In Charge

Lord Ragnar looked around his court.  There were still plenty of people around and the fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was a thinness about the place.  No vampires were present and the few werewolves who attended were clustered around Kieran.  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  It all came back to Freydis.  If she had been present there would have been some chat, or flirtation or amusement. And if nothing had been happening, she would have instigated something.  Kadogan and Atherton watched him warily.  Kadogan passed Lord Ragnar a goblet of wine.

“Do you wish to hunt revenants tonight?”

Lord Ragnar accepted the wine.  “Hmm?”

Atherton leaned in.  “We should be hunting the revenants.  There are many on the streets, my lord.”

Lord Ragnar stared moodily into the fire.  Hunting revenants was something to do, he supposed, but it didn’t exactly bring him the glory and splendour he needed.  Besides, he needed Freydis and she was busy with the damned coffee machine.  At least he had a chance competing against a vampire or mortal, and Freydis had never been indiscreet enough to dally with another elfen, but he felt helpless against a coffee machine.  He drained the wine.

“It would be a popular move.” Kadogan said.  “Kieran Latimer is growing concerned.”

Atherton had never been a coward.  “Perhaps you could hunt around the edges of the dark parts of your domain.  Pushing back the darkness there would be very popular, and I am confident many would attend to assist.”

Lord Ragnar placed the empty wine goblet back on the table.  “I will hunt within my domain.” He flicked a glance around the room.  A few people had looked up, but not all.  He was losing his grip.  “And tomorrow I will plan the midsummer feast.  Steve and Fiona Adderson will attend to celebrate their anniversary and all my court will come.  Every single one.”

Silence ran around the hall.  Lord Ragnar had thrown down a gauntlet.  Miss Patience had been avoiding the court, complaining that being so close to the dark domain made things difficult for her.  Demanding that she and all of her kind attend was a line in the sand.

Kieran stood up.  “All of us?  Including those werewolves touched by the darkness?  You know how they have been affected.”

“I am sure any competent leader can control their pack.” Lord Ragnar said.  Kieran flushed and clenched his fists.  Lord Ragnar ignored him and turned to Kadogan and Atherton.  “Shall we go hunt?”

Fiona found it almost funny.  The men were in the back, the women were in the shop.  Steve was packing a van to take to Bridlington and Ian was helping him load it.  Steve was hoping for a load of sea glass in return, straight from the sea bed.  Callum was off to the wholesalers today to pick up supplies for the café and Dave was upstairs getting ready for his first client.  Luke was also upstairs, probably sleeping in after another hard night fighting revenants, and Darren had gone to look at his assigned vicarage.  Kadogan was last seen counting the candles again but Fiona had given up tracking him.

The women of the White Hart were also busy.  Jeanette was sorting out a new delivery of cards and getting them on the shelves, along with a few of her own.  Mrs Tuesday was setting out the muffins and cakes for the café while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it warmed up.  Adele was regrouping some of the over-cute pixies in an attempt to make it look like a display.  Jasmine had brought up large basket of different incenses from the storerooms downstairs and was stocking the shelves, humming happily to herself.

Fiona started making notes and sketches for the new catalogue.  Steve insisted that a new catalogue went out in plenty of time before the Wiccan festivals, so the Lammas catalogue for the celebrations on August 2nd would need to go out by the second week of July.  Fiona was thinking of getting someone on duty just to answer the phones for the last week before the festival to cope with the last-minute orders.

Fiona looked over to Mrs Tuesday.  “Is Evan going to be okay doing all the runs to the Village?  It’s a long run.”

“He’ll be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a change for him.  Besides, Gabe will be with him.”

“As long as he’s okay with it.” Fiona said.  The mail order business with the non-normals was generating a lot of post and many preferred to go through messengers.  She had had a long chat with Karen, the Postmistress in the Village who operated general clearing house for the non-normal population and had come to an agreement about parcels and packages.  Evan Tuesday would drive over three times a week with the non-urgent deliveries which could later be collected by the messengers that called in there from the various courts.  She straightened the already straight pile of till rolls.  “What do you think the celebration with Lord Ragnar will be like?”

“I think it will be entertaining.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“It will be incredibly entertaining and possibly violent.” Freydis said.  “Also the coffee is likely to be below standard.”

“Do you think it will actually be violent?” Fiona asked.  “I’m not sure I’m happy to go to a fight.”

