|Ballad of the Spinster and the Outlaw
Author: Alby Mangroves PM
"Sometimes, at night, he'd walk in his meadow and look to the sky, hoping she was seeing the same full moon, the same brilliant stars." This is a story of second chances and intrepid hearts.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Western - Bella & Edward - Chapters: 13 - Words: 17,266 - Reviews: 631 - Favs: 253 - Follows: 466 - Updated: 09-07-12 - Published: 04-02-12 - id: 7981082
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Warning: This chapter contains character death.
He'd been grappled, good and tight. He resolved not to hide from her any longer.
Let Isabella see me, the way I see her.
Isabella worried her wish like a slightly loose tooth all through a sleepless night, until it felt less like a revelation and more like a lonely woman's fancy.
She rose with the dawn and stirred up the fire in the hearth to boil the little kettle, then carried a pitcher of warmed water back to her room to wash. Sluicing fatigue from her face, she dressed, then sat at her window and watched morning fog pool like a blanket about the gnarled feet of the forest, attempting to talk sense into herself.
If Anthony Masen, for so she now absolutely believed him to be, had made himself a home here among the towering spruce and hemlock, then he'd recently become very careless indeed.
He was safe when the townsfolk thought him dead, but alive and at large was a different story.
Surely, he was risking too much in coming to town, and for what?
The answer had seemed obvious when the fingernail moon's magic shone upon it, but less so now she was awake- doubt had begun to creep in with the cold light of day.
Sitting at her window watching the world wake, she felt desperate and giddy, clutching at the clarity of last night's revelation.
How to know, really know? How could she draw him out in such a way as he would still be safe?
That Sunday, she arranged for young Ben, the farrier's son, to take her father home after church. Charles gave her a certain look, but did not object to her reasons of wanting to walk home to stretch her legs and draw some sunwarmed air into her lungs. God knew they never got enough of the latter in Forks.
After the sermon, her heart beat a frantic circuit around her ribs as she and her father—the last to leave, as usual—shuffled toward the rectangle of mid-morning light at the church door. She'd long since given up pretending she didn't live and breathe for the anticipation.
And though it wasn't unexpected, her clamoring heart almost leaped from her chest when she saw the drifter riding his big bay down the tree-lined alley from the forest, dark and brooding like an antihero.
Isabella blushed, wondering if he could feel her hunger prickle his skin like a breath of cold air.
She led her father out into the light, still thinking of ways to bring her man to her, when the world tilted on its axis.
If not for her father's warm arm and the solid earth under her feet, she might have floated away like a feather in the wind when Anthony Masen raised his hand, gripped the edge of his worn hat and slowly, deliberately tipped it toward her.
Isabella's heart stammered and yelped, swelling in her chest until it took up all the room and choked her.
Snapping clammy hands into tight fists, Isabella did the only thing she could. She ever so slightly inclined her own head toward the man who'd stolen her reason.
Her eyes followed him until he disappeared into town. When she came back to herself, it was to meet her father's sad and knowing gaze.
Isabella helped Charles into the wagon seat, clenching her hands against the fidgets. She could see her father was suspicious, but kept her eyes downcast and her disposition cheerful, though she felt hot roses blooming on her cheeks under his silent scrutiny.
"There, Pa, are you comfortable?" she asked, fussing with this and that as Ben vaulted up beside him at the reins.
"Be off with you," Charles muttered, swatting at her fiddling hands. Isabella stepped away, anxiety bubbling thickly away in her belly.
"I shan't be long, I want to see if Mr. Banner has a length of fine lace for my-"
"Yes, yes, Bella, just you watch yourself coming home over that hill, there's snakes out," he interrupted, giving Ben a gentle nudge, and Isabella a very pointed look as she finally met his eyes. "You be careful now, you hear me, my girl?"
"I'll be home soon," she said soberly, acknowledging his warning. She slapped the pony's rump to get them on their way, and seeing them off with a wave, she set off down the main street of her little town.
Isabella had never felt exhilaration quite like this. Though chastened by her father's words, she relished every second of sensing a silent presence watching, guarding, as she went about her business in the town. She felt bold and reckless, something she'd never been in her whole life, or so she thought, measuring such things against adventures in books and tales.
In fact, her boldness was evidenced by her innate courage, and recklessness had nothing to do with dangerous folly, but all to do with willingness to stake one's heart on the unknown.
When she set out to walk home, she felt Him following behind like a sentinel, watching her every move right down to the restless hand tapping against her calico skirts.
Finally home at her kitchen window but an hour later, she held onto the bench with white-knuckled fingers, watching Masen ride slowly past, giving her home a good, long look-over on his way.
