I’d originally planned to post a chapter every Monday, but I moved them up as well, so Chapter 4 was posted last Friday. Missed the earlier chapters? Click here for Chapter 1. Please note: The chapters posted here don’t match the chapter numbering in the book. They cover the first three book chapters, so new material starts in the book with Chapter 4.
“Darcy, help me here!” Richard called as he tried to pry off the white cat wrapped around his father’s head. Lord Matlock’s hands flailed at Pepper, but with the cat’s body across his face, he could not see to use his magic – no doubt why Pepper had chosen to attack him there.
Darcy tore his eyes away from the sight of Elizabeth racing across the lawn away from Rosings. He made a perfunctory effort to grasp Pepper’s flying paws. After all, if a shape-changing fay cat was determined to attack his uncle, Darcy doubted anything could be done but to wait for her to stop of her own accord. Richard certainly seemed to be finding the cat’s strength unusual.
“Dammit, Richard!” his uncle swore.
“The more you fight to pull her off, the harder she will dig in her claws,” said Darcy. “Let her go and she will likely run off.” He surreptitiously opened the window behind him.
“Worth a try,” Richard grumbled, releasing Pepper’s fur.
“Ow!” cried Lord Matlock.
But Pepper had taken Darcy’s hint and leapt off. She ran straight for the window, as if aware of what he had done, and jumped out.
“I’ll have that cat shot!” snarled Lord Matlock, blood running down his face from multiple scratches.
“No need,” said Darcy. “She may not have survived that fall.” He leaned his head out the window to watch a white raven winging its way in the direction Elizabeth had fled.
Lord Matlock mopped at his scratches with his handkerchief. He growled at the bloody evidence on the white linen. “That animal should never have been allowed inside this house!”
“Pepper is usually quite friendly,” Darcy said. “She must have thought you were threatening Miss Bennet. She is very protective of her.”
“She is as mad as her mistress! Richard, you did not warn me the girl was a lunatic.”
Richard shrugged. “She has always been perfectly calm until now. She is terrified of binding spells, though.”
“Justifiably so,” said Darcy coldly. “It was a misunderstanding, but I can see why she would misinterpret your intentions. If you give her a little time, she will be able to discuss it rationally.” He had never spoken this way to Lord Matlock before. Now that Elizabeth was safe, he could give way to the simmering anger. How dare his uncle bind Anne and then have the gall to try to force Darcy to marry her?
Richard poured a glass of port from the decanter on the sideboard and handed it to his disgruntled father. “Did you truly put Cousin Anne under a binding spell?”
Matlock tossed back an amount of port that would have made Darcy choke and held out the glass for more. “Had to.”
“Why?” Darcy tried to keep his anger from showing.
“She is too strong. Unnaturally strong. Stronger than me. Stronger even than you, Darcy. Never saw anything like it. Even worse, her affinity was for unmaking, and she was a temperamental child. She unmade half of the east wing in a tantrum. Sir Lewis caned her for it and she unmade him. Yes, you heard me correctly. I can barely unmake an apple, and she unmade a man! She was only nine years old and completely untrained. We gave out that Sir Lewis was lost at sea, buried an empty coffin, and I put her in the tightest binding spell I could manage. No point in trying to imprison her; she would just unmake the walls. Terrifying child.”
“But surely now she is an adult and could understand the consequences –”
“If you had done as you were told, Darcy, and married her years ago, I could have loosened the bindings. You are the only one with the training and the ability to keep her in line if something went wrong. Catherine would have been helpless on her own.”
There was some logic to it, but his uncle would not have come up with the marriage plan out of charity for his niece. It must have been one of his experiments to breed stronger mages. Damn him!
Without a word Darcy strode out of the room.
Richard called after him. “Where are you going?”
“To look for Miss Bennet. Where else?”
The parsonage was the obvious place to begin. The Collins’s maid admitted that Miss Bennet had been there, but only long enough to fetch something from her room. No, she had not taken her luggage. No, she had not seen which direction Miss Bennet had taken. Yes, she would send word to him when Miss Bennet returned.
It was hardly surprising Elizabeth had gone out again. She would not have wanted to be easily found. But where could she have gone? His first impulse was that she might have sought out the grove where he had often found her walking, but he could not imagine she would choose to be so close to Rosings Park.
