"L'homme est libre au moment qu'il veut l'être."
Man is free at the instant he wants to be.
Chapter Twelve, Lamed
"You remember what Rousseau wrote? 'To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. […] The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to massacre the conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be based upon a right which does not exist.'"
"Carlisle," Maggie sighed, "you've got to give up this idea of yours that we're human and behave in human ways. You and your sons have done the scientific query and proved it – I won't pretend to understand your discoveries, y'know I've no interest in anything smaller than I am – and really must stop pretending that we are. Human, that is. We may have been born men, but we've become something else, and if our nature is more bellicose than our counterparts, while lamentable, it is our nature and nothing to be ashamed of. And if we must deny liberty to a few so for the safety and security of the rest of us, so be it."
"You forget what Rousseau says later, Father. 'In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and never will exist. It is against natural order that the great number should govern and that the few should be governed.'"
"Forget, no, Edward. I just remain ever-hopeful. To quote Demosthenes, 'It is not possible to found a lasting power upon injustice, perjury, and treachery.'"
"All government is unjust, Carlisle. Some are just less so than others."
"And that is true pessimism, my son. 'The proper function of a government is to make it easy for people to do good, and difficult for them to do evil.' William Gladstone. If all we do is keep our existence hidden from those who should not know, I will be happy."
"Happy? With a government like that? Phish," the little Maggie snapped on her side of the table, laying down a domino next to the one Edward had placed a moment earlier. At least, I think that's what she did. As I was lying down on the couch, head in Jake's lap as he attempted (at my orders) to do his reading for English, and Kate seated on the floor, holding my feet in a vice-grip as she tested various shades of purple nail polish there (why exactly she was doing this, you'd have to ask her, but needless to say it made it hard to see around her), so couldn't see the table they were playing at well, but sill. "You've been around long enough to know that nothing ever gets accomplished in this world that doesn't follow the sword." It was really quite hilarious to see someone as ostensibly young as Maggie tell off Carlisle, who, if he couldn't pass for her father, could at least be a younger uncle. I knew, thanks to Kate, that Maggie had been a vampire for almost four centuries before the good doctor was even born, but it was still funny.
And Kate was three-hundred-something vampire and three human years older than her. "You're too young to be such a cynic. You'll get wrinkles if you don't stop soon."
Maggie, wisely, didn't comment on the absurdity of someone who is perpetually fourteen-years-old getting wrinkles, but rather said, "I was reading with Nessie last night..."
"Here we go," I whispered to Jake.
He looked up from Jane Eyre, which he'd been holding open to the same page for twenty minutes now, with undisguised thanks for the distraction, and whispered back, "Go with what?"
There really was no point in whispering, what with everyone in the room having super-hearing and could hear each other (and the leeches across the room) perfectly well over the Civil War documentary Jasper was watching as well, but it was habit, I guess. "Ness has been reading kid books this week in attempt to embrace her human half..."
Without pause, Maggie continued, "...and it was right about one thing: ''optimist' is a word which here refers to a person...who thinks pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, 'Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed,' but most of us would say something more along the lines of 'Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!'"
Edward pinched the bridge of his nose, looking very much inclined to say, "I am surrounded by idiots and imbeciles," but was too Victorian to do so. Or maybe he was just realizing why parasites like himself shouldn't marry their food sources; a little late for that, but better now than never, I guess. Myself, I started laughing. Better than I expected by far – I'd been expecting something from Dr. Seuss, but this was ten times better.
"Maggie, darling, you and your parents have spent too long in your hole in the ground."
"And you've spent entirely too long in your forest in the north, and the Cullens have lived too long among humans. Unless you can find the first of us, the very first vampires, I doubt you'll ever find anyone that understands exactly who we are, what we are... But you cannot expect any government of vampires to behave like a human government, or like what the shape-shifters have."
"I refuse," Jake said, tossing down the school book and jiggling me a little in the process, causing me to frown up at him, "to be called a government."
"Who said she was talking about you, O Most High and Mighty Alpha?"
"Well, as I am, as you said, the Most High and Mighty Alpha, it was kinda obvious."
"They coulda been talking 'bout me."
"Sure, sure, Leah dear."
"Don't call me deer 'round the bloodsuckers. I don't want to be mistaken for desert."
Kate snorted, "Who'd want to eat wet dog?"
"Good thing to know that the dingo population of La Push will forever be safe then."
"I resent being called a dingo," Seth said, pulling a white bud from his ear as glanced up at us from his position, on his stomach with his legs crossed in the air behind him, by the door. "I'd at least like to see some Werewolf Pride from my own sister."
