It had been nine hundred and sixty three days since my uncle had left to fight in the war and only yesterday did my family and I receive word that he was expected to return home any day now. The joyful news came from that of a young boy, riding a horse. It was hard to believe that it's been over two and a half years since I have laid eyes on my uncle's pudgy kind face and I desperately longed to see it again. Before the young boy brought a letter sealed by the king himself it had been over a year since we had word of him. At night I would often hear my aunt cry when she thought the household was asleep. I think the unknown fate of her husband tore through her more than if he was confirmed dead. Many husbands, sons, brother's, uncles, and fathers were lost in this two year war. My best girl friend Angela lost her father last year. A group of knights carried in her father's body, which told me was draped over a horse and smelled. So every day I prepared myself for that same fate and every day we were left without answers only holding onto hope. Every day my family prayed for his safe return but at the same time my Aunt Emily prepared my sister, cousin, and I in the events that he would not return. In which case the family farm would then be passed to the next oldest man in our family which would be my Uncle Sam, whom I hardly knew. I think I had met him once. My aunt wanted to ensure that we girls would always be taken care of, by a husband.
When I was a mere baby both my parents died of the fever. A terrible sickness that had killed half our village, had spared my sister and me. We were sent to live with my mother's brother. My Uncle Sam and his family. The only family I have ever known. My Aunt after delivering my cousin Rosalie was left incapable of having any other babes from a labor that almost killed her and Rosalie, as you can imagine the two of them had wanted other children so obviously they welcomed us with loving arms. My sister Alice, who had been two at the time, and I have always considered them our parents. So it wasn't surprising that my aunt took it upon herself to find us girls betrothals. Alice and Rosali both seventeen were ready for that life. Both girls who are so close in age to begin with are inseparable. The two of them are more like sisters then I could ever be. Usually I am only considered a child that needs protecting. Like when I was seven for example. A piggish girl by the name Lauren Mallory and I took singing lessons together growing up. She hated me, she would say horrible things about me and one day she cut my long dark hair with a pair of sheers. I was devastated, I cried the entire way home. When my sister and cousin found out what had happened they had promised me that they would take care of it. Lauren didn't show up for our music lesson the next day, or the day after, or the day after that. She didn't return ever again.
The same thing happened when our servant's son through a rock at me and made me cry. My sister shoved his head in the pig's pen. It was always like that. I was the baby of the family. Even my aunt and uncle treated me more delicately growing up. They were easier on me then the other two, everyone was. I guess it also didn't help that I was always considered small for my age. I barely came to my sisters shoulders, who wasn't considered tall either. I think the entire household considered me breakable.
About a year ago my aunt had arranged for my cousin to wed Sir Charles Yorkie's second born son Eric. Rosalie's betrothal came easy. With her came not only inherited land but also a hefty dowry. The Yorkie's have been over a numerous amount of times since both families agreed to the marriage. Eric is a short quiet man. He is a very kind man, I believe he is in his early twenties, it's just that he is so quiet. He often just agrees with whatever Rosalie insists on. I think the two of them shall be good together. Rosalie has always been loud and sharp tongued, though it is true that she would dominate the relationship, which Eric seemed happy about. My poor sister Alice was not so lucky in her betroth. Where Rosalie had come with lands and riches Alice and I did not. My Aunt still managed to find Alice a noble husband. Earl Grey Newton' son Mike. The Newton's didn't live far from us and with Alice's beauty her long blond hair, crystal blue eyes and slim figure, Mike had always been attracted to her. Earl Grey wasn't to ken on marrying his son to a peasant but he ultimately agreed to the marriage. Much to Alice's objection. Mike Newton had a horrible reputation. He was known for his drunken antics. Alice hated him but it was out of her hands.
I still didn't have a betrothal, or if I did my aunt had yet to tell me. I knew that it was harder for her to let go of me. I was still barely fifteen and the two of us had always been close. Our maid Bree would often tell me stories of me as a child. Stories where I would cling to my aunt's skirts and cry if she tried to leave me. I had terrible separation anxiety. I think I slept in my Aunt and Uncle's bed until I was ten. They had told me that I had always been that way with my aunt, since the day they brought me to her. Like I said they are the only parents I know. My aunt never seemed put out by that though. I think she devoured into her new children as if they were her own.
