A chance encounter in her local coffee shop brings Bella's life to a grinding halt. Who is this stranger that knows things about her, she had only dreamed of ever finding out? How do they cope when they face a common enemy?
4. Chapter 3: Bedtime Stories
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This was not how she had imagined today going. She had imagined she would get her regular coffee as she always did, walk around her local park, feeding some of the pigeons with the left over of her morning croissant, getting to work by no later than 9 o’clock and return home for a nice dinner and maybe a movie.
Instead she found herself wandering near the harbour, watching seagulls fight over a hidden object in the surface of the water.
She sighed, checking briefly over her shoulder, confirming her stranger had in fact followed her on her walk to the waterfront. He was keeping a safe distance from her, probably to allow her some time to think, and breathe, before he attacked her with more confusing and frankly overwhelming information about a world she had no relation to.
She was looking at everything and nothing when she passed the life surrounding her. People were bustling past her this morning. Many were dressed in clothes suitable for hours behind a desk, some were dressed in workout clothes, taking an early run before the mundane tasks of every day life filled their hours and others were casually strolling around, enjoying the fresh breeze of the sea and the mild August morning.
When she wasn’t focussing on the people walking past her and their purpose for being here with her at this exact time and place on this morning, her mind took her somewhere far, far away. Thoughts like ‘who is he?’ and ‘what was she supposed to do about him? About the book and her mother’s locket?’ filled her mind with varying answers, not one of them fully satisfying her curious mind.
She continued down the harbour, only briefly pausing to remove her shoes and socks when the docks floated into sand. Her toes curled around the small grains of sand and she relinquished in the feeling of letting her thoughts dissolve into the ground crumbling beneath her feet. She almost felt the tension, which had been building in her shoulders since their time in the library, travel past her upper body, down her hips and snaking along her legs before it assembled beneath the soles of her feet in a final attempt to cling to her, before she shook it off and began moving through the sandbanks.
He had been observing her from afar, trying to judge what time would be appropriate for him to lead her back to their conversation. She’d obviously been overwhelmed by something he had told her or something she had read in the book.
Honestly he had been slightly annoyed by the content of the book. He’d been told the book would provide certain answers for her, answers he couldn’t begin to fathom how to answer sufficiently. In other words, he was counting on the book to do the work for him. It just seemed that it didn’t.
She was continuing on ahead, once in a while looking over her shoulder and catching a glimpse of her stranger’s statuesque build, his strides through the sand determined and confident. She felt out of breath whenever she caught sight of him walking in pursuit of her.
About a half a mile down the beach she stopped, breathing heavily. She wasn’t out of shape but the trek through the sand, toppled with her difficulty of catching her breath when she caught a glimpse of Edward, had left her breathless.
She looked at him, inviting him with her eyes to join her when she rather gracelessly dumped her behind into the sand she’d just stepped on.
He had paused when she had, so in tune to her movements, he hadn’t even noticed he had stopped before she reckoned for him to join her. He was carrying the book from the library under one arm, having caught up to her once on her stroll and taken it from her when she seemed to be struggling to carry the extra weight, and wrestling through the last path of heavy sand before he swiftly sat down next to her.
“You okay?” he asked. He had been worried about the cause of her silence. The fact that she’d closed the book on him and stalked out of the library had caught him completely by surprise, and he didn’t see this as a normal trait of hers.
“Honestly?” she questioned, to which he gave a slight nod. “Not really.”
“Why is that?”
“Are you serious? Why do you think that is?” The words fell heatedly from her lips. “I am sitting here, by the water, with a totally stranger, who claims to know of my ‘real life’ – whatever that’s supposed to mean – and have yet to actually give me one simple fact about what this is all about!” she rambled.
He fell silent watching her eyes come alight with something akin to anger, but he couldn’t for certain determine if the emotion was directed at him or created by her frustration given her situation.
“Would you please tell me something? I don’t care what it is, but please – just give me a reason to stay here on this beach with you. Because frankly, I’m two seconds away from leaving your sorry ass behind to dust of the sand beneath us…” she felt the truth to her words, the conviction she felt overwhelming her. Honestly she was scared by the prospect of him not wanting to tell her what she needed to hear – whatever that was – and leading to her having to leave him here.
“Look…” he paused. “I don’t know what to tell you. All I know is, that I was supposed to convince you to read the book,” he briefly gestured to the book he had placed in the space between them when he had sat down, and continued, “and when you read it, wait for you to instruct me on what action to take next.”
