Welcome! For those of you catching up with this for the first time, this story is written 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, Sarah Courtney, Monica Fairview, Lari Ann O’Dell and your author for this week, Victoria Kincaid.
You can see previous chapters here. This week we see Darcy and Elizabeth embark on their quest!
They had only been riding a few yards when Darcy heard the sound of hooves behind them. He signaled Elizabeth to rein in her horse and turned around to learn who was following them. It was Bickerstaffe, mounted on one of Pemberley’s more placid mares.
Darcy scowled at the man. “What are you about?”
Bickerstaffe made a show of being affronted. “I will accompany you, of course. You cannot embark on a magical quest without my assistance.”
Darcy ground his teeth. There was no chance that Bickerstaffe’s presence would make the journey pleasanter.
Elizabeth regarded the man skeptically. “What value will you bring to our endeavor?”
Bickerstaffe drew himself up. “I was specifically chosen by the patronesses to guide Mr. Darcy. I believe that speaks very highly of my qualifications, Miss Bennet.”
She turned a steely gaze on him. “You may call me Your Eminence.”
Darcy felt a hint of the frost that had enveloped him in the Library.
“Of-of course,” Bickerstaffe gulped. “Your Eminence.”
Darcy took up the interrogation. “How do you believe you can be of assistance? Do you have particular knowledge of the fae?”
Bickerstaffe sputtered indignantly, but finally shook his head. “That is not my area of expertise. The patronesses were unaware such learning would be required for this assignment.”
“Then do you provide particular magical skills?” Elizabeth asked with one eyebrow raised.
Bickerstaffe blinked rapidly, and Darcy permitted himself to smile. Although he was knowledgeable about magical lore, he rarely performed actual magic. Darcy had long suspected the man’s magical talents were limited, which was why he had been assigned to be a mentor rather than a practicing mage.
“I am particularly talented at locating water,” Bickerstaffe said finally. “On a long journey it is always important to find sources of water.” Noting Elizabeth’s skeptical expression, he closed his eyes as if in concentration and then opened them, pointing triumphantly to his right. “We can find water right there!”
Elizabeth and Darcy both turned their heads. There was indeed a small muddy puddle at the edge of the road. Darcy choked back a laugh and a corner of Elizabeth’s mouth quirked upward. “Truly we would be lost without you,” she said. “Do you possess any other talents?”
“I believe that is sufficient.” He stuck his chin in the air. “Of course, I am also Mr. Darcy’s mentor; he should not go anywhere without me. And you and Mr. Darcy cannot travel together without doing irreparable harm to your reputation.”
Damnation! Bickerstaffe was actually right about something. In the throes of his concern for Georgiana and the relief of finally having some hope for finding a cure, Darcy had completely lost sight of the impropriety of traveling with an unmarried single woman.
“I am the Librarian, sir,” Elizabeth said sharply. “Our reputation is always above reproach, and we never marry.”
It was like a punch to the stomach. The librarians never married? Darcy had not known that. Of course, it did not matter; she would never wed him. But he was disturbed by the image of her alone for the rest of her life.
“But surely any scandal that attaches to your name would fall upon your family,” Bickerstaffe said in a sly, insinuating voice.
“Bickerstaffe is right,” Darcy conceded with a sigh. “Having a mentor on the trip will help avoid any hint of impropriety and will give the journey greater legitimacy.”
“Very well.” Tossing her head, Elizabeth turned her horse back to the road. Darcy followed suit, not bothering to see if Bickerstaffe could keep up.
They road in silence for nearly an hour. Elizabeth’s muscles were already protesting the unaccustomed activity, but she would not acknowledge her discomfort to Mr. Darcy. Eventually, he brought his horse closer to Elizabeth’s. “I must confess that I am very curious to know how you became the Librarian – if you are free to share the tale.”
“Librarians do not usually give such information to outsiders,” she said.
He flinched at the coldness of her words, but then spoke again. “If the Library insisted that you accompany me, then surely it follows that this mystery or its solution relates to that institution.”
Elizabeth stared at the road before them. His words made sense, but that logic warred with her desire not to give him any satisfaction. Still, she had vowed to be civil with the man.
She stole a glance behind them at Mr. Bickerstaffe, whose was following them too closely on a road that only allowed two horses to ride abreast. He was watching with avid curiosity, not even pretending not to eavesdrop.
