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The Curse Chapter 21

October 02, 2017 03:48AM
Thank you everyone for your messages of sympathy. Not going to lie, it's been incredibly hard, but I'm trying to focus on the positive and not turn this entire move into a bad experience. I hope you like this chapter, I think it's one of the sweetest in the story, and we could all use some sweetness in our lives.

Thanks to my wonderful betas, dreeem, priscillalts, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily who stick with me even when I go incommunicado for far too long!

Shout out to Micha from DWG, who came up with the idea for Richard and Lizzy's portrait. There were some really good ideas, I may have to see if I can work them into future one-shots!



Chapter 21


Mary was used to being the plain sister. Jane and Lizzy were the older and more confident ones. Kitty and Lydia had always been Mama’s favorites. Mary was the studious, quiet, and overlooked sister. The responsible one. She had always imagined that while her sisters would marry for love, she would marry for security. It was not that she did not long for love—for she did secretly long for it—but she was more practical than that. When Mr. Collins arrived, Mary had seen it as a chance to finally stand up for her sisters. None of them wanted the parson, and neither did Mary if she was honest, but she could save her family. If she was married to Papa’s heir, then Mr. Collins would not throw them out when Papa passed. It would be his Christian duty to aid them and a parson could not ignore that.

Mr. Darcy’s offer to put them up had been very kind, but she feared trespassing on his goodwill. No man wished to support the mother and unmarried sisters of his wife—that outcome was clear to Mary, if not to anyone else—indefinitely. No, she had been resigned to becoming Mrs. Collins, to protect her sisters by being the sacrificial lamb to Mr. Collins’ wolf. She did not imagine life with him or her wifely duties would be pleasant, but she was determined to do it, no matter what Lizzy said.

Until Colonel Fitzwilliam had arrived.

Mary, who had never captured anyone’s attentions before, now had two men turning their heads toward her whenever she was near. It was all a bit overwhelming. Mr. Collins and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s attentions were as different as they could be.

The former was petty and cruel. His barbs hurt when they hit her, but she endured it with the consolation that if he was targeting her, then at least her sisters were free. It was to be her lot in life.

Yet within a few minutes of meeting Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mary’s entire perspective changed. His wit was as sharp as Mr. Collins’ words and wielded a great deal more aptly. He gave her back a sense of worth, reminded her that she was neither a mouse nor a beaten wife. Her place in life was not yet determined. Marrying Mr. Collins still seemed like the most natural course, but she did not have to go into it meekly accepting.

She would have thought that once Colonel Fitzwilliam had made his point against Mr. Collins, he would let her be. Instead, he had been just as constant a visitor as Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. Mary did not mind for she greatly enjoyed his company. He was an excellent dancer as well, and had partnered her several times at the assemblies. Colonel Fitzwilliam had a way of putting off Mr. Collins that protected all of them while not directly giving offence, although she suspected Mr. Collins would eventually retaliate worse.

For a while Mary had felt like a bone between dogs, what with Mr. Collins on one side and Lizzy, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam on the other. However, three were stronger than one and so she was nearly constantly guarded. She was grateful for the interference while it lasted, but she did not expect more until she began to paint Colonel Fitzwilliam’s portrait with Lizzy.

Mary had always known that Colonel Fitzwilliam was a handsome man, but now she was given leave to study him with an artist’s eye. He had tiger’s eye hair, sienna with ochre highlights and the dark tones of burnt umber. His eyes were peridot, with a hint of sapphire around the pupil and radiating spiels of topaz, as if the fire of his magic was coming out in his irises. She saw the wind-roughened rouge of his cheeks, and the sun-cracked lines baked into his skin around his mouth and eyes. His hands were blunt and strong, speaking of power and forth-rightness. He was not a conventional gentleman, refined and delicate, but a soldier built of hard lines and uncompromising spirit.

She captured him on canvas as she saw him, hoping he would be pleased by her efforts. After going through several different ideas, the Colonel and Lizzy had finally settled on one they could both accept. In the painting, Col. Fitzwilliam and Lizzy were poised on a rocky mountainside. They were facing each other in opposition, fire gathered in his hand and smoke trailing from her mouth. The rocks around them were scorched, showing that they had already exchanged several volleys of flame. He was leaning forward, balanced on his feet and ready to spring or dodge. Lizzy had her back arched like a cat, wings high overhead. One of her paws was on a large agate, uncut and roughly oval in shape. It was clear in the picture that Col. Fitzwilliam was attempting to steal the agate from Lizzy.

