Fantasy Friday– Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters, Chapter Six

I know I am dealing with a large cast of characters right now with the addition of the Tilneys. Do you think referring to the young people by their first names (Caroline, Henry, Charles etc.) would make it easier to keep track of everyone?

At the close of Chapter Five, Kate had a vision of the the Netherfield group dining at Longbourn.

Previous Chapters: Prologue to Chapter Four / Chapter Five

morgana yellow

Chapter Six

 

“What a lovely home you have,” Mrs. Tilney said to Mrs. Bennet in the drawing room after dinner at Longbourn. “Did any of your daughters assist with the meal?”

Mrs. Bennet attempted to answer civilly, but Elizabeth could see her embarrassment at what must be an obvious slight. Mrs. Tilney’s eyes scanned the room as though guessing the age and cost of each item. She had frowned at the dated appearance of the dining room and the less than perfectly polished silverware.

“No, the girls have nothing to do with the kitchen.”

Elizabeth wondered if smoke was coming out of her ears yet. She recalled her history lessons with her father. Gentry magical folk believed menial work beneath them in all forms, even magical.

“Oh, pardon me. I do hope I did not offend you with the question. Lady Lucas boasted of her daughter’s meat pie.”

Elizabeth had a hard time believing Mrs. Tilney was genuine, but Jane seemed unaffected by any feelings of pretension in the room, and surely she would have sensed the truth. It was their first meal in company since the return of their powers and also their first meal with their new neighbors.

“It is truly an honor to be here,” Eleanor Tilney said.

Caroline Bingley added, “Oh yes, we have heard much of the Bewitching Sisters.”

“Caroline, you must be careful with your words!” Mr. Henry Tilney said as the gentlemen entered. They had been ushered into the library for a discussion as soon as they arrived.

“Do you sense it is dangerous to speak of our magic now?” Kate asked and glanced about the room.

“Of course not,” he replied to only Kate as Caroline continued to talk with Jane. Sensing that their conversation was more interesting, Elizabeth focused on it.

“Caroline must mean that she has heard of you frequently. However, she misused the meaning of the word much. It implies volume and words take up no space at all, certainly not any space at all in the minds of most people.”

Kate chewed her bottom lip, confused by his wit and wordplay. However, Elizabeth smiled. “And then some people speak so little because their thoughts threaten to overflow. Such must be the case with you, Mr. Darcy,” she said as she turned to face the gentleman.

“Not at all,” he said so coldly the conversation died.

Turning her attention from the irritable man, Elizabeth took a sip of wine as she watched Jane and Mr. Bingley across the room. He had gone straight to Jane’s side and had not ceased smiling at her the entire evening.

Just like Kate’s vision, Mr. Hurst’s face was indeed reddened from his after-dinner port while Mr. Bennet and General Tilney talked in private conference. Unable to make out their words, Elizabeth’s eyes wandered to Mrs. Hurst. She said little and instead played with her elegant bracelets. Elizabeth had the feeling Mr. Hurst was of more fashion than fortune.

When Elizabeth turned her attention back to the assembled group, she found Mr. Darcy staring at her. He did not smile or talk yet had seldom looked away from her that evening. Annoyance festered in her heart and her palms prickled with sensation. She struggled to control her magical impulses under his critical gaze. Nearby, Elizabeth heard Kate speaking with Miss Tilney on the subject of books.

“Did you read the latest volume of Mr. Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?” Miss Tilney asked.

“Oh, no. You will have to ask Lizzy her thoughts on that. Papa makes me read such things, but I can never make much sense of them. Do you not find it difficult to credit stories of what happened so long ago when they are reported with as much certainty as someone may describe what happened at last week’s ball?”

Internally, Lizzy sighed. Kate was attempting to apply Jane’s empathy lessons to the broader subject of history.

“It is hardly likely a historian will admit to an inability to accurately give his information,” Mr. Tilney countered.

“Then are we the fools to believe it when everyone can find fault with Mrs. Howes’ report of the order of events of the last ball or the accuracy of the gown worn by Mrs. Ridgeway?”

You dislike invention and embellishment?” Mr. Tilney said with a raised eyebrow.

“Not at all. I enjoy novels particularly.”

“The former Mrs. Burney?”

“Mrs. Radcliffe. I’m desperate to reread The Italian, but Father has been reading The Vision of Don Roderick this week. I think The Mysteries of Udolpho is the nicest book in the world, but I suppose you have never read it.”

Mr. Tilney looked exceptionally amused. “Why do you think that?”

“Everyone knows novels are not important enough for gentlemen, they read other things.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brows. Where had Kate come up with such garbage?

“I have read hundreds and hundreds of novels. I have many years of advantage over you if we would ask one another which books we have read. Now, Udolpho had me so enthralled I could not put it down even to spare five minutes when Eleanor was called away. I would not say it is the nicest book, however.”

Kate looked by turns pleased and annoyed. “Well, why not? If you liked it so much can you possibly like something else more?”

“Perhaps I may find one I do love more later, but I assumed you meant the binding was the neatest.”

“The binding!” Catherine cried in confusion.

Miss Tilney laid a calming hand on Kate’s arm. “Henry is teasing you, as he does with me. He has very demanding standards on word usage.”

Elizabeth found the conversation interesting. She had not supposed before that Kate could hold her own in such nonconventional topics. Elizabeth also understood why Kate had enjoyed Mr. Tilney’s humor from the night of the ball. More than anything, Elizabeth was pleased with Miss Tilney for easing Kate’s nerves when she grew too flustered and anxious. She quite reminded Elizabeth of Jane.

Mr. Tilney waged on. “Nice used to apply to a person’s dress or feelings, a sense of refinement or neatness and now it is used for everything.”

“Pay him no mind, Miss Morland. Come over here with me, and we may talk more about other books.”

Elizabeth joined them. Miss Tilney and she talked about drawing, while Kate listened with ignorance. She knew nothing on the subject, and it was only after several minutes of silence from her younger sister that Elizabeth realised she ought to have steered the conversation to a topic Kate could have joined in. Feeling as though she bungled things, Elizabeth was relieved to see Jane motion them over. Along the way, Mr. Tilney sidetracked Elizabeth but allowed Kate and Eleanor to reach Jane.

“Miss Morland tells me you enjoyed Gibbons’ The Fall of Rome?”

Elizabeth agreed and allowed him to ramble on for a few minutes while she tried to overhear the conversation next to her. Jane would admonish her for eavesdropping, but it was the only way she could ever learn the truth of things. Jane filtered things too much.

“Are you well?” Kate asked Jane.

“Perfectly!” Elizabeth could hear the smile in Jane’s voice.

“You have not been speaking.”

“I am afraid that is my fault, Miss Catherine,” Mr. Bingley said.

“Mr. Bingley is a telepath and can effortlessly read my thoughts,” said Jane.

“No more than you can discern my feelings!” Bingley replied.

Elizabeth smiled to hear Jane praised so ardently, even if she knew Jane likely blushed. Encouraged by Elizabeth’s countenance, Mr. Tilney laughed a little too loudly at his own remark. It broke through the conversation next to them. For some reason, Elizabeth’s eyes were drawn across the room. Mr. Darcy scowled at her and Mr. Tilney. Then Jane and Bingley jumped in fright beside her. Were they afraid of Mr. Darcy?

“I fear my friend has had enough company this evening,” Bingley murmured before excusing himself.

Tilney followed, leaving the three sisters watching the gentlemen. Jane’s eyes followed Bingley with an expression of concern. Before much longer, the Netherfield family said their goodbyes and departed.

“I dare say that went differently than you thought, Kate,” Elizabeth said.

“Indeed.”

“We had better return to Mama,” Jane directed her younger sisters to the drawing room but then held Kate back.

Elizabeth hovered in the doorway out of sight and heard Jane whispering to Kate. “She was too angry at Mr. Darcy the entire evening to notice Mr. Tilney.”

“And Mr. Tilney?”

“Despite what Mr. Bingley said I cannot seem to discern the feelings of any of the gentlemen, or any of the Netherfield group at all, except when Mr. Darcy seemed upset by Mr. Tilney’s laughing. I suppose it is not necessary since we know they are to safeguard us.”

“I wish we knew more about what we are supposed to eventually do.”

“Do not borrow trouble, Kate. We shall likely know before too long. Already, so much has changed.”

Feeling somehow responsible for the sad and far away sound in Jane’s voice, Elizabeth stuck her head out the door. “The next time you want to wish me away just to whisper in the hall you might say it.”

Jane and Catherine shared a smile before following Elizabeth to the drawing room.

 

*****

 

Before too many days passed, Mrs. Tilney returned the civility and asked the Longbourn family to dine at Netherfield.

“I cannot think of a better way to pass the evening,” Kate said in the carriage.

Elizabeth huffed. “I am sure you and Jane cannot for not only are you both nicer people, but you have the attention of charming gentlemen. The only people who notice me are sour. Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy both stared critically at me the entire night they dined with us.”

“Perhaps they saw something worthy of admiration,” Jane said.

“If your powers worked at all on them, you would know how incorrect that is.”

