Hi there, shiny people! I know it's been a while again, but I'm celebrating completing a uni assignment by giving you more words. Thank you all for your kind reviews for the last chapter. You are all so sweet to me. I appreciate it more than you know. Enjoy the chapter. :)
Servatis A Maleficum
"I need to speak with you," I said quietly, taking Mrs Cope's arm and pulling her to one side of the bustling kitchen. She looked up at me with surprise and I felt guilt shoot through me at the dark circles under her eyes. I knew that her lack of sleep was due to her helping me in the dungeons in the night. Still, I comforted myself with the thought that it was her choice to do so.
"Not here. Not now," she warned, her eyes darting around at the busy kitchen that seemed to be teeming with staff busily preparing breakfast for the castle's inhabitants.
"But-" I began to protest, but was cut off easily with her warning glare.
"We won't be helping anybody from the inside of a cell, my boy. Now hush. I will speak with you later. Right now I have a household to feed. I suggest you get some rest and speak to young McCarty. There isn't a thing goes on inside this castle gets by his notice. That's what he's paid for, after all."
I jolted at that, realising that I didn't really know what his role in the castle was. Only that it apparently required a sword and full armour, not just chainmail. Was I taking an unnecessary risk in believing I could trust this man to help me?
I pondered over this as Mrs Cope dismissed me, telling me to get out of her kitchen and swatting at me with a rolling pin when I hesitated.
Somehow, Emmett's connection to Isabella - and I was certain there was one - seemed vitally important. It was clear to me that there was something there. He knew her name and she reacted to his the previous night when Mrs Cope mentioned him.
Determinedly, I dragged my weary body quickly towards the sleeping quarters, hoping that Emmett would be there when I arrived, and I wasn't disappointed. He was sitting on the end of his bed, concentrating hard on polishing his armour. I approached him quickly, wanting, no, needing answers.
"You know her," I stated simply as I came to a stop before him, leaving no room for argument.
He looked up as though he was surprised to see me standing there. He was quiet for a moment, his eyes seeming to weigh me up before he looked back down at his armour and began to polish it again, less vigorously than before.
"I do," he replied finally, his voice barely a whisper. I waited a long moment before realising that was the only answer I was going to receive.
I could feel anxiety bubbling up in my chest and forcing its way into my throat, screaming at me that what I was about to do was ridiculous and dangerous, but I squashed it down, knowing that no matter what, I couldn't do this alone. Emmett's eyes were soft and full of kindness and I forced myself to believe that he would help me.
"I have to get her out of here," I whispered, sitting down beside him and resting my head in my hands and praying that this conversation wouldn't land me in the cell beside Isabella's.
"Admirable," he started, his hands stopping their polishing, but he didn't meet my eyes as he continued. "But it can't be done."
"I have to," I reiterated. "She'll die if she stays here."
His eyes shot up to meet mine then, blazing with a fire that I didn't know the meaning of.
"You and I both know that there are worse things that can happen to a person than death. Have you considered that maybe that's what Isabella wants? She's not the only person who will be killed if you try to break her out of here."
The anger that coursed through me at his words was so potent that it forced me to my feet once more, my hands curled into fists by my sides, aching to reach out and knock the inhumanity out of him.
"You would sooner see her killed than fight for her?" I seethed at him, my voice barely above a whisper, but my rage was clear in the tone as it slipped through my clenched teeth. He didn't look up at me, but his shoulders slumped, defeated.
"I would sooner see her killed than see what they will do to both of you if you are caught trying to help her escape. You have no idea what these people are capable of. You think because you've spent a few nights with her that you know them at their worst. Believe me, what you've seen, what Isabella has experienced, is only the tip of the iceberg. If you're caught, you will beg them for death before they give it to you. I'm not a cruel man, Mason. I want you to understand that, and I care for her, I do. But what you're trying to do is impossible. You want to smuggle a convicted witch out of one of the best guarded castles in the country. What you're talking about isn't mere folly, it's suicide."
"She's worth it," I replied eventually, my body still taut with the tension his words had created in me.
"Is she?" he asked seriously, finally looking up at me.
