“Once upon a time,” Edward began, “there were three sisters.”
“Like Auntie Rosalie, Auntie Alice and Mommy!”
“Yes, like that.” I could hear the smile in his luscious, warm voice. “But the two older sisters did not like the younger one. The older sisters loved to look in the mirror and try on different clothes and admire themselves. The younger one, whose name was Stella, did not care for such things. She liked to explore the woods, listen to the songs of birds and look for the tracks of animals. But she also happened to be the most beautiful of the sisters.”
“Well, I think so.”
I rolled my eyes. “Edward, just tell the story.” Ever since the bonfire, Renesmee had pleaded for another vampire story. Edward was happy to oblige, but I suggested that he lighten up the content. He assured me he had a plan to entertain our daughter without traumatizing her with too much conflict and death. I was just as eager as Renesmee to hear the tale unfold. She was tucked under the covers, and I lay on the bed next to her. Edward occupied the rocking chair that used to be in my bedroom.
“The older sisters were very jealous of Stella. When their parents died and they were on their own, they made Stella do all the work in their house so that they had time to make themselves pretty, and so their hands didn’t get coarse. They took all the jewelry and nice clothes that their parents had bought for Stella. The only thing that they let her keep for herself was something they didn’t want— their father’s hunting knife. Stella needed it to clean the fish that she caught and the rabbits that she trapped, and of course the sisters didn’t want to do any messy work like that.
“One day Stella did not return from where she had gone to check her traps and gather wood for the fire. The older sisters weren’t worried about Stella, but they were unhappy that her work was not done. Stella didn’t return the next day, or the day after that, and the sisters finally made up their minds that she had run away or come to some grief in the forest and they would have to go on without her. They hired someone to do the work Stella had done.”
“What happened to Stella?”
“I’m coming to that, sweetie. Stella had encountered a vampire.”
Renesmee held her breath in excitement.
“He bit her to change her, because he was hoping that she would be his wife. Stella was very bewildered by her new self. She followed this vampire around and learned his ways, but she refused to marry him. After several years she felt ready to live on her own, and the vampire agreed she could go her own way.”
“Where did she go?”
“She went back to her sisters.”
“Why, if they were so mean to her?” Renesemee wondered.
“Stella did not know who else might help her. You see, she had decided that she didn’t want to kill humans any more. She thought she could hunt animals, which she had done when she was human. She wanted her sisters to keep her locked up so that she couldn’t be a danger to humans, and she would go out once a week to find animals to drink from.
“The sisters were very disturbed to see Stella return. She was even more beautiful than before. At first they thought she was a ghost or an angel. Eventually she convinced them that she was real, but she had changed and was no longer human. They decided that she could stay if she resumed doing all the work of the household. Stella agreed right away. She had always done the work before, and now she was stronger and faster and she didn’t have to sleep. So it didn’t bother her. Once a week she would go out at night to hunt animals for their blood, and she used her knife to remove their skins or furs for trading. The rest of the time, they kept her locked up as she requested.”
“How could they lock her up?” I asked.
“Bella, do you mind?” he said in mock indignation. “I’m trying to weave a spell of enchantment here.”
“Sorry! I’ll just listen.”
Renesmee frowned. “Now you’ve got her questioning me!” Edward exclaimed. “She’s imagining Stella breaking down the door.” He heaved a theatrical sigh. “Since you ask, Stella knew she could escape any time, but being locked up was just a way to remind herself that she wanted to stay in the house and away from humans whom she might hurt.”
“That makes sense,” I agreed, and Renesmee curled up under her covers.
“Well, they went along this way, until one day the sisters got an invitation to a very fancy garden party at the castle. The prince had invited all the young women of the kingdom because he was looking for a bride. Of course, he did not invite Stella because nobody besides her sisters knew she was back. Stella washed and ironed her sisters’ best dresses and helped them put their hair up. Then they locked her up and left the house. Stella picked up a book to pass the time, but suddenly there was a musical sound in the air and someone appeared out of nowhere. It was Stella’s fairy godmother.”
“What did she look like?” Renesmee asked.
“I’m not sure. Show us what you think she should look like.” She reached her hand out to touch my face and show me Esme. Edward smiled. “Yes, that seems right. She was beautiful and very warm and loving.”
“‘Stella, would you like to go to the party?’ she asked.
“‘Do you think that’s a good idea?’ Stella responded.
“‘Yes, I definitely think you should go.’”
“I love parties,” said Renesmee happily.
“‘But I don’t have anything to wear,’ Stella protested.
“‘I can take care of that,’ her fairy godmother assured her. She waved her wand, and Stella was clothed in a beautiful red dress. Over this she buckled her belt with her hunting knife, because she never went anywhere without it. ‘But listen carefully,’ the fairy godmother warned Stella. ‘You have to leave the castle before 3 o’clock. It’s cloudy now, but at 3 o’clock exactly the sun will start to come out. You must be sure to be away from people who might see you sparkling in the sun.’ Stella understood. Usually she only went out at night so that she wouldn’t be caught in the sun.
