Making Room

“We can’t wait any longer.” Steve said.  He looked at Fiona.  “It’s bedlam.”

Fiona nodded.  The café was packed beyond belief as far too many elfen were hanging around, mesmerised as they watched Lady Freydis creating lattes, cappuccinos, mochaccinos and all the rest of the range of the barista’s art.  “We’re making a lot of money on this.”

Steve wondered if that was part of Lady Freydis’ plan.  Elfen could be strange when it came to obligations and the White Hart had stood with her when she was at her lowest.  Profits on the café were significantly up.  “The trouble is, Kadogan isn’t here.  No-one has seen him or Suzuki for the last three months.  We can’t ask him what he thinks.”

“He didn’t have many ideas when we first set this up.” Fiona said.  “He left most of the decisions to me.  I never thought that having a café area would cause so many issues.” She watched Lady Freydis smile as she created another latte for a bewildered tourist before handing over to Jasmine and wandering over.

“I shall create a domain.” Lady Freydis said.  “It will not take long.”

“No.” Steve said.  “No magical realms.”

“It would be a small, self contained room, just through a curtain.” Freydis watched Egerton squeezing his way past some worried looking brownies and into space before he could get to the spices.  “In fact, it could be quite a large space and we could expand considerably.  I believe that there is sometimes barely room for the knit and knatter group.”

“No fairy kingdoms.” Steve said.  “Not everyone who comes here has even heard of non normals.  Christmas isn’t far off and then York will be crammed.  Tourists won’t come in here for the books or the incense.  They won’t even come in for the cards and the gift wrap, though they’ll probably pick up a few bits from the ornaments as presents.  Instead they will come in here because their feet are hurting and they are desperate for anywhere they can sit down for a coffee.  We can’t let them wander into magical areas.”

“Why not?” Lady Freydis asked.  “I’ve seen the extra bookings you have taken on the run up to Halloween, the ornaments and gift shop part will do very well over Christmas, as I believe it did last year, we need even more space now that Mrs Tuesday is getting spices sent wholesale from those charming jinn over in Dubai and I saw the catalogue that the book companies sent and we could be stocking double the number of titles.  I could just move the café seating into a separate area.”

“How did you see the catalogue?” Fiona asked.  “It was in an email.  Can you look at computer screens?”

Lady Freydis looked smug.  “I came up with a little cantrip.  I had to do something because of the van’s satnav.  The screen was quite an issue and I became stuck in a lane up on Nidderdale.” She frowned.  “I suppose I ought to put the wall back to what it was, but I think there are far too many rigid things around and sometimes a slight change makes all the difference.”

“What did you do to the wall?” Steve asked.

Fiona interrupted.  “We can’t run a coffee machine in a fairy world.  It wouldn’t work.”

Lady Freydis frowned.  “But you can have the machines at the entrance on this side, then the vast seating space would be through a beaded curtain.”

“No.” Steve said.

“How about a lace curtain?” Lady Freydis said.

There were times when Steve hated dealing with his father’s kin.  “We can’t risk upsetting the normals.  York is confusing enough as it is.”

“Thank you.” Lady Freydis said.  “They would not know the difference.  I have created such things many times and have been successful in hiding the nature of the rooms.”

Steve narrowed his eyes.  “Really?  And why did you make these rooms?”

“I can match the décor perfectly.” Lady Freydis said.  “And you would have space for, say, three score more seats.  That is the usual capacity of a coach, is it not?”

Steve hesitated.  This was how the elfen got you.  They offered an apparently reasonable idea, danced around with all sorts of distractions, like an altered wall in Nidderdale, then sprang something completely different on you.  Steve was sure that Lady Freydis had done something dreadful to one of the dry stone walls up there, but was equally sure that she had mentioned it as a distraction.  She was his Prince and she could order the creation of this extra room but was at least being polite about this, which was something.  But why was she offering?  Steve had learned to be deeply suspicious of elfen gifts.  “What’s the price?”

“That’s a blunt question.” Lady Freydis said.  “I appreciate it.  I will create a domain and you will give free tea or plain coffee to anyone who shows my token.” She smiled up at Steve.  “I’ll purchase the tokens from you.  I’ll need about 200, and I would like them to be pretty.”

Fiona and Steve exchanged glances.  Steve shrugged.  “Make it space for 150, I’ll sort out a good deal on some wholesale tokens.  And no strange paths leading off to entrap the unwary!”

Lady Freydis pouted, but nodded.  “Agreed.  I shall start work tomorrow evening.”

 

“See, there it is.” Ian shone a torch at the wall behind the sink.  “It’s not rats.”

Darren peered over his shoulder, squinting against the glare.  “It looks like some sort of glyph or magical mark.” He pulled out his phone and took a picture.  “I don’t recognise it.  Do you?”

“It’s not a common mark.” Ian said.  “I think it looks like some of the seventeenth century stuff.  I’d have to check.”

The two men pushed themselves up and looked at each other.  Darren dusted himself down.  “Why were you called in?”

“Mrs Gittens thought there was a leak.  She said she kept hearing a dripping.” Ian switched off his torch.  “But she wasn’t sure whether it was rats.  It smells like there have been mice, but there aren’t any around.”

“What do you think?” Darren asked.  He looked around the well worn kitchen.  It was cleaned almost within an inch of its life, but the garden outside was overgrown and a loaf of bread was out on the counter.  He reached up to one of the higher cupboards over the counter and opened the door.  This cupboard hadn’t been used for some time and the evidence of mice in the moribund cereal packets was depressing.  “There have definitely been mice.  But you can’t smell anything?”

Ian shook his head.  “Obviously I can’t get into fur around here, but I’d say they were gone.  I can smell some sort of magic, though.  And it’s a dead magic.  That glyph doesn’t look life positive.”

“I’m not ‘sensitive’, but there’s something around.” Darren prowled around the kitchen.  “It just feels, I don’t know, off.”

Both men spun around.  There was a delicate tapping on the window and a snick as the window closed.  They rushed over but all they could see was a skeletal hand disappearing into the autumnal undergrowth.  Ian looked at Darren.  “Follow that hand!”

The men shot out of the back door and into the overgrown garden.  It was long, narrow and had once been filled with vegetables.  In the pale October sun, the ranks of drooping runner beans and bolted cabbage made a dense undergrowth.  “We’ve got to catch it!” Ian started rustling through a stand of slug-bitten kale.  “We can’t leave it!”

Darren looked desperately around.  “I’ll start at the far end.”  He dashed down the long, narrow garden, skidding a little on the grassy path and nearly bouncing off the honeysuckle at the end.  “I hate honeysuckle.  The elfen always have the place full of it.”

“Look out for bindweed.” Ian was moving with speed, rifling through a row that was now just a mass of weeds.  “That’s a sign of the bad stuff.”

Darren pulled his hand quickly back from a nettle.  “Not nettles?”

Ian flinched back as a straggly frond of rosemary slapped him in the face.  “Don’t worry about the nettles!  Ugh, there were strawberries here.” He wiped his hand on a tuft of damp grass.  “Over there.”

The blackcurrant bush was shedding leaves but was still hiding something in the grass tufted at its base.  Darren picked up a discarded bamboo cane and poked cautiously at the small gap between the stalks.  “There’s something in there.”

Ian leant a little closer.  “I wish I could go to fur.  I can’t smell anything over the garden.  It hasn’t been tended for months.”

Darren leaned in closer, pulling the dried stalks apart, then quickly recoiling as two skeletal hands shot out, past his feet and diving into the shock of ivy overhanging the neighbour’s wall, one making a rude gesture just before it slid down into the woody undergrowth.

Darren sighed.  “Well, they’ve gone.” He peered at the nest left behind.  “Are these mice?”

Ian prodded at the sad heap with a twig.  “I think they were once mice.  Now they’re remains.”  He stood and looked at Darren.  “There were mice in the house, then there were those hands, then there were only mice remains.  Do they feed on mice?”

Darren ran a hand over his short hair.  “They haven’t got teeth.  They’re just hands.” He looked closer at the remain.  “On the other hand, they seem to have caught a lot of mice.”

“Let’s get back to the house and tell Mrs Gittens the good news – she hasn’t got mice and she hasn’t got a leak.”

 

Ian drew up outside the vicarage.  Darren took a breath.  He had been trying to find a good way to talk to Ian for months now.  “Ian, could I have a word?”

Ian looked at him suspiciously.  “Okay.”

Darren jerked his head at the vicarage.  “It may take a few moments, best to come inside.  We don’t want to upset the neighbours more than I have to.”

“I don’t know what they expected when they bought a house next to a vicarage.” Ian said, climbing out of the van and glancing at Darren.  “I mean, there are bound to be visitors at odd times.”

“To be fair, the drunken banshee trying to start a fight on the front lawn at 3am was probably not what they were expecting.” Darren said.

Ian laughed.  “Didn’t she apologise with flowers the next day?”

Darren nodded.  “It was a massive bouquet as well.  She didn’t mean any harm, it’s just that she got ditched by her new normal boyfriend and was going through some issues.”

 

Darren let them in and switched on the kettle, trying to ignore Ian’s hard stare.  None of his prepared speeches seemed to work.  “Ian, you should marry Jeanette.”

Ian opened and shut his mouth for a few moments and then nodded.  “I should.”

“So why haven’t you?” Darren didn’t look at Ian.  Instead he pulled two mugs out of the well-ordered cupboard.

“What if she says ‘no’?” Ian stared at the floor.  “What if she thinks I’m only asking her because of the werewolf thing?  What if she thinks I’m only asking her because she owns the house the pack live in?  What if she thinks I’m only after keeping her as pack mother?  What if…” Ian trailed off and took a breath.  “What if she thinks I’m still in love with Ann and that she’s second best?  I mean, I loved Ann, and she will always have a place in my heart, but it’s different with Jeanette.  Besides,” Ian shrugged, “It’s too soon.  Anyway, I can’t get married in a church.  I can’t give her a white wedding.”

Darren dropped the teabags into the mugs, carefully not looking at Ian.  “What if she thinks that you don’t love her enough to marry her?”

Ian watched Darren pour the boiling water, struggling to find words.  “Do you think that she doesn’t know?  I’d do anything for her.”

Darren shrugged and got the milk out of the fridge.  “What does she say?”

“We haven’t talked about it.” Ian said quietly.  “I never thought about it like that.”

Darren thought back to all the lectures and courses on personal counselling that he had sat through at theology college.  “Perhaps you should speak to her.”

“What could I say?” Ian looked blankly at the mug of tea Darren was holding out to him.  He shook his head.  “I think I need to get home.  I’ll see you tomorrow evening, for Bible study.” He closed the door quietly as he left.

 

Lady Freydis scowled at the wall, then sighed and turned around.  “Egerton, I do not need any help.”

“I assure you, Lady Freydis, I am merely here to assist you.” Egerton smiled and lounged against the counter.  “I wish to see how a master creates a domain.”

“I deliberately did not tell Steve Adderson that I would be working tonight.  I wish it to be a lovely surprise and also I wished to work without interruption.” Lady Freydis gently placed her hands together and then spread them, feminine and graceful.  Part of the wall changed and a green, swirling light reflected around the dark shop.

“I believe that the brownies who come to clean will be here soon.” Egerton wasn’t paying attention to the gap in the world but instead hungrily gazing at Lady Freydis.

“It will not take long.” Lady Freydis was stroking the air between her hands.  “Fiona Adderson told me that I could not have too many steps as many will be carrying trays and heavy bags.” Lady Freydis sighed.  “I love putting in stairs, especially if they twist.”

“When are you taking a consort?” Egerton asked.

A purple crackle of energy arced across the gap in the wall and Lady Freydis frowned.  “I still mourn Lord Ragnar.”

“But it is in our nature to change.” Egerton said.  “And the realms need a balance, male and female.”

“Things change.” Lady Freydis said, her hands still moving.  “I do not need a consort.”

“Lord Ragnar failed to listen to counsel.” Egerton said, moving closer.

“Touch me and I will rip your heart out and keep it beating on a string for a toy.” Lady Freydis said calmly.  “It has not been a full turn of seasons since we lost Lord Ragnar.  I will consider my position later.”

“The realms need the poles.  They need male and female, hot and cold, light and dark, black and white – you have to take a consort.”

“Do not try and force me to make choices.” Lady Freydis pushed against the air and then nodded.  “There is much of interest to be found in palettes of grey.”

“But not in fae.” Egerton insisted.

“Are you determined to prove that there is only room for opposites within the realm or are you merely trying to make an argument for me choosing you as a consort.” Lady Freydis stepped back.  The green glow faded and now there was an arch next to the coffee machine with warm, dark shadows stretching away.

“I would make an excellent consort.” Egerton said.

“And I will take a consort when I am willing.” Lady Freydis said.  She dusted her hands on her skirt.  “It is the time for the drunken students to be thrown out of the clubs.  I am going to play there.  Do you wish to accompany me?”

Egerton bowed low.  “It will be my pleasure.”

Photo by Agata Kaczówka on Unsplash

Busy!

“Where did everyone come from?” Jasmine said, wide eyed as she dragged up yet another tray of cans of pop.

“Just get them in the fridge, love, then I’ll need you to clear tables.  Where’s Callum?”

“He’s just gone for some more milk and bacon.” Jasmine quickly unloaded the cans into the drinks fridge.

“I’m here now.” Callum hefted the large packs of milk and bacon around the corner.  “I’ve got some more downstairs.”

“Jasmine will put those away.” Mrs Tuesday ran a quick cloth over the counter.  “I want you to bring out some tables and chairs from the back room and set them up here.  Squeeze them in if you can.” She smiled up at the tall man at the counter.  “How can I help you, Lord Spike?”

 

Jeanette perched uncomfortably on the stool behind the shop till.  She was still aching and bruised and while she had insisted on working, Fiona and Ian between them had insisted that she worked sitting down.  It was just as well as the shop was heaving with people.  The shop had only been open an hour and already she was running low on bags.  She looked around.  Adele was restocking the herbs, Callum had pitched in at the café and Steve and Fiona were helping Lords with their long shopping lists.

Almost every Prince in the UK had either attended Lord Ragnar’s Memorial yesterday  or they had sent a representative.  And they all seemed to have had the same idea.  While they were in York, they could call in and see what all the fuss was about at the White Hart.  Many of the Princes were handing over long lists of items to be shipped, but one or two were taking an interest in exactly what was on offer.  Even worse, one of the Princes had brought a shopping list from the members of his court and Jeanette suspected that more would follow.

As Jeanette watched Callum dragging the tables around and putting out extra chairs, she realised another reason why the shop was so packed.  Everyone was here for the gossip.  Suddenly Freydis was Lady Freydis and no-one knew what that meant.  People had been writing Lady Freydis off for centuries and now suddenly she was a power to be reckoned with.

Ian came up behind her and dropped a light kiss on the top of her head.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, honest.” Jeanette smiled up at him.  “But busy.”

“I’m just checking what I need to bring up.” Ian said.  “You need more bags and I’d better bring up a box of till roll.”

“There are a few here already.” Jeanette said.  The ledges under the till were still comfortably full.

“This isn’t the busiest it’s going to get.” Ian said.  “I’ll be back in a tick.”

 

Jeanette watched him walk around, noting down gaps in the shelves on his phone and dodging enquiries.  Her heart turned over.

“So you’re Ian’s girlfriend?” The man at the counter placed down a stack of books and a dog biscuit selection box.  “I used to be his pack leader.  He’s a good man.”

“I think so.” Jeanette started scanning the books.  “He’s very good to me.”

“I should hope so.” The man looked to where Ian was helping Adele explain the differences between Tarot decks to a bewildered vampire.  “I’m Mike, by the way, and if he ever gives any trouble, give me a call.”

“I can’t imagine him causing me any trouble.” Jeanette glared at Mike.  “He’s been a perfect partner.”

Mike laughed.  “I’m glad to see that he’s fallen on his paws with you.” He looked back over to where Ian was now quickly listing the gaps in the display of herbs.  “I’ve still got a lot of time for him.  How did you get the bruising?”

“A tree fell on me.” Jeanette said bluntly.

“Hmm.” Mike passed her a card.  “Seriously, if you need help with him, or if he needs help with something, give us a call.  We’ll be there for him.”

Jeanette packed the books and dog biscuits as she tried to process it, adding in the staff discount.  “Thanks.  I appreciate it.”

 

The morning rushed by.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader were called in to help with the lunch rush, Dave brought up stock between readings and, with the help of some teenagers from Kieran’s pack and a few of the younger boggarts, the shop staggered on.  Egerton had claimed one of the tables in the café and was effectively holding court to anyone who would sit next to him.  Atherton was keeping a close eye on him from the other side of the shop where he was loitering near the plastic pixies.

Fiona felt like she was losing her mind as the shop was getting more visitors but most weren’t leaving.  It was too tempting to hang around and catch up with gossip that was now rattling around visitors from Kent to the Orkneys and from Newcastle to Caerphilly.  Knots of visitors were hanging around the sunny car park and spilling out onto the pavement.  “I can’t deal with this.” She whispered to Steve as she passed him on the way to fetching a sample of their silk Tarot bags for Lord Lothar.

“I know.” Steve said, juggling the packs of wormwood he was bringing out for Lord Gwill Mawr.  “Oh no!”

The groups in the car park were scattering as a large transit van backed into the space, heedless of obstacles.  Steve thought he heard one of the brownies groan as a planter was knocked but his eyes were fixed on the driver.  “Who the hell allowed Lady Freydis behind the wheel of a van?”

Lady Freydis was half leaning out of the window and watching almost carefully enough as she manoeuvred nearer the doors.  There was a rush to the windows.  Very few elfen ever got the hang of machinery and, with the exception of Lord Marius, elfen preferred someone else doing the hard work of driving.  She caught Steve’s eye and waved, before coming to an immaculate stop.  She jumped out and opened the rear doors before beckoning to Steve.  “I have brought something perfect.”

“Stay at the till.” Steve said quickly to Jeanette before racing across.

“Behold!” Lady Freydis waved an arm.  “A coffee machine!”

Steve peered into the van.  “We already have a coffee machine.”

“But now this machine is for me when I make coffee in the mornings and Jasmine can use the shop machine when she makes coffee the rest of the time.”

“What an excellent idea.” Egerton said, coming up behind Steve.

“Hang on a minute…” Steve looked around the packed store.  “Can we at least keep it in the warehouse until later?”

“Absolutely not!” Lady Freydis said.  “Evan Tuesday and Ian Tait will aid me to move this over to the kitchen and you can add an extra cupboard next to the drinks fridge.”

“No, wait…” Steve watched helplessly as Evan and Ian manhandled the heavy machine out of the van.  “Lady Freydis – who taught you to drive?”

Lady Freydis waved a vague hand.  “It’s not that hard.  Please, place it gently next to the other Coffee Machine, so that they are in company.”

“Have you even got a licence?” Steve trailed after Lady Freydis as the crowded shop jostled and shifted to make room.

“Hmm.” Lady Freydis sighed as the coffee machine was tilted, turned and swung into place.  “I expect so.  Don’t you think it looks splendid?  It’s the latest design.”

Steve ran a hand through his hair.  Then he took a breath.  He needed to pick his battles and let Dave or Luke try and explain what Lady Freydis shouldn’t do to any police that stopped her.  “I’ll get it plumbed in as soon as I can, but as we are a little busy right now, it will have to wait, possibly until tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Lady Freydis looked around the packed shop.  “I wouldn’t interrupt this wonderful gathering for anything.”

“What about the van?” Steve asked.  Lady Freydis had left it parked directly outside the shop door and a few puzzled faces were peering around the doors.

Lady Freydis shrugged.  “I paid real money for it, so I suppose I ought to get enjoyment out of it.  What do you suggest?”

Someone had sold Lady Freydis a van? Steve’s felt a shiver pass through him.  But all the problems that could come from that could wait.  “I’ll drive it around to the back and park it outside the storerooms.”

“Excellent.” Lady wasn’t paying attention.  Instead she was advancing on Lord Darcy with an outstretched hand and a bright smile.  “How wonderful to see you before you leave.  I trust you are finding York pleasant.”

 

Finally the last straggler left for the journey home or the ongoing networking at the court of Lady Freydis.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader had left long ago, along with the cubs and kitlings that had been helping out.  It was just the White Hart crew, slumped at the freshly wiped and finally clear tables near the café.

Steve brought in a stack of pizza boxes.  “I thought we all deserved pizza.  Everyone help yourselves.  I’ve got some news to share.”

Dave looked up wearily.  “As long as it doesn’t take too much energy.”

“It’s okay.”  Steve started handing out plates.  “I wish Kadogan was here, but he’s been missing, so I’ve gone ahead with things on the understanding that if Kadogan objects then it all goes back.”

“Within reason,” Ian added.

“Within reason.”  Steve waited for everyone to get pizza and settle down.  “Right, first of all, Ian is leaving us – sort of.” He looked over to Ian.  “Ian is going back to his trade of plumber and setting up his own business.”