"Isabella!" I could hear my aunt calling. I walked out of the kitchen and into our family area. She was kneeling in front of the fireplace where she had a pot of stew boiling over. "Stir this for me Dear." She pleaded as she gripped her hand. She has been suffering from pains in her hands as of late. I think it has something to do with her tending to the farm. With my uncle away and money scares she has taken it upon herself to tend to some of the duties, which has been painful for her. "I think it is starting to burn on the bottom." I nodded at her and rushed over, I used a wooden spoon to scrap the bottom. I then brought a small amount of the stew to my mouth, She was right. It had a small tinge from it burning that distorted the taste.
"Thank you." She stood up and patted me on the cheek as she walked by.
"I can help pick the crops in the morning?" I offered.
"A kind offer." She smiled at me, showing her crooked teeth. "But I have Bree and Riley for that." Riley is one of our servants. He is also Bree's husband, they have been married for twenty nine summers. "Though I could use some extra hands tidying up this place." I frowned at her. How did you tidy up a home that is already spotless? My aunt had a phobia of dust and mildew. "Windows need scrubbing, the deck needs sweeping, blankets washed, I need to sew new dresses for you girls." She sighed. "Everything needs to be perfect for your uncle's homecoming." She stood.
"I think he will be happy with any homecoming, even if the floors are not swept." I sighed.
"I know he shall be happy to see us it is just that I need him to notice what a good job I have done in raising you girls. I know he shall be happy with the girl's betrothals." She gushed. I forced a smile at her. She frowned before pulling me up to my feet. "Isabella you don't seem happy?" she frowned. "You should be, this is a happy time. Your uncle is coming home, your sister and cousin will be married soon, then will welcome babes of their own." I forced a smile. "Just think." She pulled my chin up to look at me. "You will be an aunty soon enough."
"Yeah." I nodded "It is hard to imagine Alice as a mother." I admitted. She laughed.
"Both those girls are really going to be in trouble then, but I have raised all my girls to be wonderful mothers." I bit my lip. My aunt lowered her smile. "What is on your mind Isabella?" She asked.
"I um….I was…um…" I struggled to find the right word.
"Isabella." She groaned. "Say what you need to say child."
"I want to know when I might be having children." I blushed. She smiled and pulled me into a hug. I rested my head on her shoulder.
"It is true that I have been looking for a husband for you but now that I know your uncle is alive and on his way home I have since abandoned the search, in a few years your uncle and I will find you a steady husband, a husband that will support you and protect you, a husband that will give you plenty of children and me grand babes." I put my arms around her and squeezed her. I was instantly relieved. The men that I know all are smelly and demanding self-centered pricks, something I was glad I didn't have to deal with for a few more years. I had no desire to ever get married. I don't think I ever did, Alice and Rosalie would always talk about boys and getting married, a conversation I never wanted to contribute in. Suddenly the big bronze bell from the churchyard down the road began to ring. It was so loud and caught me by such a surprise that I jumped and was forced to cover my ears. In all my life I only heard that bell ring once before, when the knights and soldiers when off to war. I turned to my aunt, her face was ashen. Her mouth dropped open as she turned to look at me with wide eyes.
"It can't possibly….. it's too soon." I thought I heard her say over the ringing. The bell rang a total of ten times. She gripped my hands in hers and pulled me to the door and out of the house. The pasture in front of our farm was overlooked by a hill, a big hill, as a child I would often roll down the hill with my sister and cousin. "The message just came yesterday, he cannot possibly be here…." Just as she was professing her doubt we could see horses coming from atop the hill. These horses were like none I have ever seen. They were colossal sized white stallions. All of the nine no... ten, wait, fourteen horses were white. The head rider was holding a joust with the king's banner tied to it as it swayed in the wind. My sister and cousin came running out of the house and stood next to us.
"Is that father?" Rosalie squinted as she peered against the sun.
"I cannot be sure." My aunt whispered.
