More Tales from the White Hart

Ashes

Fiona stirred the shards of what had once been the window of the White Hart with her foot.  The damp ash clung to the glass and traced patterns over the charred car park.  She glanced around.  She had had a quiet word with Mrs Tuesday who had played the old lady and got the two distressed werewolves to go back to Fiona’s flat with her and Freydis had taken one look at the burning shop and disappeared.  Kadogan appeared behind her.

“Fiona, it is exactly one year since we opened this shop.  We have had a wonderful year.  But what now?” He sounded wistful.

Fiona felt a weight settle on her shoulders.  Kadogan, the strange elfen that had offered her the chance of her dream after she saved his life, was usually a whirlwind of energy.  Now he seemed lost.  She knew how he felt.  “We need to talk about this before we go back to the others.  We started this, it’s up to us to make a decision.”  She paused.  One of the firefighters was cautiously approaching.

“The insurance people are boarding up the shop, Mrs Adderson.  You might as well go home and get some sleep.  The police will want to speak to you later, but there’s nothing you can do right now.”

Fiona watched the efficient looking men nailing boards over the blackened window frames and then covering them with metal shutters.  “Police?”

The firefighter kept a professional expression, but Fiona could tell he felt uncomfortable.  “We’re going to have to flag it as suspicious.”

Kadogan stepped forward.  “But there are roadworks with electrical lights near them which could malfunction with sparks and ignite any gas from the gas main which could have been damaged as they mended the drains.”

“Trust me, sir, if the fire had started because of the gas main we would now be in a big hole and there wouldn’t be enough of your shop to nail the boards on.” The firefighter turned to Fiona who had been the voice of reason so far.  “We can’t say that it’s definitely arson, but it’s not straightforward.  Fortunately, you have a state of the art sprinkler system and you should be able to reopen in a matter of weeks.”

“Thanks.” Fiona managed a faint smile.  “Thank you for the efforts.  We’re really grateful.  We’ll get home now.”

She turned and slipped her hand into Kadogan’s, guiding him away.  “There’s a 24-hour burger place just down the road.  Let’s go and get a drink.”

“It will not be as pleasant as the tea that you make.” Kadogan grumbled.

“But we can talk.” Fiona felt more exhausted than ever as the adrenaline ebbed out of her.

They walked through the dark streets.  There was a special quiet about 4am.  Most of the pubs and clubs were shut and those who worked the early shift were only just stirring.  Fiona bought two teas, took a handful of sugar sachets and sat down with Kadogan in a corner.

“I do not feel I have adequately repaid you for saving my life.” Kadogan said, adding sachet after sachet to his tea.  “Nor do I feel I have in any way repaid you for putting you in harm’s way last year and the great satisfaction working with you has given me.  But the shop is burned.  What can we do?”

“Do you remember the argument we had over insurance?” Fiona asked.

Kadogan slowly stirred the syrupy tea.  “Yes, if there is an accident such as a fire, then we can get money to put things right, less the thing.”

“Less the deductible.  That’s right.” Fiona wrapped her cold hands around her cup and savoured the warmth.  “We will have the money to keep going, if we can carry on paying the bills until we open again.”

Kadogan waved his hand in irritation.  “I have much money.  I never remember it all.  But the shop is burned.”

“We can sort it out. We can get new stock and try new lines.” Fiona said.

“I am old and bewildered.” Kadogan suddenly sounded as tired as Fiona felt.  “How can we start again when the shop is burned?”

“Well, we can give it a good clean, or ask the brownies to give it a good clean.  Paint it again.  We can keep the mail order business from that warehouse that Steve rented while we fix the shop.  Do you want to try again?”

“But the shop is burned!” Kadogan stared miserably at his cup.

Fiona tried a different angle.  “It doesn’t have to stay burned.”

Kadogan looked at her curiously.  “It doesn’t?”

Fiona shook her head.  “It can be better.  But do you want to?”

Kadogan sat back and stared at the dark street outside.  Fiona could tell he was thinking hard, but she waited patiently as he tried to work it out.  Finally, Kadogan nodded.  “I would like to have the shop again.  Do you?”

“I can’t imagine life without it.” Fiona said honestly.  “And it’s not just you and me and Steve.  We are the owners, but it isn’t just about us.  Look at Mrs Tuesday.  She’s an old boggart and she was fading away.  Now she has a new lease of life here.  We can’t just send her back to the Village.”

Kadogan nodded.  “I have known Mrs Tuesday a long time and I have never known her so relaxed and so calm.  And she deserves it.  She has seen hard times.”

Fiona had never thought of Mrs Tuesday as relaxed.  Instead she had seen her as a little old battleaxe who could casually terrorise the younger non-normals and seemed to know everything.  “Then there’s the werewolves.  Ian and Callum would have nowhere to go, and they have been doing so well.”

Kadogan nodded.  “Indeed, they have been remarkably safe for werewolves who have no pack.  We have proved everyone wrong.  Most thought we would all be killed within days if we took Ian in after he summoned a demon, and Callum needs direction now he was expelled from his pack so far away.  Look at the bad company he fell into.  You are right.  They need us.”

“Dave needs something to do.  Do you know that this is the longest he has ever stuck at one job?” Fiona clutched her cup a little tighter.  “And it’s good for him to mix with non-normals now he is a paladin and is in charge of, well…” She trailed off, trying to think of a tactful way to phrase it.

“Indeed, he protects the unknowing normals from the non-normals, and he has his hands full with those goblins.” Kadogan shook his head sadly.  “And also should Ian, for example, starting killing people then Dave Kinson would need to do something.”

Fiona thought of their warehouse manager.  Ian was quiet, driven, meticulous, intelligent, well read and driven by remorse.  He went above and beyond to do the right thing in work and outside it and was obviously working hard to set a good example to Callum.  “Is Ian likely to kill anyone?”

Kadogan shook his head.  “Not for the next month or two at least.  In fact, he is remarkably stable for a werewolf without a pack, and he is the reason Callum is doing so well.”

“And what about Adele?” Fiona asked.  “She’s just found out she’s part Blue Cap and can make herself glow.  It’s better she has a job with us, and she gets on well with Freydis as well.”

“You know, since Freydis has become so competent and focused on the coffee machine in the café, she has become a lot more bearable.  Lord Ragnar feared dreadful revenge when he divorced her.” Kadogan frowned.  “I hope she does not plan fearful revenge now that she has time on her hands.  That would be awkward.”

“Speaking of Lord Ragnar, he’s got a lot of prestige from this shop, hasn’t he?” Fiona said.  This made Kadogan sit up a little straighter.  Lord Ragnar was the elfen Prince of York and had been struggling.  Last year Fiona had nearly died in the crossfire between Lord Ragnar and a vampiric challenger and Kadogan and Lord Ragnar were, as far as Fiona could tell, good friends.

“York has benefited in general from the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “Which makes it even more confusing as to why someone would deliberately try and burn our shop down and…” Kadogan suddenly froze.  Fiona watched as the impact of the firefighter’s words sunk in.  Then he vanished.  Fiona pushed the unpleasant tea away from her and started the cold walk home.

Lord Ragnar sat well back in his chair, braced.  “I am willing to hear my former wife’s complaint.”

Freydis pulled herself up to the elegant height of her current glamour.  Underneath she may be a small, skinny, unlovely creature but to most eyes she was supermodel tall, slender and impossibly elegant.  “Someone has set fire to the White Hart.”

Every head in the hall snapped around and the casual conversations stopped.  A log shifted in one of the huge fireplaces and it sounded like thunder.  The werewolves sprawled in their wolf forms in front of the fires sat up, ears pricked and alert.  Miss Patience stood up from the leather sofa she was sharing with her latest vampiric favourite and stalked towards Lord Ragnar, fangs showing.  Kieran Latimer, fortunately in human rather than wolf shape, followed her.  Lord Ragnar frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean that someone has set fire to the White Hart.  I believe some of the building may be preserved and they have the fire fighting machines, but there was a fire.  And it is not accidental.  Fiona Adderson has been very meticulous.  All safety precautions have been taken.  But there is fire, nevertheless.”

“Is anyone hurt?” Kieran asked.

Freydis pushed her blonde hair back and shook her head.  “The werewolves found it distressing but are safe.  No-one is hurt, but I believe the shop and its contents may be damaged.” She turned back to Lord Ragnar.  “As the shop has been so supportive of you, I believe you should take action.”

Lord Ragnar stood and started pacing as his court watched warily.  It was a strange mixture.  Lord Ragnar was the prince of York, the ruler of all the non-normals and their defender.  His hall looked like a large, Victorian gentlemen’s club, dotted with lush ferns and leather sofas with two large fireplaces on either side of the hall.  The people who stood so tense and expectant were less conventional.  Clothing ranged from supermarket jeans and handknitted sweaters to fake designer gowns and shoes to clothes that had been made half a century ago and had worn well.  Boggarts, brownies, goblins, elfen, werewolves and vampires, all were equally shocked.  “Who would have a reason to burn the White Hart?” Lord Ragnar asked, waving an expansive arm.  “And how are we supposed to flourish?  We have grown accustomed to their services – how can we recover from this blow?”

Atherton stepped up to Freydis and said with genuine concern.  “What about the coffee machine?”

Freydis flinched.  “It is likely that it will be unusable due to smoke, even if it has been spared the flames.”  For a moment her glamour flickered and a hint of the creature showed through before she took a deep breath and regained control.  “I wish to avenge the coffee machine.” All the elfen nodded.

“I’ll get my brownies down there now.” Gavin Brown said.  He was a small, knobbly creature, rough skinned and wearing a homespun tunic.  “We can have a look over it, see what we can clean, get some idea of the damage.” He bowed towards Freydis.  “If we can salvage the coffee machine, ma’am, we will.”  He shook his head.  “They are such good people.  They pay their bills on time, always say thank you, never give us any trouble, show consideration if it’s a big job…” He trailed off.  “We’ll get started now.” He pulled a phone from a pouch at his belt and started dialling as he scuttled from the hall.

“It could be Louise.” Miss Patience said.  “She betrayed them last June and aided the kidnapping of Fiona.”

Lord Ragnar shook his head.  “I am keeping a close eye on Louise.  She has been released from prison and is in Londinium.  She may be using magic to baffle me, of course, but I do not think so.  I shall consult with Steve Adderson.”

“Steve Adderson is away on a merchant’s journey to Inverness.” Freydis said.  “He cannot be contacted.  Imagine his grief, the shop, the White Hart, the centre of his emporia, burned.” Genuine tears leaked from her eyes.  “All burned, along with the coffee machine.”

Fiona stirred reluctantly from deep sleep.  There was a second tap on the door and Mrs Tuesday came in with a cup of tea.  Fiona pushed herself up into a sitting position and blinked.  The events of the previous night slowly came back and she grabbed her phone.  It was no good.  Steve was still out of phone contact.

“There’s a policeman in the living room.  He’s asking about CCTV and stuff.  You had better refer him to that detective with the shiny shoes.”

“Tim Pierce?” Fiona rubbed her eyes.  “I’ll just grab some clothes.”

“I’ve called Adele, and the brownies have been doing their best at the White Hart, but they say there’s some damage.” Mrs Tuesday set the tea down on the bedside table.  “Take a deep breath and hit the floor running.  You’re going to be busy today and there’s no sign of Kadogan.”

By the time Fiona had politely shown the policeman out, called Tim, called Steve once again just in case and fired up the laptop she was almost awake.  She checked the time as Callum handed her a bacon sandwich.  “Callum, you’re going to have to rush if you’re going to make it to the craft fayre.”

“I can’t go today, not after the fire.” Callum looked away.  “I’m not letting you down.”

“You will not be letting us down.” Fiona said.  “You’ve already got the stall set up, your paintings are already wrapped and in the car, you’ve even got a float ready.  And there’s all the lovely publicity for the White Hart.  If anyone takes a leaflet let them know that the mail order is still going and that there’ll be a sale later to clear the damaged stock.” She could see guilty hope fighting with duty in Callum.  “And you can’t let the organisers down.  An empty stall looks so bad.”

“But what about the White Hart?” Callum looked at Ian for leadership.

“Fiona’s right.” Ian said.  “You deserve the chance to sell those paintings and the White Hart will need any publicity that the leaflets and cards on your table can bring.  Get your coat.”

“Ian, meet us at the White Hart later.  Callum, good luck and have a great time.  Come down to the White Hart when you’ve sold out.”  Fiona watched the werewolves jog out the door and started typing up a long to-do list, handing her phone to Mrs Tuesday.  “Could you call Dave and let him know.  Have you seen Kadogan?”

Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “I haven’t seen him or Freydis.  Do you think it could be foul play?”

“Nick did a wonderful job of setting up the security cameras.” Fiona clicked through a few icons.  “It should all be here.  I’ll be emailing it to Tim, but it will give us some sort of idea.  If only I could get through to Steve.”

Callum took a breath.  The first rush had died away and now there were only a few passing through.  He was under no illusions.  The craft hall was warm, the weather outside was appalling and the tourists would soon be taking shelter and making impulse purchases.  He looked at small receipt book on the table next to him.  He had already made a sale.  He felt like he was standing on top of a tall cliff, teetering on the edge.  Someone had liked what he had painted enough to pay money for it.  It had only been a small study of a rosebud, but someone had paid £10 and it was the most exhilarating, nerve-wracking, crazy feeling he had ever known.  The old pack would never believe it.

He looked around the hall.  All these people had had the courage to put their creations on display.  They seemed more relaxed than Callum as they chatted and compared notes.  He wished Adele was here, but she was less likely than ever to be spared from the White Hart.

“Do you think it will pick up later?”

Callum turned around and looked at his neighbour.  She smiled and Callum automatically smiled back.  She looked friendly, with oak brown hair pulled back in a braid and calm blue eyes over the freckled nose.  She also looked less alarming than some of the artists, wearing a handknitted sweater over plain jeans.  “I think so.  It’s still a tourist town.  We’re bound to see a few more.” He held out his hand.  “I’m Callum.”

She shook his hand.  “I’m Jeanette.”  She looked at his paintings with respect.  “You have some beautiful pieces here.  Did it take you long to do them?”

Callum looked at his collection.  “I’ve been building up paintings for about a year.  This is my first craft fair.  I’ve a few more at home.”  His face clouded over.  He wondered f the paintings left behind had survived.  He deliberately changed the subject.  “Do you do many fairs?”

Jeanette shook her head.  “I’ve always been too busy.  Since I moved here from Wakefield I’ve had more spare time and as I love craft and I really need to make some extra money, I thought I’d take a risk and see if I could do more than break even.”

Callum looked over her stall.  He liked what he saw.  A fan of elegant handmade cards was framed by two wire trees displaying lavender bags.  The tiny cross stitch pictures alternated with handknitted heart-shaped scrubbies wrapped around miniature slices of handmade soap.  Stiffened jute bookmarks filled the rustic vase and miniature, cellophane wrapped bath bombs were stacked in lace baskets.  He liked the clean lines and cool colours.  “You have some really good stuff here.”

“Thank you.” Jeanette looked over her stall.  “I’ve tried for a good selection.” She carefully straightened one of the baskets.  “I’m just seeing what sells.”

“Me too.” Callum said.  “And it’s a distraction.”

Callum found himself chatting easily to Jeanette.  He left out any reference to being non-normal, but talked about being a stranger to York, of his nerves, the worry about the White Hart and his hope that he could do this regularly.  He learned Jeanette was also nervous, hoping to make a living from the few acres she had just bought and trying to top up her income from the craft fair along with whatever else she could find.  Callum was on the end of the row and the couple selling pickles the other side of Jeanette were completely absorbed in each other, so Callum and Jeanette fell easily into keeping an eye on each other’s stalls and chatting during the few lulls.  Callum was so caught up with the fair that he completely missed Fiona standing next to him.

“Hi, Callum.  How’s it going?”

Callum turned and smiled.  “It’s gone great!  Thank you for letting me come.”

Fiona looked at Callum’s depleted stock.  “It looks like things have gone well.  Congratulations.” Her eyes strayed to Jeanette’s stall and she wandered over.  “This is nice stuff.” She picked up one of the last handmade cards and inspected it professionally.  “Did you make these?”

Jeanette nodded.  “I find it relaxing, but cards don’t really make much.”

Fiona ran a hand over the crisp spine of the card.  “They’re beautifully made.” She pulled out her phone and checked the time.  “The craft fair will be closing soon.  Can you give me a price on everything that’s left on the stall?”

“Does this mean that the White Hart is okay?” Callum asked.

“It will open again as soon as I can manage.” Fiona said briskly.  “And when that happens, we’ll need stock.”

Jeanette was thoughtful as she reached her home.  As usual she paused in the drive to savour the view of her house before pulling around to the side.  It was a dull, brick-built house framed with a ragged, wide garden.  Past the clumps of daffodils were the two fields that came with it; one bare and one filled with battered polytunnels.  She had sunk the very small amount she had been left by her grandfather into buying this outright.  Now all she had to do was run it, and the money she had made from the craft fair together with the nice bonus from the White Hart should cover her groceries for the month.  She got out of the car and unlocked the back door.  She was feeling more optimistic than ever.  The rent from the new lodger would cover most of the basic bills and perhaps there would be more work from the White Hart.  She pushed hard against the stiff back door and almost fell in to her clean, welcoming kitchen.  It was going to be alright.

Cleaning Up

Luke gently placed his laptop case on top of the scarred desk and lowered his holdall to the floor next to his case.  “Thanks, Jeanette.  I think I’ll be very happy here.”

Jeanette smiled brightly.  “I’m sure you’ll be fine here.  Normally you make your own food, but just tonight I’ll give you dinner.” She hesitated.  “It’s just veggie soup, but I’ve always had lots of compliments.”

“Are you a vegetarian?” Luke asked, unzipping the laptop case and pulling his laptop out.

“I don’t eat a lot of meat.” Jeanette kept her smile bright.  After all, vegetable soup was usually a lot less expensive than steak.

“I follow a special diet.” Luke took his jacket off and leaned past Jeanette to hang it behind the door.  “I am a strict pesco-vegetarian on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.  I don’t eat anything from an animal on land.  I don’t eat chicken, drink milk or eat eggs.  Just vegetables and sometimes fish.  The rest of the time I eat meat, within reason.  It’s done wonders for me.”

Jeanette eyed the lean muscle under Luke’s shirt.  “Today’s Monday.  I could add some bacon…”

Luke shook his head.  “I don’t have to eat meat on a Monday.  Besides, I had a burger for lunch.”

Jeanette managed to chuckle with him.  She hadn’t realised just how strong he was under his jacket.  When she had met him as a prospective lodger he had been wearing a thick sweater and he hadn’t loomed over in the same way.  He suddenly seemed so much taller than her and his cropped dark hair and steady brown eyes didn’t reassure her.  Maybe her mother was right.  Maybe he would decide to take over and she could do nothing.  On the other hand, he didn’t seem threatening.  Besides, he had paid two months in advance.  “Well, dinner is at six.  Just come down to the kitchen.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” Luke watched her leave and shut the door quietly behind her.  He waited until her footsteps had echoed down the stairs and then knelt at the side of the bed to pray quietly.  Then, refreshed, he stood and took a good look around his little room that was cheerfully washed in the morning sunlight.  Jeanette had been apologetic when he had come for the first look, as she had just bought the house, and everything had been out of place.  She had promised him it would be more homely when he came, and she had kept her word.  The plain single wardrobe and chest of drawers were more than enough for him, and the desk looked out of the window and over the battered garden to the fields beyond.  The walls were freshly painted, and the bedding was freshly washed.  A pile of extra blankets was folded at the bottom of the wardrobe and a small vase of daffodils stood on the nightstand next to the bed.  He stuck his head into the ensuite.  It was basic, but it would be fine for him.

Luke unpacked quickly and methodically then sat in the comfortable computer chair.  He looked out over the fields and smiled before plugging in his laptop.  Jeanette had kept her promise with this as well.  The Wi-Fi signal was strong, fast and didn’t seem to be capped.  He quickly clicked through to the website of the White Hart.  The contentment that had filled him disappeared.  That shop was still trading after the fire, though just mail order until the place could be repaired.  Luke scanned over the site.  There was a long list of messages wishing the shop good luck and hoping that they would open again soon.  Luke leaned back in his chair.  What would stop that shop?

It wasn’t quite a year since he first saw that damned shop, damned in every sense.  Perhaps he should be thankful.  What he had seen had shocked some sense into him.  He went from a skinny, shallow, marketing drone into a successful freelancer with a much greater sense of purpose.  He hadn’t lied to Jeanette.  The diet was part of a lifestyle that had made him happier than he had ever been before.  Luke scanned over the website.  It promised that the White Hart would re-opened better than ever.

Luke closed his eyes and remembered the first time he had entered that shop.  He could remember how it smelled with hints of incense and furniture polish, the lighting had been bright and the air fresh.  A huge, well-groomed dog had been sitting at the counter, alert and well trained as the old lady talked endlessly and in detail about curses.  Then they had gone out to find Tim’s car completely trashed.  He knew that something was going on in that shop.  It wasn’t werewolves or vampires.  That guard dog would never have tolerated them.  Luke opened his eyes and started out into the thin March sunshine.  Jeanette was working on the polytunnels, clearing out the rubbish that the old owner had left and washing the frames with plenty of soapy water.  Luke clicked back to his emails to try and get ahead of his work, trying to ignore the knot of worry in his stomach.  There was witchcraft at the White Hart, he thought, and it hadn’t been cleaned out by fire.  But if fire didn’t work, what would?

The tiny office in the White Hart still smelled of smoke.  Mrs Tuesday had been putting containers of vinegar around to try and clear the air and every window was open, but it was still foul.

“The insurers seem pretty clear that this isn’t fraud, so at least you’ve got your pay-out.” Tim took a token polite sip of his smoke flavoured coffee and checked his notebook.  “Your brownies did an amazing clear up job, which is a shame as they cleared up any evidence.”

“They just went ahead.” Fiona looked helplessly at the police officer.  “And I was grateful.  They saved a lot of stock.”

“Who did authorise them?” Tim asked.

Steve shrugged.  “I think they just wanted to be helpful.  Everyone in the non-normal community is pretty shocked.”

Tim jotted down a few notes.  “Have you had any threats?”

Fiona shook her head.  “Nothing.”

“We’ve had the usual customer complaints, but nothing serious.” Steve said.

“Nobody from Kadogan’s lot getting revenge for last year?” Tim asked.  “From what I understand there was an attempted revolution.”

“Nothing that we’ve heard of.” Steve said.  “And nothing that Lord Ragnar’s heard either.”

“Have you any inadmissible leads obtained by magic?” Tim asked.  “It would at least give us an idea where to look.”

“Nothing.” Steve said again.  “That amount of fire and water wiped out all magical traces.  No-one can get anything.”

“So absolutely nothing.” Tim put his notebook away.  “Don’t take this into your own hands.  If it is arson then that’s a crime in our jurisdiction and will be dealt with appropriately.  We don’t want to have any hasty action.  Make sure that your lot understand that, including Kadogan.”

“We haven’t seen Kadogan since it happened.” Fiona looked down at her hands.  “We’re a bit worried.”

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence.” Tim stood up.  “I’ll let you know if I hear anything more, and I’m sure you’ll let me know if you hear something at your end.”

Steve came back from showing Tim out and grimaced at Fiona.  “Here’s some bad news – we have some big orders.  The sort of orders that could make or break a business.  I mean, significant orders.”

Fiona looked at him.  “That’s bad news?”

“It is, really.” Steve sat down opposite his wife.  “I think one of the princes decided that they needed to support the White Hart and decided to order 50 of the top of the range goody bags.  You know the ones – made of silk, hand printed and designed to be handed out to their favourites.  Lord Marius carried the gossip and before you know it, well…” Steve opened up the envelope file on the desk and Fiona’s heart sank.

“How many are we going to need to get out?”

“It’s easily over a thousand, and they can’t be held back or done in stages.  We’ve got to treat each one as a priority to send the right message.  We need to show that we’re still reliable and we’re still safe to use.” Steve rubbed a weary hand over his face.  “I can source a lot of the stuff, and we’ve got a head start on the bags.  But it’s going to be a job filling them.  We don’t have enough people here.”

Fiona looked at the stack of papers.  “Most of Adele’s family that could help are helping out their cousin in Spain.  And it’s not just that.” She waved a hand over to the ‘In’ tray.  It was also filled with order forms.  “Everyone is putting in those little orders.  I suppose it’s their way of showing support, and I’m grateful.  But the same thing applies.  We can’t let them down.”

Ian came bounding in, followed closely by Callum.  “Did Tim have any news?”

Steve shook his head.  “It’s nothing from all directions.”

“What do the orders look like?” Ian asked nervously.  “Have we got any?”

Fiona handed him the tray.  “There are a lot more on the computer.  Most of them are barely worth the postage, stuff like herbs and spices.  There are a few bigger orders in there.  But we have a lot of orders for goody bags.  You know what that means.”

“We don’t have the people.” Ian said.  “We can’t get the youngsters from the pack, they’re too busy.  You know how bad it’s been since Rey was killed.  All that vampiric energy is still around.”

Mrs Tuesday spoke from the doorway.  “Most of the kitlings are back in school.  They can do some weekend work, but that’s not what we need.”

“And there’s no sign of Kadogan or Freydis.” Fiona tried to keep the worry out of her voice.

“We can manage.” Mrs Tuesday said with authority.  “First things first, we need some tables in a place that doesn’t stink of smoke.  Most of our stock was in the new warehouse anyway.”

“I have an idea.” Steve said.

Dave lounged back in his chair.  Sir Ewan lounged opposite him.  It was a contented silence as the men sat in the Paladin’s citadel, the small town house on the outskirts of York, and processed their own thoughts.  Sir Ewan broke the silence.

“So, how are you doing without the Tarot reading?”

“I’m doing okay,” Dave said.  “I’ve picked up a few decorating jobs, and most of my expenses are covered anyway.”

“I’ve heard about your expense claims.” Sir Ewan said.  “They are already filed under fiction.”

David shrugged.  “Filling out a claim is always a battle of wits.  It’s surprising how often the accountants haven’t read their own small print.”

“Have you ever thought of becoming an accountant?” Sir Ewan asked.

Dave shook his head.  “I couldn’t stand being in an office all day.  To be honest, I’m enjoying the Tarot reading.  It helps me do a little good, and it’s full of variety.  I’ve heard everything.  And between Mrs Tuesday and the old ladies at the church, I will never starve.”

The silence returned as the men relaxed.  This time it was Dave who broke it.  “It’s not easing up, is it?”

“The vampiric energy?” Sir Ewan shook his head.  “It feels like something has been shaken loose.  York is supposed to be the most haunted city in Europe.  At the moment it’s probably true, and it’s not the sort of ghosts that the Ghost Walks follow.  Darren is almost permanently in York now.  He’ll have to stay here if he can’t stay at the White Hart, and you’ll have to be careful about your expenses.  Darren hardly claims anything.”

“I’m sure I can be creative for him.  Hang on.” Dave pulled his phone out of his pocket and accepted the call.  “Yeah, sure…  Everything okay?…  I’ll be there in a few minutes… Yeah, bye.” He looked at Sir Ewan.  “Steve wants me to meet him at his flat.”

Fiona looked around the room.  Kadogan and Freydis were back and looking unnervingly purposeful.  Steve was sitting on the arm of her chair and she was glad he was there.  Ian and Callum were sprawled on the floor, fortunately in human form.  Mrs Tuesday, Adele and Dave shared the sofa while Freydis sat poised in the other armchair with Kadogan pacing behind.

Steve took a breath and, looking around the expectant faces, said, “We are not giving up on the White Hart.  We have a stack of orders, we have insurance, we have built a good reputation over the last year and we can keep going.  We just need to be methodical.”

“Is this going to take long?” Ian asked.  “Because if it’s just a pep talk I want to get back to the White Hart and sort out the plumbing.  It’s been bugging me since I moved in.”

Freydis frowned.  “Shouldn’t a qualified plumber deal with such matters?”

“I am a qualified plumber, and I’ve kept up my insurance.” Ian said.  “And the showers on the first floor are a joke.  Who put them in?”

“It was a local firm.  They were recommended.” Fiona said weakly, remembering the awful time she had had with them.

“It’s a great opportunity to finally get it sorted.  Those showers are draining dog slow and I’ve been dying to sort it out.”

“We may need you to other stuff.” Fiona said.  “We have suddenly got a lot of orders for goody bags.  You know how much time they can take.”

“We can’t put them together in here.” Ian looked around the crowded flat.

“That’s why I called us all together.” Steve said.  “I’ve rented some serviced offices in York centre.  They are expensive, but we need them.  There are a couple of big meeting rooms, where we can pack up the goody bags, and there’s a mail room and a small office which Dave can use for Tarot readings.”

“A mail room would be useful.” Callum said, looking at Ian.  “It’s a struggle in the new warehouse.”

Ian shrugged.  “The warehouse isn’t really set up for mail.”

“I have found a new coffee machine.” Freydis announced of nowhere.  “I spoke to Gavin Brown and he said that the old machine was sadly unsalvageable.” She swallowed and what looked like real tears glistened in her eyes.  “I have been giving the Machine an appropriate farewell.”

Fiona didn’t want to ask what sort of farewell a broken coffee machine needed.  “What sort of machine have you seen?”

“I have purchased it.” Freydis said.  “It is an almost new machine with several different steamers, and it has a double grinder.  You may pay the money it cost to me.”

“We’ll need the paperwork, but okay.” Steve knew when to pick his battles.  “Mrs Tuesday, can you talk to your friend Ranjit?  If we can get a good supplier, we can maybe get some normal custom for the spices.  The stuff he has been sending has been great and it will really help.”

“Of course.” Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “I’ll work out the time difference and call him later.  He’s a good lad, for an Efrit.”

“Do they grow coffee in Indonesia?” Freydis asked.  “We could sell that as well.”

“If you can do a decent house blend then we can sell it in the shop or mail order.” Steve said.  If an elfen got obsessed with something they could become incredibly adept at it and scarily knowledgeable.  “In fact, when things have eased off we can both go down to London and get in touch with some of the bigger suppliers.”

“I’ve got some friends in different places.” Mrs Tuesday added.  “They may be able to put us in touch with reliable suppliers.”

“That would be wonderful.” Freydis smiled happily.  Then her face clouded over.  “If only I could have obtained the same luxuries for the old Machine.”

“Can I go now?” Ian said.  “If you want to assemble the goody bags here from tomorrow then I need to start getting some of the supplies over from the warehouse before I go and rip out the panelling in the White Hart.”

“Hang on.” Steve held up his hand.  “Just to keep everyone up to date.  Nick hasn’t been able to get any decent pictures from the CCTV so far.  The roadworks have been messing up the wi-fi outside the White Hart and we didn’t realise.  He’s working on getting the images cleaned up, but he says it will take time.  Nobody has any idea who could have done this.”

There was a long silence, then Adele spoke up.  “So what time do you want me at these offices?”

“Can you make a 9am start?” Fiona asked.  “And we may need you to do overtime.  There’s such a lot on.”

“There’s a lot of small orders as well.” Callum said.  “I don’t mind doing them, but I won’t be able to help with the bags.”

“I can help now and then,” Dave looked around, “But there has been so much more activity I’ve got to keep on patrol, and a lot of my regulars for the Tarot readers are getting stressed in case they miss their sessions.”

Fiona looked apologetically at Steve.  “We really need the plumbing sorted out in the White Hart.  It’s always been a mess.”

“And I can start measuring up straight away.” Ian said, bouncing to his feet.

Steve looked at Adele.  “Do you know of anyone that can help us out with the bags?  It’s just a short-term thing, though we may be able to keep on some part timers when things are back to normal.”

Adele shook her head.  “They are all out in Spain, and then they are all set to help Kaz with her new catering business over the summer.  She’s booked for all sorts of festivals and that.”

“What about Jeanette Fowler?” Callum asked.  He turned to Fiona.  “I don’t think she knows about us, but she seems to be hardworking and I know she was going to look for a part time job.”

“Who is Jeanette Fowler?” Ian asked.

“She had the stall next to me at the craft fair,” Callum said, “Fiona bought up all of the crafts left on her stall.”

“I’ve been meaning to call her about the cards.” Fiona said.  “If you think she would be willing I can ring her now.”

“Is she a non-normal?” Adele asked as she concentrated on rubbing a speck of dirt from her hand.

Callum shook his head.  “She’s going to try and make a go of selling organic herbs and lavender in a small holding, but she said the lavender won’t be worth harvesting this year so she’s trying to keep going with crafts and any job she can get.”

“Is she nice?” Adele asked.

“I suppose so.” Callum thought for a moment.  “We were both new at the craft fair, so it was nice to be able to chat to someone.  And it’s quicker to give her a ring than putting an advert in the paper.”

“And if we’re paying for these offices then it is definitely cheaper than going through an agency.” Steve said.

“I’ll give her a ring now.” Fiona said.  She leant against her husband for a moment and then pulled out her phone.  “The sooner we get these bags sorted out the better.”

Luke came down to dinner at 6pm sharp.  The kitchen was clean but worn and filled with tantalisingly aromatic scents.  A wood stove stood against the north wall and freestanding cupboards were around the room.  The large table in the centre had a cloth thrown over it and two places had been set at the end near the window.

Jeanette looked up and smiled.  “I’ve had good news today.  I’ve got a temporary job in town which may end up permanent, so I’m celebrating.  Do you drink?”

“Now and then.” Luke took the chair way from the stove and out of the way.  “What sort of job?”

“It’s just packing stuff in a warehouse until the shop can re-open.” Jeanette held out two bottles of wine.  “I’m not sure which goes with what.  They were both housewarming gifts.”

Luke had learned a lot about wine in his last job as he had had to impress clients, though he hadn’t bothered with it much lately.  He guessed the soup was more substantial than he was used to and highly flavoured, so he pointed to the Merlot.  “The Chardonnay is probably best chilled and enjoyed separately.” He said.  “Should I get the glasses?”

“Please.” Jeanette turned back to the soup.  “It’s Egyptian soup, so lots of veggies and spices.  It’s one of my favourites.”  She gave a quick stir before pulling a muffin tray from the oven and tipping the bread rolls onto a cooling rack.  “There’s lots of lentils in it, too, so there’s plenty of protein.”

“It sounds great.” Luke found two wine glasses and set them on the table.  “You’ll have to give me the recipe.”

“Do you cook a lot?” Jeanette gave the soup another stir and pulled out two bowls from a cupboard and put them on the warming rack.

“I don’t bother much.” Luke looked around.  “Can I do anything?”

“I’ve got it covered.” Jeanette tipped the rolls onto a large platter and placed it on the table.

“So, what’s the job like?” Luke sat down and watched Jeanette as she bustled around.

“You know that shop that burned down?  The White Hart?  I’m working for them.  They have a mail order business as well and they need a hand with some big orders.” Jeanette ladled two large helpings of soup into the plain white bowls.  “It’s not likely to be exciting, but it’s at least minimum wage and I could maybe get some regular part time work as well.”

“I think I went into the White Hart once.” Luke chose his words carefully.  “They had a lot of strange stuff in there.”

“Fiona, that’s one of the bosses, said that there was a lot of strange stuff in the shop but not to worry, I wouldn’t need to do anything or even learn much about stuff.” Jeanette swirled some cream into the soup and brought the bowls over.  “She said that even the Tarot reader didn’t believe in Tarot cards.”

“Isn’t that fraud?” Luke asked, pouring wine into the glasses.

“She said it was clear that it was for entertainment purposes only.” Jeanette sat opposite him.  “The best bit is that I get to sell my cards there.  I don’t really make anything on them, not after I’ve bought materials, but I love making them and so I get to do my hobby with the costs covered.”

“Do you mind if I say grace?” Luke asked.

Jeanette paused with her spoon halfway to her mouth.  “No, of course not.”

“Father, thank you for this food and we ask that you bless it.  Amen.”

“Amen.” Jeanette mumbled before taking the mouthful of soup.

“Do you think that the people will be easy to work with?” Luke asked as he took his first spoonful of soup.  “This is really good.”

“Thanks.” Jeanette was glad to turn her mind back to her good news.  “I think they will be fine.  Fiona seemed nice.  She said that some of the people there were a little odd, but they were all okay, and that sometimes there would be a dog around but don’t worry about them.  She said that they were guard dogs, so it was best not to pet them.”

Luke thought back to the dog he had seen and agreed.  It had looked immaculately groomed and in great condition, but it had looked far too purposeful to be a pet.  “Sounds like a good place to work.”

“Do you know the best bit?” Jeanette beamed.  “Someone from the shop gives me lifts to and from work!  Fiona said I didn’t need to have a lift if I didn’t want to, and that it was up to me if I wanted to drive in or use the bus, but she thought it may be easier for me.  Do you know how hard it is to get parking in York?”

Luke nodded.  “And the park and ride isn’t that cheap.”

“It’s cheaper than the parking, but I won’t need to worry about it!” Jeanette waved her spoon.  “It’s like a dream job.  Although the job is nothing special.”

“This soup is incredible.” Luke changed the subject.  “Listen, I know you said that we could do our own cooking, but it’s easier to cook for two than one.  Why don’t we take turns?  I may not be able to come up with stuff like this, but I don’t mind doing my share.”

Jeanette thought for a moment as she broke her roll.  “That’s not a bad idea, I suppose.  We can save money that way.”

“I’d rather keep the costs down.” Luke said smoothly.  “And I’m keen to have a healthy diet.  I don’t mind doing a little extra to make sure we eat well.” He took another roll.  And while we chat over dinner, he thought, I can learn a little more about the White Hart.

Ambush

It had been a good workout, Luke thought as he walked down towards the station.  He’d pushed himself hard and set himself up for the rest of the day.  At least that part of his life was going well.  He wasn’t getting much closer to the White Hart.  There was something going on there, but he didn’t know what.  He weaved through the tourists and then down a quiet shortcut.  He needed to know what was going on there so that he could work out how to stop it.  He frowned, almost oblivious to the bright spring day.  Perhaps he could try and get a job there?  Luke slowed.  The hair on the back of his neck prickled.  Someone was following him.  He crossed the road.  Whoever was following him crossed the road after him.  Luke walked quickly towards the road on the left and at the last minute jogged back across the road and down an alley.  He had walked around York often enough and there were plenty of these tiny alleys and snickets.  All he needed to do was turn left and…

A hand on his shoulder spun him around and Luke instinctively ducked.  The punch glanced across the top of his head and Luke lowered his head and charged, slamming his shoulder into his attacker.  They went down with a crash and rolled apart.  Luke felt his world rock under him.  The man opposite him looked half starved and had fangs.  He had fangs!  Luke caught his breath as the man lunged.  He parried the kick and used the momentum to push the man the vampire away from him and punched hard at the side of his head.  He didn’t have a stake.  Then Luke grabbed the vampire, pushing him down as he slammed his knee into its side.  He didn’t have any garlic.  He tried another kick but the vampire pulled his legs from under him and Luke hit the ground hard.  He didn’t have holy water.  The vampire tried to kick him but Luke managed to catch the foot and twist.  It worked better than it had ever had in training and the vampire spun and landed on its face.  His cross was small and its chain was strong with a secure catch that was hard to undo.  Luke rolled quickly to his feet but the vampire was just as quick.  Luke noticed that the vampire’s face was livid and broken where he had landed the punch.  He was fighting a vampire.  Luke swung two quick punches at the vampire, just to keep him back.  He glanced around quickly and saw a broken pallet at the corner.  He could use a piece for a stake.  He glanced back to take a punch to the face from the creature and staggered back but kept his wits enough to dive for the pallet.  He felt the vampire land a kick to his ribs that stung but made it to the pallet and rolled around to see where the vampire had gone.  It had vanished.  Luke caught his breath and let his adrenaline subside.  He must have put up too much of a fight.  He pulled a few small pieces off the pallet and walked across to where he had dropped his bag, dusting himself down.  He had not expected that.

Steve put his phone away.  “Mrs Tuesday, you’re going to have to take over the Tarot cards for at least a day or two.  Dave’s hurt.”

“What’s happened?” Fiona stood up quickly.  “Is he okay?”

“How bad is it?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Steve held up his hand.  “Another rogue vampire.  It threw him across a car park just off Gillygate and he dislocated his shoulder but he managed to get rid of the vampire.”

“That’s the third this year.” Fiona said quietly.

“Does Miss Patience know?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “She’s supposed to be leading the vampires in York.  All these old revenants are getting out of control.”

Steve glanced around to make sure Jeanette couldn’t hear them.  “It’s the city.  York is basically built on York.  There have been people buried her for two thousand years.  It’s surprising there aren’t more revenants walking the streets.”

Fiona closed the door.  Jeanette and Ian were packing the last of the goody bags in the next room and the last thing she needed was to have to explain all about non-normals.  “It’s getting out of control.  Darren is working like crazy and talking about getting another exorcist here full time.” She looked at Steve.  “And I know Dean’s been proving himself to Miss Patience by hunting down rogues.  I daren’t ask him how many he’s destroyed.”

Steve changed the subject.  “Dave’s at home now.  He should be okay after a week or so, but Sir Ewan is going to have his hands full.”

“I’m sure he’ll have the sense to call in help.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I’ll pop round to Dave’s place now and make sure he’s comfortable.  Adele can call his clients and warn them that it’s me for the next few weeks, until he can get rid of his sling.”  She shrugged.  “It’s a lot harder to palm cards when you’re in a sling.  You lose a lot of your fine control.”  She bustled out.

Fiona walked up to Steve and leant against him.  He wrapped his arms around her as Armani struggled out of Steve’s jacket pocket and flapped over to the window with a disgusted look on his face.  As the ugly imp struggled with the window, Steve stroked Fiona’s hair.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Fiona nodded.  “I know.  But all these revenants, they’re overwhelming.  How long before someone gets hurt?”

“Apart from them?  Dean is doing a good job, much as I hate to admit it, and I know Lord Ragnar is using it as a chance to knit his court closer.”

Fiona spent a few moments enjoying the feel of her husband’s arms around her.  “Dean hasn’t taken well to becoming a vampire.  Really, I think he belongs with Dave more than Miss Patience.”

“I’ve never heard of a vampire helping out a paladin, but there’s a first time for everything.” Steve dropped a light kiss on the top of Fiona’s head.  “I’m going to be away for a few days getting all those bags delivered, but Mrs Tuesday and the werewolves are still staying at our flat, so you’ll be safe.  I’ll be back before you know it.”

“We’ll all be safe.” Fiona said.  “Even Adele is staying here.  She and Callum are staying in Freydis’ old flat.” She smiled.  “It will be good for them to have time together.”

“They can’t become an item.” Steve warned.  “Don’t expect hearts and flowers.”

“Why not?” Is it because Adele is part Blue Cap?”

Steve shook his head.  “It’s a werewolf thing.  I’ve never met anyone who understood them that wasn’t a werewolf themselves.”  He frowned and sat down on the sofa, pulling Fiona gently next to him.  “It goes like this, I think.  Callum and Ian aren’t a proper pack.  They’ve both been expelled from their own packs and sort of let loose.”

“I know.” Fiona snuggled closer to him.  “And Kadogan said he took a real risk taking in Ian.”

“He really did.” Steve said, briefly grim.  “Anyway, Kieran isn’t taking them into his pack just yet, and he probably won’t for years, but he’s allowing them to be effectively a sub pack, a pack for themselves.” Steve stroked over Fiona’s smooth hair.  “Now Ian is in charge.  You can see it.  It’s something they’ve worked out between themselves and they’re fine with it.”

“Ian’s like Callum’s protective older brother.” Fiona said.  “It’s sort of sweet.”

“Hmm.” Steve mentally ran through a list of how many ways it could go wrong and decided not to share.  “But there’s a pecking order, a pack order.  Callum can’t have a relationship unless Ian is already partnered up and allows it.”

Fiona sat up straight.  “But Ian wouldn’t stop Callum matching up with someone, would he?”

“Of course he wouldn’t.” Steve said.  “And it’s very reassuring that he’s so concerned with Callum’s welfare.  He would have made a good pack leader.  However, he’s still not over Ann.  You saw him last month when she remarried.”

Fiona nodded and leant back against Steve.  “He was devastated, but happy for her.  He was a mess.”

“But as long as he is single, Callum can’t date Adele.” Steve held tight to Fiona.  “And I think someone needs to explain that to Adele.”

“I’ll ask Mrs Tuesday,” Fiona said quickly.

Jeanette waved to Ian as he drove off and walked briskly down the drive to her house.  Just for a moment she paused and savoured looking at her home.  It never wearied her.  She took a deep breath and almost consciously relaxed.  Then she walked past her car and into the kitchen door.

Luke looked up as she entered.  “Hi, busy day?”

Jeanette nodded and slid her coat off.  “But I’m only getting half days after this, 12 to 4pm.  They’ve got the big order out and now it’s just keeping the mail order stuff ticking over.  I’m glad of the money, and at least I’ll have mornings to concentrate on the garden and… What the hell happened to your face!?”

“I caught an unlucky blow in training.” Luke said.  This was the truth.  He’d been winded by an off target kick at the gym, but that wasn’t what had made a mess of his face.  “You know I do martial arts.” He hated to fudge the truth like this, but he wasn’t going to start talking about vampires to his landlord.  He was still working out what he had seen.

“Are you okay?  Have you got it checked out?” Jeanette stared at the livid bruise on Luke’s cheekbone.

“I’m fine.” Luke saw the concern in Jeanette’s eyes.  “Honestly, I’m fine.  I’ve made mackerel and mushroom risotto.  It’s ready to go.” He watched Jeanette slowly hang up her coat and wash her hands.  “Did Ian drop you off again?  He’s the warehouse manager, right?”

Jeanette nodded.  “It’s all very complicated,” she said, sliding into her seat as Luke put a large dish of risotto in front of her.  “Fiona’s busy with getting the White Hart sorted out, Steve is away delivering to important clients, Adele is nervous in the van, Mrs Tuesday says she is too old to drive, Kadogan and Freydis refuse to learn, Dave has a dislocated shoulder and Adele gets, well, she gets stressed out if Callum drives me and there’s no reason.  I don’t know why those two aren’t dating.  Oh, yes, Dave dislocated his shoulder.”

Luke bent his head.  “Our Father, we thank you for this food and ask you to bless it.  We pray for the swift healing of Dave’s shoulder.  Amen.” He took a sip of his water and then a forkful of risotto.  “How did Dave hurt his shoulder?”

Jeanette shrugged.  “I haven’t got a straight answer out of any of them.  I wonder if he was in trouble for his Tarot reading?

