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The Curse Chapter 23

November 30, 2017 01:45AM
It has been an inexcusibly long time since I posted. I could give you a list of reasons, but I know you're more interested in just getting to the chapter!

Thanks to dreeem, priscillatls, noagnes, Karin E Lb, and Lily for their beta work.



Chapter 23

Lizzy had only a vague idea of what the fight had been about. Neither gentleman was willing to speak on it, though at least Mr. Darcy and Richard appeared to have made up. All she knew was the all-consuming panic she had felt when she had seen Mr. Darcy disappear under the flames. She did not know what she would have done if he had been seriously injured.

The closest she could glean about the fight was that an issue of jealousy had risen between the cousins. Mr. Darcy had asked some rather odd questions after the fight. She supposed, from an outsider’s perspective, the familiarity with her soon-to-be-brother Richard might seem to indicate an attachment between them. But Mr. Darcy was not an outsider! He should have known that she would never regard Richard in that way.

Lizzy had never been the kind of lady that sighed about suitors competing over her, unlike Lydia, who thought it a grand romantic gesture. Indeed, she considered it the height of arrogance to assume that the fight had been entirely about her. However, the way they had acted, especially Mr. Darcy, led her to believe she may have had some part in the affair. It was ridiculous to think Richard was challenging Mr. Darcy for her attentions, especially right after he had sought her approval to ask for Mary’s hand. But the idea that Mr. Darcy may have reacted in jealousy at the thought of Richard courting Lizzy caused a warm quiver to run through her. She could not tell if it was a dragonish reaction, or simply the feelings of a woman to know she was… wanted? Did she dare believe that Mr. Darcy desired her?

It was nearly impossible to imagine that any gentleman would wish for her attentions, but if there was one whose preference would make her happy, it was Mr. Darcy. It made her heart thrill when she thought he may have been jealous over her. In her rush to assure him that she felt nothing of the sort for Richard, she had inadvertently made clear her partiality for Mr. Darcy. He meant so much to her, more than trust, more than respect, an entirely different connection to him than she had ever felt before. She realized now that her heart was involved with him; which made her misstep the more embarrassing.

She dared not to presume on Mr. Darcy’s feelings for her, so in her panic she had called him friend. Guilt followed her embarrassment. It took her a while to realize the guilt was because she had misled Mr. Darcy. It certainly was not on purpose, but it was only when she named him as a friend did she realize he was more to her than that. She was friends with Richard and Charlotte Lucas, and neither of them caused the reaction that Mr. Darcy did in her.

There was a new sensation in her chest, one she tried hard to quell, but only grew with each meeting with Mr. Darcy, each touch of his mind to hers. It was a wordless yearning she could neither define nor control. All she knew was that the more time she spent with Mr. Darcy, the more her embarrassment and guilt over her faux pas faded and this new feeling began to grow. He increased her confidence, even as she became more aware of him as a man, one who she was… drawn to. Not as a dragon, for the first time in her life, but as a woman.

She also felt a thread of discontent when she was with Mr. Darcy. It was nothing to do with his presence, which was all that was pleasing to her, but rather a new perspective on her life as a dragon. Lizzy found it—wanting. For all she relished her advantages of a dragon, she was beginning to realize that life would be lacking compared to her actuality. She knew that if Mr. Darcy were to leave, he would take her heart with him.

Lizzy’s thoughts may have been consumed by Mr. Darcy and the implications of the fight, but even so she was not surprised when, the day before the ball, Richard asked for a private audience with Mary. The two of them went to a different part of the garden, while Lizzy remained with Mr. Darcy in front of the dower house. His ice cane had melted in her presence a while ago, but she knew he would summon a new one when he wanted to stand. Whenever she saw the cane, the combination of ice and his magic made her want to bite into it like candy. Thus far she had restrained herself, but it was a near thing.

Mr. Darcy was sitting on a stool, using her as a back rest. Her tail was deliberately draped over his feet. She still felt protective of him, not against Richard—she felt secure using his name as he was to be her future brother-in-law—but in general. Having gone through the pain of thinking him injured or worse, she never wanted to feel that again.

