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The Curse Chapter 25

August 02, 2018 12:14AM
Hello peeps! I think this is the chapter a lot of people have been waiting for! I'll just be over here, hiding behind my nice lovely couch...


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






Chapter 25

The next morning, Lizzy was woken by her father’s voice.

Lizzy, I am escorting the miscreant back to Kent. Expect me to be gone for a few days. I will try not to involve you girls if I can help it.

Yes, Papa
, she said drowsily.

Please believe me, I never wanted something like this to happen to you or Mary.

I know. Take him away and come home soon. He does not deserve a moment more of our consideration.

You are right, my girl. Farewell.

Safe travels,
she wished him, and waited for the sound of the carriage leaving. Only once she was sure there was no risk of seeing Collins again did she stir and nudge her sisters awake.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. There was a lot of laughter and happy talking as they readied for the ball that night. Thanks to her sisters’ night in the dower house, Lizzy had enough time as a human to attend the ball. She would have to remain a dragon for several days after, but it was worth it to be able to go.

Lizzy felt an excited quiver every time she pictured Mr. Darcy at the ball. The way he had comforted and read to her the night before had drawn them closer. He was important to her in a way she had never felt for someone outside her family. It took all of her control not to fly as a dragon to Netherfield early. She knew he would not mind her presence, but for once it was the human side of her that held her back. Perhaps it was a silly whim, but she wanted to look nice for him.

She allowed her sisters to primp her hair and pick out ribbons that matched her eyes. They did so with a minimum of fuss, for which Lizzy was grateful. If they had chosen to tease her about taking care with her appearance when she never had before, she might have lost her courage. Instead, she helped her sisters in return, reveling in this purely human activity. For once, she did not feel like a dragon. Thankfully the marks left on Mary and Lizzy from the attack were slight, and easily masked with a bit of powder and a few ribbons.



***



“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” Darcy muttered, staring into the mirror. He paused. No, that did not sound right. One did not make demands on a dragon. Especially not when he was asking her the biggest question of his life. He was not afraid of the commitment, but he was very conscious of the weight of it. From now on, he would be responsible for caring and providing for Elizabeth. To have and to hold her, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health… The only thing he was not concerned about was loving her. That came naturally to him.

No, it was not doubt in the strength of his feelings that brought nerves to his stomach. Elizabeth was everything he wished for in a wife, intelligent and caring, brave, strong, so beautiful she took his breath away. She was no fainting flower of the tonne, and he blessed God above for that moment when his carriage had tipped into the river. Without it, he may never have noticed how truly remarkable she was.

If there was one thing about the ball tonight that bothered him, and the very pertinent question he was going to ask her, it was her response. He loved her with his whole being, but did he really know how she felt for him? Darcy held tight to the memory of last night, when she had woken him in a moment of distress. He had been the one to calm her, to read to her until he felt her fall asleep again. Many times previously she had turned to him for support. She had even come down on his side in that misunderstanding with Richard. He knew he had her trust, but what if that was all he had?

Darcy desired more than trust and respect in a marriage. He wanted her love, equal to his own. Only love would break her curse, though he had long since ceased to think of it as a plague on her. For all she came to him, never once had she spoken words of love to him. He was afraid, not of Elizabeth, never her, but rather of exposing himself so completely. All his life he had been taught to avoid unseemly displays of emotion. How could he ask this question, most important to his future happiness, without behaving like a callow boy facing a woman for the first time?

If it was only his own fate at stake, he would be no less nervous, but not as weighed down. What if he was not enough? The usual things which made him an ideal catch as a husband, his property, his wealth, his passing good looks, meant nothing to Elizabeth as a woman, and less than nothing to her as a dragon. Even though he hoped to free her from the curse, as of the moment she was still dragon, more dragon that human if he told the truth. What sort of appeal did he hold to a dragon?

She did not need his protection. She did not need his home, his wealth or his name. All he had to offer her was his own person. If her feelings were not equal to his, he feared he would lose her as a dragon forever. It was his worst nightmare, the sort of thing that woke him at night as he saw how little time she had as a human.

What would be more unfair, if she did not love him and said so plainly, rejecting his suit, or for her to accept him out of convenience only? Either way would destroy his heart, but the latter would be slow torture as he watched her slip away from him moment by moment. Would she have any human time left by the time their wedding arrived? Was his love enough to shatter the curse, or must it be reciprocal? So little was known about curing detrimental magic by the power of love.

Darcy’s stomach lurched and he swallowed hard to avoid casting up his accounts. Was this how Cinder felt on the eve of battle? He imagined it was the same sort of uncertainty, knowing that what was to come would alter him irrevocably. A soldier could sharpen his weapons, practice his skills, strengthen his magic. The only left for Darcy was to pray that he found the right words.



