~.~

Ten

~.~

"Emmett?" he whispered. "Emmett is that you?"

Edward didn't know how it was that he recognized his little brother, but it was no doubt it was Emmett seated beside him, though this Emmett was a grown man. It was the same pair of brown eyes that met his own, shining with the light of the same soul. But these eyes did not sparkle with laughter. They were bleary with drink and filled with an aching sadness, but they belonged to his brother.

Emmett seemed not to have heard what Edward said. "She's not eating."

Edward looked around and found himself seated in a large chair at the center of a long table. It was covered with overlapping layers of Turkish carpets. Gold and silver plates were placed in front of him, each bearing a different delicacy, some of which Edward could not name. In his hand was a gold goblet, set with gems. Edward sipped from it and wine flowed over his tongue, its tartness contrasting with the heavy sugar added by his sewer before it was served.

Edward had never tasted wine, but in this dream - or in this memory - he knew its flavor. And he knew what he was drinking was Rhenish wine, the finest money could buy.

He looked around the room again. The lower tables were mostly empty because Edward did not keep a court of lords and ladies to wait on him. Still, many of the niceties of his status were observed: the serving of dozens of dishes (what he and his family did not consume would be passed on to the servants), and a minstrel to play the lute and sing while they dined.

"I said, she's not eating," Emmett repeated. He tilted his head and Edward turned to follow the gesture. That's when he saw her.

Bella.

She wore a scarlet velvet gown with a low, square neckline, edged in pearls, and the bright color only accentuated her pallor and hollow eyes. She sat silent, motionless, her hands in her lap and her eyes downcast. The gown was ill-fitting and Bella slumped against the rigid boning of her bodice, giving her an odd, off-kilter look, like a woman sitting inside a barrel.

"She hasn't eaten all day and she didn't eat yesterday, either." Emmett swayed in his chair as he spoke, and it hurt Edward's heart to see him like this, drowning in sorrow and wine, but his attention was on the woman beside him, drowning in a sorrow of her own.

Edward leaned over and spoke to Bella, who jumped at the sound of his voice. Her large, dark brown eyes flicked upward to glance at his face, but she quickly looked away. "Is the food not to your liking, my lady wife?" Edward tried to make his voice as gentle as possible.

"Pray, your pardon, my lord husband," Bella replied. "I am not hungry." She glanced at the platter of roasted boar at in the hands of the server passing by and her face tightened as though she were trying to hide a grimace. The boar's head glistened with a sugar glaze, and fruit filling tumbled from its open mouth. Edward thought it looked delicious, but Bella gulped, and her colorless skin paled even further.

She doesn't like meat, Edward thought, though whether the thought belonged to Edward now, or Edward then, he did not know.

"My lady, you must eat," he said. "You will make yourself ill if you do not." He glanced around and spied a plate of sugared figs. He gestured to it and the server brought it immediately. "Try these. I'm sure you will like them."

The server plucked a few from the bowl and plopped them onto her plate before he spooned on some sauce over them and retreated. Bella speared one of them with her eating knife and ate it while he watched.

"Very good, my lord." Her voice was without inflection. She put down the knife and her hands fell down into her lap again.

"Have another," he urged.

Bella didn't look at him as she replied. "Forgive me, but I cannot. May I be excused, my lord?"

He nodded and Bella rose from her chair before a servant could scurry forward to pull it out for her. She gave Edward and Emmett a quick curtsy and hurried from the room, her hoops swaying awkwardly around her legs. She had not yet learned the proper gait of tiny steps to keep her skirts from swinging like a bell.

She was so beautiful, he thought, but she was even more beautiful when she was a wild thing, uncaged by the garb of a duchess, unhampered by the layers of etiquette.

"She's pining," Emmett warned.

Edward knew that. He knew she could grieve herself unto death if he did not find a way to make her happy, but what could he do? He could not give her what she needed. He felt trapped by the rigid rules of his social class.

