So nice to be posting again :D
Thank you SO MUCH! Your reviews were so heartwarming to read - they made a world of difference.
I am so sorry for having such a huge gap, but thanks for showing your support! It's amazing!
And so, without further ado, enjoy!
Adagio for Strings - Samuel Barber (Musical genius...I mean, really! You have got to hear it if you haven't!)
The Flying Theme - John Powel (How to Train Your Dragon? AWESOME!)
Quickly, I grabbed my cloak from where it hung on the wardrobe and tied it around my shoulders. "Take me to them."
It did not take long to reach the Noble's House this time. The roads were near empty and Sebastian, though he did not ride with the terrifying speed my Lord did, was a fast rider. It felt strange having my arms around Sebastian's skinny waist and not the strength of Edward's body. The security I had somehow built for riding on these damned beasts was lost without him and the ride, whilst short, was not pleasant.
"Are you sure the Noble will not mind?" I asked as we rode down the street to the house.
He shrugged his shoulders in front of me, "As my father always says 'there are some things men should just not enter into'. A birthing room is one of 'em."
I blushed. What sort of help will I be?
Sebastian stopped outside the door and helped me off.
As we entered into the familiarly dark corridor there was a cry from a door at the end.
"Oh Lord," I whispered.
We went past the drawing room, which was quieter than usual, to the door. Sebastian turned to me, his face as nervous as mine, "Good luck."
And then he left me. Boys...I thought sardonically, then knocked on the door as the girl cried out again.
Knowing they would probably be too busy to hear, I slipped in, shutting the door behind me. The long, narrow room seemed to be a dormitory, with bunks lining the walls. The only part that was lit was the left end, where Madame Corban and three other women were moving about. Their brows were sweating, their sleeves pushed up. Madame Corban's arms were covered with blood.
I caught a glimpse of the girl as one of the women moved. She lay on a lower bunk in the poor light, her face red with pain and tears.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed back my hood and went to her. The other women only had time to glance my way. "Thank goodness you're here, my lady," said one of them, wringing out a bloodied cloth.
I nodded and knelt down by the girl, unsure what to do.
"You must push, child," Madame Corban said from the end of the bunk. "The babe will not come out on its own."
"No!" the girl mumbled, tears streaming from her cheeks. "It is too much!"
Gritting my teeth, I grabbed the girl's sweating hand. "You can do it," I said quietly. She turned her head to look at me, her eyes frenzied like a spooked horse.
"My lady," she sobbed, squeezing my hand. "Why are you here?"
"To help you. And Isabella," I said. "That is my name. What is yours?"
"Vera," she whispered, then writhed. "Stop it! Stop it now!"
"It will not be stopped," Madame Corban said. "You must fight."
"No," the girl wept, her eyes searching for mine again. I brushed the hair from her wet forehead. "It hurts too much. It hurts so much!"
"Vera," I said quietly. "You must keep going, you must keep pushing. It is the way it has to be."
"No!" she cried. "Make it stop!"
"Vera!" I fought to regain her attention, the women around me hurrying back and forth in the half light with towel and basins.
"She must help or the child in her will die!"
I put a hand to her cheek, "Vera," I said urgently. "Do you want your child to live?"
"Yes!" she groaned. "But not here! Not in this s-stew!"
I frowned, pulling back to look at Madame Corban, "She thinks she is in a whorehouse?"
"She is delirious with fever, lady," one of the other women said.
"They won't have it!" the girl shouted, thrashing against the covers. "They won't take my baby!"
No! My heart cried out for her. I tried to think. I had been insane with fever the night I had been shot. Memories had mixed with the present and all had seemed lost. I had wanted to let go...what pulled me back?
Edward. The unwanted answer came far too easily. But it was his mystique and his allure that had kept me from falling into the peaceful darkness. The taste of a possible future...
"Vera," I said fiercely, making sure she kept her eyes open. She looked at me again. "You know who I am?"
"The Noble's Lady," she choked.
"Yes," I leaned forward as her eyelids drooped. "And do you know what I do?"
"You c-care for the damned," she said, then writhed again.
