The King Maker
*Description: With a cruel tyrant on the throne of Volterra, a group known only as 'Cullen' secretly plots to overthrow the king. When all attempts fail, Bella takes it upon herself to go on an undercover mission in the hopes of getting close enough to take out the oppressor herself, but she never expected the job to be this difficult. Set in the days of old, this sweeping romance walks the line between love and duty, and of course comes complete with an HEA.
*This is not fantasy, and there are no vampires or magic of any kind, but it is an AU (alternate universe) meaning all places and timelines are fictional (i.e. Volterra is not an Italian city, just the name of the kingdom I made up).
*Disclaimer- I do not own any recognizable names or places, but the plot is mine so do not copy w/o permission. Thanks!
Chapter I – Volunteering
I could feel the tension when I entered the room, and I knew immediately that something went terribly wrong. "What is it?" I asked, hoping my father would see the adult I had become and answer me as such.
Father's face softened. "Everything is fine; nothing to concern yourself with."
My father, Charles Swan, along with my late mother and her brother Carlisle, were the founding members of Cullen - an underground activist group aimed to overthrow the Volturi monarchy - and he was extremely protective. Since the day my mother died when I was an infant, he and my older brother Emmett seemed to shadow my every move, but it was time for me to finally come into my own and step into the light.
"Papa, I'm not a child anymore. I know Emmett went on a mission in Volterra, and I know something happened to him. Please, just be honest with me."
Charles stared at me for a moment, and then sighed. "You're right; you deserve to know the truth. Your brother was leading a small group of men to quietly infiltrate one of King Aro's army bases, but they were caught."
I gasped. "No."
Charles put his hand up to calm me. "One of our men was able to escape, and he told us that they took Emmett away."
"But why would they do that?" I questioned, grateful Emmett wasn't immediately executed, but baffled as to why he'd be kept alive.
Father took another deep breath. "Before they were caught, one of our men found a list….a blood list, so to speak…and Carlisle and I were at the top."
"Okay, so what's that supposed to mean?" I asked, becoming increasingly more anxious.
"It means..." Charles hesitated, searching for the right words to offer.
"It means," Carlisle stepped forward to answer for him, "somehow they found out we're the leaders of Cullen, and it's entirely possible that they imprisoned your brother to keep him as bait to trap us."
"Okay, so what are we going to do about it?" I asked determined.
"We," Charles gestured to everyone in the room except me, "are going to find a way to rescue him without getting us all killed, and you," he pointed to me, "are going to go back to your grandmother's in the country."
I huffed. "I can help. I know I can…just give me a chance."
"Absolutely not!" Charles spat. "Your mother was killed because of this stuff, and I will not let you share her fate!"
"Charles," Carlisle said hesitantly. "Maybe…"
"Don't even say it!" Charles warned him.
"She has mostly grown up in the country with my mother…she's carried my mother's maiden name…if anyone can get in anonymously, it's her."
"Out of the question!" Charles snapped. "How could you even suggest something like this after your sister died in such a way?"
"Renee knew the risks…it was worth it to her," Carlisle argued. "She lost her life, but think of how many lives she saved while on that mission."
"I'm not willing to let my daughter lose her life for anyone," Father insisted.
"But what if she doesn't have to? What if she can accomplish what Renee set out to do all those years ago? What if she's the one who will finally bring down Aro and his monarchy?" Carlisle said in a rush. "I don't like it either, but who else can we really trust? They got our names somewhere. That means we have a traitor in our midst."
"A traitor that can tell them of Bella's involvement," Charles pointed out.
Carlisle shook his head. "You know we can trust everyone in this room, but everyone in this room is also on the blood list. We need someone we can trust that nobody else is aware of…Can you think of anyone who meets that description other than Bella?"
Charles shook his head. "It's not going to happen. We'll figure something else out. Somehow, someway, we'll figure it out."
"Papa, Emmett is going to die if we don't act soon!" I shouted at him. "Whatever that can be done, should be done, and I know I can do it."
"My answer is no," Charles said, unwavering.
So I squared my shoulders and did something I had never done before - I went against my father's word. "I will do this, with or without your blessing," I told him, before turning to my uncle. "Where do we start?"
Carlisle stared at Charles for a moment, waiting for some kind of approval, but when my father huffed and turned away, Carlisle let out a slow hard breath. "Okay then. First thing we need to do is get you some work papers. I know someone who may be able to get you a position as one of the palace's maidservants. You'll have to start at the bottom in the guest quarters and sitting rooms, but if you're good enough you could be promoted to the kitchen staff or even Royal Chambermaid."
