Busy!

“Where did everyone come from?” Jasmine said, wide eyed as she dragged up yet another tray of cans of pop.

“Just get them in the fridge, love, then I’ll need you to clear tables.  Where’s Callum?”

“He’s just gone for some more milk and bacon.” Jasmine quickly unloaded the cans into the drinks fridge.

“I’m here now.” Callum hefted the large packs of milk and bacon around the corner.  “I’ve got some more downstairs.”

“Jasmine will put those away.” Mrs Tuesday ran a quick cloth over the counter.  “I want you to bring out some tables and chairs from the back room and set them up here.  Squeeze them in if you can.” She smiled up at the tall man at the counter.  “How can I help you, Lord Spike?”

 

Jeanette perched uncomfortably on the stool behind the shop till.  She was still aching and bruised and while she had insisted on working, Fiona and Ian between them had insisted that she worked sitting down.  It was just as well as the shop was heaving with people.  The shop had only been open an hour and already she was running low on bags.  She looked around.  Adele was restocking the herbs, Callum had pitched in at the café and Steve and Fiona were helping Lords with their long shopping lists.

Almost every Prince in the UK had either attended Lord Ragnar’s Memorial yesterday  or they had sent a representative.  And they all seemed to have had the same idea.  While they were in York, they could call in and see what all the fuss was about at the White Hart.  Many of the Princes were handing over long lists of items to be shipped, but one or two were taking an interest in exactly what was on offer.  Even worse, one of the Princes had brought a shopping list from the members of his court and Jeanette suspected that more would follow.

As Jeanette watched Callum dragging the tables around and putting out extra chairs, she realised another reason why the shop was so packed.  Everyone was here for the gossip.  Suddenly Freydis was Lady Freydis and no-one knew what that meant.  People had been writing Lady Freydis off for centuries and now suddenly she was a power to be reckoned with.

Ian came up behind her and dropped a light kiss on the top of her head.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, honest.” Jeanette smiled up at him.  “But busy.”

“I’m just checking what I need to bring up.” Ian said.  “You need more bags and I’d better bring up a box of till roll.”

“There are a few here already.” Jeanette said.  The ledges under the till were still comfortably full.

“This isn’t the busiest it’s going to get.” Ian said.  “I’ll be back in a tick.”

 

Jeanette watched him walk around, noting down gaps in the shelves on his phone and dodging enquiries.  Her heart turned over.

“So you’re Ian’s girlfriend?” The man at the counter placed down a stack of books and a dog biscuit selection box.  “I used to be his pack leader.  He’s a good man.”

“I think so.” Jeanette started scanning the books.  “He’s very good to me.”

“I should hope so.” The man looked to where Ian was helping Adele explain the differences between Tarot decks to a bewildered vampire.  “I’m Mike, by the way, and if he ever gives any trouble, give me a call.”

“I can’t imagine him causing me any trouble.” Jeanette glared at Mike.  “He’s been a perfect partner.”

Mike laughed.  “I’m glad to see that he’s fallen on his paws with you.” He looked back over to where Ian was now quickly listing the gaps in the display of herbs.  “I’ve still got a lot of time for him.  How did you get the bruising?”

“A tree fell on me.” Jeanette said bluntly.

“Hmm.” Mike passed her a card.  “Seriously, if you need help with him, or if he needs help with something, give us a call.  We’ll be there for him.”

Jeanette packed the books and dog biscuits as she tried to process it, adding in the staff discount.  “Thanks.  I appreciate it.”

 

The morning rushed by.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader were called in to help with the lunch rush, Dave brought up stock between readings and, with the help of some teenagers from Kieran’s pack and a few of the younger boggarts, the shop staggered on.  Egerton had claimed one of the tables in the café and was effectively holding court to anyone who would sit next to him.  Atherton was keeping a close eye on him from the other side of the shop where he was loitering near the plastic pixies.

Fiona felt like she was losing her mind as the shop was getting more visitors but most weren’t leaving.  It was too tempting to hang around and catch up with gossip that was now rattling around visitors from Kent to the Orkneys and from Newcastle to Caerphilly.  Knots of visitors were hanging around the sunny car park and spilling out onto the pavement.  “I can’t deal with this.” She whispered to Steve as she passed him on the way to fetching a sample of their silk Tarot bags for Lord Lothar.