“You are always so ready for a fight,” Kate observed.

“I suppose it is the fire in me!” Elizabeth said with a smirk.

“I trust you girls are not so silly as to be distracted by a couple of bucks and forget the seriousness of your powers,” Mr. Bennet cautioned from the other side of the carriage.

A pout formed on Kate’s lips. “Our days are filled with instruction and worry about what it means that our powers have returned. General Tilney’s reappearance has set all this in motion. Can we not enjoy ourselves when in their company?”

Mr. Bennet opened his mouth to speak, but Mrs. Bennet placed a hand on his arm, forestalling him. “Practicing your powers on those you know to be friendly can serve you when you must practice on your enemy,” she said.

Jane cried in horror, “Practice on them!”

“Do you think they have not used their powers on you?” Mr. Bennet asked.

They pulled up to the house, halting the conversation but Elizabeth wondered at the sense of civility and propriety in the magical world. Mr. Bingley and Mr. and Miss Tilney were kind enough, but the others Elizabeth could not like.

Mrs. Tilney had ordered a lavish meal with several courses. The furniture was upholstered in the finest silks, plush carpets draped the floors, and gold filigree was inlaid on most of the furniture. Elizabeth saw it as a pompous and vulgar display, flaunting General Tilney’s greater wealth. Little was said, at first, until Mr. Bennet cleared his throat and gave each of his daughters a pointed look, a clear reminder of his earlier words.

Mr. Darcy, sitting next to Elizabeth, commented on the meal. Unsurprised that he would enjoy the grandiose atmosphere, she gritted her teeth before replying and felt her palms itch. It occurred to her, she never wondered if he had magical powers, convinced as she was that he was aware of her own. He must be a fire wizard like her father for he always excited her powers. Amusing herself, she stared at a candle at the table, and the flame grew. Wondering if she could also snuff it out, she attempted to do so and was pleased to see the light diminish. Mr. Darcy chuckled beside her.

“I dearly love a laugh. I hope you will share your amusement,” she said.

“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips at the Shakespearian quote. “You would assign me the role of Portia?”

“Do you not fight against the darkness?”

Elizabeth wondered if he had ever fought against dark forces. Instead of indulging her curiosity, she chose to joke. “But you believe I do so through trickery, as Portia disguised herself as a man to argue in court to save her husband’s friend?”

“I would not dare to know the arts of a Bewitching Sister.”

Elizabeth frowned as the flames in the room grew. Determined to ignore him, she turned her attention to her food. Darcy said nothing more, but the temperature of the room seemed to steadily drop. Elizabeth glanced at the fire, it had gone out, and ice frosted the windows.

Looking at the other occupants of the room, most of them showed signs of feeling cold. Jane’s teeth chattered but she was too polite to say anything. Anger flared in Elizabeth. Why did Mrs. Tilney not remove them from the room? As she thought about it, the fire on the far wall suddenly surged forward. Knowing it would still take some time to rewarm the room, Elizabeth was happy to see their hostess nearly immediately on her feet.

“I think if our guests are amenable,” said Mrs. Tilney, “we ought to adjourn to the drawing room for our dessert.”

The Bennet family nodded their heads in agreement, and Mrs. Tilney stood to direct the ladies to the drawing-room and allowed the gentlemen to remain. They would have dessert and coffee when the men joined the women, which the gentlemen assured them would not take long given the temperature of the room.

“Miss Bennet,” Miss Bingley joined Jane on a sofa, “my sister and I were simply amazed to hear of your story. Such times we live in! But tell us, dear, are you reconciled to our world?”

Always reserved in the company of others, Jane dissembled. “My father is a great teacher. Our progress is very rapid. We did have our powers as children and memories of such were restored.”

“How brave you all are!” Mrs. Hurst said.

Miss Bingley turned her head toward Elizabeth and gasped. “Miss Eliza! You are so flushed! Are you sure you should be so near the fire?”

“Are you ill, Lizzy?” Jane asked.

“I feel perfectly well. You look pale, dear.”

“She likely caught a chill while we were eating. The room gets terribly cold. That is why mother suggested we remove to the drawing room,” Mrs. Hurst explained.

Elizabeth understood as she struggled to control her emotions around Mr. Darcy, that she had not felt any cold at all. “Allow me,” she said, and the flames grew.

Elizabeth sat next to Jane, and the ladies discussed the impending winter weather. After several minutes, Mrs. Hurst excused herself to speak with her mother. Miss Bingley and Jane conversed pleasantly while Elizabeth found herself watching the door and awaiting the entrance of the gentlemen. Internally laughing at her folly, she shook her head and allowed her eye to rove over the extravagant room. The pianoforte likely cost more than the furnishings in Longbourn’s entire first floor. In the corner, a maid refilled coffee and teacups through spell work. Elizabeth had the uncomfortable feeling that she no longer understood the rules of the world around her. Mr. Bennet’s suggestion to practice magic on their friends confused her. Obviously, her power would be too dangerous to do so but others might. Indeed, even Jane had already attempted to uncover the feelings of the Netherfield party. It just seemed so… intrusive. The Jobbard world would never welcome it.

Elizabeth felt her palms prickle with sensation again a minute before there was noise at the door and the gentlemen returned. Mr. Darcy entered, catching her eye immediately. She held his gaze and lifted her chin. Magical world or not, she would not be ashamed of whatever he found to criticize.

Fantasy Friday–Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Five

Road in dark forest

I’ve decided that posting in small chunks wasn’t working for me. From now on, I will be posting an entire chapter once a month.

Previous posts: 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1 / 3.2 / 4.1 / 4.2 / 4.3

Chapter Five

Two hours later, Jane and Elizabeth sat with Mr. Bennet in his library. Elizabeth did not need powers of empathy to know Jane felt confusion that the gentlemen of Netherfield did not call at Longbourn. Indeed, Elizabeth agreed with it. They ought to have called! When she heard the front door opening and voices in the hall, her heart skipped a beat—but no it was only Kate and Mr. and Mrs. Allen returning. Elizabeth’s conscience pricked, and she chose not to examine why she should be so emotionally invested in whether Mr. Bingley called on Jane. Surely that was the only reason she cared if the gentlemen called.
“How was your trip to Meryton?” Elizabeth asked when Kate came into the library. “Did you have any premonitions there?”
“No.” She hung her head and twisted her hands.
“Ah, I see your dislike of reading serious materials has played with your mind. You felt “urged to go” rather than sit home and read!” Mr. Bennet teased.
Elizabeth bit back a smile at her father’s words. He had been the one to tell Kate to leave.
“Papa!” Jane cried. “You upset her by calling her stupid!”
Mr. Bennet came to Kate’s side. “I am sorry. I did not mean it that way. I only like to tease.”
Kate sniffed. “I know.”
Elizabeth mutely watched the scene. She had not considered that Kate would feel that way. Did she not know the difference between a tease and true criticism? Did she not understand after all these years that Papa teased to show affection? Silence reigned in the room, and Mr. Bennet stood reflecting for a moment.
“He will do better in the future, Kate,” Jane said.
Kate nodded, and Mr. Bennet squeezed her shoulder. “Jane speaks the truth for she discerned my feelings.”
Elizabeth cocked her head to one side. “Is that why Jane has always seen the world so cheerfully?”
The others could feel insecure or morose if they wished. Elizabeth desired to learn all she could about their new powers and abilities.
“Although her powers were bound, some residual bits remained,” Mr. Bennet answered. “Empathy is a powerful and burdensome power to have. It should not be confused with telepathy for one may project feelings of good if they believe strongly in their actions, but have destructive thoughts and motives.”
“How is it burdensome?” Elizabeth asked and shot a worried look at Jane.
“She will be susceptible to the feelings of others even when they do not actively call on their magic. It can often make one nervous.” He paused a moment. “Your mother was an empath. At the time of the binding, Jane’s power promised to be even stronger.”
Elizabeth and Kate exchanged a look. Elizabeth supposed it explained much about her mother. Fanny Bennet often laid in bed afflicted with nervous flutters, and yet when one of her children needed her, she was like a lioness. Elizabeth guessed that had her mother heard Mr. Darcy’s insult and perceived how it wounded her daughter, she would flay him with her tongue at every meeting. A half amused, half sad smile had formed on her lips.
Elizabeth’s woolgathering was broken by a question from Kate. “With all the new changes, I never thought to ask if you and my mother have powers. It was simply enough that we were protected and accepted.”
Mr. Bennet smiled. “I am also a Pyrotechnist.”
“Is Lizzy’s power stronger than yours like Jane’s is stronger than her mother’s?” Kate asked with wide eyes.
Mr. Bennet’s face became unreadable for a moment. “When combined the three of your powers will be strong enough to defeat nearly any foe.”
Elizabeth noted that he did not say her power was particularly strong. It seemed Jane was first not only in beauty but also in powers. Elizabeth would not begrudge Jane a thing but had hoped learning about her magical heritage would bring her the fulfillment she had always lacked.
“Kate, instead of seeing the future, your mother can see moments of the past. It gives her great wisdom. She excels in sound advice and guidance.”
“And my father?” Kate’s eyes lit up. “Do any of her siblings have powers? Do they know about magic? Must we keep this a secret from them?
“Ah, slow down, and I shall attempt to answer all your questions.” Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Your brothers and sisters do not have powers. However, your mother and I have talked about it, and we will explain it to your brothers when we see them next. The others will wait until they are of greater age. For now, we are explaining to them that we have decided to redouble your feminine accomplishments.”
“Feminine accomplishments, Father?” Elizabeth asked and raised a brow in skepticism. “No one will mistake a blast of fire for embroidery and how shall we convince others that is what we have spent our time on when we have no proof of our new talents?”
“One may study and never become proficient,” he laughed.
Elizabeth glared at her father.
“Very well.” He held up his hands. “There are spells which can enhance your abilities. Nearly all the world’s best opera performers are witches.”
“Are they really?” Kate gasped.
“Indeed! Such talent is not of natural ability. Now, about your father. He had the power to sense dark magic, we call it Kleros.”
“Is that why he was a clergyman?” Elizabeth asked.
“Indeed! Most of the world does not know about magic. We have to make our way in life as though it does not exist. Some are landowners, some ministers, some soldiers, we call them Exercitos, lawyers called Advocates, shopkeepers, or other laborers.”
“Powers are not hereditary?” Elizabeth, more than her sisters, desired to know as much as possible about their powers. She had a thirst for knowledge combined with good sense and wit that they did not. “If these occupations have different words does that mean there is a magical government? Magical towns?”
“One question at a time!” Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Sometimes powers are hereditary. Obviously, in a family with more than two, there is a greater diversity of powers, but active powers are becoming rare. Magical families like ours increasingly choose not to practice.”
“Like Mrs. Allen?” Kate asked. “It had surprised me when she said she had never desired to learn magic. I feel apprehensive about all the changes, but I am eager to learn.”
“Quite right,” Mr. Bennet smiled at her. “And we have a Council that confers with the British Prime Minister. There are magical courts, as certain things must be illegal for the safety of all of us. The only all-magical town that remains is in Derbyshire.”
“Is it a large town?” Elizabeth wondered what it would be like to see more witches and wizards.
“It is a small market town, nothing like the cities in the North let alone London.”
“What about good and evil? Is that hereditary?” Elizabeth’s brows were knit together.
Mr. Bennet paused to look each of them in the eye. “That is always a choice.”
The sisters shared a look, and Elizabeth knew Jane instantly perceived her feelings. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “What of our deceased sisters? Did they have powers?”
*****

