I took mythology a lot more seriously since I’d become a vampire.
Often, when I looked back over my first three months as an immortal, I imagined how the thread of my life might look in the Fates’ loom—who knew but that it actually existed? I was sure my thread must have changed color; I thought it had probably started out as a nice beige, something supportive and non-confrontational, something that would look good in the background. Now it felt like it must be bright crimson, or maybe glistening gold.
The tapestry of family and friends that wove together around me was a beautiful, glowing thing, full of their bright, complementary colors.
I was surprised by some of the threads I got to include in my life. The werewolves, with their deep, woodsy colors, were not something I’d expected; Jacob, of course, and Seth, too. But my old friends Quil and Embry became part of the fabric as they joined Jacob’s pack, and even Sam and Emily were cordial. The tensions between our families eased, mostly due to Renesmee. She was easy to love.
Sue and Leah Clearwater were interlaced into our life, too—two more I had not anticipated.
Sue seemed to have taken it on herself to smooth Charlie’s transition into the world of make-believe. She came with him to the Cullens’ most days, though she never seemed truly comfortable here the way her son and most of Jake’s pack did. She did not speak often; she just hovered protectively near Charlie. She was always the first person he looked to when Renesmee did something disturbingly advanced—which was often. In answer, Sue would eye Seth meaningfully as if to say, Yeah, tell me about it .
Leah was even less comfortable than Sue and was the only part of our recently extended family who was openly hostile to the merger. However, she and Jacob had a new camaraderie that kept her close to us all. I asked him about it once—hesitantly; I didn’t want to pry, but the relationship was so different from the way it used to be that it made me curious. He shrugged and told me it was a pack thing. She was his second-in-command now, his “beta,” as I’d called it once long ago.
“I figured as long as I was going to do this Alpha thing for real,” Jacob explained, “I’d better nail down the formalities.”
The new responsibility made Leah feel the need to check in with him often, and since he was always with Renesmee…
Leah was not happy to be near us, but she was the exception. Happiness was the main component in my life now, the dominant pattern in the tapestry. So much so that my relationship with Jasper was now much closer than I’d ever dreamed it would be.
At first I was really annoyed, though.
“Yeesh!” I complained to Edward one night after we’d put Renesmee in her wrought-iron crib. “If I haven’t killed Charlie or Sue yet, it’s probably not going to happen. I wish Jasper would stop hovering all the time!”
“No one doubts you, Bella, not in the slightest,” he assured me. “You know how Jasper is—he can’t resist a good emotional climate. You’re so happy all the time, love, he gravitates toward you without thinking.”
And then Edward hugged me tightly, because nothing pleased him more than my overwhelming ecstasy in this new life.
And I was euphoric the vast majority of the time. The days were not long enough for me to get my fill of adoring my daughter; the nights did not have enough hours to satisfy my need for Edward.
There was a flipside to the joy, though. If you turned the fabric of our lives over, I imagined the design on the backside would be woven in the bleak grays of doubt and fear.
Renesmee spoke her first word when she was exactly one week old. The word was Momma, which would have made my day, except that I was so frightened by her progress I could barely force my frozen face to smile back at her. It didn’t help that she continued from her first word to her first sentence in the same breath. “Momma, where is Grandpa?” she’d asked in a clear, high soprano, only bothering to speak aloud because I was across the room from her. She’d already asked Rosalie, using her normal (or seriously abnormal, from another point of view) means of communication. Rosalie hadn’t known the answer, so Renesmee had turned to me.
When she walked for the first time, fewer than three weeks later, it was similar. She’d simply stared at Alice for a long moment, watching intently as her aunt arranged bouquets in the vases scattered around the room, dancing back and forth across the floor with her arms full of flowers. Renesmee got to her feet, not in the least bit shaky, and crossed the floor almost as gracefully.
Jacob had burst into applause, because that was clearly the response Renesmee wanted. The way he was tied to her made his own reactions secondary; his first reflex was always to give Renesmee whatever she needed. But our eyes met, and I saw all the panic in mine echoed in his. I made my hands clap together, too, trying to hide my fear from her. Edward applauded quietly at my side, and we didn’t need to speak our thoughts to know they were the same.
Edward and Carlisle threw themselves into research, looking for any answers, anything to expect. There was very little to be found, and none of it verifiable.
Alice and Rosalie usually began our day with a fashion show. Renesmee never wore the same clothes twice, partly because she outgrew her clothes almost immediately and partly because Alice and Rosalie were trying to create a baby album that appeared to span years rather than weeks. They took thousands of pictures, documenting every phase of her accelerated childhood.
