"I'm hoping to do it someday because I know that's what people want. No matter what book I put out from here to eternity they'll want Midnight Sun." – Stephenie Meyer (June 2011, USA Today article)
Chapter36/Catch and conquer
She was afraid.
Something was coming.
Someone was about to rise up from hell and wreak havoc on all their lives.
"What do you see?"
She raised her troubled eyes and saw her fear mirrored in Jasper's.
No! She screamed inside her head, furious, shaking.
Oh God, not now, not again!
All she could think of was that Edward would maim and tore him to pieces. Burn his mutilated carcass and then bury his ashes in filth.
"Move, queen," MacDermott snarled.
Before she could wrap her mind around what was happening, a concealed panel cracked open and a giant of a man stood there with ropes and what looked like a hooded cloak on his arm. She noticed absently that his hair and shoulders were covered with cobwebs.
She thought of breaking into a run. She considered it only for a second because the truth was, she was terrified. MacDermott had never looked meaner or more unhinged to her.
"Tirawley …" Her mouth was dry and her heart seemed to have stopped only to resume at a maddened, blood pounding speed. "Desist now or I will take half of your cursed land and cast out your entire misbegotten clan," she said with clenched teeth, lips numbed.
She was trembling with rage and it was taking everything she had to not pounce on him, which would just very possibly, lead to her demise.
He laughed harshly. "I am going to enjoy myself with you, Isabella."
"You are insane, Tirawley! Do you know where you are? You will never get me out of here!"
He made to grab her but froze, so did she, when the slam and crash of another door hit the wall.
Growls came from Tirawley and his minion and the swish of broadswords being raised for combat. But at the sound of his voice, the sinking sensation in her stomach vanished.
"Lay your hands on her and it's the last thing you will ever do," her rescuer said without emotion, his words dripping ice.
Bella's mouth dropped open in relieved surprise, her eyes glued on him.
His tall, powerfully-built form came forth from the shadows, moving forward with easy, and deadly, grace.
Her feelings of brief reprieve turned into horror however, when from the corner of her eye, she saw three more burly men emerge from behind the Irish giant. She whipped her gaze back to Edward, who seemed to have come to her rescue alone.
"Take one more step, Kent, and you'll need a new queen," Tirawley replied with a slippery grin. "Or king."
Before she could blink, he twisted his body and was behind her in an instant, but he didn't touch any part of her.
Edward's right hand gripping the broadsword twitched, and she thought she heard a stifled growl from him. Her eyes stayed on him, and she shook her head vehemently, wordlessly begging him to not try anything rash because no matter how strong or powerful he was, five to one was suicide.
He visibly made an effort to still the urge to attack and to defend, she could see his muscles straining with restraint. His eyes were no longer aloof but flaring, and he was staring at the Irish with remarkable revulsion.
"You've been betrayed, MacDermott. It's over." He flicked a disdainful glance towards his men, who were now jittery. "Just you, aye? I doubt your men will die for you."
Casually, Edward transferred his broadsword to his left hand, and flexed his right hand. She was mesmerized by the deceptive fluidity of his movement.
"Your entire entourage is now being held by the castle guards," he said. By now, Bella's hammering heart seemed to slow and she has lost her focus. She watched, mesmerized, his clenching and unclenching hand.
"I have never killed a prince before," Edward murmured and her attention snapped back to him.
Tirawley laughed and snarled at the same time as he attempted - without still laying a hand on her for fear of inciting manic violence from Edward - to use her as his shield.
Her eyes widened a bit as she felt him poke the middle of her back, an indistinct sharp thing that she knew was a blade. Immediately, she purged the shock and instinctive grimace from her face, but it was too late.
Edward had seen her flinch and went berserk.
A good eight feet, maybe more, of distance separated them, but he was nearer to Tirawley than to his brutes.
As if she was in the familiar bubble of her Edward-fantasies, she stared at him, for Edward in the throes of a demented, brutal abandon was a thing of beauty.
His roar made Tirawley jump and Bella didn't wait for him to regain his scattered wits back. She flung herself flat on the floor and stayed there, keeping the hell out of their way.
She wanted to look up but she couldn't. But she had to, he might need her help! She heard Gaelic screeches above her and she paled, bile rising from her stomach.
Edward seemed to be directly standing over her while she remained on the floor, rolled onto all fours. The deadly clashes of broadswords clanging rang in the air.
She peeked up just in time, breathing in gasps, to see Edward knock the giant aside and quick as wind, landed a punch on Tirawley's jaw, all the while his sword arm kept hacking at the still standing behemoth.
