"ARE YOU GONNA EAT THAT HOT DOG?" PAUL ASKED JAcob, his eyes locked on the last remnant of the huge meal the werewolves had consumed.
Jacob leaned back against my knees and toyed with the hot dog he had spitted on a straightened wire hanger; the flames at the edge of the bonfire licked along its blistered skin. He heaved a sigh and patted his stomach. It was somehow still flat, though I'd lost count of how many hot dogs he'd eaten after his tenth. Not to mention the super-sized bag of chips or the two-liter bottle of root beer.
"I guess," Jake said slowly. "I'm so full I'm about to puke, but I think I can force it down. I won't enjoy it at all, though." He sighed again sadly.
Despite the fact that Paul had eaten at least as much as Jacob, he glowered and his hands balled up into fists.
"Sheesh." Jacob laughed. "Kidding, Paul. Here."
He flipped the homemade skewer across the circle. I expected it to land hot-dog-first in the sand, but Paul caught it neatly on the right end without difficulty.
Hanging out with no one but extremely dexterous people all the time was going to give me a complex.
"Thanks, man," Paul said, already over his brief fit of temper.
The fire crackled, settling lower toward the sand. Sparks blew up in a sudden puff of brilliant orange against the black sky. Funny, I hadn't noticed that the sun had set. For the first time, I wondered how late it had gotten. I'd lost track of time completely.
It was easier being with my Quileute friends than I'd expected.
While Jacob and I had dropped off my bike at the garage - and he had admitted ruefully that the helmet was a good idea that he should have thought of himself - I'd started to worry about showing up with him at the bonfire, wondering if the werewolves would consider me a traitor now. Would they be angry with Jacob for inviting me? Would I ruin the party?
But when Jacob had towed me out of the forest to the clifftop meeting place - where the fire already roared brighter than the cloud-obscured sun - it had all been very casual and light.
"Hey, vampire girl!" Embry had greeted me loudly. Quil had jumped up to give me a high five and kiss me on the cheek. Emily had squeezed my hand when we'd sat on the cool stone ground beside her and Sam.
Other than a few teasing complaints - mostly by Paul - about keeping the bloodsucker stench downwind, I was treated like someone who belonged.
It wasn't just kids in attendance, either. Billy was here, his wheelchair stationed at what seemed the natural head of the circle. Beside him on a folding lawn chair, looking quite brittle, was Quil's ancient, white-haired grandfather, Old Quil. Sue Clearwater, widow of Charlie's friend Harry, had a chair on his other side; her two children, Leah and Seth, were also there, sitting on the ground like the rest of us. This surprised me, but all three were clearly in on the secret now. From the way Billy and Old Quil spoke to Sue, it sounded to me like she'd taken Harry's place on the council. Did that make her children automatic members of La Push's most secret society?
I wondered how horrible it was for Leah to sit across the circle from Sam and Emily. Her lovely face betrayed no emotion, but she never looked away from the flames. Looking at the perfection of Leah's features, I couldn't help but compare them to Emily's ruined face. What did Leah think of Emily's scars, now that she knew the truth behind them? Did it seem like justice in her eyes?
Little Seth Clearwater wasn't so little anymore. With his huge, happy grin and his long, gangly build, he reminded me very much of a younger Jacob. The resemblance made me smile, and then sigh. Was Seth doomed to have his life change as drastically as the rest of these boys? Was that future why he and his family were allowed to be here?
The whole pack was there: Sam with his Emily, Paul, Embry, Quil, and Jared with Kim, the girl he'd imprinted upon.
My first impression of Kim was that she was a nice girl, a little shy, and a little plain. She had a wide face, mostly cheekbones, with eyes too small to balance them out. Her nose and mouth were both too broad for traditional beauty. Her flat black hair was thin and wispy in the wind that never seemed to let up atop the cliff.
That was my first impression. But after a few hours of watching Jared watch Kim, I could no longer find anything plain about the girl.
The way he stared at her! It was like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time. Like a collector finding an undiscovered Da Vinci, like a mother looking into the face of her newborn child.
His wondering eyes made me see new things about her - how her skin looked like russet-colored silk in the firelight, how the shape of her lips was a perfect double curve, how white her teeth were against them, how long her eyelashes were, brushing her cheek when she looked down.