Luke chewed his risotto.  “I’m not sure about this recipe.  I don’t think it’s a keeper.  It’s very…” He took another mouthful of his water.

“It’s very fishy.” Jeanette nodded.  “It’s nice, but it’s fishy.  Perhaps you can try it with chicken on your next meat day?”

Luke took another forkful and chewed, then pulled a face.  “I think it’s time for the emergency soup stash,” he said, pushing his plate away.

Jeanette laughed.  “I think you’re right.” She stood and took the plates over to the sink. “I’ve been invited to go along to the church fair at St Agnes.  The White Hart has a stall there with the profits going to the church.  They said that I could maybe have a stall at the autumn fair, if I want, depending on what I’ve got made.”

“Church fair?” Luke pulled two portions of black bean soup from the freezer.  “They go to church?”

“You’re not the only one who goes to church.” Jeanette scraped the risotto into the bin.  “Apparently most of them go to the early service at St Agnes.  Though they still work on a Sunday.”

“I might look in tomorrow then.” Luke said, sliding the containers into the microwave.  “I haven’t been to a church fair in years.”

“I’m not sure about this.” Dave glared at Lord Ragnar.  “I can’t find anything like this in the handbooks, and I’m not sure about him.” He gestured at Dean and winced as the wild movement jolted his shoulder.

“We are both struggling.” Lord Ragnar said.  “My court is stretched thinly dealing with a lot of minor inconveniences that do not affect your world, and the faerie realm is becoming more dangerous by the day.  There have been reports from Harrogate of it contaminating their realm as well.  Miss Patience and her vampires are needed with us.  We recognise, however, that unregulated revenants cannot be allowed to stalk the streets of Leeds.”

“I’m not the same person I was.” Dean said softly.

“No, you’re now not just Fiona’s ex-boyfriend that set her up to be captured and nearly killed, but you’re also a vampire.” Dave spun around to face Dean and winced again.

Kadogan stepped carefully between Dean and Dave.  “Revenants have always haunted these islands.  There have been those who come back from the dead since the dawn of our stories.  It is not usually like this.” He took a pamphlet out of his pocket.  “Unfortunately, York is an excellent source of graves.  Did you know that according to this official leaflet there were 39 churches in York in 1428, and eight abbeys, plus chantries.” Kadogan sighed.  “It used to be wonderful seeing the priests arguing over who had the right to bury the deceased and get the burial fee.  But while not all these churches had burial grounds, most had some people of note buried inside the church itself.”

Sir Ewan ran a tired hand over his face.  “And most of these churches have been deconsecrated?”

Kadogan shrugged.  “Not all of them were properly consecrated in the first place.” He turned to Lord Ragnar.  “Do you remember that little chapel just down from the bridge where the old man sold…”

Lord Ragnar held up his hand.  “Paladin Dave Kinson, can you get no help from anywhere?”

Dave shook his head.  “We’re struggling. Darren is here as much as he can, and Mike Doyle, the paladin from the Village may be able to come over, but that’s it.  All the Knights Templar that can be spared are dealing with that mess in Carlisle, and you know that there will be another crisis overlapping that which means that, no, there will be no help.” He dropped down into one of the leather chairs and yelped as another jolt hit his shoulder.

There was a long pause and the crackling of the fire in Lord Ragnar’s study echoed.  Dave looked around.  The two elfen, Lord Ragnar and Kadogan, were expressionless but Dave wondered if something was going on between them he couldn’t see.  Dean stood at the back of the room against a shelf of leather bound GQ magazines, equally expressionless and unnervingly still.  Dave was not happy about him coming along for the fight.  It wasn’t just the whole business of him drugging Fiona.  It was like he was a different person.  The trouble was, Dean was a different person who had a lot of issues, most of them about him being made a vampire by someone who had tricked him and then been destroyed.  This left Dean as a dangerously loose cannon.  Dave exchanged a worried glance with Sir Ewan, the Knight Templar who had come with him into this part of the faerie realm.

Lord Ragnar finally stood. “I will keep faith with you, Paladin David Kinson.  Those who are under my rule but who work for the White Hart will aid you, together with the vampire Dean Mackenzie.  We are under siege in different ways.  We can offer little help other than this.  I suggest we meet together in seven days’ time to face our fate together with a more solid purpose.”

Dave stood carefully and held out his hand.  Lord Ragnar looked at it for a long moment before grasping it and shaking.  Dave nodded.  “On different battlefronts against a common enemy.” As ever, Dave had picked the perfect words and the eyes of Kadogan and Lord Ragnar shone with emotion.  Dave wished he could find the right words for himself to quiet the creeping unease sitting in the pit of his stomach.

Luke slipped quietly out of the house.  He still had a headache from the fight this morning, but he couldn’t stay home when there were dreadful things happening in York.  He threw a rucksack on the passenger seat and climbed into his car.  There was a vampire in York.  How could have not realised?  He rumbled gently down the track and then turned towards York.  At least he had a chance of parking this late at night.  He glanced at his bag.  He had a couple of makeshift stakes in there, an illegal knife and a spray bottle that held water with garlic granules in.  Luke wasn’t convinced about that, but it would take time to pull a better kit together.  He couldn’t wait that long.  He had prayed over it, together with the cheap, silver coloured cross he had picked up earlier.  He didn’t know if that would help, but all he could do was cling to his faith.

He knew where he would start looking.  He would start at the White Hart.  The vampire had to be based there.  He had gone past there a few times, taking advantage of the confusion caused by the roadworks, but he hadn’t had a chance to look in properly.  The roadworks meant that there was no parking anywhere near, but that also meant that he could come up to the building quietly and perhaps circle around the area.  Luke avoided the town centre.  York was busy on Friday nights and he wanted to stay away from attention.

Luke pulled up outside an office block and made sure his hood was up and obscuring his face and grabbed the stakes, water and cross and stuffed them in his pockets before getting out of the car.  He wasn’t sure if he was hot or cold as he walked as calmly as he could down to the White Hart.  He mustn’t draw attention to himself.  He needed to keep a steady pace and relaxed body language.  Luke nearly laughed out loud.  There was no way he could look relaxed.  He felt tension in every joint of him.  He kept remembering that hand on his shoulder, the unexpected weight of it and the crazy speed.  It took all his will power to keep walking without constant glances over his shoulder.  How did Psalm 91 go?  ‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.’ Perhaps he should have gone to someone, just gone to the police station and said someone tried to mug him.  The streets seemed far too quiet and the lights of the roadworks and their contraflow system were too harsh for the empty road.  Luke turned down an alley.  But then some poor copper would have been stuck facing a vampire without any knowledge.  He would have sent someone into the arms of a vampire.

Luke slowed down.  There didn’t seem to be much CCTV here, and there were plenty of places to hide.  How did people do this?  How could he do this?  It wasn’t like this in the films.  There was movement to his left.  He tried not to be obvious looking towards those bushes.  The hand clutching the stake in his pocket felt far too hot and slick with sweat.  He should have worn gloves, he thought.  He kept moving, keeping straight and not too near the bushes.  The scraggly buddleia and rag ends of the weeds from last summer seemed far too full of shadows.  It was probably just a cat, Luke told himself, just a cat.  He tried watching the bushes while still keeping an eye out around him.  Soldiers trained for years to learn this stuff.  What did he know?  He had watched the videos on the internet and he had taken a cut price gym membership.  He wasn’t a hero.  He clutched the stake tighter.  He still wasn’t turning back.  He knew what he had seen.  He couldn’t sit back and do nothing.  He glanced briefly to the right and instinctively brought up the stake to stab the creature was leaping at him.

Everything seemed to slow down.  Luke found himself taking in more details.  This was a different vampire, with long, yellow hair, smaller but still gaunt faced and fanged.  The vampire grabbed his wrist, pushing the stake away from its bony chest.  Luke struggled, putting his weight on his shoulder, trying to keep his footing, trying not to think about why something so small and skinny was so much stronger than him.  He could smell the exhaust fumes, feel the sweat of fear on his back and his feet slipping on the dirt of the alley.  He wasn’t trained for this.  Then he remembered the training he had had.  The vampire was smaller and its grip couldn’t encircle his wrist.  He twisted his arm suddenly around, out and up, and stabbed the stake hard at the vampire.

Luke thought he would never forget the shriek that echoed out of the creature.  It was a shrill, whistling cry that didn’t seem human, just some tormented creature calling out in pain.  He fell to the ground on top of the creature and recoiled, scrambling out of the way, as what had once looked almost like a person collapsed into a heap of dirty, encrusted bones wrapped in rags.  Then he went to the side of the road and was sick.  Wave after wave went through him, convulsing heaves as he hung helplessly onto the wire fencing.  It felt like it would never end, but finally he pushed himself upright, spat out the acidic taste onto the side of the road and, barely glancing at the collapsing remains, walked off as confidently as he could towards the White Hart.  He had to keep going, he had to keep moving.  He clutched the stake even tighter.  There was more than one vampire in York.  The one who had attacked him this morning was different to the one he had just killed.  Luke took a deep breath and kept on walking.  That made sense, really.  You never got just one rat or just one cockroach.  There was always a nest.  Even if you only saw one rat or cockroach, you knew there was always a nest.

He got nearer the White Hart.  The road was empty and garishly lit from the temporary traffic lights and the lit cones around the holes dug across the pavements.  It seemed far too ordinary to be the source of such evil.  It looked a little forlorn, with the burned out windows and the scorched car park.  It looked like a once well-tended building had suffered a dreadful accident.  Luke stopped in the corner of the car park, trying to stay out of sight of the road while he worked out what to do.  Should he try and get in and see what was in there?  Would there be a nest of vampires in the cellar?  Maybe he should come back in daylight.  Luke’s mind raced.  He should have thought of this before he came out.  He should have known that there would be more than one.

As his sense of smell started to return and his senses settled down he realised something.  It wasn’t exhaust fumes that he could smell.  It was gas.  There was a gas leak.  What was he supposed to do now?

Hazardous

“We have a rogue.” Dean said.  He looked around the table.  Dave had reluctantly called them together in his Tarot reading studio in the rented offices as there was no way he was letting a load of non normals into the Paladin’s house.  Kadogan was representing Lord Ragnar and lounged as much as he could in the cramped space.  Sir Ewan, Darren and Dave exchanged worried glances.

“I’ve not heard anything from the local churches.  The pagan groups are less formal so it’s hard to get information out, but I’ve heard nothing much from that side.” Darren ran a tired hand over his face.  “There’s nothing from the mosques and temples either.”  He looked around.  “We’ve all been pulling together with the dark hauntings going around, and while I’ve heard a lot about some of the exorcisms and issues that have been going on, I’ve heard nothing about a vampire hunter.”

“I think it was his first kill.” Dean said dispassionately.  “He showed some good moves, but it didn’t look like he was used to it.  He showed a lot of courage.”

“And he telephoned the authorities about the gas leak.” Kadogan added.  “I personally owe him a debt of gratitude.  While the fire was not entirely accidental, at least we now know how to deal with it.”

“We do not know how to deal with it.” Darren snapped, then held up his hand.  “I apologise.  That was out of order.”

“That is accepted, Darren King.” Kadogan nodded.  “You have been working extremely hard.  But now we know that the White Hart is on the edge of an old plague pit filled with unquiet dead, we can at least search for solutions.”

“But I can’t work out a solution.” Darren said, defeat showing in every inch of him.  “York is full of dead bodies.  People have been buried here for two thousand years.  It’s been a major city for most of that time.  I can deal with individual hauntings, but this is too big.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan nodded.  “I have always enjoyed watching arguments about burials.  Do you remember what happened during the cholera plague?  The height of the graveyard rose as they tried to keep up.”

Dave looked at him.  “We are all under fifty here.  What cholera plague?”

Kadogan thought.  “It was before the Great Exhibition, I know that, but I cannot remember whether it was before or after our Queen Victoria was crowned.”  He frowned.

Sir Ewan held up a hand.  “We can look it up if we need to.  We need to focus on the two big problems we have.  Our first problem is that we have a rogue vampire hunter.  I’ll call Tim and see if there are any reports of a nutter going around accusing goths of being undead or similar and see if he’s shown up there.  Otherwise we need to keep an eye out and if he is a genuine guy we need to bring him into the fold.  We could use the help.”

“What if he is not a genuinely good person?” Kadogan asked.

“We give him the hard word.” Sir Ewan said flatly.  “The bigger problem is this dark energy that Rey left behind.  It doesn’t seem to be fading.”

Darren shook his head.  “I’m at a steady two or three exorcisms a week.  That’s more than most parishes have in a century.” He grimaced.  “And then there’s the ghosts that everyone knows about, and who cause no bother and who I think it’s, well, rude to try and exorcise them.”

“They are part of the tourist walks.” Sir Ewan said with a grin.

“But not the ones that are showing up in all the nooks and crannies and causing trouble.” Darren said.  “I have no idea what to do.  I’m going to go out into the Dales and pray and meditate.  I’ll let you know if I’m given any guidance.”

“I’m really not sure about this.” Fiona said as she looked at the piece of rock nestled in a custom glass case.  “Kadogan didn’t say anything to us.”

“He told me because he knew I would cut you a good deal.” The goblin was lounging against the new counter.  Around them other goblins were rewiring the shop while Nick kept a close eye on them.

“It looks like blown concrete to me.” Steve said, tapping the case.  “Besides, don’t you ever watch TV?  Little meteors burn up in the atmosphere.  It would never have landed.”

The goblin drew itself up to it’s full height, to somewhere around the level of Fiona’s shoulder.  He wasn’t bothering with a glamour so looked incongruous with his sharp, grey suit and shirt with a neatly knotted tie under his knobbly chin.  “This is a genuine meteorite, guaranteed.  I went to great lengths to obtain this particular specimen and I object to your implications.  Besides, not all meteorites have come through the atmosphere.”

“Do you mean ‘implications’ or ‘insinuations’?” Steve asked.

“But all meteorites have to come through atmosphere because meteors are up there…” Fiona waved vaguely at the re-painted ceiling, “And we’re down here with atmosphere between us.”

“Don’t you worry about the details, miss.” The goblin blessed Fiona with his most charming smile and then turned to Steve.  “This is obviously far too valuable to sell, but I could rent it to you for a minor consideration.”

Fiona turned around as Kadogan came into the shop.  “Kadogan, what’s this about aliens?”

“According to my business course, we need to diversify our market and lots of people like aliens.  We should therefore have aliens.” Kadogan smiled happily.  “And we can fake alien visits so easily and we will be able to supply Lord Harold with rose petals in return.”

“What?” Fiona stared.

“Apparently there are remains of aliens all around Stonehenge and the Salisbury Plain but people hush it up.”  Kadogan shrugged.  “I never met any of them.  But people pay money for aliens.  That’s why I invited Ferdi to visit.  He has contacts.”

“No.” Steve said firmly.  “And we are not touching that bit of rubble with a barge pole.  Look, you can see the rust marks on it.”

“That is not rust.” Ferdi clutched the case to him.  “That is the traces of a very close encounter with something just past Saturn and covered by the Official Secrets Act.  But I won’t trouble you with this artefact any further.”

They watched Ferdi leave with dignity and the case tucked under his arm, then Fiona and Steve turned to Kadogan.

“What?” Kadogan said.  “It is a fake, of course.  All of Ferdi’s items are counterfeit.  But they are usually very good and barely discernible.  I thought we could use the area previously taken by the athames.”

“We need to get it drafted out properly.” Steve said.  “Let’s get into the back room.”

The back room still smelled of smoke, but the open windows and bowls of vinegar were doing their work and it was much more bearable.  Armani climbed out of Steve’s pocket and flapped lazily over to a window, pulling out his vape pen.  Outside the pigeons scattered.  Fiona stretched out a large roll of paper and sketched in the outline of the White Hart’s floorplan.  “I thought we could keep the cards and gifts over there,” she said, marking a corner with a cross, “We can get all the gift stuff like the fairy statues and ornaments over at that side and leave more room for the expanded café.  Have you seen the size of Freydis’ coffee maker?”

“We can use this wall here to display ritual items and keep the stock in the back.” Steve pulled out his pen and added a note.  “Most of that stuff is sold mail order or online anyway.  This leaves room for the books here and the herbs and spices here.”

“The herbs and spices are doing brilliantly online.” Fiona said.  “Maybe we should make a thing of it, you know, get some advertising set up.”

“That would be quite remarkable.” Kadogan said, tilting his head back and forth at the sketch.  “We opened the shop to sell gifts, cards and magical tools and we are making more selling herbs and spices.”

“And incense.” Fiona added a small cross at the end of the herbs.  “And we can put the more specialised stuff like the dog chews and biscuits over here.”

“Where shall we put the aliens?” Kadogan asked.

“If, and that’s an ‘if’ and not a ‘when’, we get aliens, we’ll have books about aliens.  They can go in with the other books.” Steve looked exasperated.  “We’re not going to have actual aliens in the shop, or pieces of alien ships or anything like that.  It’s all books.”

“Grain from fields with crop circles often fetches a high price.” Kadogan said tentatively.

“I thought that they had proved that crop circles were fake?” Fiona said absently as she studied the sketch.

“Indeed.  The men who had made the first fake confessed.” Kadogan sighed in satisfaction.  “And some people took their confession as a definite sign that there had been a cover up.  It’s wonderful.  Of course, some elfen had a go at it, and…”

“No.” Steve said.  “We’re too busy for you to make crop circles.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan sighed.  “And it is the wrong time of year.  However, there is a farmer up near Thirsk who has been very unsympathetic to one of the brownies there and I’m sure that a crop circle in his field wouldn’t hurt too much.”

“What did Darren say about the plague pit?” Fiona changed the subject, hoping that Kadogan would forget all about crop circles.

“It is most unsatisfactory.” Kadogan said.  “Darren King is not optimistic.  I don’t think that even he could exorcise an entire plague pit, at least not discreetly.  But something must be done.  The police now believe that it was the vibrations from the roadworks that caused the tiniest cracks in the gas main rather than disturbance from the unquiet dead buried beneath, which is a help, but those vibrations are likely to continue.”

“I’ve had a few thoughts about that.” Steve said.  “I’ll have a word with Darren.”

Fiona looked down at the floor and shivered.  The thought of all those dead bodies stirring underneath the shop chilled her.  “Those poor people.”

“They aren’t like Rey, or Miss Patience or Dean.” Kadogan said.  “There isn’t really anything there.  It’s just malice and darkness and the desire to destroy.  It’s nothing to do with the people that once were those bones.  It’s just pieces left behind that are being used.”

“I’m not sure that’s any better.” Fiona took a breath.  “Will we be safe to open?”

“The gas pipe has been fixed, at least for now.” Steve said.  “But I don’t think we can open while it’s still an issue.  We have to consider the safety of our visitors.”

Fiona looked at him.  “And us!”

“That is something I need to tell you.” Kadogan straightened the sketch.  “The person who smelled gas and called the appropriate authorities, well, there is more information.”

“He gets a permanent discount.” Steve said.  “Who is it?”

“It is complicated.” Kadogan said.  “His identity is unknown, but he apparently is a vampire hunter.  This could be awkward.”

There was a pause.  Fiona wondered what would happen if a vampire hunter knew about their store.  “Is he okay?”

“Apparently he killed a revenant, not one of the vampires that frequent Lord Ragnar’s court.” Kadogan said.  “He is likely to return in the hunt for further vampires so Sir Ewan and Dean are going to be patrolling around York for the next few nights to see if they can meet him.”

“And there is a good chance of more revenants coming out of the plague pit.” Steve said.  “I don’t mind helping out with that.  How stable did the vampire hunter look?”

“It was Dean who observed him from a distance,” Kadogan said.  “But it seems that this vampire hunter was entirely sensible.  He wore reasonable clothing, used a normal sized stake and was apparently sick after destroying the revenant.”

“So, it’s someone who isn’t used to this.” Steve tried to think it through.  “He probably isn’t aware of the non-normal community or he would be working through them.  Goodness only knows what he thinks of the White Hart.  We’re lucky he called in the gas leak instead of lighting it.”

Luke lay on his bed and tried to organise his thoughts.  Calling in the gas leak was the right thing to do.  Someone unconnected with the White Hart could have been injured if there had been a proper explosion.  Deep down it felt like it was the right thing to do, but it still looked like that shop was going to re-open.

He was worried.  Jeanette was a sweet woman and she was working for those people.  She obviously had no clue about what was going on, and they were treating her well, but she was a good person and he was worried about her.  What if they were just feeding her lies and fake news until she was completely committed to them before getting her fed to a vampire or something.

Luke sat up.  Jeanette didn’t seem to be being misinformed.  They seemed to be behaving like a decent employer.  He’d caught a few glimpses of the man who usually dropped Jeanette off, and he seemed reasonable enough.

What was he supposed to do now?  He knew that there was another vampire out there.  He knew that there were strange goings on at the White Hart.  He knew that the people from the White Hart were behaving in a decent way to Jeanette and, well, he knew that he was completely out of his depth.  He rolled off his bed and dragged himself to his knees.  He would pray for guidance.

Ian was very aware of Mrs Tuesday’s gaze that was resting squarely on his back.  He was faintly uneasy, but the marvellous beef and mushroom casserole that Mrs Tuesday had just produced followed by Eve’s pudding and custard had left him feeling far too replete to worry.  He finished stacking the dishwasher and rinsed out a cloth.  Callum had taken Dave home.  Dave was on Mrs Tuesday’s orders to come to the flat for dinner, but his shoulder was still bad and he needed to rest.

Ian wiped over the cooker.  Things may not be settled, and all werewolves preferred things to be predictable, but life wasn’t bad.  He and Callum were sharing Freydis’ flat with Mrs Tuesday and were getting amazing meals every night.  Fiona and Steve were just across the hall and Darren and Dave ate here most nights.  He was getting to grips with the plumbing at the White Hart and once Darren sorted out the plague pit they could all go back to the White Hart.  It felt almost like the security of a pack.

“I need to have a word with you.” Mrs Tuesday said.

Ian froze.  There was no way that anything good could come of this.  “I need to finish cleaning the kitchen,” he said, scrubbing at a non-existent mark.

“The kitchen isn’t that dirty, and you can finish it off later if you want.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “Now make us a cup of tea and come and sit down.”

Ian filled the kettle and rinsed out the teapot.  “Callum will be back soon,” he said.

“No, he won’t.” Mrs Tuesday folded her hands in front of her.  “I told him to call in on Adele on the way back.  I wish she would stay here more, but I know she promised to look after her parents’ house while they were in Spain.”

“Umm.” Ian threw some teabags into the pot and got out the cups.  Did Callum know something about this?

“I didn’t discuss anything with Callum, though,” Mrs Tuesday said, reading Ian’s mind.  “But I know we are all worried about what’s going on.”

“Umm.” Ian poured the boiling water into the pot and pulled the milk jug out of the fridge.  He took a deep breath and placed the cups, teapot and mug on the clean kitchen table.  How bad could this be?

“You need to get a girlfriend, preferably a lover or wife.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“Umm.” Ian sat down and nearly missed the chair.  It was that bad.

“You’ve seen how Callum and Adele get on.  They are meant to be together.  And Callum has never had a chance.  His old pack leader needs a right talking to.  He’s really blossomed over the last few months, and you can take a lot of the credit for that.  You’ve encouraged him, help him find his feet, kept him steady and in shape and Kieran Latimer is very impressed with both of you.” Mrs Tuesday poured them both a cup of tea.

“Umm.” Ian picked up his cup and held onto it as if it could save him.  He gathered his wits.  “I can’t see a problem with Callum and Adele having a relationship.  Kieran wouldn’t object, and I think they would get on well.”

“But he can’t even date Adele if you’re single.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Kieran said that you were your own sub pack.  Now, I know that the White Hart has become your pack, and that’s a good thing, but when it comes to the werewolves, you’re the leader and Callum has to wait on your say-so.”

“I don’t want a girlfriend.” Ian said.  “I still miss my ex-wife.”

“Do you miss her, or do you miss being married?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “I don’t see any pictures of her around.  I don’t hear you talking about her.  It’s like you cut that part of your life off when you came here.”

“She gave me my ‘Hope’ sign.” Ian said.

“And she is married to someone else.  She’s happy.” Mrs Tuesday gave him a hard look.  “And so are you, in a way.  You’re keeping busy, getting well fed, having a purpose and making amends – and so you should.  I can see why you don’t want to deal with the ladies at the moment.  You’re still healing after that business at Darke Manor.  Callum isn’t healing, though.  He’s healed, he’s happy, he’s settled and he’s in love with Adele.  And he can’t do anything about it unless you find yourself a girlfriend.”

“Who would have me?” Ian said.  He felt a weight settle on his shoulders.  Mrs Tuesday was right.  He was the leader and had a responsibility to Callum.  But how could he deal with this?  “I got thrown out of my old pack for summoning a demon to gain control of a pack.  No werewolf would date me.”

“I’m sure there are a few female werewolves that are…” Mrs Tuesday searched for the words.  “There are a few ladies in the same position as you.  They’re werewolves without a pack.  Most of them wouldn’t do you, but there may be someone.”

“I’m not dating a stray.” Ian said firmly.  He paused.  “But that’s what I am.”

“You’re not really a stray.” Mrs Tuesday tried to reassure him.  “You’re in a sub pack and you’re doing very well for yourself.  But perhaps you might find someone who understands but who isn’t a werewolf.  I mean, Adele isn’t even fully a Blue Cap but her and Callum are made for each other.”

“No-one is going to want a stray.” Ian sunk his head in his hands.  “And not just any stray.  I’m someone who summoned a demon.”

“Well, it’s not going to be easy.” Mrs Tuesday gave his hand a sympathetic pat.  “But you haven’t given up so far, so you mustn’t give up now.  You need to be a leader.”

“I need to keep busy.” Ian said.  He stood up abruptly.  “I’m going out to search for revenants.  Steve is across the hall and will help you if you need it.  I will see you later.”

Mrs Tuesday watched as he jogged out the room.  It had gone better than she had expected.

Luke stalked closer to the White Hart.  He had learned from last night.  He was wearing fingerless gloves and had spare stakes tucked into his belt.  He was still shaking, the cold fear sliding down his back and making him struggle for breath.  He still had to do this, though.  He couldn’t turn back.

The lights from the roadworks seemed even more garish in the empty streets as Luke walked past the White Hart, concentrating hard on keeping an even pace.  He slipped past a side street, down an alley and slowed down.  Now he was away from the streets and the CCTV he was vulnerable, and they could be waiting.  He pulled out a stake at slowly crept forward.

There was no noise in the gardens backing onto the alley.  The weeds that clung to the edges of the road were still.  The air was cold and he could see his breath hanging in the air.  Luke felt like every nerve was vibrating like a supercharged wire.  He paused.  It sounded like a fight.  Someone needed help.  He stepped around the corner, as quietly as he could with speed.  Someone else was fighting a vampire.

It was the man that dropped Jeanette off.  It was Ian, deftly batting the vampire’s claws aside, ducking a punch, blocking a kick, and then counterattacking with a hard punch, then another, keeping the vampire reeling until Ian kicked the creature’s legs from under it and knelt swiftly to impale the vampire with his stake.

Luke watched as the vampire collapsed into old bones and dust.  Then Ian muttered a few words over the remains, made the sign of the cross and pulled out a sack from his backpack.  Ian looked almost tender as he respectfully placed the remains into the sack, entirely focused on the task in hand as Luke backed away.

Luke walked back to the car in a daze.  Ian was from the White Hart but had killed one of these vampires.  What was going on?

New Directions

“What is it?” Ian asked.  They had finished work for the day, and they were having a cuppa before he took the parcels to the depot.

Jeanette looked up from her phone.  “It’s frustrating.  Look at this.  Someone’s selling up the contents of their polytunnels – at this time of year!  It’s going for pennies.”

Ian looked over her shoulder at the sale on the internet.  How could he tactfully tell Jeanette that the smallholder down the road was probably selling up because he couldn’t make it work, not because of illness in the family.  “It looks like a great deal.  Are you going to get it?  You have the space.”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette hesitated.  “There’s a lot of stuff.  I mean, there are hundreds of plants.  It’s a lot of trips and it’s the other side of York.”

“Steve,” Ian called across the office, “Can I borrow the big van to move some stuff for Jeanette?”

“Sure, no problem.” Steve didn’t even look up from the crystals he was sorting.

“Seriously?” Jeanette looked at Ian and then at Steve.  “I wasn’t hinting, you know.”

“I know.” Steve was still focused on the crystals.

“And I’ll pay for petrol and everything.” Jeanette said.

Steve finally looked up.  “It’s okay.  You’re part of the team.  And it’s Ian that you’ll have to thank.  He’s the one that will be doing the driving.  Ian, when you come back from the depot, will you have a look at these with me.  They have some odd… resonances.”

“Sure.” Ian drained his mug of tea.  “Go on, Jeanette, buy those plants.”

“You don’t mind?” Jeanette’s hand hovered over her phone.

“Just buy them!” Ian grinned.  “And see if you can book a time to pick them up tomorrow.  I’m waiting on a delivery of some valves and I can’t get on with the plumbing at the moment.”

Jeanette tapped her phone and then laughed out loud.  “Even if it isn’t as described, even if the plants aren’t anything like the pictures, even if it’s only a tenth of what it looks like, it’s wonderful!”

“You’ve got a lot of work there.” Ian said, still looking over her shoulder as she scrolled through the images.  “But I’m sure you can do it.  Perhaps I can help out once the plumbing is sorted.  I like keeping busy.”

“That’s a really kind offer, but I couldn’t.  I mean, I can’t pay you anything and it’s hard work and…” Jeanette trailed off awkwardly.

Ian held up his hands.  “I’m more likely to pay you.” He hesitated.  “I need to keep busy at the moment.  I would be glad of the distraction.” For a moment a shadow passed across his face before he put his mug down with a purposeful clunk.  “And speaking of distraction, I’d better get these parcels down to the depot.  Then I’ll drop Jeanette off and have a look at those crystals when I get back, Steve.”

Steve waited until he heard the van pull away before he spoke to Jeanette.  “Listen, it’s none of my business, and it’s okay to say ‘no’, but if Ian offers to help you out then I would be grateful if you would let him.  He’s got a lot of stuff on his mind and he’s finding things hard.  He likes to keep busy as a distraction.”

“It’s not serious, is it?” Jeanette asked.  Ian seemed such a kind, dependable person that she didn’t like to think of him as being so upset.

“It’s complicated.” Steve said with massive understatement.  He looked up with some relief as Adele ushered in Ferdi.  “Hi, Ferdi.”

“I take my coffee with two sugars, black, please, love.” Ferdi said with unknowing courage before shutting the door between him and Adele.  “Stevie, I’ve got a great deal for you.”

“No moon rocks.” Steve said.

“I heard that you were going to be having a fire sale.” Ferdi said, somehow pulling a large bag from inside his jacket.  He looked at Jeanette who was wondering who this ugly man was and what on earth was happening.  “Give me a hand with this, will you, love.”

Jeanette managed to get a drop cloth over the table just in time as Ferdi emptied a sooty bag onto the table.  “I’ll just go and get a damp cloth.”

“That’s great, love, and fetch us that coffee while you’re at it.” Ferdi turned and beamed at Steve.  “Lots of fire related stuff at a great price.  You can’t go wrong.” He picked up a dark, dusty object.  “Look at this, shaped charcoal briquettes.  Perfect for barbecues or incense burners.” He pushed the object into Steve’s unwilling hand.  “Guaranteed best seller and I can do a very good price on bulk.”

Steve examined the briquette.  It was the size of a standard charcoal disc but pressed into the shape of a stylised flower.  “It’s nice, but no good for us.  Look how it’s crumbling.  We couldn’t ship it anywhere.  It would turn up as dust.” He looked at the cloth.  “Look at the state of the table.”

“It’s in it’s early stages, nothing that can’t be fixed in the final press.” Ferdi waved a regal hand. “Now how about this?” Adele walked in and set a milky cup of tea in front of Ferdi, turned on her heel and walked out.

“You really shouldn’t upset the staff.” Steve tried to hide a grin.  “What is that?  It’s iron.”

“Hand-forged, authentic, designer flint and steel.” Ferdi said.  “Beautifully made, guaranteed sparks every time if used according to instructions.  Look…”

Steve grabbed the steel from him.  “You can’t strike sparks over a table covered in charcoal dust!  And we can’t have that amount of hand-forged steel in the shop.  The elfen couldn’t take it.” Steve paused as his brain caught up.  “What do you mean, designer?  How can you have designer flint and steel?”

“Everything has been designed by someone.” Ferdi said knowledgeably.  “I can’t really do direct shipping on these wonderful items.  They really are a work of art.  You could put them in a cabinet.”

“I’m not putting them in the White Hart.” Steve said.  “There must be loads of places that would take them, like…” He trailed off.  “Which lorry did they fall off?”

“How about these?” Ferdi swept majestically past the question and handed Steve a dusty box before taking a mouthful of the tea and pulling a face.  “No sugar.  But these, here, are quite difficult to get hold of.  They’re quite obscure.”

Steve knocked some dust off the small box and sighed.  “There’s quite a bit of quality stuff coming out of China, if you know where to look.  There’s some really nice items around, and this isn’t one of them.  Ferdi, I’m not going to light one of these death trap matches over a load of charcoal dust even if I wasn’t risking whatever chemicals are in here.”

“They light in different colours.” Ferdi said.  “It’s a little touch of fun in a humdrum world.”

“No.” Steve looked over the table.  “Hang on, a fire sale is where you sell a lot of stuff cheap after a fire because it might be smoke damaged.  It isn’t a sale where you have deals on things that make fire.”

“I don’t see why it can’t be both.” Ferdi took another mouthful of tea and grimaced.  “Anyway, this is a splendid opportunity to get some quality merchandise at a very reasonable price.  And I’m sure your little friend would enjoy the charcoal.”

Armani poked a reluctant head out of Steve’s pocket, took a look at the charcoal and sneered.  “It’s stale.”

“How can charcoal be stale?” Ferdi started to pull the dusty items into his bag.  “You just don’t appreciate carboniferous products.”

“You mean carbonaceous.” Steve said as he carefully tucked Armani back in his pocket.

Jeanette came in with a spray and cloths.  “I thought I had better pick up some cleaner,” she said.

“Listen, Ferdi,” Steve said to the offended goblin, “This isn’t exactly my sort of stuff, but last I heard you were doing some amazing stuff with copper.  Perhaps we can get together and talk about that later.”

“I don’t do production these days.” Ferdi sniffed.  “But I’ll call back later when you’ve had a chance to think about things.” He winked at Jeanette and left.  They could hear him calling Adele, ‘darling’ on the way out.

“That is a brave man to call Adele ‘darling’.” Jeanette said.

“Callum probably wouldn’t do anything.” Steve said, trying to get the dust off his fingers with one of the damp cloths.

“It’s Adele he needs to be scared of.” Jeanette said.  “I’d better get this up now.  Charcoal is awful to clean if it’s left.”

Steve dropped Fiona off at the White Hart the next morning.  “I should be back by tonight.  Don’t let Kadogan stress you too much.” He said, kissing her lightly.

“Stay safe.” Fiona said as she wriggled out of the passenger side of the van and smiled at her husband before shutting the door.  “And no more flint arrowheads.”

Steve laughed and drove off, leaving Fiona standing in front of the White Hart.  She spent a moment looking at the building.  The brownies had worked a superhuman transformation.  The outside was clean and freshly painted and the area around the car park was flourishing again.  The blackened mess of three weeks ago might have just been a nightmare.  She stepped into the shop and smiled.  She would never have wanted a fire, but this was such a great opportunity.  They could learn the lessons of the last year and change the shop around to suit.  It was so different from when she and Kadogan had first opened.

Freydis was over in the café area, caressing the new coffee machine.  “Look, Fiona Adderson, is this not wonderful?”

“Indeed.” Lord Marius was lounging at the counter, sipping a syrupy coffee.  “It is a true marvel.  Fiona Adderson, I have some parcels and letters for you and also I have news of a young werewolf from Liverpool who is female and in search of a mate.  She was expelled from her pack due to a sad misunderstanding.  It could happen to anyone.  Should I approach her on behalf of Ian?”

“Shouldn’t you ask me that?” Ian had come up behind Lord Marius.  “If it’s Jasmine, then no, I’m not interested in someone who got thrown out of a pack for constant fighting.” He looked at Fiona.  “Steve said I could use the big van to move some stuff for Jeanette.”

“Of course, Steve said that Jeanette was getting some plants.” Fiona nodded.  “And it’s about time you had a day off.  Take your time.” She watched Ian stalk out of the shop, jangling the van keys.

“It is also time for me to take my leave.” Lord Marius drained the last of his coffee.  “My compliments, Freydis.  The coffee from the new machine is exquisite.”

Freydis waited until Lord Marius had safely left before leaning towards Fiona.  “I have bought a book.”

Fiona’s heart sank.  She managed a smile.  “Really?  What about?  Is it another book about coffee?”  Freydis had accumulated a few books on coffee.  Like most elfen, she rarely concentrated for long enough to read a book, but, like most elfen, once she became obsessed with a subject she could absorb a lot of information.

Freydis shook her elegant head.  “It is about how to reclaim a husband.  Although I think that there is too much about infidelity.”

“Oh.” Fiona scrabbled around for words.  “Is it any good?”

“I am unsure about that.” Freydis pulled out a battered paperback from underneath the counter.  “It says that I need to be independent.  I have always been independent.”

“Absolutely.” Fiona said.

“And I need to have my own opinions that are not always the same as his.” Freydis leafed through the book.  “Also I need to demonstrate my ability to have a fun time without him.”

“I think he knows that.  You had an affair.” Fiona said without thinking.  She winced.  “I’m sorry.”

Freydis’ shoulders slumped.  “If only I had come across this book earlier.  But they didn’t really have books then.  At least, not like this.  It was all parchment and gilding and nothing about being a person.” She frowned.  “And I have to make him miss me.  How should I do that?”

“I have no idea.” Fiona said with absolute truth.

“I shall evade him” Freydis nodded.  “Then he will become frustrated that he cannot see me and demand to see me.  But I shall continue to evade.” She wrinkled her perfect nose.  “But if I continue to evade, how shall he meet me to agree to remarry?  It is all too complicated.” She put the book back under the counter.  “However, I have mastered a double espresso with extra steam and nothing is beyond me.  Once I have remarried I shall give you the book for when Steve Adderson is unfaithful.”

“That’s not nice.” Fiona said.

“It is true that Steve Adderson is very unlikely to be unfaithful to you.” Freydis placed Lord Marius’ cup into the dishwasher.  “But one cannot be too careful.  Also, have you decided about what to wear to your wedding anniversary?  I think you should wear something exciting as your wedding was so drab.”

“What?” Fiona took a breath.  “What wedding anniversary?”

“You married on the 22nd day of June.” Freydis said.  “Therefore it is your wedding anniversary every 22nd of June.  Lord Ragnar is throwing you a party.”  She sighed.  “We were married at Beltane, of course, and we had the most wonderful arguments every year.”  She ran a cloth over the immaculate coffee machine.  “Perhaps we should have spaced them out more.  They would have had more impact.”

“I think it’s different for elfen.” Fiona said.  “We don’t really argue at all.”

“Really?” Freydis turned around and stared at Fiona.  “I cannot imagine that at all.  Of course, Kadogan has his very dull connection with Suzuki.  They don’t seem to have any arguments at all and to the best of my knowledge have destroyed no buildings.”

“Everyone has their own way of doing things.” Fiona said.  “I had better sort out the stock room.  Now that the smell of smoke has faded we can start getting more stuff back here, and I need to check off the orders.”

“And you have only Adele and Callum to help you with the parcels.” Freydis said.

“It’s okay, we can manage for a bit and Ian deserves some time off.  He’s very stressed.”

“I have also heard about Jasmine.  She would be unsuitable here.  She is likely to become violent, and it is not really appropriate in the White Hart itself.” Freydis checked again in the cupboards.  “But if Ian doesn’t find a mate soon then there could be issues between him and Callum.”  She tilted her head, sizing up the space in the cupboards.  “It is surprising how much instinct can drive werewolves.  Callum will not be able to restrain himself forever.  Do you think we should stock speciality teas?”

“What?” Fiona felt she was saying that far too often.  “What do you mean about Callum?”

“Callum is very much in love with Adele, and she is in love with him to an incredible degree.  I can feel their emotions.  If he is not allowed to court her, then he will find himself snapping at Ian and it could get quite violent.  We have many speciality coffees and you drink many varieties of tea.  Perhaps we should expand the range of teas on offer.  We only have four flavours.”

“What do you mean?” Fiona found herself clutching the edge of the counter.  She had seen Ian getting snappy, but not to the extent that Freydis seemed to suggest, and he and Callum were both strong enough to make real injury a possibility.

“We currently only carry English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lemon and Ginger and Peppermint.  But I have seen you drink Darjeeling and Jasmine tea.”

“No, what do you mean about Callum and Ian?  Ian won’t stop Callum getting with Adele.”

“It’s a werewolf thing.” Freydis waved a dismissive hand.  “If we are going to have coffee nights then I think we could add tea to the menu.  Could you look into it?”

“Yes.” Fiona made a note on her phone as she could guarantee she would never remember it.

“And I shall make my own enquiries about young lady werewolves.” Freydis shut the cupboard door and straightened.  “I am not without contacts and Ian does deserve a good mate.  I hope I shall be able to introduce him to someone at your wedding anniversary reception.”

“But we aren’t having an anniversary reception.” Fiona said helplessly.

“Of course you are.  Lord Ragnar feels quite obligated to you and this will ease a small portion of that obligation.  I think we could carry quite a few varieties of tea.  I read somewhere that if they are kept properly, most varieties of tea do not deteriorate quickly.”

“I’ll go and have a look online.” Fiona said, heading for the office.  “And I’ll speak to Steve tonight about the reception.”

Dave winced as he put the tray on the table.  “I think that’s everything.”

Darren picked a bacon butty off the plate and gave Dave a cool look.  “The army has rules about self-inflicted injuries.”

“It’s not self-inflicted.” Dave sat down carefully.  “I was thrown across a car park by a revenant.”

“It’s self-inflicted if you don’t give it a chance to heal up.”

“The revenants have calmed down.” Sir Ewan took his own sandwich.  “It’s a lot quieter.  You don’t need to get out and do stuff.”

Dave shifted uneasily.  “But what if there is a revenant and I don’t stop it?”

“Then it will be down to me or Darren or one of the werewolves or Kadogan or any of that lot.  Mike Doyle is coming over next week.  You need to take that week easy.” Sir Ewan took a large bite.

“And that includes training.” Darren said.  “You need to take it easy.  Mike has been a paladin for years, he has helped out all over the country and he’s a steady lad.  Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s more like a holiday for him.” Dave grumbled, cautiously picking up his own sandwich while keeping his left shoulder absolutely still.

Darren grinned.  “I think his wife put her foot down.  She said she hadn’t had a holiday for four years and she deserved to leave the Village for more than an afternoon.  She’s the one that’s having a holiday.  I’ve known Karen for a few years.  She’s been very understanding.  They didn’t even get a proper honeymoon.  So she stays and has a chance to look around York and the area and Mike helps out at night.  It will be fine and you can rest that shoulder.”

“And the revenants may finally be fading.  We haven’t seen one all this week.” Sir Ewan took another sandwich.  “It may finally be dying down.”

Darren shook his head.  “There are just as many exorcisms.”

“Perhaps the guy that Dean saw is making an impact.” Dave carefully picked up his sandwich and took a small bite.  “Has anyone managed to speak to him yet?”

Darren shook his head.  “No-one seems to know anything.  On the bright side, I’ve been speaking with Steve and some of the quartz crystals coming to the White Hart are showing signs of being able to deflect this…” He waved a hand and took a mouthful of tea.  “What ever it is, this dark energy.  We just need to get them blessed and into the right places.”

“You mean, in hot spots?” Sir Ewan asked.

“I mean, right above the remains in the plague pit.  Lord Ragnar should be able to help with that.” Darren frowned.  “Now all we need to do is work out where it’s coming from.”

Jeanette paused for a moment and looked out of her kitchen window.  It was a sight she never thought she would see.  Ian and Luke both had their shirts off and were pulling together the rubbish that the three of them had cleared from the garden.  The garden looked amazing, but so did the two men without their shirts.

She pulled the burgers from the fridge.  Maybe later she would build a barbecue in the garden.  Right now, she was happy to put them on a rack in the oven just above the baked potatoes.  They were too thick and juicy to grill.  The green salad was bought and in bags in the fridge.  In a few months she would be able to eat out of her own garden, but until then she would have to make do with bagged salad and shop coleslaw.  At least the chocolate cake for dessert was home made.

She kept flicking glances out of the window as she laid the table, buttered bread rolls and made a large pot of tea.  She really wasn’t used to half dressed, handsome men within a few yards of her.  Ian was a little older and slightly slimmer with lean muscles and a determined attitude.  Jeanette could see what Steve meant.  He was trying to hide from something with hard work, trying to lose his inner demons.  Luke was much calmer and working at a steadier pace, though he was still making a huge difference.  For a moment Jeanette felt a lump in her throat.  These men had taken an afternoon away from their own lives to help her, refusing any reward, and they had made such a difference.  The new plants were all arranged in the polytunnels ready for Jeanette to plant up as she needed.  The path to the field had been cleared so that when Jeanette hired a rotovator later in the week it would have easy access.  And now the garden was cleared and the beds dug over.  The compost heap was already well stacked and there was enough dried branches and twigs for a bonfire later.  She stuck her head out of the door.  “Dinner is almost ready.”

The men looked up.  “We’ll be right there.” Luke said.  He looked at Ian.  “She’s got the good burgers from the butchers just past the Post Office.  They’re better than a lot of steak.”

“I am hungry.” Ian said as he straightened and looked around him.  “We’ve made a difference today.  I think that we have earned the good burgers.”

Luke nodded.  “I’ll ache tonight.  Come on.  I’ll use my bathroom, you can use the one downstairs.”

Luke left Ian and ran lightly upstairs to his en suite. He caught sight of himself in the mirror, sweat stained and muddy.  He could do with a shower but there wasn’t really time.  He had missed a lot of opportunities this afternoon.  He ran water into the sink and tried not to blame himself.  He should have said something to Ian.   But most of the time Jeanette had been with them.  And how did you lead up to something like that?  By the way, I liked the way you killed the vampire the other night.  What if had been mistaken?  What if it hadn’t been Ian but someone who looked like him?  No, it had been Ian.  There was the same focused determination, the same economy of movement and concentration.  Luke splashed water over his face.  But Ian was very much a part of the White Hart.  It was clear when Ian talked.  He saw the people at the White Hart as family, and he was deeply loyal to them.

