Chapter 1: A Strange Room

Elizabeth Bennet's head felt heavy. It reminded her of the incident last year when she - and most of the neighbourhood - had accidentally imbibed too much liquor at the Meryton assembly because Charlotte Lucas's brothers, returned from school for the summer, had added extra brandy to the punch when their cook was distracted. An idea they had been given by their classmates, and in the manner of teenage boys everywhere, encouraged each other to carry out.

She wondered if they had done it again despite the usually jovial Sir William's anger when he had been informed of what had occurred. Elizabeth hoped not. She still blushed to think of her behaviour that night, and more so that of her two younger sisters; who had managed to be even louder and sillier than normal.

She tried to open her eyes but her mind protested against the onslaught of light and so she relaxed her face into the luxury of the pillows instead. What she wanted was to fall back asleep and let this horrendous feeling fade away like she had that last time. But her mind had chosen the worst moment to be actively awake; one of the few mornings she would have preferred it not to have been. The idea of raising for the day and partaking in her usual walk round the woods near Longbourn seemed daunting and so Elizabeth granted herself the right to laze and raise late like her younger sisters and mother for this morning alone. She promised herself she would take a longer walk the next day to make up for the loss of her freedom this particular morning, cursing the Lucas boys once more as she did so.

But since a return to the land of the sleeping currently continued to evade her, Elizabeth tried to recall what had occurred the previous night, but all she achieved was to make her headache worse. A heavy drum beat thrummed against the inside of her head, like those she had seen the militia march to when they did their exercises, but louder, and accompanied by the most horrific stabbing pains. She groaned to herself and curled further under the blankets, trying to block out as much light as possible. She had had no desire to ever experience this feeling again.

Irritated, she tried to remember if there had been an assembly last night. But no. There hadn't been an occasion in the neighbourhood since the Netherfield Ball and that had been months previously. Mr. Bingley had left and not returned since then. Jane's heart had been broken and their mother's dreams dashed. Elizabeth tried once more to remember what had happened the previous day to leave her so ill. But her mind refused to co-operative and she suddenly felt so very exhaustingly tired. The deep lull of sleep washed over her once more, and she was not going to argue against anything that would blot out the throbbing pain in her head.

When Elizabeth next awoke she could hear voices at her bedside. They were quiet, talking in hushed tones, and for the first time it occurred to Elizabeth that she could be ill in a manner completely unrelated to the Lucas boys and punch. Despite the protest of the drumming ache in her head she strained to hear what was being said and who was saying it. She dared not try and open her eyes again. Not yet. There was the deep tone of a man and the lilt of a young woman. Father and Jane! But no. The voices did not fit. But what other man would be allowed to be at Elizabeth's bedside? A doctor perhaps? She tried to focus on the voices once more. To catch the words being said and learn what ailed her.

"She should have awoken by now! The doctor said-"

"The doctor said there could be no accurate predictions with an accident such as Lizzy's. She will awaken soon, brother, we have to have faith in that. Our Lizzy is nothing if not a fighter." A pause. "She has never argued against accusations of stubbornness either." Elizabeth could hear the smile in the speaker's words as she uttered that last sentence. But still she didn't recognise these people who clearly knew her, and knew her well. This girl, who sounded like none of her sisters, or any of her friends, or even any of her passing acquaintances, and yet spoke as though she knew Elizabeth and her character. Even worse, she was correct in her statements. She did know Elizabeth, that the woman herself could not deny. But try as she might, Elizabeth did not know her.

Elizabeth tried to speak, but no words were forthcoming. Her mouth was dry and her questions died in her throat.

"You should sleep, brother," Elizabeth heard the woman insist. She didn't hear the reply. The pain in her head was building again, the drums beating louder, and curious as she was she had no choice but to succumb once more to the peace of sleep.

When next Elizabeth woke she knew it was night. Longbourn lay quiet in a manner it never quite managed during the day. The light no longer forced itself against her eyelids. The drumming had subsided, leaving only a dull pain. An irritation rather than an agony. After a few moments of luxuriating in this freedom from pain, Elizabeth readied herself and forced herself to sit up, eyes blinking themselves open. She steadied herself against the bed whilst waiting for the ensuing dizziness to recede. When it did she relaxed a moment then opened her eyes. A thrill of fear spread through her as she stared.

This was not her room. This was not Longbourn. Nor was it Gracechurch Street. Or Netherfield. Or any house Elizabeth had ever resided within. Elizabeth's heart beat wildly in her chest and the beating in her head returned to join it. She had to force herself to take several deep breathes to try and calm herself. Returning to sleep was no longer an option for curing her incessant headaches. Not now that she knew the room she resided in was not her own. She peered cautiously around her surroundings in the gloom of the night. But she could make out little. Her bed, or at least the bed she currently laid upon, was a large four-poster, with its hangings pulled back so that they gave no privacy. Moonlight peeped out from the gap between floor- length curtains to light upon various shapes of common household objects. A wardrobe. A dresser. Elizabeth stared in confused at one strange object, trying to decipherer what it was. She scrambled backwards on the bed when she realized. Her back jarred as she jammed herself against the headboard, causing the pain in her head to increase once more in tandem. Elizabeth winced against it. But she has bigger issues and she forced herself to focus. There was a stranger here. She was alone in a strange room with a strange person and with no idea how she had got there or how she could get away.

Another deep breath. She inched slowly towards the edge of the bed, focusing on this stranger, blankets pressed to her chest as though they could protect her. As if she could burrow herself under them and this would all go away.

She sighed out loud in relief when she realized her bedside occupant was a woman. She slept in the chair, still wearing her day dress, a few golden curls escaping her braid. Elizabeth felt herself relax just a fraction. Was this the woman she had heard speaking earlier then? It had to be, surely? But who was she?

Elizabeth took one last fortifying breath and prepared herself to speak into the darkness. "Hello?" It came out much quieter than she had intended. A mere mouse squeak in the still of night. It was so difficult to speak into the hushed night, to awake this peaceful looking stranger. But that would not do. No one would ever accuse Elizabeth Bennet of being a scared little mouse. "Excuse me!" A little louder. "I'm awake now." Elizabeth didn't know why she said that. But it seemed right. That was what the woman and the man - the woman's brother she recalled hazily - had been waiting for.

The woman stirred. Elizabeth watched as the daze of sleep was instantly replaced with the alertness of awareness.

"Lizzy!" the woman cried, and before Elizabeth was aware what had happened she had the young woman attached to herself, sobbing with relief into her shoulder as she hugged her tight. Elizabeth's arms stayed limp at her side. She knew she should hug the woman back but she felt no emotion towards her beside curiosity and the slightest hint of fear, the latter was already slipping away with the young woman's tears.

"Fitzwilliam!" The woman let go off as Elizabeth as suddenly as she had grabbed hold, disappearing across the room and out a door before Elizabeth had time to process any of it. She hadn't even had a chance to think to move from her kneeling position at the edge of the bed when the woman returned, holding a candle for light, followed by a man.

Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest the presence of a man in her private quarters (at least she assumed they were hers) as the woman placed the candle on her bedside table. The flickering light lit the faces of both her visitors and in her shock it was the man's name that tumbled from Elizabeth's lips. The very last man she ever expected - or wished - to see again.

"Mr. Darcy!"

I hope you enjoyed this opening chapter and I'd love to hear your thoughts :) I'm planning to update on a weekly basis so will post the next chapter next Saturday.