At the Reception

Fiona stayed very close to Steve.  She did not trust the faerie realm and, as she looked around, she wasn’t the only one.  Lord Ragnar’s Great Hall was uncomfortably full of uneasy knots of people.  Kieran’s pack of werewolves were grouped by a one of the vast fireplaces, the women chatting with forced smiles and the men watchful.  Miss Patience and her vampires were huddled together in one of the darker corners, silent and staring, although Martin and Dean were staying close to the group from the White Hart.  Ian and Callum were keeping Jeanette, Adele and Jasmine close to the centre of the group from the White Hart while keeping an eye on the rest of the hall.  A group of goblins were hunched over a furtive card game while the few brownies who were not involved in preparing the feast were in a tense group near the door.  Gavin Browne was managing a stilted conversation about growing ginger in Yorkshire with Mr Shah, a jinn who owned an accounting firm just outside Boston Spa.

Fiona slipped her hand into Steve’s.  “Everyone looks so on edge.” She said quietly.

Steve nodded.  He could feel Armani shifting restlessly in his pocket.  Armani had strict instructions to stay in the pocket unless there was serious trouble, with a promise of brandy for good behaviour.  “I have no idea what is going to happen, but whatever happens, stay close to me.”

Fiona nodded.  There was a brittle quality to the air.  Lord Ragnar had not yet arrived, but plenty of elfen were mingling.  Freydis looked resplendent in her blue ballgown, but many of the other elfen were wearing black.  Others were wearing suits or gowns in dark crimson or dark bottle green velvet.

Egerton approached and bowed low to Freydis.  “My most beautiful Freydis, you look divine.  Something must have given me the hint that you would reject your usual, everyday and mundane pink.  Today our thoughts ran parallel.” He ran a hand over his dark royal blue velvet suit.  “I hope we will be able to dance tonight.”

Freydis curtsied politely.  “I am sure we will both dance with a great many people tonight, Egerton.  I am looking forward to the dancing a great deal, and you have always been a graceful dancer.”

“Your compliment flatters me.” Egerton smiled.  “Excuse me, I must greet Kieran Latimer, but I hope we can talk much later.”

Fiona was surprised at the glint of hunger in Egerton’s eyes as well as cold calculation as he caught Freydis’ hand for a stylised kiss.  She turned to Steve and caught his flash of concern before Kadogan finally appeared and stood watchfully at Freydis’ shoulder.  Egerton seemed to find this amusing as he inclined his head to Kadogan and turned to towards the York pack.

Kadogan grasped Freydis’ elbow.  “Were you flirting with him?”

“No, he was flirting with me.” Freydis said, smoothly pulling her arm away.  “He merely desires power and thinks that he may obtain that by seducing me.”

Fiona took a deep breath.  “I don’t like to say anything, but I think he actually likes you as well.  I mean, I think he’s after you more than the power.”

Freydis looked baffled.  “But everyone knows that I would only consider Lord Ragnar.”

“You slept with Rey Baxter.” Kadogan said.  “Amongst many, many others.  Also, you are a single woman.  You may dally with whoever you choose.  Even an elfen.”

“I do not choose anyone.” Freydis said.  For a moment the gleam of her glorious hair dimmed before she shook it back and looked provocatively at Kadogan.  “Or does Suzuki have to fear from me?”

“Suzuki and I have an understanding.” Kadogan said.  “And I would never get between my prince and his desire.”

“If your prince desires me, then he should act.” Freydis shrugged.  “I shall enjoy the dancing.  Do you not think all the ladies of the White Hart look beautiful?”

Kadogan looked over the group.  Adele looked uncomfortable in a flowing pink maxi dress with a matching shawl.  Jeanette was wearing a long, sweeping cotton skirt with a matching violet jacket over a black silk shirt.  Fiona looked cool and refreshing in a cream linen trouser suit with a pale pink top, her hair gleaming and opal earrings glimmering in the bright candlelight.  Together with Jasmine’s sharp, dark trouser suit and Mrs Tuesday’s sweeping pink cocktail dress with the sequinned jacket, they made an elegant group.  He sighed.  “The White Hart has the most beautiful ladies in the room.”

The double doors at the end of the hall swept open and Lord Ragnar strode in.  Steve and Fiona exchanged worried glances.  This was the time of year when elfen normally wore bright colours.  Lord Ragnar was completely in black, with a black silk suit and a black silk shirt, slim and poised, with a silver circlet in his russet hair.

“Welcome, guests, all.  Eat and drink freely, without fear or obligation.  Let us celebrate!” Lord Ragnar spun around and stalked back into the hall.

Everyone trailed awkwardly after him.  Steve slipped an arm around Fiona’s shoulders and pulled her close to him, tapping his pocket with his free hand.  Armani squirmed and wriggled out of Steve’s pocket and flapped up to perch on his shoulder.  The ugly imp looked around and hunched down on Steve’s shoulder, watchful and wary.

Fiona could see others around the room bunching together.  Kieran’s pack were moving in a protective group, clearly keeping the younger and older members in the centre.  The boggarts and goblins were slightly more spread out, enough to easily swing a punch but close enough to help each other out.  Miss Patience led the vampires, moving with an eerie synchronicity as they headed towards the head of the table.  Fiona found herself guided into the centre of the group from the White Hart as Steve’s hand on the small of her back gently pushed her next to Jeanette and Adele as Steve took up his place in the outside of the group.  Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday were also on the inside while Ian, Callum, Evan and Dave spaced themselves around the ladies alongside Steve.  Fiona looked around to see where Freydis would station herself.

Freydis walked forward, almost in a trance.  All colour had drained from her exquisite face and her eyes were much larger and darker than usual.  She stared at the tables, piled high with roast pork, hams, chestnuts, rich fruit cakes and spicy apple pies.  She stared at the jugs of mulled wine and the sprays of ivy trailing over the table.  Freydis was almost shrinking in to herself as she looked around the huge, faerie hall, hung with branches of fir and pine, twined with ivy and silver ribbons.  Fir trees were ranged along the walls, hung with garlands of berries and casting dark shadows away from the scarlet candles.  Frost glinted on the high arched stone roof.

Martin gently pushed Dean towards Ian and then went to stand at her shoulder.  “Lord Ragnar, my Prince, I owe you honour and counsel.  My Prince, this is wrong.” Martin waved at the heaped tables.  “This is a winter feast.  It is summer outside.  It is a time for strawberries, not apples.”

Lord Ragnar stopped at the head of the table and turned slowly.  “Do you dare to challenge me?”

“Lord Ragnar, my Prince, I dare to counsel you.” Martin stepped forward.  “You are wearing black at midsummer.  The realm is out of joint.”  Martin scrabbled for the right words as he looked at Lord Ragnar’s rigid face.  “Let us show you that we are grateful for your hospitality and let us fix the realm.” Martin looked around.  “Freydis would help put things right, as would Lord Marius and Lord Lothar.” He looked towards the two great elfen lords, apparently relaxed at one side in light coloured suits, their eyes watchful.  “Lord Ragnar, you have a great court and many here are skilled and powerful.  Please, allow us to aid our Prince.”

Lord Ragnar looked around his hall as if seeing it for the first time.  He shook his head and then stared at the dozens of guests waiting for him to speak.  He took a deep breath and opened his mouth.  For a moment no sound came out then, with effort, Lord Ragnar said, “I am the prince of this domain and I will mend it.” His voice creaked and cracked and he pulled himself to his full height, stretching his arms wide.  “My realm will obey me!”

Steve clapped his hands to his ears and bent double.  Around him all the elfen were doing the same, clutching their heads and struggling to stand.  Lord Marius and Lord Lothar were thrown by some unseen force against the walls and pinned there, their faces contorted as they tried to shield themselves from something that only those with elfen blood could feel.  Freydis was clutching Martin’s arm and standing upright with effort, her eyes wide with fear.  Lord Ragnar threw back his head and howled.  “I am the Prince!” With a sweep of his hands he gathered a darkness between them.

“Ragnar, don’t! Don’t go that way!” Freydis was struggling to walk, pushing herself towards her ex-husband.  “You don’t understand…” She stumbled and Martin caught her just in time.  Lord Ragnar ignored her and sank his fingers deep into the darkness and then pulled, tearing the dark shadow apart.

Even Fiona felt it, a great, screeching, wail that echoed around the hall.  She clung on to Steve as he buckled against her and looked around.  Freydis had collapsed, as had most of the elfen.  Kadogan was on his hands and knees, trying to crawl towards Lord Ragnar who seemed pinned in the air.  Some of the werewolves had gone to fur, shedding their finery and braced, snarling, for whatever happened next.  Most of the boggarts had dropped their glamour, including Mrs Tuesday who had a long, greying, hairy arm around Adele who was shivering as she cowered.

Then the noise stopped and an absolute silence fell.  Fiona clung on to Steve as he picked Armani up from the floor with a shaking hand and straightened.  The imp stirred and scrambled on to Steve’s shoulder where it clung, trembling.  Freydis scrambled to her feet, the ballgown now splitting and wreathing into jeans and a shirt and her hair twisted itself into a loose knot.  She marched up to Lord Ragnar who was immobile at the head of the table and slapped his face, hard.  The sound of the slap rang around the silent hall and Lord Ragnar rocked back, a scarlet handprint vivid on his face.

“You idiot!” Freydis snapped.  She spun around.  “Lord Marius, Lord Lothar – please aid us!”  The two elfen lords nodded, still shaken.  Freydis turned to Kieran.  “Kieran Latimer, these halls need to be evacuated.  Get everyone out, quick as you like.  Martin, you need to get those vampires out of here before they break.  Kadogan, we need to build power – start a circle.  Steve Adderson, we need you here.  Atherton will get Fiona safely out.  Atherton, get the White Hart out!”

Lord Ragnar raised a shaking hand to his face.  “I am the Prince here.”

Freydis spun back to face him, her finger jabbing at him.  “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare try and defend what you have just done!  The whole place is splitting.  Pull yourself together and get the swords issued.  You’re our prince – act like it!”

Fiona hung on to Steve for a moment, but he nodded and pulled away.  “It’s okay.  I’ll be fine as long as you get safely out of here.  Atherton will look after you.  Now, go – quickly!”

Ian was already keeping the people from the White Hart in a tight group.  Adele clung on to Mrs Tuesday and Evan kept his arm loosely around Jeanette as they turned back towards the doors.  Fiona shivered as cold spiked through her and the floor became slippery with ice.  Suddenly the double doors that had been only a few steps behind them seemed to recede and icy floor stretched in front of them.

“Kadogan, I need that circle going.” Freydis said.  “Lord Marius, if you could take the star side channel, I would be most grateful.”

“I search for it now.” Lord Marius said from between clenched teeth as he struggled with the elfen magic.

“Steve Adderson, please pull the doors back for people to get out.” Freydis said.  “Lord Lothar, your assistance if you would be so kind.”

Fiona glanced back.  Freydis was surrounded by a tangle of magic, with swirls of coloured traces dancing around her.  Twining around the strands of light were threads of darkness and Freydis was struggling with a thick tangle of dark as she tried to pull it away from a vivid, floating layer of green.  Steve was struggling to control a golden glow around his hand.  Lord Marius was surrounded by silver sparkles as he gestured and pulled the glints towards him.  The ice on the floor disappeared.

“We need to leave.” Atherton said, grasping Fiona’s elbow.  “We need to move with swiftness.”

“Dammit, Ragnar, what have you done?” Freydis started swearing as dark threads tried to run up her arm.  She shook them off but it left ripples in the colours around her and a bell started tolling.

“I think you have it as controlled as maybe.” Lord Lothar was also pulling at the darker threads.  “If we can keep the balance…”

“I am the prince here.” Lord Ragnar said. “This is my fight.”

“Take up your sword.” Freydis said.  “Kieran, why are people still here?”

“The doors will not move.” Kieran said, ushering a brownie closer to the centre of the group.  “Ian Tait is trying to unseal them with magic.”

“Steve, what is happening?” Freydis glanced briefly away from the knots of dark and colour in front of her and swore as a strand of the dark snapped across her cheek, leaving a bloody mark.

“Lord Ragnar, you have to let us leave.” Steve said.  He was getting control of the golden glow now, and the distance between the people and the door was shrinking.  “We all recognise you as prince, but people will die if they do not get out.”

“I am still Prince.” Lord Ragnar groaned.  He staggered towards Freydis.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting things right.  Ragnar, let the people out.” Freydis glanced briefly up again.  “It’s getting out of hand.”

Lord Ragnar reached through the dark and coloured swirls and pulled Freydis around to face him.  The balance she had been holding broke and she screamed as she flew across the room and crashed into a wall.  Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday instinctively darted towards her but shadows erupted from the floor, tendrils reaching out to snare them.

“Everyone, head towards Lord Ragnar!” Kieran shouted out.  “Ian, forget the door.  Get back here.”

Martin helped Freydis to her feet.  She clung to his arm, swaying, as she tried to get her bearings.  “To the Prince!” Martin called.  “Everyone rally to the Prince.”

Fiona grabbed Jeanette and Adele but the shadows in front of Freydis were not the only ones.  A stinging strand whipped across Adele’s back, ripping her shawl and drawing blood.  “Steve, what’s happening?”

“It’s hard to describe.” Steve was struggling as golden light bucked and fought around his hands.  “Stay away from the shadows.”

All around the hall shadows were springing away from the corners and rising from the floor, becoming almost solid and malevolent.  “Watch out!” Jasmine pulled Jeanette out of the way as a shadow snapped a tendril at her.  The edge slapped across Jeanette’s face and cut a nasty mark across her cheek and chin.

“Everyone together!” Kieran yelled.  He swung at the shadow nearest him.  It seemed to give a little and was diminished but it didn’t fall back.  “Ian, get the doors open.  Kai and Morgan, keep him safe while he works.”

Freydis had scrambled to her feet with less than her usual grace.  “Steve Adderson, keep the hall stable.  Ragnar, I swear by root and leaf if you try something like that again I will sulk.  Kadogan, I need that power.”

Kadogan was forming a circle with half a dozen of the elfen and he was starting to dance.  It wasn’t the usual, graceful circle of dancing elfen.  They were stumbling and slow, pushing against some strange resistance.  Mrs Tuesday darted towards the laden table, dodging the grasping shadows, and grabbed a tureen of roast potatoes.  She emptied it onto the table and tossed the silver tureen to Evan.  “Get a rhythm going.”

“Which one, Auntie Jane?” Evan was pale, holding a greasy tureen and looking around at the chaotic scene.

“What was the last song you heard on the radio?” Mrs Tuesday swung wide as Adele was knocked off her feet.  The shadows burst and scattered.

“We need to clear the centre.” Kieran kicked through a shadow that dissolved into shards.  “Martha, get a space cleared.”

Martin was standing sentry over Freydis as once again she pulled the strands of magic around her.  “Kieran, can you move towards the elfen?  Get us all in here?”

Evan was tapping out a fast rock beat on the upturned tureen.  Kadogan and the dancers were slowly picking up the pace.  There seemed to be less resistance.  Kieran glanced over.  “I can’t protect the dancers.”  He ducked and swung hard at another shadow, clearing some room around a badly bleeding brownie.  “Ian, get back here.  We need your magic.”

“No!” Freydis didn’t look around but kept focused on pulling a strand of blue.  “We need the doors open.”

Evan was bleeding now from a cut above his eye, but Mrs Tuesday and Jasmine were standing guard over him and the dancers were picking up speed, their movements becoming more fluid.  Mr Shah had dropped his physical form and his booming voice rang out.  “I can protect the dancers, but everyone stay low!”

Fiona clung to Adele as they crouched inside what was becoming a defensive ring.  Martha had cleared a space with the rest of the werewolf women and was bandaging up some of the worst injuries, with clothes shed by the werewolves being ripped up for the makeshift first aid.  Fiona’s trouser suit was stained with blood, some from the goblin she had pulled back from a dark tendril and some from the gash on her leg that was still stinging.  Armani was weaving low over the heads of the crowd, sparks flying from his claws.  He glanced over at Mr Shah and started weaving lower.

A wind whipped around the dancers, ruffling their hair as the shadows were pushed back.  Steve breathed a little easier as magic started to flow around the room.  Lord Ragnar was no longer standing shocked but was now side by side with Miss Patience.  His heart sank.  The amorphous shapes and tendrils were coalescing into more substantial forms – the shapes of the revenants that had been plaguing York.

“Ian, how are those doors?” Steve yelled above the growing howl of Mr Shah’s winds as Armani struggled into the safety of his pocket.

“I’m getting nowhere.” Ian yelled back.  He flinched as a revenant grabbed at him before Kai could throw him back.

“Lord Ragnar – release the doors.” Steve yelled.  “We need to get the civilians out of here.”

Lord Ragnar glanced back, ducking under a clawed hand.  “I can’t get full control of them.  Try an autumn cadence.”

“Some of us don’t know elfen magic.” Ian muttered through gritted teeth.

Freydis didn’t look up.  “Steve, take over on the doors.  Ian, watch his back.  Dammit!” Another tendril of the dark magic whipped across her and cut a long gash in her arm.  Blood started to seep through her sleeve.

“I’ve got the lead.” Martin yelled.  “Freydis, just keep working on the magic.  Kieran, get ready to evacuate as soon as the doors are open.”

Miss Patience ripped the head off the newly formed revenant in front of her.  “We should all try and fall back.  The realm seems on the point of collapse.” The vampires around her were all fighting with her trademark efficiency and all showing the same lack of emotion.

Martin glanced over at her.  “Is there something you want to share?”

“The great elfen lords are stabilising the realm but it is not guaranteed.  There are many wounded, including my vampires.”

Martin knocked a shard of darkness out of the air before it could reach Freydis who was now wholly immersed in her strange whirl of colours.  “Fall back.  The elfen will be fine, but everyone else back.” He yelled over Mr Shah’s increasing fury.  The jinn was whipping up storm winds and they swirled around the hall.  Leaves and twigs were caught up and the once immaculate tablecloths were billowing.  “I’m keeping station with Freydis.”

“So am I.” Evan kept the staccato beat and edged closer to Martin.  The elfen were dancing faster, surrounded by Mr Shah’s storm but untouched by it.

Steve ran over and laid his hands on the great doors.  He swore.  “It’s midwinter magic.  Everybody stay low, I may have to break them.”

Ian darted forward to pull one of the goblins free from a revenant’s choking grasp.  The goblin struggled as Ian punched the revenant hard before Egerton caught up and ripped the revenant’s head off with a casual ease.  Ian barely had a chance to nod his thanks before the fir branch over his head fell.  Egerton grabbed the goblin but Ian was directly underneath and flat footed.

Jeanette saw it almost in slow motion.  Without thinking she sprinted under the blast of the wind and pushed Ian, hard, getting him out of the way, just in time for the heavy branch to land on her.  Ian fell, sprawling forward, propelled by Jeanette’s shove but he twisted to his feet, rushing back to her.

“There is no time for this!” Steve yelled.  “Kadogan, help me!”

Kadogan picked up the pace.  Golden light cascaded from the dancers to Steve who struggled to bring it under his control.  “It’s midwinter magic, Kadogan, you have to take the summer out of the dance.”

Mr Shah was working hard.  Flagons of mulled wine toppled and heavy pewter plates skidded along the tables as the great wind pushed back against the revenants, but as one fell, two more were forming in the shadows.  “I cannot keep this going all night.” He warned.

Lord Ragnar glanced back.  “Hold one moment, Steve Adderson.  I have this.”

“No!” Martin shouted, but it was too late.  Lord Ragnar snapped out some words of power and there was a crack of thunder.  The revenants surged up, now solid and smooth like smoked glass.  Splinters fell from the roof and the revenant that Dave was punching shattered around his fist.  The hall was filled with splintering glass as blows landed.  The revenants rushed forward in a heaving mass.

Steve looked around desperately.  Ian was in wolf form, standing over the limp body of Jeanette, his hackles raised.  Freydis was almost hidden inside the whirl of colours and dark strands as she pulled the power from Kadogan’s dancers.  Fiona was crouched, holding on to Adele as the battle raged, red and green blood staining her trouser suit.  An embattled ring was surrounding the injured and the weak.  There was fear in Kieran’s eyes and Miss Patience was looking desperate.  Steve placed his palms flat on the doors and concentrated.  He had to get them open.  Shards of glass were flying as Mr Shah did his best to whip the splinters away and into the corners.

Lord Ragnar was fighting hard.  He may not have the abilities of Freydis in the faerie realm but he still had his strength and skill.  The revenants were falling back before him.  He grabbed a revenant around the waist and threw it hard into a stone pillar.  Glass shards flew everywhere and another revenant, with cold blooded calculation, grabbed a shard out of the air and swung hard at the nearest vampire, slicing through the neck and sending the head rolling towards Miss Patience before it crumbled to dust.

Miss Patience spun around.  “Vivienne!  No!” She turned back to Lord Ragnar.  “This is your fault, this is all your fault.  Every sliver of glass in a vein, every scar from the dark energy, it is all your fault!  She caught her breath.  “If I had done this, you would make me pay!” Ignoring the revenants surging towards her she stepped up to Lord Ragnar, pulling strands of dark energy out of the air, instinctively winding them around her hands and then thrusting them forward, forcing them into his stomach and ripping him apart.  There was a heartbeat as Lord Ragnar looked over to Freydis, then he collapsed into a soft heap of dead leaves and woodland floor.

Every head snapped around.  Steve could feel the backlash scything through the magical atmosphere and put everything he could into breaking the doors.  They splintered as Freydis took a deep breath.  Steve started urging people towards the doorway, looking around desperately for Fiona.  The dancers had stopped and Mr Shah was now back in his physical shape, backing towards Steve.  Evan dropped the tureen and the clatter echoed.

Freydis pulled herself to her full height.  The glamour dropped and a small, skinny creature with dark, slanted eyes and wrapped in rags, raised her hands and screamed. Steve recognised the cry and threw himself flat on the floor, along with all the other elfen.  Revenants around the room started to unravel, the glass shards melting into dark smoke that grew paler as it spiralled up past the tattered branches and into the roof.  The splinters on the floor and embedded in the walls and scattered on the tables rose like mist and faded.  Miss Patience took a breath and shook her head frantically as Freydis turned to her.  Strands of grey and black pulled themselves away from Miss Patience, twisting like ribbons in the breeze, as she and her vampires unravelled, fading as the tendrils drifted upwards until there was nothing left.

