The Secret Keeper

Chapter 19

I am strong.

More importantly, I am smart.

After making my abrupt departure from the company of my family, I fled to my room. I lit a fire and tended to it for several days as I pondered how to handle the vampire monocharies. They were the main problems right now.

I found myself rushing to the grand library to pull out several world maps, and the brought them back to my room. I sketched lines over the map I had retrieved of Europe, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the way I could separate the Volturi from the Romanians. I could easily cut down Aro's power and put him on probation with this treaty line.

Temporary, of course. A way to keep the peace.

I called Derek to my room, and explained the draft of this line to him. He agreed, on the condition that his commander see this, and draft a formal military agreement that binds Aro to this line to avoid war.

The funny part about war is that it starts and ends the same way. It starts with blood, and ends when people do what they needed to do from the beginning; sit down and talk.

I agreed, on the condition that Peruses and Anton gather and we draft it together.

Two long minutes later, we were all gathered around my maps, outlining the draft for a war avoidance.

That was easy part.

The hard part was going to Volterra and convincing Aro that this was the way to go. I had to play it just right, or Aro would start a war. I reminded myself that I had to restrain from truly threatening him unless he is completely close minded.

Aro is not close minded. He is a lot of things, but his ability gives him perspective to not be close minded. Quite spectacular, the way he processes the information. Not many people store that much information-not even most vampires.

But I digress.

The next few days we wrapped up our preparations, and, upon Derek's insistence, coordinated our outfits for our infiltration of Aro's domain.

Derek wore all black. Black jeans, back shirt, and black combat boots, with a gold cuff wristband. All of his minions were dressed as such. He wore a cloak as well, black-of course- with gold embellishments depicting a dragon breathing fire upon a village.

Peruses wore black jeans and combat boots with a white shirt and a gold cuff wristband. His cloak consisted of a black base, but the image depicted on it in gold and white showed a sun beating down on the back of a brilliant whitish blue dragon had the shape of a dragon but with feather-like scales almost of a dove. The dragon was wrapped around a village where townspeople set up camp under the wings of this great beast and children climbed its back. It represented him perfectly.

Anton wore a simple black cloak with a gold embroidery of a swan with its wings outstretched as if to fly. A bold statement, seeing as this was the crest of my brothers and I. Anton was family now. Like us, he wore a gold cuff on his upper arm. Student status. Black shirt, pants, and combat boots.

I almost didn't wear what Derek and gotten for me. I thought that the matching outfits were a bit much. I looked at what he wanted me to wear again and changed my mind.

I wore heeled black combat boots with black pants and flowy gold shirt that moved as gracefully as I did. A gold cuff for my wrist and a heavy long gold necklace with the family crest. My cloak was black (surprise, surprise) with a circular image depicted in gold. Two dragons-a blackish blue one and a whitish blue one, wrapped in a continuous circle from snout to tail. In the middle was a single smaller red-gold dragon, proud and strong, preening over the village from afar.

It was all a bit too much. But the drama was enlightening in a heavy time, so I suppose that's why we all played along.

In our haste, we made it Volterra very quickly-within three days of travel.

We were camped out in the forest outside the city when Derek pulled me aside.

"So I was thinking about you outfit…" My eyebrows shot up in surprise. What about it?

He continued. "...and after further debate I've decided that you should where this-" he swept out a dress from a garment bag. It was gold and flowy, but clenched and the waist that had a certain sophistication to it.

"Why?" I asked, after scrutinizing the dress.

"Because you off all people need to make a statement tomorrow. Aro is all about dramatics, and if you play dress up he will understand that this is no ordinary fight for the straight and narrow. He will come to understand, as I have, that you are playing the game with him now-not dancing around the board trying to change the outcome." He finished with a hand twirl toward my very different self.

Blown away by his insight, I nodded.

With a smile that dominated his face, he swept out of my room and declared-"There's some makeup in the garment bag as well, if you are feeling especially daring."

I shook my head and his display, but did not reject the idea.

I was feeling especially dramatic.

I read once that "all the world's a stage," so maybe it was time to do what Derek said that I needed to do to show Aro that I was a player in the game-a player that he should be very, very careful when challenging.

The next day we started preparations while it was still dark and were set to enter the city as the sun came up, to be as discreet as possible and avoid humans.

Derek sent a female minion of his-who bowed to me upon entering, much to my annoyance-to help me put the dress on, which I found to be more complicated that it looked; with a full corset that only inhibited movement in areas, and served only to push up my bust, to my chagrin. The girl explained that it was an improvisation of the seamstress. She oversaw the details of the dress and the woman designed it to accentuate her chest.

I pulled my cloak close to me, trying not to be self conscious about the detail that could not be fixed now.

Despite this minor fact, I found myself comfortable and confident in the breathable fabric of the dress. And I looked stunning.