"'Werewolf Pride?' God, if you want us to have marches and wave, I dunno, neon orange flags and stuff, I'm officially disowning you."
"Ah, Leah, don't disown him on his birthday. That'd be just mean."
"Jake, you just want me to wait until he's finished his Chem homework so you can copy it."
"True – but I also don't like the idea of neon orange being the official 'Werewolf Pride' colour."
Kate, putting the cap back on "Midnight Mauve" and unscrewing the top of "Secret Encounter" with one hand while she continued to hold me victim to her nail polish testing with the other, "Don't worry, we can have Alice whip up something nice. She's been a touch bored since she can't drag Leah off to dress fittings."
"And what's your excuse?"
"My excuse for what, Kiwi?" I gestured emphatically at my feet. "This? We need to find the perfect shade for the wedding."
"I take it we're going with a purple theme?"
"If you'd been paying attention to me and Alice at all, you'd know that already."
"If I paid attention to half the things either of you said, I'd've gone crazy by now."
Deciding it was more fun to tease me than pretend to do homework, Jake assured me I was already criminally insane and that, "No one even half-way sane could come up with half the curses you do."
I was saved from responding as the front door opened, and Zack came rushing in, shaking bracken out of his hair and onto the floor as he looked about wildly for a moment before making a beeline for Jake and me. "Er, Charlie's coming," he said, but all in one breath so it sounded like "Rarleomin."
"English please, pup," Jake said, but Seth understood.
"He said Charlie's coming."
"Oh. Well, thanks for the heads-up, Zack-"
"God," I breathed.
"Nice," said Seth. I guess it was – it was the kid's seventeenth birthday and all – but still. Mom. Here. With Charlie. It was going to be awful.
I think the entire room spun to look at Kate as her own response echoed in the silence that suddenly engulfed the space as Major Control Issues decided that turning off the TV and going upstairs for a while was the better option compared to seeing what would happen if he so much as looked at my mother the wrong way. "Kate," I said slowly, "what ghastly, unbearable, and barely mentionable piece of royal apocrypha are you planning on sharing with her and what can be done to stop you?"
The vampire frowned, then smiled unnaturally widely, in a way that made me wonder when the last time she'd hunted was and said, "Całe kobiety stają się ich matki. Który jest ich tragedia." It seemed Doctor Dracula and Nurse Edward spoke Polish or whatever it was, 'cause they both started laughing in that tinkly, bell-like way of theirs at this – at which point she turned towards the mind-raper and, smiling even wider if it was possible, told him, "Żaden człowiek robi. Który jest jego." No idea what she said, but it caused him to stop laughing alright.
Maggie threw down her remaining dominoes. I heard one snap as it hit the table and clatter to the floor. "Crazy. That's what you all are. Crazy," and, with that, she flitted into the kitchen and, mostly likely, through the back door into the woods.
"Remind me to fill her shoes with pudding later," Kate told me after a moment, releasing my feet at long last.
"What kind of pudding?"
Seth groaned and started shoving all his school things back into his bag. "Why do all of our conversations end like this?" Seeing I was free, Jacob shifted, pulling me out of his lap and into his arms. I guess this distracted him, 'cause it was just slightly too long of a moment later he asked my brother what he meant. "Oh, never mind. See ya later, Zack," he said as the younger boy left to rejoin Embry on patrol.
Myself, I was more concerned with Kate. "Please remember, Katie darling, that this is my mother and her fiancé that are visiting. They wouldn't exactly understand if you started telling about your weekend in the Basilica of St. John Lateran with John XII."
"Benedict IX, actually. But I guess I see your point... What about Henry Stafford?"
"Who?" I asked with a sigh.
"Henry Stafford, Second Duke of Buckingham. Richard III's kingmaker. He threw poor Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury in the tower... Well, poor little Richard, anyway. Eddie was a bit of a snob, even in the tower. Comes from being crowned so young... or maybe it's just the name. Edwards tend to be a little stuck up, don't you think?"
"Yes, I think, and no, you can't tell Mom that either."
"Oh... What about-?"
"You haven't even heard what I was about to say."
"None of your sexcapade stories, okay?"
"How about Filipsde Schone? Can I tell her one of his 'sexcapade' stories?"
"There is something very wrong with you."
"That hurts, Kiwi, it truly does. See what I tell your great-grandchildren about you."
"You stalk my descendants and I swear I'll haunt you for the rest of your unnaturally long un-life."
"That's not much of a threat: I've been around a long time and not seen a ghost yet."