Mary thought it fit them both. It had a playful air; Col. Fitzwilliam was grinning madly and Lizzy’s posture was reminiscent of a kitten rather than one of true anger. It was a dynamic pose, both of them ready to leap into action at any moment. Mary liked the composition and privately thought it was one of her best. She had a lifetime of practice in drawing her sister, and did not at all mind having to pay extra attention to Col. Fitzwilliam to get his figure just right. Most of what she did tended to be still portraits, so having a completely different subject was invigorating.

Unfortunately, Col. Fitzwilliam did not seem to have the same level of satisfaction in her work as she did. The first time he saw the portrait, she had completed the preliminary sketches and added a few blocks of color. Mary did not invite him over as she was uncomfortable with people watching her through the painting process, and preferred to present her art once it was completed.

However, since Colonel Fitzwilliam was the kind of man that could not remain still for long periods of time, he began to wander around after a few minutes. After observing him, she could say it was not a nervous habit, but rather the result of a lifetime of constant movement. The soldier who was not quick on their feet was dead, and Colonel Fitzwilliam was very much robustly alive.

He circled the area in front of the cottage restlessly. Also in attendance were Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. Though Lizzy had playfully feinted at Colonel Fitzwilliam at the beginning of the visit, she was now in her usual position, half-curled around Mr. Darcy. Mary’s fingers itched to continue her painting of them, but she had thought to do the one of Colonel Fitzwilliam first.

“I say, that is quite good,” said a deep voice from just over her shoulder.

Mary jumped and turned to look. Col. Fitzwilliam stood so close that she had to crane her neck back to see him. The heat of his body surrounded her and she wondered how she had not noticed his proximity before. Her cheeks grew flushed; it was not often that a handsome man—one who had taken it upon himself to be her protector—paid much attention to her artwork.

“You have a keen eye for details,” he continued to survey the painting. “Only, do you not think you have drawn my nose a little long?”

She concealed a surprised twitch of her hand. Mary did not mind criticism, especially if it helped her improve her art, but in comparing the drawing to the subject, she found them to be perfectly identical. Perhaps Colonel Fitzwilliam was one of those people who preferred their portraits to be idealized versions of themselves, regardless of accuracy. She reached up with her charcoal to change the sketch.

Colonel Fitzwilliam caught her hand. His skin was hot and toughened with calluses. Her breath caught in her throat as she met his gaze again. He stared into her, his green eyes intent as though he were trying to communicate with her. She had the nagging feeling that if she had been born with magic, he would have simply spoken in her mind. Instead she was left to guess his message, forced to wonder what it was that he did not wish to say out loud. If she knew him better, would she have been able to read his expression as clearly as the mental speech?

Lizzy stretched, loudly scratching her claws on a stone. The spell was broken between Mary and Colonel Fitzwilliam. She started and pulled her hand back, feeling a rush of heat in her face. She knew Lizzy had done it on purpose, reminding both of them that the dragon was more than willing to come to her rescue. The problem was that she did not feel she needed rescuing from Colonel Fitzwilliam.

It was a few days later, when the four of them in the garden again, that Colonel Fitzwilliam made another comment on his portrait. Just last night he had danced with her, twice, at a house party. She was aware of the very great compliment he had paid her. He had also kept Mr. Collins away when her cousin had tried to request a dance. Her refusal had meant she had had to sit out the rest of the night, but Colonel Fitzwilliam had remained beside her. She had sat between Lizzy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, with Mr. Darcy on Lizzy’s other side. It made Mary feel safe. She had that same feeling of protection now and she realized she was beginning to care for him as more than a friend or guardian. She only hoped to earn his regard in a small way.

The morning was much cooler than before, however Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy all showed a lack of reaction to the temperature. Mary already knew that Lizzy preferred colder climes; it seemed that magic provided the gentlemen-mages greater protection against the elements as well. Mary was feeling distinctly human and rather disadvantaged at the moment. Her usual defense against the cold was to lean against her sister and let the dragon’s warmth shield her. However, that position was currently occupied by Mr. Darcy.

