The Cold Ones swirled around the room as I curled myself protectively around Bella. Her breathing quickened and she groaned beneath the tightening chains.
"Please," she whispered. "Ed-ward."
Her eyes fluttered, and she slumped against her tethers, unable to hold herself up any longer. I wailed in desperation as I worked my fingers between her body and the chains, trying to loosen their hold on her. As soon as my fingers were between Bella and the chain, I felt weak, as though I had been drained of all energy. I pulled my fingers back as though stung and looked up at the laughing faces of the brothers.
Each of the brothers hovered above one of the chains. I gathered that the chains were an extension of the castle, and the castle itself was some extension of the brothers. I would need to weaken the brothers if I could hope to release Bella from the hold of the chains. Saying a prayer to whatever god or goddess might be listening, I roared as I ran at the chain directly under one of the brothers. I held the sword out in front of me and squeezed my eyes closed as the tip plunged into the stone holding Bella's chains. Instead of the terrible reverberations I expected to feel as the metal hit stone, the blade struck as if embedding in flesh.
The brother above me squealed in pain and fell to the ground. I removed my sword from the stone, and as I did, I saw the chain turn from snowy white to dull metal grey. It was rusted and would break easily with a blow from my sword. The man on the floor beside me gasped and wheezed, writhing on the ground in great pain.
His snowy white skin was cracked and decaying. I knew he was dying, but I understood that I would need to make the killing blow. The Merlin blade glowed as it hovered over the man. His eyes were wide as I held it over my head and sliced through the air, severing his head with one blow. His body disintegrated along with the rusty chain.
The other brothers had watched in horror as I made quick work of the first. They screamed in unison as their brother's body disappeared. Perhaps it was my own wishful thinking, but I thought that their visages looked less perfect, more damaged, now that one of their numbers was defeated.
I knew they would not make my work simple. With as much speed as I could muster, I ran at the opposite wall. I held the blade tightly as I rammed it into the stone and smiled when I heard another of the Cold Ones scream in pain. This time as he fell, his brother followed him down.
"We cannot be killed," he raged.
I looked from the writhing body on the floor to the hovering man in front of me. I could probably cut the head off the injured one before the other attacked, but he would be able to stand in my way when I went for the last wall. He expected me to finish off his brother first. Keeping my eyes on the injured brother, I made a run for the opposite wall, running just beneath the last brother.
"No!" he screamed as the Merlin blade hit home.
The last white chain turned to rusty metal and Bella slumped to the floor at the same time that the last brother fell to the ground in pain. I rushed to her side, checking to see that she was still breathing. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw her shallow breaths and returning color. She would recover.
I turned my attention to the two writhing forms on the ground. They appeared to be in great pain, but they were still moving. I feared that if I allowed them to regain strength, I would lose my opportunity at an easy kill. Placing a kiss on Bella's forehead, I walked quickly over to the first of the brothers and made quick work of his death. As before, his body along with the chain disappeared, leaving only the last.
"So," the last brother panted. "You truly are the hero the Merlin prophesied."
I stood over him holding the Merlin blade in my hands and watching his rolling eyes as he tried to focus. He was dying, but I could see that he was gaining strength the longer he remained living.
"You know that evil such as this cannot be killed, hero," he said. "Slay us, you may, but we will always come back."
"And if you shall, I will be here to defeat you again." With those words, I raised my sword in the air and brought it swiftly down, severing his head.
Bella was free and I rushed over to her. She was beginning to rouse from her stupor, but her eyes remained closed.
"Bella," I whispered. "Bella, can you hear me, love? Are you well?"
I removed my hard armor and then gently lifted her off the cold ground, laying her in my lap. She sighed as I held her close.
"Is it over?" she murmured. "Am I dead?"
"No, love, you are not dead. But it is over. Open your eyes and look at me, my Bella."
Her eyelids fluttered and finally I could see her warm, brown eyes staring up at me. Her pale lips quivered as she looked around her.
"Edward," she sighed, lifting her hand up to my face. "But how?"
I smiled and shook my head.
"It doesn't matter. You're safe and we're together. That's all that matters now."
I lifted her gently, conscious of the pain the chains must have caused her, and kissed her softly on the lips. Her mouth was cold against mine, but she was real and whole and kissing me back. Her hand traveled up my face to my hair and she wound the strands around her fingers.
"I thought I'd never get to kiss you again," she murmured against my lips.
"I do not plan to let you go, my lady," I teased as I stood, still holding her in my arms.
"That is a wise choice, knight," she said. "As you see, I find myself in much trouble without your protection."
"Then I shall never let you out of my sight again," I whispered, finding her lips with my own and kissing her soundly.
If the air around us hadn't become charged with some strange energy, we would have likely gone on kissing for hours. But we both pulled away in surprise as the wind seemed to move through the tower. Bella clung to me, frightened about what might be coming. I held her close, but I guessed at the cause of the disturbance.
