White Wedding

Image from Unsplash, taken by Jessica Fadel

Jack grabbed Fiona’s arm and dragged her around the corner of the marquee. “My fair Fiona, help me!”

Steve followed quickly. “They’re having the first dance. What’s going on?”

Jack held up a necklace. It shimmered in the late December sunlight, emeralds glimmering on the fine silver chain. “Brand is planning to propose to Lady Freydis tonight using this. We have to keep it away from him.”

“You can’t propose at someone else’s wedding.” Fiona said. “That’s outrageous.”

“Brand seems to think that because it’s Ian’s second marriage and Jeanette isn’t bothered that it doesn’t matter.” Jack looked around. “But Ian would quite literally shred him and now is not the time.”

“How did you get hold of it?” Steve asked.

“I picked his pocket.” Jack said, glancing around the corner. “But I need to hide it. He’ll suspect me straight away.”

“I can’t imagine why.” Steve said.

Jack thrust the necklace at Steve. “Keep it moving! It’s got all sorts of magic on it, and it’s probably got a caller on it.” He frowned. “Like ‘find my phone’ but for jewellery.”

Steve glanced down at Fiona’s engagement ring. “It’s a spell that has its uses.”

“But not right now.” Jack said. “Must dash.” He shot out of the corner and almost collided with Brand. “Isn’t it a romantic wedding?”

As Brand grunted some sort of reply, Steve and Fiona slipped away. Fiona looked at Steve. “He wouldn’t propose now, would he?”

“He’s been pretty determined.” Steve said. “And all hell would break out if he did. There’s not just one pack here, and each one would want to show that they knew just how bad behaviour should be dealt with.”

Fiona felt a chill run through her. “Lady Freydis would be furious as well.”

“But there’s all of Brand’s friends, and some of those are feral. They don’t see normals from one century to the next.” Steve slid discreetly back into the big marquee to applaud Ian and Jeanette as they finished their dance.

“She looks so beautiful.” Fiona sighed. “But I’m still grateful that we had our wedding our way. The last few weeks have been bedlam.”

“We need to get this necklace hidden.” Steve said. “And I haven’t got an isolation room set up at the house.”

“A what?” Fiona tugged at Steve’s hand. “Come on, just a little dance.”

Steve stopped and looked down at his beautiful wife. He dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. “We will definitely have a dance, but later. An isolation room is somewhere hidden from magic. They’re hard to set up and I’ve not had a chance yet. Watch out – here’s Brand.”

“I’ll stall him.” Fiona said. “You find a good hiding place.”

Steve picked his way through the crowd. Ian and Jeanette had done the legal part in the middle of the week, taking only Callum and Jasmine as witnesses. They were making up for it today. Two hundred had sat down to the meal and at least double that were already filing in for the evening. Ian’s old pack had all turned out, along with Kieran’s pack and quite a few representatives from nearby packs to show approval of how he had dealt with Callum, Jasmine and Trent. Then there were the staff from the White Hart. Ian was determined to do it right and show some prestige. There were the boggart kits who had worked part time and their parents, cubs from half the country and a selection of Adele’s family who had all been warned not to start anything.

And then there were Jeanette’s family. There were a few werewolves tasked with making sure that they didn’t suspect anything about the people at the party. Steve thought that was a forlorn hope and that the best bet was to get them so drunk that they couldn’t remember seeing a boggart, completely without a glamour, hairy arms flying as they did the Locomotion.

For a moment Steve considered leaving the necklace with them. But even though everyone had been warned, he couldn’t trust Brand to stay away from them. And it was no good putting it behind the bar. Steve spotted Brand heading towards him, forcing his way through the throng. He had to lose the necklace. He spotted Darren who was holding hands with Jasmine in a corner. That was it. He had to keep the necklace moving.

Darren was not impressed when Steve interrupted him. “I’m not on any sort of duty.”

“Seriously, you have to keep this moving.” Steve surreptitiously slid the necklace into Darren’s pocket. “Brand is going to use a necklace to propose to Lady Freydis this evening.”

Jasmine stared. “Ian would literally kill him,” she said. “He’s been the one stressing about the wedding being perfect. He’ll murder anyone who upsets Jeanette tonight.”

“Jeanette isn’t stressed about the wedding.” Darren felt carefully in his pocket.

“At the moment she’s doing a lot of crying.” Jasmine said. “Even when she’s happy. It’s hard on Ian.”

“And Jeanette.” Steve said. “Look, see how I’m asking advice about where to stash the necklace.” He pointed to the house, apparently trying to shield his gesture from Brand. “Keep the necklace moving.”

As Steve moved with purpose towards the house, Darren leant forward and lightly kissed Jasmine. “Would you like to dance?”

Jasmine sighed. “I’d love to dance, but I know that you will just be using it as an excuse to palm off the necklace.”

“Absolutely correct.” Darren said. “I’m going to try and palm it onto Mike, who is another one who will kill Brand if he disturbs the wedding.” He paused for a moment, standing close to Jasmine. “You look so beautiful.”

“Thank you.” Jasmine smiled up at him. “You look pretty good yourself.” She followed Darren to the marquee where the huge dance floor was already filling up. “A lot of people are fine with proposals at weddings, but not Ian.”

“I know.” Darren held her close for a moment before doing his best to move to the music. He was not a natural dancer, but the mood was for enthusiasm over style and no-one was taking notes. “Besides, having a proposal rejected with enthusiasm and vigour wouldn’t help at all. You can’t expect Lady Freydis to be subtle.”

“Who do you think she’ll marry.” Jasmine asked, as they worked their way across the dance floor.

“Whoever she pleases.” Darren said. He swore suddenly. “Dammit, the necklace is enchanted. Brand’s looking for it. I can’t give it Mike. I need to find someone with a few magic skills.”

Jasmine looked down at Darren’s pocket, which was glowing faintly. It was hidden by the growing press on the dance floor, but it was only a matter of time before Brand caught up and it could get nasty. “But who can you give it to? I can’t see Jack, and Steve is a suspect. If any of the elfen find out, there’ll be trouble, and Ian would genuinely kill Brand.”

“Can you see Mrs Tuesday?” Darren asked.

“That’s a great idea.” Jasmine said. “Everyone’s scared of Mrs Tuesday.”

“No, I can’t give it to her. There would still be a scene.” Darren glanced around and saw Ian and Jeanette making the rounds, both of them glowing with happiness. “But her friend knows what he’s doing with magic.”

“Really?” Jeanette looked around. “Ian just told me never to be alone with him.”

Darren looked back at her. “He’s alright.” He saw Brand trying to push his way through the dance floor. “I’ll explain later, but come on, let’s start looking at the bar.”

The bar was almost as full as the dancefloor. The pack had set it up with plenty of tables and chairs scattered around, along with some beanbags and comfortably padded rugs. Some of the older werewolves had already gone to fur and were lounging in the corner with dog bowls of beer in front of them. Mrs Tuesday was sitting with a glass in front of her with some of the other boggarts while Jason was at the bar, yarning with some of the older werewolves that were still in clothes. Darren rushed up to him, Jasmine trailing behind him.

“Jason, can you help me out?”

“Sure.” Jason smiled politely at Jasmine. “The blessing was beautiful.”

“Thanks.” Darren pulled out the necklace. “Brand is planning to propose to Lady Freydis with this necklace this evening. We’ve got to keep it away from him until after the party has finished.”

The werewolf next to Jason, a big man that looked like he could juggle tractors, and who had already shed his jacket and tie, stared. “Ian would rip him to pieces. It would be a bloodbath.”

Jasmine nodded. “We can’t let that happen.”

The werewolf had had a few drinks. “And Mike would rip him to pieces. I mean, I know what happened, but Mike’s still very fond of Ian.”

“I know.” Jasmine said.

“And then Kieran would rip Brand to pieces.” The werewolf shook his head. “There would be blood everywhere.”

“It would be dreadful.” Jasmine said.

“I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t want to rip him to pieces.” The werewolf took another draught from his pint. “I mean, young Ian may have made mistakes, but he kept his fur flat and his tail up…”

Darren pulled Jason aside. “It’s being tracked by magic. Can you do anything?”

“Hang on.” Jason frowned. “I think I know something. Can you get me a clean glass? And do you have a mirror?”

“Do I look like I carry mirrors around with me?” Darren said.

“Yes,” Jason grinned. “How about your girlfriend?”

“I’ve got something.” Mrs Tuesday had come up without Darren noticing and handed over a small handbag mirror. She looked to where Jasmine was nodding politely as the werewolf worked his way through the list of people who would rip Brand to pieces. “What’s going on?”

Darren explained as Jason carefully slipped the necklace and mirror inside a clean pint glass and concentrated. Mrs Tuesday shook her head.

“Lady Freydis would have an absolute fit!” she said. “She’s very fond of Ian and Jeanette.” She thought for a moment. “And she would enjoy having a chance to show off her skills at disciplining difficult elfen.”

“She’s very good at that.” Darren said. He felt the metallic sensation of magic working and saw Jason slip the glass behind the bar. “Will it work?”

“We’re about to find out.” Mrs Tuesday said, settling her handbag more firmly on her shoulder.

Brand came in with purpose and then paused, looking around as the brownie quickly slid the glass into a tray and slipped away to the kitchen. Brand didn’t notice. He looked around, glowering, then stormed back out to the bar, fuming.

The wedding was finally winding down. A local taxi firm had been hired to take people back to York and quite a few were staying at the house. The local packs were camping out in the marquees and at least one seemed to be a heap of fur. It had been a beautiful wedding, and Fiona was almost sad it was over. There hadn’t even been a fight.

Steve met her as she checked in the kitchen, which the brownies had left immaculately clean. “I’ve got the necklace. We can give it back to Brand now.”

“Where is he?” Fiona asked.

Steve looked around the large garden almost entirely hidden by marquees and at the sprawling house and sheds. “That is a good question. Let’s try the bar.”