Mr. Darcy was brushing his hand down her back, his magic a pleasant sensation. The weather was now cool enough that heat no longer plagued her, but she would never have enough of the clean, icy feel of Mr. Darcy’s magic. Lizzy tried not to eavesdrop on a private moment between Richard and Mary, but she could not help but to hear her sister’s joyful exclamation.

Lizzy made a rumbling purr, and Mr. Darcy paused for a moment.

I do not think I have heard you make that sound before, he commented.

I am very happy, she said. I believe that my sister just became engaged.

Then congratulations are in order, he said with a wry chuckle.

She gave him a puzzled look, but he chose not to explain. Lizzy suspected it might have to do with the fight she had witnessed and did not pry. Instead she thought on Mary’s joy. That Mary, the sister she worried most about, was the first to become engaged, and to a gentleman of whom Lizzy thoroughly approved, was a great relief to her. She felt much lighter now than she had mere minutes ago. Perhaps now that Mary and Richard had settled, Mr. Bingley and Jane might follow their example. What a happy day that would be!

I would feel so much freer if both my sisters became engaged, she mused. Free to let the curse swallow her without guilt. Free to live as a dragon, knowing her sisters would be taken care of.

Mr. Darcy shifted and she realized she had unintentionally spoken to him.

“Are your sisters the only factors holding you back?” he asked.

Lizzy missed the intimacy of his mental voice. She looked at this handsome man. When she had first pulled him from the river those months ago, she could have never guessed how much he would come to mean to her.

No, she admitted shyly. They are not the only ones.

He smiled, his rich grey eyes lighting up. Her heart twisted. She would miss him very much, when she was fully dragon. It was quite possible that Mr. Darcy would be the only person she kept in contact with, after the curse took control of her life. It would be painful to never see or speak to her family again, but to lose Mr. Darcy as well was unendurable. She tucked him a little closer against her side.

Miss Elizabeth. He said her name and nothing more.

Lizzy remembered the familiar way he had used her name just two days ago. She had not realized it at the time, being too caught up in worry for him, but the next time he called her formally it had been jarringly obvious. It was a very different feeling when Mr. Darcy used her name from when Richard said it. She wished she could be so bold as to use his Christian name, once, to see how it felt. It seemed too much like tempting fate, and Lizzy resisted.

Mr. Darcy drew in a breath as if he would speak again, but at that moment Richard and Mary walked into view.

“Lizzy!” Mary called in excitement, and ran to throw her arms around the dragon’s neck. “He asked me to marry him, we’re engaged!”

Lizzy crooned happily, nuzzling her sister’s hair. She felt Mr. Darcy rising from her side and going to stand near Richard. Lizzy wished she could speak to Mary, tell her how excited she was for her. Abruptly Mary began to sob, clinging to Lizzy as her body sagged.

Lizzy whined, gently enfolding Mary in a hug. Richard came forward, putting his hand on Mary’s shoulder.

“I am alright,” Mary said damply. “I am just so happy, everything is overwhelming.” She released Lizzy and turned to Richard. He pulled her against his chest, rubbing her back. Lizzy watched them, seeing how blissful they looked together. She missed that, wished she had someone to care for her as much as Richard did for Mary. Mr. Darcy moved close to her and placed his hand on her neck. She leaned into him, silently wondering what it would feel like to be in his arms.

Richard cupped Mary’s face with his palm. It was such a tender gesture that Lizzy felt uncomfortable watching it, as if this was a privileged moment that belonged only to them. At the same time, she could not look away. This was what two people in love looked like. It was sweet and aching; Lizzy longed to have someone like that for herself, but who would hold a dragon with such affection?

What kind of chaperones do you think we should be? Mr. Darcy asked slyly, his mouth compressed with mirth.

I do not know about you, but I can be a veritable dragon as a chaperone, she laughed.

He smothered a chuckle, stroking her neck. She could not help but to preen under his touch. Lizzy studied Mary and Richard. They were not doing anything inappropriate, simply holding each other, but she knew it would have been too much in a public setting. She sighed wistfully.

