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The Curse Chapter 16

June 12, 2017 01:22PM
I am officially unemployed now, for the first time in almost 12 years! It is very nerve-wracking, with a lot of moments of "What have I done?" so instead of studying for my final tomorrow, I'm taking time to post...

Also, this will be my last post in California, and the beginning of a TEMPORARY hiatus in posts. Next Sunday I will be driving somewhere between Arkansas and Oklahoma, and so will be unable to post. By Tuesday, I should be in my new home in South Carolina! When I can resume posting is going to depend on when the home internet gets set up, which I have no control over. :/ However, rest assured that this story shall not be abandoned, I am currently working on chapter 35, which is likely to be the last or second to last chapter, so I'm almost done!

Thanks to my lovely betas, dreeem, priscillalts, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily!



Chapter 16

Darcy felt elated as he broke his fast with Bingley the next morning. Elizabeth had come to him. True, the circumstances were less than ideal, but she had come to him for help. She trusted him! Could it be much longer before he had her love as well?

“Sometimes I envy you and your Miss Elizabeth,” Bingley said, interrupting Darcy’s thoughts.

He gave his friend a surprised look. “How is that?” he asked.

“You and Miss Elizabeth are both mages. You can speak to each other in the intimacy of your minds, without being overheard and even across distances. That is something I can never have with my Jane.”

Darcy could not conceal his guilty start. Bingley’s eyes widened.

“You have been talking to her!” Bingley touched his forehead.

Darcy nodded stiffly.

Bingley started to grin, then gave Darcy a stern look. “I hope you have been more discreet in speaking with her than you have in meeting her,” he warned.

Darcy spluttered, “Of course I have, as much as it is possible!” He realized uncomfortably that the meeting last night would definitely not fall under Bingley’s approval. Worse, he still could not explain that Elizabeth was in no danger of being recognized, for she had been a dragon. Despite his assurances that Bingley was to be trusted, either Elizabeth or Miss Bennet had refrained from telling Bingley about Elizabeth’s altered state.

“Good,” Bingley nodded in satisfaction. He gave a sly grin. “Because it would be rather telling if both of you were to burst out laughing in the middle of Sunday services.”

“Bingley!” Darcy exclaimed. “Do not be sacrilegious!”

“What?” Bingley shrugged. “Are you telling me you have never been tempted to speak to another when the minister is boring?”

Darcy paused, then gave a mischievous grin. “As boys, Richard and I would make it a game to speak and not be caught. Then we would dare each other to use our magic around the chapel. I think the only reason we did not destroy the church is because our magic canceled each other out perfectly: fire and ice.”

Bingley laughed. “Richard! Your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“One and the same,” Darcy chuckled.

“It has been more than a year since I saw him last. He is well?”

“As well as he can be, on the frontlines against old Boney. With his magic, he is in much demand for combat.”

“God keep him safe,” Bingley intoned.

“Amen,” Darcy agreed.

They finished breakfast and then entered the carriage for the journey to Longbourn. Even though he had taken the short three miles jaunt many times in the past, being in a moving carriage still had Darcy fighting back panic. He knew that he was pale; he could feel sweat standing out on his face. Bingley had to have noticed his reaction, but his friend chose as always to ignore it.

“When we arrive at Longbourn,” Darcy began, his voice breathless from trying to control himself, “There will be a new resident.”

Bingley looked at him with interest.

“Mr. Collins is a cousin of the family, and the heir to Mr. Bennet. He is also the parson of my Aunt, Land Catherine de Bourgh, and she could not have bestowed the living upon a more grateful subject.”

Although Bingley had never met Darcy’s aunt in person, he had heard enough to guess what that meant and gave a small laugh.

“Miss Elizabeth approached me; she has some concerns about her cousin—that he might not behave like a gentleman towards the ladies of the house.”

Bingley scowled. “And Mr. Bennet allows this cousin to stay with them?”

Darcy hesitated. “As of yet, there is no evidence of wrong doing. Nevertheless, Miss Elizabeth is uncomfortable with him. I know that you are generally oblivious to all else when Miss Bennet is present, but I would ask that you tear your eyes away from her and observe his behavior, especially to Miss Elizabeth and Miss Mary. Do not hesitate to tell me if anything seems amiss.”