He glanced up at the wall where a tapestry hung. His father, Charles Brandon, had purchased it after he wed Mary Tudor, paying hundreds of pounds to have it imported from Brussels. It featured an image of a unicorn in a circular pen, its neck ringed by a gold collar. It was a metaphor for marriage - the pure, unmastered creature now tamed and imprisoned. The unicorn lay on the grass, its legs folded beneath it, its head tucked down in apparent contentment ... but was it resignation? Was there a hint of sorrow in its eyes Edward had never noticed before? Was the unicorn truly tamed, or was it merely submissive because it had no choice?

Edward woke. There was always that moment of disorientation as he looked around at his plain, simple surroundings after the lush environment of his dreams. He saw Bella standing in front of the mirror, dressed in her laced bodice and petticoats, having not yet donned her sleeves or skirts. She held a few hairpins between her lips, and her hands were full of dark brown braids. She twisted them up onto the crown of her head and used the straight pins to secure them in place. She noticed him watching and gave him a tight-lipped smile around the pins.

"When we were in the woods, you said you loved me," he said.

She had just inserted another pin. She paused for a moment with her hands arced above her head, white doves frozen in motion. She lowered them and turned to him as she put the spare pins on the table. "I do." There was no hesitation in her voice or in the warmth of her eyes.

Did the answering feeling swelling in his heart mean he loved her too? He wasn't certain, but he knew he was hovering on the edge of something, a feeling so great he couldn't help but fear it a little. It seemed overwhelming, all-encompassing, as deep and wide as the ocean itself.

He slipped from the bed and walked over to her, looking down into her eyes - those deep, dark, limpid pools. He felt like he could get lost in their depths - get lost and find everything all at once.

He reached up to cup her face. He bent down and brushed her soft, sweet lips with his own, cherishing the tiny touch. How was it this magnificent creature had given him her heart? What had he done to deserve such a benediction?

He was about to ask when Emmett bellowed from his cradle. He released her with a little sigh. The day was waiting for their attention. There were still questions he ached to ask, but they were questions that deserved time to answer.

He scooped his little brother out of the cradle and Emmett snuggled happily against his chest. Edward kissed the top of his head. He was spoiling the boy, he knew. His people believed children needed stern discipline to keep them on the Godly path, but Edward loved Emmett's sweet, cheerful spirit and hated to break that with harshness.

Bella took him. She was working on chamberpot training with him, and he heard a sigh that said Emmett still hadn't quite mastered the art. He said a prayer of thanks to God for wives and their infinite patience in that regard.

Downstairs, Alice was subdued as she cooked breakfast. She answered their greeting in monotone, and her "Amen" after the morning prayer was inaudible. Bella tried to prod her into conversation, but Alice seemed to have retreated behind a wall of silence. Edward had seen her do it after their mother died, and he felt the same helplessness. Alice put the last of the dishes on the table and settled down into her chair. She was as wan as Bella had been in his dream. Unhappiness hung over her like an invisible cloud, and she only poked at her food with her knife.

Edward watched closely as Bella fed Emmett and Rose, and he noticed something in light of having witnessed Bella's communication with Jacob. She seemed to have the same connection with the children. She touched their hands and seemed to know what they wanted, refilling their cups or wiping their mouths. Once she even laughed softly. She saw Edward watching and froze for an instant and then gave him a little, hopeful smile. Edward replied with a small nod, and he saw her exhale slowly and the tension leave her muscles.

Acceptance could be a gift.

~.~


Throughout the meal, Bella questioned her decision to pretend as though everything was as normal. She had thought forcing Alice back into her regular routine and prodding her into conversation would help push her into realizing the world hadn't ended, and things would return to the way they had been once the gossip had died down. Now, she wasn't so sure of the wisdom of it. Alice looked awful.

Bella was familiar with this sad sickness of the soul. In selkies, it was called pining, and their anguish could cause them to Fade, to wither away until the shining light of life itself was extinguished. Human beings could fall into a similar dark, drugging pit of sorrow, so deep they were unable to claw their way back out. In those cases, the spirit and soul died long before the flesh. Bella knew of some herbs that could sometimes help humans, but she didn't think they would be effective in Alice's case. What she had to concentrate on was making Alice's situation better.

