeds. The king's men readied their horses as well. Edward tried to help where he could and Aro shouted commands, getting everything just so for our King Michael's entrance to the stables to mount the beautiful white stallion his wife, Queen Lauren, had given him for his nameday last.
The horse, Grandeur, was quite beautiful, but Pegasus was nearly a head taller and a few stone more of muscle throughout, which made Edward smile as he put the king's colours onto the horse's head.
Black Swan moved Pegasus closer to Edward as he strapped more garb to the king's horse. The view of Edward below everyone caused pain to ricochet through her chest. He should never bow his head, avert his eyes, or stand lower than the other men. He was more of a man than most of them on horses at this moment she thought to herself as she regarded him; his long lean muscles flexing beneath his thin linen shirt and his copper lit hair shining in the sun. Edward turned as Pegasus nudged him, the horse was eagerly becoming one of Edward's favorites. He smiled widely and leaned into the horse softly as he had done the nights before and looked upon Black Swan with adoration. He took in the sight of the dark shield held beside the horse's head, metal and mail weaving across both person and horse. It was a majestic view, thought Edward as he smiled up at Black Swan.
"Imbecile!" A shout from behind. Stinging pain flaring behind Edward's eyes brought him to his knees. He was rocked onto the cobble stones with gutting pains to his back and side. "You little bastard! How dare you let the king's colours touch the dirt!" Another crushing blow came across his back as he curled into himself to keep his head protected. "You will be lashed and your sister thrown in the stocks for being related to such a waste of a stablemucker!" He could hear yelling and frightened horses bucking against their masters' reins.
"Enough." A loud command and another strike against his back, then nothing.
"I said 'enough', Aro Volturi." The voice was commanding and familiar. Edward focused on his breaths and keeping the blackness that swam around his head at bay.
"Unhand me, you beast! You... you're a woman?" He heard the shocked stablemaster gasp and Edward quickly pushed himself up. As he made his way to his knees to look up, he found Aro standing in front of him, but his eyes were not on Edward, they were on Black Swan, now Bella Swanley with helmet fallen to the ground. She stood beside Aro, one of his arms gripped tightly in her fist, her sword at his throat. Edward came to stand partly in front of Bella, not wanting anyone to harm her and hoping to take the brunt of Aro's anger.
"I am a knight of Quileute." Bella spoke clearly and concisely. "And you, stablemaster, will not touch this man again. Do I make myself more than clear?"
As her eyes never left Aro as she spoke, her knights formed a semi-circle around her, pressing in toward the stablemaster and the three knights who stood behind him. Edward dragged himself away when he realized he would only be making things worse. He apologized, but Bella interrupted him. "Silence, Edward. You owe no one an apology."
When she looked upon Edward, he felt sick. Her lips were formed in a tight line, her face flushed. His heart sank as he realized she'd rescued him because he was weak, and she was going to leave him. Trumpets sounded overhead and Edward used the distraction to quickly move back to the stable as all the knights ascended their horses and the king made his way into the court to mount his stallion. A chorus of horns announced their leave and they made their way from the kingdom's gates. Edward watched from the loft as the horses became small dots on the horizon.
She was gone.
Aro had ridden with the king and they would be gone a half day, but when they returned, he knew that Aro Volturi, the king's horsemaster, would not take the shame of being bested by a woman well. Edward knew he and his sister would pay the price. As soon as the thought reached his mind, he was moving. He grabbed a knapsack and put as much as he could fit of their spare clothes, some blankets, and black bread into it. He then ran to the kitchens calling for Alice. He found her scrubbing pots from morning meal. He didn't even wait for her response, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her out of the hot room.
"We must go," was all Edward could say as he yanked his sister down the alley toward the main gates of the kingdom.
"What is the matter? What's happened?" Alice was beginning to become frightened as they left the gates and made their way through the small outlying town toward the forest. She had not been to the forest in a long time. It frightened her to think of the animals that inhabited the trees and darkness.
"We cannot stay any longer. We must move on. I'm sorry, but we must move quickly, all right?"
Alice acquiesced and hurried on in silence, trusting her brother, and knowing they wouldn't be running if it wasn't important. She trusted her brother with her life.
By nightfall, they had made it well into the forest to the north of the kingdom. Edward couldn't make a fire, fearing they would be tracked. He wrapped his sister in a blanket he had taken with him and they ate the last of their bread and the berries they had scavenged throughout the day. Tucked into her brother's arms, Alice fell asleep dreaming of roast pig and a fluffy bed in her future. Edward whispered promises of warmth and safety until he fell asleep beside her. He would trade his life for his sister's, but he hoped it wouldn't come to that.
