A/N I was inspired to write this story by a book series called "A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah J. Maas. Please for the love of God go read the series. You will not regret it. A warning and disclaimer: some chapters are near copies of the genius Sarah J Mass. No copyright infringement intended. I only love her wonderful characters and wanted to meld them with our favorite E and B. If that's a problem, then don't read the story. As always, thank you for reading and tell me what you think!
I do not own A Court of Thorns and Roses or any of the themes. I do not own Twilight.
Bella knew her life was small and insignificant. She had always lived in this small village, in a small country on the smallest continent. Even the land they lived on was un-special, since it couldn't support any magic like the rest of the world. That part of her world had been long gone before she was even born. The only magic that remained was in the memories of the elders in her village. It had disappeared hundreds of years ago, and only served as legends to be passed down from generation to generation.
But even if Bella's existence was hard to cling to, even when it was hard to stomach her hunger, deal with her sisters whining, survive the freezing winters, or her father's crippling depression, her life was all that she had. Well, besides her family.
Their father was once a thriving merchant in his day. He used to deal all over the continent, and his work forced him to travel constantly. But since business crashed those ten years ago, Bella was left to look after her entire family, even her father.
When Bella was younger, news of the downfall had devastated them, but none more than their mother. She had lived for their wealth and social status. And when that was taken away from her, she was struck with sickness. It didn't take long for the disease to take their mother. And once she had passed, her father slipped into a deep and dark depression because of it. Their mother had been the light of their father's life. And as soon as that was taken away, so was his reason for living.
So Bella was left to take care of them. Even being the youngest of her two sisters, Jessica and Lauren, she didn't mind at first, until the last of the money was spent and Bella was forced to do all the work by herself.
And so she gave up her education, hobbies and few friends, so she could ensure their survival. Having no close friends to begin with, and being practically raised without a mother, Bella was used to it. But even if it was easier being invisible, she still sometimes craved someone else to talk to. Her father couldn't bother to speak to anyone, let alone to her. And her sisters basically hated her. Bella wasn't sure when it began, but they had always held her in contempt ever since she was a child.
Eighteen now, Bella had to ignore all of this. Now she only fought to keep them alive. Sure, she was never thanked for going out every morning to the forest beyond their house to catch their food for the day, or for the wood she chopped to keep them warm. Or even for the new cloaks she sewed them from the deer pelts she skinned herself. No one would ever say a word, and she had expected and assumed nothing less.
But that all changed when her father came home from a rare trip abroad. It was a sorry attempt for him get the money back that was lost in bad investments years ago. And Bella could already tell it was a failure as her father thudded through the door.
"Girls, I'm back." Her father announced sluggishly as he shrugged off his huge fur coat, and set his heavy bags on the dinner table. He did his best to shake the cold from his body as well, but that proved more difficult this time of year. It was late February, but winter was still very much upon them. She could only ask their God to end it soon and bring spring quickly. They were lucky that the forest behind them could provide them with wood for the fire. She knew many in her village who couldn't afford such luxuries.
Bella glanced up from one of the few novels' they owned from the small library. "Welcome home father. How was your trip?"
"Fine, fine!" He answered dismissively. Bella had long ago stopped expecting the presents her father would once bring them from the countries he visited. That ceased when business crashed and her father had barely been able to keep his job, let alone afford gifts.
Not really caring for material things herself, Bella got up to see what was really bothering him. He had an unusually grim look on his face. Only when she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, did he finally look at her. Visibly relaxing, he covered her hand with his own with a tight squeeze.
"Don't mind me, Bella. I'm just tired from the trip, is all." She could do nothing else but agree, as they sat by the fire and simply enjoyed its heat and crackles.
That next day, Bella spent the entirety of her day chopping up dead trees that had fallen. Then she would lug them up and stack them neatly against their house. Of course no one helped her. Her father and sisters were too busy sharing stories of their last two months apart. She had once gotten pleasure from hearing of the distant lands that her father got to visit, and even yearned to visit them herself. She remembered being a child, and her father speaking of thick jungles and sparkling seas. Her father even spoke of Magic, which still existed in some continents.
Bella had once thought there to be a bigger better world out there to discover, yearning to discover it for herself. And compared to the bleak brown forest of their village, it sounded like something from a fairytale. She knew now that was all it was. Make believe.
Yet even as unusually cheerful their banter was throughout the day, as it approached near evening, Bella noticed her father becoming more agitated. Her sisters didn't seem to notice, as they ate their small meal in silence. But Bella noticed her Father glancing at the door, only to reluctantly return to his plate. She thought about asking him about it, but didn't want to pester him after the stresses of his travels.
