Challenge

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Darren bowed his head and started to pray. He could feel something in the background. A loud banging started in the walls.

“It’s happening again!” Mrs Case wrung her hands. “It’s terrifying.”

Darren continued to pray, placing his hands over the walls. Strange vibrations were running through the modern plaster walls.

“These flats were only built four years ago.” Mrs Case looked around at the tasteful, minimalist décor. “Perhaps it was built on a graveyard.”

Darren tried to concentrate. A properly consecrated graveyard was safe enough. Besides, this wasn’t a departed spirit. Perhaps it was an echo of the issues with the revenants and the vampiric energy. He continued to pray.

“I blame them upstairs.” Mrs Case pulled her cardigan closer. She may look like a harmless little old lady, but Darren had seen the swathe of true crime murder books and dvds on her shelves and was not turning his back on her. Mrs Case shook her head. “They are always arguing, and you should see their tattoos! It’s not right.”

Darren kept praying, running his hands slowly over the wall. It felt alive. Darren stepped back. “I may need to do a full exorcism.”

“Really?” Mrs Case sounded thrilled. “I can’t wait to let my sister know.”

Darren tried not glare at her. Exorcisms were no a spectator sport. “I will need to have an empty room to work in.”

“Really?” Mrs Case asked. “I’m sure I could be useful.”

“I’m quite sure.” Darren began and then leapt back as the wall exploded. Plaster and shredded wallpaper tumbled down around Jack who was now sprawled on the floor. He jumped quickly to his feet.

“Thanks, padre, I thought I was stuck in there.” Jack brushed down his battered jeans. “You have powerful prayers.”

Mrs Case shrieked as a long, smoke-like arm reached to grab Jack’s leg. Jack swore and kicked back at it while Darren snapped out some urgent Latin. The smoke evaporated.

“I don’t think you’ll be bothered anymore, Mrs Case.” Darren said, rubbing his hands over his plastered-covered hair. “Now let’s join in a prayer of thanks.”

Darren looked at Jack, waiting expectantly at the passenger door of his car. “Do you want a lift?”

“I think the least I can do is buy you a drink.” Jack said. “I was having a look around some of the lesser corners of York and ran into that.” He shook his head sadly. “I’m losing my touch. I never thought I would be ambushed like that.” He knocked some plaster dust off his jacket as Darren opened the door. “I owe you a favour.”

“I’m fine, thanks.” Darren said. “Egerton is still too terrified to leave the house. Just take care next time.”

“Perhaps I should pay for some masses.” Jack said, sliding into the car.

“No, really, don’t bother.” Darren said. “Where can I drop you?”

“Egerton? Hmm.” Jack stretched his legs as far as the seat would allow. “Yes, I remember. He used to call himself Findlay and fancy himself a trickster. He was a sad little mouse. Why is he serving you?”

“Punishment for spiking my drink with an elfen love potion.” Darren said. “So, do you want a lift to the White Hart?”

Jack grinned. “Actually, yes, I have some events in motion that should be entertaining.”

“Put your seatbelt on.” Darren said.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what those events are?” Jack said. “And these seatbelts are irrelevant to me.”

“Nope.” Darren watched unmoving until Jack buckled up. “I’m sure I’m going to find out anyway.”

“I found that one could send chocolate to ladies without leaving a name.” Jack said. “It’s much easier now with this internet. I sent some chocolates to Fiona, to make her smile after the recent troubles.”

“I’m sure Fiona is glad to have them.” Darren started the car. “She has had a rough few years, but I think she’s okay.”

“Indeed. I sent her a small token.” Jack said. “And once she and Steve Adderson return from their holiday, I shall continue to be at her service. However I found that my friend, Kai, could also order chocolates to Lady Freydis.”

There was a screech and some loud voices. Darren glanced quickly at Jack. “Did you just change the traffic lights?”

“I dislike waiting.” Jack said, “Unless, of course, there is an entertaining altercation.”

Darren swerved around the road rage incident and headed back into York and towards the White Hart. “Don’t do that when I’m driving. What’s the thing with the chocolates?”

“I did not add my name.” Jack craned his neck to get a last glimpse of the havoc he had caused before settling back in his seat. “I just put ‘Guess who?’ I wonder how many will claim them.”

“Surely no-one would claim them if they didn’t send them.” Darren said. “They would know that the real sender would turn up.”

“But would that generous donor of chocolate be able to prove it?” Jack said. “I am sure there will be at least a little argument, and my Prince will have a tribute of chocolate.”

“Hmm.” Darren concentrated on his driving. “As long as normals aren’t involved.”

“How dull.” Jack craned his neck again. “Why, that house is still standing, and after I had such a fight in it!”

“When was that?” Darren asked.

“Last week, with Martin, just before I got stuck.” Jack turned back in his seat. “I am sure we broke a wall.”

Darren shook his head. “Why are you always fighting with Martin?”

“Because it’s fun.” Jack said. “Besides, he has the edge over me and has for centuries. I need to find a way to beat him.”

“And he adores Lady Freydis.” Darren said.

“He is probably worthy of Lady Freydis.” Jack admitted, “But he knows it, and there is no-one else that can even challenge him in combat.”

“Half of the trouble in York at the moment is because Lady Freydis took a vampire as her lover and gave him access to Fairyland.” Darren said. “It’s been a rocky year or two.”

“Martin is not like that.” Jack said. “He is dull, and sensible and generally unexciting.” Jack frowned. “And unexpectedly strong, even for a vampire.”

“Here we are,” Darren said with some relief as he pulled into the car park. He watched Kadogan dump two scuffling elfen out of the shop. “Looks like the chocolate worked.”

“I am so glad.” Jack bounded past Kadogan and into the shop. Darren shook his head and drove off.

Lady Freydis leaned on the counter and watched the discussions raging amongst the elfen. She smiled when she saw Jack. “Thank you for the chocolates.” She whispered. “They are most entertaining and wonderfully extravagant.”

“I should hope so.” Jack took in the row of hampers spilling curled ribbon, cellophane and handmade chocolates over the back counter of the café. “And my Prince is infinitely worth it.”

Lady Freydis looked up at Martin who was watching a shoving match in one corner. “You don’t buy me chocolates.”

“I don’t need to.” Martin said. “You know what I’m like and what I can do. I could have any lady I wished. You need to prove yourself to me.”

“What?!” Lady Freydis stared. “I’m the Prince of York.”

“And you know exactly what you’re getting with me.” Martin nodded to Mrs Tuesday who was grinning broadly. “A black coffee, please.”

“I’m your Prince.” Lady Freydis said.

“And I am the best lover in York.” Martin said, taking his coffee from Mrs Tuesday. “Thank you.”

“Prove it.” Lady Freydis said.

Martin raised an eyebrow. “Without marriage? That would be improper.”

Lady Freydis stamped her feet. “I can take any one I want in marriage.”

“Absolutely.” Martin said. “Excuse me, please. Kadogan is getting outnumbered.”

“And I had best help out to protect my fair Fiona’s fixtures.” Jack dumped his dusty jacket on the counter and followed Martin.

Lady Freydis looked at Mrs Tuesday. “He is indeed the best lover in York, damn him.” She frowned. “But he should still chase me.” She tapped her elegant fingernails on the counter. “Are there any coffee chocolates in there?”

Not the Front Door

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It was early closing day, but it was already dark and rain splashed against the window as Fiona closed the shop for the evening. She shivered. “I think I’ll have a nice cup of tea. I think some Earl Grey. I think Earl Grey always tastes a little sunnier.”

“I’ll make some.” Jasmine said. “Would you like some, Mrs Tuesday?”

“Not for me, love.” Mrs Tuesday rubbed her back. “It always tastes like soap to me. But I wouldn’t mind a normal cuppa.” She opened one of the boxes behind the counter.

“You don’t need to sort through that stuff, you know.” Fiona said. “I brought a load in to look at just to keep me busy.”

“It is good to keep busy.” Lady Freydis stepped out of the annexe.

“I thought you had gone home.” Fiona said. “Yes, I’m staying here tonight while Steve and the others look for Elaine, so I brought a load of boxes from the house.”

Lady Freydis walked over and put a surprisingly gentle hand on Fiona’s shoulder. “Do not worry. Steve is very powerful, and he is accompanied by Dave and Martin. They will return safely with Elaine, ready to tell their stories. Until then we must keep busy and prepare for their return, guarding our homes so they have a haven where they may return.” She reached in and picked up a saucepan from the box. It was dusty and needed a clean. She sighed. “I can still touch iron. That is something. I can still move in this world.” She looked at the box thoughtfully. “But why so many cauldrons?”

“Saucepans.” Mrs Tuesday corrected her. “And frying pans. It looks like quite a collection.”

Jasmine came over. “They look quite expensive.” She said, putting down the drinks. “They are proper cast iron and really heavy.”

“The old man probably thought he could re-sell them.” Fiona said. “And Steve is planning to get them cleaned up and see if he can sort them out. There’s a lot of stuff in that house.”

“I can see.” Mrs Tuesday pulled out a large frying pan. “You could cook a fry up for a family in this.”

“I thought I would call in before I sealed this gate for the evening.” Lady Freydis said. “There is always the risk that Leanne could come after Fiona, and this portal could be a weak point.” She looked at Fiona. “Will you be alone?”

“Kadogan will be here soon, and of course there will be Dean and Mrs Tuesday.” Fiona said. “Sir Ewan said he would keep an eye out, and so did Luke. I’m sure it will be okay.”

“I’m not so sure.” Lady Freydis said. “Leanne is a disgrace and a baggage. I would blush to try some of her tricks, and I am shameless.”

“Yes, you are.” Mrs Tuesday said, hefting the frying pan. “And still with no fiancée. How is the wedding planning going?”

“I’m still not sure about the rose petals.” Lady Freydis said. “But Steve has sourced great quantities of mead so I am hopeful that at least part of the festivities will be appropriate. Also, I do not know what my intended will want.”

“He probably won’t be marrying you for a quiet life.” Mrs Tuesday said. “But I recommend neat vodka for him.”

There was a knock on the door and Jasmine bounded over to let Darren in. “It’s great to see you! I’ll get my coat.”

“You’ll need it, the weather is awful.” Darren said, brushing a hand over his head. “I got soaked just coming from the car.” He frowned at Jack who slipped in the door behind him.

“Don’t mind me.” Jack grinned, strolling over to Fiona and bowing low over her hand. “But this place is harder to get into than normal. However I thought I should attend on my fair Fiona. Leanne is known to be spiteful and she is as stupid as she is beautiful. She cannot believe Steve would continue to reject her if Fiona was out of the way.”

“Do you know, I’m getting sick of having bad guys after me.” Fiona said. “Still, at least this time it isn’t a vampire.”

On cue, Dean walked in. “This place feels odd.” He said.

“Steve has put extra wards around it.” Jasmine said as she wriggled into her coat. “And Lady Freydis has sealed off the annexe for the night.”

