Hello, my friends! I'm so excited to have Maria Grace visiting here today! Can you believe she is releasing her seventh book in her Jane Austen's Dragons Series!! Wow! Seven books - that's fantastic!
Below, we have a lovely excerpt for you to read from Dragons Beyond the Pale. Also, Maria Grace is giving away an e-copy of either her new book, Dragons Beyond the Pale or the first of the series, Pemberley Mr. Darcy's Dragon to one of my lucky readers! Details are at the bottom of this page.
I’m so happy to be visiting with you today Candy! I’d love to share a little excerpt from the new book, Dragons Beyond the Pale, the latest in my Jane Austen’s Dragons series.
January 10, 1815, Darcy House, London
No, please, just a little more sleep.
A heavy, warm hand weighed on her shoulder, shaking her firmly enough to dislodge the fading dream from her head. Botheration! That one seemed worth remembering.
Where was she?
She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. Vaguely warm, rosy streaks of morning sunlight slipped past the drawn burgundy velvet curtains to play across the plush dark leather squabs as the coach rocked and bounced over the road in time with the horses’ clip-clop.
Oh, yes, the carriage. They had left the inn at dawn—it must be at least nine o’clock, now. So, they should be in London.
Darcy had insisted they not push through last night, but rather turn in early and get a solid night’s rest before arriving in town. At least as solid a night’s rest as one got whilst traveling with an infant, who still was not apt to sleep through the night. And a very young tatzelwurm, who had only recently conquered her extended hatching hunger.
Thank heavens for Nanny, whose need for uninterrupted sleep was far less than her own. Even so, after the last several months in Bath, the dear drake might yet decide to hibernate for six months to catch up on her rest. No one would blame her.
Elizabeth pushed herself upright. Everything smelt of Darcy’s sandalwood soap and shaving oil. Of course it did. She had been lying—quite comfortably—with her head in his lap. “How long?”
“Almost since the moment we left.” He helped her sit straight.
Stiff neck, shoulders, back, everything, despite the excellent springs and generous squabs. Precisely why Papa detested travel even when his health had permitted it.
Darcy slid the curtains open several inches. She blinked against the morning brightness and shivered. Even with the sun through the side glass, the coach was a touch cold, especially after having been cuddled up close to him.
The white ironwork fairy dragon ‘cage,’ mostly covered by its blue quilted cozy, swung gently on the hook opposite the door. April balanced on the swing, twittering. “Perhaps you will now believe us when we insist you have been working too hard.” She fluttered out and perched on Elizabeth’s knees, scratchy toes piercing the grey-blue wool of her pelisse.
A sunbeam caught the tiny fairy dragon’s blue feather-scales just so. She sparkled like a little gem as she presented her chin for a scratch. Her soft hide was still vaguely warm from her hot-brick-heated ‘cage.’
“I seem to remember you singing a great deal. Perhaps that might have had something to do with my excessive slumber.” Elizabeth yawned into her hands.
“You slept, he did not.” April pointed her wing at Darcy. “What does that tell you?”
“She is right,” Darcy murmured, stroking April’s back with his fingertip.
“There was a very great deal to be done, what with Twelfth Night and trying to take leave of Bath.”
“Every dragon there must have called upon you, twice.” Darcy’s lips pressed into that hard, straight line that was not a frown but might as well be.
“Cornwall did not.” All told, that was probably a very good thing.
“Cornwall is quite the exception to the rule. He will always resent the part you played in denying him the gold that Kellynch purloined from the Merchant Royal.”
“Thankfully, the rest of the Blue Order Council and even the Brenin himself are satisfied with the outcome of the court proceedings. Cornwall was in violation of so many laws, it could have gone very badly against him.” She stretched to dissipate a shudder that would have disturbed April.
Just how narrowly had they averted disaster at that special court? Best not dwell on it just now.
“Not to minimize your outstanding success, my dear, but I hope our stay in London is not nearly so interesting.” Darcy shook his head a bit, his dark hair falling just a bit into his face. Now they were back in town, he would need to see his favorite barber soon. The man he saw in Bath had hardly deserved the title of barber.
