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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, Lari Ann O’Dell, Sarah Courtney, Melanie Rachel, and me, Monica Fairview.
Last week, Darcy, Georgiana and Galon were on their way to the Library to see if Elizabeth could help Galon. What happens when they arrive?
Somehow, Galon survived the long journey from Pemberley. It was nothing short of a miracle, and sheer of will on Galon’s part. Georgiana helped the fae prince dismount, her face tight with anxiety. They were running out of time. Hespera flew up to perch on top of the stained-glass rotunda in the center of the building. Darcy supposed she was communicating with Abraxas, but it would not help them gain entry any faster.
They had to go through the proper steps. Darcy was thankful he knew what the process involved, thanks to Bickerstaffe, who had taught him what to do. He still felt the sting of the fae’s betrayal, but at least he had proved useful in this situation.
As Darcy answered the questions, he recalled his first encounter with Elizabeth in the Library and squirmed. He had been so dismissive of her, so certain that her magic was weak. How could he have been so wrong? Even worse, how could he have allowed his aunt to poison his mind against her? He was appalled at his arrogance and blind acceptance of the Patronesses’ verdict.
But this was not the time to consider the past. He needed to concentrate on giving the correct answers.
Georgiana was hovering anxiously. “Is there no way to gain access any quicker, William? Galon is fading fast.”
Galon was leaning heavily on her shoulder, his breathing short and shallow.
Her situation was like his when he last came here, fearing the worst for Georgiana and hoping he would be allowed to meet the Librarian. He understood exactly what she was going through.
“Unfortunately, we cannot rush the Library. We must pass each of the hurdles or risk being refused admission. The Library does not have favorites.” He pressed Georgiana’s arm in reassurance. “Have faith in your brother, Georgie. I know what I am doing.”
She gave a resigned nod and did not argue further.
He must have said all the right things because great stone griffins with their menacing swords moved apart to allow him entrance. Next, it was the turn of the clerk with the hat, painstakingly checking a list of items. Then finally, they were inside, waiting in the courtyard for Abraxas to take them to the Librarian.
Elizabeth. Now that they were through, he could afford to think about her.In a few minutes, he would be seeing her again. Darcy’s heart pounded in anticipation. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.
Time passed, and the sense of anticipation turned into frustration. The classical columns were elegant and graceful, but the courtyard felt hemmed in. He felt like a child called to the headmaster’s office. He kicked at the marble benches instead of sitting, ran his hand along the bark of a twisted olive tree that had no business growing in the cold English climate, and paced up and down. When would he see her?
“I wish you would sit down, William. This is not helping anyone.”
He perched on the edge of a marble seat. It was cold and damp. He jumped up and began prowl around the courtyard again. More time passed. He had nothing else to do but wait. He looked around for Hespera, but she had disappeared, and he could not sense her presence.
Where are you?
There was no answer.
At long last, the great door swung open with a high-pitched squeal. A gentleman in a top hat emerged from the Library, swinging his cane and looking pleased with himself. Darcy took an instant dislike to him. He looked too carefree to have come on an urgent errand. Why should someone like him waste Elizabeth’s time when he and Georgiana had a much more urgent need of her?
But then Abraxas came out, and Darcy sprang forward. Hespera appeared, landing in front of Abraxas, and the two griffins greeted each other. Only then did Abraxas turn to him.
“I apologize for the delay. The Librarian will see you now. Travinius will take you in. I need to consult Hespera.”
Darcy’s heart skipped a beat. He knew what the two griffins would be discussing. But there was no time to question them now. He had more pressing matters to deal with.
The man with the hat – Travinius – gestured for them to follow.
Georgiana and Galon moved slowly forward. The fae prince was barely able to progress. He was hobbling on legs that were no longer meant for walking. He had removed his shoes, and his feet were already fully webbed.
“May I help?” Darcy had offered before, but Galon had refused.
Galon shook his head. “I can manage.”
The fae prince was proud and disliked depending on anyone else. Darcy knew that the fae did not like to owe favors, but Galon was in the mortal world now, and those rules did not apply any more.
