Darren had always enjoyed the Morning Office.  The pattern of prayers and readings were a predictable, soothing, regular start to the day, and gave a rhythm to his life that could be incredibly chaotic.  Today, however, it felt like dust.  He gently closed the prayer book and turned around to face the empty church. 

He was supposed to carry on sorting through the old papers from the Paladin’s Citadel, but his heart wasn’t in it.  For once, doing his duty seemed like a long, dry stretch.  Perhaps if he went for a run first, he may find the clarity of mind he needed. 

The church door clanged, and Darren winced.  He wasn’t up to parishioners today.  He turned his attention to a stack of tattered hymn books that needed to be junked and hoped that whoever was marching in with such purpose would take the hint that he was extremely busy.  He looked up and his stomach seemed to freeze.  “Jasmine, what are you doing here?” He looked around quickly, but she was on her own.

“You never called me!” Jasmine strode up until she was barely inches from his face.  “You never called once!”

Darren looked away.  “I didn’t know what to say.  I’m sorry…”

“Look at me when you’re making pathetic excuses.” Jasmine snapped.  “Why didn’t you call?”

It took all of Darren’s legendary willpower to look fully at Jasmine.  “I didn’t think you would want to talk to me.”

“We had the most amazing…”

Darren held up his hand.  “Not here, we could be overheard by anyone coming in and I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

“Ian is not my keeper.” Jasmine followed him into the vestry.  “It’s nothing to do with him.”

“He’s the head of the pack.” Darren said.  He stumbled over the words.  “He may think less of you.”

“Are you worried that he’d beat you up?” Jasmine asked.

Darren shrugged.  “I’d deserve it.  You were drugged.  It wasn’t fair.” He turned away, unable to look at her anymore.

“We had the most amazing night of sex that I could ever imagine.” Jasmine said.  “And, yes, we were drugged by something, but it wasn’t your fault.  And it wasn’t mine.” She took a deep breath and added quietly, “but it was…  It was fantastic.”

“I’ve seen something like this in others.” Darren said, still unable to look around.  “It’s an elfen aphrodisiac.  They spike each other’s drinks with it or they use it to spice up their bedrooms.  They’re careless with it, though, and it gets complicated.”

“Like us?” Jasmine sank into one of the hard, wooden chairs against the wall.  “Why won’t you look at me?”

“Because I’m ashamed of taking advantage of you.” Darren said with his usual honesty.  “It was… It was extraordinary and amazing, and you are so beautiful, and the drug meant that it wasn’t real.”

“I want to do it again.” Jasmine said. 

“Well, we can’t.” Darren turned around finally and saw the determination on her face.  He didn’t want to deal with this.

“Why not?” Jasmine said.  She stood up and moved closer to him.

Darren could smell the scent of her shampoo, fresh and clean, and see too clearly the fear of rejection in her eyes, but she wasn’t backing down.  “I’m a vicar and I’m old enough to be your father.”

“But you’re not my father and even vicars get married.  I’m not suggesting marriage,” Jasmine added hurriedly, “but we’ve already had sex.”

Darren said.  “We were drugged.  And Ian wouldn’t like it.”

“Are you seriously so afraid of Ian?” Jasmine asked.

Darren frowned. “It’s about respect.  But I am still far too old for you and…”

“Are you gay?” Jasmine asked.

What?” Darren looked at her blankly.  “No, I’m not.  But it doesn’t matter.  It would be wrong.”

“It’s just that most men don’t turn down sex.” Jasmine said.  “Not if they’re single.  And you’ve said I’m beautiful.”

“But you’re so young.”

“I’m 24, old enough to make a decision.”

“And I’m 38.” Darren took a deep breath.  Their night spent under the influence of the elfen aphrodisiac had been one of the most amazing of his life, and he had never wanted to love someone so much in his life.  But he had to do the right thing, no matter how hard.  “You should be with someone your own age.”

“I left the Liverpool pack because I made my own choices.” Jasmine said.  “You can say ‘no’ because you don’t want me, but don’t say ‘no’ because you don’t respect my choice.”

