Friends

“You’re welcome to join us any time for prayers.” Sir Ewan said, leading Luke into the Citadel.  “Ian said that you followed the fasting rules, and that you seemed comfortable with faith.”

“Thanks.” Luke said, looking around.  He was in a citadel of the Knights Templar.  It was not what he had expected.  He had expected more stained glass.

Sir Ewan grinned.  “We still have to keep below the radar, even these days.  People have some strange ideas.  But this place suits us and our needs.”

“It’s nice.” Luke said.  He took a breath.  It felt safe in ways he couldn’t explain.  He half smiled to himself.  A bogeyman couldn’t get in here.  The room was scrubbed and plain, with faded cream walls and a plain, beige carpet.  Worn sofas and armchairs were ranged around the room and Sir Ewan gestured at a couple of chairs in a corner.

“Take a seat.”  He looked around.  “I suppose it could do with a touch up.”

“No, it looks great.” Luke sat down.  “It just looks…” He searched for the words.  “It looks like a place of faith.”

“It is.” Sir Ewan leaned back into the armchair.  “It’s mainly Knights Templar here, or a priest.  Sometimes we get an imam or a shaman here, but it’s mainly just us and we try and remember what the order should be about.  We lost our way, back in the beginning, but now we have our proper purpose.”  He relaxed.  “How much has Ian told you?”

“He said it wasn’t just mankind against monsters.” Luke said.  “I’m not sure about that.”

“I know what you mean.” Sir Ewan nodded.  “It gets complicated.  But if you think of the non-normals – the werewolves and boggarts and that – and remember that the same percentage of them is likely to go bad as normals, then you can take some comfort.  Take Ian, for example.  He’s one of the steadiest people on our side at the moment, willing to turn out at a moment’s notice, very devout, you would say he was rock solid.  But it’s not that long ago that he summoned a demon and caused a lot of problems.  To be fair, he didn’t mean to summon a demon and he’s tried to put it right ever since.” Sir Ewan glanced up at the plain wooden cross on the wall.  “Who is without sin?  We’ve all got pasts.”

“He said that vampires were hunting vampires.” Luke said.  “It doesn’t make sense.”

“It does if you think about cops chasing robbers.” Sir Ewan said.  “They may both have fangs, but the good guys are chasing the bad guys.”

“Is it the same?” Luke asked.

Sir Ewan grimaced.  “Not really.  The vampires are always one step away from death, elfen are psychotic, boggarts are insane and a werewolf without a pack – like Ian – is a liability.  But then you get the ones who just keep trying to do the right thing.” He sighed.  “We’ve just got to keep going and do our best, just like everyone.  Come on.  I’ll show you the gym and we can see where you are before patrolling tonight.”

Lord Ragnar seemed almost diffident as he approached the café in the White Hart.  “I would like a latte, please.”

“Of course, your lordship.” Adele said, picking up the mug.  “On the house.”

Lord Ragnar looked around.  “Where is my former wife?”

Fiona had come out from the back room.  “Good morning, Lord Ragnar.  Freydis has gone down to London to buy speciality coffee.  She’s made a few plans, has worked out a budget and has some great ideas.  She wanted to see what was on offer.”

“Freydis does not understand London.” Lord Ragnar said.  “She will become bewildered and lost.  Perhaps I should go and find her.”

“It’s okay,” Fiona said cheerfully.  “She said she would find Lord Marius down there.  He had some parcels for Lord Laurentius anyway, so I think he was happy to help her.”

“Lord Marius has never suggested that he does anything for Freydis.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Of course, Freydis does have her good points and is a wonderful companion in war.”

“I don’t think that they’re even travelling together.” Fiona said.  “Lord Marius just said he would make an introduction.”

“And then she will owe him a favour.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.  “I wonder what he will ask?  Freydis has some excellent connections.”

“I think he just likes the coffee she makes.” Fiona said.  “Freydis is incredibly skilled with the coffee machine these days.”

Lord Ragnar sipped his coffee.  “Freydis does have many skills.”  He looked at the coloured grasses around the coffee machine.  “I trust that Lord Marius is aware of her value.”

“Would you like some meringue with honey?” Fiona asked, desperate to change the subject.  “We’re trying out some new ideas ahead of the official re-opening.”

“Meringue with honey?” Lord Ragnar’s eyes sparkled.

“Yep,” Adele pulled out a small dish.  “Meringue with spiced honey and crushed, freeze dried strawberries.  It gives me toothache just thinking about it.”

