Getting Ready to Open
Kadogan glared at the head of the brownies. "What ever happened to being paid with a saucer of milk?" He demanded.
"It's the going rate, your lordship." Gavin Brown didn't look apologetic. "£100 per week for the shop, £100 per week for the garden, and you get a full Brownie job - no messing, no corners cut, just good service. And that's preferential rate for elfen, your lordship. I'd charge double for a standard job."
"£200 per week for something you love doing?" Kadogan paced in front of the calm Gavin. "It's outrageous. And the garden shouldn't take that much. I'll offer £150 per week and a one off payment for setting up the garden on top of the money for plants. Say... £200."
Gavin shook his head. "Sorry, your lordship, but we've cut the price to the bone, we always do for your kin. By rights I should be charging a lot more, it's pennies per hour really, and don't forget that the garden also includes maintaining the car park."
"I have looked into the newspaper." Kadogan said importantly. "And for a cleaner from the newspaper I would pay a mere £10 per hour - or even less."
Gavin shook his head sadly. "Think of the size of this place." He said. "It would take a normal at least 10 hours with the size of this place, that's just doing a normal standard job. Now you are getting a brownie standard job for a fraction of what it should cost. That's a very good deal. We charge a lot more for the solicitors in town, you know, they pay..." Gavin paused. "It would be unprofessional for me to mention what they pay and they would bite my hand off for a deal like this - and I don't cover their gardening."
Kadogan continued to pace around the calm brownie. Fiona watched. She was the token normal person in the room. She was still getting to grips with the idea that brownies existed. Apparently they looked very different without the glamour they wore habitually around the normal world. Gavin looked like a stocky, middle aged manager who had built a business where you worked with your hands by starting at the bottom and knowing the work inside out. Kadogan, an elfen who were unpredictable at the best of times, was wearing a glamour of a business man in his thirties, currently in jeans with his sleeves rolled up but definitely a slim, focused business man who was currently coming second in a negotiation.
Gavin broke the ice. "Of course, the patronage of one such as yourself is of value." He said thoughtfully. "That has to be worth perhaps another look at the pricing."
"Which solicitors exactly do you work for?" Kadogan asked suspiciously.
"Professional courtesy, I don't discuss them with you and I don't discuss you with them, but I will say that they are very highly thought of. We only deal with the better class of clients."
Fiona watched Kadogan. Emotions flitted across his face. Of course he loved the appeal to his vanity, but which way were the brownies going to stitch him up? "My patronage will of course be worth something." Kadogan said loftily. "I will of course recommend you to any who ask."
"Actually I was thinking something a bit more concrete than that." Gavin stayed calm and unmoved. "Perhaps mutually beneficial. Think about it, how many local people are likely to come here? Quite a few - I daresay it will become quite a hub."
Kadogan waved a hand at Fiona. "My associate is the business person for the normals." He said dismissively. "And while I anticipate a certain amount of local traffic from the non normals I would not go so far as to say a hub..." He waited for Gavin to contradict him.
"I think your lordship will be pleasantly surprised at the volume of traffic. After all, it is hard to get hold of some of this stuff locally, and a lot of my friends prefer to see what they are dealing with rather than order on the internet. We can go on recommendations but it isn't the same thing. You are offering a real service to the local non normal community." Gavin paused to see how much of this was getting through.
"And there will be a cafe, with an assortment of food and drink." Kadogan said airily.
"A good place to meet in neutral surroundings." Gavin nodded.
"So this deal, what do you have in mind?" Kadogan asked, pausing in front of Gavin and steepling his slender fingers in front of his face.
"We do not charge you for the plants, which is a very good deal, and in return we have a discreet sign saying that all plants are provided by Gavin Brown and Sons, Established, and available at our nursery."
Kadogan peered at him, trying to work out the catch. "So I still pay £200 per week..."
"Which in itself is an excellent deal." Gavin interjected.
"... but I don't have to pay for the plants, and you put a sign up. How much were you asking for the plants again?"
"£500 every three months, so that is a considerable saving." Gavin said respectfully. "Of course we will be taking a small loss but the advertising is worth it, given the select clientele that will be visiting the establishment."
Kadogan frowned. "You won't just palm me off with some dead daisies and some plastic leaves, will you?"
Gavin lost the calm business man facade and looked genuinely hurt. "There are two reasons why that would never happen." He said sharply. "Not only would it be pretty poor advertising but it would hurt my professional pride. We are brownies. We do a good job, proper cleaning, nice gardens, no corners cut. I am not letting anything slipshod on my patch!"
Kadogan waved an apologetic hand. "I am sorry, Brownie Gavin Brown, I wasn't thinking. So, £200 per week plus the plants with advertising. I think that will be a very satisfactory arrangement."
Fiona watched them shake hands. So that was one more thing off the list. After Kadogan had seen the brownie out she looked at him warily. "It's a really good deal with the cleaning, you know." She said. "There are lots of decorative bits that will gather dust. It will take time."
Kadogan grunted. "They'll do half of it by magic anyway." He grumbled. "And I'm not sure about the decorations in here."
Fiona sighed inwardly. Kadogan was an immortal creature, an elfen, who was almost human. He didn't quite get what shops were about. "The decorations are fine." She said patiently.
"There's a lot of pink." Kadogan continued prowling. "And I do not like the 'Fairy Corner'. People will talk."
"The normals that come in here will expect something like that." Fiona looked at the display of pastel coloured china fairies. She quite liked how sweet they looked, although now she knew that they were absolutely nothing at all like the local elfen. "We can't go too dark and sinister."
Kadogan glared at the miniature doors and flowery prints. "It's disrespectful." He grumbled. "And I am not sure about some of that lot either." He waved his hand over to a large wall full of books.
"We are going to be serving two very different types of customers." Fiona reminded him. "Some are non normals - vampires, werewolves, boggarts and those who are aware of them. They will be interested in our wide ranging display of herbs, tools and supplies." She waved her hand over at the businesslike display under the brighter lighting. "And then there will be tourists, those who think they know what is going on and those who want a good deal the mystical stuff so that they can look mystic without actually putting the effort in. And they will like the fairies."
"If you are sure." Kadogan was still smarting after the negotiations with the brownies. "And the coffee shop will help draw people in."
"I imagine that we will get a lot of overspill at peak times when tourists are looking for a place to get a reasonably priced coffee anywhere there is a seat. York is a tourist town." Fiona reminded him.
"Hmm." Kadogan peered closer at the resin models. He pointed to a particularly supercilious figure. "I think I may have once been married to that."
"Why don't you check the candles while I start unpacking the rest of the herbs?" Fiona suggested. "Two days until opening."
"I shall indeed check the candles in the back room and ensure that the number of candles is comparable to the invoice. I am sure you can manage the herbs." Kadogan stalked off.
Fiona picked up the box from the counter and started to unload the wormwood onto the display. She had long since learned that it was no good giving Kadogan mundane work, he just didn't seem to be able to do something like dusting or unpacking stock. However she found that he enjoyed counting the candles so at least he was out of her hair. And to be fair, there wasn't much more to do, she had left the herbs to the last minute so that they would be fresh for longer. She had been running on adrenaline for far too long. She paused and counted the days. She stopped for a minute and then counted again. When the shop opened it would be exactly one hundred days since she literally had run into Kadogan. She filled up the display on autopilot. How could it have only been one hundred days. Because that was just about three months, and she had been so full of fury and frustration that she had hurled herself at this whole business until all of a sudden she was here, in front of a stand of herbs, acacia buds to yarrow, about to open a shop.
Fiona could remember the day that they had met. It had been a perfect storm of a day. She had woken up to a text from her boyfriend dumping her. This had left her incandescent. Not only had he begged her six months earlier not to go with the rest of her family to Australia but to stay with him because they had something special but he had waited until the week after she had cleaned out her bank account paying for his birthday before dumping her. Then her stupid, incompetent, intermittent bully of a boss had tore a strip off her for something he had done. She had been seething all day. This was followed by the commute from hell as the train from her work in Leeds to her home in York had been delayed, delayed again and then cancelled so that the next train had been a heaving mass of frustrated workers and damp Christmas shoppers trying to get home and she had been too late to pick up her card making magazine from the newsagents as they would be shut before she even got to the station. She had been hanging on to the anticipation of that magazine all day and it was the last straw. So when she came out of York station and saw some complete idiot suddenly freeze in the middle of the road seemingly mesmerised by the Christmas lights while a huge lorry bore down on him, horn blaring some rush of adrenalin had sent her sprinting across the road and cannoning into him, knocking him out of the path of the lorry and both of them landing on the pavement on the other side.
Fiona remembered how thin he felt, like some bag of twigs, but he had looked okay, a youngish man with short hair, hazel eyes and a spaced out expression. As she tried to gather her wits his eyes had become focused on her. For a few moments she had become lost in his gaze, those mysterious, bewitching hazel eyes and the world seemed to slide away. Then a woman stepping over them had tutted and broken the spell.
"I am Kadogan," he had said as he helped her to her feet, "And you have saved my life. I must repay you. But first, let me buy you coffee."
And that had been the start of it. She had rescued an elfen. One of the creatures that the fairytales had been based on. He was stronger than he looked, faster than he looked - at least at the moment. Elfen hid their true appearance under what Kadogan called a glamour, so he was a skinny bag of bones under the tall, sophisticated glamour with the devilish smile. As he was an older elfen he was more vulnerable than many to the flashing lights that multiplied at Christmas. All elfen had a susceptibility to flashing lights or over rhythmic music. They also fed on emotions so a nightclub was a perfect predator trap, lots of drunken emotions to tempt the elfen's appetite but lots of flashing lights and rhythmic music to lull them into a catatonic trance. Apparently specially employed goblins would haunt nightclubs and pull out any elfen out that had succumbed to the stimulus. Fiona thought that explained a lot about some of the men she had met in nightclubs. It also explained why Kadogan had suddenly frozen in such a dangerous place. He had been caught by the lights.
Fiona's reverie was broken by an imperious knock on the door. As she unbolted it she recognised the silhouette through the glass and smiled as she opened up. "Lord Marius, it is good to see you." She said. "Would you like some coffee?"
Lord Marius was another elfen. Fiona wasn't exactly sure of his status. He was respected and treated with deference by Kadogan, which was unusual, but he wasn't a Prince. Nor did he seem to stay mainly in one place like the rest of the elfen. Kadogan referred to him as a Postman, but Fiona thought that there was more to it than that. Lord Marius carried letters, parcels and gossip from one end of the country to the other and he had a lot of influence. Kadogan had tried to impress Fiona with the need to keep Lord Marius happy. Fiona didn't care. She liked Lord Marius, and it was always fun to watch him and Kadogan gossiping together.
Lord Marius removed his motorcycle helmet and smiled back at Fiona. He was wearing his usual glamour of a tall, lean, dark haired man with vivid green eyes. "I would indeed enjoy a coffee - you do such wonderful coffees."
"I have a new one for you to try - French Vanilla." Fiona went into the back room and beckoned Lord Marius to follow. "I know you are an expert when it comes to coffee."
Lord Marius looked around him as he pushed a large bundle of white sage off a chair and sat down. "I like to think I can enjoy coffee. You aren't as organised in here as you are in the shop itself." He said.
Fiona nodded. "We open in two days. We need to get the front sorted out first, and then we can sort out the back as and when we have time." She flicked on the kettle and spooned a teaspoon of instant French Vanilla coffee into a large china mug for Lord Marius and added five sugars. She put an Earl Grey Teabag into another large china mug for Kadogan and added three sugars to that. Then she paused and looked at her teas. Today was definitely a Russian Caravan tea day. She put her speciality teabag into her own mug. "Kadogan is checking the candles. We stock a wide range of candles and I managed to get a very good deal on some of the pillar ones."
"And in opening this shop with you he is repaying your risk in saving his life by giving you your heart's desire." Lord Marius said. "And I suspect it may do well. Though these are difficult times. I have been talking about nothing else for weeks."
Fiona smiled. "That is kind of you." She said, pouring the water into the mugs.
"Not at all. Everyone is so curious. A normal and an elfen working together in a mercantile endeavour - that has not been seen for centuries. At least not successfully. And Laurentius of Aldgate would like a copy of your catalogue."
"What!?" Kadogan appeared, holding a yellow candle and looked unnerved. "Prince Laurentius wishes a copy of our catalogue?"
"I'll be leaving York about teatime." Lord Marius said airily. "I am going that way, down to Rochester. I could drop one in, if you like."
Kadogan looked at Fiona, panicking. "We need to one specially printed."
Fiona stared. "We can't get a special edition printed by teatime, it's not much before lunch now. What's wrong with the catalogues, anyway? They're lovely quality."
"A special cover, then. We need to get a special cover. Where can we get a special cover, Fiona Ellen Greene?"
"What sort of special cover?"
"A princely one, an elaborate one, one that is personal to him." Kadogan waved his hands vaguely.
"That sounds extremely appropriate." Lord Marius said, sipping his coffee. "This coffee is marvellous. Thank you, Fiona, for making it for me."
Fiona looked blankly between the two of them. "Lord Marius, I am glad you like the coffee. Kadogan, where do you think we can get a personalised cover in less than four hours?"
Kadogan looked even more flustered. "Fiona Ellen Greene, you have made wonderful cards, can you not make one that would be a lovely cover for a prince, something regal, something not too modern - something that flatters him!"
Fiona took a small sip of her Russian Caravan tea and savoured the full taste for a few seconds. "I'll make a cover. But I won't be able to manage to do anything more today, not if I am working on that. You'll have to unpack the last of the stock."
"Anything!" Kadogan said.
"What's his full title, his name, and his favourite colour?" Fiona put down her tea with purpose. She had a lot of her card making kit here as she had had to kill time waiting for the builders and deliveries.
"I'll write it all down." Kadogan rushed to get the notepad that Fiona kept putting back next to the phone.
Fiona started going through her card stock and pulling out her embossing tools. "This had better be worth it."
By the time Lord Marius came back to pick up the customised catalogue Fiona felt almost rigid with stress. Kadogan had been pacing around as she worked the silver Dutch metal into some elegant frames and had carefully written 'Laurentius, Princeps' on the cover. She felt a little soothed by Lord Marius' reaction.
"I imagine you will get requests from other Princes." Lord Marius said as he held the finished article delicately between his fingertips. "They are all intrigued. I trust you will be supplying stock suitable for a prince?"
"Of course," Kadogan said, a little bit too quickly.
"I look forward to delivering the bespoke catalogues." Lord Marius said smoothly, finishing his coffee as he watched Fiona neatly attach the new catalogue cover.
"What exactly are Princes?" Fiona asked, carefully positioning some double sided tape.
"They are Important and Rich." Kadogan said, also intrigued as Fiona assembled the cover.
"They are the rulers of the non normals within their domain." Lord Marius said. Some govern small domains, but have great influence. Lord Laurentius has been in Aldgate since it was Londinium, ruled throughout the skirmishes between the kings of Wessex and Mercia and the East Saxons. He is perhaps the most influential, although his domain is not wide. Now up in the sparse hills and islands of Scotland Lord Magnus Redbeard rules from Shetland across to the Great Glen and down the West coast as far as Stranraer. He came across with the Northmen and communicates little with the other princes. Did you know that the Shetland islands are nearer to Bergen than Edinburgh? It shows in Lord Magnus. Perhaps I have time for one more of those excellent coffees."
Kadogan refilled the kettle and flicked it on. "Most princes are powerful elfen." He said, counting out five sugars. "And in most domains there is a paladin for every prince." He shrugged. "There are sometimes more, in places like Chelmsford, sometimes just one, as in York."
"There is a prince in York?" Fiona asked, looking up from her folding tool.
"I will be introducing you once the shop is open." Kadogan looked at the assorted jars and packets. "Which one of these is French Vanilla?"
"You didn't tell me about a prince." Fiona said, sliding the finished catalogue into the custom made parchment envelope embossed with 'Laurentius, Princeps' across the front in silver letters. "Or about paladins. What are paladins?"
"Paladins are mortals, normals, people like yourself, whose duty it is to protect the normal population from the non normal. In an ideal world they work with the prince." Lord Marius took the coffee from Kadogan with a genuine smile. "The coffee here is delightful."
"So what about the paladin in York?" Fiona carefully lit the sealing wax.
"Sealing wax! That will go down so well. Lord Laurentius sometimes gets a bit nostalgic for the old days." Lord Marius smiled wryly. "He is always looking up historical stuff on the internet."
Fiona carefully dropped the blob of wax onto the parchment and pressed in the seal, a picture of a stag. It worked first time and she breathed a sigh of relief. "Should I have met the paladin, then?" She asked. "Since he is like me, human."
"It's bad form to say 'human'." Kadogan said and handed the envelope to Lord Marius. "It's normal and non-normal."
Fiona frowned and looked at the two elfen who were examining the seal. "This paladin of York, then. Should I have met him?"
Kadogan waved an impatient hand. "It's a bit complicated at the moment. Besides, more urgently, the candle shelf is defective."
"There is nothing wrong with the shelf." Fiona felt bewildered. "I put them together myself, they're all fine."
"The shelf is defective." Kadogan repeated.
Fiona hurriedly packed away the tools. "Is the unit failing, or slanted?"
"Just this one shelf."
"How can one shelf of a unit be defective - they are all going to be defective or none are." Fiona snapped.
Lord Marius grinned in amusement. "May I see the defective shelf?" He asked. "It sounds a curiosity."
The floor of the store room was far from even and Fiona had spent a great deal of time putting together the plain storage units and then wedging their legs with bits of cardboard so that everything was level. Kadogan indicated the nearest unit holding the candles. "It is this one." He announced. "Behold."
He took a smallish pillar candle and put it on the top shelf. It remained unmoved. He put it on the bottom shelf, and the second shelf, and nothing happened. Then he placed it on the second shelf from the top, just at eye level.
Fiona watched as the pillar candle that had been so immobile on the other shelves wobbled, fell and then rolled the length of the shelf. She found it hard to swallow as her mouth dried and her stomach froze. What would be a very minor effect on tv was icily chilling in real life. She found herself backing away from the shelf and the hair felt almost as if it was standing on end.
"Kadogan, you get excitable, this is merely a haunted shelf, not defective." Lord Marius sounded irritated. "And you have questioned your normal companion's competence in constructing the shelf units."
"That's okay." Fiona said, her eyes fixed on the candle.
"You are right, as ever, Lord Marius. I should have realised. Fiona Ellen Greene, I apologise."
"It really is okay." Fiona managed to drag her eyes away long enough to smile briefly at Kadogan before staring again at the small, inoffensive pillar candle. With a massive effort of will she managed to force herself to reach forward and touch the candle. It felt just the same as ever, slightly cool, smooth and waxy. She picked it up and looked at it. It remained exactly the same. She carefully put it down again on a different shelf.
For some reason this was a turning point. She had seen hints of what an elfen really does look like under the glamour, and she had been introduced to people that were described as goblins or boggarts or brownies but who had looked perfectly normal. Everything had happened so quickly that she hadn't had a chance to catch her breath. The electricians who had sorted out the wiring may have been goblins, but they had looked like electricians to Fiona, drinking endless cups of tea and nipping off to the bookies when there was a break. Somehow seeing this candle move had made it real. Suddenly, with no warning, this small thing that could be rigged with some fishing line and a hook, that was so routine and unexciting if seen on tv, had turned her world upside down.
"I will ring Reverend Darren King." Kadogan announced. "He will not begrudge a journey to visit, and he will be able to explain everything to Fiona."
Lord Marius nodded. "He is the ideal person to do so. Fiona should have been told earlier, perhaps, but I understand you have been busy, and it has been obvious she has not been endangered."
"Hmm?" It sounded a long way off to Fiona and she felt a bit giddy. Without warning Kadogan scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the back room just as things started going dark at the edges. He sat her gently down on a chair and disappeared for a moment.
"I thought this may be required. Though it is remarkably hard to purchase smelling salts in these times." Kadogan waved something under Fiona's nose and she gasped as the ammonia hit. As she started to come round she found a glass pushed against her lips and she took an obedient swallow. Liquid fire ran down her throat and took the last of her breath away.
As she choked Kadogan held up the bottle to Lord Marius. "It is quite difficult to get hold of decent brandy in these days. The brandy sold in shops is so insipid. I managed to get hold of this from a private distillery on a trip to Arles."
"There are a great many laws these days on alcohol." Lord Marius said. "And it is an inconvenience. However, as I understand you have not spent so much time with normals, I fear you fail to remember their frailty. Alcohol of this strength can be injurious to them, they require more insipid fare." He looked at Fiona who was starting to come round from her choking fit. "Fortunately it appears that Fiona Ellen Greene is unaffected, but perhaps a cup of coffee all round will be a good idea. Five sugars for me."
The Reverend Darren King, exorcist, was not what Fiona had expected. Her first thought on meeting him was just how good looking he was. For a start he was younger than she expected, in his late thirties, with short dark hair and green eyes. And he just didn't look like a vicar. He was wearing jeans that had been value brand many years ago and were almost washed to death with a shrunken t-shirt and a battered leather jacket. He parked up in the empty car park, raised his eyebrows at the brownies industriously landscaping, grabbed a large sports bag out of the back of the car and knocked hard on the door.
Kadogan opened the door to him with a smile. "Reverend Darren King, how good of you to come, and at short notice. We open tomorrow, you know."
"I thought it best to have a quick word with Miss Greene." Darren said, closing the door behind him. "Especially as there is no effective paladin around. Have you introduced Miss Green to Lord Ragnar?"
"Lord Ragnar has said that he will believe in the shop once it is open." Kadogan shrugged. "I am sure he will be convinced of his reality once he gets his tribute."
"There has been a lot of interest in the catalogues." Darren said, looking around. "And this looks like a pretty good set up. I've got a list of orders from the Village." He waved a bundle of papers vaguely at Kadogan. "Anyway, let's get the exorcism out of the way, then I can have a word with Miss Greene." He smiled professionally at Fiona. "Just to let you know a bit about what's going on. Is there somewhere I can wash my hands?"
"Er, you can use the kitchenette in the back." Fiona was caught off guard as she had been admiring the toned biceps revealed when Darren took off his jacket. "Our cafe is being set up at the moment, so you can't really use those sinks."
"Great." Darren picked up the bag and walked briskly ahead of Fiona. She enjoyed the view. "In here? And then you had better show me the site."
Fiona was glad that she didn't need to be at the exorcism. Just the candle rolling by itself had unaccountably shaken her. What would a real exorcism do to her? The ones in the films seemed bad enough. She stood for a moment at the new counter and gathered her thoughts. The till was working and there were spare till rolls. Kadogan had exerted the most unearthly influence and they had a card payment point and it was set up and working. The wooden floors had been re-varnished, the walls were unobtrusively painted and lined with newly filled display units. The lighting was working and the chairs for the cafe had finally come and were distributed already around the tables.
Louise was setting things out and making lists. Fiona was really a bit worried about her. She seemed so shy and nervous that it seemed to be almost cruel to make her deal with the public serving tea and coffee. However Kadogan had insisted as she had needed a job and he felt he owed her the chance due to something connected with Louise's great-grandfather. Fiona had not tried to pursue the line of reasoning. In her experience, trying to get a logical explanation from Kadogan was not worth a candle.
An almighty crash came from the cafe area and Louise shrieked in shock as a tray of cups fell inexplicably from the top of the hot chocolate machine. Darren came stalking out of the store room and straight over to the cafe. 'Of course,' thought Fiona, 'That cafe wall backs onto the store room, and that's probably where the shelf is.' She found herself mentally trying to work out the relative distances as she ran over to Louise. Darren pushed past her and started to firmly lecture the wall in Latin. Louise grabbed hold of Fiona's arm.
"We'd better get out of Darren's way." Fiona said quietly, moving back carefully.
Louise nodded. "It's only a minor spirit, but it's tricky. He'll need a bit of room to work."
Fiona glanced at her. So much for comforting the nervous girl. Darren was continuing, it sounded like he was praying, although it did sound at one point as if he was snapping a Latin version of, 'You-stay-exactly-where-you-are-or-else.' Kadogan came out from the stairwell looking untroubled.
"It is always a pleasure to watch an expert excel in his chosen field." He remarked calmly.
"Do you mind?" Darren snapped irritably before continuing with his Latin. He then stalked back to the store room. Fiona trailed a safe distance after him and peered into the room. Darren made the sign of the cross over the wall and splashed it with water from a small, silver cup. There was a sound like a gunshot. Then Darren nodded in satisfaction and started packing up his things. "Miss Greene, may I have a word in private?" he asked.
"That is entirely appropriate." Kadogan said. "I shall assist Louise in clearing up the cups."
"Would you like a tea or a coffee?" Fiona asked brightly, trying to hide that she was suddenly nervous.
"Tea, milk, no sugar." Darren leant against the door frame as Fiona bustled about the kettle. She looked at her speciality teas. It was definitely an Orange Pekoe type of afternoon. "You are doing okay."
Fiona paused as she poured hot water into the mugs. She didn't feel like it. "Would you like a biscuit?" She asked.
"I'm fine, thanks. And you are doing okay. But are you doing okay for the right reasons?" Darren took his mug off her. "Is there anywhere we can sit with a bit of comfort?"
"We can go upstairs. We'll be renting a few of the rooms out, but at the moment we have a sort of office going." Fiona eased past Darren. "This way."
The top floor of the building was newly decorated as well but was still a blank canvas, just bare but clean and decorated walls. One room upstairs had been converted into an office and there were two chairs and a table next to the window. They hadn't got around to putting up curtains or blinds yet and the weak spring sunshine seemed almost harsh. Fiona moved some papers from the table to next to the computer and waved Darren to sit down. "We've been focusing on the shop." She said, a bit lamely.
Darren didn't seem to be paying any attention to his surroundings. He carefully placed his mug in front of him and looked hard at Fiona. "Let me summarise. You saved Kadogan's life just before Christmas. He decides that he owes you - and he does - and that he is going to give you your heart's desire. Three and a half months later you find yourself in a converted pub about to open a mystical supplies shop with Kadogan. Was that your desire?"
Fiona struggled to look back over the last few months. "It's hard to work out how it happened. He asked me about what I had wanted as a little girl, and I remember how much I had liked my auntie's card shop. I had helped there when I was little, sorting out the cards, watching the calendar to put out the right cards for the right time of year, keeping up with the gift wrap and the ribbons..." Fiona sighed. "Of course, small card shops aren't really worth it unless you are in a particular location, and the best locations have horrifically high rents. So Kadogan suggested we have a shop that sells stuff that his people want and sells cards and candles and that. It seemed like a good idea. He'd put up the money, and we would run it together. I would get job satisfaction and a chance to make money and a bit of a stake in life and he would get a chance to make money and partly repay me." She shrugged. "It made sense."
"So he has you to do the donkey work for a financial enterprise that will give him contacts all over the UK." Darren said bluntly. "Why did you pick the White Hart?"
"That was really easy." Fiona said. "Pubs are closing all over the country. You can blame the supermarkets or the internet or the smoking ban, but they are shutting down all over the place. The White Hart is on the outskirts of a tourist town, has parking, lots of space and is cheap. Kadogan paid cash for leasehold and freehold. It went through on the nod - and yes, I was sensible enough to get my own solicitor to check it. I've heard about fairy gold."
Darren grunted. "Well you know something then. Watch out for that, though Kadogan will take it pretty seriously that you've saved his life. I daresay you're handing out plenty of coffees to Lord Marius as well. He's as trustworthy as an elfen gets - which is to say, not very. He'll prod for gossip and stir up trouble given half a chance, but he is mainly less harmful than most." Darren took a sip from his tea. "Lord Ragnar, the local prince, is also okay. He knows better than to prod too hard at a normal, though you are not entirely under the protection of the local paladin due to your association with Kadogan." Darren frowned "Have you met the local prince?"
Fiona shook her head. "He sounds terrifying." she said quietly.
"Has Kadogan explained about Callum - the local paladin?" Darren asked.
Fiona shook her head.
"Callum Albright is, or was, the local paladin. Paladins usually turn up where there are princes. Their job is to protect the normal population, keep the peace and work with the local princes and non normals to make sure law and order continues. Except Callum has been in a coma since early October and the signs aren't good." Darren looked worried for a moment. "There was a car crash, and all the investigations and scrying have not found anything suspicious, just a drunk losing control of his car and crashing into Callum. At first they induced coma because of his head injuries, but he has faded. No-one is sure what is going to happen."
"Can the prince pick a new paladin, or get a stand in?" Fiona asked.
"The princes have no say in who becomes a paladin." Darren smiled wryly. "That's the point. The paladins have to keep a check on the princes. Something picks a paladin, something mystical." He looked thoughtful and took a sip of his tea. "The first some know about it is when the local werewolf is knocking on their door complaining about the noise their normal neighbours are making and what's the paladin going to do about it? Usually they are found before that. With Callum being alive and yet out of action, no-one knows." Darren trailed off, looking into the middle distance. Then he visibly pulled himself together. "Anyway, you should be okay, don't take food or drink from anyone you're not sure of and ask Kadogan to deal with anyone non normal giving you grief. I'll write the numbers of the local Knights Templar down for you if you get any trouble, they should be able to help out at a push. Don't give credit and keep smiling." He paused. "By the way, what sort of price are you doing on your Church Incense?"
"I think that, considering the travelling and the incense, we can let you have a few packs for free." Fiona said, draining her mug. "It's the least we can do."
Fiona led the way downstairs, feeling suddenly very drained. There seemed to be a lot to take in and tomorrow they opened to the public - normal and non normal. Fiona wondered if she would be able to tell the difference. She walked wearily towards the store room to pick up the incense and felt almost offended at Kadogan's cheery smile as he hung up the phone.
"Great news, Fiona Ellen Greene" He said cheerfully. "We have our tarot reader."
A Great Opportunity
Dave Kinson checked his look in the mirror. He didn't look like a Tarot Reader. His dark hair was too short, he was too clean shaven and he didn't even have an earring. He wasn't going to get one either. The jeans were worn, though clean, and the sweatshirt he had pulled on had a psychedelic pattern on. His last girlfriend but one had bought it. Dave frowned for a minute. Was it Michelle? No, he was pretty sure it had been Keely. No, it had definitely been Michelle. The t-shirts Keely had got him were far too plain to be of use. Dave shook his head at his reflection. He looked wrong. It couldn't be helped though. This was too good an opportunity to miss.
He grabbed up the cloth bag with the tarot cards, the embroidered silk cloth he had found in a charity shop and the book that had the prompts and ran easily down the stairs. This would be a break, just a breathing space, when he could work out what it was he really wanted to do.
"Hello, Mrs Gittens." he said cheerfully as he jogged past his landlady and towards the door.
"Mr Kinson, you know my rules." Mrs Gittens said sternly. "You have to be working to stay here, I was very clear."
"I am on my way to work now." Dave looked injured, his brain working frantically.
"But it's not proper work, is it?" Mrs Gittens folded her wrinkled hands in front of her respectable dress. "Proper work is a proper job, with start and finish times and everything."
"The rent is up to date." Dave said apologetically. "And I am keeping busy."
"Rent or no rent. I want a proper job for my lodgers. This self employed stuff is no good."
"Things are a bit awkward and there aren't that many jobs around at the moment." Dave hefted the bag.
Mrs Gittens sniffed. "My cousin at Leeds has a dry cleaning business and is desperate for a good driver. He'll let you have the use of the van and everything."
"That sounds great, but I've got to go." Dave could think of nothing worse than a job as a delivery driver. "I've got a chance with a new shop and I don't want to be late."
Dave jogged down to the White Hart. He remembered when it had been a pub where hard men and their harder wives had a drink. It had certainly changed. The new landscaping looked sparse in the thin spring sunlight and while the new paint on the exterior looked tasteful it was still raw. He knocked on the locked door.
The woman who opened it looked harassed and a smear of dust streaked down her face and over the cheap t-shirt. Her jeans were filthy. Dave smiled warmly at her. Underneath the dirt of the last minute rush there was a lovely woman. "Hi, I'm Dave Kinson, the tarot reader. I spoke to someone called Kadogan and they said you would be opening tomorrow and could I come and get set up."
"I'm Fiona Greene." Fiona waved him in. "How much has Kadogan discussed with you?"
"He just said this was a new business with a strong New Age ethos." Dave looked around. "It looks impressive."
It was looking impressive. The stands along the walls were filled with a range of merchandise from darkly dramatic to prosaically pragmatic. Several stands of delicately beautiful cards were dotted around the wide space and near the till there were swathes of exquisite wrapping paper. Louise was sweeping up some shreds of the packing boxes and Kadogan was looking superior as he counted the candles on the display on the far wall. A discreet sign asked people to book at the till to see the Tarot Reader.
"You do know that the tarot reading is for entertainment purposes only?" Dave said tentatively. "I don't actually believe in stuff like tarot."
Fiona looked at him, then over at Kadogan. "We have two stands full of tarot books, we have a locked case full of expensive tarot decks and some of the artwork was directly inspired by the Rider Waite deck." She waved a hand over at the tasteful print of the Six of Wands. "And you are telling me that you don't believe in Tarot?"
Dave looked at her carefully. "I'm very good at the Tarot Readings. I listened to what people say and I tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes I tell them what they need to hear. It's sort of like counselling but with cards."
"Like counselling?" Fiona looked at him in some disbelief.
"It's cheaper than proper counselling." Dave said defensively. "And I have had some training in counselling." It had been online and at least it hadn't cost too much before he realised he really didn't have the patience to be a counsellor.
Kadogan came stalking over. "I am sure that there is one more white Church candle of three inches diameter than there should be according to the manifest."
"That's an acceptable margin of error." Fiona said gravely.
"I am not sure that any error is acceptable when it comes to candles." Kadogan brightened when he saw Dave. "Dave Kinson, tarot reader, I am glad you have come. You are very welcome."
"I was just explaining that the readings I do are for entertainment purposes only." Dave said warily.
"What does that mean?" Kadogan asked.
"It means he doesn't believe in tarot readings." Fiona said flatly.
"Well, of course not!" Kadogan stared at Fiona. "That would be completely inappropriate. Fiona, please will you show Dave Kinson where he will be doing the readings and if he chooses to use accommodation here I'm sure it can be arranged for a nominal rent. Now if you will excuse me I need to check on the scented candles."
Fiona led Dave through the door behind the till. "There's advantages to converting a pub. You would not believe the amount of storage rooms and cellars, and the living quarters upstairs are being converted into a few flats. Are you looking for somewhere?"
Dave tried to play it cool. "It would be convenient." He said thoughtfully. "My landlady is lovely, but she doesn't really approve of tarot reading."
"I'm not sure I do." Fiona said with complete truth. "Actually, I'd never even considered it. Anyway, here's your room. We've shoved some basics in here, we take 10% from each consultation for the first three months then we move to a fixed rent. The bedsits are basic and we have the minimum of furnishings, but the rent reflects that. Can you provide references?"
Dave could always provide references. Some of them were genuine. He looked around. The walls were painted white and there was a plain blind at the window. One plain, square, IKEA table sat in the centre of the small room. Two chairs were pushed under it, one either side. A small chest of drawers sat in one corner and a few spare chairs were neatly lined against the far wall. "Can I decorate in here?"
"Within reason." Fiona looked at him thoughtfully. "I mean, nothing too sinister, nothing that needs planning permission, nothing that will need a builder to put right and nothing with adult content."
Dave looked around. "How about the floor?"
Fiona looked down at the plain, beige carpet. "What do you have in mind?"
"Just a rug, nothing dramatic." Dave said cheerfully. "I'll get the paint and get started."
Fiona looked at him carefully. Dave gave her his most trustworthy smile. "How about hanging pictures?"
"As long as it's done carefully." Fiona frowned. "Let me know if you want one of the flats when you've finished painting."
It didn't take long for Dave to set up as he wanted. The walls were painted a tasteful pale blue as some research on the internet suggested that it was a protective colour. He had even copied the Seal of Solomon from the internet, painting it directly onto the wall and then hanging an empty picture frame over it. It looked pretty good. He looked around with some satisfaction. It was uncluttered, calm with just the right hint of mystical. There was a quick knock at the door and Kadogan came in.
"What an excellent job." Kadogan nodded as he looked around. "Will you be decorating if you take one of our flats?"
"Possibly." Dave said cautiously.
"It is perhaps best if you speak with Fiona about that." Kadogan frowned as he looked at the Seal of Solomon on the wall.
"It's just a design I copied from the internet." Dave said quickly.
Kadogan looked at it for a moment longer, then turned to Dave. "Tomorrow we open at noon. Fiona has made some advanced bookings for your services and you have three requiring readings tomorrow afternoon." Kadogan hesitated. "Tomorrow morning a friend of mine will be calling. He's quite harmless, but he is a little odd."
Dave looked blankly at Kadogan. This was a man obsessed by candles and had hired a tarot reader just by answering an ad in the paper and he thought his friend was odd. "I won't get in the way."
"Good. Now, let's have a look at the flats." Kadogan strode out of the door with a confident air. "I think you will be pleased with their standards."
The Opening Day
There were days when Fiona could almost fall in love with Kadogan. He could appear handsome enough for any movie, he had an impish sense of humour, normally well hidden, and his mercurial temperament made his company an exhilarating experience. His rainbow of moods could lighten the whole room and he was unfailingly courteous and considerate. Today was not one of those days.
"What do you mean, have I sorted out the catering?" Fiona glared at him.
Lord Marius was lounging against the case with the athames. "Fiona Greene, Kadogan did tell you that his prince was coming. Surely you must have guessed that you would need formal food and drink."
"I don't know what elfen want!" Fiona almost shouted. "How am I supposed to know what elfen want?"
"You have known me for one hundred days exactly." Kadogan pointed out helpfully. "And you know how I take my tea."
"And you know how I take my coffee." Lord Marius added. "Besides, anyone important visiting anything new expects tasteless sandwiches, cheap crisps and wine in paper cups. I thought it was a respected rule."
Fiona spun around as the door opened. It was Louise, shaking out her umbrella as she came in. "I thought I'd come in a bit early and set up the refreshments." She said. "And the floor will need a lot of mopping if this carries on, though it's supposed to be dry later."
"The rain will stop in half an hour." Kadogan said.
"It will stop in thirty five minutes." Lord Marius said firmly. The elfen glanced at each other and shrugged.
"I didn't arrange catering." Fiona felt panic falling on her like a tidal wave. "I never thought to arrange catering."
Kadogan ran a precise hand over a display of astrological bookmarks and carefully straightened up some Leos. "There is no urgency. Lord Ragnar will not attend for another three hours, there is a supermarket very close, I will telephone Dave to come early to assist us and you, he and Louise can go and pick up food. We have cups, plates and tea and coffee anyway, it is too early to offer wine in paper cups, and while it would be inadvisable to use up all our stock of snacks we have resources in our cellar. We even have the microwave to heat anything that you think should be heated."
Fiona stared at him. This was the same person who had completely lost all reason over a missing candle. "But what do we get?"
Kadogan shrugged casually. "Just the usual stuff. I believe most occasions like this have sausage rolls."
Lord Marius pulled a face. "It's dreadful, isn't it, the things that are presented at these occasions. There should also be egg sandwiches."
Kadogan nodded. "I don't know anyone who likes egg sandwiches, but they still turn up."
"I know what to get." Louise said confidently. "How many are coming?"
Kadogan thought for a moment. "A dozen, at least."
"And what budget?" Louise asked.
"Generous." Kadogan looked pointedly at Fiona. "Fiona, your economy has been most helpful at times, but this is not a time to stint."
"How do you know so much about the elfen?" Fiona asked as she drove her and Louise to the supermarket. "And how do you stay so calm?"
Louise looked down. "I've been around them a lot." She said quietly. "It's a bit crazy, but Kadogan has always been kind."
"But how did you meet them?" Fiona asked. She sensed the discomfort in Louise. "It's none of my business really. Sorry. I'm just glad that you know what we are buying."
Louise shook her head. "It's okay, it's just a long story that's a bit messy. My mum made some mistakes when she was a teenager. I was one of them. So were the drugs. No-one is sure who my father is. I was about to be taken in by social services when Kadogan turned up. He said he owed my great grandfather a favour, so he took me to live with my grandma and kept an eye on me. He's been really kind." Louise looked hard at Fiona. "The elfen can come across as cold or strange, but Kadogan is really, really kind. He didn't have to do all he has done, and getting me working with you has been a massive help."
Fiona felt the responsibility as she swung her car into the supermarket car park. It was not just her future and Kadogan's money but also the job for Louise and the opportunities for Dave. She took a deep breath. She would be meeting a prince in two hours forty five minutes as well so she had better get moving.
"Are you sure about this?" Fiona asked Louise as she stood back to look at the neatly arranged tables.