***



As Mr. Bennet had taken the horse and carriage to remove Collins, Mr. Bingley had kindly send a carriage to pick them up. Mrs. Bennet was beside herself at the honor. Lizzy felt an excess of nerves now that the time had arrived. She fidgeted with her dress until Jane and Mary each took one of her hands to keep her from crushing the cloth.

When they got out of the carriage on the steps to Netherfield, Lizzy could hardly breathe. She barely noticed going through the receiving line. She must have greeted Mr. Bingley, Miss Bingley, the Hursts and Richard, but she did not notice. A strange fear had gripped her, making her feel as though she might be ill. And yet, when she saw Mr. Darcy at the end of line, all her worry faded away as though it had never been.

He looked particularly well that night, dressed in a fine grey coat that brought out the color of his eyes. He smiled at her, bowing while she curtsied. When they rose together, she noticed at once what was missing.

“Mr. Darcy, your cane?” she asked in wonder.

His smiled deepened, showing dimples as he offered his arm to her. She rested her hand in the crook of his elbow, taking a place at his side as though she belonged there.

“I discovered that I no longer need it,” he explained. “Richard did away with my usual one, but I found that I was not even relying on ice to help me walk.”

“That is marvelous,” she said happily.

“I still cannot dance,” he warned.

“And you know I care not for that,” she replied warmly. “I would still choose you as my first partner of the night.”

“That is well,” he murmured, “For I have no intention of releasing you.”

He tugged at her hand and they began to move and mingle through the crowd. Lizzy noticed that he still had a limp, but it was much less pronounced than before. She imagined it would not be long before he could dance with ease. The thought made a pleased warmth in her chest, like a wish coming true. Mr. Darcy was the one gentleman with whom she had never danced, but she would take great delight in being his partner if she had the chance. For now she felt every bit of privilege in sitting out with him in place of dancing.

They passed Richard, who wore a dark green civilian jacket instead of his red uniform. There was no fault in the cut of the material, but he did not look easy in it.

“Colonel Dragon has traded in his uniform?” Lizzy asked her companion softly.

“Now that my cousin has decided to embark upon married life, he has decided not to risk leaving his wife a widow. He resigned from his commission in the army. It may take him some time to get used to being out of the red, but I daresay he has strong incentive,” Darcy said with quiet satisfaction.

Mary approached Richard, and he visibly relaxed in her presence. Lizzy knew her sister would not have minded being a soldier’s wife, but it was just as well that Richard was choosing to make Mary his priority.

The bars of the first set sounded, and couples paired off in anticipation. Mr. Bingley and Jane, and Mary and Richard, were among the first to get into position. Mr. Darcy led Lizzy to the side where they would not be in the way. She did not notice if any gentleman had thought to ask for her first set; the way she held to Mr. Darcy’s arm was statement enough that she was claimed.

Time seemed to pass far too quickly that evening. After the first set, she danced with Richard, and the third with Mr. Bingley. She almost felt sorry for the gentlemen, who were fulfilling their promise to dance with each Bennet sister. They would be very busy to the end of the ball, especially if they wished to avoid offending any non-Bennet ladies present. For the supper set, Mr. Darcy was quick to appear at her side again.

His fingers trembled slightly as he took her elbow. She gave him a look in concern; he smiled at her, but she could see that he was ill at ease. Abruptly Lizzy recalled that he had wanted to speak with her this night. It seemed that the time had come for that conversation. She put her hand on his arm and squeezed gently, trying to convey her support. He steadied as he led her aside.

The ballroom was hot and crowded, not conducive to a private conversation, so she did not mind when he pulled her from the gathering. In the hall, the noise level dropped appreciatively, but Mr. Darcy’s tension rose.

“Eliz—Miss Elizabeth, I was wondering—if you would, that is, hoping—Blast!” He was uncharacteristically nervous as he stammered.

“Mr. Darcy,” she said soothingly, drawing closer to him. “It is only me. There is no cause for you to be worried over what I will say.”

He drew in a deep breath, settling his shoulders. “Forgive me, Miss Elizabeth, you are right.” He started to reach for her, but a servant walked by and they instinctively parted.

Once they were alone again, Mr. Darcy offered his arm to her again. “Would you care to accompany me to the library?”

“Yes, please,” she responded, sliding her arm through his.

They walked toward the library, the way familiar to both of them. Mr. Darcy was still not his usual self. He seemed alternately jubilant, his grey eyes shining with an internal light when he smiled at her, and oddly anxious, fumbling with his steps and words. She was at a loss to guess what could make this normally calm man lose his reserve.

Once in the library, his apprehension increased. Lizzy took a seat in one of the chairs, gesturing for him to join her in the hope of calming him. He sat on the edge of another chair for a few seconds, but almost immediately jumped to his feet again. He paced in short, agitated strides in front of her before suddenly facing her.

