Callum, in full fur, shot into the White Hart, yelping frantically, following by – Fiona blinked – dozens of flying, sparkling hearts about the size of her hand. They were twinkling and sparks were falling everywhere as Callum ran frantically around the athame display case.
“We’re about to open!” Adele yelled. “We can’t have this mess.”
Mrs Tuesday couldn’t stop laughing. “Callum, stand still, they won’t hurt you.”
Fiona picked up a sheaf of flyers and started wafting helplessly at the hearts. Dozens of them were in the shop now, and the scent of roses was becoming intense. “What the hell is this?”
Mrs Tuesday was holding onto the counter, crying with laughter. “Love letter.” She gasped out.
“I bet it was addressed to Lady Freydis.” Adele said.
There was an indignant ‘Woof’ from Callum as he skidded around the corner of the athame display case and headed towards the herbs.
“Well I didn’t think you would open something not addressed to the White Hart, but that’s what it looked like.” Adele said.
“Annexe.” Mrs Tuesday managed to gasp out, wiping tears of laughter from her face.
“But Lady Freydis isn’t here.” Fiona said. “She’s setting up the feast for tonight.” She looked around. Not all of the hearts were chasing Callum. Some were nestling together in the corner of the room, shedding crimson sparks that thankfully disappeared before they landed on anything. Others were perching on the edges of the bookcases and one or two were hanging on the light fittings and casting unusual shadows. “Let’s get them into the annexe. We can’t leave them out here.”
Jasmine came in from the back room. “What’s been happening in the back room? It looks like there’s been a fight,” she said, taking off her jacket and shaking out her apron. She looked around and stopped dead, staring. “These are terrifying!”
Mrs Tuesday had nearly got control of herself, but this set her off again. “Get them into the annexe.” She wheezed.
“I’m not going near any of them.” Jasmine said, her eyes wide. “They smell weird.”
Callum was backed into a corner by the herbs, his ears flat and his tail tucked between his legs. Adele ran over. “I’ll get this.” She started swatting the hearts away, although they kept dancing around as near as they could.
Fiona whistled for Armani. He flapped slowly downstairs and then lurched in mid-air, before landing on Fiona’s shoulder. “Bloody hell, miss, who sent that lot?”
“Help us get them into the annexe – gently!” Fiona said. “Jasmine, stay in clothes. They aren’t going to hurt you.”
“Are you sure about that.” Jasmine was almost frozen, her back pressed against the big fridge behind the counter. Mrs Tuesday lost her grip on the counter and slid onto the floor in near hysterics.
It took some time to get the flapping hearts into the annexe, where they settled around the room, humming gently. “What are we supposed to do?” Fiona snapped as Mrs Tuesday, still sniggering, started to switch on the grills. “We should have opened five minutes ago.”
“It’s all non-normals.” Adele peeked under the blinds. “And I think someone wanted an audience.”
Callum got out of fur. “The box was clearly addressed to the White Hart. I heard some movement and I double checked. I don’t make the same mistake twice.” He glared at Armani.
“The kitten was fine.” Armani hunched down even further.
Adele unlocked the door as Fiona wafted the last heart into the annexe. A few of the customers gave Callum interested looks, but most were used to naked werewolves and were more interested in the hearts who were grouping together mid-air to form the shape of a rose. Callum and Jasmine huddled together as the humming became more tuneful and the hearts were singing, “To lovely Lady Freydis… to lovely Lady Freydis… from loyal Jack… from loyal Jack…” With so many gathering at the White Hart for gossip, at least twenty non-normals heard the gentle notes sung by the hearts who then sighed and dissolved into a fine, rose scented powder scattered across the tables and chairs. Jack strolled in a second later, bowing a graceful acceptance to the round of applause from the audience.
“That box was addressed to the White Hart.” Callum snarled at Jack.
“I know.” Jack grinned wickedly, looking around the room.
“You should have at least put Lady Freydis’ name on the parcel.” Callum said, giving Jasmine’s hand a brotherly squeeze as she slowly started to relax.
“But Lady Freydis wasn’t the intended audience.” Jack said. “These were.” He nodded to the non-normals queuing for their drinks and chattering excitedly. “Don’t you think you ought to put some clothes on?”
Callum glared at him and stormed into the back room, Jasmine following him.
Fiona looked at the mess over the floor. “The brownies are going to really hate us.”
Fiona checked herself again in the mirror. She had no idea what to wear for a Halloween event in an elfen domain. It hadn’t been agreed what to call the event, either. Some were calling it Halloween, others calling it Samhain and one or two were calling it a pain in the neck. Lady Freydis had mentioned that the evening may be chilly so Fiona was wearing a long, black velvet skirt and matching jacket with a dark grey silk blouse and had a large woollen wrap over it all. It looked sombre.
“You look very pretty, miss.” Armani said, from his perch on the mantelpiece.
“Thank you,” Fiona said, aware that a fashion compliment from an imp with dirty jeans and a ragged t-shirt wasn’t exactly an award, but it was the best that she was likely to get. She looked around as Steve walked in. “What happened to your face?!”
“There were some minor issues.” Steve glanced in the mirror and winced. A livid red mark ran up his neck and splashed onto his cheek. “But we managed to hack the enchantment. All the skeletal hands now look like cats.” He shuddered. “But I don’t want to go through that again.” He glanced at the clock. “I’ll get a quick shower. I won’t be long.” He paused. “I nearly forgot. This is Mercator and he’ll be on duty when we move to the new house.”
He placed a large box on the table and rushed into the bathroom. Armani flapped down. “Is this what I think it is, boss? For me?”
“No, it’s a member of the household.” Steve yelled through the bathroom door. “Be nice!”
Armani slowly lifted up the flaps of the box and then grinned from ear to ugly ear. “Hello, Mercator. I’m Armani.”
What appeared to be a large ginger tom hopped gracefully out of the box and onto the floor. It gave Armani a look of utter disdain and started washing his face. Fiona bent down and tickled him behind his ear.
“You’re actually a hand, aren’t you?” Mercator looked at her carefully, then rubbed his chin against her hand before going back to his wash. Armani was almost vibrating.
“It’s a cat! I’ve got a kitty!”
“It’s a skeleton hand disguised as a cat that’s going to work with all of us in the new house.” Fiona knew she was talking to empty air. “But why don’t you see if you can cuddle it.”
Armani took a deep, wheezy breath and flapped slowly down to land next to Mercator. Mercator stopped washing and stared deeply into the imp’s dark eyes. There was a long, anxious moment and Fiona held her breath as the sound of Steve’s shower seemed to echo through the house. Then Mercator leaned forward and gently touched his nose to Armani’s nose before flopping down in front of Armani in a blatant invitation to a cuddle.
Armani swallowed before gently scratching Mercator’s head, a tear slowly trickling down his face. “I’ve got a kitty.”