Darren rubbed a weary hand over his face. He had finished his sermon for Sunday, he had drafted his talk for the school and finally had sorted out the order of service for Harvest Festival. Now all he had to do was figure out what to say to the Mother’s Union on the subject of Harvest. He sighed. The chances of it being witty and captivating were low. To be honest, he was barely scraping together decent English, but trying to chase down the skeleton hands was wearing him out.
Today he was going to search the internet for Harvest Festival Thoughts to pull something together before calling in on Mrs Kingston who was having problems with her hip. The Mother’s Union weren’t meeting until next week, but Darren had learned from bitter experience that he could get called away without warning so tried to keep ahead of his schedule.
There was a quiet tap on the door. “Come in.” Darren said, bracing himself, but it was only Jasmine.
“Hi,” she said, smiling. “Ian asked whether you could call in this afternoon. He said that people would feel better to see you visiting.”
Darren was only too glad to abandon the speech to the Mother’s Union. “Sure, though I don’t know what I’m expected to do if Steve and Lady Freydis can’t contain this Jack.” He got up and grabbed his jacket before leaning in to kiss Jasmine. “Do you want to come for a drink tonight? There’s a quiz night on at the Red Lion.”
Jasmine regretfully shook her head. “Jeanette is planning out the winter schedule and Ian wants me to help her. Besides, is Egerton still refusing to leave the house?”
Darren nodded. “Though he cheered up when he heard Thistle had tried to gift Lady Freydis fairy gold. I may call in and see if I can have a word with someone sensible, like…” Darren trailed off. He couldn’t think of a sensible elfen.
Jasmine frowned. “I was surprised that so many people were taken in by the gold. I would have thought Kadogan would have spotted it straight away.”
Darren shook his head. “Some elfen have a knack, just like some have a knack for magic. Lady Freydis can usually see through something if she looks hard, and I wouldn’t like to try fooling Steve, but someone like Thistle can fool most. He’d have a tough job with a paladin, of course, but it wouldn’t be impossible, especially if the paladin was unsuspecting.” He paused and ran a gentle hand down Jasmine’s face. “Are you sure you can’t come tonight?”
Jasmine smiled. “If we finish early, I’ll come over. Jeanette won’t mind.”
“I hope you can make it.” Darren said. “Now I had better get down to the White Hart and I know you have college.”
“I’m on my way.”
The White Hart was full. The Christmas rush hadn’t quite started, but while there may have been fewer tourists, there were a lot more non-normals. Darren nodded to Martin who was browsing the books and went up to the café. Lady Freydis was still there and she had Darren’s cup of tea ready as he reached the counter. “It is good to see you, Reverend.” Lady Freydis smiled. “Between my courtship and the reappearance of Jack, there is a lot of energy in the air. Your visit is calming.”
“And calming is good, right?” Darren said. “Speaking of Jack, what is he?”
Lady Freydis shrugged. “It’s complicated. He’s very old. But he is such good fun. And he is picking up the modern age so well. He can trigger car alarms from a chain away.”
“So that’s why I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Darren said. “He was practising. Lady Freydis, you know that he has disrupted your court.”
Lady Freydis shrugged. “The novelty will wear off soon, and he will mostly stay in the background again. He is a threat to Steve Adderson at the moment, however, as Fiona is upset.”
Darren felt a sinking feeling. “And because Fiona rescued Jack, he now feels he owes her. What’s upset Fiona?”
“Steve has gone back to Lancaster. He was assured that Leanne was not there, and there is much business to be done, but Fiona is worried by Leanne. She is right to be worried.” Lady Freydis reached for the tiny espresso as Martin came back towards the counter. “Leanne is a trollop. She really is. She attaches herself to one young man after another and leaves them a husk. And she isn’t even that pretty! She tried to entice Lord Ragnar once, but of course got nowhere. She’s a complete slut.”
Darren took his tea to a table near the annexe and looked around. Lady Freydis was biased, obviously, but Leanne sounded like trouble. Leann sidhe were difficult at the best of times, and now her adopted father was becoming so sensitive to iron, he needed to hand over the reins to whoever Leanne could persuade to marry her. Steve was a great catch – half elfen, connected to some powerful families, on speaking terms with all the great lords and a dangerous sorcerer. A leann sidhe like Leanne was not likely to let a detail like a wife stand in her way.
There was a shimmer next to him and suddenly a handsome man was slouching next to Darren, smiling mockingly. “More tea, vicar?”
“Hello, Jack, good to see you. Thanks for keeping me awake last night.” Darren said, aware that all eyes were suddenly locked on their table. “But be a good bogeyman, don’t just appear from nowhere. Not everyone here is in the know and we don’t want to upset paying customers.”
“That would be bad for Fiona’s business.” Jack agreed. “I’ll remember that.” He waved an apologetic hand. “Sorry for keeping you awake. It should be that cute werewolf that’s costing you sleep, not me.”
Darren ignored that. “How long have you been away, Jack? Things are very different to how they were even fifty years ago.”
“They really are.” Jack glanced around the room. “I mean, we still can’t mention awkward facts like Martin’s feeding habits but when I was last here, the things on these shelves would get you imprisoned or sent to a madhouse. Now it is just seen as entertainment, like the notice for the Tarot reader.”
“There’s enough around to cause trouble.” Darren said. “But while you’re here, perhaps you can help out. What do you know about animated, skeletal hands catching mice and rats?”
“What do you know about Steve and Fiona?” Jack answered.
“I don’t interfere in a marriage.” Darren said. “And there has been enough of that, to be honest. That’s where a lot of the problems have come from. It would be nice to have some insight, but I’m not trading that for more trouble between them.” He glared at Jack. “If you care about Fiona, stay out of it.”
“Easy for you to say, padre.” Jack said. “But I am bound by obligations. She was crying in the backroom this morning, and it nearly broke my heart.”
“Do you have one?” Martin sat down next to Jack. “Darren is right. There has been too much interference. They are right for each other, but they never had a chance to find it out for themselves.”
Jack stretched out his long legs and lightly tapped the table with his fingers. “I cannot bear to hear Fiona cry. It’s burning me. But if she loves Steve – and she does – then what is to be done? I could school Steve, for all his power, but she may then take against me.”
“That would be a shame.” Martin said dryly. “I think they need a holiday together.”
“I overheard Elaine saying that it’s a shame that Fiona didn’t travel with Steve and protect him from other women, just like she had.” Jack frowned. “Though I did not realise that Elaine was Steve’s cast off.”
“It’s the other way around.” Martin said. “Elaine dumped Steve.”
“I am not happy that Fiona has another woman’s leavings.” Jack said.
Darren held up his hand. “I married them. I think they could have a good marriage if everyone kept out of it and once the deal with Lancaster has been made then it will all settle down.”
“The House of Lancaster and the House of York were ever at odds.” Jack said.
Martin sighed. “Don’t start. Perhaps you can have a word, Darren, and speak to Steve. He’s a good man. He’ll listen. And something has to be said now, just to get it back on track.”
“I’m too taken up with sorting out these skeletal hands.” Darren said with a pointed look at Jack.
“If Steve and Fiona are happy, I’ll have all the time in the world to help you, padre.” Jack said. “Deal?”
Darren closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m going to regret this. Deal.”