Monday, 21 August 2017

Spray Cream

Fiona stopped and ran back up the stairs of the converted house.  Yes, she had remembered to lock the door.  She turned around, half smiling, and knocked straight into a man.  She looked up and took a breath.  It wasn’t every day she bumped into someone tall, dark and handsome.  The last time she did that she had ended up running a shop with Kadogan.  This man seemed far more normal.  He was tall, at least six inches taller than her, and the arms that had grabbed her to stop her falling down the stairs were wonderfully solid. 
“Sorry!” Fiona said.  “I didn’t see you.”
“I can never remember whether I’ve locked my door either.” He smiled and carefully stepped away.  “I’m Kayne Brooke, your new neighbour.”
“That’s right.  Tim left to go backpacking, didn’t he?” She smiled.  “I’m Fiona Greene.  It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too.” Kayne stepped away from the top of the stairs.  “After you.  You look in a rush.”
“I’m on my way to work.  I’ll see you later.” Fiona clattered down the stairs, still smiling.
Fiona enjoyed her walk to work.  Usually she was lost in thoughts of what she had waiting for her at the White Hart but today she was thinking about Kayne Brooke.  Something was nagging at her.  He looked familiar.  Her mind chased itself in circles as she cut along Gillygate and down towards the river.  Had she seen him before?  She didn’t remember him, and he was good looking so she would surely not have forgotten any encounter.  Perhaps she had seen him in a shop or a bar?  Inwardly she shook her head.  She had hardly been anywhere since before Christmas and the feeling she had was that they had met recently.  Perhaps she had seen him in the shop?  It clicked.  Kayne looked like Lord Ragnar.  He may even be the person Lord Ragnar stole his appearance from.  It wasn’t an exact copy.  Kayne’s hair was darker and his eyes were more grey than green, but it was quite close.  Fiona quickened her pace as she got nearer the White Hart.  Now she had got that out of the way she could concentrate on the shop.

She nodded at the brownies who were leaving and bustled into the back room.  Today was an Earl Grey sort of day, she thought, as she pulled out her teabag selection.  Kadogan was suddenly standing next to her. 
“Fiona Greene, have you considered moving into the White Hart?  There are many rooms.”
“I’m happy where I am.” Fiona flicked on the kettle.  “Besides, there’s Dave, Ian and Mrs Tuesday already there.  We’re nearly full.  And where do you live?”
Kadogan looked shifty and shrugged.  “It’s an elfen thing.” He frowned.  “You would be safer here.”
“York is not a dangerous place.” Fiona pulled her laptop out of her bag.  “And I don’t live far at all.”
“It may be appropriate for someone to walk you to and from your rooms then.” Kadogan looked uncomfortable.  “I know Ian would be happy to do so.”
Fiona pulled out another mug for Kadogan, dropped another Earl Grey teabag into it and added three sugars.  “If I am worried I can always call Dave or Ian.  Dave’s giving me some self defence lessons tonight after the shop shuts.  I don’t think I’ll need them.”
“I cannot always escort you.” Kadogan paced up and down the small kitchenette at the back. “What would happen if you were to be hurt?  It would be my fault.”
“It would be the fault of the person who hurt me.” Fiona poured the boiling water into the mugs.  “How are we for candles.”
“We are adequately served for candles.” Kadogan took the mug of tea.  “But Mrs Tuesday said that stocks of mullein were becoming deficient.  When is Steve Adderson due to arrive?”
“He’ll be here soon.” Fiona took her mug and laptop out to the main desk.  “We’re sorting out the website.  Steve was talking about moving to York and there is a flat empty underneath me.  If he takes that he could walk me to and from the White Hart.”
“I never understand the rush to live under the same roof before marriage.” Kadogan grumbled. 
“We’ll be in separate flats, just neighbours.” Fiona wasn’t paying much attention. 
“I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to share space with that imp.” Kadogan sipped his tea and sighed with pleasure.  “You make a wonderful cup of tea.”  The door rattled and Kadogan took the large bundle of post from the postman.  “The catalogues seem to be doing well.”
“It’s still all test purchases.”  Fiona took the stack, grabbed a paper knife and started opening them.  “We’ll have to wait and see if we get repeat business.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for living with Steve Adderson?” Kadogan tentatively tried Mrs Tuesday’s tactic.  “I mean, you hardly know him.”
“I won’t be living with him.” Fiona quickly sorted the post into piles.  “He’ll be in a different flat in the same building.”
“You saw what Armani was like when he had rum.” Kadogan was almost mesmerised a Fiona’s hands flicked the post between the stacks.  “I believe he is worse when he has gin.  He cries.”
“I won’t be living with him.” Fiona flicked through the orders.  “There’s plenty to keep Ian going here.”
“You mean you’ll move here?” Kadogan brightened up.
“No, I mean that I’ll be in a separate flat, just in the same building.  We’ll be neighbours.  I’ll just take these orders to the back.”

