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The Curse Chapter 17

July 09, 2017 08:18PM
Hi folks! Thanks for being patient with me during my move. The move itself was pretty crazy, and things are still not fully settled, but it's slowly coming together. I barely got my computer set up a couple days ago. There is still a ton of work to be done, not the least of which is look for a job, but I wanted to bring you a chapter today. I can't promise regular posts right now, but I'm going to try for once every couple weeks. I still love hearing from you!

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

Chapter 17


Something intruded on the edges of Darcy’s consciousness, threatening to wake him from slumber.


It was a noise, not in his ears but within his mind, like someone calling him from far away.


Darcy jolted awake, his body jerking under the covers, his heart pounding in sudden alarm.

About time you woke up, Snowman, said the persistent voice in his mind.

Darcy groaned, rolling onto his back and scrubbing at his face. It was dark in his room, well before dawn.

Do you not think we are too old to use those sobriquets, Ashes? he said sleepily.

Hah! Speak for yourself, Snowman. Be grateful I stopped calling you Snowboy.

You only stopped when I grew taller than you, Darcy retorted.

That is the only way in which you manage to trounce me.

Darcy snorted. What do you want, Richard?

His cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, fire mage and close companion of his youth, replied, I am glad to see you are awake at this hour, with his usual cheer.

Darcy groaned again and pressed his pillow over his face. I was not awake, before you disturbed me.

My word, you do like to sleep late! I have already been awake for a couple of hours.

Darcy gritted his teeth against a sharp reply. He was used to rising shortly before the dawn, but his cousin took the term ‘early riser’ to a whole new level.

Is there something you need?

Actually, I have leave coming up. I was wondering if I could spend it with you.
There was a note of unease in Richard’s voice.

Did you argue with Henry again? Darcy asked wisely.

Always, Richard said bitterly. He cannot comprehend that I might not want to do this for the rest of my life.

Darcy was the only one who was aware of Richard’s growing disgust with burning men to death. Henry, Richard's older brother and heir to the earl of Matlock, did not understand how Richard could shirk his duty by not wishing to fight. Unfortunately, Ashes had no means to support himself should he decide to sell his commission and leave the army. His talents as a fire mage meant that the army strongly discouraged his leaving.

You are welcome at my townhouse or Pemberley at any time, Darcy said promptly, as he had told Richard many times before.

But you are not there at the moment, are you? Richard asked shrewdly. Where are you? You feel further than London, but not so far as Pemberley. Are you traveling?

No, I am in Hertfordshire.

Hertfordshire? What on earth could draw you there?

Darcy smirked as he thought of a very powerful reason for him to be drawn to the county. I am staying with a friend. He explained the situation with Bingley and Netherfield.

Bingley! Richard exclaimed happily. A delightful chap to be sure. Can I get him drunk?

Darcy said quickly. His cousin found a drunken Bingley to be oddly sagacious and hilarious, but tended to goad him on like a favored pet. He sighed. But I will ask Bingley if you could stay with us. I am sure he would not mind.

So who is Bingley’s interest at the moment?

You gossip worse than the ton.

Then does he not have anyone? That does not sound like him.

Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose. Bingley has expressed an interest in one of the local ladies. He felt guilty for revealing such, but he was hoping that talking about Miss Bennet would give him a way to lead into Elizabeth.

Excellent! And how long do you suppose this one will last?

Darcy admonished. Do not be so petty.

There was a pause. I am sorry, Darcy, I did not mean to be. You have never approved of his many belles before. What makes this one different?

Darcy squeezed his eyes shut. Recalling his arguments with Bingley was still painful. I think I have done much wrong by Bingley. I do believe he is serious this time, and as the lady in question cares for him as well, it is not my place to interfere.

You are acting differently, Richard said suspiciously. Are you dying?

Being away from Elizabeth, denying his attraction to her, had felt like dying, never mind his very real brush with death before she had pulled him from the river.

I am well. I suppose I have had reason to rethink parts of my life. Actually, I would be very happy if Bingley consents to your presence. Darcy took a deep breath to brace himself. There is someone here I would like you to meet.

Is there? Richard teased slyly, Is she very pretty?

Darcy’s mouth felt dry when he answered, Yes.

Good God, you are serious! What is it with the Hertfordshire air that both you and Bingley have found matches? And do they have sisters?

Darcy chuckled, even though his face felt hot. They are sisters. And there are three more as yet unattached, though I must caution you against trifling with them.

