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The Curse Chapter 19

August 08, 2017 02:23PM
I know! Two days late, I'm awful! I have a couple pieces of good news, which I hope with slightly make up for being late. First, I found a job! I'm still looking for other work because this position is really far for me to travel, but at least I have something. The second one, which I know is what you really care about, is that I finished this story! It's a total of 35 chapters. I'm playing with doing an epilogue, or maybe a one-shot, but the main body of it is finished.

Thanks to my betas for keeping me sane during this period: dreeem, priscillalts, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily!



Chapter 19


The gentlemen from Netherfield went to visit Longbourn two days later. Miss Lydia sniffed and turned away from them when they entered. In short order, she convinced Miss Kitty to leave the room with her. Clearly, she had not forgiven Richard for his actions toward her and her beau. Of Elizabeth, there was no sign. Richard gave Darcy a curious glance, but Darcy was not worried. He guessed she was once again in her dragon form.

Darcy was dismayed to see that Miss Mary was back to wearing the ugly dress and lacking her glasses. However, when the gentlemen were announced, she smiled vaguely in their direction before quietly and quickly excusing herself. She came back a short time later, having changed into genteel clothes and able to see properly. Collins scowled, but a sharp look from Richard prevented him from saying anything.

Richard beamed at Miss Mary as she entered the room again. “I am charmed to see you again, Miss Mary. Rare is it to find such an exquisite lady who can match my own considerable appeal.” He struck a ridiculous pose more suited to a fop of the ton rather than a hardened battle mage.

Darcy could only shake his head at Richard’s antics. The man was continuously mercurial in mood, leading many to underestimate him. Darcy was glad that he was one of the few around whom Richard would drop his guard and relax.

Miss Mary blushed and laughed at Richard, earning another brilliant smile from him. He offered her his arm and she took it shyly. Darcy was amazed that Miss Mary was so at ease with his cousin; it had taken days before she had been willing to speak more than two words to Darcy. Only when she had begun painting his portrait had she really relaxed in his presence. Then again, that was a talent of Richard’s, to put other people at ease.

“There was a matter that I wanted to speak with you about,” Richard began, looking down at Miss Mary. “I understand that you have remarkable skill as a painter?”

“I paint, though I would not call myself remarkable,” she admitted.

“It is not seemly for a gentlewoman to take work as a painter,” Collins began.

Richard shot him a narrow-eyed look. “Hush,” he said, his voice deceptively mild. “This conversation does not include you.”

Collins swelled with indignation, but Richard continued speaking as if the parson had never interrupted.

“Darcy said you were very talented and he does not give praise lightly,” Richard insisted. “I was wondering if I could impose on you for a painting? Perhaps a portrait, or maybe a wilderness scene. I have not yet decided.”

“I would be pleased to show you what I have done before; if you like what I can do, I am willing to paint for you,” Miss Mary said.

“Excellent!” Richard declared. “By the by, I see that Miss Elizabeth is not present. I hope she is not indisposed?”

“She is well, it is only that she is in the dower house in the garden.” Miss Mary glanced at Darcy. He nodded his understanding.

“Capital! I should like to see her. Perhaps you can lead me to her, and bring some of your paintings as well? The light outside must be better for viewing them.”

She hesitated, casting a worried look at Darcy.

“I do not think Miss Elizabeth would mind,” Darcy assured her. “She spoke to us about the dower house the day before yesterday.”

Miss Mary blinked in surprise. “I am astonished! Lizzy is not usually so quick to show… the dower house to a new acquaintance.” Her eyes darted anxiously to Collins, who was attending the conversation but showed no sign of comprehension. Richard too must have been puzzled about their choice of words, but the soldier was canny enough to hold his tongue in front of others.

“Since you are already familiar with Lizzy, I would not mind taking you to the park,” Miss Mary said eagerly. “The light is better out there. If Mr. Darcy agrees, I could show you one or two drawings that I am working on currently. He is the subject of both.”

“Darcy agreed to having his portrait taken?” Richard asked. “Now I am astonished, for I did not think he enjoyed the sittings.”

Darcy felt a spark of irritation with his cousin. “After viewing her work, I thought it so delightful, I found myself willing to sit for her. I do not mind if you show him. I will accompany you to the dower house as well.”

“I daresay the company while I am painting also makes it more bearable,” Miss Mary said blandly.