“It makes sense, now that we are settling down as a pack.” Ian said.  “It’s good to have more than one workplace.  Jeanette is growing her business as well, so while she will be here to help out now and again, she’s not going to be here full time.”

Steve nodded.  “Callum is taking over the warehouse, Evan Tuesday is taking over the post and deliveries, and Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader will be helping in the café part time on a proper rota.  We’ll also be getting a lot more casual staff in, some for just a few hours a week, others more regular.  We should be able to deal with rushes like today just a little easier.”

“Today was crazy.” Jasmine said.

“And apparently Jasmine is taking over as barista from Lady Freydis,” Steve sighed.  “And that means that mornings are going to be busy as lots of people call in to get an informal chat with Lady Freydis.” He looked over at Callum.  “We are going to have to expand the café.”

 

Darren stared at his laptop screen.  He was nowhere near finishing his sermon.  He ran a weary hand over his face.  Perhaps he was in the wrong job.  He always struggled with the basics.  The weekly challenge of sermons and visiting was wearing him down.  He had felt so inadequate at Lord Ragnar’s Memorial.  Most of all, he felt old.  He looked at the scatter of books on his desk and the swathe of open tabs on his laptop.  Perhaps a run would clear his mind.  He froze as he heard a knock on the front door.

Darren forced a smile as he saw Callum standing outside.  He recognised the tense expression of someone who needed to talk.  “Come in.  Tea?”

Callum shook his head.  “I’m fine, thanks.  I hope you don’t mind me coming around, but I needed to ask you something.”

“Sure, not a problem.” Darren said, hoping it was a straightforward theology question that he could just rattle off.  He led Callum into the sparse sitting room and waved him into an armchair.  “What’s the problem?”

Callum took a deep breath.  “I want to marry Adele.”

“Congratulations!” Darren relaxed a little.  “I can get my diary out and set a date.”

Callum shook his head.  “I can’t ask her.  I can’t get married until Ian gets married.”

Darren’s heart sank.  The ranks of a werewolf pack could be complicated and inflexible.  “Do you think Ian wants to be married?”

Callum took a deep breath.  “I think you should tell him to get married.  He’s reading the Bible and all that, but he’s living in sin with Jeanette.  That’s adultery, isn’t it?”

“Fornication.” Darren corrected absentmindedly as the horror of what Callum was asking sunk in.

“It’s just, he loves Jeanette, and I love Adele, but I can’t do anything until he marries.” Callum twisted his hands together.  “I can’t even hint to Adele until Ian makes his move.”

“Perhaps it’s Jeanette that doesn’t want to get married.” Darren suggested.  “It’s a big decision and shouldn’t be made lightly.”

“But they’ve known each other for months.” Callum said.  “They should know by now.”

“A wedding is a big expense.” Darren said.  “And it can be a lot of work.”

“I know,” Callum said.  “Adele’s sister is getting married next month and it’s been crazy at her house.  But if they at least got engaged I could say something to Adele.  She has no idea how I feel about her.”

Darren suspected that Adele had already picked out a practical, in budget engagement ring and chosen her dress.  “As you say, it’s only been a few months.  Marriage is too serious to rush into.  It’s a big commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

“Us werewolves know.” Callum said.  “You have to tell Ian that it’s time he got married.  It’s up to you.”

Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

Memorial

Darren looked over the packed church and felt inadequate.  So many of his fellow students in theology college had had the gift of comforting the bereaved.  He had been blessed with the gift of fighting monsters.  Darren was fine with that most of the time, but sometimes, when faced with such a packed memorial service, he felt the yawning gulf between him and the mourners, and it hurt.

Freydis was sitting motionless at the front, next to Lord Marius, Kadogan and Atherton.  She was worryingly pale, and Darren desperately wished he had the right words to say to her as the final hymn finished.  He sent up a quick prayer for help to join all the others he had said before and during Lord Ragnar’s memorial and, as the final hymn finished, stepped forward and concentrated on the blessing.

Darren led the procession out of the church and felt the mourners falling in behind him.  It took all his courage to keep his face solemn and his composure in place as he felt the wave of grief as he passed the elfen, boggarts, brownies and werewolves that were packing the church.  There were even more watching through a screen linked to the church hall.  The more important had found places in the church, overfilled and overflowing, but the lesser mourners, those who had been late and those who, for whatever reason, could not venture on to holy ground had not been turned away but gently directed to an equally packed hall.  He paused at the doorway to stop and try and find words of comfort for those leaving.

Darren was deeply worried by Freydis.  She was elegant and poised, moving with complete control over every movement of her body and every movement was deliberate and planned.  She looked like she could shatter like glass.  Her sober and modest black dress and unobtrusive veil clearly said that she was not here for drama and it looked like people had respected her wishes so far.  She was silent as she shook Darren’s hand, nodding as he offered her his sympathy and an assurance that his door was always open and then moving with curated precision out into the summer rain.

Kadogan was being supported by Suzuki who was holding tight onto his arm and casting frequent and worried glances at his pale and tear stained face.  Atherton wasn’t in much better condition.  In fact, most of the elfen of the court seemed to genuinely be mourning him.  Darren had very limited experience of elfen memorials, but there was often an element of smug relief that there was now a little less competition.  Today that was missing.  Even Egerton seemed subdued, and he was certainly not tactless enough to look relieved.

Many of the other non-normals were equally subdued.  Darren had heard many of Lord Ragnar’s acts of kindness over the last few centuries.  He may have got some things wrong, but he had done a lot of quiet good in York, and was already missed.

Sir Ewan shook Darren’s hand.  “That was a good service.”

“Thanks.” Darren said.  “He will be missed.”

“Yes, he will.  I hope his successor can live up to his example.” Sir Ewan sighed, aware that a lot of ears were listening in.  “We’ll meet you at the funeral feast.”

“Yes, I have to lead prayers in the hall before I can come down, but I’ll be there.” Darren said.

And that was the other hard, heavy emotion hanging over the memorial service – fear.  No-one, not even the oldest elfen, could remember when a Prince last died without there being someone who had killed him to get their power.  No-one knew what was going to happen now, but disputes about princedoms were notoriously violent.  Darren kept his composure and kept silently praying.

Fiona kept her hand slipped into Steve’s arm.  All the group from the White Hart were staying close together.  Freydis had, with reluctant permission from Darren, built a temporary pocket of faery realm just outside the lych gate and the vans from the White Hart, judiciously parked, now hid people walking up to an old tree trunk, running their hands down its trunk and then stepping inside.  Fiona had never seen anything like it.  Outside was a summer’s day, albeit rainy and cold for the time of year, inside was a warm summer’s night.  She stepped inside a tree, which was unnerving enough, then she walked down a plain, flagged passage with smooth plastered walls, then through an unassuming smooth wooden door into a forest clearing.  The air was warm and the scent of the forest hung in the air.  There was a sensation of being in the middle of a vast and empty forest.  Stars crowded the sky, undimmed by any streetlight.  A great fire burned in the centre of the clearing, the flames dancing high and sparks cracking as the bonfire the size of Fiona’s bedroom cast out a welcome warmth as the cool night breeze rustled the surrounding trees.

Ian helped Jeanette into one of the seats scattered around the clearing.  Jeanette was still looking pale and sank into the strangely formed tree stump with some relief.  Jasmine was standing nearby with Callum and Adele, ready to help.

Fiona looked up at Steve.  “When is the next full moon?”

“Next Thursday.” Steve said, looking around.  “Of course, it will be late at this time of year.”

“Will Jeanette be okay?” Fiona asked.

Steve turned from his admiration of the shaped wooden seats and benches scattered around and the huge sandstone slabs that Freydis had caused to surround the clearing to act as great stone tables.  “Of course.  I don’t think Ian meant to change her when he licked her cut face.” He looked across to where Ian was fussing over Jeanette.  “Poor lad feels guilty enough that she got injured instead of him.”

“But she will be okay?” Fiona said.

“Yes, she’ll be fine.” Steve put his arm around Fiona’s shoulders and gave a quick squeeze.  “Don’t worry.”  He looked around.  “I’m more worried about Freydis.”

Freydis was standing at the head of the table.  She was keeping her glamour up and her golden hair gleamed in the soft light of the lanterns in the trees, but her motionless poise was unnerving.  Fiona’s heart ached in sympathy.

“She’s mended the realm, though, hasn’t she?”

“Yes, she’s done a very thorough job.” Steve looked around.  “And this place is a work of art.  I wouldn’t be surprised if these trees weren’t favourites of Lord Ragnar.  Not all of the flowers are in season.”

“That is indeed true.” Kadogan came up behind them.  He was wearing a sharp suit and black shirt with a black tie.  He also looked pale and strained.  “See, there are Michaelmas daisies which he adored, although I found them ragged and unkempt.  They do not usually bloom until much later in the year.” He waved at the stand of pale violet blossoms in one corner.  “And Lord Ragnar always looked for the first bloom of celandines when they flowered at the first hint of spring and there is a carpet of them under the oaks.  But the honeysuckle and roses he also adored are right for the time.  Freydis has honoured him well.”

“How are you feeling?” Fiona asked him quietly.

“With difficulty.” Kadogan hunched over.  “It is hard to know that my good friend is silenced.”

It was hard to know what to say to that.  Steve looked around.  There were a lot of powerful elfen lords present from all over the country and there was a lot of quiet business being done.  Steve had spotted Egerton talking discreetly to most of them and he was currently deep in conversation with Lord Wilbur of Hull.  All around the room were knots of people talking in low voices.  “Come on, we don’t leave Freydis alone.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan said with more strength in his voice than he had shown over the last four days.  “She avenged Lord Ragnar’s death.  And all know that she is the key to power.  She should not be abandoned.”

“I’m happy to walk over there.” Jeanette said.  She smiled up at Ian.  “I’m a little sore, but not so hurt that I can’t stand by Freydis.”

“If you’re sure.” Ian gently helped Jeanette up.  “Yes, I know I’m fussing.  But it’s good if we can stand by Freydis.”

“If we don’t, then who will.” Mrs Tuesday shifted her black patent leather handbag onto her shoulder.

The group from the White Hart made their way over to where Freydis stood.  Her face was still fixed but her eyes were grateful.  It was an odd assortment that joined the nearly-widow at the head of the table.  An elderly boggart and her great nephew, a few elfen, werewolves and their partners, a magician and his wife and the only two local vampires left in York.  Dean had hung around awkwardly at the edge of the group and drifted with them, Martin joining them and standing close to Freydis.  Finally, Dave left Darren and the representatives of the Knights Templar and joined the rest of the White Hart.

Dave approached Freydis with caution.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Freydis managed a smile.  “I miss him a great deal.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “I know, love.  It never goes away, but you deal with it better.”

Freydis nodded.  “At times I could feel your grief for your late husband, nearly eighty years after your loss.  I shall take you as an inspiration.”

Kadogan frowned.  “Not too much.  That would terrify the customers.”

A ghost of a smile flickered briefly on Freydis’ face.  “Thank you for being here for Lord Ragnar.”

“And you!” Jasmine said quickly.  “You are one of us.”

“It is a very odd sensation, to be part of such a close group.” Freydis said.  “I wish Lord Ragnar had known it.”

The head of the brownies approached, dithering a little at the edge of the group before pushing past Fiona and bowing to Freydis.  “Should we bring the food out now?”

“Yes, thank you, Gavin Brown.” Freydis nodded and took a breath.  “I am confident it will be a great feast, such as Lord Ragnar deserved.”

“Indeed it will, miss, indeed it will.” Gavin pulled himself up to his full height.  “Nothing has been lacking.”

Freydis watched, mesmerised, as the brownies brought out food and drink with clockwork efficiency. The stone slabs were laid identically.  A large hog roast was placed in the centre, with a large carving knife attached to the huge pewter platter by a silver chain.  At corners were placed wide trays of chicken legs and bread rolls, surrounded by deep pots of mustard and pickles.  At the cardinal points were platters of stand pies, glistening in the light from the fire, already sliced into substantial wedges and surrounded by wheels and truckles of cheese.  Like a choreographed dance, the brownies slid smaller plates into the gaps filled with quivering lemon jellies, piled cubes of Turkish delight, pyramids of hard boiled eggs, delicate sand biscuits, fragile wafers, stone creams, trifles, vol-au-vents and after dinner mints.

Other brownies were setting up the drink in between the stone slabs.  Barrels of wine, mead and old fashioned ale were hoisted on trestles with aluminium kegs of premium lager, and smaller, wooden kegs of brandy and whiskey stood on wooden benches, surrounded by an incongruous selection of colas and bottled waters.  Drinks were already circulating, the brownies skilfully keeping the strong stuff away from the goblins.

When everyone had a drink in their hand, Freydis stepped forward and waved.  A clear, bell-like note rang out and raised her goblet.  “Lord Ragnar!” She said and hundreds of voices echoed the brief toast.  Then Freydis started to sing.

Steve held Fiona close.  The songs of the elfen could be dangerous.  They could sing the wits out of your head and your heart out of your body.  Tonight Freydis was singing goodbye to Lord Ragnar, in an old, old song.  It wasn’t the English of Shakespeare or Chaucer.  It wasn’t the language used when William the Bastard harried the north.  It was older than the Vikings who turned Eorwic to Jorvik, older than the Angles who had renamed Eboracum and older than the Roman invaders who had laid down the stone roads over the Celtic pathways.  It was the language of the first people that wandered past the joining of the Ouse and the Fosse rivers and down to where the Ouse met the Trent and became the Humber.  It was the language of those who traded amber for jet with those who travelled across the wide, grassy plain that was now under the North Sea.  It spoke of loss, and grief and darkness and broke your heart.  A tear slipped down Steve’s face as the song finally faded, and silence rang out.

Martin raised his glass.  “My princes, lords, ladies and all – kneel to your new Prince – Prince Freydis!”

There was a shocked moment of indrawn breaths and frantically exchanged glances.  Steve noticed that Freydis looked briefly as shocked as anyone before she pulled herself up and looked around, defying contradiction.

Steve held up his glass. “To our new Prince!” and he knelt, along with Fiona.  With very little hesitation the rest of those who could kneel did so.  Dave couldn’t kneel to a non-normal Prince.  He was the paladin that was supposed to be the balance to the Prince, completely independent and, if necessary, the main opposition.  Instead he bowed, a low, sweeping bow that was echoed by the other Princes and the Knights Templar.  As he glanced up, Lady Freydis looked brighter than ever, her gold hair gleaming, her blue eyes shining and an aura of glory around her as she held up her goblet to return the toast.  But Steve was close enough to see the panic in Lady Freydis’ eyes behind the confident tilt of her head and she was holding the goblet so tightly that her knuckles gleamed white.

Dave was glad of an excuse to get away from it all.  He, along with Darren, the Knights Templar and the rest of the White Hart crowd, had left when the elfen started dancing.  It could get crazy when elfen started dancing and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hang around to see which way it went after Martin’s surprise announcement.  He supposed it would keep Lady Freydis busy and stop her brooding.

He hefted the package.  He could understand why Ian wanted to deliver this as he passed rather than spend the fortune on postage.  It felt like books and it was heavy.  He jogged up the steps and knocked at the door.  It wasn’t the best neighbourhood, but he had been in worse.  He knocked again and heard feet pattering down stairs.  His eye was caught by a picture propped against the porch window.  He frowned.  It was the Seal of Solomon.  Dave peered closer.  It wasn’t activated, though, just a picture.  He tilted his head.  It looked like it was meant to be in a protective position, but it wasn’t protective at all.

The door opened and Dave looked up at the young woman in her early twenties. She had short, dark hair, a closed expression and was wearing bunny slippers.  “Chloe Markham?  Some books for you.” He held out the package.

Chloe was staring at him, her eyes wide and colour draining from her face.  Then she took a breath and managed a smile.  “We have met before.  I don’t know if you remember.”

Dave frowned.  She looked sort of familiar, and he was pretty good with faces, but he couldn’t quite place her.  The package was growing heavy in his outstretched hand.  “Are you Chloe Markham?”

Chloe took the books and shook her head.  “You don’t remember me, do you?  I’m not surprised.  You had a lot on your mind at the time.  You saved my life when I was attacked by werewolves.  Please come in.  I have a few questions.”

At the Reception

Fiona stayed very close to Steve.  She did not trust the faerie realm and, as she looked around, she wasn’t the only one.  Lord Ragnar’s Great Hall was uncomfortably full of uneasy knots of people.  Kieran’s pack of werewolves were grouped by a one of the vast fireplaces, the women chatting with forced smiles and the men watchful.  Miss Patience and her vampires were huddled together in one of the darker corners, silent and staring, although Martin and Dean were staying close to the group from the White Hart.  Ian and Callum were keeping Jeanette, Adele and Jasmine close to the centre of the group from the White Hart while keeping an eye on the rest of the hall.  A group of goblins were hunched over a furtive card game while the few brownies who were not involved in preparing the feast were in a tense group near the door.  Gavin Browne was managing a stilted conversation about growing ginger in Yorkshire with Mr Shah, a jinn who owned an accounting firm just outside Boston Spa.

Fiona slipped her hand into Steve’s.  “Everyone looks so on edge.” She said quietly.

Steve nodded.  He could feel Armani shifting restlessly in his pocket.  Armani had strict instructions to stay in the pocket unless there was serious trouble, with a promise of brandy for good behaviour.  “I have no idea what is going to happen, but whatever happens, stay close to me.”

Fiona nodded.  There was a brittle quality to the air.  Lord Ragnar had not yet arrived, but plenty of elfen were mingling.  Freydis looked resplendent in her blue ballgown, but many of the other elfen were wearing black.  Others were wearing suits or gowns in dark crimson or dark bottle green velvet.

Egerton approached and bowed low to Freydis.  “My most beautiful Freydis, you look divine.  Something must have given me the hint that you would reject your usual, everyday and mundane pink.  Today our thoughts ran parallel.” He ran a hand over his dark royal blue velvet suit.  “I hope we will be able to dance tonight.”

Freydis curtsied politely.  “I am sure we will both dance with a great many people tonight, Egerton.  I am looking forward to the dancing a great deal, and you have always been a graceful dancer.”

“Your compliment flatters me.” Egerton smiled.  “Excuse me, I must greet Kieran Latimer, but I hope we can talk much later.”

Fiona was surprised at the glint of hunger in Egerton’s eyes as well as cold calculation as he caught Freydis’ hand for a stylised kiss.  She turned to Steve and caught his flash of concern before Kadogan finally appeared and stood watchfully at Freydis’ shoulder.  Egerton seemed to find this amusing as he inclined his head to Kadogan and turned to towards the York pack.

Kadogan grasped Freydis’ elbow.  “Were you flirting with him?”

“No, he was flirting with me.” Freydis said, smoothly pulling her arm away.  “He merely desires power and thinks that he may obtain that by seducing me.”

Fiona took a deep breath.  “I don’t like to say anything, but I think he actually likes you as well.  I mean, I think he’s after you more than the power.”

Freydis looked baffled.  “But everyone knows that I would only consider Lord Ragnar.”

“You slept with Rey Baxter.” Kadogan said.  “Amongst many, many others.  Also, you are a single woman.  You may dally with whoever you choose.  Even an elfen.”

“I do not choose anyone.” Freydis said.  For a moment the gleam of her glorious hair dimmed before she shook it back and looked provocatively at Kadogan.  “Or does Suzuki have to fear from me?”

“Suzuki and I have an understanding.” Kadogan said.  “And I would never get between my prince and his desire.”

“If your prince desires me, then he should act.” Freydis shrugged.  “I shall enjoy the dancing.  Do you not think all the ladies of the White Hart look beautiful?”

Kadogan looked over the group.  Adele looked uncomfortable in a flowing pink maxi dress with a matching shawl.  Jeanette was wearing a long, sweeping cotton skirt with a matching violet jacket over a black silk shirt.  Fiona looked cool and refreshing in a cream linen trouser suit with a pale pink top, her hair gleaming and opal earrings glimmering in the bright candlelight.  Together with Jasmine’s sharp, dark trouser suit and Mrs Tuesday’s sweeping pink cocktail dress with the sequinned jacket, they made an elegant group.  He sighed.  “The White Hart has the most beautiful ladies in the room.”

The double doors at the end of the hall swept open and Lord Ragnar strode in.  Steve and Fiona exchanged worried glances.  This was the time of year when elfen normally wore bright colours.  Lord Ragnar was completely in black, with a black silk suit and a black silk shirt, slim and poised, with a silver circlet in his russet hair.

“Welcome, guests, all.  Eat and drink freely, without fear or obligation.  Let us celebrate!” Lord Ragnar spun around and stalked back into the hall.

Everyone trailed awkwardly after him.  Steve slipped an arm around Fiona’s shoulders and pulled her close to him, tapping his pocket with his free hand.  Armani squirmed and wriggled out of Steve’s pocket and flapped up to perch on his shoulder.  The ugly imp looked around and hunched down on Steve’s shoulder, watchful and wary.

