They live much longer than we; yet die at last, or at least vanish from that State. 'Tis one of their Tenets, that nothing perisheth, but (as the Sun and Year) every Thing goes in a Circle, lesser or greater, and is renewed and refreshed in its Revolutions; as 'tis another, that every Bodie in the Creation moves, (which is a sort of Life;)…
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies
The scent of rosewater seemed to linger upon the air here. Isabella knew it was a trick of her mind, yet raised her head nonetheless. Her eyes sank shut as the rough sea wind tossed her hair about her face, allowing the scent of ocean salt to dissipate the illusion, the memories.
So much was changed, and yet the same. Though she could not help returning repeatedly to this place, and had witnessed the landscape change over the years—there was much that was as it had been when she was a young girl, trailing after the skirts of her mother and, later, her nursemaid. The ocean before her looked no different, the waves cresting and falling ceaselessly, as they had always done. And if she turned her back to that incessant tide, she would see a landscape as pastoral as it had been decades before, cottages tucked behind aged hedgerows, the narrow country lanes winding through green fields and copses of wild forest.
To be certain, those lanes were now smoothly paved, no longer treacherous with mud and ruts should a fierce rain fall. And the cottages might burble with the sound of voices that did not originate with any of the occupants, tinny and canned to her sensitive ears. But still, so much was familiar.
Changed and yet the same. The words had become a comfort to her over the years, for had she not first applied them to herself? Had she not murmured the words aloud as she stared at the reflection in the glass, the first time she had seen her own visage since Edward's hand had been forced by the fates? Her hand had trailed over her lips, staring with a wide gaze at the snowy features that were so familiar…and yet different. Were her cheekbones slightly more defined? Were her lashes darker? Or was that simply the contrast to skin that was now snow white, no hint of blush staining her cheeks? Was her hair darker too, richer, threaded with chestnut and auburn—or was that simply her keener gaze, now able to discern details she'd never been capable of noting before?
"The same, but changed." They had discussed it beforehand, had known that time would force the decision if fate did not. For Edward could not contemplate life without her, nor she without him. But they had presumed some momentous event to be the deciding factor, Edward's gaze filled with dark concern as he watched the skies over the ship they had taken to the Americas not long after Emmett had disrupted the short peace they'd known in Egremont.
The journey had been the impetus for the first conversation on the topic, for Edward had imagined the rough life of the colonies, or the danger of the voyage might force his hand. The ocean was known to be fierce, breaking ships apart over the long crossing, and though he scoffed at tales of wild natives stealing women away, there would be dangers they had not known in England. Isabella had sensed his hesitancy in raising the topic, but had simply taken his hand and smiled.
"I could not lose you—not so soon," Edward had uttered the words forcefully, the statement rushing forth.
Isabella's smile had widened. "Nor I you," she had replied, squeezing his hand—before wryly asking, "But would there ever be a time that was not too soon?"
Edward had laughed, pulling her into his arms with a fierceness she knew all too well.
But it had not been a storm at sea, smashing their ship to pieces, or a rough crowd of superstitious colonists bent on violence, that had forced Edward to act. No, it had been a dark-haired girl on the doorstep of the cottage they shared with Carlisle, her gaze cast to her muddied feet, a weakly mewling infant in her arms.
The forlorn girl seemed to have appeared moments after they'd arrived on the shores of the upstart country in her recollection now, but she knew that was not truly the case. No, they had lingered in New York for a time, but she had been unsurprised to find Edward had no appetite for the busy port city, the noise of human thoughts and activities overwhelming his ability. What was more, their fine clothing, foreign accents, and apparent gentility drew more attention than either Edward or Carlisle were comfortable with. After some discussion, research, and reconnaissance, they had traveled south and west, to the more remote interior where the towns were fewer and farther between, and the mix of immigrants, fortune-seekers, and adventurers made them unremarkable.
