Much at Stake


Fiona spun around as the door opened, dropping the box of incense sticks all over the floor.  Kadogan was covered in blood, Dave was pale and Steve’s arm was badly burned.   “What happened?”

“None of this blood is mine.” Kadogan guided Steve to one of the chairs in the café.  “Steve Adderson was regrettably hurt although his decisive action meant victory.”

Fiona ran behind the counter and grabbed some ice in a cloth to put on Steve’s arm.  “You need to get to hospital.”

“I’m fine.” Steve said.  “It’s not deep.”

Kadogan took a look at Dave and pushed him into the nearest chair, shoving his head between his knees.  “Stay there.” He ordered and disappeared.

Mrs Tuesday moved with surprising speed to flip the sign on the door to ‘Closed’ and hurry the three brownies who were browsing the giftwrap.  “It’s a bad time at the moment,” she said.  “But if you come back tomorrow then I’ll make sure you get 10% off.”

“Is it something serious?” the older brownie said, trying to tear her eyes away from the splashes of blood that Kadogan had trailed in.

“We’ll know more when Lord Ragnar gets here.” Mrs Tuesday ushered them out.  “Ah, here’s Lord Marius.  That’s always helpful,” she lied.

Lord Marius strode over to where Fiona was fussing over Steve’s arm.  “What happened?”

Steve was looking pale, but he smiled at Lord Marius.  “A little trouble.”  He shrugged.  “It looks like some rogue werewolves were forming a pack.”

“I’ve rung Lord Ragnar.” Mrs Tuesday looked almost as pale as Steve.  She eased Dave up and looked into his eyes.  “First kill?  It’s never easy, but I know you did the right thing, lad.”

Dave almost flinched as Kadogan strode back into the café with a bottle and grabbed a few glasses.  “Dave and Steve will do better for a glass of this,” he said.  “Where’s Louise?”

“She’s gone to the wholesalers.” Fiona looked at the bottle narrowly as Kadogan poured small amounts of the colourless liquid into glasses.  “Mrs Tuesday told us to set up the back room for a conference.”

“I made a few calls.” Mrs Tuesday started picking up the incense sticks.  “It’s a bad business.”

Fiona watched as Steve and Dave gasped desperately for air after some of Kadogan’s special brandy.  “Kadogan, you had better change your clothes.  You look terrifying.”

“I suppose you are right, Fiona Greene,” Kadogan said, “As I am sure werewolves will soon be attending and it would be tactless.”  He frowned.  “Manners are so important to werewolves.”  He disappeared into the back again.

“How is your arm?” Lord Marius checked Steve again.

“It’s a lot better.”  Steve shook his head.  “I think the drink helped.  What was it?”

“I really do need to speak to Kadogan about giving that brandy to mortals.” Lord Marius sniffed at the glass and shook his head.  “It is not always safe.  What magic did you use?”

“I called down some chain lightning.” Steve stretched his arm and winced.  “Next time I’ll find a better earthing point.”

Ian threw open the door and strode in followed by Kieran Latimer.  Kieran went straight to Dave.

“I am so sorry you were caught in the middle of this,” he said with deep sincerity, grabbing Dave’s hand and shaking it relentlessly.  “Our pack is completely in your debt and you may call on us at any time.”

“I’m sure anyone would have done the same.” Dave mumbled.

“And we would be grateful to them.” Kieran kept pumping Dave’s hand.  “You’ll have to come around for a meal sometime.  Perhaps next week.  We’ll make you very welcome.  How about next Wednesday?”

Mrs Tuesday took one look at Ian’s set features, poured a small glass of Kadogan’s special brandy and pushed it into Ian’s trembling hand.  “Drink it.”  Ian’s face turned scarlet as he choked and gasped after his obedient mouthful.  Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “Good lad.  Now, that pile of rocks out there, you see them?”  Ian nodded, still incapable of speech.  “Right, I want you to move them to the other side of the car park.  You can use a wheelbarrow if you like.” She watched as Ian rushed to the back and then turned to Kieran.  “I know he’s not one of your pack, but he’s a good lad and he’s had a shock.”

Kieran finally let go of Dave’s hand.  “I know.  It’s a difficult situation.  He has done well today, though.”

“He took on a couple of them without thought.” Steve was putting fresh ice on his arm.  “And they invited him to join them.”

Fiona looked at Mrs Tuesday.  “Those rocks need to be where they are.  If Ian moves them then they’ll all need to be moved back.”

Mrs Tuesday nodded.  “I think it will take moving them there and back to get Ian back to normal.  It won’t hurt him.” She glanced out of the window.  “Here’s Lord Ragnar.  And the Templars.”