They finished eating and dispersed to finish getting ready. While Alice dressed, Bella put stockings on each of the squirming babies, tying the garters around their thighs as Edward tried to distract them into lying still. Then, they had to have their little cloth slippers tied in place.

Edward examined the shoes critically. "These are in such poor shape, it's doubtful we can use them again for our own children."

Bella held her breath for a moment, because they had not yet discussed having babies of their own, but Edward did not seem to notice, as he was examining the rest of the children's clothing to see it it was suitable enough to be worn in public.

That morning, they were all gathering for Tisquantum's funeral. He had died the morning after he began bleeding from the nose. Bradford had announced it solemnly to the gathered men of the colony. His death was a great loss to their community, because they had lost their interpreter and peace broker. No one knew what would happen now that they didn't have him to negotiate peace and trade deals.

Governor Bradford said Tisquantum had asked for a Christian burial so he could spend eternity with the Christian God. Though he'd made no will, Bradford said Tisquantum had verbally directed that his worldly goods to be given to his English friends, instead of buried with him as was the custom of his ancestors. When Edward had told Bella about it, she had asked if any of the Wôpanâak had been invited to the funeral, and Edward could only shake his head and say that it hadn't been mentioned. Bella doubted any of them would want to come in the wake of what had happened at Samsuot's village, but Bella thought it was sad that none of his own people would be there to see Tisquantum off on his final journey.

Alice had tried to refuse to go, but Bella insisted she should. "Hiding in the house implies you have reason to be ashamed, Alice, and that's not true."

Alice paled a little, but when Edward agreed with Bella, she obeyed her brother's decision. They all wore their proper funeral black. It was now November, and the hot weather had finally broken into cool winds. They donned their cloaks, and had to hold onto their hats as they were buffeted by the wind outside. Alice carried Emmett, which Bella thought was more for Alice's benefit. She could pretend to be tending the baby and not notice the stares. Bella carried Rose, who was fascinated with the jet mourning necklace Bella wore, plucking at the shiny black beads. Their cloaks fluttered behind them as they hurried up the leaf-strewn street toward the small cemetery beside the Meeting House on the hill.

It was the saddest place in Plimouth, dotted with the graves of the colonists who had died in that first terrible winter. Edward's mother was interred here, as well as Esme's first husband. Their graves were marked with wooden planks, carved only with the names of those who rested below. Some of the planks were already beginning to weather away, showing no signs of being replaced. Bella thought of the elaborate monuments of the English nobility, effigies and words carved in marble, meant to keep their memory for eternity. The teachings of these people regarding humility extended even to their mortal remains. To dust they would return, along with their humble markers.

A coffin had been constructed, a simple tapered wood box, which was brought from Bradford's house and laid on a cloth-covered catafalque. The bearers, Standish's men, stepped away, and there were a few surprised looks at their bare hands.

As a Duchess, Bella had been expected to provide entire outfits for all of the mourners at family funerals, each made in material according to the wearer's status. The Pilgrims just gave pairs of gloves, but Tisquntum had no family to order them on his behalf. Bradford's wife, at least, was giving the funeral feast afterward, since Tisquantum had no family to provide it. The gloves could be forgiven, but there had to be a meal after the funeral, and since Bradford was the chief beneficiary of Tisquantum's estate, it should be his household that hosted it.

The townspeople all gathered around the open grave and coffin, the people pressing close so they could hear the sermon, whisper a few words to a friend or exchange smiles. But around Alice, there was a gap, a few feet of space in which no one would stand, as though her shame was contagious. Bella and Esme stood at her side, heads held high, but Alice stared at the ground, or tended Emmett, as though he were fussy.

One of the elders, William Brewster, stepped forward to greet the crowd, a book of scripture in his hands. He began the sermon, a long-winded affair, warning the gathered mourners about the sudden onset of death, which could come at any time for any one of them. "How can we be know how soon, or how suddenly we may be overtaken? Some of us drop away daily, some young some old, some lie sick longer, and how soon it will be our turn we cannot tell."