"They are royal." My sister proclaimed. "Probably the king's guard."
"I can see that." My aunt turned to Alice. "What are they doing here?" My aunt looked nerves. As the rides ascended on us one of the faces stood out to me. His hair and beard were long overgrown. His face was red and wind burned, he was dressed in the same metal armor as the others and yet he stood out from the rest, this man was my uncle and he was riding our way. Nect to me I felt my aunt's knee's give way as she gripped on to me for support. Me being so tiny started buckling under her weight, she wasn't the leanest of women. Rosalie and Alice quickly pulled her to her feet. I straightened out my skirts. The horses seemed to be bigger that I had previously notice and as the got closer I started taking a few steps back. They were so big and were still riding hard towards us that I was sure they would trample us. I was wrong, the horses skidded to a halt as their masters pulled on their ropes. My uncle jumped from his horse.
He took three long strides before he reached my family. My aunt threw herself at him and began to sob uncontrollably as she gripped his neck. My cousin was so elated that she too was crying. My sister seemed to be more occupied by one of the knights. I followed her gaze. The knight that had captured my dear sister's attention was strikingly handsome, even with his untamed beard and dirty face. His eyes seemed to be burning a brilliant shade of gold. Just as I was examining his features his moved to me. Blood instantly pulled to my cheeks. He gave me a small smile. I was so embarrassed by being caught that I instantly dropped my eyes as I fidgeted with my dress skirts. When I finally looked up my cousin and sister were now Embracing my uncle as my aunt stood proud nearby, a few stray tears still evident on her face. "Isabella." She beckoned me forward. I took a few steps to her. My uncle looked up over my cousin's shoulder. His welcoming grin washed over me. He pulled back from the girls and motioned for me.
"Isabella." It had been so long since I have heard his voice. He opened his arms to me and I instantly found myself in his embrace. I barred my face in his armor. He had and unhinged smell to him. A smell I couldn't put a finger on. He pulled back and held me at arm's length. "Isabella girl." He boomed. "I don't think you have grown an inch." He laughed. "Though your beauty has doubled." He released his hold on me and turned to the men behind him. Most of them now were off their horses and standing nearby. I found the handsome one not too far way, not only had he caught my sister's eye but now my cousin was drooling over him. I rolled my eyes. Typical of them.
"These are the four most beautiful girls…" He turned back to us and frowned. "Women." He corrected himself in all of Europe." The men laughed and roared. "Hey." My uncle boomed. "Well you are guest of my home I expect you to keep all your hands and eye's off of them." The men laughed and clasped my uncle's shoulder. They all were very friendly with each other. Like the oldest of friends.
"We swear." A fat bolding man pledged.
"Samuel." My aunt frowned. "I was not aware that you would return so soon, we only received word yesterday." She whispered low.
"I am not surprised." He admitted. "We sent the scribe only a day before we left, we road hard to." He winced at some unknown pain. "I was adamant on getting home to my girls. My aunt blushed and nodded.
"And I…." The handsome knight finally spoke as he stepped forward. "Was eager to meet the family of the man that saved my brother's life many times over. It is because of this man that we won the war." He smiled showing a set of perfect white teeth. I had never seen teeth that white before except on a young child.
"Your brother?" My aunt's eyes shot up.
"Yes, Jasper almost had his head chopped clean off…." My aunt's face went white. "I am sorry, I will refrain from the details of war."
"No use for a king without his head." One of the knights boomed.
"Tell that to the kingdom of France." Another yelled. All the men laughed. "That king never had his head screwed on right, no wonder Samuel's blade knocked it clean off."
"Are you….." My uncle turned abruptly. "Jesting about my strength." And then started laughing. "It is true, there has never been a more clean a cut in all of the wars." He smiled. "It was like cutting through air." My aunt looked like a strange color green.
"You." She gasped ignoring the blabber. "Our brother to Jasper the Jaguar?" she demanded.
"The very same, though I wouldn't compare him to a Jaguar exactly, more like a bear. A big fat bear that roars when angered." My aunt dropped to her knees and pulled us girls down with her.
