Summary: In the midst of a great war, Lord Edward is made aware of the necessity of an heir. Taking to wife the daughter of a country knight, Sir Charles of Swan, his entire world will be changed forever. AU/AH. R&R.
A/N: Hello! This is the first story I've written for Twilight. I discovered the books earlier in the year and fell in love with them, as I'm sure we all have. And in my impatience for Breaking Dawn I decided to have fun with the characters while I waited. Please review at the end and let me know what you think. I love hearing from people who have taken the time to read my work.
Disclaimer: Twilight and all its characters there in belong to Stephenie Meyer.
Chapter 1– The Matter of an Heir
I prepared myself from the impact of the blow. Carefully I watched his arm swing his blade down toward me like a bear and I brought my own sword to meet it. The clash of metal was deafening. I felt the tremor of the steel extend itself into the muscles of my forearm and shake my very bones. As the numbness began to take over, I found my hand could no longer grip the hilt of my weapon and it fell to the ground useless.
With a blade pointed at my neck, I laughed. My own was soon joined by a rich booming chuckle. It had been far too long since I had sparred with Lord Emmett, I had forgotten how truly strong he was.
"Perhaps next time you can keep hold of your weapon, and we can go a little longer, eh?" Emmett mocked, clapping me on the shoulder with one of his large paws.
"I've missed you old friend," I said sincerely.
It was true. Emmett was one of the few people I could be myself with and I had felt his absence from the castle most acutely. His outward appearance had painted him as a common brute, a country knight whose strength allowed him to advance through the ranks. Yet, I knew Emmett to be a learned man beneath the surface. He was most fond of new inventions that were being created in the workshop, and spent many nights there tinkering with plans to improve our catapults.
As we walked from the barracks toward the main keep, I found myself having to brush my sweaty bronze locks away from my forehead. Though the sun had not graced us for many days, I was grateful for the respite from the rain. My messengers had informed me that it was worse in the North, and that many of the villages' harvests would be ruined. My stomach sunk at the thought –a winter without grain.
The humid air in combination with the vigorous match I just endured made my clothing stick to my skin. I was not an overly vain man but I had no desire to look the station of a common peasant. But I had only to glance to the fields to know that their harsh toiling under the sun would make them in a far sorry state than I had ever been in.
Once we ascended the steps into the Great Hall my personal valet, Benjamin, joined me and handed Lord Emmett and myself a goblet of cool water. I drank as if I had been trapped in the deserts of the East, and all too soon I found my cup to be empty.
"Thank you, Benjamin."
Benjamin bowed his head and set about removing my leather breastplate. Once it was done, he took my gloves from me and my sword. He would be sure that it would be taken to the blacksmith to be sharpened. No doubt our smithy would be busy for some time, as I was fairly sure that Emmett had left a sizeable dent on its edge.
"Come Emmett, we will adjourn to my chambers where you can fill me in on what has been happening on the Borderlands."
The War on the Borderlands had been fought on and off for as long as any could remember. For generations the Cullen line sought to protect our peaceful existence. But our enemies seemed to forever lust to spill more human blood. They had taken my Father from me when I was still a boy and left me to be raised under the tutelage of my uncle.
We seated ourselves in the comfortable chairs by my desk. My aunt had insisted that they should have padded backs, for all the hours her husband and I spent in them. I was grateful for her thoughtfulness.
"Well, how is the campaign?" I said leaning forwards to rest my chin on my hands.
Emmett smiled, "It is going as well as it ever did."
He was lying to me. I always had a gift of knowing what people truly thought. It was advantageous for a ruler to be able to pick out the truth from those that surrounded him.
"We both know that it is going worse."
Resigned, Emmett sat up straighter and let his tongue poke out of his mouth while he thought of his words.
"I can never keep anything from you can I?" He joked before continuing, " No, it is not going very well. Lord James is still as persistent as ever. And that witch of a woman at his side is more cunning than he is. They are determined, Edward to take the Northeastern farmlands for their own, as well as the iron mines."
I smashed my fist on to my desk, rattling the candlestick resting there. I'd give anything to be able to join my me on the frontlines. To fight as Emmett and the rest fought. The distance between my castle and the battle itself made it nearly impossible for me to even be involved with the strategy of the actual war. I had to leave that up to Lord Jasper and his generals.