Bella knew he wasn't going to hold them off for much longer and she would have to do it, to leap up and lunge at whoever she could latch her hands onto first. She would surely die by impaling, but so be it.
She shifted her body into a crouch and just as she was about to spring up, she heard hisses and the thump of arrows hitting thick targets, followed by gasps and grunts.
Bella barely had time to digest the whoosh of another arrow when a large hand wrapped around her arm and yanked her up. She was abruptly turned around, her back to him, and his other hand anxiously traced every inch of her back and spine for holes.
She bit back a sob. "I- I'm not h-hurt," she stuttered. Her whole body was starting to shake.
Edward turned her to face him. His eyes were wild and his hands cupped her face and then he was kissing her, hard. She didn't care that he was crushing her to him, for she was clawing his chest and his face, trying to get closer. She let him consume her.
Somewhere in the blurred confusion of her mind she heard mutterings and the slam of doors closing.
"Edward," a gruff voice said suddenly.
She bit off a cry when Edward removed his hands from her, leaving her cold and bereft. She was propelled backward and his body blocked hers from whoever had spoken.
"Is the queen hurt?" Carlisle calmly inquired.
Bella glanced at the men who tried to abduct her, now dead, bodies twisted. She moved closer to Edward, seeking his solid comfort. She wrapped her arms around his waist, wound them tight and breathed in his scent. She laid her cheek against his back.
"She's unharmed," Edward said finally and she hugged him tighter, soothed by the steady rise and fall of his chest. She was grateful that he seemed to have calmed down himself.
She swallowed convulsively and forced herself to focus. She took a deep breath and peeked from behind Edward's back. She saw that her bedchamber was empty but for the Cullens and a few of the Kent men. All of them, with the exception of Carlisle, were looking away from her.
"Is Tirawley …?" she whispered.
"The worm-puking bastard's alive, my lady." It was Emmett who answered her after a tentative pause. He was crouching down beside the supine body of the prince.
Carlisle cleared his throat meaningfully at his youngest son.
"Begging your pardon, your highness," Emmett hastily added.
"Take her to her mother's quarters," he told Jasper. He gently tried to unloop Bella's arms from around his waist but she pressed closer and wouldn't let him go. In a quiet voice, he said to her, "let us take care of this first, Bella, you'll have to deal with this mess soon enough, too."
He felt her let out a deep sigh and slowly, reluctantly, she slid her arms from around him.
Jasper bowed slightly to the queen and held out his arm for her to take. He felt her eyes on him and turned to her, giving her a reassuring smile.
She was still shivering and he grabbed her fallen overcoat and draped it around her shoulders. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead gently, not caring that they have an audience.
"I'll go to you soon," he whispered in her ear. She nodded tiredly and let his brother lead her from the room.
As soon as she was out of hearing, he barked at Emmett, "haul that mhic na galla in the dungeon and wait for me there. He better be awake by then."
Edward glanced at his father who looked at him with obvious curiosity. He let out a resigned sigh. He would be forced to explain soon.
He did leave the castle that morning but he had been disturbed by Alice's warning. He couldn't say exactly what made him turn back but he did, and he had left Sir Garrett in-charge of the raid.
He rode as fast as he could back to the castle and returning, he was greeted with chaos. The queen's guards have captured MacDermott's men and had them lined up and contained in the inner courtyard by the time he had crossed the grounds and entered the castle.
Edward didn't ask questions, he didn't need to, but ran up to the staircase leading to Bella's quarters. Castle guards were already at the door with both Kent's and Exeter's men but it was barred from the inside.
He barely registered his father's grim report that the queen was trapped inside her quarters. The duke relayed to him the events that led to the capture of MacDermott's men but of the goat-swiving whoreson himself, there were no confirmed missives of where he was.
Edward knew where the Irish was and he was going to die for it, he swore to himself. He had no time to issue commands he knew his brothers and his men would follow him.
Three of the four hidden passageways leading up directly to the queen's chambers were barricaded. He savagely kicked the only unbolted door, breaking it, and stormed up the dark, twisting alleys alone, not waiting for his men to catch up with him.
He didn't give much thought of what he would do when he found them. His enraged thoughts were all on how he was going to rip MacDermott apart, limb by limb.
When he saw her face flinched, and he thought the bastard had stabbed her, it was as if he lost all his reasons for living. His mind had become a strange, thoughtless thing, and he was without words. The world was only that moment, and it was centered on her survival.
And now he wondered what he would have done if he had been too late, if the whoreson had taken her and killed her whilst still in flight.
