Disclaimer: I still don't own Twilight. I'm just doing mean, mean things to her characters. It's all hers.
A/N: So there I was, just sitting around bored yesterday and I thought to myself, maybe I'll check my emails... I was stunned when I did. Thank you so much to Cris for reccing me on her amazing fic, Wisp. I am beyond honoured and thank you to everybody who alerted and/or reviewed. You were all so kind to my little story and I'm so grateful to you all for that. In return, here's part three of the adventure. I hope you like it. :)
Servatis A Maleficum
The darkness of the dungeons slowly began to fade to a dull grey as the sun began its daily ascent and I reluctantly opened Isabella's cell. The clanking of the keys in the lock startled her awake and I could see the beginnings of panic in her features as her face darted around in fear.
She had slept soundly through the night and I watched over her, irrationally fascinated by the simplest things. The way her chest rose and fell rhythmically beneath the soft wool of my cloak, the way her small fingers clutched the edges of the cloak so tightly I was certain they would snap, the way the swelling around her eye seemed to reduce through the night so that when she sat bolt upright in horror at my entrance, both her eyes landed on me, wide and afraid.
"Hey, it's okay. It's only me. I thought it best to wake you now. It's beginning to get light."
She didn't say anything. She simply nodded, carefully disentangling herself from my cloak and handing it to me without meeting my eyes. She pulled her bottom lip into her mouth, attempting to chew on it for a moment before wincing at the soreness and stopping. I stood beside her, my cloak grasped in my hand, at a loss for what to say to her. It seemed all her fear and apprehension had returned over night and I didn't know how to abate that.
I wanted to reach out and touch her bruised cheeks, erasing the pain of her injuries with my touch, but the way her hands were shaking by her sides as she stared at the ground made me hesitate.
"Isabella," I said softly, afraid of scaring her by simply speaking. I watched as she tensed and a short, sharp breath escaped her. I took a step back, afraid that I was frightening her with my proximity but at my movement her eyes shot up to meet mine and, instead of the fear I expected to see radiating from them, all I saw was a deep sadness that I couldn't bear.
"They'll be here soon?" she asked in a whisper, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. My eyes fell closed as I nodded in response, unable to witness the fear that would surely wrack through her fragile body at the thought.
"I'm so sorry," I said softly, forcing my eyes to look at her. I took a step forward, taking her small hand in mine and squeezing it gently. "I wish I could stop them. I wish I could protect you from this."
Her hand was freezing, in spite of my efforts to give her what warmth I could overnight. Without thinking, I tugged lightly on her hand, bringing her into my chest where I enveloped her in my arms, trying to rub some heat into her trembling body. It seemed like a useless gesture considering the fate that likely awaited her when the other guards came to take her away, but I just felt like I needed to do something.
Her body was rigidly tense in my arms, her fear not allowing her to relax for even a moment as the cell grew lighter and lighter around us. At the first sounds from above, we jumped apart and I could see the terror in her eyes as she shrank back into the corner, sinking to the ground and pulling her knees up to her chest as though making herself as small as possible could protect her.
"Oh, God," I murmured to myself, my hands flying up to tug at my hair as I backed out of the cell, leaving her alone and completely vulnerable. As the lock clicked home, my heart sunk into my feet at the sight of her. I wanted so desperately to just scoop her up and run, get her away from that place, to save her from another day of whatever torments the supposed men of God had concocted for her.
"I'm so sorry," I choked out, my heart in my stomach as the inevitable footsteps sounded on the steps.
I tried to force an expression of blank indifference onto my face as the men appeared, only two of them this time, neither of whom I recognised. The man on the left nodded to me to open up the cell and I moved forward slowly, fumbling with the keys deliberately. I knew well which key opened her cell, but went through each one slowly anyway, knowing I couldn't hold them off indefinitely but believing that every moment the door remained locked was a moment of pain spared for her.
Finally though, I couldn't delay any longer and the door opened with a click that echoed the sound of my stomach dropping to my feet. Isabella didn't move, but it was obvious from where I stood that her whole body was rigid and trembling in fear.