Then again, both of them know me so well, I doubt either would be very impressed by me. No, far better for you to do it, Mr. Darcy. You can freeze them out.

Alas, I fear that as soon as I raised my magic, Richard would simply use his own to melt mine, he shook his head gravely.

She snorted, sending out a few sparks that quickly died in the air. I do not think we are very good chaperones at all.

“We have to go for a little while,” Richard said reluctantly. “But we have been invited back for supper. Do you want to announce our engagement then?”

Mary nodded. “I should like that.”

“Then promise me something, love. Stay with Lizzy. I do not trust that Collins fellow, and I know she will protect you.”

Richard looked up at Lizzy. She growled and scratched her claws along the ground in agreement.

“I promise,” Mary said.

“Darcy has a plan that should get the rat out of here sooner rather than later, but it will still take a little while.”

Mary and Lizzy both looked at Mr. Darcy. He looked startled and not at all pleased by what Richard had said.

Mr. Darcy? she asked, is it true?

As she watched, the tips of his ears turned pink. I did not want to say something in case it did not work, but I have come to believe that leaving Collins here is not safe. I hope you do not think me too officious.

Officious? For doing what she had been all but begging her father to do for weeks? If dragons could cry, she would have burst into tears at that moment. As it was, she gave a mournful whine in the back of her throat before pressing her head to his chest.

Thank you, she whispered as he held her and stroked her face. Thank you.

It was nothing, he assured her. I believe I thought only of you.

“Darcy, Richard, are you ready to go?” Mr. Bingley asked, coming into the garden with Miss Bennet on his arm.

Lizzy did not want to pull away from Mr. Darcy’s touch, but she made herself raise her head and speak to Mr. Bingley.

Mr. Darcy said he intends to get rid of Mr. Collins. I will watch over Jane until he is gone.

“Thank you, Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Bingley said, then extracted a similar promise from Jane as Richard had asked from Mary. Jane was not as convinced that Collins could do them harm, but she made the promise. Lizzy drew her sisters close to her, sheltering one under each wing. She exchanged one last look with Mr. Darcy before he left and kept her eyes on his back until he passed out of sight. Her heart was full, all because of a gentleman from Derbyshire.

Though the weather was perfect for her dragon form, it was too cold for her sisters to remain outside without protection. Lizzy piled firewood just inside the door of the dower house, then set it alight. Jane and Mary sat in front of the fire, while Lizzy curled against their backs to form a wind break. Between her natural heat and the warmth of the fire, her sisters were well-sheltered from the cold.

Mary spoke enthusiastically of her engagement, but it was not long before they noticed a sorrowful expression on Jane’s face. Lizzy carefully nudged Jane’s arm, urging her to open up.

“I do not mean to be sad on your happy day, Mary,” Jane demurred.

“No, tell us,” Mary insisted, while Lizzy nodded.

Jane sighed. “It is only that… Mr. Bingley. He asked me to marry him.”

Mary gasped, while Lizzy felt the same astonishment.

“Jane! You never said!”

Jane’s face fell. Lizzy gave a soft whine, wishing she could speak with her sisters.

“You did not, refuse him? Do you not love him?” Mary asked.

“I do love him, very much,” Jane admitted in a whisper, looking down at her hands. “I did not refuse him, but I told him I was not comfortable accepting him when our family situation was so unsettled.”

Mary and Lizzy exchanged a confused look. Lizzy understood first. With a loud growl, she flapped her wings once, sending a jet of cold air at her sisters.

They shrieked her name in unison, but she easily growled over them.

“Yes, we heard you, Lizzy,” Jane said with asperity.

Lizzy still grumbled, but reluctantly settled. How could Jane have passed up on her own happiness? She understood that Jane was worried about her, the same as she worried about them, but if Jane was certain in her feelings for Mr. Bingley, she should not have hesitated. Just the fact of having both sisters engaged to good men would have made the family more settled.

“Do you regret telling him no?” Mary asked.

