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, Victoria Kincaid, Monica Fairview, Sarah Courtney and me, your author for this week, Lari Ann O’Dell.
You can see previous chapters here.
This week, Darcy’s injury delays their journey, Elizabeth must make a choice, and we meet a new character.
Without further ado, here is Chapter Six of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library!
Mr. Darcy, in fact, did not kiss her, and Elizabeth felt strangely disappointed. The disappointment quickly passed, replaced with worry as Mr. Darcy’s eyes closed again.
Elizabeth heard Mr. Bickerstaffe squeal at the sight of his protégé collapsed in an inelegant heap. Of course he would only choose to return the moment the danger had passed!
“What have you done to him?” Mr. Bickerstaff cried as he practically fell from his mare in his attempt to make it to Mr. Darcy’s side. The man glared daggers at her before checking for his pulse.
Elizabeth felt prickles of heat at her fingertips. The man had no right to assume the worst of her. It was Elizabeth’s magic that had saved Mr. Darcy from being crushed by the troll.
It would not do to allow her magic to spiral out of her control. Elizabeth took several calming breaths before she said, “He will need a healer. But first we must figure out how to safely move him.”
“It appears Her Eminence is not in possession of every answer,” muttered Mr. Bickerstaffe.
Elizabeth suppressed the heat that was trying to pool in her fingertips. Setting Mr. Darcy’s mentor on fire would not help the situation. Mr. Bickerstaffe offered no helpful solutions, despite his insistence on accompanying them on the journey for that very purpose. Elizabeth had very little faith in the judgment of the Patronesses’ decision to assign this man to mentor Mr. Darcy.
You sound troubled. How may I assist you?
Mr. Darcy was injured by the troll. He needs a healer, but I do not know the best way to move him safely.
There was a stretch of silence as Elizabeth waited for the griffin’s reply. Mr. Bickerstaffe was doing nothing to disguise his contempt for her as he paced back and forth along the road.
Elizabeth, that may not be the best use of the Library’s magic. Perhaps you should move him by non-magical means.
If Elizabeth waited, Mr. Darcy might suffer further injury. As the Librarian, she was honor bound to fulfill his request. Surely she could use the Library’s magic for the sake of fulfilling her mission.
We cannot wait, Abraxas.
If you insist, Your Eminence. You must first immobilize his body. Then you must use a hovering charm. Make your way to the nearest village.
Elizabeth nodded resolutely before drawing several links in the air, creating a glowing chain. The chain settled across Mr. Darcy’s broad chest before disappearing. Elizabeth then spoke the words of the hovering charm and watched with satisfaction as Mr. Darcy’s form rose three feet in the air, perfectly rigid and safe from being jostled.
Elizabeth was pleased to see the look of shock on Mr. Bickerstaffe’s face. “There is a market town three miles down the road, Your Eminence. I will take the horses ahead and search for a healer, if this meets with your approval.”
Finally, a useful idea from Mr. Darcy’s mentor. Elizabeth nodded. “That will do very well, Mr. Bickerstaffe. I shall keep him safe. You have nothing to fear.”
If Mr. Bickerstaffe did not appear entirely convinced, at least he offered no protest as he returned to their horses.
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, only to see the troll, still trapped in her air magic.
Is there a spell to return creatures from whence they came?
Abraxas told her the page number and Elizabeth opened the book that kept her connected to the Great Library. She recited the incantation and watched with satisfaction as the troll disappeared through the shimmering portal.
Under normal circumstances, a distance of three miles would be trivial to Elizabeth, but keeping Mr. Darcy safely suspended in the air was more than a little tiring. Her pace was slow. It would be disastrous if she became overtired and dropped him.
Elizabeth could not deny the satisfaction she felt by using magic to save the man who had set her aside because of her supposed lack of magic. He never should have doubted her or her abilities.
At long last, Elizabeth spotted the thatch of several cottages lining the road. Further still, was the welcome sight of an inn.
Elizabeth looked up upon hearing Mr. Bickerstaffe’s voice. He was accompanied by a mage dressed entirely in shades of blue, from her cap to her half boots. Her apron bore an image of Hermes’ staff embroidered with golden thread. So Mr. Bickerstaffe had found a healer. Perhaps he would not be entirely useless after all.