Elizabeth watched as Jane turned pale and fought to breathe. Reaching out, she clutched her sister’s hand. Mr. Bennet saw her reaction and quickly poured a glass of wine. Kate finally noted Jane’s bizarre response and wrapped her arms around her sister.
“Papa, what is happening?” Elizabeth asked as tears filled her eyes.
“She will be well.” Mr. Bennet pushed the glass of wine in Jane’s free hand. Stooping beside her chair, he placed a hand on her shoulder.
He looked into her eyes, and he spoke in a calm voice. “Now, Jane, you must calm yourself. Think of happy memories instead. I will do the same, but there will come a time when you must use your own strength to overcome.”
Tears streamed down Jane’s cheeks, but her color returned. “Do not fear, Lizzy,” she said at last. “I was overcome by Papa’s grief compounded with my own. The binding removed much of my feelings of mourning but Papa—” She looked at her father, “You carry it with you always!”

“You see now how taxing your gift can be. Focus on closing your feelings to others. Dwell only your own. You are alive, safe, and loved.”
Jane nodded her head, and her sisters hugged her close. Mr. Bennet waited a moment as Jane calmed. When she was ready, he answered the question which prompted such a reaction.
“Kitty had a very unique gift called glamouring. She could impersonate the qualities of others. She was still very young and had only gone so far as to learn how to be pleasing enough to get her way. Typically, she followed the strongest personality around her — that of Lydia’s — but a true master can change even their outward appearance.”
“That sounds very dangerous!” Jane cried.
“It can be. It is usually associated with dark magic, but light magic can use it as well. Lydia had the power of enchantment. Her passionate nature enraptured others. It was very unusual that each of our children had powers. Due to the need for secrecy, each new generation of witches has had fewer magical offspring.”
Mr. Bennet’s words reminded Elizabeth of a question she had. “Father…” she began, uncertain of how to continue.
“Yes?”
Jane squeezed Elizabeth’s hand, and she took a deep breath. “You told us we must keep our powers a secret from the town but not from others in our family. Should we not worry about what our young brothers and sisters might hear and pass along? How can we hide my fire ability completely?”
Mr. Bennet smiled. “Your powers have been unbound, but other charms remain. You should not have to fear hiding every conversation or sign of your powers. There is a bond between families. First of all, children under their majority cannot break the bond and reveal secrets. Secondly, to betray your family takes a very precise form of dark magic few can master.”
“Then how was there a spy?”
Mr. Bennet sighed and looked at the clock on the wall. “I will attempt to explain more later. Do not forget that you will learn more in the coming weeks. Enough questions for now. We must begin lessons.”
First, Mr. Bennet lectured on the general history of magic in England, lightly glossing over the dark years of witch persecution. “The Crown tried to be understanding of our powers, but light and dark magic were so unbalanced that mortals attempted to meddle. When William and Mary seized the throne, an agreement was reached. The magical community would see to its own affairs and contact the Crown only if things were beyond our control.”
“Was there ever a time when it was?” Lizzy asked.
“Nearly so. When the madness in France began, it was clearly of magical influence.”
“Democracy is evil?” Elizabeth asked, her disbelief obvious.
“Nothing is more English than representative government, Lizzy. The dark intent was clear due to the violence and intensity. A spell was cast upon the people, they unknowingly hurt themselves more with their radical passions than they were when abused by their royalty — also of dark magical influence.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Dark magic is tyrannical. It seduces with the promise of power and then makes you a slave to its own will.”
“Excellent! I knew you would be clever enough to see it.”
Mr. Bennet leaned back in his chair and lit a pipe Elizabeth had never seen before. Its smoke came in clouds of every shade of the rainbow instead of the usual gray.
Elizabeth pulled her eyes away from the unusual artifact in her father’s hand that he had not yet explained. She would ask about it later. “We are still at war with France. They are now ruled by Napoleon, but the Council did not see the need to take matters to the Crown?”
“We pooled all of our resources. We have many in important military and political positions — such as General Tilney. The evidence of the existence of the Bewitching Sisters was what truly turned the tide, however.”
“But there is a new danger now,” Kate said slowly.
“Indeed. Our fight against Napoleon is as necessary as ever. We have not had a large victory since Trafalgar seven years ago. The Darkness grows stronger than ever, now is the time to return your powers and fulfill the prophecy.”
Elizabeth gulped to consider the importance of their powers. Rather than allowing them to wallow in concerns for the future, Mr. Bennet moved on to practice sessions. Elizabeth was given time in the garden to conjure her fire and learn to throw it. Jane was assigned poetry reading to learn to block the moods and feelings of others. Kate played chess with her father in an attempt to perceive his moves.
Before leaving Elizabeth alone in the garden, Mr. Bennet showed Elizabeth how to unleash her power. “Focus your energy. Think of something which ignites your passion.”
“Something which makes me angry?”
“For now, that will do but be careful to not depend upon that. Defending yourself and others cannot come only from anger. Resentment and hatred are unstable and evil forces.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. Just for now, she would allow herself to feel wrath. Mr.-too-tall-Darcy with his piercing blue eyes. He had literally looked down his nose at Elizabeth. He looked down at them all. He thought she was nothing, a nobody. She would show him. She would be the best pyrotechnic the world had ever seen.
As her thoughts swirled in her, the burning sensation she had felt before returned, rushing through her limbs. It simmered just beneath her skin.
“That is it!” Mr. Bennet cheered. “Now, stretch forward your hands and face your palms out. Direct the flames to the target.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flew open as she felt glorious release leave her body. The fire did not hurt her skin at all—there was no pain. Seeing flames shoot out of her hands, however, was a tad alarming and they soon flickered out. They had never reached the target.
“What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing,” Mr. Bennet reassured her. “You only need more practice. It may be easier to not watch at first. Let your body become accustomed to the feelings.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes once more. Again, she focused on her anger at Mr. Darcy. Instead of visualizing a target, she envisioned his face at the other end of the garden.
“Very good!” Mr. Bennet cried.
Elizabeth opened her eyes to see that she had missed the target, but she had directed the flames to the correct end.
“Give it one more try before I leave to get Jane and Kate started.”
Elizabeth carefully considered her thoughts this time. Yes, it was Mr. Darcy that angered her, but it was more. It was the sense of injustice of being judged so quickly. It was the idea of a rich and powerful man finding her wanting. It was a world that said her value as a woman only existed if she could catch a wealthy husband and bear him sons. This new ability—this was the answer to that. This was power. It was freedom.
“It is what I am meant for,” she whispered to herself as she felt the flames leave her body.
“Amazing!” her father said from behind her shoulder.
Elizabeth opened her eyes and grinned when she saw she had met the target.
“I’ll have ___ bring out some more. Experiment with different motions. You should be able to hold the fire, form a ball and make a short blast. When you master that we will move on to varying distances. Eventually, you will have moving targets, but we will train elsewhere for that.”
Elizabeth sighed happily as her father returned to the house. Here, she was finally at peace with herself. No sisters, no demands of Society, no worries for the future of Longbourn. No, she had more important concerns.
Finally, it was time to change for dinner. Upstairs, Elizabeth talked with Kate and Jane. After several hours worth of lessons on the benefit of knowing when to alter the future and when to allow it to come to pass, Kate had, at last, defeated Mr. Bennet. Jane’s eyes looked puffy and sore from crying, and she had run through half the supply of clean handkerchiefs in the house.
“I can understand the feelings of the authors since poetry is one of the most honest mediums. I worked hard to focus on my feelings like Papa said. It felt strange; I am not in the habit of putting myself. Tomorrow, Papa said we will work on less honest works, Greek histories, and mythologies for example.”
Dinner was a quiet affair. Mrs. Bennet talked about what new successes one child or other had during the day or some new chore that needed doing, but her daughters were too fatigued to say much. In the evening, they circled together as their stiff fingers moved slowly at their stitches. They excused themselves to bed early and climbed the stairs feeling as though their legs were made of lead.
“I am sorry Mr. Bingley did not come today,” Jane confessed outside of the chamber she shared with Elizabeth.
“I am glad Mr. Darcy was absent!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“I daresay one of you shall be happy, and the other dismayed at the dinner we will have with them on Thursday,” Kate said with a sly smile.
Elizabeth scowled. “Mama mentioned no dinner!”
“I have foreseen Miss Bingley in our home in a green turban with seven peacock feathers, and Mrs. Hurst festooned with bracelets and rings. I also saw Mr. Hurst’s face reddened with port then Papa and General Tilney in deep discussion while Mrs. Tilney attempts to converse with Mama.”
“And the other gentlemen?” Jane asked, her voice rising in hope.
Kate gave an apologetic smile. “That is less clear. I see all three unmarried gentlemen. I only know one smiles, one scowls, and one laughs.”
Mr. Darcy will do more than scowl after I am through with him. He is one target I will not miss!
“Elizabeth!” Jane said. “You should cease such ungenerous feelings immediately!”
She gave a sheepish smile. “I promise to keep any fire I throw at Mr. Darcy limited to glares from my eyes and darts with my tongue in verbal rebukes.”
Jane nodded entered the room and went to the dressing table to brush out her hair.
“That is just as well for your aim needs practice!” Kate called before ducking into her room.
Elizabeth wore a smile when she entered her room and slammed the door shut. The faint smell of smoke filled the hall.

