Love in the Winter’s Air

Photo by Esther Wilhelmsson on Unsplash

Ian was glad to get out of the cold and while the living room in Steve’s home still had a faint smell of paint in the air, the fire crackled and the chairs were comfortable. “I see the paint is still in one piece.”

Steve grinned. “Armani has been given instructions by Lady Freydis. It should last until the wedding. Only a few days now.”

Ian looked around and sank into an armchair. “Don’t say anything to Jeanette, but I sort of envy your wedding. Between being pregnant and all the stress, I think it’s too much for her, even with Adele and Jasmine helping her out. She was almost in tears yesterday over the colour of the tablecloths.”

“But they’re white.” Steve said.

“I know.” Ian said helplessly. “She’s always wanted white. They turned up and were white. I don’t understand.”

“You could ask Mrs Tuesday about it.” Steve said.

Ian shook his head. “I just hug Jeanette, tell her it will be alright and hope for the best.”

“The wedding will be fine.” Steve said. “The brownies are in charge of the catering, the guest list is mainly well behaved, Lady Freydis has decided that the weather will be crisp and dry and the house is ready for visitors.”

“I know.” Ian said. “I’m more worried about the stress on Jeanette and the baby. She’s looking really tired.” He looked at Steve. “Don’t suggest talking to Mrs Tuesday.”

Steve grinned. “It’s a last resort.”

Ian looked thoughtful. “It’s been a strain, but Jasmine and Adele have been wonderful to Jeanette. Jasmine has really come on.”

“She’s a good kid.” Steve said. “While you’re here, I could do with your opinion on a book.” He jumped to his feet and then paused. “Why are you here? Hiding from the wedding?”

“All the women have turned up at our house.” Ian grumbled. “Callum disappeared to the shop to do some stock taking and Trent said he had to go to the library to do his homework.”

Steve laughed. “Well, wait until you see this book.”

Steve came back a few minutes later with two mugs of tea and an old book tucked under his arm. “I found this in the lining of a chair I was recovering. It feels ‘off’ to me, but I’d like to know what you think.”

Ian took the book and started leafing through. “Well, it’s not a medieval grimoire.” He held the book up to the light. “But it’s old.”

Steve nodded. “It’s some sort of notebook, and it’s survived for years in the upholstery, but it’s the content. There’s magic in there.”

“The handwriting is appalling.” Ian said. “But you can read most of it.” He frowned. “This looks familiar.”

“A summoning?” Steve asked.

Ian shook his head. “It’s a trap spell. I don’t know exactly, but it looks like something to trap an elfen, or similar. Like the spell that held Jack.”

“I’m beginning to hate Jack.” Steve said.

“He’s not that bad, is he?” Ian said, flicking through the notebooks. “This is only one notebook in a series. There will be others out there.”

“He is driving me crazy.” Steve said. “I can really understand why someone wanted to trap him.”

Ian looked up from the notebook. “You can cope with Lady Freydis and Kadogan without too much trouble. You just go with the flow and divert them when you need to.”

Steve shook his head. “Jack is always hanging around Fiona. Look at that.” Steve gestured to a vase with a casual arrangement of hawthorn berries, dried roses and ivy set next to a cool window. “He brings in flowers for her, jokes around, and I swear he is flirting with her. Fiona won’t have it, but he is. Maybe I could use a trap spell.”

Ian didn’t like the dark look on Steve’s face. “He’s probably just trying to show his gratitude. Don’t worry. And Fiona’s not likely to get carried away.”

Fiona sipped her oolong tea and sighed. Darren’s vicarage was the opposite of every vicarage in films or books. It was clean, uncluttered and, even in winter, filled with lots of light. There were no sooty open fires, no dust trap coving, and no draughty wood floors. She loved her new home, and wouldn’t swap it for anything, but Darren’s study was a nice change. “Jasmine adores you.”

Darren hunched over his glass of water. “It all comes down to one basic fact. I’m too old for her. She hasn’t had the chance to find out what she really wants.”