“Did anyone check for loopholes?” Jack asked, reaching across the counter to steal a muffin. “It’s almost impossible to get in without an invite, even for me, but Leanne was here for at least a few days in the guise of Elaine. She could have hidden one or two anywhere.”

“Loopholes?” Fiona stared.

“I had forgotten those!” Lady Freydis said, looking worried. “It is so long that I have seen them used. You need skill.”

“She is skilful enough.” Jack said, “And skilful enough to conceal them.”

“What are loopholes?” Fiona asked.

Mrs Tuesday shook her head. “I’ve sort of heard of them. It’s like this world that we are in is just like a page in a book for some of the elfen, or a door in a row of doors. Or it’s like a skin in a layer of skins. Some of them, including Lady Freydis and Jack, can slip between them easier than others. And sometimes they can leave little gaps or tears in a page, so that they can wiggle through even though everything is locked down.” She looked at Lady Freydis. “Can Leanne use loopholes?”

“I believe she can.” Lady Freydis said quietly.

“Pragmatically, she may be too busy trying to keep Elaine out of Dave’s reach or leading Steve a merry, primrose-strewn dance.” Jack said, unwrapping the muffin. “She may not waste her time here.”

“Or she may decide to double back and remove what she thinks is the main obstacle between Steve and her love.” Lady Freydis said. “That woman! She can’t believe that all who see her do not love her. She has no grasp of reality.”

“You are the one who booked the wedding without the groom,” Mrs Tuesday said without really paying attention. Instead she was glancing around the room and holding the frying pan tightly.

“Yes, but the attraction of power and the amazing amount of mischief that has been generated are gaining more interest than my appearance.” Lady Freydis said, also checking her surroundings. “I think it may be a good idea to set a room up as a fortress where Fiona may safely stay the night. I suggest this room. There is food, it is central, and it is the most magically reinforced part of the building.”

“I concur.” Jack said thickly through the muffin. “Perhaps the padre will say a few prayers over this room, while Lady Freydis and I check for hidden loopholes.”

“Are you okay?” Dean asked Fiona quietly as she sank into one of the chairs in the café. He gave her hand a squeeze. “You’re frozen! Do you have a sweater in the back?”

“Get that tea down you.” Mrs Tuesday said. “And don’t worry. They didn’t get you last time and they won’t this time, either. Remember how Steve ripped reality apart to get you? I think you’re pretty safe. And now you have Jack on your side.”

“I think I’ll just get into fur.” Jasmine murmured quietly. She looked at Darren. “Please will you ring Ian and let him know that I’m staying here. I know he’ll approve.”

Darren nodded. “And I’ll stay with you.” He took off his coat and hung it neatly on the back of a chair.

“I’ll stay around.” Dean said. “Fiona, should I get you a blanket or something? You are so cold.”

Fiona shook her head. Her teeth started to chatter. “It’s just the weather.” She wrapped her arms around herself and tried not to shiver.

“You’re wearing a name badge.” Lady Freydis said.

“Yes, we all wear name badges except you.” Jasmine said. “Kadogan said he thought it looked more like a real shop.”

“No, look at the badge!” Lady Freydis snapped.

“Bloody hell!” Mrs Tuesday grabbed the badge and ripped it from Fiona’s sweater, throwing it to the centre of the shop. “She used your damned name badge. She used your name!”

As the name badge fell to the floor, a darkness spilled from it, pooling wider and wider until Leanne stepped out, her auburn curls gleaming under the shop lights and her eyes luminous. “Hello, sister wife. Are you ready to admit that Steve is mine?”

“You’re not Steve’s type.” Fiona said, standing up straight. “You’re wasting your time.”

“And if it isn’t little Freydis.” Leanne looked around. “Am I meant to be intimidated by the people here? A new vampire who hasn’t worked out all his powers, an old and almost broken boggart, a misfit werewolf, a vicar who is dipping into his flock and a perpetual fashion victim.” Leanne looked straight at Lady Freydis, who lost her colour, before looking back at Fiona. “You have poor defenders, my dear, and are indiscreet. You told Elaine that you didn’t like rats.”

“I don’t like rats.” Fiona said. “That is true enough. But I never said I was scared of them.”

“We’ll see.” Leanne said, flicking her hair over her shoulder and then delicately gesturing. “You will feel different after this.” She smiled brightly. “If you can feel at all.”

“No!” Lady Freydis shouted, but it was too late. Rats started pouring through the gap behind Leanne, streaming into the shop, squealing as they ran at Fiona.

Jack laughed. “You think you can play rats with me?”

Leanne glared at him and gestured. A spark lanced from her finger towards Jack but his grin never wavered as the spark ricocheted back and danced wildly around her before fading. Leanne took a step back and gestured to the elfen coming up behind her. “Get that one,” she said, pointing at Fiona. “Leave him to me.” Then she stamped hard on the floor. Ripples spread out from the dark portal and seemed to grow across the floor as rats continued to flow out.

Jasmine was in fur and snapping at the rats, tossing them wildly around the floor. Mrs Tuesday was swinging with a saucepan and Darren was kicking them back towards the portal. Dean was desperately muttering as he struggled to control the rats racing towards him. He had practised controlling rats and mice, but he had never had to deal with the quantities swarming across the floor. Lady Freydis was obviously struggling as the darkness surrounding Leanne was oozing towards the annexe and she was shaking off rats as she fought for control of the elfen magic.

The two elfen advancing on Fiona were intercepted by Jack, who dodged their sword thrusts easily, grabbing the sword arm of the larger of the two and casually snapping it before taking the sword. He looked around, laughed out loud and caught up the nearest pan and hurled it with force at the shop window.

The window smashed and in tumbled dozens of the skeletal hands, quickly followed by dozens more. The floor became a sea of combat as rats and bones engaged. The hands were desperately outnumbered, but they were organised and fighting as a group, picking off rats as the hands defended a line. Mrs Tuesday and Jasmine joined their flanks, pulling together a defensive ring around Fiona and Lady Freydis.

“This is wonderful entertainment!” Jack shouted, ripping the head off one of the attacking elfen and throwing it back through the portal as the collapsing body fell into a pile of leaf litter, obscuring the rats and scattering across the floor.”

“Dean, get them scattered towards the door.” Mrs Tuesday yelled. “We can pick them off better there.”

“I’m trying!” Dean shouted, trying to keep his balance as the fight raged around his ankles. “Get off, dammit!”

There was a yelp from Jasmine then a snarl as a rat got through as she was prising two of the rodents off a beleaguered hand. Darren grabbed a decorative athame and started skewering the attackers, taking the heat off the hands. Lady Freydis swore and then there was a crack as the darkness started receding.

“I am no fashion victim, I am the Prince of York!” Lady Freydis snapped at Leanne who watched the other of her guards crumple in front of Jack.

“What is happening?” Leanne cried, as the rats stopped coming through and started to flee. “What is going wrong?”

“You picked the wrong man to steal.” Fiona grabbed the large frying pan, ran forward and swung hard at Leanne’s head. She didn’t expect it to connect, but it did, with a dull thud, and Leanne reeled back from the unexpected power. All of Fiona’s frustration, her anger and her fear, were poured into that blow and it carried a lot of weight. As Leanne staggered, Fiona swung the frying pan back hard into Leanne’s stomach. It was unnecessary. Leanne screamed as her face turned black.

“It’s iron!” She doubled up as the venom of Fiona’s second blow hit, sinking to her knees.

“My warrior lady!” Jack shouted. “You are magnificent.”

Fiona stepped back, appalled as Leanne crumpled in front of her. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Steve should have been mine.” Leanne muttered, falling backwards into the portal. A small drift of leaves blew out as the portal closed. Fiona looked at Darren, appalled.

“Did I kill her?”

Darren walked over to her and took hold of both her hands. “It’s hard to say. She won’t be back soon, anyway, and you have protected Steve. I’ve heard a lot about what Leanne does to men, and none of it good.”

“Indeed.” Lady Freydis nudged at the leaves with her foot. “Even the elfen thought she was excessive. And cheap.”

“She’ll be off licking her wounds for a century or so.” Mrs Tuesday said. “And perhaps she may learn a thing or two. Though I doubt it. Come on, let’s get this mess cleared up.”

Fiona looked around her. Dead leaves, twigs and husks littered the floor. The bodies of rats were piled in heaps as the last of them fled out of the broken window. Chips of bone and detached fingers showed that the rats had fought a hard battle and broken glass was scattered over the window display. “The brownies are going to charge us so much extra.”

Ouch!


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Dave slammed into the side of his car and bounced across the country lane. Jack, having got the peacemaker out of the way, swung a punch hard at Martin who ducked, caught Jack’s fist and twisted. Jack somehow defied laws of gravity, momentum and anatomy and somersaulted around Martin’s grip but Martin was wise to his moves and caught him as he landed with a punch to the side of Jack’s head that slammed him into a gate post, which shattered.

Dave managed to pull himself to his feet. There were no witnesses in this deserted lane, but it was only a matter of time. Jack rolled upright and bounced over Martin’s head. Martin spun around before getting his legs swept from underneath him. He landed with a thud that dented the road, rolled out of the way of Jack’s stamp and grabbed his leg.

“Stop right now!” Dave yelled. It had no effect. He stumbled to the far side of his car for shelter, opened the door and grabbed something he had packed for the first time today. “Stop now! You are disturbing the peace!”

Martin grabbed Jack and hurled him into the hedge where Jack bounced and struggled, pinned in the centre of the brambles and hawthorn by the force of Martin’s throw. Martin advanced, murder in his eyes, when they were blown apart by a sharp, smoky explosion.

Dave had paid attention to the safety briefings on the flashbangs that the Home Office had reluctantly issued. He had mainly paid attention because he didn’t want to risk being on the wrong end of something allegedly non-lethal but still capable of blinding and deafening a man for minutes. He was pretty sure that he shouldn’t have thrown the flashbang quite so close to them, and he wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that with a werewolf, but with what appeared to be a force of nature going head to head with a vampire that came to York with the Roman Legions, he thought he needed to get their attention. It worked. Suddenly Dave was the focus of two powerful supernatural beings and it didn’t feel good.

“What did you just throw at us?” Martin said quietly, holding out a hand to Jack.

“Indeed, what was it?” Jack grabbed Martin’s hand and pulled himself out. “Because I really want one.”

“It’s not for the general public.” Dave realised that he had made a tactical error. “I mean, it’s government issue.”

Both of the men grinned wickedly. “That is so helpful. I can always get into the government buildings.” Jack’s grin widened. “And there are always so many people coming and going.”

“People are the weak point.” Martin nodded. “Working people is easy.”

Dave scrabbled desperately for ideas. “I’m a paladin. I cannot allow you to use military issue on unsuspecting normals.”

“Who said we were going to use it on normals?” Jack said with a sideways glance at Martin. “And is that what you call mortals these days? So insipid.” He looked at Martin who shrugged.

“I think Lady Freydis might have a few things to say about flashbangs going off in her domain.” Dave said, then regretted it.

“So that is what they are called! Flashbangs.” Jack clapped his hands together in delight. “I must find a score of them.”

