There are no apologies that would excuse the beyond extreme delay with this update. If you're still reading, thank you. I will tell you that this story has been constantly on my mind, the final chapters changing and changing again - not the end of the story, but rather all the details that I wanted to or didn't want to share (yet). I hope you enjoy!
It only took a few moments for Jarpr to carry me back to the palace. While the fire had been extinguished, the walls surrounding the courtyards still smoldered and smoke drifted into the air. The crowd had thinned, with only a few scattered people that milled about as they stared at the broken bodies that had been carried and carefully placed in a line on the opposite side of the wall, under a makeshift tarp. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and I shivered from the cold and the wet leather that clung to each inch of my skin. I wondered if my chambers had survived the fire's wrath, and if so, any clothes remained for me to change into. I longed to crawl under the thick covers of my bedding and lay next to the man who held me, feeling safe and warm.
The fire that had fueled me during the confrontation with Yåkov and Leif had faded away and fatigue seeped slowly into my bones with each slow, measured step he took. I drew closer to his body, seeking its warmth, only to meet with the cold, unyielding surface of his body. I attempted to remain alert as he carried me through the small gathering of people. Bodies seem to sway in my vision and it was with great effort that I kept my eyes open and alert.
As we passed through the soldiers of Tyr, one by one, they lowered to the dampened earth, their heads bowed, eyes downcast, as their King walked among them. The people of Dagez who remained, took their cue from the soldiers, and bowed as well. A myriad of emotions seemed to pass from face to face – shock, sorrow at the charred palace, and hope. The soldiers of Tyr wore uniforms similar to Jar – Edward's, the differences slight, but I reasoned set him apart as royalty. Looking into the faces of those we passed, the differences between those of Tyr and Dagez were staggering: the guards were well-fed, healthy looking men and shockingly, women as well. My people contrasted them, with hollowed, gaunt faces, cloths that seemed to swallow them whole, and a weariness that seemed to radiate from their beings.
My heart raced frantically with the hope that my people would become healthy and strong, and our lands return to their former glory.
Fear coursed through my veins, freezing every inch touched, as another thought snaked into my mind.
What if this is not real? What if I lay trapped in that fire?
Gods, what if I lay, dying, encircled in those flames and my mind had created this vision to allow me some peace?
Panic seized me as the thought slinked through my bones, through every nerve in my body until I was gasping, wheezing from the sheer fear. What if these were imaginings of my mind, a great escape from the world around me – from Nada's death, from Yåkov's cruel rule, from my father's death, from my lover's departure? Could I trust these images? Could I allow myself to feel the burn of hope as it fought against the rising panic?
Sharp pain shot like an arrow through my side as I moved, it grounded me, reminded me that this was real. I could trust in this. If nothing else, I could trust in the white-hot pain.
My head jerked to the side and I could feel my lids closing as I fought to drink in the images, the evidence around me that brought one word to my mind – freedom.
Freedom from Yåkov.
Freedom to love the man who carried me away from the smoldering fire that engulfed my husband's body.
I barely knew what that meant, what it would look like. My groggy mind sloshed with the bittersweet memories of that night – the night before Edward had left me. It would take some time to adjust to his real name. The release I found in his arms, the warm blanket of security I felt. The naïve belief that all the barriers we faced would be overcome by the sheer power of our love for one another.
But morning had come; the sun had spilled into my room and my bed, where I had awoken – alone.
We had, it seemed, found our way back to each other. Possibly, a happy future would exist with him. I wanted, so badly, to believe in that.
Yes, I would risk believing in this, believing it to be real.
The panic slowly subsided, allowed my limbs to relax, my breathing to steady. Darkness beaconed to me, called me, and I fought its seductive call. It was pain that shook me awake as I twisted in his grasp again – forcing the wound at my side to protest violently and chased the lure of sleep away. "Are you alright?" Jarpr or Edward asked me, his eyes filled with concern.
"I am alright, it just hurts," I explained. He nodded and flitted impossibly faster through the gates, across, the courtyard, and into the remains of the palace. As we blurred by, I was unable to determine how much destruction had been done to the palace itself. In my exhaustion, I was unsure if the blackened ashes that clung to the old stoned walls were real or deep shadows. The walls bleed into one another as he moved so very quickly that even my eyes could not discern one stone, one wall, and one entryway from the other. And then abruptly, we were in my chamber, my body stretched out over the bench in the sitting room.
Images of Yåkov – on this very bench, flashed through my mind as Jarpr's hands ripped the leather at my side and exposed the ugly, torn flesh. The rain had prevented the blood from caking, but my slick skin was stained a brilliant crimson. His eyes darkened until they were black orbs, his nostrils flared, and a growl rumbled in his chest. It was like the day when he had been banished from Dagez.