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy & the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Four Part Two

Road in dark forest

Previous sections: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1 / 3.2 / 4.1

“Just the usual nerves and village disputes. Nothing malevolent.”

“Charles?” Darcy watched as his friend, a telepath, flushed a little. The others had not remarked on it, but Darcy had noticed how little Charles actually spoke during his dances with Miss Bennet, who rumor had it was an empath. Darcy would have bet Charles conversed through thoughts with her.

“Sir William Lucas has done his job well,” Charles said, at last. “The Bennet ladies seemed sufficiently ignorant of their powers, and all the jobbards had no suspicion of magic being the cause for our return.”

“Eleanor?” The General looked hard at his daughter who had not said a thing all evening.

“I agree they did not seem to know of their powers, but I sensed great potential,” she answered in a gentle voice. “They are strong, confident and unaffected young ladies. They will rise to the task if allowed.”

Before more could be said on the subject of “allowing” the ladies to become true witches, Mr. Hurst let out a loud snore. Judging by the look on the General’s face, it was best to not allow the conversation to continue anyway.

Mrs. Tilney must have noticed as well.

“Louisa,” she said, “I’m afraid Hurst is long overdue his rest. You must wake him.” Mrs. Tilney stood and called for the servant who began using spells to clean the room. “I will bid you all adieu.” She looked at her husband meaningfully.

“Allow me to escort you,” he said and stood. He gave the room a sloppy bow before placing his wife’s hand on his arm and leading her up the stairs.

Before Caroline’s eyes could brighten with the opportunity of more secluded conversation with him, Darcy announced his intention to retire as well. He extended his arm to Eleanor, who sat near the door, as Caroline nearly fell off the sofa trying to stand. Mr. Hurst’s feet rested on her train.

In his chamber, Darcy dismissed his valet and sighed. It continued to feel too stiff and formal. He hated being a guest in other places. He had grown up just outside the one all-wizard town in Britain. The rest of the county, of course, was inhabited by many non-magical people. It was only in Pember Wigan that wizards and witches did not have to worry about blending in with jobbards. He supposed other people that grew up in that environment were more adept at it than he. His parents sent him to jobbard school so he might learn to fit in better, but by that age, it was rather sealed. Unfortunately, he was awkward among wizarding-kind as well.

The necessity of living double lives to avoid detection had caused an interesting revolution in the practice of magic in the last century or so. While the learning of potions and spells continued to be taught, they were increasingly less useful. Even more so, the rich shunned using them at all and instead hired magical servants. Now, a simple spell to carry away tea things was seen as low work. The lack of practical application of magic had an adverse effect on the wizards. Fewer and fewer families had children with any manifesting powers at all. Three sisters with inherited powers was a potentially devastating weapon. Darcy and the other members of the Quorum were tasked with finding the sisters before Napoleon did. Recalling his recent letter from his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, who was non-magical but served in the King’s Army added fuel to Darcy’s already steadfast determination.

Darcy punched his pillow without success before climbing out of bed. “Solatium,” he said, and the room was transformed to a mirror image of his bedchamber at Pemberley. He sank into the comfortable mattress that lacked the frilly lace with which Mrs. Tilney decorated. The room was now covered in muted colors and thick carpets, the furniture a dark and sturdy wood. Just before he closed his eyes, the fire went out, and he heard the crackle of ice frost over his windows. He smiled as he felt the tension of the evening ease away. It was his duty to lead the Quorum in this journey to find the Bewitched Sisters, but the truth was, he much preferred solitude.

Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Three, Part Two

Road in dark forest

Previous Parts: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1

“Powers? Gifts? Magic?” Elizabeth spoke. It appeared her sisters could not utter a word through their terror. “Good witches? What of the stories of evil?” She shook her head and rushed on before her father could answer. “No, this is nonsense. It defies logic. Science proves magic does not exist.”

Mr. Bennet smirked. “Does this seem real?”

He held out his hand, and a flame appeared. Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. Her sisters gasped.

“You may touch it.” He motioned for his wife to hold her hand over it for a moment. She then displayed her unblemished hand. “Try it,” he suggested to his daughters.

Tentatively, Elizabeth reached out a hand. She felt no heat or discomfort. Giving her father a skeptical look, she pulled away from her sisters and walked a few steps until she had gathered some sticks and leaves. Placing them over the flame in her father’s hand, Elizabeth marveled that the fire consumed them but had not harmed flesh.

“You can do it too, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said. “Hold out your hand and focus. Think about unleashing the burning you feel under your skin.”

Surprised to hear her father had known the sensations she had been feeling, Elizabeth met his eyes. Unclenching a palm, she extended her hand out and thought about forcing the fiery prickles coursing through her body outward. A flame jumped from her hand, reaching over a foot high. Startled, Elizabeth and her sisters shrieked. The flame sputtered out.

“And that is somehow used for good?” Elizabeth asked.

Mr. Bennet nodded. “You have always had a fiery temper, Lizzy. Our powers are harder to control when our emotions are overwrought. Likewise, Kate often feels she has experienced things before, and Jane can sympathize with nearly anyone.

“There is good and evil in this world, tended to by witches fighting for either side. It was a curse from the dark side which brought illness here five years ago. A family of great female witches had been prophesied about. Three sisters would have the powers of empathy, fire, and premonition.”

Mr. Morland, who Elizabeth had nearly forgotten about, floated around to stand beside his earthly wife, confirmed what Elizabeth knew instinctively. “That family was the Bennets of Longbourn.”

Mr. Bennet paused at his daughters’ gasp. Seeing none had fainted, he continued the tale. “We did not know how the prophecy would be fulfilled. No family name was included in the prophecy.”

Elizabeth’s dead mother joined them. “I grew nervous as each successive daughter exhibited more traits to fulfill the prophecy. When Mary began having premonitions, we advocated the High Council of Witches for protection. A traitor was amongst them. Instead of having protection, your youngest sisters and I met our demise.”

The two Mrs. Bennets stood next to each other now, hand in hand. The former Mrs. Morland spoke. “Kate was so upset over her powers that her father and I bound them just before we visited Hertfordshire. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters succumbed to their sickness, we were visited by the High Minister. She said Kate’s powers were not well known in the community and were sufficiently cloaked from Caligo  — that is the name of the evil warlock who wishes to kill the Bewitched Sisters. The power of the gift lies in the three women forming bonds of sisterly love and unity, not in a bloodline. It was suggested Kate could take Mary Bennet’s place.”

