Dean hefted his bag and wondered what he was doing. Martin was right. He wasn’t safe from Miss Patience, but he wasn’t exactly sure he was exactly safe in the White Hart. He kept himself expressionless and upright but inside he felt like crawling away. Fighting revenants and the dark creatures that were creeping out of the fringes of Lord Ragnar’s domain was just something he did. He was a vampire now, and he just had to get on with things. The thought of facing his ex-girlfriend day after day, however, was like lemon juice on a cut.
Steve managed a smile. “If you’ll follow me…” He led Dean up the stairs behind the till. “It’s all a little chaotic at the moment,” he said with massive understatement. “Kadogan has been sorting out sleeping quarters.” Steve struggled with himself and managed not to say what he was thinking. “So, you are sharing the kitchen with Mrs Tuesday, Luke, Dave and Darren. Freydis may or may not be in her room, I don’t like to ask.”
“What about the werewolves?” Dean asked.
“Kadogan has convinced Jeanette that she should have Ian, Callum, Adele and Jasmine as her lodgers.” Steve took a breath. “I’m not sure how much she understood, but effectively it’s formed a pack house. Apparently Ian has spoken to Kieran.”
“Kieran has a lot on his mind.” Dean said. The two men understood this as code for, ‘the leader of the werewolf pack in York who has a worrying subpack of strays developing, is currently distracted by the Paladin’s Citadel blowing up, an influx of Knights Templar poking their noses where they aren’t welcome, vampires getting crazier than normal and the damned goblins have kicked off again with late night parties and parking across the werewolves’ garages’.
“Don’t we all.” Steve muttered. He caught Dean’s slight change of expression and held up his hand. “I’m not meaning you. It’s bound to be awkward at first, but there’s no hard feelings. It’s just, well, everything.” He led Dean down the corridor. “That’s our office, the Tarot reading room, Dave, the kitchen, Mrs Tuesday, then round the corner on the right hand side we have Luke, Darren, yourself and then Freydis is at the end when she’s home.”
“Thanks.” Dean walked through the door Steve indicated. He paused for a moment. He recognised Fiona’s touch in this. There was a small bunch of flowers in a vase on top of the chest of drawers. The bed was smooth, and the pale green bedding was new. Inoffensive prints of York hung around the room and the new curtains hung pale and stiff, framing a view towards York. The room was fresh and clean and a note in Fiona’s beautiful calligraphy next to the keys read, ‘Dean, I hope you will feel happy and safe here. Please let us know if there are any problems. Fiona.’ Dean felt a lump in his throat. Once upon a time, Fiona’s notes to him ended with a kiss. Now he was standing next to her husband. “How is Fiona about this?”
Steve looked away. “She’s worried about you, and I think she feels a little awkward – not angry or anything because it really wasn’t your fault, but it’s a thing.” He shrugged. “Maybe it’s overdue. Everyone can get the awkwardness out of the way and get on with our lives.”
“I think you’re right.” Dean said quietly.
“I’ll let you get settled in.” Steve said. “If you’re eating in, don’t worry about cooking. Mrs Tuesday likes to feed anyone who stays still long enough at meal times.”
Dean heard the door click as Steve left. It was probably the safest place in York. Steve had reinforced the place with so much magic that it could make your head ring if you even thought about a spell in the wrong place. During the day the shop was full of werewolves and when he wasn’t patrolling at night, he was going to be sharing a space with a paladin, an exorcist, a near-as-dammit paladin and Mrs Tuesday. Mrs Tuesday was scary.
Dean unpacked his small bag, methodically hanging his two shirts and dropping his underwear in a drawer. He had lost so much weight since he became a vampire that his old clothes didn’t fit. He looked down at his hands. They were slim and elegant now, just like him. It was not a look he would have chosen. Martin had told him that what came back as a vampire was the core of a person and the hunger that went with it. Was this who he was? He went into the small bathroom and washed his hands. Since he died he was different. Before he had been clouded by dozens of different thoughts that crowded into his mind and anchored him so firmly in the current second that he could barely think five minutes ahead. He had never stopped to look beneath the surface of a person. Now his mind was icy and with Martin’s help he was beginning to map out his future. Now he would never have walked away from Fiona. She was the best thing that he could imagine, and he had thrown it away because another woman had flirted with him and it seemed more exciting. He had longer than the average lifetime to regret it. All he could do now was his best.
Mrs Tuesday was restocking the herbs while the shop was quiet. It was nearly closing time and Jasmine was wiping down the shelves nearby, nudging closer until she could try to discreetly ask Mrs Tuesday the question that had been circling her mind all day.
