Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Much at Stake

Fiona spun around as the door opened, dropping the box of incense sticks all over the floor.  Kadogan was covered in blood, Dave was pale and Steve’s arm was badly burned.   “What happened?”
“None of this blood is mine.” Kadogan guided Steve to one of the chairs in the café.  “Steve Adderson was regrettably hurt although his decisive action meant victory.”
Fiona ran behind the counter and grabbed some ice in a cloth to put on Steve’s arm.  “You need to get to hospital.”
“I’m fine.” Steve said.  “It’s not deep.”
Kadogan took a look at Dave and pushed him into the nearest chair, shoving his head between his knees.  “Stay there.” He ordered and disappeared. 
Mrs Tuesday moved with surprising speed to flip the sign on the door to ‘Closed’ and hurry the three brownies who were browsing the giftwrap.  “It’s a bad time at the moment,” she said.  “But if you come back tomorrow then I’ll make sure you get 10% off.”
“Is it something serious?” the older brownie said, trying to tear her eyes away from the splashes of blood that Kadogan had trailed in.
“We’ll know more when Lord Ragnar gets here.” Mrs Tuesday ushered them out.  “Ah, here’s Lord Marius.  That’s always helpful,” she lied.

Lord Marius strode over to where Fiona was fussing over Steve’s arm.  “What happened?”
Steve was looking pale, but he smiled at Lord Marius.  “A little trouble.”  He shrugged.  “It looks like some rogue werewolves were forming a pack.”
“I’ve rung Lord Ragnar.” Mrs Tuesday looked almost as pale as Steve.  She eased Dave up and looked into his eyes.  “First kill?  It’s never easy, but I know you did the right thing, lad.”
Dave almost flinched as Kadogan strode back into the café with a bottle and grabbed a few glasses.  “Dave and Steve will do better for a glass of this,” he said.  “Where’s Louise?”
“She’s gone to the wholesalers.” Fiona looked at the bottle narrowly as Kadogan poured small amounts of the colourless liquid into glasses.  “Mrs Tuesday told us to set up the back room for a conference.”
“I made a few calls.” Mrs Tuesday started picking up the incense sticks.  “It’s a bad business.”
Fiona watched as Steve and Dave gasped desperately for air after some of Kadogan’s special brandy.  “Kadogan, you had better change your clothes.  You look terrifying.”
“I suppose you are right, Fiona Greene,” Kadogan said, “As I am sure werewolves will soon be attending and it would be tactless.”  He frowned.  “Manners are so important to werewolves.”  He disappeared into the back again.
“How is your arm?” Lord Marius checked Steve again. 
“It’s a lot better.”  Steve shook his head.  “I think the drink helped.  What was it?”
“I really do need to speak to Kadogan about giving that brandy to mortals.” Lord Marius sniffed at the glass and shook his head.  “It is not always safe.  What magic did you use?”
“I called down some chain lightning.” Steve stretched his arm and winced.  “Next time I’ll find a better earthing point.”
Ian threw open the door and strode in followed by Kieran Latimer.  Kieran went straight to Dave.
“I am so sorry you were caught in the middle of this,” he said with deep sincerity, grabbing Dave’s hand and shaking it relentlessly.  “Our pack is completely in your debt and you may call on us at any time.” 
“I’m sure anyone would have done the same.” Dave mumbled.
“And we would be grateful to them.” Kieran kept pumping Dave’s hand.  “You’ll have to come around for a meal sometime.  Perhaps next week.  We’ll make you very welcome.  How about next Wednesday?”
Mrs Tuesday took one look at Ian’s set features, poured a small glass of Kadogan’s special brandy and pushed it into Ian’s trembling hand.  “Drink it.”  Ian’s face turned scarlet as he choked and gasped after his obedient mouthful.  Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “Good lad.  Now, that pile of rocks out there, you see them?”  Ian nodded, still incapable of speech.  “Right, I want you to move them to the other side of the car park.  You can use a wheelbarrow if you like.” She watched as Ian rushed to the back and then turned to Kieran.  “I know he’s not one of your pack, but he’s a good lad and he’s had a shock.”
Kieran finally let go of Dave’s hand.  “I know.  It’s a difficult situation.  He has done well today, though.”
“He took on a couple of them without thought.” Steve was putting fresh ice on his arm.  “And they invited him to join them.”
Fiona looked at Mrs Tuesday.  “Those rocks need to be where they are.  If Ian moves them then they’ll all need to be moved back.”
Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “I think it will take moving them there and back to get Ian back to normal.  It won’t hurt him.” She glanced out of the window.  “Here’s Lord Ragnar.  And the Templars.”
Lord Ragnar went straight to Dave and shook his unresisting hand.  “I am deeply in your debt, Dave Kinson.  You have the freedom of our court.  How may we reward you?”
“Don’t try and bounce him into an easy favour.” Sir Craig said as he walked up behind him.  He saw Dave’s dazed expression as Lord Ragnar continued to shake his hand and gave him a nod. “We’ll catch up later.”
Lord Ragnar finally released Dave’s hand.  “Kadogan, Fiona Greene, I’m putting magical protection over this building.  It won’t last forever, but it’s to cover the meeting and any unfortunate consequences.  Mrs Tuesday, you mentioned setting up a meeting place…”

The room emptied.  Outside Ian was still moving stones, a fixed expression on his face.  Dave sagged back on his chair.  Kadogan started counting the candles, Mrs Tuesday was cleaning up the blood and Fiona wondered what had happened as she started making tea.  It was definitely a Yorkshire tea day.  Steve looked up from his arm.  “Where’s Armani?”
Fiona winced and fetched a cardboard box.  There was a cloth draped over it and it sounded like inside was a very asthmatic parrot singing the song of its people before throwing itself on a funeral pyre.  She set it carefully on the table in front of Steve.
“Who gave him rum?” he asked, resignation in every inch as he pulled back the cloth.
Armani looked up.  Fetid smoke was oozing out of his ears and wing tips and he was sickly purple colour.  He belched and wiped a dirty sleeve across his eyes.  “It’s all a mystery, boss.”
“Don’t you dare be sick!” Steve warned as Armani’s colour started to fade.
Armani made a heroic effort and belched again.  “I’m good, boss, just facing my future with a strong wing on my back.” He fell over and started to croon again.  Steve covered the box. 
“He can sleep it off,” he said.  He looked over at Kadogan.  “I’ll put some extra magical protection on this place.  If we’re going into business together I want to keep customer details secure.  Besides, it looks like it’s going to be busy here.”
Mrs Tuesday came in from dumping the cleaning cloths in the outside bin.  She glanced briefly between Fiona and Steve.  “It’s just as well that there’s no romantic attachment,” she said as she walked past Kadogan.  “You can’t mix business with pleasure.” She glared at Steve.  “That arm’s healing up very quickly.”
He shrugged.  “I heal quickly from magic.  It doesn’t matter.  About the business - we need to sort out an internet presence.  Anyone who can go on the internet can get what we are selling, and often at a better price than we can manage.  We’ll have some customer loyalty, but we need to have a distinct image.  Something that catches the casual shopper’s attention.”
Dave grinned.  “I saw this amazing vampire hunting kit,” he said.  “It had a stake, holy water, a cross and a pocket bible in this fake nineteenth century box.  It looked awesome…” He trailed off as he took in the outraged stares of Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday.
“You can’t sell something like that,” Mrs Tuesday snapped.  “It’s disgusting.”
“It is very bad manners.” Kadogan said icily. 
“What if Mr Beddoes decided to sue?” Mrs Tuesday started wiping the tables down with so much venom that they rocked.  “That would soon wake you up.”
“Mr Beddoes is much to be feared.” Kadogan nodded.
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” Dave looked around.  “I’m really sorry.  Who’s Mr Beddoes?”
“He’s a vampire and a bloody brilliant lawyer.” Steve put a hand on his shoulder.  “It’s okay, you’re still getting the hang of it.  But perhaps that’s not the way to go if your selling to vampires and their friends.”
“Good point, well made.” Dave hunched down a little.
“Why don’t we do the opposite?” Fiona asked.  “Market it as ‘vampire friendly’, ‘werewolf friendly’, ‘boggart friendly’, that sort of thing.  I don’t know, sell sauces without garlic, dog biscuits that are suitable for human consumption…”
“All dog biscuits are suitable for human consumption.” Kadogan interrupted helpfully.
“Okay, but dog biscuits marketed as if to werewolves.” Fiona looked at Kadogan.  “Would that offend werewolves?”
Ian came in.  “Would what offend werewolves?”
Fiona hesitated and then managed a tentative, “Dog biscuits for werewolves?”
“Sounds like a great idea.  The local supermarkets never stock the good brands.  Fiona, I think the stones should be other side of the car park.  I’ll move them back.”
“That’s a great idea.” Fiona nodded, keeping Mrs Tuesday in the corner of her eye.  The old boggart was appraising Ian and she gave Fiona the smallest nod.  “Thanks for helping out.”
“Not a problem.” Ian went back to the car park.
“He’s looking better.” Steve said. 
“I’m glad.” Fiona looked out after him.  She shut her eyes briefly then returned to the issue at hand.  “And we advertise ‘Fairy Teas’ for coach parties who book ahead and serve up the sort of stuff we served up for Lord Ragnar.  You know, lots of spray cream and edible glitter.  The normal will think it’s a great gimmick and at least some of the non normals will love it.”
“That’s a great idea.” Kadogan grinned.  “Fiona Greene, you must start redoing the catalogues at once.”
Dave stood and stretched.  “I think she had better deal with the coach party first.”