Edward's mouth clamped into a grim line as he quickly descended the steps to the dungeon, his father following behind him.
He swallowed and he tasted the remnants of his fear. The panic was still there, his chest still heavy with dread. He stopped abruptly and turned to his father, "It's time to get de Burgh."
MacDermott's treachery was too much of a close call and he nearly lost Bella. He couldn't fail her again and that meant they could not let their guard down, for there was still Victoria Argyll and that arse-heid, de Burgh.
The duke didn't argue, only nodded. "I'll bring him to you," he said. His father turned abruptly and strode toward a gated door at the end of a dark hall. Edward followed, his long legs keeping pace with ease.
He should be bone-tired he had spent hours drilling one of the Irish nobles that had accompanied the MacDermotts, the same man who had betrayed the prince for a bag of gold. What he had revealed to them was not surprising.
The prince had planned it all along, to abduct the queen and to force her to marry him. And he would have succeeded if not for Kent's spies and ultimately, by the treachery of his own vassal.
Edward cursed aloud. There was no help for it, it has begun.
England was at war again.
She was glad the queen mother was not at the castle. Her mother had left England three days ago. No one knew of her true destination, which was Spain. The official announcement was that her mother had gone to visit her half-German sister in her hometown of Cologne.
Restlessly, Bella paced around her mother's bedchamber. This was how she passed the whole night, pacing, worried, longing for Edward.
She was alone, she preferred it this way. Angela was too agitated to be around with and Bella was relieved that Raoul was still at the castle. He had postponed his own travel back to Aragon. Her sister would be occupied at least, and she didn't have to worry about her and her safety.
She sat on a chair facing the window. She could feel the energy draining from her limbs, slipping through her fingers and her toes. She let out a deep sigh, knowing this was better. She would rather feel limp and drained than to shed tears she wouldn't know how to stop.
She forced herself to sit still and realized that no, she didn't want to be alone after all. She wanted him.
She gazed sightlessly at the window and noticed that the sun was rising, testing the new dawn. It was also raining. When had it begun to rain?
Mary Mother, she was tired, and weary. And she sorely needed his comfort, his strength and warmth. She just plain needed him.
Emmett cleared his throat. "Should I, err, get my brother, my lady?"
Bella stood in the middle of Edward's room, staring at the door. Her body was still tense and tight and she tried to breathe normally.
Emmett's query roused her from her stupor, she had forgotten that he was there. She turned to him and an unbidden smile lighted her face. Poor Emmett, she thought, he seemed to be always uncomfortable in her presence but she didn't know how to put him at ease.
He had to know where she would be, though, and that was the reason she asked him to accompany her to Edward's room. She was too tired to hide or pretend that she was where she was supposed to be.
"Where is he anyway?" she muttered, moving to the bed and sitting down. She happened to look up at Emmett again and caught his painfully red face. He stared at her for a moment and then looked away, covering his discomfort with a cough.
"With the prisoners, my lady," he said. "It could take a while."
"Did they get Victoria?"
"No," he replied in a tight voice. "We have de Burgh, though, and he is talking."
"Where is de Burgh now?"
Emmett hesitated for a moment and then said, "I would say he is in hell."
It had to be just about midnight. She moved quietly around the dark room. All was silent. She knew Emmett was just outside the door, guarding, and to keep servants out.
She was standing near the window, gazing unseeingly out at the moonlit vista for some time when she heard the door open and close. A smile touched her lips and she was finally able to breathe freely.
His arms encircled her and he murmured, low and close to her ear, "God, if anything had happened to you …"
She wanted to tell him she loved him. Her lips parted, but her voice escaped her.
He tightened his arms around her and he pulled her closer toward him. He leaned down and he kissed the soft spot just below her ear.
"Edward," she said, breathless. He brought his hand to the swell of her breast, his lips on her neck. He slipped his hand inside the folds of her dress and skimmed his palm over her soft skin, rubbing.
And then she was weightless. He swept her into his arms and his lips found hers again. She knew what would happen this time and she couldn't wait to feel his hands on her again, on her belly, between her legs. She expected it, but she would never be prepared for the rush of desire that she felt when he kissed her, his hands on her bare skin.
As he laid her down on the bed, she felt his hands everywhere, touching her, caressing her, pushing her dress down. He did things to her, and made her experience things she never thought she was capable of feeling. He made her gasp and moan and she couldn't help but arch up and to give him everything he wanted from her.
He touched her tender skin, and she tried not to wince.
"I'm sorry," he said, kissing the bruised spot. He lifted her hand and touched his tongue to the inside of her wrist. "Your skin's too delicate."