Darcy could not hide a guilty start, which Richard gleefully caught. He suppressed a groan; Richard would tease him mercilessly once they were alone.

“You have made me eager to begin,” Richard declared with a grin. “Shall we?”

Darcy, Richard and Miss Mary started for the door. Collins stood.

“I shall come with you,” he announced.

Darcy caught a savage expression on Richard’s face before he quickly smoothed it out. The fire mage swung around to face Collins, incidentally placing his body squarely between Miss Mary and Collins. His posture was alert and ready; Darcy imagined this was how his cousin looked just before the start of a battle.

“No, you will not,” Richard said firmly.

“Yes I will,” Collins insisted. “As her cousin and one of her closest relations, it is my prerogative to provide escort and chaperonage, especially with my particular interest in her wellbeing.”

“As we will be going to the park to join Miss Elizabeth,” Richard said in a steely tone, “your services as a chaperone are not needed.”

“We will also be going,” Bingley announced, standing with Miss Bennet’s arm through his. They moved toward the party, so that the entire room stood against Collins.

Darcy was amused as the parson’s face flushed an ugly red. Collins might be thick-witted, but it was obvious he knew he had been out-maneuvered. Unfortunately for him, he did not take defeat well.

“I had thought better of you, the son of an Earl, and you, Mr. Darcy, the nephew of Lady Catherine, than to keep such fallen company as Miss Elizabeth. A woman of her reputation can only mean the downfall of gentlemen everywhere, for she would tempt—”

In retrospect, Darcy should not have been surprised by Richard’s reaction. At the time, however, he had no rational thought. His body flushed cold with anger; he raised his hand, frost on his fingertips. What he would have done was a mystery even to him; perhaps form an ice gag to halt those foul words? Freeze the man’s tongue off? But Richard, with the speed of someone whose survival depended on his reflexes, whipped out his sword and held it at Collins’ throat. Fire rippled down the blade, nearly touching Collins’ face. The parson tried to lean away, but Richard applied a little pressure with his sword, the tip dimpling the soft flesh under Collins’ chin.

“I am the son of an Earl,” Richard agreed with a smile that looked more like baring his teeth in threat. “Therefore I recommend you to remember your place, for you are but a parson of mean understanding, who cannot pretend to aspire to the rank of a gentleman until your better has passed on. There is not one among us who is not better than you. I do not want to hear such slanderous words again. If any of the ladies have cause to complain against you, I will run you through. I can cauterize the wounds as I make them. There will not even be a drop of blood to clean up. Do I make myself clear?”

Unable to nod for fear of being impaled, Collins let out an unhealthy sort of whimper. Richard took that as agreement and lowered his sword. With a flick of his wrist, the flames went out and he sheathed it at his side. Without another word, Richard offered his arm to Miss Mary. She took it and they led the way outside. Bingley and Miss Bennet followed, while Darcy brought up the rearguard. It was not that he expected Collins to do something so much as he would have the great pleasure of pummeling the parson if he did.

In the park, it was not long until Miss Bennet and Bingley split off from the main group. Darcy watched them go fondly. There was no longer a need to hide Elizabeth from Bingley, but his friend was caught up in his own courting. Darcy drew nearer to Richard and Miss Mary, staying a little behind them. He did not mean to overhear their conversation, but he could not help but to catch their words.

Miss Mary looked up at Richard. “I appreciate what you did for me,” she said softly. “No one has defended me like that before.”

Richard’s eyebrows rose. “With Miss Elizabeth as a sister, I highly doubt that.”

She smiled. “Lizzy can be… overzealous when it comes to us,” she admitted.

“I did not notice,” Richard said dryly.

She gave him a curious look.

He shook his head. “Never mind, go on,” he said.

“Lizzy is quick to leap to our aid when she thinks we have been slighted,” Miss Mary continued. “But you… I hardly know you. You have no reason to come to my aid.”

Richard was silent for a long time. “I should like to think a gentleman does not need a reason to defend a lady such as yourself against that toad.” He paused, turning his head to look at Miss Mary.

Darcy saw his cousin’s troubled expression and felt concern for him. When Richard spoke again, it was so low Darcy struggled to hear.

“But I should like to know you better,” he murmured.