“We were thinking about serving some with rose petals.” Fiona knew how to appeal to an elfen.  “I would value your ideas.  You are known as having exquisite taste.”

“What does Freydis think of them?” Lord Ragnar asked, watching Adele spooning honey laced with cloves and cinnamon over crushed meringue.

“It was her suggestion.” Mrs Tuesday was apparently not watching Lord Ragnar’s expression in the reflection in the window as she wiped down the counter.

Lord Ragnar graciously accepted the small bowl from Adele and nodded.  “Freydis has always had good taste.  I just wish she had used more of her own discretion when we were married.  It could have been quite magnificent.  Of course, Lord Marius has a position in Leeds, which would benefit from advice from someone with the style of Freydis.” His spoon hovered over the bowl.

“I suppose she would advise him if he asked her to.” Mrs Tuesday continued to wipe the clean counter.  “They are always perfectly pleasant to each other.  Never a cross word.”

“Really?” Lord Ragnar relaxed a little and took a large spoonful of the sweet mixture.  “I’m sure I’m not jealous of Freydis.  After all, she is a free woman and it was I who filed the divorce.”

“Absolutely.” Mrs Tuesday said, spraying some more cleaner on the clean counter and continuing to wipe.  “Lord Marius has too much on his plate for now to court Freydis.”

“I suppose he isn’t looking for anyone at the moment.” Lord Ragnar put the spoon down.  “But there are many rumours and prophecies about Leeds.  He will not always be so occupied.  And Steve Adderson has taken over many of the duties of carrying messages and letters which frees up some of his time.”

Mrs Tuesday turned and looked straight at Lord Ragnar.  “You don’t need to worry about Freydis and Lord Marius.  Getting jealous when there is no reason won’t help anyone.  Lord Marius has always been a good friend to you, as much as the elfen are, and he will have enough on his hands in Leeds if I’m reading the signs right.  How is the meringue?”

Lord Ragnar took another spoonful.  “It is quite exquisite.” He sighed.  “Of course, I can’t stop Freydis dallying where she will.  I couldn’t when we were married.”

“I don’t know anything about that.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She wrung out her cloth.  “I don’t like to speculate.”

Lord Ragnar searched for another topic of conversation.  “Perhaps we can serve these at your anniversary dinner, Fiona.  I know many would appreciate them.  I’ve had a word with a very reliable firm of brownie caterers from Leeds and they would be happy to fit in with all requirements.”

“What?” Fiona’s heart sank.

“I have decided to throw you and your husband a wedding anniversary party.  After all, I never managed to properly celebrate your marriage, and after all that you did for me.” Lord Ragnar scraped up the last traces of the meringue and honey.

“I love anniversary parties.” Adele handed Lord Ragnar some frozen raspberries dusted with icing sugar and took away his empty bowl.  “The last one I went to was our Gwen’s.  She’d been married ten years, which was a record for her mum’s kids, and it was so romantic.  The police weren’t called or anything.  Mind you, we think our Phil’s girlfriend nicked a couple of bottles of the champagne.”

“Are you sure you’re not related to boggarts?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “Our side of the family are considered dull, but when my cousin Pearl had her silver wedding, they had to demolish the venue.”

“I heard about that celebration.” Lord Ragnar said with some respect.  “I didn’t realise it was your cousin.  I believe the bomb squad were called in.”

“That was nothing to do with us.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “The landlord had been trying to fiddle the electricity and got it all wrong.  But when they saw all the wires along with all the rest, well, I can’t say I blame them.”

“This anniversary party,” Fiona said, trying to get some control over the conversation.  “What?”

“I decided that you needed the party.  It goes nowhere near paying off the considerable debt that I owe you, but it shows my appreciation.  And you must know that a great many people would like to wish you well.” Lord Ragnar savoured the taste of the raspberries.  “This is like summer and winter dancing.  You are to be commended, Fiona Adderson.”

Fiona struggled for words.  “But who is coming?  Where is it taking place?  How do I contact these brownies?  Do I need to sort out decorations?”

“It’s all in hand.” Lord Ragnar waved his spoon vaguely.  “I suggest you wear pink.  You look delightful in pink.”

“Don’t make Freydis jealous of Fiona again.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “We have enough on our hands.”

Lord Ragnar nodded.  “Also, it would be unwise to awake any anger in Steve Adderson.”

