Fiona opened the door to the White Hart and flinched. She had never seen it so clean. Mrs Tuesday was re-racking all the herbs with the jerky energy that said it was extreme displacement. “What’s going on?”
Jasmine came from out of the back with an armful of coffee bags. “Callum’s gone to get some extra milk, and Adele said she would call her cousins to see if they can help out if the rush gets bad.”
“What rush?” Fiona half expected to skid on the floor which had been polished to within an inch of its life. The old boards gleamed.
Mrs Tuesday took a deep breath. “Lady Freydis made an announcement last night.” She started slotting the hangers back into position. “She is going to get married next midsummer.”
“Who to?” Fiona hung her coat in the back room and came out, bewildered. “Not Kadogan as he is pretty loyal to Suzuki and Atherton is besotted with the young lad who works at the garage down the road. Surely she won’t go for Martin after all that happened? And who else is there? Egerton is too scared to go near her.”
“Egerton’s mostly healed and is doing okay.” Mrs Tuesday was struggling with the bags of herbs as the fine control needed to get them on their hangers wasn’t being helped by her temper. “But that’s the thing. She hasn’t got anyone. She has decided that she is going to marry someone – just someone! And she’s going to marry at midsummer.”
“Jeanette and Adele are taking it okay.” Jasmine said, “But I would be furious.”
“What?” Fiona looked at the extra stock of till rolls and bags at her till and started to get an idea of what was coming.
“Lady Freydis decided that Jeanette and Adele are getting married on Easter Monday. Darren wasn’t happy. He said that she may be the Prince and in charge of non-normals but he was in charge of his church. He was seriously considering not doing the ceremony, but he thought he would for the sake of Jeanette.” Jasmine unloaded the bags of coffee into the cupboards. “But he said he was going to have a Word.”
“And you had better brace yourself.” Mrs Tuesday threw a cardboard box out of the way with some venom. “She wants you and Steve to have renewal ceremony. Where was Steve last night?”
“He’s over in Lancaster.” Fiona said, tight lipped.
Elaine came in and paused in the doorway, just as struck as Fiona at the high sheen of the White Hart. “What’s going on?”
“The brownies clean extra when they’re stressed.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Lady Freydis has decided she is going to marry at midsummer, and the shop is going to be over-run with candidates until she picks a suitor.” She stood up creakily and brushed off her skirt. “She has also picked the date for Jeanette and Adele and was talking about Fiona and Steve renewing their vows in August.”
“No!” Fiona said firmly. “No vow renewal.”
“Good luck.” Elaine said, with genuine sympathy.
“There’s someone outside already!” Jasmine said, “And we don’t open for another half hour.”
Mrs Tuesday swore loudly, at length and with great inventiveness. “Well, at least we’ll get some profit out of this mess.” She said, looking at Fiona. “But I may ask for a raise.”
“You’ve got it.” Fiona said. “They can see us, the shutters are up and the door isn’t locked. Is the café ready to go?”
Jasmine nodded. “Mrs Tuesday started everything off early.”
“We open now.” Fiona took a deep breath. “Tomorrow we make sure that the door is kept locked and the shutters down until opening time or we will be open around the clock. I’ll give you a hand with those herbs, Mrs Tuesday.”
Lady Freydis was sitting in one of her favourite corners of her realm, perched on a high rock and watching the sea crash wildly at the cliff below. Martin walked easily up behind her.
“Leeds is about as far from the sea as you can get in Britannia.” He looked over her shoulder at the salt spray arcing over the rocks.
“I know.” Lady Freydis kept her eyes at the swirling water below her.
“And yet you have this illusion realm, always stormy and wild.” Martin ran a gentle finger over the back of Lady Freydis’ hand. His touch lingered as he circled around the inside of her wrist, slowly up her arm, his other hand caressing her palm as he leant in and lightly kissed her neck.
Lady Freydis shuddered with pleasure and sighed. “I adore the tricks you play when you seduce, but do not expect them to work on my mind.”
“I just enjoy touching you.” Martin said. “And you have never objected to that.”
Lady Freydis stretched and smiled lazily. “I always enjoy your touch.”
“And what when you marry?” Martin said. “Will I be able to touch you then? It won’t be the same as it was for Lord Ragnar. You will hold the power and anyone trying to get to power through you won’t tolerate a threat to his position.”
“I imagine most candidates will want to get power transferred to themselves at some point.” Lady Freydis slid gracefully off the rock and smiled up at Martin. “I will not just be looking at self-declared candidates. I am sure some will bring interesting companions.”
“It’s not a good idea to set a man above his lord.” Martin shook his head. “You have mixed gunpowder and Greek fire. It’s going to be crazy. And you should get over to the White Hart. They will be wanting to see you there.”
“It’s likely to be busy, which is fun.” Lady Freydis started walking away from the realm, “But Mrs Tuesday will be cross with me.”
“I’m cross with you.” Martin said. “But I know my limits.” He turned her around suddenly and kissed her hard on the lips. He stepped back and shook his head at the smug smile on Lady Freydis’ lips. “I’m surprised Lord Ragnar didn’t beat you.”
“He didn’t dare.” Lady Freydis said. “Now, I need to take a swift path to the White Hart to tend to the Coffee Machine. Will you accompany me?”
“As long as you understand that I am not afraid of you.” Martin said.
“Of course.” Lady Freydis said, sliding a hand smoothly over a rock to show an unexpected entrance to a green, sunlit path. “And that is what makes all this so much fun.”
The White Hart was looking battered. The tables had been cleared and the dishwasher set off with the last remnants of the café’s busiest day ever, but the gaps in the bookshelves and knickknacks had been left until tomorrow as the crew of the White Hart slumped wearily over the pizza Fiona had ordered.
Dave had managed to get Elaine sitting alone with him at a table a little way away from the rest. He looked over to where Fiona was slowly writing lists with the help of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. Jasmine had already left to visit Darren, but Chloe had stayed as she had done extra duty in the shop. He looked at Elaine. “That was crazy. And I can’t believe how many non-normal men I had booking Tarot readings and asking about their future love lives.”
“I’ve overheard one or two arranging to get married quickly so that they don’t become eligible.” Elaine said. “It’s like she’s thrown a grenade into the middle of everyone’s lives.”
“I’m safe because I’m a paladin,” Dave said smugly, and then paused. “I think. He looked at Elaine. “She hasn’t said anything to you, has she? I mean, we’ve only just started dating but that doesn’t seem to stop her.”
Elaine shook her head. “I think she’s backing off from arranging the love lives of normals,” she said, “At least for now. She feels a little responsible for the mess between Steve and Fiona.”
“She wasn’t too involved.” Dave said, “Not like Lord Marius and Kadogan. But she feels bad for them.” He took a large bite of his pizza. “Steve and Fiona would probably be fine if they hadn’t interfered.”
“Fiona hates Steve going to Lancaster.” Elaine said. “There’s a sidhe there that has had a crush on him for years, but Steve has never been interested. I think he would avoid the place if he could, but the deal is too good to miss. He’s had to go quite deep into Faerie, I believe, and he won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“That’s not good.” Dave realised he was stroking over the back of Elaine’s free hand and stopped in confusion. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Elaine smiled. “I don’t know how much free time I’ll have, but why don’t you come around to my flat tomorrow evening. I can make something to eat and we can watch a film. I’ve got a few cued up.”
“Sounds great, if we have the energy.” Dave said.
“I’m not cooking anything that needs more than two pans.” Elaine said. “Today has been crazy and I don’t think it’s going to get better.”
“It will have to die down soon.” Dave said. “I mean, how bad could it get?”