Ficawesome Gift Exchange- 3some
Title: Toil and Trouble
Written for: Fates-Love-Queen
Written By: LyricalKris
Summary/Prompt used: The people of the 1600's believed in the monsters that haunted their nightmares. When witches are suspected to walk among them, the small town of Forkshire is torn apart, and the secrets of some of its residents brought to light.
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~Early 1600's, Forkshire, MA~
Isabella Swan hurried out her door, stepping onto the path long ago worn down by walking. For at least the hundredth time that morning, she stuck her hand into the pocket sewn into her apron, checking to reassure herself that the few coins her father had provided were still there.
Slowing down to a more ladylike gait, Bella looked around. She nodded politely at the others on the path, murmuring a "good morrow" when politeness required, but otherwise keeping to herself. It was only very recently that her father and Widow Cope - the woman who had been her nanny since her mother died when she was a baby - had allowed her to go to market on her own.
It only made sense, in Bella's way of thinking. There was more than enough for Widow Cope to do all on her own - running the Swans' household as she did. There was no reason that Bella couldn't walk to market to buy the supplies they needed. It was only a ten minute walk to the center of town after all, and Bella would be seventeen very shortly. She could easily make the necessary purchases, do all her chores, and still get to her lessons with Goody Goff in good time.
As the vendor's stalls came into view, Bella ticked off the items the household needed in her head. Winter was coming. The family's coats would need to be reinforced. Technically, her father Charles could use a whole new coat, but she didn't know if there was enough money to buy the necessary fabric.
"I'm afraid I've no need of your herbs today, sir," a familiar voice cut into Bella's musing. "My own gardens are plentiful this year."
Bella bit her lip, a pleased flush tinting her cheeks as she looked over to see the owner of the voice waving a friendly, if apologetic, goodbye to an elderly man trying to sell his wares - medicinal herbs among them. He tipped his Tricorn hat, taking a moment to try - unsuccessfully - to tame the unruly bronze hair beneath it.
She watched, a little jealous because though the majority of the town still treated her as if she was a little girl, they all looked on him as a grown man though he was only a year and a few scant months older than she. Bella shook the thought away as she went to stand beside him, having need of some item in the same stall as it were, trying not to notice inappropriate things like how tall and broad he'd grown. He would never be as wide in the shoulders as his elder brother, but his lithe frame was sturdy and strong.
"Would your mother appreciate you taking credit for the gardens she works in so tirelessly, Edward?" she teased lightly.
Edward's head snapped to the side, obviously surprised to see her there. Bella ignored the way her heart gave an odd little stutter when he grinned, apparently happy to see her. Then he seemed to gain control of his expression and cleared his throat, stepping a pace back from her.
"Good morrow, Mistress Swan," he said softly, nodding at her politely.
Bella's grin fell, and she turned quickly to examine the wares before her to hide her displeasure. She sighed inwardly, cursing her own disappointment.
It was still strange to hear Edward address her so formally. They'd known each other since she was about six. As Mrs. Cope was illiterate, Charles had sent his daughter to receive her primary schooling with Goody Cullen. Edward's mother had taught her two youngest children - Edward and his twin sister Alice - along with Bella for several years. They'd all played together until Edward and Alice turned 14. Then Edward had gone to apprentice under his father - the town's apothecary and doctor - and it had suddenly become inappropriate for them to be friends.
Ever since then, Edward, the same boy she'd climbed trees and wrestled with, the boy who had actually given her the nickname Bella because Isabella was too hard to say with two missing teeth, had grown very formal the few times they were able to socialize.
He cleared his throat again, seeming inexplicably nervous. "As it happens, I have quite a successful plot of my own in my mother's garden," he said gently.
They made inane conversation - Edward inquiring about her father and she inquiring about his family. Too soon, they had to hurry off - Edward back to his duties and Bella to her chores.
"Be safe, Mistress Swan," Edward said, walking beside her for a few steps.
Bella smirked slightly. "There's only so much trouble I can get into from here to my door. I shall survive, I believe."
Out of the corner of her eye, Bella thought she saw his lips turn up into a mischievous smile. "I seem to recall you have a particular talent for trouble," he said wryly. "Keep a wary eye. They say there are dark creatures in these woods."