Kim's skin sometimes darkened when she met Jared's awed gaze, and her eyes would drop as if in embarrassment, but she had a hard time keeping her eyes away from his for any length of time.
Watching them, I felt like I better understood what Jacob had told me about imprinting before - it's hard to resist that level of commitment and adoration.
Kim was nodding off now against Jared's chest, his arms around her. I imagined she would be very warm there.
"It's getting late," I murmured to Jacob.
"Don't start that yet," Jacob whispered back - though certainly half the group here had hearing sensitive enough to hear us anyway. "The best part is coming."
"What's the best part? You swallowing an entire cow whole?"
Jacob chuckled his low, throaty laugh. "No. That's the finale. We didn't meet just to eat through a week's worth of food. This is technically a council meeting. It's Quil's first time, and he hasn't heard the stories yet. Well, he's heard them, but thiswill be the first time he knows they're true. That tends to make a guy pay closer attention. Kim and Seth and Leah are all first-timers, too."
Jacob scooted back beside me, where I rested against a low ridge of rock. He put his arm over my shoulder and spoke even lower into my ear.
"The histories we always thought were legends," he said. "The stories of how we came to be. The first is the story of the spirit warriors."
It was almost as if Jacob's soft whisper was the introduction. The atmosphere changed abruptly around the low-burning fire. Paul and Embry sat up straighter. Jared nudged Kim and then pulled her gently upright.
Emily produced a spiral-bound notebook and a pen, looking exactly like a student set for an important lecture. Sam twisted just slightly beside her - so that he was facing the same direction as Old Quil, who was on his other side - and suddenly I realized that the elders of the council here were not three, but four in number.
Leah Clearwater, her face still a beautiful and emotionless mask, closed her eyes - not like she was tired, but as if to help her concentration. Her brother leaned in toward the elders eagerly.
The fire crackled, sending another explosion of sparks glittering up against the night.
Billy cleared his throat, and, with no more introduction than his son's whisper, began telling the story in his rich, deep voice. The words poured out with precision, as if he knew them by heart, but also with feeling and a subtle rhythm. Like poetry performed by its author.
"The Quileutes have been a small people from the beginning," Billy said. "And we are a small people still, but we have never disappeared. This is because there has always been magic in our blood. It wasn't always the magic of shape-shifting - that came later. First, we were spirit warriors."
Never before had I recognized the ring of majesty that was in Billy Black's voice, though I realized now that this authority had always been there.
Emily's pen sprinted across the sheets of paper as she tried to keep up with him.
"In the beginning, the tribe settled in this harbor and became skilled ship builders and fishermen. But the tribe was small, and the harbor was rich in fish. There were others who coveted our land, and we were too small to hold it. A larger tribe moved against us, and we took to our ships to escape them.
"Kaheleha was not the first spirit warrior, but we do not remember the stories that came before his. We do not remember who was the first to discover this power, or how it had been used before this crisis. Kaheleha was the first great Spirit Chief in our history. In this emergency, Kaheleha used the magic to defend our land.
"He and all his warriors left the ship - not their bodies, but their spirits. Their women watched over the bodies and the waves, and the men took their spirits back to our harbor.
"They could not physically touch the enemy tribe, but they had other ways. The stories tell us that they could blow fierce winds into their enemy's camps; they could make a great screaming in the wind that terrified their foes. The stories also tell us that the animals could see the spirit warriors and understand them; the animals would do their bidding.
"Kaheleha took his spirit army and wreaked havoc on the intruders. This invading tribe had packs of big, thick-furred dogs that they used to pull their sleds in the frozen north. The spirit warriors turned the dogs against their masters and then brought a mighty infestation of bats up from the cliff caverns. They used the screaming wind to aid the dogs in confusing the men. The dogs and bats won. The survivors scattered, calling our harbor a cursed place. The dogs ran wild when the spirit warriors released them. The Quileutes returned to their bodies and their wives, victorious.
"The other nearby tribes, the Hohs and the Makahs, made treaties with the Quileutes. They wanted nothing to do with our magic. We lived in peace with them. When an enemy came against us, the spirit warriors would drive them off.
"Generations passed. Then came the last great Spirit Chief, Taha Aki. He was known for his wisdom, and for being a man of peace. The people lived well and content in his care.
"But there was one man, Utlapa, who was not content."
A low hiss ran around the fire. I was too slow to see where it came from. Billy ignored it and went on with the legend.
