Welcome to Chapter 20! Let’s begin with the standard stuff:
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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, Monica Fairview, Victoria Kincaid, Sarah Courtney, Lari Ann O’Dell, and me, Melanie Rachel.
**Last week, Darcy and Elizabeth finally made it back to Pemberley just in time to save Georgiana from the Scottish Word. But Abraxas has informed Elizabeth that she must return to the Library immediately. Alas, we have come to the place in the story where our hero and heroine must say goodbye. (Grab some tissues).
Darcy placed his hand over Elizabeth’s where she was clutching his arm. Her fingers relaxed their hold.
“I shall assist you,” he said impulsively, before a little shake of her head told him that he could not. His business with both the Library and its librarian were now concluded.
Their parting had always been inevitable, but it was a shock to have it arrive so abruptly. After all they had been through, he had hoped for the time to at least offer her a proper farewell.
Elizabeth’s eyes clouded over as if a heavy fog had descended, a damp and chilling mist that tore at Darcy’s heart. This time with Elizabeth had been terrible and wonderful, a break in the grief he had never shaken.
She had forgiven him his cowardice, and what a gift that was. But it did not erase all that they had lost, and he would carry the pain of the consequences forever. He could only pray that she would not. Elizabeth might never wed, but as the Librarian, she could live a fulfilled, purposeful life. More than anything else, Darcy desperately wished that happiness for her.
She slid her hand out from beneath his. “I must leave, Mr. Darcy.”
What could he say when so much had already passed between them? He took a breath to steady himself. “I will walk you out.”
“You will be careful,” he told her quietly as they moved towards the stairs. “Wickham is still about somewhere, and your magic—you are not yourself.” Darcy had drawn a great deal of power from Elizabeth to defeat the princess—he could not have done it alone. When they returned to Pemberley, his own magic had begun restoring itself, but his home would not offer the same respite for her.
It might have, once.
“I will be well when I reach the Library,” she replied.
Of course. The Library would restore her, because that was her home.
Elizabeth glanced up and met his gaze, her fine eyes shining with tears he knew she would not allow to fall. He dared not look away, filling his vision with her, committing to memory the curve of her jaw, the perfect outline of her lips, the little nose, the eyes that told a million tales. It was but a moment until she offered him a faint smile and gave him the promise he sought. “I will be careful.”
Darcy offered Elizabeth his arm. She took it, and they descended the steps, crossing the halltowards the front door. Each step took her closer to removing herself from Pemberley, from the place he ought to have brought her as his bride, and out into the fading light of the day.
Despite all the time they had recently spent in one another’s company, there was still much more to say. Unfortunately, they were out of time.
Elizabeth was in a hurry to return to the Library, to discover what was happening and what was to be done. But her urgent need to confer with Abraxas was secondary to her desire to remain with Mr. Darcy.
She wanted to be the Librarian, needed to be the Librarian. She had a purpose in life now that could never again be fulfilled by becoming merely the mistress of an estate, even one as magnificent, as magical as Pemberley.
It did not stop her from loving the master of Pemberley with a fierceness that lit her heart afire.
When she had been forced to admit the truth of her feelings on the Fae stepping stones, it was as though she had breathed truly, deeply for the first time in five years. When she had connected her magic to his, allowed him to draw from her own stores and to feel the raw power in his own—it was the sort of partnership she would never be able to replicate with anyone else. Nor would she ever be able to forget it.
None of that mattered.
The Librarian who preceded her had betrayed The Library. Elizabeth had been chosen as the Librarian to restore it, and she had accepted the charge. It had required years of training to prepare her for the role, and she had barely had a moment to use the powers that her position had bestowed before she had started out on this mission with the last man in the world she had expected to see again.
“I know you cannot stay,” Mr. Darcy said quietly as they approached the front door. “But I would never have you doubt the first desire of my heart. Had I my way, we should never be parted again.”
Elizabeth heard a dozen tiny popping sounds, as though her magic was crackling, and then there was silence. “I feel the same. I cannot abandon it or those who need it. What would happen to all those who depend upon its knowledge?” She touched his hand lightly. “What would have happened to Georgiana had the Library remained closed for even another fortnight?”
He nodded once. “Were it possible, I would give everything I own to be by your side. I simply wish you to know that. To believe it.”
She squeezed his hand. “I do.”
He leaned down, his warm lips brushing a kiss on her forehead. “Should you ever require aid in any way, Elizabeth, all you need do is call.”
It was all she could do to respond. “I shall.”
“That is all I ask.” He held her hands a moment longer, and then released them to step back. “Safe journeys, Your Eminence.”