When the Merlin appeared out of thin air, I relaxed immediately, knowing he meant no harm. Bella still held me tightly.
"Do not fear, Bella. This is the Merlin. He is a friend."
I set her down gently and kept my arm around her waist to steady her. She looked up at me warily. I could not blame her for her fear. Everything magical that had touched her had been evil. I knew, however, that the Merlin himself would be able to ease her fears better than I could hope to.
The small man raised his staff in the air and brought it down, the sound echoing off the icy walls and reverberating through the castle. At once, the stone under the Merlin's staff began to change from snowy white to a steel gray color. The ice on the walls began to melt, leaving real stone behind.
The air around us was warmer, full of life and vitality. I could feel the Cold Ones' presence leaving the room as the colors began to trickle back into the room. Reds, browns, greens, blues, and grays seemed to pour forth from the Merlin's staff and radiated out through the room and to the rest of the castle. Everything was coming alive again.
"Edward," the Merlin said, "boy-hero no more. You have saved the Fairy Forest from the evil magic of the Cold Ones and have rescued your true love from their snares. Look. See what your courage has wrought."
He pointed his staff to one of the windows, and Bella and I walked over slowly to peer out at the land below us. The mostly dead forest had come back to life, bursting with color and light, seeming to sparkle in the noonday sun.
"If you look further you will see that your trials are not completely over, young Edward."
The tower granted us a clear view of the entire Fairy Forest all the way to the edge of Lord Cullen's lands. Bella saw them before I did, a group of tiny figures coming to the edge of the forest line. We could just make out the cranberry and white colors of Carlisle's standard being raised above the masses. The warlord was coming to collect his wife. Bella gasped and leaned against me.
"I can't go back," she whispered, clinging to me.
"Merlin, please," I said, turning to face the wise old fairy. "I need your guidance. Lord Cullen will be here before dark. Does he know what has taken place? Do I – Can I stake a claim on the Lady Isabella?"
The Merlin smiled and spread his arms out as he gestured toward the door.
"Let us go down to your throne room, Lord Edward. We can talk more there."
He waved his arms and disappeared, but we heard his gentle chuckle echo through the room.
"My throne room?" I repeated. "But…"
Bella turned and looked at me.
"You defeated the brothers," she said slowly. "By the courtly code of honor, their land and any titles they held now belong to you. Which means this palace is yours, Edward."
"Can you walk down the stairs, my Bella? Or shall I carry you?"
She smiled and shook her head.
"I am well," she said. "But perhaps you will hold my hand?"
I nodded and we journeyed down the long, winding staircase. The walls, which were bare when I ran up the steps to find Bella, were now lined with rich tapestries. I looked at them and was surprised to see my own exploits in the Fairy Forest depicted in the woven fabric. Emmett and I were pictured defeating the wyrm, talking with the black unicorn, walking across the fiery bridge, and finally defeating the great stone sentinels.
"Did you really do all of these things to reach me?" Bella whispered as we walked down the stairs.
"I would have done more if I had to, my lady," I replied.
She shook her head.
"I would have never thought I could be loved by so great a man," she said. "I do not deserve you, Edward."
"It is I who am unworthy," I said. "Come. Let us find this throne room the Merlin spoke of and see what the old fox has in store for us."
Bella tightened her grip on my fingers, and we continued down the stairs until we came to the last of the tapestries. It pictured Bella and I dressed in wedding regalia in front of the castle. We both gasped at the details in the tapestry. Our faces were nearly perfect and friends, some old and some new, surrounded us as we stood outside what must be the very castle we were in at the moment. It looked so very different without its encasement of ice.
"The Merlin," I whispered, pulling gently on her fingers.
We entered a grand room just off the main entrance of the castle. I did not remember it from when I entered the castle in search of Bella; however, I was not focused on details at that moment. The hall was lavishly decorated and full of gay colors.
"The magic has broken, as you can see," Merlin said from his place on the dais. "By defeating the Cold Ones, you have broken the spell over this castle. It is no longer the Ice Palace of the Cold Ones. It is now The Summer Castle, and it is your home, Lord Edward."
"Lord?" I asked.
"You are Lord of the Fairy Forest … if you choose to stay?" the Merlin asked with a wry smile. "Of course, you are welcome to go back to serve the Lord Cullen if you choose."
A low growl built in my chest at the thought of serving that wretched excuse for a man.
"As I suspected," he murmured. "But you are right, my Lord. The warlord is coming, and he will have many great tricks to play in order to take your land and title away from you. You must tell me true, did the Lord Cullen send you on this journey?"
I thought back on my last conversation with the warlord. He had taunted me, telling me that Bella had run away from me. I told him that I didn't believe it and neither did he. I vowed to find her before he charged me to do so.
"No," I sneered. "It was my decision. I left of my own free will."
"Then you were not serving him when you defeated the Cold Ones. The castle is yours, and the Fey Ones will fight to keep you as their leader."