He spoke to the children in particular and told them to make note of the graves as short as they were and know they might not live to adulthood, themselves. Every person needed to have their soul prepared to die at any moment, because life was short and uncertain.

The service seemed endless. The leaves drifted up around the hems of the women's skirts as they stood there, waiting for the final prayer.

Bella heard a whisper to her left, and then a sly, stifled giggle. Beside her, Alice stiffened and her cheeks suffused with color. Her eyes drifted to the path as though she were thinking of bolting.

"Hold your head up high, Alice," Bella whispered. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing. They are the ones who should be ashamed."

She slipped her arm around Alice's waist and glared around at the women surrounding them, but no one would meet Bella's eyes.

Finally, Brewster began praying. As soon as the "Amens" were spoken, Alice's head snapped up and she hurried over to where Edward stood with the men. "Can we go home, please?"

His eyes were full of pity. "If you wish, yes."

"Thank you, brother."

They headed down the hill, past a knot of giggling girls headed in the opposite direction. A fragment of a whisper drifted back to them, carried on the crisp wind. "... pregnant ... And she has no idea who the father is because there were so many ..."

Edward froze in his tracks and Bella saw his face harden. He whirled around and marched up to the group of young girls and they stumbled to a halt, their expressions aghast.

"Which of you just spoke?" Edward demanded.

None of them answered. Their eyes were wide with terror and shock. They hadn't expected to be confronted, of course. Men usually ignored the gossip of girls, and most women would feel bound by etiquette not to interrupt another conversation.

"Which of you spoke?" Edward snapped.

"I did, Master Masen," one of them replied. It was Lauren Mallory, daughter of the local chandler. It was the first time Edward had ever spoke to her directly, and the first time he'd ever paid much attention to her. She couldn't have been more than fourteen, her face blotched with acne. Her blue eyes were as large and round as a doll's, and they darted back and forth as though looking for an escape or an excuse, but there was none to be found. Only the enraged man standing in front of her.

"I expect you to confess to the sin of gossip before the congregation on Sunday," Edward said.

" 'Twasn't gossip!" another of the girls protested. "Mistress Brewster asked that we pray for Alice and I - "

Edward rounded on her, his green eyes as hot as molten glass. "Did Mistress Brewster tell you that lie about Alice being pregnant?"

The girls were silent again.

"Did she?" Edward's voice was almost a shout, and people heading into the Governor's house were pausing to look around at the spectacle.

"Edward." Bella took his arm.

"You were gossiping," Edward told them, "and you should confess the fault before the congregation, or I will accuse you of it to the elders."

"Edward, don't," Alice said, after he marched away from them and took his sister's arm to escort her home. "They ... 'Twill just make it worse."

"I won't see my own sister slandered," Edward muttered. They approached the front door. "Bella, you stay with Alice, please. I'm going to -"

"Alice."

It was Jasper. He stood there, in the street, turning his hat in his hands. His mouth worked as though he were chewing his words over.

All of them gaped at him for a moment. Bella was the first to recover. She took Edward's arm to coax him indoors, and give the couple a moment of privacy to speak, but Alice took charge. She plucked the wrought iron door key out of Bella's hand and used it to open the front door. She walked inside and stood there, pointedly staring at her brother and sister-in-law until they came inside. They stepped over the threshold and Alice shut the door in Jasper's face.

Alice was pale, but stoic. "You said you wanted Bella to stay with me?" she said to Edward, as though the meeting in the street hadn't happened.

"I ... uh ... yes," Edward said. "I thought I would go to the funeral feast ... If you'll be ... That is, if you're ..."

"All is well," Alice told him. She even gave him a small smile. "Go and enjoy your afternoon, brother."

"I'm not sure how much I'll enjoy it, but I thought it prudent."

"Go," Alice said. "We are right as an adamant."

Edward hesitated, and Bella added her own assurances. "Yes, go on, Edward. Alice and I will take care of each other."

