Disclaimer: This is the third part of a trilogy. If you have not read the first and second parts, please go back and read "Secrets of the Court" and "The Broken Throne". I will be posting two versions of this fic (at some point). The first version of this story (A Tale of Angloa) was posted before this twilight version (as I have also explained in Secrets of the Court and The Broken Throne). I did not wish to remove the first version since some people were reading it so I kept it, for them. I try to be as historically accurate as possible, so if you see any faults, please PM me. Since the country of Angloa is a made up country with its own history and culture, it may differ from other European countries at the time. Rated M for mature themes.
I would also like to point out that Reading author's notes can be important at times. I know people tend to skip them at times. But I want to be clear to some anonymous reviewers out there: I have stated again and again that "Secrets of the Court" was only the first fic in a series. If you do not read the information that is so clearly given to you, I cannot be held responsible for your disappointment. I always appreciate constructive criticism, but not blatant bashing.
Lastly, for those new here, English is not my first language. I still learn as I write, so if you find any grammatical faults, please make them known to me, I would really appreciate it.
THE WEIGHT OF A CROWN
June 7th, 1520 – Raven's Grove
Lord Thomas Athar was old and weary. He ignored the pains that ached in his stiff limbs. He ignored the pains that were ever present in his heart and soul. The old man wondered what Philip would say if he saw what Angloa had become.
The old man shivered at the thought.
The Angloa of his childhood was dead. A rotten core desperately trying to escape a creeping darkness stood in its place.
Upon his shoulders rested the weight of a country, the outcome of its future. He and Anthony Fawkes had acted in the face of danger, moving their allies and troops deep into Raven's Grove. They had distanced themselves far away from someone that would most likely have ended not only their lives, but those loyal to them.
Thomas Athar had waged a guerrilla war against the vicious Queen of Angloa, refusing to accept what she was becoming. He had stooped low, cast aside any notion of what honor had been to him, cast aside his pride in the face of danger.
He had kept his thoughts and worries to himself, knowing well he had entered a war he could never win. Athar chuckled as his thoughts rang ominously in his mind. He foresaw his future as clear and pristine as the meadow where they had settled.
But it did not shine as brightly.
While the weeks progressed to months, Athar had never expected him to return—and least not to Wessport. When news of Edward Cullen's arrival to the capital reached their camp, several of their soldiers had left in a haste, knowing it was only a matter of time now. If Edward had sided with the queen, there was no hope left for the rest of them. Many prominent lords of the country had kept to their mansions and estates, not willing to dirty their hands in this feudal conflict.
It had been selfish to ever think that Edward Cullen would rally to his side when he was offered a comfortable life next to the woman he loved—whether it was as her husband or lover. Alas, the constant waves of disappointment would not evade him as he had thought the man to be something more.
It might have been the vast number of tales the soldiers would whisper about him every evening by the fire—the awe in their eyes as they retold stories of General Cullen on the battlefield, hoping he would join them. They had elevated him to something more than what he had been. At least, that was what Athar thought.
Until that very day.
Getting older and, hopefully, wiser, Athar had reflected many times on the occurrences of life. One thing that he always had questioned was the people that surrounded him, the games they had played for so long. Many individuals graced the earth: good, bad or somewhere in between. It was all a gray mess with codes of morality, greed, and lust for power separating them.
A person who manages to affect the lives of hundreds—if not thousands—holds great power, whether he knows it or not. What that person does with that power, is up to him or her. The decision to use it for own selfish means or for the better of their fellow humans is what sets them apart.
The pensive expression deepened.
He sat by a torn table, beneath the bare sky, the waft of dirt and forest pressed against him. The mellow pace of a summer's day progressed as he philosophized on. A question that had claimed his mind ever since having met Philip Fell resurged now, stronger than ever.
What makes a hero?
Is it blatant bravery? A particular set of skills? Perhaps it is a strong leadership, a strong hand or decisiveness in the face of uncertainty. The old man shook his head forcefully as his mind sprung into motion once more.
A hero—a true hero—is something more. He had never really known a true hero until now, until that very day as he sat next to his tent, looking over maps and papers showcasing his imminent defeat. He had known the instant one of his soldiers had dragged him out into the open meadow to show him the approaching group.