Isabella's eyes sank shut as she thought of the little house in the woods, a few miles from where the Cumberland and Caney Fork rivers intersected, and where a small settlement had sprung into being. It was to this settlement that Isabella sojourned each week, a basket slung over her arm for provisions she could not grow in the garden behind the little house. It was in these woods, a mix of white pine, oak and poplars, that Carlisle and Edward hunted the local fauna, more rich and diverse than anything they'd known in the cultivated lands they'd left behind.
She had adapted to life in the wilderness of the Americas in a way that perhaps should not have been surprising given the remoteness of Mousehole. She had enjoyed tending the garden there, and listening to the patter of the rain on the rooftop when the sultry summer brought thunderstorms to the river valley—and perhaps most of all, exploring the wild woods that spilled over the countryside. Edward had disliked this wandering, for he felt a certain wariness of the Chickamauga tribes that were known to linger in the area, hostile towards the foreigners that had steadily poured into land they'd once considered their own.
Perhaps she should have been filled with suspicion at finding the downcast girl upon her stoop, should have hesitated at taking the girl into the small house—should have felt some inkling of what was to come. But she had been filled only with concern for the girl and her child, had only thought of cooling the infant's brow and providing the girl with a bite to eat—for though her skin was coppery, her slight figure and black hair reminded Isabella so of Alice.
She missed the diminutive French girl, though she had come to terms with the fact that Alice had felt her place was with Emmett, helping him establish a life with Rosalie at his side. She missed the companionship of a friend who was much like a sister, for though Carlisle had become less stiffly upstanding with time, his company was not the same as the spritely girl whose abilities were so like Isabella's own.
By the time Edward and Carlisle returned from a hunting trip deep in the mountains east of Carthage, the black-haired girl had fallen as feverish as her baby. The infant had grown disturbingly quiet, cheeks sunken with dehydration, and Isabella was rapidly finding herself at a loss as to what to do.
"There may be nothing you can do," Edward had stated, the words rough, after briefly examining the bedraggled girl and her baby.
Isabella had shaken her head, her gaze fixed on the girl, who lay prone on the bed she and Edward usually shared. "She said," she began, her voice a whisper though she doubted the girl could hear, "she said her brother has turned her away." Isabella had caught her lip beneath her front teeth, thinking of the desperation in the girl's voice as she had tried to explain her circumstances in broken English. "She said she had no where to go."
"And you could not turn her away." Edward's voice had softened, his hand gentle upon her arm.
"Her brother believes it is a white man's illness, which will sicken the rest of his people."
"What makes you think you will not grow ill, too?" Edward's voice had remained gentle, but she could discern the grim meaning in his words.
Her hands twisted beneath her gaze, struggling to raise her eyes—though she found she could not. "I have no such belief."
Words from a conversation long before had echoed in her head as Edward regarded her with silent resignation, a dire remembrance.
We were attending a performance of Sainte-Colombe's latest piece—chamber music. I'm certain I fell ill there.
And so illness had come, a fever that had left her weak and trembling, delirious and uncertain of her whereabouts. She had dreamed of drowning in the ocean's depths, and of roaring fires consuming her body, her lips growing chapped as she struggled to drink.
She did not recall the change, only the awakening, the feel of the fresh air against skin grown sensitive, the scent of leaf bracken, rich earth, and blooming wildflowers upon the breeze. Though the hour was just before dawn, the sky had appeared bright to her eyes, a hazy glow filling the world with light.
But she had not been able to linger, could not pause in the house that had been their home for a time that seemed all too short in her memory now. They had fled the Tennessee valley that had once been their home, unable to reside in such close quarters to the humans Isabella had once nodded and smiled at on her weekly trips into the little town where the rivers met. Instead, Edward and Carlisle had raced her through the wild forests, pausing only when fierce thirst overtook her—so frequent in those early days, when her limbs seemed to tingle with energy, when her strength and speed still surprised her. They had not ceased moving until they were in the remote north, where they had no concerns about the coming winter—other than ensuring they were not seen by any trappers or tribes.
