Friday, 20 July 2018

History

This is the latest instalment from 'More Tales from the White Hart'.  You can read the story from the beginning here and the original 'Tales from the White Hart' is here.  I will briefly mention that while you can still read the story for free on my blog, you can also pick up the ebook and a paperback will be coming soon - watch this space!    


Dean hefted his bag and wondered what he was doing.  Martin was right.  He wasn’t safe from Miss Patience, but he wasn’t exactly sure he was exactly safe in the White Hart.  He kept himself expressionless and upright but inside he felt like crawling away.  Fighting revenants and the dark creatures that were creeping out of the fringes of Lord Ragnar’s domain was just something he did.  He was a vampire now, and he just had to get on with things.  The thought of facing his ex-girlfriend day after day, however, was like lemon juice on a cut. 
Steve managed a smile.  “If you’ll follow me…” He led Dean up the stairs behind the till.  “It’s all a little chaotic at the moment,” he said with massive understatement.  “Kadogan has been sorting out sleeping quarters.” Steve struggled with himself and managed not to say what he was thinking.  “So, you are sharing the kitchen with Mrs Tuesday, Luke, Dave and Darren.  Freydis may or may not be in her room, I don’t like to ask.”
“What about the werewolves?” Dean asked.
“Kadogan has convinced Jeanette that she should have Ian, Callum, Adele and Jasmine as her lodgers.” Steve took a breath.  “I’m not sure how much she understood, but effectively it’s formed a pack house.  Apparently Ian has spoken to Kieran.”
“Kieran has a lot on his mind.” Dean said.  The two men understood this as code for, ‘the leader of the werewolf pack in York who has a worrying subpack of strays developing, is currently distracted by the Paladin’s Citadel blowing up, an influx of Knights Templar poking their noses where they aren’t welcome, vampires getting crazier than normal and the damned goblins have kicked off again with late night parties and parking across the werewolves’ garages’.   
“Don’t we all.” Steve muttered.  He caught Dean’s slight change of expression and held up his hand. “I’m not meaning you.  It’s bound to be awkward at first, but there’s no hard feelings.  It’s just, well, everything.”  He led Dean down the corridor.  “That’s our office, the Tarot reading room, Dave, the kitchen, Mrs Tuesday, then round the corner on the right hand side we have Luke, Darren, yourself and then Freydis is at the end when she’s home.”
“Thanks.” Dean walked through the door Steve indicated.  He paused for a moment.  He recognised Fiona’s touch in this.  There was a small bunch of flowers in a vase on top of the chest of drawers.  The bed was smooth, and the pale green bedding was new.  Inoffensive prints of York hung around the room and the new curtains hung pale and stiff, framing a view towards York.  The room was fresh and clean and a note in Fiona’s beautiful calligraphy next to the keys read, ‘Dean, I hope you will feel happy and safe here.  Please let us know if there are any problems.  Fiona.’  Dean felt a lump in his throat.  Once upon a time, Fiona’s notes to him ended with a kiss.  Now he was standing next to her husband.  “How is Fiona about this?”
Steve looked away.  “She’s worried about you, and I think she feels a little awkward – not angry or anything because it really wasn’t your fault, but it’s a thing.”  He shrugged.  “Maybe it’s overdue.  Everyone can get the awkwardness out of the way and get on with our lives.”
“I think you’re right.” Dean said quietly. 
“I’ll let you get settled in.” Steve said.  “If you’re eating in, don’t worry about cooking.  Mrs Tuesday likes to feed anyone who stays still long enough at meal times.”
Dean heard the door click as Steve left.  It was probably the safest place in York.  Steve had reinforced the place with so much magic that it could make your head ring if you even thought about a spell in the wrong place.  During the day the shop was full of werewolves and when he wasn’t patrolling at night, he was going to be sharing a space with a paladin, an exorcist, a near-as-dammit paladin and Mrs Tuesday.  Mrs Tuesday was scary. 

Dean unpacked his small bag, methodically hanging his two shirts and dropping his underwear in a drawer.  He had lost so much weight since he became a vampire that his old clothes didn’t fit.  He looked down at his hands.  They were slim and elegant now, just like him.  It was not a look he would have chosen.  Martin had told him that what came back as a vampire was the core of a person and the hunger that went with it.  Was this who he was?  He went into the small bathroom and washed his hands.  Since he died he was different. Before he had been clouded by dozens of different thoughts that crowded into his mind and anchored him so firmly in the current second that he could barely think five minutes ahead.  He had never stopped to look beneath the surface of a person.  Now his mind was icy and with Martin’s help he was beginning to map out his future.  Now he would never have walked away from Fiona.  She was the best thing that he could imagine, and he had thrown it away because another woman had flirted with him and it seemed more exciting.  He had longer than the average lifetime to regret it.  All he could do now was his best.

Mrs Tuesday was restocking the herbs while the shop was quiet.  It was nearly closing time and Jasmine was wiping down the shelves nearby, nudging closer until she could try to discreetly ask Mrs Tuesday the question that had been circling her mind all day.
“Mrs Tuesday, why is it so strange that Dean stay here?  I mean, he’s a vampire but he seems okay.” Jasmine shook out her cloth.  “I think a packet of mint split here.”
“It looks like a few packets have split.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I don’t think you need to worry about Dean.  He’s made a few mistakes, but who hasn’t?”
Freydis appeared next to Jasmine. “Dean is an ex-boyfriend of Fiona who dumped her immediately before Christmas after convincing her not to move to Australia with the rest of her family.  After that he became a pawn of the traitor Rey and tried to gain a hold over Fiona by tricking her into drinking love potions.  She became quite ill and broke her engagement to Steve Adderson.” Freydis leant against the shelving unit.  “Indeed, he tricked her into meeting him many times and kidnapped her where she was held hostage by Rey until Steve Adderson tracked Rey down and killed him.  Rey drained Dean without thinking, but Dean turned and became a vampire, but his sire was already dead.” Freydis passed a fresh cloth to Jasmine.  “So Dean is quite independent of Miss Patience and rather lost.  Although I believe Aelfhelm has resurfaced recently and has been helping Dean learn his way around, which is kind of him and entirely typical.”
“You could have just mentioned that Dean is Fiona’s ex boyfriend.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “But that’s a good summary.”
“Is Steve jealous?” Jasmine asked.
“It is remarkably hard to read Steve Adderson,” Freydis said with some irritation.  “But I believe he is angry, jealous and insecure.  However he seems to be controlling these feelings and I am confident they will fade.”
Jasmine rubbed at a mark on the shelf.  “Steve has been really kind, and so has Fiona.  I hate the thought of them being upset.”
“Just treat Dean normally and everything will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Here, you can put this rue out.  Who is this Aelfhelm?” she asked Freydis.
“That is a story that I cannot put into a few sentences.” Freydis said.  “I will help with the herbs then we can all have coffee and I will tell what I know.”

