Bella woke up to loud banging on her door. She tried to ignore them for a while, but they only grew louder.
Soon, a voice followed, "Are you decent?"
Looking at her full cover nightshirt, she murmured an acquiescence and opened the door. Edward stormed into the room, but stopped mid strive when he turned to look at her, "If that is decent, I am looking forward to be acquainted with your indecent outfits, or better yet, not see them at all…"
Bella just noticed that in the light of day, her shirt was a little see-through and her curves were showing. She tried to cover herself by pulling the material closer together, "Is that why you came this early in the morning, to get a glimpse of me? There is nothing you have not laid eyes while you interrupted my bath."
Edward's eyes turned cold, "As much as I would like to watch you all day, I have actually come to announce you there has been a change of plans. We need to leave earlier than planned. Be ready in half an hour, we shall break the fast and then depart. We are taking a different way home."
"What is the reason for this change?"
Edward looked at her once more, hesitated for a moment, then kissed her forehead softly, "Nothing of consequence. Just please be ready."
Bella was tempted to disobey him, but the lingering kiss was gentle and she decided she would play nicely today. She was ready on time, but it was Edward who was being late. When he arrived, he came from outside together with his trusted men.
"What is happening?"
"Nothing, my dear. I appreciate you were ready, let us not waste another moment of your delightful introduction to Roman wars," Edward tried to make light of the situation.
Although Bella did not like it one bit, she decided she will be the better woman and would not provoke him. She followed suit, but as the preceding day, she did not take his hand when he offered to help her into the carriage, choosing instead one of the handymen.
Once settled, she resumed her reading, without so much as a glance in Edward's direction. He sighed, but made no move to interrupt her.
They traveled like that till noon. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Edward was not reading today, rather looking outside as if keeping watch.
"Can you please tell me what is the matter?" Bella could not take the silence any longer, she was not known as a patient person.
"I would rather not alarm you…"
In that moment, several things happened at once: the horses were screaming, the carriage was jostled and the men were barking order outside.
"Bandits," Edward murmured and leaped out, not before adding to Bella, "whatever happens, don't come out! We shall protect you!"
Bella was still for two seconds trying to gasp what had happened, then immediately approached the window. It seemed they were surrounded by a small group of thieves. They didn't seem menacing lest for the advantage of the territory, as they were hiding in the small trees around the road. Edward's men were holding them back and Edward himself was fighting one of them, presumably the leader.
As they were engaged in a close battle of swords, Bella noticed that another man was approaching Edward through the back. With no spare moment to lose, she grabbed Edward's spare sword and emerged from the carriage. Momentarily all the looks were on her, and she took the moment to grab the sword tighter and attack the man who was approaching Edward. Taking him by surprise, the man backpedaled.
The man whom she presumed was the leader of the group started laughing, "You are so cowardly you need a woman to protect you!" As he left out this remark, all hell ensued, and Edward became fearless. He came in front of Bella as to shelter her, and she was fighting him, as the leader of the group continued, "I apologise, I mean no disrespect. We gypsies admire strong-willed women more than courageous men. Please, let us welcome you to our camp, it is not far from here."
Following the leader's invitation, the bandits dropped their weapons. As their targets retreated, all eyes turned on Bella. It took her a while to react, but then she smiled, "What do you say around here? 'No blood, no fool,' right? Please lead the way."
Edward was visibly upset. He didn't like the fact that Bella had taken charge of the situation and even less that they were following the group of gypsies into their camp. But she was right – there had been no injured people (on either side) and the bandits left them armed while they surrounded their weapons, as a sign of good faith. Even so, he dreaded the way the leader seemed to take his cues from Bella.
Edward nonchalantly stepped in the queue and took Bella's hand in his. She was so lost in thought that if she noticed it, she gave no sign.
They were welcome as long-awaited guests, and when he was thinking they could have returned as prisoners, Edward's teeth clenched. He didn't want to lose Bella from his sight, but she had already accepted a drink from the women and was following them into a tent. He tried to go as well, but a man stopped him, "You don't want to go in there, my friend."
"I beg your pardon, I believe I do. That is my fiancée…"
"It is the fortune teller's tent, it is for your woman's ears only."
Edward remained in through, "I will give them five minutes."
