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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 Sarah Courtney.
Last week, in Victoria Kincaid’s chapter, Darcy and Elizabeth finally found the entrance to Faerie. And here is Chapter 12 of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library by Abigail Reynolds!
Finally, their destination! There it was, after all their meandering through the hills and asking directions of odd people who could not seem to answer a simple question. The entrance to the land of Faerie!
Darcy strode towards the opening. The faint glow, accentuated by the frame of dark purple blooms around it, so distinct from the yellow wildflowers filling the valley, drew him like a magnet.
Behind him Elizabeth bade a hurried farewell to Anne of the Hills and the dragon Rakover, but Darcy had already forgotten them. His goal was the grotto, and nothing else mattered. It sang to him, called him, promised him everything.
Suddenly a hand gripped his arm, and he tried to shake it off, to stop it from slowing him. Then Elizabeth was in front of him, blocking his path.
She grasped his face between her hands, none too gently, and forced him to look in her eyes. “Stop! Put your shields up. Do not let the fae song seduce you!”
What was she talking about? “Get out of my way.”
“Now, William!” she snapped. “Your shields!”
It was a reflex, then, raising his shields, rather than a rational decision, but no sooner had he done so than he stiffened in shock. He was himself again. Good God, how had that happened? One moment he had been in complete control, then he had seen the glowing gate and completely lost himself. Awkwardly he said, “Ah, thank you.”
She looked away, as if in embarrassment. “The siren song of Faerie can affect some people very strongly. I suggest you keep your shields firmly in place.
Keep them in place? He might never let them down again! Horror trickled through him at how easily he had been bespelled. Dealing with the strange inhabitants of these hills had helped him to put aside the seriousness of their mission, but that was no excuse. “I will not forget again.”
“Good. This must be the place – yes, do you see the lily lovell blooming? Just as the spell said.”
He nodded, and quoted, “At the mouth of the Faerie kingdom,
Where the lily lovell grow
In the shadow of the grotto,
Those who seek must enter slow.
Never bring what is familiar
Lest the magic be brought low.
Deep into the darkness burrow,
Two speak the words the fae do know,
When spoken true, both pain and sorrow
From the heart away will go.”
She glanced at him. “You memorized it?”
“With Georgiana’s life at stake? Of course.” He stepped forward.
Elizabeth caught his arm again. “Remember, it says we must enter slow.”
With a huff of frustration, he tipped his head back. “But what does that mean?”
The corners of her lips twitched. “I cannot say, except that hurrying seems unwise.”
He exhaled slowly through his teeth. “You are correct, of course. We must be careful, since we will not have a second chance.” But it was hard to be patient when Georgiana might be dying at this very moment. “Perhaps we should examine the opening.”
But the examination revealed little, just a small shadow grotto with purple flowers, the golden glow around the entrance which still tried to tug his shields, and deep darkness within.
Hair prickled on the back of his neck. “How do we know this is not a trap? First they do not allow us our familiars, and then we must proceed in darkness.”
She frowned. “The quest is designed to be difficult, but not impossible. I will go first, since I am already known to the fae.”
He did not like the idea – in fact, he detested it – but he could hardly argue when he had only just fallen victim to fae wiles and had to be rescued by her. Not only had he failed her in the past, but he continued to do so now. “Very well.”
Darcy had followed Elizabeth through the darkness for what seemed like hours, led only by a faint glow she had conjured from her fingertips. It barely showed enough for them to be secure in their footing on the rough stone floor of the cavern. At least he assumed it must be a cavern, since it was underground, but the light did not extend that far. And it would be foolish to waste their magical energy on creating more light when they might need it more urgently later. Especially as his stores had not yet recovered from moving all those boulders to free the hermit.
And it was not only his magical stores that were depleted. The healer had managed to mend most of his injuries from the troll attack, but his ribs and the back of his skull had still ached. And that was before the ride up to Stanage Edge, the challenging climb down to the hermit’s cave, clearing the rockslide, riding a dragon to find Anne of the Hills, and this long, tense, dark walk. His quarrel with Elizabeth in their room at the inn felt like weeks ago, but it had only been that morning.
Twice now they had reached a dead end, a wall of rock that could neither be climbed nor gone around, and had to retrace their steps to find another path. But now, for the first time since entering the cave, he could hear a noise other than the echoes of their footsteps, the sound of running water in the distance. Was that a smear of light far ahead? Perhaps they were finally reaching their destination. Or would this be another impassable obstacle?