“Lady Freydis wouldn’t need to know.” Martin said. “And, if we do it right, neither would the government.”

“That’s enough.” Dave pulled himself as straight as he could manage. His ribs hurt and his jeans were in tatters. “Do not fight like this in front of normals.”

“Or what consequence?” Jack asked, inspecting a deep graze running the length of his forearm.

“Or I will be forced to ask Lady Freydis for advice.”

Martin and Jack looked at Dave with respect. Martin nodded. “Well played.” He glanced at Jack. “I’m sure Jack and I can work something out.”

“If you get drunk, do it quietly.” Dave said wearily.

Jack shrugged. “Do you think we could actually get drunk?”

Dave held up a hand. “Don’t tell me anything. Just get out of here.” He shook his head. “And try not to be caught doing whatever.”

The two supernatural beings vanished, without smoke or noise, but were just suddenly not there. Slowly the birds began to sing again as everything in the area relaxed. Dave leant against his car and hurt. He had only been caught in a few of the side-swipes and it had been bad enough, so he wondered exactly what it would do to seriously hurt those guys. A skeletal hand skittered out of the ditch, patted Dave’s foot gently in commiseration and then scuttled back into the undergrowth. Dave ran a weary hand over his face. It was the most sympathy he had had all week.

At least Elaine was likely to be sympathetic. Dave tried not to look too injured as he turned up for his afternoon Tarot Reading appointments. After all, he and Luke were the only things standing between normal and non-normals and he shouldn’t show weakness. His ribs were only bruised, apparently, and the rest was surface damage, but he felt every ache. Lady Freydis ran over as he came in.

“Dave Kinson, what happened to you? You are injured!”

“I just have a few bruises.” Dave said. “Any chance of a coffee?”

Lady Freydis narrowed her eyes. “Have you disciplined any of my court? Do I need to defend them?”

“No, you do not need to defend them.” Dave said. He looked across at Elaine who was lounging against the counter next to Fiona who was re-stocking the greetings card. “I have not hurt any of your court today.”

“But you are injured.” Lady Freydis caught hold of Dave’s shoulder and he flinched. “Was someone from my court involved?”

“I’m not supposed to answer to you.” Dave wanted to keep Lady Freydis in reserve for dealing with Jack and Martin.

“So someone hurt you, but you did not hurt them.” Lady Freydis frowned. “I shall speak with Jack and Martin. Their arguments should not affect you.”

“What?” Dave stared.

“And I shall ask Mrs Tuesday to give you some of her special tonic, although after the Tarot Readings. Your judgement may be off after the tonic.”

Dave had had Mrs Tuesday’s tonic before. He had been barely able to walk afterwards but the glow that had surrounded him had been wonderful. “I’ll be fine.”

“I insist.” Lady Freydis said firmly. “Now I shall fetch coffee.”

Dave watched her dart back to the coffee machine and, ignoring the interested stares of the rest of the court, wandered over to where Elaine was lounging. It was a change to see her standing still instead of racing around the shelves. She ignored him and carried on chatting to Fiona.

“Is Steve seriously saying that he can’t make a deal work in Lancaster and he has to go back?” Elaine said. “I thought he could work any deal. He always could when I was with him.”

Dave blinked. There was something off with Elaine, and it didn’t sound like her. Those words had definitely hit Fiona hard, though she barely showed a reaction except for a slight tightening of the lips. She straightened a stand of ‘Get Well Soon’ cards. “It’s complicated, and as we’re moving to the house, he wants the money for renovations.”

Elaine glanced over to where Steve was dragging a box of flint arrowheads towards the back room. There was a gleam of hunger in her eyes. “And those arrowheads – you have so many of them. You need to unload them somehow.”

“Hi,” Dave said, standing in front of Elaine.

Fiona looked up. “Dave, you’re hurt! What happened?”

“Nothing much.” Dave said airily. “The weirdest was when one of those skeletal hands came and patted my foot in sympathy. I know we ought to do something about them, but they are useful, they’re killing the rats and they are kind of sweet.”

“Dead, skeleton hands are sweet?” Fiona said sceptically.

“Well, sort of cheeky.” Dave said. “And they can make some rude signs when they want to, but they aren’t harmful to normals.”

“I don’t know why you don’t just hack into the enchantment and give them a glamour.” Elaine was still looking at Steve who was manoeuvring the heavy box around a counter. “Make them look something like a cat. Then you have a reason why the rat population isn’t growing as quick as it should, no-one has a breakdown when they see a mouse speared on a bony finger and we can even pet the things.” She shrugged. “Easy.”

Dave frowned but was distracted as Martin and Jack walked in. He tried to look like breathing didn’t hurt. “Hi guys, everything alright?”

“I wouldn’t cause any trouble for my fair Fiona.” Jack said as he headed towards the counter. “And my good friend Martin would do nothing to upset the beautiful Lady Freydis.”

“Hmm.” Lady Freydis finished pouring Dave’s coffee. “Here, Dave Kinson, a mocha with a little hint of nutmeg. I think you will enjoy it.”

“Still trying to shift those arrowheads?” Martin asked. “Who would buy them?”

“At the moment I’m selling mainly to interior decorators, but I’ve been making a few calls to some film prop supply companies.” He shook his head. “I didn’t know they existed. But their back rooms look even stranger than ours. Next time I go to London, I’ll take Fiona with me and we can see if there is other business we can do.” He looked up at Fiona. “And maybe we can…” He trailed off, dropped the box and strode over to Elaine, grabbing her by the throat. “Who are you and where is the real Elaine?”

Elaine’s features shimmered and shifted and suddenly Steve was holding on to a slim, pale woman with a cascade of auburn curls and green eyes in her sweet looking, freckled face. Her expression was anything but sweet. “Sure, and you would like to know?” She said with a faint Irish accent, giving an artificial shiver. “And your touch is everything I imagined it would be. Perhaps I will let you know where Elaine is on our wedding night.”

Steve shifted his grip. “I’m already married, remember? I am married in the eyes of God.” He gave her a shake. “Do not push me, Leanne. Where is Elaine?”

“And your wifey so loyal?” Leanne shot a contemptuous glance at Fiona. “She never said a bad word about you, not even when she was sobbing her heart out. She would do better without you, and I’m sure your God would understand.”

Steve snarled. “I have ways of forcing you to talk that you would not like.”

“And you so sure about that?” Leanne tried a provocative tilt of her head despite Steve’s grip on her neck. Steve growled.

“Don’t kill her!” Dave said quickly. “Not until we find Elaine.”

“You were not prepared to hold me.” Leanne took a breath. “You should be more aware, Steve Half Elfen.” And then she was gone. Steve muttered some words and a fragment of green smoke issued from his outflung fingers, but it slowed and dissipated in the air.

Lady Freydis checked around the shop. There were a few wide eyed tourists but Mrs Tuesday was already ushering them towards free coffee. Everyone else was very watchful. “One of our own has been taken, one of us from the White Hart. I declare a Hunt!”

As Lady Freydis turned and started snapping out orders, Jack bowed low before Fiona. “My fair Fiona, do you truly want your rival back?”

Fiona nodded, her face white. “I didn’t understand why she was being like this. We were becoming such close friends. I hope she’s safe.”

“She’ll be safe up until now.” Steve said grimly. “That glamour was a close one. Leanne would have had to keep going back to Elaine to get a reference. And from the sound of it, Leanne will want to keep Elaine hostage to exchange for me.”

“Count me in.” Dave said. “Let’s find Elaine.”

Deal


Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

Darren rubbed a weary hand over his face. He had finished his sermon for Sunday, he had drafted his talk for the school and finally had sorted out the order of service for Harvest Festival. Now all he had to do was figure out what to say to the Mother’s Union on the subject of Harvest. He sighed. The chances of it being witty and captivating were low. To be honest, he was barely scraping together decent English, but trying to chase down the skeleton hands was wearing him out.

Today he was going to search the internet for Harvest Festival Thoughts to pull something together before calling in on Mrs Kingston who was having problems with her hip. The Mother’s Union weren’t meeting until next week, but Darren had learned from bitter experience that he could get called away without warning so tried to keep ahead of his schedule.

There was a quiet tap on the door. “Come in.” Darren said, bracing himself, but it was only Jasmine.

“Hi,” she said, smiling. “Ian asked whether you could call in this afternoon. He said that people would feel better to see you visiting.”

Darren was only too glad to abandon the speech to the Mother’s Union. “Sure, though I don’t know what I’m expected to do if Steve and Lady Freydis can’t contain this Jack.” He got up and grabbed his jacket before leaning in to kiss Jasmine. “Do you want to come for a drink tonight? There’s a quiz night on at the Red Lion.”

Jasmine regretfully shook her head. “Jeanette is planning out the winter schedule and Ian wants me to help her. Besides, is Egerton still refusing to leave the house?”

Darren nodded. “Though he cheered up when he heard Thistle had tried to gift Lady Freydis fairy gold. I may call in and see if I can have a word with someone sensible, like…” Darren trailed off. He couldn’t think of a sensible elfen.

Jasmine frowned. “I was surprised that so many people were taken in by the gold. I would have thought Kadogan would have spotted it straight away.”

Darren shook his head. “Some elfen have a knack, just like some have a knack for magic. Lady Freydis can usually see through something if she looks hard, and I wouldn’t like to try fooling Steve, but someone like Thistle can fool most. He’d have a tough job with a paladin, of course, but it wouldn’t be impossible, especially if the paladin was unsuspecting.” He paused and ran a gentle hand down Jasmine’s face. “Are you sure you can’t come tonight?”

Jasmine smiled. “If we finish early, I’ll come over. Jeanette won’t mind.”

“I hope you can make it.” Darren said. “Now I had better get down to the White Hart and I know you have college.”

“I’m on my way.”

The White Hart was full. The Christmas rush hadn’t quite started, but while there may have been fewer tourists, there were a lot more non-normals. Darren nodded to Martin who was browsing the books and went up to the café. Lady Freydis was still there and she had Darren’s cup of tea ready as he reached the counter. “It is good to see you, Reverend.” Lady Freydis smiled. “Between my courtship and the reappearance of Jack, there is a lot of energy in the air. Your visit is calming.”

“And calming is good, right?” Darren said. “Speaking of Jack, what is he?”

Lady Freydis shrugged. “It’s complicated. He’s very old. But he is such good fun. And he is picking up the modern age so well. He can trigger car alarms from a chain away.”

“So that’s why I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Darren said. “He was practising. Lady Freydis, you know that he has disrupted your court.”

Lady Freydis shrugged. “The novelty will wear off soon, and he will mostly stay in the background again. He is a threat to Steve Adderson at the moment, however, as Fiona is upset.”

Darren felt a sinking feeling. “And because Fiona rescued Jack, he now feels he owes her. What’s upset Fiona?”

“Steve has gone back to Lancaster. He was assured that Leanne was not there, and there is much business to be done, but Fiona is worried by Leanne. She is right to be worried.” Lady Freydis reached for the tiny espresso as Martin came back towards the counter. “Leanne is a trollop. She really is. She attaches herself to one young man after another and leaves them a husk. And she isn’t even that pretty! She tried to entice Lord Ragnar once, but of course got nowhere. She’s a complete slut.”