It had been early afternoon when the warning horn had sounded, announcing a small group of riders approaching. They had all taken their positions, ready for an attack.
It never came. Instead, the riders disappeared between the thick foliage of Raven's Grove—as if the forest itself deemed it worthy to hide and protect them. Not even their best scouts could find them. And, so, he had retired to his tent. Until the moment where his soldier burst in shouting "My lord, you must come!" Athar had rushed out of his seat and followed the young man to the opening of the meadow, his eyes widening and a smile claiming his mouth.
What makes a hero? he had asked himself. The answer seemed delivered to him on a whim of fate. It wasn't stupid or foolish bravery. It wasn't just the glorious deeds—the titles or ranks bestowed upon the individual. Any fool could do those things. A true hero was someone who made a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others. A true hero was someone who would cast aside his own wants and needs, the safety of his loved ones and join a losing side because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Edward Cullen had done such a thing. And as he rode into the camp, poised proudly upon the calico mare which he rode, they all regained some notion of hope. Athar stared around the camp—looked at the glistening eyes of the soldiers and officers as they all thought the same thing—the battle was not lost.
But he had not just come himself. Behind him, straddling a horse herself and looking the worse for wear, sat none other than Rosalie Fell, princess of Angloa. Athar cast a glance at his fellow soldier and both could feel a warmth expanding in their chest as the small train of people rode into the glade of the meadow.
Edward had never really been comfortable with all the stares ever since donning the mask. But he had grown used to them. In the past, however, most stares and looks had been that of fright and caution. Only when he returned to Wessport after a successful battle, would the crowd cheer for him.
But it was so very different now.
He had dived headfirst into Raven's Grove, knowing well this would be the place where Athar would hide whatever was left of his army. He knew well that the trees would give them the protection they needed. The woods shielded them from the prying eyes of the vicious Queen of Angloa. The others had followed in silence, trusting him. Edward had led his horse, knowing the scouts would spot them soon enough. The further into the darkness they rode, the more agitated their horses became.
But, finally, they were set upon by someone very familiar.
He dropped with his bandits from the trees in a familiar whoosh, standing arrogantly in front of him. A proud eyebrow rose as a smirk spread across his features.
"And in our hour of need, he arrives," the man chuckled. Edward stopped his horse as Saxton stood before them, backed by his bandits. The bandits no longer dressed in white furs to hide them for there was no snow now. Raven's Grove had gone from being a white inferno to a green paradise. The bandits wore tattered clothing in muted browns and greens. Emmett Saxton looked wilder than before. His neatly trimmed beard and brown hair flowed wild around his face and head. His once pristine clothes were battered and ridden with dirt—as if he had no time to clean them. His eyes were wide, the circles under them showing his true state of utter fatigue. The trees swayed lazily in the summer breeze as the perfume of wet earth and blossoming flowers enclosed them all.
Edward was in no cheerful mood. The news he brought them was far from good. "I need to see Lord Athar," he said in a low voice. The earth beneath his horse had been untouched, the green moss as soft and fluffy as the clouds that graced the sky. But the hooves of his horse stirred the ground as it trampled in place.
"That depends," Saxton answered. And, for the first time, they all perceived the caution in his voice.
Rosalie pushed forth, making herself seen, hoping it would be enough to let them pass. While her presence did indeed thwart Saxton, it did not change his mind. "Depends on what?" She was tired and needed peace and quiet to reflect on what was now to come. A lot was now to change and Rosalie, as well as the others, needed to recover.
For the first time since having met him, Edward perceived Saxton to be rather uncomfortable. He twisted where he stood; as if he would rather not be before them in that instant.
"How do we know that Queen Victoria did not send you?" he finally asked.
They all should have been offended by that question. But times were tough, and every precaution was needed. Rosalie held her tongue as Edward dismounted his horse, heading for Saxton in sure steps. His men neared him with drawn blades and cocked pistols. But once Saxton caught the look in Edward's green eyes he put up a hand, stopping the bandits.
