A Great Reception

Fiona took a quick turn around the room.  The tables of food looked like an army had marched through them and paper plates were now discarded everywhere.  They would be finding edible glitter in unexpected corners for weeks Fiona thought to herself as she whisked up some cups from the top of a display case of athames.  It was interesting catching the snippets of who was saying what to whom.  Gavin Brown was in deep conversation with Steve Adderson about the practicalities of transporting live plants.  “It’s not really my thing,” Steve said carefully.  “I’m not very good with plants.  Besides, Armani seems to make them wilt.”

“I know that there’s a market out there for properly grown and harvested ceremonial herbs and you’re a known and trusted courier.” Gavin frowned.  “How bad is Armani?”

Fiona nearly dropped the cups she was carrying as a small creature crept out of Steve’s pockets.  It was a few inches high with wide, pointed ears, evil features, and a wide, yellow toothed grin.  He scratched his belly through the stained t-shirt and then pulled what looked like a miniature e cigarette from its dirty jeans.   Steve looked down with a resigned sigh.  “He’s bad.”

“Hmm.” Gavin narrowed his eyes.  “Imps can be a problem with the more delicate plants but there are ways around that.  If you could just guarantee the transport I’ve a great deal in mugwort seedlings that have been planted according to the magical hours and…”

Fiona carried on gathering up the plates and cups.  Lord Ragnar was deep in conversation with Lord Marius and they were both looking serious.  Lord Ragnar shook his head.  “The increase in Dragon’s Blood in Yorkshire as a whole is becoming worrying.  Are you sure you have no idea who distributes?”

Lord Marius looked grim.  “I can assure you, I have plans for them when I find them.”

The tone of his voice sent a chill through Fiona and she hurried past, scuttling behind Louise and dumpling the plates by the sink.  “You were absolutely right.  The food has been a massive hit.”

Louise looked smug.  “It’s the best advertising.”  She looked thoughtful.  “Have you thought of having ‘invitation only’ evenings when it’s just non-normals?  We could do one once a month, put on food like this and make a big deal out of it.   Of course, we’d need decent security.”

“How bad could it get?” Fiona asked carefully.  Louise shrugged.

Fiona noticed Lady Freydis over at the fairy corner.  Against all odds the powerful elfen, married to the Prince, was admiring a winsome, pink, polyresin fairy.  Fiona took a deep breath and hurried over.

“Your ladyship,” Fiona began.  “I am flattered that you are taking an interest in our merchandise.”

Lady Freydis was wearing the glamour of a tall, haughty blonde with a model’s poise.  “It is just so exquisite.  I don’t think I have ever seen anything so wonderful, not in all my centuries.”

Fiona kept a neutral expression on her face as she looked at the fairy.  It was very, very pink, with a constipated expression under the foxglove hat and the butterfly wings stretching out behind the tubby sprite weren’t straight.  “I am honoured by your interest.  Of course, such things are usually picked out by the more discerning visitor.  Please let me make it a gift to you.”  Fiona had been well briefed by Kadogan.  The Prince and his wife had to be humoured at all costs.

“A gift!” Lady Freydis sighed and looked round at her companion.  “What a kindness.”

“Please, allow me to pay for this.” Her companion said.

“This is Mr Reynauld Baxter, a vampire.  He’s so indulgent to me.” Lady Freydis ran a manicured fingertip over the figurine.

“I’m very happy to give a gift to Lady Freydis – in fact, it’s our honour.” Fiona stammered.

“It is my honour to give gifts to Lady Freydis.” Rey’s eyes caressed Lady Freydis, then turned sharply to look at Fiona.  “But how can I give a gift if you won’t let me pay.”

Fiona looked frantically for Kadogan.  She wasn’t sure what was going on here but all her instincts told her she could get herself in massive trouble.  Kadogan caught her eye and came over.  “Kadogan, Mr Baxter would like to buy Lady Freydis this figurine.” Fiona said carefully.

“It is so adorable.” Lady Freydis said, “It has glitter on it.”

“Fiona offered it as a gift.” Rey said smoothly, “But I insist on being able to give Lady Freydis this.”

“I understand.” Kadogan said.  “Fiona will gift wrap this for you while I take payment.  Of course, there’s a substantial discount on gifts of this type.”

“I never thought an elfen could be such a business man.” Rey said as he watched Lady Freydis reluctantly hand over the figurine.

Fiona started wrapping it as Kadogan took the payment.  She would have known Rey as a vampire even if she hadn’t been told.  His dark, straight hair was cut short and the deep brown eyes were almost burning as they seemed to look right through the person listening to him.  He was tall and slim and the jeans and jacket he wore didn’t look casual on him but looked like the latest fashion statement.  She deftly wrapped the gimcrack figure in layers of contrasting pink tissue, then cellophane, then ribbon expertly curled and finally a pink and silver glitter bow.  Lady Freydis finally broke into a proper smile and tucked her arm through Rey’s as they went back to the buffet table.  Fiona waited until they were out of earshot.