"My lord." She bowed her head. I followed suit. The lord reached for my aunt and pulled her up. Rosalie turned to Alice who shrugged and together we too stood.
"Any family of Samuel is family of mine." He released his hold on her and turned and looked at me. I thought I saw a small gleam in his eye before he turned back to my aunt.
"I have offered the men shelter for the night, where they might get a good night rest, bath and fill their bellies." My uncle renounced.
"And women, you promised women." The fat bold one professed. The man standing next to him banged him with his shield very nearly knocking him to the ground. My aunt flushed red and brought her hand to her neck, clearly scandalized.
"There is a brothel house a short ride from here, I will take you men there after we heat and least not clean up, you couldn't afford a whore with the way you lot smell." My uncle smiled.
"Not very many women like the small of death." The lord admitted. "Jared, not only do you stink but you are also bold, a combination that will only bring one thing.."
"What?" the man pressed.
"Celibacy." All the men hollered and hooted at the lord's response, as the fat man scowled and kicked the ground.
"Girls." My aunt cleared her throat. "Go to the garden and bring forth more food, then I will need you in the kitchen." She then turned to the men. "The wash house is behind the house, you will find fresh lining and I will bring you clean clothes. Samuel will show you to the stables, where you may feed and house your horses." She reached for us girls and together we walked away.
"I don't want you girls alone with those men." She whispered when we were far enough away from the men that they could not hear.
"Uncle Sam seems to trust him." Alice frowned as she glanced over her shoulder, at one certain lord. She tossed her dark hair over her shoulder and smiled
"Yes, he does, but I don't trust them with you girls alone." She stated.
"Even the lord?" Alice frowned.
"No I trust the lord fine, it's the two of you I don't trust with the lord." Both girls looked affronted. "Don't think I didn't see you two gawking at him, I mean my lord ladies what must he think of the two of you!" she shook her head. "He probably thinks I have raised two harlots." She continued. "Isabella was the only one that contained herself." She reached out and patted my arm.
"Don't act like you wouldn't be supportive of your daughters marrying a lord." Rosalie challenged.
"I would support that." She admitted. "But I would not condone one of my girls taking part in adultery. The prince is married, has been since he was of age." Both girl's faces fell. "And I should not hear such talk from you two, you are betrothed which is border lined married. Eric Yorkie and Mike Newtan are suitable matches."
"The stew is burned." I admitted to my aunt well we were preparing bread.
"I know but there is not much that can be done, besides I doubt they will notice. From the looks of them it has been years since they have had sot food in their belly."
My uncle came into the kitchen all washed and dressed in clean linen. He walked behind my aunt and held him towards her as he reached down and kissed her neck. She jumped from his grasp. "Samuel!" she chastened as she smacked at his hands. "Not in front of our girls. Besides. I refuse to kiss you until you have removed that animal from your face." He reached up and stroked his beard.
"I am thinking about keeping it." He shrugged. "It can be my pet." She smirked at him.
"Then you and that pet can sleep on the floor, I have never been keen on flees." She threatened.
"Isabella." He turned to me. "My I acquire your services?" he asked. When I was a child he taught me how to properly shave a man, I have found a talent in doing so, with some of the neighbor men paying me to shave their own. I nodded.
"Of course." I smiled. "Let me get my kit. I ran upstairs to the room I shared with my sisters. I found my kit-a leather pouch with sheering scissors and a very, very sharp knife. A gift from my uncle and aunt. I came running down the stairs.
"Do it in the sitting room Isabella." My aunt nodded. I went to the sink and made my concoction of water, soap and herbs and then to the sitting room. My uncle followed me into the room and took a seat on an old chair. I placed the concoction on the table and pulled out the scissors and proceeded to cut the hair as short as I could.
"When was the last time you shaved?" I frowned as I continued my work. He started laughing.
"Shaving becomes more of a hassle in war, not only that but the beard kept my face warm in the winter."
"And in the summer?" I pressed.