"Utlapa was one of Chief Taha Aki's strongest spirit warriors - a powerful man, but a grasping man, too. He thought the people should use their magic to expand their lands, to enslave the Hohs and the Makahs and build an empire.
"Now, when the warriors were their spirit selves, they knew each other's thoughts. Taha Aki saw what Utlapa dreamed, and was angry with Utlapa. Utlapa was commanded to leave the people, and never use his spirit self again. Utlapa was a strong man, but the chief's warriors outnumbered him. He had no choice but to leave. The furious outcast hid in the forest nearby, waiting for a chance to get revenge against the chief.
"Even in times of peace, the Spirit Chief was vigilantin protecting his people. Often, he would go to a sacred, secret place in the mountains. He would leave his body behind and sweep down through the forests and along the coast, making sure no threat approached.
"One day when Taha Aki left to perform this duty, Utlapa followed. At first, Utlapa simply planned to kill the chief, but this plan had its drawbacks. Surely the spirit warriors would seek to destroy him, and they could follow faster than he could escape. As he hid in the rocks and watched the chief prepare to leave his body, another plan occurred to him.
"Taha Aki left his body in the secret place and flew with the winds to keep watch over his people. Utlapa waited until he was sure the chief had traveled some distance with his spirit self.
"Taha Aki knew it the instant that Utlapa had joined him in the spirit world, and he also knew Utlapa's murderous plan. He raced back to his secret place, but even the winds weren't fast enough to save him. When he returned, his body was already gone. Utlapa's body lay abandoned, but Utlapa had not left Taha Aki with an escape - he had cut his own body's throat with Taha Aki's hands.
"Taha Aki followed his body down the mountain. He screamed at Utlapa, but Utlapa ignored him as if he were mere wind.
"Taha Aki watched with despair as Utlapa took his place as chief of the Quileutes. For a few weeks, Utlapa did nothing but make sure that everyone believed he was Taha Aki. Then the changes began - Utlapa's first edict was to forbid any warrior to enter the spirit world. He claimed that he'd had a vision of danger, but really he was afraid. He knew that Taha Aki would be waiting for the chance to tell his story. Utlapa was also afraid to enter the spirit world himself, knowing Taha Aki would quickly claim his body. So his dreams of conquest with a spirit warrior army were impossible, and he sought to content himself with ruling over the tribe. He became a burden - seeking privileges that Taha Aki had never requested, refusing to work alongside his warriors, taking a young second wife and then a third, though Taha Aki's wife lived on - something unheard of in the tribe. Taha Aki watched in helpless fury.
"Eventually, Taha Aki tried to kill his body to save the tribe from Utlapa's excesses. He brought a fierce wolf down from the mountains, but Utlapa hid behind his warriors. When the wolf killed a young man who was protecting the false chief, Taha Aki felt horrible grief. He ordered the wolf away.
"All the stories tell us that it was no easy thing to be a spirit warrior. It was more frightening than exhilarating to be freed from one's body. This is why they only used their magic in times of need. The chief's solitary journeys to keep watch were a burden and a sacrifice. Being bodiless was disorienting, uncomfortable, horrifying. Taha Aki had been away from his body for so long at this point that he was in agony. He felt he was doomed - never to cross over to the final land where his ancestors waited, stuck in this torturous nothingness forever.
"The great wolf followed Taha Aki's spirit as he twisted and writhed in agony through the woods. The wolf was very large for its kind, and beautiful. Taha Aki was suddenly jealous of the dumb animal. At least it had a body. At least it had a life. Even life as an animal would be better than this horrible empty consciousness.
"And then Taha Aki had the idea that changed us all. He asked the great wolf to make room for him, to share. The wolf complied. Taka Aki entered the wolf's body with relief and gratitude. It was not his human body, but it was better than the void of the spirit world.
"As one, the man and the wolf returned to the village on the harbor. The people ran in fear, shouting for the warriors to come. The warriors ran to meet the wolf with their spears. Utlapa, of course, stayed safely hidden.
"Taha Aki did not attack his warriors. He retreated slowly from them, speaking with his eyes and trying to yelp the songs of his people. The warriors began to realize that the wolf was no ordinary animal, that there was a spirit influencing it. One older warrior, a man name Yut, decided to disobey the false chief's order and try to communicate with the wolf.