My eyes shot open in alarm when the heavy, iron restraints were pushed into my hands with an expectant look from the guard.
They wanted me to be the one to put them on her.
How could I do that to her?
I hesitated for a moment before feeling a strong push from behind that catapulted me towards her tense form.
"I, uh..." I started, looking helplessly at the cold metal in my hands, wishing I could be anywhere but there.
"The keys are in your hand, Mason," a rough voice barked from behind me.
"Right. Yes," I mumbled, moving forwards, approaching Isabella cautiously, hoping and praying that they would believe it was through fear of her magics and not reluctance.
I dropped to my knees in front of her, with my back to the guards who stood like sentinels in the doorway. Then, with trembling hands, I plucked her wrists from around her knees, screaming apologies with my eyes as I tenderly closed the iron manacles around them. I locked them loosely into place, hoping that the other guards would fail to notice that they weren't cutting into her flesh like the previous day.
"I'm so sorry," I mouthed silently to her when her eyes briefly met mine before dropping back down to her knees hopelessly. I could see her body trembling so violently that she almost seemed to move as I reached down to her feet to attach the leg irons that would render her completely helpless. Again, I fixed them loosely so they wouldn't cause more painful abrasions on her wrists and ankles, then with my hands under her arms, I lifted her carefully to her feet where she stood with her eyes averted to the ground. I could easily see, though, the tears that fell like raindrops from her eyes and I had to fight a fierce battle against my desire to wipe them away.
I realised that I hadn't been given the black hood that had covered her head the previous day and turned, almost bumping into the shoulder of one of the guards who strode forwards, the sack-like bag in his hands.
He didn't seem afraid of her like the others when he tilted her face up to look at him, pinching her chin between his thumb and forefinger.
"We're going to get a confession today," he said menacingly, with an evil glint in his eyes that sent shivers down my spine.
Isabella's eyes were wide with fear as he forced her to look at him. I could see shadows of the pain he was causing her flitting across her face but she fought valiantly to hide it. She said nothing as he roughly pushed her face to the side then pulled her back against him with a thick hand around her throat. "And I'm going to enjoy getting it," he finished before thrusting the bag over her head, hiding her face from me.
I heard the softest of whimpers from beneath the thick fabric and the terrified sound almost brought me to my knees. I could feel bile rising up in my throat and forced myself to swallow it down. The last thing she or I needed was for the other guards to suspect that I wasn't one hundred percent committed to the cause.
As he began to drag her away from me, I inadvertently took a step forward, my hand twitching at my side, desperately wanting to reach out to her and offer comfort. I forced myself to stop and allow her to be led away, comforting myself with the idea that I could hold her in my arms again in a few hours. Hours I was free to spend sleeping while she endured God only knew what.
Once they were gone, I dropped to my knees on the hard stone floor, my hands tearing at my hair as I fought against the urge to go after her. She was so small, so vulnerable and all I could see was the terror in her eyes as the guard announced his intentions to force a confession from her. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, trying to force the image from my mind but it stayed in place, firmly lodged beneath my eyelids.
Finally, I stumbled up from the floor, forcing myself to leave that cursed place and I headed blindly in the direction of the sleeping quarters. There were a couple of men already in there, using the washing facilities as I stumbled past them and practically fell into my bed. I was exhausted once more, my body still fighting against the nocturnal pattern I was trying to force it into. My eyes stung in the daylight they were not accustomed to as I forced my hands to remove the chain mail and my tunic before slipping under the blanket.
Closing my eyes, my mind was once more emblazoned with images of Isabella, the fear in her eyes, the trembling of her hands, the cold snap of the metal restraints as I betrayed her trust in the worst way. My heart thumped painfully hard and fast in my chest as I dared to wonder what they were doing to her in that moment. Rubbing my sore eyes roughly, I sat back up, knowing I could find no rest while she was clearly getting none.
Pulling my tunic back on I stood once more and made my way back out into the corridor, ignoring the confused stares of the other men as I went. I knew very little about the castle, having only really spent time in the dungeons and the place I slept. If I was going to find a way to help Isabella, the first thing I would need to know was the layout of the castle that held her prisoner. My mind turned over and over ideas of escape as I wound my way through endless passages, memorising routes and landmarks until I found myself once again in the courtyard that had been the scene of my arrival here.