Kate gasped. “Father, you were never ill? You sacrificed yourself so Mama could marry Mr. Bennet?” Kate exclaimed. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“It was for the greater good. I have never been too far from our family. I did not die from what took Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, but I did suffer from a lingering illness with no known cure. We merely sped up my demise.”

Kate continued to blubber. The young ladies stood still, shocked in wonder.

Elizabeth seemed to be the first to gain her equilibrium. Her mind was racing, and she was the first to speak. “Why are we being told this now?”

“Because now,” her mother said, “it is necessary for you three to use your powers to defeat the darkness returning to Hertfordshire. General Tilney’s return to Netherfield was the signal that Caligo  has returned to complete his mission.”

“What is that?” Elizabeth asked. She was eager to know everything she could about this new world.

Mr. Bennet was the most knowledgeable and therefore answered. “We do not know entirely. The Bewitching Sisters were prophesied as guardians of the Kingdom of Magic and of Great Britain. He must mean harm to one or both of them.”

“And he dwells in General Tilney?” Kate asked in a trembling voice and huddled closer to Jane as her eyes searched the woods.

Elizabeth guessed she was wondering how far they were from Netherfield and if he might be overhearing all of this.

Mr. Bennet answered again, “No, the General is a trusted council member. It is he who put the enchantment on Netherfield, as Longbourn’s closest neighbors. Should the spirit of darkness return, the house will be readied for occupancy again.”

“What has changed? What would trigger such a thing?” Elizabeth questioned.

“We do not know,” said Mr. Morland. “We have limited time for visitation this night. We could only appear long enough to explain the history to you and join your living parents in unbinding your powers.” The parents soon surrounded the girls and said a chant returning their powers and memories of magic.

“We must go, but I would caution you girls that enemies often enjoy hiding behind a friendly face. Now, we trust the love which has brought you this far will last as you work together to vanquish this evil,” the deceased Mrs. Bennet said. “Know you have our love.”

After tender embraces, the ghostly parents vanished, and Mr. Bennet led his family back to the house.

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewtiched Sisters, Chapter One part 2

Road in dark forest

Here’s the second part of Chapter One! I really like how we get more of Darcy’s point of view in this version.

London

September 23, 1811

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy now just under thirty, with the same dark hair and piercing blue eyes of his youth, leafed through several letters of recommendations. He brushed an unruly and curly lock slightly to the side.

“Richard,” Darcy said in a deep but distinct voice, “I think Mrs. Annesley is the one.”

Richard, around the same age as Darcy and wearing Regimentals, took a sip of wine before replying. “I believe you’re right, which will come as no surprise to you.” He assumed an exaggeratedly pompous posture as his companion scowled. “Fitzwilliam Darcy is never wrong.”

“Very amusing,” Darcy scowled. These days, he felt like everything he did was wrong. “Has she spoken to you at all?”

“No. Father and I only get one-word answers. Mother gets little more. When we mention her returning here, she bursts into tears.”

Darcy glared as Richard drained his glass as though there was nothing unusual with what he just said.

“Well, if you’re sure her references all check out, then I’ll be off. The Major has complained about my absences recently. You’ll be ready for Georgiana at the end of the month?”

Darcy’s grip on the papers tightened. He had checked Mrs. Annesley’s references three times personally and employed half a dozen others to do so as well. He would not be caught unawares again. It was all entirely his fault, but Georgiana could not bear the devastation she almost caused by her planned, but thankfully interrupted, elopement. “Yes. I think redoing the upstairs drawing room will excite her. And by then I will be free of daily correspondence with my steward at Pemberley. I do not want any distractions when she returns.”

Richard stood and shook his head. “You’ll frighten her more if you hover. Don’t treat her like a child — ”

“That is precisely what she is!” Darcy said with a quietness that belied his intense feelings and the temperature in the room dropped. “I never should have allowed her to go to Ramsgate, or to entrust her care to a woman who was not a relation.” His sister, twelve years his junior, was all he had left of his family. His parents had believed he would protect her and instead his selfishness nearly led to her ruin.

“You will not always live with her,” Richard said. “Someday she will marry, and you will have to have faith that man will see to her wants and needs. You will have to trust Georgiana…and yourself,” he added softly.

Rather than replying to his cousin, Darcy turned his attention to other correspondence. His mentor wrote to him of a group of ladies in Hertfordshire that he expected to come into magical powers very soon. The General reminded him of his duty to his mother’s memory. He alone knew all of her prophecies — which ultimately got her killed — and he alone could determine if these sisters fit the prophecy of restoring balance to the forces of good and evil.

Darcy did not need the reminder. He could never forget his duty, even as he loathed the requirement. Did anyone understand the pressure he felt having to straddle two worlds? The mortal world required he present the face of a typical English gentleman: impeccable manners, landlord, with a healthy interest in sporting, ladies, politics, concern for over taxation, and his estate’s drainage ditches. To be entirely mortal would mean sacrificing his magical heritage. The magical world, however, desired he fully embrace his legacy. Yet, how could he want to live in a world which killed his loving mother? A world that now thought they had endless claims on him no matter that he had his own desires. Both worlds had one thing in common: they expected him to marry one of their own.

Memories washed over Darcy. His father and mother had a love story the likes of which few could understand. However, his mother had kept her powers a secret and the older Mr. Darcy did not take to the truth very well. Especially as he only became aware of his wife’s abilities when he began having premonitions himself. It was proof that they were true soul mates but put the Darcy family into even more trouble when the Caligo took over.

While Mr. Darcy had been called away on Council business, Caligo struck at Pemberley. Even now, that day haunted Darcy. If he had been braver, he would have protected his mother instead of hiding. He could have prevented her death, and that tormented him more than any concerns about weaknesses in the magical world. In the years that followed, Darcy’s father could hardly look at the boy who led to his wife’s demise.

“What a monstrous frown, Cousin,” Richard interrupted Darcy’s musings.

“News from the General.”

Although Darcy did not serve in the military or the magical community’s counterpart the agmen, he headed the Cabinet of Premonition. In particular, he had taken over his father’s tasks of investigating claims of an ancient prophecy regarding three sisters who would restore the balance of power between good and evil. His mother had the sight and became a renowned oracle. In her later years, most of her prophecies proclaimed the impending arrival of the Bewitched Sisters. Darcy did not realize it at the time, but most of the things his mother taught him, from nursery rhymes to fables, held some degree of memorizing her prophecies. The instruction served as insurance should she be killed and evil infiltrate the Council.

“He and the family will return to their estate in Hertfordshire around Michaelmas to investigate a claim to the prophecy.”

“Ah,” Richard said with raised eyebrows. “So it begins again. Are you ready for it?”

Darcy sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I only wish I did not have to leave Georgiana, but she must stay.” In the years since he had become Minister of Prophecy, he had investigated many claims between sisters.

“This is the first time you will be staying with the Tilneys, however,” Richard said. “Bingley’s sister—”

“I know she’s a devious, grasping woman, and a powerful witch. I will not fall prey to her wiles — magical or mortal.”

“I did not mean to insinuate you would,” Richard raised his hands to cease Darcy’s tirade. “I only worry about the added stress you must bear.”

“Thank you,” Darcy gave his cousin a soft but sincere smile.

He had few he could count on and few who understood him. Richard had reason to fear Darcy’s travels to Hertfordshire with the General. Tilney’s first wife had died five years ago, and he remarried last year. It was not a love match by any means. Mrs. Bingley was still lovely at forty and had a substantial fortune. Additionally, she had a noble magical legacy. Darcy, however, had reason to rejoice and mourn the match. His good friend Charles Bingley was now the General’s step-son, and that would naturally help advance his career and position in both worlds. On the other hand, Charles’ sister Caroline had set her cap at Darcy years ago and would not give him up.

“I had best be off,” Richard said and stood. “Give my regards to Charles and Henry.”

“Is that all you wish me to do?” Darcy asked with a raised brow.

“Oh, I’ll be around with a letter for Ellie. Why would I trust you to give her my sentiments? She might just as easily fall for my loving words from your rich mouth.”

Darcy laughed. “She is far too intelligent for that.”

“That she is,” Richard smiled and agreed. “She loves me, after all.” The gentlemen shared a laugh and Richard took his leave.

After his cousin had left, Darcy perused the General’s letter again. It was an unusual set of circumstances. Mr. Bennet had two daughters. The eldest was an empath, and the younger had the ability to create and control fire. His step-daughter had just come out and was rumored to have the sight. However, Darcy did not think as step-sisters they would have the required bond to manifest the strength of the Bewitched Sisters. Additionally, their powers were currently bound, and while they would soon be released, they would be utter novices at the craft. It seemed unlikely they would fulfill the prophecy, but Darcy’s duty required he examine them anyway. Too many mortals and witches both had perished in the last twenty years. Once peace was restored, Darcy could have the peaceful country existence he had always craved.