Fiona could see others around the room bunching together.  Kieran’s pack were moving in a protective group, clearly keeping the younger and older members in the centre.  The boggarts and goblins were slightly more spread out, enough to easily swing a punch but close enough to help each other out.  Miss Patience led the vampires, moving with an eerie synchronicity as they headed towards the head of the table.  Fiona found herself guided into the centre of the group from the White Hart as Steve’s hand on the small of her back gently pushed her next to Jeanette and Adele as Steve took up his place in the outside of the group.  Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday were also on the inside while Ian, Callum, Evan and Dave spaced themselves around the ladies alongside Steve.  Fiona looked around to see where Freydis would station herself.

Freydis walked forward, almost in a trance.  All colour had drained from her exquisite face and her eyes were much larger and darker than usual.  She stared at the tables, piled high with roast pork, hams, chestnuts, rich fruit cakes and spicy apple pies.  She stared at the jugs of mulled wine and the sprays of ivy trailing over the table.  Freydis was almost shrinking in to herself as she looked around the huge, faerie hall, hung with branches of fir and pine, twined with ivy and silver ribbons.  Fir trees were ranged along the walls, hung with garlands of berries and casting dark shadows away from the scarlet candles.  Frost glinted on the high arched stone roof.

Martin gently pushed Dean towards Ian and then went to stand at her shoulder.  “Lord Ragnar, my Prince, I owe you honour and counsel.  My Prince, this is wrong.” Martin waved at the heaped tables.  “This is a winter feast.  It is summer outside.  It is a time for strawberries, not apples.”

Lord Ragnar stopped at the head of the table and turned slowly.  “Do you dare to challenge me?”

“Lord Ragnar, my Prince, I dare to counsel you.” Martin stepped forward.  “You are wearing black at midsummer.  The realm is out of joint.”  Martin scrabbled for the right words as he looked at Lord Ragnar’s rigid face.  “Let us show you that we are grateful for your hospitality and let us fix the realm.” Martin looked around.  “Freydis would help put things right, as would Lord Marius and Lord Lothar.” He looked towards the two great elfen lords, apparently relaxed at one side in light coloured suits, their eyes watchful.  “Lord Ragnar, you have a great court and many here are skilled and powerful.  Please, allow us to aid our Prince.”

Lord Ragnar looked around his hall as if seeing it for the first time.  He shook his head and then stared at the dozens of guests waiting for him to speak.  He took a deep breath and opened his mouth.  For a moment no sound came out then, with effort, Lord Ragnar said, “I am the prince of this domain and I will mend it.” His voice creaked and cracked and he pulled himself to his full height, stretching his arms wide.  “My realm will obey me!”

Steve clapped his hands to his ears and bent double.  Around him all the elfen were doing the same, clutching their heads and struggling to stand.  Lord Marius and Lord Lothar were thrown by some unseen force against the walls and pinned there, their faces contorted as they tried to shield themselves from something that only those with elfen blood could feel.  Freydis was clutching Martin’s arm and standing upright with effort, her eyes wide with fear.  Lord Ragnar threw back his head and howled.  “I am the Prince!” With a sweep of his hands he gathered a darkness between them.

“Ragnar, don’t! Don’t go that way!” Freydis was struggling to walk, pushing herself towards her ex-husband.  “You don’t understand…” She stumbled and Martin caught her just in time.  Lord Ragnar ignored her and sank his fingers deep into the darkness and then pulled, tearing the dark shadow apart.

Even Fiona felt it, a great, screeching, wail that echoed around the hall.  She clung on to Steve as he buckled against her and looked around.  Freydis had collapsed, as had most of the elfen.  Kadogan was on his hands and knees, trying to crawl towards Lord Ragnar who seemed pinned in the air.  Some of the werewolves had gone to fur, shedding their finery and braced, snarling, for whatever happened next.  Most of the boggarts had dropped their glamour, including Mrs Tuesday who had a long, greying, hairy arm around Adele who was shivering as she cowered.

Then the noise stopped and an absolute silence fell.  Fiona clung on to Steve as he picked Armani up from the floor with a shaking hand and straightened.  The imp stirred and scrambled on to Steve’s shoulder where it clung, trembling.  Freydis scrambled to her feet, the ballgown now splitting and wreathing into jeans and a shirt and her hair twisted itself into a loose knot.  She marched up to Lord Ragnar who was immobile at the head of the table and slapped his face, hard.  The sound of the slap rang around the silent hall and Lord Ragnar rocked back, a scarlet handprint vivid on his face.

“You idiot!” Freydis snapped.  She spun around.  “Lord Marius, Lord Lothar – please aid us!”  The two elfen lords nodded, still shaken.  Freydis turned to Kieran.  “Kieran Latimer, these halls need to be evacuated.  Get everyone out, quick as you like.  Martin, you need to get those vampires out of here before they break.  Kadogan, we need to build power – start a circle.  Steve Adderson, we need you here.  Atherton will get Fiona safely out.  Atherton, get the White Hart out!”

Lord Ragnar raised a shaking hand to his face.  “I am the Prince here.”

Freydis spun back to face him, her finger jabbing at him.  “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare try and defend what you have just done!  The whole place is splitting.  Pull yourself together and get the swords issued.  You’re our prince – act like it!”

Fiona hung on to Steve for a moment, but he nodded and pulled away.  “It’s okay.  I’ll be fine as long as you get safely out of here.  Atherton will look after you.  Now, go – quickly!”

Ian was already keeping the people from the White Hart in a tight group.  Adele clung on to Mrs Tuesday and Evan kept his arm loosely around Jeanette as they turned back towards the doors.  Fiona shivered as cold spiked through her and the floor became slippery with ice.  Suddenly the double doors that had been only a few steps behind them seemed to recede and icy floor stretched in front of them.

“Kadogan, I need that circle going.” Freydis said.  “Lord Marius, if you could take the star side channel, I would be most grateful.”

“I search for it now.” Lord Marius said from between clenched teeth as he struggled with the elfen magic.

“Steve Adderson, please pull the doors back for people to get out.” Freydis said.  “Lord Lothar, your assistance if you would be so kind.”

Fiona glanced back.  Freydis was surrounded by a tangle of magic, with swirls of coloured traces dancing around her.  Twining around the strands of light were threads of darkness and Freydis was struggling with a thick tangle of dark as she tried to pull it away from a vivid, floating layer of green.  Steve was struggling to control a golden glow around his hand.  Lord Marius was surrounded by silver sparkles as he gestured and pulled the glints towards him.  The ice on the floor disappeared.

“We need to leave.” Atherton said, grasping Fiona’s elbow.  “We need to move with swiftness.”

“Dammit, Ragnar, what have you done?” Freydis started swearing as dark threads tried to run up her arm.  She shook them off but it left ripples in the colours around her and a bell started tolling.

“I think you have it as controlled as maybe.” Lord Lothar was also pulling at the darker threads.  “If we can keep the balance…”

“I am the prince here.” Lord Ragnar said. “This is my fight.”

“Take up your sword.” Freydis said.  “Kieran, why are people still here?”

“The doors will not move.” Kieran said, ushering a brownie closer to the centre of the group.  “Ian Tait is trying to unseal them with magic.”

“Steve, what is happening?” Freydis glanced briefly away from the knots of dark and colour in front of her and swore as a strand of the dark snapped across her cheek, leaving a bloody mark.

“Lord Ragnar, you have to let us leave.” Steve said.  He was getting control of the golden glow now, and the distance between the people and the door was shrinking.  “We all recognise you as prince, but people will die if they do not get out.”

“I am still Prince.” Lord Ragnar groaned.  He staggered towards Freydis.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting things right.  Ragnar, let the people out.” Freydis glanced briefly up again.  “It’s getting out of hand.”

Lord Ragnar reached through the dark and coloured swirls and pulled Freydis around to face him.  The balance she had been holding broke and she screamed as she flew across the room and crashed into a wall.  Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday instinctively darted towards her but shadows erupted from the floor, tendrils reaching out to snare them.

“Everyone, head towards Lord Ragnar!” Kieran shouted out.  “Ian, forget the door.  Get back here.”

Martin helped Freydis to her feet.  She clung to his arm, swaying, as she tried to get her bearings.  “To the Prince!” Martin called.  “Everyone rally to the Prince.”

Fiona grabbed Jeanette and Adele but the shadows in front of Freydis were not the only ones.  A stinging strand whipped across Adele’s back, ripping her shawl and drawing blood.  “Steve, what’s happening?”

“It’s hard to describe.” Steve was struggling as golden light bucked and fought around his hands.  “Stay away from the shadows.”

All around the hall shadows were springing away from the corners and rising from the floor, becoming almost solid and malevolent.  “Watch out!” Jasmine pulled Jeanette out of the way as a shadow snapped a tendril at her.  The edge slapped across Jeanette’s face and cut a nasty mark across her cheek and chin.

“Everyone together!” Kieran yelled.  He swung at the shadow nearest him.  It seemed to give a little and was diminished but it didn’t fall back.  “Ian, get the doors open.  Kai and Morgan, keep him safe while he works.”

Freydis had scrambled to her feet with less than her usual grace.  “Steve Adderson, keep the hall stable.  Ragnar, I swear by root and leaf if you try something like that again I will sulk.  Kadogan, I need that power.”

Kadogan was forming a circle with half a dozen of the elfen and he was starting to dance.  It wasn’t the usual, graceful circle of dancing elfen.  They were stumbling and slow, pushing against some strange resistance.  Mrs Tuesday darted towards the laden table, dodging the grasping shadows, and grabbed a tureen of roast potatoes.  She emptied it onto the table and tossed the silver tureen to Evan.  “Get a rhythm going.”

“Which one, Auntie Jane?” Evan was pale, holding a greasy tureen and looking around at the chaotic scene.

“What was the last song you heard on the radio?” Mrs Tuesday swung wide as Adele was knocked off her feet.  The shadows burst and scattered.

“We need to clear the centre.” Kieran kicked through a shadow that dissolved into shards.  “Martha, get a space cleared.”

Martin was standing sentry over Freydis as once again she pulled the strands of magic around her.  “Kieran, can you move towards the elfen?  Get us all in here?”

Evan was tapping out a fast rock beat on the upturned tureen.  Kadogan and the dancers were slowly picking up the pace.  There seemed to be less resistance.  Kieran glanced over.  “I can’t protect the dancers.”  He ducked and swung hard at another shadow, clearing some room around a badly bleeding brownie.  “Ian, get back here.  We need your magic.”

“No!” Freydis didn’t look around but kept focused on pulling a strand of blue.  “We need the doors open.”

Evan was bleeding now from a cut above his eye, but Mrs Tuesday and Jasmine were standing guard over him and the dancers were picking up speed, their movements becoming more fluid.  Mr Shah had dropped his physical form and his booming voice rang out.  “I can protect the dancers, but everyone stay low!”

Fiona clung to Adele as they crouched inside what was becoming a defensive ring.  Martha had cleared a space with the rest of the werewolf women and was bandaging up some of the worst injuries, with clothes shed by the werewolves being ripped up for the makeshift first aid.  Fiona’s trouser suit was stained with blood, some from the goblin she had pulled back from a dark tendril and some from the gash on her leg that was still stinging.  Armani was weaving low over the heads of the crowd, sparks flying from his claws.  He glanced over at Mr Shah and started weaving lower.

A wind whipped around the dancers, ruffling their hair as the shadows were pushed back.  Steve breathed a little easier as magic started to flow around the room.  Lord Ragnar was no longer standing shocked but was now side by side with Miss Patience.  His heart sank.  The amorphous shapes and tendrils were coalescing into more substantial forms – the shapes of the revenants that had been plaguing York.

“Ian, how are those doors?” Steve yelled above the growing howl of Mr Shah’s winds as Armani struggled into the safety of his pocket.

“I’m getting nowhere.” Ian yelled back.  He flinched as a revenant grabbed at him before Kai could throw him back.

“Lord Ragnar – release the doors.” Steve yelled.  “We need to get the civilians out of here.”

Lord Ragnar glanced back, ducking under a clawed hand.  “I can’t get full control of them.  Try an autumn cadence.”

“Some of us don’t know elfen magic.” Ian muttered through gritted teeth.

Freydis didn’t look up.  “Steve, take over on the doors.  Ian, watch his back.  Dammit!” Another tendril of the dark magic whipped across her and cut a long gash in her arm.  Blood started to seep through her sleeve.

“I’ve got the lead.” Martin yelled.  “Freydis, just keep working on the magic.  Kieran, get ready to evacuate as soon as the doors are open.”

Miss Patience ripped the head off the newly formed revenant in front of her.  “We should all try and fall back.  The realm seems on the point of collapse.” The vampires around her were all fighting with her trademark efficiency and all showing the same lack of emotion.

Martin glanced over at her.  “Is there something you want to share?”

“The great elfen lords are stabilising the realm but it is not guaranteed.  There are many wounded, including my vampires.”

Martin knocked a shard of darkness out of the air before it could reach Freydis who was now wholly immersed in her strange whirl of colours.  “Fall back.  The elfen will be fine, but everyone else back.” He yelled over Mr Shah’s increasing fury.  The jinn was whipping up storm winds and they swirled around the hall.  Leaves and twigs were caught up and the once immaculate tablecloths were billowing.  “I’m keeping station with Freydis.”

“So am I.” Evan kept the staccato beat and edged closer to Martin.  The elfen were dancing faster, surrounded by Mr Shah’s storm but untouched by it.

Steve ran over and laid his hands on the great doors.  He swore.  “It’s midwinter magic.  Everybody stay low, I may have to break them.”

Ian darted forward to pull one of the goblins free from a revenant’s choking grasp.  The goblin struggled as Ian punched the revenant hard before Egerton caught up and ripped the revenant’s head off with a casual ease.  Ian barely had a chance to nod his thanks before the fir branch over his head fell.  Egerton grabbed the goblin but Ian was directly underneath and flat footed.

Jeanette saw it almost in slow motion.  Without thinking she sprinted under the blast of the wind and pushed Ian, hard, getting him out of the way, just in time for the heavy branch to land on her.  Ian fell, sprawling forward, propelled by Jeanette’s shove but he twisted to his feet, rushing back to her.

“There is no time for this!” Steve yelled.  “Kadogan, help me!”

Kadogan picked up the pace.  Golden light cascaded from the dancers to Steve who struggled to bring it under his control.  “It’s midwinter magic, Kadogan, you have to take the summer out of the dance.”

Mr Shah was working hard.  Flagons of mulled wine toppled and heavy pewter plates skidded along the tables as the great wind pushed back against the revenants, but as one fell, two more were forming in the shadows.  “I cannot keep this going all night.” He warned.

Lord Ragnar glanced back.  “Hold one moment, Steve Adderson.  I have this.”

“No!” Martin shouted, but it was too late.  Lord Ragnar snapped out some words of power and there was a crack of thunder.  The revenants surged up, now solid and smooth like smoked glass.  Splinters fell from the roof and the revenant that Dave was punching shattered around his fist.  The hall was filled with splintering glass as blows landed.  The revenants rushed forward in a heaving mass.

Steve looked around desperately.  Ian was in wolf form, standing over the limp body of Jeanette, his hackles raised.  Freydis was almost hidden inside the whirl of colours and dark strands as she pulled the power from Kadogan’s dancers.  Fiona was crouched, holding on to Adele as the battle raged, red and green blood staining her trouser suit.  An embattled ring was surrounding the injured and the weak.  There was fear in Kieran’s eyes and Miss Patience was looking desperate.  Steve placed his palms flat on the doors and concentrated.  He had to get them open.  Shards of glass were flying as Mr Shah did his best to whip the splinters away and into the corners.

Lord Ragnar was fighting hard.  He may not have the abilities of Freydis in the faerie realm but he still had his strength and skill.  The revenants were falling back before him.  He grabbed a revenant around the waist and threw it hard into a stone pillar.  Glass shards flew everywhere and another revenant, with cold blooded calculation, grabbed a shard out of the air and swung hard at the nearest vampire, slicing through the neck and sending the head rolling towards Miss Patience before it crumbled to dust.

Miss Patience spun around.  “Vivienne!  No!” She turned back to Lord Ragnar.  “This is your fault, this is all your fault.  Every sliver of glass in a vein, every scar from the dark energy, it is all your fault!  She caught her breath.  “If I had done this, you would make me pay!” Ignoring the revenants surging towards her she stepped up to Lord Ragnar, pulling strands of dark energy out of the air, instinctively winding them around her hands and then thrusting them forward, forcing them into his stomach and ripping him apart.  There was a heartbeat as Lord Ragnar looked over to Freydis, then he collapsed into a soft heap of dead leaves and woodland floor.

Every head snapped around.  Steve could feel the backlash scything through the magical atmosphere and put everything he could into breaking the doors.  They splintered as Freydis took a deep breath.  Steve started urging people towards the doorway, looking around desperately for Fiona.  The dancers had stopped and Mr Shah was now back in his physical shape, backing towards Steve.  Evan dropped the tureen and the clatter echoed.

Freydis pulled herself to her full height.  The glamour dropped and a small, skinny creature with dark, slanted eyes and wrapped in rags, raised her hands and screamed. Steve recognised the cry and threw himself flat on the floor, along with all the other elfen.  Revenants around the room started to unravel, the glass shards melting into dark smoke that grew paler as it spiralled up past the tattered branches and into the roof.  The splinters on the floor and embedded in the walls and scattered on the tables rose like mist and faded.  Miss Patience took a breath and shook her head frantically as Freydis turned to her.  Strands of grey and black pulled themselves away from Miss Patience, twisting like ribbons in the breeze, as she and her vampires unravelled, fading as the tendrils drifted upwards until there was nothing left.

The hall fell silent.  Steve rushed over to Fiona who was pulling herself to her feet.  All around the hall people were helping each other up and looking for friends and family.  Ian was still standing over Jeanette, licking frantically at her pale and immobile face.  Callum had found Adele and was holding her as if he would never let her go.  Dave was tense, his fists clenching and unclenching as he slowly calmed down.  Mrs Tuesday was patting Evan’s arm.

In the centre of the hall, Freydis had regained her glamour.  Once again she was a tall, elegant blonde in a blue ballgown, slumped to her knees, sobbing silently as shafts of summer sunlight lit the hall.

Image from Free-images.com

Almost ready

This is the second set of ongoing stories from the White Hart.  You can read the first set here and you can read this set from the beginning here

“You are the son of Lord Marius.” Kadogan said, appearing in the office at Steve’s shoulder as he counted the change.
“What? Yes, I am.” Steve abandoned any hope of counting and leant back in his chair to look at Kadogan. What he saw worried him. He looked paler than usual and his hair looked longer and unkempt. His cheekbones looked a lot more prominent and his eyes were wilder.
“But you have no interest in taking the path of the elfen or taking power.” Kadogan lounged against the office door.
“It’s really not my style.” Steve said. “I like the business side and the travel.”
“Also your wife is not elfen.” Kadogan continued. “Although any children may have a choice to take the elfen path.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Steve said. “Are you okay?”
“Four centuries ago I had a child.” Kadogan stepped in and shut the door. Steve felt unexpectedly edgy at being trapped in a room with him. Kadogan had always been sensible and easy to deal with, for an elfen, but the rules were changing. Steve pushed a chair towards Kadogan.
“What happened?”
“She died.” Kadogan said. “She was a flower. She grew, she blossomed, she faded and she died.”
“I’m sorry.” Steve said. He wasn’t sure whether the child was a literal flower or a person described as a flower. Both were possible with elfen.
“She had a good life.” Kadogan sat on the offered chair. “She worked as a washerwoman for a family near Rawcliffe. She never married. When she was twelve she caught smallpox. Normals have already forgotten what that was like. It was so bad. Lord Ragnar sat and sang with her for seven days and seven nights until she was healed. He brought her back from dark shores.”
“That was good of him.” Steve said.
“He did not ask it for a favour, either.” Kadogan said. “He did it because it was the thing to do to a loyal companion. Just as he marshalled the court for the White Hart when there was a fire. He tries to do the right thing.”
“I know.” Steve said.
“But his vision is clouded by his love for Freydis. The errors and misjudgements are no longer amusing.” Kadogan sagged in his chair. “I do not know what to do.”
Steve looked thoughtfully at Kadogan. All the elfen were twitchy at the moment. Steve had never really got to grips with elfen politics. He could see which way the wind was blowing and could make a fair guess at whether a court was safe or stable, but he couldn’t see the deeper currents that were carrying Kadogan along with Lord Ragnar, Freydis and the rest of the elfen. The domain of the Prince of York was neither safe nor stable at the moment, and what seemed obvious to him seemed impossible for the elfen. “What are you worried about?”
“I am worried that Lord Ragnar will be utterly destroyed and that we shall have a vampire as the Prince of York.” Kadogan said. “This would not be a good thing.”
“You’re talking about Martin, aren’t you?” Steve said. “I think he is extremely reluctant to take power. All the chatter I heard was that he was utterly indifferent. He’s being more or less loyal to Lord Ragnar, which has to count for something.”
“But if the domain does not become stable, then Aelfhelm may take control out of desperation.” Kadogan slumped even lower in the chair.
“I can try speaking to Lord Ragnar, if you like.” Steve said. “If he got Freydis to sort out the domain then he could try and romance her properly, you know, have fun this time around.”
Kadogan sighed. “They are both incredibly irritating when they are romantic, but it may be the only way. They are perfect for each other because they would drive anyone else to madness.”
“I’ll speak to Lord Ragnar after the reception.” Steve said. “I’ll do what I can to make him listen to me. If he won’t let Freydis help then he needs to let someone like Lord Marius do it. And Freydis won’t ask him for favours in return.” Steve thought for a moment. “Freydis probably won’t ask for favours in return. Seriously, Kadogan, once the domain is put right then things will quieten down, Miss Patience will be possible to deal with and then Lord Ragnar and Freydis can enjoy romance.”
Kadogan looked around the room, almost as if he was seeing it for the first time. He seemed to be examining the corners of the desk and the pattern of shadows falling from the tree outside onto the blank wall. “I will speak to him now.” Then Kadogan vanished.