At the sight of the thick iron portcullis and the raised drawbridge beyond, I began to despair. Maybe Isabella was right. Maybe there was only one way out of this castle for her. But I was damned if I would stand by and allow an innocent woman - this innocent woman - to burn.
There had to be something I could do.
I turned around on the spot, my hands running down my face in despair as I eyed the solid stone all around. How could I believe that I could smuggle a suspected witch out of an impenetrable fortress that even the French army had failed to conquer?
Dejected, I headed back inside, making straight for the dormitory, knowing I would be less than no use to Isabella later if I had no sleep. I was also hungry and had no idea where to find sustenance. The only food I'd had since my arrival was the small meal I'd shared with Isabella and my stomach was loudly making its feelings known in the otherwise silent corridors.
Entering the dormitory, I made my way to my bed cautiously, seeing another thick built man sitting on the bed beside mine, apparently polishing his sword.
He looked up at me as I approached and I was surprised when I saw a friendly smile overtake his face. I returned his smile, happy to finally see a friendly face in this depressing place.
"You look like horse dung, my friend," he said with a grin. Then added, "No offence intended," with a wink.
"None taken," I replied with a chuckle. "That'll be the night shifts."
"Night shifts," he repeated with a raised eyebrow then seemed to think for a moment before a look of realisation swept across his face. "You're the new prison guard?"
I nodded, wary of the curious expression on his face that he quickly smoothed over into a smile.
"So, rumour has it that you're guarding a dangerous prisoner down there?" he hedged, trying and failing to hide his interest.
"Dangerous," I scoffed before I could stop myself, but instantly regretted it at the sight of his raised eyebrow.
"Not dangerous?" he asked, leaning in almost conspiratorially.
Fumbling for words to save this situation before I exposed myself to this unknown man, I foolishly stammered my way through an explanation that wasn't an explanation at all and he knew it. It was just nonsense jumbled up together and I sighed, knowing I was giving myself away and putting both myself and Isabella in danger.
The unknown soldier held my gaze with his, his piercing blue eyes boring into me, reading my expression before he looked back down and continued to polish his sword, muttering, "I heard she's a witch," nonchalantly.
I sighed heavily, my head falling down as my elbows rested on my knees.
"Yes. So I've been told."
"Forgive me, friend, but you don't seem all that convinced."
"It's not my place to determine whether or not the prisoner is guilty," I started, attempting to appear uninterested and not entirely sure I was successful. "My job is to make sure she stays in her cell."
The man smiled knowingly before putting his sword aside and holding his hand out to me to shake. I shook his hand as he smirked at me with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm McCarty, Emmett McCarty and you, my friend, are the first soldier I have heard refer to Isabella as she and not it."
I gaped at him open-mouthed, too many things soaring through my head at once to comment and before I had my wits about me again, he was gone.
Isabella. He knew her name. Not only did he know her name but he seemed happy that I didn't refer to her with the usual derogatory language the soldiers used. How did he know her? And why did he walk away before I had the chance to ask him?
Realising that my depleted body didn't have the energy to pursue him, I groaned and fell back on the bed, not bothering to pull the blanket over me as I wavered between awake and asleep, my full mind too active to sleep soundly. But I was at least half rested when I sensed somebody standing beside me and jerked awake suddenly.
"You're awake." Emmett McCarty was standing beside my bed with a plate in one hand and a wooden cup in the other and smiling broadly as though our earlier conversation didn't end with him abruptly leaving.
"Apparently so," I said, yawning and sitting up to stretch out my protesting muscles, angry at me for sleeping in the cold without utilising the blanket.
"Here," he said, still grinning as though I hadn't scowled at him for waking me. "You should eat." He handed me the plate, which contained some chicken along with a repeat of the previous night's bread and cheese. It was simple food that filled my yawning stomach as I devoured it. Staring down at the empty plate, I hoped that the young lady who brought the food last night would show again. I hated the thought that I had eaten already and Isabella could spend the night hungry.