“I know.” Steve said, juggling the packs of wormwood he was bringing out for Lord Gwill Mawr.  “Oh no!”

The groups in the car park were scattering as a large transit van backed into the space, heedless of obstacles.  Steve thought he heard one of the brownies groan as a planter was knocked but his eyes were fixed on the driver.  “Who the hell allowed Lady Freydis behind the wheel of a van?”

Lady Freydis was half leaning out of the window and watching almost carefully enough as she manoeuvred nearer the doors.  There was a rush to the windows.  Very few elfen ever got the hang of machinery and, with the exception of Lord Marius, elfen preferred someone else doing the hard work of driving.  She caught Steve’s eye and waved, before coming to an immaculate stop.  She jumped out and opened the rear doors before beckoning to Steve.  “I have brought something perfect.”

“Stay at the till.” Steve said quickly to Jeanette before racing across.

“Behold!” Lady Freydis waved an arm.  “A coffee machine!”

Steve peered into the van.  “We already have a coffee machine.”

“But now this machine is for me when I make coffee in the mornings and Jasmine can use the shop machine when she makes coffee the rest of the time.”

“What an excellent idea.” Egerton said, coming up behind Steve.

“Hang on a minute…” Steve looked around the packed store.  “Can we at least keep it in the warehouse until later?”

“Absolutely not!” Lady Freydis said.  “Evan Tuesday and Ian Tait will aid me to move this over to the kitchen and you can add an extra cupboard next to the drinks fridge.”

“No, wait…” Steve watched helplessly as Evan and Ian manhandled the heavy machine out of the van.  “Lady Freydis – who taught you to drive?”

Lady Freydis waved a vague hand.  “It’s not that hard.  Please, place it gently next to the other Coffee Machine, so that they are in company.”

“Have you even got a licence?” Steve trailed after Lady Freydis as the crowded shop jostled and shifted to make room.

“Hmm.” Lady Freydis sighed as the coffee machine was tilted, turned and swung into place.  “I expect so.  Don’t you think it looks splendid?  It’s the latest design.”

Steve ran a hand through his hair.  Then he took a breath.  He needed to pick his battles and let Dave or Luke try and explain what Lady Freydis shouldn’t do to any police that stopped her.  “I’ll get it plumbed in as soon as I can, but as we are a little busy right now, it will have to wait, possibly until tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Lady Freydis looked around the packed shop.  “I wouldn’t interrupt this wonderful gathering for anything.”

“What about the van?” Steve asked.  Lady Freydis had left it parked directly outside the shop door and a few puzzled faces were peering around the doors.

Lady Freydis shrugged.  “I paid real money for it, so I suppose I ought to get enjoyment out of it.  What do you suggest?”

Someone had sold Lady Freydis a van? Steve’s felt a shiver pass through him.  But all the problems that could come from that could wait.  “I’ll drive it around to the back and park it outside the storerooms.”

“Excellent.” Lady wasn’t paying attention.  Instead she was advancing on Lord Darcy with an outstretched hand and a bright smile.  “How wonderful to see you before you leave.  I trust you are finding York pleasant.”

 

Finally the last straggler left for the journey home or the ongoing networking at the court of Lady Freydis.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader had left long ago, along with the cubs and kitlings that had been helping out.  It was just the White Hart crew, slumped at the freshly wiped and finally clear tables near the café.

Steve brought in a stack of pizza boxes.  “I thought we all deserved pizza.  Everyone help yourselves.  I’ve got some news to share.”

Dave looked up wearily.  “As long as it doesn’t take too much energy.”

“It’s okay.”  Steve started handing out plates.  “I wish Kadogan was here, but he’s been missing, so I’ve gone ahead with things on the understanding that if Kadogan objects then it all goes back.”

“Within reason,” Ian added.

“Within reason.”  Steve waited for everyone to get pizza and settle down.  “Right, first of all, Ian is leaving us – sort of.” He looked over to Ian.  “Ian is going back to his trade of plumber and setting up his own business.”

