Chapter 20: Europe
A few hours later, Gianna announced loudly that she was running low on certain food items and needed either permission to take one of the cars or for Edward to bring her to the store. She didn't know I was in the building, apparently. Edward sighed, made himself presentable, and went down to give her a set of keys. While he supplied directions to the grocery store and counted out some Canadian dollars for her, I stared at the ceiling and thought.
Assuming I managed to get rid of the Volturi, the power vacuum would need to be filled or things would only get worse. Vampires were, as a group, violent creatures: force unto intolerable pain or death was the only viable threat and the only realistic means of resolving conflict, and this had to be delivered by more vampires. (Or, I supposed, werewolves.) There wasn't a vampire economy I could corner, influencing its participants to behave themselves thereby. There wasn't a significant vampire society in which reputation was reliably important - the only social connections that reliably mattered to arbitrary vampires were mate bonds, impermeable to the vicissitudes of crime and punishment and not possessed universally anyway.
If I had about half a dozen of Alec, and they worked for me, something could be set up to work like a prison, without the only options for keeping order involving actions that were themselves repulsive. But I didn't know where to find half a dozen of Alec, let alone how to get them on board with careers as prison guards for a vegetarian vampire regime.
At any rate, I wasn't sure if I could beat the Volturi in a stand-up fight even if my coven, the Denali coven, all the friends of the family, and the entire pack of Quileutes fought at my side. I was the only one immune to Jane and Alec, the weapons - well, technically, illusionists - of the guard, and I was not so personally puissant that I could expect to defeat them all by myself. I needed more allies, ready to call into place when they accumulated critical mass. In all probability, I wouldn't be able to move until Gianna had had my baby and said baby had gotten to be old enough to sanely turn - until then, the child would be a terrible vulnerability that my attempt at rebellion could ill afford. So I had a while to think about where to get six of the anesthetic witch twin, and other details of my intended administration.
It was a bitter leisure. Murders were going on every day, all over the world, at the hands and teeth of hidden but otherwise unchecked vampires. And, at an even more staggering scale, people were dying for more mundane reasons. People like Ilario, except without his convenient connections and massive stroke of luck, were falling prey to disease. Age and injury and human-originated violence claimed more. Perhaps not all of these dying humans would want the rescue of vampirism, but they could not even be offered that choice under Volturi law. I could only pluck a few from the maw of oblivion, here and there, based on excuses and chance.
It occurred to me that I hadn't checked my e-mail in far too long, and I found my computer. I was looking at my e-mail inbox when Edward had finished teaching Gianna the phrases of French she'd need to buy groceries and returned to the second floor. He didn't look over my shoulder, just peered into the room to see what I was doing and went elsewhere. I heard the piano's trilling notes as he played a sonata to occupy himself.
I had several e-mails from both of my parents, which I scanned first and then replied to together rather than individually addressing each of Renée's dozen three-sentence news updates or Charlie's four giant rants/expressions of affection. I gave them both good-sized replies, telling them what little I could about what I'd been up to and padding with nostalgia and inquiries about their lives. Since they had no reason to expect me to be all that interesting, they were unlikely to find the limited disclosure odd. In most people's lives, having "started to learn Norwegian" would be the most momentous event of an entire month, let alone week. (I didn't mention Italian, French, Portuguese, Ukrainian, or anything else on my list. Humans did not normally try to learn that many languages at once.)
Rachel had also sent me several e-mails, which I didn't think were urgent because she hadn't texted, but which I opened with some trepidation anyway.
One was an update on Sue Clearwater. After a lot of long, loud conversations with her daughter, Sue had apparently come to the conclusion that if Harry was dead, then Leah had killed him. This was not an acceptable thing to have happened. Sue didn't want to live in a world where her daughter had killed her husband. And so she'd decided that Harry was not dead - but progress beyond that was slow in coming, Rachel reported. Sue seemed agnostic as to the question of whether vampirism dissolved human marriage, had no clear opinion about whether she ever wanted to see Harry again, was adamant that Leah and Seth should not attempt to visit him (thankfully - I didn't want the other Denalis learning about werewolves yet), and was not one bit happy about the entire mess. Rachel added as a footnote here that Leah was grateful for my rescue of her father and that Seth still thought I was a "nice vampire".