She was about to disturb his musings, not satisfied with his explanation, but he held up a hand, slightly wiggling his digits at her.
“I do know I’m supposed to ‘escort’ you back to where I’m from,” he added, curling his hand into a fist and slowly lowering it back into the sand, opening the communication between them once again for her to respond.
She didn’t. She simply stared at him for a long time, finally determining he knew something he was reluctant to share with her. Why exactly, she couldn’t fathom, but oddly enough she settled for his story, in an attempt to placate her own mind.
She picked up the book spreading it in her lap, flapping through the pages until she reached the section where she had interrupted his reading in the library.
“ … ‘I’d hate for you to miss an opportunity you’ve been searching for in the last 3 years.’
‘Of what are you speaking witch?’ The King raised his voice towards the hag, trying to scare her into submission.”
She sighed, fingering the letters on the page while she studied the painting that accompanied the text on the opposite site. It painted a picture of an armour-clad man standing on a path along flowerbeds and vegetables, slightly further down the path stood an old hunchbacked lady, her face sneered in an ugly pout and a crooked finger pointing accusingly towards the man in silver.
“The hag cackled at The King, her rusty and crooked voice filling the space between the two figures. ‘You need me to help you dear child.’ She goaded him.
The King was staring at this unusual creature before him. He had never set his eyes on something quite so ugly in his kingdom, and her appearance scared him. He thought himself to be a fool, feeling foolish feelings of fright over an old lady.
‘What could I – The King – ever need your help with?’ He was a pompous king at times, his self-worth highly exceeding that of others. His compassion lay only with his people and his queen, and the witch before him was definitely not either one of those.
‘Oh you foolish king, one day you’ll soon learn to appreciate the help given to you.’ The old hag looked degradingly at The King, saying the only thing that would make the man before her bow down low into the dirt and worship her at her feet: ‘You wish to save your dear queen – I can help you with that.’
The King jumped into action, bringing his blade forth and pressing it into the old witch’s throat, putting pressure on the weapon while spitting out: ‘You will tell me of what you know about saving The Queen!’
The old hag just cackled even louder than before, seemingly unaffected by the grand man pressing his blade into her life. The King growled at the old lady for finding him humorous when he was dead serious and pressed the weapon tighter against her throat until he drew a slight line of blood along the edge of the blade.
A drop of blood flowed slowly down the centre of the blade, its burgundy colour turning almost purple when it hit the shaft of the sword.”
She was once again reading aloud, not really for his benefit she decided, but more to better understand the words on the paper in front of her. ‘It’s just a fairy tale,’ she thought, very confused and mostly annoyed by how that was supposed to help her understand her fascination by the man sitting next to her and what he meant when he told her, she was from another world.
He was once again studying her. She had stopped reading, simply watching the words on the paper in front of her. The breeze from the water was picking up random strands of her hair, keeping it airborne for a couple of seconds, before releasing the chocolate brown curls to fall haphazardly against the porcelain skin of her forehead or cheek. She would reach out with a short, but very feminine finger, to reposition the misplaced curl and lick her plumb, ruby lips, before she turned to another page and picked up reading anew. She was gorgeous.
“ ‘Speak witch, or watch me bring you to your undoing!” The King was furious.
‘I know of a cure that will save your dear queen… But my help don’t come without a price.’ The old hag spitted into The King’s face, having him retreat slightly from his hold on her being.
As soon as The King stepped a bit away from the old hag, she waved her left hand in a grand gesture. A billow of smoke surrounded the two bodies, The King’s sword disappearing between his fingers. The old hag had gone and in her place stood a beautiful, young lady, her hand outstretched between them.
‘What did you do with the witch?!’ The King was desperate now. He needed to save his queen.
‘Oh, but I am her my king.’ The lady pointed grandly to her own body, and for a split second when she grinned at The King, he saw the semblances to the old hag’s features. ‘But enough with all these games, I’m no longer in the mood for them… You wish to save your queen, yes?’
‘Yes,’ was his strong and determined response.
The hag sneered at him once again, her eyes shining brightly. ‘Well then, listen carefully:’ and then the hag recited an old nursing rhyme The King had heard in his youth.
‘Found thee one love
who is not simply earth
One who is staring
upon a blank new chapter
in another world
in another time.