Madame Corban looked up from the foot of the bed, "Try, child! Do not give in!"
"Vera," I commanded her eyes back to me. "You are right. That is what we do."
"My child won't be born to a stew!" she shouted.
"Vera! Your baby will be safe, I promise you," I tried to keep the desperation from my voice. "It will be under the protection of the Nobles, under my protection. No evil thing will come near your child. You are both under our protection now. Nothing will harm you, I swear it."
She looked up at me with wild eyes. I tried to look back levelly. "You are under our protection," I repeated.
"It hurts," she whimpered.
"I know," I whispered, gripping her hand tightly. "But you can do it, Vera. Do it for your child."
It took time. More time than I had imagined to be under such pain. How could such a sacred thing be so painful and messy and long? For over two hours Vera cried out, digging her nails into my hand and screaming as the babe wrestled its way into the waking world. Madame Corban worked tirelessly, instructing the girl and doing lord knows what else. Vera's fever worsened, and there were horrible, terrifying moments of quiet. But then it seemed to ease again, and the noise began again.
The candles were swimming in their wax when Vera gave out a mighty shout, squeezing my hand to a pulp. With one last push, she fell back onto the mattress, a sheen of sweat over her whole body.
And then...then there was the glorious sound of a tiny little baby crying.
"It is a girl," Madame Corban said softly, taking a piece of cloth from one of the women and wrapping the tiny little creature in it.
"A girl," Vera murmured, her eyes open just enough to see. "Let me hold her." I helped her to sit up a little.
Knowing she did not have the strength, Madame Corban passed the child to me, and with an immovable smile, I helped Vera to hold the little girl in her arms.
"Isabella," she whispered.
"Yes?" I said quietly, transfixed on the two tiny, petal-like eyelids.
"That is her name," Vera said, tracing the little child's face. "My Isabella." She gave a weak, delighted laugh, then, and I saw the tears rise in her eyes. Tears of a different nature this time. "Mine," she whispered, and held the child to her chest.
I bit my lip against my own tears. "I am glad you did not give in."
Vera glanced at me, "Thank you. Thank you, all of you."
Madame Corban stepped forward, "You must rest, child."
"There is one more thing I must do," she said. "I cannot let death take me before I – "
"Death will not take you!" I gasped.
But the rest of the room was quiet. Seeing her so happy, it was hard to remember the state she had been in such a short time ago. But I realized that perhaps all was not well now. Happiness did not ward away sickness; it just kept it at bay for the briefest of moments.
"What must you do?" I asked shakily.
She looked nervously at me, "May I speak to the Noble and you, my lady?"
"That is not appropriate!" one of the women exclaimed.
True enough, men were not allowed into the birthing chamber, and certainly not when the mother was in this state...
But Vera could not be denied anything. Not now.
"No," I said quietly. "If he is here, I will fetch him." I turned to the women, "Perhaps you would..." I gestured to the birthing bed. They nodded and set about finding new linen.
I made sure the babe was safe in Vera's arms before I stood, cleaned my hands and went out the door.
The hush of the corridor seemed strange after the hot, frantic dormitory. But there was no time to catch breath. Seeing no light from his office door, I headed for the hall.
I entered to find the great room filled with people once again and a fire crackling merrily in the hearth.
This time, however, as they noticed my presence, they stood, bobbing curtsies and bows. I blinked, surprised. It was then that it was easy to find Edward, standing straight and still at the head of the middle table, his fingers frozen on a map of some kind. He looked me up and down in the brief silence.
I swallowed and avoided his gaze, remembering that my dress sleeves were terribly pushed up and smudges of blood adorned my bodice and, more importantly, I was here – where I had vowed never to be again. But that did not matter now. The Noble's people straightened up and looked at me expectantly.
The thought of Edward was quickly silenced and I felt the smile upon my lips again, "Miss Vera has given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl."
Sighs of relief and laughter erupted through the hall. I wished a giggle to bubble to my own lips, but Vera's own dwindling life force stopped any laugh from beginning.
I sought Edward's face again. He was already coming toward me.
