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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, Melanie Rachel, Victoria Kincaid, Monica Fairview, Lari Ann O’Dell and me, your author for this week, Sarah Courtney.
This week, we see Darcy and Elizabeth running into a little challenge when trying to find the hermit who will direct them on their way.
Last week Monica Fairview posted Chapter Nine. Next week, Victoria Kincaid will post Chapter Eleven.
Finally, here is Chapter Ten of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library by Sarah Courtney!
Elizabeth stared at the cave in dismay. What were they to do now?
Mr. Darcy ran his hand through his hair.
“Well!” Bickerstaffe sounded inordinately pleased. “It seems that we are to return to the inn. A fool’s errand, this was. We should have known it was no way to do things. ‘Find the hermit to find the wise woman,’ indeed. A more convoluted way of—”
“Halloooo!” a voice called weakly. “Halloooo! Is there somebody out there? Oh dear, oh dear.”
Mr. Darcy leapt forward and rushed up to the rocks that hid the cave’s entrance.
“Are you in there?”
Elizabeth waited, half hoping the hermit was calling from elsewhere, but his voice was most definitely calling from inside the cave.
“Yes! Oh, please help!”
Elizabeth darted forward to help, and she and Mr. Darcy stood considering the massive rockslide that covered the entrance to the hermit’s cave—and now almost his tomb.
“What do we do?” she whispered. For all the Library had taught her, she had never attempted moving rocks and dirt on this scale before—and what if they caused a further cave-in that would kill the trapped man? They did not know how large the cave was or how much room he had to back away from the rockslide.
Abraxas, she called. We found the hermit, but his cave is blocked by a rockslide. How do we move the rocks without risking his life?
Bickerstaffe cleared his throat. “There is clearly nothing we can do here. This situation calls for those skilled at, ahem, physical labor. Furthermore, I do believe we are on a rather tight schedule? We really should return to the inn. We can send help from there, and perhaps there is someone else who might know the location of this half-fae wild woman.”
“Wise woman,” Mr. Darcy corrected distractedly. “Miss Bennet, I think we may be able to help.”
You will have to use your own magic, Abraxas warned. But you should be able to lift them, especially with the help of another mage.
Elizabeth froze. Her own magic. Her magic had been mixed with the Library’s magic for so long, she did not know what was hers anymore.
“Give me your hand,” Mr. Darcy said.
Elizabeth looked at him blankly.
He gave a little huff and grabbed her hand, holding it firmly in his. She stifled a gasp at the feel of his warm hand clasped about hers. At the sensation, at once so familiar and yet so foreign, a thousand memories crowded her mind.
They had often walked together in the early morning mist, at first meeting accidentally and then purposefully. She had loved walking arm-in-arm with him, feeling the strong muscles beneath his sleeve and brushing against his side. It had sent shivers of the best kind tingling up and down her spine every time. He had taken her bare hand in his and kissed it, and she had felt ready to burst with happiness. He loved her!
“I will support the structure,” he said, jolting her out of her ill-timed reverie. “You work on lifting the stones away. Start with the top, so that it does not collapse downwards.”
She nodded mutely. He did not seem affected by her hand in his. Of course not. He had been the one to choose to give her up. He must never have loved her, not with that all-consuming and thrilling devotion that she had felt for him.
Forcing her painful memories away, she reached out tentatively with her magical senses. She could feel the strength of his magic combining with hers, reaching for the stones together.
“We already know she does not have enough magic to pass the Patronesses’ test.” Bickerstaffe’s voice cut through her concentration, and she lost her connection to the stones. “I really think we had best go back to the inn and request help.”
Mr. Darcy sounded as if he were restraining the urge to hit Bickerstaffe. “You may go, Bickerstaffe, if you do not think yourself capable of helping here.”
Bickerstaffe groaned. “Oh, very well.” He glared at Elizabeth and moved to Mr. Darcy’s other side, taking his hand begrudgingly. At least he was staying on that side.
“Bickerstaffe, you had best help with the lifting as well,” he said. Bickerstaffe grumbled but said nothing.
“And . . . go!”
Elizabeth reached out again, more confidently this time. She was not about to look weak in front of that fool Bickerstaffe, and through him, the Patronesses. She was the Librarian! And even if that meant she usually filtered magic through the Library, she did have magic of her own, and it was time she practised using it.