The knights of Quileute rode until night and again the next morning, but before they stopped for a meal, Pegasus ceased to run. Bella Swanley was concerned and tried to walk her stallion, but eventually he became unable to walk. When he stopped running, she was concerned and when he fell lame, she was inconsolable. Had she spent so much of her energy fretting for Edward's safety and wishing for his care, that she let her partner down? Had she not seen the signs because she was so self-absorbed? When she'd laid by him for nearly an hour, Jacob sent Seth and Jared ahead to warn the king. After another hour with no ease in the horse's obvious discomfort, he began mentioning ways to deal with the issue. Bella loved her horse as much as she loved her father and when Jacob volunteered to put Pegasus out of his misery, she clamored for her sword and thrust it at him, the tip nearly cutting his Adam's apple.
"You will not touch him. He is not dying, he is sick," she panted. "When Seth gets to the castle he will fetch Eleazer, the healer, and when they arrive, he'll know what to do. You will not touch him, do you hear me?"
Jacob nodded and retreated to the safety of the wolf-laden forest rather than the knife-side of Black Swan. He learned his lesson early on not to tangle with her when she was angry. His leg throbbed at the memory of being shot with an arrow two years ago when he dared suggest that Bella would do better in a knitting circle than an archery range. He would never under estimate that girl or her capabilities ever. She was a fierce partner and he appreciated her skill with a sword and lance repeatedly in battle. His heart went out to her, her horses being a part of her family, but he also didn't want to see the animal suffer. He watched from the treeline as she stroked the horse's mane and whispered in his ear softly.
From behind him, Jacob heard the signal. A low whistle, similar to a dove's call, warning of intruders. Quickly, he rose and made his way silently toward the call as it sounded again. When he reached Embry, he saw two figures just a few feet away, moving down the trail toward where Pegasus was down. Jacob sprung into action, the other men following. Seconds later, the two figures were surrounded. Edward's instincts flared and he upended one knight and grabbed his sword as it hit the dirt. He pointed the sword at Jacob not realizing who it was at first.
"We mean no harm!" Edward called to the men who held his sister captive. His sister screamed and kicked beside him and he tried in vain to calm her. "We are passing through. Please, release my sister." Edward's throat constricted at the sight of so many swords drawn.
"Jacob, isn't that the stablehand from Port Angeles?" Jacob pulled Edward's hood back and when face to face with the boy, he realized that it was the same. Jasper pulled the girl up and apologized for sitting on her. Edward watched as Alice laughed at Jasper making a show of dusting her off and apologizing for his aggressive behaviour. Alice liked how kind he was, even dressed as a knight. His chivalry spoke volumes and she told him he was forgiven. Jasper smiled at her and she noticed he had green eyes just like hers, which gave her a comfort.
"I am sorry, sire. We are passing through and mean no harm." Edward was not sure why the men were in the hills laying in wait. Suddenly, his mouth ran dry, as he noticed no Black Swan among these knights. "Is she?"
"She who?" Jasper and Quil spoke at the same time in different octaves.
"Bella?" was all Edward could get out as he thought the worst fates imaginable, seeing her men and not her.
"Edward?" Bella came through the trees while Jacob and the others stood, completely struck. No one outside the kingdom of Quileute knew Black Swan's true identity, save this boy and his sister. "Why are you here?" She didn't want to presume, but she could not deny she was elated to see him at this moment.
"Why are you?" he asked with concern, his body seeking hers out.
"Pegasus... I'm not sure what's wrong. He's not well." Edward despised the tears that fell from her eyes as she spoke.
"Take me to him," he whispered into her hair as she put her forehead to his chest.
Edward could see from feet away that the mighty stallion was not well. He laid on his side, barely moving. The pain was obvious in the taught muscles and harsh grunts as the weight of his body began to crush his lungs.
Edward moved quickly, with the precision of a warrior, as he moved around the beautiful white being. Moments passed and he leaned toward Bella's leg, grabbing the small boot knife. Bella was stunned, fearing the worst, but Edward simply pulled up the horse's hoof and began to exact a trail along the underside, almost as though he were putting a pen to paper. The men all watched with awe as Edward worked quickly, pressing on the hoof, moving it slightly and then pushing down on it and swearing. Alice fought a smile watching her brother in his element. He was always this way with the horses, confident and proficient.
