Welcome to the first chapter of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library, a full-length Pride & Prejudice fantasy variation. It’s a group story written round-robin style, and we’ll be posting the entire story here on Magical Austen. So mark your calendar for every Wednesday to read the next chapter!
The story is written by our authors, but the plot was chosen by readers on 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. Then Monica Fairview, Sarah Courtney, Victoria Kincaid, Lari Ann O’Dell, Melanie Rachel, and yours truly, Abigail Reynolds, got to work turning it into a novel. Oh, the plot brainstorming and wild characterization! Oh, the surprises we have in store for you! I can’t wait to hear what you think!
I won the lottery and got to write the first chapter. And here, without further ado, is Chapter One of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library!
Darcy straightened as the doctor emerged from Georgiana’s sickroom, revealing a glimpse of his sister’s wan, thin face resting on her pillow, her eyes closed in exhaustion, before her maid closed the door firmly.
“Well?” Darcy demanded.
The doctor shifted his bag from one hand to another. “There is no improvement, as you are no doubt aware. I have given her a sleeping remedy to make her more comfortable, but there is no cure I can offer for a magical malady. Have you consulted a medical mage?”
“Yes.” Every single one he could bribe or threaten to make the journey to Pemberley to examine Georgiana, and they had all said the same thing – that this was beyond their abilities.
“I am sorry, sir.” He bowed and left, taking Darcy’s last scrap of hope with him.
Darcy rubbed the back of his neck as the doctor’s footsteps faded away. Surely there must be something he could do! But Georgiana would need time to recover from the doctor’s visit before he could sit with her again, and he had exhausted his last lead. No amount of brooding would help her.
All that was left was for him to distract himself. He might as well be useful, so he headed to his study and the long-neglected pile of mail his secretary had left him.
The first few were invitations which he pushed aside. As if he had any desire to be entertained! Then he spotted the familiar spiky handwriting of Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the next envelope. With a groan, he broke the seal.
My dear nephew,
I will waste no time in coming to the point. The Patronesses of Magic have met and we are in unanimous agreement that you must marry immediately. We are well aware of your objections to the idea, but now that Georgiana cannot produce an heir to Pemberley, it is time for you to give up your stubbornness and do your duty. We have picked out three candidates for you to choose among —
With an oath, he crumpled the letter and threw it into the fire. Devil take her! How dare she assume that Georgiana would die! And he was not a breeding stud to answer to her demands.
His fingers reached out to stroke the left-hand drawer of his desk in the familiar spot where the finish was shiny from all the times he had undertaken the same action. Everything he had left of Elizabeth Bennet was in that drawer – the few notes she had written him, the sketch her sister had drawn of her. Five years, and the wounds were still fresh.
And the damnable thing was that his aunt was right. For Pemberley’s sake, he did need to marry, intolerable as it might be.
A soft rapping at the door preceded the entrance of his valet. His so-called valet. Bickerstaffe, the last person he wished to see right now.
The chair scraped on the rug as he pushed it back. “I have already received the Patronesses’ recommendation,” Darcy snapped. “And I do not wish to hear one more word about it.”
“The Patronesses can wait.” Bickerstaffe held up a piece of paper. “There is more important news afoot. The Great Library has reappeared at last.”
It took a moment to sink in, but then Darcy jumped to his feet. “Are you certain? It is open?”
“I just received word. It is certain.”
The Great Library, home to the spell books that just might hold the answers to Georgiana’s illness. It had been inaccessible for half a dozen years, since the death of the last Librarian. And now it was open again.
Excitement filled his throat. At last, a ray of hope! “I will leave for Oxford immediately,” he announced.
Bickerstaffe pursed his lips. “The library may be accessible, but that does not mean you will be admitted. The questioning can be difficult and painful, and there is no guarantee of success. We must discuss your strategy.”
Darcy gritted his teeth. “You have half an hour, while my bags are being packed.” Bickerstaffe no doubt meant well, but Darcy had no intention of allowing Georgiana to suffer for a minute longer than necessary.
Darcy told Hespera to circle three times before gliding down into the square in front of the Great Library. He could feel the griffin’s annoyance at the extra effort after the long flight, but the people of Oxford needed the advance warning. Even on the first high circle, he could see people looking up and starting to run at the sight of the griffin.
He shook his head in annoyance. He would never have brought the griffin into a city if the Library did not require the presence of his familiar.
The square was almost empty by the time Hespera’s paws touched down on the cobblestones. Her eagle’s head turned from side to side. What an interesting place, even if the inhabitants are cowards.
He swung his leg over her back and dismounted. Those who have never seen a live griffin before are naturally in awe, he told her. He needed her to be on her best behavior today, and that meant placating her vanity.
That building has statues of griffins. There is something odd about them, though.
They guard the library with magic, and are the first test we must pass. The two stone griffins held crossed swords which barred entry to the great metal doors. Come.
He drew in a deep breath before leading the griffin to stand in front of the imposing statues. This should be the easiest of the tasks he would face, but it was magic far beyond his understanding, and so much depended upon it. Steeling himself, Darcy said, “We beg leave to enter the Great Repository.” No one ever called it that in this modern age, but the tests relied on use of the library’s proper name.
At first nothing happened, but then a grinding sound began, the doors swung open, and the two statues raised their stone swords to allow Darcy and Hespera to pass.
It was uncanny to see, even though he had known what would happen. The Council of Wizards had been arguing for centuries over how it worked – both how the statues moved and how they knew to admit only those with magical familiars. Not to mention how this relatively small building could possibly contain the hundreds of rooms that comprised the Great Library. If the Fae who had built the library knew the answers, they were not sharing them with mortals.
