'These ancient ones did not come here for justice as they told you. We suspected as much, and now it has been proved. They came, misled, but with a valid excuse for their action. Witness now as they seek flimsy excuses to continue their true mission. Witness them struggle to find a justification for their true purpose - to destroy this family here." He gestured toward Carlisle and Tanya.

"The Volturi come to erase what they perceive as the competition. Perhaps, like me, you look at this clan's golden eyes and marvel. They are difficult to understand, it's true. But the ancient ones look and see something besides their strange choice. They see power.

"I have witnessed the bonds within this family - I say family and not coven. These strange golden-eyed ones deny their very natures. But in return have they found something worth even more, perhaps, than mere gratification of desire? I've made a little study of them in my time here, and it seems to me that intrinsic to this intense family binding - that which makes them possible at all - is the peaceful character of this life of sacrifice. There is no aggression here like we all saw in the large southern clans that grew and diminished so quickly in their wild feuds. There is no thought for domination. And Aro knows this better than I do."

I watched Aro's face as Garrett's words condemned him, waiting tensely for some response. But Aro's face was only politely amused, as if waiting for a tantrum-throwing child to realize that no one was paying attention to his histrionics.

"Carlisle assured us all, when he told us what was coming, that he did not call us here to fight. These witnesses" - Garrett pointed to Siobhan and Liam - "agreed to give evidence, to slow the Volturi advance with their presence so that Carlisle would get the chance to present his case.

"But some of us wondered" - his eyes flashed to Eleazars face - "if Carlisle having truth on his side would be enough to stop the so-called justice. Are the Volturi here to protect the safety of our secrecy, or to protect their own power? Did they come to destroy an illegal creation, or a way of life? Could they be satisfied when the danger turned out to be no more than a misunderstanding? Or would they push the issue without the excuse of justice?

"We have the answer to all these questions. We heard it in Aro's lying words - we have one with a gift of knowing such things for certain - and we see it now in Caius's eager smile. Their guard is just a mindless weapon, a tool in their masters' quest for domination.

"So now there are more questions, questions that you must answer. Who rules you, nomads? Do you answer to someone's will besides your own? Are you free to choose your path, or will the Volturi decide how you will live?

"I came to witness. I stay to fight. The Volturi care nothing for the death of the child. They seek the death of our free will."

He turned, then, to face the ancients. "So come, I say! Let's hear no more lying rationalizations. Be honest in your intents as we will be honest in ours. We will defend our freedom. You will or will not attack it. Choose now, and let these witnesses see the true issue debated here."

Once more he looked to the Volturi witnesses, his eyes probing each face. The power of his words was evident in their expressions. "You might consider joining us. If you think the Volturi will let you live to tell this tale, you are mistaken. We may all be destroyed" - he shrugged - "but then again, maybe not. Perhaps we are on more equal footing than they know. Perhaps the Volturi have finally met their match. I promise you this, though - if we fall, so do you."

He ended his heated speech by stepping back to Kate's side and then sliding forward in a half-crouch, prepared for the onslaught.

Aro smiled. "Avery pretty speech, my revolutionary friend."

Garrett remained poised for attack. "Revolutionary?" he growled. "Who am I revolting against, might I ask? Are you my king? Do you wish me to call you master, too, like your sycophantic guard?"

"Peace, Garrett," Aro said tolerantly. "I meant only to refer to your time of birth. Still a patriot, I see."

Garrett glared back furiously.

"Let us ask our witnesses," Aro suggested. "Let us hear their thoughts before we make our decision. Tell us, friends" - and he turned his back casually on us, moving a few yards toward his mass of nervous observers hovering even closer now to the edge of the forest - "what do you think of all this? I can assure you the child is not what we feared. Do we take the risk and let the child live? Do we put our world in jeopardy to preserve their family intact? Or does earnest Garrett have the right of it? Will you join them in a fight against our sudden quest for dominion?"

The witnesses met his gaze with careful faces. One, a small black-haired woman, looked briefly at the dark blond male at her side.

"Are those our only choices?" she asked suddenly, gaze flashing back to Aro. "Agree with you, or fight against you?"

"Of course not, most charming Makenna," Aro said, appearing horrified that anyone could come to that conclusion. "You may go in peace, of course, as Amun did, even if you disagree with the council's decision."

Makenna looked at her mate's face again, and he nodded minutely.

"We did not come here for a fight." She paused, exhaled, then said, "We came here to witness. And our witness is that this condemned family is innocent. Everything that Garrett claimed is the truth."

"Ah," Aro said sadly. "I'm sorry you see us in that way. But such is the nature of our work."

"It is not what I see, but what I feel," Makenna's maize-haired mate spoke in a high, nervous voice. He glanced at Garrett. "Garrett said they have ways of knowing lies. I, too, know when I am hearing the truth, and when I am not." With frightened eyes he moved closer to his mate, waiting for Aro's reaction.