The next e-mail was what Rachel saw fit to relay to me about Harry's electronic correspondence with his children. He did not like Denali very much, and had trouble getting along with everyone in the coven except Carmen and Eleazar (so it was lucky that he was in their house). This was exacerbated by the fact that the sisters and Laurent interpreted any display of significant emotion from a newborn as reason to become wary and occasionally violent, trying to keep things from spiraling out of control. But Harry did not lack for a source of significant emotion: he missed his children. Also, he seemed more interested in soothing Sue's discomfort than I would have predicted. Maybe she was supposed to be his mate after all. I didn't know quite how that would manifest given that they'd never been in one another's physical presence since he'd started turning, let alone opened his eyes, but if it turned out to be the case, I supposed I'd find out.
There was then an e-mail stating that the pack had finally, as a group, gotten sufficiently controlled that Rachel had authorized breaking camp and going back to living full-time in the village. The entire tribe was cleared to know the secret, but under strict instructions from the tribe elders and Chief Rachel not to share it elsewhere. (The elders now included Sue Clearwater, who had taken her husband's place in his absence, and would likely retain it even if he moved back to the reservation due to his being a vampire.) Rachel had not run out of money, but anticipated doing so in relatively short order and wanted more; I called Gianna, asked her to pick up envelopes and stamps while she was out, and looked up the French words she would need to purchase those things. I replied to this e-mail saying I'd get a check in the mail.
And then, after that, I read her latest message. It was about Sam, Leah's fiancé - but no more. There was one tribe legend I had not happened to hear. Werewolves were supposedly prone to "imprinting" - which was something like a unidirectional and more psychologically unique version of vampire mating. And Sam had gone and imprinted on Leah's second cousin Emily, who had come for a surprise visit from the Makah reservation where she lived. This was apparently not infrequent; growing up, Leah and Emily had been close as sisters.
Through their shared thoughts, everybody in the pack knew exactly what had happened to Sam. Rachel described it as being like the sudden extinction of the sun: "like there's no other light or warmth in the world except from her," she'd written. "Being in Sam's head is really weird because he has everybody in the pack half in love with Emily just because he's so anchored to her. It wasn't like that before when it was him and Leah, and that was already plenty."
However, a unique ability among the pack members - Leah included - to empathize intimately with his change of heart didn't prevent it from becoming major drama. Leah was inconsolable at the betrayal, especially on top of her father's sudden absence due to her having lost control, and was staying out of wolf form as much as she could manage to avoid having to run across Sam's thoughts.
Emily had been brought into the know: imprinting overrode even Rachel's echoey Alpha commands for secrecy, and Sam had told his imprintee everything the moment he laid eyes on her. This did not impress her. Emily's loyalty was to Leah, and she didn't show any inclination to accept Sam's mystically acquired devotion. She was crashing at the Clearwaters' house to help comfort her cousin, since most of Leah's other friends were in the pack and had trace amounts of sympathy for Sam.
The other wolves were not thrilled about this development. Or at least, most of them weren't. A couple thought that imprinting would be romantic or something and looked forward to it eagerly, although legend had indicated that it was a rare phenomenon even among wolves. But Becky was terrified, as were the handful of other wolves who had significant others and hadn't imprinted on them. The only way to prevent imprinting, according to the corpus of stories available, was to not see the person on whom one would imprint. A few of the pack had accordingly moved out into the woods to camp out again, thereby avoiding most visual contact with humans.
Rachel speculated that with everything going on, I might want to "stay far, far away from Leah - she doesn't really hate you, and she's still grateful you saved her dad, but you're kind of turning into the herald of all things awful in her life the way she thinks of it". Since I had no immediate plans to go to La Push, this was fine.
I sent Rachel another reply, asking for more information on how imprinting worked as it became available, and then I went downstairs to listen more closely to Edward's music.
The following Monday, Alice's vision of Ilario's resistance to human scent shored up. She brought home a human to waft under his nose, and then escorted her out again unharmed, although Ilario had been considerably twitchier and more dependent on water during the exercise than I had with Nils. He didn't want to risk Gianna until he was surer of himself, so he started going on excursions with Alice and Jasper in (sparsely) populated areas of Norway. No one died. That Thursday, Edward, Gianna, and I flew back to Europe.