Isabella's gaze remained distant as she thought of those first weeks and months in the icy wilderness, so different from any landscape she had known. She could still taste the cold air, so crisp and scented with the chill of coming snow…and the fainter, more pungent scent of herds of caribou, their breath blowing warm puffs of clouds into the air in a way her lips no longer could.
Carlisle and Edward had eventually established a base of residence in Quebec City, meaning to pen a letter to Alice to inform her of their circumstances—but instead finding a letter waiting for them with the latest news of life in Brighton with Rosalie and Emmett. Isabella had remained behind during that first and subsequent trips into town, not certain she could trust herself in human company yet—and content to linger in the abandoned trapper's cabin where they'd made their temporary home.
Changed, but the same. She had always been drawn to the out of doors, had so often taken refuge among green and growing things, content to read, to feel the breeze upon her skin and the kiss of the sun's warmth. It was no different in the remote north though she was now surrounded by timbers of pine and wild life she never could have imagined in Cornwall. It was no different but for the thirst that demanded she speed through the brush and forests, intent upon whatever warm, red-blooded creature her senses might detect.
She had begun to venture closer to nearby outposts after a year of isolation, to practice the dance of pretending a humanity she did not feel she had truly lost—though the hunger she felt at the scent of their blood was an all too sobering reminder that she was changed. It was not long after these efforts began that a letter from Alice had warned them of the need to return—though she reassured them that in traveling by standard means they would arrive in time to make their farewells.
This had not prevented Isabella from ceaselessly pacing the decks of the ship on which they'd secured passage to England. Nor had it stopped her from insisting they hurry from the docks of Southampton by inhuman means, darting down back roads and through sparse woodlands faster than any carriage might traverse; Carlisle would follow with their meager luggage and ensure they had private rooms at an inn near their destination.
It was the first return, the first time she had come back to this place…to her home, to the county of her birth…their first return since that fateful night at Tiller's Spring. She had struggled to feel no fear, to remember her own strength and speed and power, but it had been Edward's hand in her own that had spurred her on, giving her the confidence to continue down the narrow country lanes, and on to the remote house in Heamoor.
Though the night had been dark, the sky was milky gray with clouds, giving a blue cast to everything to her too keen gaze. She had paused outside the house, not so dissimilar from the cottage where she had spent most of her early years. She had inhaled deeply and been nearly overcome by the mix of familiar scents: garden soil over freshly trimmed herbs, the buds of flowers just beginning to bloom, the faint coal smoke of kitchen fire mixing with stewing onions, root vegetables, and spices.
"There." Edward's voice had jarred her from her daze, his pale hand lifting to point to the window beneath the eaves. "She must be there."
They had scaled the walls, Isabella briefly freezing when she thought she sensed a movement from within one of the inner rooms of the slumbering house. Edward had silently forced the casement window open, swinging in first before reaching back with an extended hand.
She had taken it, thought she did not need it; she knew she had the physical strength, but she was grateful for the emotional support the gesture represented. Once her feet were beneath her, she had hesitated. The room had been dark but the faint moon illuminated the interior enough for her to make out the old woman beginning to rouse upon the narrow, bowed bed.
"Is it ye, Miss Alice? Are ye here to tell me they are delayed?"
"No," Isabella had instinctively choked out, the word a whisper—before her hands flew to her lips, wondering if Sheil would be able to tell she had been changed by the alteration in her voice.
"Oh, my girl," Sheil's voice exclaimed from the darkness, soft and full of joy. "Oh, my dear girl."
Isabella could linger near the window no longer, rushing towards her former nurse with all of the same joy. She had hesitated only once more, uncertain she should take Sheil's hands when she knew her own to be cold and unyielding, the faint blue of veins at her wrists long gone.
But Sheil did not flinch as cool hands wrapped around her own, her gray head nodding once in acknowledgement. "And so ye are like him now, I expect."
