In Charge

Lord Ragnar looked around his court.  There were still plenty of people around and the fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was a thinness about the place.  No vampires were present and the few werewolves who attended were clustered around Kieran.  He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.  It all came back to Freydis.  If she had been present there would have been some chat, or flirtation or amusement. And if nothing had been happening, she would have instigated something.  Kadogan and Atherton watched him warily.  Kadogan passed Lord Ragnar a goblet of wine.

“Do you wish to hunt revenants tonight?”

Lord Ragnar accepted the wine.  “Hmm?”

Atherton leaned in.  “We should be hunting the revenants.  There are many on the streets, my lord.”

Lord Ragnar stared moodily into the fire.  Hunting revenants was something to do, he supposed, but it didn’t exactly bring him the glory and splendour he needed.  Besides, he needed Freydis and she was busy with the damned coffee machine.  At least he had a chance competing against a vampire or mortal, and Freydis had never been indiscreet enough to dally with another elfen, but he felt helpless against a coffee machine.  He drained the wine.

“It would be a popular move.” Kadogan said.  “Kieran Latimer is growing concerned.”

Atherton had never been a coward.  “Perhaps you could hunt around the edges of the dark parts of your domain.  Pushing back the darkness there would be very popular, and I am confident many would attend to assist.”

Lord Ragnar placed the empty wine goblet back on the table.  “I will hunt within my domain.” He flicked a glance around the room.  A few people had looked up, but not all.  He was losing his grip.  “And tomorrow I will plan the midsummer feast.  Steve and Fiona Adderson will attend to celebrate their anniversary and all my court will come.  Every single one.”

Silence ran around the hall.  Lord Ragnar had thrown down a gauntlet.  Miss Patience had been avoiding the court, complaining that being so close to the dark domain made things difficult for her.  Demanding that she and all of her kind attend was a line in the sand.

Kieran stood up.  “All of us?  Including those werewolves touched by the darkness?  You know how they have been affected.”

“I am sure any competent leader can control their pack.” Lord Ragnar said.  Kieran flushed and clenched his fists.  Lord Ragnar ignored him and turned to Kadogan and Atherton.  “Shall we go hunt?”

Fiona found it almost funny.  The men were in the back, the women were in the shop.  Steve was packing a van to take to Bridlington and Ian was helping him load it.  Steve was hoping for a load of sea glass in return, straight from the sea bed.  Callum was off to the wholesalers today to pick up supplies for the café and Dave was upstairs getting ready for his first client.  Luke was also upstairs, probably sleeping in after another hard night fighting revenants, and Darren had gone to look at his assigned vicarage.  Kadogan was last seen counting the candles again but Fiona had given up tracking him.

The women of the White Hart were also busy.  Jeanette was sorting out a new delivery of cards and getting them on the shelves, along with a few of her own.  Mrs Tuesday was setting out the muffins and cakes for the café while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it warmed up.  Adele was regrouping some of the over-cute pixies in an attempt to make it look like a display.  Jasmine had brought up large basket of different incenses from the storerooms downstairs and was stocking the shelves, humming happily to herself.

Fiona started making notes and sketches for the new catalogue.  Steve insisted that a new catalogue went out in plenty of time before the Wiccan festivals, so the Lammas catalogue for the celebrations on August 2nd would need to go out by the second week of July.  Fiona was thinking of getting someone on duty just to answer the phones for the last week before the festival to cope with the last-minute orders.

Fiona looked over to Mrs Tuesday.  “Is Evan going to be okay doing all the runs to the Village?  It’s a long run.”

“He’ll be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a change for him.  Besides, Gabe will be with him.”

“As long as he’s okay with it.” Fiona said.  The mail order business with the non-normals was generating a lot of post and many preferred to go through messengers.  She had had a long chat with Karen, the Postmistress in the Village who operated general clearing house for the non-normal population and had come to an agreement about parcels and packages.  Evan Tuesday would drive over three times a week with the non-urgent deliveries which could later be collected by the messengers that called in there from the various courts.  She straightened the already straight pile of till rolls.  “What do you think the celebration with Lord Ragnar will be like?”

“I think it will be entertaining.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“It will be incredibly entertaining and possibly violent.” Freydis said.  “Also the coffee is likely to be below standard.”

“Do you think it will actually be violent?” Fiona asked.  “I’m not sure I’m happy to go to a fight.”

“Lord Ragnar is insisting that the vampires affected by the dark energy attend a function near to that exact dark energy and he is also insisting that werewolves previously affected by the dark energy attend at the risk of them becoming snappy.  How can it not have some violence involved?” Freydis tenderly wiped down the steamer.

“You will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “If Lord Ragnar keeps his head then there will probably be some heated words and a few bruises.”

“Ian’s really not happy about going there.” Jasmine said.  “He wants me to stay here.”

“Does he think that the feast will be a distraction and allow attacks in other areas?” Freydis asked.  “That is interesting.”

Jasmine nodded.  “He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s been going with Darren around all the burial grounds to try and limit the revenants that can be summoned, and I heard Luke telling him not to worry and that lots of the Knights Templar will be out that nght.”

Mrs Tuesday snorted.  “Well maybe that Sir Craig will get some sense knocked into him.”

Freydis raised an eyebrow.  “The Templars are getting it more or less right here, Mrs Tuesday, but I understand that you don’t like them.”

“No, I really don’t.”  Mrs Tuesday snapped.

“At least they will not be at feast.” Freydis said.  “I have a new syrup to try, a French vanilla.  Would anyone like a coffee?”

“I’d love one.” Fiona said.  “Your coffee is always delicious.  But this feast, it’s not likely to be really dangerous, is it?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Probably not to you.”

Adele wandered over to the café.  “I’d love one of your coffees, if you don’t mind.  Am I invited?”

“That depends on Ian.” Freydis said.

“How can it possibly depend on Ian?” Adele said.  “I’m either invited or I’m not.”

“You are part of his subpack.” Freydis said.  “He is the one in charge and he is worried.”

Jeanette moved back to the café area, carrying an empty cardboard box.  “Ian has already said that he doesn’t wantus girls there.” She tucked the cardboard box to one side behind the counter.  “I’d love a coffee as well, if you don’t mind.”

Freydis smiled.  “Of course.” She placed the first drink in front of Fiona and deftly switched over the coffee.  “So, Ian is keeping the women at home.  He is expecting trouble.” She tilted her head as she steamed the milk.  “Ian’s insights are always worth hearing.  There may be more trouble than I was expecting if he is keeping the women away.  Does he want you to stay at Jeanette’s house or with the rest of the pack?”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want us there.” Adele snapped.

Jeanette looked at Jasmine and Adele.  “Hasn’t he said anything?  We’ve been invited to a crafting bee with Martha at the main house.”

Freydis put a coffee in front of Adele.  “Ian tells you, and then you are supposed to tell the women in your pack.”

“Really?” Jeanette felt overwhelmed.  “Is there a list of things I should do?”

“You can ask Martha.” Freydis said.  “She knows these things.”

“I’m rubbish at craft.” Jasmine said.  “I never seem to get it right.”

“What is a crafting bee?” Adele asked, slightly calmer.  She took a sip of her coffee.  “Freydis, this coffee is amazing.”

Freydis glowed a little with the praise.  “Thank you.  I believe Martha is creating and gathering crafts for the church sale in support of the Red Cross.”  She pulled out another cup for Jeanette.  “There will be all sorts of crafts there.  Martha is an excellent organiser so there will be groups for knitting, crochet, quilting, cards and such.  I always hear that they are relaxed and happy occasions.  And if there is an expectation of trouble, the women of the pack stay back and guard the home.  It rarely happens, but Martha is skilled at making such times a relaxed occasion.  I believe this is merely a precaution.”

“I wish I could go.” Fiona said.  “If I had to choose between an evening making cards or an evening in the middle of potential danger, I’d choose the cards.”

“The feast will be magnificent, and it will be safe to eat the food and drink.” Freydis said.  “There will be no enchantment on it.”

“So Kieran and Ian are expecting trouble?” Mrs Tuesday wiped over the clean counter.  “That’s a worry.”

“Will you be attending, Mrs Tuesday?” Jasmine asked.

“Yes, I’ll be attending.” Mrs Tuesday sounded subdued.  “The werewolves can get away with keeping their women at home, but everyone else has to attend.  If I don’t go, it’s more than bad manners…” She trailed off, looking worried.

An alarm went off on Fiona’s phone.  “Time to open up.” She drained the last of the delicious coffee and unlocked the door, flicking the sign to show ‘Open’.  “At least there are no tours booked today.”

“We have visitors already.” Freydis said.  “And they are elfen, with a werewolf.” Her expression hardened.  “Also, that dreadful creature, Ferdi.”

Jasmine looked anxiously at Fiona.  “I don’t want there to be any trouble.  Please don’t say anything.”

“You can take the empty boxes downstairs.” Fiona said.

“I’m not running away.” Jasmine said firmly.

Inwardly Fiona sighed, then glanced at Freydis who looked on high alert.  Her heart sank.  This looked like it was going to be a problem.  She moved next to Adele.  “Can you take the boxes downstairs and get Steve and Kadogan up?  It looks complicated.”

Four men entered the shop like soldiers checking enemy territory.  A tall, slim man in a three-piece suit, sharp featured but handsome with piercing blue eyes and a mane of thick, dark auburn hair tied back in a pony tail led them, striding into the shop and across to the café.  At his shoulder was another man, also slim but with short, dark hair.  His eyes were hidden by sunglasses and his casual jacket over t-shirt and jeans looked out of place.  He moved like a bodyguard, constantly glancing around.  Ferdi was wearing his usual grey suit, and he wandered towards the books.  A thickset man, burly in a casual shirt and jeans with greying brown hair followed him.  Ferdi waved his hands.  “See, there is a real lack of information on aliens here.  They are missing out on sales.”

“We haven’t had any requests for books about extra-terrestrials.” Fiona glanced across at Freydis who was staring at the redhead.

“You aren’t listening to your customers.” Ferdi shook his head.  “This is Rhett, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Fiona said.

Freydis waved a hand.  “Fiona, this is Egerton, an important elfen who rarely visits the court of his prince.  He is normally found in Tadcaster.  He is accompanied by Clarence, who is known for his expertise in violence, but is rarely seen in a shop.” She raised an elegant eyebrow at Egerton.  “The revenants are seen at night and a small threat to you.  Do you have other worries?”

“Why should I have any worries?” Egerton said.  He smiled.  “Clarence also enjoys coffee.  Four of your finest coffees, please.”

“Latte?  Mocha?  Machiatto?  Espresso?” Freydis matched Egerton’s cold smile.  “Or should I choose for you?”

Egerton waved a hand.  “Surprise us.”

“That’s taking a risk, isn’t it, my lord?” Ferdi said.  “I mean, we could end up with anything.”  He looked at Freydis.  “I take my coffee black.”

“I’ll try and remember that.” Freydis said brightly.  She turned away to the coffee machine, but Fiona noticed that she was watching the reflections in the polished steel.

“You must be Jasmine.” Rhett had wandered over to the café and was leaning forward.  Jasmine had taken a tactical decision to stand with a counter between her and Ferdi, but Rhett was taller and when he leaned on the counter he was within touching distance.  “I’ve heard about you.”

“Really?” Jasmine said.  She started laying out the saucers for Freydis.

“I’m really good at getting ladies to like fur, if you know what I mean.” Rhett said.  “I have a talent.”

“I’m happy for you.” Jasmine straightened a tray, avoiding his eyes.

“Perhaps we could go out for a drink and I could show you what I mean.” Rhett’s smile made Fiona uneasy.

“I’m okay, thanks.” Jasmine laid out the complimentary biscuits.

Egerton watched, frowning, before smiling at Freydis as she placed the first hazelnut latte down.  “I will be attending the feast, of course.  I believe it will be splendid fun.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Freydis said.  “There is likely to be a small amount of violence, but nothing spectacular.”

“But the food is usually magnificent, although it will miss your guiding hand.” Egerton brushed his hand against Freydis’ as she placed down the second latte.  “You taste is exquisite.”

“Thank you.” Freydis said.  “How is Pimpernel?”

Egerton shrugged.  “She is no longer staying in Tadcaster.  I believe she had the bad taste to move to Lancaster.”

Freydis’ bright smile had a malicious edge.  “Did Foxtrot go with her?”

“You are as well informed as ever.” Egerton said.  He sighed with deliberate boredom.  “Pimpernel ran off with her lover to Lancaster and I divorced her.  Here I am, single.  It is shocking that two desirable people such as us can be single.”

“Not really.” Freydis said.  “When you are as attractive as us, you learn to be discerning.”

