A Twilight Fanfic
Written for annsteph for FGB: Eclipse Edition
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. This story draws on the myths and legends utilized in the story The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley as well as some of the themes in that story. The original aspects in this story belong to this author and as such may not be copied or reproduced without her consent.
"If you seek to avoid your fate or to delay suffering, it only condemns you to suffer it redoubled in another life." ~Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
The waters were still and silent in the moonlit night as the ladies processed toward the cleansing baths. The wise women escorted the ermine-clothed virgins to the ritual bath in preparation for the Beltane festivities; the vowed virgin priestesses would play an important role when the fires blazed and the warriors came from the mainland. Tonight, they would fulfill their vows, giving the gift of their virginity to the warriors for the fertility of the land.
Esme watched over her ladies with silent Alice by her side. Immediately, her eyes sought out the pale slim form of Bella, her favorite. When she had come to Avalon so many years ago as a petulant child, Esme could feel the magic flowing just beneath the surface of her skin. She felt the Goddess that day as Bella knelt before her, making her pledge.
"Rise, Bella, daughter of the Goddess," Esme had said. "The prophetess waits for you."
Bella had risen and looked at her with the awe of one seeing the Goddess for the first time. She bowed her head and walked down the lonely path to Alice's homely quarters where she would hear her destiny. Alice's gift to the Goddess was her voice, which she gave to prophecy. Alice only spoke when she revealed the future. The rest of the time she was a taciturn figure on the island, performing her duties in blessed silence that lent her a mysterious air. Most of the other priestesses feared her closeness to the Goddess.
All eyes were on Bella as she made her way to the baths. Special perfumes had been set aside for her, and she had been given the sacred moonstones to wear after her bath. Tonight the fulfillment of Alice's prophecy all those years ago was to begin.
Bella entered the hut where the silent priestess lived. The hut smelled of strange herbs, and immediately Bella felt as though she had entered a strangely blessed place, a place closer to the Goddess.
The voice was like sawdust in the wind, and it startled Bella to her knees. Her eyes darted around in the unfamiliar darkness, and she began to see a tiny moving shape. An ageless woman, perhaps fifteen, perhaps fifty, was coming toward her. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she focused on the woman's eyes and she nearly went mad. In Alice's eyes, Bella saw the very heart of insanity. She understood the blessing and curse of Alice's vows in that moment, constantly having to straddle the abyss between the present and the future at the Lady's beck and call.
"You will choose your lover on your first Beltane…when your souls combine, the circle will be complete. His love will awaken your power and once unleashed, no one shall be able to penetrate your defenses. Your powers will save your love, and he, in turn, will save that which is most precious to you."
Alice's mad eyes closed when she finished her prophecy. She crept closer to Bella and ran her smooth cold fingers over Bella's face and shoulders, memorizing the lines and curves of her profile. Up close, Bella could see that Alice had a kind face though it was touched with a measure of madness and knowledge, which frightened Bella. After Alice seemed done with her, Bella exited the small shack and began her life on the Tor.
The procession moved around the cleansing pool, the virgins taking their spots around the serene water. Bella entered first, one of the women holding her cloak as she stepped naked into the water. It pooled around her breasts and pebbled her skin as she continued into the clear, cold water, submerging her entire body. Her priestess training had taught her to ignore the cold and discomfort of the mountain spring tarn. The wise women met her as she exited the water, wrapping her in warm towels and chaffing her cold red skin. They anointed her with the sacred oils and placed the moonstones at her throat, wrist, and forehead.
They hung the ermine robe over her shoulders so that her naked body was not hidden from sight. Once properly adorned, she came to kneel before Esme and Alice and receive the Goddess's blessing before going to the fires.
Esme cupped her hands over Bella's head, and immediately the circle of priestesses quieted, sensing the coming blessing and the power that would be exchanged between these two women. The Lady's eyes closed as she drew strength from the night air into herself and imparted it to the priestess kneeling in front of her.
"Tonight, you are the body of the Goddess. In giving your maidenhead to her warrior, you will strengthen her presence in this world. You will be the Goddess for these men tonight, surrounding them with her love and blessing. Tonight you fulfill your destiny."
Bella walked away from the Lady with the tingling of Her power coursing through her body. It was as if she could feel the blessing start at her forehead and travel through her until she was literally thrumming with the Goddess's energy. This was the night she had been prepared for. The night she would meet the lover Alice had promised her when she came to Avalon as a child. He would come to her as God to Goddess, joined in the ritual of the fires, but she knew they would form a bond that could not be broken, and their love would last an eternity.
As she walked from the cleansing pool and slipped away from the group of priestess for her last moments of preparation, she thought about her years on the Tor and the lessons she had learned. She was ready for tonight, more ready than most of her sisters. She never questioned her destiny like many of the other priestesses had. This was what the Goddess wanted of her, and she would happily give it for the chance to serve Her and the Lady well.
Bella remembered the first days and weeks on the Tor when she lived in constant awe and fear of the Lady's power. Her mouth formed a tight smile at the thought of that misplaced fear; Esme was more of a mother to her than anyone had ever been. Bella also remembered her misguided fear of Alice and her silent, watchful eyes. There was so much power between the two of them, and yet they had chosen Bella as their pet. Many of the other novices were resentful of her immediate favor, but it had become an accepted part of life at Avalon after a time.
"It's time, my Lady," the young novice called to Bella, pulling her out of her memories.
She stood and arranged the cloak on her shoulders, straightening her back and channeling the power that Esme had imparted to her with the blessing. It was imperative that Bella feel the Goddess flowing through her now as she went forward to do Her will.
The fires were lit high on the top of the Tor, and she could see the shadows of the Little People who populated the Tor, dancing around the now raging fires. They danced in tight circles but stopped in awe as they spied the priestesses making their way up to where the fires were. Bella could smell the strange leaves and herbs that had been thrown into the fires in order to make them burn brightly; the smoke tickled her nose with its strangely fragrant aroma.
Now the rest of the virgins flanked Bella, and they strode through the narrow aisle created between the fires for their entrance. The orange and yellow flames painted unwordly pictures on their perfumed and freshly washed bodies, the light licking at their breasts and over their stomachs as they walked through the fires.
The warriors were already assembled and many of the ladies coupled off as soon as they saw the eager faces of the young men. They danced out of the procession to find a haystack or a bush to rut behind. Bella's eyes stayed focused, centered on a shadowy figure painted in black relief by the orange light of the fire.