“Georgiana, you will let me know if you need me?” His sister would be more reasonable.
“Of course.” Her voice was terse and tight, and Darcy could guess her frantic thoughts. What if there was no solution? The griffins thought there might be one, but they had expressed uncertainty about the outcome.
They followed the clerk inside. Once again, Darcy’s pulse quickened. He gave only a cursory glance at the high arched windows and the bookshelves that lined the walls. There was a world of wisdom to be found here, but he was already looking for Elizabeth. Last time he had picked the door on the right out of the three possibilities, but this time Travinius led him to the left one.
Travinius stopped just in front of the open doorway. “Wait here. I need to inform Her Eminence of your approach.”
Darcy had thought himself prepared to see her again, but he still felt a jolt when he spotted her familiar figure. He closed his eyes briefly, holding back the onslaught of emotions, then opened them and let himself revel in the sight of her. She was sitting on an elevated platform with three steps leading upward, her arm draped over the arm of a carved chair. The light, twisting sculpting above the chair was exquisite, produced by fae artisans. It glowed with an eerie light, reminding him how otherworldly Elizabeth had become. She was beautiful.
He was interrupted by a gurgling sound beside him. Georgiana gave an exclamation. With a flash of guilt at neglecting her, Darcy tore his attention away from Elizabeth and back to Galon, who was doubled up. His skin was transforming into a mottled stone-like grey. He was doing everything he could to hold onto his fae form, but he was losing the battle.
“Help me,” whispered Georgiana, her eyes fearful.
Darcy quickly moved to Galon’s other side and wrapped his arm around Galon’s shoulder. The fae’s legs were squeezed together. Darcy suspected they were already transitioning.
“Do you have my skin, Georgiana?” Galon rasped.
He had spoken aloud rather than communicated with her mentally as her familiar. It did not bode well.
“I have it,” she said softly. “Try to hold on a bit longer, my love.”
Despite his anxiety, Darcy knew the exact moment when Elizabeth became aware of his presence. She sat up straight in her chair, her gaze seeking him out. Across the wide space that separated them, her dark eyes caught his and his breath hitched.
“You may approach Her Eminence now,” intoned Travinius.
Darcy had to tear himself away from Elizabeth to help Galon. At that moment, Abraxas appeared at his side, his conversation with Hespera apparently over. Darcy wanted to ask the Library griffin about the outcome, but now was not the time.
“I will assist His Highness, while Mr. Darcy makes his request.” He inclined his head to Darcy and Georgiana and put his taloned limb forward for Galon to lean onto.
With Galon taken care of, Darcy offered his arm to Georgiana. They made their way swiftly to the front of the room. Darcy’s Wellington boots drummed on the marble floor, echoing the wild beating of his heart.
As he approached, Elizabeth cleared her throat. Her eyes glimmered like the surface of a lake, dark and deep and impossible to decipher.
As he reached the bottom of the steps. He halted, released Georgiana, and bowed.
It was impossible not to be distracted by Elizabeth’s presence. It was torment, standing here, unable to do anything when every impulse was driving him to go up to her. Chiding himself that the young lady before him was the Librarian, not Elizabeth, he focused on the task at hand. At this point in time, he was here as a supplicant, and he had to play that role to save his sister’s marriage.
He drew a steadying breath.
The tightening of her hands on the chair was the only indication she had noticed him. Otherwise, she was as distant as a monarch, her feelings carefully controlled. The irony did not escape him. Their roles had been completely reversed. When they first met, she was the spirited one, and he had been one who was proud and distant.
“Mr. Darcy. Georgiana.” The Librarian did not stand up. “Tell me what you wish to know, and I will do what I can to fulfil your request. How may I help you?”
There was a sing-song lilt to her voice, and he could hear the resonance of other voices behind it.
“I am here on behalf of my sister Georgiana.”
