Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Story is rated M for language, and lemons.
This story was written as a present for my wifey, mizzdee. She deserves a ton of credit for getting my words to you in a presentable manner and meeting me 6 nights a week so that we can work on our words together. I've been holding onto this for a while because I just couldn't come up with a title, but one hit me this morning. Hope you enjoy this non-canon pairing, as I seem to enjoy writing Belisle fics.
They say that it's good to be the King, but that is a matter of opinion and circumstance. When you're the Viceroy of a country that is no longer a sovereign nation, little more than a figure head bending to the monarch, who is your nephew, there is little good to be seen.
My mother gave birth to two sons, and my older brother had no desire to see me try and challenge him for the throne, so he conquered the island nation of Pushla and made it a colony of León, naming me his representative upon my turning eighteen.
King Edward the First was a calculating man, taking the small nations surrounding our homeland and turning us into a powerful country, but his thirst for power cost him his life. My sister-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, was a princess in her own right, and took the throne while her son was still a child, and I was left alone on my island. We sent the taxes on time, and the ships came to collect our excess crops, bringing in its place food from the mainland.
But as news reached us of the Queen's failing health and King Edward the Second's coronation coming at the end of the summer, I knew my world had the potential to change forever.
It was with this news weighing on my mind that I traveled to the western castle. Even though the island wasn't a considerable size, my brother had built a second castle on the eastern side of the island, so I split my time between the two properties. I had twelve weeks before I had to board a ship for León, and I needed to speak with the local nobility and set up my steward for the time I was away.
In his desire to see me out of his country, Edward the First didn't pay close attention to how I ran the colony, so in an attempt to aid the now mostly female population left after the fighting stopped, I set up a council made up of the four more affluent families on the island and the three nobles that were sent to help with the governing of the people. All second sons happy to have a place of prominence for once, Whitlock, McCarty, and Cheney followed my lead in most things, but still challenged me when I needed it.
The women who sat on our council knew the land and their people, and their position within the government insured that we were seen as working with them, and not against the native citizens.
Arriving at Mead Castle, the servants worked quickly to get me settled. After the long journey, I requested that my dinner be served in my room and then left to get some peace.
Upon entering the room, I was met by the sight of a petite young woman tending the fire. It was obvious she didn't expect my arrival so soon because as soon as she heard a noise behind her she jumped, her hand flying into the fire for the briefest of moments, but enough to cause her to cry out and to bring me to her side.
"Are you all right, girl?" I asked.
"I am, Lord Carlisle," she whispered as I walked her over to the pitcher of cold water that sat ready for me to clean up from my trip.
"Let me see," I said as I poured some of the water on her skin, listening to her hiss at the temperature change. "It is a minor burn, but keep it clean. And if there is a need, see the Court physician."
"Iz, what are you still doing here," Aro, one of the men that ran the staff, barked from the doorway to my suite.
"I startled her and she burnt her hand. But there doesn't seem to be much damage," I informed him, but his icy glare was focused on the young woman beside me.
"You should already be in the laundry, Iz, now get," he barked.
Her hand slid from mine as she bobbed a curtsey and ran out past Aro. He was fast on her heels, so much so that I wasn't able to stop him and inform him that she shouldn't be submerging her hand in the laundry water with her burn.
A short while later my food arrived, and I was disappointed to see someone other than Iz bring it to me. When I asked the young woman if she knew who had prepared my room for my arrival, she explained that several new girls were brought out from the coast and she did not know any of the girls as of yet. Thanking her, I ate in silence before turning in early, my thoughts stuck on the timid brunette that had caught my eye.
The next morning, I was awake with the sun and was surprised when Emily Young brought me my breakfast.
"It is a rare thing when I'm served by a member of my council, there must be something on your mind."
Nodding, she sat across from me and poured us both a cup of tea. "There is, Carlisle. I wish to speak to you about your man, Aro. Forgive me for presuming to dictate to you about the running of your house, but I think that it would be better served to have a woman handle the female staff and leave him to the tending of the men."
"I know he is a little harsh-" I began, but she silenced me immediately.
"Harsh? No, I believe that to be a gross understatement. He is a vile man and not someone you want representing you. We have never had reason to fear for our womenfolk with you as Viceroy. Every man you import to our island, whether they are here to work or to wed, has been of a good sort, but this one is a monster."
Surprised by the passion with which she spoke, I considered the options. I could take him out of the household altogether and make it seem as though it were a promotion, but that meant I needed a place to relocate him. Putting aside that thought for the moment, I tried to get Emily to help me with something that would put me in a far better mood.
"I will find a place for him where he is not in contact with female staff, but I hope you will repay that kindness with one of your own. There is a young girl that traveled from the coast according to another member of the staff, she was actually yelled at by Aro because she hadn't completed the preparations for my room last night before my arrival. I believe he called her 'Iz.' Could you find her and ask that she brings me a bath. I'm in need of one and I'm afraid that unless she has a task she won't dare to return to my rooms."
Emily blanched as her eyes fell to the floor. "I'm sorry, Milord, but the young woman you're asking after is no longer a member of your staff."
"Aro dismissed her?" I shouted. "Is that what caused you to come and see me this morning because I promise you that she is more than welcome to return to my employ-"
"No, he did not dismiss her, but I took her home with me to join my staff as I was informed that some of those girls were being brought here to aid us in the preparations for the trip to León."
"And you can have another girl, but I'd like for Iz to be returned to my house." I watched as she raised her head defiantly.
"What aren't you telling me, Emily? I will search her out if I have to, but I'd prefer it if you were honest with me."
Heaving a sigh, Emily stood from the table and went to leave, calling out over her shoulder, "Finish eating and I will bring you to her. But you must be quick."
Finally having the desired result, I inhaled my food and dressed so that I could meet Emily in the foyer. She was waiting for me, as she said she would, and the pair of us rode down the hills to her farmhouse. The ride was quiet, and as Emily entered the house she left me for a moment to speak to one of her maids, grimacing as she turned to me.
"She's awake, but I must warn you that you will have to control your temper or I will escort you from this house myself," Emily challenged me, but I couldn't imagine becoming upset with the girl, so I agreed.
She led me up the back stairwell and into the attic. We walked down a narrow hallway until we got to the room at the end of the hall. Emily left me outside while she spoke to Iz, calling me in a moment later. I stepped into the room, my smile faltering as soon as I took in her appearance.
Her long hair was knotted and piled into a messy twist on the top of her head, the skin of her face marred by the telltale signs that she'd been crying all night. But worst of all were the wounds on her back, the result of being whipped for something that wasn't within her control. I don't think she realized that she was standing in front of a mirror, exposing the worst of her injuries to my eyes, but the image was now burned into my brain and I would never be able to undo the pain she'd been caused.
"Emily, have someone fetch Jacob at once. I have a need for him." I attempted to keep my tone even, but it did little good. Emily gave Iz's hand a gentle squeeze before she left the room.
"Milord," Iz whispered, causing my eyes to find hers. "I'm sorry for yesterday, I know that you hate to have to punish your servants and I was the reason you had to do so as soon as you arrived home."
Astonished that she was apologizing for how her beating might upset me, I crossed to her side and tentatively took her hand. "Iz, what happened to you is not something I condone, much less ordered. Aro will be dealt with shortly, but first, I must apologize to you. If you will let me, I'd like to make it up to you."
"Carlisle," I corrected.
"Lord Carlisle, do not trouble yourself with me," Iz said as the door opened and Jacob entered with Emily.
"That was fast, but the faster this happens the better. Jacob and his wife are going to be given new positions until further notice, I will supply you with staff to make up for the loss as long as is necessary but I have a greater need for them."
"What do you need of me, Carlisle?" Jacob asked, looking between Iz and I.
"Iz needs guardians, and I need them to be people I trust. You know the cottages a few miles out from the castle? I will set the three of you up in the largest one. It has three bedrooms and a few common rooms that you will find very well appointed. It has a garden, as well as food that will be provided by the main house. You are to keep her safe and I'd like Vanessa to continue her education. I will also require you to chaperone any visits between us for the sake of Iz's reputation. Is that something you're agreeable with?"
"Of course, Milord," Jacob said as he went off to make his preparations.
"Emily, how many people have seen her here?" I asked.
"Only Kim, the maid who helped me with her last night," Emily informed me and I smiled.
"Explain to her that she'll find her fortune quickly changing if she can keep this under her cap," I told her before turning to Iz. "Emily and Kim will get you cleaned up and the four of you will ride to the cottage later this afternoon. I will give you time to settle in and then I will call on you for dinner tomorrow evening. Be well, Iz."