“It’s not as easy as that.” Darren said.  He could remember with excruciating clarity the softness of her hair and the taste of her lips. 

“Why not?” Jasmine said.  “Is it because you don’t find me attractive?  I’ll know if you lie.”

“And so will I”

Darren and Jasmine whirled around. Ian was standing in the doorway and looking furious.  Darren’s shoulders slumped.  “It’s all my fault.”

“It really isn’t.” Jasmine rushed in.  “There was something in the hot chocolate, but we didn’t realise.”

Ian held up a hand.  “Whatever was in that hot chocolate, it’s still affecting you.” He looked at them, anger growing on his face.  “A respected exorcist and a member of my pack were drugged with an elfen drug and all you talk about is dating?  You should know better, Darren.  Accidental or not, it’s an attack and we need to send a message.”

“But what will people say about Jasmine?” Darren said.  He swallowed.  “They could say that she’s…”

“They will say that she’s well protected, just like the rest of my pack.  And you need to speak to Dave and the Templars.” Ian looked ready to shake Darren.  “You’ve just been drugged by an elfen.  What if someone had needed you that night?  What if there had been a demon?  Or a bad haunting?  How about someone possessed that were losing control?  How about one of your flock needing you because they were losing a loved one, or dying?  Something needs to be done.  I’m going to speak with Kieran and Lady Freydis.” He turned towards the door.  “Darren, get on that phone and make some serious calls.  And yes, you can date.” Ian turned back to give Darren a very hard look.  “As long as it all stays respectful.  And at least your mouse problem is getting dealt with.” Ian waved at a skeletal hand which was scuttling past with a small, furry shape impaled on its middle finger, before sweeping out, slamming the door behind him. 

Darren watched the hand dive behind the heavy bookcase in the corner and decided that he could shelve that problem.  He turned towards Jasmine who was looking smug.

“So, are we meeting for coffee?” Jasmine asked.

“I’m taking you to dinner, tomorrow night, no arguments.” Darren said.  “Wear something nice but not too fancy.  And then we can come back to the vicarage and work on those papers like we should have done that night.”

“Just work on the papers?” Jasmine asked carefully.

“We can take a few breaks.” Darren said, suddenly feeling energised.  “Now, I need to make some calls.”

Dave parked the car and looked at Luke sitting next to him.  “We don’t have a legal leg to stand on.”

Luke shrugged.  “Ian asked nicely.  And from what Callum said, being a stray is tough.  He was probably desperate.  And at least he’s not on drugs.”

“So we’re just dealing with a desperate werewolf, not a drugged up and desperate werewolf.” Dave sighed.  “If it comes out, the police could still be called in.  You know, they won’t ignore it.  They treat a crime as a crime.”

Luke grimaced.  “Ian may be able to speak nicely to Ms Royston, but let’s worry about what could happen later.  Let’s just deal with what’s happening now.  As far as anyone can tell, it’s the first time he’s crossed a line.  We may be able to put him on the right path.”

“If anyone can, Ian can.” Dave said.  “He handed out a few lessons to Callum and he takes no nonsense.” He sighed.  “Let’s get on with it.”

The two men left the car, looking around carefully.  It wasn’t a bad part of town, but it wasn’t the best.  Dave locked the car and walked up to the flats.  The buzzer system was broken and someone had helpfully propped open the entrance.  Dave raised his eyebrows and eased inside.  Luke checked behind him and followed Dave.

The flat they were looking for was up echoing concrete steps and Dave and Luke didn’t bother trying to hide their approach.  Werewolves had notoriously sharp ears, even in human shape.  Dave ignored the bell and rapped on the door.  It echoed.  There was a long pause and then the door opened. 

The man the other side was not what Dave expected.  For one thing, he was barely a man, looking in his late teens or early twenties, his straight brown hair hanging limp around his thin face and the t-shirt and jeans hanging off his skinny frame.  And he looked far too nervous to be the expert stalker who tailed a business man to and from his date with his mistress.  Instead he looked like he was waiting for the next kick.  Dave could understand why Ian wanted to give him a chance, but he had learned never to trust a werewolf in loose clothing. 

