Aloha! Lucy here, how did you like The Beginning? Thanks to all the guys you reviewed, your input was, and is, greatly appreciated. I'd like to add an important note here, I'm in desperate need of a temporary beta while Em's out of action. For more information, hit up our profile. Thanks again, and enjoy the chapter! (Yes, I know how quickly I got this done and published. Reviews = faster updates!)
Have fun, I know I did.
Chapter 1: Bila
"You alright?" He drawled silkily, as he helped me down from the well-worn saddle of his monstrous black horse. His emerald eyes zeroed in on the jagged rip in the side of my linen dress, and the rapidly purpling, deeply grazed skin that was visible through the tear. As if the wound had just appeared that instant, I only began to feel the pain from the moment I saw it myself. I'd had worse – a lot worse – but it stung nonetheless. Thankfully, there was no blood, something that was a great relief. I must have caught myself as I was hoisted up to safety, and the adrenaline rush from the ordeal had numbed the pain before I had even felt it. Twisting my body to get a better look, I let out a slight hiss of discomfort. There was certainly some rather extensive bruising, but it didn't feel as if anything was broken. For that I was thankful, sometimes it took a full season for my body to heal itself after a more serious accident, and I hated the feeling of being a dead-weight to the tribe.
I glanced upwards, and caught the worried eyes of the man who had saved my life. He stretched a long, lean-muscled arm out towards my side, and I almost jumped backwards at the feeling of his work hardened finger tips brushing against the sensitive skin.
"Can I see?" He asked so quietly I almost didn't hear. My breath caught in my throat. What was he asking, for me to undress? I must have looked like a startled deer frozen at the end of a hunter's spear, for his expression warmed instantly and he let out a brief chuckle.
"I just wanna help you," he began gently. "I won't hurt ya', I swear." He mumbled something under his breath that I couldn't quite catch, but it sounded almost like 'more than I already have'. I instantly felt guilty, it wasn't his fault that I had been hurt, it was just my spectacular skill of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I should have had an entirely different view – the White Men should never drive their vermin-ridden cattle through the beautiful lakes, destroying the banks and dirtying the water supply. I just couldn't see it that way right now, after all, the man had saved me from being trampled. I was in his debt, but I had nothing to give but the ruined dress I stood in.
Hesitantly, I inched the material up my thighs, careful not to distress the already aching skin, and thanking all things good that I had chosen to put on undergarments when I had dressed early that morning. Cautiously, I slipped the silky tunic off over my head, and dropped it gently to the floor. After all, it was beyond mending now. Standing in the lightly wooded clearing to the side of the river in merely a short cotton vest that barely reached half way down my ribcage, and thin white leggings that danced around mid-thigh, subconsciousness hit me in waves. I tried to shield my body from his burning gaze with my arms, but he caught my wrists with his strong hands before I even got close. A bubble of panic burst in my throat, but I attempted to suppress it as I scanned the nearby area for some form of escape. Just in case. A scarlet blush, burning hotter than the midday sun graced my cheeks, and I averted my eyes while he scrutinized the extent of the harm to my hip. It appeared a lot worse than it actually was, once the bruising had gone down and the grazing had scabbed over there would be very little damage left, it probably wouldn't even leave a scar.
"Edward." He said, tipping his well-worn hat, and he crouched down, now eye-level with my bruised and battered side. "My name's Edward."
I cocked my head to the side in confusion. What an odd name. Definitely not one I had heard of before. It made sense though, he was not one of us; as my father often said, the White Men and our people bore no resemblance but the two legs we walk on, for we could be no more different in both mentality and attitude. What was most perplexing though, was that somehow, I felt more familiar with this...'Edward' than I ever had with anyone of the tribe, more than Jacy himself. It had not escaped my notice that his skin closely matched mine, though in some unnerving ways, his skin was more sun-kissed than even mine.
After close examination, Edward rose from his perch on the Spring grass and headed to his stallion, removing several things from a bindle that was bound tightly to the saddle by a thick leather strap. He returned to his kneeling position on the ground, and laid out a black container, cotton padding and a small blade encased in a suede sheath onto the earth next to him.