Mrs Tuesday had been watching Freydis and Egerton with amusement but moved forward sharply as Rhett caught hold of Jasmine’s hand.

“You’re such a pup still.” Rhett said.  “You have no idea what you want.  Let me show you the possibilities.  Come with me to the feast and we can just relax, talk and maybe you can surprise yourself.”

“I’m not going to the feast.” Jasmine said.  “None of the women of the pack are going.  We’re having a girl’s night.”

Rhett shrugged.  “Then let me take you for a drink.  It could be fun.”

Jasmine pulled her hand free at the second attempt.  “No, thank you.  I’m busy and I’m not the sort to go for drinks with strangers.”

“Hi, Rhett.” Fiona turned around at the welcome sound of Steve’s voice.  “Long time no snarl.  Last I heard you escaped from the pack at Shrewsbury before you could be torn apart for conduct unbecoming.  Still keeping your tail up, I see.”

Kadogan followed closely behind Steve. “Egerton!  I would like to say that it is pleasant to see you.”

“Kadogan, I would love to say that it is a joy meeting you.” Egerton said.  He turned to Ferdi.  “Is this true?  Is the companion you vouched for a stray?”

“Stray is a hard word and not always as straightforward as it may seem.” Ferdi said.  “After all, this young pup is a stray.”

“She is no longer a stray.” Freydis snapped.  She glared at Egerton.  “She belongs here.  It is bad enough that you brought in someone to harass one of us, but a stray?  Your standards are slipping.”

“I can assure you, my dear Freydis, I had no idea.” Egerton turned to Ferdi.  “Perhaps you and your… associate should leave.”

“I’m no trouble.” Rhett smiled at Jasmine.  “I’m a softy, really, when you get to know me.”

“I’m sure that there are plenty that appreciate you.” Jasmine said.  “Goodbye.”

A low growl started at the base of Rhett’s throat but Ferdi tugged urgently on his arm and they left, Rhett throwing a final glance at Jasmine as he went.

“I apologise for my associate’s lapse in judgement.” Egerton said.  “But while I am blessed with your company, Kadogan, I wonder if you can recommend somewhere to stay while Clarence and I are in York.”

“You can stay at the White Hart.” Kadogan said.  “The rents are extremely reasonable.”

There was a tense moment.  The two elfen locked eyes and the sense of an imminent thunderstorm filled the room.  Freydis broke it.

“I can understand that Egerton would be uncomfortable staying here as he would feel under the constant view of Lord Ragnar’s chief ally and we all know how Egerton feels about Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan and Egerton both turned to glare at her.  Freydis smiled brightly.  “However I believe Miss Patience is looking for someone to take over the lease on her latest dwelling.  It is a farmhouse on the edge of York with a hole in the wall, caused by Martin.”

“What is Martin?” Egerton asked.

“I believe you knew him as Aelfhelm,” Freydis said, “But names are mutable.  I am considering changing my name to Machiatto.”

Egerton froze for a moment.  “Aelfhelm is returned?  That is significant news.” He nodded to Clarence.  “I’ll speak to Miss Patience, thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to my associate.”

“Thanks for coming with me to the shops.” Jasmine said as she and Jeanette walked through the thinning crowds to the centre at Coppergate.  “I have no idea what to get.”

“To be honest, neither have I.” Jeanette said.  “All I know is that it’s not too formal but I should dress smart.”

Jasmine started to head towards the budget clothing store but Jeanette caught her arm.  “Ian has been quite clear, and he’s given us some money as well.”

“Really?!  How much?”

Jeanette laughed.  “He handed me a load of money and said we had to get an outfit each.  I love the man, but he hasn’t got a clue.  I’m not spending that amount.”

“Was it hundreds?” Jasmine’s eyes were round.

“We are going to shop cleverly, look amazing and save Ian some money.” Jeanette said.  She looked Jasmine up and down.  “Freydis is right, you would look amazing in blue.”

“What do you think you’ll get?”

“I don’t know.” Jeanette said.  “Let’s cut through the car park here.”

The multi-story car park was dim and echoed.  It was late and much of the car park had emptied and there were gaps that Jeanette and Jasmine could cut through.  It was quiet, for a moment, and they seemed to be the only people around as they headed for the side exit.  “I have some really nice trousers.” Jeanette said as they slid between a badly parked Renault and a concrete pillar.  “I could get a nice top to go with it.”

“Do you think Ian would mind?” Jasmine asked.

“Do you think he would notice?” Jeanette stopped suddenly.  “Jasmine, what are those?” She pointed to the shabby, shadowy figures slowly emerging from the dark corner behind a Ranger Rover.

Jasmine looked past her.  She swallowed.  “I think those are revenants.”

“I thought they were only out at night these days.” Jeanette looked around.  She had heard enough from listening to the talk from Ian, Luke and Callum to know that there were seven plus one leader.  There were three ahead, shuffling out of the dark corner.  She grabbed Jasmine’s arm.  “They’re behind us as well.”

Jasmine followed Jeanette’s gaze.  “That’s three in that corner and four behind us.  Where is the leader?” She glanced around frantically before looking up.  A man, emaciated and ragged, was clinging on to the ceiling by fingers and toes.  He caught Jasmine’s appalled gaze and grinned before running, spiderlike, over the bare concrete and down the wall to take his place in the corner.  Jasmine pushed Jeanette behind her, “This is bad.  Try and get behind the Audi, towards the door.”

Jeanette slid towards the Audi.  “What do we do?”

“We need to fight our way out of here.” Jasmine said.  She glanced at Jeanette.  “Don’t worry.  I can handle myself.  It’s only a few revenants.”

Jeanette inched her way nearer the door.  “They’re moving to cut us off.”

“It’s okay.” Jasmine tried to sound braver than she felt.  “Stay close to me.”

“They’re getting closer.” Jeanette took a breath and held her bag with both hands.  “What do we do?”

“Try and call Ian.” Jasmine said.  “Just in case.”

Jeanette fumbled in her bag.  “What if he doesn’t answer?”

“He always answers a call from you.” Jasmine managed a smile.  “He is crazy about you.”

Jeanette managed to find her phone.  Thank goodness there was a signal.  She tried to scroll for Ian’s number.  “I’m crazy about him too.” The revenants were getting closer.  They got past the Audi to the row before the door.

Jasmine growled low in her throat.  “Keep moving.” She pushed Jeanette before spinning around and punching the nearest revenant hard in the face.  It staggered back as Jasmine followed with a swift punch to the chest.  “Stay between the cars.”

Jeanette looked ahead at the wide space between the end of the blue Toyota and the pedestrian exit.  It seemed a long stretch, far longer than the few yards distance that it represented and there were three revenants there, waiting out of the light.  She dialled Ian’s number, praying he would answer.  There was a crack behind her and she whirled around.  Jasmine had driven a revenant’s head hard into a concrete pillar and it had collapsed into a pile of bones and dust.  She backed towards Jeanette, kicking hard at the revenant closing in on her.  Jeanette spun around.  The revenants were approaching her, led by their leader who was grinning.  Ian answered the phone and Jeanette sagged with relief.  “We’re being attacked by revenants.”

“Where are you?” Ian snapped.

Jeanette somehow gave clear directions as she watched the revenants advancing.  Behind her she could hear Jasmine dealing with the ones behind her.  She started to edge back.  A quick glance behind her showed Jasmine struggling to keeping the last of the four revenants’ teeth from her neck.  As Ian hung up the phone she struggled to get back to try and help Jasmine.

Darren got there first.  He appeared out of nowhere and with a grunt had grabbed the revenant and thrust a stake upwards.  The bones and dust crumbled away from Jasmine, leaving her free and gasping for breath.  At the other side of Jeanette, Luke and Sir Ewan were dealing with the revenants.  Jeanette scrambled backwards away from the leader as he lunged towards her.  She screamed as she was grabbed and thrown across a car bonnet as Darren got her out of danger and faced the revenant leader.  The leader hissed and drew himself to his full height, poised to strike but Darren didn’t waste time.  As the leader paused, Darren thrust hard with the palm of his hand underneath the vampire’s chin and thrust in hard with the stake as it stumbled back.

As Luke and Sir Ewan quickly finished off their opponents, Darren turned to Jasmine.  “Are you okay?”

Jasmine nodded weakly and looked over to Jeanette who was clutching onto her bag and trying to work out what had happened.  “I thought we only needed to worry after dark, these days?”

“It’s the first daylight attack in weeks,” Sir Ewan said, gently grasping Jeanette’s arm and helping her towards the door.  “But this must be a place they’re using as a lair.  It’s nice and dark and probably built on a graveyard.  Let’s get you outside.”

“They are only going after non-normals at the moment.” Luke said.  “Most of the time it would be fine in here.  It’s just they went after Jasmine.”

“Are you okay?” Darren asked Jasmine again.  “You’re covered in dust.”

Jasmine nodded and coughed.  “I didn’t expect them.”

“But you did great.” Darren said.  “Well done.”  He looked up the street to see what looked like a large Alsatian streaking towards them at full speed.  “Here’s Ian.  Let’s hope he remembers himself enough to stay in fur!”

Facing a Fight

“We can’t keep going like this” Sir Ewan slumped down into a chair as they finally got back to the Templars’ Chapter House.  “The numbers are too much.”

Dave and Luke dropped down into chairs opposite him.  Sir Craig followed them, working his right shoulder.  “It’s not sustainable.  We have people out every night, and every night we find a fight.  And it’s always a leader and seven revenants.  And they’re getting tougher.  It’s only a matter of time before someone get badly hurt, or worse.”

“It’s always seven, with one leader.” Luke inspected his battered knuckles.  “And they are getting stronger.  I’m not trained for this.”

Dave looked worried.  “I’m not trained for this either.  And their tactics seem to be improving.”

“At least we know if we have got all of them in the pack.” Sir Ewan looked up as Sir Curtis came in, bringing in a tray of sandwiches and some flasks and yawning.  “Thanks.”

“Was it as bad tonight?” Sir Curtis asked.  He stroked absently over his bruised face.

“It was bad,” Sir Craig said, “but we all got home.  It’s nearly dawn.  Go and get some sleep.”

Dave watched Sir Curtis leave.  “Are there any more reinforcements we can get?”

Sir Craig shook his head.  “There are few enough Knights Templar, and there is a lot of ground to cover.  I’ll see if I can’t get some more paladins over.”

“If they can be spared.” Sir Ewan said.  “Most of them have enough to keep them busy in their own patches.”

“Mike Doyle may be able to come over from the Village.” Sir Craig started pouring tea into the mugs.

“But he has a pregnant wife.” Luke said quietly.  “It’s hard to ask him to leave that.”

“We are out of options.” Sir Craig said.  “Mike knows that Karen will be safe.”

“To be fair, Kieran is helping out a lot.” Dave said.  “And so are the people from the White Hart.  I don’t know what we would do without them.”

“Don’t get carried away.” Sir Craig said, passing out the drinks.  “This trouble is coming directly from Lord Ragnar’s domain.  It is their fault.”

There was a quiet pause as the men ate the stack of tuna sandwiches and drank the tea.   Dave finally broke the silence.  “How can we get Lord Ragnar to act?  It must be hurting him as much as us.”

“He can’t act.” Sir Craig said.  “And that adds an interesting twist.  Freydis could sort it out, but he won’t allow her into the domain to fix it.  He hasn’t got the skill to fix it himself.  In fact, there are precious few that do.  Kieran is furious with Lord Ragnar now because his pack has been affected and if he hadn’t defied Lord Ragnar and allowed Freydis to heal his pack members then they would still be in a bad way.”

“Miss Patience is furious with him because he won’t order Dean to join with her and he won’t order Martin to repair the wall he broke.” Sir Ewan added.  “Dean is hiding out at the White Hart and Lord Ragnar won’t push there in case it upsets Kadogan.  Besides, Lord Ragnar can’t make Martin do anything, and everyone knows it.  I think Martin is shielding Dean and deliberately not paying for the wall to wind Miss Patience up.”

“It’s working.” Sir Craig said.  “She’s incandescent.  And she must be scared.  I made some enquiries about Martin, back in Lincoln.  He is an old vampire.  He’s been around for thousands of years and he doesn’t give a damn.  There is nothing Miss Patience can do to bring him to heel and it affects the leadership of her little group.  He’s not in the Order’s good books either.  He’s a predator.  He feeds mainly on people.  But he’s clever.  He’ll seduce and entrap someone vulnerable, absolutely bewitch them, feed from them exquisitely gently – and I believe it blows their minds – then leave them after around six months, before they get too dependent.  The trouble is, he leaves them nicely.  They’re always better off financially or he sorts out a job for them or he deals with their family’s troubles or something.  We have never been able to get anyone to make a statement against him, and I’m not sure whether we would be able to take him down without half the Templars here.  He goes into a ‘dream state’ quite often though, which is a blessing, so he’s only around for fifty years or so at a time, with a few exceptions, and he usually sleeps around a decade.  He’s been dormant for a century or so, though, up until now, so Lincoln had hoped he had disappeared for good.”