“On that we shall agree. I hope to apply myself to sleeping late, eating biscuits, and attending teas and parties with the other ladies of my rank.”
“There are no other ladies of your rank,” April murmured under her breath as she cleaned between her long toes.
While that was only true in part, the isolation it suggested was not pleasant to consider.
“Has there been any word from Nanny’s coach?” Elizabeth pulled the curtains fully open and peered through the side glass, catching a glimpse of the black carriage, curtains tightly drawn, following close behind them.
“Not a one.”
“Your hatchling seems very happy to travel with the little wyrmling. It is as though her purr is as soporific as my song.”
“Junior keeper, if you please.” Darcy cleared his throat and covered his ears lest April’s ear nip catch him unawares. He had acquired that habit very soon after coming into April’s acquaintance. “I confess, I find it odd that our daughter, not even walking yet, travels with not one, but two companion dragons. You must grant it is very unconventional.”
“I am convinced children would come into their hearing sooner if exposed to dragons at an earlier age.” Elizabeth harrumphed, her hackles rising. Had they not settled this matter months ago?
“The Order might have a point, though. Children do pose a great risk of exposing the Order, especially if one is not certain whether they can hear or not.”
“The Gardiner children have been well-versed in the dangers of exposing the secrets of dragonkind.”
“But they are considerably older than Anne, and were identified as hearing before they were regularly exposed to dragons. Rustle avoided their company until it had been established.”
Stubborn, vexing man! “Are you suggesting that Anne cannot—”
“I do not question your decisions regarding our daughter. There is no doubt she is as exceptional as her mother. But I fear the ladies of the Order might not be as open to such ideas.” He ran his fist along the edge of his jaw.
“They will just have to harden themselves to the idea that they do not know everything—”
“Lady Matlock questions your methods.”
Why did he have to bring her up? She was nearly as exasperating as her husband’s sister, the honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh! That name, that family still left her clenching her teeth and biting her tongue. “And what do I care for her opinions? She is not an officer of the Order.”
“Some courtesy is required, as her husband is Chancellor of the Order, to whom even you have to answer. Not to mention Cownt Matlock is, technically, her Dragon Mate. And he has done us a great favor by walking Pemberley back to London for us.”
“Probably as a means to get out of traveling with the good lady.”
“Elizabeth?” His tone stopped just short of rebuke.
Botheration! He was right. Mama had taught her better manners than to even permit such untoward thoughts.
“Forgive me. I am a bit out of temper this morning. Perhaps I am in need of a bit of rest.” She closed her eyes and leaned back into the soft squabs. A touch of a headache pulsed just behind her eyes.
So many hours spent reading and writing late into the night. So many dragons to meet. So many questions from Keeper and dragon and Friend alike, all needing answers. Even at the inns they stayed in, all run by members of the Order, minor dragons and their Friends had all but lined up to greet them and seek her advice.
Most of the questions had been simple, even banal: advice for talon rot, bad teeth and scale mites; the management of pucks’ hoards; territorial disputes between fairy dragon harems; hunting rights, rights of way. But there were just so many of them.
All the more reason to get those monographs written and distributed into the hands of Dragon Friends as soon as possible.
“You are working again.” Darcy tapped her knee with his fingertips, his voice low and thoughtful.
“Not working, but thinking about all that needs to be done.”
“Have you considered my suggestion? Apply to the Order for a secretary to assist you. I know there are several apprentice scribes, human and drake, that Lady Astrid has deemed ready to become journeymen.”
“I just prefer to do things myself.” She leaned back and sighed. “I suppose I now know why Father fought so long against such help.”
April twittered something disagreeable and Darcy muttered a dissenting sound. He knew better than to actually form words—those she could always hear.
“But I shall learn from Papa’s stubbornness. After we have recovered from this journey, I will speak to our esteemed Scribe myself.”
He offered a warm nod of approval that ended well short of gloating at his success. At least he was not insufferable when he was right.
The coach stopped in the mews behind the Darcy House, near the little walled garden just beyond the terrace house’s back door. Shadows still covered nearly all of the mews’ space—the sun only reached there after noon. Still, the private stillness of the familiar carriage house and small courtyard welcomed her.