"I'm going to need to apologize to whoever that car belonged to," I remarked softly during the flight. Oddly, Edward hadn't asked at all about what had become of it.
"It was mine," he said. "It's all right; it was hardly a favorite. I thought you'd want something inconspicuous."
I told him the story of how the car had come to be wrecked, and he didn't bat an eye, just approved of my careful destruction of evidence. Sheepishly, I said, "I'd offer to replace the car, but it's not like any of the money I've been throwing around is mine in a meaningful sense; I didn't earn any of it." I had written Rachel a rather large check - just a low enough figure to fly under Alice's threshold of stockbroker terrorizing.
"It is yours," Edward said firmly. "You're a part of the family. You're my wife. Alice handles the investments because she's uniquely qualified and it amuses her. Carlisle holds down a paying job because he loves practicing medicine and it's hard to do it for free in most places with decent cloud cover. But it's shared out among all of us, and you mustn't feel awkward about using it."
"Well, I know you think I should throw it around, but I haven't really done anything to pitch in - I don't just mean that I didn't show up with a wad of cash in my pocket, I mean at all."
"Bella, when I turned you, we were prepared for the possibility that you'd be unable to do anything more sophisticated than growl and hunt for the subsequent decade," said Edward.
"A decade? Does it sometimes take that long?" I asked. "I thought it was a year."
"Usually it's a year, but it varies," said Edward. "It would have been surprising, but less surprising than the reality, if you'd still been acting like a newborn in 2015."
I thought of David, pacing and frightened, and was alarmed by this possibility, obviated for myself though it was. "Well, even so," I said. "I'm not going to be careful about money if it's as unnecessary as all that, fine, but I feel like I should make it known that I want to be useful if I can."
Edward kissed my forehead and murmured in my ear. "Bella, my love, you don't know how glad our family is to have you. Leaving aside my own supernaturally good luck for the moment - you are Alice's best friend. You are a hope for Rosalie, a role model for Jasper, Esme's pride and joy. Emmett loves your sense of humor and Carlisle admires you. Useful - you're priceless."
Of course Edward had to tell me I was marvelous, but he also had to tell me the truth. I basked in the compliments and snuggled up for the long flight.
Ilario did not eat Gianna when we got her home, although he didn't like to be in the same room as her for very long at a stretch. He developed a habit of zipping between rooms at high speed, so he could talk to her without breathing the air she occupied. She was so overjoyed that he was healthy and had what he wanted that she didn't seem to mind the part where he craved her blood so much that he couldn't comfortably breathe near her.
By the time we finished carrying luggage out of the car in which Esme had fetched us, Emmett and Rosalie were debating whether to visit the Irish coven by swimming or by catching a plane. (Emmett thought swimming would be more fun, whereas Rosalie cited time and the difficulty of packing for a sea journey.) I announced an interest in acquainting myself with the coven, which caught Edward by surprise, although he didn't protest. Edward was indifferent to modes of transportation, which left me to break Emmett and Rosalie's tie. I voted apologetically for swimming, which would be interesting, wouldn't have me choosing between muteness and a throat full of fire en route, and would mean that the trip wouldn't have to be postponed so I could hunt first. Rosalie rolled her eyes and asked us to wait for ten minutes so she could buy a swim cap and preserve her hair from the ravages of saltwater, and I used the time to find a more swimming-friendly outfit than what I had on somewhere in my giant closet. Eventually I located an actual bathing suit, but I didn't really want to go gallivanting around Ireland in one, so I just wore normal clothes in fabrics that probably wouldn't look terrible after a few days in the ocean.
We all put our handheld electronics in redundant plastic bags, dove off the nearest fjord, and started for Ireland. I was actually able to outpace the others: in water, strength was a significant enough factor in rapid movement that my newborn arms could pull through the water more efficiently than Edward's. I swam ahead, and when I happened upon a luckless orca, I ate it; they caught up to me during this process and thereafter I kept pace.
