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The Curse Chapter 18

July 24, 2017 02:49PM
Sorry I'm a day late! I blame the refrigerators! Seriously, we had to move three fridges yesterday, which involved a whole lot of heavy lifting until I basicall collapsed in my bed last night, vowing to promise in the morning... You guys have been so patient we me, you rock!

You know who else rocks? My awesome betas, dreeem, priscillalts, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily!

Chapter 18

Darcy was not surprised when Richard followed him into his room.

“What is she?” Richard asked as soon as the door shut behind him. “She is not a magic-eater, for there is still some aura of power around her. But I swear she did something to my magic; it was harder to work around her.” Richard squinted at Darcy. “I think you are stronger too, than you were before, most likely from being in contact with her.”

So it seemed that Richard had not guessed Elizabeth’s secret life as a dragon, despite their conversation on the subject.

“I assume you mean Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy replied, trying to gain more time in which to think of an answer. “She is certainly not a magic-eater.”

Richard gave him a withering look. “Do not be daft, you know I am speaking of her, and I have already established that she is not a magic-eater.”

“Elizabeth has a… unique relationship with magic,” Darcy hedged.

“Does it have to do with her curse?” Richard asked shrewdly.

Darcy remained silent.

“Come on, Snowman! You already said she was cursed. I experienced her effect on magic personally, and I could not tread in that house without stumbling on a secret. I am neither blind nor deaf. Tell me something.”

“If I hesitate,” Darcy retorted, “It is because the secrets are not mine to share. I do not feel comfortable giving up confidences before I have had a chance to speak with Elizabeth, Ash—”

Richard flinched.

“Cinder,” Darcy finished.

Richard eyed him cautiously. “Cinder…” he mused aloud. “From cinders, new fires are born. Yes, I think that is acceptable, Snowman. So if you will not or cannot tell me about your love, tell me about yourself instead. You are not the same Darcy I knew before.” Richard gestured to Darcy’s leg and cane, detailing the most visible changes.

Darcy had known this was coming, but he still felt reluctant to begin. Partly he did not like to recall the traumatic experiences, and partly his rescue was because that had been the first time he had met the woman he loved. He may not have known it at the time, but now those moments were precious to him: he met her and she had saved his life. Of course, Darcy would not be giving those exact details.

He told the story to Richard, minimizing the seriousness of the accident and avoiding all mention of dragons.

“If you were trapped under the carriage, how did you get out?” Richard pointed out.

Darcy stifled a groan. He should have known better than to keep details from his keen-minded cousin. He did not answer and Richard huffed in frustration.

“Well then! Keep your secrets if you must, but know that I am seriously displeased with you!” Richard said in a passable imitation of Aunt Catherine.

Darcy laughed. “I am sorry, Cinder. If it was only me, I would not hesitate to tell you all. But this is a story that involves others. I should rather consult them before I give away their secrets.”

Richard studied him for a long moment. “Then it involves your Miss Elizabeth again?”

Darcy choked.

Richard held up his hand. “No need to pretend innocence, Snowman. Your expression says as much. I shall not press, but my curiosity is very great now. I think I should like to speak with Miss Elizabeth and see if I can discover some answers myself.”

“If she tells you, I have no objection,” Darcy replied.

“We will see,” Richard concluded, rising and moved toward the door. “Good night, Darcy.”

“Good night, Cinder,” Darcy responded softly as his cousin left the room. He was deeply glad to have Richard present in Hertfordshire. Not only did he have someone to count on when it came to protecting Elizabeth and her sisters, but it was a relief to have one of his family near. Richard had got on splendidly with Elizabeth; they were sure to be fast friends.

Being away from the war would be just as good for Richard as well. His cousin seemed to have lost his way in the trenches; a single evening in genteel company, and Richard was already inquisitive and showing off again. Now if only there was a way to keep his cousin a civilian.

Darcy was woken the next morning by someone knocking loudly on his door. It sounded more like cannon fire to his sleep-addling mind. Without further warning, Richard burst into the room.

“Good morning, Snowman!” he cried, far too aggressively cheerful for this time of the morning.

Darcy muttered something unflattering under his breath.

“Still in bed at this hour? Get up, Darcy. I want to go riding.”

Darcy reluctantly sat up in bed. The windows showed the grey pre-dawn light, but by his appearance, Richard was already up, bathed and dressed for the day. He was even armed with both pistol and saber.

“I cannot ride,” Darcy grumbled. “My leg will not let me.”