"You would have killed him that day," I murmured, remembering the same black orbs, the snarl that had ripped from him, and tense posture of his body. His inhuman beauty had been so intense in contrast to the fury that had radiated from his body, which rolled through the space that divided us and crashed into my body.
My voice seemed to bring him back, to calm him, and then nodded as he reached for a basin filled with water. Ever so gently, he began to clean the wound, and I tensed, as the sting bit into my flesh.
"Yes," he answered, eyes downward, apparently engrossed in the wound to my side, "I was going to kill him that day. I could not stomach the idea of his hands on you ever again. You were meant for me, and I was certain you loved me." I looked down to the water and saw tiny rivets of blood mingling with the water, creating scarlet swirls in the bowl. His fingers pressed gently against the wound as he continued to pat and clean it.
"I do," his eyes looked up at me then. Gold seemed to be scattered around the rim of his inky eyes, "I will always love you." His brows furrowed for a moment and he seemed to inhale slowly and carefully, as if tasting the air. His shoulders relaxed, and he inhaled more deeply.
"You are very fortunate, the blade was not large enough to puncture anything vital," he explained as finished cleaning the torn skin. He then moved lower, to inspect my other injury, "I'll gather some more bandages, this one was fortunate as well, no permanent damage."
"I am so tired," my speech was slurred and garbled, my lips felt thick and swollen, and as my back pressed against the bench beneath me, I could feel myself begin to drift.
"You can sleep soon," he then pulled a sharpened needle from his side, a string seemed to dangle from it, "This will hurt," he cautioned, "but I need to close this wound at your side. You have two choices, I can sew it shut or I can make you like me, do not be fooled – both will hurt – a lot, but the choice is yours."
"Sew it shut," I answered quickly, and I could see the disappointment wash over his face. I cupped his cheek in my hand and continued, "I want to - but I have so many questions, I cannot make that decision now."
The needle pierced my skin, and I bit down on my lip to keep from crying out. Edward noticed my pain, and lowered his lips to mine. He seemed to need no sight as he pulled the needle through my skin, pulled the skin tighter together with each pass, and yet his lips kept me thoroughly occupied. "Done," he whispered against my swollen pout.
"I want you," I panted, my fingers curled into his shoulders, "And I'm so cold."
"I will build a fire," he whispered, "However, you need rest. I will be here in the morning." Something in my face gave him pause, and he lowered his cold lips to my dampened forehead, "I promise."
A jumbled sound fell from my lips as I attempted to answer him, to say something – anything, to let him know I understood and held no anger at his departure. Images swayed before me, and in the background I heard the distinctive sounds of flint being struck, a crackle as the fire bloomed to life, and then heat crawling towards me. Blackness took me then, pulled me beneath inky waters, and the world around me ceased to exist.
Surely I dreamed. I stood, clothed in the dark uniform of Tyr, on the ground of Dagez. The sun was setting, slowly, and the sky the most brilliant orange I had ever seen. In the air, I could see tiny flecks that floated with the wind, danced with an unseen partner to and fro as I watched, mesmerized. On the horizon, so much further than I had ever seen, was the silhouette of a person – somehow frozen. I strained to make out the identity of the man or woman in the distance, but could not.
Slowly the landscape around me began to appear. I was in the woods outside the palace, a place I knew well. In my dream, it was summer or perhaps springs – the air so warm I could taste the heat on my tongue, though I was oddly comfortable, and the leaves on the surrounding trees were a vibrant green. As my vision fell on the leaves, I became absorbed with each detail I had never before noticed. Each leaf was unique from the other, creases in their beautiful skins, veins that stretched and reached from end to end. Even the bark of the branches, of the strong trunks, called to me. Before the rough, brown surface had been one uniform color, and yet as I peered at each spike, each piece, I could see a multitude of browns, a beautiful, harmonious spectrum of colors that almost glowed with luminosity.
How had I never before seen this?
Above me, I could hear the pitter patter of tiny feet as they scurried from one dancing branch to another.
Then I realized.
I was not breathing.
So enraptured by the beauty that I had forgotten to breathe.
My chest did not burn, my head did not feel light – though I had stopped breathing, I felt fine.
"Hello," it was a voice – like wind chimes, and the proximity was near by.
Abruptly I turned and was startled by the fluid motion. I waited for the dizziness to catch up to my sudden movement, but none came.
The girl stood yards away, yet I could still make out almost every detail. Her eyes were fixed on me, not angry or harsh, gentle and welcoming, and they reflected the light of the sun.
Wait, no, they did not reflect the waning light.
They were like melted honey, or the thick, sweet syrups we collected from the trees. Her dancing eyes were golden. Her pale, flawless skin glowed against the vibrant colors of the forest – the mixture of browns, greens, and even colors I could not identify, all seemed to exist for the sole purpose of contrasting their leaves and branches to her milky skin.
