Today I am excited to have Maria Grace visit Just Jane 1813 to share an excerpt from her upcoming book, “Pemberley:Mr. Darcy’s Dragon.” When I heard that Maria was working on a dragon story for her next JAFF release, I asked her to share a peek inside of her story with my readers for my Haunted Austen event. I hope you enjoy reading this excerpt as much as I have enjoyed it!
Thank so much for inviting me to visit, Claudine! I’m excited to share my new book with your readers!
You can blame my three sons for this adventure. We were having lunch at the local pizza buffet one day and started kicking around ideas and we hit on ‘what if dragons lived during the Regency…’ Well before I knew it, we’d hammered out an entire dragon culture and the sorry potentials went WILD. So much fun!
So here’s the premise:
England is overrun by dragons of all shapes and sizes. Most people are blissfully unaware of them and the Pendragon Treaty that keeps the peace between human and dragon kind. Only those born with preternatural hearing, like Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are able to hear and converse with dragonkind.
When the first firedrake egg laid in a century is stolen from Pemberley, the fragile dragon peace teeters on collapse. Darcy has no choice but to chase down the thief, a journey that leads him to quaint market town of Meryton and fellow Dragon Keeper, Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth shares a unique bond with dragons, stronger than anything Darcy has ever experienced. More than that, her vast experience and knowledge of dragon lore may be the key to uncovering the lost egg. But Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy’s arrogance and doesn’t trust him to care properly for a precious baby firedrake. After all, he already lost the egg once. What’s to prevent it from happening again?
Can he win her trust and recover the stolen egg before it hatches and sends England spiraling back into the Dark Ages of Dragon War?________________________________________________________________
Here’s a peek inside with one of my favorite scenes:
Five days later, Elizabeth and Jane walked through Mama’s cutting garden, armed with baskets and shears. The vases in the dining room and entrance hall needed filling.
The midmorning sun inched toward its apex. The last of the morning freshness burned off into the day’s heat—just enough to be noticeably warmer, but without with the oppression of the summer sun. A largely perfect day.
“I am surprised April is not with us. She loves the flowers so.” Elizabeth clipped a large marigold blossom and tucked it in the basket.
“I am not sure she trusts the new cat Mrs. Hill has taken in.” Jane pointed at Rumblkins who carried a large rat toward the kitchen door.
He dropped it on the step and rose up to drum his forepaws on the door. Mrs. Hill opened the door with a happy gasp.
“You dear, dear creature.” She crouched and scratched Rumblkins’ throat until he purred loud enough to be heard across the yard. He rubbed against her ankles and wove around her feet.
“I have a treat for you. Wait just a moment.” She disappeared inside, returning with a saucer of cream and a dried cod. “Just as I promised you! And you shall have another for every rat you bring me.”
Dear Hill was exactly as Elizabeth had assured him she would be. She pressed her lips hard. It would be difficult not to gloat to the furry tatzelwurm later.
Rumblkins lapped the cream and started on the fish. Hill sat beside him, stroking his fur.
“I have never seen her so taken with a cat before,” Jane said.
“I think she has never seen such a mouser before. But it is a good thing, I think. With fewer rats in the poultry there are more eggs for us.”
“And less salt cod.” Jane giggled. “I know how you detest the stuff.”
Elizabeth bit her knuckle. “I may have suggested it would not be inappropriate to make up a basket near the kitchen hearth for him.”
He was a fine little dragon. There was no point in not seeking mutual benefit.
“I know Mama does not prefer cats, but she hates mice even more.”
“And his purr is very persuasive.”
Not that Rumblkins had much need to use it on Hill. Mama might be another story though.
“Indeed it is.” Jane stared at Rumblkins, her brow knit.
Elizabeth studied Jane.
Was it possible she was beginning to hear? Some came into their hearing later in their lives—like Aunt Gardiner.
“Do you ever wonder—I think sometimes he is speaking in all those rumbles and purrs.” Elizabeth bit her lip. That was more than she ought to say.
Jane chuckled. “You do say the oddest things, Lizzy. What an imagination you have. That sounds like a story you would tell our little cousins.”
Elizabeth laughed along. It was the best way to conceal her disappointment. Dragons were the one thing she did not share with Jane. Sometimes it was easy enough to ignore, but at times like now, the cavernous gap between them ached like the death of a friend.
Hill rose. “So, shall you bring me another rat, or do you wish to come and sleep by the fire?”
Rumblkins batted the door and she opened it for him. He trotted inside, but paused and looked over his shoulder at Elizabeth.