Steve finished counting the change before locking it in the safe. Then he wandered downstairs. It wasn’t worth getting ready yet, it was only early in the afternoon, but everyone was on edge for Lord Ragnar’s reception that evening. The shop was empty and for once Steve was glad about it.
“Hello, Elaine.” Steve managed a friendly smile. “I didn’t expect you to be in.”
“Work needed me to work late last night so I got this afternoon off and I let Jasmine get off and do some shopping?” Elaine’s smiled was a little forced, but she seemed relaxed enough. “She’s getting changed here with Mrs Tuesday.”
Steve looked over to where Mrs Tuesday was wiping over the counter. She was in her usual pinny but Steve’s experienced eye could see under the glamour. She had done something with her greying fur that made it look glossier and her nails had been filed. Fiona was out getting her hair and nails done and now Jasmine was shopping. “What’s Jasmine shopping for?”
“I think she’s looking for something to wear.” Elaine said.
“Does Ian know?” Steve asked. “It seems like only a week ago she was scared of buying clothes.” He shrugged. “I suppose it’s a good thing she feels safe enough to spend some money.”
Mrs Tuesday wandered over. “Yes, she’s beginning to relax.” She looked hard at Elaine. “She’s a good kid.”
“She seems really sweet.” Elaine said. “I hope she finds something nice. She’s got the potential to be quite stunning, almost like a model.”
Freydis wandered out of the back room, carrying a heavy box of coffee with insolent ease. “Indeed, Jasmine is very beautiful inside.” She exchanged a look with Mrs Tuesday. “I am confident she will find love soon.”
Mrs Tuesday frowned. “Is that you seeing it or planning it?”
“I am not interfering with a werewolf’s heart.” Freydis said. “Besides, I have my own romantic troubles clouding my judgement. I could get it wrong.”
“Really?” Mrs Tuesday said politely. “I find that hard to believe.”
Elaine jumped in quickly. “What are you two ladies wearing to the reception?”
“I haven’t decided,” Freydis said, “But it will not be pink. Lord Ragnar only knows me in pink. I need to make him look at me with fresh eyes.”
“That’s good.” Mrs Tuesday nodded. “You need to make him think about who you really are.”
“Indeed.” Freydis nodded. “I am undecided between a pale crimson velvet gown with a low back or a floaty chiffon dress with a scarf in a sort of salmon colour.”
Steve tried to imagine the clothes. “Aren’t they both quite close to pink?”
“Men just don’t see colours the same way I do.” Freydis said airily.
“You could try really shocking him and wearing blue, or even black.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You would look completely different in blue.”
“Indeed.” Freydis looked thoughtful. “That would be striking indeed. I do not believe anyone in the court has seen me in a blue gown since…” She trailed off as she tried to work out how long it was since she had anything but pink to a formal occasion. “I shall wear blue, and possibly go brunette.”
“Don’t change too many things at once.” Steve said, feeling he had to at least give Lord Ragnar some chance. “Wearing a blue dress should be enough of a shock. Hang on, what’s this?”

Jasmine almost ran into the shop, her hair ruffled and her face flushed and tear stained. She was holding her blouse closed at the front and her knuckles looked sore. Darren was following her carrying half a dozen bags and grinning. Darren dumped the bags down and shook his hands to get the circulation back.
“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry. Where’s Ian?”
“What happened?” Elaine asked.
Freydis shouted into the back, “Ian, you should attend. Jasmine has had an incident.” She looked at Jasmine. “I shall use the Coffee Machine to make you some hot chocolate.”
Jasmine shook her head. “It’s awful.”
“It isn’t awful.” Darren said. “You did exactly the right thing.” He was still grinning as he turned to the others. “Jasmine saw a few lads having a go at a homeless man near the station. You know, pushing him about and shouting at him. I’d been chatting to a copper nearby and we were both moving that way when Jasmine told them where to go.”
“I didn’t swear.” Jasmine’s anxious eyes were wide. “But I told them to leave him alone.”
“Of course, they took it as well as you could expect.” Darren said. “I started running when one of them pushed Jasmine. So did the copper, but I think she was more worried about Jasmine being hurt.”
“I couldn’t let them keep hurting that poor man.” Jasmine said. “I mean, his mind wasn’t right.”
“Are you hurt?” Elaine asked, looking Jasmine over. There were plenty of patches of dirt but no obvious injuries.
“Nothing that won’t be better by tonight.” Freydis said, easing Jasmine into the café area and into a seat next to a hot chocolate.
“Are they hurt?” Steve asked, knowing a little more about werewolves.
“Jasmine’s shirt got torn in the scuffle.” Darren said. “There were around half a dozen of them, so I was a little worried, but they weren’t up to facing someone who could fight back. I pulled one of them back, and the copper got another, but Jasmine can handle herself. I think there was at least one broken nose and quite a few bruises before Jasmine let them run off. The police officer was getting the victim checked out and I brought Jasmine and her shopping home.”
“Ian is going to expel me for fighting, isn’t he?” Jasmine was now pale and shivering. “I didn’t think. I just saw that poor man and I never stopped to look for anyone official.”
“You did the right thing.” Darren said. “Though perhaps you should look for support when you are facing odds of six to one.”
Jasmine hunched over. “They were nothing really, just cowards and bullies.” She turned to Mrs Tuesday. “What is Ian going to say? What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to pull yourself together, be proud of doing the right thing and go and yourself cleaned up and changed.” Ian said from behind her. Jasmine flinched and then froze. Ian came and sat next to her and took her icy hand. “Is what Darren said true? Some bullies were picking on someone vulnerable?”
Jasmine nodded. “I think his mind wasn’t right, and he was so thin and frail.”
“And you told them to stop? You didn’t just hit them first?” Ian said, rubbing her hand.
Jasmine forced herself to look up at Ian. “I had my hands full with shopping bags. I had to try talking first.”
Ian avoided looking at Mrs Tuesday’s amused expression. “And then you fought back when attacked?”
Jasmine hunched further down and looked away. “He grabbed the front of my shirt and told me that I should…” Her voice trailed off and she turned scarlet. She took a deep breath. “So I broke his hold and hit him.”
“I was just about there by then.” Darren said. “She didn’t hit him as hard as she could.”
“I didn’t want to break him.” Jasmine said.
“It sounds like you did exactly what you should. Well done.” Ian said. “Go and get ready for the reception.” He looked at the heap of bags collapsing against each other where Darren had left them. “Did you buy all that?”
“It’s with my own money and I got some really good stuff on sale and some were from a charity shop and I can always take it back if it doesn’t fit and I kept the receipts and it’s less than it looks because of the bags and…”
Ian held up a hand as Jasmine finally took a breath. “It’s okay, you need some new clothes. I’m glad you got them. Now, pick up those bags…” He paused as he noticed that the front of Jasmine’s blouse was completely ripped apart. “I’ll carry those bags up for you and then I’m getting back to Jeanette’s place to get ready.” He looked at Steve. “All the post is sorted, Callum is at the Post Office now sending out the last of the orders and I’ve re-stocked the herbs that were getting low. Everything’s sorted.”
“No problem.” Steve said and watched a faint flicker of disbelief cross Ian’s face as he lifted the weight of the bags.
“I got shoes as well and there was a great deal on boots that were my size and while I know that they won’t be need until winter it seemed a shame…” Jasmines words tumbled together as she tried to excuse catching up on several years of shopping.
“It’s okay, honest.” Ian shook his head. “Finish that hot chocolate, calm down and then get ready.”

Steve watched Jasmine holding her blouse together as she drained the hot chocolate and bounded up the stairs after Ian. “I’m glad Ian was able to reassure her.”
Darren nodded. “I was worried when they started trying to push her around, but I got there before she could do much damage.”
“Was the police officer pretty?” Freydis asked, a gleam in her eye.
“Probably.” Darren didn’t rise to the bait. “We were talking about parking in York.”
“And you never got a chance to ask her for a drink.” Freydis shook her head. “Did you get her number?”
“Why should I want her number?” Darren asked. “I’m going upstairs to get ready for my night.”
“Don’t you wish that you were going to the reception?” Freydis asked.
“Absolutely not.” Darren said. “Lots of very powerful non-normals feeling stressed and edgy and shot through with death-laced elfen magic will be trying to make small talk while wearing uncomfortable clothes. It’s not my thing.”
Elaine looked at Steve. “Is it going to be dangerous?”
“Absolutely.” Steve said.
“You will take Armani with you, won’t you?” Elaine said. She blushed slightly. “I mean, you will take care.”
“I will, don’t worry.” Steve managed an awkward smile. “And you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you? It’s a safe spot and things could get a little out of hand.”
“Of course it’s going to get out of hand.” Freydis said. “There is a great feeling of death, but that is probably the energy that Rey left. I think I’ll get some more sugar up and get everything set up for tomorrow. I may not have the energy to fully set up after an interesting night.”
Mrs Tuesday watched her disappear into the back room and turned to the men. “That’s as near as a guarantee of trouble that you are ever going to get.” She sighed. “I could give them all a good shake. Anyway, Jasmine is going to be too giddy to eat properly, but there’s a nice meat and potato casserole in the oven, help yourselves.” She looked hard at Darren. “There’s plenty for all the Knights Templar that are coming, and I’ve put a big box of biscuits and cakes on the side. Make sure that they eat it, not that they deserve it, but some of them are just bags of bones and I don’t know why they can’t manage to give them a square meal in the Citadel.” She wiped over the clean counter. “If at least half of the cakes and biscuits aren’t gone tomorrow, I’ll be upset. And Mrs Anderson has left a box of snacks from her and Mrs Cadwallader. You can’t be on guard on an empty stomach. Though I don’t know why I bother.” Mrs Tuesday stomped off to check on the rack of herbs.
Steve turned to Elaine. “There will be Knights Templars coming and going here, as well as Darren and Luke keeping an eye out on what’s happening. Try and get an early night.”
“Indeed.” Freydis said. “Some of those present may be suitable for romance with you, but tonight is not the time for connection.”
Darren shook his head. “Really?”

Darren joined Dave in the upstairs kitchen and started helping himself to a large plateful of Mrs Tuesday’s cooking. “Jasmine saw some chavs picking on a homeless guy this afternoon. You may see a report across your desk, but I doubt it.”
“Did she hurt anyone?” Dave asked. He had a half cleared plate in front of him and an opened newspaper.
“Not seriously.” Darren sat down and added a liberal seasoning of brown sauce. “No fur was seen and a police officer was a witness to Jasmine facing down six lads for all the right reasons. She was worried that Ian would throw her out for fighting.”
Dave grunted, chewed and swallowed. “What was she doing in town anyway?”
“Clothes shopping.” Darren took a large forkful and savoured it.
“Seriously?” Dave shook his head. “I hope she’s got it right. Tonight is going to be interesting.”
“I look forward to hearing about what happened.” Darren said, shifting and pulling a folded copy of the Church Times from his back pocket. “I expect there to be nothing to worry about here in normal York, because it is all going to kick off in Lord Ragnar’s domain.” He looked up as Evan Tuesday bounced into the kitchen.
“Hi, Auntie Jane said I could get changed here and go as her partner.” Evan said. He was wearing a glamour of a young lad in his late teens or early twenties, with slicked back hair and an almost designer shirt. He looked on the skinny side of slim, tall and energetic with just a hint of acne. He hovered nervously. “Auntie Jane said I could have some dinner.”
“Help yourself.” Dave said, waving a hand at the oven. “There’s plenty to go around.”
Jasmine shot into the kitchen. “What do you think?” She twirled around, showing off the classy black trouser suit with the white silk blouse. Her blonde hair cascaded in curls down her back and the short jacket showed off her figure perfectly.
Evan stared. “You look amazing.”
Darren looked up from his paper. “You look like a waiter.”
Jasmine’s face fell and she looked down at herself. “Really?”
“Every prince I know has liveried servants waiting at the reception, and most of them will be wearing black and white.” Darren turned the page and took another mouthful of his casserole.
“I’ll be right back.” Jasmine shot out again.
“Is that Jasmine?” Evan asked. “I mean, I’ve sort of seen her before but I didn’t realise…” He trailed off and grabbed a plate from the cupboard. “She looks really nice.”
“Hmm.” Dave didn’t commit to anything further.
Evan joined him at the table. “I’ve never been to a reception at Lord Ragnar’s before. Do you think it will be formal?”
“I’m changing into a suit after dinner.” Dave said. “I believe Lord Ragnar likes things to look good.”
“Really?” Evan said. He helped himself to a full plateful of casserole and, after a quick glance at the men either side of the table, took a seat. “You don’t mind me joining you?”
“Not a problem.” Dave said. “Relax. What has Mrs Tuesday said about what to wear?”
“She said a suit as well, but I thought just a shirt might look better.” Evan glanced at the two men again. “She doesn’t always understand fashion.”
“A suit is good.” Darren said.
Jasmine burst in again. “What do you think?”
Evan dropped his fork. Jasmine was still wearing the same white silk blouse, buttoned high up to the neck, but now was wearing a deep crimson mini skirt that showed off her long legs and very trim hips, together with glossy, high heeled red shoes. “You look amazing.” Evan said, barely able to drag his eyes away from her legs.
“You’ll have to go to fur if there’s a fight and you’re wearing that skirt.” Darren started running his finger down the page of notices.
Evan didn’t look away from Jasmine’s legs. “Is there likely to be a fight?”
“I think there’s almost certainly going to be some sort of scuffle.” Dave said. “But probably not too serious.”
Jasmine looked down at the skirt. “The heels will probably get in the way as well.”
“I have absolutely no experience with that.” Darren didn’t look up from the paper.
Dave turned to the crossword in his paper. “You look lovely,” he said, “but why don’t you save that outfit for a night when you’re going out with Adele and Jeanette?”
“I guess so.” Jasmine disappeared again.
Darren finally looked up and grinned at Dave. “Ian would have had a fit if he had seen her like that.”
Dave grinned back. “It’s almost worth getting her to wear it for him. I’m surprised he doesn’t march her upstairs to wash her make up off.”
“She’s twenty-three.” Darren said. “She acts a lot younger, but she’s an adult.”
“Do you want to explain that to Ian?” Dave asked.
Freydis wandered in. “The store has closed and the Coffee Machine has gone through the evening rites. Was Jasmine wearing something unsuitable?”
Evan had stood up as Freydis entered. “No, miss, Jasmine looked beautiful.”
“She was wearing a short, tight skirt.” Dave said.
“But she looked classy with it.” Evan said.
“Finish your dinner, Evan Tuesday.” Freydis said. “You may well get hungry before the meal tonight. There could be a lot of speeches.” She looked at Darren. “You are not that old.”
“What?” Darren said.
“I can hardly ever pick up anything from you,” Freydis said with a pout, “But you are not that old.” She glanced at Evan. “Although sometimes you may feel it.”
Evan sat down, darting an apprehensive glance at Freydis before picking up a forkful of casserole. “Auntie Jane says she’s old, but I think that sometimes she acts older than she is.”
Jasmine rushed back in. “I love this skirt.” She twirled around and the lightweight, tie dye maxi skirt swirled around. She was wearing lower heeled sandals and a chiffon, peasant style blouse. “I think I need more bangles.”
“You look amazing.” Evan dropped the chunk of meat off his fork.
Jasmine smiled and twirled again. Her blonde hair gleamed in the shine of the kitchen light and she radiated a giddy happiness. “I’ve never been to anything this important, so I want to look my best. Do you really think I look good?” She asked Evan.
“You’ll freeze to death if the weather changes.” Darren turned another page. “It’s maleficent.”
“What?” Jasmine said.
“Dave’s crossword, four across. The answer is ‘maleficent’. You look lovely, Jasmine, but the weather in the fairy realms is changeable.”
“He is right.” Freydis said, enjoying the irritation on Dave’s face as he filled in four across. “Should Lord Ragnar choose, or should the realm become unstable, then all weather is possible.”
Jasmine managed another half hearted twirl, nodded to herself and dashed out.
Evan took a deep breath. “Miss Freydis, should I wear a suit tonight?”
“You should wear your very finest.” Freydis said, lounging against the counter. “Try to look like James Bond.”
“But won’t I look like a waiter.” Evan asked.
“Not at all. You shall look far too inexperienced to be a waiter at such a function. Besides, Lord Ragnar insists on full brownie service and you will never pass as brownie.” Freydis said. Evan grinned and ran a smug hand through his hair.
“Why isn’t Jasmine getting changed with Adele and Jeanette?” Darren asked. “They could put her straight on what to wear.”
Dave grinned. “Ian had a lot to say about that. Jeanette and Martha, that’s Kieran’s wife, the top lady, have gone shopping together. Ian was managing to worry about Jeanette spending not enough money and making him look cheap and worrying whether he could afford what she was getting at the same time. He was getting into a right state.”
Freydis’ eyes gleamed. “I spoke with the ladies and they have made a bargain to lie to their husbands. They will both spend considerably less than they have been ordered to and both will look beautiful. Neither of the men will realise.” She tilted her head. “I shall go and give assistance to Jasmine. She is very undecided. I can feel it from here.”
Darren turned a page of his newspaper. “Ian and Jeanette aren’t married.”
Freydis shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.” She drifted out of the door.
Dave watched Freydis go. “I hope she plays fair with Jasmine.” He said. “Freydis has been in a funny mood all day.”
Darren grunted. “She thinks something to do with fate is going to happen. I don’t think she would do anything to harm Jasmine, but she isn’t seeing things as clearly as she could. Enervate.”
“What?”
“Seven down. It’s enervate.” Darren finished off his dinner as Dave filled in seven down, scowling. Evan kept his head down, flashing occasional glances at the two older men as he finished off his large plate.
“Do you think Auntie Jane would mind if I had a cake?” Evan asked.
“Please have two.” Darren said.
Jasmine rushed in. “How about this?” She glanced at Freydis, who nodded in approval.
Evan’s mouth opened and shut a few times. “You look amazing.” He took a deep breath. “Do you think we can have a dance later?”
“Yeah, that would be great.” Jasmine said. She looked between Dave and Darren. “Do you think Ian will like it?”
“I think he’ll love it.” Darren said. “Freydis, you are a genius, and not just with the coffee machine.” Jasmine was wearing the elegant black trouser suit but this time she was wearing a silky top in geometric slashes of blue, green and copper. Freydis had managed to get Jasmine to wear the accessories of a brooch on her lapel and a heavy, plastic copper bangle on one wrist. Her hair was up in a cute messy bun and the black leather shoes were low heeled pumps. Darren nodded. “You look elegant and beautiful. You’ve also forgotten to take the price tag off the jacket.”
Dave nodded. “You look amazing,” he said, “and a real credit to Ian.”
Freydis smiled wistfully as she watched Jasmine fumble with the price tag. “I feel like a proud older sister. You will turn so many heads tonight, before things turn dark.” She sighed and her clothes rippled about her. Instead of the designer jeans and casually chic shirt there was a ripple of chiffon and a sparkle of rose gold as the full length, formal ballgown grew around her, shading like a dusk sky from the dark velvet blue of an almost night sky down through the elegant, royal blue bodice, the mid band at the tiny waist and the full, swirling skirt that faded to the palest blue at the base with a hint of crimson sunset at the hem. Crystals sparkled at her ears and a wreath of cornflowers spiked with rosemary crowned her head, her golden hair falling straight, over her bare shoulders and down to her waist. “I will meet you at the hall.” And she faded into the air leaving the scent of rosemary behind her.

 

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Foreshadowing

Dave and Luke stood at the gate to the former Paladin’s Citadel.  The unassuming terrace house was now a pile of rubble between two boarded up former houses.  The Templars had swooped in and anything incriminating had been removed before any investigation had started and now the heaps of tattered rubble had been cleared.

“Do you think they will try and fit a taller building in this space?” Luke asked.  “They seem very clear about maximising profits.”

“You’re not from York, are you?” Dave said.  “Planning regulations are beyond strict.  They will have to rebuild with an exterior that matches the surroundings.  I think they may try and get flats out of the interior, though.”