"You would die to save her?"
"In a heartbeat," I answered without a moment's pause.
He watched me for a moment, his eyes holding mine as though searching for a lie there. When he apparently found none, his face finally fell into a small smile and his shoulders relaxed once more.
"Then you're a fool, but I like you, Edward Mason," he said with a grin, offering me his hand, which I shook cautiously.
"Will you help me?" I asked hopefully as he rose to stand beside me.
"What do you need?"
"Mrs Cope told me that nothing happens in this castle that you don't know about," I started, watching as his face fell into another grin.
"And she'd be right."
"Then I need information. I need to know who will be where and when. I need a way out."
"You don't ask much, do you, Mason?" he joked, running his hand down his face and looking serious. "This isn't going to be easy, you know? Your chances of making it out of here alive and undetected are slim at best. Lord Aro is not a popular man. He has drained the people living on his lands virtually dry of resources and his unpopularity has made him paranoid. The castle is well guarded, night and day. The front of the castle is impossible and you know that the river protects the rear."
"The river?" I asked. This was news to me.
"Yes. The River Angeles. It runs along the rear of the castle. It's wide, fast flowing and damn near impossible to cross. No army has ever managed it."
"But I don't have an army," I hegded, my thoughts whirling with the idea of getting away across the river.
Was it possible? Could it be done? Isabella was so weak and she was injured and I hadn't swum in years. How would we ever navigate our way across a river that trained soldiers failed to cross?
"You should speak to Bella about the river," Emmett said, eyeing me carefully.
"Bella?" My ears pricked up at the name, and Emmett's face fell at my question. He didn't respond, just stared at his hands with wide eyes as I watched and waited.
"Who's Bella, Emmett?" I pushed, already certain I knew the answer.
He remained silent for a long while before he seemed to realise I wasn't going to let it drop. He sighed, his hands running down his face in frustration before he finally met my gaze with his own.
"It's what her father called her. What everybody called her. Everybody that knew her."
"And you? You knew her well enough to call her by this nickname?"
"Yes," he conceded, his face suddenly filled with sadness. I waited for him to continue, watching as his eyes glazed over as though he was lost in his own memories.
"I worry how Mister Swan is faring since she was taken away," he finally said, with what looked like guilt pulling the corners of his mouth down in a frown. "He relied on her, you see. She was never a child. Not really. She looked after her papa almost from the moment she could walk."
"Where was her mother?" I asked curiously, trying to build up a picture of the Isabella who existed before this all began.
"She died when Isabella was small. It was always just her and her papa, but they were happy. Everybody loved Isabella. You couldn't help it. She was one of those people, you know? She was kind to everyone, even the beggar children who everybody else shooed away. She used to give them apples, though they couldn't spare them. Not really. Old Charles used to watch her with a twinkle in his eye. He was proud of her, though he knew those children were likely eating his supper."
His voice was soft and his expression wistful as he told me about a person who was almost impossible to imagine from the frightened, broken young woman in the dungeons. I needed to get her out of there and bring back that sweet, caring girl who gave away her supper to the urchins who had nothing.
"You grew up together?" I questioned, desperate to learn more about her.
"We lived in the same village. We were meant to... I mean, I was... Things should have been so different. I let her down. Maybe she wouldn't be where she is now if we'd just gone ahead with it."
"With what?" I asked with a shaky voice, not sure why I dreaded his answer.
"The wedding," he replied, looking back down at his hands while confirming what I feared most. He and Isabella were intended for one another.
"You were to be married," I stated rather than asked him. He nodded once, a look of guilt creeping over his face, which he buried once more in his hands.
"We played together as children. She was like my shadow for years. One day I was swimming in the river. Isabella was only small but she followed me." He sniffed a humourless laugh. "She always did stupid dangerous things in order to keep up with me. I was like a big brother to her, you see. She could swim okay, but the current was too strong and it pulled her under almost immediately. All I heard was this tiny shriek before her head disappeared under the filthy water. We almost lost her that day. I managed to find her and tow her to the riverbank. Her father praised me to the heavens and our parents decided right then and there that we would be married someday. They didn't realise that in my head, I was already married."
