I have a love of history. And while this story is mostly fluffy, there was quite a bit of historical research put into it.
Many thanks to my dear friend ExquisiteEdward who reads every random thing I send her way and is nothing but lovely and supportive. She is the bread to my butter.
I hope you will enjoy! This is a short tale, and will update very quickly.
Part 1 of 6
My eighteenth birthday was a bright September day. My spirits were soaring. My brother Emmett had returned on leave from His Majesty's war in France, unharmed for the most part besides a few scratches. The expedition to conquer the Port at Bayonne had been a failure. Now fleets of ships sailed into Plymouth Sound with the wounded, but these were matters for older people to discuss.
In Devon there was laughing and rejoicing. It was like a holiday that carried on for weeks. Crowds gathered around the bay each day to watch ships cutting through the sea. And what a sight they were! Eighty ships or more, gathered at the docks, their white sails bellying in the wind, colorful pennants streaming from the golden spars.
The soldiers too were a sight to behold. The Duke of Buckingham—I could tell because his ship was decorated with a pennant of red and gold, the colors of his family crest—stepped onto land with more dignity than I had ever seen in a man who had just lost a battle. His head was held high, his posture straight. A dozen sailors marched behind him, proud as could be.
"I thought as much," said a fellow behind me. "There's only one man in Europe who could turn an unruly rabble into soldiers fit for His Majesty's bodyguard. That's the Cullen coat-of-arms, do you see it, hoisted beneath the Duke of Buckingham's standard?"
Even as he spoke I saw the blue and silver pennant beneath the Duke's, streaming in the wind.
Row boats were lowered from the ships' sides, the officers seated in the stern. Villagers rushed to the docks to greet the soldiers, shouting and calling, pushing against each other to be the first to welcome them home. Guards armed with bayonets halted the townspeople and ordered them away as the boats were unloaded. The spell was broken, so we returned to home.
Mother gathered us around the dining table for a celebratory breakfast. The room had been mostly untouched for months. Mother and I had preferred to eat elsewhere, hating to look upon the empty chairs. Father's chair at the other end had been empty for twelve years now. But now my brother occupied his seat at the head of the table, and that was enough to keep our spirits high.
"A fine day for your birthday," my brother said, passing me a plate of eggs. "We have all been requested to attend a banquet at the Castle, by Lady Cope."
"The Baroness!" Mother cried, her eyes alight. "Lady Cope has grown very fond of Isabella." She turned to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Such high connections. The Baroness will surely find you a suitable husband."
Emmett laughed at my mother's antics. "There will be ten thousand men roaming the Castle tonight. Let her loose and she'll find a husband by nightfall."
"We should clip Bella's tongue then," replied Mother. "They'll forget all about her dark eyes and her curls once she opens her mouth."
I ignored their taunting. It was true that I had a tongue that often ran away with me. But without a father to give me away properly, my finding a husband had become urgent. My features were classic and my connections notable, but without a dowry, I was hardly a catch.
That night, Mother sent our maid to dress me in my finest blue gown. My hair was pinned into a delicate twist, and my lips were stained with rouge. My brother led me to the carriage on his arm, clad in his military suit.
When we arrived, the castle was a magnificent sight. All of the world seemed to be present. Townsfolk were pressing about the castle entrance, and everywhere there were soldiers, laughing and talking. There were casks of ale standing on the cobbles beside the braziers, and tables covered in pies and cakes and cheeses. The air was close and heavy with rich scents; velvets, silk, spicy foods.
"Make way for the Duke of Buckingham," the voice of a gentleman rung out, and a passage was cleared for the commander as he passed from guest to guest.
The scene was colorful and exciting, and I—more accustomed to the quiet life of the country—felt my heart beat and my cheeks flush. I pressed forward, greedy for the color, devouring everything with my eyes. I smiled at strangers and cared not at all that I seemed bold. Another voice called out, "Make way for the Duke of Buckingham." Suddenly the crowd parted, and the Duke was not half a yard away, followed by his entourage of soldiers and noblemen. Not knowing what to do, I curtsied low, as if he were the King himself.
I heard a ripple of laughter above my head. Raising my eyes, I saw Emmett, a strange mixture of amusement and dismay on his face. He held out a hand to help me up, for I had bowed so low that I was hard upon my heels and could not rise.
"May I present my sister Isabella, your Grace?" he inquired. "It is her eighteenth birthday, and her first venture into society."
The Duke bowed gravely and lifted my hand to his lips. He looked over my shoulder at my brother. "It may be your sister's first venture, but with beauty such as she possesses, I doubt it will be her last." He looked back towards me. "But, if this is not too bold, I must advise that you practice your curtsy, my dear. A clumsy woman looks so damnably ill bred." I felt my face flush red, and then the Duke was passing on to the next group of guests. My brother frowned down at me, and then walked off into the crowd as well.
I mumbled a swear under my breath. Or possibly not under my breath.
"That was dreadful," I heard someone say from behind me.