Two young boys followed behind, carrying a litter. Elizabeth lifted the hovering charm, and Mr. Darcy landed gently upon the litter.
The inside of the healer’s cottage was stifling. The space was dominated by an enormous fireplace that held a large cauldron. The walls were lined with shelves, each shelf crammed with dozens of herbs, potions, books, and magical baubles and trinkets. A sweet smelling smoke wafted lazily from the cauldron, and Elizabeth felt her worry for Mr. Darcy retreat to the edges of her awareness.
Tread carefully, Elizabeth. I can sense the effects of magic upon your mind.
The echoing call of Abraxas shattered the effect of the healer’s brew. She watched as she settled Mr. Darcy upon a table and began gesturing and reciting words of ancient healing spells.
Mr. Bickerstaffe’s eyes were glassy, and blessedly the healer’s potion had calmed the man’s nerves.
“It is a useful trick for the weak willed,” the healer said. “Or those who come to me to heal their loved ones and can do nothing but worry.”
Elizabeth looked up at her, surprised to be addressed at all.
“You, madam, are very magically gifted. I could sense it the moment I saw you. And then the little man addressed you by your title. Tell me, what business does the Librarian have with Mr. Darcy of Pemberley?”
“I am aiding him with a request.”
“It must be serious indeed,” the healer said. “The Darcys of Pemberley rarely lower themselves to ask for help.”
“I am surprised to be recognized,” Elizabeth said. She had not ventured often from the Library since her training had begun, but those without familiars rarely could detect her new power or status. Even Mr. Darcy had initially failed to realize that she was the Librarian.
The healer studied at her as she mixed several vials of herbs and brews. “My mother is Lady Dalrymple. I know all about the Great Library, Your Eminence. Years ago, I failed to bond with a familiar. The Patronesses of Magic declared I was unfit to maintain my position in society, but they could not deny that I had enough magic to help others. Because I was the daughter of a Patroness, I was not sent away to join a group of spellcasters. But I could not stay and be a black mark upon my family. ”
“You are the eldest Miss Carteret?” Elizabeth asked with astonishment. The failure of Lady Dalrymple’s eldest daughter was a cautionary tale used in the schoolroom to scare young ladies into focusing on developing their magic.
Miss Carteret nodded. “My younger sisters still had a chance to make good marriages and it was unlikely to happen if I stayed with them. My mother sent me to Derbyshire because no one knew me in this county. I have lived a life of anonymity since my failure to bond with a familiar.”
Elizabeth could understand the need to protect one’s family, but to be so heartlessly banished by one’s own mother was beyond the pale.
Elizabeth had chosen to live with her aunt and uncle after her disastrous test. Her aunt and uncle had no children, and their connections to trade had already marked them as unworthy in the eyes of the ton. They could sink no lower by their association with Elizabeth.
“I am sorry for what you have suffered, Miss Carteret. You appear to be very gifted, despite what your mother believes. The Patronesses’ judgment is clearly not infallible. I, too, failed to bond with a familiar.” Elizabeth said the last with, with no small amount of bitterness.
Miss Carteret transferred her concoction to a vial, appearing resigned to her fate. “I believe that we all end up where we are meant to be. The Patronesses were wrong about you as well. You have risen higher than any of them, Your Eminence.”
Miss Carteret tipped the vial of amber liquid into Mr. Darcy’s mouth.
Elizabeth watched, waiting for something to happen. A wave of relief washed over her as Mr. Darcy stirred. His eyes opened and immediately sought hers. “Elizabeth?”
“I am here, Mr. Darcy. You passed out after we defeated the troll. We are in a market town. This kind lady has healed you.” Elizabeth decided it was for the best not to reveal the healer’s true identity to Mr. Darcy. Miss Carteret deserved peace after all she had endured at the hands of the Patronesses.
“Well, I have done what I can. Mr. Darcy will need to rest. Whatever quest you are on shall have to wait until morning. He suffered a minor head injury, and is in some danger of adverse effects. You will have to watch him closely until morning for any signs of dizziness, headaches, or confusion.”
Miss Carteret helped Mr. Darcy off the table. Elizabeth withdrew a coin from her pocket, but the healer shook her head. “I am honored to assist the Librarian. I wish you luck in your endeavor. Do all that you can to prove your worth.”