"As soon as Yut crossed to the spirit world, Taha Aki left the wolf - the animal waited tamely for his return - to speak to him. Yut gathered the truth in an instant, and welcomed his true chief home.
"At this time, Utlapa came to see if the wolf had been defeated. When he saw Yut lyinglifeless on the ground, surrounded by protective warriors, he realized what was happening. He drew his knife and raced forward to kill Yut before he could return to his body.
"'Traitor,' he screamed, and the warriors did not know what to do. The chief had forbidden spirit journeys, and it was the chief's decision how to punish those who disobeyed.
"Yut jumped back into his body, but Utlapa had his knife at his throat and a hand covering his mouth. Taha Aki's body was strong, and Yut was weak with age. Yut could not say even one word to warn the others before Utlapa silenced him forever.
"Taha Aki watched as Yut's spirit slipped away to the final lands that were barred to Taha Aki for all eternity. He felt a great rage, more powerful than anything he'd felt before. He entered the big wolf again, meaning to rip Utlapa's throat out. But, as he joined the wolf, the greatest magic happened.
"Taha Aki's anger was the anger of a man. The love he had for his people and the hatred he had for their oppressor were too vast for the wolf's body, too human. The wolf shuddered, and - before the eyes of the shocked warriors and Utlapa - transformed into a man.
"The new man did not look like Taha Aki's body. He was far more glorious. He was the flesh interpretation of Taha Aki's spirit. The warriors recognized him at once, though, for they had flown with Taha Aki's spirit.
"Utlapa tried to run, but Taha Aki had the strength of the wolf in his new body. He caught the thief and crushed the spirit from him before he could jump out of the stolen body.
"The people rejoiced when they understood what had happened. Taha Aki quickly set everything right, working again with his people and giving the young wives back to their families. The only change he kept in place was the end of the spirit travels. He knew that it was too dangerous now that the idea of stealing a life was there. The spirit warriors were no more.
"From that point on, Taha Aki was more than either wolf or man. They called him Taha Aki the Great Wolf, or Taha Aki the Spirit Man. He led the tribe for many, many years, for he did not age. When danger threatened, he would resume his wolf-self to fight or frighten the enemy. The people dwelt in peace. Taha Aki fathered many sons, and some of these found that, after they had reached the age of manhood, they, too, could transform into wolves. The wolves were all different, because they were spirit wolves and reflected the man they were inside."
"So that's why Sam is all black," Quil muttered under his breath, grinning. "Black heart, black fur."
I was so involved in the story, it was a shock to come back to the present, to the circle around the dying fire. With another shock, I realized that the circle was made up of Taha Aki's great - to however many degrees - grandsons.
The fire threw a volley of sparks into the sky, and they shivered and danced, making shapes that were almost decipherable.
"And your chocolate fur reflects what?" Sam whispered back to Quil. "How sweet you are?"
Billy ignored their jibes. "Some of the sons became warriors with Taha Aki, and they no longer aged. Others, who did not like the transformation, refused to join the pack of wolf-men. These began to age again, and the tribe discovered that the wolf-men could grow old like anyone else if they gave up their spirit wolves. Taha Aki had lived the span of three old men's lives. He had married a third wife after the deaths of the first two, and found in her his true spirit wife. Though he had loved the others, this was something else. He decided to give up his spirit wolf so that he would die when she did.
"That is how the magic came to us, but it is not the end of the story. . . ."
He looked at Old Quil Ateara, who shifted in his chair, straightening his frail shoulders. Billy took a drink from a bottle of water and wiped his forehead. Emily's pen never hesitated as she scribbled furiously on the paper.
"That was the story of the spirit warriors," Old Quil began in a thin tenor voice. "This is the story of the third wife's sacrifice.
"Many years after Taha Aki gave up his spirit wolf, when he was an old man, trouble began in the north, with the Makahs. Several young women of their tribe had disappeared, and they blamed it on the neighboring wolves, who they feared and mistrusted. The wolf-men could still read each other's thoughts while in their wolf forms, just like their ancestors had while in their spirit forms. They knew that none of their number was to blame. Taha Aki tried to pacify the Makah chief, but there was too much fear. Taha Aki did not want to have a war on his hands. He was no longer a warrior to lead his people. He charged his oldest wolf-son, Taha Wi, with finding the true culprit before hostilities began.