You will sacrifice
an object of significance
and your love will
The King raged. How was he supposed to interpret a poem, when all he needed was concrete answers of how to save his queen? He ordered the old hag to be imprisoned, held for eternity and longer, until the day she would reveal how he could save his queen.
Upon bringing the old hag down to the cellars of the castle, she screamed furiously towards The King: ‘You imbecile! You should be thanking me, providing me with all my hearts desire and instead you waste your life and your queen’s by imprisoning me. Heed my warnings, my king, you will regret this!’
It was only later in the day, when The King spoke with his daughter and youngest son, Caromin and Carleon, that they brought to his attention that they might have to follow what the poem meant to say to save the queen.
The King was ecstatic, sending word for the kingdom’s best artists. They worked on the poem for a forth night, but by the end of another day, The King had had enough of the missing progress. His queen was caving to the fever, the royal physician not able to delay the inevitable any more.
The King had failed his queen, and had not found the cure to her sickness. A month following The Queen’s passing led The King into various battles with neighbouring kingdoms, and subsequently to his own end.”
“What sort of fairy tale is this?!” She was upset. The poor man had tried everything to help safe the love of his life, and yet they both had to suffer a terrible fate. She had always been a sucker for the happily ever after-part of the fairy tales, and this one was a great disappointment.
“It’s not a fairy tale.”
She startled. She’d completely forgotten about the stranger sitting next to her and she looked at him with big round eyes, searching his for an explanation.
He cleared his throat, slightly taken aback by the look of utter despair displayed in her brown eyes. The pain of losing a loved one shone brightly through all her features, and he marvelled at the all-encompassing feeling of dread that spread through him when she looked into his eyes.
“What do you mean it’s not a fairy tale? Didn’t you just say it was a bedtime story your mother told you?” she asked confused.
“It was a bedtime story my mother used to tell me, yes, but I remember it differently. The King figured out what he had to sacrifice to save The Queen and they lived happily ever after. I fear this is not as much the bedtime story I was told, as it is the story of how our kingdom fell to madness.” He was fingering the picture of The King standing bowed over a headstone in the middle of the bushes and plants too overgrown to see what sort of fruit or flower they possessed of The Queen’s vegetable garden. “The story is very much like what we were told growing up and preparing for various battles. They would always shout: ‘ad reginam’ when we went to war, but we never understood why. Maybe…” he mused, now staring out onto the waves lapping at the edge of the beach, their calming sound sending his thoughts far away to another time and place.
She was looking at him, curious as to where his mind had travelled, and gingerly she placed her hand on top of his, which was still circling the painting of the last page of the book.
She should have been prepared for it, but when her skin once again touched his, her skin came alive with energy and her breath was caught in her throat, until she had to clear it, so she wouldn’t faint. That would be embarrassing. “What does it mean? The part about the land turning into madness-thing?”
“It means just that.” He paused his voice breaking slightly before he continued in a slightly more subdued tone. “I grew up in a world where war and inconsolable differences ruled every day. Our king resembled the one told about in the story, but the pictures don’t resemble him.” He mused with knitted brows.
She studied the picture he was pointing at. It portrayed a man clad in silver armour with coal-black hair and bright, blue eyes. “The king I knew to rule our country had brown hair, almost almond-coloured, and grey eyes. But I heard rumours of a time in our country where love and life roamed free and you needn’t worry every day about your own or your family’s changes of surviving.”
“So you grew up surrounded by war? When did it end?”
“It’s very much still occurring,” he looked pointedly at her, trying to convey some sort of hidden message. She didn’t get it.
“But didn’t you say you used to be a soldier? If a war is still occurring, why aren’t you participating?” She feared his answer to her questions. For some reason she didn’t see him as a coward, who would have fled his family and obligations to avoid the horrifying ramifications of war.
“Well, I am still a soldier…” He was breathing heavily now, slightly offended by what she insinuated. “I were relocated on a different mission than my brothers. Frankly I thought you would have connected the dots by now princess.”
He was goading her! “What’s your deal?!” Her pupils were dilating in anger and her breath was pressing through her lips, the tight squeeze creating a swishing sound. “You’ve explained absolutely nothing to me. And frankly I’m sick and tired of this game of cat and mouse you’ve started. Tell me what your business with me is, or I will-”
“Easy there tiger,” he interrupted her ranting. “Jesus, do you ever breathe? I didn’t honestly mean to offend you, I’m just taken aback by the fact that you’re totally clueless to what this all mean.” He gestured to the book and her locket. “I figured you were informed to some extent. I wasn’t aware I had to explain everything to you, and to be completely honest; I don’t even know half of the story you need to be told. That was what the book was for!” He was exasperated.
