Many thanks to SueBee0619 & RoseArcadia for dusting off their fanfic dancing shoes and stepping onto the floor with me, and to Nicffwhisperer for holding my hand. I don't own Twilight... do people still write that? Now, without further ado...
There once was a fair maiden christened Isabella, who lived in the hamlet of Bryn Athyn in the kingdom of Line on the Main. Isabella lived with her father, Charles Swan, a gentle widower who ministered to those taken ill in their small village and in the cottages in the yonder woods. A fair and modest man, Charles Swan also worked with his daughter to tend to their home, their livestock, and the small garden patch and orchard where they grew their vegetables and fruit. In the evenings before Isabella closed her eyes in sleep, she would lie awake and talk with her father and they would tell stories to one another - fairy legends and more spontaneous yarns born from long days of labor and overactive minds. They would discuss the world and the skies beyond in terms Charles worried might be taken for either mutiny or blasphemy were they overheard by lord or friar. Most cherished by Isabella were stories of her mother, who passed before she was one year on this earth. Isabella's mother, Renee, had been remarkable indeed, but her surviving husband expounded on her mother's knowledge and virtue, and so Renee Swan grew to mythic proportions in Isabella's mind's eye. An imposing and learned individual, Renee became a role model whose greatness Isabella could only half hope to aspire to.
As Isabella grew in height, her father watched as she likewise grew in knowledge, compassion and beauty. He caught glimpses of his wife in the arc of his daughter's neck, her chestnut curls, and in the reason of her mind and brightness of her intellect. He was saddened that this foretold that she would one day leave their cottage and make a new life of her own. If he could have, Charles Swan would have protected and provided for his daughter forever, but a woman kept for selfish reasons could never find her life's true purpose, nor would her heart sincerely love.
For her part, Isabella could not imagine that she would find need to leave her father and his home. She knew that her father would support whatever she chose as her life's pursuit, and this security and strength was perfect. She grew impatient when her father would suggest another home, another hamlet, another man in whom she might find love. Her father saw the signs in her body, and she rebelled against it; tightly lacing her bodice to flatten her chest, hiding her hips under aprons and smocks, and keeping her monthly blood as her first and only secret from her father.
One crisp autumn afternoon, Isabella was taking her time as she tended to the ripening gourds in her garden. The sky above her head shone in rich turquoise with streaks of clouds silvered by the rays of the slanting sunlight. Leaves rustled overhead like bright fire in tones of deepest orange and bruised red. Leaning against the low stone wall that enclosed their patch of land, Isabella closed her eyes and fancied that she felt the tilt of the earth beneath her feet as foretold by the crisp, autumn wind. She let her mind open, wandering, wondering if the change of season was as sweet in other villages, in other kingdoms, and whether there were worlds beyond the blue sky overhead that provided growing girls with the dazzle of color and sensation that she was gifted with today.
"Excuse me, kind maiden." An unfamiliar and unexpected voice came from the direction of the lane.
Startled, Isabella clutched the stones at her back, dropping the plump gourd she'd been handling. It burst at her feet and splattered golden pulp over the hem of her muslin gown.
"I did not intend to startle your senses, kind maiden."
Isabella looked up from the mess at her feet to find two gentlemen dressed in the kind of silk and velvet finery she had heretofore only dreamt about in the evenings when reciting fairy tales with her father. The older of the two gentlemen was tall and portly, with hair that rivaled the shining silver of the clouds. His eyes were of the gentlest blue, reminiscent of a spring sky in morning. His companion, who Isabella judged to be nearer to her own age, had buttery skin, eyes the color of clover, and bright hair emulous of the autumn glory in the trees overhead.
"Why do you assume I am kind?" she asked the gentlemen.
"Any maiden as pink-cheeked and pretty must certainly have a heart and manner to match," the older gentleman replied.
The younger gentleman watched her carefully, with purpose bordering on insolence. Isabella felt her cheeks warming under their entitled inspection.
"I do not truck with strange fellows, so I will give you no answer about my heart or manners, sir. Please excuse me while I go back to my work at hand. It seems we have one less gourd to lay up for the coming winter."
Kneeling, Isabella picked at the pieces of rind at her feet. She certainly did not need to clean the garden floor, however she was unused to the open scrutiny of the traveling gentlemen and desired to disengage herself from the judgement hastened by their gaze.
