Thursday, September 8, 2011

Love's Savage Whiplash, Chapter 16: The Death of a Parrot... and Other Surprises



In which old secrets are uncovered, new loves are strengthened
and one parrot has a Very Bad Day






“Evelyn?” Westley snickered behind them. “He is a boy, is he not?”

Quinn spun on him, the daggers in her eyes as sharp and lethal as the ones she used in combat. “If you must know, he was named for our great-great-great grandfather.”

“And what happened to him?” Ward demanded. “Tell me he lived long and prospered with a name like Evelyn!”

Quinn’s cheeks flushed as she turned back to her brother. “Actually, he was beat up after a croquet match by a group of… Morris Dancers. But never mind that.” She waved her hand and turned back to Westley. “You know, you really do look like my beloved.”

“However.” Julia stepped between them. “He is my beloved.”

“Of course,” Quinn agreed with a nod of her head. “My beloved is Colin Darcy, Duke of Earl.”

Julia’s cheeks were the ones to flush now. “My beloved is the Duke. He is…” She
turned to Westley. Actually, he wasn’t the Duke. At least, not according to Lady Chastity and Wickham. She stepped forward. “Colin? Tell me the truth. Who are you? What is going on?”

“I know everything! I know everything!” a squawk sounded from the tree branch above them.

Everyone tipped their heads back. “Pemberley?” Julia asked.

“I know the truth! Awwk! I know the truth!” Pemberley’s feathers ruffled and smoothed as he paced along the branch. “The truth! The truth!” He flapped his wings.

“He’s a bloody bird,” Westley said. “What can he know?”

“But he does know,” Ward—he refused to even think of himself as Evelyn—broke in.

“He’s told me all of it. I thought it was a bedtime story but now I realize he’s been telling me about the Duke and his brother all this time.”

Quinn looked down at Ward. “The parrot has been telling you bedtime stories?”

“Well, they’ve insisted on putting me to bed at six every night!” the boy exclaimed. “No one’s tired at six! Pemberley comes into the nursery and talks to me. He’s been telling me about the lost Duke since I was little.”

“I say.” Colin looked up at his long-time pet. “Could it be that the answers are right there?”

“Well,” Julia said to Pemberley, putting her hand on her hip. “Are you going to tell us?”

The bird stopped his pacing and flapping and ruffling and looked down upon the humans all staring up at him. He tipped his head to one side. But said nothing.

“Well, come on bird,” Westley said, stepping forward. “Spill it.”

Pemberley tipped his head to the other side. Were they actually going to listen? No, it couldn’t be. In all his years, no one but the boy had ever listened to him, and even the youngster had thought it fiction.

“Yes, yes, get on with it Pemberley. What is this truth you keep squawking about?” Colin added.

They were! They were actually going to listen. He couldn’t believe it! At last! He opened his beak… and fell from the branch, hitting the ground with a dull thud.

“Pemberley!” Julia rushed forward.

“Pemberley!” Colin went to his knees next to his pet. “No!”

“What on earth happened?” Quinn asked.

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Ward asked. “He died from the shock of having someone listen to him.” The boy added an eye roll. “Makes sense to me.”

Julia looked up at Colin as he gathered his feathered friend to his chest. “You are Colin. Aren’t you?” Only the true Colin would be so distraught over Pemberley’s demise. Which meant that her husband really was… well, not Colin.

Of course Wickham had already accused him of such, but her heart hadn’t been able to accept it. Now, though, watching her sister’s beloved shed tears over the bird, she knew it was true.

The real Colin gazed at her through watery eyes and nodded. “I am. And Pemberley accompanied me on my adventure at sea. He never left my side. And I never listened. I didn’t pay attention. I took him for granted.” A sob shook the man’s body.

Quinn knelt beside him, rubbing his back and murmuring quietly to him.

Julia reached out a hand and stroked the bird’s wing. “And now we shall never know the full truth.”

“Ahem.”

No one reacted. Colin continued to cradle the bird and sob while Quinn attempted to comfort him, and Westley wondered if Julia needed comforting, and Julia wondered if her new husband would know enough to try to comfort her.

“Ahem!”

Westley finally went to one knee next to Julia and mimicked Quinn’s actions, rubbing her back and kissing her temple.