In the meantime, Bella seemed to have entered a parallel universe. She was welcome as a queen, but while looking around, it seemed the people around her were the rich ones. With their nomadic style, they seemed to be eternally free, from conventions and from obligations related to social status. She found herself envying them.
"You shouldn't envy us. This lifestyle comes with a price," the woman with a veil covering her face spoke to her. Bella couldn't have guessed her age, but her eyes seemed lively and intelligent. Had she spoken those words aloud?
"It is obvious what you are thinking, what everyone believes of us. We are thieves, and scoundrels, we are nomads and we are free. It is true, we do not abide by many rules, we chose our lifestyle, but it is a hard burden. Let me see what brings you here," and the woman was reaching for Bella's hand. Reluctantly, Bella complied.
"A lady, I see! Do not smirk, I didn't have to read in the past for that, I can see how soft your hands are, not used to manual labour, maybe except from sewing. I see…" her eyes darkened at this. "Do you want to know what is written for you?"
Bella just nodded. She wasn't sure she believed in fortune-telling. Alice was the closest she has come to believe, but even her visions seemed to change given the circumstances and people's own decisions.
"You are with a man… whom you do not love. You have left your heart behind and you are heart-broken now. But be relieved, your heart will be whole again. In fact, you will find true happiness on the path you are now."
Bella scoffed at this. She did not need a fortune-teller to tell her this nonsense. She wanted to retrieve her hand now, but the woman stopped her, "Beware, you are headstrong, and that is your blessing and your curse. It is your appeal, but may also be your doom, thread carefully. I was once like you, my dear, that is why I am giving this advice. You are given a chance now, take advantage of it. The man you are with… he loves you dearly."
Bella's eyes grew wide, but before she could contradict the woman, she took her hand back and in doing so also brought the scarf covering her face. She gasped back as the lower part of the fortune-teller's face was full of burns. Her mouth seemed to smile, but it seemed hideous even so, "I told you, my dear, don't be as stubborn as I have been. All decisions have consequences."
Bella retreated back and wanted to run, but the woman held her back with a last question, "Do you desire children?"
That question held her back. Did she? She had never contemplated it seriously, she was only 16! On the other hand, she was soon to be wed and the question didn't seem so out of place. She shook her head vehemently.
"Very well, please take this potion. I made it myself from herbs and it is safe medicine. Drink three teaspoons after you are taken by your man and you will not bear any children."
Bella left the tent, but hid the bottle well. She joined Edward and his men at the feast given in their honour. Edward was holding her tightly by his side and for once, she was happy for it. As dusk settled, they were accompanied to the main road, and the group of gypsies bode them farewell. Bella saw one of the boys following her barefoot, and grabbing his hand, she handed him one of her rings, "That is for your hospitality."
The trip to the next inn was pretty silent, but everyone seemed weary and alert in the same time. They all sighed in relief when the shelter was in sight.
Edward and Bella got a separate table like the previous night, and the former started, "I'm not happy with how the events unfolded today. Had you stayed in the carriage when I asked you, we would not have been in this situation."
"Had I not intervened, we might have stayed by your bed, or better yet, by your stone."
"Even so, I wish to be more prepared in the future for such attacks and your intervention was a distraction."
"Because I am a woman? Rest assured, I can defend myself…"
"Because I cannot take my eyes off you," and again, his gaze lingered, this time travelling back to her cleavage and then back to her lips that he so wanted to taste.
Bella stood up abruptly, "Let us go to my chambers."
Taken aback, he frowned and took a while to respond, "What for?"
"Is it not obvious? You desire me, and I have given myself to a stable boy before, I do not see why I need to be so virtuous in front of a nobleman. Would you prefer your quarters, or mine?"
The fire in her eyes spoke her determination, and he stood up quickly, "Neither. As tempting as your proposition may be, I have given my word and thus it shall be. I have only complained about the way your intervention was a distraction to me, but then very soon I will have the power to take decisions for you and this subject will be of no concern."
With these parting words, he bid her good night, and retreated to his room. She was left speechless and thinking of what the fortune teller had told her. Now she wished she had asked more about her own story.
The following day past uneventful, and on the eve of their third day, Cullen estate rose in the distance.
A/N: A bit of adventure and we had the contraception talk taken care of... Thank you for your support!