Snow was starting to fall in tiny, delicate flakes as they headed into the bar. Brand was there, leaning against the bar next to a few werewolves snoozing next to their beer dishes. Jason was listening with interest as Brand discussed the issues with the nixies in the tarns at his home. Steve approached carefully and tapped Brand on the shoulder. “I found this.”

Brand took it and shook his head sadly. “It’s no good. I have given up all hope. I found Lady Freydis having sex with Martin.”

“That doesn’t actually mean anything.” Steve said cautiously.

Brand shook his head. “It was an unnatural position. I shall go back to Nidderdale.”

Steve opened his mouth and then shut it again. He looked at the sparkling snow settling gently over the lawn. “At least she made sure that it was a white wedding.”

Love in the Winter’s Air

Photo by Esther Wilhelmsson on Unsplash

Ian was glad to get out of the cold and while the living room in Steve’s home still had a faint smell of paint in the air, the fire crackled and the chairs were comfortable. “I see the paint is still in one piece.”

Steve grinned. “Armani has been given instructions by Lady Freydis. It should last until the wedding. Only a few days now.”

Ian looked around and sank into an armchair. “Don’t say anything to Jeanette, but I sort of envy your wedding. Between being pregnant and all the stress, I think it’s too much for her, even with Adele and Jasmine helping her out. She was almost in tears yesterday over the colour of the tablecloths.”

“But they’re white.” Steve said.

“I know.” Ian said helplessly. “She’s always wanted white. They turned up and were white. I don’t understand.”

“You could ask Mrs Tuesday about it.” Steve said.

Ian shook his head. “I just hug Jeanette, tell her it will be alright and hope for the best.”

“The wedding will be fine.” Steve said. “The brownies are in charge of the catering, the guest list is mainly well behaved, Lady Freydis has decided that the weather will be crisp and dry and the house is ready for visitors.”

“I know.” Ian said. “I’m more worried about the stress on Jeanette and the baby. She’s looking really tired.” He looked at Steve. “Don’t suggest talking to Mrs Tuesday.”

Steve grinned. “It’s a last resort.”

Ian looked thoughtful. “It’s been a strain, but Jasmine and Adele have been wonderful to Jeanette. Jasmine has really come on.”

“She’s a good kid.” Steve said. “While you’re here, I could do with your opinion on a book.” He jumped to his feet and then paused. “Why are you here? Hiding from the wedding?”

“All the women have turned up at our house.” Ian grumbled. “Callum disappeared to the shop to do some stock taking and Trent said he had to go to the library to do his homework.”

Steve laughed. “Well, wait until you see this book.”

Steve came back a few minutes later with two mugs of tea and an old book tucked under his arm. “I found this in the lining of a chair I was recovering. It feels ‘off’ to me, but I’d like to know what you think.”

Ian took the book and started leafing through. “Well, it’s not a medieval grimoire.” He held the book up to the light. “But it’s old.”

Steve nodded. “It’s some sort of notebook, and it’s survived for years in the upholstery, but it’s the content. There’s magic in there.”

“The handwriting is appalling.” Ian said. “But you can read most of it.” He frowned. “This looks familiar.”

“A summoning?” Steve asked.

Ian shook his head. “It’s a trap spell. I don’t know exactly, but it looks like something to trap an elfen, or similar. Like the spell that held Jack.”

“I’m beginning to hate Jack.” Steve said.

“He’s not that bad, is he?” Ian said, flicking through the notebooks. “This is only one notebook in a series. There will be others out there.”

“He is driving me crazy.” Steve said. “I can really understand why someone wanted to trap him.”

Ian looked up from the notebook. “You can cope with Lady Freydis and Kadogan without too much trouble. You just go with the flow and divert them when you need to.”

Steve shook his head. “Jack is always hanging around Fiona. Look at that.” Steve gestured to a vase with a casual arrangement of hawthorn berries, dried roses and ivy set next to a cool window. “He brings in flowers for her, jokes around, and I swear he is flirting with her. Fiona won’t have it, but he is. Maybe I could use a trap spell.”

Ian didn’t like the dark look on Steve’s face. “He’s probably just trying to show his gratitude. Don’t worry. And Fiona’s not likely to get carried away.”

Fiona sipped her oolong tea and sighed. Darren’s vicarage was the opposite of every vicarage in films or books. It was clean, uncluttered and, even in winter, filled with lots of light. There were no sooty open fires, no dust trap coving, and no draughty wood floors. She loved her new home, and wouldn’t swap it for anything, but Darren’s study was a nice change. “Jasmine adores you.”

Darren hunched over his glass of water. “It all comes down to one basic fact. I’m too old for her. She hasn’t had the chance to find out what she really wants.”

“I think a year of living on the streets gave her plenty of opportunities.” Fiona said. “She doesn’t want to look elsewhere.” She took a deep breath. “Yes, there has been discussion of this in the White Hart. Mrs Tuesday will stay out of things in general, but she has her opinions. And she thinks…”

Darren held up a hand. “I don’t think I can bear to hear this.” He said quietly.

Fiona placed her mug down on the glass coaster. “You have to hear this. Jasmine is beautiful, I mean, really beautiful, and she’s a werewolf. She could have men queuing around the block and down the street for her.” She frowned at Darren. “Let me speak! But how many of the men would really see her. She has had some tough times and has amazing resilience, but there are times that she needs reassurance. It’s a dream for a predator. But you wouldn’t harm her.” Fiona tried to gather her thoughts together. “If something bad happened to Jasmine, you wouldn’t turn your back on her, would you? If she lost her looks or got scarred from silver, I don’t think you would even notice.”

Darren shook his head. “It’s an easy thing to say, that you love the person on the inside, but Jasmine has such a shining spirit. I can’t imagine turning my back on her.”

“Of course you would be there for her.” Fiona said. “And if she went a little crazy after the years as a stray, you’d be there for her, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, of course.” Darren said. “That’s never the problem.”

“And if she went bad, if she needed to be stopped, you would stop her, wouldn’t you?” Fiona said.

“I’d do my duty.” Darren said, “But I would have failed if that happened.”

“And she knows that if she does get it wrong, if she goes bad, she can be stopped. It’s like a safety net for her, so she doesn’t have to be on high alert against herself. You wouldn’t be cruel, but you would be there.” Fiona took Darren’s hand. “Mrs Tuesday thinks you are the best possible thing for Jasmine. You won’t take any nonsense, you’ll always love the bones of her, no matter what, and you’re as gorgeous as she is.”

Darren looked blank. “What’s looks got to do with it?”

“Everything?” Fiona said. “People are less likely to bother Jasmine if they know she has a tough, good looking boyfriend. You’re like a layer of protection for her as well as the pack.”

“Ian’s not happy.” Darren said.

“Ian isn’t that stressed about it.” Fiona said. “He knows that you will look after Jasmine, and that she’s safe with you. You won’t hurt her, play mind games or cheat on her. You won’t break her heart. If it has to be anyone that isn’t a werewolf, it would be you.”

Darren stared into space for a while. “I would do anything for Jasmine, absolutely anything. I loved her long before the love potion. Life without her would be bleak.”

“Then don’t think about life without her.” Fiona said. “Just enjoy time with her.” She picked up her tea again. “Is that why you wanted to talk to me? About Jasmine?”

Darren grimaced. “I’ve been asked to make sure that you and Steve are okay, that you’re happy.”

“I wish the elfen would stay out of this.” Fiona said. “And I don’t think Steve and I have been happier.”

Planning Ahead

Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

Steve looked doubtful. “Are you sure?” He peered around the corner from the back room out into the shop. Jeanette was sitting at the till, checking some sort of list with Adele.

Fiona nodded. “Jeanette asked, and it seems the least we can do. They have had such a wild time of it, and I think Jeanette’s feeling under pressure from Lady Freydis.”

“Is Lady Freydis still furious that she won’t get a fancy Easter Wedding from them?” Steve asked.

Fiona nodded. “But a romantic winter wedding will help, perhaps. And Jeanette has enough on her plate with getting ready for the baby.”

Steve gave Fiona a quick hug. “You won’t mind?”

Fiona hugged him back. “To be honest, I’m sort of glad I don’t have that pressure on me. As long as I know you love me, I can look back and say that it was the perfect wedding for us.”

Steve remembered their wedding. Both of them had worn bedraggled clothes and neither had been at their best. Fiona was pale and still bandaged after the attack by Rey, and he had been suffering from the crash after using so much magic and running on such an adrenaline rush. Darren had worn jeans, but at least he was wearing a dog collar, and the middle aged nurse and the chaplaincy visitor had been visibly touched to be the witnesses. It had been intimate and loving, a solemn vow before God to love each other, without all the fuss and expense that Jeanette and Adele seemed to be dealing with. “It was perfect for me, because you were there.”

“You say the best things.” Fiona said. “So I said that of course they could have the wedding at our house.” She grimaced. “But that means we need to get the house sorted. I’m not sure we have time.”

Steve stroked Fiona’s hair. “Ian’s already sorted out the plumbing, so that’s not a problem. We’ve got plenty of rooms for the wedding party, and we can get it decorated in the next week or two.” He thought. “What are they doing about food and stuff?”

Fiona stroked his hand. “Jeanette said that Ian was insisting on brownie catering, and we can get some marquees in the garden. The grass is short enough.” She grinned. “And you won’t be doing any of the decorating. You’ve got that big deal going down in Cardiff.”

Steve groaned. “I can’t really miss it.”

“I know,” Fiona said, “And we’ll be fine. I’ll see if Dave will help out. He says he’s a bit quiet for the next few weeks.”

“Get the pack to help out as well.” Steve said. “In fact, talk it over with Ian and Jeanette. I think they may be very precise about how things are set up.” There was a crash outside, followed by a thump. “I think we had better see what is happening.”

They went into the shop and Lady Freydis was looking coldly at a tall, blond elfen who was looking confused. She picked up a battered brass teapot and handed it gently to him. “I refuse to throw things at you, and this is junk.”

“But Lady Freydis, I thought you liked junk.” The elfen took the teapot and looked at it blankly. “You have lots of junk, from Mr Albert.”