Darren took his tea to a table near the annexe and looked around. Lady Freydis was biased, obviously, but Leanne sounded like trouble. Leann sidhe were difficult at the best of times, and now her adopted father was becoming so sensitive to iron, he needed to hand over the reins to whoever Leanne could persuade to marry her. Steve was a great catch – half elfen, connected to some powerful families, on speaking terms with all the great lords and a dangerous sorcerer. A leann sidhe like Leanne was not likely to let a detail like a wife stand in her way.

There was a shimmer next to him and suddenly a handsome man was slouching next to Darren, smiling mockingly. “More tea, vicar?”

“Hello, Jack, good to see you. Thanks for keeping me awake last night.” Darren said, aware that all eyes were suddenly locked on their table. “But be a good bogeyman, don’t just appear from nowhere. Not everyone here is in the know and we don’t want to upset paying customers.”

“That would be bad for Fiona’s business.” Jack agreed. “I’ll remember that.” He waved an apologetic hand. “Sorry for keeping you awake. It should be that cute werewolf that’s costing you sleep, not me.”

Darren ignored that. “How long have you been away, Jack? Things are very different to how they were even fifty years ago.”

“They really are.” Jack glanced around the room. “I mean, we still can’t mention awkward facts like Martin’s feeding habits but when I was last here, the things on these shelves would get you imprisoned or sent to a madhouse. Now it is just seen as entertainment, like the notice for the Tarot reader.”

“There’s enough around to cause trouble.” Darren said. “But while you’re here, perhaps you can help out. What do you know about animated, skeletal hands catching mice and rats?”

“What do you know about Steve and Fiona?” Jack answered.

“I don’t interfere in a marriage.” Darren said. “And there has been enough of that, to be honest. That’s where a lot of the problems have come from. It would be nice to have some insight, but I’m not trading that for more trouble between them.” He glared at Jack. “If you care about Fiona, stay out of it.”

“Easy for you to say, padre.” Jack said. “But I am bound by obligations. She was crying in the backroom this morning, and it nearly broke my heart.”

“Do you have one?” Martin sat down next to Jack. “Darren is right. There has been too much interference. They are right for each other, but they never had a chance to find it out for themselves.”

Jack stretched out his long legs and lightly tapped the table with his fingers. “I cannot bear to hear Fiona cry. It’s burning me. But if she loves Steve – and she does – then what is to be done? I could school Steve, for all his power, but she may then take against me.”

“That would be a shame.” Martin said dryly. “I think they need a holiday together.”

“I overheard Elaine saying that it’s a shame that Fiona didn’t travel with Steve and protect him from other women, just like she had.” Jack frowned. “Though I did not realise that Elaine was Steve’s cast off.”

“It’s the other way around.” Martin said. “Elaine dumped Steve.”

“I am not happy that Fiona has another woman’s leavings.” Jack said.

Darren held up his hand. “I married them. I think they could have a good marriage if everyone kept out of it and once the deal with Lancaster has been made then it will all settle down.”

“The House of Lancaster and the House of York were ever at odds.” Jack said.

Martin sighed. “Don’t start. Perhaps you can have a word, Darren, and speak to Steve. He’s a good man. He’ll listen. And something has to be said now, just to get it back on track.”

“I’m too taken up with sorting out these skeletal hands.” Darren said with a pointed look at Jack.

“If Steve and Fiona are happy, I’ll have all the time in the world to help you, padre.” Jack said. “Deal?”

Darren closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m going to regret this. Deal.”

New Home


Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

“So you’re definitely getting the house, then?” Mrs Tuesday said as she stood next to Fiona at the till. The shop was quiet and for once everything was ready at opening.

Fiona nodded. “It’s not far away, just outside Scholes, and it’s a nice big house with a lovely garden.”

“Are you getting the brownies to sort it out?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Fiona doodled on the scratch pad next to the till. “We’re going to spend some time clearing it out first. It is absolutely full, but that was part of the conditions of sale – bought as is.” Fiona added a cute flower to the corner of the pad. “There’s a lot to do.”

“I daresay you’ll be doing most of it, with him always away.” Mrs Tuesday said. “I hope he knows how lucky he is.”

“Mmm.” Fiona kept doodling.

“He’s off to Lancaster again today, isn’t he?” Mrs Tuesday shook his head. “I hope he gets a good deal. But don’t worry about Leanne. She’s a baggage, but Steve won’t look twice at her. He knows what she is.”

Fiona turned the pad around to get a better angle on the kitten she was now sketching.

“He’s loyal to you, though I think he could do with a slap sometimes.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Leanne is a leanan sidhe. She’ll make a nuisance of herself until she finds someone else to obsess over, and then you won’t hear from her again. And Steve won’t be fooled.”

Fiona concentrated as she added a puppy to the kitten on the scratch pad, with a long, lolling tongue and huge paws.

“Even if he did like her – and he doesn’t – Steve wouldn’t be so crazy to get involved with a leanan sidhe. They are no better than they ought to be and they use men up before throwing them aside. And they sulk. Steve can’t bear someone who sulks.” Mrs Tuesday looked around for some sort of inspiration. “He does love you, you know. That’s why he’s so keen on the house.”

“I know.” Fiona said, ripping off the page and scrunching it up. “But is that the right reason to buy a house?”

“Don’t go looking for reasons to be unhappy.” Mrs Tuesday snapped. “You’re getting a nice house with a nice husband and there’s many people who would be grateful for it. You need to stop moping.”

Fiona took a breath. “You’re right. And could you cover for Dave if he can’t get here? He took the car over to Helmsley to check out the reports of the skeleton hands there, but he can’t get back. All the traffic lights in York seem to have gone crazy and everywhere is gridlocked.”

“And you know whose fault that is, don’t you?” Martin snapped, stalking in, looking very thin and pale. “Good morning, Lady Freydis, why didn’t you warn me that Jack is back?”

Lady Freydis dropped the tray of cups she was carrying. “Jack is back?”

Martin’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “You didn’t know?”

“When did you see him? What happened? Is that why you were so terribly injured? Where has he been?”

Mrs Tuesday looked worried. “Who is Jack?”

“Um.” Fiona wondered if she should have said something. “Um.”

“Yes, Jack is back.” Martin snapped. “Which is why none of the road signals are working correctly. It’s just his brand of mischief. I hadn’t realised how much I treasured the peace without him.” He looked at Mrs Tuesday. “Jack is complicated, difficult and unpredictable.”

“I know.” Lady Freydis sighed. “Do you remember the time he summoned all the rats within twenty miles to where the Legion was unloading its grain? They shrieked and wailed.”

“I know.” Martin said grimly.

“And the time he baptised a cat in the Minster?” Lady Freydis said. “The cat made such a singing.”

Mrs Tuesday rubbed her hand over her face. “Jasmine, clear up the cups, please, there’s a love. I need to find my Tarot deck. But is Jack a boggart or an elfen?”

“Um.” Fiona said.

“He’s complicated.” Lady Freydis shrugged. “But Martin, perhaps Mrs Tuesday has a tonic that may aid you. It must have been a hard fought argument.”

“Um.” Fiona looked around desperately.

“I will be fine after feeding a little more.” Martin waved an irritated hand. “Are you sure you didn’t know?”

“She didn’t.” Jack was suddenly there, leaning casually against the counter next to Lady Freydis.”

“Jack!” Lady Freydis vaulted the counter and hugged Jack. “Where have you been? What has happened?” She looked at Martin. “I am surprised Jack can even move! It must have been a battle indeed.” She looked back at Jack. “But your glamour isn’t showing a trace, which is impressive. It is so good to see you. I’m getting married.”

“To Martin?” Jack looked at the simmering Martin. “Congratulations.”

“I don’t know who I’m marrying yet.” Lady Freydis smiled happily. “It’s such fun.”

“What about Ragnar?” Jack asked.

Lady Freydis’ face suddenly stilled. “His is no more.” She straightened. “And I am the Prince and I am getting married to someone next midsummer.”

“I am sure it will be very entertaining for the next few months.” Jack smoothed a hand over his hair. “I may try courting you myself. I mean, you have always been delectable, but now with all that power and competition, you’re almost irresistible.” Lady Freydis giggled.

Martin noticed Fiona edging away. “Fiona, what is it?”

“I am sorry, my darling Lady Freydis, and I am sorry, my most dear Martin, but while I am so glad to see you both, I actually came here to meet with Fiona Adderson. I am at her service, you see. She freed me from my prison. I am bound to her for the rest of her life.” Jack swept gracefully over to Fiona, caught her hand and kissed it, bowing low. “Perhaps I could steal spices from the Orient for you, my most treasured lady.”

“We already have a very good stock of spices coming in.” Mrs Tuesday exchanged a worried glance with Martin. “Does Kadogan know you’re here?”

“I can’t wait to tell him!” Lady Freydis said. “Jack, may I offer you a beverage?”

“Wine, my sweetest Prince? It is scandalously early for wine.” Jack kept hold of Fiona’s hand as he grinned wickedly at Lady Freydis.

“Coffee, or hot chocolate with syrup and cream.” Lady Freydis said. “Watch this!”

Jack strode back to the café counter, dragging Fiona with him. “Chocolate?”

Fiona managed to extract her hand while Jack flirted with Lady Freydis and bickered with Martin. She sidled over to Mrs Tuesday. “I opened a pot when we were clearing the house. Armani was terrified and Steve was really worried. I don’t think he would have gone to Lancaster, though, if he thought Jack would come here. Who is he?”

Mrs Tuesday ran worried hands down her apron. “I’m not sure.” She took a cloth out of her pocket and wiped the clean counter next to the till. “I can tell he’s old, and I can tell he’s trouble.” She put the cloth back in her pocket. “Jasmine, keep an eye on the grills, please, I need to go and make some calls.”

“And you can tell everyone that I’m staying here.” Jack said, with another sweeping bow to Fiona. “That I may be of assistance to my lady fair at her place of business. I even have real money to pay rent.”

“How have you got real money?” Martin asked suspiciously.”

“I know where all the buried treasure is, so I dug some up and found a buyer.” Jack smiled wickedly. “And as she was willing to play fair, I was kind.”

“We have two paladins in York, now.” Martin said. “And I can see why.”

“And who are these fair maids?” Jack bounded towards the door as Adele and Jeanette came in, their arms full of boxes from the cash and carry.

“I’ll just go and make up your room.” Fiona said, and fled.

Jack in the Box


Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

“Thanks for helping out.” Steve said, looking up at the house. “I was told that it was likely to be full, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this full.”

“I suppose it counts as spending time together.” Fiona smiled up at Steve. “Only kidding. But it’s great to be involved.”

“And Mrs Tuesday will keep an eye on everything, won’t she?” Steve nudged his jacket pocket and Armani eased himself out and flapped lazily away, settling on the porch roof and hunching over.