"Honestly, wait and see." Louise said confidently as she started stacking the cups. "Could you get some extra sugar out from the back while I sort out these. All the elfen seem to have a sweet tooth."
"I'll be upstairs if anyone needs me." Dave said firmly. He looked at the tables. "It does look very..." He searched for a polite description. "It looks very nice."
Fiona frowned at his back as he escaped upstairs and then called to Kadogan as she went to get the extra sugar from the cellar. "Why don't you have a look at the food? Louise has laid it out and it looks..." She couldn't think of a good word to say.
Kadogan stuck his head out of the back room. "What does it look like?" He asked carefully.
"Have a look. I'm just getting the sugar."
Fiona took her time pulling out the huge bag of sugar and lugging it up the steps. At the top she could hear Kadogan's delighted voice. "You have spray cream!" There was the distinctive hiss of a squirt of cream and cackles of laughter from Kadogan and Lord Marius. "That is remarkable, Louise, I would never consider spray cream."
"There are no sausage rolls." Lord Marius commented as Fiona pulled the sugar up and staggered over to the counter. "This will be a reception that will be talked about - a normal reception that is not normal!"
Fiona dumped the sugar on to the counter and looked in disbelief at Louise who shrugged. The four tables were draped with plain white table cloths and that was the only thing that was plain about it. Edible glitter and rice paper confetti covered everything. The cooked chicken legs glinted blue, the olives sparkled green and the incredibly expensive, out of season strawberries were liberally scattered with gold. Not only were a dozen spray cream aerosols arranged on the table but there were half a dozen small plates just with spray cream artistically sprayed on and scattered with pink edible confetti. More edible glitter in pink and red was scattered over the tiny meringues and mini gingerbread biscuits. Edible gold spray adorned carrot sticks, cucumber chunks and heaped plates of ribs and sausages. Nearby, in the ice cream counter, were tiny dishes filled with frozen blueberries sprinkled with multicoloured sugar strands. "I didn't know half of this stuff existed." Fiona said blankly.
"And I didn't know that you existed."
Fiona jumped and turned round shakily. "Hello?" She said hesitantly.
Louise frowned. "Fiona, this is Sir Ewan. He's the head of the local Knights Templar."
"I'm pleased to meet you." Fiona politely held out her hand.
Sir Ewan's hand was hard and warm. She looked up into the cool, calculating eyes and took a breath. He was good looking in a hard way, with chiselled lips and high cheekbones. He towered over her and, while he was not heavily muscled, Fiona could feel the balanced strength in him. "I'm Sir Ewan Blaine. I'm filling in until we have an active paladin. We should talk."
Kadogan appeared suddenly behind Fiona. "Perhaps now is not the appropriate time, Sir Ewan Blaine. After all, Lord Ragnar will be with us before we know it. And there are other guests."
There was a tense moment as Sir Ewan locked eyes with Kadogan. Then he gave a curt nod. "I'll call in tomorrow at 8.30am." He smiled thinly at Fiona. "I'll buy you breakfast."
"And I know I can reassure Fiona Greene that you mean her no harm." There was an edge to Kadogan's voice.
"Of course I mean her no harm. I also need to make sure that you don't either." He bowed slightly to Fiona. "My compliments on the buffet. The elfen will love it."
Kadogan watched him move over to Lord Marius. "Sir Ewan is a good man, but has no trust for the non normals. It is completely understandable, but tiresome at parties. Let me introduce you to Steve Adderson. He is a merchant and we may be able to do considerable business with them."
Fiona found Steve Adderson a welcome relief. He smiled at her. "It's crazy dealing with the elfen, but it's fun as well. I'm sort of, well, a pedlar." He shrugged. "Or a courier. I'm not sure. I suppose I'm a glorified errand boy. I have a car full of requests for stuff from here - but I'm to check them first." Steve grinned. "You are an unknown quantity. I take letters and parcels around the country that aren't safe to hand over to a normal post office, I buy and sell on their behalf and generally keep myself busy." He smiled. "We could do a lot of business."
"Perhaps we should talk about that." Fiona was already getting a sense of the interest that was stirring in the non normal world. "When would be a good time?"
Lord Marius appeared suddenly between them. "Fiona Greene, you should know that Steve Adderson's former girlfriend abandoned him due to his imp. Steve Adderson, you should know that Fiona Greene's boyfriend abandoned her most callously just before Christmas. Perhaps you should console each other." He said helpfully. "Ah, that will be Lord Ragnar attending now, and he is accompanied by his wife. That will be splendid."
Fiona looked at Steve in blank confusion. "An imp?"
"It's a long story." Steve said quickly. "I'll be back in York next Tuesday. I'll call and we can meet up. You had better greet Lord Ragnar because it's risky keeping a Prince waiting."
A Great Reception
Fiona took a quick turn around the room. The tables of food looked like an army had marched through them and paper plates were now discarded everywhere. They would be finding edible glitter in unexpected corners for weeks Fiona thought to herself as she whisked up some cups from the top of a display case of athames. It was interesting catching the snippets of who was saying what to whom. Gavin Brown was in deep conversation with Steve Adderson about the practicalities of transporting live plants. “It’s not really my thing,” Steve said carefully. “I’m not very good with plants. Besides, Armani seems to make them wilt.”
“I know that there’s a market out there for properly grown and harvested ceremonial herbs and you’re a known and trusted courier.” Gavin frowned. “How bad is Armani?”
Fiona nearly dropped the cups she was carrying as a small creature crept out of Steve’s pockets. It was a few inches high with wide, pointed ears, evil features, and a wide, yellow toothed grin. He scratched his belly through the stained t-shirt and then pulled what looked like a miniature e cigarette from its dirty jeans. Steve looked down with a resigned sigh. “He’s bad.”
“Hmm.” Gavin narrowed his eyes. “Imps can be a problem with the more delicate plants but there are ways around that. If you could just guarantee the transport I’ve a great deal in mugwort seedlings that have been planted according to the magical hours and…”
Fiona carried on gathering up the plates and cups. Lord Ragnar was deep in conversation with Lord Marius and they were both looking serious. Lord Ragnar shook his head. “The increase in Dragon’s Blood in Yorkshire as a whole is becoming worrying. Are you sure you have no idea who distributes?”
Lord Marius looked grim. “I can assure you, I have plans for them when I find them.”
The tone of his voice sent a chill through Fiona and she hurried past, scuttling behind Louise and dumpling the plates by the sink. “You were absolutely right. The food has been a massive hit.”
Louise looked smug. “It’s the best advertising.” She looked thoughtful. “Have you thought of having ‘invitation only’ evenings when it’s just non-normals? We could do one once a month, put on food like this and make a big deal out of it. Of course, we’d need decent security.”
“How bad could it get?” Fiona asked carefully. Louise shrugged.
Fiona noticed Lady Freydis over at the fairy corner. Against all odds the powerful elfen, married to the Prince, was admiring a winsome, pink, polyresin fairy. Fiona took a deep breath and hurried over.
“Your ladyship,” Fiona began. “I am flattered that you are taking an interest in our merchandise.”
Lady Freydis was wearing the glamour of a tall, haughty blonde with a model’s poise. “It is just so exquisite. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so wonderful, not in all my centuries.”
Fiona kept a neutral expression on her face as she looked at the fairy. It was very, very pink, with a constipated expression under the foxglove hat and the butterfly wings stretching out behind the tubby sprite weren’t straight. “I am honoured by your interest. Of course, such things are usually picked out by the more discerning visitor. Please let me make it a gift to you.” Fiona had been well briefed by Kadogan. The Prince and his wife had to be humoured at all costs.
“A gift!” Lady Freydis sighed and looked round at her companion. “What a kindness.”
“Please, allow me to pay for this.” Her companion said.
“This is Mr Reynauld Baxter, a vampire. He’s so indulgent to me.” Lady Freydis ran a manicured fingertip over the figurine.
“I’m very happy to give a gift to Lady Freydis – in fact, it’s our honour.” Fiona stammered.
“It is my honour to give gifts to Lady Freydis.” Rey’s eyes caressed Lady Freydis, then turned sharply to look at Fiona. “But how can I give a gift if you won’t let me pay.”
Fiona looked frantically for Kadogan. She wasn’t sure what was going on here but all her instincts told her she could get herself in massive trouble. Kadogan caught her eye and came over. “Kadogan, Mr Baxter would like to buy Lady Freydis this figurine.” Fiona said carefully.
“It is so adorable.” Lady Freydis said, “It has glitter on it.”
“Fiona offered it as a gift.” Rey said smoothly, “But I insist on being able to give Lady Freydis this.”
“I understand.” Kadogan said. “Fiona will gift wrap this for you while I take payment. Of course, there’s a substantial discount on gifts of this type.”
“I never thought an elfen could be such a business man.” Rey said as he watched Lady Freydis reluctantly hand over the figurine.
Fiona started wrapping it as Kadogan took the payment. She would have known Rey as a vampire even if she hadn’t been told. His dark, straight hair was cut short and the deep brown eyes were almost burning as they seemed to look right through the person listening to him. He was tall and slim and the jeans and jacket he wore didn’t look casual on him but looked like the latest fashion statement. She deftly wrapped the gimcrack figure in layers of contrasting pink tissue, then cellophane, then ribbon expertly curled and finally a pink and silver glitter bow. Lady Freydis finally broke into a proper smile and tucked her arm through Rey’s as they went back to the buffet table. Fiona waited until they were out of earshot.
“You charged him double the price of that fairy.” She said quietly to Kadogan.
“Yes, because he’s an idiot.” Kadogan said. “Excuse me.”
Fiona watched Kadogan stalk off to join what looked like a heated discussion between Lord Marius and the head of the local werewolf pack, Kieran Latimer. He was currently frowning as Lord Marius talked quickly at him.
“So Mr Baxter bought my wife a gift?”
Fiona looked up into the sea green eyes of Lord Ragnar and for a heartbeat was almost transfixed. His eyes were cool and mocking and the smile on his thin lips looked dangerous. She was suddenly aware of the apparent strength in his shoulders under the smooth tailoring and the light gleaming on his dark auburn hair. She could feel her mouth opening and shutting but she couldn’t scrabble for the words.
“My apologies, Fiona Greene.” Lord Ragnar smiled. “I know that it is not your fault. Perhaps you can tell me what happened.”
“Your wife was admiring one of the fairy statuettes and I offered to give it to her, but Mr Baxter wanted the honour of giving the gift.” Fiona found the words tumbling out of her mouth and blinked in astonishment. She had a feeling that she hadn’t had a choice in what she said.
“It is unfair to use those tricks on Fiona.” Kadogan came up behind Lord Ragnar. “My lord, she is barely aware. Regardless, I charged him double.”
“I am sorry, Kadogan.” Lord Ragnar held his hands up. “And if you allow me to manipulate your friend it would set a bad precedent for the future of the shop.”
“But it would be incredibly wrong of me to oppose my Prince.” Kadogan said formally. Fiona felt she was watching some sort of dance or play where the moves were too intricate for her to understand.
“I feel I ought to make a clear gesture, to show my regard for this establishment.” Lord Ragnar said. “You and Fiona Greene are invited to join me and my court for a Reception next week. Shall we say Tuesday at 8pm?” He turned to Fiona. “Dress is optional.”
For a moment Fiona could only gape at the elfen Prince as she imagined a half naked reception but then she saw the glint of mischief in those sea coloured eyes. “I’m sure a quick wit is compulsory, though.” She said, smiling up at Lord Ragnar.
Lady Freydis was suddenly at Lord Ragnar’s side with Rey respectfully a little behind her. “Have you seen the wonderful gift that Rey got me?”
“It is beautifully wrapped.” Lord Ragnar said politely.
Lady Freydis pouted. “I hope you are not insulting the gift.” She said.
“Not at all.” Lord Ragnar smiled. “I am complimenting the skill of Fiona Greene who wrapped the charming gift. I’ve invited Fiona and Kadogan to a reception next Tuesday at 8pm.”
Lady Freydis’ expression hardened a little as she turned to Fiona. “Don’t take Ragnar too seriously, darling. He’s a shocking flirt.”
Once again Fiona found herself floundering. “Your husband is a very charming man.” She said.
“Lord Ragnar is showing a great deal of favour to me.” Kadogan said carefully. “Besides, Lord Marius wishes Fiona Greene to have a relationship with Steve Adderson. He’s talked a great deal about it.”
“Why would Lord Marius want something like that?” Lady Freydis looked suspicious.
Kadogan and Lord Ragnar exchanged glances. “Steve Adderson saved Lord Marius from an attack by a lich a few months ago.” Lord Ragnar said. “I believe that Lord Marius feels that he owes a debt.”
“But shouldn’t he match Steve Adderson up with someone more glamorous?” Lady Freydis said. Fiona hated her.
“I believe that Lord Marius thinks that they may have business in common.” Lord Ragnar looked bored.
“Rey’s taking me back to the domain now.” Lady Freydis said. “I feel quite overwhelmed. Besides, I can’t wait to put this beautiful gift on display somewhere.”
Lord Ragnar watched her cradling the over wrapped fairy as she left on Rey’s arm. “I’m sorry, Fiona, but that figurine is not to my taste.”
“It’s okay, it isn’t to mine either.” Fiona said. “But I have to cater for a wide range of tastes.”
“At least Kadogan charged him double.” Lord Ragnar said. “Excuse me, I think Kieran Latimer wants to talk to me.”
Kadogan carefully steered Fiona to one side where the paper orders had piled up. There were more than Fiona expected. “I’m going to be busy after this reception.” Fiona leafed through the top of the stack. “I hope we have the stock.”
“I need to mention two things.” Kadogan said carefully. “Firstly, what incenses have you bought?”
Fiona tried to remember. The last few weeks had become a blur. “I think we’ve got copal, myrhh, church incense and some benzoin. I’ve ordered some mixes from the United States but they haven’t arrived yet. Why?”
“We haven’t got any Dragon’s Blood?” Kadogan asked.
Fiona shook her head. “I did put an order in but they’d sold out. I thought I would see how things went before I tried again.”
“You must not order Dragon’s Blood at any cost.” Kadogan’s eyes seemed to burn. “We must never stock it, and if anyone tries to order it you must immediately let Lord Ragnar and I know. It is vital that you realise this.”
“Of course.” Fiona tried to make sense of it. “Why?”
“Vampires become addicted to feeding from normals who have inhaled Dragon’s Blood incense.” Kadogan shrugged. “It doesn’t end well and causes much disorder which would upset Lord Ragnar.”
Fiona nodded. “Okay, no Dragon’s Blood.” She had a feeling that there was a lot more to it than that, but she didn’t think she was going to get much more from Kadogan.
Kadogan shifted uneasily. “You are aware that we have taken a great many orders.”
“Yes.” Fiona started counting through them.
Kadogan put a hand on top of the pile, interrupting her. “And we have an internet presence, website, shop and links to large internet marketplaces.” He said.
“Yes.” Fiona wondered where this was going.
“And Louise made a very good suggestion about regular non normal meetings. Lord Ragnar is in favour and several have already asked about loyalty cards.”
“Yes.” Fiona looked carefully at Kadogan.
“And we have established that it is best that you deal with normals rather than myself and the café could end up considerably busier than Louise could manage and while Dave Kinson is in the building he doesn’t work for us and he is, in fact, independent and will not help if things are busy, even though he was helpful this morning.”
“Who have you hired?” Fiona asked.
Kadogan frowned. “Have you been taking lessons from Dave Kinson in reading people?”
“No, but I can make some good guesses. Who is she?”
“He’s a he.” Kadogan shuffled through the papers. “Why would anyone want an order of three kilos of lavender flowers?”
“I don’t know but they get a discount for bulk. So - who is he?”
“Who’s who?” Kadogan looked guilty.
“Who have you hired?”
“It is a very sad story.” Kadogan said. “It is very sad indeed, although it is entirely his own fault but he should really have known. After all, it wasn’t the right thing to do. But when all is said and done, we do have to think of what’s best for everyone in general and I’ve never known it end well but I’m sure that with the right support it can be different this time.”
“I’m going to ask Lord Marius.” Fiona took one step before Kadogan grabbed her arm.
“We need to be sort of discreet and Kieran Latimer knows anyway and of course Lord Marius knows as he passed on the request from Lord Edvard in Huddersfield, and Lord Ragnar is in agreement as he thinks that it will be an interesting experiment and of course I’m sure you won’t be in any danger.” Kadogan looked twitchier than ever. “Should I clear some of the plates?”
“I think Louise can cope with the plates.” Fiona pulled her arm away and tried to catch Kadogan’s eye. “What is going on?”
“There’s a young werewolf that got expelled from his pack after summoning a demon, which could happen to anyone, really.” Kadogan refused to look Fiona in the face. “He can stay here, help with heavy things, make himself useful and he’s more likely to stay, well…” Kadogan’s voice trailed off as he searched for the words. “Werewolves expelled from the pack can go…” Kadogan waved his hands expressively. “A werewolf without a pack isn’t a good thing. They can get feral, less able to be human. Lord Edvard thought that if Ian Tait was with us and in a sympathetic environment then he was more likely to stay within the law.”
Fiona was beginning to catch on to how these things work. “Who does Lord Edvard owe the favour to?”
“He definitely owes the favour to us.” Kadogan said. “And he’ll be very straightforward about it. He’s a vampire.”
“Umm.” Fiona took a deep breath. “So we are going to have a potential violent and out of control werewolf living here in the White Hart?” She said.
“You’ll be fine.” Kadogan said, squaring up the stack of orders.
As Fiona struggled to find the right words to express her concern she became aware of a spreading silence. Sir Ewan had returned and his hard face looked pale and drawn. He walked slowly over to Lord Ragnar and bowed slightly but respectfully.
“Lord Ragnar, I have sad news. Our paladin has died. Callum Albright passed last night.”
“Please accept my sincere condolences and please let me know when the funeral will be held. I am sure I am not the only one of my court that wishes to pay their respects. Callum Albright was a good man.” Lord Ragnar paused. “Do you know who the new paladin is?”
Sir Ewan shook his head. “We’re praying for guidance and keeping a lookout. I’m sure it won’t be long before we know.”
“But the sooner the better.” Lord Ragnar looked around the full shop. “I pledge the aid of my court to find and protect the new paladin until he is fully aware.” He looked around. “And we start now.”
Fiona was waiting at the door when Sir Ewan knocked at 8am precisely. He took a quick look round and shrugged. “I see the brownies have already been at work.”
“They do an amazing job.” Fiona said as she watched him walk in. “There was glitter everywhere but they seem to have got rid of every last twinkle.”
Sir Ewan grunted and stood in the centre of the shop, looking round at the now neat and orderly store. “It looks like it was a success yesterday. There’s gaps in the shelves.”
“Yes, it was successful.” Fiona gestured towards the café. “Why don’t I make us something to eat? I do an awesome bacon butty.”
“That would be great.” Sir Ewan pulled out a chair in the immaculate café area and sat down. “And tea?”
“Of course. How do you like it?” Fiona had already warmed up the grill and boiler. The rashers sizzled as they hit the hotplate.
“Milk, no sugar, strong.” Sir Ewan leant back in the plain dining chair and seemed to sag a little. Fiona watched him covertly as she pulled together two bacon sandwiches and a large pot of tea. Today was a day for English Breakfast tea, she decided as she put the family sized pot on the table together with two mugs and a jug of milk. “Help yourself.”
She quickly buttered the bread and glanced back over her shoulder. He looked paler than he had yesterday when she first met him and his eyes were shadowed. It looked like he had been up all night. He pulled out his phone and put it on the table but he didn’t look at. Instead he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease tension. Fiona put sauce bottles on the table and went back to turn the bacon. Sir Ewan slowly pulled one of the mugs towards him then carefully pulled over the milk jug and tipped a few drops of milk into the mug. Fiona pressed the bacon down on the grill and heard it hiss as Sir Ewan paused before lifting the teapot and carefully pouring in the strong brew.
“Here we are.” Fiona put the stack of bacon butties in front of him and a smaller plate in front of herself. “You look like you need the fuel.”
Sir Ewan nodded and took a large bite. He took his time, savouring the fresh sandwich before taking a mouthful of tea. He sighed. “I’ve been up all night. Lots of people have lots of questions.”
“If you need to postpone this talk…” Fiona began.
Sir Ewan shook his head. “You should have had this talk months ago, when you first met Kadogan. Callum was already in a coma, and somehow you got left off the ‘To Do’ list. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Fiona said and took a small sip of tea.
Sir Ewan shook his head. “It isn’t, but we are where we are. How much do you know?”
Fiona thought for a moment. “I know that Kadogan is an elfen, what we would call an elf or a fairy, and that while he looks like a gorgeous businessman he is actually a small creature, all skin and bones.” Fiona tried to think of what she had learned over the last three months. “The electricians were goblins, and they looked it, but they did a good job.” She thought some more. “The brownies don’t look like that, I mean…” Fiona waved a hand to try and form her thoughts. “The brownies use a glamour like the elfen but underneath aren’t quite human looking. Kieran Latimer is in charge of the werewolves and runs a couple of guest houses in Fulford and has a load of student digs.” Fiona took another sip of tea. “There’s a vampire called Rey Baxter and an exorcist got rid of a ghost from the storecupboard. Elfen have the tackiest taste in food and a werewolf called Ian Tait who isn’t part of a pack is coming to stay with us.” Fiona looked into Sir Ewan’s tired brown eyes and shook her head. “I think I’ve left out some stuff.”
“Hang on, Ian Tait is coming here?” Sir Ewan almost visibly sagged before pulling himself back up. “Did Kadogan explain what had happened?
“It was a bit confusing.” Fiona admitted.
“Ian Tait got into a power struggle with the leader of the werewolf pack based near Halifax. I know them, they’re a good bunch, but Ian was just a bit too closely matched to Mike to make for peace. What Ian should have done is go to another pack. Plenty would have welcomed him. He’s a qualified plumber and he’s also got quite an insight into magic, which is unusual for a werewolf. Instead he got carried away and tried to summon a demon. It went really badly wrong. You’ve met Darren King. He’s the one that tipped me off that you existed. He had a real fight with the demon and it was touch and go for a while. In the old days Ian would have been ripped to pieces by the pack. Now it’s just exile.”
Fiona felt a shiver go through her. Ian sounded incredibly dangerous. “Do you think we need to worry here?” She asked. “I mean, how will I know if he summons another demon?”
“It’s not a demon you need to worry about.” Sir Ewan ran a weary hand over his face. “Werewolves really need a pack. I don’t even begin to understand them, but they flourish in a pack. A good leader will keep them sharp, keep order and usually help out the local paladin. There’s something very solid and reliable about a well run werewolf pack. A werewolf on his own is a different thing. Most werewolves would do anything rather than lose their place in the pack. Those that are outsiders seem to go a little crazy. The packs usually deal with what they call strays themselves. Sometimes a local paladin gets called in. Steps are usually taken before someone gets killed but I’ve known it be a very close call. Does Kieran know?”
Fiona nodded. She carefully cut her bacon sandwich into halves and then quarters. She didn’t feel so hungry now. “I don’t think he’s happy about it. Lord Ragnar knows as well.”
“I’m too tired for this.” Sir Ewan took a large bite of the bacon butty and chewed. “Okay, do not let yourself be alone with Ian Tait, be aware of where he is at all times and if he seems to be getting moody then you need to let Kadogan and me know as soon as possible. Kadogan has got the softest heart of any elfen I’ve ever met but he’ll rip the head off Ian Tait without hesitation if he has to.” Sir Ewan smiled faintly. “Just because Kadogan is notoriously soft hearted doesn’t mean he isn’t as psychotically lunatic as the rest of the elfen. He’s just a nice psychotic lunatic.”
“They’ve been okay with me.” Fiona said cautiously as she watched Sir Ewan finish his first bacon sandwich and pick up the next.
“That’s because Kadogan has influence and likes you, they like you and you’re useful with the shop. You might like to speak to Steve Adderson, he’s been trading with the elfen for a while now and has survived.”
“I think Lord Marius wants me to date Steve.” Fiona said. “Apparently Steve broke up with his last girlfriend.”
Sir Ewan just stared at Fiona as he finished a large mouthful. He shook his head. “You’re on your own with that one.” He said. “I’ve never seen an elfen trying to set someone up, but if I were you I’d give in now. They’re not going to give up on the idea.” He took another mouthful of tea. “I’m sorry, I’m really too tired. Kadogan can fill you in on boggarts, fetches, wights and all the other miscellaneous you’re likely to deal with. Two things before I go. The last paladin died. He was a good man.” A shadow passed over Sir Ewan’s face. “I miss him.” He shook himself. “I don’t have time to miss him. We need a paladin and I know one’s out there somewhere, already chosen somehow by some sort of force or spirit, we don’t know how. The next paladin might be a Templar, though if it is, it isn’t one of the York ones, we’ve checked. It might be someone like you, a normal on the edges of non normal society.” Sir Ewan sighed. “Usually it’s someone who doesn’t believe in vampires or werewolves and I’ll have to have this talk again. They’re usually, but not always, men, and usually people in good condition, people who have some experience in defending themselves against violence – police, army, that sort of thing. Because though most of the time everything runs smoothly, sometimes a paladin is out there with the Templars facing down a rogue werewolf or a vampire that’s been feeding where it shouldn’t or a boggart that’s trying to tear the world apart from the fun of it and suddenly you need to stop someone or something killing you.” Sir Ewan took another large bite and let Fiona take in the information. “Watch out for someone with a sword tattoo, especially one that they don’t remember getting. Whoever is the new paladin will be off guard and vulnerable.”
There was a moment of silence as Fiona nibbled on a corner of her bacon butty and took a sip of tea. The shop seemed a lot less safe and Fiona wondered what she had signed up for. She swallowed nervously. It was too late to turn back.
“We really need the paladin to get found and quickly.” Sir Ewan worked his neck. “At the moment York’s non normals are ruled by Lord Ragnar.”
Fiona nodded. “I’ve met him. He seemed very nice.”
“From what I heard the streets of York ran with blood when he took over.” Sir Ewan said dryly. “I’ve even been told the date, 867 when the Vikings re-took York and Lord Ragnar made the most of the disruption. All I know is that Lady Freydis’ father, Albinus, was the power behind the throne. It was his influence got Lord Ragnar his power and kept him in charge. No-one wanted to deal with that psychotic monster. The trouble is, he died during some trouble just outside Luton a few years back. Suddenly there’s no power behind the throne, no-one’s pulling Lord Ragnar’s strings and no-one knows what’s going on. Kadogan is one of Ragnar’s closest allies so you could get caught up in some nasty infighting. We may not be able to help you.” Sir Ewan drained the last of his tea. “I can recommend some self defense classes. Oh, and you should start going to church. Most people find it helps. I think Kadogan goes to St Agnes. Thanks for the breakfast.”
Steve Adderson took a deep breath. It was a lovely, crisp spring day but the refreshing air didn’t blow away his sense of unease. He looked at Lord Ragnar who was leaning on the bridge parapet and looking down to the foamy river beneath. Kadogan was looking along the road to the west at the Yorkshire Dales stretching into the distance. The hills were empty. Steve listened but all he could hear over the chatter of the stream was birdsong and a few distant sheep. They were a long way from the roads. They should be undisturbed.
“Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” Steve asked Lord Ragnar. The elfen nodded. Steve looked at Kadogan who gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. Steve unzipped his heavy sportsbag and started pulling out his equipment. It was a perfect day. The breeze was light and yesterday’s rain had filled the river. He snapped together the portable easel, carefully weighting the frame and placing stones around the feet to keep it stable. Then came the mirror. It was heavy for its size and Steve took his time making sure that the easel was now perfectly balanced with the mirror, binding it in place with orange thread. He set the deep brass braziers with care at either end of the bridge. The charcoal caught quickly and the heavy incense was soon smoking. Then he pulled out the heavy rope to mark the circle.
“Do you honestly believe that you will break through elfen magical wards?” Lord Ragnar asked as he watched Steve laying out the rope to cover most of the centre of the bridge.
“Nothing is guaranteed.” Steve said. He checked the rope then pulled out an ornate hurricane lantern and, looking around, put it in the east. Then he rummaged for the orange candle. It was well wrapped but Steve double checked it before he placed it in the lantern and lit it. He muttered a few words and the flame gently leaned towards the north. Steve carefully moved the lantern a few feet, watching the flame. It wavered, leant a little to the west and then settled upright. Steve nodded to himself and carefully wedged the lantern in place with small stones. “Nothing may happen. I may get nothing. But if anything can get through, this will. It’s the place. Feel the energy. We are between sky and water, between fire…” Steve gestured at the smoking brazier, “and earth.” He gestured to the bank rising up on the other side of the bridge. “We are between the elements. As we are so undefined we have a loose tile, a loophole, a possible chink that we may be able to use. Can you both come inside the circle please.”
Lord Ragnar and Kadogan stepped through the small gap Steve had left in the rope and took their positions next to the candle and opposite the mirror. They watched with interest as Steve closed the rope circle and then sprinkled salt around the perimeter. Steve looked at Lord Ragnar. “Do you have it?”
Lord Ragnar pulled out a small crystal box and placed it in front of the candle. He laid his hand flat over it and muttered a few words before straightening up. “We are ready to start, Steve Adderson.”
The two elfen watched as Steve worked. They stayed impassive as they saw Steve build up an impressive wall of protection before stalking towards the mirror, but for the first time in centuries both elfen were truly scared. It wasn’t normal for someone like Steve to use magic like this. There was an authority in him that demanded that forces obey him and he conjured power in a way they had never seen.
Elfen are not natural magicians or sorcerors. They can affect weather and they play with people’s minds given half a chance, but they don’t have the sort of skills to see what is happening inside magical protection several miles away. They weren’t familiar with the spells Steve was using and that was even more unnerving. Steve seemed to have found whole strata of new magic and the results were impressive.
The elfen may not be able to use these spells, but they could see the currents of magic and at least some of their effects. They could see the wall of protection that was a hazy circle around them. Random flickers of natural magic glinted off the outside of the circle as they sparked off Steve’s protection. Then they saw the currents of magic, threads and traces in the air, like after images from fireworks. Streams of blue were being spun from Steve’s hands and wound up like a skein of energy. He paused and gathered his strength. Then he started unwinding the thread and sending it through the mirror. The mirror went black.
It took all of Lord Ragnar’s strength to hold his poise. Kadogan snatched in a deep breath. Then they watched the image slowing forming. At first it was dull blur, but slowly the image came into focus. Kadogan averted his gaze but Lord Ragnar swore. Just for an instant his glamour slipped and he was once again the raging berserker that had shed so much blood on the streets of York. Then he was his normal self, self-consciously straightening the waxed jacket he was wearing over his jeans and designer sweater.
“I congratulate you.” Lord Ragnar bowed formally to Steve. “It is a feat of legend to break through the magical defence of an elfen. You recorded it?” Steve nodded.
“What are you going to do with the recording?” Kadogan asked, his eyes still averted from the mirror.
“A recording of my wife sinning with her lover? I shall merely use it in divorce.” Lord Ragnar turned to Steve. “Thank you. I owe you a large favour that will not easily be repaid. Now I need to return to York. There is much to do.”
“Fiona, this is Ian Tait, our new companion in this venture.” Kadogan said with an edge of artificial chirpiness.
Fiona glanced briefly over at the hard muscled man standing next to Kadogan. “Hi, Ian, great to meet you. I’m Fiona and I’m a bit rushed.” She finished scanning the pile of books and smiled at the customer. “That’s £73.47, do you want to try out our loyalty card?” She looked back. “I’ll say ‘Hello’ properly later, but Kadogan will show you where you’re staying.” She looked back to the customer. “Sorry about that.” She handed him his receipt and smiled at the next customer in the long queue.
“I think you had better follow me.” Kadogan said. He glanced around the full shop and then froze. “Actually, we have shoplifters. If you go through that door, up the stairs, fourth door on the left, that’s your studio apartment. Excuse me.”
Ian didn’t bother to offer his help. A few years ago he had seen Kadogan deal with a gang of rogue boggarts and the elfen had been viciously lethal. Instead he hefted his two sports bags, went through the door, up the stairs, past the office with a large stack of papers, a firmly closed door with murmuring voices behind it, another closed door, a kitchen and then stopped outside the fourth door on the right, the last in the passage before it bent sharply to the left. Somehow this door seemed to be a much bigger step than anything else so far.
Ian slowly lowered both of his bags to the floor. He didn’t want to do this. He wanted to go back to Ann and be happy again. He wanted time to rewind so he didn’t make those mistakes. He wanted it all to be different. Ian squared his shoulders and opened the door.
Kadogan might have called it a studio apartment, but it wasn’t so glamorous. He shared a kitchen and he had this room as his own. It could be worse. He set his bags down on the bed and looked around. It was clean. The paint on the plain magnolia walls were new and so was the plain beige carpet. The cream coloured curtains were also new and still stiff as he pushed them back a little. He had a view of a carpark where Kadogan was dealing summary justice to a couple of goblins. Past that he could see York’s medieval walls with the distinctive tower of the Minster in the distance. He checked his watch. He could take ten minutes. He needed this job and this place so much. He had to make a good impression.
He ran a quick eye over the room as he opened his bags. The bed looked comfortable and the new bedlinen looked freshly washed, clean and inviting. The sturdy wardrobe came with a good supply of hangers and the tv was set on a matching set of drawers in what was no doubt mean to be the ‘living’ part. Ian tried the chair in front of the tv. It felt good. The small table next to the chair was second hand like the wardrobe and chest of drawers but was equally as sturdy. He found a lump in his throat. Someone had tried to make him welcome. A vase of daffodils sat next to the tv and a box of tissues was on the small bedside table next to the lamp. On the small computer desk there was an envelope with ‘Ian’ written in a formal script next to a small bunch of keys. Ian hesitated before opening it.
Dear Ian, I hope that you will be comfortable. Please let me know if you need anything. You are very welcome here. Fiona.
Ian felt a lump in his throat. This was a chance to begin again. The odds were not in his favour, but that was no reason to give in. He pulled his laptop out of one of the sportsbags and plugged it in to charge. He hung his jacket behind the door, got a quick wash in the tiny en-suite and pulled on a clean shirt. The rest of his unpacking could wait, apart from one thing.
Ian dug into the bottom of the second bag, tipping his clothes carelessly on the bed. Right at the bottom, carefully wrapped, was the most precious thing he now had. Ann, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, had given it to him just before he left. He unwrapped it reverently. It was undamaged. Ian had been worrying about it all the way here. He took down the insipid print of York Minster and hung up the most important thing he had left, the only real thing he had left, the thing he needed most. He stepped back and memorised the way it looked with the morning sunlight glancing across the newly painted wall and over the pink and white, shabby chic, feminine plaque. It was shaped and sanded to look like driftwood or reclaimed fencing and there were tiny sequins framing the folksy lettering. Ian didn’t care. Ann had given him this last thing. A piece of wall art that said HOPE in fake-faded glory.
Fiona didn’t jump when Ian suddenly appeared next to her at the till. She was too busy to be startled. At the back of her mind she could hear the warnings but all she saw was another pair of hands. “Ian, are you okay helping out straight away?”
“Not a problem.” Ian glanced quickly over the till. “I know how to use this. I can take over here.”
“And I can get the café tables cleared and get some stock up.” Fiona said. “When the next tarot reading appointment comes, just send them up the stairs, second door on the right.”
“Tarot reading?” Ian boggled but Fiona just shrugged and dashed off.
Ian smiled professionally at the old lady at the till and looked again. He guessed she was a boggart under there, but now was not a time to discuss things. Instead he started scanning in her basket. What had he got himself into? He rang up the joke cook book, the humorous mug, the plastic fairy with a wobbly wand but hesitated at the four bags of mullein and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Mullein could act like catnip on boggarts and they were bad enough as it was.
“It’s for personal use, love.” The old lady said as she rummaged for her money in her cavernous bag. “You don’t really get it near us, and it’s the real deal.”
“Of course.” Ian nodded and scanned them through. “Would you like a bag?”
The queue seemed never ending. He could see Fiona frantically dashing round the tables in the café area between bringing out boxes of herbs while Kadogan stalked the floor and a pretty brunette rushing between cake stands and coffee machines to keep the refreshments coming. He couldn’t pay attention to them, though, as he had enough on his hands with all the sales. And while he kept a professional smile on, inside he was getting more and more bewildered by what was going through. There was such a mix. Some of it was definitely hardcore, non normal, magical stuff and the people buying it seemed to know their way around a pentagram. On the other hand there was the most awful gimcrack stuff that belonged on the end of a pier and that was also flying out. He kept smiling, scanning and offering the loyalty card while his head was spinning. Finally it died down and Ian was able to catch his breath. He picked up some of the spilled receipts and stuffed them into the overflowing bin. Fiona beckoned him to the café area.
“Sorry about such a bad start.” She said as she wiped the counter. “Would you like a drink?”
“Tea is fine.” Ian looked round. There were one or two stragglers around still browsing. “Is it always like that?”
“I trust not!” Kadogan stalked over. “I explained carefully to the coach driver that coach parties who arrive without giving notice beforehand will be charged for parking at a suitably high rate. The coach trip from Lord Carmichael’s domain in Birmingham had apparently been booked to come to York for several months and they thought they would come in and see what we are like while they were here.”
“We’ve sold a lot.” Fiona brought over a tray of mugs. “Ian, this is Louise who does wonders in the café. Louise, this is Ian Tait who has joined us and made an amazing first impression.” Fiona smiled at Ian. “I have never been so glad to see anyone as when you turned up at the till.”
“It’s good to be useful.” Ian said quietly.
“You were more than useful.” Fiona said. She took a mouthful of tea. “What happened to the shoplifters?”
“I dealt with them firmly.” Kadogan said. “They should know better than to steal from elfen. Ian Tait, I also commend you on your efforts. It is good to have you here.”
Ian relaxed a little. “Thank you for having me. So it won’t get like that all the time?”
“You won’t have time to get bored.” Fiona laughed. “The shop may be quiet but we are getting a lot of online and mail orders. I thought you could make that your own patch. I mean, we all help each other out but you could be the lead in that. I’ll show you where to set up later.”
“Our Tarot reader is coming downstairs.” Kadogan said. “Ian, he is not aware of what we are. Louise and Fiona are normals. He does not know anything about us.”
“But he’s a Tarot reader.” Ian was confused.
“It’s okay because he doesn’t believe in it.” Fiona said. “He’s also got a room upstairs.”
Ian saw a physically fit, youngish man come out to the counter where he had a quick check of the appointment book. He didn’t look like a Tarot Reader, more like a gym instructor or a health food rep.
Fiona stood up. “Dave, this is our newest employee, Ian Tait. Ian, this is Dave Kinson, the resident Tarot reader. He’s got the room next to you upstairs.”
The two men exchanged a polite handshake and Dave threw some money in the till and picked up a bottle of water from the cooler. “I’ll just catch up then I’m off for a run. I need to clear my head between readings.” He sat down next to Louise. “It’s been full on.” Dave took a quick glance at Ian as he took a mouthful of water. Ian looked in his early thirties, used to working out from the look of things. His hands as he held the mug of tea were strong and calloused. He looked like he was a skilled worker, like a plumber or electrician. The dent on his left hand’s ring finger said either very newly divorced or divorcing. For someone who had a trade to have to take a job here and a small bedsit it looked like a bad divorce. Dave carefully screwed the lid back on the bottle. His instinct told him that Louise and Fiona weren’t entirely comfortable with Ian and Fiona was asking Ian whether he liked his tea strong. So Ian was unknown to them.
“You look like you work out.” Dave said casually to Ian. “I can show you the nearest gym. It’s not too bad.”
“Thanks. It would be great.” Ian said.
“We can go tonight after the store closes.” Dave said. I think I’ll need the exercise.”
“Do you go to the gym a lot?” Ian asked.
Dave nodded. “I go to the kickboxing classes a lot. It’s a great way to burn off stress.”
“Do they do self defence classes?” Fiona asked. She blinked as Kadogan, Louise and Ian all turned to stare at her. “Sir Ewan suggested that I got some self defence training.”
“Sir Ewan?” Dave asked.
“It’s a nickname.” Kadogan said shortly. “Does he think you would be exposed to harm here?”
“He just said it might be helpful.” Fiona shrugged.
“I’ve spent some time as an instructor.” Dave said. He had spent one glorious month and five miserable ones as an instructor before realising that it really wasn’t for him. “I can help you out if you like.” Yes, none of the people here were used to Ian, but the job hadn’t been advertised or even mentioned to him so it looked like a friend of someone, probably Kadogan, had got the job for Ian.
“I enjoy sparring myself.” Ian said. “It’s a good way to keep active.”