“Lord Ragnar is insisting that the vampires affected by the dark energy attend a function near to that exact dark energy and he is also insisting that werewolves previously affected by the dark energy attend at the risk of them becoming snappy.  How can it not have some violence involved?” Freydis tenderly wiped down the steamer.

“You will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If Lord Ragnar keeps his head then there will probably be some heated words and a few bruises.”

“Ian’s really not happy about going there.” Jasmine said.  “He wants me to stay here.”

“Does he think that the feast will be a distraction and allow attacks in other areas?” Freydis asked.  “That is interesting.”

Jasmine nodded.  “He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s been going with Darren around all the burial grounds to try and limit the revenants that can be summoned, and I heard Luke telling him not to worry and that lots of the Knights Templar will be out that nght.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “Well maybe that Sir Craig will get some sense knocked into him.”

Freydis raised an eyebrow.  “The Templars are getting it more or less right here, Mrs Tuesday, but I understand that you don’t like them.”

“No, I really don’t.”  Mrs Tuesday snapped.

“At least they will not be at feast.” Freydis said.  “I have a new syrup to try, a French vanilla.  Would anyone like a coffee?”

“I’d love one.” Fiona said.  “Your coffee is always delicious.  But this feast, it’s not likely to be really dangerous, is it?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Probably not to you.”

Adele wandered over to the café.  “I’d love one of your coffees, if you don’t mind.  Am I invited?”

“That depends on Ian.” Freydis said.

“How can it possibly depend on Ian?” Adele said.  “I’m either invited or I’m not.”

“You are part of his subpack.” Freydis said.  “He is the one in charge and he is worried.”

Jeanette moved back to the café area, carrying an empty cardboard box.  “Ian has already said that he doesn’t wantus girls there.” She tucked the cardboard box to one side behind the counter.  “I’d love a coffee as well, if you don’t mind.”

Freydis smiled.  “Of course.” She placed the first drink in front of Fiona and deftly switched over the coffee.  “So, Ian is keeping the women at home.  He is expecting trouble.” She tilted her head as she steamed the milk.  “Ian’s insights are always worth hearing.  There may be more trouble than I was expecting if he is keeping the women away.  Does he want you to stay at Jeanette’s house or with the rest of the pack?”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want us there.” Adele snapped.

Jeanette looked at Jasmine and Adele.  “Hasn’t he said anything?  We’ve been invited to a crafting bee with Martha at the main house.”

Freydis put a coffee in front of Adele.  “Ian tells you, and then you are supposed to tell the women in your pack.”

“Really?” Jeanette felt overwhelmed.  “Is there a list of things I should do?”

“You can ask Martha.” Freydis said.  “She knows these things.”

“I’m rubbish at craft.” Jasmine said.  “I never seem to get it right.”

“What is a crafting bee?” Adele asked, slightly calmer.  She took a sip of her coffee.  “Freydis, this coffee is amazing.”

Freydis glowed a little with the praise.  “Thank you.  I believe Martha is creating and gathering crafts for the church sale in support of the Red Cross.”  She pulled out another cup for Jeanette.  “There will be all sorts of crafts there.  Martha is an excellent organiser so there will be groups for knitting, crochet, quilting, cards and such.  I always hear that they are relaxed and happy occasions.  And if there is an expectation of trouble, the women of the pack stay back and guard the home.  It rarely happens, but Martha is skilled at making such times a relaxed occasion.  I believe this is merely a precaution.”

“I wish I could go.” Fiona said.  “If I had to choose between an evening making cards or an evening in the middle of potential danger, I’d choose the cards.”

“The feast will be magnificent, and it will be safe to eat the food and drink.” Freydis said.  “There will be no enchantment on it.”

“So Kieran and Ian are expecting trouble?” Mrs Tuesday wiped over the clean counter.  “That’s a worry.”

“Will you be attending, Mrs Tuesday?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes, I’ll be attending.” Mrs Tuesday sounded subdued.  “The werewolves can get away with keeping their women at home, but everyone else has to attend.  If I don’t go, it’s more than bad manners…” She trailed off, looking worried.

An alarm went off on Fiona’s phone.  “Time to open up.” She drained the last of the delicious coffee and unlocked the door, flicking the sign to show ‘Open’.  “At least there are no tours booked today.”

“We have visitors already.” Freydis said.  “And they are elfen, with a werewolf.” Her expression hardened.  “Also, that dreadful creature, Ferdi.”