“Yeah well, consider me completely clueless then,” she spit out the word clueless, somehow the way he said it caused her stomach to drop into her feet as if all the air had been punched out of her. “And then please do inform me of what you expected me to know, since obviously I don’t!”
“Alright then…” he paused and looked out onto the water, trying to prepare himself for what he was about to tell her and how to do it. “Well as I said, the world I grew up to know were plagued by wars rooting in something that happened a long, long time ago. Most of the people living in our kingdom don’t know of the real reason of why we are at constant war with unseen enemies. We just know of war and destruction and of nothing else.”
A cold breeze lifted the heavy air between them, giving new energy to him as he inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, fully seeing his small village plagued by various warriors travelling through each year to gather the boys that had come of age to travel to war. “My sister, she was a real spitfire – much like yourself princess” he smiled wistfully, and a warm sensation filled her body, making her toes curl slightly in the sand below them. He looked sensational, sitting there in the sand next to her, his head bent backwards so it seemed the back of his scalp rested peacefully on the top of his back, and with a small crooked smile adorning his relaxed expression. If it hadn’t been for him opening his emerald eyes and staring imploringly at her at that moment, she would have thought him to be asleep.
She blushed and caught her breath. “What happened to your sister?”
“I don’t know. I left her there.” Every inch of his being screamed pain at her, and she had a sudden urge to bring him into a tight hug. The kind of hug only a mother could provide her child with when they hurt their knees on the asphalt skating with their friends. She wanted to comfort him.
“She was a couple of years older than me, a maid at the royal palace. She found me one night in the barracks placed outside the castle in a panic, stating I had to leave immediately. I didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye to my parents.” He was remembering the events of the cold night she’d caught him wandering about with his Commanding Officer. “She said I had to be the one to stop the suffering. At first I figured she meant fight in the battles until our country claimed the victory, but she seemed appalled I’d think she would want me to fight in the battles. I mean, I were a soldier for quite some time before she stopped me that night, so honestly that was the only way I knew of to bring the wars to an end.”
“What did she tell you to do then?”
Edward looked at her, his eyes smouldering into her brown ones. “I think I already told you that princess. I’m here to bring you back to our world.”
“But why me?”
A dead silence had followed them as her brain had tried to make sense of what he was telling her.
“I don’t know.” He told her. “She said I had to find the woman who lived in a different world than ours, and bring her back. She said you would know how as soon as I showed you the content of the book.” He pulled a crinkled paper from the back pocket of his jeans, slowly unfolding it with his long and strong fingers.
She was following the vein running from the base of his middle finger, across the dorsum and up his forearm until it disappeared beneath the leather of his jacket.
He had stilled every movement, waiting for her reaction to what was on the paper he held out for her to see. But she seemed to be staring intently the sleeve of his jacket as if it was the enemy and she had to slay it. He grinned and let his imagination run wild with thoughts of why she would look at his jacket with such hate. If he were being honest, he wouldn’t mind stripping the jacket from his body since her stare sent warm tingles through him wherever she looked.
He cleared his throat and motioned for the paper he was still holding out between them when her eyes snapped up to his. A blush adorned the fair skin of her cheeks, traveling past her neck and spreading its rose colour to the top of her chest. He was slightly distracted by how far down the blush might spread, and had a sudden urge to strip her of her jacket to see for himself the extent of the lovely trait of hers.
“What is this?!” she exclaimed rather loudly that made a nearby seagull screech as depart to fly away from whatever brought the outburst with it. He envied that seagull for a short moment, before she roughly pulled the paper from between his fingers. “Who-? Why-?” she stuttered, before taking a deep breath, her stare solely focused on the lines on the paper in front of her. “How did you get this? Did you make it?”
“I didn’t. My sister gave it to me. Told me I had to find the one painted on the paper, and bring her back home. That you would be what we need to end the war going on in our world.”
Looking down at the paper in front of her she was amazed by the artistic beauty of the person in front of her. She knew it was supposed to be her, but in some way the drawing seemed to be a better version of her. Underneath the drawing was scribbled three words that made her breath catch in her throat.
“Filia Reginae Pauones”
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