At three months, Renesmee could have been a big one-year-old, or a small two-year-old. She wasn’t shaped exactly like a toddler; she was leaner and more graceful, her proportions were more even, like an adult’s. Her bronze ringlets hung to her waist; I couldn’t bear to cut them, even if Alice would have allowed it. Renesmee could speak with flawless grammar and articulation, but she rarely bothered, preferring to simply show people what she wanted. She could not only walk but run and dance. She could even read.
I’d been reading Tennyson to her one night, because the flow and rhythm of his poetry seemed restful. (I had to search constantly for new material; Renesmee didn’t like repetition in her bedtime stories as other children supposedly did, and she had no patience for picture books.) She reached up to touch my cheek, the image in her mind one of us, only with her holding the book. I gave it to her, smiling.
“ ‘There is sweet music here,’” she read without hesitation, “‘that softer falls than petals from blown roses on the grass, or night-dews on still waters between walls of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass—’ ”
My hand was robotic as I took the book back.
“If you read, how will you fall asleep?” I asked in a voice that had barely escaped shaking.
By Carlisle’s calculations, the growth of her body was gradually slowing; her mind continued to race on ahead. Even if the rate of decrease held steady, she’d still be an adult in no more than four years.
Four years. And an old woman by fifteen.
Just fifteen years of life.
But she was so healthy . Vital, bright, glowing, and happy. Her conspicuous well-being made it easy for me to be happy with her in the moment and leave the future for tomorrow.
Carlisle and Edward discussed our options for the future from every angle in low voices that I tried not to hear. They never had these discussions when Jacob was around, because there was one sure way to halt aging, and that wasn’t something Jacob was likely to be excited about. I wasn’t. Too dangerous! my instincts screamed at me. Jacob and Renesmee seemed alike in so many ways, both half-and-half beings, two things at the same time. And all the werewolf lore insisted that vampire venom was a death sentence rather than a course to immortality. . . .
Carlisle and Edward had exhausted the research they could do from a distance, and now we were preparing to follow old legends at their source. We were going back to Brazil, starting there. The Ticunas had legends about children like Renesmee.… If other children like her had ever existed, perhaps some tale of the life span of half-mortal children still lingered. . . .
The only real question left was exactly when we would go.
I was the holdup. A small part of it was that I wanted to stay near Forks until after the holidays, for Charlie’s sake. But more than that, there was a different journey that I knew had to come first—that was the clear priority. Also, it had to be a solo trip.
This was the only argument that Edward and I had gotten in since I’d become a vampire. The main point of contention was the “solo” part. But the facts were what they were, and my plan was the only one that made rational sense. I had to go see the Volturi, and I had to do it absolutely alone.
Even freed from old nightmares, from any dreams at all, it was impossible to forget the Volturi. Nor did they leave us without reminders.
Until the day that Aro’s present showed up, I didn’t know that Alice had sent a wedding announcement to the Volturi leaders; we’d been far away on Esme’s island when she’d seen a vision of Volturi soldiers—Jane and Alec, the devastatingly powerful twins, among them. Caius was planning to send a hunting party to see if I was still human, against their edict (because I knew about the secret vampire world, I either must join it or be silenced… permanently). So Alice had mailed the announcement, seeing that this would delay them as they deciphered the meaning behind it. But they would come eventually. That was certain.
The present itself was not overtly threatening. Extravagant, yes, almost frightening in that very extravagance. The threat was in the parting line of Aro’s congratulatory note, written in black ink on a square of heavy, plain white paper in Aro’s own hand:
I so look forward to seeing the new Mrs. Cullen in person.
The gift was presented in an ornately carved, ancient wooden box inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl, ornamented with a rainbow of gemstones. Alice said the box itself was a priceless treasure, that it would have outshone just about any piece of jewelry besides the one inside it.
“I always wondered where the crown jewels disappeared to after John of England pawned them in the thirteenth century,” Carlisle said. “I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that the Volturi have their share.”
The necklace was simple—gold woven into a thick rope of a chain, almost scaled, like a smooth snake that would curl close around the throat. One jewel hung suspended from the rope: a white diamond the size of a golf ball.
The unsubtle reminder in Aro’s note interested me more than the jewel. The Volturi needed to see that I was immortal, that the Cullens had been obedient to the Volturi’s orders, and they needed to see this soon . They could not be allowed near Forks. There was only one way to keep our life here safe.
“You’re not going alone,” Edward had insisted through his teeth, his hands clenching into fists.
“They won’t hurt me,” I’d said as soothingly as I could manage, forcing my voice to sound sure. “They have no reason to. I’m a vampire. Case closed.”
“No. Absolutely no.”
“Edward, it’s the only way to protect her.”
And he hadn’t been able to argue with that. My logic was watertight.