“Perhaps he will take over from Lord Ragnar.” Sir Ewan stifled a yawn and picked up another sandwich.  “Lord Ragnar was nearly unseated last year.  Now Freydis isn’t at his side, it’s only a matter of time.”

“Most of the opposition was wiped out in last year’s attempt and I am not sure that there is an external threat ready.  Lord Ragnar is shaky, but surely not that weak.” Sir Craig looked at Dave and Sir Ewan.

“Lord Ragnar had not upset the werewolves last year.” Sir Ewan said.  “He also had all of the vampires, such as they are, on his side.  Kadogan is still loyal, but other elfen are asking questions about the state of the domain.” He took another large bite of his sandwich.

“Do you think Martin would take over?” Luke asked.  “I mean, I know he’s a vampire, and you say he’s a predator, but he has to be better than the current state.  I mean, if anyone takes over from Lord Ragnar.  He seems more stable.”

“Martin has always avoided power, at least, according to the stuff we managed to dig up at Lincoln.” Sir Craig said.  “And practically anyone is more stable than an elfen who doubts the loyalty of those around him, is losing control of his domain and who is suffering from unrequited love.”

Dave stared.  “Who is he in love with?”

“He’s in love with Freydis.” Sir Craig said, pouring some more tea.

“But he divorced her.” Dave said.  “And she’s still in love with him.”

“Yes.” Sir Craig took a mouthful of tea.

“That’s not unrequited love.” Dave said.  “It’s requited love.  It’s there-for-the-taking love.”

“That’s the elfen for you.” Sir Craig said.

“Hang on,” Dave said as a thought struck him.  “How many vampires are there in York?”

Sir Ewan poured himself some more tea. “Apart from Martin?  Miss Patience has a group of six.”

“Does that include Dean?” Dave asked.  Sir Ewan shook his head.

Sir Craig leaned forward.  “So all Miss Patience has to do is get hold of Dean and she is the leader of a group of seven, just like those revenants we are seeing night after night.”

There was a long pause as the men tried to work through the implications.  Luke shifted uneasily in his chair.  “How easy is it to make a vampire?”

Ian dropped Jeanette off at the front of the White Hart before driving the van to the back.  Jeanette came in looking pale.

Fiona gave her a sympathetic smile.  “How are things? Has Steve spoken to you?”

Jeanette took a deep breath.  “Ian said he can go there tonight with Steve and put up magical protection so we can get back there safely.  He said that there were a few traces, but nothing too serious.  He said he would ask Darren to say some prayers before they started.”

“Darren is a fearsome prayer warrior.” Freydis said.  “I am sure that he will clear out undue influences.  Steve Adderson is also known as an extremely competent sorcerer, strong enough to impress the elfen.  You will have safe space.”

Jeanette smiled wanly.  “Thanks.” She looked closer at Freydis.  “Are you feeling okay?”

It was a good question.  The golden blonde hair still swirled in lustrous swathes around Freydis’ face and shoulders, but it was a darker shade that edged towards the honey gold.  Her eyes were no longer the purest summer blue but now were blue grey and while she was still slim, her figure was slightly fuller.  The jeans were still tight, and still a fake designer brand, but they were a darker shade of denim and she was wearing a loose t-shirt instead of a buttoned shirt.  Freydis shrugged.  “I feel a change of season in the air.”

Mrs Tuesday looked at her carefully.  “Are you missing Lord Ragnar?”

Freydis seemed to sag a little and her hair was suddenly dull and lifeless.  “He is on the path to destruction and I do not know how to save him.  He is my sun but there are clouds.”

“Have you spoken to him?” Mrs Tuesday asked.

Freydis shook her head.  “He will not allow me to approach him in private.  I have tried being an independent and strong woman with a life of my own, and it has failed.  I have lost what I did not believe I had and I cannot defend that which I forgot to cherish.”  She bowed her head.  Jeanette watched her claw like hands, grasping the back of the chair until the knuckles turned white, smooth themselves and fill out and her hair once again fill with shining health as she pulled herself up and forced a smile.  “But there are still safe places such as the White Hart, and soon your small holding shall be protected.  Indeed, perhaps I will bless your fields, Jeanette, once this is over.”

“That would be an amazing honour.” Jeanette said, though she wasn’t exactly sure what the result of such a blessing would be.  “I think that would make it glorious.”

“A small recompense for your troubles.” Freydis said, going back to the coffee machine and stroking the coloured grasses still surrounding it.

“I admit, I never thought I would get so caught up in all this.” Jeanette waved a vague hand around the shop.  “I wasn’t sure I even believed in this stuff, and if I hadn’t met Callum at that craft fair, I’m not sure that I would believe in it now.”

“Are you sorry that you met us?” Jasmine asked.  “I mean, I know you like Ian, but having all of us in your house and it all being, well, full of werewolf?  Are you okay with that?”

Jeanette took a breath and looked Jasmine directly in the eye.  “Come here.” Jasmine edged closer, giving a panicked glance at Mrs Tuesday, before gasping as Jeanette grabbed her in a massive hug.  “I am not sure about all this magic stuff, and I don’t understand half of it, but if I had my time again I would never, ever, miss the chance of knowing Ian, of having you and Adele like sisters and Callum like a brother, of knowing the people.  You are wonderful.” Jasmine went pink.

“I wish I had realised that.”

Fiona turned around and forced a smile.  “Hello, Elaine.  What can I do for you?”

Elaine wandered towards the café.  “I thought I would grab a latte and perhaps catch up with Steve.  Is he in?”

“No.” Fiona said.

Elaine waited for a few beats, just in case Fiona added anything.  “Is he likely to be back soon?”

“No.” Fiona checked over the notes next to the till.  “Okay, ladies, we have a double coach booked to arrive in around half an hour.  It’s all non-normals who are expecting a fancy afternoon tea, so let’s get set up.”

Freydis was smiling with outright malice as she created Elaine’s latte.  “I believe you enjoy a shot of vanilla in there.”

“Yes,” Elaine said, surprised that Freydis had guessed that.

“I’ll try and remember to put one in next time.” Freydis said.  “I’ll try really hard.  Mrs Tuesday, please could you keep an eye on the Machine.  I need to bring up some more of the new Ethiopian blend.”

Martin found Freydis sitting under a tree in Tower Gardens looking over the River Ouse.  It was nearly midnight but still warm and the soft breeze was soothing.  He sat next to her.  “You have changed, my lady.”

Freydis managed a smile.  “I am no longer a lady, remember.  Lord Ragnar divorced me.”

“You are always my lady.” Martin said.

“And I can never give you hope.” Freydis turned her gaze back to the river to watch the nixies playing in the currents.

“Do you know what gives me hope?  That you never give me hope.” Martin didn’t follow Freydis’ gaze but instead watched her expression.  “If you did not care for me at all, you would dangle me on a string.”

“You are too powerful.” Freydis didn’t turn towards him.

“You had many princes eating out of your hand.” Martin said.  “You bewitched great sorcerers and kings.”

Freydis shrugged.  “It was a game to them as much as it was to me.  Perhaps I am an honest fairy.”

“And I come back to the start of the conversation.  You have changed, my lady, and I don’t know how.  You have an extra depth.  It is enchanting.”

Freydis finally turned her head and looked at Martin.  She smiled.  “You do not need to flatter me, Martin.”

“I do not flatter.” Martin said.  “You can ask anyone.”

Freydis turned back to the view of the River Ouse.  The lights from the town glittered and sparkled on the moving water and for a moment she seemed entranced.  “Lord Ragnar said he had always loved me.”

“I thought that was obvious to anyone.” Martin said.  “I made me so frustrated, because he never managed to turn that love into cherishing.”

“I didn’t think he loved me and I tried to make him jealous.” Freydis said.

“Leading to the mess with that young vampire last year.” Martin said.  “I heard all about it.  And Lord Ragnar was stupid enough to divorce you.  He should have either fought you or fought for you.”

Freydis shrugged again and a tear ran down her face.  “It is now gone.” She said quietly.  “But he needs me to mend the domain.  Soon he will realise and then I will mend the wound I caused and things will settle down.”

“He needs to do so soon.” Martin said.  “Princes from nearby are looking at his court.  It’s only a matter of time before we see an attempt to unseat him.”

Tears were flowing freely down Freydis’ face.  “I know, I know, there is so much wrong and there is nothing I can do!  I know he needs to bring Miss Patience to heel, and to soothe Kieran and to give assurances to the surrounding princes, but he is failing.” She looked up at Martin, her face glistening with tears in the street lights.  “I am helpless to act.”

“I would fight him for you, lady.” Martin said.  “Or I would fight for him, if you asked me.”

Freydis shook her head.  “I am still fae, still elfen.  I feel a fate falling. I must face it.”

“You are remembering the Viking days.” Martin said.  “I hear it in your language.  They would face their weird and stride on regardless.”

“I married Lord Ragnar as the Vikings swept in.” Freydis said.  “I suppose I have echoes from that time.”

“What fate to you see, lady?” Martin asked.  “What is the shape of things to come?”

Freydis held up her hand.  “Can you hear that?”

“What?” Martin looked around quickly and his heart sank.  In the distance he could see a pack of revenants stalking after a loud group of lads.  “I see them.”

“I shall enjoy killing them.” Freydis said as she rose.  “Exercise is always useful if you wish to improve your mood.”

Getting Darker

“This meeting should be in my halls.” Lord Ragnar tapped his long fingers on the table and glared around at the others.

“Your halls aren’t safe.” Sir Craig said.  The senior Knights Templar looked unimpressed.  “And we are taking no chances.”

“York does not need a cohort of Knights Templar.” Lord Ragnar stood and started pacing around the conference room.

“I beg to differ.” Sir Craig said.  He glanced around the room.  “And besides, this is not just a matter for your people.  The Paladin’s Citadel was destroyed down to brick dust.  That is unprecedented.  You have said that you have no part in it, and I believe you.  You have your own challenges.  But those challenges make it unsafe for our people and you appear to be unable to deal with them.”

“Can we calm down, please.” Steve took a breath.  “Darren has some idea about what happened, we need to work out what is going on together, and we need to solve it together.  The White Hart is the nearest thing to neutral territory.”  He looked around the conference room.  “I think we have everyone here.”

It was an eclectic meeting.  Lord Ragnar’s unoccupied seat was at the head of the table as Lord Ragnar paced at the end of the room.  On his right was Kieran, head of the werewolf pack and next to him was Ian.  Opposite Kieran, on Lord Ragnar’s left, was Martin and next to him was Miss Patience.  Sir Craig was sitting uncomfortably next to Miss Patience and opposite Darren.  Dave was sitting next to Darren and opposite Steve.  At other end, for added drama, Freydis sat opposite her ex-husband’s seat.  She was doodling pictures of coffee cups.

“I think I know what caused the explosion.” Darren said.  “I saw it a few years back.  When dark energy meets something most holy, there’s an explosion.  It caused havoc in the Village.”

“What dark energy?” Sir Craig asked.

“You can see it in the shadows.” Lord Ragnar said.  “There are small areas of darkness that are building up in corners like drifts of leaves and they are spilling out into the most unlikely areas.”

“I’ve seen too many examples of them.” Martin said grimly.  “And that makes sense.” He turned to Miss Patience.  “It’s faery magic with a vampiric filter.”

Miss Patience was staring straight ahead.  She was paler than normal and her elegant fingers, placed flat and unmoving on the table, seemed slimmer than ever.  “The vampires of York are not a party to the destruction of the Paladin’s Lair.”

“No-one said that, Patience.” Martin said.  “But I have to ask, do you think it has affected you?”

“Not at all.” Miss Patience didn’t turn her head.

As glances were exchanged over the table, Martin turned to Lord Ragnar.  “The main issue remains in your realm.  We are at a time of growth in the cycle.  It will soon be Midsummer.  While this is the most expansive this energy is likely to be, it’s also likely to be the least malignant.  You need to act and cleanse the issue in your domain.”

Miss Patience slowly turned, marionette-like, and looked at Martin.  “You should pay for the rebuilding of my wall.”

“You should stop playing foolish games.” Martin said without missing a beat, before turning back to Lord Ragnar.  “You need to act now.”

“You must act.” Steve echoed.  “It’s reached as far as Skipton.”