The orders were in two stacks.  The largest stack was the one with the pre printed forms.  Fiona could confidently leave those for Ian.  The others were the long and rambling hand written letters, often in strange ink, which had to be picked through and Ian was still learning the ropes.  She glanced up at the clock.  It was twenty minutes before opening.  She switched on the coffee machines and hot water urns in the café so that they would be ready for the first customer before settling down with the letters.  The first one was on pink paper, in violet ink, written in exquisite copperplate and incredibly badly spelled. 
She was half way through and frowning over a particularly awkward word when Dave clattered downstairs for his run.  She looked up at him.  “Can you read this?”
Dave bent over and looked.  He shook his head.  “I have no idea.  Are you still on for tonight?”
“I’m looking forward to it – I think.” Fiona smiled. 
“I’ve got some mats down in a corner of the cellar.” Dave tried to phrase the next question carefully.  “Do you work out much?”
“Not at all.” Fiona said cheerfully, “I am a couch potato.  Does that mean that you’re likely to get me to the gym?”
“It wouldn’t hurt, but I just wanted to work out where to aim the lesson.” Dave checked the appointment book.  “Looks like I’ve got the morning off.  I’m off to the gym and I’ll be back around lunchtime.”  He hesitated.  “Perhaps you can get Ian to have a look around your flat, make sure it’s secure.”
Fiona looked up.  “Have you been talking to Kadogan?”
Dave didn’t smile.  “It could get scary.  Just be careful.”
Fiona turned back to the orders.  Most were straightforward but all of the handwritten ones had something in common – spray cream.  Elfen from Kirkwall on Orkney to Bexhill on the South Coast were asking for spray cream.  It didn’t make sense.  You could get it in almost every corner shop.  The door jangled as Louise came in.  Fiona looked up. 
“Why is everyone ordering spray cream?” she asked in bewilderment.  “You can get it anywhere.”
Louise grinned as she hung up her coat in the back.  “But they’re not sure about anywhere else.  They don’t trust normal shops, remember.  Half the elfen don’t speak to normals from one year’s end to the other.  Why do you think Steve does such good business in tinsel?  It’s sold by the yard in supermarkets.  It’s just elfen don’t trust normal shops.”
Fiona frowned.  “We keep our spray cream in the fridge.  Does it need to be kept cold?” Louise shrugged then looked at the door.  “Hang on, it’s the bread man.  I’ll take the delivery then I’ll check the tin.”