His impressive height and broad shoulders loomed above the rest of a gathering. He lowered his head as he eyed the priestess coming toward him, the fire glinting red and gold off his bronze hair. The roar of the fire muted the sounds around them as Bella continued to walk gracefully toward the young warrior; all outside sound seemed to cease. Two heartbeats thumping wildly in time, warrior and priestess, seemed to fill the night air, drowning out the lighthearted music. The rhythm of their hearts propelled them toward each other.
Bella approached him, but she was no longer just Bella. She was a priestess of the Goddess, and when his eyes raked hungrily over her naked body, he was looking at the Goddess Herself. She stood before him, allowing him to drink in her body with his eyes. She watched his nostrils flare and his eyes widen as he stepped forward hesitantly. She reached out her arms to him, welcoming him into her embrace.
The boy warrior came to her first as a child comes to his mother, holding her reverently in his arms and worshiping the feel of her body against his. There was power in her embrace, and he felt it running through him as he held her. The world around them faded, and it was only the two of them, warrior and priestess, God and Goddess, and they were filled with the anticipation of what they were about to give to Her.
He led Bella into a waiting hut, one that he had likely set up during the day in anticipation for this evening. Without a word, his mouth sought out her lips, raking along her jaw line until he claimed her mouth with his. His hard body pressed against her, eagerly directing her toward the blankets on the ground. With a feral growl, he undid the stays of the robe and threw it to the side, exposing her fully to him.
Bella responded unexpectedly, her hands tangling in his hair, moving along his body, touching him without fear or question. She opened herself to him without a trace of hesitation, ready to give him everything she had.
She lay on the makeshift pallet as he removed his deerskin pants and wool shirt. His body was all hard muscle and newly made sharp lines; he was young and clearly as unpracticed as Bella. Her eyes were drawn to his pulsing erection, her hips bucking involuntarily when she saw him so needy for her. He licked his lips and knelt down heavily in front of her, his legs nudging hers apart to create room for him. He brought his face closer to her body, kissing along her stomach up to her breasts and setting fire to her skin.
They never said a word. He entered her with a grunt of pleasure, pushing past her barrier without ceremony. Bella hissed in surprised as his length filled and spread her, the dull ache searing through her nether regions and into her thighs. She felt the blood from her maidenhead trickle out of her and the tear that slipped from her eye in response to the pain. The warrior bent over her, gently kissing away the salty tear as he adjusted himself within her, groaning again at the friction their bodies were creating.
She instinctively widened her legs for him, allowing him to go deeper into her. She thought she might go mad with the warring feelings of pain and pleasure coursing through her as he thrust rhythmically within her. She moved her hands roughly over his back, raking her nails along the length of him until she found his hair again. It was soft in her hands, and she pulled his mouth down to hers.
His tongue was sweet torture in Bella's mouth, tangling with hers as their hips thrust together faster. The pain was still there, but there was another wave of feeling washing over her as they moved together, a growing feeling of warmth spreading through her body. It made her grip his head closer to her and move her hips faster in response to him.
He came abruptly, forcefully, crying out and burying his head in her shoulder. When it was over, Bella held him to her, pulling against him as he pulled out of her. She didn't wish to let him go.
He knelt between her legs, regret and confusion warring in his mind. He wanted to stay with this woman, but he did not know what the priestess lying before him would expect. When she came to him, naked and ready for him, instinct took over. Now, when the act was over, he was at a loss. He wished to gather her into his arms and hold her close to him, reveling in the warm, spicy smell of her skin and the tingling pleasure of her body close to his. But he did not know if that was part of the deal he had made with the Gods tonight.
Bella could see that he was troubled and was afraid that he would flee into the night. She sat up uncomfortably and reached out to him.
He closed his eyes and nodded once. He gathered her into his arms facing away from him, amazed at how perfectly her body fit his and how peaceful he felt in this moment. The dark hut where they lay was filled with the sound of slowing breaths and heartbeats. As their skin cooled and they drifted into sleep, the night noises around them began to penetrate the cocoon surrounding them. The crackle and hiss of the fire mingled with the swaying of the trees. They could hear the fading music and the sounds of other lovers pursuing their release. There was nothing to be said, and they both fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, molded to each other.
Sometime during the night, the magnetic connection they had formed drew them together again. This time, they were no longer God and Goddess or even warrior and priestess. Instead, they were man and woman, drawn together with a need so great; it pulled them from the depths of sleep to find each other again. Their bodies joined together, half instinct, half primal desire, and they fulfilled themselves in each other. As their hearts slowed, Bella tucked herself back into the safety of his embrace, confident that he was the lover promised to her so many years ago.
Just before dawn, the warrior heard footsteps outside his hut. Everything in him yearned to protect the silent, sleeping woman at his side. She was his now, and he would die to defend her. Years of training allowed him to pull on his deer skin breeches and slip from the confines of the hut out into the misty pre-dawn light without a sound. The Tor was haunted by the shades of the night, embers cooling from the fires and the mists creeping across the land. His skin was chilled by the cool air and by the sense that he was in the presence of something greater than himself.
It is time.
The voice sighed with the wind as it spoke to him, and he recognized it as an important voice from his memory though he couldn't place where it was from. Then the raven cloaked figure of a druid walked toward him, and he recognized him at once. It was the one who had, so long ago, told him of his destiny, of the woman he would love and the things he would need to do to protect her. He did not understand him. This was where he wanted to be, whom he was meant to be with. What did the old wise man mean?
You mustn't tarry now, the man said without speaking. You're destiny awaits you and it is time.
"My destiny lies in that hut waiting for me to warm her," the warrior said, his voice hard but his mind in a snarl. Was this a dream?
You do not earn the prize so easily, the druid said or thought, the warrior couldn't be sure anymore. You must prove yourself worthy of this woman before you are allowed to come home. Gather your things. It is time.
Angrily, the warrior looked away from the druid, back at the hut. The priestess would wake before long; what would she think when she found him gone? Would she go on as if nothing had changed or would her heart break as his was doing now?
Pushing his way silently into the dark hut, he gathered his shirt and his discarded armor from the night before. As he bent down, he couldn't help but glance over at her naked sleeping form. He felt himself stir again in response to the way she lay, her body still molded to the shape his torso and legs had created for her. Her hair, the color of ripe chestnuts, lay gently across her face. Her cheeks were still touched with the fire of their nighttime activities. He wished to brush the hair away from her cheek, kiss her once more before he left her. But he knew she would wake, and somehow he understood that was not meant to be.