I did end up using the makeup, sans the powder that made me sneeze when I breathed in at the wrong time. No, I grabbed the kohl eyeliner and made broad strokes around my eyes and created a wing in the corners making my eyes stand out sharper than normal. Easier said than done, but I managed.

I was just applying mascara when Peruses called out that we were leaving soon. I finished and swept out of the tent, smiling good morning to Peruses, who stopped and froze in shock at my fierce appearance. I frowned at his reaction.

Just then Derek swept up with Anton behind him and clapped Peruses on the back.

"Isabella. Such a diamond in the rough, if I do say so myself. Aro might not be able to concentrate on negotiating with your beauty to captivate the room."

I scowled at Derek.

Peruses stumbled on his next words and finally mumbled, "Yeah, what he said."

"Smooth." I deadpanned. Anton laughed and Derek joined in.

"Alright!" I barked. "Where is Colton? We need to get going if we are to avoid humans."

In a millisecond, Colton was in front of me, saluting. "Here, ma'am."

"Good. Gather the minions. It's time to go."

We made it through the city without incident and arrived at the doors of Castle Volterra. It was easy entering, and I told the secretary that the Kings needed to meet my brothers and I in the large gathering room he had where we could all sit and have a nice, long discussion.

Colton insisted that the minions go before us to clear the way, and he himself oversaw that we were safe. The royalty treatment was grating on my thin nerves, but there were other things to think about right now.

There were a few minor scuffles with Volturi guard and the minions, nut otherwise we were not met with any resistance.

When we approached the room I saw Felix standing guard, as if to greet us. Or keep us out.

"Felix." I swept forward and moved a wary Colton out of the way, so I could greet him.

"Miss Isabella. Its very good to see you, mi caro." He almost leered at me, but he was so lighthearted about it that it made me feel happy, rather than spooked.

"Molto bello vedere anche tu, tesoro." I purred at him. He smirked. "Is Aro in there by chance?"

"He is." He smiled wholeheartedly. "He is ready for you. I was given instruction that only you and your brothers are allowed to enter."

I nodded. "Derek, Peruses, and Anton-with me." I waved them forward. "Colton, wait out here with Felix. Make sure everyone knows they can get comfortable. This will take awhile." Colton nodded.

I entered first, my brothers flanking me.

Aro got up from his throne-like chair and greeted me.

"Isabella, what a pleasure." He grasped my hand, still in the habit. He bent down and kissed it. "You look absolutely stunning my dear."

"Thank you Aro. Always the gentleman. Aro, I'd like to introduce my brothers, Peruses and Derek-the first vampires."

Peruses stepped forward and I extended my power enough so that Aro could not get all of my dear brothers secrets. He seemed content-overjoyed, in fact-with what snippets of his long life that he did get. "Nice to meet you." He said, through his teeth. Never an actor.

Aro nodded and he stepped back.

Derek swept forward in grand gesture and took Aro's hand.

Aro jerked back as though he had been electrocuted, but a smirk soon grew over his face, only to be mirrored on Derek's own countenance.

"Aro. Thank you for sparing some of your time to sit down and negotiate. I have seen a lot of wars, and they bring me great joy, but a vampire war would create a mess that would wear an old man like me out. We shall come to an agreement today, I hope."

Aro nodded, the grin never fading. "My pleasure, Derek. You are a legend."

"Good." I stopped Derek from launching into a long monologue about his long and accomplished life with a sharp retort. "Now, we should get down to business. We have a lot to discuss."

"Indeed." Aro replied, and gestured for us all to sit.

"Let's be clear here. Derek represents blood drinkers in this deal and will have the final ruling in any and all decisions having any adverse affect on them henceforth. Peruses represents all animal drinking vampires and will have the final ruling in any and all decisions having any adverse affect on animal drinkers. Aro, you and your brothers represent your country and your extensive guard of talented individuals and as such should feel responsible for any negotiation you make and how it will affect them. Anton, you represent the Romanians in this and any and all decisions that affect Romanians adversely you have the power to speak against. Are we clear?"

Anton chimed in, "And you, miss?" I smiled at him.

"I will be a moderator of sorts, making sure all is fair play. But in essence, I represent love, so all, vampires, humans, and other supernatural creatures and their well being is in my range of concern. Any more questions?"

SIlence was the only confirmation I needed.

"Eccellente!" I exclaimed. "Then let the negotiations begin."

I began by explaining to Aro, with the use of a world and europe map, that in order to properly punish him for his wrongdoings against mated vampires, that he would be put on probation. I pointed to the straight line that I had drawn, right through Zagreb, Croatia, a central Croatian city.

I explained to Aro that over a negotiable probationary period, his rule would only extend east to this boundary line, that any vampire wishing to avoid his judgement must only live on the other side of this line. To the west, his reign would extend to Hawaii.

He seemed to agree to these terms, a dishonest gleam in his eye.