Luke tried to think back to the day when he had realised that there was more going on at the White Hart than met the eye.  The old woman, probably the one Jeanette called Mrs Tuesday, had been spinning them some yarns.  Looking back, he could tell that she was leading them on.  And Tim had been deliberately pushing his luck with the hard case in the café, picking on his parents and trying to start a fight.  Luke started towelling himself dry.  Completely trashing a car down to its frame was an over-reaction, but did it mean that the White Hart was evil?  Or perhaps Mrs Tuesday knew about curses because she fought them?  Luke grabbed a clean shirt from the wardrobe.  Jeanette was always half asleep by nine.  She never stayed up late.  Perhaps he could persuade Ian to hang around a little longer and ask him some questions after she had gone to bed.  If not, there were bound to be other chances now that he knew how to get hold of Ian.  It looked like he was finally going to get some answers.

Discovery

Freydis strolled in, immaculate in a silky blouse and slim jeans.  “Why is a man fixing the side door?” She tossed her cute leather jacket over the back of a chair and ran a caressing hand over the coffee machine as she switched it on.

Fiona looked up from the mug of tea she was clutching.  “Ian caught Callum kissing Adele, or rather, Adele kissing Callum.  Apparently, Ian growled at Callum, Adele shouted at Ian, Ian growled at Adele, Callum swung at Ian, Ian gave Callum a lesson then slammed out which is what broke the door, Adele handed in her notice and went home to cry, Callum is skulking in the warehouse with a black eye and Mrs Tuesday is in late today as she has an appointment with the chiropractor.” She shuddered.  “Dave can’t manage much apart from Tarot reading, Kadogan is off with Lord Ragnar doing something awful to a pit of revenants and Steve has an urgent errand to Birmingham and won’t be back until late this afternoon.”

“I see.” Freydis said, straightening the coloured grasses in the vase next to the coffee machine.  “I shall be absent tomorrow as Lord Marius has agreed to meet me at Aldgate in Londinium and take me to a place where they sell coffee from all over the world.”

Fiona just nodded wearily.  “That’s great.  I’ve called Jeanette and she’s coming in today to help out.  I’ve told her to get a taxi.”

“That is probably the most pragmatic thing to do.” Freydis started to set up the café.  “Perhaps you should call Mrs Anderson.  She and Mrs Tuesday do the refreshments at church.”

“I’m not sure that she would be interested.” Fiona wasn’t sure she was up to two elderly boggarts terrorising the kitchen.”

“Why don’t you call Mrs Tuesday?” Freydis suggested as she counted the bags of coffee.  “She could speak plainly with Mrs Anderson and perhaps Mrs Cadwallader.  Excellent – the bread and milk delivery has arrived in good time.  I shall unload it.  What will you do without me tomorrow?”

“I can’t imagine.” Fiona pushed herself up from the chair, put the mug down firmly and visibly pulled herself together.  “But I’m not going to give in.  We have two coach parties booked today, both non-normal.  I’ll start the prep in the back.”  After all, Fiona thought, it was better to worry about coach parties than the two werewolves scrapping in the shop.

Dave’s shoulder ached.  He had jarred it in the shower this morning and it was throbbing relentlessly.  He forced himself to focus.  He was back in Lord Ragnar’s study with Darren, Kadogan and Miss Patience and it wasn’t the safest of places even if they were currently allies.  “Steve should get the crystals back here by late afternoon.  He needs to make sure that they are the ones we need.  Then he and Ian can work out a good placement for them.”

“Then they can tell us where to put the stones,” Lord Ragnar said, “But I do not understand what that will do.”

Dave tried to explain for the seventh time, scratching around for the right way to frame it.  “Something dark, something vampiric, is sending out energy, right?” He watched Lord Ragnar’s uncertain nod.  “The crystals block that energy.” Lord Ragnar nodded again.  “But we don’t want the energy building up in the crystals in case it just overflows and goes into the burials anyway, right?” Lord Ragnar’s nod was even less certain.  “Now, if we put the crystals in the right places, the energy reflects back, right?” Lord Ragnar didn’t even manage a nod.  “And then we may be able to track the energy back to its source.”

“Steve Adderson understands this, doesn’t he?” Lord Ragnar said, looking anxiously around his bewildered advisors.

“Try this.” Darren pulled out his key chain and a small hand mirror.  “Miss Patience, please hold the mirror so that it faces me.”

Miss Patience took the mirror and held it gingerly in front of her.  “Like this?”

“Turn the glass so that it directly faces me.” Darren said.  “That’s it.” He shone the small LED light on his keychain directly at the mirror.  The beam was clearly defined in the dim study.  “Right, Miss Patience, please could you. turn the mirror to the left, nice and slow.  That’s it.”  The beam was now no longer just bouncing back towards Darren but now angled towards a corner where something bulbous squeaked and crawled away.  He looked at Lord Ragnar and tried to frame his words to fit the elfen mind.  “The light beam is not the energy that is waking the revenants, but it is a drawing that helps us to understand.”

Lord Ragnar nodded slowly.  “So, these crystals would act in the manner of a mirror.  And the revenants would sleep.”

“And if we can track back the path of the energy, using Science,” Darren knew when to cut short explanations to elfen, “We can find where the energy is coming from.”

“So, this is Science as well as magic?  How truly wonderful.  Ian Tait is an asset as he understands both.  We must talk to Kieran Latimer about him.  Where is he?”

Kadogan held up an apologetic hand.  “There’s been an incident at the White Hart.  We’re not sure where he is.”

Ian forced himself back into the White Hart.  He had failed.  After all this time, all this effort, he had failed.  He was just a worthless stray.  He took a deep breath.  He needed to speak to Kadogan or Steve and work out what was going to happen next.  He had apologised to Callum, who had understood.  Ian nearly stumbled.  That understanding had bitten into him harder than any tooth.  Callum had begged him to try and stay, to keep as his leader.  Ian understood.  Callum could get a reputation as a bit of a dog with the ladies and then he would never get accepted into any decent pack.  But what could he do?  How could he stay at the White Hart now?

Fiona looked up as he walked in.  Ian’s heart hurt.  How could he have let Fiona down after all she had done for him.  She had been supportive and kind, even when he first came here and all she knew was that he was a werewolf that had summoned a demon.

“Ian, I’m glad you’re okay.  Come and have a quick word in the office.” Fiona gave a quick nod to Mrs Tuesday and ran up the stairs to the office.  Ian trudged after her, following her into the small room and closing the door.  He couldn’t bear anyone hearing what was likely to be said.  He stood there, waiting.

“Ian, Callum explained everything to me.” Fiona said quietly.  To Ian’s shock she wrapped her arms around him in the most comforting, sisterly hug he had ever had.  For a moment he froze, then pulled away.

“I can’t let you near me.  What if I break like I did this morning?  What if I hurt you.” Ian’s heart broke at the thought of it.  “I can’t be trusted.”

Fiona took a firm hold of his hand.  “After speaking to Kadogan, Callum and Mrs Tuesday, you acted exactly how Kieran Latimer would have acted, you enforced the pack order, which you need, and then Callum rang and said you had spoken to him.  I know I don’t really understand, but I want you to know that I’m okay with you, that you’re okay here, that as long as there aren’t too many fights, it’s all good.”

Ian sank into the hard office chair and stared at Fiona.  “But what if I hurt you?”

“What if you don’t?” Fiona perched on the desk.  “You have been an absolute lifeline to the White Hart, I’d trust you with my life, Mrs Tuesday would trust you with her life and that is saying something and while I don’t understand, you are still okay.  Just don’t break too many doors.”

Ian struggled to frame words.  He didn’t deserve this.  “But what am I going to do?”

“I’ve managed a quick phone call with Steve, and we’ve decided that you’re going to take the rest of the day off.  Mrs Tuesday suggested that you do some hard labour, but I think something relaxing might be better.  Then Steve and Kadogan work hard to find you a partner.”  Fiona shifted uncomfortably.  “I really don’t understand that bit.  But I hope that tomorrow you’ll be able to come into work, get back to normal and don’t worry.” Fiona squeezed Ian’s hand.  “We all love you here.  Even Adele says it’s okay and she will be in tomorrow.”

“I don’t deserve this.” Ian shook his head, his ears ringing and his heart pounding.  He struggled to catch his breath.  “What if I go bad?”

“We’ll worry about that if it happens.  Now go out and relax!” Fiona gave his hand another squeeze.  “I had better give them a hand downstairs.  Take your time.”

“I need to be back here tonight to help Steve with the crystals.” Ian said, sitting up a little straighter.  “Your husband is a good man, but he can’t do maths.”

“I can’t argue with that.” Fiona said.  “I’m the one who keeps the accounts and he can never keep his trading straight.”

“And we need everyone we can get with these revenants.” Ian said, a hint of colour coming back into his face.

“We really do.” Fiona agreed.

Ian frowned.  “I could dig over Jeanette’s garden for her.  I think she may have bitten off more than she can chew, and it would be a shame if she fell behind after helping out the White Hart.”

“Have a word with her.” Fiona said, standing up.  “Now I had better get back to the shop before Mrs Tuesday comes to find me.”

Luke stared out of the kitchen window.  Ian was working with steady purpose as he dug over the beds in the garden.  There was something going on, Luke could tell, as he watched Ian methodically and relentlessly attack his task.  He didn’t look like a man who wanted to be interrupted.  Ian looked like a man trying to work out some inner demon.  Luke tapped restlessly on the window ledge.  On the other hand, when was he going to get a better opportunity?  Jeanette was busy in York and wouldn’t be back for a few hours.  He didn’t have a deadline until next week.  There was little chance of interruptions.

Luke swallowed.  He’d missed his chance before because he had lost his nerve.  What did he say?  This was far harder than fighting the vampire.  He took a deep breath.  It was just as necessary.  He couldn’t keep going on his own.  Besides, Ian looked like he knew what he was doing, which was more than Luke did.  He had to take this chance.

Ian looked up as Luke came out.  He knocked some dark soil off the spade and straightened up.  “Hi, Jeanette said it was okay to come out here and get some exercise.  It makes a change from the gym.” He noted Luke’s tense expression and pale face.  “Is everything alright?”

“I saw you kill a vampire.” Luke said.  For a heartbeat he closed his eyes.  What a way to start a conversation.

Ian thrust the spade into the ground and looked steadily at Luke.  “Would you like to explain some more?”

“It was last week, at the back of the White Hart.  You fought a vampire and then staked it.  Then you put the bones in a bag.” Luke tried to keep breathing.  “You were really calm.”

Ian brushed the dirt off his hands.  “Did you go to the police?”

Luke shook his head.  “I don’t think that they would believe me.”

“Let’s go inside and talk about this.  Have you spoken to anyone else about this?” Ian picked up the spade and propped it inside one of the polytunnels.

Luke’s mind raced.  Was Ian asking to know if Luke could safely be eliminated.  That’s what it always meant in the films.  Did anyone else know?  If they didn’t then there was nothing to stop someone knowing inconvenient truths vanishing.  Luke remembered the economy of effort Ian had used against the vampire.  He was far more battle hardened than Luke.  This could go very wrong.  “No, I haven’t spoken to anyone else.”

“I could do with a cuppa.” Ian said, leading the way inside.  “And you will need one.  I’ll let you make them while I go and wash my hands.”

Jeanette muttered darkly to herself as she changed the till roll.  Both the till and the till roll were designed to be easy to change, but they weren’t co-operating.

Freydis looked over her shoulder.  “Is it meant to look like that?”

“No.” Jeanette tried folding the edge over.  It didn’t help.  “Can you pass me the scissors please?”

Freydis handed over the scissors and watched Jeanette snip off the crinkled end of the till roll.  “But now we have less till roll.”

“It can’t be helped.” Jeanette tried again.  Finally, the paper behaved, and she snapped the cover in place.  “Right.”

“That till seems to have a mind of its own.” Mrs Tuesday said from the café.

“Do you think it is possessed by an evil spirit?” Freydis asked casually as she wandered back to the coffee machine.

“You would have to ask Darren.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “These days everything seems to be possessed.”

Jeanette looked at them and decided to steer the subject away from haunted tills.  “I’ve never been on any of the Ghost walks.  There are a few in York, aren’t there?  Are they any good?”

“I haven’t been on any myself.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If my back behaves we can maybe go on one together and see what they are like.”

“It may be a good idea to wait for a little while.” Freydis suggested.  “A lot of the regular ghosts are staying out of the way with all the latest activity.”

Jeanette stared at Freydis.  Who said things like that?  She was almost relieved to see Ferdi as he came in with a wide grin on his ugly face.

“Hello, ladies.  May I have a wonderful beverage from the angel of the coffee machine.” Ferdi bowed low to Freydis who giggled. “Black, two sugars.”

“I shall conjure an Americano straight away.” Freydis reached for a cup.  “On the house, of course.”

“That is very generous of you, sweetheart.” Ferdi leaned against the counter.  “Is the boss in?”

“I think Steve has just got back from Birmingham.” Jeanette said.  “I can go and get him for you.”

“Thank you, darling.  And where is the lovely Adele?  Don’t tell me she’s spoken for.” Ferdi sauntered over to the café.

“She’s spoken for,” Mrs Tuesday grinned.  “Jeanette is single.”

“I’m not looking for anyone special right at this moment.” Jeanette said quickly.

“If she was she would probably take up with Ian Tait.” Freydis said, handing Ferdi his coffee.  “I am sure you will enjoy this coffee.  It is blended Arabica.”

“But it won’t be as sweet as you, sweetheart.” Ferdi said.

“I’ll go and get Steve.” Jeanette said, making her escape.

“Hi, Ferdi.” Steve had left his jacket in the back room and he had rolled up his shirt sleeves.  “I’m not in a good place to talk right now.  I’ve had a foul journey up from Birmingham, there was breakdown at Junction 41 and then I got caught by roadworks.  I’ve got a lot of magic to do later and not all of it is straightforward.”

“Stevie, it’s good to see you.” Ferdi grinned even wider.  “I thought I would stop by and see what your rates are for bulk deliveries of rose petals.”

“What?” Steve stared.

“I’m setting up a deal and I need around a hundred kilos of rose petals.  It’s quite a specialist order, and there are a lot of places online that can do them, but I know I can count on you for quality and a decent credit line.” Ferdi stirred sugar into his coffee.

Freydis leaned on the café counter.  “What can you possibly want with rose petals?” she asked.

Steve sighed.  “You’re going to fake alien sightings, aren’t you?”

“I’ve got the elfen on standby and a ghost writer already half way through the first draft.  All I need is the rose petals at the right price.”

Steve shook his head.  “I don’t think we can run credit.  We took a big hit with the fire.  But for the sake of the sale I can manage a discount for bulk.”

“You are permitting the faking of aliens?” Freydis asked as Mrs Tuesday started to laugh in the background.

“I can’t stop him with the aliens, so I may as well get the sale of the rose petals.” Steve said.  “And at least we don’t have to deal with the publication.”

Steve had spread some large scale maps of York out in one of the back rooms at the White Hart when Ian walked in, fresh from the shower.  Steve looked up briefly.  “Are you okay?”

Ian shrugged.  “I need a girl.  It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I need a partner.  First things first, though.  I’ve found our vampire hunter.”

Steve stood up quickly.  “What happened?”

“Do you remember Mr and Mrs Appuck stripped down a car after the owner had upset them?” Ian asked.

Darren looked up from the crystals he had been praying over.  “Hang on, slim lad, dark hair?”

“From the sound of it, he was skinny then, but he’s been working out.” Ian grinned.  “It’s a guy called Luke Fawcett, Jeanette’s lodger.  The business with the Appucks shocked him.  To be fair, dealing with the Appucks is traumatic for anyone.  He wasn’t the ring leader, but he was along with the lads and I think he got the shock of his life.  He remembered a lot of the stuff he had seen in here, and, of course, all the horror stories Mrs Tuesday was trying to sell.  The Appucks were a bit too much for him.”

“He’s not wrong.” Darren said fervently.  He had had the Appucks in his congregation for years and they were a hazard to any minister.  “I think I saw him in the car park once.”

“He said he had been back, and that he had spoken to someone who recommended church.” Ian grinned even more.  “So he got religion, started working out and was bracing himself to take on the den of evil that is the White Hart.”

Steve groaned.  “We’re not going to have a situation, are we?”

“He’s having a tough time with it.” Ian said.  “And who can he talk to?  He’s convinced that Darren is in league with our evil…”

“Great.” Darren said.  “Though I’m not sure he’s wrong.  I’m getting caught up in a lot of magic these days, and it’s not really my place.”

“I know,” Ian was sympathetic.  “But who else can Luke ask?  Any other source is likely to tell him that vampires don’t exist, curses are all about psychology, and has he been taking anything illegal.  I’ve arranged for him to meet Dave tomorrow.”

“What did you tell him?” Darren asked.

“I told him about non-normals, the difference between the revenants and vampires, some of the stuff that’s been happening, the White Hart…” Ian thought for a moment.  “I think I covered the basics.  He saw me destroy one of the revenants and he knows that I’m a werewolf.  I don’t think he’s watched too many films so we have a chance.”

“Is he willing to help out?” Darren put the crystals on the table and for a moment his weariness shone through.  “Because we need all the help we can get.”

“I think he’s keen to help.” Ian said.  “But he’s not sure about Dean.”

“Nobody’s sure about Dean.” Steve said, smoothing out the maps.

Ian exchanged a glance with Darren.  “At least Luke is willing to pitch in.  We can see how it goes.”  He took a deep breath.  “Any news about girlfriends?”

Steve shook his head.  “I’ve picked up quite a bit of chatter about all sorts of lonely hearts, but nothing that would suit you.  I’m not suggesting you match up with a boggart or an elfen.”

Ian shuddered.  “I’m not against boggarts in most ways, but I’m not…” Words failed him.

“Absolutely.” Steve said.  “And an elfen would drive you nuts.”

“That’s what they are born to do.” Darren said.  “Freydis is bad enough to work with.  I mean, she’s doing okay with the coffee machine and that, and is less temperamental than most, but can you imagine her ‘little ways’ at the breakfast table?” There was a collective shudder.

“I’ll keep looking,” Steve said.  “But right now lets work out the placement of these crystals.”

Friends

“You’re welcome to join us any time for prayers.” Sir Ewan said, leading Luke into the Citadel.  “Ian said that you followed the fasting rules, and that you seemed comfortable with faith.”

“Thanks.” Luke said, looking around.  He was in a citadel of the Knights Templar.  It was not what he had expected.  He had expected more stained glass.

Sir Ewan grinned.  “We still have to keep below the radar, even these days.  People have some strange ideas.  But this place suits us and our needs.”

“It’s nice.” Luke said.  He took a breath.  It felt safe in ways he couldn’t explain.  He half smiled to himself.  A bogeyman couldn’t get in here.  The room was scrubbed and plain, with faded cream walls and a plain, beige carpet.  Worn sofas and armchairs were ranged around the room and Sir Ewan gestured at a couple of chairs in a corner.

“Take a seat.”  He looked around.  “I suppose it could do with a touch up.”

“No, it looks great.” Luke sat down.  “It just looks…” He searched for the words.  “It looks like a place of faith.”

“It is.” Sir Ewan leaned back into the armchair.  “It’s mainly Knights Templar here, or a priest.  Sometimes we get an imam or a shaman here, but it’s mainly just us and we try and remember what the order should be about.  We lost our way, back in the beginning, but now we have our proper purpose.”  He relaxed.  “How much has Ian told you?”

“He said it wasn’t just mankind against monsters.” Luke said.  “I’m not sure about that.”

“I know what you mean.” Sir Ewan nodded.  “It gets complicated.  But if you think of the non-normals – the werewolves and boggarts and that – and remember that the same percentage of them is likely to go bad as normals, then you can take some comfort.  Take Ian, for example.  He’s one of the steadiest people on our side at the moment, willing to turn out at a moment’s notice, very devout, you would say he was rock solid.  But it’s not that long ago that he summoned a demon and caused a lot of problems.  To be fair, he didn’t mean to summon a demon and he’s tried to put it right ever since.” Sir Ewan glanced up at the plain wooden cross on the wall.  “Who is without sin?  We’ve all got pasts.”

“He said that vampires were hunting vampires.” Luke said.  “It doesn’t make sense.”

“It does if you think about cops chasing robbers.” Sir Ewan said.  “They may both have fangs, but the good guys are chasing the bad guys.”

“Is it the same?” Luke asked.

Sir Ewan grimaced.  “Not really.  The vampires are always one step away from death, elfen are psychotic, boggarts are insane and a werewolf without a pack – like Ian – is a liability.  But then you get the ones who just keep trying to do the right thing.” He sighed.  “We’ve just got to keep going and do our best, just like everyone.  Come on.  I’ll show you the gym and we can see where you are before patrolling tonight.”

Lord Ragnar seemed almost diffident as he approached the café in the White Hart.  “I would like a latte, please.”

“Of course, your lordship.” Adele said, picking up the mug.  “On the house.”

Lord Ragnar looked around.  “Where is my former wife?”

Fiona had come out from the back room.  “Good morning, Lord Ragnar.  Freydis has gone down to London to buy speciality coffee.  She’s made a few plans, has worked out a budget and has some great ideas.  She wanted to see what was on offer.”

“Freydis does not understand London.” Lord Ragnar said.  “She will become bewildered and lost.  Perhaps I should go and find her.”

“It’s okay,” Fiona said cheerfully.  “She said she would find Lord Marius down there.  He had some parcels for Lord Laurentius anyway, so I think he was happy to help her.”

“Lord Marius has never suggested that he does anything for Freydis.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Of course, Freydis does have her good points and is a wonderful companion in war.”

“I don’t think that they’re even travelling together.” Fiona said.  “Lord Marius just said he would make an introduction.”

“And then she will owe him a favour.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.  “I wonder what he will ask?  Freydis has some excellent connections.”

“I think he just likes the coffee she makes.” Fiona said.  “Freydis is incredibly skilled with the coffee machine these days.”

Lord Ragnar sipped his coffee.  “Freydis does have many skills.”  He looked at the coloured grasses around the coffee machine.  “I trust that Lord Marius is aware of her value.”

“Would you like some meringue with honey?” Fiona asked, desperate to change the subject.  “We’re trying out some new ideas ahead of the official re-opening.”

“Meringue with honey?” Lord Ragnar’s eyes sparkled.

“Yep,” Adele pulled out a small dish.  “Meringue with spiced honey and crushed, freeze dried strawberries.  It gives me toothache just thinking about it.”

“We were thinking about serving some with rose petals.” Fiona knew how to appeal to an elfen.  “I would value your ideas.  You are known as having exquisite taste.”

“What does Freydis think of them?” Lord Ragnar asked, watching Adele spooning honey laced with cloves and cinnamon over crushed meringue.

“It was her suggestion.” Mrs Tuesday was apparently not watching Lord Ragnar’s expression in the reflection in the window as she wiped down the counter.

Lord Ragnar graciously accepted the small bowl from Adele and nodded.  “Freydis has always had good taste.  I just wish she had used more of her own discretion when we were married.  It could have been quite magnificent.  Of course, Lord Marius has a position in Leeds, which would benefit from advice from someone with the style of Freydis.” His spoon hovered over the bowl.

“I suppose she would advise him if he asked her to.” Mrs Tuesday continued to wipe the clean counter.  “They are always perfectly pleasant to each other.  Never a cross word.”

“Really?” Lord Ragnar relaxed a little and took a large spoonful of the sweet mixture.  “I’m sure I’m not jealous of Freydis.  After all, she is a free woman and it was I who filed the divorce.”

“Absolutely.” Mrs Tuesday said, spraying some more cleaner on the clean counter and continuing to wipe.  “Lord Marius has too much on his plate for now to court Freydis.”

“I suppose he isn’t looking for anyone at the moment.” Lord Ragnar put the spoon down.  “But there are many rumours and prophecies about Leeds.  He will not always be so occupied.  And Steve Adderson has taken over many of the duties of carrying messages and letters which frees up some of his time.”

Mrs Tuesday turned and looked straight at Lord Ragnar.  “You don’t need to worry about Freydis and Lord Marius.  Getting jealous when there is no reason won’t help anyone.  Lord Marius has always been a good friend to you, as much as the elfen are, and he will have enough on his hands in Leeds if I’m reading the signs right.  How is the meringue?”

Lord Ragnar took another spoonful.  “It is quite exquisite.” He sighed.  “Of course, I can’t stop Freydis dallying where she will.  I couldn’t when we were married.”

“I don’t know anything about that.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She wrung out her cloth.  “I don’t like to speculate.”

Lord Ragnar searched for another topic of conversation.  “Perhaps we can serve these at your anniversary dinner, Fiona.  I know many would appreciate them.  I’ve had a word with a very reliable firm of brownie caterers from Leeds and they would be happy to fit in with all requirements.”

“What?” Fiona’s heart sank.

“I have decided to throw you and your husband a wedding anniversary party.  After all, I never managed to properly celebrate your marriage, and after all that you did for me.” Lord Ragnar scraped up the last traces of the meringue and honey.

“I love anniversary parties.” Adele handed Lord Ragnar some frozen raspberries dusted with icing sugar and took away his empty bowl.  “The last one I went to was our Gwen’s.  She’d been married ten years, which was a record for her mum’s kids, and it was so romantic.  The police weren’t called or anything.  Mind you, we think our Phil’s girlfriend nicked a couple of bottles of the champagne.”

“Are you sure you’re not related to boggarts?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “Our side of the family are considered dull, but when my cousin Pearl had her silver wedding, they had to demolish the venue.”

“I heard about that celebration.” Lord Ragnar said with some respect.  “I didn’t realise it was your cousin.  I believe the bomb squad were called in.”

“That was nothing to do with us.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “The landlord had been trying to fiddle the electricity and got it all wrong.  But when they saw all the wires along with all the rest, well, I can’t say I blame them.”

“This anniversary party,” Fiona said, trying to get some control over the conversation.  “What?”

“I decided that you needed the party.  It goes nowhere near paying off the considerable debt that I owe you, but it shows my appreciation.  And you must know that a great many people would like to wish you well.” Lord Ragnar savoured the taste of the raspberries.  “This is like summer and winter dancing.  You are to be commended, Fiona Adderson.”

Fiona struggled for words.  “But who is coming?  Where is it taking place?  How do I contact these brownies?  Do I need to sort out decorations?”

“It’s all in hand.” Lord Ragnar waved his spoon vaguely.  “I suggest you wear pink.  You look delightful in pink.”

“Don’t make Freydis jealous of Fiona again.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “We have enough on our hands.”

Lord Ragnar nodded.  “Also, it would be unwise to awake any anger in Steve Adderson.”

“And who knows what I may feel about it.” Fiona said.

“Hmm?  I wonder if I may trouble you for some more of these delightful raspberries?” Lord Ragnar passed the bowl back to Adele.

Mrs Tuesday wiped the counter again.

Ian hesitated as he dropped Jeanette off.  “I know this is a crazy ask, but do you want any more help in the garden.  I need to keep busy.”

“You’ve organised the warehouse too efficiently.” Jeanette said.  “It runs like clockwork.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Ian smiled.  “It was good to get things sorted out.  Fiona is alright but Kadogan gets carried away with the candles and Steve is hardly here.”

“I’d be glad of any help, but I can’t afford to pay.” Jeanette said hesitantly.  “I mean, I don’t mind making you a meal or something…”

“Honestly, you’ll be doing me a favour.” Ian said with absolute truth.  “But you’ll have to tell me what to do.  I’m okay at the heavy lifting, but I’m not sure about plants.”

“That’s okay.” Jeanette said. “I’ll let you know.”

“What needs doing tonight?” Ian asked.

“Tonight?” Jeanette asked.

Ian grinned.  “No time like the present.  Besides, Mrs Tuesday is away this evening with Mrs Anderson and I’d have to make my own food.  Callum is getting fish and chips.  You mentioned feeding me.”

Jeanette laughed.  “Okay, I’ll make you dinner and while I’m doing that you can start by watering in the polytunnels.”

“Deal!” Ian pulled the van up the long drive and parked neatly by the door.

Jeanette smiled as Ian leapt out of the van and immediately hooked up the hose.  She went inside at a slower pace.  Luke’s note was weighted down on the kitchen table, letting her know that she wasn’t to worry but he wouldn’t be back until late.  That made things a little more awkward.  She had felt very comfortable eating dinner alone with Luke, so why should she feel any different when it was just her and Ian.  For some reason it felt different.  She shrugged and checked the slow cooker.  The meaty chilli was simmering away nicely.  She only had the rice to make.  She glanced out of the window.  Ian was moving with a purpose down the polytunnel and looked like he had the energy to dig all evening.  It was time to break out the frozen garlic bread.

She had no idea what was going on with Ian.  She kept glancing out of the window as she set the table.  He had soaked the plants inside the polytunnel and now was inspecting the structure.  If he gave her any advice on how to organise the plants, she was going to take it.  She had never seen a warehouse so well organised.  She had never seen anywhere so well organised.  Unfortunately, it was so well organised that it didn’t take up a quarter of Ian’s bursting energy that was now being focussed on the path outside the polytunnel.  It wasn’t a natural energy, she thought as she got out the mugs.  It was like he was trying to outrun something.  She knew that he and Callum had had some sort of punch up, but she didn’t know what it was about.  Perhaps Ian had made a move on Adele?  It didn’t seem like the sort of thing Ian would do.  Jeanette poured the boiling water into the teapot.  She couldn’t work out what was going on with Adele and Callum and perhaps Ian had got sucked into something.  If so, it was a shame.  Ian was a good man.

She opened the kitchen door and called to Ian.  “Dinner’s ready.”

Ian jogged towards the house.  “I’m starving.  Where’s Luke?  I’ll eat his share if he’s late.”

“He’s out.” Jeanette said.  “He left a note that he’s meeting someone in York.”

Ian had a good idea where Luke was but said nothing as he washed his hands.  “Is there anything I can help with?”

“It’s fine.  Take a seat.  I hope you’re hungry.  I always make a load for Luke as he eats like a horse, and I’m always starving after running around at the White Hart.” Jeanette put a plate of garlic bread on the table and then placed a large plate of chilli in front of Ian.  “It’s not very spicy.  I’m a bit of a wimp, so I make a mild chilli and let Luke add as much extra heat as he wants.” She put the chilli pepper grinder next to Ian.

“I’m not bothered.” Ian said.  “I’ve got used to Mrs Tuesday’s cooking.  She’s a great cook but her curries don’t taste of curry.  They taste great,” He added hurriedly, “But they taste of good chicken or pork, not spices.  I can’t cook.”

Jeanette thought that if Ian turned his mind to it he could probably cook anything.  “It’s nice to know something Mrs Tuesday doesn’t do well.”

“She’s had a long time to practise stuff.  Do you mind if we say Grace?”

Jeanette shook her head and waited for Ian to say a few quiet words before starting.  At least she had got the rice right this time.  “Thank you for watering the plants.”

“Not a problem.” Ian took a large forkful of the chilli.  “This is great.  By the way, I can probably rig you up an irrigation system if you want.  I can probably get it rigged up with hosepipes, but you really want proper piping.  It should be easy enough to work from the water main and it would save a lot of time.”

Jeanette stared at him.  Getting irrigation in the polytunnel would be a real help, but it had always seemed impossibly out of reach.  “Would that be incredibly expensive?”

“If you do it right, it would be a couple of hundred for materials,” Ian admitted, “But it would be worth it.  If you don’t have to spend time watering, then you’ve got time to make the cards and the stuff that Fiona is stocking in the ‘local artisan’ corner.  It will give you the time to make more money and it will probably pay for itself by the end of the summer.”

Jeanette ate a few mouthfuls in silence.  “Ian, I can’t possibly ask you to do this for nothing and I can’t pay you…”

“You don’t understand, Jeanette, I need to be doing.” Ian’s hands tightened around his fork.  “I’ve made a mess of my life, I’m at risk of making a mess of Callum’s and if I can be working then at least I’m not thinking about it.  And I enjoy plumbing.  I wouldn’t go back to it full time, I’m having a great time at the White Hart, but I like to keep my hand in.  I’ve still got my trade card for a few places in Halifax so I could get a good deal on the piping.”  There was a pause.

“I tell you what,” Jeanette said, “Let me know what stuff you need, and I’ll see what I can scrounge up before we spend any money.  You know?  Looking at the free ads, asking at salvage yards, that sort of stuff.”

Ian’s eyes lit up.  “It sounds like a challenge.  It’s a deal.  Some stuff can’t be skimped on,” he warned, “But we can have fun looking.”

“And I’ll keep you fed.” Jeanette said.  “It’s the least I can do.” She wondered about saying anything else, about offering a sympathetic ear, about letting him know that she would be there for him.  She looked across at him, his face alive as he ate another mouthful.  She could see his mind racing and chasing ideas.  Now was not the time to break that mood, she decided.

Steve followed Atherton into a new room in Lord Ragnar’s domain.  He didn’t like working magic in areas which weren’t entirely under his control, but he was okay with the elfen feel here.  Lord Ragnar had arranged it as he preferred.  This meant that Steve was looking at a flat rock in the middle of a dimly lit glade with a door set improbably into an oak tree. He had worked with worse.  “Thank you for setting this up.” Steve said politely.

“My pleasure.” Lord Ragnar hesitated.  “I’ve spoken to your wife about the anniversary party.  I’m sure you will enjoy it greatly.”

Steve chose his words.  “It is very good of you to host a party for us.  I’m sure it will be a splendid occasion.”

“Excellent.” Lord Ragnar beamed.  “Now, all we need to do is find a mate for Ian and stop these dark menaces.”

“It’s going to be easier to stop this darkness, whatever it is.” Steve said.  “I’ve brought the second lot of crystals.”

“The blessed crystals are already in place.  I had the gnomes put them where directed and they are protecting such places as the White Hart and here.” Lord Ragnar frowned.  “I fear I agree with you.  The sort of person who would marry a werewolf who summoned a demon would not be suitable for a fine, upstanding young werewolf like Ian.”

“I keep hearing about Jasmine, the one who got thrown out from the Liverpool pack.” Steve said.  “I’ve only heard about her fighting.  Do you know anything else about her?”

Lord Ragnar shook his head.  “She is quite young, about 20, I believe, and has not had time to earn much of a reputation apart from the dreadful fighting.”

“It must have been bad for a werewolf pack to throw her out.” Steve said.  He leaned on the rock and looked at the map spread out, weighted with small rocks and twigs.  “Are you confident that the gnomes placed the blessed crystals in the correct places?  I need to check because they could interfere with the magic.”

“Indeed.” Lord Ragnar leaned next to him.  “We have our own homes protected and also places that Darren deemed necessary, such as York Hospital and such like.  It would be a great inconvenience if the dead should animate from the hospital morgue.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Steve said with absolute truth.  “I am glad of your insight.  I suggest we get these crystals enchanted and start placing them around the main graveyards.  I’ll need to enchant this map to show the lines of energy.”

“And Ian Tait will do the Science to work out where everything is coming from.” Lord Ragnar said.  “And then we can fight it.”

“I hope it’s that simple.” Steve said.

A Quiet Evening

“I must be getting old.” Fiona said.  “But I can’t think of many better ways to spend an evening.” She stretched.  “I have some amazing cava in the fridge, a large box of chocolates, I have my crafting supplies, you have your knitting and all we need to do is cue up a box set.”

“And I don’t have anything to worry about other than whether the yarn will stand the pattern.” Karen said.  “No interruptions, no strange phone calls, no hassles – bliss!” There was a knock at the door.

“You had to say it!” Fiona said as she opened the door.  “Oh, hello Freydis…”

Freydis strolled past into Fiona’s flat.  “It has been three weeks since I visited London, the first coffee evening is tomorrow and then your anticipated anniversary party and you are not a mass of anxiety.” She looked at Karen.  “Who are you?”

Fiona closed the door and followed Freydis back into the living room.  “Freydis, this is Karen Doyle who is the wife of Mike Doyle, the paladin who is helping us out.  Karen, this is Freydis, an elfen who is a genius with a coffee machine.”

“Thank you, I am skilled with the coffee machine.  Why is Karen Doyle here instead of at the house of the paladin?  And why are you not nervous?”

“Why should I be nervous?” Fiona said.  “The brownies are doing an extra clean before the coffee evening, you have been practicing with the coffees and they taste amazing, Adele and Mrs Tuesday have sorted out the food and Jeanette is doing an extra evening at the till.  What could go wrong?”

“I thought you were supposed to be nervous.” Freydis frowned.  “Are you having a girls’ night in?  Good.  I could do with some female support.”

“What?” Karen stared at Freydis.

“I’ll get an extra glass.” Fiona said.  “But we all need to relax.  You have an important evening tomorrow where your reputation can be affected, I need a night away from worrying about Ian and Karen is finally getting away from being the Postmaster at the Village.  So I’m going to put on a box set, you can sit so you can’t see the screen and worry about the coffee, I can craft the cards and Karen can knit.  It will be just what we all need.”

“I suppose so.” Freydis pulled an armchair around so that she was safely away from the screen.  “Also, I would like advice from married ladies.”

Fiona came back from the kitchen with the bottle of wine and an extra glass.  “You were married far longer than either of us put together.  What can we tell you?”

Freydis suddenly looked faded.  The glorious gold of her hair dulled to a pale straw and the exquisite bone structure suddenly looked hollow and gaunt.  “Lord Ragnar asked me to go to dinner with him.”

“Didn’t you used to be married to him?” Karen asked.

“Indeed.” Freydis sighed.  “We got a lot of things wrong, even me.”

“What did he say?” Fiona asked.  It was the first time she had seen so much colour leave Freydis.

“He said that we could just have a nice meal to talk about old times.” Freydis slumped.  “And I thought pregnant women were no longer allowed alcohol.”

“I’m not pregnant.” Fiona said, opening the bottle.

“No, Karen is.  Congratulations.” Freydis managed a smile.  “It is much easier to have a boy than a girl, I believe, especially if the father is a paladin.  They can be very overprotective of girls.”

“I’m not pregnant.” Karen paused with her glass held out.  “Am I?”

“Oh yes,” Freydis was doing her best to be happy for Karen but Fiona could see the strain in her eyes.  Freydis held out her glass.  “Only a few weeks, but he’s very healthy.” She froze.  “Didn’t you know?”

“No.” Karen carefully put down her knitting.  “I mean, we were trying, but I didn’t think that we were…” She trailed off with a blank expression.

“I’ll get you some camomile tea.” Fiona said.  “If that’s okay?” She looked at Freydis.

“Peppermint is better.” Freydis said listlessly.

“I’ve got peppermint but why don’t I get your wine poured and I’ll bring some sugar cubes in.” Fiona darted back into the kitchen.

Freydis sighed.  “What have I done?  The books all say I should be elusive and play hard to get.  I said ‘yes’ straight away.” Her shoulders slumped further.  “I have failed at detachment.”

“It’s difficult.” Karen had absolutely no idea what to say, so fell back on some old favourites.  “I’m sure you’ll be fine if you follow your instincts.  It will all work out for the best.”

“I was so jealous, and he never seemed to care.” Freydis wrapped her arms around herself.  “I even endangered the court.  What will he do but berate me?”

“Perhaps he just wants to talk things over,” Karen suggested.  “Perhaps it’s an opportunity to clear the air and start afresh.” She was beginning to run out of platitudes.

“He doesn’t even like coffee.” Freydis said and started to sob.

“That’s not exactly true.” Fiona said as she came back with a cup of peppermint tea for Karen.  “He came in for a latte and asked for you.”

“He did?” Freydis took a breath and a little colour returned to her immaculate face.  “If he can drink coffee then perhaps we can be at least friends.”

“Absolutely.” Fiona said, pouring two glasses of wine.  She had never needed a glass more.

“And if we are friends then perhaps he will not hate me.” Freydis said, clutching the wine glass.

“I don’t think he exactly hates you.” Fiona said.  “I don’t really understand elfen, but I don’t think it’s exactly hate.”

“Our arguments have been spectacular.” Freydis said.  “But we failed to unite on other things.  I let him down.” She dropped a sugar cube into her wine.

“I’ve heard a few things about the argument at the White Hart.” Fiona wondered how on earth she was supposed to approach this.  “It sounded intense.”

Freydis shrugged.  “It was okay, but regrettably brief.  We had other things on our minds.”

“Kadogan told me that you had not known that you loved each other.” Fiona pushed on bravely.

“Indeed.  I thought he married me for power.  He thought I was compelled to marry him by my father.  We only found out that there had been love after the divorce.  Our efforts to provoke jealousy and attention backfired.”  Freydis sank lower in the chair.

“You were married for centuries.  Didn’t your father say anything.” Fiona had never found Freydis less irritating.  She exchanged a worried glance with Karen who was looking pale and oblivious to the conversation.

Freydis managed another listless shrug.  “Father wanted a son.  He didn’t care for me even if I wore a male glamour.  I suppose he found it amusing.”

“I’m really sorry.” Fiona said quietly.

Karen visibly pulled herself together.  “We’re not going to let ourselves get upset.  We are going to have a girl’s night in.  We have wine and peppermint tea, we have chocolates…” she gave a hesitant glance at Freydis who nodded, “and we have knitting.  Well, I have knitting.”

“I have my card making.” Fiona looked at Freydis.

“And I have a book about coffee.” Freydis said, rummaging in her fake Gucci handbag and pulling out a paperback.  She sat up straighter.  “I shall be a strong, confident and independent woman I was when I meet Lord Ragnar, and I am going to change my name.  I only used Freydis because he took a Viking name.  I am going to use my name to define me, not him.”

“Good for you,” Fiona said, hoping that it was a good idea.

“I shall use a coffee name.” Freydis said, taking a sip of her wine and adding another sugar cube.  “But I don’t think I shall use Latte.  It would be confusing at the White Hart.”

“Umm.” Fiona nodded.

“And Filter doesn’t have the right ring about it.” Freydis took a liqueur out of the box.  “Steamer also doesn’t quite have the feel I would like.  What boxed set do we have?”

I thought we could work through the X files.” Karen said.  “I’ve always liked them and it’s nice to have something unbelievable to watch.”

“I have not heard of them.” Freydis settled back into the chair, well out of sight of the screen.  “I look forward to it.” She pulled out a small piece of slated and propped it against the box of tissues on the table.  She muttered a few words and the slate started echoing the picture on the tv screen.  “And we can consider what my next name should be.”

Fiona started laying out the stamps she was planning to use.  “Sounds great.  I hope the lads are having a good time.”

Mike rode the punch and rolled away from the revenant.  The damn things were in a pack.  Across the small carpark, Dave slammed against a car, swearing as the car alarm went off.  Across from him Luke drove a stake into his opponent with focused determination and Ian swept the legs from underneath one of the taller creatures, tipping it to the ground.  Callum was struggling, trying to keep two of the creatures away from his neck, his muscles bulging.  Ian glanced quickly over, dispatched his with a clean swing of the stake, then raced to help Callum.

Mike regained his feet just in time to get hit hard from behind as a revenant slammed into his back, knocking him over.  The claws were ripping into his back before they were yanked away and he rolled over in time to see Kadogan reaching in under the ribcage to rip out a shrivelled heart.  This time he kept his feet as he stood up and raced towards Dave, still pinned against the car and his left shoulder once again at a strange angle as he held off the revenant with his right hand.  Mike spun it around to face him and thrust hard with a stake, lurching slight as the suddenly solid revenant collapsed and the stake was in mid air.  He glanced around quickly.  The small car park attached to the disused warehouse seemed to be swarming with them.  Luke was back to back keeping guard over Darren who was reading prayers over an unmarked burial pit.  There seemed to be a localised gale buffeting them, but they were holding firm.  Ian and Callum were fighting their way towards them against a growing wind.  Dave was still on the floor, retching and trying to pull his shoulder in.

“You idiot.” Mike snapped.  He grabbed Dave by the right shoulder and pulled him to his feet.  Dave nearly buckled.  Mike could feel the blood trickling down his back and he didn’t have time for this.  “Callum, get the injured out of here.”

The young werewolf ran towards Dave, ducking under grasping claws and hoisting Dave over his shoulders, ignoring Dave’s groan.  “I’ll get him to the White Hart.”

Mike kicked the revenant grabbing for Dave, connecting to the creature’s ribs with a satisfying snap and taking the slight loss of concentration as a chance to use a stake.  He glanced around again.  There must be nearly a dozen of the revenants in this small space and he was getting cut off from his friends.  Darren was struggling on as Luke, Ian and Kadogan battled to keep him safe.

Mike ducked his head and ploughed into the back of the nearest revenant.  It shrieked and turned, lunging at Mike and impaling itself on the stake he held in front of him.  The ground was littered with old bones and gravedust and the wind was spreading out from the attack on Darren.  Mike kicked the legs out from under another revenant before reaching his friends.  It was not looking good.  He braced and took kick to the ribs as he struggled to get a spare stake out of his pocket.  He blocked the next kick and punched up into the revenant’s face.  It was taller than him with dirty linen strips wrapped around what must have once been a brawny man.  As the creature’s head snapped back, Mike took advantage of the dropped guard and swung in with a stake.  It caught his hand and Mike winced at the strength in the grip.  He knew better than to try and break the grip but instead stamped hard at the revenant’s knee and missed.  Before he could try again, Kadogan grabbed the revenant mid spine and ripped it apart.  Bones and gravedust clattered to the ground.

“They have a leader.” Luke yelled.  Mike looked around and felt real fear.  At the back of the group was something more than a revenant but less than a vampire.  There was a red glow in its eyes and it was wearing what looked like robes.  It was holding up a leathery hand and chanting.  Mike glanced over his shoulder.  Darren was still praying.  Eddies of gravedust and the dirt being churned from the old burial site were whirling around his feet and Mike could see the strain on his face.

“We’ve got to push them back.” Mike yelled.

“There seem to be more every moment.” Kadogan didn’t seem to be intimidated by this.  Mike envied him.

“Stick close together.” He yelled.  “Don’t let them isolate you.  We can’t risk getting mobbed.”

The next wave was on them.  Mike didn’t have time to look along the line as he frantically blocked, parried and punched at the creatures coming at them, his stake stabbing again and again into bony ribcages with the bones piling up around them and the dust stinging his eyes and the back of his throat.  Darren was struggling to get the words out.  Mike could hear the force of will in his voice.