“And who knows what I may feel about it.” Fiona said.

“Hmm?  I wonder if I may trouble you for some more of these delightful raspberries?” Lord Ragnar passed the bowl back to Adele.

Mrs Tuesday wiped the counter again.

Ian hesitated as he dropped Jeanette off.  “I know this is a crazy ask, but do you want any more help in the garden.  I need to keep busy.”

“You’ve organised the warehouse too efficiently.” Jeanette said.  “It runs like clockwork.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Ian smiled.  “It was good to get things sorted out.  Fiona is alright but Kadogan gets carried away with the candles and Steve is hardly here.”

“I’d be glad of any help, but I can’t afford to pay.” Jeanette said hesitantly.  “I mean, I don’t mind making you a meal or something…”

“Honestly, you’ll be doing me a favour.” Ian said with absolute truth.  “But you’ll have to tell me what to do.  I’m okay at the heavy lifting, but I’m not sure about plants.”

“That’s okay.” Jeanette said. “I’ll let you know.”

“What needs doing tonight?” Ian asked.

“Tonight?” Jeanette asked.

Ian grinned.  “No time like the present.  Besides, Mrs Tuesday is away this evening with Mrs Anderson and I’d have to make my own food.  Callum is getting fish and chips.  You mentioned feeding me.”

Jeanette laughed.  “Okay, I’ll make you dinner and while I’m doing that you can start by watering in the polytunnels.”

“Deal!” Ian pulled the van up the long drive and parked neatly by the door.

Jeanette smiled as Ian leapt out of the van and immediately hooked up the hose.  She went inside at a slower pace.  Luke’s note was weighted down on the kitchen table, letting her know that she wasn’t to worry but he wouldn’t be back until late.  That made things a little more awkward.  She had felt very comfortable eating dinner alone with Luke, so why should she feel any different when it was just her and Ian.  For some reason it felt different.  She shrugged and checked the slow cooker.  The meaty chilli was simmering away nicely.  She only had the rice to make.  She glanced out of the window.  Ian was moving with a purpose down the polytunnel and looked like he had the energy to dig all evening.  It was time to break out the frozen garlic bread.

She had no idea what was going on with Ian.  She kept glancing out of the window as she set the table.  He had soaked the plants inside the polytunnel and now was inspecting the structure.  If he gave her any advice on how to organise the plants, she was going to take it.  She had never seen a warehouse so well organised.  She had never seen anywhere so well organised.  Unfortunately, it was so well organised that it didn’t take up a quarter of Ian’s bursting energy that was now being focussed on the path outside the polytunnel.  It wasn’t a natural energy, she thought as she got out the mugs.  It was like he was trying to outrun something.  She knew that he and Callum had had some sort of punch up, but she didn’t know what it was about.  Perhaps Ian had made a move on Adele?  It didn’t seem like the sort of thing Ian would do.  Jeanette poured the boiling water into the teapot.  She couldn’t work out what was going on with Adele and Callum and perhaps Ian had got sucked into something.  If so, it was a shame.  Ian was a good man.

She opened the kitchen door and called to Ian.  “Dinner’s ready.”

Ian jogged towards the house.  “I’m starving.  Where’s Luke?  I’ll eat his share if he’s late.”

“He’s out.” Jeanette said.  “He left a note that he’s meeting someone in York.”

Ian had a good idea where Luke was but said nothing as he washed his hands.  “Is there anything I can help with?”

“It’s fine.  Take a seat.  I hope you’re hungry.  I always make a load for Luke as he eats like a horse, and I’m always starving after running around at the White Hart.” Jeanette put a plate of garlic bread on the table and then placed a large plate of chilli in front of Ian.  “It’s not very spicy.  I’m a bit of a wimp, so I make a mild chilli and let Luke add as much extra heat as he wants.” She put the chilli pepper grinder next to Ian.

“I’m not bothered.” Ian said.  “I’ve got used to Mrs Tuesday’s cooking.  She’s a great cook but her curries don’t taste of curry.  They taste great,” He added hurriedly, “But they taste of good chicken or pork, not spices.  I can’t cook.”

Jeanette thought that if Ian turned his mind to it he could probably cook anything.  “It’s nice to know something Mrs Tuesday doesn’t do well.”

“She’s had a long time to practise stuff.  Do you mind if we say Grace?”

Jeanette shook her head and waited for Ian to say a few quiet words before starting.  At least she had got the rice right this time.  “Thank you for watering the plants.”

