A/N: This is my first Twilight fanfic (I got the idea from a manga I had read years ago)! Please be kind! Hope you like it! XOXOX!
Isabella Swan was all of seven years old when her father first told her the legends of gods and monsters.
Her father scooped her up in his arms, tucked her into bed, and started his tale that lasted for the next two weeks. At first, she thought that her father was just telling stories, wild and unimaginable tales created to sate her overactive imagination. She'd giggled and rolled her eyes at her father's different voices; she had asked a thousand questions that only children could find relevant. At the time, she did not know why her father looked so concerned, why when his stories ended and he blew out the candle, there was a look of painful longing on his face...as if she were already lost to him.
It wasn't until a few years later when she was sitting with the other children at the schoolhouse that she realized that there was truth to her father's stories.
Just like every other girl in the village, Isabella needed to protect herself from what laid beyond the river. Or, even more importantly, prepare herself.
Every year, a young woman of consenting age was sent across the river that divided her village from the land of the gods that lied beyond. The Elders called this tradition The Choosing. The land beyond was supposed to be a magical place, a paradise to live out the rest of one's days in luxury. But that was not why the young women were sent. No, they were sent as tribute to the River God, the most powerful and fickle of all the gods, to ensure another year of good crops and prevent any unwanted storms from flooding the banks.
They always looked so happy when they left, draped in fine white linens and adorned with flowers. What happened to those young women once they reached the other side, no one knew. Over the years, Isabella had seen many bright, beautiful young women get sent across the river. None of them returned.
As she aged, everyone in town began to take notice of her fair, pale complexion and rosy cheeks, her dark compassionate eyes and her thin, willowy frame. A perfect bride, the village matchmaker had said once, planning a future for one who was barely out of girlhood. That was a comment of the tamer variety, the attention growing more and more lewd as she blossomed from child to young woman. She was the fairest in her age group, of that there was no doubt, but beauty like that was only destined for one purpose.
When the sun rose on the morning of her sixteenth year, everything changed. Instead of waking up to breakfast and an embrace from her father, she walked into a room full of white-robed men. They were locked in conversation, heated whispers falling flat upon her arrival, all eyes turned to gaze upon her with reverence and anticipation. Her father was there as well, face set in pinched lines as he surveyed his daughter. She had never felt more lost even though she knew exactly what was going on.
She had been Chosen, and the Elders had come to take her away.
Preparations were needed, they said as they wound wrinkled hands around her smooth, unmarred skin, guiding her away from all she had ever known. Time away to learn what it meant to be Chosen. Time to accept her fate and embrace it with open arms. Sometimes the transition could be an arduous process, but with the proper guidance, they assured her that she would fulfill her role wonderfully.
She would make a perfect bride for the River God.
All Isabella could feel during that moment was a hollow sense of loss, not only for herself, but for her father. He had already lost her mother to sickness the winter after her birth; now he would suffer the loss of his only child. Even though he was known as the stoic, unwavering Head of the Knight's Guild, there was only so much one man could take. She supposed she would soon discover his limits.
Isabella always knew this day would come, she just did not expect it so quickly.
Now, after two-year's separation from her childhood home, she stood on the sands of the familiar shore, staring out into the unknown of her future. The river was so wide that the other side could not be seen. Fog rolled in like billowing clouds, snaking around the ankles of the villagers there to send her off. They had parted as she processed down the main road, following in the steps of all those who had gone before her. She looked just as pale as the fog, clad in all white, not an inch of skin exposed save her face which was shielded by a thin, gauzy veil. From the rippling reflection in the waters below, she could only assume they had mistaken her for a ghost.
The boat rocked as the Elders helped her in, settling arrangements of pale, delicate flowers at her feet, wrapping a garland of white roses and tree branches around the edges as if the earthliness of the vessel would appeal to the watery nature of its recipient. She sat on a bench matted with ivy, the green making her white figure stand out. She looked ethereal, unreal. It was a fitting style, as she was headed somewhere equally as mystical.
"Steadfast, my daughter," her father said, his hard-lined face betraying no emotion other than determination. Isabella looked at her father properly for the first time in two years and found that there was far more grey scattered in his thick, dark beard and along his temples than she would have liked. He looked older, as if the separation had aged him. She feared he would wither to dust without her forever. "Do right by our people."
All she could do was nod, words failing her. There would be no heartfelt goodbye, no last embrace or kind word. She should have expected as much from her father though some part of her was still hoping for his love. But as he stood at the foot of her modest boat with his head hung low, Isabella almost imagined that he were preparing to ship her off to eternal rest instead of across the river. She had already left him and he could harbor no more love for a ghost.
"The journey ahead is fraught with sea monsters and wayward spirits," one Elder, the eldest elder, the first to take her away, said as he presented her with a lantern. It was warped and hammered from old sheet metal, a battered and worn thing with a single candle melting away in the center. "Use this to light the way. Pray to the River God to guide you safely to the shore."
Again, all she could do was nod as she placed the lantern on the bench in front of her so that it could light the path ahead. There were no oars on her boat, no way to control her course. She was subject to the tides, the push and pull of nature to lead her to her new life. She swallowed down her fear, trying her best to smile as all those who came before her. Her people relied on this tradition, on this token of peace. If her sacrifice meant her father might live another year then she was willing to give it.
The boat lurched as it was pushed out from shore, the villagers throwing flower petals into the water behind her, blessing her voyage.
She watched them for as long as she could, until the fog came and obscured them from view, leaving her completely alone.