Dave thought he knew most of the people involved in the martial arts scene around York. He could be wrong, but it looked like Ian wasn’t from York. So someone with a skilled trade was recently divorced or divorcing, had taken a job in a shop when he looked like the person least suited to it, had had to get someone to take him on as a favour and had moved. Dave wasn’t good with accents, it was one of his weaknesses, but he thought that Ian was from Yorkshire, but not York. “Why don’t we go after the shop shuts? I’ll show you round and we can get a few bouts in.”
“Sounds good.” Ian nodded.
“And tomorrow I’ll take Fiona for some lessons. Do you want to have some lessons, Louise?”
Louise jumped. “Sorry, I was miles away. It’s okay, I had some lessons with Kadogan, but I’m not really a natural for that sort of thing.”
Dave smiled and took another mouthful of water. Louise may not know Ian but she was fascinated by him. Dave couldn’t tell whether Louise was scared of Ian or whether she was starting a crush. He was staying out of it. He took a quick glance of Kadogan. He had long since given up trying to figure out who Kadogan was, but he found it hard to believe that he could give self defence lessons. Dave rubbed his eyes. “I need to get a run. I’m exhausted after four readings back to back this morning, and I’ve another three this afternoon. I’ll see you later.”
Kadogan found Fiona in the office, talking cheerfully to someone. He positioned himself so he couldn’t see the computer screen and listened in.
“That’s so kind of you. I can’t say how grateful I am. So, just to confirm, I can expect the delivery tomorrow… that’s right, all the colours except blue but that will follow later…” Fiona listened for a few moments. “Yes, it is unusual stock for a gift shop, but not all our customers are normal… That’s great, thanks again.” Fiona put her phone down with a sigh and made a few notes on the computer. “Hi, Kadogan. I’ve just managed to get a bulk order of edible glitter. Steve Adderson put me onto the supplier.” She turned away from the screen and stretched.
“Is there likely to be a conflict of interest between us and Steve Adderson?” He asked carefully. “Because a romantic affair could solve that problem.”
“I think there are other ways to deal with it.” Fiona sagged a little as she looked at the stack of orders piled on the desk. “Everyone’s putting in tester orders. You know, just a bag of herbs or a cheap book just to see what we’re like.” She sighed. “We’re going to have to get them out as soon as we can to make a good impression.”
“Ian can help tomorrow.” Kadogan said. “He is not suitable for a romantic affair, but he is very capable.”
Fiona caught Kadogan’s eye . “I am not interested in a ‘romantic liaison’. I am happy being single. Do not try and pair me up.”
Kadogan frowned. “But you do not have a boyfriend…”
Fiona held up her hand. “No.” She could see Kadogan fighting with his better judgement.
“Fiona Ellen Greene, I provided the money to fund this shop in order to thank you for saving my life. Since then I have been grateful for many small kindnesses and impressed by your good heart. As someone who is older than you, and I suppose in the position of a male relative…” His voice trailed off under the heat of Fiona’s glare.
“I don’t think we need to discuss this.” Fiona said.
“There is one romance that we do need to discuss.” Kadogan said. “Lord Ragnar will try to divorce his wife.”
“She did seem close to the vampire.” Fiona said. “But I suppose that’s between them.”
“Not quite.” Kadogan picked up the pencil and started spinning it around his long fingers. “Lord Ragnar is in charge of the non normals of York. Freydis has power and influence as his wife. If he divorces her then she will lose that influence and may have to leave York.”
“That’s sad, but still nothing to do with us.” Fiona reached towards the papers. Kadogan’s hand on her arm stopped her.
“There are two very real reasons why it affects us. We pay a tax to Lord Ragnar, the same as all the businesses the non normals run in York.”
Fiona nodded. “We pay 10% of everything we make after overheads. That’s why we did all the calculations on the pricing, so that we would have an idea how much we owed at the end of each week.”
“The courts of the Princes don’t use a lot of money, but they do need some. If we fail then Lord Ragnar has less than he would otherwise. Freydis will not want Lord Ragnar getting money. We shall have to be careful.”
“What is she going to do?” Fiona asked.
Kadogan shrugged, the pencil still spinning around his fingers. “We shall have to be very careful. The other reason to worry is that Lord Ragnar is a friend.” Kadogan looked uncomfortable. “It is rare for the elfen to have friendships, but we have a long history of mutual aid and I suppose that is the same thing. I will be deeply involved in anything that happens.” He frowned. “You know, you would be a great deal safer if you were romantically involved with Steve Adderson. He is a very skilled magician and has a lot of influence. He also has many contacts with other courts.”
“I am not getting involved with anyone!” Fiona snapped.
Kadogan went back down to the shop. The building was getting quieter. Louise had gone home and Ian and Dave were out so apart from Fiona’s tapping on the computer there was only the quiet murmur of the brownies. He hesitated. It was obvious that Fiona was destined for Steve. Anyone could see that. The question was, how to convince her? He had never understood romance. He didn’t want to, either, as it seemed to be incredibly complicated and difficult. But he did know someone who did understand romance, as much as anyone can, someone he knew from the old days. He would get in touch with her straight away.
“Are you sleeping with my husband?”
Fiona dropped the letter she was reading. “What?!? I mean, what do you mean Lady Freydis?”
“I am not Lady Freydis.” Freydis inspected her immaculate nails. “I am Freydis. Lord Ragnar is divorcing me and I am looking for the reason. I suspect he is in love with you.”
Fiona wondered if she would ever get used to elfen. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said.
“I don’t know why he has been foolish with divorce papers.” Freydis inspected the nails on her other hand. “I am an ornament to the court. The only explanation is magic or he is obsessed with a mortal.”
“I haven’t really spoken to him, not since the opening here last week.” Fiona had a cold sinking feeling. “I don’t really know anything about your husband.”
“He’s my ex-husband. And are you sure you’re not sleeping with him? How are your dreams? Are they hectic?”
Fiona carefully folded the letter from her mother and slotted the pages back in the envelope. “Freydis, if I tell you the absolute truth as I see it, to the best of my ability, you may want to kill me.” She took a deep breath. “But as an absolute and utter truth, I am not sleeping with your husband.”
“Does Kadogan want you to sleep with my husband?” Freydis was still inspecting her nails. Fiona got a sense that despite everything, there was a very hurt woman, or at least female, standing there.
“No, Kadogan doesn’t want me to sleep with Lord Ragnar,” Fiona said. “Kadogan would like me to date Steve Adderson. Have you slept with Rey Baxter?”
“Of course. He’s absolutely amazing and…” Freydis looked at Fiona with suspicion. “Are you planning to sleep with Rey?”
“No. I am not planning on sleeping with anyone.” Fiona said, a little louder than she meant to. Over at the café Louise shot her a startled glance and an elderly lady with a shopping trolley gave Fiona a very knowing look before going back to the herbs. “If I tell you my opinion will you promise not to hurt me?”
“Define hurt?” Freydis said.
Fiona put down her letter with a snap and stood back. “I know the subtlety of elfen,” she said. “I don’t want to put in conditions. I am trying to be fair and honest and I don’t want to be worse off because I helped you. If I say what I think, will I be worse off.”
“Of course not.” Freydis visibly braced herself.
“I think Lord Ragnar is upset because you are having sex with Rey and that’s why he’s divorcing you.”
“But he’s never bothered before.” Freydis frowned. “And he’s not innocent either. I mean, that one over in the café, I’m sure she’s descended from him. There was a lot of whispers at the time.” Freydis’ smile had a feline edge. “I was sleeping with this gorgeous young werewolf. You should have seen him. He was so muscled and handsome with the most beautiful brown eyes.”
Fiona looked over to where Louise had gone white. “It was very cruel to suggest that Louise is descended from Lord Ragnar.”
“I thought she knew.” Freydis shrugged. “After all, Kadogan has always run around after Lord Ragnar and it’s Kadogan that has helped that…” Freydis caught the glint in Fiona’s eye. “So it can’t be the sleeping-with-Rey thing.”
“What if your connection with Rey is an excuse?” Fiona felt like she was reasoning with a child. “After all, your father is dead and I believe that your father was important to Lord Ragnar.”
Freydis looked thoughtful. “I know father always preferred Lord Ragnar to me, but I find it hard to believe that he has taken this drastic step without finding another lover. Are you absolutely sure that you aren’t sleeping with my husband?” She smiled triumphantly. “It’s a trick. Are you having sex with my husband? Copulating? Are you emotionally close?”
Fiona had never been more relieved to see Kadogan in her life. He strode up to Freydis and stood between her and Fiona. “Freydis, what are you doing?”
“Is Lord Ragnar having an emotional or physical affair with that mortal?” Freydis said, waving a dismissive hand at Fiona.
“Not at all.” Kadogan said calmly. “Are you here for any other purpose?”
Louise came rushing up. “Kadogan, am I…” Her face crumpled and Freydis looked uncomfortable.
“I thought she knew.” She picked up her bag. “I’ll leave now.”
Kadogan looked helplessly at Louise who was holding onto the display case to keep herself upright. “Louise, I’ll explain. I’ll just take Mrs Tuesday upstairs and we can have a talk.”
Dave padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Last night had been amazing but he was paying for it now with a foggy hangover and a few bruises. He had gone out drinking with Ian and a few of what Dave had guessed were distant relations. They had done a few bars then a club and then there had been the awkward moment at the taxi rank that had turned into a really good fight. It reminded Dave of when he was hanging out with the squaddies from Catterick in the days before he realised that he wasn’t really cut out to be a soldier.
While he was waiting for the kettle to boil he wandered into the Tarot room to light a small incense cone. He wanted to get the right impression. There had to be a hint of exotic incense but not so much smoke to trigger coughing.
Dave lit the cone and looked around. He needed to get some art work up. The Seal of Solomon looked okay and was positioned nicely behind his head when he was doing a reading, but he could do with some extra pictures. He looked around at the frame on the wall and nodded. That looked about right. He frowned and leaned closer. Then he leaned back. He tried closing the thin blinds and then squinting at the Seal of Solomon. He still couldn’t be sure. He ran down the back stairs to the storeroom and picked up a large, flattened cardboard box. It was tricky to get it up the stairs and even harder to balance against the window to block out the light, but Dave had to try.
“Dave Kinson, you are standing on a chair holding a piece of cardboard box against the window. Is everything alright?” Kadogan asked as he came past.
Dave jumped down from the chair, dropping the cardboard. Behind him stood an elderly lady with a shopping trolley. Dave was in the t-shirt and shorts he had slept in and the old lady was giving him the most knowing look he had ever seen. He felt exposed.
“Don’t mind an old boggart like me,” she said. “I’m harmless.”
“This is Mrs Tuesday who will be staying here for a short time. We are old friends.” Kadogan said. “Why were you standing on a chair with cardboard?”
“I know it sounds crazy,” Dave propped the cardboard against the desk away from the incense cone. “But I think the Seal of Solomon is glowing, and I don’t know why.”
“Yes, I enchanted it for you as your enchantment didn’t seem to take.” Kadogan nodded. “Though I am impressed that you noticed.”
Dave’s mind caught up with his ears. “Boggart?” he said.
Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday exchanged glances. “I never know what to say.” Kadogan looked helpless.
Mrs Tuesday took charge. “Tell me what room I’m in and then go down and comfort that poor girl. I’ll put my bags away while this nice young man puts some clothes on and I’ll give him The Talk.”
“I know about the birds and bees.” Dave heard himself say that and wanted to curl up under a bed somewhere and only come out when Mrs Tuesday had left.
“I bet you do.” Mrs Tuesday said, looking him over with approving interest. “But why don’t you get some clothes on anyway and then we can have a little talk.”
Fiona winced as she heard a crash from the back room. Louise had not taken the news that she was about one sixteenth elfen well and had decided to be doing. However as the shop had only just opened and the brownie cleaners did an excellent job, there weren’t many fiddly jobs to do. Kadogan had suggested she went into the back room and put together some gift packs. There had been a lot of banging.
“I am confident she will be fine.” Kadogan lied. “I will call Lord Ragnar and inform him of this latest development.”
“I hope she’s okay.” Ian peered through the doorway. “Perhaps I should make her a coffee.”
“Make it decaf.” Fiona said. She winced again but this time the crashes were from Dave belting down the stairs followed by an unusually agile elderly lady.
Kadogan brightened a little. “Fiona, this is Mrs Tuesday who is staying with us for a while. She is an old friend.”
Dave pushed between Mrs Tuesday and Fiona and poked Kadogan in the chest. “You are a fairy.”
“We prefer the term ‘elfen’, but yes, in the past I have been described as a fairy.”
Fiona had a mental image of Kadogan with his short hair, masculine frame and no nonsense attitude wearing a pink tutu and holding a silver paper wand. “I think elfen suits you better.” She said.
Dave turned to Fiona. “Are you a fairy?”
Fiona shook her head and tried to fight the giggles. “I’m a normal, like you.”
Dave’s wild eyes turned on Ian. “Are you a fairy?”
Mrs Tuesday tried to interrupt. “I didn’t say that exactly.”
Dave ignored her and stepped forward to poke Ian in the chest. “Are you a fairy?”
Ian showed off his reflexes as he grabbed Dave’s hand before it could make contact. “I’m a werewolf. Grr.” Dave punched him.
Louise came running out as it all got heated. Ian rode the punch, ducked the second punch and then flowed. Suddenly Dave was wrestling on the floor with a large wolf surrounded by a heap of clothes. They bounced off the main counter and rolled towards the gift cards. Fiona dragged the wrapping paper stand out of the way just in time as the growling, swearing heap rolled back towards the café.
“Don’t worry about it too much.” Mrs Tuesday said calmly. “It’s been a bit of a shock for young Dave, but look at it properly.”
Fiona felt her grip on the wrapping paper stand tighten until she thought she would snap the metal. Ian had Dave’s shoulder in his jaws, drool sliding over and smearing the floor. Dave was landing solid kicks and slamming his knees into Ian’s side. “They’re going to kill each other.”
Mrs Tuesday gave her an impatient look. “Look again. Ian could rip Dave’s throat out in an second, and young Dave is strong enough to break Ian’s neck. They’re just letting off steam.”
The door jangled open and suddenly there were sixty shocked faces coming through the door. Dave and Ian instantly rolled apart, Ian having enough sense to stay in wolf form.
“How wonderful, a coach party!” Kadogan said, stepping forward with a beaming smile. “Don’t mind my associate here, he’s having a few dog training issues.”
Ian immediately sat up in an obedient dog position. Dave scrambled to his feet, uncomfortably aware of the damp patch on his left shoulder. “He’s a big softie, really.” Dave said. “Come on,” and he jogged into the back room where Louise had already discreetly dumped Ian’s clothes.
“I saw the advert online.” The driver said as he watched Dave and Ian disappear through the darkened doorway. “I thought I’d risk calling in as it’s quite early. It’s a mystery tour and York’s our first stop.”
“Are you sure that dog’s safe?” One of the older ladies said from behind him. “He looked very big. And the owner didn’t have him under control at all.”
“We do an offer of a free tea or coffee with a snack for all coach parties.” Fiona said brightly. “And do have a look around. We have some unusual stock, you won’t find half of it anywhere else. Please ask if you have any questions.” There was a stampede towards the café area.
When the rush died down, Fiona looked around and wondered what had just hit them. Ian was ringing in a tall stack of books, Louise was wrapping some muffins to go, Mrs Tuesday had found an apron from somewhere and was clearing tables, Dave had reduced three older women to helpless giggles next to the case of wands and Kadogan was explaining the full stock of candles to an interested gentleman with an overflowing shopping basket. The coach driver put his fingers to his ears and whistled shrilly.
“Okay, everyone back to the coach and we can be off to York Minster, one of England’s medieval gems.” There was a tumble of last minute orders at the till and then the shop was open.
“We’re going to need another till if we’re going to get coach parties.” Fiona said.
“An excellent idea.” Kadogan drifted over to the café with the others. He watched Mrs Tuesday fill a large teapot.
“Thanks for helping out.” Fiona said to Mrs Tuesday. “I think we would have been lost without you.”
“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday started filling everyone’s mugs. “I may be an old girl, but I can still keep up.”
“I’m sure you can do more than that.” Ian said with absolute sincerity and a wary politeness.
Mrs Tuesday chuckled. “I’m not that bad, young cub. Louise, sit down before you fall down.”
Dave looked a question at Ian who sat respectfully opposite Mrs Tuesday. “I’ve heard all sorts of stories about you. You were at Stalingrad, weren’t you?”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “It seems a long time ago now. A lot of us boggarts were recruited for the unofficial stuff. I was wearing the glamour of a young Soviet soldier. My Russian was rubbish but it was good enough for the Germans I crept up on.”
Dave frowned. “You looked like a soldier?”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “It’s hard for boggarts to wear a shape that isn’t part of their personality, but we all had training. I never liked wearing a male glamour, but it was useful. Kadogan had it easier. He was mainly doing sabotage as a nice, blond German corporal. It’s where we met.”
“I couldn’t stay long.” Kadogan said. “The elfen change when they are away from their own soil. Some of the efrits out near Tel Aviv started out as elfen on the crusades, and if I had stayed too long in that place I would have become a leshy.” He shrugged. “It works the other way round as well. I know some very well respected elfen that were born far away.”
“I feel like I ought to make notes.” Dave said. He looked at Fiona. “Do you ever get used to it?”
Fiona shook her head. I’ve only really known for three months and I’m still working it out. How about you, Louise?”
Louise was still pale. “I’ve known about the elfen for a long time,” she said. “I’m still taken by surprise sometimes.”
The bell jangled as the door opened. Fiona looked up and smiled. “Hello Steve.”
“Steve Adderson, this is Mrs Tuesday. Mrs Tuesday, this is Steve Adderson.” Kadogan looked smug. “Steve Adderson was cruelly rejected by his girlfriend and Fiona Greene was also cruelly rejected by a man that took advantage of her good nature. I think they would make a perfect couple.”
Louise stood up quickly and ran behind the counter, clattering the cups to try and hide a snort of laughter. Fiona felt her face set like a mask. “Steve and I are going to discuss some business over lunch,” she said with what shreds of dignity she could hold together.
“I have spoken to a friend of mine.” Kadogan said. “He has kindly reserved a table for you in his restaurant.” He pushed a card into Steve’s unresisting hand. “Just hand this to the waiter and they will take great care of you. I selected the wine myself.”
“I’ve seen a picture of Elaine.” Mrs Tuesday said unexpectedly. “She was absolutely stunning. Of course, she’ll be regretting splitting now.”
“What?” Steve said.
“Well, you’re making the money now. Same as Fiona. I wouldn’t be surprised if her young man doesn’t come sniffing back when he hears about her successful business.”
“It’s only been open a week.” Fiona stared at Mrs Tuesday.
“He won’t want to miss out on a chance to get his feet under the table, you listen to an old woman.” Mrs Tuesday said. “And I’m sure a strong lad like him will be able to help out.” Her hand shot out with snake like speed and grabbed Kadogan’s arm before he could say anything.
“I don’t think this is his sort of thing.” Fiona looked around blankly. “I’d better get my coat.”
“I have even arranged for a place for Armani to stay, so you can be private.” Kadogan said, giving Mrs Tuesday a hard look.
“Are you sure?” Steve said. “He’s not really housetrained.”
Armani crawled out of Steve’s jacket pocket and looked at Kadogan. Kadogan glared at the imp. “I’ll be no trouble at all,” the imp said, wiping it’s bat-like nose on the sleeve of the tiny sweatshirt. “I’m on my best behaviour.” He stretched his leathery wings and flapped over to sit on Kadogan’s shoulder. “I’ll be a credit to you.”
Steve looked sceptical but nodded. He checked the address on the card. “We won’t be long.”
“Take as long as you like.” Kadogan said smugly.
After the door had jangled closed behind them Kadogan turned to Mrs Tuesday. “You’re supposed to be helping me get them together,” he snapped.
Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “You’re going about it all wrong. You need to trust an old woman here. You and Lord Marius have told them both it’s a great idea and they’ve backed right off. You can’t push them. It’s human nature.”
Kadogan frowned. “How else are they supposed to end up married?”
“You can’t rush it.” Mrs Tuesday said. She took Kadogan’s arm and steered him out of earshot of the others. “They need to think it’s their own idea or it won’t last. Any hint that it isn’t real and they’ll fall apart at the first problem. If they think it’s them against the world then they can go through fire.”
“Are you sure about this?” Kadogan glared at Armani who was trying to steal the till roll. Armani ostentatiously backed away.
“There’s an old rhyme.” Mrs Tuesday said. “It goes, ‘He was warned against the woman, she was warned against the man and if that can’t make a marriage then there’s nothing else that can. I’ve seen it again and again. But you’ll have to be clever about it. We can talk about it properly after we get the imp out of the way.”
Armani furled his wings around himself and looked worried.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Fiona winced as she lifted down the carton of incense cones. Ian grinned.
“Did Dave work you hard last night? He said you’d done really well.”
“I’m not really used to a lot of exercise.” Fiona said carefully. “Though I think working here has helped. Right, let’s get this shelf wiped down.”
“It’s worth getting it sorted before tomorrow’s delivery.” Ian said, dragging a large carton of charcoal to one side. “This way we only have to move a few boxes.”
Fiona didn’t answer. Her eyes were a little dreamy as she wiped down the middle shelf, wincing again as she stretched.
“It looks like Dave wore you out.” Ian shook his head. “It’s a good thing I’m in shape. Someone’s got to lift the heavy stuff.” He looked down at his sweat stained t-shirt and pulled it off, tossing it casually near the door. “It’s warm in here.”
Fiona wasn’t really paying attention. She methodically arranged the packs of hawthorn berries and dried Solomon’s Seal in the new baskets, frowning slightly.
“Fiona, are you there?” Ian waved a hand in her direction.
“Sorry, I was miles away.” Fiona blushed. “I’ve been thinking about the new website, and I’m still a little achy from yesterday.”
Ian laughed. “You’re not that much out of shape. Don’t let Dave work you too hard.” He picked up the sack of oak galls. “But it’s good you’re learning how to look after yourself.” He said, suddenly serious. “And either Dave or I are happy to walk you to and from your home.”
“Steve might be moving into the building, in the flat below.” Fiona said, paying full attention to the basket of juniper berries she was arranging. “He’ll be able to walk me to and from here.”
“Hmm.” Ian looked unconvinced. “He’s okay but I’ve not heard that he’s a fighter.” He shook his head. “Perhaps things will settle down soon.”
Kadogan stuck his head around the corner of the door and frowned. “Fiona Ellen Greene, there is a coach party due in five minutes, Ian has his shirt off and you have a dirty face.”
Fiona looked blankly at Ian and registered his bare chest. “What’s Ian’s shirt got to do with anything? I’ll be right there.”
Fiona had a quick wipe at the sink in the kitchenette and rushed to the till. Kadogan looked disapproving. “I was just helping Ian with the shelves.”
“Ian had his shirt off.” Kadogan said.
“He had been working hard.” Fiona watched the packed coach disembarking. She could see Louise and Mrs Tuesday racking up the cups behind Kadogan.
“Why should that make him take his shirt off. Are you romantically interested in him?”
“Short answer is I am not. Long answer is that is none of your business and I’m too busy to give you the full details of why you shouldn’t ask.” Fiona plastered on a smile as the doors opened.
Kadogan was not good at hiding his feelings and stalked the floor with a glare until Mrs Tuesday told him to pull himself together when he disappeared into the back room. It was a ‘normal’ coach party so Fiona was kept on her toes trying to explain stuff she didn’t fully understand herself and a lady got very upset at some of the books and had to be taken outside to calm down. A stand of expensive wrapping paper got knocked over with some of the rolls getting bent and one of the customers managed to drop a very full tray of tea all over the café area. Fiona was glad when the coach party finally left. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself and then jumped when Kadogan appeared behind her.
“Ian Tait is not suitable for a romance,” he said firmly. “He is still in love with his ex wife and she with him. There may be a possibility that he will be able to get back to the old pack and they will remarry. Steve Adderson is a much better match.”
“I can’t see them letting him back in.” Louise joined them at the till, wiping her hands on her apron. “He did summon a demon.”
Mrs Tuesday snorted as she followed Louise. “Of course they won’t let him back, but he may settle into another pack yet, and who knows what will happen.” She gave Fiona an evil grin. “So what did Ian look like with his shirt off?”
Fiona looked blank and shrugged. “He looked okay, I suppose. I didn’t think of it like that.”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “It’s just like I thought. You’re not over your old boyfriend.”
Kadogan looked outraged. “But that person was completely unsuitable,” he snapped.
“I was busy.” Fiona shook her head. “I’d better go back to help out.”
“I shall go.” Kadogan said loftily.
Fiona stared at him. “You hate sorting out boxes.”
“It is unsuitable for either you or Louise to be around Ian Tait when he has his shirt off.” Kadogan stalked towards the store rooms.
“I could always give a hand.” Mrs Tuesday said blandly.
“It is not suitable for Ian Tait to be around you when he is not wearing a shirt.” Kadogan sniffed and disappeared into the store rooms.
Fiona quickly tidied the till area and checked the ornate clock strategically placed across the store and sighed. If no coach turned up then they could expect a lull for another half hour then it would be the lunch time rush followed by plenty of business until it tailed off in the evening. She looked up and smiled as Steve and Lord Marius came in.
“It’s good to see you both. Would you like a coffee, Lord Marius? I have some that is supposed to be scented with oranges, but you would know better than I could.”
“That sounds wonderfully intriguing.” Lord Marius’ green eyes gleamed. “Steve Adderson also drinks coffee, but very plain.”
“Can I also have a small, very strong tea for Armani?” Steve asked. “He’s looking a bit peaky today.”
Armani struggled out of Steve’s shirt pocket. He looked paler than normal and his bat ears drooped. He looked up at Steve. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.” He paused and had a long, self-indulgent, lung-rasping cough. Fiona watched in fascination as Armani caught his breath and wiped a dirty sleeve across his face. “A cuppa would be welcome, Miss, two sugars.”
Kadogan walked in. He looked like he had been working hard and there were streaks of dust across his shirt. He nodded to Lord Marius as Louise added a mug with an Earl Grey teabag to the row. “It is good to see you, Lord Marius. I have been helping Ian Tait with boxes and some of the incenses are very dusty.” He sneezed.
“God Bless You!” Lord Marius said immediately and with concern. “Why have you been helping with boxes?”
“Ian Tait has his shirt off.” Kadogan watched as Louise made them all drinks, including Ian.
“I’ll just take Ian’s drink to him.” Louise picked up two full mugs. Mrs Tuesday chuckled.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Lord Marius was watching Armani thoughtfully as the imp almost inhaled the strong, sweet tea. “If Ian Tait has his shirt off then you cannot go as the daughter of Lord Ragnar cannot be romantically entangled with a werewolf, and Fiona cannot go because she is romantically involved with Steve Adderson and Mrs Tuesday cannot go because she will embarrass Ian Tait.” He pulled out a tray. “I shall accompany Kadogan back to the store room with drinks. I have much to discuss with Kadogan.”
“I’m not exactly a daughter of Lord Ragnar, and why shouldn’t I be ‘entangled’?” Louise snapped, pulling the mugs of tea away from Lord Marius.
Lord Marius looked shifty. “You sort of count as a daughter, no matter how many generations between the encounter Lord Ragnar had and your birth and Mrs Tuesday will explain everything else.”
“And what do you mean about me and Fiona.” Steve asked carefully.
Armani finally set down his cup and laboriously flapped his way over to one of the air vents. “I’m going up to the roof for a ciggie.”
“He upsets the pigeons when he gets up there,” Fiona said to Steve, “And the brownies complain about the extra cleaning.”
Lord Marius waved an irritated hand. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said. “You two are made for each other.” He looked suspiciously after Armani and then at Steve. “Especially if you remember the essential quality of loyalty.” Then he disappeared with Kadogan.
Fiona opened up her laptop at the prototype website. She glanced over to where Mrs Tuesday was explaining something to Louise. “Last night was…” She trailed off.
“I thought last night was amazing.” Steve swallowed. “I only meant to kiss you. I thought I was being pushy enough with that.”
“It was…” Fiona struggled for words. “It was wonderful.”
“Armani complained all this morning.” Steve grinned with a hint of smugness. “He said we kept him awake.”
“Thank goodness there’s no-one in the flat below.” Fiona said. “We must have made some noise. Next door on the same floor joins on the kitchen, so they probably didn’t hear as much.” She glanced over again at Louise who was going pink as Mr Tuesday waved her hands expressively. “By the way, Armani left a stain on the sofa. Is there any way to get it clean?”
Steve winced. “I’ve never managed to get it cleaned up.” He looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t expect to stay the night so I didn’t have Armani’s stuff with me.” He looked even more uncomfortable. “Did you manage to fix the shower curtain?”
Fiona blushed. “No, but I can pick up a new one tonight on the way home.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve never, ever been so passionate.”
“Neither have I.” Steve said with uttermost truth. “I didn’t know I had it in me.” He stroked a hand carefully over the laptop. “I think Armani thought he was being complimentary but…”
Fiona held up a hand. “I don’t want to know.” Across the room she could see Mrs Tuesday’s hand gestures getting wider and Louise’s expression sliding from embarrassment to horror.
“I have to take that shipment of phosphorous down to Birmingham tonight,” Steve was apparently concentrating on the screen. “But I could come round tomorrow night. No pressure to do the same.” He added hastily. “I mean, it was amazing, but I don’t want to assume, I mean, you need not…” He stumbled to a halt.
“I’d like it a lot.” Fiona said gently as she put a hand over his. She smiled. “You can bring the pizza this time and I’ll get the wine.”
“Deal.” Steve looked down into her eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow night. I’ll text.” He whistled for Armani who limped down the air vent and flapped dolefully across the room. With a quick wave to Mrs Tuesday and a pale looking Louise he was gone.
Dave followed reluctantly as Sir Craig led him along Stonegate. “I’ve lived in York all my life. I would have known if there was something down here. It’s too full of tourists to move.”
He had a point. The place was jammed as everyone made the most of a sunny afternoon. Besides, it was the same old place. The shop selling the replica arms and armour, the coffee shops, the souvenir places and the upmarket china shop looked just the same as they had always done.
Sir Craig shot him an irritated look and glanced quickly around before cutting down one of the alleys. “You have to have an invitation to know where it is, or at least be with someone who has an invitation.” He glanced around again before ducking into a non-descript alcove and knocking on one of the battered stones in the wall. “Last time I was here it was grim – pink everywhere. They had glitter balls and a mirrored cocktail bar. It looked like a tart’s parlour. Try and be polite and don’t be fooled. It’s a dangerous place.”
Dave tried to make sense of what he saw next. There was no sliding door and nothing swung in or out. Instead there was a sense of a rectangular opening from this world to another, less friendly world. There were no hinges or steps, just a sudden entrance where the wall used to be. As his stomach lurched he looked over Sir Craig’s shoulder and saw a dimly lit stone passage with a man standing in the centre, looking coolly amused. He was tall and slim looking, with long, thick red hair tied back and he was wearing what looked like an old fashioned velvet smoking jacket. He had the same sense of a blurred silhouette that Dave was starting to see around Kadogan.
“Sir Craig, it is pleasant to see you. Lord Ragnar will be honoured to have a Templar in his hall. And who is your friend?”
“Hello, Atherton.” Sir Craig strode in. “This is Dave Kinson. It’s important that we see Lord Ragnar as soon as possible.”
Atherton looked curious and shrugged. “The Court has changed, Sir Craig. Now that the Lord no longer has a lady he has changed the décor to something more his taste.”
“I doubt it could be worse.” Sir Craig said, passing Atherton warily and putting his hand on the door at the other end of the plain stone passage. “I was saying to Dave that the court was decorated mainly in pink.”
Atherton shrugged. Freydis had very distinct tastes. The understanding is that someone once gave her a Barbie. It’s been redecorated since she left.”
“Well, that’s something.” Sir Craig pushed the door open. “A Prince’s court tells you a lot about the state of the non normals. The showier the place the crazier it gets, and if they have fairy lights…” His voice trailed off.
Dave looked past him and shook his head a little. He had been expecting pink. Instead there was, well, Victorian. Sir Craig started down the stairs and Dave followed. The stairs seemed to be solid mahogany, sweeping round in a gentle curve as they descended to what looked like the discreet entrance to a Victorian gentleman’s club. The floor was black and white chequerboard tiles and the doors leading off were subdued but immaculate mahogany with gleaming brass fittings. There was a row of umbrella stands and an aspidistra. A small desk was positioned next to the foot of the stairs and what looked like a pretty receptionist was checking some paperwork and a portrait of the Queen was behind her. Dave was relieved to see a young Queen Elizabeth II rather than Queen Victoria.
The receptionist smiled. “Sir Craig, a pleasure to see you and this is…?”
“Dave Kinson, it’s important he sees Lord Ragnar.” Sir Craig said, coolly polite.
“And where is Sir Ewan?” The receptionist came from behind the desk and led them towards the large double doors opposite. “He is usually the Templar that visits.”
“He’s busy.” Sir Craig gave a bland smile.
The receptionist tilted her immaculately styled auburn head. “Of course. The minor incident off Petergate.”
“They were tourists, not target practice and the boggarts need to learn.” Sir Craig looked pointed at the door. The receptionist smiled professionally and opened the door.
“Never touch a door handle when you’re in one of these realms.” Sir Craig murmured as they walked in. “They plant nasty tricks on some of them, but not all. It’s easy to get careless.”
Dave nodded and filed it away as he looked around. It wasn’t pink. Filled bookcases broke the expanse of discreetly dark green wallpaper. Old fashioned leather couches in burgundy, chocolate and black were scattered around the room and their side tables gleamed mahogany under the shaded oil lamps. Luxuriant potted ferns and aspidistra were dotted around and in one corner there was a particularly large wing chair next to the roaring fire. There was a group gathered around Lord Ragnar as he sat in it. ‘That’s his throne.’ Dave thought.
He looked around at the people. He carefully kept his face blank, but he was reassured in a strange way. A heap of what looked like large dogs were sprawled in front of the fire, but Dave guessed they were werewolves enjoying their down time. A lot of the people there had the blurred outlines he had come to associate with glamours but not all. A large, hairy, gangling creature, probably a boggart, was chatting with an elegant brunette. They were both holding brandy glasses and the boggart was wearing a Rolex. Small creatures were having a strong discussion with Kieran. They were almost human but not quite with wide, knobbly faces and rustic style clothing. Dave found a little of his tension leave. He was still on guard, but whatever their shape, they were still following some basic rules. Kieran was having a tough time dealing with the little creatures surrounding him. Dave guessed that there were issues with a job, something about Kieran trying to get something added on to a deal and the creatures wanting a little bit more payback. It was good natured enough, but Dave could see that Kieran was on the back foot.
It was the same with the boggart. He was being very deferential to the brunette but she was the one laughing over much at his jokes. The brunette needed a favour from the boggart but it was far from a sure deal. Dave looked around and tried to read the room. Some were like Kadogan and impossible to read but body language seemed to carry across a lot of different bodies. That was helpful.
They made their way slowly across the room. Sir Craig nodded politely at a few people, and Dave acknowledged Kieran as he left his negotiations, but they needed to speak to Lord Ragnar. There was a murmur behind them and the men turned. It was Mrs Tuesday.
She looked very respectable. The apron and day dress had been replaced by a fake silk blouse with a beige skirt suit. She was dressed like a slightly dowdy, old fashioned granny going to a wedding. However her expression was coldly determined. She didn’t rush up to Lord Ragnar but she walked with purpose, stopping in front of him with a polite curtsey and a very hard expression. I shiver seemed to run around the hall and suddenly everyone was alert.
“Is she really that scary?” Dave muttered to Sir Craig.
“Absolutely.” Sir Craig was suddenly showing a lot more tension and he looked around as if checking escape routes. “She may be failing compared to the old days, but if she ever goes rogue then hell will break loose. It’s not about how strong, or fast, or competent she is, it’s about how willing she is to kill in cold blood. And she is scarily capable at that.”
“I have a grievance.” Mrs Tuesday said clearly. “I wish to be heard before the Prince.”
Lord Ragnar sat carefully upright. “I will hear your grievance.”
“Reynauld Baxter, the vampire, is selling mullein to boggarts at inflated prices. He’s messing the young boggarts around and he’s supplying mullein mixed with camomile instead of the pure stuff.” Mrs Tuesday stood upright, aware of the eyes upon her but rigidly fixed on Lord Ragnar. “It isn’t fair.”
“Surely there is an element of ‘buyer beware’.” Lord Ragnar said, keeping his voice calm. “Perhaps they should merely purchase elsewhere, from the White Hart, for example.”
“If he hadn’t been telling all the young boggarts that they could only buy for him or be in trouble with your court then perhaps they would.” Mrs Tuesday’s voice was not particularly loud but it rang around the hall.
“So he has been dishonest.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.
“He’s been selling stuff, calling it one thing when he’s been handing out another and making plenty of pennies.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly. “He’s been thinking that it’s only boggarts and it doesn’t matter because they don’t matter.” She broke eye contact and looked coldly around the hall. “Lots of people seem to think this. They think they can treat us boggarts like a nuisance unless they want someone to do fighting. And there’s some vampires, naming no names but we all know to exclude those like Mr Beddoes and that nice Lord Edvard, but there’s some vampires that think the rules don’t apply to them. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s not right.”
The silence rang around the hall. Lord Ragnar leant forward. “Mr Baxter, you say? Is he here?” He looked over the people gathered, smiling thinly. “For some reason he hasn’t been to the court for a few days.” He looked around again. “Has anyone seen him recently?” There were a lot of shaken heads. “So, he is a cheat in more than one way.” Lord Ragnar bowed his head to Mrs Tuesday. “Your grievance has been heard. What would you have happen?”
“I am not a permanent dweller in your court,” Mrs Tuesday said formally. “I ask for permission to hunt him. If that does not please your lordship I ask that you declare him outlaw.” There was a surprised hiss running around the room now.
“I think that it is time to remind everyone that boggarts are valued just as much as all subjects.” Lord Ragnar leaned back. “And now we have an emporium in York dealing with so many wonderful things perhaps it is good to remind people that trading fairly and honestly is required. I declare a hunt against the vampire Reynauld Baxter. If he is in the bounds of my domain then he needs to be chased out. If he is slow getting out then he suffers the consequences.” Lord Ragnar looked around. There were a lot of vicious smiles and hungry expressions. “I will not ask any questions about his welfare.” He looked at a dainty blonde on the other side of the fireplace. “Miss Patience, as the leader of the vampires in my domain, do you have any comment?”
Miss Patience shook her head. “Mr Baxter is not exactly a credit to our kind.” She said, putting down her knitting. “He has lairs near the Railway station and Fairfax House. I can email or text details to anyone who is interested.”
Dave noticed that there were a few people around with visible fangs. There was a lynchmob atmosphere. Sir Craig grabbed his arm.
“Come on,” he murmured as he headed quickly towards Lord Ragnar. “Now is a good time to remind him that normals are not acceptable collateral damage.”
Kadogan knocked on Dave’s door. “Good morning. Are you sure you do not read Tarot cards?”
Dave sat up sleepily. “What?! Of course I read Tarot cards. I do it every afternoon – the Tarot cards that is.” He rubbed his eyes.
“But you say that you do not believe them. You must, surely, have some sight.”
Dave looked at his phone. “Kadogan, it’s 6am. I didn’t get in until midnight.” He yawned. “Let me get a cup of tea.”
Kadogan knocked again. “I have tea waiting for you in the kitchen. You must read the Tarot cards.”
“No, really.” Dave stretched and yawned again. “I can’t do the magic stuff.”
“There is also bacon.” Kadogan said persuasively.
Dave groaned. “Is Mrs Tuesday up?”
“Yes, she is the one making you breakfast.” Kadogan said encouragingly. “She is a marvellous cook, though possibly to old for you to enjoy as a romantic attachment.”
Dave swore. There was no way he could get back to sleep after having that image imposed on him. “I’ll be five minutes.” He said.
Dave walked into the kitchen in jeans, t-shirt and his hair still damp from sticking his head under the tap. “Morning,” he muttered.
Mrs Tuesday gave Kadogan an exasperated look. “You said he was already awake.”
“But I have just thought of it.” Kadogan said. “Here we have one of our own…”
“I’m a contractor, an independent agent and a paladin.” Dave gratefully took the large mug of tea. “Thanks. And I don’t actually read the cards. I just read the people.”
Kadogan frowned. “That does not seem a fair bargain.”
“It says on the sign, ‘For Entertainment Purposes Only’. It’s not meant to be real.” Dave took a mouthful of tea. It tasted of awake.