Jasmine looked anxiously at Fiona.  “I don’t want there to be any trouble.  Please don’t say anything.”

“You can take the empty boxes downstairs.” Fiona said.

“I’m not running away.” Jasmine said firmly.

Inwardly Fiona sighed, then glanced at Freydis who looked on high alert.  Her heart sank.  This looked like it was going to be a problem.  She moved next to Adele.  “Can you take the boxes downstairs and get Steve and Kadogan up?  It looks complicated.”

Four men entered the shop like soldiers checking enemy territory.  A tall, slim man in a three-piece suit, sharp featured but handsome with piercing blue eyes and a mane of thick, dark auburn hair tied back in a pony tail led them, striding into the shop and across to the café.  At his shoulder was another man, also slim but with short, dark hair.  His eyes were hidden by sunglasses and his casual jacket over t-shirt and jeans looked out of place.  He moved like a bodyguard, constantly glancing around.  Ferdi was wearing his usual grey suit, and he wandered towards the books.  A thickset man, burly in a casual shirt and jeans with greying brown hair followed him.  Ferdi waved his hands.  “See, there is a real lack of information on aliens here.  They are missing out on sales.”

“We haven’t had any requests for books about extra-terrestrials.” Fiona glanced across at Freydis who was staring at the redhead.

“You aren’t listening to your customers.” Ferdi shook his head.  “This is Rhett, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Fiona said.

Freydis waved a hand.  “Fiona, this is Egerton, an important elfen who rarely visits the court of his prince.  He is normally found in Tadcaster.  He is accompanied by Clarence, who is known for his expertise in violence, but is rarely seen in a shop.” She raised an elegant eyebrow at Egerton.  “The revenants are seen at night and a small threat to you.  Do you have other worries?”

“Why should I have any worries?” Egerton said.  He smiled.  “Clarence also enjoys coffee.  Four of your finest coffees, please.”

“Latte?  Mocha?  Machiatto?  Espresso?” Freydis matched Egerton’s cold smile.  “Or should I choose for you?”

Egerton waved a hand.  “Surprise us.”

“That’s taking a risk, isn’t it, my lord?” Ferdi said.  “I mean, we could end up with anything.”  He looked at Freydis.  “I take my coffee black.”

“I’ll try and remember that.” Freydis said brightly.  She turned away to the coffee machine, but Fiona noticed that she was watching the reflections in the polished steel.

“You must be Jasmine.” Rhett had wandered over to the café and was leaning forward.  Jasmine had taken a tactical decision to stand with a counter between her and Ferdi, but Rhett was taller and when he leaned on the counter he was within touching distance.  “I’ve heard about you.”

“Really?” Jasmine said.  She started laying out the saucers for Freydis.

“I’m really good at getting ladies to like fur, if you know what I mean.” Rhett said.  “I have a talent.”

“I’m happy for you.” Jasmine straightened a tray, avoiding his eyes.

“Perhaps we could go out for a drink and I could show you what I mean.” Rhett’s smile made Fiona uneasy.

“I’m okay, thanks.” Jasmine laid out the complimentary biscuits.

Egerton watched, frowning, before smiling at Freydis as she placed the first hazelnut latte down.  “I will be attending the feast, of course.  I believe it will be splendid fun.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Freydis said.  “There is likely to be a small amount of violence, but nothing spectacular.”

“But the food is usually magnificent, although it will miss your guiding hand.” Egerton brushed his hand against Freydis’ as she placed down the second latte.  “You taste is exquisite.”

“Thank you.” Freydis said.  “How is Pimpernel?”

Egerton shrugged.  “She is no longer staying in Tadcaster.  I believe she had the bad taste to move to Lancaster.”

Freydis’ bright smile had a malicious edge.  “Did Foxtrot go with her?”

“You are as well informed as ever.” Egerton said.  He sighed with deliberate boredom.  “Pimpernel ran off with her lover to Lancaster and I divorced her.  Here I am, single.  It is shocking that two desirable people such as us can be single.”

“Not really.” Freydis said.  “When you are as attractive as us, you learn to be discerning.”

Mrs Tuesday had been watching Freydis and Egerton with amusement but moved forward sharply as Rhett caught hold of Jasmine’s hand.

“You’re such a pup still.” Rhett said.  “You have no idea what you want.  Let me show you the possibilities.  Come with me to the feast and we can just relax, talk and maybe you can surprise yourself.”