“Not a problem.” Ian took a large forkful of the chilli.  “This is great.  By the way, I can probably rig you up an irrigation system if you want.  I can probably get it rigged up with hosepipes, but you really want proper piping.  It should be easy enough to work from the water main and it would save a lot of time.”

Jeanette stared at him.  Getting irrigation in the polytunnel would be a real help, but it had always seemed impossibly out of reach.  “Would that be incredibly expensive?”

“If you do it right, it would be a couple of hundred for materials,” Ian admitted, “But it would be worth it.  If you don’t have to spend time watering, then you’ve got time to make the cards and the stuff that Fiona is stocking in the ‘local artisan’ corner.  It will give you the time to make more money and it will probably pay for itself by the end of the summer.”

Jeanette ate a few mouthfuls in silence.  “Ian, I can’t possibly ask you to do this for nothing and I can’t pay you…”

“You don’t understand, Jeanette, I need to be doing.” Ian’s hands tightened around his fork.  “I’ve made a mess of my life, I’m at risk of making a mess of Callum’s and if I can be working then at least I’m not thinking about it.  And I enjoy plumbing.  I wouldn’t go back to it full time, I’m having a great time at the White Hart, but I like to keep my hand in.  I’ve still got my trade card for a few places in Halifax so I could get a good deal on the piping.”  There was a pause.

“I tell you what,” Jeanette said, “Let me know what stuff you need, and I’ll see what I can scrounge up before we spend any money.  You know?  Looking at the free ads, asking at salvage yards, that sort of stuff.”

Ian’s eyes lit up.  “It sounds like a challenge.  It’s a deal.  Some stuff can’t be skimped on,” he warned, “But we can have fun looking.”

“And I’ll keep you fed.” Jeanette said.  “It’s the least I can do.” She wondered about saying anything else, about offering a sympathetic ear, about letting him know that she would be there for him.  She looked across at him, his face alive as he ate another mouthful.  She could see his mind racing and chasing ideas.  Now was not the time to break that mood, she decided.

Steve followed Atherton into a new room in Lord Ragnar’s domain.  He didn’t like working magic in areas which weren’t entirely under his control, but he was okay with the elfen feel here.  Lord Ragnar had arranged it as he preferred.  This meant that Steve was looking at a flat rock in the middle of a dimly lit glade with a door set improbably into an oak tree. He had worked with worse.  “Thank you for setting this up.” Steve said politely.

“My pleasure.” Lord Ragnar hesitated.  “I’ve spoken to your wife about the anniversary party.  I’m sure you will enjoy it greatly.”

Steve chose his words.  “It is very good of you to host a party for us.  I’m sure it will be a splendid occasion.”

“Excellent.” Lord Ragnar beamed.  “Now, all we need to do is find a mate for Ian and stop these dark menaces.”

“It’s going to be easier to stop this darkness, whatever it is.” Steve said.  “I’ve brought the second lot of crystals.”

“The blessed crystals are already in place.  I had the gnomes put them where directed and they are protecting such places as the White Hart and here.” Lord Ragnar frowned.  “I fear I agree with you.  The sort of person who would marry a werewolf who summoned a demon would not be suitable for a fine, upstanding young werewolf like Ian.”

“I keep hearing about Jasmine, the one who got thrown out from the Liverpool pack.” Steve said.  “I’ve only heard about her fighting.  Do you know anything else about her?”

Lord Ragnar shook his head.  “She is quite young, about 20, I believe, and has not had time to earn much of a reputation apart from the dreadful fighting.”

“It must have been bad for a werewolf pack to throw her out.” Steve said.  He leaned on the rock and looked at the map spread out, weighted with small rocks and twigs.  “Are you confident that the gnomes placed the blessed crystals in the correct places?  I need to check because they could interfere with the magic.”

“Indeed.” Lord Ragnar leaned next to him.  “We have our own homes protected and also places that Darren deemed necessary, such as York Hospital and such like.  It would be a great inconvenience if the dead should animate from the hospital morgue.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Steve said with absolute truth.  “I am glad of your insight.  I suggest we get these crystals enchanted and start placing them around the main graveyards.  I’ll need to enchant this map to show the lines of energy.”

“And Ian Tait will do the Science to work out where everything is coming from.” Lord Ragnar said.  “And then we can fight it.”

“I hope it’s that simple.” Steve said.

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