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For those of you catching up with this for the first time, this story is written in round robin form by our authors, but the plot was chosen by readers on the Fantasy Reads for Austen Fans Facebook page. They voted on the main story line (second chance at love), magical system (animal familiars), setting (a magical library), original character (Darcy’s valet who is also his magical mentor), magical creature (griffin), and more.
Our authors are: Abigail Reynolds, Victoria Kincaid, Monica Fairview, Melanie Rachel, Lari Ann O’Dell, and me, Sarah Courtney.
Last week, Elizabeth and Darcy were torn apart as they returned to their separate responsibilities–Darcy to Pemberley, and Elizabeth to the Library. This week, we’ll jump over to Georgiana, who has recovered from her illness and has returned to her duties at sea with Galon.
“If you taught me, I would have less to fear,” Georgiana said, hands on her hips. Her imperious gesture was made a little less severe by a sudden jolt of the ship that tipped it briefly towards the starboard, forcing Georgiana to fling her hands out to maintain her balance.
Galon grabbed her wrist to steady her. “Easy,” he murmured.
Georgiana looked down at the deck of the ship, which had resumed its natural movement. The sea had been increasingly odd lately, even more mercurial than it usually was. The sky was gray and heavy today, but there was no rain yet.
She and Galon stood at the bow where they could be out of the way of the sailors but still able to stand ready for danger from the sea.
“We know he will come,” she insisted, returning to the topic of discussion. “He has threatened it. He may come for your skin first, perhaps, or he may consider me an easier target. But at this point, he will want revenge on us both.”
“And I have promised to keep you safe,” he said in his solemn voice, his green eyes steady on hers. “I would die to protect you, my dear girl. You know that.”
“I do.” She softened, looking at his earnest expression. Since her illness, he seemed determined to wrap her in cotton wool and protect her with all of his strength, even now that she was well again. But that was not who she was, and that was not who they were. “But you know that I have recovered my full strength. You cannot protect me all of the time. No,” she said when his mouth opened in protest, “you cannot. Even you must sleep. You must sometimes take more than a few steps from me. You must sometimes return to the sea.”
That last frightened her the most. As a selkie, he could not stay out of the sea forever. He had been far from it for too long during her time at Pemberley. Returning to the ship had helped him some, but he would have to go into the water soon, or he would begin to suffer. And there she could not follow him.
“I will delay it as long as possible.”
“No!” She clenched his wrists. “You must! Galon, I love you. I could not bear to see you suffer. And you know that the longer you are away from the sea, the weaker you become. Do you not see? This is the only way.”
He looked out across the water, his brow furrowed.
“Why are you so resistant?” Georgiana asked at last. He had often seen her fight in sea battles. He had fought by her side in his selkie form. Why was he concerned now?
He sighed and pinched his brow. “I suppose . . . I suppose because teaching you hand-to-hand combat acknowledges that I cannot protect you. And the idea sends chills down my spine. If something happened to you—”
“I wish I could say that nothing will happen to me. But if it does, would it not be better if I was able to protect myself? And we have already seen that my magic, especially as it is tied so closely to the sea, is not always enough to protect me.” She looked down, running the tip of her foot along the edge of a board. “Once I saw through him, I did try to escape, but once he gagged me and grabbed my arms, I could not call upon my magic. I was helpless. I do not want to be in that situation again.”
Galon ran a finger under her chin until she lifted her eyes to meet his. His eyes were gentle and understanding. He took a deep breath and nodded reluctantly.
“Very well. I will have to set aside my fears. But you will forgive me if I occasionally forget and hold you like the precious gift you are?”
She laughed. “Of course. And Galon . . . thank you.”
She was not quite as thankful after her first lessons. Her arms and legs ached, and she had more bruises than she had ever thought possible.
And yet the act was exhilarating. Even after all the time she had spent working her magic in battle, there was something thrilling about learning to fight with knees and fists and elbows. It was not one bit ladylike, but that was part of her enjoyment.
The storage room under the second deck was their chosen site for their mock battles, as they were out of the way of the sailors and did not have to worry about flying off the deck when the ship rocked or jolted unexpectedly. Here, they would only fly into barrels or crates which were tied onto rails to keep them from rolling about.
“Again,” Galon said, gripping Georgiana from behind. This time, he grabbed both of her arms at the elbow.
Georgiana tried to elbow him, but his grip was too tight. Remembering what he had taught her, she threw her head back, but she was too much shorter than Galon and her head only hit his chest.
So she let her legs go limp, yanking her weight downwards. Simultaneously, she used his grip on her elbows to yank him forward, throwing his weight off-balance until he was forced to release her or fall.
“Excellent!” Galon said, taking a step back.
Georgiana smiled, rubbing her elbows.