The hall fell silent.  Steve rushed over to Fiona who was pulling herself to her feet.  All around the hall people were helping each other up and looking for friends and family.  Ian was still standing over Jeanette, licking frantically at her pale and immobile face.  Callum had found Adele and was holding her as if he would never let her go.  Dave was tense, his fists clenching and unclenching as he slowly calmed down.  Mrs Tuesday was patting Evan’s arm.

In the centre of the hall, Freydis had regained her glamour.  Once again she was a tall, elegant blonde in a blue ballgown, slumped to her knees, sobbing silently as shafts of summer sunlight lit the hall.

Image from Free-images.com

Almost ready

This is the second set of ongoing stories from the White Hart.  You can read the first set here and you can read this set from the beginning here

“You are the son of Lord Marius.” Kadogan said, appearing in the office at Steve’s shoulder as he counted the change.
“What? Yes, I am.” Steve abandoned any hope of counting and leant back in his chair to look at Kadogan. What he saw worried him. He looked paler than usual and his hair looked longer and unkempt. His cheekbones looked a lot more prominent and his eyes were wilder.
“But you have no interest in taking the path of the elfen or taking power.” Kadogan lounged against the office door.
“It’s really not my style.” Steve said. “I like the business side and the travel.”
“Also your wife is not elfen.” Kadogan continued. “Although any children may have a choice to take the elfen path.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Steve said. “Are you okay?”
“Four centuries ago I had a child.” Kadogan stepped in and shut the door. Steve felt unexpectedly edgy at being trapped in a room with him. Kadogan had always been sensible and easy to deal with, for an elfen, but the rules were changing. Steve pushed a chair towards Kadogan.
“What happened?”
“She died.” Kadogan said. “She was a flower. She grew, she blossomed, she faded and she died.”
“I’m sorry.” Steve said. He wasn’t sure whether the child was a literal flower or a person described as a flower. Both were possible with elfen.
“She had a good life.” Kadogan sat on the offered chair. “She worked as a washerwoman for a family near Rawcliffe. She never married. When she was twelve she caught smallpox. Normals have already forgotten what that was like. It was so bad. Lord Ragnar sat and sang with her for seven days and seven nights until she was healed. He brought her back from dark shores.”
“That was good of him.” Steve said.
“He did not ask it for a favour, either.” Kadogan said. “He did it because it was the thing to do to a loyal companion. Just as he marshalled the court for the White Hart when there was a fire. He tries to do the right thing.”
“I know.” Steve said.
“But his vision is clouded by his love for Freydis. The errors and misjudgements are no longer amusing.” Kadogan sagged in his chair. “I do not know what to do.”
Steve looked thoughtfully at Kadogan. All the elfen were twitchy at the moment. Steve had never really got to grips with elfen politics. He could see which way the wind was blowing and could make a fair guess at whether a court was safe or stable, but he couldn’t see the deeper currents that were carrying Kadogan along with Lord Ragnar, Freydis and the rest of the elfen. The domain of the Prince of York was neither safe nor stable at the moment, and what seemed obvious to him seemed impossible for the elfen. “What are you worried about?”
“I am worried that Lord Ragnar will be utterly destroyed and that we shall have a vampire as the Prince of York.” Kadogan said. “This would not be a good thing.”
“You’re talking about Martin, aren’t you?” Steve said. “I think he is extremely reluctant to take power. All the chatter I heard was that he was utterly indifferent. He’s being more or less loyal to Lord Ragnar, which has to count for something.”
“But if the domain does not become stable, then Aelfhelm may take control out of desperation.” Kadogan slumped even lower in the chair.
“I can try speaking to Lord Ragnar, if you like.” Steve said. “If he got Freydis to sort out the domain then he could try and romance her properly, you know, have fun this time around.”
Kadogan sighed. “They are both incredibly irritating when they are romantic, but it may be the only way. They are perfect for each other because they would drive anyone else to madness.”
“I’ll speak to Lord Ragnar after the reception.” Steve said. “I’ll do what I can to make him listen to me. If he won’t let Freydis help then he needs to let someone like Lord Marius do it. And Freydis won’t ask him for favours in return.” Steve thought for a moment. “Freydis probably won’t ask for favours in return. Seriously, Kadogan, once the domain is put right then things will quieten down, Miss Patience will be possible to deal with and then Lord Ragnar and Freydis can enjoy romance.”
Kadogan looked around the room, almost as if he was seeing it for the first time. He seemed to be examining the corners of the desk and the pattern of shadows falling from the tree outside onto the blank wall. “I will speak to him now.” Then Kadogan vanished.

Steve finished counting the change before locking it in the safe. Then he wandered downstairs. It wasn’t worth getting ready yet, it was only early in the afternoon, but everyone was on edge for Lord Ragnar’s reception that evening. The shop was empty and for once Steve was glad about it.
“Hello, Elaine.” Steve managed a friendly smile. “I didn’t expect you to be in.”
“Work needed me to work late last night so I got this afternoon off and I let Jasmine get off and do some shopping?” Elaine’s smiled was a little forced, but she seemed relaxed enough. “She’s getting changed here with Mrs Tuesday.”
Steve looked over to where Mrs Tuesday was wiping over the counter. She was in her usual pinny but Steve’s experienced eye could see under the glamour. She had done something with her greying fur that made it look glossier and her nails had been filed. Fiona was out getting her hair and nails done and now Jasmine was shopping. “What’s Jasmine shopping for?”
“I think she’s looking for something to wear.” Elaine said.
“Does Ian know?” Steve asked. “It seems like only a week ago she was scared of buying clothes.” He shrugged. “I suppose it’s a good thing she feels safe enough to spend some money.”
Mrs Tuesday wandered over. “Yes, she’s beginning to relax.” She looked hard at Elaine. “She’s a good kid.”
“She seems really sweet.” Elaine said. “I hope she finds something nice. She’s got the potential to be quite stunning, almost like a model.”
Freydis wandered out of the back room, carrying a heavy box of coffee with insolent ease. “Indeed, Jasmine is very beautiful inside.” She exchanged a look with Mrs Tuesday. “I am confident she will find love soon.”
Mrs Tuesday frowned. “Is that you seeing it or planning it?”
“I am not interfering with a werewolf’s heart.” Freydis said. “Besides, I have my own romantic troubles clouding my judgement. I could get it wrong.”
“Really?” Mrs Tuesday said politely. “I find that hard to believe.”
Elaine jumped in quickly. “What are you two ladies wearing to the reception?”
“I haven’t decided,” Freydis said, “But it will not be pink. Lord Ragnar only knows me in pink. I need to make him look at me with fresh eyes.”
“That’s good.” Mrs Tuesday nodded. “You need to make him think about who you really are.”
“Indeed.” Freydis nodded. “I am undecided between a pale crimson velvet gown with a low back or a floaty chiffon dress with a scarf in a sort of salmon colour.”
Steve tried to imagine the clothes. “Aren’t they both quite close to pink?”
“Men just don’t see colours the same way I do.” Freydis said airily.
“You could try really shocking him and wearing blue, or even black.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You would look completely different in blue.”
“Indeed.” Freydis looked thoughtful. “That would be striking indeed. I do not believe anyone in the court has seen me in a blue gown since…” She trailed off as she tried to work out how long it was since she had anything but pink to a formal occasion. “I shall wear blue, and possibly go brunette.”
“Don’t change too many things at once.” Steve said, feeling he had to at least give Lord Ragnar some chance. “Wearing a blue dress should be enough of a shock. Hang on, what’s this?”

Jasmine almost ran into the shop, her hair ruffled and her face flushed and tear stained. She was holding her blouse closed at the front and her knuckles looked sore. Darren was following her carrying half a dozen bags and grinning. Darren dumped the bags down and shook his hands to get the circulation back.
“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry. Where’s Ian?”
“What happened?” Elaine asked.
Freydis shouted into the back, “Ian, you should attend. Jasmine has had an incident.” She looked at Jasmine. “I shall use the Coffee Machine to make you some hot chocolate.”
Jasmine shook her head. “It’s awful.”
“It isn’t awful.” Darren said. “You did exactly the right thing.” He was still grinning as he turned to the others. “Jasmine saw a few lads having a go at a homeless man near the station. You know, pushing him about and shouting at him. I’d been chatting to a copper nearby and we were both moving that way when Jasmine told them where to go.”
“I didn’t swear.” Jasmine’s anxious eyes were wide. “But I told them to leave him alone.”
“Of course, they took it as well as you could expect.” Darren said. “I started running when one of them pushed Jasmine. So did the copper, but I think she was more worried about Jasmine being hurt.”
“I couldn’t let them keep hurting that poor man.” Jasmine said. “I mean, his mind wasn’t right.”
“Are you hurt?” Elaine asked, looking Jasmine over. There were plenty of patches of dirt but no obvious injuries.
“Nothing that won’t be better by tonight.” Freydis said, easing Jasmine into the café area and into a seat next to a hot chocolate.
“Are they hurt?” Steve asked, knowing a little more about werewolves.
“Jasmine’s shirt got torn in the scuffle.” Darren said. “There were around half a dozen of them, so I was a little worried, but they weren’t up to facing someone who could fight back. I pulled one of them back, and the copper got another, but Jasmine can handle herself. I think there was at least one broken nose and quite a few bruises before Jasmine let them run off. The police officer was getting the victim checked out and I brought Jasmine and her shopping home.”
“Ian is going to expel me for fighting, isn’t he?” Jasmine was now pale and shivering. “I didn’t think. I just saw that poor man and I never stopped to look for anyone official.”
“You did the right thing.” Darren said. “Though perhaps you should look for support when you are facing odds of six to one.”
Jasmine hunched over. “They were nothing really, just cowards and bullies.” She turned to Mrs Tuesday. “What is Ian going to say? What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to pull yourself together, be proud of doing the right thing and go and yourself cleaned up and changed.” Ian said from behind her. Jasmine flinched and then froze. Ian came and sat next to her and took her icy hand. “Is what Darren said true? Some bullies were picking on someone vulnerable?”
Jasmine nodded. “I think his mind wasn’t right, and he was so thin and frail.”
“And you told them to stop? You didn’t just hit them first?” Ian said, rubbing her hand.
Jasmine forced herself to look up at Ian. “I had my hands full with shopping bags. I had to try talking first.”
Ian avoided looking at Mrs Tuesday’s amused expression. “And then you fought back when attacked?”
Jasmine hunched further down and looked away. “He grabbed the front of my shirt and told me that I should…” Her voice trailed off and she turned scarlet. She took a deep breath. “So I broke his hold and hit him.”
“I was just about there by then.” Darren said. “She didn’t hit him as hard as she could.”
“I didn’t want to break him.” Jasmine said.
“It sounds like you did exactly what you should. Well done.” Ian said. “Go and get ready for the reception.” He looked at the heap of bags collapsing against each other where Darren had left them. “Did you buy all that?”
“It’s with my own money and I got some really good stuff on sale and some were from a charity shop and I can always take it back if it doesn’t fit and I kept the receipts and it’s less than it looks because of the bags and…”
Ian held up a hand as Jasmine finally took a breath. “It’s okay, you need some new clothes. I’m glad you got them. Now, pick up those bags…” He paused as he noticed that the front of Jasmine’s blouse was completely ripped apart. “I’ll carry those bags up for you and then I’m getting back to Jeanette’s place to get ready.” He looked at Steve. “All the post is sorted, Callum is at the Post Office now sending out the last of the orders and I’ve re-stocked the herbs that were getting low. Everything’s sorted.”
“No problem.” Steve said and watched a faint flicker of disbelief cross Ian’s face as he lifted the weight of the bags.
“I got shoes as well and there was a great deal on boots that were my size and while I know that they won’t be need until winter it seemed a shame…” Jasmines words tumbled together as she tried to excuse catching up on several years of shopping.
“It’s okay, honest.” Ian shook his head. “Finish that hot chocolate, calm down and then get ready.”

Steve watched Jasmine holding her blouse together as she drained the hot chocolate and bounded up the stairs after Ian. “I’m glad Ian was able to reassure her.”
Darren nodded. “I was worried when they started trying to push her around, but I got there before she could do much damage.”
“Was the police officer pretty?” Freydis asked, a gleam in her eye.
“Probably.” Darren didn’t rise to the bait. “We were talking about parking in York.”
“And you never got a chance to ask her for a drink.” Freydis shook her head. “Did you get her number?”
“Why should I want her number?” Darren asked. “I’m going upstairs to get ready for my night.”
“Don’t you wish that you were going to the reception?” Freydis asked.
“Absolutely not.” Darren said. “Lots of very powerful non-normals feeling stressed and edgy and shot through with death-laced elfen magic will be trying to make small talk while wearing uncomfortable clothes. It’s not my thing.”
Elaine looked at Steve. “Is it going to be dangerous?”
“Absolutely.” Steve said.
“You will take Armani with you, won’t you?” Elaine said. She blushed slightly. “I mean, you will take care.”
“I will, don’t worry.” Steve managed an awkward smile. “And you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you? It’s a safe spot and things could get a little out of hand.”
“Of course it’s going to get out of hand.” Freydis said. “There is a great feeling of death, but that is probably the energy that Rey left. I think I’ll get some more sugar up and get everything set up for tomorrow. I may not have the energy to fully set up after an interesting night.”
Mrs Tuesday watched her disappear into the back room and turned to the men. “That’s as near as a guarantee of trouble that you are ever going to get.” She sighed. “I could give them all a good shake. Anyway, Jasmine is going to be too giddy to eat properly, but there’s a nice meat and potato casserole in the oven, help yourselves.” She looked hard at Darren. “There’s plenty for all the Knights Templar that are coming, and I’ve put a big box of biscuits and cakes on the side. Make sure that they eat it, not that they deserve it, but some of them are just bags of bones and I don’t know why they can’t manage to give them a square meal in the Citadel.” She wiped over the clean counter. “If at least half of the cakes and biscuits aren’t gone tomorrow, I’ll be upset. And Mrs Anderson has left a box of snacks from her and Mrs Cadwallader. You can’t be on guard on an empty stomach. Though I don’t know why I bother.” Mrs Tuesday stomped off to check on the rack of herbs.
Steve turned to Elaine. “There will be Knights Templars coming and going here, as well as Darren and Luke keeping an eye out on what’s happening. Try and get an early night.”
“Indeed.” Freydis said. “Some of those present may be suitable for romance with you, but tonight is not the time for connection.”
Darren shook his head. “Really?”

Darren joined Dave in the upstairs kitchen and started helping himself to a large plateful of Mrs Tuesday’s cooking. “Jasmine saw some chavs picking on a homeless guy this afternoon. You may see a report across your desk, but I doubt it.”
“Did she hurt anyone?” Dave asked. He had a half cleared plate in front of him and an opened newspaper.
“Not seriously.” Darren sat down and added a liberal seasoning of brown sauce. “No fur was seen and a police officer was a witness to Jasmine facing down six lads for all the right reasons. She was worried that Ian would throw her out for fighting.”
Dave grunted, chewed and swallowed. “What was she doing in town anyway?”
“Clothes shopping.” Darren took a large forkful and savoured it.
“Seriously?” Dave shook his head. “I hope she’s got it right. Tonight is going to be interesting.”
“I look forward to hearing about what happened.” Darren said, shifting and pulling a folded copy of the Church Times from his back pocket. “I expect there to be nothing to worry about here in normal York, because it is all going to kick off in Lord Ragnar’s domain.” He looked up as Evan Tuesday bounced into the kitchen.
“Hi, Auntie Jane said I could get changed here and go as her partner.” Evan said. He was wearing a glamour of a young lad in his late teens or early twenties, with slicked back hair and an almost designer shirt. He looked on the skinny side of slim, tall and energetic with just a hint of acne. He hovered nervously. “Auntie Jane said I could have some dinner.”
“Help yourself.” Dave said, waving a hand at the oven. “There’s plenty to go around.”
Jasmine shot into the kitchen. “What do you think?” She twirled around, showing off the classy black trouser suit with the white silk blouse. Her blonde hair cascaded in curls down her back and the short jacket showed off her figure perfectly.
Evan stared. “You look amazing.”
Darren looked up from his paper. “You look like a waiter.”
Jasmine’s face fell and she looked down at herself. “Really?”
“Every prince I know has liveried servants waiting at the reception, and most of them will be wearing black and white.” Darren turned the page and took another mouthful of his casserole.
“I’ll be right back.” Jasmine shot out again.
“Is that Jasmine?” Evan asked. “I mean, I’ve sort of seen her before but I didn’t realise…” He trailed off and grabbed a plate from the cupboard. “She looks really nice.”
“Hmm.” Dave didn’t commit to anything further.
Evan joined him at the table. “I’ve never been to a reception at Lord Ragnar’s before. Do you think it will be formal?”
“I’m changing into a suit after dinner.” Dave said. “I believe Lord Ragnar likes things to look good.”
“Really?” Evan said. He helped himself to a full plateful of casserole and, after a quick glance at the men either side of the table, took a seat. “You don’t mind me joining you?”
“Not a problem.” Dave said. “Relax. What has Mrs Tuesday said about what to wear?”
“She said a suit as well, but I thought just a shirt might look better.” Evan glanced at the two men again. “She doesn’t always understand fashion.”
“A suit is good.” Darren said.
Jasmine burst in again. “What do you think?”
Evan dropped his fork. Jasmine was still wearing the same white silk blouse, buttoned high up to the neck, but now was wearing a deep crimson mini skirt that showed off her long legs and very trim hips, together with glossy, high heeled red shoes. “You look amazing.” Evan said, barely able to drag his eyes away from her legs.
“You’ll have to go to fur if there’s a fight and you’re wearing that skirt.” Darren started running his finger down the page of notices.
Evan didn’t look away from Jasmine’s legs. “Is there likely to be a fight?”
“I think there’s almost certainly going to be some sort of scuffle.” Dave said. “But probably not too serious.”
Jasmine looked down at the skirt. “The heels will probably get in the way as well.”
“I have absolutely no experience with that.” Darren didn’t look up from the paper.
Dave turned to the crossword in his paper. “You look lovely,” he said, “but why don’t you save that outfit for a night when you’re going out with Adele and Jeanette?”
“I guess so.” Jasmine disappeared again.
Darren finally looked up and grinned at Dave. “Ian would have had a fit if he had seen her like that.”
Dave grinned back. “It’s almost worth getting her to wear it for him. I’m surprised he doesn’t march her upstairs to wash her make up off.”
“She’s twenty-three.” Darren said. “She acts a lot younger, but she’s an adult.”
“Do you want to explain that to Ian?” Dave asked.
Freydis wandered in. “The store has closed and the Coffee Machine has gone through the evening rites. Was Jasmine wearing something unsuitable?”
Evan had stood up as Freydis entered. “No, miss, Jasmine looked beautiful.”
“She was wearing a short, tight skirt.” Dave said.
“But she looked classy with it.” Evan said.
“Finish your dinner, Evan Tuesday.” Freydis said. “You may well get hungry before the meal tonight. There could be a lot of speeches.” She looked at Darren. “You are not that old.”
“What?” Darren said.
“I can hardly ever pick up anything from you,” Freydis said with a pout, “But you are not that old.” She glanced at Evan. “Although sometimes you may feel it.”
Evan sat down, darting an apprehensive glance at Freydis before picking up a forkful of casserole. “Auntie Jane says she’s old, but I think that sometimes she acts older than she is.”
Jasmine rushed back in. “I love this skirt.” She twirled around and the lightweight, tie dye maxi skirt swirled around. She was wearing lower heeled sandals and a chiffon, peasant style blouse. “I think I need more bangles.”
“You look amazing.” Evan dropped the chunk of meat off his fork.
Jasmine smiled and twirled again. Her blonde hair gleamed in the shine of the kitchen light and she radiated a giddy happiness. “I’ve never been to anything this important, so I want to look my best. Do you really think I look good?” She asked Evan.
“You’ll freeze to death if the weather changes.” Darren turned another page. “It’s maleficent.”
“What?” Jasmine said.
“Dave’s crossword, four across. The answer is ‘maleficent’. You look lovely, Jasmine, but the weather in the fairy realms is changeable.”
“He is right.” Freydis said, enjoying the irritation on Dave’s face as he filled in four across. “Should Lord Ragnar choose, or should the realm become unstable, then all weather is possible.”
Jasmine managed another half hearted twirl, nodded to herself and dashed out.
Evan took a deep breath. “Miss Freydis, should I wear a suit tonight?”
“You should wear your very finest.” Freydis said, lounging against the counter. “Try to look like James Bond.”
“But won’t I look like a waiter.” Evan asked.
“Not at all. You shall look far too inexperienced to be a waiter at such a function. Besides, Lord Ragnar insists on full brownie service and you will never pass as brownie.” Freydis said. Evan grinned and ran a smug hand through his hair.
“Why isn’t Jasmine getting changed with Adele and Jeanette?” Darren asked. “They could put her straight on what to wear.”
Dave grinned. “Ian had a lot to say about that. Jeanette and Martha, that’s Kieran’s wife, the top lady, have gone shopping together. Ian was managing to worry about Jeanette spending not enough money and making him look cheap and worrying whether he could afford what she was getting at the same time. He was getting into a right state.”
Freydis’ eyes gleamed. “I spoke with the ladies and they have made a bargain to lie to their husbands. They will both spend considerably less than they have been ordered to and both will look beautiful. Neither of the men will realise.” She tilted her head. “I shall go and give assistance to Jasmine. She is very undecided. I can feel it from here.”
Darren turned a page of his newspaper. “Ian and Jeanette aren’t married.”
Freydis shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.” She drifted out of the door.
Dave watched Freydis go. “I hope she plays fair with Jasmine.” He said. “Freydis has been in a funny mood all day.”
Darren grunted. “She thinks something to do with fate is going to happen. I don’t think she would do anything to harm Jasmine, but she isn’t seeing things as clearly as she could. Enervate.”
“What?”
“Seven down. It’s enervate.” Darren finished off his dinner as Dave filled in seven down, scowling. Evan kept his head down, flashing occasional glances at the two older men as he finished off his large plate.
“Do you think Auntie Jane would mind if I had a cake?” Evan asked.
“Please have two.” Darren said.
Jasmine rushed in. “How about this?” She glanced at Freydis, who nodded in approval.
Evan’s mouth opened and shut a few times. “You look amazing.” He took a deep breath. “Do you think we can have a dance later?”
“Yeah, that would be great.” Jasmine said. She looked between Dave and Darren. “Do you think Ian will like it?”
“I think he’ll love it.” Darren said. “Freydis, you are a genius, and not just with the coffee machine.” Jasmine was wearing the elegant black trouser suit but this time she was wearing a silky top in geometric slashes of blue, green and copper. Freydis had managed to get Jasmine to wear the accessories of a brooch on her lapel and a heavy, plastic copper bangle on one wrist. Her hair was up in a cute messy bun and the black leather shoes were low heeled pumps. Darren nodded. “You look elegant and beautiful. You’ve also forgotten to take the price tag off the jacket.”
Dave nodded. “You look amazing,” he said, “and a real credit to Ian.”
Freydis smiled wistfully as she watched Jasmine fumble with the price tag. “I feel like a proud older sister. You will turn so many heads tonight, before things turn dark.” She sighed and her clothes rippled about her. Instead of the designer jeans and casually chic shirt there was a ripple of chiffon and a sparkle of rose gold as the full length, formal ballgown grew around her, shading like a dusk sky from the dark velvet blue of an almost night sky down through the elegant, royal blue bodice, the mid band at the tiny waist and the full, swirling skirt that faded to the palest blue at the base with a hint of crimson sunset at the hem. Crystals sparkled at her ears and a wreath of cornflowers spiked with rosemary crowned her head, her golden hair falling straight, over her bare shoulders and down to her waist. “I will meet you at the hall.” And she faded into the air leaving the scent of rosemary behind her.