Bella was just finishing yet another book after supper, when there was a loud bang on the door. So loud in fact, that Bella and her sisters jumped from their seats. "Girls, into your room, now." Her father ordered sternly as he rose to the door. Stifling the urge to stay, Bella heeded his orders and slipped into her bedroom. Her sisters shown no hesitation, immediately bolting to the room they shared.
Bella reached them just before the man burst into their house. From the crack in their door, she could see he was tall in stature, easily towering over her father. Jessica squeaked from beside her, and she felt Lauren's hand on her arm.
The stranger appeared to be an aristocrat, just from his elaborate tunic and fine leather-riding boots alone. But besides his clothing, anyone could tell by the way the man carried himself. He oozed wealth and power. Yet, even with his apparent status, Bella noted that he wore no coat despite the frigid temperatures.
"Who is he, a prince of sorts?" Jessica hissed in the darkness, also taking note of the mans obvious wealth.
"He's far too handsome to be from the village. I would have noticed him by now." Lauren added with a wistful tone.
Bella rolled her eyes at them. Of course they would notice his appearance rather than the way their father cowered in his presence. Something was amiss.
Although she hated to admit it, Bella had to agree that he was quite handsome, even from this great distance. But she also observed his skin looking a sickly, almost life-less gray color. His hair and eyes too, shared the same eerily dead hue.
Ignoring the imprudence of the entrance, her father gave a hesitant bow to their guest. But the stranger showed no way of acknowledging the gesture, staying stoic even as his father led them into his study.
"I gave you a day, now where is she?" Bella blanched when she heard the man's voice easily carry through their small cottage. It was smooth as velvet, but harsh in tone. Was he talking about one of them?
"I need more time. You just can't—"Her father was cut off in his plea. Bella was suddenly thankful that she couldn't see them. She didn't know what she would do if she saw her father begging. What had he done to upset the stranger so much?
Her sisters however were doing their best to see, as they pressed their bodies against the door to see through the crack better.
But the man didn't seem fazed by her father's prayers. "No, that was our deal. Don't push me any farther if you value your daughter's life." Bella's heart had stopped. The stranger was talking about one of them, and not only that. He was willing to kill them if her father didn't agree to his demands. Her hands started to tremble.
Bella couldn't see or hear her sister's responses, which either meant then hadn't heard or were just as horror-struck as her.
"Please," She heard her father whisper as a last hope. But it was useless, because the stranger had left the room and was now stomping towards them.
All Bella could do was remain frozen, she hadn't even moved from where she stood as he threw open their bedroom door, startling all three of them. Even terrified, all Bella could think was that she was right to find him handsome earlier. She cursed her brain for thinking such useless thoughts. But she still took notice of the straight nose, sharp jaw and stern brows that would have been pleasing to the eye if it weren't for the strangeness of his skin and eyes. She guessed him to be in his mid to late twenties.
But far more terrible than his manners and eerie feline grace, were his eyes. The orbs were completely black, and endless as Bella stared up into them. His haunting gaze seemed to peer right into her very soul. She shivered.
"What is your name, girl?" He growled, those black eyes studying her with disgust. Bella suddenly realized he was talking directly to her, because her sisters had retreated to the corner of their room.
Her urge to correct him for neglecting his manners was stifled by his threatening stare. "Bella." She was proud how steady her voice came out.
He scoffed, taking note of her name's meaning. Ignoring what that did to her pride, Bella raised her chin ever so slightly. She was never a vain person per say, but it still hurt. But she would not show this man what his words did to her. "What do you want with us?"
He only laughed, "You obviously got your courage from your mother." Bella noticed her father grow even smaller from the comment. "To answer your question, I am here to collect you." The man stated simply, his expression seemed to dare a rebuttal.
Had she heard him correctly? "Me?"
He rolled his eyes, obviously not pleased with her slow understanding. "Yes, you." He turned a fraction back to her father, who had yet to move from the corner he was cowering in the other room. "Because your father was un-wise in abusing my hospitality during his travels, I demanded his life in payment." Bella gasped at that. These were terrible times in her land, but to demand someone's life as payment for any crime was simply medieval.
But the stranger only continued, gesturing carelessly with a dead hand and glancing back to her father. "But don't fret for him just yet. Being the coward that he is, your dearest father couldn't bear the thought of that. So he bargained with the only thing he had." His eyes focused back to her before he uttered the word that turned Bella's blood cold, "You."
It was suddenly hard to breathe.
At that, her father burst into action, throwing himself at the man's feet with a choked sob, "Please, take me. I was a fool. Don't take her, I beg of you." Even though the news of her father broke Bella's heart, when she saw the state of him begging for her life, that's was when it truly shattered.
