Ok, so I’m als a sucker. You asked for chapters weekly…I guess I’ll do chapters weekly now. How about we check in with exactly what Darcy is up to as well. He better have a good reason for not coming to the rescue–right? (Don’t forget, comments really do inspire me to write faster…just saying…)
Find previous chapters HERE
Darcy settled into the morning room as far away from Aunt Catherine’s customary seat as possible. The room was large enough, that distance was not difficult to achieve. The room accommodated not only a table large enough to serve breakfast for ten, but several reasonably comfortable chairs near the east facing windows. By her standards, the decorations were ‘simple’—which still meant it was far too ostentatious for his taste. Were ormolu dragons necessary on nearly every surface? Yes, she was a Dragon Keeper, and yes she was Dragon Mate to a rare and very fine cockatrix. But did she have to remind her guests—at least the ones who understood—of it at every turn?
The framed fan of cockatrix wing feathers—glossy jet black alternating with deep blues, and a few rich purples that must have come from her ruff—was really taking things too far. How had she managed to convince Cait to give those up? As many as there were, it must have taken years. Walker avoided the room just for that ornament alone.
Too bad he could not do the same.
Why Aunt Catherine insisted on a ‘morning audience’ was beyond him, especially when she was usually the last one in attendance. At least Anne did not usually bother with breakfast. One de Bourgh woman in the morning was enough for any man to cope with.
Arriving just before the start of the Christmastide season had offered him a welcome reprieve from many of her usual, intrusive audiences. The social calendar was so full with events to be hosted at Rosings, and events in the village that she, at least in her own mind, had to oversee, given the absence of her parson, that she had not a moment to spare for her nephew.
Not that he particularly wanted one either. The help offered by the resident dragons—at least some of them—was not only more welcome, but quite possibly more useful.
For all Aunt Catherine’s foibles, Rosings Park had far more dragons in residence than most great estates in England. The butler and housekeeper, long married but childless, were both Dragon Mates, which explained the little green zaltys that lived by the kitchen hearth, and the puck that helped the maids tend the bedrooms. The puck easily convinced the maids he was a pug and they found his propensity to takes odds and ends from guests’ rooms adorable. Happily, that led them to regularly checking for purloined articles. The puck would never change. With the maids to keep him in check, though, he was tolerable and often a good source of information.
How the snake-like zaltys passed as a cat was more difficult to fathom. Without the feline traits of a tatzelwurm to support the persuasion, it must have been quite a feat. On the other hand, she did catch kitchen rats, and after being told long enough that the zaltys was a cat, Cook and her staff simply accepted it and moved on. Regular saucers of milk kept the zaltys happy enough to slither around the Cook’s feet, making an odd hiss that passed for a purr. It was a little odd to watch her stoop to pet it like a cat, scratching behind ears it did not have.
Several large tatzelwurms lived in the barns, managing vermin there and a minor drake, passing as a hound, assisted the shepherds. Luckily the creature had more of a taste for game, especially predators, than mutton. He was a good sort though, pleasing company when he set out for a morning ride, full of interesting stories about the neighborhood. Told from a dragon’s perspective, they were far more interesting than Aunt Catherine’s gossip.
He poured himself a cup of coffee and retrieved Fitzwilliam’s letter from his pocket. Hopefully it would be good news.
Settling into a soft, but lumpy, chair near the window, he held the letter in a sunbeam. Fitzwilliam’s hand was difficult to read on the best of days. Georgiana had not recovered her spirits yet, but she was improving and had agreed to travel. That was an a good sign. Before Darcy had left for Meryton, she would not leave her chambers.
Fitzwilliam and Georgiana would arrive in a fortnight. Good. Good. He would have someone to share both the necessary work at Rosings Park and tending baby Pemberley with someone. He leaned his head into the chair and closed his eyes.
Miss Elizabeth had made tending the drakling look effortless, absolutely effortless. She always understood Pemberley’s moods, her wants and needs, and tended to them almost before she cried. But without her, it was not nearly so simple as that. Between himself, Rosings, Walker, and Cait, they could barely keep up with her demands.
A sunbeam warmed his face, almost soporific in its effects. He would not trade the privilege of keeping Pemberley for anything, but he could easily have done without the perpetual exhaustion. Too bad one could not hire a wet nurse or a nursery maid for a juvenile dragon.
Oh, the look Miss Elizabeth would give him for even having that thought!
“Wake up, Darcy!”
He jumped out of his chair, nearly upsetting his coffee and dropping his letter. “Aunt Catherine. I did not hear you enter.”
“Of course you did not, you were sleeping! Where have your manners gone?”
He maneuvered around the over- furnished room and pulled her chair at the table out for her.
“Forgive me, Pemberley has been exceedingly demanding of late.”
