As his beloved Elizabeth shattered the nearest zombie’s skull with a perfectly placed axe kick, Fitzwilliam Darcy saw in her eyes something that had been missing
for a long, long time: joie de vivre. Much as he would have liked to revel in it—to bask in the rekindled warmth of his wife’s delight—he could not. She was already ducking beneath another dreadful’s clumsy lurch, for one thing. And then there were the three unmentionables that were closing in on him.

Although one couldn’t say the creatures had joie de vivre, both joie and vivre being long beyond them, they were undeniably enthusiastic in their quest for succulent flesh. His. Which he denied them—temporarily, at least—with a backward flip that delivered him safely out of their reach. Darcy landed directly behind the tallest of the dreadfuls. He drew his katana and, with one stroke, made it the shortest. The others whirled on him howling as even more zombies clambered out of the abandoned well in which they’d apparently wintered.

Darcy danced back a few steps and then stopped and set his feet, readying himself for the onslaught. Something pressed up against him from behind.
“I’m so glad you suggested we check that well for dreadfuls,” Elizabeth said, her back pushing harder into his with each panted breath.
“I thought it might bring you some amusement.”
“Oh, it has. More than I’ve had in quite a while.”
“So I noticed.”
Mindless as they were, the unmentionables could be instinctively wary, and, rather than rushing in one at a time, they spread out around the couple, encircling
them. Darcy raised his sword.
Elizabeth, being a married lady, had left the house unarmed.
“Would you like to borrow my katana?” Darcy asked.
“Oh, that wouldn’t be proper, would it?” Elizabeth replied, sounding sour. Then she took in an especially deep breath, and her tone brightened. “At any rate, I can make do”

Darcy had little doubt she could—to a point. Elizabeth was no longer a warrior, but she sparred with him and his sister every day. Her way with the katana, longbow, musket, flintlock, dagger, mace, pike, battle axe, blow dart, and (most fortunately of all, at the moment) death-dealing hands and feet were nearly as sharp as the day he’d wedded her.
Yet that was in the privacy of the dojo; she hadn’t faced a dreadful since becoming Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy four years before. Now they were surrounded by a dozen of the creatures. Her wedding ring would be no replacement for the saber or throwing stars she couldn’t, as the wife of a gentleman, be seen wielding.

Their only hope, Darcy knew, was that the unmentionables would prove every bit as out of practice with killing. These were the first zombies of spring, still stiff from the long months they’d spent packed together in hiding. Some were men, some women, some whole, some disfigured, some as new to death as the previous autumn, some little more than rag-wrapped skeletons. One thing could be counted on, though: They would all be hungry. That never changed. As if at some silent signal, the unmentionables charged en masse.
There was a bloodcurdling shriek, but it wasn’t a scream of terror or the fabled zombie wail. It was Elizabeth unleashing the warrior’s cry that had been bottled up
within her for so long.

Darcy lopped off one head, and another, and split a third dreadful down the middle. And then, to his surprise, he was able to just stand back and watch.
Elizabeth had gone spinning into the pack like a whirling dervish. Her first kick turned everything above one girl-zombie’s gray flap-skinned chin into an exploding plume of foul-smelling scarlet. She let her momentum twirl her into another unmentionable, a tottering collection of old bones, and snapped off its arm, using it to bat its head clear off its shoulders. A couple more swings and two more zombies fell, their crowns crushed. By then Elizabeth’s bone-club had snapped, and she jammed the jagged end through the next dreadful’s face. Two more ghouls, twin males, latched onto her wrists, but she was able to yank her hands free and use them to smash the unmentionables’ heads together, the identical faces merging, for a moment, into one. The last two survivors of the pack turned to flee. Elizabeth stopped one—permanently—with a hefty hurled rock, while the final zombie she simply beat to a pulp with a branch hastily broken from a nearby tree.
“More!” she cried, whipping this way and that. “More! More!”
“You can stop now,” Darcy said.
Elizabeth turned on him, still clutching the branch, the almost feral look on her face saving, Why would I want to do that?
“They’re all dead,” Darcy said, ensuring the truth of it by casually hacking at whatever necks were still attached to something resembling a head.

Elizabeth watched him a moment before tossing aside her branch and dusting off her hands.
“So the unmentionables are beginning to awaken,” she said, suddenly sounding bored. “My, can it be that time of year again, already? I suppose we should return to the house and tell Charles what we’ve found. It would seem his gamekeeper has been unforgivably lax.”
Darcy offered Elizabeth his arm, and side by side they strolled back toward Fernworthy Manor, home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Binglev and family.
As they walked, Darcy tried to recall what he and his wife had been discussing when, on a whim, he’d suggested they check the old well. Yet there was no conversation to resume, he remembered now. Until they’d left the safety of the lane, their walk had been free not only of zombies, but of chatter as well.

And so it always was these days when the Darcys visited the Binglevs. Elizabeth, usually so spirited and free in discourse with her husband, became sullen and withdrawn. She hid it from Mrs. Binglev—her much-loved elder sister, Jane. And she doted on her young nieces. Yet whenever out of sight of the Binglevs, she became muted, broody, and it took a week back at Pemberley for her spirits to lift. Even then, they never seemed to rise to the same heights they’d once known.

Upon returning to Fernworthy, Darcy and Elizabeth found Binglev in the drawing room playing Stricken and Slayers with the twins, Mildred and Grace, while little Millicent toddled around chewing on one of her mother’s disused garrotes. As Darcy began telling his old friend of the unmentionables he and Elizabeth had encountered on the grounds, his wife excused herself, retreating upstairs to check on her sister and the household’s newest addition, five-day-old Philippa.
“I’ll send someone out to burn the bodies,” Bingley said when Darcy finished his account. “Good thing you were here to deal with the wretched things. I can’t tell you how sick I am of shooting them. At times I almost wish Jane would pick up her Brown Bess again and spare me the trouble!”
Mildred and Grace had been fighting over a battered wooden practice sword, each declaring herself the slayer and her sister the stricken, but suddenly their quarrel

Language: English
Format: ePub
Pages: 254
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