Jasmine bounded around the herbs, curiosity almost eating her as Mrs Tuesday supervised the restocking before they all went back to the café area.  “Where’s Fiona?”
“She went home early.” Jeanette said, putting a pot of tea on the table.  “I think she’s finding it all a little too stressful.”
“I think I would as well.” Adele said, bringing over the milk.  “If Callum’s ex turned up I wouldn’t know what to think.”
Freydis made a hot chocolate for Jasmine and a small espresso for herself, then joined the rest of the women.  “It’s hard to know where to begin with Aelfhelm,” she said, emptying sugar sachets one after other into her coffee.  “I I can’t read him.” She sighed and took one of the mini meringues that Jeanette had brought over.  “I know he’s using the name Martin at the moment.  It does stand out less than Aelfhelm in today’s world, but I am surprised.  He was a good friend of Alderman Aelfhelm centuries ago.” Freydis stirred the syrupy coffee.  “He may have used a version of Martin before that, or perhaps Mark or Marius.”  Freydis looked back into the distant past and her eyes grew misty.  “I was quite young when I first met him.  I was certainly younger than I was now.  He came with the first legions, marching against the Brigantes.  He was an old vampire then, of course, but he was looking for adventure and he found plenty here.”
“That makes him really old.” Jasmine said.  “Don’t vampires go crazy if they live too long?”
Freydis sipped her coffee.  “Some do, some don’t.  It depends on the creature.  Martin seemed to keep his head and he often slept.  In fact, I believe Queen Victoria was on the throne when he last walked, or perhaps the Regent.  Or was it Sailor Billy?  I cannot recall.  It is unimportant.  Aelfhelm, I mean Martin, is a very powerful, very old vampire who can be extremely dangerous.  He can also be difficult.”
Mrs Tuesday grinned.  “You mean, you have a vampire that the elfen can’t order around?”
Freydis shrugged.  “Lord Ragnar is careful around him, of course, but Martin shows respect to him.  He is very polite, actually, and in the past has been willing to help.”
“Does he act very old-fashioned?” Jeanette asked.  “I mean, does he talk like a Victorian?”
Freydis shook her head.  “Martin has a trick, he calls it ‘dreaming’.  He couldn’t tell you the names of the popular bands, and he couldn’t tell you who Elvis Presley was, but he has a sense of what has happened and how the language is working.  Though I remember he was quite useless helping with a friend’s Latin lessons, back at the time of the first King George.  He said that nobody talked like that when Rome ruled.” She looked up.  “Hello, Steve.”
“I’ve not been here too long, in case you were wondering.” Steve said as he caught the flicker of guilt on Jasmine’s face.  “So I haven’t heard you discuss anything about Dean, for example, or me and Fiona.  But it’s good to hear about Martin.  He seems like a good guy.”
“He has a habit of looking after the younger ones – as long as they stay in line.” Freydis said.  “Dean is fortunate to have met him.”

The door opened with its usual jangle.  Freydis looked up.  “Lord Marius, how wonderful to see you.  Please join us – I will make coffee!  And coffee for your friend.”
“Hello, Elaine.” Steve pulled a chair over.  “Take a seat.”
Freydis paused and looked between Steve and Elaine.  “Is this an old friend?  It is good to meet you, Elaine.  How do you like coffee?” Freydis narrowed her eyes.  “I believe you would enjoy a latte with a shot of vanilla.”
“That sounds great.” She smiled faintly at Steve.  “How is Armani?”
The imp crawled out of Steve’s pocket and looked darkly at Elaine.  “Doing better.” He flapped off towards the air vents.
Steve watched his progress and then took a seat between Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday.  “I didn’t realise you two were still in contact.”
Elaine nodded.  “I needed some help and I thought I’d ask you.  I still had the contact details for Lord Marius and he said he would join me here.”
Steve looked hard at Lord Marius.  “And you didn’t think to warn me, father?”
Lord Marius took his coffee from Freydis.  “The coffee is as exquisite as ever.”
“Did you know that Aelfhelm is back?” Freydis asked.  “Though he calls himself Martin.”
“That is interesting.” Lord Marius leaned back in his seat.  “I shall have to call in on Miss Patience and see if her reaction is entertaining.”
“You may walk in through a hole in the wall that Martin left.” Freydis said.  “I believe she was most displeased.”
“I didn’t know that Lord Marius was your father.” Elaine said, staring.  “Thank you, this coffee looks amazing.” She took the elegantly presented coffee from Freydis and placed it on the table in front of her.
“It came as a surprise to me.” Steve said.  “But apart from a few hiccups,” he gave Lord Marius a hard stare, “We are doing okay.”
“And you have a shop now.” Elaine looked around.  “It’s very nice.”
“I think so.” Steve looked around and nodded.  “So, what is the problem?”
“I’ve been spending weekends in Skipton,” Elaine said, “And I think one of the neighbours is a vampire.  He’s acting odd, and I thought I would get in touch with you because I didn’t know anyone else who could help.”
“Why didn’t you just ask Lord Marius?” Steve asked.
Elaine looked uncomfortable.  “I didn’t think of that.”
“We have not made full introductions.” Freydis said, her eyes sparkling.  “I am Freydis, former wife of the prince of York and currently working with the coffee machine.  This is Mrs Tuesday, a fearsome boggart.”
Elaine nodded and smiled at the little old lady who looked like the definition of harmless.  “Pleased to meet you.”
“This is Jeanette Fowler, romantically involved with a werewolf who is leading a local subpack, this is Adele who is dating a werewolf who paints pictures and this is Jasmine who is a werewolf and former stray.” Freydis sipped her hot chocolate while Jasmine flushed with embarrassment.
“Hi, I’m Elaine.  I’m Steve’s ex-girlfriend.” Elaine smiled around the circle.
“That is an interesting coincidence.” Freydis said.  “Steve’s wife’s ex-boyfriend is upstairs.  Perhaps we can introduce you to each other?”
“You’re married?” Elaine took a hasty mouthful of her coffee.  “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Steve said, looking darkly at both Freydis and Lord Marius.  “Now, about this vampire.”