 

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Foreshadowing

Dave and Luke stood at the gate to the former Paladin’s Citadel.  The unassuming terrace house was now a pile of rubble between two boarded up former houses.  The Templars had swooped in and anything incriminating had been removed before any investigation had started and now the heaps of tattered rubble had been cleared.

“Do you think they will try and fit a taller building in this space?” Luke asked.  “They seem very clear about maximising profits.”

“You’re not from York, are you?” Dave said.  “Planning regulations are beyond strict.  They will have to rebuild with an exterior that matches the surroundings.  I think they may try and get flats out of the interior, though.”

Luke grinned.  “I can see it now – sympathetically restored building on the outside, rabbit hutches on the inside.”

They paused.  The gate stood incongruously alone, untouched, as an entry to a gap.  It took all of Dave’s will power not to carefully open the gate and latch it after him.  Instead he walked around and onto the cleared site.  Luke followed him.  The houses either side had been shored up, boarded off and made safe and there had been plenty of prayers and blessings, just in case.  It still had a forlorn air about it.  Dave shook his head.  “If it was me I’d knock down the two either side and make a bit of space.  The new Citadel has a lot more room.  I could have done something useful with this.”

Luke grinned wider.  “Like we have time to build a new house from scratch.”

Dave ignored him and started to wander over the rubble.  There had been no cellar.  It was too near the river and a chance of it flooding.  Instead there were solid, stone foundations underneath the brick dust and fragments of plaster.  “I’d get Ian to do the plumbing.” He turned at looked at Luke, genuine confusion on his face.  “How can you not ask the most straight up, solid, decent man you know?  You know he would do the best job he could and be honest to a fault.  But he’s a non-normal.  Sir Ewan is twitchy about getting him in, but I threw the last cowboy out.  He made a complete dog’s breakfast of the sink and watching him trying to sort the overflow nearly made me cry.”

Luke laughed out loud.  “I know what you mean.  I really miss the prayer meetings and Bible study we used to have with him.  Darren is talking about getting regular afternoons set up once he is in his vicarage.”

“He’ll be moving in soon.” Dave said, scuffing his foot over what was left of the concrete floor.  “Look at this, the bricks underneath have lasted better than the new concrete.  I don’t know whether it’s some sort of influence or just better workmanship.” He shook his head.  “Anyway, Darren will be in his place soon.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader have got the ladies together to give it a good clean.  It will probably be so clean you could do open heart surgery on any surface of the house, including the bathroom, which is just how Darren likes it.  And the sooner we get back to the meetings, the better.”

“You’ve been quiet about finding faith.” Luke followed him, looking around the ruin.  “What happened?”

Dave looked embarrassed.  “You know how my arm was bad and I was getting frustrated?  I went to the Minster and I prayed for the first time.  I was feeling so useless, that I couldn’t do this job of Paladin, and that I was a failure.  I got a sense that I got a ‘but you’re not on your own, have faith’ and my arm sort of clicked.” Dave rotated his left shoulder.  “And I thought, I’m not on my own, not if I have faith.  It made a difference.  I thought I had lost my chance when I spotted the Paladin’s mark on your shoulder, but it looks like York needs two of us.”

Luke nodded.  “I can feel the difference these days.  But let’s keep it quiet until after the feast.”

“Agreed.” Dave said.  “The last thing we need is to have all of our resources down there when anything could be happening… hang on, what’s this?”

Luke walked over and followed his gaze.  Dave’s foot had knocked a shard of the later concrete flooring out of the way and suddenly they were looking at a hole.  Dave pulled out his phone and used the torch to look into the unexpected pit.  Light reflected from the glass fragments scattered around the base of a hollow around an arm’s length deep and the size of a large dinner plate across.  Mixed in with the glass were strands of some sort of stained material, some rusted nails and what looked like pebbles.  Dave angled his phone around.  “It looks like an old witch jar – you know, something they used to bury under the floors when they built houses back whenever this was built.”

Luke glanced briefly at the other houses in the street.  “So it may have been there for 200 years or more?  That’s amazing.”

Dave looked over the space that had once been the house.  It was surprisingly large without its walls and furniture, and the foundations had stood up well to the explosion except for a few places.  He stood up and walked a little back from the street.  “I think this is another one.”

“Another witch bottle?” Luke asked.

Dave kicked back a few shreds of floorboard and peered down.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  Didn’t they used to bury cats under houses?”

Luke knelt at the side of the new hole.  “Not if this was built for the Templars.  That was superstition.  There could be relics and perhaps the Holy Wafer, but not a cat.” He craned his neck past Dave.  “Are those cat bones?  They look like horns.”

“It isn’t a sheep’s skull.” Dave said.  “They don’t look like natural horns.”  He exchanged an uneasy look with Luke.  “I think there are a few pits here.”

Luke leaned back and stumbled, nearly falling into yet another hole.  This time it looked like someone had buried a collection of hands.  All that were left were piles of finger bones, still articulated despite the explosion, surrounded by what looked like rotten wood.  “You know what I think?” he said, “I think that when there was something crazy scary and they couldn’t do anything else, they buried it under the floor of the Paladin’s house, because that was Holy and bad things couldn’t do much.  And you know what else I think?  I think that when the bad stuff hit whatever was Holy and everything went bang, I think we need to hope that the bad stuff had died long ago.” He looked back at the pit with the strange bones.  “I think we need to get the Templars’ experts in to check this out.”

“Hello, Elaine.” Fiona smiled brightly.  This may be her husband’s ex-girlfriend but she wasn’t going to be unprofessional.  “How can I help you?”

“I thought I’d call in and see if you were hiring.” Elaine said, with equal, brittle brightness.

“What?” Fiona said before pulling herself together.  “I mean, why would you want to do that?”

“I got a chance of promotion at a small firm in York.” Elaine said.  “But while it is a great opportunity and a small wage increase, housing in York is expensive and I thought…”

Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “Don’t worry, Fiona, it’s not Steve that she misses.”

“Excuse me?” Elaine said, staring at the elderly boggart.

“I know how it is with some of you normals.” Mrs Tuesday started clearing the tables.  “Once you get a taste of something outside of your normal world, you don’t want to give it up.  But Armani was a step too far.  I don’t blame you.  Now I’ve seen what he’s like on gin, I couldn’t stand him myself.  But you were never that attached to Steve, just the magic.”

Freydis wandered over.  “I think that is an excellent idea, if you can work both Saturday and Sunday.  Adele needs help and support with the figurines and I know that Callum can always use a paw with the post.”

“Callum is a werewolf, isn’t he?” Elaine asked.

“Umm? Freydis was staring absently through the window at the near empty car park.  “Callum and Ian are werewolves, as is Jasmine.  I believe Adele will be bitten soon but I’m not sure about Jeanette.  It is becoming quite a sub pack but I believe it is a relief to Kieran who is hard pressed by Lord Ragnar and grateful for the support and counsel from Ian.  The coach party due in an hour and a half will be quite early.  I think it best if we start preparing now.” She turned to look at Elaine.  “I don’t think there is a place for you to stay here at the moment, but there will be in a month so you should give your landlady notice.  I shall go into the storeroom and bring up extra sugar.”

What?” Fiona snapped.

“It is only minimum wage, Elaine, but the company is excellent, and it will be a nice supplement to your main income until you marry.  And I think Mrs Tuesday should check for muffins.” Freydis wandered through to the back room.

“I’m not getting married.” Elaine said, bewildered.

“Would you like to bet on that?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “It sounded like Freydis was telling the future.  You may not think that you’re getting married soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  Now, she suggested that I check out the muffins, so I’m going to do just that.” Mrs Tuesday followed Freydis into the back.

Fiona turned to Elaine.  “This business is owned by three of us.  There is Steve, who is away most days and is currently in Manchester trying to unload some flint arrowheads.  There is Kadogan, who hasn’t been seen for days and is caught up in the drama of Lord Ragnar’s court and there is me, who nobody listens to.  And what did she mean about Adele getting bitten?”

Elaine smiled at her with genuine sympathy.  “At least Armani is with Steve.  Did someone really give him gin?  He was bad enough when he got hold of my vodka.”

Fiona shuddered.  “He can’t be trusted with anything stronger than tea.  But he did save my life last year, so I have some time for him.”

“He saved your life?” Elaine stared.

“It’s a long story.” Fiona felt defeated.  She was, of course, going to hire Steve’s ex-girlfriend who was looking absolutely gorgeous today, because not only was it a waste of time arguing with Freydis but they were also desperate for weekend staff.

Mrs Tuesday stuck her head out of the back room.  “We’ve almost run out of muffins so I’m sending Callum to the Wholesalers.” She ducked back.

Fiona turned back to Elaine.  “Do you have any idea who you might marry?”

Elaine shook her head.  “Do you think she’s right?”

“I gave up worrying about it a while ago.” Fiona sighed.  “That coach pulling in isn’t due for another hour and a half.  I’ll sign you up after the rush.”

Freydis stood in front of Lord Ragnar, tapping her foot.  Tension was spreading out through the court in waves as the former couple stared at each other.  The hall was still wearing the illusion of a Victorian gentleman’s club, but there was traces of dust in the corners and some of the lamps were dim.  Freydis took a breath.  “If you wish me to attend, my lord, of course I shall.  But I am bound to give you counsel and I don’t think it’s a good idea.  Look at what is happening because you are forced to speak with me.”

“The dust is not new.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “And, yes, you shall attend.”

Freydis looked around again.  The draped velvet hangings in the corner were looking worn and the fire was sinking low.  “I once again request that I am allowed to put right…”

“I have this in hand.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I have it all in hand.  You shall attend and Miss Patience shall attend.  All the ladies of the pack shall attend.  The brownies shall be present and the goblins and even the Paladin.  I will demonstrate my authority.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Freydis said.  “Forcing Miss Patience to attend is unwise.  You know how it affects her.”

“I know how she says it affects her.” Lord Ragnar stood.  “But I will not be rejected in my own hall.”

“You really are showing a special kind of stupid.” Freydis said, inspecting her immaculate nails.  “Because even if you rip her head off, her presence only agitates the darkness.”

“What did you call me?” Lord Ragnar growled.

“I called you special, my Prince.” Freydis faked a smile.  Lord Ragnar threw a goblet at her.

“Do not dare try your insolence.”

Freydis ducked the goblet easily and retaliated with a nearby teapot.  Amber liquid scattered as teapot and contents whirled through the air and smashed against a pillar behind Lord Ragnar.  “You are being a special idiot.  A prize Duns Scotus.  An Ass.”

Lord Ragnar grabbed a tray and hurled it, edge on, at Freydis, who casually batted it out of the air to land with a clatter amongst a knot of werewolves.  Lord Ragnar stepped forward.  “I should have beaten you to obedience centuries ago.”

“Of course I’m going to obey my prince’s stupid orders.” Freydis yelled.  “As long as no-one thinks I’m stupid enough to have made those damned decisions myself.” She grabbed a potted fern and hurled it at Lord Ragnar.  It shattered on the fireplace and the brownies winced.

Atherton turned to Kadogan.  “These sweet romances are all very well, but there is much to do for the feast and the revenants prowl close to this hall.”

Kadogan looked worried.  “I shall try and distract them, but it is always difficult to walk into a lover’s tiff.  However it is a necessity.”

Atherton laid a hand on Kadogan’s shoulder.  “I have always admired your courage.” He said with complete sincerity.

Put in Place

Lord Ragnar looked around his court.  There were still plenty of people around and the fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was a thinness about the place.  No vampires were present and the few werewolves who attended were clustered around Kieran.  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  It all came back to Freydis.  If she had been present there would have been some chat, or flirtation or amusement. And if nothing had been happening, she would have instigated something.  Kadogan and Atherton watched him warily.  Kadogan passed Lord Ragnar a goblet of wine.

“Do you wish to hunt revenants tonight?”

Lord Ragnar accepted the wine.  “Hmm?”

Atherton leaned in.  “We should be hunting the revenants.  There are many on the streets, my lord.”

Lord Ragnar stared moodily into the fire.  Hunting revenants was something to do, he supposed, but it didn’t exactly bring him the glory and splendour he needed.  Besides, he needed Freydis and she was busy with the damned coffee machine.  At least he had a chance competing against a vampire or mortal, and Freydis had never been indiscreet enough to dally with another elfen, but he felt helpless against a coffee machine.  He drained the wine.

“It would be a popular move.” Kadogan said.  “Kieran Latimer is growing concerned.”

Atherton had never been a coward.  “Perhaps you could hunt around the edges of the dark parts of your domain.  Pushing back the darkness there would be very popular, and I am confident many would attend to assist.”

Lord Ragnar placed the empty wine goblet back on the table.  “I will hunt within my domain.” He flicked a glance around the room.  A few people had looked up, but not all.  He was losing his grip.  “And tomorrow I will plan the midsummer feast.  Steve and Fiona Adderson will attend to celebrate their anniversary and all my court will come.  Every single one.”

Silence ran around the hall.  Lord Ragnar had thrown down a gauntlet.  Miss Patience had been avoiding the court, complaining that being so close to the dark domain made things difficult for her.  Demanding that she and all of her kind attend was a line in the sand.

Kieran stood up.  “All of us?  Including those werewolves touched by the darkness?  You know how they have been affected.”

“I am sure any competent leader can control their pack.” Lord Ragnar said.  Kieran flushed and clenched his fists.  Lord Ragnar ignored him and turned to Kadogan and Atherton.  “Shall we go hunt?”

Fiona found it almost funny.  The men were in the back, the women were in the shop.  Steve was packing a van to take to Bridlington and Ian was helping him load it.  Steve was hoping for a load of sea glass in return, straight from the sea bed.  Callum was off to the wholesalers today to pick up supplies for the café and Dave was upstairs getting ready for his first client.  Luke was also upstairs, probably sleeping in after another hard night fighting revenants, and Darren had gone to look at his assigned vicarage.  Kadogan was last seen counting the candles again but Fiona had given up tracking him.

The women of the White Hart were also busy.  Jeanette was sorting out a new delivery of cards and getting them on the shelves, along with a few of her own.  Mrs Tuesday was setting out the muffins and cakes for the café while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it warmed up.  Adele was regrouping some of the over-cute pixies in an attempt to make it look like a display.  Jasmine had brought up large basket of different incenses from the storerooms downstairs and was stocking the shelves, humming happily to herself.

Fiona started making notes and sketches for the new catalogue.  Steve insisted that a new catalogue went out in plenty of time before the Wiccan festivals, so the Lammas catalogue for the celebrations on August 2nd would need to go out by the second week of July.  Fiona was thinking of getting someone on duty just to answer the phones for the last week before the festival to cope with the last-minute orders.

Fiona looked over to Mrs Tuesday.  “Is Evan going to be okay doing all the runs to the Village?  It’s a long run.”

“He’ll be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a change for him.  Besides, Gabe will be with him.”

“As long as he’s okay with it.” Fiona said.  The mail order business with the non-normals was generating a lot of post and many preferred to go through messengers.  She had had a long chat with Karen, the Postmistress in the Village who operated general clearing house for the non-normal population and had come to an agreement about parcels and packages.  Evan Tuesday would drive over three times a week with the non-urgent deliveries which could later be collected by the messengers that called in there from the various courts.  She straightened the already straight pile of till rolls.  “What do you think the celebration with Lord Ragnar will be like?”

“I think it will be entertaining.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“It will be incredibly entertaining and possibly violent.” Freydis said.  “Also the coffee is likely to be below standard.”

“Do you think it will actually be violent?” Fiona asked.  “I’m not sure I’m happy to go to a fight.”

“Lord Ragnar is insisting that the vampires affected by the dark energy attend a function near to that exact dark energy and he is also insisting that werewolves previously affected by the dark energy attend at the risk of them becoming snappy.  How can it not have some violence involved?” Freydis tenderly wiped down the steamer.

“You will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If Lord Ragnar keeps his head then there will probably be some heated words and a few bruises.”

“Ian’s really not happy about going there.” Jasmine said.  “He wants me to stay here.”

“Does he think that the feast will be a distraction and allow attacks in other areas?” Freydis asked.  “That is interesting.”

Jasmine nodded.  “He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s been going with Darren around all the burial grounds to try and limit the revenants that can be summoned, and I heard Luke telling him not to worry and that lots of the Knights Templar will be out that nght.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “Well maybe that Sir Craig will get some sense knocked into him.”

Freydis raised an eyebrow.  “The Templars are getting it more or less right here, Mrs Tuesday, but I understand that you don’t like them.”

“No, I really don’t.”  Mrs Tuesday snapped.

“At least they will not be at feast.” Freydis said.  “I have a new syrup to try, a French vanilla.  Would anyone like a coffee?”

“I’d love one.” Fiona said.  “Your coffee is always delicious.  But this feast, it’s not likely to be really dangerous, is it?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Probably not to you.”

Adele wandered over to the café.  “I’d love one of your coffees, if you don’t mind.  Am I invited?”

“That depends on Ian.” Freydis said.

“How can it possibly depend on Ian?” Adele said.  “I’m either invited or I’m not.”

“You are part of his subpack.” Freydis said.  “He is the one in charge and he is worried.”

Jeanette moved back to the café area, carrying an empty cardboard box.  “Ian has already said that he doesn’t wantus girls there.” She tucked the cardboard box to one side behind the counter.  “I’d love a coffee as well, if you don’t mind.”

Freydis smiled.  “Of course.” She placed the first drink in front of Fiona and deftly switched over the coffee.  “So, Ian is keeping the women at home.  He is expecting trouble.” She tilted her head as she steamed the milk.  “Ian’s insights are always worth hearing.  There may be more trouble than I was expecting if he is keeping the women away.  Does he want you to stay at Jeanette’s house or with the rest of the pack?”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want us there.” Adele snapped.

Jeanette looked at Jasmine and Adele.  “Hasn’t he said anything?  We’ve been invited to a crafting bee with Martha at the main house.”

Freydis put a coffee in front of Adele.  “Ian tells you, and then you are supposed to tell the women in your pack.”

“Really?” Jeanette felt overwhelmed.  “Is there a list of things I should do?”

“You can ask Martha.” Freydis said.  “She knows these things.”

“I’m rubbish at craft.” Jasmine said.  “I never seem to get it right.”

“What is a crafting bee?” Adele asked, slightly calmer.  She took a sip of her coffee.  “Freydis, this coffee is amazing.”

Freydis glowed a little with the praise.  “Thank you.  I believe Martha is creating and gathering crafts for the church sale in support of the Red Cross.”  She pulled out another cup for Jeanette.  “There will be all sorts of crafts there.  Martha is an excellent organiser so there will be groups for knitting, crochet, quilting, cards and such.  I always hear that they are relaxed and happy occasions.  And if there is an expectation of trouble, the women of the pack stay back and guard the home.  It rarely happens, but Martha is skilled at making such times a relaxed occasion.  I believe this is merely a precaution.”

“I wish I could go.” Fiona said.  “If I had to choose between an evening making cards or an evening in the middle of potential danger, I’d choose the cards.”

“The feast will be magnificent, and it will be safe to eat the food and drink.” Freydis said.  “There will be no enchantment on it.”

“So Kieran and Ian are expecting trouble?” Mrs Tuesday wiped over the clean counter.  “That’s a worry.”

“Will you be attending, Mrs Tuesday?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes, I’ll be attending.” Mrs Tuesday sounded subdued.  “The werewolves can get away with keeping their women at home, but everyone else has to attend.  If I don’t go, it’s more than bad manners…” She trailed off, looking worried.

An alarm went off on Fiona’s phone.  “Time to open up.” She drained the last of the delicious coffee and unlocked the door, flicking the sign to show ‘Open’.  “At least there are no tours booked today.”

“We have visitors already.” Freydis said.  “And they are elfen, with a werewolf.” Her expression hardened.  “Also, that dreadful creature, Ferdi.”

Jasmine looked anxiously at Fiona.  “I don’t want there to be any trouble.  Please don’t say anything.”

“You can take the empty boxes downstairs.” Fiona said.