"Who are you?" I whispered, and was distracted by the bell sounds my own voice had created. Was that really me who had spoken?
My throat had been thick, raw, and hoarse from the smoke and the screaming and everything that had led up to this strange dream.
Then the girl, perhaps a woman, stood before me and I had seen her move, but the motion had been so quick, so fluid, that one moment she was yards away, and the next she was gliding towards me.
"Alice," she explained, "and you are like me."
In this dream, had I transformed into a strange, but beautiful creature like herself?
My puzzlement must have been clear on my face. She gestured to the forest, and it was then I saw the uniform of Tyr the encased her tiny form.
The sky darkened, and the girl seemed to melt into the rapidly encroaching shadows. My vision swam and the flecks and beauty of the forest muddied, until it had blurred into the bland, uniform colors of green and brown. Gone was the beauty, gone the multitude of vibrant color.
"Alice!" I called, my voice hoarse and rough, my throat tight and dry.
"Izabel," another voice called, and I felt suddenly heavy. Each limb in my body was weighed down, my head felt thick, and darkness surrounded me.
"Izabel!" the voice called again, urgent, and I could feel my body shake around me.
The walls of my chamber slowly came into focus as I opened my eyes.
Sunlight bore down from the sky, but the thick fabric of my curtains bathed the room in a dulled brightness, only a few streaks of sunlight leaked through. I squinted as I balled my fists together and rubbed against my tired eyes.
Edward was above me, concern colored his face, "Izabel?" he whispered, unsure.
"Edward," I croaked in response – gone was the beautiful bell sound, replaced a rasping sound that scratched and burned my throat. My tongue felt thick and heavy, my mouth dry as I touched my lips together.
Relief flooded his features and he pulled my heavy body close to his. Cold lips peppered kisses on the crown of my head, along my temples, and gently across my lips.
While I slept, he had moved my body from the sitting room to the comfort of my bed. A fire burned in the hearth, cracked and popped as it devoured the logs and kindling. The heavy doors that separated my bedchamber from the sitting room were closed, allowing the feeling of security and privacy. I breathed deeply, wincing at the dulled pain to my side.
In addition to moving me, he had changed my clothing from the ruined leather uniform to soft, but loose leggings, a warm tunic, and thick socks to keep my feet warm. I murmured in approval, even as I felt the bandages at my side itch against the tender skin.
"I am very curious how you deduced everything, and even more so about these letters that were waiting for us at the border," he withdrew a well folded piece of parchment from his trousers and waived it in front of me.
My handwriting had faded somewhat, and I wondered if his senses had alerted him that the letter had been written in blood, perhaps even known it was specifically my blood. "Hmmm," I hummed in reply and then returned the parchment to him.
The bed dipped as he sat next to me, and pulled me into the curve of his side. Kissing the crown of my head tenderly, he gently prompted me to continue. "Well, I already told you that I realized you had informed me of your status from that first night, it just took me a very long time to put the pieces together. I already knew that you were not human – presumably a god, and once I deduced that you were King Vanir, the pieces began falling into place. I guess, I took a lot of my theories on faith, something I really had not practiced before, and so it was unnerving. The stories you told me?" I tilted my head to look into his face, "I believe were about the family you mentioned. What I do not understand is, how did you know to return?"
A heavy sigh escaped him, his shoulders seemed to sag under the weight of whatever memory surfaced, but I waited patiently for him to begin, "I have been to your lands before. In fact, that bow was mine," he gestured to my bow that leaned against the wall next to the armoire.
Words seemed to evade me as my mind attempted to understand.
"Let's start at the beginning," he untangled himself from me and in the blink of an eye, had resettled himself towards the end of the bed. "My family is the same family from the stories I shared with you. However, some of us are gifted above what others like us posses; as you know – I can read minds, my sister, Alice, can see the future." I gasped. Had she known what would happen? Had she seen me? Why had they allowed matters to progress as far as they had? Could Nada have been spared?
Anticipating my many questions, Edward raised his hands, palms forward, in gesture to request my patience. Biting my lip, I nodded and waited. "Several years ago, she had a vision that was vague at best – the only clear message was utter devastation; the only clue offered was it came after the death of your father. So three of us came to this land, clothed as peasants and hunters, and began to use our gifts to root out the cause. My sister Alice came so that perhaps she could trigger a more specific vision, my brother Jasper," he paused and grinned, "well you know him as Audvard, came with us because he can feel and manipulate emotions, and we hoped could provide us a clue, and of course I also came to search the thoughts of people."
"Audvard, er Jasper? He is very interesting," I murmured.
Edward's laughter echoed throughout the room, "Yes, no one has ever given him the slip before, you were the first. It was quite the blow to his pride." Chuckling, he added, "You will see him again, later today."