“We need a new assistant.” Kadogan said. “It is impossible. Louise wants time off for a wedding, coach parties seem to be arriving all the time, Fiona is having no time for romance with Steve Adderson, it is insupportable.”
“We are managing.” Mrs Tuesday said. “And it’s summer. It’s not likely to be as bad in January.” She slid a bacon sandwich in front of Dave who took it gratefully.
Kadogan sat down on a kitchen chair. “We need more of us. I cannot manage the till. Usually it is Fiona but when it is busier then Ian Tait will sometimes help. However he is busy with the mail order. We are getting a lot of orders.”
“He puts in a lot of extra hours, you know.” Mrs Tuesday said. “He’s finding hard work useful.”
“But he is so busy with stock and boxes and dust and packages.” Kadogan waved a vague hand. “Louise and you deal very well with the café, but if one of you need a day off then it is trying. And what will happen when you go home?”
“I’m in no hurry.” Mrs Tuesday said. “But I see what you mean. You are needed walking the floor and helping with enquiries.” She added. “You do a really good job. Besides, we need you to sort out any trouble makers.”
“Thank you.” Kadogan said absently. “Steve Adderson is a help but often making deliveries. He is looking for extra drivers for the less complicated orders. I don’t know where he’ll find them.”
“I know a few young boggarts that would be glad of a job with a bit of a challenge.” Mrs Tuesday said briskly. “I’ll pass their names on to him.”
“But that still leaves us with needing more staff.” Kadogan grumbled. “And Suzuki said that she thought Dave would be the one to find our next member of staff.” He looked at Dave. “So, you can read the cards and tell us who to hire.”
“Suzuki?” Dave asked.
“A very close friend of mine.” Kadogan said airily. “Obviously not as close as, for example, Steve Adderson with Fiona Greene, but we have a remarkably calm friendship and have mutually aided each other many times. She is from Leeds and often has insights.”
Dave stood up and poured himself another cup of tea. It was too early for this. “I just thought that ‘Suzuki’ was an unusual name for a non normal.”
Mrs Tuesday gave him a sympathetic look as she sat down with her own cup of tea. “The elfen don’t always stick to the same name,” she explained. “Kadogan here has been active in these parts for a few thousand years and he’s not the oldest. Some stick to the same name, like Kadogan, and I don’t think Lord Marius has changed his name since the Romans left, but some are more flexible. One of the elfen over at home has changed her name to Rioja as it’s her favourite wine, and I know a few others that change their name every year or so.”
“It’s not just elfen,” Kadogan was adding sugar to his tea with a liberal hand. “The Prince of Huddersfield is a vampire and has just changed his name from Lord Edvard to Lord Spike. Apparently he watched a different television programme.” He sat down with them. “Suzuki just liked the name so changed it from Mercedes. And a lot of the elfen from Leeds have a sense for magic. She said she had one of her feelings.” He sat down and took a satisfied sip of his tea. “The last time she had one of those feelings she made a fortune investing in shares for…” Kadogan frowned and waved a hand. “Something to do with computers. Anyway, she is very accurate when she gets these feelings.”
“But I don’t do proper Tarot readings.” Dave said. “I don’t do magic. I can’t.”
“And you shouldn’t.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly. “It’s not safe for a paladin to do magic, nor a templar.” For a moment she looked sad.
Kadogan laid a gentle hand on her arm. “You did your best, we all know that. I think he was glad that you did your duty.”
Mrs Tuesday cleared her throat. “I’m sure he was. But I’m very grateful that I’ve got a chance to be useful here instead of just moping around. It’s good to be busy, but you’re right. We do need someone else that can cover tills.” She sighed. “Kadogan, I think you and Fiona are going to have to go over the books. You could do with more than one extra pair of hands. It’s getting complicated.”
“Excuse me one moment.” Kadogan put his cup down, splashing his Earl Grey and rushing out of the door.
Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “You would think he would be old enough to know better,” she sighed. “But this business has given him a whole new lease of life. Honestly, I’ve never seen him better.” The microwave pinged and she got up to get her porridge. “In fact, I think that this shop has been a lifeline for all of us.”
“I’m not sure about me.” Dave said carefully. “I mean, I’m breaking even, but…”
“Can you imagine finding out you were the paladin without knowing people like us first?” Mrs Tuesday asked. “I mean, if you hadn’t known Ian, how would you feel about werewolves? If the first time you had met a werewolf was that fight at the back of the allotments?”
Dave thought about the awful fight and the knowledge that he had someone like Ian on his side. On the other hand, being a Tarot reader was a lot less fun than he thought it would be.
Kadogan erupted back into the kitchen. “Dave Kinson, you have no bookings today and there is a notice saying that no bookings will be taken today. That means that you will be able to attend a Servant’s Register…”
“Temp agency.” Mrs Tuesday said, adding a sprinkling of sugar to her porridge.
“That means you will be able to attend a temp agency – is that what they are called? What is temperature to do with anything? What was I saying?”
“I can’t go anywhere.” Dave said firmly. “I’m booked to attend a psychic fair. Ian’s going to help me set up, remember, and Fiona’s sorted out business cards, catalogues and flyers for me. We talked about it last week.”
“Well, when you are there then you can perhaps ask one of those who do believe in Tarot to find someone.” Kadogan said with some satisfaction.
“I’m not going around a room full of potential rivals at a psychic fair asking whether they believe in magic.” Dave said sharply. He slotted his empty plate and mug in the dishwasher. “I’m going for a run.”
Fiona knew they needed at least another member of staff, but she didn’t know where to look either. At least it was quiet that morning. Louise was making a list for the next run to the wholesalers and Mrs Tuesday was making a similar list at the herb stand. She was jotting down notes about what cards were left and what gift wrap was needed. She jumped when Steve came up behind her.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Steve smiled. “You must have been lost in a world of your own.”
“I’m just trying to work out what’s needed.” Fiona looked down at her list. “We keep getting coach parties. I’m sure it’s just because it’s free parking and it’s not too far to walk to York centre, but they’re spending some money here. I’ve had a couple of calls from tour companies checking our policy on the coaches calling in.”
“An elfen called Henwen from Leeds wanted to know if we could cater a dinner party for her here.” Steve found himself admiring the curves under Fiona’s blouse and remembering them in detail. “I told her that wasn’t something we could currently offer.”
“That’s a good move.” Fiona glanced quickly around the shop. Mrs Tuesday was still checking the herbs and Kadogan had just brought out a box of candles. “Are you still able to come over tonight?”
“Try and keep me away!” Steve smiled. “I’ll call round about eight, and I’ll bring pizza.” Inside his jacket pocket was a faint groan. “And I’ll bring Armani’s stuff as well.”
“I’ll get some wine.” Fiona smiled up at him. “Any preference?”
Steve shrugged. “I don’t want anything too strong. I want to concentrate on you. Why don’t you pick up a few beers for me?”
Fiona fought back a blush. “It’s a deal.”
Dave was unimpressed. It was the first psychic fair he’d been to, and he had never felt more out of place. The former church hall was cold and damp from the awful weather outside. The facilities were basic and the trestle tables ranged around the room had seen better days. The stall holders had done their best with dramatic cloths, crystals and incense but it was hard to fight the depressing atmosphere.
Only a few days ago he would have considered it a place for frauds to meet. Now, well, he found it harder. There were some frauds like himself around, he could spot those easily enough, but there were less than he expected. There were those who seemed well meaning enough but vaguely clueless. And then there was a few who actually seemed to have an idea of what it was all around - including at least one non normal. Dave was getting used to the sensation of the blurred outline or the weird sense of static around a person. They only thing lacking was paying customers. One or two people were drifting around, but there wasn’t much of a rush.
He’d not done too badly. He’d put a lot of thought into his stall and it looked quite professional, to say he had been reading Tarot cards less than a month. It was friendly, not the cheapest but not the most expensive and it looked safe for those who weren’t familiar with the occult. Dave didn’t think he’d get away with anything trying to read for someone clued up. At least he’d covered the cost of the stall.
A young woman shook her umbrella and sat down on the chair opposite him. Dave frowned. She didn’t look like his normal type of client. She was decisive, she was assertive and she was, well, boring. She wasn’t wearing weird earrings. In fact she wasn’t wearing any earrings at all. The plain jeans and sweater seemed almost too much of a contrast to the rest of the hall and her plain, dark blonde hair was caught back in a basic ponytail.
Dave smiled professionally. “Hello, I’m Dave, how can I help you? Are there any questions you need answered or are you just looking for guidance on the mysteries of life.” He reached over and shook her hand, noticing that the hand was cool and as dry as it could be after dealing with the umbrella and the handshake was firm. The nails were short and unpainted but neat and she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. Dave guessed she was single.
She sighed. “How confidential are you?” she asked carefully.
Dave was curious. That question usually meant she was actively unfaithful but he wasn’t getting any romance vibes from her. “I would feel I had to report something like a confession of murder,” he said smoothly, “But anything of a personal nature is kept strictly locked down. I consider it a sacred trust.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“I have two rules that I hold as absolutes.” Dave wondered what she was about to confess to. “I cannot allow you to hurt yourself or others and I cannot disclose anything – anything at all, that you tell me during the reading, especially if it’s of a personal nature.”
She pursed her lips, took a breath and nodded. “I’m Adele. My mother said I should come here as it was safer.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’ve two really important questions. The first question is the hardest. You see, a month ago I was in a car accident. It wasn’t bad, and I wasn’t hurt, but ever since then, well, I can do this.” Adele looked around quickly, put her plain bag on the table to shield what was happening, held out her hand and concentrated.
Dave looked at the practical hand in front of him. It looked like someone who had worked shops or waitressed. He frowned in professional concentration. “May I?” he said, reaching over.
Adele batted his hand away from him. “Hang on.” She concentrated again.
Before Dave’s horrified eyes a blue glow appeared around Adele’s hand. It flickered slightly, like something you would see in a coal fire, dancing and playing around Adele’s outstretched fingers. “I’ve never seen anything like that.” He said faintly.
From a distance he heard Adele speaking. “I can make the flame go over my whole body, but I have to concentrate.”
“That’s interesting.” Dave managed as he watched her twist her hand backwards and forwards, the blow glow snaking like a living thing.
“My mum said it was psychic discharge from the shock of the road accident, but my dad reckons it’s a superpower. He says it’s a rubbish superpower.”
“Can you do anything with it?” Dave said, still mesmerised.
“I use it like a torch when I’m putting the bins out at night. It makes it easier to see.” Adele put her hand flat on the table. “My other question is that I need a job. Can you see a job in the cards?”
Dave managed to pull his attention away from the glowing hand. “You’d better dial that back.” He said. Kadogan was going to be insufferable.
Fiona ran quickly into the stock room. “Ian, can you keep a secret?”
Ian looked at her suspiciously as he sealed an envelope filled with assorted incense. “Why?”
“Seriously, I need to ask you something that I can’t ask Kadogan or Mrs Tuesday and Dave is still at the psychic fair. Promise you won’t tell Kadogan. Or Mrs Tuesday. Or Lord Marius.”
Ian grinned as he added the envelope to the neatly stacked trolley. “It’s about Steve, isn’t it?”
“You won’t tell, will you?” Fiona begged, glancing quickly over her shoulder even though she knew Kadogan was out and Mrs Tuesday was covering the till.
“I promise.” Ian said, still grinning, checking the order off his list. “Go on, what is it?”
Fiona dithered for a moment as she watched Ian assemble the next order. “Steve’s coming round for pizza tonight. I suggested wine, but he thought beer would be better.”
“Did he suggest getting some lemonade as well?” Ian worked his way along the shelves. “Why is he coming round?”
“You know how keen Kadogan and Lord Marius are about us two, well, dating.” Fiona absentmindedly straightened the boxes of Tarot cards. “They’re an almost irresistible force. So we thought we’d see if we could get along on the quiet, without them interfering. If we can get on then it’s great. If we can’t get on then we can work on tactics to get them to shut up.” She blushed. “It’s been fine so far.”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “So that’s why you were so stiff the other morning.” He chuckled. “Hang on, was Armani there?”
“Yes.” Fiona looked confused. “Steve doesn’t like to leave him overnight in case he tries nesting somewhere difficult.”
“Right.” Ian was laughing out loud now. “So it is true what they say.”
“Say about what?” Fiona asked.
“Never mind.” Ian couldn’t keep the smile off his face. “Pass us a Vampire Tarot, please.” He took the Tarot deck and added to the box. “So you want to get some beer in.”
“But I’ve never drank beer.” Fiona said, handing him the order form and money off voucher. “And I have no idea what’s what.”
Ian thought of Steve. He was slim, sharply dressed and unnervingly magical. “I would have thought sparking water would have done him.”
“Ian, please.” Fiona watched Ian double check the carton’s contents. “I’m stuck. And I know that you drink beer because you drank it when you were out with Dave.”
“I drink all sorts of things.” Ian said. “But I take your point.” He frowned. “Pass me your phone.” He called up the website of the local supermarket and clicked on the beer, ale and cider section. “I don’t think there’s any point in wasting craft ale on him,” he said, scrolling through, “And you don’t want anything too strong. There’s no point getting a big case.” I’ve added a few to the basket that will probably work. Check them out in the supermarket and see what you think.” He grinned. “But I want to know all about how it goes tomorrow, okay?”
“Deal.” Fiona took her phone back and looked at Ian’s selection. They all looked fine.
“But not in too much detail, if you know what I mean.” Ian winked. Fiona blushed.
Fiona was still burning from embarrassment a few hours later as she stood in front of a wide shelf full of ales and beers. She had already got a nice bottle of sparkling rose for her, some salad and a cheesecake for dessert tucked in her trolley. All she needed was the beer. She picked up what looked like a craft ale and checked the label doubtfully. It looked quite strong. She put it back and moved along the shelf. She picked up her ex boyfriend’s favourite. It wasn’t particularly strong but she felt the fury of his betrayal just looking at it. She quickly put it back on the shelf.
“I didn’t think you were a beer drinker.”
Fiona had been lost in her thoughts and jumped wildly as Kayne appeared next to her. “Sorry, I was miles away. How are you? Have you figured out the heating system yet? Tim said it took him ages to sort it out.”
“I think I’ve got the hang of it,” her new neighbour said, picking up the bottle Fiona had just replaced. “Is this your favourite?”
“I don’t drink beer.” Fiona sighed. “That was the favourite of my ex-boyfriend. I’m supposed to pick beer up for someone special,” she said carefully.
“Are you sure he likes beer?” Kayne asked.
“To be honest, I think he’s more of a wine person.” Fiona confided, “But I think he’s worried about looking like a wine drinker, and he didn’t want anything too strong.” Inside she winced. She didn’t need to share everything with a complete stranger. “Can you recommend anything?” She asked quickly to cover her confusion.
“Hmm.” Kayne scanned the shelf. “I’m more of a wine drinker myself as well, but how about this?” He pulled down a four pack of bottles. “It’s quite sweet, and I’m sure your boyfriend will like it. Am I going to bump into him a lot?”
Fiona felt cold. The last thing she needed was Kadogan finding out about her and Steve from the neighbours. “It’s complicated,” she said, putting the bottles in the basket. “I’m not really ready to share with friends about him. He’s a good man, though.”
“So there’s definitely no chance for me, then?” Kayne leant towards her but Fiona was too busy rearranging her basket.
“It’s got very intense very quickly.” Fiona wasn’t sure she felt red hot with embarrassment or frozen with mortification. “Let me know if there’s too much noise, just bang on the wall.”
“I’ll wear headphones – and hope!” Kayne grinned and walked off, whistling.
Dave looked at the drab terraced house and frowned. “So this is the house that comes with the job?”
Sir Ewan didn’t answer but opened the wrought iron gate and took three steps across the small, paved front yard to reach the shabby front door. He searched through a bunch of keys and finally found the one for the front door. He handed it over to Dave, watching him closely.
Dave held the keys in his hand for a moment. The April weather had turned and the wind was cold on his neck as he looked down. A house that went with the job. That was something Dave had never, ever wanted. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck in the same rut, day in and day out. It looked like he was out of luck. He may not have chosen this job, but the job had chosen him.
“It’s that one, there,” Sir Ewan reached over Dave’s shoulder and pointed. “Stop acting like a lass in a dress shop and open the door. People will start looking.”
Dave pulled himself together and opened the front door, starting a mental list as he did so. The front door needed a new coat of paint.
There were a few circulars at the back of the door but the place looked depressingly empty. Dave stepped in and Sir Ewan followed him, shutting the door behind him. Dave looked around and added redecorating the hall to the list. “I’m allowed to decorate, right?”
Sir Ewan shrugged. “I suppose so. Callum never bothered.” He thought for a moment. “The paladin before Callum was someone called Frank Ellis. He didn’t bother, either. He spent most of his time in his garage.” He followed Dave through the door on the left side of the hall. “Frank was a mechanic and owned a garage. He still offers good rates and you can trust him and his son to look after you.”
“I’m between cars.” Dave said carefully. He found the idea of being able to retire from being a paladin incredibly reassuring. The room was less comforting. A large table took up most of the centre of the room and it was surrounded by hardbacked dining chairs. It wasn’t a dining room, though, but a meeting room. The wall nearest the door was completely covered with bookshelves which were full to overflowing. S with smaller books were wedged across the top of larger books and some double banked. A row of old fashioned filing cabinets lined the other wall. Dave walked over to the window. The drab curtains looked older than he was, but the windows looked less dated. They had iron frames and it looked like the glass was toughened. Dave tapped the glass. “How often are these windows smashed?”
Sir Ewan thought. “Not in the time I’ve been here, so not in the last few years at least. In fact, the non normals usually stay away from the Citadel. I don’t this place has ever been attacked. The Chapter House for the Templars is usually fine as well.”
“Where is the Chapter House?” Dave looked closer at the bookcases. Some of the books looked antique, with worn spines and battered corners. He took one out to find it was a gazette of the businesses of North Yorkshire, 1832. He put it back carefully.
“You cover up to Thirsk and down as far as Tadcaster.” Sir Ewan said helpfully. “It’s useful to know what’s been going on. Most non normals live a lot longer than us and it’s helpful to know if a name keeps cropping up or if a place has a history. These filing cabinets keep copies of reports. Some of the older ones have been scanned and put on a secure website. You’ll get the details of the login and that in the post.”
“I’ll need a car, then.” Dave walked out of the meeting room and found himself facing the cupboard under the stairs. He knew a little about locks and security. This was a very secure cupboard. He tried a few different keys before finding the right one. A small panel slid out and Dave looked blankly at a keypad.
“It’s been reset to 1307.” Sir Ewan leant against the stairs. “That’s the standard Templar code. The instructions to reset it to your preferred number are inside. As for the car,” Sir Ewan watched Dave tentatively key in the numbers, “Frank will be able to fix you up with something decent.”
Dave pulled the door open and stopped dead. “What the…?”
Sir Ewan reached around him and flicked the cupboard light on. “This is the hardcore kit. There’s the handguns and rifles in the safe – do you know how to shoot? Don’t worry, I’ll book you into the firing range. Ammunition in the smaller safe – silver and standard. Swords aren’t used much, but they’re surprising useful against undead.” He pulled open one of the built in drawers. “It’s considered polite to keep this sort of stuff out of the way from any visitors. This is extra strength garlic, garlic essence, garlic salt – you’d be surprised how much difference that can make, the salt seems to give an extra kick. That’s aconite, hawthorn twigs, holy water and the rest. Keep checking them for freshness.”
“I’ve never used a gun.” Dave said quietly.
“And you may never have to.” Sir Ewan pulled out another drawer. “Sets of knuckle dusters, mostly silver. Strictly speaking they’re completely illegal so don’t show them around if you can help it. There’s some silver caltrops, wire, dust – that’s tricky to use.”
“Silver knuckle dusters?” Dave remembered the fight with the rogue werewolves and the knuckledusters he was wearing when he punched the leader in the face and killed him.”
Sir Ewan caught the tone. “I think that’s about it. You need to keep this stuff maintained and up to date. It’s a life line.” He pulled Dave back and shut the door, sliding the keyhole back over the keypad. “The Templars keep a supply as well. Let’s look over the rest of the house.”
It was wonderfully quiet in the White Hart. A few tourists had been in and wandered around and a Miss Patience had called in and picked up an athame but today had been blissfully free of coach parties and deliveries.
“I know that I shouldn’t enjoy it being quiet,” Fiona admitted, “But it does make a nice change.”
“We still need that extra pair of hands.” Kadogan reminded her. He lounged with effortless grace against the till. “Miss Adele Cosgrave has retail experience. Perhaps she will take up one of the spare rooms upstairs.”
“Perhaps Steve will move in to replace Dave.” Mrs Tuesday gave a sidelong glance at Fiona.
“I hope not. Armani is enough of a problem as it is.” Fiona didn’t rise to the bait. “Are you sure that Dave will move into the Paladin’s house?”
“The correct term is citadel.” Mrs Tuesday said.
“Or lair.” Kadogan grumbled. “I am confident we will be able to rent rooms. It is a desirable location and there are brownie cleaners.”
“I don’t know.” Fiona absently straightened the box of till rolls. “It would have to be someone used to dealing with non normals. How many are there of those?”
“Dave didn’t realise for ages.” Ian moved a little restlessly. “To be honest, I prefer to be busy. I’m not one for hanging around.”
Fiona nodded. “Louise has already gone home. Give it another half hour and me and Mrs Tuesday can probably cover for the rest of the afternoon.”
Mrs Tuesday was looking out the window. “Hang on a minute.” She peered through the glass. “Well I never!”
Kadogan followed her gaze and swore. Fiona looked at him in astonishment as he pulled Ian aside and muttered a quick instruction to him. Ian nodded, his face set, and dashed into the back storerooms. Kadogan turned to Fiona. “Please make tea for these new customers. They are relatives of Mrs Tuesday.”
Fiona started pulling together a large tray of tea, watching with interest. Mrs Tuesday held open the door to what was obviously an elderly gentleman and his wife, together with their doting son or grandson. The man behind them was probably a boggart if he was related to Mrs Tuesday but he looked like a drug dealer’s enforcer who was off duty. He grinned at Mrs Tuesday.
“Hello, Auntie Jane. You’re looking well.”
“Geraint! It’s good to see you!” Mrs Tuesday reached up and gave him a hug before turning to the elderly couple. “It’s so good to see you two. How are things? Has Karen managed to sort out the jumble cupboard yet?” Kadogan coughed politely behind her and Mrs Tuesday spun around. “I’m sorry, I’m forgetting my manners. These are my cousins, Mildred and Cecil Appuck and their son, Geraint. I haven’t seen them for a while.”
Fiona poured tea and put out biscuits as Mrs Tuesday introduced everybody. Geraint fussed over his parents, making sure they were sitting comfortably and carrying the tray over to the frail looking couple with protective care. Kadogan and Ian were looking tense, so Fiona guessed that Geraint had a reputation, but he was so sweet to his parents that she couldn’t worry too much.
“It’s nice of Geraint to spare us some time from his work.” Mrs Appuck said fondly. “He’s such a good son, isn’t he, Cecil?”
“He is, Mildred. I’ve always said that we are blessed.” Mr Appuck nodded. “Geraint here just dropped his work and brought us here when he heard we were thinking of a visit, didn’t he, Mildred?”
“He did,” Mrs Appuck nodded. “I said to Karen that he we were so lucky to have Geraint think of us, didn’t I Cecil?”
Mr Appuck nodded again. “Of course, all our sons are good to us, aren’t they Mildred? They never forget us on our birthdays, do they?”
“They don’t.” Mrs Appuck agreed. Fiona watched in fascination as the old couple nodded at each other, getting almost dizzy in sympathy. Mrs Appuck took a small bite of her scone. “I always say that we’re lucky with our sons, don’t I, Cecil.”
“That’s right, Mildred,” Mr Appuck agreed. “So many kids don’t bother. And then look at Jane. Her kids never forget her but they’re out of the country at the moment.”
“Of course they’d come back in a second, Jane, wouldn’t they, Cecil?” Mrs Appuck put a hand over Mrs Tuesday’s arm.
“I don’t feel neglected.” Mrs Tuesday managed to insert into the conversation. “And did you know Edy’s youngest is here.”
“Never!” Mrs Appuck turned to her husband. “Did you hear that, Cecil? Young Evan’s in York. I didn’t know.”
“Evan’s in York?” Mr Appuck looked astonished at the possibility. “Well I never. I thought Edy would never get him out of Ipswich. I said that, didn’t I, Mildred?”
“He was very happy in Ipswich.” Mrs Appuck took a delicate sip of the tea. “But youngsters need to stretch themselves. I always say that, don’t I, Cecil? Our lads have gone all over.”
“They’ve gone all over.” Mr Appuck said earnestly to Fiona before turning to Mrs Tuesday. “So, what’s young Evan doing?”
Fiona was almost relieved when an overlarge white SUV spun into the car park, narrowly missing Geraint’s immaculate BMW and sliding on the gravel into the edge of the flower beds just out of view. “The brownies aren’t going to be happy about that.” She muttered to Kadogan.
“I think the brownies are the least of our worries.” Kadogan looked stressed.
Fiona turned around to see what Ian was doing and found that instead of Ian a large, immaculate Alsatian dog was in an alert sitting position. Ian’s tail was still and his ears were forward. A hint of a snarl played around his muzzle. Fiona wished she knew what was going on.
Fiona’s heart sank as four young men walked in. They were a little bit drunk or a little bit high, swaggering about in expensive jeans and trying to throw their weight around. It would take tact and a lot of luck to get them out of the shop without them damaging the fittings. She glanced over at Kadogan. He was looking slightly relieved and, in her limited experience, ready for violence. Mrs Tuesday wasn’t showing any sign of stress but instead was looking at the photos Mrs Appuck was inexpertly bringing up on her phone. Ian had stood and looked ready to spring. To her amateur eye, the lads looked normal. They were early twenties and had spent far too much time grooming with limited success.
“Have you seen such a load of pathetic garbage?” The ring leader with the designer jeans and the EDL tattoo waved his hands at the bookshelves. “Who wastes their money on this…” He broke off and looked towards Fiona. “Hello, darlin’, let’s have four cuppas, nice and hot, just like me.”
Fiona cringed inwardly as she pulled out a tray and placed the cups. Kadogan and Ian were both looking predatory now and Geraint was looking deliberately relaxed. She flinched as the ringleader knocked deliberately into Mr Appuck.
“Watch out, grandad.” He turned to his cronies. “That’s what’s wrong with York. You can’t move for coffin dodgers and undesirables.”
Fiona nearly didn’t breathe. She knew how lethal Kadogan and Ian could be and she had heard enough about boggarts to have a healthy respect for Geraint.
Geraint leaned forward and put his hand on Mr Appuck’s arm. “Are you okay, dad?”
“I could probably do with a bit of fresh air. I always say that it’s amazing how fresh air does you good, don’t I, Mildred?”
“He does believe in fresh air.” Mrs Appuck nodded. “Are you coming, Jane?” She and her husband stood up, tucking their chairs in neatly and heading for the door.
“I’d better stay in here.” Mrs Tuesday said. “What with the wind getting a bit cold. But I can explain all sorts of curses to the young gentlemen.”
“Yeah, we could do with some new curses.” One of the lads yelled as the others howled with laughter.
“It could be worse.” Sir Ewan lounged back in the comfortable armchair opposite Dave.
Dave nodded. “It really could.” The back room was very comfortable. Somebody had thought about it. There was a couple of good, well padded chairs and a long, wide sofa. Dave had taken the spot opposite the tv and found the small table at his elbow was placed just right for a drink. He looked around. The house was sparsely and badly decorated but it was clean, warm and rent free. “I’ve trained as a painter and decorator. I’ll probably put a lick of paint over it.”
Sir Ewan nodded. “You’ll have the time. At the moment things are going crazy with Lord Ragnar’s situation and there are likely to be a few rogues around, but once it settles down it’s likely to go quiet.” He stretched his legs out in front of him. “You can go months without an incident, just keep showing the face, paying attention and generally keeping an eye on things. Of course, then you can end up with a crisis and sometimes all Hell literally breaks loose – well, a portal to it at least. Then you are back to not much happening and elderly boggarts baking you cakes. Watch out for Mrs Cadwallader. Her cakes are amazing but never touch her pastry.”
“Right.” Dave wondered if Mrs Cadwallader was like Mrs Tuesday and whether the cake would be worth it.
“The issues with Lord Ragnar are tricky.” Sir Ewan said. “No-one knows how that’s going to play out, and you’re on the fringes on it more than if you were just a paladin. You work for Kadogan, Kadogan is Lord Ragnar’s right hand man. You may be targeted.” He shrugged. “But then it will settle down back to the occasional scrap, keeping an eye on stray werewolves and vampires with addiction issues and breaking up the fights down in Fulford when the goblins and their neighbours get lairy. That reminds me, I need to introduce you to the local police liaison. Hang on.” Sir Ewan pulled out his ringing phone. “Yes.”
Dave added something to the top of the mental list – get a notebook and make notes.
Sir Ewan jumped to his feet, his face set and pale. “We need to get to the White Hart. Geraint Appuck has turned up there and that means all bets are off.”
Fiona’s feeling of unease was growing. She knew Mrs Tuesday well enough to know that the lads were getting played. The old boggart was explaining all sorts of details about curses and charms and holding the bewildered lads’ attention with consummate skill. She was also being a lot more dithery than normal. She wouldn’t open the case with the athames as ‘they were a bit sharp and it made her nervous’. Fiona had never known Mrs Tuesday be nervous about anything. She jumped as the shop door jangled and Mr and Mrs Appuck came back in. Mr Appuck looked a lot less shaky.
“Those gardens are lovely.” Mr Appuck said to Kadogan who was lounging around by the till with an air of malevolent anticipation. Ian was still sitting upright but looking a lot less stressed. His tongue flopped out and he was panting slightly with a big doggy grin.
“A local firm tends them.” Kadogan said. “They have very reasonable rates.”
“The have a lot of skill.” Mr Appuck said thoughtfully. He shook his head slightly as if bringing himself back to the present. “I was a market gardener before I retired. I did mainly brassicas, didn’t I, Mildred?”
“He did mainly brassicas.” Mrs Appuck also looked refreshed. “Though he did win some prizes for his leeks and alliums, didn’t you, Cecil.”
“I was good with the garlic.” Mr Appuck confided.
The lads were sobering up now, and the quiet one at the back looked around. “You don’t sell any garlic here, do you?”
“We don’t like to offend anyone.” Mrs Tuesday said, sounding slightly older than her years.
“We believe in being open minded.” Kadogan said.
Geraint walked over to the till and put a selection of herbs and seeds on the counter along with a gardener’s almanac. “Could I have these, please, love.” He glanced over at the lads. The most sober of them was looking around and checking his phone. He was obviously looking stuff up online and not liking the answers. “After seeing what Auntie Jane can do, I never trust a little old lady.”
Fiona started wrapping them up. “She’s such a strong character,” she said diplomatically, “but I worry that we’re taking advantage of her. She’s always here and always busy.” She waved her hand. “No charge. The least we can do is treat Mrs Tuesday’s family. And you’re always welcome. It’s nice to see family come together.”
Geraint’s eyes narrowed. “You have no idea who I am have you?” He said. He looked down at Ian who was still in wolf form and pressed close against Fiona’s legs. “He knows who I am, but you don’t. But you’re still happy to give a freebie to an old couple.” He looked across to where his parents had sat back down to pour fresh cups of tea.
“Like I said, it’s a family thing.” Fiona shrugged. “It’s sort of like a family here. We look out for each other. Though I’m not sure exactly what Mrs Tuesday is up to.”
Geraint chuckled evilly. “She’s just distracting the mark from the real game.”
The door jangled again and Dave and Sir Ewan raced in. Sir Ewan almost skidded to a halt in front of Geraint. “What the hell happened to that white SUV outside?”
“I’ve not been out.” Geraint said blandly. “I’ve been in here listening to Auntie Jane and chatting with Fiona here.”
Sir Ewan looked down at Ian who barked an affirmation. “Then what happened to the car?”
“What’s happened to the car?” The leader looked at Dave and Sir Ewan’s set faces and ran to the door. “My car!” For a moment the young man looked too stunned to swear. His mouth opened and shut.
Fiona looked at Dave. “What’s happened?”
“I’ve never seen a car like that outside a breaker’s yard.” Dave said, still wide eyed. “But it normally takes longer than an afternoon.”
“It wasn’t here this morning?” Sir Ewan followed the lads outside and Fiona went with them. The leader turned around, his face pale. “We only parked up half an hour ago.”
Fiona stared. She had seen the gleaming SUV sweep in to the car park and she could see the damage done to the plants where it had slid into the planting. Now it was a shell of itself – literally. Every window had not only been broken but smashed to tiny fragments that gleamed across the tarmac. Every light was smashed. There was hardly a scrap of the gleaming paint left on the body of the car. The tyres, stacked to one side, were shredded into feathery strands that blew around along with the padding from the upholstery. The material that had once covered the customised seats was spilling out of the gaping boot of the car in pieces no bigger than Fiona’s hand. She stepped a little closer and could see the wires wrenched out of every channel and bent engine parts scattered liberally, although the battery had been neatly placed to one side.
“They even drained the oil first.” The leader pointed to a tub to one side of the rockery. “Who did this? How did they do this?” He turned around to Sir Ewan. “I want some answers.”
“Some curses are quite detailed.” Mrs Tuesday said blandly. “But they’re often quite environmentally responsible. You’ve not offended anyone recently, have you?” She glanced back inside the shop where Mr and Mrs Appuck were happily sipping tea with their son. “Tricky things, curses.”
“This is Detective Sergeant Tim Pierce.” Sir Ewan waved at the man sitting at the table in the Chapter House meeting room.
Dave looked carefully. The man was in his mid thirties. He wore his brown hair short and very conventionally styled. The casual shirt had been pressed, as had the jeans and the jacket on the back of the chair was clean. His only jewellery was a plain but expensive looking watch. The sensible looking boots had steel toecaps underneath the polished leather. His face was neither one thing or another, instantly forgettable and dull apart from watchful brown eyes. He was checking out his official phone. As Dave smiled and went to shake Tim’s hand he could tell he was dealing with someone hard to shake, someone good on detail and someone with very little imagination. The trouble with those without imagination, Dave thought, was that they were very hard to fool. And those copper’s eyes had just weighed up Dave and judged him to the ounce. A good man to have at your back, Dave thought, but not someone to go drinking with. He was probably loyally married to a dull girl and had two children.
“Please to meet you.” Tim’s handshake was cool and firm but not aggressive. “I’m sorry about Callum.”
“I never met him.” Dave took a seat at the table.
“He was a good man.” Tim pulled out a folder from his bag and opened it. “So, how do you get chosen to be a Paladin? It seems a little unconventional.”
“Absolutely no idea.” Dave said with complete honesty.
“Well, I got chosen to be the liaison for Non Normals in North Yorkshire when I pulled a boggart over for drunk driving.” Tim pulled open a binder. “I had only been in Traffic for two months and it was a shock.” He uncapped his pen. “It was the first time a boggart threw a police car at me. Obviously not the last. Still, they’re not the worst.”
“They’re not?” Dave thought about Mr and Mrs Appuck and the damage that they left behind.
Tim shook his head. “Boggarts will cause all sorts of trouble. You know, nuisance theft, vandalism, drunk and disorderly, breach of the peace, that sort of stuff.” He passed over a second folder. “I’ve photocopied my notes. I keep most of the info either in paper form or in my head.”
“More secure?” Dave asked, opened his binder and flicking through. The notes were neatly written and organised, as he had expected.
“It saves a lot of explanation.” Tim said. “I’ve included a list of those known. There’s only a couple of boggarts in York itself, most of them work around the farms. None of them are that bad. They can be easily led and cause damage, but there’s worse. There’s a pack of werewolves in York, based in Fulford, you met Keiran Latimer, I believe?”
“Yes, there was a rogue pack or something.” Dave didn’t want to remember about his first encounter with werewolves.
“I did a little digging and it’s extremely rare to find non-aligned werewolves forming their own packs.” Tim nodded a thanks as Sir Ewan came back in the room with some bottles of water and sat down with them. “How is Ian Tait doing?”
“He’s doing fine.” Dave said. “Should I be worried?”
“Werewolves without a pack are usually a threat.” Tim ticked off a point. “Keep an eye on him. There’s maybe half a dozen vampires in York and half a dozen more spread over the rest of North Yorkshire. Miss Patience keeps a tight rein on them, and I’ve no reports of irregular feeding. Watch out for any reports of Dragon’s Blood. It’s like meth for vampires and causes a lot of trouble. Lord Ragnar will stamp down hard on anything he finds, but be aware.”
“Dragon’s Blood.” Dave made a note.
There’s not many non normals in North Yorkshire.” Tim said. “There’s a second werewolf pack up by Thirsk, a few goblins out in Fulford, some brownies scattered around but they never seem to cause any trouble, and of course there’s some elfen.” Tim unscrewed the lid of the bottle of water and took a long, thirsty drink. “It’s hard to guess their numbers, even if they co-operate. I’d say there were maybe half a dozen regularly at Lord Ragnar’s court, a few more dropping in and out from near York, and quite a few of them work in the breweries around Tadcaster and Pickering. As far as I can tell, there’s as many as they want there to be. They’re basically nature spirits and the most difficult to police. Then there’s Captain Whitebeard who seems to be some sort of deputy for Lord Ragnar in Whitby. The elfen seem to gravitate to Whitby when there’s a vampire or steampunk festival. The Templars usually attend but Callum always stayed in York.”
“It’s harmless.” Sir Ewan lounged back in his chair. “Elfen feed off emotion and so lots of people having a great time are a feast for them. They sometimes hang out with the sea going non normals, but we haven’t had reports of trouble with those for a long time.”
“Good.” Dave got seasick on a pier. He really didn’t want to find out how bad he could get if he went out in choppy weather.
“I cover a lot of other stuff.” Tim made some more notes. “I don’t just cover non normals. And, to be honest, we don’t get involved too much unless there’s direct police action needed. For example, I know traffic towed a derelict vehicle from outside the White Hart. Whoever made it derelict thoughtfully left the number plates and highlighted the VIN code for us. Turns out it was uninsured, untaxed and had no MOT so we would be perhaps more interested in the owners than in those that shredded it. No one reported it stolen or vandalised and the records turned up a dead end, the vehicle had been written off – allegedly – last year so there was nothing for us to do.” Tim looked hard at Dave. “We respond to reports of crime and dead bodies. If no-one calls it in and no-one is hurt then we don’t go looking. We don’t have the manpower to go looking. But we’re not stupid. We won’t ignore stuff just because it’s weird, either.”
Dave knew that Tim was not stupid. He might be thorough and unimaginative and methodical but he was far from stupid and very hard to fool. “I’ll give you a heads up if there’s anything.”
“Crimes against normals are tried under the law just the same as anyone else.” Tim said. “We’re all just trying to keep the peace.”
Sir Ewan nodded. “Our job is to be there for the times when there’s a supernatural threat to normals. Sir Craig had to go as he’s been called to check out a ghoul hanging round the cemeteries in Canterbury. You can go months without an issue.”
“Then the Appuck brothers turn up.” Tim said, a little grimly. “They’re not like most boggarts. They do loan sharking, protection, some drugs, a lot of violence and a lot of trouble. They can strip down cars to their metal frame in minutes, for example, and they’ve even been known to demolish a house. The bricks were down to a powder. But they won’t cause trouble like most boggarts and we’ve never been able to pin anything on them. Everyone is scared that if they go off the rails then we won’t be able to contain them. So any more visits from Rhodri, Rhys or Geraint Appuck and you let us know. Just in case.”
Fiona was showing Adele around. “The till rolls are here, we’ve got the small bags here and here are the loyalty cards.”
“They look really nice.” Adele picked one up and looked it over. “Did it cost a lot to get it done?”
“I designed them myself.” Fiona felt ridiculously flattered.
“Our Kirsty does design professionally and she would be thrilled to have done something like this.” Adele put the card back neatly on the stack.
“Thanks.” Fiona took a moment to feel smug before going back to showing Adele around. “Gift wrap prices are here and the spare gift wrap is in the back. Cards and tags are here.”
“There’s some really lovely ones here.” Adele flicked through the cards. “And you make them?”
“Some of them.” Fiona sighed. “I haven’t had much time recently. The cards and gift wrap are sort of my thing, they’re why we decided to get a shop.” She ran a hand gently over some expensive handmade paper. “I think everyone should have a patch. You know, something that you can take pride in. I’ve got the gift wrap and cards, Kadogan’s got candles, Ian’s got all the postal stuff plus stores, Louise has the cafe and Mrs Tuesday’s got the herbs.”
“There are a lot of herbs.” Adele said, walking over to the main display.