“But you can walk, yes? So we will go walking, and who better to show me the grounds than you?”

Knowing it would be impossible to convince Richard to let him sleep longer, Darcy scrubbed his hands over his face and nodded. Richard did not move.

“Do you mind waiting outside while I dress?” Darcy asked sharply.

“It does not bother me; on the front line when opportunities for a wash are few, the lads do not scruple when it comes to getting clean. I have seen it all before.”

“I am neither on the front lines nor one of your ‘lads’,” Darcy snapped. “I am not accustomed to dressing in front of my cousin.”

“I want to see your leg,” Richard suddenly dropped his jovial manner.

“What?” Darcy was even less pleased by this pronouncement. He felt a chill at the thought of someone seeing the mangled scars of his leg. It was both ugly and humiliating; he hated the idea of showing someone else, even his cousin, the evidence of being a cripple.

“In all seriousness,” Richard said in a stern manner, “I want to see your leg.”

“You think you know better than a healer?” Darcy scoffed. Part of him knew he was acting petulantly, but in truth the idea of revealing his leg to view made his heart pound in panic. It was a symbol of failure. He was alive, yes, but he would never be the man he had been before.

“No offence to either yourself or the healer’s guild, but a healer comes and leaves. I have lived with the men who have those wounds. I have seen what happens when the wounds heal—and when they do not. I should like to see for myself how extensive the damage is.”

Darcy grumbled, but pulled back the bed covers and revealed his leg. He kept his eyes on Richard’s face, not wanting to see those scars again. His cousin’s expression remained impassive, revealing nothing. At last Richard nodded. Darcy rose and silently dressed himself, not saying anything until he was fully clothed.

“Well?” he asked abruptly, steeling himself for his cousin’s assessment.

“I have seen worse,” Richard replied neutrally. “Clearly the damage was very deep, but the muscle seems fairly sound under it. You say you cannot ride, but I think you could do more than you believe. You must strengthen the leg, but it seems to me there is no reason that you could not regain the full use of it.”

Tears burned unexpectedly in Darcy’s eyes. It was true that before his cousin had arrived, he had stopped pushing himself, thinking that he had recovered as much as he was able. To hear that Richard—soldier of the front lines who had surely seen debilitating injuries before—believed he could still improve was an unexpected joy. Hope blossomed in his chest and he coughed to cover the sudden relief he felt.

Richard clapped Darcy’s shoulder without being overly sentimental. “Come, Snowman. Let us get a hearty breakfast, and then you and I shall take a walk. How far is this Meryton you told me about? If it is any less than two miles, we should walk there today. That will be a start for you.”

Darcy knew without being told that continuing his recovery would be hard and painful, so he made no complaint when Richard set a punishing pace on the road to Meryton. It was barely short of a run; slow for the soldier used to running miles with his men every morning, but rather faster than Darcy would have set for himself. Richard would not let him slow down, making it clear he would leave Darcy behind if he could not keep up. Pride forced Darcy to go on, determined not to show weakness. His leg burned and trembled with the effort, threatening to give out, and Darcy’s hand began to develop blisters where he clutched his cane for support.

However, just as Richard had predicted, Darcy’s leg did not give out. After several minutes the muscles seemed to stretch and relax. He was not sure if that was a sign of improvement, or if his flesh was merely growing numb from the abuse. A short distance outside of Meryton, Richard finally slowed down so that Darcy would not arrive florid and sweating. Richard, of course, showed no strain at all from the quick pace.

Darcy managed to catch his breath by the time they reached Meryton proper. His leg felt warmed and loose, far different from his usual pained stiffness. They strolled through the town leisurely. Darcy had already been here many times, but it was Richard’s first foray. Darcy hoped the small, rather rustic town would remind Richard of life away from the army, of what it could be like without constant struggle, flame and death.

“I say, is that not Miss Lydia standing next to that kindling?” Richard asked.

Darcy looked up; his blood ran cold at the sight of Miss Lydia conversing with Wickham. Magic prickled at Darcy’s fingertips, and he wished to freeze off one of Wickham’s most valued bits.

“Kindling?” Darcy asked as they made their way toward the pair.

“I could make him burn so easily,” Richard intoned.

Darcy cast a sharp look at him. Richard’s eyes were narrowed in hate, his face reddened from his own magic. Darcy put a calming hand on his cousin’s arm.

“While I agree with the sentiment, you have been on the front line too long. It is frowned upon to set fire to someone here.”

“I will not set fire to him,” Richard grumbled. “Much.”