“I think a year of living on the streets gave her plenty of opportunities.” Fiona said. “She doesn’t want to look elsewhere.” She took a deep breath. “Yes, there has been discussion of this in the White Hart. Mrs Tuesday will stay out of things in general, but she has her opinions. And she thinks…”

Darren held up a hand. “I don’t think I can bear to hear this.” He said quietly.

Fiona placed her mug down on the glass coaster. “You have to hear this. Jasmine is beautiful, I mean, really beautiful, and she’s a werewolf. She could have men queuing around the block and down the street for her.” She frowned at Darren. “Let me speak! But how many of the men would really see her. She has had some tough times and has amazing resilience, but there are times that she needs reassurance. It’s a dream for a predator. But you wouldn’t harm her.” Fiona tried to gather her thoughts together. “If something bad happened to Jasmine, you wouldn’t turn your back on her, would you? If she lost her looks or got scarred from silver, I don’t think you would even notice.”

Darren shook his head. “It’s an easy thing to say, that you love the person on the inside, but Jasmine has such a shining spirit. I can’t imagine turning my back on her.”

“Of course you would be there for her.” Fiona said. “And if she went a little crazy after the years as a stray, you’d be there for her, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, of course.” Darren said. “That’s never the problem.”

“And if she went bad, if she needed to be stopped, you would stop her, wouldn’t you?” Fiona said.

“I’d do my duty.” Darren said, “But I would have failed if that happened.”

“And she knows that if she does get it wrong, if she goes bad, she can be stopped. It’s like a safety net for her, so she doesn’t have to be on high alert against herself. You wouldn’t be cruel, but you would be there.” Fiona took Darren’s hand. “Mrs Tuesday thinks you are the best possible thing for Jasmine. You won’t take any nonsense, you’ll always love the bones of her, no matter what, and you’re as gorgeous as she is.”

Darren looked blank. “What’s looks got to do with it?”

“Everything?” Fiona said. “People are less likely to bother Jasmine if they know she has a tough, good looking boyfriend. You’re like a layer of protection for her as well as the pack.”

“Ian’s not happy.” Darren said.

“Ian isn’t that stressed about it.” Fiona said. “He knows that you will look after Jasmine, and that she’s safe with you. You won’t hurt her, play mind games or cheat on her. You won’t break her heart. If it has to be anyone that isn’t a werewolf, it would be you.”

Darren stared into space for a while. “I would do anything for Jasmine, absolutely anything. I loved her long before the love potion. Life without her would be bleak.”

“Then don’t think about life without her.” Fiona said. “Just enjoy time with her.” She picked up her tea again. “Is that why you wanted to talk to me? About Jasmine?”

Darren grimaced. “I’ve been asked to make sure that you and Steve are okay, that you’re happy.”

“I wish the elfen would stay out of this.” Fiona said. “And I don’t think Steve and I have been happier.”

Planning Ahead

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Steve looked doubtful. “Are you sure?” He peered around the corner from the back room out into the shop. Jeanette was sitting at the till, checking some sort of list with Adele.

Fiona nodded. “Jeanette asked, and it seems the least we can do. They have had such a wild time of it, and I think Jeanette’s feeling under pressure from Lady Freydis.”

“Is Lady Freydis still furious that she won’t get a fancy Easter Wedding from them?” Steve asked.

Fiona nodded. “But a romantic winter wedding will help, perhaps. And Jeanette has enough on her plate with getting ready for the baby.”

Steve gave Fiona a quick hug. “You won’t mind?”

Fiona hugged him back. “To be honest, I’m sort of glad I don’t have that pressure on me. As long as I know you love me, I can look back and say that it was the perfect wedding for us.”

Steve remembered their wedding. Both of them had worn bedraggled clothes and neither had been at their best. Fiona was pale and still bandaged after the attack by Rey, and he had been suffering from the crash after using so much magic and running on such an adrenaline rush. Darren had worn jeans, but at least he was wearing a dog collar, and the middle aged nurse and the chaplaincy visitor had been visibly touched to be the witnesses. It had been intimate and loving, a solemn vow before God to love each other, without all the fuss and expense that Jeanette and Adele seemed to be dealing with. “It was perfect for me, because you were there.”

“You say the best things.” Fiona said. “So I said that of course they could have the wedding at our house.” She grimaced. “But that means we need to get the house sorted. I’m not sure we have time.”