"Taha Wi led the five other wolves in his pack on a search through the mountains, looking for any evidence of the missing Makahs. They came across something they had never encountered before - a strange, sweet scent in the forest that burned their noses to the point of pain."
I shrank a little closer to Jacob's side. I saw the corner of his mouth twitch with humor, and his arm tightened around me.
"They did not know what creature would leave such a scent, but they followed it," Old Quil continued. His quavering voice did not have the majesty of Billy's, but it had a strange, fierce edge of urgency about it. My pulse jumped as his words came faster.
"They found faint traces of human scent, and human blood, along the trail. They were sure this was the enemy they were searching for.
"The journey took them so far north that Taha Wi sent half the pack, the younger ones, back to the harbor to report to Taha Aki.
"Taha Wi and his two brothers did not return.
"The younger brothers searched for their elders, but found only silence. Taha Aki mourned for his sons.
He wished to avenge his sons' death, but he was old. He went to the Makah chief in his mourning clothes and told him everything that had happened. The Makah chief believed his grief, and tensions ended between the tribes.
"A year later, two Makah maidens disappeared from their homes on the same night. The Makahs called on the Quileute wolves at once, who found the same sweet stink all through the Makah village. The wolves went on the hunt again.
"Only one came back. He was Yaha Uta, the oldest son of Taka Aki's third wife, and the youngest in the pack. He brought something with him that had never been seen in all the days of the Quileutes - a strange, cold, stony corpse that he carried in pieces. All who were of Taha Aki's blood, even those who had never been wolves, could smell the piercing smell of the dead creature. This was the enemy of the Makahs.
"Yaha Uta described what had happened: he and his brothers had found the creature, who looked like a man but was hard as a granite rock, with the two Makah daughters. One girl was already dead, white and bloodless on the ground. The other was in the creature's arms, his mouth at her throat. She may have been alive when they came upon the hideous scene, but the creature quickly snapped her neck and tossed her lifeless body to the ground when they approached. His white lips were covered in her blood, and his eyes glowed red.
"Yaha Uta described the fierce strength and speed of the creature. One of his brothers quickly became a victim when he underestimated that strength. The creature ripped him apart like a doll. Yaha Uta and his other brother were more wary. They worked together, coming at the creature from the sides, outmaneuvering it.
They had to reach the very limits of their wolf strength and speed, something that had never been tested before. The creature was hard as stone and cold as ice. They found that only their teeth could damage it. They began to rip small pieces of the creature apart while it fought them.
"But the creature learned quickly, and soon was matching their maneuvers. It got its hands on Yaha Uta's brother. Yaha Uta found an opening on the creature's throat, and he lunged. His teeth tore the head off the creature, but the hands continued to mangle his brother.
"Yaha Uta ripped the creature into unrecognizable chunks, tearing pieces apart in a desperate attempt to save his brother. He was too late, but, in the end, the creature was destroyed.
"Or so they thought. Yaha Uta laid the reeking remains out to be examined by the elders. One severed hand lay beside a piece of the creature's granite arm. The two pieces touched when the elders poked them with sticks, and the hand reached out towards the arm piece, trying to reassemble itself.
"Horrified, the elders set fire to the remains. A great cloud of choking, vile smoke polluted the air. When there was nothing but ashes, they separated the ashes into many small bags and spread them far and wide - some in the ocean, some in the forest, some in the cliff caverns. Taha Aki wore one bag around his neck, so he would be warned if the creature ever tried to put himself together again."
Old Quil paused and looked at Billy. Billy pulled out a leather thong from around his neck. Hanging from the end was a small bag, blackened with age. A few people gasped. I might have been one of them.
"They called it The Cold One, the Blood Drinker, and lived in fear that it was not alone. They only had one wolf protector left, young Yaha Uta.
"They did not have long to wait. The creature had a mate, another blood drinker, who came to the Quileutes seeking revenge.
"The stories say that the Cold Woman was the most beautiful thing human eyes had ever seen. She looked like the goddess of the dawn when she entered the village that morning; the sun was shining for once, and it glittered off her white skin and lit the golden hair that flowed down to her knees. Her face was magical in its beauty, her eyes black in her white face. Some fell to their knees to worship her.