"So you think there will be a fight then," I said.
"I cannot see the future; that is Alice," he said with a chuckle. "But I know the ways of men, and I know that he will try to steal these lands and your woman from you."
Instinctively, I held Bella closer, but I smiled when he called her mine. I wished for it to be so, but it would take some careful maneuvering for it to happen.
"What do you suggest?" I asked, walking slowly around the room, taking Bella with me.
"First, I suggest a meal for your lady, my Lord. She is near famished."
The Merlin bowed when I turned around to face him and tapped his staff against the ground. A table spread with a wide array of food appeared along with two chairs. Bella barely paused before letting go of my hand and walking over to the table.
"I'm sorry, my love," I said as I pulled out the chair for her. "I wasn't thinking about how hungry you must be."
She sat down and bowed her head to the Merlin.
"Thank you, sir," she murmured to him. "Won't you join us so that we may discuss our options for when my … husband arrives?"
The Merlin shook his head with a smile.
"I do not require sustenance, my dear, but I will join you."
As I sat down at the table across from Bella, the Merlin hovered next to us, sitting cross-legged in midair.
"I assume you do not wish to go home with the man who calls himself your husband, my Lady," the Merlin said after we began eating.
"No," Bella said immediately, setting her goblet down loudly. "I do not."
"Alice has told me that if you challenge him about the grave dishonor he has shown you as his wife in not consummating your union, he will give up. He does not wish to fight you, my Lord, for he knows full well that you will defeat him. If you throw a challenge at him, he will run like the coward that he is."
Bella blushed and looked down, but the Merlin leaned over and covered her hand with his small, gnarled fingers.
"You mustn't feel ashamed by the Lord Cullen's dishonor, my Lady," he said softly. "All of his wrongs will be righted in due time."
"Alice has seen this?" I asked, wiping my mouth and standing up from the table. "She is certain that if I challenge him he will back down?"
"She is certain that if a challenge is issued, the Lady Isabella will end this day as your wife, not the Lord Cullen's wife."
"So it is not a given that he will surrender," I said, stroking my chin.
"Do you doubt your ability to defeat him, my Lord, should he choose to stand against you?"
"Of course not," I said dismissively, "but the Lord Cullen is crafty. Where is my fellow knight, Sir Emmett?"
"He is with Rose," the Merlin said. "Why do you ask?"
"By rights, he is still the Lord Cullen's champion. He could still compel Emmett to fight for him."
"Not if Emmett refuses," the Merlin said. "I believe that Sir Emmett should witness this discussion between you and Lord Cullen. His loyalty to you will be a boon in your favor."
The fairy snapped his fingers and looked toward the window. Within seconds, a peregrine falcon flew through the open glass and landed delicately on the edge of the table.
"Rhiannon, my love. Go and find Rose. Ask her to bring her warrior to us at once."
The bird nodded as if she understood the Merlin's speech and then flew out of the castle.
"Rose and Emmett will be here shortly. In the meantime, we should talk about your future, my Lord. As ruler of the fairy forest, you will hold great sway not only within this magical realm, but in other far-reaching kingdoms as well. Kings will kneel before you, my Lord."
"I just wish to live in peace with … with Bella if she will have me," I said quietly. "The rest we will deal with together."
The Merlin nodded.
"You are a wise man, Edward," he said. "Your future wife will rule at your side for many years, and your rule will come to be known as a time of fréod, or Peace. The wide stretches of your kingdom will be called Camelot, and for centuries, Kings and peasants alike will speak your name with reverence."
"But first we need to dispel the Lord Cullen, no?" I asked uncomfortably.
This talk of the future, of my future with Bella, was lovely and exciting, but it seemed so far out of my reach. I longed to run away from this place with her, hide her away so that she would be out of the warlord's reach and memory for good. I did not need lands and a title; I would be happy with a farm and Bella by my side to raise a family. These grandiose dreams frightened me because I knew that the Lord Cullen would not ever forget us if we were as prominent as the Merlin suggested we would be.
We heard footsteps in the entry of the castle and then Emmett's booming voice echoing through the stone halls.
"Edward!" he called. "Brother? Where are you? Rose said it was urgent."
I ran out to greet him, embracing him in happiness that he was whole and well despite our difficult journey. His blue eyes were astounded by what surrounded us.
"I see you've already redecorated," he said with a smirk and clapped me on the back. "I knew that the dreaded Cold Ones did not stand a chance against the pairing of you and the Merlin Blade."
The beautiful woman that met us just after we defeated the stone sentinels was trailing behind him. I smiled and bowed my head to her when I noticed her staring at me.
"Thank you for caring for him," I said to her. "I owe you a great debt for healing my dearest friend."
"Consent to allow us to marry," she replied with a smile. "It is all the thanks I ask."
Emmett's cheeks grew red and he chuckled.