“Hang on.” The chanting stopped abruptly.  The revenant in front of Mike hesitated which gave him enough of an opening to slash in hard with the stake.  As it dropped, Mike could see a couple of vampires attacking the revenants over the remains of their former leader.  Darren’s words were coming easier.

“It is good that you could join us, Miss Patience.” Kadogan said casually as he smashed the skull of the nearest revenant.  “We were under pressure.”

“No kidding.” Mike said.

Mrs Tuesday came out of the room and shut the door gently behind her, glaring at Sir Ewan.  “Dave can stay here at the White Hart for the next few days.  His shoulder has been relocated but it will be weeks before it’s fit.”

“It’s not my fault.” Sir Ewan said.  “Dave wouldn’t rest.”

“Hmm.  Well, he needs to now.  He’s going to have real trouble with that shoulder if he carries on.” Mrs Tuesday marched towards the kitchen.  “Come and have a cuppa.”

Sir Ewan followed her into the immaculate kitchen.  “I’ll make the tea,” he said.  “No, I really need to do something.” He switched on the kettle.

Mrs Tuesday sank down onto a kitchen chair.  “I’m telling you, the lad’s not going to be fit for a while.  You can’t keep knocking your shoulder out.  It loosens itself, and before you know it, the shoulder joint is falling out because you opened a cupboard the wrong way.”

“I know.” Sir Ewan found the teabags.  “A doctor from Lincoln is coming next week to have a look.”

“I’ve given him some jollop,” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And he’ll sleep for most of tomorrow, but after that, I don’t know.  It’s not like the lad has anything to prove.”

“He has, you know.” Sir Ewan said seriously.  “He’s been in all sorts of trouble up to now.  He’s been a wide boy, a hustler.  I don’t even want to think about some of the scams he’s been caught up in over the last few years.  The only reason that he hasn’t tried to sell the Brooklyn Bridge is because he doesn’t live in Brooklyn.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “He palms Tarot cards like a professional.  There’s some biscuits in the red tin next to the stove.  Put some on a plate.”  She watched Sir Ewan search the cupboards for a small plate and put half a dozen of the home made peanut butter cookies out.  “You can put a few more of those on the plate.”  She sighed.  “Dave isn’t a bad lad, and he has a good heart.  He’s just waking up to things.”

“He’s been talking with Darren.” Sir Ewan said, bringing over the cookies and the tea.  “I suppose he’s worried that he has a lot of stuff to live down.  But this isn’t the way.”

“There’s a lot of that going around.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She took a prim sip of her tea and nodded.  “That’s a nice cuppa.”

Sir Ewan felt irrationally grateful for the compliment.  The elderly boggart looked worried and Sir Ewan realised with a shock that Mrs Tuesday was starting to look frail.  He didn’t want to think about that.  Even though she was a boggart and could reduce anyone under sixty to an embarrassed puddle with a few well-chosen words, she was safe.  You knew where you were with her.  He guessed that she had a lot more than Dave on her mind.  “How is Ian doing?”

“He’ll be fine once he finds a girlfriend.” Mrs Tuesday said, sitting straighter.  “Of course, it’s hard for a werewolf that’s been thrown out of a pack for accidentally summoning a demon.”

“Do you think he will ever forgive himself for that?” Sir Ewan asked.

“I don’t know.” Mrs Tuesday said. “He’s driving himself pretty hard.  But if he had a partner then he could settle down.  He’s a good influence on young Callum.”

“How hard can it be?” Sir Ewan asked.  “I mean, he’s solvent, employed and as far as I can tell he’s good looking.”

“He can’t just hook up with someone from a nightclub.” Mrs Tuesday took another sip of her tea.  “Go on, have another biscuit.  You’re another one with not enough meat on their bones.  No, Ian is a sort of leader. He’s leading Callum and he’s got a bit about him, if you know what I mean.  He needs someone who can keep up with him, someone with a bit of drive.  He wants someone respectable.  And someone with a bit of drive and respectable is going to walk away from him.” Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “It’s a tough one.”

Stranger Danger

Mrs Tuesday stuck her head into the back room.  She followed the sounds across the room and prowled towards the steps down to the store rooms.  She glanced around, but there was no-one else in the back.  She picked up the iron nail puller Ian had hung on the door and started down the stairs, careful to make no sound.  There was a battle going on.  As she slowly walked down the steps she could hear the tell-tale snarls and yelps of werewolf combat.  Mrs Tuesday took a breath and started walking down the steps with her usual firm tread.  Those lads needed to sort themselves out.  The shop would be open in ten minutes and the last thing they needed was to be reported for dog fighting again.  She propped the nail puller against the door frame at the bottom, listened for a moment, then flung the door open, grabbed two handfuls of growling, snapping fur and threw the two werewolves at the opposite wall.  Then she went pale.

The two werewolves picked themselves up, flowing into human shapes.  Ian ran over to Mrs Tuesday. “You shouldn’t have done that.  You’ve hurt your back.”

Mrs Tuesday winced.  “It’s gone again.  It will be fine in a minute.”

Callum, who had been staying out of the whole thing, ran to the foot of the steps. “Fiona, come quickly.  Mrs Tuesday’s hurt.”

Fiona raced down the steps and stopped dead.  She was almost used to seeing Callum and Ian naked as they didn’t always remember to get their clothes back on straight away, but she was not expecting to see a skinny young woman, equally naked, glowering at her from across the room.  She took a breath and ran over to Mrs Tuesday. “What happened?”

Mrs Tuesday gritted her teeth.  “I found this young lady fighting with Ian.  I think I may have wrenched my back again.”

Fiona pulled over a battered kitchen chair.  “Callum, please can you go and make Mrs Tuesday some mullein tea.  Then I’ll help you upstairs and you can have a lie down.”

“I don’t need a lie down,” Mrs Tuesday lied.  “I’ll be fine if I’m just supervising. And that poor lass needs two rounds of bacon sandwiches.  Ian, when you’ve got some clothes on you can explain what was going on and then you can get some of my special soup out of the freezer.” She looked over at the girl. “And you can get your clothes on as well.”

Steve ran into the room and carefully turned his face towards Fiona.  “Is everything alright?”

“I was just explaining a few things to Jasmine.” Ian said, pulling his t-shirt over his head and bending over Mrs Tuesday.  “Once you’ve had some mullein tea then I can help you upstairs.”

Steve risked a quick look at Jasmine.  She was tall and over-thin, with untrimmed blonde hair that she was tying in a ponytail.  The t-shirt and jeans that she had pulled on were dirty, but she was holding herself with fierce pride.  “You’re Jasmine Liddle, aren’t you?”

Jasmine nodded.  “I just came to explain that I am not marrying Ian Tait.”

“Damn right you’re not.” Ian muttered.

“You should be lucky to have a chance.” Jasmine snapped.

“I don’t want a chance.  I’m not interested.” Ian snarled.

“And neither am I.” Jasmine grabbed her jacket.  “Just so we’re clear.”

“We are very clear.” Ian said. “Besides, I’m not into kids.”

“I’m twenty! And I don’t care what you’re into.” Jasmine grabbed her bag.  Mrs Tuesday cried out and, ignoring Steve’s suspicious look, caught hold of Ian’s arm.

“Look what you’ve done.” Ian looked over Mrs Tuesday.  “She’s not as young as she was.  She may have really hurt herself.”

“I can still throw a couple of werewolves at a wall, and as soon as my back’s better, I’ll show you how frail I am.” Mrs Tuesday said, wincing and ignoring Steve’s look of outright disbelief.  “But it’s no good.  I don’t think I’ll be able to move for a few days and what are we going to do?  The shop is about to open and I can’t move.”

Freydis stuck her head in the door, took a look around and sighed.  “Werewolves!” She disappeared back upstairs.

“And we’ve got that coffee evening tonight.” Mrs Tuesday said, rubbing her back. “I suppose I can help out in the back.”

Ian glared at Jasmine.  “This is your fault.”

“It’s not my fault that I don’t want to marry you.  Who would?”

Callum flinched but Ian just glared.  “As long as it’s not you.”

“I’ll ring Jeanette.” Fiona said.

“We can’t ask her to work full days at the moment.” Ian said.  “She’s got too much to do on the small holding.  We’re lucky that she’s coming in for the evening.”

“Dave can’t help out, not with his shoulder.” Mrs Tuesday added.  “And Adele’s family are mostly in Cornwall with that big wedding.”

“What do you suggest.” Steve said, knowing that Mrs Tuesday had already decided what would happen.

“Ian, be a good lad and ask Kieran Latimer to come and have a word with me.  Ask nicely, because he’s doing me a favour.” Mrs Tuesday took a sip of the mullein tea.  “Fiona, will you be kind and lend Jasmine a few bits of yours to wear.  My stuff won’t fit her, and she’ll need something clean to wear after she’s had a shower.”

“What?” Jasmine said.  Fiona sympathised.

“It seems only fair.” Mrs Tuesday took another sip of the tea and started relaxing.  “I’m out of commission because I broke up your fight.  It seems only right that you help out until I’m feeling a little better.”

“You can’t do that!” Ian barked.  “She’s a stray.” Mrs Tuesday just looked at him.  Ian started pacing. “You can’t have too many strays together.  It’s not safe.”  Mrs Tuesday didn’t look away.  “What if she goes rogue?  What if we all go rogue?”

“Just phone Kieran Latimer for me.  I’ll have a word.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Callum, be a good lad and help me upstairs.  I can’t have Kieran thinking I’m too frail to move.  Jasmine, Fiona will show you where you can get a shower upstairs.”

Fiona led Jasmine upstairs.  “I’m not sure what’s going on,” she said, “But you can use this room for now.” Fiona opened the door.  “If you wait a second I’ll get some soap and towels.”

“Are you sure about this?” Jasmine said, looking at a closed door. “Who’s in there?”

“That’s Dave, the Tarot reader.  He can’t be disturbed.” Fiona waited for Jasmine to go into the room.

Jasmine continued to look up and down the corridor.  “Who are in these rooms?” she asked.

“No-one at the moment, apart from Dave.” Fiona said.  “The office is at the top of the stairs, but I’m here and Steve is downstairs and we’re the only ones that usually go in there.  Then there’s the Tarot room with Dave and his current client, then it’s Mrs Tuesday, Ian, the kitchen and Callum.  This room is empty and so are the other ones around the corner.” Fiona stepped into the room.  She had worked hard to get them back to standard after the fire and the room was once again bright and fresh, with pale blue walls and soft blue bedding folded neatly on the bed.  “You should be able to find everything.”

Jasmine hesitated, then walked past Fiona to check out of the window.  Kadogan was having an energetic discussion with a brownie about a planter and Adele was hurrying to the shop at the last minute while talking animatedly on her phone.  The roadworks had mostly moved up the road.  Jasmine looked quickly inside the wardrobes and then checked out the small ensuite.  “Okay.” She dropped her bag on the floor.

“If you hang on a second, I’ll bring in some towels and stuff.” Fiona said.  “Then I can nip out and pick up some things.” She looked at Jasmine, who was at least four inches taller than her.  “I’ll pick up a skirt and top.  I don’t think my trousers will do you.”

“Thanks.” Jasmine looked awkward.  “I mean, thanks for everything.  Not driving me out and that.  I appreciate it.”

“It’s not a problem.” Fiona said, hoping that it wasn’t.  “I’ll be back in about half an hour, so take your time.  I’m sure it will all be fine.”

Kieran was not so sure.  “I’m the head of the local pack.  I have authority here.  You can’t just take in a troublemaker like Jasmine.  I’ve heard all about her.”

“She’s a young girl who needs a helping hand.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “Look how Ian and Callum have turned out.  They aren’t part of your pack, but they’re still a credit to you.”

“That’s different.” Kieran said.  “And yes, they are a credit to us.  That doesn’t mean I need to get a reputation for taking in strays.”

“It didn’t look like she was doing drugs or booze.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “That’s the difference.  Most strays have a lot more than fleas to deal with.  Jasmine has issues, I can see that, but she’s also just a skinny kid and needs a hand.”

Kieran paced, throwing angry glances at Mrs Tuesday.  Ian and Callum sat passively, keeping their heads down.  Kieran stopped and faced Mrs Tuesday.  “Listen, I know that Ian and Callum have turned out alright, and all credit to them.  They’ve kept their fur flat and their tails up and I can’t say a bad word about it.  Ian’s taken young Callum in hand and after what happened last year, they’ve earned their chances.  But taking on a woman, that’s different.  You get all sorts of dogs sniffing around and it isn’t nice.  It isn’t respectable.  I mean, if she was going to pair up with Ian, that would be one thing, but she isn’t.”

Mrs Tuesday just looked at him, sipping her tea.  Kieran started pacing again.

“What will people think?  There’s always talk when people take in a vulnerable bitch.  She’s answering to no-one, she’s barely got the fur on her back – and what about Fiona?  She’s got enough on her plate organising the fire sale and anniversary party without having a stray under foot.”

Mrs Tuesday winced slightly as she shifted in her chair but continued to say nothing.

“What about all the youngsters that help out in the shop?  I know we’re busy on the patrols but when it hits peak tourist season in the summer, you’ll want them to come over and what if they’re sniffing around her then?  We have standards, you know.” Kieran looked at the rest of the group around him.  “It’s important to the pack.”

Freydis wandered in. “The coach party is due in an hour and Adele has been busy on the till.  Besides, I haven’t had a chance to watch the drama.  Can it wait?”

“Jasmine will stay at the White Hart.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “Callum can stay with Adele, Ian can stay at Jeanette’s as he’s there most of the time anyway what with his gardening and his Bible Study with Luke.  I’ll be here with Jasmine and I’m sure Kadogan won’t mind staying around.  Jasmine is never alone with Jeanette.” She gave Kieran a glare.  “You know what’s happened and so do I.  Well, she can have a chance here, it’s up to her whether she takes it.  Ian can get her into some sort of shape.  It won’t hurt your cubs to know that there are consequences to actions.  Besides, they’ve all hunted strays.  I know what happened last month in Acomb.  That was absolutely the right thing.  This is different.”

“I’m not sure.” Kieran said.

“Neither am I.” Steve said.  “Mrs Tuesday, I know you mean well, but it’s a big risk.”

“She’ll be a great help at the White Hart, especially when she gets some meat on her bones.  You saw what she was like.”

“I definitely didn’t.” Steve said.  “I didn’t look at all, thank you.”

“I don’t mind staying at the White Hart for a while.” Freydis said.  “By the way, what do people think about me changing my name to Arabica?”

“Sounds like a language to me.” Kadogan said.  “Suzuki is also coming to stay.  She would like to spend some time exploring the city.”

Steve opened his mouth to talk about rents and wages and practicalities.  Then he closed it again.  “Just no fighting in public, okay?  And try not to get anyone killed.  I’ve got to go, I’m due at Lord Ragnar’s in twenty minutes.”

Steve was not in a good mood when he got into their conference centre.  Maps were hung around the elfen glade that Lord Ragnar had set up, most of them covered with pins and sticky notes.  Darren was sitting on a fallen tree to once side, trying not to scratch a bandaged arm.  Dean was standing in the shadows of a large oak.  ‘That was another explosion waiting to happen,’ Steve thought as he took off his jacket and hung it over a bush.  The day just gets better.  Miss Patience was also there, sitting on a stump and knitting something small and blue.  “I’m sorry I’m late.” Steve said.  “How are things going?”

Lord Ragnar frowned.  “It is unlike you to be delayed, even on perilous mercantile journeys.  I trust that the coffee evening will still be going ahead.”

“The coffee evening should be fine.” Steve said.  “Mike can’t join us.  He’s spending some time with his wife today.”

“We heard.” Miss Patience said, waving her knitting.  “I thought I’d start a little jacket.  They are always useful.”

“And Dave’s shoulder is still really bad.  He’s taking the time to catch up with some of his clients.  Sir Ewan and Luke are having a walk around in daylight to see if they can spot any more disturbed burial sites.  Tim hasn’t heard much apart from some muggings that may or may not be related.  So with Mike finding out that his wife’s pregnant, we don’t have a paladin or Templar here.”

“You have me.” Darren said.  “I’m still in the field.”

“Last night was unusually active.” Dean said quietly from the shadows.  “But very targeted.  It was as if they were attacking those who were trying to bless the old burials.”

“There was definitely evidence of some sort of leadership,” Miss Patience said, “But I don’t think the leaders we saw were the actual leader, if you see what I mean.  They were lieutenants.  Something is pulling the strings, but whatever it is, they are staying out of sight for now.”

“How is the magical science working?” Lord Ragnar asked.

Darren shrugged. “The good news is that it’s definitely within the city.  The bad news is that they are using the magic that’s being bounced back.  It’…” Darren searched for the right word.  “It’s blurry.  Whoever it is, they may be underground.”

“I was here before the legions.” Lord Ragnar looked thoughtfully at the main map, hanging from a beech.   “I was here before the traders from Star Carr brought their skins and furs to trade for the Amber when you could walk to the East and find it there, before the sea came in.  I still remember much.  But even I cannot remember all the dim places, where the rivers meet.  There have always been strong currents of power here.  There is a reason there are so many hauntings in York.  I could not guess where to start looking without direction.” There was a tense pause before Lord Ragnar visibly brightened.  “And there is a coffee evening this evening.”

“About the coffee evening.” Steve didn’t know where to start.  “You may have heard about Jasmine Liddle?  Mrs Tuesday has persuaded Kieran Latimer to let her stay at the White Hart.  To be honest, if she can behave herself it will be a blessing because Mrs Tuesday hurt her back again.”

“You’re building quite a collection of strays.” Miss Patience said, barely looking up from her knitting.  “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Will Fiona be safe?” Dean asked.

Steve got a good look at him for the first time.  Dean’s face was gaunt, the skin stretched tautly over his cheek bones and his eyes were sunken.  His jacket was hanging off him.  “I’ll be keeping an eye out for Fiona.”

Miss Patience caught Steve’s shocked expression.  “Dean is not feeding properly.  Perhaps I could send him down to Mrs Tuesday.  She seems to be able to sort youngsters out.”

“I’m fine.” Dean said.  “I think I’m just settling in to my new frame.”

“How does Freydis feel about this.” Lord Ragnar changed the subject.

“She seems fine.  She said she would stay at the White Hart for a while, just to make sure.  Callum and Ian will be staying elsewhere.”

“I’m sure that Kieran Latimer insisted on that.” Lord Ragnar looked amused.  “All the werewolves have views on such matters and Kieran is particularly strict.”

“And Freydis is thinking of changing her name so she may announce it at the coffee evening.  She was talking about calling herself Arabica earlier.” Steve moved over to the map.  “I think I should try dowsing for burial sites.”  He turned around to Lord Ragnar.  “What do you think?”

Lord Ragnar was standing there, frozen, the colour draining from his face.  He seemed to fold at the knees to land on the soft woodland floor.  “I’ve lost her.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve said.  “Who have you lost?”

“Freydis chose her name for me, to fit my life.  I was wearing a Viking glamour and took a Viking name and she chose one with me.  She used to use Bridget.  She was so beautiful as Bridget, with glowing red hair and sparkling eyes.” Lord Ragnar put his head in his hands.  “I’ve lost her.  She’s changing her name from something that meant she was mine to something else.”

“You divorced her.” Darren said, rubbing at his arm.  “If there’s going to be magic, I’d rather go back to the Citadel and pray for guidance.”

“I only divorced her because I thought she didn’t love me, but she did.” Lord Ragnar said.  “But now I fear I have driven her away.”

“Divorces usually mean the end of the relationship.” Darren said, standing up.  “Let me know what you find, Steve, please.  Between us we may be able to work out a good pattern.”

“I can’t believe I drove her away.” Lord Ragnar had dropped his hands and was staring blankly.  “If she changes her name, I shall lose all hope.”

Darren shook his head.  “You divorced her.  I’m pretty certain that means you’ve lost her.” Steve caught hold of his arm, but Lord Ragnar had already sunk his head back in his hands.

“I had such high hopes when we had that argument before Fiona was rescued.” Lord Ragnar said. “And she was the elfen I fell in love with when we dealt with those nixies together at Christmas.”

“That was a demonstration of power.” Miss Patience agreed.  “I don’t think any of the river folk will forget it in a hurry.”

“We are supposed to be going out to dinner in three days’ time.” Lord Ragnar leapt suddenly to his feet.  “I cannot stay here, my heart is breaking.  If Freydis changes her name, all will be lost.” He stormed out.

“Well, that was helpful.” Darren said.

He prowled around the Shambles, taking his time.  The paladin’s people were elsewhere so tonight was a good night for hunting.  He wasn’t rushing, cruising almost imperceptibly through the bars and around crowded streets.  Goodramgate was too busy, and it was the wrong type of crowd in King’s Square, but he found what he was looking for towards the station.

It looked like an office party.  A large gaggle of women with a few uncomfortable looking men had spilled outside a bar.  He stayed in the shadows and watched.  A couple of older women had had too much to drink and were flirting with what looked like office juniors.  A younger redhead had had far too much to drink and was crying on the shoulder of a friend.  To one side was a woman, around her mid twenties, not too slim with shining chestnut hair and a stressed expression.  She was clutching a half drunk glass of cheap white as if it was a shield.  She was definitely a possibility.  He smiled politely at the group as he went in and bought himself a scotch before coming out to catch the air.  There were a few knots of people around so he drifted apparently aimlessly before standing not too close to the young woman.  “It’s quite warm tonight.”

She nodded, almost relieved to have someone sober to talk to.  “It’s not too bad at all.” She looked along the front of the bar.  A couple of the older women were pulling bottles of spirits out of their bags and the redhead was shouting that she was going to go and find ‘him’ and give him a piece of her mine.  “It’s a bit noisy, though.”

He was still surprised at the willingness of modern women to dally.  He moved a little down the street and took a small sip of his scotch.  “Are you out celebrating a birthday?”

She shook her head.  “It’s an office party, the anniversary of the start of the company.  The bosses always give us some money to put behind the bar and tell us not to worry about a hangover at work tomorrow.”  She smiled.  “I’m Amy.”

“Nice to meet you, Amy.  I’m Martin.” He had always liked the name ‘Martin’.  Her had was small and soft in his.  “I used to live in York, but I’ve only just got back after a time away.  I see that the atmosphere hasn’t changed. Which are the good bars?”

Amy glanced briefly at her colleagues.  The red head was insisting on getting another drink against the advice of her friend.  “I don’t go to bars much.  I go to coffee shops.  There’s some good ones in York, now.  The White Hart has reopened with a new range of coffees.  I was thinking of trying there one evening.”

Martin wasn’t going to take Amy there.  He swallowed his scotch.  “Why don’t I take you for a coffee somewhere?” He glanced back at the crowd.  The older women were topping up the office junior’s glass with far too much vodka.  He would be sick later.  “I don’t think that you’ll be missed.”

“I think that’s a great idea.” Amy said, taking a last mouthful of her wine and leaving the rest untouched as she waved a brief goodbye to the group.

At Amy’s suggestion, they picked up some take out coffees and wandered along the streets of York.  It was peaceful away from the centre and the June evening twilight leant a softness to everything.  They found a bench near the river and stopped to drink their coffee.  They looked mismatched.  Martin was wearing an expensive suit with a pale blue shirt and a blue tie knotted loosely at his throat.  Amy was wearing a pink strappy top and a short skirt that she kept trying to pull down to cover more of her legs.  Martin took off his jacket and gently placed it around Amy’s shoulders.  “I don’t feel the cold.” He said truthfully.

Amy snuggled into it.  “I feel like I shouldn’t accept it, but I’m glad to have it.”

“It’s cooler than you would expect next to the river.” Martin said.  “And I suspect you are usually in jeans and a sweater, yes?”

Amy laughed.  “I borrowed this outfit from my sister.  She told me to go out and have fun in it.” She put her coffee carefully on the ground next to the bench and looked at Martin expectantly.

He smiled and put his coffee next to hers.  She was making it so easy for him.  He gently stroked her hair and her face before holding her head and fixing his eyes on hers.  For a moment Amy tried to get loose, feeling uncomfortable at the unyielding grip, but Martin had been doing this for centuries and she couldn’t escape his gaze.  Martin kept eye contact as he leant in closer before kissing her gently on the lips.  She closed her eyes and sighed.  She was under his control.

They were in public and could potentially be disturbed, but that was no reason to rush things.  It was only respectful to Amy to take his time.  He kissed her again on the lips and she shivered helplessly.  He stroked her hair and she leaned into his hand.  He picked up one of her hands that lay helplessly on her lap and stroked over the palm.  Amy was breathing faster now.  He lifted her palm and kissed it, nipping a little at the base of the thumb.  Amy groaned.  Martin kissed the inside of her wrist and, as Amy groaned again, he bit and started to feed.

For a moment, Amy went rigid.  Then the effects of vampiric feeding kicked in and she was leaning against his shoulder, sheltered by his free arm around her as he drank her blood.  Martin could hear the shiver in her breathing, feel her utter surrender to him as he took what he needed.  That was the thing, he never took more than he needed.  He took just enough to keep him sustained and to keep the demons at bay.  Then he drew back.  Some vampires liked to leave a mark, like staking a claim.  Martin always thought that lacking in basic respect.  He kissed the small mark on her wrist and then focused his will.  The tiny puncture wounds healed up.  Then he scooped Amy up and held her on his lap, stroking her hair as she came round.

Her breathing slowly returned to normal.  He could feel her shifting a little, as she woke up from his influence.  Martin was braced.  Now was the trickiest time, after the first feed.  Amy sighed and snuggled closer.  “You’re a vampire.”

“Yes, I am.” Martin stroked her hair, enjoying the softness of it.

“And you just fed from me.” Amy said.

“Yes, I did.” Martin pushed the hair away from her face.  “I didn’t take too much.”

“It felt amazing.” Amy looked at her unmarked wrist.  “I thought you drank from the neck.”

“It’s an option.” Martin said.  “But I think a wrist is a little more polite on a first date.”

Amy leaned back against him, still wrapped in his jacket.  “I feel like I’m floating, like I’m drifting in a dream.”

“I’ll take you home.” Martin said.  “I want to make sure that you get home safe.  But first, can I take you to dinner next Monday?”

“Do you eat food?” Amy was still half dreaming in the after effects of the bite.

“Not only do I eat food, but I have perfect table manners.” Martin pulled her gently to her feet and wrapped a supporting arm around her shoulders.

“Would you feed on me again afterwards?” Amy asked as they strolled back towards the city.

“Perhaps.” Martin said.  “I don’t want to make you weak.”

“It felt amazing.” Amy said.  “My sister said I should have a good time, and I really did.”

“And I promise you will have a good time on Monday.” Martin steered her towards the taxi rank.  “But for tonight, let’s get you home.”

Martin dropped Amy off at her unremarkable townhouse and started walking back to York.  Now he had drunk enough to keep his mind clear, he could make plans.  Much had happened over the last century as he had slept.  He needed to work out what to do next.

Food for Thought

Jeanette paused.  She was sure she heard a tap on the kitchen door.  She listened carefully.  Yes, someone was knocking.  She opened the door and nearly fell over.  Ian was there, squelching in half dried mud.  His jeans were soaked through and his shirt clung to him.  He had mud in his hair, on his face and he was kicking off his encrusted boots.  “What happened?  You had better come in.”

Ian shook his head.  “I think I might track some mud in.” He grinned.

“Are you hurt?” Jeanette looked him over but it was hard to get past the brown ooze.

“No.” Ian started unbuttoning his shirt.  “I was dropping off a parcel at a farm just past Copmanthorpe and I saw a load of piping dumped next to the road.  Jeanette, you should see them.”  He dragged his shirt off, showing that the mud had gone all the way through the material and now was smeared all over his chest.  He beckoned Jeanette towards the van and flung open the back doors.  “It’s quality stuff, just dumped there.  They’d even tried to hide it under some grass.  It’s almost everything we need for your irrigation system.  All I need to do is pick up a few more connectors.  They’d even left some half-used sealant.  I can’t believe it.” He looked down at the shirt.  “I’d better dump my clothes in the polytunnel for now.” He smiled apologetically.  “Could you get me a towel, please?  I’ll hose myself down outside and get the worst of it off.  I can’t go in the house like this.”

Jeanette saw the heap of plastic pipes and connectors in the back of the van.  They were just what they needed – and a lot cleaner than Ian.  “How did you get so muddy?” She started backing away as Ian stripped off his socks.  “Were the pipes in a ditch?”

Ian laughed.  “No, but they were next to it, and I grabbed an armful of the stuff, lost my footing and slipped.  I reek of stagnant drainage.” He started to unbutton his jeans.

“I’ll leave the towels outside the polytunnel.” Jeanette said, backing away.

“If you get me some old ones, then I can’t make too much of a mess.  Then if you don’t mind I can have a proper shower in the house, but without clogging up the drains.”

“Sure.” Jeanette fled into the house.  Ian was definitely worth looking at, but she felt it was all wrong.  She wanted to look too much.  She pulled out the oldest towels she had, put some newer ones on the towel rail in the downstairs shower and opened the kitchen door cautiously.  From the puddle of mud stained clothes outside the polytunnel, Ian wasn’t wearing a stitch in there, but at least he had pulled the door over.  Furiously self-conscious, Jeanette hung the towels on the water butt, yelled to Ian’s silhouette that the towels were out there and ran back into the house.

Ian strolled into the house ten minutes later with just a large towel wrapped around his waist.  He had towelled off the worst of the water but his skin and hair were still damp.  “I left my clothes outside.  I may have to write them off.  They’re in a bad state.  Is it okay if I get a warm shower with soap?”

“I’ve put some better towels out.” Jeanette said.  “I’ll put the dinner on while you have a shower.  It’s only us two, tonight.  Luke has a meeting.”

Ian nodded.  Luke was on patrol this evening with Sir Ewan.  Someone really needed to talk to Jeanette, but it wasn’t going to be him.  He had enough on his plate at the moment.  “I hope you’ve made plenty, I’m starving.”

Jeanette was plating up the frittata as Ian came back, looking a lot cleaner.  He hadn’t bothered getting any clothes on, but at least had a fresh towel around his waist.  She wasn’t exactly complaining.  The hours he spent at the gym obviously paid off and he had nothing to be ashamed of, but Jeanette worried that she admired the view too much.  Perhaps she was turning into a dirty old woman.  “Thanks for the pipes.  It must have been an adventure.”

Ian laughed.  “It was hilarious.  I must have looked like a swamp monster when I got out of the ditch.  I’ll clean up the van before morning.  It’s easier to brush off dried mud.”

“Is it bad?  I’ll give you a hand.” Jeanette put the large bowl of salad on the table.

Ian got the mugs out of the cupboard as Jeanette made the tea.  “I can’t get over the find.  It was obviously dumped, they were just left there with a load of rubbish.  I was looking on the local pages and even buying the off cuts and over runs, we’ve saved a fortune.  I’m going to have to keep my eye out on the roads to see if there are any other treasures.”

“If you find a shed, I’ll let you build it here.” Jeanette said a little recklessly.

“Aren’t you taking a risk that I’ll fill it with junk?” Ian sat down and sighed.  “This looks great.”

“It will be perfectly organised junk.” Jeanette sat opposite him and bent her head as Ian said grace.  “It’s the least I can do.  I would never have got so far if it hadn’t been for you.”

Ian shook his head.  “I don’t know about that.  Anyway, it’s been good to get out in the fresh air.  I missed it last night.”

“I know.” Jeanette helped herself to some salad.  “But the coffee evening was sort of a success.”

“Loads of people were asking Fiona when the next one was, so that part was successful.” Ian said dryly.  “And the coffee and cakes were amazing.”

“I know.” Jeanette said.  “Though I’ve never seen so much sugar used in one night.”

Ian thought that someone really needed to have a talk with Jeanette.  The elfen had devoured plate after plate of honey with meringue and added spoonful after spoonful to their coffees.  “I can’t bear that amount of sugar myself.  But the coffee was good.  Freydis has put some work into it and it’s paid off.”

“What was going on with her name?” Jeanette asked.

Ian shook his head.  “Freydis just felt like a change.  I have no idea what will stick, but I doubt she’ll stay Freydis.  I just hope she doesn’t choose something too ridiculous.”

“She looks nothing like a Mocha.” Jeanette said, taking a large forkful of the frittata.  “And she doesn’t look much like a Chai, either.”

“I did wonder about Typica, but apparently that’s a type of coffee.” Ian helped himself to more salad.

“I don’t think that suits her either.” Jeanette said.  “And what was going on with her and Lord Ragnar?”

“They got divorced last year.” Ian said.  “But I’m not sure either of them really wanted it.” He put down his knife and fork for a moment and thought about it.  “I think that they never really got the hang of being married, and so they ended up divorced and confused.”

“I think they’ve both been reading books.” Jeanette said.  “It’s never a good sign when you have to read a book about your relationship.  Freydis was being Strong and Independent and Having Her Own Interests at one side of the room and he was being Strong, Silent, Intense and Determined on the other.  It was enough to give you a headache.”

Ian laughed.  “That’s a perfect description.  I wonder how long they’ll stay separate?”

Jeanette finished her last mouthful of frittata.  “I think they are both enjoying the drama too much.  I’ve made a cake for after.  It’s not as good as Mrs Tuesday’s baking, but it’s here.”

“Mrs Tuesday does make some good cakes.” Ian said.  “And now Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader are helping out with the café, there is some really amazing treats.  But they’ve been cooking for at least fifty years longer than you and your stuff is still amazing.”

They relaxed into a comfortable silence over their cake.  Jeanette found her mind gently idling as her thoughts drifted from the new lemon cake recipe that had been a success to the dinner in general and how her cooking was getting better, to how she was sitting in a room with a nearly naked, gorgeous man and she had never thought that would happen to her.

Ian was leaning back in his chair.  For once he looked totally at ease.  Jeanette wondered how old he was.  There were lines on his face, but they looked like they came from hard experience rather than age.  His body looked young, but she hadn’t had much to judge it against.  Her few boyfriends all seemed a lot younger than him.  Jeanette stared down into her tea to stop herself staring at Ian.  She had worked so hard for years to try and get this chance.  She had worked extra jobs, stayed in and abandoned her social life to try and save for a little growing space of her own.  Someone like Ian was not going to be interested in her.  She drained her mug and stood up to put her plate in the dishwasher.  Ian stood up to pass her his plate.  For a moment they were close, too close, and Jeanette could smell the soap he had used in the shower.  Ian was staring into her eyes and he looked hungry.

Jeanette didn’t know if she was reading the signs right, but she tentatively reached out and touched his shoulder, stroking down the smooth skin of his arm.  She leant closer and Ian bent down for a kiss.  Jeanette found herself clinging to Ian as he ran his fingers through her hair and then held her pressed against him.  It was very clear, he wanted her just as much as she wanted him.  She ran her hands over his back and hair as she lost herself in the kiss.

Ian pushed them apart.  He was breathing heavily and his fists were clenching.  “I want more.” He growled.  Jeanette nodded, watching as Ian struggled for control.  “Are you sure?” He asked.  Jeanette nodded again and then gasped as Ian picked her up and carried her to her bedroom.

Dave never admitted it, but he loved visiting York Minster.  It was usually crowded with tourists and noisy with tours and there was always some exhibition going on.  But if you ducked around the corner from the gift shop and sat in one of the side aisles, you could sit and think without disturbance.

Very few non-normals came in here, at least, none of those based in York.  They seemed to think that the Minster was for tourists and most of them went to St Agnes or the Presbyterian chapel.  The brownies were almost all Quakers, for some reason and he didn’t want to speculate about what some of the goblins got up to.  Dave looked at all from the outside and couldn’t work it out.  Where did he fit in?

Sometimes he walked around the Minster checking for his sparkles.  Most of the time he was plain, but in a few odd corners he showed as a paladin as he crossed a small patch that was considered Most Holy.  Why him?  He had detoured past a group of French tourists and hit a patch this morning.  Fortunately, the multi-coloured shadows from the stained glass that filled the walls covered up any unfortunate twinkling.  He’d no idea why some parts were Most Holy and some weren’t.  Perhaps he was walking over the bones of saints.  The Minster was so stuffed with tombs and grave markers that there must be hundreds, if not buried here over the centuries. At least they were quiet here.

His shoulder throbbed.  If this carried on, he would be unfit to be a paladin, and then what?  What was he good for?  Dave looked down at the polished stone.  He was still a fraud.  He could talk the talk, and he could hold up his end in a fight, but he wasn’t a good man.  He had been talking his way in and out of trouble, coasting along and charming his way into people’s wallets.  What sort of person did that?  Yet there he was, in the paladin’s house, getting cakes from little old ladies and faking Tarot readings.

He rubbed his shoulder.  The cool of the building was setting it off.  At the moment just walking set it off.  If he thought about it, the Tarot readings were probably the best part of his life.  He couldn’t see the future in the cards, but he could read people.  He’d made his living reading people.  Far too many of his clients came to him because they were lost and lonely and confused.  He could act like a counsellor, talk stuff through with them, listen to them when no-one else would.  He had started keeping a list of charities and organisations which he could print out for those spending money they didn’t really have looking for answers which they should have been able to get from the council or the bank or the school.  It was hard work, but at least it meant that he was worth something.

But that was all he was.  Good at lying about what he saw, talking the talk, and listening to what people meant instead of what they said.  The person he admired most at the White Hart was Ian.  Ian was a werewolf who had accidentally summoned a demon.  He had lost everything that was important to him as a result.  He had lost his wife, his place in the pack, he had been cut off from his trade and he had been sent away from everything and everyone he knew. But Ian had picked himself up and got on with things.  What was it they said?  Ian had kept his fur flat and his tail up and now could get some credit.  He had taken charge of Callum and kept him on the straight path.  Callum had been bewildered when he made it to the White Hart and Ian had sorted out bank accounts and taxes for him, showed him how to watch his money and how to deal with the unexpected freedoms that he hadn’t known before.  Dave had watched Ian drive himself to be better at whatever he did.  The warehouse was immaculate, the plumbing at the White Hart was now incredibly efficient and from the sound of it he had done a great job at Jeanette’s small holding.

Dave kept his head down as a school tour went past.  The teacher was being very clear about the architecture, but not talking about the faith.  Dave knew enough about people to know that the stones and mortar weren’t necessarily about religion,  People had given money for the building to look good, to make the right impression, to hide guilty consciences and sordid pasts.  But Dave had seen how Ian and Darren acted, and he knew that some of them would have given money and time to raise the building because they believed.  Ian struggled with the memory of summoning a demon, but he still looked himself in the eye when he shaved.  He didn’t turn his head from what he had done.  Despite what Ian had done, he prayed.  He read the Bible and wasn’t looking for loopholes.  He did his best.  Darren told Ian, “God can forgive you, if you really turn around.  Can you forgive yourself?” Ian was still working on that.

Staring at the polished floor, Dave started praying.  He let out all his guilt and fear over his failures, his faults, his shady past.  He prayed for help.  He prayed for the guidance that he gave others in his Tarot readings.  He prayed for the first time in his life, and he didn’t know why he had started and he didn’t know how to stop.  A great peace settled over him as finally his prayers faded and he was sitting with utter stillness in the soaring cathedral, untouched by the crowds.  Then a sharp pain stabbed through his shoulder and he yelped.  He slowly rotated it and it felt a little bruised, but otherwise it was fine.  He flexed it again.  It was working.  Perhaps he should ask Darren about this.

Darren felt under siege.  Mrs Tuesday had insisted that he called in to the White Hart.  “I don’t like to think of you without a good meal inside you.  I know how hard you work.”

“I’m capable of cooking a meal.” Darren tried to sound firm.

“But you don’t bother half of the time.” Mrs Tuesday guided him to a chair in the upstairs kitchen.  “Me and the other boggarts are going to sort out the café.  Mrs Anderson makes wonderful cakes and Mrs Cadwallader’s scones are amazing.  We need to work out how to go on.  Jasmine will eat with you up here, though, so you won’t be lonely.”

Darren looked over at the skinny werewolf.  She looked barely old enough to vote and as awkward as he felt.  “I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Then don’t make any.  I’ll be back up later.”

Darren watched Mrs Tuesday disappear and sighed.  “Hi, Jasmine.  You don’t need to wait on me, you know.” He stood up and started getting out the cutlery.  “Or has Mrs Tuesday insisted?”

Jasmine managed a smile.  “She said if we ate together then we were both likely to finish our meals.”

Darren looked at the t-shirt hanging off her. “Are you anorexic?”

“Mrs Tuesday warned me that you said things without thinking.” Jasmine said.  “If I was, you shouldn’t ask.”

“I’m not good at the right questions.” Darren grumbled.  “But you don’t look like you should refuse food.  If that’s an okay thing to say.”

“It just feels wrong, like I’m taking advantage.” Jasmine said.  “I don’t need charity.”

“You really do.” Darren said.  “And there’s nothing wrong with accepting a helping hand.  As long as you give help to others when you can.  Anyway, I thought you were getting paid.”

“Steve has given me an advance on my wages.” Jasmine said.  “He suggested I get some clothes.  But I’m staying here and getting food.  It feels wrong to take money.”

“Are you getting a deduction from your wages for rent?” Darren asked.  Jasmine nodded.  Darren pulled the plates out and put them on the table.  “Are you putting into the food money?” Jasmine nodded again.  “Well then,” Darren said, “You are being more than fair and you’re getting the going rate.  Kieran Latimer does the same with his pack.  So does Tyr Armstrong over at the Village.  It’s not exactly a pack here, but it’s not too bad.”

There was a long pause.  “Rick used to do the same, when we were working.” Jasmine said softly.

“That’s Rick Lowther?  Head of the Liverpool pack?  I know him.” Darren poured the tea as Jasmine piled their plates with chips and thick slices of chicken.  He guessed Mrs Tuesday had decided the portion size.  “He’s always been tough, but I thought him a pretty fair man.”

“It’s not his fault.  I had to leave, it wasn’t working.” Jasmine added the beans and then set the plates gently down on the table.

“I’ve not heard the full story.” Darren added ketchup to his plate.  “But grace first.”

Jasmine bent her head over her plate as Darren said a few words and then speared a chip.  “There’s not much to say.”

Darren knew better than to push.  Jasmine was a bundle of nerves at the moment.  She was probably wondering what the catch was.  Life as a werewolf outside a pack was tough and the White Hart must seem like an improbable paradise.  He ate hungrily.  The work here was taking it out of him, and Mrs Tuesday knew how to cook a chicken.  The silence stretched and he looked up and caught Jasmine watching him warily.

“I’m not going to pounce on you, you know,” she said.

“And I’m not going to pounce on you either.” Darren said, taking a bite of the luscious chicken.

“You couldn’t.” Jasmine said.  “You’re just a normal.  I could fight you off.”

“So why aren’t you pouncing on me?” Darren said.  “Or is it because Mrs Tuesday’s cooking tastes better.”

“That’s an awful thing to say!” Jasmine snapped.

“Is it?  Nobody’s going to pounce but I may use stern words if you don’t eat your dinner because Mrs Tuesday will blame me if your plate isn’t cleared.”

Jasmine looked down at her plate.  She had eaten at least half, but the rest of it looked daunting.  “I feel full.”

“You’re not used to eating a lot, and you’re nervous about a stranger eating with you.” Darren pushed some ketchup towards her.  “Take your time, don’t stress if you can’t finish it and enjoy the ketchup.”

Jasmine stared at the ketchup.  “I haven’t had ketchup for a year.”

“Really?” Darren stared.

“I’ve been scrounging a lot of food.” Jasmine said, not meeting Darren’s eyes.  “You know, cash in hand work plus a free pizza if I was delivering, or a free burger for clearing out some rubbish.  I’ve not really been in a place to have ketchup.”

“Do you like it?” Darren asked.  How could ketchup be such a big thing?  And where did he start?  He was no good at the pastoral side.  “Help yourself.”

Jasmine shook the bottle and added a little to her plate.  “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Darren said.  Inside he was panicking.  If she was this caught up about ketchup then what other pitfalls were there?

Freydis appeared in the doorway.  “Lord Ragnar is refusing to call me Macchiato and refused to duck when I threw a cup at him. I nearly hit him!”

Jasmine and Darren exchanged a look.  Jasmine stood up.  “Mrs Tuesday made a coffee cake.  Would you like a slice?”

“How can I eat cake when Lord Ragnar refuses to duck?” Freydis stamped her foot.  “I’m going to find the perfect name and then he’ll listen to me.” She stormed out.

“She’s going to end up being called Filter Paper.” Darren said.  “But now you’ve mentioned it, I think I’ll have a slice of the cake.  Mrs Tuesday has her uses.”

Make or Break

“Look at that!” Kadogan waved wildly at the new planters.  “It is unacceptable.”

The brownie looked at him wearily.  “These plants are the latest fashion and sell for a fortune.  You are getting an excellent deal.”

“Those auricula are practically Victorian,” Kadogan snapped.  “Do you not see it Freydis?”

“Indeed.  I remember seeing something like that centuries ago.”

“And these daisies.  And this aquilegia.  It is dated.” Kadogan waved an angry hand.

“It’s a concept.” Gavin said.  “You said you wanted something to encapsulate the essential ambience of the White Hart.  So you got timeless favourites in a selection of colours.”

“I never said that.” Kadogan narrowed his eyes.  “I said that it should show what the White Hart meant.  And the White Hart is a modern, thrusting, go-getting enterprise.”

“With all due respect, sir, the White Hart is a former pub named after a medieval myth and owned by someone older than York.” Gavin took a deep breath as Fiona, Steve, Adele and Callum were beckoned out of the shop and into the car park.  Mrs Tuesday followed, polishing a glass with a tea towel.  Gavin wasn’t intimidated.  “You meant you needed something to encapsulate the essential ambience of the White Hart.  And you have a wonderful display of healthy flowers and foliage that not only uses traditional blooms to their best advantage but also follows modern dictates of taste in planting style and uses only the most modern cultivars.”

“What?” Kadogan was pacing.  “What do you mean.  They are daisies.”

“They are not just daisies, your lordship.  I think you’ll find that those are Rhodanthamum ‘Casablanca’ and I was told that they received favourable mention from important people at the Chelsea Flower Show.”

“Who told you and how important were these people?” Kadogan asked, narrowing his eyes.

“If you ask me, the flowers look perfect.  They’re bright, cheerful, colourful, a great mix of old and new and resistant to all sorts of rubbish, rather like the staff of the White Hart.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And Ian and Jeanette are taking a long time in that van.”

Everyone’s eyes snapped to the works van.  Ian normally dropped Jeanette at the front before driving around to the back to load up deliveries or off to the warehouse to pick up supplies.  He didn’t normally kiss Jeanette passionately and at length before doing so.

