At last, it’s done! Book 2 of Jane Austen’s Dragons is here! Longbourn: Dragon Entail is live on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Scribd, and soon on Barnes and Noble! And I can’t wait to give away a copy! Leave a comment below for a chance to win an ebook copy.
How about one more installment to whet your appetite for the whole thing? Find other chapters HERE.
Congratulations to winner Sonya Holt
In the morning room, Mr. Collins sat between Mama and Mary, prattling on about some point no one could be interested in. Still Mary nodded, smiling as though she cared, and poured him a fresh cup of tea.
How could she be so easy, waiting on him?
Elizabeth sat beside Jane, a knot settling into her stomach. Was that what her life was to become: placating Mr. Collins with tea and genteel conversation at meals and appeasing Longbourn with oils for his itchy hide and mutton for his empty belly?
Mama laughed at Mr. Collins’ remark. In truth that was very close to what Mama did daily, satisfying Papa’s demands for comfort and solitude. Granted, she did not manage Longbourn, but she did see to all the minor dragons’ needs, under the guise of tending the family pets.
Heavens! Perhaps Papa was right: their demands were normal and reasonable, but she really was being selfish and headstrong.
That thought was enough to ruin whatever appetite she might have had left.
A quarter of an hour later, Papa’s study door slammed and heavy footfalls tromped up the stairs, the final punctuation of his conversation with Uncle Gardiner, no doubt.
At least it was a good excuse to leave the morning room.
She hurried upstairs behind him and tapped at the Gardiners’ door.
“Come in, Lizzy.” Aunt closed the door behind her.
“I trust you are aware of what has just transpired.” Uncle tapped his large boot in an angry staccato beat. “Your father has always been a staunch traditionalist when it comes to dragon matters. He was taught by his grandfather, another Historian, who opposed every single change that came to the Order. I am not surprised by his demand.”
“Pray let me help you prepare. Perhaps I might take the children for a walk, tell them one more story before you leave?”
“Only if you are well away from Collins.” Uncle glanced up at Aunt who laid her hand on his shoulder.
Elizabeth covered her eyes with her hand. “I am so sorry.”
Uncle took her by the shoulders. “Look at me, Lizzy. You are not responsible for either man’s behavior—or for any of the dragons’ for that matter. No matter what they might do, nothing will ever change our affection for you. Pray tell me you understand that.”
She swallowed hard and nodded.
“Very good then.” He kissed her forehead.
“If you will take the children for us, we will prepare to take our leave.” Aunt slipped her arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Perhaps you might take them to Hill’s office to visit Rumblkins. Mr. Collins is very unlikely to find you there.”
After a quick consultation with Hill, Elizabeth did just that. The children gathered around Rumblkins’ basket and nibbled on buttered hot rolls, while Hill looked on in grandmotherly contentment from her rocking chair. The children adored the purry tatzelwurm, and Hill approved of anyone who esteemed her Friend.
Elizabeth settled on a stool beside the basket and stroked Rumblkins’ silky ears. “Of course cats cannot speak.” She glanced at the children, eyebrows raised.
“No, of course they cannot.” Anna giggled, sending a wave of titters through her brothers.
“But if they could, just pretending of course, what do you think this one might say?” Elizabeth tapped Rumblkins’ nose. Now was not the time for him to be a cheeky little fellow.
He lifted his head, turned toward the children and mrowed. “I would say that I am very content here.”
“He likes Longbourn very much, I think.” Samuel glanced shyly at Elizabeth.
She nodded at him, smiling.
“I think he likes his basket,” Anna added.
“I do, and I like dried fish even more.” Rumblkins licked his thumbed paw and ran it over his face.
Joshua rose and walked around the little group, hands clasped behind his back. He looked so serious and so like his father when he did that. He was destined to become a solicitor. “Rumblkins has grown fat since we have come. I think he would say he likes dried cod a great deal, and Mrs. Hill is very liberal with it.”
Hill laughed heartily. “Well, he has earned it. I have never seen a creature so adept at catching rats. I have hardly had a loaf of bread nibbled since he came to stay.”
Daniel leaned forward and scratched Rumblkins’ chin. “He is very proud of himself, I think.”
“I am indeed.” He rubbed his cheek against Daniel’s hand. “I may not be a large dragon who can fly and spew poison, but I can do some things very well, indeed. I am proud to earn my place in the Keep.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips tight. It might be a matter of debate within the Order whether minor dragons had to earn a place in a Keep. She had her own opinions on the matter.
The children continued their game of speaking for the dragon. Rumblkins played his part as well, even as the children’s “translations” became increasingly outlandish. Who knew a tatzelwurm could make sounds so much like a laugh?
Fun though it was, the little game had a purpose. What better way to help train the children to cover any slips they might make if they discussed their Dragon Friends when non-Hearers were present? Papa and Collins might not approve, but it was a final instruction she could give them before they departed.
Aunt came to gather the children, letting them know that they would be returning to London immediately.
Anna grabbed her mother’s hand. “Will Phoenix come with us?”
“Yes, of course, my dear. He is part of the family. He will ride in the carriage with us.”