“I’m not running away.” Jasmine said firmly.

Inwardly Fiona sighed, then glanced at Freydis who looked on high alert.  Her heart sank.  This looked like it was going to be a problem.  She moved next to Adele.  “Can you take the boxes downstairs and get Steve and Kadogan up?  It looks complicated.”

Four men entered the shop like soldiers checking enemy territory.  A tall, slim man in a three-piece suit, sharp featured but handsome with piercing blue eyes and a mane of thick, dark auburn hair tied back in a pony tail led them, striding into the shop and across to the café.  At his shoulder was another man, also slim but with short, dark hair.  His eyes were hidden by sunglasses and his casual jacket over t-shirt and jeans looked out of place.  He moved like a bodyguard, constantly glancing around.  Ferdi was wearing his usual grey suit, and he wandered towards the books.  A thickset man, burly in a casual shirt and jeans with greying brown hair followed him.  Ferdi waved his hands.  “See, there is a real lack of information on aliens here.  They are missing out on sales.”

“We haven’t had any requests for books about extra-terrestrials.” Fiona glanced across at Freydis who was staring at the redhead.

“You aren’t listening to your customers.” Ferdi shook his head.  “This is Rhett, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Fiona said.

Freydis waved a hand.  “Fiona, this is Egerton, an important elfen who rarely visits the court of his prince.  He is normally found in Tadcaster.  He is accompanied by Clarence, who is known for his expertise in violence, but is rarely seen in a shop.” She raised an elegant eyebrow at Egerton.  “The revenants are seen at night and a small threat to you.  Do you have other worries?”

“Why should I have any worries?” Egerton said.  He smiled.  “Clarence also enjoys coffee.  Four of your finest coffees, please.”

“Latte?  Mocha?  Machiatto?  Espresso?” Freydis matched Egerton’s cold smile.  “Or should I choose for you?”

Egerton waved a hand.  “Surprise us.”

“That’s taking a risk, isn’t it, my lord?” Ferdi said.  “I mean, we could end up with anything.”  He looked at Freydis.  “I take my coffee black.”

“I’ll try and remember that.” Freydis said brightly.  She turned away to the coffee machine, but Fiona noticed that she was watching the reflections in the polished steel.

“You must be Jasmine.” Rhett had wandered over to the café and was leaning forward.  Jasmine had taken a tactical decision to stand with a counter between her and Ferdi, but Rhett was taller and when he leaned on the counter he was within touching distance.  “I’ve heard about you.”

“Really?” Jasmine said.  She started laying out the saucers for Freydis.

“I’m really good at getting ladies to like fur, if you know what I mean.” Rhett said.  “I have a talent.”

“I’m happy for you.” Jasmine straightened a tray, avoiding his eyes.

“Perhaps we could go out for a drink and I could show you what I mean.” Rhett’s smile made Fiona uneasy.

“I’m okay, thanks.” Jasmine laid out the complimentary biscuits.

Egerton watched, frowning, before smiling at Freydis as she placed the first hazelnut latte down.  “I will be attending the feast, of course.  I believe it will be splendid fun.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Freydis said.  “There is likely to be a small amount of violence, but nothing spectacular.”

“But the food is usually magnificent, although it will miss your guiding hand.” Egerton brushed his hand against Freydis’ as she placed down the second latte.  “You taste is exquisite.”

“Thank you.” Freydis said.  “How is Pimpernel?”

Egerton shrugged.  “She is no longer staying in Tadcaster.  I believe she had the bad taste to move to Lancaster.”

Freydis’ bright smile had a malicious edge.  “Did Foxtrot go with her?”

“You are as well informed as ever.” Egerton said.  He sighed with deliberate boredom.  “Pimpernel ran off with her lover to Lancaster and I divorced her.  Here I am, single.  It is shocking that two desirable people such as us can be single.”

“Not really.” Freydis said.  “When you are as attractive as us, you learn to be discerning.”

Mrs Tuesday had been watching Freydis and Egerton with amusement but moved forward sharply as Rhett caught hold of Jasmine’s hand.

“You’re such a pup still.” Rhett said.  “You have no idea what you want.  Let me show you the possibilities.  Come with me to the feast and we can just relax, talk and maybe you can surprise yourself.”

“I’m not going to the feast.” Jasmine said.  “None of the women of the pack are going.  We’re having a girl’s night.”

Rhett shrugged.  “Then let me take you for a drink.  It could be fun.”

Jasmine pulled her hand free at the second attempt.  “No, thank you.  I’m busy and I’m not the sort to go for drinks with strangers.”

“Hi, Rhett.” Fiona turned around at the welcome sound of Steve’s voice.  “Long time no snarl.  Last I heard you escaped from the pack at Shrewsbury before you could be torn apart for conduct unbecoming.  Still keeping your tail up, I see.”

Kadogan followed closely behind Steve. “Egerton!  I would like to say that it is pleasant to see you.”

“Kadogan, I would love to say that it is a joy meeting you.” Egerton said.  He turned to Ferdi.  “Is this true?  Is the companion you vouched for a stray?”

“Stray is a hard word and not always as straightforward as it may seem.” Ferdi said.  “After all, this young pup is a stray.”

“She is no longer a stray.” Freydis snapped.  She glared at Egerton.  “She belongs here.  It is bad enough that you brought in someone to harass one of us, but a stray?  Your standards are slipping.”

“I can assure you, my dear Freydis, I had no idea.” Egerton turned to Ferdi.  “Perhaps you and your… associate should leave.”

“I’m no trouble.” Rhett smiled at Jasmine.  “I’m a softy, really, when you get to know me.”

“I’m sure that there are plenty that appreciate you.” Jasmine said.  “Goodbye.”

A low growl started at the base of Rhett’s throat but Ferdi tugged urgently on his arm and they left, Rhett throwing a final glance at Jasmine as he went.

“I apologise for my associate’s lapse in judgement.” Egerton said.  “But while I am blessed with your company, Kadogan, I wonder if you can recommend somewhere to stay while Clarence and I are in York.”

“You can stay at the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “The rents are extremely reasonable.”

There was a tense moment.  The two elfen locked eyes and the sense of an imminent thunderstorm filled the room.  Freydis broke it.

“I can understand that Egerton would be uncomfortable staying here as he would feel under the constant view of Lord Ragnar’s chief ally and we all know how Egerton feels about Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan and Egerton both turned to glare at her.  Freydis smiled brightly.  “However I believe Miss Patience is looking for someone to take over the lease on her latest dwelling.  It is a farmhouse on the edge of York with a hole in the wall, caused by Martin.”

“What is Martin?” Egerton asked.

“I believe you knew him as Aelfhelm,” Freydis said, “But names are mutable.  I am considering changing my name to Machiatto.”

Egerton froze for a moment.  “Aelfhelm is returned?  That is significant news.” He nodded to Clarence.  “I’ll speak to Miss Patience, thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to my associate.”

“Thanks for coming with me to the shops.” Jasmine said as she and Jeanette walked through the thinning crowds to the centre at Coppergate.  “I have no idea what to get.”

“To be honest, neither have I.” Jeanette said.  “All I know is that it’s not too formal but I should dress smart.”

Jasmine started to head towards the budget clothing store but Jeanette caught her arm.  “Ian has been quite clear, and he’s given us some money as well.”

“Really?!  How much?”

Jeanette laughed.  “He handed me a load of money and said we had to get an outfit each.  I love the man, but he hasn’t got a clue.  I’m not spending that amount.”

“Was it hundreds?” Jasmine’s eyes were round.

“We are going to shop cleverly, look amazing and save Ian some money.” Jeanette said.  She looked Jasmine up and down.  “Freydis is right, you would look amazing in blue.”

“What do you think you’ll get?”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette said.  “Let’s cut through the car park here.”

The multi-story car park was dim and echoed.  It was late and much of the car park had emptied and there were gaps that Jeanette and Jasmine could cut through.  It was quiet, for a moment, and they seemed to be the only people around as they headed for the side exit.  “I have some really nice trousers.” Jeanette said as they slid between a badly parked Renault and a concrete pillar.  “I could get a nice top to go with it.”

“Do you think Ian would mind?” Jasmine asked.

“Do you think he would notice?” Jeanette stopped suddenly.  “Jasmine, what are those?” She pointed to the shabby, shadowy figures slowly emerging from the dark corner behind a Ranger Rover.

Jasmine looked past her.  She swallowed.  “I think those are revenants.”

“I thought they were only out at night these days.” Jeanette looked around.  She had heard enough from listening to the talk from Ian, Luke and Callum to know that there were seven plus one leader.  There were three ahead, shuffling out of the dark corner.  She grabbed Jasmine’s arm.  “They’re behind us as well.”

Jasmine followed Jeanette’s gaze.  “That’s three in that corner and four behind us.  Where is the leader?” She glanced around frantically before looking up.  A man, emaciated and ragged, was clinging on to the ceiling by fingers and toes.  He caught Jasmine’s appalled gaze and grinned before running, spiderlike, over the bare concrete and down the wall to take his place in the corner.  Jasmine pushed Jeanette behind her, “This is bad.  Try and get behind the Audi, towards the door.”

Jeanette slid towards the Audi.  “What do we do?”

“We need to fight our way out of here.” Jasmine said.  She glanced at Jeanette.  “Don’t worry.  I can handle myself.  It’s only a few revenants.”

Jeanette inched her way nearer the door.  “They’re moving to cut us off.”

“It’s okay.” Jasmine tried to sound braver than she felt.  “Stay close to me.”

“They’re getting closer.” Jeanette took a breath and held her bag with both hands.  “What do we do?”

“Try and call Ian.” Jasmine said.  “Just in case.”

Jeanette fumbled in her bag.  “What if he doesn’t answer?”

“He always answers a call from you.” Jasmine managed a smile.  “He is crazy about you.”

Jeanette managed to find her phone.  Thank goodness there was a signal.  She tried to scroll for Ian’s number.  “I’m crazy about him too.” The revenants were getting closer.  They got past the Audi to the row before the door.

Jasmine growled low in her throat.  “Keep moving.” She pushed Jeanette before spinning around and punching the nearest revenant hard in the face.  It staggered back as Jasmine followed with a swift punch to the chest.  “Stay between the cars.”

Jeanette looked ahead at the wide space between the end of the blue Toyota and the pedestrian exit.  It seemed a long stretch, far longer than the few yards distance that it represented and there were three revenants there, waiting out of the light.  She dialled Ian’s number, praying he would answer.  There was a crack behind her and she whirled around.  Jasmine had driven a revenant’s head hard into a concrete pillar and it had collapsed into a pile of bones and dust.  She backed towards Jeanette, kicking hard at the revenant closing in on her.  Jeanette spun around.  The revenants were approaching her, led by their leader who was grinning.  Ian answered the phone and Jeanette sagged with relief.  “We’re being attacked by revenants.”

“Where are you?” Ian snapped.

Jeanette somehow gave clear directions as she watched the revenants advancing.  Behind her she could hear Jasmine dealing with the ones behind her.  She started to edge back.  A quick glance behind her showed Jasmine struggling to keeping the last of the four revenants’ teeth from her neck.  As Ian hung up the phone she struggled to get back to try and help Jasmine.

Darren got there first.  He appeared out of nowhere and with a grunt had grabbed the revenant and thrust a stake upwards.  The bones and dust crumbled away from Jasmine, leaving her free and gasping for breath.  At the other side of Jeanette, Luke and Sir Ewan were dealing with the revenants.  Jeanette scrambled backwards away from the leader as he lunged towards her.  She screamed as she was grabbed and thrown across a car bonnet as Darren got her out of danger and faced the revenant leader.  The leader hissed and drew himself to his full height, poised to strike but Darren didn’t waste time.  As the leader paused, Darren thrust hard with the palm of his hand underneath the vampire’s chin and thrust in hard with the stake as it stumbled back.

As Luke and Sir Ewan quickly finished off their opponents, Darren turned to Jasmine.  “Are you okay?”

Jasmine nodded weakly and looked over to Jeanette who was clutching onto her bag and trying to work out what had happened.  “I thought we only needed to worry after dark, these days?”

“It’s the first daylight attack in weeks,” Sir Ewan said, gently grasping Jeanette’s arm and helping her towards the door.  “But this must be a place they’re using as a lair.  It’s nice and dark and probably built on a graveyard.  Let’s get you outside.”

“They are only going after non-normals at the moment.” Luke said.  “Most of the time it would be fine in here.  It’s just they went after Jasmine.”

“Are you okay?” Darren asked Jasmine again.  “You’re covered in dust.”

Jasmine nodded and coughed.  “I didn’t expect them.”

“But you did great.” Darren said.  “Well done.”  He looked up the street to see what looked like a large Alsatian streaking towards them at full speed.  “Here’s Ian.  Let’s hope he remembers himself enough to stay in fur!”

In Charge

Lord Ragnar looked around his court.  There were still plenty of people around and the fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was a thinness about the place.  No vampires were present and the few werewolves who attended were clustered around Kieran.  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  It all came back to Freydis.  If she had been present there would have been some chat, or flirtation or amusement. And if nothing had been happening, she would have instigated something.  Kadogan and Atherton watched him warily.  Kadogan passed Lord Ragnar a goblet of wine.

“Do you wish to hunt revenants tonight?”

Lord Ragnar accepted the wine.  “Hmm?”

Atherton leaned in.  “We should be hunting the revenants.  There are many on the streets, my lord.”

Lord Ragnar stared moodily into the fire.  Hunting revenants was something to do, he supposed, but it didn’t exactly bring him the glory and splendour he needed.  Besides, he needed Freydis and she was busy with the damned coffee machine.  At least he had a chance competing against a vampire or mortal, and Freydis had never been indiscreet enough to dally with another elfen, but he felt helpless against a coffee machine.  He drained the wine.

“It would be a popular move.” Kadogan said.  “Kieran Latimer is growing concerned.”

Atherton had never been a coward.  “Perhaps you could hunt around the edges of the dark parts of your domain.  Pushing back the darkness there would be very popular, and I am confident many would attend to assist.”

Lord Ragnar placed the empty wine goblet back on the table.  “I will hunt within my domain.” He flicked a glance around the room.  A few people had looked up, but not all.  He was losing his grip.  “And tomorrow I will plan the midsummer feast.  Steve and Fiona Adderson will attend to celebrate their anniversary and all my court will come.  Every single one.”

Silence ran around the hall.  Lord Ragnar had thrown down a gauntlet.  Miss Patience had been avoiding the court, complaining that being so close to the dark domain made things difficult for her.  Demanding that she and all of her kind attend was a line in the sand.

Kieran stood up.  “All of us?  Including those werewolves touched by the darkness?  You know how they have been affected.”

“I am sure any competent leader can control their pack.” Lord Ragnar said.  Kieran flushed and clenched his fists.  Lord Ragnar ignored him and turned to Kadogan and Atherton.  “Shall we go hunt?”

Fiona found it almost funny.  The men were in the back, the women were in the shop.  Steve was packing a van to take to Bridlington and Ian was helping him load it.  Steve was hoping for a load of sea glass in return, straight from the sea bed.  Callum was off to the wholesalers today to pick up supplies for the café and Dave was upstairs getting ready for his first client.  Luke was also upstairs, probably sleeping in after another hard night fighting revenants, and Darren had gone to look at his assigned vicarage.  Kadogan was last seen counting the candles again but Fiona had given up tracking him.

The women of the White Hart were also busy.  Jeanette was sorting out a new delivery of cards and getting them on the shelves, along with a few of her own.  Mrs Tuesday was setting out the muffins and cakes for the café while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it warmed up.  Adele was regrouping some of the over-cute pixies in an attempt to make it look like a display.  Jasmine had brought up large basket of different incenses from the storerooms downstairs and was stocking the shelves, humming happily to herself.

Fiona started making notes and sketches for the new catalogue.  Steve insisted that a new catalogue went out in plenty of time before the Wiccan festivals, so the Lammas catalogue for the celebrations on August 2nd would need to go out by the second week of July.  Fiona was thinking of getting someone on duty just to answer the phones for the last week before the festival to cope with the last-minute orders.

Fiona looked over to Mrs Tuesday.  “Is Evan going to be okay doing all the runs to the Village?  It’s a long run.”

“He’ll be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a change for him.  Besides, Gabe will be with him.”

“As long as he’s okay with it.” Fiona said.  The mail order business with the non-normals was generating a lot of post and many preferred to go through messengers.  She had had a long chat with Karen, the Postmistress in the Village who operated general clearing house for the non-normal population and had come to an agreement about parcels and packages.  Evan Tuesday would drive over three times a week with the non-urgent deliveries which could later be collected by the messengers that called in there from the various courts.  She straightened the already straight pile of till rolls.  “What do you think the celebration with Lord Ragnar will be like?”

“I think it will be entertaining.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“It will be incredibly entertaining and possibly violent.” Freydis said.  “Also the coffee is likely to be below standard.”

“Do you think it will actually be violent?” Fiona asked.  “I’m not sure I’m happy to go to a fight.”

“Lord Ragnar is insisting that the vampires affected by the dark energy attend a function near to that exact dark energy and he is also insisting that werewolves previously affected by the dark energy attend at the risk of them becoming snappy.  How can it not have some violence involved?” Freydis tenderly wiped down the steamer.

“You will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If Lord Ragnar keeps his head then there will probably be some heated words and a few bruises.”

“Ian’s really not happy about going there.” Jasmine said.  “He wants me to stay here.”

“Does he think that the feast will be a distraction and allow attacks in other areas?” Freydis asked.  “That is interesting.”

Jasmine nodded.  “He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s been going with Darren around all the burial grounds to try and limit the revenants that can be summoned, and I heard Luke telling him not to worry and that lots of the Knights Templar will be out that nght.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “Well maybe that Sir Craig will get some sense knocked into him.”

Freydis raised an eyebrow.  “The Templars are getting it more or less right here, Mrs Tuesday, but I understand that you don’t like them.”

“No, I really don’t.”  Mrs Tuesday snapped.

“At least they will not be at feast.” Freydis said.  “I have a new syrup to try, a French vanilla.  Would anyone like a coffee?”

“I’d love one.” Fiona said.  “Your coffee is always delicious.  But this feast, it’s not likely to be really dangerous, is it?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Probably not to you.”

Adele wandered over to the café.  “I’d love one of your coffees, if you don’t mind.  Am I invited?”

“That depends on Ian.” Freydis said.

“How can it possibly depend on Ian?” Adele said.  “I’m either invited or I’m not.”

“You are part of his subpack.” Freydis said.  “He is the one in charge and he is worried.”

Jeanette moved back to the café area, carrying an empty cardboard box.  “Ian has already said that he doesn’t wantus girls there.” She tucked the cardboard box to one side behind the counter.  “I’d love a coffee as well, if you don’t mind.”

Freydis smiled.  “Of course.” She placed the first drink in front of Fiona and deftly switched over the coffee.  “So, Ian is keeping the women at home.  He is expecting trouble.” She tilted her head as she steamed the milk.  “Ian’s insights are always worth hearing.  There may be more trouble than I was expecting if he is keeping the women away.  Does he want you to stay at Jeanette’s house or with the rest of the pack?”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want us there.” Adele snapped.

Jeanette looked at Jasmine and Adele.  “Hasn’t he said anything?  We’ve been invited to a crafting bee with Martha at the main house.”

Freydis put a coffee in front of Adele.  “Ian tells you, and then you are supposed to tell the women in your pack.”

“Really?” Jeanette felt overwhelmed.  “Is there a list of things I should do?”

“You can ask Martha.” Freydis said.  “She knows these things.”

“I’m rubbish at craft.” Jasmine said.  “I never seem to get it right.”

“What is a crafting bee?” Adele asked, slightly calmer.  She took a sip of her coffee.  “Freydis, this coffee is amazing.”

Freydis glowed a little with the praise.  “Thank you.  I believe Martha is creating and gathering crafts for the church sale in support of the Red Cross.”  She pulled out another cup for Jeanette.  “There will be all sorts of crafts there.  Martha is an excellent organiser so there will be groups for knitting, crochet, quilting, cards and such.  I always hear that they are relaxed and happy occasions.  And if there is an expectation of trouble, the women of the pack stay back and guard the home.  It rarely happens, but Martha is skilled at making such times a relaxed occasion.  I believe this is merely a precaution.”

“I wish I could go.” Fiona said.  “If I had to choose between an evening making cards or an evening in the middle of potential danger, I’d choose the cards.”

“The feast will be magnificent, and it will be safe to eat the food and drink.” Freydis said.  “There will be no enchantment on it.”

“So Kieran and Ian are expecting trouble?” Mrs Tuesday wiped over the clean counter.  “That’s a worry.”

“Will you be attending, Mrs Tuesday?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes, I’ll be attending.” Mrs Tuesday sounded subdued.  “The werewolves can get away with keeping their women at home, but everyone else has to attend.  If I don’t go, it’s more than bad manners…” She trailed off, looking worried.

An alarm went off on Fiona’s phone.  “Time to open up.” She drained the last of the delicious coffee and unlocked the door, flicking the sign to show ‘Open’.  “At least there are no tours booked today.”

“We have visitors already.” Freydis said.  “And they are elfen, with a werewolf.” Her expression hardened.  “Also, that dreadful creature, Ferdi.”

Jasmine looked anxiously at Fiona.  “I don’t want there to be any trouble.  Please don’t say anything.”

“You can take the empty boxes downstairs.” Fiona said.

“I’m not running away.” Jasmine said firmly.

Inwardly Fiona sighed, then glanced at Freydis who looked on high alert.  Her heart sank.  This looked like it was going to be a problem.  She moved next to Adele.  “Can you take the boxes downstairs and get Steve and Kadogan up?  It looks complicated.”

Four men entered the shop like soldiers checking enemy territory.  A tall, slim man in a three-piece suit, sharp featured but handsome with piercing blue eyes and a mane of thick, dark auburn hair tied back in a pony tail led them, striding into the shop and across to the café.  At his shoulder was another man, also slim but with short, dark hair.  His eyes were hidden by sunglasses and his casual jacket over t-shirt and jeans looked out of place.  He moved like a bodyguard, constantly glancing around.  Ferdi was wearing his usual grey suit, and he wandered towards the books.  A thickset man, burly in a casual shirt and jeans with greying brown hair followed him.  Ferdi waved his hands.  “See, there is a real lack of information on aliens here.  They are missing out on sales.”