I beamed, excited at the prospect of meeting his family.
"We traveled for weeks throughout the villages, and were about to give up, when we came across Yåkov and his father. They were preparing to travel to the palace, to see you prior to the hunt." I nodded, remembering my disappointment that my intended was set on seeing me prior to the three day hunt. "None of us caught anything specific, but we all agreed it would be best to follow them."
Edward moved slightly closer to me before continuing, "The father wanted his son to be king, and he wanted to enjoy that station sooner than later."
"They murdered Papa?" my voice was small as I tried to wrap my head around the information. I recalled that Edward had informed me in the woods that he had come because my father's death had been suspicious, at the time I had not wanted to believe him.
His head dipped, shoulders dropped, and he nodded once. "Yes."
"Why did you not stop them?" I screamed. My father could have lived! They knew about the plot so far in advance, why did they fail to act?
Strong arms embraced me tenderly as he comforted me, "At the time, we had no solid proof, only a feeling that they were connected to his death. Remember that I came here because we feared he had been murdered, yet had no evidence or even were sure of who had murdered him. Initially, we thought you had killed him. We did, however, follow them to the palace. Jasper and Alice were able to infiltrate the palace, while I waited in the woods. Then your hunt began, and I followed. I was impressed with your skill, especially at hiding in the trees – initially I thought you must be the servant, for surely no royalty would be as skilled. It was that memory that kept me sane when news of your death had reached me." Again he sobered, and his embrace tightened. "To feel you now, safe in my arms," he murmured.
"Please continue," I pressed my face to his chest and inhaled his wintery scent, allowed it to calm my raw nerves as I listened to the melodic timber of his voice.
"It was the second day, and you fell from the trees. I was unable to save you, at risk of revealing my nature, to the guard who was following you. The fall may have seemed quick to you, but for me – it was long and slow, and I did not understand why, but I hated to merely watch you and do nothing to prevent your pain. The guard left to find help, and so I sang to you – it was the only comfort I could offer. You were, not entirely conscious, so I risked the opportunity to see you up close, and were amazed at the pull I felt towards you. I had never felt it before, and at the time, did not understand what it meant. When I heard the guards approach to retrieve you, I switched our bows – mine that I carried for appearances, and kept yours for a reason unknown to me." He paused and leaned down to kiss me again before whispering against my lips, "I carried that bow with me everyday these past few months."
Memories awakened then, and I recalled the picnic when I shared the story of my bow with Edward. He had seemed puzzled as I had shared the details, and I remembered his whispered, "it all makes sense" that had easily been dismissed. Another memory stirred, the night I had run to the woods, climbed the tree, and the panic had all but consumed me. My arms were wrapped about my sides, in an attempt to hold myself together, and then the same voice was carried by the wind to me. "You," I breathed. "That night in the woods," I gulped, remembering.
"Yes, I was very angry, but I could not leave you alone."
My heart felt touched at his thoughtfulness, "You calmed me. I thought it was just a memory."
"Not a memory. I returned here following your father's death to ascertain why he had died, and to find the murderer and end them before the destruction could come to pass," he paused and chuckled, a dark sound, "Prior to arriving, I had fought with my family – I wanted to murder Yåkov and you in the night, while sleeping, and be done with it. Yet, Alice saw that decision and the vision that followed – my own family would be destroyed. We did not understand then, but it became clear later."
"Why would that destroy your family?"
"Because you are my mate, my completion, my anchor to this world – and had I murdered you, it would have destroyed me and in turn, I would slowly destroy my own family through my misery or death."
Silence hung in the air as we both considered what had been shared. I still wondered how much Alice had seen, and if anything could have been done to prevent Nada's death. Tired, almost weary, Edward continued, "I saw you before I came to your chambers that first night."
"You were feeding the people, dressed as a peasant, and I felt the pull to you again. Initially, I believed you to be a woman from the village, an unhappy woman, and when I realized you were my mate, was determined to find you and bring you back with me. But then," he spread his hands in front of him, "well, I discovered you were the Queen, and it complicated matters. I could not murder the guilty and steal away with you in the night. No, you would be missed almost immediately, and I could not keep my nature a secret and slaughter the King as I wished – even if I could, Yåkov's influence had reached across the entire land, killing him would no longer right the path. I had to return home, had to gather my army, and personally return as King Vanir to change the vision. Please believe me, I returned as quickly as possible.
"I imagine you have questions for me?" he asked. As I raised my eyes to him, I realized that no longer did he wear the uniform I was so accustomed to. In its place were black trousers, tucked into what looked like beautiful russet colored calfskin boots. The bone colored fabric of his under tunic contrasted in the deep neckline of his deep green colored overtunic. The fabric was soft as I traced my fingers along his forearms, delighting in the knowledge that he was really with me. Gone was the dark hood that bathed his face in shadows, his head was uncovered exposing his thick hair that seemed alight in the sun. There was something else, something I noticed as I drank him in.