Yes, I know, you and Bingley will act as their protective older brothers and try to thrash me, as well as their own brothers.

They have no brothers, Darcy corrected, and while Bingley and I will be quick to defend them, it is more Elizabeth that you would have to fear. He smiled as he remembered Elizabeth’s protective instincts.

That would be your Elizabeth, then? Richard asked astutely.

Darcy cursed himself inwardly, but admitted it freely. Yes, if she will have me.

Richard laughed. As if there is any doubt.

Darcy did not answer, and Richard’s amusement abruptly cut off.

Darcy? Is there a problem? What reason could your lady have to reject you? Is she… unsuitable for some reason?

Darcy exclaimed. There is nothing unsuitable about her or her family. The younger sisters are… excitable. But they are the daughters of a gentleman. Their fortune is not large, but you know Bingley and I have no need of money. The only flaw I can find is that their father’s property is entailed away from the female line, and as their father has no male heirs, their property shall go to a distant cousin upon his demise.

Darcy, you astound me! I thought for sure you were holding out for a title you could tolerate.

Darcy was immediately uncomfortable. Do you think me so mercenary?

A pause. No, but you have always been so highly selective about your prospective attachments that I was sure you were waiting for something specific.

I was,
Darcy whispered. I was waiting for love.

Are you so certain, then?

I am.
His reply was firm, but he was compelled to add, But there is a complication.

You are worrying me. I have never known you to be so secretive about anything this important.

Darcy suppressed a surge of anger. Partly, it is not my story to tell. But also, there is magic involved, and a curse.

Have you been cursed?

No, not I.

Then it is the lady who suffers. Darcy… are you certain that your feelings for her are real and you are not caught up in the tragic romance of it?

No. You think I see myself as a hero in a Shakespearian drama but that cannot be further from the truth. If you come here, you would see differently.

Very well, I shall reserve my judgement then. When will you be able to speak with Bingley?

When he rises at a more reasonable hour.

Then not until nearly tea time

Richard, be kind, Darcy admonished.

If you insist, Richard said breezily.

The more Darcy thought about his cousin in Hertfordshire, the more it appealed to him. If for whatever reason Bingley would prefer you not to be at Netherfield, I will put you up myself in the local inn. I want you here.

Sounds serious, Darcy.

It is. There is something I could use your help with.
He explained Wickham’s presence in Meryton.

That blackguard! I should like to run him through if you will not let me set him on fire.

Darcy chuckled, thinking that Elizabeth would be just as likely to breathe fire on the scoundrel if he threatened her sisters.

You may have to get in line behind Elizabeth. Wickham tried to work his magic on her and her sisters, and she was not pleased by it, to say the least. She is formidable when defending her family.

She sounds like quite the dragon,
Richard teased.

Darcy choked on his breath. How had his cousin guessed? He had mentioned the curse but not what form it took. Though he trusted Richard with his life, he had not meant to reveal Elizabeth’s condition without consulting her first.

Darcy? Richard asked in alarm. She is not such a dragon, is she?

If you mean, is she a harridan, then no, she is not.
Darcy replied cautiously.

Richard sighed with relief. You had me worried, Snowman! For a moment I thought you had chosen a conspecific of Aunt Catherine!

Heaven forbid!
Darcy shuddered. There is another matter, besides Wickham, that I should like your assistance on. I mentioned before that Elizabeth’s family estate is entitled on a cousin?

Yes, I remember.

The cousin is visiting for a time. I have met him and believe him to be the same if not worse than Wickham, though with none of the latter’s charm. He is puffed up with his own importance and acts as little more than a bully to the ladies of the family. He has set his sights particularly on the middle sister, Miss Mary.

And she does not wish to accept him?

Darcy hesitated. I think she feels obligated to accept him for the sake of her family. I am attempting to show her that she is not confined in her options.

And what do you want me to do with her? Seduce her away from the cousin?

If you do, Elizabeth will eat you alive,
Darcy said with utter seriousness.

Richard laughed.

Darcy did not bother to correct him. No, I was hoping you could provide another layer of protection for Elizabeth’s sisters. I cannot keep track of both Wickham and Collins, the cousin, by myself, but with you there I shall feel they are safer.

I am at your service, Snowman. I look forward to meeting these paragons of women, able to take two such illustrious gentlemen off the market.

Get off, Ashes!

Farewell Darcy. I will let you know when my leave arrives.