“Hi, my name is Dave Kinson, this is Luke Fawcett.  May we come in?” Dave stepped forward with assurance, not giving the young werewolf a chance to reply.  Dave glanced around the bedsit.  There was no-one else in the shabby space.  Luke strode over to the door to the small bathroom and glanced in.  He looked back at Dave and shook his head.  No-one else was around. 

“Do I know you?” The lad cleared his throat.  “I mean, I think you should leave.”

“You’re Trent Robson, aren’t you?” Dave said.  “And you’ve been a naughty boy.  Have you handed over the photos yet?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Trent backed away.  “If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police.”

“Go ahead,” Luke said calmly.  “It’s Tim Pierce who deals with non-normals.”

Trent sagged.  “Who are you?”

“We’re paladins, but we are here because Ian Tait asked us nicely.” Dave said.  “He’s asked us to give you a chance.” He exchanged a glance with Luke.  “So, tell me all about it.”

“Do you know how hard it is to get a job without the proper ID?” Trent asked.  He sat down, hopelessly, on his unmade bed.  “And no experience?  And I daren’t ask for references.”

“Your pack got scattered, didn’t it?” Dave asked as he walked over to the window and checked outside.  “There was a dispute over leadership.”

Trent shrugged.  “I thought it would be okay.  I’d heard Old Phineas talk about York having opportunities to work below the radar, so I came up here.” He looked between the two stern faced men.  “But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  Listen, it was good money, and no-one would get hurt.”

“It wasn’t an affair.” Luke said from his place by the door.  “He was visiting his sister.  He would have spotted any other private investigator following him, but he wouldn’t notice a large dog, would he?  It was perfect.  It’s a shame that the guy that hired you wasn’t an offended husband, but a stalker.  Have you passed over the information yet?”

Trent went pale but shook his head.  “I’m supposed to be meeting tonight.”

“Give us the details and we can make sure someone who can deal with breach of a restraining order can be waiting for him.” Dave said.  “But why don’t you come with us and we’ll introduce you to Ian Tait.  He may give you a chance, if you keep your nose clean.”

The atmosphere in the Lady Freydis’ Great Hall was tense as small and awkward knots of non-normals waited for her to appear.  Darren stood next to Dave, Luke and Sir Ewan, his face immobile.  Jasmine looked pale, standing next to Ian and Kieran who were both looking furious. 

Lady Freydis appeared, striding through a door tucked behind one of the Victorian ferns and dragging Egerton along the floor behind her.  She threw him down in front of her favourite chair.  Egerton sprawled helplessly in front of her.  His glamour could only hide so much, and he looked very much the worse for wear.  Martin and Atherton followed, their faces stern. 

“Do not think to try me.” Lady Freydis looked around her court.  “I will not brook such behaviour.  It is one thing to be careless but to try and drug your Prince but fail and instead drug a respected and admired exorcist and a member of a werewolf pack in very good standing is unacceptable.” She kicked Egerton hard in the ribs and he groaned and rolled over.  “I am not to be trifled with!”  She kicked Egerton again.  “You think because I am a widow that I am easily played?  I think not!” She grabbed Egerton by the hair and dragged him to his feet.  “I am feeling inclined to mercy, as no permanent damage has been done.” She looked around the court to make sure everyone was getting the message.  Egerton was barely conscious and swayed gently as she held him upright with a hand on his neck.  “This miscreant who so misjudged matters is to be a servant to the Reverend Darren King for the rest of the minister’s life.  He is to wait on him and do his bidding.” A brief flicker of horror ran across Darren’s face at the thought before he controlled himself.  “Do not worry.  He will serve in spirit as well as to the letter.” She gave the unfortunate Egerton a shake and his teeth rattled.  “And when he is not in service to the good minister, he will be watching the fields of the Tait pack and ensuring their fertility for the lifespan of Jasmine, in good faith.” Lady Freydis gave Egerton another shake and dropped him.   