Even with her shawl around her shoulders, Mary was close to shivering. The only thing that made her hide her discomfort was that as soon as Lizzy noticed her shivering, the dragon would force her to go inside. The gentlemen would follow her out of courtesy, leaving Lizzy alone. Besides, other than the cold, Mary was enjoying her time outside. Or rather, she was enjoying the company. Enduring the cold seemed a small price to pay.

“You have gotten much further along than I expected,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said from behind her. Mary gasped and fumbled with her pallet, almost dropping it. She glanced at him and wished she had not; he was too close to see properly, but it was clear he was frowning at her work. Was he displeased by her progress? His arm brushed against her back so that she felt the heat radiating from him. She could not have said if it was his magic or his usual body temperature, but she craved the warmth too much to pull away. She hoped Lizzy and Mr. Darcy could not see how close Colonel Fitzwilliam stood to her, but was too shy to look up at them.

“Do you not like it?” she asked quietly, expecting condemnation. Despite it, she had no desire to move away from him. No matter what he said, even if he did not like the painting, she felt safe. It was a far different feeling from when Mr. Collins was haranguing her. It had nothing to do with the large dragon in proximity, and everything with the man behind her.

“It is good,” Colonel Fitzwilliam allowed with a dissatisfied air, “but you are faster than I would like.”

Mary blinked in confusion, uncertain as to his meaning. Usually patrons praised her quick skills, rather than complained. She studied the painting for a time, searching for the reason for his discontent. She had shortened the nose on her portrayal of his face, though privately she thought it looked better the way it had been before. Mary had wished to please him and perhaps win a little approbation; it seemed she had failed in that.

“You know,” he said at last, his voice somewhat lighter. “I have always wanted a cleft in my chin. Think you could add that in?” He reached out and thumbed the damp oil paint of the portrait, smearing it.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam!” Mary hissed sharply. The smudge was not irreparable, but it was a mar on her work.

“I apologize,” he said, but sounded too innocent to really mean it. “I think perhaps I should like to see some facial hair as well, would that be too difficult?” His hand started for the painting again. Mary caught his fingers before he could do more damage. His wrist turned and suddenly her hand was engulfed in his. She was aware again of the roughened texture of his skin, of his heat against her chilled fingers. She felt surrounded by him, one arm pressed casually to her back, her hand held by him. It was as though they were in their own tiny world, where nothing else mattered.

He tugged gently on her, bringing her attention back to him. She tipped her head back, meeting his green eyes. They were just as penetrating as before, trying to pass on a message she was deaf to. She felt she was almost there, close to understanding what he really meant.

“Can you do that?” he repeated.

For a moment her mouth was too dry to answer. She swallowed with difficulty.

“Yes,” she finally spoke breathlessly.

He squeezed her hand, holding it for another moment before finally releasing her. She immediately felt colder without him.

The next time Colonel Fitzwilliam commented on the painting was a week later. The day was the coldest yet; she clutched her shawl to her, but even that was not enough to stop the occasional shudder. Thankfully Lizzy was too involved in conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy to notice. Despite being cold, the day was beautifully bright and Mary did not want to lose the good lighting for her artwork.

This time, she kept an eye on Colonel Fitzwilliam. He had a white bandage around his head, mostly hidden by his hat. Yesterday morning, Lizzy had woken her up. Mary knew it had to be something serious, for her sister had been pale and tear-streaked.

“I am so sorry, Mary,” Lizzy took Mary’s hands in her own. Her skin was hot, but her fingers were trembling. “Col. Fitzwilliam had an accident this morning, and it was my fault.”

“What?” Mary gasped. She pulled one hand free to fumble for her glasses in order to see better. At the time, she had been too concerned for Col. Fitzwilliam to wonder why Lizzy was telling her specifically.

“What happened? Is he well?” she asked urgently.

“He was riding his horse through the woods this morning. He did not know I was there. I tried to warn him, but his horse sensed me first and bolted. He was thrown and hit his head. I do not think it was very bad, for he did not lose consciousness. There was a lot of blood though, and he seemed rather confused. I brought him to Mr. Darcy, who promised to call the apothecary. I am so sorry, Mary! I did not mean for it to happen!” Lizzy ended on a sob.