Elizabeth nodded, silently agreeing to do her best to prove the Patronesses wrong. She took Mr. Darcy’s arm, despite Mr. Bickerstaffe’s sound of protest.
When they stepped out of the stifling cottage, Mr. Darcy turned to Elizabeth and said, “I assure you, I am perfectly capable of resuming our travels.”
The statement was belied when he swayed wildly when trying to mount his horse.
Elizabeth shook her head. Why did Mr. Darcy always have to be so stubborn?
“Mr. Darcy, you will be no help to your sister if you fall from your horse. We can resume our quest at first light, but now the best course of action is to spend the evening at the inn.”
“Mr. Darcy, the Librarian may be correct,” Mr. Bickerstaffe said, surprising them all.
Mr. Darcy looked from Elizabeth to his mentor, clearly wishing to protest more, but at last he conceded. Elizabeth rewarded him with a smile and took his arm to steady his steps.
Darcy knew The Griffin and the Gorgon by reputation. It was a handsome stone building with comfortable rooms and excellent fare. It was small, though, only half a dozen rooms. When they entered the inn, the common room was crowded with a troupe of spellcasters, recognizable by the silver badges pinned to their identical green kerchiefs. The spellcasters, mostly young ladies with a few older chaperons, were surrounded by a crowd of men, young and old.
Darcy pulled Elizabeth closer to him, as some of the patrons appeared rough and rowdy. One of them even whistled crudely at the sight of Elizabeth. Darcy steered her to the bar to speak to the innkeeper.
“I am in need of three rooms for the evening,” Darcy said.
The innkeeper shook his head. “I am sorry, sir, but I only have one room available at the moment. Yesterday, we were visited by a group of spellcasters. They are servicing the wells and fields which have been neglected since the travails of last year.” While the innkeeper undoubtedly appreciated the work of the spellcasters, he did not appear pleased with the assemblage of their admirers, laughing and hooting over games of dice and cards near the roaring fire in the common room.
“You and your wife may take room three, and your man can sleep in the stables,” the innkeeper offered.
Both Elizabeth and Bickerstaffe opened their mouths to protest. Darcy silenced Bickerstaff with a look, and to Elizabeth he asked, “What say you, Mrs. Darcy? This may be the last inn we come across for some time. We could ride on if you wish.”
Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed at this address, but she caught his meaning. It was either sharing a room for the evening, or Darcy would ignore the healer’s advice. Her concern for him was touching.
“Very well, we shall take the room,” Elizabeth said.
Darcy paid the innkeeper and asked him to show Elizabeth to the room. Once Elizabeth had disappeared up the stairs, Bickerstaffe said, “Sir, you cannot share a room with the Librarian. The Patronesses would be most seriously displeased.”
“They never need to know. As far as anyone in this establishment knows, she is my wife. There will be no whispers and no hints of impropriety.” Darcy pressed a coin into his mentor’s hand. “Eat a good meal tonight before retiring to the stables. I will not be requiring your services for the rest of the evening.”
Any argument died on Bickerstaffe’s lips when Darcy turned away and ascended the stairs. The man was exhausting. Darcy was no longer a green lad. He did not need someone telling him what to do at every moment.
As far as sharing a room with Elizabeth went, it was a decision solely made from practicality. Though it had given him a great deal of pleasure to refer to Elizabeth as his wife, the ruse was only to preserve their reputations. There could be no future between them, but Darcy would enjoy this time spent with her. Despite the troll attack, the daunting quest ahead of them, and his hindering mentor, ever since reuniting with Elizabeth, Darcy finally felt whole again.
Darcy pushed open the door only to find Elizabeth sitting in front of the small toilette table shoved in the corner. She was studying her reflection and did not appear to have noticed his entry. Darcy took a moment to drink in her appearance. Her lovely curls were mussed, some of them falling out of the careful arrangement she had worn before their encounter with the troll. Not for the first time, Darcy wished to run his fingers through them, as he had done five years ago.
Darcy leaned against the frame of the door, not wishing to startle her by speaking her name. Elizabeth turned at the sound, her pert lips forming a cautious smile. “Ah, Mr. Darcy, or should I call you William in deference to our married state?” Her tone was light and teasing, but there was a hardness in her fine eyes.
