“I must be getting old.” Fiona said. “But I can’t think of many better ways to spend an evening.” She stretched. “I have some amazing cava in the fridge, a large box of chocolates, I have my crafting supplies, you have your knitting and all we need to do is cue up a box set.”
“And I don’t have anything to worry about other than whether the yarn will stand the pattern.” Karen said. “No interruptions, no strange phone calls, no hassles – bliss!” There was a knock at the door.
“You had to say it!” Fiona said as she opened the door. “Oh, hello Freydis…”
Freydis strolled past into Fiona’s flat. “It has been three weeks since I visited London, the first coffee evening is tomorrow and then your anticipated anniversary party and you are not a mass of anxiety.” She looked at Karen. “Who are you?”
Fiona closed the door and followed Freydis back into the living room. “Freydis, this is Karen Doyle who is the wife of Mike Doyle, the paladin who is helping us out. Karen, this is Freydis, an elfen who is a genius with a coffee machine.”
“Thank you, I am skilled with the coffee machine. Why is Karen Doyle here instead of at the house of the paladin? And why are you not nervous?”
“Why should I be nervous?” Fiona said. “The brownies are doing an extra clean before the coffee evening, you have been practicing with the coffees and they taste amazing, Adele and Mrs Tuesday have sorted out the food and Jeanette is doing an extra evening at the till. What could go wrong?”
“I thought you were supposed to be nervous.” Freydis frowned. “Are you having a girls’ night in? Good. I could do with some female support.”
“What?” Karen stared at Freydis.
“I’ll get an extra glass.” Fiona said. “But we all need to relax. You have an important evening tomorrow where your reputation can be affected, I need a night away from worrying about Ian and Karen is finally getting away from being the Postmaster at the Village. So I’m going to put on a box set, you can sit so you can’t see the screen and worry about the coffee, I can craft the cards and Karen can knit. It will be just what we all need.”
“I suppose so.” Freydis pulled an armchair around so that she was safely away from the screen. “Also, I would like advice from married ladies.”
Fiona came back from the kitchen with the bottle of wine and an extra glass. “You were married far longer than either of us put together. What can we tell you?”
Freydis suddenly looked faded. The glorious gold of her hair dulled to a pale straw and the exquisite bone structure suddenly looked hollow and gaunt. “Lord Ragnar asked me to go to dinner with him.”
“Didn’t you used to be married to him?” Karen asked.
“Indeed.” Freydis sighed. “We got a lot of things wrong, even me.”
“What did he say?” Fiona asked. It was the first time she had seen so much colour leave Freydis.
“He said that we could just have a nice meal to talk about old times.” Freydis slumped. “And I thought pregnant women were no longer allowed alcohol.”
“I’m not pregnant.” Fiona said, opening the bottle.
“No, Karen is. Congratulations.” Freydis managed a smile. “It is much easier to have a boy than a girl, I believe, especially if the father is a paladin. They can be very overprotective of girls.”
“I’m not pregnant.” Karen paused with her glass held out. “Am I?”
“Oh yes,” Freydis was doing her best to be happy for Karen but Fiona could see the strain in her eyes. Freydis held out her glass. “Only a few weeks, but he’s very healthy.” She froze. “Didn’t you know?”
“No.” Karen carefully put down her knitting. “I mean, we were trying, but I didn’t think that we were…” She trailed off with a blank expression.
“I’ll get you some camomile tea.” Fiona said. “If that’s okay?” She looked at Freydis.
“Peppermint is better.” Freydis said listlessly.
“I’ve got peppermint but why don’t I get your wine poured and I’ll bring some sugar cubes in.” Fiona darted back into the kitchen.
Freydis sighed. “What have I done? The books all say I should be elusive and play hard to get. I said ‘yes’ straight away.” Her shoulders slumped further. “I have failed at detachment.”
“It’s difficult.” Karen had absolutely no idea what to say, so fell back on some old favourites. “I’m sure you’ll be fine if you follow your instincts. It will all work out for the best.”
“I was so jealous, and he never seemed to care.” Freydis wrapped her arms around herself. “I even endangered the court. What will he do but berate me?”
“Perhaps he just wants to talk things over,” Karen suggested. “Perhaps it’s an opportunity to clear the air and start afresh.” She was beginning to run out of platitudes.
“He doesn’t even like coffee.” Freydis said and started to sob.
“That’s not exactly true.” Fiona said as she came back with a cup of peppermint tea for Karen. “He came in for a latte and asked for you.”
“He did?” Freydis took a breath and a little colour returned to her immaculate face. “If he can drink coffee then perhaps we can be at least friends.”
“Absolutely.” Fiona said, pouring two glasses of wine. She had never needed a glass more.
“And if we are friends then perhaps he will not hate me.” Freydis said, clutching the wine glass.
“I don’t think he exactly hates you.” Fiona said. “I don’t really understand elfen, but I don’t think it’s exactly hate.”
“Our arguments have been spectacular.” Freydis said. “But we failed to unite on other things. I let him down.” She dropped a sugar cube into her wine.