“No, it was no fault of your own,” Mary said, still reeling from the news. “You could not have guessed that he would ride near to you, or that he would be thrown.” She hesitated, wanting to ask a favor but unsure if it was appropriate. Her worry for Col. Fitzwilliam outweighed her thoughts was propriety. “If you should hear from Mr. Darcy today, about Col. Fitzwilliam,” she began slowly.

“I will tell you at once,” Lizzy had vowed without asking.

Indeed, later that afternoon, a relieved Lizzy reported that Col. Fitzwilliam’s injury was not serious, and that he was resting. Only then had Mary been able to breathe easy.

Obviously the injury was not bothering Col. Fitzwilliam now, the day after sustaining it. Other than the bandage, he appeared to be as he ever was, sharp of wit and sound of body. Mary still felt the urge to fuss over him, though she was sure a soldier like him would not appreciate the gesture.

She saw when he began to wander and was not surprised when he came behind her. The knuckles of one hand rubbed faintly against her back. When she did not protest, he shifted closer still, his palm splayed against her back, his side touching her shoulder with every breath. Mary allowed herself a very small movement toward him, so that they could have been embracing. Part of it was his heat which she needed, and part of it was the fluttery feeling he caused inside her. His injury seemed very far as she felt the solidness of his body.

Mary was pleased with how far along she was with the portrait, and hoped he was too. Even with the changes he had requested, she was close to being done. Her hopes were dashed with his next words.

“You look almost finished,” he murmured. “I cannot have that.”

She gritted her teeth with frustration. Was nothing she did good enough for him? She looked up at Lizzy, hoping for a little sisterly intervention, but Lizzy and Darcy were locked in silent conversation.

“I think I would prefer it if I were holding a musket,” Colonel Fitzwilliam mused. “Yes, I think that would do. That would be no problem for you, would it?”

Mary gaped in anger. With the portrait in its final stages, making such a large change in posture would be very difficult. She would have to scrape off layers of paint and hope the original image did not bleed through the correction. It was almost easier to toss this canvas and start a new one altogether. Why was he so set on her not being finished? Did he have no concept of the time she would have to spend to make the changes? Not that she was opposed to spending her time like this, with him practically holding her.

A thought came to mind that halted the cross retort on her tongue. What if time was the reason he kept delaying her? Time to… what? To allow Mr. Darcy to court Lizzy? Surely those two were well able to gain time of their own. She was not so shallow as to think Colonel Fitzwilliam was making these demands simply to be with her. Or was he? He was staring at her again, that fervent look that willed her to understand.

She tested the idea. “That would require a lot of time,” she said slowly, and had the pleasure of seeing his peridot eyes light with pleasure. One side of his mouth pulled up in a crooked smile that made her insides quiver.

“Time with you,” he said quietly. “I would not be averse to that.” He ran one hot finger down her face, his hold on her shifting enough to become a real embrace. Her heart raced in her chest, nervous and joyful at the same time.

“No?” she asked, hardly able to believe he really was choosing her.

“Not at all,” he confirmed, reaching for her hand without any pretense this time. She sighed in bliss as he intertwined their fingers. There were many reasons she could delay the painting. They might have to spend a lot of time together before it was done.

“In that case,” she asserted herself firmly, “Do forgive me if I undo the changes you have requested to your form. I can extend our time easily enough, but my work should not be made to suffer for it. My originals were much more accurate, and I like them better.”

“Do you?” Col. Fitzwilliam asked with amusement.

“Yes, certainly,” she replied, turning to him. “A musket is a waste when your talent is all you need, and your face is extremely pleasing without modification.”

She reached up without thinking, her artist-hands tracing his face as if to study a sculpture. She used the excuse to very gently trace his bandage, careful not to cause him pain. He raised his eyebrows, and only then did she realize what she had admitted.

“In that case, I would like to say that I find your face extremely pleasing as well,” he said in a low voice. Her mouth ran dry. Here she was, touching this beautiful man’s face, and he claimed to find her pretty as well, glasses, mousy hair and all?

“Richard!” Mr. Darcy called sternly. “Are you changing it again? Have you not done enough?”