“I say, excuse me!”

Finally they all turned their eyes upon Ward.

“Evelyn, I will absolutely not tolerate your insolence,” Quinn said. She turned to Julia. “You’ve been too soft on him, obviously. He’s clearly a brat and we will need to use a firm hand with him.”

“I’ve been too soft on him?” Julia exclaimed. “I was the one who swam to shore with only one arm because I was holding our baby brother, saving him from certain death at sea. And where were you?”

“I was… well, I didn’t know… I just had to…” Quinn blustered. “I had to save myself by clinging to a sea turtle and survive alone on a deserted island until the pirate ship picked me up! And if you think living the life of a pirate is all exciting and glamorous, you are sadly mistaken.”

“Here, here,” Colin muttered. “But ninjas… now they’re exciting.”

Quinn gave him a fond smile.

“I thought your parents died in a milking accident?” Colin said, turning his attention to his former governess.

Julia blushed. “I couldn’t risk the six-fingered man finding us. It was better to invent an entirely new identity for both of us. Poor Evelyn would have…”

“I will NOT tolerate being called EVELYN!” Ward shouted.

Everyone turned to stare at him. It was true that Ward was often cheeky, but he very rarely yelled.

“AND, I know the truths that Pemberley will now be unable to impart. If anyone cares.”

The boy wasn’t entirely upset about the parrot’s death. For one, he was an old bird and Ward was an intelligent soul— it had only been a matter of time. And Pemberley had been kind when Ward was younger, but he’d always been a bit arrogant about knowing all the Netherloin history. Then he’d just up and gone to sea with Colin, leaving Ward to go to bed at six with no stories. So, Ward wasn’t happy the old thing was gone, but he wasn’t going to be inconsolable either. Now he might actually get some of the attention due him. If the adults wanted the full Netherloin story they were going to have to listen to him for a change.

Besides, now Ward had the strange furry creature he’d found in the portrait gallery. It didn’t talk and tell him stories, but perhaps pets were best seen and not heard.

“Quite right,” Westley said, striding forward. “Let us toss the damned bird away and get on with this.”

Julia gasped and came to her feet. “Col—I mean… that is… my love! We cannot just toss him away. He was a pet, part of the family. We must give him a proper burial.”

“Can’t that wait until after we find out what in the bloody hell is going on and who the real Duke is?”

The man kneeling on the ground, sobbing over the dead duck—or whatever it was—certainly did look a lot like him. Of course, Westley would never be caught dead wearing those silly pirate breeches. But otherwise, there were startling similarities. He didn’t remember much of his very early life. Roberts had always quieted his questions with “if you think you can find a better life elsewhere, there’s the door”. And while he had never felt that he belonged with Roberts, he had never felt for certain that he belonged anywhere else, either. Hence, the life of a highwayman had seemed to fit. But now, looking at the other man, poorly dressed or not, he had to wonder…

Julia and Quinn were sisters. It was quite obvious. They were exact replicas. Yes, Quinn’s clothing revealed more of the beautiful body underneath, but he’d spent enough time with Julia’s beautiful body to know that they were identical in nearly every way.

Was it possible that the man who looked like him could be his—he almost couldn’t bring himself to think it—brother?

But how could that be?

“I know who the real Duke is!” Ward insisted.

“We have to pay our respects to Pemberley,” Julia argued.

Westley took a moment to look closely at the woman he’d made his wife. Was she stalling the conversation because she was worried about the outcome? Was she disappointed she might not be a Duchess? Worse, was she realizing that she was in love with the real Colin instead?

“Fine,” Westley said. “Let’s bury the damned thing. Then we will have the truth.”

If she no longer wanted him, he’d simply ride off into the sunset. That’s what real men did anyway. They didn’t sit around in big houses with servants tending to their every need, drinking tea and going to balls.

No matter how much they might like to.

They gathered in the rose garden. Someone was sent to fetch a container and returned with a rectangular box that once held shoes, from the looks of it. Someone else had been asked to dig a hole.

The beauty of having servants—well, one beauty of many, Westley thought longingly—was that you always had people to fetch and dig for you.

Colin tenderly placed Pemberley inside the box and lowered the lid.