I whipped around, scarlet and indignant. Looking down at me with a sardonic smile on his face was an officer, clad in his uniform, a blue and silver sash hanging over his shoulder. His eyes were brilliant green, his hair dark auburn.
"Do you mean my curtsy or my swearing?" I asked him, lowering my eyes to hide my humiliation.
"Both," he answered. "Your curtsy was lamentable, and your cussing merely amateur."
His rudeness rendered me speechless, and I could hardly believe my ears. I looked around for Emmett, but he had already disappeared. I was surrounded by strangers.
The most responsible thing I could think to do was withdraw with dignity. I turned on my heel and pushed my way through the crowd, searching for my brother, but then I heard that mocking voice behind me once again. "Make way for Isabella Swan of Devon!" he proclaimed loudly.
People close by looked at me with astonishment, and not knowing what to do, reluctantly cleared a passage for me, glaring at me down their noses. I walked forward with flaming cheeks, scarcely knowing where I was going.
A hand closed around my wrist. "You're going the wrong way."
I turned on my heel and stared. The auburn haired man had followed me. He still held my wrist, looking down at me with a mocking smile on his face.
"And how do you know where I'm going?"
He let go of my hand, crossing his arms over his chest. "Those doors lead into the servant's quarters. I thought I'd spare you any more shame and correct you before you caused a scene."
I scowled. "Who are you?"
"Sir Edward Cullen," he replied coolly, "a Colonel in His Majesty's Army and knighted some while ago for extreme gallantry in the field." He hummed a little, playing with his sash.
"It is a pity," I said, "that your manners do not match your courage."
"And that your etiquette," he answered offhandedly, "does not equal your looks."
His brashness, coupled with the reminder of my previous embarrassment, stung me to fresh fury. "You insufferable cad!"
I hoped to make him blanch, but I was wasting my breath. He looked at me with his face cocked to the side, and then shook his head. "You have quite a mouth on you."
For a moment I considered stepping on his toe with my heel, but then thought better of it. We were still in public. "Will you please leave me alone?"
He laughed. "You are very much like your brother. Always attempting to be polite."
"You know Emmett?"
"Certainly," he said. "Trained him myself. You share the same dark eyes. Though I must say that I like them better on you." He smiled again, no longer sardonic but disarming. I felt my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth.
"Come and look at the ships with me," he offered, holding out his arm. "His Majesty's fleets are lovely things at anchor."
"I'd better not," I said, but he had already taken my arm and began pulling me towards the doors that led to the battlements. The view looked out upon Plymouth Sound, where at least a dozen boats were anchored.
The night was still and cloudless and the moon had risen. The ships were motionless in the water, and they stood out in the moonlight clearly, their white sails luminous. I looked towards Edward Cullen, who had yet to release my arm. I struggled for something to say. "Were your losses very great in France?" I asked.
"No more than expected," he answered, shrugging his shoulders. "Those ships you see in the distance are filled with men who won't recover. It would be more humane to throw them overboard."
I stared at him with doubt, unsure if this was his strange sense of humor. He looked down at me, smiling, and once again I was at a loss for words.
"Come now," he said. "Let us see if you can curtsy better to me than you did to the Duke. Take your gown in your hands and bend your right knee. And then sink onto your left leg."
I stayed still, unsure of what to do. His arrogance was almost as astounding to me as his rudeness.
"No one is here to watch you. Don't think too hard on it," he insisted, waving his hand for me to get on with it.
Warily, I obeyed him, lowering my head to the ground as I did.
"Don't do that," he said quietly, and then I felt a hand on my chin, tilting my face upward. His green eyes looked intently into mine, making my cheeks flush pink. Then he took a step back and nodded. "There, that's excellent. You can do it if you try."
I raised myself, smoothing out my skirts. With appalling coolness, he rearranged the rumpled lace around my shoulders so it lay flat again. "I will not dine with an untidy woman."
"I have no intention of sitting down with you to dine," I replied grumpily.
He smirked, his white teeth gleaming at me. "No one else will ask you, I can vouch for that. Come, take my arm; I am hungry even if you are not."
He marched me back into the castle, practically dragging me behind him. Inside, the guests were already seated at the long tables in the banquet hall, and the servants were bringing in the dishes. Thousands of eyes looked up at us, but Edward Cullen did not seem to notice. Feeling my heart speed, my usual composure fled from me.
"Let us go back," I pled, tugging at his arm. He did not stop, so I tried again, "The seats are all filled."
"Go back?" he replied, his voice disbelieving. "Not on your life. I want my dinner."
He pushed his way past the servants, nearly lifting me from my feet. Hundreds of faces were staring at us, and I heard the hum of murmured conversations. For one brief moment I caught sight of my mother, seated next to the Baroness, Lady Cope. My mother stared at me with horror and astonishment in her eyes, looking to my brother for assistance.
I could do nothing but hurry forward, tripping over my gown, still being dragged along on the arm of Edward Cullen. He was taking me to the high table at the far end of the hall, where the Duke of Buckingham sat beside the Countess of Cumberland and many of the noblemen of Cornwall and Devon. They were feasting on plates of food more lavish than the rest of the guests.