"Now, hold on!" Charles interjected. "I thought you wanted her there to attempt to gain information about where they're holding Emmett. Now you want her in the king's room? What for?"
"She has the opportunity to do something nobody else has thus far….she can get close enough to actually kill the king, which will ultimately save Emmett, along with countless others."
"Wait, you want me to…" I swallowed roughly, "kill the king?" – Infiltrate? Sure. Report on all the happenings and whereabouts? No problem. But could I actually murder someone? King Aro was ruthless and had no regard for human life; killing him would save so many, but was I strong enough to actually be the one to end his life? I wasn't so sure.
"And what of Prince Caius?" Charles pointed out. "Let's say Bella somehow kills Aro, his son and heir is probably just as bad if not worse. All we will accomplish is bringing in a new tyrant."
"Caius is pigheaded. You know he's always leading an army to harass some innocent village somewhere. We can get to Caius; it's Aro that's always under the protection of the palace. That place is like a fortress. This is our only chance to get inside," Carlisle explained.
"And you really think Bella is physically strong enough to overpower the king?" Father asked incredulously. "A man twice her size and three times her weight? It's not possible. He will snap her neck before she even has a chance to pierce his skin with a blade."
I shuddered at the thought.
"She's not going to stab him…she's going to poison him," Carlisle said slowly. "If she makes it into the kitchen, then she'll have access to his food. Even better, if she becomes one of his chambermaids, she can personally deliver that food and make sure the poison goes to him and only him. It's a solid plan Charles, even you can see that."
"This is my daughter we're talking about- your niece….We can't do this."
"We have to…for Emmett, for Renee, for the good of everyone. Bella is stronger than you give her credit for. She can do this. She's the only one who stands a chance."
My father turned to me and I could see the desperation in his eyes, begging me to listen and stay, but we both knew I was as stubborn as my mother, and possibly just as stupid. "I'll be fine, Papa."
"God, I hope you're right, because you're all I have left," he said, before breaking down into tears.
"Oh papa," I said, while embracing him tightly. He absolutely hated the plan, and I knew it would probably end up causing him to despise my uncle for the rest of his days, but deep down he must have realized it was a real chance, one we couldn't pass up.
Three weeks later I had my work papers, and found myself being escorted into the palace gates of Volterra. It was absolutely terrifying.
"This is your uniform," the palace headmistress told me coldly. "You are responsible for cleaning all of the first floor in the north wing."
"So I'm just supposed to clean the floor?" I asked, semi-joking.
She glared at me. "You clean the floor and everything on it. If I even see a smudge on the walls, you will be reprimanded. Do you understand?"
"So the floors, walls, rugs, windows, and tables?" I clarified.
"And the four washrooms," she said sternly.
"Wow, that's….a lot," I said, honestly feeling a bit overwhelmed. I had trouble keeping my grandmother's cottage clean, and it was tiny in comparison.
"Are you saying it's too much for you?" Headmistress asked.
"Of course not. Sorry Ma'am," I said with lowered eyes and a bowed head.
She crossed her arms to convey her irritation. "You work every second day, for twelve hours at a time. If your chores are complete before the twelve hours are up, you will do them all again. Just because something appears clean, doesn't mean it is. The king wants everything spotless. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Ma'am," I said politely.
Headmistress showed me where the north wing was, and I had to admit, the palace was breathtaking. Every inch of it was so intricately detailed down to the wood carvings that trimmed the stone walls. It was incredible, and absolutely heartbreaking; if the king only took half as much care of his people as he did his palace, Volterra would be a much better place.
When I was finished being shown my work area, I was led to the servant quarters at the far end of the palace grounds. My room was small, but it included use of the common kitchen area and detached washroom. The servants were basically given the scraps from the palace as food, and it was all divided in a first come, first serve basis. If I wasn't quick enough to the food distribution times, I wouldn't get anything to eat for that meal, which was actually fine by me; I often went without food growing up, everyone did in that kingdom.
I got as settled in as possible in my new home, and then I spent the rest of the evening reading a book by candlelight. The next morning my first shift started bright and early, so I got cleaned up and dressed, and hurried my way to the palace north wing. Two hours into it I was already exhausted, but I refused to take a break or even slow. It was gruelingly hard mundane work, and I loathed every second of it. By the end of the day every muscle in my body ached, and I had sores that looked more like bee stings covering my hands and feet….but I was actually really proud of myself that I got through it, and I was thankful I had the next day off to recuperate.