“How is Elaine?” Freydis asked, turning her notebook to get a better angle to shade a picture of a latte.

“There is nothing the werewolves can do except patrol.” Kieran looked worried.  “Some of our pack who have been touched by this darkness have become snappy.”  He looked around the table.  “They have been acting more like strays.  We’ve got them watched all the time but…”

“Great.  We have a werewolf issue as well.” Sir Craig ran his fingers through his thinning hair.  “What is going on here?  Lord Ragnar, you need to control your people.”

“It isn’t their fault.” Kieran snapped.  “They were just doing their duty.”

“I’m not saying it is.” Sir Craig’s voice was carefully controlled.  “But the darkness leaking out of the elfen domain is having an effect.”

“I’ll have a look at your people.” Freydis said, shading in steam on the doodles.  “If it’s elfen magic that’s causing problems then I may be able to do something.”

“Lord Ragnar should be the one dealing with this.” Miss Patience said, turning her head slowly towards the prince.  “This is his domain.  He should also compel Martin to repair our wall or pay someone else to do so.”

There was an uncomfortable pause around the table.  Everyone was aware that Lord Ragnar could not compel Martin to do anything.  Lord Ragnar looked around.  “I own that I do not have the skill of some other lords…”

“You are seen as weak.” Martin said.  “I have friends outside York, and I listen to the currents of conversation.  You cannot control your domain and you cannot control your court.  I think you need to find ways to do both before someone steps in and acts for you.”

“Are you threatening me?” Lord Ragnar leaned on the table, glaring at Martin.

“I’m stating the obvious.” Martin didn’t flinch.  “And if I wanted power here I would have taken it a long time ago.”  There was a long silence.  Finally Lord Ragnar broke eye contact and turned to Steve.

“Is it true?  Am I seen as vulnerable.”

Steve shifted in his seat.  “I don’t hear all the talk, I’m there for business only, and I’m sure that the courts I visit tailor the information I pick up.”

“But you can’t say that I’m seen as strong.” Lord Ragnar said softly.

“You have influence.” Steve said.  “People visit York and attend your court to pay their respects.”

“Because they come to the White Hart, and it would be inappropriate not to show their face in my court.” Lord Ragnar said.  “I wonder how many who visit your shop do not visit my court.”

“Did Curtis Avocado call in?” Freydis was now working on an intricate sketch of hot chocolate.  “He said he would.”

“No, he did not.  When was this?” Lord Ragnar returned to his seat.

“Last week, when there was jasmine blooming at No 7.” Freydis didn’t look up.  “I will aid the werewolves and sort out the issues with the domain, as it is my error of judgement that caused this issue.”

“You were unfaithful.” Lord Ragnar snapped.

“You were neglectful.” Freydis snapped back, picture forgotten. “You gave no thought to where I was or what I looked like.”

“I loved you.”

“You never told me.” Freydis took a breath and picked up the pen again.

“I’ve had control of domains before and there were no effects like this.” Martin said.  “I’m not saying that you made the best decision, Freydis, but it’s not just because you allowed someone a corner of control.”

“Rey was malicious.” Miss Patience said.  “I should have destroyed him.  I believe he consciously mingled his essence with the corner of Lord Ragnar’s kingdom he accessed.  It is not a path I should have chosen.  However, I would not put anything past Martin who breaks walls.”

“I’m not sure I would trust an undead breath from you.” Martin said.  “Patience, you need to step back from this, and all those stupid games…”

“Where is Dean?  He should be answering to me.” Miss Patience said, poised and still.

“He’s been helping me out a lot.” Dave said.  He had guessed a lot from the things that Dean hadn’t said.  “You know how it is.  I’m glad of the extra pair of eyes.”

“You are patrolling with a vampire?” Sir Craig stared at Dave.

“With Dean, yes.  He’s a literal lifesaver.  I mean, he literally is saving lives.” Dave smiled at Sir Craig and Miss Patience who were equally baffled.

“Lord Ragnar, I can go to your domain straight from this meeting and work on the problem.” Freydis said.  “Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader can keep an eye on the Coffee Machine.  It will be fine under their care and I can rearrange the dried grasses when I get back.” She turned to Kieran.  “I suspect that your comrades will return to normal once the source of the issue is gone, but I’m sure I can help if there is a problem there.  It is fitting that I right my wrongs.”

“I’d be grateful.” Kieran said.  “These are good people who are suffering and if they get out of hand and cross a line then they will face a judgement that they don’t deserve.”

“No!” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “I will deal with this.”

“While we’re waiting for that, what do we do?” Ian asked.  “There are people hurting here.”

“I’ll arrange prayers to protect the Knights Templar’s Citadel.” Darren said.  “And I suppose I ought to mention that I’m being translated.”

“What?” Dave snapped around to look at the exorcist sitting next to him.

“I’m being moved to York.” Darren said.  “The authorities seem to think that I’m more useful here.  I’ll get the official date later, but I’m going to be here permanently.”

“Congratulations!” Ian said.  “It will be good to have you around.”

“I have not agreed to that.” Lord Ragnar glared at Darren.

“You don’t have control over the appointments of the Church of England.” Darren kept his cool.  “It shouldn’t affect you.”

“I will have an exorcist living in York, and you say it shouldn’t affect me?”

Darren looked at him.  Lord Ragnar was not having a good time and it was showing.  “I thought having a local exorcist was a sign of status.  Lord Lothar never complained.”

“Lord Lothar did not have the same problems I do.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glanced over at his ex-wife but Freydis said nothing.

“Let’s get back to the point.  We need to get that domain dealt with now!” Martin said.  “Lord Ragnar, I mean this with the greatest respect, but…”

Lord Ragnar stood, knocking his chair back to clatter against the back wall.  “I will deal with this.  I don’t need a vampire, I don’t need a wandering priest and I don’t need an unfaithful ex-wife.” He swept out.

Freydis sighed.  “This isn’t helpful.  Kieran, do you wish me to call now and see what I can do?”

“I don’t want to be disloyal to Lord Ragnar.” Kieran looked at Ian.

Ian shrugged.  “Who are you most loyal to?  Lord Ragnar or your pack?”

“Careful.” Martin said as Dave and Darren once again exchanged worried glances.

Ian met his gaze.  “The werewolves have bled for Lord Ragnar.  We have value.”

Martin held Ian’s gaze for a moment and then nodded.  “I’m sure it will be fine, but don’t make a big deal about it.”

“You can always blame me.” Freydis said.  “Lord Ragnar enjoys blaming me, it comforts him, and he will take no significant action.” She stood.  “And the sooner I visit the better.”

Martin watched her leave, a frown on his face.

Fiona watched Lord Ragnar storm out of the White Hart and her heart sank.  Kadogan appeared from the back room and followed his prince, his features set.  It did not look good.  She looked at Mrs Tuesday to get an idea of how serious things were and her heart sank further.  Mrs Tuesday looked worried.  That was never a good sign.

Jasmine was refilling the cards, but she stopped and looked at Mrs Tuesday.  “It’s never good when a prince gets angry, is it?”

“I don’t think it’s anger exactly.” Mr Tuesday rubbed her back absentmindedly and frowned, turning to Mrs Cadwallader.  “You know him better than I do.  Any guesses?”

“He usually sulks.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “But I don’t think he can do that this time.”  The two old boggarts nodded in unison.

“What’s going on?” Jeanette asked.  “I recognised Lord Ragnar and I know Kadogan, of course, but what’s happening?”

“Lord Ragnar is feeling inadequate and is showing his emotions as anger.” Freydis wandered out of the back room.  “Mrs Tuesday, Mrs Cadwallader, please will you guard the Coffee Machine?  I have work to do at the pack of Kieran Latimer.”

“No problem.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Someone should be dealing with those poor lads.”

“You don’t miss much, do you?” Kieran followed Freydis.

“No, I don’t.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Aren’t you lucky I say less than I see?” Kieran blushed.

As the rest of the guests filed out, Fiona went up to Steve and hugged him.  “Are you okay?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what to think.” Steve looked around the shop.  “We need to have a long talk tonight.  Right now I need to do the run to Todmorden, but I should be back before dinner.”  He kissed Fiona briefly and left.

Ian walked over to Jeanette and gave her a brief kiss on the cheek.  “I’m just going across to the warehouse, but I’ll be back later.” He looked across at Adele and Jasmine.  “I’m sorry, but we need to all get back to the White Hart.  Steve has agreed.  It may only be a mattress on the floor and doubling up, but we need to be in a safe place.”

“I am not being forced out of my home.” Jeanette said.  “Do you know how much I’ve worked to get this far?”

Ian looked troubled.  “I’ll try and work something out.  It won’t be for long.”

“I need to water the plants.” Jeanette said.

“I’ll come with you after work.” Ian said.  “Jasmine can come as well.  Listen, I need to make the run to the warehouse.  We’ve got two coach parties booked this afternoon.  But I’ll talk as soon as I get back.”

There was a brief burst of activity with a flurry of customers and then it was quiet.  Jeanette looked pale.  Mrs Tuesday pushed a cup of tea into her hand.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

“What’s happening?” Jeanette asked.

Adele nodded.  “I think we deserve some sort of explanation.”

Mrs Tuesday and Mrs Cadwallader exchanged another of their knowing looks and nodded.  “Everyone take a seat, and we’ll have a chat.”  Mrs Tuesday went over to the café area and sat down.  She watched them sit around her and took a deep breath.  “I wasn’t in the meeting and I didn’t hear what they said, but I can make some guesses.  People are talking about the York domain as being affected.  Going into the fairy realm is always tricky, but now it’s downright lethal.  It’s affecting some of the vampires and it may be behind what happened to the Paladin’s lair.  It’s affected some of the werewolves too – and they’re good lads.  I’m glad Freydis is doing something about it.”

“She should have done something about it sooner.” Mrs Cadwallader said.

“I can’t argue, but my belief is that she only just learned about it.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Freydis should have dealt with the disturbances in the domain a long time ago, and she hasn’t.”

“Lord Ragnar should have dealt with it.” Mrs Cadwallader said.  “After all, he wouldn’t let Freydis set foot in there.”

“It’s a mess.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And as Lord Ragnar is not…”  Mrs Tuesday searched for words.  “He’s perhaps…  He’s looking…”

Mrs Cadwallader helped her out.  “Some people who don’t know what is happening and who are a distance from York may be under the wrong impression that Lord Ragnar is not in control of his realm and that he is vulnerable to attack.”

“That isn’t good.” Jasmine said.  “No wonder Ian wants us here where it’s safer.”

“I didn’t sign up for this.” Jeanette said.  “I just thought I had met a decent man, thought it might lead somewhere, and now my home isn’t safe.  I didn’t want anything to do with magic.”

“Neither did I.” Elaine appeared and sat next to a suddenly tense Fiona.  “Well, I didn’t mind a little magic, but I couldn’t cope with Armani.” She turned to Fiona.  “How is the little… imp?”

Ian, Luke and Darren were keeping together.  It was a bad shift.  They had all managed to get some sleep before getting on patrol at 3am, but no-one was rested.  Luke was the most at ease.  The night streets were cool and quiet and so far it seemed an easy swing around.  “I don’t want to be out of order,” he said, “but what is going on?”

“What do you mean?” Ian said, scanning the road ahead.

“The White Hart is like a dormitory, Jeanette’s upset because she can’t get home, Kadogan has disappeared, Freydis hardly said a malicious word all evening and Mrs Tuesday looks worried.” Luke looked at his companions.  “What is happening?”

“Lord Ragnar feels under threat.” Darren said.  “Other lords are being less supportive and a lot of local non-normals are twitchy.  Some werewolves have been affected by this dark energy building up and the vampires have gone weird.”

“The only vampires I’d trust right now are Martin and Dean.” Ian said.  “The rest are on loopy juice.  What I heard was that Miss Patience has this thing where they all share blood.  This means that if one goes crazy, they all go crazy.  Dean and Martin are the only ones that haven’t got involved.”

There was a long silence.  Luke could hear the swish of distant cars and the buzz of the street lights as they passed, but there was little other noise.  “Are they dangerous?  And how many are there?”

“Miss Patience had a coven of around half a dozen,” Ian said.  “But we don’t know about other dormant vampires like Martin or revenants.  All bets are off.  And if it gets any crazier then there’s going to be an attack on Lord Ragnar.  He’s not seen as strong.”

“Is he strong?” Luke asked.

“I can’t answer that.” Ian said.  “I’m a member of his court.  I have to give unswerving loyalty.”

