"I will get you back, Bella," Papa whispers, choking back his sobs. He holds me tight, squeezing the air from my lungs in sorrow. "I am so sorry, princess."
Tears sting my eyes, and I don't try to hold them back. If Papa is crying, so am I. I hug him with equal force, clinging to the only person I have left in this world.
Mama passed away three winters back, and our lives imploded. My mother was the force of the family, and she did whatever it took to keep the three of us alive and well when Papa's hard work fell short of meeting expenses. More than that, my mother loved us without bounds. In my eyes, there was no love comparable to that of her love for Papa, except for me. I was her heart, but he was her soul.
Losing her was devastating for me, but it nearly destroyed Papa. I'm split in half now, Bella. If I wasn't a factor in the equation, it surely would have. And when the storm passed, and Papa finally pulled himself away from his work to check on my wellbeing, we sobbed in each other's arms until the sun went down.
Last summer, Papa grew ill and was forced to bed during the planting season. I spent hours, sunrise to sundown, planting. Papa's health drew me away often, and my attention was split. When the crops sprouted in the fall, I felt like a failure. They were meager and sparse, and not nearly enough to upkeep the farm.
The only blessing that came from the fall was Papa's recovery. His string of fevers ceased, and he finally felt well enough to leave the confines of the house. By then, the crops were a lost cause. Papa sought out answers in the city and came back with the only option; we had to borrow funds from a group known as the Volturi. Papa told me that the men were trustworthy and would only come calling if their money wasn't returned on time; no interest, just repayment. The faith my father had in the farm and these men gave me hope for our future.
When the crop season ended, the Volturi came calling for their money. The men they sent smelled sugary sweet, but they loomed over us in darkness. They arrived in cloaks in the dead of night, demanding compensation. The red in their eyes reflected in the candlelight. When we explained our lack of funds, they offered to take my service in exchange for the debt, and I accepted even though Papa argued against it adamantly. But I would do anything for my father. The men gave us a few days with each other before sending guards to collect me. And now, after hours of tears and time together, it's time to leave.
"I love you, Papa," I whimper, pushing my face into his chest. We remain in each other's embrace for a few minutes before the clearing of a throat interrupts us.
"It is time to go," the taller man speaks, his voice deep and sharp. He introduced himself as Demetri a few nights before. His eyes are crimson red; an unnatural feature that does not fail to send shivers down my spine. None of these people seem natural, and I wonder just how Papa found these men and why he entered into a contract with them. But it is too late to ask questions, and I am afraid that the weight of his choices is too much for my father to bear regardless. His health worries me greatly, and I pray to God that he remains safe and healthy while I am away.
I nod into Papa's chest, squeeze him once more, and force a smile onto my face. His face does not reflect my own; he looks devastated. I will see him again, though. I will do everything in my power to see him. So I tell him just that.
"I'll see you soon, Papa."
With that, I board the carriage and wave to him from the window until he is just a speck in the distance. And then I cry.
The ride is long and jarring, and I spend most of it staring out the window, watching the darkness pass us by. Papa and I live just outside of Volterra, so it does not take us long to reach the center of the city. Each tree we pass counts as a fallen tear, and I wrap my arms around my middle in an attempt to hold back my sobs. Halfway there, my tears stop, and a cloak of numbness settles on my shoulders. I welcome the oblivion and wish for sleep to take me. Unfortunately, it never comes.
I refuse to speak with the man sharing the carriage with me. Felix grins from his corner of the carriage, cheekily, and his gaze does not waiver for the entirety of the ride. I keep my eyes diverted, instinctively wary of his presence. There is something strange about these men, but the darkness of the night skews my vision rendering me unable to truly observe any of them. Only when we arrive at the palace do I look over at him, but Felix only winks and exits silently. For a moment, I remain in my seat, confused about the level of impropriety. But then again, I am a servant now. My life is forfeit and worthless; there is no need to impress the little slave with manners. No, it matters not if I am treated kindly so long as my manners never falter; lest I disappoint my future master.
