Awkward Conversations

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“Are you sleeping with my husband?”

Fiona dropped the letter she was reading.  “What?!?  I mean, what do you mean Lady Freydis?”

“I am not Lady Freydis.” Freydis inspected her immaculate nails.  “I am Freydis.  Lord Ragnar is divorcing me and I am looking for the reason.  I suspect he is in love with you.”

Fiona wondered if she would ever get used to elfen.  “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said.

“I don’t know why he has been foolish with divorce papers.” Freydis inspected the nails on her other hand.  “I am an ornament to the court.  The only explanation is magic or he is obsessed with a mortal.”

“I haven’t really spoken to him, not since the opening here last week.” Fiona had a cold sinking feeling.  “I don’t really know anything about your husband.”

“He’s my ex-husband.  And are you sure you’re not sleeping with him?  How are your dreams?  Are they hectic?”

Fiona carefully folded the letter from her mother and slotted the pages back in the envelope.  “Freydis, if I tell you the absolute truth as I see it, to the best of my ability, you may want to kill me.”  She took a deep breath.  “But as an absolute and utter truth, I am not sleeping with your husband.”

“Does Kadogan want you to sleep with my husband?” Freydis was still inspecting her nails.  Fiona got a sense that despite everything, there was a very hurt woman, or at least female, standing there.

“No, Kadogan doesn’t want me to sleep with Lord Ragnar,” Fiona said.  “Kadogan would like me to date Steve Adderson.  Have you slept with Rey Baxter?”

“Of course.  He’s absolutely amazing and…” Freydis looked at Fiona with suspicion.  “Are you planning to sleep with Rey?”

“No.  I am not planning on sleeping with anyone.” Fiona said, a little louder than she meant to.  Over at the café Louise shot her a startled glance and an elderly lady with a shopping trolley gave Fiona a very knowing look before going back to the herbs.  “If I tell you my opinion will you promise not to hurt me?”

“Define hurt?” Freydis said.

Fiona put down her letter with a snap and stood back.  “I know the subtlety of elfen,” she said.  “I don’t want to put in conditions.  I am trying to be fair and honest and I don’t want to be worse off because I helped you.  If I say what I think, will I be worse off.”

“Of course not.” Freydis visibly braced herself.

“I think Lord Ragnar is upset because you are having sex with Rey and that’s why he’s divorcing you.”

“But he’s never bothered before.” Freydis frowned.  “And he’s not innocent either.  I mean, that one over in the café, I’m sure she’s descended from him.  There was a lot of whispers at the time.” Freydis’ smile had a feline edge.  “I was sleeping with this gorgeous young werewolf.  You should have seen him.  He was so muscled and handsome with the most beautiful brown eyes.”

Fiona looked over to where Louise had gone white.  “It was very cruel to suggest that Louise is descended from Lord Ragnar.”

“I thought she knew.” Freydis shrugged.  “After all, Kadogan has always run around after Lord Ragnar and it’s Kadogan that has helped that…” Freydis caught the glint in Fiona’s eye.  “So it can’t be the sleeping-with-Rey thing.”

“What if your connection with Rey is an excuse?” Fiona felt like she was reasoning with a child.  “After all, your father is dead and I believe that your father was important to Lord Ragnar.”

Freydis looked thoughtful.  “I know father always preferred Lord Ragnar to me, but I find it hard to believe that he has taken this drastic step without finding another lover.  Are you absolutely sure that you aren’t sleeping with my husband?” She smiled triumphantly.  “It’s a trick.  Are you having sex with my husband?  Copulating?  Are you emotionally close?”

Fiona had never been more relieved to see Kadogan in her life.  He strode up to Freydis and stood between her and Fiona.  “Freydis, what are you doing?”

“Is Lord Ragnar having an emotional or physical affair with that mortal?” Freydis said, waving a dismissive hand at Fiona.

“Not at all.” Kadogan said calmly.  “Are you here for any other purpose?”

Louise came rushing up.  “Kadogan, am I…” Her face crumpled and Freydis looked uncomfortable.

“I thought she knew.”  She picked up her bag.  “I’ll leave now.”

