Last week, in Chapter Ten by Sarah Courtney, Darcy and Elizabeth encountered a hermit and his friend the dragon Rakover. In this chapter they seek the dragon’s assistance in finding Anne of the Hills, the woman who can direct them to the entrance to the land of the fae.
Here is Chapter Eleven of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library by Victoria Kincaid!
“Greetings, humans,” the dragon intoned. “My congratulations on your nuptials. Are you in need of a sheep?”
“No,” Darcy said. “But—”
“A goat then?” the dragon asked.
“No. We need—”
Darcy gritted his teeth. “No! We need no livestock at all!”
“A hedgehog? A rabbit?”
Darcy strove to keep his tone level. “We need no animals. We are not getting married.”
“Oh! Did you argue?” The dragon’s face was quite sympathetic.
“No, we did not argue. We never intended to marry.” Darcy massaged his temples, where a headache was starting to form – then realized what he had said. “Well, that is not quite accurate, but it was several years ago…”
Now the dragon appeared skeptical. “You really should make an honest woman of her.”
Darcy sighed. “It is complicated.”
The dragon settled its head on its front claws. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
How had he arrived at telling his romantic woes to a dragon? Darcy glanced at Elizabeth, hoping for some assistance. Her hand covered her mouth, but her eyes were dancing with merriment. At least someone is entertained, he thought sourly.
Darcy took a deep breath. “We are seeking Anne of the Hills.”
The dragon nodded. “It is Tuesday, so she will be gathering woad over yonder.”
Was there no-one who understood directions? Darcy would give his entire fortune for a map.
“Might you tell us how far away ‘yonder’ is?” Elizabeth asked.
The dragon scratched his chin with one very long and sharp claw. “Well, it is not the next valley over…or the one after that…I would say, five or six valleys. Of course, Anne might be finished with woad gathering for the day.”
Darcy exchanged an alarmed look with Elizabeth. They could travel for a day or more only to find that Anne of the Hills was no longer there.
“Or, if you would like to arrive in a more timely manner, it would be my pleasure to give you a ride,” the dragon said.
“A ride?” Darcy echoed faintly.
“Oh, yes! What a delight!” Haskins exclaimed. “Wonderful prospects from the back of a dragon! I have some blankets hereabouts that I use as a saddle of sorts…And then ropes.” The man started rummaging under some nearby bushes.
Darcy turned to Elizabeth. “What would you prefer?”
Her eyes were shining. “I have always wanted to ride a dragon! They are much faster than griffins – and they breathe fire.”
“Only when necessary,” Rakover cautioned. “I always get ashes stuck in my teeth.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth said.
“Here we are!” Haskins said, returning with ropes and blankets. Rakover lowered himself to the ground so the man could tie the ropes around his neck.
Bickerstaffe pulled Darcy aside. “You cannot possibly be considering this foolhardy scheme!” he said in a low voice. “We just met this dragon. We cannot know if he is trustworthy.”
“My sister grows weaker every hour,” Darcy said. “We do not have the luxury of delay.”
Bickerstaffe folded his arms over his chest. “No. I refuse. Once we are in the air, the dragon could turn us into roasts. We must find another way.”
The other man’s refusal actually heightened Darcy’s enthusiasm for the plan. “You need not accompany us. You could bring the horses over land, and we will meet you in two days’ time.”
Bickerstaffe’s mouth opened as if he planned to object. Then he shot a second glance at Rakover. “An excellent plan.”
Haskins had fastened ropes right where Rakover’s neck met his shoulders. Under each rope was a folded blanket. “You sit on the blanket, see?” he explained to Darcy and Elizabeth. “It is like a saddle, keeping some padding between you and the spines on Rakover’s back. That is more comfortable, believe me! And then you tuck your legs under the ropes, which keeps you from falling off in the middle of the flight – most unpleasant.”
“Indeed.” Darcy tried not to dwell on the image those words conjured. He and Elizabeth took the saddlebags from their horses and strapped them onto Rakover’s back. Then Darcy helped Elizabeth climb onto the dragon’s neck and position her legs under the ropes. He clambered up behind her, tucking his legs under his own set of ropes. Slowly Rakover rose to his feet. Already it was quite different from riding a horse or even a griffin; they might as well have been atop a three-story building.
