These two ladies, GeekChic12 and Lynzylee, are awesome. I really can't praise them enough. My gratitude for your help with this chapter, dears!
Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. I own the contents of this story.
As to the previous chapter, wow the reviews. I wasn't expecting the backlash I received. It stung a little, not going to lie, since you can't really separate me from my characters. Look at Edward's past, his nature, his personality…he's not exactly relationship/husband material yet. But trust in Bella, and me, to hopefully get him there. But Edward, he may (will) mess up here and there until he gets it right.
This chapter from Bella's POV should make everyone happy. A bit of an emotional roller-coaster, but I think you'll enjoy the payoff.
My sleep had been restless. As a result, I had found myself wide awake at dawn and quite alone. I lay there listening to the early morning birdsong and envied them their simple lives. Oh, to be free like the birds! Free of deep emotions. Free of the knowledge of your own existence. Free from the pain of loving another who didn't understand how to love you back.
My mind drifted back to my childhood and my ninth natal year. I had been a rambunctious and curious child. I'd started to dress in boys' clothing, for I'd decided to be the son my father desperately wanted. I had hovered around the listing grounds, avidly watching the sword fighting and archery contests. I'd fallen in love with archery and had begged my father for a bow of my own.
To my extreme surprise and joy, I was gifted with a child-sized bow and a quiver full of arrows for my tenth natal day. I remembered how I had reverently run my hand along the smooth wooden curve of the bow. For a moment, I'd been positive I'd seen approval shine in my father's eyes, before he harshly told me not to shoot myself in my foot.
I hadn't allowed that comment to take my joy. I had run out to the listing yard and eagerly set up a target. Gathering a crowd, I'd been nervous, and my first arrows either fell to the ground or didn't travel far. Many of the guard and castle archers had come to watch. Soon, they'd begun to offer pointers and demonstrate to me the correct hold and posture. With that knowledge, and the patience of an older archer nicknamed "Gramps" for his grey hair, I improved. I practiced the rest of the day until twilight fell, until my fingers became bloody, until my right arm ached so hard it had begun to shake, but I had not cared. I had felt freeing joy like I'd never known when I was practicing archery.
That had been the first major alteration of my childhood.
My first glimpse of Edward of Sunhaven had been the second.
Two months later, Edward of Sunhaven had arrived at Ostburn. I'd been in the solar with my mother and Alice and the attending ladies' maids when I heard the commotion. I ran to the window seat, bruising my knees in my haste to climb upon the stones. Peering out, I'd seen Edward of Sunhaven ride into the bailey- his rust and gold house colors blazing, his enormous horse braying and stomping. My mouth had fallen open in awe.
Then he'd removed his helm. Sun had glinted off his hair, the color somewhere between peaches and strawberries. Even from the long distance I'd been able to discern the handsomeness of his face. I had leapt down and darted out the door, ignoring the exasperated commands of my mother to stop. I hadn't been able to stop. I'd had to see that wonder up close.
I raced out into the bailey and skidded to a halt, not ten feet from his terrifying horse. Edward of Sunhaven had swung from the saddle and tossed the reins to his squire. He was talking and laughing with some men who had accompanied him. My eyes had been riveted to his handsome face, animated with easy laughter.
My father had come out to greet him, drawing his attention, but for one brief glorious moment, Edward of Sunhaven had met my eyes. He flashed me a grin and winked at me before turning to greet my father.
Something in my girlish heart and mind had been struck dumb by such a remarkable specimen of a man. Hence, my obsession with Edward of Sunhaven had begun.
For the fortnight that Edward had visited Ostburn, I'd trailed him, shadowing his steps, asking him questions, and watching him train with the guard. The castle guard, well used to my oddness and holding a certain affection towards my boyish ways, had teased Edward over my attention. They even granted me a nickname. "There comes Edward's little white shadow," they'd say about me. So named for the white tunic emblazoned with the Ostburn eagle upon it that I wore most every day.