“There are a lot of sensible people there.” Fiona said. “And it’s good to get away from work.” She started pulling supplies out of the car. “I couldn’t believe it either, when we had the walk through yesterday. I think we will be here for a while.”

Steve shook his head. “We are only taking care of the magical stuff. That’s the agreement. If they want anything else then they have to pay extra. And do something about the ghost.”

“She isn’t that bad.” Fiona said. “She probably only shows herself because of Armani. Anyway, let’s make a start.”

The house was a large, Victorian property with lots of gables and corners. The overgrown rhododendrons overshadowed the sash windows and the self seeded remnants of the flower borders rustled their dried seed heads as Steve unlocked the door and snapped on the hall light. “The son agreed to have the electric on for a week.” Steve said, “We can bring heaters with us if it gets too cold.”

“I’d rather keep warm by keeping busy.” Fiona dragged in the box of supplies. “So what are we looking for?”

Steve sighed. “Anything weird.” He looked around the large hallway with half a dozen coats hanging in the corner and dozens of paintings, pictures and mirrors hanging in the hall and stairs. Knickknacks covered every ledge and the four small tables wedged in the corners of the odd shaped room. “The trouble is, we share a shop full of weird things, and a mail order business full of weird things, and I work with weird things and you work with Lady Freydis which is pretty full of weird things. To us, weird is normal.”

Fiona laughed. “I know what you mean.” She looked around. “Let’s just be methodical. We start by the door, go along the walls from left to right, dealing with any furniture and cupboards as we get to them, then deal with anything in the centre of the rooms. We ignore anything that isn’t a problem, but if we go that way, we won’t miss anything.”

“Okay.” Steve looked back out through the door. “Armani?”

“I’m okay out here, boss.” Armani said. “Just doing a little bird watching.”

“Don’t upset any neighbours.” Steve said and then pulled the door almost shut. “Though I don’t think that there is anyone near.”

“It’s a shame,” Fiona said. “From what his son was saying, he was a nice old man but he didn’t really do much with people.”

“I know.” Steve said. “But I think he was happy enough. That’s what they said in the shop.”

“It’s lovely and quiet here.” Fiona said, “With a village shop and a pub and all the green spaces around. You can hear the birds sing – or you could if Armani didn’t chase them. Is he still after a cat?”

“Hmm?” Steve muttered a few words over a cardboard box and then pulled out a bundle. Still muttering he gently unwrapped the layers of silk before pulling out a prosaic hand mirror. Fiona kept respectfully quiet as he held the mirror up and angled it over his shoulder, glancing back to make sure he was getting the right view. “Fiona, could you get the angel?”

Fiona unwrapped the delicate figure from its silk coverings and held it up against the wall. Kadogan had given them the figure as a gift, and while they didn’t know what the enchantment was, it was definitely enchanted and great for seeing if detection spells worked. Steve kept his back to the figure but angled the mirror to see over his shoulder. He nodded. “I can see the angel glowing, so it’s working.” He took a deep breath. “It should be alright, if I get the angles right. Hang on…” He twisted the mirror a little. “That little picture to the right, I mean left, with the dog. There’s something there.”

It took most of the morning just to go through the hall and front parlour. Some of the items, like the picture of the dog, were just minor magic and Steve disabled and dissipated the magical charge easily enough. Other, more complicated items were photographed, documented and then wrapped in silk and packed in rowan wood shavings. It was slow and painstaking work, but Fiona found herself relaxing. “We haven’t spent this much time together for ages.”

“I know.” Steve rubbed a hand across his face, leaving a smudge. He looked down at his dusty t-shirt and dirty jeans. “It’s nice to be out of a suit for a change, and it’s been great working with you.” He smiled at Fiona. “We really need to do this more often.”

“Perhaps not something as hard as this.” Fiona shut the door on the front parlour and sighed. “But it’s been great.” For a moment the two looked at each other, enjoying the closeness. Fiona leaned forward and kissed Steve briefly on the lips. “Why don’t I make us some lunch. I’ve brought some stuff and the kitchen is okay.”

They ate lunch on a bench outside. Fiona looked around. “This could be a really nice place to live, if it was treated right.”

Steve nodded. “It has a good atmosphere.” He looked across to where Armani was trying to intimidate some crows and failing. “Despite everything.”

Fiona chuckled, then stopped. “How much is he asking for this place?”

“Have you any idea how much work it would take to clear this place?” Steve asked. “I mean, it needs completely gutting, the garden needs to be dug out and replanted and…” He trailed off. “We haven’t even looked at the sheds.”

“That would mean a lot of storage space.” Fiona said. “You’re right – the kitchen is a nightmare and I don’t want to think about the wiring, but…” She trailed off and looked around. “It’s not that far from York.”

“It’s technically in Leeds.” Steve said. “We would have to answer to Lord Marius.”

Fiona shrugged. “He’s your father and will enjoy annoying you, but it could be worse.”

“Yeah, it could be worse.” Steve took the last mouthful of coffee from his cup. “Come on, let’s try the back parlour next.”

The back parlour was always going to be the biggest challenge. The old man had used it just as storage and it was now a heap of cardboard boxes and crates. “We’re never going to get through these in a week,” Fiona said, standing in the doorway.

“We can just be methodical.” Steve said. “We can stack the stuff we’ve sorted through in the front parlour for now, and if we can get this done then we have got through the worst.”

“Is it even safe?” Fiona looked at the towering piles in front of them. “Perhaps we should get ladders?”

Steve whistled and Armani came reluctantly into the room. “You can start by bringing that box on the top down.” Steve said. He glanced at Fiona. “It’s about time Armani earned his tea and biscuits.”

Armani stared around the crammed room. “Bloody hell!”

It was quicker than they thought. A lot of the boxes were filled with books which could be easily sorted, and the old man had hoarded household supplies as well as magical curiosities. Some of it was just junk, but there were some interesting pieces.

“This is truly beautiful.” Steve held up the delicate porcelain candlestick to the light. “I can see why he wanted to keep it, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t out on display and getting appreciated. Get the next box, please, Armani.”

“No way, boss.” Armani started to shiver. “That’s a bad box. I’m not touching it, it’s more than my wings are worth.”

“What?” Steve stared at the imp. “I’ve seen you face down rogue vampires and crazed werewolves. What’s so bad in there?”

Armani shook his ugly head, wiping his hands down his filthy jeans. “I’m not going it near it, boss, and if it’s all the same to you, I’m going outside to sort out them crows.”

Fiona watched him flap quickly out into the hall and then looked at Steve. “How bad could it be?”

Steve frowned. “I’ve never seen him react like that. Not even when he was going in to rescue you and it was all going crazy.” He took a deep breath. “Hang on…” He placed his hands palms together and muttered a few words. With a struggle he pulled them apart and a glow formed in front of him, flickering and stuttering at first, but growing stronger. Sweat streaked down the dust on his face as he forced the light in front of him and up to the box. “This is tougher than I thought.” He twisted his hands and the light gently hovered over the nondescript cardboard box which started to glow. “It shouldn’t be doing that.” Steve struggled, trying to keep control as he gently lowered the light towards the box, which exploded.

Fiona screamed as the paper cascaded everywhere, shreds hanging from the curtains at the opposite side of the room and from the elaborate light fitting. The smell of scorched paper hung in the air and Steve staggered back, grabbing hold of Fiona to stay upright. Fiona clung onto him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Steve looked pale but pulled himself upright. “That wasn’t what I expected.” He looked down at the small, lidded bronze pot lying at his feet. “This is the culprit.” He gently extended a hand, tentatively touching it before picking it up. “It’s not hot.”

Fiona came closer. “It doesn’t look like anything special.”

“I know.” Steve said. “That’s not a good sign. If it was meant to be opened then it would look a lot fancier.” He looked around at the cardboard-covered room. “Let’s get into the open air.”

The went outside and Steve placed the pot in the centre of a dried-up bird bath. “Fiona, stay there.” Glancing quickly around, Steve jogged to the house and came back with some supplies. “Armani, I know you’re out there. Get yourself next to Fiona.”

“I daren’t boss.” Armani was perched on the top of the house, clinging to a twisted chimney pot. “I daren’t go near it.”

“Then stay well clear.” Steve rigged up a circle of protection and braced himself. “Fiona, when I count to three, take the lid off the pot, then drop to the floor. I’ll be ready to deal with whatever comes out.”

Fiona took a breath. She had dealt with so many unexpected things – Mrs Tuesday, being fed love potions, Jeanette getting taken for a walk ‘in fur’ and coming back and shedding mud all over the floor, and she had faced them all. But now her husband looked pale and set and the imp that was normally loyal to the death was hiding behind a chimney pot and she had to set loose whatever was causing this. She tugged a stray shred of cardboard out of her hair, swallowed, and took the lid off the pot.

It was surprisingly easy. Fiona had expected there to be a struggle or stiffness, but it didn’t even feel like a snug fit. There was no flash or shout or explosion, just an incredibly handsome man standing in front of her, bowing low and kissing her hand.

“My lady, I owe you my freedom. I am Jack, completely in your debt.”

“Oh hell, not again.” Steve said.

Treasure


Photo by Pierangelo Ranieri on Unsplash

“I don’t see why you have to go to Lancaster again.” Fiona snapped as she stacked the bags of cloves that had just arrived.

“Listen, it’s a chance in a million. It would make a massive difference to our balance sheet.”

“Do you think that there actually is a stash of blue moonstones?” Fiona heaved the wooden box of nutmegs onto a counter and grabbed the nail puller. “And the shop is doing okay, thank you. It’s making a profit every month and we haven’t seen the effect of the extra seating and Lady Freydis’ announcement yet.”

“You are the one who wants a house.” Steve tried to pace in the small back room. “It’s not cheap getting one with decent storage.”

“We could probably get somewhere nice for the rent we are paying on the flat and just keep the lockup.” Fiona struggled as the nail puller slipped.

“When do you think we would have time to enjoy a bigger house?” Steve asked. “And we wouldn’t have time to look after a garden either. We are barely at the flat as it is. Let me do that.” He reached for the nail puller but Fiona snatched it away.

You may hardly be at the flat,” Fiona spat at him, “but I’m there loads. In fact, if I didn’t sometimes visit Jeanette or here with Mrs Tuesday, I’d be spending all the evenings there, mostly alone. I work the café on late nights for the company, because you are hardly at the flat.”

“That’s not fair.” Steve said, aware that there was some truth in what Fiona was saying. “I’m home sometimes.” It sounded hollow to him and he hurried on. “Listen, I know there are issues with Leanna at Lancaster, but I’ve got it under control. And even if the blue moonstones are an excuse, they have a hoard of Roman coins. They are worth working with.” He watched Fiona struggling with the crates. “Please, Fiona, let me do that.”

“I think you’re too busy because you’re getting ready to go to Lancaster.” Fiona could feel sobs rising in her throat. “And take the imp with you this time. He’s trying to adopt a cat and it’s getting on my nerves.”

Armani peered cautiously out of Steve’s jacket pocket and then sank slowly down again. Steve ignored him. “If you want to get into the crate, go for it. I hope you aren’t still working on it when I get back tomorrow.” He stormed out.