Unfazed, the man only held up a hand as to silence her father. "The deal has been struck, it cannot be undone."
Her legs grew wobbly, and it was suddenly hard to stay upright. But she forced herself to stay standing. She would not faint. She would not give this man the satisfaction of seeing her fear.
"F-Fine." She cursed her voice for shaking. So Bella cleared her throat before continuing. The man just looked bored. "But at least do it outside." Bella did her best to sound brave. She would not become a quivering mess in her last moments.
One of her sisters made a horrible noise from behind her. She neither had the energy nor the courage to look and see who it was. Maybe it was Lauren, for at least she cared a fraction for Bella. Her closest sister in age would sometimes ask Bella about the stories she read in her books, and the plants and animals she saw in the woods. Bella never dreamed that Jessica would make such a noise for her. Being the oldest, Jessica had perhaps resented Bella for taking charge of their fate. But none of that mattered now, because she was about to die.
The stranger ignored her sisters, cocking his head slightly, the only sign of interest he had shown her this entire encounter. "Whatever do you mean?"
"If you're going to kill me, I would rather you do it outside and away from… them." Bella swallowed the lump in her throat and inclined her head to where her father and sisters now stood huddled together. She heard someone start to weep now, but kept her eyes fixed on the man before her.
The man just burst out laughing, a surprisingly genuine sound that softened his face a fraction. But it only lasted a second before his bored expression snapped back into place, "Oh no, you misunderstand me. I'm not going to kill you." Bella could have died from the relief. "I'm going to take you to live with me." And just like that, the pit in her stomach returned. No, he couldn't be serious. She gaped, completely speechless.
"I can see that you are confused. Allow me to explain." He noted as if this was a simple business transaction. "When your father broke into my estate, stole food and took advantage of my servant's good-nature, I demanded he pay with his life. When he refused, I offered an alternative solution: servitude from one of his children. And as you well know, that was a deal your father just couldn't pass up." He finished somehow sounding more bored than when he started.
He narrowed his eyes at the strength in her voice, but continued anyway. "I demanded either the youngest or most precious in your father's heart. You see, my kind can taste lies. So when your father told me that was you, I knew he spoke truthfully."
She blanched, "Your kind?" Was it possible for him to be of magic? She had thought them to die out long ago. It just wasn't possible.
He grinned at her, obviously finding it entertaining to smell her fear. If he was what she thought he was, he could not only taste lies, but also know her every emotion. She tried not to vomit.
"A story for another time."
Bella didn't know what to say. Even though she wanted to hate her father for condemning her, she couldn't bring herself to. Instead, she centered all of that rage on the man in front of her.
He just returned her glower with a hint of a smirk. "So those are the terms. You can either agree to come with me without a fight, or I can force you. I urge you to choose the former."
Bella crossed her arms, hoping she seemed calm and collected, even though she was far from it. "How long did you think my father's life sentence would last?" The stranger gave her a warning glare she chose to ignore. "I mean, a man like my father only has five more years left on his life, tops. So shouldn't I only have to serve up to that? Its only logical." One of her sister's squeaked from behind her, but she ignored it, shrugging. She could only hope that the stranger couldn't sense her false confidence and agree. Her father looked older than he was, due to the stress of his job and depression. She only prayed to their God that it would work in her favor.
The stranger narrowed his dull gaze at her, seeming to hold in an exasperated sigh "Nice try. But a life sentence is a life sentence, no matter how long it is."
Bella didn't expect to hear anything less, but that didn't mean her chest hadn't caved in knowing there was no hope of negotiating. But no matter how much she wanted to look away, Bella forced herself to look into those soulless eyes. "If I agree to go without a fuss, will you promise that my family will be unharmed?"
His eyes lingered on her, before glancing over to her father and sisters. "Fine."
"You swear on your life?"
Rolling his eyes, the man bowed to Bella. And only before covering a hand over his heart, he announced in a mock sincerity, "My Lady, I promise on all that I am and all that I honor, that your family with be unharmed."
Ignoring his dramatics, Bella squared her shoulders, "Deal." She heard her father let out a strangled cry at the response, but she didn't dare to look towards him. Stifling the instinct to shy away from his un-natural gaze, she kept her eyes fixed on the stranger, "When do we leave?"
Any sort of amusement that shone on the stranger's face before, was gone and replaced with that same blank stare, "Now." She fought to stay impassive on the outside, but her stomach lurched on the inside. "You have ten minutes to pack. Don't keep me waiting or I'll drag you out myself."
Bella didn't waste any time griping, but forced her legs to start packing. It wouldn't take long, since she didn't have much when it came to belongings. But she wanted time to say goodbye to her home, and her father, despite what he had done to her.