“We haven’t had any requests for books about extra-terrestrials.” Fiona glanced across at Freydis who was staring at the redhead.

“You aren’t listening to your customers.” Ferdi shook his head.  “This is Rhett, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Fiona said.

Freydis waved a hand.  “Fiona, this is Egerton, an important elfen who rarely visits the court of his prince.  He is normally found in Tadcaster.  He is accompanied by Clarence, who is known for his expertise in violence, but is rarely seen in a shop.” She raised an elegant eyebrow at Egerton.  “The revenants are seen at night and a small threat to you.  Do you have other worries?”

“Why should I have any worries?” Egerton said.  He smiled.  “Clarence also enjoys coffee.  Four of your finest coffees, please.”

“Latte?  Mocha?  Machiatto?  Espresso?” Freydis matched Egerton’s cold smile.  “Or should I choose for you?”

Egerton waved a hand.  “Surprise us.”

“That’s taking a risk, isn’t it, my lord?” Ferdi said.  “I mean, we could end up with anything.”  He looked at Freydis.  “I take my coffee black.”

“I’ll try and remember that.” Freydis said brightly.  She turned away to the coffee machine, but Fiona noticed that she was watching the reflections in the polished steel.

“You must be Jasmine.” Rhett had wandered over to the café and was leaning forward.  Jasmine had taken a tactical decision to stand with a counter between her and Ferdi, but Rhett was taller and when he leaned on the counter he was within touching distance.  “I’ve heard about you.”

“Really?” Jasmine said.  She started laying out the saucers for Freydis.

“I’m really good at getting ladies to like fur, if you know what I mean.” Rhett said.  “I have a talent.”

“I’m happy for you.” Jasmine straightened a tray, avoiding his eyes.

“Perhaps we could go out for a drink and I could show you what I mean.” Rhett’s smile made Fiona uneasy.

“I’m okay, thanks.” Jasmine laid out the complimentary biscuits.

Egerton watched, frowning, before smiling at Freydis as she placed the first hazelnut latte down.  “I will be attending the feast, of course.  I believe it will be splendid fun.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Freydis said.  “There is likely to be a small amount of violence, but nothing spectacular.”

“But the food is usually magnificent, although it will miss your guiding hand.” Egerton brushed his hand against Freydis’ as she placed down the second latte.  “You taste is exquisite.”

“Thank you.” Freydis said.  “How is Pimpernel?”

Egerton shrugged.  “She is no longer staying in Tadcaster.  I believe she had the bad taste to move to Lancaster.”

Freydis’ bright smile had a malicious edge.  “Did Foxtrot go with her?”

“You are as well informed as ever.” Egerton said.  He sighed with deliberate boredom.  “Pimpernel ran off with her lover to Lancaster and I divorced her.  Here I am, single.  It is shocking that two desirable people such as us can be single.”

“Not really.” Freydis said.  “When you are as attractive as us, you learn to be discerning.”

Mrs Tuesday had been watching Freydis and Egerton with amusement but moved forward sharply as Rhett caught hold of Jasmine’s hand.

“You’re such a pup still.” Rhett said.  “You have no idea what you want.  Let me show you the possibilities.  Come with me to the feast and we can just relax, talk and maybe you can surprise yourself.”

“I’m not going to the feast.” Jasmine said.  “None of the women of the pack are going.  We’re having a girl’s night.”

Rhett shrugged.  “Then let me take you for a drink.  It could be fun.”

Jasmine pulled her hand free at the second attempt.  “No, thank you.  I’m busy and I’m not the sort to go for drinks with strangers.”

“Hi, Rhett.” Fiona turned around at the welcome sound of Steve’s voice.  “Long time no snarl.  Last I heard you escaped from the pack at Shrewsbury before you could be torn apart for conduct unbecoming.  Still keeping your tail up, I see.”

Kadogan followed closely behind Steve. “Egerton!  I would like to say that it is pleasant to see you.”

“Kadogan, I would love to say that it is a joy meeting you.” Egerton said.  He turned to Ferdi.  “Is this true?  Is the companion you vouched for a stray?”

“Stray is a hard word and not always as straightforward as it may seem.” Ferdi said.  “After all, this young pup is a stray.”

“She is no longer a stray.” Freydis snapped.  She glared at Egerton.  “She belongs here.  It is bad enough that you brought in someone to harass one of us, but a stray?  Your standards are slipping.”

“I can assure you, my dear Freydis, I had no idea.” Egerton turned to Ferdi.  “Perhaps you and your… associate should leave.”

“I’m no trouble.” Rhett smiled at Jasmine.  “I’m a softy, really, when you get to know me.”

“I’m sure that there are plenty that appreciate you.” Jasmine said.  “Goodbye.”

A low growl started at the base of Rhett’s throat but Ferdi tugged urgently on his arm and they left, Rhett throwing a final glance at Jasmine as he went.

“I apologise for my associate’s lapse in judgement.” Egerton said.  “But while I am blessed with your company, Kadogan, I wonder if you can recommend somewhere to stay while Clarence and I are in York.”

“You can stay at the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “The rents are extremely reasonable.”

There was a tense moment.  The two elfen locked eyes and the sense of an imminent thunderstorm filled the room.  Freydis broke it.

“I can understand that Egerton would be uncomfortable staying here as he would feel under the constant view of Lord Ragnar’s chief ally and we all know how Egerton feels about Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan and Egerton both turned to glare at her.  Freydis smiled brightly.  “However I believe Miss Patience is looking for someone to take over the lease on her latest dwelling.  It is a farmhouse on the edge of York with a hole in the wall, caused by Martin.”

“What is Martin?” Egerton asked.

“I believe you knew him as Aelfhelm,” Freydis said, “But names are mutable.  I am considering changing my name to Machiatto.”

Egerton froze for a moment.  “Aelfhelm is returned?  That is significant news.” He nodded to Clarence.  “I’ll speak to Miss Patience, thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to my associate.”

“Thanks for coming with me to the shops.” Jasmine said as she and Jeanette walked through the thinning crowds to the centre at Coppergate.  “I have no idea what to get.”

“To be honest, neither have I.” Jeanette said.  “All I know is that it’s not too formal but I should dress smart.”

Jasmine started to head towards the budget clothing store but Jeanette caught her arm.  “Ian has been quite clear, and he’s given us some money as well.”

“Really?!  How much?”

Jeanette laughed.  “He handed me a load of money and said we had to get an outfit each.  I love the man, but he hasn’t got a clue.  I’m not spending that amount.”

“Was it hundreds?” Jasmine’s eyes were round.

“We are going to shop cleverly, look amazing and save Ian some money.” Jeanette said.  She looked Jasmine up and down.  “Freydis is right, you would look amazing in blue.”

“What do you think you’ll get?”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette said.  “Let’s cut through the car park here.”

The multi-story car park was dim and echoed.  It was late and much of the car park had emptied and there were gaps that Jeanette and Jasmine could cut through.  It was quiet, for a moment, and they seemed to be the only people around as they headed for the side exit.  “I have some really nice trousers.” Jeanette said as they slid between a badly parked Renault and a concrete pillar.  “I could get a nice top to go with it.”

“Do you think Ian would mind?” Jasmine asked.

“Do you think he would notice?” Jeanette stopped suddenly.  “Jasmine, what are those?” She pointed to the shabby, shadowy figures slowly emerging from the dark corner behind a Ranger Rover.

Jasmine looked past her.  She swallowed.  “I think those are revenants.”

“I thought they were only out at night these days.” Jeanette looked around.  She had heard enough from listening to the talk from Ian, Luke and Callum to know that there were seven plus one leader.  There were three ahead, shuffling out of the dark corner.  She grabbed Jasmine’s arm.  “They’re behind us as well.”

Jasmine followed Jeanette’s gaze.  “That’s three in that corner and four behind us.  Where is the leader?” She glanced around frantically before looking up.  A man, emaciated and ragged, was clinging on to the ceiling by fingers and toes.  He caught Jasmine’s appalled gaze and grinned before running, spiderlike, over the bare concrete and down the wall to take his place in the corner.  Jasmine pushed Jeanette behind her, “This is bad.  Try and get behind the Audi, towards the door.”

Jeanette slid towards the Audi.  “What do we do?”

“We need to fight our way out of here.” Jasmine said.  She glanced at Jeanette.  “Don’t worry.  I can handle myself.  It’s only a few revenants.”

Jeanette inched her way nearer the door.  “They’re moving to cut us off.”

“It’s okay.” Jasmine tried to sound braver than she felt.  “Stay close to me.”

“They’re getting closer.” Jeanette took a breath and held her bag with both hands.  “What do we do?”

“Try and call Ian.” Jasmine said.  “Just in case.”

Jeanette fumbled in her bag.  “What if he doesn’t answer?”

“He always answers a call from you.” Jasmine managed a smile.  “He is crazy about you.”

Jeanette managed to find her phone.  Thank goodness there was a signal.  She tried to scroll for Ian’s number.  “I’m crazy about him too.” The revenants were getting closer.  They got past the Audi to the row before the door.

Jasmine growled low in her throat.  “Keep moving.” She pushed Jeanette before spinning around and punching the nearest revenant hard in the face.  It staggered back as Jasmine followed with a swift punch to the chest.  “Stay between the cars.”

Jeanette looked ahead at the wide space between the end of the blue Toyota and the pedestrian exit.  It seemed a long stretch, far longer than the few yards distance that it represented and there were three revenants there, waiting out of the light.  She dialled Ian’s number, praying he would answer.  There was a crack behind her and she whirled around.  Jasmine had driven a revenant’s head hard into a concrete pillar and it had collapsed into a pile of bones and dust.  She backed towards Jeanette, kicking hard at the revenant closing in on her.  Jeanette spun around.  The revenants were approaching her, led by their leader who was grinning.  Ian answered the phone and Jeanette sagged with relief.  “We’re being attacked by revenants.”

“Where are you?” Ian snapped.

Jeanette somehow gave clear directions as she watched the revenants advancing.  Behind her she could hear Jasmine dealing with the ones behind her.  She started to edge back.  A quick glance behind her showed Jasmine struggling to keeping the last of the four revenants’ teeth from her neck.  As Ian hung up the phone she struggled to get back to try and help Jasmine.

Darren got there first.  He appeared out of nowhere and with a grunt had grabbed the revenant and thrust a stake upwards.  The bones and dust crumbled away from Jasmine, leaving her free and gasping for breath.  At the other side of Jeanette, Luke and Sir Ewan were dealing with the revenants.  Jeanette scrambled backwards away from the leader as he lunged towards her.  She screamed as she was grabbed and thrown across a car bonnet as Darren got her out of danger and faced the revenant leader.  The leader hissed and drew himself to his full height, poised to strike but Darren didn’t waste time.  As the leader paused, Darren thrust hard with the palm of his hand underneath the vampire’s chin and thrust in hard with the stake as it stumbled back.

As Luke and Sir Ewan quickly finished off their opponents, Darren turned to Jasmine.  “Are you okay?”

Jasmine nodded weakly and looked over to Jeanette who was clutching onto her bag and trying to work out what had happened.  “I thought we only needed to worry after dark, these days?”

“It’s the first daylight attack in weeks,” Sir Ewan said, gently grasping Jeanette’s arm and helping her towards the door.  “But this must be a place they’re using as a lair.  It’s nice and dark and probably built on a graveyard.  Let’s get you outside.”

“They are only going after non-normals at the moment.” Luke said.  “Most of the time it would be fine in here.  It’s just they went after Jasmine.”

“Are you okay?” Darren asked Jasmine again.  “You’re covered in dust.”

Jasmine nodded and coughed.  “I didn’t expect them.”

“But you did great.” Darren said.  “Well done.”  He looked up the street to see what looked like a large Alsatian streaking towards them at full speed.  “Here’s Ian.  Let’s hope he remembers himself enough to stay in fur!”

Facing a Fight

“We can’t keep going like this” Sir Ewan slumped down into a chair as they finally got back to the Templars’ Chapter House.  “The numbers are too much.”

Dave and Luke dropped down into chairs opposite him.  Sir Craig followed them, working his right shoulder.  “It’s not sustainable.  We have people out every night, and every night we find a fight.  And it’s always a leader and seven revenants.  And they’re getting tougher.  It’s only a matter of time before someone get badly hurt, or worse.”

“It’s always seven, with one leader.” Luke inspected his battered knuckles.  “And they are getting stronger.  I’m not trained for this.”

Dave looked worried.  “I’m not trained for this either.  And their tactics seem to be improving.”

“At least we know if we have got all of them in the pack.” Sir Ewan looked up as Sir Curtis came in, bringing in a tray of sandwiches and some flasks and yawning.  “Thanks.”

“Was it as bad tonight?” Sir Curtis asked.  He stroked absently over his bruised face.

“It was bad,” Sir Craig said, “but we all got home.  It’s nearly dawn.  Go and get some sleep.”

Dave watched Sir Curtis leave.  “Are there any more reinforcements we can get?”

Sir Craig shook his head.  “There are few enough Knights Templar, and there is a lot of ground to cover.  I’ll see if I can’t get some more paladins over.”

“If they can be spared.” Sir Ewan said.  “Most of them have enough to keep them busy in their own patches.”

“Mike Doyle may be able to come over from the Village.” Sir Craig started pouring tea into the mugs.

“But he has a pregnant wife.” Luke said quietly.  “It’s hard to ask him to leave that.”

“We are out of options.” Sir Craig said.  “Mike knows that Karen will be safe.”

“To be fair, Kieran is helping out a lot.” Dave said.  “And so are the people from the White Hart.  I don’t know what we would do without them.”

“Don’t get carried away.” Sir Craig said, passing out the drinks.  “This trouble is coming directly from Lord Ragnar’s domain.  It is their fault.”

There was a quiet pause as the men ate the stack of tuna sandwiches and drank the tea.   Dave finally broke the silence.  “How can we get Lord Ragnar to act?  It must be hurting him as much as us.”

“He can’t act.” Sir Craig said.  “And that adds an interesting twist.  Freydis could sort it out, but he won’t allow her into the domain to fix it.  He hasn’t got the skill to fix it himself.  In fact, there are precious few that do.  Kieran is furious with Lord Ragnar now because his pack has been affected and if he hadn’t defied Lord Ragnar and allowed Freydis to heal his pack members then they would still be in a bad way.”

“Miss Patience is furious with him because he won’t order Dean to join with her and he won’t order Martin to repair the wall he broke.” Sir Ewan added.  “Dean is hiding out at the White Hart and Lord Ragnar won’t push there in case it upsets Kadogan.  Besides, Lord Ragnar can’t make Martin do anything, and everyone knows it.  I think Martin is shielding Dean and deliberately not paying for the wall to wind Miss Patience up.”

“It’s working.” Sir Craig said.  “She’s incandescent.  And she must be scared.  I made some enquiries about Martin, back in Lincoln.  He is an old vampire.  He’s been around for thousands of years and he doesn’t give a damn.  There is nothing Miss Patience can do to bring him to heel and it affects the leadership of her little group.  He’s not in the Order’s good books either.  He’s a predator.  He feeds mainly on people.  But he’s clever.  He’ll seduce and entrap someone vulnerable, absolutely bewitch them, feed from them exquisitely gently – and I believe it blows their minds – then leave them after around six months, before they get too dependent.  The trouble is, he leaves them nicely.  They’re always better off financially or he sorts out a job for them or he deals with their family’s troubles or something.  We have never been able to get anyone to make a statement against him, and I’m not sure whether we would be able to take him down without half the Templars here.  He goes into a ‘dream state’ quite often though, which is a blessing, so he’s only around for fifty years or so at a time, with a few exceptions, and he usually sleeps around a decade.  He’s been dormant for a century or so, though, up until now, so Lincoln had hoped he had disappeared for good.”

“Perhaps he will take over from Lord Ragnar.” Sir Ewan stifled a yawn and picked up another sandwich.  “Lord Ragnar was nearly unseated last year.  Now Freydis isn’t at his side, it’s only a matter of time.”

“Most of the opposition was wiped out in last year’s attempt and I am not sure that there is an external threat ready.  Lord Ragnar is shaky, but surely not that weak.” Sir Craig looked at Dave and Sir Ewan.

“Lord Ragnar had not upset the werewolves last year.” Sir Ewan said.  “He also had all of the vampires, such as they are, on his side.  Kadogan is still loyal, but other elfen are asking questions about the state of the domain.” He took another large bite of his sandwich.

“Do you think Martin would take over?” Luke asked.  “I mean, I know he’s a vampire, and you say he’s a predator, but he has to be better than the current state.  I mean, if anyone takes over from Lord Ragnar.  He seems more stable.”

“Martin has always avoided power, at least, according to the stuff we managed to dig up at Lincoln.” Sir Craig said.  “And practically anyone is more stable than an elfen who doubts the loyalty of those around him, is losing control of his domain and who is suffering from unrequited love.”

Dave stared.  “Who is he in love with?”

“He’s in love with Freydis.” Sir Craig said, pouring some more tea.

“But he divorced her.” Dave said.  “And she’s still in love with him.”

“Yes.” Sir Craig took a mouthful of tea.

“That’s not unrequited love.” Dave said.  “It’s requited love.  It’s there-for-the-taking love.”

“That’s the elfen for you.” Sir Craig said.

“Hang on,” Dave said as a thought struck him.  “How many vampires are there in York?”

Sir Ewan poured himself some more tea. “Apart from Martin?  Miss Patience has a group of six.”

“Does that include Dean?” Dave asked.  Sir Ewan shook his head.

Sir Craig leaned forward.  “So all Miss Patience has to do is get hold of Dean and she is the leader of a group of seven, just like those revenants we are seeing night after night.”

There was a long pause as the men tried to work through the implications.  Luke shifted uneasily in his chair.  “How easy is it to make a vampire?”

Ian dropped Jeanette off at the front of the White Hart before driving the van to the back.  Jeanette came in looking pale.

Fiona gave her a sympathetic smile.  “How are things? Has Steve spoken to you?”

Jeanette took a deep breath.  “Ian said he can go there tonight with Steve and put up magical protection so we can get back there safely.  He said that there were a few traces, but nothing too serious.  He said he would ask Darren to say some prayers before they started.”

“Darren is a fearsome prayer warrior.” Freydis said.  “I am sure that he will clear out undue influences.  Steve Adderson is also known as an extremely competent sorcerer, strong enough to impress the elfen.  You will have safe space.”

Jeanette smiled wanly.  “Thanks.” She looked closer at Freydis.  “Are you feeling okay?”

It was a good question.  The golden blonde hair still swirled in lustrous swathes around Freydis’ face and shoulders, but it was a darker shade that edged towards the honey gold.  Her eyes were no longer the purest summer blue but now were blue grey and while she was still slim, her figure was slightly fuller.  The jeans were still tight, and still a fake designer brand, but they were a darker shade of denim and she was wearing a loose t-shirt instead of a buttoned shirt.  Freydis shrugged.  “I feel a change of season in the air.”

Mrs Tuesday looked at her carefully.  “Are you missing Lord Ragnar?”

Freydis seemed to sag a little and her hair was suddenly dull and lifeless.  “He is on the path to destruction and I do not know how to save him.  He is my sun but there are clouds.”

“Have you spoken to him?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Freydis shook her head.  “He will not allow me to approach him in private.  I have tried being an independent and strong woman with a life of my own, and it has failed.  I have lost what I did not believe I had and I cannot defend that which I forgot to cherish.”  She bowed her head.  Jeanette watched her claw like hands, grasping the back of the chair until the knuckles turned white, smooth themselves and fill out and her hair once again fill with shining health as she pulled herself up and forced a smile.  “But there are still safe places such as the White Hart, and soon your small holding shall be protected.  Indeed, perhaps I will bless your fields, Jeanette, once this is over.”

“That would be an amazing honour.” Jeanette said, though she wasn’t exactly sure what the result of such a blessing would be.  “I think that would make it glorious.”

“A small recompense for your troubles.” Freydis said, going back to the coffee machine and stroking the coloured grasses still surrounding it.

“I admit, I never thought I would get so caught up in all this.” Jeanette waved a vague hand around the shop.  “I wasn’t sure I even believed in this stuff, and if I hadn’t met Callum at that craft fair, I’m not sure that I would believe in it now.”

“Are you sorry that you met us?” Jasmine asked.  “I mean, I know you like Ian, but having all of us in your house and it all being, well, full of werewolf?  Are you okay with that?”

Jeanette took a breath and looked Jasmine directly in the eye.  “Come here.” Jasmine edged closer, giving a panicked glance at Mrs Tuesday, before gasping as Jeanette grabbed her in a massive hug.  “I am not sure about all this magic stuff, and I don’t understand half of it, but if I had my time again I would never, ever, miss the chance of knowing Ian, of having you and Adele like sisters and Callum like a brother, of knowing the people.  You are wonderful.” Jasmine went pink.

“I wish I had realised that.”

Fiona turned around and forced a smile.  “Hello, Elaine.  What can I do for you?”

Elaine wandered towards the café.  “I thought I would grab a latte and perhaps catch up with Steve.  Is he in?”

“No.” Fiona said.

Elaine waited for a few beats, just in case Fiona added anything.  “Is he likely to be back soon?”

“No.” Fiona checked over the notes next to the till.  “Okay, ladies, we have a double coach booked to arrive in around half an hour.  It’s all non-normals who are expecting a fancy afternoon tea, so let’s get set up.”

Freydis was smiling with outright malice as she created Elaine’s latte.  “I believe you enjoy a shot of vanilla in there.”

“Yes,” Elaine said, surprised that Freydis had guessed that.

“I’ll try and remember to put one in next time.” Freydis said.  “I’ll try really hard.  Mrs Tuesday, please could you keep an eye on the Machine.  I need to bring up some more of the new Ethiopian blend.”