The dragon bunched his muscles, preparing to leap into the air. “I thank you for your help!” Elizabeth called to Haskins. The next moment, the air was rushing past them as the dragon climbed into the sky with powerful strokes of his wings.
It was indeed quite different than riding a griffin. With only a few beats of his wings Rakover took them higher than Darcy had every flown. The features of the Peaks District below them might as well have been details on a map – and eventually they were altogether obscured by clouds. As Elizabeth predicted, they were also moving far faster. The wind whipped Darcy’s hair around his face, and he was thankful he had thought to stow his hat in the saddlebags. Elizabeth kept one hand on her bonnet to prevent it from blowing away. But when she glanced over her shoulder at Darcy, she had a huge grin on her face. There was no doubt she was enjoying herself.
They had been flying for about fifteen minutes when Darcy heard an unearthly screech coming from above them. He and Elizabeth both craned their necks upward to find the alarming sight of another dragon bearing down on them.
While Rakover was a deep emerald green, this dragon was a shimmering cobalt blue. Darcy might have admired the other dragon’s colors if it had not been about to attack them. Rakover dodged to the side just as the creature’s claws would have impaled Darcy. Both of the passengers were forced to grab their ropes as Rakover dipped and then swooped away from the other dragon.
“What is happening?” Elizabeth shouted to their dragon.
“This other dragon is unfamiliar to me,” Rakover rumbled back. “I do not understand why he is attacking.”
The blue dragon came around for another attack, and Rakover went into a steep dive, causing Darcy’s stomach to lurch uncomfortably.
This was the second time a magic creature had attacked them without provocation. It could not be a coincidence. Someone did not want them to reach the fae or find a cure for Georgiana. But who? Darcy found it hard to believe that Wickham commanded the powers to control a dragon or a troll.
The next time the other dragon came around, it belched fire directly at Darcy and Elizabeth. Orange and yellow flames came perilously close to their heads. “Fire?” Rakover muttered as he dove yet again. “How uncouth!”
The other dragon swooped downward, preparing to attack Rakover from underneath, but the green dragon was ready. Before the attacker could breathe fire, Rakover emitted his own flames, scorching the other dragon’s face and neck. With a screech, it fell backward.
Rakover spat something from his mouth. “Blech! Ashes!”
But their dragon took advantage of the adversary’s momentary incapacity to fly faster, attempting to get out of range. Unfortunately, Darcy soon spied the blue dragon behind them and gaining. “It is following us again!” he called.
“Is there anything we might do to help you fight him?” Elizabeth asked Rakover.
“Hmm…” The dragon considered this even as he winged over the land at unbelievable speeds. “Can either of you conjure a net?”
“A net?” Elizabeth asked.
“If you can tangle a dragon in a net, then he cannot fly and will fall to the earth.”
Elizabeth leaned back so she might speak right into Darcy’s ear. “I have little experience with manifesting objects. Are you familiar with this type of spell?” He tried to ignore how good it felt to have her warm breath ghost over his face.
“I have performed a manifestation spell, but never with a net and never at high speed. But, I shall attempt it.”
“Rakover!” he called. “Can we fly closer to the ground?” If Darcy was going to knock a dragon from the sky, he would prefer that it not be from a great height.
Rakover nodded his acknowledgement and swooped lower. The blue dragon followed suit. Soon they were only a hundred feet from the ground and dodging the tops of trees.
Darcy twisted around in his seat, staring at the pursuing dragon. He visualized a fishing net entangling itself in the dragon’s legs and then pushed his will into the spell. A drain of his magical energy reserves told him that the spell had been activated. But he could not see the net. Oh, there it was, attached to one of the dragon’s front claws. Unfortunately, it was the size of a napkin. Drat! Darcy had failed to specify that he wanted a big net.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on making the net larger, expanding it until it enveloped the entire dragon. When he opened his eyes again, the dragon was gone. Instead there was a grayish blob of net and blue dragon that was in the process of plummeting into the lake below it.