“You are right. I like her very well indeed.” He ended with a very convincing meow.
Cheeky little fellow.
Mrs. Hill shut the door behind him, mindful of his proud long tail.
“Are you not worried about April? That cat is such an adept mouser—”
“I am entirely certain of him. Just as certain as you are that Mr. Bingley is as handsome as he is charming.” Elizabeth forced a smile.
Any more talk of the wonderful Mr. Bingley might well drive her to distraction, but it was by far the most expedient way to change the subject.
“He is, is he not? And his friend is very well-favored, too.”
“That is Mama’s opinion, and I believe it is strongly influenced by the ten thousand a year he is said to have.”
“How can you say such a thing?”
“Lizzy! Lizzy!” Mary ran toward them.
“Stop and catch your breath or you shall make yourself ill.” Jane caught her elbow.
Mary braced her hands on her knees, panting hard. “Papa says you are wanted immediately, Lizzy. I am to bring you myself.”
“Of course.” She handed Jane her basket and shears. “Should I send Kitty to assist you?”
“No, no. I am happy to walk by myself for a bit.”
…and daydream of Mr. Bingley by the look on her face. Was it wrong to be jealous of Jane’s freedom? Best not think of it now.
Elizabeth took Mary’s arm and hurried for the house. “Is it time?’
“April says it is. Aunt Gardiner is already with Papa.”
“And the children?”
“Lydia has taken them to play with the young Lucases.”
“A convenient excuse to gossip with Maria about the Netherfield party?”
“Of course. I think he means to invent an errand for Mama, Kitty and Jane as well. He was seeking Mama when I left.”
It would be best that way. The last thing they needed was the worry of keeping Mama at bay.
Mary paused and squeezed her hand. “Are you sure this is a good idea? What if—”
Elizabeth tugged her hand and urged her to continue. “Do not dwell on that. I am sure it will be fine. You have been talking to the eggs when you sit with them?”
“Until Mama suggested I needed a goodly dose of poppy tea if I was going to talk to myself so much.
Elizabeth snickered. If Mama knew what was actually going on, she would be the one needing great quantities of poppy tea.
They slipped into Papa’s study. He had somehow managed to clear away the clutter. Probably stashed it under the desk, but still it was a good thing if there were to be four people and even more dragons within.
The windows were shut against any marauding dragons who might snack on the hatchlings. The curtains were half drawn, dimming the light for their sensitive eyes. The room smelt of clean straw and simmering soup.
Papa sat on a stool near the hearth adding slivers of blood and treacle pudding to a pan of simmering broth on the hob. The dragon chicks would eat well when they arrived.
How had he cut them when he could barely hold a knife? The things he could manage to do when dragon-inspired!
Aunt sat nearby. Rustle perched on the back of her chair. Odd that he did not use the perch. He generally did not prefer to be so close to her.
Rumblkins leaned against her legs, purring. She scratched his ears, anxious anticipation in her eyes. April perched on the hatching box, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Go sit with Aunt Gardiner, Mary. We have not long to wait.” Papa said, beckoning Elizabeth to him. “Bring me those flannels.”
She picked up a stack of three soft cloths from the desk.
“The hatchlings must have our scent as soon as they hatch. Rub each cloth along your throat and hands. Do not forget Rustle and Rumblkins, too. We will dry the hatchlings with them, to give them our scent.”
Rumblkins enjoyed the attentions, even rolling over to present his belly for a rub.
Rustle did not.
He was a very different creature to Mr. Darcy’s companion. Though hardly the ratty, unkempt bird April claimed him to be, he had none of the regal bearing of Walker. Almost like a gentleman wearing his best suit standing beside Beau Brummel. Clean and well kept, but somehow lacking in those fine details that set Brummel apart. Walker was definitely the Brummel of cockatrices.
“When will these flutterbobs get on with it?” Rustle peered over Aunt Gardiner’s shoulder. “It is not a propitious start that they should already keep us waiting.”
His words were slow and clear, very near to Aunt Gardiner’s ear.
She half-closed her eyes and concentrated as he spoke.
“I think, yes—babies of all kinds are that way. Do you recall how little Joshua kept us waiting with the midwife declaring it should be today every day for a fortnight?”
“Indeed I do. That was very good, very good.” Rustle touched her cheek with his wing. Apparently the discovery she was indeed able to hear had changed his attitude toward her. He would never credit April for the intelligence, though.
“Tell me again Papa, what do we do when they hatch?” Mary worried one of the flannels between her fingers.