Elizabeth raised her hand to sketch magical words in the air. They glowed an eerie blue for a few seconds before breaking apart like small pieces of confetti, carried by the wind to flutter around Mr. Bickerstaffe and his horse. As the object of the spell, the confetti was invisible to him, but Mr. Darcy watched with eager interest.
Mr. Bickerstaffe’s horse immediately slowed her pace and he soon fell several yards behind the others
When she turned forward in the saddle, Mr. Darcy asked, “What did you do?”
“I encouraged his horse to slow down so that Mr. Bickerstaffe cannot overhear our conversation.” Indeed, she could hear the man alternatively muttering to himself and yelling at his horse to go faster.
“Does that mean you intend to answer my question?”
“Yes. However, I must warn you that what I tell you is not common knowledge and would endanger the Library if it is widely known. As such, it is bound by the oath you swore.”
Mr. Darcy nodded. “Proceed, Your Eminence.”
Elizabeth sighed. The first time he had addressed her by that title, it had been thrilling. But now it seemed faintly ridiculous. “I do not insist that my friends use the honorific.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are we friends, Miss Bennet?”
Was he flirting? Well, it hardly mattered. “I would hope that we can at least be amicable,” she said in a quelling tone. “Since I intend to tell you some of the Library’s secrets.”
He gestured for her to proceed.
Since Mr. Darcy had played an inadvertent role in the story, Elizabeth had hoped she could avoid telling him. But he might have need of the information. “I…was shocked when I failed to summon a familiar during the patronesses’ ritual.”
“I remember your reaction,” Mr. Darcy said. She was surprised to see sympathy rather than disdain in his eyes.
“There is strong magical lineage on both sides of my family. My father summoned a land eel familiar.”
“Yes.” The man managed not to grimace, but it was a near thing. Elizabeth could not blame him; a land eel was one of the less…appealing varieties of familiars.
“I showed magical aptitude, and my family had always assumed I would summon a familiar if I made the attempt. I still do not understand why the ritual failed.” She was pleased her voice did not wobble. Even now, when her magical ability had been definitively proven, the memory still had the power to hurt her. In a single day she had lost both the man she planned to marry and the magical future she had envisioned for herself.
For weeks rising from her bed in the morning had seemed like a pointless exercise. Food had lost all flavor and she could barely bring herself to speak with her family. At night she had sobbed herself to sleep. She would not tell Mr. Darcy, but she could not forget.
“A few months after the ritual, I went in search of answers.” Her family – her father and Jane in particular – had been quite concerned about her. Elizabeth now suspected they had simply hoped that travel would cure her melancholy. “My Aunt and Uncle Gardiner took me in their coach to Land’s End in Cornwall.”
Mr. Darcy’s eyes widened. “You met the fae oracle?”
“Yes. Of course, we did not know if she would grant me an audience, but my uncle had spoken with her before. She had been awaiting me, which surprised us at the time. But she is an oracle.” She gave him a wry smile. “She told me that I did indeed have magic, powerful magic. Although she could not tell me why the familiar ritual had failed, she said it was my destiny to be the Librarian.”
“They gave you no choice?” Mr. Darcy’s expression was horrified.
“I did not mean to suggest such a thing,” Elizabeth said hastily. “I was given a day to decide if I would choose the Library or return to Longbourn and live as I had.”
Mr. Darcy regarded her intently. “Did you consider refusing?”
Did he have any inkling how his rejection had influenced her decision? “Of course,” she responded. “I knew that the training would require long years away from my family, and I love them very dearly.” She pushed away an accustomed sense of melancholy. “But, I could not possibly turn down such an opportunity for learning. You know how I love books. The idea of caring for a whole building full of books was quite appealing.”
“Do you know what criteria the fae used in selecting you for this honor?” Mr. Darcy asked.
“Not entirely. I know that the position requires a human who is capable of bonding with Abraxas, and few mages can summon griffin familiars.”
“Then why could you not call a familiar during the ritual?” The words exploded from him almost angrily.
“I do not know, Mr. Darcy,” she responded rather coldly. “I can assure you that I tried my hardest.”
“Of course,” he said hastily. “I did not mean to imply otherwise.”
Elizabeth was not sure she believed his denial. Certainly he had seemed to blame her in the immediate aftermath of the ritual’s failure.
They rode in a tense silence for another minute. Then he asked, “What occurred after you accepted the position of Librarian?”