As Elizabeth and Darcy watched, the dragon fell into the lake with an enormous splash. It bobbed to the surface immediately and its claws started tearing at the net. Darcy was relieved he had not killed the magnificent creature, but he sent a little energy to reinforce the net, giving them a little more time to escape.
“Well done,” Elizabeth whispered in his ear, sending shivers racing down his spine. He tried to quell his inappropriate feelings. She wants nothing to do with me and rightfully so.
But, whispered treacherous part of his mind, she is unmarried all these years. Perhaps she longs for your affection. Your touch.
No, he could drive himself to distraction with such thoughts. It was best not to entertain them at all. Hope was the thing he must quash. Hope was the enemy.
He leaned away from Elizabeth and spoke loudly to Rakover. “How long until we are at the field of woad?”
“Not long!” The flew in silence for about ten more minutes, then Rakover announced, “It is below us!”
Peering downward, Darcy indeed saw a field of yellow flowers, although he did not see any people. He could only hope that Anne of the Hills had kept to her accustomed schedule and had not chosen this Tuesday to purchase new trim for her hats.
Rakover circled the field twice, each time getting lower. Finally he alighted gently on the country lane beside the carpet of yellow flowers. He lowered himself completely so that his neck was only a few feet from the ground.
Darcy freed himself from the ropes and slid down the dragon’s neck, happy to have an opportunity to stretch his legs. He put up his arms to help Elizabeth dismount. Mindful of his recent resolution, Darcy immediately removed his hands from her waist and was very careful not to notice how fetching her curls looked when tousled by the wind.
Elizabeth surveyed the area. “Are we sure this is the right place?” she asked the dragon.
“Oh yes. Anne is here,” Rakover responded.
“Yonder.” He pointed a claw to the left, but Darcy saw nothing. Rakover chuckled. “Anne! Anne! Wake up! You have visitors.”
A figure in the midst of the field of woad sat up. Her dress and large floppy hat were the exact color of the yellow woad flowers, so she had been indistinguishable from her surroundings. “Visitors?” she said vaguely. “How lovely.” And she flopped back down among the flowers.
Rakover appeared a bit embarrassed, although it was difficult to discern give his dragonish features. “Anne is not the most…industrious being I have ever encountered.”
“Miss—” Darcy started and then realized he did not know how to address her. Miss of the Hills? Miss Hills? Argh! This is ridiculous! “Miss Anne!” he called. “We have need of your help!” He paused. “Quite urgent need!”
“Mr. Haskins sent us!” Elizabeth said.
This, at least, induced Miss Anne to sit up again. “Haskins? Do I know a Haskins?” she asked Rakover.
“He said he wanted to marry you,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh, him!” Miss Anne exclaimed. “Sweet man. Too much beard.”
“He would probably shave at your request,” Elizabeth reasoned.
Miss Anne waved this away. “No, no. Then I must marry him, and that would not do at all.”
Elizabeth looked a little mystified at this response, but Darcy was getting impatient. “Miss Anne, we need entrance to the land of the fae. We were told you know where it is.”
She squinted at him. “The land of the fae?”
“Yes. There is a cave hereabouts that provides an entrance to their land.”
Miss Anne rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “I believe I am half fae.”
“That is what we were told,” Elizabeth said.
Darcy was beginning to doubt the woman had the wits to direct them to the nearest tree let alone the land of the fae.
Rakover made a sound like clearing his throat. “You are lucky we arrived on one of her good days. Sometimes it is difficult to have a coherent conversation with her.”
“Fortunate indeed,” Elizabeth murmured with a twitch of her lips.
“Miss,” Darcy tried again. “If you can just tell us where the entrance is, then we will go and leave you in peace.”
“What are you seeking again?” she asked.
Darcy sighed. “The entrance to the land of the fae.”
She stared at him blankly for a minute. “Why did you not say so? It is right there.” She pointed behind Darcy. He whirled around and saw an opening carved in the stone of the hill. He might have missed it altogether, but it was illuminated with a faint yellow glow.
“That is the land of the fae,” Miss Anne said.
Come back next Wednesday for Chapter 12 by Abigail Reynolds!