“It makes sense, now that we are settling down as a pack.” Ian said.  “It’s good to have more than one workplace.  Jeanette is growing her business as well, so while she will be here to help out now and again, she’s not going to be here full time.”

Steve nodded.  “Callum is taking over the warehouse, Evan Tuesday is taking over the post and deliveries, and Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader will be helping in the café part time on a proper rota.  We’ll also be getting a lot more casual staff in, some for just a few hours a week, others more regular.  We should be able to deal with rushes like today just a little easier.”

“Today was crazy.” Jasmine said.

“And apparently Jasmine is taking over as barista from Lady Freydis,” Steve sighed.  “And that means that mornings are going to be busy as lots of people call in to get an informal chat with Lady Freydis.” He looked over at Callum.  “We are going to have to expand the café.”

 

Darren stared at his laptop screen.  He was nowhere near finishing his sermon.  He ran a weary hand over his face.  Perhaps he was in the wrong job.  He always struggled with the basics.  The weekly challenge of sermons and visiting was wearing him down.  He had felt so inadequate at Lord Ragnar’s Memorial.  Most of all, he felt old.  He looked at the scatter of books on his desk and the swathe of open tabs on his laptop.  Perhaps a run would clear his mind.  He froze as he heard a knock on the front door.

Darren forced a smile as he saw Callum standing outside.  He recognised the tense expression of someone who needed to talk.  “Come in.  Tea?”

Callum shook his head.  “I’m fine, thanks.  I hope you don’t mind me coming around, but I needed to ask you something.”

“Sure, not a problem.” Darren said, hoping it was a straightforward theology question that he could just rattle off.  He led Callum into the sparse sitting room and waved him into an armchair.  “What’s the problem?”

Callum took a deep breath.  “I want to marry Adele.”

“Congratulations!” Darren relaxed a little.  “I can get my diary out and set a date.”

Callum shook his head.  “I can’t ask her.  I can’t get married until Ian gets married.”

Darren’s heart sank.  The ranks of a werewolf pack could be complicated and inflexible.  “Do you think Ian wants to be married?”

Callum took a deep breath.  “I think you should tell him to get married.  He’s reading the Bible and all that, but he’s living in sin with Jeanette.  That’s adultery, isn’t it?”

“Fornication.” Darren corrected absentmindedly as the horror of what Callum was asking sunk in.

“It’s just, he loves Jeanette, and I love Adele, but I can’t do anything until he marries.” Callum twisted his hands together.  “I can’t even hint to Adele until Ian makes his move.”

“Perhaps it’s Jeanette that doesn’t want to get married.” Darren suggested.  “It’s a big decision and shouldn’t be made lightly.”

“But they’ve known each other for months.” Callum said.  “They should know by now.”

“A wedding is a big expense.” Darren said.  “And it can be a lot of work.”

“I know,” Callum said.  “Adele’s sister is getting married next month and it’s been crazy at her house.  But if they at least got engaged I could say something to Adele.  She has no idea how I feel about her.”

Darren suspected that Adele had already picked out a practical, in budget engagement ring and chosen her dress.  “As you say, it’s only been a few months.  Marriage is too serious to rush into.  It’s a big commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

“Us werewolves know.” Callum said.  “You have to tell Ian that it’s time he got married.  It’s up to you.”

Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

Memorial

Darren looked over the packed church and felt inadequate.  So many of his fellow students in theology college had had the gift of comforting the bereaved.  He had been blessed with the gift of fighting monsters.  Darren was fine with that most of the time, but sometimes, when faced with such a packed memorial service, he felt the yawning gulf between him and the mourners, and it hurt.

Freydis was sitting motionless at the front, next to Lord Marius, Kadogan and Atherton.  She was worryingly pale, and Darren desperately wished he had the right words to say to her as the final hymn finished.  He sent up a quick prayer for help to join all the others he had said before and during Lord Ragnar’s memorial and, as the final hymn finished, stepped forward and concentrated on the blessing.