"She has asked for you," I said quietly, looking at the needlework of his jerkin rather than into those damned eyes.
"For me?" I heard the frown in his voice.
I turned and walked out into the corridor. He followed quickly behind me. "Isabella," he said frustratedly, reaching for my wrist.
I snatched it out of his grasp and knocked on the dormitory door.
We were admitted into the dark and warm room. I went straight to my place on my knees next to Vera. She was still awake, her arms still managing to hold her sleeping child.
Edward lingered in the doorway. For the first time, I saw him seem a little unsure. Sebastian was right – this truly was a woman's place. "We shall leave you to your meeting, Noble," Madame Corban said, shepherding the women out.
Edward stiffly stepped by to let them pass, closing the door behind them, and then looked to where Vera and I were. Taking a breath, he seemed to assume the expression of the Noble again. "How are you feeling?" he asked her gently, crouching down next to me. His eyes were intent on her, his voice sincere.
Vera smiled shyly with cracked lips, "I have never been happier, my Lord."
Even as she said it, her eyes blinked shut. Her face was paler than ever.
"Vera," I breathed, putting my hand with hers. "You said you wished to speak with us?"
Her eyes opened a little. "Yes," she whispered, and looked down at the little babe in her arms. "I have no family. No one..." she sniffled. "And I know you are both far above me...but will you be her godparents?"
I felt Edward stiffen beside me. I myself could hardly move. Godparents?
She took our silence as a negative, "I am sorry," she choked. "I should not have asked – "
"Vera," I suddenly said, my hand gripping hers once more. She looked at me, tears in her eyes. "I promised you I would protect her, no matter what. I will be her godmother. I will care for her with my own life. I know I cannot speak for the Noble but – "
"No," Edward said quietly, gazing at the little child. "You were right to." He fixed his eyes on Vera. "I will care for her with my own life, as well. She will be happy and she will be safe."
Vera let out something between a laugh and a sob. "Thank you," she breathed. "I know...I know you cannot possibly be at her baptism or let her live with you but if you find a good family for her..."
"We will," Edward said, patting her hand.
Vera took a deep breath, the sweat beading on her white forehead once more. She stroked the face of her child. "Isabella," she whispered. "This is the Noble and his Lady. You will never meet two more kind or brave..." she swallowed. With shaking arms she held the child out to me.
I took her, Edward carefully tucking the blanket around the babe's tiny head.
"I love you," Vera whispered, lying back on the pillows. And then, with one final rise and fall of her chest, her eyes shut and she died.
"God bless you," I whispered, a tear sliding down my cheek.
Edward pulled me and the child into his arms by the side of the bed, placing his lips upon my head and holding us both close.
Vera was laid to rest that night in a hidden, desolate graveyard not far from the Noble's house. I could not go – little Isabella could not have stayed out in the cold for so long. So the women clucked around me, seating me in a chair by the fire and offering me ale which I could not stomach. Eventually, the men and women of the Noble's court departed for their beds or their homes. I sat alone in my chair, unable to look away from the sleeping child. The peace in her face lulled me into my own sleep by the dying fire.
As if by magic, I woke as she did, blinking her little eyes and looking about at the world she had been born into.
"Hello," I whispered.
Her fingers crept out from the blanket and reached for my finger, holding onto it.
I smiled, enchanted by her. "You are beautiful, sweet Isabella," I said, rocking her. "Like your mother."
"Like her Godmother." I looked to find Edward standing in the doorway, his cheeks flush from the cold, still wearing his thick black cloak. He came and knelt by us, his eyes just as transfixed on the babe as mine.
"You will grow into a great lady, I am sure," he whispered, touching her cheek. Isabella looked at him with shining blue eyes. Edward grinned. "You will."
I bit my lip, hardly suppressing my happiness. I could not understand it...and perhaps I did not want to. After all, there were so many things to be angered about, particularly to do with Edward. I was content to stay in this lull the babe had induced. Just for a little longer.
"Will we stay here tonight?" I asked softly as the baby played with his long, calloused fingers.