Kadogan looked helplessly at Louise who was holding onto the display case to keep herself upright.  “Louise, I’ll explain.  I’ll just take Mrs Tuesday upstairs and we can have a talk.”

Dave padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on.  Last night had been amazing but he was paying for it now with a foggy hangover and a few bruises.  He had gone out drinking with Ian and a few of what Dave had guessed were distant relations.  They had done a few bars then a club and then there had been the awkward moment at the taxi rank that had turned into a really good fight.  It reminded Dave of when he was hanging out with the squaddies from Catterick in the days before he realised that he wasn’t really cut out to be a soldier.

While he was waiting for the kettle to boil he wandered into the Tarot room to light a small incense cone.  He wanted to get the right impression.  There had to be a hint of exotic incense but not so much smoke to trigger coughing.

Dave lit the cone and looked around.  He needed to get some art work up.  The Seal of Solomon looked okay and was positioned nicely behind his head when he was doing a reading, but he could do with some extra pictures.  He looked around at the frame on the wall and nodded.  That looked about right.  He frowned and leaned closer.  Then he leaned back.  He tried closing the thin blinds and then squinting at the Seal of Solomon.  He still couldn’t be sure.  He ran down the back stairs to the storeroom and picked up a large, flattened cardboard box.  It was tricky to get it up the stairs and even harder to balance against the window to block out the light, but Dave had to try.

“Dave Kinson, you are standing on a chair holding a piece of cardboard box against the window.  Is everything alright?” Kadogan asked as he came past.

Dave jumped down from the chair, dropping the cardboard.  Behind him stood an elderly lady with a shopping trolley.  Dave was in the t-shirt and shorts he had slept in and the old lady was giving him the most knowing look he had ever seen.  He felt exposed.

“Don’t mind an old boggart like me,” she said.  “I’m harmless.”

“This is Mrs Tuesday who will be staying here for a short time.  We are old friends.” Kadogan said.  “Why were you standing on a chair with cardboard?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” Dave propped the cardboard against the desk away from the incense cone.  “But I think the Seal of Solomon is glowing, and I don’t know why.”

“Yes, I enchanted it for you as your enchantment didn’t seem to take.” Kadogan nodded.  “Though I am impressed that you noticed.”

Dave’s mind caught up with his ears.  “Boggart?” he said.

Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday exchanged glances.  “I never know what to say.” Kadogan looked helpless.

Mrs Tuesday took charge.  “Tell me what room I’m in and then go down and comfort that poor girl.  I’ll put my bags away while this nice young man puts some clothes on and I’ll give him The Talk.”

“I know about the birds and bees.” Dave heard himself say that and wanted to curl up under a bed somewhere and only come out when Mrs Tuesday had left.

“I bet you do.” Mrs Tuesday said, looking him over with approving interest.  “But why don’t you get some clothes on anyway and then we can have a little talk.”

Fiona winced as she heard a crash from the back room.  Louise had not taken the news that she was about one sixteenth elfen well and had decided to be doing.  However as the shop had only just opened and the brownie cleaners did an excellent job, there weren’t many fiddly jobs to do.  Kadogan had suggested she went into the back room and put together some gift packs.  There had been a lot of banging.

“I am confident she will be fine.” Kadogan lied.  “I will call Lord Ragnar and inform him of this latest development.”

“I hope she’s okay.” Ian peered through the doorway.  “Perhaps I should make her a coffee.”

“Make it decaf.” Fiona said.  She winced again but this time the crashes were from Dave belting down the stairs followed by an unusually agile elderly lady.

Kadogan brightened a little.  “Fiona, this is Mrs Tuesday who is staying with us for a while.  She is an old friend.”

Dave pushed between Mrs Tuesday and Fiona and poked Kadogan in the chest.  “You are a fairy.”

“We prefer the term ‘elfen’, but yes, in the past I have been described as a fairy.”

Fiona had a mental image of Kadogan with his short hair, masculine frame and no nonsense attitude wearing a pink tutu and holding a silver paper wand.  “I think elfen suits you better.” She said.

Dave turned to Fiona.  “Are you a fairy?”

Fiona shook her head and tried to fight the giggles.  “I’m a normal, like you.”

Dave’s wild eyes turned on Ian.  “Are you a fairy?”