He looked down at his wrist and spied the loosest of the golden torques he had been given for his service as a warrior. He pulled it over his hand, scratching his knuckles in the process. He laid the bracelet just on the edge of the animal skins so that she would see it when she woke and hoped that she would understand it to be his promise. She stirred as he placed it there, her hands moving over her chest and her face becoming sad despite the soft lines of sleep.
"Come back to me," she whispered, her eyes still closed and her mouth barely moving. She was still unconscious, and yet she called out to him.
Silently, he promised her that he would return to her when he was worthy of her love. His fingers itched to caress her. He reached out, tracing the shape of her without touching her.
It is time, the weathered voice outside called more insistently.
He turned and stepped out of the hut, never making a sound and never looking back again.
Bella awoke stiff and cold, her body sticky with sweat, tears, and the warrior's seed. She rolled onto her back, stretching languorously and smiling to herself as she thought about the tender love they had made in the dark of night. It was only as she reached for him that she realized why she was so cold. He was gone.
Bella looked around the small hut, desperately searching for his clothes, the armor she had spied the night before, but all of it was gone. As she crawled around the small pallet of animal skins, she came across the small golden torque that could only have come from his wrist. Clutching it between her breasts in shaking hands, she looked up at the ceiling of the tent and began to sob soundlessly. He was gone; it was the only thought she could process.
The robe she had worn last night when she mounted the Tor as the Goddess left her feeling cold and disgraced in the morning light. She wrapped her thin arms around her naked body, drawing the fabric around herself to hide from those around her. She felt used…by the warrior, of course, but more importantly by the Goddess and even Esme and Alice. They had promised her a future, and now it seemed all that was left of her future was a bloodied torque, which would do her no good at all.
She made her way into her silent chambers. Even her usual attendant had been part of the festivities, and so she was left to clean and dress herself. Bella was thankful for this as it gave her time to collect her thoughts. Once dressed in her grey priestess robes and with her hair pulled back out of her face, she got ready to seek advice in the only place she knew to go; she would go sit among the apple trees and talk to the Goddess. Before she left her quarters though, the gold torque caught her eye. She snatched it quickly and pushed it up her arm until it was snug around her forearm. Its weight dug into her arm, and she was aware of it with every movement. She liked it; it made the dull ache in her heart hurt less.
The air was thick with apple blossom pollen, and Bella sat with her legs tucked under her, staring up into the pink and white canopy above her. She closed her eyes and imagined, as she had been taught to do, that the Goddess was walking amid the trees and coming to speak with her. She filled her lungs with the sweet air and focused on nothing and everything at once. But when she opened her eyes, it wasn't the Goddess who stood before her. Timid, quiet Alice stood before her, her lips quivering.
"Oh, Alice, how did you find me?" Bella cried when she saw the woman in front of her.
Alice scampered over to her and knelt before her, reaching out and grabbing Bella's face between her hands and searching her eyes and face for answers to unspoken questions. Without warning, Alice pulled up the sleeve of Bella's robe and found the golden torque nestled in the flesh of her arm. Alice's tiny fingers danced over it, but her eyes never left Bella's.
"He left it for me," Bella said simply, "before he ran away."
Alice shook her head angrily, fingering the metal more frantically. Bella felt as though she might go mad looking into Alice's tortured, far away eyes, but she didn't dare break their gaze. Alice's strong fingers were becoming painful as she fingered the torque over and over, trying to convey a message to Bella without breaking her vow of silence. Finally, Alice grabbed Bella's hands and pulled her violently up off the ground.
"Alice!" Bella called. "Where are you taking me? I need to sit in peace!"
Alice shook her head again and tugged at Bella's hands. Bella was powerless to resist the pull of her sister priestess. Alice was clearly beside herself, and Bella felt obligated to soothe her despite the heartache she was going through. She wasn't surprised to find that Alice had brought her to the Lady's quarters.
A small smile formed on Alice's face as she nodded for Bella to go in. Alice fingered the torque again, nodding all the while and pointing toward the Lady's quarters.
"Alice, he ran away from the prophecy," Bella said softly. "Esme won't have any more answers than you or I do."
Alice stomped her foot and pointed angrily for Bella to go at once to see the Lady. Sighing and shaking her head, Bella ducked under the gauzy material, into the Esme's sanctuary.
"I wondered when Alice would bring you to me," Esme's voice called out from the back room.
Bella walked forward and found Esme being attended by two of the novices, the youngest priestess who did not participate in last night's festivities. Without a word, Bella took over for them and began serving the Lady her breakfast. She silently dismissed the novices, a privilege she had because of her valued place as one of the high priestesses.
"My Lady, I do not understand. Did you know that my destiny was going to become forfeit?"
"Child, what makes you say such a thing?"
"The warrior ran away, Esme," Bella said, her voice quivering. "He is gone."
She heard the sob echoing off the far wall and reverberating back to her ears. The priestess in her was crying out for whoever was making the offensive noise to stop; it was indecent in the chamber of the Lady of Avalon. It wasn't until Esme was crushing her crumpling form to her breast that Bella realized the sound was coming from her. Bella clutched at Esme, anchoring herself to the most real, tangible person who had ever been in her world.
"He left me, Esme," she said, gasping for air. "How could he leave me?"
"He will return," she said softly, surely. "Come, I want to show you something. Alice!"
Without a sound, Alice appeared from where she had been waiting and held Bella under one arm while Esme supported her other arm. The three priestesses walked through the small rooms until they came to Esme's private reflecting pool, the one she reserved for prophecy and the sight.
The waters here were clearer than anywhere on the Tor. Bella knew the water in this pool was only inches deep and yet it seemed fathomless because of the perfect reflections that it gave off. As a young child, Esme had brought her here to practice the sight, and she had been tempted to dip her fingers in the water. Esme had scolded her, telling her that only the Lady could touch the waters of the reflecting pool. It was never to be touched by any other hands.
Esme left Bella in the capable hands of Alice and walked up to the reflecting pool. She inhaled deeply, inviting the Goddess into her body as she attempted to search for Bella's lost warrior. She knew, having heard Alice's prophecy, that he could not be lost. He was meant to be with Bella; Alice was never wrong. Still, Bella deserved to understand what destiny had in store for her. Esme knew that the Mother was often a difficult mistress, demanding so much from her daughters before she gave them their rewards. Esme would gladly take away Bella's hardships if she could, but she had served the Goddess long enough to understand that whatever Bella's destiny was, she would need to fulfill it on her own.