He kissed Bella on the cheek and Alice on the forehead before ruffling Emmett's hair and giving Rose a quick hug.

"I don't suppose he'll want supper when he returns," Alice said after the door clicked behind him. "I'll make a small meal for us and - "

"You don't have to pretend with me," Bella said.

Alice turned to her and began to untie her bonnet. "I'm not pretending. I feel better, actually. When I saw Jasper, something became clear to me that I hadn't understood before. I'm still not certain of it. I feel I need to pray about it, but I think I am seeing things more clearly."

"That is good," Bella said cautiously. "If you need time to pray, I'll prepare our supper."

Alice smiled at her as she hung up her bonnet. "Thank you. I'll accept your offer. I think I understand now why I've been feeling so bad. Part of it, Bella, is my own guilt."

"What guilt, Alice? You didn't -"

Alice waved a hand. "Not that. It's ... it's that I know if this had happened to someone else, I might be one of those whispering girls, smug in my own righteousness, and shunning a 'fallen' woman in our midst. I'm ashamed it took something like this for me to see it - to see how blind and cruel and judgemental I was. God is punishing me, Bella."

"If He's punishing you, he should punish those tittering little wenches, as well."

Alice shook her head. "That is between them and God. I need to consider the state of my own soul. I spent far too much time worrying about whether other people should be punished for their sins and not enough time worrying about my own faults. Maybe 'punishing' isn't the right word ... God is teaching me, Bella. And I'm listening."

With that, Alice gave Bella a quick hug and trotted up the stairs to her room.

~.~


Edward accepted a plate from Mistress Bradford and a mug of beer. He settled down on a bench near the men to listen. Carlisle was among them, and after greeting his son, fell back into the discussion. They were talking about the results of Myles Standish's attack on Samsuot's village, and they were surprised there hadn't been any retaliation. In fact, things had been very quiet. No Natives had come to Plimouth to trade, and none of the scout groups reported encountering them in the woods near the colony. Perhaps, they opined, Standish had managed to get the message across, and the Wôpanâak were going to submit to the English dominance of the area. Edward was so intent on listening to the conversation that he spilt a little of his beer in surprise when a voice spoke immediately to his left.

"Might I speak a word with you, Edward?" Governor Bradford asked.

Edward tried not to show his surprise. "Certainly." He looked up to catch Carlisle's eye, and his father nodded in approval. His son, talking to the head of the colony one-on-one. Carlisle was probably proud of the fact.

Edward set down his plate on table and followed Bradford outside into his large yard. The garden had been harvested of anything useful, and was covered with a winter bedding of straw and manure. The pigs were ensconced in the barn, being fattened on table scraps for butchering. Only the goats still roamed the yard, searching the leftover vegetation for anything tasty.

Edward and the Governor strolled to the far reaches of the yard, by the fence, before Bradford spoke again. Whatever this conversation was about, he apparently wanted privacy for it.

"I want to be frank with you, Edward. May I?"

"Of course, Governor." Edward took a sip of his beer before he copied the Governor's casual pose and leaned down to brace his elbows on the top rail.

" 'Tis only because I want the best for you, son. I was hoping your father might have this conversation with you, but ..." Bradford waved a hand. Edward's interest was piqued.

"Of late your wife has begun to acquire a somewhat ... unpleasant reputation."

"Bella?" Edward was taken aback.

"Of course, Bella. Have you another wife?" Bradford's eyes twinkled for a moment before he became serious once more. "Bella has been seen several times speaking boldly before the men. And then there was the ... situation with the savages. People have begun to talk, Edward."

The Governor put a hand on Edward's shoulder. "You are a man of property and position now, Edward. A man of standing, who may become one of our elders in the coming years. With the proper mentors and tutelage, it could almost be assured. It would be a shame to see that opportunity destroyed."

An elder? Edward's head swam. He never imagined it as even a remote possibility he could be considered for such a thing. For all their egalitarian principles, there was a strong element of classism in their church hierarchy. Edward had been a working man's son with only a basic education, and now Bradford was practically offering him the vaunted position.