Had she made other friends in Hunsford? She had cared for several ill parishioners, but he did not know whom or where. Did he truly know so little of her daily life? He checked the church, although it seemed an unlikely refuge for her. Finding it empty, he set out for Rosings again.
He skirted the study where Richard and Lord Matlock were deep in conversation, instead seeking out Mrs. Collins in Lady Catherine’s rooms.
Mrs. Collins put her finger to her lips when he entered the sitting room. “She is finally asleep,” she whispered.
He had practically forgotten Lady Catherine’s injury in this last chaotic hour. Darcy gestured at the open door. Mrs. Collins followed his direction and he joined her at the top of the stairwell.
“Her ladyship is sleeping peacefully,” she said. “I have had all the fragile items removed from her rooms and replaced them with the old mismatched china used by the servants. That way she can still break things if she wishes, but nothing valuable will be lost.” She obviously assumed he had come to check on his aunt’s condition.
“I thank you for your forethought. My uncle, Lord Matlock, has recently arrived and will no doubt wish to see Lady Catherine at some point.” Darcy hesitated. “He managed to inadvertently frighten Miss Bennet, causing her to flee the house.”
“Oh, dear. That is most unlike Lizzy.”
“It is, but he is the Master of the Collegium of Mages. It is perhaps understandable that he would seem intimidating. I do not believe he meant her any harm, but I can see how she might jump to that conclusion.”
Mrs. Collins said, “Perhaps if you try speaking to her alone, without your intimidating uncle, she might be more willing to listen.”
“That had been my thought. I went to the parsonage, but she had already been there and left, so I will have to wait until she returns. When you see her, would you be so kind as to tell her I spoke to you?”
“Of course. Perhaps Lizzy should stay at the parsonage now. Lady Catherine is well enough that I do not think Lizzy’s presence here is needed at night.”
“I suppose not.” It would be easier if she had fewer dealings with his uncle, but it would reduce his chances of seeing her. It was the first step to going on to a life without her. An empty, hollow life without her.
And Elizabeth thought he had betrayed her. His stomach clenched into a knot, his throat so tight he doubted he could force out even a word more. He bowed to Mrs. Collins and left. Alone.
“Darcy, do come join us,” Richard said genially. “I was just showing my father the spell for curdling milk Miss Bennet taught me. He is going to try it as soon as the girl brings us more fresh milk. Not that being able to curdle milk is particularly useful, but it proves we can perform fay spells.”
“If Richard can do it, that proves almost anyone can perform them,” Lord Matlock said repressively. The scratches on his face were less vivid now. He must have done a healing spell.
“The next time you need a power source, you will not be complaining about my limited ability with spells,” retorted Richard.
Darcy added, “Your abilities were very useful when Miss Bennet insisted Lady Catherine had magic, and I said that was ridiculous.”
Lord Matlock harrumphed. “It only goes to reason that she has some ability. Everyone else in the family does, after all.”
“No one else always denied it vehemently,” said Darcy.
“How is Miss Bennet? Any calmer?” asked Richard.
“I could not find her. Most likely she has gone for a walk to compose herself. The servants will send a message when she returns.”
“Good,” growled Lord Matlock. “I need to talk to that girl. Have you found out more about what she knows?”
Richard shook his head. “Very little. She spoke freely about it the day Lady Catherine was injured, but afterwards she became more reticent. Perhaps she is embarrassed by it.”
“Or perhaps she realized her knowledge had value and should not be given away for free,” Darcy said. Apparently she had taken his suggestion.
“We can find some way to recompense her, if necessary. Richard, how powerful is her magic?”
“Middling,” Richard responded. “She has done well at learning to use it in the absence of spells. I want to ask her more about that.”
“Middling power or not, she can see fay and communicate with them,” Darcy said. Why did he care what they thought of Elizabeth’s powers? “There are few enough of us who can do that.”
“True, but she will have to demonstrate her abilities before I believe it. It is easy enough to say she can see fay.”
“I can attest to it,” said Darcy. “She spotted a redcap coming up behind me. She got between us and scolded it until it fled. Later a dryad showed herself at her request.”
Lord Matlock’s eyes narrowed. “Could she be a changeling?”
Darcy shook his head. “I saw her hold iron shavings in her bare hand.” He had wondered the same thing briefly, especially since Elizabeth was so unlike her mother and younger sisters. “Her father is a mage, and his father before him.”
