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, Sarah Courtney, Victoria Kincaid, Monica Fairview, Lari Ann O’Dell and me, your author for this week, Melanie Rachel.
This week, Darcy has to cool his heels a little, and accept that he’s capable of error and that he’s not always going to be in charge. Not an easy task for our hero, especially when the life of his sister is at stake.
Last week Monica Fairview posted the second chapter. Next week, Sarah Courtney will post Chapter Four.
Finally, here is Chapter Three of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library!
It was another caprice, another delay.
Miss Bennet had sent him away again. He was to return in the morning.
Darcy collapsed on a chair near the hearth and laced his fingers behind his neck. Good God, would Georgiana still be alive in the morning?
Never had he wanted something so fiercely and been forced to overcome so many obstacles, exercise so much patience to achieve it.
He sat up and rubbed his hands together near the fire as he waited for the bath to be filled. Normally he would not put the innkeeper to this sort of trouble for what he had intended to be a one-night visit, but he was still nearly frozen through.
There was some difficulty with the Great Library, apparently, or perhaps even with the Librarian herself. Was it possible she had not been the Librarian long enough to anticipate its moods?
No, the process of approval for the Librarian was exacting. More likely it was her way of exacting a punishment from him for cutting off their engagement. He had once been in love with Elizabeth Bennet and was well aware of her excellent character, but among her many fine qualities was mixed a rather sharp temper.
The laugh was bitter on his tongue. Had once been in love? He was in love with her still. He had never stopped.
Darcy shut his eyes, recalling Elizabeth’s question, nay, challenge. Had time treated her well?
Far better than it had treated him.
He had always been healthy, even vigorous, and there was yet strength in his limbs. But the countenance in his looking glass was worn further each day with the debts of sleepless nights and joyless living. He had thrown over his only chance at happiness to do his duty, and this was the result.
Darcy’s spirits had never really recovered from his disappointment. He made a good enough show of it, he supposed. He had found that when he drowned himself in work, it was easier. Each morning he awoke before everyone else, and each night he slipped into bed only when exhaustion was already overtaking him. Only in that way could he avoid dreaming of a life from which he had walked away, avoid the certainty that if he had it to do over again, he would make a different choice. How he would defy the Patronesses, including his own aunt, if he could only have Elizabeth. Not even the prestigious position of griffin-keeper, the only one in all of England other than the Librarian herself, was worth the cost he had paid.
He had faced a harsh truth today. The sacrifice he lived with, had lived with every minute for five long years? It had been entirely for naught. The Patronesses had been wrong, somehow. Elizabeth did have magic. Elizabeth was eminently worthy of a marriage to Darcy.
Unfortunately, Darcy had proven, definitively, that he was not worthy of a marriage to her.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet was the Librarian, now. She had no more use for him and every reason to distrust him. Had he been braver, had he been stronger, had he stood beside her, facing down the Patronesses and forcing them to accept his choice, he might have been spared the agonies he had suffered.
He might have spared them both.
What improbable series of events had resulted in Elizabeth becoming the Librarian? The Librarian required a magical bond with the Library Griffin. How had she accomplished such a thing when she had failed to do so when tested? Not only failed, but done it in so spectacular a fashion?
He undressed, throwing his clothes at the bed with more violence than he ought and leaving them there to wrinkle. Bickerstaffe would be appalled.
Finally, he lowered himself into the bathtub, a rather luxurious one for an inn, though still too short of a man of his height. The hot water eased the tremors that still plagued him. What to do about the chill around his heart? That he could not say.
His soak was interrupted by Hespera’s prim voice. Mr. Bickerstaffe is inquiring whether you have had any success.
Darcy grunted. Some.
This recalcitrance was received with a small huff and wheeze that signified a griffin’s laughter. He asks for more detail.
Bickerstaffe did not ask. He insisted. He demanded. When he was a small boy, he had felt sorry that Bickerstaffe could not hear Hespera or any of the other griffins who surrounded them at Pemberley. Now, Darcy took a sort of perverse pleasure in the knowledge. He struggled against his irritation with his meddling valet, but it was a struggle he had lost.