“You should say a few words, my love,” Quinn said gently. “It will help.”

“Very well.” Colin bowed his head. “Here lies my friend, my compatriot, my guide, my comfort, my…”

“Alright,” Quinn said, nudging him with her elbow and cutting him off. “Anything else?”

“I’m so very sorry that I didn’t realize what counsel he could offer,” Colin went on. “I regret the time that could have been spent learning about my history and coming to know the true friendship that such a loyal and faithful companion could have bestowed upon me and—”

“Oh, Amen for God’s sake!” Westley yanked the box of bird from Colin’s hands and tossed it into the hole in front of them.

As the box hit the bottom of the shallow hole—the servant hadn’t known it had been intended as a grave—the lid tilted and they heard “Lumière! Awwk! Lumière!”

“What in the bloody—”

Colin and Westley both leaned in over the grave at the same moment that lavender feathers burst from the box.

“Dead Duke! Dead Duke!”

Pemberley shot straight upward, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. He headed for the nearest branch in the oak tree just above them. And promptly pooped on Westley’s shoulder.

“Damned bird!” Westley exclaimed, swiping at the mess.

But no one paid him any attention.

“Pemberley!” Julia and Colin cried together.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ward said in amazement.

Quinn said nothing but crouched looking wildly from side to side, her katana drawn—her ninja reaction whenever startled.

“Dead Duke! Lumière!” Pemberley squawked from above them.

“What is he talking about?” Colin asked.

“Good heavens!” Julia exclaimed. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“What Duke? Who’s dead?” Westley asked.

Quinn waved her sword from side to side.

“Ahem!”

“Lumière?” Colin repeated. “I believe that’s the name of our old valet.”

“Yes, I remember him,” Julia agreed. “Whatever happened to him?”

“What kind of name is Lumière?” Westley asked.

Quinn sheathed her sword.

“EXCUSE ME!” Ward roared.

They all turned to look at him.

“Perhaps I can shed some light on this mystery,” the boy said dryly. Damn it all, he’d been trying to tell them that he was consequential and now that the bird was alive again… or still alive… and talking, they would likely go right back to ignoring whatever he said. Unless he could tell them what he knew first.

The four adults crossed their arms and looked at him.

“Well?”

“Get on with it then.”

“Tell us what is going on!”

Quinn just raised an eyebrow.

And that was enough to make Ward sweat… and start talking.

“Pemberley used to tell me the story of the Little Lost Duke. The Duke was a spoiled young boy who was taken to the river one evening by his valet. The valet spoke poor English and believed his orders were to throw the child in the river. He did, the current swept him away and he was never seen again. His twin brother then took over his position as Duke.”

The adults were staring at him.

“Well, that could be them, could it not?” Ward asked Julia, pointing from Colin to Westley.

Julia turned to Westley. “I don’t know. Were you thrown in the river as a child?”

He lifted his shoulder. “I don’t remember much of the time before I rode with Roberts. He always claimed that he found me.”

Quinn looked at Colin. “What about you? How can you not remember having a brother?”

Colin scratched his head. “I don’t know. I remember having an imaginary friend named Firth.”

“Firth! Awwk! Firth!” Pemberley flapped his wings and ruffled his feathers as he spoke, drawing their attention.

“Firth?” Ward said. “Why, that was the name of the boy in the story. The one thrown in the river.”

“What was the other boy’s name?” Julia asked. “The one that became the Duke?”

Ward’s eyes grew wide. “Colin.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes,” the boy nodded eagerly. “I thought Pemberley used that name just because he knew it, but now I see… that truly was the little boy’s name!”

Something in Westley’s chest had tightened at the name “Firth,” and now he stared at Colin. Things started to niggle in the back of his mind. A tall, mostly-deaf Frenchman, for instance.

“Wha…?” He had to clear his throat. “What was your father’s name?” he asked Colin.

“Bronte,” Colin replied quickly.

That too caused a tightening in Westley’s chest.

“And your mother?” he asked, his voice thick.

“Emily.”

Yes. Yes. Emily and Bronte. It was so familiar. As if he’d heard it a million times. As if it was imprinted on the cover of a book—the book of his life. So sweet. So much a part of him that he felt his heart expand and fill.