Edward Cullen neared him without hesitating as he unbuckled the blade and dagger resting on his hip. He grasped for the hidden one in his boot and finally reached Saxton, pressing them into his hand. "We will follow with you unarmed and with our hands tied, if that will reassure you. But we must speak with Lord Athar." He cocked his head in the direction of the woman. "And Lady Renée is very ill. She needs a physician, or whoever it is here that takes care of your wounded."
Those words brought the shadow of a smile to Saxton's face. But he would not allow his handsome features to change. He looked past the masked man at Isabella, who supported her sickly mother. The young man's eyes rested briefly on Rosalie and Glovendale, before looking at Edward once more.
"Follow me, then," he said, giving Edward his weapons back. He trusted in him as much as Edward had. It was a show of good faith on both their behalves. Edward took his weapons and was soon in the saddle, following the bandits and their leader deeper into the forest.
They might have gone for hours, or was it days that passed by so briefly? The rooftop of the forest would not tell where the sun was, only that it was an invasive light breaking through the heavy foliage. The deeper into the forest they continued, the thicker the sea of moss and shrubs became. But Edward followed the bandit leader in good faith.
Soon, the path cleared up and a vast meadow opened in what could only be described as the heart of the woods. Some tents lined the farthest part of it, perched atop a small hill. They crossed a small stream as the music of whooshing water mixed with the faint chatter of what few men remained in Athar and Fawkes' ranks. Edward saw the meager army and counted only about five hundred men. In an open battle, it wouldn't even be enough to defend one flank.
The soldiers slept under the bare sky as they had nowhere to find either bedding or tents. But it was warm during the nights, and they cared little. They sat in smaller groups, chatting away the hours of the day. There was little else to do between attacks on armory supplies or carriages sent for the capital. They were the last few true loyal men in Angloa. Most stayed there because of a sense of duty. They did not get paid and only had just enough food. Others came because of the food, but stayed because of Fawkes, Saxton, and Athar.
The men that made up the army were not seasoned warriors. Most were local farmers, and some had been soldiers in Fawkes and Athar's personal armies, deciding to follow their lords.
Movement in the bushes alerted them, until Saxton and his men—the scouts—emerged from the bosom of the forest.
The soldiers would have reverted to their pastime, if it were not for the sight that followed.
Perched upon a calico horse, a man in dark clothes and black mask emerged as if he were a specter. Many of the men's jaws dropped in disbelief at what they saw. Several of them sprang to their feet to alert Athar as the company continued forward. They stared as they never had before, certain that who they saw could not be real.
But, indeed, he was. Alongside him, with her stern face fixed on the largest tents of them all, sat Rosalie Fell. She gripped the reins tighter than necessary as her breath quickened in pace. They were led to the grouping of white tents when Athar walked forth, having been at a table next to the largest tent.
His white hair and beard swayed in the wind as he stared at the five riders in complete and utter disbelief. He wore a battered doublet in muted brown and dark hoses with black boots. An old sword clung to his hip—the style was not in use anymore and several decades old. It was more of a relic of the past than a weapon. But Athar insisted on wearing it. He might be an old man, but he would be armed and ready for battle, if the time ever came. His gray eyes swept over the group in silent astonishment.
"I did not believe it when I heard it," he uttered in surprise as they all dismounted. Theodor Glovendale bit back a moan of pain as his body ached. "Theo?" Athar exclaimed.
"Hello, cousin," he answered. The men stared stiffly at each other. "We need a physician for Lady Renée," Theodor finally said, nodding toward Renée Swan as she was supported by her daughter on the horse.
"Jameson, take her," Athar said to one of the soldiers—a tall boy with fuzzy black hair. "The rest of you, please follow me." He still lingered on them, trying to make sense of it all.
They all did as he bade without a word. The opening of the tent billowed, and the fabric was ruffled gently by the wind as they walked inside. Dusty old rugs lined the ground and a vast table with maps and parchments was placed in the middle. A red cloth separated a small area—probably for sleeping. The surroundings took Edward back to when he had campaigned during the war.
Athar showed them to some chairs by the table, having some men clear away the maps as the six of them sat down.
He had someone call for Fawkes and, as they waited, he took in the sight of each and one of them.