They manhandled the trays in as Mrs Tuesday came down, smoothing down her clean apron and setting up the chairs.  Fiona was worrying about the spray cream.  “We can’t sell it mail order if it has to be kept cool.” She placed the crumpets at the back of the shelf.  “There are enough rules about sending aerosols as it is.”
“It may depend on the brand.” Louise recounted the loaves.  “We’re half a dozen brown sliced short.  I’ll give them a ring.”
Fiona stacked the trays and looked at Mrs Tuesday who was refilling the sauces.  “Mrs Tuesday, are we paying you?”
Mrs Tuesday smiled at Fiona.  “Kadogan and I have come to an arrangement.  I help out here and in return I’m kept busy.” Her smile grew wider as she saw Fiona’s confusion.  “I’ve been moping, and that’s not like a boggart.  I had a bad time a few years ago.” For a moment a shadow passed across Mrs Tuesday’s face.  “I did my duty, and I’m not ashamed, but it wasn’t fun.  Kadogan asking me here has given me a new lease of life.  I’ll be back at fighting weight before you know it.”
Fiona looked doubtfully at the small, elderly lady in front of her.  She knew that Mrs Tuesday probably looked different under the glamour, but she felt old.  “As long as you are okay about it.”
“I’m fine.” Mrs Tuesday looked up.  “Another coach party – and we’ve hardly got the coffee hot!”

Fiona sagged as the coach party left and opened up her laptop.  “Mrs Tuesday, what does the spray cream say about keeping it cool?”
The old boggart stopped loading the dishwasher and checked.  “They all say, ‘Keep Chilled’,” she said.  “Is that a problem?”
Fiona shook her head and started searching the internet.  Suddenly aware of a shadow she looked up to find Steve leaning against the counter.  He grinned.
“I can hook you up with a good spray cream supplier,” he said, “But you have to keep it between ourselves.”
Fiona smiled back.  “I’d take it to the grave.”
“We need to get the website sorted out.” Steve said.  He casually turned the laptop so that he could lean towards Fiona.  “Don’t look surprised at what I’m saying.” Steve casually tapped in a ‘Build Your Own Website’ site.  “Listen, Lord Marius and Kadogan are determined to get us together.  It’s going to be hard to resist.  Why don’t we, I don’t know, try dating to see if they’re right.”
Fiona tried to glance casually up at Steve.  He was trying very hard to look unconcerned.  “It might be an idea,” she said quietly as she pointed at a particular template.  Mrs Tuesday looked like she was busy restocking the cakes but she had ears like a bat.
“But we don’t let them interfere.” Steve said.  “We keep it to ourselves and we can decide if it will work or not.  Then we can either let them gloat or tell them to back off.”
“I like that style.” Fiona pointed at a clean looking set up, then quietly said, “Will they ever back off.”
“Probably not.” Steve bookmarked a page.  “Listen, why don’t I come round tonight.  I’ll bring wine, we can watch a film, talk about the website and see how it works.”
“I’ll get pizza.” Fiona said.  “It won’t be quite the style that Kadogan set up, but I don’t think that matters.”