"Dear maiden, neither kind nor cruel, we are here seeking the services of Charles Swan of Bryn Athyn. We were directed to this cottage, but were not expecting to find such a beauty when we sought out a soul by the name of Charles. Please excuse my surprise and do not take offence at my admiration. It is a rare treat for one as aged as I to recall the ripe tenderness of youth."
With her eyes trained on the ground and all of her body's humors rushing to her cheeks till she felt they might burst into flame, Isabella took a deep breath. She heard the younger gentleman sigh.
"My father is the man you seek, Charles Swan of Bryn Athyn," she quietly admitted. "He is with the Missus Fallowell as she brings life into the world this autumn day."
"At a birth bed? Yes, indeed, his are the services we are after."
"Are you with child, or are you ill?" Isabella asked, chancing a glance at the gentlemen at the cottage gate. The royal blue and green velvet of their vests and knickers and the golden silk of their stockings complimented the colors of fall as if the two had aimed to make art of the day. They appeared neither peaked nor weak, although neither did they seem sturdy enough for the daily labor that life in Bryn Athyn entailed.
"Thank the skies, neither applies to our condition. My horse has fallen and does not rise."
"And how does this concern my father?" Isabella asked, confused. She glanced purposefully at the younger of the two and noticed that he suddenly found cause to gaze at his feet.
The senior gentleman cleared his throat before he explained, "My son has a heart too soft for the man's body that he inhabits. He will not let me lay the matter to rest. So, we have come seeking succor for our steed."
"But my father tends to people, not pets, good sir."
"Why must a human's life have more value than any other good soul birthed into servitude, giving of her body without quarrel or complaint?" the son demanded of his father, fire alighting his cheeks, and also strange and green in his eyes.
"Animals possessing souls?" Isabella asked. When the son glanced at her, she remembered she was still on her knees. This seemed strangely inappropriate, and she rose and faced the two unfamiliar gentlemen head on.
"Please excuse my son's blasphemy and take no fear from it. The boy means well enough." Turning to his son, the man continued, "Edward, please contain yourself and your womanly vicissitudes. You risk angering these inhabitants with your unchristian theories, and then good Rosalie will surely be lost."
"I am woman and yet have never harbored fanciful ideas about horses and souls, sir. These are certainly Edward's vicissitudes and not my own," Isabella countered, slightly off-put by the way her skin tingled when she pronounced the young man's given name.
The older gentleman's lips turned up in smile, a playful glint in his eye.
"Why couldn't a horse have a soul?" the young man asked sullenly.
"And may I ask how we can be certain any of us has a soul?" Isabella challenged.
"Father, I do not think we need worry about my blasphemy. We have happened upon a heathen."
"I am no heathen, sir, I simply await proof of the existence of these souls. I have neither measured their size, nor hefted their weight. Science has yet to settle on a cipher."
"Perhaps you are going at it wrong, miss. Souls are considered for their light, not their weight," the young man suggested.
"A light mine eyes have never detected, yet they are daily dazzled by the honey-yellow sun," Isabella was quick to reply, looking heavenward, letting her face bask in the warm autumnal glow from the heavens above.
"Ha! It's taken only nineteen years, an expedition and a broken mare for my son to meet his match," the older gentleman replied. "Now, is there anyone else about the cottage, my dear, so that we might find respite while we wait on your father's return?"
"We are just the two of us, my father and I, and when he is gone there is but one. But give me your name as your bond and you may indeed wait inside these gates." Isabella was somewhat surprised at the eagerness of her invitation, but the whimsical conversation that had sprung up betwixt the trio was physically electrifying. She'd never before let her fancy run with anyone save her father on these, the queerest of her philosophies. Surely she could speak freely to a man who endowed an animal with a soul.
"I apologize, dear maiden. My name is Carlisle Cullen of Center City, and this is my son, Edward."
Isabella gasped, and if she had another gourd in hand, the hem of her dress would have been doubly sullied. Carlisle Cullen was Lord Protector of Line on the Main, a name that carried with it both the deepest respect and the deepest fear. He was known as a fair man, yet he kept order in the Kingdom with judgment both swift and severe. The lord had three sons, and Edward was his youngest. Emmett Cullen, the eldest, was a Knight that rode with the Green Army, and Jasper Cullen, the middle son, was a ship's Captain, conquering lands across the Distant Sea. Isabella would certainly have tamped down her capricious notions had she recognized the noblemen before her. She was aghast at her verbosity and insolence.