“What of her mother’s family?”
“They are in trade, so it is unlikely they have any magic.”
“I have wondered if magic powers are more common than we think. If the stories are true, many common people have some fay blood. A pity there is no way to tell.”
More of those ridiculous theories. “On the subject of breeding, I wish to speak very clearly. I will not marry Anne. That is not negotiable.”
Lord Matlock waved his hand in dismissal. “You are the perfect choice for her. You have the skills to manage her and it will keep Rosings in the family.”
Darcy spread his fingers on the table and leaned forward. “Anne does not like me. I do not like her. I do not want a wife with the mind of a child and I most especially do not wish to be my wife’s jailer. If you want her to have children, marry her to someone with lesser powers. Otherwise you risk having a child even more out-of-control than she was. I will not do it.”
“You would have her remain under a binding spell for the rest of her life?” demanded Lord Matlock.
“That is not my responsibility. Why do you not take her into your household? You could control her as well as I. I do not understand why you did not do so years ago.”
“I had duties to the Collegium, and Catherine insisted she remain here. She had lost her husband and did not wish to lose her daughter. She asked that Anne remain bound all her life.”
Darcy snapped, “You may be certain I will give her my opinion on that when she regains her wits.”
Darcy watched the clock hands creep forward. Mrs. Collins had returned to the parsonage after answering Lord Matlock’s questions about Lady Catherine’s health. It should have taken her no more than a quarter hour to reach the parsonage, perhaps another quarter hour to greet her husband, and one more to allow her to send him a message saying Elizabeth had returned. It had been nearly two hours, and dusk was approaching, but no word had arrived. Darcy had even asked the butler if a message had come and made it clear there should be no delay in delivering it to him when it arrived.
Then it was two and a half hours, and only a little light left in the sky. Darcy sent a kitchen boy to the parsonage to ask after Miss Bennet. When he returned without any news apart from Mrs. Collins being worried, Darcy’s stomach tied in knots.
Unable to keep a calm demeanor with Richard and Lord Matlock, Darcy ordered a lantern and set out for the nearest posting inn. He could not imagine she would flee without a word and with none of her belongings, but it was the only way she could have left the vicinity. But no one had seen her at the inn.
Darcy returned to Rosings empty-handed, after making certain every stable boy knew they would be well rewarded for sending him word if Miss Bennet did appear.
He could not sleep. Elizabeth would never stay away at night, no matter how frightened she was. It would ruin her reputation and stain her for the rest of her life. Not that he cared about any of that, but he knew she would.
Dawn found him at the parsonage door. It was a completely inappropriate time to call, but what did that matter?
Despite the hour, Mrs. Collins herself opened the door, her face lined with worry. “Is she at Rosings?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nor here, I take it.”
“No, not a word from her. I have searched her room, but if anything is missing, I cannot recognize it. I have put together a list of everyone I have introduced her to here, both parishioners and tenants. I plan to go to each of them. Perhaps she spent the night caring for someone who is ill.”
They both knew Elizabeth would have sent word if that were the case, but Darcy would grasp at any straw. “How may I help? Should I accompany you?”
“That would only draw attention to her absence. If you could arrange a search through the grounds at Rosings –”
“It is being done now. She did not take a stagecoach from the inn, but if she managed to leave the area – perhaps someone offered her a ride? – where would she go?”
Mrs. Collins chewed her lip. “Her uncle in London is closest. He lives on Gracechurch Street, but I do not know the number. Meryton is another possibility, of course. I can think of nowhere else. But she would expect us to look in those places.”
“Does she have other relatives? Friends who married and moved away?” He had spent the long night trying to think of possibilities.
“Her family is all in Meryton, apart from her uncle. As for friends, there was a girl who married and moved to Ware, just a few miles from Meryton. Her name was Emma Swift. It would be Emma Lazarus now, but I do not know how to find her.”
“I will send men to check all of those. Discreetly, of course. Do you plan to notify Mr. Bennet?”
For the first time she looked uncertain. “I started a letter a few minutes ago, but I wonder if I should wait until tomorrow. Lizzy would be furious if I worried him unnecessarily.”
“I would not wait. If we find her, you can send a second letter, but if there is a chance the Bennets would know where to look… She cannot have much money and no extra clothes, so time is of the essence.” His words echoed in his ears: if we find her, if we find her.