Ian took a mouthful of his pint and looked out over the river.  The bar was quiet as it was early in the evening and the sun was still warm.  He sat down next to Darren on the terrace.  “So, what did you want to talk about.”
Darren kept his eyes on his tonic water.  He never knew how to handle this sort of thing.  “You know Ferdi?  Creep of a goblin that hangs around trying to act like a great trader?”
“Yeah, I know him.  I don’t know why Kadogan tolerates him.” Ian said.  The evening breeze was gentle and he was feeling good.  Everything seemed to be okay with Jeanette, Callum and Adele were solid and Jasmine seemed to be keeping her tail up.  It felt like he finally had his feet on solid ground.
“He’s a sleaze.” Darren took a deep breath.  “He was trying to hit on Jasmine.  She was getting upset.  I didn’t think she’d tell you, but you need to watch her back on this.”
“He was trying to pick her up?” Ian said, his voice cold.
“He was trying to pressure her into going for a coffee.” Darren took a deep breath.  “But we all know that it wasn’t just for coffee.  I was considering beating him to a paste, but I thought I should give you first refusal.”
“Thanks.  I appreciate it.” Ian kept his eyes blankly fixed on the river as he took another mouthful of beer.”
“I didn’t want to embarrass Jasmine.” Darren said. 
“Was she upset?” Ian asked, still staring at the river.
“Yeah, she was quite upset.” Darren wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut.
“What upset her most, do you think?”
“He said something about Jasmine not liking fur.” Darren shifted in his seat.  “I don’t know what that means, but I think that’s what made her cry.”
“Was there anyone else around?” Ian asked, still in the steady, cold voice.
“No, I don’t think he realised I was around either.” Darren said.  “Scum like that don’t like to risk having an audience.”
“I see.” Ian kept his gaze steadily on the river.  “Did Jasmine say anything about it?”
“No.” Darren took a small mouthful of tonic water. 
“But she cried?”
“Yes, I got her a coffee and she was fine by the time Freydis came back.” Darren wished there was gin in the tonic.”
“Okay.  Do you know what it means when a werewolf doesn’t like fur?” Ian picked up his pint and took a small mouthful.
“No, I’ve never come across it.  I don’t interfere with werewolves.” Darren regretted not flattening Ferdi into laminate at the time.
“If a werewolf woman feels that they cannot get on with a werewolf man but would rather look outside the pack, then the phrase is, ‘they don’t like fur’.  They are looked down on, and sometimes the less intelligent of the pack will try and change their mind.” Ian took another small mouthful of his beer.  “You don’t see it so much in well run packs, but if things aren’t running smoothly or there are some dogs hanging around the fringes then it can get difficult for the woman.”
“So that is why Jasmine got into so many fights.” Darren said. 
“Yes.  But I will not allow her to be taunted about this, and I know that Kieran is fully behind me.  I’ll let people know that Ferdi is a fair target.”
“I’m glad you’re on Jasmine’s side on this.” Darren said.  “And count me in.  Jasmine is a good kid who doesn’t deserve to be targeted.”
“You won’t mention this to anyone else, will you?  About the fur?” Ian finally looked at Darren.
“I don’t see why I should.  It’s not anybody’s business.” Darren said.  “But you should tell Kadogan that Ferdi upset Jasmine.”
“Ferdi may start spreading word about…” Ian placed his pint back down on the table.  “Damn him.  He’ll drag her down one way or another, won’t he.”
“He’s probably already started the rumours.” Darren said.  “What we need to do is send a message not to spread rumours and upset our own.”
“You’re counting yourself in with us?” Ian looked at Darren.
Darren paused.  “I hadn’t even thought about it.  I suppose the White Hart is a kind of pack.  We look after our own.”
“Damn right.” Ian took a longer drink of his pint.  “Jasmine’s a good kid and she’s been enough without us turning our back on her.” He shook his head.  “It could take her years to get over being a stray.  She was kicked out last year, and she’s done really well to keep as solid as she has.  She has the potential to be a credit to the pack.”
“I don’t think we should spread this too far.” Darren said.  “The less who get involved the better.  I mean, your werewolves have to know, and so does Kieran.  I’d say Kadogan needs to know so he knows why Ferdi is risking his neck when he visits.”
“I know who else I’ll tell,” Ian said with a certain malice.  “I’ll tell Mrs Tuesday.”
“That is extremely harsh.” Darren said.  “I approve.”

They drank in a comfortable silence for a while, watching the sun dip and the shadows lengthen.  Darren wondered exactly how Jasmine had survived.  To be under that sort of pressure must have been hard, and she was showing incredible resilience just helping in the shop.  The bar was filling up as the shadows banked up in the corners and the lights came on.  “Ian, those shadows aren’t right.”
Ian followed his gaze.  “Damn, it’s getting everywhere.”
“What do you mean?”
Ian frowned.  “The dark energy from Lord Ragnar’s domain is leaking out.  You find little patches of it, heaped up.”  He tried to find the right analogy.  “It’s like piles of leaves blown into a corner in autumn.  Any from a pack who touch the stuff go snappy and out of sorts.  Kieran is worried that those who have been touched by it could go rogue.”
“Let’s drift over there.” Darren stood casually and picked up his tonic.  “Will you cover for me as I say a few prayers?” He wandered over to the wall nearest the river where a patch of pooled blackness and set his drink down.  Ian followed him and as Darren said some quiet prayers over the darkness Ian kept up a one sided, quiet and casual conversation to misdirect anyone trying to eavesdrop.  He watched as the energy writhed and spat dark sparks which fizzled and disappeared as the unnatural shadow shrunk and twisted into itself until it was gone.  Darren gave a quiet prayer of thanks, then turned to Ian.  “I know why the Paladin’s Citadel exploded.  I think we need to talk to the Knights Templar – now!”