"She's very direct, my Rose," he said as we walked into the throne room where Bella and the Merlin waited for us.
"I do not know that you need my permission," I hedged uneasily.
"But of course we do," Rose countered. "You are Lord of these lands and Emmett has pledged his fealty to you."
"If my blessing is what you seek, fair lady, it is yours. As for Emmett's fealty, that is a gift I will not soon forget, brother. Bella, come see! Emmett is well despite his injury!"
Bella greeted Emmett tentatively at first but was swept up into his jubilant embrace when he saw that she was unharmed.
"I apologize, my Lady," he said, setting her down. "But I feared the worse when Edward and I began this journey. It warms my heart to see you well and unharmed."
"No need for apology," Bella said with a laugh. "Will you introduce me to your woman?"
Emmett took Rose's hand tenderly and pulled her forward to stand in front of Bella.
"This is my lady, Rose," he said, his voice husky as he looked at her. "She saved my life with her love and has consented to marry me. In so doing, she has saved me twice."
Rose smiled and curtseyed in front of Bella who reached over and held her under her arm, looking her in the eye.
"The future wife of my love's brother need never bend a knee to me," she whispered opening her arms to Rose.
Emmett and I exchanged a private smile as our women embraced. It made me happy beyond measure to know that Emmett, whom I had come to think of as a brother, wanted to stay here once business with the warlord had been settled. I gestured to him and he followed me away from the ladies who had begun to talk of Bella's ordeal with the Cold Ones. The Merlin followed us as well.
I explained the situation to Emmett, and he understood the gravity of the coming meeting immediately.
"You know where my loyalty lies, brother?" he asked when I was finished.
"I won't ask you to abandon your ties with the Cullen unless it is truly what you wish for. To do so is to put yourself at odds with a very powerful leader."
"I don't look at it that way," Emmett said with a smile. "I look at it as joining a greater leader than I had before. I will be the first to pledge allegiance to you, my Lord."
He bent his knee, and I looked nervously over at the Merlin. He nodded and gestured to my sword. I pulled it from its sheath and sighed, still uncomfortable with the mantle of power that had been placed upon me.
"Rise Emmett," I said.
He looked up at me with a cross look on his face.
"You won't take my pledge of fealty?" he challenged.
"I will, but I will do it on my own terms. Now rise."
When he did so, I gestured to his own sword.
"Take out your sword and extend it hilt side to me," I said.
He held his sword carefully to me with the hilt facing me; I did the same with my own sword, holding the blade carefully as I extended to hilt toward Emmett. When our swords were touching, I grabbed the hilt of his sword and encouraged him to do the same with mine. I reached my free hand to him, but instead of grasping his outstretched hand, I took hold of his forearm and he took hold of mine.
"Emmett of Buckinghamshire, do you swear loyalty to me as your Lord, promising to use your sword in defense of my lands and my name?"
He looked down as our swords began to hum and glow, but met my eyes again quickly.
"I do so swear."
"Do you swear never to raise your sword against me or those I love?" My eyes darted over to Bella.
"I do so swear."
"As you swear, so let it be so," I said.
The swords continued to glow and hum. I held his arm within my grasp and looked him gravely in the eye.
"And I swear the same to you, Sir Emmett. I swear you my loyalty and the protection of my sword. Also, I swear to rule these lands fairly and equitably with you as my brother knight."
I looked him in the eye until he licked his lips nervously.
"As you swear, my Lord, so let it be so," he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
The swords glowed in a brilliant ball of light and then the light subsided. When we each took our swords back, it was instantly apparent that Emmett's blade had undergone a change. The dull metal glowed like new and the handle had been reformed in the shape of a dragon's head.
The Merlin banged his staff on the ground twice and from the rafters above brilliant crimson banners unfurled themselves with a white dragon's head emblazoned upon them.
"You will be known as the Pendragon, Edward," the Merlin said reverently, looking up at the banners. "Your knights will carry the dragon standard far and wide and all will know of your greatness. You have begun something today with Emmett, and the band of brothers you have created will live in tales of men for many ages."
There was not much time left before the warlord would arrive. The Merlin made quick work of the table and made the room look more like a throne room in the time left. As he worked, Alice and Jasper arrived along with other fairies. Rose seemed to know these people, but Bella stood in awe of what was happening around her.
"It is a lot to take in, is it not, my love?" I asked after I had escorted her to a quiet corner for a moment.
"I'd heard of the Merlin as a child, how he and his people had lived for centuries in the Fairy Forest until the Cold Ones came and destroyed their peace. I never thought more about those stories than that they were beautiful fairy tales. And now to meet them in the flesh, interact with them … it is fantastical to say the very least."
"We do not need to stay here," I murmured, cupping her face in my hand. "If it is too much for you, we can leave and I will take you anywhere that will make you happy."
She smiled and covered my hand with hers.
"You belong here, Edward," she said softly. "And I belong by your side. As you have said, we will weather what comes … together."