Without warning he kneeled before her, with only a slight hitch from his injured leg. Lizzy’s heart leapt to her throat as he took her hand. Was he…? Nothing could have prepared her for this.

“Elizabeth,” he intoned fervently, looking deep into her eyes. “You must know by now how I feel about you.”

Her heart was pounding so hard she could hardly breathe. Her dragon was completely silent inside her.

“In the first moment I saw you, you saved my life. I would have died in the river had you not pulled me free, and later I should have frozen but for your warmth. When a healer tended me, he said your magic was what allowed me to keep my leg. From that time on, I felt an obligation to find you. I could not have said what it was, but I knew you needed my help. When I saw your face the first time, I was drawn to you. I could not explain my feeling, but even before I knew you in both forms, it was as though I could hear you calling for me. Once I understood your condition, I knew at last what it was. This was my obligation, my responsibility to you, my return for you saving my life.

“Yet you did more than save my life. When Wickham came to discredit me, it was you who believed me instead of him. Since then I have felt the pressure to take action, to make it known how I was to help you, to fulfill my great debt to you. I have tried to help you in offering you and your sisters a refuge if you could not continue at Longbourn. I brought my cousin to help defend against the pressure placed on your family, though I could not have foreseen his attachment to Miss Mary.

“It was never enough. I failed you; only last night you suffered an attack I should have been able to prevent. There is only one way I can offer my protection now, one way in which I might serve you and clear my conscience over what happened. I had intended to ask you before, but the attack made it abundantly clear that I am forced to act now. You must allow me to express my gratitude for what you have done for me. I know now that I can help you, that I can break your curse.

“In short, Elizabeth, would you do me the great honor of allowing me to fulfill my commitment to you, and become my wife?”

Mr. Darcy stared at her intently, pressing her hand between his. Lizzy could only give him a vague look in return, confusion and hurt swirling inside her. When he had first knelt in front of her and she realized at last that he meant to propose to her, she had felt as though she might faint with excitement. She had eagerly clutched his hands, feeling in her heart that she would not hesitate to accept him.

And yet, as he continued to speak, of obligation, responsibility, debt and protection, hope had given way to bewilderment, and joy had turned to heartache. She still felt that Mr. Darcy was the best of gentlemen, but she knew now that his feelings were unequal to hers. How could she trap this premier gentleman in a marriage of convenience?

“Elizabeth?” he asked, awaiting her answer.

She could not meet his eyes. A sob lodged in her chest, but she forced it back. Her fingers were cold in his as she took her hand back.

“In such cases as this,” she began shakily, her eyes burning with unshed tears, “I believe it is the established mode to express gratitude for the sentiments avowed, so I should like to thank you. But I never wished to cause you to be obligated to me. I assure you, it was most unconsciously done, and I now wish to release you from any debt you feel towards me. Consider it discharged in full, and let us have no more tally between us.”

His expression underwent a dramatic change, from hopeful expectation to fallen disillusionment. He rose from his knees, standing before her.

“And this is all the reply which I am to have the honor of expecting?” he asked in frustration.

“I am sorry, Mr. Darcy, but there is no other which I can give,” she said, her head bowed and hands held together in her lap to stop them from shaking.

“Then I apologize for taking so much of your time. I shall not bother you any further.” He strode from the room, not bothering to shut the door behind him.

Lizzy let out a gasping breath, pressing her fingers to her mouth. Her stomach twisted sickeningly. Suddenly, she could not breathe. She needed to get out of the house. She ran from the room, not caring who should see her in a state of distress. Lizzy had scarcely left the view of Netherfield before she was tearing at the ribbons and decorations, unable to bear their touch a moment longer. To think a few hours ago she had wanted to look nice for him! Now she knew that it was a wasted effort on her part, for he had never cared for her as she had for him.

She called on her dragon form, trusting in the darkness to hide her. For a moment she thought about leaving the detritus of her human life behind, but she was overwhelmed by the desire to cover all evidence of her ever being there. With rough dragon claws, she bundled her ripped dress and accoutrements together and carried them away into the air.

The instinct to run, to fly and never look back was pounding in her head so that she barely made it to the landing in Longbourn’s park. She threw her dress at the kitchen door where she knew it would be found. She took off again, flying nearly vertical. At the very top of her arch, Lizzy released a dragon scream of pain, then turned and let herself fall. It seemed like years ago that she had once warned herself against falling, but she had forgotten her own advice. Now she had fallen, and it hurt so much, more than she could bear.

She caught herself before hitting the ground, almost not caring if she should damage herself in the process. The hard landing jarred the breath out of her, and she whined with the discomfort. She needed her family, but Papa was gone and none of her sisters could speak with her at the moment.