Dave felt restless as he ran back to the White Hart.  There seemed to be something nagging at the back of his mind and he couldn’t put his finger on it.  Both Kadogan and Ian seemed worried.  Mentally he frowned as he weaved through the stragglers in Rowntree Park.  A bit of a brawl at a taxi rank was one thing, but this was werewolves and vampires and who knew what else.  He ran out of the park and onto the pavement.  The trouble was, he didn’t know who he could trust.  Ian was pretty safe but he was working through his own demons.  Dave could remember the snarling ball of fur at the fight behind the allotments.  He slowed down.  It was happening again.
It looked like a kid barely able to shave had lost his temper.  Dave slowed down as he checked out the skinny frame and the thin face as the kid threw around the huge metal bins twice the size of him, crashing them against the wall and bouncing them around, cackling.  Dave blinked.  There seemed to be some sort of haze around the kid.  He really wanted to walk away from what looked like a seriously drugged up teen but he couldn’t help himself.  How did it go?  Make eye contact, keep the voice low and calm and trust your instincts.
“Are you okay?” he said, slowing down as he reached the lad. 
The lad glared at him and casually swung a fist sideways against the metal bin next to him.  The row of cycles didn’t even slow it’s fall as it’s massive weight crushed them.  Dave glanced at the castors spinning wildly in the air and looked back at the lad just in time to duck out of the way.  Then he was ducking again and wondering what he was supposed to do now.
“It’s not fair,” the lad shouted.  “They think I’m stupid, but I’m not!”  He kicked out and his foot went through the painted fencing.  “They think they can rip me off, but I won’t let them get away with it.”
“Who’s been ripping you off?” Dave tried to keep his voice calm.  “Is it a teacher or a friend?”
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m stupid.  They said they’d be here but suddenly the price is up and I’m not paying it.  Do you know what they called me?”
‘Great,’ thought Dave.  All he needed was a stressed out addict.  What was he doing?  He was a Tarot reader, not a policeman.  He tried to scrabble together his thoughts as he watched the lad punch another of the bins in frustration.  There was a visible dent in the solid steel.
“Evan Tuesday!  What do you think you are doing?”
The lad froze and Dave turned around slowly to see Mrs Tuesday stalking up to the boy like a small and elderly Sergeant Major.  She ignored Dave but glared at Evan who cowered.  Mrs Tuesday folded her arms.  “What’s the meaning of this mess.”
“I didn’t mean it, Auntie Jane.” The lad hunched down in his thin hoodie. 
“What do you mean you didn’t mean it?  All these bins didn’t fall over because you tied your shoelace.”  Mrs Tuesday glared at Evan.  “Well, what are you waiting for?  A signed invitation.  Pick them all up.”
Dave watched in astonishment as Evan righted the bins with frequent, nervous glances at Mrs Tuesday.  He helped steady one of the bins, nearly buckling under the weight, as Evan carefully eased it back its slot.  Evan looked at him with a hunted expression. 
“Sorry about shouting earlier.” Evan said politely.  He glanced quickly at Mrs Tuesday.  “I wouldn’t have hurt you really.”
“I should hope not.” Mrs Tuesday snapped.  She frowned.  “Are you working?”
“I’m on my lunch break.” Evan wiped his hands down his thin jogging bottoms.  “I came here to get some mullein, but the man was going to charge £3.50 for a little teabag.”  He hunched down even lower.  “I like a cup of mullein at night, I don’t do no harm.  But £3.50 was crazy.”
“Of course it was.” Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “You can get 25 teabags for £5 at the White Hart.  Was it a boggart?”
For a moment a hint of something hairy and gangling showed through Evan’s glamour as he almost snarled.  “He’s a dirty leech and thinks he’s something special.”
“We don’t use the ‘L’ word.” Mrs Tuesday said sternly but her expression was a lot less fierce.  “Why don’t you come round after your shift and I’ll make you a proper dinner.  Something to stick to your ribs.  A growing lad like you needs a bit of feeding.  Come to the White Hart.”
The tension eased out of Evan.  “That’s great, Auntie Jane.  I’ll be round about seven.”
“It’s a mixed bunch there.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “But it’s a good bunch.  This is Dave, and there’s a werewolf and an elfen, but all good people.  I’ll see you at seven, don’t be late.”
“I won’t, Auntie Jane.” Dave watched with relief as Evan loped off towards the Business Park.  He jumped as Mrs Tuesday turned her attention towards him.
“You can eat with us,” she said firmly.  “You’re far too skinny.  You need a bit of meat on your bones.  But I need to have a word with you as soon as we’re back at the White Hart.”
“I’ve got a reading in an hour and I need a shower…” Dave stammered.
“That’s okay, I want to see you with your shirt off.”
Dave looked for a trace of humour, but Mrs Tuesday looked worried as she set a fast pace to the White Hart. 

