William stepped forward, holding his head high. But Elizabeth could see a bead of perspiration trickled down the side of his face. It could not be easy to face dozens of armed fae warriors. This powerful fae could delay them long enough that the cure reached Georgiana too late. And they would never win a battle if the king chose to fight them.
“My deepest apologies for the trespass,” William said. “I was trying to distract Princess Alaine and Bix.” He gestured to where they slept on the grass.
How was Princess Alaine related to the king? Was he fond of her? Would he demand the return of the flower if he was displeased?
Malus crossed the field and stared down at Alaine after giving Bix a dismissive look. “What have you done to my daughter?” he thundered in a voice that shook the earth.
Elizabeth’s blood froze and she exchanged a stricken look with William. Daughter? How could they have had the bad luck to make an enemy of the faerie king’s daughter?
She edged closer to William and General Fitzwilliam as the fae warriors marched around the edge of the plateau, encircling and entrapping the humans.
“Alaine was attempting to kill me and Elizabeth.” He cleared his throat. “The princess wanted to prevent us from taking the cure to my sister.”
“We have reason to believe the princess helped Mr. Wickham to poison Miss Darcy in the first place,” Elizabeth added.
The king gave William a piercing look. “Why would she do such a thing? I cannot imagine Alaine has ever met your sister.”
William shook his head. “I do not know why. She did not explain her reasons to us.”
Malus glared at them imperiously. “Why should I believe such an absurd story? Fae do not involve ourselves in the affairs of mortals. It is far more likely that you attacked her.”
“Sir,” General Fitzwilliam crossed to Malus. “I have a letter for the faerie court that will help explain some of this confusion.”
Malus’s brows drew together. “Who is this letter from?”
The general gave William a sidelong look. What was that about? “A member of your court whom I recently encountered. He describes how Princess Alaine’s actions violate the laws of F
aerie.” He pulled the letter from the pocket of his coat and handed it to Malus.
Malus broke the seal and scanned the letter. He shook his head. “These are grave crimes. Interference with mortal mages is forbidden. I knew she was impulsive and prone to fits of temper, but this…I have no choice but to punish her.” He regarded Alaine almost sorrowfully. Elizabeth considered how hard it must be for a king to pass judgment on his own daughter.
Elizabeth finally said, “This must be very difficult for you.”
Malus’s features settled into a blank mask as he shrugged. “I have 28 other daughters. Perhaps some of the others will not disappoint me.”
He clapped his hands. Instantly two fae, wearing the helms and armor of guards, stepped out of the circle. Malus gestured and the men picked up Bix and Alaine, none too gently, slinging the sleeping fae over their shoulders. The guards carried the captives through the cleft in the cliff face and disappeared into the darkness.
“I hope they will get a fair trial,” Elizabeth said pointedly.
“Mortals do not tell us how to conduct our business,” Malus said imperiously, staring down his nose at her. “However, trials are the custom of our people. In any case, you need not concern yourself. Your family will never be bothered by Bix or Alaine again. I would guess they will be imprisoned for a hundred years or more.”
“There is also a wounded thunderbird in the field over there.” Darcy pointed.
“Yet another crime to lay at Alaine’s feet,” Malus grumbled. “Thunderbirds should never be treated in such a careless manner.” He gestured and a contingent of fae warriors was soon making its way to the thunderbird.
The king gave Elizabeth a sharp look. “I expect that you will be returning to the Library now that the quest is concluded.” The question emerged almost like a command.
She was a bit taken aback. “I do not believe the quest is truly concluded until Georgiana is cured, but then I will return to the Library.”
“You are running out of time,” he said darkly.
“What do you—?” Elizabeth started to say, but the king had pivoted and was striding back toward the opening in the cliff. The warriors followed him, moving far more silently and gracefully than men in full armor should.
Once they were gone and the entrance to faerie had rumbled closed, William turned to his cousin. “Richard,” he said, rubbing his hands over his face tiredly. “We must get the cure to Georgiana. However, there is a gaggle of patronesses wandering around the peaks somewhere.”
Elizabeth had forgotten all about Lady Catherine and her friends, but when she looked nobody remained where the patronesses had been standing. Apparently the ladies had taken advantage of the confusion during the battle to make good their escape. Lady Catherine could not even bother to help her own nephew fight a fae princess!
“Princess Alaine used them roughly,” William continued. “Some of them may be injured and they may be lost. Will you locate them and help them return to their homes?”
“My word, Darcy!” the general exclaimed. “Surely you have an easier and pleasanter task for me. Perhaps wrestling a sea serpent? Or trekking to the North Pole in search of a yeti? I will do anything if I can avoid Aunt Catherine and her band of harpies.”