The sunlight seemed to reflect or break into hundreds of tiny faucets when it touched the surface of his face, his cheeks. The effect was dazzling – his pale skin almost glowed and his eyes were brighter than I recalled. How had I ever mistaken him for a human man?
He smirked at me then – a wicked, lopsided grin spread across his otherworldly face. He had caught me staring at him; I felt the fire within me burn in reaction to him. Focus.
I nodded; I had so many questions for him.
Where to start? Should I ask about the future or the past?
And there was something else, something that nagged at me. I felt as if I were missing something, or rather someone.
Like smoke, one image seemed just out of reach – a man? Or a woman? Was it important? It seemed important.
In a fluid movement, he twisted at the waist to retrieve a steaming cup of dark liquid. I eyed him uncertainly, "It's an herbal tea to help fight infection and speed your recovery. It's from Tyr," he explained.
Reaching out, I took the cup from him and wrapped my hands around its warmth. Softly, I blew on the liquid to help it cool and then gingerly took a sip. The taste was bitter, with a sweet aftertaste and reflexively I felt my face scrunch up in distaste.
"The taste is odd," I commented, and then under his watchful gaze, took another tentative sip of the murky liquid.
He merely nodded, but offered no explanation; his eyes seemed to command me to drink it all. Slowly, little by little, I drank the entire cup of the strange tea, until the once steaming mug was empty and the warmth absorbed by my hands. Removing the empty cup from me, he placed it on a dresser and returned his gaze to me.
"I assume you have questions for me," he began.
Easing back slightly, he angled his body closer to mine, and waited for my first question. What to ask first? Why had he left without me? What had taken so long for him to return? What would happen in the future? And, a girl seemed to dance on the edge of my thoughts, her name a mystery – but who was she?
"Is your family with you?"
I am unsure as to why that was the first question, of the several that had littered my mind. A booming laugh from the next room jarred me alert, my body rigid under the covers, and unknowingly had moved closer to Edward for protection from the unknown.
He scowled as the door banged loudly open, flung wide as if it weighed no more than a feather. Inside the doorframe stood a massive man, dressed in the uniform of Tyr, clothed in the familiar dark leather, his hood gathered at his shoulders. Peering out from Edward's shoulder, I could barely make out other figures behind the man, and turned to Edward for explanation.
"Yes, they are here with me, and would like to meet you." He turned towards the man; I assumed was family, and glared. "Although, I had explained that we would come meet you later."
The strange man laughed and entered the room, his eyes captured me and as I looked over the figures entering my chamber, I realized that they all shared the same honey colored eyes. I had suspected they would, as I recalled Audvard and how it was his eyes that alerted me to him not being human, but rather like Edward.
I counted six in total, three women and three men, each dressed in fine clothes, bright colored tunics and dresses, the men matched with warm brown trousers that fit them well. The first, bear like man, was the largest with dark hair that contrasted with his eyes, and the smallest was a familiar looking sprite of a woman with dark hair. I gasped and leaned towards her as Edward shifted to look towards his family. "I know you," I said to her.
Edward held me closer and peered down at me, "How do you know her?" he asked, his voice curious.
The sprite hummed with energy, almost shaking amongst the others, and it was the one I knew as Audvard, who placed a hand across her shoulders, and pulled her closer to his own body. She's with him. As I looked across the group, I could clearly see that they were each paired off – the tall, bear like man with a beautiful blond haired beauty - she was tall, but not quite as tall as him; a patient looking man with blonde hair with a slightly shorter looking woman with hair that was caramel in color, and finally the last pair, the sprite and Audvard.
Edward and me.
The sprite, I knew her name, recalled it from a dream, but what was her name?
Edward's head tilted towards the group and he seemed to be listening – to their thoughts perhaps? Could he hear the thoughts of his family or just humans?
Her name is Alice.
"Alice!" I blurted, excited that I had recalled a fragment of the strange dream, "and she said," I struggled to recall what she had shared with me. My eyes looked towards her again - a large smile spread across her face, her head bobbed in encouragement, as if to say to me "remember!"
And I did.
It flooded my mind with vivid detail – the bright colors, the forest, the sky – all of it, seemed to come back. "You said, that I'm like you," I mumbled. That could not be right, how was I like her? Again I looked to the sprite that practically vibrated, despite Audvard's hand on her shoulder, and then back to myself.
She was perfect, beautiful, flawless, and probably immortal like Edward, in comparison, I was plain, ordinary – a mere shadow compared to her beauty. There were no similarities between us – only differences.
"Alice!" Edward barked and then she was within arm's reach.