“It’s okay, I can answer that.” Darren said, with his usual blunt honesty.  “The vultures have been circling for a while, and once he got rid of Freydis, they have been circling lower.  From what I’ve heard, she’s been propping him up for centuries because she’s powerful, perceptive and besotted.” He glanced sideways at Ian.  “But I’ve only heard the chatter from the outside.  How’s Jeanette taking it?”

“She’ll be okay.” Ian said, hoping he was right.  “Adele seems more at ease, but I think it’s because her family have a lot of drama.  I don’t think she realises how dangerous it could be.”

“How’s Jasmine taking it?” Darren asked.  “The poor kid finally finds a pack and now it could all go bad.”

“She’s doing okay,” Ian said.  “To be honest, I think it’s helped her find her paws and feel that she has a place on the rug with all that’s going on.  And we’re a sub pack, not a pack.”

“I was thinking more of the White Hart.  It’s a sort of family.” Darren said.

“It does have that feel.” Luke said.  “I’m just on the edges but it’s still incredibly welcoming.”

“Mrs Tuesday’s cooking does that.” Darren said.  “I’ll have to move out to the vicarage soon and I’m not looking forward to it.  I’ll be taking Dave with me for a while as well.”

“What happened in the Village?” Ian asked.  “I heard something about a revenant prowling, but it didn’t sound anything like the stuff we’ve been facing.”

“It’s complicated.” Darren said.

“Hang on.” Luke hissed.  “Over there.”

The men looked across the dark streets.  “I don’t believe it.” Ian murmured.

“How can we deal with that?” There was an edge of panic in Luke’s voice.  He started at the group of revenants which were clustered around a group of young women.  They wore the remains of hen night outfits and looked terrified.

“There’s at least seven in the group and it looks like they have a leader.” Darren said.  “They will fight as a unit.”

“Luke, call for back up and then join us.” Ian pulled a stake out of his jacket pocket.  “We distract them and keep a holding action until reinforcements arrive.  Whatever you do, keep your eyes open.  This is something new.”

History

Dean hefted his bag and wondered what he was doing.  Martin was right.  He wasn’t safe from Miss Patience, but he wasn’t exactly sure he was exactly safe in the White Hart.  He kept himself expressionless and upright but inside he felt like crawling away.  Fighting revenants and the dark creatures that were creeping out of the fringes of Lord Ragnar’s domain was just something he did.  He was a vampire now, and he just had to get on with things.  The thought of facing his ex-girlfriend day after day, however, was like lemon juice on a cut.

Steve managed a smile.  “If you’ll follow me…” He led Dean up the stairs behind the till.  “It’s all a little chaotic at the moment,” he said with massive understatement.  “Kadogan has been sorting out sleeping quarters.” Steve struggled with himself and managed not to say what he was thinking.  “So, you are sharing the kitchen with Mrs Tuesday, Luke, Dave and Darren.  Freydis may or may not be in her room, I don’t like to ask.”

“What about the werewolves?” Dean asked.

“Kadogan has convinced Jeanette that she should have Ian, Callum, Adele and Jasmine as her lodgers.” Steve took a breath.  “I’m not sure how much she understood, but effectively it’s formed a pack house.  Apparently Ian has spoken to Kieran.”

“Kieran has a lot on his mind.” Dean said.  The two men understood this as code for, ‘the leader of the werewolf pack in York who has a worrying subpack of strays developing, is currently distracted by the Paladin’s Citadel blowing up, an influx of Knights Templar poking their noses where they aren’t welcome, vampires getting crazier than normal and the damned goblins have kicked off again with late night parties and parking across the werewolves’ garages’.

“Don’t we all.” Steve muttered.  He caught Dean’s slight change of expression and held up his hand. “I’m not meaning you.  It’s bound to be awkward at first, but there’s no hard feelings.  It’s just, well, everything.”  He led Dean down the corridor.  “That’s our office, the Tarot reading room, Dave, the kitchen, Mrs Tuesday, then round the corner on the right hand side we have Luke, Darren, yourself and then Freydis is at the end when she’s home.”

“Thanks.” Dean walked through the door Steve indicated.  He paused for a moment.  He recognised Fiona’s touch in this.  There was a small bunch of flowers in a vase on top of the chest of drawers.  The bed was smooth, and the pale green bedding was new.  Inoffensive prints of York hung around the room and the new curtains hung pale and stiff, framing a view towards York.  The room was fresh and clean and a note in Fiona’s beautiful calligraphy next to the keys read, ‘Dean, I hope you will feel happy and safe here.  Please let us know if there are any problems.  Fiona.’  Dean felt a lump in his throat.  Once upon a time, Fiona’s notes to him ended with a kiss.  Now he was standing next to her husband.  “How is Fiona about this?”

Steve looked away.  “She’s worried about you, and I think she feels a little awkward – not angry or anything because it really wasn’t your fault, but it’s a thing.”  He shrugged.  “Maybe it’s overdue.  Everyone can get the awkwardness out of the way and get on with our lives.”

“I think you’re right.” Dean said quietly.

“I’ll let you get settled in.” Steve said.  “If you’re eating in, don’t worry about cooking.  Mrs Tuesday likes to feed anyone who stays still long enough at meal times.”

Dean heard the door click as Steve left.  It was probably the safest place in York.  Steve had reinforced the place with so much magic that it could make your head ring if you even thought about a spell in the wrong place.  During the day the shop was full of werewolves and when he wasn’t patrolling at night, he was going to be sharing a space with a paladin, an exorcist, a near-as-dammit paladin and Mrs Tuesday.  Mrs Tuesday was scary.

Dean unpacked his small bag, methodically hanging his two shirts and dropping his underwear in a drawer.  He had lost so much weight since he became a vampire that his old clothes didn’t fit.  He looked down at his hands.  They were slim and elegant now, just like him.  It was not a look he would have chosen.  Martin had told him that what came back as a vampire was the core of a person and the hunger that went with it.  Was this who he was?  He went into the small bathroom and washed his hands.  Since he died he was different. Before he had been clouded by dozens of different thoughts that crowded into his mind and anchored him so firmly in the current second that he could barely think five minutes ahead.  He had never stopped to look beneath the surface of a person.  Now his mind was icy and with Martin’s help he was beginning to map out his future.  Now he would never have walked away from Fiona.  She was the best thing that he could imagine, and he had thrown it away because another woman had flirted with him and it seemed more exciting.  He had longer than the average lifetime to regret it.  All he could do now was his best.

Mrs Tuesday was restocking the herbs while the shop was quiet.  It was nearly closing time and Jasmine was wiping down the shelves nearby, nudging closer until she could try to discreetly ask Mrs Tuesday the question that had been circling her mind all day.

“Mrs Tuesday, why is it so strange that Dean stay here?  I mean, he’s a vampire but he seems okay.” Jasmine shook out her cloth.  “I think a packet of mint split here.”

“It looks like a few packets have split.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I don’t think you need to worry about Dean.  He’s made a few mistakes, but who hasn’t?”

Freydis appeared next to Jasmine. “Dean is an ex-boyfriend of Fiona who dumped her immediately before Christmas after convincing her not to move to Australia with the rest of her family.  After that he became a pawn of the traitor Rey and tried to gain a hold over Fiona by tricking her into drinking love potions.  She became quite ill and broke her engagement to Steve Adderson.” Freydis leant against the shelving unit.  “Indeed, he tricked her into meeting him many times and kidnapped her where she was held hostage by Rey until Steve Adderson tracked Rey down and killed him.  Rey drained Dean without thinking, but Dean turned and became a vampire, but his sire was already dead.” Freydis passed a fresh cloth to Jasmine.  “So Dean is quite independent of Miss Patience and rather lost.  Although I believe Aelfhelm has resurfaced recently and has been helping Dean learn his way around, which is kind of him and entirely typical.”

“You could have just mentioned that Dean is Fiona’s ex boyfriend.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “But that’s a good summary.”

“Is Steve jealous?” Jasmine asked.

“It is remarkably hard to read Steve Adderson,” Freydis said with some irritation.  “But I believe he is angry, jealous and insecure.  However he seems to be controlling these feelings and I am confident they will fade.”

Jasmine rubbed at a mark on the shelf.  “Steve has been really kind, and so has Fiona.  I hate the thought of them being upset.”

“Just treat Dean normally and everything will be fine.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Here, you can put this rue out.  Who is this Aelfhelm?” she asked Freydis.

“That is a story that I cannot put into a few sentences.” Freydis said.  “I will help with the herbs then we can all have coffee and I will tell what I know.”

Jasmine bounded around the herbs, curiosity almost eating her as Mrs Tuesday supervised the restocking before they all went back to the café area.  “Where’s Fiona?”

“She went home early.” Jeanette said, putting a pot of tea on the table.  “I think she’s finding it all a little too stressful.”

“I think I would as well.” Adele said, bringing over the milk.  “If Callum’s ex turned up I wouldn’t know what to think.”

Freydis made a hot chocolate for Jasmine and a small espresso for herself, then joined the rest of the women.  “It’s hard to know where to begin with Aelfhelm,” she said, emptying sugar sachets one after other into her coffee.  “I I can’t read him.” She sighed and took one of the mini meringues that Jeanette had brought over.  “I know he’s using the name Martin at the moment.  It does stand out less than Aelfhelm in today’s world, but I am surprised.  He was a good friend of Alderman Aelfhelm centuries ago.” Freydis stirred the syrupy coffee.  “He may have used a version of Martin before that, or perhaps Mark or Marius.”  Freydis looked back into the distant past and her eyes grew misty.  “I was quite young when I first met him.  I was certainly younger than I was now.  He came with the first legions, marching against the Brigantes.  He was an old vampire then, of course, but he was looking for adventure and he found plenty here.”

“That makes him really old.” Jasmine said.  “Don’t vampires go crazy if they live too long?”

Freydis sipped her coffee.  “Some do, some don’t.  It depends on the creature.  Martin seemed to keep his head and he often slept.  In fact, I believe Queen Victoria was on the throne when he last walked, or perhaps the Regent.  Or was it Sailor Billy?  I cannot recall.  It is unimportant.  Aelfhelm, I mean Martin, is a very powerful, very old vampire who can be extremely dangerous.  He can also be difficult.”

Mrs Tuesday grinned.  “You mean, you have a vampire that the elfen can’t order around?”

Freydis shrugged.  “Lord Ragnar is careful around him, of course, but Martin shows respect to him.  He is very polite, actually, and in the past has been willing to help.”

“Does he act very old-fashioned?” Jeanette asked.  “I mean, does he talk like a Victorian?”

Freydis shook her head.  “Martin has a trick, he calls it ‘dreaming’.  He couldn’t tell you the names of the popular bands, and he couldn’t tell you who Elvis Presley was, but he has a sense of what has happened and how the language is working.  Though I remember he was quite useless helping with a friend’s Latin lessons, back at the time of the first King George.  He said that nobody talked like that when Rome ruled.” She looked up.  “Hello, Steve.”

“I’ve not been here too long, in case you were wondering.” Steve said as he caught the flicker of guilt on Jasmine’s face.  “So I haven’t heard you discuss anything about Dean, for example, or me and Fiona.  But it’s good to hear about Martin.  He seems like a good guy.”

“He has a habit of looking after the younger ones – as long as they stay in line.” Freydis said.  “Dean is fortunate to have met him.”

The door opened with its usual jangle.  Freydis looked up.  “Lord Marius, how wonderful to see you.  Please join us – I will make coffee!  And coffee for your friend.”

“Hello, Elaine.” Steve pulled a chair over.  “Take a seat.”

Freydis paused and looked between Steve and Elaine.  “Is this an old friend?  It is good to meet you, Elaine.  How do you like coffee?” Freydis narrowed her eyes.  “I believe you would enjoy a latte with a shot of vanilla.”

“That sounds great.” She smiled faintly at Steve.  “How is Armani?”

The imp crawled out of Steve’s pocket and looked darkly at Elaine.  “Doing better.” He flapped off towards the air vents.

Steve watched his progress and then took a seat between Jasmine and Mrs Tuesday.  “I didn’t realise you two were still in contact.”

Elaine nodded.  “I needed some help and I thought I’d ask you.  I still had the contact details for Lord Marius and he said he would join me here.”

Steve looked hard at Lord Marius.  “And you didn’t think to warn me, father?”

Lord Marius took his coffee from Freydis.  “The coffee is as exquisite as ever.”

“Did you know that Aelfhelm is back?” Freydis asked.  “Though he calls himself Martin.”

“That is interesting.” Lord Marius leaned back in his seat.  “I shall have to call in on Miss Patience and see if her reaction is entertaining.”

“You may walk in through a hole in the wall that Martin left.” Freydis said.  “I believe she was most displeased.”