“Mrs Tuesday, why is it so strange that Dean stay here? I mean, he’s a vampire but he seems okay.” Jasmine shook out her cloth. “I think a packet of mint split here.”
“It looks like a few packets have split.” Mrs Tuesday said. “I don’t think you need to worry about Dean. He’s made a few mistakes, but who hasn’t?”
Freydis appeared next to Jasmine. “Dean is an ex-boyfriend of Fiona who dumped her immediately before Christmas after convincing her not to move to Australia with the rest of her family. After that he became a pawn of the traitor Rey and tried to gain a hold over Fiona by tricking her into drinking love potions. She became quite ill and broke her engagement to Steve Adderson.” Freydis leant against the shelving unit. “Indeed, he tricked her into meeting him many times and kidnapped her where she was held hostage by Rey until Steve Adderson tracked Rey down and killed him. Rey drained Dean without thinking, but Dean turned and became a vampire, but his sire was already dead.” Freydis passed a fresh cloth to Jasmine. “So Dean is quite independent of Miss Patience and rather lost. Although I believe Aelfhelm has resurfaced recently and has been helping Dean learn his way around, which is kind of him and entirely typical.”
“You could have just mentioned that Dean is Fiona’s ex boyfriend.” Mrs Tuesday said. “But that’s a good summary.”
“Is Steve jealous?” Jasmine asked.
“It is remarkably hard to read Steve Adderson,” Freydis said with some irritation. “But I believe he is angry, jealous and insecure. However he seems to be controlling these feelings and I am confident they will fade.”
Jasmine rubbed at a mark on the shelf. “Steve has been really kind, and so has Fiona. I hate the thought of them being upset.”
“Just treat Dean normally and everything will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Here, you can put this rue out. Who is this Aelfhelm?” she asked Freydis.
“That is a story that I cannot put into a few sentences.” Freydis said. “I will help with the herbs then we can all have coffee and I will tell what I know.”
Jasmine bounded around the herbs, curiosity almost eating her as Mrs Tuesday supervised the restocking before they all went back to the café area. “Where’s Fiona?”
“She went home early.” Jeanette said, putting a pot of tea on the table. “I think she’s finding it all a little too stressful.”
“I think I would as well.” Adele said, bringing over the milk. “If Callum’s ex turned up I wouldn’t know what to think.”
Freydis made a hot chocolate for Jasmine and a small espresso for herself, then joined the rest of the women. “It’s hard to know where to begin with Aelfhelm,” she said, emptying sugar sachets one after other into her coffee. “I I can’t read him.” She sighed and took one of the mini meringues that Jeanette had brought over. “I know he’s using the name Martin at the moment. It does stand out less than Aelfhelm in today’s world, but I am surprised. He was a good friend of Alderman Aelfhelm centuries ago.” Freydis stirred the syrupy coffee. “He may have used a version of Martin before that, or perhaps Mark or Marius.” Freydis looked back into the distant past and her eyes grew misty. “I was quite young when I first met him. I was certainly younger than I was now. He came with the first legions, marching against the Brigantes. He was an old vampire then, of course, but he was looking for adventure and he found plenty here.”
“That makes him really old.” Jasmine said. “Don’t vampires go crazy if they live too long?”
Freydis sipped her coffee. “Some do, some don’t. It depends on the creature. Martin seemed to keep his head and he often slept. In fact, I believe Queen Victoria was on the throne when he last walked, or perhaps the Regent. Or was it Sailor Billy? I cannot recall. It is unimportant. Aelfhelm, I mean Martin, is a very powerful, very old vampire who can be extremely dangerous. He can also be difficult.”
Mrs Tuesday grinned. “You mean, you have a vampire that the elfen can’t order around?”
Freydis shrugged. “Lord Ragnar is careful around him, of course, but Martin shows respect to him. He is very polite, actually, and in the past has been willing to help.”
“Does he act very old-fashioned?” Jeanette asked. “I mean, does he talk like a Victorian?”
Freydis shook her head. “Martin has a trick, he calls it ‘dreaming’. He couldn’t tell you the names of the popular bands, and he couldn’t tell you who Elvis Presley was, but he has a sense of what has happened and how the language is working. Though I remember he was quite useless helping with a friend’s Latin lessons, back at the time of the first King George. He said that nobody talked like that when Rome ruled.” She looked up. “Hello, Steve.”