Fiona glanced at Atherton who was sitting at one of the tables and trying not to laugh. “You can’t leave that in the shop.” She pointed at a supermarket trolley filled with miscellaneous brass and tin knickknacks.

Lady Freydis turned to Fiona. “Do you know what Cameron said? He said that he’s brought tribute and trusts it will allow him to not marry me. Can you believe that? He says he doesn’t want to marry me! That is not possible! It’s reverse psychology.”

“Please take the junk.” Cameron said. “And while you are truly beautiful, I am in love.”

“You are always in love.” Lady Freydis snapped. “What is it this time?”

Cameron frowned. “That is uncalled for. I am sometimes in love with people.”

Lady Freydis avoided looking at Atherton who was trying to stifle laughter. “You give the elfen a bad name. What are you in love with this time?”

“I am no longer so shallow.” Cameron sighed. “I have found a special place. She means a lot to me, you know, and we have such an amazing connection.” Atherton fell off the chair.

Lady Freydis took a breath. “Cameron, when most people say that they have fallen in love with a place, they don’t usually mean in a romantic way.” She turned pointedly away from Atherton who couldn’t get up. “Where is this place? How have you come to form a connection?”

“She is a scrapyard, and I call her Rose, as she is so fair.” Cameron said.

“But it’s going to be full of iron?” Lady Freydis said. She looked at him suspiciously. “Are these stolen?” Jack had turned up and was laughing while trying to help Atherton who was gasping for breath.

“It’s okay.” Sir Ewan walked in with Sir Craig. “We were a little concerned, but it turns out that young Cameron here-”

“I am not young!” Cameron said.

“Mr Cameron here has been helping out the scrapyard over the summer with some maintenance.” Sir Ewan said. “They paid him a fair amount, and gave him a discount on some…” He trailed off and looked at the trolley.

“It’s tribute and a chance to explain to the beautiful Lady Freydis that I am not available for romance.”

“Is he alright?” Sir Craig said, looking at Atherton rolling on the floor in hysterics. “The scrapyard looked lovely, by the way, very artistic, even at this time of year.”

Fiona knew that the elfen could amazing things with plants, if they wanted to be bothered. “Where is this scrapyard? I’m sure it looks beautiful.” She caught sight of Cameron’s expression. “I’m sure she looks beautiful.” Atherton howled.

“There’s some most well kept thingy.” Cameron waved a hand. “And a magazine will visit. I don’t know the details. I thought it was the least I could do for Rose, and if the stupid manager was willing to give me money for it, then I was happy to take it.”

“You were trying to get immunity to iron, weren’t you?” Sir Craig said.

Cameron looked furtive. “Perhaps initially, but that was before I met her.” He sighed.

“Just take this stuff away.” Fiona said. “It can’t stay in the shop.”

“Too late.” Cameron said. “It is given as tribute.”

“Can I tell Callum that we’re putting some stuff from a scrapyard in warehouse?” Mrs Tuesday said innocently. “I just want to see his little face.”

“He’s a little stressed with the wedding.” Fiona said. “Perhaps we should let him get on with it. You know what Adele’s family can be like.”

Mrs Tuesday looked past the trolley. “Jason! You managed to get here!”

Steve looked over to a dangerous looking man who had just come in. He was tall, broad shouldered and his eyes were a lot older than his face. Mrs Tuesday bustled out from the café and gave him a hug as Sir Craig tensed.

Mrs Tuesday turned around. “This is Jason Keys, the one I told you about. He’s staying in York for the next few days.” She turned to Jason. “Where are you staying?”

“I’ve got a place in a B&B out in Fulford.” Jason said.

“I believe a lot of the places out there are run by werewolves.” Sir Craig said. “It’s probably not a good idea. Which one are you staying at?”

“I’ll be fine.” Jason said coolly.

“Why can’t you stay here?” Lady Freydis asked. “I am sure there is no issue with a good friend of Mrs Tuesday spending a few nights.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Sir Craig repeated. “Jason doesn’t always deal well with non-normals.”

“But Mrs Tuesday is a boggart.” Lady Freydis said, looking between Sir Craig and Jason.

“It’s okay,” Jason didn’t flinch from Sir Craig’s hard stare. “I’m okay with non-normals these days. I’m not a danger to the peace.”

“It’s not that.” Sir Craig said awkwardly. He looked around. Atherton had stopped laughing and got to his feet, ready to protect his prince. Jack was clearly assessing Jason, a frown on his face, and Mrs Tuesday was looking daggers at Sir Craig. Cameron was starting to edge out of the shop.

Jack broke the tense silence as he strolled over to Fiona and draped a casual arm around her shoulders. “I think Jason should stay here and enjoy Mrs Tuesday’s cooking.” He grinned. “And I shall stay out of the way so I cannot cause any problems. Perhaps I should I take a leaf out of Cameron’s book and sort out the garden of my Fair Fiona?”

Steve did not look impressed.

Some may recognise the name of Jason Keys, as that of Sir Jason Keys, who had a hard time in Digging Up the Past. I have made some small changes in the last few pages of the book, so Jason can continue to cause trouble. Leave a comment below if you need me to let you know about the very minor changes.

Happy Birthday!

v Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

Fiona approached the White Hart with caution. Anything could be waiting for her. Elfen had a magpie attitude to presents, so she could expect anything from a pretty feather to a diamond ring for her birthday. Kadogan had taken her digging for buried treasure one year, and last year he had taken her for a wonderful picnic in one of the corners of fairyland, where the sky shone with northern lights and the flowers had sang in the wind. She was sort of hoping he would take her back this year.

“Happy Birthday!” Mrs Tuesday called as Fiona sidled in. “Come and get your presents before the shop opens.”

Fiona felt hugged as she opened the gifts. Adele and Callum had got her some fancy soaps in her favourite rose scent, Jeanette had knitted her a gorgeous woollen shawl in a cascade of blues and greens from her and Ian, and Mrs Tuesday had bought her a pair of woolly slippers.

“I know it’s going to be cold in that new house of yours, and I can’t knit for toffee.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You’ll need something to keep your feet warm.”

Jasmine handed over her package. “What did Steve get you?”

Fiona opened the box set of her favourite series. “Thank you, this is perfect.” She concentrated on opening the card. “Steve has been busy for the last few weeks, so he said he’d make it up to me later.”

“I know he adores you,” Lady Freydis said. “And I am confident that a wonderful gift will soon be in your hands.” She handed over a large bag of ribbons. “You could use these in your cards, of course, but you could just keep the bag as it is.”

Fiona held the bag up to the light. It was such an elfen gift, with strand after strand of ribbon in all shades and widths. Some lengths sparkled with glitter or gleamed in the shop light. Some were soberly matt, twined with iridescent and transparent ribbon. “It’s beautiful.”

“I called in at that shop in Coppergate and asked the lovely people there for a yard of every type they had, in a bag.” Lady Freydis sniffed. “They only did metres.”

Fiona wondered if she was catching something from the elfen as there was something fascinating about turning the bag and seeing the colours intertwining. There had to be hundreds of metres of ribbon in there. The shop assistants must have hated Lady Freydis. “I think I’ll keep it just as it is.” She looked around. “I’m going to put these in the back, because we need to get decorating. We’re probably the last shop in York that hasn’t got their Christmas decorations up.”

Lady Freydis frowned. “It is inappropriate.” She grumbled. “And far too early. We are still in November.”

“I know, but some shops had their decorations up in September.” Fiona said. She gathered her presents. “I’ll leave these here for a second and go down to the warehouse and get the decorations. It’s going to be a nuisance for the brownies.”

“They’ll love it.” Mrs Tuesday said. “They’ll enjoy all the fiddly bits and you won’t even see a speck of misplaced glitter.” She glanced quickly at Lady Freydis. “But perhaps you should take it easy on your birthday. Callum can bring the stuff up.”

“But there’s loads.” Fiona said. “Steve brought some trees this morning and there’s about a dozen boxes of ornaments.”

“I agree with Mrs Tuesday.” Lady Freydis said. “It is inappropriate to work on your birthday. Allow me to make you a steamed chai, while Adele informs Callum of the needs.”

“I’ll go down now.” Adele said, and disappeared down the stairs.

“Steamed chai sounds lovely.” Fiona said, “But I’m looking forward to decorating the shop. I hope you won’t stop me doing that.”

Adele rushed into the warehouse where Steve and Callum were staring at Steve’s phone. “Is it here yet?”

“According to the app, it’s two stops away.” Steve said. “Those dwarfs from Bludenz sent it surface instead of airmail. It should have been here last week.”

“She’ll understand.” Callum said. “And it’s not like Fiona to make a fuss about something that can’t be helped.”

“But that’s the thing.” Steve said, closing his phone and slipping it into his pocket. “She’s spent the last few months ‘being understanding’ and ‘not making a fuss’ when she was getting really upset and I didn’t realise. I just wanted something special for her.”

“If it’s anything like the picture, she’ll love it.” Adele said. “It’s perfect for her.”

Steve pulled his phone out and checked again. “We’re the next stop.”

“I was reading online that some couriers don’t bother calling, they just mark you as out if they are too busy.” Adele said, then shut up when she saw Steve’s expression.

“At least the dwarfs said that they packed it well.” Steve said. “It shouldn’t be easy to lose.”

“There’s the van!” Adele said. “You sign for it. Callum and me will take the decorations upstairs and send Fiona down to you.”

“But it won’t be wrapped.” Steve said, panicking.

“If Kadogan catches Fiona crying over you again, there’ll be a war.” Callum said. “Go and get the damn parcel.”

Jack sauntered in later in the afternoon. The shop was busy and felt crammed as four trees were parked around the store and four more in the annexe. Fiona had employed a couple of young werewolves specifically to keep an eye out for elfen caught by the glitter. Swags of scented leylandii branches hung above the bookshelves and doors, with sprays of painted ivy leaves entwined and trailing between the swags. Baubles gleamed and twinkled and dark green and crimson tinsel was swirled around the cases.

“Happy birthday, my fair Fiona.” Jack said, helping Fiona down from the step ladder. “You have covered the room with boughs, but they will not last long in the heat of the shop.”

