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 Melanie Rachel.
And here’s Chapter 9 of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library by Monica Fairview!
As Elizabeth entered the public room, several eyes turned in her direction. She stopped in the doorway. She could not storm into a public space clutching her book as if she wanted to attack someone with it. She was the Librarian, and no matter how much Mr. Darcy had succeeded in riling her, she needed to maintain some dignity. They might not know who she was here, but what if someone found out? She did not want rumors circulating that she could not control her temper.
She drew back and leaned against the door frame just out of sight, taking deep breaths to calm herself. How was it that she had been in command of her feelings all these years, but as soon as Mr. Darcy appeared on the scene, she turned into a bundle of nerves? Perhaps she was more like Mrs. Bennet than she was prepared to admit. She sincerely hoped that was not the case, especially since the Library’s magic tended to reflect her emotions.
Abraxas’ words came back to her. 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. Easy enough to say, when the Library griffin had no idea what she was going through. It was like removing a bandage from an injury that had festered, revealing all the rot underneath. How could it heal when she had to work with the person who had wounded her so deeply?
More to the point, how on earth was she going to complete her mission? When she first set out, she had been certain of her success. The wisdom of the Library – along with the voices of former Librarians— were guiding her footsteps. But cut off and alone, she would have no one but herself to turn to.
She was not completely alone, though, was she? She did have someone who could talk her through this. Abraxas was still there. He had been a steady, reassuring presence for her when she had first started her training. He had never allowed her to give up hope, even when she sometimes doubted her abilities. She trusted him completely.
Then another thought struck her, chilling her to the bone. What if she did not actually have any magic of her own? What if the Lady Patronesses had been right? True, she had some unique abilities. She was able to connect to the Library when no mortal had been able to do so for centuries. That did not mean, though, that she had innate magic. What if she was only able to draw on someone else’s?
She cast her mind back to when she had first met Darcy. At the time, when she had discovered he was a prominent mage, she had not been intimidated. She had believed her own magic to be powerful, and somehow, she had convinced Darcy that was the case. Yet, somehow, she had failed to connect with even the humblest familiar. Doubts and certainties warred in her mind. She reminded herself that she was the Librarian, after all, but she could not extinguish her fears.
Abraxas? she repeated, for the third time.
I am here.
She sagged with relief but was not fully reassured. Why had he not answered before? Was his voice fainter, or was she imagining it? Could she be losing touch with him as well? Once again, she cursed her arrogance in thinking she could exploit the Library’s magic without paying a price.
Are you certain there is no way to restore my connection with the Library?
There is, but only if you come back here and re-establish it directly. First, you must complete your quest. You are magically bound to do so.
He had said the same earlier, but the words held the finality of a rock in her stomach. She had no choice.
What if she failed? A niggling voice answered in no uncertain terms. She would expose herself to Mr. Darcy’s ridicule. To that blank, merciless expression he had turned on her when he discovered she did not possess enough magic. To the same words, spoken just a few minutes ago in his bedchamber. I could not marry a non-magical woman.
That was not the worst that could happen. She had already experienced that and survived. It was not the point of her quest. The outcome was far more serious than her injured pride.
She would let Georgiana down. Georgiana would die. The rest was irrelevant. She was here to save Georgiana from a heartrending, anguished death, to free her from the terrible dreams that were killing her. Elizabeth had to break the vile spell Wickham had cast on the young woman.
As for Mr. Darcy’s censure, what more could he do to her? He had cast her away like a wet rag when it did not suit him. There was nothing he could do that would be worse than that. She had wanted to prove to him that she was powerful, and she would not be able to do it. What did it matter anyway? After the quest ended, she would go back to the Library and never see him again.
She had not come to the quest for him. She was doing it for Georgiana. This was not the time to wallow in self-pity. There was no time to be lost. A sense of determination and purpose rushed into her.
She stood up straight, smoothed her skirt with one hand, and grasped her book like a shield, ready to face the world again. As she turned the corner, her step firm and strong, she slammed straight into Bickerstaffe.
“There you are, Your Eminence.” Bickerstaffe’s tone was peevish. He wiped down his clothes fastidiously as if she had somehow contaminated them. “I hope Mr. Darcy is fully recovered and we do not need to spend another night here. I slept abominably. I am not accustomed to such disgraceful lodgings. I shall be complaining to the Lady Patronesses about the treatment I am receiving.”
As if any of them had a say in the matter! Elizabeth had not asked to share a room with Darcy, either.
His mention of the Patronesses vexed her. “You are free to complain, of course – once our mission is over and we have saved your mistress. Meanwhile, I will order food to break our fast, and you may take a tray up to Mr. Darcy.”
Bickerstaffe’s eyes bulged, and he drew up to his full height, his jaw protruding in agitation.
