Darren sat Egerton down at one of the café tables. “You need to get over this fear of Jack. I mean, he didn’t do anything to you at the Halloween party, did he? You can’t let your fear of him rule your life. After all, you courted Lady Freydis, and that’s the actions of a brave man.”
“He is not predictable.” Egerton said. He took a deep breath. “I owe you a great deal, Darren King, so I will take your advice and have a beverage here.”
“Right, it will be fine.” Darren said, trying to believe it. How had it come to this – he was babysitting a neurotic elfen who was almost vibrating with nervous tension. “I’ll get you a herbal tea.”
“Coffee is a herb.” Jack said, strolling up behind Darren.
Darren shot a dark look at him and then looked back at Egerton who was holding onto the edge of the table so hard that the plywood was starting to split. “I think a camomile tea will be fine.”
“Nggnnnnngnnn.” Egerton said.
“It’s okay, Findlay, I’m not going bother you. I have other fish to fry.” Jack followed Darren to the counter. “I would like one of your divine lattes, Miss Jasmine.” He smirked as he caught Darren’s glare.
“On the house, Lady Freydis orders – if you behave.” Jasmine couldn’t help returning Jack’s charming smile, before catching Darren’s eye and blushing.
Jack ignored Darren. “Thank you, my sweet.” He picked up the cup and wandered over to where some goblins were having a furtive game of cards.
After giving Jasmine a thoughtful look, Darren took his drinks back to the table, putting a camomile tea in front of Egerton. “What is Jack?”
Egerton wrapped his hands around the comforting warmth of his mug. “Jack is complicated.” He looked over to where Jack was getting dealt in. “Those goblins will lose their money to him, but they would lose it anyway, possibly at the bookmakers, so I suppose it is irrelevant.” He started adding packets of sugar to the camomile tea. “Jack isn’t quite an elfen, and he’s certainly no boggart or goblin. He’s been in York a very long time.”
Darren watched the emptied sugar packets mount up. “So, like a nature spirit, but not elfen.”
“Quite.” Egerton stirred the syrupy mixture. “I think he was called a god by the locals at one point, before the time of the Legions, when this was just the rivers meeting place.” He sighed. “Those must have been hard times to be a normal. There were no paladins or exorcists then, but some normals had power and used songs and paint…” Egerton trailed off, looking back over millennia. “When the saints came, they called Jack a demon. But he isn’t quite a demon, you know. I’ve met some, and Jack is quite different.”
“I’ve met a few demons myself.” Darren said, looking over to where Jack was grinning as a goblin laid down their hand. “Jack isn’t a demon.”
“He may not be a demon, but he isn’t safe.” Egerton said. “And should he marry Lady Freydis, he will be an influence on her.”
Darren looked down at his own plain tea. “Martin would be worse, wouldn’t he? I mean, he’s a vampire, and look what happened with Rey.”
“Martin is very different from Rey.” Egerton said primly. “He understands duty. And Lady Freydis has changed.” Egerton frowned. It was notoriously hard for an elfen to be sympathetic, but it was obvious Egerton had thought about this. “Lady Freydis felt very unloved,” he said quietly. “I feel that led to lapses in judgement. Lord Ragnar also felt unloved. This was an unfortunate combination. Whoever is her next partner, I am confident that there will be better choices.” He flinched.
Darren looked behind him and watched Eorl Brand stride through the door. In deference to modern York, Eorl Brand had altered his glamour so that his bright red hair was slickly styled, his beard was short and neatly trimmed, the jeans and boots were clean and well made and the shirt that stretched across his massive back was the latest trend. He still looked like he arrived on a long ship and could bench press a Harley Davidson. He strode up to the counter like someone used to striding across the Dales.
“I will have a drink,” Eorl Brand hesitated and looked around at the shop. It was only half full but enough normals were looking with interested at the red-head towering over the counter. “Yes, I’ll have a drink, er, miss. Whatever you chose.”
“We have some nice teas?” Jasmine said. “We have Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Russian Caravan, Gunpowder, Green, Rose…” She caught his expression. “How about Yorkshire Tea?”