William put a commiserating hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “I sympathize. But now that you are a general, Aunt Catherine is less likely to scold you.”
“No. Now it is worse!” he exclaimed. “She will try to marry me off!”
William chuckled as he mounted Hespera. He cast a look at Elizabeth. “You need not come with me. I daresay I can administer the cure by myself, and no doubt you would be happy to rest.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I want to see this through to the end. I care about Georgiana too.” And, in case they were too late, William might need a shoulder to cry upon.
He gave her a wan smile. “I must confess, I was hoping you would join me.”
Elizabeth climbed up on Abraxas’s back, and they followed Hespera into the sky.
Darcy managed to stay relatively calm for the flight. He only urged Hespera to hurry three…well, perhaps four…very well, make it five times. The trip seemed to take forever, although he knew it was a short distance in the air. But eventually the two griffins landed in front of Pemberley’s grand front entrance. Darcy leapt from Hespera’s back and stormed through the doors, ignoring surprised exclamations from his butler and one of the maids in the vestibule. He was vaguely aware of the sound of Elizabeth’s footsteps behind him.
He rushed up the steps and turned right, pounding along the hallway until he reached Georgiana’s room. He did not even stop to knock but threw the door open and rushed to her bedside. For a moment he feared he was too late; she was so still. But then he saw the slight, shallow movement of her breathing. Thank God! He pulled the flower from his pocket and only then realized he did not know how to administer the cure.
He stared wide-eyed at Elizabeth, on the other side of the bed. “Should she eat it? Smell it? Perhaps it should be in a tincture of some kind?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Nobody gave us any instructions. But I daresay the fae eat flowers all the time, so placing it in her mouth would not be untoward. She may not need to swallow it.”
Darcy opened his sister’s mouth and positioned the bloom on her tongue before pushing her chin gently to close her mouth again. He waited, staring at his sister’s face. Nothing happened.
“Perhaps we should have prepared a tincture,” he said to Elizabeth.
Then Georgiana’s eyes blinked. His heart pounding in his chest, Darcy leaned forward. “Georgie?” Her eyelashes fluttered and then her eyes opened, focusing on him.
“William?” Her voice was thick and sluggish, but the sound was music to his ear. His heart swelled with joy that almost could not be contained by his chest.
“How are you feeling, dearest?”
“Better.” She struggled into a seated position and then made a face of disgust before she pulled the flower from her mouth. “Did you put a weed in my mouth?”
“It is not a weed,” Darcy explained patiently. “That is the cure. We went to Faerie to obtain it.”
Georgiana glanced from him to Elizabeth. “All the way to Faerie?” Elizabeth nodded. His sister looked back at him. “You truly are the best of brothers. I could not ask for a better one.” She embraced him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then her eyes searched the room. “Where is Galon?”
Darcy did not see the small seal-like creature. “I do not know. Perhaps he went to the pond.” Since selkies preferred water, her familiar often spent time in the pond in Pemberley’s garden. “Can you not speak with him in your mind?”
Georgiana shook her head, biting her lip. “Sometimes I cannot hear him. Not when he is in that form….” her voice trailed off as she stared at something at the end of her bed.
Darcy looked as well and jumped in startlement. A strange man stood at the foot of Georgiana’s bed.
“There you are!” Georgiana said with a tone of relief.
“I apologize. I was under an invisibility spell,” the man said to her.
“Who are you?” Darcy demanded. “Who is this?” He asked Georgiana. “Why is a total stranger in your bed chamber?” Darcy turned to the man. “This is most inappropriate. Leave immediately!” He pointed at the door.
“William! William!” Georgiana caught his arm. “This is Galon.”
Darcy blinked at her and then reexamined the man. He was tall and well made with dark hair and green eyes. He definitely was not a small sea mammal. Had Georgiana’s struggles with the Scottish Word made her delusional?
The man bowed to Darcy. “My name is Galon. I am a prince of Faerie’s summer court. I fell in love with your sister three years ago and disguised myself as her familiar so I might be close to her.”
Darcy realized his mouth was hanging open and closed it with an audible snap.
“You have been living with Georgiana and courting her in secret?” Elizabeth asked.
“I assure you that nothing untoward has occurred,” Galon said hastily. “I never spent the night in her room…until she became ill. Most of the time we acted as mage and familiar. I wanted Georgiana to grow accustomed to me.”
“Accustomed?” Darcy asked in a low and deadly voice. “Why? What designs do you have on my sister?”
“I assure you my intentions are entirely honorable,” Galon said stiffly. “I love her.”