Steve stroked Fiona’s hair. “Ian’s already sorted out the plumbing, so that’s not a problem. We’ve got plenty of rooms for the wedding party, and we can get it decorated in the next week or two.” He thought. “What are they doing about food and stuff?”

Fiona stroked his hand. “Jeanette said that Ian was insisting on brownie catering, and we can get some marquees in the garden. The grass is short enough.” She grinned. “And you won’t be doing any of the decorating. You’ve got that big deal going down in Cardiff.”

Steve groaned. “I can’t really miss it.”

“I know,” Fiona said, “And we’ll be fine. I’ll see if Dave will help out. He says he’s a bit quiet for the next few weeks.”

“Get the pack to help out as well.” Steve said. “In fact, talk it over with Ian and Jeanette. I think they may be very precise about how things are set up.” There was a crash outside, followed by a thump. “I think we had better see what is happening.”

They went into the shop and Lady Freydis was looking coldly at a tall, blond elfen who was looking confused. She picked up a battered brass teapot and handed it gently to him. “I refuse to throw things at you, and this is junk.”

“But Lady Freydis, I thought you liked junk.” The elfen took the teapot and looked at it blankly. “You have lots of junk, from Mr Albert.”

Fiona glanced at Atherton who was sitting at one of the tables and trying not to laugh. “You can’t leave that in the shop.” She pointed at a supermarket trolley filled with miscellaneous brass and tin knickknacks.

Lady Freydis turned to Fiona. “Do you know what Cameron said? He said that he’s brought tribute and trusts it will allow him to not marry me. Can you believe that? He says he doesn’t want to marry me! That is not possible! It’s reverse psychology.”

“Please take the junk.” Cameron said. “And while you are truly beautiful, I am in love.”

“You are always in love.” Lady Freydis snapped. “What is it this time?”

Cameron frowned. “That is uncalled for. I am sometimes in love with people.”

Lady Freydis avoided looking at Atherton who was trying to stifle laughter. “You give the elfen a bad name. What are you in love with this time?”

“I am no longer so shallow.” Cameron sighed. “I have found a special place. She means a lot to me, you know, and we have such an amazing connection.” Atherton fell off the chair.

Lady Freydis took a breath. “Cameron, when most people say that they have fallen in love with a place, they don’t usually mean in a romantic way.” She turned pointedly away from Atherton who couldn’t get up. “Where is this place? How have you come to form a connection?”

“She is a scrapyard, and I call her Rose, as she is so fair.” Cameron said.

“But it’s going to be full of iron?” Lady Freydis said. She looked at him suspiciously. “Are these stolen?” Jack had turned up and was laughing while trying to help Atherton who was gasping for breath.

“It’s okay.” Sir Ewan walked in with Sir Craig. “We were a little concerned, but it turns out that young Cameron here-”

“I am not young!” Cameron said.

“Mr Cameron here has been helping out the scrapyard over the summer with some maintenance.” Sir Ewan said. “They paid him a fair amount, and gave him a discount on some…” He trailed off and looked at the trolley.

“It’s tribute and a chance to explain to the beautiful Lady Freydis that I am not available for romance.”

“Is he alright?” Sir Craig said, looking at Atherton rolling on the floor in hysterics. “The scrapyard looked lovely, by the way, very artistic, even at this time of year.”

Fiona knew that the elfen could amazing things with plants, if they wanted to be bothered. “Where is this scrapyard? I’m sure it looks beautiful.” She caught sight of Cameron’s expression. “I’m sure she looks beautiful.” Atherton howled.

“There’s some most well kept thingy.” Cameron waved a hand. “And a magazine will visit. I don’t know the details. I thought it was the least I could do for Rose, and if the stupid manager was willing to give me money for it, then I was happy to take it.”

“You were trying to get immunity to iron, weren’t you?” Sir Craig said.

Cameron looked furtive. “Perhaps initially, but that was before I met her.” He sighed.

“Just take this stuff away.” Fiona said. “It can’t stay in the shop.”

“Too late.” Cameron said. “It is given as tribute.”

