Welcome! We hope you’ve been enjoying this magical story. If you’d like to get updates whenever there’s a new post, you can sign up to be notified of new posts when you make a comment. If you want to hear when we have new book releases, please sign up for our newsletter! 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, Victoria Kincaid, Monica Fairview, Sarah Courtney, Lari Ann O’Dell, and me, Melanie Rachel.
You can see previous chapters here.
And now here is Chapter Eight of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library, where we put a brief pause on Elizabeth and Darcy’s quarreling and return to Pemberley, where things are not as they ought to be . . .
Tired, dusty, and severely windblown from his hasty trip across the Channel, General Richard Fitzwilliam handed off his mount to a Pemberley groom. For a moment, he stood in the drive, hands on his hips, staring up at Pemberley’s great entrance. Its doors remained firmly closed.
He had been in Vienna for the past few years, offering advice that was routinely ignored and supervising the protection of British diplomats, partly from enemies to the peace and partly from their own excesses. It almost made him long for his days on campaign. Almost. For his soldier’s instincts were being pricked just now, and he did not enjoy the sensation. He was briefly diverted by his familiar’s complaints.
Why is this boy touching me? I am not a child, to require leading strings.
“You need not use the reins,” he told the groom without looking away from the doors. “She will follow you.” He will take you to the stables, Maor. We are guests here. Please try to be mannerly.
Maor was unimpressed. She flapped her great wings and reared back a bit on her hooves. Why, when I shall still be required to sleep out of doors while you are welcomed inside?
Nothing inside is built for hippogriffs, he reminded her. It would not be comfortable for you.
nd why is that I must wonder? Why must the soft beds, good food, and pleasant rooms be only for humans?
A flash of Maor’s wings brushing priceless portraits from the walls or her hooves cracking the marble floors made Fitzwilliam groan. I do not know. I am neither an architect nor a cook.
The hippogriff sniffed disdainfully. It smells like griffins here.
Do they not smell better than a hoard of ape-drunk politicians?
Maor grumbled but did not reply. Fitzwilliam pinched the bridge of his nose. I must see to Georgiana, Maor. Would you be so kind as to repair to the stables?
The hippogriff hummed disapprovingly. I do this for Georgiana. She is the best of you.
He could not argue that. You are correct.
Maor huffed out a knowing laugh. I am always correct.
She shook her great body a little harder and the saddle slid to one side. Take this thing off me.
Fitzwilliam sighed and grabbed the saddle, removing it quickly and handing it over to the groom. It had cost him a great deal of blunt to have the special saddle made by a master craftsman near the end of the peninsular war. It had been a present to thank Maor for taking him on after he had mourned two other familiars who fell in battle. The saddle was designed to be beautiful, to appeal to Maor’s pride as well as light and comfortable for her to wear, but his recalcitrant familiar hated it anyway. He was not even sure she liked him all that much, come to that, but they had survived Waterloo together. That sort of loyalty earned her a great deal of latitude to be . . . herself.
“Maor has run and flown far in the past days to aid Miss Darcy,” he said to the groom. “You are to offer her every consideration.”
The boy nodded vigorously. They were very used to griffins here. Despite Maor’s haughty remarks, hippogriffs were not that different. “This way if you please, miss.”
As Maor half flew, half trotted away behind the groom, Fitzwilliam again regarded those closed doors. He had not been to England in some time, but in the past when he arrived at Pemberley, he had always been met by family. He knew Georgie was ill and that Darcy was off on a journey to attempt to reverse the curse that had been placed upon her, but the fact that no staff were outside to greet him gave him pause. “Well, nothing for it,” he said to no one in particular, and bounded up the outdoor steps.
He tossed open the front doors, for they were unlocked. The entry hall was dark and empty. As his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside, they focused upon two footmen who were laid out flat at the foot of the stairs, their eyes glazed as they stared up at the ceiling. Fitzwilliam pulled his sword from its scabbard and stepped over to render
assistance. They were alive, but unable to move. He had seen it before, an energy absorption spell. It would wear off in a few hours. He moved up the staircase quietly. More bodies littered the hallway, but he could not stop, for their path led to Georgiana’s chambers and her door was ajar.
“Galon,” he heard someone groan. The voice was pained, haggard, and female. A bolt of recognition struck him hard. It was Georgiana. He pressed himself against the wall and snuck a glance inside the room, where a male figure with jet black hair slumped on the floor, one hand thrown out wide. He had been hit with the same spell as the others.
