“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.”