After what felt like an eternity to Bella, Edward finally turned to her and asked for salt and brandy. Jacob made a joke about horse only going with port and Jasper throttled him with an open hand to the back of his head. Bella reached into a saddle pack she had stripped from the horse and handed him some tack meat that had been heavily salted. Quil found an elkskin and handed it over as well. Edward pulled his shirt off and ripped it into strips, then tried to shake as much of the rock salt as he could from the tack. Pouring the brandy onto the salted cloth, he created a meager poultice and wrapped it around the horse's lame hoof. Everyone could see the difference in Pegasus with the few moments Edward had been with them. He was now sitting on his haunches and after the poultice had been applied he stood. He was not bearing weight on his leg, but he was standing, which was a step in the right direction Edward told everyone.
Bella could not control her happiness. An abscess. Something so small, but yet, so dangerous. She could have lost her partner today, but Edward, the gift that he was, had saved him.
An hour later the night was falling, and the men made camp and built a fire as Bella and Alice fed and watered the horses.
"Are you well, m'lady?" Alice asked as she watch Bella sigh deeply when they had finished.
"Call me Bella, please. I am not above you in anyway." Alice looked rather confused, but Bella continued, "And thank you for asking, I am. Quite tired, but I am well, now. Your brother gave me a great gift today." Bella had been terrified, but she was happy to know Pegasus was nearly home and could be rested. She was filled with fear at the thought of Edward coming with her though. How could he want to be with her knowing she had lied, she had killed. Bella was not sure Edward could love her as she truly was. She was only just figuring it out for herself.
"It was a lucky happenstance we were able to assist you." Bella nodded. "We ran away." Bella turned toward the younger girl and nodded again, hoping she would elaborate. "I think we were in danger."
"I am sure you were, but your brother is determined to care for you. Always."
"I know Edward will always care for me, he is so good. But I worry... who will care for him?" Again, Bella's heart broke as she thought about her future.
That night, as they all lay around the fire, Bella tried not to think about the future. Her duties, responsibilities, debts owed. She was restless though, even after such a trying day. She could hear some of the men snoring and the horses moving around in the grass, sounds that usually lulled her to sleep, but nothing calmed her. She finally relieved Jasper of sentry duty and took his place on watch. Jasper moved back to the fire, moving his bedroll nearer to that of the young Alice.
Edward knew Bella had moved; he was acutely aware of everything she did. All night he tried to be of use, helping with the fire and the horses, but he could not bring himself to speak to Bella again. He was not quite sure what he would say, but he wanted to say something. When night fell around the camp, they had all gone to sleep, but Edward could not. He lay tossing and turning until she moved to stand. When Jasper came back and laid down, he took his chance and walked toward her. The pulling feeling inside him, like she was his true North, caused him to walk faster.
In the flickering cast from the fire, Bella was illuminated at the treeline. Edward could not have seen a more beautiful site than Bella bathed in a soft glow. She heard him as he approached and turned toward him, half expecting Jasper again, but she smiled when she saw Edward.
"Did you follow us?" He nodded. "Did you run from Aro?" He nodded again. "You should go back and live your life, Edward." He stood still for a long time, mulling her words.
"I have no where to go. No kingdom, no home, no family, but Alice. If we go back, I'll be killed and I don't want to think of what would happen to Alice."
"I don't know if you would be happy in Quileute, Edward." Bella thought about her father and her responsibilities.
"I don't want much, just to be near you. I swear my allegiance to you, Bella."
Her eyes flew to his as his words struck her. "You don't know what you're saying. I'm-" Edward interrupted her confession with a declaration of his own.
"I know I am young. I know I am not educated or trained in much of anything other than horses, but I know that I love you, Bella Swanley. And you are my kingdom. I swear fealty and my honour to you and only you." He knelt in front of her then and bowed his head.
"You are sure you understand what you are saying, Edward?"
He raised his head slowly, moving his eyes along Bella's form, taking in her small, fit frame and cascading brown locks along her tunic. He knew exactly what he was saying. "I am not a knight, but I will protect you with my life and work beside you. I may not have much to give, but everything I have and everything I am belongs to you, Bella Swanley of Quileute. No matter what you will give back to me, I lay everything at your feet." And with that he bowed his head again, his heart full and hopeful.
"What's going on?" Edward raised his head at the voice and realized Jacob was standing beside Bella.
"Did you just- did you swear your allegiance?" he asked Edward. With no answer he turned toward Bella. "You told him you-"
"Stand, Edward," Bella said quickly. "Jacob, was there something you needed?"
"Just to tell you that Seth and the healer just arrived and are looking at Pegasus. Thought you might be interested in your horse." He again looked to Edward, who was still kneeling, then back to Bella before walking away.