“I’ve not been here too long, in case you were wondering.” Steve said as he caught the flicker of guilt on Jasmine’s face. “So I haven’t heard you discuss anything about Dean, for example, or me and Fiona. But it’s good to hear about Martin. He seems like a good guy.”
“He has a habit of looking after the younger ones – as long as they stay in line.” Freydis said. “Dean is fortunate to have met him.”
The door opened with its usual jangle. Freydis looked up. “Lord Marius, how wonderful to see you. Please join us – I will make coffee! And coffee for your friend.”
“Hello, Elaine.” Steve pulled a chair over. “Take a seat.”
Freydis paused and looked between Steve and Elaine. “Is this an old friend? It is good to meet you, Elaine. How do you like coffee?” Freydis narrowed her eyes. “I believe you would enjoy a latte with a shot of vanilla.”
“That sounds great.” She smiled faintly at Steve. “How is Armani?”
The imp crawled out of Steve’s pocket and looked darkly at Elaine. “Doing better.” He flapped off towards the air vents.
Steve watched his progress and then took a seat between Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday. “I didn’t realise you two were still in contact.”
Elaine nodded. “I needed some help and I thought I’d ask you. I still had the contact details for Lord Marius and he said he would join me here.”
Steve looked hard at Lord Marius. “And you didn’t think to warn me, father?”
Lord Marius took his coffee from Freydis. “The coffee is as exquisite as ever.”
“Did you know that Aelfhelm is back?” Freydis asked. “Though he calls himself Martin.”
“That is interesting.” Lord Marius leaned back in his seat. “I shall have to call in on Miss Patience and see if her reaction is entertaining.”
“You may walk in through a hole in the wall that Martin left.” Freydis said. “I believe she was most displeased.”
“I didn’t know that Lord Marius was your father.” Elaine said, staring. “Thank you, this coffee looks amazing.” She took the elegantly presented coffee from Freydis and placed it on the table in front of her.
“It came as a surprise to me.” Steve said. “But apart from a few hiccups,” he gave Lord Marius a hard stare, “We are doing okay.”
“And you have a shop now.” Elaine looked around. “It’s very nice.”
“I think so.” Steve looked around and nodded. “So, what is the problem?”
“I’ve been spending weekends in Skipton,” Elaine said, “And I think one of the neighbours is a vampire. He’s acting odd, and I thought I would get in touch with you because I didn’t know anyone else who could help.”
“Why didn’t you just ask Lord Marius?” Steve asked.
Elaine looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t think of that.”
“We have not made full introductions.” Freydis said, her eyes sparkling. “I am Freydis, former wife of the prince of York and currently working with the coffee machine. This is Mrs Tuesday, a fearsome boggart.”
Elaine nodded and smiled at the little old lady who looked like the definition of harmless. “Pleased to meet you.”
“This is Jeanette Fowler, romantically involved with a werewolf who is leading a local subpack, this is Adele who is dating a werewolf who paints pictures and this is Jasmine who is a werewolf and former stray.” Freydis sipped her hot chocolate while Jasmine flushed with embarrassment.
“Hi, I’m Elaine. I’m Steve’s ex-girlfriend.” Elaine smiled around the circle.
“That is an interesting coincidence.” Freydis said. “Steve’s wife’s ex-boyfriend is upstairs. Perhaps we can introduce you to each other?”
“You’re married?” Elaine took a hasty mouthful of her coffee. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Steve said, looking darkly at both Freydis and Lord Marius. “Now, about this vampire.”
Ian took a mouthful of his pint and looked out over the river. The bar was quiet as it was early in the evening and the sun was still warm. He sat down next to Darren on the terrace. “So, what did you want to talk about.”
Darren kept his eyes on his tonic water. He never knew how to handle this sort of thing. “You know Ferdi? Creep of a goblin that hangs around trying to act like a great trader?”
“Yeah, I know him. I don’t know why Kadogan tolerates him.” Ian said. The evening breeze was gentle and he was feeling good. Everything seemed to be okay with Jeanette, Callum and Adele were solid and Jasmine seemed to be keeping her tail up. It felt like he finally had his feet on solid ground.
“He’s a sleaze.” Darren took a deep breath. “He was trying to hit on Jasmine. She was getting upset. I didn’t think she’d tell you, but you need to watch her back on this.”
“He was trying to pick her up?” Ian said, his voice cold.
“He was trying to pressure her into going for a coffee.” Darren took a deep breath. “But we all know that it wasn’t just for coffee. I was considering beating him to a paste, but I thought I should give you first refusal.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Ian kept his eyes blankly fixed on the river as he took another mouthful of beer.”