She focused first on making the top layer of rocks lighter. Then she beckoned them lightly, pulling them away from the cave and towards her. Once they were out of position, she tossed them lightly to the side.
Once the top layer was done, she moved down to the next. She could feel Mr. Darcy’s magic supporting the structure of the cave and keeping it from collapsing as she moved the rocks, but she could not feel Bickerstaffe’s. That was odd, surely. Was that because he was on the other side of Mr. Darcy?
The stones seemed to grow heavier as she moved downwards, and her movements grew more sluggish. She was nearing the end of her natural magic. Her grip on Mr. Darcy’s hand tightened, and, to her surprise, her magic felt stronger. With renewed efforts, she lifted the last large stone and hefted it out of the way.
“Halloooo!” A dusty head popped up through the removed section of the wall. “My gallant rescuers!”
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy released their hands and stepped forward as one. Mr. Darcy grabbed the diminutive man under his arms and hauled him up over the remaining rocks and debris and to safety.
The man shook himself, smiling brightly despite the grey dust that liberally coated him from head to toe, including his large and protuberant whiskers.
“Thank you, thank you!” the hermit said, his teeth bright against the grey dust coating his face. “I cannot express just how delighted I am that you all decided to come to tea! If you had not, I am sure I would have been trapped until dear Anne came by, and she is not due until Thursday! So, it is to be a wedding, then?”
Elizabeth avoided looking at Mr. Darcy as he answered sharply, “A wedding? No, we came to ask your directions to find Anne of the hills.” He handed the hermit a handkerchief to wipe his face.
The hermit looked down at the handkerchief for a moment in confusion, then he brightened. He spat into it, then began to wipe the dust off his face.
Elizabeth hid a smile.
The hermit finished clearing his face and handed the handkerchief back to Mr. Darcy with exuberant thanks. She rather enjoyed the expression on Mr. Darcy’s face as he took it gingerly and replaced it in his pocket.
“Not to be married, then?” The hermit looked from one to the other. “Everybody comes to me to be married. I do a far better service than that blacksmith at Gretna Green, and my weddings are even valid among the fae! Best place for an intermarriage between a fae and a human this side of the fae kingdom! I even include flowers. Free of charge, of course. Only the best for my dear brides and grooms.”
Elizabeth kept her eyes averted from Mr. Darcy’s as she pressed her hand to her chest, willing the sudden sharp pain away. Neither of them needed a reminder of that disastrous day when their own plans to marry went up in ashes.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Darcy run a hand through his hair, something he had always done when he was anxious or worried. The idea of marrying her was that concerning, then, was it?
Did you succeed with the rocks? Abraxas asked. I could feel your energy levels ebb.
Yes, Elizabeth sent back. The hermit is alive and seems well. Although he seems under the impression that we came to him to be married, of all things.
Abraxas gave a rather griffinish snort. Married? Is he Old Man Derwent, by chance?
“Please, sir, may we ask your name?”
The old man smiled. “Haskins, my dear, but most people call me Old Man Derwent. Best not to ask why.”
Elizabeth cocked her head. The reason seemed obvious. Was that now the Derwent Valley they were overlooking? But she would take the old man’s advice.
Yes, she told Abraxas.
She could feel his rumbling and snorting still. Oh, how delightful. I must go tell Travinius. He deserves a good laugh as well.
“Now,” Haskins—or should she call him Old Man Derwent?—said, rubbing his hands together, “shall we get started? Do you have a ring, good sir?”
“They are not here to get married!” Bickerstaffe shouted at the poor old man, waving his hands. “You old fool!”
“Oh, old I may be, but fool I am not,” Haskins said. He gave Mr. Darcy a sly smile. “I see full well that there is something between these two. Not here to get married, eh? Here to see my dear Anne? Well.” He looked behind him at his cave and sighed. “I would ask you to bring her a few things, but I suppose they are lost in the rubble. We have been courting these many years, you know. Have not convinced her to marry me yet, but I get closer every year.”
“Can you tell us how to find her?” Mr. Darcy said, and Elizabeth admired his calm. She was not sure whether to laugh or cry at the old man’s repeated suggestions that they marry. But then, Mr. Darcy had a great deal of practice hiding his emotions, she supposed. He had always been good at that.
