Author's Note: Of course, the characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I appreciate the help I got from Juliejuliejulie and especially ebhg on this chapter. When ebhg put the idea of Jasper into my head, the whole thing just fell into place.
"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" Renesmee was in bed, but she was sitting up, bubbling over with excitement. Turning from my daughter's radiant expression to my husband's angelic features, I saw his contented smile quickly replaced with surprise and concern.
"What is it?" I asked with some anxiety.
Edward pressed his lips together. "She wants to tell us a story tonight," he explained. I didn't understand the disapproval in his voice.
"She made up a story?" I glanced at Renesmee. She was watching us intently.
"A story that Jasper told her earlier," he clarified.
"I'd love to hear a story!" I reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "What's wrong?" I asked him.
"I'm not sure if this story is really appropriate. And the way he modified it!" Edward looked apprehensive.
"It can't be that bad," I said, as Renesmee showed me a picture of her uncle tinged with concern. She didn't want to get him into trouble. "Don't worry," I reassured her. "I think Alice would see if anything went badly for Jasper." I turned my attention to Edward, gazing into his warm amber eyes. "Edward, I think we've talked about this," I said gently. "We all know you'd prefer to control everything in Renesmee's world, but she's lucky to have so many people who love her. I want to hear Renesmee share the story."
He took a deep breath, and the tightness around his eyes relaxed. His clear, adoring gaze sent a sweet thrill through me. "I do too, love. You're right." He looked at Renesmee's expectant face. "I wouldn't have chosen this story, but I am really excited to hear you tell it, sweetie." She raised one perfect little eyebrow. "Yes, really," he said, dazzling us with his smile. "We're ready."
"Once upon a time," she said very deliberately, clearly relishing her new role of storyteller. She paused to take in our rapt expressions. "There was a town that was overrun with rats." When she pressed her hand to my cheek, I gasped. She had shown me countless images, still pictures and memories full of sound and scent and movement, but this vision was different. It was wholly invented. I saw a village of irregular stone cottages with dilapidated thatched roofs, and a modest church presiding over a small plaza with a well in the center. Bands of rats ran through the dusty streets in broad daylight. They clawed open sacks of grain and devoured the contents. One large, brown, beady-eyed animal perched on the edge of the well and seemed to sneer at the young girl who trembled as she tried to approach with a bucket. Her face was thin and drawn.
"The people were hungry because the rats ate their food," Renesmee continued. "They were tired because at night the rats invaded their beds and bit the children. They killed any rats they could, but there were too many. The people were desperate, and they prayed for help."
"Renesmee!" I couldn't help interrupting.
"What?" she said, frowning slightly.
"Did you plan all this, everything you are showing me?"
"Yes." Her face glowed with satisfaction. "When Uncle Jasper told me the story, I showed him my pictures, and he told me if they were right."
"It's amazing," I marveled. Our daughter was a treasure beyond reckoning. Edward, she's… I couldn't find words for my pride and wonder, but I didn't need to.
"I know," he whispered.
"Should I keep going?" she asked.
"Yes!" We answered in unison.
"One day a strange man came to the town," she said. The person in the illustration she offered was tall and thin with dark crimson eyes and very pale skin. He wore a strange collection of garments. A tattered peasant blouse was topped with a richly embroidered vest and a minister's black frock coat. His brightly colored pants were streaked with dirt, and his feet were bare. He lifted a crude recorder to his lips and began to play a simple but catchy melody. Intrigued by the music, the villagers drew near. When everyone had gathered around the newcomer in the central square, the piper brought the tune to an end.
"I can rid your town of rats," he announced. A murmur ran through the crowd. Faster than the villagers could follow, he darted a few paces away, snatched up a rat that was lurking on the steps of the church and wrung its neck. Returning to his previous position in the center of the plaza, he tossed the carcass at the mayor's feet. The people gasped. "How did he do that?" they cried. "Our prayers have been answered!"
Renesmee's clear voice advanced the tale. "The man demanded gold for his services. Much impressed with the demonstration and the piper's compelling voice and presence, the villagers immediately agreed to pool everything they had in order to fulfill his demand. He said that they should make the payment ready. When he came back the next day, the rats would be gone."
She showed how the rats had instinctively fled from the piper as he stalked the streets that night. The moonlight shone on throngs of gray and brown animals racing ahead of him. He chased them to a nearby river where they all drowned.
"The people were very happy when they woke up to find their village empty of rats. It was almost too good to be true. Some of the people brought their small savings to the plaza, but several of the townsfolk had another idea."
In the scene Renesmee created, one young man spoke up. "The rats are gone," he said. "We need our gold to replace what those vermin stole from us. Leave it to me. When that stranger comes back—if he comes back— I'll send him on his way."
"It was not long before the piper strolled into the center of town and stood before the people assembled there," she said.