“Are you well?” He was watching her movement with concern, so she stopped quickly, even though his grip had hurt. She was not about to let him end their lessons so early.
“Yes!” She grinned. “Can we try the one where I throw you next?”
He laughed. “Does your brother know how bloodthirsty you are?”
“Not in the slightest.”
They faced each other and she prepared, keeping her weight balanced and ready. As he stepped forward, she pulled him, planting her left foot to throw him off balance, then hitting his leg from behind while shoving him hard.
Galon fell. Of course, with his height, the fall was rather dramatic. It was made more so by the fact that Georgiana forgot to let go of him at the end, and so she tumbled with him.
Not just with him, but directly onto him.
“Oof!” he gasped as he landed hard.
“Oh no! Are you hurt?” Georgiana frantically wrapped her hands around his head, feeling behind it for blood. Had his head hit the ground?
Georgiana ceased her panic over his potential head injury when she realized that he was looking back at her from only inches away, and the look in his eyes was certainly not pain.
Well, maybe a certain kind of pain.
She gave him a tentative smile, and he took that as all the permission he needed. His hands wrapped around her head, pulling her even closer to him as his mouth met hers.
With a sigh of pleasure, she sank into him, forgetting everything but how much she loved this loyal, kind, clever man who had always been there for her. He was the reason she wanted to learn how to protect herself—because she could not bear the idea that he might be hurt trying to protect her, and because she wanted a long, happy life by his side.
He groaned, and she smiled and deepened the kiss, her fingers playing with his silky hair.
As if she had issued an invitation, his hand was suddenly buried in her hair, pins flying as he pulled her ever closer.
For a moment, Georgiana felt dizzily that she had forgotten which way was up, until she realized that he had rolled them over so that he was on top, his mouth plundering hers as he hovered over her on his elbows.
Their wedding could not come soon enough.
She was bereft when he finally pulled back and smiled down at her.
“My dear, we—” His face suddenly froze, and the light in his eyes darkened.
He pushed himself backwards onto his knees. “Georgiana, get behind me.”
She obeyed immediately. Whatever the threat was, he recognized it while she did not, and she would trust him to stand before her.
Galon crept forward towards one of the crates. When he reached it, he flung the crate over, sending its contents flying.
A metal plate flew out, hitting the opposite wall of the storage compartment with a clang. A small lantern followed, rolling a few feet across the floor. Georgiana frowned at the remaining contents. Several loose blankets, a pair of pants.
With horror, Georgiana looked to where the plate had landed. Several large crumbs of bread and a small chicken bone lay near it.
“A stowaway,” she whispered, realizing what it all meant.
Galon’s gaze went sharply to hers. His face was pale, his eyes dark in the gloom of the compartment. “Not just any stowaway,” he said grimly. “Wickham.”
There had been no further sign of Wickham in the storage compartment. Perhaps he spent his nights there, perhaps he had abandoned it when they had first begun their practices in the room. Perhaps, perhaps.
Galon had spoken to the captain, who had ordered the ship searched. The sailors had grumbled, but they had searched. Unfortunately, it was a large ship, most of the sailors had no magic, and Wickham was adept at those tricks he knew, besides whatever number of spells he still had from Alaine. Nobody had found him.
“Galon,” Georgiana said patiently yet again. “You must go into the sea.”
“I cannot leave you while Wickham is here.”
“I will be well protected.” She looked back at the captain. Captain Wentworth was a powerful magic user in his own right, and he had invited her to stand next to her at the helm while Galon spent a little while in the sea. “And you know that I would rather fight by your side than hide in your shadow.”
“You will be of no use in my protection if you do not recover your strength,” she said, pushing his skin at him. “And we will need to fight. It is not just Napoleon anymore. You have heard the reports. Strange creatures, cyclones, fuming water. I will need you at full power, at my side. Please, Galon.”
Galon turned to Captain Wentworth. “Please,” he said softly, “do not fail to guard her. She is my heart.”
“I give you my word,” the captain said firmly. “None will harm her under my care.”
And finally, finally, Galon slipped into his selkie skin and dove into the sea.
Georgiana kept her own promise. She stood next to Captain Wentworth and split her attention between the sea, watching for Galon, and the ship. She would see Wickham if he tried to approach her. Even invisibility spells could be spotted if one were diligent and if the wearer was moving. The ripples were always there to see.
But there were no ripples, and there was no disturbance on the ship.
The sky was blue and almost cloudless, the wind just brisk enough to keep the sails filled without heralding an approaching storm.
Georgiana took a deep breath. The salty air refreshed her in a way that even the brisk cool air of her native Derbyshire no longer could. This was her home now, her duty, her purpose. She smiled to hear the shouts of the sailors as they adjusted sails and manned their posts.