A long sigh escaped Bella as she looked back at Edward. She moved toward him, placing her hand upon his cheek, her warm skin against his. She leaned down and thanked him, then kissed his forehead before she turned and made her way to Pegasus. Edward watched from afar as the healer agreed and reiterated everything that Edward had said. He cautioned Bella not to expect a full recovery, but said that whomever had helped the horse was a talented horseman. Edward smiled when Bella turned and gazed upon him, her lips curving upward.
Once the sun was cresting in the sky, the party was mounted and moving on. They were a half a day from Quileute, but they started early knowing Pegasus would not go fast and their new guests were on foot. Jasper offered his horse to Alice, but she declined asking to walk beside her brother. There was not much speaking, but a lot of silent contemplation amongst all of the travellers. Edward kept near Pegasus, not only to keep an eye on him, but his heart would not allow him much freedom from the sight of Bella. She led the horse and Edward stood on the other side.
At one point, Jacob walked Hedwyn close to Pegasus and whispered quietly to Bella. He could not hear much from the other side of the horse, but Edward heard Bella's reply of, "No, I have not. I don't know how." Jacob then scoffed and replied loudly, "Secrets, like dragons, do not stay hidden." He then mounted the red mare and pushed through the band of men to the front.
Edward kept himself quiet even with questions plaguing him. He comforted his sister softly when she voiced her nervousness of entering a new land and he assured her that he would keep her safe.
They made their way slowly, yet steadily, toward their coastal city and soon in the distance the massive castle of Quileute sat atop a cliff, the ocean licking at the base. Edward swallowed thickly at the imposing sight of Quileute. He had never been to another kingdom, but he knew from stories that he might not find a peaceful welcome and he was not a Quileute - he was a nothing. It would be hard to endear a king or queen to nothing, but he hoped by helping the knights, they would keep him as a stablehand and he could earn his keep for himself and his sister.
"Sire?" Seth was speaking to Bella.
"Fine," was her only reply as she gave Edward the reins to Pegasus and then mounted Seth's stallion, a deep brown with a blond mane. Edward was not sure why Bella needed a horse before they entered the town, but he kept quiet and led Pegasus behind Bella on Seth's charger. She chanced a look behind her, stress etched across her porcelain face as she held Edward's gaze. When townspeople began to cheer, Bella straightened herself and moved her horse quickly forward, leading the knights. Edward thought to himself about how Bella must be of nobility and as a knight must have certain etiquette to follow as she makes her way into the castle. Edward kept Pegasus behind other knights, even though he could tell the horse wanted none of being behind his cohorts.
In the courtyard of the massive castle, a trumpet sounded and a large, dark haired man appeared. "All welcome the safe arrival of the knights of Quileute!"
The man peered down from the steps above them. He smiled at his men, at Bella Swan atop her horse, no longer covered in iron, but still wearing a tunic with her black swan insignia. Edward noticed the man before him on the stairs wore a dark blue cape, much like that of King Michael, but this man wore no crown. Edward continued to study the man as he spoke of how proud he was of his knights and how they would be rewarded. Bella looked behind her at Edward. The boy stood tall watching and absorbing everything while stroking Pegasus as if he were his own. Her heart beat even faster at the thought of deceiving him. It tore at her soul to know that very soon she would be crushing him with her truth.
"And my most admired knight," the man said with a large grin . Bella turned her face to him. "My warrior child, my daughter-knight. You make your father proud and honoured. Come and join me."
Bella did not look behind her again as she dismounted and slowly walked up the steps to her father. The trumpeter yelled from the balcony, "All hail, King Charles and Princess Isabella!" A roar went up within the kingdom. "Long live the King! Long live the Princess!"
Edward's heart beat like a torrential downpour, and aching filled him as he watched Black Swan shift seamlessly into Princess Isabella of Quileute. She was beautiful with a small blush on her cheeks as the crowd cheered for her and her father, the king. Their eyes met above the crowd, but their gaze was broken as the men were dismissed and they were lead to the stables. Jasper said his mother, a court noblewoman, would have food and clothing for Alice and she was happy to trail after him talking animatedly about his horse, Nettie.
Edward found Pegasus' paddock easily, as it was marked with a large plaque and the Swanley insignia. Checking the abscessed hoof again, he redressed Pegasus' wound, which was healing remarkably well. Seth brought Edward a change of clothes and pointed to the castle. "Your presence has been requested." Edward swallowed a knot in his throat and made his way to the back of the barn to wash some of the grime from himself and change.
Seth met him at the doors and walked with him up the stairs and into a large hall with a few tapestries, but no massive gold and silver statues or paintings like he had seen the few times he was in King Michael's hall. "We keep to ourselves, Edward. Strangers don't take kindly to kings who don't live grandly or by their rules. King Charles is a good, fair king." Edward nodded, still not feeling calm inside as he looked around. There was no throne, but a large round table. At the far end of the table sat King Charles, his chair no higher or grander than the others.
