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Changeling Child - Part 9

by Natasja Rose 2 months ago in Series

A Jane Austen Fantasy

Prologue

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

By Cosmic Timetraveler on Unsplash

By some miracle of the Fates, Kitty and Lydia were so preoccupied with detailing their meeting with Mr Wickham that they completely forgot to mention Aunt Phillips’ actual guest except in passing. Mama’s eyes gleamed at the prospect of future gossip and a potentially-single gentleman, but she was happy to put that aside for the moment. There were Officers to talk of, after all.

For all her follies and frustrating moments, Mary was grateful for her Mama. They might not understand each other well, Mama cared about her daughters. Mama also cared about seeing them safely married, but if Mr Darcy had not apologised to Lizzy and departed the Assembly with an insult, Mama would have declared him the most dreadful man in the world and refused him as a potential partner for any of her girls, no matter how wealthy he was. If Mr Bingley had been married but living separately from his wife, Mama would have kept Jane far away from him.

Mary could have done far worse than the Bennets, in terms of families to be given to.

By Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash

The next morning, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley made their customary visit. Mr Darcy appeared troubled, clearly wanting to talk about something but wary of doing so in front of three people known as gossips. Mary was trying to determine how to suggest a walk in the garden despite having no-one to walk with, when Mr Hill announced another visitor. “A Mr Cathal to call on Miss Mary, ma’am.”

Mama’s jaw dropped, but she quickly collected herself. “Why, show him in, by all means, and have Cook send up more muffins! I hope you will not mind more company, Mr Darcy, but we cannot turn away guests.”

Mama loved little more than socialising and gossip, but one could not be married to a social recluse like Papa without recognising that not everyone shared that trait. Once Mr Darcy’s aversion to strangers had been revealed to her, Mrs Bennet felt the significance of Mr Darcy dancing with her daughters all the more keenly, and resolved to be as considerate of him as possible.

Mr Darcy inclined his head in gratitude. “I could hardly expect it of you, Madam, when your hospitality is so well regarded. The name is familiar, though it may be coincidence.”

Mary had often wondered if she was an exception, or if Diarmait visited other Changelings throughout the realm. It would not surprise her if he did, but with Derbyshire being so far away, she had not expected Mr Darcy to be among them.

Diarmait walked in, paying his compliments to Mama before bowing over Mary's hand. Kitty's eyes widened, and Mama made an excitable sound, hastily muffled behind her handkerchief. Lydia huffed and folded her arms, and Mary spotted the mischievous gleam in her warrior's eyes.

Ooh, the fiend! He was doing this on purpose, knowing how Mama would react! Well, it wasn't as though Diarmait hadn't made his intentions very obvious when he told her his true name, and when she gave him permission to use hers. Mary smiled. "Oh, I promised to show the garden, did I not? Mama, do you mind?"

Mama waved her handkerchief. "Oh, not at all, you should all walk while the weather is nice. Jane, Lizzy, you may go as well. Take care that you do not get too much sun before dinner at the Phillips's tonight!"

Mary froze; Mr Darcy knew what Mary was, but did Mr Bingley? Could they speak freely in front of him? Her mind whirring, Mary could only follow her sisters to fetch their bonnets. Under the guise of wrapping a shawl around Jane's shoulders, Mr Bingley kept his voice low. "Darcy never said anything directly, but I am from the North, and I have relatives in Ireland and Scotland. I know the signs. What is it you need of us?"

Mr Darcy started, a wide array of emotions flashing across his face, then smiled at his friend. Jane relaxed, imperceptible to anyone who did not know her well. "Mary often disappears to the Hermitage, shall we go there?"

By veeterzy on Unsplash

Lizzy raised an eyebrow at seeing Mary's Pianoforte. "If your suitor plays like you, Mary, the music you make together must be wonderous to hear."

Diarmait sang, Mary knew, but she did not know if he played. While fascinating, it was not important at the moment. "It would, but that is not why we are here to talk. What has you troubled, my warrior?"