“Can I tell Callum that we’re putting some stuff from a scrapyard in warehouse?” Mrs Tuesday said innocently. “I just want to see his little face.”

“He’s a little stressed with the wedding.” Fiona said. “Perhaps we should let him get on with it. You know what Adele’s family can be like.”

Mrs Tuesday looked past the trolley. “Jason! You managed to get here!”

Steve looked over to a dangerous looking man who had just come in. He was tall, broad shouldered and his eyes were a lot older than his face. Mrs Tuesday bustled out from the café and gave him a hug as Sir Craig tensed.

Mrs Tuesday turned around. “This is Jason Keys, the one I told you about. He’s staying in York for the next few days.” She turned to Jason. “Where are you staying?”

“I’ve got a place in a B&B out in Fulford.” Jason said.

“I believe a lot of the places out there are run by werewolves.” Sir Craig said. “It’s probably not a good idea. Which one are you staying at?”

“I’ll be fine.” Jason said coolly.

“Why can’t you stay here?” Lady Freydis asked. “I am sure there is no issue with a good friend of Mrs Tuesday spending a few nights.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Sir Craig repeated. “Jason doesn’t always deal well with non-normals.”

“But Mrs Tuesday is a boggart.” Lady Freydis said, looking between Sir Craig and Jason.

“It’s okay,” Jason didn’t flinch from Sir Craig’s hard stare. “I’m okay with non-normals these days. I’m not a danger to the peace.”

“It’s not that.” Sir Craig said awkwardly. He looked around. Atherton had stopped laughing and got to his feet, ready to protect his prince. Jack was clearly assessing Jason, a frown on his face, and Mrs Tuesday was looking daggers at Sir Craig. Cameron was starting to edge out of the shop.

Jack broke the tense silence as he strolled over to Fiona and draped a casual arm around her shoulders. “I think Jason should stay here and enjoy Mrs Tuesday’s cooking.” He grinned. “And I shall stay out of the way so I cannot cause any problems. Perhaps I should I take a leaf out of Cameron’s book and sort out the garden of my Fair Fiona?”

Steve did not look impressed.

Some may recognise the name of Jason Keys, as that of Sir Jason Keys, who had a hard time in Digging Up the Past. I have made some small changes in the last few pages of the book, so Jason can continue to cause trouble. Leave a comment below if you need me to let you know about the very minor changes.

Happy Birthday!

v Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

Fiona approached the White Hart with caution. Anything could be waiting for her. Elfen had a magpie attitude to presents, so she could expect anything from a pretty feather to a diamond ring for her birthday. Kadogan had taken her digging for buried treasure one year, and last year he had taken her for a wonderful picnic in one of the corners of fairyland, where the sky shone with northern lights and the flowers had sang in the wind. She was sort of hoping he would take her back this year.

“Happy Birthday!” Mrs Tuesday called as Fiona sidled in. “Come and get your presents before the shop opens.”

Fiona felt hugged as she opened the gifts. Adele and Callum had got her some fancy soaps in her favourite rose scent, Jeanette had knitted her a gorgeous woollen shawl in a cascade of blues and greens from her and Ian, and Mrs Tuesday had bought her a pair of woolly slippers.

“I know it’s going to be cold in that new house of yours, and I can’t knit for toffee.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You’ll need something to keep your feet warm.”

Jasmine handed over her package. “What did Steve get you?”

Fiona opened the box set of her favourite series. “Thank you, this is perfect.” She concentrated on opening the card. “Steve has been busy for the last few weeks, so he said he’d make it up to me later.”

“I know he adores you,” Lady Freydis said. “And I am confident that a wonderful gift will soon be in your hands.” She handed over a large bag of ribbons. “You could use these in your cards, of course, but you could just keep the bag as it is.”

Fiona held the bag up to the light. It was such an elfen gift, with strand after strand of ribbon in all shades and widths. Some lengths sparkled with glitter or gleamed in the shop light. Some were soberly matt, twined with iridescent and transparent ribbon. “It’s beautiful.”

“I called in at that shop in Coppergate and asked the lovely people there for a yard of every type they had, in a bag.” Lady Freydis sniffed. “They only did metres.”