"Come, child, look with me," Esme said when she had stirred the water properly.
The ripples in the water began to fade away. Bella gasped and nearly fell backwards as the shape of her warrior came into view. He was stumbling through a thick forest, beating back vines and branches in order to get to his goal. Bella saw it looming out of the distance. It was a terrifyingly large castle and it made Bella whimper with fear for him.
"This is the future Bella; he is not in danger now," Esme's calm voice reminded Bella and she breathed a sigh of relief.
Bella saw the picture shifting, and she reached out to touch the fading form of her lover before his image dissolved in the pool to form other shapes. Here, a woman dressed in scarlet red was laughing as she hurled multi-colored flashes of light at a figure hunched behind a battered shield. No one else might have recognized him, but Bella knew the curve of his back and recognized the bronze wisps of hair peeking out from under his helmet. This was her warrior and he was losing.
Suddenly, a small, thin figure stepped between the warrior and the witch. She held up her hands and…the image faded away.
"Who was that?" Bella asked, her voice beginning to break with emotion. "How did she stop the magic? What happens to him?"
The tears fell and Bella was wailing again, thinking of the warrior, her lover, alone in some far off time, fighting a magic he couldn't understand with only a flimsy metal shield. Esme caught Bella's flailing hands between her own and made them quiet in an instant. Without words, Esme looked into her eyes, and Bella's hysterical crying stopped almost instantly.
"Alice's prophecy was not wrong," Esme said quietly. "The girl you saw was you."
"Me?" Bella didn't understand. "I don't understand. I don't have the powers that girl displayed."
"Perhaps not yet," Esme said. "The prophecy did say that once your souls combined, you would come into your full power."
Bella closed her eyes, and Esme sensed she was testing herself, judging her own strength. With her hands on Bella's forearms, Esme could feel it underneath the small priestess's skin. The power was there and it was beginning to unlock itself from wherever it had been stored. Bella's eyes flew open as she felt it too.
It was astounding to Bella how easily she had let go of the prophecy that was handed to her so many years ago. She had been so willing to accept that the warrior had left her, that the prophecy was forfeit. And yet, had the Goddess ever given her anything easily before? Bella knew that the life she had chosen so many years ago was a life of service and hardship. She had always accepted that she would walk through the fires on the first Beltane and her years of hardship and service would be over, she would find her lover.
"I am sorry for doubting you, my Lady," Bella said softly, "and for doubting you, Alice."
When Alice smiled, everything about her face changed. The madness that always seemed to bubble below the surface in Alice's eyes faded, and the worry lines around her face faded. She was young and beautiful when she smiled. Alice reached across Esme and held one of Bella's hands in hers, forgiveness flowing through her fingertips. Bella vowed never to doubt the silent priestess again.
As the months passed, it became clear that Bella carried more than the memory of her warrior within her. Her belly blossomed with the baby he had given her, and Bella's power grew along with her stomach. She would sit in the apple orchard, a calm overtaking her, and she would practice.
Hands held protectively over her now swollen abdomen, she would close her eyes and feel the power surging within her. As the baby grew, so did her power, and she knew that the time was growing close at hand. She understood that not long after her child was born, she would be forced to leave the Tor, the only place she had known as home, and go forth into the world to find her destiny once again. When she thought of him, the baby would move in her belly. The movements were comforting, and Bella felt as though the baby were somehow giving her permission to go when the time came. It was as if this tiny life growing inside her could somehow understand and see the hands of destiny moving all of them. And for the first time, Bella was angry.
Bella questioned the wisdom of the great Goddess who would take her away from her child before weaning. How could the Mother Goddess tear her from her baby? When Bella was in a state such as this, Alice would almost always find her and calm her. Alice's hands could always soothe the baby in her belly when the strange movements made her stomach undulate with the baby's acrobatics. This was how Bella devised her plan.
On the eve of Imbolc, Bella's pains began. Alice and Esme were by her side as the first bone-shattering wave of pain settled on her, soothing her with cooling rags and chanting softly to her. The younger priestesses came and went, bringing broth and cool water and supplies, but neither Alice nor Esme left her side. They walked with her, they knelt with her, Esme even screamed with her in the end, clutching her hands as she pushed the babe from her womb into Alice's waiting hands.
When Alice handed the squirming warm mass of girl to Bella, she placed it to her breast, the little one's rooting mouth finding her nipple without difficulty. Both mother and baby sighed when the connection was made and as the cycle became complete. Alice stood over Bella and the child, her hands clasped against her chest and a beatific smile on her lips. Bella knew that she had chosen correctly. After the baby was done suckling, Bella held her up carefully for Alice.
Alice looked at Bella incredulously, mouthing the word me? as she instinctively held out her hands.
"Yes, you Alice," Bella said with an encouraging nod from Esme. "I can think of no one better to watch over my Bree than you."
"Bree," Esme murmured. "Fitting. Few will need to be stronger than this child."
Bella nodded, watching Alice as she cleaned her daughter silently and swaddled her by the light of the dawn. Esme tended Bella while Alice tended Bree, and already Bella felt her slipping away from her. Without a word, Esme took the baby away from Alice and brought her back to Bella.
"It is fine, Esme," Bella said, the tears thick in her voice and her fingers itching to reach out for her child. "I understand what the Goddess requires of me."
"It isn't time for you to go yet," Esme said. "Alice will care for her while you are away, but you are her mother and should relish the time you have with her."
She took her daughter from Esme, cradling the warm bundle in her arms. Bella reveled in the feel of that solid little body which had been a part of her for so long sleeping soundly within her arms. Bree was real and now separate from her, but she could still feel the tendrils, strong as iron, connecting her to this child. She could almost see the other set of ties, just as strong, connecting the warrior to both her and Bree.
"I will save your father, Bree," she whispered gently to the sleeping child. "I will save him, and then I will bring him home to you. I promise this to you."
The days and weeks following Bree's birth passed quickly for Bella. She nursed the baby, and Bree thrived on her mother's milk, growing strong and fat and happy. Bella was happy in her little one, reveling in the soft baby coos that Bree would make at her and the way she would kick her legs in excitement every time Bella came into view. When she lay with Bree in the apple orchards, letting the pollen scented air tickle their noses, she almost forgot the trials that would be coming for her and for her warrior. Too soon. She would need to leave Bree, and it would all be too soon.