She squeezed my hand and leaned closer to me. My heart swelled with her words, knowing that she wished to be by my side. Also, it soothed my mind hearing her say that I belonged here. Magic was all well and good, but hearing my lady say that she believed that I belonged in this place was more real to me than any prophesy could be.
"It is time," the Merlin said as my lip brushed Bella's.
"Damn," I cursed under my breath and pulled away from her.
"Later," she promised, and swept her fingers across my lips before turning and walking toward the dais.
The Merlin had arranged two thrones upon the dais which were draped in crimson colored fabric and looked fit for a King and Queen. Swallowing my misgivings about putting myself above men whom I had come to think of as my betters, I followed Bella to the dais and stood in front of the larger of the two chairs. Bella stood at my side and laced her fingers with mine. Her gentle touch quieted my nerves as we heard the loud footsteps on the stone floor. The Warlord, Lord Cullen had arrived.
He strode into the throne room his head held high as he looked around him. His eyes took in everything in one fell swoop, and they came to rest on me with cold calculation. I felt his eyes travel over me and pause at my hand, which was still joined with Bella's. I continued to look levelly at him. The fairies had arranged themselves around the dais and were flanking us. The Cullen moved on, then resting his eyes on Emmett and Rose who stood to my right in a position of honor.
"So," the warlord said. "You have rescued my wife and rid my lands of an … infestation all in one day."
"Your lands, Cullen?" I asked, throwing his name at him in defiance knowing that he would take notice of the disrespect.
He did not comment, but breathed in deeply and sneered at me.
"The Fairy Forest was claimed by … intruders before my time. But since one of my knights defeated them on a mission given by me, the Forest falls into my domain."
"I was not sent by you," I said, stepping forward in challenge. "As I recall, you informed me that the Lady Isabella was 'far away' and that I would be 'wasting my time' in searching for her."
"You have a good memory," he said. "But it does not matter. You served me when you went looking for her. The lands are mine."
"I beg to differ, Lord Cullen," the Merlin said quietly, stepping up and standing to my left. "If Edward vowed to find the Lady Isabella despite your insistence that it was a waste of his time, this was his quest and not your own. He is the rightful owner of the Summer Castle and Lord of the Fairy Forest. The fey ones recognize only Lord Edward as their ruler."
Carlisle's color grew darker as he listened to the Merlin's words. He could not argue with the Merlin, a being likely older than the forest itself.
"Fine, Lord Edward, you may have the forest and the castle. Give me my wife."
"She is not your wife," I said harshly. "Is it not so that you thought so little of her that you refused to even consummate your union?"
He blanched, but recovered quickly.
"And how would you know? If she is nay a virgin now, there is no proof that I did not do the deed on our wedding night. Only your word against mine."
He smiled triumphantly, but I only stared blandly back at him.
"The Lady Isabella retains her virginity," I said softly, squeezing her fingers between my own. "And so she shall until she shares my name."
"She is married to me, you cur, and I will have her and her lands if I have to fight you to the death in order to gain them."
"You will fight me, Lord?" I asked with a smile. "Gladly. Draw your weapon."
I reached down with one hand and touched the Merlin blade.
"Emmett," Cullen called. "Dispatch my enemy for me, and you shall be richly rewarded with his castle."
Emmett crossed his arms in front of him.
"I do not fight your battles any longer, Cullen. Edward is my brother knight, and I have pledged him fealty. I will never raise a sword against him."
"You are my champion," Carlisle seethed. "You pledged fealty to me."
"I will not raise a sword against you," Emmett said calmly, "but I no longer fight for you. I end my service to you here and now."
"You must fight your own battle, Cullen," I said, my hand still on my sword. "Do you choose to fight me for the Lady Isabella's hand?"
He stepped back, just slightly, and the knights around him watched as he paled. They knew that if he failed in his attempt, it would prove my claim. So too would his refusal to fight. It was an admission of his guilt in their eyes. A rumble went through the masses as they considered the ramifications of their warlord's actions.
"I've made no secret of the fact that I married her for her lands. If she wanted consummation, she needed only to ask."
"The marriage isn't valid, Cullen," I said forcefully, stepping off the dais and toward him. "Give up your rights so that I may marry her and make a proper wife of her."
My blood boiled at the thought, but I quashed the emotion, focusing solely on the man in front of me. He was wavering; I could see it in his stance.
"You don't want her," I said, advancing on him and watching as he slunk backwards.
I remembered the Merlin's words about my lands expanding and growing and considered my options. If Cullen only wanted Bella because of her land, I could give up my claim to them as her husband and possibly be done with him. In time, if the opportunity arose that he and I fought, I could reclaim not only her lands, but the lands he held as well.
"I do want her," I continued. "I have no need of her lands. Take them and leave us in peace."
His face cleared with the opportunity to leave without a fight. It was obvious to all who would prevail in a fight to the death, and he clearly wished to avoid it at all costs.