Isabella had swallowed, falling to her knees as she whispered, "Yes. Yes, I am like him now."
"Always knew there was something different about your young gentleman," Sheil had murmured almost as if to herself. It was then that Isabella had seen her blue eyes were milky with cataracts, her gaze nearly blind as her hands tightened around Isabella's own. "I cannot tell ye what relief I felt, knowing ye were with him—knowing ye were safe."
It was as Alice had written. Sheil was fading quickly, frail and increasingly bed-bound with the passage of time—though none of her memory had faded, nor her fieriness lessened.
"Ye were always a willful girl," she had sighed, gently stroking Isabella's hair. Her gaze had lifted, to where Edward hovered near the window. "I can only hope she doesn't give ye too much trouble."
Isabella had nearly laughed through her tears, wishing somehow she could have kept her companion by her side—though she knew it simply was not possible given the circumstances.
They had lingered in the upper room until the sun began to spill over the horizon, a golden glow illuminating the landscape—and a warning that the night could not last.
"Oh, I can be at peace now," Sheil had sighed as she sank into the pillows at her back. "I can be at peace." Her eyes were closed before Isabella had reached the window, and she almost reared back, desperate with worry—but Edward's hand at her wrist stayed the motion, nodding towards the soft rise and fall of Sheil's chest.
Isabella had nodded, realizing the visit had exhausted her failing companion. She had promised herself that she would return that evening, that she would spend every spare moment she might steal with Sheil in her final days or weeks—that she would risk discovery or whatever repercussion might occur for the woman who had stood in for her family after her mother and father were gone.
But when Isabella returned to the small house, venturing over fields and farmland on eager feet, she had found the bed bare, the sheets and counterpane stripped away. It had taken all of her strength to refrain from crying out, her lip caught beneath her teeth as she bit back desperate sobs of loss.
Though she could not show her face at the service, she had watched from a distance, concealed by the bank of trees that shadowed the edges of the graveyard. Her features were drawn as she listened to the vicar consecrate Sheil's body to the earth, her heart filled with denial that this moment was real.
Once the few attendees had departed, Isabella had stolen forward, her expression forlorn as she silently regarded the simple slab marking the place where Sheil rested. She would have cried had she still been capable of it, and she almost wished that her eyes would blur with tears, blotting out this sight, this finality.
She had felt him then, sensing his presence long before she felt his hand at her shoulder, pulling her close. She had shuddered as Edward's arms circled around her, burying her face against his chest as silent sobs shook her body.
Fortunately, Carlisle had not been the only one waiting at the inn following Sheil's modest funeral. Isabella had been stunned to find the girl she had once thought of as a sister in the private rooms abovestairs, her countenance filled with sympathy as she reached a hesitant hand towards Isabella. "I could not be absent for such a loss."
Isabella could sense Alice's worry, that she was uncertain whether resentment lingered over Emmett's impulsive decision—the decision that had broken up their family. Alice's voice was hesitant as she spoke, "Emmett and Rosalie would as lief join us—if you are willing."
But Isabella had never felt resentment, only sadness. She was shaking her head as she spun on her heel to find Edward's gaze, her voice pleading. "You would have done the same for me."
Edward's gaze had fallen, for he knew the truth of her statement, that he would have destroyed the world for her. Though he had once raged at the risk that Emmett had taken in exposing them all, had slammed his fist upon a table as he decried the folly of making off with the daughter of the man who had once attempted to hunt Isabella down, he knew he would have done the same—he would risk everything for her.
He nodded once, though Alice was already jumping up and down, her small hands clapping before her with glee and relief.
And so they had been present for every return to Cornwall, accompanying the companion who had once been the most vulnerable among them. While Rosalie was still troubled by her disfigurement, she had grown confident in the glow of Emmett's adoration, and held no enmity towards Isabella or her mother. What was more, she knew a similar fate awaited her to that of the dark-haired Cornish girl, that either misfortune or the passage of time would secure her future.