At that Bella snorted. "The days are long gone when you could frighten me with scary stories. I don't believe in ghouls and witches."
An odd expression came over his face as they came to a fork in the road. He paused, looking at her straight on for the first time that morning. Bella thought she saw a terrible indecision in his eyes, but then her breath caught and her thoughts scattered as his hand rose. She stood completely still, hardly breathing as he righted the lopsided kerchief on her head, his smile small and tender. "All the same," he said, his voice low and smooth as he looked at her, "please be safe."
Bella snapped to attention, her cheeks flushing a deep red because Goody Goff had caught her daydreaming. The elder woman sighed, hands on her hips as the other girls giggled. "I apologize, ma'am," she murmured demurely and asked that the question be repeated.
Well, it was hardly her fault. It seemed every time she had an encounter with Edward, her thoughts began to drift like dust in the wind.
At twelve she hadn't understood why the adults were so insistent that she and Edward could no longer be playmates. Since then, well... things had changed.
Most of the girls her age were all aflutter about boys. In spare moments, when they were not busy or the teacher was not listening closely, they gossiped about who was courting or who might be making eyes. Normally, Bella found this conversation tiring and dull, but Alice had piqued her interest more than once, casually mentioning that her brother had asked after her.
Occasionally, Bella would put words to the nameless anxiety that felt like butterflies had filled her belly. She often wondered, but dared not ask even Alice, if he'd ever thought to court her. Bella typically pushed away the thought as unlikely, but days like today, she couldn't help but wonder what Edward wished. According to Alice, he showed no interest in any of the towns available girls, which would have been a comfort if it hadn't included her.
Perhaps he was waiting. His apprenticeship with his father would end in the next year, and Edward would be free to make his own choices.
Before Bella could get far with that thought, a scream echoed outside. The girls and Goody Goff rushed to the windows to see what was going on.
Edward groaned, throwing himself down on the the chair beside the hearth. He kicked off his boots, stretching his toes in front of the fire.
His father chuckled, hanging his cloak over the back of the chair. "You're not ready to be on your own. Today was not difficult."
"Not difficult?" Edward scoffed. "Goodman Banner's leg was near sawed off. And that boil on the Weber child? How does that happen?"
Again Carlisle chuckled. "A walk in the park compared to some days I've had."
"Do I hear my men?" Esme called, walking in from the kitchen. "Ah. Here you are. Home again." She wrapped her arms around Carlisle's waist, giving him a kiss before she leaned down, kissing Edward's forehead. "Good evening, son."
"Mother," he greeted, grinning up at her. "Is Alice home?"
"She had a little time this afternoon. She wanted to attend her lessons," Esme said.
"Oh?" Edward replied, trying his best not to sound as interested as he was. "Did she happen to mention whom else would be attending?"
Before his mother could answer, the front door banged open. "Fa! Ma!" Alice called, obviously distressed. Edward straightened quickly, going to his sister and putting his arms around her.
"What is it Alice?" he asked urgently.
Alice's eyes focused when Edward shook her. "Irina. They've locked up Irina."
"Irina Prynne?" Esme asked. "For what reason?"
"They found her with Goodman Hunter. His wife - she's accused Irina of bewitching him."
Carlisle clamped a hand over his mouth.
"Not again," Esme said with a moan. "Those poor girls."
"Minister Lawman said there was no need to bother the county courts with this matter," Alice said, her voice harsh. "Forkshire has always been self governed, said he, and we are more than ready to deal with accused witches as the Lord sees fit. Her trial will be quick. Tomorrow."
"Trial," Carlisle scoffed disgustedly. "The last time that man put an innocent girl on trial, Irina's mother burned." He sat down heavily, wiping a hand over his mouth.
"Sasha," Esme remembered, putting a comforting hand on her husband's shoulder. "She was so kind to us when we first arrived."
"And I did not stand by her," Carlisle said quietly, regretfully.
"Fa," Edward said softly, addressing him as he had when he was still a child. He knelt before his father, looking up into his sad eyes. "You did what any father would. We were but babes. You had to protect us."
Alice put her arms around his shoulders. "What would we have done without our Fa?"