Luke grinned.  “I can see it now – sympathetically restored building on the outside, rabbit hutches on the inside.”

They paused.  The gate stood incongruously alone, untouched, as an entry to a gap.  It took all of Dave’s will power not to carefully open the gate and latch it after him.  Instead he walked around and onto the cleared site.  Luke followed him.  The houses either side had been shored up, boarded off and made safe and there had been plenty of prayers and blessings, just in case.  It still had a forlorn air about it.  Dave shook his head.  “If it was me I’d knock down the two either side and make a bit of space.  The new Citadel has a lot more room.  I could have done something useful with this.”

Luke grinned wider.  “Like we have time to build a new house from scratch.”

Dave ignored him and started to wander over the rubble.  There had been no cellar.  It was too near the river and a chance of it flooding.  Instead there were solid, stone foundations underneath the brick dust and fragments of plaster.  “I’d get Ian to do the plumbing.” He turned at looked at Luke, genuine confusion on his face.  “How can you not ask the most straight up, solid, decent man you know?  You know he would do the best job he could and be honest to a fault.  But he’s a non-normal.  Sir Ewan is twitchy about getting him in, but I threw the last cowboy out.  He made a complete dog’s breakfast of the sink and watching him trying to sort the overflow nearly made me cry.”

Luke laughed out loud.  “I know what you mean.  I really miss the prayer meetings and Bible study we used to have with him.  Darren is talking about getting regular afternoons set up once he is in his vicarage.”

“He’ll be moving in soon.” Dave said, scuffing his foot over what was left of the concrete floor.  “Look at this, the bricks underneath have lasted better than the new concrete.  I don’t know whether it’s some sort of influence or just better workmanship.” He shook his head.  “Anyway, Darren will be in his place soon.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader have got the ladies together to give it a good clean.  It will probably be so clean you could do open heart surgery on any surface of the house, including the bathroom, which is just how Darren likes it.  And the sooner we get back to the meetings, the better.”

“You’ve been quiet about finding faith.” Luke followed him, looking around the ruin.  “What happened?”

Dave looked embarrassed.  “You know how my arm was bad and I was getting frustrated?  I went to the Minster and I prayed for the first time.  I was feeling so useless, that I couldn’t do this job of Paladin, and that I was a failure.  I got a sense that I got a ‘but you’re not on your own, have faith’ and my arm sort of clicked.” Dave rotated his left shoulder.  “And I thought, I’m not on my own, not if I have faith.  It made a difference.  I thought I had lost my chance when I spotted the Paladin’s mark on your shoulder, but it looks like York needs two of us.”

Luke nodded.  “I can feel the difference these days.  But let’s keep it quiet until after the feast.”

“Agreed.” Dave said.  “The last thing we need is to have all of our resources down there when anything could be happening… hang on, what’s this?”

Luke walked over and followed his gaze.  Dave’s foot had knocked a shard of the later concrete flooring out of the way and suddenly they were looking at a hole.  Dave pulled out his phone and used the torch to look into the unexpected pit.  Light reflected from the glass fragments scattered around the base of a hollow around an arm’s length deep and the size of a large dinner plate across.  Mixed in with the glass were strands of some sort of stained material, some rusted nails and what looked like pebbles.  Dave angled his phone around.  “It looks like an old witch jar – you know, something they used to bury under the floors when they built houses back whenever this was built.”

Luke glanced briefly at the other houses in the street.  “So it may have been there for 200 years or more?  That’s amazing.”

Dave looked over the space that had once been the house.  It was surprisingly large without its walls and furniture, and the foundations had stood up well to the explosion except for a few places.  He stood up and walked a little back from the street.  “I think this is another one.”

“Another witch bottle?” Luke asked.

Dave kicked back a few shreds of floorboard and peered down.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  Didn’t they used to bury cats under houses?”

Luke knelt at the side of the new hole.  “Not if this was built for the Templars.  That was superstition.  There could be relics and perhaps the Holy Wafer, but not a cat.” He craned his neck past Dave.  “Are those cat bones?  They look like horns.”

“It isn’t a sheep’s skull.” Dave said.  “They don’t look like natural horns.”  He exchanged an uneasy look with Luke.  “I think there are a few pits here.”

Luke leaned back and stumbled, nearly falling into yet another hole.  This time it looked like someone had buried a collection of hands.  All that were left were piles of finger bones, still articulated despite the explosion, surrounded by what looked like rotten wood.  “You know what I think?” he said, “I think that when there was something crazy scary and they couldn’t do anything else, they buried it under the floor of the Paladin’s house, because that was Holy and bad things couldn’t do much.  And you know what else I think?  I think that when the bad stuff hit whatever was Holy and everything went bang, I think we need to hope that the bad stuff had died long ago.” He looked back at the pit with the strange bones.  “I think we need to get the Templars’ experts in to check this out.”

“Hello, Elaine.” Fiona smiled brightly.  This may be her husband’s ex-girlfriend but she wasn’t going to be unprofessional.  “How can I help you?”

“I thought I’d call in and see if you were hiring.” Elaine said, with equal, brittle brightness.

“What?” Fiona said before pulling herself together.  “I mean, why would you want to do that?”

“I got a chance of promotion at a small firm in York.” Elaine said.  “But while it is a great opportunity and a small wage increase, housing in York is expensive and I thought…”

Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “Don’t worry, Fiona, it’s not Steve that she misses.”

“Excuse me?” Elaine said, staring at the elderly boggart.

“I know how it is with some of you normals.” Mrs Tuesday started clearing the tables.  “Once you get a taste of something outside of your normal world, you don’t want to give it up.  But Armani was a step too far.  I don’t blame you.  Now I’ve seen what he’s like on gin, I couldn’t stand him myself.  But you were never that attached to Steve, just the magic.”

Freydis wandered over.  “I think that is an excellent idea, if you can work both Saturday and Sunday.  Adele needs help and support with the figurines and I know that Callum can always use a paw with the post.”

“Callum is a werewolf, isn’t he?” Elaine asked.

“Umm? Freydis was staring absently through the window at the near empty car park.  “Callum and Ian are werewolves, as is Jasmine.  I believe Adele will be bitten soon but I’m not sure about Jeanette.  It is becoming quite a sub pack but I believe it is a relief to Kieran who is hard pressed by Lord Ragnar and grateful for the support and counsel from Ian.  The coach party due in an hour and a half will be quite early.  I think it best if we start preparing now.” She turned to look at Elaine.  “I don’t think there is a place for you to stay here at the moment, but there will be in a month so you should give your landlady notice.  I shall go into the storeroom and bring up extra sugar.”

What?” Fiona snapped.

“It is only minimum wage, Elaine, but the company is excellent, and it will be a nice supplement to your main income until you marry.  And I think Mrs Tuesday should check for muffins.” Freydis wandered through to the back room.

“I’m not getting married.” Elaine said, bewildered.

“Would you like to bet on that?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “It sounded like Freydis was telling the future.  You may not think that you’re getting married soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  Now, she suggested that I check out the muffins, so I’m going to do just that.” Mrs Tuesday followed Freydis into the back.

Fiona turned to Elaine.  “This business is owned by three of us.  There is Steve, who is away most days and is currently in Manchester trying to unload some flint arrowheads.  There is Kadogan, who hasn’t been seen for days and is caught up in the drama of Lord Ragnar’s court and there is me, who nobody listens to.  And what did she mean about Adele getting bitten?”

Elaine smiled at her with genuine sympathy.  “At least Armani is with Steve.  Did someone really give him gin?  He was bad enough when he got hold of my vodka.”

Fiona shuddered.  “He can’t be trusted with anything stronger than tea.  But he did save my life last year, so I have some time for him.”

“He saved your life?” Elaine stared.

“It’s a long story.” Fiona felt defeated.  She was, of course, going to hire Steve’s ex-girlfriend who was looking absolutely gorgeous today, because not only was it a waste of time arguing with Freydis but they were also desperate for weekend staff.

Mrs Tuesday stuck her head out of the back room.  “We’ve almost run out of muffins so I’m sending Callum to the Wholesalers.” She ducked back.

Fiona turned back to Elaine.  “Do you have any idea who you might marry?”

Elaine shook her head.  “Do you think she’s right?”

“I gave up worrying about it a while ago.” Fiona sighed.  “That coach pulling in isn’t due for another hour and a half.  I’ll sign you up after the rush.”

Freydis stood in front of Lord Ragnar, tapping her foot.  Tension was spreading out through the court in waves as the former couple stared at each other.  The hall was still wearing the illusion of a Victorian gentleman’s club, but there was traces of dust in the corners and some of the lamps were dim.  Freydis took a breath.  “If you wish me to attend, my lord, of course I shall.  But I am bound to give you counsel and I don’t think it’s a good idea.  Look at what is happening because you are forced to speak with me.”

“The dust is not new.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “And, yes, you shall attend.”

Freydis looked around again.  The draped velvet hangings in the corner were looking worn and the fire was sinking low.  “I once again request that I am allowed to put right…”

“I have this in hand.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I have it all in hand.  You shall attend and Miss Patience shall attend.  All the ladies of the pack shall attend.  The brownies shall be present and the goblins and even the Paladin.  I will demonstrate my authority.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Freydis said.  “Forcing Miss Patience to attend is unwise.  You know how it affects her.”

“I know how she says it affects her.” Lord Ragnar stood.  “But I will not be rejected in my own hall.”

“You really are showing a special kind of stupid.” Freydis said, inspecting her immaculate nails.  “Because even if you rip her head off, her presence only agitates the darkness.”

“What did you call me?” Lord Ragnar growled.

“I called you special, my Prince.” Freydis faked a smile.  Lord Ragnar threw a goblet at her.

“Do not dare try your insolence.”

Freydis ducked the goblet easily and retaliated with a nearby teapot.  Amber liquid scattered as teapot and contents whirled through the air and smashed against a pillar behind Lord Ragnar.  “You are being a special idiot.  A prize Duns Scotus.  An Ass.”

Lord Ragnar grabbed a tray and hurled it, edge on, at Freydis, who casually batted it out of the air to land with a clatter amongst a knot of werewolves.  Lord Ragnar stepped forward.  “I should have beaten you to obedience centuries ago.”

“Of course I’m going to obey my prince’s stupid orders.” Freydis yelled.  “As long as no-one thinks I’m stupid enough to have made those damned decisions myself.” She grabbed a potted fern and hurled it at Lord Ragnar.  It shattered on the fireplace and the brownies winced.

Atherton turned to Kadogan.  “These sweet romances are all very well, but there is much to do for the feast and the revenants prowl close to this hall.”

Kadogan looked worried.  “I shall try and distract them, but it is always difficult to walk into a lover’s tiff.  However it is a necessity.”

Atherton laid a hand on Kadogan’s shoulder.  “I have always admired your courage.” He said with complete sincerity.

Put in Place

Lord Ragnar looked around his court.  There were still plenty of people around and the fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was a thinness about the place.  No vampires were present and the few werewolves who attended were clustered around Kieran.  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  It all came back to Freydis.  If she had been present there would have been some chat, or flirtation or amusement. And if nothing had been happening, she would have instigated something.  Kadogan and Atherton watched him warily.  Kadogan passed Lord Ragnar a goblet of wine.

“Do you wish to hunt revenants tonight?”

Lord Ragnar accepted the wine.  “Hmm?”

Atherton leaned in.  “We should be hunting the revenants.  There are many on the streets, my lord.”

Lord Ragnar stared moodily into the fire.  Hunting revenants was something to do, he supposed, but it didn’t exactly bring him the glory and splendour he needed.  Besides, he needed Freydis and she was busy with the damned coffee machine.  At least he had a chance competing against a vampire or mortal, and Freydis had never been indiscreet enough to dally with another elfen, but he felt helpless against a coffee machine.  He drained the wine.

“It would be a popular move.” Kadogan said.  “Kieran Latimer is growing concerned.”

Atherton had never been a coward.  “Perhaps you could hunt around the edges of the dark parts of your domain.  Pushing back the darkness there would be very popular, and I am confident many would attend to assist.”

Lord Ragnar placed the empty wine goblet back on the table.  “I will hunt within my domain.” He flicked a glance around the room.  A few people had looked up, but not all.  He was losing his grip.  “And tomorrow I will plan the midsummer feast.  Steve and Fiona Adderson will attend to celebrate their anniversary and all my court will come.  Every single one.”

Silence ran around the hall.  Lord Ragnar had thrown down a gauntlet.  Miss Patience had been avoiding the court, complaining that being so close to the dark domain made things difficult for her.  Demanding that she and all of her kind attend was a line in the sand.

Kieran stood up.  “All of us?  Including those werewolves touched by the darkness?  You know how they have been affected.”

“I am sure any competent leader can control their pack.” Lord Ragnar said.  Kieran flushed and clenched his fists.  Lord Ragnar ignored him and turned to Kadogan and Atherton.  “Shall we go hunt?”

Fiona found it almost funny.  The men were in the back, the women were in the shop.  Steve was packing a van to take to Bridlington and Ian was helping him load it.  Steve was hoping for a load of sea glass in return, straight from the sea bed.  Callum was off to the wholesalers today to pick up supplies for the café and Dave was upstairs getting ready for his first client.  Luke was also upstairs, probably sleeping in after another hard night fighting revenants, and Darren had gone to look at his assigned vicarage.  Kadogan was last seen counting the candles again but Fiona had given up tracking him.

The women of the White Hart were also busy.  Jeanette was sorting out a new delivery of cards and getting them on the shelves, along with a few of her own.  Mrs Tuesday was setting out the muffins and cakes for the café while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it warmed up.  Adele was regrouping some of the over-cute pixies in an attempt to make it look like a display.  Jasmine had brought up large basket of different incenses from the storerooms downstairs and was stocking the shelves, humming happily to herself.

Fiona started making notes and sketches for the new catalogue.  Steve insisted that a new catalogue went out in plenty of time before the Wiccan festivals, so the Lammas catalogue for the celebrations on August 2nd would need to go out by the second week of July.  Fiona was thinking of getting someone on duty just to answer the phones for the last week before the festival to cope with the last-minute orders.

Fiona looked over to Mrs Tuesday.  “Is Evan going to be okay doing all the runs to the Village?  It’s a long run.”

“He’ll be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a change for him.  Besides, Gabe will be with him.”

“As long as he’s okay with it.” Fiona said.  The mail order business with the non-normals was generating a lot of post and many preferred to go through messengers.  She had had a long chat with Karen, the Postmistress in the Village who operated general clearing house for the non-normal population and had come to an agreement about parcels and packages.  Evan Tuesday would drive over three times a week with the non-urgent deliveries which could later be collected by the messengers that called in there from the various courts.  She straightened the already straight pile of till rolls.  “What do you think the celebration with Lord Ragnar will be like?”

“I think it will be entertaining.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“It will be incredibly entertaining and possibly violent.” Freydis said.  “Also the coffee is likely to be below standard.”

“Do you think it will actually be violent?” Fiona asked.  “I’m not sure I’m happy to go to a fight.”

“Lord Ragnar is insisting that the vampires affected by the dark energy attend a function near to that exact dark energy and he is also insisting that werewolves previously affected by the dark energy attend at the risk of them becoming snappy.  How can it not have some violence involved?” Freydis tenderly wiped down the steamer.

“You will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If Lord Ragnar keeps his head then there will probably be some heated words and a few bruises.”

“Ian’s really not happy about going there.” Jasmine said.  “He wants me to stay here.”

“Does he think that the feast will be a distraction and allow attacks in other areas?” Freydis asked.  “That is interesting.”

Jasmine nodded.  “He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s been going with Darren around all the burial grounds to try and limit the revenants that can be summoned, and I heard Luke telling him not to worry and that lots of the Knights Templar will be out that nght.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “Well maybe that Sir Craig will get some sense knocked into him.”

Freydis raised an eyebrow.  “The Templars are getting it more or less right here, Mrs Tuesday, but I understand that you don’t like them.”

“No, I really don’t.”  Mrs Tuesday snapped.

“At least they will not be at feast.” Freydis said.  “I have a new syrup to try, a French vanilla.  Would anyone like a coffee?”

“I’d love one.” Fiona said.  “Your coffee is always delicious.  But this feast, it’s not likely to be really dangerous, is it?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Probably not to you.”

Adele wandered over to the café.  “I’d love one of your coffees, if you don’t mind.  Am I invited?”

“That depends on Ian.” Freydis said.

“How can it possibly depend on Ian?” Adele said.  “I’m either invited or I’m not.”

“You are part of his subpack.” Freydis said.  “He is the one in charge and he is worried.”

Jeanette moved back to the café area, carrying an empty cardboard box.  “Ian has already said that he doesn’t wantus girls there.” She tucked the cardboard box to one side behind the counter.  “I’d love a coffee as well, if you don’t mind.”

Freydis smiled.  “Of course.” She placed the first drink in front of Fiona and deftly switched over the coffee.  “So, Ian is keeping the women at home.  He is expecting trouble.” She tilted her head as she steamed the milk.  “Ian’s insights are always worth hearing.  There may be more trouble than I was expecting if he is keeping the women away.  Does he want you to stay at Jeanette’s house or with the rest of the pack?”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want us there.” Adele snapped.

Jeanette looked at Jasmine and Adele.  “Hasn’t he said anything?  We’ve been invited to a crafting bee with Martha at the main house.”

Freydis put a coffee in front of Adele.  “Ian tells you, and then you are supposed to tell the women in your pack.”

“Really?” Jeanette felt overwhelmed.  “Is there a list of things I should do?”

“You can ask Martha.” Freydis said.  “She knows these things.”

“I’m rubbish at craft.” Jasmine said.  “I never seem to get it right.”

“What is a crafting bee?” Adele asked, slightly calmer.  She took a sip of her coffee.  “Freydis, this coffee is amazing.”

Freydis glowed a little with the praise.  “Thank you.  I believe Martha is creating and gathering crafts for the church sale in support of the Red Cross.”  She pulled out another cup for Jeanette.  “There will be all sorts of crafts there.  Martha is an excellent organiser so there will be groups for knitting, crochet, quilting, cards and such.  I always hear that they are relaxed and happy occasions.  And if there is an expectation of trouble, the women of the pack stay back and guard the home.  It rarely happens, but Martha is skilled at making such times a relaxed occasion.  I believe this is merely a precaution.”

“I wish I could go.” Fiona said.  “If I had to choose between an evening making cards or an evening in the middle of potential danger, I’d choose the cards.”

“The feast will be magnificent, and it will be safe to eat the food and drink.” Freydis said.  “There will be no enchantment on it.”

“So Kieran and Ian are expecting trouble?” Mrs Tuesday wiped over the clean counter.  “That’s a worry.”

“Will you be attending, Mrs Tuesday?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes, I’ll be attending.” Mrs Tuesday sounded subdued.  “The werewolves can get away with keeping their women at home, but everyone else has to attend.  If I don’t go, it’s more than bad manners…” She trailed off, looking worried.

An alarm went off on Fiona’s phone.  “Time to open up.” She drained the last of the delicious coffee and unlocked the door, flicking the sign to show ‘Open’.  “At least there are no tours booked today.”

“We have visitors already.” Freydis said.  “And they are elfen, with a werewolf.” Her expression hardened.  “Also, that dreadful creature, Ferdi.”

Jasmine looked anxiously at Fiona.  “I don’t want there to be any trouble.  Please don’t say anything.”

“You can take the empty boxes downstairs.” Fiona said.

“I’m not running away.” Jasmine said firmly.

Inwardly Fiona sighed, then glanced at Freydis who looked on high alert.  Her heart sank.  This looked like it was going to be a problem.  She moved next to Adele.  “Can you take the boxes downstairs and get Steve and Kadogan up?  It looks complicated.”

Four men entered the shop like soldiers checking enemy territory.  A tall, slim man in a three-piece suit, sharp featured but handsome with piercing blue eyes and a mane of thick, dark auburn hair tied back in a pony tail led them, striding into the shop and across to the café.  At his shoulder was another man, also slim but with short, dark hair.  His eyes were hidden by sunglasses and his casual jacket over t-shirt and jeans looked out of place.  He moved like a bodyguard, constantly glancing around.  Ferdi was wearing his usual grey suit, and he wandered towards the books.  A thickset man, burly in a casual shirt and jeans with greying brown hair followed him.  Ferdi waved his hands.  “See, there is a real lack of information on aliens here.  They are missing out on sales.”

“We haven’t had any requests for books about extra-terrestrials.” Fiona glanced across at Freydis who was staring at the redhead.

“You aren’t listening to your customers.” Ferdi shook his head.  “This is Rhett, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Fiona said.

Freydis waved a hand.  “Fiona, this is Egerton, an important elfen who rarely visits the court of his prince.  He is normally found in Tadcaster.  He is accompanied by Clarence, who is known for his expertise in violence, but is rarely seen in a shop.” She raised an elegant eyebrow at Egerton.  “The revenants are seen at night and a small threat to you.  Do you have other worries?”