Edward decided to teach me sign language so we could talk while swimming underwater. It had the convenient feature that I didn't need to learn an accent, that being the factor of language learning least affected by vampire memory and cognitive speed (though those still helped). When I had the alphabet mastered, he could continue teaching me words and grammatical conventions without needing to fall back on English.
By way of vocabulary practice, he told me about the coven we were going to visit. Siobhan was the leader, and as far as she knew she was the oldest vampire who lived in Ireland full time. She was some eight and a half centuries old. Liam was newer, having turned in 1800. Siobhan had not turned him - he'd been created by a Scottish coven making an excursion to Ireland, and traveled with them until a later excursion saw them run into his mate. She'd extracted him from the coven, and made her disinclination to otherwise share the space clear, by (with Liam's help) killing one of the Scottish vampires and chasing off the other.
Maggie was a little over 150, and had been turned after emigrating to escape the Great Famine by an English vampire. Her creator, who had been solitary until turning Maggie, had been motivated by a suspicion about Maggie's witchcraft potential. This had proven correct. Maggie could tell when people were lying. Homesickness had eventually led Maggie to amicably part from her covenmate and return to Ireland in 1982. She'd managed to completely miss the existence of Siobhan and Liam until ten years later. Then they'd run into each other while simultaneously trying to take advantage of the cover that an IRA attack could provide for feeding. This had nearly turned into a fight: Liam wanted himself and Siobhan to go on being the only vampires in Ireland. Maggie would likely have run to England, enlisted the help of her former covenmate, and fought for the territory, but Siobhan had wanted to add her to the group.
My first thought was that of course Liam would do what Siobhan wanted if she had the stronger preference, but Edward said that Siobhan was a witch, too. According to him, she could will plans to pan out. Siobhan herself did not consider this a talent for anything other than good strategy, and I thought the example of Maggie's inclusion in the coven was a weak one - Siobhan hadn't needed to sway anyone but her own mate to make it work, for crying out loud. Edward didn't have more examples ready to hand. While he'd met Siobhan before, she didn't tend to discuss or think about situations that could be cases of this power, and so he was taking Carlisle's word for it; Carlisle considered the instance of bringing Maggie into the coven the quintessential one, and hadn't thought of any others while in Edward's range. I was curious enough to ask Carlisle about it later, but for the time being I was skeptical.
While our route was only about eight hundred miles (plus course corrections as needed, vertical or lateral, to avoid boats), swimming was slower than running, and we spent almost half a day in the water. Rosalie had wanted to land near Edinburgh and run across the larger island, then swim the Irish Sea to get to our destination, but Edward thought it would be too hard to avoid notice by boats or onshore observers in Edinburgh given the time of day - we probably could have managed it at night.
Instead, we got out of the water near Ballycastle, and then, careful to avoid humans, followed Emmett, who'd received instructions on how to find the coven. They moved around, because non-vegetarian vampires staying in one place for too long eventually attracted notice. However well-hidden the bodies, missing persons were recorded; but two in greater Belfast followed by three near Cork and one in Limerick plus two in Galway and then a gaggle of tourists in Dublin didn't form a pattern in the minds of investigators who didn't suspect vampires.
I wondered how many missing persons worldwide were just missing, and how many were vampire food.
The Irish coven were outside a town called Maghera in Northern Ireland. I hypothesized that the top bit of the island was a better hunting ground than the rest of it because casualties were liable to be chalked up to sporadic religious violence, but I didn't speculate aloud. Emmett ranged ahead when we approached the designated area to find them and explain that there were four of us, not two, and to give them fair warning that I had newborn eyes but was not typical of newborns. He came back, gave us the go-ahead, and led us into the wooded area where the other three vampires waited.
Siobhan was a brunette, with a short and well-maintained haircut. She was very tall and broad, and she moved forward to greet us with an undulating smoothness that I considered trying to emulate before deciding that its impressiveness depended on her size. I wondered if she could beat Emmett in a fight and was unsure. She was barefoot, like the others, and they were all dressed in simple outdoor wear.