“You are right, of course. I will send it immediately. And I will let you know what I discover today, even if it is nothing.”
Darcy knelt by the edge of the lake that bordered the grove at Rosings Park. Fear made him hesitate, but he plunged both hands into the cold lake, letting his magic reach out to the water, gathering it together, and letting it flow past his fingers. His senses followed the magic into the murky, half lit depths, searching, always searching. His magic sifted through the silt at the bottom, inch by inch and foot by foot. His nerves were rattled by each obstruction he encountered, and his heart almost stopped when he found a long thick form. But it was only a large tree limb, and somehow he forced himself to keep going, checking and rechecking until he was certain there was nothing that did not belong.
Finally he sank back on his haunches, a nauseating sense of relief filling him. She had said she would rather die than be bound, and while he did not think she would act upon it, he could not be certain. At least it had not been here, in the lake they had walked next to together while he dreamed of their future. Yesterday he had been bereft by the knowledge she would never be his; today he would be grateful just to know she was alive. He covered his face with his cold, wet hands.
“Mr. Darcy! Is something the matter, sir?” It was one of the servants combing the grounds for any sign of Elizabeth.
He dropped his hands. “No. There is nothing in the lake.”
“Oh, well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Fortunately the man seemed not to need a reply as he meandered away, his eyes searching the ground.
Lord Matlock took his leave later that morning, seeming more concerned for the knowledge he might be losing than for Elizabeth’s well-being. Darcy was glad to see him go. Richard had gone riding, hoping to cover ground in neighboring estates the searchers on foot would not reach.
Darcy was alone when he received a note from Mrs. Collins. She had found nothing. No one had seen Elizabeth.
How could she have vanished into thin air? The only possibility left seemed to be that she might be hiding somewhere under an illusion, but how long could she keep that up? The nights were still cold. What would she eat?
How would he survive not knowing what had happened to her?
Unable to sit still, he tried something he had never done before. He sought out his cousin Anne.
She did not seem surprised to see him, but then she rarely showed any sign of emotion. Darcy carefully explained about the search for Elizabeth, noticing for the first time how she would lose the train of conversation whenever the subject skirted on magic. The evidence had been there; he had simply never bothered to look for it.
After the fifth or sixth time Anne failed to finish a sentence, he asked, “Does it ever feel as if you are thinking something and the thought is snatched out of your head?”
She leaned forward and grasped his hands. “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.” It was as if she turned into a different person, one he had never met before.
She did feel the loss.
Now how could he respond? He could not offer to fix it. Finally he said, “Miss Bennet wants to help you.”
Her vague look was back. “You like Miss Bennet, do you not?”
He tightened his lips to keep the words inside, but what was the point? “Yes. I like Miss Bennet very much.” It was a relief to say it.
She nodded. “Then you must… You must…” Her face screwed up as if in pain. “You must throw grass. In the air.”
“Green grass? That is just an old wives’ tale.”
“No, no, no.” She pressed the heels of her hands against her temples. “Promise me!”
“Oh, very well. I promise.”
Her face relaxed. “What was I saying?”
Darcy hoped no one could see him. He must look like a complete fool, plucking blades of grass from the manicured lawn like a lovesick peasant boy. It was ridiculous even to attempt this. But he had promised, and even if he had not, if there was the tiniest chance it could lead him to Elizabeth, he would happily make a fool of himself.
He stared down at the grass stems cupped in his hands. How was this supposed to be done? Was the old children’s rhyme a spell of sorts? He raised his hands in front of his face. “Elizabeth,” he whispered to the grass. “Elizabeth.” Elizabeth of the fine eyes, the light and pleasing figure, the bubbling melodious laughter. Elizabeth. “Green grass, green grass, floating in the air; Green grass, green grass, lead me to my true love fair.” He tossed the grass into the air and waited as it fluttered down, knowing full well it would fall randomly all around him.
His breath froze in his throat. The blades of grass formed a straight line starting at the toes of his boots and leading a few feet away. Towards the grove, the sheep fields, and the road to Tunbridge Wells.
He took off at a run.
The winding paths through the grove made it impossible to keep his direction precisely straight, but finally he reached the sheep field. He clambered over a tall stile and hurried across the pasture. Frightened sheep raced away at his approach.