Fiona slumped on the chair in the corner, dropping the nail puller and trying to control her tears. The last thing she needed was for Kadogan or Lady Freydis to get involved. She shouldn’t have been like that. She should have sent Steve off with an image of a wife that was loving and sweet and welcomed him home. Now he was driving towards a fairy with a serious crush on him who would make him feel like a hero.

She didn’t look up when the door opened but braced. Then she relaxed as a large mug of Orange Pekoe tea was placed gently next to her.

Dean sat next to her. “I remembered that this was your favourite when things were going badly for you, and that you took sugar in this but not in your other teas.”

Fiona managed a smile. “Thanks.”

“Are you okay?” Dean asked. “I heard some shouting and Mrs Tuesday was looking worried.”

“Kadogan and Lady Freydis didn’t hear, did they?” Fiona said, alarmed.

Dean shook his head. “They said something about sorting out the van, so they are in the back yard. They’ll probably know something has happened.” He looked at the chipped edge of the crate. “Do you want me to open that?”

Fiona was too exhausted to argue but watched, blankly, as Dean stood and pulled the slats apart with little effort. He shrugged. “Vampiric strength has its uses.” He put the bags of nutmegs on a far counter and perched on the small table opposite her. “I’m not really in a position to give advice.”

Fiona took a sip of her tea. The strong and slightly sweet brew warmed her as she held on to the mug with both hands. “Please don’t. I’ve had enough advice on my love life to last a lifetime.”

“Steve loves you.” Dean said. “He really does. He’s just not used to being in one place for long. He’s spent the last few years travelling in all sorts of strange places and he’s had some seriously traumatic experiences, so it’s hard for him to change.”

Fiona took a breath. “Everyone else can see how much Steve loves me. Why can’t he show me?”

“Because he doesn’t know how, yet.” Dean managed a smile. “If I thought it was just empty words, I’d be begging you to come back to me. I messed up the best thing that ever happened in my life, and I can see Steve doing the same thing.” His smile faded. “Anyway, I thought I would bring in a cuppa and let you know that it can work out.”

“Thanks.” Fiona managed. “I appreciate that.” She hesitated. “It can’t have been easy. I’m sorry things turned out for you like this.”

“So am I.” Dean said. “But it is what it is. You and Steve…” He looked at the door. “What the hell is that racket?”

Fiona trailed after Dean, still clutching her mug of tea. For a moment, every scrap of strength she had drained out of her. A group of elfen were standing in the middle of the shop, right at the start of the lunchtime rush, and setting down boxes and bags in what looked like a choreographed heap. As more people started filing in and edging around the stack, Fiona scrabbled together what was left of her mental energy and carefully placed her mug next to her till with all that was left of her control. “You can’t leave that there.”

The man giving directions turned and sneered at Fiona. He was tall, slim and clean shaven and his mid brown hair was long and pulled into a loose pony tail. “You have no idea who you are talking to. I’m Thistle and I’ve taken over from Egerton at Tadcaster.” He dusted an imaginary speck off his silk shirt. “I’m here to see Lady Freydis.”

“I said – you can’t leave that there.” Fiona said. The café would be packed within the next twenty minutes. “Get it out of here.”

“I don’t talk to shop girls.” Thistle said. “Where is my prince?”

Fiona took a breath. “Out.”

“I have been sleeping with the owner.” Thistle said, smirking. “She seduced me. You will get fired.”

Lady Freydis appeared, “I somewhat doubt your passion, Thistle, as Fiona Adderson is very loyal to her husband.” She glanced briefly at Fiona who was white with fury. “Perhaps you should leave now.”

“Fiona would vouch for me.” Thistle waved a hand airily and ignored the elfen frantically tugging at his sleeve with magnificent unconcern. “She is a sweet little thing, but a candle to your sun, my lady.” He swept a bow to Lady Freydis.

Fiona stepped forward, her fists clenching and unclenching. “Perhaps Lady Freydis could introduce us.”

“I’m sure Thistle recognises you.” Lady Freydis weighed up the fury in Fiona and decided that today was not the day to play. “Thistle, you are talking to Fiona Adderson. She isn’t exactly just a shop girl.”

“Although any employee in this establishment should be treated with respect.” Fiona said. “I believe I asked you to leave.”

“We got off to a bad start,” Thistle smiled sweetly at her. “But it’s just a misunderstanding. Besides, I can’t leave without presenting my tribute.” He smirked again at Lady Freydis. “I have much hoarded treasure.”

“You surprise me.” Lady Freydis said.

“I have many ways to surprise you.” Thistle waved an autocratic hand and his helpers rushed forward, a few of them looking apologetically at Fiona.

Fiona blinked. As the boxes were cut down and the sacks and bags rolled back, treasure after treasure spilled out. Crystal drops on fine strands of horse hair were draped over soft, woollen cloth pattern with Celtic-style swirls. Petrified wood was carved into glowing, burnished figures and candlesticks and delicate, woven grass bowls held a tumble of jet and amber beads. She looked around. The shop was filling up. Some were tourists and were obviously interested in making a purchase. Others were members of Lady Freydis’ court and their eyes were gleaming at the display. Unfortunately that display was right were the queue for sandwiches normally formed and it was getting more complicated and confused by the second.

Lady Freydis stepped closer to Thistle and ran a feminine hand down his face. “All this treasure? To show your wealth?”

“To offer to you, my prince.” Thistle said, catching her hand and kissing it.

“This treasure is indeed of a splendid appearance.” Lady Freydis said. She raised an immaculate eyebrow and the boxes and bags collapsed suddenly into a pile of leaves. “You actually tried to give me a gift of fairy gold?”

“We’re trying out a new magic act.” Mrs Tuesday said hastily as the tourists gasped and stepped back.

“I’d like to book you for our Christmas function.” A portly, bald man said quickly. “That was seamless.”

“It needs some work.” Mrs Tuesday said, taking him by the elbow and discreetly guiding him to the counter. “But we are offering free tea or coffee to anyone affected by the inconvenience.”

Adele scuttled out with a brush as Elaine encouraged the queue back to its normal position before diving behind the counter to help with the drinks. Fiona was furious.

“How dare you drop dead leaves over my clean floor.” She hissed.

There was amusement in Lady Freydis’ expression, but she put a firm hand on Thistle’s shoulder. “Why don’t you come into the back room with me.” She said. “I can explain the right things and the wrong things to gift to a Prince.”

“It was an excellent illusion.” Kadogan said. “I was completely fooled.”

“Then I shall give an excellent explanation.” Lady Freydis said.

For one moment Fiona felt almost like the floor was shifting under her, as the confusion and worry washed over her in a wave that left her gasping for a breath. Then she ran past Thistle, who was obviously regretting his grand gesture, and started bringing up the extra supplies for the lunchtime rush.

For those interested, I am finally actually definitely going to be publishing a newsletter next week (if I can get it to work), and if you would like to subscribe, the link is here. I plan to include any news and links, a household tip from Mrs Tuesday and a piece of original fiction, ideally once per month. I’m doing all I can to make sure that it complies with all the legal stuff, but I am keeping to the spirit that I require enthusiastic consent to add you, that I will take you off the list as soon as you like, and I will treat any contact details you leave with respect and care.

How Bad Could it Get?


Photo by Ellen Melin on Unsplash

Fiona opened the door to the White Hart and flinched. She had never seen it so clean. Mrs Tuesday was re-racking all the herbs with the jerky energy that said it was extreme displacement. “What’s going on?”

Jasmine came from out of the back with an armful of coffee bags. “Callum’s gone to get some extra milk, and Adele said she would call her cousins to see if they can help out if the rush gets bad.”

“What rush?” Fiona half expected to skid on the floor which had been polished to within an inch of its life. The old boards gleamed.

Mrs Tuesday took a deep breath. “Lady Freydis made an announcement last night.” She started slotting the hangers back into position. “She is going to get married next midsummer.”

“Who to?” Fiona hung her coat in the back room and came out, bewildered. “Not Kadogan as he is pretty loyal to Suzuki and Atherton is besotted with the young lad who works at the garage down the road. Surely she won’t go for Martin after all that happened? And who else is there? Egerton is too scared to go near her.”

“Egerton’s mostly healed and is doing okay.” Mrs Tuesday was struggling with the bags of herbs as the fine control needed to get them on their hangers wasn’t being helped by her temper. “But that’s the thing. She hasn’t got anyone. She has decided that she is going to marry someone – just someone! And she’s going to marry at midsummer.”

“Jeanette and Adele are taking it okay.” Jasmine said, “But I would be furious.”

“What?” Fiona looked at the extra stock of till rolls and bags at her till and started to get an idea of what was coming.

“Lady Freydis decided that Jeanette and Adele are getting married on Easter Monday. Darren wasn’t happy. He said that she may be the Prince and in charge of non-normals but he was in charge of his church. He was seriously considering not doing the ceremony, but he thought he would for the sake of Jeanette.” Jasmine unloaded the bags of coffee into the cupboards. “But he said he was going to have a Word.”

“And you had better brace yourself.” Mrs Tuesday threw a cardboard box out of the way with some venom. “She wants you and Steve to have renewal ceremony. Where was Steve last night?”

“He’s over in Lancaster.” Fiona said, tight lipped.

Elaine came in and paused in the doorway, just as struck as Fiona at the high sheen of the White Hart. “What’s going on?”

“The brownies clean extra when they’re stressed.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Lady Freydis has decided she is going to marry at midsummer, and the shop is going to be over-run with candidates until she picks a suitor.” She stood up creakily and brushed off her skirt. “She has also picked the date for Jeanette and Adele and was talking about Fiona and Steve renewing their vows in August.”

“No!” Fiona said firmly. “No vow renewal.”

“Good luck.” Elaine said, with genuine sympathy.

“There’s someone outside already!” Jasmine said, “And we don’t open for another half hour.”

Mrs Tuesday swore loudly, at length and with great inventiveness. “Well, at least we’ll get some profit out of this mess.” She said, looking at Fiona. “But I may ask for a raise.”

“You’ve got it.” Fiona said. “They can see us, the shutters are up and the door isn’t locked. Is the café ready to go?”

Jasmine nodded. “Mrs Tuesday started everything off early.”

“We open now.” Fiona took a deep breath. “Tomorrow we make sure that the door is kept locked and the shutters down until opening time or we will be open around the clock. I’ll give you a hand with those herbs, Mrs Tuesday.”

Lady Freydis was sitting in one of her favourite corners of her realm, perched on a high rock and watching the sea crash wildly at the cliff below. Martin walked easily up behind her.

“Leeds is about as far from the sea as you can get in Britannia.” He looked over her shoulder at the salt spray arcing over the rocks.

“I know.” Lady Freydis kept her eyes at the swirling water below her.

“And yet you have this illusion realm, always stormy and wild.” Martin ran a gentle finger over the back of Lady Freydis’ hand. His touch lingered as he circled around the inside of her wrist, slowly up her arm, his other hand caressing her palm as he leant in and lightly kissed her neck.