"Sorry," she murmured and he chuckled.
He caressed the inside of her elbow and her breathing quickened. He moved and his hand was on her hip, stroking, his other hand curving around her breast. She felt her body flush, his own heat making her weak and yet, very much alive.
"I'll try to be gentler this time." His words were hot against her ear.
"Not too gentle," she breathed.
Bella lay on top of him, enjoying the feel of his warm skin, hard muscles to her soft curves. Her slick body was still shaking, her breathing shallow. He held her close.
"Am I crushing you?" she asked, not moving. She felt boneless.
"My armor weighs more than you," he murmured. His finger floated across her cheek to her temple and then back down, and around the shell of her ear.
She raised herself up, suddenly needing him again, a little embarrassed by her craving. He watched her as she straddled his waist. He leaned up and kissed her. She wound her arms around his neck and their mouths grew more urgent. The kiss went on and on. She didn't want to break the moment.
His touch was so achingly tender, but she knew he could also be fatal.
"Don't be like that again," she whispered, shivering, reliving the violence she had witnessed the night before.
"Like what?" He asked with a half smile.
"Fight like a raving maniac."
"That's how I fight." His lips brushed hers in a feather-light caress.
"It's very wild." She lifted her head and cupped his face. "You scare me when you are like that, as if you don't care if you live or die."
His sweet kiss turned fierce, and his tongue began to probe. She couldn't help but open up to him, yielding. He shifted and then she was on her back, completely beneath him now.
She uttered a soft squeal when she felt his lips travel down from her neck, collarbone, ribs, and he moved even lower. Her eyes grew dazed at his sensual onslaught.
"I have Norse blood," he said, his mouth as he spoke tickled the soft skin of her belly. He squeezed her thigh and a large hand cupped her center. She gasped, hidden muscles tightening as he moved his fingers, stroking her in the most intimate way.
He was atop her again, his full weight on her. She panted, squirming beneath him. He nudged her thighs apart, settled in between and then looked at her, his dark green eyes as wicked as his smile.
"Be warned, a chuisle," he murmured. She felt him filling her, stretching her core. "We make love the same way we fight."
One week later
The traitor was still denying his association with the witch.
"Let me speak with the queen," de Burgh ground out. He could barely open his mouth, his split lips were swollen.
He let out an impatient sigh and glanced around at the dim prison cell. What on earth could this bastard protecting? His gold? His title, his holdings? All these were lost to him.
"Who are you working with? Stanhope? The Yorkshires?"
"I am not an assassin!"
"My sources tell me Victoria is here, in the castle." He held up his hand when de Burgh showed indication of interrupting. "You tell me what you know and we'll make sure your death will be honorable."
"What, not a hanging?" He laughed bitterly, spitting blood.
"A beheading it will be and a fitting end to a traitor, don't you think?"
Edward tapped his foot. He was done here, whether de Burgh would speak or not, reveal crucial information or not. He was finished.
He felt his teeth grinding. He knew why de Burgh kept denying his role in the witch's schemes, because he was afraid of her.
He had poked, he prodded. He even tortured a little. None of these things worked on the doomed earl and it told him the measure of the witch's hold on this man.
It was making him rigid with his own fear. He would never admit his foreboding to anyone. Hell, he could barely admit it to himself. But he knew Victoria Argyll, and he could almost feel a wretched, grudging reverence in her brand of evil.
The witch was playing the deadliest of games.
Four court tasters have died in the last seven days, two of them specifically assigned to the queen and her immediate family. Poison was too easy, too convenient, and it was expected that Victoria would try to kill the queen with a lethal drink, or venom-filled food.
Alice sniffed at the barely eaten dish of meat that was suspected of being poisoned. The smell was different in this one it was more potent and noxious.
She gulped, throat suddenly dry. She reached for a cup and found her wrist gripped and the cup fell on the ground, spilling the amber liquid. She looked up at her brother.
"She would want to kill you, too," he warned.
"You're more in danger than I am," she muttered.
He shook his head and signaled for a servant to bring her a new cup. "She won't try to kill me. Not yet anyway."
Edward led her to the courtyard, away from the crowd of nervous nobles and fearful servants. This was the mood inside the castle these days. Every one of them all was jittery, jumpy and that was just because of Victoria.
The war with the MacDermotts' side of Ireland was another thing, another source of worry. But somehow, the more immediate and sinister threat was not the war but the evil incarnate that was the witch herself.
War was anticipated and it was a battle that was visible, perceptible, and fleshly. The outcome was almost predictable if one was prepared for the long battle ahead.