Martin found Freydis sitting under a tree in Tower Gardens looking over the River Ouse.  It was nearly midnight but still warm and the soft breeze was soothing.  He sat next to her.  “You have changed, my lady.”

Freydis managed a smile.  “I am no longer a lady, remember.  Lord Ragnar divorced me.”

“You are always my lady.” Martin said.

“And I can never give you hope.” Freydis turned her gaze back to the river to watch the nixies playing in the currents.

“Do you know what gives me hope?  That you never give me hope.” Martin didn’t follow Freydis’ gaze but instead watched her expression.  “If you did not care for me at all, you would dangle me on a string.”

“You are too powerful.” Freydis didn’t turn towards him.

“You had many princes eating out of your hand.” Martin said.  “You bewitched great sorcerers and kings.”

Freydis shrugged.  “It was a game to them as much as it was to me.  Perhaps I am an honest fairy.”

“And I come back to the start of the conversation.  You have changed, my lady, and I don’t know how.  You have an extra depth.  It is enchanting.”

Freydis finally turned her head and looked at Martin.  She smiled.  “You do not need to flatter me, Martin.”

“I do not flatter.” Martin said.  “You can ask anyone.”

Freydis turned back to the view of the River Ouse.  The lights from the town glittered and sparkled on the moving water and for a moment she seemed entranced.  “Lord Ragnar said he had always loved me.”

“I thought that was obvious to anyone.” Martin said.  “I made me so frustrated, because he never managed to turn that love into cherishing.”

“I didn’t think he loved me and I tried to make him jealous.” Freydis said.

“Leading to the mess with that young vampire last year.” Martin said.  “I heard all about it.  And Lord Ragnar was stupid enough to divorce you.  He should have either fought you or fought for you.”

Freydis shrugged again and a tear ran down her face.  “It is now gone.” She said quietly.  “But he needs me to mend the domain.  Soon he will realise and then I will mend the wound I caused and things will settle down.”

“He needs to do so soon.” Martin said.  “Princes from nearby are looking at his court.  It’s only a matter of time before we see an attempt to unseat him.”

Tears were flowing freely down Freydis’ face.  “I know, I know, there is so much wrong and there is nothing I can do!  I know he needs to bring Miss Patience to heel, and to soothe Kieran and to give assurances to the surrounding princes, but he is failing.” She looked up at Martin, her face glistening with tears in the street lights.  “I am helpless to act.”

“I would fight him for you, lady.” Martin said.  “Or I would fight for him, if you asked me.”

Freydis shook her head.  “I am still fae, still elfen.  I feel a fate falling. I must face it.”

“You are remembering the Viking days.” Martin said.  “I hear it in your language.  They would face their weird and stride on regardless.”

“I married Lord Ragnar as the Vikings swept in.” Freydis said.  “I suppose I have echoes from that time.”

“What fate to you see, lady?” Martin asked.  “What is the shape of things to come?”

Freydis held up her hand.  “Can you hear that?”

“What?” Martin looked around quickly and his heart sank.  In the distance he could see a pack of revenants stalking after a loud group of lads.  “I see them.”

“I shall enjoy killing them.” Freydis said as she rose.  “Exercise is always useful if you wish to improve your mood.”

Getting Darker

“This meeting should be in my halls.” Lord Ragnar tapped his long fingers on the table and glared around at the others.

“Your halls aren’t safe.” Sir Craig said.  The senior Knights Templar looked unimpressed.  “And we are taking no chances.”

“York does not need a cohort of Knights Templar.” Lord Ragnar stood and started pacing around the conference room.

“I beg to differ.” Sir Craig said.  He glanced around the room.  “And besides, this is not just a matter for your people.  The Paladin’s Citadel was destroyed down to brick dust.  That is unprecedented.  You have said that you have no part in it, and I believe you.  You have your own challenges.  But those challenges make it unsafe for our people and you appear to be unable to deal with them.”

“Can we calm down, please.” Steve took a breath.  “Darren has some idea about what happened, we need to work out what is going on together, and we need to solve it together.  The White Hart is the nearest thing to neutral territory.”  He looked around the conference room.  “I think we have everyone here.”

It was an eclectic meeting.  Lord Ragnar’s unoccupied seat was at the head of the table as Lord Ragnar paced at the end of the room.  On his right was Kieran, head of the werewolf pack and next to him was Ian.  Opposite Kieran, on Lord Ragnar’s left, was Martin and next to him was Miss Patience.  Sir Craig was sitting uncomfortably next to Miss Patience and opposite Darren.  Dave was sitting next to Darren and opposite Steve.  At other end, for added drama, Freydis sat opposite her ex-husband’s seat.  She was doodling pictures of coffee cups.

“I think I know what caused the explosion.” Darren said.  “I saw it a few years back.  When dark energy meets something most holy, there’s an explosion.  It caused havoc in the Village.”

“What dark energy?” Sir Craig asked.

“You can see it in the shadows.” Lord Ragnar said.  “There are small areas of darkness that are building up in corners like drifts of leaves and they are spilling out into the most unlikely areas.”

“I’ve seen too many examples of them.” Martin said grimly.  “And that makes sense.” He turned to Miss Patience.  “It’s faery magic with a vampiric filter.”

Miss Patience was staring straight ahead.  She was paler than normal and her elegant fingers, placed flat and unmoving on the table, seemed slimmer than ever.  “The vampires of York are not a party to the destruction of the Paladin’s Lair.”

“No-one said that, Patience.” Martin said.  “But I have to ask, do you think it has affected you?”

“Not at all.” Miss Patience didn’t turn her head.

As glances were exchanged over the table, Martin turned to Lord Ragnar.  “The main issue remains in your realm.  We are at a time of growth in the cycle.  It will soon be Midsummer.  While this is the most expansive this energy is likely to be, it’s also likely to be the least malignant.  You need to act and cleanse the issue in your domain.”

Miss Patience slowly turned, marionette-like, and looked at Martin.  “You should pay for the rebuilding of my wall.”

“You should stop playing foolish games.” Martin said without missing a beat, before turning back to Lord Ragnar.  “You need to act now.”

“You must act.” Steve echoed.  “It’s reached as far as Skipton.”

“How is Elaine?” Freydis asked, turning her notebook to get a better angle to shade a picture of a latte.

“There is nothing the werewolves can do except patrol.” Kieran looked worried.  “Some of our pack who have been touched by this darkness have become snappy.”  He looked around the table.  “They have been acting more like strays.  We’ve got them watched all the time but…”

“Great.  We have a werewolf issue as well.” Sir Craig ran his fingers through his thinning hair.  “What is going on here?  Lord Ragnar, you need to control your people.”

“It isn’t their fault.” Kieran snapped.  “They were just doing their duty.”

“I’m not saying it is.” Sir Craig’s voice was carefully controlled.  “But the darkness leaking out of the elfen domain is having an effect.”

“I’ll have a look at your people.” Freydis said, shading in steam on the doodles.  “If it’s elfen magic that’s causing problems then I may be able to do something.”

“Lord Ragnar should be the one dealing with this.” Miss Patience said, turning her head slowly towards the prince.  “This is his domain.  He should also compel Martin to repair our wall or pay someone else to do so.”

There was an uncomfortable pause around the table.  Everyone was aware that Lord Ragnar could not compel Martin to do anything.  Lord Ragnar looked around.  “I own that I do not have the skill of some other lords…”

“You are seen as weak.” Martin said.  “I have friends outside York, and I listen to the currents of conversation.  You cannot control your domain and you cannot control your court.  I think you need to find ways to do both before someone steps in and acts for you.”

“Are you threatening me?” Lord Ragnar leaned on the table, glaring at Martin.

“I’m stating the obvious.” Martin didn’t flinch.  “And if I wanted power here I would have taken it a long time ago.”  There was a long silence.  Finally Lord Ragnar broke eye contact and turned to Steve.

“Is it true?  Am I seen as vulnerable.”

Steve shifted in his seat.  “I don’t hear all the talk, I’m there for business only, and I’m sure that the courts I visit tailor the information I pick up.”

“But you can’t say that I’m seen as strong.” Lord Ragnar said softly.

“You have influence.” Steve said.  “People visit York and attend your court to pay their respects.”

“Because they come to the White Hart, and it would be inappropriate not to show their face in my court.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I wonder how many who visit your shop do not visit my court.”

“Did Curtis Avocado call in?” Freydis was now working on an intricate sketch of hot chocolate.  “He said he would.”

“No, he did not.  When was this?” Lord Ragnar returned to his seat.

“Last week, when there was jasmine blooming at No 7.” Freydis didn’t look up.  “I will aid the werewolves and sort out the issues with the domain, as it is my error of judgement that caused this issue.”

“You were unfaithful.” Lord Ragnar snapped.

“You were neglectful.” Freydis snapped back, picture forgotten. “You gave no thought to where I was or what I looked like.”

“I loved you.”

“You never told me.” Freydis took a breath and picked up the pen again.

“I’ve had control of domains before and there were no effects like this.” Martin said.  “I’m not saying that you made the best decision, Freydis, but it’s not just because you allowed someone a corner of control.”

“Rey was malicious.” Miss Patience said.  “I should have destroyed him.  I believe he consciously mingled his essence with the corner of Lord Ragnar’s kingdom he accessed.  It is not a path I should have chosen.  However, I would not put anything past Martin who breaks walls.”

“I’m not sure I would trust an undead breath from you.” Martin said.  “Patience, you need to step back from this, and all those stupid games…”

“Where is Dean?  He should be answering to me.” Miss Patience said, poised and still.

“He’s been helping me out a lot.” Dave said.  He had guessed a lot from the things that Dean hadn’t said.  “You know how it is.  I’m glad of the extra pair of eyes.”

“You are patrolling with a vampire?” Sir Craig stared at Dave.

“With Dean, yes.  He’s a literal lifesaver.  I mean, he literally is saving lives.” Dave smiled at Sir Craig and Miss Patience who were equally baffled.

“Lord Ragnar, I can go to your domain straight from this meeting and work on the problem.” Freydis said.  “Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader can keep an eye on the Coffee Machine.  It will be fine under their care and I can rearrange the dried grasses when I get back.” She turned to Kieran.  “I suspect that your comrades will return to normal once the source of the issue is gone, but I’m sure I can help if there is a problem there.  It is fitting that I right my wrongs.”

“I’d be grateful.” Kieran said.  “These are good people who are suffering and if they get out of hand and cross a line then they will face a judgement that they don’t deserve.”

“No!” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “I will deal with this.”

“While we’re waiting for that, what do we do?” Ian asked.  “There are people hurting here.”

“I’ll arrange prayers to protect the Knights Templar’s Citadel.” Darren said.  “And I suppose I ought to mention that I’m being translated.”

“What?” Dave snapped around to look at the exorcist sitting next to him.

“I’m being moved to York.” Darren said.  “The authorities seem to think that I’m more useful here.  I’ll get the official date later, but I’m going to be here permanently.”

“Congratulations!” Ian said.  “It will be good to have you around.”

“I have not agreed to that.” Lord Ragnar glared at Darren.

“You don’t have control over the appointments of the Church of England.” Darren kept his cool.  “It shouldn’t affect you.”

“I will have an exorcist living in York, and you say it shouldn’t affect me?”

Darren looked at him.  Lord Ragnar was not having a good time and it was showing.  “I thought having a local exorcist was a sign of status.  Lord Lothar never complained.”

“Lord Lothar did not have the same problems I do.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glanced over at his ex-wife but Freydis said nothing.

“Let’s get back to the point.  We need to get that domain dealt with now!” Martin said.  “Lord Ragnar, I mean this with the greatest respect, but…”

Lord Ragnar stood, knocking his chair back to clatter against the back wall.  “I will deal with this.  I don’t need a vampire, I don’t need a wandering priest and I don’t need an unfaithful ex-wife.” He swept out.

Freydis sighed.  “This isn’t helpful.  Kieran, do you wish me to call now and see what I can do?”

“I don’t want to be disloyal to Lord Ragnar.” Kieran looked at Ian.

Ian shrugged.  “Who are you most loyal to?  Lord Ragnar or your pack?”

“Careful.” Martin said as Dave and Darren once again exchanged worried glances.

Ian met his gaze.  “The werewolves have bled for Lord Ragnar.  We have value.”

Martin held Ian’s gaze for a moment and then nodded.  “I’m sure it will be fine, but don’t make a big deal about it.”

“You can always blame me.” Freydis said.  “Lord Ragnar enjoys blaming me, it comforts him, and he will take no significant action.” She stood.  “And the sooner I visit the better.”

Martin watched her leave, a frown on his face.

Fiona watched Lord Ragnar storm out of the White Hart and her heart sank.  Kadogan appeared from the back room and followed his prince, his features set.  It did not look good.  She looked at Mrs Tuesday to get an idea of how serious things were and her heart sank further.  Mrs Tuesday looked worried.  That was never a good sign.

Jasmine was refilling the cards, but she stopped and looked at Mrs Tuesday.  “It’s never good when a prince gets angry, is it?”

“I don’t think it’s anger exactly.” Mr Tuesday rubbed her back absentmindedly and frowned, turning to Mrs Cadwallader.  “You know him better than I do.  Any guesses?”

“He usually sulks.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “But I don’t think he can do that this time.”  The two old boggarts nodded in unison.

“What’s going on?” Jeanette asked.  “I recognised Lord Ragnar and I know Kadogan, of course, but what’s happening?”

“Lord Ragnar is feeling inadequate and is showing his emotions as anger.” Freydis wandered out of the back room.  “Mrs Tuesday, Mrs Cadwallader, please will you guard the Coffee Machine?  I have work to do at the pack of Kieran Latimer.”

“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Someone should be dealing with those poor lads.”

“You don’t miss much, do you?” Kieran followed Freydis.

“No, I don’t.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Aren’t you lucky I say less than I see?” Kieran blushed.

As the rest of the guests filed out, Fiona went up to Steve and hugged him.  “Are you okay?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what to think.” Steve looked around the shop.  “We need to have a long talk tonight.  Right now I need to do the run to Todmorden, but I should be back before dinner.”  He kissed Fiona briefly and left.

Ian walked over to Jeanette and gave her a brief kiss on the cheek.  “I’m just going across to the warehouse, but I’ll be back later.” He looked across at Adele and Jasmine.  “I’m sorry, but we need to all get back to the White Hart.  Steve has agreed.  It may only be a mattress on the floor and doubling up, but we need to be in a safe place.”

“I am not being forced out of my home.” Jeanette said.  “Do you know how much I’ve worked to get this far?”

Ian looked troubled.  “I’ll try and work something out.  It won’t be for long.”

“I need to water the plants.” Jeanette said.

“I’ll come with you after work.” Ian said.  “Jasmine can come as well.  Listen, I need to make the run to the warehouse.  We’ve got two coach parties booked this afternoon.  But I’ll talk as soon as I get back.”

There was a brief burst of activity with a flurry of customers and then it was quiet.  Jeanette looked pale.  Mrs Tuesday pushed a cup of tea into her hand.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

“What’s happening?” Jeanette asked.

Adele nodded.  “I think we deserve some sort of explanation.”

Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader exchanged another of their knowing looks and nodded.  “Everyone take a seat, and we’ll have a chat.”  Mrs Tuesday went over to the café area and sat down.  She watched them sit around her and took a deep breath.  “I wasn’t in the meeting and I didn’t hear what they said, but I can make some guesses.  People are talking about the York domain as being affected.  Going into the fairy realm is always tricky, but now it’s downright lethal.  It’s affecting some of the vampires and it may be behind what happened to the Paladin’s lair.  It’s affected some of the werewolves too – and they’re good lads.  I’m glad Freydis is doing something about it.”

“She should have done something about it sooner.” Mrs Cadwallader said.

“I can’t argue, but my belief is that she only just learned about it.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Freydis should have dealt with the disturbances in the domain a long time ago, and she hasn’t.”

“Lord Ragnar should have dealt with it.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “After all, he wouldn’t let Freydis set foot in there.”

“It’s a mess.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And as Lord Ragnar is not…”  Mrs Tuesday searched for words.  “He’s perhaps…  He’s looking…”

Mrs Cadwallader helped her out.  “Some people who don’t know what is happening and who are a distance from York may be under the wrong impression that Lord Ragnar is not in control of his realm and that he is vulnerable to attack.”

“That isn’t good.” Jasmine said.  “No wonder Ian wants us here where it’s safer.”

“I didn’t sign up for this.” Jeanette said.  “I just thought I had met a decent man, thought it might lead somewhere, and now my home isn’t safe.  I didn’t want anything to do with magic.”

“Neither did I.” Elaine appeared and sat next to a suddenly tense Fiona.  “Well, I didn’t mind a little magic, but I couldn’t cope with Armani.” She turned to Fiona.  “How is the little… imp?”

Ian, Luke and Darren were keeping together.  It was a bad shift.  They had all managed to get some sleep before getting on patrol at 3am, but no-one was rested.  Luke was the most at ease.  The night streets were cool and quiet and so far it seemed an easy swing around.  “I don’t want to be out of order,” he said, “but what is going on?”

“What do you mean?” Ian said, scanning the road ahead.

“The White Hart is like a dormitory, Jeanette’s upset because she can’t get home, Kadogan has disappeared, Freydis hardly said a malicious word all evening and Mrs Tuesday looks worried.” Luke looked at his companions.  “What is happening?”

“Lord Ragnar feels under threat.” Darren said.  “Other lords are being less supportive and a lot of local non-normals are twitchy.  Some werewolves have been affected by this dark energy building up and the vampires have gone weird.”

“The only vampires I’d trust right now are Martin and Dean.” Ian said.  “The rest are on loopy juice.  What I heard was that Miss Patience has this thing where they all share blood.  This means that if one goes crazy, they all go crazy.  Dean and Martin are the only ones that haven’t got involved.”

There was a long silence.  Luke could hear the swish of distant cars and the buzz of the street lights as they passed, but there was little other noise.  “Are they dangerous?  And how many are there?”

“Miss Patience had a coven of around half a dozen,” Ian said.  “But we don’t know about other dormant vampires like Martin or revenants.  All bets are off.  And if it gets any crazier then there’s going to be an attack on Lord Ragnar.  He’s not seen as strong.”

“Is he strong?” Luke asked.

“I can’t answer that.” Ian said.  “I’m a member of his court.  I have to give unswerving loyalty.”

“It’s okay, I can answer that.” Darren said, with his usual blunt honesty.  “The vultures have been circling for a while, and once he got rid of Freydis, they have been circling lower.  From what I’ve heard, she’s been propping him up for centuries because she’s powerful, perceptive and besotted.” He glanced sideways at Ian.  “But I’ve only heard the chatter from the outside.  How’s Jeanette taking it?”

“She’ll be okay.” Ian said, hoping he was right.  “Adele seems more at ease, but I think it’s because her family have a lot of drama.  I don’t think she realises how dangerous it could be.”

“How’s Jasmine taking it?” Darren asked.  “The poor kid finally finds a pack and now it could all go bad.”

“She’s doing okay,” Ian said.  “To be honest, I think it’s helped her find her paws and feel that she has a place on the rug with all that’s going on.  And we’re a sub pack, not a pack.”

“I was thinking more of the White Hart.  It’s a sort of family.” Darren said.

“It does have that feel.” Luke said.  “I’m just on the edges but it’s still incredibly welcoming.”

“Mrs Tuesday’s cooking does that.” Darren said.  “I’ll have to move out to the vicarage soon and I’m not looking forward to it.  I’ll be taking Dave with me for a while as well.”

“What happened in the Village?” Ian asked.  “I heard something about a revenant prowling, but it didn’t sound anything like the stuff we’ve been facing.”

“It’s complicated.” Darren said.

“Hang on.” Luke hissed.  “Over there.”

The men looked across the dark streets.  “I don’t believe it.” Ian murmured.

“How can we deal with that?” There was an edge of panic in Luke’s voice.  He started at the group of revenants which were clustered around a group of young women.  They wore the remains of hen night outfits and looked terrified.

“There’s at least seven in the group and it looks like they have a leader.” Darren said.  “They will fight as a unit.”

“Luke, call for back up and then join us.” Ian pulled a stake out of his jacket pocket.  “We distract them and keep a holding action until reinforcements arrive.  Whatever you do, keep your eyes open.  This is something new.”

History

Dean hefted his bag and wondered what he was doing.  Martin was right.  He wasn’t safe from Miss Patience, but he wasn’t exactly sure he was exactly safe in the White Hart.  He kept himself expressionless and upright but inside he felt like crawling away.  Fighting revenants and the dark creatures that were creeping out of the fringes of Lord Ragnar’s domain was just something he did.  He was a vampire now, and he just had to get on with things.  The thought of facing his ex-girlfriend day after day, however, was like lemon juice on a cut.

Steve managed a smile.  “If you’ll follow me…” He led Dean up the stairs behind the till.  “It’s all a little chaotic at the moment,” he said with massive understatement.  “Kadogan has been sorting out sleeping quarters.” Steve struggled with himself and managed not to say what he was thinking.  “So, you are sharing the kitchen with Mrs Tuesday, Luke, Dave and Darren.  Freydis may or may not be in her room, I don’t like to ask.”

“What about the werewolves?” Dean asked.

“Kadogan has convinced Jeanette that she should have Ian, Callum, Adele and Jasmine as her lodgers.” Steve took a breath.  “I’m not sure how much she understood, but effectively it’s formed a pack house.  Apparently Ian has spoken to Kieran.”

“Kieran has a lot on his mind.” Dean said.  The two men understood this as code for, ‘the leader of the werewolf pack in York who has a worrying subpack of strays developing, is currently distracted by the Paladin’s Citadel blowing up, an influx of Knights Templar poking their noses where they aren’t welcome, vampires getting crazier than normal and the damned goblins have kicked off again with late night parties and parking across the werewolves’ garages’.

“Don’t we all.” Steve muttered.  He caught Dean’s slight change of expression and held up his hand. “I’m not meaning you.  It’s bound to be awkward at first, but there’s no hard feelings.  It’s just, well, everything.”  He led Dean down the corridor.  “That’s our office, the Tarot reading room, Dave, the kitchen, Mrs Tuesday, then round the corner on the right hand side we have Luke, Darren, yourself and then Freydis is at the end when she’s home.”

