“Swing it higher, Widow-Maker!”
“Dammit, Dark-Sorrow, that’s as far as my reach will go!”
Isabella grunted as she tried to push herself. Her arms were only so long, but she made the effort to go farther.
“There! Much better.”
She gave her mother a twisted grin. “And all I had to do was pull my shoulders from their sockets.”
Esme patted Isabella on the back. “You’re fine. Again?”
“Once more, and then I need to rest.”
At Esme’s nod, Isabella swung her sword in a high arc and sliced cleanly through the straw dummy’s neck. It was taller than any she’d practiced with before, towering over any man she’d known, including her sister’s mate. But their enemies were extremely tall, and she needed to be prepared.
“Very well done. Let’s break for a meal and some rest.”
Isabella waited for Esme to untie her leather armor for her before she walked into the keep. She passed the young household attendants setting the table for the midday meal on the way to her chambers. She pulled off the pieces she’d worn to protect herself during training and draped them over her arm as she walked.
She strode into her bedchamber and found her attendant waiting for her.
“Edward, how do you always get here first? Do you sit here all day waiting for me?”
He kept his head lowered as he responded. “No, princess. I have work.”
“Then you’re just exceptional at what you do.” She handed him her armor and watched while he put it away in its designated chest.
“Thank you, princess.”
“I’d like a bath drawn, but make it quick. I’m starving.”
“Aye, princess.” Edward bowed and left the room through the attendant’s entrance, leaving Isabella to begin the task of unwinding her hair. It was imperative to keep it out of the reach of her opponent when she fought or it could be used against her.
Then again, her opponents never had the opportunity to get that close to her before losing their heads.
Edward and one of the other attendants came in the rear door with a hip bath, followed by others with buckets of steaming water. She wasn’t entirely surprised they were ready for her before she asked.
“Thank you, gentlemen. Edward, I’ll be returning here for a nap after the meal.”
She waited for them to fill the tub and leave, closing the door behind them, before she stripped and sank into the tub.
Everyone gathered for the midday meal. Isabella wasn't late by virtue of the fact the entire citadel must be present before the food could be served. The royal family sat in the middle at a long table and everyone sat around them, including the cook.
Isabella was almost the last to arrive, but she noted a young boy arriving from the kitchens and taking a seat. She was relieved to know they hadn’t all waited on her.
“Isabella, I saw your practice today. You did well.”
She turned to the sister who sat on her left. “Thank you, Alise. It’s been difficult to stretch my abilities.”
“I agree. I’ve set up a dummy taller than any I’ve seen before and aimed for the skull.”
Rosalie snorted. “You both should try a different weapon.”
“I have,” Isabella countered. “I’m best with the longsword. Not everyone can create a blasted mancatcher and act as if it’s a real weapon.”
“Don’t be a cranky bitch, Isabella,” Rosalie retorted mildly. “It’s quite a competent weapon.”
Isabella rolled her eyes. “Where the hell is the food?”
She shot a glare at Rosalie and flexed her fisted hand. “Call me that one more time, sister, and see what happens.”
It only took one sharp word from their mother for the women to fall silent. The kitchen attendants arrived with platters of food and went about setting them on the tables. It felt like eons since she’d eaten, and Isabella was eager for a nap afterward. She hadn’t slept the night before, so maybe she was being a cranky bitch.
The reason she couldn't sleep was somewhere on the other side of the hall; she couldn't even see him from where she sat. She was fully aware she was frustrated. Her sisters were mated, and they each had a gift for magic. She had neither of those things. All she had to comfort her when she was alone at night was the thought of her strength and agility with weaponry.
Rosalie’s mate had saved her from falling into the fire as a young girl, and so Rosalie had been betrothed to Emmett from the time they were thirteen. Alise and Jasper had been ridiculously in love, but Jasper hadn’t proven himself until he was fifteen and one of the warrior's wolves had lunged for Alise’s throat during training. Jasper intervened, earning himself a scar over his eye and the princess for his mate.
Isabella wanted to hate them. Here she was, stuck in her twentieth year in perpetuity without a mate.
She only grew more frustrated as she contemplated the likelihood of something occurring that could move her forward. She was stuck in a holding position and she hated it.
Isabella ate the food placed in front of her and ignored her family. They had things to talk about, issues between a man and a woman, and she didn't want to hear them. She wanted to choose her mate, but he had to prove himself worthy before she could make the offer. What was he meant to do, create a disaster so he could present himself? She was forbidden from telling him how she felt, of giving him advice or suggestions. He had to show his strength and valor organically, but that was ridiculous. Where was the valor in fetching her clothing and her bath water?
“They’re going to make a move,” her father said. Her ears perked up at that.
“Then we’ll have to make a plan,” Esme responded.
“Do you agree this evening should be a good time?”
“Aye, Carlisle. We’re all a bit tired after training.”
Isabella watched as Carlisle leaned over and kissed Esme on the temple.
Her mother had been chieftess for more than a century. She’d fought alongside her own family for decades when others came for the Ember Sword. It wasn't until Rosalie’s birth that Esme had been visited by a nameless stranger who told her of the gifts with which her daughter had been blessed. Rosalie could create charms out of wearable objects to enhance the powers of the sword and keep her loved ones alive for eternity. The women each wore a necklace, and their mates were given a choice during their mating ceremony. Carlisle and Jasper each wore a ring while Emmett wore a leather wrist cuff. Alise envisioned the outcome of prophecies, making her almost as rare and talented as Rosalie. Their talents were secrets shared only with the immediate family.
“I’m finished,” Isabella said to her mother. “War council this evening?”
“Aye, dear. Sleep now.”
With a nod, she left the hall to head to her rooms. They consisted of a bedchamber, a library, and a receiving room. She stopped short when she found Edward sitting in the chair by the back door which led into her bedchamber.
He stood when he saw her and inclined his head. “May I get you anything, princess?”
She propped her hands on her hips. “How did you get here before me? Didn’t you eat lunch?”
“Aye, princess, I did.”
“Would you stop calling me that?” she shouted, throwing her hands in the air.
He raised his brows and answered quietly. “Forgive me, princess, but you know it’s a requirement.”
Isabella sighed and rubbed her temples. “I do know, and I apologize. I need to get some sleep.”
Edward dipped his chin in the direction of her bed. “I changed your bed linens this morning, princess, and your nightdress is also fresh. Your pillows have been fluffed, and I took the liberty of adding a lavender sachet to the pillowcase.”
She stared at him for several moments. “Thank you, Edward. You have an uncanny knack for knowing precisely what I need when I need it.”
He bowed but said nothing.
“That’ll be all for the afternoon. Make sure you eat, please.”
She caught the crooked grin on his face before he turned away. She was fairly positive he skipped meals to be there before she arrived, not to mention her suspicions that he had the younger boys tell him of every move she made. His proficiency was what caused his quick rise through the ranks to senior attendant.
Unfortunately, she slept fitfully. Her dreams were filled with what could be if only it were allowed. She dreamed of a mating ceremony where she was bound to the one she loved for eternity. He would receive a token blessed by Rosalie, given eternal life by the powers of the Ember Sword. They would be happy; blissfully so. There would be a banquet in their honor, and he would trade his cleaning rags for a mace. Isabella would grant him his new warrior title and he would never be forced to leave her side again.
But, there was no prophecy of eternal love for the third daughter of Chieftess Esme and Royal Consort Carlisle.
There was only the battle to come.
Pictures can be found under the tab 'Ember Sword Pictures.'