No one could predict the witch, however, not anymore. Alice couldn't see her and she wasn't sure why.
"Have you had any visions lately?"
Edward would ask her almost every day, and every day she would shake her head with regret, with disappointment.
"Only her oppressive presence," she would say quietly, a routine response.
This day was no different and her heart sank anew. She looked around the deserted courtyard. "I'm sorry that I could not give you more," she told him.
He crossed his arms, his tone was carefully even. "Keep trying. You have helped me before when I was her prisoner, I know it. I heard you."
Edward reached out and took hold of both of her hands, squeezing encouragingly. "This is not a war that I could defeat using brute force." She looked up at him and his smile was pained. "I will not lose her this way, Alice. I cannot be without her," he said quietly.
Her fingernails bit into his palms. "I'll try harder, brother," she promised him.
"She's your mother, too. Perhaps you have the sight and do not know it yet?" Alice asked him, eyes narrowing. Half of Edward's mouth quirked up in a dry, what-are-you-getting-at sort of smile.
Alice suddenly had a vision of things, of Edward fighting an indistinct enemy and then it disappeared as suddenly as it had come. That gave her pause. It was all tied to him, everything.
She had been mulling about this possibility for some time. Magic was in the blood and like eye color, the shape of the eyes and the nose, the ability to see and the knowing could be passed on from mothers to her children, the same way that facial features or a certain mannerism could be inherited.
Edward frowned. "No," he said quite firmly. "Perhaps I was dreaming at the time, and at other times. But I do not see other than what is before me. I have none of this 'sight' you speak of."
Alice wasn't certain her brother was correct in his assumption that he was completely closed off, or separated from what connected people such as her mother, or her, to the world of the Spirit and the unknown. She had felt it from him before, this strange sense of awareness, the mystical tingling when she was trying to see her brother's future.
"You've thwarted her twice," she murmured. "You have defeated Victoria on two occasions."
He gave her an odd look, and raised his brows in question.
"The first time was the arrow," she said slowly. She sat down on the bench. She was silent for a moment. She heard him sigh, impatient, and lifted her eyes to him.
"Bella suffered the arrow not me, you knew that," he said.
"But it was you who healed her. Don't you see?" She struggled to make sense of her thoughts and feelings. "No one was supposed to take the arrow from her body. No one can. She would have died instantly if anyone else had done what you did."
Edward's mouth opened but no words came out. He looked at her as if she had grown a second head and it was now trying to argue with him. She took a deep breath and tried to explain.
"Look, the arrow … it was Victoria's and it was enchanted. It should have killed Bella because it was what it was made for. The arrow was cursed. But, I think … I think it didn't work because you were there and you took it out." She gave him a direct look, unflinching. "You did it, Edward, you saved her because of who your mother was."
"And then you survived her prison," she continued in a soft voice, not waiting for his arguments. "She is a powerful witch, Edward. How could you have resisted her?"
"Hell if I know," he muttered to himself.
Alice frowned thoughtfully at the horizon and she wondered, not for the first time, how different her life would have been had her mother lived through childbirth. She would have taught her everything she knew about good magic, and in turn, had they still known each other, she would share that knowledge to her brother.
She looked around their corner of the courtyard, just in case there was someone else about. "Edward," she said, looking up with narrowed eyes. "You can defeat her a third time."
He shook his head, smiling faintly.
"You must," she whispered.
He looked down at her and his eyes were kind. "Whatever happens, mo piuthar, know that I am glad of you, and I will not hold it against you if anything will go amiss."
She fell silent, feeling tired, and confused. She didn't tell him, but the very notion of Victoria getting her hands on him one last time chilled her to the bone.
Two weeks later
The Great Hall was vibrating with tension as the queen and her courts received two Irish monarchs, both sworn enemies of the MacDermotts.
"We are no threat to you and your own, Queen Isabella, your foe is our enemy," Niall MacNeill of the Clann Cholmáin intoned, his manner stiff and formal. His words did not ease the tension, possibly because every one in the hall knew he brought with him hundreds of warriors, which he had wisely left, camped, at the last border town.
Bella stood up and nodded graciously at the Irish. She turned to the woman standing beside MacNeill. "Do you come as friend and supporter, too, Brigid?"
Brigid MacLochlainn of Tír Eoghain, who became queen in her own right at the age of 15, stepped forward and took Bella's hand. "Oh, Bella! Leave him to me. I should have sliced his hairy bollocks when I had the chance!"