"Hotter than hell." He chuckled. "But it shielded me from the blistering sun." When I was certain I could actually shave the hair now I rubbed the potion on his face. Massaging it into his skin to help prevent irritation. Then I pulled the knife out and began to run it over the skin, being gentle and making sure I angled the blade correctly. After a few swipes I would clean the blade on an old apron I put on previously.
"What is war like?" I asked.
"War?" He chuckled. "War is a game really, we are all pawns in another man's game. But when you're out there on a battlefield and one move can mean your life or death you do things you never imagined yourself capable." His eyes went blank. "The man standing next to you becomes your only ally, your only chance for survival. That is the one thing about war, you make life long brothers."
"Is it true what that lord said out there? Did you really kill the king of france?" I asked.
"I did." He admitted. "That's the one thing in war, it doesn't matter if you're a king or a slave if someone drives there blade through you, you will fall. Even an old farmer like myself could concur a king, equality is born."
"Do you regret killing?" his eyes finally met mine.
"I am sorry for the lives that were lost but I am not sorry that I defended myself, my family, my kingdom, or my king." I nodded at him as I made my last cut. With a wash towel I wiped his face of the excess liquid.
"Finished." I took a step back and began to gather my items when someone behind me froze me where I stood.
"Could I trouble you for a shave as well?" I turned around to find the Lord. I swallowed hard. "That looks absolutely heavenly as of now." He smirked. I nodded and my uncle stood. As he walked out of the room he clasped the Lord's forearm and disappeared through the kitchen. The lord took my uncle's seat. He was cleaned now, the sheet of dirt and grime was gone, and he smelled of lavender from our soap. I inhaled greedily as I brought my scissors to his long bark beard. His hand reached up like a snake and coiled around my arm.
"How many times have you shaved a man?" his eyes bore into my own. I swallowed. "Are you a mute?" he asked.
"No." I frowned. "I speak." I pulled my arm away from him, he reluctantly realest me. "I have done this many times over." I frowned. He raised his eyebrows at me. I had to remember I was talking to a noble, and not just any noble, the king's brother, a prince. "I have been since I was nine years old." I admitted.
"And how old are you now?" he asked.
"Fifteen." He pursed his lips and then nodded at me. I brought the scissors to his beard and began to cut. My hands shaking slightly throughout the process.
"You are Prince Edward, Yes?" I asked. He smiled his beautiful smile and nodded. "So you have heard of me." It was more of a statement.
"And your name is Isabella?" he pressed.
"That's what they continue to call me." He laughed. I put the scissors down and brought the bowl of liquid to his face, where I put on a good sized amount on his skin. From there I massaged it. He closed his eyes and for the first time since I meet him he seemed to relax. His lips parted and he sighed. That small noise made my heart race.
"You are the youngest son, are you not?" I asked.
"Correct, do you know the names of my brothers?" he asked. His eyes were still closed.
"There is Jasper, King Jasper." I corrected myself. "He is the oldest, I hear he has blond hair."
"Very good, and the others?" he pressed.
"Then there is Emmett, he is the clever, or so I hear." His eyes opened and he frowned. I turned from him and set the bowl down only to pick up the blade.
"And?" he pressed. I began to stroke his neck with the blade which caused him to tense. From the corner of my eye I saw him clench his hands into fists.
"There was also Seth." I admitted. "I have heard he was the kindest but he died when he was just a boy." He frowned and then sighed.
"You are a clever girl." He acknowledged.
"There is nothing clever about proclaiming the opinion of others." I continued to shave him, my hands shaking at that!
"What opinions have you heard of me?" he pressed.
"A few." I blushed. He raised an eyebrow at me. "I heard you are the most lethal." His eyes ment mine.
"And?" he challenged.
"You are the most handsome." He smiled, I blushed, deep in my belly I began to feel as if the air was knocked from me. It wasn't the most unpleasant feeling.
"And would you agree with those opinions?" he challenged. I swiped the blade one last time before bringing the cloth to the lords face.
"You seem very sturdy and strong, I also believe you have killed."
"And the other one?" he pressed.
"My sister and cousin seem to think you are." I nodded.
"But what about you.." he reached up and gripped my hand gently.