Athar's eyes first landed on Edward. The man he had once known as arrogant, prideful and frightful, was seemingly changed. The once dark aura surrounding Edward had been replaced by that of questioning, doubt and something else. Suddenly he did not appear the tall, frightening giant that he had come to know. The masked man was more down to earth—he was more human now than before, perhaps. Edward stared emptily in front of himself as the events from the previous days caught up with him at an alarming rate. He had no doubt that they did as well with the rest of them.
Rosalie had scarcely said a word and her gaze was as empty as his. She held the rosary firmly in the grasp of her hand as she gripped the wooden chair with the other—ignoring how her grip turned harder and harder. The skin of her knuckles turned white as she, unbeknownst to herself, seemed determined to squish the hardened wood.
Theodor Glovendale could not directly look at his cousin. When Victoria had sprung into action and taken the throne, he had answered her summons before those of Athar. Theodor had ignored his cousin, believing he owed loyalty to the crown before his own blood. And now that he sat there, across the man he had turned his back on, he could not ignore the twinge of guilt that rushed through him. Athar had stood up against Victoria while the rest of them had all turned their backs on him.
The only person in the room seemingly present to have a conversation with was Isabella Swan. While she was as engulfed by her thoughts as the others, she did genuinely seem happy to once more rest her eyes upon the kind and gentle man. Emmett loomed over the wooden table as Fawkes rushed into the tent, utterly out of breath. But his breath was forever more stolen as he watched the group of people assembled around the long table.
"I…came as…fast…as I could," he heaved, catching his breath and leaned over, placing his hands on his knees. "…not as…young as I once was," he struggled.
The room remained as silent as it had been before his intrusion. Anthony Fawkes straightened up, regaining his dignity further as he took a seat next to Athar.
They all sat there for a while without uttering as much as a sound. And indeed, what was to be said? How could they break such news to the older lords?
All glances finally landed on the masked man, expecting him to take charge—to take the word. "We have come as allies, Lord Athar, not as your enemies," he started, figuring it would be easier to ease into the heartbreaking news instead of serving it up as a soul-wrenching punch to the face.
"We will not turn you away, Cullen, despite what the queen might have said of you," Fawkes answered. "You are, and always will be, welcomed here, Edward," he added as Athar nodded in silent approval.
"As you see we are a small force—but capable of much. And now that both you and Her Highness join the ranks, the morale will surely rise," Athar said as his eyes glistened.
"I thank you, Lord Athar," Rosalie answered in staccato tones.
"It is I who should be thanking you, Your Highness. Without your reports, we would have perished a long time ago." Rosalie looked away to the opening of the tent, as if those words brought pain and shame to her. Her eyes flickered to the emerald grass that bathed in the sun outside of the billowing white fabric enclosing them. Athar perceived the distant pain in her eyes, the inner battle that waged on within her. "Which was the right thing to do," he added when he thought she was questioning her decision.
"I know," the princess cut off as her eyes turned glossy with unshed tears. But she would not say more—not let them know of the weakness she tried so hard to fight off. "I fear my sister will send her army for us now that I have fled the palace," her eyes drifted from the picture of nature to the men and woman that sat around the dark mahogany table. "You must be ready for whatever she throws our way."
"We have tried to rally more to our side, but they have not answered our call, Your Highness—" Rosalie cut him off once more as a sense of duty seemed to overtake her. She settled into her practiced speech, settled into her mundane task of pleasing others. She was a princess and part of a royal family. Her life was not her own and Rosalie knew well what now awaited. She would not run from the conflict. She would face it head-on if she had to. The princess caught Athar and Fawkes' eyes with her own, letting out a silent sigh as she smoothed out the wrinkles of her dress and pushed a blonde lock aside.
"Then you will call on them once more, Lord Athar."
"Your Highness?" Saxton asked, thus speaking in the company for the first time.
"For the past decades, since the death of my father, Angloa has been on the brink of chaos several times. She has seen famine, wars, and greed corrupt her. I thought it would all end with my cousin," Rosalie started as they all hung onto every word she uttered. "And now I believe a final war draws near, a war that was always inevitable. Undeniable from the day my father drew his last breath—a war that is the result of his pride. The lords and people of this land will be faced with a difficult decision of choosing sides. And we must make them choose our side."