Her mate, Liam, followed close behind, a grimly noncommittal expression on his face. He didn't make any aggressive moves, but I was inclined to watch for them anyway - I had the impression that he wasn't happy about the visit. He was only a little shorter than his mate, which made him about Emmett's height. As vampires went, he wasn't particularly attractive; he was more like Harry and David, who'd been turned for reasons unrelating to appearance. Or, I supposed, James, who wouldn't have looked unusually lovely even in a crowd of humans (or so I'd written; vampire vision might have revealed something else). His hair was a shade lighter than Siobhan's, and cut similarly to hers.
Behind the pair followed the newest member, Maggie, who was about my size and had a smiling face wreathed in springy red curls. Except for the telltale wine-colored eyes, she seemed very likeable. She was also the first to speak, in a perky Irish accent. "Hello! It's good to finally meet you!" She was addressing everyone but Emmett, who she'd encountered moments before, but she seemed particularly interested in me - probably because of the Super Newborn thing. When my eyes were finally gold I could expect to get less (although not much less) attention among the general vampire population.
"Yes, it's been some time," acknowledged Siobhan, similarly accented. I wondered for half a second why vampires would speak any language with an accent, and then mentally kicked myself for assuming that sounding American meant lacking an accent.
"We're not usually in Europe long enough to make visits," apologized Rosalie.
"But aren't you all living in Norway now?" inquired Maggie. "Why is it just the four of you?"
"There's another newborn at home," explained Edward. "He's nearly as controlled as Bella, but not quite. It's better to leave him with supervision." He omitted mention of Gianna, without whose presence a smaller contingent of babysitters would have sufficed to soothe Ilario's worries about slipping and eating her. I supposed that our hosts would be no less likely than any other vampires to think it was strange and suspicious that we kept a human around, and I wasn't exactly motivated to disclose the details of why she was still human.
"That explains Jasper, and by extension, Alice," said Siobhan, "but what about Carlisle and Esme? The only reason I've met any of you at all is through Carlisle."
"Carlisle is still new to his job in Norway, and prefers not to ask for time off so soon," said Edward. This was true - I supposed it had to be, if Maggie was to be present - but not the whole story, of course.
"Well, perhaps they'll pay us a visit soon," said Siobhan.
Rosalie nodded, and there followed quite a bit of catch-up conversation: the latest developments in our coven and theirs. Rosalie and Emmett had taken Edward's hint about leaving Gianna unmentioned, and they didn't know that I'd left Québec during our trip at all. Edward had successfully kept that a secret. Bearing in mind the topics I should not mention, I chatted away with the others. It was much easier to conduct small talk with family present - or maybe it was just Edward.
It was interesting, the way we stood. There was, as ever, no reason to sit - and no chairs that might feel neglected if we didn't, since we were in the middle of the woods. So we were all on our feet. The Irish vampires were in a loose V with Siobhan at the hinge, standing closest to us. Our contingent stood in a line, but clearly divided in half; Emmett had his arm around Rosalie and I was holding hands with Edward, and there was about two feet between my left foot and Rosalie's right. I wondered why Siobhan and Liam weren't touching. They'd been mated longer than we had, which might explain it all by itself. I wondered how we'd have arranged ourselves if the entire family had been present.
The conversation split into numerous simultaneous threads, as statements prompted more than one possible response. We could all hear each other, easily filtering each voice from the others, and keep track of where everyone was looking by virtue of unblurry peripheral vision, so this wasn't as difficult as it would have been for humans.
Maggie was mildly curious about vegetarianism, and wanted to know if we'd tasted human blood. She seemed equally entranced by Rosalie and I, who had not, and our husbands, who had, and interspersed her incredulous questions with remarks to herself about how it was "all really true, huh!"
Meanwhile, Rosalie had convinced Liam to break his stony silence by talking about cars, which he liked, and Emmett was trying to persuade Siobhan that they should spar. (Apparently Edward and Alice "cheated", fighting Jasper got old after a while, and the others weren't usually in the mood.) I was rather interested in acquiring at least a cursory understanding of how to fight, but I could propose this to Emmett (or Edward or Jasper) any time; he probably didn't often have the opportunity to match up with Siobhan.
Eventually she relented, silencing Liam's protest with a look, and they got some distance and sprang at each other. I watched out of the corner of my eye, still keeping up with Maggie's questions about whether I wasn't just a little curious about how humans tasted, etcetera.
