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.