“I’m not going to the feast.” Jasmine said.  “None of the women of the pack are going.  We’re having a girl’s night.”

Rhett shrugged.  “Then let me take you for a drink.  It could be fun.”

Jasmine pulled her hand free at the second attempt.  “No, thank you.  I’m busy and I’m not the sort to go for drinks with strangers.”

“Hi, Rhett.” Fiona turned around at the welcome sound of Steve’s voice.  “Long time no snarl.  Last I heard you escaped from the pack at Shrewsbury before you could be torn apart for conduct unbecoming.  Still keeping your tail up, I see.”

Kadogan followed closely behind Steve. “Egerton!  I would like to say that it is pleasant to see you.”

“Kadogan, I would love to say that it is a joy meeting you.” Egerton said.  He turned to Ferdi.  “Is this true?  Is the companion you vouched for a stray?”

“Stray is a hard word and not always as straightforward as it may seem.” Ferdi said.  “After all, this young pup is a stray.”

“She is no longer a stray.” Freydis snapped.  She glared at Egerton.  “She belongs here.  It is bad enough that you brought in someone to harass one of us, but a stray?  Your standards are slipping.”

“I can assure you, my dear Freydis, I had no idea.” Egerton turned to Ferdi.  “Perhaps you and your… associate should leave.”

“I’m no trouble.” Rhett smiled at Jasmine.  “I’m a softy, really, when you get to know me.”

“I’m sure that there are plenty that appreciate you.” Jasmine said.  “Goodbye.”

A low growl started at the base of Rhett’s throat but Ferdi tugged urgently on his arm and they left, Rhett throwing a final glance at Jasmine as he went.

“I apologise for my associate’s lapse in judgement.” Egerton said.  “But while I am blessed with your company, Kadogan, I wonder if you can recommend somewhere to stay while Clarence and I are in York.”

“You can stay at the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “The rents are extremely reasonable.”

There was a tense moment.  The two elfen locked eyes and the sense of an imminent thunderstorm filled the room.  Freydis broke it.

“I can understand that Egerton would be uncomfortable staying here as he would feel under the constant view of Lord Ragnar’s chief ally and we all know how Egerton feels about Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan and Egerton both turned to glare at her.  Freydis smiled brightly.  “However I believe Miss Patience is looking for someone to take over the lease on her latest dwelling.  It is a farmhouse on the edge of York with a hole in the wall, caused by Martin.”

“What is Martin?” Egerton asked.

“I believe you knew him as Aelfhelm,” Freydis said, “But names are mutable.  I am considering changing my name to Machiatto.”

Egerton froze for a moment.  “Aelfhelm is returned?  That is significant news.” He nodded to Clarence.  “I’ll speak to Miss Patience, thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to my associate.”

“Thanks for coming with me to the shops.” Jasmine said as she and Jeanette walked through the thinning crowds to the centre at Coppergate.  “I have no idea what to get.”

“To be honest, neither have I.” Jeanette said.  “All I know is that it’s not too formal but I should dress smart.”

Jasmine started to head towards the budget clothing store but Jeanette caught her arm.  “Ian has been quite clear, and he’s given us some money as well.”

“Really?!  How much?”

Jeanette laughed.  “He handed me a load of money and said we had to get an outfit each.  I love the man, but he hasn’t got a clue.  I’m not spending that amount.”

“Was it hundreds?” Jasmine’s eyes were round.

“We are going to shop cleverly, look amazing and save Ian some money.” Jeanette said.  She looked Jasmine up and down.  “Freydis is right, you would look amazing in blue.”

“What do you think you’ll get?”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette said.  “Let’s cut through the car park here.”

The multi-story car park was dim and echoed.  It was late and much of the car park had emptied and there were gaps that Jeanette and Jasmine could cut through.  It was quiet, for a moment, and they seemed to be the only people around as they headed for the side exit.  “I have some really nice trousers.” Jeanette said as they slid between a badly parked Renault and a concrete pillar.  “I could get a nice top to go with it.”

“Do you think Ian would mind?” Jasmine asked.

“Do you think he would notice?” Jeanette stopped suddenly.  “Jasmine, what are those?” She pointed to the shabby, shadowy figures slowly emerging from the dark corner behind a Ranger Rover.

Jasmine looked past her.  She swallowed.  “I think those are revenants.”

“I thought they were only out at night these days.” Jeanette looked around.  She had heard enough from listening to the talk from Ian, Luke and Callum to know that there were seven plus one leader.  There were three ahead, shuffling out of the dark corner.  She grabbed Jasmine’s arm.  “They’re behind us as well.”