"No," he said, looking at the child, that light still in his eyes. "No one here has the time or resources to care for this little one. We can take her back to the manor and she can stay in the nursery with the wet nurse and the other children."
"Will the nurses not ask questions?"
Edward shook his head, "They are paid well enough not to. Besides, you would be surprised at the number of bastards who come out of the court's romances every year. They will just assume this is another."
"And then what?" I asked. "She cannot stay forever."
He frowned, "I know a few families who could take her in with the right amount of money. They're trustworthy; they would care for her..." he trailed off, and looked up at me. "But that is only if you believe it to be the right decision."
I swallowed, realizing just what he was doing – the power he was entrusting me. I took a breath, "I would wish to meet this family," I looked down at Isabella. "I swore to Vera when she was in the midst of it all that I – we would protect her."
Edward nodded, "We will."
We, oh, but that word had such a great fullness to it. Such meaning...
Edward sighed and rose, offering me a polite hand to get up.
The house was silent as Edward led me out a concealed backdoor to a small stable where his stallion was tethered, chewing on some hay.
I stepped back, holding the babe closer to my chest. Perhaps I could now stomach riding alone with Edward. But not with this delicate child in my arms.
"Isabella," Edward said gently, knowing my fear. "We shall ride carefully. She will be safe. Trust me."
"I do not trust it," I said, looking up at the huge beast, its big black eye staring down at me.
"He has been with me many a time and never failed me," Edward said. "And it is not good for the child to be out in the cold for so long."
Taking a breath, I raised my chin, "You'd best ride carefully."
Carefully, I handed the babe to him and then somehow managed to mount. The horse whinnied and moved a little, but I kept my calm. "Give her to me," I said quietly.
Cradling the babe's head in his large hand, he passed her up to me. I held her tightly within the warmth of my thick cloak.
My breath stilled, though, as I felt Edward climb up behind me, his chest flush against my back, his arm curling around me. This was too close. Too close when I was still so very angry and unsure of him.
"Trotte, Domo," he ordered.
We set off at a light trot through the black streets.
Isabella was silent until we were across the Thames, then she seemed to wake and began to cry.
"Oh," I said, rather stunned. Edward, too, seemed to have slowed the horse, and we both seemed to hesitate, not knowing what to do.
I looked at the little child's red face, screwed up as she wailed, loud for all the street to hear.
"Isabella," I whispered uncertainly. She continued. "Hush," I said, bringing her up to face me. "Hush, child...why are you crying?" But, I realized, she had so much to cry for. Her life had changed within an hour of it beginning – her mother, lost. "Oh, love," I whispered, and held her to me again, cradling her and hushing. I did not know where such skill had come from, but soon the child was quiet once more. I smiled down at her little face and prayed she did not begin again.
It was not long before we rode into the well-lit stables of my Lord Cullen's house.
Without a word, Edward aided me and the now sleeping babe in dismounting and we entered the house, much the same as we had last night.
But now I was no longer so shaken...and I knew now that Edward had always planned on giving me away to some stupid, love-silly boy.
The nursery was on the third floor, down a corridor similar to that on the second floor. Edward tapped on the door. There was a creak of a chair and a brush of fabric before a plump nanny opened the door and, upon seeing Edward, sunk into a curtsy. It was strange to see such a show of respect occur here and not with the Noble's people. This woman did so because protocol dictated it was to be so, not the true respect his people gave him.
"My Lord?" she said, looking at the child in my arms.
Behind her, the nursery was dark, the little bodies of four sleeping children rising and falling in their beds. It seemed spacious and warm; Isabella would be well cared for here, surely.
"This child needs a nanny for a few days while a home is found for her," Edward explained shortly. There were no questions.
The nanny nodded and held out her arms.
I blinked – I was going to have to say goodnight so soon?
I bent down and kissed Isabella's soft forehead, "Sleep well, little one. You're safe."
I passed her over before I couldn't let go. The nurse gave me a condescending look which showed she thought me the mother before curtsying to Edward and closing the door.
"You will make a great mother one day," Edward said softly and we descended the dark staircase.