I smiled to myself and my sudden remembrance of my childhood nickname. No one had called me that in years, not since the old archer Gramps had died, I realized.
What I didn't want to remember was the day Edward of Sunhaven had departed Ostburn. I'd been bereft. It'd felt as if he'd taken the very sun away with him. It had been at least a natal year before I'd begun to give up my foolish adoration of a man who had only seen me as the child I'd been.
When I was fifteen, my father took me and my sister to court. I'd been in an absolute fever to see Edward of Sunhaven again. Once at court, I had dressed in my finest and fixed my hair just so, in the elaborate braided upswept style that was the current fashion. I remembered walking into the king's chamber so that Alice and I could be presented to him. I had been nervous, but not to see the king. It was all for Sunhaven. To my extreme, crushing disappointment, he hadn't been at court. King Alfred had sent Edward off to escort the king's mother back to court. That had sent Edward all the way to the southern tip of Oaklea. He wouldn't be back for at least two months. By then, we would be headed back home.
Despite court and all its splendor, I had been downcast the entire visit. I would climb to the top of the tower with my ladies' maid and watch out for any approaching band of soldiers, but Edward's group was never among them. We'd left Stronghaven without my ever having set eyes upon Edward. It wasn't until over a fortnight ago that I'd seen him again. That first glance when I'd looked up and found his eyes upon me. My heart had exploded with excitement and joy.
He'd crushed that joy the next day by being an absolute arse. Childhood remembrances and silly girlish dreams had built up an image of a man who hadn't existed. The reality of the real flesh-and-blood Edward had been jolting and unpleasant.
But things change. I had come to know the real Edward of Sunhaven, though it had taken me some time to really see his true self and begin to understand his nature. Then, he'd kissed me. Nothing after that point could have stopped my foolish heart from falling headlong into real love with him.
I heard Edward moving around and then smelt wood smoke. Apparently, Edward had been rebuilding the fire as I reminisced.
"Are you awake?" Edward called to me. "I brewed some tea."
Taking a deep breath, I sat up and brushed tendrils of hair back from my face.
"I suppose," was my quiet reply.
I studied Edward as he piddled with the sticks in the fire, not meeting my eyes. His hair was darker now, more burnished fire than peachy strawberry, than it was ten years ago. His body had changed as well, filling out to that of a man's solid, pleasing form. His face was still impossibly handsome, but there were subtle lines around his eyes and one on the left side of his mouth. Still, all in all, he was the finest specimen of a man I had ever laid eyes upon.
I thought back to my childish adoration of Edward and how silly it seemed to me now. I had come to know the man inside, what he held and what he was lacking, and loved him in spite of it. It had surprised me, that, the way my heart had decided for me. For what woman would willingly choose such a difficult man to love?
His inability to voice his feelings, unless prodded to do so, was one such difficulty, but the other, oh, the other was the truly difficult one to endure. The man didn't understand reciprocation. He didn't understand how to accept affection and give it in return. He had been trying, I'd give him that much, but he was lacking in basic human understanding of such things. I thought I had begun to soften him. I thought I'd gotten him past his withholding. Until, that is, last eve.
All that could have gone wrong, did. Instead of tenderness and gentleness, he had instead been frantic and rough, taking for himself. I had enjoyed the kissing, but after that, he'd become something else and had used my body for his pleasure. I was still stunned that he'd so forcefully entered me, causing me so much pain. I'd been unprepared for such harsh treatment of my body.
Everything I'd come to love about Edward had nearly been shattered in that one thoughtless moment of his. And he had known it. When he'd looked into my eyes and registered my pain and disappointment in him, he'd known.
He had withdrawn from me, curled back up inside of himself, loathing himself for what he'd so foolishly done. He had not held me and comforted me. That, not the rough handling, was what he'd done to ruin the closeness that had been growing between us.
His constant apologies aside, he had known that he'd done something unforgivable. Not only had he taken me as if I was one of his other women, he'd not even remembered that we weren't a wed couple.