Mrs Tuesday tried to interrupt.  “I didn’t say that exactly.”

Dave ignored her and stepped forward to poke Ian in the chest.  “Are you a fairy?”

Ian showed off his reflexes as he grabbed Dave’s hand before it could make contact.  “I’m a werewolf.  Grr.”  Dave punched him.

Louise came running out as it all got heated.  Ian rode the punch, ducked the second punch and then flowed.  Suddenly Dave was wrestling on the floor with a large wolf surrounded by a heap of clothes.  They bounced off the main counter and rolled towards the gift cards.  Fiona dragged the wrapping paper stand out of the way just in time as the growling, swearing heap rolled back towards the café.

“Don’t worry about it too much.” Mrs Tuesday said calmly.  “It’s been a bit of a shock for young Dave, but look at it properly.”

Fiona felt her grip on the wrapping paper stand tighten until she thought she would snap the metal.  Ian had Dave’s shoulder in his jaws, drool sliding over and smearing the floor.  Dave was landing solid kicks and slamming his knees into Ian’s side.  “They’re going to kill each other.”

Mrs Tuesday gave her an impatient look.  “Look again.  Ian could rip Dave’s throat out in an second, and young Dave is strong enough to break Ian’s neck.  They’re just letting off steam.”

The door jangled open and suddenly there were sixty shocked faces coming through the door.  Dave and Ian instantly rolled apart, Ian having enough sense to stay in wolf form.

“How wonderful, a coach party!” Kadogan said, stepping forward with a beaming smile.  “Don’t mind my associate here, he’s having a few dog training issues.”

Ian immediately sat up in an obedient dog position.  Dave scrambled to his feet, uncomfortably aware of the damp patch on his left shoulder.  “He’s a big softie, really.” Dave said.  “Come on,” and he jogged into the back room where Louise had already discreetly dumped Ian’s clothes.

“I saw the advert online.” The driver said as he watched Dave and Ian disappear through the darkened doorway.  “I thought I’d risk calling in as it’s quite early.  It’s a mystery tour and York’s our first stop.”

“Are you sure that dog’s safe?” One of the older ladies said from behind him.  “He looked very big.  And the owner didn’t have him under control at all.”

“We do an offer of a free tea or coffee with a snack for all coach parties.” Fiona said brightly.  “And do have a look around.  We have some unusual stock, you won’t find half of it anywhere else.  Please ask if you have any questions.”  There was a stampede towards the café area.

When the rush died down, Fiona looked around and wondered what had just hit them.  Ian was ringing in a tall stack of books, Louise was wrapping some muffins to go, Mrs Tuesday had found an apron from somewhere and was clearing tables, Dave had reduced three older women to helpless giggles next to the case of wands and Kadogan was explaining the full stock of candles to an interested gentleman with an overflowing shopping basket.  The coach driver put his fingers to his lips and whistled shrilly.

“Okay, everyone back to the coach and we can be off to York Minster, one of England’s medieval gems.”  There was a tumble of last minute orders at the till and then the shop was open.

“We’re going to need another till if we’re going to get coach parties.” Fiona said.

“An excellent idea.” Kadogan drifted over to the café with the others.  He watched Mrs Tuesday fill a large teapot.

“Thanks for helping out.” Fiona said to Mrs Tuesday.  “I think we would have been lost without you.”

“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday started filling everyone’s mugs.  “I may be an old girl, but I can still keep up.”

“I’m sure you can do more than that.” Ian said with absolute sincerity and a wary politeness.

Mrs Tuesday chuckled.  “I’m not that bad, young cub.  Louise, sit down before you fall down.”

Dave looked a question at Ian who sat respectfully opposite Mrs Tuesday.  “I’ve heard all sorts of stories about you.  You were at Stalingrad, weren’t you?”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “It seems a long time ago now.  A lot of us boggarts were recruited for the unofficial stuff.  I was wearing the glamour of a young Soviet soldier.  My Russian was rubbish but it was good enough for the Germans I crept up on.”

Dave frowned.  “You looked like a soldier?”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “It’s hard for boggarts to wear a shape that isn’t part of their personality, but we all had training.  I never liked wearing a male glamour, but it was useful.  Kadogan had it easier.  He was mainly doing sabotage as a nice, blond German corporal.  It’s where we met.”