"You are a fool," he sneered as he stood up straighter. "Giving up lands for the mere love of a lady? You will be defeated within the month, mark my words, you sentimental boy. And when you are, I will sweep in and gobble up these lands as well."
"I wouldn't count on that," a tiny voice said harshly.
Alice hovered just to my right, her tiny hands on her hips as she stared balefully at the Lord Cullen.
"You are cunning, but you are weak. Men follow you because of your name alone, but with the promise of truth, honor, and dignity that the Pendragon promises them, they will flock to him in hoards, fleeing your tyranny in the night if they have to and seeking to serve a real King. Mark my words, Cullen. The Lord Pendragon will burn your flag in triumph before the first frost."
Cullen's eyes were wide in horror as he listened to her words full of the weight of prophecy. No one among us could deny the certainty with which she spoke of the future, as though it spread before her like a tapestry.
Cullen continued to back away from me, gesturing to the manservant beside him to make ready for departure.
"Fine," he said. "I shall go, leaving you with your sentimental victory. If any of my men show up missing, I shall blame you and consider it a clear act of war."
"You must do as you see fit," I said, "but any man who comes to me with an open heart and a desire to serve will be given protection from retributions for his pledge of fealty."
"You will live to regret this … Pendragon," he spat and turned.
Most of his men followed him out of the hall. However, once the Cullen clan had cleared out, there were at least ten more knights in my band than I held previously. After they had sworn fealty, Alice came over to me.
"There will be more," she said. "Many more will come, and you will build a new knighthood based on brotherhood instead of fear. Your knights will be feared and revered, Edward, because of your leadership."
She reached her tiny hand up to me and I bent down to offer her a finger. She took my finger and placed a small kiss on the tip with a smile.
"You will be a good king," she said. "And you will listen. I must go, but I will see you by the light of the full moon at your wedding."
She disappeared without another word, and I smiled as I stood. I looked around the room, still unable to fathom that it was part of my castle and these were my men surrounding me.
"Merlin," I called. "I have a boon to ask of you."
He cackled his strange, comforting laugh before nodding at me to go on.
"Marry us?" I asked. "I see no need to wait, and if it pleases Sir Emmett and the Lady Rose, they may share the ceremony?"
Both Emmett and Rose smiled at the notion, but Bella's face was the only one I saw. Her face radiated her happiness at finally being free of all of her tethers.
"I declare that you are man and wife," the Merlin intoned as he waved his staff above our clasped hands.
The red ribbon he had draped over our fingers seemed to bind itself around our joined hands, joining us as one. Bella glowed in her golden gown as she smiled at me. The Merlin moved over to Rose and Emmett, and I leaned closer to Bella.
"I know this isn't the grand ceremony that you may have imagined for us," I whispered.
"It is perfect," she replied, tightening her grip on my hand. "It is your hand that I hold, and it is now your name that I share. Nothing could be more perfect than this."
The Merlin, having finished with Rose and Emmett, now hovered between us.
"On this night, as the full moon hangs heavy in the sky, you have declared your love before me and these witnesses."
He waved his hands, encompassing the whole of the grove where we stood. Fairies and fey creatures stood among the small smattering of knights we had to our name. In the distance I saw the black unicorn's golden horn flash in the moonlight before disappearing.
"So you have promised to each other, so let it be for all time."
He brought his staff to the ground, and the heavens opened up above us, sprinkling us with rose petals and glittering dust. I pulled Bella to me with my free hand and pressed my lips against hers. She was mine, for always. I would never have to hide my love for her again.
The Merlin brought his staff to the ground again, and Bella and I were transported to another part of the Fairy Forest to a beautiful pavilion. I looked down to see our hands unbound and stepped behind my wife, running my fingers up and down her arm as we stared at the wedding chamber the fairies had prepared for us. The tent was draped in lilac and blue. A low bed filled the tent, and it was covered with silks and pillows of all shapes and sizes.
Anticipation built within me as I watched Bella. She stood motionless, her eyes fixed intently on the bed in front of us.
"Shall we, my Bella?" I asked, stepping in front of her and lacing our hands together.
She nodded nervously and stepped within the tent. The tent glowed with a soft multicolored light that seemed to come from the flowers adorning the walls. The fairy light seemed to highlight Bella's soft blush and give her eyes, lowered and staring at the ground in front of her, the appearance of fire burning within.
"Will you sit with me a moment, my love?" I asked gently.
She nodded again, still silent. I reclined on the bed in front of her, my crimson wedding tunic lying loosely around my body. I looked up at her still standing stiffly beside the bed. My heart filled with pity as I looked in her eyes and saw her fear and uncertainty. She worried about giving herself to me, I guessed.
I sat up on the bed and motioned for her to join me. As she sat gently on the edge of the bed, I leaned over and pulled her roughly to me, making her gasp. I stopped just as her eyes were level with mine, allowing her to look in my eyes and see the desire I felt for her.