“Of course,” Bingley instantly agreed. His face brightened. “Do you think it might become necessary to remove him from the property?” he asked, eager to try out his pugilist skills.

Darcy smiled to himself, for he thought that if Collins actually dared to touch one of the Bennet sisters, he would suddenly have a very large and very irate dragon to deal with. Elizabeth was fiercely in protective of her sisters. It was only when it came to herself that she turned timid.

“I rather think Elizabeth would enjoy doing the honors herself,” Darcy commented absent-mindedly, which earned him a confused look from Bingley.

“But I am sure she would appreciate the assistance,” Darcy hastily added.

Bingley continued to study Darcy with curiosity.

“What?” Darcy asked uncomfortably.

“That is the first time I heard you use her Christian name,” Bingley commented thoughtfully. “Have you reached an understanding with her?”

Darcy flushed. “Not yet,” he admitted, “But I hope it will not be long.”

“At least someone is close,” Bingley muttered, frustration evident in the way he shifted on the seat.

“You have not yet reached an understanding with Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked in astonishment. “With the way you speak of her, I thought…”

Bingley had a bleak expression on his face as he spoke. “I have tried speaking to her of it, but she will not agree to anything. She states that family matters hold her back, that she cannot in good conscience accept me before other things are settled.”

“And she has not told you what they are?”

Bingley shook his head, but Darcy could guess. Miss Bennet must be deeply concerned with Elizabeth’s curse and could not accept her own felicity until Elizabeth was saved. Yet another reason that Bingley should have been told about Elizabeth’s condition, for then he would at least understand Miss Bennet’s hesitation. Darcy had enough respect for Miss Bennet that he did not consider she was merely leading on his friend with no intention of accepting him.

Darcy clapped Bingley on the shoulder. “Have faith, my friend. Hopefully things will work out to your favor soon enough.”

Bingley squinted at him. “Has Miss Elizabeth spoken to you of family matters? Do you know what is behind this?”

Darcy could not meet his eyes. “I may have some idea,” he confessed.

“It is not…” Bingley took a deep breath. “It is not because of me, is it? That my roots are from trade?”

Darcy started. “No, I do not believe that is it at all. Miss Bennet lack the sort of pretention that would prevent her from making a connection to you. I am confident that she favors you, but there is another task she feels must be completed first.”

Bingley gave him a strange look. “You are being very mysterious, Darcy. It is clear you know more than you are telling, but I will not ask you to betray your confidences.”

“Thank you,” Darcy replied.

They had spent nearly the entire journey in conversation so they did not have to wait more than a few minutes before pulling up to Longbourn’s entrance. Darcy was the first out of the carriage, giving a sigh of relief once he was freed of the enclosed box.

They were welcomed to the house at once and shown to the drawing room where the family was encased. Darcy’s eyes went immediately to Elizabeth. He saw with alarm that she was pale and strained.

What is wrong? he asked at once.

It is nothing, she assured him.

It does not look like nothing.

I am only short of breath.

Shall I call for a healer?


She laughed gently. No, it means that I must change to a dragon soon. Then I will be able to breathe freely. Do not worry about me.

His own chest relaxed once he knew she was not in any danger. When we have been here a short time, I will suggest that Miss Mary continue her portrait of us in the garden. Will that help?

Darcy could practically feel the relief coming off of her.

Yes, thank you. I can wait that long.

Satisfied that his love was well, Darcy turned his attention to the rest of the room. Everyone was as he had last seen them, except for two. Collins was of course one new addition. The parson was just as idiotic and sycophantic as before, alternately fawning over Darcy for being related to Lady Catherine and all but gloating over his current position in the household. Darcy had known men that were brought up meanly, thus when they came into an inheritance knew not what to do and proceeded to squander it.

Though hopefully Collins’ inheritance was many years in coming, it was clear to Darcy that Collins would ruin Longbourn within a short period of time after taking it. He was thoroughly disgusted by that sort of man, for he had been brought up to know his responsibility and to care for those in his charge. Collins cared only for himself.