"She asked something in a high, piercing voice, in a language no one had ever heard. The people were dumbfounded, not knowing how to answer her. There was none of Taha Aki's blood among the witnesses but one small boy. He clung to his mother and screamed that the smell was hurting his nose. One of the elders, on his way to council, heard the boy and realized what had come among them. He yelled for the people to run. She killed him first.
"There were twenty witnesses to the Cold Woman's approach. Two survived, only because she grew distracted by the blood, and paused to sate her thirst. They ran to Taha Aki, who sat in counsel with the other elders, his sons, and his third wife.
"Yaha Uta transformed into his spirit wolf as soon as he heard the news. He went to destroy the blood drinker alone. Taha Aki, his third wife, his sons, and his elders followed behind him.
"At first they could not find the creature, only the evidence of her attack. Bodies lay broken, a few drained of blood, strewn across the road where she'd appeared. Then they heard the screams and hurried to the harbor.
"A handful of the Quileutes had run to the ships for refuge. She swam after them like a shark, and broke the bow of their boat with her incredible strength. When the ship sank, she caught those trying to swim away and broke them, too.
"She saw the great wolf on the shore, and she forgot the fleeing swimmers. She swam so fast she was a blur and came, dripping and glorious, to stand before Yaha Uta. She pointed at him with one white finger and asked another incomprehensible question. Yaha Uta waited.
"It was a close fight. She was not the warrior her mate had been. But Yaha Uta was alone - there was no one to distract her fury from him.
"When Yaha Uta lost, Taha Aki screamed in defiance. He limped forward and shifted into an ancient, white-muzzled wolf. The wolf was old, but this was Taha Aki the Spirit Man, and his rage made him strong. The fight began again.
"Taha Aki's third wife had just seen her son die before her. Now her husband fought, and she had no hope that he could win. She'd heard every word the witnesses to the slaughter had told the council. She'd heard the story of Yaha Uta's first victory, and knew that his brother's diversion had saved him.
"The third wife grabbed a knife from the belt of one of the sons who stood beside her. They were all young sons, not yet men, and she knew they would die when their father failed.
"The third wife ran toward the Cold Woman with the dagger raised high. The Cold Woman smiled, barely distracted from her fight with the old wolf. She had no fear of the weak human woman or the knife that would not even scratch her skin, and she was about to deliver the death blow to Taha Aki.
"And then the third wife did something the Cold Woman did not expect. She fell to her knees at the blood drinker's feet and plunged the knife into her own heart.
"Blood spurted through the third wife's fingers and splashed against the Cold Woman. The blood drinker could not resist the lure of the fresh blood leaving the third wife's body. Instinctively, she turned to the dying woman, for one second entirely consumed by thirst.
"Taha Aki's teeth closed around her neck.
"That was not the end of the fight, but Taha Aki was not alone now. Watching their mother die, two young sons felt such rage that they sprang forth as their spirit wolves, though they were not yet men. With their father, they finished the creature.
"Taha Aki never rejoined the tribe. He never changed back to a man again. He lay for one day beside the body of the third wife, growling whenever anyone tried to touch her, and then he went into the forest and never returned.
"Trouble with the cold ones was rare from that time on. Taha Aki's sons guarded the tribe until their sons were old enough to take their places. There were never more than three wolves at a time. It was enough. Occasionally a blood drinker would come through these lands, but they were taken by surprise, not expecting the wolves. Sometimes a wolf would die, but never were they decimated again like that first time. They'd learned how to fight the cold ones, and they passed the knowledge on, wolf mind to wolf mind, spirit to spirit, father to son.
"Time passed, and the descendants of Taha Aki no longer became wolves when they reached manhood. Only in a great while, if a cold one was near, would the wolves return. The cold ones always came in ones and twos, and the pack stayed small.
"A bigger coven came, and your own great-grandfathers prepared to fight them off. But the leader spoke to Ephraim Black as if he were a man, and promised not to harm the Quileutes. His strange yellow eyes gave some proof to his claim that they were not the same as other blood drinkers. The wolves were outnumbered; there was no need for the cold ones to offer a treaty when they could have won the fight. Ephraim accepted. They've stayed true to their side, though their presence does tend to draw in others.
"And their numbers have forced a larger pack than the tribe has ever seen," Old Quil said, and for one moment his black eyes, all but buried in the wrinkles of skin folded around them, seemed to rest on me. "Except, of course, in Taha Aki's time," he said, and then he sighed. "And so the sons of our tribe again carry the burden and share the sacrifice their fathers endured before them."