"What are you suggesting I do?"

"You must needs speak to your wife. Everyone knows she comes from a place of loose morals and lax standards, and so people have been lenient with her while she learns our ways. But she must apply herself to obedience. And that may mean you need to exercise your husbandly authority over her. I am not suggesting you strike her, of course, but use a firm hand to guide her in the paths of righteousness."

Edward hid his reaction by taking a swig of his beer. Use a "firm hand" with Bella? He might be able to talk her into behaving a certain way in public to make their lives easier, but he was well aware at this point that any "husbandly authority" he had over her was merely Bella humoring him.

"And I suggest that you send your sister away."

Edward dropped his mug. The beer sloshed across the grass. He bent to pick it up and set it on the fence post. "But why should I send Alice away?"

"She does not improve the reputation of your home."

Edward had to fight back a surge of temper, the same anger that had made him rebuke those girls today."Alice has done nothing unseemly." He took care to keep his voice even.

"If you want to be an elder, Edward, all beneath your roof must be beyond reproach. A man who cannot keep his own household in order cannot lead our community. Marry her off or send her to another colony. There are men who would take her despite her sullied state."

"My sister is a virgin." This time Edward could not keep the anger out of his voice. But Bradford was unaffected.

"That may be, but her a woman's honor is her reputation, and her reputation determines her value."

As much as Edward hated to admit it, Bradford was right about that. It was why Jasper had broken his betrothal to Alice. He forced himself to take a deep breath and think along practical lines. "Who has offered?"

Bradford recited a few names.

Edward grimaced. Standish's men. Rough soldiers and guards, men without property or prospects. "Varlets! Most of them do not even belong to the church!"

"Nor did your wife, before you wed her," Bradford reminded him. "They will make their profession ..."

Alice's reputation might be bruised, but she was the sister of a wealthy man now, not a tavern wench or indentured servant girl. "I'll not marry Alice to any of them."

Bradford shrugged. "But you are not the ultimate authority in that matter. Perhaps her father will. If the price is right."

Edward felt like he'd been punched by an icy fist. "Pray, do not do this. Have you spoken to Jasper?" Perhaps, if the Governor himself spoke to him, Jasper could be made to see reason.

"Jasper is a wise young man, and he is respected in this community. He is a hard worker and a Godly man who has been saving his money to buy property of his own. I feel he would be better matched with some other young lady. One who can help his prospects instead of hinder them. Perhaps the Mallory girl. She's a bit young, but in a couple of years ..."

Suddenly, young Lauren Mallory's malice toward his sister made sense.

Edward must have looked as stricken as he felt because Bradford's expression softened and he patted Edward's upper arm. "Pray on these things, son. God will show you the path you need to travel. Not only for the benefit of your own family, but for the benefit of the community. You have been greatly blessed by the Lord for Him to have brought you this wealth and position at such a young age. You must take care to be guided by Him in all things and eschew the worldly ways that will tempt you." He paused for a moment, as though weighing his words. "Pray on it, son. Do not cast away the opportunities before you."

~.~


Bella couldn't sleep. The yearning for the sea burned within her. Her skin felt as dry as paper. She needed the touch of her element like she needed breath, to nourish and restore her.

She slid from the bed and Edward's eyes opened. He slept lightly these days.

"I need to go out," Bella said. Would he understand? She felt her nails dig into her palms.

Edward sat up. "May I go with you?"

Bella hesitated just an instant. She had wanted to change into her selkie form, to feel that shiver of magic along her skin as the transformation took over, to dive, roll and play with the fishes, but he certainly wasn't ready to see that. She would have to visit the sea in her human form, but even that would be restorative. She held out her hand to him. "Come."

They both dressed simply, Edward in just his breeches and shirt, and Bella in a work dress pulled on over her shift. Her hair hung down her back in a braided rope.