"Yes brother," she answered, her voice sounded exactly the same as from my dream – musical, like chimes or bells.
He sighed, exasperated and pinched the bridge of his noise, "Alice," he groaned, and then looked to the group.
She smiled again, and this time looked down to me, "Izabel, welcome to our family. My sister! I have waited a long time to meet you!" she squealed and then enveloped me in a firm, but gentle hug. The action took Edward by surprise, who with a heavy sigh shook his head.
The bear like man, laughed as the others continued to watch the display in front of them. Edward motioned for Alice to step back and sighed. "Izabel, would you like to meet the rest of my family?"
I nodded, and with his help, moved from the bed into a standing position. He walked with me towards the group gathered against the opposite wall and began his introductions.
He began with the pair in the middle, "This is my creator, Carlisle and his wife, Esme." There was a slight nod from each of them, but they remained silent and still as they observed me.
Nervously I murmured, "Pleased to meet you," while my hands fidgeted at my side. Neither returned the sentiment.
Then Edward gestured to the bear man and the radiant woman in front of him, "My brother, Emmett and his wife, Rosalie." Again, they each nodded towards me in reply.
"Pleased to meet you," I whispered.
Their strange reactions made me uncomfortable – neither moving nor replying to Edward's introductions. Did they disapprove of me already?
"And I believe you already know Audvard and his wife Alice, although, only humans call him that, we call him Jasper." Laughter broke the tense silence as Alice wrapped her arms around me once more, welcoming me to her family, as Jasper chuckled behind her. "I might add, that you are the first, human, to ever slip away from Jasper," Edward whispered into my ear. My cheeks flamed as I recalled sending the immortal out to prepare the castle for the flames and waiting until he was a safe distance before disappearing into the castle walls.
It was Jasper who spoke next, "She's slightly confused brother, and slightly embarrassed," he turned to me, "don't be, I understand why you did it, although Edward was quite angry when he arrived."
I remembered that anger, it had radiated from his entire body, and the fire itself almost seemed to shy away from it as he had crossed into the deadly circle I had created for Yåkov and Leif.
"Why," I began, then looked back to Jasper and Edward, "why the different names?"
It was Carlisle who spoke, his voice smooth like his sons, but had a more calming tenor, "To keep the secret. We change the names humans know us by so that when the name has died, presumably, the person the humans know, has also died. We have each had many names for appearances."
"Is that not, confusing?" I asked.
Edward spoke, "No," he kissed the crown of my head and I blushed at the affection he showed in front of his family, "but it is exceptionally nice to hear my real name, especially from you."
Jasper snorted and waived a pale hand at us, "I think we should leave and give you two some privacy – I am sure they have much to discuss. It was a pleasure to meet you Izabel, and we look forward to getting to know you better." He bowed slightly towards me, and then ushered the group back out through the doors. Pausing at the doorframe he turned back towards me and said, "I told you, Tyr has never lost a battle," then winked at me and closed the door behind him.
Jasper and Alice seemed nice enough and I felt well received, approved even, by them. The rest of the family was distant and I worried about their non-reactions to our introductions, even the typical human politeness was absent during my interaction with them. The question fell from my lips before I had time to think, "Does your family not approve of me?"
Edward's golden eyes shot to mine, and then softened as he searched my face. His pales hands ran through his wild hair and he nodded back towards the bed. Slowly, I made my way back to the previously warm bedding and sat against the pillows. Edward sat across from me, our knees touching, as he sighed again. "It is not that they disapprove of you, it's that you're…." he paused, searching for the right words, "still human."
"Still human? Surely they knew I would be human, not, er…. Like you. Didn't they?"
He nodded. "Of course, they knew. But they expected that I would have changed you last night, made you like us. They are," he paused again.
Were they upset that I declined the change?
I searched my memories, foggy and hazy, from the previous evening, when Edward had carried me back to my chambers, torn the uniform from my wound, and offered to heal me or turn me.
"Are they offended that I declined the change?"
Edward tried to keep his face blank, to maintain his mask, but I realized that I was quite close to the source of his discomfort. "I hurt you when I declined your offer, didn't I? That's why they're upset." I remembered his disappointment, realizing that it was a mask for the pain I had caused him with my rejection.
He nodded, his head bowed, eyes downcast.
Gently, I cupped his chin with my hand and tilted his head up to me again, "Edward, please look at me," his eyes continued to avert my gaze, and he looking exceedingly uncomfortable. I recalled when the positions were reversed, when I had sat on the floor next to the bed, broken, hurt, and terrified, and he had forced me to look at him. "Edward," I said more firmly, and his eyes instantly met mine. "I love you, and I am deeply sorry that I hurt you. Please forgive me."