"Aren't you curious how animals taste?" I asked, finally, as Siobhan knocked Emmett to the ground and he leapt to his feet to attack again.
"Not really," said Maggie, wrinkling her nose. "They smell terrible."
"I can't say eating humans sounds like something I'd enjoy, either," I said.
"But they taste great!" Maggie enthused.
"So I'm told," I said. "But you can't be constantly in the process of swallowing their blood. You've only got so much room. Inevitably, you spend more time not eating than you spend eating, and you would still have to do that even if they marched by you in a convenient line and you didn't have to hunt them or conceal evidence. According to the experts," I tilted my head towards Edward, "eating human blood makes it harder to not be eating at any given time between meals. So I'm making the non-eating parts of my life more comfortable by forgoing some extra yumminess when I eat."
Maggie blinked at me, and Liam actually let out one low ha of a laugh. "That's something," he put in. "Carlisle's all about compassion and respect for human life, and you have an actual reason."
"I'm a big fan of compassion and respect for human life too," I said, "but if those things mattered to you, you'd already be vegetarians. It's not like you've been living in ignorance of the fact that we can live off animals and were only waiting for this information before swearing off a human diet; you've known Carlisle for a while."
"But how do you resist?" exclaimed Maggie. "Perhaps that's a reason to do it, but how?"
"Don't you ever go someplace where you can't eat the nearest human right then? Walk into some town where there's 50 of them in one place, and you'd have to either kill them all, which would be conspicuous, or kill only some of them, which would also be conspicuous?" Of course they had; Maggie nodded. "So you can clearly refrain from eating humans," I said. "You don't need me to tell you how."
Maggie looked vaguely puzzled, but then asked about how animals tasted, which was promising; Emmett even shouted a remark about the superior flavor of ursine creatures in between being used to knock a tree over and successfully depriving Siobhan of one of her feet. Liam clenched his teeth very tightly at that, but Siobhan (while evidently in considerable discomfort) just picked her foot up off the ground without even yelling and attached it to her ankle again. After about a second, during which Emmett graciously did not pounce, the injury knitted, and then she was in motion again.
"I like killer whales best," I put in, when Liam had relaxed marginally. "Hunting in the water is fun - the whales are designed to move in the ocean, and while I can do it, it's not what I'm best at. So there's an element of challenge that there isn't to hunting land creatures. Of those, though, I liked the wild boar I ate once."
"Coyotes," supplied Rosalie shortly, half-smirking.
"There's all kinds of variety," said Edward dryly. "Mountain lions, here."
"I'm really looking forward to being able to go about in public without contact lenses," I said.
"I just tell everybody I have weak veins in my eyes and they keep bursting," said Maggie. "Or I say that the red is because of contacts anyway. Or I make up something in fake Latin like "iris crimsonus" and act like I'm really sensitive about it if anyone gets curious. I ask them if they know what it means, and if they know it's not real Latin then I kill them." She shrugged.
"Sunglasses," said Liam shortly.
"I've done sunglasses before," I acknowledged. "Useful things, but anytime we'd be outside so anyone would notice, sunglasses are a bit odd."
"More fake Latin," advised Maggie. "You have a condition that makes your eyes really sensitive to light. I think that might actually be a real thing."
I sort of liked her, in spite of the part where she killed people. I was beginning to see how my family could have acquired red-eyed friends. It didn't take the same personality, in a vampire, to kill people that it did in a human. A human who murdered was opposing culture and instinct, risking social censure and societal repercussions from every angle. A normal human had to be put in an unusual context like war, or subjected to enormous stress, before becoming willing to kill.
A normal vampire, though, was fitted with a different set of natural impulses. Was normally lifted entirely out of their human context and could not safely continue human relationships (and would be most likely to form new relationships with vampires who already ate people). Did not face significant danger in the process of hunting, as long as they were careful. Had been put in the sort of context that might make a normal human turn dangerous, complete with a label that generally meant "killer" and the ability to live up to it with impunity.
I was the luckiest vampire in the world. I'd walked in with my eyes open, kept hold of my original ties, and landed in the laps of a family that didn't eat people. Carlisle was the impressive one who'd managed it with no help, no precedent, no support, no ability to write home to his human relatives.