There. Was that Galon in the distance? Yes, she could just see him darting among the waves. He was moving towards the ship, in fact. Was he done already? She might have to scold him if his color was not better. She was well, safe, and he could afford to spend longer in the water.
Several of the sailors had spotted him, and she could hear them calling to each other and pointing to him. But she frowned.
He was coming far too fast. This was not Galon returning to the ship after taking a refreshing swim. Something was wrong.
One final dive, and Galon leapt up as a seal and transformed into a man just in time to grab hold of the rope ladder with one hand and his selkie skin in the other.
“Something is coming!” he yelled. “Port side! Something is wrong with the sea!”
Just as he threw himself over the deck and Captain Wentworth sounded the alarm, there was a deep rumble. The ship shuddered as if the ocean itself had split, and the waves suddenly became rough in a strange circular pattern, as if someone had dropped something very large and heavy into the water some distance away.
The sailor in the crow’s nest yelled, “Sea monster!” and it was cacophony on board.
Galon leaped up the stairs towards Georgiana. For a moment, she thought he was injured from how he clutched his side, but then she realized he was still holding his selkie skin. He shoved it into a corner under a pile of ropes before hurtling to her side and taking her hand in his.
She clutched the railing on one side and Galon on the other, but she stood, chin raised, ready to meet this threat with the magic that flowed within her.
A dark shape was visible under the water on the port side. It disappeared under the keel of the ship, and Georgiana held her breath. Would it attack the ship from underneath? She had heard of sea monsters upending entire ships in the past from such a move.
Suddenly, it surfaced on the starboard side, and Georgiana gasped and clutched at Galon’s hand.
It was not the massive flippers that kept it afloat that terrified her, although the monster could capsize the vessel in one blow. It was not even the sharp teeth in its massive mouth or the vicious look in its lizard-like head that made her tremble.
It was the long, long neck that allowed it to reach its head up over the ship like a swan before darting its head in like a bird snatching prey, a screaming sailor trapped in its maws.
Georgiana fought to control her terror and keep her stomach from revolting as she threw out her magic, reaching for the sea. She could feel Galon next to her, his own magic flying forth to wrap around the monster’s gargantuan neck. Captain Wentworth and several of his lieutenants sent forth winds to buffet the monster, loose its jaws, and release its captive.
Georgiana pulled hard on the monster from beneath, sucking it down into the waves, trusting that the others would free the man in time.
The sea was now a raging maelstrom, and Georgiana fought hard to keep the ship from being sucked in along with the monster as she grappled with its mighty form.
There were cries of relief from the men as the sailor dropped out of the monster’s mouth and was blown gently onto the deck, but she kept her focus on the monster. Now that the man was freed, it was time to push it away from the ship and destroy it.
It was easier, she found, to push the ship away from the monster. She shoved, and the ship sailed through the water as if propelled, far enough away to simplify her job of controlling the whirlpool.
She could feel when Galon’s focus shifted to the ship, keeping it steady and afloat in the still raging waters, taking the pressure off her to mind both things at once. She released it into his care.
The captain and his men worked with her, their magic spinning around hers, all of them attacking the sea monster from different angles, twisting and pulling. It writhed and groaned, but finally they had twisted its neck until it broke.
The sea monster, its body still undulating, slowly sank into the sea.
Georgiana kept her magical hold on the sea, which still roared with the magic she had pushed into it. Slowly, she settled the sea back to its natural state.
She released her magic and staggered, exhausted. Fighting the maelstrom to keep the monster trapped but the ship safe had taken a massive amount of her energy.
She had never seen a sea monster like that in all of her time at sea. And what had Galon seen or felt that had alerted him? She could have sworn there had been an undersea earthquake, but would they have even felt such a thing on a ship?
The oceans had been strange for the past few years, but this was beyond strange. This was dangerous. Something was very, very wrong.
What was that?
There was an odd ripple to Georgiana’s side, and suddenly she was wrenched back against someone.
“Galon!” she managed to gasp before a sharp pain at her neck and a warm trickle of blood blocked her speech.
Mr. Wickham! He had used the distraction of the sea monster to grab her.
She frantically reached for her magic, but Mr. Wickham was already dragging her backwards.
“Your skin!” Mr. Wickham called, and Georgiana recognized the fear and fury in his voice. He knew this was a last desperate effort. He knew he would not likely succeed. The thought gave her courage. “Your skin for your beloved!”
“No!” Georgiana wanted to shout, but the knife was already cutting into her neck. Mr. Wickham had misjudged his strength, and if she did not stop him, he would kill her before he even intended to.
Galon took a step forward, murder in his eyes, but halted when Wickham tightened his grip on her.
Georgiana met Galon’s eyes. She tried to tell him not to panic, not to give in, but the pain in her neck was becoming excruciating, and she knew that it showed on her face.