“I know.” Fiona sighed. “It seems a shame. But I have to respect the people who are coming, and most would prefer something natural. We’ll be replacing them every week.”

“I commend your diligence.” Jack bowed. “And it will be beautiful, right up until Christmas.” He looked around. “I am unused to preparing for Christmas so early. But enough about that.” He took the stepladders from Fiona. “Let us speak of your birthday. I have a gift, but not something that you can hold in your hand. It is a gift for you to experience. Do you remember you were showing me that card maker in your magazine?”

“Those intricate folds? Have you found a class?” Fiona asked.

Jack shook his head and grinned. “I found a way to persuade the lovely lady herself to give you an afternoon of lessons. I have her details.” He handed over a small but exquisite handmade business card. “Just say that this is the deal with Jack Green.” He smiled properly at Fiona’s delight. “Perhaps afterwards you could take your gift from Kadogan and go boating on a summer river.” He noticed the necklace. “Is that a birthday gift?”

Fiona stroked the delicate gold necklace with the single, gleaming topaz in an intricate, lace-like setting. “Steve got it for me.” She smiled, radiating happiness.

“Expensive jewels from foreign lands.” Jack said, narrowing his eyes, “And wrought by dwarfs as well. That is a chain that will never break.”

“It’s perfect.” Fiona said, as Jack nodded in approval.

Jasmine called in to see Darren as he was putting up the hymn numbers for the next service. She stopped dead as she came in and stared around. “What happened here?”

Darren turned around and smiled at her, before remembering she asked a question. “It’s Egerton. He’s been stress cleaning.”

Jasmine turned around on the spot. The church gleamed. The pews glowed with fresh polish, the elderly radiators for the rickety central heating shone like silver and the stone floor was burnished underneath the sand. “Why is there sand on the floor?”

“It’s to stop people slipping on the stone.” Darren said, moving back from the brass lectern that gleamed like pure gold. “Apparently they did it for horses at some point, to stop them slipping on the cobbles. That’s what he told me, anyway.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, even when the brownies have been working.” Jasmine bent down. “Even the undersides of the pews are polished.”

Darren walked up to her and gave her a hug. “You know that Egerton is supposed to serve us? Well because I’ve stuck up for him with Jack, he feels even more indebted. He’s cooking dinner for us.”

“Can he cook?” Jasmine asked, leaning against Darren.

“We are going to find out.” Darren said. “Did Fiona like the Box Set?”

“She did.” Jasmine said. “She told me that she had had an amazing birthday, and she’s going to a special card class Jack sorted out, just for her.” She sighed. “That’s an amazing present.”

“What did Steve get her?” Darren asked as they walked out of the church together.

“He got her a necklace from some dwarfs in Austria.” Jasmine hesitated. “It’s really beautiful, and she loves it, but…” She trailed off.

“Jack and Kadogan have already told me that Steve’s present wasn’t appropriate.” Darren said. “They were a little vague about his present, but very clear about me sorting out Steve and Fiona. They said that I didn’t have the hands to deal with any more, so I had plenty of time.” He looked at Jasmine. “What’s wrong with the necklace? I mean, if it’s dwarf made and from Austria, he must have gone to some effort.”

“That’s it.” Jasmine said. “Jack got her a card making class by someone she admires. Kadogan is taking her for a trip on a summer river. Mrs Tuesday got slippers for her, because she was worried about being cold and that’s why Jeanette made her a shawl. I mean, everyone got her something that was meaningful, but I don’t know how meaningful the necklace is.” They strolled down the vicarage path. “I suppose that’s what Jack and Kadogan are on about. They are worried about Fiona.”

“But Steve adores Fiona and Fiona adores Steve. What’s the problem?” Darren opened the vicarage door and blinked. “Egerton, that smells amazing.”

“I don’t think Steve sees the problem either.” Jasmine said. She smiled at Egerton, who was wearing chefs’ whites. “It smells lovely.”

“A Moroccan lamb tagine, with fresh spices.” Egerton announced proudly. “Served with couscous and followed by watermelon sherbet.”

“I could get used to this.” Darren said.

Getting a Bargain

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Jack sipped a lemon and ginger tea, liberally laced with honey. “So what made you start the shop?”

Kadogan perched on the edge of a table in the back room. “Fiona saved my life. Her heart’s desire was to own a shop. So I opened a shop.” He shrugged. “It was that simple.” He frowned. “But a shop is not simple. For example, the candles are very complicated. I am always checking how many there are and how many there should be and when the deliveries are due. I have spent many hours counting candles.”

“And those who work here are also complicated.” Jack leaned forward to peer through the doorway into the shop. Mrs Tuesday was quietly terrorising a young goblin who had left a mess. “They must take some organising.”

“Fiona deals with the people.” Kadogan followed his gaze. “Though half of those working here seem to have somehow happened by accident. Lady Freydis hired herself. I had no idea that the Tarot reader would be a paladin. I took Ian in as a favour to Lord Spike in Huddersfield, which led to the employment of Callum and Jasmine – both wonderful servants of the shop.” He looked down at his hands. “I invited Mrs Tuesday here to help with the relationship between Steve Adderson and Fiona. It may have not been a good thing to interfere in their relationship, but Mrs Tuesday has been a valuable asset.”

“I can tell.” Jack said. He looked around the well organised back room, with the meeting tables and stock cupboards, the scrubbed steps leading down to the warehouse and the slant in the ceiling that showed the stairs that went from behind the tills up to the Tarot reading room and the lodgers’ quarters. “It’s very well set up. Do you ever regret it?”

Kadogan glanced at the goblin, hunched at the counter and nearly in tears. “It has been most entertaining.” He smiled malevolently at some of the memories. The smile softened. “And there is a wonderful comradeship.”

“But there is the issue of the marriage between Fiona and Steve Adderson.” Jack said. “She saved you and she saved me, and she is unhappy in love. We need to encourage this Steve Adderson. Who is he, anyway, to upset our beloved Fiona?”

“He is the son of Lord Marius and an extremely powerful sorcerer.” Kadogan said. “I don’t think I know any elfen that could stand against him.”

“That complicates matters.” Jack said. “But we still need to take him in hand.”

“What if we get it wrong?” Kadogan said. “Perhaps a beating would be inadequate.”

“I would feel better after watching Fiona sobbing.” Jack said, “But it may upset Fiona, and could perhaps just make extra work for her with nursing and such.”

“Steve is in love with Fiona. It beats through him like a pulse. I wish that he could show this to Fiona.” Kadogan said.

Jack frowned as a ginger tom cat strolled across the floor with a limp rat in his jaws. “The padre promised to help mend Steve and Fiona’s marriage once the issue with the hands had been sorted out. I think we can consider the matter of the hands sorted.” He grinned. “I think we can leave this to the Reverend Darren King. Shall we go and break the good news?”

“One moment.” Kadogan was listening. “I believe that this is the Lady Freydis arriving in her van. It could be entertaining, and then we can inform Reverend King of his duties.”

Dave lay back in bed and listened to the afternoon rain patter against the window. Elaine cuddled up to him and he stroked her hair. “We are going to have to get our days off together more often.”

“Absolutely.” Elaine stretched next to him and then propped herself up on her elbow next to him. “And what are we going to do for lunch? We could grab a sandwich and get back to bed.”

Dave sighed happily. “That sounds like a great idea.” He reached up and kissed her. “I’m starving.” His phone rang and he swore.

Elaine fell back onto the pillows and stared at the ceiling as she listened to Dave’s side of the conversation. “You’re on call?” She watched with appreciation as Dave rolled out of bed and started dragging his clothes on.

“I’m always on call. And Luke is busy with that business just outside Kirkham Abbey with the barghest. They want me to get down to the White Hart as soon as possible, though I’m sure it could wait.”

“What’s it about?” Elaine smiled as Dave paused, t-shirt in hand, his hair rumpled and his jeans still unbuttoned.

“Apparently Lady Freydis brought in some stuff to sell.” Dave said. “And nobody’s quite sure how she got it.”

Darren got to the White Hart around the same time as Dave. “What’s going on?”

Dave looked at Lady Freydis’ van, backed up to the doors and blocking half the entrance. “I’m not sure.”

Fiona met them when they came in, wiping their wet feet. “It’s all Jack’s fault.” She glared at Jack who was grinning as he lounged against the counter. “Though I don’t think it was deliberate – this time!”

Jack shrugged with supreme lack of concern. “My sweetest Fiona, you underestimate me.”

“You just take credit for mayhem whenever you see it, whether you caused it or not.” Fiona said. She looked at Dave. “Lady Freydis is getting into a state.”

Jack strolled over to Fiona, swept a bow before her and kissed her hand. “You have such a clear view of me, your insight is penetrating.” Behind him, Kadogan gave him a suspicious look.

“I swear, it was a surprise!” Lady Freydis said, rushing out of the back room. “I had no thought of goods. And of course he adored me.”

“What?” Dave asked.

“Mr Albert.” Lady Freydis said, waving her hand. “I have the papers here.” She shoved a large, disintegrating envelope into Dave’s hands.

“But you said he had no family.” Fiona said. “So it’s not like anyone has lost anything.”

“My reputation is dear to me.” Lady Freydis said, glaring at Jack. “I do not defraud someone by accident.”

“Indeed, my prince, you only defraud with malice aforethought,” Jack said.

“Exactly.” Lady Freydis said. “And here is Brand.”

Dave ran a weary hand over his hair and tried again. “What?”

“We’re going to have to get that van moved as there’s a coach party due soon.” Mrs Tuesday said, smiling at Brand.

“I could lift it out of the way, no problem.” Brand said.

“Don’t do that!” Dave said hurriedly. “Besides, Lady Freydis has a lot of skill driving a van and I am sure she can park it with precision in the back yard while I look at these papers.”

“He could lift the van, you know.” Mrs Tuesday tried not to laugh.

“Perhaps he can demonstrate it on a van that isn’t in front of hundreds of tourists and doesn’t belong to Lady Freydis. I have no idea what she could do to the van, but I heard all about the time it got stuck in a tree.”