Friday, 13 July 2018

Challenger

This is the latest instalment from More Tales from the White Hart.  You can read the story from the beginning here and you can read the previous story here.


Lord Ragnar sat, glowering, as his court milled around his hall.  The air was full of whispers and the tang of an oncoming thunderstorm.  Kadogan lounged in a chair nearby, his eyes watchful although his body looked completely at ease.  Lord Ragnar gestured for some wine. 
“What am I supposed to do now?” he growled at Kadogan.  “It’s a Paladin’s lair.  I have no business there – and none of my people are involved.”
“The building and its neighbours are completely destroyed.” Kadogan said. “This is a shame.  I remember watching them being built and they were well constructed.  They stood for over a century.”
Lord Ragnar snatched the goblet of wine from the tray of a nervous server and took a long draught.  “At least I think it was none of my people.  Why should one of my people blow up the home of the Paladin when he is so reasonable?  Of course, the goblins have been a trial, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
“I remember them burying a witch bottle under the front step.” Kadogan said.  “It was a true trap, and I remember how it sparkled and gleamed as they buried it.  I don’t suppose the workmen saw that though.”
“First it is the White Hart burning, now the Paladin’s lair is destroyed.  It does not look well on me.” Lord Ragnar glared around the hall.  The normal atmosphere of a relaxed gentleman’s club was gone and instead the tension ran around the room like a live wire.  The black and white floor tiles were cracked and stained.
Kadogan nodded at the floor.  “Did you do that or is it a manifestation of problems in your domain?”
Lord Ragnar swore and waved a hand and the floor was restored to its usual pristine state with a sharp crack.  “And Freydis still talks of changing her name.  It is not appropriate.”
“You divorced her.” Kadogan reminded him.  “They had tiles like those in the halls when those houses were built.  They weren’t as good quality, but they looked pleasant.  One of the workers whistled very tunefully and I watched them work all that summer.”
“Those tiles are no more.” Lord Ragnar took another mouthful of the wine.  “And what are we to say about it?  If Paladin Dave Kinson, who has been an ally in our recent struggles, comes to see me now, what do I say?  Thank you for the help in fighting the revenants that were attacking our people, and thank you for the help in destroying Rey Baxter, and thank you for the kindness you have shown our people except possibly the goblins who deserve all they get in my opinion, and we have nothing to offer in return.”
“Dave Kinson and Darren King are staying at the White Hart for now as the Knights Templar are coming to York in force.” Kadogan said. 
“I shall pay their rent.” Lord Ragnar said quickly.  “I insist on doing something.”
“Accepted.” Kadogan said.  “But an explosion of such size is not easily accomplished.  The newspapers were told that it was gas mains and so were the insurer people, but Detective Pierce says that there was no evidence of such things.”
“They do not allow my seers and soothsayers near the building.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Not that there is any magical protection there anymore.  It is unacceptable.” He threw his goblet hard into the fireplace.  The dregs of wine hissed and spat on the burning logs.
“They are reasonable not to trust elfen,” Kadogan said with a certain pride as he watched a brownie try to hook the goblet out of the fire.  “But it is still a nuisance.  And there are fourteen Knights Templar in York.  That has not been known for many centuries.”

A susurration ran around the hall as Martin strode in.  Lord Ragnar leapt to his feet.  “You!”
Martin approached Lord Ragnar and bowed perfunctorily.  “My lord.”
“I thought you were sleeping.” Lord Ragnar snapped as he glared at Martin.  He gestured to the servers.  “Bring wine.”
“I am taking no food or drink at this time.” Martin said politely but firmly.
“It is freely given, Aelfhelm.” Lord Ragnar sank back into his chair but Kadogan remained standing at his shoulder.  Elfen warriors started to appear in the corners of the room. 
“I no longer use that name.” Martin said, watching the warriors with controlled confidence.  “My old friend died a millenia ago, and, while I still honour his memory, I use Martin now.”
“But why are you here?” Lord Ragnar took the wine offered by the server and waved him away.
“Who could sleep through this racket?” Martin said.  “You have mingled vampire and faery magic in your realm.  It is looking for ways to twist into the world.  If you do not heal your realm then it will be knocking at the door of the normal world.  It is not yet Midsummer and the days lengthen.  What will the dark faery magic do when the nights draw in?”
“What do you know of the faerie realm?” Lord Ragnar gripped the goblet tightly.
“I am not entirely out of touch.” Martin said.  “Your ex wife gave a portion of her kingdom to a vampire, did she not?  The vampire may be destroyed, but the energy is still there, the filter the power of your kingdom flows through is dark and poisoned.” Martin looked around.  “You need to heal your domain and you need to get all the vampires here firmly under your control.  Why are there no vampires here aside from myself?”
Lord Ragnar looked around.  “Where is Miss Patience?”
Martin shook his head.  “You let her control the vampires?  No wonder there are troubles.  And where is Freydis?  She was always skilled with the workings of a faery realm.”
“She is making coffee.” Kadogan said, moving a little closer to Lord Ragnar.
“You let her get a hobby?” Martin stared.  “Well, I am sure we will all benefit from great coffee.”  He bowed again. “I am your liegeman and I am bound to give you counsel.  My counsel is to either get your ex wife or someone of equal skill and mend your realm.  Until that happens, the problems will continue.”
“You are supposed to give me counsel when asked.” Lord Ragnar said.
“I’m sure you meant to ask.” Martin had a half smile on his lips.  “I thought I would save you some time.”
“As your lord, then, I ask you to do a task worthy of your station.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “Bring me Miss Patience.”