Even in the short time I’d known Aro, I’d been able to see that he was a collector—and his most prized treasures were his living pieces. He coveted beauty, talent, and rarity in his immortal followers more than any jewel locked in his vaults. It was unfortunate enough that he’d begun to covet Alice’s and Edward’s abilities. I would give him no more reason to be jealous of Carlisle’s family. Renesmee was beautiful and gifted and unique—she was one of a kind. He could not be allowed to see her, not even through someone’s thoughts.
And I was the only one whose thoughts he could not hear. Of course I would go alone.
Alice did not see any trouble with my trip, but she was worried by the indistinct quality of her visions. She said they were sometimes similarly hazy when there were outside decisions that might conflict but that had not been solidly resolved. This uncertainty made Edward, already hesitant, extremely opposed to what I had to do. He wanted to come with me as far as my connection in London, but I wouldn’t leave Renesmee without both her parents. Carlisle was coming instead. It made both Edward and me a little more relaxed, knowing that Carlisle would be only a few hours away from me.
Alice kept searching for the future, but the things she found were unrelated to what she was looking for. A new trend in the stock market; a possible visit of reconciliation from Irina, though her decision was not firm; a snowstorm that wouldn’t hit for another six weeks; a call from Renée (I was practicing my “rough” voice, and getting better at it every day—to Renée’s knowledge, I was still sick, but mending).
We bought the tickets for Italy the day after Renesmee turned three months. I planned for it to be a very short trip, so I hadn’t told Charlie about it. Jacob knew, and he took Edward’s view on things. However, today the argument was about Brazil. Jacob was determined to come with us.
The three of us, Jacob, Renesmee, and I, were hunting together. The diet of animal blood wasn’t Renesmee’s favorite thing—and that was why Jacob was allowed to come along. Jacob had made it a contest between them, and that made her more willing than anything else.
Renesmee was quite clear on the whole good vs. bad as it applied to hunting humans; she just thought that donated blood made a nice compromise. Human food filled her and it seemed compatible with her system, but she reacted to all varieties of solid food with the same martyred endurance I had once given cauliflower and lima beans. Animal blood was better than that , at least. She had a competitive nature, and the challenge of beating Jacob made her excited to hunt.
“Jacob,” I said, trying to reason with him again while Renesmee danced ahead of us into the long clearing, searching for a scent she liked. “You’ve got obligations here. Seth, Leah—”
He snorted. “I’m not my pack’s nanny. They’ve all got responsibilities in La Push anyway.”
“Sort of like you? Are you officially dropping out of high school, then? If you’re going to keep up with Renesmee, you’re going to have to study a lot harder.”
“It’s just a sabbatical. I’ll get back to school when things… slow down.”
I lost my concentration on my side of the disagreement when he said that, and we both automatically looked at Renesmee. She was staring at the snowflakes fluttering high above her head, melting before they could stick to the yellowed grass in the long arrowhead-shaped meadow that we were standing in. Her ruffled ivory dress was just a shade darker than the snow, and her reddish-brown curls managed to shimmer, though the sun was buried deeply behind the clouds.
As we watched, she crouched for an instant and then sprang fifteen feet up into the air. Her little hands closed around a flake, and she dropped lightly to her feet.
She turned to us with her shocking smile—truly, it wasn’t something you could get used to—and opened her hands to show us the perfectly formed eight-pointed ice star in her palm before it melted.
“Pretty,” Jacob called to her appreciatively. “But I think you’re stalling, Nessie.”
She bounded back to Jacob; he held his arms out at exactly the moment she leaped into them. They had the move perfectly synchronized. She did this when she had something to say. She still preferred not to speak aloud.
Renesmee touched his face, scowling adorably as we all listened to the sound of a small herd of elk moving farther into the wood.
“Suuuure you’re not thirsty, Nessie,” Jacob answered a little sarcastically, but more indulgently than anything else. “You’re just afraid I’ll catch the biggest one again!”
She flipped backward out of Jacob’s arms, landing lightly on her feet, and rolled her eyes—she looked so much like Edward when she did that. Then she darted off toward the trees.
“Got it,” Jacob said when I leaned as if to follow. He yanked his t-shirt off as he charged after her into the forest, already trembling. “It doesn’t count if you cheat,” he called to Renesmee.
I smiled at the leaves they left fluttering behind them, shaking my head. Jacob was more a child than Renesmee sometimes.
I paused, giving my hunters a few minutes’ head start. It would be beyond simple to track them, and Renesmee would love to surprise me with the size of her prey. I smiled again.
The narrow meadow was very still, very empty. The fluttering snow was thinning above me, almost gone. Alice had seen that it wouldn’t stick for many weeks.
Usually Edward and I came together on these hunting trips. But Edward was with Carlisle today, planning the trip to Rio, talking behind Jacob’s back.… I frowned. When I returned, I would take Jacob’s side. He should come with us. He had as big a stake in this as any of us—his entire life was at stake, just like mine.