It was a relief, to be able to speak bluntly, without triple-guessing every word before it left her lips. Diarmait spoke with equal frankness. "Wickham, again, but there is more to it than any of you know."

Mr Darcy closed his eyes, somewhere between resigned and dismayed. "I had hoped that he could do no worse than his actions last spring, but somehow, Wickham always finds new lows."

Lizzy's brow creased, and she cast a worried glance at Jane. "Do not think that I doubt you, either of you, but Mr Wickham is a stranger to the rest of us. What has he done, or plans to do, to earn this censure?"

Mary found the plain tin kettle and cups that she kept in the Hermitage for her own use, and the brown powder that was neither tea nor chocolate, and brought them over. "It's not Mama's fine china, but I feel that we may need the soothing. It's best with milk, but water will do."

Jane and Bingley glanced at Diarmait instinctively, and hurriedly looked away again. He answered the unspoken question, unoffended. "I could conjure some, yes, but your cows would be dry come the morrow, and I am trying to make a good impression."

Mr Darcy hid what could have been a smile behind his cup, than blinked at the taste. Fortunately, he did not comment on the drink. "I must ask your utmost discretion in some of the matters we are about to speak of. Wickham's antics tend to involve innocents, who are already facing the consequences of his actions."

They were all swift to agree, for the pain in Mr Darcy's eyes could not have been feigned. Diarmait shifted in his battered armchair. "Mr Darcy knows some parts of this, and Mary others, but to fully understand will take us further back, and involve other people."

Mary sipped her drink as a nervous fidgit. "Wickham is a Changeling, then."

Diarmait nodded, "Though exchanged much older than most, yes. Mr Darcy was briefly abducted as a child, by the Queen of the... Northampton Court, if I recall. She had plans to keep him and give a fairy child in his place, but The ruler of a Border Estate in Kent had some connection to the family, and called upon me and a few others to help retrieve him. The fairy child who became Mr Wickham still took up residence nearby, but in the place of the son of the Estate Steward, who was dying of a fever.”

Jane blinked, having to work a little harder to put the pieces together than Mary did, and drank her cup directly, a sure sign of agitation to those who knew her. “So he anticipated a life of luxury as the only child and heir of a wealthy Gentleman, and found himself in service to that family? I can imagine such circumstances breeding resentment, in that case.”

Diarmait was kind enough to refill her cup. “Yes, he never forgave Mr Darcy for returning, and has been making the man’s life miserable ever since."

Mr Darcy interjected, "When Old Mr Wickham died, my father took pity on the charming boy he believed to be his godson, paying for him to be educated alongside me and leaving him a valuable Living, upon the condition that he take orders. Wickham likes to go about claiming that I denied him the living, when in reality he requested three thousand pounds, along with the thousand already bequeathed, to study law. He runs up debts, then flees when the creditors come calling."

Mary choked on the sip she had just taken. Four thousand pounds, and Wickham had spent it all to the point where he could not pay his debts? It was a shocking thought, and Diarmait's solomn gaze confirmed it. "He’s charming enough to pull off the half-truths and insinuations, too. Be wary of Wickham.”

Of that, there could be no doubt. Another thought struck her, "Does the Border Estate have to do with Mr Collins and why you were in Kent?"

Diarmait inclined his head again, "It does, but on that, there are sensetive matters I am not at liberty to share with your sisters."

Jane rose to her feet, taking the hint gracefully. "The roses are lovely this time of year, and the windows are large. We can keep you in full view from outside."

It was as close to a stern warning as Jane would come, and Mary nodded agreement, crossing the room to her pianoforte. "When the music stops, you will know it is safe to return."

They left, and Mary met her warrior's affectionate gaze steadily. "Tell me."

Read the next chapter HERE

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Series

Natasja Rose

I've been writing since I learned how, but those have been lost and will never see daylight (I hope).

I'm an Indie Author, writing bits of everything I think of!

I live in Sydney, Australia

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