Lizzy reached toward Netherfield, not to the gentleman who had been her solace, but to another friend in attendance.

Charlotte?

Lizzy? Charlotte’s voice was very faint. She was not a strong mage, and even with Lizzy’s power to bolster the connection, the distance between them was almost too great for communication.

I left the ball without saying goodbye. Could you tell Jane that I was taken ill and could not stay?

That is not very like you, Lizzy.

Please, Charlotte.

I will.


Thank you. Lizzy broke the connection. Shivers ran down her spine, not from cold, but from the urge for movement. She should not be here, so close to the scene of her disappointment. She needed to be away, needed to forget everything Mr. Darcy had made her feel. How could she have ever expected him to return her sentiments? A dragon who felt their nest was catastrophically threatened would not stay in the damaged area. She had forgotten the most important thing: she was a dragon, and ever would be. Not for her were the happy endings and joyful unions which her sisters would experience. They were human, with human lives and partners, which Lizzy could never have.

A sharp keen broke from her throat and she was in the air and flying before she knew it. She was over Meryton before she recalled herself and forced her wings to turn back to Longbourn. Lizzy forced herself into the dower house, not caring that her back and sides got scraped. It felt like the small space was the only thing keeping her tethered at the moment. The dower house smelled like her sisters, and it was a small comfort as she curled in on herself. No matter how much she longed to leave, she could not do that without saying goodbye.

Less than half an hour passed before Lizzy heard the sound of a carriage. She was so far gone in her stupor she barely paid attention to it, but she did stir when she heard Jane calling her name. Even though it felt wrong, Lizzy changed back to her human skin. She felt itchy and compressed, as though her dragon was reluctant to give way to the vulnerable human.

“Here, Jane,” Lizzy called.

Jane hurried through the park toward the dower house. She tried to offer Lizzy her shawl when she saw Lizzy’s bare form leaning against the doorway, but Lizzy shook her head. Her sister would need the warmth, and Lizzy would not linger long.

“What is wrong, Lizzy?” Jane asked urgently. “I saw you leave with Mr. Darcy, and then Charlotte told me you had taken ill and left.”

“You should not have come, Jane,” Lizzy said dully, though she was grateful to see her sister.

Jane came forward and gave her a tight hug. “I told Charles I needed to be with you, and he understood. He allowed me to borrow his carriage.”

“Charles?” Lizzy asked, forcing hope into her voice even though she had none for herself. The darkness could not hide the blush on Jane’s cheeks.

“I spoke with him tonight,” she admitted. “I think when Papa returns, Charles will request an interview with him.

“That is very good, Jane,” Lizzy tried a smile, but it came out more of a grimace.

“What about you, Lizzy? What did Mr. Darcy say to you that made you leave without a word to me?”

“I told Charlotte to tell you,” she mumbled, feeling more numb by the moment.

“You are avoiding,” Jane chided gently.

“Mr. Darcy proposed.” The words tumbled out of her lips without her meaning to say them.

Jane gasped, “Lizzy!” Then she seemed to catch herself. “But you did not want him to? You do not… care for him?”

“He does not care for me,” Lizzy corrected without heat.

“When a man proposes, it is not because he does not care,” Jane prodded.

Lizzy shook her head. “He spoke of obligation… that because I saved him once, he was in debt to me.”

“Then you refused him?”

“I had to,” Lizzy whispered, silent tears dripping down her face. “I could not force him into a marriage only because he was trying to repay a debt.”

Jane gave her a keen look. “Lizzy, do you love Mr. Darcy?”

Lizzy began to cry in earnest. Jane held her for a time, but Lizzy only allowed herself to grieve for a moment before pushing back from her sister.

“I need to go, Jane,” Lizzy said huskily.

Fear flashed across Jane’s face.

“No! Lizzy! Do not go!” Jane tried to grab Lizzy’s arm, but the younger girl slipped away.

“I have to,” she said simply, standing out in the moonlight. Her bare skin was pale for a few seconds, before turning the black of dragon scales.

“Lizzy!” Jane cried, running after the dragon.

Lizzy used her wing to gently press her sister away, and then she took to the air.

At last, she could fly and not look back.



So who do you want to strangle most, Darcy, Lizzy, or me? Comments
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Curse Chapter 25

Autumn DAugust 02, 2018 12:14AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 25

AiAugust 05, 2018 09:37PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 25

Sabine C.August 05, 2018 06:08AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 25

EvelynJeanAugust 04, 2018 02:04AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 25

Linnea EileenAugust 02, 2018 02:15PM

Re: The Curse Chapter 25

MichaAugust 02, 2018 06:06AM

Re: The Curse Chapter 25

ShannaGAugust 02, 2018 01:21AM



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