“Before you continue,” interjected Travinius, “may I remind you, Mr. Darcy, every creature may ask for the Library’s assistance a total of three times in their lifetime. You have already done it once, on behalf of your sister. This would be your second time, also on behalf of your sister. This means, no matter what the circumstances, you will have only one more opportunity. I would like you to consider that you have already made two requests in the space of a few months.”
By his side, Georgiana made a strangled sound. “There must be some way for me to make the request. Or surely, Prince Galon – considering the circumstances—?”
“Neither you nor the prince can submit a request.” Travinius’ answer was unequivocal. “Galon has no right to appeal to her Eminence. She is the mortal face of the Library. As fae, if he wishes to ask for the Library’s help, he must travel to the fae Court, but with the Wall closed, there is no guarantee he would be allowed to return. In this particular case, however, it would not avail him. He and Georgiana are bound together in a magical vow that cannot be reversed. Only someone else – someone whose love is not motivated by self-interest — can ask for their bond to be broken, and even then, dissolving the bond can only be granted in exceptional circumstances.”
There it was. Hespera had already told him as much, but Darcy had hoped there might be a way around it.
Georgiana looked defeated.
Darcy turned to Travinius. “I am more than happy to give up my second request.”
“Your willingness to sacrifice one of your remaining requests affirms your affection for your sister.” He ticked a box on his list, then wrote something down in an unintelligible scrawl. The letters moved across the page and disappeared.
“So be it.” Travinius looked up. “I have entered it into the records. Once you have made your formal request to the Librarian, you cannot withdraw it.”
“I understand,” Darcy smiled at Georgiana. “I will do what is necessary to protect those I hold dear.”
Georgiana glanced back towards Galon. Darcy followed her gaze. The fae was sitting on the ground, leaning against Abraxas’ flank. He was sweating profusely, and his eyes shut.
There was no time to waste.
“I have come the Library to ask for Prince Galon of the Winter Court to be released from his role as a familiar to my sister Georgiana, and for him to be granted the right to remain in the mortal realm to live as husband to my sister.”
He deliberately did not pause until the end. When he was finished, he held his breath. Technically, those were two separate requests. If the Library declared he had used up all his requests, so be it. His pulse thundered as waited for Travinius to break in and declare that Darcy had used up all three of his chances.
Travinius’ eyes settled on him. They were fae eyes, shifting color and drifting with unfathomable emotions. Darcy stood rock still, hardly daring to move as the clerk assessed him.
“Very well, Mr. Darcy.” It was Elizabeth, speaking in the voice of the Librarian. “The Library will now consider your request.”
It was still possible that the Library would proclaim that Darcy had asked for two things, but he was heartened by the fact that Elizabeth had said ‘request’, not requests. He began to breathe again, allowing himself to hope. There was so much at stake here, on so many levels.
He had seen Elizabeth at work before, so he knew what to expect. Still, he could not help looking on in awe at she raised her hands in an elaborate dance, and the Library around her swirled and danced in response. Shelves packed with books appeared and disappeared, drawing closer, then spinning away, books upon books, some of them ancient and well-worn, others much newer. What must it be like to be able to command so much through her magic? To have so much knowledge at her fingertips? How could he ever have believed for one instant that her magic was weak?
The swirling stopped as suddenly as it started, and Elizabeth put out her hands to receive a large leather-bound book. A short lectern appeared in front of her. Setting down the book on it, she began to turn the pages.
As he waited, he could hear gasping noises behind him. Galon was struggling to breathe now. He would soon need to be immersed in water or he would die.
Hespera, we need water, a pail of water, quickly.
I will see to it.
He returned his attention to Elizabeth. He could not afford to let his attention drift. Everything rested on Elizabeth’s decision. Everything.
The unworldly light that flickered around Elizabeth made her seem almost angelic. He caught that thought and once again, considered the irony. Angelic? Elizabeth had never been the angelic type.
She continued to flip the pages, reading at a speed that should not be possible, the pages turning one after the other while she searched. Meanwhile Darcy memorized her features. The way her lips puckered in concentration. The way her eyelashes fluttered like wings while she was reading. The way her soft hair hovered above her brow until she pushed it back with an impatient finger. These were the little things that assured him she was still the same Elizabeth as she always was.