Anna dashed to Elizabeth. “Will you come too?”
“I am afraid not. I am needed here. Maybe someday, though.”
Samuel and Joshua grabbed Aunt’s hands. “Can she come to visit, please?”
Elizabeth crouched down in front of them and took their hands. “I fear it may be quite some time before I am no longer needed about Longbourn.”
She swallowed back a painful lump in her throat. First Darcy had torn her from Pemberley, and now Papa was taking the children away. Who would be next? April? She dragged the back of her hand over her eyes.
“But when you are able, you are always welcome in Cheapside.” Aunt slid her arms over the boys’ shoulders. “Now it is time for us to go. Come along. Lizzy will help you into the carriage.”
Taking Anna and Daniel by the hands, Elizabeth trudged outside. Mama and her sisters were already there waiting to say goodbye. Papa was not.
Given Uncle’s expression, it was probably just as well.
Elizabeth handed the children into the carriage. Phoenix waved at her from the nesting basket of his dainty little cage. The cage door was unlocked—as it should be.
Mary came alongside her as they waved goodbye, until the coach disappeared around a bend in the road. Rustle flew circles over the carriage, cawing farewells that trailed away on the wind.
Heather flitted to Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Why is Phoenix going? Why are the children going? I do not want them to leave. Everyone is so upset! I do not understand.”
Elizabeth leaned her cheek against Heather’s fluffy pink feather-scales. “Neither do I.”
“Shall we take a walk? Jane will be having tea at Netherfield today, so Mama and Lydia will be much engaged in her toilette. We shall not be missed.”
Elizabeth shrugged and looked over her shoulder.
“Oh, Lizzy.” Mary patted her arm. “Mr. Collins went to call upon the vicar. He will not be available to join us.”
“In that case, a walk sounds like a pleasant idea.”
They turned toward the wilderness alongside the house. How forlorn it looked this time of year, all bare, and brown and crunchy.
“I suppose Rustle told you what happened and why the Gardiners have left so suddenly?” Elizabeth could still make him out on the horizon, a black speck, circling low.
“That is the advantage of having several dragons in the house now. I am much better informed than I have ever been.” Mary chuckled and shrugged.
“There are fewer secrets kept with dragons than with servants. More than one aristocratic household has learned that the hard way.” Elizabeth tapped Heather’s beak with a fingertip. “So take heed, little one, and do not be a carrier of tales. It is not a welcome trait.”
Heather sneezed, and all her feather scales pouffed, turning her into a little pink dandelion.
Mary glanced at Heather. “What a silly little thing you are. Do you remember what you wanted to tell Elizabeth?”
Heather sniffed and sneezed again. “You had best tell her.”
Mary huffed a little. “I am not sure what you have heard, but Mr. Collins was quite remorseful over what happened with Rumblkins.”
Elizabeth turned aside and rolled her eyes. “I was under the impression he had little concern for dumb creatures.”
“I am sure he said such a thing to Hill. But, that is hardly surprising when she came after him with a rolling pin.”
Heather squeaked a little laugh.
“It was rather like a scene from a pantomime, all told. I think Lydia enjoyed it a great deal, Mama not so much though.”
“I can well imagine. I am sure that scene won Mrs. Hill no favors with Mr. Collins.”
“No indeed, but I think I was able to calm him.” Mary kicked a pile of leaves that crunched and skittered against her skirts.
“How did you manage such a thing?”
“I merely suggested to him that Mrs. Hill found Rumblkins excessively useful to her. She feared losing that aid in ridding the house of vermin. Her response was understandable especially considering Mr. Collins shares her dread of rats.”
“I am surprised he has such a sensible opinion of them.”
Mary frowned just like Mama. “That is not gracious, Elizabeth. He is not a stupid man.”
“Perhaps he is not, but he does not make it easy to tell.” She folded her arms across her chest.
“You are awfully prejudiced. If you were not always so hard on him—”
“Forgive me, but I do not think I am hard on him at all. Consider what he did and has threatened to do to the minor dragons! You think that tolerable? What is more, he forbade me from telling dragon stories to the children! The audacity!”
“I concede, he is apt to overstep himself, and he does indulge in a high level of what I can only call the ridiculous. But in all fairness, your stubbornness is of no help, either.”
“My stubbornness! You know I am right. Should I just concede to him because he declares a thing so?” Elizabeth threw her hands in the air.
“If you would be a little more flexible, you might find him easier to manage. Instead of arguing, you could have explained the higher principles contained in your stories, ones he might appreciate. He would have supported you then.”
“He has no right—” Elizabeth dragged her foot into the dirt. When had she picked up Longbourn’s habit?
“As heir to the estate, some would argue he does have the right. Certainly Papa does not see him as overstepping.”
Elizabeth clutched her temples. When had Mary taken their side?
“What would it take away from you to help him to see things in a different and more favorable way, instead of always arguing?”
“It is an insult to be questioned by one who does not know what he is talking about.”
“How is he supposed to know what he is talking about when dragons are a grand secret to which he has not been privy?” Mary cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. “Forgive me for being so bold, but is it possible that at least part of the problem is that you are very proud yourself?”