All was silent for a long moment. The living descendants of magic and legend stared at one another across the fire with sadness in their eyes. All but one.
"Burden," he scoffed in a low voice. "I think it's cool." Quil's full lower lip pouted out a little bit.
Across the dying fire, Seth Clearwater - his eyes wide with adulation for the fraternity of tribal protectors - nodded his agreement.
Billy chuckled, low and long, and the magic seemed to fade into the glowing embers. Suddenly, it was just a circle of friends again. Jared flicked a small stone at Quil, and everyone laughed when it made him jump. Low conversations murmured around us, teasing and casual.
Leah Clearwater's eyes did not open. I thought I saw something sparkling on her cheek like a tear, but when I looked back a moment later it was gone.
Neither Jacob nor I spoke. He was so still beside me, his breath so deep and even, that I thought he might be close to sleep.
My mind was a thousand years away. I was not thinking of Yaha Uta or the other wolves, or the beautiful Cold Woman - I could picture her only too easily. No, I was thinking of someone outside the magic altogether. I was trying to imagine the face of the unnamed woman who had saved the entire tribe, the third wife.
Just a human woman, with no special gifts or powers. Physically weaker and slower than any of the monsters in the story. But she had been the key, the solution. She'd saved her husband, her young sons, her tribe.
I wish they'd remembered her name. . . .
Something shook my arm.
"C'mon, Bells," Jacob said in my ear. "We're here."
I blinked, confused because the fire seemed to have disappeared. I glared into the unexpected darkness, trying to make sense of my surroundings. It took me a minute to realize that I was no longer on the cliff. Jacob and I were alone. I was still under his arm, but I wasn't on the ground anymore.
How did I get in Jacob's car?
"Oh, crap!" I gasped as I realized that I had fallen asleep. "How late is it? Dang it, where's that stupid phone?" I patted my pockets, frantic and coming up empty.
"Easy. It's not even midnight yet. And I already called him for you. Look - he's waiting there."
"Midnight?" I repeated stupidly, still disoriented. I stared into the darkness, and my heartbeat picked up when my eyes made out the shape of the Volvo, thirty yards away. I reached for the door handle.
"Here," Jacob said, and he put a small shape into my other hand. The phone.
"You called Edward for me?"
My eyes were adjusted enough to see the bright gleam of Jacob's smile. "I figured if I played nice, I'd get more time with you."
"Thanks, Jake," I said, touched. "Really, thank you. And thanks forinviting me tonight. That was . . ."
Words failed me. "Wow. That was something else."
"And you didn't even stay up to watch me swallow a cow." He laughed. "No, I'm glad you liked it. It was . . . nice for me. Having you there."
There was a movement in the dark distance - something pale ghosting against the black trees. Pacing?
"Yeah, he's not so patient, is he?" Jacob said, noticing my distraction. "Go ahead. But come back soon, okay?"
"Sure, Jake," I promised, cracking the car door open. Cold air washed across my legs and made me shiver.
"Sleep tight, Bells. Don't worry about anything - I'll be watching out for you tonight."
I paused, one foot on the ground. "No, Jake. Get some rest, I'll be fine."
"Sure, sure," he said, but he sounded more patronizing than agreeing.
"'Night, Jake. Thanks."
"'Night, Bella," he whispered as I hurried into the darkness.
Edward caught me at the boundary line.
"Bella," he said, relief strong in his voice; his arms wound tightly around me.
"Hi. Sorry I'm so late. I fell asleep and -"
"I know. Jacob explained." He started toward the car, and I staggered woodenly at his side. "Are you tired? I could carry you."
"Let's get you home and in bed. Did you have a nice time?"
"Yeah - it was amazing, Edward. I wish you could have come. I can't even explain it. Jake's dad told us the old legends and it was like . . . like magic."
"You'll have to tell me about it. After you've slept."
"I won't get it right," I said, and then I yawned hugely.
Edward chuckled. He opened my door for me, lifted me in, and buckled my seat belt around me.
Bright lights flashed on and swept across us. I waved toward Jacob's headlights, but I didn't know if he saw the gesture. That night - after I'd gotten past Charlie, who didn't give me as much trouble as I'd expected because Jacob had called him, too - instead of collapsing in bed right away, I leaned out the open window while I waited for Edward to come back. The night was surprisingly cold, almost wintry. I hadn't noticed it at all on the windy cliffs; I imagined that had less to do with the fire than it did with sitting next to Jacob.