Be safe, Darcy said, and broke the connection. He lay in his bed for a while longer, thinking over his conversation with his cousin. He was eager for Richard to arrive, and not only for the assistance he could provide. Darcy wanted to introduce Elizabeth to his family; Richard would be the easiest to start with. He just hoped they got along with each other.

Bingley, when he finally came down for breakfast several hours after Darcy had been so rudely awoken, was pleased to have news from Richard and immediately extended the invitation to him.

“Please, the more the merrier!” Bingley exclaimed. “Tell him at once, would you?” He touched his forehead.

“I will,” Darcy said, pleased. He contacted Richard again briefly, then reported, “He will be here the day after tomorrow.”

Bingley was startled. “That is fast.”

“Richard is pulling strings to get the services of a teleporter. The perks of being in the service, he says,” Darcy said dryly, but privately he was worried about his cousin. It was not like Richard to retreat so quickly from his post. He must be far more tired of the war than he let on. Darcy wondered if there was some way he could lean on his cousin to encourage him to give up his commission during his stay at Netherfield. He was willing to grease a few palms himself to make it easier.

Though speaking of Richard’s presence at Netherfield… “Err, Bingley?” Darcy began.

“Yes?” Bingley answered guilelessly.

“Do you not think it rather… prudent, to lock up the strong drink while Richard is in residence?”

The tips of Bingley’s ears turned pink. “Uh, yes, excellent suggestion, Darcy. I shall have Mrs. Nicholls do that presently.”

Richard arrived promptly two days later. The empty ballroom at Netherfield was chosen as Richard’s landing place, using Darcy as an anchor for the teleporter to locate. It was a very odd sensation of having a strange mage—introduced by Richard—lean on his mind. Right before the teleportation it felt like he was suddenly underwater with the pressure placed on his sinuses. Then with a whumph! of displaced air, the pressure ceased and Richard, his luggage, and the teleporter appeared in the ballroom. There was an impressed gasp from the onlookers: Bingley, Darcy and several of the household staff appointed to take the luggage.

Richard looked particularly sharp in his uniform, standing at strict attention. The teleporter looked around, thanked Darcy for his use, and then disappeared with a quieter pop! Richard’s decorum did not last a second longer.

“Darcy!” he roared, raising his hand and sending a jet of flame toward his cousin. There were several screams as the staff ducked in alarm. Even Bingley flinched back.

Darcy, having anticipated this greeting, had arranged for a bucket of water to be placed at his feet. His magic seized the water and he flung out his own hand, ice meeting Richard’s fire in a collusion of hissing steam. The steam cloud rose and dissipated harmlessly. Richard came striding through it and gave Darcy a hard hug before heartily shaking Bingley’s hand. Darcy heard Bingley’s teeth click with the force of the greeting.

“It is good to be here!” Richard declared, grinning broadly. “So when do I get to meet these amazing sisters?”

“We have an appointment to dine with them tonight,” Darcy reported.

“Excellent!” Richard draped his arms over both Darcy and Bingley’s shoulders and grinned. “So… Fancy a drink?”

After narrowly managing to extract Bingley from Richard’s grip, Darcy took the opportunity to bring his cousin to Darcy’s room. Richard sat on the bed while Darcy took a chair.

“How is the war?” Darcy began.

“You know I cannot talk of it,” Richard waved his hand dismissively, though Darcy suspected it was more like Richard wanted to avoid the topic now that he was away from it.

“And how are you?”

“As well as can be,” Richard seemed tense and Darcy found himself wishing he could offer his cousin a drink to loosen him up.

“Did you have any trouble arranging your leave so quickly?” he asked instead.

“Not so much. I have been due for a long time. They were reluctant to let me go, but really they had no choice.”

“I am glad to see you here, Ashes.”

“Ashes!” Richard suddenly snarled, raking his fingers through his hair. “Yes, ashes! That is all they think of me, ashes! Ashes are all that are left when I am done! Ashes of homes, of villages burnt down. Ashes of boys stuck on my clothes, on my face, in my hair! I can never be free of them! It is not as much fun as when we were children. Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down!” Richard threw himself backwards on Darcy’s bed, his legs still hanging over the sides.

“Calm down, Richard,” Darcy said in alarm. “If you want to be free of the war, you can.”

“Can I?” Richard asked, his voice pleading. “On my hands, so many ashes. I can feel them. Can you see them? They are stained, grey and black forever. What else do these hands know to do, but make ashes?” He held up his hands; they looked clean to Darcy, but he knew some stains ran deeper than skin.

