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We’re getting close to Darcy and Elizabeth’s happy ending, but as you know, it’s always darkest before the dawn. You have been warned!
When we last saw Elizabeth and Darcy, they had been torn apart as they returned to their separate responsibilities – Darcy to Pemberley, and Elizabeth to the Library, just in time for some major problems with the Wall between Faerie and the mortal world. And now, welcome back to the Enchanted Library for Chapter 22!
Elizabeth closed the spell book in front of her and turned to Abraxas, who was drowsing by the fire. “Another book with no answers. Where does it end?” she asked tiredly. “We exhausted ourselves rebuilding the Wall when it was collapsing, and then I thought finally all was well. And now this new breach today!”
Abraxas spoke in her mind. You have worked very hard, beyond what anyone could expect. Maintaining the Wall has never been such a challenge before.
She rubbed her forehead. “If we cannot find who is causing these breaches, I do not see how we can stop it.”
We must keep looking. There are many more books. One will have the answer.
“But we still do not know why. To think I once believed the Librarian only dealt with books and questions, not keeping the balance between Faerie and the mortal world!”
Before he could respond, the truth-teller Travinius entered. “Your Eminence, an emissary has arrived from King Malus of the Winter Court. Will you see him?”
Elizabeth stood and straightened her skirts. “I suppose I must.” She crossed to the Librarian’s lectern. It never hurt to have the props of her position when dealing with a Fae of the courts. Especially since her last encounter with King Malus had been strained, to say the least.
But then Darcy had been by her side. An ache of pure longing made her dig her fingertips into the lectern’s edge until they hurt. Why, oh, why must everything remind her of him – and all she had given up?
Still, if she had stayed with Darcy, the Wall between the mortal world and Faerie would have collapsed completely. Fae creatures would have poured over it, causing death and destruction everywhere.
She had made the right decision. Now she had to learn to live with it.
“Bring in the emissary,” she told Travinius.
Abraxas came to stand at her left side, and she mentally thanked him for his support.
Travinius led in King Malus’s envoy, and then came to stand on Elizabeth’s right. The emissary was a willowy Fae lady attired in colorful silks, a silver sword strapped to her waist. She was followed by two Fae soldiers, each holding an arm of a disheveled mortal woman whose gray hair fell in tangles around her face. Still, she bore herself proudly, looking about her disdainfully.
Elizabeth barely stifled a gasp. It was Lady Catherine de Bourgh, barely recognizable as the same aristocratic Patroness who had tried so hard to destroy her when she emerged from Faerie. Her boar familiar was nowhere to be seen.
“Greetings, your Eminence,” the emissary said in a voice that chimed like bells. “King Malus directed me to deliver this prisoner to you. She was caught using a Forbidden Spell to draw faerie creatures across the Wall.” She gestured, and the two soldiers brought Lady Catherine forward.
A Forbidden Spell? Suddenly it all came clear, why the Wall had been breached again and again. That, after all, was why the spells were forbidden! How in heaven’s name had Lady Catherine managed to obtain one? The only copies were locked away in the library’s deepest vaults, and never given out.
“Pray convey the Library’s thanks to King Malus for apprehending this criminal,” said Elizabeth evenly. “We have been searching for her to answer to other crimes as well.”
Lady Catherine tossed her head. “How dare you! I have done nothing. I demand to be released at once.”
Abraxas’s disembodied voice echoed through the chamber. “Lady Catherine de Bourgh, you led an attack on Her Eminence the Librarian, which is a crime against the Library itself. For that alone, your life is forfeit.”
“Nonsense! I acted to protect the Library. That girl has betrayed you, seducing all of you with her arts and allurements. She wishes to destroy the Library.”
Elizabeth could not help herself. She laughed. “You know nothing of the Library if you believe I could keep any secrets from it.”
“You cannot hold me prisoner! I am the head of the Patronesses of Magic!”
“The Patronesses of Magic are no more.” It was one pronouncement Elizabeth had been happy to make. “The Crown has revoked their charter. All the former Patronesses have been stripped of their familiars and sent back to their estates in disgrace.”
“It cannot be! You are lying!”
Elizabeth stared down at the woman who had single-handedly ruined her chance to marry Darcy all those years ago, who had been responsible for untold suffering. Now she almost pitied her. “Did you truly think the Crown would take your side against the Library? The only thing that prevents England from being overrun by Faerie? The Prince Regent could not act quickly enough when he heard you had attacked me.”
“But the right of the Patronesses to assign familiars was granted to me by the last Librarian!”
