A/N: So! As will become readily apparent to anyone who watches, this premise-and much of the world-has heavy influence from Game of Thrones. It will not follow the same storyline, and it's not set in Westeros, but it's set in a world very much like Westeros. I'm sure you'll recognize the characters.
A note to my readers waiting for my other fics to update-they're all coming along. They're just talking to me in lurches and lulls instead of full chapters. It's just been one of those weeks for me. Bleh. So in the meantime, here's something new to chew on.
Edward felt ill as he looked over the scroll his father had given him. His stomach churned, and his heart pounded. He looked up to find his father staring at him, his gaze ever cold and even. Calculating as only Aro of House Masen could be.
"Even you must see how cruel this is, Father," Edward said, already fighting to keep his cool. He was going to lose this argument. He knew this because he'd been losing arguments to his father all of his thirty-four years. But he was a stubborn ass, and he had to try. In fact, it had never been more important.
Aro cocked his head. "Cruel?"
"Isabella Swan has been a prisoner of this family for almost two years."
His father scoffed. "So she has. And each day of her imprisonment, she's worn fine gowns, slept on feather beds, and been attended to by lady's servants." He scratched his cheek absently. "She has one of her own, does she not?"
Now it was Edward who scoffed. "Don't play dumb, Father. It's beneath you. My dear nephew, our beloved king, has made it his personal quest to make that girl's life a living hell since he had her father's head chopped off before her very eyes."
Aro's eyes had narrowed—a face Edward was intimately acquainted with, given that he had never, in his memory, made his father anything but vexed. "You're close to treason, boy, and you will mind your tongue around the Hand of the King."
Edward poured wine into the goblet his father had left for him, and sat back in his chair. "Felix— my nephew, your grandson, our king—is a sadist, and Isabella has been his favorite toy. My sister did not stop her son. My brother did not stop his nephew. Isabella is a very sweet girl, but she hates this family. With good reason. If you wish to hang me for telling the truth, well…" He drank. "I doubt I could stop you."
His father's cheek twitched. "His Grace's treatment of the girl is unfortunate. He had a zeal to prove to his people what he thought of her father and brothers' politics, and he took it out on perhaps the most innocent of House Swan." Aro smiled—the smile he used when he was patronizing diplomats. He leaned forward and tapped the scroll. "Luckily, we have a solution. Make her a Masen. The king has no quarrel with his mother's house."
Edward struggled not to grind his teeth. "She has been shamed enough."
"You think there's shame in our name?"
Edward raised his gaze to meet his father's eyes. "Must we play this game? Marry the captive to me? The Coward?"
His father's smile faltered. "You were a very young man when you earned that name. Your nephew has given you a place on his council as a trusted advisor and keeper of his coins. You are serving your king well, and he is pleased with you."
"The king hates me as much as he hates Lady Isabella."
"He is pleased with your services, and he has given you a wife," Aro continued as though he hadn't spoken. "To be a married man is honorable."
"I've chosen to remain unmarried."
Aro's calm broke. He slammed his fist on the table, shaking the wine. "That choice was never yours to make. I've indulged your infantile ways long enough, and I shall indulge them no further. You're highborn, Edward, and well educated enough to know you will marry because it is your duty to do so. Your brother is promised to the King's Guard. After we lost your eldest brother in the war, you had to know what it would come to. You are the only one left to carry on our name, and you will do it. I shouldn't have to sit here and reason with you as though you haven't always known what's expected of you."
Yes, he had expected it. Without his assistance, his family's name would die, and he had always known his father would never let that happen. "Fine," he said, his voice low. He finished off his wine. "I will marry anyone you care to throw at me. But not Isabella. The girl has been through enough."
Aro stood and leaned over the table, leveling Edward with a malevolent glare. "You will both do as you're told for the good of the realm. It's done, Edward. If you choose to leave and shirk your duty, you will do it without my money, and I will make it known that any who aids you does so at my displeasure. Do I make myself clear?"
Felix might have been king, but Edward knew well Aro of House Masen was the most powerful man in the realm and the richest. If he displeased his father, there would be nowhere for him to turn.