More endless minutes of walking, but his flagging energy revived as the distant light grew larger and brighter. Then, before he expected it, the darkness lifted, and he was standing by Elizabeth’s side before a rushing river, foaming as it tore its way across a vaulting cavern. Two parallel rows of stepping stones crossed it, though he had never seen stepping stones in such a wild river before. Stepping stones were for shallow, slow-moving streams, not deep water full of wild foam.
On the opposite shore stood a tall, slender figure with hair that reached beyond her waist, dressed in veils of filmy silks. She had to be fae, with those pointed ears and tip-tilted eyes, and the long, narrow fingers with pointed nails. “I am the guardian of the Waters of Truth,” she said in a voice that chimed, as if bells were ringing in the background. “Those who dare to cross will earn the answer to their question.”
He should not have been able to hear her over the roar of the water, but it sounded as if she was standing next to him. At least this was a concrete task. It might be a little nerve-wracking to cross that wild water on the small stones, but it was nothing he could not manage, and the river was not wide. He stepped forward to the line of stones nearest him.
Elizabeth held up her hand as if to stop him. “What is the price of crossing the river?” she asked.
The fae smiled, but it was a dangerous smile, not a welcoming one. “The price is truth, Librarian. You must cast aside your mortal lies to step into Faerie. Each truth will earn you one step.”
Darcy turned to Elizabeth. “She recognizes you.”
“We have met,” Elizabeth said. It was not an endorsement. “A word of warning. When the fae ask for the truth, they mean the truth that is most painful to your soul. Do not hope to slide by with correcting a lie you told as a child. It will not work, and the consequences may be unfortunate.”
Like the test at the entrance to the Library, then, which had forced him to reveal his loss of Elizabeth. Well, that was old news now. “Very well.” He walked to the right to the nearest set of stones and stepped out onto the first one. To his left, Elizabeth did the same.
Then the river changed. All the stones except the ones they stood on vanished beneath the rapids, and the river swelled behind them, making it impossible to go backwards. The fae said, “The first step is free. You must earn the next one by speaking truth. You first, Librarian. The river desires the truth of your heart.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes for a moment, then reopened them, her expression stern. “Here is a truth. I am proud and happy to be the Librarian, but late at night, when I am alone, I sometimes think about what I have lost to hold that position. My family whom I see only rarely, and with whom I cannot speak of my work. The pleasure of attending an assembly with my sisters. The hope of a family of my own someday. I would make the same decision again, but there are moments when I have regrets.”
A rock pushed up through the water in front of her and slid to a stop. She heaved an audible sigh of relief, stepped onto it, and turned to look at him.
The fae spoke again. “Your turn, mortal man. What is your truth?”
A truth, and he knew what it had to be, but it would not reflect well on him. Clenching his hands, he said, “When I was young, my parents determined that I would marry my cousin, Anne de Bourgh. I did not wish to marry her. She was…well, it does not matter why I hated the thought of marrying her, but I did. My parents would not listen, though, and it became an open wound between us. When Anne came of age, she went before the Patronesses of Magic, but to everyone’s shock, she failed to bond with a familiar.”
He paused, gathering his courage. “I saw my opportunity and broke off the betrothal, announcing that I could not marry a woman without magic. Everyone told me I was doing the right thing, putting the needs of my family first. Even my parents, who still wished for the marriage, begrudgingly agreed that I had a point. But my aunt was furious and kept demanding that I marry Anne, making my refusal a public matter and forcing me to say again and again that I could not marry her daughter because she had no magic.”
He halted, not wanting to say the rest, but no stone appeared for him. The fae must not be satisfied. Somehow he had to force the rest out. “But in truth, no one would have stopped me from marrying her if I wished to. It was just an excuse I had seized upon because I did not want to marry her. It was a lie to say that was my reason for ending the betrothal, and I paid dearly for that lie. Very dearly indeed.”
His face was hot, and he could not bring himself to look at Elizabeth. But the water ahead of him parted as a stepping stone appeared. He was that much closer to saving Georgiana. And perhaps, just perhaps, it might help Elizabeth understand that his refusal had not been about her.
“Your aunt,” said Elizabeth in a dangerously level voice. “Was that Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”
“Lady Catherine de Bourgh, of the Patronesses of Magic, who falsely judged me as being unable to call a familiar – and she was the mother of the woman you jilted for failing that very same test?” Her voice rose on the last words.
He winced. It did sound damning, put that way. And the stone he stood on was slowly lowering into the racing water, droplets smashing on his boots. A few inches lower, and the water would wash him away. “Yes. The very same.”
The stone rose again.
Elizabeth blew out a breath through pursed lips. “I always wondered why that happened. Now I know.”