Lord Ragnar looked around at the commotion.  “What is that noise?”
“Probably a coach party.” For once Lord Marius was not lounging with a mocking smile.  Instead he was leaning forward and his emerald eyes were intent.  “Kadogan would advise if there was trouble.”
Lord Ragnar looked around.  “This is a strange council.  We have the head of the werewolves, the local lord, the visiting Knight and the messenger to the princes.  I think we have a shared goal.  We all wish that York continues as a safe place for normal and non normal alike.”
Sir Craig flipped through a few screens on his phone.  “Let’s get to the point.  We had a band of rogue werewolves forming a pack.  I’ve never heard of that happening.” He looked at Kieran.
Kieran shook his head.  “I’ve heard stories, but all from a long time ago.  The packs keep an eye on things.  And not all strays are like those you killed.  Most are like Ian.”
“Most kill themselves before they become a hazard.” Lord Marius said coldly.  “There is a cruelty in the pack that I can only admire.”
Kieran glared at him.  “We have to keep the pack secure and Ian went beyond what can be tolerated.  But who knows, he keeps his nose clean and steps up when it’s needed and there may be a place for him in another pack eventually.”
“If he can survive that long.” Lord Marius smiled thinly.
“Is it likely to happen again?” Sir Craig interrupted.
Kieran couldn’t meet Sir Craig’s eyes.  “I don’t know how many strays there are out there, and I don’t know how many know the situation here.  I’ll email all the packs I know and see what they have to say.”
“Thank you.” Sir Craig turned to Sir Marius.  “How many know the situation here?”
“We are a relatively small community,” Lord Marius shrugged.  “Those who can use the internet are in constant touch all over the country and beyond.  Those who cannot use the internet for whatever reason use other means.  We all love gossip.  Rumour and speculation is rife.”
Lord Ragnar glanced around.  “I admit that the divorce is not coming at an ideal time, but I had to act as soon as I had an opportunity.  It was unfortunate that Paladin Allbright died at this point…”
“Unfortunate is the wrong word.” Sir Craig’s knuckles turned white with the effort of keeping his calm.  “A good man is dead.  We have no idea who the paladin is.  This means it’s down to the Knights Templar to step up.  But there isn’t enough of us.  Southampton is currently crawling with scarabs and a colony of ghouls has set up in Glasgow.  No-one can be spared for here.  And, with due respect, Lord Ragnar, we have a weak lord that cannot guarantee to control his court.” 
“Allow me to summarise.” Lord Marius looked around the table.  “We have a busy city with a lot of tourists, that is, lots of people who would not immediately be noticed if they go missing.  We have no paladin and the Templars, while excellent, do not have a paladin’s instincts.  Nor do they have much manpower.  At the same time the lord of the domain is perceived as weak.” Lord Marius glanced at Lord Ragnar.  “Of course, appearances can be deceptive.”
“I have had plans in place for some time” Lord Ragnar said.  “It is unfortunate timing but it cannot be helped.”
“So every rogue boggart, drugged up vampire and stray werewolf, any non normal who doesn’t like playing nice, will be heading here.” Sir Craig made notes on his phone.  “Strays forming into packs may be the least of our worries.”
“It is not an impossible situation.” Lord Ragnar looked around the table.  “As I said, I have had plans in place for some time.  I will be acting on them.  Any strays and rogues will be a good target to use to unify the court.  Our side will act promptly and decisively against any transgressions.  Your side, Sir Craig, need to find your paladin, and urgently.”
“Trust me, we are doing our best.” Sir Craig shut down his phone and put it in his pocket.  “I’ll be trying to get some extra men here.”
“My favoured soothsayer and psychic will be back from their holiday tomorrow.  They will aid your search.” Lord Ragnar stood.  “I do not think that there is anything more to discuss at this very moment.” He bowed to Sir Craig.  “I will inform you immediately of significant events.”
“Let’s hope we’re all around to hear that information.” Sir Craig muttered as he stood up.  “Because it’s not going to be an easy ride.”

Thursday, 2 February 2017

What Side Are You On

“I can’t believe Kadogan set us up on a date.” Fiona allowed Steve to take her coat.  “It’s embarrassing.”
“It could be worse.” Steve hung her coat on the coat rack and slipped his own off.  He handed his card to the aloof waiter.  “Although I’m not sure how.  Elfen can be unpredictable but if they like you then they usually are okay.”  He thought for a second.  “Mostly.”
The waiter showed them to a secluded table at the back of the restaurant.  Fiona stared with horror at the red rose sitting in the middle of the table.  “Is this likely to go away quickly?”
Steve seated her and then sat down.  He shrugged.  “I have no idea.  Elfen either give up quickly or not at all.”
The waiter returned with a dusty bottle and, with an elaborate flourish, poured a small amount to taste.  Steve sipped it and nodded his approval.  He waited until the waiter had poured two glasses and left, smirking.  “I am completely out of my depth in this restaurant.  I’m more used to fast food.”
“So am I.” Fiona took a sip of her wine.  It was the most amazing wine she had ever tasted.  “What are we going to do?”
“First of all, we talk business.” Steve said, getting out his tablet.  “Then we can start worrying about the personal.”
The waiter reappeared.  “Mr Kadogan let us know your preferred food.  We start with the devilled eggs.”
Fiona and Steve exchanged glances.  Fiona got her tablet out.  “Let’s start on the business.”