He picked up the flagon of wine and poured. "Yes, Father."
Volterra was beautiful. From her window, Bella could see the sweeping city and the sea beyond.
She never thought she would miss her home. She'd been brought up knowing she would not remain there, that she would be married as best suited her family or the realm's needs. Just under two years ago, she'd believed that somehow—impossibly—she would be high queen to handsome Prince Felix's high king.
She'd thought he was so charming.
Bella closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She raised her chin, casting off darker thoughts to turn to her lady's maid, Angela. "What is it?" she asked, her voice as her mother had taught her; gentle, kind, and in this case, honest. Angela was the one true friend she had in Volterra.
Angela bowed. "You have a visitor."
As she was decent, Bella nodded. She took a deep breath, preparing herself to play the game.
It was Edward Masen who entered her quarters. Only long practice kept the surprise from her face. As the Masens went, she could do worse. He'd stopped Felix more than once, when the newly crowned king was having her beaten for her brother's crimes against the crown. Still, she would never trust a person of that house.
Edward swept low in a bow. "Lady Isabella."
"Lord Edward, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
He studied her for a moment, and there was something about the sadness in his eyes that made Bella profoundly nervous. He sighed. "My Lady." He glanced at Angela. "Do you think we might have a word in private?"
Her heart began to pound hard, and she had to swallow several times before she answered. No part of her wanted to be alone with anyone in the capital city of Volterra. But she nodded. "Of course, My Lord. Won't you join me on the verandah? Angela, won't you bring us some refreshments?"
They went outside. Once there, Edward seemed to have lost his words. He looked off to the horizon, just as she had done only minutes before. He sighed. "You and I know much about following orders, don't we, My Lady?"
"I'm sorry? I don't follow."
"No." He gave a rough laugh and looked to her. "I'm sure you don't." His eyes swept over her, assessing. "How old are you Lady Isabella?"
Bella took a small step backward. Her throat tightened. "Seventeen tomorrow."
He winced, and looked skyward. "Seventeen. Half my own age."
He turned his back to the sea and faced her. "I wanted you to hear this from me, My Lady. My father, the Hand of the King, has given your hand in marriage."
Bella took a steadying breath. She was a pawn, and she knew that. She had always known this day would come. Honestly, if it meant she could finally leave Volterra, it may well be worth it. Marriage wasn't quite the same as being held captive. "To whom am I pledged?"
His expression softened to one of sympathy. "To me," he said, very quietly.
Bella took another step backward. She feared her knees would buckle, so she sat. "Oh," she said—a whisper. "Oh, I see."
"It was not by my request," he said. She raised her head, and he raised a hand. "Which is not to say you displease me in the slightest." He winced at that and ran a hand through his hair. "But I cannot imagine I please you."
Bella breathed in through her nose, trying to think of what she could possibly say. She was on guard as she must always be. She wouldn't have been surprised if he came at her then and demanded what would be rightfully his to take soon enough. She watched him for long moments and waited.
He merely sat there, watching her with sorrow in his eyes.
She took another breath and raised her head. She knew her part. She had learned it well these last two years. "Of course it would please me to be your wife, My Lord. It's an honor I could not have imagined to be taken into the fold of House Masen." She forced a smile.
His lips twitched. "Lady Isabella, you don't need to play those games with me."
"I mean every word I say, My Lord," she lied. "It would be an honor to be your wife."
He studied her for another long moment and then he stood. He offered a hand. Bella could only hope that he couldn't feel how she trembled as she put her hand in his. She braced herself. Would he pull her to him?
But he only raised her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles with a gentle gesture. "Believe me when I say, My Lady, that the honor is most certainly mine."
He left then as Angela came back. When she was alone with her Lady's Maid, she sunk to her knees and put her hands over her eyes, shaking badly.
That was it, then. The last hope she had of leaving this wretched city and the clutches of the family she loathed.
A/N: Thank you to Mina, Packy, Eleanor, Songster, JessyPT, and MoH for putting up with me and for always being so excited. They make my docs a delightful place.