The tension of the room was broken by the arrival of my uncle, Carlisle. Carlisle was my father's younger brother, and had watched over me at his behest after the death of my parents. As I watched him greet Emmett, hugging him much as if he was his own son, I started to notice his age. While the years had been exceedingly kind to him, wrinkles now began to appear at the corner of his eyes and his blonde hair was moving ever closer to becoming white.
"It is wonderful to have you all returned for now. I dare say I will miss your humor when the council meeting has ended, Emmett." Carlisle's voice floated over my thoughts.
"Well the food is infinitely better here than on the frontlines, so maybe I will simply not go back."
"That will never do, Emmett. We cannot have you depleting all our food stores and our ale now can we?" I said finally joining into the conversation.
"Oy, I do not eat that much!" Emmett protested.
Carlisle and I simply rolled our eyes, causing Emmett to pout like a small child. I rose to my feet, if the sound of the household traveling toward the Great Hall was any indication, supper was about to be served.
"Come gentleman, I'm sure if Emmett does not eat soon, the whole world will shake with the rumbles of his stomach."
Chuckling at his expense, I followed Carlisle into the hall where he began to chat amicably about something Lady Esme had told him. It was only my keen sense of hearing that allowed me to pick out the words of Emmett's mumblings.
"I really do not eat that much!"
The torrential rain had forced everyone inside the protection of the Castle's walls. Crowded in the Great Hall with the servants, I found myself near the fireside, a warm fur draped across my lap. My father, Charles, had not yet returned from the council meeting and I found myself missing his silent company. Charles never forced me to engage in conversation as my ladies' maids, were won't to do. Often I had informed him that their presence truly wasn't necessary but he had insisted.
I knew why he pressed so hard for me to have constant female companionship, and it was because of the absence of my mother. Renee had passed after trying to give Charles a son. Both my mother and the unborn child were lost, and Charles's smile seemed forever dimmed. With my mother gone, Charles knew not how to raise a proper daughter and to instill the skills in me that I would need when I left the protection of his home.
I was not so naïve as to think that I would marry well. My dowry was not very significant, and my father, while respected, did not have the power that others carried. I would need to be more than proficient in needlepoint, as well as tending to the books and whatever other tasks my husband required of me. Charles had thought to make me a match with Sir William's child, Jacob, but Jacob was still away fighting in the war and would not return for several years. By then, Charles had informed me, he would have enough gold to secure his own home and land, and therefore be able to take me as a bride.
I did not dislike the Jacob of my memories. I remembered him as a handsome boy, with a jovial nature. As children we would play often and he became a dear friend. When it was time for him to become page to Sir Samuel, we parted ways. I had not seen him for nearly ten years. Would he still joke with me as he did then? Did he still love mischief? Staring at the bright orange flames that flickered in the hearth, I found myself start to doze.
It was only the gentle hand of Angela upon my shoulder that roused me. She offered me a small smile and handed me a bowl full of warm stew and a crust of rough bread.
"Your supper, milady." she said bowing her head.
"Thank you, Angela. Was I asleep long?"
"Tis' after the twilight, milady."
"That long?" I said shifting my position so that I was more upright, "Has food been given to the rest?"
"I do not believe so, milady."
I handed the wooden bowl back to her and rose to my feet, nearly tripping over the hem of my skirt in the process. We were not a rich fiefdom by any means. It was no secret that the western tower was about to keel over, and that the constant rain had all but ruined the wheat crop, but I was not about to see my people starve while I sat happily with a full stomach by the fire.
A young girl whose skin was caked in mud played with a mangy hunting dog at her feet. The black and white hound wagged its tongue at her as if it was a ladies' lap dog as opposed to a trained hunter. I attempted to gracefully lower myself to kneel beside her, and managed to only wobble once.
"Lady Isabella," the young girl said with wonder in her eyes.
"And what is your name?"
"It is lovely to meet you Claire. Any friend of Quil's is a friend of mine as well." I said petting the hound at her side.
Claire shifted her dress, and would not meet my gaze. Sighing I tilted her chin upward with my hand. It always made me uncomfortable when others treated me differently, all because of who my father was.