Fiona was getting sick of spray cream.  Half of the stuff needed to be refrigerated and the rest was an aerosol which needed care in shipping.  And every time she managed a coherent train of thought about the stuff she was interrupted.  All she needed now was a few moments.  Dave was taking a reading upstairs, Louise was in the cellar making lists, Ian had gone to the postal depot and Mrs Tuesday had taken Kadogan to her room for a serious talk.  She felt a presence at the till and quickly bookmarked the page while plastering on a professional smile.  The smile became real when she saw who it was. 
“Hello,” said Kayne.  “I didn’t know you worked here.  I had you as someone who worked at an office.” He smiled.  “It’s nice to see you again, neighbour.”
“It’s nice to see you too.” Fiona relaxed a little.  There was something calming about dealing with someone normal, except…  “Can I help you with anything?  Do you need anything specialist?” How do you ask someone if they’re normal?
Kayne looked around.  “It looks a bit, umm…” He searched for a polite phrase.  “It’s more alternative than I’m used to.  I saw you did cards and I want one for my mother’s birthday.”
Fiona relaxed a little more.  “I’m not into a lot of this stuff.” She waved widely at the racks of herbs and arcane utensils.  “My partner deals with that side of the business.  I concentrate more on the gifts and cards.  What does your mother like?”
Kayne hesitated for a moment, then shrugged.  “She always seems to like something different.  What have you got?”
Fiona took him along the shelves of her handmade cards.  She made a mental note to work on some more.  There were plenty on the shelves but not so many in the back.  She picked up a traditional birthday card.  A delicate spray of pink quilled roses arched across a lilac and gilded background.  “How about this?”
“That looks great.” Kayne looked at it closely.  It’s beautifully done.”
“I like making that design.”  Fiona said.  “There’s something very soothing about making those roses.”
Kayne looked at her closely and then back to the card.  “You made this?  You’re incredibly talented.”
“Thanks.” Fiona felt a glow.  She had been so caught up in batches of fern seed and sourcing the spray cream and it was nice to go back to her main love. 
“Your welcome.” Kayne watched Fiona slide the card into the custom printed paper bag and smiled as he paid.  “Do you take commissions?  I have some things coming up and it would be great to have custom made cards.”
“Of course.” Fiona took the payment and handed over the card.  “It would be fun to make something special.  Just make sure you give me enough time.  It may be quiet now, but it can get really busy here.”
“Sure.” Kayne tucked the card carefully inside his jacket.  “I’d better go, I’m due back at work, but I’ll let you know about cards.”
Fiona watched him leave and then went to study the cards.  She was barely covering costs, but she was getting so much satisfaction and now she was being asked about making cards to order.  Perhaps she could speak to Kadogan about customising cards for the Princes.  Still smiling, she went back to the spray cream. 

Mrs Tuesday watched Kadogan pour his red wine and solemnly add three sugars.  She took a sip of her own tea and carefully placed it in front of her.  The meeting room looked bare and bleak. 
“You said it was important.” Kadogan sat opposite his old comrade. 
“Reynauld Baxter has been selling mullein teabags to the local young boggarts at inflated prices.  My sister in law’s youngest grandson, Evan, lives just over the river and he was getting stressed about it.”
Kadogan took a careful sip of the wine.  It was never a good idea to make young boggarts stressed.  “There is much uncertainty already in this domain.  It is not a crime as such to trying and get as much as you can for a commodity – we are doing business and making profits.”  Kadogan tapped his long, slim fingers against his glass.  “Howver it is not good to make young boggarts irritated and frustrated.”
“I need to speak to the Prince.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “People never bother much about boggarts.  We’re just expected to get on with it.  Most of the time we do because we don’t care but we shouldn’t be treated like idiots and second class citizens.  We have a value.”
Kadogan nodded.  “I’ll make an appointment for you to meet him.  I’m sure he’ll listen.”
“If he’s got stray werewolves forming into packs he’ll need us boggarts on his side.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “He had better listen.  Evan was making a right mess and Dave was trying to calm him down when I turned up.  By the way, Dave’s the new paladin.  I saw the mark.”
“I am not surprised after the fight with the werewolves.” Kadogan said calmly.  “He was most competent.  Have you told him?”
“I said you would take him to the Templars.”  Mrs Tuesday grimaced.  “Young Dave is a good lad and it’s a shame he’s getting mixed up in the rat’s nest of the Templars, but I suppose it can’t be helped.”
“And afterwards I’ll set up a meeting between you and Lord Ragnar.”  Kadogan drained his glass.  “And then things will be calmer.”

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.”