He rose and made his way to his cousin’s side. For very short journeys, no more than the length of a small room, he no longer had to use his cane, though it pronounced his limp to not have it to lean on. Flaring his magic, Darcy reached out and placed a cool hand on Richard’s forehead. The soldier flinched and tried to swat him away, but Darcy persisted.

“You are overwrought, Ash—”

Richard tensed.

“Richard,” Darcy finished instead. “Rest for a bit. Aunt Eleanor is right, all this heat goes to your head sometimes.”

“You know nothing of it,” Richard grumbled, but his eyes were already closed. Then, “Thank you, Snowman.”

“Think nothing of it,” Darcy replied, his heart heavy. He had suspected his cousin had wearied of the war, but he had not guessed it was as bad as this. He kept watch while Richard slept.

By the time the dinner appointment approached, Richard was in much restored spirits. Whether it was from several hours of rest or if he was simply hiding his true state of mind, Darcy could not say. He was even more determined that his cousin should not go back to war. He was willing to physically restrain Richard if necessary; perhaps Elizabeth would be willing to drain the fire magic from him temporarily? She only had to hold him long enough for Darcy to buy a forgery of the proper paperwork and then his cousin could be free of both the war and restraints.

Richard was somewhat surprised that the journey to Longbourn was made in a carriage rather than by horseback. He eyed Darcy’s barely restrained panic about being in the carriage, as well as studied Darcy’s limp and cane when he emerged from the contraption. Darcy knew he would have to explain things to his cousin when they returned to Netherfield, though he was uncertain how to do that without mentioning a certain dragon. Richard was too well bred to bring it up in front of others, so Darcy had time to plan what he would say.

His cousin was his usual charming self while at Longbourn. Darcy took particular pleasure in introducing Richard to the Bennet sisters, particularly Elizabeth. Richard greeted each person as exuberantly as the last, all smiles and open flirtation, even to Mrs. Bennet. The matron blushed and stammered; it was clear Richard had made another conquest. There was something in Richard’s manner that put everyone at ease. He was a flirt without singling out anyone in particular, never stepping over the bounds of propriety. Elizabeth looked cautious at first introduction, but within minutes she was laughing with everyone else at one of Richard’s stories.

That was something Darcy had always envied about his cousin. Unlike Darcy, Richard had no problem inserting himself into any conversation, able to speak without giving offence or struggling to find the words. Though Richard confined himself mostly to the ladies, even Mr. Bennet looked amused at his antics. The only person who was thoroughly displeased with the arrangement was Mr. Collins.

Richard’s personality was brighter, more commanding than his own, and Collins was reduced to sitting on the edges of the group without a word to say. It was not that Richard deliberately excluded the other gentleman; rather Richard’s style of conversation was too quick for the parson, who could not keep up or give reasonable responses that did not make him look foolish. Darcy also had little to say, but that was out of inclination. For now it contented him to sit back and watch his cousin win over his future relations.

Elizabeth certainly seemed taken by Richard. It helped that once the colonel had identified Miss Mary, he pointedly included her in every discussion. Miss Mary’s shyness made her stammer and shrink back at first, but Richard was gently persistent until she began to emerge from her self-imposed isolation.

In a way Darcy felt almost sorry for Miss Mary. He was also quiet and retiring by nature, yet Richard had brought him into the open many a time. He understood how it felt to be the focus of Richard’s forceful personality. It was never meanly done—at least to the people Richard liked—but it usually felt overwhelming at first. It helped that Miss Mary was in her own home surrounded by family. Truly there was only one person who was disgruntled by the attention that Miss Mary received, and that was her would-be suitor.

Within minutes of singling out Miss Mary, Richard started in on her. Like Darcy, the colonel was the kind of man that could not bear to see women mistreated. The obvious disparity between Miss Mary and her sisters irked Richard, who began to tease Miss Mary about it.

“I say,” he exclaimed upon seeing her squint, “Do you require glasses to see?”

“Y-yes,” she stammered nervously.

“Then by thunder why are you not wearing them?”

She gaped at him. Darcy noticed Elizabeth tensing and hid a smile behind his hand. If Richard was not careful, his usual blustering manner could gain him the ire of a dragon.