“Mrs Tuesday has been doing some research. We may be able to offer herbs grown in appropriate ways, you know, sown and harvested at the right time for magical purposes.” Fiona waved a bewildered hand. “I don’t know much about magic. Fortunately Steve does. He’s sort of a partner and does the complicated deliveries and he covers the stuff like athames and pentacles. He understands what’s needed. I’ve persuaded Dave to take on the Tarot Cards.”
“It makes sense.” Adele looked at the large stand of cards.
“Dave doesn’t actually believe in Tarot cards, or at least, he doesn’t believe he can read the cards. He can read people, though, and he’s starting to get repeat business.” Fiona straightened a Rider Waite Deck. “He gets stressed about it sometimes, but his heart’s in the right place.”
“Some of these look weird.” Adele said bluntly. “I mean, some look serious but some just look like gimmicks.”
“You’ll see it at the till.” Fiona stepped back and looked over the Tarot display. “We got stock from everywhere. We got the good stuff from independent workers and we got, well, tat from the warehouses. There are two main types of clients. Those who know about non normals or who are non normals and they understand real magic and want the good stuff. And there are those who sort of like the idea and sniff around the edges but get distracted. So on one hand we have bulk deals on things like wormwood and on the other hand we have flower fairies. They don’t often overlap.”
Adele picked up a Tarot deck. “If I wanted to learn, could you recommend a pack?”
“No.” Fiona said flatly. “I know less about Tarot than I do about nuclear physics. You could ask Steve when he’s in next.”
“I might. I mean, if I’m non normal, or part non normal then I should know about this stuff, shouldn’t I?”
“Umm.” Fiona was stuck. Until Steve sat down and did some serious magic then all bets were off. Adele had agreed that if she was found to be non normal then she would owe loyalty to Lord Ragnar who would owe Steve a favour for finding it out. However Steve had been frantically busy with some last minute orders in the run up to Beltane and hadn’t had time to check his phone let alone do the scrying needed. She wasn’t sure about Adele being non normal. She seemed so wonderfully ordinary.
Kadogan frowned and looked up from his candles a few moments before the door opened. “Hello, Freydis,” he said unenthusiastically.
“Hello, sweetie.” Freydis lounged over to the café and leaned on the newly polished counter. “I’ll have a latte.” She placed the coins casually next to the till.
Louise, tight lipped and slightly pale, made a lot of fuss about making the perfect latte before disappearing to the back.
“I don’t know why she doesn’t like me.” Freydis sprawled on one of the hardback chairs. “I would have thought she would have been grateful. And who is this?”
Fiona instinctively stepped between Adele and Freydis. “This is Adele who has started working here. Adele, this is Freydis.”
“I used to be married to the Lord here, but now he’s divorcing me and my heart is broken.” Freydis gently wiped a tear away from the glamour of her flawless complexion.
“You don’t have a heart to break.” Kadogan said bluntly.
“How you would you know?” Freydis trailed an immaculately manicured fingernail along the edge of the table. “You don’t seem to have any sort of warm emotion at all.”
“Don’t start on Kadogan.” Fiona snapped.
“But he has never had a love life.” Freydis said, her voice reasonable. “I mean, he sort of meets up with Suzuki, but they don’t have anything like a love affair. They’re perfectly pleasant to each other. That’s no way to run a romance.”
“It suits us.” Kadogan said coldly. “What do you want, Freydis?”
“I suppose all sorts of people just drop in, just to meet like minded friends away from the bustle of the court.” Freydis added sugar with a generous hand. “I thought I would see what was going on.”
“We’re due a coach party in half an hour.” Fiona said. “We’re getting ready for that.”
“Normals or non normals?” Freydis asked with interest.
“Why do you need to know?” Kadogan snapped.
“So defensive,” Freydis sighed, “But there’s no need. I’m just making conversation.”
“It’s non normals.” Fiona said. “They’ve booked for a Fairy Tea. Mrs Tuesday is in the back getting things set up.”
“That was inspirational.” Freydis said. “But don’t you worry that they’ll get clues?”
“No.” Kadogan said. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m busy.”
“Darling Kadogan.” Before Kadogan could react Freydis had managed to lean against him with a plaintive hand on his arm. “You know so much and are so influential these days. I don’t suppose you know where my beloved Rey is?”
Kadogan jumped away from Freydis and shuddered as if he had been tasered. “I have not heard anything about Mr Baxter.”
“Poor Rey. I mean, I know he has been unwise when it came to dealing with the boggarts, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have been so harshly punished if he hadn’t been so sweet to me.” Freydis stepped towards Kadogan who backed away.
“I have no idea whether Mr Baxter has been caught.” Kadogan found himself pinned against a counter and started to sidle towards the store rooms.
“He must feel so vulnerable out there.” Freydis cooed. “I know it would have weight if you spoke up for him, far more than anything I could say now, as I have been discarded.”
“You are getting divorced because you slept with someone else.” Kadogan was nearly at the door to the store room.
“But it didn’t mean anything.” Freydis sighed. “I feel so responsible. If Rey hadn’t been buying me those adorable trinkets then he perhaps wouldn’t have extorted and blackmailed so much. Now he is at the mercy of a mob of boggarts.” Freydis literally fluttered her eyelashes at Kadogan. “And you are such a warrior.”
“So are you.” Kadogan said bluntly. “I haven’t forgotten how you slaughtered those pirates when they tried to get up river when the legions were here and you were angered that they had disturbed your feast. You spread their blood for miles.” He frowned. “You could outfight any boggart that tried anything. All you would have to do was make sure that Mr Baxter was with you.”
“I have some business to attend.” Freydis said loftily.
“And you don’t actually care about Mr Baxter but you feel mildly obliged.” Kadogan’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you have sex with him?”
“Well at least he was paying attention to me.” Freydis snapped.
“What do you mean? You had half the court hanging on your every word.” Kadogan stopped. “I can’t believe it. You wanted to make Lord Ragnar jealous.”
“He didn’t care about me at all.” Freydis said bitterly.
“But it’s not like you care about him either.” Kadogan sounded like he was trying to be reasonable. “Lord Ragnar became Prince after ripping the head off Ulfric Beartooth, supported by your father after your marriage.” Kadogan smiled at the memory. “It was a wonderful wedding. They built a pyre of your enemies and hung the limbs of the dead on ash trees for the crows.” He sighed. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to a better one.”
Fiona exchanged a started look with Adele and started backing away to the till. Freydis went back to her latte.
“It was all show,” she said quietly. “|It was nothing but show. Lord Ragnar never showed jealousy.”
“Well, he couldn’t really, could he?” Kadogan pointed out. “He had only got to marry you because he ripped the head off Ulfric Beartooth. Everyone knew how desperate he was to woo you and you never gave him a hint.”
“What do you mean?” Freydis stood up and seemed to be a little taller.
“Well, everyone knew that your father was going to marry you to Ulfric Beartooth. That’s why Lord Ragnar challenged him.”
“Then why didn’t he say anything to me?” Freydis demanded.
“Didn’t he?” Kadogan looked bemused and then a wicked grin spread over his face. “You actually love Lord Ragnar. All this time you’ve been trying to make him jealous and all this time you’ve driven him away. You had your desire in your cupped hands and it slipped through your fingers like stream water.”
“That’s not what I said.” Freydis said quickly.
“Lord Ragnar risked everything to challenge Ulfric Beartooth for you. He loved you beyond reason and now, well, I don’t suppose he does any more.” Kadogan sighed in satisfaction. “But your love remains unabated. When did it start? Before or after the marriage?”
Freydis stared at him, white faced and furious. To Fiona’s appalled surprise she stamped her foot and screamed. Every pink fairy ornament in the shop shattered and Freydis disappeared.
Fiona looked around. Pink and purple resin was everywhere, None of the crystals were touched and all the other figures were whole and fine. Fiona stepped carefully towards the bookshelves. The slim section of cute fairy books was shredded and small fragments of paper were still drifting towards the floor. As she looked around, stunned, everything that looked pink and fairylike was in very small pieces.
“I’ll get a brush.” Adele said as she carefully pulled the wreckage of an expensive, handmade card out of the display. “Does this sort of thing happen often?”
Kadogan was counting the candles with an air of discontent hanging over him so strong it was almost visible. “She isn’t marrying Steve Adderson.”
“You have no patience.” Mrs Tuesday was unpacking the replacement ornaments. “It’s not been that long, at least, not for a normal.”
“But they have so little time.” Kadogan neatly stacked the last white, medium pillar candle and turned his attention to the tea lights. “Their lives are short. They don’t have time to waste.”
“So they don’t want to make a mistake and spend their short time with the wrong person.” Mrs Tuesday picked up a simpering angel figure and placed it on its shelf. “Trust me, I think they are getting on, and their getting on a lot better than they thought they would.” She looked thoughtful. “I may try and advise them against it. It’s surprising how often that works.”
“I worry.” Kadogan said, grouping the tealights. “…five, six, seven… She has become very dear to me. And of course Lord Marius wants Steve Adderson to settle because…” Kadogan looked furtive. “Now, how many tealights were there? I think I lost count.”
“You nearly spilled some very interesting gossip.” Mrs Tuesday said. “I can wait – for now!”
The door snapped open. DS Tim Pierce strode in, closely followed by Sir Ewan. “Where’s Dave?”
“He’s with a client.” Mrs Tuesday looked around the shop. There were a few people browsing. Adele was gift wrapping a crystal ball and Louise was wiping the tables. She stepped closer. “Is it business?”
Tim also looked around. “Can he be disturbed?”
“He has been with the client for twenty minutes and he normally allows merely half an hour.” Kadogan said, catching the mood. “How urgent is it?”
Tim lowered his voice and looked at Sir Ewan. “It’s murder – and it’s almost certainly a non normal attack. It’s a clear case of a vampire draining a victim.”
“We need to speak to Lord Ragnar.” Sir Ewan said. “And we need Dave to take the lead.”
“You will have our unhesitating assistance.” Kadogan said gravely. “I shall contact Lord Ragnar immediately. He will be awaiting you as soon as Dave Kinson is free.”
Tim checked his watch. “I know that a few minutes won’t make that much difference to the poor girl we found. But we have a few missing persons reported, and they’re not the usual type. There may be more being held.”
Sir Ewan held out his hand. “It may be a complete coincidence,” he said, pacing, “But we can’t rule out vampiric predation, not now we have a body. We can’t risk hanging around too long, just in case.”
A middle aged woman came down the stairs, holding a tissue to her face but looking optimistic through the tears. Dave followed down after her. He looked questioningly at Tim and Sir Ewan.
“I’ll cover your next reading,” Mrs Tuesday stacked the empty boxes and carried them towards the back room. “You have duty.”
Fiona felt a little guilty taking an afternoon off, but Adele had picked the job up at record speed and everything was under control. She was going to go home and get in some much needed pampering before meeting Steve later. She smiled to herself. The evenings with Steve were amazing. They had agreed to wait until the end of May before making their relationship official, just in case, but she had never been happier. They were going out to a little country pub just outside York where nobody knew them. Then the plan was to come back to Fiona’s flat, dropping Armani off in the flat downstairs, before sharing a bottle of wine. Mentally Fiona shook her head. They had never managed to get as far as finishing a glass.
She took a quick right into a shortcut to Gillygate and suddenly she found herself falling down stone steps and bouncing off walls. She landed in a winded heap.
“I was born under a lucky star.” The voice sounded horribly familiar. As Fiona tried to clear her head, Rey Baxter leaned over her. “I was born under a very lucky star.”
“What?” Fiona couldn’t think of anything else to say. She looked around. She remembered falling down some stairs, but there were no stairs near. Instead she was sprawled on the floor of what looked like a Victorian parlour. She shakily picked herself up.
“Welcome to my parlour, said the spider to the fly.” Rey quoted. “I set a normal trap, dropping an unobserved snack pack at irregular intervals. And look what a tasty morsel fell in. Kadogan is going to be so upset. What a pity.”
Fiona tried to work out where she was. It looked like every parlour she had seen on every Victorian drama. There was a patterned rug in the centre of the room, potted plants filled the corners and a fire flickered in a mahogany fireplace. There was a heavy scent of incense in the air. “What’s going on?”
Rey turned around and grinned at the others in the room. Fiona tried to keep some mental notes of who was there. Rey looked immaculate in a pale blue shirt and styled jeans but most of his companions were ragged. They wore jogging bottoms and ragged hoodies. Two dogs, or what looked like dogs, were sprawled in front of the fire. They had matted fur and Fiona could see their ribs. “I’m gathering my support.” Rey leaned a little towards Fiona who tried to back away. “Some people are very happy to get rid of Ragnar and his bitch of a wife. Others, well, I give them what they need.”
Fiona found herself backed into the chest of a tough looking man behind her. He put a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned her round, looking her carefully up and down. “Mr Baxter finds people like us who need something. He’s got half a dozen…” the man looked carefully at Rey, “… vampires who are hooked on dragon’s blood. You will be breathing the smoke from the dragon’s blood incense until it fills your lungs, and then Mr Baxter’s vampire friends will have a nice drink of you. They’ll be high and happy and well fed. In return, they do what Mr Baxter says.”
Fiona looked nervously up at him. “What do you need?”
“A werewolf needs a pack.” The man shrugged his muscular shoulders. “My friends down there are already far gone,” he said, nodding at the sleeping werewolves stretched out in front of the fire. “Mr Baxter gives them smack. Then there’s the boggarts who get…”
“Just take Miss Greene to a holding pen, please, Callum.” Rey interrupted. “Because they will be looking for her and we need to prepare our ambush.”
Tension ran around the room and the werewolves in front of the fire lifted their heads, their ears pricked. “Yes, sir.” Callum said. “This way.”
Fiona was guided out of the parlour into a hallway. Near to the parlour the hallway was equally Victorian with an ornate umbrella stand and black and white tiles on the floor. As they moved away from the door, however, the hallway seemed to fade into a passage or corridor. The walls were damp, moss covered stone and the uneven floor was lit by a faint glow. Callum guided her into the passageway to her left, then left again, then right. Fiona tried to remember her route but was getting more bewildered. “Are you taking me the long way round so that I can’t remember the way back?”
Callum laughed. “You won’t be able to get out through the parlour. And, no, I’m not trying to confuse you. We’re in a corner of a faerie realm and that is just confusing by its nature.”
They kept walking for a few minutes more. It was now more like a tunnel with roughly hewed floor and ceiling with openings and sturdy wooden doors opening off the dark, smoky path. Fiona found herself being glad of the warmth of Callum’s hand on her shoulder. He may not be a friend, but he wasn’t hurting her and the presence of someone else was comforting. He reminded her of Ian. “You say you need a pack.” Fiona said carefully. “I don’t really understand, can’t you just join another pack?”
“It’s not that easy.” Callum’s voice was a little rough. “You can’t understand. People look at werewolves as monsters or pets. They don’t understand it’s not that simple.”
“I know Ian has it tough.” Fiona said. “But he’s managing okay.”
“Ian?” Callum said. “Do you mean Ian Tait?”
“Yes, he works for us at the White Hart.” Fiona tried to work out where they were. She was pretty sure this wasn’t a natural tunnel, but it must lead somewhere.
“You know what he did, right?”
“Yes, he summoned a demon.” Fiona had never managed to understand the story but she knew that it still haunted Ian. “So he works for us now. Kieran Latimer knows he’s with us and apparently he’s keeping an eye out, but Kadogan thinks Ian will be okay. What are you going to do with me?”
“I was told to take you to the holding pens and so that’s what I’m going to do.” Callum paused and turned Fiona to look at him. His face looked drawn in the dim light. “So, is he locked in at the White Hart? What’s his quarters like?”
Fiona tried to organise her thoughts but the heavy incense swirling in the tunnel was making her head swim. “He’s got one of the studio flats at the White Hart and there’s nothing wrong with them. We rent them out, but of course Ian has a reduced rate. I’m worried about him sometimes as I think he works a lot after hours and I never know how much overtime to pay. Still, I know Dave goes to the gym with him.”
Callum slowly pushed Fiona back against the wall. She could feel the uneven stone grinding against her shoulder blades. The damp cold ran chilling down her spine. “He gets paid?”
Fiona looked up at him. “Yes, of course.” She tried to sound confident but she could hear the fear in her voice. She cleared her throat. “He’s an employee, just the same as anyone else that works. He has a flat with a contract and everything above board. We do his tax and National Insurance and everything. Just like we do for everyone, except Mrs Tuesday.”
“But he hasn’t got a pack.” Callum had both hands on her shoulders, his strong fingers digging into Fiona.
“I don’t understand that.” Fiona said desperately. “All I know is that Ian is lovely to me, works hard and sometimes hangs out with Dave.”
“And Dave is?” Callum was almost on top of her. She could smell a faint hint of coffee on his breath and feel the warmth coming from him.
Fiona tried to pull her wits together. Steve had said that there was a threat, so had Dave. Ian would have been happy to walk her home and goodness knows what would have happened then. But she had been practicing with Dave and Steve had given her some advice. She shoved her frozen hands into her pockets. “Dave’s the Tarot Reader at the White Hart,” she managed to say. “And the paladin.”
She pulled the tiny phial out of her pocket and snapped it in Callum’s face. He recoiled violently as the liquid splashed into him. She could see him changing and struggling out of his clothes, pawing desperately at his face, then she turned and ran.
Steve walked overly casually into the shop to see Kadogan and Sir Ewan talking urgently in an undertone as Mrs Tuesday was breaking out a pack of Tarot cards from the shelf. There was an air of tension in the room. He kept his attitude casual. “Has anyone seen Fiona? It’s just that she said I could use her washing machine but she isn’t home.”
Kadogan’s head whipped around. “You called on Fiona Greene but she wasn’t in?”
“Yeah, she was going to let me…”
Kadogan held up his hand. “When did you call in?”
Steve shrugged. “About fifteen minutes ago. It’s not a big deal.”
Mrs Tuesday took a careful breath. “She left here an hour and a half ago.”
Ian and Dave came jogging down the stairs and into the shop. Ian was looking tense and determined, Dave was looking worried and carrying a large sports bag.
“Kadogan, can you call Fiona, please.” Mrs Tuesday was shuffling the Tarot cards. Steve could tell her mind wasn’t on it. She absentmindedly cut the deck one handed.
“It’s okay.” Steve said. “She’s probably just taking some time out.”
Ian took his arm and led him away from a couple browsing the crystals. “There’s been a death and it looks like a vampire drained someone dry. We’re about to go to see Lord Ragnar. We need to know that Fiona is safe.”
Tim was glancing around the knot of people. “We need to get moving. There are other people missing.”
“Hang on.” Steve said. “Who are you?”
“It’s the police liaison.” Dave said. “Any luck, Kadogan?”
Kadogan shook his head. “I’m getting static. I fear she is taken.”
“I’m coming with you.” Steve said.
“Let us know what’s happening, please.” Mrs Tuesday suddenly looked a lot older.
“We’ll bring Fiona home.” Kadogan strode from the room, Ian and Steve on his shoulders and Sir Ewan, Dave and Tim exchanging worried glances as they followed.
Fiona stumbled into what looked like an old store room. A battered table leaned drunkenly against one wall and some stained carpets were tossed in a heap near it. She closed the door as quietly as she could. The same dim glow pervaded the room, and the same cold dampness. She checked her phone. There was still no signal. She opened the door a crack and listened. There was a faint whisper and chatter in the distance but no footsteps. The smell of the incense hung heavy here as well. She waited a moment and then, closing the door gently she stumbled over to the carpets and sank down on them. There was a hint of mildew but she didn’t care. She had probably lost Callum. The little phial was supposed to throw werewolves off the trail, according to Steve. She remembered his face and the softness of the couch as she had cuddled close to him while he explained. “There’s aconite juice to stun them and camphor to wreck their sense of smell. It’s enough to buy you time to get out of there.”
Callum had told her that she couldn’t get back to the streets through the parlour and she believed him. She may have fallen down a trap that felt like stone steps and have the aches to prove it, but she hadn’t seen anything that looked like an exit. Fiona took a breath. There had to be a way out, and one that she could use. As far as she could tell, if a werewolf could get in and out then so could she. The trouble was, how to find it The tunnels twisted and turned, doubled back, looped and interlinked in a bewildering maze? She remembered stories about will o’ the wisps and how they would lead unsuspecting travellers astray. Perhaps that was something that the elfen did.
She didn’t have chalk or breadcrumbs. She checked her pockets and her bag. There wasn’t much there at all. She tried her phone again. There was no signal at all. Fiona felt the cold settling in to her bones and her mouth was dry. Over by the table was a flask that she hadn’t seen before. It was one of the expensive thermos flasks and Fiona knew instinctively that it was full of delicious, refreshing, warming hot chocolate – just the thing she needed. Fiona pulled out her phone again and flicked through her photos. There it was, a picture of Steve. He was smiling at the camera, a little self conscious, as he lounged against the drystone wall. Fiona thought back to the day it was taken. The sun had been bright and the fresh breeze had been tousling her hair. Everything seemed to be golden and glowing and she and Steve had just wandered along, hand in hand, basking in each other’s company. She looked again at the flask. Callum had said that this was a faerie realm. That meant it was elfen and no food or drink could be trusted. She popped a mint into her mouth and pushed herself up. It was best if she kept moving.
The tunnels kept changing. Fiona was trying to keep track by scuffing the left hand wall with a loose stone but sometimes the scuff marks were in places she didn’t recognise and sometimes she recognised the places and there was no mark. The place was playing with her, she realised, tossing the stone hopelessly to one side. She had passed through what had looked like a hospital corridor and was now in what looked like a passage in a castle, stone built and narrow. She opened one of the doors, hoping for fresh air and battlements but instead found herself in what seemed like an underground forest.
Hearing steps behind her she quietly closed the door and ran in further. There was a beaten dirt track running between dark trees. Glowing lights danced in the distance and a cavern roof arched far above her. Fiona swallowed. She had the sensation that she had found herself in a far more dangerous place. She slipped another mint into her mouth and started following the track. She didn’t recognise the trees. Their leaves were very dark, almost black, and thinly pointed, but they were soft enough as she brushed past them and the track was lined with dark ferns and not brambles or nettles, so maybe this wasn’t as bad as it felt. Small, pale flowers dotted the fringes of grass and the air had at least lost the scent of incense. The track led gently down to a stream chuckling gently over polished stones. Black dragonflies hung between the dark rushes.
Fiona felt so thirsty. The mint was not helping. The water looked invitingly clean and cool and so tempting. She took out her phone and, shielding it as best she could, took another look at the picture. It had been an idyllic day and she concentrated as hard as she could on the memory of the touch of Steve’s hand, trying to blot out the insistent call of her thirst. If she was away from the incense then she was getting further away from Rey, she told herself. Hopefully that meant she was getting nearer a door.
Once again a hand fell on her shoulder. Fiona felt sick as she heard Callum’s voice. “I could track that mint you’re sucking even through that stink bomb you dropped.”
She turned slowly around. Callum had pulled his jeans back on but had not bothered with anything else. He was barefoot and shirtless, his cropped brown hair glistening in the damp and his face was blotchy from the aconite. Fiona carefully held her hands away from her body. “I’m sorry, I was trying to get away…” Her voice trailed off. She didn’t dare look away from Callum’s intent and red rimmed eyes.
“Is Ian your slave?” Callum asked.
“What?” Fiona had not expected that. “He just works for us.” She tried to work out what he meant. “I mean, he can leave or stay as he wants. He’s a great worker, we don’t want to lose him, but we wouldn’t stop him. And we pay him wages. And he gets cheap rent at the White Hart but he could live elsewhere, though he seems happy enough.,,”
Callum held up his hand. “He’s just like anyone?”
Fiona nodded. “I suppose so.” She took a deep breath. She couldn’t lie. “I know people keep an eye on him, and Kadogan gets worried sometimes, and I know there are times that he finds it hard. I think he misses his ex-wife.” Callum’s gaze was unnerving her. “Mrs Tuesday sometimes cooks for him. She says it’s because she worries that he’s not eating properly, but I think that’s because it’s her way of showing that she’s looking out for him and not that he’s not eating.”
“You know he summoned a demon, don’t you?” Callum asked.
“I don’t understand that, either.” Fiona wondered whether she could edge away from him and how far she would get if she ran. “I know he goes to church a lot.”
“What’s your name?” Callum asked.
“Miss Greene, let’s do a deal.”
Fiona stumbled up the steep back, following Callum who seemed impervious to the cold mist that was making her shiver. “Is it likely to be much further?”
Callum glanced over his shoulder. “I don’t think so. Perhaps another ten minutes and we’ll be out and just behind York Minster.”
“You’re not from York, are you?” Fiona caught up with Callum. Mist swirled in front of them, lit by that dim glow that filled the tunnels and almost impossible to penetrate.
Callum smiled. “I haven’t got a Yorkshire accent. My old pack were based just outside Exeter, in Devon.” Callum said. “I’ve been wandering for a while.” There was a silence as thoughts raced around Fiona’s head. Callum seemed to read them. “I didn’t summon a demon. I just fell in love with someone I shouldn’t have. So I got thrown out of the pack. I started wandering and managed for a while, but I missed it. I mean, I missed belonging to a pack. I did wonder about approaching Mike in Halifax or Kieran here but, well, I didn’t think I would be welcome.”
Fiona wondered what sort of love affair it had been. It must have been bad. She nearly bumped into Callum as he stopped suddenly. “They’ve found us.”
Fiona strained her ears to try and work out where the pursuers might be coming from, but the mist deadened everything. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” Callum looked around carefully. “Stay close to me. Any more tricks in your bag?”
“I’ve got some garlic essence.” Fiona pulled a small bottle out of her bag.
“Don’t hesitate.” Callum said. “Throw it. If they catch us, they’ll want to make an example of us.”
Fiona felt sick. The path was winding between rocks, and as each rock loomed out of the mist it seemed to lean over threateningly. “Is it much further?”
“Not far.” Callum sounded tense. “And the good news is that Baxter doesn’t control this part of the realm. It’s equally hostile to all of us.”
“Are you sure about that?” Rey stepped from behind one of the rocks and paused in front of them.
Fiona spun around. Rey’s people had come up behind them. A few rangy, hairy creatures were loosening their muscles and the werewolves between them were in wolf form. She looked back. Rey’s fangs were showing, as were the three figures next to him. She pushed the small bottle into Callum’s hand.
Callum seemed calm. “Let us go, Baxter. You know that Fiona has friends. She’ll be missed and when they come looking for her…”
“It will be hours before she’s missed.” Rey’s fangs gleamed. “She won’t be missed until tomorrow. We can have a lot of fun with her before then and they can find her remains. I’ll make you watch, Callum, and then you’ll…”
Kadogan slammed into the side of Rey at speed. Fiona could hear Steve’s voice chanting and a flash of light shot over the area, burning the mist away and making the rocks glow. Dave was going toe to toe with a boggart along with Sir Ewan and a man Fiona didn’t recognise and she thought it was Ian in wolf form fighting the werewolves in a snarling ball of fury along with Callum who had changed and charged.
“Get back!” Rey yelled. “We can’t win this. Get back!”
And then Fiona was standing on what looked like a moor, surrounded by panting, slightly battered friends. It looked like the werewolves had been destroyed. Fiona felt sick as she saw their bodies returning to human form and saw the bloodied remains sprawled next to the path. Callum and Ian seemed entirely unselfconscious as they returned to their human form, naked and smeared with blood. Kadogan didn’t look entirely human and was snarling slightly as he looked around for any trace of Rey. Dave looked on edge and one side of his face was swelling. Lord Ragnar was spitting orders to a group of elfen but Fiona didn’t care. She saw Steve, his face set as he checked around for stragglers and she ran to him.
Steve held her for a moment, burying his face in her hair as she clung on to him. “I’ll always come for you.” He whispered to her.
Callum slowly approached Lord Ragnar and then carefully knelt on one knee before him. “Lord Ragnar, let me make a deal.”
Steve found Fiona buried in the office surrounded by pieces of paper and tapping furiously on her keyboard. He dropped a kiss on her hair. “Hi, I brought tea.”
“Thank you!” Fiona took the cup gratefully and pushed some papers aside to make room. “How’s the shop?”
“It’s quiet.” Steve said, pulling up a chair next to her. Armani wriggled out of his pocket and flapped over the windowsill. “There’s no coach parties expected, Dave has a gap in his appointments, Callum and Ian are rearranging the stock room again and Kadogan is counting candles. It’s good. What’s up?”
“Kadogan has volunteered us to do the refreshments at the May Fayre at his church.” Fiona rubbed her hand over her tired eyes. “As it’s mainly non normal, it isn’t a big congregation, but it’s still going to be a challenge because it’s Saturday and you know how crazy it is in the shop on a Saturday.”
“We’re going to have to take on summer staff.” Steve said. He picked up a sheaf of papers and flicked through them. “Seriously, are we selling this amount of stuff?”
Fiona nodded. “A lot of this stuff isn’t that hard to get hold of, but it’s usually online or with normal suppliers. Lots of non normals suddenly feel comfortable ordering mail order and we’re getting the benefit. I don’t know how long it will last. A lot of these are test purchases, some are one-off purchases, like the pentacles or dowsing crystals.” She looked at Steve. “I’m waiting for someone to set up a rival firm.”
Steve shook his head. “When it comes down to it, there’s maybe a few thousand non normals actually active in the UK. That’s at the very most. Most of them know Lord Marius, or Mrs Tuesday or have friends who know them. I’ve been selling all sorts of stuff to non normals that they can easily pick up in a basic supermarket but they don’t feel comfortable dealing with them. It’s not a massive customer base.”
“I know, and that’s why we need the two separate websites and the quirky gift ideas.” Fiona looked up at Steve and smiled. “I’m enjoying it really. It’s just a lot of pressure.”
Steve held her hand, stroking the smooth skin. “It’s probably best that we get it done soon, and Nick will be in York to help out Miss Patience next week so we might as well ask him to come in then. He is really good.”
Fiona frowned. “Is he non normal?”
“Didn’t you know? He’s a vampire.” Steve traced slow circles over the palm of Fiona’s hand. “But mainly he’s a brilliant computer programmer and I’ve seen some of his work. It’s immaculate.”
“Hmm.” Fiona was watching Armani nudge the window open and pull out his e-cig. She was never sure exactly where in the recesses of his wings the imp kept his ever-present vape pen and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “Are you going to keep the flat below?”
“Actually, I think we need to talk about that.” Steve winced at Armani’s cackle. “I’ve been doing some research. “You know sometimes things get really heated, I mean, really, well…”
“While I remember, there’s a local shop that’s got a sale on metal framed beds.” Fiona interrupted. “We can maybe try reinforcing one.”
“That’s a good idea.” Steve said. “I’ll go down this afternoon. The thing is, sometimes it’s more heated than others, and I’ve done a little reading.” Steve coughed and glared at Armani who was now leaning against the window frame, convulsed with silent laughter with vape fumes leaking out of his pointed ears. “It’s when Armani is with us. Then it gets a little more intense. If he’s not with us then it’s normal.” Steve fought for composure and released Fiona’s hand to wave a finger at Armani. “If you can’t behave I’ll send you down to sit with Mrs Tuesday.”
Fiona watched Armani try and compose himself and nodded. “That makes sense. Sometimes it’s insane,” she smiled up at Steve. “Sometimes it’s just spectacular.” She glared at Armani as he spluttered through another lungful of vape. “And while it’s expensive, I wouldn’t like to think of anyone underneath us hearing what was going on. I’m surprised we haven’t had complaints from Kayne.”
“I haven’t seen him yet.” Steve said. “I’m still not sure that I believe he exists.”
“I run into him sometimes on the stairs or sometimes at the corner shop.” Fiona shifted uncomfortably.
“And he’s still hitting on you?” Steve said. “I hope I bump into him soon.”
Fiona shrugged. “He’s not being a nuisance.”
“Hmm.” Steve narrowed his eyes and leaned towards Fiona. She looked up and froze, mesmerised by the intent look in his eyes before he pulled himself together and glared at Armani. “I’m not usually the jealous sort, but I could punch him at this minute. Is that you, Armani?”
Armani tried to look innocent. He failed. “It’s not my fault, boss. It’s just the way I was summoned.”
Steve’s eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t this affect Elaine?”
Armani shrugged. “Probably because you were already together when I turned up.” He took a deep lungful of his e-cig and looked smug. “And what’s it worth to stop me telling everyone what happened last night in your kitchen?”
Fiona could feel herself blushing but something else filled her mind. “Who’s Elaine?”
“Ex-girlfriend.” Steve said briefly. He glared at Armani. “Don’t even go there.”
“I haven’t had a decent glass of gin for months.” Armani said plaintively, “I’ve almost forgotten what it tastes like.”
“And I haven’t forgotten what happened last time.” Steve snapped.
Kadogan stuck his head into the room. “When are you two thinking of getting married?”
“What?” Fiona stared at him in confusion. “We’ve only just started dating.”
“It’s just that Reverend King is going to be renting Dave’s old room and he could marry you quite easily while he was here.” Kadogan said airily.
“But it takes months to sort out weddings.” Fiona said helplessly. “And you need licences and things.”
“Reverend King will be here for a few months.” Kadogan said. “And Mrs Tuesday trained as a seamstress. She has made many wedding dresses.” He grinned happily. “I’ll go and tell her.”
“Tell her what?” Fiona called after him, but there wasn’t an answer. She looked helplessly at Steve. “I’m not against being married to you, but it seems a bit sudden.”
Steve looked like he had been hit hard over the head by a wedding album. “I know what you mean,” he said. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but we’ve only been together a few weeks and… Hang on a minute, what did he mean about Darren renting a room here?”
Fiona stared blankly at the computer in front of her. “I have no idea.”
“I’ll go and have a word.” Steve said. “I’ll let you get on with the next order.” He glared at Armani. “You stay here and behave.”
Steve ran straight into Mrs Tuesday. “Don’t you think you should sort out that poor Adele before you think about marrying someone. And don’t think I’ll approve of a marriage when the only thing you know about each other is which side of the bed you prefer.” Mrs Tuesday glared at him.
“I’ve booked an afternoon with Adele next Monday.” Steve said soothingly. “I’ve been busy hunting.” He frowned. “I don’t like to think of what could have happened to Fiona.” He pulled himself together, aware that Armani’s influence was lingering. “And Fiona and I haven’t decided to get married yet. It’s just that Kadogan seemed to think that as Darren was staying here…”
“I’m not sure that it’s fair on Darren staying here.” Mrs Tuesday interrupted. “There he is, a minister of religion and used to fighting the rogue boggarts and werewolves, not to mention all those vampires and there was that fetch down in Sheffield, and now he’s expected to share a roof with me and Ian and Callum. It’s a lot to ask. He should be staying with the paladin, or at least the Templars. Whose idea was it?”
“Mine.” Darren said from behind her. “I’m here at the invitation of Lord Ragnar so he will be paying for my lodgings. I’ll only be here for a few days a week, and I am sure after having you as a parishioner for all these years I can manage to share a building with you for a short time.”
“It’s bound to be a worry.” Mrs Tuesday wrung her hands.
“I’m not like Sir Jason.” Darren said with unexpected insight. “Now, what’s this about a wedding?”
“What?” Steve said, completely wrongfooted.
“I really enjoy weddings.” Darren said, slightly wistfully. “I do so many exorcisms and more than the average number of funerals, but I don’t get to do so many weddings.”
“It’s Steve and Fiona.” Mrs Tuesday was still wringing her hands. “And I worry about them as well.”
“Congratulations.” Darren said, happily. “Have you thought about a date? I don’t marry people on Fridays, for obvious reasons, but I’m happy to work around anything else. And you can’t have a better person to make a wedding dress than Mrs Tuesday. The one she made for Karen Doyle over in the Village was stunning.”
“We’ve only been dating for a couple of weeks.” Steve said desperately.
Darren frowned. “Hmm, well I suppose that you’re still in the first flush of love so you’ll want a big wedding. I don’t know. Things like a big wedding take time to arrange.”
“But…” Steve had been sure that a minister of religion would be a voice of sanity in this.
“Why won’t you marry people on a Friday?” Adele had come up to join what looked like an interesting discussion.
“It’s a day traditionally dedicated to the Goddess of love, so not Christian.” Darren said absently. He looked at Mrs Tuesday and noted the tension around her eyes. “How long does it take to make a really big wedding dress?”
Mrs Tuesday thought for a moment, distracted. “It takes a while. I’d have to nip home to get my sewing machine and of course there’s the fabric, you’ll probably need to order it in for a really big dress. There’s a lot of sewing in a wedding dress, not to mention the bridesmaids’ dresses.” She gave Steve an evil grin. “Are you going to make that imp of yours a page boy?”
“Our Stacey, my sister, is a florist.” Adele looked with interest at Steve. “I’m sure she could do you a good deal at mate’s rates. And our Ruby, my cousin, she does hair and beauty and she did Kath’s wedding and she looked amazing.”
“I’ll need to talk to Fiona about this.” Steve said desperately.
“I’ll show Darren his room.” Mrs Tuesday pulled herself together. “I’ll send Fiona down. You can get some ideas together.”
“I need to speak to Ian and Callum.” Kadogan said thoughtfully. “I’m sure that they will want to contribute to the wedding.” He disappeared into the back.
Steve spent a few moments trying to work out what was happening. He liked Fiona. She was beautiful and smart and kind and had shown a lot of courage in the faerie realm. She could cope with Armani, which is more than Elaine could manage. But marriage? That was a huge step.
“I’ll let Louise know and then I’ll text our Stacey to ask for her price list.” Adele said, pulling out her phone and wandering back to the café where Louise was pulling a tray of scones out of the oven. The shop was empty apart from a man browsing the books on the far side of the shop and for once Steve didn’t check on a customer. He wanted to savour the quiet. He knew it couldn’t last. How did you tell a woman that you may want to eventually spend a lot of time with, that you haven’t ruled out a long term deal with, that you’re not sure yet whether you want to marry her? At least, you’re not sure that you want to marry her yet but may want to in the future at some point, probably due to outside pressure but quite happily.
Fiona came slowly downstairs. She looked at Steve in bewilderment. “What’s happened?”
Steve held up his hands. “I said all the right things, but nobody wanted to hear.”
Fiona nodded, dazed. “Mrs Tuesday has asked about wedding colours.”
“Listen, we’ll have to stall for thinking time,” Steve said desperately. “I’ll go and get my laptop and we’ll work out some rough ideas that may take a while to work out. Then at least we can get a breathing space.” He disappeared into the back office.
Fiona saw Adele and Louise chatting animatedly and showing each other their phones and tried to keep her dignity. Steve was a great guy, she was pretty sure that she loved him, but it had only been a few weeks. She didn’t know anything about him, not the basics like how long he usually took in the shower or whether he minded her spending time crafting. Did he watch the news and did he follow the soaps? Her heart sank as she recognised Kayne browsing the books. He caught her eye and wandered over.
“Some of those books look pretty interesting,” he said. “Are you into that sort of thing?”
Fiona pulled herself together. “Not really, I leave most of that to my business partners.
“That’s right, you do amazing cards.” Kayne smiled. “I know that you’re in a sort of ‘it’s complicated’ situation, so I’m not asking you to dinner or anything, but I was thinking of throwing a party. I haven’t had a housewarming party yet, and I wondered if you could stop by my flat tonight and we could talk through you making me some invitations – on commission, of course.” He leaned on the counter. “It’s strictly business.”
Fiona was getting a headache. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to come to your flat, and I’ve got quite a lot on. I’m not sure I’ve got the time…”
“I’ve seen how amazing your work is.” Kayne leaned further forwards and Fiona found herself swaying backwards. “Seriously. We’ll keep it absolutely on the level. Just forty invites. There’s no harm in that, is there?”
Steve jogged back into the shop with his laptop and almost skidded to a stop at the counter. He carefully placed the laptop down and put a protective arm around Fiona’s shoulder. “Is everything alright?”
Kayne jumped back as if he had been scalded and literally stamped his foot. “So this is your boyfriend?”
“Umm, yes.” Fiona stared at the tall, masculine figure in front of her literally stamping his feet like a toddler.
“This is your secret lover?” Kayne spat.
Steve narrowed his eyes. “It’s bad manners to hide your face here,” he said coldly.
Before Fiona’s horrified gaze the figure of Kayne seemed to melt in front of her and instead Freydis was stamping her elegant feet, her beautiful face flushed with fury. “I can tell, this is actually your lover.” She threw dramatic hands into the air. “You’re obviously soul mates so you can’t have been sleeping with Ragnar…”
“That’s ‘Lord Ragnar’ to you.” Kadogan appeared from the back.
Freydis ignored him. “But if he’s not been sleeping with you, why is he divorcing me?” She stamped her feet again. “It’s not fair.”