“Thank you for your judgement.” Darren bowed politely.  “Perhaps I should take him back to the vicarage?” Darren looked at the heap on the floor and wondered how you nursed a well beaten elfen. 

“An excellent idea.” Lady Freydis said.  “He can be ready to start any duties you assign him.”  She nodded to Atherton.  “Help this creature to the vicarage with the Reverend, please.”

“Thank you for your wise and merciful judgement.” Ian Tait said as he bowed.  “We are grateful that your loyal werewolf subjects were heard.”  He glanced at Atherton hoisting Egerton over his shoulder and leading Darren out.  “It is a graceful judgement that shows your power and your mercy.”  He followed Darren out and gradually the Hall returned to normal. 

Lady Freydis sat in her favourite chair.  “I wonder if Egerton knows how lucky he is?” She said quietly as Martin brought her a glass of wine.

“He does now.” Martin said.  “But he has a point.  The healing of the realm would go much faster if you were married.”

“You too?” Lady Freydis sipped her wine.  “I know what you’re thinking.  But if I were to marry you, I would break your heart.  I would destroy you.”

“I’ll take that risk.” Martin said.  “And you need someone loyal at your side.  Someone who has your best interests at heart.”

“There are many stories about marrying an elfen and regretting it.” Lady Freydis said softly.  “And I would not wish to hurt you.”

“I know.” Martin said.  “That is what is heartbreaking.  Near but not quite there.”

Lady Freydis looked around the Hall.  “We’ll talk about this later, in sunlight, and everything is calm.”  She sighed.  “I fear for you, Martin, but you will not hear it.”

Martin shrugged.  “Let us look forward to lighter things, my lady.  I cannot wait to see the havoc that Egerton can cause in a vicarage.”

Photo by Ohmky on Unsplash

Love and Other Complications

“There was no need to give me a lift.” Jasmine stormed into the shop followed by Darren.  “It’s perfectly safe and I need the exercise.”

“It’s not safe to just wander around lonely lanes, and if you want to exercise then join a gym.  It’s much more time efficient.” Darren snapped. 

“I can take care of myself.” Jasmine pulled off her jacket and marched into the back room. 

“I’m sure you can, but it doesn’t look good on Ian if there are predators with unexplained bite marks.  And it looks even worse on him if you’re mobbed by a bunch of strays.  With all the changes going on, anyone could be coming to York.” Darren yelled at the doorway to the back room.

Jasmine stomped out again, tying her apron.  “I don’t think Lady Freydis would allow just anyone to turn up.” She looked pointedly in Lady Freydis’ direction.

“That’s the proof.” Darren snapped.  “Lady Freydis is here.  She keeps her court in good order, no doubt about that, but it’s nearly noon and she’s still here.”

“We’ve got extra coaches coming.” Jasmine said.  “Everyone’s working this afternoon – and Lady Freydis can do anything.”

Lady Freydis exchanged an amused glance with Egerton who was lounging with cat like ease against the counter.  Darren looked over. 

“Of course I mean no disrespect.” Darren visibly struggled to calm down.  “And we all know that any transgressions would be firmly punished.  But it’s not always safe for young girls to walk several miles especially when they don’t need to.  What does Ian think about you walking?”

Jasmine ignored the question.  “I’m not that young.”

“You act young enough.” Darren said.

“That’s not fair!” Jasmine frowned as she realised how much water she was splashing as she washed her hands.  “Just because you act like you’re ninety.  I’m just acting normal for my age.”

“That’s enough!” Jeanette looked between Darren and Jasmine and sighed.  “Jasmine, please will you clear the tables in the annexe.  Darren, what do you think of this for the church decoration for the wedding?”

Darren looked with horror at the floral arrangement in the magazine that Jeanette held out to him.  “That monstrosity is not coming anywhere near my church.”  He took a deep breath.  “We can talk dates after church on Sunday.” He looked at the gaggle of women clustered around the magazines.  “Are you still considering a double wedding?”

Jeanette and Adele exchanged glances and nodded.  “It would save a lot of money on the flowers.” Adele said.