Papa pointed at a ladle near the pan. Elizabeth ladled out three silver thimbles of broth, now richly colored from the blood pudding.
“It is best to allow the hatchlings to break free on their own. But if they cannot tear through the inner membrane, I have a small knife to cut through it. When their wings are free, you may pull the rest of the shell away, very gently. Then dry it with the flannel, talking very softly to it all the while. Tell it how welcome it is and offer it the broth. If it drinks, then offer it meat. Assure them there is plenty and invite it to stay. Offer it a name. If it wishes to leave, then take it to the window and allow it freedom to choose.”
Elizabeth laid her hand on Mary’s back and leaned close. “It will be fine. I promise.”
April hunkered down in the straw between the eggs and threw her head back. She trilled a high sweet note. Soft cheeps came from the eggs. The one nearest Mary wobbled and rocked.
A tiny, sharp nose poked through the mottled drab-blue shell. April warbled encouragement. It was a good sign that it had managed to pierce the membrane on its own. The leathery shell tore halfway down and a wet little head poked through. Shiny jet-bead eyes darted back and forth.
Elizabeth nudged Mary. “She’s looking for a familiar voice. Talk to her.”
“Ah, what a sweet little thing you are.” Mary whispered leaning close.
The tiny head twisted toward Mary, eyes fixed on her. She cheeped something that sounded like a question.
“Yes, it is me. I have been talking to you for the last few days.”
She pulled one wing free and shook it, sending droplets of egg slime flying.
Mary reached for the flannel.
Elizabeth stayed her hand. “Wait until both wings are free.”
April hopped to the half-free hatchling and pecked at the shell, scolding.
Impatient little thing.
Another wing broke free and the hatchling tried to flap herself away from the shell.
“Now, Mary,” Papa said.
April side-stepped Mary’s hand as she peeled away the rest of the shell from the hatchlings’ feet. The scraggly, wet fairy dragon wobbled onto Mary’s waiting hand.
“There you go, dear. Give me a moment to get you tidied up. You will feel much better for it.” She scrubbed it gently with the flannel.
Tiny feathers fluffed and dried. The soggy hatchling turned into a purple-pink heather-colored ball of fluff.
Fairy dragon chicks were nothing if not adorable.
The other egg began to quiver. Aunt Gardiner tended it as Mary offered the fluffy chick broth from the silver thimble.
She drank it down greedily.
Mary stroked her back with the tip of her finger. “Slow down, little one, there is plenty. I have meat for you if you like.”
She warbled far more loudly than her size should have allowed. Papa produced a spoonful of blood and treacle pudding slivers on a china saucer.
If only Mama knew what her mother’s tea set was being used for!
April flitted between the saucer and the hatching box as another head tore through its shell.
Mary offered slivers as fast as the chick could gobble them. “Slow down, you need not gorge. There as much as you want.”
The chick paused and stared at Mary, blinking, head cocked.
“I should like to call you Heather, if I may.”
The tiny head bobbed up and down. “You may.”
Her voice was so high and thin it was difficult to hear. That would change in time, but for now, it might make it challenging for Aunt to hear the chicks. Would that cause the other chick to look to Mary or her or to leave them altogether? Two chicks could easily overwhelm Mary—
“Hungry!” Heather demanded.
Rustle and Rumblkins crowded close. Heather squeaked and backed away into Mary’s arm.
Mary held the wet flannel up for Heather to smell. “They are friends, part of the Keep. Do not be afraid.”
Rumblkins inched forward and sniffed Heather. He licked her soundly, though she shuddered. His raspy tongue fluffed her feathers so prettily, she gave him a bit of a cuddle before returning to Mary’s hand.
Heather was a sweet little thing. April would have pecked him soundly on the nose.
Mary held Heather up to Rustle who preened the feather-scales of her wings. She trilled.
He sneezed and shook his head. “So much fluff.”
Heather cheeped a question at Mary.
“You are perfect little one, simply perfect.”
Aunt Gardiner applied a clean flannel to another newly hatched fairy dragon, revealing striking red-orange plumage.
“Oh, I have never seen one like him!” Elizabeth whispered.
He guzzled broth and snarfled down blood pudding, feet secured tightly around Aunt’s finger. His voice was loud and demanding, far easier to hear than Heather’s.
In short order, he accepted the name Phoenix and fell asleep in Aunt’s palm.
Rustle prodded him and Phoenix roused enough to land a sharp peck on the cockatrice’s beak.
Rustle jumped back in a flutter of wings. “He will do, indeed he will.”
Aunt offered Rustle a generous lump of blood and treacle pudding for the compliment.