She sat and arranged her skirts. “Mark my words, Darcy, you will spoil that creature if you are not careful. Rosings—”
“Rosings is smitten with her. I would caution you not to say a word of criticism about Pemberley in Rosings’ hearing.”
Rosings might well be the only creature who could restrict the conversation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
“A brood mother is always too partial to her offspring.” She flicked her hand, the corner of her lips wrinkling in a half frown.
“Does Rosings know you feel that way?”
“As a matter of fact she does. I have cautioned her about it time and again.”
Darcy snickered. Needless to say that discussion had not gone well.
“Cait is also in agreement with me.” She flipped open a napkin and laid it in her lap.
“Speaking of Cait—”
“I will not have that discussion with you again Darcy.” She rang the little silver bell for the maid.
“And yet I am undeterred.”
“Not another word.”
He slipped into the chair beside her. “Yes, Aunt, many more words. Walker has expressed more than once that he is tired of her aggressive displays and demands. You must encourage Cait to a more ladylike level of demure behavior if she has any desire—”
“Of course he will sire her next brood, just has he has the last two. It is his duty. It unites our two houses, just as your marriage—”
“That is another matter we have yet to discuss discuss, but one problem at a time.”
“There is nothing to discuss. You will both do as you are told by the matriarchs of your houses.” She slapped the table, rattling the glasses.
“Walker has no house and no matriarch. Cockatrices do not mate for life. He is under no obligation to Cait.” He folded his arms over his chest, settling in for what would, again, be a long conversation.
“The brood from ten years ago produced such superior specimens that he cannot pass up the opportunity—”
“Yes, he can and he will. She is driving him away, and I will not have it. I need his help, here with me. Pemberley needs him as well. You will call Cait off or—”
“Or what, nephew, what will you threaten me with?” She canted her head to the left, eyes narrowing in an expression she surely learned from Rosings.
“Or I will do it myself.”
That got her attention.
She sat up very straight, eyes wide. “You will do nothing of the kind. I will not have a broody cockatrix upset by your impulsive behavior. Do you have any idea what kind of damage she could wreak if unsettled?”
“I am fully aware.” He leaned on the table, deliberately placing his elbow so she could not miss his rebellion. “So then, you will have a conversation with her?”
She huffed a breath through puffed cheeks. That was all the affirmation he would get, but it was sufficient.
“I do not understand what has you so disagreeable, Darcy! You barely attended any of the Christmastide affairs. You have hardly shown your face outside your room at all.”
“I believe we covered that point already, I have had a dragon to attend. My time has largely been spent, not in my chambers, but hers.”
The maid scurried in with hot toast.
Aunt Catherine held her tongue until she left. “How did you manage when Pemberley was newly hatched?”
“I had help from Miss Elizabeth Bennet, daughter of the Blue Order’s historian. She is well versed—”
“Bennet, Bennet. That name is … ah yes, I have it now. That estate, Longbourn, is entailed upon my vicar Collins.”
“Indeed it is, despite the fact that Collins is entirely dragon deaf and nearly immune to persuasion.” He rolled his eyes, although it was probably a bad idea in her presence.
She grunted her disapproval. “Very unfortunate, that. Especially when he is rather a gudgeon amongst men. Rarely have I met a man who holds his own opinions so loosely, especially in response to a female voice. Do you happen to know if he has made an offer of marriage yet?”
“I do not think so.” His brow knotted tight enough to ache.
“That fool had better get on with the process before the Blue Order passes those ridiculous liberal mandates. Really, what can they be thinking, permitting a Keeper to marry outside of a dragon’s consent.”
“As I understood them, those new rulings also require that an alternate keeper be present, so that the dragon would not be without.”
“Foolishness. Perhaps a young thing like Pemberley might be willing to do so, knowing no better, but an old dragon—bah! A dragon must be allowed to choose their own Keeper. There can be no other way.” She waved her hand, nearly knocking over her tea cup.
“Within reason, that must be true, but the dragon’s will should not supersede that of the Keepers.”
“Rosings determined that I should marry Sir Lewis, and it did us no harm.”
It had not done them any favors either. Dragons were not known for their matchmaking capacity.
“You young people are far too selfish, not submitting to your superiors as you should. You should take a lesson from Collins. I told him he should choose a wife from among the daughters of the estate, trusting of course that Bennet would steer him toward the correct one as it were. The dragon will be satisfied with the entail. Thus, everyone’s problems are solved, Not only that, but I have discharged any inconvenient debt you might owe the man for his assistance in returning Pemberley to you.”
He dragged his hand down his face. Aunt Catherine did so love to be helpful.
“Now about Pemberley. You have permitted her to run you ragged. Take me to her. I insist. It is time I have met her. I will set things to right. You will see.”
She was half right. It was time she met her youngest guest, but there was little chance anything would be set to rights.
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