“Okay, I’ll check up what the rules are and the fees I have to charge.” Darren said.  He watched Jasmine head towards the archway that marked the entrance to the magical annexe that Lady Freydis had just added.  “Don’t forget that you are supposed to be coming to the vicarage tonight.  Ian said that you would help me go through the records.”

Jasmine froze.  “I’d forgotten about that.”

“It’s okay, I’ll get pizza.  There’s just so much to go through that all help is appreciated.  I’ll pick you up – for convenience.  About 6.30?”

Jasmine nodded and smiled.  “Okay.” She vanished into the annexe.

Darren came over to Lady Freydis.  “How safe is that realm?”

“It’s very safe, remarkably roomy and the brownies are giving a Fiona a discount because apparently all the little quirks I built in are a challenge and useful training.” Lady Freydis said smugly.

Darren looked between Egerton and Lady Freydis and was not reassured by their equally bland expressions.  He changed the subject.  “I wonder if you could help me.  Can you ask if any of your court remembers anything about disembodied skeletal hands that ate rats, mice and any caged rodent?  They’re becoming quite a problem.”

“I don’t know why you’re complaining.” Lady Freydis said.  “They’re being incredibly useful.  There is a problem with vermin, and these things, whatever they are, solve that problem.”

“People don’t like seeing a skeleton’s hand trotting down their hall with a dead rat clutched between two fingers.  They find it disturbing.” Darren said.  “And Dave, Luke and I had to be on guard all the way through the York Dungeon’s Rat Café.  I have better things to do with my time.”  He sighed.  “Please.  We think that they escaped or woke up or whatever when the old Paladin’s house blew up.  Unfortunately a lot of the records blew up as well and what has survived is muddled.  I’d really appreciate the help.”

“What’s in it for our Prince?” Egerton asked.  “She is not some servant of the Templars.”

“It’s okay.” Lady Freydis said, shooting a warning look at Egerton.  “This is the Reverend King, after all.  He has been of help to our court many times and did not charge for the funeral of Lord Ragnar.”

“That is a debt.” Egerton nodded.

“And you have little Jasmine for the evening.” Lady Freydis’ smile had a wicked edge.

“I’m glad of the help with the records.” Darren said.  He looked through the arch to make sure Jasmine was well out of even werewolf earshot.  “I think I’m babysitting her.  Ian and Callum have stuff to do with Kieran and Jeanette and Adele are at a wedding fair for most of the evening.  She sees me as a father figure, I think, so Ian wants me to keep an eye out for her.”

“She still seems stuck in the teenager mind.” Egerton said, amused.  “Although she is older.”

Lady Freydis looked even more amused.  “Now she is in a safe place, she can feel confident answering back.  Thus, she is making the most of her opportunities.  Ian and Darren must feel so delighted.”

“We’re thrilled.” Darren said.  “I need to get off.  There are a lot of records still to go through.”

Egerton watched him leave and then turned his attention to the rest of the staff.  Dave was standing by the window, showing Elaine how to cut a deck one-handed while Jeanette, Adele and Fiona huddled around a cascade of wedding magazines.  He turned to Lady Freydis.  “Love appears to be in the air, even though it is autumn.  Perhaps you should consider it.”

“I am not in the mood for love.” Lady Freydis stroked the cloth over the coffee machine, tenderly wiping over the nozzles.  “It is not yet a year since I lost my husband.”

“You may not be in the mood for love, but perhaps you should consider duty.” Egerton leaned forward.  “I may not have your touch with the Realms of the Fae, but even I can tell that rebuilding the balances would be easier with a lord at your side.”

Lady Freydis sighed.  “The two most loyal to Lord Ragnar are Atherton and Kadogan.  There are good reasons why neither should be asked to marry me.  There are some sacrifices a lord should not ask of good men.  And Egerton, we would not suit.  There needs to be less turbulence in the realms, not more.  There are corners that have not been stable for a thousand years.  I do not sit idle.”

“Perhaps you should.” Egerton said.  “Then you can see what benefits there would be if we joined forces.  We are not so ill suited.”