“May I remind Your Eminence that I am not a footman. I represent the Lady Patronesses.”
She was about to give him a sharp answer, but her irritation turned to laughter as she noted the pieces of straw entwined in the meticulous valet’s hair.
“My apologies. I am not quite clear what your duties entail.” He looked even more indignant, and she smothered a smile. “Meanwhile, you might wish to look in the mirror before you come down for breakfast.”
“What? Why?” As he ran his hands though his hair, bits of straw dropped onto his clothes, and he began to brush them off frantically.
Chuckling openly now, she shook her head headed towards the innkeeper, her good humor restored. She was tired and drained, that was all. True, her situation was not ideal, but she would find a way of dealing with it.
She entered the taproom. It looked like a different place in the daytime and without the noisy revelers. The spellcasters were all there, but they looked sleepy and subdued. She ordered breakfast for the three, then headed for the same corner she had sat the night before.
The young red-headed spellcaster who had been so popular the night before greeted Elizabeth as she passed.
“Where are you bound, sister?”
How much should Elizabeth reveal? Would it jeopardize their mission in any way? Surely not. These were spellcasters. They understood the purposes of magic.
“I am bound for the Fae.”
The young lady’s eyes widened. “Then you are far braver than I am. I wish I could come with you.”
“You must not say such things, Rose,” said the steely-haired chaperon. Elizabeth remembered her watching closely over the younger women, intent on preserving their reputation from the drunken young men around them. Her brow was burrowed in disapproval. “Be careful what you wish for. We are close enough to the land of the fae for your wish to be granted. As you know very well, finding your way to the land of the fae is easy enough. Finding your way back is nigh impossible.”
The red-headed spell-caster rolled her eyes in a gesture that reminded Elizabeth of Lydia as the chaperon turned to Elizabeth in explanation.
“They say the land of the Fae is full of mortals who have lost their way, wandering around as they try to return home, while their families age and turn to dust. Time works differently in their land from ours.” She gave Elizabeth a stern look. “I hope you have a good reason to go there, and that you are not going alone.”
Elizabeth started to reply that she, of all people, was not afraid of wandering the Fae realms. She had done so at will for many years. As the Librarian, she could not be caught in the Fae’s web. But under the scrutiny of the spellcaster, she wondered if she was indeed being foolhardy, placing herself at the mercy of the Fae when she did not have the protection of the Library. Would they recognize her as the Librarian, or would they treat her as a mere mortal? If the latter, was she also putting Mr. Darcy and Bickerstaffe in jeopardy? Surely she would be able to repel any spell the Fae may cast on them? How could she answer that? She was not sure who she was any more, nor what she was capable of.
“I have a good reason,” she replied. “I was sent by the Library.”
“Ah,” said the chaperon, her tone changing. “Then you will likely succeed.” She regarded her closely. “I thought I detected the aroma of Fae magic on you.”
She had never heard of anyone being able to scent magic. She knew little about the spellcasters, apart from the fact that they travelled from village to village, earning a living by casting spells. Most of them were women from a poorer background with limited magical abilities, though some of them might be young ladies who had no real position in the tight-knit hierarchical world of Society. Because the number of mages was so limited, the Patronesses ensured that they all received some basic training. This mostly consisted of learning a few practical spells, but the Patronesses kept a strict watch over them to ascertain that they did not abuse their power or try to rise above their station. They were assigned matrons to guard their reputations and to keep them in check.
She wanted to ask the matron about her ability to sniff out magic, but the steely-haired woman had lost interest and was engaged in conversation with one of the other matrons.
At that moment, Darcy appeared in the doorway. Bickerstaffe was fussing over him, trying to convince him to use a walking cane he had acquired somehow. Darcy brushed the offering aside impatiently, but Elizabeth noticed that he was moving gingerly, almost as if he did not quite trust himself. When he approached the table and sat down, he winced.
Elizabeth was determined to maintain her distance, but she could not help reacting to his pain with concern.
“Is your head giving you pain? Are you dizzy? We could stay another night if necessary.”
Even though the idea of another night in Darcy’s company – in the intimacy of a single bedchamber—was unnerving, it would serve no purpose if he collapsed on the way. It would be very hard to find help in the wilds of the Peak District, and she did not have magic at her disposal.
“Out of the question!” Darcy spoke tersely, making it clear he would not agree to any delay. “I cannot afford to lose a single hour, let alone a whole day. As it is, I do not know how long Georgiana will survive.”
At that moment, the innkeeper’s wife appeared, carrying their food. “Are you eating here or upstairs? I was told to take it up.”
“We will eat here.” Darcy’s voice made it clear he had already argued the point with Bickerstaffe.
Elizabeth dug into her food with relish. Despite yesterday’s dinner, the strong magic she had used to fight the troll and transport Darcy to the healer had depleted her energy. Meanwhile, Darcy picked at his food without appetite.