While my thoughts were lost in the near future, my eyes swept the mountainside routinely, searching for prey, searching for danger. I didn’t think about it; the urge was an automatic thing.
Or perhaps there was a reason for my scanning, some tiny trigger that my razor-sharp senses had caught before I realized it consciously.
As my eyes flitted across the edge of a distant cliff, standing out starkly blue-gray against the green-black forest, a glint of silver—or was it gold?—gripped my attention.
My gaze zeroed in on the color that shouldn’t have been there, so far away in the haze that an eagle wouldn’t have been able to make it out. I stared.
She stared back.
That she was a vampire was obvious. Her skin was marble white, the texture a million times smoother than human skin. Even under the clouds, she glistened ever so slightly. If her skin had not given her away, her stillness would have. Only vampires and statues could be so perfectly motionless.
Her hair was pale, pale blond, almost silver. This was the gleam that had caught my eye. It hung straight as a ruler to a blunt edge at her chin, parted evenly down the center.
She was a stranger to me. I was absolutely certain I’d never seen her before, even as a human. None of the faces in my muddy memory were the same as this one. But I knew her at once from her dark golden eyes.
Irina had decided to come after all.
For one moment I stared at her, and she stared back. I wondered if she would guess immediately who I was as well. I half-raised my hand, about to wave, but her lip twisted the tiniest bit, making her face suddenly hostile.
I heard Renesmee’s cry of victory from the forest, heard Jacob’s echoing howl, and saw Irina’s face jerk reflexively to the sound when it echoed to her a few seconds later. Her gaze cut slightly to the right, and I knew what she was seeing. An enormous russet werewolf, perhaps the very one who had killed her Laurent. How long had she been watching us? Long enough to see our affectionate exchange before, I was sure.
Her face spasmed in pain.
Instinctually, I opened my hands in front of me in an apologetic gesture. She turned back to me, and her lip curled back over her teeth. Her jaw unlocked as she growled.
When the faint sound reached me, she had already turned and disappeared into the forest.
“Crap!” I groaned.
I sprinted into the forest after Renesmee and Jacob, unwilling to have them out of my sight. I didn’t know which direction Irina had taken, or exactly how furious she was right now. Vengeance was a common obsession for vampires, one that was not easy to suppress.
Running at full speed, it only took me two seconds to reach them.
“Mine is bigger,” I heard Renesmee insist as I burst through the thick thornbushes to the small open space where they stood.
Jacob’s ears flattened as he took in my expression; he crouched forward, baring his teeth—his muzzle was streaked with blood from his kill. His eyes raked the forest. I could hear the growl building in his throat.
Renesmee was every bit as alert as Jacob. Abandoning the dead stag at her feet, she leaped into my waiting arms, pressing her curious hands against my cheeks.
“I’m overreacting,” I assured them quickly. “It’s okay, I think. Hold on.”
I pulled out my cell phone and hit the speed dial. Edward answered on the first ring. Jacob and Renesmee listened intently to my side as I filled Edward in.
“Come, bring Carlisle,” I trilled so fast I wondered if Jacob could keep up. “I saw Irina, and she saw me, but then she saw Jacob and she got mad and ran away, I think . She hasn’t shown up here—yet, anyway—but she looked pretty upset so maybe she will. If she doesn’t, you and Carlisle have to go after her and talk to her. I feel so bad.”
“We’ll be there in half a minute,” Edward assured me, and I could hear the whoosh of the wind his running made.
We darted back to the long meadow and then waited silently as Jacob and I listened carefully for the sound of an approach we did not recognize.
When the sound came, though, it was very familiar. And then Edward was at my side, Carlisle a few seconds behind. I was surprised to hear the heavy pad of big paws following behind Carlisle. I supposed I shouldn’t have been shocked. With Renesmee in even a hint of danger, of course Jacob would call in reinforcements.
“She was up on that ridge,” I told them at once, pointing out the spot. If Irina was fleeing, she already had quite a head start. Would she stop and listen to Carlisle? Her expression before made me think not. “Maybe you should call Emmett and Jasper and have them come with you. She looked… really upset. She growled at me.”
“What?” Edward said angrily.
Carlisle put a hand on his arm. “She’s grieving. I’ll go after her.”
“I’m coming with you,” Edward insisted.
They exchanged a long glance—perhaps Carlisle was measuring Edward’s irritation with Irina against his helpfulness as a mind reader. Finally, Carlisle nodded, and they took off to find the trail without calling for Jasper or Emmett.
Jacob huffed impatiently and poked my back with his nose. He must want Renesmee back at the safety of the house, just in case. I agreed with him on that, and we hurried home with Seth and Leah running at our flanks.
Renesmee was complacent in my arms, one hand still resting on my face. Since the hunting trip had been aborted, she would just have to make do with donated blood. Her thoughts were a little smug.