There was a small boy named Martin among the tenant families at Pemberley who could speak to the griffins by way of his own familiar, a squirrel. It was a rather laborious system and prone to error in translation, but it was better than an express rider in situations such as these. His response was terse.
I have passed the tests. I must return to the Great Library in the morning. How does Georgiana fare?
There was the usual delay as he waited for the griffins to speak to the squirrel, the squirrel to Martin, and then Martin to Bickerstaffe. At least Bickerstaffe could simply speak to one of the griffins in return.
She is no better but no worse.
Hespera inquired whether there was a message for Bickerstaffe, and Darcy said no. Truthfully, it was a relief to be beyond the man’s reach, beyond his judgment and disapprobation.
Darcy closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the edge of the tub. He must think of his sister, not Bickerstaffe and certainly not the very powerful, very comely Librarian. Miss Elizabeth was not certain she could help him, but he was just as certain that she could. Not only was she compassionate and kind, she was also intelligent and well read. She always knew the most intriguing things—the name of a flower he had never seen, the location of the Kee Monastery in India, the composition of the bricks used to build the Egyptian pyramids, even which ancient crops had been favoured by the Ñanchoc people in Peru.
She had many sisters and he had been anticipating Georgiana being counted among them. He suspected that Georgiana had been as well. His younger sister had never blamed him for leaving Elizabeth behind, but she too had lost a little of her youth in the days that followed his . . . capitulation.
He rose when the water cooled, wrapped a towel around his waist and took another to dry his hair.
Hespera, he said, almost desperately, shall we fly?
The griffin’s golden tones rang in his head. Of course.
The following morning, Darcy tended to his ablutions with care and arrived at the entrance to the Great Library promptly at nine. He was met by the fae clerk, whose name he could only recall began with a ‘T’ before being ushered past the desk and up the stairs.
Miss Elizabeth was there to meet him, in the same room where they had met before, though she was standing on the far side, near a window and not on the ladder. The clerk retreated at her nod and closed the door behind him.
Darcy stepped towards Elizabeth, but she held up a hand.
“Please remain where you are, Mr. Darcy.”
He halted. She lowered her hand.
“Let us begin,” she said, speaking with the Librarian’s voice. “Tell me the nature of Georgiana’s illness.”
“It is an ailment of the heart, Your Eminence.” He hesitated to quell the anger that rose into his throat as he spoke. “I believe you recall Mr. Wickham.”
A frosty mist filled the air and Darcy flinched. Was the freezing cold about to descend again? In the next moment, it disappeared.
“Yes,” the Librarian intoned. “I remember.”
“He wishes to take by force what he could not by consent. It was a love potion, polluted with more than one dark spell of coercion and seduction. He managed to slip it into her food, and she strives to resist.” Darcy’s voice broke a little as he recalled Georgiana’s battle to retain control of her own heart.
“How do you know it was Mr. Wickham’s spell? I presume he has left no signature upon it.”
“Because not long after my sister took to her bed, he arrived on Pemberley’s doorstep, humbly offering his services to break it.”
The room grew colder before it warmed again. “This is why love potions are forbidden. They are too easy to use in such schemes, with disastrous outcomes.”
Darcy agreed. “I have collected additional evidence of his involvement, but the life of my sister must be my first duty.”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “You have always been a man of duty.” The emphasis on the final word was a cynical one, and it did not suit her.
His eyes sought hers out. “It does not follow that I take pleasure in it.”
The admission only made her lips draw into a tight straight line. “When you say spells of coercion and seduction, do you know which ones, precisely?”
“No, though we believe he has used the Scottish Word.”
She stared at him. “Your sister is resisting the Scottish Word?”
He nodded once.
Her countenance did not alter. It was an odd thing to witness such placidity in a woman who had once been so very expressive. “Your sister is a very strong woman.”
“She is indeed,” he agreed. “Georgiana did not know what he was when she was fifteen, but now she would rather die than submit to him.”
Elizabeth did not appear to be listening to him, and he was both affronted and unsurprised. He closed his eyes until a warm breeze ruffled his hair.
“What was that?” he asked in a whisper.
There was a large book in Miss Elizabeth’s hands, or a magical representation of one. She set it upon a lectern that had suddenly appeared before her and opened it. After a moment, she turned the page, read, and then turned another. And another.