One egg remained, forlorn between the abandoned shells. Rumblkins batted at it. The egg toppled over, but did not move further. April landed beside it and pecked at it in an odd syncopated rhythm. She rolled it over with her feet and pecked again.
“Mine?” Rumblkins batted at it again.
April snorted and flitted to Elizabeth’s shoulder.
“Not here, take it away from Heather and Phoenix.” Papa’s voice was grave and sad.
Rumblkins picked up the egg and trotted toward the door. Papa let him out.
Elizabeth rubbed the ache in her chest. Rumblkins was the only one who could look fondly upon an unhatched egg.
“Perhaps you might allow me to examine the hatchlings now?” Papa slipped in beside Mary.
She held up the sleeping Heather.
He picked up the fairy dragon and examined her carefully, muttering under his breath. “Yes, yes, very good. Well-formed wings, all her toes. A lovely specimen.” He returned the chick to Mary.
Aunt Gardiner offered Phoenix for Papa’s inspection. “Not many male fairy dragons are hatched, you know. Perhaps only one in four, I believe. You have a very rare little gentleman there, Maddie. Lovely, lovely color. That dark patch will become an eye ridge, a bit of a crest on his forehead when he is grown. You may find yourself very popular in London once your new companion becomes known.”
Rustle hopped toward Papa. “I shall warn the cockatrix who come to call that he and his visitors are not to be meddled with.”
Rustle enjoyed a fair number of female callers, but that might change now. Aunt would probably not want the children exposed to such on-goings.
“So you find him acceptable, do you now?” Papa returned Phoenix to Aunt and directed Elizabeth to cut another slice of blood pudding for Rustle. “I am pleased to hear it.”
“What do we do now, Papa?” Mary asked, stoking her check against Heather’s fluff.
“I have prepared a ‘sick room’ in the attic for you and your aunt. You must go upstairs with the hatchlings and remain there until they no longer require constant feeding and attention. Usually for fairy dragons, that is three to five days. I am afraid that means you shall miss the assembly, Mary.”
“I have no cause to repine, Papa.” She sighed happily.
Oh the look in Mary’s eyes! Somehow she looked like a new woman. Elizabeth blinked against her blurry vision. The little companion dragon might be exactly the thing to give Mary the confidence to come into her own.
“When they return, I shall tell them you both have taken a sudden fever and the apothecary said you must be separated from the rest of the family. Since Lizzy has already been exposed, she is the only one to tend you. Fanny does not like nursing, so I doubt there will be much fuss made over it.”
Elizabeth snickered. And if there was, the resident dragons would be called upon to persuade Mama to see things their way.
“Keep the chicks warm and fed. Talk to them, and keep them close to you. They are apt to form very strong bonds with you—one of the fairy dragons’ more endearing qualities.”
April cheeped and flew toward his ear, but he covered it before she could nip. “That, by the way, is not an endearing trait.”
April scolded, then alighted on Elizabeth’s shoulder.
“Now, upstairs with you, and settle in. It will be a long few days for us all.”
So, do you want to know more about Jane Austen’s Dragons? You can check out the book on Amazon and other major book sellers.
You can find Elizabeth’s Commonplace book of Dragons posting on my website! (http://randombitsoffascination.com/category/fresh-fiction/everyday-book-of-dragons/)
Thanks so much for having me Claudine! It was wonderful to visit with you!
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her 10th book last year.
She can be contacted at: author.MariaGrace@gmail.com
Random Bits of Fascination (http://RandomBitsofFascination.com)
Austen Variations (http://AustenVariations.com)
English Historical Fiction Authors
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
On Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/mariagrace423/
Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16 year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences.
She blogs at Random Bits of Fascination (www.RandomBitsofFascination.com) , mainly about her fascination with Regency-era history and its role in her fiction. Her newest novel, The Trouble to Check Her, was released in March, 2016. Both Science Fiction and Fantasy projects are currently in the works. Her books, fiction, and nonfiction, are available at all major online booksellers.
You can follow Maria Grace on Twitter (https://twitter.com/WriteMariaGrace , @writeMariaGrace) and like (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maria-Grace/142931065811118?ref=hl) or friend her (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMariaGrace) on Facebook.
Maria Grace has offered a giveaway of this book for my Just Jane 1813 readers. To enter your chance to win one of her two ebooks of “Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon,” please leave a comment on this blog by midnight, ET on November 1st. The winners will be announced on November 2, 2016.
Thank you, Maria Grace, for visiting us today with this excerpt and for your generous giveaway for my readers!