Jasmine sagged a little as the coach party finally straggled out of the White Hart and onto their coach.  “These coach parties get very busy.” She watched in relief as the coach pulled out of the car park.
“They even bought the plastic fairies.” Adele said.  “Keep an eye out on the gifts for me, please.  I need to get up some more stock.” She disappeared into the back.
“They spent well, but they were also normals.” Freydis said.  “They can be trying.  They do not understand the dangers of having their head ripped off should they get too fastidious.”
“Did you see the lady getting cross at the books?” Jasmine grinned as she started clearing the tables.  “She kept complaining about the devil’s work and being cursed for looking at it.”
“It is as well that Mrs Tuesday isn’t here.” Freydis said.  “Although it is always enjoyable to watch her look so frail while being so, so…” Freydis waved a hand.
“She’s a complete wind up merchant.” Jasmine said.  “I hope her back gets better soon.”
“I am sure it shall.” Freydis ran a caressing hand over the coffee machine before sighing and starting to load the dishwasher.  “Though she is very old, even for a boggart.”
Jasmine looked over to Fiona.  “Do you think Mrs Tuesday will get better?”
Fiona looked into Jasmine’s anxious face.  “Of course she will,” she said with more hope than truth.  “And even if she doesn’t, she still has a place here if she wants it.”
“We are quite the community,” Frerydis said, “Though I’m not sure if we are a court or a pack.”
“We’re a shop.” Fiona didn’t want to think beyond that.  “Jasmine, can you keep an eye on the till?  Darren and Dave will be over in an hour and I want to check over their rooms.” Fiona disappeared upstairs. 
Freydis cleared the counter as Jasmine wiped down the tables.  “I am so glad I found coffee.” Freydis said.  “It has made such a difference to my life.” She straightened the dried grasses next to the coffee machine and checked the cupboards.  “We have run out of the Ethiopian blend.  I shall be back soon.” Her smile was barely malicious.  “You will be the captain of this ship as the only one here while I am gone.”

Jasmine finished cleaning the kitchen and then went to stand by the till.  The shop seemed very big and she felt unnervingly small.  She found herself going over the till.  There were spare till rolls, plenty of bags and tape and not much to do.  She wasn’t going to touch any of Adele’s ornaments.  Adele was very clear that she had the final say in how the knickknacks were arranged.  Jasmine wandered over to the herbs and started straightening them.  Some of the coach parties were dreadful.  It looked like boggart kitlings had been playing here.  Jasmine looked over as the door opened.  “I’ll be right there.”
“No rush, love.” Ferdi sauntered towards the herbs.  “Well, if it isn’t Sweet Jasmine.”
Jasmine flushed.  “Hi, Ferdi.  How are you?”
“Doing okay, can’t complain.  You look good as well, Sweet.  It looks like you fell on your paws.” Ferdi stroked his knobbly hand over a pack of wormwood.  “Do they know what you’re like here?”
“They know everything.” Jasmine said.
“Are you sure?” Ferdi grinned.  “I could tell them a few things.”
“I’ve always told them the truth.” Jasmine said.  “I have nothing to hide.”
“But have you told them everything?” Ferdi asked.  “Listen, why don’t you come for a coffee with me, just one coffee?  That’s all I’m asking.  Then I won’t have any reason to say anything to them.  What’s the harm in one coffee?”
Jasmine shook her head and backed away.  “I don’t think it would be a good idea, and, besides, what about Samantha?”
“My wife wouldn’t bother about me having a coffee with a friend.” Ferdi said.  “After all, it’s just a coffee.”
“It’s never just a coffee with you.” Jasmine said, “And I don’t want to get into another fight.”
“After all, you don’t want to spoil your chances here, do you?” Ferdi said.  “If you get thrown out of here, who would take you in?”
“I can look after myself.” Jasmine said defiantly. 
Ferdi took a step forward.  “Of course you can, Sweet, and that’s why it’s okay to come with me for a coffee, because you can look after yourself.”
“Shut up or get out.”
Ferdi spun around and found himself facing Darren.  “I was just asking an old friend for a coffee.  There’s no harm in that.”
Darren briefly glanced at Jasmine’s flushed face and focused back on Ferdi.  “She said no.”
“Well then, no harm done.  I can catch up with her another time.” Ferdi started sauntering towards the door.  “But you can’t blame a goblin for trying.  After all, everyone knows that Jasmine doesn’t like fur, so I had to think I was in with a chance.” He slipped out of the door before Darren could say anything.
Darren turned to Jasmine.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “Don’t worry about slimeballs like him.”
Jasmine stared at him, wide eyed, and then burst into tears.  As Darren awkwardly patted her arm and let her cry into his shoulder, he wondered what on earth was going on and how much trouble he could get into if he hunted down Ferdi right now.   