But at any rate, the personality types of killer vampires weren't the same as killer humans. Maggie was a perfectly likable person. And when someone saw through her fake Latin, she killed them, that was all.
I was very tempted to make the entire conversation about converting Maggie, to retrieve it from the tangent it began to drift off on about some real Latin that Edward helpfully produced from his medical school days. Maybe the next human Maggie met wouldn't die of excess education. I decided against it. It could just as easily make things worse, and she was already curious, which was something.
Eventually Emmett invited me to join the brawl without prompting, and I agreed. He knocked me around, but more gently than he had Siobhan. I tried not to rely too much on my excessive strength, which would be gone soon enough. Instead I learned which instincts were useful and which to suppress, a few things about distinguishing feints and genuine attacks and how to dodge, and fascinating tricks with leverage. Siobhan also took a turn, and her style was noticeably different from Emmett's - he was playing, and she was doing something more like parkour.
It was fun, and although periodically it hurt rather a lot, I had the sensation that I was learning very efficiently. Learning to fight by sparring wasn't linear, like reading a book and (however quickly) absorbing each word in sequence. The rapid immersion in combat let me engage almost all of my mind on the same task. Every sense had something to tell me about my partner and my environment; all of my muscles could be doing something useful; I needed to model my opponent's strategy and think of a move that he or she hadn't thought I'd make, often stacking up levels of obviousness quite deep and still sometimes being found predictable. It was wholly engaging.
All of this bothered Edward immensely, and after Siobhan clocked me across the ear hard enough that it stopped processing sound for a few seconds, he quietly asked me to stop. I went back to his side and he gathered me into a hug. Rosalie snorted.
"Aw, but she's good at this," protested Emmett.
"Later," said Edward tightly. "Not here."
"Siobhan's got a different style..." I said.
He gritted his teeth. "I know," he said. "So does Jasper. You can practice at home if you like." I wondered if Siobhan had thought something in particular, or if he just didn't trust her. Liam looked relieved that she appeared to be done, though, and she went back to stand by her coven with a shrug. Maggie looked briefly wistful.
I tilted my head at her, inviting her to explain this. "Oh," she said. "Just, I wish my mate would hurry up and find me."
"If you don't ever leave Ireland, are you very likely to run into him?" I inquired.
Maggie considered this. "Her," she corrected absently. No one, even my husband from 1901 with oh-so-traditional values, reacted to this. I decided to inquire about that later. "Well, I traveled more before I joined this coven," she said at last. "And I didn't find her then either."
I couldn't resist. "Maybe you ate her."
Siobhan rolled her eyes, but Maggie looked genuinely horrified. "What? That couldn't happen."
"Of course it could," I said. "I was human when I met Edward. Not only that," I added with relish, "I was his singer. It's lucky that he had so much practice not eating humans. Otherwise I would have been toast. Delicious, dead toast."
Maggie looked scared. I wasn't sure if that was good or not, so I backed off a little. "You most likely haven't met her yet, though." I hesitated for a beat, letting the redheaded vampire calm down, and added, "But that doesn't mean she's a vampire."
"Nnng," whined Maggie.
Rosalie chuckled darkly and threw in a barb of her own: "Emmett was human when I found him, too." She paused. "And absolutely covered in fresh blood."
"Esme was human when Carlisle met her," put in Edward; I wasn't facing him, instead studying Maggie's face, but I heard a smile in his voice.
Eventually Maggie announced, "Well, maybe I'll just eat men," which was not really the solution I'd had in mind, but at least she'd found the possibility compelling. Siobhan sighed but didn't have an interest in encouraging Maggie to be an equal-opportunity predator, and Liam had lapsed into silence again.
The conversation turned to other things, and after about two days, we were done visiting. Siobhan graciously allowed that we might spend a while touring Ireland before going home. So we ran from place to place on the island for a bit, looking at the major attractions. "This part I can tell my parents," I remarked. "Ireland is totally a normal part of a tour of Europe."
"If you want, we can look at more of Europe before we go to South America," offered Edward.
"Let's go to Wales and England and Scotland on our way home," I decided, "and then I want to hang out there for a while, just like a week, we've spent so little time actually with our family. Then South America."
