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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, Monica Fairview, Lari Ann O’Dell, Sarah Courtney, and yours truly, Melanie Rachel.
Last week. Galon was ready to sacrifice his skin in return for Georgiana’s life, sure that Darcy and Elizabeth could not succeed in their quest. Let us rejoin ODC as they struggle to reconcile the heartbreak of their past with the urgent mission of their present.
The cavern was dark and dank after the faerie disappeared. For a few awful moments, there was nothing but the sound of water dripping from the stalactites and hitting the ground.
Plop. Plop. Plop.
No map, Darcy’s mind tapped out in time with the drops. Map. Map. There had to be one, did there not? They were not the only humans to find their way to Faerie and return home again. There must be a way to do it.
Darcy chanced a glance at Elizabeth, who had at least worked her magic to light the way again. Her countenance was calm, serious, but the flicker of panic in her fine eyes nearly broke him.
Love does not just stop because one wishes it would.
Her truth rang in his ears. He had not lost her love. But he had lost her. Worse. He had abandoned her. If anything were to break him, it would be that.
Having witnessed the courage of both Georgiana and Elizabeth, Darcy could not allow himself to falter now. It was his quest to save his sister that had brought Elizabeth to Faerie. It was therefore his duty to figure out a way to return her home, even if that home would never be Pemberley. Even if he could not follow her back.
He had not been worthy of Elizabeth. But he swore to himself that he would be.
Darcy studied the cave as his eyes adjusted to the dark, seeking a way out. Finding none, he made his way down to a pool of water and discovered a flat place to sit.
It was foolish to think about a map for Faerie, as it altered so completely from one day to the next. The landscape flickered, faded, reappeared. A mountain might be in the east one day and the west the next. Convenient for the fae, less so for the unfortunate human traveler. Still . . .
“Elizabeth,” he called, stepping back up the rocky slope to her. “Let us rest for a while and consider what must be done.”
She nodded but ignored the hand he offered to help guide her down. He left it extended in case she took a false step.
Darcy used a little magic before taking a small sip from the pool. “There is no magic in the water. You may drink if you are thirsty.”
Elizabeth knelt and cupped her hands together, lifting the cool liquid to her mouth and drinking deeply.
When they were both settled, Darcy drew his knees up and set his chin atop them. “The fae cannot cast magic without leaving a little of it behind.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I am not sure whether that helps us, however, without knowing what it is meant to do.”
“Wickham has clearly been on this journey before. The same sort of magic that guided him here might remain in this cavern.” He turned her head in her direction.
She cocked her head to one side and met his gaze. “I suppose it might, but where even to begin?”
“I thought, perhaps,” he hesitated. Was he offering hope where he ought not? “I thought perhaps the original spell you found in the Library.”
“We have exhausted the spell, have we not?” Elizabeth did not sound as though she disapproved the idea, though she was certainly not convinced.
“Possibly,” he said. “However, I was considering the line, ‘deep into the darkness burrow.’”
Elizabeth was silent for a few moments as she pondered it. “Do you think it possible that we should go deeper into the cavern? I know the fae can be maddeningly oppositional, but it is possible the cavern may simply close around us. At least here we have water to drink.”
He nodded. “There is that risk. Yet there is a greater risk in not acting at all.” He paused. “If I could walk ahead to be sure before asking you to join me, I would, but with the way in which Faerie transforms on a whim . . .”
“No, we must remain together,” Elizabeth told him firmly.
“Indeed.” He sighed. “Wickham sojourned here to plant the curse’s roots. There must be a way to follow his steps.”
There must be. And he would find it.
Elizabeth was weary. “My feet hurt, and I am tired. I am willing to linger here a short time before we attempt to find our way out again.”
Mr. Darcy nodded. “We have been setting a prodigious pace.”
“I know you are anxious to free Georgiana. Your haste is necessary and understandable.”
They sat in the dark, each lost in their own thoughts.
Eventually, Elizabeth determined to address the looming issue between them. They had been required, each of them, to speak the painful truth. She had suffered, and now she knew that he had, too. That he still did. She gathered her dignity around her like a cloak and began.
“William,” she said, “I feel we must discuss what was said as we crossed the stepping stones.”
He was silent for a time before responding to her. “What is left to say, Elizabeth? I treated you cruelly, and I will pay for it the rest of my life. I have no chance to requite my love for you or yours for me, because to do so, you would have to give up being the Librarian.”