Dean looked around.  This was only the second time he had visited Miss Patience’s home and he was just as intimidated.  Last time Miss Patience had sat him in her small parlour and charmingly terrorised him with an insistence that he did exactly as he was told and obeyed her unquestioningly.  Now they were in the larger drawing room.  Half a dozen vampires were seated around in the dim light of flickering candles.  Dean wondered why as it was still light outside, but heavy velvet curtains had been pulled over the windows.  It all felt so fake.  The former farmhouse was probably Elizabethan, stone built and sturdy near the edge of York, and surrounded by well planned and matured gardens, complete with a stone folly in one corner.  Miss Patience had bought it last winter, to get somewhere secluded for the vampires of York to meet. 
Now things were getting strange.  The ‘acolytes’ that Miss Patience usually had drifting around were missing and there was an eerie silence in the room.  Dean didn’t really know the other vampires.  He had met most of them in Lord Ragnar’s court, but he hadn’t spent much time with them.  Now he was the only one that didn’t seem wide eyed and hyper.  He wished Martin were there. 
“We all must stand.” Miss Patience said, rising gracefully to her feet and stood next to the fireplace.  “Form a circle.”
Dean felt awkward as he shuffled into a rough circle with the others.  The rest of the vampires, or coven as Miss Patience insisted on calling them, looked like they were taking part in a very bad horror movie, their lips parted and their fangs showing. 
“Dean, stand to my left.” Miss Patience waved her arm and Dean squeezed between Vivienne and the couch and stood at Miss Patience’s left side.  The rest of the vampires seemed to sway around and fill the gap without any thought.  Miss Patience turned to Dean.  “You have never experienced a feeding circle, have you?  It is a mystical moment.  It will truly change your perception of everything.” She stroked down his cheek.  “You don’t share any blood with us, poor boy.  Rey was never part of the York vampires.  He came from elsewhere and you only are connected to him.  But we must correct that.”
Dean managed a smile and looked around at the others.  They were all watching him with piercing, hungry eyes and he didn’t want to look like that.  “Are you sure…”
“You will not disobey me, surely.” There was steel in Miss Patience’s voice.
“Of course not, Miss Patience.” Dean kept his eyes and voice steady but he wondered whether he was going to get out of here alive.  He had already checked for exits and he had chosen the French windows at the north end of the room as his best chance of getting out of there quickly.
“It is quite simple, and beautiful in its simplicity.” Miss Patience took a moment to sigh. “I take a sip of Jacob’s blood, he takes a sip from Amelia, who takes a sip from Melvyn and so on and so on until Vivienne takes a sip from you and you take a sip from me to complete the circle.  And so we start again, with me taking the smallest sip from Jacob, and round and round until the ecstasy is too much to bear.”
Dean tried to stretch his mouth into a smile.  “Great.” He wondered when the best time to make his break would be. 
Miss Patience turned and took a large, wooden box from the mantelpiece and opened it with a flourish.  “We must have the correct atmosphere for this.” She dropped a handful of incense into the fire. 
Dean was relieved that it wasn’t dragon’s blood but instead the heavy smoke from copal slid out of the fire and over the floor.  He wondered if Miss Patience knew about dry ice.  The rest of the vampires seemed to be preparing to lose themselves in the moment, but he felt real fear for the first time since he died.  Whatever happened, whatever he needed to do, he was not drinking from Miss Patience.
“Everyone link hands for a moment and draw closer.” Miss Patience caught Dean’s hand before he had a chance to think about it.  He reluctantly extended his hand to Vivienne and felt her cool, soft hand slip into his. 
Dean knew he had to stay as calm as he could.  Any tension in his wrist would be read by Miss Patience.  He had to hold his nerve until it was time to run for it. 
Miss Patience drew herself up.  “Now is the time for our communion.  We come together…”
There was a resounding crash as the French windows were torn out of their frame and thrown out across the garden.  This was followed by a clatter as Martin tore down the curtains and strode in.  “Hello Patience.  What sort of tomfoolery are you trying now?”
“How dare you!” Miss Patience hissed.  “I trust you will pay for repairs.”
“Of course not.” Martin said.  “Idiots should not be rewarded.  Are you trying that circle thing again?  I told you centuries ago that it was a bad idea.”
“You always were scared of what you were.” Miss Patience snapped.
Martin didn’t bother replying to that.  “Lord Ragnar requires your presence.”
“Why?”
“He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask.” Martin glanced around the room.  “Dean, your needed at the White Hart.  I’ll join you there.”
Dean had never felt so thankful in his life.  “Right, I’ll get straight over.”
“I think he needs my permission first.” Miss Patience snapped. 
“And I think that Lord Ragnar’s orders overrule yours.” Martin said. 
“I think I will not be going to Lord Ragnar’s court just yet.  Dean can stay until I leave.”  Miss Patience deliberately threw another handful of incense onto the fire.
Martin’s nose wrinkled.  “I think you shall attend on Lord Ragnar when he demands.”
“And are you willing to try to make me.” Miss Patience snapped.
“Of course.” Martin sounded bored.  He wandered over to the nearest window and threw open the curtains.  “Nice garden.”
“Get out of my home!”
Martin bowed.  “After you, Patience.” He caught Dean’s eye and as Miss Patience swept out towards her car, Martin and Dean followed, to Dean’s utter relief. 

Friday, 6 July 2018

Reception

This is the latest instalment from the second collection of Tales from the White Hart.  The first collection is here and the current collection from the beginning is here.  And a shout out to the lovely friend who suggested that Freydis changed her name to Nespresso.  I was soooooo tempted!


Jasmine wrapped the small box of lemon and ginger tea.  “There you are, Miss Patience.  Can I help you with anything else?”
“No.” Miss Patience placed the packet in her bag.  “Thank you.”
Jasmine watched the vampire glide towards the door and open it with a lace-gloved hand.  Waiting until Miss Patience was well out of earshot, Jasmine shook her head.  “She is weird.”
“She was wearing jeans a few weeks ago.” Adele said, coming over from the café. 
“It’s probably a psychotic break or being overtaken by evil.” Freydis wandered over with a frappe.  “I am so stunned that there is ice in summer.  How can people imagine ice in summer?”
“I’ve been in faerie realms where there are corners that are always winter.” Mrs Tuesday said.
“But that is winter there.” Freydis said.  “It’s summer here.”
“You could always go to those corners, grab an icicle and bring it back into a summer realm.” Mrs Tuesday said.
“But the icicle would no longer be in winter.” Freydis said.  “So it couldn’t be imagined.”
“But you just carry it from one part of the domain to another.” Mrs Tuesday looked at the others in search of sanity.
“But then it wouldn’t be in winter.” Freydis sighed.  “It is too quiet today and I still haven’t decided on a name.  Perhaps Mocha?”
“Frappe might be nice.” Jasmine said.  “It’s got a ring about it.”
“You could call yourself after one of those coffee pod things,” Adele suggested.  “That would make a change.”
“They’re trademarked.” Freydis waved a hand.  “I need to convey my inner self.  I need Lord Ragnar to see me completely desirable, unattainable but yet a sliver of hope.”
“That’s a tough one.” Jasmine said.
“I should not have thrown my coffee cup at his head.” Freydis rearranged the dried grasses next to the machine.
“No, it was a bad idea.” Jasmine had had to clean it up.
“I worry that it may have given him hope.” Freydis stepped back and looked at her work. 
“Do you want to get back with him?” Jasmine asked.
“Of course.” Freydis said, going back to the machine and moving a stem of oats a fraction to the left.
“Then don’t you have to let him think he has a little chance?”
Freydis frowned.  “I have it – Chai!”
“It sounds like a martial art.” Adele said. 