Fiona wondered if she was catching something from the elfen as there was something fascinating about turning the bag and seeing the colours intertwining. There had to be hundreds of metres of ribbon in there. The shop assistants must have hated Lady Freydis. “I think I’ll keep it just as it is.” She looked around. “I’m going to put these in the back, because we need to get decorating. We’re probably the last shop in York that hasn’t got their Christmas decorations up.”

Lady Freydis frowned. “It is inappropriate.” She grumbled. “And far too early. We are still in November.”

“I know, but some shops had their decorations up in September.” Fiona said. She gathered her presents. “I’ll leave these here for a second and go down to the warehouse and get the decorations. It’s going to be a nuisance for the brownies.”

“They’ll love it.” Mrs Tuesday said. “They’ll enjoy all the fiddly bits and you won’t even see a speck of misplaced glitter.” She glanced quickly at Lady Freydis. “But perhaps you should take it easy on your birthday. Callum can bring the stuff up.”

“But there’s loads.” Fiona said. “Steve brought some trees this morning and there’s about a dozen boxes of ornaments.”

“I agree with Mrs Tuesday.” Lady Freydis said. “It is inappropriate to work on your birthday. Allow me to make you a steamed chai, while Adele informs Callum of the needs.”

“I’ll go down now.” Adele said, and disappeared down the stairs.

“Steamed chai sounds lovely.” Fiona said, “But I’m looking forward to decorating the shop. I hope you won’t stop me doing that.”

Adele rushed into the warehouse where Steve and Callum were staring at Steve’s phone. “Is it here yet?”

“According to the app, it’s two stops away.” Steve said. “Those dwarfs from Bludenz sent it surface instead of airmail. It should have been here last week.”

“She’ll understand.” Callum said. “And it’s not like Fiona to make a fuss about something that can’t be helped.”

“But that’s the thing.” Steve said, closing his phone and slipping it into his pocket. “She’s spent the last few months ‘being understanding’ and ‘not making a fuss’ when she was getting really upset and I didn’t realise. I just wanted something special for her.”

“If it’s anything like the picture, she’ll love it.” Adele said. “It’s perfect for her.”

Steve pulled his phone out and checked again. “We’re the next stop.”

“I was reading online that some couriers don’t bother calling, they just mark you as out if they are too busy.” Adele said, then shut up when she saw Steve’s expression.

“At least the dwarfs said that they packed it well.” Steve said. “It shouldn’t be easy to lose.”

“There’s the van!” Adele said. “You sign for it. Callum and me will take the decorations upstairs and send Fiona down to you.”

“But it won’t be wrapped.” Steve said, panicking.

“If Kadogan catches Fiona crying over you again, there’ll be a war.” Callum said. “Go and get the damn parcel.”

Jack sauntered in later in the afternoon. The shop was busy and felt crammed as four trees were parked around the store and four more in the annexe. Fiona had employed a couple of young werewolves specifically to keep an eye out for elfen caught by the glitter. Swags of scented leylandii branches hung above the bookshelves and doors, with sprays of painted ivy leaves entwined and trailing between the swags. Baubles gleamed and twinkled and dark green and crimson tinsel was swirled around the cases.

“Happy birthday, my fair Fiona.” Jack said, helping Fiona down from the step ladder. “You have covered the room with boughs, but they will not last long in the heat of the shop.”

“I know.” Fiona sighed. “It seems a shame. But I have to respect the people who are coming, and most would prefer something natural. We’ll be replacing them every week.”

“I commend your diligence.” Jack bowed. “And it will be beautiful, right up until Christmas.” He looked around. “I am unused to preparing for Christmas so early. But enough about that.” He took the stepladders from Fiona. “Let us speak of your birthday. I have a gift, but not something that you can hold in your hand. It is a gift for you to experience. Do you remember you were showing me that card maker in your magazine?”

“Those intricate folds? Have you found a class?” Fiona asked.

Jack shook his head and grinned. “I found a way to persuade the lovely lady herself to give you an afternoon of lessons. I have her details.” He handed over a small but exquisite handmade business card. “Just say that this is the deal with Jack Green.” He smiled properly at Fiona’s delight. “Perhaps afterwards you could take your gift from Kadogan and go boating on a summer river.” He noticed the necklace. “Is that a birthday gift?”