Fiona found herself relaxing with Steve.  He was good company.  They bounced a few ideas off each other and found themselves nodding along to each other about all sorts of things.  “I don’t know why Kadogan put so much of the business in my hands.” Fiona said.  “It’s his money that made the start up possible.”
“Kadogan is actually very sensible for an elfen,” Steve said as the waiter took away the starter plates and poured them each another glass of wine.  “And it comes down to rules.  There are a lot of rules for a business, especially in a heritage city like York.  There’s health and safety, employment law, rules about opening hours and food hygiene and elfen find rules difficult.”  Steve smiled at the waiter as he put down the venison ragout and swished away.  “It’s like this.  If you told an elfen that they couldn’t sell an elephant then the elfen couldn’t ignore it.  They couldn’t just flout a rule.  So Kadogan would literally not be able to sell an elephant.  However, even if Kadogan hadn’t wanted to sell an elephant before, if you told him he couldn’t then he would immediately become obsessed with selling elephants.  He’d look for loopholes and bye laws and ways around the rule.  You would be wrapping things in elephant gift wrap or selling books about elephants – it would all get very silly.  Kadogan knows this, so he hands it over to you.  So you can worry about the rules and he can carry on with whatever obsession he’s picked.”
“Candles.  He’s obsessed with candles.” Fiona said.  “It’s ridiculous.  He loves counting candles.  It’s how he found out about the ghost in the stock room.  It was moving a candle.”
“That’s what makes Kadogan perhaps one of the trickiest elfen.” Steve took a bite of the venison.  It melted in his mouth.  “He knows he was going to get obsessed, so I suspect that he actively looked for something safe to focus on.  You will never have a problem with candles.”
“And you think he’s obsessing about us getting together?” Fiona asked.  “This food is amazing.”
“It’s worse than that.” Steve said.  “It’s both him and Lord Marius.  They’re both centuries old, both comparatively sensible and both extremely well respected.  They’re likely to reinforce each other.  It could be complicated.”
Fiona took another sip of wine.  She couldn’t remember when she had last felt so relaxed.  “Perhaps they’ll get distracted.”
“Are you sure you’re not having sex with my husband?”
Fiona looked up in horror as Freydis strolled up to them, pulled a chair from another table over to them and sat down with inhuman grace.  “I am not having sex with your husband.  I hardly know your husband.  I hadn’t thought about your husband after the reception until you talked to me this morning.  Seriously, there is nothing between me and your husband at all!
“It is good to see you again, Lady Freydis.” Steve said as he stood politely.
“It is just Freydis as my husband is divorcing me.” Freydis leant forward suddenly.  With dramatic emphasis she clutched his arm.  “You are an amazing sorcerer, I know it.  Surely you can find out the reason for my dreadful situation.”
Steve pulled his arm away.  “I can say with complete certainty that the reason that your husband is divorcing you now is because of your affair with Mr Baxter.  That information is freely given because you are about to leave.”  There was a tone in his voice that brooked no argument.  Freydis pouted. 
Fiona’s phone started ringing.  “Excuse me,” she said.  “It’s Kadogan and he would only call if it was urgent.”
“You could make my husband love me.” Freydis stroked a hand over Steve’s cheek.  “I could make it worth your while.”
“I could make you love your husband.” Steve said blandly.  “I think that would be a lot more entertaining.”
“Steve, we have to go.  I’m sorry, Freydis,” Fiona picked up her bag and smiled apologetically at the waiter.  “I’m so sorry.  Could we take dessert to go?”  She brushed past the surprised Freydis and grabbed her coat.  “Steve, someone’s trying to shut down the White Hart.”

Fiona paused as she and Steve reached the front door.  “Why are we closed?”
“Best leave it like this until we sort it out.” Steve said with a quick glimpse around the car park.  “Lord Marius is on his way.”
Fiona pushed the door open and started taking off her coat.  She recognised Sir Ewan, standing uncomfortably in the corner near the meditation books.  Ian and Louise were staying quiet in the café and Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday were looking daggers at a tall man with a military haircut and a battered leather jacket over worn jeans.  He turned around to study the newcomers.
“Are you Fiona Greene?” he asked.
Fiona nodded.  “What’s going on?”
“I’m Sir Craig Mason from the Knight’s Templar.  This shop is not safe.  It cannot stay open.”
“What do you mean the shop isn’t safe?” Fiona felt bewildered.  “We had surveyors and builders out and we passed all the regulations.”
“He is concerned because, without a paladin, we could be doing all sorts of damage.” Kadogan curled his lip.
“I see you’re here as well.” Sir Craig snapped at Steve.  “I might have known you’d be mixed up in this.”
“It’s good to see you too.” Steve said smoothly.  “How’s the leg?  By the way, Lord Marius will be here at any moment.”
“It won’t make a difference.” Sir Craig said.  “This shop has to shut.”  He pointed an aggressive finger at Fiona.  “I’m dealing with you.  I’m not dealing with an elfen.  I want this shop shut and all orders cancelled as soon as.  It isn’t safe.”
“What do you mean that it isn’t safe?” Fiona wondered what she had missed.  “We’ve passed every council check with flying colours.”
Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “What he means is that people like me might find things too easy if we can get hold of so properly grown yarrow, for example, and we can’t have that!”  There was an edge to her voice.
“All I know is that non normals from all over the UK are suddenly able to lay their hands on all sorts of stuff like, like…” He waved his hand around.  “I mean, look at it all.”
“What you’re upset about is that you can’t see where we’re sending stuff.” Kadogan said.  “And suddenly people may be able to light as many candles as they like.  Besides, it’s not just the UK.  I’ve had some enquiries from some Dutch kabouter who seem very pleasant.”
“You’re not helping,” said Mrs Tuesday.
“What about Dragon’s Blood.” Sir Craig demanded.
“What about it?” Fiona took her coat off and walked slowly to the café area.  “We don’t stock it.”
“Well, what about mullein?  You know what it does to boggarts?”
“I know what it does to boggarts,” Mrs Tuesday gave Sir Craig a knowing look.  “A nice cup of mullein tea and most of us want to make love not war, right?” She watched with satisfaction as Sir Craig went scarlet.  “Of course, it can disturb the neighbours.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”  Sir Craig looked wildly around him.  “Look at the Tarot cards.  What if they fall into the wrong hands?”
“Tarot cards?”  Fiona slowly placed her coat over the back of a café chair and handed Louise her bag.  She deliberately walked across the room and stood right in front of Sir Craig.  “That’s a bad example.  There is a WH Smith on every major high street and at all the big railway stations.  They sell dozens of tarot cards on their website.  They sell dozens of dozens.  I checked.  You can get them practically anywhere.  You can even get Disney Tarot cards.  They are not a problem.”
“You have a Tarot reader.” Sir Craig waved at the sign advertising Dave.
“It’s okay, he doesn’t believe in the Tarot.” Fiona said.  “Besides, we always mention the small print.” She pointed to the slightly smaller printing on the sign.  “For entertainment purposes only.  And it’s legal.  Come here.”  Fiona stalked away from Sir Craig who followed, shooting angry glances at Kadogan and Ian.  “See this rack of herbs here?  And these shelves of bulk buy herbs here?  All of them legal.  I checked.” 
“You don’t understand…”
“Come here.” Fiona grabbed Sir Craig’s arm and pulled him over to a display case of athames.  “Look at these ceremonial knives.  Every single one is sold according to the legal requirements in England.  Not one is enchanted, you can check.  And how about these?” Fiona dragged Sir Craig over to the display of plastic fairies.  “I can make an argument against them but they are all perfectly legal.”
“Where is your representative from the Templars?” Sir Craig looked around.  “Where is your voice of reason?  I mean, you have a werewolf without a pack here.  You know how that could go.  No offense.  But I heard about what the coach party saw.”
“They saw some dog training that had got out of hand.” Fiona walked back to the door and flipped the sign to ‘Open’.  “This shop stays open until you give me some legal documents that say otherwise.  And we are not giving a cut of profits to the Templars.”
“I never asked for money.” Sir Craig took a deep breath.  “You have only known about elfen and werewolves and boggarts for a few months.  Now I am not saying all are bad…”
“I should hope not.” Mrs Tuesday snapped.  Ian glared from the corner as he took a phone call.
“… but you don’t have any idea of how bad things can get.  I think you should shut down until we work out what could go wrong.” Sir Craig looked straight at Fiona.  “I may not have the legal right to shut this shop, but I have the moral right to make sure that the normal population is protected.  If you won’t listen to me…”
“We have to go.” Ian barked.  “Dave just called.  He thinks there’s some rogue werewolves down by the side of the allotments.”
Fiona watched Kadogan, Ian, Sir Craig and Sir Ewan race out of the door.  She shared a worried look with Mrs Tuesday and Louise.  “Is that as bad as it sounds?”
Mrs Tuesday’s face was set.  “It could be very bad.”

