Quiet Night In


Photo by Narain Jashanmal on Unsplash

“You got away after all!” Elaine smiled as Dave rushed up to her and gave her a quick kiss.

“It was just observing.” Dave said. “On one hand it’s nothing obviously special. It’s just that there is a disused chapel full of animated, disjointed bones.” He looked around quickly to make sure that they were not being overheard. “And lots of dead rats.”

“I want to hear more when we get to my place.” Elaine said. “But it’s not really something you can talk about in the supermarket.” She looked at the wine he was carrying. “That’s my favourite. How did you know?”

Dave grinned, “A lucky guess.” Or noticing the receipt for wine over the last three weekends and memorising the brand. “It’s not bad.” He looked at her basket. “Double pepperoni pizza – a good guess on your part as well. It’s my favourite.”

“I thought it was a man’s pizza.” Elaine said, skipping over that she had asked Jasmine. “I got cheesecake as well.”

“Strawberry?”

“What else?”

They paid for the food and then started walking towards Elaine’s flat. Dave caught her hand. “There’s no point in trying to hide that we’re dating. Werewolves are the worst gossips.”

Elaine laughed, squeezing Dave’s hand. It felt hard and warm and strong. She glanced sideways at him. “I was so embarrassed when Ian shouted out about what you liked on pizza. I suppose they smelled something.”

“I bet Mrs Tuesday worked it out and told them.” Dave said. “She notices everything.”

“She is a scary old lady.” Elaine said. “You know those old ladies that can seem really tough but have a heart of marshmallow? She isn’t one of them.”

Dave searched for words. “She probably is mostly harmless.” He said.

Elaine looked sceptical. “She doesn’t miss much.” She shrugged. “She’s not bad for a boggart.”

Dave looked at her curiously. “You know a lot about non-normals, don’t you?”

“I suppose so.” Elaine pulled her keys out of her bag. “When I was helping Steve out, we ended up in all sorts of places and with all sorts of non-normals. It got a bit much for me by the end, especially Armani.”

“He terrorises the pigeons near the White Hart.” Dave said. “Hardly any of them come near now.” He watched Elaine open the door. “Do you miss all the trading?”

“Not a bit.” Elaine said. “I like the White Hart. I’m not shut away from the non-normal world. I missed it a little, though not enough to get too deep. Besides, there are great people there.”

“Yes, there are,” Dave looked down at Elaine, a glint in his eyes. “Let’s leave talk about work out here. Come on, we have pizza to eat, wine to drink and the possibility of …cheesecake.”

Elaine giggled. “Let’s not forget the …cheesecake!”

Jeanette smiled as Trent jogged into the room, fresh from the shower. “Hi, it’s just you and me for dinner tonight.”

Trent looked uncomfortable. “Is that okay?”

“Of course.” Jeanette looked confused. “Adele is having dinner with her mother and talking weddings, Callum and Ian are trying to track down some skeleton hands and Jasmine is visiting Darren again. Though I think that they are genuinely working on the old papers to find out what actually caused these hands.”

Trent slid into his place and then bounced to his feet. “Is there anything you want me to do, ma’am?”

Jeanette looked baffled. “No, it’s okay, take a seat.”

Trent sat back down and kept his eyes on his plate setting. “Yes ma’am.”

“If there is something werewolf going on, I don’t know what it is.” Jeanette said, putting a large plate of cottage pie in front of him. “Would you like tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please.” Trent kept his hands on the table in front of him.

“Of course, it was Lynette that caused so much trouble.” Jeanette put a large mug of tea next to Trent’s plate and sat down. “It doesn’t work like that here. Go on, eat up. Ian says that you need to put some weight on.”

Trent took a hesitant forkful of the cottage pie. It was hot and savoury and he found himself clearing his plate with speed. “This is great.”

“Thanks.” Jeanette said. “And just because it’s not like your old pack doesn’t mean that you don’t have duties. You can load the dishwasher and clean up before you get on with your homework.”

“No problem.” Trent took another hearty mouthful. “I’m really grateful for Ian taking me in like this and sorting out papers and college and that.”

“He’s happy to help.” Jeanette had finished her smaller portion and was sipping her tea. “He was a stray as well, you know. So were Callum and Jasmine. He knows what it means.” She watched Trent scrape up the last few scraps of cottage pie. “There’s some banana bread in the cupboard, if you would like some.”

“Yes, please.” Trent sprang to his feet and over to the cupboard.