I watched the confrontation. "Where is the gold you promised?" the piper asked coldly. Some of the villagers were frightened by his angry glare and the sense of danger that he provoked. They clung together and shrank from him. But the young leader spoke boldly. "I don't remember making any promise," he said carelessly. "Besides, the rats are gone, but we have no proof that you were responsible." Slowly, the piper's unnerving gaze swept over everyone in the crowd. "Very well," he said at last, and he seemed to vanish. Once again he had moved faster than human eyes could track. The villagers reacted with happy relief. "They gave thanks that their town had been delivered from its plight," Renesmee said. "But their hope and high spirits would be short-lived."
Renesmee shared her images of the piper's return that very night. He crept through the town, silently entering each cottage and waking all the children. He breathed on them, making their heads spin. Even though I knew that the children were doomed, I couldn't help smiling with recognition as I saw how some of them weaved and tottered under his intoxicating spell. The moonlight showed more than a hundred children of all ages buzzing with excitement over the unexpected outing and the handsome man who had saved their village. "Follow me," he said, in a voice laden with allure. The children's eyes grew round with wonder and anticipation as he described a beautiful place full of toys and music and treats. Eagerly they followed as he led them away from their homes.
"The villagers were all shocked and horrified to find their children missing the next morning," Renesmee narrated. "They were just beginning to organize search parties when one small boy came hobbling into the plaza, exhausted and with tears streaking his face. He had not been able to keep up with the others because he was lame," she explained. "His parents and the other townsfolk were overjoyed to see him, but he was sad that he hadn't been able to accompany his friends to the wonderful place the piper had promised.
"The villagers were very alarmed to learn that their children had been lured away by the man who had rid their town of rats. They knew they had not kept their word. They decided to offer double what they had agreed to if only they could find him and he would return the children. They sent out messengers in every direction asking for help." She paused.
"Did anyone know where he was?" I prompted.
Renesmee shook her head. "Nobody knew," she said solemnly.
"Is that the end?" I asked. I knew that in the traditional version, the Pied Piper had gotten away with his crime.
Delight lit up her exquisite face as she smiled. "No. Nobody knew where he was, but somebody knew how to find him," she said dramatically. "The Volturi heard about the village that lost all its children, and they knew it was a vampire who was too greedy and noticeable."
"The Volturi!" I hadn't meant to interrupt again, but the words burst out. Renesmee sent pictures flashing through my mind: Aro, Caius, Marcus, Jane, Alec, Felix, Demetri, Chelsea, Renata, and even some whose names I had refused to learn. Their merciless, inhuman faces made me feel sick.
She nodded. "I asked Uncle Jasper why we don't fight the Volturi and stop them because of what they did. He said that they hurt humans but they also protect humans because without them, there would be too many vampires and too many attacks. I didn't really understand, so he thought about it and then he told me this story about how they might interfere if a vampire was very bad."
I met Edward's eyes. Pretty difficult subject matter, I commented silently. He nodded, and the calm expression on his glorious face reassured me. "I'm sorry for interrupting," I said. "Please go on."
Renesmee showed us that the vampire had blockaded the children in a cave with only a few provisions he had brought from the town. "He relished having these young humans trapped and waiting, ready for him to bite and drink whenever he chose," she said, her voice laced with bitter judgment. "He had killed a few, calling them out one at a time and feasting on them away from the others so that the remaining children would not become more frightened and unmanageable. The children thought his victims had gone home.
"A pair of Volturi enforcers easily tracked the vampire from the village to his hiding place." I shuddered at the image of the two figured in gray hooded cloaks. "In short order they killed him and torched his remains. They were tempted by the rapid heartbeats and the human blood, but they were well-disciplined and knew they had to refrain.
"The surviving children found their way home." Renesmee created a beautiful picture of the reunion. There were shouts of disbelief and joy as the girls and boys rushed into the arms of their parents. "The villagers never understood what had happened or why some of the children had been spared, but they were never the same. From that time forward, they were very wary of strangers and they were always careful to keep their promises," she concluded.
Sliding her hand away my face with a soft caress, Renesmee carefully checked Edward's expression.
"What do you think, Daddy?" she asked.
He paused to gather his thoughts. "I wish there was a happy-ever-after ending for all the children," he said quietly. "I wish vampires didn't hurt humans."
"Other vampires, Daddy," she corrected him.
"Other vampires," he agreed smoothly. I didn't like to mislead her, but I approved of his response. The story had been tragic enough. The mistakes and dark occasions in our own family's history would wait until she was older. Adroitly he returned to the previous topic. "But I am so impressed with how you told the story. With your well-chosen words and your magical pictures, you are a wonderful storyteller. I enjoyed it very, very much."
Satisfied, she turned to me. "Did you like my story?"
"I loved it. I absolutely loved it."
"Can I tell it again?" she asked eagerly.
"Yes, I want you to! But not now. It's time for bed," I said sternly. Obediently she curled up under her covers.
"Good night, Mommy and Daddy," she whispered. "I love you."
Edward's lips curved into a rueful smile. "She has one more question," he informed me.
I sighed. "Go ahead," I invited her with an indulgent smile.
"Do you think Jacob will like it?"
Author's Note: This chapter was a bit different, but I think Jacob will like the story, and I hope you did too! I think the story makes much more sense with a vampire than a person with a magic flute who would steal all the children. There are still a few more fairytales that I'm pondering, and I'm open to suggestions.
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