Yes, my new magical Pride & Prejudice variation is still coming! I’ve finally got the ending in hand, and hopefully I’ll have a finished manuscript soon. It’s taken longer than I would have liked, so I’m excited to finally be getting there. Anyway, here’s another excerpt from it. This follows shortly after the previous excerpts where Darcy has learned that Elizabeth not only can interfere with the illusions he creates, but can unexpectedly cast them herself. The first scene starts with Elizabeth still at Netherfield taking care of her ill sister, and the second one is after Elizabeth and Jane have just left and Darcy is taking Bingley into his confidence.
“I do not know why I agreed to this,” Darcy muttered under his breath the following day.
Elizabeth smiled so brilliantly that he could have sworn the sun had broken through the clouds. “Because I asked so nicely, and because you would rather I did it under your supervision than go off practicing on my own.”
“There is that,” he acknowledged. “My sins are coming back to haunt me.”
“So, how do I know when to stop?”
“For now, you should stop as soon as you have created a little mist. With time, one learns the signs of being drained. A peculiar excitement, a sense of being powerful, almost like being drunk. Not that I am accusing you of ever having been drunk, Miss Elizabeth, but the idea is the same.”
She said archly, “Perhaps I have never imbibed to excess, but ratafia is much stronger than most gentlemen believe. I know how it can go to my head. And yesterday, I did feel like that. I will be careful.” God, but she drew him like a magnet when she was in this playful mood!
“Well, then, whenever you are ready.” He gestured to the corner of the stone wall.
She closed her eyes, giving him the opportunity to watch her unabashedly. It was not just her facial structure that gave her beauty, but her intelligent expression and her lively movements.
Something peculiar happened when she opened her eyes. She brought her hands in front of her and began a subtle rhythmic motion with them. Her forefinger and thumb pinched together and her hands moved together, apart, together, and apart again. Mist was beginning to grow in the corner. He eyed it critically. It was by no means a strong illusion, but she was producing it evenly and efficiently.
Her hands dropped to her sides and she turned to look at him. “There. Did I stop quickly enough?”
“The fact that you are still standing suggests you did.”
She rocked back on one foot to admire her mist, seeming pleased with her handiwork. “How long will it remain there?”
“Either until you dissipate it or until the sun goes down.”
“How do I dissipate it?”
“The simplest way is to blow on it, as if you were blowing out a candle, while thinking of scattering the energy. Do you wish to try it?”
Her smile glowed again. “Not yet. I wish to enjoy it a little longer.”
“What were you doing with your hands as you were casting?”
She gave him a rueful look. “A trick I discovered yesterday. It did not work when I tried to plait the sunbeams, so instead I imagined spinning them into thread, the way I would with a spinning wheel. Since I am more practiced at spinning than plaiting, it worked for me.”
He stared at her in disbelief. “You know how to spin?” He had known Hertfordshire was primitive, but this was too much.
She gave a light tinkle of a laugh. “I have shocked you. Spinning is not a suitable pastime for a gentlemen’s daughter, is it? No, I should go to the milliner and buy my thread instead. But my old granny taught me to spin when I was a girl. She said it would prove useful someday, and it has.”
“Oh, not just for that! Have you seen my gloves? They are made from flax grown at Longbourn. I spin it into thread, drawing the land’s power into the spinning, and then I crochet it into gloves which store my Talent. When my sisters wear them, they can call on the land to a degree. And that is why I could use my glove to create flame to frighten your cows.”
He had never heard of storing power in such a way. “May I see your glove?”
She peeled one off, revealing her shapely fingers, and held it out to him.
He draped the lacy glove over his palm. It was still warm from her hand, and weighed almost nothing. He could see the slight unevenness in the thread, but it was heavy with power. Astonishing! “What gave you the idea to try this?”
“I read about it in a book. Not about using it for gloves, but about weaving it into fabric to be worn against the skin. It would take a very long time to spin enough thread to make cloth. Gloves are easier.”
“What book is this? I should like to see it.” And why had he never heard of this technique?
Her lips curved. “It is called On Binding to the Land. I can show it to you, but you are unlikely to find useful, as it is in Arabic.”
The light dawned. “That is why you learned Arabic.”
“Yes. The subject was of particular interest to the Arab philosophers after the Moors left Spain and needed to bond to their new land in Africa, so they developed techniques to speed the process. They claim to have achieved full bonding in only two generations.” She sparkled with pride, as well she might about such a discovery.
It would be astounding, if true. It had taken almost two centuries after the Norman conquest for the invaders to develop rapport with their estates. Today’s newly wealthy merchants would give a great deal for such knowledge, if it meant their families could become landed Talents. Anyone could buy an estate, but only old established families could be truly landed.
“What else does this book of yours recommend?”
She shrugged, not meeting his eyes. “Various things. Spending as much time as possible on your land. Eating only food produced on your land or nearby, for example.”
