“There was no need to give me a lift.” Jasmine stormed into the shop followed by Darren. “It’s perfectly safe and I need the exercise.”
“It’s not safe to just wander around lonely lanes, and if you want to exercise then join a gym. It’s much more time efficient.” Darren snapped.
“I can take care of myself.” Jasmine pulled off her jacket and marched into the back room.
“I’m sure you can, but it doesn’t look good on Ian if there are predators with unexplained bite marks. And it looks even worse on him if you’re mobbed by a bunch of strays. With all the changes going on, anyone could be coming to York.” Darren yelled at the doorway to the back room.
Jasmine stomped out again, tying her apron. “I don’t think Lady Freydis would allow just anyone to turn up.” She looked pointedly in Lady Freydis’ direction.
“That’s the proof.” Darren snapped. “Lady Freydis is here. She keeps her court in good order, no doubt about that, but it’s nearly noon and she’s still here.”
“We’ve got extra coaches coming.” Jasmine said. “Everyone’s working this afternoon – and Lady Freydis can do anything.”
Lady Freydis exchanged an amused glance with Egerton who was lounging with cat like ease against the counter. Darren looked over.
“Of course I mean no disrespect.” Darren visibly struggled to calm down. “And we all know that any transgressions would be firmly punished. But it’s not always safe for young girls to walk several miles especially when they don’t need to. What does Ian think about you walking?”
Jasmine ignored the question. “I’m not that young.”
“You act young enough.” Darren said.
“That’s not fair!” Jasmine frowned as she realised how much water she was splashing as she washed her hands. “Just because you act like you’re ninety. I’m just acting normal for my age.”
“That’s enough!” Jeanette looked between Darren and Jasmine and sighed. “Jasmine, please will you clear the tables in the annexe. Darren, what do you think of this for the church decoration for the wedding?”
Darren looked with horror at the floral arrangement in the magazine that Jeanette held out to him. “That monstrosity is not coming anywhere near my church.” He took a deep breath. “We can talk dates after church on Sunday.” He looked at the gaggle of women clustered around the magazines. “Are you still considering a double wedding?”
Jeanette and Adele exchanged glances and nodded. “It would save a lot of money on the flowers.” Adele said.
“Okay, I’ll check up what the rules are and the fees I have to charge.” Darren said. He watched Jasmine head towards the archway that marked the entrance to the magical annexe that Lady Freydis had just added. “Don’t forget that you are supposed to be coming to the vicarage tonight. Ian said that you would help me go through the records.”
Jasmine froze. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“It’s okay, I’ll get pizza. There’s just so much to go through that all help is appreciated. I’ll pick you up – for convenience. About 6.30?”
Jasmine nodded and smiled. “Okay.” She vanished into the annexe.
Darren came over to Lady Freydis. “How safe is that realm?”
“It’s very safe, remarkably roomy and the brownies are giving a Fiona a discount because apparently all the little quirks I built in are a challenge and useful training.” Lady Freydis said smugly.
Darren looked between Egerton and Lady Freydis and was not reassured by their equally bland expressions. He changed the subject. “I wonder if you could help me. Can you ask if any of your court remembers anything about disembodied skeletal hands that ate rats, mice and any caged rodent? They’re becoming quite a problem.”
“I don’t know why you’re complaining.” Lady Freydis said. “They’re being incredibly useful. There is a problem with vermin, and these things, whatever they are, solve that problem.”
“People don’t like seeing a skeleton’s hand trotting down their hall with a dead rat clutched between two fingers. They find it disturbing.” Darren said. “And Dave, Luke and I had to be on guard all the way through the York Dungeon’s Rat Café. I have better things to do with my time.” He sighed. “Please. We think that they escaped or woke up or whatever when the old Paladin’s house blew up. Unfortunately a lot of the records blew up as well and what has survived is muddled. I’d really appreciate the help.”
“What’s in it for our Prince?” Egerton asked. “She is not some servant of the Templars.”
“It’s okay.” Lady Freydis said, shooting a warning look at Egerton. “This is the Reverend King, after all. He has been of help to our court many times and did not charge for the funeral of Lord Ragnar.”
“That is a debt.” Egerton nodded.
“And you have little Jasmine for the evening.” Lady Freydis’ smile had a wicked edge.
“I’m glad of the help with the records.” Darren said. He looked through the arch to make sure Jasmine was well out of even werewolf earshot. “I think I’m babysitting her. Ian and Callum have stuff to do with Kieran and Jeanette and Adele are at a wedding fair for most of the evening. She sees me as a father figure, I think, so Ian wants me to keep an eye out for her.”
“She still seems stuck in the teenager mind.” Egerton said, amused. “Although she is older.”