Bella only had a few trinkets she had inherited when her mother passed away. It was almost pathetic how little she had to show for eighteen years of life. One of her most treasured possessions was a locket with a picture of her mother, and pair of pearl earrings that survived their downfall and poverty. Although it's seemed pointless bring them to where she was going, Bella packed them anyways.
She was nearly done when she heard a noise from the doorway, fully expecting to see him standing here, she was shocked when it was her father instead. Her sisters were no where in sight.
"Bella," He could barely say her name. His face was blotchy from his crying, and he shook from body tremors.
"Father," She couldn't bring herself to give an emotional goodbye, no matter how her chest seized just thinking of leaving them. She couldn't bring herself to hate him per say, but her heart had always remained tender and forgiving towards her father, even in these harsh times. But as she appraised the now weak man before her, that small part hardened into stone.
"Please, I wasn't in my right mind. He tricked me into thinking—" She stopped his words with a shake of her head.
"Nothing you can say will change what has already been done." She was waiting for a reply, but her father just hung his head in shame and left her to finish packing.
After one last glance around her room, Bella went into the living area to gather her most cherished books. No one stood waiting to help her, so she began to gather what she could herself. Bella didn't have near enough room for all ten books she owned, but it would have to do. She had no idea what waited for her at the stranger's estate. Bella assumed she would spend her years in a dark cell, so she sought out everything she could to occupy her time. At that chilling thought, she stuffed two more books into her coat pockets.
As she took one last look at her home, Bella saw that her family was still nowhere to be seen. Brushing off the new wave of hurt that caused her, she forced her sluggish feet out the door. Could she survive this? She had no choice but to.
When she exited her home, only then did Bella see where her father and sisters had slunk off to. Bella beheld her father on his knees, begging to the stranger even though he now sat atop a giant black stallion. And even her sisters stood hugging each other, sobbing in front of the man's mount. Only when Bella closed the door, did the stranger lift his head from her family to acknowledge her presence.
"Sir, do you want this to be the last thing your daughter remembers of you?"
Only when her father rose to his feet, did the stranger reveal a forced smile. "There, that wasn't so hard. Now find your bearings and embrace your daughter goodbye."
The stranger's eyes followed her father as he obediently pulled Bella into a rigid hug. Bella was ready to accept that as the last thing she would ever get from her father, but he held her closer and whispered one last thing into her ear, "Don't trust him Bella, whatever you do. He's the last—" But he couldn't finish before the man barked that was enough. Only after her father finally let go and ushered her sisters into their house, did Bella confront the man waiting for her.
"Ready?" He cocked a brow.
She raised her eyes to his haunting black ones, "Do I have any other choice?"
An ounce of amusement crossed his face. Or was it respect for her boldness? "No."
"Where is my horse, or do you expect me to walk?" As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted their snarky tone. She had no idea what this man's temperament was, or if he would take such insolence from anyone, especially her.
Bella closed her eyes, bracing for a slap across her face, or the vile words to reproach her, but nothing came. She looked up only to see a slight scowl on his face.
"No, you will be riding with me." All color drained from Bella's face. She could barely stomach being in the man's presence, even with his good looks. But now he expected her to ride the same horse as him?
But before she could resist any further, the man was dismounting his horse and pulling her towards the huge animal. "Sit lightly," He warned before placing cold hands at her waist. She yelped as he lifted her effortlessly only to plop her down in the saddle with a thump. She grumbled her displeasure as the animal twitched under her.
Bella barely had time to situate herself before the man was hauling himself up behind her. She gasped when she felt his chest brush her shoulders for the briefest of moments. Even miniscule, the feeling sent a shudder through her body.
"Bella?" So he had remembered her name. She noticed even his breath was cold, like the rest of him.
"Would you care to hand me the reigns, unless you know where we're going?" She didn't miss his condescending tone.
"Maybe if you told me where that was, I could lead for a while."
She was shocked to hear a dark chuckle vibrate from behind her, but he made no other response. Bella thought that meant he was actually going to tell her where they were going, but he just outstretched his hand in waiting. He snapped his fingers when she hesitated.
"Fine," She groaned, placing the leather straps into his grip. Thankfully he was wearing riding gloves, or else she would have had to touch his freezing skin. "Can you at least tell me your name?"
"I suppose you can call me Edward." That was it, no last name, and no providence with it, that would give her some sort of idea where they were going.
"No title like Lord or Prince to go with such a name?" She glanced back at him but wasn't expecting to see his lips form a thin line. Why did he look so displeased by her assuming he was nobility?
"No, just Edward." He answered tightly. And with that, all Bella could do was brace her mind and body as he lurched the animal forward. And so they entered the dark forest together, beyond everything Bella had ever known.
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