"On what authority, Isabella, do you feel you have to put the Kings of Vampires on probation? I understand that you are some of the first vampires, but you are not royalty." Caius' distaste for me was as evident as always.

I nodded. "You're right Caius, I'm not royalty." My admission surprised him. "But let us agree not to lie to each other today, in this very room. You are not royalty either, Caius." I stated frankly.

"You dare…!"

"Yes, Caius, I dare. Caius Volturi- or should I say, Caius Aarti, you were not born into royalty anywhere. You were not a nobleman. You couldn't have even been called a peasant. To even the common laborer you were considered dirt. Not a penny to your name, you became so bitter that you clawed and poisoned your way to wealth with blood money. It explains why you are so bitter. You and I both know that Aro only keeps you around as a King because he likes your cruel nature for purposes of intimidation only. He would never let you make a decision because he knows that you would never make a rational one.

You are clever, Caius. You know my gift. You have heard the stories. I have authority because, like a judge, my knowledge of every person's most complicated intentions and desires and fears makes me the perfect intercessor with the utmost objectivism. Now, Caius, unless you have something to contribute to this meeting, do us all a favor and bite your sharp foolish tongue."

Caius nodded.

"Well then, let's get on with it. Aro, not only am I limiting your power until you are fit to rule again, but as a solidifying part of the deal, I am offering to rule with yo. I could always invite myself to flit around this place like a warden of a prison, keeping an eye on you, but I don't think that is the most civil way to do it. Instead I am offering my knowledge to you in exchange for the call of peace between us. If you cease all forms of tyranny, I can rule as your equal, ensuring that you can learn to make fair decisions. If we are going to 'play nice' then the probationary period will be shortened considerably. Those are my terms."

Aro nodded thoughtfully.

For a mentally tiring four hours, we all went back and forth about the terms of the Volturi's power being divided and given in part to the Romanians. This revelation deeply troubled Aro, and the only way that it was settled was if a council was set up to settle any power disputes between the Volturi and the Romanians.

Aro was still not pleased, but Derek simple added that any true disciplinary action that needed to be carried out was left up to him to carry out.

Scared quite out of his wits by Derek, Aro and the brothers had not more protests about sharing power with the Romanians.

Marcus raised the question as to what happens to the division of power when the probationary period was over. Peruses explained that will help from the new Council, the Volturi and the Romanians would learn to rule the vampire world simultaneously.

I announced that my brothers, Anton, and I were going to preside over the Council for now, but with a wink suggested that in time new members could be voted in.

"Isabella will preside as the Council's head." Peruses explained.

"When will this new agreement be put into place?" Aro began with a small smirk playing his lips. "I need to know when to have a new throne ready for the Volturi's new Queen."

"Temporary." I scolded Aro. "And I'm not a Queen."

"Ah, but my guard will learn to address you as such."

I shook my head at Aro. I couldn't believe that he actually wanted to make me a part of his guard, I knew that his sudden acceptance of the agreement came only when he learned the new added power that I possessed over vampires and vampire monarchs in general. Maybe I can discourage his power hungry nature.

"Queen Isabella." Derek teased. "Has a ring to it." Derek and Aro laughed.

Soon, everyone sans myself was laughing in harmony at my expense. I hated it already, but in fairness it was my own ideas. I was just caught off guard that Aro would jump and insist that I became a Elite with him.

"Alright, now that we have an official agreement-Peruses, the contract-we shall all sign it."

It was signed.

"Anton, you must go immediately and take this contract to you Masters and when you return this document shall be entrusted to Peruses for safekeeping. You start your apprenticeship with me upon your return. Aro, you shall send your best trackers out to inform all of the vampires in the world of this historic change. Spread the word. Derek, you will return home and begin setting up the place of meeting for the Council, and the official amendment for the Council. Peruses will remain in the city until Anton returns with the the contract. Thank you, Brothers, for convening here today, and may peace in the vampire would prevail for centuries longer."

We all shook hands and Anton and Derek prepared to depart.

Will a perhaps too-friendly embrace from Aro, Felix led me to the same room I stayed in on my last visit, and bid me good evening to let me rest for the remainder of the day.

I moved into the room and collapsed on the chaise.

I let out a long breath, and closed my eyes.

I had just narrowly avoided war, and the inevitable loss of life that accompanied it.

To top it off, whether I liked it or not, I was stepping in as a Queen of the Volturi.

I was now, as before, Isabella Marie Swan Volturi.

This marks the end of The Secret Keeper.

An epilogue will be posted sometime after this and in the AN at the end I will announce the sequel.

Thank you lovies for staying with me through my sporadic updating and staying with me as I have worked on this story over the years while my writing style matured and changed.

Thanks again for reading, and if you caught one of the many slight fandom references in there, please comment. Comment also with any thoughts about this climactic chapter for me and let me know how I did. I only ask respectfully that you not be mean.

Thanks for reading.