“Why should I have any worries?” Egerton said.  He smiled.  “Clarence also enjoys coffee.  Four of your finest coffees, please.”

“Latte?  Mocha?  Machiatto?  Espresso?” Freydis matched Egerton’s cold smile.  “Or should I choose for you?”

Egerton waved a hand.  “Surprise us.”

“That’s taking a risk, isn’t it, my lord?” Ferdi said.  “I mean, we could end up with anything.”  He looked at Freydis.  “I take my coffee black.”

“I’ll try and remember that.” Freydis said brightly.  She turned away to the coffee machine, but Fiona noticed that she was watching the reflections in the polished steel.

“You must be Jasmine.” Rhett had wandered over to the café and was leaning forward.  Jasmine had taken a tactical decision to stand with a counter between her and Ferdi, but Rhett was taller and when he leaned on the counter he was within touching distance.  “I’ve heard about you.”

“Really?” Jasmine said.  She started laying out the saucers for Freydis.

“I’m really good at getting ladies to like fur, if you know what I mean.” Rhett said.  “I have a talent.”

“I’m happy for you.” Jasmine straightened a tray, avoiding his eyes.

“Perhaps we could go out for a drink and I could show you what I mean.” Rhett’s smile made Fiona uneasy.

“I’m okay, thanks.” Jasmine laid out the complimentary biscuits.

Egerton watched, frowning, before smiling at Freydis as she placed the first hazelnut latte down.  “I will be attending the feast, of course.  I believe it will be splendid fun.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Freydis said.  “There is likely to be a small amount of violence, but nothing spectacular.”

“But the food is usually magnificent, although it will miss your guiding hand.” Egerton brushed his hand against Freydis’ as she placed down the second latte.  “You taste is exquisite.”

“Thank you.” Freydis said.  “How is Pimpernel?”

Egerton shrugged.  “She is no longer staying in Tadcaster.  I believe she had the bad taste to move to Lancaster.”

Freydis’ bright smile had a malicious edge.  “Did Foxtrot go with her?”

“You are as well informed as ever.” Egerton said.  He sighed with deliberate boredom.  “Pimpernel ran off with her lover to Lancaster and I divorced her.  Here I am, single.  It is shocking that two desirable people such as us can be single.”

“Not really.” Freydis said.  “When you are as attractive as us, you learn to be discerning.”

Mrs Tuesday had been watching Freydis and Egerton with amusement but moved forward sharply as Rhett caught hold of Jasmine’s hand.

“You’re such a pup still.” Rhett said.  “You have no idea what you want.  Let me show you the possibilities.  Come with me to the feast and we can just relax, talk and maybe you can surprise yourself.”

“I’m not going to the feast.” Jasmine said.  “None of the women of the pack are going.  We’re having a girl’s night.”

Rhett shrugged.  “Then let me take you for a drink.  It could be fun.”

Jasmine pulled her hand free at the second attempt.  “No, thank you.  I’m busy and I’m not the sort to go for drinks with strangers.”

“Hi, Rhett.” Fiona turned around at the welcome sound of Steve’s voice.  “Long time no snarl.  Last I heard you escaped from the pack at Shrewsbury before you could be torn apart for conduct unbecoming.  Still keeping your tail up, I see.”

Kadogan followed closely behind Steve. “Egerton!  I would like to say that it is pleasant to see you.”

“Kadogan, I would love to say that it is a joy meeting you.” Egerton said.  He turned to Ferdi.  “Is this true?  Is the companion you vouched for a stray?”

“Stray is a hard word and not always as straightforward as it may seem.” Ferdi said.  “After all, this young pup is a stray.”

“She is no longer a stray.” Freydis snapped.  She glared at Egerton.  “She belongs here.  It is bad enough that you brought in someone to harass one of us, but a stray?  Your standards are slipping.”

“I can assure you, my dear Freydis, I had no idea.” Egerton turned to Ferdi.  “Perhaps you and your… associate should leave.”

“I’m no trouble.” Rhett smiled at Jasmine.  “I’m a softy, really, when you get to know me.”

“I’m sure that there are plenty that appreciate you.” Jasmine said.  “Goodbye.”

A low growl started at the base of Rhett’s throat but Ferdi tugged urgently on his arm and they left, Rhett throwing a final glance at Jasmine as he went.

“I apologise for my associate’s lapse in judgement.” Egerton said.  “But while I am blessed with your company, Kadogan, I wonder if you can recommend somewhere to stay while Clarence and I are in York.”

“You can stay at the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “The rents are extremely reasonable.”

There was a tense moment.  The two elfen locked eyes and the sense of an imminent thunderstorm filled the room.  Freydis broke it.

“I can understand that Egerton would be uncomfortable staying here as he would feel under the constant view of Lord Ragnar’s chief ally and we all know how Egerton feels about Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan and Egerton both turned to glare at her.  Freydis smiled brightly.  “However I believe Miss Patience is looking for someone to take over the lease on her latest dwelling.  It is a farmhouse on the edge of York with a hole in the wall, caused by Martin.”

“What is Martin?” Egerton asked.

“I believe you knew him as Aelfhelm,” Freydis said, “But names are mutable.  I am considering changing my name to Machiatto.”

Egerton froze for a moment.  “Aelfhelm is returned?  That is significant news.” He nodded to Clarence.  “I’ll speak to Miss Patience, thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to my associate.”

“Thanks for coming with me to the shops.” Jasmine said as she and Jeanette walked through the thinning crowds to the centre at Coppergate.  “I have no idea what to get.”

“To be honest, neither have I.” Jeanette said.  “All I know is that it’s not too formal but I should dress smart.”

Jasmine started to head towards the budget clothing store but Jeanette caught her arm.  “Ian has been quite clear, and he’s given us some money as well.”

“Really?!  How much?”

Jeanette laughed.  “He handed me a load of money and said we had to get an outfit each.  I love the man, but he hasn’t got a clue.  I’m not spending that amount.”

“Was it hundreds?” Jasmine’s eyes were round.

“We are going to shop cleverly, look amazing and save Ian some money.” Jeanette said.  She looked Jasmine up and down.  “Freydis is right, you would look amazing in blue.”

“What do you think you’ll get?”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette said.  “Let’s cut through the car park here.”

The multi-story car park was dim and echoed.  It was late and much of the car park had emptied and there were gaps that Jeanette and Jasmine could cut through.  It was quiet, for a moment, and they seemed to be the only people around as they headed for the side exit.  “I have some really nice trousers.” Jeanette said as they slid between a badly parked Renault and a concrete pillar.  “I could get a nice top to go with it.”

“Do you think Ian would mind?” Jasmine asked.

“Do you think he would notice?” Jeanette stopped suddenly.  “Jasmine, what are those?” She pointed to the shabby, shadowy figures slowly emerging from the dark corner behind a Ranger Rover.

Jasmine looked past her.  She swallowed.  “I think those are revenants.”

“I thought they were only out at night these days.” Jeanette looked around.  She had heard enough from listening to the talk from Ian, Luke and Callum to know that there were seven plus one leader.  There were three ahead, shuffling out of the dark corner.  She grabbed Jasmine’s arm.  “They’re behind us as well.”

Jasmine followed Jeanette’s gaze.  “That’s three in that corner and four behind us.  Where is the leader?” She glanced around frantically before looking up.  A man, emaciated and ragged, was clinging on to the ceiling by fingers and toes.  He caught Jasmine’s appalled gaze and grinned before running, spiderlike, over the bare concrete and down the wall to take his place in the corner.  Jasmine pushed Jeanette behind her, “This is bad.  Try and get behind the Audi, towards the door.”

Jeanette slid towards the Audi.  “What do we do?”

“We need to fight our way out of here.” Jasmine said.  She glanced at Jeanette.  “Don’t worry.  I can handle myself.  It’s only a few revenants.”

Jeanette inched her way nearer the door.  “They’re moving to cut us off.”

“It’s okay.” Jasmine tried to sound braver than she felt.  “Stay close to me.”

“They’re getting closer.” Jeanette took a breath and held her bag with both hands.  “What do we do?”

“Try and call Ian.” Jasmine said.  “Just in case.”

Jeanette fumbled in her bag.  “What if he doesn’t answer?”

“He always answers a call from you.” Jasmine managed a smile.  “He is crazy about you.”

Jeanette managed to find her phone.  Thank goodness there was a signal.  She tried to scroll for Ian’s number.  “I’m crazy about him too.” The revenants were getting closer.  They got past the Audi to the row before the door.

Jasmine growled low in her throat.  “Keep moving.” She pushed Jeanette before spinning around and punching the nearest revenant hard in the face.  It staggered back as Jasmine followed with a swift punch to the chest.  “Stay between the cars.”

Jeanette looked ahead at the wide space between the end of the blue Toyota and the pedestrian exit.  It seemed a long stretch, far longer than the few yards distance that it represented and there were three revenants there, waiting out of the light.  She dialled Ian’s number, praying he would answer.  There was a crack behind her and she whirled around.  Jasmine had driven a revenant’s head hard into a concrete pillar and it had collapsed into a pile of bones and dust.  She backed towards Jeanette, kicking hard at the revenant closing in on her.  Jeanette spun around.  The revenants were approaching her, led by their leader who was grinning.  Ian answered the phone and Jeanette sagged with relief.  “We’re being attacked by revenants.”

“Where are you?” Ian snapped.

Jeanette somehow gave clear directions as she watched the revenants advancing.  Behind her she could hear Jasmine dealing with the ones behind her.  She started to edge back.  A quick glance behind her showed Jasmine struggling to keeping the last of the four revenants’ teeth from her neck.  As Ian hung up the phone she struggled to get back to try and help Jasmine.

Darren got there first.  He appeared out of nowhere and with a grunt had grabbed the revenant and thrust a stake upwards.  The bones and dust crumbled away from Jasmine, leaving her free and gasping for breath.  At the other side of Jeanette, Luke and Sir Ewan were dealing with the revenants.  Jeanette scrambled backwards away from the leader as he lunged towards her.  She screamed as she was grabbed and thrown across a car bonnet as Darren got her out of danger and faced the revenant leader.  The leader hissed and drew himself to his full height, poised to strike but Darren didn’t waste time.  As the leader paused, Darren thrust hard with the palm of his hand underneath the vampire’s chin and thrust in hard with the stake as it stumbled back.

As Luke and Sir Ewan quickly finished off their opponents, Darren turned to Jasmine.  “Are you okay?”

Jasmine nodded weakly and looked over to Jeanette who was clutching onto her bag and trying to work out what had happened.  “I thought we only needed to worry after dark, these days?”

“It’s the first daylight attack in weeks,” Sir Ewan said, gently grasping Jeanette’s arm and helping her towards the door.  “But this must be a place they’re using as a lair.  It’s nice and dark and probably built on a graveyard.  Let’s get you outside.”

“They are only going after non-normals at the moment.” Luke said.  “Most of the time it would be fine in here.  It’s just they went after Jasmine.”

“Are you okay?” Darren asked Jasmine again.  “You’re covered in dust.”

Jasmine nodded and coughed.  “I didn’t expect them.”

“But you did great.” Darren said.  “Well done.”  He looked up the street to see what looked like a large Alsatian streaking towards them at full speed.  “Here’s Ian.  Let’s hope he remembers himself enough to stay in fur!”

In Charge

Lord Ragnar looked around his court.  There were still plenty of people around and the fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was a thinness about the place.  No vampires were present and the few werewolves who attended were clustered around Kieran.  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  It all came back to Freydis.  If she had been present there would have been some chat, or flirtation or amusement. And if nothing had been happening, she would have instigated something.  Kadogan and Atherton watched him warily.  Kadogan passed Lord Ragnar a goblet of wine.

“Do you wish to hunt revenants tonight?”

Lord Ragnar accepted the wine.  “Hmm?”

Atherton leaned in.  “We should be hunting the revenants.  There are many on the streets, my lord.”

Lord Ragnar stared moodily into the fire.  Hunting revenants was something to do, he supposed, but it didn’t exactly bring him the glory and splendour he needed.  Besides, he needed Freydis and she was busy with the damned coffee machine.  At least he had a chance competing against a vampire or mortal, and Freydis had never been indiscreet enough to dally with another elfen, but he felt helpless against a coffee machine.  He drained the wine.

“It would be a popular move.” Kadogan said.  “Kieran Latimer is growing concerned.”

Atherton had never been a coward.  “Perhaps you could hunt around the edges of the dark parts of your domain.  Pushing back the darkness there would be very popular, and I am confident many would attend to assist.”

Lord Ragnar placed the empty wine goblet back on the table.  “I will hunt within my domain.” He flicked a glance around the room.  A few people had looked up, but not all.  He was losing his grip.  “And tomorrow I will plan the midsummer feast.  Steve and Fiona Adderson will attend to celebrate their anniversary and all my court will come.  Every single one.”

Silence ran around the hall.  Lord Ragnar had thrown down a gauntlet.  Miss Patience had been avoiding the court, complaining that being so close to the dark domain made things difficult for her.  Demanding that she and all of her kind attend was a line in the sand.

Kieran stood up.  “All of us?  Including those werewolves touched by the darkness?  You know how they have been affected.”

“I am sure any competent leader can control their pack.” Lord Ragnar said.  Kieran flushed and clenched his fists.  Lord Ragnar ignored him and turned to Kadogan and Atherton.  “Shall we go hunt?”

Fiona found it almost funny.  The men were in the back, the women were in the shop.  Steve was packing a van to take to Bridlington and Ian was helping him load it.  Steve was hoping for a load of sea glass in return, straight from the sea bed.  Callum was off to the wholesalers today to pick up supplies for the café and Dave was upstairs getting ready for his first client.  Luke was also upstairs, probably sleeping in after another hard night fighting revenants, and Darren had gone to look at his assigned vicarage.  Kadogan was last seen counting the candles again but Fiona had given up tracking him.

The women of the White Hart were also busy.  Jeanette was sorting out a new delivery of cards and getting them on the shelves, along with a few of her own.  Mrs Tuesday was setting out the muffins and cakes for the café while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it warmed up.  Adele was regrouping some of the over-cute pixies in an attempt to make it look like a display.  Jasmine had brought up large basket of different incenses from the storerooms downstairs and was stocking the shelves, humming happily to herself.

Fiona started making notes and sketches for the new catalogue.  Steve insisted that a new catalogue went out in plenty of time before the Wiccan festivals, so the Lammas catalogue for the celebrations on August 2nd would need to go out by the second week of July.  Fiona was thinking of getting someone on duty just to answer the phones for the last week before the festival to cope with the last-minute orders.

Fiona looked over to Mrs Tuesday.  “Is Evan going to be okay doing all the runs to the Village?  It’s a long run.”

“He’ll be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a change for him.  Besides, Gabe will be with him.”

“As long as he’s okay with it.” Fiona said.  The mail order business with the non-normals was generating a lot of post and many preferred to go through messengers.  She had had a long chat with Karen, the Postmistress in the Village who operated general clearing house for the non-normal population and had come to an agreement about parcels and packages.  Evan Tuesday would drive over three times a week with the non-urgent deliveries which could later be collected by the messengers that called in there from the various courts.  She straightened the already straight pile of till rolls.  “What do you think the celebration with Lord Ragnar will be like?”

“I think it will be entertaining.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“It will be incredibly entertaining and possibly violent.” Freydis said.  “Also the coffee is likely to be below standard.”

“Do you think it will actually be violent?” Fiona asked.  “I’m not sure I’m happy to go to a fight.”

“Lord Ragnar is insisting that the vampires affected by the dark energy attend a function near to that exact dark energy and he is also insisting that werewolves previously affected by the dark energy attend at the risk of them becoming snappy.  How can it not have some violence involved?” Freydis tenderly wiped down the steamer.

“You will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If Lord Ragnar keeps his head then there will probably be some heated words and a few bruises.”

“Ian’s really not happy about going there.” Jasmine said.  “He wants me to stay here.”

“Does he think that the feast will be a distraction and allow attacks in other areas?” Freydis asked.  “That is interesting.”

Jasmine nodded.  “He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s been going with Darren around all the burial grounds to try and limit the revenants that can be summoned, and I heard Luke telling him not to worry and that lots of the Knights Templar will be out that nght.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “Well maybe that Sir Craig will get some sense knocked into him.”

Freydis raised an eyebrow.  “The Templars are getting it more or less right here, Mrs Tuesday, but I understand that you don’t like them.”

“No, I really don’t.”  Mrs Tuesday snapped.

“At least they will not be at feast.” Freydis said.  “I have a new syrup to try, a French vanilla.  Would anyone like a coffee?”

“I’d love one.” Fiona said.  “Your coffee is always delicious.  But this feast, it’s not likely to be really dangerous, is it?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Probably not to you.”

Adele wandered over to the café.  “I’d love one of your coffees, if you don’t mind.  Am I invited?”

“That depends on Ian.” Freydis said.

“How can it possibly depend on Ian?” Adele said.  “I’m either invited or I’m not.”

“You are part of his subpack.” Freydis said.  “He is the one in charge and he is worried.”

Jeanette moved back to the café area, carrying an empty cardboard box.  “Ian has already said that he doesn’t wantus girls there.” She tucked the cardboard box to one side behind the counter.  “I’d love a coffee as well, if you don’t mind.”

Freydis smiled.  “Of course.” She placed the first drink in front of Fiona and deftly switched over the coffee.  “So, Ian is keeping the women at home.  He is expecting trouble.” She tilted her head as she steamed the milk.  “Ian’s insights are always worth hearing.  There may be more trouble than I was expecting if he is keeping the women away.  Does he want you to stay at Jeanette’s house or with the rest of the pack?”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want us there.” Adele snapped.

Jeanette looked at Jasmine and Adele.  “Hasn’t he said anything?  We’ve been invited to a crafting bee with Martha at the main house.”

Freydis put a coffee in front of Adele.  “Ian tells you, and then you are supposed to tell the women in your pack.”

“Really?” Jeanette felt overwhelmed.  “Is there a list of things I should do?”

“You can ask Martha.” Freydis said.  “She knows these things.”

“I’m rubbish at craft.” Jasmine said.  “I never seem to get it right.”

“What is a crafting bee?” Adele asked, slightly calmer.  She took a sip of her coffee.  “Freydis, this coffee is amazing.”

Freydis glowed a little with the praise.  “Thank you.  I believe Martha is creating and gathering crafts for the church sale in support of the Red Cross.”  She pulled out another cup for Jeanette.  “There will be all sorts of crafts there.  Martha is an excellent organiser so there will be groups for knitting, crochet, quilting, cards and such.  I always hear that they are relaxed and happy occasions.  And if there is an expectation of trouble, the women of the pack stay back and guard the home.  It rarely happens, but Martha is skilled at making such times a relaxed occasion.  I believe this is merely a precaution.”

“I wish I could go.” Fiona said.  “If I had to choose between an evening making cards or an evening in the middle of potential danger, I’d choose the cards.”

“The feast will be magnificent, and it will be safe to eat the food and drink.” Freydis said.  “There will be no enchantment on it.”

“So Kieran and Ian are expecting trouble?” Mrs Tuesday wiped over the clean counter.  “That’s a worry.”

“Will you be attending, Mrs Tuesday?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes, I’ll be attending.” Mrs Tuesday sounded subdued.  “The werewolves can get away with keeping their women at home, but everyone else has to attend.  If I don’t go, it’s more than bad manners…” She trailed off, looking worried.

An alarm went off on Fiona’s phone.  “Time to open up.” She drained the last of the delicious coffee and unlocked the door, flicking the sign to show ‘Open’.  “At least there are no tours booked today.”

“We have visitors already.” Freydis said.  “And they are elfen, with a werewolf.” Her expression hardened.  “Also, that dreadful creature, Ferdi.”

Jasmine looked anxiously at Fiona.  “I don’t want there to be any trouble.  Please don’t say anything.”

“You can take the empty boxes downstairs.” Fiona said.

“I’m not running away.” Jasmine said firmly.

Inwardly Fiona sighed, then glanced at Freydis who looked on high alert.  Her heart sank.  This looked like it was going to be a problem.  She moved next to Adele.  “Can you take the boxes downstairs and get Steve and Kadogan up?  It looks complicated.”

Four men entered the shop like soldiers checking enemy territory.  A tall, slim man in a three-piece suit, sharp featured but handsome with piercing blue eyes and a mane of thick, dark auburn hair tied back in a pony tail led them, striding into the shop and across to the café.  At his shoulder was another man, also slim but with short, dark hair.  His eyes were hidden by sunglasses and his casual jacket over t-shirt and jeans looked out of place.  He moved like a bodyguard, constantly glancing around.  Ferdi was wearing his usual grey suit, and he wandered towards the books.  A thickset man, burly in a casual shirt and jeans with greying brown hair followed him.  Ferdi waved his hands.  “See, there is a real lack of information on aliens here.  They are missing out on sales.”

“We haven’t had any requests for books about extra-terrestrials.” Fiona glanced across at Freydis who was staring at the redhead.