What would happen if she did not find a way to do this? Would Georgiana and Galon be condemned to the same fate as him? To the same hollowed-out existence where he was no more than a ghost of his former self?
Please find it, he willed her. There had to be a way.
Then, abruptly, she snapped the book shut and rose to her feet.
Elizabeth was expressionless, but he could feel the temperature in the room dropping. He knew through experience that her sadness would cause a frost that could freeze him in minutes. He was filled with dread.
“There is a way.”
Darcy’s shoulders slumped in relief. There was a solution.
Please let it not be a poem. Or a quest. Galon would not last long enough.
“The bond can be severed, but only if there are no other options available. And dissolving the bond requires a sacrifice from each of the partners.”
“I am willing to give up whatever is needed.” Georgiana’s voice rang out firm and strong.
The Librarian nodded and looked towards Galon, who did not answer.
“The prince must be able to say the words to seal the magic. If he turns into his selkie form and can no longer speak, it cannot be done. You must hurry.”
Elizabeth turned to Abraxas, communicating silently with him. The griffin raised a paw and tapped Galon on the head three times. It must have been a healing spell, because Galon twitched and sat up, his round selkie eyes shifting color from silver to brown. Georgiana ran to him and rapidly explained what needed to happen.
“Georgiana, you must hold the prince’s hand.”
She took Galon’s hand. It was webbed and crusted.
“To stay in the mortal world, Prince Gallon, you must agree to relinquish all rights to return to Faerie for as long as your wife lives. Quickly, say it three times to seal the bargain.” Elizabeth’s voice was urgent.
Galon’s voice grated like rock upon rock, but he somehow managed to form the words. He repeated them three times.
“And you, Georgiana, must relinquish all possibility of having a familiar.”
Darcy gasped. What would that mean for her? Would she still be able to live on the high seas and engage in battle?
Georgiana did not hesitate. She nodded quickly.
“Are you certain you want to do this?” Darcy said.
“There is no time. It must be done.” Georgiana turned to Elizabeth. “I accept the terms.” She uttered the phrase three times.
Elizabeth wrote the words in the air. They glowed, then vanished. A sharp light, like the blade of a sword, appeared in Elizabeth’s hand. She cut the air between the newlyweds, severing the bond.
Galon gave a harsh cry and slumped down, unconscious. Georgiana staggered, then righted herself.
“Are you in pain?” Darcy gripped his sister’s arm in concern.
“It is nothing compared to the pain I experienced with the Scottish curse.” She stood up straight and addressed Elizabeth. “Is it done, Your Eminence?”
“It is done.”
“Will Galon recover fully?”
Abraxas bent his head and probed at Galon with his beak. “The Prince is weak. It will take time. But he will recover fully.”
“Thank you, your Eminence.”
Georgiana’s voice echoed through the room. Darcy marveled at how strong his little sister had become.
Darcy looked towards Elizabeth. He owed her so much. What had he ever given her in return but pain?
“Thank you,” he said to her, his heart full. He could not hope to convey the depth of his gratitude with those two words.
“You are welcome, Mr. Darcy. It is our duty.”
He was seized by a strong urge to reach out to her, but he knew better than to do so when she was still connected to the Library.
Travinius stepped forward.
“Let us all adjourn to another room to give the young couple a chance to recover from their ordeal. I have prepared a room. Prince Galon may need to sleep for several hours to recover his strength. Meanwhile, you may enjoy the hospitality of the Library while you wait, Mr. Darcy. This way, please. The Librarian needs to meet with other supplicants.”
“No!” The word burst from Darcy’s mouth.
Elizabeth was already starting to walk back to her chair, but she turned when she heard him. “Mr. Darcy. I am the Librarian. I—”
“It is not what you think. I know you cannot—.”
He took a deep breath, his heart quivering, his throat dry. This was it. This is what he had been hoping for.
“I have a third request to submit to the Library.”