Welcome to Chapter 2 of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library, a full-length Pride & Prejudice fantasy variation. It’s a group story written round-robin style, and we’ll be posting the entire story here on Magical Austen. So mark your calendar for every Wednesday to read the next chapter!
The story is written by our authors, but the plot was chosen by readers on 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. Then Abigail Reynolds, Sarah Courtney, Victoria Kincaid, Lari Ann O’Dell, Melanie Rachel, and yours truly, Monica Fairview, got to work turning it into a novel. Oh, the plot brainstorming and wild characterization! Oh, the surprises we have in store for you! I can’t wait to hear what you think! Next week Melanie Rachel will be posting another exciting new chapter, and you’re going to love it!
Last week Abigail Reynolds posted the first chapter. And now, without further ado, is Chapter Two of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library!
The voice of Abraxas, the Library griffin, brushed against Elizabeth’s mind. We have a new visitor. A human. Looking lost.
Elizabeth sighed. It meant she would have to give up her research for the afternoon.
Shall I ask him to return tomorrow?
No. Let him in.
Reluctantly, she shelved the book she was about to read, and began to descend the ladder.
“Good afternoon, Miss. I wonder if you could assist me–”
There was no mistaking the husky timber of that voice. It had haunted her dreams. Elizabeth had never expected to hear it again. Surely he could not be here, in the Library?
She twisted round quickly to make sure it was him, and her foot missed its grip on the step of the ladder. She tumbled downwards, her arms flailing. Instinct took over, and she called on magic to stop the downward descent. A cushion of air formed beneath her, buoying her up and holding her steady as she carefully regained her footing.
She felt like a fool for reacting so strongly, but at least her dignity was intact. Feet firmly planted on the wooden step, Elizabeth was now able to focus her attention on her visitor. The man – Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – was standing under the ladder, arms outstretched. He had formed a floating carpet of feathers, closely clustered together to break her fall.
She stared at him in disbelief. Did he really think a Librarian would not have enough magic to save herself? That she would require his assistance? Was there no limit to his arrogance? He had clearly not changed at all.
She schooled her thoughts and waited for him to acknowledge her magical power, but he did not show any sign of it. The alarm on his face simply faded and his expression turned neutral. All too neutral. He released the feather spell, then stepped back, putting a clear distance between them.
Yes, that was the Fitzwilliam Darcy she knew. Always concealing his emotions. The Fitzwilliam Darcy who could easily cast her away when it was not convenient, whose declarations of love meant nothing at all. She remembered that blank face with its tight expression. It had been five long years, but it was etched deep into her memory. It was the last thing she had seen before he turned his back to her and walked away, his footsteps hollow echoes as he broke her heart.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Are you assisting here? I am sorry. I must have come the wrong way. I asked to see the Librarian.”
How could the powerful mixture of human and fae magic that surrounded her escape his attention? He was so single-minded, he barely acknowledged her presence. His only concern was meeting the Librarian. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was beneath his notice. Towards her, he was silent, grave and indifferent.
Elizabeth was glad she was still perched on the stairs, because at least she was looking down at him.
“Did you, indeed?” She turned to face him and crossed her arms, setting her back against the ladder. “Did you have a particular purpose in mind, or do you simply wish to gather information that would help you advance your position further in society?”
“That is hardly fair—” He stepped towards her and started to extend his hand, then dropped it to his side. “I need to speak to the Librarian. I am afraid the Library Griffin misdirected me. He suggested I would find the Librarian here.”
Should she keep Mr. Darcy in the dark about her identity and send him away? She would rather not deal with him. Besides, it would serve him right for not even entertaining the possibility that she could be the Librarian. How very typical of him to underestimate her.
Elizabeth? Do you wish him to leave? I do not blame you. His griffin is the most arrogant familiar I have ever encountered.
It was likely that Abraxas could sense her turmoil, though he would never eavesdrop unless she deliberately opened her mind to him. Elizabeth almost agreed with the griffin’s assessment of Hespera, but she held back. She had met Darcy’s familiar twice, and both times she had been unapproachable. However, she did not want Abraxas to know that she and Darcy had once been close.