The second person that was noticeably changed was Miss Mary. Not only did she not have her glasses, which gave her face a pinched, narrow-eyed expression, but she also wore a shapeless gown of homespun. It did not flatter her in the least and was far more suited to a poor tenant farmer than to a gentleman’s daughter. She sat close to Collins, nodding in time to his comments. Occasionally the man would look at her and Darcy did not like his expression.

Collins was gloating over his acquisition of Miss Mary. Though the law gave husbands every legal right to treat their wives as they would, Darcy detested those who used the gentler sex only for their own needs. It was clear that Collins was one such; any pain or humiliation that Miss Mary felt now from his actions would only be magnified once she was wed to him. Darcy might not know the girl well—she had been too shy to talk overmuch to him—but he thought he could detect unhappiness in her posture.

He knew he had promised Elizabeth only to observe, but within a few minutes he was convinced that all of her concerns were highly warranted. Darcy could not stand by while this man was hurting his future family. He forced himself to look away from Miss Mary before his anger at her treatment became too evident. He caught Elizabeth’s violet gaze instead and made the slightest nod to her.

Darcy stood, drawing himself up to his full height. He called on every ounce of his proud bearing, even picturing how Aunt Catherine would hold herself to command a room. Every eye was at once upon him. He moved toward the center of the room, incidentally toward Miss Mary as well. She ducked her head and seemed to shrink from him until he called her name.

“Miss Mary,” he called, trying for a mix of imperious command without being too harsh. She looked up at him in astonishment.

“I believe the light outside is very good right now. I should like to have another sitting for my portrait.”

Miss Mary blushed and looked shyly at Collins.

“You are painting Mr. Darcy?” Collins asked in a rude tone. “Go to it, girl! You must not keep him waiting. I will go with you to be sure your painting is up to the proper standards.”

“You will not,” Darcy said sternly. “I commissioned the painting therefore I choose which standard to accept.”

Collins was temporarily set back. “Then I will go as a chaperone, for Cousin Mary is very dear to me.”

“I do not allow strangers to view my sittings,” Darcy announced, fixing Collins with a fierce glare.

The parson spluttered without saying a word.

“I shall chaperone Mary and Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said quickly, rising and deftly pulling Miss Mary to her side. The poor girl looked like she did not know who to obey.

“We will go as well,” Bingley asked, standing with Miss Bennet on his arm.

Together the four of them fairly surrounded Miss Mary and shepherded her into the foyer. She still had a bewildered expression on her face, blinking at each of them as if she could not see them clearly. And she probable could not, Darcy realized, without her glasses.

He touched her arm gently. “You will need your spectacles and your artwork to continue,” he said. “Get them and we well wait for you here.”

She nodded and hurried up the stairs to retrieve them. Darcy turned back to see Elizabeth and Miss Bennet in a heated discussion.

“Do you not see it, Jane?” Elizabeth hissed passionately. “He treats her like property and they are not even engaged! You cannot believe still that he would be a good match for her!”

“Mr. Collins is a bit rough,” Miss Bennet hedged, “But I believe Mary could be good for him. Maybe he only wants a little companionship to make him gentler.”

Darcy cleared his throat. “Apologies for interrupting,” he said, “But Miss Bennet, with all due respect, what you are suggesting is rather dangerous for Miss Mary. I have seen men like Collins before. They do not change, they do not become gentler. Their actions will only escalate, until the situation must end in tragedy. I do not mean to belittle you, but if you value your sister, you will convince her to avoid that man.”

Miss Bennet bit her lip. “I do not know what to think,” she confessed. “Surely the church would not allow one such as that to take orders?”

“The church is not infallible,” Darcy said darkly.

“Please, Jane,” Elizabeth begged. She hugged her older sister. “Please listen. It is not just me saying it, but Mr. Darcy as well. If you do not believe me, then trust in him.”

There was a soft cough from the stairwell. They looked up to see Miss Mary, wearing her spectacles, with her canvas and other supplies under her arm.

“Let us go outside before Mr. Collins thinks to interrupt us,” Elizabeth said quickly. She moved forward and put her arm around Miss Mary. Darcy instantly recognized it as a dragonish gesture of protection.