"My lords," she mumbled, honoring the gentlemen with a hasty curtsey.
"Dear maiden, please rise and grace us with your own given name."
Isabella straightened her legs, but kept her eyes on the ground. "I am Isabella Swan of Bryn Athyn, my lord."
"A name as lovely as your visage," Lord Cullen remarked. As he hesitated in the lane, Isabella realized that she must open the gate for her noble visitors. She hastened forward, unlatched clapboard, and stepped back to allow the gentlemen passage, still anxious, but also grateful that the fine autumn day had bestowed upon her both predictable beauty and an unexpected surprise.
The noblemen were pleased to avail themselves of the Swan's brown bread and butter, cold lamb and crisp apples. They politely refused both mead and plum wine in favor of cool well water, kept fresh with spearmint from her herb garden.
Her father returned from the Fallowell birth bed bleary and spent, but needed no introduction to the Lord and his son. Scarcely had he taken time to wash his hands and face before he set out with the gentlemen to survey the condition of the injured mare. While Isabella would likely have accompanied her father on such an unusual expedition in the past, this evening she stayed behind to prepare as close an approximation to a dinner feast as their meager pantry would provide. It was some hours later when the elder Swan returned with the lord and his son, as well as the blacksmith and his boy, and somewhat disconcertingly, the tanner and his apprentice - all coaxing a limping and languid chestnut mare. A dark brown horse trotted impatiently alongside the troupe, and Isabella guessed it to be Lord Cullen's gelding.
With horses to board, a home to open in welcome, and several hungry men to accommodate, it was hours before Isabella had a moment's respite - and a pile of dirty crockery. As she soaked and scoured the earthen dinnerware, she gazed out at the indigo darkness and the shimmering points of light that illuminated the black silhouette of the forest. For as long as she could remember, the allure of distant skies was all that was needed to send her thoughts heavenward and kindle her imagination. Yet, on this exhausting evening, she found the events of her hometown more enchanting than anything imaginary her mind might conjure.
She considered the quiet chatter of the foreign men, with their unusual accents and their refined conduct, and wondered at their manner of upbringing. Their clothing hinted at luxury she had only dreamt of in stories - rich fabrics and foods, and servants that would dress, launder, cook and serve. She remembered how the young man held tight to his words, barely contributing to the conversation as his bright eyes darted about the household. Was his interest rooted in censure, or worse, in revulsion? Or was he as curious about her life as she was about his? That queer thought unsettled her innards so that they leapt against her bodice, and she settled her body with breaths as deep as her bodice would allow.
When the kitchen was finally returned to order and her homestead readied for slumber, Isabella noted that she was anything but weary after her unusually eventful evening; her body was animate with energetic curiosity. She retreated to her bedchamber, but could scarcely keep herself seated at her vanity as she unbraided and brushed her hair. Her heavy, chestnut tresses tumbled down her back in waves and the bristles of her hairbrush seemed to set off sparks against her scalp. She supposed it was due to the small life she had hitherto enjoyed, that the presence of two noble strangers could kindle to life fiery waves underneath the surface of her skin. Convincing herself that this sensation was proof she was a simpleton, she briskly unfastened her gown, unbound her bodice, and slipped into her muslin nightgown, trying with all her might to ignore the sensations her skin registered with the sweep of cloth and the crisp evening air.
Moments later, as was his habit, Charles Swan knocked on the door of her bedchamber and quietly let himself inside. While Isabella was strangely awake, she could see fatigue in the lines of her father's forehead and the sunken purple crescents underneath his eyes. She determined that she would redouble her efforts to care for their guests on the morrow and bear as much of the burden of their presence as her father would allow.
"How is the mare, Father?"
"I've identified a swelling in a hind leg and I lanced the area to allow the dark humor outlet. She lays fretfully in her stall. I used the same treatment as I did the fuller after his accident this past spring. We shall see – for fuller and horse are two separate creatures indeed."
"Ask the lord's son and I don't know that he would agree," Isabella mused.
"I must admit, these are heroic efforts to take for a beast. But the lord has promised compensation that should make the coming winter quite comfortable for this household."