They slipped from the house, as silent as thieves and headed for the palisade wall. Bella beckoned Edward to wait when she heard a guard passing by. She listened for a few minutes until she was sure he was gone, and then vaulted over the side, darting quickly to the treeline to retrieve the ladder she'd forgotten she'd hidden there the night she and Edward had gone to get Alice. She didn't need it, after all, and so had left it under its cover of leaves. Bella slid it down over the side of the fence and Edward climbed it, dropping down beside her with a heavy thump. They darted into the trees.

"I can't believe I just saw you jump the fence," he said, his voice full of wonder, but thankfully, not fear or hostility. "What else can you do?"

She smiled. "You will see in due time, I suppose."

He followed her through the forest again, alive with shadows and the sounds of crickets. They ended up on the same little stretch of beach where she had led him the previous time they had traveled through these woods. Here, he could see the outline of Plimouth on the dark horizon.

Bella unlaced her gown and it fell in a dark pool at her feet. She untied the ribbon from the end of her braid and shook her hair free to spill down her back.

"Have you ever swam before, Edward?"

He shook his head.

She gave him a small smile and walked into the water, her graceful form disappearing below the waterline until it was up to her chest, and then her long, slender arms sliced through it to pull her forward through the small waves. She cast a glance over her shoulder and dove into it, disappearing completely below the surface. Edward ran to the water's edge as panic took him, but she reappeared a few moments later.

He watched her, mesmerised, as she played within the silvery depths. Eventually, he sat down on the gown laid out on the sand as he watched. The moon tracked slowly across the sky and the brilliant dome of stars turned overhead. He had never really noticed the beauty of the night. It had always seemed vaguely threatening to him, but now he could appreciate its silver silence and velvet shadows.

Bella strode out of the water, the chemise clinging to her skin. She wrung it out and came over to sit by him n the sand. "I'll wait until I dry before I dress," she said.

"You are not cold?" The air seemed a little chilly to him. He imagined the dark seawater to be much colder.

Bella shook her head. "I'm right as an adamant," she said, repeating Alice's earlier statement.

"You ... need this, don't you?" A fragment of a memory seemed to tug at his mind, something he couldn't quite grasp. He recalled that dream he'd had about Bella pining and miserable. This is what she needed to stay healthy and happy - the sea.

"I do." She smiled at him. "You're welcome to join me."

"Maybe someday."

She drew a symbol in the sand beside him, a symbol that he didn't recognize, but for some reason felt he should. But that wasn't important. Not as important as the question he wanted to explore further, the one he had asked her this morning.

"You said that you loved me."

Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight, shining like dark stars. "I do. I always have. I always will. It seems I've loved you for a thousand years, and I'll love you for a thousand more."

He thought about those dreams he'd been having, far more sharp and detailed than any other dream he'd ever had.

"Bella, you said these dreams were actually memories. Are you saying ...? Were we ... together ... before?"

"Yes." It was a word he knew she would say, but one he couldn't accept. His mind, shaped and conditioned by his culture, felt like it had to reject something so contrary to fundamental doctrine.

"How can this be?"

Bella's words were simple, impossible. "You came back to me. I searched until I found you."

"I don't understand." How could he have had another life? Since childhood, he had been taught that when someone died, their soul went to heaven and dwelt there for eternity. What Bella was suggesting contradicted everything he'd ever been taught. "That cannot be. What you're saying ... It's blasphemous."

"That may be, but it remains the truth. You know it to be true."

Edward shook his head. "These dreams ..."

"Memories."

Had he really been there? He was afraid to close his eyes lest he see flashes of another life again, a life that felt as real as his own.

It couldn't be, his rational mind tried to insist. It might be as the Elders had warned: fantastical visions implanted by Satan because he had left his mind vulnerable to outside influences.

"You won't remember everything," Bella said, tracing another pattern on the sand. "That's not the way the mind works. But some of it, yes, you'll remember. You may remember more when you stop struggling against the truth."

"I can't ..." he said, and he didn't really know what he was trying to say.

"I know how hard it is for you to accept, and I'm sorry about that. I wish there was some way I could make it easier for you, but your mind remembers as you are ready for it. It's your own mind's way of protecting you from it, I suppose."