As they entered the park, Miss Bennet asked, “Will you be at the dower house, Lizzy?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth answered at once. “That is where Mary is painting us.”

“Come Mr. Bingley, there is a pretty little feature I should like to show you,” Miss Bennet led Bingley away from the direction of the dower house. Darcy realized it must be a code among the sisters to tell when Elizabeth took her other form. His love watched Bingley and Miss Bennet leave with a sigh and he had the sudden insight that it was not Elizabeth who objected to Bingley being told of her condition. An idea came to him. It might be interfering with Miss Bennet’s intentions, but his loyalty was given to Elizabeth, not Miss Bennet. If Elizabeth did not mind Bingley being aware…

Darcy, Elizabeth and Miss Mary made their way to the dower cottage. Halfway there, Elizabeth excused herself with a blush.

“Pardon me,” she said. “I would go ahead to change.”

“Of course, Lizzy, we will see you there,” Miss Mary said while Elizabeth skipped away from them.

Darcy was left alone with Miss Mary. He offered to carry the large canvas for her, softly taking it from her when she hesitated.

“I know you must think me foolish, Mr. Darcy,” Miss Mary whispered. “To encourage a man such as Mr. Collins. I heard what you said about it ending in tragedy. But all our stories are tragic, I think. Jane is afraid to accept Mr. Bingley for fear that Lizzy will slip away from us. Lizzy is less human every day and she does not realize it. Maybe Mr. Collins is not a good match, but he is Papa’s heir. If there is even a little chance that I can influence him to be kind to Mama and our sisters after Papa dies, then I must take that risk.”

Darcy could see that Miss Mary was not nearly so blind or misguided as he had thought. In a way, she was doing exactly what Elizabeth was doing: sacrificing herself for the sake of her sisters. The level of loyalty between the three oldest Bennet sisters was unshakable. His heart ached for them, even as he swore to help in any way he could.

He thought carefully before making his reply. “In my conversations with you, I have become convinced of your intelligence and good taste. I will not pass judgement on you, for it is not my place. I would only wish to advise you to secure your own happiness, in whatever form it takes. However, I will say that if your only aim in encouraging Collins is the future security of you and your sisters, know that I will always open my home in Derbyshire, Pemberley, to them. You need not fear they will starve or suffer after your father is gone. I am sure Bingley would act in the same way, without hesitation.”

Miss Mary looked startled by his offer. They had reached the dower house now, though Elizabeth had not yet emerged. Miss Mary stared at Darcy; he had the feeling she was weighing his words, judging his motivation. He willed himself not to react with defensiveness. He might have overstated his hand before he had even declared his intentions toward Elizabeth, but he would not retract his offer.

Slowly, she began to smile at him, not shy as usual, but rather sly, like one who has learned a secret. “Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she said, regaining a little of her composure. “Your offer is most generous.”

It was generous, Elizabeth agreed, finally making her way out of the cottage. I could not help but to overhear. I do not know whether it will make a difference, but at least she knows there is another option. She nuzzled her sister fondly, taking care not to knock the girl down.

Miss Mary laughed and patted Elizabeth’s neck before ordering her away. “Go lay down in front of the house, Lizzy. And you, Mr. Darcy, when she is settled lean on her as before. No, Lizzy, tuck your right paw under. Move further forward Mr. Darcy, you are not in the correct position.”

She is not so shy when she is directing us for painting, Darcy observed to Elizabeth.

No, all of us have something for which we are passionate and forget to be afraid.

For Miss Mary, it is her paints, Darcy mused. For you, it is your sheep. What of Miss Bennet?

The still room, Elizabeth answered at once. Jane keeps an extensive garden on the other side of the house. There are several plants which are grown nowhere else in the county, for when we traveled we would often bring home cuttings for Jane to plant here. She delights in making perfumes and potions from them. Even Mr. Jones, the apothecary, says her medicines have merit.

Darcy was pleased with the new insight to his future sister.

Miss Mary fell silent once she was satisfied with their placement and began to draw them once more. Darcy found himself looking at Elizabeth’s dragon face, as he had when this scene was originally captured.