Jeanette came in weighed down by bags.  “You have to help me.”
Jasmine bounded up to her.  “What’s the matter?”
“What do I wear tonight?  Ian says I’ve got to look good but not too good.”
Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t look better than Kieran’s wife.  That would cause trouble.  But you have to look like you have class and style, because Ian’s almost a pack leader so you have to look good to reflect his position.”
“We’re just dating.” Jeanette said with an edge in her voice.
“That’s what you think.” Freydis picked up a silver bag.  “This is nice.”  She pulled out a well cut, navy blue trouser suit.  “You would have to dress it up, but it is suitable.”
Jeanette looked at her doubtfully.  “Are you sure?  I think it suits me, but I’m not sure that it’s formal enough.  Ian said elegant but not too formal.”
Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t wear full length.  But it has to look fancy.”
“What did you wear?” Adele asked.
Jasmine shrugged.  “I was at the tail of the pack.  I just wore a clean skirt and top or nice trousers – not jeans!”
“I got this blouse from the charity shop.  It’s pure silk.” Jeanette pulled out a delicate shirt blouse patterned with steel blue paisley.  “It was a real bargain.  I think it could go with the trouser suit or this skirt.” She pulled out a black suede skirt, beautifully cut and almost ankle length.  “I’ve lost some weight with all the work on the small holding, so it’s a little big for me, but I’ve got some nice belts and a shawl that I could wear instead of a jacket.”
“What else have you got?” Freydis peered into the heap of bags that had collapsed around Jeanette’s feet.  “The blouse would be perfect with either the trouser suit or skirt, though more striking with the skirt. Was it really second-hand?  It looks like it was hardly worn.”
“I have been to every charity shop in York.” Jeanette said.  “My feet are killing me and I swear I can’t face another changing room.” She paused.  “Is it okay to tell people I got the clothes there?”
Jasmine shrugged.  “Martha is supposed to wear the good stuff all the time, and get it new, but it’s considered clever to get a good deal if you’re someone like me.” She stroked over the skirt. 
Freydis pulled out a slim fitting cocktail dress in sugar pink and shook her head.  “You should take this back.  It would take all the colour out of you.  I think looking stunning and wearing good quality clothes would reflect well on Ian but at the same time you have obtained a thrifty bargain and are not trying to show wealth but prudent care for a smaller bank balance.  I should tell them.  This is nice.” She pulled out a painted necklace.  “It’s very striking and doesn’t look like something a four year old would make even though it is constructed from wooden beads.”

Darren walked in.  “Are we adding a boutique to the business?” He strode past the clothes and over to the racks of incense.  “Nobody ask me an opinion about the clothes, because I will give you an honest answer.”
“I’d better get these out of the way.” Jeanette scooped the heap up and scuttled towards the back room.
“I’ll have a look at that skirt and see if I can take it in quickly this afternoon.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a tricky material, but it may be possible to do a quick fix for tonight and a proper job later on.” She followed Jeanette into the back. 
Jasmine watched Darren scan through the varieties and pick up a couple of packs of church incense.  She looked around quickly.  Adele was in a far corner re-stocking the ornaments and Freydis was serving a couple that had followed Darren into the shop.  She smiled nervously at Darren as he placed the incense on the counter and reached for his wallet.  “It’s okay.  Steve said that you get all incense free.  There’s a special button on the till.” She scanned the packs and slid them into a paper bag.
“That’s kind of him.” Darren said.  “I don’t mind paying.”
Jasmine shook her head.  “Steve said it was important.”  She looked around again.  No-one was paying much attention.  Adele was trying to work out how to stuff four plastic fairies into a space meant for three and Freydis was charming the couple who were both nodding and smiling as she added whipped cream to their hot chocolates with an elegant flourish.  “Can I ask you something?”
“No, I can’t see your underwear.” Darren said as he picked up the bag.  He looked over Jasmine’s long, gypsy skirt and loose shirt.  “You look very nice.”
“It’s not about clothes.” Jasmine said.  “Do you really think I look nice?” she added.
Darren wished he knew what to say when women asked him questions like that.  He never seemed to get it right.  “You look nice.  You look comfortable and happy.”
Jasmine glowed.  “Thank you.  I know I need to look nice to reflect well on Ian.  He’s been so good to me and I don’t want him to be ashamed.” She glanced around again.  “But I need to ask, do you think Ian likes me?  I don’t mean likes me like he likes Jeanette, but likes me like he likes Callum?”  She twisted her fingers.  “Does he think I’m useful?”
“Of course he does.” Darren said.  He stopped and thought.  “Has he said anything to you?”
“No, but he’s so busy and he’s taking Jeanette to dinner at Fulford with Kieran and I don’t want him to feel awkward if he gets asked questions about me.”
“He’s not really said anything about you to me, except that he thinks you’re a good kid.” Darren said.  “And I think he’s right.”
Jasmine’s smile lit up her face and she took a deep breath.  “Did he say that?  It means that I’m an asset, not trouble.”
“I don’t know about that.” Darren said.  “But, what is it they say?  Keep your tail up and your fur flat and you’ll do fine.  And you will, I’m sure.”
Jasmine sighed happily.