Miss Mary bowed her head. Darcy felt acute embarrassment at overhearing this intimate confession. Was Richard truly planning to court Miss Mary? He knew his cousin, knew that Richard’s usual approach to women was to be openly flirtatious, making sure that neither party expected the union to last beyond a handful of days. This quiet conversation was not at all how Darcy had seen his cousin speak to women before. He allowed himself to drop back several steps, so there was no risk of him overhearing more. He would not like it if someone overheard him speaking to Elizabeth in a private moment and he imagined Richard would feel the same.

When they reached the dower house, Darcy deemed it was safe to draw near. Elizabeth was not in sight and he looked to the little cottage in expectation. Richard glanced around, confusion clear on his face.

“I thought we were to meet Miss Elizabeth?” he asked. “Is she arriving soon?” He searched the skies as if she might be dropping down on them again.

Miss Mary walked into the dower house. Darcy had seen how crowded it was with Elizabeth in there and wondered if he and Richard were supposed to join the ladies.

“Darcy?” Richard asked.

“I believe Miss Elizabeth is already present,” he replied. “Wait.”

Miss Mary emerged from the building, carrying two familiar half-done paintings and several other art supplies. Richard stepped forward to help her.

“I have been keeping them in here as of late,” she explained. “Lizzy keeps it from getting too damp in there and, well, it is easier for the time being.” She glanced briefly at the main house, a fleeting expression of fear on her face. Darcy did not like it at all. From the way Richard stiffened, neither did he.

Miss Mary began setting up her easel. She looked at the dower house.

“You may as well come out, they are not here to see me,” she said.

If you would be so kind, Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth spoke to him. Tell my sister that if she keeps bringing gentlemen to see me, I shall feel like an exhibit in a menagerie. If my vanity had a turn for being stared at, she would have been invaluable. But now I am hardly inclined to show myself at all.

Darcy jumped a little when she addressed him, but smiled at her wry tone. I should be most disappointed if you did not emerge, and I dare say so will my cousin.

Colonel Dragon, she laughed. Very well then, I shall not keep you waiting.

Darcy cleared his throat. “Miss Elizabeth says she is coming out.”

She laughed in his head, causing his smile to broaden. You are a miser with your words. You spoiled my fun in telling Mary what I said.

I may have only one sister, but even so I know better than to get between two women who are related.


She snickered.

Richard was watching him peculiarly; Darcy realized that Elizabeth had chosen to speak only to him and it warmed his heart. He loved the way she had teased him; he basked in her good humor.

Elizabeth began to emerge from the cottage. As always, it seemed like a difficult, even painful process. Darcy winced in sympathy as her wings scraped the sides of the entrance and she had to wiggle to get herself free. Richard made an expression of distaste at Darcy; his cousin liked it as much as he did. Once she had fully pulled herself from the building, she stretched her wings and shook them before settling them neatly along her back. The resulting breeze teased Darcy’s hair, but it was his heart that skipped a beat. She was so beautiful; each time he saw her it was as if he had forgotten how much she affected him.

Richard had a stunned look on his face. He approached her, stopping when he was a few feet away. “Such magnificence cannot be contained in that dull building,” he said fervently.

Lizzy looked at Richard; their eyes locked. Darcy felt oddly like an outsider as he watched Elizabeth and his cousin. There was tension between them, not the simmering anger of enemies, but a kind of recognition and heightened focus on each other. It was intimate, so that Darcy struggled with a sense of voyeurism.

He could not tell if they were speaking to each other; their connection was so intense it was as if there was no need for words. It made him uneasy. Darcy liked to think that he had a good rapport with Elizabeth, but seeing his cousin with her now made him doubt everything. Was Richard smitten with Elizabeth? Worse, was she enamored of him? Was Richard not courting Miss Mary after all?

Suddenly Richard darted forward, as if to get past Elizabeth. She shifted, blocking him. Without missing a step, Richard pivoted and ran in the other direction. Before he got more than a dozen paces, Elizabeth leapt over their heads, pouncing before him. Something that large should not be able to move so fast and land so lightly, but she did. Richard barely skidding to a halt before he would have run into her. He began backing away and Elizabeth stalked forward, following him.

Her behavior was unlike anything Darcy had seen before. Richard too seemed to be out of character; he thought they had resolved their differences, so why was she crouched like she was about to leap on Richard?

At a complete loss, Darcy looked to Miss Mary for some kind of guidance. She was watching the two of them with a fond smile. She glanced at him and correctly read his confusion.

“They are playing, Mr. Darcy,” Miss Mary confided in him. “Lizzy used to do this with the neighborhood boys when they were younger. Of course, she was a might bit smaller back then.” She giggled.