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter Nine

beautys-mirror-2Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Bella sagged into her bed at the end of a long day. She had been home for a week and immediately cast into her old position of servant and housekeeper for her family. Her sisters seemed barely shocked that she arrived without notice, or without them writing to her, and instead seemed annoyed at her being away at all. That she came with no gifts for them, they found equally insulting.

Her father did not seem as ill in truth as she had seen in the mirror. Or perhaps she was merely finished with treating him as an infant for every minor ailment. Yesterday, he admitted the reason she had been requested as governess was because he had tried to take Rosie from the house.

Bella could understand how it must have seemed to her father, but she could not excuse his deceit in leading her to believe the arrangement was because of George’s debt. When she defended Leo and his relationship with Rosie, her father insisted she was wrong and sent her to the kitchen. As far as Bella could tell, the only person that seemed to appreciate her presence was Cook.

She rubbed her aching feet and then stretched her back. The truth was, she had eagerly launched herself into Leo’s troubles. It seemed she felt some innate need to rescue people. The difference was she felt appreciated at the Castle and Leo never took her assistance for granted.

“Enough about him. You knew him only a few days and in the end…” Bella trailed off. For, in the end, he proved exactly what she had seen in the beginning. Perhaps not exactly, but neither was he what she had believed him to be.

“George was right,” she mumbled before she fell asleep. She needed to find some way to live life on her terms.

The next morning, Bella awoke at her usual time and immediately began chores. By mid-morning, she had accomplished much of her to do list. The difference between planning a fine meal and ball for a duke and scrubbing in her father’s house was stark, however. Unexpectedly, she heard a vaguely familiar male voice calling out in the hall.

“I will see to it,” Bella told Cook.

Arriving upstairs, she stopped in her tracks. “Lord Morgan?” She rubbed her eyes in disbelief.

“Miss Beauley,” he executed a perfect bow, even as his eyes scanned her stained apron. “Forgive me. No one answered my knock.”

Bella hastily wiped her hands on the offending garment and then attempted to untie it. “Allow me,” he said and came behind her to undo the string. His presence unnerved her. Freed from the apron, she invited him to the drawing room.

“This is a fine home,” Morgan said, and Bella felt the weight of ridiculous small talk.

“May I ask why you are here, Lord Morgan?”

“You suddenly vanished, Miss Beauley. One minute we were enjoying each other’s company at Erroll’s ball and the next you left without a word.”

Bella blushed but raised her chin. “I would not say it was so sudden as that. I had previously left your side.”

Morgan nodded his head. “Yes, to dance with Erroll but you did not return to the ballroom. I worried.”

His tone sounded almost hurt and deeply concerned. “I apologize,” Bella said before recalling his plans with Leo. She would not be made to feel the villain here. “However, I believe you spoke with His Grace and did not seem concerned about my whereabouts then.”

Morgan’s eyebrows raised high. “You heard my conversation with Erroll?” Bella nodded her head but would not explain how. “And that offended you in some way?”

His incredulity was obvious to her. “That you both should consider I would marry a man I had just met, with knowing very little of his character or temper, yes. That I would marry him without so much as being asked, moreso. I suppose you believed I would marry you based on your rank and wealth alone. To me, that is the highest insult.”

Bella had stood and begun pacing during her speech. “To think that Mrs. Hammond’s friendship was nothing but an insincere ploy!”

Lord Morgan shot out of his chair at that charge and stood before her, ceasing her movement. “Alice’s friendship was genuine. Do not lay such a charge on her feet. Will you listen to me?” He reached for her hand.

Bella pulled her hand away and turned her head. What could he say?

“It was Erroll’s idea!” He said angrily.

“I know!” Heat rushed into Bella’s cheeks.

“So you know that he loves you? I know he is ugly, but why not go back to him?”

“What?” Bella’s eyes snapped to his. She could not breathe as she waited for him to repeat the words.

“Erroll asked I marry you in exchange for half his income. I thought then that you were his mistress.”

“No!” Bella said and began to storm off.

“Wait! I apologize!” He called after her.

Bella whirled around, tears threatened to spill out of her eyes. “If he loved me, why would he wish I marry you?”

Morgan shrugged his shoulders. “He said he was dying. I assume he wished to protect you. He asked for me to become Lady Rosalyn’s guardian as well and to allow neither of you to enter the Castle again. If you want to know more, you would have to ask him.”

The world titled and Bella stumbled to a chair. She worked hard for breath, it felt as though someone stood on her chest. “Breathe, lass,” Morgan said as he thrust a glass of wine into her hand.

Oh, Lord. Leo loved her. He didn’t want to tell her because of the curse. Couldn’t he see that even if their time together was short, she would have rather spent it with him? He loved her enough to give her up. That was more than anyone had loved her before.

“How is he?” Bella asked when her mind began to calm. Morgan would not meet her eyes and remained silent. “Tell me!”

“We found him after you left. He had destroyed the South Drawing Room and was shouting, incomprehensibly. He was holding this,” Erroll held up the mirror.

“Where did you get that?”

“He has spent all day with Lady Rosalyn since you left. Every night he would hide in his study with books and the mirror—but it was broken. Four nights ago, I found him staring at this—whole, with no cracks. Tears filled his eyes and he chanted your name over and over again.”

Tears welled in Bella’s eyes. Leo must have consulted the magical books to find some way of fixing the mirror. And then his first desire was to see her?

“After he finally fell asleep, I took the mirror and determined to find you. I needed to understand what happened.”

“You can never understand,” Bella said and shook her head.

“Try to explain,” Morgan pushed.

Bella took in a deep breath and began to tell all she had experienced in the days since arriving at Leo’s Castle. Not caring if Morgan believed her tale, she needed to know how Leo and Rosie were. “Did anything unusual happen after Leo left the room? Was Lady Rosalyn safe?”

“If you mean to ask if this ghost of the duchess returned to haunting the Castle, I would say it did not appear so.”

“What use is that?” Bella cried and then recalled the mirror. “Let me see the mirror!”

Morgan handed it over. Bella watched as the mirror showed her George with a sword and breathing hard. “No, I do not worry about George now. Show me Leo! Show me the Duke of Erroll!”

Again, George appeared but this time, Bella noted he was not wearing fencing gear. Then, she saw Leo tossing a matching sword down. “I will not fight you, Beauley,” he said calmly.

“You will pay for what you have done!” George screamed and charged at Leo.

“No!” Bella cried in horror. Then, immediately a new fear emerged. “Rosie! Mirror, show me, Lady Rosalyn!”

Lord Morgan, disturbed by Bella’s reactions, leaned over her shoulder. They saw Rosie in a carriage, crying and begging to return back to the Castle.

“Who has her? Oh my goodness! What shall I do?” Bella stood to her feet and raced to the door. Her ring! It had allowed her to travel in the blink of an eye once before.

“Wait!” Morgan called after her.

Bella cast an impatient glance at him with her hand on the door.

“The carriage was mine. I believe my sister has chosen to take Lady Rosalyn from the Castle. We had discussed it before I left. If your brother is there and acting like a madman, Alice will do anything to ensure Rosalyn’s safety.”

Bella nodded her head. Of course, they had no idea of the curse and even Rosie did not understand why she could not leave. But, oh! Leo! Even now he could be dead. She only hoped she could get there in enough time to say goodbye.

“Thank you, Lord Morgan,” Bella said. She knew she had seemed hateful and ungrateful before. “I truly appreciate your coming. I must go, immediately. You do understand?”

“Of course,” Morgan said, and Bella raced up to her chamber. Sliding the ring on her finger, she twisted it and immediately stood before Sundridge Castle. Heart pounding, she ran toward the front entrance.

******

Leo lay panting on the floor of the great hall, blood pouring from the wound received by Bella’s brother. “I did not dishonor your sister!”

“No more lies! You called my debt and forced her to come here. And then you couldn’t keep your filthy hands off her!” George Beauley swung wildly, and Leo had only just enough energy to slide out of the way.

“No! She worked as a governess. You have heard lies.”

“I do not believe you! You killed your first wife. I am happy Bella got away before you ended her life too.” Beauley’s blade swiped Leo’s arm.

Were all Beauley males so hot headed? Even still, his words pierced sharper than the blade. Leo’s heart ached for missing Bella, but he too was glad she had left before he had ruined her life. She had become too embroiled with his concerns. And suggesting she marry Morgan? A life without love—for Morgan surely did not love Bella, no matter his pretty words on finding her enchanting—would be worse than death for her.

“Such an ugly, beastly thing. A monster. I would be doing the world a service to kill you,” Beauley said as he hovered over Leo.

“Do it, but ask if you think your sister would want you as a murderer. I already forfeited the duel,” Leo said, his chest heaving.

Beauley swore and took a moment to consider Leo’s words. Leo braced for the mortal blow. At this rate, his life was ending anyway. Before Beauley had made contact with his skin, and even now it was not a grave wound, Leo felt the life draining from him. Mrs. Hammond had taken Rosie away when a madman stormed into the house. His hours were numbered. Perhaps he had only minutes.