Lady Freydis shuddered with pleasure and sighed. “I adore the tricks you play when you seduce, but do not expect them to work on my mind.”

“I just enjoy touching you.” Martin said. “And you have never objected to that.”

Lady Freydis stretched and smiled lazily. “I always enjoy your touch.”

“And what when you marry?” Martin said. “Will I be able to touch you then? It won’t be the same as it was for Lord Ragnar. You will hold the power and anyone trying to get to power through you won’t tolerate a threat to his position.”

“I imagine most candidates will want to get power transferred to themselves at some point.” Lady Freydis slid gracefully off the rock and smiled up at Martin. “I will not just be looking at self-declared candidates. I am sure some will bring interesting companions.”

“It’s not a good idea to set a man above his lord.” Martin shook his head. “You have mixed gunpowder and Greek fire. It’s going to be crazy. And you should get over to the White Hart. They will be wanting to see you there.”

“It’s likely to be busy, which is fun.” Lady Freydis started walking away from the realm, “But Mrs Tuesday will be cross with me.”

“I’m cross with you.” Martin said. “But I know my limits.” He turned her around suddenly and kissed her hard on the lips. He stepped back and shook his head at the smug smile on Lady Freydis’ lips. “I’m surprised Lord Ragnar didn’t beat you.”

“He didn’t dare.” Lady Freydis said. “Now, I need to take a swift path to the White Hart to tend to the Coffee Machine. Will you accompany me?”

“As long as you understand that I am not afraid of you.” Martin said.

“Of course.” Lady Freydis said, sliding a hand smoothly over a rock to show an unexpected entrance to a green, sunlit path. “And that is what makes all this so much fun.”

The White Hart was looking battered. The tables had been cleared and the dishwasher set off with the last remnants of the café’s busiest day ever, but the gaps in the bookshelves and knickknacks had been left until tomorrow as the crew of the White Hart slumped wearily over the pizza Fiona had ordered.

Dave had managed to get Elaine sitting alone with him at a table a little way away from the rest. He looked over to where Fiona was slowly writing lists with the help of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. Jasmine had already left to visit Darren, but Chloe had stayed as she had done extra duty in the shop. He looked at Elaine. “That was crazy. And I can’t believe how many non-normal men I had booking Tarot readings and asking about their future love lives.”

“I’ve overheard one or two arranging to get married quickly so that they don’t become eligible.” Elaine said. “It’s like she’s thrown a grenade into the middle of everyone’s lives.”

“I’m safe because I’m a paladin,” Dave said smugly, and then paused. “I think. He looked at Elaine. “She hasn’t said anything to you, has she? I mean, we’ve only just started dating but that doesn’t seem to stop her.”

Elaine shook her head. “I think she’s backing off from arranging the love lives of normals,” she said, “At least for now. She feels a little responsible for the mess between Steve and Fiona.”

“She wasn’t too involved.” Dave said, “Not like Lord Marius and Kadogan. But she feels bad for them.” He took a large bite of his pizza. “Steve and Fiona would probably be fine if they hadn’t interfered.”

“Fiona hates Steve going to Lancaster.” Elaine said. “There’s a sidhe there that has had a crush on him for years, but Steve has never been interested. I think he would avoid the place if he could, but the deal is too good to miss. He’s had to go quite deep into Faerie, I believe, and he won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“That’s not good.” Dave realised he was stroking over the back of Elaine’s free hand and stopped in confusion. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Elaine smiled. “I don’t know how much free time I’ll have, but why don’t you come around to my flat tomorrow evening. I can make something to eat and we can watch a film. I’ve got a few cued up.”

“Sounds great, if we have the energy.” Dave said.

“I’m not cooking anything that needs more than two pans.” Elaine said. “Today has been crazy and I don’t think it’s going to get better.”

“It will have to die down soon.” Dave said. “I mean, how bad could it get?”

Tree Top


Photo by Kai Dörner on Unsplash

Luke was paying an infrequent visit to the White Hart. As the second paladin, he tried to distance himself from the non-normal world as much as possible, but his mother had sent over a new recipe for jollof rice and the White Hart was the best place to get the good spices. As an honoured guest, he was ushered into the back room with a free coffee. He smiled at Chloe. “What a wonderful place to work.” He waved a hand around the spice room, kept well away from the werewolves’ sensitive noses, and filled with fresh spices and incense sent by Mrs Tuesday’s contacts. It was all immaculately kept with the grinders and scales clean and dust free and the fresh, whole spices carefully sealed in large, plastic tubs.

Chloe smiled. She was bundled up with her hair covered and a little mask over her face, which she pulled down. “It’s amazing. I never knew the difference between the fresh spices and the stuff you get in the supermarket. It’s amazing.” She went over to the storage unit. “What are you looking for?”

“Ground coriander.” Luke smiled apologetically. “My mother would tell me to grind my own, but I don’t have much time.”

“Yes, you’re one of those internet consultants.” Chloe pulled out one of the big boxes. “How is business?”

“Not bad,” Luke said, “Could be a lot worse, and at least I get my lodgings.”

“And a few meals from Mrs Tuesday.” Chloe said, pulling out a large packet. “On the house.”

“Are you sure?” Luke asked, taking the packet.

“Of course.” Chloe said. “I have strict instructions from Steve and Fiona. You and Darren don’t get charged. Dave doesn’t get charged as long as he doesn’t take advantage.”

Luke laughed. “Dave is a reformed character,” he said. “but I understand your caution.”

Jasmine rushed into the room, her nose wrinkling at the intense smell. “Luke, you have to come. Lady Freydis has happened.”

Luke stood next to Steve and looked up. He was one of a small circle around a large horse chestnut tree next to a piece of waste ground. To everyone’s relief, it was on the edge of York, but it wasn’t completely hidden. Sir Ewan joined him, looking up. “She was bound to do something like this eventually.” He said. “And at least no-one’s got hurt so far.”

“How long do you think the tree can take the weight?” Steve asked. He looked at Luke. “It’s up to you.”

“Has anyone managed to get hold of Dave.” Luke asked desperately.

“Still out in the Dales with Elaine.” Steve said. “And if he has a clue that this is going on, he’ll stay there.”

Luke shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun. All it needed was some kids to come past and try and film this on their phones, or some students who would want in on the joke, and it could go very wrong indeed. “Lady Freydis,” he called up to the figure at the top of the tree, “Why did you take the van up there?”

Steve exchanged a glance with Sir Ewan. It was as good a start as any with a crazed elfen, and Lady Freydis was looking crazed. “Get her talking,” Steve said quietly. “She can get things off her chest.”

A flurry of autumn leaves fell as the van, wedged in the upper crown of the tree, shifted. The group of normals and non-normals surrounding Lady Freydis took a collective step back.

“I want to speak to Fiona.” Lady Freydis said and took a mouthful from a large earthenware pitcher. “She will understand.”

Luke glanced at Steve who nodded and took out his phone. Luke took a deep breath. “Lady Freydis, are you well?”

There was a loud wail from the top of the tree. “I am not well. I am suffering.” Lady Freydis took another gulp. “Also, there isn’t a latte up here.”

“Why don’t you and the van carefully come down and we can get you a latte.” Luke thought for a second. “Although I think the best latte in York is the one that you make, I’m sure we’ll be able to find something almost as good nearby. Then you can tell us everything.”

“A Prince cannot tell everything.” Lady Freydis took another large gulp from the pitcher, coughing and spluttering.

“If she’s sick from up there, there’s going to be a heck of a coverage.” Sir Ewan said quietly.

Luke tried to keep a straight face. “Lady Freydis, you are among friends. Why don’t you and the van come down carefully and we can look after you.”

There was another wail from the top of the tree. Sir Ewan leant closer to Luke. “This is perfectly normal behaviour for an elfen under stress. We just need to do damage limitation.”

Steve came back. “Fiona’s on her way and she’s bringing some hot chocolate with her.” He looked over at Luke who shrugged. “Lady Freydis, what is the matter.”

“Fiona will understand.” Lady Freydis took another large swig, lost her balance, slipped and grabbed wildly before settling on a slightly lower branch. One of the wheels of the van slipped free and there was an ominous creaking. “She understands the pain of failing at marriage.”

“Fiona has not failed at marriage.” Steve took a deep breath. “We are very happy.”

“I can tell when people lie, you know.” Lady Freydis hung upside down to give Steve a drunken and malicious grin.

“That is a very nice tree.” Luke tried a different tactic. “I’m worried that the van will break it.”

“I could lay waste to York again.” Lady Freydis said. “My grief runs so deep. What is a tree?”

“Trees are important.” Atherton said. “And the dryad is a lovely woman, just sleeping at the moment.”

Lady Freydis scowled. “Where is Fiona?”

“It takes time for her to travel.” Luke said calmly. “Why did you take the van up there?”

“I call her Bucephalus,” Lady Freydis said, “For I shall conquer.” She pulled herself up and tried to take another swig from the pitcher. There was another wail. “I have no latte and no moon-mead. This is unacceptable.”

“Why don’t you and Bucephalus come carefully and gently down and we can see what we can do about drinks of all types.” Luke said. He glanced quickly at Sir Ewan. “Who was Bucephalus?”

“Alexander the Great’s horse.” Atherton answered, looking very worried.

“I shall stay up here until I can drink the moonshine.” Lady Freydis announced. “The court can attend me here.”

“Lady Freydis, you are being ridiculous.” The deep voice of Martin carried across the crowd. “You do not appear powerful.”

“Have you any drink for me?” Lady Freydis asked, leaning precariously across a branch.

“I will not discuss anything until you and the van are safely on the ground.” Martin said firmly.

“Bucephalus.” Lady Freydis said. “The van is called Bucephalus.”

“I don’t care.” Martin said. “Not until it is on the ground and ready to drive.”

“I could make it fly.” Lady Freydis said.

“And that would make you look even more ridiculous, copying films.” Martin said. “Come down now.”

Then suddenly Lady Freydis was standing safely on the ground, the van neatly parked on the nearby lane and she was pouting at Martin. “I am your prince,” she said.

Martin bowed deeply. “And now I can respect your dignity. Now, what is this about?”

“Kadogan suggested that I marry to aid Fiona’s marriage to heal,” Lady Freydis said. “But I still mourn.”

What!” Steve stared at Lady Freydis and then looked around to see if Kadogan was nearby. “There is nothing wrong with my marriage.”

Luke stepped forward. “Lady Freydis, I am so sorry that you are sad. Why don’t you head back to the White Hart and have a herbal tea? I’m sure that will help.” Every eye looked in disbelief at Luke. He waved a helpless hand. “It always helps my mother.”

“Lady Freydis does not need to calm down.” Martin said firmly. “She needs to step up and to be a prince. She needs to rule.” He looked hard at Lady Freydis. “Princes do not rule effectively from the top of a horse chestnut tree.”

“How about an oak?” Lady Freydis’ heart wasn’t in it. She ran a hand through her hair and looked ruefully at Martin. “You are correct, as always.” She sighed. “And so is Paladin Luke Fawcett. Though I shall take my pleasant refreshment in my domain.”