Mr. Darcy, she began hesitantly. I really must thank you for your offer to take in my family. I know we are not of the same circles, but you have relieved a great weight from my mind.

Know that you will always be welcome in any of my homes, he replied, leaving caution behind.

Her eyes sparkled with mischief. And are the halls of your homes big enough for a dragon? she poked fun at him.

There is a little-used stable at Pemberley, which is too far from the house to be convenient. With some mild modifications, I imagine it would be quite comfortable for a dragon. It cannot be smaller than the cottage. He glanced at the dower house that was a struggle for her to fit inside. She was giving him a puzzled look, as if she did not understand his purpose. He could not resist embellishing further.

Then of course, I will invest heavily in sheep, and turn over the management of my flocks to you.

Mr. Darcy! she exclaimed. Surely you must have shepherds that you pay to watch your sheep. I cannot think that I am any better than they.

There are shepherds, it is true, he said thoughtfully. But I do not think they have eaten as many fresh sheep as you, therefore I would trust you to know how to produce the best-tasting meat. He said it in a tone of absolute seriousness and it was too much for her.

She burst into laughter. He loved the sound of it, both in his mind and the throaty chuckle of a laughing dragon. Darcy allowed himself to smile, basking in having relieved her worry even a little.

You win, she said. I believe you must be the most generous man in the world.

His throat tightened. She had no idea how much her words meant to him. I was not always so generous. If you think me so now, it is only because I have had the best example to follow.

She ducked her head and he had the impression that she would have blushed if it were possible for her dragon form. Yes, he thought to himself. It would not be long before he could call her his.

Miss Mary held them in place for half an hour as she worked.

Normally she is much faster, Elizabeth said dryly. She seemed to be more open to him now; he took it as a good sign.

I do not mind the company, he replied, deliberately running his hand over the soft leather of her wing. She made a quiet crooning noise of pleasure deep in her chest.

And anything which keeps her away from Mr. Collins is for the best, she added.

Darcy was still in casual conversation with both ladies as Miss Mary cleaned up her art supplies. He was unaware of the passage of time until Bingley contacted him.

Darcy, are you still in the garden? It looks like it will rain. Jane and I are going in.

Darcy looked at the sky in surprise. Low grey clouds had formed overhead and the wind was heavy with moisture. He sighed with regret, for they would have to go inside and likely end his visit. He hoped he had given Miss Mary enough incentive to rethink her actions. Elizabeth knew of his offer as well, and despite their joking tone earlier, he had been serious about giving her a home and purpose as a dragon at Pemberley. He had high hopes that he might break her curse, but just in case, he was prepared to keep her any way he could.

We are outside, he began, when a thought came to him. One moment. He ended the contact with Bingley and addressed Elizabeth instead.

Am I right in supposing that Miss Bennet has chosen not to tell Bingley of your current form?

She sighed gustily. Yes. I have told her she should allow him to know, for you trust him, but she believes she is protecting me. She gave a scoff at the idea that she needed protection. He felt her powerful muscles flexing under him. Darcy smiled to himself and thought about pointing out that those around her—her sisters, Darcy himself—protected her not because she needed it but because they loved her. However, he decided it was rather imprudent to disagree with the large dragon.

Instead he asked, Then you do not mind if I show Bingley?

Her eyes glittered with amusement. Not at all.

He reached out to Bingley again. Before you go in, come find us. We are in the northwest corner of the park.

Jane has never taken me to that section before, Bingley confirmed what Darcy had suspected.

A little devil whispered in Darcy’s ear, and he added, Tell Miss Bennet we are at the dower house, she will know where it is. He turned back to Elizabeth. They are coming.

She raised her head and looked outward. The tip of her tail began to flick back and forth like a cat’s. I can hear Jane protesting. Oh, she is not happy, but Mr. Bingley is determined. Laughter bubbled in her voice. Tell Mary that we are expecting company.

“Miss Mary,” Darcy said, “Miss Bennet and Bingley will be joining us shortly.”

The girl looked between Elizabeth and Darcy, then smiled. “I cannot imagine Jane is pleased about it, but I am glad you have settled it between yourselves.”