Fiona leaned back against the comforting warmth of Steve. “Hang on, if I had agreed to go on a date with you, how far would you have gone?”
“Have you been trying to mislead my girlfriend?” Ice dripped off every syllable as Steve glared at Freydis.
“That’s fiancée now.” Kadogan said helpfully.
“You’re engaged? That’s so wonderful.” Like the sun emerging from behind a cloud, Freydis was suddenly smiling. “I love a wedding. Let’s see the ring?”
“We haven’t got it yet.” Steve was still looking suspicious.
“They’ve only just decided, but if Reverend King is here over the summer then he may as well marry them.” Kadogan said airily.
“You would be so fortunate to be married by Reverend King.” Freydis said with a trace of envy. “I wonder if he would marry Ragnar and I once the divorce is finalised.”
“That’s Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan reminded her. “And I am not sure that Lord Ragnar would marry you.”
Freydis wilted a little. “I don’t understand,” she said plaintively. “May I have a latte?”
Kadogan guided her over to the café where Adele was staring in open mouthed shock and Louise was watching with frosty caution. Fiona looked up at Steve. “I suppose we had better have a talk tonight, without Armani around.”
“It’s Lord Marius.” Steve said as the familiar motorbike roared into the car park. “He’s probably heard.”
“But heard what?” Fiona asked frantically. “I feel like I’m caught up in a tidal wave.”
“I’ll go and talk to him.” Steve made his way over towards the tall, lean biker who was removing his helmet. “Lord Marius, it’s good to see you.”
“It is good to see you, too, Steve Adderson.” Lord Marius moved aside to allow a customer in. “I did not expect an engagement so soon.”
Steve did not try and hide his bewilderment. “We hadn’t thought about marriage, but Kadogan said that as Darren would be staying here over the summer then it made sense and it’s all got away from us.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Lord Marius looked thoughtful. “But it makes excellent sense.” He paused and then said carefully. “Have you told Fiona who your father is?”
Steve shook his head. “We’ve only been dating a short while and it didn’t seem the right time.”
“You should tell her sooner rather than later.” Lord Marius said quietly, watching the customer approach Fiona at the till.
Steve nodded but some instinct drew him closer to the counter. Fiona did not look pleased to see the customer who was holding his phone out to show her something.
“Fiona, what’s this about you being in a relationship?” He brandished the phone in front of him. “And what about this shop thing? When did you start working in a shop? What happened to your job in Leeds?”
Fiona opened and closed her mouth a few times before scrabbling her seriously scattered wits together. “You owe me £700, remember, for the car repairs.”
“We always shared our money.” The man waved his hands loosely. “But how come you’re working in a shop and who are you with?” He looked around the shop as he was suddenly the focus of a lot of attention. “I’m her boyfriend.”
“Ex-boyfriend.” Fiona said. “Dean, you’re my ex-boyfriend. You dumped me, remember?”
“I was always going to come back,” Dean said. “So, go on, then, who is he?”
Steve put a hand on Dean’s shoulder, turned him round and punched him in the face.
It's Still Complicated
Fiona flinched as her phone pinged with another text message notification.
“Just block him.” Adele said.
Fiona finished serving the interested looking woman who hovered for a moment before leaving with her neatly wrapped indoor fountain with scented essences. “I do.” Fiona said hopelessly as she checked her phone. Dean had got another number and was not letting up. ‘Babe, u hve gotta give me a chance’ it read. She put the phone down and neatened the counter.
Adele looked at her thoughtfully. “How is Steve taking this?”
“He’s not happy,” Fiona said with magnificent understatement. “And what with him getting stressed and Kadogan threatening to hunt Dean down, it’s getting a bit much for me.” Fiona took a breath. “How are you doing? Did you tell your mum?”
“She took it okay.” Adele said. She took a quick glance around the shop to make sure no-one was looking and once again generated an iridescent blue glow around her hand. “And it’s a saving on lights. She says it’s a shame that none of the rest of the family have caught it.”
“And how is Pearl?” Fiona asked.
Adele launched into another convoluted tale from her extended family. She was one of seven, most married or with a partner and with children, and both her mother and father came from big families that all kept in touch so there was always some drama. As Adele’s story wandered among the latest problem with Pearl’s youngest and the postman, Fiona’s mind wandered to the problem of Dean. He wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. She wondered what she had ever seen in Dean. He was okay, and they had had some good times, but he was nothing compared to Steve, just a shadow to the real thing.
“And then they decided just to make a bulk order of toilet paper and see how it goes. So what sort of ring are you getting?” Adele asked.
“We’ve already got it.” Fiona pulled out her phone again and flicked through her pictures. “It’s being re-sized.”
It was a delicate ring, perfect for Fiona’s slim hands. Steve had taken her on a romantic day out and one of the stops had included visiting some gnomes who specialised in bespoke jewellery. “Here it is.” Fiona found the pictures of the ring. “It was just a little too large so they are altering it. Steve said he would enchant it so that I could never lose it and it will never break.”
“That is so romantic.” Adele sighed. “Our Casey had all sorts of trouble with her ring. They had to get the stone reset twice.”
“It’s so beautiful, I can’t imagine it going wrong anyway.” Fiona said. The ring had been hideously expensive. It was a black opal set in an intricate yellow gold setting and Fiona had loved it at first sight. It just showed how much Steve understood her, getting her the perfect ring, and it had been cheaper than a diamond. Fiona had still flinched at the cost.
“Aren’t opals supposed to be unlucky?” Adele asked.
Fiona shook her head. “Not if you’re born in October.” She paused and then asked the question she had been dying to ask all week. “What’s it like, knowing that you are part blue cap, that part of you is a creature that helped the miners and worked underground?”
Adele wasn’t offended but thought for a moment. “It’s good,” she said. “I feel like I was meant to be useful.” She sighed. “I just need to get myself a boyfriend now. I’ve got a job, I know why I glow blue and things are looking good.” She paused and savoured the feeling. “I just need a boyfriend to make it all perfect. Hang on, the coach party is here.”
Fiona was glad to have the coach party to keep her busy. She and Steve had talked it over and decided that with all the pressure that they might as well get married. She felt a cold, sinking feeling as she thought about it. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Steve. She liked him a lot, and it was growing into love. It’s just the feeling of being trapped and not having any say, of worrying that Steve was only marrying her because of the long line of interested and expectant faces. Who wanted to be married because their husband-to-be was under more pressure than the bottom of the Mariana Trench? She kept a professional smile on and rang up an order of books.
Her mother had not taken the news well. Fiona suspected that Dean had been in touch with her and had sold her some sort of story. Fiona’s mum had adored Dean and had been devastated when they broke up. She had been pleasantly but coolly distant when she had spoken to Steve over the internet and declared that they couldn’t possibly get back for Fiona’s wedding. Fiona wondered if her mum would have been able to make it back if she had been marrying Dean. She stamped the loyalty card of one of their regulars who had come in during the ruck and neatly wrapped the small pack of tealights and the suspicious amount of mullein.
As Fiona worked her way through the rush on autopilot, she felt bitter that perhaps she and Steve would have married if they had been left alone but now all the wonderful courtship had been stolen from her. The phone beeped again. ‘Babe, pls anser. I miss u. we can work this out.’
Dave opened the front door and ushered Darren inside. “Hi,” he said awkwardly.
Darren gave him a long, appraising look and stepped into the freshly painted hall. He nodded in approval. “You’ve redecorated.”
“I used to work as a painter and decorator.” Dave led Darren into the freshly painted meeting room. “I don’t mind doing it now and again but it’s not something I could stick at.”
“And how are you finding things?” Darren pulled his laptop out of his case and set it on the table.
“Okay I suppose. Drink?”
“Tea, please.” Darren said absently as he logged in.
Dave wandered into the kitchen. He’d given it a lick of paint but it really needed doing properly. He didn’t have time to do it now. If he wasn’t doing Tarot readings then he was either in the gym or out walking the streets of York or driving around the North Yorkshire countryside, trying to learn every shortcut and hidden corner and desperately keeping his eyes out for trouble. He’d picked up a few instances of boggarts acting up which he had sorted out without any bother. They were only kids, or kitlings, and all he needed to do was threaten to tell Mrs Tuesday. According to Kadogan, however, a lot more stuff was happening away from the normal world. Several non normal had gone missing and no-one was sure whether they had been killed or defected to what looked like a rebellion against Lord Ragnar led by Rey.
Dave brought the tea back into the meeting room and put it next to Darren with a packet of biscuits. “So you’re an exorcist.”
“Yes.” Darren clicked and a page came up. “What’s your email address?”
“Which one?” Dave had some more or less okay contacts, some extremely iffy ones and a couple that were probably being watched by Trading Standards.
“Whichever.” Darren said irritably. “I’m sending you a list of contacts for paladins and Templars in the UK and you need to let them know your contact details as well, just in case.”
“Just in case of what.” Dave pulled out his phone. “Try this one.”
“You could always set up a dedicated email.” Darren said. “Some paladins have done that. I’m also sending you over a list of contacts with police and solicitors who may get involved in non normal matters and a list of government departments who sometimes interfere.” Darren navigated around his own account. “And I’m including a list of allowances, holiday leave entitlement and contacts where to claim them, although that changes as soon as a department can think of a good reason to move us on. We’re currently with the Department of Culture, we were last with local government but it’s only a matter of time before we get back to the Home Office.”
“Mmm.” Dave said, watching the neighbours walking past the window. The lace curtains were remarkably effective and almost impossible to see through into the room but he could see the shapes outside. They were pushing a pushchair and seemed to be happy.
“I would normally stay with you,” Darren looked up and grinned and then went back to logging out of all his accounts. “But it’s probably best if I’m based in the White Hart for a while. I can keep an eye on things. Normally you would not get involved in a dispute between non normals but as we have had at least one murder and three kidnappings of normal then I suggest that we support the side that doesn’t pose an active threat.”
“Mmm.” Dave wondered about the sound proofing in the paladin’s house. He hadn’t heard any noise from next door but they looked like normal kids.
“Dave, are you paying attention?” Darren looked at him closely.
“What was that place, where we found Fiona?”
Darren shut his laptop and sat back. “I’ve only heard bits from Sir Ewan, but it sounds like you got caught up in a faerie realm. They’re tough to deal with. What feels like solid ground can switch to swamp in a second, nothing is as it seems and it messes with your mind. From the sound of it, Freydis gave her lover a little corner of the faerie realm to call his own. However the realm is never entirely under the control of anyone. Lord Ragnar shut down Rey’s little corner and the traps, but he can’t make it entirely behave. It’s the nature of elfen, fairies, fae, whatever you like to call them. They’re difficult.”
Dave thought back to the unstable paths before they got to Fiona, the strange howls and calls in the distance, the flickering lights and shifting mists. Difficult was an understatement. “So you’re staying at the White Hart? For how long?”
“Not too long, I hope.” Dave sighed. “It’s not too bad, and Mrs Tuesday can be good company. I just like to get home when I can.” He took a sip of his dark brown brew. “I need to be home anyway to take the Sunday Services, unless it’s a crisis, so I’ll normally be here Tuesday to Thursday. However they’ve stirred up a lot of ghosts and I know I’m going to be busy.”
“Vampires are dead.” Darren said flatly. “They may still be walking and talking, but they’re dead.” He looked uncomfortable. “I never feel entirely comfortable around them. I mean, I’ve bunked down with a few of them at a pinch and I’ve met some real heroes, but they’re dead.” He sighed. “I’m working on it. Regardless, while Rey is stirring up a lot of vampiric stuff, a lot of death gets stirred up which means a lot more ghosts and hauntings. There will probably be a few calls. I’ve teamed up with a werewolf from London, Dr Phipps, who will be coming up when necessary.” Darren smiled sadly. “It’s practically never a possession. It’s almost always something broken in their mind, for whatever reason. Sometimes it would be easier to do a straightforward exorcism rather than deal with the mental illness, often the result of horrific abuse.” For a moment Darren seemed to be staring at the past. Then he pulled himself together and took another sip of tea.
“Will Dr Phipps be staying at the White Hart?”
Darren shook his head. “She’ll be staying with the Latimers, of course. Werewolves always stay with a pack if it’s possible. That reminds me. How are Ian and Callum doing?”
“They seem fine.” Dave thought back to the last week. “Ian got very focussed on rescuing Fiona – really crazy. Like he could snap. He was insane during the fight with Rey. When I think about it, he was insane with the fight with the stray pack – I mean, really insane. He scared the hell out of me.”
“Hmm.” Darren tapped his fingers on the desk. “How is he in the shop?”
“He’s restless, like he doesn’t want to be still.” Dave thought about the relentless drive Ian had been showing to just do. “But he’s fine when we go out for a drink. He has a few drinks, barely gets tipsy, play a few games of darts or have a go at a pub quiz, there’s no trouble.”
“He’ll need to be watched.” Darren said. “A werewolf without a pack is…” He sought for a good description. “They have no anchor, no purpose. Some of them manage to have a life, many can’t cope with the loneliness and turn to drink and drugs. Some go darker and get angry at the world – and they are the really scary ones.”
“I’ll watch out.” Dave said.
Mrs Tuesday laid out some bridal magazines on the counter. “I can copy almost anything,” she said as she flicked through. “But some styles take longer than others. What about that?”
Fiona looked at the magazine but found it hard to take in. Choosing a wedding dress should take months, not a quick flick through some pictures for something that would do. She tried to focus. It looked beautiful, very slim and elegant with long sleeves and a sweetheart neckline. “It looks nice,” she managed.
“I suppose it could get hot over summer.” Mrs Tuesday muttered. “How do you feel about this? I can build in a strapless bra.” She looked at Fiona who was watching Adele trying to flirt with an oblivious Ian. “Louise, what do you think?”
Louise was also watching Adele with narrowed eyes but pulled herself away to look at the picture. “Why don’t you go for something less traditional? You could wear red.”
“I don’t suit red.” Fiona looked down at her plain blue top and skirt. “And I know enough not to wear green.”
“You definitely can’t wear green.” Mrs Tuesday agreed. “How about ivory?”
“You could get married in a gorgeous evening dress,” Louise said, “And you’d have it to wear later.”
“That’s a thought,” Mrs Tuesday said, “But Kadogan will be expecting the full works.”
“I’m not sure I want the full works.” Fiona said quietly.
“I’m not sure I’d want an elfen planning my wedding. Not that I’m likely to have one.” Louise watched Ian jog back to the store rooms.
“Never give up hope.” Mrs Tuesday said.
Fiona’s phone beeped again. Fiona glanced down and flinched. It was still Dean. “Babe, I luv u can’t do without u.”
“Have you told him about Steve?” Louise asked.
Fiona nodded. “He said it didn’t matter, that we were even now and I couldn’t hold trollqueen against him.”
Adele wandered back to join them. “Who’s trollqueen?”
Fiona felt herself blush. “It’s what I called the girl he was dating after me,” she admitted.
“You could call her worse.” Adele said. “When our Leanne found her husband with next door’s au pair she called her…”
Callum jogged out. “We’re just nipping out to the wholesalers. Do you need anything for the café?”
“I’ve got a list on my phone,” Louise took off her overall. “I’ll come along.”
Mrs Tuesday watched Louise pick up her phone and shook her head. “Really she should be looking for another job.”
“What?!” Fiona’s head snapped around.
Mrs Tuesday held up her hand. “I don’t want to see her leave, and I don’t suppose anyone else does, but Ian has nowhere else to go, so he’s stuck here. Louise is still eating her heart out over him and it’s doing her no good. There are plenty of places around York that would take her in like a shot.”
Adele looked incredibly uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t have talked to Ian like that if I’d known. Not that it did me much good,” she added with a sigh.
“Ian is still missing his ex-wife.” Mrs Tuesday watched the van pull out of the parking lot. “I don’t think he’ll ever look anywhere else. You may have a chance with Callum, though. Louise couldn’t be with Ian anyway as she’s part elfen. It’s not possible.” Mrs Tuesday shook her head sadly. “I’m off to sort out those herbs.”
The phone pinged again. “Pls babe just meet up once and let me explain and I’ll never ask u to meet up agn.”
“Maybe you should give him this last chance.” Adele looked over Fiona’s shoulder. “See what he has to say and then be really clear that you’ve found someone else and that you wish him all the best, it’s not him it’s you and goodbye for good. Perhaps he’ll get the message then.”
“I suppose so.” Fiona said bleakly. “But what if he doesn’t.”
Dean was waiting in the corner of the coffee shop. “You look nice, babe.”
Fiona had been torn. On one hand he had dumped her and she wanted him to see what he was missing. On the other hand she really didn’t want him to find her attractive. She wanted him to leave her alone. But she didn’t want him to think she had gone downhill because he left. In the end she had gone for amazing hair and makeup, but just a nice, high necked top and jeans. “Thanks. You look well.”
Dean did look good. Fiona had forgotten how handsome he was. He looked lightly tanned and relaxed, though his eyes were watchful.
“I bought you your favourite coffee.” Dean pushed the hazelnut latte over to her. “So, how come you’re working in a shop?”
Fiona wondered how to explain the crazy set up. She went for the basic explanation. “I saved Kadogan’s life. I pushed him out of the way of a lorry. In return he put up capital and I started selling cards and gift wrap. He does the other side of stuff. It’s doing well.”
“Seriously? My girlfriend the entrepreneur? Wow!”
“I’m not your girlfriend.” Fiona said quietly. “I’m engaged to someone else.”
Dean sipped his americano. “Is he good to you?”
Fiona nodded. “He’s also become part of the business. He brought a lot of contacts and some capital. He’s a nice guy.” What could she say to an ex about Steve? That he’d helped to save her life? That he’d helped her keep her sanity when Kadogan was getting crazier? That he had an imp?”
“I’m glad. I’d hate to see you hurt.” Dean glanced across the coffee shop and out of the window. It had started to rain.
“How about you? What are you doing?” Fiona asked, clutching her latte with both hands.
Dean shook his head slowly. “It’s hard to believe. You know I broke up with Jessica a few weeks ago?”
“I didn’t. I’m sorry. What happened?” Fiona tried not to feel a little satisfaction.
Dean shrugged. “It just didn’t work out. Anyway, I went to drown my sorrows and a guy in the bar offered me a job.”
“No, Dean, not drugs.” Fiona whispered.
Dean waved his hand dismissively. “Nothing like that. He just wanted me to bring some incense back for him. I got an all expenses trip to Dubai, picked up some packages – all labelled, all legit – and after a few days I came home. I had an amazing time, the beaches there are incredible.” He saw Fiona’s face. “It’s legal, Fi, honest. I looked it up. It’s called Dragon’s Blood, completely legal but he said he didn’t trust the quality if it came by air and that it was too small to come by sea so he wanted a courier. I’m still at the call centre, but I only do four days, then I have a long weekend over to Dubai, nice break in the sun and a little commission. I use it to play the slots over there. It’s great.”
“Dragon’s Blood?” Fiona whispered.
“You don’t carry it in your shop.” Dean said. “You should. It smells great.” He looked down into his coffee. “I’m sorry I made a mess of things. I wish I could turn back the clock. But this guy might have other stuff for me and I can make a good wage and look after you, just like I should have done.”
“We don’t stock Dragon’s Blood.” Fiona remembered the awful warnings from Kadogan. “We stock all sorts of other stuff. I don’t understand it.”
Dean leaned forward and gently pulled Fiona’s hands away from the latte and held them. His touch had always been wonderfully gentle. “Babe, you’re not going to believe it, but that stuff in the shop – it’s all real. They do exist. There’s vampires and werewolves and these things called boggarts.” He glanced around, making sure that they were not being overheard. “You need to stay away from boggarts. They are so psycho it’s not funny. But there’s money for us there, and if we’re in with the big man then we are safe. I can’t guarantee to keep you safe if you’re not with me. And that fiancé of yours – do you really think he could fight off a werewolf?”
Fiona felt the colour draining from her face. Steve had done exactly that, but how did she explain that to Dean. “I’m sure he’d be okay…”
“Babe, you need to watch yourself. There are real fairies out there. They get into your head and twist stuff around. You can’t trust them with everything. Mr Baxter has a corner of a fairy realm but even with all his power he can’t keep it one hundred percent safe. He says it could leak out any day. You’ve got to be careful. Don’t trust any fairy, or, thingy…” Dean waved a hand. “They call themselves elfen, but their really just crazy, mind sucking bastards that will shred you for fun. Do you really think your boyfriend can keep you safe from that?”
Fiona stared at him. She felt like her face was made of ice and she could be sick at any time. She slowly shook her head, not at Steve’s ability to protect her but at the horror of what Dean was saying. “I can’t listen to any more.” She stumbled to her feet.
“Listen, babe, I’ll meet you here on Wednesday. Trust me. It will be okay.”
Fiona stumbled out of the shop and into the rain, heading blindly back to her flat. What was she going to do? She had really loved Dean once. He could be kind, gentle, loving and generous. He remembered her favourite food and drink, gave her back rubs if she was tired and never forgot her birthday. Her mind was flooded with memories of them watching films together, cosied up, the illicit kissing on the top of the bus when they were teenagers, the time they had nearly been locked in overnight at the Castle Museum because they had been getting passionate in a corner. She was wearing a necklace he had bought for her three years ago. He had got a bonus from work and he treated her, because he could. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this sick. It took her three goes to find her keys in her bag.
The stairs had never looked steeper as she held grimly onto the handrail as she went up to her flat. Half way up she paused. She really did love Steve. She knew it deep down despite all the nonsense from Kadogan. So why did she feel so confused about Dean. He had left her. But he had bought her favourite coffee for her. Fiona held onto the handrail with both hands.
“Hello, neighbour.” Freydis appeared at the top of the stairs. “I thought I might as well get the use out of the flat. How on earth do you get the shower to a decent pressure?” She stopped a looked closer at Fiona.
Fiona’s face had lost any trace of colour and strands of her hair were sticking to her damp face. Her eyes were wide and she was holding onto the handrail like a lifeline. “Hi, Freydis,” she managed. “I’m not feeling very well.”
To Fiona’s bewilderment, Freydis took charge. “Come here,” she said firmly, lifting Fiona up the last few steps without any apparent effort and taking the keys from Fiona’s hand. She opened the door to Fiona’s flat and gently pushed Fiona into the flat. “What on earth has happened to you?”
Fiona burst into tears.
Fiona kept herself busy. They had now been open four whole months and the shop was going in directions she had never thought it would go. Her pen flew over the paper as she jotted down ideas.
She wished she could get Dean’s face out of her mind. She couldn’t lose the memory of the look in his eyes as he tried to warn her about boggarts and werewolves. What if she was being manipulated? What if Mrs Tuesday and Ian were just playing? Fiona stared at her list. She could speak to Mrs Tuesday about the best containers for the carefully dried, magically grown herbs. And whether to sell them as a set or not. That’s what she needed to be thinking about.
Steve came in and dumped a large cardboard box on the counter, rubbing a hand over his tired eyes and leaving a long dusty streak. Fiona had been so busy caught in her own thoughts that she jumped and knocked the rack of astrological bookmarks onto the floor. She smiled wanly at Steve as she scrabbled to pick them up. “Hi.”
“Hi, sweetheart.” Steve knelt down next to her and helped her with the fallen cardboard. “I thought I’d call in and see you before crashing. It’s been a long negotiation and a long drive. I’ll show you what I’ve picked up and then I’ll grab a shower and some sleep.” He smiled, tentatively, twisting a Gemini bookmark around his fingers. “But before I do, here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ring box. He picked up Fiona’s left hand and slid the opal ring onto her ring finger. It glowed in the light and once again Fiona’s heart turned over.
“It’s so beautiful.” There was a catch in her throat and without thinking she reached up and kissed him.
“Not in the shop.” Kadogan said with disapproval. He looked into the box. “Interesting. I didn’t realise that there were elfen out there still doing this work.”
“What is it?” Fiona stood slowly, her hand in Steve’s.
“Elf shot.” Kadogan carefully sorted through the box. “They are very blunt, though.”
“Health and safety.” Mrs Tuesday came up. “Let’s have a look at the ring.”
Fiona held out her hand helplessly as Adele and Louise came in to admire it over Mrs Tuesday’s shoulder. “What’s elf shot?”
“Arrow heads made from flint by the old fashioned way.” Kadogan held one up to the light. “It used to be thought that these were the physical remains of elf shot, or the weapon that would cause stroke or seizure.” He spun the darkly gleaming arrowhead between his fingers. Fiona shivered.
“It’s okay, they’re safe.” Steve said, giving her hand a squeeze. “I checked.”
“They are also very blunt.” Kadogan said with disappointment. He looked around quickly. “Not that these sort of things would cause stroke or seizure.”
“I traded them for 20 solar powered singing daisies, forty keyrings with glitterballs on them and 17 kilos of dates.” Steve worked his neck. “They want to know what they can trade for bulk rose petals.”
“They got a good deal, then.” Kadogan said with disapproval. “Those glitterball keyrings will be highly prized.”
“You can buy fifty of those keyrings for what we can get for five of these arrowheads.” Steve said flatly. He shook his head. “I’m going home, getting a shower and some sleep. Ian and Callum can get the rest out of the car.” He handed Fiona the keys. “I’ll catch up with you later.” He bent to kiss Fiona, catching Kadogan’s eye at the last minute and brushing her cheek with his lips before leaving.
Adele looked into the box with interest. “Our Roz makes jewellery out of this sort of stuff. What price are you doing?”
“Steve will set the price when he gets back.” Fiona pushed a tired hand through her hair and shouted to Ian and Callum.
“Are you making lists for the wedding?” Adele asked, looking at the sheaf of notes on the counter. “Our Selene had spreadsheets and everything. She’s divorced now, but she still has the cordless drill.”
“It’s for the shop.” Fiona said. “I was wondering about re-doing the herb section. What do you think, Mrs Tuesday?”
“I think you’re looking too pale.” Mrs Tuesday looked Fiona up and down.
“I’m not surprised with all the stuff about the wedding.” Louise said. “But you can’t do anything once an elfen gets involved.”
The door jangled and Freydis wandered in. She still looked like a supermodel but today was wearing classy, low heeled boots, jeans and a tartan shirt tucked into her tight waistband. Her hair was in a ponytail and she was swinging a cute leather jacket as she walked. “Hi.”
Kadogan appeared with Ian and Callum. “What are you doing here?”
Fiona really didn’t feel up to this. Her head was banging and all she wanted to do was crawl away to somewhere dark. “Ian, Callum, could you get the rest of the stone arrowheads…”
“Elf shot,” Kadogan corrected helpfully.
“…elf shot out of Steve’s car and put them in the store room? Thanks.” Fiona held out the keys to Ian. The werewolves glanced suspiciously at Freydis and jogged out to the car park.
“I’m working here now.” Freydis announced.
“What?” Kadogan stared.
“I thought I could be of use.” Freydis said airily. “I’ll start by learning how to make lattes.”
“No.” Kadogan said flatly.
“Yes.” Freydis said calmly, drifting over to the café area. “Which bit makes coffee?”
Louise backed away, flushed. “Since when can you do anything except fornicate and shop?”
Freydis shrugged. “I’ve decided to change.” She strolled behind the counter and peered closely at the coffee machine.
“Freydis, no.” Kadogan tried to get between Freydis and the coffee machine and failed.
“What does this do?” A jet of steam shot out and Freydis jumped back, a gleam of fascination in her eyes. “This is marvellous.”
Fiona was sure Mrs Tuesday was swearing under her breath and Louise had gone from flushed to pale. Ian and Callum were bringing in large boxes of what looked like prehistoric artefacts, sagging under the weight, and exchanging glances before looking back at the elfen. “Freydis, why do you want to work here?”
“I need to prove to Lord Ragnar that I can be different.” For a moment Freydis paused and then pressed another button. The coffee grinder started working. Mrs Tuesday leaned over and switched it off.
“You wish to change?” Kadogan looked at her narrowly. “We will speak this evening. Until then, you may assist if you accept that Louise, Adele and Mrs Tuesday are all your superiors in this matter.”
To Fiona’s amazement Freydis didn’t pout, she frowned thoughtfully. “Acceptable for the first week with a review afterwards?”
“You are intrigued by the coffee machine, are you not?” Kadogan leaned forward. “I can see it calling to you. But there are other duties you must also perform.”
Freydis put her head on one side. She glanced over the coffee machine, then over the café area and the shop as a whole. “I understand.” She ran a manicured finger lightly over the steam control. “Agreed.”
Kadogan turned to Fiona. “Agreed?”
Fiona nodded limply. After last night she was deeply aware of how much she owed Freydis.
“Good. I shall speak to Steve Adderson. Also I shall assist in loading the elf shot.” Kadogan strode out to Steve’s car where Ian and Callum had taken stock of the boxes and had decided to load a trolley. Fiona wondered what on earth they were supposed to do with thousands of stone arrowheads.
The day dragged. For once there were no coach parties and business was slow. Fiona tried to get back to the lists but kept finding herself staring out at the car park. Ian and Callum had got bored in the store room and, after washing Steve’s car, were kicking a ball around.
Louise sighed. “I wish I had their energy.”
Mrs Tuesday watched carefully. “They’ll be settling down within a week or so.” She nodded in satisfaction. “They’re getting a ‘brother bond’. It happens sometimes. A couple of lone werewolves team up and look after each other. It can turn out well. Or badly,” she said, going back to the herbs she was sorting. “But they’ll probably do okay.”
“I took a werewolf as a lover once.” Freydis said, lounging elegantly against the café counter. “It certainly expanded my horizons.”
“I bet it wasn’t only horizons that got expanded.” Mrs Tuesday chuckled.
Freydis winced. “But it was worth it. Now, time for another practice at the Machine. Who would like a hot drink?”
Adele had a quick look at Louise’s face. “I brought a load of wedding magazines in from our Laura’s wedding. Do you want to look?”
“Sure.” Fiona forced a smile. “I might as well while the shop is quiet. Freydis, please may I have a hot chocolate?”
“Oh, I love making hot chocolate!” Freydis clapped her hands together. “I get to use spray cream!”
Fiona’s phone started ringing. She pulled it out of her pocket and went paler. “Excuse me.”
Mrs Tuesday stared after Fiona as she fled into the back rooms. “Is she expecting bad news?”
“It was from Dean.” Louise had been behind Fiona and had got a glimpse of the name coming up.
“I’ll make her a hot chocolate anyway.” Freydis said cheerfully.
Steve came in just as the store was about to close. He looked a little more refreshed and had got rid of the dust but there was still a tiredness in his eyes. Kadogan and the werewolves weren’t around, but the ladies were congregated in the café area surrounded by wedding magazines. He nearly tripped over as he realised that it was Freydis loading the dishwasher with dirty cups. “Um, hello Freydis?”
“Hello, Steve Adderson,” Freydis said brightly. “I work here now and I have contributed a great deal to the discussion concerning your wedding.”
Steve took in Fiona’s stunned expression and drawn features. “Thanks? But when did you start working here? Where’s Kadogan?”
“He’s meeting with Lord Ragnar.” Fiona said. “Steve, can I speak to you in private?”
“Sure.” Steve felt a shiver of worry slide down his spine.
“Don’t worry about us.” Mrs Tuesday said. “We’ll lock up. Freydis, why don’t I show you how to shut down and clean the coffee machine?”
“I adore the Machine.” Freydis sighed. “I would love to learn.”
Steve strode into the back of the bar. “Sorry I’m late,” he muttered to Darren, throwing a large sports bag down next to the table Darren had dragged into the centre of the room. Armani slipped out of Steve’s jacket pocket to flap slowly over to the top of one of the racks where he perched, glaring balefully as he hunched over one corner.
Darren quickly checked his watch. “You’re not late.”
“That’s lucky.” Steve pulled open the sports bag and started pulling out candles.
“You may not need to do anything.” Darren said, trying to get a clear look at Steve’s face. “It should be a standard exorcism. There have been noises, strange smells, people feeling uneasy – all the usual stuff. I normally find it’s a version of mass hysteria, but this time they’ve got ectoplasm leaking out of the walls and stories of it being built over a witch’s well.” Darren pulled off his coat. He was wearing a black shirt and dog collar with his well washed jeans and the bare bulb of the stock room gleamed on the silver cross around his neck. “I’d be glad of a hand if it turns out to be more magical than ghostly.”
“I thought everywhere in York was haunted?” Steve also pulled off his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. “It’s good for the tourists.”
“The café already has the story about the maid abandoned by her lover haunting the till.” Darren said dismissively. “This is actually getting in the way of the café running. Even if the staff were comfortable coming in here, you can’t say that the ectoplasm doesn’t affect the Food Hygiene rating.”
Steve looked around. Metal shelves held trays of paper cups and sugar sachets. A box of drip coffee filters had fallen and spilled its contents onto the plain concrete floor. The unplastered walls gleamed with oily liquid seeping out from the brickwork and dripping down where congealing gobs lay along the base of the walls. Some of it had splashed onto the boxes of coffee and teabags and the dark green stain spreading over the cardboard looked gangrenous. “So, what’s the deal?”
“I’ll do a basic exorcism.” Darren handed Steve’s candles back to him and started setting up his own. “And we see what happens.” He frowned. “I’m not usually susceptible to impressions,” he said, “But something feels off here. What do you think?”
Steve looked around. He had very little experience of ghosts or hauntings but he agreed with Darren. “I think that there’s something not right here, but I couldn’t tell you what.”
“I don’t generally approve of magic,” Darren said, “But in these circumstances, can you get a circle up. By the way, before we get started, have you decided on a date yet?”
“Fiona called the wedding off.” Steve said quietly. “She couldn’t cope with the pressure from Kadogan. I’ll get Armani into the circle. Will you start with a prayer?”
Darren had a bad feeling about the whole thing as he started praying. He was struggling to focus and the waves of anger coming from Steve didn’t help. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t a haunting. He opened his prayer book and began working through the service. Nothing happened. Darren was used to silence as a strategy on the part of demons, and he was used to strange noises as he prayed, but there was nothing. He could usually feel something to push against. He felt like he was pushing against empty air. He forced himself to keep going. At the back of his mind he was running through a checklist. The café owner seemed genuine. The room showed all the signs of a haunting. Everyone was expecting ghosts with all the vampiric magic being stirred up. Had he fallen for hysteria? Perhaps there was a rational explanation for the dark ooze on the walls. Darren struggled on. Doubt was a weapon in the armoury of evil. He splashed Holy Water on the walls. Nothing happened.
“It’s not a ghost.” Steve said quietly.
“I need to finish the service.” Darren turned the page in his prayer book.
“Be quick.” Steve was watching the walls, glancing down for only a fraction of a second as he rummaged for his tools. Armani was clinging onto the outside of his bag, looking wary and unnerved.
Darren struggled on, keeping the reverence and respect in his voice as he finished the service, with Steve praying alongside him, both watchful. “Amen.” Darren made a dignified sign of the cross. “So, what is it?”
“Lord Ragnar still hasn’t got full control of his faerie realm.” Steve was holding out a silver dagger at around waist height. Some of it is still under Rey’s control. And some of that vampiric realm is leaking through here.”
Darren began quickly but methodically packing up his improvised altar. “Deliberately sent here?”
Steve shook his head. “Deliberately sent out, but not aimed, if you know what I mean. As far as I can tell, Rey has just filled corners of the realm with malice and let them loose to leak wherever they like.” His lip curled. “As if the elfen aren’t bad enough without that.”
Darren gave him a sideways glance. “Okay, how do we play it?”
“I’m going to try pushing back.” Steve started pulling in his concentration. “It could get crazy but it should be okay in the circle.”
Darren watched Steve as he closed his eyes and started murmuring. He had heard a lot about Steve’s abilities and was professionally interested to see how he handled this. The light in the bulb was fading but the candles inside the circle seemed to be holding up. The ooze on the walls was starting to flow actively down the walls and outside the circle it was starting to drip from the ceiling. Darren took a quick glance at Steve as he pulled on his jacket and, after a thoughtful look at the ooze inching over the floor, pulled on gloves as well.
Darren hated dealing with elfen magic. It wasn’t his place and he didn’t understand it. He hated the mutability and illogical way it twisted and turned until you couldn’t tell left from right. Today was worse. It wasn’t just like trying to nail down mist, it was like trying to nail down malevolent mist. He could hear noises now. Armani was obviously getting anxious and was shifting uneasily on the top of Steve’s bag. Darren braced.
“Something doesn’t like me pushing back.” Steve muttered. “I think they’re getting ready to…”
Darren found himself crashing back against the wall. Steve had skidded along the floor next to him and Armani was hanging on to the last upright shelving and looking bewildered. “What the…?” He scrambled quickly to his feet to face what looked like an archway into the realm lit by the crazy, dancing light of the now bright lightbulb swinging wildly above the shattered candles.
“They pushed back.” Steve had a livid red mark down the side of his face and his shirt was ripped. He got to his feet with angry purpose. “They are sending their agents.”
Darren wanted to swear. “It’s gabble ratchets.” He looked around and grabbed a metal upright from one of the shattered shelving units. “You need to get this closed down.”
Armani grabbed one of the smaller struts and flapped upwards, struggling to gain height as a fetid wind started to hiss into the store room. “Gotcha back, boss.”
It was nasty. The chattering dark shapes started pouring out of the elfen doorway. Darren took a wide sweep and caught the nearest hard. They was a sound of breaking glass as it evaporated and another two took its place. The wind was blowing harder and the stink of it was making Darren retch. He kept swinging wide and hard, aiming as well as he could in the fluctuating light. He’d faced these creatures before and he knew that the only thing was to keep them at a distance. They were small and relatively fragile, but if they swarmed on you in any number then you were finished.
Behind him he could hear Steve muttering. Armani was swooping low to take hit and run swings at the gabble ratchets, and while he didn’t do much damage, he was distracting them. Darren squinted through the archway. It wasn’t easy. The image of the arch was dark with discoloured stonework and oozing carvings, with a dim view of misty moorland beyond. There were bigger shapes in the mist. “We’ve got to get this shut,” Darren yelled over the chatter of the gabble ratchets.
“I’m trying.” Steve snapped.
Darren didn’t dare risk looking over his shoulder. There were half a dozen of the gabble ratchets in the store room now and more in the archway. He flinched as Armani knocked one past his head and flew fast after it. “Try harder! It’s only bloody elfen, you’ve been dealing with them for years!”
A split second too late Darren realised that he had touched on a raw nerve. Armani crouched in a corner and pulled a tin tray in front of him as Steve pulled himself up to his full height. “I really cannot deal with the elfen right now.” Steve took a deep breath, muttered a few words and flung his hand out in front of him in a crisp, clean action that left an iridescent trail as it scythed through the air and that the very whip lash tip of the gesture through out an arc of pure, fury stoked power. Darren felt the magical charge go straight through him like a high pressure hose would jet through a shadow as the wave of energy ran through the room and smashed into the elfen arch like a storm driven wave. Once again he found himself picked up by a blast and thrown hard against the wall, pinned there as Steve gave an uncharacteristic howl of fury and watched as the arch was sandblasted away, fragments flaking off and peeling back and disappearing into the swamp, the gabble ratchets thrown back howling into the dark. It seemed to go on for a very long time.
Finally it stopped. Steve lowered his hand and gazed in satisfaction at the plain brickwork where the arch had been. Armani crept cautiously out from behind the dented tray and Darren picked himself up painfully from where the blast had dropped him. He wasn’t sure what Steve had done, or even if Steve knew what he had done, but it had been successful. The shelves had been shredded and scraps of fast coffee supplies lay in drifts, but the atmosphere was definitely more wholesome and the ooze on the wall was no longer glistening in the now stable light. What small traces that still clung to the wall were dried and lifeless but most of what had been seeping through was now part of the heaps around the room and nothing more was coming through.
“I feel better for that.” Steve stretched happily. “Do you think we’ll get a coffee on the house?”
Fiona sat stiffly in her chair, her hands clasped tightly around her mug. It was a full meeting room. Everyone who worked at the White Hart had come in thirty minutes before they opened on the Monday to have what Kadogan had described as ‘a frank and open business discussion with nothing of the personal’. Looking round, only Freydis and Kadogan seemed cheerful.
Kadogan pulled himself up in his chair and beamed. “As this is becoming a business, I thought I should read some business books.” Steve slumped down in his chair and rubbed his hands over his eyes. Kadogan ignored him. “So we have a weekly meeting and important things should be mentioned. I am pleased that we have had a number of different enquiries about the elf shot. The profit should be quite remarkable. It is a surprise that they are being sold mainly to jewellery and home furnishing outlets, but profit is profit.”
“We still have to work out what they can trade us for bulk rose petals.” Steve said. “I asked them about fossils, but they hadn’t noticed any in the flint mines. There is a limit to how many elf shot we can sell. I don’t think we have a steady outlet.”