Lord Ragnar stared moodily down at the street below.  He and Kadogan had found their way to the rooftops above Stonegate and were perched unseen next to the wary jackdaws.  “I cannot believe she would change her name.”
Kadogan shrugged.  As a loyal subject of Lord Ragnar, and possibly the nearest the elfen got to a friend, he had heard a lot on this theme.  He was bored.  “She still uses Freydis.”
“But she talks about changing her name to outlandish things such as ‘Steamer’.  She is not mine.”
“You could change your name.” Kadogan said with a hint of malice.
“I am the Prince of York.  I change my name for no-one.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glared at the pigeon which was pecking around the nearby gutter.  “On the other hand, a Viking name could be considered a little dated.”
Kadogan regretted his jibe.  “What could you use?  A name from a tea to go with her coffee?”
“I could use Assam.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.
“I suggest that you consider how it could be shortened.  Punishing that would take up too much time.” Kadogan watched the crowds swirling below as the tourists flowed towards the Minster or ebbed away.
“How about Chai?” Lord Ragnar was still glaring at the unconcerned pigeon.
“It sounds like a martial art.” Kadogan sprawled lazily along the ridge tiles.  He could watch the movement of the crowds and their shadows for hours.  He frowned and leaned forward.
“I am not calling myself English Breakfast,” Lord Ragnar said in an attempt to be light hearted.  “There is a type of tea called Gunpowder Tea.”
“Those shadows are wrong.” Kadogan said.
“What?  What has that to do with Freydis?”
“My lord, look.  That patch there – it’s wrong.” Kadogan pointed at a corner of an alley. 
Lord Ragnar followed Kadogan’s direction and frowned.  “That’s not a natural shadow.”
“I think, with respect, your name can wait.” Kadogan stretched and flowed into a form ready to land in the alley.  “That is dark energy piling in heaps and it is very near the entrance to your domain.  It is looking for a home.  My lord, we need to act.”

Jeanette smoothed down her skirt.  Mrs Tuesday had done a fantastic job and it fitted perfectly.  Her hair was loose for once and hung in shining curls over her shoulders and down her back.  She had draped a lacy cardigan around her shoulders and felt elegantly uncomfortable. 
Ian was wearing a suit but without a tie and looked incredibly distinguished.  As Jeanette glanced quickly at him, her heart turned over.  Jeanette knew he was nervous, but he hid it well as they walked into the large lounge.  Every head turned.  Jeanette could feel colour in her cheeks but she kept her smile in place.  It looked like she had judged it correctly.  The men were all wearing suits and the women all looked like they had taken some effort.  Some of the older ladies wore pearls with their summer dresses, some of the younger ladies wore tailored trousers with their crisp, fresh tops but all looked like they stuck to a dress code. 
Ian guided her over to the centre of the room.  “Jeanette, this is Kieran Latimer and his wife Martha.  He is the head of the pack here.  Kieran, Martha, this is Jeanette Fowler.  She has just taken over a smallholding just outside York.”
“I’m pleased to meet you.” Kieran smiled and shook Jeanette’s hand.  “I trust Ian is treating you well?”
Jeanette kept smiling and wondered how to take this.  There was a definite undertone to Kieran’s words.  “Ian has been very kind to me, and incredibly helpful.  He installed irrigation for me, and I am very grateful.”
“Hmm.” Kieran gave Ian a hard look.  Ian met it without flinching.  “Glad to hear that.”
“You look lovely,” Martha said, drawing Jeanette a little way away from the men.  “Where did you get that amazing skirt?  I’ve been looking for one just like it.”
“I picked it up in a charity shop.” Jeanette said, a little thrown.
“Of course.” Martha sighed.  “Which means I can’t go back and get my size.  What a shame.  I used to love rummaging in charity shops.  I came home empty handed more often than not, but it was the thrill of the chase.” She threw a loving look at her husband.  “Kieran prefers I shop at the better boutiques these days, but I do miss it.  Perhaps you would invite me along next time?  I may not be able to pick up anything myself, but I could still enjoy looking.”
“That would be nice.” Jeanette found herself relaxing.  Martha was safe in a way that few people were.  You knew that whatever happened, Martha would keep her head and make sensible and calm decisions while mayhem reigned around her.  She looked in her late thirties in a mature but well maintained way, taller than Jeanette with soft blonde hair and a warm smile.  “I’m sure you know the best places.”
“We need to go to Leeds.” Martha said.  “There are around twenty shops within yards of each other in Headingley and lots of lovely tea shops.  We could make a day of it – in the winter.  I couldn’t interrupt you during growing season.”
Jeanette relaxed a little more.  “I went to Headingley a few years ago.  My grandad was watching the cricket, but I went around the shops with my mum and you are right – there are dozens of them.” She hesitated.  “Is it okay to talk about Jasmine?  It’s just that she needs clothes and it would be good to go with her.  I think she needs reassurance.  If that’s okay with you or I could go with Jasmine some other time.” She added hastily.
Martha looked worried.  “Is Jasmine a trouble to you?  I would be worried about keeping her in line.  She has a bad reputation, you know, but I had a word with Darlene from Liverpool and…” Martha stopped.  “Jasmine has a reputation for fighting, but I understand where it came from.  Have you had any trouble?”
Jeanette shook her head.  “She’s actually been very sweet and a little nervous, if anything.  I know she fought with Ian when she first came to York, but, apart from that, she’s been fine.  In fact, I worry because she seems so eager to please, as if she’s waiting for a kick.”
Martha nodded.  “It’s hard if she has spent time as a stray.  It’s a cruel life and if she can keep her tail off the ground after that then all credit to her.”  She looked over to where Ian and Kieran were deep in conversation.  “Ian took a risk taking her in, though I suspect Mrs Tuesday was a big influence after talking with Kieran, but it looks like it was a good choice.”
“She’s really helpful in the shop.” Jeanette said.  “And she copes with it really well.  I’m getting used to it, but there is Freydis and Mrs Tuesday to deal with before you even consider what some of the customers can be like.”
“Keep an eye on Freydis and listen to what she says.” Martha said.  “She’s a handful and a nuisance but she knows more than she tells, and she often knows more than she thinks.  What is it like working with Steve Adderson?  I know he got hold of some speciality dog biscuits for us a few years ago when we were hosting a big Christmas and he did a very good deal.” She stopped and looked over to her husband who had turned away from Ian to take an urgent call. 
Jeanette’s heart sank.  Ian’s face was pale and set.  He glanced over at her and nodded.  “Martha will tell you where to go.” He took his jacket off
“It looks bad.” Martha said quietly.  “Keep your head down and follow Kirstie.” Martha waved over an older teenager that looked a lot like Jasmine.  “Look after Jeanette.”
Jeanette looked round at Ian who was watching Kieran.  Kieran walked over to the corner of the room where he deliberately placed down his phone, turned and raised a hand.  All eyes burned into him.
“It’s a full pack muster.  This is not a drill.  The Paladin’s citadel has been destroyed.”