Placing a kiss on the back of her hand, I borrowed a horse from Emily's stable to return to the castle. Upon my arrival, I located Paul, one of my guards, and told him to dispose of Aro. The monster, as Emily so correctly described him, would not live to see the sunset.
I arrived in the council room to find my men already waiting for me. Looking around the table at them, I gestured for them to sit so that we could begin our discussion.
"The first order of business is actually quite simple. The proclamation for the coronation of King Edward II states that every noble that is able to must come. Now, as I need a steward to act in my stead while I'm away, and as Angela is with child, Benjamin will remain behind and act as Viceroy. Which means that you two better inform Alice and Rosalie that they will need their best dresses in order for the trip."
Jasper and Emmett laughed as we moved onto the logistics of the trip before lunch was served. The meal was jovial and with the exception of the matter of calling in Mrs. Cope to tell her that she would be in charge of the entirety of the female staff at Mead Castle, and doing the same for Laurent in regards to the men working for me, it was a chance to relax.
As the men went off to handle personal business, I stopped Jasper so that I could speak to him privately. "Did Alice accompany you on this trip?"
"No, Carlisle. As we are only a few hours journey from the Manor, I did not see the need to disrupt her schedule. Do you need to speak with her?"
"I do. If you had plans to return home this evening, might I join you. I could discuss what I need to with your wife and depart in the morning."
Jasper smiled wryly as his hand came down to clap me on the back. "Very well, Milord, I will depart in an hour. Is that enough time for you get your things together?"
"I think it can be managed," I teased as I called for a servant to prepare my bag, giving specific instructions on what to pack.
My journey to visit with Alice was far more stressful than the trip I made this morning because I was out of my element, and the person I was asking help of wasn't going to be happy with my unwillingness to be forthcoming.
As if she knew to be waiting, Alice was on the verandah waving as we pulled up to the house. "My dear Viceroy, it has been too long since you've come to visit. Why don't you join me for some tea?"
I looked to Jasper who was chuckling under his breath at me. "You asked to talk to her, and it seems she's well aware of it. I will see you at dinner, my friend."
I parted ways with Jasper, walking up the stairs to enter Lady Alice's parlor. The tea she had offered me was already waiting to be served as I joined her at the small table and waited for her to pounce.
"You need my help, and it's important because you came here instead of requesting that Jasper bring me to Mead tomorrow when her returns. What is it that I can do for you?"
"I need your help with the proper dress for a young lady." The words had barely left my mouth before she squealed a quite piercing tone.
"Have you gone and found yourself a Vicereine?"
"Alice," I warned her. "There is a young woman currently under my protection, and I'd like her to be made to look the part. She doesn't need gowns, but something to wear everyday that is presentable, and then a few nicer dresses for when she might be seen out. She is about your size, though she is a little taller, so I thought that you might be able to help me. I don't know what is in fashion, or what a young girl might read or do to pass the time?"
"Carlisle, give me a location to have the things delivered to and I will see to it all. Just tell me her age and coloring and I will take good care of your young lady." She spoke to me as if she was indulging the requests of a child, but I was happy that she wasn't asking for more information.
"Thank you, Alice," I said sincerely.
"Just promise me that I will meet her before too long. You know how much I hate being left in the dark."
After giving her the little information I knew about Iz, I retired to the room I used when staying at the Whitlock estate. It was in the quiet of my room that I thought honestly about Iz and what I hoped to gain. She was a beautiful young creature, that much was sure, but was I simply helping her after she was harmed by someone under my employ? I knew immediately that it was a lie to try and act as though it were only that. I wanted whatever I could have with her, but that would be her decision.
Dinner that evening was low key, with the upcoming journey to León as the main topic of discussion. Alice didn't mention the favor I'd asked her to do, simply telling Jasper that she was sending some of her old dresses to help with the girls that had been brought out from the coast to help with the extra work. It wasn't a complete lie, as Iz was one of those girls, but they would both know the whole truth soon enough.
The billiards table held my attention for a few games after Alice retired for the night, but soon I begged off, claiming a need for an early departure. That night I dreamt of Iz and the future we might have if she could want me.
I left the next morning with the trunk, case, and satchel that Alice had put together, leaving them with Jacob while Iz was working with Vanessa. Part of me wanted to steal a moment with her, but I knew that I would be seeing her that evening so I returned to Mead to meet with the women of Pushla.
Emily, Sue, Rachel, and Leah, the four women who sat on my council were anxious to hear about the trip. When the discussion of who would travel to León began, Sue immediately offered to stay behind so that the younger women could go. I was sympathetic to her feelings about León and its former king, since it was the battle for Pushla that took her husband away from her and made her one of the women in charge of her people's future, so I honored her wishes to stay behind.
I knew there would be a great deal of preparation for the three women going with us, as the cultural differences would be quite a shock, but when they joined me at Cullen Castle, Rosalie and Alice would both be there to help with the educating of the councilwomen.
I ate a small lunch, writing my reply to the proclamation so that my nephew would know what to expect. With my work done for the day, I returned to my rooms to take a long soak in the bath before I dressed and rode out to cottage.
Vanessa met me at the door, taking my coat and leading me to the settee in the front room as she returned to put the finishing touches on dinner. I didn't hear Iz's entrance, but when I saw her over my shoulder all the air left the room.
Her hair was soft as it flowed down her back as she stood there in a rose colored dress. The softness of the pink displayed her alabaster skin to perfection and she truly looked every bit the lady I saw when I looked at her.
"You are exquisite, my dear," I said, extending a hand to bring her over to join me on the sofa.
"Thank you, Milord," she whispered, her eyes falling to her lap.
My finger found her chin, tilting it up to meet her eyes. "Please, Iz, I would like you to call me Carlisle. It would make me so happy if, while we are alone together, you could forget that I am the viceroy."
"It is difficult for me to put that completely out of my mind, but I will try," Iz conceded.
Vanessa announced dinner at that moment, so I led Iz into the dining room, pulling out the seat beside me for her to sit in.
We ate mostly in silence, Iz making a few comments to thank me for the various things I had dropped off that morning, the books and drawing supplies among her favorites.
"I am glad you liked them. I asked Alice Whitlock, the wife of one of my councilmen, to aid me in picking out items you might take pleasure from. I want you to be comfortable in your new home, and you should want for nothing. Anything you desire, you need only ask."
Her face bloomed the same shade as her dress and her eyes once again found her plate. I hoped that in time she would not be so shy around me, but for now I wasn't going to dwell on it.
The meal came to an end, and Vanessa stood to clear the table. "Dessert will be ready in a while, why don't you two return to the other room and relax until it's ready."
Iz and I walked into the front room, but she stopped me from sitting down, looking back towards one of the other rooms. "Why don't we go into my private parlor?"
"That sounds wonderful," I told her and followed her into the room. There was a long pause before the door closed, but the sight I was met with as I turned to her nearly caused my heart to stop. "Iz?"
She stood a few feet away, her dress pooled around her calves and the only thing covering her was the thin white shift. I ran to her, my fingers finding the fabric of her dress as I desperately tried to pull it back up her body but the fabric of her shift clung to it and rode up with it, causing the opposite effect than what I wanted.
"How do I get this thing back on you?" I growled, but Iz once again surprised me by lifting my hand and placing it on her bosom.
"It's all right, Carlisle. I know what this is. There is no need to make it appear differently."
I tore my hand from her body, crossing to a chair that had a blanket draped across the back. Clutching the fabric in my hands, I wrapped it around Iz and hurriedly led her to the couch, making sure she was completely hidden from me. "Iz, you have this situation entirely wrong. I don't know what you were told-"
"A rich and powerful man saves me from obscurity and lavishes me with gifts that I could never dream of repaying him for in an honorable way. I'm set up in a house away from prying eyes and then my gentleman comes for an evening visit, an overnight bag already waiting here for him so that no one will wonder at his clothing in the morning. I may not have been educated by the best tutors in León, but I am by no means a fool, Carlisle, so do not treat me like one. I will be eighteen in September; I know how the world works."