"So," he began, almost warily, as he opened the container and took a large swipe of the white ointment inside with his finger. "What's your name?" He briefly glanced up at me, flashing his pearly white teeth at me as he gauged my apprehension. "This might sting a lil', but it'll help it to heal, and make sure that any dirt in there's cleaned away." I couldn't recognise what it was from the smell, but it was nothing like the herbal remedies that the women of the tribe had ever given to me before.
In slow, deliberate strokes, he worked the cream onto the entire area. I flinched a little with the fist touch, the cold ointment against my overheated skin shocking me; the numbing sting was a welcome alternative to the unpleasant throbbing of blood pounding behind the damaged skin. I bit harshly into my lip to stop from whimpering. After a few deep breaths, I calmed myself, and released my crushing grip on my bottom lip.
"Bila." I managed to voice, though I was sure I sounded no more than a frightened lamb who had been cornered by a hungry mountain lion, abandoned and alone with no sign of escape.
He looked up at me perplexedly, almost the same way I had looked at him when he had introduced himself.
"That's what I was named. By my mother." I explained.
"Bella?" He questioned. "Interesting. I'd have expected it to be something much more queer, I understand that the way your people give names is a tad different to Eastern society. It makes sense though, the choice of name, that is. You are from the Native Americans, are you not? I did see you with one of them..."
I giggled quietly. "Bila," I repeated. "And yes, I am. It was originally short for Bilagaana, but my mother adapted it. She disliked the meaning." I scrunched up my nose. I disliked the blatant discrimination too. But it was what it was, and I was what I was. Jacy's name, which meant child of the moon, could not have been more accurate. He was born under a full moon, and adored the night as if it were a best friend; many a time had we escaped out in the dead of the night and explored, loving the way the blanket of darkness changed the way the world looked around us. Sometimes, when he was in a particularly joking mood, he would take us to the jagged cliffs in the mountainsides, and sit on his haunches, howling at the moon as if he were a wolf. A real child of the moon, he would say. He would do anything to make me laugh.
"What does it mean then?" He asked, looking up at me quizzically. I dodged his eyes and settled my sights to the ground instead.
"Something to do with skin colour." I mumbled out. I didn't want to say anything that might offend him – after all, he was white. He hummed in acceptance, and held my ruined linen dress up to his now unsheathed knife.
"D'you mind if...?" I shook my head, and he began slicing the material into long, thin strips. Once he had placed the cotton pad – which was covered with more of the tingly ointment – against the worst of my skin, he began expertly wrapping the long pieces of linen around my body as a make-shift bandage, and securing them tightly. My breath hitched every time his skin brushed against mine, but I wasn't sure why.
"May I ask you a question, ma'am?" He began as he tied the finishing binds onto my bandages, gently nudging me to sit down on the bank, and placing himself down a few feet away from me.
"Of course." I answered, raising my eyes back to his.
"Please excuse me if I'm being rude, but I can't help but notice the difference between your skin and that of the sav- of your people. Are you...some sort'a of albino?"
I took a deep intake of breath, and huffed silently. Growing up, I had been mocked by several of the less accepting children of the tribe. Some had gone as far as saying I was a mistake, that I was a cast-off of the Great Spirit, that I should have been abandoned by Viho and Anna at birth. Afterall, what did the chief and his woman want with a ruined child when they had Jacy, a strong, loyal, promising future leader of our people? Needless to say, Jake sorted them out well enough that no one troubled me for a long time after that, but I deathly hated not fitting in. My skin didn't even turn a golden brown in the sun, it became lobster red and blistered, eventually returning back to milky white. It felt as though this stranger taking obvious notice of my skin was a sign that I would never escape it.
"Are you trying to suggest that there is something wrong with my skin, sir?" I glared. His eyes widened suddenly, and he swallowed loudly.