He was far from fully recovered, but Elizabeth would not argue the point. Georgiana’s life was at stake.
“How much time do you estimate it is before we reach our destination?” Darcy gave up on eating entirely, tossing down his fork.
The question rattled Elizabeth, and she choked on a chunk of bread she was eating. Darcy thumped her on the back and forced her to drink some of his ale, while Bickerstaffe looked on with a smirk.
Elizabeth took her time before answering. She did not have the slightest idea where they were supposed to go, and she had no means of finding out. How on earth was she going to determine their direction?
“The information the Library provided is not specific,” she replied slowly. “You have seen the poem. The Library provides possibilities, not particulars. I will consult the spellcasters.”
She stood up and walked to the table where the steely-haired woman was sitting. Judging the way they spoke, many of the spell casters were from this region and they would know their way around.
“I need advice,” said Elizabeth. “I am willing to pay in coin. Just name the price.” After all, the spellcasters made their living from requests for help.
The steely-haired matron raised her brow. “I would prefer to ask for a boon, since you are from the Library.”
Elizabeth nodded and was about to set up a binding spell when uncertainty held her back. She did not know which aspects of her magic worked. What if nothing happened? She did not want to reveal her current weakness to Mr. Darcy or to Bickerstaffe, who no doubt sent daily reports to the Patronesses.
Until she discovered more, Elizabeth would just have to give her word like a regular mortal. They did not know she was the Librarian, but her word as someone who worked at the Library must count for something. “Very well. I will grant you a boon.”
“I am Mrs. Harriet Brown,” said the matron.
“And I am Elizabeth Bennet. When you come to the Library, you may ask for me.”
Mrs. Brown gave a quick nod. Their agreement was sealed.
“Miss Bennet, what is it you wish to know?”
“I am looking for the entrance to the realm of the Fae.”
Mrs. Brown’s mouth quirked. “It was the question I expected.” Then she looked grave. “Though I should warn you. It will not be easy to find your way. Since the strange weather events of the last year, the Peaks have changed.”
“In what sense?”
“There is a darkness to the daylight, and at night the sky catches fire. Farmers tell of strange creatures rarely seen in this world emerging to steal sheep or other animals. Some even say the fire comes from a great dragon flying over the horizon, breathing fire and destruction, but we have seen no such thing in our travels.”
Elizabeth was not surprised. Last year had been abysmal, with whole harvests washed away by flooding and cold blighting the crops, spreading hunger and misery. The Year Without Summer, they called it. Elizabeth had heard talk within the Library of great balls of fire in the air and of volcanoes throwing out smoke and darkness over everything. The Fae argued that those were the reason for the strange conditions, but why would a volcano cause such turmoil so very far away? She would have to take their word for it, even though it was difficult to believe.
For common folk, of course, it was easier to explain through common lore and local tales. No wonder they spoke of dragons.
For now, Elizabeth needed something practical. “That is all very well, but you must still have an idea where the entrance lies.”
It galled Elizabeth that she had to ask, particularly when Mr. Darcy was listening. The Library should have guided her.
“There is a wise woman who can help you. It is said she is part Fae. Her name is Anne of the Hills.”
It was not a Fae name, but then, the wise woman was only partly Fae. “And where can I find her?”
“It would be difficult to explain, but I know someone who can help you out. Take the main path from the village upwards. Eventually, you will come across a rocky ledge called Stanage Edge that overlooks the Derwent Valley. If you look around, you will see a small packhorse road snaking down. Follow the road down through a gap in the stonewall. There, in the shadow of rock, you will find a cave. They call it Robin Hood’s Cave, but a hermit lives there now. He will point you in the right direction.”
Darcy spoke up for the first time. He had been listening to every word, then. “I know the cave. It is around an hour’s ride from here. I have been there a few times.”
“Good,” said Elizabeth, relieved beyond words that he was familiar with the location. She could rely on him that far at least. “Then let us set out immediately.”
Darcy stared out at the familiar countryside. Normally, the sight of the Peaks filled his soul with peace, but today there was no peace to be found. His head was pounding like a thousand drums, and his chest was painfully tight. He was afraid of losing Georgiana, and, absurd as it sounded at this point, he was afraid of losing Elizabeth. It was more than ridiculous to think like that, of course. He had already lost her, a long time ago, and he had only himself to blame. It was he who had made the decision to leave her, and for a long time, he had accepted that.
Then today, they had quarreled. Her words had dredged up all the misery of the past and laid it open, revealing the consequences of his actions. She had shown him what he had done in all its repugnant detail. Her words had struck him with the force of a blow. Better to destroy my life than for you to have a wife who was anything but the best!