"Bella," I whispered, my voice shaky. "I have never wanted anything as much as I want to love you tonight."
"I do not want to disappoint you," she murmured, her brown eyes filling with tears.
I ran my fingers along the side of her face, gently feeling the delicate bones of her cheek and jaw, until my hand found the long lines of her neck.
"Nothing you could do could ever hope to disappoint me," I said. "You have given me more than I ever hoped for in loving me."
"But I am inexperienced, my Lord," she said blushing, "and I may not be what you had hoped me to be."
Gently, I pulled her closer to me until her legs rested on either side of mine and our chests touched. Slowly, I brought my hand lower and rested over her heart, feeling the fast fluttering against my skin.
"Do not think about what is right or what should be, my love," I whispered. "Do not think at all. Tonight, only feel. Your heart will lead you."
I watched her dark eyes widen and then her lids lower as she fully grasped the meaning of my words. Her body shifted as she brought her hands around my neck and leaned her face closer to mine. Her movements were still tentative as she brushed her lips against mine, but the feel of our skin touching undid some of her fears. She moaned against me as I kissed her harder, flicking my tongue against her lips.
Her fingers tightened in my hair, and she returned my kiss deeply, sucking my tongue as it probed her mouth. I groaned as her teeth scraped against my lip, and my breathing quickened. Falling back against the bed, I trailed my fingers down the length of her sides to rest on her hips. I held her tightly, and she bucked against me.
"Bella," I whispered, moving my hands further down her legs until I found the edges of her dress and began pushing it up her thighs.
She continued to rock herself above me, and her motions created tremors of desire that coursed through my body. I was overcome with the feelings that she was creating, and I tugged at her dress roughly, ripping it along one of the seams until it was split to her waist. She gasped, but my fingers followed the opening of the fabric along her skin, raising gooseflesh wherever I touched.
I sat up with her and began working on the ties at the front of her gown. Her breasts heaved as I released them from the binding fabric and rolled it down her arms, exposing her completely to me. She backed away and stood in front of me, leaving me reaching out for her. She shook her head slowly and then shrugged out of her dress, standing naked in front of me. I shuddered as I sighed, staring at her body. Her pale skin glowed in the strange light.
Bella walked forward, but I stopped her and stood up. Knowing what I wished for, she reached up, undid the ties of my tunic, and helped me lift it over my head. Her breath caught in her throat as she reached for the ties of my trousers. The tie loosened quickly, and the pants fell to the ground. We stood before each other, drinking in each other's bodies and memorizing each other. Her fingers reached out and tickled the skin of my chest with her touch. I shivered as her fingers trailed lower to my stomach until I groaned with need for her. I reached out and brushed the tips her breasts, dropping to my knees in front of her.
"You are so beautiful, my Bella," I whispered huskily.
I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her close to me, bending lower and rubbing my nose against her stomach. I trailed my nose further up her body until my lips found her hardened nipple. When I darted my tongue out against the taut tip, she gasped and rocked her hips against me. I held her steady and closed my mouth around the rosy mound, swirling my tongue softly against her.
Her fingers were grasping at my hair as she cried out my name. I finally released her only to move on to the other breast. I growled as she bucked against me again and ran my fingers along the length of her torso. When I came to her belly button, I let my fingers dip lower until they teased the sensitive hair at the meeting of her thighs.
"Yes," she sighed. "Please."
I groaned again and released her breast from my mouth. I kissed along her chest and down her stomach until my nose and mouth were inches from her center. Guiding her around until she was just in front of the bed, I eased her back onto the bed.
"Lie down, love," I murmured.
Her hair lay splayed around her head as she lay back panting on the bed. I knelt in front of her, watching as the muscles of her legs clenched in anticipation. Gently, I lifted her leg and ran my fingers along the back muscles, watching as she twitched beneath me, her breath becoming ragged with desire. I put her foot down and placed both palms against the inside of her thighs.
She lifted her hips up involuntarily, meeting my searching mouth as I bent down to her. She was warm and musky as I dipped my tongue into her, making her cry out. I knew enough of virgins to know that she would not garner much pleasure from the final act of love, and I wished for her to experience the fullness of completion before we consummated our union. Her hips moved with me as my tongue stroked her, tasting her and swirling within her.
I yearned for her warmth to surround me, but I continued moving my tongue against her as her breathing became more ragged and her movements became more frantic. I could feel the muscles of her legs tensing and quivering beneath my hands. As she came apart beneath me, I stroked her tender flesh with my fingers, widening her gently for when I would enter her. She cried out unintelligible sounds of pleasure as she slowly came down. I kissed along her thighs and on her stomach, and I gently probed her with my fingers.
When I looked up at her lying on the bed before me, her face was shining with perspiration. I stood, my member twitching in anticipation of finally being joined with her. She opened her eyes lazily and smiled at me, reaching out to me.