He wanted to explain that his aunt would never have cheated on that test, not least because the other Patronesses would not permit it, but this was not the time, not with a raging river ready to drown them if they spoke anything with a hint of falsehood, and with the cure to Georgiana’s illness on the other side. If they survived this trial, he could explain it later.
If she would even speak to him then. It would be more than he deserved.
“Now you, Librarian,” came the chiming voice. “Unless you no longer wish to continue.”
Elizabeth straightened, not looking his way. “Here is truth. The Library entrusted me with this mission, and I have failed it because of my own weakness. My pride was injured when the Patronesses declared me lacking in magic. Instead of ignoring this obvious untruth, I have squandered the Library’s power in a foolish effort to demonstrate how wrong they were. I have allowed my injured feelings to outweigh my good sense, and as a result I can no longer call on the library.” Her voice shook.
What? She was cut off from the library? But the fae seemed to think it was true, for another stepping stone emerged from the water. Elizabeth moved to it. She was almost to the opposite shore.
And now it was his turn again, and Georgiana’s life rested on his willingness to humiliate himself. “My lie trapped me, though I did not see it for years, until I fell in love with a woman who failed the same test. But everyone knew I had refused my cousin. It was still the case that it would harm my family to marry a woman without magic, but it would harm my good name far more to admit that I had been lying all those years. And so my easy excuse, my lie, cost me the woman I loved, and I have missed her every day since.”
But no stone appeared. It was not enough. “Worse, my lie harmed her. I wanted nothing but to make her happy, and instead I hurt her, destroyed her prospects, and gave her reason to hate me. And I must live with that.” The image of Elizabeth’s face that morning at the inn, contorted in anger, flashed before him, and his chest ached.
But there was the next steppingstone. He set his foot on it and moved forward with great care, as if his precarious footing on the wet, slippery surface of the rock was his greatest worry. It was easier than seeing Elizabeth’s reaction.
“What is your truth, Librarian?”
Elizabeth’s words were so soft that he struggled to hear them over the rushing water. “When Mr. Darcy rejected me, I could make no sense of it except that he must have been lying to me all along, pretending to love me. It hurt to lose him, very badly indeed, but what made it worse was blaming myself for being fool enough to believe him. It made me act out of anger, seeking to prove him wrong. Which I did. But the lie I told myself then was that I did not care about him anymore, that the man I thought I loved never truly existed. But love does not just stop because one wishes it would.”
Now he stared at her. Could it be true? Did a part of her still care for him? But she stepped forward onto the next stone – and then onto dry land.
And turned to look at him, her chin held high and her expression unreadable.
There was only one thing he could do. “Walking away from you was a terrible mistake. Being with you these last days has only shown me how much I lost. I loved you then, and I have never stopped loving you. And that is my truth, that my heart today is even more yours than it was five years ago.” He did not even need to look down to know that the next stone was there. Some truths could not be denied.
And then he was standing on the far shore, only a few feet from Elizabeth, whose fingers rubbed against her lips.
The fae held up her hand, displaying inhumanly long, slender fingers. “You have passed the test. What is your question?”
He shook himself out of his thoughts. He had almost forgotten why they were there. “My sister is bespelled by the Scottish Word. How can I find an antidote for her?”
Her head tilted to one side, and she seemed to study something in the far distance. “An antidote to the Scottish Word. Yes. You must go to the Field of Scarlet.” She turned to Elizabeth. “And you, Librarian, what is your question?”
Elizabeth hesitated, as if she had not anticipated having this opportunity. “How do we find the Field of Scarlet?”
The fae laughed, a musical sound like the tinkling of silver bells. “Oh, no, Librarian. You must ask a question to your own benefit, not to his.”
She pursed her lips and gazed around the enormous cavern, up and down and over her shoulder. In a tight voice, she said, “Then, since it is to my benefit to return to the mortal world, my question is how we can cross the river again after our quest.”
Darcy looked back at the Water of Truth. All the steppingstones had vanished, and the river had swelled to at least twice its previous width. His pulse began to race.
The fae spread her hands to each side. “An easy answer – you cannot.” She laughed, her hair flowing behind her as if moved by a non-existent breeze. “Did you think it was so simple, mortal? Anyone may cross and ask a question, but you cannot return the way you came. You must find your own way out of Faerie.”
Darcy’s heart sank. “But how?”
The fae’s smile showed sharpened teeth. “You have used up your questions. Find further answers on your own.” She laughed again. “Or not. It is up to you.” She turned in a circle, spinning faster and faster, and vanished.
They were alone in an immense cavern in Faerie, with no map or directions. And Faerie had never been a safe place for mortals.
So, now a few things are out in the open! What will happen now that they both know the truth? Come back next week for Chapter 13 of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library by Lari Ann O’Dell.