"Were you ...? Did you ... come back, too?"

"No. I am as I always was."

A bolt of cold shock shot through him. "What are you?" he whispered, half-afraid of the answer.

"I am your wife." Her dark eyes flicked up to meet his own and it was like another bolt had shot through him, but this one was warm, intense, giving him that heart-swelling feeling he could not name. "I am the other half of your soul."

"Bella?"

Edward jumped at the sound of the other voice, scrambling instinctively to shield Bella with his own body from whatever danger had just arrived.

Jacob stood by the treeline. Even at this distance, Edward could see that something was very wrong. Jacob looked defeated. His shoulders slumped and his eyes were hollow.

Bella picked up the dress from the sand and slipped it over her head. She went over to Jacob and clasped his hand for a long moment.

Whatever he told her made Bella slowly sink down to sit on a fallen log. It hurt Edward's heart to see her assume the same defeated posture Jacob had.

~.~


"We're leaving," Jacob said. Bella saw images of his people disassembling their wetus and storing their belongings in hide packs. He saw the face of Jacob's wife, weeping, and the confusion of his children.

"Leaving?"

"My people, my village. Many villages have made the same decision. It is not safe for our families here. We are going west - inland - away from the English, where we may live in peace."

She couldn't argue with him. The fragile truce could break down at any moment from a misunderstanding or aggression, even more so now that Tisquantum wasn't there to interpret. It wasn't just the warriors sent out to negotiate or fight who were at risk ... it was their homes, their children.

"Will I see you again, my friend?"

"Perhaps. I cannot say what fate holds in store for us. I wish to thank you for all you have done to try to keep peace between our peoples."

"I have done little."

"You have been a good friend to us, Sea Woman." Jacob opened the pouch he carried at his waist and withdrew a tiny carving, a little wolf, its head thrown back as though in mid-howl. He laid it in her hand.

Bella smiled. "Thank you. I will cherish it." She held it against her heart so he would understand her words.

Jacob nodded. He turned and headed back through the woods, but as he went, something extraordinary happened. Between one tree and the next, there was something like a silent explosion, and when Jacob looked back at her, he was no longer the man she had visited with. He was a wolf, a massive creature taller than she, as large as a horse, but far more broad.

"Oh my God," Edward breathed behind her.

~.~

..


Notes:

- A "sewer" was a servant who poured wine.

- Tisquantum probably died from something like typhus. Despite the issues he may have caused, there's no direct evidence he was poisoned. Bradford said he died of "Indian fever" and that his illness was something familiar enough to the Natives that they knew the bleeding nose was a sign of impending death. He was buried in an unmarked grave which is lost today. Three locations have been proposed as the site, but unless his remains are discovered, it will remain a mystery.

- Jet mourning necklace. Jet, being black, was one of the few pieces of jewelry appropriate for funerals. There were also rings made of jet and black enamel that were appropriate called memento mori rings. Wealthier people sometimes had them made and distributed to the mourners.

- Gloves were popularly distributed to mourners at funerals up to the Victorian era. When one of the later Pilgrim elders died, he had three thousand pairs he had collected from attending funerals over his lifetime.

- Wooden tombstones ... The people of that era were used to a commoner's graves being treated with less permanence than we expect today. In many European cemeteries, graves were rented, not owned, and unless a family paid to keep it undisturbed, the remains would be dug up so the grave could be used by someone else. They also expected the Resurrection would occur soon, and so they didn't expect their grave site to need to be marked for hundreds of years in the future. The stones that exist now on Burial Hill for the Pilgrim leaders were erected there much later, in their memory. Bradford's stone was erected in the 1830s but it's not absolutely certain that it's on the site of his grave. The oldest original stones date from the 1680s, about 60 years after this story is set.

- The funeral sermon is a quote from Daniel Featley's (1660) Threnoikos, or The House of Mourning Furnished.

- "Right as an adamant," is an expression that means something like "right as rain." Its first recorded use is by Chaucer in "Romance of the Rose."