Dave was trying not to panic.  There was at least eight of them, and they were not nice people.  At the moment five were in human shape wearing dirty tracksuit bottoms and stained hoodies.  At least three looked like stray dogs with thinning fur and scabs along their backs.  He was trapped against the car park wall, the allotments and all they could hide behind him and the girl that Dave had stepped in to protect was crying quietly next to him.  She looked about eighteen and a bruise was starting to show on her face.  “Keep calm.” Dave said quietly.  “And when I say ‘run’ then you run like hell.  But I’ve got some friends coming.”
The one who looked like the leader snarled.  “You think your friends can help you?  I don’t think so.  You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
“I might have an idea.” Dave looked back at the girl.  “Is that necklace silver?”
“I don’t think you really know, meat.” The werewolves were pacing up and down. “We’re from your nightmares.”
Dave could feel his mind racing.  He had to stall until Ian got here.  Ian would at least have a clue what to do.  “What do you mean, nightmares?” He glanced behind him.  The girl looked pale. 
“We’re the monsters that you don’t even talk about.” The pack were pacing faster.  Some unknown instinct was telling Dave that they were about to pounce unless he stalled.  “We’re scarier than the movies.”
“Which movies?” Dave tried to inch himself back a little. 
The leader started to growl.  One of the men behind him flowed out of his clothes and there was another scarred stray pacing up and down in front of them.  The girl sobbed in fear.  Dave wondered how he was going to manage against at least eight werewolves and what would happen if they bit him.  He breathed a little easier as he heard running behind him.  He glanced very briefly around and saw Ian with help.  He had only risked taking his eyes of the lead werewolf for a heartbeat but it looked like Ian had help.  Kadogan didn’t look like he’d be much help and he hadn’t had a chance to weigh up the others, but it was all numbers.
“Back off.  Walk away.  Don’t pick this fight or you will lose.” Dave put all his conviction into his voice, keeping it low pitched and even.  Two more flowed into wolf shape. 
“There’s no paladin here.” The leader said.  “And Ragnar’s weak.  I say it’s time to send a message that we’re not walking to heel like pretty puppies.”
“Latimer will kill you.” Dave risked a glance to his right.  Ian was standing there, white faced and tense. 
“Latimer will be too busy fighting Ragnar’s battles.  Besides, you’re a stray.  You should be running with us.”
“I’m not like you.” There was a shake in Ian’s voice and Dave felt a cold wave go through him.  Something was going on with the werewolves and he didn’t have a clue.  Ian looked like he was going to go crazy and that isn’t helpful when you’re outnumbered in a fight.
“There may not be a paladin but there are Templars.” Dave didn’t recognise Sir Craig but he recognised the authority.
“Templars aren’t the same.” The leader snarled.  “Besides, I’ve got a prophecy.  I can only be killed by a Paladin.”
“You can buy those prophecies on the internet.” Sir Craig said.  “The Holy Water on the same sites is fake as well.”  The leader flowed into a wolf shape and leapt.

Dave stepped forward and kicked hard at the leader.  His blow landed right behind his right ear and the werewolf yelped as the momentum of the kick spun him round.
“Catch!” Sir Ewan yelled to Dave.
Dave’s reflexes caught the silver knuckle dusters.  Kadogan wasn’t bothering with them, instead he had leapt forward and was wrestling with a werewolf that looked twice his size.  The slim man in the business suit had just punched one of the werewolves.  Dave noticed the glint of light on the silver knuckleduster and the hiss of burning and slipped the silver over his hand.  It felt remarkably comforting. 
‘I shouldn’t be able to do this,’ Dave thought.  He was too aware of what was going on.  Kadogan had just physically ripped the head off one of the werewolves.  Somewhere in the back of his mind he could feel the shock at the blood spurting.  Kadogan threw the head to the other side of the car park and grabbed the tail of one that was snapping at Sir Ewan’s face.  Sir Craig was fending off two and as Dave kicked one hard in the ribs he was aware of Steve holding his hand up and chanting.  There was a snarling, writhing heap in the corner.  If Ian was fighting as a human it was the sort of fight that would either have to be stopped or someone’s brains would be scraped up from the pavement.  The snarling and growling sounded as if it was from hell.  The leader sprang suddenly at Dave’s face.  He instinctively punched it hard between the eyes.  The silver on his hand branded deep into the thin fur and Dave heard a snap that made his stomach heave. 
“Ian, break now!” Steve said with immense and immediate authority.  A sleek werewolf bounded out of the way and an arc of blue light ran from Steve’s upraised hand to the nearest werewolf and then on to the next and the next in an awful circuit as the light jumped back to Steve and there was a vicious crack followed by a moment of complete silence. 

Dave staggered back.  He wanted to be sick.  He really wanted to be sick but he felt that if he let himself then he would never stop.  In front of him were the naked bodies of eight men.  They were pitiful.  All of them were thin and battered looking with old bruises and scars.  Many of them had the tell-tale track marks of drugs.  Most of them had burns from being hit by silver.  Dave tried not to look at the leader.  There was a dark, burned pit on his forehead and blood was seeping out of his unseeing eyes. 

Sir Craig took charge.  “Thank you, Mr Adderson, nicely done.  However we can’t stand around admiring the work.  Someone will have already called the police.  Sir Ewan, you call your contact and deal with that side of things.  The burn marks are pretty obvious and it will be clear what’s happened.  I’ll take this young lady home and make sure she’s safe.  Then we will all meet to debrief at the White Hart.”