Her words were like an arrow to my heart. The fact that she thought me capable of something like that…it illustrated that we truly were strangers and things would have to be plainly explained in the future. "Iz, until you said it just now, I was unaware that you were even over the age of consent, so believe me when I say that my mind was not in line with what you believed. You were brutalized by a man under my employ for something that wasn't worthy of punishment. You were taken from the only home you ever knew and shown no kindness or compassion for what you had to be feeling. All I wanted to do was right the wrong. I will not lie to you and say that I don't find you beautiful and would be honored if someday, someday you would look at me that way, but I am also not the type of man to take away a woman's decision in it. The women I have known in that way came to this island intrigued by the idea of being with the brother of the former king, but grew tired of the low key life I offer here. It was my hope to find someone who loves Pushla as I do, and I rested that hope on you.
"I am sorry that you felt as though I was buying your affection, it was never my intent. And as for the bag, I had your items dropped off directly from my trip to visit the Whitlock's and my bag was accidently put with your things. I wasn't even aware that it was missing. For now, I will bid you goodnight and leave you to your peace here. If you wish to see me again, have Jacob send word to me and arrangements will be made. Good evening, Iz."
I placed a soft kiss on her forehead before standing and exiting the room. I was met by a surprised Vanessa and Jacob, who came out of the back rooms when they heard me leave the house. I called after them to inform them that I would not be returning the following evening before I climbed upon my horse and rode off.
That night I slept little in my turmoil, but the following morning saw much bigger problems. The Viceroy's ship was in need of repairs so that it would be able to travel, as well as outfitting it to meet the standards the King would expect to see of his representative. I could handle it from a distance, but it offered me the chance to get some distance from the situation I'd faced last night, so I informed my council members that business was taking me from Mead Castle earlier than planned and ordered my carriage be ready in an hour. I left a list of tasks that needed to be completed while I was away and took to my carriage, desperate for peace to find me once more.
It was two days journey when horses were changed regularly, and once I arrived at Cullen Castle, I dove into my work. The days passed with fittings for clothing and meetings with craftsmen to decide on the ship's accommodations. The crews were busy repairing the damage to my ship, and I was drafting documents to solidify Ben's position as my steward when we set sail.
The days continued on, and soon it was two weeks since the night I'd left the cottage, and I began to wonder if I'd ever see her again. I knew that eventually my curiosity would win out, but I wondered if she'd welcome the visit.
I was wallowing in the notion of her rejecting me when Emmett entered my office. "There is someone here to formally make your acquaintance."
"I do not have time for it today, Emmett. Tell them to return tomorrow and I will make myself available," I said, dismissing him.
"Very well, I'm sure Lady Alice and Lady Emily will be agreeable to the delay."
As soon as I heard him mention Alice and Emily, I perked up.
"On second thought, I could do with a break, and since they've traveled all the way from Mead, I can take the time. Have the ladies be in the throne room in a half hour." And with that, I went to make myself more presentable.
A fresh suit, a shave and a great deal of fidgeting later, I entered the throne room and motioned for the introduction to begin.
The gentleman usher stepped forward just as the doors opened, his voice ringing, "Presenting Lady Isabella Swan of Seetle."
I tried to hide my shock and excitement as Iz stepped forward in the finest dress I'd ever seen. Her hair was woven into an intricate design atop her head, a few loose pieces framing her face. Her jewels were minimal, but there wasn't a need for embellishment.
"Lady Isabella," I bowed, offering a hand to help her rise from her deep curtsey.
"Lord Carlisle," Iz greeted me with a small smile.
I broke myself away from the vision before me to motion forward her benefactresses. "If you're all available, I'd like it if you would join me for dinner this evening. It seems you have been quite busy since I was forced to come east on business."
"We'd be delighted to join you, Carlisle. It is a very interesting story that brings my dear cousin to Pushla." Emily shot me a sly grin that I returned. "Just let us know when we are to dine and we will inform Emmett that he shouldn't expect us for dinner."
"Emmett didn't mention that you are staying with him. Why are you not using your rooms here in the castle?"
"We do not have the room to house Isabella and her guard and maid, so we asked Emmett if he could house us until arrangements could be made for Isabella," Emily explained.
Calling to one of my servants, I told him to give Lady Isabella the best rooms available, as well as appropriate rooms for Jacob and Vanessa, knowing that those rooms would be near mine. "There, now that that is all settled, we can send for your things and enjoy the afternoon."
"I'm sure you have much to do, Milord, I wouldn't want to take you from your duties." Isabella looked around the room as she spoke, noticing the number of eyes watching us.
"Nonsense, I've done nothing but work since my arrival, a few hours to properly welcome a visiting noblewoman will be a nice change. Let us go back to my private game room, I will order tea and we can begin to get to know one another."
"That sounds delightful, Carlisle," Alice agreed, allowing me to lead the group down the corridor behind the throne room and into my game room. I ordered our tea and then waited impatiently for it to arrive. Once the servant was dismissed I swooped in, lifting Iz off her feet and spinning her around.
"How is this possible? To be announced you need proper documentation and credentials -"
"We have everything in order," Emily promised. "Seetle has been going through a civil war for most of my lifetime, so there isn't a way to verify the documents of lineage. If you have papers of the right quality, they consider that proof enough because no one has the money unless they are well off. I had a cousin come when I was a teen, but she died on the journey. I still had her belongings as her family was killed before she departed to come here. I will let Iz tell you her part, but Alice knew someone who forged her papers. Not even the King would question them, they are that perfect. The last ten days we've spent coaching Iz on both Seetle and their culture, though most of it are things she would not have experienced in her lifetime, and Leónian customs so we will all look the part when we travel there."
I stared in stunned silence, my hands still holding Iz by the arms as I had when I put her down. "That's a great deal of work to put into seeing me again, Iz."
"I was an idiot that day," she told me. "You offered me nothing but kindness and I repaid it with suspicion. You're a good man, and if you are still willing, I'd like to get to know you better."
Smiling down at her, I pulled her close. "Nothing would bring me more joy. I have missed you, Iz, and I dreamed that you might be willing to give me a second chance-"
"It is I who should be begging you for an opportunity to prove my worth," Iz whispered and I looked up to see that my good friends had already left the room.
"Enough talk of our regrets. Why don't you tell me about what brought you here? Emily said that I should allow you to tell a large part of the story."
Iz blushed and motioned to the couch along the wall. I led her over to the seat and joined her, giving her a moment to collect her thoughts.
"After you left, I begged Jacob to go after you and bring you back, but he said that his first responsibility was to my safety. The next morning you were already gone when he arrived, and they had no idea when you might return. I was inconsolable the rest of the day, fearful that you'd grow wise and see me for the nothing that I am."
I almost interrupted her, but she kept moving so I let her continue.
"Jacob went to Emily to see if she could help and all I kept thinking was that I needed to find a way to prove that I wanted to earn back the kindness you'd given me. She mentioned Alice in passing, but I remembered you mentioning her so I told her that she had to bring me to Lady Alice. I was dressed in one of the finest dresses she'd given me and we rode to her house. Upon seeing her dress, she knew who I was to you and immediately granted me a visit. With Emily's knowledge and example of Seetle lineage documentation, and Alice's connection to a man who could duplicate what I needed, it was a matter of waiting.
"For ten days we waited as he worked to get the items necessary and to draft the documents, in that time Alice went through her entire wardrobe for things she no longer wore, promising that more dresses would be made for the pair of us in preparation of our journey than I could imagine. With the information Emily could give me on Seetle, which was bleak to say the least, and the beginnings of Alice's lessons for the both of us, we passed the time until we departed for here. We stayed with Lord Ben and Lady Angela on the first night and then arrived here last evening. This morning we made the journey here and now that is everything."
"That is an amazing tale, Iz, and I daresay that your resolve to see me again is such happy thing to hear about and see with my eyes. But there are two things I must do, first, I must make you promise to never speak ill of yourself. And secondly, because it will need to be as easy as breathing for you, I need to hear the back story that was imagined."
Blushing slightly, Iz took my hand. "There is a great deal of this that is true to my life, so it is easy enough. When I was born, the Swan's were one of the families that had been overthrown during the early years of the civil war. We had been left to work for our existence as we no longer had our lands to bring us income. As some of the elder girls were being stolen away to marry the new men in power, my father sent me to the coast, telling me to hide my identity and wait until I could buy my way onto a ship going to another island, from which I could escape to Pushla. My cousin, Marie, had made the trip about five years ago, so I just waited until I could manage it myself. I took a ship to Forrs with all I had left in this world, and from there was able to buy passage to Pushla. When I arrived at the western docks, I hired a carriage to bring me to Emily. She informed me that I was the first one to survive the trip. Emily has taken me in and shown me every kindness, and since her business brought her to Cullen Castle, she invited me along to meet her dear friend, the Viceroy. That is how I find myself before you."