It was true. It was the bargain he had made, but to have it described so starkly put him to shame. Rather than acknowledge it, he had responded with an odious accusation. You seem to be doing remarkably well for someone whose life was destroyed, Your Eminence. As if her success justified his callous actions! It was no thanks to him that she had – amazingly – managed to land on her feet. He had never even considered what she would do, after being rejected by both him and the Lady Patronesses. The fact that she had managed to do well without him showed what a remarkable young lady she was.
All he had thought of was his duty to Pemberley and its descendants, a duty that must include marrying a young lady with powerful magic. Was it worth it? Had duty truly demanded so much of him, or had he been so arrogant that he was willing to sacrifice Elizabeth Bennet at the altar of his pride?
Well, the damage was done, and there was no use in wishing it was otherwise. He could not blame Elizabeth for her bitterness and anger. Her words had hit him hard, but he deserved every one of them. What he had done was unforgiveable.
No surprise that since they left the inn, she had not spoken more than half a dozen words with him, and those only for practical purposes. She had withdrawn from him completely, and it was obvious she was avoiding him. She was riding behind him, where he could not see her, but he still felt her there, a constant presence, invading his every waking thought.
There was nothing to be gained from any of this. He turned his attention away from Elizabeth to Georgiana. He wondered how she was doing. Was she sinking further and further into her dreamworld? It would not be long before she was too weak to fight, and the spell would smother her. Had she succumbed already? The very thought of it made his heart contract painfully. If the worst had happened, he would know. Richard was with her. He would send word through Darcy’s Griffin, Hespera. He could not bear even the possibility.
He had to believe that they would find the cave and do what was required before it was too late. He spurred his horse forward, pushing ahead, his eyes searching the horizon for the rock. He had come hunting in this area with his father and uncle. Yet today it looked different, somehow, and they were taking forever to reach it. The sun had risen high in the sky. They should have arrived by now.
Then finally, he spotted Stanage Rock, jutting outwards.
“There!” he cried.
He urged them upwards towards it. They followed at a crawl. Neither Elizabeth nor Bickerstaffe could ride as well as Darcy. The way down the cave on the other side was steep and only for surefooted riders. He would be better off going there alone, but he knew Elizabeth would never agree to be left behind. And considering what dangers they had encountered before, he would not want to leave her unprotected.
“We should stop before we take the path down. We need to give the horses a chance to eat and rest.”
He dismounted and put his hand out to help Elizabeth down. Her hand burned into his, despite two layers of gloves between them. As soon as her foot touched the ground, he withdrew his own, dropping his hand to his side, resisting the temptation to check if his glove was singed. There was no magic there. She simply had that effect on him, even now.
Wondering if she felt the same, he flicked his glance towards her as she walked to the edge and stood there, staring over the valley, the bottom of her cloak fluttering like a sail in the breeze. She looked beautiful, framed by the pinks of the heather, the grey stone, and waves of frothy clouds in a blue sky.
He would have given anything for her to turn and look at him, for their eyes to meet, for her to acknowledge everything there was between them, but her gaze remained steadfastly on the horizon .
It was futile to long for the past when the present demanded his urgent attention. Georgiana was suffering while he dwelled on a love he had already lost. The sooner he questioned the hermit, the sooner they would find Anne of the Hills, and they would be on their way to the Fae.
“We should go.” His voice sounded harsh.
Elizabeth looked surprised, particularly since it had only been a few minutes since she dismounted, but she simply nodded.
“Yes. There is not time to loiter.”
They were soon back on their way, and his tension eased. Stones clattered and slipped under the horse’s hooves as they made their way up towards the ledge, then down again.
He had expected to find the gap in the wall the spellcaster had spoken of immediately, but it took up precious time. Then once they were through, the path turned treacherous, and they had to slow to a walking pace. He seethed with impatience, but there was no rushing it. It had rained overnight, and the stones were slick. The old packhorse road was worn in places, causing the horses to lose their footing. He considered dismounting and continuing on foot, but it would not necessary be faster, and it would definitely be more tiring.
It had been a long time since he had visited the cave with his uncle, and he had a hazy recollection of coming this way. His mind at the time was occupied with the legend of Robin Hood. He had been full of questions about the hiding place of the notorious bandit, and excited about crawling through the narrow opening to reach the cave. He had paid little attention to his uncle’s business with the hermit. His only recollection of the man was that he had a long brown beard that reached almost to the ground. It had reminded him of a horse’s tail.
Finally, they reached the bend in the road where the cave was.
“We’re there!” he exclaimed, recognising the spot. He spurred his stead onwards as his eyes searched for the dark gap in the rock face.
A swirling mist had settled into the valley, making it difficult to make out the features of the landscape, but one thing was clear.
Where the cave used to be, there was nothing but a pile of sludge, rocks and rubble.
They had reached a dead end.
I hope you enjoyed Chapter 9. What do you expect will happen next?