“I shall move the van, with skill.” Lady Freydis said. Jack watched with interest as Lady Freydis climbed into the van, twirling her keys, and then lurched backwards with a grinding of gears.

“I don’t know if that is skilful.” He said.

Lady Freydis stuck her head out of the window. “Jack!”

He laughed, waved a casual hand and Lady Freydis reversed smoothly at high speed and then shot around to the back of the White Hart. “What is life without a little danger.”

Brand winced. “She is not to be trifled with.”

“Perhaps not too often.” Jack said. He glanced again at Fiona. “After all, what is life without a little danger and excitement.”

“A pleasant change.” Mrs Tuesday said, putting out the tea cups.

Dave started working through the papers. It seemed straightforward enough. Mr Albert Kellet had lived for 102 years, had no surviving family and died, leaving everything he owned to Freydis Green, also known as Lady Freydis, Prince of York and could she get his flat cleared by next Wednesday. “It seems straightforward. What’s the problem?”

“I did not influence him to leave me everything.” Lady Freydis stamped back in. “I wish to declare before a Paladin that this was honest gain.”

“And nothing at all like that business with the Cliffords.” Jack said, lounging against the till next to Fiona.

“What business with the Cliffords – and who were the Cliffords?” Dave said, looking up from a list.

“That was before your time.” Lady Freydis waved a hand while looking smug. “I believe that the last of the family died out several years ago.”

“How many years ago?” Dave asked.

Lady Freydis and Jack exchanged glances. “It was several.” Lady Freydis said. “But it was before the railway came.”

“It was before Queen Anne died.” Jack added. “That parson was far too easily bought.”

“I didn’t pay a penny,” Lady Freydis said with a feline smile. “He had other weaknesses.”

“But it was the new faith,” Jack said. “Was it before or after the Siege of York?”

“I get it. It was centuries ago.” Dave went back to the papers. “There isn’t a lot of money, but there’s four storage units.”

“He liked collecting things.” Lady Freydis said. “He looked for the strange and the unusual, and sometimes he bought things because they were inexpensive. Sometimes he just bought to make contact with a person.” She sat down at one of the tables. “He had been to many lands, and fought in wars. He used his computer and would play me strange songs from far countries and tell me tales.” She smiled sadly. “I could listen to him for hours. And I would tell him stories of the Legions and the Picts and the Vikings and he would listen and marvel. I shall miss him a great deal.” She brightened. “But perhaps I can sell his collections from the White Hart and pay for masses for him.”

There was a brief pause while Jack and Kadogan had a murmured conversation in the background. Darren broke the silence.

“I can include him in prayers, if you like.” He said. “He sounds like a character. Do you know what wars he fought in? I can perhaps find out about his regiment and comrades for you.”

“That would be a kindness.” Lady Freydis said. She jumped to her feet. “The coach party will be here in seventeen minutes. We must stir ourselves.”

There was a slam as Callum came storming out of the back room. “Who the hell left those boxes of junk in my warehouse?”

Dinner Date

Photo by Kadarius Seegars on Unsplash

Darren sat Egerton down at one of the café tables. “You need to get over this fear of Jack. I mean, he didn’t do anything to you at the Halloween party, did he? You can’t let your fear of him rule your life. After all, you courted Lady Freydis, and that’s the actions of a brave man.”

“He is not predictable.” Egerton said. He took a deep breath. “I owe you a great deal, Darren King, so I will take your advice and have a beverage here.”

“Right, it will be fine.” Darren said, trying to believe it. How had it come to this – he was babysitting a neurotic elfen who was almost vibrating with nervous tension. “I’ll get you a herbal tea.”

“Coffee is a herb.” Jack said, strolling up behind Darren.

Darren shot a dark look at him and then looked back at Egerton who was holding onto the edge of the table so hard that the plywood was starting to split. “I think a camomile tea will be fine.”

“Nggnnnnngnnn.” Egerton said.

“It’s okay, Findlay, I’m not going bother you. I have other fish to fry.” Jack followed Darren to the counter. “I would like one of your divine lattes, Miss Jasmine.” He smirked as he caught Darren’s glare.

“On the house, Lady Freydis orders – if you behave.” Jasmine couldn’t help returning Jack’s charming smile, before catching Darren’s eye and blushing.

Jack ignored Darren. “Thank you, my sweet.” He picked up the cup and wandered over to where some goblins were having a furtive game of cards.

After giving Jasmine a thoughtful look, Darren took his drinks back to the table, putting a camomile tea in front of Egerton. “What is Jack?”

Egerton wrapped his hands around the comforting warmth of his mug. “Jack is complicated.” He looked over to where Jack was getting dealt in. “Those goblins will lose their money to him, but they would lose it anyway, possibly at the bookmakers, so I suppose it is irrelevant.” He started adding packets of sugar to the camomile tea. “Jack isn’t quite an elfen, and he’s certainly no boggart or goblin. He’s been in York a very long time.”

Darren watched the emptied sugar packets mount up. “So, like a nature spirit, but not elfen.”

“Quite.” Egerton stirred the syrupy mixture. “I think he was called a god by the locals at one point, before the time of the Legions, when this was just the rivers meeting place.” He sighed. “Those must have been hard times to be a normal. There were no paladins or exorcists then, but some normals had power and used songs and paint…” Egerton trailed off, looking back over millennia. “When the saints came, they called Jack a demon. But he isn’t quite a demon, you know. I’ve met some, and Jack is quite different.”

“I’ve met a few demons myself.” Darren said, looking over to where Jack was grinning as a goblin laid down their hand. “Jack isn’t a demon.”

“He may not be a demon, but he isn’t safe.” Egerton said. “And should he marry Lady Freydis, he will be an influence on her.”

Darren looked down at his own plain tea. “Martin would be worse, wouldn’t he? I mean, he’s a vampire, and look what happened with Rey.”

“Martin is very different from Rey.” Egerton said primly. “He understands duty. And Lady Freydis has changed.” Egerton frowned. It was notoriously hard for an elfen to be sympathetic, but it was obvious Egerton had thought about this. “Lady Freydis felt very unloved,” he said quietly. “I feel that led to lapses in judgement. Lord Ragnar also felt unloved. This was an unfortunate combination. Whoever is her next partner, I am confident that there will be better choices.” He flinched.

Darren looked behind him and watched Eorl Brand stride through the door. In deference to modern York, Eorl Brand had altered his glamour so that his bright red hair was slickly styled, his beard was short and neatly trimmed, the jeans and boots were clean and well made and the shirt that stretched across his massive back was the latest trend. He still looked like he arrived on a long ship and could bench press a Harley Davidson. He strode up to the counter like someone used to striding across the Dales.

“I will have a drink,” Eorl Brand hesitated and looked around at the shop. It was only half full but enough normals were looking with interested at the red-head towering over the counter. “Yes, I’ll have a drink, er, miss. Whatever you chose.”

“We have some nice teas?” Jasmine said. “We have Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Russian Caravan, Gunpowder, Green, Rose…” She caught his expression. “How about Yorkshire Tea?”

“That sounds fine.” Eorl Brand said. “And a scone.”

Jasmine bustled about as Eorl Brand looked around. He noticed Mrs Tuesday. “Jane Tuesday! I haven’t seen you since that business with the gnomes up in Swardale. How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well, Brand, better than you.” Mrs Tuesday said, grinning. “I’m surprised you can get here after the way Lady Freydis went after you.”

“I’d forgotten how lively she is.” Eorl Brand smiled back at her. “I admit it, she bested me. And I don’t hold that against her. Join me, Jane?”

“Why not. Jasmine can cope.” Mrs Tuesday took a cuppa with her, keeping an eagle eye on the queue.

“I’m fine!” Jasmine said, “And Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader will be here in a minute.”

“And then perhaps you can have a drink with your lover.” Eorl Brand said, taking his tray of tea things and sinking into a chair, laughing as Jasmine blushed again. Then he caught a glimpse through to the back room. “Jane!” he bellowed, and then looked around quickly. “Jane,” he lowered his voice, “There’s an imp in the back room stroking a skeletal hand disguised as a cat.”

“There’s a lot going on in York that you wouldn’t think.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You spend so much time in your domain in the Dales that you’ve lost touch about the modern world.” She looked a little sad. “It’s hard to keep up.”

“I can see that.” Eorl Brand said, looking around the shop. “But I see that Lady Freydis keeps her standards up. I can tell the work of brownie cleaners.” He took a mouthful of tea. “But it is indeed different from my halls.” He clasped Mrs Tuesday’s hand. “Why don’t I take you to dinner tonight? You can tell all the tales of this place, and what brought you to Yorkshire. It will be like old times.”

“I tell you what, I’ll cook us something good and we can eat in private upstairs.” Mrs Tuesday smiled. “We won’t have to worry about being overheard.” She looked up. “I have to go, Brand, a coach party have just arrived and we’re going to get busy.”

As Mrs Tuesday bustled behind the counter, Eorl Brand leaned over to Darren. He ignored Egerton’s flinch and muttered, “What does a gentleman bring when invited to dinner, Father? I mean, apart from flowers?”

Darren took a moment to look down at his tea and gather his wits. Now he was being asked to advise on how to charm an elderly, terrifying boggart. “Perhaps a bottle of wine, although I think Mrs Tuesday brews her own.”

“She always was a resourceful boggart.” Eorl Brand said. “Thank you, Father.”

“Just call me Darren.” Darren said to Eorl Brand’s back as he leapt to his feet and strode towards the door, the coach party crowd parting before him.

Jack sauntered over to Darren. “Perhaps you can advise me, padre. I wonder if I should tell Lady Freydis that she has a rival in Mrs Tuesday.”

Darren looked over at the shivering Egerton, and then back at the grinning Jack. “Proverbs, 26:20. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Egerton has some work to do back at the vicarage.”

Lady Freydis sat perched next to Martin on the Pikeing Well, looking across the River Ouse to Rowntree Park. The sun was setting and the cold October damp was falling. “Brand is eating dinner with Mrs Tuesday tonight. I believe he is bringing her flowers.”