Elizabeth lifted her eyes to Mr. Darcy’s face. His expression was not haughty or stony or entirely shuttered, all masks she had seen him wear when his feelings ran the deepest. Instead, it was open and vulnerable. She could see, in the tortured depths of his steady gaze, how difficult it was for him to let her go.
He wanted her to see him at his weakest. He trusted her enough to show her.
Elizabeth would never love another man as she loved him. Yet she smiled and turned away.
When Elizabeth slid down from Abraxas’s back and took her first step inside the Library, the warm embrace of magic welcomed her as softly as the beginning of spring. The building itself was just as she had left it. Even Travinius still sat at his perch, impervious to whatever great alarm had been sounded.
She stood in the doorway for a moment, reveling in the sensation of her magic returning to her. Reestablishing the connection not only allowed her to access the Library, it also sped the recovery of her own magic.
When Abraxas followed her into the grand reading room, he stared at her balefully. You have made your peace with it.
Made her peace? She never would, not completely. “I am not sure that I have. But it does not matter. I have promised my life to The Library, and I mean to honour that pledge.”
Sacrifice is required. You always knew that.
“I did. I do.”
Rest, then. We shall speak again in two days’ time.
Elizabeth was appalled. Was there nothing that she was required to do immediately? “We were summoned for an emergency, Abraxas. Is not that more important?”
It was an emergency indeed. You cannot face what we fear may come without first restoring your magic. As talented as you are, you will require all the magic The Library can offer in the days ahead.
The griffin was correct, of course. Despite feeling better, Elizabeth was bone weary. Pemberley had not replenished her magic, but The Library was already nourishing her. “I had not realized how very weak I have become,” she murmured. Still, had she known there was time, she might have spoken more with Mr. Darcy before she was forced to leave him.
The final battle with Princess Alaine was only the greatest tax upon your strength. You have not been a part of the Library’s magic for too long. Were you to remain at Pemberley in such a state you would have drained your magic entirely, and that could be catastrophic.
Elizabeth was ashamed of herself. Abraxas did not issue warnings with no cause—had she not learned as much when she misused and ruined the book he had sent with her on their quest? They were fortunate indeed that Mr. Darcy’s memory was so precise, for if he had not been able to memorize the map, they should never have found their way home.
It had been very difficult to leave him at Pemberley. She had not wished to do it at all, and Abraxas must have sensed it, understood better than she had herself that her magic was waning. He was entirely correct–it had been an emergency. Without a fit Librarian, the Library could not function properly and would have to be shut up again.
“Thank you, Abraxas. I do not deserve you. But I shall try to do better.”
You have made mistakes, Little One, but you have been strong and brave. You shall have to be those things again, and soon, I fear. Rest.
“I will.” Elizabeth dragged herself up to her apartment. After a long, hot bath and the luxury of slipping on a freshly laundered nightrail, she combed out her hair before the fire. When it was dry enough, she worked her thick, unruly locks into a plait and crawled in under a blanket.
Elizabeth wandered over to a large window that offered a view of the bustling square below. Even in the dark, it teemed with life.
Was Mr. Wickham out there even now? Was he planning another attack upon the Darcys? He seemed the type who, having lost his true desire, money, would feel no shame in pursuing revenge. Despite the loss of Alaine’s patronage, he might very well attempt to harm Georgiana or even Mr. Darcy again. Perhaps she could speak with Abraxas about locating the man’s whereabouts. It was not within the Library’s duties, but he was a danger to them all.
She slept soundly, but not without dreams. Or nightmares.
It was nearly impossible for Darcy to pretend that his thoughts were not more than a hundred miles away in Oxford.
He had spoken with his sister’s intended and read through the marriage articles. It was all for form—Galon had nothing to give other than himself, and in any case, as a Fae, he did not consider himself bound by contract or promise to a human. No human other than Georgiana, that is. For when Darcy was able to observe them without being noticed himself, he could see that Galon held himself bound to her. That he had so selflessly loved Georgiana all this time without any hope of it being requited did soothe Darcy’s concerns a bit, and, as his sister had been sure to repeat, she did not require his permission.
She did, however, ask very earnestly, very prettily for his blessing, and in concert with Galon’s earnest desire for the same, the sting of losing Georgiana eased significantly.
She was now legally promised to Galon, and soon both would return to the oceans. When they did, Darcy alone would remain resident at Pemberley. It was not a new sensation for him, but after his disappointment five years ago, he had just thrown himself into his work. It had helped distract him, for when he worked himself to exhaustion, he could not think too much about Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, who was gone.
Now working was not enough. Darcy knew what all of society had gained in having her as a Librarian, because he knew what he had lost.
The house was still full of people. Richard, Georgiana, Galon.