Icy droplets spattered against my face as the rain began to fall.
It was too dark to see much besides the black triangles of the spruces leaning and shaking with the wind. But I strained my eyes anyway, searching for other shapes in the storm. A pale silhouette, moving like a ghost through the black . . . or maybe the shadowy outline of an enormous wolf. . . . My eyes were too weak.
Then there was a movement in the night, right beside me. Edward slid through my open window, his hands colder than the rain.
"Is Jacob out there?" I asked, shivering as Edward pulled me into the circle of his arm.
"Yes . . . somewhere. And Esme's on her way home."
I sighed. "It's so cold and wet. This is silly." I shivered again.
He chuckled. "It's only cold to you, Bella."
It was cold in my dream that night, too, maybe because I slept in Edward's arms. But I dreamt I was outside in the storm, the wind whipping my hair in my face and blinding my eyes. I stood on the rocky crescent of First Beach, trying to understand the quickly moving shapes I could only dimly see in the darkness at the shore's edge. At first, there was nothing but a flash of white and black, darting toward each other and dancing away. And then, as if the moon had suddenly broken from the clouds, I could see everything.
Rosalie, her hair swinging wet and golden down to the back of her knees, was lunging at an enormous wolf - its muzzle shot through with silver - that I instinctively recognized as Billy Black.
I broke into a run, but found myself moving in the frustrating slow motion of dreamers. I tried to scream to them, to tell them to stop, but my voice was stolen by the wind, and I could make no sound. I waved my arms, hoping to catch their attention. Something flashed in my hand, and I noticed for the first time that my right hand wasn't empty.
I held a long, sharp blade, ancient and silver, crusted in dried, blackened blood.
I cringed away from the knife, and my eyes snapped open to the quiet darkness of my bedroom. The first thing I realized was that I was not alone, and I turned to bury my face in Edward's chest, knowing the sweet scent of his skin would chase the nightmare away more effectively than anything else.
"Did I wake you?" he whispered. There was the sound of paper, the ruffling of pages, and a faint thump as something light fell to the wooden floor.
"No," I mumbled, sighing in contentment as his arms tightened around me. "I had a bad dream."
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
I shook my head. "Too tired. Maybe in the morning, if I remember."
I felt a silent laugh shake through him.
"In the morning," he agreed.
"What were you reading?" I muttered, not really awake at all.
"Wuthering Heights," he said.
I frowned sleepily. "I thought you didn't like that book."
"You left it out," he murmured, his soft voice lulling me toward unconsciousness. "Besides . . . the more time I spend with you, the more human emotions seem comprehensible to me. I'm discovering that I can sympathize with Heathcliff in ways I didn't think possible before."
"Mmm," I sighed.
He said something else, something low, but I was already asleep.
The next morning dawned pearl gray and still. Edward asked me about my dream, but I couldn't get a handle on it. I only remembered that I was cold, and that I was glad he was there when I woke up. He kissed me, long enough to get my pulse racing, and then headed home to change and get his car.
I dressed quickly, low on options. Whoever had ransacked my hamper had critically impaired my wardrobe. If it wasn't so frightening, it would be seriously annoying.
As I was about to head down for breakfast, I noticed my battered copy of Wuthering Heights lying open on the floor where Edward had dropped it in the night, holding his place the way the damaged binding always held mine.
I picked it up curiously, trying to remember what he'd said. Something about feeling sympathy for Heathcliff, of all people. That couldn't be right; I must have dreamed that part.
Three words on the open page caught my eye, and I bent my head to read the paragraph more closely. It was Heathcliff speaking, and I knew the passage well.
And there you see the distinction between our feelings: had he been in my place and I in his, though I hated him with a hatred that turned my life to gall, I never would have raised a hand against him. You may look incredulous, if you please! I never would have banished him from her society as long as she desired his. The moment her regard ceased, I would have torn his heart out, and drank his blood! But, till then - if you don't believe me, you don't know me - till then, I would have died by inches before I touched a single hair of his head!
The three words that had caught my eye were "drank his blood."
Yes, surely I must have dreamt that Edward said anything positive about Heathcliff. And this page was probably not the page he'd been reading. The book could have fallen open to any page.