If only he had given her a few minutes’ warning, she could have prepared herself. Why did you not tell me that our visitor had a griffin familiar? If you had, I would have known who he was. Mr. Darcy is the only Griffin Keeper in the Kingdom.
Apart from you. Abraxas sounded pleased with himself.
Of course. That goes without saying. She felt a surge of affection for the old griffin.
Were you well acquainted with him?
So much for trying to hide things from him. It was a long time ago. Was it only five years? It seemed like a lifetime.
Abraxas’ curiosity nudged at her, but she was not ready to confide the sorry tale of a love that had splintered her heart into a thousand little pieces.
I can boot him out, along with his familiar, and bar them from the library if you wish. Abraxas sounded like he would enjoy doing it.
It was tempting, very tempting. Mr. Darcy’s arrival had unsettled her profoundly. She did not want to work with him. But she did not wish him to be barred from the Library at a whim, either.
No. There is no need for such measures.
She turned back to Mr. Darcy, whose impatience was almost palpable.
“Unfortunately, sir, you have come at the wrong time. The Librarian is not currently available. If you would like to return in a day or two, perhaps?”
“It is urgent. I must see her immediately.”
It was out of the question. Elizabeth was too shaken to work with him today, and she did not want him to know it. She could not refuse to help him. It was what she was here for, after all, and she would not abandon her duty simply because she did not like Mr. Darcy.
“Why not return tomorrow morning?” It would give her time to compose herself.
Mr. Darcy looked as if he might object, but then he nodded. He did not want to risk the ire of the Librarian. How ironic. He already had. Five years ago.
“Will nine o’clock suit you?”
“That would be acceptable,” said Elizabeth, relieved at the temporary reprieve. “I will let Travinius know that you are to be admitted. I am certain you have no wish to go through all the questions again.” She gave him a small smile. This would all go more smoothly if they could find a way to be civil at least.
“I would not.” There was no hint of a smile in his voice, only tension. So much for trying to make things easier.
She wanted him to leave, and soon, before she broke down and asked him the question that had tormented her for so many months after he had walked away. Why did you betray me? She needed a few hours – a whole night, possibly — to recover.
“Very well, then, Mr. Darcy.” It was a clear dismissal.
Fortunately, Darcy took the hint. He had never been obtuse, just too inclined to pass judgement on others. “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever,” he had once said. What type of person made such a statement?
He bowed stiffly. “A pleasure to see you again, Miss Bennet.”
She was glad she was on the ladder because she had an excuse not to curtsey and give him her hand..
“Until tomorrow, then, Mr. Darcy.”
She watched as he turned on his heel and walked away. Then she made her way down the step onto solid ground and took several shaky breaths. She had thought her heartbreak was healed. Why should the sight of Darcy rattle her like this? She had believed the bitterness and the pain buried inside her a long time ago. Instead, here she was.
She would not allow him to affect her this way. She was a different person now. She was the Librarian of the Great Library, connecting the human world with the fae, with access to the knowledge of centuries. She was not helpless Miss Bennet anymore, at the mercy of Society’s judgement. The nightmarish events of five years ago were over. She had found her place in the world. She belonged here, and she would not let Mr. Darcy ruin that.
She rose to her feet. Abraxas was standing in the doorway.
He has disturbed you. His voice in her head was kind. It reassured her that her world was not going to be torn away. She had no intention of allowing a gentleman who had no place in her life to grind everything she had accomplished under his heel.
True, she replied to Abraxas’ query, but only because this was our first encounter. Next time, I will face him with complete indifference.
I am relieved to hear it. Then let us resume our tasks.
Mr. Darcy presented himself just as the clock struck nine, and this time, Elizabeth was ready for him. So was Abraxas, who seemed suddenly inclined to chatter.
“Miss Bennet tells me you were previously acquainted. Would you say Mr. Darcy looks different now?”
It was a strange question, but then, it was often difficult to understand a griffin like Abraxas. He was old – centuries old – and had seen several Librarians come and go. Besides, he did not perceive things as humans did.
To answer the question, Elizabeth was forced to look directly at Mr. Darcy. Yesterday, she had been too busy avoiding eye contact to judge whether he had changed, but now, in the harsh morning light, she could see that those five years had left their imprint. The passage of time was etched into his skin. He had lost some of his bloom.