“Does Jeanette know about Ian being non-normal?” Fiona asked, transfixed.

“Of course not.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Ian has the courage to face down any monster or demon, the mental and emotional strength to go beyond most people’s endurance and the determination and will to tackle any challenge except talking to a woman who he wants to… kiss.”

“He’s already done more than kiss.” Freydis said dispassionately.  “I suppose I could change my name to Aquilegia.  I’ve been named after flowers before, but it’s so long ago that the language has changed.  I’m still not sure between Macchiato and Arabica.”

“It is not appropriate for staff to cavort in public.” Kadogan said.  “Also, she will have to sort out her hair.  It has become dishevelled.”

Darren and Dave pulled into the car park and got out of Darren’s battered Range Rover.  Dave grinned as Darren marched over and rapped sharply on the window.  “You have an audience.  Either take a break or start charging.”

Ian and Jeanette shot apart, looking mortified.

Freydis sighed.  “Young love is so sweet.  I remember it well.  Gavin Brown, you should plant poppies to match the colour in Jeanette’s cheeks.”

Jeanette tried to keep her dignity as she got out of the van.  “Anything interesting happening?”

“These planters are old fashioned.” Kadogan said.  “I do not approve.”

Jeanette cast a professional eye over them.  “I saw pictures of something like this at the Chelsea Flower show.  Not all the same varieties but they were laid out very similar.”

Gavin looked pointedly at Kadogan.  “Nothing but the best for the White Hart.”

“And you were of such assistance after the fire that we are still deeply in your debt.” Kadogan said.  “I shall praise your flowers to all.”

Gavin relaxed a little.  “I’m glad we could help.  There haven’t been any more… disturbances, have there?”

“Reverend Darren King has blessed the site and crystals have been put in place.” Kadogan said.

Jeanette looked confused.  “What happened?”

“Unquiet dead.” Freydis said.  “Now that the planters are dealt with, and the display from Ian and Jeanette has been seen, I need to get back to the Coffee Machine.  I have purchased bunting for tomorrow.”

“I’ve never known so many ghost stories.” Jeanette said.  “When I first moved in, the neighbour down the road asked if I’d seen ‘Old Nick’?  Apparently, there’s a black dog that haunts the fields next to my house and around the local farms.”

“I’ll have a word with him, if you like, should he disturb you.” Kadogan stepped back, his mind on the planters.  “Do you think royalty have seen flowers like these?”

Fiona shook her head.  “Kadogan, could you and Callum get the marquees set up, please.  I’ll get Ian to give you a hand later.  We need to get as much done as possible before the sale tomorrow.”

“The sale is genius.” Kadogan said, still admiring the flowers.  “Will you be attending, Gavin Brown?”

“Of course.  I think every non-normal in York will turn up, and a few more besides.  I’ve got my cousins coming from Nantwich.  It’s the occasion, you know.” Gavin looked around.  “If you let me know where the marquees are going then I can perhaps provide some mobile designs.  If you let me add a discreet sign advertising our business, then I’m sure there is no need for any money to change hands.”

“That would be wonderful.” Fiona said.  “Why don’t you come inside and I can show you the plans.  Jeanette has a stall selling plants.”

“Seedlings, really.” Jeanette said.  “But I thought I would make the most of the opportunity.”

“I’d be interested to see your work.” Gavin said.  “We run a cleaning and gardening service, and I’m always interested in reliable sources for plants.”

Fiona left Jeanette and Gavin talking and followed the rest of the staff back into the shop.  It looked the same as ever.  The hardwood floor gleamed, the pristine café was fully stocked and the tasteful displays and book-stuffed bookshelves were in perfect order.  Once you got behind the scenes, however, it was mayhem.

Steve had floated the idea of the fire sale.  Some of the stock was sooty or smelled of smoke and it was normal practice.  It was also a great opportunity to shift a lot of the stuff sitting in the warehouse at a cut price just to get the space back.  “It shouldn’t be too much trouble,” Steve had said.  “Just a few extra tables in the shop and we can put a note on our website.”

Then Kadogan had told everyone, including Lord Marius, that the sale would be ‘something special’ and Lord Marius had gone the length and breadth of Britain telling any non-normal that would listen that it would be a special event.  With a week to go, Steve and Fiona had been scrabbling around to live up to this.

Fiona squeezed between a stack of boxes of paper plates and a tower of packs of spray cream and found Steve checking over a list.  “Where’s Ian?”

“He’s gone to pick up some extra stock from the warehouse.” Steve said.  “Or he’s hiding before Mrs Tuesday can speak to him.  Either explanation works.”

“It’s Jeanette that needs a conversation.” Fiona said.  “And where are we going to put anything extra?”

“We can start putting some stuff in the marquees this evening after the shop closes.” Steve double checked a box of coloured sugar.  “Kieran said he would cover the security.  He said it was the least he could do after we took in Jasmine.”

“Is she really that dangerous?” Fiona asked.

Steve shrugged.  “Potentially, she’s incredibly dangerous.  Werewolves outside a pack can break without warning.  On the bright side, Ian and Callum are practically a pack, and Mrs Tuesday is taking her under her wing, so she has a good chance.  She’s been okay this week” He ticked off another line on the list and inched his way past a stack of ‘shop soiled’ smudge sticks.  “Where is Jasmine?”

“She’s sorting out the bedrooms for the band.” Fiona said.  “I wonder if we could give away this incense?  I mean, I know it’s labelled as rose, but it smells like nothing on earth.  Where did it come from?”

“Ferdi persuaded Kadogan to take some.” Steve grabbed a box of ‘fairy themed’ windchimes in the heartbeat before they fell.  “That goblin is getting on my nerves.”

“Jasmine has been fine, I suppose.” Fiona said, checking another box.  “Have you seen how close to the sell by date these sugar flowers are?”

“I’m going to price them cheap.” Steve said.  “And dump any that are left at the end of the day.  They weren’t good sellers to start with.”

Fiona looked at the insipid purple and green rosebuds.  “I think we got them as a free sample with a bigger pack of the sugar roses.  We can’t get enough of the roses but these never seem to shift.”  She sighed.  “I am worried about Jasmine, though, and I think Mrs Tuesday is as well.  She’s so, I don’t know…” Fiona waved a vague hand.

“She’s like a kicked puppy.” Steve said.  “She keeps waiting for the blow.  It’s heartbreaking.  But it makes her potentially extremely dangerous.  You never know is she is going to snap out of fear, even though she’s as safe as she’s going to be here.” He ticked the last line of his list.  “Right, that’s checked off.  I’m going to the warehouse to finish assembling the ‘Lucky Boxes’.  It’s as good a way as any to shift stuff and there’s some good deals in there.”

“A flint arrowhead in every box.” Fiona laughed.  “And ask Ian what’s going on.”

“About what?” Steve asked, before he realised.  “It’s none of our business.”

“I think letting Jeanette know that she’s having sex with a werewolf is sort of our business, if she doesn’t know.  I mean, we sent Ian to stay with her and we do have a duty of care to employees.”  Fiona found herself wringing her hands and shoved them in her pockets.  “I’d want to know.”

“I’ll have a word.” Steve promised, kissing her briefly before grabbing his jacket.  “I’ll check in on Armani at lunchtime and I’ll see you later.”

Jeanette was trying to look composed.  They were both adults and both single, so who was getting hurt?  The last week had been the best week of her life.  It wasn’t just the physical side.  It was the feeling that she was with someone who also had passion.  Ian had the sort of determination and energy that Jeanette envied and he was so supportive as she worked to get the house and gardens up to scratch.  They had watched a film last night, and she had felt so right sitting next to him.  They hadn’t managed to watch the end of the film as sitting cuddled together was too much temptation, and they had got carried away, but it had been amazing.  Jeanette pulled herself together.  She couldn’t risk daydreaming when surrounded by interested women.  She rushed into the first thing she could think of.  “Does Kadogan really believe in ghosts?”

“Of course,” Freydis said.  “Doesn’t everyone?”

“I’m not sure.” Jeanette said.  “I don’t believe myself.”

“But you have Old Nick in your fields.” Freydis said.  “Surely that is proof?”

“I’ve never seen it” Jeanette said, “And I’ve spent hours out there.”

“But have you spent hours out there in winter?” Freydis stepped back from the coffee machine and looked at the hessian bunting.  “Do you think that’s straight?”

“What does Ian say about the ghost?” Adele asked.

Jeanette felt her cheeks get warm.  “We haven’t discussed it.”

“I’m sure you’ve been busy with other things.” Freydis said, adjusting the bunting.  She frowned.  “It still doesn’t look right.”

Mrs Tuesday sighed.  “Jeanette, I think we need to talk.”

“About what?” Jeanette said.  “If it’s about me and Ian, then it’s private.  It’s not like anything is affecting my work, and if it is, shouldn’t it be Fiona or Steve talking to me?”

“I’d go, if I were you.” Adele said.  “And it’s either Mrs Tuesday or Freydis.”

“I’m still not sure.  One of the most expensive coffees is called Gesha.” Freydis twitched the bunting again.  “What do you think about Gesha as a name?”

“It sounds like a sneeze.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She gestured for Jeanette to precede her up the stairs.  Jeanette gave in and ran up to the office.

Fiona was relieved that the shop was quiet.  Dave had back to back Tarot readings, as he had cleared the diary for the next day.  He, Sir Ewan and Darren would be walking the streets of York to keep an eye out while Lord Ragnar’s court were at the sale.  Ian and Callum were busy at the warehouse with Steve, getting the sale goods ready to load and filling lucky boxes and mystery bags.  Adele was in the back, getting as much set up as possible for catering tomorrow.  Fiona was at the till, checking the emails and their social media.  If everyone who said they were coming turned up, they would be swamped.

Jasmine cleaned the tables as Freydis stroked the coffee machine.  Jasmine was a hard worker, like most werewolves, and she kept checking to see if Fiona was approving.  She was an odd, awkward and almost gangly contrast to Freydis, both appearing tall and blonde but the elegance of Freydis was entirely missing in Jasmine.  Fiona wondered how long it would take for Jasmine to relax.  It had taken Ian months and he was still a little wary.  Callum had settled in quicker, but he had allowed Ian to take the lead.

“Mrs Tuesday is spending a long time with Jeanette.” Freydis said.  She ran a manicured finger over the steamer switch.  “I can’t imagine what she’s saying.”

“Lots of people are scared of us.” Jasmine said.  “Jeanette may not feel safe with Ian.  I know he’s okay, but Jeanette may not understand.”

“Ian is perfectly safe for Jeanette.” Freydis opened the cupboard next to the coffee machine and sighed in pleasure at the boxes of coffee ready to go.  “In fact, I think they are a perfect match.  He should bite her.”

“I don’t think that’s going to help.” Jasmine said.  She shut up quickly as Ian came in.

“I’ve brought over the tables and table cloths ready to set up.” Ian said.  “Jasmine, did you get the clothes yesterday?”

Jasmine couldn’t meet his eyes.  “It seems silly to get new clothes.  These are clean.  I wash them every night.” She looked down at the shrunken man’s t-shirt hanging off her and the faded jeans.  “These look great,” she said despite the evidence.

“You got paid yesterday.” Ian said.  “Steve agreed that for now you can get paid in cash every week.  You were supposed to go and pick up a few things.  That t-shirt will be worn out before next week.”

“I don’t really need that much.” Jasmine took the tray of dirty plates back to the dishwasher.  “Anyway, I can pick something up at the weekend.”

“Jasmine, you know we are busy at the weekend.” Ian’s voice had a certain steel in it.  “So you know you won’t be able to go shopping.  You need more than two t-shirts and a pair of jeans.  I know Fiona has let you borrow a few tops, but you need your own things.”

Jasmine loaded the dishwasher, tension in every line.  “But what if I can’t earn money next week?  And I don’t have a lot, anyway.  The jeans in Freydis’ magazine were all over a hundred pounds.” Her voice broke a little.

“That magazine isn’t real life.” Ian took a breath.  “I’m not letting you look like a scarecrow.  It looks bad for me.  I’m going to take you to get some clothes now, while it’s quiet.”

“A man can’t take a woman shopping for clothes.” Freydis said.  “They don’t understand.”

“Watch me.” Ian said.  “Jasmine, run upstairs, get your jacket and we’ll get out while it’s quiet.  I can’t do much more until the shop closes.  Then you can help me sort out the marquees.”

“I don’t want to be any trouble…” Jasmine looked trapped.

“Don’t worry, I won’t let you.” Ian said.

There was a slam and a clatter down the stairs.  Jeanette flew into the shop, tears staining her cheeks.  She ran into the back room to grab her coat and bag and then flew out again.  She stormed up to Ian.  “You never thought to tell me.  You never thought to say that you were a…” Jeanette took an angry gulp of air.  “You never thought to mention that you were a monster?”

“I’m not a monster.” Ian said quietly, his hands hanging down by his sides and his shoulders tense.

Jeanette ignored him.  “When were you going to tell me?  After all we were doing.” She tried to catch her breath.  “I don’t want to see you again.  I don’t want to speak to you again.  I want nothing more to do with you.  Stay away from me!” She whirled around and stamped away.

Ian stared after her, his heart breaking a little more at each furious step as Jeanette raced out of the door and up the street.  For a moment he closed his eyes.  Then he took a deep breath and deliberately relaxed his shoulders.  “Jasmine, go and get your jacket.  We need to get a move on if we are going to get you anything decent.”

“Are you sure, sir?” Jasmine asked, her eyes full of empathy.

“Absolutely.  The werewolves of the White Hart are not going to look like ragbags.  Now go on, get that jacket!” And Ian walked slowly across the room to the door, his back straight and his face set.

Dean kept his walk casual and his body language relaxed.  The number of revenants had dropped drastically over the last week, but the ones that had been spotted seemed to be have been working like a pack and with some sort of purpose.  He was keeping watch this evening, like Luke, as the people from the White Hart were so busy.  As he watched the corners and the angles, the back of his mind was worrying away at what was happening with the revenants.  They didn’t seem to be feeding now but were mugging tourists and looting abandoned garages.

Dean turned the corner and, keeping his head down, strolled down the back street.  The evenings were long and golden, and some tourists still lingered around the walls and along the narrow streets near the Minster.  He could hear laughter spilling out from the bars and felt regret.  He had squandered so much time there but at least he had belonged.  Now he felt rootless.  Miss Patience seemed to be getting weirder as the revenants increased so he avoided her as much as he dared, but he wasn’t part of the White Hart either.  He was almost sure that Fiona could work with him, but Steve really couldn’t.  He didn’t blame him.  He started to head towards the river.  The nixies had talked about dead bones being dumped in the water so there may be something going on down there.

Someone was keeping step with him.  Dean kept his composure but who the hell could creep up on a vampire?  The paces were almost exactly matching him, the presence next to him almost invisible.

“You’re not feeding properly.”

Dean looked at the man next to him.  He looked in his thirties. “I’m doing okay.”

“No, you’re barely staving off the demons inside you.  Just a few more mouthfuls and some regular food and it will make all the difference.  I’m Martin, by the way.”

“Dean Mackenzie.” Dean held out his hand to shake the hand of the vampire walking next to him.

“So young and so proud.” Martin said.  They carried down towards the river.  In silence.  Dean broke first.

“I haven’t seen you at Miss Patience’ house.”

“No, I’ve not much time for Patience.  I’ve always found her too emotional.” Martin said, his eyes flicking into the alleys and side roads just like Dean.

Dean turned and stared at him.  “You’re not scared of Miss Patience?”

Martin shrugged.  “I’m more worried about what is going on with the dark influence.  What do you know?”

Dean wondered what was safe to tell.  “There was an issue with a vampire last year.  He was destroyed but a lot of dark energy lingered.  He’d put a lot into Lord Ragnar’s domain and it’s still in some quarters.  Then revenants started appearing.”

Martin walked next to him in silence for a while.  They reached the river and strolled along the path before Martin indicated a bench.  He watched Dean sit down before joining him.  “This vampire that was destroyed.  Did he create you?”

Dean kept his eyes fixed on the river.  “Yes.”

“And you didn’t ask for it?” Martin said, his voice calm but inescapable.

“No.  I think he planned to kill me, but I turned instead.” Dean didn’t dare look at Martin.  A chill ran through him as he realised that he had never yet met a vampire as powerful as the creature sitting next to him.  He didn’t know what to do.

“So your creator didn’t teach you.” Martin sounded thoughtful.  “Did Patience show you how to feed?”

“Yes, and she took me to a farm just outside Thirsk.  I get a good feed there every week and sometimes I feed at her court.” Dean kept his eyes fixed on the river.  “But I don’t like leaving marks.”

“Did your creator leave marks on you?” Martin asked.  Dean nodded, not able to speak.  Martin continued in the same even tone.  “Did Patience show you how to avoid marks and to make your feeding companion comfortable?”

Dean turned and stared at him.  “Is that possible?”

Martin grimaced.  “Not only is it possible, it’s desirable.” He sighed.  “I will show you how to feed.  It is not safe for you to stay so close to the edge of your sanity.  Then we can talk a little more about this dark power.”

It was Luke’s turn to cook.  He had made the rice salad beforehand and now he just had to cook the chicken.  He pulled out an oven dish.  The chicken could be baked with tomatoes and olives.  It wouldn’t need much attention and he could grab a quick shower.  Jeanette slammed into the kitchen.

“Ian won’t be here for dinner,” she announced.

“That’s a shame.” Luke said, completely missing any undertones.  “I was wondering about trying a new Bible study course with him.  I’ll ask him when I see him next.”

“He’s not coming here.” Jeanette hung up her coat with venom.

Luke turned around and looked her properly.  She was flushed and her eyes were bright.  He had absolutely no idea what to say.  “I’ll just get this chicken in and then I’ll get a quick shower as I’m out tonight.  There’s rice salad in the fridge.”

Jeanette watched him leave before filling the kettle, her hand shaking.  It wasn’t fair.  She had been falling for Ian in a big way.  She thought she had finally met someone that was right for her, someone that she could believe in.  She watched the kettle as it boiled before realising she hadn’t got a mug out.  Her mind whirled as she made a strong cuppa.  What was she supposed to think?  Ian had been so gentle at exactly the right times and so passionate when she needed it.  He had been perfect.  He had been kind and thoughtful and she had always had a sense that she could rely on him to the end of the world.  She started laying the table on autopilot.  Why was he a werewolf?  Why couldn’t he be just a man that she met at work?

She had no doubt that Mrs Tuesday was telling the truth.  Knowing that Freydis was a supernatural creature with issues was the only thing that made explained her behaviour.  It was amazing how things made sense – the way Callum and Jasmine deferred to Ian, the unexpected strength of Mrs Tuesday, even with a bad back, Ian’s relentless energy, Ferdi’s strange appearance, some of the stock that they were selling, Ian’s strength and physical fitness.  Jeanette looked down.  She had laid the table for three.  If she had had any tears left she would have broken down and sobbed.  As it was, she quietly put away the plate, knife and fork and sagged into a kitchen chair.

There was a quiet tap on the kitchen door.  Jeanette didn’t even look up.  She couldn’t deal with anyone at the door right now, no matter what they were collecting for.  There was another tap.  Jeanette felt that she didn’t have the strength to lift her head, let alone answer the door.

The door opened and Ian stepped in.  Jeanette refused to look up.  She clenched her hands around the mug.  “Please go.”

“Jeanette, please, listen to me.” Ian was quiet but determined.  “You have to believe that I am not a threat to you.”

“Why should I believe it?” Jeanette stared at her tea, keeping her eyes away from Ian.

“Because it’s true?” Ian walked over and sat opposite her at the table.

Jeanette looked up, and her heart half broke at the hurt in Ian’s eyes.  “You lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie to you.” Ian said.

“You didn’t tell me who you were.  When was that going to happen?”

“I don’t know.” Ian was so quiet that Jeanette could barely hear him.  “I didn’t want to say anything at first.  It never ends well.  People get the wrong idea.  Then we were just getting on, just talking.  I was grateful to work here, you know.”

“I know, you kept working even though…” Jeanette’s voice broke.  “Why?”

“I was looking for someone as a partner.  I needed to pair up with another werewolf.” Ian managed a smile.  “I didn’t think that you could be a partner.  But it was difficult.  I didn’t know what I was thinking, I felt confused.  Working here helped.”

There was a silence.  Ian broke it first.  “No more secrets.  About a year and a half ago, maybe a little more, I accidentally summoned a demon.  I didn’t mean to, but it was the wrong thing to do.  My pack would have tolerated an accident, but I was using magic to get leadership of that pack, and that wasn’t allowed.  They made me divorce my wife and leave the pack.  I was a stray.  It’s a big deal.” Ian managed another ghost of a smile.  “Being a stray is worse than summoning a demon, for werewolves.  The people at the White Hart took me in.  Traditionally strays are hunted down or driven out.  Kadogan and Fiona were kind.”

“They are kind.” Jeanette remembered all the small acts of kindness that passed around the White Hart every day, even from Freydis.

“Callum had been driven out of his pack for sniffing around the wrong lady.  He had fallen in with the wrong crowd and made some bad choices before he saved Fiona and made a deal with Lord Ragnar.  He came to stay with us as well.” Ian’s smile became slightly less strained.  “I’ve taken the place of pack leader with him and I’m keeping him in line.  He’s a good lad and deserves a break.  He keeps his fur flat and pulls his weight and has come on leaps and bounds.  He didn’t know about normal society at all, you know, but he kept his tail up and learned his lessons and now he can almost walk in York without getting panicked.” Ian’s smile became wry.  “He was kept away from towns.  He still can’t always cope with a crowd of humans.  Then he fell for Adele.  But he can’t settle down with her if the pack leader hasn’t got a mate.  The pack leader gets the first relationship.  It’s a deep, werewolf thing.  And I was still missing Ann and moping.  But if Callum wants to settle down then I had to find someone.  I didn’t want to pair up with someone who would want a stray who summoned a demon.  I wouldn’t want the sort of partner who would want me.” Ian shrugged.  “I’m a hypocrite.”

Jeanette thought she understood.  The sort of woman who would settle for someone looked down on wouldn’t do for the man sitting opposite her, driven and determined.  “Is that why Jasmine turned up?”

“She was thrown out of her pack for fighting and… other reasons.” Ian reached over to take Jeanette’s hand, but she pulled away.  His mouth tightened.  “She was getting pressure to pair up with me and turned up to let me know it wasn’t happening.” Ian shook his head.  “She’s a good kid, but she’s got a lot of growing to do.  I took her shopping for clothes earlier.  I wish I could have asked you for help.”

“I walked home.” Jeanette said.  “It’s eight miles and I think I cried most of the way.  I could believe that Freydis was a supernatural pain in the neck and that Mrs Tuesday was a thingy, a boggart, but I couldn’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

Ian stood up and walked around the table.  “I didn’t know what to say.  I was scared that you would turn away from me.  And when was a good time to tell you?”

Jeanette stood up.  “Before you took me to bed.”

“You wanted that just as much as I did.” Ian said sharply.

“Yes, I did.  I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t the best sex I had ever had.  But I didn’t know it was with a werewolf.  Did you sleep with me for Callum’s sake?”

“What?” Ian looked blank.

“I’ve seen what you’ll do for your little pack, for Callum and Jasmine.  I bet you hated the thought of shopping for clothes for Jasmine but did it because it was the right thing to do.  And I know you’ve gone out of your way for Callum time and again.  Did you decide to ‘pair up’ with me so that Callum could settle down.”

“No!” Ian tried to reach for Jeanette but she backed away.  “I didn’t think of you like that.”

“So I’m good enough for a casual encounter, but nothing serious?  Are you still looking for the perfect werewolf to settle down with, someone who could take Jasmine for clothes?”

“No, it’s not like that?”

“What is it like?” Jeanette backed up further and felt the fridge against her shoulders.

“I didn’t expect to feel like this.” Ian scrabbled for words.  “I just liked being with you.  And when things got more passionate, I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.  Jeanette, please, think about it.  We can start over, start slow, maybe just date.  It’s not about anyone else, it’s about how I feel about you.”

Jeanette swallowed.  She wanted to believe him so much.  “I don’t know you.  I thought I did, but I don’t.  I don’t understand about werewolves and boggarts and elfen.” She choked back a sob.  “And how do I know that it’s about me and not Callum and Jasmine?”

“Because if it was about them I would be looking for a werewolf.  It’s you that I’m interested in, not someone fitting a job description.” Ian reached out towards Jeanette.  “Please, listen to me.”

“I can’t deal with anymore today.” Jeanette held on to the back of her chair.  “Please leave.”

“Jeanette, please, we can talk this over.” Ian advanced as Jeanette retreated around the table.

“If she doesn’t want to talk to you, I think you should leave.” Luke was standing in the doorway, a towel around his waist and a stern expression in his eyes.

“This isn’t something you should interfere with.” Ian said coldly.  “This is entirely about Jeanette and I.”

“I think I can speak up for Jeanette when she’s wanting peace.” Luke kept his voice calm but there was an edge.  The room crackled with tension.  Ian’s fists clenched.

“Jeanette is nothing to do with you.  Stay away from her.”

“I think she can make her own decisions about who she speaks to.” Luke wasn’t backing down.

Ian took a step towards Luke.  “Jeanette is mine.”

Jeanette flew between them.  “Ian, don’t!  Luke, you need to run, you don’t understand.  Ian’s not… Ian’s a…” She stuttered to a stop as the colour drained from Ian’s face.

“You really do think I’m a monster, don’t you?” All emotion had drained from Ian’s voice.

“Ian, I don’t know, I didn’t mean…” Jeanette struggled to find the words.  “You’re a werewolf.”

“But I’m not a monster.  It’s okay.  If that’s what you think then I’ll leave.” Ian looked past her.  “I’ll see you later Luke.  Can you drop my things at the White Hart?”

“Not a problem.” Luke said, looking between Ian and Jeanette.

Ian turned on his heel and without another glance walked out of the house.  Luke turned to Jeanette.  “What’s going on?” He put a gentle hand on her shoulder.  She shook her head and sank back into the kitchen chair.

Changing Direction

“What do you think?” Jasmine twirled in front of Darren as he grabbed a quick breakfast.

“You look nice.” Darren took another bite of his sandwich.  “Is Steve going to be much longer as I need to know if there’s any magic I need to avoid.”

“You look great.” Mrs Tuesday said, “For once Ian got something right.  That colour looks great on you.  Now get some breakfast.  It’s going to be a busy day.”

Jasmine looked down at the sky blue top, loose and cropped to rest on her slim waist and the fitted black jeans.  “It feels great.”  She twirled again.  “I didn’t know I could wear clothes like this.”

“I’m surprised Ian let you get that.” Darren said.  He leaned back in his chair and tried to look down the corridor.  “I could do with picking up any chatter from Kadogan as well.”

“What do you mean?” Jasmine asked.  “Freydis said it was in fashion.”

“I don’t know anything about fashion, but go into your room, stand in front of the mirror and raise your arms above your head.” Darren stood up.  “Is there any more tea in that pot?”

Jasmine shot out of the kitchen, leaving Mrs Tuesday chuckling.  “Spoilsport.  I was hoping that Ian would notice it this afternoon.”

“I suppose it would have been even better if Callum had noticed it and had to break it to Ian.” Darren poured himself another cup of tea.  There was a shriek from Jasmine’s room.

“I couldn’t be that cruel to Ian at the moment.” Mrs Tuesday said.

Darren sat back at the table.  “I thought he was all sorted with Jeanette.”

“She was upset that he didn’t tell her he was a werewolf.” Mrs Tuesday sat down with her own bowl of porridge and sighed.  “Then he went out to talk to her last night.”

“That seems sensible.” Darren said.

“Not when she was still upset.  According to Luke, they argued.” Mrs Tuesday sat for a moment.  “I have to stay out of this, but I could knock their heads together.”

Jasmine bounded back in.  She was now wearing a pale blue embroidered tunic which looked fresh and summery over the jeans.  “How did you know?  It nearly showed my, you know…” She waved her hand vaguely over her chest area and blushed.

Darren shrugged.  “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“It wasn’t obvious to me!” Jasmine said.  She narrowed her eyes.  “Were you planning on looking?”

“What does that even mean?” Darren picked up another bacon sandwich.  “I knew you would be uncomfortable wearing a short top, so I told you.”

“But you could have seen my underwear.” Jasmine snapped.

Darren remained unmoved.  “If I wanted to see underwear I could look in the laundry basket.  Are you going to have any breakfast?” He took a large bite out of his sandwich.

Jeanette walked in and smiled a little shyly at Mrs Tuesday.  “Fiona said I should get a bite to eat before it starts.”

“Good to see you. Take a seat.” Mrs Tuesday waved at a chair.  “You may need to make a fresh pot of tea.”  She looked sternly at Jasmine.  “You can make something for Jeanette while you’re making your own breakfast.  You need to have something to eat.”

“You look nice.” Jeanette managed a smile at Jasmine.  “That top looks really sweet.  Where did you get it?”

Jasmine twirled again.  “Isn’t it great?  I have such a lot of new clothes, they won’t all fit in one bag.  Ian took me to the charity shops because he said that there was no point in buying new and spending a load because I was bound to put on a bit of weight now I was eating regularly and I found a load of stuff.  You should see the top I nearly wore…” Jeanette trailed off as she noticed the frozen expression flit across Jeanette’s face.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Jeanette managed.  “How about some toast?”

“You sit down, Jeanette.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “Jasmine can make a good plate of breakfast for you.”

“I’m not really hungry.” Jeanette said, sitting on the edge of her chair and glancing at Darren.

“You need to have fuel, even if you have had a row with Ian.” Darren said.  “I’m glad I’m only going to be fighting revenants.  It’s going to be busy here.”

“Is there really undead underneath the shop?” Jeanette asked.

“There are some very old graves below the street, yes, but they are all sleeping.” Darren said.  “It’s all sorted out.”

“Good.” Jeanette folded her hands and looked down at them.”

Jasmine started putting the bacon in the pan.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes, of course,” Jeanette lied.

“You know I’m a werewolf as well.” Jasmine watched Jeanette’s face carefully.

“Yes, Mrs Tuesday said.  She said that you needed a place to stay and were helping out here.”

Jasmine shot Mrs Tuesday a grateful look.  “It’s good here.”

Jeanette forced a brave face.  “Did Ian really take you shopping for clothes?  I didn’t think he knew anything about that.”

“He doesn’t.” Darren said.

“At least he doesn’t go looking at girl’s underwear.” Jasmine said hotly.

“Neither do I.  It’s just that the top was too short for you if you were going to be lifting stuff.  I’m sure it would be great for going out.” Darren drained his mug.

“Crop tops can be difficult if they’re loose.” Jeanette said.  “Was it very short?”

“You could almost see my underwear.” Jasmine turned the bacon, her face burning with mortification.

“You keep going on about your underwear.” Darren said. “People will think you’re obsessed.  I wouldn’t mention it again if I were you.”  He looked through the doorway.  “Great, there’s Steve.” He stood and put his empty mug and plate on the side.  “I’ll see you later.  Good luck today.”

Mrs Tuesday closed the door behind him and waited as Jasmine put a large stack of bacon sandwiches on the table.  “Jeanette, are you alright?”

Jeanette shook her head.  “I don’t think Ian will ever forgive me.”

Fiona took a breath.  It was now almost lunchtime and it wasn’t getting easier.  She had never seen so many people in one place.  Steve had said a lot would attend, but she hadn’t expected this.

Fortunately, her husband was a sorcerer which meant that he not only managed to track down the landlord of the empty garage across the street but had also managed to persuade them to rent the space for a few days.  Two large marquees had been pitched in the forecourt and were full of tables.  It wasn’t just stuff from the White Hart.  Quite a few other people had taken stalls and the atmosphere was wonderful as people who hadn’t seen each other in a century were catching up as they browsed the knitted mug cosies and embroidered peg bags.  Non-normals who didn’t leave their grove or cave from one decade to the next were suddenly on the edges of a city and wide eyed and stunned with the overload of new experiences.  Half of the local werewolf pack were on watch for lost or struggling souls.  Some of the tourists who thought this was one of the city events had also got sucked in and were mingling around the tables covered with plants, crafts, flint arrow heads, cut price incense, marked down books and shiny cake decorations.  The elfen band was sticking to traditional jazz for the moment.  Kadogan had promised to have a word if they strayed away from normal music.

Fiona carried a large tray filled with lunch through the crowds to where Jeanette was working her plant stall.  “How are things?”

“I’m doing okay.” Jeanette said from behind a fixed smile.  “I’m selling plenty and Gavin seems interested in a few things.  We were talking again today about what I can start of for him for next year.”

“That sounds optimistic.” Fiona said.  She glanced out of the marquee and across the lot to where Ian was packing up a bundle of arrowheads.  “Here’s your tea and a sandwich.  Are you okay knowing that most of these people aren’t…”

“They’re okay.” Jeanette said.  “They’ve been great to deal with.  I was talking to a dryad from the Lake District earlier and it was fascinating.  I’ve sold a lot of Callum’s pictures as well.  So many people are surprised that a werewolf is a painter.”

“It’s good of you to sell them for him.” Fiona said.  “He still has problems with crowds sometimes and I’m glad he’s driving the van.  I’ve just had to send him back to the warehouse for more fidget spinners.”

“It’s not a problem, and the pictures are so good that they practically sell themselves.” Jeanette took the mug and plate gratefully, the smile still fixed.

“I’d better keep moving.” Fiona said.  “It’s frantic!”

Jasmine and Ian were in the next marquee and doing a roaring trade.  “Is Callum back with those fidget spinners?” Ian asked.  “We could do with another box of glow in the dark stickers.  I think there’s another two boxes in the warehouse, aisle four if I remember right, on the left hand side.”

“I’ll text him when I get back to the shop.” Fiona said.  “Here’s your lunch snack.”

Jasmine watched Ian warily as he picked up a well-filled chicken sandwich and took a bite before nodding at her.  She sighed and picked up her own plate.  “I’m starving.  I thought Mrs Tuesday was joking when she said I needed a good breakfast, but she was right.”  Jasmine took a large bite before darting off to help a bewildered boggart chose between the varieties of cheap incense.

Ian shook his head as he rested his plate down.  He caught Fiona’s expression.  “She can’t eat until the head of the pack has eaten.  They were pretty strict over in Liverpool, not that it’s a bad thing.  It’s good to have a strong structure.” Ian looked at Jasmine as she joked while wrapping up a packet.  “She’s like a cub today.  She’ll collapse by around 8pm and sleep for twelve hours.  It won’t do her any harm.”

“She’s really thrilled by the clothes.  Thank you for taking her.  I would have taken her myself, but I didn’t have time.” Fiona said.

“I’d rather deal with revenants than clothes shopping.” Ian said.  “But she’s a good kid.”

“Next time perhaps one of the girls from the White Hart can go with her.” Fiona said.  “Not Mrs Tuesday,” she added.

“Mrs Tuesday wouldn’t see her go wrong.” Ian said.  He took a small bite of the sandwich.  “How are Callum’s paintings selling?”

“They’re going well.” Fiona said.  “I was in there a minute ago and I think almost half have gone.  He’s done really well.”

“It’s good of Jeanette to help him out like that.” Ian said, his voice carefully controlled.  “Especially as she’s, well, working things out.”

Fiona wished she knew what to say.  “I’m sure it will all turn out fine.”

“Yes, I’m sure they will.” Ian sounded unconvinced.

Dean found it strangely comforting to walk with Martin.  The late afternoon sun was still bright but welcome shadows stretched across roads and paths.  Before all this he had always been a morning person.  Now he barely functioned before noon.  “There seem to be less revenants.”

Martin squinted into the sun as they passed the entrance to the Yorkshire Museum.  “I think that was just the edge, the foam on top of the wave.  I know that there’s something else around.  I just can’t work out what.” He turned and looked at Dean.  “But we take this opportunity to strengthen our defences.  What are you doing for money?”

“I’ve got some money saved and I’ve registered for some graveyard shift phone jobs.  It’s covering the rent.” Dean said.

“There’s a lawyer, just outside Chester, called Mr Beddoes.  He handles a lot of vampires’ affairs.  I bought a few bits of property a few years back and I’ve been renting them out over the last century or so.  While I’ve been… sleeping, Mr Beddoes managed it all for me.  We always need money, Dean.  We need to be able to pay for presents for the people we feed from, need to buy silence sometimes, and the sort of privacy we need can be expensive.  Do you have a trade?”

Dean shook his head.  “I used to work in a call centre.”

“You need to learn one.” Martin said.  “And I am too out of touch still to give suggestions.  It is something to think about.” They walked on in silence for some time as the shadows spread and the air cooled.

There were no revenants but there were small pockets of darkness in the very heart of those shadows.  Smaller than Dean’s hand, they were inky drops that seemed ready to spill out with malevolence.  “What are those things?”

Martin shrugged.  “I never had a name for them.  I’ve only seen them once before and never spread out.  At my best guess, it’s like a curse pocket.  A tiny drop of energy looking for malice.  What did this Rey do?”

Dean shook his head.  “I don’t know. I was just a fall guy, someone to use and discard.  I didn’t know that there was a court or anything.”

“But he was having a love affair with an elfen, right?” Martin said.

“Yes,” Dean tried to think back.  “He was sleeping with the wife of Lord Ragnar.  I think he was using it to get influence.  They’re divorced now.”

They walked on a little way, sweeping around past the Minster.  Martin looked up at it thoughtfully.  “A lot of people died building that.  Accidents happen on the best building sites and a load of stone landing on your chest can hurt.”

“Did you work on it?” Dean asked.

Martin shook his head.  “But I knew people who did.  It is a wonderful place and a great memorial.” He looked around.  “Let’s head back to the river.”

“Freydis gave Rey a corner of the faerie kingdom to have for himself.” Dean said.  “I used to visit him down there and it was always tricky.”

“Did he try and shape it in any way?” Martin asked.

“He did shape it.  I remember he set it up as a trap for anyone hunting him there the night he was killed.”

“And that’s the problem.” Martin looked at Dean.  “We need to get off the street.” They walked briskly away down towards Picadilly and Martin headed into the corner of a closed car park.  After a careful glance around, he turned to Dean.  “We are dead.  We are literally dead men walking and we bring death with us.  We can carry the plague in our bites and spread typhoid and worse.  We do not bring light.” He watched Dean’s face set before carrying on.  “We can choose what we do.  We can choose to bite gently or bite hard, to sip or drain, and even whether we pull a paladin out of a hard fight or watch him fall.  But we cannot choose what we are.  Rey took our dark essence and mingled it with the wildness of faerie and now we have strange death.” Martin took a deep breath as he caught up with his thoughts.  “You know how crazy the elfen can get, how they twist the world around them?  Something in the faerie domain is infused with our death and looking to find a way to show it.  It’s tried revenants, but it hasn’t worked.  We can expect a lot more ghosts, now, and who knows what else.” Martin grimaced.  “I think I’m going to have to call on Lord Ragnar.”

Ian gave Jeanette her lift home at the end of the day, because they had always done that.  Any conversation to arrange anything different would have been far too awkward.  The half dozen plants that Jeanette hadn’t sold out of the many she had brought in were rattling in the back of the truck.  On all practical levels, it had been a good day.

Jeanette looked blankly out of the window.  Ian was the best thing that had happened to her for a long time.  But he was a werewolf.  She didn’t even know what that meant.  Besides, she could feel the hurt coming from him.  He may never look at her that way again.  Jeanette felt her heart break a little.  She had hurt him, and she had never, ever wanted to do that.

The van drew up smoothly outside Jeanette’s house.  Jeanette was relieved to see that there was no sign of Luke’s car.  “Thank you for the lift.” Jeanette forced herself to look at Ian.  His face was unreadable.

“I’ll give you a hand with the plants.  You sold a lot today.”

“Yes, I made quite a bit.” Jeanette got out of the van and joined him to pick up an armful of plants.  “It’s no trouble.  I can manage.”

“I’m happy to help.” Ian swept up the few remaining dianthus and slammed the van door shut.   “Should I put these in the greenhouse?”

“Thank you.” Jeanette walked ahead of him, trying not to remember the day he had stripped off in the greenhouse and hosed himself down.  He was just so kind.  She glanced over her shoulder.  “I really appreciate all the help you’ve given me and all that you’ve done…”

“I’ll finish off the irrigation, that’s not a problem.” Ian said. “Like I said, it’s good to keep busy.”

The greenhouse was still sauna warm after the day and Jeanette felt her skin prickle in the sudden heat as she placed the plants onto their bench.  She looked up at Ian and their eyes met.  “I’m sorry I called you a monster.”

“It’s okay.” Ian said.  He swallowed and turned away.  “I suppose I am.  I’m a werewolf, after all.  I’ve fought with vampires and I even summoned a demon once.”

“Mrs Tuesday said the demon was an accident.  I can believe that.  Besides, you took Jasmine shopping for clothes and I think that makes you a hero.”

Ian looked back.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean you put yourself last.  You went with a girl that still acts like a young teenager and got clothes when she had no idea and neither did you.  You watch out for Callum and keep him on the straight and narrow.  I know that Luke has been glad of your help.  You’re a hero and I don’t know if I’m up to your standard.” Jeanette heard herself admit a hard truth.  Was she up to Ian’s standard?  She wanted to be.  “Can we try again?”

Ian held up a hand.  “No more lies.  I want to, but I’ve got to be honest.  I don’t want a quick fling or a casual hook up.  I want something permanent, something strong.  I don’t want something that fades and changes.  I want a home and a family and someone who I can trust to have my back.  Do you think we could have that?”

Jeanette held his gaze.  “You mean, put down roots, build something up, work and get the satisfaction of seeing what you’ve achieved?  I want that, more than anything but…” She took all her courage in her hands.  “Would I have to become a werewolf?”

Ian shook his head as he stepped warily towards her.  “It’s not usual, but it’s known.  You’ll have to get used to our ways.  I’m sorry.  It’s who we are – what we are.  But you would be okay.  Besides, it’s just me and Jasmine and Callum.  We’re pretty safe.”

Jeanette stepped slightly closer to him.  “No more lies.  I’m scared of what it all means, but I want to be with you.  I want the amazing sex and I want the roots.  I want the passion, but I want something permanent, just like you said.  I don’t know how well I’ll manage with the werewolf part of things.”

“Are you brave?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know.  I hope so.” Jeanette was so close to him now.

“I’ve been called brave, but I’ve never been more scared in my life.” Ian rested his hands gently on her shoulders.  “Why don’t we risk it?  Why don’t we try?  If we don’t, we’ll never know.”

Jeanette nodded, her mouth too dry to speak.  Ian took a deep breath and swung her into his arms.  “Let’s go to bed.”

Reception

Jasmine wrapped the small box of lemon and ginger tea.  “There you are, Miss Patience.  Can I help you with anything else?”

“No.” Miss Patience placed the packet in her bag.  “Thank you.”

Jasmine watched the vampire glide towards the door and open it with a lace-gloved hand.  Waiting until Miss Patience was well out of earshot, Jasmine shook her head.  “She is weird.”

“She was wearing jeans a few weeks ago.” Adele said, coming over from the café.

“It’s probably a psychotic break or being overtaken by evil.” Freydis wandered over with a frappe.  “I am so stunned that there is ice in summer.  How can people imagine ice in summer?”

“I’ve been in faerie realms where there are corners that are always winter.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“But that is winter there.” Freydis said.  “It’s summer here.”

“You could always go to those corners, grab an icicle and bring it back into a summer realm.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“But the icicle would no longer be in winter.” Freydis said.  “So it couldn’t be imagined.”

“But you just carry it from one part of the domain to another.” Mrs Tuesday looked at the others in search of sanity.

“But then it wouldn’t be in winter.” Freydis sighed.  “It is too quiet today and I still haven’t decided on a name.  Perhaps Mocha?”

“Frappe might be nice.” Jasmine said.  “It’s got a ring about it.”

“You could call yourself after one of those coffee pod things,” Adele suggested.  “That would make a change.”

“They’re trademarked.” Freydis waved a hand.  “I need to convey my inner self.  I need Lord Ragnar to see me completely desirable, unattainable but yet a sliver of hope.”

“That’s a tough one.” Jasmine said.

“I should not have thrown my coffee cup at his head.” Freydis rearranged the dried grasses next to the machine.

“No, it was a bad idea.” Jasmine had had to clean it up.

“I worry that it may have given him hope.” Freydis stepped back and looked at her work.

“Do you want to get back with him?” Jasmine asked.

“Of course.” Freydis said, going back to the machine and moving a stem of oats a fraction to the left.

“Then don’t you have to let him think he has a little chance?”

Freydis frowned.  “I have it – Chai!”

“It sounds like a martial art.” Adele said.

Jeanette came in weighed down by bags.  “You have to help me.”

Jasmine bounded up to her.  “What’s the matter?”

“What do I wear tonight?  Ian says I’ve got to look good but not too good.”

Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t look better than Kieran’s wife.  That would cause trouble.  But you have to look like you have class and style, because Ian’s almost a pack leader so you have to look good to reflect his position.”

“We’re just dating.” Jeanette said with an edge in her voice.

“That’s what you think.” Freydis picked up a silver bag.  “This is nice.”  She pulled out a well cut, navy blue trouser suit.  “You would have to dress it up, but it is suitable.”

Jeanette looked at her doubtfully.  “Are you sure?  I think it suits me, but I’m not sure that it’s formal enough.  Ian said elegant but not too formal.”

Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t wear full length.  But it has to look fancy.”

“What did you wear?” Adele asked.

Jasmine shrugged.  “I was at the tail of the pack.  I just wore a clean skirt and top or nice trousers – not jeans!”

“I got this blouse from the charity shop.  It’s pure silk.” Jeanette pulled out a delicate shirt blouse patterned with steel blue paisley.  “It was a real bargain.  I think it could go with the trouser suit or this skirt.” She pulled out a black suede skirt, beautifully cut and almost ankle length.  “I’ve lost some weight with all the work on the small holding, so it’s a little big for me, but I’ve got some nice belts and a shawl that I could wear instead of a jacket.”

“What else have you got?” Freydis peered into the heap of bags that had collapsed around Jeanette’s feet.  “The blouse would be perfect with either the trouser suit or skirt, though more striking with the skirt. Was it really second-hand?  It looks like it was hardly worn.”

“I have been to every charity shop in York.” Jeanette said.  “My feet are killing me and I swear I can’t face another changing room.” She paused.  “Is it okay to tell people I got the clothes there?”

Jasmine shrugged.  “Martha is supposed to wear the good stuff all the time, and get it new, but it’s considered clever to get a good deal if you’re someone like me.” She stroked over the skirt.