He smiled slightly, patting his daughter's hand tenderly. "No one else will stand for that girl," Carlisle said slowly.
"Much has changed since their mother was wrongly accused," Edward murmured. "We are no longer babes who need looking after. If the minister's eye is turned to this family, then so be it. We are strong, Father, and we are good. Our deeds will be our testament."
Carlisle appeared to consider this. He looked to his wife, questioningly.
"I think we will have to talk to Emmett and Rosalie first. If our family comes under suspicion, it will extend to his family," Esme said with a sigh. "But it is the right thing to do. They are our friends." She sighed again, tying her hair back under a kerchief. "Come. First thing, we should try to see her. If nothing else we can give Tanya and Katrina some measure of comfort."
As the church was the only building that could hold the majority of the townspeople, that was where Irina Prynne's mockery of a trial was held. As she glanced around the impromptu courtroom, Bella thought the town's Minister - Aro Lawman - had never commanded such numbers at Sunday mass.
It had been a decade and a half since the last cries of witchcraft were heard in Forkshire. It was a dark time resulting in the deaths of Sasha Prynne, her illegitimate son, Visilli, and three others.
Sasha had left behind three daughters, all of whom had grown into spectacularly beautiful women. Tanya and Irina were old enough that they remembered their mother, and perhaps that was why they seemed so separate from the others in town. They had not married - a fact which made many of the wives in town nervous as the girls were pretty enough that they turned many a head. The youngest sister, Katrina, was betrothed and typically kept her distance from her sisters. Today, though, she was sitting beside Tanya at the front of the church, their arms around each other.
"I swear by all that is holy, I am no witch, " Irina said, her voice strained. Bella's heart twisted. The beautiful woman looked worn and haggard. Her normally immaculate hair was shorn and dirty. "Please," she pleaded. "Were I a witch, I would have what I truly desired. My beloved Laurent... Goody Hunter sent him away. I... I was angry. It's true, I seduced her husband out of my spite, and for my adulterous acts I will gladly do what penance you require. But please, good minister. I am a sinner, not a monster."
Standing in her seat, her face contorted with fury, Victoria Hunter glared, her expression so malicious that Irina shrank backward though she was several feet away. "My husband would not betray me. You bewitched him! Good Minister," she addressed Aro. "He has no memory of lying with this witch."
"Calm, Goody Hunter. I have spoken at length with Goodman Hunter. Your case has been heard," Aro said mildly.
"Minister Lawman," came a steady voice from the crowd. Bella turned in her seat to see Carlisle Cullen walking down the aisle. "I would like to stand for Mistress Prynne. I've known her since she was but a child and can attest to her good character."
"Good character?" Victoria shrieked. "She has confessed to adultery. Many a good man has been seen coming away from her door yet all deny they have ever been."
"Goody Hunter," Carlisle interrupted, his voice firm. "A great wrong has been done unto you, of that no one protests. However, accusations of witchcraft are much too serious to be thrown out of righteous anger. Is there any proof -"
"Proof?" Victoria screamed. "Goodman Cullen, if my husband's word is not proof enough..." She looked to the minister. "Strip her bare before the town. You will find the mark of the witch on her body."
Another murmur went through the crowd and Irina cried out, falling to her knees with her head in her hands.
"Pray tell, Goody Hunter. Do you know what the mark of a witch looks like?" Carlisle's voice was noticeably harder as he spoke.
"That is enough," Minister Lawman spoke loudly, his voice echoing through the church. He shook his head, looking to the men on either side of him - his brother Caius and their brother-in-law Marcus Parris. "My brothers and I have all spoken to Irina at length." Another murmur rose through the church. That he would use her given name instead of addressing her respectfully was very telling. "Now, child. I have brought you before the town to give your confession as you gave to me last night."
Irina looked down. "Please, Minister... I... I was frightened last night. I am innocent. I swear it."
Carlisle stepped forward quickly, yanking Irina's shawl off. The townspeople gasped seeing that the back of the simple linen dress Irina wore was stained with stripes of red. Bella held her hand to her mouth. It was obvious her wounds were lash marks.