“Where is it?” a man cooed. “Come, Georgie, you know where he has hidden it. Tell me, love, tell me what I wish to hear, and this can all be over.”
If the timbre of Georgiana’s voice had startled Fitzwilliam, this sound infuriated him. Wickham.
Who is Wickham and why are you interrupting me? Maor was vexed.
There is an intruder in Georgiana’s room. He could feel Maor’s pique fall away.
Where is it? He did not want the hippogriff breaking through the window. Yet. Let me find out what he wants before you come in after him.
Do not wait too long.
“No,” Georgiana whispered with such pain that his own heart ached for her. “Never.” Wickham approached the bed.
“You must kiss me, my sweet, for we are to be wed. And then you will tell me.”
Fitzwilliam slipped noiselessly into the room. Wickham closed his eyes as he bent towards Georgiana, and Fitzwilliam used that moment to slip the broad side of his blade between the scoundrel’s mouth and his cousin’s. Wickham’s eyelids flew open when his lips touched not Georgiana’s but the cold steel of a sword.
Fitzwilliam slid the blade down to Wickham’s neck and tutted, stepping forward and forcing Wickham to back away from Georgiana. He held it there, the tip shining bright with magic and pressed lightly against Wickham’s skin. He continued to walk forward, forcing Wickham to scamper backwards, towards a window.
“Now really, Wickham,” Fitzwilliam said. “After all these years, have you still not learned that a proper invitation is required to enter a gentleman’s home?”
“Georgiana invited me,” Wickham replied, the corners of his mouth turning up slowly despite his apparent
predicament. “She is violently in love with me, you know.”
“No,” Georgiana said, attempting to sit up and slurring the word as she thrashed in her bed. It was all she could do to rasp out three words. “Wants. Galon’s. Skin.” Her body fell limply back to the pillows.
Fitzwilliam stared wordlessly at Wickham, turning the blade up just so. A tiny drop of blood fell upon the sword with a brief sizzle. Maor, is there a bird or horse or any sort of animal waiting along the north side of the house to provide a quick escape? Wickham is searching for the selkie’s skin.
He dares? It was almost a howl of rage. There was nothing more perfectly calculated to stoke Maor’s fury than for humans to take such a personal belonging from a familiar. To steal a selkie’s skin was a violation of the highest order. There was silence for a moment as Maor did as she was asked. It is a thunderbird, she said at last. He had never heard of it.
Maor sighed. A thunderbird. From the northern colonies or perhaps Lower Canada. But it is not his familiar, for they do not speak. The bird has been spelled into obeying. I do not like this Wickham.
Nor do I. Fitzwilliam stepped in, pressing the edge of his sword more firmly against Wickham’s neck. “What do you want with the selkie’s skin, Wickham?”
Wickham shrugged rather nonchalantly, given his current situation. “I want to sell it. I am rather rolled up, as it were.”
Ah. His experience with Wickham told him that this, at least, was true. It must have cost the man a small fortune to buy the curse he had laid against Georgiana, a curse he could ill afford. He had undoubtedly intended to use Georgiana’s funds to pay for it. He felt a swell of pride in his youngest cousin. For in fighting as she was, she had put Wickham in a perilous position. Wickham owed money to a curse maker yet did not have the wherewithal to pay the debt. He must have gone further into dun territory to purchase a compelling spell for the thunderbird and the energy absorption spells. As Wickham had not attempted to throw such a spell at him, Fitzwilliam presumed that they had all been spent. More would now be added to what Wickham owed, and he had failed to gain any means of paying it. It would make him desperate.
Desperate men could be dangerous.
Wickham would be frantic if he realised that the curse could be broken without his help. He was counting on using their fear for Georgiana’s safety to bring the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families to heel. Darcy and the new Librarian were even now on their way to destroy the curse, but though he had great faith in Darcy’s abilities, it was possible that they, too, might fail. No, he could not run Wickham through as he might wish, but he could not allow the villain to leave, either.
Yes, he would play this game. Fitzwilliam addressed Georgiana. Though she still slept, he pretended to believe she could hear him. Indeed, perhaps she could. “Shall I kill him, Georgiana?”