I looked towards Edward Cullen with horror. "You are taking me to the high table!" I whispered sharply, dragging against his arm with all of my force.
"What of it?" he asked, stopping for a moment to look down at me with astonishment. "I'm not going to eat anywhere else." Then he looked towards a servant and ordered, "Two seats, there."
At the sound of his voice, the Duke of Buckingham broke off from his conversation with the countess. Chairs were pulled forward, people were squeezed aside, and somehow we were seated at the table, not a foot away from the Duke himself.
The Countess peered at me with stony eyes. Edward Cullen leaned towards her with a smile. "It would be my pleasure to introduce Miss Isabella Swan," he said. "Today is her eighteenth birthday."
The Countess bowed her head, appearing unmoved.
Edward Cullen bent his head towards mine. "You can ignore her. She's deaf as a post."
I sank into my chair and prayed for death, but it did not come to me. Instead I grabbed my fork and took a large bite of the roast swan that was heaped upon my plate.
The Duke of Buckingham turned to me, no recognition in his eyes that he had spoken with me earlier. "I wish you the loveliest of birthdays, my dear, and many more."
I murmured my thanks, and bent my head so my curls would cover my flaming cheeks.
"Merely a formality," whispered Edward Cullen in my ear. "Don't let it get to your head. His Grace already has a dozen mistresses, and I'd hate to see you be the thirteenth."
My face paled, my eyes darting back to the roast swan.
Edward Cullen ate with evident enjoyment, leaning down to whisper about his neighbors to me with every mouthful. He did not trouble to lower his voice much, and I could swear that his words were heard. I tasted nothing of what I ate or drank, but sat there, bewildered and horrified.
At last, the meal was drawn to a close. I felt myself being pulled to my feet by my companion. The wine, which I had swallowed as though it were water, had made my legs feel like jelly. I was glad to lean against Edward for support.
What happened next was a blur, and I have scant memory of it. There was music and dancing. I was being twirled in circles, and the band was playing faster and faster and faster. Edward Cullen had his arm on my waist, his other hand holding mine, his fingers warm and calloused against my skin.
And the next thing I knew I was in some other room of the castle, small and dark. I had no recollection of how I got there. I felt something churn in my stomach, and then I was vomiting into a bucket on the floor.
I opened my eyes and found myself suddenly on a couch, with Edward Cullen holding one of my hands and dabbing my forehead with a kerchief.
"You really should learn to carry your wine," he said severely.
I felt very ill and very ashamed. Tears gathered in my eyes.
"No, no," he whispered, and his voice, usually so clipped and harsh, was oddly tender. "You shouldn't cry. Not on your birthday."
He continued to dab at my forehead with the kerchief. I felt the thumb of his hand stroke back and forth against my palm.
"I have n-never eaten roast swan b-before," I stammered, closing my eyes from the agony of the memory.
"It wasn't so much the swan as the burgundy," he murmured. "Lie still now. It will pass."
My head was still reeling, and I was glad to have his strong hand keeping me grounded. It didn't strike me as strange that I was lying sick in some strange room with Edward Cullen tending to me, proving himself a very comforting nurse.
"I hated you at first. I like you better now," I told him softly, my eyes still closed.
"I wish I hadn't had to make you vomit before I won your approval," he answered. I opened my eyes, and he was gazing down at me with a warmth that I hadn't expected. "What an ending to a birthday." He shook with laughter, yet his voice and his hands were strangely tender.
I closed my eyes again. "How old are you?" I asked him.
"Twenty-two," he replied.
I shook my head. "That is too young to be a Colonel."
"Not if you have the talent," he said simply. "Now lean on my shoulder, and let me help you up."
I sat up, rearranging my curls. "You've been kind to me," I said, growing suddenly prim. "I won't forget this evening."
"Nor I," he replied, smiling.
"Perhaps," I murmured, looking at my hands, "you should take me to my brother."
"Perhaps I should," he answered.
I stumbled out of the little dark chamber and into the lighted hall. "Where were we?" I asked in doubt, glancing over my shoulder.
He laughed and shook his head. "The Lord only knows," he answered gravely. "But I'd wager this is the closet where the Duke combs his many wigs."
I laughed, familiar now with his strange sense of humor. He looked down at me, grinning, and for an instant he touched my hair with his hand. "I've never sat with a woman while she vomited."
I lowered my face. "Nor have I ever so disgraced myself before a man."
He bent suddenly and grabbed my wrist to pull me closer. "I think it is impossible to disgrace yourself in my eyes, Isabella," he told me, holding the palm of my hand so that it rested for a moment on his heart. Then he released me, smiling pleasantly. "Now, I think I will take you home."
That is, I think, a truthful account of how I met Colonel Edward Cullen, a man with no sense of honor or any care for his reputation whatsoever.
I hope that you like it. This story is already written, so reviewers will receive teasers.
This story will be told in 5 short parts. More fics, one-shots and full length, will be coming soon, so author alert me if you wish.