It was then that I understood that, to him, I was likely just another woman. He may care for me, but in the end, I was just another body for his use.
We had crossed a moral and social line, and as a result, I was no longer a maiden. Nor was I a wedded woman. That could be easily altered, but at this point, I was unsure if I even wanted this man as my husband.
Oh, I knew that he would protect me unto his death. I knew that he would take care of me, provide for me, and even occasionally give me the fleeting tenderness I longed for. But truly love me? Truly see me for me and not just another woman in his bed? I didn't know if that was ever going to be possible.
And with that realization, my heart just broke.
Tears gathering in my eyes, I tossed back my blanket, tugged on my boots, and climbed standing. "I need to use the privy."
"No," I said as I quickly walked away.
When I returned, Edward was crouched down, checking on Moonspawn's hooves. "I believe the clothing is dry," he said almost cautiously, darting his eyes to my face, then back to his horse.
I simply nodded and went to check on our clothes. Noting that they were indeed dry, I repacked them in the saddle bag and then got a cup of tea. I rummaged through the food and pulled out two bruised pears. Carrying one over to Edward, I handed it to him.
"I'm not hungry."
I nearly shoved it at him. "Eat. We've another long day, I'm guessing."
He took it without comment and turned away.
I went back to the fire, pulled off my boots and tugged on my leggings for the day's ride. I sat down, placed my feet back into my boots and then sipped my tea as I nibbled on my pear.
Had Edward just slept with me last night, held me and given me comfort, I would probably be feeling completely different this morn. But…he hadn't. And I realized that had put me into not only a pensive mood, but a foul one. I wished I still had my own horse so that I would have some peace today. But the entire day I would be against Edward's thighs and chest, his arms around me holding the reins, and that was likely to be akin to torment.
"Let's ride," Edward said without preamble.
I looked up in surprise. I hadn't even heard him approach. I quickly sipped the dregs of my tea in the cup and then turned it over and dried it out on my skirt. The rest of the tea in the pot, I poured over the fire. Edward fetched more water and thoroughly doused the ashes. He then tied on the saddlebags and lifted me atop his horse, before climbing up behind me.
He spurred Moonspawn on. I tried to settle myself more comfortably, but the saddle hadn't been made for two. Finally finding something not completely unbearable, I leaned against the man I loved, the man right next to me but unreachable as the moon.
After a few brief pauses during the day, Edward, finding a suitable mostly hidden spot to camp, stopped for the night. I slid off the saddle in relief. I was so sick of horseback riding that I'd gladly walk the remaining miles to our destination. I paced around in circles, stretching my legs, and alternating between holding my back and rubbing my sore thighs.
"I'll make you a fire," Edward offered, but I shrugged.
"Doesn't matter. All our food is cold. I think I'll just eat and then sleep."
He sent me a look full of concern. "Are you feeling unwell?"
"Just saddle sore," I lightly replied, then turned to find food.
Edward made us a fire anyway. As he did, I pulled out the last loaf of bread. I reached in for the cheese and cut off two small pieces. Adding to our repast was strips of dried meat- venison, I realized. I handed Edward's portions to him and settled down to consume my meal in silence.
Edward surprised me, though. "I was thinking back to when you were a child."
I lifted my head. "What do you mean?"
"That time I visited Ostburn, and you were a child. I remember your big eyes and you trailing me around." He sent me a small grin, but I didn't return it.
"It must have been quite annoying to you to have some brat upon your heels."
He was silent for a moment. "I hope I wasn't too much of an arse to you. What was it they used to call you?"
"Ah. Yes. That I remember now. You liked to dress as a boy cloaked in Ostburn's white colors."
"White with the snow eagle sigil outlined in silver emblazoned upon my tunic," I replied offhandedly.
"Perhaps a better sigil than my house. A setting sun upon the horizon, one lone ship sailing into its rays."