This was all happening far too quickly for Darcy’s taste. “You want to court my sister? Marry my sister? She is a Darcy! And who are you? Do you even have a surname? You—You are a sea mammal who can shed your skin!”
“William!” Georgiana gasped.
Galon’s expression darkened. “I am also a prince of Faerie. Surely that is assurance of my good breeding.”
Darcy clasped shaking hands behind his back and made an effort not to shout. “We have recently encountered some very ill-behaved fae royalty. I—”
Elizabeth cut in before he could work himself into full-throated anger. “Have you considered all the implications?” she asked. “Humans and fae do not intermarry often. Will the faerie court be displeased? And where will you live?”
Galon’s expression was grave. “We must live in the human world. The faerie court is not a place for humans, and I would be exiled if I married Georgiana.” Darcy’s sister looked distressed at this news. “But,” Galon added. “That would a small price to pay.”
“Would you put her in danger from the fae?” Darcy asked.
Galon shook his head. “Princess Alaine is the only fae who presents any danger to me or Georgiana. She wishes to marry me and is responsible for attacks upon both you and Georgiana.”
Despite his anger, Darcy was impressed with the young man for confessing such information. “She is no longer a threat,” Darcy said. “Alaine and her henchman were taken into the custody of King Malus, who also is in receipt of a letter delivered via General Fitzwilliam – which I assume you wrote.” Galon inclined his head. “Malus assured us they would be locked away for a long time.”
Galon blew out a sigh of relief. “That is excellent news indeed!” He walked to Georgiana’s bedside and took her hand, gazing at her adoringly. Love was nearly a palpable force flowing between them. Darcy could not help a twinge of envy. He may not have given his consent, but they were free to love each other in a way that he and Elizabeth were not. Glancing up, he caught Elizabeth’s melancholy expression and guessed she was thinking similar thoughts.
Galon regarded him steadily. “Will you give your consent?”
Darcy scowled. “I have barely made your acquaintance, sir. I know nothing of your family, your prospects, or your plans for the future. Being a selkie is hardly a means of supporting a family.”
“Surely my dowry is enough!” Georgiana said.
“Perhaps your dowry is the feature he finds most attractive about you,” Darcy suggested.
“William!” Georgiana cried indignantly.
Galon advanced toward Darcy. “I assure you—”
“I believe we should leave this discussion for the time being,” Elizabeth said in a loud voice, interposing herself between Darcy and Galon. “Georgiana has recovered from a long illness, and we have returned from a long and tiring trip. Now is not the time for important conversation and life-altering decisions.”
Darcy drew back, acknowledging the wisdom of Elizabeth’s words. “It has been a long day. Perhaps it would be best to retire for the evening. We may speak of this further in the morning.”
Galon nodded, but Georgiana folded her hands over her chest. “Very well, but I will remind you, brother, that I do not require your permission.”
With a jolt, Darcy realized she was correct. He was not accustomed to thinking of her as a woman past the age of needing a guardian.
“We will retire for the evening,” Darcy said again, staring at Galon, until the fae took his hint. He gave Georgiana’s a fond smile and kissed her hand in farewell. Darcy waited until the other man had exited the room before taking his leave. Elizabeth followed him from the bed chamber.
Once they were in the hallway, Darcy turned to Galon stiffly. “I assume you have been given a room?”
The fae colored. “Yes, I have been assigned a room in the guest wing.”
Darcy gave a curt nod, satisfied that he had done his duty to his “guest.” He signaled a passing maid. “Could you have a room made up for Miss Elizabeth? She will be staying the night.” The maid curtseyed and hurried away.
“One more word, sir!” Galon called before they departed. “Was Wickham with Princess Alaine?”
Darcy glanced over his shoulder. “Wickham? No, I have not seen the man.”
Galon pressed his lips together. “I do not like that. The general had been holding Wickham in the cellar here, but Alaine freed him with the help of her thunderbird.”
“Wickham was not with Alaine and the thunderbird when we saw them.”
“She must have deposited him somewhere,” Galon mused. “That is not good news. I mislike the idea of that man free to roam the country and cause trouble.”
“Indeed,” Darcy agreed. “Tomorrow I will organize a search for him.” He cast a glance at Elizabeth. “But tonight, we will rest.”
He offered Elizabeth his arm as he escorted her toward the guest wing. “Would you like a tray brought to your room?” he asked.
“Perhaps later. For now I would dearly love a bath,” she said.
“I will have the maid—”
Elizabeth stiffened and gasped. Darcy cast about for the source of her distress but saw nothing. “What is amiss?”
Her hand clenched his arm convulsively. “Abraxas says I must return to the Library immediately. It is an emergency!”