"Edward, I presume?"
Edward walked forward then bowed as the king stood. "Your Majesty."
"Come forward, Edward." As he walked around the massive wood table, he saw Bella enter, only now dressed in a long blue tunic cinched at the waist and tights. Still no gown for Bella Swanley. "My Isabella tells me of your kindness and talents. Of how you saved her Pegausus," King Charles began. Edward had a hard time tearing his gaze from Bella with her dark hair in soft curls along her shoulders, her face bright, but a crease between her deep eyes.
"Aye, Your Highness. I would do anything for your daughter." Nothing he had ever said was more true.
"We will use your talents, Edward. We have many horses and a vast army of knights who will call on your expertise." Edward nodded excitedly at the thought of becoming a master of horses.
"So I hear from Jacob, that you have sworn your loyalty to my Isabella. Is this true, lad?" Edward suddenly feared he had made a grave mistake in doing so in the eyes of a king. He had sworn his life to someone other than the king he would be asking sanctuary from. "Be honest. What is on your heart? For only that will keep your head on your shoulders, boy."
He looked from the king before him to the king's daughter who looked cautious, but not alarmed. "I swear my loyalty to Bella, M'lord."
"Bella?" Edward watched as King Charles looked at his daughter, with a raised eyebrow, who blushed. "Am I to understand this correctly, my dearest daughter, the only remnant from your beautiful Queen Mother, that you have chosen this boy? This stablehand from a child-king's realm? You have, out of all the knights who serve you, all the men and boys who gather at your skirts, you have chosen this," the king motioned toward Edward on his knees, "as your One?"
"Yes," was Bella's only reply.
"Edward, of Equus, the humble man before me, do you swear your fealty to my only daughter, Princess Isabella Swanley of Quileute, to keep her safe and to protect her always as though she were the incarnate of your soul on this earth?"
"I do, Your Majesty," Edward replied without caution.
"Princess Isabella Swanley, my only daughter and future Queen, do you choose this man as your One, and do you swear your fealty to this man, to keep him safe and to protect him always as though he were the incarnate of your soul on this earth?"
"I do, Father." Bella's smile lit her face and made Edward return her smile brightly.
"Then so be it. I bless you both and know that the Gods will keep you safe as your hearts are pure."
King Charles walked toward Edward, motioning for him to stand, but before Edward could bow, Charles grasped him firmly. "You will make my daughter happy. My heart tells me you will." Edward smiled at the thought of always being able to keep Bella happy. The king then turned to his daughter and hugged her tightly. "My beautiful girl. I knew you would do something out of the ordinary in your Choosing. When I said for you to return with your future plan, I really thought you would tell me you would never marry. Never did I expect this out of the ordinary, but it surprises me not at all. You will be happy."
"I will be." Bella smiled up at her father and then he bid them both a good day, making the excuse that he was needed in the towers.
"Princess." Edward bowed as Bella came close.
"Ugh. Please never bow to me again or I shall kick you." She grabbed his face and pulled him to a standing position in front of her looking him right in the eyes.
"Why did you not tell me?" Edward asked, searching Bella's eyes.
"I thought you would hate me for lying to you. I have never been truly proud of my station. Wanting to be normal, to be a fighter for my land, nothing else. I cannot help that I was born his daughter."
"I understand your need for secrecy, but to think I would ever hate you. It could never be, Bella."
"I know this."
"Sworn to you was my loyalty; before this revelation, after it. Be you a knight or a princess, I am yours, Bella. Always." Edward held her hand as they walked up a large flight of stairs and came to an alcove with a window that looked out across the courtyard. Edward could see Alice in a lovely scarlet dress, something his mother would have adored on her. She was still with Jasper, laughing as they fed the ducks and geese along the cobblestones. He had not seen his sister smile this much since the fire changed them both forever.
"You and your sister belong in Quileute. You will be safe here. I swear it." Bella squeezes his hand with hers.
"We are your loyal subjects, Lady Isabella Swanley." She turned to give him a scornful look, but he continued, "We will swear our loyalty to your kingdom, but I swear my heart to yours, Bella. My body may now belong to another king, but my entire being belongs to you."
Bella leaned up to kiss Edward, and when he sighed, she deepened the kiss and felt a happiness and peace envelop her that she had never felt before. When Edward pulled away to catch his breath, he looked into Bella's teary smiling eyes. His peace could be seen by her as well. With the sun setting behind him, Edward gathered Bella into his arms and whispered into her ear, "You are my life now."
And in the kingdom of Quileute, they all lived happily ever after.