“That sounds fine.” Eorl Brand said. “And a scone.”
Jasmine bustled about as Eorl Brand looked around. He noticed Mrs Tuesday. “Jane Tuesday! I haven’t seen you since that business with the gnomes up in Swardale. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing well, Brand, better than you.” Mrs Tuesday said, grinning. “I’m surprised you can get here after the way Lady Freydis went after you.”
“I’d forgotten how lively she is.” Eorl Brand smiled back at her. “I admit it, she bested me. And I don’t hold that against her. Join me, Jane?”
“Why not. Jasmine can cope.” Mrs Tuesday took a cuppa with her, keeping an eagle eye on the queue.
“I’m fine!” Jasmine said, “And Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader will be here in a minute.”
“And then perhaps you can have a drink with your lover.” Eorl Brand said, taking his tray of tea things and sinking into a chair, laughing as Jasmine blushed again. Then he caught a glimpse through to the back room. “Jane!” he bellowed, and then looked around quickly. “Jane,” he lowered his voice, “There’s an imp in the back room stroking a skeletal hand disguised as a cat.”
“There’s a lot going on in York that you wouldn’t think.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You spend so much time in your domain in the Dales that you’ve lost touch about the modern world.” She looked a little sad. “It’s hard to keep up.”
“I can see that.” Eorl Brand said, looking around the shop. “But I see that Lady Freydis keeps her standards up. I can tell the work of brownie cleaners.” He took a mouthful of tea. “But it is indeed different from my halls.” He clasped Mrs Tuesday’s hand. “Why don’t I take you to dinner tonight? You can tell all the tales of this place, and what brought you to Yorkshire. It will be like old times.”
“I tell you what, I’ll cook us something good and we can eat in private upstairs.” Mrs Tuesday smiled. “We won’t have to worry about being overheard.” She looked up. “I have to go, Brand, a coach party have just arrived and we’re going to get busy.”
As Mrs Tuesday bustled behind the counter, Eorl Brand leaned over to Darren. He ignored Egerton’s flinch and muttered, “What does a gentleman bring when invited to dinner, Father? I mean, apart from flowers?”
Darren took a moment to look down at his tea and gather his wits. Now he was being asked to advise on how to charm an elderly, terrifying boggart. “Perhaps a bottle of wine, although I think Mrs Tuesday brews her own.”
“She always was a resourceful boggart.” Eorl Brand said. “Thank you, Father.”
“Just call me Darren.” Darren said to Eorl Brand’s back as he leapt to his feet and strode towards the door, the coach party crowd parting before him.
Jack sauntered over to Darren. “Perhaps you can advise me, padre. I wonder if I should tell Lady Freydis that she has a rival in Mrs Tuesday.”
Darren looked over at the shivering Egerton, and then back at the grinning Jack. “Proverbs, 26:20. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Egerton has some work to do back at the vicarage.”
Lady Freydis sat perched next to Martin on the Pikeing Well, looking across the River Ouse to Rowntree Park. The sun was setting and the cold October damp was falling. “Brand is eating dinner with Mrs Tuesday tonight. I believe he is bringing her flowers.”
“I never doubted his courage.” Martin said. He looked at the lights reflected in the water. “And Mrs Tuesday is one of the best to tell him how things are. They are very different from when he was last in York.”
“To think, I have a love rival in an elderly boggart.” Lady Freydis shook her head. “It is very depressing.”
Martin laughed. “If you took Eorl Brand seriously, perhaps.”
“He will stamp around and be loud for a bit before he becomes tired of the city and retreats back to his domain.” Lady Freydis said. “He has to look a little important so he has come up with this tale of wooing me, but he would not last a week with so many people around.”
“And speaking of people, we had better return to your court.” Martin said, helping Lady Freydis to her feet. “I’m sure there will be entertaining people there.”
“Of course!” Lady Freydis said. “We shall be present.”
For those vaguely interested but can’t be bothered to look, Proverbs 26:20 roughly says something along the lines of ‘stop stirring up trouble’, depending on the translation