“You charged him double the price of that fairy.” She said quietly to Kadogan.

“Yes, because he’s an idiot.” Kadogan said.  “Excuse me.”

Fiona watched Kadogan stalk off to join what looked like a heated discussion between Lord Marius and the head of the local werewolf pack, Kieran Latimer.  He was currently frowning as Lord Marius talked quickly at him.

“So Mr Baxter bought my wife a gift?”

Fiona looked up into the sea green eyes of Lord Ragnar and for a heartbeat was almost transfixed.  His eyes were cool and mocking and the smile on his thin lips looked dangerous.  She was suddenly aware of the apparent strength in his shoulders under the smooth tailoring and the light gleaming on his dark auburn hair.  She could feel her mouth opening and shutting but she couldn’t scrabble for the words.

“My apologies, Fiona Greene.” Lord Ragnar smiled.  “I know that it is not your fault.  Perhaps you can tell me what happened.”

“Your wife was admiring one of the fairy statuettes and I offered to give it to her, but Mr Baxter wanted the honour of giving the gift.” Fiona found the words tumbling out of her mouth and blinked in astonishment.  She had a feeling that she hadn’t had a choice in what she said.

“It is unfair to use those tricks on Fiona.” Kadogan came up behind Lord Ragnar.  “My lord, she is barely aware.  Regardless, I charged him double.”

“I am sorry, Kadogan.” Lord Ragnar held his hands up.  “And if you allow me to manipulate your friend it would set a bad precedent for the future of the shop.”

“But it would be incredibly wrong of me to oppose my Prince.” Kadogan said formally.  Fiona felt she was watching some sort of dance or play where the moves were too intricate for her to understand.

“I feel I ought to make a clear gesture, to show my regard for this establishment.” Lord Ragnar said.  “You and Fiona Greene are invited to join me and my court for a Reception next week.  Shall we say Tuesday at 8pm?”  He turned to Fiona.  “Dress is optional.”

For a moment Fiona could only gape at the elfen Prince as she imagined a half naked reception but then she saw the glint of mischief in those sea coloured eyes.  “I’m sure a quick wit is compulsory, though.” She said, smiling up at Lord Ragnar.

Lady Freydis was suddenly at Lord Ragnar’s side with Rey respectfully a little behind her.  “Have you seen the wonderful gift that Rey got me?”

“It is beautifully wrapped.” Lord Ragnar said politely.

Lady Freydis pouted.  “I hope you are not insulting the gift.” She said.

“Not at all.” Lord Ragnar smiled.  “I am complimenting the skill of Fiona Greene who wrapped the charming gift.  I’ve invited Fiona and Kadogan to a reception next Tuesday at 8pm.”

Lady Freydis’ expression hardened a little as she turned to Fiona.  “Don’t take Ragnar too seriously, darling.  He’s a shocking flirt.”

Once again Fiona found herself floundering.  “Your husband is a very charming man.” She said.

“Lord Ragnar is showing a great deal of favour to me.” Kadogan said carefully.  “Besides, Lord Marius wishes Fiona Greene to have a relationship with Steve Adderson.  He’s talked a great deal about it.”

“Why would Lord Marius want something like that?” Lady Freydis looked suspicious.

Kadogan and Lord Ragnar exchanged glances.  “Steve Adderson saved Lord Marius from an attack by a lich a few months ago.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I believe that Lord Marius feels that he owes a debt.”

“But shouldn’t he match Steve Adderson up with someone more glamorous?” Lady Freydis said.  Fiona hated her.

“I believe that Lord Marius thinks that they may have business in common.” Lord Ragnar looked bored.

“Rey’s taking me back to the domain now.” Lady Freydis said.  “I feel quite overwhelmed.  Besides, I can’t wait to put this beautiful gift on display somewhere.”

Lord Ragnar watched her cradling the over wrapped fairy as she left on Rey’s arm.  “I’m sorry, Fiona, but that figurine is not to my taste.”

“It’s okay, it isn’t to mine either.” Fiona said.  “But I have to cater for a wide range of tastes.”

“At least Kadogan charged him double.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Excuse me, I think Kieran Latimer wants to talk to me.”

Kadogan carefully steered Fiona to one side where the paper orders had piled up.  There were more than Fiona expected.  “I’m going to be busy after this reception.”  Fiona leafed through the top of the stack.  “I hope we have the stock.”

“I need to mention two things.” Kadogan said carefully.  “Firstly, what incenses have you bought?”

Fiona tried to remember.  The last few weeks had become a blur.  “I think we’ve got copal, myrhh, church incense and some benzoin.  I’ve ordered some mixes from the United States but they haven’t arrived yet.  Why?”