“I’ve no idea.” Kadogan frowned. “Perhaps we can all think about it during the week and next Monday we will have a solution devised by common sharing of information.”
“Sounds great.” Fiona managed. “Are they any good at handmade cards? I can’t keep up with the stock. I don’t seem to have much time. I was wondering about advertising for someone as a homeworker, but really it isn’t worth it for normals. The amount of time it takes and the cost of the materials means that cardmaking is really just a hobby. However if they are keen, they could do cards for rose petals, so much weight of petals per card.”
Kadogan looked uncomfortable but it was Steve that answered. “It wouldn’t work. Elfen are excellent at what they do, but they don’t do cards.”
“Steve is right.” Freydis said. “They could perhaps copy a design, but it is unlikely to of the standard of Fiona’s cards. And I wish to add that I sat in coffee shops every evening last week and I have been observing their skill. I have also purchased a book called ‘How to Barista the Besta’ which is about making coffee. I believe I could make pretty designs on coffee and I wish to experiment with blends. Perhaps I could have a budget for experimental coffees.”
“Since when did you understand the concept of a budget.” Louise snapped.
“It takes considerable skill to repeatedly go just enough over budget to annoy a husband but not enough to start an argument.” Freydis said with some complacency. “Especially as Lord Ragnar’s tolerance was affected by outside factors and I had to be precise and swift about purchases. I understand how to use money to the penny.”
Louise glared at Freydis, but Adele jumped in. “Maybe we could have coffee evenings like we have the fairy teas. Anyway, if that’s it, I need to get the boilers switched on.”
Kadogan held up his hand. “There is an important announcement. Lord Ragnar has asked us to host a soiree in the White Hart for his court from 10 o’clock in the evening until around 2 in the morning. As he was willing to pay a considerable sum, I agreed.”
“What date is this?” Mrs Tuesday asked suspiciously.
“It is the 21st day of June,” Kadogan said airily, “which is several weeks away and gives us plenty of time to create wonders.”
“No.” Steve said flatly. “It’s one of the more powerful nights of the year and this is not a strong site. Some places can hold up to a magical charge better than others. This is not one of them. Why isn’t it at his court?”
Kadogan neatened the sheet of paper he had in front of him. “Lord Ragnar is traditional. He holds his midsummer revels on the 24th day of June. He says that everyone is so much calmer after the solstice has passed. This year he thought it would be prudent to see what his court is doing on the 21st day of June, but his halls will be in the process of being decorated.”
“But we’re going to be open the next day.” Fiona said wearily. “We can’t run a shop on three or four hours sleep, especially after a hard evening entertaining.”
“It’s possible.” Mrs Tuesday said with some caution. “The brownies would do the clearing up as part of their normal morning service. They would charge extra but if we clear as we go then it wouldn’t be too much.”
“I think if we stay here overnight then it would be easier for us to gain restful sleep.” Freydis said. “I think it may be beneficial for us to stay here where it is safer for a few nights either side of the solstice, just in case. And Lord Ragnar is correct when he says that his halls will not be able to host anything. The disruption for the feasts at the eight festivals was considerable.” She looked a little wistful.
“Aren’t you glad that you don’t have the trouble of it anymore.” Louise said, her mouth tight.
Ian ignored Louise’s dig. “Freydis is right. There’s something going on. Callum and I go out as dog and handler, taking turns being clothed, and there’s something going on that’s making our fur prickle.”
Adele blinked a little but Kadogan took it in his stride and nodded seriously. “So, Fiona, please will you make sure that there are plenty of trinkets to tempt a casual purchase and choose some non violent music. Ian, please will you and Callum consider how to best clear an area in the shop for some dancing that is away from fragile items. Louise, Mrs Tuesday and Adele, please consider the best options for food and drink. Steve Adderson, you and I should consider the security issues. We must be prepared.”
Dave raised his hand. “How about me?”
Kadogan looked awkward. “Would it perhaps suit you to have cocoa and an early night?”
Dave called in at the spartan headquarters of the Knights Templar. Sir Ewan answered the door.
“I hope you don’t need manpower because we don’t have any.” Sir Ewan waved Dave inside. “Everyone’s been drafted to Doncaster. Some idiot tried to summon an angel and it got out of hand.”
“Summon an angel?” Dave walked past Sir Ewan and into the sparse meeting room. “Is that possible?”
“No,” Sir Ewan said cheerfully, “but it gets the attention of all sorts of nasties. What’s up?”
“Kadogan has agreed to host a reception for Lord Ragnar at the White Hart on 21st June.” Dave sat down in the nearest chair. “Steve seemed to think it could go badly. Mrs Tuesday seemed worried. What’s the deal?”
Sir Ewan frowned and sat opposite Dave. “You know that magical energy flows through the world, and that it can be stronger or weaker?”
“Yes?” Dave answered uncertainly.
“There are eight days which we need to look out for.” Sir Ewan shrugged. “Actually, there are other, minor, days, but these are the main ones. That’s the equinoxes and the solstices – say 21st of March, June, September and December at a very rough guess. Then there are the old festivals, Lammas, Lughnasadh, Beltane and Samhain.” Sir Ewan looked shamefaced. “I’m sorry, that’s my pride showing. You know May Day and Halloween? Well, there’s also the 2nd of August, Lammas or Harvest, and 2nd February, Lughnasadh or Candlemass. They’re the old festivals from before Christianity and they are deep in the bones of the country. Other local stuff comes up now and again, but those eight days are notoriously bad for trouble. There’s just more magic around and even if it isn’t as much as some think, it focuses the mind. People get carried away. There’s always a spike in prophecies around that time as well.”
Dave pulled a flint arrowhead from his pocket and absentmindedly ran his fingers over it. “So something bad could happen at the White Hart on 21st June?”
“Something bad is definitely going to happen on 21st June.” Sir Ewan said flatly. “Lord Ragnar’s up to something. I bet he talked about them being too busy decorating their halls for the St John’s Eve ball or something, but that’s…” Sir Ewan caught himself. “I’m sorry, my tongue is getting away from me. The hall is decorated using brownies and magic. It traditionally takes a long time because all the elfen argue about it, but realistically it can be decorated in a few hours.”
“So what is Lord Ragnar up to?” Dave tried to work out the angles. He didn’t like the look of any of them.
“I have no idea.” Sir Ewan drummed his fingers on the table. “But I have a bad feeling about this. Are you invited?”
“Not exactly.” Dave spun the arrowhead around his fingers. “But I’m sure it’s not just fairy godmothers that can crash a party.”
Steve forced himself to call in at the White Hart before turning home. Not that the new flat, right under Fiona, was a great place for him right now. The sign in the shop door said ‘Closed’ but it was unlocked and, while the rest of the shop was in darkness, the lights above the café area were open. He trudged over.
Adele and Louise had gone home and Mrs Tuesday was missing but Freydis and Kadogan were animatedly discussing something while the werewolves watched, bemused. Fiona was sitting a little to one side and looking pale and a little queasy. Steve wasn’t sure how that made him feel so he just nudged Armani in his pocket to stop him snoring.
“We have had a breakthrough in the search for the rose petal deal.” Kadogan announced. “We shall ask the local elfen to fake sightings of big, black cats. I believe it often makes the papers.”
“What?” Steve hadn’t expected that. “You can’t just fake a sighting. It’s unethical.”
“But they would enjoy it so much.” Kadogan said earnestly. “I have had so many wonderful ideas about it. We could get them to adopt the glamour of a very large black cat, import larger than average black tom cats, fake foot prints and hair – there are so many things! And I am sure they would enjoy putting finishing touches to the plan.”
Steve felt once again that he was trying to nail down fog. “But how would that pay for the rose petals?”
“But we could sell pictures and articles.” Freydis said seriously. “We would make sure that someone local got the first picture but then we get the good pictures to sell to the papers. Sometimes those pictures can make a lot of money.”
“No.” Fiona sounded tired. “It’s not right.”
Kadogan tutted. “But we sell many, many books on this subject.”
“Cryptozoology.” Ian said knowledgeably. “The study of unknown creatures.”
“If they are unknown, how can they be studied?” Freydis asked reasonably.
“There’s a whole industry around it.” Ian said. “Conferences, books, websites, expeditions – the whole kit and caboodle.”
“And we do stock so many of those books.” Kadogan said. “I am confident that we could sell more if there was a sighting or two.”
Steve rubbed his forehead wearily. “It’s really close to Salisbury Plain.”
Callum looked startled. “You mean where the army practice with live shells? You can’t go wandering near there.”
“I know.” Freydis smiled. “So all that area which the soldiers use for practice is usually out of bounds and perhaps the big cats could have been living and breeding there. It’s very plausible.” She caught Steve’s eye. “And I am cousins with some of them and they don’t lead people under the cannon fire anymore. It was explained to them.”
“No.” Fiona said firmly. “We’re not going there.”
“But just one or two photos could make a big difference.” Kadogan said wistfully.
“Indeed.” Freydis nodded. “It would make so many people happy and every time we got a royalty payment we could send more rose petals.”
Fiona got up, grabbed her bag and walked out.
Dean was waiting at the café. “You look tired,” he said, pushing a cup of her favourite latte towards her.
“It’s been a long day.” Fiona said quietly. “You look…” her voice trailed away.
“The boss was feeling generous.” Dean smiled slowly and ran a hand over his shirt. “You like?”
“You look amazing.” Fiona stared at him. Dean had always been an own brand jeans and t-shirt kind of man. Today he was wearing what looked like a pale blue, tailored shirt, very like the ones that Steve wore, and sharp pressed dark chinos. His sleeves had been rolled up to just below the elbow which displayed an expensive looking watch.
“So do you.” Dean said. “But you look tired. I should be looking after you. You should be coming home to me and I should be keeping you safe.”
Fiona shook her head. “Dean, it seems like a life time ago. Maybe it was meant to be…”
“You’ve broken up with him,” Dean reached over and gently stroked over the back of Fiona’s icy hand. “There’s no reason to stay apart now.”
“How did you know?” Fiona asked.
“How do you know everyone you work with is human?” Dean said smugly.
Fiona pulled her hand free and clamped both her hands around the warm coffee cup as if it was a lifeline. “Dean, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Look,” Dean glanced around the deserted café quickly and then pulled back his collar. “Perhaps your slick boyfriend wears a shirt like this for the same reason I do.”
Fiona looked on horrified as Dean pulled back his collar to show what looked like two stab wounds surrounded by horrific bruising. “Dean, what’s happened to you? What’s going on?”
“I tell you, vampires are real. You have to believe me. The boss did this. He drank my blood, just like the films, and it felt amazing. It’s better than sex.”
“It looks really sore.” Fiona couldn’t drag her eyes away from the mess at the base of Dean’s neck.
“It heals really quick. And it’s amazing. The boss won’t do it too often, he says it’s not good for me. He’s a good guy.”
Fiona took a mouthful of the hazelnut latte, desperately trying to get some warmth into her. “It’s all so confusing.”
“He’s a good guy, Fiona, and he’s keeping an eye out for me. I’m making good money, having a great time and feeling better than I have in years.” Dean leant forward and looked deep into Fiona’s eyes. “The only thing missing is you, babe. Please.”
Fiona slowly shook her spinning head. “It’s too soon. I’ve only just broken off an engagement.”
“Sweetheart, you’re tired. They’re working you to hard there. You need to come and work for Mr Baxter like me. Listen, I’m off to Dubai tomorrow for a few days. I’ll call you when I get back. Until then, just think about it. You and me, just like the old days.” Dean stood and dropped a gentle kiss on the top of Fiona’s head. “Think about me while I’m gone.”
Fiona watched him stride confidently out of the café and up towards the Minster. Then she slowly pushed her latte away from her. What was she doing?
Kadogan watched Nick tap away at his laptop, standing carefully away from the sight of the flickering screen. Nick looked up at him. “There’s nothing to see.”
“But you are doing things to the computer.” Kadogan said. “This is significant.”
Nick glanced between the two elfen before clicking on a few significant icons and standing up and stretching. “It’s downloading now.” He said. “Any chance of a coffee.”
Kadogan looked at the computer through narrowed eyes. “I was told that nothing goes through the cables except electricity and information. I have never understood how information travels through solid cables.”
Nick wandered from the office and into the corridor. He smiled when he saw Ian. “Hi, how are you doing?”
Ian looked awkward. “I’m good. And you? Is everything repaired after… Is everything repaired from last Christmas?”
Nick chuckled. “Everything is fine. Carol had a wonderful time redecorating.” He hesitated. “I hope you don’t mind, but I know you’d understand. I picked up an old grimoire literally at a car boot sale. I couldn’t believe it. I’d value your opinion on it, if you’re okay with that?”
Ian hesitated for a moment and then nodded. “Sure. How old is it?”
“I’ll get it from my car.” Nick bounded downstairs.
The shop was getting ready to open. Mrs Tuesday was unloading the delivery of bacon into the fridge while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it heated up. Louise looked on resentfully. “Why have you put dried flowers on the coffee machine?”
Freydis barely looked up. “Fresh flowers would wilt. Dried flowers will not last much longer but can easily be replaced.”
Mrs Tuesday closed the fridge door and straightened up. “You got the brownies to sort out the flowers, didn’t you?”
Freydis nodding and laughed. “I have no skill in arranging flowers. But these look well enough and the brownies have promised to replace them regularly to keep the Machine looking beautiful.”
Louise snorted and went into the back to fetch a tray of muffins.
Fiona came in, smiling wanly at everyone before trudging upstairs. Mrs Tuesday watched her with a frown before turning to Freydis. “That girl is not looking well.”
Freydis nodded. “She appears to be under a great deal of stress.” Freydis paused and said carefully. “I believe she needs nourishing food, such as soup. That is, the correct home made soup that one would give to a person who was under strain.”
“What are you up to, Freydis?” Mrs Tuesday had a dangerous edge to her throat.
“I believe she has met several times with Dean.” Freydis looked pointedly at Mrs Tuesday. “He may have administered things.”
Mrs Tuesday hesitated. “Shouldn’t she speak to the police or something?”
“I am sure she would if she felt it appropriate.” Freydis searched for the right phrasing. “Normals spike drinks, do they not? But I have seen that the effects leave little trace.”
“Since when did you know anything about normals?” Mrs Tuesday snapped.
“We will talk later.” Freydis said. A few moments later Louise appeared with a tray of muffins, dumping them down on the counter.
Fiona felt like the stairs were a mountain this morning. She dumped her bag and hung up her coat. The computer seemed to be running something complicated and lines of code flickered over the screen. That meant Nick was here. She sighed inwardly. She wanted nothing more than to grab her bag and coat, turn around, go home and go to bed, but she couldn’t abandon the shop. She heard animated chatter from the kitchenette and wandered down the corridor.
Ian and a man she supposed was Nick Dark were leaning over an old, battered book with Steve perched on the table next to them looking thoughtful. Steve looked around and their eyes met for a split second. Fiona reacted completely on instinct, turned around and fled downstairs.
“What was that?” Nick asked, looking after her.
Ian put a sympathetic hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Sorry, mate.”
Steve nodded. “We were engaged for a few days. It got complicated.”
Nick looked between the magician and werewolf and nodded. “Did an elfen get involved? Any time Lord Marius calls in he tries to set me up with my housekeeper.”
Steve’s lips tightened briefly before he changed the subject. “It looks like the real thing. There’s a lot of magical buzz around it. That’s a book that’s seen a lot of spells.”
Ian touched it reverently. “I wonder how old it is?”
Nick carefully turned a page. “It’s handwritten and in Latin, which is more typical of an older book, and the paper seems heavy duty.”
“It looks like it’s been ignored for a long time.” Ian ran a gentle finger over the very edge of the binding. “If it’s not been used then it could just be a well preserved but old book.”
“On the other hand, it’s written on paper, not parchment.” Nick turned a page and the men paused to admire an intricate drawing of the seven spheres.
“There’s no sign of Uranus.” Steve looked closer at the faded colours. “When was Uranus discovered?”
Ian checked his phone. “It says 1781, but I don’t know how long it would have taken for it to become general knowledge and into magical practice. I suppose the book could be as late as the early nineteenth century.”
“People still knew Latin after that.” Steve said dryly. “I think some people can still read and write it, like the men around the table.” Armani wriggled out of his pocket and dropped onto the table. “Keep your vape pen away from the book.”
Armani approached the book with care and leaned within an inch or two before taking a cautious sniff. He pulled a face and backed away, wiping his nose. “I’m going up on the roof, boss. That stinks of dragon’s blood.”
Ian and Steve looked quickly at a suddenly worried Nick. “Where exactly did you get it?” Steve asked carefully, “And have you checked for a magical tracker?”
Darren pulled up into the car park at the White Hart and took a moment to compose his mind. The constant journeying was tiring and while he was used to being called away on duty, half the week away from his own home on a regular basis was draining him. Darren felt a moment of complete weariness wash over him. Perhaps he was getting old. He got out of the battered Range Rover. There were compensations, of course. Mrs Tuesday’s cooking was always worth visiting. Now that Kadogan had forced her to accept some salary she seemed to be spending it all on ingredients for meals for ‘the lads’. Darren dragged his two large holdalls out of the back of the car. Mrs Tuesday seemed to be making it a mission to feed up Dave, the werewolves, her nephew, and himself and it wasn’t exactly a hardship.
Darren nodded to the young man hanging around the car park and then paused. The man looked in his early twenties, with dark hair and troubled dark eyes. He was checking his expensive phone in quick, nervous glances while looking around warily. Darren wandered over. “Are you okay? The shop opens in five minutes but I can let you in if you know what you want.”
“Last time I came here there was a bit of trouble.” The man flicked his phone to record.
“I only stay here midweek.” Darren said. “I didn’t hear about any trouble. Did you get short changed?” He dumped his bags and held out his hand. “I’m Darren King.”
“Luke Fawcett.” The man automatically shook Darren’s hand. He swallowed, and then the words spilled out of him. “There are things not right about that shop. They have books and all sorts. I looked online, and they have the hardcore stuff mixed in with tourist rubbish. And they can do things, like curses.”
“Why don’t you turn off that recording app and we can talk.” Darren said calmly. He was not good at the people part of being a minister, but he could see that Luke was deeply troubled. “Maybe I can help.”
Luke slowly shook his head. “My mates won’t even come to York anymore. They’re too scared. But I reckon that you have to do the right thing.”
Darren’s heart sank. He could see the signs of a vampire hunter. Though he didn’t seem to be fixated on vampires or werewolves, which was something. “Do you have faith?” Darren asked carefully.
Luke looked at him as if hit be a shocking revelation. “I’ve never been to church.”
Darren wished he was good at this. “Sometimes it helps to know that there is a higher power that loves us.” He scrabbled for memories of the lectures in college. He didn’t do much witnessing of his faith. He was usually around people who believed and were happy for him to preach, pray and smite the bad guys. “What happened here?”
Luke looked Darren straight in the eye. “No-one would believe it. We were all in Tim’s car and looking for parking and when we saw what sort of place this was we came in for a bit of a laugh. I mean, no-one believes in this rubbish, do they?”
Darren had a bad feeling about it. “A lot of people can be quite heated when it comes to their beliefs. Did anyone get hurt?”
Luke shook his head. Tim was giving it out to an old couple. I think he was trying to start something with their son. He looked a real hard case. But the son just sat there and an old biddy was telling us about curses. I started really looking around. There were these really weird books and stuff, and no garlic.”
Darren tried to judge how far he could safely go. The recording app was no longer running. “Were you worried that there were vampires or something there – I know it sounds crazy, but there are a lot of strange things around.”
Luke shook his head. “There was this big guard dog. Nothing weird would have got past it. It was massive but really well trained.”
Darren recognised the softening look of a dog lover and moved on quickly, not wanting to hear anything about Luke wanting to give Ian a cuddle. “So what happened?”
“The old girl was giving us this long talk about curses, like she really knew what she was talking about. Then some guys came in and asked what had happened to the car. So we all ran out and…” Luke shuddered. “The car was written off. I mean, totally. It was over here.” Luke pointed to the battered flower beds which were recovering nicely. “They even drained the oil first.”
“Someone smashed up the car?” Darren asked, wondering where this was going.
Luke shook his head and, after quickly leafing through his phone showed Darren a picture. “The car was totally written off.”
Darren stared at the evidence of what happens when you upset Mr and Mrs Appuck. He could see a metal framework and the debris of what once had been a car. “Did you call the police?”
Luke shook his head. “Tim’s car wasn’t legal. We could risk being caught with it, we would have lost our jobs.” He paused. Darren could see Luke’s thoughts catching up. “You’re one of them. You do curses.” Luke backed away. “But I’m on to you. And yes, I’m going to get faith. I won’t forget.”
“I do not curse anyone!” Darren snapped, but Luke had turned and was running off down the road towards York town centre. Darren picked up his bags again.
Darren reached the shop door just as Fiona was flicking the sign from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’. She held the door open. “Who was that?”
“Did you have an incident with a car being stripped down to the frame?” Darren asked.
Fiona briefly closed her eyes. “Apparently Mr and Mrs Appuck got upset with a group of lads that were here to cause bother. It got out of hand.”
Kadogan lounged past with an armful of candles. “Mr and Mrs Appuck were here with their son, Geraint, and the young men were very rude, aggressive and tried to provoke a fight. They were even rude to Fiona which was completely unacceptable.”
“Completely destroying their car may have been an over-reaction.” Darren hefted his bags towards the stairs. “I saw the pictures.”
“They were rude to Geraint Appuck’s parents in front of him and only lost their car.” Kadogan said as he started to stack the candles neatly. “I think they were fortunate. Fiona has explained stock rotation to me so I am putting the newest supply of candles at the back. This means that whenever I am in a shop I shall always look for the items at the back of the shelf first.”
“You’re never in a shop except here.” Fiona said wearily.
“You look like you’ve been drained by a vampire.” Darren took in Fiona’s drawn face and slumped shoulders. “Should you see a doctor?”
Fiona held up a hand. “No. I’m going in the back to check on the wrapping paper.”
Darren looked at her retreating back and then at Mrs Tuesday. “Is it the wedding?”
“The wedding has been cancelled, remember.” Mrs Tuesday said. “I hope you brought an appetite because I’m making home made soup for lunch.”
Adele lounged by the till. It was quiet today. The rain had started falling gently outside and no coach parties were expected. Freydis and Louise were bickering next to the coffee machine as Freydis tried to arrange coloured dried grass and lavender in glass vases. Mrs Tuesday was cooking something fragrant in the back kitchen which smelled insanely good. Nick was doing things up ladders to the wiring. Adele didn’t have much of a grasp of technology but apparently the shop was getting top notch cybersecurity with extra cameras. Ian was following him round, holding ladders and cables and talking animatedly about the grimoire and Steve was also following around adding some magical security that also was completely beyond Adele’s understanding.
Callum came back after carrying Mrs Anderson’s shopping to her car. “It’s looking very impressive,” he said.
Adele nodded. “So we have dummy cameras, real and visible cameras and hidden cameras. And static monitors and things stuck in the wall. I don’t know how people think of it all.”
“Vampires are usually pretty good with computers.” Callum leaned casually on the counter next to Adele. “It’s the detail. We had a vampire sort out all the pack’s stuff back home.”
“He’s a vampire?” Adele stood upright. “But what about that Rey Baxter? Could he be working with him?”
Callum gave Adele a very dry look. “Not all vampires are the same. Anyway, Ian used to live near them and they were good friends. It was his house where Ian summoned the demon. It looks like Nick got over it, though. They both really liked their grimoires.”
“Sorry.” Adele said quietly. She scrabbled around for a change of subject. “That soup smells amazing.”
Callum nodded. “Mrs Tuesday seems to be determined to feed us up. I don’t mind.”
“Kadogan said that she had been depressed at home but was feeling a lot better here.” Adele said. “Sometimes it’s better to keep busy.”
Callum nodded. “I’ve been doing some painting,” he said. “I mean, it’s not proper painting but it keeps me busy.”
Adele looked interested. “What sort of things are you painting?”
“I’ve been painting miniatures of the streets in York.” Callum got out his phone. “I take these pictures…” He showed Adele a corner of Stonegate, “and when I get home I paint them.” He flicked through his phone and showed Adele the picture he had taken of his watercolour.
“That’s adorable!” Adele exclaimed. “When can I see the original?”
“After lunch.” Mrs Tuesday said. “I’ve set it up in the meeting room. Thanks to Nick we can have a nice lunch and still keep a very close eye on every inch of the shop.”
Steve looked around the packed meeting room. Fiona had been firmly sat down next to Mrs Tuesday and, after having had a few tentative mouthfuls, was eating heartily. Ian and Callum also had large bowls in front of them, though Kadogan, Nick and Freydis had tiny portions. There were baskets of freshly made rolls in the middle of the table and for a short while there was silence.
“This is really good.” Nick said appreciatively. “Please let me have the recipe for Carol.”
Mrs Tuesday waved a hand. “It’s just some vegetables and lentils in stock with whatever spices suit. There’s plenty more in the kitchen and what isn’t eaten today can be reheated tomorrow.”
Steve exchanged a glance with Darren and Dave. They were definitely going to be here tomorrow. Steve took another spoonful before taking a roll. He was aware that the soup had ginger and garlic, with some spices like cumin perhaps, or some of the Moroccan spices. “This is amazing, Mrs Tuesday.”
“It’s just soup.” The old boggart looked pleased.
“I still think that faking big cats in Wiltshire is a good idea.” Kadogan said as he savoured tiny sips of the soup. “We could make considerable money.”
“It’s not exactly guaranteed.” Ian said. He took another roll. “What if someone else gets a better picture?”
“We will still have good pictures, and ours will be properly staged.” Kadogan leant back in his chair. “We will be able to sell the pictures to the newspapers and to those who write books of such things. We could have framed pictures on our website.”
Darren held up a hand. “Are you talking about faking big cat sightings?”
“Lord Harold requires a large quantity of dried rose petals.” Kadogan held a roll delicately in his long fingers. “We have more than enough elf shot and so we need something else to trade. Elfen could easily fake the big cat sightings. It would be no trouble.”
“Indeed,” Freydis added. “And as they are so close to the Army firing range it is entirely plausible that unknown creatures could be there.”
“I can’t imagine cats being happy surrounded by loud bangs.” Dave finished his bowl. “Is there enough for another helping and lunch tomorrow?”
“Help yourself, I made plenty.” Mrs Tuesday waved a smug hand.
“Who is the paladin down there?” Darren asked.
Callum looked up from finishing his own bowl. “It’s not far from my old pack. With so much of Lord Harold’s domain inside the firing area, none of the local paladins really take an interest. I believe the Army make their own arrangements.”
“I’ll look up the paladin for Salisbury.” Dave stood up and headed towards the kitchen. “But I’ll get another bowl of that soup first.”
Fiona slid into the chair opposite Dean, dropping her umbrella next to him. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Dean smiled at her and pushed a hazelnut latte towards her. It had once been her favourite drink but Fiona had come to loathe it.
“Did you have a good time in Dubai?”
Dean nodded. He was drinking a protein smoothie and was looking fitter than ever, the slight tan he had acquired suited him. So did the classic shirt and tailored chinos. “I ordered cake, babe. I know you always liked chocolate cake.”
He sat back as the waitress brought over two slices of sticky chocolate cake with a large side of spray cream. Fiona pulled the plate towards her under Dean’s watchful eye and took a small forkful. She had never been able to convince Dean that she preferred carrot cake. He always insisted that women only liked chocolate. “Thank you. It’s really thoughtful of you.”
“I didn’t just get cake.” Dean pulled a package out of his pocket and pushed it towards Fiona. “I saw this in the duty free and I thought of you.”
Fiona picked up the tissue wrapped shape and for a moment her fingers hovered over the paper before she unpicked the wrappings. It was a beautiful gold chain, heavy and sinuous over her fingers as she picked it up. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.” Her voice was barely audible.
“Put it on. I’ve been imagining how it would look on you all the way home.” Dean urged.
Fiona slowly shook her head. “I can’t accept this. It’s too much and we’re not…” Her voice faded.
“You’re still wearing his ring.” Dean nodded at Fiona’s hand.
“It’s not on the engagement finger. And he said that just because we aren’t together now doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter.” Fiona looked down at the glowing opal on her right hand.
“And we had a wonderful life, babe. Do you remember going on the ghost walk and getting lost half way along? How about the time we took a boat on the river and nearly lost the oars? Babe, we could have all that again.” Dean took the chain from Fiona’s unresisting fingers and clasped it around her neck. It felt cool and heavy around her throat. He checked his watch. “Babe, I’m sorry, but I have to go. Think of me – and drink the latte. It will make you feel better.”
Fiona watched him rush out of the door, more vibrant and alive than ever, and slowly pushed the latte away from her.
Fiona’s head was banging as she sipped a camomile tea. She couldn’t face anything stronger. She leant back in her chair and let the business meeting wash over her and Kadogan be his own version of business like.
“I have spoken with many people.” Kadogan looked smug. “And we have a pool of people to interview for casual work over the summer and potentially part time afterwards. Adele has a multitudinous family and Mrs Tuesday knows some boggart kits that would like to earn some pocket money at weekends.”
“As long as Mrs Tuesday is supervising them.” Steve was watching Armani try and blow smoke rings with his vape pen.
Kadogan ignored him. “And Kieran Latimer has said some of the werewolf youngsters would benefit from work experience here, as long as Ian and Callum are okay with that.”
Callum checked with Ian, who nodded. “We’ll keep an eye out for them, and we won’t lead them into bad ways.”
“My research into specialised coffees goes well.” Freydis said. “It could be a source of income for specialised coffee evenings. Also, I believe a knitting group are looking for a new meeting place. We could stay open later.”
“It’s a good thing that we’re getting all the new staff.” Louise said, looking at Freydis. “And how do you feel about someone else looking after the coffee machine on your days off?”
“I don’t need days off.” Freydis said loftily. “I am nourished by the Machine.”
Kadogan jumped in quickly. “The devotion of our staff has been a great help. The store rooms seem to be in a constant state of replenishment.”
“It’s because we are running up to the solstice.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Lots of people need their stuff and we’re a good place to go for one order.”
“Speaking of which, we need to wrap this up quickly.” Steve said. “I’ve got a lot of deliveries over the next few days.”
“You should see the latest batch of orders.” Ian said with a grin. “Most of them are post, but you’ve got fourteen kilos of coloured sugar for Exeter plus another six boxes of fripperies and they don’t have a postal address.” Steve groaned.
“I can give a hand.” Dave said unexpectedly. “I’ve got plenty of bookings but I’ve got some gaps in my schedule. I don’t mind helping out.”
“Fiona could really do with some help sorting out the goody bags for the reception.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Lord Ragnar wants to make a good impression.”
Fiona looked up and caught Louise’s expression as she looked at Ian. Fiona looked quickly away. “I’d be glad of the help. Lord Ragnar has asked for 300 bags, and I’m going to be assembling them over the next day or two. I’ve got some sugary sweets, some popping candy, a small vial of lavender water – that sort of thing. He wanted lots of little stuff so we’ve got all sorts.”
“You have popping candy for the goody bags?” Freydis’ face lit up as she exchanged glances with Kadogan.
“I got quite a bit extra.” Fiona had been expecting this reaction. “Perhaps you and Kadogan should check it out, just in case.”
Kadogan wasn’t paying full attention. “Steve Adderson, if you are going to Exeter then it is entirely possible that you could call in at Lord Harold’s court and ask him whether he had seen any big cats in his land? There have been many separate sightings of big cats in that area and it is entirely plausible that he may capture images that could be traded for rose petals.”
Steve was still watching Armani who was now having a coughing fit. “Not this time. I’m going to be delivering almost non-stop for the next week.”
“It’s not just the solstice, but it’s also wedding season.” Mrs Tuesday pretended not to see Fiona flinch. “Lots of normals are ordering supplies for weddings and quirky gifts. To be honest, we’re running short on rose petals.”
Kadogan jumped to his feet. “But we must secure a supply of these petals. I shall speak to Gavin Brown immediately!”
Dave looked at Sir Ewan. “Are you sure about this?”
Sir Ewan grinned. “You’ve got to speak up at some point. Why not now?”
“Why do I have to speak up?” Dave grumbled as they approached Lord Ragnar’s domain. Once again he saw the square of plain stone suddenly disappear and was ushered into Lord Ragnar’s presence. This time he was shown into Lord Ragnar’s private audience chamber.
Dave looked around with interest. There were always clues in a room. This time the clue was that he was dealing with something completely out of his league. The room looked like a Victorian study. There was a roaring fireplace, that gave out no heat, and the mahogany mantelpiece was covered with badly painted china dogs. Dave peered at the leather bound books in the nearest of the bookcases filling the walls. Apparently Lord Ragnar collected copies of Private Eye, National Geographic, GQ and was up to issue 92 in the ‘Build the Lusitania, one overpriced magazine issue at a time’ series. He straightened up as Lord Ragnar came into the room.
“Good afternoon, Paladin.” Lord Ragnar gave a polite nod of the head. “Please, sit down. I won’t offer you any refreshments.”
“Thank you.” Dave felt relieved at dodging that tricky bit of etiquette. “I hope I’m not interrupting you.”
“I should politely say, ‘not at all’ but I am, in fact, extremely busy.” Lord Ragnar managed a smile. “I would be grateful if you could give me a quick summary of the purpose of your visit.”
“I wish to know the purpose of the reception at the White Hart tomorrow night.” Dave said. “And why the White Hart?”
“The White Hart is some distance from the town centre and not overlooked by anyone else’s CCTV. There are few dwellings nearby and it is nowhere near any known lair of either Baxter or his associates. The White Hart is too well protected for an assault. It is also not the Feast of St John. We anticipate that there will be an attack on my domain during my usual feast and I wish to allow my adherents to enjoy at least one uninterrupted evening without trouble.”
“I’m just going to remind you that there are a lot of normals out there who do not deserve to be caught up in any power struggle.” Dave tried to sound calmer than he felt. The last thing York needed was a heaving brawl of vampires, werewolves, elfen and boggarts at the start of the tourist season.
Lord Ragnar smiled again. “I will certainly be attempting to avoid any…” He searched for words. “I shall try to avoid any civilian casualties.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Dave said. “Just in case, I’ll be staying in my old room at the White Hart tomorrow night, but obviously I won’t gate crash your reception. It’s purely to keep an eye out for Adele and Louise.”
“I think you will find that Louise is more elfen these days.” Lord Ragnar opened the door for them in a polite but unmistakable hint. “She seems to have taken her ancestry rather to heart. But if you are in the building, please feel free to join the celebrations.”
Callum walked Adele home after work. Kadogan had insisted. Adele found herself glancing sideways at him. “You will have to come in for a cuppa when we get there. My mum always insists.”
Callum smiled. “It’s okay. I’m sure it will be fine.”
Adele considered her extended family and who was likely to be in. “My family can get a bit loud, but they’re okay really.”
“Honestly, I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Callum said, glancing around.
Adele noticed Callum checking behind them casually as they crossed a road. “Do you think we will actually get attacked.”
Callum looked down at her again and shook his head. “We’re being followed but I don’t think it’s a threat. They almost certainly already know where you live and won’t interfere. If your house is as full as you say then they aren’t going to attempt anything there. Someone will be collecting you tomorrow – probably me again.”
“As long as you’re okay with that.” Adele fought the urge to look round frantically. “How do you know we’re being followed?”
“I recognise the vampire from when I was part of Baxter’s faction.” Callum gently put an arm around Adele’s waist as he steered her back across the road and down an unexpected side street. “His name was Kai and he had only recently been made a vampire. To be honest, I think he regretted it. He isn’t much of a threat. I’m finding it a lot harder being around so many normals. I feel exposed.”
Adele looked up at him. He was clean shaven with short hair and his blue eyes seemed far calmer than anyone had a right to be. “You don’t look like a werewolf,” she said honestly. “You look like a bodybuilder, or a sports coach.”
“Thanks, I think.” Callum smiled again. “It’s just so unusual. Only a few of my old pack had regular dealings with the outside world. We just stayed on our farms and kept our heads down. It’s very different here.”
“I suppose so.” Adele looked around. York could get very crowded. It must be a shock for someone who had stayed out of even the smaller towns. “What do you think about the big cat thing?”
Callum chuckled and guided Adele back to the main route. “I think Kai has given up. I think Kadogan is having a little fun with the idea, but he would certainly go for it. I think it would be harmless, but it would be a lie.” He gestured for Adele to go in front of him on the narrow corner.
“I just hope it takes Steve and Fiona’s mind off things.” Adele felt unexpected relieved as she saw her house at the end of the street. “Both of them look a wreck.”
“It does look bad.” Callum agreed. “I think Mrs Tuesday is leaving it until the business with Baxter is sorted out and then she will take charge. She won’t put up with any nonsense and even I can see that they are pining for each other.” He held the gate open for Adele to go before him up her garden path.
“Brace yourself,” Adele told him as she pulled out her key. “You’re about to meet my family. Good luck.”
Fiona dragged herself down to one of the cellars to pick up another box of cheap fidget spinners. She looked around. The fidget spinners were between some premium grade frankincense and a case of organic nettle seeds.
“You are not strong.”
Fiona nearly jumped out of her skin as she turned around to see Freydis. “I didn’t see you there.”
Freydis waved a notebook and pencil. “I was making a list of the coffee supplies. Lord Marius is a connoisseur of coffee and I thought I would gather his opinion.” She sniffed. “He never normally withholds his opinion on anything.”
“He takes his coffee very sweet.” Fiona said, pulling the fidget spinners towards her. Maybe while she was down here she could pick up another pack of the honey flavoured lipbalm.
“You are not strong.” Freydis slid her notebook and pen into her jeans pocket. “I will help you carry some of the things. You should have asked one of the werewolves to help. They would appreciate being asked.”
“I don’t like to bother them. Besides, Ian was signing over a collection to the courier and Callum is walking Adele home.”
“Both Ian and Callum feel that they owe you a great deal.” Freydis easily hefted the fidget spinners. “It makes them feel needed if you ask them to do something. They are quite lost without a pack structure and while they are staying remarkably sane, they benefit from being given duties.”
“I suppose that makes sense.” Fiona picked up a few packs of the lip balm and turned wearily towards the stairs. “I’ll keep that in mind. But they are such good people. I feel really safe with them.”
“You are currently extremely safe with them.” Freydis followed her with the fidget spinners and a box of sugar sachets. “I believe Ian will be walking you home tonight. You should know that they are people that you can trust in a difficult situation.”
“Mmm.” Fiona dragged herself up the stairs and into the meeting room. Everything was laid out logically. A heap of large, glittery tulle bags filled a box at one end of the table. The strange variety of items set up for the goody bags were arranged down the table and at the other end was a large box with filled goody bags neatly tied with sparkling silver ribbon. Fiona dumped the lip balm on one of the chairs. “Can you put the boxes on that side table, please.”
Freydis gazed over the gimcrack treasure and her eyes sparkled. “This will make the party a triumph.” Her eyes clouded a little. “I wish I had thought of these when I was hosting the parties, although there were always gifts.” She pulled herself back to the present. “But are you taking vitamins? Are you eating appropriately? You are under considerable stress and you need to tend to yourself.”
Dave came in with another box of the bags. He looked warily at Fiona. “I’ve done some courses in nutrition.” He said. “Most of them were gimmicks but I can pick up some supplements for you if you like?”
Fiona pulled open the boxes of lip balm and set them in their spot on the table. “That will be kind, thank you.”
“If you ever want to talk,” Dave said hesitantly. “I mean, I don’t want to pry but you seem to be taking things hard. I’m a good listener.”
“It’s okay.” Fiona didn’t meet his eyes as she picked up a handful of empty bags.
“I shall bring you a hot chocolate.” Freydis said firmly. “I believe that can be of comfort. Mrs Tuesday will make sure you have soup for lunch. You must get your strength up.” Fiona just nodded and started filling more bags.
Mrs Tuesday smoothed down her best dress and took a deep breath. Lord Ragnar would be here at any moment. She looked around. The brownies had done an excellent job. The White Hart gleamed with every surface polished and every corner decorated. The buffet was set out in the meeting room and Mrs Tuesday had never seen such a display of gaudy junk food in her life. They had got in cases of spray cream and edible glitter and spray on food colouring had been used with a lavish hand. Louise had looked knowing as she had carefully arranged the dishes of frozen berries (sprayed silver, of course, and dusted with icing sugar) on tubs of crushed ice and straightened the dishes of tiny macaroons and meringues that shimmered with artificial colouring.