"I…." the door opened. I was caught completely off guard and jumped back a few feet, the lord released his hold on me, well for the most part. My Aunt frowned at me. Suddenly I felt ashamed and guilty. She had just chastened the girls and here I was no better.
"Isabella, come help serve." As I walked past her I saw her frown at the Lord Edward. I blushed and ducked under her arm.
The men didn't eat their dinner, but inhaled it. It was the most gruesome act I have ever witnessed and by the end of the meal half of the men had pieces of food caught in their beard. I watched as all of them but two filled out of the house after thanking my aunt abundantly and complimenting her on her hospitality and food. They were off to the brothel with no time to lose. From there my sisters and I cleaned the kitchen and then settled down by the fire to hear some of my uncle's and the lord, who also stayed behind, war stories. We listened to them as they talked about the benefits of beheading versus stabbing. Evidently a man can live from having a hole punctured through his chest but no man could live without his head. I know war is not easy but still they never once complained of anything, both men just seemed to be happy it was over. As they told their war stories I found myself more enhanced of Lord Edward. With his face clean shaved he was more striking then I could have imagined, a few times he caught me staring at him and each time I would drop my eyes only to find myself gawking at him again, and each time he seemed more and more amused.
"So tell me Lord Edward," My aunt asked. "Your wife, I hear she is a pretty girl. She is from Spain, yes?" Lord Edward was taking a drink from his cup and swallowed hard.
"She is of ordinary taste." He frowned. "Not as pretty as the ladies in this room." I saw him look at me from the corner of my eye. I looked down at my entangled fingers. "You must be impatient to be back to her?"
"I am impatient for an heir it is true." He smiled kindly at my aunt.
"How long have you been wed?" my aunt continued her interrogation.
"I was seventeen when we wed and her only fifteen, I am now twenty three."
"Six years!" my aunt smiled.
"My daughters are set to wed later this summer." She proclaimed.
"Congratulations." His eyes trickled to me for the briefest of moments and then back to my aunt.
"They would have been flamboyant at court it is true, who are the luck gentleman? He pressed.
"Alice is engaged to mike Newton, Earl Grey Newton from Masonshire's son."
"Newton?" Lord Edward pursed his lips. "The name sound familiar."
"Rosalie is to marry Eric Yorkie. Charles Yorkie is his father"
"Oh Charles Yorkie, He was a grand knight until they took his leg a few years back." He nodded. "He was part of my late father's king's guard." He explained. "And what of this dove?" He motioned to me. I dropped my eyes.
"We have no desire to marry Isabella off until she is of age, in a couple years we will decide on a suitor, it seems like every other week I have poor soul on my doorstep proclaiming their claim." My aunt laughed. From the corner of my eye I saw Lord Edward's jaw clench.
"I can only imagine why." He smirked and then looked down. "Have the two of you thought of the possibility of sending her to court?" he asked.
"No." My aunt waved him off. "Isabella belongs here, with me." She tried to keep her voice low.
"I can understand the sense of familiarity, but at court she could learn to read and write, she would learn other languages and possibly marry a man above her station. I believe she will excel at court." He pressed.
"What is the girl need reading and writing, it's not going to take care of her babes or feed her husband." My aunt argued. "Isabella need's to stay here, she needs to flourish in her home."
"My apologize, I did not mean to intrude." He sighed. "I am sure she will make an excellent wife one day, she can already give a good shaving." I looked up and smiled at him.
"You will have to forgive my wife, she is very attached to the girl." My uncle intervened. "You see after the birth of our dear daughter Rosalie, she was left unable to bare anymore of my children. My brother and his wife died a few years later, the girls were brought to live here
Bella still a baby. She filled the void in my wife's aching chest."
My deepest apologize." Lord Edward pressed.
"Girls let us get ready for bed." She motioned for us to follow her then she turned abruptly. "I have a feeling Lord Edward that your men will be preoccupied until the morrow so you will sleep in our room and Samuel and I will sleep down here. "
"That won't be necessary." He frowned.
"I insist." My Aunt pressed.
"You better just take it my lord, this women will coheres you whether you agree now or later." My uncle pressed. He finally nodded.