Collins, at this point dared to speak. “The wearing of spectacles and other adornments is a symptom of vanity—”

“Vanity?” Richard’s voice turned loud and the room warmed by a few degrees before he gained control of his magic again. Darcy warily prepared his own magic in case intervention was needed, casting a glance at Elizabeth. She was also on alert, but seemed more curious than worried.

Collins nodded in his pompous way.

Richard almost roared with laughter. “Of course it is vanity!” he declared. “It is my vanity, for how can I expect a woman to fully admire me if she cannot see me clearly?”

Collins stuttered incoherently at this piece of outrageous conceit, while Darcy tried not to laugh. He knew his cousin was not nearly that arrogant about his looks, but it was the perfect way to deflect the attention to himself rather than let Miss Mary take the brunt of it. Amused glances shot around the room, but no one quite dared to speak.

Mr. Bennet, his eyes crinkled with humor, took a pair of glasses from his pocket and pushed the lens out of the frames. He held them in his hand, muttered under his breath, then passed them around the room in a circuitous manner so as to send the frames to Mary without them coming in contact with Elizabeth. Richard watched this happening with a keen gaze and Darcy knew he would have yet one more thing to explain later.

“If Lizzy can contain herself for the evening,” Mr. Bennet said, “Those should just about last the night.”

Miss Mary pushed the magicked frames onto her face and blinked as her vision instantly cleared.

“Much better!” Richard exclaimed. “Or rather, I should say, am I looking much better now?” He struck an elaborate pose, watching her expectantly.

Miss Mary let out a nervous giggle and nodded. The entire room seemed to relax and conversation flowed again. Darcy thought he heard Collins grinding his teeth from where he sulked in a corner, nearly forgotten.

Richard allowed matters to rest for a little time, but when he glanced at Darcy with a twinkle in his eye, Darcy knew Richard was about to start again.

“Women,” Richard began a new topic, “Are beautiful creatures. Yes, all women are beautiful, especially present company.”

He looked around the room pointedly. The reaction varied from titters and preening from Mrs. Bennet and her youngest daughters, to blushing from Miss Mary and Miss Bennet, to amused looks from both Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet. They knew Richard was up to something. Bingley merely watched events with interest, for it was not often he met someone more garrulous than himself. Collins scowled. Darcy suspected this beginning had something to do with Miss Mary, though Richard had not singled her out yet.

“Women are so beautiful that they deserve the kind of attire to match them. I would say it is a privilege of men to be able to provide such clothing for them,” Richard went on. He did not look directly at Miss Mary, but it was becoming clear what he was speaking of. Her clothing was ugly compared to her sisters. Miss Mary looked down, fiddling with a rough fold in her gown.

“Let each man dress the women in his care in the best he can afford. There is no shame in rags, if that is all he can buy, for a woman is so beautiful that she will improve whatever she wears. On the other hand, if a man can afford much better and give her only rags, then shame on him, for he knows not how to value a woman.”

His eyes fixed on Collins, narrowing pointedly at the parson as he delivered the final blow.

“Every woman,” he declared, “Deserves to feel as beautiful as she is.”

Collins squirmed uncomfortably, but before he could defend himself, Miss Mary let out a quiet sob and fled the room.

Miss Bennet and Elizabeth both rose to go after her, but Miss Bennet pressed Elizabeth back to her seat. “Stay here, Lizzy, I will talk to her.”

Elizabeth sat, watching Richard speculatively. Richard, his gaze still focused on Collins, acted as if he had not noticed anything else in the room. Finally the colonel looked away with an abrupt jerk of his head, dismissing Collins as not worthy of the attention. Darcy felt uneasy with this turn of events. He had wanted Richard to be a barrier between Collins and Miss Mary, but not to the point where the poor girl fled the room in tears. Surely Elizabeth would have something to say about that?

Darcy felt that his cousin had taken things too far. As he was seated across the room from Elizabeth and did not wish to draw attention to himself by crossing it to speak with her, he resorted to mental contact.

Miss Elizabeth, he began.

She jumped and looked at him. She gave a small nod for him to continue.

My cousin meant well; I had told him beforehand to be cautious of Collins, but I did not think he would be so determined.

It is well, Mr. Darcy, she smiled. I can hear Jane and Mary upstairs; they will both be coming back shortly.

Darcy was relieved that she was not upset at Richard’s actions. As Elizabeth had said, Miss Bennet and Miss Mary came downstairs shortly—and Miss Mary had changed into a dress more appropriate for her station. Collins gave a rather wet snort, which went ignored in the room. Miss Mary seemed shy and uncertain about her reception.