There were other options, of course, for the non elfen. The selection of sausage rolls, meat pies and vol au vents for the more traditional of the court was spread over two tables in a corner and the salads, pizza slices and chicken tikka wings had taken over another corner. A third corner had been left bare as Mrs Tuesday had pointed out that there was no point bringing in the three massive cakes and four trifles until at least some of the buffet had been sampled.
Ian and Callum were running the drinks at the café, along with Freydis who was in charge of the coffee machine. Mrs Tuesday had left them to sort out the crates of wine and mead and had left Adele with the recipe for non-alcoholic punch and a suggestion to get plenty ready in reserve. “It’s going to be spiked,” she had told Adele, “So it’s best to keep switching it out.”
Adele was at the till next to a selection of small trinkets. “I’ve borrowed some of my Uncle Keith’s wine making kit and there’s about four gallons of punch in the back. I’ve put them in bags of ice so it should be fine.” She looked around. “I hardly recognise the shop. Are you sure we’ll be able to get it straight by tomorrow.”
Mrs Tuesday looked around the store. The White Hart was a big space and the werewolves had moved a lot of the fixtures around. All the magical basics like athames and pentagrams had been moved out and groups of chairs had been arranged around the room next to small tables. The room was full of flowers. “The brownies will get it set by tomorrow,” Mrs Tuesday said, looking at the huge swags of roses over the bookcases. “I just hope Steve is alright. He has hayfever and I’m not sure how much antihistamine he’s taken.”
“Far too much.” Steve said, coming up behind them. “I am going to have to stick to coffee tonight. Here they are.”
Kadogan was enjoying every second. He swept a low bow to Lord Ragnar. “Enter, my most gracious liege lord, and be welcome. The food and drink is freely given without fear or favour or any debt.”
“Thank you, my most loyal and trusted liegeman.” Lord Ragnar returned the bow with a lordly nod of his head and swept in. “Behold, my trusted courtiers who are in my train.”
Kadogan formally bowed to the mass of people following Lord Ragnar. “All friends of Lord Ragnar enter and be welcome. The food and drink is freely given without fear or favour or any debt.”
There was a collective sigh as the group swept in. Steve cast an experienced eye over the visitors. Lord Ragnar may have asked for 300 goody bags but there were nowhere near that many. Steve suspected that many of the surplus goody bags would be handed out over the coming weeks and that there would be a demand for similar, or more ostentatious, bags from princes all over the UK. While he kept a smiling face, inwardly he sighed. All of them would want personal delivery and as much fuss as possible.
He looked around the room. Dave and Sir Ewan were chatting easily with Kieran. The werewolf seemed as stunned by the glitter as the normals, but he was politely ignoring it and sticking to the more substantial stuff, taking neat bites from the pizza slice on his plate. Louise was ladling out punch while Mrs Tuesday looked like she was trading dirty jokes with Miss Patience as she handed over a glass of wine. Freydis was producing mainly hot chocolate for the elfen, topped with towering whirls of spray cream with added sparkles and glitter. The werewolves were busy. Ian was expertly opening half a dozen bottles of red wine while Callum circulated smoothly carrying trays of glasses. Adele was wrapping up the first purchase of the night. The werewolf that was buying a very pretty copper necklace was chatting happily away. “It’s for the wife, you know. It didn’t seem the night for her to tag along, but she’s been meaning to come in since you opened. Do you have a catalogue?”
Steve cursed the antihistamines. Trying to shake off the fogginess, he looked around, this time looking properly. Lord Ragnar was there talking with Lord Lothar from the Village. There were a couple of other princes around as well, along with some of the more lethal of the elfen. Steve had run into several of them and while they were more or less housetrained, they were not normally invited to cocktail evenings. Kieran Latimer had not brought any women from the pack. Steve knew from experience that the female werewolves were just as deadly as the male, but they traditionally stayed back and guarded the cubs and their homes. The werewolves that were with Kieran were all tough looking veterans.
There were plenty of boggarts around, all of whom were being very nice to Mrs Tuesday, and there were even a couple of goblins in a corner seeing how many sausage rolls they could cram into their mouths. They were all fighters, though. Miss Patience was here, as the most lethal vampire in York, and the vampires accompanying her were staying close and looking twitchy.
Steve felt he was missing something important. He was in a room full of lethal non normals, and then there was the White Hart staff. Mrs Tuesday was too old to be mixing it, no matter what her reputation said, and while Ian and Callum could look after themselves and Freydis was legendary in a brawl, he didn’t think that Louise and Adele were safe if something happened.
There was one of those strange lulls that happen at parties, a brief pause where by some coincidence everyone drew breath. Steve’s voice sounded unnaturally loud as he broke the quiet. “Where's Fiona?"
The Hunt is On
The Hunt is On
Through the sudden lull in the party, Steve’s voice rang far too loud. “Where’s Fiona?”
A dozen heads turned. Lord Ragnar strode into the middle of the room. “Who last saw Fiona?”
“Where are you going?” Mrs Tuesday snapped at Louise who was diving for the door.
“I need the bathroom.” Louise looked pink.
“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday held out her hand.
“What?” Louise kept backing to the door.
“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday stepped calmly towards her.
“What are you on about?” Louise knocked into the counter as she edged backwards.
“Leave your phone.” Mrs Tuesday took another step towards her.
Louise threw the phone hard at the nearest bookcase and turned and ran towards the door. With surprising agility Mrs Tuesday grabbed the phone out of the air as Callum grabbed Louise around the waist. Mrs Tuesday winced. “I’m too old for this.” She rubbed her back and tossed the phone to Steve. “And I’m too old to work these things.”
Lord Ragnar stood in front of the struggling Louise. “You were betraying us.”
“I didn’t want to be elfen!” Louise looked for a moment at Ian and then back at her ancestor. “I didn’t want to be non normal. I wanted to be me. And if you won’t fix it, Rey will.”
Freydis looked at Louise in amazement. “You actually believed he could do that? He’s barely competent with the most basic magic. Even Steve Adderson, who is the most capable known sorcerer, could not take your heritage away.” She watched with indifference as the colour drained from Louise’ face then turned to Lord Ragnar. “Rey has been trying to entice Fiona to his court by sending her former lover, that Dean person, to speak with her. I believe he thought she would be good bait to trap you. According to Fiona, Rey has been feeding from Dean regularly.” Freydis looked around the shop. All eyes were on her, but she didn’t flinch. “I shall be as brief as I may. Dean was trying to give Fiona love potions. I gave her the antidote each time but she found it draining. Dean has been smuggling Dragon’s Blood in for Rey, which I never knew and would never condone, and I believe that Rey’s been assembling quite an army.”
“Why did you not tell me this?” Lord Ragnar towered over Freydis, his eyes flashing and his glamour slipping to show hints of an unearthly creature underneath.
“You told me that if I tried to speak to you again you would rip my head off and stuff an injunction between my lifeless lips.” Freydis said calmly. “I thought at the time how much I admired your eloquence. And, to be honest, Fiona was hoping that she would get some more information from Dean.”
“You put Fiona in danger.” Steve dumped the phone into Ian’s hand and pushed his way over to Freydis. “You put her life at risk for your games.”
“It was an idea she had, I wish I could take the credit.” Freydis looked around. “But it appears that she has been taken.”
“It was not supposed to be like this. We were setting a trap, not Rey. He was supposed to ambush here or on the way back to the court.” Lord Ragnar paced up and down as Kieran posted discreet look outs. “It’s less protected, we would be in the open, we would apparently not expect it….”
“Looks like you got played.” Mrs Tuesday sank into a chair, wincing. “And Fiona is the bait to get you into a trap.” She looked worried. “I hope she’s okay, wherever she is.”
Steve whirled around and strode over to Louise. “Where is she?”
Louise shook her head. “I don’t know.” Her eyes were drawn to Steve’s clenching fists. “I really don’t know. Rey didn’t tell me. He just said that he would take the bait to somewhere safe from elfen.”
“I don’t believe you.” Steve drew back a hand and a wave of magical energy ran over the room as he drew in power.
Dave carefully caught his arm. “Hang on.” He eased Steve away from Louise. “Rey played her as much as he played us. She doesn’t know anything.” He looked around. “Perhaps we can put her in a bedroom somewhere.”
Lord Ragnar waved an imperious hand at Louise. “Sleep.” Louise slumped in Callum’s arms.
“I’ll take her upstairs.” Callum said, lifting her without effort.
“I’ll come up and keep an eye on her.” Mrs Tuesday pushed herself up. “My back’s gone.” She looked around the room. “I’m sure I can rely on you to bring Fiona back nice and safe without me tagging along.” Her hard stare added an emphatic ‘or else’.
“Armani, bring me the map of York from the office.” Steve was breathing deeply. He snapped around at Freydis. “What do you mean, putting Fiona in danger?”
“I did not think anything like this would happen.” Freydis looked genuinely worried. “Fiona has become dear to me.” Her blue eyes filled with uncharacteristic tears. “She is so in love with you. It was breaking her heart and the traces that the love potion left behind were tearing her to pieces. She was so brave.”
“She really loves me?” Steve paused for a moment.
“Of course you two love each other. It’s been obvious to everyone around.” Kadogan said. “But this isn’t finding Fiona Greene.”
Armani flapped into the room carrying the rolled up map. Steve took it from him with a muttered thanks and spread it over the café counter, pushing the stacked plates casually to one side. He weighted the corners down with espresso cups and patted his pockets.
“What are you doing?” Lord Ragnar looked at the map and back to Steve. “We can’t waste any time. We do not know whether Fiona is safe or not?”
Steve reached into the display of elfshot and pulled out one of the smaller arrowheads. He wrenched the artfully tied jute twine from Freydis’ coloured grass displays and tied it quickly onto the tang of the arrowhead. He held it between his hands, muttering, and all the elfen took a collective step back. “She’s wearing my ring. I wouldn’t let her leave without it. And I was the one who enchanted it. There’s a lot in that ring, and one of the things is a beacon. I should be able to find her by dowsing.”
Darren looked warily at the map and the impromptu pendulum Steve was holding steadily. “I’ve called Tim from the police. He wants Rey for the murder of that poor woman that was found a few weeks ago and the other kidnappings. He’ll be another set of eyes.”
“There’s nothing on the phone.” Ian threw it next to the till. “No previous calls, no history, no records, and only one number saved on it, with no name. It’s a burner.”
Steve wasn’t paying attention to Ian. He slowly moved the pendulum over the map, keeping his hand and his breathing as steady as he could, taking his time. The pendulum shifted a little as it passed over the Minster, but that was just static, and there was a hint of movement over the entrance to Lord Ragnar’s realm and the location of the normal trap that Rey had set. Armani sat hunched next to the map, his eyes fixed on the pendulum. “Don’t worry, boss. We’ll find her.”
“Is there any hint or is she shielded from magic?” Lord Ragnar shot an anxious look at Kadogan who was pale from white hot fury.
“She will not be shielded from my magic.” Steve pushed down on his emotions. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool now. “Got it.” The pendulum slowly swung in circles over the map, tighter and tighter, and very definite. Steve swore.
“What is it?” Kadogan leaned over Steve’s shoulder and then spun around, kicking a chair across the room with a crash. “Damn them all to the darkest hell.”
“York Railway Station.” Steve dropped the pendulum. “All that lovely iron.” He turned to Armani. “Go to her. Keep hidden if you can, but go to her.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Armani flew with unusual speed into an air vent.
“There is too much iron for me to get close.” Lord Ragnar started pacing.
“Not to mention all the CCTV around there.” Kieran reminded him. “And if she’s in the station itself then there’s plenty of CCTV covering the platforms and waiting rooms. Every inch would be on camera.”
“She’s inside the station itself.” Steve said grimly.
“I’ll make a call.” Ian said. “Nick can sort out the CCTV. He can have a look around for us before he cuts them off.”
“I will owe him many favours for that.” Kadogan said through stiff lips.
“There are large storm drains that go from beneath the station to the river.” Miss Patience smoothed down the elegant but practical trouser suit she was wearing. “I can lead you in there without being seen.”
“Does Rey know about them?” Lord Ragnar asked.
Miss Patience shook her head. “He is a relatively young vampire and I never trusted him with all my secrets. He moved to York after the railways were built.”
Dave looked over to where Steve was hunched over the map, his knuckles white as he clenched the edge of the counter. Lord Ragnar was standing in the centre of a room, frustrated and helpless at the concentration of iron facing him. “Listen up, I’ve got a plan. Lord Ragnar, you can’t get to the station.”
Lord Ragnar shook his head. “A perfect place to hide Fiona.”
“Rey has no reason to think you’ll look there. He’s every reason to think you’ll forget all about it. The last time you cornered him it was in your domain. Is there a corner of your realm that appears shut off or you can’t see properly?”
Lord Ragnar shut his eyes and spread his arms a little from his sides. Mist curled up from the floor. “Damn his eyes, yes.”
“That’s where he’ll expect you to go. And that’s where his toughest fighters and his scariest traps will be. Going there will achieve nothing.”
“I will be able to hit someone.” Kadogan said. “That will afford me a great deal of relief.”
“Here’s the plan.” Dave looked around and felt the weight of everyone’s gaze settle on his shoulders. “Lord Ragnar, you and Freydis fake an argument near the front window…”
“We do not need to fake arguments.” Freydis sniffed. “We can manage genuine arguments without effort.”
“The point is, all eyes must be kept on Lord Ragnar. So you two have a big argument, you send for people to come here, you send people to search nearby, you have lots and lots of movement. Keep them watching that.” Dave turned to Steve. “They can’t see anything by magic, can they.”
“No-one sees anything that Steve Adderson wishes hidden.” Lord Ragnar took a breath. “How will that help Fiona?”
“Because while everyone is watching you, they hopefully won’t see me, Ian, Callum, Steve, maybe a few others led by Miss Patience slip out the back and head for the station.”
There was a pause. “That would work.” Lord Ragnar grudgingly agreed.
“You can’t get near to the station. None of the elfen could.” Dave said. “And we need to rescue Fiona.”
“But we call a hunt on them once Fiona is safe.” Lord Ragnar said. There were satisfied nods from the elfen.
“Great,” Dave looked around the room. “Get the argument started.”
Fiona drifted slowly out of a dark dream. She shivered and as she tried to move to a more comfortable position she found she couldn’t. She forced open her eyes and felt sick. She was looking straight at Reynauld Baxter.
“I did consider keeping you asleep, but I thought it would be more fun to see you awake.” Rey stood a little way back. “Do you like my place? It’s full of iron. Kadogan can’t even get here, let alone save you. Of course, he’ll wear himself out trying to find you and I’ll be able to pick him off when I’m ready.”
Fiona looked around. She was sitting in an incongruously modern IKEA chair, with her hands and arms tied to the wooden armrests. The rest of the room looked like the Victorian parlour where Rey had told her he was going to imprison her and she had first met Callum. Dean was slumped and shivering in the corner of a sofa. Fiona’s heart sank. He wouldn’t be a threat but he couldn’t be any help. The ragged wounds on his neck were large and he was far too pale. She wondered how much blood Rey had drained.
“I’ve been wondering about you.” Rey took a handful of incense and threw it on the fire. There was a hiss and smoke coiled up and slid out of the fire, drifting lazily towards Fiona. “You inspire loyalty from Kadogan, which is remarkable.”
“I saved his life.” Fiona watched the loops of smoke as they eased their way towards her. “He was stuck watching Christmas lights in the middle of the road. He felt grateful.”
“But now he likes you.” Rey pushed himself away from the mantelpiece and staggered a little as he walked towards Fiona. “It is rare that the elfen like anyone but themselves.”
“You’re high.” Fiona didn’t realise she had said the words out loud until she heard Rey laugh.
“I’m so high I could kiss the flag on the moon.” He bowed unsteadily towards her. “I’m going to be even higher after I’ve tasted you.”
“No!” Dean tried to stand, but slumped back, clutching at the chair. “You said you wouldn’t hurt her. You said she was just to get Lord Ragnar here.”
“I lied.” Rey slowly stroked over Fiona’s face and down to her neck. “And I would be quiet if I were you. You were stopped and searched at the airport the last time you came back. You will be watched, now, and I could find my incense confiscated or a prince tipped off. You are of no further use.” He bent low over Fiona and whispered in her ear. “But when I am a little less bloated and you have spent some time in this delightful fragrance, I’ll have a use for you.”
“They’ll come for me.” Fiona felt like a great weight was pressing on her chest.
“They don’t even know where you are.” Rey buried his face in Fiona’s hair and breathed in the scent of her shampoo. His fangs were showing as he pulled himself a little away. “I have hidden a force of those who loathe Lord Ragnar in a shrouded corner of his domain. He’ll be heading there now. Even if he isn’t destroyed tonight, he will be soon.” Rey gave an ecstatic shudder and held his hand loosely over Fiona’s throat. “The thought of that has been keeping me warm at night. Thinking about how I will take his throne, wondering how sweet you will taste and making that bitch Freydis beg.”
Lord Ragnar and Freydis were standing in the car park, facing each other at optimum drama distance. Mrs Tuesday limped down the stairs and stood beside Adele. “I’m not missing this. It should be hilarious. Could you fetch us some mullein, please? I don’t normally indulge at times like this but my back is really acting up.”
Adele ran past the staring elfen and grabbed some mullein teabags. She passed them to Mrs Tuesday. “We used to have neighbours like this when we lived in Lime Court. They really enjoyed the drama and we looked on it as entertainment. My gran used to get a deckchair out.”
“It doesn’t get old for some people. Thank you.” Mrs Tuesday sank gratefully onto the chair Adele had put behind her.
“It didn’t end well for them, though.” Adele shifted her angle slightly for a better view. “He had a breakdown and she ran off with the man at the Co-op. It turned out he’d been giving her more than two pence off a loaf of bread, if you know what I mean.”
“Why, Freydis, just why?” Lord Ragnar opened the argument. “One minute you’re a pink-obsessed air head and now look at you! You can even work the coffee machine.”
“It’s your fault.” Freydis spat back. “It’s what you wanted. The first time I met you, you had that Flavia on your arm, and don’t tell me she had more intelligence than a carp.”
“That was fifteen hundred years ago, and we weren’t even married.” Lord Ragnar snapped, stung by the unfairness of the attack.
“It’s seventeen hundred and thirteen years. She used to giggle when she didn’t understand what you said and that was most of the time. And she wore that washed out red thing all the time as if it made her look good.”
“She was pleasant company at the time.” Lord Ragnar tried to get back some momentum. “But dull and she died eventually. But what about that Rorik man you wore on your arm at any opportunity? He was no scholar.”
“He thought I was attractive, which was more than I got from you.” Freydis stamped her foot. “He created poetry for me.”
“It was awful poetry.” Lord Ragnar started pacing. “And you started doing that awful flick of your hair.”
“You mean like that Elswyth that you seduced? I hope you didn’t think you were alone in enjoying her favours.”
“I was not hanging around like some lovesick shepherd waiting for you.” Lord Ragnar was pacing quicker.
“You weren’t waiting for me at all.” Freydis snapped. “You only married me because my father insisted.”
“You father only agreed to help me because he knew I loved you!” Lord Ragnar snapped.
“So you told my father that you loved me, but didn’t think to say anything to me? I’ve spent all these centuries trying to be Flavia and now you say something. And you have redecorated your domain badly.” Freydis’ glamour was slipping and her hair was waving in the still air.
“How was I supposed to say anything serious to you when you were acting like a Flavia? And at least we don’t have problems with a glitterball anymore.” Lord Ragnar roared.
“And how was I supposed to say anything serious to you when you were ignoring me?” Freydis yelled back.
There was a charged pause. Lord Ragnar swung around to the watching elfen. “We attack them in the domain!” As one the elfen and werewolves strode off towards Stonegate, leaving the White Hart empty apart from Adele and Mrs Tuesday.
“Well, that took longer than I thought.” Mrs Tuesday pushed herself to her feet. “Why don’t you run upstairs and check on Louise. She’ll probably be fine and sleep until Lord Ragnar wakes her, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ll put the kettle on. And we had better make a start clearing up any mess. The brownies will be here in a few hours.”
Fiona shivered. Her neck hurt and she felt a coldness that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. Dean had been right. When Rey had fed on her the sensation had been amazing. No matter how good it had been, however, she didn’t want to feel it again.
She shifted a little in her chair. She was still tied there and she was feeling the stiffness. Dean was slumped on the floor, his whole body limp and worryingly lifeless. Fiona tried to be optimistic. Perhaps he was just passed out, like Rey who was sprawled across a sofa in the corner. She looked again at Dean and then looked away quickly. Was she going to end up as a bundle on the floor with massive wounds on the neck and the choking smell of incense in the air?
She had worked out where she was. She could hear the rumble of trains. It felt like she was somewhere near the centre of the station. A long goods train was passing and it sounded very close. Fiona could imagine how it would be. Rey would have found a corner or a gap in the brickwork and built in a magic realm. Would Kadogan be able to get here? She knew he was old enough to have trouble with iron, and the station was filled with it. The endless iron rails for the trains, the engines and carriages, the metal containers on the sidings, the wires humming with electricity and even the exposed iron girders in the roof would all bar Kadogan. Fiona shifted again. That’s if Kadogan could guess where she was. She wished she could see Steve.
Rey stirred, turning over with his face away from Fiona. He seemed to be sinking into a deeper stupor. Fiona froze. Beyond him, in the shadows, two eyes blinked. As she looked harder she could make out the unlovely countenance of Armani. She had never been so glad to see him. He was edging around the room but as he realised that Fiona had seen him he glanced quickly at Rey before flapping silently over.
“Hold on, miss,” the imp whispered as he landed on her shoulder. “I’ll get you out. The boss is on his way.” His sharp claws made short work of the cord around Fiona’s arms and she stood up slowly and stiffly. “Are you okay to move, miss?” Armani whispered.
Fiona nodded and hoped that she was. She found herself hobbling as quietly as she could towards the mahogany panelled door. Armani was ahead of her, pulling it open carefully and watching the room as she limped out before shutting the door silently.
Fiona looked around. It was like the idea of a corridor. There were walls and a floor, and the ceiling was in there somewhere, but it was all a dull grey, unformed and lit with a pale glow that seemed to leak from the walls. Rey hadn’t bothered shaping this, Fiona realised. She looked at Armani. “Thank you for rescuing me. Which way?”
The imp looked up and down the corridor. “I’ve had a bit of a scout around, miss, and the boss is coming up the drains to the entrance that way.” He waved towards the right. “If we go left then we come out onto the station platform, but there’s not many people about at this time of night and you haven’t got a ticket.”
Fiona almost laughed out loud and the worry the imp had about her lack of ticket. “Let’s head towards Steve.” Despite herself, she couldn’t help asking. “He is coming, isn’t he?”
“Course he is, miss.” Armani shot her an irritated look. “Follow me.”
Fiona found herself walking a lot easier as she followed Armani quietly flying up the corridor. Of course Steve would come, he was that sort of person. Ian would help out as well, of course, and Callum, even if Kadogan couldn’t get here. They were good men and she was lucky to know them. A tear leaked down her face. She had almost certainly blown it with Steve. She couldn’t blame him. But she couldn’t have handled anything more to do with the wedding, even without all the effects of the love potion running through her, and he’d probably be polite about it, but she really wished they had met before she had ever run into Kadogan. She brushed another tear away.
“Don’t worry miss, not long to go and then the boss will look after you.” The imp gave an encouraging smile, “You’ll feel better in no time. Just keep going, miss, that’s it.”
Fiona was far too aware of the noise she was making, the slight hiss of her jeans as she moved, the gentle taps of her feet on the featureless floor. Even her breathing seemed to be echoing. Armani was almost silent, moving owl-like through the air past the blank doors. She glanced behind her. It seemed to have taken forever, and even though the corridor was long, it seemed to be taking an irrationally long time to get to the end. Her neck was throbbing. She put her hand up to her throat and felt two gashes, damp and ragged. Her stomach turned.
“Don’t touch ‘em, miss.” Armani said without glancing around. “And don’t worry, he didn’t take too much. I daresay you’ll be feeling it but it could have been worse. We just need to get around that corner and…”
‘This is a nightmare,’ thought Fiona. Suddenly the flat, undetailed walls bent and stretched, the floor slid away from her and the corridor was writhing around her like a bad special effect. She looked back over her shoulder and icy fear fell through her. Rey was following them up the corridor and the walls and floor were bending to his will. She tried to scream but couldn’t make the sounds.
“Keep moving, miss!” Armani was flapping desperately against the air as he struggled to get away. “Don’t give up.”
“Feisty little thing, aren’t you?” Rey snarled as he gained on them. “Do you have any idea how much blood I’ve had today? Blood is power and you are mine! I was right, you are soooo sweet. Struggle all you like. It makes your surrender so much sweeter.”
Fiona struggled forward, clawing at the walls as she tried to force her way forward. The corner that had been only a few metres away was now stretching away from her and the floor was buckling under her feet.
“Do you think I will treat you like Dean? I don’t think so. You are far more decorative and I am sure you can hold a decent conversation. I look forward to our civilised discussions.” Rey was nearly on them, chuckling as Fiona swore at him.
“Stay away from her!” Steve rounded the corner and suddenly the floor and walls snapped into flat regularity and Fiona rushed forward to fall into Steve’s arms. Steve wrapped his left arm tightly around her as she held on to him, leaning against his chest. She was safe. Steve took a second to savour the feeling, dropping a light kiss on top of her hair before raising his right hand towards Rey.
Rey held his hands up and started backing away. “I don’t think you can touch me, blood bag.” He glanced quickly over his shoulder. “It takes more than a rag tag of shopkeepers. Perhaps Ragnar could, if he can catch me…”
“I don’t think so.” Steve gestured, as if gathering in invisible strings and wrapping them around his right hand. Rey jerked and froze, unable to move.
“I have too many friends for you to risk this.” Rey snarled, struggling against the unseen cords.
“I said, I don’t think so.” Steve snapped his hand sharply and Rey jerked again, rising in the air. “You should never have touched Fiona.”
“Sweet tasting little thing,” Rey snarled defiantly, “I should have taken her sooner.”
“Enough!” All of Steve’s pain and bewilderment since the wedding was cancelled, all his fear for Fiona’s safety and fury at the injuries on her neck were channelled and powered as his hand now seemed to pick at strings in the air. Ian and Callum clasped their hands over their ears and sank to the ground and Dave fell against the wall. Fiona, protected in the circle of Steve’s arm, felt a rumble in the atmosphere, like a silent waterfall, as Steve pulled power from the air and spun it around Rey.
Rey started screaming. Steve pulled and tugged at the air as strands of colour seemed to be pulled from the vampire. Fiona glanced up briefly. Steve’s glare was inhuman as he pulled threads from Rey. At first it looked like Steve was unravelling the fabric of Rey’s clothes but as Steve pushed Fiona’s head back against his chest she had a glimpse of dark red threads and realised that Steve was unravelling Rey himself, fibre by fibre. The scream echoed around the unfinished corridor for a long time. Then Steve dropped his hand and let out a sigh. Ian and Callum pushed themselves to their feet.
“We need to get out of here now.” Ian snapped. “This place isn’t stable, it’s going to collapse. Callum, carry Fiona.”
Steve wanted to protest and felt a cold space as Callum grabbed Fiona and slung her unceremoniously over his shoulder, but he felt too light and empty after such a rush of power. He could feel the magic that had held the corridors fading and he didn’t have any strength to hold it open. Instead he followed the group racing for the exit. It sounded like distant, delicate bells, tinkling softly as the edges of reality closed behind them as they ran down the darkening corridor and out through the storm drain and into the York dawn.
Adele and Callum stood next to each other, catching their breath. The shop had opened as normal, pristine thanks to the efforts of the brownies who had left a tasteful bouquet for Fiona. The shelves had been restocked and the furniture put back in its usual positions.
It was still obvious that something had happened the night before. The brownies were not the only ones who had left flowers. Mrs Tuesday had started swathing cut down plastic bottles in crystal gauze left from the last night’s decorations to hold the extra bouquets. Not all were like the neat arrangement left by brownies. Miss Patience had taken the whole thing personally and the flowers she had sent filled the office.
Not only were there lots of flowers but there were also lots of people popping in for a small pack of gossip. The shop was full of knots of people sharing the news with as many details as they could get and the café was doing a brisk trade.
Adele looked over at Freydis climbing a ladder to put up another ‘Get Well’ card on the wall behind the coffee machine. “She really shouldn’t be doing that with a bad leg.”
“It’s not just her leg.” Callum shook his head. “I can smell how badly she got scraped but it’s hidden by her glamour. But it seems a shame to stop her. She’s happy.”
“She’s happy that Fiona is okay.” Adele said. “Was it really that close?”
Callum nodded. “If Steve hadn’t been able to work out where she was, she would probably not have survived. As it is, she’s safe, Rey’s dead and Lord Ragnar and his court got a lot of tension out of their system.”
Adele was unconvinced. “I suppose things will settle down. We’ll need someone else for the café now Louise has gone. Do you know how she is?”
“Lord Ragnar was talking about paying her bail money, but I don’t know if she’ll accept it.” Callum said quietly. Then he swore.
Mr and Mrs Appuck came in, tenderly escorted by their son Geraint. Mrs Appuck wasted no time bustling over to where Mrs Tuesday was stiffly buttering some toast. “Jane, we came as soon as we heard, well we had to tell Geraint, didn’t we Cecil, but he was happy to bring us.”
“Geraint was happy to bring us, wasn’t he, Mildred.” Mr Appuck helped Mrs Appuck off with her coat. She was wearing a flowered pinny underneath. “And Geraint did take a liking to Fiona. She’s a good girl with a good heart and I’m glad she’s alright. We both are, aren’t we, Mildred?”
“We really are.” Mrs Appuck nodded firmly. “She’s a good girl with a good heart. Mind you, we weren’t surprised to hear about the wedding. You can tell she’s a gentle soul. I said that, didn’t I, Cecil? Sometimes people don’t know when to give a little space.” She shot a sharp look at Kadogan who was lurking nervously near the candles. “Now, Jane, get sat in a chair and just point us in the right direction. We can take it from here.”
Geraint nodded politely to Kadogan and came over to Adele and Callum. “I hope you don’t mind. Mum and Dad can’t keep going for a full week nowadays, but it means a lot for them to be useful.”
“Any friend of Mrs Tuesday is a friend of ours.” Adele said warmly. She hadn’t been warned about Geraint and his brothers. “And I’m glad someone can make her take a break.”
Callum nodded warily. “Mrs Tuesday hurt her back intercepting a phone that was thrown past her. It’s a strange way to get an injury, but it kept her…” He hesitated. “I would worry if she was on the front line.”
Geraint nodded. “I know, you’ve got to be tactful, and I’m sure I’ll be the same when I’m their age, but they can’t keep up like they used to.” He looked across to the café area. “How badly is Freydis injured?”
“She was in the middle of a serious situation, I believe.” Callum followed his gaze. Freydis was showing no sign of injury but was stroking a hand over the top of the coffee machine as she frothed some milk. “Fiona was being held under York Railway Station. So Steve Adderson and a few of us who weren’t affected by iron went to get Fiona. Lord Ragnar and the rest of his court decided to attack the rebels who had barricaded a corner of his realm. Mrs Tuesday stayed here with Adele.”
“And Fiona got bitten?” Geraint looked calm but Adele could tell there was an undercurrent of anger.
“She’s been kept overnight in hospital, but she should be fine.” Adele said. “We’re hoping she’ll call in before she goes home. Steve’s keeping an eye on her.”
“And the vampire?” Geraint asked with an edge.
“Destroyed.” Callum shuddered. “I always knew about Steve’s reputation, but I’ve never seen anything like it. He unravelled Rey out of being, he just…” Callum groped again for words. “It’s like he found a loose end of Rey and pulled until there was nothing but a pile of thread. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he repeated.
“Good.” Geraint said with a certain satisfaction. “I’ll just go and get the chocolates from the car.” He looked between Adele and Callum. “People always bring flowers so I thought I’d do something different and pick up a little box of chocolates for Fiona. Mum and Dad wanted to do the right thing, and she’s a good kid.” He disappeared back to the car park.
The morning passed uneventfully. Geraint’s ‘little box of chocolates’, which turned out to be the size of a small suitcase, was joined by baskets of fruit, more chocolates and plenty of home made goodies. Kadogan was overwhelmed.
“I did not realise that Fiona Greene was so well thought of,” he said as he brought a flourishing potted geranium into the back room.”
“Of course she is.” Mrs Tuesday said as she picked up a pack of napkins. “She’s polite, she’s pleasant, she’s friendly, she does her best and even though she’s only known about non-normals for the last six months, she’s never held it against us.”
“She is very honest in her heart.” Freydis added as she came in for another pack of coffee. “Mrs Tuesday, I am concerned for your back. Let me take it.”
“It’s okay.” Mrs Tuesday worked her back. “I need to keep moving gently and this stuff is nice and light.” She cast a shrewd glance over Freydis. “You’re obviously not feeling your injuries.”
“I think I needed that fight.” Freydis said. “It was as good as a Spring tonic.”
“Indeed, I also feel much better.” Kadogan agreed.
“Yoohoo!” Mrs Appuck called from the front. “We’ve got visitors.”
It was Lord Ragnar. He was walking with a cane but looking smug. He had dealt with a threat to his rule and had had a very good fight. He limped over to Kadogan and nodded politely as Ian rushed to put a chair next to him. He blinked a little seeing Geraint Appuck carrying a tray of bottled water in for his father, ‘just to feel useful’ but settled back with a satisfied sigh.
“Kadogan, your efforts and those of your associates have been most exemplary. You are a credit to my court.”
Kadogan nodded. “I believe our small shop has made an impact on the wellbeing of your court and I am proud.”
“Indeed you should be.” Lord Ragnar took a cup of coffee from Ian with a regal nod of thanks. “And I am very glad that Fiona Greene is without serious injury. It has been a relief to many of us.”
“Indeed.” Kadogan said, looking around the shop which had vases of flowers on every spare surface. “She is very dear to us at the White Hart.”
Lord Ragnar beckoned Kadogan closer. “I was in conversation with Lord Lothar last night who had been speaking to Lord Harold and he mentioned big cat sightings. The thought intrigues me. There have been many rumours and I think that there are many parts local to Yorkshire that lack the excitement and mystery that a rumoured magical or unusual creature would bring.” He sighed. “I used to enjoy sending glamours and throws of black dogs to remote places. Nobody is interested in them anymore. All they want are aliens.”
“I suppose we could do aliens.” Kadogan said. “I’m sure appropriate pictures could be lucrative.”
“But I don’t know anything about aliens.” Lord Ragnar said plaintively.
“I’m sure the White Hart can find someone to do research. We may even be able to get a network of sightings with other Princes. We could try talking about ley lines again.” Kadogan looked thoughtful. “I am getting very involved in commerce. When this store opened, barely six months ago, I knew little apart from candles. Now I know about a great deal of other things and it is curiously satisfying.”
Kieran beckoned Ian and Callum towards him. Adele watched with some concern. Ian and Callum were painfully respectful in front of the York werewolf pack leader. Kieran bent his head towards them for a low voiced conversation which Adele couldn’t even watch as the till was so busy.
“It’s nice to see Mildred and Cecil.” An older lady was buying some bay leaves as an excuse to call in. “They don’t get out much, these days. And I’ll have this dried mint as well. Your herbs and spices are a lot fresher than the supermarket. It’s made quite a difference in my shepherd’s pie and my husband, Mr Anderson, said he thought I should always get them.”
“We’re very keen on quality here.” Adele said, sliding the packets of herbs into a paper bag.
“I said that they are tuppence cheaper in the supermarket, but Mr Anderson said that it was tuppence well spent if it makes such a difference to the shepherd’s pie.”
“I completely agree.” Adele nodded. “Our Daryl, my cousin, he works as a cook, well, he’s a chef really but he doesn’t put on airs, he says that the ingredients make the meal and a cook can only do so much with bad materials.”
“That’s what I said.” Mrs Anderson handed over the exact money. “You’d better check that. I find myself thinking in shillings sometimes. Yes, I said that it’s better to have good sausages than bad steak. You should do more cooking spices.”
“The money is spot on.” Adele said, handing Mrs Anderson her receipt. “And I’ll let the boss know about the cooking spices. But they are very strict on quality, you know, so it depends whether they can get the right stuff at the right price.”
“That poor girl.” Mrs Anderson shook her head as she slipped the herbs into her mesh bag. “I’m glad she’s okay. She’s always got a kind word to an old boggart, even if she’s busy. Right, I’d better say ‘hello’ to young Geraint. He’s a good lad deep down, and always good to his mum and dad.”
Callum was fizzing with excitement when he got back to the till. “Mr Latimer, he said we were okay, that we’d done well last night.”
“Well, you did.” Adele thought that if Callum had been in wolf form his tail would have been wagging so fast it would have been a blur.
“He said that while we’re not part of his pack, he’s not ruling it out. He said,” Callum took a deep breath. “He said that we could be a sub pack, me and Ian. We obviously defer to him, but we have our own place. He said we could treat the White Hart like a pack, and if we kept our fur flat we could maybe see about being part of his pack in time.”
“That’s great.” Adele could almost see the happiness spilling out of Callum. She had no idea what was going on, but it obviously meant a lot to him and that was great. She looked over to where Ian was telling Mrs Tuesday as he bounced around straightening the café, too excited to stay still.
“Here they are!” Kadogan called out as he watched a battered Range Rover pull up and Darren help Fiona out of the car. Steve hurried around to give her his arm. Fiona looked pale and had a dressing on her neck, but otherwise she looked fine. She swayed backwards a little when she saw the crowd waiting for her but she clung on to Steve’s arm and walked into the hubbub.
“It is so good to see her safe.” Freydis said to Mrs Tuesday. “I know she would normally prefer tea, but I think it will be good to keep her strength up with a hot chocolate.”
“I think you’re right.” Mrs Tuesday looked Fiona over. “She’s going to be struggling for a bit after those potions, though you did a good job with the antidote.”
“Thank you.” Freydis expertly frothed the milk, caressing the handle as she created the exact amount of foam needed. “I admire her courage.”
“I agree, Freydis.” Lord Ragnar had heard this from the other side of the room and he turned and bowed. “I am deeply in your debt. You were swept up in matters that did not concern you and you faced great trials with fortitude and courage. You are a welcome guest to my court and a good friend, Fiona Greene.”
“It’s Fiona Adderson.” Steve said quietly. Every head snapped around.
“It’s true.” Darren looked smug. “I may not have many friends at the Archbishop’s Palace, but I have people that will do a lot to get me out of their office if I stand in front of their desk. I picked up a special license and married them in the hospital chapel without any fuss.”
There was a pause, then a babble as everyone rushed forward to hug Fiona, shake Steve’s hand and admire the matching rings that Steve had bought only a month before.
“I feel so happy for her.” Freydis sighed. “I just hope they stay happy and blessed.”
“We need wine!” Kadogan said suddenly. “Everyone must have a beverage of choice. Ian, please get out the wine from last night. Mrs Tuesday, please bring out what snacks are possible. Freydis, we need drinks with spray cream. We must celebrate.”
“Indeed, we must celebrate!” Lord Ragnar jumped to his feet and winced a little. “We must have cakes, and drink and spray cream with glitter. And we can have a proper reception at the Autumn Equinox. I think that would be the best time.”
“What?” Fiona said, looking at Lord Ragnar.
“I agree.” Kadogan nodded. “I think that if we have a joint reception and harvest celebration on the Autumn Equinox we could have an appropriate feast.”
“What?” Fiona repeated.
“Absolutely.” Lord Ragnar took a glass of wine from the tray Callum was already carrying round. “Lughnasadh is too soon, and it would be wrong to add any celebration of a wedding near Samhain or the Winter Solstice.”
“We could have the reception separate from a festival.” Freydis paused between expertly swirling spray cream onto mugs of hot chocolate. “I think the beginning of September is a good time. You still have a good selection of flowers but it isn’t as hot as August for those in heavy dresses.”
“What?” Fiona looked at Steve who looked blankly back.
“Indeed, although we can make sure that favourable weather occurs.” Lord Ragnar nodded. “I quite like connecting the feast of the Autumn Equinox with the reception. It would make the reception quite a grand thing.”
“Excuse me.” Fiona waved a hand.
“But we risk overshadowing Fiona’s celebration with the celebration of the festival.” Kadogan pointed out.
“If it’s linked to the festival then no-one can forget their anniversary.” Freydis said, setting down the hot chocolates and adding a sprinkle of edible pink glitter.
Steve put a hand on Fiona’s arm. “I think we’re just going to have to go with this,” he said. “As long as we don’t have to have Armani as a page boy.”
Fiona smiled up at him and for a few brief moments the rest of the room faded into unimportant background noise. “But at least we got our happy ending.”