Playing? Darcy did not know whether to be appalled or jealous of the way his cousin cavorted with Elizabeth. Now he could see it, how she prowled around Richard like a cat with a mouse, only far more gentle for her size and strength. He had known that Richard was prone to boyish starts at times; a little levity to break from grim warfare. But this was beyond was Darcy had supposed possible. At the same time, he could not help a pulse of suspicion under his skin. He had spoken for hours with Elizabeth. She had confided in him, asked for his help. Never once had she ever played with him. How was Richard, with an acquaintance of less than a week, able to bring this out in her?

Elizabeth reared up as if to come down on Richard. The colonel ducked and made to run under her belly to escape. Suddenly she flinched and landed hard on all four limbs. She huddled in on herself, her wings half-shielding her from view. Beside Darcy, Miss Mary winced. Once again he looked to her.

“Papa probably saw her from his study,” Miss Mary whispered. “He does not like it when she acts too much like a dragon.”

Richard paused, leaning over with his hands on his knees as he panted. He watched her with concern. “My apologies, Miss Dragon, that I caused trouble with your father. You should tell him that it was my fault.”

Mutely, Elizabeth shook her head. Holding herself low to the ground, she made her way to the dower house. Without thinking about it, Darcy stepped forward to block her path. She looked up at him, her dragon face showing her doubt and even hurt. At that moment, Darcy was strongly resented Mr. Bennet. He could understand that the other gentleman wished his daughter was not a dragon from a curse that was his fault, but the truth of the matter was that she had been enjoying herself without causing harm to anyone. She should not have been censored for that.

“No, Miss Elizabeth,” he said firmly. “I would not see you in that appalling little house while I am here.”

“Nor would I,” Richard said, straightening. He moved to stand by Miss Mary, placing a hand on her back. The young woman looked torn between her father’s edict and Darcy and his cousin. Elizabeth never looked away from Darcy. Her head tilted to the side in a bird-like manner and she rose from her shamed slink. Darcy thought that he had triumphed until she merely walked around him toward the house. He clenched his fist and gathered his magic. He would fill the door with ice. She could burn through it easily enough, but not before he had a chance to speak with her.

However, he discovered that she was not going to the house. She turned behind Darcy, half-circling him. For a moment he was nearly surrounded by her and his heart skipped a beat. She was the epitome of grace and power, poise and might and splendor so fine it made his soul sing. Then she lay down, close enough to Darcy that he could lean on her without having to reach. Suddenly, he realized that was her aim all along.

The doubt that she might prefer his cousin dissipated and he released a laugh. She had played with Richard, but she was laying by Darcy. That counted for something. He ran a hand down her wing, spreading ice across her velvety skin before her magic swallowed his. She gave a pleased croon and nuzzled his hand.

Thank you, Mr. Darcy, she said. I am glad to have you here.

There was a shyness to her voice that touched his heart. I would go anywhere you needed, he replied. He met her eyes and he thought he could drown in a violet sea.

Richard cleared his throat loudly. Darcy looked up and searched his cousin for any signs of jealousy, but there were none. Richard grinned broadly, and Darcy noted with interest that his hand was still on Miss Mary’s back. Perhaps Richard had decided on Miss Mary and not Elizabeth at all? Neither was she trying to put space between them, as though the attraction between them was mutual.

“Well then, as we have settled, perhaps I could take a look at your paintings, Miss Mary?” Richard asked.

She nodded. “Of course, Colonel Fitzwilliam. As you see.” She gestured to where she had set up her easel, one painting on display and one leaning against it.

Richard silently perused them for a very long time. Darcy felt rather uncomfortable that he was the subject of both paintings. He had seen the half-finished portrait and thought it was accurate, but Miss Mary had persuaded Elizabeth and Darcy to not look at their joint painting until it was done. Elizabeth, more used to her sister’s whims, was not perturbed. Now, however, Darcy felt an uncomfortable tightness in his chest. What was it about the second painting, with Elizabeth and him together, that Miss Mary had chosen to hide from them? And why was Richard allowed to see it now?

He shifted, automatically reached back to lean on Elizabeth more for reassurance than for support. She made a quiet rumble. He looked at her in surprise, but she was watching him with concern. Not a growl then, but something closer to a cat’s purr, intended for comfort. She curled a little tighter around him.