"Thank you," I said, eyeing Emmett suspiciously as he watched me eating looking almost amused.
"Not a problem, friend. I remember my first days here. Nobody told me where the dining halls were, either. I think I went hungry for nigh a week before I followed my growling stomach to the kitchens."
I laughed loudly at that, the sound unnatural and alien in my throat after the almost silence I had so quickly become accustomed to.
"Here, you still have some time before sunset. I can show you to the kitchens. Mrs. Cope pretends to be a dragon, but once you have her on your side, you'll have extra rations for life." He chuckled at his own joke and waited patiently while I washed and reluctantly pulled the chain mail back on. It seemed ridiculous to me to wear something so uncomfortable to guard somebody as un-threatening as Isabella, but that was the uniform.
Once I was ready, Emmett led the way through more stone corridors that all looked the same to me. I was certain I would never be able to navigate my way around as easily as he seemed to. I started when I realised I was walking down the familiar passage that led to the dungeons, but instead of heading down the last set of stone steps, we walked straight past. I was sure I saw Emmett's eyes flashing to the stairwell with an unreadable expression on his face, but he remained silent and led me on.
Eventually he led me to a wide, airy kitchen that was bustling with activity. An elderly looking woman with grey curls peeking out from under a cloth cap seemed to be in charge, barking orders to various people who immediately jumped to obey her. It took her a moment to notice us standing in the doorway but when she did, she growled before bustling over to us.
"Emmett McCarty, I just gave you two platefuls of food. It defies possibility that you can be hungry again already."
He laughed loudly, earning himself a reproachful glare then introduced me to Mrs Cope, explaining that I was the new night guard and wouldn't be fed if she didn't take pity on me.
I gave a weak half smile as she eyed me up and down, a sad expression flitting across her face briefly before she hid it and appraised me some more.
"He definitely wants feeding up," she muttered almost to herself. "Fine. I'll have some food and wine sent down to you in the night. I won't have anybody starving on my watch."
The way she emphasised the word "anybody" as she gave me a knowing look made me wonder whether she was referring to Isabella as a somebody, but I quickly pushed the thought to the back of my mind.
Emmett chatted away to me cheerfully as we walked back through the castle and he shook my hand, finally giving me an opportunity to tell him my name as we parted ways at the top of the stairs down to the cells.
"It was good meeting you, Mason," he said, his eyes drifting over my shoulder and down into the depths of the dungeons. "You just keep your eyes on that prisoner of yours," he offered before walking away, leaving me to wonder at his motives.
I descended to the cells, having seen from the kitchen windows that it was almost twilight, and sat on the stool to wait. I was restless, my feet tapping relentlessly on the stone floor as I waited what felt like a lifetime for the tell-tale clanking sounds that would signify their return. Isabella's return.
I started to pace back and forth, my hands tugging at my hair as I watched the stairwell growing darker and darker with no sign of their return. As all the natural light disappeared, leaving me in the dim glow of the lantern, my heart was thudding in my chest, certain that the worst had happened. She hadn't returned. As she had told me, there was no way they would have let her go, which left only one alternative.
I bent over as though I had been punched in the gut, retching painfully at the thought that I failed her - that they killed her and I did nothing to stop them. I could see her wide, brown eyes in my mind, staring up at me, trusting me to help her. Yet, after all my heroic words, all I did was clap her in irons and leave her to the wolves.
"Please, God, no!" I croaked out, falling to my knees and begging to the God these men claimed to serve for another chance to help her. I went through the usual platitudes and promises, meaning every word as I cried out that I would do anything if she would just return to me tonight.
I almost didn't believe my ears when, after what felt like hours of prayer, I heard voices approaching and the rattling of metal that was becoming eerily familiar.
I forced myself back to my feet as the sounds grew closer, then the same guard who showed no fear of her that morning came into sight, carrying a limp form in his arms. I hurriedly opened the cell, moving in before him, hoping if I was in the way it would force him to place her on the ground more carefully than the man who simply dropped her the previous night. Sniffing in disgust, the man lowered her to the ground, placing her on the hard ground as though deliberately ignoring the pile of straw right beside him.