He chuckled. Elizabeth swiftly turned her head and nudged his side in what he recognized as excitement. He patted her head and she went back to waiting for Miss Bennet and Bingley to arrive. Her muscles were tense under him, practically quivering in anticipation. He hoped she did not forget he was leaning on her and rise suddenly, leaving him off-balance. Despite the risk, Darcy did not straighten. He was looking forward to Bingley’s reaction when he saw Darcy’s position.

Now Darcy could hear the approach of the couple.

“Please, Mr. Bingley, there is nothing here, let us go back,” Miss Bennet begged desperately.

Darcy felt a twinge of remorse for causing her distress. Elizabeth and Miss Mary exchanged guilty looks as well.

“Darcy said they were here,” Bingley coaxed her. “We will meet them and then walk back to the house together.”

Elizabeth snickered quietly, for it was quite obvious that she would not be going inside in her present state.

With that Bingley came around the corner. The hedges and shrubbery in this section of the park had been designed to give the utmost privacy, so it was that Bingley did not see them until he was in the immediate area. Not only that, but he was looking behind himself at Miss Bennet, who was tugging ineffectually at his hand in a bid to make him stop, so he advanced several steps without seeing them.

Miss Bennet, upon noticing Darcy, Elizabeth and Miss Mary so arranged, stopped and put her hands over her pale face. Bingley frowned, and finally turned around.

His eyes widened comically. He yelped and jumped quite high in the air, staring in utter shock and fright at Elizabeth.

“Good Lord, that is a huge dragon!” Bingley exclaimed loudly. Then he caught sight of Darcy leaning on Elizabeth’s back. “Darcy! Why are you leaning on that massive dragon? Do you not know it can eat you?”

Darcy watched as it occurred to Bingley that Elizabeth could potentially eat him and Miss Bennet as well. Bingley swung toward Miss Bennet, standing protectively in front of her and raising his hand ineffectively before him, a hint of a spell at his fingers.

“The dragon is a she, not an it,” Darcy called out dryly. “And perhaps you will believe me now when I say she pulled me from the river and saved my life.”

He heard twin gasps from Miss Bennet and Miss Mary; had they not known that was his first meeting with Elizabeth?

Bingley gaped at Darcy. Slowly he took in the other three people, noting their utter lack of alarm in the presence of the dragon. Elizabeth lowered her head to human height.

Bingley jumped again, though not so high as the first time. “It speaks!” He paused. “I beg your pardon, Miss Elizabeth, I meant no offense!”

Elizabeth had taken it upon herself to address Bingley. The younger man still looked wild around the edges but was endeavoring to compose himself. He kept looking from Elizabeth to Darcy, to Miss Mary and Miss Bennet, and then back at Elizabeth again as if afraid to keep his eyes off of the dragon for too long. Slowly, realization began to form on his face, and his gaze focused more and more on Miss Bennet. The woman was still pale, her expression frightened as she waited for Bingley’s reaction.

Bingley began laughing. Miss Bennet flinched, but his laughter was a sound of relief rather than bitterness. He turned to Miss Bennet and held his hands out to her, which she hesitantly took.

“This is it, isn’t it?” he asked, his eyes shining. “The family business you wanted to see settled before you answered me? That your sister is a dragon?” He cast a wondering glance at Elizabeth before looking back to Miss Bennet.

She nodded fearfully.

“My dear,” Bingley raised her hands to his mouth and kissed each of them. Darcy felt uneasy witnessing such intimacy.

“My lovely Jane,” Bingley murmured, “Were you afraid that I might not love you if I knew there was a dragon in the family? I assure you, my feelings are not changed. If anything, I admire you more for caring so much for your family no matter what form they take.”

Miss Mary sighed happily, while Elizabeth radiated smugness. It was clear that the ladies were quite satisfied with the outcome. Darcy himself was hopeful for the felicity of both himself and his friend. One more barrier had been removed. If Miss Bennet accepted Bingley, thereby easing Elizabeth’s worries, perhaps his own love would be more open to his advances.