Darren led the procession out of the church and felt the mourners falling in behind him.  It took all his courage to keep his face solemn and his composure in place as he felt the wave of grief as he passed the elfen, boggarts, brownies and werewolves that were packing the church.  There were even more watching through a screen linked to the church hall.  The more important had found places in the church, overfilled and overflowing, but the lesser mourners, those who had been late and those who, for whatever reason, could not venture on to holy ground had not been turned away but gently directed to an equally packed hall.  He paused at the doorway to stop and try and find words of comfort for those leaving.

Darren was deeply worried by Freydis.  She was elegant and poised, moving with complete control over every movement of her body and every movement was deliberate and planned.  She looked like she could shatter like glass.  Her sober and modest black dress and unobtrusive veil clearly said that she was not here for drama and it looked like people had respected her wishes so far.  She was silent as she shook Darren’s hand, nodding as he offered her his sympathy and an assurance that his door was always open and then moving with curated precision out into the summer rain.

Kadogan was being supported by Suzuki who was holding tight onto his arm and casting frequent and worried glances at his pale and tear stained face.  Atherton wasn’t in much better condition.  In fact, most of the elfen of the court seemed to genuinely be mourning him.  Darren had very limited experience of elfen memorials, but there was often an element of smug relief that there was now a little less competition.  Today that was missing.  Even Egerton seemed subdued, and he was certainly not tactless enough to look relieved.

Many of the other non-normals were equally subdued.  Darren had heard many of Lord Ragnar’s acts of kindness over the last few centuries.  He may have got some things wrong, but he had done a lot of quiet good in York, and was already missed.

Sir Ewan shook Darren’s hand.  “That was a good service.”

“Thanks.” Darren said.  “He will be missed.”

“Yes, he will.  I hope his successor can live up to his example.” Sir Ewan sighed, aware that a lot of ears were listening in.  “We’ll meet you at the funeral feast.”

“Yes, I have to lead prayers in the hall before I can come down, but I’ll be there.” Darren said.

And that was the other hard, heavy emotion hanging over the memorial service – fear.  No-one, not even the oldest elfen, could remember when a Prince last died without there being someone who had killed him to get their power.  No-one knew what was going to happen now, but disputes about princedoms were notoriously violent.  Darren kept his composure and kept silently praying.

Fiona kept her hand slipped into Steve’s arm.  All the group from the White Hart were staying close together.  Freydis had, with reluctant permission from Darren, built a temporary pocket of faery realm just outside the lych gate and the vans from the White Hart, judiciously parked, now hid people walking up to an old tree trunk, running their hands down its trunk and then stepping inside.  Fiona had never seen anything like it.  Outside was a summer’s day, albeit rainy and cold for the time of year, inside was a warm summer’s night.  She stepped inside a tree, which was unnerving enough, then she walked down a plain, flagged passage with smooth plastered walls, then through an unassuming smooth wooden door into a forest clearing.  The air was warm and the scent of the forest hung in the air.  There was a sensation of being in the middle of a vast and empty forest.  Stars crowded the sky, undimmed by any streetlight.  A great fire burned in the centre of the clearing, the flames dancing high and sparks cracking as the bonfire the size of Fiona’s bedroom cast out a welcome warmth as the cool night breeze rustled the surrounding trees.

Ian helped Jeanette into one of the seats scattered around the clearing.  Jeanette was still looking pale and sank into the strangely formed tree stump with some relief.  Jasmine was standing nearby with Callum and Adele, ready to help.

Fiona looked up at Steve.  “When is the next full moon?”

“Next Thursday.” Steve said, looking around.  “Of course, it will be late at this time of year.”

“Will Jeanette be okay?” Fiona asked.

Steve turned from his admiration of the shaped wooden seats and benches scattered around and the huge sandstone slabs that Freydis had caused to surround the clearing to act as great stone tables.  “Of course.  I don’t think Ian meant to change her when he licked her cut face.” He looked across to where Ian was fussing over Jeanette.  “Poor lad feels guilty enough that she got injured instead of him.”

“But she will be okay?” Fiona said.

“Yes, she’ll be fine.” Steve put his arm around Fiona’s shoulders and gave a quick squeeze.  “Don’t worry.”  He looked around.  “I’m more worried about Freydis.”

Freydis was standing at the head of the table.  She was keeping her glamour up and her golden hair gleamed in the soft light of the lanterns in the trees, but her motionless poise was unnerving.  Fiona’s heart ached in sympathy.