Darcy did not have time to reason with him again, for they had reached Wickham and Miss Lydia. Wickham started when he saw them and shifted to place himself behind Miss Lydia. Darcy scoffed at this piece of cowardice and his cousin shook his head.

“Miss Lydia, Wickham,” Richard greeted them. “Imagine meeting like this.”

“Why not?” Miss Lydia asked with a toss of her head. “We have just as much right to be here as you.”

“That remains to be seen,” Richard said pleasantly, his jaw clenched as he glared at Wickham.

“I do not wish to speak with you,” Miss Lydia declared. “You are the reason the shopkeepers around here will not take dear Mr. Wickham’s money, even though it is more honest than yours. He earned his, while you took away what he should have had in life!”

She was growing passionate, while Darcy felt colder. When he exhaled, his breath was a stream of fog.

Richard bared his teeth in a parody of a grin. “What he should have had in life is my sword through his gut.”

Darcy felt it better to redirect the conversation before Richard gave in to his temper.

“Does your family know you are here?” he asked quickly.

“Of course!” she laughed. “I told Mama that Kitty and I wanted to visit Aunt Phillips this morning, then on the way I ran into my dear Mr. Wickham. He is so much more handsome than Aunt Phillips!”

“I do not think your family would be pleased if they knew you were here instead of your aunt’s home,” Darcy said sternly. “Either continue to her house or return to Longbourn. I care not which, but I insist you quit company with this man.”

Miss Lydia flushed angrily. “I do not answer to you! Neither of us does and you cannot send me away like I am a child!”

Wickham placed a hand on her arm, no doubt trying to use his persuasive talents on her. “Come, my dear, perhaps we should leave.”

Darcy felt a spurt of panic. He knew he must not allow Miss Lydia to leave with Wickham, for there was no telling what he might convince her to do. Her ruination was the least that could happen.

At that point, Richard decided to take matters into his own hands.

“Enough of this!” he growled and threw his hand toward Wickham. A spout of flame roared toward Wickham; the man ducked, but not before the scent of singed hair filled the air. Even though the fire had been aimed at Wickham, Miss Lydia was close enough to him that she cried out with pain at the sudden heat.

Wickham fled without a backwards glance. Miss Lydia watched him go with a confused, lost expression in her eyes. Darcy’s heart twisted: he had seen the same expression only a few months ago, when his sister Georgiana had been shocked out of Wickham’s magic. However, that was where the similarities ended. Instead of turning to doubt and self-recrimination, Miss Lydia’s expression became angry.

“I will tell Lizzy about this, and then you will be sorry!” She stamped her foot then turned and huffed away.

Darcy watched her go with a thread of worry working its way through him. While he was glad Miss Lydia was not as devastated as Georgiana had been, he did wonder what Elizabeth would do to them when she found out the methods used.

“Do you think that was a little harsh?” he ventured to ask Richard.

His cousin snorted. “I barely touched him. The most he will have is some burnt eyebrows. He ran too fast for me to really set him alight.”

“I do not mean to Wickham—I was referring to Miss Lydia.”

“I did not truly damage her, just caused a little pain. You know as well as I that is the best way to free someone from Wickham’s influence. She will not go back to him so trustingly.”

Darcy made a non-committal sound in the back of his throat. “I do not think Elizabeth will like it.”

Suddenly Richard laughed. “Is that what bothers you? I am a colonel of the royal army, one of the best fire mages in England, and have top combat experience. I am not afraid of a country maiden half my weight.”

Darcy wisely remained silent. Richard would have to discover for himself the dangers of frightening Elizabeth’s sisters. It was up to her whether or not she wished to reveal her other form to Richard.

They decided to return to Netherfield shortly after that. Darcy’s leg had stiffened from the unaccustomed exertion, so the pace back was slower than on the journey out. They were halfway to Netherfield, on an empty stretch of road, when Darcy heard a familiar sound: sailcloth—or dragon wings—snapping in the breeze. It was not that he had been listening for it, but he was more attuned to the noise, which is how he caught it and Richard did not.

Darcy looked up, searching for Elizabeth. It was a bright cloudless day; he was surprised she had chosen to go flying, as the possibility of being seen was very strong. Then again, he did not immediately see her, so she was still somehow hidden. It was not until he noticed a flicker of the light that he realized she was approaching them from the angle of the sun, effectively blinding them to her presence.