"No, of course not Bella, there isn't a single fault with your skin. I was jus' commenting on an observation, I do apologise for upsetting you. If I may be so bold, I find your skin quite beautiful." He nearly stumbled over his words, and gave a meek smile as his cheeks flushed with colour. I felt a sense of familiarity – most people of the tribe barely blushed at all for their dark complexion.
"Bila." I smiled lightly, in acceptance of his apology. After all, he never meant any harm, anyone would be curious about my skin, and I must say that I was too; it was just a sensitive topic for me. Not only that, but he had saved my life not long before and I would be eternally grateful, as would my family.
"I apologise, Ms Bila." He smirked in embarrassment. Even though he had corrected himself, the way he pronounced my name still sounded somewhat like 'Bella'. I thought back to something he had originally said, about the name 'Bella' making sense of some sort.
"What does 'Bella' mean, Edward?" I asked, half wondering whether it was a form of Eastern insult.
He flashed me the most dazzling smile I had ever seen, and I almost swooned on the spot. At that moment, I had never felt a stronger pull towards a single person, and butterflies started dancing around in my stomach. The fluttering radiated outwards around my body, starting from the pit of my stomach, moving downwards... leaving a trail of warmth in it's path. I started to shiver slightly from the raw feeling of it, nothing I had ever experienced before.
"One day, I'll tell you." He winked one heavily lashed eye at me, and I made sure not to open my mouth, for fear that something resembling the babbling brook down the river may erupt out of it. "I like it though." He laughed happily.
"Does that mean that I can call you...Idwid, then?" I cringed at how horrible it sounded, and laughed along with him. He only found it all the more amusing.
"You can call me anything you like, Ms Bella." He replied, with the heavy accent that many of the White Men I had encountered had. Somehow, with him, it made my heart pound.
"We should really be getting you home." He began, after a period of comfortable silence. "I need to re-herd the cattle..." He glanced off absent-mindedly towards the river where the cattle, who had worn themselves out, were comfortably grazing. I instantly felt a pang of guilt.
"You won't get in trouble, will you?" I asked, panicking. "It was my fault entirely that you were sidetracked." He chuckled, and nudged my arm playfully. Somewhere along the lines of our conversation he had scooted closer to me. A lot closer.
"Yes, silly little girl splashing around in the lake." He smirked. "Nah, don't sweat it. I've already done a headcount, none of the cattle are missing. Besides, I was a few hours ahead of schedule anyway, maybe God was on my side today."
I blinked at him, confused.
He began to laugh again, this time pulling himself up and helping me to stand too.
"Any onlooker wouldn't think we're all that different, Ms Bila." He drawled, talking more to himself than me. "But we're worlds apart, and for that, I'm truly sorry." He looked somewhat sad, but when he registered the concern on my face, he plastered an almost fake looking smile onto his face.
"It's Bella." I said, copying his wink. His genuine, heart-warming smile reappeared.
I glanced around at the nearby cattle.
"I can get myself back, sir. You've done more than enough for me already, and you can't well leave the livestock. I am eternally in your debt." I mock-curtseyed. He corrected me, saying that if he was to call me 'his Bella' – of which sent shock waves of excitement through my very core- then the least I could do was address him as Edward, or Idwid, if it pleased me. With this, he began to undress.
I froze, stuck exactly to the spot, as his perfectly chiselled, smooth white chest was revealed to me. The defined muscles in his arms and chest rippled as he pulled his clothing off of his body, and handed it towards me.
"What are you...?" I managed to stammer out. He laughed at my reaction.
"I can hardly let you go back to your father in underwear, can I? I can get a spare shirt when I get back to my cabin." I stared at the 'shirt' in my hands for what felt like an eternity, before I felt it being pulled from my grasp and draped over my shoulders.
"Please, look after yourself Ms Bella. I'd hate to think of what may happen if I'm not around to save you next time." And with that, he stuck a leather boot enclosed foot into one of the stirrups on his horses saddle, expertly swung himself up, and was gone - the thundering of the herd eventually became a mere rumble in the distance.
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