Jane hesitated, biting her lip. She glanced at Lizzy, then raised her chin. “My reasons are still valid, but I must admit, seeing how happy you are…”

Lizzy poked Jane’s ribs with her muzzle. Jane pushed her away.

“I think you should not wait any more,” Mary said firmly and Lizzy nodded vigorously.

“I am afraid,” Jane whispered, “I fear it would be tempting fate to be so happy. I have made him wait so long, I do not know if he still feels the same for me.”

Lizzy snorted and Mary cried, “Jane! Does Mr. Bingley not come nearly every day for you? You must be blind to not see how he feels for you.”

Jane blushed. “If I am blind, I am not the only one who cannot see.” She gave Lizzy a pointed look.

Lizzy jerked her head back in surprise.

“I agree,” Mary said emphatically.

Lizzy shook her head. Were they speaking of Mr. Darcy? Before the fight she had witnessed between the cousins, she would have said that he was her friend and nothing more. Now she had no idea how to respond to her sisters. She was simultaneously grateful of two things: first, as a dragon, she could not speak to her non-magical sisters. Second, dragons could not blush.

“I think, Jane, if you really love Mr. Bingley,” Mary said, bringing the subject back on topic, to Lizzy’s relief, “Then you should encourage him, let him know you are ready.”

“But—”

“Jane, becoming engaged to Richard has made me happier than I have ever been before. I love him, I know he loves me. I know you feel frightened, or think you have a responsibility to us, but I wish you could be as happy as I am now. When Richard asked me to marry him, I realized I could not put my life on hold because I am worried about what would happen. I need him, I can be good for him. If you need Mr. Bingley in the same way, do not let doubt hold you back.”

Lizzy crooned and laid her head on Mary’s shoulder, both of them looking at Jane. Jane still looked uncertain, but slowly she nodded.

“Maybe you are right,” she admitted. Her face lit up and she giggled. “Tell me again, Mary, what it felt like when Colonel Fitzwilliam proposed to you.”

Mary blushed but said, “You may as well call him Richard, he will be your brother soon.”

“But not soon enough for your liking?” Jane asked slyly.

“Jane!” Mary gasped, and Lizzy chortled.

The girls stayed together, talking and laughing until it was time for them to go in and dress for supper.

Mary and Jane waited for Lizzy while she put out the fire, then squeezed inside the dower house to change to human. Her sisters helped her into the dress she had stored there. It smelled of smoke, but then so did Jane, Mary and most of the countryside at this time of year.

No sooner had the three of them gone inside, then Collins took Mary aside. Mrs. Bennet ushered Jane and Lizzy from the room; Lizzy could not have prevented it without physically pushing the older woman aside, which she was unwilling to do. The most Lizzy could get away with was to give Mary a reassuring look and plant herself outside the door. If Collins attempted anything, she could be inside the room in an instant. Lizzy could hear everything in the room, down to the rustle of cloth as Collins paced.

“What was it you wished to say, Mr. Collins?” Mary asked. Her voice was remarkably steady, Lizzy thought. Perhaps it was the new engagement that gave Mary this new-found confidence.

“You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse,” he began in a particularly nasal tone. The rustle of cloth had stopped and Lizzy imagined him staring down his nose at Mary. She willed strength to her sister.

“My attentions have been too marked to be mistaken,” Collins said. “Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life.”

Lizzy clenched her fists. It was as she had feared. Colonel Fitzwilliam should have gone back to the house with them in order to announce the engagement; then Mary would have been safe from Collins.

“…that she said, ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice…’” Collins continued to speak, hardly pausing for breath.

“Of course as my wife you must give up these airs you have put on; you have had your flirtation, but that is at an end now. Lady Catherine does not approve of the lower class dressing above themselves, and I will have you in better regimen than to have your head turned on false praises…”

Lizzy’s breath hissed between her teeth. How dare Collins speak so to Mary, when she had not accepted his offer or even been allowed to speak.