Does your cousin make you uncomfortable? she asked privately.

Not as such, he responded. Richard is like a brother to me in many ways, and as close as one, rather than cousins. But he is a soldier: he has a knack of seeing things that are hidden—and speaking bluntly of them.

You worry he will see something in our portrait? she wondered.

Darcy paused before answering. It was not as though Miss Mary would have painted him without clothes or in some compromising position. No, what would be revealed more in the image was how he felt for Elizabeth, having been caught staring at her. Richard already knew he loved Elizabeth. He had nothing to hide there. A sense of relief washed over him.

No, he said slowly, I do not think I am worried at all. He smiled at her. She gave a fearsome grin in return, tempering it with an exaggerated wink. He chuckled happily. She might not play with him as she did with Richard, but she teased him. That was play of the minds and good enough for him.

Richard finally looked up, studying Darcy and Elizabeth for a time. Darcy refused to become nervous under the scrutiny. He hated it when society matrons summed up his worth for their daughters, but he was safe among his family here. If he could not relax and feel secure with them, then he would never feel at ease anywhere.

“Yes, I think that is an excellent likeness of my cousin,” Richard said. “I think you really captured his likeness, a sort of—” Richard gestured to his own face and made an embellished frown.

Miss Mary laughed and Darcy sighed in long suffering. His cousin was always accusing him of looking too stern. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Elizabeth’s tail slowly curling around, until the tip was just touching her front elbow. It was a natural movement, like a cat tucking its tail against its side, but Darcy could not help but to realize he stood within the circle of her body. She had placed a barrier between him and the others. It was largely symbolic, and he had seen her with her sisters enough to realize she was protecting him. Suddenly he felt like beaming.

“I do enjoy your work very much,” Richard complimented Miss Mary. “I should like to have you do a painting of me. And Miss Dragon, if she is inclined?” he bowed toward Elizabeth.

She gave an elegant incline of her head in his direction.

Miss Mary placed a fresh canvas on her easel. “Do you wish for a simple portrait or to enact a scene?” she asked.

“Hmm,” Richard cupped his chin with his hand and strolled forward, studying Elizabeth. Darcy saw his cousin’s eyes widen slightly when he took in their position, but Richard was quick to mask his surprise.

“Definitely a scene, I think,” he said. “I do not suppose you would agree to let me play the part of Saint George?”

Elizabeth growled.

“No? What of a knight errant, come to defeat the beast and claim the princess?” He waggled his eyebrows.

Darcy put his hand over his face.

Elizabeth hissed, a much more frightening sound on a dragon than a cat.

Richard batted around a few more suggestions, including Miss Mary in the discussion. Eventually, they were able to agree to a hunting scene. Richard would be overlooking a few deer in a clearing, with Elizabeth poised to fly at his command. While Darcy still resented the implication that she was under Richard’s control, it was better than the notion of painting Richard as a dragon slayer. Though he knew it had been in jest, it still seemed rather rude.

Elizabeth twitched her hide, giving Darcy enough warning before she rose. She stretched like a cat, front limbs reached out and spine curved in an impossible angle. Miss Mary began to position both Richard and Elizabeth to how she wished them and took a quick sketch. They had far more active poses than how Darcy and Elizabeth were portrayed. For a moment, Darcy felt a prickle of regret, thinking that their portrait must be very sedate compared to Richard’s. He shoved it aside, acknowledging that he was a more sedate person compared to his cousin, thus it would suit him better. Still, Elizabeth seemed to be enjoying the sitting. Somehow she looked even more vibrant when she appeared ready to leap into flight.

The visit did not last much longer than that. Darcy left for Netherfield feeling quite pleased by the time spent with Richard, Elizabeth and Miss Mary.

***



What roles would you have Mary put Richard and Lizzy in for a painting? Actually, I'll take requests. I already wrote that part in chapter 21, but if someone comes up with a pose I like better, I'll use theirs instead!
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse Chapter 19

Autumn DAugust 08, 2017 02:23PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

Elizabeth GarmanAugust 10, 2017 03:10AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

EmelynAugust 10, 2017 02:23AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

KateBAugust 09, 2017 01:26AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

Linnea EileenAugust 08, 2017 04:03PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

Naomi SyntycheAugust 08, 2017 03:54PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

MichaAugust 08, 2017 07:08PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 19

Autumn DAugust 13, 2017 05:01PM



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