Elizabeth’s head snapped up, briefly unbalancing Heather from her perch. “Proud? Me? Perhaps you have confused me with Mr. Darcy. If there has been anyone in the neighborhood who has suffered from pride, it is he.”
“He was prone to pride as well, but he is far from the only one. Consider, you are Papa’s favorite and are accustomed to being treated as such.”
“That sounds unfavorably like jealousy.” Who would have thought that Mary’s vice?
“You are also the favorite of every dragon at Longbourn, at Gracechurch Street, and a few you have met on your journeys with Papa as I understand it. Do you deny it?”
“What has that to do with anything?” Elizabeth adjusted the buttons on her spencer.
“The dragons treat you with great deference. Papa makes no bones about treating you as his favorite. Of course it is difficult for you when someone does not show you favor the way you want it. It hurts one’s pride—”
“So the reason I do not like Mr. Collins is that I am not his favorite?”
Mary threw her hand in the air and waved it near Elizabeth’s face. “Not at all—can you not see, you are his favorite. He has singled you out, you know. He likes you very much indeed. But you have set yourself so against him that you will not see that.”
“How can you say that when he is so ill-disposed to all things draconic?”
“He is not nearly so ill-disposed, as you call it, if one is not so dead-set on having things exactly her way. If you would just compromise a little, you would find that he is quite malleable and amenable to nearly everything that is important to you.” She poked Elizabeth’s shoulder hard enough to set her back a step.
“You would keep Heather in a cage because he insisted?”
Heather squawked and flapped her little wings.
“He made that suggestion to me. We merely demonstrated to him how very well-trained she was, and that she was able and willing to follow all my commands. That was exactly what he wanted to know. She did a few tricks, sang whilst perched on his finger, and retreated to an inconspicuous spot on the shelf when asked. All his objections were answered, and he is feeling quite indifferent to her presence now.” Mary held out her hand for Heather.
“She performed for him like a learned pig?”
Heather lit on Mary’s finger, snorted and shook her head.
“Hardly. She saw the advantage in convincing Mr. Collins of her agreeable nature and was happy to do so.”
“Indeed I was.” Heather blinked her huge eyes. “He is little bother to me now. I do not understand why April is so troubled by him. He even scratched under my chin.”
Elizabeth’s eye’s bulged. Collins, scratching a dragon? “April would never tolerate him touching her. She has not your easy-going temperament.”
“While that is true, perhaps if you explained to her the need for it, she might be willing to be a little more … settled?”
Elizabeth scoured her face with her palms.
Mary sighed and pressed her hand to her mouth. “I just want to offer you some possible means by which your ends might be accomplished without you being reduced to a shell of yourself.”
“I shall give what you have said a great deal of thought.”
“And you will try to do it?”
“I will try.”
Mary squeezed her hand. She and Heather returned to the house.
Elizabeth ran her hands along her upper arms and exhaled heavily. It was good that April had not been around to hear Mary’s comments. She would have readily taken offense and was not one to easily forgive.
She kicked a twig, but its thorns tangled in the hem of her petticoat instead of skittering out of her way.
Good thing no one was around to hear that oath—Papa would be horrified to hear her cursing like a common—well, an uncommon—sailor.
She tossed the offending branch aside and continued on.
Papa had not been pleased to learn that Longbourn had taught her all manner of coarse language. But even then, he had not been able to bring himself to curb the wyvern.
Longbourn had always been such a good friend to her … until now. Until she argued with him, and refused to accommodate his wishes. If only he would try to be more understanding.
Great heavens! That is exactly what Mary was asking of her.
She grabbed the nearest tree trunk and clung to it. No, certainly not. Mary could not be implying that her own behavior was anything like Longbourn’s.
She staggered to an unobtrusive bench tucked between the trees and pulled her knees up under her chin.
Her behavior was nothing like the wyvern’s. She had not threatened to eat anyone.
She was Papa’s favorite, though. But it was because of her dragon affinity. He was the Historian of the Blue Order, so of course he would favor any child who loved dragons as much as he. That was only to be expected.
He did treat her differently than her sisters, indulging her interests, her whims. He had taken her traveling on Blue Order business, to London, Bath, Manchester, Brighton, and more. None of her sisters or Mama had ever traveled with him. Even when he could have easily arranged for their entertainment in Brighton, he chose to bring only her. How must that have looked to her sisters?
She pressed her forehead to her knees.
Mama favored Jane and Lydia, doting on them. They could do no wrong in her eyes. Jane was so sweet and good, that it made no difference in her disposition. But Lydia? Even Charlotte Lucas had begun remarking upon Lydia’s wild behavior.
Had she, in her own way, become as indecorous as Lydia? As proud and insensitive as Mr. Darcy? She dragged her sleeve across blurry eyes. Pray, no, it could not be so. Could it?
Was it really so wrong that she had always wanted to marry for love? There was every indication that Jane would have the opportunity. Why should she not?
Because a Dragon Keeper had greater responsibilities.
And she needed to act like it.
Mary was right. It was time for her to rise above being a spoiled little girl. If Mary and Heather could manage Mr. Collins, surely she and April could do the same.