Renesmee looked at me quickly. I nodded.

"Hello, Aro," she answered formally in her high, ringing voice.

Aro's eyes were bemused.

"What is it?" Caius hissed from behind. He seemed infuriated by the need to ask.

"Half mortal, half immortal," Aro announced to him and the rest of the guard without turning his enthralled gaze from Renesmee. "Conceived so, and carried by this newborn while she was still human."

"Impossible," Caius scoffed.

"Do you think they've fooled me, then, brother?" Aro's expression was greatly amused, but Caius flinched. "Is the heartbeat you hear a trickery as well?"

Caius scowled, looking as chagrined as if Aro's gentle questions had been blows.

"Calmly and carefully, brother," Aro cautioned, still smiling at Renesmee. "I know well how you love your justice, but there is no justice in acting against this unique little one for her parentage. And so much to learn, so much to learn! I know you don't have my enthusiasm for collecting histories, but be tolerant with me, brother, as I add a chapter that stuns me with its improbability. We came expecting only justice and the sadness of false friends, but look what we have gained instead! A new, bright knowledge of ourselves, our possibilities."

He held out his hand to Renesmee in invitation. But this was not what she wanted. She leaned away from me, stretching upward, to touch her fingertips to Aro's face.

Aro did not react with shock as almost everyone else had reacted to this performance from Renesmee; he was as used to the flow of thought and memory from other minds as Edward was.

His smile widened, and he sighed in satisfaction. "Brilliant," he whispered.

Renesmee relaxed back into my arms, her little face very serious.

"Please?" she asked him.

His smile turned gentle. "Of course I have no desire to harm your loved ones, precious Renesmee."

Aro's voice was so comforting and affectionate, it took me in for a second. And then I heard Edward's teeth grind together and, far behind us, Maggie's outraged hiss at the lie.

"I wonder," Aro said thoughtfully, seeming unaware of the reaction to his previous words. His eyes moved unexpectedly to Jacob, and instead of the disgust the other Volturi viewed the giant wolf with, Aro's eyes were filled with a longing that I did not comprehend.

"It doesn't work that way," Edward said, the careful neutrality gone from his suddenly harsh tone.

"Just an errant thought," Aro said, appraising Jacob openly, and then his eyes moved slowly across the two lines of werewolves behind us. Whatever Renesmee had shown him, it made the wolves suddenly interesting to him.

"They don't belong to us, Aro. They don't follow our commands that way. They're here because they want to be."

Jacob growled menacingly.

"They seem quite attached to you, though," Aro said. "And your young mate and your... family. Loyal" His voice caressed the word softly.

"They're committed to protecting human life, Aro. That makes them able to coexist with us, but hardly with you. Unless you're rethinking your lifestyle."

Aro laughed merrily. "Just an errant thought," he repeated. "You well know how that is. We none of us can entirely control our subconscious desires."

Edward grimaced. "I do know how that is. And I also know the difference between that kind of thought and the kind with a purpose behind it. It could never work, Aro."

Jacob's vast head turned in Edward's direction, and a faint whine slipped from between his teeth.

"He's intrigued with the idea of... guard dogs," Edward murmured back.

There was one second of dead silence, and then the sound of the furious snarls ripping from the entire pack filled the giant clearing.

There was a sharp bark of command - from Sam, I guessed, though I didn't turn to look - and the complaint broke off into ominous quiet.

"I suppose that answers that question," Aro said, laughing again. "This lot has picked its side."

Edward hissed and leaned forward. I clutched at his arm, wondering what could be in Aro's thoughts that would make him react so violently, while Felix and Demetri slipped into crouches in synchronization. Aro waved them off again. They all returned to their former posture, Edward included.

"So much to discuss," Aro said, his tone suddenly that of an inundated businessman. "So much to decide. If you and your furry protector will excuse me, my dear Cullens, I must confer with my brothers."

37. CONTRIVANCES

Aro did not rejoin his anxious guard waiting on the north side of the clearing; instead, he waved them forward.

Edward started backing up immediately, pulling my arm and Emmett's. We hurried backward, keeping our eyes on the advancing threat. Jacob retreated slowest, the fur on his shoulders standing straight up as he bared his fangs at Aro. Renesmee grabbed the end of his tail as we retreated; she held it like a leash, forcing him to stay with us. We reached our family at the same time that the dark cloaks surrounded Aro again.

Now there were only fifty yards between them and us - a distance any of us could leap in just a fraction of a second.

Caius began arguing with Aro at once.

"How can you abide this infamy? Why do we stand here impotently in the face of such an outrageous crime, covered by such a ridiculous deception?" He held his arms rigidly at his sides, his hands curled into claws. I wondered why he did not just touch Aro to share his opinion. Were we seeing a division in their ranks already? Could we be that lucky?

"Because it's all true," Aro told him calmly. "Every word of it. See how many witnesses stand ready to give evidence that they have seen this miraculous child grow and mature in just the short time they've known her. That they have felt the warmth of the blood that pulses in her veins." Aro's gesture swept from Amun on one side across to Siobhan on the other.

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