“Thanks.” Dean walked through the door Steve indicated.  He paused for a moment.  He recognised Fiona’s touch in this.  There was a small bunch of flowers in a vase on top of the chest of drawers.  The bed was smooth, and the pale green bedding was new.  Inoffensive prints of York hung around the room and the new curtains hung pale and stiff, framing a view towards York.  The room was fresh and clean and a note in Fiona’s beautiful calligraphy next to the keys read, ‘Dean, I hope you will feel happy and safe here.  Please let us know if there are any problems.  Fiona.’  Dean felt a lump in his throat.  Once upon a time, Fiona’s notes to him ended with a kiss.  Now he was standing next to her husband.  “How is Fiona about this?”

Steve looked away.  “She’s worried about you, and I think she feels a little awkward – not angry or anything because it really wasn’t your fault, but it’s a thing.”  He shrugged.  “Maybe it’s overdue.  Everyone can get the awkwardness out of the way and get on with our lives.”

“I think you’re right.” Dean said quietly.

“I’ll let you get settled in.” Steve said.  “If you’re eating in, don’t worry about cooking.  Mrs Tuesday likes to feed anyone who stays still long enough at meal times.”

Dean heard the door click as Steve left.  It was probably the safest place in York.  Steve had reinforced the place with so much magic that it could make your head ring if you even thought about a spell in the wrong place.  During the day the shop was full of werewolves and when he wasn’t patrolling at night, he was going to be sharing a space with a paladin, an exorcist, a near-as-dammit paladin and Mrs Tuesday.  Mrs Tuesday was scary.

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

Mrs Tuesday was restocking the herbs while the shop was quiet.  It was nearly closing time and Jasmine was wiping down the shelves nearby, nudging closer until she could try to discreetly ask Mrs Tuesday the question that had been circling her mind all day.

“Mrs Tuesday, why is it so strange that Dean stay here?  I mean, he’s a vampire but he seems okay.” Jasmine shook out her cloth.  “I think a packet of mint split here.”

“It looks like a few packets have split.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I don’t think you need to worry about Dean.  He’s made a few mistakes, but who hasn’t?”

Freydis appeared next to Jasmine. “Dean is an ex-boyfriend of Fiona who dumped her immediately before Christmas after convincing her not to move to Australia with the rest of her family.  After that he became a pawn of the traitor Rey and tried to gain a hold over Fiona by tricking her into drinking love potions.  She became quite ill and broke her engagement to Steve Adderson.” Freydis leant against the shelving unit.  “Indeed, he tricked her into meeting him many times and kidnapped her where she was held hostage by Rey until Steve Adderson tracked Rey down and killed him.  Rey drained Dean without thinking, but Dean turned and became a vampire, but his sire was already dead.” Freydis passed a fresh cloth to Jasmine.  “So Dean is quite independent of Miss Patience and rather lost.  Although I believe Aelfhelm has resurfaced recently and has been helping Dean learn his way around, which is kind of him and entirely typical.”

“You could have just mentioned that Dean is Fiona’s ex boyfriend.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “But that’s a good summary.”

“Is Steve jealous?” Jasmine asked.

“It is remarkably hard to read Steve Adderson,” Freydis said with some irritation.  “But I believe he is angry, jealous and insecure.  However he seems to be controlling these feelings and I am confident they will fade.”

Jasmine rubbed at a mark on the shelf.  “Steve has been really kind, and so has Fiona.  I hate the thought of them being upset.”

“Just treat Dean normally and everything will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Here, you can put this rue out.  Who is this Aelfhelm?” she asked Freydis.

“That is a story that I cannot put into a few sentences.” Freydis said.  “I will help with the herbs then we can all have coffee and I will tell what I know.”

Jasmine bounded around the herbs, curiosity almost eating her as Mrs Tuesday supervised the restocking before they all went back to the café area.  “Where’s Fiona?”

“She went home early.” Jeanette said, putting a pot of tea on the table.  “I think she’s finding it all a little too stressful.”

“I think I would as well.” Adele said, bringing over the milk.  “If Callum’s ex turned up I wouldn’t know what to think.”

Freydis made a hot chocolate for Jasmine and a small espresso for herself, then joined the rest of the women.  “It’s hard to know where to begin with Aelfhelm,” she said, emptying sugar sachets one after other into her coffee.  “I I can’t read him.” She sighed and took one of the mini meringues that Jeanette had brought over.  “I know he’s using the name Martin at the moment.  It does stand out less than Aelfhelm in today’s world, but I am surprised.  He was a good friend of Alderman Aelfhelm centuries ago.” Freydis stirred the syrupy coffee.  “He may have used a version of Martin before that, or perhaps Mark or Marius.”  Freydis looked back into the distant past and her eyes grew misty.  “I was quite young when I first met him.  I was certainly younger than I was now.  He came with the first legions, marching against the Brigantes.  He was an old vampire then, of course, but he was looking for adventure and he found plenty here.”

“That makes him really old.” Jasmine said.  “Don’t vampires go crazy if they live too long?”

Freydis sipped her coffee.  “Some do, some don’t.  It depends on the creature.  Martin seemed to keep his head and he often slept.  In fact, I believe Queen Victoria was on the throne when he last walked, or perhaps the Regent.  Or was it Sailor Billy?  I cannot recall.  It is unimportant.  Aelfhelm, I mean Martin, is a very powerful, very old vampire who can be extremely dangerous.  He can also be difficult.”

Mrs Tuesday grinned.  “You mean, you have a vampire that the elfen can’t order around?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Lord Ragnar is careful around him, of course, but Martin shows respect to him.  He is very polite, actually, and in the past has been willing to help.”

“Does he act very old-fashioned?” Jeanette asked.  “I mean, does he talk like a Victorian?”

Freydis shook her head.  “Martin has a trick, he calls it ‘dreaming’.  He couldn’t tell you the names of the popular bands, and he couldn’t tell you who Elvis Presley was, but he has a sense of what has happened and how the language is working.  Though I remember he was quite useless helping with a friend’s Latin lessons, back at the time of the first King George.  He said that nobody talked like that when Rome ruled.” She looked up.  “Hello, Steve.”

“I’ve not been here too long, in case you were wondering.” Steve said as he caught the flicker of guilt on Jasmine’s face.  “So I haven’t heard you discuss anything about Dean, for example, or me and Fiona.  But it’s good to hear about Martin.  He seems like a good guy.”

“He has a habit of looking after the younger ones – as long as they stay in line.” Freydis said.  “Dean is fortunate to have met him.”

The door opened with its usual jangle.  Freydis looked up.  “Lord Marius, how wonderful to see you.  Please join us – I will make coffee!  And coffee for your friend.”

“Hello, Elaine.” Steve pulled a chair over.  “Take a seat.”

Freydis paused and looked between Steve and Elaine.  “Is this an old friend?  It is good to meet you, Elaine.  How do you like coffee?” Freydis narrowed her eyes.  “I believe you would enjoy a latte with a shot of vanilla.”

“That sounds great.” She smiled faintly at Steve.  “How is Armani?”

The imp crawled out of Steve’s pocket and looked darkly at Elaine.  “Doing better.” He flapped off towards the air vents.

Steve watched his progress and then took a seat between Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday.  “I didn’t realise you two were still in contact.”

Elaine nodded.  “I needed some help and I thought I’d ask you.  I still had the contact details for Lord Marius and he said he would join me here.”

Steve looked hard at Lord Marius.  “And you didn’t think to warn me, father?”

Lord Marius took his coffee from Freydis.  “The coffee is as exquisite as ever.”

“Did you know that Aelfhelm is back?” Freydis asked.  “Though he calls himself Martin.”

“That is interesting.” Lord Marius leaned back in his seat.  “I shall have to call in on Miss Patience and see if her reaction is entertaining.”

“You may walk in through a hole in the wall that Martin left.” Freydis said.  “I believe she was most displeased.”

“I didn’t know that Lord Marius was your father.” Elaine said, staring.  “Thank you, this coffee looks amazing.” She took the elegantly presented coffee from Freydis and placed it on the table in front of her.

“It came as a surprise to me.” Steve said.  “But apart from a few hiccups,” he gave Lord Marius a hard stare, “We are doing okay.”

“And you have a shop now.” Elaine looked around.  “It’s very nice.”

“I think so.” Steve looked around and nodded.  “So, what is the problem?”

“I’ve been spending weekends in Skipton,” Elaine said, “And I think one of the neighbours is a vampire.  He’s acting odd, and I thought I would get in touch with you because I didn’t know anyone else who could help.”

“Why didn’t you just ask Lord Marius?” Steve asked.

Elaine looked uncomfortable.  “I didn’t think of that.”

“We have not made full introductions.” Freydis said, her eyes sparkling.  “I am Freydis, former wife of the prince of York and currently working with the coffee machine.  This is Mrs Tuesday, a fearsome boggart.”

Elaine nodded and smiled at the little old lady who looked like the definition of harmless.  “Pleased to meet you.”

“This is Jeanette Fowler, romantically involved with a werewolf who is leading a local subpack, this is Adele who is dating a werewolf who paints pictures and this is Jasmine who is a werewolf and former stray.” Freydis sipped her hot chocolate while Jasmine flushed with embarrassment.

“Hi, I’m Elaine.  I’m Steve’s ex-girlfriend.” Elaine smiled around the circle.

“That is an interesting coincidence.” Freydis said.  “Steve’s wife’s ex-boyfriend is upstairs.  Perhaps we can introduce you to each other?”

“You’re married?” Elaine took a hasty mouthful of her coffee.  “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” Steve said, looking darkly at both Freydis and Lord Marius.  “Now, about this vampire.”

Ian took a mouthful of his pint and looked out over the river.  The bar was quiet as it was early in the evening and the sun was still warm.  He sat down next to Darren on the terrace.  “So, what did you want to talk about.”

Darren kept his eyes on his tonic water.  He never knew how to handle this sort of thing.  “You know Ferdi?  Creep of a goblin that hangs around trying to act like a great trader?”

“Yeah, I know him.  I don’t know why Kadogan tolerates him.” Ian said.  The evening breeze was gentle and he was feeling good.  Everything seemed to be okay with Jeanette, Callum and Adele were solid and Jasmine seemed to be keeping her tail up.  It felt like he finally had his feet on solid ground.

“He’s a sleaze.” Darren took a deep breath.  “He was trying to hit on Jasmine.  She was getting upset.  I didn’t think she’d tell you, but you need to watch her back on this.”

“He was trying to pick her up?” Ian said, his voice cold.

“He was trying to pressure her into going for a coffee.” Darren took a deep breath.  “But we all know that it wasn’t just for coffee.  I was considering beating him to a paste, but I thought I should give you first refusal.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it.” Ian kept his eyes blankly fixed on the river as he took another mouthful of beer.”

“I didn’t want to embarrass Jasmine.” Darren said.

“Was she upset?” Ian asked, still staring at the river.

“Yeah, she was quite upset.” Darren wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut.

“What upset her most, do you think?”

“He said something about Jasmine not liking fur.” Darren shifted in his seat.  “I don’t know what that means, but I think that’s what made her cry.”

“Was there anyone else around?” Ian asked, still in the steady, cold voice.

“No, I don’t think he realised I was around either.” Darren said.  “Scum like that don’t like to risk having an audience.”

“I see.” Ian kept his gaze steadily on the river.  “Did Jasmine say anything about it?”

“No.” Darren took a small mouthful of tonic water.

“But she cried?”

“Yes, I got her a coffee and she was fine by the time Freydis came back.” Darren wished there was gin in the tonic.”

“Okay.  Do you know what it means when a werewolf doesn’t like fur?” Ian picked up his pint and took a small mouthful.

“No, I’ve never come across it.  I don’t interfere with werewolves.” Darren regretted not flattening Ferdi into laminate at the time.

“If a werewolf woman feels that they cannot get on with a werewolf man but would rather look outside the pack, then the phrase is, ‘they don’t like fur’.  They are looked down on, and sometimes the less intelligent of the pack will try and change their mind.” Ian took another small mouthful of his beer.  “You don’t see it so much in well run packs, but if things aren’t running smoothly or there are some dogs hanging around the fringes then it can get difficult for the woman.”

“So that is why Jasmine got into so many fights.” Darren said.

“Yes.  But I will not allow her to be taunted about this, and I know that Kieran is fully behind me.  I’ll let people know that Ferdi is a fair target.”

“I’m glad you’re on Jasmine’s side on this.” Darren said.  “And count me in.  Jasmine is a good kid who doesn’t deserve to be targeted.”

“You won’t mention this to anyone else, will you?  About the fur?” Ian finally looked at Darren.

“I don’t see why I should.  It’s not anybody’s business.” Darren said.  “But you should tell Kadogan that Ferdi upset Jasmine.”

“Ferdi may start spreading word about…” Ian placed his pint back down on the table.  “Damn him.  He’ll drag her down one way or another, won’t he.”

“He’s probably already started the rumours.” Darren said.  “What we need to do is send a message not to spread rumours and upset our own.”

“You’re counting yourself in with us?” Ian looked at Darren.

Darren paused.  “I hadn’t even thought about it.  I suppose the White Hart is a kind of pack.  We look after our own.”

“Damn right.” Ian took a longer drink of his pint.  “Jasmine’s a good kid and she’s been enough without us turning our back on her.” He shook his head.  “It could take her years to get over being a stray.  She was kicked out last year, and she’s done really well to keep as solid as she has.  She has the potential to be a credit to the pack.”

“I don’t think we should spread this too far.” Darren said.  “The less who get involved the better.  I mean, your werewolves have to know, and so does Kieran.  I’d say Kadogan needs to know so he knows why Ferdi is risking his neck when he visits.”

“I know who else I’ll tell,” Ian said with a certain malice.  “I’ll tell Mrs Tuesday.”

“That is extremely harsh.” Darren said.  “I approve.”

They drank in a comfortable silence for a while, watching the sun dip and the shadows lengthen.  Darren wondered exactly how Jasmine had survived.  To be under that sort of pressure must have been hard, and she was showing incredible resilience just helping in the shop.  The bar was filling up as the shadows banked up in the corners and the lights came on.  “Ian, those shadows aren’t right.”

Ian followed his gaze.  “Damn, it’s getting everywhere.”

“What do you mean?”

Ian frowned.  “The dark energy from Lord Ragnar’s domain is leaking out.  You find little patches of it, heaped up.”  He tried to find the right analogy.  “It’s like piles of leaves blown into a corner in autumn.  Any from a pack who touch the stuff go snappy and out of sorts.  Kieran is worried that those who have been touched by it could go rogue.”

“Let’s drift over there.” Darren stood casually and picked up his tonic.  “Will you cover for me as I say a few prayers?” He wandered over to the wall nearest the river where a patch of pooled blackness and set his drink down.  Ian followed him and as Darren said some quiet prayers over the darkness Ian kept up a one sided, quiet and casual conversation to misdirect anyone trying to eavesdrop.  He watched as the energy writhed and spat dark sparks which fizzled and disappeared as the unnatural shadow shrunk and twisted into itself until it was gone.  Darren gave a quiet prayer of thanks, then turned to Ian.  “I know why the Paladin’s Citadel exploded.  I think we need to talk to the Knights Templar – now!”

Challenger

Lord Ragnar sat, glowering, as his court milled around his hall.  The air was full of whispers and the tang of an oncoming thunderstorm.  Kadogan lounged in a chair nearby, his eyes watchful although his body looked completely at ease.  Lord Ragnar gestured for some wine.

“What am I supposed to do now?” he growled at Kadogan.  “It’s a Paladin’s lair.  I have no business there – and none of my people are involved.”

“The building and its neighbours are completely destroyed.” Kadogan said. “This is a shame.  I remember watching them being built and they were well constructed.  They stood for over a century.”

Lord Ragnar snatched the goblet of wine from the tray of a nervous server and took a long draught.  “At least I think it was none of my people.  Why should one of my people blow up the home of the Paladin when he is so reasonable?  Of course, the goblins have been a trial, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I remember them burying a witch bottle under the front step.” Kadogan said.  “It was a true trap, and I remember how it sparkled and gleamed as they buried it.  I don’t suppose the workmen saw that though.”

“First it is the White Hart burning, now the Paladin’s lair is destroyed.  It does not look well on me.” Lord Ragnar glared around the hall.  The normal atmosphere of a relaxed gentleman’s club was gone and instead the tension ran around the room like a live wire.  The black and white floor tiles were cracked and stained.

Kadogan nodded at the floor.  “Did you do that or is it a manifestation of problems in your domain?”

Lord Ragnar swore and waved a hand and the floor was restored to its usual pristine state with a sharp crack.  “And Freydis still talks of changing her name.  It is not appropriate.”

“You divorced her.” Kadogan reminded him.  “They had tiles like those in the halls when those houses were built.  They weren’t as good quality, but they looked pleasant.  One of the workers whistled very tunefully and I watched them work all that summer.”

“Those tiles are no more.” Lord Ragnar took another mouthful of the wine.  “And what are we to say about it?  If Paladin Dave Kinson, who has been an ally in our recent struggles, comes to see me now, what do I say?  Thank you for the help in fighting the revenants that were attacking our people, and thank you for the help in destroying Rey Baxter, and thank you for the kindness you have shown our people except possibly the goblins who deserve all they get in my opinion, and we have nothing to offer in return.”

“Dave Kinson and Darren King are staying at the White Hart for now as the Knights Templar are coming to York in force.” Kadogan said.

“I shall pay their rent.” Lord Ragnar said quickly.  “I insist on doing something.”

“Accepted.” Kadogan said.  “But an explosion of such size is not easily accomplished.  The newspapers were told that it was gas mains and so were the insurer people, but Detective Pierce says that there was no evidence of such things.”

“They do not allow my seers and soothsayers near the building.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Not that there is any magical protection there anymore.  It is unacceptable.” He threw his goblet hard into the fireplace.  The dregs of wine hissed and spat on the burning logs.

“They are reasonable not to trust elfen,” Kadogan said with a certain pride as he watched a brownie try to hook the goblet out of the fire.  “But it is still a nuisance.  And there are fourteen Knights Templar in York.  That has not been known for many centuries.”

A susurration ran around the hall as Martin strode in.  Lord Ragnar leapt to his feet.  “You!”

Martin approached Lord Ragnar and bowed perfunctorily.  “My lord.”

“I thought you were sleeping.” Lord Ragnar snapped as he glared at Martin.  He gestured to the servers.  “Bring wine.”

“I am taking no food or drink at this time.” Martin said politely but firmly.

“It is freely given, Aelfhelm.” Lord Ragnar sank back into his chair but Kadogan remained standing at his shoulder.  Elfen warriors started to appear in the corners of the room.

“I no longer use that name.” Martin said, watching the warriors with controlled confidence.  “My old friend died a millenia ago, and, while I still honour his memory, I use Martin now.”

“But why are you here?” Lord Ragnar took the wine offered by the server and waved him away.

“Who could sleep through this racket?” Martin said.  “You have mingled vampire and faery magic in your realm.  It is looking for ways to twist into the world.  If you do not heal your realm then it will be knocking at the door of the normal world.  It is not yet Midsummer and the days lengthen.  What will the dark faery magic do when the nights draw in?”

“What do you know of the faerie realm?” Lord Ragnar gripped the goblet tightly.

“I am not entirely out of touch.” Martin said.  “Your ex wife gave a portion of her kingdom to a vampire, did she not?  The vampire may be destroyed, but the energy is still there, the filter the power of your kingdom flows through is dark and poisoned.” Martin looked around.  “You need to heal your domain and you need to get all the vampires here firmly under your control.  Why are there no vampires here aside from myself?”

Lord Ragnar looked around.  “Where is Miss Patience?”

Martin shook his head.  “You let her control the vampires?  No wonder there are troubles.  And where is Freydis?  She was always skilled with the workings of a faery realm.”

“She is making coffee.” Kadogan said, moving a little closer to Lord Ragnar.

“You let her get a hobby?” Martin stared.  “Well, I am sure we will all benefit from great coffee.”  He bowed again. “I am your liegeman and I am bound to give you counsel.  My counsel is to either get your ex wife or someone of equal skill and mend your realm.  Until that happens, the problems will continue.”

“You are supposed to give me counsel when asked.” Lord Ragnar said.

“I’m sure you meant to ask.” Martin had a half smile on his lips.  “I thought I would save you some time.”

“As your lord, then, I ask you to do a task worthy of your station.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “Bring me Miss Patience.”

Jasmine sagged a little as the coach party finally straggled out of the White Hart and onto their coach.  “These coach parties get very busy.” She watched in relief as the coach pulled out of the car park.

“They even bought the plastic fairies.” Adele said.  “Keep an eye out on the gifts for me, please.  I need to get up some more stock.” She disappeared into the back.

“They spent well, but they were also normals.” Freydis said.  “They can be trying.  They do not understand the dangers of having their head ripped off should they get too fastidious.”

“Did you see the lady getting cross at the books?” Jasmine grinned as she started clearing the tables.  “She kept complaining about the devil’s work and being cursed for looking at it.”

“It is as well that Mrs Tuesday isn’t here.” Freydis said.  “Although it is always enjoyable to watch her look so frail while being so, so…” Freydis waved a hand.

“She’s a complete wind up merchant.” Jasmine said.  “I hope her back gets better soon.”

“I am sure it shall.” Freydis ran a caressing hand over the coffee machine before sighing and starting to load the dishwasher.  “Though she is very old, even for a boggart.”

Jasmine looked over to Fiona.  “Do you think Mrs Tuesday will get better?”

Fiona looked into Jasmine’s anxious face.  “Of course she will,” she said with more hope than truth.  “And even if she doesn’t, she still has a place here if she wants it.”

“We are quite the community,” Frerydis said, “Though I’m not sure if we are a court or a pack.”

“We’re a shop.” Fiona didn’t want to think beyond that.  “Jasmine, can you keep an eye on the till?  Darren and Dave will be over in an hour and I want to check over their rooms.” Fiona disappeared upstairs.