Emmett made a gurgling noise deep in his throat as if he was choking and Jasper quickly slapped his closed fist against his broad back, pumping madly.
Nervous laughter and furtive snickers greeted Brigid MacLochlainn's tactless words. It was no secret that MacDermott was once betrothed to the Tir Eoghain.
Edward's mouth twitched a little. It was also no great secret that Brigid nearly killed the prince when she caught him engaged in an indecent manner with not one, but three of her servants all at once.
The tension was at last broken when Bella gave her friend a hug.
MacDermott was transferred to the tower prison.
For five days, the queen and the Irish monarchs were in deep negotiations of what to do with the MacDermotts. His rivals were each petitioning Bella to hand over the prince to them and in return, they would wage war against their mutual enemies.
Allegiances were renewed and new treaties were being prepared. Still, for formalities' sakes, England has declared war against the MacDermotts of Magh Luirg. The prince, after all, was the queen's most prized prisoner.
Bella really had no choice but to strike up new charters with MacNeill and Queen Brigid. Already, MacDermott's father and brothers were creating havoc in the border towns.
With long, easy strides, Edward crossed the hall quickly then slipped in a side door leading directly to the visitors' quarters. He stepped forward to his door and placed his hand on the knob, smiling in anticipation.
He knew she would be waiting for him, as she had been doing every night for the past month.
Edward smiled to himself as he turned the knob and entered his room. The heat and sensation roiling inside him was now familiar and yet he would never get used to it.
After that first night, he didn't resist anymore and to be honest, he didn't think he really thought of resisting her. He could have ended it then before anything could have a chance to begin. But he had no intention of ending this. He loved her and she was his life from the moment that he laid eyes on her.
And from that moment on, he had simply been gone it was as if he had completely lost himself to her.
"Edward?" she called softly from the bed. He loved the sound of her sleepy voice, it was throaty and sensual.
He hastily removed his clothes and hers, and then was on her. He snaked his arm around her back and in an instant she was pressed against his full length. His tongue parted her lips and swooped inside, exploring her warmth. He felt her hands at the back of his neck, her heart racing as his body began to tighten.
She was quickening beneath him, feeding his own mad desire. He wasn't gentle this time. He had discovered sometime ago that his Bella had a deeper, rougher need than the joining of their bodies, of their souls.
Edward groaned as her fingers bit into his back, nails raking his skin. It didn't take long it wasn't his intention to seduce her slowly. Her head lolled back and she screamed his name. Her convulsing body drove him into a frenzy and he couldn't stop moving, couldn't stop claiming her again and again.
Then he froze, his heart skipped a beat, his breath ending in a surprised gasp.
Startled, she looked up, her face was flushed, her eyes bright and dazed with passion.
"What did you say?" He whispered the words against her lips.
He felt her quivering around him, he was still inside her. Gritting his teeth, he began to move again, torturously slow.
"Say it," he growled.
She raised her hand to his lips and he kissed her palm.
"I love you."
The first thought she had when she woke up was that he didn't say it back.
She cupped her face and felt it overly warm. She didn't regret her words, only the timing. How many times – since she was a little girl really – did she imagine this scenario, when she finally told him how she felt about him, that he was her world and that she would give up absolutely everything for him, if it meant she could have him?
You're an idiot, Bella! She castigated herself. Mother Mary, did she really declare herself to him at that dubious moment, unplanned, and she caught like a startled doe? Arrggh!
She was at war with the Ireland that was controlled by Tirawley's family, her mother was in Spain trying to woo the king to agree to a new betrothal agreement and here she was, in bed and alone, kicking herself for telling the man she adored that she loved him.
Bella pulled a face. She needed to do something today to distract herself. She considered tending to her secret garden but she knew she was too restless for the usually calming chore. What she really wanted to do was to escape somewhere for just the day, away from the castle.
He knew what she would be doing, where she would be, and who would be accompanying her. Of course, he would know all these things. He knew everything about her.
Bella's mouth suddenly tasted quite sour, pondering her choices. For her riding excursion, it seemed that the Duke of Kent himself and his son, Emmett, would be escorting her. It was by his orders, she knew it.
She liked Carlisle and Emmett well enough, and perhaps, she loved them too. They were Edward's family and so hers by extension. But they were the last two persons she wanted with her, not when she was trying to forget that Edward hadn't said that he loved her back.
She blushed when she thought of what Carlisle must think of her and of his son together. Did he think her a person of loose morals? Edward was no longer married but he was still not her husband. Only Emmett knew that she had been spending all her nights with Edward, but she would bet her spare crown that the duke knew what had been happening behind closed doors.