Once again, I was amazed by this young woman. She managed tell what was now her story so convincingly, and yet the bit about hiding on the coast was likely what was the truth of her story. "You are a brave woman, Isabella. And I know a little about being sent away from your home. Though it is my wish that in time, you will be as happy in your new home here as I am. My brother sent me to be the Viceroy so that I would be content ruling a colony and would not try and steal the crown. I was simply happy to be able to improve the lives of my colonists while the King turned a blind eye to me." I reached out to squeeze Iz's hand, drawing her attention to me once more. "What was it like on the coast?"
"My father was afraid of men like Aro who came and took daughters to work for you. Most believed you to be good, but my father was a boy during the war and he wouldn't see me taken. He'd hide me when they came and the time before I was taken, Aro grew tired of searching for me and killed him. The next time Aro came to claim new maids, no one would protect me."
"How often did Aro go to the coast?" I had never personally told him to do so, but I did know that we always seemed to have new faces.
"Once or twice a year. He'd only take a handful of girls at a time, and the families would hear from the girls once they were gone, telling them about their work for various people, or marriages that were planned. I'm sure it was on the level, but my father didn't trust the man. He didn't have three or four daughters like the other families…I was all he had."
"Aro's tactics were harsh, and now that he has been taken care of-"
Iz gasped. "You mean he's…?"
"The day after he whipped you," I confirmed. "Those actions were unacceptable and he'd been working on my nerves in recent months, so it was the last straw."
"When do you depart for León?" Iz asked, changing the subject.
"We depart at the end of August. I would be honored if you were my guest for the coronation," I told her.
"I'd like nothing better." Iz beamed at me.
That afternoon was the first of many to be spent in a similar fashion. Isabella, as she was now called, would spend a great deal of her time with the other ladies, learning the Leónian customs from Alice and Rosalie. Lady Rosalie's daughter, Vera, would sit in while the boys of both women played with their fathers. Leah and Rachel arrived shortly after the others, and the group worked hard to learn all that they would need.
When she was not working to become the picture of a lady, Isabella would spend her time with me. We'd read together in the library, or play games in my private room; her enthusiasm was always such a joy. We talked about ourselves until there was nothing left to share, and for once I was pleased to learn that the decade between our ages was not a bother to her. It was fairly common, but many young women wanted men their own age, so I had worried that she would be put off by it.
On one particular day, nearly six weeks after her arrival, and only three before we departed, I entered one of the larger common rooms to find the women leading a dance lesson. I stuck to the sidelines for a while, watching the girls trade back and forth between Jasper and Emmett, before I snuck in to claim Isabella.
We danced for a few minutes, our eyes locked on one another as we spun around the room before we came to a stop at last. With her face only a few inches from mine, I was surprised when Isabella leaned in to kiss me.
It was only an instant, but as she pulled back in concern, I leaned forward to meet her again. I held her close as I gently kissed Iz, letting her grow accustomed to the feeling of being with me like this. I promised her that she would be in charge of the speed at which we moved, so this chance to move forward was one I had to take.
Breaking apart, I saw the look of wonder in her eyes before she hugged herself close to me, causing me to escort her from the room so that we could talk. We barely made it inside the library before she met my lips again, eager to continue our exploration in private. The kisses eventually grew deeper, but nothing else happened between us as we were content to be with one another.
That evening, I spoke to the seamstress I'd assigned to oversee making Isabella a complete wardrobe and asked her to make one additional piece for our trip.
The development between us also allowed me to broach a subject I'd been worried about until we shared that kiss. With only two weeks before our trip to León, Isabella and I were playing a game of backgammon when I explained the next step in our relationship.
"Iz, you're enjoying what's happening between us, right?"
"I'm very happy with our relationship, Carlisle, but I've been waiting for you to bring up whatever it is that has been troubling you." Her smile was genuine as she watched my expressions.
"It is scary how you can read me," I remarked before continuing. "Now that we have begun courting, I was wondering if Emily or Alice discussed the steps in the process."
"No, I think they expect that you will lead me through the process as you have done with all our other interactions. What comes next that has you so worried?" I could see the flash of worry cross her eyes and I endeavored to take it away.
"When a couple is courting there are certain steps before a betrothal can happen. Because of the sanctity of marriage and the desire for all parties to enter into it willingly and with all the information they could need, a relationship must be consummated before the betrothal can take place.
"I'm not saying that we have to jump to that step," I explained, needing to make her understand. "But we will have to share quarters on the boat so I thought it best if we begin getting used to sleeping together before that occurs. Also, once we arrive in León we will be sharing my quarters in the castle, so it will be a permanent situation for the near future. Is that a step you'd be willing to take?"
"Could we try it tomorrow?" Iz asked. "I'd feel better knowing I had a little time to prepare myself."
"That's more than fair. Inform Vanessa of the change so that she can be ready to help you," I suggested.
"Carlisle, Vanessa and Jacob said that they won't be traveling with us to León-"
"Why ever not?" I asked, surprised by the news.
"They weren't told that they should make arrangements, so they assumed that they were remaining here," Iz told me.
"I will seek Jacob out to correct the misunderstanding and make sure that everything will be ready when it comes for them to board the ship to León. Now, I will leave you so that you can return to your studies."
"Carlisle," she called out to stop me. "Tomorrow could we talk a little more about what will be expected of me during our time in León?"
"Of course, goodnight, Sweetheart."
I left the room, calling for the man in charge of furnishing the residences within the castle to come to my office. While I waited for him, I sought out Jacob to make sure he was aware that they were meant to travel with us.
"Thank you, Milord. I will tell Vanessa so she can make sure we have everything we will need." Jacob exited the room just as the decorator entered.
"You sent for me, Lord Carlisle?"
"Yes, were you able to secure everything I requested for my rooms?" I watched the man as he thought for a moment before answering.
"Nearly all. The tapestry will not be completed until you return from León, but all of the other items including those specifically for Lady Isabella are in a store room waiting for you to say the word and order that we make the changes to your rooms."
"Perfect. I want work to begin as soon as I leave my rooms tomorrow morning and I want it completed in time for dinner tomorrow, I will be dining in my room and I want it to be ready for then. Pull other servants from their tasks for a few hours if necessary," I explained, happy to see the man nod quickly.
"I will make sure everything is exactly how you ordered. Now, if you'll excuse me, I will go find the necessary servants and inform them of their duties tomorrow."
"Excellent, you are excused."
With that last bit of business done for the day, I returned to my rooms to begin making a list of the personal belongings that I would be bringing with me to León. Time got away with me as I thought of all the things I would be able to show Isabella and soon it was well past time for me to turn in.
The next morning I left my rooms so that the servants could get to work. I'd made changes a few times when the couple of women who had made it to this point in the courting process, but it had never been so extensive of an overhaul before. I needed Iz to be comfortable in my quarters, so I'd paid close attention to her favorite colors and asked Emily and Alice for their advice, wanting to surprise her.
We were both busy that afternoon; Iz was helping Vanessa pack her belongings so that Vanessa could settle her in the room while she was going over the courses of formal Leónian meals. I was spending the time inspecting the repairs made to the ship, along with the state of the various cabins for the people making the trip with me. When I was pleased with the work, I returned to the castle and ordered a bath, excited to see what had been done to my chambers.
The outer room was much the same, except that the drapery and carpets had been replaced, but as I entered my bedroom I saw a majority of the work. The same changes had been made to this room, along with the larger bed that had last been used on my brother Edward's only visit to Pushla. The mattress had been specially made as were the bedding, and the richer wood armoires were along the left wall. There were two for each of us, along with trunks on either side, and I could see that Vanessa had already finished moving her in by the hair brush and other items on the small vanity.
Washing up and dressing for dinner, I met Iz in the library, escorting her down to what were now our rooms.
"Let me show you around and then we can settle in for our meal. I want you to be comfortable in this space," I told her as I showed her the outer room, the small room where we had a fire dedicated to heating water needed for bathing, as well as the bath that I had recently used. Finally, I let her look around the bedroom, her eyes taking in everything as she walked around the room.
"Did you make a lot of changes to these rooms?" she asked.
"I switched out some furniture and ordered new linens and draperies, but I wanted to do it for you."
"Am I allowed to ask you a question?" Just her phrasing made me nervous.
"Anything?" I responded.
"I know that I'm not the first woman you've courted, but I was curious how many have you…" she let her sentence hang there, but I knew what she was asking.