I couldn't bring myself to look at her until we were alone, the footsteps of the guards retreating into the distance. Finally, I forced my eyes downwards, my heart almost singing at the sight of her chest rising and falling.
"Isabella," I whispered as I cupped her cheek softly. Her eyes remained closed, her breathing rhythmic and steady. She was unconscious once more, her face, thankfully, unmarred this time. But as I went to lift her, to move her to the straw where there would be at least a modicum of comfort for her, my hand felt wetness on her back. Sitting her slight form forwards so she slouched easily over my arm, I could see blood marring the back of her thin, once white shift. Feeling tears stinging at my eyes I forced myself to pull the stained material away, I felt my whole body react to the sight of the deep, painful welts that covered her back from her hips right up to her neck. They had whipped her until she was raw and bloody - until she passed out from the pain.
I held her in my arms, my hand cradling her head - the only place I could see was uninjured - as I wept for her. She was limp and lifeless in my embrace, her skin pale and cold. The only sign remaining that she lived were the rattling breaths she forced in and out of her lungs.
Wishing I'd had the foresight to bring supplies down with me, I awkwardly kept her in my arms as I unwrapped myself from my cloak and placed it around her loosely so as not to aggravate her wounds further.
"I'm so sorry," I said, over and over as I held her, hoping and praying that she would wake, while realising that at least while she remained unconscious she was free from the pain.
I sat there on the floor, holding her to me until my entire body was numb from holding the position for so long. I shifted slightly, moving to sit against the wall and stretching my legs out in front of me in an attempt to bring the feeling back. Her upper body lay face forward over my chest, her face resting on my shoulder as I ran my fingers tenderly through her hair, trying to remove some of the knots and tangles while she slept. I whispered quietly to her the whole time, wishing there was something more than platitudes that I could offer her. I told her everything would be alright, that I would find a way to get her out of there if it was the last thing I did. I shuddered deeply at those words, knowing full well that there was a very good chance that it could be.
What felt like a lifetime later, I felt a slight stirring in my arms and looked down to see that her face was no longer calm and peaceful, but scrunched up in pain. I moved my hand to cup her cheek, my thumb running lightly over the dry skin of her face as she began to move slightly. I could tell the moment she became fully conscious again when her body went rigid in my arms.
I closed my eyes tightly against the tears that threatened to spill over when I felt her frail body begin to shake in fear.
"Sshh, Isabella, it's me. It's Edward. You're safe. I won't hurt you," I crooned in an attempt to ease her panic. Without thinking, I dropped a soft kiss to her forehead, wishing I could smooth away the frown that puckered her brow. I rocked gently from side to side, trying desperately to relax her trembling body, but all I could read in her face was panic and pain. She tried to move, brushing her heavily welted back against my arm and I expected her to cry out in pain. But she said nothing. The only sign that she felt anything at all was the way her eyes shot open, wider than I would have believed possible and tears formed at their corners.
"It's okay. Be still. You're hurt. Just rest. Please, I won't hurt you, I promise." I was pleading with her, unable to bear the agony in her eyes each time she moved.
She stared up at me with misty eyes that appeared to be filled with concentration. It took me a moment to realise that it was her breathing she was focusing on. Each breath in was accompanied by a horrific rattling sound that echoed off the walls. My heart rate spiked with panic at the sound. It was like she was dying right in front of me and there was nothing I could do for her but hold her.
The awful sounds of her breathing mixed with the agony she wore all over her face steeled every ounce of resolve I possessed as I pictured my tour of the castle in my head, determined to find some exit, some weakness in the stronghold. Because if she stayed here, she wouldn't live much longer, whether it was the torture that killed her or the burning stake that she was sure would be her end. There was no way I could just sit here and do nothing to help her.
As her eyes started to drift closed once more and I felt her body slowly relaxing into sleep, I brushed a few stray hairs back from her face and dropped another soft kiss on her forehead, whispering, "It's going to be okay, Isabella. I'm going to get you out of here. Whatever it takes."