“She’s mended the realm, though, hasn’t she?”

“Yes, she’s done a very thorough job.” Steve looked around.  “And this place is a work of art.  I wouldn’t be surprised if these trees weren’t favourites of Lord Ragnar.  Not all of the flowers are in season.”

“That is indeed true.” Kadogan came up behind them.  He was wearing a sharp suit and black shirt with a black tie.  He also looked pale and strained.  “See, there are Michaelmas daisies which he adored, although I found them ragged and unkempt.  They do not usually bloom until much later in the year.” He waved at the stand of pale violet blossoms in one corner.  “And Lord Ragnar always looked for the first bloom of celandines when they flowered at the first hint of spring and there is a carpet of them under the oaks.  But the honeysuckle and roses he also adored are right for the time.  Freydis has honoured him well.”

“How are you feeling?” Fiona asked him quietly.

“With difficulty.” Kadogan hunched over.  “It is hard to know that my good friend is silenced.”

It was hard to know what to say to that.  Steve looked around.  There were a lot of powerful elfen lords present from all over the country and there was a lot of quiet business being done.  Steve had spotted Egerton talking discreetly to most of them and he was currently deep in conversation with Lord Wilbur of Hull.  All around the room were knots of people talking in low voices.  “Come on, we don’t leave Freydis alone.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan said with more strength in his voice than he had shown over the last four days.  “She avenged Lord Ragnar’s death.  And all know that she is the key to power.  She should not be abandoned.”

“I’m happy to walk over there.” Jeanette said.  She smiled up at Ian.  “I’m a little sore, but not so hurt that I can’t stand by Freydis.”

“If you’re sure.” Ian gently helped Jeanette up.  “Yes, I know I’m fussing.  But it’s good if we can stand by Freydis.”

“If we don’t, then who will.” Mrs Tuesday shifted her black patent leather handbag onto her shoulder.

The group from the White Hart made their way over to where Freydis stood.  Her face was still fixed but her eyes were grateful.  It was an odd assortment that joined the nearly-widow at the head of the table.  An elderly boggart and her great nephew, a few elfen, werewolves and their partners, a magician and his wife and the only two local vampires left in York.  Dean had hung around awkwardly at the edge of the group and drifted with them, Martin joining them and standing close to Freydis.  Finally, Dave left Darren and the representatives of the Knights Templar and joined the rest of the White Hart.

Dave approached Freydis with caution.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Freydis managed a smile.  “I miss him a great deal.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “I know, love.  It never goes away, but you deal with it better.”

Freydis nodded.  “At times I could feel your grief for your late husband, nearly eighty years after your loss.  I shall take you as an inspiration.”

Kadogan frowned.  “Not too much.  That would terrify the customers.”

A ghost of a smile flickered briefly on Freydis’ face.  “Thank you for being here for Lord Ragnar.”

“And you!” Jasmine said quickly.  “You are one of us.”

“It is a very odd sensation, to be part of such a close group.” Freydis said.  “I wish Lord Ragnar had known it.”

The head of the brownies approached, dithering a little at the edge of the group before pushing past Fiona and bowing to Freydis.  “Should we bring the food out now?”

“Yes, thank you, Gavin Brown.” Freydis nodded and took a breath.  “I am confident it will be a great feast, such as Lord Ragnar deserved.”

“Indeed it will, miss, indeed it will.” Gavin pulled himself up to his full height.  “Nothing has been lacking.”

Freydis watched, mesmerised, as the brownies brought out food and drink with clockwork efficiency. The stone slabs were laid identically.  A large hog roast was placed in the centre, with a large carving knife attached to the huge pewter platter by a silver chain.  At corners were placed wide trays of chicken legs and bread rolls, surrounded by deep pots of mustard and pickles.  At the cardinal points were platters of stand pies, glistening in the light from the fire, already sliced into substantial wedges and surrounded by wheels and truckles of cheese.  Like a choreographed dance, the brownies slid smaller plates into the gaps filled with quivering lemon jellies, piled cubes of Turkish delight, pyramids of hard boiled eggs, delicate sand biscuits, fragile wafers, stone creams, trifles, vol-au-vents and after dinner mints.