The raven cloaked druid came to her in a dream. His rasping paper-thin voice calling her out of the dream of twisted, sweaty limbs and loving embraces; she had been dreaming of him again. But the voice was important, and it pulled her away from the happiness of his touch and the memory of his love.
It is time. The whispery voice turned her body to ice because she knew what he spoke of. It was time to leave the Tor. It was time to save him.
"But Bree is only two months old," her voice whined into the darkness of her dream. "She still needs me."
Alice will tend her. The strangely cloaked figure beckoned to her, and she felt she recognized him. He was a man of power; that much was certain. It is time, Bella.
With those words, her sleep-softened brain snapped to attention. She opened her eyes wide to the darkness of her chamber and immediately sought out the familiar shape of Bree's cradle. The baby slept silently, contentedly. Bella pulled herself from the warm cocoon of her pallet and rubbed her eyes, knowing that this would be the last time she looked at her child for what could be over a year; she wanted to be fully aware. She blinked her eyes and stared into Alice's terrified face. Of course, Alice would know.
"It will be well," Bella said sleepily. "You are ready for this."
Alice shook her head violently. She placed her tiny hand over Bella's heart, and a silver tear fell down her face.
"You of all people should know I am ready for this," Bella said with a sad smile. "It is my destiny. And…he needs me."
Alice nodded and then pulled Bella into a tight hug. Bella hugged her tightly in return, feeling the fragile bones of the priestess underneath her strong arms. Bella couldn't remember a day that didn't include Alice in some way since she had first set foot on Avalon. Now she was leaving, unsure when she would be back. Bella had known that she would miss Alice; she hadn't realized that Alice would miss her as much.
Alice pulled away from her and put her hands on either side of her face. The prophetess's face was full of concentration, and she tried to see; but it crumpled in frustration, and shook her head. Bella understood. Her power had grown too strong for even Alice to penetrate it. Alice smiled sadly as if to tell her that this was a good thing, but Bella would have been happier knowing the future that Alice could provide for her. Alice sighed and then released her, looking over at Bree's sleeping form.
Bella crept over to her daughter's cradle, peeking over the side to look at her rosebud lips and petal-pale cheeks. Her hair, so similar to the bronze fire Bella remembered from her warrior, reminded her of the mission she would undertake. As she the baby, the tiny puffs of air blew her lips in and out with whisper-soft little sighs. Bella felt the tears pricking behind her eyes. She reached down hesitantly and traced the curve of her cheek. Bree smiled in her sleep, her lips twitching and then falling again into the softness of sleep. Bella sighed and turned away from the cradle.
Alice held out a deadly, sharp, sickle-shaped knife, a warm cloak, and a talisman for the ferryman. She nodded and pushed them into Bella's hands.
"You have always been there for me, Alice," she said softly. "Take care of my Bree."
The silent priestess gathered Bella into a final hug.
"Always," Alice's rusty, reedy voice sighed into Bella's ear, making her gasp in surprise.
Alice didn't acknowledge the gasp of surprise. She simply turned Bella around and led her out of the hut and into the night. Bella took a deep breath, looking around one last time at the small grouping of huts, which she had called home for so long. She looked longingly at Esme's quarters, looming above the others and sighed with a sense of loss. She wished for the Lady's blessing but knew she had it without seeing her. Going to her now would be a needless waste of time. Bella understood that wasting time now was unacceptable.
The ferryman was waiting at the dock as he always was, waiting for whoever might need to leave the Tor and journey to the mainland. Bella hadn't been off the Tor since she arrived as a novice, and she had never traveled through the mists without the Lady; Esme had been with her when she first came to Avalon. Now, she journeyed alone. She knew that the ferryman was only there to power the boat; it would be up to Bella to get them through the mists safely. It was the first of her many trials, but a surety filled her. She could do this.
Without a word, Bella boarded the boat and stood in the prow as the ferryman readied the boat. As the vessel sailed silently away from the Tor, Bella kept her eyes forward and resisted the urge to turn around one last time to watch her home slip away. There were dangers in these waters, and she would need all of her concentration to keep the little boat safe.
Bella raised her hands as the boat drifted fully into the heavy mist. It was like a wet, woolen blanket covering her arms, trying to weigh them down, but she kept her arms raised, encasing the small boat within her bubble of protection. Behind the silent priestess, the ferryman poled the boat forward, his eyes downcast in awe and wonder at her power. He was one of the native lake people, the Little People as they were called, so he knew more about magic than most. He understood that it was the priestess's magic that kept them safe within the mist; he knew that without her, they would be lost in the strange mists, set adrift never to find solid land again. This was a world of in-betweens; without the protection of a powerful priestess, there could be no hope for safe passage. This priestess was one of the most powerful the ferryman had ever met.
The boat drifted gently onto the far bank, and the ferryman let out a soft sigh of relief. He was new to his job and still stood in awe of the priestesses and their calm power. Still, he had the journey back to dread, and he hoped that the priestess's talisman was as powerful as the magic she had used to get them across. This was a fearful job for him.
Bella stepped from the boat and reached into the pocket of her robes for the talisman that Alice had given her. She held it cupped within her hands and murmured her blessing over it, closing her eyes as the intricately decorated stone began to hum and glow softly. The ferryman's eyes widened in shock and surprise; he'd never seen a talisman glow quite so bright. When her blessing was done, she pressed the warm stone into the ferryman's hand.
"The Goddess will protect you, Michael," she said softly, her voice like music to his ears.
"You—you know my name," he stammered, clutching the rock in his hand tightly.
"Of course," she said with a smile. "All of the Little People are special to the Lady. Go. The talisman will protect you."
"When will you be back, my Lady?" he called after her.
She froze and did not turn around.
"I do not know what the Goddess has in store for me," she said into the night. "But I will return."
The ferryman closed his eyes, a sadness filling his heart as the young priestess spoke. When he opened his eyes, she was gone, faded into the night like a dream.
"Blessed be, young priestess," he said into the night. "May the Goddess protect you."
He stepped back onto the boat and sailed away without a worry. He knew that nothing could penetrate the priestess's magic. As he poled himself through the mists and back to Avalon, he wondered about the young priestess and where her journey might take her. He hoped that she found what she was looking for.