Jeanette watched him. The skinny kid who could hardly meet anyone’s eyes was already starting to blossom. She smiled to herself. He may have a way to go before he had the courage to be cheeky to Ian, but he was already looking healthier and managing whole sentences in company. “How is the coursework going?”

“It’s great.” Trent said as he hacked off a large lump of the banana bread. “Mr Sykes set us to code up movement of an object in a populated field. It’s tricky, but if you use…”

Jeanette zoned out a little. She couldn’t follow Trent’s computer course, but was glad he was so happy. She finished her tea. “It sounds complicated.” She looked out of the window. The nights were drawing in and, despite her best efforts, the garden looked bedraggled.

“How is the wedding planning?” Trent asked. “I mean, is it getting complicated.”

Jeanette realised she had forgotten about the wedding. “It’s all in hand. There’s not actually that much left to do. I’m more worried about getting the greenhouses cleaned out before the cold really sets in so I can overwinter some of the plants. I’ll want to get a good start on some of the seedlings for next year as well.”

“I can give you a hand.” Trent stuff the last morsel of banana bread into his mouth. “You need to be able to work on the wedding.” He added indistinctly.

Jeanette laughed. “I’m not worried about the wedding. I just want to get it over with. We need to get this little farm ready for winter. I do a lot of crafts over winter and I’m hoping that they will sell as well at the White Hart this Christmas as they did last year. It’s a nice side hustle, and with Ian’s plumbing business taking off as well, there’s a lot to get in order.” She finished her tea. “I’ll be working you hard later on, but for now you can just clean up the kitchen and get on with your coursework.”

“Yes ma’am.” Trent smiled happily with contentment.

Steve pulled up at the lock up and his heart sank. Fiona was there, sorting through some of his boxes. “Hi, Fiona, I didn’t think you would be here.”

“Mrs Tuesday is closing tonight with some of the younger boggarts.” Fiona said. “I thought it would be worth having a sort out here.”

Steve recognised stress sorting. The air hung heavy with dust and there was a tang of old incense and patchouli. “I know I shouldn’t take in the house clearance stuff, but I’ve had some good finds over the years and, to be honest, it takes a burden off the families.”

Fiona turned around and dusted down her t-shirt. It didn’t help, but added long, dark streaks to the patches already there. She had dust smeared on her face and she was thankfully unaware of the cobweb that had caught at the back of her ponytail. “I know. I remember how grateful Mr Evans’ daughter was when we cleared the house. She had no idea of her father’s interests. And it was just as well.”

“I’m sure she would have seen ‘Seducing a Succubus’ as rather spicy fiction.” Steve said. He took off his jacket. “I’ll give you a hand.”

“And then there was, ‘Inviting an Incubus’. That could have gone wrong in so many ways.” Fiona said. “Have you even opened some of these boxes?”

“It’s been a bit busy.” Steve said. “There was that trouble over in Lancaster.”

Fiona sniffed and then sneezed. “These look old,” she said, changing the subject.

Steve rolled up his sleeves and took the box from her. “They do, don’t they.” He set the box down on the bench just inside the door and started taking the books out. “These are handwritten.” He said. “And I think this is vellum and not paper.”

Fiona pulled out another box. “I think these can just be thrown out.” She tipped out a jangling heap of dirty brass candlesticks and stained incense holders.

“Hmm?” Steve kept turning the pages.

“These, they’re worthless.” Fiona pulled out a black bag.

“Hang on.” Steve gently placed the book back in the box. “The brownies will take stuff like that. It’s not worth us cleaning it up, but they enjoy a challenge and then they donate the stuff to charity shops.”

“I’ll leave this stuff in the White Hart with a note, then?” Fiona said, picking the box up.

“Just a sec.” Steve waved his hands in a graceful pattern. “I need to check…”

Fiona jumped back as three of the candlesticks and an incense burner started glowing with a dull, red aura. “They are enchanted?”

“That’s probably why he had an unexpected heart attack.” Steve said dryly. “There should be at least four enchanted candlesticks. It looks like some of work didn’t take. And those books have some heavy duty stuff in them. I’m going to have to get Ian over to look at them. He really knows his stuff.”

“Tonight?” Fiona asked carefully.

Steve didn’t answer straight away as he muttered some words over the glowing brass. The colour cycled from red, through orange and yellow, to green and finally blue before fading. “I don’t see why not. We’ve not got anything planned.” He turned back to the books before he registered the sudden tension in the atmosphere. He resisted the books with an effort. “We don’t have anything planned, do we? And you like Ian. He’s a good guy.”