"Come to me, love," she murmured thickly. "I am yours."
I crawled over her, nuzzling into her neck and nipping at the sensitive skin of her throat, making her giggle and writhe beneath me.
"I want you so badly, Edward," she cried.
"As I want you," I whispered. "I will try to go slowly, my Bella. You will tell me if it hurts too much, and we will wait and try again?"
She nodded, her body stiffening slightly at the mention of pain. I kissed just under her ear and along her jaw line until I found her lips. She kissed me wildly, her hands traveling along my body and her hips lifting to meet mine. Her warm center brushed against my throbbing erection, and I hissed at the contact, eager to bury myself in her and move with her.
I knelt more steadily on the bed and widened her legs with my hands. She lifted up her hips again, encouraging me. Bending over her, I found her opening and aligned myself. As I slowly sheathed myself in her warmth, I whispered in her ear.
"I have never loved another as I love you."
Her body was tense with anticipation as I moved slowly, gradually filling her.
"I will never love another as I love you."
She gasped as I broke through the barrier of her maidenhood and continued to move within her.
"You are my life now, my Bella."
I was completely surrounded by her, and I stilled myself within her, waiting for her to become accustomed to the feel of me inside of her. After a moment, her hips moved, making her slide against me. I whimpered, pulling out slightly and moving forward again, feeling her body clench around me as I moved.
"Oh, Edward," she gasped as we continued to move.
"Shall I stop?" I asked, my voice tight with need.
"No," she cried. "Please, no."
I cried out, moving faster within her.
Her nails scraped against my back, and her legs moved up, wrapping around my waist and allowing me to penetrate deeper within her. I held myself up so that I could see her face as I moved with her. Her eyes were closed tightly, and her lip was snared between her teeth as she panted beneath me. Her muscles tightened and relaxed around me as I moved in and out of her warmth.
Suddenly, her mouth opened wide, and she cried out in surprise as she came. Feeling the tremors of her release massage me as I moved within her sent me over the edge. I came, crying out her name as my seed spilled within her. We continued to move slowly, riding out the waves of pleasure until we pulled apart, sticky with love and perspiration.
I rolled to the side of her, gathering her close to me. She kissed me lightly on both of my cheeks, my nose, my eyes, and finally my lips.
"Are you well, my love?" I asked her, making swirling patterns on her back as I held her.
"More than well," she murmured, snuggling closer to me. "I have never felt as complete as I do in this moment."
We lay in the flickering magical light of the tent for minutes or hours, I could not tell which, simply basking in each other's presence.
"Edward?" she asked sleepily after some time had passed.
"Mmm," I murmured, kissing her forehead. "Yes, love. What's wrong?"
"I was just thinking," she sighed, rolling over and cupping my face in her hands.
Her eyes were deep. They were not troubled, but they looked far away.
"What is on your mind?" I asked.
"Do you think the Cullen will leave us be?" she asked.
"No," I answered honestly. "But I do not think that he poses a real threat to us."
"Why are you so confident?" she asked with a small smile.
"You saw the magic that joined Emmett and I when we made our pledges to each other," I said as I stroked her hair. "It was the same magic that joined the rest of the knights that stayed today and the magic that joined us together. I would never have thought it before today, but I believe in the power of that magic. It was not summoned lightly, nor do I think it a false magic. It will protect us and guide us. I believe that the magic is on the side of good, and that good shall prevail over evil."
"I hope so, Edward," she whispered with a sigh. "The vision that the Merlin and the fairy Alice told us was lovely. That of the dragon banner covering vast lands with the blanket of peace and protection. It is something I wish for, not only for us but for our subjects … whoever they may be."
"I wish for it too, my love," I said, "with every beat of my heart."
Edward, son of Edvard, lived for many years beside his beautiful queen in the Summer Castle. Their reign was touched with peace and prosperity, the magic of the Merlin never far from them. The Cullen did challenge Lord Edward, but in the end, the Pendragon was triumphant. The Cullen's men came meekly to the Pendragon banner, and he made good on his promise to offer them protection and brotherhood. The knighthood that Sir Emmett and the Pendragon began that day grew into the Knighthood of Camelot. Edward's heirs carried on his name and the peace won under the Pendragon banner lasted for centuries to come. As the Merlin predicted, men spoke of Edward, Bella, Emmett, and the Merlin for centuries to come, remembering them as the bringers of peace and order during tumultuous times. As for the Cullen, he is only remembered for his cowardice. As well it should be.
And they all lived
Happily Ever After
A/N: Well, you can't get much more of a HEA then that, now can you? ;) Thank you all SO much for reading this story, sharing your thoughts, and just indulging my medieval heart with this story. I adored writing this story and am simply overwhelmed with the response to it. It makes me squee with delight to know that others out there love Lancelotward and his Bella so much. :) Thank you for reading and may you all have lovely dreams of your own knights in shining armor tonight! ;) ~Jen