I wondered at Edward's chattiness this eve but decided it was better than silence. We could keep each other company, if nothing else.
"I like it. There's a certain beauty to your house sigil."
He acknowledged that with a slight tilt of his head. He then averted his eyes as his fingers worried with the edge of his tunic. I wondered at him not wearing his house colors now, but I assumed he had wanted to travel incognito the best he could and did not inquire as to his reasons.
"You remember the night you sang that song with Jasper and your sister?"
"The one about Silverwind? Yes. Why?" I asked.
"Bella, do you believe in dragons like the one in that tale?"
"Dragons?" I asked with a blink. What an odd question. "I'm…not sure. I know there are things, powers in this world we can't imagine, but dragons? I just don't know."
I had been stirring the fire with a stick but paused at that and met his eyes. "What?"
"I know dragons exist."
I sat back and folded my hands in my lap. "And how, pray tell, do you know that?"
"I've seen them."
I was gaping at him then.
He slightly grinned, then his face set in wonder.
"I've seen them, Bella. When Alfred had told me that they were real, I hadn't believed him. In response, he led me to a secret chamber within the castle. Procuring the key, he'd opened the door and I had stood there, mute in astonishment. For in front of me had been the carcass of a creature so large, so fantastic, I couldn't speak. I remember walking as if in a trance to stand in front of that creature laying out on the floor. I had knelt down and run my hands along the iridescent violet, still glistening scales so sharp they cut my fingers."
"But, was it real?" I asked in skepticism.
"Yes. I swear so. I had thought like you at the time. That just because I had been looking at a fantastic creature that once lived, it didn't mean dragons were still in this world."
I was trying to take in what he'd just told me. Dragons were real. Dragons had existed. They weren't just legends and songs. Silverwind wasn't just a song? I glanced up at the night sky and pondered such a creature flying beneath the stars.
"Why do I think you're about to tell me something impossible?" I asked as I looked back to him.
"Because I am. A month later, I rode out with King Alfred and his entourage to his seasonal hunting lodge. While residing there, one night he'd awoken me, sworn me to silence, and then led me down into deep, cavernous underground chambers that I hadn't even known existed. The first door he opened, I just couldn't believe my eyes. There before me had been a living, breathing dragon. He'd been chained, imprisoned within an enormous cell."
I merely stared for a moment. "What…what did he look like?" I whispered.
"He was a blazing crimson red, the likes of which I'd never seen. He was this enormous winged reptile, with large yellow eyes, long talons at the end of powerful legs, and completely covered in scales. To be honest, he was terrifying."
"A dragon," I said in wonder, charmed by Edward's story, despite myself.
"And not just one, but two. The king kept the other one in a chamber beside the crimson one. Alfred told me she was a female. The female had been a turquoise color, flowing into green. Like water. Beautiful to behold. Beautiful and deadly. She hissed and spit fire at us the moment the door opened and continued until we stepped back out of her chamber. I pitied those men in charge of feeding her. Still do."
"And what precisely does a dragon eat?"
"Anything it wants to," he said with a grin. "But mostly, they keep them well fed with goats and sheep."
"Ah. Those poor dragons. They must feel so frustrated and lonely."
"Bella. They're dragons. Capable of destroying entire cities, decimating entire populations. They will eat anything with a beating heart, including human children. Don't pity them. Fear them. Alfred is right to keep them chained up."
"But to what purpose? What kind of life is that? I would rather die than live a life in chains."
Edward went quiet, his face set in seriousness. "As would I."
I pondered his story. "Was that the truth, or just a tale to amuse me?"
"Did it amuse you?" he asked as he studied my face.
I nearly groaned at him doing the question as an answer thing, but I let it pass.
"It did manage to keep my attention, if that was your intention. Edward, if that was another form of apology, I accept, but really, you must stop."
Edward took a deep breath and looked up at the night sky. "I honestly don't know what that was. I just wanted to share that with you."