“You are too hasty, sir,” Mary finally broke in, to Lizzy’s immense relief. “You forget that I have made no answer. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me—” the sarcasm was rich in her voice, “—I am aware of the sensibility of your proposal, but it is impossible for me to do other than to decline it.”

Mary’s tone was calm and firm, like she was speaking to a rowdy child who needed to be taken in hand. Lizzy silently praised her sister’s courage, even as she tensed in case Collins did not take her refusal well. Thank goodness for the timing of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s proposal; Mary had something solid to back up her statement. Not even Collins could refute a prior engagement.

However, Lizzy soon learned that it was not a matter of Collins not taking the refusal well: he barely acknowledged it.

“Your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble,” he said dismissively. “Your modesty, far from doing you any disservice, adds to your suitability. Though it is late in appearing, you would have been less agreeable if you had not refused me. I have been made aware that it is usual for young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept. The refusal may be repeated two or three times; it matters not, for I have your respected mother’s permission for this address. I am by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar before long.”

“No, sir,” Mary declared strongly. “You are mistaken. I did not refuse you in the hope of you renewing your proposal, neither did I do it out of some whim. I cannot accept your proposal, for I am already engaged to another.”

Dead silence fell within the room. Lizzy strained to hear anything, her heartbeat sounding loud in her ears.

“You are what?” Collins asked in a dangerous whisper. “Am I to understand that you gave yourself to another, against the expressed wishes of your respected mother, when you were promised to me?”

His voice began to rise and Lizzy decided it was time to act. With dragon swiftness, she darted past her mother into the room. Collins stood stiffly, staring at Mary. His face was almost purple with rage, his features twisted.

“I have never been promised to you, nor anyone else before my fiancé,” Mary said bravely. “As for my mother, she may have desired this match, but it is up to me to choose whom I may, and I chose for my future felicity.”

“Who is it? Who has dared touch what is mine?” Collins demanded.

“Again, I am not yours in any sense of the word. I assure you, this is not a hasty union brought on by an anticipation of vows. You have done little to warrant the information you requested, but I will give it to you anyway, for I am not ashamed of my choice. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam requested my hand, and I was glad to accept him.”

Collins’ fists clenched at his sides, shaking with fury. Lizzy came forward and put her arm around Mary’s waist to make it clear her sister was not alone. Collins’ glare turned to her.

“You!” he snarled. “You and your slatternly ways are responsible for the deception! You have seduced her in the way of sin and led her astray, encouraged this infidelity!”

Lizzy felt his magic rise and she readied her own to prevent him from banishing either herself or Mary. Beside her, Mary gasped. Lizzy had grown used to the things Collins said of her, but this was the first time Mary heard it so blatantly. Lizzy squeezed Mary in warning. Collins stared at them for a long time, a vein pulsing in his darkened forehead. Lizzy watched him narrowly, prepared to defend if necessary.

Abruptly Collins turned from them. Without another word he stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Immediately Mary started shaking.

“I was so frightened of him!” she confessed.

“You did not show it at all,” Lizzy complimented. She had a feeling that Collins was not done causing trouble for them.

“Thank you for being there for me. But Lizzy, what he said of you…”

Lizzy shrugged it off, though her stomach twisted with shame. “It is common enough from him, I am only sorry you had to hear it. We know it is not true, and with any luck now he will be gone soon.”

Mrs. Bennet came into the room, clearly confused. When she saw Lizzy and Mary comforting each other, her ire fell on her least favorite daughter.

“What did you say to Mr. Collins, you stupid girl?” Mrs. Bennet demanded. “I knew your father was being too lenient toward you, always letting you speak your mind, and now look at what you have done! You have offended Mr. Collins at the least, and we should all be lucky if he does not cast us all out into the hedgerows before Mr. Bennet is even cold in the grave. How could you be so ungrateful, when we have raised you all this time, to threaten our very security! I always knew you were treacherous at heart, and see now what you have done! And worse, you have been filling Mary’s head with your nonsense, I do not doubt it is entirely your fault for Mary to refuse Mr. Collins! I am most displeased with you—see if you ever receive a pennyworth more from me! I would throw you out this instant if Mr. Bennet would not stop me!”