“Can you remember the last time we had a date?” Fiona asked.

Steve’s mind went blank. “I’m trying to think…” He stalled for time.

“The last time we had a date was around a month before our wedding.” Fiona said. “How about a quiet night in? When did that last happen?”

“We stay in sometimes.” Steve scrabbled for details of the evenings of the last few months.

“Staying in and a quiet night in are two different things.” Fiona snapped. “Last Thursday you were home around dinner time, but you spent all your time working on that recording cube.”

“It just needed a few tweaks and I know Lord Cedric would pay good money for it…” Steve trailed off.

“Why did you marry me?” Fiona asked. A tear slid down her face leaving a pale trail in the dust. “Why did you marry anyone?”

“I loved you?” Steve forgot all about the books. “I mean, that’s why I married you. I still love you.”

“Then spend some damn time with me.” Fiona brushed away another tear, leaving dark streaks across her face.

“It’s not my fault.” Steve tried to justify himself. “The business means that sometimes I have to travel, I’m not always home…”

“You’re not with me even when you are home.” Fiona said. “You’re looking at the books or sorting out flint knives, or just anything except with me.”

“That’s not fair.” Steve said, stung by his guilty conscience. “Besides, why did you marry me? Were you just desperate for a wedding? You were spending a lot of time with Dean, but he let you down.”

An electric silence fell. Fiona broke it first. “You know why I was spending time with Dean. He was trying to seduce me to get to Lord Ragnar. And no, it wasn’t just about a wedding. And that’s perhaps just as well, as I don’t think a quick ceremony in a hospital chapel is a little girl’s dream of a special day. And perhaps it would have been nice to have had a special day with you as I haven’t had much time since.”

“Is that what this is about?” Steve tried to divert the argument away from him. “You missed out on a fancy day?”

Fiona looked at him for a long moment. “I’m going down to call on Jeanette. I know she wants some help with the place cards. I’ll see you later.”

Pizza


Photo by Alan Hardman on Unsplash

Lady Freydis didn’t even flinch as Kadogan stepped out from a doorway, matching her step as she walked through York from the White Hart to her domain. “Kadogan, it is good to see that you are safe.”

“I am conflicted, Lady Freydis.” Kadogan said “I still mourn Lord Ragnar, but you need to marry. You should marry soon. I can feel the tension in the realms.”

“Is that why you came back?” Lady Freydis said, sliding gracefully through the crowds of tourists as she headed towards the Shambles. “To give advice.”

“To give counsel to the widow of a good friend, yes, I came back for that. And also to put right my mistakes.” Kadogan slipped almost unnoticed between a couple staring at the buskers as they crossed Parliament Square.

“What errors are those?” Lady Freydis looked at him with genuine curiosity. “You were loyal to your lord, you repaid your debt to Fiona Adderson, you gave great leadership in the White Hart – I cannot see an error.”

Kadogan sighed. “I can see many. I should have counselled Lord Ragnar in different ways.”

“We both tried, Kadogan.” Lady Freydis said quietly. “It was his fate. He was a good man who had faced cruel tricks.”

Kadogan managed a shrug. “And then there is the White Hart. I am not sure that I should have started that.”

Lady Freydis stopped dead and stared at him. Kadogan realised she had stopped two steps further on and had to turn around to see what had happened. Lady Freydis placed a tentative hand on his chest. “Are you well?” she asked. “Are you Kadogan?”

Kadogan hunched his shoulders and looked miserable. “Fiona Adderson is sad. I can feel her sadness as a deep well. She feels that Steve Adderson does not sufficiently love her due to the nature of their courtship. She also fears the influence of Elaine.”

“Elaine is lusting shamefully after the paladin, Dave Kinson.” Lady Freydis said, waving a dismissive hand. “It is quite outrageous how she is flirting, and it is reciprocated, I believe.”

“Fiona Adderson does not see it that way.” Kadogan said quietly. “She saved my life, but now she is sad.”

“I can feel her pain when she sees Adele and Jeanette reading through wedding magazines.” Lady Freydis said. “And I must also take some blame for that.” She suddenly looked smaller. “She has a kind heart and has never flinched.”

“I must take action, and I urge you to take action as well.” Kadogan said. “But I do not know what that action should be.”