“Because she didn’t have Auntie Alice,” Renesmee said with satisfaction.
“That’s right,” he smiled.
“Stella was very impressed with the castle and the extensive grounds. Musicians were playing, and guests were dancing. Servants circulated with trays of drinks and snacks. Stella was pleased to be part of the event, and she especially enjoyed the lovely music, but she thought it was best to keep a distance from the others. She didn’t want to get too close to all the humans, and she didn’t want to run into her sisters. So she wandered away to a quiet corner of the garden.
“A young man came to sit beside her. Stella thought he was very handsome.” Renesmee patted my cheek and shared a picture of…..Jacob. Huh. I glanced at Edward. He had obviously picked up on her mental image. He looked rueful for a moment but carried on with the story without comment.
“The young man asked Stella if she would like to dance. She politely declined. He gave a sigh of relief.
“‘I’m glad you said that,’ he said to her. ‘I don’t really care for dancing, and I’m not very good at it.’
“‘Why did you ask me, then?’
“‘Well, of course I would, if you wanted to,’ he replied. ‘I want everyone to have a nice time here. But this party was really my father’s idea, for me to meet all the young women of the kingdom.’ Stella realized she was talking to the prince himself! ‘It’s not my thing. I don’t like being around so many people. What I really enjoy is hiking, swimming in the lake and watching for birds.’
“‘Me too!’ Stella exclaimed.
“‘Really?’ the prince asked, looking at her glamorous dress.
“‘Yes, I love to be out in the woods,’ she told him. ‘I do lots of fishing and trapping. I trade the animal skins and furs. See?’ She showed him her knife,
“‘It’s beautiful,’ he said.
“‘It was my father’s. That’s my family crest on the handle,’ she explained.
“‘It’s very well balanced,’ he said, motioning with the knife in his hand. ‘Have you seen any unusual birds migrating through here recently?’
“She nodded excitedly. ‘Have you ever seen a gold-throated blackbird?’ she asked.
“‘Yes!’ he said proudly. ‘I had to get up very early for many days, but it was worth it. Have you ever seen a flock of Cossovo ducks?’ Stella shook her head. ‘I can show you where to wait and watch. It’s amazing when they’re all flying together.’
“Stella looked up, imagining a crowd of black and purple ducks filling the sky. She noticed the clouds shifting. Suddenly she realized it was nearly 3 o’clock.
“She leaped to her feet and rushed off. ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go!’ she shouted to the prince. But he was still holding her knife.”
“Her knife!” cried Renesmee in alarm. I stroked her hair.
“The prince wanted to return Stella’s knife and, of course, he wanted to see her again. He asked some of the other party guests and the people at the castle, but nobody knew the woman he described. He began visiting every house in the kingdom, carrying the knife with him and asking each family to show him their family crest. Finally he came to the house of the sisters. They were delighted to see the prince at their door and invited him in. Immediately, he noticed the familiar crest on the wall above the fireplace.
“‘Is this your knife?’ he asked the oldest sister.
“‘Why, yes,’ she replied. ‘I was wondering what happened to it.’
“He frowned. He hadn’t spent much time with Stella, but he knew this wasn’t her. ‘What do you use it for?’ he asked.
“‘Manicures,’ said the sister.
“‘I don’t think so,’ he replied, lifting one eyebrow skeptically.
“The second sister saw her chance. ‘That’s my knife!’ she said. ‘Where did you find it?’
“‘What do you use it for?’ he asked.
“‘Trimming my hair,’ she answered. The prince didn’t believe her either.
“Stella could hear everything they said. She decided she had to come forward. She pushed the locked door open and walked into the room. Her sisters gasped.
“‘I think you have my knife,’ Stella stated in a matter-of-fact tone.
“The prince recognized her at once. ‘It’s you!’ he said joyfully. ‘Will you marry me?’
“‘Only on one condition,’ Stella replied.
“The prince nodded. ‘Anything,’ he declared. The sisters held their breath. What would she ask for? Perhaps she’d want them to be punished for always making her do all the work. Perhaps she’d demand buckets of jewels.
“‘You have to take me to see the Cossovo ducks,’ Stella said.
“He promised that he would, and just a few weeks later, they were in the right place to see a big, beautiful flock of ducks flying overhead. Soon after that, they got married, and they lived happily ever after, wandering in the woods, tracking animals and spotting birds.”
“Very creative,” I praised Edward.
“There are a lot of aspects of the traditional version that never worked for me,” he grinned. “And let’s not even talk about the Disney movie.”
Renesmee was mulling over the story. “She was a vampire, and he was human.”
“Could they be married that way?”
“What do you think?”
“Maybe. Or maybe she changed him to be the same as her.”
“That’s certainly one approach,” Edward agreed. His tone was remarkably mild, considering how much ingenuity and energy he’d dedicated to opposing and postponing that very solution.
“Maybe her fairy godmother could help them,” I suggested.
“Yes!” Renesmee said. “Maybe Stella could be human again.”
“Maybe. But it’s definitely time for bed,” I reminded her.
“Will you tell me that story again tomorrow night?”