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Awkward Conversations

“Are you sleeping with my husband?”
Fiona dropped the letter she was reading.  “What?!?  I mean, what do you mean Lady Freydis?”
“I am not Lady Freydis.” Freydis inspected her immaculate nails.  “I am Freydis.  Lord Ragnar is divorcing me and I am looking for the reason.  I suspect he is in love with you.”
Fiona wondered if she would ever get used to elfen.  “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. 
“I don’t know why he has been foolish with divorce papers.” Freydis inspected the nails on her other hand.  “I am an ornament to the court.  The only explanation is magic or he is obsessed with a mortal.”
“I haven’t really spoken to him, not since the opening here last week.” Fiona had a cold sinking feeling.  “I don’t really know anything about your husband.”
“He’s my ex-husband.  And are you sure you’re not sleeping with him?  How are your dreams?  Are they hectic?”
Fiona carefully folded the letter from her mother and slotted the pages back in the envelope.  “Freydis, if I tell you the absolute truth as I see it, to the best of my ability, you may want to kill me.”  She took a deep breath.  “But as an absolute and utter truth, I am not sleeping with your husband.”
“Does Kadogan want you to sleep with my husband?” Freydis was still inspecting her nails.  Fiona got a sense that despite everything, there was a very hurt woman, or at least female, standing there. 
“No, Kadogan doesn’t want me to sleep with Lord Ragnar,” Fiona said.  “Kadogan would like me to date Steve Adderson.  Have you slept with Rey Baxter?”
“Of course.  He’s absolutely amazing and…” Freydis looked at Fiona with suspicion.  “Are you planning to sleep with Rey?”
“No.  I am not planning on sleeping with anyone.” Fiona said, a little louder than she meant to.  Over at the café Louise shot her a startled glance and an elderly lady with a shopping trolley gave Fiona a very knowing look before going back to the herbs.  “If I tell you my opinion will you promise not to hurt me?”
“Define hurt?” Freydis said.
Fiona put down her letter with a snap and stood back.  “I know the subtlety of elfen,” she said.  “I don’t want to put in conditions.  I am trying to be fair and honest and I don’t want to be worse off because I helped you.  If I say what I think, will I be worse off.”
“Of course not.” Freydis visibly braced herself.
“I think Lord Ragnar is upset because you are having sex with Rey and that’s why he’s divorcing you.”
“But he’s never bothered before.” Freydis frowned.  “And he’s not innocent either.  I mean, that one over in the café, I’m sure she’s descended from him.  There was a lot of whispers at the time.” Freydis’ smile had a feline edge.  “I was sleeping with this gorgeous young werewolf.  You should have seen him.  He was so muscled and handsome with the most beautiful brown eyes.”
Fiona looked over to where Louise had gone white.  “It was very cruel to suggest that Louise is descended from Lord Ragnar.”
“I thought she knew.” Freydis shrugged.  “After all, Kadogan has always run around after Lord Ragnar and it’s Kadogan that has helped that…” Freydis caught the glint in Fiona’s eye.  “So it can’t be the sleeping-with-Rey thing.”
“What if your connection with Rey is an excuse?” Fiona felt like she was reasoning with a child.  “After all, your father is dead and I believe that your father was important to Lord Ragnar.”
Freydis looked thoughtful.  “I know father always preferred Lord Ragnar to me, but I find it hard to believe that he has taken this drastic step without finding another lover.  Are you absolutely sure that you aren’t sleeping with my husband?” She smiled triumphantly.  “It’s a trick.  Are you having sex with my husband?  Copulating?  Are you emotionally close?”
Fiona had never been more relieved to see Kadogan in her life.  He strode up to Freydis and stood between her and Fiona.  “Freydis, what are you doing?”
“Is Lord Ragnar having an emotional or physical affair with that mortal?” Freydis said, waving a dismissive hand at Fiona.
“Not at all.” Kadogan said calmly.  “Are you here for any other purpose?”
Louise came rushing up.  “Kadogan, am I…” Her face crumpled and Freydis looked uncomfortable. 
“I thought she knew.”  She picked up her bag.  “I’ll leave now.”
Kadogan looked helplessly at Louise who was holding onto the display case to keep herself upright.  “Louise, I’ll explain.  I’ll just take Mrs Tuesday upstairs and we can have a talk.”

Dave padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on.  Last night had been amazing but he was paying for it now with a foggy hangover and a few bruises.  He had gone out drinking with Ian and a few of what Dave had guessed were distant relations.  They had done a few bars then a club and then there had been the awkward moment at the taxi rank that had turned into a really good fight.  It reminded Dave of when he was hanging out with the squaddies from Catterick in the days before he realised that he wasn’t really cut out to be a soldier. 
While he was waiting for the kettle to boil he wandered into the Tarot room to light a small incense cone.  He wanted to get the right impression.  There had to be a hint of exotic incense but not so much smoke to trigger coughing. 
Dave lit the cone and looked around.  He needed to get some art work up.  The Seal of Solomon looked okay and was positioned nicely behind his head when he was doing a reading, but he could do with some extra pictures.  He looked around at the frame on the wall and nodded.  That looked about right.  He frowned and leaned closer.  Then he leaned back.  He tried closing the thin blinds and then squinting at the Seal of Solomon.  He still couldn’t be sure.  He ran down the back stairs to the storeroom and picked up a large, flattened cardboard box.  It was tricky to get it up the stairs and even harder to balance against the window to block out the light, but Dave had to try.
“Dave Kinson, you are standing on a chair holding a piece of cardboard box against the window.  Is everything alright?” Kadogan asked as he came past. 
Dave jumped down from the chair, dropping the cardboard.  Behind him stood an elderly lady with a shopping trolley.  Dave was in the t-shirt and shorts he had slept in and the old lady was giving him the most knowing look he had ever seen.  He felt exposed.
“Don’t mind an old boggart like me,” she said.  “I’m harmless.”
“This is Mrs Tuesday who will be staying here for a short time.  We are old friends.” Kadogan said.  “Why were you standing on a chair with cardboard?”
“I know it sounds crazy,” Dave propped the cardboard against the desk away from the incense cone.  “But I think the Seal of Solomon is glowing, and I don’t know why.”
“Yes, I enchanted it for you as your enchantment didn’t seem to take.” Kadogan nodded.  “Though I am impressed that you noticed.”
Dave’s mind caught up with his ears.  “Boggart?” he said.
Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday exchanged glances.  “I never know what to say.” Kadogan looked helpless.
Mrs Tuesday took charge.  “Tell me what room I’m in and then go down and comfort that poor girl.  I’ll put my bags away while this nice young man puts some clothes on and I’ll give him The Talk.”
“I know about the birds and bees.” Dave heard himself say that and wanted to curl up under a bed somewhere and only come out when Mrs Tuesday had left.
“I bet you do.” Mrs Tuesday said, looking him over with approving interest.  “But why don’t you get some clothes on anyway and then we can have a little talk.”

Fiona winced as she heard a crash from the back room.  Louise had not taken the news that she was about one sixteenth elfen well and had decided to be doing.  However as the shop had only just opened and the brownie cleaners did an excellent job, there weren’t many fiddly jobs to do.  Kadogan had suggested she went into the back room and put together some gift packs.  There had been a lot of banging. 
“I am confident she will be fine.” Kadogan lied.  “I will call Lord Ragnar and inform him of this latest development.”
“I hope she’s okay.” Ian peered through the doorway.  “Perhaps I should make her a coffee.”
“Make it decaf.” Fiona said.  She winced again but this time the crashes were from Dave belting down the stairs followed by an unusually agile elderly lady.
Kadogan brightened a little.  “Fiona, this is Mrs Tuesday who is staying with us for a while.  She is an old friend.”
Dave pushed between Mrs Tuesday and Fiona and poked Kadogan in the chest.  “You are a fairy.”
“We prefer the term ‘elfen’, but yes, in the past I have been described as a fairy.”
Fiona had a mental image of Kadogan with his short hair, masculine frame and no nonsense attitude wearing a pink tutu and holding a silver paper wand.  “I think elfen suits you better.” She said.
Dave turned to Fiona.  “Are you a fairy?”
Fiona shook her head and tried to fight the giggles.  “I’m a normal, like you.”
Dave’s wild eyes turned on Ian.  “Are you a fairy?”
Mrs Tuesday tried to interrupt.  “I didn’t say that exactly.”
Dave ignored her and stepped forward to poke Ian in the chest.  “Are you a fairy?”
Ian showed off his reflexes as he grabbed Dave’s hand before it could make contact.  “I’m a werewolf.  Grr.”  Dave punched him.