"Three women. One when I was still in León, but when she found out I was about to travel here to be the Viceroy she ended it, and two since, but they were both from León and found the simplicity of life here a little too boring. It's been a while since I've tried courting anyone, but there's something else you need to know. I didn't feel half of what I feel for you with any of them. We feel right on a level that I can't rightly understand, but I'm so happy to finally feel it for someone as special as you."
Iz's hand reached up to swat at a lone tear as she whispered a thank you.
"Dinner should be ready if you're hungry." I changed the subject and escorted her back to the outer room.
We dined together, the awkwardness from earlier fading away as we talked. I answered her questions as best as I could in regards to what would happen in León when we arrived, easing her mind in that way.
Finally, Vanessa arrived to help Iz prepare for bed, so I took my clothing into the bathing room. It had been years since I'd slept in clothes, but I didn't think climbing into bed naked would ease her nerves, so I happily donned my never used nightgown over my britches.
I entered the room to see her tucked into the left side of the bed, the covers up to her chin as she lay on her back. Climbing into the far right side, I turned to face her, offering a small smile as she looked to me.
"Goodnight, Carlisle," she whispered and stretched to blow out the candle by her side as I did the same, leaving us with only the fire to light the room.
That first night Isabella didn't move from the far edge of the bed. But in the week that passed she would slowly creep closer with every passing night. We were a mere six days from our journey to León when I woke up to see Iz watching me.
"Carlisle, are you feeling well?"
"I'm fine, why do you ask?"
Blushing, she said, "You were sweating last night, and I was worried that you were coming down with something."
Chuckling at the reality of why I sweat nights in bed, I explained it to her. "Isabella, I normally don't wear anything to bed, but I was trying to be respectful to you, so I've been wearing a nightgown to bed."
"Would it be better if you only wore the bottoms? Having you shirtless wouldn't bother me, and I bet it would make you more comfortable."
"That will be better, I'm sure."
From that night, I did as she requested and though we continued to grow closer in every way possible, there was going to be a big difference between the space between us in our bed, and the space available to us when we boarded the ship for León tomorrow.
The morning of our departure was hectic. All of our belongings were already loaded into the ship's hull and all that was left were our last minute personal effects.
Isabella flitted around the room after her bath, still running when I entered the room in my britches and robe. Vanessa had just finished dressing Iz and came over to help me.
"Vanessa, I've been dressing myself for quite some time," I teased her, but she just tsked me as she fastened my coat.
"Lord, if you do not have someone acting as your dresser, then the King will surely assign someone to you. I suggest that for appearances sake you refer to Jacob as your personal servant, that way we will both be near to you and Iz at all times. We can manage the tasks and if his Majesty asks, you can say that it was both economical and prudent to train your guard to perform the tasks because he is trustworthy."
"That is a great idea, Vanessa. And it will make me appear more conscious of my security, even though it isn't a problem here. Now, if you could give us a few minutes?" I asked, watching Iz closely.
"Surely, Carlisle. I will see about a light breakfast to settle her stomach," Vanessa offered as she left me with my distraught love.
"Isabella, please sit down here at your vanity," I asked and she complied, watching me warily as I picked up her brush and slowly began to brush her hair. "There is no reason to for you to worry. I will be there with you the entire time and you are well prepared. Emily can verify that your papers are legitimate and my choice to court you sanctions your position. I have every confidence in your ability to charm everyone you encounter, Sweetheart."
"Thank you, Carlisle. I'm not too worried about them accepting me so much as I don't want to embarrass you. I feel so bad that I will be leaning on you so heavily to keep from making a mess of things," she whispered as I began braiding her hair.
"Everyone who meets you has fallen in love with you. Look at Emmett and Rosalie, and let me just tell you that Lady Rosalie doesn't open up to people easily and she loves you. And when you become the Vicereine that will be the only thing people will care about."
She looked up at me in shock. "You say it as though you are so sure."
"You are the one who will end this relationship, Isabella. I could never walk away from you willingly."
Isabella played with her braid for a moment before looking back at me. "Where did you learn to do this?"
"Braiding bridles and rope is similar. Is it okay?"
"It's perfect," she beamed up at me, raising just enough to kiss me quickly.
Pulling her to her feet in front of me I claimed her lips. "Oh no you don't, I'm not done with you yet."
Iz's giggle warmed my heart as the sound of the door opening reluctantly broke our kiss.
"I got you some porridge and tea," Vanessa said as she left the tray on one of the small tables. "If you'll just let me pack up those last few things I will see you aboard ship."
Vanessa did just as she said, packing the last items for both of us before leaving us alone. "You should eat."
Taking a small spoonful of her breakfast, she started eating. Though she didn't eat as much as I would have liked, it was likely more than she wanted to. "We should get going. I know you want to leave as soon as high tide comes in."
"You have everything you need?" I asked.
Walking over to take my hand, she smirked up at me. "I do."
Thankfully, all was underway at the docks and with our arrival, the captain of the ship began calling out orders. All of the children were being left with their nannies and governesses so there were nine members of the nobility and the various servants and staff on board.
We left on time, the trip being between four and seven days depending on the weather and the wind, leaving us with hopefully two and a half weeks to enjoy ourselves before the coronation.
As we got further out to sea, Isabella asked me to show us to our room. The cabin was small, but well appointed, and she seemed to like it. Leaving her to explore and rejoin us on the deck, I left to enjoy the summer breeze.
After a while I noticed that Isabella had not returned from our cabin, so I went below deck to search her out. I opened the door to our room and found her retching into the chamber pot. Rushing to her side, I reached up to wet a cloth in the basin and offered it to her so she could wipe her mouth.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong? You aren't ill, are you?"
Isabella tried to stand, but wobbled, so I offered her my arm as she rinsed her mouth out and turned to face me. "I don't know what is the matter with me, but I feel so woozy."
"It is likely the ship, it is best if you lie down for a while." I sat the chamber pot outside the door so that one of the crew could take care of it and then helped Isabella climb into bed.
I let her sleep for a while, but when they discussed dinner for that evening I ordered ours be delivered to us and went to check on my girl. She was sleeping restlessly, which I assumed wasn't helping her stomach, so I crossed the room and gently shook her shoulder.
"Isabella, are you feeling any better?"
"I don't have anything left to expel, so that seems to have helped a little," she groaned as Vanessa entered with our meal, leaving a second later.
"Let's see how you feel? Maybe now that your body has gotten a little more used to the ship you will feel better."
Being a good sport, Isabella tried to eat, but her food once again found the inside of the chamber pot. Vanessa saw to it while Isabella insisted that I eat so that the tray could be removed. Not even crackers held any appeal for her, but once she was rid of her dress and back in bed, she seemed to be a little better.
"Carlisle, I hate to be a bother, but…" Isabella trailed off.
I sat down beside her and cupped my hand to her face. "You're not a bother. The sea is a little rough today and I fear it may be that way for the next few days, so we may be spending a great deal of our time in this room. Now, what can I do for you?"
"Climb into bed with me. You have such a calming influence and I need that now," she croaked.
My clothes were discarded as neatly as I could in one of the chairs as I put on my nightgown over my britches, the chill on the boat foiling me from having her that close. As soon as I was under the covers, Isabella was curled around me, her head resting on my chest. "Thank you, dear."
"Anything for you, Iz."
For the next three days of the trip, Iz lay beside me murmuring incoherently about her head and stomach rebelling. While I left her only to eat with the others, as the smell of the food even seemed to upset her awful nausea, I had some stock made for her and heated the liquid to get something into her system. It made me nervous to see her so ill, the thought of just how fragile she was kept the fires raging within me at having her so close at bay.
Thankfully, the fifth morning saw much calmer seas, and after she was able to keep down something, even if it was only porridge, she dressed and came with me up to the top deck. A great cheer erupted as Emily and the other councilwomen ran to Isabella's side.
"Oh thank goodness you're feeling better," Rachel crooned as she led my love to one of the lounges on the deck.
Their conversation was quiet, even Lady Rosalie dealt with her dislike of Lady Leah to visit with Isabella, but it was the rumble behind me that stole my attention.
"He looks beside himself from a few days of seasickness, imagine how he will react when she is with child?" Emmett chortled as I shook my head.
"We better stock up on the brandy and order sturdier rugs," Jasper jested, poking fun at my need to pace while I was distraught.
"I hate you both," I growled as I turned to see the coast of León begin to appear. With any luck we would arrive in time for dinner.
"Is that it?" Isabella surprised me by appearing at my side.