Freydis cleared the counter as Jasmine wiped down the tables.  “I am so glad I found coffee.” Freydis said.  “It has made such a difference to my life.” She straightened the dried grasses next to the coffee machine and checked the cupboards.  “We have run out of the Ethiopian blend.  I shall be back soon.” Her smile was barely malicious.  “You will be the captain of this ship as the only one here while I am gone.”

Jasmine finished cleaning the kitchen and then went to stand by the till.  The shop seemed very big and she felt unnervingly small.  She found herself going over the till.  There were spare till rolls, plenty of bags and tape and not much to do.  She wasn’t going to touch any of Adele’s ornaments.  Adele was very clear that she had the final say in how the knickknacks were arranged.  Jasmine wandered over to the herbs and started straightening them.  Some of the coach parties were dreadful.  It looked like boggart kitlings had been playing here.  Jasmine looked over as the door opened.  “I’ll be right there.”

“No rush, love.” Ferdi sauntered towards the herbs.  “Well, if it isn’t Sweet Jasmine.”

Jasmine flushed.  “Hi, Ferdi.  How are you?”

“Doing okay, can’t complain.  You look good as well, Sweet.  It looks like you fell on your paws.” Ferdi stroked his knobbly hand over a pack of wormwood.  “Do they know what you’re like here?”

“They know everything.” Jasmine said.

“Are you sure?” Ferdi grinned.  “I could tell them a few things.”

“I’ve always told them the truth.” Jasmine said.  “I have nothing to hide.”

“But have you told them everything?” Ferdi asked.  “Listen, why don’t you come for a coffee with me, just one coffee?  That’s all I’m asking.  Then I won’t have any reason to say anything to them.  What’s the harm in one coffee?”

Jasmine shook her head and backed away.  “I don’t think it would be a good idea, and, besides, what about Samantha?”

“My wife wouldn’t bother about me having a coffee with a friend.” Ferdi said.  “After all, it’s just a coffee.”

“It’s never just a coffee with you.” Jasmine said, “And I don’t want to get into another fight.”

“After all, you don’t want to spoil your chances here, do you?” Ferdi said.  “If you get thrown out of here, who would take you in?”

“I can look after myself.” Jasmine said defiantly.

Ferdi took a step forward.  “Of course you can, Sweet, and that’s why it’s okay to come with me for a coffee, because you can look after yourself.”

“Shut up or get out.”

Ferdi spun around and found himself facing Darren.  “I was just asking an old friend for a coffee.  There’s no harm in that.”

Darren briefly glanced at Jasmine’s flushed face and focused back on Ferdi.  “She said no.”

“Well then, no harm done.  I can catch up with her another time.” Ferdi started sauntering towards the door.  “But you can’t blame a goblin for trying.  After all, everyone knows that Jasmine doesn’t like fur, so I had to think I was in with a chance.” He slipped out of the door before Darren could say anything.

Darren turned to Jasmine.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “Don’t worry about slimeballs like him.”

Jasmine stared at him, wide eyed, and then burst into tears.  As Darren awkwardly patted her arm and let her cry into his shoulder, he wondered what on earth was going on and how much trouble he could get into if he hunted down Ferdi right now.

Dean looked around.  This was only the second time he had visited Miss Patience’s home and he was just as intimidated.  Last time Miss Patience had sat him in her small parlour and charmingly terrorised him with an insistence that he did exactly as he was told and obeyed her unquestioningly.  Now they were in the larger drawing room.  Half a dozen vampires were seated around in the dim light of flickering candles.  Dean wondered why as it was still light outside, but heavy velvet curtains had been pulled over the windows.  It all felt so fake.  The former farmhouse was probably Elizabethan, stone built and sturdy near the edge of York, and surrounded by well planned and matured gardens, complete with a stone folly in one corner.  Miss Patience had bought it last winter, to get somewhere secluded for the vampires of York to meet.

Now things were getting strange.  The ‘acolytes’ that Miss Patience usually had drifting around were missing and there was an eerie silence in the room.  Dean didn’t really know the other vampires.  He had met most of them in Lord Ragnar’s court, but he hadn’t spent much time with them.  Now he was the only one that didn’t seem wide eyed and hyper.  He wished Martin were there.

“We all must stand.” Miss Patience said, rising gracefully to her feet and stood next to the fireplace.  “Form a circle.”

Dean felt awkward as he shuffled into a rough circle with the others.  The rest of the vampires, or coven as Miss Patience insisted on calling them, looked like they were taking part in a very bad horror movie, their lips parted and their fangs showing.

“Dean, stand to my left.” Miss Patience waved her arm and Dean squeezed between Vivienne and the couch and stood at Miss Patience’s left side.  The rest of the vampires seemed to sway around and fill the gap without any thought.  Miss Patience turned to Dean.  “You have never experienced a feeding circle, have you?  It is a mystical moment.  It will truly change your perception of everything.” She stroked down his cheek.  “You don’t share any blood with us, poor boy.  Rey was never part of the York vampires.  He came from elsewhere and you only are connected to him.  But we must correct that.”

Dean managed a smile and looked around at the others.  They were all watching him with piercing, hungry eyes and he didn’t want to look like that.  “Are you sure…”

“You will not disobey me, surely.” There was steel in Miss Patience’s voice.

“Of course not, Miss Patience.” Dean kept his eyes and voice steady but he wondered whether he was going to get out of here alive.  He had already checked for exits and he had chosen the French windows at the north end of the room as his best chance of getting out of there quickly.

“It is quite simple, and beautiful in its simplicity.” Miss Patience took a moment to sigh. “I take a sip of Jacob’s blood, he takes a sip from Amelia, who takes a sip from Melvyn and so on and so on until Vivienne takes a sip from you and you take a sip from me to complete the circle.  And so we start again, with me taking the smallest sip from Jacob, and round and round until the ecstasy is too much to bear.”

Dean tried to stretch his mouth into a smile.  “Great.” He wondered when the best time to make his break would be.

Miss Patience turned and took a large, wooden box from the mantelpiece and opened it with a flourish.  “We must have the correct atmosphere for this.” She dropped a handful of incense into the fire.

Dean was relieved that it wasn’t dragon’s blood but instead the heavy smoke from copal slid out of the fire and over the floor.  He wondered if Miss Patience knew about dry ice.  The rest of the vampires seemed to be preparing to lose themselves in the moment, but he felt real fear for the first time since he died.  Whatever happened, whatever he needed to do, he was not drinking from Miss Patience.

“Everyone link hands for a moment and draw closer.” Miss Patience caught Dean’s hand before he had a chance to think about it.  He reluctantly extended his hand to Vivienne and felt her cool, soft hand slip into his.

Dean knew he had to stay as calm as he could.  Any tension in his wrist would be read by Miss Patience.  He had to hold his nerve until it was time to run for it.

Miss Patience drew herself up.  “Now is the time for our communion.  We come together…”

There was a resounding crash as the French windows were torn out of their frame and thrown out across the garden.  This was followed by a clatter as Martin tore down the curtains and strode in.  “Hello Patience.  What sort of tomfoolery are you trying now?”

“How dare you!” Miss Patience hissed.  “I trust you will pay for repairs.”

“Of course not.” Martin said.  “Idiots should not be rewarded.  Are you trying that circle thing again?  I told you centuries ago that it was a bad idea.”

“You always were scared of what you were.” Miss Patience snapped.

Martin didn’t bother replying to that.  “Lord Ragnar requires your presence.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask.” Martin glanced around the room.  “Dean, your needed at the White Hart.  I’ll join you there.”

Dean had never felt so thankful in his life.  “Right, I’ll get straight over.”

“I think he needs my permission first.” Miss Patience snapped.

“And I think that Lord Ragnar’s orders overrule yours.” Martin said.

“I think I will not be going to Lord Ragnar’s court just yet.  Dean can stay until I leave.”  Miss Patience deliberately threw another handful of incense onto the fire.

Martin’s nose wrinkled.  “I think you shall attend on Lord Ragnar when he demands.”

“And are you willing to try to make me.” Miss Patience snapped.

“Of course.” Martin sounded bored.  He wandered over to the nearest window and threw open the curtains.  “Nice garden.”

“Get out of my home!”

Martin bowed.  “After you, Patience.” He caught Dean’s eye and as Miss Patience swept out towards her car, Martin and Dean followed, to Dean’s utter relief.

Reception

Jasmine wrapped the small box of lemon and ginger tea.  “There you are, Miss Patience.  Can I help you with anything else?”

“No.” Miss Patience placed the packet in her bag.  “Thank you.”

Jasmine watched the vampire glide towards the door and open it with a lace-gloved hand.  Waiting until Miss Patience was well out of earshot, Jasmine shook her head.  “She is weird.”

“She was wearing jeans a few weeks ago.” Adele said, coming over from the café.

“It’s probably a psychotic break or being overtaken by evil.” Freydis wandered over with a frappe.  “I am so stunned that there is ice in summer.  How can people imagine ice in summer?”

“I’ve been in faerie realms where there are corners that are always winter.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“But that is winter there.” Freydis said.  “It’s summer here.”

“You could always go to those corners, grab an icicle and bring it back into a summer realm.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“But the icicle would no longer be in winter.” Freydis said.  “So it couldn’t be imagined.”

“But you just carry it from one part of the domain to another.” Mrs Tuesday looked at the others in search of sanity.

“But then it wouldn’t be in winter.” Freydis sighed.  “It is too quiet today and I still haven’t decided on a name.  Perhaps Mocha?”

“Frappe might be nice.” Jasmine said.  “It’s got a ring about it.”

“You could call yourself after one of those coffee pod things,” Adele suggested.  “That would make a change.”

“They’re trademarked.” Freydis waved a hand.  “I need to convey my inner self.  I need Lord Ragnar to see me completely desirable, unattainable but yet a sliver of hope.”

“That’s a tough one.” Jasmine said.

“I should not have thrown my coffee cup at his head.” Freydis rearranged the dried grasses next to the machine.

“No, it was a bad idea.” Jasmine had had to clean it up.

“I worry that it may have given him hope.” Freydis stepped back and looked at her work.

“Do you want to get back with him?” Jasmine asked.

“Of course.” Freydis said, going back to the machine and moving a stem of oats a fraction to the left.

“Then don’t you have to let him think he has a little chance?”

Freydis frowned.  “I have it – Chai!”

“It sounds like a martial art.” Adele said.

Jeanette came in weighed down by bags.  “You have to help me.”

Jasmine bounded up to her.  “What’s the matter?”

“What do I wear tonight?  Ian says I’ve got to look good but not too good.”

Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t look better than Kieran’s wife.  That would cause trouble.  But you have to look like you have class and style, because Ian’s almost a pack leader so you have to look good to reflect his position.”

“We’re just dating.” Jeanette said with an edge in her voice.

“That’s what you think.” Freydis picked up a silver bag.  “This is nice.”  She pulled out a well cut, navy blue trouser suit.  “You would have to dress it up, but it is suitable.”

Jeanette looked at her doubtfully.  “Are you sure?  I think it suits me, but I’m not sure that it’s formal enough.  Ian said elegant but not too formal.”

Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t wear full length.  But it has to look fancy.”

“What did you wear?” Adele asked.

Jasmine shrugged.  “I was at the tail of the pack.  I just wore a clean skirt and top or nice trousers – not jeans!”

“I got this blouse from the charity shop.  It’s pure silk.” Jeanette pulled out a delicate shirt blouse patterned with steel blue paisley.  “It was a real bargain.  I think it could go with the trouser suit or this skirt.” She pulled out a black suede skirt, beautifully cut and almost ankle length.  “I’ve lost some weight with all the work on the small holding, so it’s a little big for me, but I’ve got some nice belts and a shawl that I could wear instead of a jacket.”

“What else have you got?” Freydis peered into the heap of bags that had collapsed around Jeanette’s feet.  “The blouse would be perfect with either the trouser suit or skirt, though more striking with the skirt. Was it really second-hand?  It looks like it was hardly worn.”

“I have been to every charity shop in York.” Jeanette said.  “My feet are killing me and I swear I can’t face another changing room.” She paused.  “Is it okay to tell people I got the clothes there?”

Jasmine shrugged.  “Martha is supposed to wear the good stuff all the time, and get it new, but it’s considered clever to get a good deal if you’re someone like me.” She stroked over the skirt.

Freydis pulled out a slim fitting cocktail dress in sugar pink and shook her head.  “You should take this back.  It would take all the colour out of you.  I think looking stunning and wearing good quality clothes would reflect well on Ian but at the same time you have obtained a thrifty bargain and are not trying to show wealth but prudent care for a smaller bank balance.  I should tell them.  This is nice.” She pulled out a painted necklace.  “It’s very striking and doesn’t look like something a four year old would make even though it is constructed from wooden beads.”

Darren walked in.  “Are we adding a boutique to the business?” He strode past the clothes and over to the racks of incense.  “Nobody ask me an opinion about the clothes, because I will give you an honest answer.”

“I’d better get these out of the way.” Jeanette scooped the heap up and scuttled towards the back room.

“I’ll have a look at that skirt and see if I can take it in quickly this afternoon.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a tricky material, but it may be possible to do a quick fix for tonight and a proper job later on.” She followed Jeanette into the back.

Jasmine watched Darren scan through the varieties and pick up a couple of packs of church incense.  She looked around quickly.  Adele was in a far corner re-stocking the ornaments and Freydis was serving a couple that had followed Darren into the shop.  She smiled nervously at Darren as he placed the incense on the counter and reached for his wallet.  “It’s okay.  Steve said that you get all incense free.  There’s a special button on the till.” She scanned the packs and slid them into a paper bag.

“That’s kind of him.” Darren said.  “I don’t mind paying.”

Jasmine shook her head.  “Steve said it was important.”  She looked around again.  No-one was paying much attention.  Adele was trying to work out how to stuff four plastic fairies into a space meant for three and Freydis was charming the couple who were both nodding and smiling as she added whipped cream to their hot chocolates with an elegant flourish.  “Can I ask you something?”

“No, I can’t see your underwear.” Darren said as he picked up the bag.  He looked over Jasmine’s long, gypsy skirt and loose shirt.  “You look very nice.”

“It’s not about clothes.” Jasmine said.  “Do you really think I look nice?” she added.

Darren wished he knew what to say when women asked him questions like that.  He never seemed to get it right.  “You look nice.  You look comfortable and happy.”

Jasmine glowed.  “Thank you.  I know I need to look nice to reflect well on Ian.  He’s been so good to me and I don’t want him to be ashamed.” She glanced around again.  “But I need to ask, do you think Ian likes me?  I don’t mean likes me like he likes Jeanette, but likes me like he likes Callum?”  She twisted her fingers.  “Does he think I’m useful?”

“Of course he does.” Darren said.  He stopped and thought.  “Has he said anything to you?”

“No, but he’s so busy and he’s taking Jeanette to dinner at Fulford with Kieran and I don’t want him to feel awkward if he gets asked questions about me.”

“He’s not really said anything about you to me, except that he thinks you’re a good kid.” Darren said.  “And I think he’s right.”

Jasmine’s smile lit up her face and she took a deep breath.  “Did he say that?  It means that I’m an asset, not trouble.”

“I don’t know about that.” Darren said.  “But, what is it they say?  Keep your tail up and your fur flat and you’ll do fine.  And you will, I’m sure.”

Jasmine sighed happily.

Lord Ragnar stared moodily down at the street below.  He and Kadogan had found their way to the rooftops above Stonegate and were perched unseen next to the wary jackdaws.  “I cannot believe she would change her name.”

Kadogan shrugged.  As a loyal subject of Lord Ragnar, and possibly the nearest the elfen got to a friend, he had heard a lot on this theme.  He was bored.  “She still uses Freydis.”

“But she talks about changing her name to outlandish things such as ‘Steamer’.  She is not mine.”

“You could change your name.” Kadogan said with a hint of malice.

“I am the Prince of York.  I change my name for no-one.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glared at the pigeon which was pecking around the nearby gutter.  “On the other hand, a Viking name could be considered a little dated.”

Kadogan regretted his jibe.  “What could you use?  A name from a tea to go with her coffee?”

“I could use Assam.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.

“I suggest that you consider how it could be shortened.  Punishing that would take up too much time.” Kadogan watched the crowds swirling below as the tourists flowed towards the Minster or ebbed away.

“How about Chai?” Lord Ragnar was still glaring at the unconcerned pigeon.

“It sounds like a martial art.” Kadogan sprawled lazily along the ridge tiles.  He could watch the movement of the crowds and their shadows for hours.  He frowned and leaned forward.

“I am not calling myself English Breakfast,” Lord Ragnar said in an attempt to be light hearted.  “There is a type of tea called Gunpowder Tea.”

“Those shadows are wrong.” Kadogan said.

“What?  What has that to do with Freydis?”

“My lord, look.  That patch there – it’s wrong.” Kadogan pointed at a corner of an alley.

Lord Ragnar followed Kadogan’s direction and frowned.  “That’s not a natural shadow.”

“I think, with respect, your name can wait.” Kadogan stretched and flowed into a form ready to land in the alley.  “That is dark energy piling in heaps and it is very near the entrance to your domain.  It is looking for a home.  My lord, we need to act.”

Jeanette smoothed down her skirt.  Mrs Tuesday had done a fantastic job and it fitted perfectly.  Her hair was loose for once and hung in shining curls over her shoulders and down her back.  She had draped a lacy cardigan around her shoulders and felt elegantly uncomfortable.

Ian was wearing a suit but without a tie and looked incredibly distinguished.  As Jeanette glanced quickly at him, her heart turned over.  Jeanette knew he was nervous, but he hid it well as they walked into the large lounge.  Every head turned.  Jeanette could feel colour in her cheeks but she kept her smile in place.  It looked like she had judged it correctly.  The men were all wearing suits and the women all looked like they had taken some effort.  Some of the older ladies wore pearls with their summer dresses, some of the younger ladies wore tailored trousers with their crisp, fresh tops but all looked like they stuck to a dress code.

Ian guided her over to the centre of the room.  “Jeanette, this is Kieran Latimer and his wife Martha.  He is the head of the pack here.  Kieran, Martha, this is Jeanette Fowler.  She has just taken over a smallholding just outside York.”

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Kieran smiled and shook Jeanette’s hand.  “I trust Ian is treating you well?”

Jeanette kept smiling and wondered how to take this.  There was a definite undertone to Kieran’s words.  “Ian has been very kind to me, and incredibly helpful.  He installed irrigation for me, and I am very grateful.”

“Hmm.” Kieran gave Ian a hard look.  Ian met it without flinching.  “Glad to hear that.”

“You look lovely,” Martha said, drawing Jeanette a little way away from the men.  “Where did you get that amazing skirt?  I’ve been looking for one just like it.”

“I picked it up in a charity shop.” Jeanette said, a little thrown.

“Of course.” Martha sighed.  “Which means I can’t go back and get my size.  What a shame.  I used to love rummaging in charity shops.  I came home empty handed more often than not, but it was the thrill of the chase.” She threw a loving look at her husband.  “Kieran prefers I shop at the better boutiques these days, but I do miss it.  Perhaps you would invite me along next time?  I may not be able to pick up anything myself, but I could still enjoy looking.”

“That would be nice.” Jeanette found herself relaxing.  Martha was safe in a way that few people were.  You knew that whatever happened, Martha would keep her head and make sensible and calm decisions while mayhem reigned around her.  She looked in her late thirties in a mature but well maintained way, taller than Jeanette with soft blonde hair and a warm smile.  “I’m sure you know the best places.”

“We need to go to Leeds.” Martha said.  “There are around twenty shops within yards of each other in Headingley and lots of lovely tea shops.  We could make a day of it – in the winter.  I couldn’t interrupt you during growing season.”

Jeanette relaxed a little more.  “I went to Headingley a few years ago.  My grandad was watching the cricket, but I went around the shops with my mum and you are right – there are dozens of them.” She hesitated.  “Is it okay to talk about Jasmine?  It’s just that she needs clothes and it would be good to go with her.  I think she needs reassurance.  If that’s okay with you or I could go with Jasmine some other time.” She added hastily.

Martha looked worried.  “Is Jasmine a trouble to you?  I would be worried about keeping her in line.  She has a bad reputation, you know, but I had a word with Darlene from Liverpool and…” Martha stopped.  “Jasmine has a reputation for fighting, but I understand where it came from.  Have you had any trouble?”

Jeanette shook her head.  “She’s actually been very sweet and a little nervous, if anything.  I know she fought with Ian when she first came to York, but, apart from that, she’s been fine.  In fact, I worry because she seems so eager to please, as if she’s waiting for a kick.”

Martha nodded.  “It’s hard if she has spent time as a stray.  It’s a cruel life and if she can keep her tail off the ground after that then all credit to her.”  She looked over to where Ian and Kieran were deep in conversation.  “Ian took a risk taking her in, though I suspect Mrs Tuesday was a big influence after talking with Kieran, but it looks like it was a good choice.”

“She’s really helpful in the shop.” Jeanette said.  “And she copes with it really well.  I’m getting used to it, but there is Freydis and Mrs Tuesday to deal with before you even consider what some of the customers can be like.”

“Keep an eye on Freydis and listen to what she says.” Martha said.  “She’s a handful and a nuisance but she knows more than she tells, and she often knows more than she thinks.  What is it like working with Steve Adderson?  I know he got hold of some speciality dog biscuits for us a few years ago when we were hosting a big Christmas and he did a very good deal.” She stopped and looked over to her husband who had turned away from Ian to take an urgent call.

Jeanette’s heart sank.  Ian’s face was pale and set.  He glanced over at her and nodded.  “Martha will tell you where to go.” He took his jacket off

“It looks bad.” Martha said quietly.  “Keep your head down and follow Kirstie.” Martha waved over an older teenager that looked a lot like Jasmine.  “Look after Jeanette.”

Jeanette looked round at Ian who was watching Kieran.  Kieran walked over to the corner of the room where he deliberately placed down his phone, turned and raised a hand.  All eyes burned into him.

“It’s a full pack muster.  This is not a drill.  The Paladin’s citadel has been destroyed.”