Fiona approached the White Hart with caution. Anything could be waiting for her. Elfen had a magpie attitude to presents, so she could expect anything from a pretty feather to a diamond ring for her birthday. Kadogan had taken her digging for buried treasure one year, and last year he had taken her for a wonderful picnic in one of the corners of fairyland, where the sky shone with northern lights and the flowers had sang in the wind. She was sort of hoping he would take her back this year.
“Happy Birthday!” Mrs Tuesday called as Fiona sidled in. “Come and get your presents before the shop opens.”
Fiona felt hugged as she opened the gifts. Adele and Callum had got her some fancy soaps in her favourite rose scent, Jeanette had knitted her a gorgeous woollen shawl in a cascade of blues and greens from her and Ian, and Mrs Tuesday had bought her a pair of woolly slippers.
“I know it’s going to be cold in that new house of yours, and I can’t knit for toffee.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You’ll need something to keep your feet warm.”
Jasmine handed over her package. “What did Steve get you?”
Fiona opened the box set of her favourite series. “Thank you, this is perfect.” She concentrated on opening the card. “Steve has been busy for the last few weeks, so he said he’d make it up to me later.”
“I know he adores you,” Lady Freydis said. “And I am confident that a wonderful gift will soon be in your hands.” She handed over a large bag of ribbons. “You could use these in your cards, of course, but you could just keep the bag as it is.”
Fiona held the bag up to the light. It was such an elfen gift, with strand after strand of ribbon in all shades and widths. Some lengths sparkled with glitter or gleamed in the shop light. Some were soberly matt, twined with iridescent and transparent ribbon. “It’s beautiful.”
“I called in at that shop in Coppergate and asked the lovely people there for a yard of every type they had, in a bag.” Lady Freydis sniffed. “They only did metres.”
Fiona wondered if she was catching something from the elfen as there was something fascinating about turning the bag and seeing the colours intertwining. There had to be hundreds of metres of ribbon in there. The shop assistants must have hated Lady Freydis. “I think I’ll keep it just as it is.” She looked around. “I’m going to put these in the back, because we need to get decorating. We’re probably the last shop in York that hasn’t got their Christmas decorations up.”
Lady Freydis frowned. “It is inappropriate.” She grumbled. “And far too early. We are still in November.”
“I know, but some shops had their decorations up in September.” Fiona said. She gathered her presents. “I’ll leave these here for a second and go down to the warehouse and get the decorations. It’s going to be a nuisance for the brownies.”
“They’ll love it.” Mrs Tuesday said. “They’ll enjoy all the fiddly bits and you won’t even see a speck of misplaced glitter.” She glanced quickly at Lady Freydis. “But perhaps you should take it easy on your birthday. Callum can bring the stuff up.”
“But there’s loads.” Fiona said. “Steve brought some trees this morning and there’s about a dozen boxes of ornaments.”
“I agree with Mrs Tuesday.” Lady Freydis said. “It is inappropriate to work on your birthday. Allow me to make you a steamed chai, while Adele informs Callum of the needs.”
“I’ll go down now.” Adele said, and disappeared down the stairs.
“Steamed chai sounds lovely.” Fiona said, “But I’m looking forward to decorating the shop. I hope you won’t stop me doing that.”
Adele rushed into the warehouse where Steve and Callum were staring at Steve’s phone. “Is it here yet?”
“According to the app, it’s two stops away.” Steve said. “Those dwarfs from Bludenz sent it surface instead of airmail. It should have been here last week.”
“She’ll understand.” Callum said. “And it’s not like Fiona to make a fuss about something that can’t be helped.”
“But that’s the thing.” Steve said, closing his phone and slipping it into his pocket. “She’s spent the last few months ‘being understanding’ and ‘not making a fuss’ when she was getting really upset and I didn’t realise. I just wanted something special for her.”
“If it’s anything like the picture, she’ll love it.” Adele said. “It’s perfect for her.”
Steve pulled his phone out and checked again. “We’re the next stop.”
“I was reading online that some couriers don’t bother calling, they just mark you as out if they are too busy.” Adele said, then shut up when she saw Steve’s expression.
“At least the dwarfs said that they packed it well.” Steve said. “It shouldn’t be easy to lose.”
“There’s the van!” Adele said. “You sign for it. Callum and me will take the decorations upstairs and send Fiona down to you.”
“But it won’t be wrapped.” Steve said, panicking.
“If Kadogan catches Fiona crying over you again, there’ll be a war.” Callum said. “Go and get the damn parcel.”