The rest of the week pretty much went the same way. My work days were horrendous, and it would take my entire day off in between to try to recover enough to do it all again the next day. Then something happened by the third week; I could actually feel myself grow stronger as I adapted to my new life. My back didn't hurt as much, and my hands and feet calloused over nicely so that they too weren't as sore. I still hated it, but it became bearable, and during my off time I was finally able to leave the confines of my room and try to explore the grounds.
"So…where are we permitted to go?" I asked Liam, a palace groundskeeper whom I had gotten to know a little over the past couple of weeks.
"We're not allowed out of the gates; the guard doesn't want to risk anything getting smuggled in, but you can walk the back garden, or the stables. A helpful hint is to never jump any fences or walls," he said with a wink.
"I understand," I replied. "Thank you."
So I just started walking aimlessly, and soon found my way to the stables. I always loved horses; there was a time when my only companionship was my grandmother's old mare, so I was more than pleased to find something to make me feel a little bit more at home. The stables were immaculately kept - though I wasn't sure why I expected anything less - and the size of the riding arena was grander than anything I had ever seen before.
Suddenly I heard a loud neigh, so I reflexively turned to look at its source. The huge black stallion had to be the most stunning thing I had ever seen, and I could have sworn it was trying to communicate with me as it stared me down for an incredibly long moment. Reflexively I stretched my hand out to stroke the beast, but I was abruptly pulled back by my wrist.
"I wouldn't," the man said as he forced me to take a step back. "That there is the king's horse. He's just as evil as his master," he explained with a mix between seriousness and amusement.
I was about to argue with him that no animal could be as cruel as that tyrant, but when I made eye contact with the man, I suddenly lost all train of thought. I had never seen such coloring before, and had no idea such was even possible in humans. Most people in that realm were fair skinned, but had dark hair and eyes; a few had golden hair with eyes the color of the sky, but this man's eyes glowed green and his hair looked like fire in the sunlight. It was utterly mesmerizing….Of course, he was also covered in dirt and smelled of manure.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to get you messy," he said, gesturing to the muddy hand print on my wrist were he had grabbed me.
"Huh?" I asked, still slightly caught in the wonderment that was his coloring. "Um, no, it's fine," I finally said, realizing what he must have been talking about.
"You're new here, aren't you?" he asked with a smirk that was every bit as charming as it was crooked.
"Uh…yes. I've been here about three weeks now."
"Well I'm sure it's a lot to take in. I've been here all of my life, but I do know of others that came from the outside and they have trouble adjusting in the beginning. Usually those are the ones who wind up in the stables trying to befriend the devil over there."
"You've been here all of your life?" I questioned curiously.
"Uh yeah," he said awkwardly. "Most have."
"I'm a third generation here," he said unexpectedly. "My mother was a chambermaid, and her father worked here with the horses….and that is a lot of personal information for someone I don't know."
I giggled, and then bowed slightly. "I'm Bella - new palace maidservant to the first floor of the north wing."
"Bella?" he questioned. "I've never heard such a name."
"Oh, it's Isabella actually. My family always just called me Bella."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Bella. My name is Edward, and if you ever have any horse related questions, you know where to find me," he said with a smile.
I smiled back. "And if you ever have any north wing first floor questions….you can ask the headmistress because you probably know more about it than I do."
He chuckled. "I'm sure you'll get there eventually. Anyone willing to take on the devil is fully capable of cleaning floors."
"Oh, he doesn't look so bad," I said while glancing back at the huge black horse.
"Tell that to the four people he's trampled in the past three months alone."
"Well he's big, maybe it was an accident," I suggested.
"Nope, he ran them down and stomped them until we were able to pull him off. Oh, and he's bitten people's fingers off. Tried to bite my arm off."
"Really?" I asked doubtfully.
"No lie," he said while pulling up his sleeve to show me a massive scar there.
"Wow….well, maybe you just weren't handling him right," I said before fearlessly approaching the animal and patting his head without hesitation. "You're just a big softy, huh?" I cooed at the so called devil.
Edward's mouth dropped open in shock.
"Well, it was nice meeting you; maybe I'll be back in a few days to hang with this demon here. I can even show you some tips on how to gain his trust," I said with a grin before continuing with my walk of the grounds.
I had met so many people since arriving at the palace, but none captured my attention as much as Edward. I just couldn't get him out of my mind, and I couldn't wait for my next day off when I could visit him again…