"Well, then I thank you. That was kind," I replied.
"It wasn't meant to be kind, Bella," Edward nearly growled. "It was meant to…"
"What?" I asked, mildly curious to know what he'd been about to say.
"It was a secret I've kept, and I just gave it to you, because I know I can trust you," he responded in frustration. "And perhaps I wanted you to know, despite all, that there are indeed wondrous things in this world we live in."
"Ah. But then, I knew that," I said softly as I stretched out upon my pallet.
After a time, Edward again surprised me by stretching out beside me and wrapping his arm around my body.
"And how did you know that, Bella?" he asked.
I squeezed my eyes shut, holding back my tears.
"Because, one day when I was just a child, I looked upon the sun, and I've been blinded by its wonder ever since."
Edward gave me no response, but his arm around me tightened, pulling me back against him. I rested my head on my arm and did let the tears fall then. Let them spill out upon the indifferent ground my hopes and wishes until all that was left in me was hollowness and a thumping heart that would not let go of its love of Edward.
I may have been dreaming, but I could have sworn that sometime during the night, Edward had turned me over and kissed the tears from my cheeks. I could have sworn that that he whispered sweet words of devotion. Impossibly sweet dreams of love, of happiness, and of majestic dragons gliding on the wind of the starry night sky.
I felt fingers stroke across my face. "Time to awaken, my sleepy queen," I heard Edward say softly.
My eyes fluttered open to find Edward's green eyes regarding me with great warmth.
"Queen?" I asked in foggy confusion.
"Hmm. Yes," he said as he sat down beside me. He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss upon my cheek. "Show me," he whispered.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I pushed myself sitting. I yawned and stretched out the kinks in my back. I was confused over his tenderness and soft speaking. It made my heart beat fast in hope, which in turn made me cross for hoping.
"Whatever are you talking about? Show you what?"
"Show me how to…treat you," he finished in barely a whisper, his head hanging down.
"How to treat me," I repeated.
"Yes. And perhaps, it's time we altered our situation." He still wouldn't look at me.
"Edward. Speak plainly. I just awoke."
He took a deep breath; then his gaze locked with mine. "Choose me."
"Choose me. It's the woman's choice, so choose me."
"Choose you," I echoed in disbelief.
"I've…taken you. You're no longer a maiden, even though that must be the absolute worst bedding known in the history of humankind."
"It was unpleasant. I wonder why any woman would choose to do that when it's so uncomfortable," I replied with a deep frown.
"It's not supposed to be uncomfortable. It's supposed to feel good. I completely and utterly failed you, completely failed myself. I took you, a good, kind woman who isn't mine, and hurt you. I'm not sure I've ever done anything worse in my life. No, I know I've never done anything worse."
"Ah. We're back to your honor. That's what this is all about?"
He shook his head. "God's be, no. It's about me mistreating you. I certainly have no honor left after that horrible show at the lake."
"And so you wish for me to…what exactly?"
"I wish for you to choose me," he said rapidly as he averted his eyes.
"To preserve my honor."
"Well, yes," he answered.
"And what if I do not wish to choose you?"
He lifted shocked eyes to mine. "You do not?"
"I'm not sure."
"Because of my hurting you. I understand. And I cannot fault you your choice. I was never a good choice for you to begin with. I was never the man for you."
"You keep telling me that. What prompts you to do so?"
"Because it's truth. You, you're kind and gentle and good, Bella. You say you love me in spite of how I treat you. It confounds and confuses me. Though I'm sure your feelings have greatly altered since what transpired at the lake."
"You think me fickle? You think this a light flirtation of mine, then?"
He hesitated a moment before speaking. "I would never do you the dishonor of so lightly dismissing your feelings. I was just saying that I would not fault you in altering them."
"Good. Because I don't give my heart away lightly. Indeed I've never done so until now. We've established my feelings, but, Edward, what are your feelings toward me?"