The blackguard only smiled. “If you kill me, you shall lose your precious little cousin forever. For she will not wake until I lift the curse.”
He allowed a little fear to creep into his response. “She has become as much a soldier as I, and would clearly rather die than wed you, Wickham. If it is money you are after . . .”
Wickham lifted his eyebrows. “Georgiana has come into her fortune now. There is no need to convince her prig of a brother to pay me.”
Fitzwilliam laughed. His humour was genuine, he could not help it. “Georgiana’s money is tied up so tightly to her benefit that a husband, even a good one, could never touch it. Darcy learned his lesson well when you made your first attempt.”
Wickham’s gaze was shrewd, assessing. “Do you really believe that once we are wed, she will keep it from me? Or for that matter, that Darcy will not give everything he has to keep her safe?” He gestured carefully around the room. “He has more than he can ever spend and yet has always denied me. His father treated me like a son, and I know he must have left me more than the possibility of a living.”
He wanted to lunge, to plunge his sword into this contemptible creature, this liar. Wickham had been given a great deal of money from the Darcy coffers both before and after his uncle’s death. He was right in that he had been cossetted. Darcy had always been held to a higher standard. However, that did not mean Wickham was owed anything. As far as Fitzwilliam was concerned, the charlatan had already been given far too much.
He quickly explained to Maor which window was Georgiana’s and she replied, The one directly above where the thunderbird waits? Yes, thank you, you have been a great help.
Fitzwilliam refused to display any reaction to his familiar’s sarcasm. He did not want to offer Wickham the advantage of observing his irritation. “If you were born to the Darcy family, George, would you have proven worthy of the griffin keeper’s role, as Darcy has? Or would you have complained about the cost of keeping them and sold off their gold to line your pockets?”
Wickham eased the window up with one hand. Was he really so stupid as to believe he could flee Fitzwilliam’s custody so easily? Apparently, he was. Fitzwilliam almost rolled his eyes. “That is a three-story drop, Wickham, and you have spent all your spells.” Really, he ought to find work in the theatre. But the best way to get Wickham to jump into Maor’s path was to act as though he did not believe Wickham would. The idiot sat on the sill before the opened window. He swung his legs over and moved to push himself out.
He is coming out, Maor. Fitzwilliam leaned forward, drawing a bloodless X on the back of Wickham’s neck with the blood magic on his sword. The skin rose and puckered into a glowing mark. Wickham howled and leapt. Now, Maor!
The hippogriff was waiting. He is intact, she said, disappointed. She held Wickham in her talons and rose above the roof.
He must remain so, for the nonce. But he has been marked as a criminal.
I could just kill him now. There was a screech from outside.
As much as I would enjoy that, it is too great a risk. Just take him up to a nest.
Maor chuckled darkly. With great pleasure. As heavy as they were, most believed that griffin and hippogriff nests would be located either on the ground or in the low branches—and sometimes, they were. When she had the opportunity to nest, however, Maor had always preferred the uppermost branches. She was heavy, but her wings easily bore the burden of her weight. Wickham would not be able to move without plunging to the ground below. It was the perfect place for him.
Wickham’s shout of surprise and anger as he was hauled away was a balm to Fitzwilliam’s pride, and he allowed himself a smile, though it was a bitter one. It was difficult to understand Wickham’s screams, but Maor was there to divine their meaning.
He says he will exact payment for the insult. I could simply fly to the sea and drop him there? Perhaps the other selkies would care to have a word.
No. We will have our revenge when Georgiana is safe.
Very well. I will contact you when it is done.
Fitzwilliam checked on Galon and found him sleeping with his eyes wide open, like the others. A tray had fallen to the ground next to the selkie, and a bowl of broth had spilled out across the floor. The general tossed a cloth over it to sop up the liquid. There was nothing else to be done but wait. These sorts of spells wore off in a few hours. He set his sword across the top of another small table, the hilt close enough to grab in an instant should it be required.
Then, finally, he was able to turn his attention to Georgiana, pulling her covers back to scan her from head to toe. There did not seem to be any additional magic here, but the curse pulsed hot and heavy, like a fever. He took another cloth from the stack on her bedside table, dipping it in the basin, wringing it out, and placing it on her forehead. The water would be tepid, but it was better than nothing. “Ay up m’duck,” he said quietly, as he worked to cool her off.
“Keep fighting, sweetling,” he said. “Keep fighting.”