"Didn't see a shape-shifter until recently did you either? So just you wait and see."
"You do have a point," Kate said, taking the space on the couch my feet had previously occupied and deciding that this position was a good one to juggle bottles of nail polish in. "Been around a thousand years, I have, and spent most of that time amongst the courts of Europe, and never met a suczka as bad as you – and that includes Świętosława."
From upstairs a voice – Heidi's by my guess – called, "Tala inte om att hora framför mig!"
To which Kate responded, "I'm not in front of you, Heidi darling. I'm a whole floor below you," then in an aside to me, "Her favourite cousin was Gunhild Sveinsdotter's mother, and you, of course, know Gunhild married Sweyn II of Denmark." My blank face told her that I, of course, didn't. "Sweyn II's mother was Estrid Margarete Svendsdatter, who was the daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard and Sigrid the Haughty, aka Świętosława. Blames Sigrid for ruining Gunhild's marriage, which is just ridiculous of course, 'cause she'd been dead for thirty-three years easily by that point."
I didn't say it, but I decided that Maggie was right, and everyone I knew was criminally insane.
The mind-reader, being the mind-raping sodomite he is, gave a snort of laughter at this point and went to open the door, presumably because Mom and Charlie were here and it was the weird Victorian thing to do, but maybe also to get away from Kate, whose thoughts, sadly enough, have to be worse than what she actually says.
God, now that's a terrible thought. I snuggled closer to Jake to hide from it. He didn't complain. It'd been a tense twelve days since the the baby shower fiasco, a tense twelve days that, despite our twenty-four/seven patrolling, had resulted in absolutely nothing from Sam's pack. Not even an electronic sausage. I knew he was still angry that I hadn't let him beat Sam into a bloody pulp, no matter how much fun that woulda been to watch, but that was okay. Violence is the last recourse of the incompetent, and if we want to cling to our humanity, we have to give that up... Or else we become something else...
I've overheard Ed-weird and his father talking. They seem to think Jake and I are creating a new species. Maybe we are. But, God knows, all I've ever wanted since I first started phasing was to be human again. And people don't go around killing each other like animals. Most the time.
"'The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure'," the idiot in question said softly, so soft Mom and Charlie couldn't hear him, even as he was opening the door for them. "Chief Swan, Mrs. Clearwater, welcome."
Mom looked slightly fishy as she took in the absolute whiteness of La Casa de Leech. Her eyes almost bugged out as Kate, crossing the room in a split second, appeared in front of Charlie, grabbed his hand, shook it strongly (mostly likely giving him frostbite in the process), let go, and enveloped my mother in a hug she'd probably used in the past to trap bears with. "Allo, Shoshana. I am Ekaternia Dobryninva, but you can call me Kate. Eez vonderful meeting-"
"Kate, drop the accent. And you know that's not her name," I sighed, trying to find the energy to stand and pull her off Mom.
Edward, however, chided, "Nie daje biedna kobieta serce atak, Katachk," causing her to frown and resume her place, pouting, on the couch next to me.
"Jej serce dźwięk po prostu karzą mandatem,Eddie. Don't be such a worry wart. I know how to behave myself around humans."
Seth rolled his eyes and clambered off the floor to give Mom a hug. "Hey Mom. What you doing here?"
"Can't a woman visit her own children on one of their birthdays without people throwing a parade over it?"
"Don't bother, Mrs. C.," Jake said. "They throw parades here over the smallest things. See you've met Kate."
"Don't believe anything she tells you."
"I resent that, Kiwi, I really do. I thought you loved me."
"That was only an act to make Jake jealous, sorry."
Pretending to sniffle, "That hurts, Kiwi, that really does. See if I don't go Muriel's Wedding with yours."
"You have any idea what she means?" I asked Jake. He shook his head. So did Seth, Mom, and Charlie.
"Abba." We all turned to look at Edward. "She means Abba. She'll do it too."
"Let her. I don't care."
"You obviously never suffered through the '70s."
"Thank God. Now why don't you go act your age, Edward, and moulder somewhere?"
"You're just making it worse for yourself. Your-" Then the mind-raper paused, cocking his head like he was listening to something. "Now that's interesting. Carlisle, Kate, why don't we go upstairs and see if Alice needs any help."
Carlisle stood, and, after raising a querulous blonde eyebrow at his son, went upstairs. Kate, despite much glaring, didn't. "I wanna play with the puppies."
"The 'puppies' don't want to play with you."
I looked at Jake, to see if he'd managed to pick up on what I was obviously missing here. I was about to ask, when a knock resounded against the door and around the room.