"It is, what do you think of it so far?"
"That it is approaching a little too quickly for my comfort, and that is coming from someone who wishes dearly to build a bridge between León and Pushla so that I do not have to spend another near week on this vessel upon our return home," Isabella teased as I pulled her into my side.
"We will likely have the night to rest before we must meet the King, so don't worry. In a few hours we will be back on solid ground."
All of those comforting words were lost on us when we were met by a tall man pacing the dock as we disembarked. "Lord Carlisle, His Majesty requests that you meet with him immediately upon your arrival. The rest of your party will be shown to their rooms so that they can settle in before dinner, but King Edward has a few things to discuss with you now."
I watched in horror as he tried to lead Carlisle from my side, but he stopped the man. "I understand the King's urgency, but it will take no more time if I ride with the others and allow for our servants to accompany our bags as soon as they are unloaded."
He looked to Jacob, who nodded and began organizing the servants, leaving us to ride with the impatient man and the Ladies of Pushla. Once the carriage was safely underway, Carlisle leaned into my ear.
"This is just a little show of power, Isabella, nothing is the matter. Just go with the others as you are shown to my room and I will find you shortly."
Nodding, I held his hand for the entirety of the bumpy ride from the docks to the castle. We had barely descended the carriage steps when a smooth voice called out Carlisle's name.
"Uncle, it is good to see you," King Edward said as he pulled Carlisle in for a tight hug. His eyes lingered on me for a moment before he recovered and gestured towards all of us women. "Are these the four councilwomen of Pushla? Let me tell you, it is an honor to meet the women who have helped my uncle have such an easy transition for your people. Every report shows that your farms are thriving and the people are happy, which is what I want most for my subjects."
"Yes, things have gone quite well in the last decade, but only three of the councilwomen were able to make the journey. This is Lady Isabella Swan of Seetle."
Carlisle pulled me into his side and I noticed the brief flash of disbelief on the King's face before he corrected his features.
"Lady Isabella, welcome to my land. I hope that it is a pleasant trip for you." His words were polite, but his eyes were predatory, and I wanted nothing more than to never see him again.
"Carlisle assures me that I will enjoy seeing his boyhood home," I offered, hoping to dissuade hm.
"Ahh yes, well, Carlisle come, I have a few things to discuss with you," King Edward reiterated, pulling Carlisle away from me.
We were shown to our rooms; Carlisle's and mine being a magnificent room with luxurious furnishings and a private washroom far nicer than anything seen in Pushla. Taking the opportunity, I settled into a relaxing bath poured by one of the castle's servants and waited for the arrival of our belongings.
Vanessa and Jacob came in with our trunks and after I was dressed, Vanessa saw to the unpacking while I brushed my hair by the fire. As she continued to work and there was still no sign of Carlisle, I began to pull his things out of the trunk and put them away. It felt good to care for him in some way after how loving he had been on the ship. I didn't hear his return to the room, but I knew the moment he was back as his warm hands settled on my waist.
"Thank goodness I was released to clean up for dinner," Carlisle whispered behind me. "I should be grateful that the King wants to patch over relations left to ruin under his father but he's a bit intense. Like a dog that won't release its new favorite bone."
"Did you just compare King Edward to a dog?" I asked a little shocked.
"In his obsessive tenacity, absolutely," Carlisle responded before placing a soft kiss on my lips. "You look as if you're ready to dine with the King, my dear; I must get to work so that I look fit to have such a beauty on my arm."
"It is little more than a fine dress, Carlisle," I told him.
"Believe me, Isabella; it is much more than that. You've caught the King's attention, so that should be proof enough of your beauty." Carlisle smiled before taking the robe and britches I'd laid out for him into the bathing room to get ready.
A little while later, he returned to our bedroom with damp hair and a bright expression. "What has you so happy?"
"Watching you tend to our rooms, laying out my clothes…it makes me happy to see you taking pride in this role. I know we have servants to do most things back in Pushla, but it will never be as high society as it is here in León and you seem to revel in that. Thank you for being so perfectly matched for me."
I reached up to cup his face with my hand, so touched by this man and the way he treated me. "I love you."
"I love you too, Iz," Carlisle told me as his lips met mine for a deep kiss.
"You better get dressed before we're late," I whispered as soon as we broke apart for air. Carlisle winked down at me and started putting on the outfit I chose while Vanessa went to work on my hair.
Thirty minutes later, we were entering the Great Hall to find the tables set up and the servants milling around with decanters of wine and various food platters.
"Uncle Carlisle, Isabella, please join me at the head table so that we can begin the feast to celebrate your arrival and the official start of the Coronation festivities." King Edward led us to the table where he sat us on either side of him.
I noticed the woman at the far end of the table staring at the blonde girl across from Carlisle before motioning with her face for the blonde to do whatever was expected of her.
"Majesty, this man cannot be your uncle, he's far too young, though I do see the resemblance in those strikingly handsome faces."
"Lady Tanya, this is indeed my uncle, Viceroy Carlisle Cullen of Pushla, and this is Lady Isabella Swan of Seetle," Edward formally introduced us to Lady Tanya, who seemed unimpressed with me.
The meal started and for the most part people were very welcoming. King Edward asked me about my journey from Seetle, allowing me to throw in my issues with seasickness, making the story more believable.
After the meal was over, Carlisle was called over by someone he'd known as a child, leaving me with the King. "Isabella, your story is truly a courageous one, and I'm so happy that fate brought you here to help open my eyes to what is possible if we do not work with our people as much as we are able."
I was a little shocked to hear him speak so compassionately, but he was making an effort with me. Carlisle was finally able to get away from the people asking for some of his time, and found me still with the King.
"Are you ready to turn in for the night, Sweetheart," Carlisle whispered in my ear, sending a shiver down my spine.
"I am. Do you think we should say good night to His Majesty?"
"I told him that we were going to be retiring for the evening, he understood after our long trip," Carlisle explained as we exited the Hall.
We walked quickly back to our rooms and as soon as the door had closed behind us my hands were on Carlisle's coat, unfastening the buttons.
"Iz, what has gotten into you?" Carlisle asked.
"I'm tired of waiting, Carlisle. You've been more than patient with me and I want this as badly as you do. Please, Carlisle," I begged.
"This will hurt a bit the first time, so stop me if it becomes too much."
"I trust you, Carlisle," I confirmed with a nod before my fingers repeated the action with his vest. I slipped my hands under the fabric, pushing it off his shoulders.
I tugged his shirt out of his trousers and cursed the number of buttons there were between his flesh and my fingers.
"Believe me, Sweetheart, I will be just as frustrated in a few minutes," Carlisle joked as I knelt down to pull off his boots. With his shoes and stockings gone, I undid his trousers and let them fall to his ankles. "Turn around, Isabella; I will help you out of that dress while you work on your hair."
I spun around and began removing the pins and clips while Carlisle fought the trail of closures along my back. When that obstacle was behind us, there was still my corset and chemise, not to mention my bloomers, stockings and boots.
My breaths were nothing more than pants as Carlisle's hands worked on the lacing of my boots, removing them and my stockings before they reached further up to take the waistband of my bloomers and slowly drag them down.
"Can we finally be rid of these last scraps of clothing?" Carlisle pleaded as I giggled and lifted my chemise over my head. "Good Lord, Iz, you're stunning," Carlisle whispered as he lifted me into the center of the bed.
His lips pressed tender kisses along my neck as his hands caressed my body, paying particular focus to my breasts. I felt like I was melting under the intensity of his attentions when I felt something pressing into my thigh. "Carlisle, please…I need to feel all of you."
His stuttered breath fanned across my face before he vanished for a moment, returning to cover my body with his. My body opened to his, cradling him against me as he pressed forward. I felt the sting that Carlisle had warned me about, my gasp alerting Carlisle to my distress as he responded by kissing my face, whispering words of love until I urged him to continue.
Our bodies moved as one, pushing and pulling, rising and falling as we barreled towards our completion.
"Isabella, I'm going to…I'm almost there, love."
"Me too, Carlisle. Oh God," I moaned as I felt the tension build until it exploded like a powder keg.
Everything disappeared in a white hot flash as Carlisle groaned and settled on top of me. The sensation of his weight resting heavy on top of me was so comforting after the day we had.
"Let me get off of you," Carlisle finally said. "I must be crushing you with my weight."
"No, please don't move. I want to feel you right there beside me," I told him and he kissed my forehead as he shifted beside me.
"Believe me when I say that I'm not going anywhere."