A prickle went down Darcy’s spine as he walked between the stone swords. Hespera trailed a few steps behind him. She disliked being indoors, but he had promised her a new gold chain for her cooperation.
Beyond the doors was a long columned room that would not have looked out of place in a Roman palace, its marble walls lined with portraits of elderly women, some dressed in the manner of medieval times. A few men, too, but mostly women. It was completely unfurnished apart from a desk where sat a dark-skinned man in an embroidered cap. In front of him lay a closed ledger and an inkwell, just as Bickerstaffe had described it.
Darcy approached the desk. “I wish to see the Librarian,” he said firmly. “I am Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, and my familiar is Hespera.”
The scribe gave him the barest glance and opened the ledger to a blank page with two columns. “Welcome to the Gallery of Librarians. Your name does not matter here, only your motives and actions. Why do you wish to see the Librarian?”
Bickerstaffe had coached him on this question. “My sister is deathly ill from an unknown magical malady. The doctors have said that the cure may lie in the Library’s spellbooks.”
He made a careful check mark in the right-hand column. “Your concern for your sister is laudable, but the world is full of people who are deathly ill. Why does your sister deserve to be saved?”
How dare he ask such a question? But with Georgiana’s life at stake, Darcy had no choice but to answer. “My sister is responsible for many lives. She and her selkie familiar sail with the Navy, and her magic has saved hundreds of sailors from drowning.”
The scribe dipped his quill in the inkwell, but hesitated over the ledger. “She has saved British sailors.” He sounded dubious, leaning forward enough to reveal pointed ears beside his embroidered hat. A fae!
Darcy swallowed hard. “Yes. A great many of them.”
He studied the ledger with a frown, and then placed a tick in the left-hand column. “The Great Library takes no sides in wars. Why else does she deserve to live?”
Darcy’s breath caught in his chest. If Georgiana’s work was not enough, or that she had been the first in a generation to bond to a selkie, what hope could there be? But he had to try. “She has a rare talent for music. Her playing often brings tears to people’s eyes.” And he might never hear her play again. “She is but twenty years of age, and is all that is generous and kind.”
The fae made a tiny tick in the right-hand column. “What else?”
Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Griffin Keeper, never had to beg for anything, and to do so now was a sickening sensation. “I love her dearly. She is my only remaining family, and I would be bereft without her. I would give my own life to save hers.”
But it earned him another check in the right-hand column, so it was worth it. He would beg all day to get inside the library, if that was what it took.
“You say she is your only family, yet is that not your own doing? Is there a reason you have not married and expanded your family?”
Darcy’s stomach churned. It had to be magic, that this stranger could so quickly narrow in his most painful vulnerability, something that he never spoke of. But if it would save Georgiana, he would humiliate himself utterly. “Some years ago, there was a woman I wished to marry, but I was persuaded against the match owing to her lack of magic,” he said in a clipped voice. “I would have been neglecting my duty and harming my family if I married her. But I wish most dearly she could have been my wife.”
The fae’s expression did not change. “If that was years ago, you have had plenty of time to marry another, more suitable woman.”
A surge of bile rose in his throat. “Do you think it is acceptable to marry one woman while my heart belongs to another? I do not, and I will not. They said I would forget my first love quickly. Perhaps someday I shall, but that day has not come yet. And so my sister is all I have. I will do anything for her.”
A check in the right-hand column. Thank God!
The scribe closed the ledger. “You may present your case to Abraxas. I will take you to the courtyard, where you will await him.”
He had done it, made it past the first line of questioning! But it was only one step, and everyone said that gaining the Librarian’s approval was the hardest part. “I thank you.”
Fortunately for Darcy’s sanity, the next test proved embarrassingly easy, which gave him time to regain his shattered equilibrium. Even after all these years, speaking of Elizabeth hurt.
This, in comparison, was nothing. True, it would be a severe trial of most men’s courage to face the full-grown griffin at close quarters, but for a Griffin Keeper like Darcy, it was all in a day’s work. Not to mention that he had his own griffin by his side.
The griffin Abraxas seemed far more interested in Hespera than Darcy in any case. After briefly asking Darcy to state his business, he engaged in a long silent conversation with Hespera, one which left her tossing her head in annoyance.
Finally Abraxas said to Darcy, “This way. You must go alone; your griffin will remain here.”
Darcy followed him through a winding stone corridor with deep-set closed doors to each side. At the foot of a narrow circular staircase, the griffin lifted his front paw. “You will find the Librarian in the room above.”
But when Darcy reached the top, there were three doors. Only one of them was open, so he chose that one and stepped inside.
The room was surprisingly lofty and large. Sunlight filtered in through high arched windows, illuminating bookshelves that lined each wall, rising at least twenty feet, if not more. The air was redolent with the dusty vanilla scent of old leather-bound books, with a hint of lavender that teased his senses with its familiarity.
But there was no Librarian to be seen, only a young woman perched atop a ladder who was replacing a book on a shelf. Perhaps she could give him further directions.
He cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, Miss. I wonder if you could assist me –”
His stomach dropped as she turned to face him. It could not be. He blinked his eyes twice, as if that could change his vision.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered.
So, any guesses what happens next? Or what happened five years ago? What questions do you have? And don’t forget to come back next week to find out what happens next in Monica Fairview’s heart-stopping chapter!
Edited to add: Now available – Chapter 2 by Monica Fairview