Richard, I think you should leave Miss Mary alone now, she has had enough, Darcy cautioned his cousin.

Be quiet, Snowman, Richard shot back. You know nothing of women. Leaving her alone is the worst thing I could do to her right now.

The gentlemen had risen when the ladies came back into the room, and now Richard moved forward to greet them. Or, more specifically, to greet Miss Mary.

Miss Bennet stepped aside, returning to Bingley, as Richard bowed to Miss Mary.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said, as if they had only then been introduced. “You are truly a charm.”

She blushed as Richard extended his arm to her. Very hesitantly, she slid her hand onto his arm.

“Thank you, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” she replied softly as she smiled up at him.

Uncharacteristically, Richard stumbled. There was an expression on his face that Darcy had never seen before.

Richard? Darcy asked in alarm.

Richard ended the connection with a snap that felt like a flick to his cheek. Darcy was concerned for his cousin, but dinner was announced just then. Richard appeared to have recovered his equilibrium and was once more all smiles and agile conversation over the course of the dinner.

There was no separation of the sexes after the meal, allowing the party to flow freely from the dining room to the sitting room. This time Darcy found Miss Mary seated close to him. She watched the proceedings with interest, but did not attempt to put herself forward. Richard made no attempt to single her out, which seemed to suit her.

Darcy felt obligated to say something on the behalf of his cousin. “I should like to apologize, Miss Mary,” he began awkwardly, “If my cousin has given offence, or if he has been too harsh tonight.”

She gave him a surprised look. “No, Mr. Darcy, there is no need for an apology. Colonel Fitzwilliam is… energetic, but there is no malice in him. I am not hurt.”

Upon closer inspection, Miss Mary appeared more relaxed and happy than he had seen her for a while. Collins had retired almost directly after the meal and the entire atmosphere was lightened in his absence. Perhaps Richard did know how far he could push without causing pain. He had done more for Miss Mary in the course of an evening than Elizabeth had managed since Collins had arrived for his visit.

For now, Elizabeth was the one that Richard spoke most to.

“You are a fire mage?” asked Elizabeth, her face lighting with recognition. “No wonder your magic felt familiar. I also have an affinity with fire.”

“Do you?” Richard asked. “Let us see it, then.”

Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia both giggled, while Miss Bennet, Miss Mary and Mr. Bennet all gave Elizabeth nearly identical looks of warning. Bingley glanced at Darcy with his eyebrows raised; Darcy shook his head very slightly. He realized that Elizabeth could only work with fire in her dragon form, which was not something to reveal lightly. Elizabeth peered around and blushed.

“My apologies, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” she said in a subdued voice. “What I meant when I spoke was that I like to see the fire burn; I cannot work magic to control it.”

Richard took in the various expressions around the room. Darcy knew his cousin could tell they were hiding something and prayed that Richard would leave it alone.

“Well, then, let me show you a treat,” the colonel said. “Give me your hand.”

He extended his hand toward Elizabeth. She did not hesitate to put hers in his grip. Darcy felt slightly envious of the way that Richard was so easy around other people, especially women. He would have loved to be able to hold Elizabeth’s hand like that, but all he could offer her was ice.

Richard turned Elizabeth’s hand palm upward, his hand supporting hers underneath. In his other hand, Richard summoned enough flame to fill a teakettle. There was an impressed murmur around the room, but Darcy was less certain about Richard’s actions. What was his cousin planning?

The fire mage brought the flames close to where Elizabeth’s hand was resting on his. Darcy tensed, realizing what Richard was intending and not at all sure it would work with Elizabeth’s dragon magic. Darcy prepared his own magic, ready to intervene if necessary.

“Be careful,” Mr. Bennet warned seriously. He too realized where this was going and was uncertain of its success.

“Relax,” Richard said calmingly. “Do you trust me?”

Elizabeth glanced at her father, and then took a deep breath. A furrow appeared between her brows as she set her shoulders. Darcy imagined she was concentrating on containing her own magic.

“I am ready,” she said boldly.

Richard brought the flames near and then very cautiously tipped them into her hand. With his hand under hers, Richard was able to control the fire so that it did not burn her, giving the appearance that she was holding the flames.

“Bravo, Miss Elizabeth,” Richard said with a grin, brandishing the hand that no longer held the fire.