Fiona stroked the delicate gold necklace with the single, gleaming topaz in an intricate, lace-like setting. “Steve got it for me.” She smiled, radiating happiness.

“Expensive jewels from foreign lands.” Jack said, narrowing his eyes, “And wrought by dwarfs as well. That is a chain that will never break.”

“It’s perfect.” Fiona said, as Jack nodded in approval.

Jasmine called in to see Darren as he was putting up the hymn numbers for the next service. She stopped dead as she came in and stared around. “What happened here?”

Darren turned around and smiled at her, before remembering she asked a question. “It’s Egerton. He’s been stress cleaning.”

Jasmine turned around on the spot. The church gleamed. The pews glowed with fresh polish, the elderly radiators for the rickety central heating shone like silver and the stone floor was burnished underneath the sand. “Why is there sand on the floor?”

“It’s to stop people slipping on the stone.” Darren said, moving back from the brass lectern that gleamed like pure gold. “Apparently they did it for horses at some point, to stop them slipping on the cobbles. That’s what he told me, anyway.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, even when the brownies have been working.” Jasmine bent down. “Even the undersides of the pews are polished.”

Darren walked up to her and gave her a hug. “You know that Egerton is supposed to serve us? Well because I’ve stuck up for him with Jack, he feels even more indebted. He’s cooking dinner for us.”

“Can he cook?” Jasmine asked, leaning against Darren.

“We are going to find out.” Darren said. “Did Fiona like the Box Set?”

“She did.” Jasmine said. “She told me that she had had an amazing birthday, and she’s going to a special card class Jack sorted out, just for her.” She sighed. “That’s an amazing present.”

“What did Steve get her?” Darren asked as they walked out of the church together.

“He got her a necklace from some dwarfs in Austria.” Jasmine hesitated. “It’s really beautiful, and she loves it, but…” She trailed off.

“Jack and Kadogan have already told me that Steve’s present wasn’t appropriate.” Darren said. “They were a little vague about his present, but very clear about me sorting out Steve and Fiona. They said that I didn’t have the hands to deal with any more, so I had plenty of time.” He looked at Jasmine. “What’s wrong with the necklace? I mean, if it’s dwarf made and from Austria, he must have gone to some effort.”

“That’s it.” Jasmine said. “Jack got her a card making class by someone she admires. Kadogan is taking her for a trip on a summer river. Mrs Tuesday got slippers for her, because she was worried about being cold and that’s why Jeanette made her a shawl. I mean, everyone got her something that was meaningful, but I don’t know how meaningful the necklace is.” They strolled down the vicarage path. “I suppose that’s what Jack and Kadogan are on about. They are worried about Fiona.”

“But Steve adores Fiona and Fiona adores Steve. What’s the problem?” Darren opened the vicarage door and blinked. “Egerton, that smells amazing.”

“I don’t think Steve sees the problem either.” Jasmine said. She smiled at Egerton, who was wearing chefs’ whites. “It smells lovely.”

“A Moroccan lamb tagine, with fresh spices.” Egerton announced proudly. “Served with couscous and followed by watermelon sherbet.”

“I could get used to this.” Darren said.

Getting a Bargain

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Jack sipped a lemon and ginger tea, liberally laced with honey. “So what made you start the shop?”

Kadogan perched on the edge of a table in the back room. “Fiona saved my life. Her heart’s desire was to own a shop. So I opened a shop.” He shrugged. “It was that simple.” He frowned. “But a shop is not simple. For example, the candles are very complicated. I am always checking how many there are and how many there should be and when the deliveries are due. I have spent many hours counting candles.”

“And those who work here are also complicated.” Jack leaned forward to peer through the doorway into the shop. Mrs Tuesday was quietly terrorising a young goblin who had left a mess. “They must take some organising.”