"Do you think, perhaps, her earlier confession may have been coerced?" Carlisle asked tightly. "Minister, I know you act to protect the good of the town. And doubtless, Mistress Prynne deserved to atone for her sin. Is this not punishment enough?"
For a moment, Aro's face was a mask of absolute rage. He stood, noticeably taking a deep breath before he spoke. "The instrument used during Irina's interrogation was blessed. Were she innocent, the Lord would not have allowed her to feel any measure of pain." He allowed a moment for that to set in with the crowd before he spoke again. "Now I can't help but wonder... is it just that you truly believe her innocence, Goodman Cullen? Or are you depending on it?" Aro asked slowly, tilting his head.
A murmur went through the church, and Carlisle actually took a physical step back in his shock. "What are you implying, Minister Lawman?"
Bella glanced across the way, seeing that Edward's jaw was tense with barely contained fury.
"I wonder if your association with this witch is more than simple friendship," Aro said, his voice ringing clear.
"It is true, Carlisle. When one stops to think, your family is very curious indeed," Caius agreed from Aro's right hand side.
Again Bella's eyes went to the Cullen family. Esme had a hand on Edward's shoulder, her eyes drawn. Bella could see that Carlisle's chest rose and fell in an uneven pace, but his voice was steady when he spoke. "Curious? My family?" He chuffed lightly. "My family is of no concern here -"
"That is for us to decide," Caius hissed. "Witches rarely come alone." He stepped forward, coming closer to Carlisle who stood his ground. "It is curious indeed that you argue so vehemently, even accusing my brothers and I of being overzealous. Our only wish is to protect the innocent people of Forkshire from suffering at the hands of the witch's craft."
"Pray be plain, Goodmen," Carlisle said, his teeth clenched. "What are you accusing me of?"
Stepping up, Aro put a hand on Caius's shoulder, drawing him backward. "No accusations, Goodman. My brother and I have known you since you came to this town years ago. You know... it's just a little strange. Despite having grown children, you and your wife have such a youthful appearance. Some might think that's out of the ordinary."
Carlisle's shoulders stiffened. "As you say, Minister, you and your brother have known me since I came to this town. Esme bore my son and daughter when we were hardly more than children ourselves, just barely out of our thirteenth year. My eldest son was born to my brother and his wife, who died of illness when he was very small, and we took him in. We look young simply because we are young."
"What I find of particular interest," Caius said, narrowing his eyes, " is that it was once thought that twins are a curse. They were said to be an omen of bad fortune. Natural punishment for witches."
The church was quiet save for Irina's soft weeping. Bella's eyes were on Edward, watching for some sign of reaction. He and Alice both looked furious, barely able to keep their mouths shut as they kept their arms around their mother between them.
When he spoke, Carlisle's voice had lost any semblance of the patience he had. "I assure you, good sirs, that is a myth well forgotten. My children, as all children, are gifts from God." His shoulders rose and fell as he breathed. His eyes landed pointedly on Aro. "Were that theory true, mine is hardly the only family that would be affected."
Bella did not understand what happened then. Aro's body went absolutely rigid. His stare, outwardly patient and - if Bella were being honest - arrogant, became utterly malevolent. He rose, coming to stand at his pulpit to the side of the dais. "Goodman Cullen," he began, his voice harsh. "While I appreciate your candor and this rather amusing display of naivety, you will now stand down. The witch confessed to me in this house of God. I will do as my Lord bids and put this sorceress to her rightful death."
The church was loud with the discussion that arose then. Tanya and Katrina both cried out. They would have risen to go to their sister, but Edward, Esme, and Alice were there, holding them back. Edward bent his head between them, speaking softly.
"This is madness," Carlisle protested, but Aro stepped right up to him. Whatever Aro said, Carlisle's features blanched. He gave one short, reluctant nod and turned abruptly, going to his family and the two grieving sisters.
Looking grim, Bella's father Charles and Goodman Marks, acting as the town's constables, dutifully pulled Irina up between them, leading her outside to the town square to face her fate.
A/N: As this is a gift, the whole story will be uploaded by the end of the day! Hope you enjoy.
Endless thanks to jfka06, barburella, jadedandboring, bmango and Alby Mangroves.