Other brownies were setting up the drink in between the stone slabs.  Barrels of wine, mead and old fashioned ale were hoisted on trestles with aluminium kegs of premium lager, and smaller, wooden kegs of brandy and whiskey stood on wooden benches, surrounded by an incongruous selection of colas and bottled waters.  Drinks were already circulating, the brownies skilfully keeping the strong stuff away from the goblins.

When everyone had a drink in their hand, Freydis stepped forward and waved.  A clear, bell-like note rang out and raised her goblet.  “Lord Ragnar!” She said and hundreds of voices echoed the brief toast.  Then Freydis started to sing.

Steve held Fiona close.  The songs of the elfen could be dangerous.  They could sing the wits out of your head and your heart out of your body.  Tonight Freydis was singing goodbye to Lord Ragnar, in an old, old song.  It wasn’t the English of Shakespeare or Chaucer.  It wasn’t the language used when William the Bastard harried the north.  It was older than the Vikings who turned Eorwic to Jorvik, older than the Angles who had renamed Eboracum and older than the Roman invaders who had laid down the stone roads over the Celtic pathways.  It was the language of the first people that wandered past the joining of the Ouse and the Fosse rivers and down to where the Ouse met the Trent and became the Humber.  It was the language of those who traded amber for jet with those who travelled across the wide, grassy plain that was now under the North Sea.  It spoke of loss, and grief and darkness and broke your heart.  A tear slipped down Steve’s face as the song finally faded, and silence rang out.

Martin raised his glass.  “My princes, lords, ladies and all – kneel to your new Prince – Prince Freydis!”

There was a shocked moment of indrawn breaths and frantically exchanged glances.  Steve noticed that Freydis looked briefly as shocked as anyone before she pulled herself up and looked around, defying contradiction.

Steve held up his glass. “To our new Prince!” and he knelt, along with Fiona.  With very little hesitation the rest of those who could kneel did so.  Dave couldn’t kneel to a non-normal Prince.  He was the paladin that was supposed to be the balance to the Prince, completely independent and, if necessary, the main opposition.  Instead he bowed, a low, sweeping bow that was echoed by the other Princes and the Knights Templar.  As he glanced up, Lady Freydis looked brighter than ever, her gold hair gleaming, her blue eyes shining and an aura of glory around her as she held up her goblet to return the toast.  But Steve was close enough to see the panic in Lady Freydis’ eyes behind the confident tilt of her head and she was holding the goblet so tightly that her knuckles gleamed white.

Dave was glad of an excuse to get away from it all.  He, along with Darren, the Knights Templar and the rest of the White Hart crowd, had left when the elfen started dancing.  It could get crazy when elfen started dancing and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hang around to see which way it went after Martin’s surprise announcement.  He supposed it would keep Lady Freydis busy and stop her brooding.

He hefted the package.  He could understand why Ian wanted to deliver this as he passed rather than spend the fortune on postage.  It felt like books and it was heavy.  He jogged up the steps and knocked at the door.  It wasn’t the best neighbourhood, but he had been in worse.  He knocked again and heard feet pattering down stairs.  His eye was caught by a picture propped against the porch window.  He frowned.  It was the Seal of Solomon.  Dave peered closer.  It wasn’t activated, though, just a picture.  He tilted his head.  It looked like it was meant to be in a protective position, but it wasn’t protective at all.

The door opened and Dave looked up at the young woman in her early twenties. She had short, dark hair, a closed expression and was wearing bunny slippers.  “Chloe Markham?  Some books for you.” He held out the package.

Chloe was staring at him, her eyes wide and colour draining from her face.  Then she took a breath and managed a smile.  “We have met before.  I don’t know if you remember.”

Dave frowned.  She looked sort of familiar, and he was pretty good with faces, but he couldn’t quite place her.  The package was growing heavy in his outstretched hand.  “Are you Chloe Markham?”

Chloe took the books and shook her head.  “You don’t remember me, do you?  I’m not surprised.  You had a lot on your mind at the time.  You saved my life when I was attacked by werewolves.  Please come in.  I have a few questions.”