“Abraxas flew me to the Library, where my training commenced.” Her first griffin flight had been quite overwhelming – as she worried whether she had made the right decision.
“That is fascinating.” Mr. Darcy’s face was lit with wonder. “What did the training consist of?”
“Ah, that I cannot reveal.”
“I must say that I consider that most unfair – now that you have aroused my curiosity.” The shadow of a smile played about his lips. Was he teasing her? She nearly smiled back before recalling that this was the man who had broken her heart.
“Have I answered your question to your satisfaction?” She kept her tone cool.
The smooth mask settled over his features once again. “Yes. I thank you.”
Elizabeth gave him a curt nod and encouraged her horse into a trot quick enough that she had soon left him behind.
Pemberley’s cook had packed a small luncheon, which they ate under the shade of a tree by the side of the road. Elizabeth spoken cordially with Darcy and Bickerstaffe about the weather and the state of the roads. But the friendliness Darcy had momentarily glimpsed as she told her story did not return. Darcy could not help mourning its loss. He knew it was impossible for them to rekindle their romance, but he hoped to at least be her friend. On the other hand, he was unsure if he was worthy of her friendship. Perhaps it would be best to deal with her in a distant and disinterested manner.
In the afternoon, his thoughts turned to where they would spend the night. He recalled a suitable inn, but it was small. If it was visited by many travelers, they might not have three rooms available and Darcy would be forced to share a room with Bickerstaffe. Although, the man was posing as Darcy’s servant; perhaps Darcy could send him to sleep in the stable.
His thoughts had just turned to Georgiana’s illness when he felt a ripple of magic on the road ahead of them.
Elizabeth reined in her horse as abruptly as he did. “Did you sense something?” he asked her.
She nodded gravely. “Someone used magic very near to where we stand.”
“I did not sense anything,” Bickerstaffe said rather belligerently.
“It was rather subtle,” Darcy said, peering ahead anxiously. They could see only a few yards ahead before a bend in the road obscured their sight.
Bickerstaffe stiffened. “I can detect subtle magics. I was chosen specifically for this task by the Lady Patronesses.”
Darcy shushed him as he heard a muffled thud coming from around the bend. And then another. Something rather large was walking in their direction. Darcy looked around wildly, but potato fields lined both sides of the road – offering no concealment.
Thud. Thud. Thud. The pace of the footsteps was increasing. Darcy swore he could feel vibrations in the ground.
“Wh- What is approaching?” Bickerstaffe’s voice quavered.
“It must be some variety of magical creature,” Elizabeth said. “I believe that was a surge of portal magic –a gate opened and brought something in our vicinity.”
“Wh- What kind of a cr-creature do you think it is?” Bickerstaffe asked. “A b-brownie perhaps? Or a gnome?”
Thud. Thud. Trees vibrated with the force of the approaching footsteps.
Darcy gave the man a sidelong glance. “Does that sound like a gnome?”
“D-Do you think it is seeking all of us?” Bickerstaffe asked.
Darcy kept his eyes fixed on the road. “I would imagine it hunts me and Miss Bennet since this is our quest.”
Bickerstaffe shook in his saddle and peered back over his shoulder. “Perhaps I should –” Without any warning, he wheeled his mount around and galloped back down the road.
“Some mentor,” Darcy muttered.
Now the thudding footsteps were more like crashes. Whatever was coming was massive and it would be visible in a few seconds. Darcy positioned his horse across the road – in front of Elizabeth.
She rolled her eyes. “I am not defenseless!”
“I have been trained in combat magic. I doubt it was part of your training – unless you plan to hit the creature with a book.”
Before Elizabeth could reply, a large tree was uprooted from the side of the road and flung into the potato field. Only then did Darcy glimpse of the creature they faced.
Elizabeth steeled herself as the troll strode into view. It was at least eight feet tall and very broad. Shaggy black hair hung over a sloping forehead. It wore nothing but an animal skin around its waist and Elizabeth had to stifle the missish impulse to avert her eyes at its immodesty.
Mr. Darcy moved first, drawing arcane symbols in the air. They instantly ignited into blue flames and floated toward the creature, forming a circle of fire around it.
“That was well done,” Elizabeth said, genuinely impressed.
In the next moment, the troll strolled through the ring of fire like it was a circle of daisies. “Damnation!” Mr. Darcy cursed. “Elizabeth, you must flee!” he shouted without taking his eyes from the creature.
“I can help!”