“I’ve heard a few things about the argument at the White Hart.” Fiona wondered how on earth she was supposed to approach this. “It sounded intense.”
Freydis shrugged. “It was okay, but regrettably brief. We had other things on our minds.”
“Kadogan told me that you had not known that you loved each other.” Fiona pushed on bravely.
“Indeed. I thought he married me for power. He thought I was compelled to marry him by my father. We only found out that there had been love after the divorce. Our efforts to provoke jealousy and attention backfired.” Freydis sank lower in the chair.
“You were married for centuries. Didn’t your father say anything.” Fiona had never found Freydis less irritating. She exchanged a worried glance with Karen who was looking pale and oblivious to the conversation.
Freydis managed another listless shrug. “Father wanted a son. He didn’t care for me even if I wore a male glamour. I suppose he found it amusing.”
“I’m really sorry.” Fiona said quietly.
Karen visibly pulled herself together. “We’re not going to let ourselves get upset. We are going to have a girl’s night in. We have wine and peppermint tea, we have chocolates…” she gave a hesitant glance at Freydis who nodded, “and we have knitting. Well, I have knitting.”
“I have my card making.” Fiona looked at Freydis.
“And I have a book about coffee.” Freydis said, rummaging in her fake Gucci handbag and pulling out a paperback. She sat up straighter. “I shall be a strong, confident and independent woman I was when I meet Lord Ragnar, and I am going to change my name. I only used Freydis because he took a Viking name. I am going to use my name to define me, not him.”
“Good for you,” Fiona said, hoping that it was a good idea.
“I shall use a coffee name.” Freydis said, taking a sip of her wine and adding another sugar cube. “But I don’t think I shall use Latte. It would be confusing at the White Hart.”
“Umm.” Fiona nodded.
“And Filter doesn’t have the right ring about it.” Freydis took a liqueur out of the box. “Steamer also doesn’t quite have the feel I would like. What boxed set do we have?”
I thought we could work through the X files.” Karen said. “I’ve always liked them and it’s nice to have something unbelievable to watch.”
“I have not heard of them.” Freydis settled back into the chair, well out of sight of the screen. “I look forward to it.” She pulled out a small piece of slated and propped it against the box of tissues on the table. She muttered a few words and the slate started echoing the picture on the tv screen. “And we can consider what my next name should be.”
Fiona started laying out the stamps she was planning to use. “Sounds great. I hope the lads are having a good time.”
Mike rode the punch and rolled away from the revenant. The damn things were in a pack. Across the small carpark, Dave slammed against a car, swearing as the car alarm went off. Across from him Luke drove a stake into his opponent with focused determination and Ian swept the legs from underneath one of the taller creatures, tipping it to the ground. Callum was struggling, trying to keep two of the creatures away from his neck, his muscles bulging. Ian glanced quickly over, dispatched his with a clean swing of the stake, then raced to help Callum.
Mike regained his feet just in time to get hit hard from behind as a revenant slammed into his back, knocking him over. The claws were ripping into his back before they were yanked away and he rolled over in time to see Kadogan reaching in under the ribcage to rip out a shrivelled heart. This time he kept his feet as he stood up and raced towards Dave, still pinned against the car and his left shoulder once again at a strange angle as he held off the revenant with his right hand. Mike spun it around to face him and thrust hard with a stake, lurching slight as the suddenly solid revenant collapsed and the stake was in mid air. He glanced around quickly. The small car park attached to the disused warehouse seemed to be swarming with them. Luke was back to back keeping guard over Darren who was reading prayers over an unmarked burial pit. There seemed to be a localised gale buffeting them, but they were holding firm. Ian and Callum were fighting their way towards them against a growing wind. Dave was still on the floor, retching and trying to pull his shoulder in.
“You idiot.” Mike snapped. He grabbed Dave by the right shoulder and pulled him to his feet. Dave nearly buckled. Mike could feel the blood trickling down his back and he didn’t have time for this. “Callum, get the injured out of here.”
The young werewolf ran towards Dave, ducking under grasping claws and hoisting Dave over his shoulders, ignoring Dave’s groan. “I’ll get him to the White Hart.”
Mike kicked the revenant grabbing for Dave, connecting to the creature’s ribs with a satisfying snap and taking the slight loss of concentration as a chance to use a stake. He glanced around again. There must be nearly a dozen of the revenants in this small space and he was getting cut off from his friends. Darren was struggling on as Luke, Ian and Kadogan battled to keep him safe.
Mike ducked his head and ploughed into the back of the nearest revenant. It shrieked and turned, lunging at Mike and impaling itself on the stake he held in front of him. The ground was littered with old bones and gravedust and the wind was spreading out from the attack on Darren. Mike kicked the legs out from under another revenant before reaching his friends. It was not looking good. He braced and took kick to the ribs as he struggled to get a spare stake out of his pocket. He blocked the next kick and punched up into the revenant’s face. It was taller than him with dirty linen strips wrapped around what must have once been a brawny man. As the creature’s head snapped back, Mike took advantage of the dropped guard and swung in with a stake. It caught his hand and Mike winced at the strength in the grip. He knew better than to try and break the grip but instead stamped hard at the revenant’s knee and missed. Before he could try again, Kadogan grabbed the revenant mid spine and ripped it apart. Bones and gravedust clattered to the ground.