Louise came running out as it all got heated.  Ian rode the punch, ducked the second punch and then flowed.  Suddenly Dave was wrestling on the floor with a large wolf surrounded by a heap of clothes.  They bounced off the main counter and rolled towards the gift cards.  Fiona dragged the wrapping paper stand out of the way just in time as the growling, swearing heap rolled back towards the café. 
“Don’t worry about it too much.” Mrs Tuesday said calmly.  “It’s been a bit of a shock for young Dave, but look at it properly.”
Fiona felt her grip on the wrapping paper stand tighten until she thought she would snap the metal.  Ian had Dave’s shoulder in his jaws, drool sliding over and smearing the floor.  Dave was landing solid kicks and slamming his knees into Ian’s side.  “They’re going to kill each other.”
Mrs Tuesday gave her an impatient look.  “Look again.  Ian could rip Dave’s throat out in an second, and young Dave is strong enough to break Ian’s neck.  They’re just letting off steam.”

The door jangled open and suddenly there were sixty shocked faces coming through the door.  Dave and Ian instantly rolled apart, Ian having enough sense to stay in wolf form.  
“How wonderful, a coach party!” Kadogan said, stepping forward with a beaming smile.  “Don’t mind my associate here, he’s having a few dog training issues.”
Ian immediately sat up in an obedient dog position.  Dave scrambled to his feet, uncomfortably aware of the damp patch on his left shoulder.  “He’s a big softie, really.” Dave said.  “Come on,” and he jogged into the back room where Louise had already discreetly dumped Ian’s clothes. 
“I saw the advert online.” The driver said as he watched Dave and Ian disappear through the darkened doorway.  “I thought I’d risk calling in as it’s quite early.  It’s a mystery tour and York’s our first stop.”
“Are you sure that dog’s safe?” One of the older ladies said from behind him.  “He looked very big.  And the owner didn’t have him under control at all.”
“We do an offer of a free tea or coffee with a snack for all coach parties.” Fiona said brightly.  “And do have a look around.  We have some unusual stock, you won’t find half of it anywhere else.  Please ask if you have any questions.”  There was a stampede towards the café area. 

When the rush died down, Fiona looked around and wondered what had just hit them.  Ian was ringing in a tall stack of books, Louise was wrapping some muffins to go, Mrs Tuesday had found an apron from somewhere and was clearing tables, Dave had reduced three older women to helpless giggles next to the case of wands and Kadogan was explaining the full stock of candles to an interested gentleman with an overflowing shopping basket.  The coach driver put his fingers to his ears and whistled shrilly. 
“Okay, everyone back to the coach and we can be off to York Minster, one of England’s medieval gems.”  There was a tumble of last minute orders at the till and then the shop was open. 
“We’re going to need another till if we’re going to get coach parties.” Fiona said. 
“An excellent idea.” Kadogan drifted over to the café with the others.  He watched Mrs Tuesday fill a large teapot.
“Thanks for helping out.” Fiona said to Mrs Tuesday.  “I think we would have been lost without you.”
“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday started filling everyone’s mugs.  “I may be an old girl, but I can still keep up.”
“I’m sure you can do more than that.” Ian said with absolute sincerity and a wary politeness.
Mrs Tuesday chuckled.  “I’m not that bad, young cub.  Louise, sit down before you fall down.” 
Dave looked a question at Ian who sat respectfully opposite Mrs Tuesday.  “I’ve heard all sorts of stories about you.  You were at Stalingrad, weren’t you?”
Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “It seems a long time ago now.  A lot of us boggarts were recruited for the unofficial stuff.  I was wearing the glamour of a young Soviet soldier.  My Russian was rubbish but it was good enough for the Germans I crept up on.” 
Dave frowned.  “You looked like a soldier?”
Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “It’s hard for boggarts to wear a shape that isn’t part of their personality, but we all had training.  I never liked wearing a male glamour, but it was useful.  Kadogan had it easier.  He was mainly doing sabotage as a nice, blond German corporal.  It’s where we met.”
“I couldn’t stay long.” Kadogan said.  “The elfen change when they are away from their own soil.  Some of the efrits out near Tel Aviv started out as elfen on the crusades, and if I had stayed too long in that place I would have become a leshy.” He shrugged.  “It works the other way round as well.  I know some very well respected elfen that were born far away.”
“I feel like I ought to make notes.” Dave said.  He looked at Fiona.  “Do you ever get used to it?”
Fiona shook her head.  I’ve only really known for three months and I’m still working it out.  How about you, Louise?”
Louise was still pale.  “I’ve known about the elfen for a long time,” she said.  “I’m still taken by surprise sometimes.”

The bell jangled as the door opened.  Fiona looked up and smiled.  “Hello Steve.”
“Steve Adderson, this is Mrs Tuesday.  Mrs Tuesday, this is Steve Adderson.” Kadogan looked smug.  “Steve Adderson was cruelly rejected by his girlfriend and Fiona Greene was also cruelly rejected by a man that took advantage of her good nature.  I think they would make a perfect couple.”
Louise stood up quickly and ran behind the counter, clattering the cups to try and hide a snort of laughter.  Fiona felt her face set like a mask.  “Steve and I are going to discuss some business over lunch,” she said with what shreds of dignity she could hold together.
“I have spoken to a friend of mine.” Kadogan said.  “He has kindly reserved a table for you in his restaurant.”  He pushed a card into Steve’s unresisting hand.  “Just hand this to the waiter and they will take great care of you.  I selected the wine myself.”
“I’ve seen a picture of Elaine.” Mrs Tuesday said unexpectedly.  “She was absolutely stunning.  Of course, she’ll be regretting splitting now.”
“What?” Steve said.
“Well, you’re making the money now.  Same as Fiona.  I wouldn’t be surprised if her young man doesn’t come sniffing back when he hears about her successful business.”
“It’s only been open a week.” Fiona stared at Mrs Tuesday.
“He won’t want to miss out on a chance to get his feet under the table, you listen to an old woman.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And I’m sure a strong lad like him will be able to help out.” Her hand shot out with snake like speed and grabbed Kadogan’s arm before he could say anything.
“I don’t think this is his sort of thing.” Fiona looked around blankly.  “I’d better get my coat.”
“I have even arranged for a place for Armani to stay, so you can be private.” Kadogan said, giving Mrs Tuesday a hard look.
“Are you sure?” Steve said.  “He’s not really housetrained.”
Armani crawled out of Steve’s jacket pocket and looked at Kadogan.  Kadogan glared at the imp.  “I’ll be no trouble at all,” the imp said, wiping it’s bat-like nose on the sleeve of the tiny sweatshirt.  “I’m on my best behaviour.”  He stretched his leathery wings and flapped over to sit on Kadogan’s shoulder.  “I’ll be a credit to you.”
Steve looked sceptical but nodded.  He checked the address on the card.  “We won’t be long.”
“Take as long as you like.” Kadogan said smugly.

After the door had jangled closed behind them Kadogan turned to Mrs Tuesday.  “You’re supposed to be helping me get them together,” he snapped.
Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “You’re going about it all wrong.  You need to trust an old woman here.  You and Lord Marius have told them both it’s a great idea and they’ve backed right off.  You can’t push them.  It’s human nature.”
Kadogan frowned.  “How else are they supposed to end up married?”
“You can’t rush it.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She took Kadogan’s arm and steered him out of earshot of the others.  “They need to think it’s their own idea or it won’t last.  Any hint that it isn’t real and they’ll fall apart at the first problem.  If they think it’s them against the world then they can go through fire.”
“Are you sure about this?” Kadogan glared at Armani who was trying to steal the till roll.  Armani ostentatiously backed away.
“There’s an old rhyme.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It goes, ‘He was warned against the woman, she was warned against the man and if that can’t make a marriage then there’s nothing else that can.  I’ve seen it again and again.  But you’ll have to be clever about it.  We can talk about it properly after we get the imp out of the way.” 

Armani furled his wings around himself and looked worried.  