When he reached the far side, he stopped to look back at the roof line of Rosings. Had he followed a straight line? How could he tell? He grabbed two handfuls of grass, an easier task here than in the closely trimmed lawn, whispered to it, and tossed it into the air, waiting for to align in front of him.
Was hope to be snatched away so quickly? He slowly turned in a circle. Perhaps he simply could not see it among all the other grass. No, there it was – pointing back in the direction he had come.
Was the magic toying with him? Or was Elizabeth hidden in the grove, somewhere he had not looked, perhaps even up a tree? He retraced his steps.
He followed the path until he judged himself to be near the middle of the grove, stopping to collect grass again and throw it in the air. This time the line led off the path. He cut between trees, pushing past saplings and into an area of dense undergrowth that tore at his boots and the tail of his coat. It did not matter. The only thing that mattered was following a straight line.
The woods opened into a small glade. Odd; he thought he had explored every inch of the grove, but he had never seen this glade before. Could Elizabeth be nearby?
Gather grass, whisper her name, toss. This time there was no line. The grass settled into a neat pile in the center of the glade. But if this was correct spot, where was Elizabeth? He stood beside the pile and turned around slowly, looking up and around, trying to spot the odd bits of reflection that were the telltale signs of illusions. Nothing. He tried again, forcing himself to examine everything, trying to keep despair at bay.
“Elizabeth!” he called frantically. “Elizabeth, can you hear me? I beg you to show yourself. We have been desperately worried.”
Nothing. The green grass had been a false hope.
He sank to his knees, covering his face with his hands. The grass must have led him to a place Elizabeth loved rather than to Elizabeth herself. It had been a forlorn hope at best, but now even that small hope was gone.
No. He would not give up. Anne had been trying to tell him something; he was sure of it. He would examine every inch of this glade, no matter how long it took him. He would not fail Elizabeth again.
Sitting back on his heels, Darcy studied the hillocks of grass, woodland plants, twigs sticking up from the ground, a line of mushrooms –
A line of mushrooms. His breath caught in his throat. Yes, the line continued until it disappeared under some of last year’s fallen leaves. Carefully he brushed the leaves away. The mushrooms continued all the way around him, a circle that enclosed the greater part of the glade.
He gasped for breath. How had he failed to see the answer? Elizabeth had not run off to someone’s house, nor had she harmed herself. She had gone to Faerie, the one place she knew Lord Matlock could not follow her. He could not begin to guess how she had done it, but it made perfect sense. She had taken her fay cat and gone to Faerie to see her fay friend.
Now he could feel the subtle thrum of fay magic surrounding him. There must be a way to find her. He would go through every book of magic ever written if that was what it took. And in the meantime, if he could not reach Elizabeth, at least he knew she was alive.
She was alive.
Mrs. Collins clapped her hands to her cheeks. “She is in Faerie?”
“I believe so,” he said. “My cousin Anne suggested a spell I could use to find her, and it led me straight to a faerie ring.”
“That would explain how she could vanish without a trace, but how did she manage it? Faerie rings do not work for mortals.”
“I cannot say. Perhaps her fay friend assisted her, but that is just a guess.”
“My poor Lizzy! Will we ever see her again? Will she be able to return, or are the old stories true about men who spent a day in Faerie and return to find a hundred years had passed?”
He had forgotten about that. The elation of his discovery drained away as if it had never been. “No one knows for certain how time works in Faerie except that it is different from here, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. But Elizabeth would know of that risk, and she did not mention having a problem when she visited Faerie before. She would be careful of time passing, would she not?” As if somehow Mrs. Collins could answer his question and reassure him.
“I hope so.” She looked down at her hands. “I always wondered how the old stories could be true. If the fay dance on Beltane and All Souls Night, and a day in Faerie is as long as a hundred of our years, would that not mean they would be dancing at a hundred Beltanes and a hundred All Souls Nights each day?”
“A good point. Any difference of time between our world and faerie must not be large. That would relieve one worry.” Darcy refused to consider any other option.
Mrs. Collins said, “Should I tell the Bennets about your theory? I would rather not mention it to my husband. Lady Catherine equates the fay with the devil, and he has adopted her attitude in this, as in so many other things.”