Bingley became aware of their audience and released one of Miss Bennet’s hands, though he kept hold of the other. She looked cautiously optimistic, watching Bingley with adoration clearly shining in her eyes.

Meanwhile, Bingley glanced at Elizabeth and her two companions before breaking into a chuckle as he said, “A dragon! A dragon for a sister!” His reaction to the sudden shock seemed to include taking a temporary leave of his senses.

Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth said, Mr. Collins is of the opinion that dragons are a symbol of the devil, so I would appreciate it if neither of you mentioned my connection to them, or Mary’s artwork.

Darcy and Bingley gave each other identical, astonished looks. Multi-projection, the ability to speak to more than one person at a time in mental speech, was so rare that it was considered a magical talent of its own, rather than a side-effect of having magic as normal mental speech was. Darcy had had no idea Elizabeth was capable of such a thing. It made her even more special in his eyes.

“Well, really, I say!” Bingley spluttered in amazement.

Elizabeth looked rather embarrassed. It is not me. It is a dragon trait. Wild dragons communicate with each other through telepathic bonds. Not words as such, just thoughts and feelings. I could hear them, but Papa could not. He thought it was too radical to put in the book, so we left it out.

Bingley began to laugh again. “You wrote that book!”

Elizabeth twitched, giving Darcy enough time to find his own feet before she sat up and spread her wings to encompass both of her sisters.

We wrote the book, she announced proudly.

Unable to hear a significant part of the exchange, Miss Bennet and Miss Mary were puzzled as to why Elizabeth was singling them out.

Miss Mary looked to Darcy. “What did she say?”

Darcy smiled. “She was speaking of the way dragons communicate.”

Her eyes lit up. “That was my favorite part of our travels, listening to Lizzy translate what the dragons were saying. She said they gossip worse than the housewives of Meryton.”

“Dragon gossip,” Bingley said. “Now I have heard of everything!”

The group laughed whole-heartedly.

Miss Bennet, Bingley and Miss Mary decided to return to Longbourn before the rain started. Darcy knew the time for his visit had ended, but he lingered beside Elizabeth.

Will you go inside? he asked, gesturing toward the dower house. He decided that Bingley was right: there was something about the intimacy of touching her mind to speak that he adored.

No, I believe I will fly, once the rain is strong enough.

You enjoy flying in the rain?

The water is soothing and usually there are not as many people to see me,
she explained. It is one of the few times I can fly in the day time without fear of being seen.

That he understood. Enjoy your flight, Miss Elizabeth, he said quietly, reaching up to stroke her neck.

She sighed gustily, smelling of cinders and potent magic. Then she nudged him playfully to go inside.

***


While Darcy was speaking to Miss Elizabeth, Bingley took the opportunity to have a private conversation with Miss Bennet. Jane, to his heart and mind, but in public he must always maintain decorum.

Bingley touched Jane on the arm to make her pause in the foyer while Miss Mary went upstairs to hide away her artwork. Jane faced him and he took her hand.

“Miss Bennet,” he began, “I understand now, why you were hesitant to trust me with something of this scale. But let me assure you, I still feel the same about you. Might I beg you to reconsider your answer?”

Jane hesitated and Bingley’s heart fell.

“Mr. Bingley,” she began slowly. He could not meet her eyes and looked down. She reached out and ghosted her fingers along his jaw. He met her eyes in shock. In her gaze he saw the love he felt for her reflected back at him, but as always it was colored by fear.

“You may think you know our family’s secret now, but there is more to it than that Lizzy is a dragon.”

“Then tell me,” he begged. “Let me share this burden with you. Let me prove myself worthy of you.”

She did not answer for a long moment and he pressed her gently.

“I already know that Miss Elizabeth can become a dragon. What more can there be that would shock me greater than that?”

She seemed to realize the truth of his statement and nodded. “Forgive me, Mr. Bingley. It is not often spoken of within our family, and never to a stranger. It is difficult for me to tell when I have long sworn secrecy.”

“I hope I am more to you than a stranger, Miss Bennet,” he said in a low voice.

This time she rested her hand on his cheek for several seconds. “You are,” she whispered, tears in her eyes.