“Fiona deals with the people.” Kadogan followed his gaze. “Though half of those working here seem to have somehow happened by accident. Lady Freydis hired herself. I had no idea that the Tarot reader would be a paladin. I took Ian in as a favour to Lord Spike in Huddersfield, which led to the employment of Callum and Jasmine – both wonderful servants of the shop.” He looked down at his hands. “I invited Mrs Tuesday here to help with the relationship between Steve Adderson and Fiona. It may have not been a good thing to interfere in their relationship, but Mrs Tuesday has been a valuable asset.”

“I can tell.” Jack said. He looked around the well organised back room, with the meeting tables and stock cupboards, the scrubbed steps leading down to the warehouse and the slant in the ceiling that showed the stairs that went from behind the tills up to the Tarot reading room and the lodgers’ quarters. “It’s very well set up. Do you ever regret it?”

Kadogan glanced at the goblin, hunched at the counter and nearly in tears. “It has been most entertaining.” He smiled malevolently at some of the memories. The smile softened. “And there is a wonderful comradeship.”

“But there is the issue of the marriage between Fiona and Steve Adderson.” Jack said. “She saved you and she saved me, and she is unhappy in love. We need to encourage this Steve Adderson. Who is he, anyway, to upset our beloved Fiona?”

“He is the son of Lord Marius and an extremely powerful sorcerer.” Kadogan said. “I don’t think I know any elfen that could stand against him.”

“That complicates matters.” Jack said. “But we still need to take him in hand.”

“What if we get it wrong?” Kadogan said. “Perhaps a beating would be inadequate.”

“I would feel better after watching Fiona sobbing.” Jack said, “But it may upset Fiona, and could perhaps just make extra work for her with nursing and such.”

“Steve is in love with Fiona. It beats through him like a pulse. I wish that he could show this to Fiona.” Kadogan said.

Jack frowned as a ginger tom cat strolled across the floor with a limp rat in his jaws. “The padre promised to help mend Steve and Fiona’s marriage once the issue with the hands had been sorted out. I think we can consider the matter of the hands sorted.” He grinned. “I think we can leave this to the Reverend Darren King. Shall we go and break the good news?”

“One moment.” Kadogan was listening. “I believe that this is the Lady Freydis arriving in her van. It could be entertaining, and then we can inform Reverend King of his duties.”

Dave lay back in bed and listened to the afternoon rain patter against the window. Elaine cuddled up to him and he stroked her hair. “We are going to have to get our days off together more often.”

“Absolutely.” Elaine stretched next to him and then propped herself up on her elbow next to him. “And what are we going to do for lunch? We could grab a sandwich and get back to bed.”

Dave sighed happily. “That sounds like a great idea.” He reached up and kissed her. “I’m starving.” His phone rang and he swore.

Elaine fell back onto the pillows and stared at the ceiling as she listened to Dave’s side of the conversation. “You’re on call?” She watched with appreciation as Dave rolled out of bed and started dragging his clothes on.

“I’m always on call. And Luke is busy with that business just outside Kirkham Abbey with the barghest. They want me to get down to the White Hart as soon as possible, though I’m sure it could wait.”

“What’s it about?” Elaine smiled as Dave paused, t-shirt in hand, his hair rumpled and his jeans still unbuttoned.

“Apparently Lady Freydis brought in some stuff to sell.” Dave said. “And nobody’s quite sure how she got it.”

Darren got to the White Hart around the same time as Dave. “What’s going on?”

Dave looked at Lady Freydis’ van, backed up to the doors and blocking half the entrance. “I’m not sure.”

Fiona met them when they came in, wiping their wet feet. “It’s all Jack’s fault.” She glared at Jack who was grinning as he lounged against the counter. “Though I don’t think it was deliberate – this time!”

Jack shrugged with supreme lack of concern. “My sweetest Fiona, you underestimate me.”

“You just take credit for mayhem whenever you see it, whether you caused it or not.” Fiona said. She looked at Dave. “Lady Freydis is getting into a state.”

Jack strolled over to Fiona, swept a bow before her and kissed her hand. “You have such a clear view of me, your insight is penetrating.” Behind him, Kadogan gave him a suspicious look.

“I swear, it was a surprise!” Lady Freydis said, rushing out of the back room. “I had no thought of goods. And of course he adored me.”

“What?” Dave asked.