Lady Freydis looked even more amused. “Now she is in a safe place, she can feel confident answering back. Thus, she is making the most of her opportunities. Ian and Darren must feel so delighted.”
“We’re thrilled.” Darren said. “I need to get off. There are a lot of records still to go through.”
Egerton watched him leave and then turned his attention to the rest of the staff. Dave was standing by the window, showing Elaine how to cut a deck one-handed while Jeanette, Adele and Fiona huddled around a cascade of wedding magazines. He turned to Lady Freydis. “Love appears to be in the air, even though it is autumn. Perhaps you should consider it.”
“I am not in the mood for love.” Lady Freydis stroked the cloth over the coffee machine, tenderly wiping over the nozzles. “It is not yet a year since I lost my husband.”
“You may not be in the mood for love, but perhaps you should consider duty.” Egerton leaned forward. “I may not have your touch with the Realms of the Fae, but even I can tell that rebuilding the balances would be easier with a lord at your side.”
Lady Freydis sighed. “The two most loyal to Lord Ragnar are Atherton and Kadogan. There are good reasons why neither should be asked to marry me. There are some sacrifices a lord should not ask of good men. And Egerton, we would not suit. There needs to be less turbulence in the realms, not more. There are corners that have not been stable for a thousand years. I do not sit idle.”
“Perhaps you should.” Egerton said. “Then you can see what benefits there would be if we joined forces. We are not so ill suited.”
Lady Freydis slapped her hand hard onto the counter. It echoed around the shop and everyone looked around. “This is the last I will hear of this. I work because then I do not remember Lord Ragnar. Even a fae can break their heart. Now, if you will permit your prince, I have work to do.” She spun around and headed into the back.
Martin stepped quietly out of the annexe. “Egerton, with all due respect, leave our Prince alone. Now is not a time to push emotions on her.”
“You know much for a vampire.” Egerton tried to hide his fear. “You can see that there needs to be balance.”
“I can see that forcing Lady Freydis into emotions she isn’t ready for is not only unwise, and foolish for those who dance the masked pavane, but dangerous for anyone connected to the realms.” Martin stepped a little closer. “Perhaps you need to reconsider your ambitions.”
Dave grinned at Elaine. “It’s not just about being quick. It’s about making sure people see what they want to see. And while they’re looking at that, they don’t see the switch.”
Elaine shook her head. “Even when I know what’s happening, I still can’t follow it.”
Dave laughed. “It’s a useful trick. I don’t do it much when I’m using the Tarot, but it’s helpful sometimes.”
Elaine smiled wryly. “I’m used to things not being quite what they seem,” she said. “The new annexe that Lady Freydis added is amazing.”
“I think I ought to have objected more.” Dave said. “I’m one of the paladins. If anyone walks around the back of the building and then tries to compare what’s inside with what’s outside, we’ll be in trouble.”
“It’s usually just coach parties, and they don’t have time to do that.” Elaine said. “And speaking of coach parties, I need to get busy. A coach party from Southampton have requested goody bags and I need to finish them off.”
“People are coming here from Southampton?” Dave said, surprised.
“We’re not that popular.” Elaine said. “But we are now an established stop on all non-normal coach tours. They’re stopping here after seeing York centre and then they’re lodging with Kieran. Yesterday they did Nottingham and tomorrow it’s Durham. I couldn’t do that myself.”
“I know.” Dave nodded. “You have to check the date and the itinerary before you know where you are. It must all blur into one.” He hesitated. “Before you go, do you want to come out for a drink tomorrow night? Maybe go into Tadcaster or Malton, away from the tourists.”
“That would be great.” Elaine said. “Malton is lovely.”
“I’ll pick you up here, then.” Dave said. “Around 7? We can just go somewhere casual.”
“I’ll meet you here around 7.” Elaine smiled. “And I really need to get moving.”
“See you tomorrow.” Dave said.
Dave was whistling as he met Luke at the Paladin’s house. Luke looked up from the coffee he was making and pulled out another mug. “You look happy.” Luke said. “You’ve either won the lottery or finally asked Elaine on a date.”
Dave got the teabags out of the cupboard. “You’re definitely on duty tomorrow night.”
“If we don’t have an issue.” Luke said.
“Mate, don’t do that to me.” Dave stopped mid pour and put the kettle down. “I can’t stand a girl up on the first date.”
“She’ll understand.” Luke said. “She knew Steve for years.”
“Yeah, well I’m not Steve, okay. She ditched him.”
“Okay.” Luke held up a hand. “Changing the subject, I’ve taken the last of the old records over to Darren’s place. We can take it in turns to wade through it.”