Freydis pulled out a slim fitting cocktail dress in sugar pink and shook her head.  “You should take this back.  It would take all the colour out of you.  I think looking stunning and wearing good quality clothes would reflect well on Ian but at the same time you have obtained a thrifty bargain and are not trying to show wealth but prudent care for a smaller bank balance.  I should tell them.  This is nice.” She pulled out a painted necklace.  “It’s very striking and doesn’t look like something a four year old would make even though it is constructed from wooden beads.”

Darren walked in.  “Are we adding a boutique to the business?” He strode past the clothes and over to the racks of incense.  “Nobody ask me an opinion about the clothes, because I will give you an honest answer.”

“I’d better get these out of the way.” Jeanette scooped the heap up and scuttled towards the back room.

“I’ll have a look at that skirt and see if I can take it in quickly this afternoon.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a tricky material, but it may be possible to do a quick fix for tonight and a proper job later on.” She followed Jeanette into the back.

Jasmine watched Darren scan through the varieties and pick up a couple of packs of church incense.  She looked around quickly.  Adele was in a far corner re-stocking the ornaments and Freydis was serving a couple that had followed Darren into the shop.  She smiled nervously at Darren as he placed the incense on the counter and reached for his wallet.  “It’s okay.  Steve said that you get all incense free.  There’s a special button on the till.” She scanned the packs and slid them into a paper bag.

“That’s kind of him.” Darren said.  “I don’t mind paying.”

Jasmine shook her head.  “Steve said it was important.”  She looked around again.  No-one was paying much attention.  Adele was trying to work out how to stuff four plastic fairies into a space meant for three and Freydis was charming the couple who were both nodding and smiling as she added whipped cream to their hot chocolates with an elegant flourish.  “Can I ask you something?”

“No, I can’t see your underwear.” Darren said as he picked up the bag.  He looked over Jasmine’s long, gypsy skirt and loose shirt.  “You look very nice.”

“It’s not about clothes.” Jasmine said.  “Do you really think I look nice?” she added.

Darren wished he knew what to say when women asked him questions like that.  He never seemed to get it right.  “You look nice.  You look comfortable and happy.”

Jasmine glowed.  “Thank you.  I know I need to look nice to reflect well on Ian.  He’s been so good to me and I don’t want him to be ashamed.” She glanced around again.  “But I need to ask, do you think Ian likes me?  I don’t mean likes me like he likes Jeanette, but likes me like he likes Callum?”  She twisted her fingers.  “Does he think I’m useful?”

“Of course he does.” Darren said.  He stopped and thought.  “Has he said anything to you?”

“No, but he’s so busy and he’s taking Jeanette to dinner at Fulford with Kieran and I don’t want him to feel awkward if he gets asked questions about me.”

“He’s not really said anything about you to me, except that he thinks you’re a good kid.” Darren said.  “And I think he’s right.”

Jasmine’s smile lit up her face and she took a deep breath.  “Did he say that?  It means that I’m an asset, not trouble.”

“I don’t know about that.” Darren said.  “But, what is it they say?  Keep your tail up and your fur flat and you’ll do fine.  And you will, I’m sure.”

Jasmine sighed happily.

Lord Ragnar stared moodily down at the street below.  He and Kadogan had found their way to the rooftops above Stonegate and were perched unseen next to the wary jackdaws.  “I cannot believe she would change her name.”

Kadogan shrugged.  As a loyal subject of Lord Ragnar, and possibly the nearest the elfen got to a friend, he had heard a lot on this theme.  He was bored.  “She still uses Freydis.”

“But she talks about changing her name to outlandish things such as ‘Steamer’.  She is not mine.”

“You could change your name.” Kadogan said with a hint of malice.

“I am the Prince of York.  I change my name for no-one.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glared at the pigeon which was pecking around the nearby gutter.  “On the other hand, a Viking name could be considered a little dated.”

Kadogan regretted his jibe.  “What could you use?  A name from a tea to go with her coffee?”

“I could use Assam.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.

“I suggest that you consider how it could be shortened.  Punishing that would take up too much time.” Kadogan watched the crowds swirling below as the tourists flowed towards the Minster or ebbed away.

“How about Chai?” Lord Ragnar was still glaring at the unconcerned pigeon.

“It sounds like a martial art.” Kadogan sprawled lazily along the ridge tiles.  He could watch the movement of the crowds and their shadows for hours.  He frowned and leaned forward.

“I am not calling myself English Breakfast,” Lord Ragnar said in an attempt to be light hearted.  “There is a type of tea called Gunpowder Tea.”

“Those shadows are wrong.” Kadogan said.

“What?  What has that to do with Freydis?”

“My lord, look.  That patch there – it’s wrong.” Kadogan pointed at a corner of an alley.

Lord Ragnar followed Kadogan’s direction and frowned.  “That’s not a natural shadow.”

“I think, with respect, your name can wait.” Kadogan stretched and flowed into a form ready to land in the alley.  “That is dark energy piling in heaps and it is very near the entrance to your domain.  It is looking for a home.  My lord, we need to act.”

Jeanette smoothed down her skirt.  Mrs Tuesday had done a fantastic job and it fitted perfectly.  Her hair was loose for once and hung in shining curls over her shoulders and down her back.  She had draped a lacy cardigan around her shoulders and felt elegantly uncomfortable.

Ian was wearing a suit but without a tie and looked incredibly distinguished.  As Jeanette glanced quickly at him, her heart turned over.  Jeanette knew he was nervous, but he hid it well as they walked into the large lounge.  Every head turned.  Jeanette could feel colour in her cheeks but she kept her smile in place.  It looked like she had judged it correctly.  The men were all wearing suits and the women all looked like they had taken some effort.  Some of the older ladies wore pearls with their summer dresses, some of the younger ladies wore tailored trousers with their crisp, fresh tops but all looked like they stuck to a dress code.

Ian guided her over to the centre of the room.  “Jeanette, this is Kieran Latimer and his wife Martha.  He is the head of the pack here.  Kieran, Martha, this is Jeanette Fowler.  She has just taken over a smallholding just outside York.”

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Kieran smiled and shook Jeanette’s hand.  “I trust Ian is treating you well?”

Jeanette kept smiling and wondered how to take this.  There was a definite undertone to Kieran’s words.  “Ian has been very kind to me, and incredibly helpful.  He installed irrigation for me, and I am very grateful.”

“Hmm.” Kieran gave Ian a hard look.  Ian met it without flinching.  “Glad to hear that.”

“You look lovely,” Martha said, drawing Jeanette a little way away from the men.  “Where did you get that amazing skirt?  I’ve been looking for one just like it.”

“I picked it up in a charity shop.” Jeanette said, a little thrown.

“Of course.” Martha sighed.  “Which means I can’t go back and get my size.  What a shame.  I used to love rummaging in charity shops.  I came home empty handed more often than not, but it was the thrill of the chase.” She threw a loving look at her husband.  “Kieran prefers I shop at the better boutiques these days, but I do miss it.  Perhaps you would invite me along next time?  I may not be able to pick up anything myself, but I could still enjoy looking.”

“That would be nice.” Jeanette found herself relaxing.  Martha was safe in a way that few people were.  You knew that whatever happened, Martha would keep her head and make sensible and calm decisions while mayhem reigned around her.  She looked in her late thirties in a mature but well maintained way, taller than Jeanette with soft blonde hair and a warm smile.  “I’m sure you know the best places.”

“We need to go to Leeds.” Martha said.  “There are around twenty shops within yards of each other in Headingley and lots of lovely tea shops.  We could make a day of it – in the winter.  I couldn’t interrupt you during growing season.”

Jeanette relaxed a little more.  “I went to Headingley a few years ago.  My grandad was watching the cricket, but I went around the shops with my mum and you are right – there are dozens of them.” She hesitated.  “Is it okay to talk about Jasmine?  It’s just that she needs clothes and it would be good to go with her.  I think she needs reassurance.  If that’s okay with you or I could go with Jasmine some other time.” She added hastily.

Martha looked worried.  “Is Jasmine a trouble to you?  I would be worried about keeping her in line.  She has a bad reputation, you know, but I had a word with Darlene from Liverpool and…” Martha stopped.  “Jasmine has a reputation for fighting, but I understand where it came from.  Have you had any trouble?”

Jeanette shook her head.  “She’s actually been very sweet and a little nervous, if anything.  I know she fought with Ian when she first came to York, but, apart from that, she’s been fine.  In fact, I worry because she seems so eager to please, as if she’s waiting for a kick.”

Martha nodded.  “It’s hard if she has spent time as a stray.  It’s a cruel life and if she can keep her tail off the ground after that then all credit to her.”  She looked over to where Ian and Kieran were deep in conversation.  “Ian took a risk taking her in, though I suspect Mrs Tuesday was a big influence after talking with Kieran, but it looks like it was a good choice.”

“She’s really helpful in the shop.” Jeanette said.  “And she copes with it really well.  I’m getting used to it, but there is Freydis and Mrs Tuesday to deal with before you even consider what some of the customers can be like.”

“Keep an eye on Freydis and listen to what she says.” Martha said.  “She’s a handful and a nuisance but she knows more than she tells, and she often knows more than she thinks.  What is it like working with Steve Adderson?  I know he got hold of some speciality dog biscuits for us a few years ago when we were hosting a big Christmas and he did a very good deal.” She stopped and looked over to her husband who had turned away from Ian to take an urgent call.

Jeanette’s heart sank.  Ian’s face was pale and set.  He glanced over at her and nodded.  “Martha will tell you where to go.” He took his jacket off

“It looks bad.” Martha said quietly.  “Keep your head down and follow Kirstie.” Martha waved over an older teenager that looked a lot like Jasmine.  “Look after Jeanette.”

Jeanette looked round at Ian who was watching Kieran.  Kieran walked over to the corner of the room where he deliberately placed down his phone, turned and raised a hand.  All eyes burned into him.

“It’s a full pack muster.  This is not a drill.  The Paladin’s citadel has been destroyed.”

Challenger

Lord Ragnar sat, glowering, as his court milled around his hall.  The air was full of whispers and the tang of an oncoming thunderstorm.  Kadogan lounged in a chair nearby, his eyes watchful although his body looked completely at ease.  Lord Ragnar gestured for some wine.

“What am I supposed to do now?” he growled at Kadogan.  “It’s a Paladin’s lair.  I have no business there – and none of my people are involved.”

“The building and its neighbours are completely destroyed.” Kadogan said. “This is a shame.  I remember watching them being built and they were well constructed.  They stood for over a century.”

Lord Ragnar snatched the goblet of wine from the tray of a nervous server and took a long draught.  “At least I think it was none of my people.  Why should one of my people blow up the home of the Paladin when he is so reasonable?  Of course, the goblins have been a trial, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I remember them burying a witch bottle under the front step.” Kadogan said.  “It was a true trap, and I remember how it sparkled and gleamed as they buried it.  I don’t suppose the workmen saw that though.”

“First it is the White Hart burning, now the Paladin’s lair is destroyed.  It does not look well on me.” Lord Ragnar glared around the hall.  The normal atmosphere of a relaxed gentleman’s club was gone and instead the tension ran around the room like a live wire.  The black and white floor tiles were cracked and stained.

Kadogan nodded at the floor.  “Did you do that or is it a manifestation of problems in your domain?”

Lord Ragnar swore and waved a hand and the floor was restored to its usual pristine state with a sharp crack.  “And Freydis still talks of changing her name.  It is not appropriate.”

“You divorced her.” Kadogan reminded him.  “They had tiles like those in the halls when those houses were built.  They weren’t as good quality, but they looked pleasant.  One of the workers whistled very tunefully and I watched them work all that summer.”

“Those tiles are no more.” Lord Ragnar took another mouthful of the wine.  “And what are we to say about it?  If Paladin Dave Kinson, who has been an ally in our recent struggles, comes to see me now, what do I say?  Thank you for the help in fighting the revenants that were attacking our people, and thank you for the help in destroying Rey Baxter, and thank you for the kindness you have shown our people except possibly the goblins who deserve all they get in my opinion, and we have nothing to offer in return.”

“Dave Kinson and Darren King are staying at the White Hart for now as the Knights Templar are coming to York in force.” Kadogan said.

“I shall pay their rent.” Lord Ragnar said quickly.  “I insist on doing something.”

“Accepted.” Kadogan said.  “But an explosion of such size is not easily accomplished.  The newspapers were told that it was gas mains and so were the insurer people, but Detective Pierce says that there was no evidence of such things.”

“They do not allow my seers and soothsayers near the building.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Not that there is any magical protection there anymore.  It is unacceptable.” He threw his goblet hard into the fireplace.  The dregs of wine hissed and spat on the burning logs.

“They are reasonable not to trust elfen,” Kadogan said with a certain pride as he watched a brownie try to hook the goblet out of the fire.  “But it is still a nuisance.  And there are fourteen Knights Templar in York.  That has not been known for many centuries.”

A susurration ran around the hall as Martin strode in.  Lord Ragnar leapt to his feet.  “You!”

Martin approached Lord Ragnar and bowed perfunctorily.  “My lord.”

“I thought you were sleeping.” Lord Ragnar snapped as he glared at Martin.  He gestured to the servers.  “Bring wine.”

“I am taking no food or drink at this time.” Martin said politely but firmly.

“It is freely given, Aelfhelm.” Lord Ragnar sank back into his chair but Kadogan remained standing at his shoulder.  Elfen warriors started to appear in the corners of the room.

“I no longer use that name.” Martin said, watching the warriors with controlled confidence.  “My old friend died a millenia ago, and, while I still honour his memory, I use Martin now.”

“But why are you here?” Lord Ragnar took the wine offered by the server and waved him away.

“Who could sleep through this racket?” Martin said.  “You have mingled vampire and faery magic in your realm.  It is looking for ways to twist into the world.  If you do not heal your realm then it will be knocking at the door of the normal world.  It is not yet Midsummer and the days lengthen.  What will the dark faery magic do when the nights draw in?”

“What do you know of the faerie realm?” Lord Ragnar gripped the goblet tightly.

“I am not entirely out of touch.” Martin said.  “Your ex wife gave a portion of her kingdom to a vampire, did she not?  The vampire may be destroyed, but the energy is still there, the filter the power of your kingdom flows through is dark and poisoned.” Martin looked around.  “You need to heal your domain and you need to get all the vampires here firmly under your control.  Why are there no vampires here aside from myself?”

Lord Ragnar looked around.  “Where is Miss Patience?”

Martin shook his head.  “You let her control the vampires?  No wonder there are troubles.  And where is Freydis?  She was always skilled with the workings of a faery realm.”

“She is making coffee.” Kadogan said, moving a little closer to Lord Ragnar.

“You let her get a hobby?” Martin stared.  “Well, I am sure we will all benefit from great coffee.”  He bowed again. “I am your liegeman and I am bound to give you counsel.  My counsel is to either get your ex wife or someone of equal skill and mend your realm.  Until that happens, the problems will continue.”

“You are supposed to give me counsel when asked.” Lord Ragnar said.

“I’m sure you meant to ask.” Martin had a half smile on his lips.  “I thought I would save you some time.”

“As your lord, then, I ask you to do a task worthy of your station.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “Bring me Miss Patience.”

Jasmine sagged a little as the coach party finally straggled out of the White Hart and onto their coach.  “These coach parties get very busy.” She watched in relief as the coach pulled out of the car park.

“They even bought the plastic fairies.” Adele said.  “Keep an eye out on the gifts for me, please.  I need to get up some more stock.” She disappeared into the back.

“They spent well, but they were also normals.” Freydis said.  “They can be trying.  They do not understand the dangers of having their head ripped off should they get too fastidious.”

“Did you see the lady getting cross at the books?” Jasmine grinned as she started clearing the tables.  “She kept complaining about the devil’s work and being cursed for looking at it.”

“It is as well that Mrs Tuesday isn’t here.” Freydis said.  “Although it is always enjoyable to watch her look so frail while being so, so…” Freydis waved a hand.

“She’s a complete wind up merchant.” Jasmine said.  “I hope her back gets better soon.”

“I am sure it shall.” Freydis ran a caressing hand over the coffee machine before sighing and starting to load the dishwasher.  “Though she is very old, even for a boggart.”

Jasmine looked over to Fiona.  “Do you think Mrs Tuesday will get better?”

Fiona looked into Jasmine’s anxious face.  “Of course she will,” she said with more hope than truth.  “And even if she doesn’t, she still has a place here if she wants it.”

“We are quite the community,” Frerydis said, “Though I’m not sure if we are a court or a pack.”

“We’re a shop.” Fiona didn’t want to think beyond that.  “Jasmine, can you keep an eye on the till?  Darren and Dave will be over in an hour and I want to check over their rooms.” Fiona disappeared upstairs.

Freydis cleared the counter as Jasmine wiped down the tables.  “I am so glad I found coffee.” Freydis said.  “It has made such a difference to my life.” She straightened the dried grasses next to the coffee machine and checked the cupboards.  “We have run out of the Ethiopian blend.  I shall be back soon.” Her smile was barely malicious.  “You will be the captain of this ship as the only one here while I am gone.”

Jasmine finished cleaning the kitchen and then went to stand by the till.  The shop seemed very big and she felt unnervingly small.  She found herself going over the till.  There were spare till rolls, plenty of bags and tape and not much to do.  She wasn’t going to touch any of Adele’s ornaments.  Adele was very clear that she had the final say in how the knickknacks were arranged.  Jasmine wandered over to the herbs and started straightening them.  Some of the coach parties were dreadful.  It looked like boggart kitlings had been playing here.  Jasmine looked over as the door opened.  “I’ll be right there.”

“No rush, love.” Ferdi sauntered towards the herbs.  “Well, if it isn’t Sweet Jasmine.”

Jasmine flushed.  “Hi, Ferdi.  How are you?”

“Doing okay, can’t complain.  You look good as well, Sweet.  It looks like you fell on your paws.” Ferdi stroked his knobbly hand over a pack of wormwood.  “Do they know what you’re like here?”

“They know everything.” Jasmine said.

“Are you sure?” Ferdi grinned.  “I could tell them a few things.”

“I’ve always told them the truth.” Jasmine said.  “I have nothing to hide.”

“But have you told them everything?” Ferdi asked.  “Listen, why don’t you come for a coffee with me, just one coffee?  That’s all I’m asking.  Then I won’t have any reason to say anything to them.  What’s the harm in one coffee?”

Jasmine shook her head and backed away.  “I don’t think it would be a good idea, and, besides, what about Samantha?”

“My wife wouldn’t bother about me having a coffee with a friend.” Ferdi said.  “After all, it’s just a coffee.”

“It’s never just a coffee with you.” Jasmine said, “And I don’t want to get into another fight.”

“After all, you don’t want to spoil your chances here, do you?” Ferdi said.  “If you get thrown out of here, who would take you in?”

“I can look after myself.” Jasmine said defiantly.

Ferdi took a step forward.  “Of course you can, Sweet, and that’s why it’s okay to come with me for a coffee, because you can look after yourself.”

“Shut up or get out.”

Ferdi spun around and found himself facing Darren.  “I was just asking an old friend for a coffee.  There’s no harm in that.”

Darren briefly glanced at Jasmine’s flushed face and focused back on Ferdi.  “She said no.”

“Well then, no harm done.  I can catch up with her another time.” Ferdi started sauntering towards the door.  “But you can’t blame a goblin for trying.  After all, everyone knows that Jasmine doesn’t like fur, so I had to think I was in with a chance.” He slipped out of the door before Darren could say anything.

Darren turned to Jasmine.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “Don’t worry about slimeballs like him.”

Jasmine stared at him, wide eyed, and then burst into tears.  As Darren awkwardly patted her arm and let her cry into his shoulder, he wondered what on earth was going on and how much trouble he could get into if he hunted down Ferdi right now.

Dean looked around.  This was only the second time he had visited Miss Patience’s home and he was just as intimidated.  Last time Miss Patience had sat him in her small parlour and charmingly terrorised him with an insistence that he did exactly as he was told and obeyed her unquestioningly.  Now they were in the larger drawing room.  Half a dozen vampires were seated around in the dim light of flickering candles.  Dean wondered why as it was still light outside, but heavy velvet curtains had been pulled over the windows.  It all felt so fake.  The former farmhouse was probably Elizabethan, stone built and sturdy near the edge of York, and surrounded by well planned and matured gardens, complete with a stone folly in one corner.  Miss Patience had bought it last winter, to get somewhere secluded for the vampires of York to meet.

Now things were getting strange.  The ‘acolytes’ that Miss Patience usually had drifting around were missing and there was an eerie silence in the room.  Dean didn’t really know the other vampires.  He had met most of them in Lord Ragnar’s court, but he hadn’t spent much time with them.  Now he was the only one that didn’t seem wide eyed and hyper.  He wished Martin were there.

“We all must stand.” Miss Patience said, rising gracefully to her feet and stood next to the fireplace.  “Form a circle.”

Dean felt awkward as he shuffled into a rough circle with the others.  The rest of the vampires, or coven as Miss Patience insisted on calling them, looked like they were taking part in a very bad horror movie, their lips parted and their fangs showing.

“Dean, stand to my left.” Miss Patience waved her arm and Dean squeezed between Vivienne and the couch and stood at Miss Patience’s left side.  The rest of the vampires seemed to sway around and fill the gap without any thought.  Miss Patience turned to Dean.  “You have never experienced a feeding circle, have you?  It is a mystical moment.  It will truly change your perception of everything.” She stroked down his cheek.  “You don’t share any blood with us, poor boy.  Rey was never part of the York vampires.  He came from elsewhere and you only are connected to him.  But we must correct that.”

Dean managed a smile and looked around at the others.  They were all watching him with piercing, hungry eyes and he didn’t want to look like that.  “Are you sure…”

“You will not disobey me, surely.” There was steel in Miss Patience’s voice.

“Of course not, Miss Patience.” Dean kept his eyes and voice steady but he wondered whether he was going to get out of here alive.  He had already checked for exits and he had chosen the French windows at the north end of the room as his best chance of getting out of there quickly.

“It is quite simple, and beautiful in its simplicity.” Miss Patience took a moment to sigh. “I take a sip of Jacob’s blood, he takes a sip from Amelia, who takes a sip from Melvyn and so on and so on until Vivienne takes a sip from you and you take a sip from me to complete the circle.  And so we start again, with me taking the smallest sip from Jacob, and round and round until the ecstasy is too much to bear.”

Dean tried to stretch his mouth into a smile.  “Great.” He wondered when the best time to make his break would be.

Miss Patience turned and took a large, wooden box from the mantelpiece and opened it with a flourish.  “We must have the correct atmosphere for this.” She dropped a handful of incense into the fire.

Dean was relieved that it wasn’t dragon’s blood but instead the heavy smoke from copal slid out of the fire and over the floor.  He wondered if Miss Patience knew about dry ice.  The rest of the vampires seemed to be preparing to lose themselves in the moment, but he felt real fear for the first time since he died.  Whatever happened, whatever he needed to do, he was not drinking from Miss Patience.

“Everyone link hands for a moment and draw closer.” Miss Patience caught Dean’s hand before he had a chance to think about it.  He reluctantly extended his hand to Vivienne and felt her cool, soft hand slip into his.

Dean knew he had to stay as calm as he could.  Any tension in his wrist would be read by Miss Patience.  He had to hold his nerve until it was time to run for it.

Miss Patience drew herself up.  “Now is the time for our communion.  We come together…”

There was a resounding crash as the French windows were torn out of their frame and thrown out across the garden.  This was followed by a clatter as Martin tore down the curtains and strode in.  “Hello Patience.  What sort of tomfoolery are you trying now?”

“How dare you!” Miss Patience hissed.  “I trust you will pay for repairs.”

“Of course not.” Martin said.  “Idiots should not be rewarded.  Are you trying that circle thing again?  I told you centuries ago that it was a bad idea.”

“You always were scared of what you were.” Miss Patience snapped.

Martin didn’t bother replying to that.  “Lord Ragnar requires your presence.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask.” Martin glanced around the room.  “Dean, your needed at the White Hart.  I’ll join you there.”

Dean had never felt so thankful in his life.  “Right, I’ll get straight over.”

“I think he needs my permission first.” Miss Patience snapped.

“And I think that Lord Ragnar’s orders overrule yours.” Martin said.

“I think I will not be going to Lord Ragnar’s court just yet.  Dean can stay until I leave.”  Miss Patience deliberately threw another handful of incense onto the fire.

Martin’s nose wrinkled.  “I think you shall attend on Lord Ragnar when he demands.”

“And are you willing to try to make me.” Miss Patience snapped.

“Of course.” Martin sounded bored.  He wandered over to the nearest window and threw open the curtains.  “Nice garden.”

“Get out of my home!”

Martin bowed.  “After you, Patience.” He caught Dean’s eye and as Miss Patience swept out towards her car, Martin and Dean followed, to Dean’s utter relief.

History

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!”

Getting Darker

“This meeting should be in my halls.” Lord Ragnar tapped his long fingers on the table and glared around at the others.

“Your halls aren’t safe.” Sir Craig said.  The senior Knights Templar looked unimpressed.  “And we are taking no chances.”

“York does not need a cohort of Knights Templar.” Lord Ragnar stood and started pacing around the conference room.

“I beg to differ.” Sir Craig said.  He glanced around the room.  “And besides, this is not just a matter for your people.  The Paladin’s Citadel was destroyed down to brick dust.  That is unprecedented.  You have said that you have no part in it, and I believe you.  You have your own challenges.  But those challenges make it unsafe for our people and you appear to be unable to deal with them.”

“Can we calm down, please.” Steve took a breath.  “Darren has some idea about what happened, we need to work out what is going on together, and we need to solve it together.  The White Hart is the nearest thing to neutral territory.”  He looked around the conference room.  “I think we have everyone here.”

It was an eclectic meeting.  Lord Ragnar’s unoccupied seat was at the head of the table as Lord Ragnar paced at the end of the room.  On his right was Kieran, head of the werewolf pack and next to him was Ian.  Opposite Kieran, on Lord Ragnar’s left, was Martin and next to him was Miss Patience.  Sir Craig was sitting uncomfortably next to Miss Patience and opposite Darren.  Dave was sitting next to Darren and opposite Steve.  At other end, for added drama, Freydis sat opposite her ex-husband’s seat.  She was doodling pictures of coffee cups.

“I think I know what caused the explosion.” Darren said.  “I saw it a few years back.  When dark energy meets something most holy, there’s an explosion.  It caused havoc in the Village.”

“What dark energy?” Sir Craig asked.

“You can see it in the shadows.” Lord Ragnar said.  “There are small areas of darkness that are building up in corners like drifts of leaves and they are spilling out into the most unlikely areas.”

“I’ve seen too many examples of them.” Martin said grimly.  “And that makes sense.” He turned to Miss Patience.  “It’s faery magic with a vampiric filter.”

Miss Patience was staring straight ahead.  She was paler than normal and her elegant fingers, placed flat and unmoving on the table, seemed slimmer than ever.  “The vampires of York are not a party to the destruction of the Paladin’s Lair.”

“No-one said that, Patience.” Martin said.  “But I have to ask, do you think it has affected you?”

“Not at all.” Miss Patience didn’t turn her head.

As glances were exchanged over the table, Martin turned to Lord Ragnar.  “The main issue remains in your realm.  We are at a time of growth in the cycle.  It will soon be Midsummer.  While this is the most expansive this energy is likely to be, it’s also likely to be the least malignant.  You need to act and cleanse the issue in your domain.”

Miss Patience slowly turned, marionette-like, and looked at Martin.  “You should pay for the rebuilding of my wall.”

“You should stop playing foolish games.” Martin said without missing a beat, before turning back to Lord Ragnar.  “You need to act now.”

“You must act.” Steve echoed.  “It’s reached as far as Skipton.”

“How is Elaine?” Freydis asked, turning her notebook to get a better angle to shade a picture of a latte.

“There is nothing the werewolves can do except patrol.” Kieran looked worried.  “Some of our pack who have been touched by this darkness have become snappy.”  He looked around the table.  “They have been acting more like strays.  We’ve got them watched all the time but…”

“Great.  We have a werewolf issue as well.” Sir Craig ran his fingers through his thinning hair.  “What is going on here?  Lord Ragnar, you need to control your people.”

“It isn’t their fault.” Kieran snapped.  “They were just doing their duty.”

“I’m not saying it is.” Sir Craig’s voice was carefully controlled.  “But the darkness leaking out of the elfen domain is having an effect.”

“I’ll have a look at your people.” Freydis said, shading in steam on the doodles.  “If it’s elfen magic that’s causing problems then I may be able to do something.”

“Lord Ragnar should be the one dealing with this.” Miss Patience said, turning her head slowly towards the prince.  “This is his domain.  He should also compel Martin to repair our wall or pay someone else to do so.”

There was an uncomfortable pause around the table.  Everyone was aware that Lord Ragnar could not compel Martin to do anything.  Lord Ragnar looked around.  “I own that I do not have the skill of some other lords…”

“You are seen as weak.” Martin said.  “I have friends outside York, and I listen to the currents of conversation.  You cannot control your domain and you cannot control your court.  I think you need to find ways to do both before someone steps in and acts for you.”

“Are you threatening me?” Lord Ragnar leaned on the table, glaring at Martin.

“I’m stating the obvious.” Martin didn’t flinch.  “And if I wanted power here I would have taken it a long time ago.”  There was a long silence.  Finally Lord Ragnar broke eye contact and turned to Steve.

“Is it true?  Am I seen as vulnerable.”

Steve shifted in his seat.  “I don’t hear all the talk, I’m there for business only, and I’m sure that the courts I visit tailor the information I pick up.”

“But you can’t say that I’m seen as strong.” Lord Ragnar said softly.

“You have influence.” Steve said.  “People visit York and attend your court to pay their respects.”

“Because they come to the White Hart, and it would be inappropriate not to show their face in my court.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I wonder how many who visit your shop do not visit my court.”

“Did Curtis Avocado call in?” Freydis was now working on an intricate sketch of hot chocolate.  “He said he would.”

“No, he did not.  When was this?” Lord Ragnar returned to his seat.

“Last week, when there was jasmine blooming at No 7.” Freydis didn’t look up.  “I will aid the werewolves and sort out the issues with the domain, as it is my error of judgement that caused this issue.”

“You were unfaithful.” Lord Ragnar snapped.

“You were neglectful.” Freydis snapped back, picture forgotten. “You gave no thought to where I was or what I looked like.”

“I loved you.”

“You never told me.” Freydis took a breath and picked up the pen again.

“I’ve had control of domains before and there were no effects like this.” Martin said.  “I’m not saying that you made the best decision, Freydis, but it’s not just because you allowed someone a corner of control.”

“Rey was malicious.” Miss Patience said.  “I should have destroyed him.  I believe he consciously mingled his essence with the corner of Lord Ragnar’s kingdom he accessed.  It is not a path I should have chosen.  However, I would not put anything past Martin who breaks walls.”

“I’m not sure I would trust an undead breath from you.” Martin said.  “Patience, you need to step back from this, and all those stupid games…”

“Where is Dean?  He should be answering to me.” Miss Patience said, poised and still.

“He’s been helping me out a lot.” Dave said.  He had guessed a lot from the things that Dean hadn’t said.  “You know how it is.  I’m glad of the extra pair of eyes.”

“You are patrolling with a vampire?” Sir Craig stared at Dave.

“With Dean, yes.  He’s a literal lifesaver.  I mean, he literally is saving lives.” Dave smiled at Sir Craig and Miss Patience who were equally baffled.

“Lord Ragnar, I can go to your domain straight from this meeting and work on the problem.” Freydis said.  “Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader can keep an eye on the Coffee Machine.  It will be fine under their care and I can rearrange the dried grasses when I get back.” She turned to Kieran.  “I suspect that your comrades will return to normal once the source of the issue is gone, but I’m sure I can help if there is a problem there.  It is fitting that I right my wrongs.”

“I’d be grateful.” Kieran said.  “These are good people who are suffering and if they get out of hand and cross a line then they will face a judgement that they don’t deserve.”

“No!” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “I will deal with this.”

“While we’re waiting for that, what do we do?” Ian asked.  “There are people hurting here.”

“I’ll arrange prayers to protect the Knights Templar’s Citadel.” Darren said.  “And I suppose I ought to mention that I’m being translated.”

“What?” Dave snapped around to look at the exorcist sitting next to him.

“I’m being moved to York.” Darren said.  “The authorities seem to think that I’m more useful here.  I’ll get the official date later, but I’m going to be here permanently.”

“Congratulations!” Ian said.  “It will be good to have you around.”

“I have not agreed to that.” Lord Ragnar glared at Darren.

“You don’t have control over the appointments of the Church of England.” Darren kept his cool.  “It shouldn’t affect you.”

“I will have an exorcist living in York, and you say it shouldn’t affect me?”

Darren looked at him.  Lord Ragnar was not having a good time and it was showing.  “I thought having a local exorcist was a sign of status.  Lord Lothar never complained.”

“Lord Lothar did not have the same problems I do.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glanced over at his ex-wife but Freydis said nothing.

“Let’s get back to the point.  We need to get that domain dealt with now!” Martin said.  “Lord Ragnar, I mean this with the greatest respect, but…”

Lord Ragnar stood, knocking his chair back to clatter against the back wall.  “I will deal with this.  I don’t need a vampire, I don’t need a wandering priest and I don’t need an unfaithful ex-wife.” He swept out.

Freydis sighed.  “This isn’t helpful.  Kieran, do you wish me to call now and see what I can do?”

“I don’t want to be disloyal to Lord Ragnar.” Kieran looked at Ian.

Ian shrugged.  “Who are you most loyal to?  Lord Ragnar or your pack?”

“Careful.” Martin said as Dave and Darren once again exchanged worried glances.

Ian met his gaze.  “The werewolves have bled for Lord Ragnar.  We have value.”

Martin held Ian’s gaze for a moment and then nodded.  “I’m sure it will be fine, but don’t make a big deal about it.”

“You can always blame me.” Freydis said.  “Lord Ragnar enjoys blaming me, it comforts him, and he will take no significant action.” She stood.  “And the sooner I visit the better.”

Martin watched her leave, a frown on his face.

Fiona watched Lord Ragnar storm out of the White Hart and her heart sank.  Kadogan appeared from the back room and followed his prince, his features set.  It did not look good.  She looked at Mrs Tuesday to get an idea of how serious things were and her heart sank further.  Mrs Tuesday looked worried.  That was never a good sign.

Jasmine was refilling the cards, but she stopped and looked at Mrs Tuesday.  “It’s never good when a prince gets angry, is it?”

“I don’t think it’s anger exactly.” Mr Tuesday rubbed her back absentmindedly and frowned, turning to Mrs Cadwallader.  “You know him better than I do.  Any guesses?”

“He usually sulks.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “But I don’t think he can do that this time.”  The two old boggarts nodded in unison.

“What’s going on?” Jeanette asked.  “I recognised Lord Ragnar and I know Kadogan, of course, but what’s happening?”

“Lord Ragnar is feeling inadequate and is showing his emotions as anger.” Freydis wandered out of the back room.  “Mrs Tuesday, Mrs Cadwallader, please will you guard the Coffee Machine?  I have work to do at the pack of Kieran Latimer.”

“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Someone should be dealing with those poor lads.”

“You don’t miss much, do you?” Kieran followed Freydis.

“No, I don’t.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Aren’t you lucky I say less than I see?” Kieran blushed.

As the rest of the guests filed out, Fiona went up to Steve and hugged him.  “Are you okay?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what to think.” Steve looked around the shop.  “We need to have a long talk tonight.  Right now I need to do the run to Todmorden, but I should be back before dinner.”  He kissed Fiona briefly and left.

Ian walked over to Jeanette and gave her a brief kiss on the cheek.  “I’m just going across to the warehouse, but I’ll be back later.” He looked across at Adele and Jasmine.  “I’m sorry, but we need to all get back to the White Hart.  Steve has agreed.  It may only be a mattress on the floor and doubling up, but we need to be in a safe place.”

“I am not being forced out of my home.” Jeanette said.  “Do you know how much I’ve worked to get this far?”

Ian looked troubled.  “I’ll try and work something out.  It won’t be for long.”

“I need to water the plants.” Jeanette said.

“I’ll come with you after work.” Ian said.  “Jasmine can come as well.  Listen, I need to make the run to the warehouse.  We’ve got two coach parties booked this afternoon.  But I’ll talk as soon as I get back.”

There was a brief burst of activity with a flurry of customers and then it was quiet.  Jeanette looked pale.  Mrs Tuesday pushed a cup of tea into her hand.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

“What’s happening?” Jeanette asked.

Adele nodded.  “I think we deserve some sort of explanation.”

Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader exchanged another of their knowing looks and nodded.  “Everyone take a seat, and we’ll have a chat.”  Mrs Tuesday went over to the café area and sat down.  She watched them sit around her and took a deep breath.  “I wasn’t in the meeting and I didn’t hear what they said, but I can make some guesses.  People are talking about the York domain as being affected.  Going into the fairy realm is always tricky, but now it’s downright lethal.  It’s affecting some of the vampires and it may be behind what happened to the Paladin’s lair.  It’s affected some of the werewolves too – and they’re good lads.  I’m glad Freydis is doing something about it.”

“She should have done something about it sooner.” Mrs Cadwallader said.

“I can’t argue, but my belief is that she only just learned about it.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Freydis should have dealt with the disturbances in the domain a long time ago, and she hasn’t.”

“Lord Ragnar should have dealt with it.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “After all, he wouldn’t let Freydis set foot in there.”

“It’s a mess.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And as Lord Ragnar is not…”  Mrs Tuesday searched for words.  “He’s perhaps…  He’s looking…”

Mrs Cadwallader helped her out.  “Some people who don’t know what is happening and who are a distance from York may be under the wrong impression that Lord Ragnar is not in control of his realm and that he is vulnerable to attack.”

“That isn’t good.” Jasmine said.  “No wonder Ian wants us here where it’s safer.”

“I didn’t sign up for this.” Jeanette said.  “I just thought I had met a decent man, thought it might lead somewhere, and now my home isn’t safe.  I didn’t want anything to do with magic.”

“Neither did I.” Elaine appeared and sat next to a suddenly tense Fiona.  “Well, I didn’t mind a little magic, but I couldn’t cope with Armani.” She turned to Fiona.  “How is the little… imp?”

Ian, Luke and Darren were keeping together.  It was a bad shift.  They had all managed to get some sleep before getting on patrol at 3am, but no-one was rested.  Luke was the most at ease.  The night streets were cool and quiet and so far it seemed an easy swing around.  “I don’t want to be out of order,” he said, “but what is going on?”

“What do you mean?” Ian said, scanning the road ahead.

“The White Hart is like a dormitory, Jeanette’s upset because she can’t get home, Kadogan has disappeared, Freydis hardly said a malicious word all evening and Mrs Tuesday looks worried.” Luke looked at his companions.  “What is happening?”

“Lord Ragnar feels under threat.” Darren said.  “Other lords are being less supportive and a lot of local non-normals are twitchy.  Some werewolves have been affected by this dark energy building up and the vampires have gone weird.”

“The only vampires I’d trust right now are Martin and Dean.” Ian said.  “The rest are on loopy juice.  What I heard was that Miss Patience has this thing where they all share blood.  This means that if one goes crazy, they all go crazy.  Dean and Martin are the only ones that haven’t got involved.”

There was a long silence.  Luke could hear the swish of distant cars and the buzz of the street lights as they passed, but there was little other noise.  “Are they dangerous?  And how many are there?”

“Miss Patience had a coven of around half a dozen,” Ian said.  “But we don’t know about other dormant vampires like Martin or revenants.  All bets are off.  And if it gets any crazier then there’s going to be an attack on Lord Ragnar.  He’s not seen as strong.”

“Is he strong?” Luke asked.

“I can’t answer that.” Ian said.  “I’m a member of his court.  I have to give unswerving loyalty.”

“It’s okay, I can answer that.” Darren said, with his usual blunt honesty.  “The vultures have been circling for a while, and once he got rid of Freydis, they have been circling lower.  From what I’ve heard, she’s been propping him up for centuries because she’s powerful, perceptive and besotted.” He glanced sideways at Ian.  “But I’ve only heard the chatter from the outside.  How’s Jeanette taking it?”

“She’ll be okay.” Ian said, hoping he was right.  “Adele seems more at ease, but I think it’s because her family have a lot of drama.  I don’t think she realises how dangerous it could be.”

“How’s Jasmine taking it?” Darren asked.  “The poor kid finally finds a pack and now it could all go bad.”

“She’s doing okay,” Ian said.  “To be honest, I think it’s helped her find her paws and feel that she has a place on the rug with all that’s going on.  And we’re a sub pack, not a pack.”

“I was thinking more of the White Hart.  It’s a sort of family.” Darren said.

“It does have that feel.” Luke said.  “I’m just on the edges but it’s still incredibly welcoming.”

“Mrs Tuesday’s cooking does that.” Darren said.  “I’ll have to move out to the vicarage soon and I’m not looking forward to it.  I’ll be taking Dave with me for a while as well.”

“What happened in the Village?” Ian asked.  “I heard something about a revenant prowling, but it didn’t sound anything like the stuff we’ve been facing.”

“It’s complicated.” Darren said.

“Hang on.” Luke hissed.  “Over there.”

The men looked across the dark streets.  “I don’t believe it.” Ian murmured.

“How can we deal with that?” There was an edge of panic in Luke’s voice.  He started at the group of revenants which were clustered around a group of young women.  They wore the remains of hen night outfits and looked terrified.

“There’s at least seven in the group and it looks like they have a leader.” Darren said.  “They will fight as a unit.”

“Luke, call for back up and then join us.” Ian pulled a stake out of his jacket pocket.  “We distract them and keep a holding action until reinforcements arrive.  Whatever you do, keep your eyes open.  This is something new.”

Facing a Fight

“We can’t keep going like this” Sir Ewan slumped down into a chair as they finally got back to the Templars’ Chapter House.  “The numbers are too much.”

Dave and Luke dropped down into chairs opposite him.  Sir Craig followed them, working his right shoulder.  “It’s not sustainable.  We have people out every night, and every night we find a fight.  And it’s always a leader and seven revenants.  And they’re getting tougher.  It’s only a matter of time before someone get badly hurt, or worse.”

“It’s always seven, with one leader.” Luke inspected his battered knuckles.  “And they are getting stronger.  I’m not trained for this.”

Dave looked worried.  “I’m not trained for this either.  And their tactics seem to be improving.”

“At least we know if we have got all of them in the pack.” Sir Ewan looked up as Sir Curtis came in, bringing in a tray of sandwiches and some flasks and yawning.  “Thanks.”

“Was it as bad tonight?” Sir Curtis asked.  He stroked absently over his bruised face.

“It was bad,” Sir Craig said, “but we all got home.  It’s nearly dawn.  Go and get some sleep.”

Dave watched Sir Curtis leave.  “Are there any more reinforcements we can get?”

Sir Craig shook his head.  “There are few enough Knights Templar, and there is a lot of ground to cover.  I’ll see if I can’t get some more paladins over.”

“If they can be spared.” Sir Ewan said.  “Most of them have enough to keep them busy in their own patches.”

“Mike Doyle may be able to come over from the Village.” Sir Craig started pouring tea into the mugs.

“But he has a pregnant wife.” Luke said quietly.  “It’s hard to ask him to leave that.”

“We are out of options.” Sir Craig said.  “Mike knows that Karen will be safe.”

“To be fair, Kieran is helping out a lot.” Dave said.  “And so are the people from the White Hart.  I don’t know what we would do without them.”

“Don’t get carried away.” Sir Craig said, passing out the drinks.  “This trouble is coming directly from Lord Ragnar’s domain.  It is their fault.”

There was a quiet pause as the men ate the stack of tuna sandwiches and drank the tea.   Dave finally broke the silence.  “How can we get Lord Ragnar to act?  It must be hurting him as much as us.”

“He can’t act.” Sir Craig said.  “And that adds an interesting twist.  Freydis could sort it out, but he won’t allow her into the domain to fix it.  He hasn’t got the skill to fix it himself.  In fact, there are precious few that do.  Kieran is furious with Lord Ragnar now because his pack has been affected and if he hadn’t defied Lord Ragnar and allowed Freydis to heal his pack members then they would still be in a bad way.”

“Miss Patience is furious with him because he won’t order Dean to join with her and he won’t order Martin to repair the wall he broke.” Sir Ewan added.  “Dean is hiding out at the White Hart and Lord Ragnar won’t push there in case it upsets Kadogan.  Besides, Lord Ragnar can’t make Martin do anything, and everyone knows it.  I think Martin is shielding Dean and deliberately not paying for the wall to wind Miss Patience up.”

“It’s working.” Sir Craig said.  “She’s incandescent.  And she must be scared.  I made some enquiries about Martin, back in Lincoln.  He is an old vampire.  He’s been around for thousands of years and he doesn’t give a damn.  There is nothing Miss Patience can do to bring him to heel and it affects the leadership of her little group.  He’s not in the Order’s good books either.  He’s a predator.  He feeds mainly on people.  But he’s clever.  He’ll seduce and entrap someone vulnerable, absolutely bewitch them, feed from them exquisitely gently – and I believe it blows their minds – then leave them after around six months, before they get too dependent.  The trouble is, he leaves them nicely.  They’re always better off financially or he sorts out a job for them or he deals with their family’s troubles or something.  We have never been able to get anyone to make a statement against him, and I’m not sure whether we would be able to take him down without half the Templars here.  He goes into a ‘dream state’ quite often though, which is a blessing, so he’s only around for fifty years or so at a time, with a few exceptions, and he usually sleeps around a decade.  He’s been dormant for a century or so, though, up until now, so Lincoln had hoped he had disappeared for good.”

“Perhaps he will take over from Lord Ragnar.” Sir Ewan stifled a yawn and picked up another sandwich.  “Lord Ragnar was nearly unseated last year.  Now Freydis isn’t at his side, it’s only a matter of time.”

“Most of the opposition was wiped out in last year’s attempt and I am not sure that there is an external threat ready.  Lord Ragnar is shaky, but surely not that weak.” Sir Craig looked at Dave and Sir Ewan.

“Lord Ragnar had not upset the werewolves last year.” Sir Ewan said.  “He also had all of the vampires, such as they are, on his side.  Kadogan is still loyal, but other elfen are asking questions about the state of the domain.” He took another large bite of his sandwich.

“Do you think Martin would take over?” Luke asked.  “I mean, I know he’s a vampire, and you say he’s a predator, but he has to be better than the current state.  I mean, if anyone takes over from Lord Ragnar.  He seems more stable.”