She could comfortably justify her actions by falling into the norm that kings and queens generally, and traditionally, always maintain lovers other than their spouses. That would not be the case for her and Edward because he would be the only man for her, but the duke didn't know that.
Bella smiled and nodded at the Cullens, although inwardly she felt unsettled and stressed. There were about six knights following behind them but for now, she could pretend that only father and son were her companions.
She wondered how angry Edward would be and how much injury Emmett would sustain if she, by some miracle, managed to elude her escorts and guards.
She loved Edward desperately but she was furious with him at this moment. She knew it was a short-lived anger but she would like to indulge herself in her temper.
He wanted her to say it, those three words, but how dare he not say it back? How could she say it not when he asked her, nay demanded her to utter the words? She couldn't resist him, not when the mere sight of him made her weak with longing.
She heard footsteps and turned to the sound, tapping rhythmically in her direction.
When she looked up, she saw a petite woman in the doorway. Her coloring was fairer than hers, and she had the reddish-bronze hair and the emerald eyes of her brother.
Alice blanched and felt pain and dread in her chest. She clutched at her bosom, her heart fluttering wildly, and she fell on her knees.
"W-why?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
She thought she heard the apparition sigh, and it was a sad sound that nearly broke her heart.
It was meant to be, said her mother, her dim voice floating in the air around her, enclosing her in shadows.
They rode on, silence cloaking the forest. It was sometime after the noon time but the portion of the woods that they find themselves in were gray and disturbingly lightless.
Bella felt her brow creasing, perplexed. She was sure that when they started the day out, it was sunny and warm and the air was fragrant of pine and sandalwood.
She was also certain it was midday and not dusk, but her surrounding was foggy and the whiff of a breeze she caught was thick and oppressive. She shivered as a chilly wind whipped her unbound hair off her shoulders. She paused for a moment, halting her eerily still horse, and she gave the horizon a sulky gaze.
Did they get lost? They were following the river, weren't they? She was fairly certain she heard Carlisle tell her earlier that they were circling the lake, not wanting to venture too far from the castle.
Bella glanced around the densely forested area and then turned to Carlisle to query him about their location.
Her eyes widened and her body tensed, for she found herself alone.
"Carlisle? Emmett?" she called out.
She cringed when only the echo of her hollow voice returned to her.
"Carlisle!" she cried louder. The forest bounced off her shriek, making her skin prickle in dawning panic.
She nudged her horse forward but it stayed frozen. "Come on, beast. Move," she said, kneeing a command. It stood, unmoving, not a neighing sound, it was almost like a statue. She laid a hand on its thick neck and when she felt its cold, quaking flesh she cried out and hastily jumped down, backing away from the petrified animal.
"Emmett!" She was screaming in earnest this time.
Bella picked her way through the foggy forest, tripping over unseen tree roots, falling down once or twice and scraping her knees and hands. The sun had completely receded, blocked by the thick canopy of leaves above her.
Mary Mother ... Sweet Holy Mother ... Mary Mother of God, she chanted, her heart pounding louder with each stumbling step she took.
She burst from the shadowy wood and into a clearing, and the suddenness of its appearance took her breath away. In the next moment, she realized with terror and a curious sensation of resignation that she was not alone.
"You know why I am here, Isabella," she said softly, making the hair at the back of her nape stand on its end.
She had stopped breathing when she saw Victoria, emerging like black menace, perfectly at home in the darkness of the forest from whence she came.
So this was death, Bella thought, shuddering, as she stared at her. She couldn't even move, she wanted to hug herself, assure herself that she was still alive.
How foolish of her to ever think that she could escape this, escape her. She hoped the witch would stop with her death and she would leave Edward alone, but she knew that would never happen.
A strange sensation began to coil around her feet, unseen hands brushing against her skin. She was frozen, she couldn't move, as cold, inanimate hands touched her clammy skin, creating ripples of goose bumps.
Her eyes locked with Victoria's black orbs, oddly-colored like the bloodstone crystals, aptly named for capturing the blood of the Christ, Son of the Holy Mother.
They stared at each other, bonded, as she drained her life away. A staccato scream unleashed itself across her lips but she only heard it inside her head. She would not look away from her, the agent of her death, as unseen claws clasped around her neck and slowly squeezed.
Just as she felt, in some mystical way that only the dying would see, precious air leave her lungs, the unseen hands crushing her throat halted their torture and she was suddenly freed. She gasped aloud, gulping thin air to her starving lungs. She fell on the forest floor, coughing and dry-heaving, grabbing at her parched throat.