“Mother!” Mary protested, while Lizzy bore the accusations stoically. The sharp barbs thrown by Mrs. Bennet struck deep, but Lizzy had long ago learned to expect them.

“And you!” Mrs. Bennet rounded on Mary. “I have half a mind to switch you, I do! What were you thinking, to refuse him? I trusted you to have our best interests at heart, and instead you have betrayed everything I have done for you! You must go upstairs right now and make up to Mr. Collins, if he shall even have you any longer.”

“But Mama,” Mary whispered, her face stricken. “I am engaged to Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

Mrs. Bennet paused mid-tirade, torn between the loss of one son-in-law and the gain of another. Her shrewd eyes shifted back and forth, clearly doing mental calculations on the worth of each man.

Finally she wailed, “But who will marry Mr. Collins? You useless child! You should have let Lydia or Kitty have Colonel Fitzwilliam! You knew Mr. Collins was set on you! What good are you to me now?”

The tirade continued, Mary trembling under the onslaught. At that point Lizzy had had enough and reached out for the one person who could have a hope of curbing Mrs. Bennet’s tongue.

Papa! she cried out.

What is it now? Mr. Bennet asked with tired amusement.

Mary has refused Mr. Collins— she began.

Did she? Then all your nattering on to me about Mr. Collins was for nothing. I knew she had more sense than to go with him.

Papa, just listen to me. Mother is very upset with her; she is yelling at Mary and will not stop.

“Mama, please,” Mary begged in a weak voice.

And you want me to intervene? Mr. Bennet sounded mildly put out. Do you not think Mary can deal with this on her own? Mrs. Bennet is excitable, but it rarely lasts long. Mary ought to know that by now.

If there was ever a time to stir yourself, this is it, Lizzy declared grimly.

Very well, because you asked it, I will see what is happening.

Lizzy felt relief mixed with resentment. Finally he was going to take action, but it should not have taken such extreme circumstances to get him to move. She wished more than ever that she could speak silently to her sister and reassure her that help was coming.

Mrs. Bennet was pacing and wringing her hands, shooting scathing remarks to both her daughters. Mary was silently crying, but Lizzy was seething with anger. The tears in her eyes were ones of frustration and rage, though Mrs. Bennet could not see it.

“Stop your sniveling!” she ordered. “You have both failed me—I have never thought much of you, Lizzy, but Mary! I had expected more from you than—”

“What is this?” Mr. Bennet demanded from the doorway.

Mrs. Bennet jumped guiltily and turned to face him. Lizzy took the opportunity to propel Mary, half-carrying her, toward their father. Mr. Bennet held his arms out for them and Mary collapsed in sobs against him. Lizzy could not so easily forgive his reluctance to help them and stood a little apart. She saw the flash of hurt on his face, but her own heart was aching too much to accept his succor.

“No, I will not allow this,” Mrs. Bennet screeched. “You always give your daughters too much freedom—”

“Just as you treat your daughters in the manner you chose; leave mine to me,” Mr. Bennet stated sharply.

Lizzy held her breath. She had never heard her parents so close to acknowledging the divide in their family. Did Mary understand the secrets humming through the air?

Mrs. Bennet burst into bitter tears, making Mr. Bennet sigh heavily. He patted Mary’s hair.

“There now, my girl, dry your face. You have done me proud to refuse Mr. Collins, never fear that. Go upstairs with Lizzy and I will deal with this.”

Mary nodded and allowed Lizzy to take possession of her again. Mr. Bennet gave Lizzy a sad look, but she was still too angry and hurt to absolve him. The sisters went upstairs to the sanctuary of Mary’s room.



So which sister do you think will become engaged next?
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse Chapter 23

Autumn DNovember 30, 2017 01:45AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 23

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Re: The Curse Chapter 23

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Re: The Curse Chapter 23

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Re: The Curse Chapter 23

EvelynJeanDecember 01, 2017 04:42AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 23

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Re: The Curse Chapter 23

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