Lizzy growled a warning, the muscles along her back rippling like she was going to pounce.

Colonel Fitzwilliam looked down at Mary with a boyish grin that made her melt. “Am I bothering you?” he asked teasingly.

She gave a giddy laugh. “I am well, Lizzy,” she called. “Do not fret over me.”

Lizzy settled, watching them speculatively. Mary blushed, but she was not willing to leave Colonel Fitzwilliam’s arms. Mr. Darcy still frowned at his cousin, until Lizzy nudged him with her wing.

Mary gave up any pretense of working on the portrait of Colonel Fitzwilliam in the following two weeks. Sometimes she added to Mr. Darcy’s portrait, or the one of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy together, but most often she was simply glad to be in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s presence. She was seldom cold now, for he gave off such a radiant heat that it more than protected her from the weather so long as he was close to her. He was not always at her side, of course, but he was rarely away long enough for her to become thoroughly chilled.

Of course, it was not merely the Colonel she spent time with, but Lizzy and Mr. Darcy as well. It was clear that Lizzy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had a very strong bond. Mary might have found herself worried about it had the fire mage not made his preference for herself so obvious. She guessed that there were certain

things that Lizzy and Colonel Fitzwilliam shared which made it easy for them to relate to each other, such as a predilection for fire, among other things.

Mary had never seen Lizzy act as playful as she did with Colonel Fitzwilliam. The dragon was always careful of her strength, whether in dragon form or human, but there was often a friendly competition between them, usually over the most inane topics. Mary sometimes felt left out when Lizzy was a dragon, because she was the only one who could not hear her sister speak.

The gentlemen started the visit speaking out loud, with Mr. Darcy most often translating Lizzy so Mary could understand, but the verbal replies gradually died out until she heard nothing. Just because she was without magic did not mean she did not realize they were still speaking to each other. They still moved and gestured like they were talking, only the conversation was silent. Colonel Fitzwilliam tended to notice she was left out first, and so broke away from the other two to speak with her. Mary was flustered with his attentions at first, but gradually grew comfortable in his presence. He loved to tease—much like Lizzy—but she most often felt that he used her company to be able to relax. She was privileged that he let his guard down around her.

As for Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, those two were so besotted with each other, it was a wonder that they were not yet engaged. Mr. Darcy must have been waiting for something, but Mary could not guess what it was. She might not know the ice mage very well, but she knew her sister. When Lizzy walked into a room, Mr. Darcy was the first one she looked for. He was the only person who Lizzy, the most independent of the sisters, regularly turned to for support.

Even the way they stood together made their feelings obvious. The dark-haired gentleman leaned against Lizzy’s dragon form easily, his posture as relaxed as Mary ever saw it. Lizzy was almost always to be found curled around him. Probably no one else present realized what she was doing, but Mary had grown up with a dragon for a sister. Lizzy was very nearly cuddling with Mr. Darcy. Not for protection—Lizzy was many things, but subtle when she was feeling protective was not one of them—but because she enjoyed his presence.

Indeed, they seemed to connect better when Lizzy was a dragon than when she was human. Most of Mary’s attention was taken with Colonel Fitzwilliam, but even still she saw how there was a distance between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy when her sister was human that was absent when she was a dragon. Mary was at a loss to explain it.

She was still trying to understand how the Colonel, this battle-scarred soldier, had chosen her to court. It was more than keeping Mr. Collins away, for otherwise he need never approach her when the parson was out of sight. But he never hesitated to touch her hand, to offer his arm and his warmth to her. She enjoyed the way he bent his head to listen to her, as though she had the full of his focus at all times. Mary was rapidly coming to feel for Colonel Fitzwilliam what Lizzy must feel for Mr. Darcy, or Jane for Mr. Bingley.

Maybe it left Mr. Collins thwarted and frustrated, but for the first time since his arrival, her future was brimming with hope instead of dread. And it was all because of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
***



Was Richard being clever or insulting with the way he extends their time together? Comments
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse Chapter 21

Autumn DOctober 02, 2017 03:48AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 21

MichaOctober 18, 2017 06:05AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 21

Jane KOctober 03, 2017 06:00AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 21

Linnea EileenOctober 02, 2017 06:46AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 21

TinaOctober 02, 2017 04:51AM



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