"Are you hungry, Claire?"
She nodded gently. I smiled at her, then handed her my bowl of fish stew. I had eaten that morning, and I wagered this child had not eaten a proper meal in some time; she was so thin. Overcome by her ravenous appetite, Claire forgot her manners and attacked the bread dipping it in the fatty sauce before popping it in her mouth.
Seeing my example, Angela decided to give up her supper as well. One by one, my maids and father's valets began to follow suit. It touched me that they were willing to go without. Well, not all of them. Jessica sat sheepishly with an empty bowl in front of her and the faint staining of the red sauce about her mouth. No doubt, the other maids would scold her for it later.
When the long tables and benches were cleared to the side and sleeping pallets littered the floor, I excused myself and my personal maids to retire to my chamber in the Eastern tower. I was lucky to be afforded such a privacy; I was even able to have a fire which kept the unseasonable chill at bay.
I stood in the center of the room, keeping my arms held out at a 45 degree angle from my sides. Wordlessly, Angela and Emily set about undoing the fastenings of my gown while Jessica tended to the fire. I stepped out of the heavy fabric, careful not to slip upon it. Emily removed it from the floor and folded it, placing it in the trunk at the base of the bed.
In my shift, I crawled beneath the warm woolen blankets and settled into my bed. I could hear the rustling of palettes being laid out upon the floor near the fireplace, as my maids prepared themselves for bed. I kept my eyes shut and feigned sleep. I longed for a moment's peace where I could think without their attentions upon me. But the stillness of my reverie was broken by soft whispers.
"…I heard from Eric, that the council is deliberating about the succession of the throne," Angela said.
"Are you certain?"
"Yes, he heard it from m'Lord's herald himself. Lord Edward is in need of an heir."
"He is such a handsome man, he is," Jessica sighed.
I did not have to see her face to know that she had gone starry eyed at the thought of our monarch.
"Well he will need to not only marry with haste, but with delicacy as well. In times like these, a powerful allegiance through marriage is needed. In all likelihood, our Prince will take Countess Tanya to wife," Emily reasoned.
"Tanya would make him a good match. Sir Charles will return on the morrow, and I am sure he will be informed of whatever decision Lord Edward will make."
I gnawed on my bottom lip. I had never met him, yet I knew Lord Edward to be a young man of good health. Charles labeled him to be a decent ruler, but to be looking for battles at any cost. I worried what such a man would do when he had the safety of an heir behind him. Would he drag our lands further into the War that Jacob was currently fighting? Would Charles be forced to join them? I do not know if I could stomach it if Charles were to come to peril. Not only would I miss him dearly, but if he were to perish, then I would have no where to go. Nerves turning my empty stomach, I fell into a fitful sleep.
"M'Lord, we can wait no longer. You must take a wife," My uncle Carlisle pleaded.
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I focused on steadying my breathing. It seemed that my whole council had conspired behind my back to force me into matrimony. This meeting had not been called to discuss the war, not it had been called to discuss the matter of a bride.
I could not disagree that eventually I would need to secure an heir, but it hardly had to be tomorrow. I never concerned myself with romance unlike my men who I had seen turn their heads time and time again. For a while Carlisle had hoped that the Lady Rosalie would capture my interest.
Lady Rosalie was beautiful, she came from a good family. Yet, she was far too vain and spirited. I had no patience for a woman who would seek to spend every spare penny in our ledger on linens. Sir Emmett, however was besotted with her beauty. I told him that he was more than welcome to her.
Carlisle looked at me pleadingly. I sighed knowing that I was unable to delay this matter any longer.
"Very well, Carlisle. Whom would you see me wed?"
"Lord Eleazar's daughter Tanya would make you an excellent match. Not only would the bloodline be strong, but Eleazar's men would not waver from your side."
Tanya, another Lady known for her beauty, but her ruthlessness as well. Tanya had never made her affections for me a secret, and had even found her way into my bed when I had sought release. However, I also knew that Tanya had kept the company of others as well.
"Tanya will not suffice. She is not pure, and if there ever was to be a debate about the succession, it would not be difficult to accuse the child of not being mine own."