“Mr Albert.” Lady Freydis said, waving her hand. “I have the papers here.” She shoved a large, disintegrating envelope into Dave’s hands.

“But you said he had no family.” Fiona said. “So it’s not like anyone has lost anything.”

“My reputation is dear to me.” Lady Freydis said, glaring at Jack. “I do not defraud someone by accident.”

“Indeed, my prince, you only defraud with malice aforethought,” Jack said.

“Exactly.” Lady Freydis said. “And here is Brand.”

Dave ran a weary hand over his hair and tried again. “What?”

“We’re going to have to get that van moved as there’s a coach party due soon.” Mrs Tuesday said, smiling at Brand.

“I could lift it out of the way, no problem.” Brand said.

“Don’t do that!” Dave said hurriedly. “Besides, Lady Freydis has a lot of skill driving a van and I am sure she can park it with precision in the back yard while I look at these papers.”

“He could lift the van, you know.” Mrs Tuesday tried not to laugh.

“Perhaps he can demonstrate it on a van that isn’t in front of hundreds of tourists and doesn’t belong to Lady Freydis. I have no idea what she could do to the van, but I heard all about the time it got stuck in a tree.”

“I shall move the van, with skill.” Lady Freydis said. Jack watched with interest as Lady Freydis climbed into the van, twirling her keys, and then lurched backwards with a grinding of gears.

“I don’t know if that is skilful.” He said.

Lady Freydis stuck her head out of the window. “Jack!”

He laughed, waved a casual hand and Lady Freydis reversed smoothly at high speed and then shot around to the back of the White Hart. “What is life without a little danger.”

Brand winced. “She is not to be trifled with.”

“Perhaps not too often.” Jack said. He glanced again at Fiona. “After all, what is life without a little danger and excitement.”

“A pleasant change.” Mrs Tuesday said, putting out the tea cups.

Dave started working through the papers. It seemed straightforward enough. Mr Albert Kellet had lived for 102 years, had no surviving family and died, leaving everything he owned to Freydis Green, also known as Lady Freydis, Prince of York and could she get his flat cleared by next Wednesday. “It seems straightforward. What’s the problem?”

“I did not influence him to leave me everything.” Lady Freydis stamped back in. “I wish to declare before a Paladin that this was honest gain.”

“And nothing at all like that business with the Cliffords.” Jack said, lounging against the till next to Fiona.

“What business with the Cliffords – and who were the Cliffords?” Dave said, looking up from a list.

“That was before your time.” Lady Freydis waved a hand while looking smug. “I believe that the last of the family died out several years ago.”

“How many years ago?” Dave asked.

Lady Freydis and Jack exchanged glances. “It was several.” Lady Freydis said. “But it was before the railway came.”

“It was before Queen Anne died.” Jack added. “That parson was far too easily bought.”

“I didn’t pay a penny,” Lady Freydis said with a feline smile. “He had other weaknesses.”

“But it was the new faith,” Jack said. “Was it before or after the Siege of York?”

“I get it. It was centuries ago.” Dave went back to the papers. “There isn’t a lot of money, but there’s four storage units.”

“He liked collecting things.” Lady Freydis said. “He looked for the strange and the unusual, and sometimes he bought things because they were inexpensive. Sometimes he just bought to make contact with a person.” She sat down at one of the tables. “He had been to many lands, and fought in wars. He used his computer and would play me strange songs from far countries and tell me tales.” She smiled sadly. “I could listen to him for hours. And I would tell him stories of the Legions and the Picts and the Vikings and he would listen and marvel. I shall miss him a great deal.” She brightened. “But perhaps I can sell his collections from the White Hart and pay for masses for him.”

There was a brief pause while Jack and Kadogan had a murmured conversation in the background. Darren broke the silence.

“I can include him in prayers, if you like.” He said. “He sounds like a character. Do you know what wars he fought in? I can perhaps find out about his regiment and comrades for you.”

“That would be a kindness.” Lady Freydis said. She jumped to her feet. “The coach party will be here in seventeen minutes. We must stir ourselves.”

There was a slam as Callum came storming out of the back room. “Who the hell left those boxes of junk in my warehouse?”