The driver let down the steps with an echoing, metallic clank and opened the door. Crisp air flooded in, carrying with it all the unique London scents: coal smoke, the Thames, a particular mix of dragon musk different to that in the country. In a few days it would all fade into the background, but for now, each breeze would remind her they were in the city now.
Darcy exited first. He preferred to hand her down himself. Such a dear man.
A dark blur launched from the driver’s box toward the roof. Walker.
He would be conducting a sweep of the area, checking for anything that did not meet with his approval. How protective he had become towards Elizabeth, Anne, April and even little Pemberley, and even more so since May had hatched. He and the wyrmling were inexplicably close—an odd pair to be certain, but May adored her curmudgeonly cockatrice uncle. And he tolerated familiarities from her that none other would dare. Who else would dare lick his feather-scales, attempting to groom him?
Such an unusual, and very dear, draconic family they had formed.
She stretched, careful not to dislodge April from her shoulder, adjusting to the intrusive, even overwhelming, sounds of the city. Even so early, how noisy it was. Carriages with horses on the street beyond the mews; peddlers calling out about their wares; a tatzelwurm chasing a rat—and catching it; a puck arguing with it over the catch. Not entirely unlike Bath.
It was home, though, and that made all the difference.
Knee-high minor drakes, Slate and Amber, the Darcy family livery badge emblazoned on green baize vests buttoned across their chests, bounded out to meet them, with toothy draconic smiles. No doubt the housekeeper had fashioned those to help keep them warm in the chill weather. There was a reason Elizabeth liked the woman.
April warbled a greeting, which the drakes returned in kind.
“Lady Sage, Vicontes Pemberley arrived a few hours ago. She is sleeping in her nest in the cellar. I expect she might sleep for a day or more.” Amber’s deep yellow-orange eyes glittered in the sun; her well-oiled dark-green hide spoke of the excellent care the staff dragons enjoyed. It was good to see that continued without their presence in the house.
“I am not surprised. It is such a long walk for a little dragon.”
“Cownt Matlock suggested he might sleep for a week,” Slate added with an almost mischievous grin.
Nanny approached from the second carriage. More blue than green in the morning light, Nanny walked on hind feet with Anne cradled in her front legs. She moved like a tall, slender schoolmistress, posture perfect, each step purposeful and sure. May, the little black tatzelwurmling with tufted ears too big for her face, spring-hopped to keep up with Nanny’s long strides.
“Mrrrow?” May skidded to a stop, staring at Slate and Amber with startled, wide, golden eyes. They were not the first drakes she had ever seen. Perhaps she had forgotten Elizabeth’s reminder they would be present.
Elizabeth stepped close to May, crouching to stroke the back of her neck. “Slate, Amber, may I present our new Friend, May.”
The lithe wyrmling stretched out her front paws and touched her chin to the ground. Slate and Amber licked the top of her head with their very long tongues. May looked up at them and licked their cheeks. Not the greeting she had been taught, but it worked. The drakes made a happy little warble in the back of their throats.
Elizabeth stood, knees still stiff and sore. “Show May around the house, then make up a warm basket for her in the nursery.”
“The nursery, Lady Sage?” Amber cocked her long head so far it was almost upside down.
“Yes, she is to stay with Junior Keeper as much as possible. Slate, attend Nanny and help her with whatever she needs.”
“Yes, Sage.” They dipped in a small bow—or was it more of a curtsey?—and hurried off after Nanny.
Darcy followed Nanny into the house with his gaze. “Cats are generally not allowed in nurseries. Do you think…”
“Absolutely. Surely you have noticed, Anne sleeps so much better when May is with her. That alone should convince you! Besides, true cats do not harm babies, much less tatzelwurms–who have far more sense than the typical cat. If that is not sufficient, Nanny will be there watching over them all. I know you trust her.”
Yes, there had been an impatient note in her voice, and no, he probably did not deserve it. She kneaded the back of her neck. Would it be wrong to go directly to bed now?
Walker swooped down from the roof and back-winged as his feet touched the ground. “The Matlocks approach.”