“Martin has always avoided power, at least, according to the stuff we managed to dig up at Lincoln.” Sir Craig said.  “And practically anyone is more stable than an elfen who doubts the loyalty of those around him, is losing control of his domain and who is suffering from unrequited love.”

Dave stared.  “Who is he in love with?”

“He’s in love with Freydis.” Sir Craig said, pouring some more tea.

“But he divorced her.” Dave said.  “And she’s still in love with him.”

“Yes.” Sir Craig took a mouthful of tea.

“That’s not unrequited love.” Dave said.  “It’s requited love.  It’s there-for-the-taking love.”

“That’s the elfen for you.” Sir Craig said.

“Hang on,” Dave said as a thought struck him.  “How many vampires are there in York?”

Sir Ewan poured himself some more tea. “Apart from Martin?  Miss Patience has a group of six.”

“Does that include Dean?” Dave asked.  Sir Ewan shook his head.

Sir Craig leaned forward.  “So all Miss Patience has to do is get hold of Dean and she is the leader of a group of seven, just like those revenants we are seeing night after night.”

There was a long pause as the men tried to work through the implications.  Luke shifted uneasily in his chair.  “How easy is it to make a vampire?”

Ian dropped Jeanette off at the front of the White Hart before driving the van to the back.  Jeanette came in looking pale.

Fiona gave her a sympathetic smile.  “How are things? Has Steve spoken to you?”

Jeanette took a deep breath.  “Ian said he can go there tonight with Steve and put up magical protection so we can get back there safely.  He said that there were a few traces, but nothing too serious.  He said he would ask Darren to say some prayers before they started.”

“Darren is a fearsome prayer warrior.” Freydis said.  “I am sure that he will clear out undue influences.  Steve Adderson is also known as an extremely competent sorcerer, strong enough to impress the elfen.  You will have safe space.”

Jeanette smiled wanly.  “Thanks.” She looked closer at Freydis.  “Are you feeling okay?”

It was a good question.  The golden blonde hair still swirled in lustrous swathes around Freydis’ face and shoulders, but it was a darker shade that edged towards the honey gold.  Her eyes were no longer the purest summer blue but now were blue grey and while she was still slim, her figure was slightly fuller.  The jeans were still tight, and still a fake designer brand, but they were a darker shade of denim and she was wearing a loose t-shirt instead of a buttoned shirt.  Freydis shrugged.  “I feel a change of season in the air.”

Mrs Tuesday looked at her carefully.  “Are you missing Lord Ragnar?”

Freydis seemed to sag a little and her hair was suddenly dull and lifeless.  “He is on the path to destruction and I do not know how to save him.  He is my sun but there are clouds.”

“Have you spoken to him?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Freydis shook her head.  “He will not allow me to approach him in private.  I have tried being an independent and strong woman with a life of my own, and it has failed.  I have lost what I did not believe I had and I cannot defend that which I forgot to cherish.”  She bowed her head.  Jeanette watched her claw like hands, grasping the back of the chair until the knuckles turned white, smooth themselves and fill out and her hair once again fill with shining health as she pulled herself up and forced a smile.  “But there are still safe places such as the White Hart, and soon your small holding shall be protected.  Indeed, perhaps I will bless your fields, Jeanette, once this is over.”

“That would be an amazing honour.” Jeanette said, though she wasn’t exactly sure what the result of such a blessing would be.  “I think that would make it glorious.”

“A small recompense for your troubles.” Freydis said, going back to the coffee machine and stroking the coloured grasses still surrounding it.

“I admit, I never thought I would get so caught up in all this.” Jeanette waved a vague hand around the shop.  “I wasn’t sure I even believed in this stuff, and if I hadn’t met Callum at that craft fair, I’m not sure that I would believe in it now.”

“Are you sorry that you met us?” Jasmine asked.  “I mean, I know you like Ian, but having all of us in your house and it all being, well, full of werewolf?  Are you okay with that?”

Jeanette took a breath and looked Jasmine directly in the eye.  “Come here.” Jasmine edged closer, giving a panicked glance at Mrs Tuesday, before gasping as Jeanette grabbed her in a massive hug.  “I am not sure about all this magic stuff, and I don’t understand half of it, but if I had my time again I would never, ever, miss the chance of knowing Ian, of having you and Adele like sisters and Callum like a brother, of knowing the people.  You are wonderful.” Jasmine went pink.

“I wish I had realised that.”

Fiona turned around and forced a smile.  “Hello, Elaine.  What can I do for you?”

Elaine wandered towards the café.  “I thought I would grab a latte and perhaps catch up with Steve.  Is he in?”

“No.” Fiona said.

Elaine waited for a few beats, just in case Fiona added anything.  “Is he likely to be back soon?”

“No.” Fiona checked over the notes next to the till.  “Okay, ladies, we have a double coach booked to arrive in around half an hour.  It’s all non-normals who are expecting a fancy afternoon tea, so let’s get set up.”

Freydis was smiling with outright malice as she created Elaine’s latte.  “I believe you enjoy a shot of vanilla in there.”

“Yes,” Elaine said, surprised that Freydis had guessed that.

“I’ll try and remember to put one in next time.” Freydis said.  “I’ll try really hard.  Mrs Tuesday, please could you keep an eye on the Machine.  I need to bring up some more of the new Ethiopian blend.”

Martin found Freydis sitting under a tree in Tower Gardens looking over the River Ouse.  It was nearly midnight but still warm and the soft breeze was soothing.  He sat next to her.  “You have changed, my lady.”

Freydis managed a smile.  “I am no longer a lady, remember.  Lord Ragnar divorced me.”

“You are always my lady.” Martin said.

“And I can never give you hope.” Freydis turned her gaze back to the river to watch the nixies playing in the currents.

“Do you know what gives me hope?  That you never give me hope.” Martin didn’t follow Freydis’ gaze but instead watched her expression.  “If you did not care for me at all, you would dangle me on a string.”

“You are too powerful.” Freydis didn’t turn towards him.

“You had many princes eating out of your hand.” Martin said.  “You bewitched great sorcerers and kings.”

Freydis shrugged.  “It was a game to them as much as it was to me.  Perhaps I am an honest fairy.”

“And I come back to the start of the conversation.  You have changed, my lady, and I don’t know how.  You have an extra depth.  It is enchanting.”

Freydis finally turned her head and looked at Martin.  She smiled.  “You do not need to flatter me, Martin.”

“I do not flatter.” Martin said.  “You can ask anyone.”

Freydis turned back to the view of the River Ouse.  The lights from the town glittered and sparkled on the moving water and for a moment she seemed entranced.  “Lord Ragnar said he had always loved me.”

“I thought that was obvious to anyone.” Martin said.  “I made me so frustrated, because he never managed to turn that love into cherishing.”

“I didn’t think he loved me and I tried to make him jealous.” Freydis said.

“Leading to the mess with that young vampire last year.” Martin said.  “I heard all about it.  And Lord Ragnar was stupid enough to divorce you.  He should have either fought you or fought for you.”

Freydis shrugged again and a tear ran down her face.  “It is now gone.” She said quietly.  “But he needs me to mend the domain.  Soon he will realise and then I will mend the wound I caused and things will settle down.”

“He needs to do so soon.” Martin said.  “Princes from nearby are looking at his court.  It’s only a matter of time before we see an attempt to unseat him.”

Tears were flowing freely down Freydis’ face.  “I know, I know, there is so much wrong and there is nothing I can do!  I know he needs to bring Miss Patience to heel, and to soothe Kieran and to give assurances to the surrounding princes, but he is failing.” She looked up at Martin, her face glistening with tears in the street lights.  “I am helpless to act.”

“I would fight him for you, lady.” Martin said.  “Or I would fight for him, if you asked me.”

Freydis shook her head.  “I am still fae, still elfen.  I feel a fate falling. I must face it.”

“You are remembering the Viking days.” Martin said.  “I hear it in your language.  They would face their weird and stride on regardless.”

“I married Lord Ragnar as the Vikings swept in.” Freydis said.  “I suppose I have echoes from that time.”

“What fate to you see, lady?” Martin asked.  “What is the shape of things to come?”

Freydis held up her hand.  “Can you hear that?”

“What?” Martin looked around quickly and his heart sank.  In the distance he could see a pack of revenants stalking after a loud group of lads.  “I see them.”

“I shall enjoy killing them.” Freydis said as she rose.  “Exercise is always useful if you wish to improve your mood.”

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!”

Put in Place

Miss Patience paused just a moment and then slowly turned her head as an unexpected and unwelcome presence appeared next to her.  “Good evening, Martin.  I trust you are well.”

“This is a salad bar.” Martin said, looking around.

“That is correct.” Miss Patience continued to heap her plate with the salads on display.  She added some grated carrot.

“You are a vampire.” Martin said.  “Why are you in a salad bar?”

“I do not eat meat.” Miss Patience said. “It is unfeminine.”

“You don’t eat much salad either.” Martin took a plate and glanced over the bar.  He took some of the complimentary garlic bread.

“This is not for me.” Miss Patience added a few slices of cucumber.  Her hand hovered over the gherkins as she glanced over at the pale man sitting in the corner and then moved over to the pasta.

Martin followed her gaze and sighed.  The man was tall and already over slim with a glazed expression.  “You’re pushing him too hard.”

“I know what I’m doing.” Miss Patience added some shredded lettuce.

“He needs meat.” Martin said.  “And he needs more time.  His brain will break soon if you don’t ease off.”

“I believe I already said that I know what I am doing.” Miss Patience added some sliced sweet pepper.  “You do not need meat for proper nourishment.”

“You need more than some sprigs of greens.” Martin said.  “And he needs meat!”

“The lentil bake that is already on his table is an acceptable substitute.  You have been dormant for some time and science has progressed.”

“I’ve seen plenty of theories come and go.  He needs something more than this pale stuff.” Martin threw a few bits of pepper on his plate and some olives.  “Allow me to join you.”

“And if I say, ‘no’?” Miss Patience turned away from the salads.

“Then you will have to stop me, Patience, and you may find it slightly harder than you think.”

“Only slightly?  Your modesty has increased.” Miss Patience started back towards her table.

“I don’t know the effect of the fairy infecting you.”  Martin followed her, waving over a waiter and sliding into the seat next to the man.

Miss Patience sat opposite the man.  “Dean, this is Martin, who is also an old soul.  Martin, this is Dean who is an accountant.”  The young man didn’t appear to notice.  Instead he helped himself to some of the salad Miss Patience set next to him.

Martin ordered dhal and waited until the waiter was out of earshot before turning to Miss Patience.  “You found someone with the same name.”

“It was entirely coincidence, I can assure you.” Miss Patience kept an icy composure.  “Dean, please eat heartily.”

Martin watched Dean eating his way through the salad and picking at the lentil bake.  “You know this is all wrong, don’t you?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.  This person has an affinity with us, a feeling of belonging.  It is natural that we occasionally add to our number and, since the loss of Rey and his associates, we are depleted.”

“You have played these stupid, blood sharing games for far too long, Patience.” Martin looked again at the thin man pecking at the edges of his food.  When he was young, labourers and farmers worked hard on bread and beans, but this was different.  There was no strength in a shred of carrot.  “You took too much of Rey and now you and all those who play this are wrapped around with the rubbish from Lord Ragnar’s kingdom.  Your presence may even be reinforcing it.  Dean only escaped because Rey died before he was pulled back through the Veil.  Not this Dean, obviously.  What are you going to do when he goes rogue?”

“Your Dean or mine?” Miss Patience sipped the black coffee in front of her.

“The Dean at the White Hart isn’t mine or yours.  He belongs to himself.  Isn’t that a scary thought?  He’s not doing too badly, considering he didn’t want to be a vampire, has no sire to guide him and the woman he loved and betrayed is married to someone else who he’s seeing every day.”

“Those rituals have made us stronger.  And I can assure you I am completely unaffected by the elfen forces.  I can’t imagine why you would think I would be.”

Martin pulled something out of his pocket and dropped it on top of Miss Patience’s hand before she had a time to react.  She recoiled and then stared at the burn mark on her hand as he picked up the small disc.  “Since when did vampires react to magnetised iron?  It’s quite cool, there’s no garlic, no Holy Water, nothing except a magnet.” He held the disc out to her on the palm of his unharmed hand.  When she did not react, he picked up the magnet and pressed it against the back of the wrist of the accountant Dean.  Martin was unsurprised when Dean flinched and turned to him, hissing angrily, his fangs visible.  He was also unimpressed.  “Get him under control, Patience.  We can’t have a scene here.”

Miss Patience coaxed her protégé into a calmer state and called for some red wine.  She waited under Martin’s unflinching gaze until the waiter had brought a bottle, poured a glass for the accountant and left before turning to face Martin.  A tear had slid down her face but she seemed unaware.  “What is your advice?”

“Get away from here.” Martin said bluntly.  “Put some distance between you and Lord Ragnar’s realm.  Take your coven with you.  I’ll put pressure on Lord Ragnar to get the realm sorted out and as soon as it is safe I will send word for you to come back to take your place as the head of the vampires of York.  You must have contacts elsewhere.”

Miss Patience looked down at the coffee she was cupping in her hands.  “The thought of leaving York hurts me.  I don’t want to leave.”

“That’s the fairy stuff talking.  I know you have friends in Sheffield.  Or perhaps you could go over to Buxton.  I know there’s a farm just outside which welcomes vampires.  You could even go and stay at the Village.  Mr Beddoes would sort stuff out for you.  You’ll have to deal with this first though.” Martin waved at the accountant who was turning a slice of sweet pepper in his hands.  “If the paladin finds out what is going on, you’ll be in trouble.”

“I do not fear a paladin.” Miss Patience said.

“You should.  And you should fear what Lord Ragnar would say if he finds that you are creating a new member of the coven without permission.”

“Lord Ragnar is not important.” Miss Patience took an infinitesimal sip of the coffee.

“He is damnably important, Patience.” Martin felt a real surge of worry at that.  “He’ll rip your head off if you challenge him.”

“I must attend the feast he is planning.” Miss Patience said.  “Do I challenge him or obey him?”

“I can make it right with Lord Ragnar.” Martin said.  “Just get away.  Put some miles between you and the source of infection.”

“You do not fear Lord Ragnar.” Miss Patience said, stroking the accountant’s hand.

“I can usually deal with elfen.” Martin shrugged.  “Patience – who is this man?  What family does he have?  Did he have a girlfriend or a wife?  He’s old enough to have children – does he?  What about his job?  What are his dreams?  You say he is an accountant, but could he also be an artist or is he someone who lives for numbers?  What have you done?”

Miss Patience looked down at the coffee that was cooling in front of her.  She shrugged.  “He called to us.”

“He has the right name, is the right age and is male.” Martin said.  “There are probably dozens like him in York.  But none of them are the vampire Dean who is staying at the White Hart, out of your games.  If you try and replace him, you are going to get strange echoes.  Find someone willing and with their own name, instead, if you must.  Look at him.  I mean, truly look at him.  He’s not strong enough for this.”  Martin looked between Miss Patience and the accountant who was now daintily nibbling the sweet pepper.  “What are you going to do?”

“What can we do?” Patience said.  “He either changes or dies.  He is too far gone.”

“There are ways back…”

“No, Martin, I have never seen those cures work.  It is a cruel, painful and desperate ordeal with little hope of success.” Miss Patience looked at the accountant.  He had taken a small sip of wine and was grimacing.

“He’s not going to make the change, Patience.” Martin said.  “You went far too fast.  Let me try, please.  He has little hope otherwise.”

Miss Patience kept her gaze on the accountant.  “What if it goes wrong?”

“He dies.” Martin did not try and sugar coat the problem.  “But he’s dead anyway if we don’t try.  He’s going to break and then there could be a lot of casualties.”

“What will you tell the paladin?” Miss Patience said.  “And how will you deal with any police investigation, especially if it goes wrong?  The police are remarkably competent these days.”

“Everything is more complicated than the old days.” Martin said.  He accepted his dhal from the waiter and waited until he left.  “But I’m sure I can manage.”  He looked sadly across at the accountant.  “I have to.”

Dave stood in the centre of the lounge and looked around critically.  He’d done most decorating and handyman jobs, and he could see the botched plastering underneath the coving, and the floorboards at the door were dodgy, but it didn’t look too bad.  “When was it last re-wired?”

The estate agent looked through his notes.  He was getting rattled.  He was surrounded by three extremely dangerous looking men, one of which kept asking awkward questions about drains and double glazing, and they were ready to spend half a million pounds cash on a property.  There had to be something illegal going on.  “I’ll have to check with the vendor.”

Sir Ewan looked out of the window and across the lawn.  “There is a lot of maintenance here and the hedges hide approaches.  I’m not sure we shouldn’t go for a terrace again.”

Darren was looking at the contents of the small bookcase.  “There are always security cameras.”

“That depends on the wiring.” Dave said.  He squatted down and looked at the outlets.  “The faceplates look new enough.”

“Cameras aren’t always secure.” Sir Ewan said.  “There is no clear line of sight to the end of the road.”

“When did you last need that line of sight?” Darren tilted his head better to read the book spines.  “Someone likes their romance novels.”

“Don’t you have an energy efficiency certificate?” Dave asked the flustered estate agent.  “I want to see the attic.”

“Most people don’t want to see the loft on the first inspection.” The estate agent backed towards the door.  “But if you follow me.”

Dave followed the estate agent, leaving Darren and Sir Ewan to wander into the kitchen.  Sir Ewan looked around.  “It’s a nice size, but I’ll let Dave look at the rest of it.”

“It won’t be good enough.” Darren said.  “Nothing has been so far.”

“He keeps grumbling about prices.” Sir Ewan said.  “The Knights Templar may not be the powerhouses they once were, but we have enough to buy a house.”

Darren ran a critical finger over the top of a kitchen cabinet.  “Just get a fixer upper.  It can keep him busy once we have sorted out the revenants.  You can get Ian Tait in to do the plumbing.  He may be a werewolf but he is as honest as they come.” He inspected the dust with disapproval.

“The Order does not normally use non-normals as tradesmen.” Sir Ewan said.  He peered out the window.  “There really isn’t good visibility.  Are you going to Lord Ragnar’s feast?”

“I don’t know.” Darren said.  “It is supposed to be for his court, but he’s invited anyone that he thinks will show up.  If we don’t go, he will hold it against us forever.  But I’m not sure that we should be there.  Steve is furious that Fiona is getting dragged into it and Kieran is equally furious that Lord Ragnar is insisting that the ladies of the pack attend.”

“Even Jasmine?” Sir Ewan said.

“Not just Jasmine, but Adele and Jeanette as well.” Darren turned to look back into the hall.  “There are a lot of snappy werewolves around.  Apparently the ladies would prefer their craft evening to a feast with Lord Ragnar.”

“I think I’ll call in some extra people.” Sir Ewan looked thoughtful.  “I mean, an unstable Prince forcing unwilling subjects to attend an arbitrary feast – what could go wrong?  I know stuff will mainly stay within Lord Ragnar’s realm, but it would be a miracle if nothing at all spills out, especially with all this business with darkness in his domain and the revenants.”

“I worry for those in his court.” Darren said.  “Fortunately, and I say this with some disbelief, Freydis has been working in the background.  She’s arranged for the youngsters to go for an overnight in a big campground near Malton.  That’s all the cubs, kitlings, slips and kids.  Whatever happens, they will be safe and out of the way and being watched by some safe friends of hers from Hartlepool.”

“Those friends – are they safe for her or safe for the kids?” Sir Ewan asked.

Darren raised an eyebrow.  “At the moment the revenants are concentrating on non-normals.  The kids will be out of the way and she will enjoy whatever happens, I’m sure.”

Dave clattered down the stairs.  “It’s no good.  The roof space would have to be totally re-done and I’m not sure about some of those tiles.”

The estate agent trailed after him.  “The roof has been inspected and passed.”

Dave grunted.  “Inspected by who?”

Darren opened his mouth to correct the grammar and then thought better of it.  “I don’t think this is the sort of place we are looking for.  Perhaps you can match us up with some properties in need of renovation.  That might be a better fit.” He turned to Dave.  “You can sort it out yourself.”

Dave looked thoughtful.  “That’s not a bad idea.  I could hardwire in some security no problem.”

“I think I know the perfect property.” The estate agent said with relief.  “In fact, we can have a look now.  It’s a challenge, but I’m sure it will repay sympathetic restoration…”

The bar was tucked away in the shadow of York walls and almost impossible to find without a friendly guide or very specific directions.  Lord Lothar and Lord Marius had found it without any problems and were drinking a version of ale that would never pass Trading Standards.

“This is remarkably pleasant.” Lord Lothar said, leaning back against the wooden settle.  He looked around at the company.  Boggarts were playing darts and some goblins in the corner were having a quiet game of dominoes.  A brownie was deep in negotiation with a wight about the maintenance of his ruins and the barman was enjoying a conversation with the resident ghost.  “I feel quite at home.”

“It is a splendid place.” Lord Marius said.  “But that is not why I asked you to join me.”

“You wanted to enjoy malicious gossip, of course.” Lord Lothar’s eyes gleamed.  “And there is plenty of it.  Who will unseat Lord Ragnar?”

“Strangely, there are but few contenders.” Lord Marius sipped his ale.  “Most of those jostling for position were eliminated last year.  No contender from outside has prepared quickly enough to move.”

“I admit to not foreseeing Lord Ragnar’s collapse after his divorce.” Lord Lothar said.  “At least, I did not expect it to progress with such speed.  Freydis played the pretty idiot very well.”

“If someone weds her then their success in claiming the domain is all but guaranteed.” Lord Marius said.  “But she remains loyal to Lord Ragnar, quite ridiculously so, and I believe she has been bolstering him behind the scenes.”

“But she was divorced.” Lord Lothar said.

“Indeed,” Lord Marius said.  “But she apparently bears no malice.  She works serving coffee.”

“So I believe.”  Lord Lothar said.  “But this cannot continue.”  They paused as a werewolf trotted past them in its wolf form, heading for the changing rooms, waiting until it had passed before continuing.  “The instability will affect all of us.  All domains will soon be affected if we do not deal with this contagion at source.  It could come to such a pass that well-meaning princes will have to intervene to protect their own and that will not end well.”

“Both of us could deal with the matter,” Lord Marius said, “and Freydis has expressed willingness to deal with it as well.  Lord Ragnar refuses aid.”

“It does not show him as strong.” Lord Lothar said.  “I saw Egerton in the street earlier.”

“He has little or no following yet.” Lord Marius said.  “If he is wise he will keep Lord Ragnar in place with unequivocal support until he is strong enough to unseat him.”

Lord Lothar nodded in approval.  “A sudden strike from a previously trusted aide will often work.”

“Lord Ragnar does not trust Egerton.” Lord Marius shrugged.

“What of Kadogan?” Lord Lothar asked.  “His influence has waxed greatly since he started acting as a merchant.”

“He is loyal to Lord Ragnar as well.” Lord Marius said.  “I believe they have a strong bond of mutual assistance.  However I have invited someone in who, while not wishing to be king, could well be a kingmaker.  You remember Aelfhelm, do you not?  He is now calling himself Martin and he is about to enter the bar.”

Foreshadowing

Dave and Luke stood at the gate to the former Paladin’s Citadel.  The unassuming terrace house was now a pile of rubble between two boarded up former houses.  The Templars had swooped in and anything incriminating had been removed before any investigation had started and now the heaps of tattered rubble had been cleared.

“Do you think they will try and fit a taller building in this space?” Luke asked.  “They seem very clear about maximising profits.”

“You’re not from York, are you?” Dave said.  “Planning regulations are beyond strict.  They will have to rebuild with an exterior that matches the surroundings.  I think they may try and get flats out of the interior, though.”

Luke grinned.  “I can see it now – sympathetically restored building on the outside, rabbit hutches on the inside.”

They paused.  The gate stood incongruously alone, untouched, as an entry to a gap.  It took all of Dave’s will power not to carefully open the gate and latch it after him.  Instead he walked around and onto the cleared site.  Luke followed him.  The houses either side had been shored up, boarded off and made safe and there had been plenty of prayers and blessings, just in case.  It still had a forlorn air about it.  Dave shook his head.  “If it was me I’d knock down the two either side and make a bit of space.  The new Citadel has a lot more room.  I could have done something useful with this.”

Luke grinned wider.  “Like we have time to build a new house from scratch.”

Dave ignored him and started to wander over the rubble.  There had been no cellar.  It was too near the river and a chance of it flooding.  Instead there were solid, stone foundations underneath the brick dust and fragments of plaster.  “I’d get Ian to do the plumbing.” He turned at looked at Luke, genuine confusion on his face.  “How can you not ask the most straight up, solid, decent man you know?  You know he would do the best job he could and be honest to a fault.  But he’s a non-normal.  Sir Ewan is twitchy about getting him in, but I threw the last cowboy out.  He made a complete dog’s breakfast of the sink and watching him trying to sort the overflow nearly made me cry.”

Luke laughed out loud.  “I know what you mean.  I really miss the prayer meetings and Bible study we used to have with him.  Darren is talking about getting regular afternoons set up once he is in his vicarage.”

“He’ll be moving in soon.” Dave said, scuffing his foot over what was left of the concrete floor.  “Look at this, the bricks underneath have lasted better than the new concrete.  I don’t know whether it’s some sort of influence or just better workmanship.” He shook his head.  “Anyway, Darren will be in his place soon.  Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader have got the ladies together to give it a good clean.  It will probably be so clean you could do open heart surgery on any surface of the house, including the bathroom, which is just how Darren likes it.  And the sooner we get back to the meetings, the better.”

“You’ve been quiet about finding faith.” Luke followed him, looking around the ruin.  “What happened?”

Dave looked embarrassed.  “You know how my arm was bad and I was getting frustrated?  I went to the Minster and I prayed for the first time.  I was feeling so useless, that I couldn’t do this job of Paladin, and that I was a failure.  I got a sense that I got a ‘but you’re not on your own, have faith’ and my arm sort of clicked.” Dave rotated his left shoulder.  “And I thought, I’m not on my own, not if I have faith.  It made a difference.  I thought I had lost my chance when I spotted the Paladin’s mark on your shoulder, but it looks like York needs two of us.”

Luke nodded.  “I can feel the difference these days.  But let’s keep it quiet until after the feast.”

“Agreed.” Dave said.  “The last thing we need is to have all of our resources down there when anything could be happening… hang on, what’s this?”

Luke walked over and followed his gaze.  Dave’s foot had knocked a shard of the later concrete flooring out of the way and suddenly they were looking at a hole.  Dave pulled out his phone and used the torch to look into the unexpected pit.  Light reflected from the glass fragments scattered around the base of a hollow around an arm’s length deep and the size of a large dinner plate across.  Mixed in with the glass were strands of some sort of stained material, some rusted nails and what looked like pebbles.  Dave angled his phone around.  “It looks like an old witch jar – you know, something they used to bury under the floors when they built houses back whenever this was built.”

Luke glanced briefly at the other houses in the street.  “So it may have been there for 200 years or more?  That’s amazing.”

Dave looked over the space that had once been the house.  It was surprisingly large without its walls and furniture, and the foundations had stood up well to the explosion except for a few places.  He stood up and walked a little back from the street.  “I think this is another one.”

“Another witch bottle?” Luke asked.

Dave kicked back a few shreds of floorboard and peered down.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  Didn’t they used to bury cats under houses?”

Luke knelt at the side of the new hole.  “Not if this was built for the Templars.  That was superstition.  There could be relics and perhaps the Holy Wafer, but not a cat.” He craned his neck past Dave.  “Are those cat bones?  They look like horns.”

“It isn’t a sheep’s skull.” Dave said.  “They don’t look like natural horns.”  He exchanged an uneasy look with Luke.  “I think there are a few pits here.”

Luke leaned back and stumbled, nearly falling into yet another hole.  This time it looked like someone had buried a collection of hands.  All that were left were piles of finger bones, still articulated despite the explosion, surrounded by what looked like rotten wood.  “You know what I think?” he said, “I think that when there was something crazy scary and they couldn’t do anything else, they buried it under the floor of the Paladin’s house, because that was Holy and bad things couldn’t do much.  And you know what else I think?  I think that when the bad stuff hit whatever was Holy and everything went bang, I think we need to hope that the bad stuff had died long ago.” He looked back at the pit with the strange bones.  “I think we need to get the Templars’ experts in to check this out.”

“Hello, Elaine.” Fiona smiled brightly.  This may be her husband’s ex-girlfriend but she wasn’t going to be unprofessional.  “How can I help you?”

“I thought I’d call in and see if you were hiring.” Elaine said, with equal, brittle brightness.

“What?” Fiona said before pulling herself together.  “I mean, why would you want to do that?”

“I got a chance of promotion at a small firm in York.” Elaine said.  “But while it is a great opportunity and a small wage increase, housing in York is expensive and I thought…”

Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “Don’t worry, Fiona, it’s not Steve that she misses.”

“Excuse me?” Elaine said, staring at the elderly boggart.

“I know how it is with some of you normals.” Mrs Tuesday started clearing the tables.  “Once you get a taste of something outside of your normal world, you don’t want to give it up.  But Armani was a step too far.  I don’t blame you.  Now I’ve seen what he’s like on gin, I couldn’t stand him myself.  But you were never that attached to Steve, just the magic.”

Freydis wandered over.  “I think that is an excellent idea, if you can work both Saturday and Sunday.  Adele needs help and support with the figurines and I know that Callum can always use a paw with the post.”

“Callum is a werewolf, isn’t he?” Elaine asked.

“Umm? Freydis was staring absently through the window at the near empty car park.  “Callum and Ian are werewolves, as is Jasmine.  I believe Adele will be bitten soon but I’m not sure about Jeanette.  It is becoming quite a sub pack but I believe it is a relief to Kieran who is hard pressed by Lord Ragnar and grateful for the support and counsel from Ian.  The coach party due in an hour and a half will be quite early.  I think it best if we start preparing now.” She turned to look at Elaine.  “I don’t think there is a place for you to stay here at the moment, but there will be in a month so you should give your landlady notice.  I shall go into the storeroom and bring up extra sugar.”

What?” Fiona snapped.

“It is only minimum wage, Elaine, but the company is excellent, and it will be a nice supplement to your main income until you marry.  And I think Mrs Tuesday should check for muffins.” Freydis wandered through to the back room.

“I’m not getting married.” Elaine said, bewildered.

“Would you like to bet on that?” Mrs Tuesday asked.  “It sounded like Freydis was telling the future.  You may not think that you’re getting married soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  Now, she suggested that I check out the muffins, so I’m going to do just that.” Mrs Tuesday followed Freydis into the back.

Fiona turned to Elaine.  “This business is owned by three of us.  There is Steve, who is away most days and is currently in Manchester trying to unload some flint arrowheads.  There is Kadogan, who hasn’t been seen for days and is caught up in the drama of Lord Ragnar’s court and there is me, who nobody listens to.  And what did she mean about Adele getting bitten?”

Elaine smiled at her with genuine sympathy.  “At least Armani is with Steve.  Did someone really give him gin?  He was bad enough when he got hold of my vodka.”

Fiona shuddered.  “He can’t be trusted with anything stronger than tea.  But he did save my life last year, so I have some time for him.”

“He saved your life?” Elaine stared.

“It’s a long story.” Fiona felt defeated.  She was, of course, going to hire Steve’s ex-girlfriend who was looking absolutely gorgeous today, because not only was it a waste of time arguing with Freydis but they were also desperate for weekend staff.

Mrs Tuesday stuck her head out of the back room.  “We’ve almost run out of muffins so I’m sending Callum to the Wholesalers.” She ducked back.

Fiona turned back to Elaine.  “Do you have any idea who you might marry?”

Elaine shook her head.  “Do you think she’s right?”

“I gave up worrying about it a while ago.” Fiona sighed.  “That coach pulling in isn’t due for another hour and a half.  I’ll sign you up after the rush.”

Freydis stood in front of Lord Ragnar, tapping her foot.  Tension was spreading out through the court in waves as the former couple stared at each other.  The hall was still wearing the illusion of a Victorian gentleman’s club, but there was traces of dust in the corners and some of the lamps were dim.  Freydis took a breath.  “If you wish me to attend, my lord, of course I shall.  But I am bound to give you counsel and I don’t think it’s a good idea.  Look at what is happening because you are forced to speak with me.”

“The dust is not new.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “And, yes, you shall attend.”

Freydis looked around again.  The draped velvet hangings in the corner were looking worn and the fire was sinking low.  “I once again request that I am allowed to put right…”

“I have this in hand.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I have it all in hand.  You shall attend and Miss Patience shall attend.  All the ladies of the pack shall attend.  The brownies shall be present and the goblins and even the Paladin.  I will demonstrate my authority.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Freydis said.  “Forcing Miss Patience to attend is unwise.  You know how it affects her.”

“I know how she says it affects her.” Lord Ragnar stood.  “But I will not be rejected in my own hall.”

“You really are showing a special kind of stupid.” Freydis said, inspecting her immaculate nails.  “Because even if you rip her head off, her presence only agitates the darkness.”

“What did you call me?” Lord Ragnar growled.

“I called you special, my Prince.” Freydis faked a smile.  Lord Ragnar threw a goblet at her.

“Do not dare try your insolence.”

Freydis ducked the goblet easily and retaliated with a nearby teapot.  Amber liquid scattered as teapot and contents whirled through the air and smashed against a pillar behind Lord Ragnar.  “You are being a special idiot.  A prize Duns Scotus.  An Ass.”

Lord Ragnar grabbed a tray and hurled it, edge on, at Freydis, who casually batted it out of the air to land with a clatter amongst a knot of werewolves.  Lord Ragnar stepped forward.  “I should have beaten you to obedience centuries ago.”

“Of course I’m going to obey my prince’s stupid orders.” Freydis yelled.  “As long as no-one thinks I’m stupid enough to have made those damned decisions myself.” She grabbed a potted fern and hurled it at Lord Ragnar.  It shattered on the fireplace and the brownies winced.

Atherton turned to Kadogan.  “These sweet romances are all very well, but there is much to do for the feast and the revenants prowl close to this hall.”

Kadogan looked worried.  “I shall try and distract them, but it is always difficult to walk into a lover’s tiff.  However it is a necessity.”

Atherton laid a hand on Kadogan’s shoulder.  “I have always admired your courage.” He said with complete sincerity.

 

Almost Ready

“You are the son of Lord Marius.” Kadogan said, appearing in the office at Steve’s shoulder as he counted the change.
“What? Yes, I am.” Steve abandoned any hope of counting and leant back in his chair to look at Kadogan. What he saw worried him. He looked paler than usual and his hair looked longer and unkempt. His cheekbones looked a lot more prominent and his eyes were wilder.
“But you have no interest in taking the path of the elfen or taking power.” Kadogan lounged against the office door.
“It’s really not my style.” Steve said. “I like the business side and the travel.”
“Also your wife is not elfen.” Kadogan continued. “Although any children may have a choice to take the elfen path.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Steve said. “Are you okay?”
“Four centuries ago I had a child.” Kadogan stepped in and shut the door. Steve felt unexpectedly edgy at being trapped in a room with him. Kadogan had always been sensible and easy to deal with, for an elfen, but the rules were changing. Steve pushed a chair towards Kadogan.
“What happened?”
“She died.” Kadogan said. “She was a flower. She grew, she blossomed, she faded and she died.”
“I’m sorry.” Steve said. He wasn’t sure whether the child was a literal flower or a person described as a flower. Both were possible with elfen.
“She had a good life.” Kadogan sat on the offered chair. “She worked as a washerwoman for a family near Rawcliffe. She never married. When she was twelve she caught smallpox. Normals have already forgotten what that was like. It was so bad. Lord Ragnar sat and sang with her for seven days and seven nights until she was healed. He brought her back from dark shores.”
“That was good of him.” Steve said.
“He did not ask it for a favour, either.” Kadogan said. “He did it because it was the thing to do to a loyal companion. Just as he marshalled the court for the White Hart when there was a fire. He tries to do the right thing.”
“I know.” Steve said.
“But his vision is clouded by his love for Freydis. The errors and misjudgements are no longer amusing.” Kadogan sagged in his chair. “I do not know what to do.”
Steve looked thoughtfully at Kadogan. All the elfen were twitchy at the moment. Steve had never really got to grips with elfen politics. He could see which way the wind was blowing and could make a fair guess at whether a court was safe or stable, but he couldn’t see the deeper currents that were carrying Kadogan along with Lord Ragnar, Freydis and the rest of the elfen. The domain of the Prince of York was neither safe nor stable at the moment, and what seemed obvious to him seemed impossible for the elfen. “What are you worried about?”
“I am worried that Lord Ragnar will be utterly destroyed and that we shall have a vampire as the Prince of York.” Kadogan said. “This would not be a good thing.”
“You’re talking about Martin, aren’t you?” Steve said. “I think he is extremely reluctant to take power. All the chatter I heard was that he was utterly indifferent. He’s being more or less loyal to Lord Ragnar, which has to count for something.”
“But if the domain does not become stable, then Aelfhelm may take control out of desperation.” Kadogan slumped even lower in the chair.
“I can try speaking to Lord Ragnar, if you like.” Steve said. “If he got Freydis to sort out the domain then he could try and romance her properly, you know, have fun this time around.”
Kadogan sighed. “They are both incredibly irritating when they are romantic, but it may be the only way. They are perfect for each other because they would drive anyone else to madness.”
“I’ll speak to Lord Ragnar after the reception.” Steve said. “I’ll do what I can to make him listen to me. If he won’t let Freydis help then he needs to let someone like Lord Marius do it. And Freydis won’t ask him for favours in return.” Steve thought for a moment. “Freydis probably won’t ask for favours in return. Seriously, Kadogan, once the domain is put right then things will quieten down, Miss Patience will be possible to deal with and then Lord Ragnar and Freydis can enjoy romance.”
Kadogan looked around the room, almost as if he was seeing it for the first time. He seemed to be examining the corners of the desk and the pattern of shadows falling from the tree outside onto the blank wall. “I will speak to him now.” Then Kadogan vanished.

Steve finished counting the change before locking it in the safe. Then he wandered downstairs. It wasn’t worth getting ready yet, it was only early in the afternoon, but everyone was on edge for Lord Ragnar’s reception that evening. The shop was empty and for once Steve was glad about it.
“Hello, Elaine.” Steve managed a friendly smile. “I didn’t expect you to be in.”
“Work needed me to work late last night so I got this afternoon off and I let Jasmine get off and do some shopping?” Elaine’s smiled was a little forced, but she seemed relaxed enough. “She’s getting changed here with Mrs Tuesday.”
Steve looked over to where Mrs Tuesday was wiping over the counter. She was in her usual pinny but Steve’s experienced eye could see under the glamour. She had done something with her greying fur that made it look glossier and her nails had been filed. Fiona was out getting her hair and nails done and now Jasmine was shopping. “What’s Jasmine shopping for?”
“I think she’s looking for something to wear.” Elaine said.
“Does Ian know?” Steve asked. “It seems like only a week ago she was scared of buying clothes.” He shrugged. “I suppose it’s a good thing she feels safe enough to spend some money.”
Mrs Tuesday wandered over. “Yes, she’s beginning to relax.” She looked hard at Elaine. “She’s a good kid.”
“She seems really sweet.” Elaine said. “I hope she finds something nice. She’s got the potential to be quite stunning, almost like a model.”
Freydis wandered out of the back room, carrying a heavy box of coffee with insolent ease. “Indeed, Jasmine is very beautiful inside.” She exchanged a look with Mrs Tuesday. “I am confident she will find love soon.”
Mrs Tuesday frowned. “Is that you seeing it or planning it?”
“I am not interfering with a werewolf’s heart.” Freydis said. “Besides, I have my own romantic troubles clouding my judgement. I could get it wrong.”
“Really?” Mrs Tuesday said politely. “I find that hard to believe.”
Elaine jumped in quickly. “What are you two ladies wearing to the reception?”
“I haven’t decided,” Freydis said, “But it will not be pink. Lord Ragnar only knows me in pink. I need to make him look at me with fresh eyes.”
“That’s good.” Mrs Tuesday nodded. “You need to make him think about who you really are.”
“Indeed.” Freydis nodded. “I am undecided between a pale crimson velvet gown with a low back or a floaty chiffon dress with a scarf in a sort of salmon colour.”
Steve tried to imagine the clothes. “Aren’t they both quite close to pink?”
“Men just don’t see colours the same way I do.” Freydis said airily.
“You could try really shocking him and wearing blue, or even black.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You would look completely different in blue.”
“Indeed.” Freydis looked thoughtful. “That would be striking indeed. I do not believe anyone in the court has seen me in a blue gown since…” She trailed off as she tried to work out how long it was since she had anything but pink to a formal occasion. “I shall wear blue, and possibly go brunette.”
“Don’t change too many things at once.” Steve said, feeling he had to at least give Lord Ragnar some chance. “Wearing a blue dress should be enough of a shock. Hang on, what’s this?”

Jasmine almost ran into the shop, her hair ruffled and her face flushed and tear stained. She was holding her blouse closed at the front and her knuckles looked sore. Darren was following her carrying half a dozen bags and grinning. Darren dumped the bags down and shook his hands to get the circulation back.
“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry. Where’s Ian?”
“What happened?” Elaine asked.
Freydis shouted into the back, “Ian, you should attend. Jasmine has had an incident.” She looked at Jasmine. “I shall use the Coffee Machine to make you some hot chocolate.”
Jasmine shook her head. “It’s awful.”
“It isn’t awful.” Darren said. “You did exactly the right thing.” He was still grinning as he turned to the others. “Jasmine saw a few lads having a go at a homeless man near the station. You know, pushing him about and shouting at him. I’d been chatting to a copper nearby and we were both moving that way when Jasmine told them where to go.”
“I didn’t swear.” Jasmine’s anxious eyes were wide. “But I told them to leave him alone.”
“Of course, they took it as well as you could expect.” Darren said. “I started running when one of them pushed Jasmine. So did the copper, but I think she was more worried about Jasmine being hurt.”
“I couldn’t let them keep hurting that poor man.” Jasmine said. “I mean, his mind wasn’t right.”
“Are you hurt?” Elaine asked, looking Jasmine over. There were plenty of patches of dirt but no obvious injuries.
“Nothing that won’t be better by tonight.” Freydis said, easing Jasmine into the café area and into a seat next to a hot chocolate.
“Are they hurt?” Steve asked, knowing a little more about werewolves.
“Jasmine’s shirt got torn in the scuffle.” Darren said. “There were around half a dozen of them, so I was a little worried, but they weren’t up to facing someone who could fight back. I pulled one of them back, and the copper got another, but Jasmine can handle herself. I think there was at least one broken nose and quite a few bruises before Jasmine let them run off. The police officer was getting the victim checked out and I brought Jasmine and her shopping home.”
“Ian is going to expel me for fighting, isn’t he?” Jasmine was now pale and shivering. “I didn’t think. I just saw that poor man and I never stopped to look for anyone official.”
“You did the right thing.” Darren said. “Though perhaps you should look for support when you are facing odds of six to one.”
Jasmine hunched over. “They were nothing really, just cowards and bullies.” She turned to Mrs Tuesday. “What is Ian going to say? What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to pull yourself together, be proud of doing the right thing and go and yourself cleaned up and changed.” Ian said from behind her. Jasmine flinched and then froze. Ian came and sat next to her and took her icy hand. “Is what Darren said true? Some bullies were picking on someone vulnerable?”
Jasmine nodded. “I think his mind wasn’t right, and he was so thin and frail.”
“And you told them to stop? You didn’t just hit them first?” Ian said, rubbing her hand.
Jasmine forced herself to look up at Ian. “I had my hands full with shopping bags. I had to try talking first.”
Ian avoided looking at Mrs Tuesday’s amused expression. “And then you fought back when attacked?”
Jasmine hunched further down and looked away. “He grabbed the front of my shirt and told me that I should…” Her voice trailed off and she turned scarlet. She took a deep breath. “So I broke his hold and hit him.”
“I was just about there by then.” Darren said. “She didn’t hit him as hard as she could.”
“I didn’t want to break him.” Jasmine said.
“It sounds like you did exactly what you should. Well done.” Ian said. “Go and get ready for the reception.” He looked at the heap of bags collapsing against each other where Darren had left them. “Did you buy all that?”
“It’s with my own money and I got some really good stuff on sale and some were from a charity shop and I can always take it back if it doesn’t fit and I kept the receipts and it’s less than it looks because of the bags and…”
Ian held up a hand as Jasmine finally took a breath. “It’s okay, you need some new clothes. I’m glad you got them. Now, pick up those bags…” He paused as he noticed that the front of Jasmine’s blouse was completely ripped apart. “I’ll carry those bags up for you and then I’m getting back to Jeanette’s place to get ready.” He looked at Steve. “All the post is sorted, Callum is at the Post Office now sending out the last of the orders and I’ve re-stocked the herbs that were getting low. Everything’s sorted.”
“No problem.” Steve said and watched a faint flicker of disbelief cross Ian’s face as he lifted the weight of the bags.
“I got shoes as well and there was a great deal on boots that were my size and while I know that they won’t be need until winter it seemed a shame…” Jasmines words tumbled together as she tried to excuse catching up on several years of shopping.
“It’s okay, honest.” Ian shook his head. “Finish that hot chocolate, calm down and then get ready.”