“I apologize for the ruse. It was the only way to avoid awkward questions,” Darcy said. The last thing he wanted to do was upset Elizabeth. They would be in each other’s company for the next several days at least.
“It was a sensible story,” Elizabeth agreed. “The Librarian is not always known in small countryside villages. I would not want any hint of scandal to impact my family.”
“Nor would I wish to harm Georgiana further than I already have,” Darcy said.
Elizabeth looked at him, a strange expression on her lovely face. Darcy had not meant to give voice to the guilt he had been harboring. Georgiana’s illness was as much his fault as it was Wickham’s.
“Mr. Darcy, what happened to your sister was not your fault.”
It was nothing he had not heard before from Georgiana herself, but Darcy knew better. Had he kept Georgiana at home where she belonged rather than allow her to sail the seas, she would have never been exposed to Wickham again. He confessed as much to Elizabeth, secretly wishing for her to reaffirm that his guilt was justified.
Elizabeth, though, rarely did as he wished. “Mr. Darcy, believe me, Mr. Wickham would have sought out your sister wherever she went. You cannot protect her from everything. She is a grown woman with her own familiar.”
“I am her brother. It will always be my duty to protect her,” Darcy said.
“Georgiana is very fortunate to have you for a brother. As a Librarian that can draw on centuries of past experiences, it is rare to see someone make a request with such pure intentions. We will succeed in our quest to find her cure.”
Darcy could only hope that Elizabeth was correct.
“Are you well, Mr. Darcy? Does your head hurt?”
The clock on the mantel had just struck seven. Mr. Darcy had not experienced any of the symptoms that the healer had warned about. Or if he had, he had not owned them, for fear of appearing weak. Stubborn man!
“I am well. We could have ridden further,” Mr. Darcy said.
“You may be cavalier with your own health,” Elizabeth said, “but I am not.” Elizabeth did not want to dwell on the feelings that seeing him attacked by the troll had evoked. She was the Librarian. Once she was done with this quest, she and Mr. Darcy would part ways as indifferent acquaintances.
“I appreciate you worrying over my safety,” Mr. Darcy said, “but I am well enough.”
“Well enough to join me downstairs for dinner?” Elizabeth asked. She was itching to get out of this room, and perhaps stretch her legs in the cool night air.
“I do not believe that would be wise. The inn is filled with spellcasters and their admirers. Magic and drink do not mix well.”
Elizabeth only laughed. She did not balk at the presence of spellcasters, though she could understand why Mr. Darcy might disapprove of them. After all, every spellcaster was a young lady with magical power insufficient to impress the Patronesses of Magic. “Come now, Mr. Darcy, would you have us spend the entire evening alone in the bedchamber? Where is your sense of adventure? I promise we can retire early if the crowd becomes too raucous.”
In the happy months of their courtship, Mr. Darcy had never been able to refuse her. She was pleased when he consented to join her in the taproom. She took his arm.
The fire was blazing merrily in the hearth. The taproom was still crowded, but Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth managed to find two places at a table in the corner. Mr. Darcy went to purchase their meal, and Elizabeth viewed the spellcasters’ games with interest. It was strange to think that this might have been her fate if not for her becoming the Librarian.
The young ladies were playing charades and using all manner of simple spells to convey their chosen word or phrase. The chaperons sat at the edges of the crowd, casting austere looks at any of the men who dared get too close to their charges. One steely-haired woman even swatted a drunken lout with her fan after he tried to kiss the hand of a ginger haired girl no older than Lydia.
Elizabeth was quite amused when a pair of players reenacted Don Quixote and his fight with the windmills. One spellcaster swung arms rapidly, gusts of wind bursting from her fingertips, while her partner conjured a sword and mimicked charging forward on a steed.
The players bowed, their silver badges glinting in the candlelight. They seemed happy enough with their lot in life, but Elizabeth was grateful she had been chosen by the Great Library.
Mr. Darcy appeared as the spellcasters began a new round of charades, holding two tankards. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.
“It is only small beer,” Mr. Darcy said. “We must make an early start in the morning.”