“So soon? We have been here less than an hour,” Darcy all but stammered.
“You cannot imagine your arrival has gone unnoticed. I expect the call is not purely social.” Walker raked his talons against the cobblestones. What was he worried about?
Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose and wrinkled his forehead as though hoping to stave off a headache. “Lovely, just lovely.”
“And it seems Lady Matlock is with him.”
April squawked a discordant note. Elizabeth winced before she could stop herself.
“Do you wish to be home to her?” Darcy muttered through clenched teeth. His Aunt Matlock was too much like his Aunt Catherine for anyone’s liking.
“Much as I would defer the honor of her presence, it seems that pleasure would come at a high price. Perhaps we can manage a cup of tea before they arrive?” Elizabeth dragged herself toward the door and certain vexation, April twittering a soft, soothing trill in her ear.
A quarter of an hour later, the housekeeper brought the tea service into the morning room, a lovely, snug room with dark furniture, a round table that could seat six, and bright white walls hung with drawings done by Lady Anne Darcy. The sort of place one wanted to linger and breathe in the fragrance of peace and rest.
Five minutes later, before the tea was even poured, the butler announced the Matlocks’ arrival. The earl and his wife swept into the room, wearing their rank like court robes.
He was tall and looked like nothing so much as an older version of his son Richard, though his nose was a mite sharper, more aquiline, and his hazel eyes narrower. She was short and plump and proud; her double chin lifted a mite too high, so her beady dark eyes seemed to be staring down at everyone.
Elizabeth and Darcy rose. April hovered between them.
“Uncle, Aunt, a pleasure to see you this morning.” The way Darcy emphasized the final word reminded all that it was too early for a polite morning call.
“Lord Matlock, Lady Matlock.” Elizabeth curtsied despite her knees’ protest.
“Darcy, Lady Elizabeth. Oh yes, and April, too.” Matlock looked straight at Darcy. It did not seem an insult so much as preoccupation. That probably was not a good sign.
Lady Matlock grimaced just a little. She did not approve of Elizabeth having a title in her own right, or so the fairy dragon gossip suggested. A title so newly created would never have the weight of one properly inherited so was hardly worth having at all.
“Pray forgive our call on the heels of your arrival, but there are matters that just cannot wait. I would see you in your study, Darcy.” Lord Matlock turned for the doorway.
April squawked softly as Elizabeth bit her tongue. No point in reminding either of them that it might be wise to include her. Whatever the issue, if it concerned her, she would find out, likely straight from the dragon’s mouth, as it were. Why was it so difficult to convince the men of the Council that things often went better when she was brought into a concern earlier rather than later?
Vexing, hidebound dominance seekers.
A large, cold void filled the morning room, growing larger by the moment.
“Would you care for some tea, Lady Matlock?” Elizabeth gestured Lady Matlock to a place at the table.
“What kind is it?” April hopped across the table and landed on the edge of a dainty china saucer covered with tiny yellow roses, one intentionally set for her, which looked lovely against her bright turquoise feather-scales.
“Earl Grey.” Elizabeth suppressed her smile. April had just recently developed a decided preference for the bergamot-infused beverage. She had refused to try it until she learned it was flavored with a fruit, then suddenly she was quite enamored with it.
“I would like some, with honey.” April hopped from one foot to the other. It was entirely possible the tea was simply an excuse to drink honey.
“And you, Lady Matlock?”
Lady Matlock stared at April. Not pleasantly, but in the way one glared at a disobedient child or a clumsy servant. Of course. Dragons at the breakfast table were not covered in etiquette manuals, not even ones published by the Blue Order.
One more monograph she would have to write.
“Ah, well, yes, please.” Her face said she was only taking the tea to humor Elizabeth, but at least she was attempting to be polite.
Elizabeth poured the tea, sweetened April’s with a shocking amount of honey, and sat down.
Lady Matlock looked at her expectantly. What was she waiting for?
“How is Cownt Matlock after his journey? It was very kind of him to walk Pemberley back to London for us.” If she wanted small talk, then it would be about dragons.
“In little humor for conversation. He had no idea how much young creatures talked nor how many questions they asked.” Lady Matlock’s features softened just a little.