"That is all very noble and aspiring, Your Highness. But I do not think men will come rallying to our cause just because you fled the palace of Wessport," Saxton added in a bitter tone. "I speak frankly when I say that we are the last men standing between Victoria and her complete domain over this island."
"They will come together to fight against her." It was Edward that spoke now, the charge in his voice adding more tension in the room. Nothing was heard but their quickening breaths and the faint birdsong penetrating the canopy.
"We cannot be naïve enough to see it that way, Lord Cullen. I wish it would be so, but many will be too afraid to lift their finger, if it means having the rage of the queen directed at them. I came to these woods because I knew a dungeon cell waited for me—because I suspected Victoria was somehow involved with Braun," Athar said, forgetting Edward was not a count anymore.
"There is much you do not know, Lord Athar," Rosalie added. "And much that will surprise you still." She looked out over the faces that once more directed their attention to her. Rosalie had made her decision and she would stick to it. If she had fled the palace, there was only one outcome that could now stem from it. She could never return and hope to be forgiven.
"No one will fight against Victoria for they know she will harm Jasper Fell if we lift a finger against her. It is the reason we have not struck harder against her," Fawkes muttered.
When Jasper' name was mentioned as if he were still alive, Rosalie forced her eyes shut while the sorrow washed over her. She grabbed the chair harder, ignoring how a splinter edged itself through her skin. The horrible memory of his beheading played in her mind several times as the chatter around her died down. The sound muffled, and she dared not open her eyes, lest she lose control. She prayed then—the only relief she had ever found in her life. She put her full trust, her fears and questions in the hands of a higher power. Rosalie hoped someone would listen to her prayers, hoped someone would show her the way. She needed to be strong now, she needed to be present if they were to win the pending war.
"Jasper is dead," she finally said as the sound boomed through her filtered world. The princess opened her eyes and blinked away the unshed tears. "My sister had him executed."
With his death and no children as his heirs, Victoria Fell was indeed the next in line. All should have been settled then. But if the information they held over her ever got out, she would most likely lose a few supporters. They might not be many, but it was enough to make a difference. Alas, Rosalie had no heart to give such a low blow to her sister.
Athar froze when the news finally made sense to him. He had been by that boy's side ever since the death of Magnus Fell. Athar had seen Jasper grow, striving to be a better person than both of his parents. He had seen Jasper try to reach for the stars—try to be a true king, but never quite achieving his goals. The young monarch, who he had tried to mold after Philip Fell, had been like a son to him. And now he was dead—brutally murdered by his own blood. Athar could not explain the hollowness that so readily claimed him. It was the same hollowness and empty pain that had surged through him at the death of his wife and child. It was not quite as powerful. But the small hole in his chest, remedied by time, was torn open again.
But the worst, they soon realized, was that there was no time or place to mourn him. They had no time to stop and think of Jasper as Victoria's forces were no doubt already making their way down from Wessport to demand their surrender.
Fawkes and Saxton exchanged a swift glance between each other. The three leaders of the small forest army did not know where to go next now. Jasper' death did indeed give Victoria the right to wear the crown—she was truly and rightly the queen of Angloa in all sense and purpose.
"Your Highness," Fawkes commenced in a thick voice as he reached for her over the table. "I mean you no disrespect. But I will never accept a woman such as your sister as queen." He looked around to find sympathizers for his words. Saxton nodded, his gaze steadfast on Rosalie as his brow furrowed—thinking what she must be going through.
"The people should have risen up in revolt—the lords should have fought back when Magnus and Rebecca took the throne. Perhaps we would've found ourselves in a different Angloa then," Saxton added.
"But the past is in the past," Theodor Glovendale joined in. "And it cannot be changed." He started realizing in which direction they were headed. The ambassador had no qualms about it. He knew it would be a long and arduous campaign. But it was, indeed, their only option.
"We will fight against your sister, Your Highness. She will rule Angloa no longer—but only with your permission," Fawkes said passionately.
For the first time since leaving the palace, Rosalie's confusion and fright managed to slip through the cracks. She was as lost as ever, and her inner battle raged on in full force. Edward tensed up next to his sister, knowing well what she was going through. What frustrated him more, however, was that he could offer no real word of comfort or support.