They were not always together, for impulses and visions would sometimes send an individual on a course that the others could not follow. But they ultimately always found their way back to one another—and Isabella never returned to Cornwall alone.
Changed…but the same. For all those Isabella had once known in this place were gone. Mr. Snow from whom she had bought bolts of fabric to sew new frocks; Mrs. Berty in her stylish turbans, lingering near the fire as she enjoyed a long gossip with Sheil; Mr. Connor in his soft cap, and his mother in her apron, quietly working in the whitewashed kitchen of Swan Cottage; and Mr. Raginnis, whose surly bull had always behaved like a lamb in her presence. She always detected the scent of rosewater when she returned to these fields and cliffs and clouded skies, would turn her head though she knew there was no circumstance in which she would find her mother returning her gaze—but it was always so when she returned to Cornwall, a place submersed in memories of what once was.
Isabella sensed his presence long before she heard the soft rhythm of footfalls upon the earth, the stiff, windblown grass crunching beneath his familiar tread. She did not turn, her gaze fixed upon the tireless rise and fall of the sea, attuned to the present yet lost in memories. Changed, but the same.
"Love?" his voice was soft, the faintest note of concern tinting the words.
The sigh that passed her lips in reply was all he needed to pull her into his arms; she melted into the warmth of his embrace, closing her eyes as she rested her cheek against the softness of his sweater. Though the darkness behind her lids did not impede the rush of memories that accompanied the motion, she felt safe and comforted and loved in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his waist, thinking of the first time he'd drawn near, moving so quickly to cross to her side that she had frozen in shock—but not fear. Never fear. She recalled the fierceness of his embrace after he'd come upon her in the black woods of Dartmoor, his lips falling to her own with the intensity of his relief. She thought of their wedding in the priest's small rooms above the leather shop in Whitechapel, his amber-flecked eyes filled with the depth of his love for her as he slid the ring bonding them forever over her finger.
"Oh, love, you are always so lost in thought here."
Isabella lifted her head from his chest. "Good thoughts," she murmured. "I promise."
"As you please." He had never expressed reluctance to return to Cornwall, though she could see the concern in his gaze when she insisted upon wandering the country lanes and lonely cliffs on her own.
Her lips curved into a smile as another memory returned. "You should know that it was my insistence upon traversing these roads alone that allowed us to meet."
Edward's brows quirked, his dark eyes briefly narrowing.
She spoke before he could chastise her for her behavior then, her eyes filling with soft laughter. "You would have had no opportunity to make conversation with me should I have been riding in Mr. Connor's wagon—you likely wouldn't have thought to approach me at all."
"You are quite right," Edward admitted. "But," he continued, his arms briefly tightening around her frame, "I like to think there were greater forces at work than your perpetual desire to be out of doors—in all weather I might add." He lifted his head, having detected the faint dampness of a rain drop falling from the sky.
"Fate?" Isabella asked, her voice teasing. "Or Alice?"
"Perhaps both," Edward wryly replied, pulling away only to link his arm through hers. "Shall we return?"
"Are they all waiting for me?" Isabella asked, filled with sudden contrition.
Edward's eyes betrayed the faintest mix of frustration and amusement as he replied, "Oh, Alice might learn patience given she has eternity to play charades with you—or whatever it is she has decided will occupy us all this evening."
Isabella could not help a faint frown as they began the walk back to the cottage they had rented for the summer, only a few miles south of Penzance. "Such games are always an exercise in frustration for everyone else given Alice can always guess what's coming—"
"And you are no slack yourself," Edward interrupted, leaning towards her to drop a swift kiss upon her temple. "Which is why I always prefer to be on your team."
Isabella gasped, "But you always insist husbands should be paired with wives!"
"Because otherwise Alice would insist upon partnering with you—and then none of us should stand a chance."
Isabella could only laugh, her hand tightening around his own as the cottage came into sight, the sound of distant laughter and conversation audible to their keen ears.
"Come, love," Edward bid. "Let us return home."