Lady Freydis slapped her hand hard onto the counter.  It echoed around the shop and everyone looked around.  “This is the last I will hear of this.  I work because then I do not remember Lord Ragnar.  Even a fae can break their heart.  Now, if you will permit your prince, I have work to do.” She spun around and headed into the back.

Martin stepped quietly out of the annexe.  “Egerton, with all due respect, leave our Prince alone.  Now is not a time to push emotions on her.”

“You know much for a vampire.” Egerton tried to hide his fear.  “You can see that there needs to be balance.”

“I can see that forcing Lady Freydis into emotions she isn’t ready for is not only unwise, and foolish for those who dance the masked pavane, but dangerous for anyone connected to the realms.” Martin stepped a little closer.  “Perhaps you need to reconsider your ambitions.”

Dave grinned at Elaine.  “It’s not just about being quick.  It’s about making sure people see what they want to see.  And while they’re looking at that, they don’t see the switch.”

Elaine shook her head.  “Even when I know what’s happening, I still can’t follow it.”

Dave laughed.  “It’s a useful trick.  I don’t do it much when I’m using the Tarot, but it’s helpful sometimes.”

Elaine smiled wryly.  “I’m used to things not being quite what they seem,” she said.  “The new annexe that Lady Freydis added is amazing.”

“I think I ought to have objected more.” Dave said.  “I’m one of the paladins.  If anyone walks around the back of the building and then tries to compare what’s inside with what’s outside, we’ll be in trouble.”

“It’s usually just coach parties, and they don’t have time to do that.” Elaine said.  “And speaking of coach parties, I need to get busy.  A coach party from Southampton have requested goody bags and I need to finish them off.”

“People are coming here from Southampton?” Dave said, surprised.

“We’re not that popular.” Elaine said.  “But we are now an established stop on all non-normal coach tours.  They’re stopping here after seeing York centre and then they’re lodging with Kieran.  Yesterday they did Nottingham and tomorrow it’s Durham.  I couldn’t do that myself.”

“I know.” Dave nodded.  “You have to check the date and the itinerary before you know where you are.  It must all blur into one.” He hesitated.  “Before you go, do you want to come out for a drink tomorrow night?  Maybe go into Tadcaster or Malton, away from the tourists.”

“That would be great.” Elaine said.  “Malton is lovely.”

“I’ll pick you up here, then.” Dave said.  “Around 7?  We can just go somewhere casual.”

“I’ll meet you here around 7.” Elaine smiled.  “And I really need to get moving.”

“See you tomorrow.” Dave said.

Dave was whistling as he met Luke at the Paladin’s house.  Luke looked up from the coffee he was making and pulled out another mug.  “You look happy.” Luke said.  “You’ve either won the lottery or finally asked Elaine on a date.”

Dave got the teabags out of the cupboard.  “You’re definitely on duty tomorrow night.”

“If we don’t have an issue.” Luke said.

“Mate, don’t do that to me.” Dave stopped mid pour and put the kettle down.  “I can’t stand a girl up on the first date.”

“She’ll understand.” Luke said.  “She knew Steve for years.”

“Yeah, well I’m not Steve, okay.  She ditched him.”

“Okay.” Luke held up a hand.  “Changing the subject, I’ve taken the last of the old records over to Darren’s place.  We can take it in turns to wade through it.”

“Jasmine’s going to help out.” Dave said.  “Ian said he didn’t want to leave her alone in the house.”

Luke shook his head.  “She was on the streets for quite a while.  Does he think that she’d be scared in a house?”

“Perhaps it’s time she was protected, then.” Dave said.  “She’s a good kid.” 

Luke grunted and drained his coffee. “I’m getting back to work.” He hesitated.  “It means a lot to you, doesn’t it?  Getting a date with Elaine.”

Dave shrugged.  “I can’t exactly go on a dating site and list that I’m a Tarot reader who doesn’t believe in Tarot readings and I spend half my life breaking up fights between goblins and their normal neighbours.  And Elaine’s…. nice.”