Elizabeth did not respond, staring into the flames with a rapt expression. Darcy wondered what she was thinking, if she was able to feel the fire at all or if all her attention was on containing her magic. The rest of the room was similarly tense. Richard frowned as he looked around, used to a much more positive reaction to this particular trick. He tried to catch Darcy’s eye, but Darcy never looked away from Elizabeth.

He saw the moment she stopped fighting her magic. Her body relaxed a tiny bit, while it appeared that her eyes flashed. Richard’s flames suddenly faltered like a candle about to gutter out. The colonel quickly brought his spare hand under his other, trying to bolster the dying flames. They steadied after a moment, but Darcy saw beads of sweat stand out on his cousin’s forehead. It was clear that Richard had just encountered the dragon’s peculiar taste for magic and it was unlike anything he had faced before.

Elizabeth deftly slipped her hand out of Richard’s grip. “Thank you, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” she said brightly. “It was most entertaining.”

Darcy released his own tension through pursed lips. Richard still looked puzzled, but allowed the moment to pass. He began to regale them with stories of his magic instead. Darcy worried that Richard might speak too much of the war for the ladies present, but the colonel confined himself to amusing anecdotes, such as the time he was showing off and accidentally set fire to the tree directly above the general’s tent.

“Do you know, Miss Elizabeth,” he said teasingly, “They call me the Dragon in my unit?”

Darcy stiffened. How had Richard guessed? Darcy had never shared the details of Elizabeth’s curse, not even given a hint as to how it manifested. Was the little Richard had seen of Elizabeth enough for him to make such a leap? The rest of the family had become very still, watching Elizabeth closely. If Richard had not known before, surely it was confirmed now!

The only one not to share the alarm was Elizabeth. She gave Richard a sardonic grin.

“Do they now?” she asked archly, no hint of doubt in her voice. Darcy admired her sure poise. “And why is that?”

Richard nodded, taking a sip of the brandy that had been offered him. Too late Darcy realized what his cousin was going to do.

“No, Richard!” he began, to no avail.

Richard squeezed out a thin stream of brandy from between his lips, simultaneously igniting it so that it appeared he was breathing fire. The fire shot halfway across the room, making most people duck. Everyone was shocked by the display, even Bingley and Darcy, who had seen this trick before. The only ones not in complete awe over the fire breathing were Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth.

Mr. Bennet covered his face with his hand, his shoulders shaking with laughter.

Elizabeth eyed Richard, then looked to Darcy with an amused smirk. He knew at once that she was thinking of her own rather more impressive fire breathing as a dragon.

Finally, Mrs. Bennet, once she recovered from the surprise, grumbled, “Another fire breather! As if one was not enough!” She shot Elizabeth a venomous look.

Elizabeth’s expression turned stoic. Darcy had little respect for Mrs. Bennet, especially after the way she handled Collins and Elizabeth. It was not that Darcy wanted Collins fawning over his Elizabeth, but the manner in which Mrs. Bennet did it was both despicable and damaging. To criticize her daughter in front of company could only lower her more in his estimation.

Richard’s head swung back and forth like a dog searching for a scent. Darcy hastily intervened.

Leave this one alone, Richard. I mean it, you do not know all the particulars.

My teeth ache with all the mysteries around here,
Richard replied, but did not pursue the matter.

“Have you ever seen a live dragon, Colonel Fitzwilliam?” Elizabeth asked.

“I have,” Richard answered. “We traveled over some rather remote terrain in the army and I had the privilege of seeing several live dragons, always from a distance, of course. One big fellow was nearly the size of a mastiff; very impressive, I thought him. Some of the men wanted to hunt the dragons for the bounty, but I would not let them. For the most part, they fled quickly and did not bother us. I understand that larger dragons have become extinct, though I would have loved to have seen one.”

“Nearly all extinct,” Elizabeth returned teasingly. “Perhaps one day you will see a large dragon.”

“I can only hope,” he said, then easily changed the subject.

Eventually, it came time for the Netherfield gentlemen to leave Longbourn. Overall, Darcy considered Richard’s first introduction to the Bennets to be a success.

So what do you think of my Colonel Dragon?

The Curse Chapter 17

Autumn DJuly 09, 2017 08:18PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 17

KateBJuly 10, 2017 02:04AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 17

RoxeyJuly 09, 2017 09:16PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 17

Linnea EileenJuly 09, 2017 08:38PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 17

Linnea EileenJuly 09, 2017 08:55PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 17

MelanieJuly 10, 2017 05:40PM


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