“It was, as the Library found it a burden to keep up with the increasing flow of applicants for familiars. Now we have seen the error in entrusting that task to outsiders, and we will once again manage all familiars here.” And she already had a plan for better way to do it, by inviting the itinerant spell-casters she had met on her quest to make their home at the Library and take on that task.
But first she must deal with Lady Catherine. She pulled the power of the Library to her until she could see the almost invisible bonds that connected Lady Catherine to her absent familiar. Then, with a small movement of her finger, she clipped it.
Somewhere, a wild boar raised its head, roared, and ran free.
“Noooo!” Lady Catherine sank to her knees, seeming to shrink in on herself as her source of magic was abruptly cut off. “Give him back to me! I never misused that spell! I only employed it to attract familiars. Everyone wanted a Fae creature, a hippogriff, unicorn, kelpie, something they could brag of. How could I tell the Duchess of Devonshire that she must settle for an ordinary cat as a familiar?” she wailed.
Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief. “Your use of that spell damaged the Wall between Faerie and our world, letting through trolls and dragons, causing storms and earthquakes, not to mention last year’s great famine when tens of thousands died – and all to avoid disappointing a pampered society lady?”
Abraxas’s voice echoed. “Lady Catherine de Bourgh, you have admitted to using a Forbidden Spell. The punishment for that is —”
“Wait!” Elizabeth held up her hand. “There is something I must know first. How did you obtain the Forbidden Spell, Lady Catherine?”
The sudden surge of distress came through her bond to Abraxas. She glanced at the griffin, puzzled, but he would not meet her eyes.
Lady Catherine raised her chin. “I got it here. The Librarian gave it to me.”
Travinius gasped, then said unevenly, “Your Eminence, she is telling the truth.”
There was a snick of metal as King Malus’s emissary loosened her sword.
An edge of fear rose in Elizabeth. “Not I, envoy. The breaches in the Wall began before I ever entered the Library.” Thank heavens the Fae would know she also was telling the truth!
The envoy shoved down her sword. “Who, then?” she demanded in her chiming voice.
Abraxas said heavily, “The previous Librarian was removed from his position for misusing a Forbidden Spell.”
“Philip never dared to use it himself,” said Lady Catherine scornfully. “It was for me. He said I could only employ it once, but when he disappeared, I saw no reason not to continue.”
Abraxas sat back on his haunches, as if too tired to remain standing. “Philip always had a weakness for you. He might have been a fine Librarian otherwise,” he said sadly.
Of course. Abraxas had been his familiar, too, as close to the previous Librarian as he was to Elizabeth.
She would have many questions to ask Abraxas later.
But now she had to face a painful duty. The law forbade use of the Forbidden Spells on pain of death, and Lady Catherine had done so repeatedly – and launched an attack on Elizabeth as Librarian. The punishment was a given.
But Lady Catherine, despite everything she had done, despite all the pain she caused Elizabeth by tearing her from Darcy five years ago, was still Darcy’s aunt. His own mother’s sister. Darcy had been furious with her, certainly, but death was so very final.
And he would learn that her death was at Elizabeth’s command.
Then Abraxas’s words echoed in her head – Philip always had a weakness for you.
No. She could not allow her love for Darcy to stand in the way of her duty to the Library. Lady Catherine had to die. The Forbidden Spell lived in her memory, and nothing but death could keep her from casting it again. It was too dangerous.
If Darcy could never forgive her for it, Elizabeth would have to live with that.
Her mouth dry, Elizabeth said, “For use of a Forbidden Spell and for attacking a Librarian, you are hereby sentenced to —”
“One moment, Your Eminence,” the envoy interrupted. “King Malus sent a gift for you.” She brought out a small leather pouch and handed it to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth eyed her in confusion. She had interrupted a sentencing give Elizabeth a present? She would never understand the Fae.
Opening the pouch, she drew out an oddly familiar-looking small bottle of clear liquid. She had seen one like this before, when Malus had offered it to Darcy in the Field of Scarlet, his memories of Elizabeth in exchange for cure for Georgiana. “The waters of Lethe?” she whispered.
The envoy nodded.
It could be a way out for her. She could use it to strip Lady Catherine of any memory of the Forbidden Spell, and not have to execute Darcy’s aunt, no matter how much she deserved it. Even if Elizabeth could never have Darcy, she still ached for his good opinion.
But when given the choice, Darcy had refused the easy answer of the waters of Lethe.
She weighed the bottle in her hand. “Lady Catherine, I offer you a choice. If you drink the water of Lethe, it will remove your memory of the Forbidden Spell, but for your crimes you will be exiled to Faerie, no longer the powerful Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but merely Catherine, a servant who must earn her bread. Or you may choose death.”
Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed. “Mortals in Faerie are often mistreated.”
Elizabeth’s spine stiffened. “You have mistreated a great many people in your life.” Herself among them.
“Never! You cannot expect me to do manual work, subject to the japes of the Fae!”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Then you choose death? Beware, I shall not ask you again.”
“I will die as an earl’s daughter, not a drudge!” Her eyes spat at Elizabeth, as if daring her to do it.
Elizabeth slid the bottle back into the pouch and handed it to the envoy, giving Lady Catherine one last moment to change her mind. “Pray tell your King that I have no use for his generous gift at this time.”
Then she nodded to Abraxas.
The griffin leapt forward at an impossible speed, so fast she could barely see the motion. A moment later, Lady Catherine slumped to the floor, her neck at an odd angle, her eyes empty.
There was a long moment of silence, and then the envoy said, “It was more merciful than she deserved.”
Her mouth dry, Elizabeth said, “Pray arrange to return her body to her daughter.” That way Darcy could at least have the comfort of the funeral.
And he would know what she had done.
The envoy bowed to her, more deeply this time. “A worthy judgment, Your Eminence.” She turned and left.
At a gesture from Abraxas, the two soldiers lifted Lady Catherine’s body and carried it out, followed by Travinius.
Elizabeth slowly released her painful grip on the lectern. When she was certain her feet would obey her, she walked to the table and collapsed into her chair.
She had ordered a woman’s death.
Abraxas reached into her mind. You had no other choice.
He meant to be comforting, but it was not the comfort she longed for. She wanted Darcy’s arms around her, Darcy telling her she had done the right thing. But she would never have that. Hot tears slipped down her cheek.
A thought crossed her mind. “What happened to Philip?” They had never told her the previous Librarian’s name before.
Abraxas sighed. “He requested death, as soon as he was discovered to have this Forbidden Spell. At the time I thought he did not want to drag the process out. Now I wonder if he was trying to protect Lady Catherine, to make certain we never found out she had employed the spell.”
“You knew about his feelings for her?” She could hardly believe any man, much less a Librarian, could find Lady Catherine lovable.
“From the beginning. He came to us, not out of love for the Library, but because the woman he loved had chosen a richer, more powerful man. He was not an ideal candidate, but the old Librarian was tired and wanted to retire to her studies. He seemed to do well enough at the beginning. When he gave Lady Catherine the spells to call ordinary familiars and empowered the Patronesses, we hoped that would be the end of his connection to her. But she continued to ask favors of him.”
“And you allowed it?”
“It seemed harmless enough. Had I even dreamed he would give her a Forbidden Spell… But we only discovered the spell had been used because of the first breach in the Wall. I wondered at the time if he had somehow done it for her. But we had no time to deal with anything else but the breach, and by the time it was repaired, we had bigger problems.”
“What do you mean?” Not that it mattered now.
“The retired Librarian stepped up to mend the breach, but she was old and it was too much for her. She fixed it, but died in the attempt, leaving us with no Librarian. We closed the Library and began the search that led to you.”
His words left a bitter taste in her mouth. “And ended up with yet another lovelorn Librarian.”
Abraxas gazed at her. “It was a risk. But we needed you, and you did love the Library. Still, we worried. That is why you were sent on the quest with Darcy. We had to know if you had the same weakness.” He paused. “When you drained your book, I was afraid you might be another flawed vessel. But you proved me wrong.”
Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. “A test. It was all a test,” she said bitterly. A test that had broken her heart all over again.
“Only in part. We knew a powerful Fae had taken advantage of the breaches, and thought your presence away from the library might draw them out into the open. As it did. We had not suspected Princess Alaine.”
Not just a test then. They had used her as bait. Tears burned her eyes.
“You have succeeded, Elizabeth. With Alaine imprisoned and Lady Catherine gone, the Wall will be safe again, along with your mortal world. No more breaches. All thanks to you.”
Someday she might be glad of it. At the moment it did not feel like much consolation for a lost love and a dead woman on the floor.
She laid her head down on her arms. “Leave me, Abraxas.”
“I truly am sorry. I wish… But there is no point in wishes, is there?” he said sadly, then he left the room.
No. There was no point in wishes. None at all.
Okay, now you can throw rotten tomatoes at me, but I hope you’ll still join us next Wednesday for the next installment of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library by Lari Ann O’Dell. We expect there will be 2-3 more chapters after that, so the happy ending for Darcy and Elizabeth is in sight!