Athar leaned forward in his chair, his combed-back hair falling into his face as the wrinkles around his eyes deepened. The old man appeared a hundred then, as if the last few months had stolen years from his life. "It rests on you, Your Highness, if we continue or not. We have fought this long because we wanted to stand by Jasper. And now he is gone," the old lord whispered as his voice faded out into the pleasant summer air. "Gone," he lamented in the same heart-wrenching whisper.
Rosalie gathered what little confidence she could muster. Her eyes trailed over the group, meeting each and every one of them. They rested, finally, on Edward for a long while. "I know what my sister has become." The princess put away the broken rosary and clasped her hands together. "I know what it would entail coming here," she said as she stood up, walking to the head of the table. She turned to face them, straightening her back, her will turning to iron as her demeanor changed. The hesitant princess washed away as a sense of duty took over.
"I will fight my sister." They all shivered at the weight of the words, at the decisiveness of them. "For Angloa," she whispered. "And for Jasper."
"And who will bear the crown then?" Isabella's smooth voice broke through the rising tension as she walked toward the princess. Both women stared at one another, the younger one having asked the most sensible and most weighing question of all. There was no remorse or shame in Isabella's face at having asked such a thing. She awaited the answer patiently. It was a question Rosalie had wanted to avoid.
"I have no right to claim it, Lady Swan," she whispered back. "If I did, it would be seen as usurpation. I would be no better than my uncle."
But Isabella shook her head at those words. "You already know that not to be true," she stated. Isabella's gaze flickered in the dull-lit room as the fabric billowed with the lazy wind. She turned to Thomas Athar. "Lord Athar, remind me again the oath taken by the kings of this land as they claim the crown," she asked.
Athar's eyes lit up when he realized where Isabella was going. He stepped forth ceremoniously, so that all might hear him clearly as he spoke. "The monarch will solemnly swear to govern with all their ability the islands of Angloa and Cantabria in accordance with their respective laws and customs. The monarch will promise to follow and maintain the laws of God, to care for their people in a manner that is righteous, just and fair."
Athar did not need to say more. "The unjust execution of your cousin—a blatant act of regicide—the treasonous actions against the people, putting this very country in danger for her own benefit and conspiring goes against the oath your sister swore, against the sacred anointment she took," Isabella said. "You have, I believe, every right to that crown, but only if you enforce your right and claim it, Your Royal Highness," she bowed.
She dared look up at the woman in front of her and was met by wide eyes, quickly masked by a woman used to never showing her true emotions.
"You would not take the crown for the power or riches it possesses, Your Highness, but for the duty your bloodline implies. You are a princess of this land, and only you can help us save it," Athar added, taking Rosalie's clasped hands in his. "Please," he pleaded in a faint voice. Rosalie's eyes flickered about the room, the duty she was faced with weighed heavy on her shoulders.
She did not want the crown—did not want what it represented. But they all saw in her a beacon of light: hope. If anyone was fit for that power, it was Rosalie Fell. For indeed, she was the only one except her sister left.
The princess's expression turned grim as she accepted the heavy-duty, nodding slowly, thus sealing her fate.
The rest of them got up, chairs scraping on dusty carpets and dull earth, boots shuffling as they came to stand in front of her. Rosalie's face moved not a muscle as all the men and Isabella kneeled before her, accepting Rosalie Fell as their sovereign and true monarch.
They all spoke in unison the words that emerged hollow, powerful and imposing to the ears of the young princess.
"Long live the queen."
A/N: I AM BACK! After a looong break, I am finally here again. How I have missed posting this story weekly. I actually wanted to start earlier, but decided against it because I did not get that far in writing. Half of it is still WIP. I will try to keep up a weekly schedule, but I make no promises. I hope you liked this first chapter. I think this fic might be the longest out of the three. There are a lot of plots that need to be tied together. Let us see what is in store for our Bella and Edward ;)
If you haven't seen it, there is a nice poster made for this fic on my Tumblr, I recommend that you check it out at www/./isabellesumnerff/./tumblr/./ I don't know why, but I cannot link it on my profile. :(
Liked this fic? Please leave a review! :)