“Fae magic will be of no use here!”
Elizabeth gritted her teeth against a tart rejoinder. What did he know of fae magic? But now was not the time for argument.
As the troll stomped toward them, she considered what kinds of spells might be effective. Fae magic was not designed for combat, but undoubtedly some spells could be adapted. Perhaps air magic; librarians received extensive training in air spells.
Drawing power from the surrounding environment, Elizabeth gathered a gale force wind and blasted it toward the troll. The gust flung the creature onto the road several yards away.
Mr. Darcy gasped. “Was that air magic? I have never seen the like!”
“It is the very essence of fae spellwork.”
The troll roared as it picked itself up and rushed toward them. Elizabeth sent another gust of wind toward it, but it only slowed the creature’s progress. She allowed the wind to die down and considered which spell to try next.
The horses were rolling their eyes in fear as the troll approached. Elizabeth had to struggle to keep her mount from bolting.
“You must fly! Air magic is not effective against the creature!” Mr. Darcy shouted.
Elizabeth declined to point out that their spells had been equally ineffective. “I will not leave you alone,” she said through gritted teeth.
She could sense Mr. Darcy gathering magic for another attack. He hurled his next spell not at the troll, but at the dirt of the road at its feet. It immediately turned into quicksand, sucking the creature’s enormous feet into holes that opened up beneath them. This arrested its forward momentum, causing the monster to roar its frustration.
Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, the dirt would hold the creature long enough to allow an escape.
But before she could suggest such a thing, the troll gave a loud cry, more deafening than a hundred church bells, and pulled first one and then another foot from the confining dirt, leaving behind immense craters in the road. Before Elizabeth could react, it lunged forward with unexpected speed and grabbed Mr. Darcy by the neck, pulling him off his horse.
The troll effortlessly held up the man with one arm, exerting pressure on his neck while Mr. Darcy gurgled horribly, twisting his body and grabbing at the creature’s enormous hand. Elizabeth’s stomach made a sickening lurch. She might be angry at Mr. Darcy, but she had no desire for his death. How long could he survive if he was deprived of air?
Her mind froze, choking on the enormity of the situation. What spells would possibly be effective against such an adversary? If only she could summon help! Then she recalled that she had been able to communicate with her familiar even at Pemberley.
Abraxas! she screamed.
Elizabeth? Anxiety tinged his mental voice, no doubt a reflection of her panic. How can I help?
Rather than waste time on a long explanation, she sent a mental image of the troll holding Mr. Darcy aloft. What spells work against trolls? she asked.
Abraxas paused for a second, which felt like an eternity to Elizabeth. They are impervious to most magic, he said finally. But you can try air shaping or air hardening. Those are sometimes effective.
Elizabeth did not like the sound of “sometimes,” but there was nothing else she could try. She sketched symbols for a quick air shaping spell and hurled it at the troll. As she had intended, the spell pulled Mr. Darcy from the troll’s grasp, buoying him gently to the ground. At the same time, it slammed into the troll with the force of a sledgehammer. A very big sledgehammer.
The creature was hurled onto the road. Before it could regain its feet, Elizabeth ordered the air to harden around it, creating an invisible box which was, nonetheless, extremely strong. The troll roared in frustration and pounded its fists against the top of its invisible cage but was unable to even rise to a sitting position.
That worked! She told Abraxas.
Thank heavens. Elizabeth wanted to collapse with relief, but Mr. Darcy needed her help. She raced to his side. His eyes were closed, but his chest rose and fell with shallow breaths. Purple bruises were forming on his neck. Falling to her knees in the dirt of the road, she leaned over him.
“Mr. Darcy? Are you well? Can you hear me?” When she received no response, she brushed the hair from his forehead. “Please speak to me! William?” Fear held her heart in an iron grip. He could not die on this deserted country road!
If only she knew healing magic! Tears sprang to her eyes. She did not want to watch him die.
Just as she about to call on Abraxas again, Mr. Darcy’s eyelids fluttered open, and his eyes focused on her. She had forgotten their rich cobalt color, a shade unlike any she had ever seen.
“Elizabeth…” he murmured as his hand reached out and brushed his fingertips along her cheek. Her breath caught in her throat. “Elizabeth, you saved me.”
His eyes were fixed on her lips. Was he about to kiss her?
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode! What do you think should happen next? Don’t forget to mark your calendars for next Wednesday when we publish the next episode!