The woods were dark and mysterious as Bella began her journey. As she walked away from the lake, she felt the pull of her home tugging her backwards, trying to bring her home. She journeyed further, knowing that once she was far enough away, she would begin to feel another pull, one that would lead her to her goal.
It took an hour's worth of floundering through the overgrowth before the tug that she was feeling began to come from a different direction. It was no longer coming from Avalon and her daughter. She knew that it came from him. She found a small clearing in the woods and settled herself on the ground so that she could focus fully on the pull she felt. In order to be successful in her journey, she would need to channel the draw she felt so that it could lead her to the warrior.
The pull was a like a thrumming warmth within her that called out for her to follow it. It was as if her heart were trying to find its way home. She stood and walked in the direction of the pull she felt, knowing it was as if his hands were pulling her toward him.
She travelled for weeks, keeping track of the days by watching the moon as it waxed and waned. Every day she felt herself getting closer to him, closer to the confrontation that would bring him fully into her world. She found herself growing more sure of herself, sure of her power. As the weeks dragged on, she found the courage she would need to step onto the battlefield and face the sorceress who would try to kill her love. The time on the road was just the remedy she needed in order to calm the nerves that had developed leading up to her departure from Avalon.
She recognized the manmade path through the forest almost immediately. There was sticky sap dripping from hasty sword cuts in the vines. Off to the side, she spied a discarded piece of jerky. Bella bent down and touched it lightly with her fingers. It looked as though someone had eaten half of it and then discarded the rest. She could make out the teeth marks in the cured meat and knew instinctively that they were his. Further on, she saw the crushed leave of a plant he had stomped on as he ran. This was the road Esme had shown her the night after Beltane; this was the road which led to the sorceress's castle.
How far ahead of her was he? How long had he been fighting and how was he faring?
The fear was drowning her as she ran forward, desperate to get to him now. In her mind's eye, she saw the tiny figure of the warrior crouched beneath an angry stream of red light. Magic hurled at him from the sadistic witch who wished to harm him. She stumbled several times in her haste to get to the scene of the battle. She could see the turrets of the tall castle looming ahead of her, and she knew she was close. Her heart lurched in her chest, knowing how close she was to him. She continued to look up at the turrets so it came as a shock to her when she ran nearly full force into her warrior's hard armor.
He turned to face her, his helmet pulled down over his face. There were tiny slits where she could see his green eyes staring out at her like hard chips of emeralds. The helmet showed the line of his mouth, twisted in concentration or anger. Bella could not tell which. She looked around and knew they were safe for the moment; they were alone. Tentatively she reached her hand forward, tracing the line of his jaw.
"It is you," he said gently, the line of his mouth softening, and his green eyes widening.
She nodded, unable to speak.
"But what are you doing here?" he said, shaking his head and looking around. He drew his sword and swept her behind him. "There is danger here, and I must…it is my duty to conquer it."
Bella slipped her hands over his wide shoulders and ran them down the muscles of his arms, feeling the way the chainmail clung to his form.
"The danger isn't here yet," she whispered, "though she is coming soon. It is my destiny to be here as well, by your side."
He slowly released his grasp on her, turning around to face her once again. He did not remove his helmet, but he bent closer to her so she might see his eyes more clearly.
"I dreamt of you every night," he murmured, his trembling fingers touching her hair as if testing her solidity.
"I dreamt with you," she replied.
She reached up and twined her fingers with his.
"Please," he asked, bringing her fingers to his lips for a rough kiss. "Your name? I've thought about you every day since last Beltane, but I never had a name…"
"Bella." She smiled at him, relishing the feel of his lips against her skin again.
"Yes," he said, as if he had known all along and had simply forgotten. "Bella."
Her name on his lips was like a song, and she nearly forgot the question which had been burning in her mind since she woke up without him.
"But I do not know your name," she said with a small laugh.
"I am Edward," he said softly.
"You are mine," she said, curling her small fingers under the metal of his helmet so that she could touch just the tip of his fiery hair. "As I am yours."
"You—the memory of you—is the only thing that has kept me alive these long months. You've kept me alive and constantly seeking to be better…for you."
Bella had an aching desire to kiss him, to let him know that she had loved him every moment that he had been away. However, she sensed that the time was drawing closer, that destiny would not wait any longer for them.
"There is a sorceress," she said breathlessly, breaking their spell.
"Yes," he said, dropping her hand and looking around. "Her name is Jane. How did you know about her?"
Bella shrugged. "I have seen her. Tell me what you know. Quickly."
"She is intent on gaining control of Avalon," he said sourly. "She wishes to kill the Lady and take over as ruler of Avalon and protector of the gates to the Other World. As Avalon's vowed protector, it is my job to defeat her."
Bella frowned as Alice's words came back to her: Your powers will save your love and he, in turn, will save that which is most precious to you. Is this what Alice meant? Bella's love kept him alive throughout their months apart, and now his sword would save Avalon? The vision she had seen before said otherwise. In the end, she would save Edward.
"You are not Avalon's only protector," she said somberly.
"I cannot allow you to face her," he said fiercely, pulling her close to him. "You may have seen her, but you do not know what she can do."
"And you do not know what I can do," Bella said simply. "When the time comes, I will do what is necessary."
"Bella, please," he said. "I cannot bear the thought of you being hurt in this. I have done all of this to protect you. Promise me that you will not put yourself in danger."
She smiled at him and then stepped back, closing her eyes and drawing in a deep breath. She raised her arms slowly upward, her robes brushing the ground as she moved. Edward fell backward as the woman in front him transformed.
She was no longer the small, fragile woman he remembered from that morning so long ago, the one he had sworn to protect. She was more even than the priestess who had come to him from the fires. It was as if the Goddess herself was standing before him, bathing him in her power and light. All around her, a ball of energy pulsed and glowed, obliterating the woman within. And then suddenly, all of the outside noises simply disappeared.
He looked around disoriented and realized he was surrounded by her light, held within it, and she was with him. He could see the outside world, but it was as if he were looking through a glass. He felt certain that if he extended his finger to touch the light, he would be unable to penetrate it. He turned around and faced her, surprised to find her staring calmly back at him.
"Your love changed me, Edward," she said, her voice like small bells within the silence. "I am the same, but I am different. You gave me so much more than this."
She raised her arm again and showed him the torque he had left her, fitting snugly to her forearm. It warmed his heart to know that she had worn it all of this time.