Lord Ragnar went straight to Dave and shook his unresisting hand.  “I am deeply in your debt, Dave Kinson.  You have the freedom of our court.  How may we reward you?”

“Don’t try and bounce him into an easy favour.” Sir Craig said as he walked up behind him.  He saw Dave’s dazed expression as Lord Ragnar continued to shake his hand and gave him a nod. “We’ll catch up later.”

Lord Ragnar finally released Dave’s hand.  “Kadogan, Fiona Greene, I’m putting magical protection over this building.  It won’t last forever, but it’s to cover the meeting and any unfortunate consequences.  Mrs Tuesday, you mentioned setting up a meeting place…”

The room emptied.  Outside Ian was still moving stones, a fixed expression on his face.  Dave sagged back on his chair.  Kadogan started counting the candles, Mrs Tuesday was cleaning up the blood and Fiona wondered what had happened as she started making tea.  It was definitely a Yorkshire tea day.  Steve looked up from his arm.  “Where’s Armani?”

Fiona winced and fetched a cardboard box.  There was a cloth draped over it and it sounded like inside was a very asthmatic parrot singing the song of its people before throwing itself on a funeral pyre.  She set it carefully on the table in front of Steve.

“Who gave him rum?” he asked, resignation in every inch as he pulled back the cloth.

Armani looked up.  Fetid smoke was oozing out of his ears and wing tips and he was sickly purple colour.  He belched and wiped a dirty sleeve across his eyes.  “It’s all a mystery, boss.”

“Don’t you dare be sick!” Steve warned as Armani’s colour started to fade.

Armani made a heroic effort and belched again.  “I’m good, boss, just facing my future with a strong wing on my back.” He fell over and started to croon again.  Steve covered the box.

“He can sleep it off,” he said.  He looked over at Kadogan.  “I’ll put some extra magical protection on this place.  If we’re going into business together I want to keep customer details secure.  Besides, it looks like it’s going to be busy here.”

Mrs Tuesday came in from dumping the cleaning cloths in the outside bin.  She glanced briefly between Fiona and Steve.  “It’s just as well that there’s no romantic attachment,” she said as she walked past Kadogan.  “You can’t mix business with pleasure.” She glared at Steve.  “That arm’s healing up very quickly.”

He shrugged.  “I heal quickly from magic.  It doesn’t matter.  About the business – we need to sort out an internet presence.  Anyone who can go on the internet can get what we are selling, and often at a better price than we can manage.  We’ll have some customer loyalty, but we need to have a distinct image.  Something that catches the casual shopper’s attention.”

Dave grinned.  “I saw this amazing vampire hunting kit,” he said.  “It had a stake, holy water, a cross and a pocket bible in this fake nineteenth century box.  It looked awesome…” He trailed off as he took in the outraged stares of Kadogan and Mrs Tuesday.

“You can’t sell something like that,” Mrs Tuesday snapped.  “It’s disgusting.”

“It is very bad manners.” Kadogan said icily.

“What if Mr Beddoes decided to sue?” Mrs Tuesday started wiping the tables down with so much venom that they rocked.  “That would soon wake you up.”

“Mr Beddoes is much to be feared.” Kadogan nodded.

“I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” Dave looked around.  “I’m really sorry.  Who’s Mr Beddoes?”

“He’s a vampire and a bloody brilliant lawyer.” Steve put a hand on his shoulder.  “It’s okay, you’re still getting the hang of it.  But perhaps that’s not the way to go if your selling to vampires and their friends.”

“Good point, well made.” Dave hunched down a little.

“Why don’t we do the opposite?” Fiona asked.  “Market it as ‘vampire friendly’, ‘werewolf friendly’, ‘boggart friendly’, that sort of thing.  I don’t know, sell sauces without garlic, dog biscuits that are suitable for human consumption…”

“All dog biscuits are suitable for human consumption.” Kadogan interrupted helpfully.

“Okay, but dog biscuits marketed as if to werewolves.” Fiona looked at Kadogan.  “Would that offend werewolves?”

Ian came in.  “Would what offend werewolves?”

Fiona hesitated and then managed a tentative, “Dog biscuits for werewolves?”

“Sounds like a great idea.  The local supermarkets never stock the good brands.  Fiona, I think the stones should be other side of the car park.  I’ll move them back.”

“That’s a great idea.” Fiona nodded, keeping Mrs Tuesday in the corner of her eye.  The old boggart was appraising Ian and she gave Fiona the smallest nod.  “Thanks for helping out.”

“Not a problem.” Ian went back to the car park.