“We haven’t got any Dragon’s Blood?” Kadogan asked.

Fiona shook her head. “I did put an order in but they’d sold out.  I thought I would see how things went before I tried again.”

“You must not order Dragon’s Blood at any cost.” Kadogan’s eyes seemed to burn.  “We must never stock it, and if anyone tries to order it you must immediately let Lord Ragnar and I know.  It is vital that you realise this.”

“Of course.” Fiona tried to make sense of it.  “Why?”

“Vampires become addicted to feeding from normals who have inhaled Dragon’s Blood incense.” Kadogan shrugged.  “It doesn’t end well and causes much disorder which would upset Lord Ragnar.”

Fiona nodded.  “Okay, no Dragon’s Blood.”  She had a feeling that there was a lot more to it than that, but she didn’t think she was going to get much more from Kadogan.

Kadogan shifted uneasily.  “You are aware that we have taken a great many orders.”

“Yes.” Fiona started counting through them.

Kadogan put a hand on top of the pile, interrupting her.  “And we have an internet presence, website, shop and links to large internet marketplaces.” He said.

“Yes.” Fiona wondered where this was going.

“And Louise made a very good suggestion about regular non normal meetings.  Lord Ragnar is in favour and several have already asked about loyalty cards.”

“Yes.” Fiona looked carefully at Kadogan.

“And we have established that it is best that you deal with normals rather than myself and the café could end up considerably busier than Louise could manage and while Dave Kinson is in the building he doesn’t work for us and he is, in fact, independent and will not help if things are busy, even though he was helpful this morning.”

“Who have you hired?” Fiona asked.

Kadogan frowned.  “Have you been taking lessons from Dave Kinson in reading people?”

“No, but I can make some good guesses.  Who is she?”

“He’s a he.” Kadogan shuffled through the papers.  “Why would anyone want an order of three kilos of lavender flowers?”

“I don’t know but they get a discount for bulk.  So – who is he?”

“Who’s who?” Kadogan looked guilty.

“Who have you hired?”

“It is a very sad story.” Kadogan said.  “It is very sad indeed, although it is entirely his own fault but he should really have known.  After all, it wasn’t the right thing to do.  But when all is said and done, we do have to think of what’s best for everyone in general and I’ve never known it end well but I’m sure that with the right support it can be different this time.”

“I’m going to ask Lord Marius.” Fiona took one step before Kadogan grabbed her arm.

“We need to be sort of discreet and Kieran Latimer knows anyway and of course Lord Marius knows as he passed on the request from Lord Edvard in Huddersfield, and Lord Ragnar is in agreement as he thinks that it will be an interesting experiment and of course I’m sure you won’t be in any danger.” Kadogan looked twitchier than ever.  “Should I clear some of the plates?”

“I think Louise can cope with the plates.” Fiona pulled her arm away and tried to catch Kadogan’s eye.  “What is going on?”

“There’s a young werewolf that got expelled from his pack after summoning a demon, which could happen to anyone, really.”  Kadogan refused to look Fiona in the face.  “He can stay here, help with heavy things, make himself useful and he’s more likely to stay, well…” Kadogan’s voice trailed off as he searched for the words.  “Werewolves expelled from the pack can go…”  Kadogan waved his hands expressively.  “A werewolf without a pack isn’t a good thing.  They can get feral, less able to be human.  Lord Edvard thought that if Ian Tait was with us and in a sympathetic environment then he was more likely to stay within the law.”

Fiona was beginning to catch on to how these things work.  “Who does Lord Edvard owe the favour to?”

“He definitely owes the favour to us.” Kadogan said.  “And he’ll be very straightforward about it. He’s a vampire.”

“Umm.” Fiona took a deep breath.  “So we are going to have a potential violent and out of control werewolf living here in the White Hart?” She said.

“You’ll be fine.” Kadogan said, squaring up the stack of orders.

As Fiona struggled to find the right words to express her concern she became aware of a spreading silence.  Sir Ewan had returned and his hard face looked pale and drawn.  He walked slowly over to Lord Ragnar and bowed slightly but respectfully.

“Lord Ragnar, I have sad news.  Our paladin has died.  Callum Allbright passed last night.”

“Please accept my sincere condolences and please let me know when the funeral will be held.  I am sure I am not the only one of my court that wishes to pay their respects.  Callum Allbright was a good man.”  Lord Ragnar paused.  “Do you know who the new paladin is?”

Sir Ewan shook his head.  “We’re praying for guidance and keeping a lookout.  I’m sure it won’t be long before we know.”

“But the sooner the better.” Lord Ragnar looked around the full shop.  “I pledge the aid of my court to find and protect the new paladin until he is fully aware.” He looked around.  “And we start now.”

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