Charles sat on the edge of Isabella's sleeping pallet and took her hand. "Thank you for caring for our guests this evening, Daughter. Your welcome and proficiency with their accommodation is yet more evidence that you are leaving girlhood behind and growing into a maiden both mature and wise."
"It is simply evidence that you have taught me civility and kindness."
Charles smiled down at his beautiful daughter. "Your eyes are shining this evening. It hearkens to mind the way your mother's beauty would glow from within when she was on the cusp of some astronomical discovery."
"It is not astronomy or philosophy that has stars strung in my eyes, Father. I think it's simply the appearance of two strangers at our homestead."
"Ah, yes. Lord Cullen and his son do import an exotic air."
Isabella sat up in bed. "It is not just air! They have an exotic style of dress, and an exotic accent to their speech, and exotic ideas about how to care for an injured mare. I half expected them to pull golden dust out of a hidden purse to sprinkle over our common dinner faire."
Charles chuckled and squeezed his daughter's hand. "It is the woods and the close familiarity this small village brings with it. Perhaps in maintaining this life and remaining within this village that holds memories of your mother and your childhood, I have kept you too much from the world. Perhaps I have robbed you of the opportunity for your mind to explore the world beyond Bryn Athyn."
"Oh no, Father! I love the life we share. I have everything I could ask for right here in this home, on this parcel of land. While my body has been bound to this village, you've let my mind fly freely every evening. I feel I have journeyed eons as we converse before sleep."
"Lord Cullen is also on a journey of discovery with his young son. His boy has a curious mind, and the lord hopes to quench his thirst for exploration so that he might settle down to his duty."
"His duty? Does it involve that mare?" Isabella giggled.
"I believe he is bound for the priesthood. The third son is always conscripted thus, especially among nobility of City Center."
"I believe the lord's son would make a curious priest."
"Isabella." Charles used his daughter's name in censure. While they might explore wild philosophies about science and religion between themselves, he prayed that she could contain her notions so that they would not bring rebuke from their noble borders.
His daughter lay back and pulled her coverlets to her chin. "Yes, Father," she sighed.
Charles kissed his daughter's forehead and groaned as he stood to his feet. "Caring for the fuller was not so physically demanding."
"Would you like me to draw you a salt bath to ease your limbs before slumber?"
"No, dear daughter; you rest. I am inclined to believe that our guests may exhaust us both over the course of these next few days."
As the door to her bedchamber clicked closed, Isabella was farther than ever from losing herself to dreams. 'The next few days'. Her father had awakened such longing with such a simple phrase. The prospect of conversing with the lord and his son, while studying the mannerisms and customs of the noblemen, illuminated her imagination and filled her with unbounded excitement. She tossed and turned and studied the visitors in her mind's eye. She thought of the young man bound for priesthood, yet harboring boyish beliefs about the sanctity of his steed. She was quite certain Friar Randolph would never entertain such immature folly. And then there was the way in which Lord Cullen likened his son's delusion to that of a woman. That set Isabella tossing and turning once more. Why must men believe that what stirred in her chest and hips must somehow muddle her mind?
Isabella finally gave in to the notion that sleep was a destination immediately elusive, and found that her excitement had left her mouth parched. She slipped quietly from her chamber, tiptoed through her cottage, and then carefully unlatched their back door in order to draw water from the courtyard well. Instead of bringing the bucket back into the house and risk noise or a puddle, she drank directly and basked in night noises and starlight as water slipped down her throat, escaped the corners of her mouth, and trickled down the front of her nightgown. As she tried to wipe away the water, she cast her eyes about in search of a cloth and was surprised to find a light glowing from within the stable, flickering like fire.
Worried that her fatigued father may have forgotten to dampen the oil taper, Isabella rushed to the barn to make certain the flame was contained. Instead of fire, though, she found the young nobleman seated on the floor of the freshly mucked stall. His vest was unlaced so that his white, silken undershirt hung loose against his chest. His horse's head lay in his lap, and he ran his hand through the mare's mane, and held her gaze with a look of pained devotion. It reminded Isabella of the gentleness that her father showed to his charges, although she was certain that this man's sentiments were somewhat wasted on an animal. Nevertheless, this unusual tenderness stirred her soul, and she felt compelled to leave him in peace.
This baby will update on Fridays. Find me on facebook at belladonna . fanfiction or on Twitter at BellaDCullen.