“He’s looking better.” Steve said.

“I’m glad.” Fiona looked out after him.  She shut her eyes briefly then returned to the issue at hand.  “And we advertise ‘Fairy Teas’ for coach parties who book ahead and serve up the sort of stuff we served up for Lord Ragnar.  You know, lots of spray cream and edible glitter.  The normal will think it’s a great gimmick and at least some of the non normals will love it.”

“That’s a great idea.” Kadogan grinned.  “Fiona Greene, you must start redoing the catalogues at once.”

Dave stood and stretched.  “I think she had better deal with the coach party first.”

Lord Ragnar looked around at the commotion.  “What is that noise?”

“Probably a coach party.” For once Lord Marius was not lounging with a mocking smile.  Instead he was leaning forward and his emerald eyes were intent.  “Kadogan would advise if there was trouble.”

Lord Ragnar looked around.  “This is a strange council.  We have the head of the werewolves, the local lord, the visiting Knight and the messenger to the princes.  I think we have a shared goal.  We all wish that York continues as a safe place for normal and non normal alike.”

Sir Craig flipped through a few screens on his phone.  “Let’s get to the point.  We had a band of rogue werewolves forming a pack.  I’ve never heard of that happening.” He looked at Kieran.

Kieran shook his head.  “I’ve heard stories, but all from a long time ago.  The packs keep an eye on things.  And not all strays are like those you killed.  Most are like Ian.”

“Most kill themselves before they become a hazard.” Lord Marius said coldly.  “There is a cruelty in the pack that I can only admire.”

Kieran glared at him.  “We have to keep the pack secure and Ian went beyond what can be tolerated.  But who knows, he keeps his nose clean and steps up when it’s needed and there may be a place for him in another pack eventually.”

“If he can survive that long.” Lord Marius smiled thinly.

“Is it likely to happen again?” Sir Craig interrupted.

Kieran couldn’t meet Sir Craig’s eyes.  “I don’t know how many strays there are out there, and I don’t know how many know the situation here.  I’ll email all the packs I know and see what they have to say.”

“Thank you.” Sir Craig turned to Sir Marius.  “How many know the situation here?”

“We are a relatively small community,” Lord Marius shrugged.  “Those who can use the internet are in constant touch all over the country and beyond.  Those who cannot use the internet for whatever reason use other means.  We all love gossip.  Rumour and speculation is rife.”

Lord Ragnar glanced around.  “I admit that the divorce is not coming at an ideal time, but I had to act as soon as I had an opportunity.  It was unfortunate that Paladin Allbright died at this point…”

“Unfortunate is the wrong word.” Sir Craig’s knuckles turned white with the effort of keeping his calm.  “A good man is dead.  We have no idea who the paladin is.  This means it’s down to the Knights Templar to step up.  But there isn’t enough of us.  Southampton is currently crawling with scarabs and a colony of ghouls has set up in Glasgow.  No-one can be spared for here.  And, with due respect, Lord Ragnar, we have a weak lord that cannot guarantee to control his court.”

“Allow me to summarise.” Lord Marius looked around the table.  “We have a busy city with a lot of tourists, that is, lots of people who would not immediately be noticed if they go missing.  We have no paladin and the Templars, while excellent, do not have a paladin’s instincts.  Nor do they have much manpower.  At the same time the lord of the domain is perceived as weak.” Lord Marius glanced at Lord Ragnar.  “Of course, appearances can be deceptive.”

“I have had plans in place for some time” Lord Ragnar said.  “It is unfortunate timing but it cannot be helped.”

“So every rogue boggart, drugged up vampire and stray werewolf, any non normal who doesn’t like playing nice, will be heading here.” Sir Craig made notes on his phone.  “Strays forming into packs may be the least of our worries.”

“It is not an impossible situation.” Lord Ragnar looked around the table.  “As I said, I have had plans in place for some time.  I will be acting on them.  Any strays and rogues will be a good target to use to unify the court.  Our side will act promptly and decisively against any transgressions.  Your side, Sir Craig, need to find your paladin, and urgently.”

“Trust me, we are doing our best.” Sir Craig shut down his phone and put it in his pocket.  “I’ll be trying to get some extra men here.”

“My favoured soothsayer and psychic will be back from their holiday tomorrow.  They will aid your search.” Lord Ragnar stood.  “I do not think that there is anything more to discuss at this very moment.” He bowed to Sir Craig.  “I will inform you immediately of significant events.”

“Let’s hope we’re all around to hear that information.” Sir Craig muttered as he stood up.  “Because it’s not going to be an easy ride.”

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