Perhaps I ought to have simply nodded, but now the child was gone and my feelings had once again returned to me. Oh, my mind was confused, but there was one thing that I knew I was still so angry and afraid of:
"For Jacob Black's children?" my voice was but a cold whisper.
I heard him stop behind me. I turned. His hand gripped the banister, his eyes shut, his jaw taut, his face in a grimace.
"Do not deny it," I hissed. "Do not make excuses for it. Do not taunt me for it."
I stepped forward, "You wanted this."
His eyes flashed open, intense even in darkness, "I want this?" His voice was no more than a whisper.
I nodded stiffly.
His eyes glinted dangerously and in two short steps he was pressing me against the wall, his hands curled around my back, his lips taking mine, warm and soft and fervent.
I gasped, trying to formulate thought but nothing came. My hands froze only a moment before giving in and clasping the fabric of his cloak, and I pushed back, my lips just as eager. Edward felt the change in me. He ran his hand down my side, brought a hot palm to my cheek. I heard my desperate sigh, felt my fingers curl around his neck and bring him closer to me. Oh! What was this? How could this be? Our lips toiled and danced, and then I felt his tongue beg entrance.
How could one refuse? Oh, sweet Lord, he owned me and I had not even known. But he had no right! My anger pushed me further; my fingers clutched his hair, my mouth more urgent. He groaned and his own grip upon my hips tightened, our tongues entwining. What was this feeling inside me? Why, how, did anger turn into this? This wonderful, dark thing?
Abruptly, he pulled back, his breathing heavy, his eyes flaming and his lips parted, "Do you still believe I want you to marry that boy?"
"Stop it, then," I challenged.
He shook his head, though he looked down, as if he wished he weren't, "I will not. For the safety of us all."
"I would not betray you now!" I exclaimed. "People can change and I have!"
"'Change'?" Edward said incredulously. He stepped closer again, bearing down above me. "But you do not believe I have changed."
"How many innocent lives did you watch go down into that basement and did nothing?"
My heart sunk at the memory of my own words, "I did not mean what I said this morning, Edward."
"But it is true," he said.
"No," I said. "I meant what I said last night! That you were a good man!"
He shook his head, "Your leaving London with Black is for everyone's safety, including your own, from me."
"You have saved my life over and over!" I exclaimed.
He shook his head, "I have almost taken your life, Isabella." He gazed at me distantly, his voice softening, "I will not have you lain in front of me again as you were that awful night, drenched in blood and crying out in agony. I will never bring you such pain again. I bring death, Isabella. But I will not bring yours."
"Edward," I whispered, stepping close to him once more, my hand reaching to touch his cheek.
But he moved away from me. "You will marry Jacob Black," Edward said, not looking at me.
"And what of my duties as the Noble's Lady?" I asked. "The promises I've made."
He paused, still gazing at a spot on the floor, "It is not your battle," he said eventually. "As soon as your vows have been spoken you will leave this god forsaken city forever."
And with a sweep of his cloak, he descended the rest of the stairs, opened the window and leapt into the darkness. Where he was going, I did not know.
Slowly, I went to the open window, feeling the cold air upon my face. I looked down on the dark, empty street, and then out, toward where I could see the steeples and houses of London catching the white moonlight upon their stones and tiles.
I felt weak, and that pain was still in my chest.
But strangely, I found my thoughts turning away from Edward to the little newborn baby sleeping above me.
Such love I felt for her...such care...
And so I felt the memory of Edward's uncaring lips upon my own fade, instead replaced by the press of Vera's hand in mine, the quivering shoulders of the man who'd lost his sons, Jessica's shaking body after we'd escaped her old pimp...
...and the small weight of little Isabella in my arms.
My heart filled with new emotion. I realized I could not leave. Because it did not matter what Edward had commanded. It did not matter that I was an orphaned girl with no wealth to speak of. It did not even matter that I was a girl at all.
Somehow over the past week I had become attached to these people of London.
I took a deep breath, letting the wind blow my skirts and strew my hair.
I would not leave.
For this was my battle.
I was the Noble Lady.
Please do tell me your thoughts!
Thanks for reading!