“I couldn’t stay long.” Kadogan said.  “The elfen change when they are away from their own soil.  Some of the efrits out near Tel Aviv started out as elfen on the crusades, and if I had stayed too long in that place I would have become a leshy.” He shrugged.  “It works the other way round as well.  I know some very well respected elfen that were born far away.”

“I feel like I ought to make notes.” Dave said.  He looked at Fiona.  “Do you ever get used to it?”

Fiona shook her head.  I’ve only really known for three months and I’m still working it out.  How about you, Louise?”

Louise was still pale.  “I’ve known about the elfen for a long time,” she said.  “I’m still taken by surprise sometimes.”

The bell jangled as the door opened.  Fiona looked up and smiled.  “Hello Steve.”

“Steve Adderson, this is Mrs Tuesday.  Mrs Tuesday, this is Steve Adderson.” Kadogan looked smug.  “Steve Adderson was cruelly rejected by his girlfriend and Fiona Greene was also cruelly rejected by a man that took advantage of her good nature.  I think they would make a perfect couple.”

Louise stood up quickly and ran behind the counter, clattering the cups to try and hide a snort of laughter.  Fiona felt her face set like a mask.  “Steve and I are going to discuss some business over lunch,” she said with what shreds of dignity she could hold together.

“I have spoken to a friend of mine.” Kadogan said.  “He has kindly reserved a table for you in his restaurant.”  He pushed a card into Steve’s unresisting hand.  “Just hand this to the waiter and they will take great care of you.  I selected the wine myself.”

“I’ve seen a picture of Elaine.” Mrs Tuesday said unexpectedly.  “She was absolutely stunning.  Of course, she’ll be regretting splitting now.”

“What?” Steve said.

“Well, you’re making the money now.  Same as Fiona.  I wouldn’t be surprised if her young man doesn’t come sniffing back when he hears about her successful business.”

“It’s only been open a week.” Fiona stared at Mrs Tuesday.

“He won’t want to miss out on a chance to get his feet under the table, you listen to an old woman.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And I’m sure a strong lad like him will be able to help out.” Her hand shot out with snake like speed and grabbed Kadogan’s arm before he could say anything.

“I don’t think this is his sort of thing.” Fiona looked around blankly.  “I’d better get my coat.”

“I have even arranged for a place for Armani to stay, so you can be private.” Kadogan said, giving Mrs Tuesday a hard look.

“Are you sure?” Steve said.  “He’s not really housetrained.”

Armani crawled out of Steve’s jacket pocket and looked at Kadogan.  Kadogan glared at the imp.  “I’ll be no trouble at all,” the imp said, wiping it’s bat-like nose on the sleeve of the tiny sweatshirt.  “I’m on my best behaviour.”  He stretched his leathery wings and flapped over to sit on Kadogan’s shoulder.  “I’ll be a credit to you.”

Steve looked sceptical but nodded.  He checked the address on the card.  “We won’t be long.”

“Take as long as you like.” Kadogan said smugly.

After the door had jangled closed behind them Kadogan turned to Mrs Tuesday.  “You’re supposed to be helping me get them together,” he snapped.

Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “You’re going about it all wrong.  You need to trust an old woman here.  You and Lord Marius have told them both it’s a great idea and they’ve backed right off.  You can’t push them.  It’s human nature.”

Kadogan frowned.  “How else are they supposed to end up married?”

“You can’t rush it.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She took Kadogan’s arm and steered him out of earshot of the others.  “They need to think it’s their own idea or it won’t last.  Any hint that it isn’t real and they’ll fall apart at the first problem.  If they think it’s them against the world then they can go through fire.”

“Are you sure about this?” Kadogan glared at Armani who was trying to steal the till roll.  Armani ostentatiously backed away.

“There’s an old rhyme.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It goes, ‘He was warned against the woman, she was warned against the man and if that can’t make a marriage then there’s nothing else that can.  I’ve seen it again and again.  But you’ll have to be clever about it.  We can talk about it properly after we get the imp out of the way.”

Armani furled his wings around himself and looked worried.

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