Her smile was so wide it hurt, until she turned to find her father in the doorway, watching.
They sat at the table with tight lips, clutching their courage along with mugs of sweet tea.
Isabella chewed on her lip, feeling like she wore someone else's face. "I can't explain it."
"Must be a reason," Charles pressed. "Must be something he's done to have you all skittish."
The tells flipped like a deck of cards through her mind, each one more obvious than the last. She felt faint. Yes, there was something, and she might as well tell.
And so Isabella did tell. She told Charles about how He saw her. About how Anthony Masen construed for his descent from the wild to coincide with her weekly escape from the church.
She knew it in her heart without a shred of doubt, though Charles tried to help her find that doubt in her mind.
"I've never, ever felt so- so powerful. Not in my whole life. Powerful and weak at the same time. I thought I would scream from it," she said, coloring hotly under her father's scrutiny. "He saw me home, Pa. He might've done it from a hundred yards away, but he did it none the less."
Charles said nothing, and she was glad for it.
She couldn't tell him about the hot fluttering deep down in the soft of her, stabbing her through until she was barely upright. Couldn't tell her father how her hands clutched each other in desperate frenzy when she thought of him.
Isabella couldn't express how hard it was to contain her indecent excitement on the steps of their church. Every part of her buzzed with excitement, and she felt it building up inside her until her body screamed with it- no, she could not say these things to her father. But, as is often the way of fathers who love their daughters, he looked into her eyes, and already knew.
He shook his head. "You don't know him from Adam, Bella."
"No. But I want to."
Charles tutted and looked out of the window.
"What am I to do with you?" he said quietly.
Isabella clasped her hands together, the now cold tea forgotten. "Give me your blessing?"
She could have laughed out loud when he shot her a lopsided little smile.
"My blessing is the least of your worries."
After supper, Isabella walked outside in the gloaming, and on a whim, followed the path from her home to the dirt road.
Compacted wheel tracks marked the road from town to the Swans' house and the handful of others beyond, and then disappeared into nothing. There was no reason for the road to continue. No one lived beyond except the Quileute, and they had no need of wagon roads.
To Isabella, the natives seemed like mythical creatures, seldom seen forest spirits. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen one, and she'd lived here her entire life. They were invisible.
Looking at the worn grooves, she wondered just how far away Anthony Masen had to ride to come and see her.
The man had made furrows in her imagination, just like these wheel tracks pressed into the earth. She imagined him as a boy, and the idea of him as a child grew within her like summer warmth. At least she'd had her father to pick her up after her loss- this boy, he'd had no one at all. He lived with his fear and hatred, and it had driven him to murder. She wondered if it had given him peace to kill those men, or if their deaths haunted him still.
He did not appear carefree, and he lived the self-imposed life of an outcast, so she supposed it was the latter.
Isabella bent to the muddy road, and traced light fingers over the imprints of Masen's horse's hooves, sunk deeper, she imagined, by the weight on his shoulders.
Straightening, Isabella looked around her. The woodland whispered and rustled - she never felt alone here, though sometimes her small presence seemed very insignificant. The trees would be here long after she'd gone, the immortal guardians. It would not take long for the land to be reclaimed if people suddenly disappeared, nature would simply open up her mouth and swallow any sign they'd ever existed here at all.
It was somehow comforting to know that humanity was so inconsequential. Nothing she did would ever be remembered through time. It made her mind easy, her thoughts less harried.
Would her own existence be forgotten, too? What would the rider do, now that he'd certainly noticed her? Would he come to her, or did his conscience prevent it?
Isabella had always loved the manner in which her home simply sloped up into dense forest. Even as a child, the magical, fairytale quality of losing herself among the giants appealed to her and lost none of its draw as she grew older.
As she looked at them now, she wondered if she could ever disappear among them for good. Could she live in the woods the way Masen had for a good many years? The more she thought about it, the clearer it became- he could not live among men. Could Isabella live among the trees?
With these thoughts for company, she allowed the forest undertow to seduce her like it always had, and drawing her shawl about her, she stepped lightly through fern and frond, walking off the beaten path and into the shadows.
By the time evening had descended, her decision was made. Isabella had walked softly in the woods and found her peace, but any thoughts of Anthony Masen quickly fled as she returned to the house and found her father slumped over his chair, barely breathing, his body a dead weight.
When she would ride for help, Charles clutched her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip, and pulled her down to him. Holding her breath, Isabella listened as her father expelled his last into her ears.
"Only be happy."
A/N: Thank you for reading.