Of course he had no problem with this, and so while Emmett and Rosalie swam directly back to Norway after they'd had their fill of Ireland, Edward and I swam east and he spent five days showing me around. He'd been there before, but most of his knowledge came from Carlisle, who'd been born in London. None of the specific locations that had been important to Carlisle's human life were still in their original form, but it was interesting to wander around the city with this information. I wondered if Chicago, Edward's birthplace, would feel similar if I went there.
We were wandering the streets of Glasgow (me in contact lenses) when I decided to ask Edward why Maggie's correction hadn't elicited a reaction. "Given that you're from 1901, and have used this as an excuse to have outdated values before," I said. I kept my voice high and fast; passing humans wouldn't notice anything but a couple looking into each other's eyes and walking together.
"Well, first of all," laughed Edward, "my outdated values, as you call them, apply to me. It's not my business whether anyone else obeys them. You haven't heard me complaining about the conduct of the succubus triplets - I suppose it's down to Tanya and Kate, now - have you?"
"That's true," I acknowledged. "And second of all?"
"Second of all, vampires in general don't have much choice but to be relaxed about that in particular," he said. "There's simply nothing to argue about. Just like with Laurent's eating habits, the choices are permission or violence. There's no legal policy to argue. No social pressure or ethical argument that could ever practically compete with the mate bond. You might have noticed that vampires don't go in for organized religion or, even in opposite-sex couples, have children, so the traditional arguments are moot anyway. There's no reason for anyone to go to the trouble of trying to keep a vampire away from her mate, even if the mate's also a woman. It would be very troublesome and have no point."
"Okay," I said. "But apart from the fact that you aren't going to fight Maggie to the death over it, do you have 1901-shaped feelings on the matter?"
Edward shrugged. "Not really. It wasn't something I gave any thought to as a human. That was hardly the hot-button issue at the time. When I was turned, everyone was busy thinking about the Great War - World War I - and the flu pandemic. So I didn't enter the vampire world with preconceptions on the subject to set in stone. It's not my cup of tea, but then, you are the only cup of tea in the world for me." He picked me up by the waist and spun around, then set me back down on the sidewalk; some watching humans awwwed at the display of affection.
I decided this was satisfactory. And then an unrelated question occurred to me: "Am I immune to Maggie's power?"
That brought Edward up short. "I don't know. You didn't lie to her, as far as I know..."
"I didn't," I confirmed. "Unless sarcasm or speculation or just being mistaken counts...? How sensitive is she?"
"Not very," he said. "While it's possible for someone very good at controlling their thoughts or very immersed in their duplicity to lie to me, and she'd catch most such deception, I'm more effective overall than she is. She doesn't detect anything at all unless someone deliberately states something they want her to believe which they think is false. If they don't know she's listening, or they're confident they're right, or they think she'll notice that they're uncertain or making a joke instead of trying to share definite information, nothing happens."
"So if I'm immune to her she wouldn't have noticed," I said, nodding to myself. "I wish I'd thought to test it there."
"Do you expect to need to lie to Maggie?" Edward asked, and then he shook his head. "You don't have to answer that."
"It's okay," I said. "I don't expect to need to lie to her, but it would be interesting if I found out that I could, or couldn't. I want to know more about how my power works, so I can make it get better. If I didn't start out immune to Maggie, learning how to develop that would be useful practice. I guess I'll just work on hedging out Jasper to start. Not because I expect to need to, just because I want to know how to improve." I tilted my head curiously. "Have you gotten any better at reading minds since you turned?"
"Not in the way you probably have in mind," he said. "Since I can follow familiar voices at greater range, it did improve in the sense that I could hear Carlisle from one mile away to begin with and two later and almost five now, but I'm not any better at hearing new people I meet. And it's still just surface thoughts as it's always been."
"Have you tried to work on that at all?"
"Not really. I do have some qualms about invading people's privacy," he said, smiling faintly. "In cases where need overwhelms those concerns, the level of discernment that I started with has been serviceable. I did try a little to hear something from you, but failed utterly, and you've made it clear that you don't want me to succeed - so I stopped working on that."
"Fair enough," I replied.