She was descending rapidly towards them. Before Darcy could decide whether to warn Richard, she let out the shrill cry of a hunting eagle that quickly gained bass rumbles until it was a full-fledged roar. Richard looked around in alarm but Elizabeth’s stoop was so perfect that he did not see her until too late.

Elizabeth descended upon them, full of fury and sounding of thunder. Darcy, who knew perfectly well who it was, felt a primal terror of this perfect hunter coming for them. Even as his body screamed at him to run from certain death, one corner of his mind was swept up in the beauty of her, wings spread, colors brilliant in the sun, claws and fangs reaching for the kill. He was mesmerized almost as the rabbit before the fox, too amazed by her grace and power to think about survival. Then again, he knew she was neither going to kill him, or even strictly aiming at him. No, her wrath was directed at his cousin.

Richard did not take her appearance nearly so well. He jumped when he saw her, reaching for his pistol. Darcy grabbed his arm to prevent him from drawing it. Richard cast up his hand instead, futilely throwing fire in an attempt to ward her off. Darcy winced as the flames washed over her, but they did not affect her. A second later, Richard’s magic suddenly ceased as if it had never been, the result of Elizabeth absorbing his magic with her own dragon ability. Then she breathed fire at them, bigger and hotter than Richard could produce. Though she had aimed above their heads, Richard ducked and scrambled back from her, tripping and accidentally dragging Darcy down with him.

That was when she deigned to speak with them. Darcy could not tell if she was projecting to both of them, or if she simply shouted so loud at Richard that Darcy, still clinging to his cousin’s arm, caught the overflow of it.

If you ever throw fire at my sisters again, I will burn you!

Instantly Darcy had a pounding headache. Tears sprang to his eyes at the pain of it. Never had his mind felt so blasted by mental speech before; it was as potent as a weapon in its own right. His ears rang, from both her roar and the blast of her words.

Richard did not fare any better. The fire mage gaped at Elizabeth. She had landed and now towered over them, bristling and growling. Her wings were spread menacingly, while her tail lashed the air. He tried to push himself away from her, his limbs stiff and uncoordinated. He continued to jerk at the arm Darcy held in order to free his pistol, perhaps not realizing that he was restrained. Richard’s mouth opened and closed repeatedly.

“What… who… dragon… speaking… sister… dragon…” Richard gasped, unable to form a coherent sentence.

Elizabeth kept a smoldering glower on him.

He swallowed hard, but stopped talking and took several deep breaths.

“Miss Elizabeth!” Darcy cried, speaking too loudly as one who had been deafened by an explosion. “I think you should know that Miss Lydia was in the company of Mr. Wickham when we came upon her, and my cousin had aimed only at him.”

Not for nothing was Richard a frontline soldier. He controlled his initial panic quickly and after a moment ventured, “Miss Elizabeth?”

For a heartbeat, Darcy thought she would not answer.

Then she replied simply, Yes.

Even though her voice was much softer this time, Darcy still felt an ache behind his eyes, like pressing on a bruise. His upper lip was wet and when he touched it, his fingers were stained with blood. Looking at Richard confirmed that his cousin was the same, though in both cases the bleeding had already stopped.

Lydia did not mention Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth seemed embarrassed.

Richard glanced at Darcy, both fear and wonder in his eyes. The fire mage released the handle of his pistol and Darcy no longer felt the need to hold his cousin back. Richard climbed cautiously to his feet, offering a hand to Darcy. He took it, grimacing slightly at the pain in his leg. Thankfully he had not fallen on it, but it protested regardless.

“I do apologize,” Richard spoke cautiously. “For my treatment of your sister. I admit my temper got the better of me concerning Wickham, but I meant her no harm.”

She took no injury, Elizabeth said. But I thought to give you a warning. I hope I was not too harsh?

Now Darcy knew she was speaking to both of them, though he was not certain if Richard knew of it.

His cousin laughed nervously. “A warning, was it? I have had attempts on my life that were less nerve-wracking than that.”

Then you will take me seriously, she responded with a playful toss of her head. She folded her wings neatly along her back, her posture no longer threatening.

Richard straightened, quickly regaining his composure. He moved carefully around Elizabeth, staying a prudent distance from her. She watched him, moving only her head to keep him in sight.

“This is your curse, then?” he asked when he had completed a full circuit. “Forgive me, but it does not seem like much of a curse. You—you are magnificent! You are stronger, able to fly, breathe fire. The curse hardly seems like punishment at all.”

Elizabeth cast Darcy a quick glance when Richard mentioned her curse and Darcy wished he could have told his cousin to shut up. Obviously she meant to show Richard her dragon form, but he wished he had had the opportunity to tell her that he had already spoken to Richard.