That answered another question. “I noticed you always decline desserts, and wondered if you disliked sweets or perhaps were an abolitionist who refuses to eat sugar produced by slaves. But it is something else, is it not?”
“I do believe in abolition, and I would not eat West Indian sugar because of it, but you are correct. I do not like to eat anything that is not grown locally, and sugar comes from across the world.” She gave him a rueful look. “Unfortunate for me, as I am passionately fond of sweets. At least there is local honey.”
The question of eating local foods could be real or superstition. Still, it was true that Talents who spent all their time in London found their abilities fading. “Anything else?”
She looked at him with a hint of defiance, setting her chin. “Various techniques for giving blood to the land, so it recognizes and knows its tenant.”
He sucked in a breath, though he should not be surprised. “The church has forbidden blood magic.” And he, better than any, knew why.
“Has that stopped any landed family from burying the heir’s afterbirth so that the land will know him? What is that, if not giving his blood and flesh to the land?”
That stopped him short. “I suppose I never thought about it that way.”
“And did not your lynx have to taste your blood to become your familiar?”
“That is true, also.” He was not accustomed to losing arguments and did not particularly like it.
She seemed to sense his discomfort, for she said more gently, “I think it is like any other church doctrine. We pick and choose which to follow and to what degree.”
He decided he would rather not know if she gave blood to the land. “These things you have done – the gloves, eating local food – do you think they have increased your Talent?” He could not deny that her Talent was unusually strong for someone living so far from the nearest ley line.
“I do. And I use my Talents frequently, rather than sparingly, as we are taught here. The book says the Talent is like any other muscle in the body, and the more it is used, the stronger it gets.”
Somehow he needed to find out what was in this book.
Once again, he had underestimated Elizabeth.
Bingley reared up from his chair to stare at Darcy. “She did what?” he demanded.
“Miss Elizabeth altered my illusion. Her Talent can intertwine with mine.”
“Impossible,” snorted Bingley. “Do you know how rare that is?”
“Of course I do. One case in a century, if that. But what is more, despite having latent Talent, she does not repel me. I can touch her cheek with my bare hand with no discomfort at all.” It had been the furthest thing from repulsion. A surge of desire filled him, his fingers tingling at the memory of her silken skin.
“Come now, Darcy,” Bingley scoffed. “You must be dreaming. You think you and Miss Elizabeth are another Arthur and Guinevere, practicing magic together?”
Darcy ignored him. “This is important, Bingley. Think about the implications for my mission. If she and I are bound together in blood, and my magic can intertwine with hers, then I can draw on her magic when I am in France. And if she is at Pemberley… Come now, Bingley, think!”
He could see the light dawn on Bingley’s face. “Then you could draw on your land magic through her, rather than relying solely on magery! My God, Darcy, that is brilliant! That could change everything!”
“I cannot believe my luck. All of our luck.” And that it was Elizabeth, who had so easily bewitched him, only made it perfect.
Bingley tapped his chin. “You will have to marry her, of course. And get her with child if you can.”
“That should not be a problem.” Nor would consummating the marriage be a chore, as he had always expected. It seemed like a fairytale, the idea he could marry a woman he was attracted to and make love to her without either of them being in pain. It was more than he had ever dreamed of.
What a pity their marriage would be so short-lived.
Bingley nodded. “And quickly, too. Time is of the essence.”
“No one is more aware of that than I.” As if he could forget for even a moment that his remaining life could be counted in months, rather than years. “Now that she and her sister have returned to Longbourn, I plan to ask Mr. Bennet’s permission tomorrow.” He grimaced at the prospect. “Will you serve as my Interlocutor?”
Bingley straightened. “I? Always happy to help, old chap, but I’m not trained for it.”
“I have no time to send to London for trained Interlocutor. It should hardly be a difficult task. You will have to send a note to him requesting the interview, but otherwise, this is just a formality.”
“True. You are the sort of match any father dreams of for his daughter.”
Darcy held out the sheaf of papers he had prepared. “I made some estimates on the settlement. If I have difficulty speaking, you will need to present them.”
With a long-suffering expression, Bingley took them and began to read the first page. His lips pursed in a silent whistle. “This is very generous.”
“There is no reason not to be generous, and every reason to avoid giving him any excuse to delay this marriage. We have no time to waste. I must have her married and at Pemberley as quickly as possible.” And that was the one part of this prospect which brought him joy. He might not have much time with Elizabeth, but he intended to take pleasure in every minute of it. Surely he deserved that much.
“I will do my best to speak for you.” Bingley sounded doubtful. “If you need it, that is.”
“Most likely I will not. I cannot imagine his Talent is that strong.”
Famous last words, Mr. Darcy!
Well, what do you think? How do you think Mr. Bennet is going to take this visit… not to mention Elizabeth?