“Time has not treated you well, Mr. Darcy.” She replied in complete honesty, answering the griffin’s question objectively. Perhaps Abraxas wanted her to see him as he was now, not as he had been.
Darcy avoided her gaze. “What did you expect?” His voice was dismissive. He was not interested in the past, only in the present. He was here for the Librarian, not for her.
It must injure his pride to have to go through Elizabeth to reach the Librarian. Because that was how he saw it. Clearly, Mr. Darcy did not relish this meeting any more than she did. Hopefully, his request for assistance would be a simple one, and she could lend him her assistance, then send him on his way.
If he were not so prickly, she might have resigned herself to his presence. Perhaps she could tease him into a better humor, as she had done in the past? It would make working together easier.
Well, there was no harm in trying. “So, has time treated me well?”
His mouth opened and he stared at her.
“Is this yet another test to gain admission to the Librarian? My mentor informed me there were only three.”
If he still had a mentor, then it meant he had not married someone with a familiar yet. She would not gloat, example, but she did feel triumphant that no one else had measured up to his arrogant standards. Mentors were only assigned to single gentlemen with magical familiars until they married, when the two familiars would balance each other’s powers and prevent their magic from getting out of control.
Then she realized what his statement implied. It meant he had been given instructions about how to get into the library. She should have known it. Families like his always had an advantage over everyone else.
“Your mentor may not know everything.”
“I thought the Librarian had agreed to meet me at nine. Time is of the essence.”
Impatience was written all over his body. She was only a means to an end, just as she had always been. At least this time she knew he was just using her. He was barely making an effort to be civil. Maybe this is who he was. He had been uncivil the first day they had met at the Meryton Assembly. He had been uncivil when they parted. Why should it be any different now? And why should she be hurt that it had not even crossed his mind that Miss Elizabeth Bennet might be the Librarian?
“We cannot make it too easy to access the Librarian, can we now?” There was an edge to her voice. It might be wrong to hold back the truth, but she wanted him to discover it on his own and realize what she had become. It was petty, perhaps, but she needed him to acknowledge what she had accomplished.
He examined her. It was the first time he had actually looked at her properly. His gaze was disconcerting, his dark eyes intense and deep. Elizabeth had no idea what he was thinking.
“You ask if time has treated you well, Miss Bennet. The answer is that you have changed a great deal.”
Her heart tilted at the intensity of his expression, and she braced herself for his verdict.
“You look — radiant. You were always vivacious, but this is more than that. It is difficult to describe, but I have encountered it before.” His gaze suddenly sharpened. “It is the glow of magic. Fae magic. How is that possible?”
Behind him, Abraxas made a sound, something between a sniffle and a snort.
He took his time working that out.
“It is a long story,” Elizabeth replied. “Are you prepared to hear it?”
Darcy’s mouth tightened. “Perhaps after I have explained my situation to the Librarian, we will have the chance to talk. I am pressed for time.”
She was even more vexed now that he had not yet put two and two together. Elizabeth reached out to Abraxas in frustration. He still does not know I am the Librarian.
Perhaps we should set up a test for the future. If someone does not recognise you as a Librarian, they should not be admitted.
That may be too complicated.
Shall I tell his familiar who you are? I would like to see the expression on her human’s face when he finds out.
I would rather inform Mr. Darcy myself.
In any case, there was no putting off the revelation anymore. “You wish to speak to the Librarian, Mr. Darcy? Very well. You shall have your wish.”
He gave a nod of acknowledgment. He was too intent on his purpose – whatever it was – to notice that it was she who had granted him the permission.
“Before you do, you must swear an oath that you will not do harm to the library or to the Librarian, or you and your descendants will be cursed forever.”
“I swear.” Again, he was chafing at the bit to get started.
“You must speak the words, Mr. Darcy. Three times. They have binding magic. They will give you access to a wealth of knowledge and information, if you know how to find it.”
She waved her hand, and words appeared in the air, the letters glowing brightly.
He read them out. “I promise that I will do no harm to the Library or to the Librarian. If I do, my descendants and I will be cursed forever.” He intoned the words solemnly, in the manner of someone who knew words had the power to build and destroy.
She listened as he repeated the oath two more times. For better or for worse, she was bound to help him now, whatever his request.