The next week was nice with Carlisle taking me to the gardens and the University, along with the Cathedral and other important landmarks. We visited places from his past and enjoyed our times together. Every night we would fall into bed together and wake up the following morning delightfully sore.
The only pall hanging over our days were when the harem would somehow discover where we were spending our day and ignore me as they fawned over him. He was an expert at swatting flies, but one particular bug just wouldn't shoo.
It was four days before the Coronation Ball when Carlisle brought me to the market to check out the local venders when I spotted Tanya's latest attempt. I wasn't close enough from my vantage point to hear them, but when I saw her hand glide down his stomach towards his groin I started to move towards them. Thankfully, Carlisle regained his senses and removed her hand from him, saying something before he stormed off.
I walked quickly, catching Tanya before she left the little alcove. "You may think that you're going to win him over with these vapid attempts, but Carlisle Cullen is mine."
"You are a sad, watered down version of the woman he should be with, and I won't rest until he chooses a woman worthy of him," Tanya spit.
Looking at the stand beside me, I saw the dull cheese knife and snatched it up, holding it an inch from the painted peacocks face. "Let me make this a little clearer, go near him again and I will make you as ugly on the outside as you are on the inside."
Tanya huffed and pushed past me, not even having the sense to wait until I had lowered the knife. Replacing the blade on the table, I exited the alcove only to come face to face with Carlisle.
"Isabella, I don't know what she might have told you about her or her mother, but-"
"Her mother?" I asked, suddenly feeling sick.
"She was the first woman I courted, Isabella, and then she married another man who had three daughters with his first wife. Tanya is the eldest of those daughters and it seems that her mother has told her some inside information on me, but I promise that I have never cheated on you or broken my promises to you."
"I want to go home," I whispered.
"I can take you back to the castle right away. We can come back here another day-"
"Not the castle, I want to go home. To Pushla. To a place devoid of this deceit and cruelty, where I'm not being attacked every time I turn around by women who want to steal you from me. Because they're everywhere and they were bred for being the wife of a powerful man."
"And they are a dime a dozen, Iz. I don't want them, I want you," Carlisle pleaded with tears in his eyes.
"I'm not doubting you, Carlisle. I don't want it to sound like that's what I'm saying, I'm just missing the simplicity of what we have."
Carlisle took my hands in his and squeezed them reassuringly. "The coronation is in four days; we'll wait just as long as we have to and then be on our way home. I'll make sure the others know our intentions."
"Thank you," I squealed, throwing my arms around his neck.
We left the market, choosing to walk with our purchases back to the castle, only to find a guard waiting for us upon our return. "Lady Swan, the King wishes to speak with you."
Carlisle nodded at the man as he answered, "We'll be along shortly-"
"His Majesty requested to see Miss Swan immediately…and alone."
"I'll find you in our rooms when I'm done, I'm sure it's nothing." Carlisle's attempt to reassure me did little to settle my fears.
I left Carlisle standing there as I was escorted to the private offices of the King, finding him at a dining table where he tore into whatever game bird was sitting before him.
"Lady Isabella, I heard the most interesting story just now." Edward paused just long enough for his servants to leave us alone before he continued. "A little bird told me about you threatening a lady with bodily harm today in the market. That isn't how problems are solved in León."
"That's odd, Your Majesty, because I heard that story a little differently. A tramp approached your future Aunt and told her that she was going to steal away the man she was courting. Both Carlisle and I have been patient with her, but she crossed a line today and you are speaking to a daughter of Seetle. We are raised to defend what is ours to the death and that was what I was doing. Besides, it was a cheese knife; it isn't like I pulled a dagger from my boot."
"I'm starting to believe that I might have to worry about that with you," Edward joked. "Let me apologize for Lady Tanya's actions. I didn't know she was quite that bad, but I will make sure she leaves you both alone for the remainder of your trip. Now, sit down and join me. I'll have them bring some food for you and we can talk a little more."
"I should really go and find Carlisle," I told the King. "Your guard worried him when he wouldn't let him come with me."
"Of course, have pleasant dreams. And if there is anything you need, all you have to do is ask me."
The look in King Edward's eyes told me that I better make myself scarce. He had a way of making a woman feel like he could see beneath their chemise and I wanted nothing more than to find Carlisle and ease his mind.
With the obstacle of Lady Tanya behind us, Carlisle and I spent the three remaining days before the coronation enjoying the remainder of his home country.
The morning of the coronation was insanity, and the ceremony itself was long and boring. But after lunch, we returned to our rooms to get ready for the Ball that evening when we found an unexpected surprise.
Several bolts of fabric were sitting in the far corner; a gown was hanging on the front of my armoire and a box sat on the bedside table.
"Carlisle, these are beautiful, but you didn't have to do this," I said as I ran my fingers over the dress.
"I didn't," Carlisle told me.
"What? Then who did?"
Carlisle found the box and opened the letter sitting atop it. "I had these made for you, please wear them to the Ball tonight." He looked at me before tossing the letter aside. "They're from the King."
"I can't accept these." I pulled back from the dress.
"You must, he's the King." Carlisle's voice was harsh and I looked to him questioningly. "I'll go and speak to Jasper for a while so you can bathe. I will return in a bit."
I watched in disbelief as Carlisle walked away, but Vanessa did her best to begin my regimen. It took hours, but eventually I was washed, painted, and squeezed into the dress that the King had given me, his jewelry hung around my neck and from my ears, making me feel cheap in a way I didn't know was possible until that moment.
"You're stunning, my nephew has exceptional taste," Carlisle murmured, and his words broke my heart.
"Please don't do that," I begged him. "I wish more than anything that I didn't have to walk in there wearing his gifts. I didn't ask for them and I don't want them."
"Just a few more days and we'll be on our way home, Sweetheart. Don't cry, everything will be okay."
Carlisle's eyes held the truth, so I took his arm and walked with him down into the Main Hall which had been transformed for the evening. Our friends arrived shortly after we did, so we spent the beginning of the evening dancing and having a grand time. Carlisle seemed to love having me on his arm and took me to the dance floor often, until King Edward cut in.
"I see you're wearing the gifts I sent you," Edward began the conversation, looking me over appreciatively.
"They were far too generous, Majesty. When Carlisle and I return home I will have no use for such finery."
"Then you must stay in León and we will find a place for you in the Court."
Shaking my head slightly, I could feel myself trembling. "I couldn't do that, Carlisle is the Viceroy, we will have to return home soon, besides I dislike the bustle of Court here."
"I think with more time, it would be invigorating for you, a young woman, finding her place in the world-"
"My place is with Carlisle," I said, feeling the air leave me as the ended. "Excuse me, Majesty."
I ran out of the room, seeking air on the balcony when I felt the presence of the King behind me. "I didn't mean to offend you, but I just don't understand what you see in him. He's an old man compared to you and I, and I can give you the world if you'll just let me."
His hands spun me into his embrace as his lips descended upon mine, taking away my choice in the matter. My hands were pinned between us, so I was unable to push him away, but when he finally released me I pushed off of him.
"Your uncle is the most honorable man I know. And he isn't old, he's experienced, and that experience has given me an immeasurable amount of joy. He is my choice, and he always has been, please respect that."
I stormed off, returning to the Hall and looking around for Carlisle. When I couldn't find him, I searched out Rosalie and Alice to see what they knew about his whereabouts.
"He tore out of here a short while ago. He came from the area of the balcony, so maybe the room was too crowded for him and he needed air?"
As soon as she mentioned the balcony I felt myself become ill. "I'm going to retire for the evening, if you see him, tell him that I need him as soon as possible."
It had been a half hour since he'd left, so I could only hope that he hadn't gotten far, but upon arriving at our rooms, I knew I was mistaken.
The place was a mess, clothing thrown all over, trunks dug through and his belongings scattered on the floor. I called for Vanessa and Jacob, hoping they had some answers, but they were just as confused as I was. It wasn't until I found a dress that I'd never seen before that I began to worry.
"What is this? I don't own a white gown?"
Vanessa took the dress from me and tried to clean the dirt off of it. "Carlisle had it made for you, it is a wedding dress."
"Oh God. Jacob, you have to find him. This can't be like the night he ran from the cottage, if we wait too long it will be too late."
"I cannot leave you alone with these people-" Jacob tried to argue, but I wouldn't have it.
"Then find Lord Jasper, he can sit in the outer room until you return with Carlisle."
King Edward barged in at that moment, taking over. "I heard that Carlisle has left the grounds, I will send my men out with your guard to help find him."