“She can be a little tricky to find,” Haskins said, tapping a finger to his cheek. “Moves around a lot, that one. But she is very regular in her travels. Let’s see, in the fae kingdom from Saturday to Monday. Today is Tuesday, so . . . I think she should be gathering woad. Or, wait, is that Wednesday? No, Tuesday, I am sure of it. It is Tuesday, is it not?” He squinted at the sun. “It is awfully difficult to tell the day of the week by the sun.”
Elizabeth blinked. Could you tell the day of the week by the sun?
Travinius is still laughing, Abraxas said smugly. Old Man Derwent is always trying to marry everybody off. I suppose Bickerstaffe is less than delighted?
I am half tempted to marry Mr. Darcy after all, just to see Bickerstaffe drop dead in shock, Elizabeth admitted ruefully.
Her chest still tightened a little at the thought, but she took comfort in the fact that Abraxas was unlikely to feel her pain through their distant connection. And after all, repeated exposure to Mr. Darcy was making things easier. It was a little like bathing at Brighton, which she had done once when she was about twelve. At first, the water was so cold that you could not breathe or think or even shiver. But after a few minutes, you became used to it a little, and you could move and paddle and enjoy the sensation of floating despite the frigid temperatures. Eventually she would be so immune to Mr. Darcy that she would be able to treat him as a common and indifferent acquaintance.
Elizabeth fought to remember what they came here for. Old Man Derwent was so odd that one could not help becoming a little befuddled during conversation with him.
“Anne of the hills,” she said. “Yes, it is Tuesday. You said she will be gathering woad today? Could you tell us where she goes?”
“Oh, you cannot miss it,” he said with a grin. “It is the only woad around here. It grows where the fae magic has leaked over a bit, you know, from the fae lands. Only place you are likely to see it in Derbyshire. Just look for the yellow fields over yonder.” He waved towards the north.
“You cannot give us anything more specific?” Bickerstaffe’s voice rose in pitch until it was almost a whine. “Yellow fields? Over yonder? What use is that?”
The old man squinted. Then he caught Elizabeth’s eye.
“You do not plan to marry that one, do you? I would not, if I were you.”
Elizabeth laughed before she could stop herself. “No, sir,” she said solemnly. “I have no plans to marry today.”
“Very well.” He pouted. “Do not let Anne marry you then, eh? She cannot perform proper English weddings at all, only fae. She might lie and tell you otherwise. I love the woman, but I do not trust her. She would steal all my weddings if she could, but as it is, she only gets some of the fae business. If you change your mind and decide to marry—which you should, in my opinion—everyone should marry!—you come back here and let old Haskins do it.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Very well, sir. I promise we will not let Anne marry us.”
Mr. Darcy gave her a look of exasperation, but she met it with a bright—if forced—smile.
A shadow flew over them, and Elizabeth looked up to see the silhouette of a dragon against the bright sky.
Haskins ducked and looked about to run back into his cave, but of course he could not.
“Is he dangerous?” Mr. Darcy asked sharply.
“Oh, I knew it,” Bickerstaffe whined. “A fool’s errand, that is what I have told you all! He is probably sending us directly into that dragon’s territory.”
“Not dangerous, no,” the hermit said, but he was still backing away towards his ruined cave. “It is just . . . well, you look like you are about to be married, you see. It is why most people come to me.”
“He does not like weddings?”
“Rakover? He loves them as much as I do! But last time I had the honour of performing the ceremony, Rakover tried to bring a gift. It did not go over well. Myself, I like a gift of a disemboweled sheep now and again, but I can understand not appreciating it when it arrives unexpectedly during one’s vows.”
This time it was Mr. Darcy who laughed, but it was cut short as the dragon’s shadow grew larger. A gust of wind almost bowled them over, and the old man grabbed Elizabeth by one hand and Mr. Darcy by the other, hauling them away from what was apparently about to be the dragon’s landing spot.
Bickerstaffe gave a desperate wail and threw himself to the ground, hands over his head, just as the dragon landed beside him.
“Greetings, humans,” he intoned. “My congratulations on your nuptials. Are you in need of a sheep?”
And then there were dragons!
What do you think Elizabeth and Darcy will make of the dragon? Will he be a help or hindrance? Or something else entirely? Find out when Victoria Kincaid posts Chapter Eleven next week!