Elizabeth nodded. They spoke of insignificant matters as they waited for the innkeeper to appear with the food. Elizabeth had rarely had such a fine meal at an inn. She supposed Mr. Darcy was accustomed to only the finest establishments. After dinner, Elizabeth said, “Will you join me for a stroll down High Street?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Darcy said, gallantly offering his arm. They walked down the street for several minutes in companionable silence before Mr. Darcy finally spoke. “Thank you for saving me this morning. Without your intervention, I do not believe I would have survived the encounter.”
“You do not need to thank me. I have pledged to help you on this quest. It goes without saying that I will do whatever I can to keep you safe,” Elizabeth said.
“Your magic was most impressive, but is your pledge as the Librarian the only reason?”
Elizabeth looked away for a moment. She had once loved this man. Despite the way he had jilted her, he would always hold a place in her heart. She wanted him to live a long and happy life, even if it had to be without her. “I have no wish to see you harmed,” Elizabeth finally said.
“I will do all I can to protect you as well, even without the oath I made at the library. You must know that,” Mr. Darcy’s expression was genuine, but Elizabeth could only think of how he had given up his right to protect her when he had set her aside. Even after all these years, his abandonment still stung. During her training, she had done her best to bury those feelings deep, but now that she was forced into his company again, it threw into sharp relief all that she had been missing.
“Elizabeth, are you well?”
They had stopped their progress, and Mr. Darcy was looking at her with concern.
“I am perfectly well, but we should retire. As you said, we have to make an early start.” It was better to lie than to speak the truth about feelings that would amount to nothing.
Mr. Darcy looked as if he had more to say, but he simply nodded and escorted her back to the inn.
He did not immediately follow her to the room, to give her privacy for her nightly ablutions.
I am here. How are you faring?
I do not know if I have the strength to treat Mr. Darcy as an impartial acquaintance on this journey. What will happen if I allow our history to distract me from our quest?
You are not made of stone, dear one. The quest you are undertaking is one that is meant to banish pain and sorrow for Miss Darcy. Allow it to do the same for you.
It was sensible advice, but easier said than done.
All will be well, Elizabeth. You have the courage and strength of a Librarian. There is nothing you cannot do.
Thank you, Abraxas.
When Mr. Darcy returned to the room, she would face him with courteous equanimity.
“What are you doing?” When Darcy entered the room, it was to find Elizabeth resting upon a crudely constructed bedroll before the fire.
“You need to rest, Mr. Darcy. A night spent on the floor is not conducive to adequate healing,” Elizabeth said, her tone casual, almost deferential.
“That is nonsense. It would be ungentlemanly for me to force you to sleep on the floor,” Darcy said.
“I am not delicate, Mr. Darcy. I can spend an evening on the floor without breaking,” Elizabeth said. Her expression was resolute, and Darcy suspected she would not be gainsaid.
“Very well, but you will take the bed should we find ourselves in this situation again.”
“We have an accord,” Elizabeth said.
Darcy went behind the screen and removed his coat, cravat, and boots. Bickerstaffe would be furious with him for rumpling his clothes, but he could not sleep in only his shirt as he was accustomed to. The valise he had packed was not very large, as they had to travel lightly out of necessity.
As Darcy settled into the bed, his eyes fell upon Elizabeth. It had quite escaped his notice before, but she had taken her hair down and tied it in a sloppy plait, some of the curls had already fought themselves free. Her nightgown was modest, but Darcy could see the outlines of her shapely legs as she lay curled in front of the fire.
“Goodnight, Elizabeth,” he said as he waved his hand and extinguished the half a dozen candles in the room.
“Goodnight, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said.
But sleep did not come easily for Darcy. His traitorous mind kept conjuring images of Elizabeth in bed beside him, soft and warm in the circle of his arms. Had he not followed the advice of the Patronesses all those years ago, Elizabeth would be his wife.
At length, the clock struck midnight. Elizabeth was fast asleep, and Darcy was nowhere near slumber. He rose from the bed and crossed the room. Elizabeth should have the bed. He would sleep on the floor. Carefully, he took her in his arms and carried her back to the bed. She did not stir as he pulled the bed clothes over her sleeping form.
Against all reason, Darcy pressed his lips against her forehead. “Sleep well, Elizabeth.”
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library. Come back next Wednesday to find out how Abigail Reynolds continues the story!