Suddenly, the door slammed open. “George!” Bella screamed.

Beauley immediately spun around and Leo jerked his head up, the movement making him dizzy. Forcing himself to focus, his eyes locked with Bella’s.

“Bella?” George asked amidst the confusion.

“George, stop this!” Bella demanded and walked closer.

“I am defending your honor,” Beauley said like a child blaming poor conduct on another one starting it first.

“My honor is entirely intact. I do not know what you have heard, but His Grace has always behaved well toward me.”

“But you came back so suddenly. Meg wrote to me of it. Then I heard of the ball. Several of the guests thought you were his mistress.” Leo said with far more disapproval than a man of the world such as he should have.

“Do you think I would do such a thing?” Bella asked angrily. “Do you really believe I would do that—even for you and your debt?”

George shifted his weight between his feet. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“Of course you didn’t. Do you think he forced me? If he managed to force himself on me, what are the chances of me then being able to escape? Or that he would have me act as hostess for his ball and mistress of his estate?”

“Oh…” George said and dropped the sword with a loud clatter.

Bella approached her brother, and they spoke in hushed tones. Or perhaps it was that Leo’s ability to hear was diminished by the sound of his heartbeat in his ears and a rushing sound.

Unexpectedly, they grew very close.

“Leo,” Bella’s sweet voice whispered.

He tried to respond, and no sound came out.

“What is happening?” Bella asked, her voice shaking.

“I do not know…” George replied. “I swear I didn’t wound him that badly.”

“No…look! He’s glowing!”

Leo felt his eyes begin to flutter open and something the size of a large dog threw itself on his chest and wept bitterly.

“There, there. All will be well,” he said uncertain as to why a dog wept on him.

“Papa!” At last, the creature croaked out, and Leo recognized the mop of curly hair was Rosie.

“How did she get here?” Bella asked.

“She opened the door and jumped from the carriage,” a disembodied voice broke in.

“Love you, Papa. Love you!” Rosie cried over and over again, and the tears dropped on his chest.

Leo rubbed her back. “I love you too, poppet. Be a good girl for Mrs. Hammond.”

“But I want to live with you and Miss Beauley!” Rosie cried.

“Miss Beauley has to go home, sweet,” he said gently. Was this his afterlife? Living with Rosie was no hell, but no Bella could not make it heaven.

“I am home,” Bella said and Leo tried again to focus his eyes. “Hush, rest now,” she said, and Leo obeyed.

Leo could hear nothing else. Instead, he had the sensation of being lifted into the air as bright lights assaulted his eyes. He was filled with warmness. Then, everything went black.

After what felt like an eternity, Leo awoke. His eyes opened with ease. He took in his surroundings. Bella and Rosie were curled up next to him on a bed. Bella’s eyes fluttered open.

“You’re awake,” she said with a smile.

“I’m alive?” he asked.

Bella slowly nodded, her smile growing.

“I’m alive,” Leo repeated in disbelief. “How?”

“Rosie,” Bella said. “She would not go with Mrs. Hammond. She would not leave you. You were freed by her love.”

Leo looked over at the child sleeping on his side. He would have never guessed all those years ago that loving Rosie would have broken the curse.

“And you are…staying?” he asked.

“Yes,” Bella said and smoothed a hand over her skirt. What was she nervous about?

“I admit I am a bit jealous of Rosie.”

“You are?” Perhaps he was not recovered enough for he was not following the conversation very easily. “Why?”

“She has your love,” Bella said.

A low rumble sounded in Leo’s chest.

“Why is my affection humorous?” Bella asked and sounded hurt.

“I’m not laughing at your confession, only how you confessed it. You’re jealous of a five-year-old!”

“I’ll remind you that you’ve not given me any reason to not be jealous,” she said raising an eyebrow and he laughed again.

Lifting one of her hands to his lips, Leo bestowed a tender kiss. “I love you Arabella Beauley. I am not worthy of your esteem but would be greatly honored by your hand in marriage.”

“I love you Leonard Sundridge, and I promise to never leave your side again.” Bella picked up his hand and kissed it. “So, you see I must marry you,” she added with a playful grin.

“Your brother is not around to run me through, is he?”

Bella shook her head. “No, everyone has left for home. And I am home. Where I belong.”

Leo smiled, marveling at how it felt to do so. “Why do you think Rosie is the one who broke the curse?”

“Because I had loved you for weeks, you silly man! Trying to make me marry Morgan!”

“I thought to do it because—”

“I know, I know,” Bella said and Leo smiled again. For the rest of his life, he would be grateful for this woman. “Rosie said it first, though.”

“Say it again,” Leo said and he hugged her close.

“I love you, Leo. Now, look in the mirror,” Bella said as she retrieved the enchanted mirror from the bedside table. She handed it to him and then returned to her position with her head leaning on his chest.

For the first time, when Leo looked in the mirror, he saw his outward image reflected back. The love of Bella and Rosie had done that and freed him not just from Celia’s curse, but it allowed him to see the good in him. He would never feel unlovable again.

“There we are,” he said. “Two beauties and their tamed beast.”

“You were never a beast to me,” Bella said before kissing his cheek, “but you made me a beauty.”

“You have always been, but I will gladly tell you hourly if it will give you peace,” he said before claiming her lips.

“I knew it would be a happy ending,” Rosie said sleepily from his other side.

Leo laughed to himself. A happy ending indeed!

The End

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter Eight

beautys-mirror-2Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Bella looked in the mirror in her dressing room and smoothed the gown. It had been a rush order for the dressmaker in the local village, but it was the most ornate gown she had ever worn. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach.

This night was to be a dinner and small ball with neighbors. Leo had asked her to act as hostess, and she had spent many hours, when not hunting for magical artifacts or reading the books for clues on how to end the curse, planning the evening with Mrs. Potter. Even more so, she would be blind to not notice Lord Morgan’s interest in her. It flattered her, and she could hardly conceive that she had gained the notice of a peer and future duke. The mirror in front of her was not Leo’s enchanted one, but when Bella looked in the mirror, she now saw a lady who had faced dangers and peril and came out stronger. She saw a woman who had the love of several friends instead of the mere necessity of her family. No, her physical features had not changed in the least, but Bella finally felt comfortable in her own skin.

“Oh, Miss Beauley,” Jenny sighed as she put the final touches on Bella’s hair.

“My brother will not be able to keep his eyes off you,” Mrs. Hammond had joined her and offered assistance.

Bella blushed. “Lord Morgan is very kind and civil.”

“Civil? I have never seen a man more smitten!” Mrs. Hammond gave the maid a conspiratorial look, “I think he may have selected his future duchess.”

“Me?” Bella jaw’s dropped to the ground. “Impossible!”

“He would be a fool to not see your worth.”

“Alice,” Bella said as Mrs. Hammond had asked her to call her last night after dinner. “I am nervous enough this evening.”

Alice nodded her head and allowed the subject to drop. “You are lovely, everything perfectly in place. You certainly look like you could be the real mistress of this estate. Surely that gives you some confidence?”

Bella smiled. It was nice to have an older woman to discuss matters with again. Alice was nearly old enough to be her mother but was more like an older sister. “It does.”

“And you could never claim to be ignorant. You will do splendidly!”

Toying with a necklace from Leo’s vault, Bella blew out a deep breath. She had managed her father’s household and her siblings. She had survived confrontations with a vengeful ghost and a trap intended to kill her. A dinner party and dancing she could navigate with her eyes closed. “I should check on matters again. You are certain you do not need my help, Alice?

“Jenny will be perfect. I will see you soon.”

The lady left, with the maid following after her. Just before leaving the room, the door connecting to Rosie’s nursery squeaked open. “You’re so pretty!” Rosie said in awe.

“Thank you,” Bella stooped down to speak with her on eye level.

Rosie shifted her weight from foot to foot. “Papa asked me to give this to you,” she held out a small box.

Bella took it and looked at it in wonder. Leo had already given her so much. His selflessness seemed unending.

“Lady Rosalyn?” Maria called from the nursery.

“Go now, love. Mrs. Potter has promised to send you up some of the sweets. Tomorrow I will tell you all about the ball.”

Rosie scampered off, and Bella opened the box from Leo. A note rested atop.

“A diamond does not compare to the sparkle of your eye. The finest jewels in the kingdom do not compare to the beauty of your soul. An enchanted ring for an enchanted beauty. Turn this ring and it will take you to your heart’s desire.”

Arabella held the note close to her heart for a moment. How did others see a beast? Leo was the kindest, gentlest man she had ever known. Looking in the box again, her eyes beheld the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. The diamond was a pale pink color and set as a rose. Bella slid it on over her gloves. It perfectly complimented her gown, complexion, and other jewelry.

Smiling radiantly, Bella left her chamber and descended the stairs. Guests would be arriving any moment, and she finally felt ready for the task. With the ring on her right hand, she felt as though she wore a special shield.