“Jasmine’s going to help out.” Dave said. “Ian said he didn’t want to leave her alone in the house.”
Luke shook his head. “She was on the streets for quite a while. Does he think that she’d be scared in a house?”
“Perhaps it’s time she was protected, then.” Dave said. “She’s a good kid.”
Luke grunted and drained his coffee. “I’m getting back to work.” He hesitated. “It means a lot to you, doesn’t it? Getting a date with Elaine.”
Dave shrugged. “I can’t exactly go on a dating site and list that I’m a Tarot reader who doesn’t believe in Tarot readings and I spend half my life breaking up fights between goblins and their normal neighbours. And Elaine’s…. nice.”
Luke slotted the mug into the dishwasher. “Well, I’ll see you later.”
Egerton sauntered back into the White Hart. The shop showed all the signs of too many coach parties. There were gaps in the displays and Adele was wearily re-stocking the gift section. Jasmine trudged out with a tray of mugs. She placed them carefully next to the dishwasher and picked up a spray and cloth. “I think I’ve got most of the crockery.”
Fiona nodded. “Just have a quick wipe around. Darren will be picking you up in a second.”
Jasmine managed a smile. “I’m trying to look forward to wading through a load of dusty books, but at least there’ll be pizza.”
Elaine staggered in from the warehouse with a box of books. “Please tell me we won’t get four coaches in an afternoon again.” She said. “It’s been insane.”
Fiona followed her with another box. “It will be worse nearer Christmas, but some of the cubs from Kieran’s pack will be helping out. Today was crazy.”
Egerton leant forward on the freshly wiped counter and pulled out some money. “Lady Freydis, please could you make two hot chocolates with extra glitter and cream. One for me and one for my puissant Prince. You will accept tribute, won’t you?”
Lady Freydis nodded. “I am always happy to accept tribute.” She stroked her hand over the coffee machine. “The Machine has worked hard today and worked well. It is incredibly reliable.”
“Like all of the staff.” Fiona said as she staggered past.
“Indeed.” Lady Freydis poured the exact amount of milk with practised precision. “Are you still coming with me to the Oak Green this evening to sort out that difficult patch of toadstools?”
“Why else would I be here?” Egerton watched as Lady Freydis frothed the milk and added the exact quantity of chocolate powder. “They have been troublesome for a while and their mould is leaking through to the normal world in some places.”
“I have the utmost respect for the paladins.” Lady Freydis poured the drink into take out cups and added a flourishing swirl of spray cream. “I do not wish to antagonise them unnecessarily.” She smiled with a hint of malice as she dusted the cream with green edible glitter. “Of course, sometimes a little antagonism is entirely necessary, just so they do not become too comfortable.” She turned to put the money in the till. Egerton looked around. Jasmine was in the annexe, Mrs Tuesday was loading the dishwasher, Fiona, Adele and Elaine were re-stocking shelves, and Mrs Cadwallader and Mrs Anderson had already gone home. He quickly tipped a light dusting of delicate, shining powder over the glitter already on the hot chocolates.
“I look forward to subjugating those unruly toadstools for my Prince.” Egerton said. He sighed as Darren strode in, carrying a large pizza box.
“Is Jasmine ready?” Darren looked around. “I don’t want the pizza to get cold. And can I have a couple of hot chocolates to take away.”
“You do not normally bother with hot chocolate.” Lady Freydis said. She leant towards the annexe. “Jasmine, your evening work awaits you.”
Jasmine trudged out of the annexe. “I think I’ve got all the tables, but it’s hard to tell.” He face brightened when she saw Darren. “You’ve got pizza!”
“Extra large, deep pan, meat feast pizza and I’m picking up hot chocolates.” He turned to Lady Freydis. “I have a cold starting and a hot chocolate is just what I need.”
“You should add alcohol to it when you get home.” Lady Freydis said. “Take these two already made, on the house. You should leave before the pizza grows cold.”
Mrs Tuesday nodded. “Leave your apron with me, love.” She told Jasmine. “Get off and get your dinner.”
“I shall make our hot chocolates afresh.” Lady Freydis said to Egerton who was watching as Darren and Jasmine jogged out of the shop and into Darren’s battered Range Rover. “We are not so pressed for time and may savour our drinks before work.”
Egerton nodded. “Of course. And we may discuss many obscure things. For example, have you ever heard of elfen aphrodisiacs being used on mortals?”
“On normals.” Lady Freydis said, pointedly. “I’ve heard a few legends and it has never ended well. Why?”
“I thought it might make a good tale.” Egerton said, a malicious smile playing around his lips. “If I were a bard, I should like to see how it unfolds.”