His name was Firth. Firth Darcy. The son of Emily and Bronte Darcy. Brother to Colin. He stepped forward, arms outstretched to embrace his brother… and stepped in Pemberley’s grave.

He pitched forward, arms still outstretched, flailing wildly. But just as he was about to hit the ground he felt his brother’s strong arms catch him, hauling him back onto his feet.

“Oh my heavens!” Julia exclaimed, running to his side.

The concern in her eyes made his heart nearly burst. She loved him. He could tell. No matter his name.

“So Firth here is the real Duke?” Quinn asked. She actually directed her question toward Pemberley. Who was still feeling a bit overcome with surprise—and almost being buried alive.

“The Duke! The Duke!” he confirmed.

“What happened to your parents?” she asked Colin.

Colin frowned as he thought. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “All I ever remember is Uncle Willoughby. And the pressure of running the Duchy.”

“You knew it was called a Duchy, then?” Westley-Firth asked.

“Of course. What else would it be called?” Colin asked.

“What indeed,” Westley-Firth muttered. But then he brightened. He was the Duke. The real Duke. The Duke of Earl. And if he wanted to refer to his Duchy as a Dukedom, he damned well would.

“You don’t remember your parents either?” Julia asked Firth. Lord, she hoped someday soon she would be able to think of him simply as Firth, rather than as Colin and then as Westely before arriving at Firth.

“I don’t.” He shook his head. “I mean, I do. I remember them. Good things. Warm things. But I don’t remember what happened.”

“Murder! Murder!” Pemberley squawked.

All eyes turned upward. And they heard something hit the tree. It sounded like someone had thrown a rock… just before Pemberley fell from the branch. Again.

He landed in the shoebox in the grave that Firth had partially crushed.

They all gasped and moved forward to gather around their fallen friend. For the second time.

“What the—?”

Quinn had spun and was surveying the area. “There! A slingshot!” she shouted, pointing to the rise just beyond the Netherloin gate. “There’s a shooter on the grassy knoll!” She started running in that direction.

“We’ll take care of this!” Firth called back as he started after her.

“But—” Julia started to protest, but Colin put his hand on her shoulder.

“She’s a ninja. He’s a Highwayman. They’re the best to go after Uncle Willoughby.”

“It was Wickham?” Julia asked. “How do you know?”

“I saw his coat. I’m sure he was coming back to do just what he did. Pemberley never told you stories about the first Duke and his wife, did he?” he asked Ward.

The boy shook his head. “No, only the twins.”

“Wickham has been watching us,” Colin said, glancing around. “He knows Ward told us the truth about Firth and me, and he had to know that Ward didn’t know the story of my parents. But Pemberley did.” A tear fell into the bird’s box. “Pemberley knew that Uncle Willoughby did something bad. Something wicked. And Uncle had to take him out.”

“I can’t believe he shot Pemberley!” Julia cried.

“We’d best get inside. In case Wickham comes back before Firth and Quinn can find him. I’ll have the servants cover Pemberley up in a bit.”

Julia allowed Colin to turn her in the direction of the house. Through her sadness over the beloved parrot, she took note of the fact that Colin left his arm around her shoulders. It felt nice. Friendly. Brotherly. Nothing like it felt when West… Firth touched her.

She looked up at him.

He was a very handsome man, of course. But he was no Firth Darcy. The love of her life.

They arrived at the house just in time for the housekeeper to greet them with the news that they had a visitor.

They sent Ward upstairs. Together they headed for the parlor.

A strange man sat in the chair near the windows. He rose as they entered, and Julia noticed the jeweled box at his feet.

“I’m Colin Darcy,” Colin said. “And this is my sister-in-law Julia, Duchess of Netherloin.”Julia loved the title, but she liked “sister-in-law” even better. “How do you do?” she asked their guest.

“I thank you for seeing me,” the man said, taking her hand and bending to kiss it. “I have something I need to give you.”

He turned away, tugging his gloves from his hands. Then he bent and picked up the box before turning to Julia with a smile. “This belongs to your brother, Mr. Evelyn Bronte Fitzgerald. I have recently tracked him here. As his guardian, I will put this into your keeping.”