Jasmine followed Jeanette’s gaze.  “That’s three in that corner and four behind us.  Where is the leader?” She glanced around frantically before looking up.  A man, emaciated and ragged, was clinging on to the ceiling by fingers and toes.  He caught Jasmine’s appalled gaze and grinned before running, spiderlike, over the bare concrete and down the wall to take his place in the corner.  Jasmine pushed Jeanette behind her, “This is bad.  Try and get behind the Audi, towards the door.”

Jeanette slid towards the Audi.  “What do we do?”

“We need to fight our way out of here.” Jasmine said.  She glanced at Jeanette.  “Don’t worry.  I can handle myself.  It’s only a few revenants.”

Jeanette inched her way nearer the door.  “They’re moving to cut us off.”

“It’s okay.” Jasmine tried to sound braver than she felt.  “Stay close to me.”

“They’re getting closer.” Jeanette took a breath and held her bag with both hands.  “What do we do?”

“Try and call Ian.” Jasmine said.  “Just in case.”

Jeanette fumbled in her bag.  “What if he doesn’t answer?”

“He always answers a call from you.” Jasmine managed a smile.  “He is crazy about you.”

Jeanette managed to find her phone.  Thank goodness there was a signal.  She tried to scroll for Ian’s number.  “I’m crazy about him too.” The revenants were getting closer.  They got past the Audi to the row before the door.

Jasmine growled low in her throat.  “Keep moving.” She pushed Jeanette before spinning around and punching the nearest revenant hard in the face.  It staggered back as Jasmine followed with a swift punch to the chest.  “Stay between the cars.”

Jeanette looked ahead at the wide space between the end of the blue Toyota and the pedestrian exit.  It seemed a long stretch, far longer than the few yards distance that it represented and there were three revenants there, waiting out of the light.  She dialled Ian’s number, praying he would answer.  There was a crack behind her and she whirled around.  Jasmine had driven a revenant’s head hard into a concrete pillar and it had collapsed into a pile of bones and dust.  She backed towards Jeanette, kicking hard at the revenant closing in on her.  Jeanette spun around.  The revenants were approaching her, led by their leader who was grinning.  Ian answered the phone and Jeanette sagged with relief.  “We’re being attacked by revenants.”

“Where are you?” Ian snapped.

Jeanette somehow gave clear directions as she watched the revenants advancing.  Behind her she could hear Jasmine dealing with the ones behind her.  She started to edge back.  A quick glance behind her showed Jasmine struggling to keeping the last of the four revenants’ teeth from her neck.  As Ian hung up the phone she struggled to get back to try and help Jasmine.

Darren got there first.  He appeared out of nowhere and with a grunt had grabbed the revenant and thrust a stake upwards.  The bones and dust crumbled away from Jasmine, leaving her free and gasping for breath.  At the other side of Jeanette, Luke and Sir Ewan were dealing with the revenants.  Jeanette scrambled backwards away from the leader as he lunged towards her.  She screamed as she was grabbed and thrown across a car bonnet as Darren got her out of danger and faced the revenant leader.  The leader hissed and drew himself to his full height, poised to strike but Darren didn’t waste time.  As the leader paused, Darren thrust hard with the palm of his hand underneath the vampire’s chin and thrust in hard with the stake as it stumbled back.

As Luke and Sir Ewan quickly finished off their opponents, Darren turned to Jasmine.  “Are you okay?”

Jasmine nodded weakly and looked over to Jeanette who was clutching onto her bag and trying to work out what had happened.  “I thought we only needed to worry after dark, these days?”

“It’s the first daylight attack in weeks,” Sir Ewan said, gently grasping Jeanette’s arm and helping her towards the door.  “But this must be a place they’re using as a lair.  It’s nice and dark and probably built on a graveyard.  Let’s get you outside.”

“They are only going after non-normals at the moment.” Luke said.  “Most of the time it would be fine in here.  It’s just they went after Jasmine.”

“Are you okay?” Darren asked Jasmine again.  “You’re covered in dust.”

Jasmine nodded and coughed.  “I didn’t expect them.”

“But you did great.” Darren said.  “Well done.”  He looked up the street to see what looked like a large Alsatian streaking towards them at full speed.  “Here’s Ian.  Let’s hope he remembers himself enough to stay in fur!”

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