I happen to agree with your assessment, she said lightly. However, the nature of my curse is that I must spend a majority of my time as a dragon. Eventually I shall not be able to return to my human body at all.

Richard paused in his blatant admiration of her. “That is a shame,” he said quietly.

She shrugged, a fluid motion that rippled down her supple body. She continued to watch Richard; the fire mage’s appreciation of her did not diminish, but grew as he ventured near. She seemed to enjoy the attention and Darcy felt an unwelcome seed of jealousy in his chest. Richard knew Darcy was courting Elizabeth. His cousin would not come between them, though traditionally Richard was better at gaining feminine approbation.

“And that bit with my magic? You took it from me, I swear,” Richard asked.

I did, she admitted. It is a dragon trait, the ability to manipulate magic that way. I did not take much; you should be fully restored within a few days. Also, I am sorry if I caused you discomfort. She eyed both of them. I did not mean to shout so loud, or to make you fall over. I hope you have not sustained damage.

Richard scoffed, wiping the few drops of blood from his lip. “This? Darcy and I have done worse to each other when we were scrapping as boys.”

Elizabeth turned to him. Mr. Darcy? Your leg—

Her concern warmed his heart. “I am quite well, thank you. Your entrance was rather dramatic; I would have rather seen that than remained standing.”

Richard burst into laughter. “Dramatic? A diva on the stage is dramatic! This was smashing! Utterly brilliant! How I wish I could capture that moment forever!”

Elizabeth seemed rather embarrassed by her actions.

“Miss Mary paints quite good portraits,” Darcy added. “Including ones of Miss Elizabeth as she is now. Perhaps you can ask one from her.”

A strange expression crossed Richard’s face. “Perhaps I will,” he murmured almost to himself. Another thought occurred to him and he spun on Darcy.

“And you! You knew she was a dragon the entire night! You let me act the fool, pretending that I knew what it was to breathe fire!”

Darcy raised his eyebrows. “You were enjoying yourself. Far be it from me to interrupt your pleasure.”

Richard groaned and faced Elizabeth. “Forgive me, dear lady dragon, my attempts at fire must have seemed very poor to you. My cousin is a lout for allowing me to make a fool of myself.”

I was pleased by your performance, she laughed. As for Mr. Darcy not warning you, that is something you must take up with him. Forgive me, but I must leave now. I dare not remain in the open for fear of being seen.

Richard bowed with an elaborate flourish. “I would not detain so beautiful a lady as yourself,” he said, making her chuckle again.

Good bye, Colonel Dragon. Mr. Darcy. She launched into the air, powerful muscles easily carrying her away from them. Darcy felt the pang of her loss, as well as the breath-taking sight of her effortless flight.

Richard let out a low whistle. “So that is your Miss Elizabeth. That is one fine woman, Snowman. She is not hesitant to speak her mind and not one to be intimidated. I do not mind saying that when she came upon us, I thought I was going down her gullet for sure.”

“Being a dragon has taught her to fear little,” Darcy said dryly.

“Brave,” Richard said warmly. “Beautiful, and intelligent. I do not see how you got lucky enough to find her! Was there ever a more stunning woman?”

Darcy was a little uncomfortable with the way Richard spoke so freely of Elizabeth. Surely his cousin was simply admitting her charms without being drawn to her himself?

“She saved my life,” Darcy replied simply.

Richard paused, then began to grin. “I knew there were holes in your story, but I never imagined the holes were shaped like a dragon! Did you see the way she moved? So light and quick? My god, she must be a fantastic dancer! You are a lucky man.” Richard clapped his shoulder once, then reconsidered and punched Darcy hard in the arm.

“What was that for?” Darcy growled.

“You told me she was not a dragon!” Richard accused.

“I said she was not a harridan,” Darcy corrected with a sniff. “I never mentioned the dragon bit one way or another.”

“No, you let me expose myself to her! She must think me a very great braggart.”

“You are,” Darcy shot back.

“But I like to know that my boasts are not idle! Come, let us continue walking. You still have much to explain to me.”

So what do you think of Lizzy: Protection Mode? Do you have anyone you'd like her to scare the holy mackerels out of?

The Curse Chapter 18

Autumn DJuly 24, 2017 02:49PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 18

Linnea EileenJuly 25, 2017 03:16AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 18

EmelynJuly 25, 2017 01:27AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 18

MichaJuly 24, 2017 06:26PM


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