His tone was flat, indifferent. Another woman might not fathom how intricately his pain was intertwined with every word. She shared his pain, she yearned to ease it, and yet this was not enough.
“I need to understand what happened that day. Not only your behavior, but also why my magic did not function as it should. You can clearly see that I have all the magic we presumed, and more. There is no honest way that I could have failed to bond with a familiar.”
William stood and began to pace. Elizabeth held one of her hands down near the floor so that he could see where he was walking. The last thing they needed was for him to reinjure himself.
“While I do not doubt that something was wrong terribly with your examination, Elizabeth, I cannot believe that my aunt intentionally tampered with it. She knows and respects the laws and traditions of the familiar ceremony. She always has.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “You were never planning to marry a woman being tested before. A woman who was a significant threat to all her hopes of an alliance with you.”
He laced his hands behind his head and looked up at the cavern’s ceiling. “It would go against everything she ever taught me.”
“I am sorry for your disappointment,” Elizabeth said, contrite. “Truly, I am. But with the evidence of my magic, you must face the possibility that your aunt is willing to bend the law to have her way. After all, it worked, did it not? No one has ever accused her. No, the shame of that day has been my portion.”
His expression was a horrible thing to witness, anguish adding years to his countenance. She could see, here in the shadows of the cavern, how terribly he would age if he did not shed the burden of his guilt.
“You did not deserve it,” he told her.
“I did not,” she agreed. After a moment of hesitation, she continued. “You said, ‘My heart today is even more yours than it was five years ago.’”
“It is my truth.”
“Then while it is true that I did not deserve the scorn heaped upon me that day, that I did not deserve to be abandoned . . .”
William’s face contorted in pain.
“I am sorry, William, but I must say it. You abandoned me when you should have stood beside me and demanded another test.”
“Yes,” he said hoarsely. “I should have, and I condemned us both when I walked away.”
“You did,” she replied. “And yet despite that, you did not deserve what has come, any more than I did myself.”
“You have not deserved to suffer these past five years.” She tipped her head slightly and said, lightly, “Although it speaks sadly of my own character, I am gratified to hear that you suffered, William. I should have thought less of you were your actions easy to live with. But now . . .” She pressed her lips together and stood. She dusted off her skirts, straightened her shoulders, and waited for him to turn around. When he did, she stepped close enough to hold his gaze. “Now I forgive you. And you must forgive yourself.”
“Elizabeth,” he said, her name lifting in the air like a song.
Elizabeth sighed. “I have more to say, sir.”
Mr. Darcy frowned. “More than this? It is everything to have your forgiveness, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth saw no way for them to have a future together, but she could do this for him—she could help lift the blinders from his eyes, help him prevent any future attempts to coerce him. “This will bring you more pain, I am afraid, but I must ask you a question.”
He waited, which Elizabeth took as an invitation to proceed.
“Have you never considered that there might be a connection between what has happened to Georgiana and your aunt’s continued command that you marry your cousin Miss De Bourgh?”
“How did you know . . .”
“What? That your aunt wished you to marry your cousin or that she would refuse to relinquish her dreams? She would not do so even were you wed, sir, and clearly you are not.”
“I could not marry another,” he replied as he turned away. “I am still in love with you.”
They stood silently in the dark as they contemplated the impossibility of it all.
“William,” Elizabeth said gently, “please, for your own good, at least consider this. If your aunt blocked my ability to bond with a familiar five years ago and finds herself still waiting for you to acquiesce, she may not be above trying again. She has met Mr. Wickham, has she not? Would know that he is always—what is the term—pockets to let?” She could have said more, but he was a clever man.
“I cannot believe . . .” The words were not heated or disbelieving now, but they were still not what she wished to hear.
“Stop,” Elizabeth said sharply, and pinched the bridge of her nose when he complied. “How can you say you love me when you defend her and not me? I beg you to consider the evidence. She wants you to marry her daughter. She knew we were betrothed. And she was in charge of the test that I failed even though, mere months later, I bonded with Abraxis.” She paused. “Were this my mother, would you think it possible?”
At his incredulous look, she grunted, exasperated. “If my mother was an intelligent schemer rather than an emotional one, would it be possible?”
“It would be,” he said at last.
Elizabeth took a deep breath to steady herself. “Then it is not impossible that your aunt has done this. Your aunt covets money and power—are not those the motives of nearly every war in history?”
“Lady Catherine already has both,” he responded, barely whispering the words.
“When has that ever kept anyone from wanting more?”