“You aren’t listening to your customers.” Ferdi shook his head.  “This is Rhett, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Fiona said.

Freydis waved a hand.  “Fiona, this is Egerton, an important elfen who rarely visits the court of his prince.  He is normally found in Tadcaster.  He is accompanied by Clarence, who is known for his expertise in violence, but is rarely seen in a shop.” She raised an elegant eyebrow at Egerton.  “The revenants are seen at night and a small threat to you.  Do you have other worries?”

“Why should I have any worries?” Egerton said.  He smiled.  “Clarence also enjoys coffee.  Four of your finest coffees, please.”

“Latte?  Mocha?  Machiatto?  Espresso?” Freydis matched Egerton’s cold smile.  “Or should I choose for you?”

Egerton waved a hand.  “Surprise us.”

“That’s taking a risk, isn’t it, my lord?” Ferdi said.  “I mean, we could end up with anything.”  He looked at Freydis.  “I take my coffee black.”

“I’ll try and remember that.” Freydis said brightly.  She turned away to the coffee machine, but Fiona noticed that she was watching the reflections in the polished steel.

“You must be Jasmine.” Rhett had wandered over to the café and was leaning forward.  Jasmine had taken a tactical decision to stand with a counter between her and Ferdi, but Rhett was taller and when he leaned on the counter he was within touching distance.  “I’ve heard about you.”

“Really?” Jasmine said.  She started laying out the saucers for Freydis.

“I’m really good at getting ladies to like fur, if you know what I mean.” Rhett said.  “I have a talent.”

“I’m happy for you.” Jasmine straightened a tray, avoiding his eyes.

“Perhaps we could go out for a drink and I could show you what I mean.” Rhett’s smile made Fiona uneasy.

“I’m okay, thanks.” Jasmine laid out the complimentary biscuits.

Egerton watched, frowning, before smiling at Freydis as she placed the first hazelnut latte down.  “I will be attending the feast, of course.  I believe it will be splendid fun.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Freydis said.  “There is likely to be a small amount of violence, but nothing spectacular.”

“But the food is usually magnificent, although it will miss your guiding hand.” Egerton brushed his hand against Freydis’ as she placed down the second latte.  “You taste is exquisite.”

“Thank you.” Freydis said.  “How is Pimpernel?”

Egerton shrugged.  “She is no longer staying in Tadcaster.  I believe she had the bad taste to move to Lancaster.”

Freydis’ bright smile had a malicious edge.  “Did Foxtrot go with her?”

“You are as well informed as ever.” Egerton said.  He sighed with deliberate boredom.  “Pimpernel ran off with her lover to Lancaster and I divorced her.  Here I am, single.  It is shocking that two desirable people such as us can be single.”

“Not really.” Freydis said.  “When you are as attractive as us, you learn to be discerning.”

Mrs Tuesday had been watching Freydis and Egerton with amusement but moved forward sharply as Rhett caught hold of Jasmine’s hand.

“You’re such a pup still.” Rhett said.  “You have no idea what you want.  Let me show you the possibilities.  Come with me to the feast and we can just relax, talk and maybe you can surprise yourself.”

“I’m not going to the feast.” Jasmine said.  “None of the women of the pack are going.  We’re having a girl’s night.”

Rhett shrugged.  “Then let me take you for a drink.  It could be fun.”

Jasmine pulled her hand free at the second attempt.  “No, thank you.  I’m busy and I’m not the sort to go for drinks with strangers.”

“Hi, Rhett.” Fiona turned around at the welcome sound of Steve’s voice.  “Long time no snarl.  Last I heard you escaped from the pack at Shrewsbury before you could be torn apart for conduct unbecoming.  Still keeping your tail up, I see.”

Kadogan followed closely behind Steve. “Egerton!  I would like to say that it is pleasant to see you.”

“Kadogan, I would love to say that it is a joy meeting you.” Egerton said.  He turned to Ferdi.  “Is this true?  Is the companion you vouched for a stray?”

“Stray is a hard word and not always as straightforward as it may seem.” Ferdi said.  “After all, this young pup is a stray.”

“She is no longer a stray.” Freydis snapped.  She glared at Egerton.  “She belongs here.  It is bad enough that you brought in someone to harass one of us, but a stray?  Your standards are slipping.”

“I can assure you, my dear Freydis, I had no idea.” Egerton turned to Ferdi.  “Perhaps you and your… associate should leave.”

“I’m no trouble.” Rhett smiled at Jasmine.  “I’m a softy, really, when you get to know me.”

“I’m sure that there are plenty that appreciate you.” Jasmine said.  “Goodbye.”

A low growl started at the base of Rhett’s throat but Ferdi tugged urgently on his arm and they left, Rhett throwing a final glance at Jasmine as he went.

“I apologise for my associate’s lapse in judgement.” Egerton said.  “But while I am blessed with your company, Kadogan, I wonder if you can recommend somewhere to stay while Clarence and I are in York.”

“You can stay at the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “The rents are extremely reasonable.”

There was a tense moment.  The two elfen locked eyes and the sense of an imminent thunderstorm filled the room.  Freydis broke it.

“I can understand that Egerton would be uncomfortable staying here as he would feel under the constant view of Lord Ragnar’s chief ally and we all know how Egerton feels about Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan and Egerton both turned to glare at her.  Freydis smiled brightly.  “However I believe Miss Patience is looking for someone to take over the lease on her latest dwelling.  It is a farmhouse on the edge of York with a hole in the wall, caused by Martin.”

“What is Martin?” Egerton asked.

“I believe you knew him as Aelfhelm,” Freydis said, “But names are mutable.  I am considering changing my name to Machiatto.”

Egerton froze for a moment.  “Aelfhelm is returned?  That is significant news.” He nodded to Clarence.  “I’ll speak to Miss Patience, thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to my associate.”

“Thanks for coming with me to the shops.” Jasmine said as she and Jeanette walked through the thinning crowds to the centre at Coppergate.  “I have no idea what to get.”

“To be honest, neither have I.” Jeanette said.  “All I know is that it’s not too formal but I should dress smart.”

Jasmine started to head towards the budget clothing store but Jeanette caught her arm.  “Ian has been quite clear, and he’s given us some money as well.”

“Really?!  How much?”

Jeanette laughed.  “He handed me a load of money and said we had to get an outfit each.  I love the man, but he hasn’t got a clue.  I’m not spending that amount.”

“Was it hundreds?” Jasmine’s eyes were round.

“We are going to shop cleverly, look amazing and save Ian some money.” Jeanette said.  She looked Jasmine up and down.  “Freydis is right, you would look amazing in blue.”

“What do you think you’ll get?”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette said.  “Let’s cut through the car park here.”

The multi-story car park was dim and echoed.  It was late and much of the car park had emptied and there were gaps that Jeanette and Jasmine could cut through.  It was quiet, for a moment, and they seemed to be the only people around as they headed for the side exit.  “I have some really nice trousers.” Jeanette said as they slid between a badly parked Renault and a concrete pillar.  “I could get a nice top to go with it.”

“Do you think Ian would mind?” Jasmine asked.

“Do you think he would notice?” Jeanette stopped suddenly.  “Jasmine, what are those?” She pointed to the shabby, shadowy figures slowly emerging from the dark corner behind a Ranger Rover.

Jasmine looked past her.  She swallowed.  “I think those are revenants.”

“I thought they were only out at night these days.” Jeanette looked around.  She had heard enough from listening to the talk from Ian, Luke and Callum to know that there were seven plus one leader.  There were three ahead, shuffling out of the dark corner.  She grabbed Jasmine’s arm.  “They’re behind us as well.”

Jasmine followed Jeanette’s gaze.  “That’s three in that corner and four behind us.  Where is the leader?” She glanced around frantically before looking up.  A man, emaciated and ragged, was clinging on to the ceiling by fingers and toes.  He caught Jasmine’s appalled gaze and grinned before running, spiderlike, over the bare concrete and down the wall to take his place in the corner.  Jasmine pushed Jeanette behind her, “This is bad.  Try and get behind the Audi, towards the door.”

Jeanette slid towards the Audi.  “What do we do?”

“We need to fight our way out of here.” Jasmine said.  She glanced at Jeanette.  “Don’t worry.  I can handle myself.  It’s only a few revenants.”

Jeanette inched her way nearer the door.  “They’re moving to cut us off.”

“It’s okay.” Jasmine tried to sound braver than she felt.  “Stay close to me.”

“They’re getting closer.” Jeanette took a breath and held her bag with both hands.  “What do we do?”

“Try and call Ian.” Jasmine said.  “Just in case.”

Jeanette fumbled in her bag.  “What if he doesn’t answer?”

“He always answers a call from you.” Jasmine managed a smile.  “He is crazy about you.”

Jeanette managed to find her phone.  Thank goodness there was a signal.  She tried to scroll for Ian’s number.  “I’m crazy about him too.” The revenants were getting closer.  They got past the Audi to the row before the door.

Jasmine growled low in her throat.  “Keep moving.” She pushed Jeanette before spinning around and punching the nearest revenant hard in the face.  It staggered back as Jasmine followed with a swift punch to the chest.  “Stay between the cars.”

Jeanette looked ahead at the wide space between the end of the blue Toyota and the pedestrian exit.  It seemed a long stretch, far longer than the few yards distance that it represented and there were three revenants there, waiting out of the light.  She dialled Ian’s number, praying he would answer.  There was a crack behind her and she whirled around.  Jasmine had driven a revenant’s head hard into a concrete pillar and it had collapsed into a pile of bones and dust.  She backed towards Jeanette, kicking hard at the revenant closing in on her.  Jeanette spun around.  The revenants were approaching her, led by their leader who was grinning.  Ian answered the phone and Jeanette sagged with relief.  “We’re being attacked by revenants.”

“Where are you?” Ian snapped.

Jeanette somehow gave clear directions as she watched the revenants advancing.  Behind her she could hear Jasmine dealing with the ones behind her.  She started to edge back.  A quick glance behind her showed Jasmine struggling to keeping the last of the four revenants’ teeth from her neck.  As Ian hung up the phone she struggled to get back to try and help Jasmine.

Darren got there first.  He appeared out of nowhere and with a grunt had grabbed the revenant and thrust a stake upwards.  The bones and dust crumbled away from Jasmine, leaving her free and gasping for breath.  At the other side of Jeanette, Luke and Sir Ewan were dealing with the revenants.  Jeanette scrambled backwards away from the leader as he lunged towards her.  She screamed as she was grabbed and thrown across a car bonnet as Darren got her out of danger and faced the revenant leader.  The leader hissed and drew himself to his full height, poised to strike but Darren didn’t waste time.  As the leader paused, Darren thrust hard with the palm of his hand underneath the vampire’s chin and thrust in hard with the stake as it stumbled back.

As Luke and Sir Ewan quickly finished off their opponents, Darren turned to Jasmine.  “Are you okay?”

Jasmine nodded weakly and looked over to Jeanette who was clutching onto her bag and trying to work out what had happened.  “I thought we only needed to worry after dark, these days?”

“It’s the first daylight attack in weeks,” Sir Ewan said, gently grasping Jeanette’s arm and helping her towards the door.  “But this must be a place they’re using as a lair.  It’s nice and dark and probably built on a graveyard.  Let’s get you outside.”

“They are only going after non-normals at the moment.” Luke said.  “Most of the time it would be fine in here.  It’s just they went after Jasmine.”

“Are you okay?” Darren asked Jasmine again.  “You’re covered in dust.”

Jasmine nodded and coughed.  “I didn’t expect them.”

“But you did great.” Darren said.  “Well done.”  He looked up the street to see what looked like a large Alsatian streaking towards them at full speed.  “Here’s Ian.  Let’s hope he remembers himself enough to stay in fur!”

Facing a Fight

“We can’t keep going like this” Sir Ewan slumped down into a chair as they finally got back to the Templars’ Chapter House.  “The numbers are too much.”

Dave and Luke dropped down into chairs opposite him.  Sir Craig followed them, working his right shoulder.  “It’s not sustainable.  We have people out every night, and every night we find a fight.  And it’s always a leader and seven revenants.  And they’re getting tougher.  It’s only a matter of time before someone get badly hurt, or worse.”

“It’s always seven, with one leader.” Luke inspected his battered knuckles.  “And they are getting stronger.  I’m not trained for this.”

Dave looked worried.  “I’m not trained for this either.  And their tactics seem to be improving.”

“At least we know if we have got all of them in the pack.” Sir Ewan looked up as Sir Curtis came in, bringing in a tray of sandwiches and some flasks and yawning.  “Thanks.”

“Was it as bad tonight?” Sir Curtis asked.  He stroked absently over his bruised face.

“It was bad,” Sir Craig said, “but we all got home.  It’s nearly dawn.  Go and get some sleep.”

Dave watched Sir Curtis leave.  “Are there any more reinforcements we can get?”

Sir Craig shook his head.  “There are few enough Knights Templar, and there is a lot of ground to cover.  I’ll see if I can’t get some more paladins over.”

“If they can be spared.” Sir Ewan said.  “Most of them have enough to keep them busy in their own patches.”

“Mike Doyle may be able to come over from the Village.” Sir Craig started pouring tea into the mugs.

“But he has a pregnant wife.” Luke said quietly.  “It’s hard to ask him to leave that.”

“We are out of options.” Sir Craig said.  “Mike knows that Karen will be safe.”

“To be fair, Kieran is helping out a lot.” Dave said.  “And so are the people from the White Hart.  I don’t know what we would do without them.”

“Don’t get carried away.” Sir Craig said, passing out the drinks.  “This trouble is coming directly from Lord Ragnar’s domain.  It is their fault.”

There was a quiet pause as the men ate the stack of tuna sandwiches and drank the tea.   Dave finally broke the silence.  “How can we get Lord Ragnar to act?  It must be hurting him as much as us.”

“He can’t act.” Sir Craig said.  “And that adds an interesting twist.  Freydis could sort it out, but he won’t allow her into the domain to fix it.  He hasn’t got the skill to fix it himself.  In fact, there are precious few that do.  Kieran is furious with Lord Ragnar now because his pack has been affected and if he hadn’t defied Lord Ragnar and allowed Freydis to heal his pack members then they would still be in a bad way.”

“Miss Patience is furious with him because he won’t order Dean to join with her and he won’t order Martin to repair the wall he broke.” Sir Ewan added.  “Dean is hiding out at the White Hart and Lord Ragnar won’t push there in case it upsets Kadogan.  Besides, Lord Ragnar can’t make Martin do anything, and everyone knows it.  I think Martin is shielding Dean and deliberately not paying for the wall to wind Miss Patience up.”

“It’s working.” Sir Craig said.  “She’s incandescent.  And she must be scared.  I made some enquiries about Martin, back in Lincoln.  He is an old vampire.  He’s been around for thousands of years and he doesn’t give a damn.  There is nothing Miss Patience can do to bring him to heel and it affects the leadership of her little group.  He’s not in the Order’s good books either.  He’s a predator.  He feeds mainly on people.  But he’s clever.  He’ll seduce and entrap someone vulnerable, absolutely bewitch them, feed from them exquisitely gently – and I believe it blows their minds – then leave them after around six months, before they get too dependent.  The trouble is, he leaves them nicely.  They’re always better off financially or he sorts out a job for them or he deals with their family’s troubles or something.  We have never been able to get anyone to make a statement against him, and I’m not sure whether we would be able to take him down without half the Templars here.  He goes into a ‘dream state’ quite often though, which is a blessing, so he’s only around for fifty years or so at a time, with a few exceptions, and he usually sleeps around a decade.  He’s been dormant for a century or so, though, up until now, so Lincoln had hoped he had disappeared for good.”

“Perhaps he will take over from Lord Ragnar.” Sir Ewan stifled a yawn and picked up another sandwich.  “Lord Ragnar was nearly unseated last year.  Now Freydis isn’t at his side, it’s only a matter of time.”

“Most of the opposition was wiped out in last year’s attempt and I am not sure that there is an external threat ready.  Lord Ragnar is shaky, but surely not that weak.” Sir Craig looked at Dave and Sir Ewan.

“Lord Ragnar had not upset the werewolves last year.” Sir Ewan said.  “He also had all of the vampires, such as they are, on his side.  Kadogan is still loyal, but other elfen are asking questions about the state of the domain.” He took another large bite of his sandwich.

“Do you think Martin would take over?” Luke asked.  “I mean, I know he’s a vampire, and you say he’s a predator, but he has to be better than the current state.  I mean, if anyone takes over from Lord Ragnar.  He seems more stable.”

“Martin has always avoided power, at least, according to the stuff we managed to dig up at Lincoln.” Sir Craig said.  “And practically anyone is more stable than an elfen who doubts the loyalty of those around him, is losing control of his domain and who is suffering from unrequited love.”

Dave stared.  “Who is he in love with?”

“He’s in love with Freydis.” Sir Craig said, pouring some more tea.

“But he divorced her.” Dave said.  “And she’s still in love with him.”

“Yes.” Sir Craig took a mouthful of tea.

“That’s not unrequited love.” Dave said.  “It’s requited love.  It’s there-for-the-taking love.”

“That’s the elfen for you.” Sir Craig said.

“Hang on,” Dave said as a thought struck him.  “How many vampires are there in York?”

Sir Ewan poured himself some more tea. “Apart from Martin?  Miss Patience has a group of six.”

“Does that include Dean?” Dave asked.  Sir Ewan shook his head.

Sir Craig leaned forward.  “So all Miss Patience has to do is get hold of Dean and she is the leader of a group of seven, just like those revenants we are seeing night after night.”

There was a long pause as the men tried to work through the implications.  Luke shifted uneasily in his chair.  “How easy is it to make a vampire?”

Ian dropped Jeanette off at the front of the White Hart before driving the van to the back.  Jeanette came in looking pale.

Fiona gave her a sympathetic smile.  “How are things? Has Steve spoken to you?”

Jeanette took a deep breath.  “Ian said he can go there tonight with Steve and put up magical protection so we can get back there safely.  He said that there were a few traces, but nothing too serious.  He said he would ask Darren to say some prayers before they started.”

“Darren is a fearsome prayer warrior.” Freydis said.  “I am sure that he will clear out undue influences.  Steve Adderson is also known as an extremely competent sorcerer, strong enough to impress the elfen.  You will have safe space.”

Jeanette smiled wanly.  “Thanks.” She looked closer at Freydis.  “Are you feeling okay?”

It was a good question.  The golden blonde hair still swirled in lustrous swathes around Freydis’ face and shoulders, but it was a darker shade that edged towards the honey gold.  Her eyes were no longer the purest summer blue but now were blue grey and while she was still slim, her figure was slightly fuller.  The jeans were still tight, and still a fake designer brand, but they were a darker shade of denim and she was wearing a loose t-shirt instead of a buttoned shirt.  Freydis shrugged.  “I feel a change of season in the air.”

Mrs Tuesday looked at her carefully.  “Are you missing Lord Ragnar?”

Freydis seemed to sag a little and her hair was suddenly dull and lifeless.  “He is on the path to destruction and I do not know how to save him.  He is my sun but there are clouds.”

“Have you spoken to him?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Freydis shook her head.  “He will not allow me to approach him in private.  I have tried being an independent and strong woman with a life of my own, and it has failed.  I have lost what I did not believe I had and I cannot defend that which I forgot to cherish.”  She bowed her head.  Jeanette watched her claw like hands, grasping the back of the chair until the knuckles turned white, smooth themselves and fill out and her hair once again fill with shining health as she pulled herself up and forced a smile.  “But there are still safe places such as the White Hart, and soon your small holding shall be protected.  Indeed, perhaps I will bless your fields, Jeanette, once this is over.”

“That would be an amazing honour.” Jeanette said, though she wasn’t exactly sure what the result of such a blessing would be.  “I think that would make it glorious.”

“A small recompense for your troubles.” Freydis said, going back to the coffee machine and stroking the coloured grasses still surrounding it.

“I admit, I never thought I would get so caught up in all this.” Jeanette waved a vague hand around the shop.  “I wasn’t sure I even believed in this stuff, and if I hadn’t met Callum at that craft fair, I’m not sure that I would believe in it now.”

“Are you sorry that you met us?” Jasmine asked.  “I mean, I know you like Ian, but having all of us in your house and it all being, well, full of werewolf?  Are you okay with that?”

Jeanette took a breath and looked Jasmine directly in the eye.  “Come here.” Jasmine edged closer, giving a panicked glance at Mrs Tuesday, before gasping as Jeanette grabbed her in a massive hug.  “I am not sure about all this magic stuff, and I don’t understand half of it, but if I had my time again I would never, ever, miss the chance of knowing Ian, of having you and Adele like sisters and Callum like a brother, of knowing the people.  You are wonderful.” Jasmine went pink.

“I wish I had realised that.”

Fiona turned around and forced a smile.  “Hello, Elaine.  What can I do for you?”

Elaine wandered towards the café.  “I thought I would grab a latte and perhaps catch up with Steve.  Is he in?”