As the Library accepted his oath, the sensation of Fae magic prickled her skin. She took a deep breath as the words of the oath swirled around her, faster and faster, creating a whirlwind. The air around her began to glow and expand. The bookcases moved backward, and the illusion of the neatly arranged shelves disappeared.
Elizabeth opened herself up to the ancient wisdom of the library and to all the knowledge passed down through the generations.
“Tell me what you wish to know, Mr. Darcy, and I will do what I can to fulfil it. How may I help you?”
She spoke the ritual words in the Librarian’s voice. It was her own voice, joined with the voices of many others, whispers of the past and the present, of everyone that had come before her.
Mr. Darcy was looking as if he had seen a ghost. In a way, that was who the Librarian was: voices from the past. Elizabeth had stood where he was standing now, and she still remembered how it felt. The presence of the Librarian was overpowering. Everyone reacted strongly to this moment, and Mr. Darcy had even more reason to be shocked than most other people.
After a moment of stunned silence, he managed to rally his thoughts enough to bow to her. “Your Eminence the Librarian.”
Abraxas’ voice whispered somewhere in the back of her mind, among the other voices. It sounded muffled and remote.
He has been coached well. He knows how to address you.
Elizabeth smiled wryly. Of course. Mr. Darcy would never leave anything to chance.
“How may I help you?” she repeated, her voice echoing through the vast chamber. “Choose your request well. There is a limit of three requests for the lifetime of each person admitted to the library. Please do not forfeit one of them by requesting something trivial.”
“I can assure you I will not. I have come here, your Eminence, to ask you to save my sister Georgiana’s life. Without your help, I—” he stopped and swallowed, then forced himself to go on, “—I believe she will die.”
The Librarians were supposed to show compassion, but they were not meant to feel anything towards the supplicants. Elizabeth had met Georgiana. She had once believed they would be sisters. Even at the young age of sixteen, her magic had been strong. Elizabeth could only imagine how powerful she should be now, five years later. What could possibly have happened to that young lady to bring her close to death? Elizabeth had never had the opportunity to grow closer to Georgiana.
She was gripped by a strong sense of melancholy. In response, the voices around her swirled with agitation, and the light around her began to flicker. The air grew suddenly ice cold. She looked around her in alarm. Every surface around her was coated in frost, including Mr. Darcy.
He was shivering, his lips blue. “Your Eminence? Miss Bennet? What is happening? Have I said the wrong thing?”
She could barely see him through the snowflakes on her eyelashes. What had she done?
Her emotions were always amplified when she was connected to the Library, but this was the first time she realized it could have material consequences. Mr. Darcy was now on his knees, scrunched over, blowing on his hands and trying to stay warm. He was shivering violently. He looked as if he was about to topple over.
If she did not do something quickly, she could kill him.
She was appalled that she had let this happen. In response, the temperature dropped even further. The only way to control what was happening was to change the direction of her feelings. Blaming herself would only make matters worse. She changed direction, forcing herself to think of happy things. Running up Oakham Mount with her sisters, their bonnets in their hands, feeling the wind against their faces. The ridiculous Mr. Collins and his studied compliments to the ladies. The first time Mr. Darcy had held her hand.
Slowly, the ice began to melt.
Mr. Darcy straightened up and came to his feet. His color started to return to normal.
“What happened?” His voice was hoarse, and he was looking bewildered.
She could not tell him that she had allowed her emotions to get the better of her.
“There are some unexpected difficulties.”
Her voice rang out, her own, but not her own. The voices of the other Librarians were pressing in on her. She was not Elizabeth Bennet. She was the Librarian.
“I do not know if I will be able to help you, Mr. Darcy.”
He looked devastated, as if she had taken away all his hope.
She pushed down the impulse to feel guilty. It would only make matters worse.
“I am not saying I will not help you. Only that I do not know if I can.”
Because, in order to help him, she would have to forget she had ever known him.
I hope you enjoyed discovering more about the Enchanted Library and Elizabeth’s role as a Librarian. What do you think is going to happen next? Will Darcy overcome his pride and convince her to help him? Will she be able to set aside her feelings and work with him? Come back next Wednesday to find out what Darcy is thinking in a new chapter by Melanie Rachel!