The wait was excruciating. “Have you found anything?” he asked after she turned her fifth page.
“Patience, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “It is important that we find the proper course of action. It would not do to waste time and one of your three requests on the wrong cure.”
He was so tired. “Of course, Your Eminence.”
“This is not the correct tome,” she announced at last. With a sweep of one hand, it disappeared, and she had another book to place before her, this one even larger than the first.
Elizabeth leafed through at least twenty pages without another word, and each time it was as though a dagger had been plunged into his chest.
He detested waiting. Unfortunately, that was all he could do. He had no power at all in this situation, with Georgiana’s life in the balance, and he hated that most of all.
“Hmm. Newt and toads, hummingbird feathers, no, no. White moss, sumac leaf, red seaweed . . . no.”
She was reading to herself. This at least, had not changed. He had almost forgotten how fond of it he had become. Darcy focused on the sound of her reading instead of his wait, and the tightness in his chest eased. They would find a way to defeat Wickham’s spell and then they would find a way to deal with him. Preferably one that would not put Darcy himself in irons.
“Oh dear,” Miss Elizabeth said, breaking into his thoughts.
“What?” He knew his question sounded more like a demand, but he could not help it.
“Breaking the hold of the seduction spell will require a journey.” She shut the book and it vanished in a small burst of light. “In order to affect the Scottish Word, Mr. Wickham must have travelled to a specific site north of here. To undo it, you must be there.”
His heart sank. “How far away?”
“Rather far, I am afraid, and your griffin cannot take you there. Listen.” She tossed her hands out wide.
At the mouth of the faerie kingdom,
Where the lily lovell grow
In the shadow of the grotto,
Those who seek must enter slow.
Never bring what is familiar
Lest the magic be brought low.
Deep into the darkness burrow,
Two speak the words the fae do know,
When spoken true, both pain and sorrow
From the heart away will go.
“I must travel to the Fae?” he asked. He groaned. Without Hespera’s assistance it would take days! He could trust the griffins to keep Wickham away from Georgiana as long as she did not weaken and call out for the blackguard.
Elizabeth appeared to be listening to something he could not hear. Eventually, she nodded solemnly, her complexion whitening to a ghostly hue.
“Are you well?” he inquired. It seemed a foolish question, for what would he do were she ill? It was not as though she would allow him to aid her in any way.
He was answered with one more sombre, solitary nod.
“Your eminence, I thank you. May I write down the instructions?” He recalled them perfectly, but this was too important a quest to leave to chance.
She offered him a sickly smile. “You may.”
They waited a moment in silence before the fae clerk arrived bearing paper, ink, and a pen.
“Thank you, Travinius,” Elizabeth said calmly.
Travinius! He knew it had started with a ‘T.’ He glanced around. “May I use your lectern?”
She crooked one finger. The quill dipped itself in the ink and wrote out the words she had spoken.
“Thank you,” he said, when the ink had dried and he held the document in his hands. He read the words over.
“This must be a mistake,” he said, glancing up at the woman for whom his heart yearned. She arched a single eyebrow in the way that always made him want to kiss her.
“Perhaps you ought to have said as much five years ago, Mr. Darcy, but I am pleased that you have at last learnt how.”
He ignored the insult. Given current circumstances she was, after all, correct. “But this says, ‘two speak.’ Two, as in the number. Ought it not be ‘to speak’?”
Elizabeth laughed at him. “Very good, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “The spell requires two to chant the counter spell. Therefore, as much as you disdain me, you have no choice.”
Hope and terror flamed to life in equal measure. “What do you mean?
“You really are quite obtuse, Mr. Darcy. I mean that you will not go alone.” She brushed her hands against her skirt and straightened her back, casting a defiant glare directly at him. “I mean that I am coming with you.”
And the quest begins!
I hope you enjoyed this segment of Mr. Darcy’s Enchanted Library and are pleased that our star-crossed lovers are going to be forced to work together to save Georgiana. Will they be able to overcome past disappointments and heartache and find one another again? Come back next Wednesday to find out what happens next in a new chapter by Sarah Courtney!