She heard the witch snarl and terrified, Bella's body shook. She wrapped her arms tightly around her body in flimsy protection. Victoria was hurling strange words in the air and she closed her eyes tight, praying for oblivion.
"Stay on the ground, Bella!"
A scream made her look up and she gasped in horror as she saw Alice's chest bloom with blood, her arms and legs stretched and flung out. She watched, stupefied, as her body seemed to hover above the ground, her limbs unnaturally spread.
The hair on Bella's frigid skin bristled and she couldn't stop shaking when she realized that it wasn't Alice who was screaming, it was the frightening spectral that was the wind that was making that awful, unearthly noise.
"No!" Bella whimpered and defying Alice's orders, tried to stand up.
As if sensing her intention, Alice struggled to turn her head to her. She barely moved her eyes and when she did, she pinned her with a blazing, pained look. She must have done something to her because she felt tied to the earth, as frozen as she was earlier when Victoria was choking her.
Stay down! Her eyes commanded her and for a wild moment, she actually heard her voice inside her head.
With an inhuman effort, Alice bent her upper body, her arms straining with effort to move. But the screeching, swirling wind around her seemed to hamper her, forcing her arms back as she tried to bend them, to push the encumbering force away from her.
Bella clawed desperately at the earth, still tackling the unseen energy holding her down. Must get up! Help Alice!
The witch suddenly yelled and Bella froze, blood curdling at the sound of other strange sounds, chanting, coming from her.
Victoria's body jerked and she swung her right hand up, the movement wrenching and tugging at the invisible force holding Alice immobile.
Bella whipped her head in the direction of what had transfixed Victoria, who now stood unmoving and enraptured, looking beyond her prey.
Her mouth went dry and she wasn't sure whether her heart had started to beat double time or it had stopped completely.
"Edward ..." The witch's eyes devoured him. "You came for me," she said, her voice grew impassioned.
Victoria's outstretched arms pulled back and in an instant, the howling winds dispersed, leaving an ominous silence.
Alice uttered a shuddering moan and would have fallen to the ground if not for Edward who moved forward to catch her wounded, limp body. He swung her up in his arms, his eyes never moving from Victoria's face, and slowly backed away from her, towards Bella.
"Stop, Edward," Victoria said tightly. She made a threatening gesture towards her and he held himself perfectly still. She smiled at him and he went pale, deathly pale.
"I will kill you, Victoria," he said with ruthless fervor. "It ends now."
Victoria's head tilted slightly to the side. "Oh?" she taunted in a low, evil voice. Without taking her eyes off him, she flicked her hand in Bella's direction and the shock of contact was immediate.
She cried out as her entire body was jolted and her left arm became rigid, painful in its grotesque inflexibility. She felt a sharp sting and she watched, horrified, as blood poured from her wrist.
Bella sensed Edward's quick movement as he laid Alice's unconscious form on the ground. She saw his knuckles whiten as he gripped the crossed hilt of his broadsword and drew himself up straight. The darkness seemed to engulf him as with a roar, he launched himself at Victoria.
There was a terrible scream and she realized it was coming from her.
She had no time to see more when two things happened. A pale form, like a ghost, rose from the ground behind Edward and there was a whoosh of a propelling force, nearly blinding her by the light that sparked from its appearance. The piercing light hoisted Edward forward, almost as if he was flung in the air with an unnatural speed that he was a blur.
Victoria didn't shriek or stumble or moved to defend herself, she only stood still, a macabre smile on her white face. She lifted her arms to him as if she was welcoming Edward's descent upon her.
Edward's growling grew to a crescendo, drowning out the chanting from the witch. With primitive strength, he brought down his blade one-handed on the witch's head and with that one, single, powerful sword strike, he decapitated her.
The blinding light and swirling wind abruptly vanished as if sucked through an abyss. Trembling with shock, Bella slowly rose to her feet, at the same time that Edward turned to her. He was breathing heavily and his face and tunic were smeared with blood and gore.
She swayed as she stood and the sound of her heart beating was abnormally loud in her ears. She blinked and when next she opened her eyes, she hadn't expected him to be so close that she could see the flecks of blue in his green eyes.
"Oh God, Bella!" he exclaimed, and she frowned at his frightened tone.
She tried to smile at him, to remind him that he was alive and the witch was destroyed.
But she was numbed and her body felt heavy. It was becoming a great effort to breathe.
As her breath gasped across her lips, she couldn't shake the feeling that her soul was slowly being ripped from her body.
Mhic na galla – Son of a bitch
Mo piuthar – My sister