Steve watched Jasmine holding her blouse together as she drained the hot chocolate and bounded up the stairs after Ian. “I’m glad Ian was able to reassure her.”
Darren nodded. “I was worried when they started trying to push her around, but I got there before she could do much damage.”
“Was the police officer pretty?” Freydis asked, a gleam in her eye.
“Probably.” Darren didn’t rise to the bait. “We were talking about parking in York.”
“And you never got a chance to ask her for a drink.” Freydis shook her head. “Did you get her number?”
“Why should I want her number?” Darren asked. “I’m going upstairs to get ready for my night.”
“Don’t you wish that you were going to the reception?” Freydis asked.
“Absolutely not.” Darren said. “Lots of very powerful non-normals feeling stressed and edgy and shot through with death-laced elfen magic will be trying to make small talk while wearing uncomfortable clothes. It’s not my thing.”
Elaine looked at Steve. “Is it going to be dangerous?”
“Absolutely.” Steve said.
“You will take Armani with you, won’t you?” Elaine said. She blushed slightly. “I mean, you will take care.”
“I will, don’t worry.” Steve managed an awkward smile. “And you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you? It’s a safe spot and things could get a little out of hand.”
“Of course it’s going to get out of hand.” Freydis said. “There is a great feeling of death, but that is probably the energy that Rey left. I think I’ll get some more sugar up and get everything set up for tomorrow. I may not have the energy to fully set up after an interesting night.”
Mrs Tuesday watched her disappear into the back room and turned to the men. “That’s as near as a guarantee of trouble that you are ever going to get.” She sighed. “I could give them all a good shake. Anyway, Jasmine is going to be too giddy to eat properly, but there’s a nice meat and potato casserole in the oven, help yourselves.” She looked hard at Darren. “There’s plenty for all the Knights Templar that are coming, and I’ve put a big box of biscuits and cakes on the side. Make sure that they eat it, not that they deserve it, but some of them are just bags of bones and I don’t know why they can’t manage to give them a square meal in the Citadel.” She wiped over the clean counter. “If at least half of the cakes and biscuits aren’t gone tomorrow, I’ll be upset. And Mrs Anderson has left a box of snacks from her and Mrs Cadwallader. You can’t be on guard on an empty stomach. Though I don’t know why I bother.” Mrs Tuesday stomped off to check on the rack of herbs.
Steve turned to Elaine. “There will be Knights Templars coming and going here, as well as Darren and Luke keeping an eye out on what’s happening. Try and get an early night.”
“Indeed.” Freydis said. “Some of those present may be suitable for romance with you, but tonight is not the time for connection.”
Darren shook his head. “Really?”

Darren joined Dave in the upstairs kitchen and started helping himself to a large plateful of Mrs Tuesday’s cooking. “Jasmine saw some chavs picking on a homeless guy this afternoon. You may see a report across your desk, but I doubt it.”
“Did she hurt anyone?” Dave asked. He had a half cleared plate in front of him and an opened newspaper.
“Not seriously.” Darren sat down and added a liberal seasoning of brown sauce. “No fur was seen and a police officer was a witness to Jasmine facing down six lads for all the right reasons. She was worried that Ian would throw her out for fighting.”
Dave grunted, chewed and swallowed. “What was she doing in town anyway?”
“Clothes shopping.” Darren took a large forkful and savoured it.
“Seriously?” Dave shook his head. “I hope she’s got it right. Tonight is going to be interesting.”
“I look forward to hearing about what happened.” Darren said, shifting and pulling a folded copy of the Church Times from his back pocket. “I expect there to be nothing to worry about here in normal York, because it is all going to kick off in Lord Ragnar’s domain.” He looked up as Evan Tuesday bounced into the kitchen.
“Hi, Auntie Jane said I could get changed here and go as her partner.” Evan said. He was wearing a glamour of a young lad in his late teens or early twenties, with slicked back hair and an almost designer shirt. He looked on the skinny side of slim, tall and energetic with just a hint of acne. He hovered nervously. “Auntie Jane said I could have some dinner.”
“Help yourself.” Dave said, waving a hand at the oven. “There’s plenty to go around.”
Jasmine shot into the kitchen. “What do you think?” She twirled around, showing off the classy black trouser suit with the white silk blouse. Her blonde hair cascaded in curls down her back and the short jacket showed off her figure perfectly.
Evan stared. “You look amazing.”
Darren looked up from his paper. “You look like a waiter.”
Jasmine’s face fell and she looked down at herself. “Really?”
“Every prince I know has liveried servants waiting at the reception, and most of them will be wearing black and white.” Darren turned the page and took another mouthful of his casserole.
“I’ll be right back.” Jasmine shot out again.
“Is that Jasmine?” Evan asked. “I mean, I’ve sort of seen her before but I didn’t realise…” He trailed off and grabbed a plate from the cupboard. “She looks really nice.”
“Hmm.” Dave didn’t commit to anything further.
Evan joined him at the table. “I’ve never been to a reception at Lord Ragnar’s before. Do you think it will be formal?”
“I’m changing into a suit after dinner.” Dave said. “I believe Lord Ragnar likes things to look good.”
“Really?” Evan said. He helped himself to a full plateful of casserole and, after a quick glance at the men either side of the table, took a seat. “You don’t mind me joining you?”
“Not a problem.” Dave said. “Relax. What has Mrs Tuesday said about what to wear?”
“She said a suit as well, but I thought just a shirt might look better.” Evan glanced at the two men again. “She doesn’t always understand fashion.”
“A suit is good.” Darren said.
Jasmine burst in again. “What do you think?”
Evan dropped his fork. Jasmine was still wearing the same white silk blouse, buttoned high up to the neck, but now was wearing a deep crimson mini skirt that showed off her long legs and very trim hips, together with glossy, high heeled red shoes. “You look amazing.” Evan said, barely able to drag his eyes away from her legs.
“You’ll have to go to fur if there’s a fight and you’re wearing that skirt.” Darren started running his finger down the page of notices.
Evan didn’t look away from Jasmine’s legs. “Is there likely to be a fight?”
“I think there’s almost certainly going to be some sort of scuffle.” Dave said. “But probably not too serious.”
Jasmine looked down at the skirt. “The heels will probably get in the way as well.”
“I have absolutely no experience with that.” Darren didn’t look up from the paper.
Dave turned to the crossword in his paper. “You look lovely,” he said, “but why don’t you save that outfit for a night when you’re going out with Adele and Jeanette?”
“I guess so.” Jasmine disappeared again.
Darren finally looked up and grinned at Dave. “Ian would have had a fit if he had seen her like that.”
Dave grinned back. “It’s almost worth getting her to wear it for him. I’m surprised he doesn’t march her upstairs to wash her make up off.”
“She’s twenty-three.” Darren said. “She acts a lot younger, but she’s an adult.”
“Do you want to explain that to Ian?” Dave asked.
Freydis wandered in. “The store has closed and the Coffee Machine has gone through the evening rites. Was Jasmine wearing something unsuitable?”
Evan had stood up as Freydis entered. “No, miss, Jasmine looked beautiful.”
“She was wearing a short, tight skirt.” Dave said.
“But she looked classy with it.” Evan said.
“Finish your dinner, Evan Tuesday.” Freydis said. “You may well get hungry before the meal tonight. There could be a lot of speeches.” She looked at Darren. “You are not that old.”
“What?” Darren said.
“I can hardly ever pick up anything from you,” Freydis said with a pout, “But you are not that old.” She glanced at Evan. “Although sometimes you may feel it.”
Evan sat down, darting an apprehensive glance at Freydis before picking up a forkful of casserole. “Auntie Jane says she’s old, but I think that sometimes she acts older than she is.”
Jasmine rushed back in. “I love this skirt.” She twirled around and the lightweight, tie dye maxi skirt swirled around. She was wearing lower heeled sandals and a chiffon, peasant style blouse. “I think I need more bangles.”
“You look amazing.” Evan dropped the chunk of meat off his fork.
Jasmine smiled and twirled again. Her blonde hair gleamed in the shine of the kitchen light and she radiated a giddy happiness. “I’ve never been to anything this important, so I want to look my best. Do you really think I look good?” She asked Evan.
“You’ll freeze to death if the weather changes.” Darren turned another page. “It’s maleficent.”
“What?” Jasmine said.
“Dave’s crossword, four across. The answer is ‘maleficent’. You look lovely, Jasmine, but the weather in the fairy realms is changeable.”
“He is right.” Freydis said, enjoying the irritation on Dave’s face as he filled in four across. “Should Lord Ragnar choose, or should the realm become unstable, then all weather is possible.”
Jasmine managed another half hearted twirl, nodded to herself and dashed out.
Evan took a deep breath. “Miss Freydis, should I wear a suit tonight?”
“You should wear your very finest.” Freydis said, lounging against the counter. “Try to look like James Bond.”
“But won’t I look like a waiter.” Evan asked.
“Not at all. You shall look far too inexperienced to be a waiter at such a function. Besides, Lord Ragnar insists on full brownie service and you will never pass as brownie.” Freydis said. Evan grinned and ran a smug hand through his hair.
“Why isn’t Jasmine getting changed with Adele and Jeanette?” Darren asked. “They could put her straight on what to wear.”
Dave grinned. “Ian had a lot to say about that. Jeanette and Martha, that’s Kieran’s wife, the top lady, have gone shopping together. Ian was managing to worry about Jeanette spending not enough money and making him look cheap and worrying whether he could afford what she was getting at the same time. He was getting into a right state.”
Freydis’ eyes gleamed. “I spoke with the ladies and they have made a bargain to lie to their husbands. They will both spend considerably less than they have been ordered to and both will look beautiful. Neither of the men will realise.” She tilted her head. “I shall go and give assistance to Jasmine. She is very undecided. I can feel it from here.”
Darren turned a page of his newspaper. “Ian and Jeanette aren’t married.”
Freydis shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.” She drifted out of the door.
Dave watched Freydis go. “I hope she plays fair with Jasmine.” He said. “Freydis has been in a funny mood all day.”
Darren grunted. “She thinks something to do with fate is going to happen. I don’t think she would do anything to harm Jasmine, but she isn’t seeing things as clearly as she could. Enervate.”
“What?”
“Seven down. It’s enervate.” Darren finished off his dinner as Dave filled in seven down, scowling. Evan kept his head down, flashing occasional glances at the two older men as he finished off his large plate.
“Do you think Auntie Jane would mind if I had a cake?” Evan asked.
“Please have two.” Darren said.
Jasmine rushed in. “How about this?” She glanced at Freydis, who nodded in approval.
Evan’s mouth opened and shut a few times. “You look amazing.” He took a deep breath. “Do you think we can have a dance later?”
“Yeah, that would be great.” Jasmine said. She looked between Dave and Darren. “Do you think Ian will like it?”
“I think he’ll love it.” Darren said. “Freydis, you are a genius, and not just with the coffee machine.” Jasmine was wearing the elegant black trouser suit but this time she was wearing a silky top in geometric slashes of blue, green and copper. Freydis had managed to get Jasmine to wear the accessories of a brooch on her lapel and a heavy, plastic copper bangle on one wrist. Her hair was up in a cute messy bun and the black leather shoes were low heeled pumps. Darren nodded. “You look elegant and beautiful. You’ve also forgotten to take the price tag off the jacket.”
Dave nodded. “You look amazing,” he said, “and a real credit to Ian.”
Freydis smiled wistfully as she watched Jasmine fumble with the price tag. “I feel like a proud older sister. You will turn so many heads tonight, before things turn dark.” She sighed and her clothes rippled about her. Instead of the designer jeans and casually chic shirt there was a ripple of chiffon and a sparkle of rose gold as the full length, formal ballgown grew around her, shading like a dusk sky from the dark velvet blue of an almost night sky down through the elegant, royal blue bodice, the mid band at the tiny waist and the full, swirling skirt that faded to the palest blue at the base with a hint of crimson sunset at the hem. Crystals sparkled at her ears and a wreath of cornflowers spiked with rosemary crowned her head, her golden hair falling straight, over her bare shoulders and down to her waist. “I will meet you at the hall.” And she faded into the air leaving the scent of rosemary behind her.

At the Reception

Fiona stayed very close to Steve.  She did not trust the faerie realm and, as she looked around, she wasn’t the only one.  Lord Ragnar’s Great Hall was uncomfortably full of uneasy knots of people.  Kieran’s pack of werewolves were grouped by a one of the vast fireplaces, the women chatting with forced smiles and the men watchful.  Miss Patience and her vampires were huddled together in one of the darker corners, silent and staring, although Martin and Dean were staying close to the group from the White Hart.  Ian and Callum were keeping Jeanette, Adele and Jasmine close to the centre of the group from the White Hart while keeping an eye on the rest of the hall.  A group of goblins were hunched over a furtive card game while the few brownies who were not involved in preparing the feast were in a tense group near the door.  Gavin Browne was managing a stilted conversation about growing ginger in Yorkshire with Mr Shah, a jinn who owned an accounting firm just outside Boston Spa.

Fiona slipped her hand into Steve’s.  “Everyone looks so on edge.” She said quietly.

Steve nodded.  He could feel Armani shifting restlessly in his pocket.  Armani had strict instructions to stay in the pocket unless there was serious trouble, with a promise of brandy for good behaviour.  “I have no idea what is going to happen, but whatever happens, stay close to me.”

Fiona nodded.  There was a brittle quality to the air.  Lord Ragnar had not yet arrived, but plenty of elfen were mingling.  Freydis looked resplendent in her blue ballgown, but many of the other elfen were wearing black.  Others were wearing suits or gowns in dark crimson or dark bottle green velvet.

Egerton approached and bowed low to Freydis.  “My most beautiful Freydis, you look divine.  Something must have given me the hint that you would reject your usual, everyday and mundane pink.  Today our thoughts ran parallel.” He ran a hand over his dark royal blue velvet suit.  “I hope we will be able to dance tonight.”

Freydis curtsied politely.  “I am sure we will both dance with a great many people tonight, Egerton.  I am looking forward to the dancing a great deal, and you have always been a graceful dancer.”

“Your compliment flatters me.” Egerton smiled.  “Excuse me, I must greet Kieran Latimer, but I hope we can talk much later.”

Fiona was surprised at the glint of hunger in Egerton’s eyes as well as cold calculation as he caught Freydis’ hand for a stylised kiss.  She turned to Steve and caught his flash of concern before Kadogan finally appeared and stood watchfully at Freydis’ shoulder.  Egerton seemed to find this amusing as he inclined his head to Kadogan and turned to towards the York pack.

Kadogan grasped Freydis’ elbow.  “Were you flirting with him?”

“No, he was flirting with me.” Freydis said, smoothly pulling her arm away.  “He merely desires power and thinks that he may obtain that by seducing me.”

Fiona took a deep breath.  “I don’t like to say anything, but I think he actually likes you as well.  I mean, I think he’s after you more than the power.”

Freydis looked baffled.  “But everyone knows that I would only consider Lord Ragnar.”

“You slept with Rey Baxter.” Kadogan said.  “Amongst many, many others.  Also, you are a single woman.  You may dally with whoever you choose.  Even an elfen.”

“I do not choose anyone.” Freydis said.  For a moment the gleam of her glorious hair dimmed before she shook it back and looked provocatively at Kadogan.  “Or does Suzuki have to fear from me?”

“Suzuki and I have an understanding.” Kadogan said.  “And I would never get between my prince and his desire.”

“If your prince desires me, then he should act.” Freydis shrugged.  “I shall enjoy the dancing.  Do you not think all the ladies of the White Hart look beautiful?”

Kadogan looked over the group.  Adele looked uncomfortable in a flowing pink maxi dress with a matching shawl.  Jeanette was wearing a long, sweeping cotton skirt with a matching violet jacket over a black silk shirt.  Fiona looked cool and refreshing in a cream linen trouser suit with a pale pink top, her hair gleaming and opal earrings glimmering in the bright candlelight.  Together with Jasmine’s sharp, dark trouser suit and Mrs Tuesday’s sweeping pink cocktail dress with the sequinned jacket, they made an elegant group.  He sighed.  “The White Hart has the most beautiful ladies in the room.”

The double doors at the end of the hall swept open and Lord Ragnar strode in.  Steve and Fiona exchanged worried glances.  This was the time of year when elfen normally wore bright colours.  Lord Ragnar was completely in black, with a black silk suit and a black silk shirt, slim and poised, with a silver circlet in his russet hair.

“Welcome, guests, all.  Eat and drink freely, without fear or obligation.  Let us celebrate!” Lord Ragnar spun around and stalked back into the hall.

Everyone trailed awkwardly after him.  Steve slipped an arm around Fiona’s shoulders and pulled her close to him, tapping his pocket with his free hand.  Armani squirmed and wriggled out of Steve’s pocket and flapped up to perch on his shoulder.  The ugly imp looked around and hunched down on Steve’s shoulder, watchful and wary.

Fiona could see others around the room bunching together.  Kieran’s pack were moving in a protective group, clearly keeping the younger and older members in the centre.  The boggarts and goblins were slightly more spread out, enough to easily swing a punch but close enough to help each other out.  Miss Patience led the vampires, moving with an eerie synchronicity as they headed towards the head of the table.  Fiona found herself guided into the centre of the group from the White Hart as Steve’s hand on the small of her back gently pushed her next to Jeanette and Adele as Steve took up his place in the outside of the group.  Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday were also on the inside while Ian, Callum, Evan and Dave spaced themselves around the ladies alongside Steve.  Fiona looked around to see where Freydis would station herself.

Freydis walked forward, almost in a trance.  All colour had drained from her exquisite face and her eyes were much larger and darker than usual.  She stared at the tables, piled high with roast pork, hams, chestnuts, rich fruit cakes and spicy apple pies.  She stared at the jugs of mulled wine and the sprays of ivy trailing over the table.  Freydis was almost shrinking in to herself as she looked around the huge, faerie hall, hung with branches of fir and pine, twined with ivy and silver ribbons.  Fir trees were ranged along the walls, hung with garlands of berries and casting dark shadows away from the scarlet candles.  Frost glinted on the high arched stone roof.

Martin gently pushed Dean towards Ian and then went to stand at her shoulder.  “Lord Ragnar, my Prince, I owe you honour and counsel.  My Prince, this is wrong.” Martin waved at the heaped tables.  “This is a winter feast.  It is summer outside.  It is a time for strawberries, not apples.”

Lord Ragnar stopped at the head of the table and turned slowly.  “Do you dare to challenge me?”

“Lord Ragnar, my Prince, I dare to counsel you.” Martin stepped forward.  “You are wearing black at midsummer.  The realm is out of joint.”  Martin scrabbled for the right words as he looked at Lord Ragnar’s rigid face.  “Let us show you that we are grateful for your hospitality and let us fix the realm.” Martin looked around.  “Freydis would help put things right, as would Lord Marius and Lord Lothar.” He looked towards the two great elfen lords, apparently relaxed at one side in light coloured suits, their eyes watchful.  “Lord Ragnar, you have a great court and many here are skilled and powerful.  Please, allow us to aid our Prince.”

Lord Ragnar looked around his hall as if seeing it for the first time.  He shook his head and then stared at the dozens of guests waiting for him to speak.  He took a deep breath and opened his mouth.  For a moment no sound came out then, with effort, Lord Ragnar said, “I am the prince of this domain and I will mend it.” His voice creaked and cracked and he pulled himself to his full height, stretching his arms wide.  “My realm will obey me!”

Steve clapped his hands to his ears and bent double.  Around him all the elfen were doing the same, clutching their heads and struggling to stand.  Lord Marius and Lord Lothar were thrown by some unseen force against the walls and pinned there, their faces contorted as they tried to shield themselves from something that only those with elfen blood could feel.  Freydis was clutching Martin’s arm and standing upright with effort, her eyes wide with fear.  Lord Ragnar threw back his head and howled.  “I am the Prince!” With a sweep of his hands he gathered a darkness between them.

“Ragnar, don’t! Don’t go that way!” Freydis was struggling to walk, pushing herself towards her ex-husband.  “You don’t understand…” She stumbled and Martin caught her just in time.  Lord Ragnar ignored her and sank his fingers deep into the darkness and then pulled, tearing the dark shadow apart.

Even Fiona felt it, a great, screeching, wail that echoed around the hall.  She clung on to Steve as he buckled against her and looked around.  Freydis had collapsed, as had most of the elfen.  Kadogan was on his hands and knees, trying to crawl towards Lord Ragnar who seemed pinned in the air.  Some of the werewolves had gone to fur, shedding their finery and braced, snarling, for whatever happened next.  Most of the boggarts had dropped their glamour, including Mrs Tuesday who had a long, greying, hairy arm around Adele who was shivering as she cowered.

Then the noise stopped and an absolute silence fell.  Fiona clung on to Steve as he picked Armani up from the floor with a shaking hand and straightened.  The imp stirred and scrambled on to Steve’s shoulder where it clung, trembling.  Freydis scrambled to her feet, the ballgown now splitting and wreathing into jeans and a shirt and her hair twisted itself into a loose knot.  She marched up to Lord Ragnar who was immobile at the head of the table and slapped his face, hard.  The sound of the slap rang around the silent hall and Lord Ragnar rocked back, a scarlet handprint vivid on his face.

“You idiot!” Freydis snapped.  She spun around.  “Lord Marius, Lord Lothar – please aid us!”  The two elfen lords nodded, still shaken.  Freydis turned to Kieran.  “Kieran Latimer, these halls need to be evacuated.  Get everyone out, quick as you like.  Martin, you need to get those vampires out of here before they break.  Kadogan, we need to build power – start a circle.  Steve Adderson, we need you here.  Atherton will get Fiona safely out.  Atherton, get the White Hart out!”

Lord Ragnar raised a shaking hand to his face.  “I am the Prince here.”

Freydis spun back to face him, her finger jabbing at him.  “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare try and defend what you have just done!  The whole place is splitting.  Pull yourself together and get the swords issued.  You’re our prince – act like it!”

Fiona hung on to Steve for a moment, but he nodded and pulled away.  “It’s okay.  I’ll be fine as long as you get safely out of here.  Atherton will look after you.  Now, go – quickly!”

Ian was already keeping the people from the White Hart in a tight group.  Adele clung on to Mrs Tuesday and Evan kept his arm loosely around Jeanette as they turned back towards the doors.  Fiona shivered as cold spiked through her and the floor became slippery with ice.  Suddenly the double doors that had been only a few steps behind them seemed to recede and icy floor stretched in front of them.

“Kadogan, I need that circle going.” Freydis said.  “Lord Marius, if you could take the star side channel, I would be most grateful.”

“I search for it now.” Lord Marius said from between clenched teeth as he struggled with the elfen magic.

“Steve Adderson, please pull the doors back for people to get out.” Freydis said.  “Lord Lothar, your assistance if you would be so kind.”

Fiona glanced back.  Freydis was surrounded by a tangle of magic, with swirls of coloured traces dancing around her.  Twining around the strands of light were threads of darkness and Freydis was struggling with a thick tangle of dark as she tried to pull it away from a vivid, floating layer of green.  Steve was struggling to control a golden glow around his hand.  Lord Marius was surrounded by silver sparkles as he gestured and pulled the glints towards him.  The ice on the floor disappeared.

“We need to leave.” Atherton said, grasping Fiona’s elbow.  “We need to move with swiftness.”

“Dammit, Ragnar, what have you done?” Freydis started swearing as dark threads tried to run up her arm.  She shook them off but it left ripples in the colours around her and a bell started tolling.

“I think you have it as controlled as maybe.” Lord Lothar was also pulling at the darker threads.  “If we can keep the balance…”

“I am the prince here.” Lord Ragnar said. “This is my fight.”

“Take up your sword.” Freydis said.  “Kieran, why are people still here?”

“The doors will not move.” Kieran said, ushering a brownie closer to the centre of the group.  “Ian Tait is trying to unseal them with magic.”

“Steve, what is happening?” Freydis glanced briefly away from the knots of dark and colour in front of her and swore as a strand of the dark snapped across her cheek, leaving a bloody mark.

“Lord Ragnar, you have to let us leave.” Steve said.  He was getting control of the golden glow now, and the distance between the people and the door was shrinking.  “We all recognise you as prince, but people will die if they do not get out.”

“I am still Prince.” Lord Ragnar groaned.  He staggered towards Freydis.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting things right.  Ragnar, let the people out.” Freydis glanced briefly up again.  “It’s getting out of hand.”

Lord Ragnar reached through the dark and coloured swirls and pulled Freydis around to face him.  The balance she had been holding broke and she screamed as she flew across the room and crashed into a wall.  Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday instinctively darted towards her but shadows erupted from the floor, tendrils reaching out to snare them.

“Everyone, head towards Lord Ragnar!” Kieran shouted out.  “Ian, forget the door.  Get back here.”

Martin helped Freydis to her feet.  She clung to his arm, swaying, as she tried to get her bearings.  “To the Prince!” Martin called.  “Everyone rally to the Prince.”

Fiona grabbed Jeanette and Adele but the shadows in front of Freydis were not the only ones.  A stinging strand whipped across Adele’s back, ripping her shawl and drawing blood.  “Steve, what’s happening?”

“It’s hard to describe.” Steve was struggling as golden light bucked and fought around his hands.  “Stay away from the shadows.”

All around the hall shadows were springing away from the corners and rising from the floor, becoming almost solid and malevolent.  “Watch out!” Jasmine pulled Jeanette out of the way as a shadow snapped a tendril at her.  The edge slapped across Jeanette’s face and cut a nasty mark across her cheek and chin.

“Everyone together!” Kieran yelled.  He swung at the shadow nearest him.  It seemed to give a little and was diminished but it didn’t fall back.  “Ian, get the doors open.  Kai and Morgan, keep him safe while he works.”

Freydis had scrambled to her feet with less than her usual grace.  “Steve Adderson, keep the hall stable.  Ragnar, I swear by root and leaf if you try something like that again I will sulk.  Kadogan, I need that power.”

Kadogan was forming a circle with half a dozen of the elfen and he was starting to dance.  It wasn’t the usual, graceful circle of dancing elfen.  They were stumbling and slow, pushing against some strange resistance.  Mrs Tuesday darted towards the laden table, dodging the grasping shadows, and grabbed a tureen of roast potatoes.  She emptied it onto the table and tossed the silver tureen to Evan.  “Get a rhythm going.”

“Which one, Auntie Jane?” Evan was pale, holding a greasy tureen and looking around at the chaotic scene.

“What was the last song you heard on the radio?” Mrs Tuesday swung wide as Adele was knocked off her feet.  The shadows burst and scattered.

“We need to clear the centre.” Kieran kicked through a shadow that dissolved into shards.  “Martha, get a space cleared.”

Martin was standing sentry over Freydis as once again she pulled the strands of magic around her.  “Kieran, can you move towards the elfen?  Get us all in here?”

Evan was tapping out a fast rock beat on the upturned tureen.  Kadogan and the dancers were slowly picking up the pace.  There seemed to be less resistance.  Kieran glanced over.  “I can’t protect the dancers.”  He ducked and swung hard at another shadow, clearing some room around a badly bleeding brownie.  “Ian, get back here.  We need your magic.”

“No!” Freydis didn’t look around but kept focused on pulling a strand of blue.  “We need the doors open.”

Evan was bleeding now from a cut above his eye, but Mrs Tuesday and Jasmine were standing guard over him and the dancers were picking up speed, their movements becoming more fluid.  Mr Shah had dropped his physical form and his booming voice rang out.  “I can protect the dancers, but everyone stay low!”

Fiona clung to Adele as they crouched inside what was becoming a defensive ring.  Martha had cleared a space with the rest of the werewolf women and was bandaging up some of the worst injuries, with clothes shed by the werewolves being ripped up for the makeshift first aid.  Fiona’s trouser suit was stained with blood, some from the goblin she had pulled back from a dark tendril and some from the gash on her leg that was still stinging.  Armani was weaving low over the heads of the crowd, sparks flying from his claws.  He glanced over at Mr Shah and started weaving lower.

A wind whipped around the dancers, ruffling their hair as the shadows were pushed back.  Steve breathed a little easier as magic started to flow around the room.  Lord Ragnar was no longer standing shocked but was now side by side with Miss Patience.  His heart sank.  The amorphous shapes and tendrils were coalescing into more substantial forms – the shapes of the revenants that had been plaguing York.

“Ian, how are those doors?” Steve yelled above the growing howl of Mr Shah’s winds as Armani struggled into the safety of his pocket.

“I’m getting nowhere.” Ian yelled back.  He flinched as a revenant grabbed at him before Kai could throw him back.

“Lord Ragnar – release the doors.” Steve yelled.  “We need to get the civilians out of here.”

Lord Ragnar glanced back, ducking under a clawed hand.  “I can’t get full control of them.  Try an autumn cadence.”

“Some of us don’t know elfen magic.” Ian muttered through gritted teeth.

Freydis didn’t look up.  “Steve, take over on the doors.  Ian, watch his back.  Dammit!” Another tendril of the dark magic whipped across her and cut a long gash in her arm.  Blood started to seep through her sleeve.

“I’ve got the lead.” Martin yelled.  “Freydis, just keep working on the magic.  Kieran, get ready to evacuate as soon as the doors are open.”

Miss Patience ripped the head off the newly formed revenant in front of her.  “We should all try and fall back.  The realm seems on the point of collapse.” The vampires around her were all fighting with her trademark efficiency and all showing the same lack of emotion.

Martin glanced over at her.  “Is there something you want to share?”

“The great elfen lords are stabilising the realm but it is not guaranteed.  There are many wounded, including my vampires.”

Martin knocked a shard of darkness out of the air before it could reach Freydis who was now wholly immersed in her strange whirl of colours.  “Fall back.  The elfen will be fine, but everyone else back.” He yelled over Mr Shah’s increasing fury.  The jinn was whipping up storm winds and they swirled around the hall.  Leaves and twigs were caught up and the once immaculate tablecloths were billowing.  “I’m keeping station with Freydis.”

“So am I.” Evan kept the staccato beat and edged closer to Martin.  The elfen were dancing faster, surrounded by Mr Shah’s storm but untouched by it.

Steve ran over and laid his hands on the great doors.  He swore.  “It’s midwinter magic.  Everybody stay low, I may have to break them.”

Ian darted forward to pull one of the goblins free from a revenant’s choking grasp.  The goblin struggled as Ian punched the revenant hard before Egerton caught up and ripped the revenant’s head off with a casual ease.  Ian barely had a chance to nod his thanks before the fir branch over his head fell.  Egerton grabbed the goblin but Ian was directly underneath and flat footed.

Jeanette saw it almost in slow motion.  Without thinking she sprinted under the blast of the wind and pushed Ian, hard, getting him out of the way, just in time for the heavy branch to land on her.  Ian fell, sprawling forward, propelled by Jeanette’s shove but he twisted to his feet, rushing back to her.

“There is no time for this!” Steve yelled.  “Kadogan, help me!”

Kadogan picked up the pace.  Golden light cascaded from the dancers to Steve who struggled to bring it under his control.  “It’s midwinter magic, Kadogan, you have to take the summer out of the dance.”

Mr Shah was working hard.  Flagons of mulled wine toppled and heavy pewter plates skidded along the tables as the great wind pushed back against the revenants, but as one fell, two more were forming in the shadows.  “I cannot keep this going all night.” He warned.

Lord Ragnar glanced back.  “Hold one moment, Steve Adderson.  I have this.”

“No!” Martin shouted, but it was too late.  Lord Ragnar snapped out some words of power and there was a crack of thunder.  The revenants surged up, now solid and smooth like smoked glass.  Splinters fell from the roof and the revenant that Dave was punching shattered around his fist.  The hall was filled with splintering glass as blows landed.  The revenants rushed forward in a heaving mass.

Steve looked around desperately.  Ian was in wolf form, standing over the limp body of Jeanette, his hackles raised.  Freydis was almost hidden inside the whirl of colours and dark strands as she pulled the power from Kadogan’s dancers.  Fiona was crouched, holding on to Adele as the battle raged, red and green blood staining her trouser suit.  An embattled ring was surrounding the injured and the weak.  There was fear in Kieran’s eyes and Miss Patience was looking desperate.  Steve placed his palms flat on the doors and concentrated.  He had to get them open.  Shards of glass were flying as Mr Shah did his best to whip the splinters away and into the corners.

Lord Ragnar was fighting hard.  He may not have the abilities of Freydis in the faerie realm but he still had his strength and skill.  The revenants were falling back before him.  He grabbed a revenant around the waist and threw it hard into a stone pillar.  Glass shards flew everywhere and another revenant, with cold blooded calculation, grabbed a shard out of the air and swung hard at the nearest vampire, slicing through the neck and sending the head rolling towards Miss Patience before it crumbled to dust.

Miss Patience spun around.  “Vivienne!  No!” She turned back to Lord Ragnar.  “This is your fault, this is all your fault.  Every sliver of glass in a vein, every scar from the dark energy, it is all your fault!  She caught her breath.  “If I had done this, you would make me pay!” Ignoring the revenants surging towards her she stepped up to Lord Ragnar, pulling strands of dark energy out of the air, instinctively winding them around her hands and then thrusting them forward, forcing them into his stomach and ripping him apart.  There was a heartbeat as Lord Ragnar looked over to Freydis, then he collapsed into a soft heap of dead leaves and woodland floor.

Every head snapped around.  Steve could feel the backlash scything through the magical atmosphere and put everything he could into breaking the doors.  They splintered as Freydis took a deep breath.  Steve started urging people towards the doorway, looking around desperately for Fiona.  The dancers had stopped and Mr Shah was now back in his physical shape, backing towards Steve.  Evan dropped the tureen and the clatter echoed.

Freydis pulled herself to her full height.  The glamour dropped and a small, skinny creature with dark, slanted eyes and wrapped in rags, raised her hands and screamed. Steve recognised the cry and threw himself flat on the floor, along with all the other elfen.  Revenants around the room started to unravel, the glass shards melting into dark smoke that grew paler as it spiralled up past the tattered branches and into the roof.  The splinters on the floor and embedded in the walls and scattered on the tables rose like mist and faded.  Miss Patience took a breath and shook her head frantically as Freydis turned to her.  Strands of grey and black pulled themselves away from Miss Patience, twisting like ribbons in the breeze, as she and her vampires unravelled, fading as the tendrils drifted upwards until there was nothing left.

The hall fell silent.  Steve rushed over to Fiona who was pulling herself to her feet.  All around the hall people were helping each other up and looking for friends and family.  Ian was still standing over Jeanette, licking frantically at her pale and immobile face.  Callum had found Adele and was holding her as if he would never let her go.  Dave was tense, his fists clenching and unclenching as he slowly calmed down.  Mrs Tuesday was patting Evan’s arm.

In the centre of the hall, Freydis had regained her glamour.  Once again she was a tall, elegant blonde in a blue ballgown, slumped to her knees, sobbing silently as shafts of summer sunlight lit the hall.

 

Memorial

Darren looked over the packed church and felt inadequate.  So many of his fellow students in theology college had had the gift of comforting the bereaved.  He had been blessed with the gift of fighting monsters.  Darren was fine with that most of the time, but sometimes, when faced with such a packed memorial service, he felt the yawning gulf between him and the mourners, and it hurt.

Freydis was sitting motionless at the front, next to Lord Marius, Kadogan and Atherton.  She was worryingly pale, and Darren desperately wished he had the right words to say to her as the final hymn finished.  He sent up a quick prayer for help to join all the others he had said before and during Lord Ragnar’s memorial and, as the final hymn finished, stepped forward and concentrated on the blessing.

Darren led the procession out of the church and felt the mourners falling in behind him.  It took all his courage to keep his face solemn and his composure in place as he felt the wave of grief as he passed the elfen, boggarts, brownies and werewolves that were packing the church.  There were even more watching through a screen linked to the church hall.  The more important had found places in the church, overfilled and overflowing, but the lesser mourners, those who had been late and those who, for whatever reason, could not venture on to holy ground had not been turned away but gently directed to an equally packed hall.  He paused at the doorway to stop and try and find words of comfort for those leaving.

Darren was deeply worried by Freydis.  She was elegant and poised, moving with complete control over every movement of her body and every movement was deliberate and planned.  She looked like she could shatter like glass.  Her sober and modest black dress and unobtrusive veil clearly said that she was not here for drama and it looked like people had respected her wishes so far.  She was silent as she shook Darren’s hand, nodding as he offered her his sympathy and an assurance that his door was always open and then moving with curated precision out into the summer rain.

Kadogan was being supported by Suzuki who was holding tight onto his arm and casting frequent and worried glances at his pale and tear stained face.  Atherton wasn’t in much better condition.  In fact, most of the elfen of the court seemed to genuinely be mourning him.  Darren had very limited experience of elfen memorials, but there was often an element of smug relief that there was now a little less competition.  Today that was missing.  Even Egerton seemed subdued, and he was certainly not tactless enough to look relieved.

Many of the other non-normals were equally subdued.  Darren had heard many of Lord Ragnar’s acts of kindness over the last few centuries.  He may have got some things wrong, but he had done a lot of quiet good in York, and was already missed.

Sir Ewan shook Darren’s hand.  “That was a good service.”

“Thanks.” Darren said.  “He will be missed.”

“Yes, he will.  I hope his successor can live up to his example.” Sir Ewan sighed, aware that a lot of ears were listening in.  “We’ll meet you at the funeral feast.”

“Yes, I have to lead prayers in the hall before I can come down, but I’ll be there.” Darren said.

And that was the other hard, heavy emotion hanging over the memorial service – fear.  No-one, not even the oldest elfen, could remember when a Prince last died without there being someone who had killed him to get their power.  No-one knew what was going to happen now, but disputes about princedoms were notoriously violent.  Darren kept his composure and kept silently praying.

Fiona kept her hand slipped into Steve’s arm.  All the group from the White Hart were staying close together.  Freydis had, with reluctant permission from Darren, built a temporary pocket of faery realm just outside the lych gate and the vans from the White Hart, judiciously parked, now hid people walking up to an old tree trunk, running their hands down its trunk and then stepping inside.  Fiona had never seen anything like it.  Outside was a summer’s day, albeit rainy and cold for the time of year, inside was a warm summer’s night.  She stepped inside a tree, which was unnerving enough, then she walked down a plain, flagged passage with smooth plastered walls, then through an unassuming smooth wooden door into a forest clearing.  The air was warm and the scent of the forest hung in the air.  There was a sensation of being in the middle of a vast and empty forest.  Stars crowded the sky, undimmed by any streetlight.  A great fire burned in the centre of the clearing, the flames dancing high and sparks cracking as the bonfire the size of Fiona’s bedroom cast out a welcome warmth as the cool night breeze rustled the surrounding trees.

Ian helped Jeanette into one of the seats scattered around the clearing.  Jeanette was still looking pale and sank into the strangely formed tree stump with some relief.  Jasmine was standing nearby with Callum and Adele, ready to help.

Fiona looked up at Steve.  “When is the next full moon?”

“Next Thursday.” Steve said, looking around.  “Of course, it will be late at this time of year.”

“Will Jeanette be okay?” Fiona asked.

Steve turned from his admiration of the shaped wooden seats and benches scattered around and the huge sandstone slabs that Freydis had caused to surround the clearing to act as great stone tables.  “Of course.  I don’t think Ian meant to change her when he licked her cut face.” He looked across to where Ian was fussing over Jeanette.  “Poor lad feels guilty enough that she got injured instead of him.”

“But she will be okay?” Fiona said.

“Yes, she’ll be fine.” Steve put his arm around Fiona’s shoulders and gave a quick squeeze.  “Don’t worry.”  He looked around.  “I’m more worried about Freydis.”

Freydis was standing at the head of the table.  She was keeping her glamour up and her golden hair gleamed in the soft light of the lanterns in the trees, but her motionless poise was unnerving.  Fiona’s heart ached in sympathy.

“She’s mended the realm, though, hasn’t she?”

“Yes, she’s done a very thorough job.” Steve looked around.  “And this place is a work of art.  I wouldn’t be surprised if these trees weren’t favourites of Lord Ragnar.  Not all of the flowers are in season.”

“That is indeed true.” Kadogan came up behind them.  He was wearing a sharp suit and black shirt with a black tie.  He also looked pale and strained.  “See, there are Michaelmas daisies which he adored, although I found them ragged and unkempt.  They do not usually bloom until much later in the year.” He waved at the stand of pale violet blossoms in one corner.  “And Lord Ragnar always looked for the first bloom of celandines when they flowered at the first hint of spring and there is a carpet of them under the oaks.  But the honeysuckle and roses he also adored are right for the time.  Freydis has honoured him well.”

“How are you feeling?” Fiona asked him quietly.

“With difficulty.” Kadogan hunched over.  “It is hard to know that my good friend is silenced.”

It was hard to know what to say to that.  Steve looked around.  There were a lot of powerful elfen lords present from all over the country and there was a lot of quiet business being done.  Steve had spotted Egerton talking discreetly to most of them and he was currently deep in conversation with Lord Wilbur of Hull.  All around the room were knots of people talking in low voices.  “Come on, we don’t leave Freydis alone.”

“Indeed.” Kadogan said with more strength in his voice than he had shown over the last four days.  “She avenged Lord Ragnar’s death.  And all know that she is the key to power.  She should not be abandoned.”

“I’m happy to walk over there.” Jeanette said.  She smiled up at Ian.  “I’m a little sore, but not so hurt that I can’t stand by Freydis.”

“If you’re sure.” Ian gently helped Jeanette up.  “Yes, I know I’m fussing.  But it’s good if we can stand by Freydis.”

“If we don’t, then who will.” Mrs Tuesday shifted her black patent leather handbag onto her shoulder.

The group from the White Hart made their way over to where Freydis stood.  Her face was still fixed but her eyes were grateful.  It was an odd assortment that joined the nearly-widow at the head of the table.  An elderly boggart and her great nephew, a few elfen, werewolves and their partners, a magician and his wife and the only two local vampires left in York.  Dean had hung around awkwardly at the edge of the group and drifted with them, Martin joining them and standing close to Freydis.  Finally, Dave left Darren and the representatives of the Knights Templar and joined the rest of the White Hart.

Dave approached Freydis with caution.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Freydis managed a smile.  “I miss him a great deal.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “I know, love.  It never goes away, but you deal with it better.”

Freydis nodded.  “At times I could feel your grief for your late husband, nearly eighty years after your loss.  I shall take you as an inspiration.”

Kadogan frowned.  “Not too much.  That would terrify the customers.”

A ghost of a smile flickered briefly on Freydis’ face.  “Thank you for being here for Lord Ragnar.”

“And you!” Jasmine said quickly.  “You are one of us.”

“It is a very odd sensation, to be part of such a close group.” Freydis said.  “I wish Lord Ragnar had known it.”

The head of the brownies approached, dithering a little at the edge of the group before pushing past Fiona and bowing to Freydis.  “Should we bring the food out now?”

“Yes, thank you, Gavin Brown.” Freydis nodded and took a breath.  “I am confident it will be a great feast, such as Lord Ragnar deserved.”

“Indeed it will, miss, indeed it will.” Gavin pulled himself up to his full height.  “Nothing has been lacking.”

Freydis watched, mesmerised, as the brownies brought out food and drink with clockwork efficiency. The stone slabs were laid identically.  A large hog roast was placed in the centre, with a large carving knife attached to the huge pewter platter by a silver chain.  At corners were placed wide trays of chicken legs and bread rolls, surrounded by deep pots of mustard and pickles.  At the cardinal points were platters of stand pies, glistening in the light from the fire, already sliced into substantial wedges and surrounded by wheels and truckles of cheese.  Like a choreographed dance, the brownies slid smaller plates into the gaps filled with quivering lemon jellies, piled cubes of Turkish delight, pyramids of hard boiled eggs, delicate sand biscuits, fragile wafers, stone creams, trifles, vol-au-vents and after dinner mints.

Other brownies were setting up the drink in between the stone slabs.  Barrels of wine, mead and old fashioned ale were hoisted on trestles with aluminium kegs of premium lager, and smaller, wooden kegs of brandy and whiskey stood on wooden benches, surrounded by an incongruous selection of colas and bottled waters.  Drinks were already circulating, the brownies skilfully keeping the strong stuff away from the goblins.

When everyone had a drink in their hand, Freydis stepped forward and waved.  A clear, bell-like note rang out and raised her goblet.  “Lord Ragnar!” She said and hundreds of voices echoed the brief toast.  Then Freydis started to sing.

Steve held Fiona close.  The songs of the elfen could be dangerous.  They could sing the wits out of your head and your heart out of your body.  Tonight Freydis was singing goodbye to Lord Ragnar, in an old, old song.  It wasn’t the English of Shakespeare or Chaucer.  It wasn’t the language used when William the Bastard harried the north.  It was older than the Vikings who turned Eorwic to Jorvik, older than the Angles who had renamed Eboracum and older than the Roman invaders who had laid down the stone roads over the Celtic pathways.  It was the language of the first people that wandered past the joining of the Ouse and the Fosse rivers and down to where the Ouse met the Trent and became the Humber.  It was the language of those who traded amber for jet with those who travelled across the wide, grassy plain that was now under the North Sea.  It spoke of loss, and grief and darkness and broke your heart.  A tear slipped down Steve’s face as the song finally faded, and silence rang out.

Martin raised his glass.  “My princes, lords, ladies and all – kneel to your new Prince – Prince Freydis!”

There was a shocked moment of indrawn breaths and frantically exchanged glances.  Steve noticed that Freydis looked briefly as shocked as anyone before she pulled herself up and looked around, defying contradiction.

Steve held up his glass. “To our new Prince!” and he knelt, along with Fiona.  With very little hesitation the rest of those who could kneel did so.  Dave couldn’t kneel to a non-normal Prince.  He was the paladin that was supposed to be the balance to the Prince, completely independent and, if necessary, the main opposition.  Instead he bowed, a low, sweeping bow that was echoed by the other Princes and the Knights Templar.  As he glanced up, Lady Freydis looked brighter than ever, her gold hair gleaming, her blue eyes shining and an aura of glory around her as she held up her goblet to return the toast.  But Steve was close enough to see the panic in Lady Freydis’ eyes behind the confident tilt of her head and she was holding the goblet so tightly that her knuckles gleamed white.

Dave was glad of an excuse to get away from it all.  He, along with Darren, the Knights Templar and the rest of the White Hart crowd, had left when the elfen started dancing.  It could get crazy when elfen started dancing and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hang around to see which way it went after Martin’s surprise announcement.  He supposed it would keep Lady Freydis busy and stop her brooding.

He hefted the package.  He could understand why Ian wanted to deliver this as he passed rather than spend the fortune on postage.  It felt like books and it was heavy.  He jogged up the steps and knocked at the door.  It wasn’t the best neighbourhood, but he had been in worse.  He knocked again and heard feet pattering down stairs.  His eye was caught by a picture propped against the porch window.  He frowned.  It was the Seal of Solomon.  Dave peered closer.  It wasn’t activated, though, just a picture.  He tilted his head.  It looked like it was meant to be in a protective position, but it wasn’t protective at all.

The door opened and Dave looked up at the young woman in her early twenties. She had short, dark hair, a closed expression and was wearing bunny slippers.  “Chloe Markham?  Some books for you.” He held out the package.

Chloe was staring at him, her eyes wide and colour draining from her face.  Then she took a breath and managed a smile.  “We have met before.  I don’t know if you remember.”

Dave frowned.  She looked sort of familiar, and he was pretty good with faces, but he couldn’t quite place her.  The package was growing heavy in his outstretched hand.  “Are you Chloe Markham?”

Chloe took the books and shook her head.  “You don’t remember me, do you?  I’m not surprised.  You had a lot on your mind at the time.  You saved my life when I was attacked by werewolves.  Please come in.  I have a few questions.”