"She is expecting you, and you must go to meet her. But you must also know that when the time is right, I will do what is needed to save what is most dear to me."
"Avalon," he said softly.
She made a quick movement with her hands and the bubble around them burst, letting in the forest noises and the natural daylight. It was a shock to him how completely she had removed him from the world and then just as quickly brought him back.
"She is readying herself," Bella said and gestured toward the looming castle.
Edward held his sword and shield tightly as he turned to look at the path ahead. When he looked back, Bella could almost read the thoughts running through his mind as he played through the scenarios in his head. She shook her head slightly, letting him know that he didn't need words—she understood. He nodded once and then strode away from her.
Bella followed behind him, quietly, so that he would not turn. When she saw the clearing ahead of her, she darted into the bushes and nimbly climbed a tree so that she could observe the field without detection until she was needed. Her eyes raked the front of the castle, looking for the red witch Edward called Jane. On her second pass over the ramparts, Bella spied what she was looking for. She caught a flash of red in the window as though someone's robe was fluttering by.
Bella's eyes narrowed on the next window, and she saw her target. Jane was far younger than she had expected. Bella scolded herself for not studying her opponent closer when Esme showed her the vision after Beltane; she had been focused solely on Edward. Now, as she saw the impassive figure of the sorceress, she found herself surprised. Her power must be great indeed for her to wield it at such a young age. Bella guess that she could barely be fourteen. It was no matter now. Bella took a deep breath and focused her energy on the window.
If the witch had any power to speak of, she would sense Bella's presence. Bella could already feel her power pulsing across the clearing at her. She must focus her energy toward hiding her presence from the witch; it would do neither Edward nor her any good to be detected too soon. She had practiced with her powers long enough to be able to use her shield without being trapped inside of it the way others often felt when she encased them. For her, it was little more than a disturbance in the air. She encased herself and watched Edward as he walked out into the middle of the clearing.
"I know you are in there, Jane," he called loudly. "There will be no more games; we will finish this now."
Bella heard the unpleasant titter of her girlish giggle wafting through the air. Jane showed herself in the window high above the field.
"Is that really what you want, knight?"
Her voice was high and reedy, like one of the novices from the island. Jane leapt out of the window causing Edward to start forward out of instinct, thinking she was falling. Bella almost called out to him to stop, but he froze when he realized what was happening. Jane glided gently to the ground as if she were as light as a leaf in the wind. Bella frowned. The witch knew more than she had anticipated. It was almost as if…
Bella studied her features more carefully. A high forehead, pale corn-silk hair, and bright blue eyes that sparkled with madness. Bella had not recognized the name when Edward mentioned it…how many Jane's and Mary's and Bridget's had she met on the Tor as timid young priestesses? But she knew this Jane and would have recognized her easily, had she paid closer attention to the vision Esme had shown her. This Jane had come to Avalon about two years previously. She had shown great promise, but she never seemed content. One day, she disappeared from the novice hall. Everyone assumed she had gotten lost in the mist. No one could have known that she had come to this. Except possibly Esme, who knew the face of every novice she had ever greeted.
Bella's face and heart hardened to the sorceress standing in front of her. The thought of someone who she had once shared meals with, whom she had likely shared secrets with, plotting to kill Esme and take over Avalon made Bella angrier than she could possibly have imagined. It took all of her patience and training to stay in the tree and watch what was transpiring on the field.
"You have pretty tricks," Edward said calmly, "but tricks will only get you so far."
"Ah, but these are not tricks. Tricks fool your mind into thinking something that is not. Magic is something all together different and so very real. Do you not agree?"
She raised her hand quickly and slashed it forward sending a bolt of light racing at Edward. He deflected the beam of light with his shield and rolled away from the spot where he stood, panting heavily with the effort. The light he had deflected hit the castle above the second rampart, making the stone explode and dusting the battlefield in pebbles.
"That is a fine shield," Jane purred. "Where did you steal it?"
"I did not steal it!" he protested vehemently. "It was given to me by the Lady to use in protection of Avalon."
The witch hissed in anger and sent another bolt of light tumbling toward him. She aimed hastily and Edward easily deflected it.
"She gave me my sword as well," he said defiantly. "Brynalys. You've heard of her maybe?"
Jane screamed in her anger.
"She gave you the sacred sword and shield? You're nothing but a boy!"
She hurled several light balls at him, and he nobly tried to deflect them. He managed to deflect all but one. Bella watched in horror as one streaked past his shield and tore through his chain mail like a knife through a vine. He howled in pain and the bright, red blood bubbled up immediately through the charred edges of his shirt.
The witch threw her head back and laughed with glee as Edward hissed in pain. Bella did not think. She did not look to see if he recovered quickly or whether he was ready to go on. She had seen enough. She flung her shield onto the battlefield and toward Edward as she jumped lithely out of the tree.
Edward didn't understand what had happened. His arm was on fire, and then suddenly, it seemed his shield was on fire as well. It did not feel hot to the touch, but there was a light that seemed to be emanating from it so that it covered his entire body. He saw the witch pause in her laughter and notice the change in his shield.
Jane stopped abruptly when Edward was suddenly shielded in light. She threw a fireball at his shield, but it simply absorbed the light and made the shield stronger. Edward saw what happened and was more shocked than before at the effect the fireball had on his shield. He chanced a glance behind him, and he began to understand what had happened as Bella stepped out of the bushes. He tested the shield, moving his arm up and down and watching as the shield moved with him. Jane stood stark still as she sensed the magic, and she looked around, her eyes resting on the small priestess stepping onto the field.
"You will not get through that shield, Jane," Bella said calmly as she stepped out onto the field.
"You," Jane seethed.
Bella internally recoiled from the white-hot anger surging out of Jane.
"You remember me, young one?" Bella asked, maintaining her outward appearance of calm.
"How could I forget? Always the favorite…always holding the Lady's ear…you had what I deserved."
"Ah, so you were jealous," Bella said softly.
Jane hurled a ball of light at the priestess and Edward growled, but Bella did not move. She held her hand up and the ball slowed. It came to a stop in front of Bella's face. When she lowered her hand, the ball dropped with it, hovering around her waist.
"You were jealous of my connections, and you thought me unworthy of the attention."
Bella raised her hand and the ball followed her movements. She gave a slight flick of her wrist and hurtled the ball of light within inches of Jane, making her lurch out of the way and fall to the ground.