Carlisle frowned. At times he almost seemed naïve to the workings of the world—Or at least the workings of women. He had found love with my aunt at a young age, and never kept the company of another. For a man as religious as he, it was a shocking concept.
"If you do not believe me of her dalliances, Lord Jasper will vouch for me."
"No, no. I trust your judgment. Tomorrow, with your permission I will ask the council to inform us of all the options available to you."
"Do what you must. Now if you will leave me, I'm quite tired."
"Of course, Edward. Sleep well."
I heard the door of my chamber click shut, and I relaxed into the pillows on my bed, staring at the tapestry on the opposite wall. It depicted the battle in which my late father had triumphed over Count Felix securing our lands for nearly a decade of peace. My people had prospered under my father's reign, and I only hoped to be able to do right by him. Yet I could not prove myself in war as he had, for the fear that I might be killed and throw the council into an uproar over succession.
Carlisle had advised me the best he could in my father's absence, and I knew he was right. I needed to take a wife. As soon as my son was born, I could become the ruler that my father meant for me to be and secure these lands for years to come.
Even though I knew now what I must do, I still felt unease at the back of my mind. I soon found myself traversing the halls, making an attempt to conceal my footsteps so I would not be paid any head. I worked my way to the northern end of the keep, finding my way down a narrow stair to an ominous looking door. Opening it slowly, I found that the room was bathed in the glow of a fire.
"My Lord, I had a feeling you would come to see me." A musical voice called from the shadows.
"Of course, Alice."
At the mention of her name, Alice stepped forward. She was a pixie like figure with pale skin and dark hair that had been shorn short and was in the process of growing back. Her lithe frame moved with the grace of an angel, and her pale lavender skirts swayed in her wake. It had caused quite the commotion when Lord Jasper had brought Alice back from the Borderlands.
He said that the locals called her a witch. She was bruised and battered; her clothing caked with blood and locked in a cell when he found her. Alice had told Jasper that she had been waiting for him. And Jasper had apologized that he had taken so long. I knew from the look in his eyes when he had told me the story, that he was indeed sorry. On some level Jasper blamed himself that Alice had to endure the pain of their torture.
Alice never made any mention of what had happened to her before Jasper had found her. But we could only assume that the locals, afraid of her gift, had left her for dead, for the devil to reclaim.
"You are nervous about conceiving an heir," She said. It was not a question, it was merely a statement of a fact.
"I would hardly say I was nervous about the act of conceiving an heir…"
Alice's mouth twitched at the corners with amusement, but she pressed on.
"No, the palace maids inform me that you are more than capable of performing the act… What I was referring to was a bride."
Bride. What a vile word. It made my insides squirm with distaste. I found myself collapsing into a chair by the window, eager to voice my concerns to an impartial audience.
"I have no desire to be married." I ran my hands through my hair.
Alice moved to stand beside me, and straightened the locks that I had just displaced.
"So you say."
"Be that as I may, I must take a wife. Can you tell me what I am looking for?"
She tilted my face so that I might look at her directly, as she spoke. Her hands felt like ice against my skin.
"I cannot give you a name if that is what you are after. But I can offer you this advice. Those that are too high born will be ambitious, and will not serve you well. You must be sure that your intended is beyond suspicion of infidelity, so you will do well to seek a Lady who is not often within our court," She paused and I knew she spoke of Tanya, "Perhaps a lesser born noble, a daughter of a knight…"
"A simple knight will not offer me the allegiance that I need for this war." I scoffed.
"Believe me, my Lord; you will do well to seek the daughter of a knight. Look no higher, and trust in those who were loyal to your father. Now, I suggest you go to bed if you do not wish to fall off your horse in exhaustion tomorrow."
"Seeing into the future again, Alice?"
"Hardly. The last time you were here badgering me at all hours of the night, you were unseated from your horse during a country ride the following morning."
"And did you see this?"
Alice laughed, light and musical. She pointed with her eyes to the open window.
"Sometimes all you need to see is a good vantage point, and keen eyesight."
Looking out the window I could see that it gave Alice a perfect view of the hill beyond the castle, the same hill where I had tumbled from my horse. My pride still smarted from the incident, though the bruising to my rear had long since faded.
"Sleep well, my Lord."