“I had wondered if that would be the case. I did try to warn him, but little Pemberley gets so ill in a cart or carriage, he insisted it would be an indignity for her to be forced into such a conveyance. We are very grateful for his help.” At least she could say that with genuine enthusiasm.
“He did say you and Darcy have done well by her. She is showing signs of being an excellent young dragon, which must be considered a good thing, all told. Will you be presenting her at the Dragon Keepers’ Cotillion next month?” Lady Matlock sipped her tea, staring over the edge of the cup with an odd look of expectation.
“I think she is still full young for that. She has learned many of the proper greetings and displays when introduced to other dragons. But I do not think she is quite ready for so many people and so many dragons in company at once. Despite all she has learned, she is still a baby. It is one thing to have been forced together with many other dragons in court. It is quite another to try to manage all the trappings of a formal engagement as extensive as the Cotillion. I see no harm in waiting a year, or even two.”
“Well, that is some relief.”
“I am not sure I take your meaning.”
“Perhaps you should see the list of presentations this year.” Lady Matlock opened her reticule and pulled out a neatly penned card. “In particular, you may want to note the ladies you are sponsoring for presentation at the ball.”
“I am sponsoring? You must be mistaken.”
“I think not. This is the official Record and has been sent to all Keepers and other invitees.” She tapped a spot at the top of the list. “See here: Dragon Sage, Lady Elizabeth Darcy.”
“Mrs. Mary Collins, Keeper to Longbourn, and her husband? Mr. Collins will be presented to the Order? When was this decided?” And why now—but perhaps this was not the company for that question.
“You will have to ask our Historian.” Lady Matlock’s lip curled just a bit.
“Why is Father not sponsoring them? He is an officer of the Order, even if he has retired as a Keeper.”
“He is without title, Lady Elizabeth.” Lady Matlock stared directly into her eyes.
“So, he is using that as an excuse to get out of his duties now?” Elizabeth dragged her hand down her face and peered at the list again. “Miss Lydia Bennet? No one has consulted me. Have Auntie and her schoolmistress approved?”
“Another point to discuss with your father.”
“Miss Georgiana Darcy? Should not you and Lord Matlock—”
“One would think so.” Lady Matlock lifted her eyebrow.
“But why? It makes no sense.”
“Pray, may I be frank with you?” Frank? A Lady of the ton wanted to be frank? What was one to make of that?
“I understand you had nothing to do with the dragons’ decision to create you as Sage or as Lady Elizabeth; and that there were no machinations on your part when you became betrothed to Darcy in front of the Conclave; and that your relationship with dragons, your knowledge of them is all hard won and comes at a cost. There are many who do not see things that way. Many who are jealous of your rather, ah, as it is called ‘fairy tale’ story.”
“That is absurd. What does that have to do with the Cotillion and sponsoring all my sisters at once?”
“Not just your sisters, but Lady Wentworth as well. She and her husband are to be presented as Keepers to Kellynch.”
“This is ridiculous! Impossible! How am I to possibly manage four presentations? Arrange for the dresses, teach them the protocols? There is so much other work to be done. The monographs alone that I need to write will require several months of effort.” She clutched the edge of the table.
Lady Matlock leaned forward on her elbows, her eyes sharp and severe. “Work that can wait until after the cotillion. You have been so busy managing dragons, I think you have forgotten there are people in the Order as well.”
“They do not require a Sage in order to be understood.”
“But they do require a sage to help them to understand how to take their place in Blue Order dragon society. And I do not mean only the debutantes. Perhaps you have not noticed, but not many of the Order have your ease with dragons, and it causes problems. So, if I may be so bold, Lady Sage, pause your salons and your manuscripts and attend to the rest of the Order’s members, the human ones, with as much fervor as you have the dragons. I expect your future influence depends on it.”
Intrigued to know what happens with the Matlocks and the whole of the Blue Order? I hope so! Come join me on Elizabeth and Darcy’s latest adventures in Dragons Beyond the Pale!
- One person will win an eCopy of Dragons Beyond the Pale or Pemberley Mr. Darcy's Dragon.
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