Loneliness gnawed at him anyway, like a starving rat.
Darcy closed his eyes so that he could feel the magical connection that still existed, a remnant of sharing Elizabeth’s magic to defeat Alaine. It was tenuous, fragile, but it was there. One day, he supposed, it would be severed, when they had been apart for too long, or she simply wished the memory gone.
“I was not worthy of her,” he said quietly. The words seemed to echo off the walls of his study, but perhaps that was his imagination. “But I will live my life in a way that she would approve.”
The door to the study opened suddenly. Fitzwilliam stepped inside, his nose wrinkled in distaste.
“Remind me,” he said, “never to be caught in a room with your sister and her betrothed ever again. They are shameless.”
“They are young,” Darcy replied with an affection that ached.
Fitzwilliam walked to the brandy and poured himself a glass. He held the decanter and glanced at Darcy, then put the spirits down without offering to pour a second glass.
“You look like hell, cousin,” he said blithely. “And have cloistered yourself here to hide away from the cause, I suspect?”
“Sadly, I was rather shocked to find that while I have been mouldering away in my anger at the world, my younger sister has become a rather formidable woman.” Darcy watched Fitzwilliam sip from his glass, the amber liquid glinting in the sunlight. “Watching her with Galon was as disturbing as it was instructive, and I retired to my study to offer them some privacy.”
“You retired to your study to grieve,” Fitzwilliam told him. “And Georgiana is not the cause, though her happiness does throw your own situation into rather sharp relief.”
There was no point denying it. Richard had been witness to Darcy’s despair the first time he had parted from Elizabeth. He was well aware that Darcy had never recovered from it. “What of it?”
“We have a job ahead of us, Darcy,” he said quietly. “Wickham is still out there somewhere, and while he did not succeed this time, he will not give up on finding Galon’s skin.”
Perhaps Wickham would finally have to admit defeat and slink away like the vermin he was. But Darcy would not count on it. He took a deep breath and with some effort, shook his melancholy away. It would return, eventually. It always did. It would not, however, keep him from his duty. He stood, stretched out his arms, and reached for the brandy.
“Where,” he asked Fitzwilliam, “do you suggest we begin?”
“I am well, Abraxas,” Elizabeth said with some pique. “Perfectly well.” She chanted a quick incantation and several books appeared on the table next to her. “Can you not see?”
Then why do you spend so much time inquiring about this Mr. Wickham?
Elizabeth’s cheeks warmed. “He is still a danger, and I would not have him casting love spells on any other woman. It is forbidden.”
And yet, enforcing such laws is not within the responsibilities of The Library.
Elizabeth slumped into the nearest chair. “It is the last thing I might do for him,” she said softly. “I know it is self-indulgent, but . . .”
You are correct. And we have more important work to complete, Your Eminence. Work that protects the entire human realm, not only one family in it.
Elizabeth was silent for a moment. Abraxas had been kind to say that it was the family she was protecting. They both knew it was the man and not his sister in her thoughts. She would ease his burden, if she could, but it was not her place.
She closed her eyes and touched the last remaining bond between her and Mr. Darcy. She ought to sever it, but she could not. It brought her comfort in a way that nothing else could. That nothing else ever would. If it was to be cut, he would have to do it.
“Very well, Abraxas,” she said, standing. “What is happening that threatens the Library?”
It threatens us all. The walls between the Fae lands and England are growing ever more porous.
“They have been for some time,” Elizabeth reminded him. The softening of the walls between Fae and human had been occurring for some years, and the ruinous weather a year past had only made things worse. The ease with which Alaine had sent a troll from her lands to attack them in their own was sign enough that there were issues to be handled. She straightened her shoulders. As the Librarian, part of her job was to research causes and remedies, so that anyone who made it through the questioning and stood before her to ask for the cure might have it without delay.
Good, good, Abraxas murmured as he sensed her focus shifting. I shall leave you to it.
Before he could, there was a rumbling sound followed quickly by a rolling sensation, as though the ground had somehow formed into ocean waves, and they were bobbing along atop the surface. She threw her arms around Abraxas, whose solid weight held her upright. Soon enough, the movement ebbed and ceased, and she thanked the griffin and released him.
“Was that an earthquake?” She quickly consulted the books—it appeared that it was. But how?
And why now? She searched more tomes. And there it was, in the ancient book of Aohwah Aihpid, the last Fae to live entirely among men. Such shaking indicated . . .
It appears that the walls are not only porous, Abraxas told her, his perpetually steady nature betraying anxiety for the first time in their acquaintance. They are collapsing.
**Author’s Note: There was actually an earthquake in England in early 1816, though it wasn’t in Oxford