"Perhaps you misjudged my talent?"
Jane growled in frustration as she picked herself up off the ground and dusted the dirt from her crimson robes. She held Bella in her angry glare. Edward was slowly creeping closer to Bella as the exchange grew more intense. Jane paid him no mind now that her goal was in sight.
"I deserve to be the Lady," Jane seethed. "When I was just a babe, my mother knew I had the sight. There was always something special about me, she said. She sent me to the Lady to find an outlet for my magic. But I was never good enough there. You were always there."
"This was never about Esme, was it, Jane?" Bella asked. "This was about me."
"Of course. When you're gone, who else would succeed to the seat of Lady but me?"
"I never asked to be next in line."
"But you never resisted," Jane hissed. "When I arrived and you saw how talented I was, did you ever point me out? Did you ever make sure anyone noticed me? No. You happily went along being Esme's pet. And no one ever noticed me."
"Esme noticed you," Bella said with certainty. "But that wasn't enough. You wanted more. You will always want more."
"I will be happy with your demise, priestess," Jane spat.
She hurled several bursts of light at Bella, all of them moving faster than any she had thrown at Edward. Bella easily brushed them aside with small movements of her hands. The light bursts set a number of tree branches on fire, but none of them harmed Bella in the slightest. Edward had crept forward to stand almost side by side with Bella.
Bella threw her shield around both of them for an instant and turned to Edward.
"I cannot kill her," she said desperately. "I am vowed to the Goddess, and as such, I am sworn never to intentionally kill another being."
"That is my job," Edward said with a smirk.
Bella brought the shield back down and molded it to Edward's shield again. She began deflecting Jane's attack as Edward moved closer. Jane saw him out of the periphery of her vision and recognized that he was coming for her. She was unable to attack both Bella and Edward at the same time. In her mind, it was always Bella she wanted. She couldn't bring herself to divert her attention from her goal as she stood unprotected in front of her. She focused her energy mostly on Bella, knowing that it was the priestess that she truly wished to kill.
Edward was able to come around behind Jane, and by the time that she understood she was under real attack, the deed was already done. Edward ran her through with Brynalys, delivering a fatal blow on his first strike. When he pulled the sword from her body, she slumped to the ground, the light in her eyes slowly dying. As the threat and madness died from her eyes, Bella caught a glimpse of the frightened priestess who once shared a life with Bella on the Tor. Only then did Bella shed a tear for the young girl.
Edward finally removed his helmet, dropping it to the ground along with his heavy shield. Bella watched as he took off the partial gauntlet that had covered his wrists. He laid the bloody sword on the ground by the dead girl's feet and then knelt down, closing his eyes and cupping his hands in front of him. Bella understood immediately what he was doing and held her hands out to add her blessing to his on Jane's spirit.
Gathering up his loose armor, he stood and looked at Bella.
"I feel as though it's finally complete," he said.
"Not quite," Bella said with a wry smile.
They arrived in Avalon only a week later. They had found a horse in one of the towns and traveled in a direct line to get to the lake as quickly as possible. Once Bella told him what was waiting for him on Avalon, Edward became desperate to meet his daughter. When Bella and Edward finally mounted the Tor, Bella led him immediately to the Apple orchard, knowing that Alice would have Bree outside on such a lovely day.
"I know where she will be," Bella insisted, tugging gently on his fingers.
Edward was looking anxiously at the cluster of huts and dwellings, wondering why the babe would be in an orchard in the mid morning. But he followed Bella without question. He had learned not to question her and found that he enjoyed following her.
They saw Alice first, sitting cross-legged in the grass and waving her hands above her head. Bella turned to face Edward, a question on her face. This was so much for him to take in, and Bella worried that it would be too much. He looked at her, but his eyes kept darting past her to where Alice sat with their child. Bella smiled warmly.
"Come," she coaxed.
Bree had grown so quickly in the three months that Bella had been gone. She had left a tiny, helpless newborn and came home to an infant struggling to sit upright. Bree's shock of bronze hair had grown as well, fuzzing over her head like wisps of clouds. Her clear brown eyes regarded those around her with curiosity and an intensity that was shocking in one so young.
They approached Alice and Bree quietly, but Bella knew that Alice had sensed them long before they saw her. She did not turn around or make any eye contact with them. She simply lowered her hands to her lap and waited. Bree was lying on her back, staring up at the waving branches of the trees and the blue sky beyond them. As the couple approached, she turned her head to watch them. Suddenly, her legs began to kick violently.
Bella's heart leapt with joy because she knew that her daughter remembered her. She skipped forward, leaving Edward's side, and scooped her daughter into her arms, twirling her under the trees. The familiar weight in her arms, slightly heavier than when she left, felt reassuring as she rocked the baby back and forth. Bree stared at her mother, and her face broke out in a toothless grin. Bella return the smile and danced around the patch of grass with Bree, lifting her high and letting her fall over and over again until the baby was giggling wildly.
Bella looked over and saw Edward watching with a sad smile on his face, watching her reunite with the daughter that he did not know. She stopped suddenly, making the baby coo a question. She hushed her and transferred Bree to her left arm, holding out her right hand to Edward.
"Come," she said again. "You belong with us."
Edward stepped hesitantly forward, seeming to think about each step. Suddenly he was at her side and staring down into the perfect blending of Bella's and his face.
"She has your eyes," he said softly.
"She has your hair," Bella responded with a chuckle.
He fingered the puff of hair, making Bree laugh again. He traced the soft lines of her face until he found her tiny hand. Bree reached out and grabbed his finger in hers, holding tight. She surprised him with her grip. Bella reached over with her right hand and took his free hand in hers.
"Now it's complete," Bella whispered, leaning her head against his shoulder. She felt the circle close around them and knew that he was here to stay. She had finally captured her elusive destiny.
A/N: First, I really need to thank annsteph for her generous donation to ALSF and for allowing me to write this story. I can't really explain the pleasure it gave me to write a story so close to my heart. Thank you for believing in this story and in me. Also, I truly could not have written this without the help and hand holding of some pretty amazing people. Savage Woman, swimom7, and bookjunkie1975, aka Team Avalon: you guys seriously rock. You talked me down from a few ledges with this story and went through my draft with your careful eyes. The story is so much better for your help. I hope everyone enjoys this, but annsteph, I really hope this is something special for you, bb. : ) ~Jen