Measuring his reaction, I slowly lowered my lips to his, until I felt the firmness of his lips pressed against mine. My eyes slid closed as I inhaled his scent and pressed even closer, my tongue sliding out to caress his lips. He moaned and responded, his arms wrapped around me and pulled me closer until my breasts were pushed against his chest. "Tell me," I whispered against his lips, "tell me about what you are."
"I am not a god, as you had assumed," he began. Eyes bore into me, pleaded silently with me to love him as the strained voice continued, "I am a demon, Highness; a demon whose stories have not yet come to your lands, a blood drinker."
"A demon?" Whatever he was, I found it impossible to believe he was a demon. I thought of his compassion for Jane, his concern for the people of Dagez, his anger for the wrongs committed against the landowner. No, demons were bloodthirsty savages who held no concern for others; while Edward had only shown compassion for those who had been mistreated. A demon? Surely not.
"Do you remember when I said I volunteered for this assignment?" I nodded in response, at the time it had perplexed me that anyone would volunteer for such a dangerous role, "While I traveled to Dagez, all I could think of was painting the walls of the castle with your blood. I wanted to kill you, to kill Yåkov, and be gone, so I could go in search for my mate. You noticed that the other members of my family were coupled?"
Again, I nodded and waited, listened, so he could tell his story. He stood and paced the floor in front of the bed. "I am over a thousand years old – thirteen hundred years actually, and in that time, as the family has grown, I have been without a mate."
I felt my face draw together in confusion, "A mate?"
"Our other halves, our completion. We are monogamous, only loving one – our mate, in our lifetime. Without a mate, we are incomplete, restless, forever waiting. I was tired of waiting and I needed to go out and search my other half. Then your father died and my search was delayed."
I wanted to stop him, make him explain that further – somehow the story of a long standing alliance sounded hollow, but knowing that I had hurt him the night before, I bit my tongue and nodded that he continue; later, I would press for those answers later.
"I was angry when your father died, he was a great man and I wanted to avenge his death, but even more – selfishly so, I wanted to go out and look for my companion. I wanted to get away from the perfectly happy couples that I was always surrounded by. When I saw you, that first day, I knew almost instantly that I had found you, and almost within the same moment – was devastated that you were the Queen. I fought it, fought you, but realized it was pointless. You, Izabel, complete me, you are my mate as I am yours."
Pausing his pacing, he turned to look back at me, kneeled in front of me, eyes pleading with me to verbally confirm his unspoken question.
Edward would never stop loving me. He would be bonded to me for the remainder of his existence, and he wanted to be sure that I returned his feelings. I recalled the months we spent together, and the time I began to understand how I felt towards him – the uncertainty, the insecurity that had plagued my mind. Back then I had been so sure, so confident that he would never return my feelings. In all his glory, I could not fathom that for a moment he would be drawn to someone as ordinary as me.
And yet, was he really drawn to me? Was it some pre-determined fate that linked him to me? Did he have a choice for his feelings? "Do you," I began, uneasy with the question I needed to ask, "Have a choice?"
His head shot up and tilted to the side as he considered my question, brows were drawn down in confusion, and then it seemed to make sense to him. Cool hands cupped my face and tilted my head to meet his gaze, "You are everything to me. There is a pull that drew me to you, but I am forever changed by the woman you are. The choice comes from completing the mating bond, and I chose to be with you. I was torn to claim you as mine and steal you away or leave you to live a normal life, but I knew Yåkov could not be trusted. I am so sorry I had to leave."
I was at a loss for words. How could I explain to him that he had forever altered me as well? He had challenged me, as a woman and as a ruler; he had driven me to become better. Looking down at him, I cupped his cheek, "From the first time you touched me - I knew something was different about you. I fought it for a long time, tore myself up over the feelings I had for you, tried to make myself love or feel anything for Yåkov – just to get you out of my mind. It never worked; you were everywhere, in every dream. I remember the moment I knew, without a doubt, that I loved you, never did I ever dream that you could love me in return. But know this, you are my completion, my companion, my mate, as well." His mouth descended on mine then, hungry and needy as his tongue requested entrance.
"Then why?" he asked, his voice rough with emotion, "why did you say no?"
"I was scared," I admitted, then laughed bitterly, "Part of me thought I was imagining the whole thing, and that in reality, I was back in the fire, dying all alone and that you," I waived my hand at him, "were a dream that my mind gave me for peace. If I let you change me, I feared that would end the dream. The only anchor, only proof I have that anything was real, was the wound at my side and the pain it gave me."
Growling, he stood over me and then was above me, my back on the bed, our bodies aligned with one another. "I am a blood drinker, a demon – can you love a monster?" his eyes were dark again, and I felt a chill run through my body.
"You are not a monster," I whispered, and kissed his lips, "I love you, by any title, any name, any description. I love you."
"We still have much to discuss," he whispered against my lips, "we are not done." I nodded in agreement.