“I didn’t know that Lord Marius was your father.” Elaine said, staring.  “Thank you, this coffee looks amazing.” She took the elegantly presented coffee from Freydis and placed it on the table in front of her.

“It came as a surprise to me.” Steve said.  “But apart from a few hiccups,” he gave Lord Marius a hard stare, “We are doing okay.”

“And you have a shop now.” Elaine looked around.  “It’s very nice.”

“I think so.” Steve looked around and nodded.  “So, what is the problem?”

“I’ve been spending weekends in Skipton,” Elaine said, “And I think one of the neighbours is a vampire.  He’s acting odd, and I thought I would get in touch with you because I didn’t know anyone else who could help.”

“Why didn’t you just ask Lord Marius?” Steve asked.

Elaine looked uncomfortable.  “I didn’t think of that.”

“We have not made full introductions.” Freydis said, her eyes sparkling.  “I am Freydis, former wife of the prince of York and currently working with the coffee machine.  This is Mrs Tuesday, a fearsome boggart.”

Elaine nodded and smiled at the little old lady who looked like the definition of harmless.  “Pleased to meet you.”

“This is Jeanette Fowler, romantically involved with a werewolf who is leading a local subpack, this is Adele who is dating a werewolf who paints pictures and this is Jasmine who is a werewolf and former stray.” Freydis sipped her hot chocolate while Jasmine flushed with embarrassment.

“Hi, I’m Elaine.  I’m Steve’s ex-girlfriend.” Elaine smiled around the circle.

“That is an interesting coincidence.” Freydis said.  “Steve’s wife’s ex-boyfriend is upstairs.  Perhaps we can introduce you to each other?”

“You’re married?” Elaine took a hasty mouthful of her coffee.  “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” Steve said, looking darkly at both Freydis and Lord Marius.  “Now, about this vampire.”

Ian took a mouthful of his pint and looked out over the river.  The bar was quiet as it was early in the evening and the sun was still warm.  He sat down next to Darren on the terrace.  “So, what did you want to talk about.”

Darren kept his eyes on his tonic water.  He never knew how to handle this sort of thing.  “You know Ferdi?  Creep of a goblin that hangs around trying to act like a great trader?”

“Yeah, I know him.  I don’t know why Kadogan tolerates him.” Ian said.  The evening breeze was gentle and he was feeling good.  Everything seemed to be okay with Jeanette, Callum and Adele were solid and Jasmine seemed to be keeping her tail up.  It felt like he finally had his feet on solid ground.

“He’s a sleaze.” Darren took a deep breath.  “He was trying to hit on Jasmine.  She was getting upset.  I didn’t think she’d tell you, but you need to watch her back on this.”

“He was trying to pick her up?” Ian said, his voice cold.

“He was trying to pressure her into going for a coffee.” Darren took a deep breath.  “But we all know that it wasn’t just for coffee.  I was considering beating him to a paste, but I thought I should give you first refusal.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it.” Ian kept his eyes blankly fixed on the river as he took another mouthful of beer.”

“I didn’t want to embarrass Jasmine.” Darren said.

“Was she upset?” Ian asked, still staring at the river.

“Yeah, she was quite upset.” Darren wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut.

“What upset her most, do you think?”

“He said something about Jasmine not liking fur.” Darren shifted in his seat.  “I don’t know what that means, but I think that’s what made her cry.”

“Was there anyone else around?” Ian asked, still in the steady, cold voice.

“No, I don’t think he realised I was around either.” Darren said.  “Scum like that don’t like to risk having an audience.”

“I see.” Ian kept his gaze steadily on the river.  “Did Jasmine say anything about it?”

“No.” Darren took a small mouthful of tonic water.

“But she cried?”

“Yes, I got her a coffee and she was fine by the time Freydis came back.” Darren wished there was gin in the tonic.”

“Okay.  Do you know what it means when a werewolf doesn’t like fur?” Ian picked up his pint and took a small mouthful.

“No, I’ve never come across it.  I don’t interfere with werewolves.” Darren regretted not flattening Ferdi into laminate at the time.

“If a werewolf woman feels that they cannot get on with a werewolf man but would rather look outside the pack, then the phrase is, ‘they don’t like fur’.  They are looked down on, and sometimes the less intelligent of the pack will try and change their mind.” Ian took another small mouthful of his beer.  “You don’t see it so much in well run packs, but if things aren’t running smoothly or there are some dogs hanging around the fringes then it can get difficult for the woman.”

“So that is why Jasmine got into so many fights.” Darren said.

“Yes.  But I will not allow her to be taunted about this, and I know that Kieran is fully behind me.  I’ll let people know that Ferdi is a fair target.”

“I’m glad you’re on Jasmine’s side on this.” Darren said.  “And count me in.  Jasmine is a good kid who doesn’t deserve to be targeted.”

“You won’t mention this to anyone else, will you?  About the fur?” Ian finally looked at Darren.

“I don’t see why I should.  It’s not anybody’s business.” Darren said.  “But you should tell Kadogan that Ferdi upset Jasmine.”

“Ferdi may start spreading word about…” Ian placed his pint back down on the table.  “Damn him.  He’ll drag her down one way or another, won’t he.”

“He’s probably already started the rumours.” Darren said.  “What we need to do is send a message not to spread rumours and upset our own.”

“You’re counting yourself in with us?” Ian looked at Darren.

Darren paused.  “I hadn’t even thought about it.  I suppose the White Hart is a kind of pack.  We look after our own.”

“Damn right.” Ian took a longer drink of his pint.  “Jasmine’s a good kid and she’s been enough without us turning our back on her.” He shook his head.  “It could take her years to get over being a stray.  She was kicked out last year, and she’s done really well to keep as solid as she has.  She has the potential to be a credit to the pack.”

“I don’t think we should spread this too far.” Darren said.  “The less who get involved the better.  I mean, your werewolves have to know, and so does Kieran.  I’d say Kadogan needs to know so he knows why Ferdi is risking his neck when he visits.”

“I know who else I’ll tell,” Ian said with a certain malice.  “I’ll tell Mrs Tuesday.”

“That is extremely harsh.” Darren said.  “I approve.”

They drank in a comfortable silence for a while, watching the sun dip and the shadows lengthen.  Darren wondered exactly how Jasmine had survived.  To be under that sort of pressure must have been hard, and she was showing incredible resilience just helping in the shop.  The bar was filling up as the shadows banked up in the corners and the lights came on.  “Ian, those shadows aren’t right.”

Ian followed his gaze.  “Damn, it’s getting everywhere.”

“What do you mean?”

Ian frowned.  “The dark energy from Lord Ragnar’s domain is leaking out.  You find little patches of it, heaped up.”  He tried to find the right analogy.  “It’s like piles of leaves blown into a corner in autumn.  Any from a pack who touch the stuff go snappy and out of sorts.  Kieran is worried that those who have been touched by it could go rogue.”

“Let’s drift over there.” Darren stood casually and picked up his tonic.  “Will you cover for me as I say a few prayers?” He wandered over to the wall nearest the river where a patch of pooled blackness and set his drink down.  Ian followed him and as Darren said some quiet prayers over the darkness Ian kept up a one sided, quiet and casual conversation to misdirect anyone trying to eavesdrop.  He watched as the energy writhed and spat dark sparks which fizzled and disappeared as the unnatural shadow shrunk and twisted into itself until it was gone.  Darren gave a quiet prayer of thanks, then turned to Ian.  “I know why the Paladin’s Citadel exploded.  I think we need to talk to the Knights Templar – now!”

Challenger

Lord Ragnar sat, glowering, as his court milled around his hall.  The air was full of whispers and the tang of an oncoming thunderstorm.  Kadogan lounged in a chair nearby, his eyes watchful although his body looked completely at ease.  Lord Ragnar gestured for some wine.

“What am I supposed to do now?” he growled at Kadogan.  “It’s a Paladin’s lair.  I have no business there – and none of my people are involved.”

“The building and its neighbours are completely destroyed.” Kadogan said. “This is a shame.  I remember watching them being built and they were well constructed.  They stood for over a century.”

Lord Ragnar snatched the goblet of wine from the tray of a nervous server and took a long draught.  “At least I think it was none of my people.  Why should one of my people blow up the home of the Paladin when he is so reasonable?  Of course, the goblins have been a trial, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I remember them burying a witch bottle under the front step.” Kadogan said.  “It was a true trap, and I remember how it sparkled and gleamed as they buried it.  I don’t suppose the workmen saw that though.”

“First it is the White Hart burning, now the Paladin’s lair is destroyed.  It does not look well on me.” Lord Ragnar glared around the hall.  The normal atmosphere of a relaxed gentleman’s club was gone and instead the tension ran around the room like a live wire.  The black and white floor tiles were cracked and stained.

Kadogan nodded at the floor.  “Did you do that or is it a manifestation of problems in your domain?”

Lord Ragnar swore and waved a hand and the floor was restored to its usual pristine state with a sharp crack.  “And Freydis still talks of changing her name.  It is not appropriate.”

“You divorced her.” Kadogan reminded him.  “They had tiles like those in the halls when those houses were built.  They weren’t as good quality, but they looked pleasant.  One of the workers whistled very tunefully and I watched them work all that summer.”

“Those tiles are no more.” Lord Ragnar took another mouthful of the wine.  “And what are we to say about it?  If Paladin Dave Kinson, who has been an ally in our recent struggles, comes to see me now, what do I say?  Thank you for the help in fighting the revenants that were attacking our people, and thank you for the help in destroying Rey Baxter, and thank you for the kindness you have shown our people except possibly the goblins who deserve all they get in my opinion, and we have nothing to offer in return.”

“Dave Kinson and Darren King are staying at the White Hart for now as the Knights Templar are coming to York in force.” Kadogan said.

“I shall pay their rent.” Lord Ragnar said quickly.  “I insist on doing something.”

“Accepted.” Kadogan said.  “But an explosion of such size is not easily accomplished.  The newspapers were told that it was gas mains and so were the insurer people, but Detective Pierce says that there was no evidence of such things.”

“They do not allow my seers and soothsayers near the building.” Lord Ragnar said.  “Not that there is any magical protection there anymore.  It is unacceptable.” He threw his goblet hard into the fireplace.  The dregs of wine hissed and spat on the burning logs.

“They are reasonable not to trust elfen,” Kadogan said with a certain pride as he watched a brownie try to hook the goblet out of the fire.  “But it is still a nuisance.  And there are fourteen Knights Templar in York.  That has not been known for many centuries.”

A susurration ran around the hall as Martin strode in.  Lord Ragnar leapt to his feet.  “You!”

Martin approached Lord Ragnar and bowed perfunctorily.  “My lord.”

“I thought you were sleeping.” Lord Ragnar snapped as he glared at Martin.  He gestured to the servers.  “Bring wine.”

“I am taking no food or drink at this time.” Martin said politely but firmly.

“It is freely given, Aelfhelm.” Lord Ragnar sank back into his chair but Kadogan remained standing at his shoulder.  Elfen warriors started to appear in the corners of the room.

“I no longer use that name.” Martin said, watching the warriors with controlled confidence.  “My old friend died a millenia ago, and, while I still honour his memory, I use Martin now.”

“But why are you here?” Lord Ragnar took the wine offered by the server and waved him away.

“Who could sleep through this racket?” Martin said.  “You have mingled vampire and faery magic in your realm.  It is looking for ways to twist into the world.  If you do not heal your realm then it will be knocking at the door of the normal world.  It is not yet Midsummer and the days lengthen.  What will the dark faery magic do when the nights draw in?”

“What do you know of the faerie realm?” Lord Ragnar gripped the goblet tightly.

“I am not entirely out of touch.” Martin said.  “Your ex wife gave a portion of her kingdom to a vampire, did she not?  The vampire may be destroyed, but the energy is still there, the filter the power of your kingdom flows through is dark and poisoned.” Martin looked around.  “You need to heal your domain and you need to get all the vampires here firmly under your control.  Why are there no vampires here aside from myself?”

Lord Ragnar looked around.  “Where is Miss Patience?”

Martin shook his head.  “You let her control the vampires?  No wonder there are troubles.  And where is Freydis?  She was always skilled with the workings of a faery realm.”

“She is making coffee.” Kadogan said, moving a little closer to Lord Ragnar.

“You let her get a hobby?” Martin stared.  “Well, I am sure we will all benefit from great coffee.”  He bowed again. “I am your liegeman and I am bound to give you counsel.  My counsel is to either get your ex wife or someone of equal skill and mend your realm.  Until that happens, the problems will continue.”

“You are supposed to give me counsel when asked.” Lord Ragnar said.