“They have a leader.” Luke yelled. Mike looked around and felt real fear. At the back of the group was something more than a revenant but less than a vampire. There was a red glow in its eyes and it was wearing what looked like robes. It was holding up a leathery hand and chanting. Mike glanced over his shoulder. Darren was still praying. Eddies of gravedust and the dirt being churned from the old burial site were whirling around his feet and Mike could see the strain on his face.
“We’ve got to push them back.” Mike yelled.
“There seem to be more every moment.” Kadogan didn’t seem to be intimidated by this. Mike envied him.
“Stick close together.” He yelled. “Don’t let them isolate you. We can’t risk getting mobbed.”
The next wave was on them. Mike didn’t have time to look along the line as he frantically blocked, parried and punched at the creatures coming at them, his stake stabbing again and again into bony ribcages with the bones piling up around them and the dust stinging his eyes and the back of his throat. Darren was struggling to get the words out. Mike could hear the force of will in his voice.
“Hang on.” The chanting stopped abruptly. The revenant in front of Mike hesitated which gave him enough of an opening to slash in hard with the stake. As it dropped, Mike could see a couple of vampires attacking the revenants over the remains of their former leader. Darren’s words were coming easier.
“It is good that you could join us, Miss Patience.” Kadogan said casually as he smashed the skull of the nearest revenant. “We were under pressure.”
“No kidding.” Mike said.
Mrs Tuesday came out of the room and shut the door gently behind her, glaring at Sir Ewan. “Dave can stay here at the White Hart for the next few days. His shoulder has been relocated but it will be weeks before it’s fit.”
“It’s not my fault.” Sir Ewan said. “Dave wouldn’t rest.”
“Hmm. Well, he needs to now. He’s going to have real trouble with that shoulder if he carries on.” Mrs Tuesday marched towards the kitchen. “Come and have a cuppa.”
Sir Ewan followed her into the immaculate kitchen. “I’ll make the tea,” he said. “No, I really need to do something.” He switched on the kettle.
Mrs Tuesday sank down onto a kitchen chair. “I’m telling you, the lad’s not going to be fit for a while. You can’t keep knocking your shoulder out. It loosens itself, and before you know it, the shoulder joint is falling out because you opened a cupboard the wrong way.”
“I know.” Sir Ewan found the teabags. “A doctor from Lincoln is coming next week to have a look.”
“I’ve given him some jollop,” Mrs Tuesday said. “And he’ll sleep for most of tomorrow, but after that, I don’t know. It’s not like the lad has anything to prove.”
“He has, you know.” Sir Ewan said seriously. “He’s been in all sorts of trouble up to now. He’s been a wide boy, a hustler. I don’t even want to think about some of the scams he’s been caught up in over the last few years. The only reason that he hasn’t tried to sell the Brooklyn Bridge is because he doesn’t live in Brooklyn.”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “He palms Tarot cards like a professional. There’s some biscuits in the red tin next to the stove. Put some on a plate.” She watched Sir Ewan search the cupboards for a small plate and put half a dozen of the home made peanut butter cookies out. “You can put a few more of those on the plate.” She sighed. “Dave isn’t a bad lad, and he has a good heart. He’s just waking up to things.”
“He’s been talking with Darren.” Sir Ewan said, bringing over the cookies and the tea. “I suppose he’s worried that he has a lot of stuff to live down. But this isn’t the way.”
“There’s a lot of that going around.” Mrs Tuesday said. She took a prim sip of her tea and nodded. “That’s a nice cuppa.”
Sir Ewan felt irrationally grateful for the compliment. The elderly boggart looked worried and Sir Ewan realised with a shock that Mrs Tuesday was starting to look frail. He didn’t want to think about that. Even though she was a boggart and could reduce anyone under sixty to an embarrassed puddle with a few well-chosen words, she was safe. You knew where you were with her. He guessed that she had a lot more than Dave on her mind. “How is Ian doing?”
“He’ll be fine once he finds a girlfriend.” Mrs Tuesday said, sitting straighter. “Of course, it’s hard for a werewolf that’s been thrown out of a pack for accidentally summoning a demon.”
“Do you think he will ever forgive himself for that?” Sir Ewan asked.
“I don’t know.” Mrs Tuesday said. “He’s driving himself pretty hard. But if he had a partner then he could settle down. He’s a good influence on young Callum.”
“How hard can it be?” Sir Ewan asked. “I mean, he’s solvent, employed and as far as I can tell he’s good looking.”
“He can’t just hook up with someone from a nightclub.” Mrs Tuesday took another sip of her tea. “Go on, have another biscuit. You’re another one with not enough meat on their bones. No, Ian is a sort of leader. He’s leading Callum and he’s got a bit about him, if you know what I mean. He needs someone who can keep up with him, someone with a bit of drive. He wants someone respectable. And someone with a bit of drive and respectable is going to walk away from him.” Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “It’s a tough one.”