Elizabeth’s words rang in Darcy’s ears and echoed against the walls. When indeed? Could it be that he had fallen so neatly into a trap laid by his aunt? Had his own blood conspired against him and Georgiana? Why could he not accept that five years ago? Why did he still have such difficulty accepting it now?
Because he was proud.
That was the truth. He had been offered a choice at the familiar ceremony all those years ago. His family pride or Elizabeth’s hand?
He had selected pride, just as his aunt had known he would. And in doing so, he had set all of this in motion.
It was too much to bear. “Come,” he said gruffly. “Let us push on.”
Wisely, Elizabeth did not press him. Darcy was not certain he could speak coherently just now and losing his composure would do neither of them any good.
They picked their way down, down, down a dark, narrow, sloping path. Eventually, Elizabeth’s light flickered and vanished. She was weary, but there was no safe place to stop and rest. Darcy’s ribs ached and his head throbbed, but he thought about what Georgiana was suffering and doggedly placed one foot in front of the other.
It was at least two hours later when his skin began to tingle with the feel of Fae magic. “There it is,” he murmured, just as the narrow path they traversed dipped down into a wider, flatter space. He moved into the chamber and tipped his head back. The ceiling was as high as in a cathedral, though there were no windows to let in the light. He closed his eyes and began to draw in the air. The symbols lit the cavern in blue light.
“What is that?” Elizabeth asked curiously.
“A magic resurrection spell,” he said as he etched another symbol in the air.
“I thought resurrection spells were forbidden, just as love spells ought to be.”
“Resurrection is a rather grand name for it. It merely allows us to see magic that was here but has been spent.”
He completed the final figure with a flourish and watched, satisfied, as the blue writing transformed itself into flames leaping up the cavern walls, crackling with energy.
“What is happening?” Elizabeth asked, raising her voice to be heard over the noise.
“First, the flames will burn away whatever conceals the traces of magic that were used here recently,” he explained. “Then, when the flames die away, we will see a shadow of what has been.”
From the beginning of their journey, Darcy had been more a hinderance than a help. He had been injured straight off, and it was Elizabeth who had ultimately stopped the troll and found help. He had required her assistance to rescue the hermit from the collapse of his cave, and he had nearly been seduced by the sirens. Again, Elizabeth had saved him.
No magic indeed.
He would focus on his anger about the patronesses later. For now, it was time that he began to be of some use and this, this he could do. The flames took longer than he had expected to cease burning, but in the end, it revealed the echoes of two items: a map, and a compass.
The map was not made of paper—it was glowing in a light as yellow as the sun and emblazoned upon the rough stone wall. There was a thin, straight line down the center of it. Darcy stepped back so that he could read it, and he could see Elizabeth, bathed in the yellow light, stepped back with him.
He used the river they had crossed as a way to locate their position on the map and etched the entire thing into his mind.
“How are we to find our way,” Elizabeth said, frustrated and in distress, “if we cannot take the map with us to read along the way?”
“I will remember it,” he told her gently.
He impressed the map’s hills and valleys upon his mind and studied the compass closely. It was pointing true north, and as long as he recalled its orientation, he could use it to help find their way.
She waved a hand at the wall. “You can recall all of that?”
He nodded. “My education required that I commit many spells to memory. I find that I can now memorize many things with ease, if I purposely impress them upon my mind.”
Elizabeth looked up at him with admiration.
Darcy committed that image to his memory, too, for later study. He would have need of it when this quest was done.
“What is that?” Elizabeth asked, motioning to the ghostly item on a stone near the map.
“It is a compass,” he told her. He oriented himself in that direction and wrote two words in the air. They shimmered in blue and then disappeared without the flames that the first spell required.
“What did you write?” Elizabeth inquired.
“True North,” he told her.
He nodded. “We may not be able to use the compass that was here, but if we know where north is, we can use the map to find our way to . . .” he closed his eyes to be certain it was all there . . . “the Field of Scarlet.”
“But how will we use either of these things when we cannot find our way outside?” she inquired.
Darcy smiled. “Open,” he wrote at the base of the wall, where the map was divided. The walls rolled back far enough that one person might walk through at a time. He offered Elizabeth a little bow and motioned her forward.
She blinked at the sudden brightness. “That was very well done, Mr. Darcy,” she said teasingly. “Perhaps you have a little magic after all.”
So Darcy is determined to be of use, lol! What did you all think of his efforts and Elizabeth’s forgiveness?