“I’m sure you meant to ask.” Martin had a half smile on his lips.  “I thought I would save you some time.”

“As your lord, then, I ask you to do a task worthy of your station.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  “Bring me Miss Patience.”

Jasmine sagged a little as the coach party finally straggled out of the White Hart and onto their coach.  “These coach parties get very busy.” She watched in relief as the coach pulled out of the car park.

“They even bought the plastic fairies.” Adele said.  “Keep an eye out on the gifts for me, please.  I need to get up some more stock.” She disappeared into the back.

“They spent well, but they were also normals.” Freydis said.  “They can be trying.  They do not understand the dangers of having their head ripped off should they get too fastidious.”

“Did you see the lady getting cross at the books?” Jasmine grinned as she started clearing the tables.  “She kept complaining about the devil’s work and being cursed for looking at it.”

“It is as well that Mrs Tuesday isn’t here.” Freydis said.  “Although it is always enjoyable to watch her look so frail while being so, so…” Freydis waved a hand.

“She’s a complete wind up merchant.” Jasmine said.  “I hope her back gets better soon.”

“I am sure it shall.” Freydis ran a caressing hand over the coffee machine before sighing and starting to load the dishwasher.  “Though she is very old, even for a boggart.”

Jasmine looked over to Fiona.  “Do you think Mrs Tuesday will get better?”

Fiona looked into Jasmine’s anxious face.  “Of course she will,” she said with more hope than truth.  “And even if she doesn’t, she still has a place here if she wants it.”

“We are quite the community,” Frerydis said, “Though I’m not sure if we are a court or a pack.”

“We’re a shop.” Fiona didn’t want to think beyond that.  “Jasmine, can you keep an eye on the till?  Darren and Dave will be over in an hour and I want to check over their rooms.” Fiona disappeared upstairs.

Freydis cleared the counter as Jasmine wiped down the tables.  “I am so glad I found coffee.” Freydis said.  “It has made such a difference to my life.” She straightened the dried grasses next to the coffee machine and checked the cupboards.  “We have run out of the Ethiopian blend.  I shall be back soon.” Her smile was barely malicious.  “You will be the captain of this ship as the only one here while I am gone.”

Jasmine finished cleaning the kitchen and then went to stand by the till.  The shop seemed very big and she felt unnervingly small.  She found herself going over the till.  There were spare till rolls, plenty of bags and tape and not much to do.  She wasn’t going to touch any of Adele’s ornaments.  Adele was very clear that she had the final say in how the knickknacks were arranged.  Jasmine wandered over to the herbs and started straightening them.  Some of the coach parties were dreadful.  It looked like boggart kitlings had been playing here.  Jasmine looked over as the door opened.  “I’ll be right there.”

“No rush, love.” Ferdi sauntered towards the herbs.  “Well, if it isn’t Sweet Jasmine.”

Jasmine flushed.  “Hi, Ferdi.  How are you?”

“Doing okay, can’t complain.  You look good as well, Sweet.  It looks like you fell on your paws.” Ferdi stroked his knobbly hand over a pack of wormwood.  “Do they know what you’re like here?”

“They know everything.” Jasmine said.

“Are you sure?” Ferdi grinned.  “I could tell them a few things.”

“I’ve always told them the truth.” Jasmine said.  “I have nothing to hide.”

“But have you told them everything?” Ferdi asked.  “Listen, why don’t you come for a coffee with me, just one coffee?  That’s all I’m asking.  Then I won’t have any reason to say anything to them.  What’s the harm in one coffee?”

Jasmine shook her head and backed away.  “I don’t think it would be a good idea, and, besides, what about Samantha?”

“My wife wouldn’t bother about me having a coffee with a friend.” Ferdi said.  “After all, it’s just a coffee.”

“It’s never just a coffee with you.” Jasmine said, “And I don’t want to get into another fight.”

“After all, you don’t want to spoil your chances here, do you?” Ferdi said.  “If you get thrown out of here, who would take you in?”

“I can look after myself.” Jasmine said defiantly.

Ferdi took a step forward.  “Of course you can, Sweet, and that’s why it’s okay to come with me for a coffee, because you can look after yourself.”

“Shut up or get out.”

Ferdi spun around and found himself facing Darren.  “I was just asking an old friend for a coffee.  There’s no harm in that.”

Darren briefly glanced at Jasmine’s flushed face and focused back on Ferdi.  “She said no.”

“Well then, no harm done.  I can catch up with her another time.” Ferdi started sauntering towards the door.  “But you can’t blame a goblin for trying.  After all, everyone knows that Jasmine doesn’t like fur, so I had to think I was in with a chance.” He slipped out of the door before Darren could say anything.

Darren turned to Jasmine.  “It’s okay,” he said.  “Don’t worry about slimeballs like him.”

Jasmine stared at him, wide eyed, and then burst into tears.  As Darren awkwardly patted her arm and let her cry into his shoulder, he wondered what on earth was going on and how much trouble he could get into if he hunted down Ferdi right now.

Dean looked around.  This was only the second time he had visited Miss Patience’s home and he was just as intimidated.  Last time Miss Patience had sat him in her small parlour and charmingly terrorised him with an insistence that he did exactly as he was told and obeyed her unquestioningly.  Now they were in the larger drawing room.  Half a dozen vampires were seated around in the dim light of flickering candles.  Dean wondered why as it was still light outside, but heavy velvet curtains had been pulled over the windows.  It all felt so fake.  The former farmhouse was probably Elizabethan, stone built and sturdy near the edge of York, and surrounded by well planned and matured gardens, complete with a stone folly in one corner.  Miss Patience had bought it last winter, to get somewhere secluded for the vampires of York to meet.

Now things were getting strange.  The ‘acolytes’ that Miss Patience usually had drifting around were missing and there was an eerie silence in the room.  Dean didn’t really know the other vampires.  He had met most of them in Lord Ragnar’s court, but he hadn’t spent much time with them.  Now he was the only one that didn’t seem wide eyed and hyper.  He wished Martin were there.

“We all must stand.” Miss Patience said, rising gracefully to her feet and stood next to the fireplace.  “Form a circle.”

Dean felt awkward as he shuffled into a rough circle with the others.  The rest of the vampires, or coven as Miss Patience insisted on calling them, looked like they were taking part in a very bad horror movie, their lips parted and their fangs showing.

“Dean, stand to my left.” Miss Patience waved her arm and Dean squeezed between Vivienne and the couch and stood at Miss Patience’s left side.  The rest of the vampires seemed to sway around and fill the gap without any thought.  Miss Patience turned to Dean.  “You have never experienced a feeding circle, have you?  It is a mystical moment.  It will truly change your perception of everything.” She stroked down his cheek.  “You don’t share any blood with us, poor boy.  Rey was never part of the York vampires.  He came from elsewhere and you only are connected to him.  But we must correct that.”

Dean managed a smile and looked around at the others.  They were all watching him with piercing, hungry eyes and he didn’t want to look like that.  “Are you sure…”

“You will not disobey me, surely.” There was steel in Miss Patience’s voice.

“Of course not, Miss Patience.” Dean kept his eyes and voice steady but he wondered whether he was going to get out of here alive.  He had already checked for exits and he had chosen the French windows at the north end of the room as his best chance of getting out of there quickly.

“It is quite simple, and beautiful in its simplicity.” Miss Patience took a moment to sigh. “I take a sip of Jacob’s blood, he takes a sip from Amelia, who takes a sip from Melvyn and so on and so on until Vivienne takes a sip from you and you take a sip from me to complete the circle.  And so we start again, with me taking the smallest sip from Jacob, and round and round until the ecstasy is too much to bear.”

Dean tried to stretch his mouth into a smile.  “Great.” He wondered when the best time to make his break would be.

Miss Patience turned and took a large, wooden box from the mantelpiece and opened it with a flourish.  “We must have the correct atmosphere for this.” She dropped a handful of incense into the fire.

Dean was relieved that it wasn’t dragon’s blood but instead the heavy smoke from copal slid out of the fire and over the floor.  He wondered if Miss Patience knew about dry ice.  The rest of the vampires seemed to be preparing to lose themselves in the moment, but he felt real fear for the first time since he died.  Whatever happened, whatever he needed to do, he was not drinking from Miss Patience.

“Everyone link hands for a moment and draw closer.” Miss Patience caught Dean’s hand before he had a chance to think about it.  He reluctantly extended his hand to Vivienne and felt her cool, soft hand slip into his.

Dean knew he had to stay as calm as he could.  Any tension in his wrist would be read by Miss Patience.  He had to hold his nerve until it was time to run for it.

Miss Patience drew herself up.  “Now is the time for our communion.  We come together…”

There was a resounding crash as the French windows were torn out of their frame and thrown out across the garden.  This was followed by a clatter as Martin tore down the curtains and strode in.  “Hello Patience.  What sort of tomfoolery are you trying now?”

“How dare you!” Miss Patience hissed.  “I trust you will pay for repairs.”

“Of course not.” Martin said.  “Idiots should not be rewarded.  Are you trying that circle thing again?  I told you centuries ago that it was a bad idea.”

“You always were scared of what you were.” Miss Patience snapped.

Martin didn’t bother replying to that.  “Lord Ragnar requires your presence.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask.” Martin glanced around the room.  “Dean, your needed at the White Hart.  I’ll join you there.”

Dean had never felt so thankful in his life.  “Right, I’ll get straight over.”

“I think he needs my permission first.” Miss Patience snapped.

“And I think that Lord Ragnar’s orders overrule yours.” Martin said.

“I think I will not be going to Lord Ragnar’s court just yet.  Dean can stay until I leave.”  Miss Patience deliberately threw another handful of incense onto the fire.

Martin’s nose wrinkled.  “I think you shall attend on Lord Ragnar when he demands.”

“And are you willing to try to make me.” Miss Patience snapped.

“Of course.” Martin sounded bored.  He wandered over to the nearest window and threw open the curtains.  “Nice garden.”

“Get out of my home!”

Martin bowed.  “After you, Patience.” He caught Dean’s eye and as Miss Patience swept out towards her car, Martin and Dean followed, to Dean’s utter relief.

Reception

Jasmine wrapped the small box of lemon and ginger tea.  “There you are, Miss Patience.  Can I help you with anything else?”

“No.” Miss Patience placed the packet in her bag.  “Thank you.”

Jasmine watched the vampire glide towards the door and open it with a lace-gloved hand.  Waiting until Miss Patience was well out of earshot, Jasmine shook her head.  “She is weird.”

“She was wearing jeans a few weeks ago.” Adele said, coming over from the café.

“It’s probably a psychotic break or being overtaken by evil.” Freydis wandered over with a frappe.  “I am so stunned that there is ice in summer.  How can people imagine ice in summer?”

“I’ve been in faerie realms where there are corners that are always winter.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“But that is winter there.” Freydis said.  “It’s summer here.”

“You could always go to those corners, grab an icicle and bring it back into a summer realm.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“But the icicle would no longer be in winter.” Freydis said.  “So it couldn’t be imagined.”

“But you just carry it from one part of the domain to another.” Mrs Tuesday looked at the others in search of sanity.

“But then it wouldn’t be in winter.” Freydis sighed.  “It is too quiet today and I still haven’t decided on a name.  Perhaps Mocha?”

“Frappe might be nice.” Jasmine said.  “It’s got a ring about it.”

“You could call yourself after one of those coffee pod things,” Adele suggested.  “That would make a change.”

“They’re trademarked.” Freydis waved a hand.  “I need to convey my inner self.  I need Lord Ragnar to see me completely desirable, unattainable but yet a sliver of hope.”

“That’s a tough one.” Jasmine said.

“I should not have thrown my coffee cup at his head.” Freydis rearranged the dried grasses next to the machine.

“No, it was a bad idea.” Jasmine had had to clean it up.

“I worry that it may have given him hope.” Freydis stepped back and looked at her work.

“Do you want to get back with him?” Jasmine asked.

“Of course.” Freydis said, going back to the machine and moving a stem of oats a fraction to the left.

“Then don’t you have to let him think he has a little chance?”

Freydis frowned.  “I have it – Chai!”

“It sounds like a martial art.” Adele said.

Jeanette came in weighed down by bags.  “You have to help me.”

Jasmine bounded up to her.  “What’s the matter?”

“What do I wear tonight?  Ian says I’ve got to look good but not too good.”

Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t look better than Kieran’s wife.  That would cause trouble.  But you have to look like you have class and style, because Ian’s almost a pack leader so you have to look good to reflect his position.”

“We’re just dating.” Jeanette said with an edge in her voice.

“That’s what you think.” Freydis picked up a silver bag.  “This is nice.”  She pulled out a well cut, navy blue trouser suit.  “You would have to dress it up, but it is suitable.”