As if his aunt had not already caused enough trouble! “I am aware of Lady Catherine’s prejudices. Perhaps it would be best to keep this to ourselves for now.”
“I will. But I thank you for telling me. It has relieved my mind of my worst suspicions.” Mrs. Collins wiped away a stray tear.
“Her chatelaine. Her keys. Where are Lady Catherine’s keys?” Darcy tried to keep his anger in check. His aunt’s nonsensical shouting from the next room did not help.
“Yes, sir. I know, sir,” the maid squeaked. “They are in the table beside her bed. The drawer, but she says we are never, ever, ever to touch that drawer. Ever.”
“I am not asking you to touch it.” Darcy opened the bedroom door and strode in. A teacup flew at his head, but he ducked it without missing a step.
“Gardenias!” cried Lady Catherine. “Nettles and gardenias, all of them!”
“Nettles and gardenias,” Darcy agreed as he opened the drawer. The chatelaine with its dangling keys sat atop a pile of old papers.
A bony hand grasped his wrist. “No!” shrieked his aunt. Of course, the very first word Lady Catherine used sensibly would be ‘no.’
Darcy pried away her fingers. “Yes. Elizabeth saved your life, and now I am trying to save hers.” He held the keys out of her reach. “You should rest.”
“Oak and ash and thorn, they are all thieves born,” she said in the singsong of a nursery rhyme.
Dear God, now she sounded like a fay. He would have to ask Elizabeth if that was typical after elfshot.
No, he had to find Elizabeth first.
The maid still looked horrified at his presumption. Darcy moved past her and started up the stairs two at a time.
Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s library and study were at the far end of the wing. No doubt Lady Catherine had thought it safer that way. Now it was abandoned. The housekeeper had told him no one was permitted near the room, and Lady Catherine kept the only key. The heavy layer of dust outside the door seem to confirm her story.
He tried the keys one by one. When he finally found the correct key, the lock was too stiff to turn. He had already tried the usual spell for unlocking doors without success, so he leaned his forehead against the lock plate, picturing drops of oil running through the mechanism. Finally, with a piercing squeal of metal on metal, the key turned, and the door opened.
A cloud of dust made him cough as soon as he stepped inside the room. He wrenched open the closed curtains to allow enough light in to see. A long workbench stood against one wall, its surface cluttered with flasks and bottles of all sizes, stones, and unrecognizable wizened things. Darcy raised his eyebrows. Sir Lewis must have been mixing alchemy and magic. He would have been expelled from the Collegium of Mages if anyone had ever found out.
Darcy did not care about the past, only about Sir Lewis’s books. They were in a locked bookcase, but this lock responded to his spell. The top shelf held musty books in Italian and Latin, so he started on the second shelf where the books were in English. They were all locked with standard Collegium spells to keep the books closed to any non-mage, but that would not stop him. He chose half a dozen to take downstairs to read in less unpleasant surroundings.
Bleary-eyed from examining the centuries-old book, Darcy looked up to see Richard in the doorway, his clothing covered with road dust.
“Nothing,” said Richard gloomily. “I found plenty of things, mostly dead rabbits and the remains of poached deer, but no sign of her. Has there been any word here?”
“None,” said Darcy. “But I do have a theory, one that I do not want to come to the attention of the Collegium or your father, at least not until Miss Bennet is safely back.”
Richard grimaced. “I will tell no one, and I pray your theory is correct, since otherwise I see little hope of finding her alive.”
“This may not be much better.” Darcy closed the tome in front of him. “I cast an old finding spell, one I did not expect to work, but I had already tried everything else. It led me straight to a faerie ring, one I have walked past a dozen times and never noticed. The trail stopped in the center of the ring.”
Richard whistled. “You think she went to Faerie?”
“Faerie,” said Richard reflectively. “That is perhaps the most preposterous theory I have heard, but it makes more sense than any other.”
“My thought exactly. And she has gone to Faerie before, which makes it slightly less preposterous.”
“Good Lord. Faerie. I need a drink if I am going to digest that.” Richard crossed to the sideboard and poured a generous glass of brandy. “Any for you? Remind me next year to bring my own brandy to Rosings, or better yet, some of yours. Even mine would be better than this swill.”
“It would not take much to be an improvement.”
Richard set a glass on the desk where Darcy sat. He peered at the spell book. “That does not look like enjoyable reading.”