"I trust Jacob to find him alone," I challenged the King, but he shook his head.
"Isabella, my men know the area, let them help. It is dark and the rain is rolling in, it will be difficult to find him. Let me do this for you."
"Do it for your uncle," I sneered. "It was your conduct tonight that sent him out into the storm."
Edward stepped close; his voice was a harsh whisper. "You are upset so I will let that go for the moment, but never forget who you are speaking to."
"Jacob, send for Jasper and go with the King's guards and bring Carlisle home to me." I used the little authority I could muster to send him off and leave me to wallow.
"Is there something I can do to help you, Iz?" Vanessa asked and I nodded.
"Get me out of this dress and jewels and have them returned to the King. Then we will clean this room so that when Carlisle returns I can make him understand that I didn't break my promise to him. I want to be ready to leave as soon as possible; there is nothing good about this land."
Vanessa wordlessly got me changed into a nightgown and a house coat and returned the items to the King, who thankfully didn't put up a fight about it. I had already worked to replace the things that had been thrown from the trunks, folding the clothing and stacking Carlisle's personal belongings. I started on my trunk while Vanessa pulled a majority of my dresses and packed them in my second trunk, leaving my more modest clothing until we had a better idea of when we would be leaving. The gown that Carlisle had ordered for our wedding was left hanging up as well, because I couldn't bear to put it away knowing that he had put the effort into having it made and bringing it with us. I had so much to do to make him understand that what he saw wasn't a betrayal. I just hoped he listened.
The room had been set to rights and the bed was turned down, waiting for Carlisle to arrive home, but it wasn't until the early hours of the morning that I heard the disturbance. Jacob carried him inside with the King on his heels.
"Isabella, change him out of these clothes at once and then have him put in bed. I will send the Royal doctors in shortly."
I stared at Edward as I absorbed his words. "What's wrong with him?"
"Likely an illness from exposure. He was out in the woods all night, the storm got him turned around, I'm guessing and they found him drenched and shivering."
The men left save Jacob and we quickly got him into dry clothes and tucked under the covers. When the physicians arrived, we were escorted out until they were finished with their examination.
"I'm sorry," the head physician said, "the congestion has settled upon him quickly and if we bleed him it may be too much for him to handle. There isn't much we are able to do for him at this time."
"Isabella, I'm sorry," Edward spoke, but my head snapped in the direction of Emily who had arrived at some point since Carlisle had been found.
"Go to the market and fetch me the herbs for a poultice, as well as the leaves for our blended tea."
"Of course, Isabella," Emily responded.
"Vanessa, come with me, we must act quickly," I said as Edward grabbed my wrist.
"You heard the doctors, there is little to be done for him."
Fire filled me as I pulled myself free of his grip. "I will tend my beloved until he leaves me, and even then it will only be a short separation. Just because your physicians say it is hopeless doesn't mean it is. Now leave me to my work."
"You could die of this too, Isabella," Edward yelled.
"It would be nothing less than what I deserve for hurting him. I told you last night, my place is by his side."
"You really do love him," Edward mused to himself.
Not having time for his revelations, I moved into the room, covering him up to contain the heat within his body and checking his feet, noticing that they were ice cold. I rubbed his feet, hoping to draw the heat down from his head, wrapping them with rags when I was finished.
With a cold compress in hand I tried to cool his temperature until Emily arrived. With the herbs I needed, I made the poultice and placed it around his neck, hoping to draw the congestion out.
I stayed by his side all day, replacing the compresses and watching him for signs of change. No one entered the room until evening when King Edward returned to check on his progress.
"He is the same," I whispered, "which is better than your physicians thought, because they would have us lighting his burial pyre."
"My uncle has a great deal to live for, the love of a beautiful and devoted woman being one thing, and the opportunity to take a swing at me being another."
"He saw you kiss me last night," I told him. I knew from the moment I realized he was gone that his trip to the balcony before he ran off had given him a sight that would strike a killing blow to his heart, but it was time for his nephew to see what his actions caused. "I told you repeatedly that I loved Carlisle more than anything and still you forced that kiss upon me. Carlisle told me that he would never break off our relationship, but if I wanted to he would stand aside, and he thinks that I chose you over him. That's why he ran out into the night and got caught in that storm. And that's why he might die…because of me. Because I wasn't smart enough to see you for what you were."
"Isabella, Carlisle will wake up and he will believe you when you tell him the truth of what happened, and then I will personally throw you a traditional, but intimate wedding so that when you return to Pushla you won't have to make a special trip for the wedding. The two of you have my blessing to marry at your earliest convenience." Edward walked towards the door only to stop before exiting. "I meant it when I said that I'm sorry. I do want to build a better relationship with Carlisle and I hope that my future actions can smooth over what I have done thus far. Good night."
The others came and went, asking about his condition and trying to tend to me, but I wouldn't think of it.
"Isabella, you must eat," Emily urged me, but I wasn't listening to her.
"I am fine, I will eat when Carlisle is well enough to join me," I told her, ending the discussion as I returned to my patient.
Watching him that night, I pleaded with him to return to me. "Carlisle, please, I need you to wake up. I know you saw what happened between the King and I but it was not something I asked for or desired. Please, my love, come back to me. I cannot live without you."
As I spoke Carlisle shifted, which had me checking him over before I applied a new compress and pulled the blankets back up.
It continued on in this was until early on the fifth morning when, during my slumber, a miracle occurred. My first knowledge of it was his hand ghosting over mine. I had just begun to wake when I heard his beautiful voice call to me in a little more than a whisper.
"Oh thank goodness you're all right," I cried, the tears finally falling now that he was awake.
"What happened…I feel so strange," Carlisle said as he tried to sit up.
I shifted from the ottoman I'd been sleeping on to sit facing him. "You left the castle and got caught out in the woods during a storm. When they found you, you were soaked through and they didn't know if you were going to make it. I've been in here taking care of you for the last four days praying that you'd come back to me so that I could make things right between us again."
"Isabella, can we not talk about what has developed between you and my nephew, I think I need some time alone," Carlisle dismissed me.
Walking as far as the couch in the outer room, I collapsed, utterly exhausted. I had no idea what time it was when Carlisle's hand shook me awake, but he looked the tiniest bit better, so I was grateful.
"I had a very interesting visitor while you were asleep," Carlisle began and I sat up quickly, instantly becoming dizzy as I did so. "When was the last time you ate?"
"I have a feeling someone already gave you the answer to that question." I met his eyes, afraid of what I might see there.
"Edward did have a great deal to tell me, and I am sorry that I jumped to conclusions about what I saw. You were loyal to me with a King trying to win your hand and I just added to your burden."
"You aren't a burden, Carlisle; you're the man that I want to marry. If you'll still have me."
"Oh, sweet girl, how I have tortured you these last days. Of course I will have you; in fact, I took Edward up on his offer to have us married at the private chapel in the castle before we return to Pushla. Now, I'm hungry and it seems that I need to feed you as well, so let us enjoy the food sitting here and then we can return to bed."
Noticing the food behind him for the first time, I started serving us the meal, watching Carlisle carefully as he ate. Once I started eating myself, I realized just how famished I was and nearly ate myself sick. Thankfully, we returned to a freshly made bed and Carlisle was newly bathed, so I went to do the same, and soon found him in the bathing room with me.
"How severe was the tongue lashing you gave Edward? Because he said no one has ever stood up to him like that before, so between that and your devotion to me even at your own detriment, proved to him that I was the only man in your world." Carlisle's hand dipped into the water of my bath, but I kept him from doing anything to strenuous, instead, lacing our fingers together.
"I had no intention of backing down. He broke you with his actions and how they appeared from the outside and they risked your life. My own was a forfeit, so if something happened to you I would have provoked him at every turn until he ordered my death. I had no desire to live apart from you."
"Don't speak that way," Carlisle begged. "If something ever were to occur, I would want you to live on."
"I will tell you the same thing that I told your nephew, my place is by your side."
And it continued to be my place. It took a few more days before Carlisle was completely well again, and as soon as he was deemed hale and hearty we had our private wedding. Only our friends and the King were in attendance, where he presented Carlisle with a wedding gift that belonged to his mother, and where I was proclaimed the Vicereine of Pushla.
After a public proclamation the following day, we were granted our leave of León.
The boat ride was thankfully much smoother as we returned home, where we would spend a fortnight in the little cottage where things first began for us. I didn't know what the future held for us, but we had made it through the trials that led us to each other, so the future didn't worry me now.