“No.” Fiona said.

Elaine waited for a few beats, just in case Fiona added anything.  “Is he likely to be back soon?”

“No.” Fiona checked over the notes next to the till.  “Okay, ladies, we have a double coach booked to arrive in around half an hour.  It’s all non-normals who are expecting a fancy afternoon tea, so let’s get set up.”

Freydis was smiling with outright malice as she created Elaine’s latte.  “I believe you enjoy a shot of vanilla in there.”

“Yes,” Elaine said, surprised that Freydis had guessed that.

“I’ll try and remember to put one in next time.” Freydis said.  “I’ll try really hard.  Mrs Tuesday, please could you keep an eye on the Machine.  I need to bring up some more of the new Ethiopian blend.”

Martin found Freydis sitting under a tree in Tower Gardens looking over the River Ouse.  It was nearly midnight but still warm and the soft breeze was soothing.  He sat next to her.  “You have changed, my lady.”

Freydis managed a smile.  “I am no longer a lady, remember.  Lord Ragnar divorced me.”

“You are always my lady.” Martin said.

“And I can never give you hope.” Freydis turned her gaze back to the river to watch the nixies playing in the currents.

“Do you know what gives me hope?  That you never give me hope.” Martin didn’t follow Freydis’ gaze but instead watched her expression.  “If you did not care for me at all, you would dangle me on a string.”

“You are too powerful.” Freydis didn’t turn towards him.

“You had many princes eating out of your hand.” Martin said.  “You bewitched great sorcerers and kings.”

Freydis shrugged.  “It was a game to them as much as it was to me.  Perhaps I am an honest fairy.”

“And I come back to the start of the conversation.  You have changed, my lady, and I don’t know how.  You have an extra depth.  It is enchanting.”

Freydis finally turned her head and looked at Martin.  She smiled.  “You do not need to flatter me, Martin.”

“I do not flatter.” Martin said.  “You can ask anyone.”

Freydis turned back to the view of the River Ouse.  The lights from the town glittered and sparkled on the moving water and for a moment she seemed entranced.  “Lord Ragnar said he had always loved me.”

“I thought that was obvious to anyone.” Martin said.  “I made me so frustrated, because he never managed to turn that love into cherishing.”

“I didn’t think he loved me and I tried to make him jealous.” Freydis said.

“Leading to the mess with that young vampire last year.” Martin said.  “I heard all about it.  And Lord Ragnar was stupid enough to divorce you.  He should have either fought you or fought for you.”

Freydis shrugged again and a tear ran down her face.  “It is now gone.” She said quietly.  “But he needs me to mend the domain.  Soon he will realise and then I will mend the wound I caused and things will settle down.”

“He needs to do so soon.” Martin said.  “Princes from nearby are looking at his court.  It’s only a matter of time before we see an attempt to unseat him.”

Tears were flowing freely down Freydis’ face.  “I know, I know, there is so much wrong and there is nothing I can do!  I know he needs to bring Miss Patience to heel, and to soothe Kieran and to give assurances to the surrounding princes, but he is failing.” She looked up at Martin, her face glistening with tears in the street lights.  “I am helpless to act.”

“I would fight him for you, lady.” Martin said.  “Or I would fight for him, if you asked me.”

Freydis shook her head.  “I am still fae, still elfen.  I feel a fate falling. I must face it.”

“You are remembering the Viking days.” Martin said.  “I hear it in your language.  They would face their weird and stride on regardless.”

“I married Lord Ragnar as the Vikings swept in.” Freydis said.  “I suppose I have echoes from that time.”

“What fate to you see, lady?” Martin asked.  “What is the shape of things to come?”

Freydis held up her hand.  “Can you hear that?”

“What?” Martin looked around quickly and his heart sank.  In the distance he could see a pack of revenants stalking after a loud group of lads.  “I see them.”

“I shall enjoy killing them.” Freydis said as she rose.  “Exercise is always useful if you wish to improve your mood.”

Getting Darker

“This meeting should be in my halls.” Lord Ragnar tapped his long fingers on the table and glared around at the others.

“Your halls aren’t safe.” Sir Craig said.  The senior Knights Templar looked unimpressed.  “And we are taking no chances.”

“York does not need a cohort of Knights Templar.” Lord Ragnar stood and started pacing around the conference room.

“I beg to differ.” Sir Craig said.  He glanced around the room.  “And besides, this is not just a matter for your people.  The Paladin’s Citadel was destroyed down to brick dust.  That is unprecedented.  You have said that you have no part in it, and I believe you.  You have your own challenges.  But those challenges make it unsafe for our people and you appear to be unable to deal with them.”

“Can we calm down, please.” Steve took a breath.  “Darren has some idea about what happened, we need to work out what is going on together, and we need to solve it together.  The White Hart is the nearest thing to neutral territory.”  He looked around the conference room.  “I think we have everyone here.”

It was an eclectic meeting.  Lord Ragnar’s unoccupied seat was at the head of the table as Lord Ragnar paced at the end of the room.  On his right was Kieran, head of the werewolf pack and next to him was Ian.  Opposite Kieran, on Lord Ragnar’s left, was Martin and next to him was Miss Patience.  Sir Craig was sitting uncomfortably next to Miss Patience and opposite Darren.  Dave was sitting next to Darren and opposite Steve.  At other end, for added drama, Freydis sat opposite her ex-husband’s seat.  She was doodling pictures of coffee cups.

“I think I know what caused the explosion.” Darren said.  “I saw it a few years back.  When dark energy meets something most holy, there’s an explosion.  It caused havoc in the Village.”

“What dark energy?” Sir Craig asked.

“You can see it in the shadows.” Lord Ragnar said.  “There are small areas of darkness that are building up in corners like drifts of leaves and they are spilling out into the most unlikely areas.”

“I’ve seen too many examples of them.” Martin said grimly.  “And that makes sense.” He turned to Miss Patience.  “It’s faery magic with a vampiric filter.”

Miss Patience was staring straight ahead.  She was paler than normal and her elegant fingers, placed flat and unmoving on the table, seemed slimmer than ever.  “The vampires of York are not a party to the destruction of the Paladin’s Lair.”

“No-one said that, Patience.” Martin said.  “But I have to ask, do you think it has affected you?”

“Not at all.” Miss Patience didn’t turn her head.

As glances were exchanged over the table, Martin turned to Lord Ragnar.  “The main issue remains in your realm.  We are at a time of growth in the cycle.  It will soon be Midsummer.  While this is the most expansive this energy is likely to be, it’s also likely to be the least malignant.  You need to act and cleanse the issue in your domain.”

Miss Patience slowly turned, marionette-like, and looked at Martin.  “You should pay for the rebuilding of my wall.”

“You should stop playing foolish games.” Martin said without missing a beat, before turning back to Lord Ragnar.  “You need to act now.”

“You must act.” Steve echoed.  “It’s reached as far as Skipton.”

“How is Elaine?” Freydis asked, turning her notebook to get a better angle to shade a picture of a latte.

“There is nothing the werewolves can do except patrol.” Kieran looked worried.  “Some of our pack who have been touched by this darkness have become snappy.”  He looked around the table.  “They have been acting more like strays.  We’ve got them watched all the time but…”

“Great.  We have a werewolf issue as well.” Sir Craig ran his fingers through his thinning hair.  “What is going on here?  Lord Ragnar, you need to control your people.”

“It isn’t their fault.” Kieran snapped.  “They were just doing their duty.”

“I’m not saying it is.” Sir Craig’s voice was carefully controlled.  “But the darkness leaking out of the elfen domain is having an effect.”

“I’ll have a look at your people.” Freydis said, shading in steam on the doodles.  “If it’s elfen magic that’s causing problems then I may be able to do something.”

“Lord Ragnar should be the one dealing with this.” Miss Patience said, turning her head slowly towards the prince.  “This is his domain.  He should also compel Martin to repair our wall or pay someone else to do so.”

There was an uncomfortable pause around the table.  Everyone was aware that Lord Ragnar could not compel Martin to do anything.  Lord Ragnar looked around.  “I own that I do not have the skill of some other lords…”

“You are seen as weak.” Martin said.  “I have friends outside York, and I listen to the currents of conversation.  You cannot control your domain and you cannot control your court.  I think you need to find ways to do both before someone steps in and acts for you.”

“Are you threatening me?” Lord Ragnar leaned on the table, glaring at Martin.

“I’m stating the obvious.” Martin didn’t flinch.  “And if I wanted power here I would have taken it a long time ago.”  There was a long silence.  Finally Lord Ragnar broke eye contact and turned to Steve.

“Is it true?  Am I seen as vulnerable.”

Steve shifted in his seat.  “I don’t hear all the talk, I’m there for business only, and I’m sure that the courts I visit tailor the information I pick up.”

“But you can’t say that I’m seen as strong.” Lord Ragnar said softly.

“You have influence.” Steve said.  “People visit York and attend your court to pay their respects.”

“Because they come to the White Hart, and it would be inappropriate not to show their face in my court.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I wonder how many who visit your shop do not visit my court.”

“Did Curtis Avocado call in?” Freydis was now working on an intricate sketch of hot chocolate.  “He said he would.”

“No, he did not.  When was this?” Lord Ragnar returned to his seat.

“Last week, when there was jasmine blooming at No 7.” Freydis didn’t look up.  “I will aid the werewolves and sort out the issues with the domain, as it is my error of judgement that caused this issue.”

“You were unfaithful.” Lord Ragnar snapped.

“You were neglectful.” Freydis snapped back, picture forgotten. “You gave no thought to where I was or what I looked like.”

“I loved you.”

“You never told me.” Freydis took a breath and picked up the pen again.

“I’ve had control of domains before and there were no effects like this.” Martin said.  “I’m not saying that you made the best decision, Freydis, but it’s not just because you allowed someone a corner of control.”

“Rey was malicious.” Miss Patience said.  “I should have destroyed him.  I believe he consciously mingled his essence with the corner of Lord Ragnar’s kingdom he accessed.  It is not a path I should have chosen.  However, I would not put anything past Martin who breaks walls.”

“I’m not sure I would trust an undead breath from you.” Martin said.  “Patience, you need to step back from this, and all those stupid games…”

“Where is Dean?  He should be answering to me.” Miss Patience said, poised and still.

“He’s been helping me out a lot.” Dave said.  He had guessed a lot from the things that Dean hadn’t said.  “You know how it is.  I’m glad of the extra pair of eyes.”

“You are patrolling with a vampire?” Sir Craig stared at Dave.

“With Dean, yes.  He’s a literal lifesaver.  I mean, he literally is saving lives.” Dave smiled at Sir Craig and Miss Patience who were equally baffled.

“Lord Ragnar, I can go to your domain straight from this meeting and work on the problem.” Freydis said.  “Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader can keep an eye on the Coffee Machine.  It will be fine under their care and I can rearrange the dried grasses when I get back.” She turned to Kieran.  “I suspect that your comrades will return to normal once the source of the issue is gone, but I’m sure I can help if there is a problem there.  It is fitting that I right my wrongs.”

“I’d be grateful.” Kieran said.  “These are good people who are suffering and if they get out of hand and cross a line then they will face a judgement that they don’t deserve.”

“No!” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “I will deal with this.”

“While we’re waiting for that, what do we do?” Ian asked.  “There are people hurting here.”

“I’ll arrange prayers to protect the Knights Templar’s Citadel.” Darren said.  “And I suppose I ought to mention that I’m being translated.”

“What?” Dave snapped around to look at the exorcist sitting next to him.

“I’m being moved to York.” Darren said.  “The authorities seem to think that I’m more useful here.  I’ll get the official date later, but I’m going to be here permanently.”

“Congratulations!” Ian said.  “It will be good to have you around.”

“I have not agreed to that.” Lord Ragnar glared at Darren.

“You don’t have control over the appointments of the Church of England.” Darren kept his cool.  “It shouldn’t affect you.”

“I will have an exorcist living in York, and you say it shouldn’t affect me?”

Darren looked at him.  Lord Ragnar was not having a good time and it was showing.  “I thought having a local exorcist was a sign of status.  Lord Lothar never complained.”

“Lord Lothar did not have the same problems I do.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glanced over at his ex-wife but Freydis said nothing.

“Let’s get back to the point.  We need to get that domain dealt with now!” Martin said.  “Lord Ragnar, I mean this with the greatest respect, but…”

Lord Ragnar stood, knocking his chair back to clatter against the back wall.  “I will deal with this.  I don’t need a vampire, I don’t need a wandering priest and I don’t need an unfaithful ex-wife.” He swept out.

Freydis sighed.  “This isn’t helpful.  Kieran, do you wish me to call now and see what I can do?”

“I don’t want to be disloyal to Lord Ragnar.” Kieran looked at Ian.

Ian shrugged.  “Who are you most loyal to?  Lord Ragnar or your pack?”

“Careful.” Martin said as Dave and Darren once again exchanged worried glances.

Ian met his gaze.  “The werewolves have bled for Lord Ragnar.  We have value.”

Martin held Ian’s gaze for a moment and then nodded.  “I’m sure it will be fine, but don’t make a big deal about it.”

“You can always blame me.” Freydis said.  “Lord Ragnar enjoys blaming me, it comforts him, and he will take no significant action.” She stood.  “And the sooner I visit the better.”

Martin watched her leave, a frown on his face.

Fiona watched Lord Ragnar storm out of the White Hart and her heart sank.  Kadogan appeared from the back room and followed his prince, his features set.  It did not look good.  She looked at Mrs Tuesday to get an idea of how serious things were and her heart sank further.  Mrs Tuesday looked worried.  That was never a good sign.

Jasmine was refilling the cards, but she stopped and looked at Mrs Tuesday.  “It’s never good when a prince gets angry, is it?”

“I don’t think it’s anger exactly.” Mr Tuesday rubbed her back absentmindedly and frowned, turning to Mrs Cadwallader.  “You know him better than I do.  Any guesses?”

“He usually sulks.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “But I don’t think he can do that this time.”  The two old boggarts nodded in unison.

“What’s going on?” Jeanette asked.  “I recognised Lord Ragnar and I know Kadogan, of course, but what’s happening?”

“Lord Ragnar is feeling inadequate and is showing his emotions as anger.” Freydis wandered out of the back room.  “Mrs Tuesday, Mrs Cadwallader, please will you guard the Coffee Machine?  I have work to do at the pack of Kieran Latimer.”

“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Someone should be dealing with those poor lads.”

“You don’t miss much, do you?” Kieran followed Freydis.

“No, I don’t.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Aren’t you lucky I say less than I see?” Kieran blushed.

As the rest of the guests filed out, Fiona went up to Steve and hugged him.  “Are you okay?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what to think.” Steve looked around the shop.  “We need to have a long talk tonight.  Right now I need to do the run to Todmorden, but I should be back before dinner.”  He kissed Fiona briefly and left.

Ian walked over to Jeanette and gave her a brief kiss on the cheek.  “I’m just going across to the warehouse, but I’ll be back later.” He looked across at Adele and Jasmine.  “I’m sorry, but we need to all get back to the White Hart.  Steve has agreed.  It may only be a mattress on the floor and doubling up, but we need to be in a safe place.”

“I am not being forced out of my home.” Jeanette said.  “Do you know how much I’ve worked to get this far?”

Ian looked troubled.  “I’ll try and work something out.  It won’t be for long.”

“I need to water the plants.” Jeanette said.

“I’ll come with you after work.” Ian said.  “Jasmine can come as well.  Listen, I need to make the run to the warehouse.  We’ve got two coach parties booked this afternoon.  But I’ll talk as soon as I get back.”

There was a brief burst of activity with a flurry of customers and then it was quiet.  Jeanette looked pale.  Mrs Tuesday pushed a cup of tea into her hand.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

“What’s happening?” Jeanette asked.

Adele nodded.  “I think we deserve some sort of explanation.”

Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader exchanged another of their knowing looks and nodded.  “Everyone take a seat, and we’ll have a chat.”  Mrs Tuesday went over to the café area and sat down.  She watched them sit around her and took a deep breath.  “I wasn’t in the meeting and I didn’t hear what they said, but I can make some guesses.  People are talking about the York domain as being affected.  Going into the fairy realm is always tricky, but now it’s downright lethal.  It’s affecting some of the vampires and it may be behind what happened to the Paladin’s lair.  It’s affected some of the werewolves too – and they’re good lads.  I’m glad Freydis is doing something about it.”

“She should have done something about it sooner.” Mrs Cadwallader said.

“I can’t argue, but my belief is that she only just learned about it.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Freydis should have dealt with the disturbances in the domain a long time ago, and she hasn’t.”

“Lord Ragnar should have dealt with it.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “After all, he wouldn’t let Freydis set foot in there.”

“It’s a mess.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And as Lord Ragnar is not…”  Mrs Tuesday searched for words.  “He’s perhaps…  He’s looking…”

Mrs Cadwallader helped her out.  “Some people who don’t know what is happening and who are a distance from York may be under the wrong impression that Lord Ragnar is not in control of his realm and that he is vulnerable to attack.”

“That isn’t good.” Jasmine said.  “No wonder Ian wants us here where it’s safer.”

“I didn’t sign up for this.” Jeanette said.  “I just thought I had met a decent man, thought it might lead somewhere, and now my home isn’t safe.  I didn’t want anything to do with magic.”

“Neither did I.” Elaine appeared and sat next to a suddenly tense Fiona.  “Well, I didn’t mind a little magic, but I couldn’t cope with Armani.” She turned to Fiona.  “How is the little… imp?”

Ian, Luke and Darren were keeping together.  It was a bad shift.  They had all managed to get some sleep before getting on patrol at 3am, but no-one was rested.  Luke was the most at ease.  The night streets were cool and quiet and so far it seemed an easy swing around.  “I don’t want to be out of order,” he said, “but what is going on?”

“What do you mean?” Ian said, scanning the road ahead.

“The White Hart is like a dormitory, Jeanette’s upset because she can’t get home, Kadogan has disappeared, Freydis hardly said a malicious word all evening and Mrs Tuesday looks worried.” Luke looked at his companions.  “What is happening?”

“Lord Ragnar feels under threat.” Darren said.  “Other lords are being less supportive and a lot of local non-normals are twitchy.  Some werewolves have been affected by this dark energy building up and the vampires have gone weird.”

“The only vampires I’d trust right now are Martin and Dean.” Ian said.  “The rest are on loopy juice.  What I heard was that Miss Patience has this thing where they all share blood.  This means that if one goes crazy, they all go crazy.  Dean and Martin are the only ones that haven’t got involved.”

There was a long silence.  Luke could hear the swish of distant cars and the buzz of the street lights as they passed, but there was little other noise.  “Are they dangerous?  And how many are there?”

“Miss Patience had a coven of around half a dozen,” Ian said.  “But we don’t know about other dormant vampires like Martin or revenants.  All bets are off.  And if it gets any crazier then there’s going to be an attack on Lord Ragnar.  He’s not seen as strong.”

“Is he strong?” Luke asked.

“I can’t answer that.” Ian said.  “I’m a member of his court.  I have to give unswerving loyalty.”

“It’s okay, I can answer that.” Darren said, with his usual blunt honesty.  “The vultures have been circling for a while, and once he got rid of Freydis, they have been circling lower.  From what I’ve heard, she’s been propping him up for centuries because she’s powerful, perceptive and besotted.” He glanced sideways at Ian.  “But I’ve only heard the chatter from the outside.  How’s Jeanette taking it?”

“She’ll be okay.” Ian said, hoping he was right.  “Adele seems more at ease, but I think it’s because her family have a lot of drama.  I don’t think she realises how dangerous it could be.”

“How’s Jasmine taking it?” Darren asked.  “The poor kid finally finds a pack and now it could all go bad.”

“She’s doing okay,” Ian said.  “To be honest, I think it’s helped her find her paws and feel that she has a place on the rug with all that’s going on.  And we’re a sub pack, not a pack.”

“I was thinking more of the White Hart.  It’s a sort of family.” Darren said.

“It does have that feel.” Luke said.  “I’m just on the edges but it’s still incredibly welcoming.”

“Mrs Tuesday’s cooking does that.” Darren said.  “I’ll have to move out to the vicarage soon and I’m not looking forward to it.  I’ll be taking Dave with me for a while as well.”

“What happened in the Village?” Ian asked.  “I heard something about a revenant prowling, but it didn’t sound anything like the stuff we’ve been facing.”

“It’s complicated.” Darren said.

“Hang on.” Luke hissed.  “Over there.”

The men looked across the dark streets.  “I don’t believe it.” Ian murmured.

“How can we deal with that?” There was an edge of panic in Luke’s voice.  He started at the group of revenants which were clustered around a group of young women.  They wore the remains of hen night outfits and looked terrified.

“There’s at least seven in the group and it looks like they have a leader.” Darren said.  “They will fight as a unit.”

“Luke, call for back up and then join us.” Ian pulled a stake out of his jacket pocket.  “We distract them and keep a holding action until reinforcements arrive.  Whatever you do, keep your eyes open.  This is something new.”