Jack sauntered in later in the afternoon. The shop was busy and felt crammed as four trees were parked around the store and four more in the annexe. Fiona had employed a couple of young werewolves specifically to keep an eye out for elfen caught by the glitter. Swags of scented leylandii branches hung above the bookshelves and doors, with sprays of painted ivy leaves entwined and trailing between the swags. Baubles gleamed and twinkled and dark green and crimson tinsel was swirled around the cases.
“Happy birthday, my fair Fiona.” Jack said, helping Fiona down from the step ladder. “You have covered the room with boughs, but they will not last long in the heat of the shop.”
“I know.” Fiona sighed. “It seems a shame. But I have to respect the people who are coming, and most would prefer something natural. We’ll be replacing them every week.”
“I commend your diligence.” Jack bowed. “And it will be beautiful, right up until Christmas.” He looked around. “I am unused to preparing for Christmas so early. But enough about that.” He took the stepladders from Fiona. “Let us speak of your birthday. I have a gift, but not something that you can hold in your hand. It is a gift for you to experience. Do you remember you were showing me that card maker in your magazine?”
“Those intricate folds? Have you found a class?” Fiona asked.
Jack shook his head and grinned. “I found a way to persuade the lovely lady herself to give you an afternoon of lessons. I have her details.” He handed over a small but exquisite handmade business card. “Just say that this is the deal with Jack Green.” He smiled properly at Fiona’s delight. “Perhaps afterwards you could take your gift from Kadogan and go boating on a summer river.” He noticed the necklace. “Is that a birthday gift?”
Fiona stroked the delicate gold necklace with the single, gleaming topaz in an intricate, lace-like setting. “Steve got it for me.” She smiled, radiating happiness.
“Expensive jewels from foreign lands.” Jack said, narrowing his eyes, “And wrought by dwarfs as well. That is a chain that will never break.”
“It’s perfect.” Fiona said, as Jack nodded in approval.
Jasmine called in to see Darren as he was putting up the hymn numbers for the next service. She stopped dead as she came in and stared around. “What happened here?”
Darren turned around and smiled at her, before remembering she asked a question. “It’s Egerton. He’s been stress cleaning.”
Jasmine turned around on the spot. The church gleamed. The pews glowed with fresh polish, the elderly radiators for the rickety central heating shone like silver and the stone floor was burnished underneath the sand. “Why is there sand on the floor?”
“It’s to stop people slipping on the stone.” Darren said, moving back from the brass lectern that gleamed like pure gold. “Apparently they did it for horses at some point, to stop them slipping on the cobbles. That’s what he told me, anyway.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, even when the brownies have been working.” Jasmine bent down. “Even the undersides of the pews are polished.”
Darren walked up to her and gave her a hug. “You know that Egerton is supposed to serve us? Well because I’ve stuck up for him with Jack, he feels even more indebted. He’s cooking dinner for us.”
“Can he cook?” Jasmine asked, leaning against Darren.
“We are going to find out.” Darren said. “Did Fiona like the Box Set?”
“She did.” Jasmine said. “She told me that she had had an amazing birthday, and she’s going to a special card class Jack sorted out, just for her.” She sighed. “That’s an amazing present.”
“What did Steve get her?” Darren asked as they walked out of the church together.
“He got her a necklace from some dwarfs in Austria.” Jasmine hesitated. “It’s really beautiful, and she loves it, but…” She trailed off.
“Jack and Kadogan have already told me that Steve’s present wasn’t appropriate.” Darren said. “They were a little vague about his present, but very clear about me sorting out Steve and Fiona. They said that I didn’t have the hands to deal with any more, so I had plenty of time.” He looked at Jasmine. “What’s wrong with the necklace? I mean, if it’s dwarf made and from Austria, he must have gone to some effort.”
“That’s it.” Jasmine said. “Jack got her a card making class by someone she admires. Kadogan is taking her for a trip on a summer river. Mrs Tuesday got slippers for her, because she was worried about being cold and that’s why Jeanette made her a shawl. I mean, everyone got her something that was meaningful, but I don’t know how meaningful the necklace is.” They strolled down the vicarage path. “I suppose that’s what Jack and Kadogan are on about. They are worried about Fiona.”
“But Steve adores Fiona and Fiona adores Steve. What’s the problem?” Darren opened the vicarage door and blinked. “Egerton, that smells amazing.”
“I don’t think Steve sees the problem either.” Jasmine said. She smiled at Egerton, who was wearing chefs’ whites. “It smells lovely.”
“A Moroccan lamb tagine, with fresh spices.” Egerton announced proudly. “Served with couscous and followed by watermelon sherbet.”
“I could get used to this.” Darren said.