He took a deep breath and then reached over for my hand. He lightly held it, stroking his fingers over mine.
"The truth?" he asked.
"Yes. Always the truth, whatever it may be," I forced myself to say.
"The truth." He sighed. "You deserve that. This won't be easy for me. Emotions never are, but perhaps you'll better understand me afterwards."
He looked down at our hands, then slipped his fingers between mine as he began to speak.
"There was a night, a warm summer night, when I walked into the great hall of a castle. A celebration was in progress. There, amongst the dancers, was the most beautiful woman I'd ever set eyes upon. Her with the long brown hair, her in a red velvet dress, her with silver bells jingling along her thigh. That small woman…I came to admire her- her spirit, her fight, her fire. I even admired how she never took no for an answer from me. She always pushed me until I gave her what she wanted. One night, I looked down upon her sleeping, the flickering firelight dancing over her precious form, and…I knew. She was everything I had been searching for my entire life. She was goodness, she was comfort, she was…my home. She was everything. Everything I would live and die for."
He looked up at my tear-streaked face. Distress passed over his expression at seeing my tears. He gripped both of my hands in his and leaned his face close to me.
"You ask me my feelings regarding you. I don't have a word for them, Bella. There is no word for them. Nothing in our language could possibly encompass my emotions toward you. If love will do, then that is it, but it's not enough. Never enough for you," he ended, his voice rough with raw emotion.
"Edward," I cried out as I flung my arms around him.
He held me tightly, almost painfully against him as he buried his face in my neck.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. Let's start over. I swear I'll do better this time. Please give me another chance."
"Yes," I said through my tears. "You get a thousand chances, Edward."
"Thank the gods," I heard him whisper against my neck.
"I love you," I whispered back.
"Bella," was his only reply, but everything of Edward, all his love for me was within it, and it was enough.
Later, after we broke our fast, we started on our way. This day, I settled against Edward happily. Edward rode with one hand on the reins, the other around my waist holding me to him.
We spoke softly as we journeyed, of our families, our childhoods, of court, of the possibilities of the death of the king and his sickly heir in the future, and what that would mean for the kingdom.
"But who would be king?" I asked.
I felt Edward shrug. "I have no idea. Someone from a powerful family, I'm assuming. Whoever takes it first? I don't really care. I only wish to live a quiet life from now on. I'm done being who I was before."
"We'll have to leave Oaklea, I believe," I replied.
"We?" he asked in amusement. "I see you're already planning our future, but you do not ask," he reminded me.
"I know," I said with a laugh. "It's good to make you wait, I think."
"No. That is not good," he replied. "The sooner you choose me, the sooner I can show you what enjoyable relations between a man and a woman can be."
"I never thought I'd hear the mighty Edward of Sunhaven, heir to the Amber Isle, the king's champion, the fearsome Slayer, practically begging a woman to choose him."
He laughed, a deep, rich sound that vibrated against my back. "You're not going to make this easy or simple for me, are you?"
"Well, not much fun in making it too easy. It seems I now have the upper hand. I plan to enjoy it."
Edward halted Moonspawn, then gripped my face, turning it to his for a deep kiss that left me breathless.
"Have your fun, my beautiful queen, but do not make me wait too long. I've much to atone for and much I wish to show you."
"I like being your queen. It makes me feel powerful," I replied with a grin as I gave him another quick kiss.
"You have been all along. It's a wonder you didn't figure it out sooner."
"Figure out what?" I asked in confusion.
"How powerful you are."
"Ah." Edward could disarm me with a few mere words.
He gave me one more thorough kiss that left me dizzy, then placed one simple kiss on my brow.
"Don't make me wait too long," he repeated with a grin as he urged Moonspawn on.
I snuggled my head under his chin, my smile wide, and my heart content.
"Not too long," I replied with a sigh.
Thanks for reading! I'm guessing that you're happier with Edward, and me, after this chapter? I'm really looking forward to the reviews for this one, because I loved writing it so much.