“Tell me,” he repeated softly.

“What Lizzy is—it is a curse.”

Bingley stiffened. She flinched and he deliberately made himself relax. “Forgive me, my dear. I was only surprised that someone would curse your sister. She delights to tease, but I have never felt any harm from her.” He paused and chuckled. “Except perhaps this afternoon before I realized who she was. I have never seen a dragon of that size before, especially from so close.”

Jane gave a weak laugh. “Yes, Lizzy is very protective of us, but she has never hurt anyone. The curse was originally put on my father, with the design that it would affect his children. He protected me from the womb, and thought the curse had failed.”

“Then Miss Elizabeth was born,” Bingley guessed. “Was she a dragon even then?”

“I was too young to remember, but she has always been a dragon in my earliest memories. There must have been something to show how the curse affected her. But the curse is not only that she can become a dragon. As children, she was only a dragon one or two days a month. The older she gets, the more she is forced into dragon form. The curse is advancing; she spends far more time as a dragon than as a human now.”

“No wonder Darcy was always going to the dower house when Miss Elizabeth was not present for our visits. She stays there, does she not?”

“Yes. I do not know how, but Mr. Darcy found out somehow that Lizzy was a dragon.”

Bingley laughed again. “Darcy was in a carriage accident when he first arrived. It was touch and go for a while, but when he was coherent again, he had this wild tale of being saved by a dragon. I thought he must have been dreaming.” He decided not to tell Jane that he had dreamed of her that night as well, before he had met her. Knowing what he did now, Miss Elizabeth must have somehow projected Jane’s image into his dream in order to summon him to Darcy’s aid.

“Forgive me, I know this must be a delicate subject,” Bingley began carefully. “But Mr. Bennet, has he tried to break the curse?”

Jane nodded. “Yes, many times. He investigated any rumor of a curse breaker, but it all came to naught. The only hope which remains is that Lizzy might find someone to accept her as she is.”

“True love,” Bingley nodded in understanding. He paused, wondering if he would be breaking some brotherly code if he revealed Darcy’s intentions toward Miss Elizabeth. Hang it! Jane was the woman he had chosen as his wife: he must learn to share his confidences with her over anyone else.

“Darcy is courting Miss Elizabeth,” he said cautiously. “I know he would not do that without honorable intentions, and I do not think he would enter marriage without at least a hope of love.”

Jane smiled fondly. “Yes, I had come to the conclusion myself some time ago now, though I fear that Lizzy may not realize it.”

“I know from my own family that sisters share much with each other, and guard their secrets closely. Do you know, without betraying her trust, if Miss Elizabeth is at all amenable to Darcy?”

Jane frowned. “I think she would be, if she allowed herself. The problem is that she spends so much time as a dragon that she thinks like one. At times I do not think she considers herself human at all. In her mind, what human would court a dragon? But I fear for her. She has so little time left…”

“And that is why you wish to wait,” Bingley realized. “For Miss Elizabeth. For her curse to be broken or…” It seemed rude to mention that the curse would completely take her over.

“Yes,” Jane answered simply. “I am sorry, Mr. Bingley, if you think I have been leading you on. That was not my intention. I… I care for you, above anyone else. But I do not think I can commit while Lizzy’s fate is still undecided. I would… understand if you decided not to wait—”

“No,” Bingley interrupted. “I understand your need to see to your family first. I love you, and I would wait as long as I had to in order to call you my own darling Jane.”

She gasped, her eyes growing moist. Unable to stand being apart from her, he gathered her in his arms. Bingley knew it was not proper, but they were alone and he sensed that both of them needed the reassurance. She returned his embrace and the feel of her arms around him enflamed his senses.

For everyone’s sake, he hoped that things between Miss Elizabeth and Darcy were settled quickly.

***



Well, what do you think of Bingley's reaction to Elizabeth?
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse Chapter 16

Autumn DJune 12, 2017 01:22PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 16

E. GarmanJune 16, 2017 11:26PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 16

Linnea EileenJune 14, 2017 12:17AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 16

Elizabeth A.June 13, 2017 07:16AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 16

Michelle AnnJune 12, 2017 11:54PM



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