She had been foolish to think that a few lessons in fighting could keep her safe. Mr. Wickham was stronger, faster, and he had nothing to lose.
And Georgiana had used most of her magic on the sea monster. She had a little left, but not enough to pound him with seawater or instantly corrode the knife into nothing. It danced just out of reach.
“It is yours,” Galon said, his eyes on Georgiana’s injured neck.
Mr. Wickham cried in triumph, but he did not release her.
And suddenly, Georgiana knew what to do. With the last of her magical strength, she yanked a stream of water from the sea, hurling it into Mr. Wickham’s eyes and the floor around his feet, making it slippery. He cried out at the salt in his eyes, loosening his hold and lowering his knife arm just a little. But it was enough.
Georgiana used a move Galon had taught her, hooking her leg behind Mr. Wickham’s and pulling. She threw her head back and to the side to get away from the knife as he toppled.
He fell backwards onto the deck, and then Georgiana was in Galon’s arms. He hugged her fiercely, then put her behind him.
Mr. Wickham was gone. But Captain Wentworth was blocking the stairs, and there! There was a ripple at the coil of rope—
“I have it!” Mr. Wickham crowed, reappearing. He held something aloft.
To Georgiana’s horror, she recognized it. Galon’s selkie skin.
He moved forward, but Mr. Wickham held a knife to the skin. “Ah ah ah!” he said, waving the knife at Galon. “One move, and I will tear it to shreds.”
“Go on then,” Galon said to her shock.
“I am not bluffing,” Mr. Wickham said, but Georgiana could hear his uncertainty. He would never dare destroy Galon’s skin. Galon would kill him, and he knew it. The skin was worth nothing if it was—
With a wicked grin, Wickham drove his knife into the skin and ripped downwards, tearing it into two.
Georgiana cried out in anguish. “No!” Galon released her, and she dropped to her knees, her heart breaking. Not Galon’s skin! He would never be able to transform into a selkie again!
Quick as a wink, Galon dove forward. Before Georgiana could blink, he had kicked away Wickham’s knife and was kneeling on his chest.
“Galon!” she cried.
Galon turned back to look at Georgiana for only a moment, but his look glowed with love and . . . triumph?
“You are done, Wickham,” he said loudly.
Wickham choked out a laugh. “At least I have taken something precious and irreplaceable with me. I only regret that I did not kill you when I had the chance. It would have been so easy, and your death would destroy Georgiana, and through her, my old enemy Darcy.”
“I could destroy you now,” Galon said. “But I wanted you to know this first.” He leaned in close, but Georgiana could still hear every word. “That was not my skin.”
Wickham tried to laugh again, but his laugh withered and died as he looked up at his enemy.
“You lie,” he spat out, but his retort was weak.
“I do not lie. I knew you were coming for my skin and took precautions—even when running from the sea monster. We fae are good at disguise. You should know—that invisibility spell you use to get around was one of Alaine’s, was it not? My true skin is also concealed by a charm. As for that . . .” He reached out and grabbed the shredded skin. “Shall I show you its true nature?”
Georgiana’s heart burst with delight and amusement when the guise faded away, revealing a torn burlap sack.
“I anticipated that you might use a moment of distraction to steal my skin, so I have kept it close to me all the while. Even my beloved Georgiana was not aware.” He glanced back to Georgiana with an apologetic look. “The only one of us who will be destroyed today will be you.”
“Will you kill him?” Captain Wentworth asked.
Galon looked up. “I should.”
“He is a menace. We do not dare keep him prisoner on the ship. He may have spells we are unaware of, and we know how dangerous he is.”
“Much as I hate to stand as judge, jury, and executioner, I think I shall have to. But I shall give him one element of mercy. I shall not kill him directly. Instead, I shall reveal the carnivorous, highly predatory bottom feeder that he is at heart.”
There was a burst of magic, and suddenly a huge flounder flopped on the deck beneath Galon’s knee.
With a laugh, Galon hauled it up, still flapping, and hurled it off the ship into the dark waters below.
Georgiana ran to the railing, looking down as the fish disappeared beneath the waves.
“He is alive for now,” Galon said as he too looked down. “But he has only the mind of a fish. Even if someone were to fish him up, he would not know who he had been or be able to ask for help.” He grinned. “The more bloodthirsty part of me hopes that somebody does fish him up. After all, I mentioned the negative attributes of a flounder, but not the most positive one.”
“What is that?”
“They are delicious.”
Galon and Georgiana may have found their happily ever after, but we know that something is going very wrong, and it’s up to Elizabeth and the Library to find a solution! We’re taking a break next week for Christmas, but we’ll be back the first Wednesday in January! Join us January 4 for the next installment of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library with Abigail Reynolds!