Curious, Julia reached for the box. That was when she noticed the man’s hands.
He had six fingers on his left hand.

She gasped and backed up, right into Colin. He took her upper arms and turned her, peering down into her face with concern. “Julia, what is it?”

“Six fingers,” she whispered through her fear. “He has six fingers.”

Colin pushed her behind him and withdrew a short bladed knife from near his ankle. She marveled at that. She’d never seen Colin move with such confidence and grace and skill.

“Who are you and what do you really want?” Colin demanded of the man, waving the knife in front of the man’s face.

The man had grown a bit pale. “I am Stephen. I came to return to Mr. Evelyn Fitzgerald what is rightly his.”

“You have six fingers. The man who killed Julia and Quinn’s father had six fingers. Care to explain that?”

The man looked pained now. “Yes, my brother. He was my twin. Though the evil twin, I am sad to say.”

“Was?” Julia asked. “What do you mean?”

“Your sister killed him,” Stephen said sadly. “He deserved his end. However, he was still my brother.”

“And you’re here for revenge?” Colin asked, waving the knife again.

“No, no,” the man said quickly. “I’m here to return that chest to this family. It was on board the ship that went down. We didn’t know any of the children had survived, but when we found out there was a boy, the direct heir, we had to return it.”

“Open the box,” Colin told Julia. “Let’s see if it’s worth this man’s life.”

Being a pirate had definitely changed Colin, Julia thought as she set the box on the table and tried to open it. Her fingers were shaking so badly, however, that she couldn’t.

“Let me help.” Suddenly Ward was beside her.

It was his box, after all. Julia stepped aside.

Ward made short work of the lock and lifted the lid.

They all gasped, including Stephen.

Gems and jewels of every size and color twinkled back at them.

Ward and Julia turned to face the man together. “What is this?”

“Your inheritance,” Stephen said with a lift of his shoulder. “Your father’s name and your brother’s name are inscribed under the inside of the box.”

They looked. He was right.

“Well then I suppose…” Julia looked down at her brother. “I suppose we have money after all.”
Ward was staring at the box with his mouth open. “Was Father a pirate?” he asked. The only treasure like this he’d ever seen was in picture books that featured pirates.

Julia and Colin laughed.

“No,” Julia said, patting Ward’s head.

“But pirates are smashing,” Colin added.

“Smashing pirates!” came a squawk. Suddenly a lavender parrot flew in through the window, made a circle of the room and came to rest on Colin’s shoulder.

“Pemberley?” Colin asked, stunned.

“Naked ninjas!”

Yes. It was most certainly Pemberley.

Again.



***

A Word to you, Our Dear and Gentle Readers: If you enjoyed this small offering, please do us the honor of returning to grace our humble blog with your presence one week hence, when we shall be delighted to bring to you the last installment of our little saga. And please partake of our Love’s Savage Contest. Leave a comment here or go to our Facebook page (link in the column on the right) and quote your favorite line from this week’s episode to be entered in a monthly drawing for a giftcard at the bookstore of your choice and a grand finale drawing for a signed e-reader cover.

Cordially,

The Naughty Nine









Read from the beginning



6 comments:

Ivelisse said...

I am sad that next week is the last installment :(. My fave from this week is:
Julia asked Firth. Lord, she hoped someday soon she would be able to think of him simply as Firth, rather than as Colin and then as Westely before arriving at Firth.

lol

Jean P said...

Another enjoyable chapter, look forward to finding out what happens next, each week. I liked this line this week.."Pemberley shot straight upward, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes"

Sherry said...

I loved this chapter. This is one of my favorite lines.

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Ward asked. “He died from the shock of having someone listen to him.” The boy added an eye roll. “Makes sense to me.”

elaing8 said...

Awesome..as usual.A lot of great lines this week.

“He died from the shock of having someone listen to him.” The boy added an eye roll. “Makes sense to me.”

Maria said...

Another good chapter...though I was afraid for Pemberley for a minute...lol...

“I will NOT tolerate being called EVELYN!” Ward shouted.

Karin said...

Love the chapter. It had me laughing the whole time. I love the lines already posted, but here is my favorite of this installment:
“Evelyn?” Westley snickered behind them. “He is a boy, is he not?”

Absolutely fantastic way to start. :)