Luke slotted the mug into the dishwasher.  “Well, I’ll see you later.”

Egerton sauntered back into the White Hart.  The shop showed all the signs of too many coach parties.  There were gaps in the displays and Adele was wearily re-stocking the gift section.  Jasmine trudged out with a tray of mugs.  She placed them carefully next to the dishwasher and picked up a spray and cloth.  “I think I’ve got most of the crockery.”

Fiona nodded.  “Just have a quick wipe around.  Darren will be picking you up in a second.”

Jasmine managed a smile.  “I’m trying to look forward to wading through a load of dusty books, but at least there’ll be pizza.”

Elaine staggered in from the warehouse with a box of books.  “Please tell me we won’t get four coaches in an afternoon again.” She said.  “It’s been insane.”

Fiona followed her with another box.  “It will be worse nearer Christmas, but some of the cubs from Kieran’s pack will be helping out.  Today was crazy.”

Egerton leant forward on the freshly wiped counter and pulled out some money.  “Lady Freydis, please could you make two hot chocolates with extra glitter and cream.  One for me and one for my puissant Prince.  You will accept tribute, won’t you?”

Lady Freydis nodded.  “I am always happy to accept tribute.” She stroked her hand over the coffee machine.  “The Machine has worked hard today and worked well.  It is incredibly reliable.”

“Like all of the staff.” Fiona said as she staggered past.

“Indeed.” Lady Freydis poured the exact amount of milk with practised precision.  “Are you still coming with me to the Oak Green this evening to sort out that difficult patch of toadstools?”

“Why else would I be here?” Egerton watched as Lady Freydis frothed the milk and added the exact quantity of chocolate powder.  “They have been troublesome for a while and their mould is leaking through to the normal world in some places.”

“I have the utmost respect for the paladins.” Lady Freydis poured the drink into take out cups and added a flourishing swirl of spray cream.  “I do not wish to antagonise them unnecessarily.” She smiled with a hint of malice as she dusted the cream with green edible glitter.  “Of course, sometimes a little antagonism is entirely necessary, just so they do not become too comfortable.”  She turned to put the money in the till.  Egerton looked around.  Jasmine was in the annexe, Mrs Tuesday was loading the dishwasher, Fiona, Adele and Elaine were re-stocking shelves, and Mrs Cadwallader and Mrs Anderson had already gone home.  He quickly tipped a light dusting of delicate, shining powder over the glitter already on the hot chocolates. 

“I look forward to subjugating those unruly toadstools for my Prince.” Egerton said.  He sighed as Darren strode in, carrying a large pizza box.

“Is Jasmine ready?” Darren looked around.  “I don’t want the pizza to get cold.  And can I have a couple of hot chocolates to take away.”

“You do not normally bother with hot chocolate.” Lady Freydis said.  She leant towards the annexe.  “Jasmine, your evening work awaits you.”

Jasmine trudged out of the annexe.  “I think I’ve got all the tables, but it’s hard to tell.”  He face brightened when she saw Darren.  “You’ve got pizza!”

“Extra large, deep pan, meat feast pizza and I’m picking up hot chocolates.” He turned to Lady Freydis.  “I have a cold starting and a hot chocolate is just what I need.”

“You should add alcohol to it when you get home.” Lady Freydis said.  “Take these two already made, on the house.  You should leave before the pizza grows cold.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “Leave your apron with me, love.” She told Jasmine.  “Get off and get your dinner.”

“I shall make our hot chocolates afresh.” Lady Freydis said to Egerton who was watching as Darren and Jasmine jogged out of the shop and into Darren’s battered Range Rover.  “We are not so pressed for time and may savour our drinks before work.”

Egerton nodded.  “Of course.  And we may discuss many obscure things.  For example, have you ever heard of elfen aphrodisiacs being used on mortals?”

“On normals.” Lady Freydis said, pointedly.  “I’ve heard a few legends and it has never ended well.  Why?”

“I thought it might make a good tale.” Egerton said, a malicious smile playing around his lips.  “If I were a bard, I should like to see how it unfolds.”

Photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash