Jack in the Box


Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

“Thanks for helping out.” Steve said, looking up at the house. “I was told that it was likely to be full, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this full.”

“I suppose it counts as spending time together.” Fiona smiled up at Steve. “Only kidding. But it’s great to be involved.”

“And Mrs Tuesday will keep an eye on everything, won’t she?” Steve nudged his jacket pocket and Armani eased himself out and flapped lazily away, settling on the porch roof and hunching over.

“There are a lot of sensible people there.” Fiona said. “And it’s good to get away from work.” She started pulling supplies out of the car. “I couldn’t believe it either, when we had the walk through yesterday. I think we will be here for a while.”

Steve shook his head. “We are only taking care of the magical stuff. That’s the agreement. If they want anything else then they have to pay extra. And do something about the ghost.”

“She isn’t that bad.” Fiona said. “She probably only shows herself because of Armani. Anyway, let’s make a start.”

The house was a large, Victorian property with lots of gables and corners. The overgrown rhododendrons overshadowed the sash windows and the self seeded remnants of the flower borders rustled their dried seed heads as Steve unlocked the door and snapped on the hall light. “The son agreed to have the electric on for a week.” Steve said, “We can bring heaters with us if it gets too cold.”

“I’d rather keep warm by keeping busy.” Fiona dragged in the box of supplies. “So what are we looking for?”

Steve sighed. “Anything weird.” He looked around the large hallway with half a dozen coats hanging in the corner and dozens of paintings, pictures and mirrors hanging in the hall and stairs. Knickknacks covered every ledge and the four small tables wedged in the corners of the odd shaped room. “The trouble is, we share a shop full of weird things, and a mail order business full of weird things, and I work with weird things and you work with Lady Freydis which is pretty full of weird things. To us, weird is normal.”

Fiona laughed. “I know what you mean.” She looked around. “Let’s just be methodical. We start by the door, go along the walls from left to right, dealing with any furniture and cupboards as we get to them, then deal with anything in the centre of the rooms. We ignore anything that isn’t a problem, but if we go that way, we won’t miss anything.”

“Okay.” Steve looked back out through the door. “Armani?”

“I’m okay out here, boss.” Armani said. “Just doing a little bird watching.”

“Don’t upset any neighbours.” Steve said and then pulled the door almost shut. “Though I don’t think that there is anyone near.”

“It’s a shame,” Fiona said. “From what his son was saying, he was a nice old man but he didn’t really do much with people.”

“I know.” Steve said. “But I think he was happy enough. That’s what they said in the shop.”

“It’s lovely and quiet here.” Fiona said, “With a village shop and a pub and all the green spaces around. You can hear the birds sing – or you could if Armani didn’t chase them. Is he still after a cat?”

“Hmm?” Steve muttered a few words over a cardboard box and then pulled out a bundle. Still muttering he gently unwrapped the layers of silk before pulling out a prosaic hand mirror. Fiona kept respectfully quiet as he held the mirror up and angled it over his shoulder, glancing back to make sure he was getting the right view. “Fiona, could you get the angel?”

Fiona unwrapped the delicate figure from its silk coverings and held it up against the wall. Kadogan had given them the figure as a gift, and while they didn’t know what the enchantment was, it was definitely enchanted and great for seeing if detection spells worked. Steve kept his back to the figure but angled the mirror to see over his shoulder. He nodded. “I can see the angel glowing, so it’s working.” He took a deep breath. “It should be alright, if I get the angles right. Hang on…” He twisted the mirror a little. “That little picture to the right, I mean left, with the dog. There’s something there.”

It took most of the morning just to go through the hall and front parlour. Some of the items, like the picture of the dog, were just minor magic and Steve disabled and dissipated the magical charge easily enough. Other, more complicated items were photographed, documented and then wrapped in silk and packed in rowan wood shavings. It was slow and painstaking work, but Fiona found herself relaxing. “We haven’t spent this much time together for ages.”

“I know.” Steve rubbed a hand across his face, leaving a smudge. He looked down at his dusty t-shirt and dirty jeans. “It’s nice to be out of a suit for a change, and it’s been great working with you.” He smiled at Fiona. “We really need to do this more often.”

“Perhaps not something as hard as this.” Fiona shut the door on the front parlour and sighed. “But it’s been great.” For a moment the two looked at each other, enjoying the closeness. Fiona leaned forward and kissed Steve briefly on the lips. “Why don’t I make us some lunch. I’ve brought some stuff and the kitchen is okay.”

They ate lunch on a bench outside. Fiona looked around. “This could be a really nice place to live, if it was treated right.”

Steve nodded. “It has a good atmosphere.” He looked across to where Armani was trying to intimidate some crows and failing. “Despite everything.”

Fiona chuckled, then stopped. “How much is he asking for this place?”

“Have you any idea how much work it would take to clear this place?” Steve asked. “I mean, it needs completely gutting, the garden needs to be dug out and replanted and…” He trailed off. “We haven’t even looked at the sheds.”

“That would mean a lot of storage space.” Fiona said. “You’re right – the kitchen is a nightmare and I don’t want to think about the wiring, but…” She trailed off and looked around. “It’s not that far from York.”

“It’s technically in Leeds.” Steve said. “We would have to answer to Lord Marius.”

Fiona shrugged. “He’s your father and will enjoy annoying you, but it could be worse.”

“Yeah, it could be worse.” Steve took the last mouthful of coffee from his cup. “Come on, let’s try the back parlour next.”

The back parlour was always going to be the biggest challenge. The old man had used it just as storage and it was now a heap of cardboard boxes and crates. “We’re never going to get through these in a week,” Fiona said, standing in the doorway.

“We can just be methodical.” Steve said. “We can stack the stuff we’ve sorted through in the front parlour for now, and if we can get this done then we have got through the worst.”

“Is it even safe?” Fiona looked at the towering piles in front of them. “Perhaps we should get ladders?”

Steve whistled and Armani came reluctantly into the room. “You can start by bringing that box on the top down.” Steve said. He glanced at Fiona. “It’s about time Armani earned his tea and biscuits.”

Armani stared around the crammed room. “Bloody hell!”

It was quicker than they thought. A lot of the boxes were filled with books which could be easily sorted, and the old man had hoarded household supplies as well as magical curiosities. Some of it was just junk, but there were some interesting pieces.

“This is truly beautiful.” Steve held up the delicate porcelain candlestick to the light. “I can see why he wanted to keep it, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t out on display and getting appreciated. Get the next box, please, Armani.”

“No way, boss.” Armani started to shiver. “That’s a bad box. I’m not touching it, it’s more than my wings are worth.”

“What?” Steve stared at the imp. “I’ve seen you face down rogue vampires and crazed werewolves. What’s so bad in there?”

Armani shook his ugly head, wiping his hands down his filthy jeans. “I’m not going it near it, boss, and if it’s all the same to you, I’m going outside to sort out them crows.”

Fiona watched him flap quickly out into the hall and then looked at Steve. “How bad could it be?”

Steve frowned. “I’ve never seen him react like that. Not even when he was going in to rescue you and it was all going crazy.” He took a deep breath. “Hang on…” He placed his hands palms together and muttered a few words. With a struggle he pulled them apart and a glow formed in front of him, flickering and stuttering at first, but growing stronger. Sweat streaked down the dust on his face as he forced the light in front of him and up to the box. “This is tougher than I thought.” He twisted his hands and the light gently hovered over the nondescript cardboard box which started to glow. “It shouldn’t be doing that.” Steve struggled, trying to keep control as he gently lowered the light towards the box, which exploded.

Fiona screamed as the paper cascaded everywhere, shreds hanging from the curtains at the opposite side of the room and from the elaborate light fitting. The smell of scorched paper hung in the air and Steve staggered back, grabbing hold of Fiona to stay upright. Fiona clung onto him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Steve looked pale but pulled himself upright. “That wasn’t what I expected.” He looked down at the small, lidded bronze pot lying at his feet. “This is the culprit.” He gently extended a hand, tentatively touching it before picking it up. “It’s not hot.”

Fiona came closer. “It doesn’t look like anything special.”

“I know.” Steve said. “That’s not a good sign. If it was meant to be opened then it would look a lot fancier.” He looked around at the cardboard-covered room. “Let’s get into the open air.”

The went outside and Steve placed the pot in the centre of a dried-up bird bath. “Fiona, stay there.” Glancing quickly around, Steve jogged to the house and came back with some supplies. “Armani, I know you’re out there. Get yourself next to Fiona.”

“I daren’t boss.” Armani was perched on the top of the house, clinging to a twisted chimney pot. “I daren’t go near it.”

“Then stay well clear.” Steve rigged up a circle of protection and braced himself. “Fiona, when I count to three, take the lid off the pot, then drop to the floor. I’ll be ready to deal with whatever comes out.”

Fiona took a breath. She had dealt with so many unexpected things – Mrs Tuesday, being fed love potions, Jeanette getting taken for a walk ‘in fur’ and coming back and shedding mud all over the floor, and she had faced them all. But now her husband looked pale and set and the imp that was normally loyal to the death was hiding behind a chimney pot and she had to set loose whatever was causing this. She tugged a stray shred of cardboard out of her hair, swallowed, and took the lid off the pot.

It was surprisingly easy. Fiona had expected there to be a struggle or stiffness, but it didn’t even feel like a snug fit. There was no flash or shout or explosion, just an incredibly handsome man standing in front of her, bowing low and kissing her hand.

“My lady, I owe you my freedom. I am Jack, completely in your debt.”

“Oh hell, not again.” Steve said.

Treasure


Photo by Pierangelo Ranieri on Unsplash

“I don’t see why you have to go to Lancaster again.” Fiona snapped as she stacked the bags of cloves that had just arrived.

“Listen, it’s a chance in a million. It would make a massive difference to our balance sheet.”

“Do you think that there actually is a stash of blue moonstones?” Fiona heaved the wooden box of nutmegs onto a counter and grabbed the nail puller. “And the shop is doing okay, thank you. It’s making a profit every month and we haven’t seen the effect of the extra seating and Lady Freydis’ announcement yet.”

“You are the one who wants a house.” Steve tried to pace in the small back room. “It’s not cheap getting one with decent storage.”

“We could probably get somewhere nice for the rent we are paying on the flat and just keep the lockup.” Fiona struggled as the nail puller slipped.

“When do you think we would have time to enjoy a bigger house?” Steve asked. “And we wouldn’t have time to look after a garden either. We are barely at the flat as it is. Let me do that.” He reached for the nail puller but Fiona snatched it away.

You may hardly be at the flat,” Fiona spat at him, “but I’m there loads. In fact, if I didn’t sometimes visit Jeanette or here with Mrs Tuesday, I’d be spending all the evenings there, mostly alone. I work the café on late nights for the company, because you are hardly at the flat.”

“That’s not fair.” Steve said, aware that there was some truth in what Fiona was saying. “I’m home sometimes.” It sounded hollow to him and he hurried on. “Listen, I know there are issues with Leanna at Lancaster, but I’ve got it under control. And even if the blue moonstones are an excuse, they have a hoard of Roman coins. They are worth working with.” He watched Fiona struggling with the crates. “Please, Fiona, let me do that.”

“I think you’re too busy because you’re getting ready to go to Lancaster.” Fiona could feel sobs rising in her throat. “And take the imp with you this time. He’s trying to adopt a cat and it’s getting on my nerves.”

Armani peered cautiously out of Steve’s jacket pocket and then sank slowly down again. Steve ignored him. “If you want to get into the crate, go for it. I hope you aren’t still working on it when I get back tomorrow.” He stormed out.

Fiona slumped on the chair in the corner, dropping the nail puller and trying to control her tears. The last thing she needed was for Kadogan or Lady Freydis to get involved. She shouldn’t have been like that. She should have sent Steve off with an image of a wife that was loving and sweet and welcomed him home. Now he was driving towards a fairy with a serious crush on him who would make him feel like a hero.

She didn’t look up when the door opened but braced. Then she relaxed as a large mug of Orange Pekoe tea was placed gently next to her.

Dean sat next to her. “I remembered that this was your favourite when things were going badly for you, and that you took sugar in this but not in your other teas.”

Fiona managed a smile. “Thanks.”

“Are you okay?” Dean asked. “I heard some shouting and Mrs Tuesday was looking worried.”

“Kadogan and Lady Freydis didn’t hear, did they?” Fiona said, alarmed.

Dean shook his head. “They said something about sorting out the van, so they are in the back yard. They’ll probably know something has happened.” He looked at the chipped edge of the crate. “Do you want me to open that?”

Fiona was too exhausted to argue but watched, blankly, as Dean stood and pulled the slats apart with little effort. He shrugged. “Vampiric strength has its uses.” He put the bags of nutmegs on a far counter and perched on the small table opposite her. “I’m not really in a position to give advice.”

Fiona took a sip of her tea. The strong and slightly sweet brew warmed her as she held on to the mug with both hands. “Please don’t. I’ve had enough advice on my love life to last a lifetime.”

“Steve loves you.” Dean said. “He really does. He’s just not used to being in one place for long. He’s spent the last few years travelling in all sorts of strange places and he’s had some seriously traumatic experiences, so it’s hard for him to change.”

Fiona took a breath. “Everyone else can see how much Steve loves me. Why can’t he show me?”

“Because he doesn’t know how, yet.” Dean managed a smile. “If I thought it was just empty words, I’d be begging you to come back to me. I messed up the best thing that ever happened in my life, and I can see Steve doing the same thing.” His smile faded. “Anyway, I thought I would bring in a cuppa and let you know that it can work out.”

“Thanks.” Fiona managed. “I appreciate that.” She hesitated. “It can’t have been easy. I’m sorry things turned out for you like this.”

“So am I.” Dean said. “But it is what it is. You and Steve…” He looked at the door. “What the hell is that racket?”

Fiona trailed after Dean, still clutching her mug of tea. For a moment, every scrap of strength she had drained out of her. A group of elfen were standing in the middle of the shop, right at the start of the lunchtime rush, and setting down boxes and bags in what looked like a choreographed heap. As more people started filing in and edging around the stack, Fiona scrabbled together what was left of her mental energy and carefully placed her mug next to her till with all that was left of her control. “You can’t leave that there.”

The man giving directions turned and sneered at Fiona. He was tall, slim and clean shaven and his mid brown hair was long and pulled into a loose pony tail. “You have no idea who you are talking to. I’m Thistle and I’ve taken over from Egerton at Tadcaster.” He dusted an imaginary speck off his silk shirt. “I’m here to see Lady Freydis.”

“I said – you can’t leave that there.” Fiona said. The café would be packed within the next twenty minutes. “Get it out of here.”

“I don’t talk to shop girls.” Thistle said. “Where is my prince?”

Fiona took a breath. “Out.”

“I have been sleeping with the owner.” Thistle said, smirking. “She seduced me. You will get fired.”

Lady Freydis appeared, “I somewhat doubt your passion, Thistle, as Fiona Adderson is very loyal to her husband.” She glanced briefly at Fiona who was white with fury. “Perhaps you should leave now.”

“Fiona would vouch for me.” Thistle waved a hand airily and ignored the elfen frantically tugging at his sleeve with magnificent unconcern. “She is a sweet little thing, but a candle to your sun, my lady.” He swept a bow to Lady Freydis.

Fiona stepped forward, her fists clenching and unclenching. “Perhaps Lady Freydis could introduce us.”

“I’m sure Thistle recognises you.” Lady Freydis weighed up the fury in Fiona and decided that today was not the day to play. “Thistle, you are talking to Fiona Adderson. She isn’t exactly just a shop girl.”

“Although any employee in this establishment should be treated with respect.” Fiona said. “I believe I asked you to leave.”

“We got off to a bad start,” Thistle smiled sweetly at her. “But it’s just a misunderstanding. Besides, I can’t leave without presenting my tribute.” He smirked again at Lady Freydis. “I have much hoarded treasure.”

“You surprise me.” Lady Freydis said.

“I have many ways to surprise you.” Thistle waved an autocratic hand and his helpers rushed forward, a few of them looking apologetically at Fiona.

Fiona blinked. As the boxes were cut down and the sacks and bags rolled back, treasure after treasure spilled out. Crystal drops on fine strands of horse hair were draped over soft, woollen cloth pattern with Celtic-style swirls. Petrified wood was carved into glowing, burnished figures and candlesticks and delicate, woven grass bowls held a tumble of jet and amber beads. She looked around. The shop was filling up. Some were tourists and were obviously interested in making a purchase. Others were members of Lady Freydis’ court and their eyes were gleaming at the display. Unfortunately that display was right were the queue for sandwiches normally formed and it was getting more complicated and confused by the second.

Lady Freydis stepped closer to Thistle and ran a feminine hand down his face. “All this treasure? To show your wealth?”

“To offer to you, my prince.” Thistle said, catching her hand and kissing it.

“This treasure is indeed of a splendid appearance.” Lady Freydis said. She raised an immaculate eyebrow and the boxes and bags collapsed suddenly into a pile of leaves. “You actually tried to give me a gift of fairy gold?”

“We’re trying out a new magic act.” Mrs Tuesday said hastily as the tourists gasped and stepped back.

“I’d like to book you for our Christmas function.” A portly, bald man said quickly. “That was seamless.”

“It needs some work.” Mrs Tuesday said, taking him by the elbow and discreetly guiding him to the counter. “But we are offering free tea or coffee to anyone affected by the inconvenience.”

Adele scuttled out with a brush as Elaine encouraged the queue back to its normal position before diving behind the counter to help with the drinks. Fiona was furious.

“How dare you drop dead leaves over my clean floor.” She hissed.

There was amusement in Lady Freydis’ expression, but she put a firm hand on Thistle’s shoulder. “Why don’t you come into the back room with me.” She said. “I can explain the right things and the wrong things to gift to a Prince.”

“It was an excellent illusion.” Kadogan said. “I was completely fooled.”

“Then I shall give an excellent explanation.” Lady Freydis said.

For one moment Fiona felt almost like the floor was shifting under her, as the confusion and worry washed over her in a wave that left her gasping for a breath. Then she ran past Thistle, who was obviously regretting his grand gesture, and started bringing up the extra supplies for the lunchtime rush.

For those interested, I am finally actually definitely going to be publishing a newsletter next week (if I can get it to work), and if you would like to subscribe, the link is here. I plan to include any news and links, a household tip from Mrs Tuesday and a piece of original fiction, ideally once per month. I’m doing all I can to make sure that it complies with all the legal stuff, but I am keeping to the spirit that I require enthusiastic consent to add you, that I will take you off the list as soon as you like, and I will treat any contact details you leave with respect and care.

How Bad Could it Get?


Photo by Ellen Melin on Unsplash

Fiona opened the door to the White Hart and flinched. She had never seen it so clean. Mrs Tuesday was re-racking all the herbs with the jerky energy that said it was extreme displacement. “What’s going on?”

Jasmine came from out of the back with an armful of coffee bags. “Callum’s gone to get some extra milk, and Adele said she would call her cousins to see if they can help out if the rush gets bad.”

“What rush?” Fiona half expected to skid on the floor which had been polished to within an inch of its life. The old boards gleamed.

Mrs Tuesday took a deep breath. “Lady Freydis made an announcement last night.” She started slotting the hangers back into position. “She is going to get married next midsummer.”

“Who to?” Fiona hung her coat in the back room and came out, bewildered. “Not Kadogan as he is pretty loyal to Suzuki and Atherton is besotted with the young lad who works at the garage down the road. Surely she won’t go for Martin after all that happened? And who else is there? Egerton is too scared to go near her.”

“Egerton’s mostly healed and is doing okay.” Mrs Tuesday was struggling with the bags of herbs as the fine control needed to get them on their hangers wasn’t being helped by her temper. “But that’s the thing. She hasn’t got anyone. She has decided that she is going to marry someone – just someone! And she’s going to marry at midsummer.”

“Jeanette and Adele are taking it okay.” Jasmine said, “But I would be furious.”

“What?” Fiona looked at the extra stock of till rolls and bags at her till and started to get an idea of what was coming.

“Lady Freydis decided that Jeanette and Adele are getting married on Easter Monday. Darren wasn’t happy. He said that she may be the Prince and in charge of non-normals but he was in charge of his church. He was seriously considering not doing the ceremony, but he thought he would for the sake of Jeanette.” Jasmine unloaded the bags of coffee into the cupboards. “But he said he was going to have a Word.”

“And you had better brace yourself.” Mrs Tuesday threw a cardboard box out of the way with some venom. “She wants you and Steve to have renewal ceremony. Where was Steve last night?”

“He’s over in Lancaster.” Fiona said, tight lipped.

Elaine came in and paused in the doorway, just as struck as Fiona at the high sheen of the White Hart. “What’s going on?”

“The brownies clean extra when they’re stressed.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Lady Freydis has decided she is going to marry at midsummer, and the shop is going to be over-run with candidates until she picks a suitor.” She stood up creakily and brushed off her skirt. “She has also picked the date for Jeanette and Adele and was talking about Fiona and Steve renewing their vows in August.”

“No!” Fiona said firmly. “No vow renewal.”

“Good luck.” Elaine said, with genuine sympathy.

“There’s someone outside already!” Jasmine said, “And we don’t open for another half hour.”

Mrs Tuesday swore loudly, at length and with great inventiveness. “Well, at least we’ll get some profit out of this mess.” She said, looking at Fiona. “But I may ask for a raise.”

“You’ve got it.” Fiona said. “They can see us, the shutters are up and the door isn’t locked. Is the café ready to go?”

Jasmine nodded. “Mrs Tuesday started everything off early.”

“We open now.” Fiona took a deep breath. “Tomorrow we make sure that the door is kept locked and the shutters down until opening time or we will be open around the clock. I’ll give you a hand with those herbs, Mrs Tuesday.”

Lady Freydis was sitting in one of her favourite corners of her realm, perched on a high rock and watching the sea crash wildly at the cliff below. Martin walked easily up behind her.

“Leeds is about as far from the sea as you can get in Britannia.” He looked over her shoulder at the salt spray arcing over the rocks.

“I know.” Lady Freydis kept her eyes at the swirling water below her.

“And yet you have this illusion realm, always stormy and wild.” Martin ran a gentle finger over the back of Lady Freydis’ hand. His touch lingered as he circled around the inside of her wrist, slowly up her arm, his other hand caressing her palm as he leant in and lightly kissed her neck.

Lady Freydis shuddered with pleasure and sighed. “I adore the tricks you play when you seduce, but do not expect them to work on my mind.”

“I just enjoy touching you.” Martin said. “And you have never objected to that.”

Lady Freydis stretched and smiled lazily. “I always enjoy your touch.”

“And what when you marry?” Martin said. “Will I be able to touch you then? It won’t be the same as it was for Lord Ragnar. You will hold the power and anyone trying to get to power through you won’t tolerate a threat to his position.”

“I imagine most candidates will want to get power transferred to themselves at some point.” Lady Freydis slid gracefully off the rock and smiled up at Martin. “I will not just be looking at self-declared candidates. I am sure some will bring interesting companions.”

“It’s not a good idea to set a man above his lord.” Martin shook his head. “You have mixed gunpowder and Greek fire. It’s going to be crazy. And you should get over to the White Hart. They will be wanting to see you there.”

“It’s likely to be busy, which is fun.” Lady Freydis started walking away from the realm, “But Mrs Tuesday will be cross with me.”

“I’m cross with you.” Martin said. “But I know my limits.” He turned her around suddenly and kissed her hard on the lips. He stepped back and shook his head at the smug smile on Lady Freydis’ lips. “I’m surprised Lord Ragnar didn’t beat you.”

“He didn’t dare.” Lady Freydis said. “Now, I need to take a swift path to the White Hart to tend to the Coffee Machine. Will you accompany me?”

“As long as you understand that I am not afraid of you.” Martin said.

“Of course.” Lady Freydis said, sliding a hand smoothly over a rock to show an unexpected entrance to a green, sunlit path. “And that is what makes all this so much fun.”

The White Hart was looking battered. The tables had been cleared and the dishwasher set off with the last remnants of the café’s busiest day ever, but the gaps in the bookshelves and knickknacks had been left until tomorrow as the crew of the White Hart slumped wearily over the pizza Fiona had ordered.

Dave had managed to get Elaine sitting alone with him at a table a little way away from the rest. He looked over to where Fiona was slowly writing lists with the help of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. Jasmine had already left to visit Darren, but Chloe had stayed as she had done extra duty in the shop. He looked at Elaine. “That was crazy. And I can’t believe how many non-normal men I had booking Tarot readings and asking about their future love lives.”

“I’ve overheard one or two arranging to get married quickly so that they don’t become eligible.” Elaine said. “It’s like she’s thrown a grenade into the middle of everyone’s lives.”

“I’m safe because I’m a paladin,” Dave said smugly, and then paused. “I think. He looked at Elaine. “She hasn’t said anything to you, has she? I mean, we’ve only just started dating but that doesn’t seem to stop her.”

Elaine shook her head. “I think she’s backing off from arranging the love lives of normals,” she said, “At least for now. She feels a little responsible for the mess between Steve and Fiona.”

“She wasn’t too involved.” Dave said, “Not like Lord Marius and Kadogan. But she feels bad for them.” He took a large bite of his pizza. “Steve and Fiona would probably be fine if they hadn’t interfered.”

“Fiona hates Steve going to Lancaster.” Elaine said. “There’s a sidhe there that has had a crush on him for years, but Steve has never been interested. I think he would avoid the place if he could, but the deal is too good to miss. He’s had to go quite deep into Faerie, I believe, and he won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“That’s not good.” Dave realised he was stroking over the back of Elaine’s free hand and stopped in confusion. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Elaine smiled. “I don’t know how much free time I’ll have, but why don’t you come around to my flat tomorrow evening. I can make something to eat and we can watch a film. I’ve got a few cued up.”

“Sounds great, if we have the energy.” Dave said.

“I’m not cooking anything that needs more than two pans.” Elaine said. “Today has been crazy and I don’t think it’s going to get better.”

“It will have to die down soon.” Dave said. “I mean, how bad could it get?”

Tree Top


Photo by Kai Dörner on Unsplash

Luke was paying an infrequent visit to the White Hart. As the second paladin, he tried to distance himself from the non-normal world as much as possible, but his mother had sent over a new recipe for jollof rice and the White Hart was the best place to get the good spices. As an honoured guest, he was ushered into the back room with a free coffee. He smiled at Chloe. “What a wonderful place to work.” He waved a hand around the spice room, kept well away from the werewolves’ sensitive noses, and filled with fresh spices and incense sent by Mrs Tuesday’s contacts. It was all immaculately kept with the grinders and scales clean and dust free and the fresh, whole spices carefully sealed in large, plastic tubs.

Chloe smiled. She was bundled up with her hair covered and a little mask over her face, which she pulled down. “It’s amazing. I never knew the difference between the fresh spices and the stuff you get in the supermarket. It’s amazing.” She went over to the storage unit. “What are you looking for?”

“Ground coriander.” Luke smiled apologetically. “My mother would tell me to grind my own, but I don’t have much time.”

“Yes, you’re one of those internet consultants.” Chloe pulled out one of the big boxes. “How is business?”

“Not bad,” Luke said, “Could be a lot worse, and at least I get my lodgings.”

“And a few meals from Mrs Tuesday.” Chloe said, pulling out a large packet. “On the house.”

“Are you sure?” Luke asked, taking the packet.

“Of course.” Chloe said. “I have strict instructions from Steve and Fiona. You and Darren don’t get charged. Dave doesn’t get charged as long as he doesn’t take advantage.”

Luke laughed. “Dave is a reformed character,” he said. “but I understand your caution.”

Jasmine rushed into the room, her nose wrinkling at the intense smell. “Luke, you have to come. Lady Freydis has happened.”

Luke stood next to Steve and looked up. He was one of a small circle around a large horse chestnut tree next to a piece of waste ground. To everyone’s relief, it was on the edge of York, but it wasn’t completely hidden. Sir Ewan joined him, looking up. “She was bound to do something like this eventually.” He said. “And at least no-one’s got hurt so far.”

“How long do you think the tree can take the weight?” Steve asked. He looked at Luke. “It’s up to you.”

“Has anyone managed to get hold of Dave.” Luke asked desperately.

“Still out in the Dales with Elaine.” Steve said. “And if he has a clue that this is going on, he’ll stay there.”

Luke shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. All it needed was some kids to come past and try and film this on their phones, or some students who would want in on the joke, and it could go very wrong indeed. “Lady Freydis,” he called up to the figure at the top of the tree, “Why did you take the van up there?”

Steve exchanged a glance with Sir Ewan. It was as good a start as any with a crazed elfen, and Lady Freydis was looking crazed. “Get her talking,” Steve said quietly. “She can get things off her chest.”

A flurry of autumn leaves fell as the van, wedged in the upper crown of the tree, shifted. The group of normals and non-normals surrounding Lady Freydis took a collective step back.

“I want to speak to Fiona.” Lady Freydis said and took a mouthful from a large earthenware pitcher. “She will understand.”

Luke glanced at Steve who nodded and took out his phone. Luke took a deep breath. “Lady Freydis, are you well?”

There was a loud wail from the top of the tree. “I am not well. I am suffering.” Lady Freydis took another gulp. “Also, there isn’t a latte up here.”

“Why don’t you and the van carefully come down and we can get you a latte.” Luke thought for a second. “Although I think the best latte in York is the one that you make, I’m sure we’ll be able to find something almost as good nearby. Then you can tell us everything.”

“A Prince cannot tell everything.” Lady Freydis took another large gulp from the pitcher, coughing and spluttering.

“If she’s sick from up there, there’s going to be a heck of a coverage.” Sir Ewan said quietly.

Luke tried to keep a straight face. “Lady Freydis, you are among friends. Why don’t you and the van come down carefully and we can look after you.”

There was another wail from the top of the tree. Sir Ewan leant closer to Luke. “This is perfectly normal behaviour for an elfen under stress. We just need to do damage limitation.”

Steve came back. “Fiona’s on her way and she’s bringing some hot chocolate with her.” He looked over at Luke who shrugged. “Lady Freydis, what is the matter.”

“Fiona will understand.” Lady Freydis took another large swig, lost her balance, slipped and grabbed wildly before settling on a slightly lower branch. One of the wheels of the van slipped free and there was an ominous creaking. “She understands the pain of failing at marriage.”

“Fiona has not failed at marriage.” Steve took a deep breath. “We are very happy.”

“I can tell when people lie, you know.” Lady Freydis hung upside down to give Steve a drunken and malicious grin.

“That is a very nice tree.” Luke tried a different tactic. “I’m worried that the van will break it.”

“I could lay waste to York again.” Lady Freydis said. “My grief runs so deep. What is a tree?”

“Trees are important.” Atherton said. “And the dryad is a lovely woman, just sleeping at the moment.”

Lady Freydis scowled. “Where is Fiona?”

“It takes time for her to travel.” Luke said calmly. “Why did you take the van up there?”

“I call her Bucephalus,” Lady Freydis said, “For I shall conquer.” She pulled herself up and tried to take another swig from the pitcher. There was another wail. “I have no latte and no moon-mead. This is unacceptable.”

“Why don’t you and Bucephalus come carefully and gently down and we can see what we can do about drinks of all types.” Luke said. He glanced quickly at Sir Ewan. “Who was Bucephalus?”

“Alexander the Great’s horse.” Atherton answered, looking very worried.

“I shall stay up here until I can drink the moonshine.” Lady Freydis announced. “The court can attend me here.”

“Lady Freydis, you are being ridiculous.” The deep voice of Martin carried across the crowd. “You do not appear powerful.”

“Have you any drink for me?” Lady Freydis asked, leaning precariously across a branch.

“I will not discuss anything until you and the van are safely on the ground.” Martin said firmly.

“Bucephalus.” Lady Freydis said. “The van is called Bucephalus.”

“I don’t care.” Martin said. “Not until it is on the ground and ready to drive.”

“I could make it fly.” Lady Freydis said.

“And that would make you look even more ridiculous, copying films.” Martin said. “Come down now.”

Then suddenly Lady Freydis was standing safely on the ground, the van neatly parked on the nearby lane and she was pouting at Martin. “I am your prince,” she said.

Martin bowed deeply. “And now I can respect your dignity. Now, what is this about?”

“Kadogan suggested that I marry to aid Fiona’s marriage to heal,” Lady Freydis said. “But I still mourn.”

What!” Steve stared at Lady Freydis and then looked around to see if Kadogan was nearby. “There is nothing wrong with my marriage.”

Luke stepped forward. “Lady Freydis, I am so sorry that you are sad. Why don’t you head back to the White Hart and have a herbal tea? I’m sure that will help.” Every eye looked in disbelief at Luke. He waved a helpless hand. “It always helps my mother.”

“Lady Freydis does not need to calm down.” Martin said firmly. “She needs to step up and to be a prince. She needs to rule.” He looked hard at Lady Freydis. “Princes do not rule effectively from the top of a horse chestnut tree.”

“How about an oak?” Lady Freydis’ heart wasn’t in it. She ran a hand through her hair and looked ruefully at Martin. “You are correct, as always.” She sighed. “And so is Paladin Luke Fawcett. Though I shall take my pleasant refreshment in my domain.”

Luke looked at the leaves and twigs strewn around and the strain on everyone’s faces. “I hope you feel better soon.” He managed.

“And I think I need to have a word with Kadogan.” Steve said carefully. “In fact, I may need several words.”