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Someone New

“Fiona, this is Ian Tait, our new companion in this venture.” Kadogan said with an edge of artificial chirpiness.
Fiona glanced briefly over at the hard muscled man standing next to Kadogan.  “Hi, Ian, great to meet you.  I’m Fiona and I’m a bit rushed.” She finished scanning the pile of books and smiled at the customer.  “That’s £73.47, do you want to try out our loyalty card?”  She looked back.  “I’ll say ‘Hello’ properly later, but Kadogan will show you where you’re staying.” She looked back to the customer.  “Sorry about that.” She handed him his receipt and smiled at the next customer in the long queue. 

“I think you had better follow me.” Kadogan said.  He glanced around the full shop and then froze.  “Actually, we have shoplifters.  If you go through that door, up the stairs, fourth door on the left, that’s your studio apartment.  Excuse me.”
Ian didn’t bother to offer his help.  A few years ago he had seen Kadogan deal with a gang of rogue boggarts and the elfen had been viciously lethal.  Instead he hefted his two sports bags, went through the door, up the stairs, past the office with a large stack of papers, a firmly closed door with murmuring voices behind it, another closed door, a kitchen and then stopped outside the fourth door on the right, the last in the passage before it bent sharply to the left.  Somehow this door seemed to be a much bigger step than anything else so far. 

Ian slowly lowered both of his bags to the floor.  He didn’t want to do this.  He wanted to go back to Ann and be happy again.  He wanted time to rewind so he didn’t make those mistakes.  He wanted it all to be different.  Ian squared his shoulders and opened the door. 
Kadogan might have called it a studio apartment, but it wasn’t so glamorous.  He shared a kitchen and he had this room as his own.  It could be worse.  He set his bags down on the bed and looked around.  It was clean.  The paint on the plain magnolia walls were new and so was the plain beige carpet.  The cream coloured curtains were also new and still stiff as he pushed them back a little.  He had a view of a carpark where Kadogan was dealing summary justice to a couple of goblins.  Past that he could see York’s medieval walls with the distinctive tower of the Minster in the distance.  He checked his watch.  He could take ten minutes.  He needed this job and this place so much.  He had to make a good impression.
He ran a quick eye over the room as he opened his bags.  The bed looked comfortable and the new bedlinen looked freshly washed, clean and inviting.  The sturdy wardrobe came with a good supply of hangers and the tv was set on a matching set of drawers in what was no doubt mean to be the ‘living’ part.  Ian tried the chair in front of the tv.  It felt good.  The small table next to the chair was second hand like the wardrobe and chest of drawers but was equally as sturdy.  He found a lump in his throat.  Someone had tried to make him welcome.  A vase of daffodils sat next to the tv and a box of tissues was on the small bedside table next to the lamp.  On the small computer desk there was an envelope with ‘Ian’ written in a formal script next to a small bunch of keys.  Ian hesitated before opening it.
Dear Ian, I hope that you will be comfortable.  Please let me know if you need anything.  You are very welcome here.  Fiona.

Ian felt a lump in his throat.  This was a chance to begin again.  The odds were not in his favour, but that was no reason to give in.  He pulled his laptop out of one of the sportsbags and plugged it in to charge.  He hung his jacket behind the door, got a quick wash in the tiny en-suite and pulled on a clean shirt.  The rest of his unpacking could wait, apart from one thing. 
Ian dug into the bottom of the second bag, tipping his clothes carelessly on the bed.  Right at the bottom, carefully wrapped, was the most precious thing he now had.  Ann, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, had given it to him just before he left.  He unwrapped it reverently.  It was undamaged.  Ian had been worrying about it all the way here.  He took down the insipid print of York Minster and hung up the most important thing he had left, the only real thing he had left, the thing he needed most.  He stepped back and memorised the way it looked with the morning sunlight glancing across the newly painted wall and over the pink and white, shabby chic, feminine plaque.  It was shaped and sanded to look like driftwood or reclaimed fencing and there were tiny sequins framing the folksy lettering.  Ian didn’t care.  Ann had given him this last thing.  A piece of wall art that said HOPE in fake-faded glory. 

Fiona didn’t jump when Ian suddenly appeared next to her at the till.  She was too busy to be startled.  At the back of her mind she could hear the warnings but all she saw was another pair of hands.  “Ian, are you okay helping out straight away?”
“Not a problem.” Ian glanced quickly over the till.  “I know how to use this.  I can take over here.”
“And I can get the café tables cleared and get some stock up.” Fiona said.  “When the next tarot reading appointment comes, just send them up the stairs, second door on the right.”
Tarot reading?” Ian boggled but Fiona just shrugged and dashed off.
Ian smiled professionally at the old lady at the till and looked again.  He guessed she was a boggart under there, but now was not a time to discuss things.  Instead he started scanning in her basket.  What had he got himself into?  He rang up the joke cook book, the humorous mug, the plastic fairy with a wobbly wand but hesitated at the four bags of mullein and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow.  Mullein could act like catnip on boggarts and they were bad enough as it was.
“It’s for personal use, love.” The old lady said as she rummaged for her money in her cavernous bag.  “You don’t really get it near us, and it’s the real deal.”
“Of course.” Ian nodded and scanned them through.  “Would you like a bag?”

The queue seemed never ending.  He could see Fiona frantically dashing round the tables in the café area between bringing out boxes of herbs while Kadogan stalked the floor and a pretty brunette rushing between cake stands and coffee machines to keep the refreshments coming.  He couldn’t pay attention to them, though, as he had enough on his hands with all the sales.  And while he kept a professional smile on, inside he was getting more and more bewildered by what was going through.  There was such a mix.  Some of it was definitely hardcore, non normal, magical stuff and the people buying it seemed to know their way around a pentagram.  On the other hand there was the most awful gimcrack stuff that belonged on the end of a pier and that was also flying out.  He kept smiling, scanning and offering the loyalty card while his head was spinning.  Finally it died down and Ian was able to catch his breath.  He picked up some of the spilled receipts and stuffed them into the overflowing bin.  Fiona beckoned him to the café area.
“Sorry about such a bad start.” She said as she wiped the counter.  “Would you like a drink?”
“Tea is fine.” Ian looked round.  There were one or two stragglers around still browsing.  “Is it always like that?”
“I trust not!” Kadogan stalked over.  “I explained carefully to the coach driver that coach parties who arrive without giving notice beforehand will be charged for parking at a suitably high rate.  The coach trip from Lord Carmichael’s domain in Birmingham had apparently been booked to come to York for several months and they thought they would come in and see what we are like while they were here.”
“We’ve sold a lot.” Fiona brought over a tray of mugs.  “Ian, this is Louise who does wonders in the café.  Louise, this is Ian Tait who has joined us and made an amazing first impression.” Fiona smiled at Ian.  “I have never been so glad to see anyone as when you turned up at the till.”
“It’s good to be useful.” Ian said quietly. 
“You were more than useful.” Fiona said.  She took a mouthful of tea.  “What happened to the shoplifters?”
“I dealt with them firmly.” Kadogan said.  “They should know better than to steal from elfen.  Ian Tait, I also commend you on your efforts.  It is good to have you here.”
Ian relaxed a little.  “Thank you for having me.  So it won’t get like that all the time?”
“You won’t have time to get bored.” Fiona laughed.  “The shop may be quiet but we are getting a lot of online and mail orders.  I thought you could make that your own patch.  I mean, we all help each other out but you could be the lead in that.  I’ll show you where to set up later.”
“Our Tarot reader is coming downstairs.” Kadogan said.  “Ian, he is not aware of what we are.  Louise and Fiona are normals.  He does not know anything about us.”
“But he’s a Tarot reader.” Ian was confused.
“It’s okay because he doesn’t believe in it.” Fiona said.  “He’s also got a room upstairs.”
Ian saw a physically fit, youngish man come out to the counter where he had a quick check of the appointment book.  He didn’t look like a Tarot Reader, more like a gym instructor or a health food rep. 
Fiona stood up.  “Dave, this is our newest employee, Ian Tait.  Ian, this is Dave Kinson, the resident Tarot reader.  He’s got the room next to you upstairs.”