"Yes," I breathed as my lips sought his again.
Another growl ripped through him and he kissed me back, urgent, pleading. "Please," I whimpered as I felt his hard body begin to move against mine, "please."
Gone was the vulnerability that had been in his face, gone the pain – replaced by hunger and need, and raw want.
Gently, his fingers drifted down to the edge of my tunic and began to slowly pull it upward, past my stomach, past my breasts, until he pulled the tunic over my head. As I arched my back to allow the garment to be removed, I hissed from the pain at my side. He kissed the edge of the bandage, his cool lips providing comfort to the stinging pain. Then he paused, as began to kiss the ugly bruises, those that had already begun to fade and yellow, as well as the fresh ones from the previous evening. As he continued to kiss lower, I could feel my body responding to his touch, his nearness – my skin felt as if it were burning beneath his touch, I longed to feel his cool skin against my own. My hands moved down to his own tunic and began to bunch and pull the fabric up.
The kisses abruptly passed as he sat up, straddled over my hips, and quickly removed his tunics, revealing his sculpted chest. "More," I panted as his lips found my skin again. Cool fingers found the waist of my leggings and slowly peeled them down, his lips traced over each inch of my skin the clothing revealed. Shivers of pleasure rolled through me, through my spin, as I watched him move slowly down my body and finally remove my socks.
I was naked beneath him and he drank me in.
"You too," I pleaded, my voice thick with my arousal. Smirking, he removed the trousers in a fluid movement so quick that all I registered was one moment he was dressed, the next he was naked – his strange, hard skin pressed against my soft, yielding curves.
"I want you," I whispered, and rolled my hips up to his.
"As I want you," he panted in my ear, and I felt his hard length press insistently against me. He buried his head in the soft skin of my neck and shoulder, skimmed his nose along the column of my throat before his lips found mine again.
A growl vibrated in his chest, and his hips rolled towards me. I was panting and moaning, and could feel the tingle that shot straight from my belly to the junction of my thighs.
An iron grip gathered my wrists together and held them above my head. I arched my back, my hardened nipples brushing against his cool, hard skin. He groaned at the contact, his fingers loosened around my wrists and I pulled them free.
"Edward," I murmured, and his body stilled.
"You cannot imagine the pleasure it brings me to hear my real name on your lips," his voice was throaty and sent a thrill of pleasure throughout my entire body. I knew my answering smile was bright, and hopefully communicated the overwhelming love I felt for him.
Mindful of my wound, and he slowly spread my legs beneath him. Hard skin aligned with mine as he settled between my legs and I felt my back arch below him. He hissed as my nipples brushed along the firm plains of his chest, and I watched in amazement as all traces of gold disappeared from his eyes.
Between my legs, I felt his engorged tip nudging my soaked entranced, and I nodded, wanting him to complete me. In a swift movement, he slid effortlessly inside me, and paused, in wait for my reaction. Unlike the first time, no images of Yåkov plagued my mind; only the man above me remained. I moaned and began to roll my hips to encourage him to also move.
"Mine," he growled and began to move.
"Yours," I moaned in response.
The encounter was so different from that first night, where that one had been a time of sweet exploration, of coming together, this was one of reunion, of need, of completion and assurance that we were together once more. Beneath him, I panted and moaned as he thrust inside me.
Above me, he panted and settled his face into the nook between my shoulder and neck. "I want," he panted.
"What do you want?" I asked breathless, the sensations that assaulted me driving almost all rational thought from me.
"I want to drink from you," he moaned, "the sensation is overwhelming," his breath fanned against my neck as his body continued to move in rhythm of mine.
"Then do it," I moaned, and pressed my skin closer to him, offered myself to him. His hand snaked down between us, to where we were joined, and began to massage and pinch the sensitive bud. I began to thrash wildly as heat slowly began to fill my body, it began in my toes and fingertips, and I could feel myself grip him tighter.
"It will change you," his face was clearly strained as he fought for control; to restrain the urges that clearly overwhelmed him.
It seemed like a lifetime that I had rejected his offer to be changed, to be like him, and yet – though there were so many unanswered questions, so much more that I wanted to know – I knew that my answer would always be the same. He belonged to me, as I belonged to him, and nothing would ever change that. Decision made, I arched my back again and pressed my flesh closer to him.
"Do it," I moaned.
And with a growl, his hand still teasing and stroking me, while still thrusting into me, he latched onto the tender skin at my shoulder. I cried out, from the pleasure and pain mingled together and felt my entire body begin to clench around him. As he drank, the tug and swallows seemed to be in time with the throbbing of my body as the pleasure ripped through me, and then he followed, fell over the edge, and shuddered above me. His rough tongue lapped at my shoulder, and then his nose ran along the column of my throat as he whispered my name, "Izabel".