“I didn’t want to embarrass Jasmine.” Darren said.
“Was she upset?” Ian asked, still staring at the river.
“Yeah, she was quite upset.” Darren wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut.
“What upset her most, do you think?”
“He said something about Jasmine not liking fur.” Darren shifted in his seat. “I don’t know what that means, but I think that’s what made her cry.”
“Was there anyone else around?” Ian asked, still in the steady, cold voice.
“No, I don’t think he realised I was around either.” Darren said. “Scum like that don’t like to risk having an audience.”
“I see.” Ian kept his gaze steadily on the river. “Did Jasmine say anything about it?”
“No.” Darren took a small mouthful of tonic water.
“But she cried?”
“Yes, I got her a coffee and she was fine by the time Freydis came back.” Darren wished there was gin in the tonic.”
“Okay. Do you know what it means when a werewolf doesn’t like fur?” Ian picked up his pint and took a small mouthful.
“No, I’ve never come across it. I don’t interfere with werewolves.” Darren regretted not flattening Ferdi into laminate at the time.
“If a werewolf woman feels that they cannot get on with a werewolf man but would rather look outside the pack, then the phrase is, ‘they don’t like fur’. They are looked down on, and sometimes the less intelligent of the pack will try and change their mind.” Ian took another small mouthful of his beer. “You don’t see it so much in well run packs, but if things aren’t running smoothly or there are some dogs hanging around the fringes then it can get difficult for the woman.”
“So that is why Jasmine got into so many fights.” Darren said.
“Yes. But I will not allow her to be taunted about this, and I know that Kieran is fully behind me. I’ll let people know that Ferdi is a fair target.”
“I’m glad you’re on Jasmine’s side on this.” Darren said. “And count me in. Jasmine is a good kid who doesn’t deserve to be targeted.”
“You won’t mention this to anyone else, will you? About the fur?” Ian finally looked at Darren.
“I don’t see why I should. It’s not anybody’s business.” Darren said. “But you should tell Kadogan that Ferdi upset Jasmine.”
“Ferdi may start spreading word about…” Ian placed his pint back down on the table. “Damn him. He’ll drag her down one way or another, won’t he.”
“He’s probably already started the rumours.” Darren said. “What we need to do is send a message not to spread rumours and upset our own.”
“You’re counting yourself in with us?” Ian looked at Darren.
Darren paused. “I hadn’t even thought about it. I suppose the White Hart is a kind of pack. We look after our own.”
“Damn right.” Ian took a longer drink of his pint. “Jasmine’s a good kid and she’s been enough without us turning our back on her.” He shook his head. “It could take her years to get over being a stray. She was kicked out last year, and she’s done really well to keep as solid as she has. She has the potential to be a credit to the pack.”
“I don’t think we should spread this too far.” Darren said. “The less who get involved the better. I mean, your werewolves have to know, and so does Kieran. I’d say Kadogan needs to know so he knows why Ferdi is risking his neck when he visits.”
“I know who else I’ll tell,” Ian said with a certain malice. “I’ll tell Mrs Tuesday.”
“That is extremely harsh.” Darren said. “I approve.”
They drank in a comfortable silence for a while, watching the sun dip and the shadows lengthen. Darren wondered exactly how Jasmine had survived. To be under that sort of pressure must have been hard, and she was showing incredible resilience just helping in the shop. The bar was filling up as the shadows banked up in the corners and the lights came on. “Ian, those shadows aren’t right.”
Ian followed his gaze. “Damn, it’s getting everywhere.”
“What do you mean?”
Ian frowned. “The dark energy from Lord Ragnar’s domain is leaking out. You find little patches of it, heaped up.” He tried to find the right analogy. “It’s like piles of leaves blown into a corner in autumn. Any from a pack who touch the stuff go snappy and out of sorts. Kieran is worried that those who have been touched by it could go rogue.”
“Let’s drift over there.” Darren stood casually and picked up his tonic. “Will you cover for me as I say a few prayers?” He wandered over to the wall nearest the river where a patch of pooled blackness and set his drink down. Ian followed him and as Darren said some quiet prayers over the darkness Ian kept up a one sided, quiet and casual conversation to misdirect anyone trying to eavesdrop. He watched as the energy writhed and spat dark sparks which fizzled and disappeared as the unnatural shadow shrunk and twisted into itself until it was gone. Darren gave a quiet prayer of thanks, then turned to Ian. “I know why the Paladin’s Citadel exploded. I think we need to talk to the Knights Templar – now!”