The two men exchanged a polite handshake and Dave threw some money in the till and picked up a bottle of water from the cooler.  “I’ll just catch up then I’m off for a run.  I need to clear my head between readings.” He sat down next to Louise.  “It’s been full on.”  Dave took a quick glance at Ian as he took a mouthful of water.  Ian looked in his early thirties, used to working out from the look of things.  His hands as he held the mug of tea were strong and calloused.  He looked like he was a skilled worker, like a plumber or electrician.  The dent on his left hand’s ring finger said either very newly divorced or divorcing.  For someone who had a trade to have to take a job here and a small bedsit it looked like a bad divorce.  Dave carefully screwed the lid back on the bottle.  His instinct told him that Louise and Fiona weren’t entirely comfortable with Ian and Fiona was asking Ian whether he liked his tea strong.  So Ian was unknown to them. 
“You look like you work out.” Dave said casually to Ian.  “I can show you the nearest gym.  It’s not too bad.”
“Thanks.  It would be great.” Ian said.
“We can go tonight after the store closes.” Dave said.  I think I’ll need the exercise.”
“Do you go to the gym a lot?” Ian asked.
Dave nodded.  “I go to the kickboxing classes a lot.  It’s a great way to burn off stress.”
“Do they do self defence classes?” Fiona asked.  She blinked as Kadogan, Louise and Ian all turned to stare at her.  “Sir Ewan suggested that I got some self defence training.”
Sir Ewan?” Dave asked.
“It’s a nickname.” Kadogan said shortly.  “Does he think you would be exposed to harm here?”
“He just said it might be helpful.” Fiona shrugged.
“I’ve spent some time as an instructor.” Dave said.  He had spent one glorious month and five miserable ones as an instructor before realising that it really wasn’t for him.  “I can help you out if you like.”  Yes, none of the people here were used to Ian, but the job hadn’t been advertised or even mentioned to him so it looked like a friend of someone, probably Kadogan, had got the job for Ian. 
“I enjoy sparring myself.” Ian said.  “It’s a good way to keep active.”
Dave thought he knew most of the people involved in the martial arts scene around York.  He could be wrong, but it looked like Ian wasn’t from York.  So someone with a skilled trade was recently divorced or divorcing, had taken a job in a shop when he looked like the person least suited to it, had had to get someone to take him on as a favour and had moved.  Dave wasn’t good with accents, it was one of his weaknesses, but he thought that Ian was from Yorkshire, but not York.  “Why don’t we go after the shop shuts?  I’ll show you round and we can get a few bouts in.”
“Sounds good.” Ian nodded.
“And tomorrow I’ll take Fiona for some lessons.  Do you want to have some lessons, Louise?”
Louise jumped.  “Sorry, I was miles away.  It’s okay, I had some lessons with Kadogan, but I’m not really a natural for that sort of thing.”
Dave smiled and took another mouthful of water.  Louise may not know Ian but she was fascinated by him.  Dave couldn’t tell whether Louise was scared of Ian or whether she was starting a crush.  He was staying out of it.  He took a quick glance of Kadogan.  He had long since given up trying to figure out who Kadogan was, but he found it hard to believe that he could give self defence lessons.  Dave rubbed his eyes.  “I need to get a run.  I’m exhausted after four readings back to back this morning, and I’ve another three this afternoon.  I’ll see you later.”

Kadogan found Fiona in the office, talking cheerfully to someone.  He positioned himself so he couldn’t see the computer screen and listened in. 
“That’s so kind of you.  I can’t say how grateful I am.  So, just to confirm, I can expect the delivery tomorrow… that’s right, all the colours except blue but that will follow later…” Fiona listened for a few moments.  “Yes, it is unusual stock for a gift shop, but not all our customers are normal…  That’s great, thanks again.”  Fiona put her phone down with a sigh and made a few notes on the computer.  “Hi, Kadogan.  I’ve just managed to get a bulk order of edible glitter.  Steve Adderson put me onto the supplier.” She turned away from the screen and stretched. 
“Is there likely to be a conflict of interest between us and Steve Adderson?” He asked carefully.  “Because a romantic affair could solve that problem.”
“I think there are other ways to deal with it.”  Fiona sagged a little as she looked at the stack of orders piled on the desk.  “Everyone’s putting in tester orders.  You know, just a bag of herbs or a cheap book just to see what we’re like.” She sighed.  “We’re going to have to get them out as soon as we can to make a good impression.”
“Ian can help tomorrow.” Kadogan said.  “He is not suitable for a romantic affair, but he is very capable.”
Fiona caught Kadogan’s eye .  “I am not interested in a ‘romantic liaison’.  I am happy being single.  Do not try and pair me up.”
Kadogan frowned.  “But you do not have a boyfriend…”
Fiona held up her hand.  “No.”  She could see Kadogan fighting with his better judgement.
“Fiona Ellen Greene, I provided the money to fund this shop in order to thank you for saving my life.  Since then I have been grateful for many small kindnesses and impressed by your good heart.  As someone who is older than you, and I suppose in the position of a male relative…”  His voice trailed off under the heat of Fiona’s glare.
“I don’t think we need to discuss this.” Fiona said.
“There is one romance that we do need to discuss.” Kadogan said.  “Lord Ragnar will try to divorce his wife.”
“She did seem close to the vampire.” Fiona said.  “But I suppose that’s between them.”
“Not quite.” Kadogan picked up the pencil and started spinning it around his long fingers.  “Lord Ragnar is in charge of the non normals of York.  Freydis has power and influence as his wife.  If he divorces her then she will lose that influence and may have to leave York.”
“That’s sad, but still nothing to do with us.” Fiona reached towards the papers.  Kadogan’s hand on her arm stopped her.
“There are two very real reasons why it affects us.  We pay a tax to Lord Ragnar, the same as all the businesses the non normals run in York.”
Fiona nodded.  “We pay 10% of everything we make after overheads.  That’s why we did all the calculations on the pricing, so that we would have an idea how much we owed at the end of each week.”
“The courts of the Princes don’t use a lot of money, but they do need some.  If we fail then Lord Ragnar has less than he would otherwise.  Freydis will not want Lord Ragnar getting money.  We shall have to be careful.”
“What is she going to do?” Fiona asked.
Kadogan shrugged, the pencil still spinning around his fingers.  “We shall have to be very careful.  The other reason to worry is that Lord Ragnar is a friend.” Kadogan looked uncomfortable.  “It is rare for the elfen to have friendships, but we have a long history of mutual aid and I suppose that is the same thing.  I will be deeply involved in anything that happens.”  He frowned.  “You know, you would be a great deal safer if you were romantically involved with Steve Adderson.  He is a very skilled magician and has a lot of influence.  He also has many contacts with other courts.”
“I am not getting involved with anyone!” Fiona snapped.

Kadogan went back down to the shop.  The building was getting quieter.  Louise had gone home and Ian and Dave were out so apart from Fiona’s tapping on the computer there was only the quiet murmur of the brownies.  He hesitated.  It was obvious that Fiona was destined for Steve.  Anyone could see that.  The question was, how to convince her?  He had never understood romance.  He didn’t want to, either, as it seemed to be incredibly complicated and difficult.  But he did know someone who did understand romance, as much as anyone can, someone he knew from the old days.  He would get in touch with her straight away.