“I raided Sir Lewis’s library, hoping to find something about Faerie. I never paid much attention to the subject at Cambridge.”
“Nor I.” He took a sip of his brandy and made a sour face. “If that is where she is, is there anything we can do besides wait?”
“That is the question. I plan to write a letter to her and leave it at the circle for her to read on her return. If she returns.” He also planned to spend as much time as he could at the faerie ring.
“If she returns there, you mean. There are faerie rings all over England. Would she not be more likely to appear somewhere else, perhaps nearer to her home?”
“That is one of the answers I am trying to find, whether the stories tell of anyone who disappeared at one ring and reappeared at another. In the meantime, since we cannot be at every faerie ring, I can but hope she will return through this one.”
“I suppose so.” Richard gazed moodily into his brandy. “What spell did you use to find her? I do not recall any spells for finding things out of sight.”
Now was Darcy’s turn to stare into his brandy. He had hoped his cousin would not ask that question. All his possible answers were bad. He did not like to lie, and if he refused to answer, that would only make Richard more curious. He said in a low voice, “Green grass, green grass.”
“’Green grass, green grass, floating in the air?’ That green grass?” Richard’s voice was edged in disbelief.
“Yes, that green grass.”
“That is just an old nursery rhyme! And it is only for finding your true love, not a missing girl.”
“I am well aware of that,” said Darcy sharply. Surely Richard did not need him to explain.
“But she… Oh.” Richard fell silent. “I’m sorry, Darcy.”
“I would prefer not to speak about it,” Darcy said stiffly. “But I do wish to tell you about a very interesting conversation I had with Cousin Anne.”
Darcy spun in a slow circle. Where would Elizabeth be most likely to notice his letter when she returned through the faerie ring? Placing it in the thorn bush beside the ring was as good as anything. Perhaps he should write more letters and hang them from every tree like Orlando in As You Like It. He snorted at the image.
He balanced the letter on two branches. That would have to do. Now for the embarrassing part. He crouched down beside the ring and rubbed his hand over his mouth.
At least no one would ever know about this. A good thing, as any sane person would think him ready for Bedlam. Still, the grass spell had been ridiculous, but it had worked. And last night’s muddled dreams had been haunted by white cats and white ravens. It might have been some sort of fay sending, or more likely his fatigue-addled brain trying to tell him something. In any case, here he was.
“Pepper,” he called softly. “Pepper, can you hear me? I need your help, Pepper. I am here beside the faerie ring.” Yes, he was beside the faerie ring begging for help from a fay cat who was not there. How far the mighty mage had fallen!
He pictured the cat in his mind and called again. Nothing. “Pepper, if you can hear me, I beg you to come to me. I am worried about Elizabeth. Help me, Pepper.” This was ridiculous. He rocked back and sat on his heels, covering his eyes with one hand. How would he ever find Elizabeth if this nonsense was the best he could manage?
Darcy’s eyes flew open. “Pepper! You came! Where is Elizabeth? I have been out of my mind with worry. Is she in Faerie? Is she safe?”
Pepper began to groom her already immaculate white fur.
Darcy said ruefully, “Perhaps the correct question is why I am asking questions of a cat who may be able to turn into a bird, but who has never given any evidence of being able to speak.”
Pepper stopped washing herself and gazed at him balefully.
“Yes, I am a very stupid mortal. I do not know what to do. Can you help me?”
The cat stretched and ambled towards him. He reached out to pet her, and she bumped her head against his knee.
“What is it? Do you want me to stand up?” Feeling utterly foolish, Darcy stood and allowed the cat to herd him into the center of the ring. “Pepper, I think you want me to go to Faerie, but I do not know the spell. I have no power over faerie rings.”
Pepper meowed and gave him an assessing look.
“Yes, I truly am that stupid. I do not know what to do.” And he probably did belong in Bedlam.
The cat crouched down, wiggled her hindquarters, and launched herself at his chest. Sharp claws hooked into his lapels.
“What?” Darcy grabbed at the cat before she tore the fabric. She immediately relaxed in his arms and began to purr. The ground melted under his feet.
Did you see that coming? Faerie is going to be a very interesting experience for Darcy, who is accustomed to being powerful, wealthy, and connected. In Faerie, he’ll be just another mortal. Now Elizabeth will be the one who knows her way around.