“We will take counsel, among the fae.” Lady Freydis said firmly. “Both Steve Adderson and Fiona Adderson are well liked. Between us, how can we get it wrong?” She looked at the hesitation in Kadogan’s face. “You and I have separately made bad decisions, but the wisdom of a fairy council is deep.”

“Do you think we should consult Mrs Tuesday?” Kadogan asked.

“Hmm?” Lady Freydis looked thoughtful. “No, she is busy with the weddings and her nephew. Besides, this is our error and it is our duty to put it right. We will take council tonight.”

Darren sat quietly in a corner amidst the bustle of York Minster. It was a good place to go when he needed to be undisturbed as none of the locals he knew came to the Minster on a regular basis. He watched the tourists taking their time around the amazing architecture, reading the plaques and memorials and getting lost in the medieval stained glass. He wasn’t likely to be disturbed.

For the first time in years, he didn’t know what to do. His certainty had kept him alive in Afghanistan, Iraq and a few other places that he wasn’t supposed to talk about. It had kept him safe in battles against ghosts, demons and malevolent non-normals. Now he was dating a werewolf that was far too young for him and had had an unwilling elfen forced into the role of servant as a sort of compensation for a misplaced love potion.

It was a mess. Darren loved Jasmine completely. He had never felt like this before and couldn’t imagine feeling like this again. These feelings had started long before the mix up with the potion but before his drink was spiked he had been strong enough to resist them. Now he wasn’t sure if he could do the right thing and give Jasmine a chance to live her life. She deserved better than him.

Then there was Egerton. Darren had braced for the sort of mischief an elfen could manage. Any elfen could make a three act tragedy out of a request to pass the sugar, and anything more complicated would be creatively misunderstood until the poor normal went mad. However Lady Freydis had extorted a promise that Egerton would serve Darren properly and in good faith, and Darren was now bewildered by Egerton’s attempts at genuine helpfulness. Egerton had even learned to use the washing machine.

Darren bent his head. So where did that leave him? He was a minister of the church and an exorcist, with a werewolf for a girlfriend and a magical being as a servant. All he could do was pray and hope.

Dave chose his moment. Elaine had finished serving the last customer, the shop was empty and Lady Freydis had gone with Mrs Tuesday to clear the tables in the annexe. He swooped in from the space behind the till and kissed Elaine quickly on her cheek.

Elaine jumped and, after a quick check to see if it was all clear, turned around and kissed him on his lips. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Dave grinned. “Are we still on for tonight?”

“You haven’t told anyone, have you?”

Dave shook his head. “It’s completely our secret.” He said. “I’ll bring in wine, you get pizza and we can stay in and chill, away from the crowds. Just us.”

Elaine sighed happily. “I’ve seen what’s happened to the romances here. Jeanette and Adele are fine, but Fiona is still upset about missing out on the wedding she wanted. It’s not like she wanted anything too fancy. She just wanted a choice.”

Dave nodded. “We keep this quiet.”

“And you’ve definitely got the night off?” Elaine asked.

“Absolutely.” Dave kissed Elaine quickly. “Luke has promised that he’ll be keeping an eye out. But it’s all quiet. Even the goblins down near Fulford have been behaving.” He jumped away from Elaine as Ian came racing in.

“Dave, you’ve got to come with us tonight.”

“What?” Dave tried to look casual as he stepped away from Elaine.

“Luke thinks he’s found the nest of those skeletal hands.” Ian said. “There’s an abandoned chapel on the edge of York, not far from the old paladin’s house, and Luke says it’s absolutely full of them. Well, full of moving hands, dead rats and disjointed arm bones.”

“Lovely.” Elaine said. “I’m glad I’m staying at the shop.”

“Darren thinks we should spend some time observing.” Ian shrugged. “I thought a few gallons of petrol and a few matches would be a better way, but who knows.”

Dave carefully didn’t look at Elaine. “No problem. Are we going there now?”

Ian shook his head. “No, Luke thought we would be better going after dark, just in case. We don’t want to worry the neighbours.” He turned to Elaine. “By the way, Dave doesn’t like chicken on pizza, he prefers ham or pepperoni. Thought you would want to know.” He grinned at Dave’s appalled expression. “I’ll meet you at the new citadel tonight, around eight.” And he jogged out of the shop.

Just a note – I will be changing up the format of the White Hart over the coming months. In part it’s because I have had a real struggle with some of the characters which led to the huge break we have had, and also to make sure that I leave enough room for my other writing. I hope you will still enjoy the stories. Let me know what you think.