“I never doubted his courage.” Martin said. He looked at the lights reflected in the water. “And Mrs Tuesday is one of the best to tell him how things are. They are very different from when he was last in York.”

“To think, I have a love rival in an elderly boggart.” Lady Freydis shook her head. “It is very depressing.”

Martin laughed. “If you took Eorl Brand seriously, perhaps.”

“He will stamp around and be loud for a bit before he becomes tired of the city and retreats back to his domain.” Lady Freydis said. “He has to look a little important so he has come up with this tale of wooing me, but he would not last a week with so many people around.”

“And speaking of people, we had better return to your court.” Martin said, helping Lady Freydis to her feet. “I’m sure there will be entertaining people there.”

“Of course!” Lady Freydis said. “We shall be present.”

For those vaguely interested but can’t be bothered to look, Proverbs 26:20 roughly says something along the lines of ‘stop stirring up trouble’, depending on the translation

Unexpected Guest

It was like something from a film set. Lady Freydis’ reception was in one of her favourite corners, an autumnal forest just after sunset, with a soft glow in the west and the stars slowly coming out. A faint mist hung around the roots of the huge oak trees and the air was heavy with the spicy scent of fallen leaves. Toadstools sprouted in odd corners and acorns were littering the floor with beechmast and fallen blackberries. A bonfire crackled in a fire pit in the centre of the clearing with two pigs roasting over it. Tables were heaped with apple pies glistening with sprinkled sugar, gleaming sausages, jugs of cider and dark wine and wheels of cheese stacked next to baskets of fresh bread and new butter. For the first time Lady Freydis had allowed baked potatoes which were heaped in a dusty brown heap with more butter and a heaping froth of grated cheese. There were discreet barrels of craft beer, lager, and some smaller barrels of brandy and rum. There was even a pallet of bottled water, stacked discreetly behind an oak trestle groaning with roast chestnuts and dusty bottles of elderberry wine.

Steve and Darren stayed close. Darren had reluctantly come as Jasmine’s ‘boyfriend’ and Steve was, of course, a member of Lady Freydis’ court, but there was something going on and neither could quite follow it. Ian and Kieran were making forced polite small talk, nodding and carefully smiling. Every woman from the werewolf pack was clustered in quietly gossiping groups, glancing around furtively and pausing when the men came too close. A few of the men of the werewolf pack were looking equally bewildered and throwing anxious glances around as they tried to get into the spirit of the evening. Lady Freydis, her face like thunder, was having a low-voiced discussion with Martin.

“What is going on?” Darren asked Steve quietly. “Is it safe?”

Steve looked around. “I have no idea.” He took a sip of his tonic water. “I think it has to be mainly safe. Ian would never allow Jeanette, Adele or Jasmine here if it wasn’t.”

Jeanette, Adele and Jasmine were huddled with Mrs Tuesday, Fiona and Elaine, all of them shooting anxious glances at Ian. Darren started to feel worried. “I don’t know about dangerous, but I think it’s going to be a pain in the neck.”

Ian looked like he was describing a car route to Kieran. Steve noted the expressive hands pointing left and right and the completely neutral expression as Kieran listened with carefully constructed interest. “It’s the werewolves. There’s something happening in the werewolves.”

Darren took a deep breath. “Great. Jasmine is finally feeling secure. I don’t want anything to upset her.” He frowned at his mineral water.

“I don’t think she will be upset.” Jack lounged up behind him, his eyes gleaming with mischief. “Lady Freydis is furious, Ian and Kieran are working out how to hide how thrilled they are and all the women will be worried that the men will be difficult.” Jack looked at Steve and Darren’s blank expressions. “Jeanette is in an interesting condition.”

“What, is she ill?” Darren looked at Jeanette who was looking pale and sitting on one of the comfortable wooden benches strewn around the clearing.

“She’s expecting – she is pregnant.” Jack grabbed a cup of spiced elderberry wine from one of the brownies circulating. “And everything is suddenly complicated. You see, the head of a pack decides who gets to have children, and transgressors are severely punished. Ian is the head of a sub-pack and Kieran has to be fine with it. He is, of course. He’s very proud of the work Ian has been doing and they have worked together extremely well, though they don’t admit it. All the ladies are having fits about what Ian will say and Lady Freydis is fuming.” Jack sighed happily. “She is failing to have the happy Easter joint wedding that she desires, and Fiona is being firm about having another ceremony.”

Steve looked at Darren. “Is the pregnancy a problem?”

Darren shook his head. “I once married someone who was in active labour. It wasn’t ideal, but I believed that they truly loved each other and were committed to each other for their lifetimes. That’s my line.” He grimaced. “I’m not keen on marrying divorcees. Lots are divorced for good reasons and there is every reason to think that they will make it, but the divorce rate for second marriages isn’t good and I worry.” He took another mouthful of drink. “But who am I to refuse to bless the marriage? Won’t it be better with God? I never know what to say.”

“And Ian was married before.” Steve said.

Darren nodded. “The divorce wasn’t anything to do with the marriage. It’s just that he summoned a demon and the pack kicked him out and insisted that he divorce his wife. I believe she has remarried.”

Jack looked impressed. “I didn’t think Ian had it in him to summon a demon. My respect for him has grown.”

Darren ignored him. “Ian was uncomfortable with a church ceremony anyway. His faith is important to him. I don’t doubt his commitment to Jeanette, he’ll never leave her, and I don’t doubt her commitment to him. But I think both Ian and me would prefer a quick civil ceremony and a blessing. I’d feel privileged to bless their marriage.” He looked over at Jeanette who was sitting miserably in the centre of a knot of anxious women. “And to be fair to Jeanette, I don’t think she was keen on the big wedding either.”

Jack looked at Jeanette. “They will be happy together.” For a moment he looked slightly wistful before grinning in mischief. “And Adele will have a fancy wedding, just as her mother demands.”

“I don’t get to do many weddings.” Darren said. “I’ve done more than my share of funerals, and a few baptisms, sometimes in unusual situations, but I don’t seem to get many big weddings. And after listening to Adele’s mother for five minutes, I’m grateful.”

“That bad?” Steve asked.

“She got upset when I wouldn’t put glitter on the altar.” Darren said. “As in, literally stick glitter to the literal wood of the alter. The woman is insane.”

“Hang on.” Jack said, standing straighter. “Things are becoming interesting.”

A sudden chill shot through the air, and every elfen stood bolt upright. Steve swore. Darren looked around. “What’s happening?”

“Someone wants to make an entrance.” Steve said.

Lady Freydis jumped to her feet as a sudden curtain of snowflakes drifted across the clearing, hissing gently on the roasting pigs. “How dare you!” she snapped. The snowflakes shifted into golden ash leaves which the brownies hastily brushed away from the food.

A huge figure strode out of the shadows, a man wearing a crimson tunic with dark breeches and a long fur cloak, followed by a dozen men, all dressed much the same. He looked like some Viking, towering over Lady Freydis and almost as broad as he was tall with flowing red hair braided back and a thick, red beard. “I have come to claim my bride.”

“And who may that be, Eorl Brand?” Ice dripped from Lady Freydis’ words.

“Do not play games with me.” Eorl Brand strode closer to the fire. “You may be a fine lady, but you understand the levers of power. You need a strong lord in York, and I do not hear of any strong men in your court.”

There was a slight movement and then Lady Freydis was surrounded by stern looking subjects. Kadogan and Atherton were on either side of her and Martin and Jack loomed either side. Suddenly Ian and Kieran were no longer looking neutral but instead were taking up a flank while Steve and the senior boggarts were ranged on the other side. Lady Freydis smiled coldly. “I have plenty of strength in my court, and plenty of subtlety. And better courtesy than to walk into another’s domain and shift the weather. How dare you? And how are you going to make amends?”

“My bride should have come to me already.” Eorl Brand said. “I have ruled Nidderdale on your border for centuries. Now is a time for to unite.”

Love Hearts

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Callum, in full fur, shot into the White Hart, yelping frantically, following by – Fiona blinked – dozens of flying, sparkling hearts about the size of her hand. They were twinkling and sparks were falling everywhere as Callum ran frantically around the athame display case.

“We’re about to open!” Adele yelled. “We can’t have this mess.”

Mrs Tuesday couldn’t stop laughing. “Callum, stand still, they won’t hurt you.”

Fiona picked up a sheaf of flyers and started wafting helplessly at the hearts. Dozens of them were in the shop now, and the scent of roses was becoming intense. “What the hell is this?”

Mrs Tuesday was holding onto the counter, crying with laughter. “Love letter.” She gasped out.

“I bet it was addressed to Lady Freydis.” Adele said.

There was an indignant ‘Woof’ from Callum as he skidded around the corner of the athame display case and headed towards the herbs.

“Well I didn’t think you would open something not addressed to the White Hart, but that’s what it looked like.” Adele said.

“Annexe.” Mrs Tuesday managed to gasp out, wiping tears of laughter from her face.

“But Lady Freydis isn’t here.” Fiona said. “She’s setting up the feast for tonight.” She looked around. Not all of the hearts were chasing Callum. Some were nestling together in the corner of the room, shedding crimson sparks that thankfully disappeared before they landed on anything. Others were perching on the edges of the bookcases and one or two were hanging on the light fittings and casting unusual shadows. “Let’s get them into the annexe. We can’t leave them out here.”

Jasmine came in from the back room. “What’s been happening in the back room? It looks like there’s been a fight,” she said, taking off her jacket and shaking out her apron. She looked around and stopped dead, staring. “These are terrifying!”

Mrs Tuesday had nearly got control of herself, but this set her off again. “Get them into the annexe.” She wheezed.

“I’m not going near any of them.” Jasmine said, her eyes wide. “They smell weird.”

Callum was backed into a corner by the herbs, his ears flat and his tail tucked between his legs. Adele ran over. “I’ll get this.” She started swatting the hearts away, although they kept dancing around as near as they could.

Fiona whistled for Armani. He flapped slowly downstairs and then lurched in mid-air, before landing on Fiona’s shoulder. “Bloody hell, miss, who sent that lot?”

“Help us get them into the annexe – gently!” Fiona said. “Jasmine, stay in clothes. They aren’t going to hurt you.”

“Are you sure about that.” Jasmine was almost frozen, her back pressed against the big fridge behind the counter. Mrs Tuesday lost her grip on the counter and slid onto the floor in near hysterics.

It took some time to get the flapping hearts into the annexe, where they settled around the room, humming gently. “What are we supposed to do?” Fiona snapped as Mrs Tuesday, still sniggering, started to switch on the grills. “We should have opened five minutes ago.”

“It’s all non-normals.” Adele peeked under the blinds. “And I think someone wanted an audience.”

Callum got out of fur. “The box was clearly addressed to the White Hart. I heard some movement and I double checked. I don’t make the same mistake twice.” He glared at Armani.

“The kitten was fine.” Armani hunched down even further.

Adele unlocked the door as Fiona wafted the last heart into the annexe. A few of the customers gave Callum interested looks, but most were used to naked werewolves and were more interested in the hearts who were grouping together mid-air to form the shape of a rose. Callum and Jasmine huddled together as the humming became more tuneful and the hearts were singing, “To lovely Lady Freydis… to lovely Lady Freydis… from loyal Jack… from loyal Jack…” With so many gathering at the White Hart for gossip, at least twenty non-normals heard the gentle notes sung by the hearts who then sighed and dissolved into a fine, rose scented powder scattered across the tables and chairs. Jack strolled in a second later, bowing a graceful acceptance to the round of applause from the audience.

“That box was addressed to the White Hart.” Callum snarled at Jack.

“I know.” Jack grinned wickedly, looking around the room.

“You should have at least put Lady Freydis’ name on the parcel.” Callum said, giving Jasmine’s hand a brotherly squeeze as she slowly started to relax.

“But Lady Freydis wasn’t the intended audience.” Jack said. “These were.” He nodded to the non-normals queuing for their drinks and chattering excitedly. “Don’t you think you ought to put some clothes on?”

Callum glared at him and stormed into the back room, Jasmine following him.

Fiona looked at the mess over the floor. “The brownies are going to really hate us.”

Fiona checked herself again in the mirror. She had no idea what to wear for a Halloween event in an elfen domain. It hadn’t been agreed what to call the event, either. Some were calling it Halloween, others calling it Samhain and one or two were calling it a pain in the neck. Lady Freydis had mentioned that the evening may be chilly so Fiona was wearing a long, black velvet skirt and matching jacket with a dark grey silk blouse and had a large woollen wrap over it all. It looked sombre.

“You look very pretty, miss.” Armani said, from his perch on the mantelpiece.

“Thank you,” Fiona said, aware that a fashion compliment from an imp with dirty jeans and a ragged t-shirt wasn’t exactly an award, but it was the best that she was likely to get. She looked around as Steve walked in. “What happened to your face?!”

“There were some minor issues.” Steve glanced in the mirror and winced. A livid red mark ran up his neck and splashed onto his cheek. “But we managed to hack the enchantment. All the skeletal hands now look like cats.” He shuddered. “But I don’t want to go through that again.” He glanced at the clock. “I’ll get a quick shower. I won’t be long.” He paused. “I nearly forgot. This is Mercator and he’ll be on duty when we move to the new house.”

He placed a large box on the table and rushed into the bathroom. Armani flapped down. “Is this what I think it is, boss? For me?”

“No, it’s a member of the household.” Steve yelled through the bathroom door. “Be nice!”

Armani slowly lifted up the flaps of the box and then grinned from ear to ugly ear. “Hello, Mercator. I’m Armani.”

What appeared to be a large ginger tom hopped gracefully out of the box and onto the floor. It gave Armani a look of utter disdain and started washing his face. Fiona bent down and tickled him behind his ear.

“You’re actually a hand, aren’t you?” Mercator looked at her carefully, then rubbed his chin against her hand before going back to his wash. Armani was almost vibrating.

“It’s a cat! I’ve got a kitty!”

“It’s a skeleton hand disguised as a cat that’s going to work with all of us in the new house.” Fiona knew she was talking to empty air. “But why don’t you see if you can cuddle it.”

Armani took a deep, wheezy breath and flapped slowly down to land next to Mercator. Mercator stopped washing and stared deeply into the imp’s dark eyes. There was a long, anxious moment and Fiona held her breath as the sound of Steve’s shower seemed to echo through the house. Then Mercator leaned forward and gently touched his nose to Armani’s nose before flopping down in front of Armani in a blatant invitation to a cuddle.

Armani swallowed before gently scratching Mercator’s head, a tear slowly trickling down his face. “I’ve got a kitty.”

Helping Hand

Photo by Sašo Tušar on Unsplash

Martin found Lady Freydis deep in her fairy domain, sitting at the foot of a huge oak, leaning back, her arms clasped around her legs. Stars wheeled above the clearing which was filled with oddly shaped stones and tree stumps. Martin sat down next to her.

“This is where Ragnar’s funeral feast was held, isn’t it?”

Lady Freydis looked around. “It’s where you declared me Prince. So many people were watching to see what I would say, whether anyone dared make a move against me, whether they could seize the moment. But you stood with me, you and those from the White Hart. I felt I had a shield wall for me.”

“You looked so beautiful.” Martin said. “I remembered how you stood strong during the attack on Lord Ragnar and his halls. I wonder how many people knew how much you had done all these years. Lord Ragnar was lucky.”

Lady Freydis hugged her knees tighter. “I have thought so much about it, how I loved him and he loved me, but we didn’t know and what if we had?”

Martin slid an arm around her and Lady Freydis snuggled close to him. He smiled sadly. “The saddest words in the world are, ‘it might have been’.” His free hand closed over hers. “It’s from a poem I read a long time ago. It’s very true.”

“I wonder if we really loved each other, or loved the idea of each other?” Lady Freydis moved closer. “Whether we really knew each other. Lord Ragnar hated that I could work with the fairy worlds.”

“Deep down, he was a great warrior and a good man.” Martin said. “He is gone and it leaves a shadow. But this is now. You have a wedding to plan.” He looked down at her. “You’re not planning on having the wedding in the same place as Lord Ragnar’s funeral, are you?”

Lady Freydis laughed. “That would be quite the insult to my husband, whoever he is. No, I will find somewhere else. I’m practising with the Samhain feast next week. I’ve shaped some halls and I’m planning wonderful decorations. It should be splendid. Everyone is invited.”

“It should be interesting. I shall enjoy watching all your suitors.” Martin relaxed against the tree.

“I know who I’m going to pick.” Lady Freydis said. “I’m just not saying anything until Easter, so I can have more fun.”

“What if he says ‘no’?” Martin said, dropping a kiss on the top of his head.

Lady Freydis relaxed and snuggled closer. “I’ll have to find a way to change his mind.”

Amani flapped awkwardly through the shop, swaying and lurching in the air as the tabby cat he was clutching fought to escape. Elaine watched as the cat defied all natural laws, nearly turned itself inside out, spat, swore and caught Armani with a swipe that scratched across his cheek and over his ragged and pointed ear before twisting free and dropping. It shot into the back room.

Elaine turned to Dave. “Do cats like werewolves?”

Dave shrugged. “I suppose we can wait and see.”

There was another indignant howl and the cat shot back out, across the floor, ran up the bookcase, freaked as the books it had dislodged clattered to the floor and started to race around the herbs. Elaine rushed over to the door and opened it. The tabby saw its chance, ran across a display of china fairies, and out through the door. Elaine leaned forward to the small knot of non-normals waiting outside. “We’ll be open in around ten minutes.” Before she could shut the door, however, Jack raced in followed by four skeletal hands.

“I said I was sorry.” He yelled as he raced towards the back room. “Lady Freydis, aid me!”

Adele stopped sweeping up the fragments of the china fairies and watched with interest as Jack raced around the herb racks, the hands in hot pursuit. “Lady Freydis isn’t here, something to do with the Samhain feast.” She watched Jack vault over the case with the athames. “I like working here. It’s a lot more interesting than the sandwich shop.”

Jack skidded into the café area where a fifth hand tripped him. He landed with a bone shuddering thud. “I’m sorry! What more can I say?”

The nearest hand jumped on Jack’s chest, wagging a finger.

“I know! It’s not my fault.” Jack said. “I can’t help what people say.”

The hand bounced.

“No, I can’t do that! I’d get into trouble.”

The hand bounced again.

“That is quite unfair. I don’t get into that sort of trouble. I get into interesting trouble.” Jack pushed himself up into a sitting position but the hand clung to the front of his shirt. “I would thank you for not repeating that.”

Callum stormed out of the back room and glared at Jack. “Did you just send a cat down into the back room?”

“I am getting falsely accused of so many crimes.” Jack said, gently disentangling the hand and setting it softly on his shoulder. “The cat had nothing to do with me.”

“Cats do not like werewolves unless they grew up with them.” Callum said. “It’s cruel to send a cat towards werewolves, and I can’t stand cruelty.”

“It wasn’t me.” Jack said, getting slowly to his feet. “I have my own issues.”

The hand tugged on his shirt collar.

“But what am I supposed to say? People are so unreasonable.”

“It was Armani.” Elaine said. “He still wants a pet cat.”

Callum stared. “But he’s an imp. Cats freak out at imps.”

Adele smiled at Callum, her heart in her eyes, before remembering about the broken china. “Armani is just being awkward.”

“Hang on,” Dave looked at Elaine. “When that Leanne creature was impersonating you, she suggested making a glamour part of the magic of the hands.” He looked at the bony hand on Jack’s shoulder. “That could solve a lot of problems.”

Jack looked at the hand. “I don’t know if that’s possible.” He said doubtfully. “I remember these creatures being created and it was a complex magic.”

“What’s that?” Steve came out of the back room. “Armani, you’re bleeding on the floor. You have to leave cats alone.”

Armani huddled down and took the tissue Elaine held out to him. “Sorry boss. I just want a kitty.”

“Why?” Elaine asked.

Armani huddled lower. “It just feels right, miss.”

“You’re not going to eat it, are you?” Elaine asked.

Armani looked offended. “Not at all, miss. I just want a little companionship in my humdrum life.”

Steve looked at Jack. “Did you teach him that?” Jack shrugged.

Dave looked at the hands jumping up and down and tugging at Jack’s jeans. “The hands seem keen on the idea, and Armani could have a sort of kitty. Everyone would be happy.”

Steve frowned. “That’s a tricky ask.” He looked at Jack. “Did you create these?”

Jack shook his head. “An incredibly talented sorcerer was overrun by mice and I believe he got drunk. The magic is quite…”

Steve pulled a magnifying glass from his pocket and muttered a few words before pointing it at the hands, who jumped up and down and made rude gestures. “Hang on.” Steve said. “If you want the magic to show you as cats, you have to let people look at the magic.”

“They got out of control last time, but no-one could deal with the magic.” Jack said. “I believe they were buried under the floor of the paladin’s kitchen, in their old lair. What happened to it, by the way?”

“It blew up.” Steve said, peering through the magnifying glass. “The magic is a mess. There are connections all over.”

“There is no need to be smug about it.” Jack said to the hands. “It just complicates things.”

Adele wandered over to Callum and gave him a brief hug before interrupting Jack and Steve. “We’re about to open the shop. Can you take this to the back room?”

The hands shot across the floor into the back room, followed by Armani, slowly flapping and holding a tissue to his battered face. Elaine shook her head and then smiled.

“You are absolutely right, Adele. This is a lot better than working in a sandwich shop.”

I will be winding down the White Hart and ending this series soon. There are three main reasons. The most important is that it is interfering with writing other stuff within this setting. I have around three novels in the pipeline and I keep having to jiggle things around to keep things consistent with the White Hart. This is a nuisance, and is slowing things down. The second reason is that I am running out of good stories to tell here. There are still stories, and I may post occasional pieces over on ‘Always Another Chapter’ but I am worried about keeping up any sort of quality. I sometimes I look back and because I am always scrambling to publish weekly, I don’t always give the White Hart the care and love it should have. I feel like I let readers down. And don’t pretend you haven’t spotted spelling mistakes – I am mortified sometimes! The third reason is that it is taking time away from me writing other stuff that I could get paid for. If I hit a block with the White Hart, I end up spending my energy trying to work around it instead of shaking things up, because I want to aim for a Friday deadline.

This blog site is coming up for renewal in the next few months. Depending on how things are, I may not renew this site but instead find another way to make the content on here available without charge. I have had so much wonderful support on here, for which I am incredibly grateful, and I am not going to forget that. You are all awesome. Thank you!

Challenge

Photo by Merve Aydın on Unsplash

Darren bowed his head and started to pray. He could feel something in the background. A loud banging started in the walls.

“It’s happening again!” Mrs Case wrung her hands. “It’s terrifying.”

Darren continued to pray, placing his hands over the walls. Strange vibrations were running through the modern plaster walls.

“These flats were only built four years ago.” Mrs Case looked around at the tasteful, minimalist décor. “Perhaps it was built on a graveyard.”

Darren tried to concentrate. A properly consecrated graveyard was safe enough. Besides, this wasn’t a departed spirit. Perhaps it was an echo of the issues with the revenants and the vampiric energy. He continued to pray.

“I blame them upstairs.” Mrs Case pulled her cardigan closer. She may look like a harmless little old lady, but Darren had seen the swathe of true crime murder books and dvds on her shelves and was not turning his back on her. Mrs Case shook her head. “They are always arguing, and you should see their tattoos! It’s not right.”

Darren kept praying, running his hands slowly over the wall. It felt alive. Darren stepped back. “I may need to do a full exorcism.”

“Really?” Mrs Case sounded thrilled. “I can’t wait to let my sister know.”

Darren tried not glare at her. Exorcisms were no a spectator sport. “I will need to have an empty room to work in.”

“Really?” Mrs Case asked. “I’m sure I could be useful.”

“I’m quite sure.” Darren began and then leapt back as the wall exploded. Plaster and shredded wallpaper tumbled down around Jack who was now sprawled on the floor. He jumped quickly to his feet.

“Thanks, padre, I thought I was stuck in there.” Jack brushed down his battered jeans. “You have powerful prayers.”

Mrs Case shrieked as a long, smoke-like arm reached to grab Jack’s leg. Jack swore and kicked back at it while Darren snapped out some urgent Latin. The smoke evaporated.

“I don’t think you’ll be bothered anymore, Mrs Case.” Darren said, rubbing his hands over his plastered-covered hair. “Now let’s join in a prayer of thanks.”

Darren looked at Jack, waiting expectantly at the passenger door of his car. “Do you want a lift?”

“I think the least I can do is buy you a drink.” Jack said. “I was having a look around some of the lesser corners of York and ran into that.” He shook his head sadly. “I’m losing my touch. I never thought I would be ambushed like that.” He knocked some plaster dust off his jacket as Darren opened the door. “I owe you a favour.”

“I’m fine, thanks.” Darren said. “Egerton is still too terrified to leave the house. Just take care next time.”

“Perhaps I should pay for some masses.” Jack said, sliding into the car.

“No, really, don’t bother.” Darren said. “Where can I drop you?”

“Egerton? Hmm.” Jack stretched his legs as far as the seat would allow. “Yes, I remember. He used to call himself Findlay and fancy himself a trickster. He was a sad little mouse. Why is he serving you?”

“Punishment for spiking my drink with an elfen love potion.” Darren said. “So, do you want a lift to the White Hart?”

Jack grinned. “Actually, yes, I have some events in motion that should be entertaining.”

“Put your seatbelt on.” Darren said.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what those events are?” Jack said. “And these seatbelts are irrelevant to me.”

“Nope.” Darren watched unmoving until Jack buckled up. “I’m sure I’m going to find out anyway.”

“I found that one could send chocolate to ladies without leaving a name.” Jack said. “It’s much easier now with this internet. I sent some chocolates to Fiona, to make her smile after the recent troubles.”

“I’m sure Fiona is glad to have them.” Darren started the car. “She has had a rough few years, but I think she’s okay.”

“Indeed. I sent her a small token.” Jack said. “And once she and Steve Adderson return from their holiday, I shall continue to be at her service. However I found that my friend, Kai, could also order chocolates to Lady Freydis.”

There was a screech and some loud voices. Darren glanced quickly at Jack. “Did you just change the traffic lights?”

“I dislike waiting.” Jack said, “Unless, of course, there is an entertaining altercation.”

Darren swerved around the road rage incident and headed back into York and towards the White Hart. “Don’t do that when I’m driving. What’s the thing with the chocolates?”

“I did not add my name.” Jack craned his neck to get a last glimpse of the havoc he had caused before settling back in his seat. “I just put ‘Guess who?’ I wonder how many will claim them.”

“Surely no-one would claim them if they didn’t send them.” Darren said. “They would know that the real sender would turn up.”

“But would that generous donor of chocolate be able to prove it?” Jack said. “I am sure there will be at least a little argument, and my Prince will have a tribute of chocolate.”

“Hmm.” Darren concentrated on his driving. “As long as normals aren’t involved.”

“How dull.” Jack craned his neck again. “Why, that house is still standing, and after I had such a fight in it!”

“When was that?” Darren asked.

“Last week, with Martin, just before I got stuck.” Jack turned back in his seat. “I am sure we broke a wall.”

Darren shook his head. “Why are you always fighting with Martin?”

“Because it’s fun.” Jack said. “Besides, he has the edge over me and has for centuries. I need to find a way to beat him.”

“And he adores Lady Freydis.” Darren said.

“He is probably worthy of Lady Freydis.” Jack admitted, “But he knows it, and there is no-one else that can even challenge him in combat.”

“Half of the trouble in York at the moment is because Lady Freydis took a vampire as her lover and gave him access to Fairyland.” Darren said. “It’s been a rocky year or two.”

“Martin is not like that.” Jack said. “He is dull, and sensible and generally unexciting.” Jack frowned. “And unexpectedly strong, even for a vampire.”

“Here we are,” Darren said with some relief as he pulled into the car park. He watched Kadogan dump two scuffling elfen out of the shop. “Looks like the chocolate worked.”

“I am so glad.” Jack bounded past Kadogan and into the shop. Darren shook his head and drove off.

Lady Freydis leaned on the counter and watched the discussions raging amongst the elfen. She smiled when she saw Jack. “Thank you for the chocolates.” She whispered. “They are most entertaining and wonderfully extravagant.”

“I should hope so.” Jack took in the row of hampers spilling curled ribbon, cellophane and handmade chocolates over the back counter of the café. “And my Prince is infinitely worth it.”

Lady Freydis looked up at Martin who was watching a shoving match in one corner. “You don’t buy me chocolates.”

“I don’t need to.” Martin said. “You know what I’m like and what I can do. I could have any lady I wished. You need to prove yourself to me.”

“What?!” Lady Freydis stared. “I’m the Prince of York.”

“And you know exactly what you’re getting with me.” Martin nodded to Mrs Tuesday who was grinning broadly. “A black coffee, please.”

“I’m your Prince.” Lady Freydis said.

“And I am the best lover in York.” Martin said, taking his coffee from Mrs Tuesday. “Thank you.”

“Prove it.” Lady Freydis said.

Martin raised an eyebrow. “Without marriage? That would be improper.”

Lady Freydis stamped her feet. “I can take any one I want in marriage.”

“Absolutely.” Martin said. “Excuse me, please. Kadogan is getting outnumbered.”

“And I had best help out to protect my fair Fiona’s fixtures.” Jack dumped his dusty jacket on the counter and followed Martin.

Lady Freydis looked at Mrs Tuesday. “He is indeed the best lover in York, damn him.” She frowned. “But he should still chase me.” She tapped her elegant fingernails on the counter. “Are there any coffee chocolates in there?”