Luke looked at the leaves and twigs strewn around and the strain on everyone’s faces. “I hope you feel better soon.” He managed.

“And I think I need to have a word with Kadogan.” Steve said carefully. “In fact, I may need several words.”

Quiet Night In


Photo by Narain Jashanmal on Unsplash

“You got away after all!” Elaine smiled as Dave rushed up to her and gave her a quick kiss.

“It was just observing.” Dave said. “On one hand it’s nothing obviously special. It’s just that there is a disused chapel full of animated, disjointed bones.” He looked around quickly to make sure that they were not being overheard. “And lots of dead rats.”

“I want to hear more when we get to my place.” Elaine said. “But it’s not really something you can talk about in the supermarket.” She looked at the wine he was carrying. “That’s my favourite. How did you know?”

Dave grinned, “A lucky guess.” Or noticing the receipt for wine over the last three weekends and memorising the brand. “It’s not bad.” He looked at her basket. “Double pepperoni pizza – a good guess on your part as well. It’s my favourite.”

“I thought it was a man’s pizza.” Elaine said, skipping over that she had asked Jasmine. “I got cheesecake as well.”

“Strawberry?”

“What else?”

They paid for the food and then started walking towards Elaine’s flat. Dave caught her hand. “There’s no point in trying to hide that we’re dating. Werewolves are the worst gossips.”

Elaine laughed, squeezing Dave’s hand. It felt hard and warm and strong. She glanced sideways at him. “I was so embarrassed when Ian shouted out about what you liked on pizza. I suppose they smelled something.”

“I bet Mrs Tuesday worked it out and told them.” Dave said. “She notices everything.”

“She is a scary old lady.” Elaine said. “You know those old ladies that can seem really tough but have a heart of marshmallow? She isn’t one of them.”

Dave searched for words. “She probably is mostly harmless.” He said.

Elaine looked sceptical. “She doesn’t miss much.” She shrugged. “She’s not bad for a boggart.”

Dave looked at her curiously. “You know a lot about non-normals, don’t you?”

“I suppose so.” Elaine pulled her keys out of her bag. “When I was helping Steve out, we ended up in all sorts of places and with all sorts of non-normals. It got a bit much for me by the end, especially Armani.”

“He terrorises the pigeons near the White Hart.” Dave said. “Hardly any of them come near now.” He watched Elaine open the door. “Do you miss all the trading?”

“Not a bit.” Elaine said. “I like the White Hart. I’m not shut away from the non-normal world. I missed it a little, though not enough to get too deep. Besides, there are great people there.”

“Yes, there are,” Dave looked down at Elaine, a glint in his eyes. “Let’s leave talk about work out here. Come on, we have pizza to eat, wine to drink and the possibility of …cheesecake.”

Elaine giggled. “Let’s not forget the …cheesecake!”

Jeanette smiled as Trent jogged into the room, fresh from the shower. “Hi, it’s just you and me for dinner tonight.”

Trent looked uncomfortable. “Is that okay?”

“Of course.” Jeanette looked confused. “Adele is having dinner with her mother and talking weddings, Callum and Ian are trying to track down some skeleton hands and Jasmine is visiting Darren again. Though I think that they are genuinely working on the old papers to find out what actually caused these hands.”

Trent slid into his place and then bounced to his feet. “Is there anything you want me to do, ma’am?”

Jeanette looked baffled. “No, it’s okay, take a seat.”

Trent sat back down and kept his eyes on his plate setting. “Yes ma’am.”

“If there is something werewolf going on, I don’t know what it is.” Jeanette said, putting a large plate of cottage pie in front of him. “Would you like tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please.” Trent kept his hands on the table in front of him.

“Of course, it was Lynette that caused so much trouble.” Jeanette put a large mug of tea next to Trent’s plate and sat down. “It doesn’t work like that here. Go on, eat up. Ian says that you need to put some weight on.”

Trent took a hesitant forkful of the cottage pie. It was hot and savoury and he found himself clearing his plate with speed. “This is great.”

“Thanks.” Jeanette said. “And just because it’s not like your old pack doesn’t mean that you don’t have duties. You can load the dishwasher and clean up before you get on with your homework.”

“No problem.” Trent took another hearty mouthful. “I’m really grateful for Ian taking me in like this and sorting out papers and college and that.”

“He’s happy to help.” Jeanette had finished her smaller portion and was sipping her tea. “He was a stray as well, you know. So were Callum and Jasmine. He knows what it means.” She watched Trent scrape up the last few scraps of cottage pie. “There’s some banana bread in the cupboard, if you would like some.”

“Yes, please.” Trent sprang to his feet and over to the cupboard.

Jeanette watched him. The skinny kid who could hardly meet anyone’s eyes was already starting to blossom. She smiled to herself. He may have a way to go before he had the courage to be cheeky to Ian, but he was already looking healthier and managing whole sentences in company. “How is the coursework going?”

“It’s great.” Trent said as he hacked off a large lump of the banana bread. “Mr Sykes set us to code up movement of an object in a populated field. It’s tricky, but if you use…”

Jeanette zoned out a little. She couldn’t follow Trent’s computer course, but was glad he was so happy. She finished her tea. “It sounds complicated.” She looked out of the window. The nights were drawing in and, despite her best efforts, the garden looked bedraggled.

“How is the wedding planning?” Trent asked. “I mean, is it getting complicated.”

Jeanette realised she had forgotten about the wedding. “It’s all in hand. There’s not actually that much left to do. I’m more worried about getting the greenhouses cleaned out before the cold really sets in so I can overwinter some of the plants. I’ll want to get a good start on some of the seedlings for next year as well.”

“I can give you a hand.” Trent stuff the last morsel of banana bread into his mouth. “You need to be able to work on the wedding.” He added indistinctly.

Jeanette laughed. “I’m not worried about the wedding. I just want to get it over with. We need to get this little farm ready for winter. I do a lot of crafts over winter and I’m hoping that they will sell as well at the White Hart this Christmas as they did last year. It’s a nice side hustle, and with Ian’s plumbing business taking off as well, there’s a lot to get in order.” She finished her tea. “I’ll be working you hard later on, but for now you can just clean up the kitchen and get on with your coursework.”

“Yes ma’am.” Trent smiled happily with contentment.

Steve pulled up at the lock up and his heart sank. Fiona was there, sorting through some of his boxes. “Hi, Fiona, I didn’t think you would be here.”

“Mrs Tuesday is closing tonight with some of the younger boggarts.” Fiona said. “I thought it would be worth having a sort out here.”

Steve recognised stress sorting. The air hung heavy with dust and there was a tang of old incense and patchouli. “I know I shouldn’t take in the house clearance stuff, but I’ve had some good finds over the years and, to be honest, it takes a burden off the families.”

Fiona turned around and dusted down her t-shirt. It didn’t help, but added long, dark streaks to the patches already there. She had dust smeared on her face and she was thankfully unaware of the cobweb that had caught at the back of her ponytail. “I know. I remember how grateful Mr Evans’ daughter was when we cleared the house. She had no idea of her father’s interests. And it was just as well.”

“I’m sure she would have seen ‘Seducing a Succubus’ as rather spicy fiction.” Steve said. He took off his jacket. “I’ll give you a hand.”

“And then there was, ‘Inviting an Incubus’. That could have gone wrong in so many ways.” Fiona said. “Have you even opened some of these boxes?”

“It’s been a bit busy.” Steve said. “There was that trouble over in Lancaster.”

Fiona sniffed and then sneezed. “These look old,” she said, changing the subject.

Steve rolled up his sleeves and took the box from her. “They do, don’t they.” He set the box down on the bench just inside the door and started taking the books out. “These are handwritten.” He said. “And I think this is vellum and not paper.”

Fiona pulled out another box. “I think these can just be thrown out.” She tipped out a jangling heap of dirty brass candlesticks and stained incense holders.

“Hmm?” Steve kept turning the pages.

“These, they’re worthless.” Fiona pulled out a black bag.

“Hang on.” Steve gently placed the book back in the box. “The brownies will take stuff like that. It’s not worth us cleaning it up, but they enjoy a challenge and then they donate the stuff to charity shops.”

“I’ll leave this stuff in the White Hart with a note, then?” Fiona said, picking the box up.

“Just a sec.” Steve waved his hands in a graceful pattern. “I need to check…”

Fiona jumped back as three of the candlesticks and an incense burner started glowing with a dull, red aura. “They are enchanted?”

“That’s probably why he had an unexpected heart attack.” Steve said dryly. “There should be at least four enchanted candlesticks. It looks like some of work didn’t take. And those books have some heavy duty stuff in them. I’m going to have to get Ian over to look at them. He really knows his stuff.”

“Tonight?” Fiona asked carefully.

Steve didn’t answer straight away as he muttered some words over the glowing brass. The colour cycled from red, through orange and yellow, to green and finally blue before fading. “I don’t see why not. We’ve not got anything planned.” He turned back to the books before he registered the sudden tension in the atmosphere. He resisted the books with an effort. “We don’t have anything planned, do we? And you like Ian. He’s a good guy.”

“Can you remember the last time we had a date?” Fiona asked.

Steve’s mind went blank. “I’m trying to think…” He stalled for time.

“The last time we had a date was around a month before our wedding.” Fiona said. “How about a quiet night in? When did that last happen?”

“We stay in sometimes.” Steve scrabbled for details of the evenings of the last few months.

“Staying in and a quiet night in are two different things.” Fiona snapped. “Last Thursday you were home around dinner time, but you spent all your time working on that recording cube.”

“It just needed a few tweaks and I know Lord Cedric would pay good money for it…” Steve trailed off.

“Why did you marry me?” Fiona asked. A tear slid down her face leaving a pale trail in the dust. “Why did you marry anyone?”

“I loved you?” Steve forgot all about the books. “I mean, that’s why I married you. I still love you.”

“Then spend some damn time with me.” Fiona brushed away another tear, leaving dark streaks across her face.

“It’s not my fault.” Steve tried to justify himself. “The business means that sometimes I have to travel, I’m not always home…”

“You’re not with me even when you are home.” Fiona said. “You’re looking at the books or sorting out flint knives, or just anything except with me.”

“That’s not fair.” Steve said, stung by his guilty conscience. “Besides, why did you marry me? Were you just desperate for a wedding? You were spending a lot of time with Dean, but he let you down.”

An electric silence fell. Fiona broke it first. “You know why I was spending time with Dean. He was trying to seduce me to get to Lord Ragnar. And no, it wasn’t just about a wedding. And that’s perhaps just as well, as I don’t think a quick ceremony in a hospital chapel is a little girl’s dream of a special day. And perhaps it would have been nice to have had a special day with you as I haven’t had much time since.”

“Is that what this is about?” Steve tried to divert the argument away from him. “You missed out on a fancy day?”

Fiona looked at him for a long moment. “I’m going down to call on Jeanette. I know she wants some help with the place cards. I’ll see you later.”