A hand peeps through the door, and I blush in my idiocy. My embarrassment pushes me on, and I shoot up from my seat quickly, surrendering my hand into the welcoming one. As I make my way through the carriage door, I realize that it is not Felix who assists me out, but a smaller, younger man instead. The man, or should I say boy, looks to be no older than fourteen, but still has the same maturity and grace as his compatriots. But much like the others, Alec's eyes were also red.
Once I exit the carriage without incident, I smile at the boy and extend my gratitude.
"You are welcome, miss," he starts, flashing me a glowing white smile. "I would like to introduce myself. I am Alec, a guard here in the Volterra castle. If you need anything, please, do not be afraid to ask me."
I blush at his kindness. One of my biggest worries is my treatment at the palace; so far, my worries are disproving themselves. Alec's friendly welcome fills me with newfound confidence and I can feel my energy returning in strides.
"Thank you, Alec. I am Isabella, but you may call me Bella if you wish."
"It's a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Bella. I hope to see you more after tonight."
"You can smell it can't you?"
"Best leave it to time, Demetri. Keep her safe."
The first night passes with no interruptions. Once the two men, Alec and Felix, lead me into the castle, I am quickly routed to my future quarters and I gracelessly plop myself onto the cot in the corner and fall asleep.
I am surprised by the sight of my room when I wake up. I am no longer in my bed or my father's home. When I finally adjust to the current situation, I realize I am in some sort of barn. The rafters are old and wooden, and look almost unstable in their age. Cobwebs string across them, but their residents are far from home. The ground isn't wood or stone, but straw, and the only furniture in the room other than my measly cot is a sad, slightly petrified, wooden chest to store my goods. The size of the bedroom is uncomfortable, but for Papa's sake, I will survive. There is no other way.
Seconds after I manage to pull myself up from the rickety old cot, my door swings open and an angel walks into my hole. Her hair is blonde and wavy like my mother's, but she is undeniably younger. The porcelain appearance of her skin is breathtaking and reminds me of buttercream. The woman holds herself with poise and frowns upon me in disgrace, her symmetrical features both stern and sultry. She is beauty - the belle of the ball.
"Isabella, I presume?" She raises an eyebrow in question and tucks a piece of parchment from her hand into the pit of her arm. I watch her delicate fingers move, stunned by the grace of such a small limb. It is inhuman. My eyes dance back up to hers, and a lump forms in my throat as I catch her gaze. Red eyes peer back at me, firey and unforgiving. Red eyes are far too unnatural. They are a bad omen, and with the evidence of my fate staring me head-on, I began to quiver.
Beauty like hers always comes with a terrible price.
"Yes. Isabella Swan, Madame," I whisper, forcing myself to keep my gaze on her.
The woman gestures for me to follow her and turns on her heel, sauntering off. I am left staring after her for a few seconds before I catch myself and force my feet forward.
"I am Heidi," she starts, not offering me another glance. "I will be your supervisor while you are in the service of the Volturi. Today, I will run you through your duties as a ward of the kings."
The Kings? I do not know of any Kings in Volterra. Kings exist but not at this level - not in normal society. But men of great power have always sought such titles and power, regardless of whether they have royal blood or not. There are no kings in Volterra, but there are powerful, powerful men. I come to the only conclusion I can muster: These kings she speaks of must be the Volturi brothers.
Father entered into a loan agreement with these creatures. And I do not call them creatures with delicacy. There is little to no humanity about them beyond their featured appearance. But even their looks are ethereal; like I somehow transported into the kingdom of Olympus itself and the Gods decided I was worthy of their presence. But I know that isn't the case. This castle oozes death and danger; as we walk, the goosebumps only grow.
A/N Caius is probably going to be a bit out of character in this one; fuck everyone probably is. But please enjoy! I am so grateful for your feedback so far!