Unfortunately, she never had a moment alone with Leo to thank him for the gift. Lord Morgan monopolized most of her time. Leo had seemed to avoid her since Morgan’s arrival. At the moment he was circled by several female guests, each prettier and richer than the next. The dinner had gone perfectly, and now the ball had commenced. She had danced with Lord Morgan twice and several other gentlemen but craved a dance with Leo. As if he knew the nature of her thoughts, he turned, and his eyes met hers. Wordlessly, he left his companions and approached her.

“Miss Beauley, may I have the honor of this dance?”

“You may,” she smiled at him.

His brown eyes seemed guarded. All of his emotions were expressed in his eyes. She slipped her hand into his, and he led her to the dance floor. They spoke little during the set. They had always had an unspoken communion and tonight was no different.

And yet everything was different.

She had gentlemen paying her attention and had met so many people her head swirled to attempt to remember all the names. She had more stimulating conversation and laughed more than she had in many a week let alone a solitary evening. She felt she was on the verge of something great and wonderful. She even had a suspicion of what it was. Before she was ready for that, she desired to view her family in the mirror. A reminder of where she came from and who she once was would not be amiss. And she needed to know all was well without her.

“Leo, I wondered if I might use the mirror,” she asked as the dance ended.

The question caught him off guard, and he tensed. “All that I have is yours,” he smiled, and Bella imagined she felt the faintest of pressure added to her hand.

“I wanted to see how my family was doing,” she gave a shy smile.

“Of course. It would ease your nerves.” She nodded her head, and he pulled the mirror from his pocket. “Do not tarry too long,” he said as he put it in her hand.

Quickly agreeing, Bella departed to another room for privacy.

“Mirror, show me, my family.”

Bella watched in horror as she saw George ranting, drunk, at an assembled crowd. Next, she saw her home. Her father lay in bed, coughing. Meg and Kate talked in hushed tones wondering about a doctor and paying for it.

Fear seized her heart. Her family needed her! How could she choose between her family and Leo and Rosie?

“Mirror, show me,” she commanded, and the image changed to Leo in his study with Lord Morgan.

“Where is Miss Beauley, Erroll?”

“She will be along momentarily,” he took a sip of port.

“I know I fought this at first, but I am quite enchanted. She will make a splendid duchess.” Bella furrowed her brow. What did Morgan mean? He continued speaking. “You have selected a fine bride. Even Alice adores her.”

Leo said nothing but merely raised his glass in a mock toast.

Her hand flew to her mouth, and she thought she would be ill. Leo suggested Lord Morgan marry her? More than that! It seemed to be an entirely arranged matter, as though she had no choice or opinion. How could she have been so stupid and blind?

“A monster,” she muttered as she fled the room and tears streamed down her face. Leonard Sundridge, third Duke of Erroll was too arrogant, self-centered and selfish. And if she stayed a moment longer she might find herself betrothed to a man she knew little of but that she could never love him.

Tearing off her gown, she quietly changed into one of her old dresses and stuffed the remainder in a valise. Her elaborate hair she could not change. She would be unable to say goodbye to Rosie. Using the mirror, she saw the child sleeping peacefully. At least she had been able to bring the angel some peace.

Creeping down the stairs, Bella returned to Leo’s study to leave the mirror. One last time, she watched him in the mirror.

Leo stood before the fire of the parlor he spoke to Morgan in. His eyes looked pained and haunted. “Bella,” he said.

The mirror fell from her hands, startling Bella. It felt as though his eyes had been piercing hers, as though he could see her. Forgetting about Leo’s note, she worried the ring with indecision. Should she keep it as a reminder of the happy times she had here? Deciding to leave it behind, Bella began to slip the ring off her finger when suddenly the world began to spin and bright lights assaulted her eyes. Covering them, she cowered until the movement was over. When she opened her eyes, she stood before her family home.

*****

Leo looked around the ballroom and could not find Bella. Her crimson gown would stand out against the sea of white dresses. Her red tresses made her distinct amongst the brunettes and blondes assembled. More than that, his heart could recognize her without seeing her, and he knew without a doubt she was not in the ballroom. Leo saw Morgan looking around for her as well. The time drew near when their betrothal was to be announced.

For his own sake, Leo desired to get it over with. Earlier, Morgan drew him aside to thank him, and Leo had the distinct desire to punch him in the face. However, that would only serve himself. Bella needed a husband, and Leo would never dare the presumption she could love him. The things he could offer: a title, wealth, luxuries, meant nothing to her.

Leaving the ballroom, Leo looked in a nearby parlor. Pausing at the fireplace, he leaned his arm on the mantle as though to draw strength from the mighty flames. Resting his head against his arm, he stared at the fire as it danced. It reminded him of dancing with Bella and how gracefully she moved. At least he would not have to live long without her. Anguish ripped through him at the thought. “Bella,” he rasped out.

Taking a deep breath, he continued his search. After several minutes, he found the mirror, discarded on the floor and the glass cracked. But there was no trace of Bella. An unholy terror surged in his breast. Had Celia somehow harmed her? Had she been taken?

Leo raced to the South Drawing Room Bella had made into a prison for Celia. “Show yourself!” He demanded as he walked to the center of the room, tip toeing around the debris of his dead wife’s tantrum the week before. He had told the servants to leave the mess be.

He heard Celia’s unearthly cackle before she appeared before him. “I win,” she said as she circled around him.

“What have you done with her?”

“I have done nothing. It was all you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You showed her the selfish beast you really are. I suppose she did not like Lord Morgan.”

“Celia…” Leo said in an angry tone, although there was nothing he could do. Any threats he made would be empty, and she knew it.

“You and your silly mirror. Child’s play! You had a magical tool but had no idea how to work it! I heard her explain to Rosie how you thought it worked.”

“Did you possess it? You showed her something that made her leave?” Although Leo had been reluctant to explore the magical texts, he did use them to understand more about the items he had retrieved from Celia’s room. He had discovered the ring was enchanted and that the mirror could be used for goodness or darkness—just as Bella had hypothesized.

“I showed her the truth! Her family lies in tatters because of you. You were going to treat her no differently than a piece of horse flesh—given to any bidder.”

“That’s not true,” Leo roared and suddenly heard murmurs behind him.

“What’s the problem here?” Morgan asked and shuffled into the room.

“Bella,” Leo said helplessly. The pain he now felt was worse than when the fiery beam that killed Celia fell on him. It was worse than the pain of neither parent loving him.

“What’s wrong with Miss Beauley?” Mrs. Hammond asked.

“She’s left,” Leo said as he turned and saw a group of curious onlookers and realized he stood in the middle of a room full of broken rubble, holding a broken mirror in one hand and had been shouting at no one.

“Erroll,” Morgan said in a warning tone.

“Lady Fitzwalter, might I show you the library next?” Mrs. Hammond directed the group onward.

“Such a pity,” one person muttered.

“A shame. From such good stock,” said another.

“Killed his wife, I always said,” was the harsh whisper of yet another person.

“Unseemly. You simply can’t find good help these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if the governess had his child in her belly. The way she acted mistress of the house!” An accusatory voice said in nothing like a whisper at all.

“Now, see here!” Leo said and strode after the offender, but Morgan pulled on his arm.

“Let it be. Idle gossip.” Morgan shook his head. “She really ran off?” Leo’s stony silence was confirmation enough. “Any idea where she would go?”

“To her home, I would guess.”

“Where?”

“Near Dumfries. Mrs. Potter has the name. You will go to her?”

“It is the honorable thing to do.”

Leo scrutinized Morgan’s face. “Do you love her?”

“Do you?” Morgan asked in a half warning, half accusatory tone.

Leo made no answer and stalked off. He was done with the ball and heirs. As he left, he heard Celia’s mocking laugh echo down the hall. She had won in one way, but not another. They were still imprisoned together, and the curse was never further from being broken than now, but Rosie did not need to suffer for it.

Creeping into the nursery, he pulled a chair next to her bed as she slept. “I’m sorry I wasn’t the father you needed, Rosie. I’m sorry I wasn’t the man she needed.”

He fell asleep in the early hours of the morning, holding the mirror in his hand.

“Papa,” Rosie’s quiet voice awoke him.

“Yes, Poppet?” Leo asked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“Why are you here?”

“I..I needed to tell you something.” He got up and stretched. Sleeping in a chair was definitely one of the worse ideas he ever had. “Miss Beauley left last night to visit her family. They needed her more than we do.”

Immediately, Rosie’s face fell. Her lower lip trembled, and tears filled her eyes. “But she will come back to visit?”

“Maybe,” he said noncomittingly.

“Can we see her in the mirror?” Hope filled Rosie’s eyes.

Leo held it up. “It seems it broke, but I will read and see if I can mend it. In the meantime, let us have a bit of fun today.”

Rosie gave him a slight smile. He was uncertain what constituted as fun for a five-year-old, having no memories of enjoying childhood himself, but when one’s governess quit without replacement, surely a day in pursuit of recreation was called for.

There was now one month until Rosie’s birthday and Leo hoped they could spend the time in peace and the mutual missing of Arabella Beauley from their lives. Besides time spent with Rosie, fixing the mirror would be his chief concern. He needed to see Bella one last time.