I raised an eyebrow at him in question. I hadn't realised he was wed.
"I was married to the idea of being a soldier," he explained carefully, watching me as he spoke. "I failed her. I left her there and maybe..." he trailed off.
"Maybe if you were married, none of this would have happened," I finished for him. He nodded and I was appalled to see tears starting to mist over his eyes.
"I love her, I do. But I could never have loved her as a man loves a wife, not after I spent so many years loving her like an older brother. She is my sister in every way, but my lover? I couldn't."
"And," I started, my mouth suddenly painfully dry as I tried to ask the question I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer to. "Did she... Does she love you?"
He looked at me skeptically for a moment, before shaking his head. "No. She would have married me to please her father. She would do almost anything for him, but she wouldn't have been happy. Neither of us would have been happy and we both knew it."
I nodded, unable to explain the relief I felt, knowing that Isabella had no romantic attachment to this man. Having seen the terror in her eyes and the blood running down the insides of her legs, it pained me to wonder whether she would ever feel that way for any man. For me. Would she even survive long enough to try? The thought was a sober one and had me changing the topic of conversation from Isabella's past to her immediate future.
I pressed Emmett for information about the castle and its comings and goings. I wanted to know every detail, sure that there must be a weak link somewhere. No armour was perfect and I was certain that there had to be a chink in Lord Aro's somewhere. But, no matter what Emmett told me, my mind kept drifting back to the river. It seemed to me to be the only weak spot in his defences.
"You said Isabella can swim?" I interrupted as he was talking about guard changes and night watchmen.
"Uh, yes, she grew up beside the river. We could all swim almost before we could walk."
I smiled at the thought of a tiny Isabella, all chubby legs and thick, dark curls, splashing around in the river. Her small face in my mind was plastered with the same small smile she had graced me with briefly. I wanted to see that smile again. I wanted to see her face free from pain and fear, free from the painful marks that told of her suffering more eloquently than any words ever could. I had a need, deep inside me, to see her happy. I needed to see her free.
We talked for a while longer, formulating a plan and praying that it would work. I was terrified that Isabella's injuries would weaken her to the point where she would be unable to help herself. But it had to be tonight. I couldn't wait for things to be more certain. I had to get her out because I was certain that one more day alone with those men would be more than she could handle. She had been so strong and so brave for so long, but their tortures were working. They were slowly breaking her down and crumbling her spirits to dust beneath their pious feet and I needed her to be strong.
The invisible force that seemed to pull me to her tugged sharply, causing a splinter of pain through my chest, and I rose, ready to march down to the cell and be with her, regardless of the consequences. I needed to see her, to feel the weight of her in my arms and know that she was safe. A strong, thick hand on my chest stopped me in my tracks and Emmett glared down at me as though I had lost my mind. Maybe I had.
"Where are you going?" he asked, eyeing me accusingly.
"I just... I need to know that-"
"You're going to get yourself and Isabella killed if you don't stop acting with your heart instead of your head. Fools die in this castle, Mason. Don't be one of them. Get some rest or you'll be no use to her later."
I hesitated for a moment, that need tugging at me painfully, but it wasn't as painful as Emmett's fist as it connected with my shoulder.
"I mean it, Mason. If I have to have you locked in a cell, I will do. You will not get Isabella killed because you can't control your emotions. Love her, by all means. But don't put her at risk by doing something foolish."
Love her? What was he talking about? I barely even knew her. How could he have jumped from me caring for her to love.
"I don't... I mean... I'm not in love with her," I stuttered out, feebly.
"Of course you're not," Emmett replied skeptically, with one eyebrow raised. He clearly didn't believe me.
"I care for her. She's in trouble. I'd do the same for anybody in her position," I said, unsure who I was trying to convince.
"Would you?" I nodded. "And this insane need to get both of you killed by playing the hero? You would do that for anybody also?"
I grumbled something incoherent as I turned to my bed. He was right about one thing. If I didn't get some rest now, I would be no use to Isabella later. I promised her that I wouldn't let them hurt her again, and tonight, no matter what my feelings meant, I intended to fulfil that promise.