Jeanette looked at her doubtfully.  “Are you sure?  I think it suits me, but I’m not sure that it’s formal enough.  Ian said elegant but not too formal.”

Jasmine nodded.  “You can’t wear full length.  But it has to look fancy.”

“What did you wear?” Adele asked.

Jasmine shrugged.  “I was at the tail of the pack.  I just wore a clean skirt and top or nice trousers – not jeans!”

“I got this blouse from the charity shop.  It’s pure silk.” Jeanette pulled out a delicate shirt blouse patterned with steel blue paisley.  “It was a real bargain.  I think it could go with the trouser suit or this skirt.” She pulled out a black suede skirt, beautifully cut and almost ankle length.  “I’ve lost some weight with all the work on the small holding, so it’s a little big for me, but I’ve got some nice belts and a shawl that I could wear instead of a jacket.”

“What else have you got?” Freydis peered into the heap of bags that had collapsed around Jeanette’s feet.  “The blouse would be perfect with either the trouser suit or skirt, though more striking with the skirt. Was it really second-hand?  It looks like it was hardly worn.”

“I have been to every charity shop in York.” Jeanette said.  “My feet are killing me and I swear I can’t face another changing room.” She paused.  “Is it okay to tell people I got the clothes there?”

Jasmine shrugged.  “Martha is supposed to wear the good stuff all the time, and get it new, but it’s considered clever to get a good deal if you’re someone like me.” She stroked over the skirt.

Freydis pulled out a slim fitting cocktail dress in sugar pink and shook her head.  “You should take this back.  It would take all the colour out of you.  I think looking stunning and wearing good quality clothes would reflect well on Ian but at the same time you have obtained a thrifty bargain and are not trying to show wealth but prudent care for a smaller bank balance.  I should tell them.  This is nice.” She pulled out a painted necklace.  “It’s very striking and doesn’t look like something a four year old would make even though it is constructed from wooden beads.”

Darren walked in.  “Are we adding a boutique to the business?” He strode past the clothes and over to the racks of incense.  “Nobody ask me an opinion about the clothes, because I will give you an honest answer.”

“I’d better get these out of the way.” Jeanette scooped the heap up and scuttled towards the back room.

“I’ll have a look at that skirt and see if I can take it in quickly this afternoon.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “It’s a tricky material, but it may be possible to do a quick fix for tonight and a proper job later on.” She followed Jeanette into the back.

Jasmine watched Darren scan through the varieties and pick up a couple of packs of church incense.  She looked around quickly.  Adele was in a far corner re-stocking the ornaments and Freydis was serving a couple that had followed Darren into the shop.  She smiled nervously at Darren as he placed the incense on the counter and reached for his wallet.  “It’s okay.  Steve said that you get all incense free.  There’s a special button on the till.” She scanned the packs and slid them into a paper bag.

“That’s kind of him.” Darren said.  “I don’t mind paying.”

Jasmine shook her head.  “Steve said it was important.”  She looked around again.  No-one was paying much attention.  Adele was trying to work out how to stuff four plastic fairies into a space meant for three and Freydis was charming the couple who were both nodding and smiling as she added whipped cream to their hot chocolates with an elegant flourish.  “Can I ask you something?”

“No, I can’t see your underwear.” Darren said as he picked up the bag.  He looked over Jasmine’s long, gypsy skirt and loose shirt.  “You look very nice.”

“It’s not about clothes.” Jasmine said.  “Do you really think I look nice?” she added.

Darren wished he knew what to say when women asked him questions like that.  He never seemed to get it right.  “You look nice.  You look comfortable and happy.”

Jasmine glowed.  “Thank you.  I know I need to look nice to reflect well on Ian.  He’s been so good to me and I don’t want him to be ashamed.” She glanced around again.  “But I need to ask, do you think Ian likes me?  I don’t mean likes me like he likes Jeanette, but likes me like he likes Callum?”  She twisted her fingers.  “Does he think I’m useful?”

“Of course he does.” Darren said.  He stopped and thought.  “Has he said anything to you?”

“No, but he’s so busy and he’s taking Jeanette to dinner at Fulford with Kieran and I don’t want him to feel awkward if he gets asked questions about me.”

“He’s not really said anything about you to me, except that he thinks you’re a good kid.” Darren said.  “And I think he’s right.”

Jasmine’s smile lit up her face and she took a deep breath.  “Did he say that?  It means that I’m an asset, not trouble.”

“I don’t know about that.” Darren said.  “But, what is it they say?  Keep your tail up and your fur flat and you’ll do fine.  And you will, I’m sure.”

Jasmine sighed happily.

Lord Ragnar stared moodily down at the street below.  He and Kadogan had found their way to the rooftops above Stonegate and were perched unseen next to the wary jackdaws.  “I cannot believe she would change her name.”

Kadogan shrugged.  As a loyal subject of Lord Ragnar, and possibly the nearest the elfen got to a friend, he had heard a lot on this theme.  He was bored.  “She still uses Freydis.”

“But she talks about changing her name to outlandish things such as ‘Steamer’.  She is not mine.”

“You could change your name.” Kadogan said with a hint of malice.

“I am the Prince of York.  I change my name for no-one.” Lord Ragnar snapped.  He glared at the pigeon which was pecking around the nearby gutter.  “On the other hand, a Viking name could be considered a little dated.”

Kadogan regretted his jibe.  “What could you use?  A name from a tea to go with her coffee?”

“I could use Assam.” Lord Ragnar said thoughtfully.

“I suggest that you consider how it could be shortened.  Punishing that would take up too much time.” Kadogan watched the crowds swirling below as the tourists flowed towards the Minster or ebbed away.

“How about Chai?” Lord Ragnar was still glaring at the unconcerned pigeon.

“It sounds like a martial art.” Kadogan sprawled lazily along the ridge tiles.  He could watch the movement of the crowds and their shadows for hours.  He frowned and leaned forward.

“I am not calling myself English Breakfast,” Lord Ragnar said in an attempt to be light hearted.  “There is a type of tea called Gunpowder Tea.”

“Those shadows are wrong.” Kadogan said.

“What?  What has that to do with Freydis?”

“My lord, look.  That patch there – it’s wrong.” Kadogan pointed at a corner of an alley.

Lord Ragnar followed Kadogan’s direction and frowned.  “That’s not a natural shadow.”

“I think, with respect, your name can wait.” Kadogan stretched and flowed into a form ready to land in the alley.  “That is dark energy piling in heaps and it is very near the entrance to your domain.  It is looking for a home.  My lord, we need to act.”

Jeanette smoothed down her skirt.  Mrs Tuesday had done a fantastic job and it fitted perfectly.  Her hair was loose for once and hung in shining curls over her shoulders and down her back.  She had draped a lacy cardigan around her shoulders and felt elegantly uncomfortable.

Ian was wearing a suit but without a tie and looked incredibly distinguished.  As Jeanette glanced quickly at him, her heart turned over.  Jeanette knew he was nervous, but he hid it well as they walked into the large lounge.  Every head turned.  Jeanette could feel colour in her cheeks but she kept her smile in place.  It looked like she had judged it correctly.  The men were all wearing suits and the women all looked like they had taken some effort.  Some of the older ladies wore pearls with their summer dresses, some of the younger ladies wore tailored trousers with their crisp, fresh tops but all looked like they stuck to a dress code.

Ian guided her over to the centre of the room.  “Jeanette, this is Kieran Latimer and his wife Martha.  He is the head of the pack here.  Kieran, Martha, this is Jeanette Fowler.  She has just taken over a smallholding just outside York.”

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Kieran smiled and shook Jeanette’s hand.  “I trust Ian is treating you well?”

Jeanette kept smiling and wondered how to take this.  There was a definite undertone to Kieran’s words.  “Ian has been very kind to me, and incredibly helpful.  He installed irrigation for me, and I am very grateful.”

“Hmm.” Kieran gave Ian a hard look.  Ian met it without flinching.  “Glad to hear that.”

“You look lovely,” Martha said, drawing Jeanette a little way away from the men.  “Where did you get that amazing skirt?  I’ve been looking for one just like it.”

“I picked it up in a charity shop.” Jeanette said, a little thrown.

“Of course.” Martha sighed.  “Which means I can’t go back and get my size.  What a shame.  I used to love rummaging in charity shops.  I came home empty handed more often than not, but it was the thrill of the chase.” She threw a loving look at her husband.  “Kieran prefers I shop at the better boutiques these days, but I do miss it.  Perhaps you would invite me along next time?  I may not be able to pick up anything myself, but I could still enjoy looking.”

“That would be nice.” Jeanette found herself relaxing.  Martha was safe in a way that few people were.  You knew that whatever happened, Martha would keep her head and make sensible and calm decisions while mayhem reigned around her.  She looked in her late thirties in a mature but well maintained way, taller than Jeanette with soft blonde hair and a warm smile.  “I’m sure you know the best places.”

“We need to go to Leeds.” Martha said.  “There are around twenty shops within yards of each other in Headingley and lots of lovely tea shops.  We could make a day of it – in the winter.  I couldn’t interrupt you during growing season.”

Jeanette relaxed a little more.  “I went to Headingley a few years ago.  My grandad was watching the cricket, but I went around the shops with my mum and you are right – there are dozens of them.” She hesitated.  “Is it okay to talk about Jasmine?  It’s just that she needs clothes and it would be good to go with her.  I think she needs reassurance.  If that’s okay with you or I could go with Jasmine some other time.” She added hastily.

Martha looked worried.  “Is Jasmine a trouble to you?  I would be worried about keeping her in line.  She has a bad reputation, you know, but I had a word with Darlene from Liverpool and…” Martha stopped.  “Jasmine has a reputation for fighting, but I understand where it came from.  Have you had any trouble?”

Jeanette shook her head.  “She’s actually been very sweet and a little nervous, if anything.  I know she fought with Ian when she first came to York, but, apart from that, she’s been fine.  In fact, I worry because she seems so eager to please, as if she’s waiting for a kick.”

Martha nodded.  “It’s hard if she has spent time as a stray.  It’s a cruel life and if she can keep her tail off the ground after that then all credit to her.”  She looked over to where Ian and Kieran were deep in conversation.  “Ian took a risk taking her in, though I suspect Mrs Tuesday was a big influence after talking with Kieran, but it looks like it was a good choice.”

“She’s really helpful in the shop.” Jeanette said.  “And she copes with it really well.  I’m getting used to it, but there is Freydis and Mrs Tuesday to deal with before you even consider what some of the customers can be like.”

“Keep an eye on Freydis and listen to what she says.” Martha said.  “She’s a handful and a nuisance but she knows more than she tells, and she often knows more than she thinks.  What is it like working with Steve Adderson?  I know he got hold of some speciality dog biscuits for us a few years ago when we were hosting a big Christmas and he did a very good deal.” She stopped and looked over to her husband who had turned away from Ian to take an urgent call.

Jeanette’s heart sank.  Ian’s face was pale and set.  He glanced over at her and nodded.  “Martha will tell you where to go.” He took his jacket off

“It looks bad.” Martha said quietly.  “Keep your head down and follow Kirstie.” Martha waved over an older teenager that looked a lot like Jasmine.  “Look after Jeanette.”

Jeanette looked round at Ian who was watching Kieran.  Kieran walked over to the corner of the room where he deliberately placed down his phone, turned and raised a hand.  All eyes burned into him.

“It’s a full pack muster.  This is not a drill.  The Paladin’s citadel has been destroyed.”

Changing Direction

This is the most recent chapter from More Tales from the White Hart.  You can read this story from the beginning here and you can read the first story here.  

“What do you think?” Jasmine twirled in front of Darren as he grabbed a quick breakfast.

“You look nice.” Darren took another bite of his sandwich.  “Is Steve going to be much longer as I need to know if there’s any magic I need to avoid.”

“You look great.” Mrs Tuesday said, “For once Ian got something right.  That colour looks great on you.  Now get some breakfast.  It’s going to be a busy day.”

Jasmine looked down at the sky blue top, loose and cropped to rest on her slim waist and the fitted black jeans.  “It feels great.”  She twirled again.  “I didn’t know I could wear clothes like this.”

“I’m surprised Ian let you get that.” Darren said.  He leaned back in his chair and tried to look down the corridor.  “I could do with picking up any chatter from Kadogan as well.”

“What do you mean?” Jasmine asked.  “Freydis said it was in fashion.”

“I don’t know anything about fashion, but go into your room, stand in front of the mirror and raise your arms above your head.” Darren stood up.  “Is there any more tea in that pot?”

Jasmine shot out of the kitchen, leaving Mrs Tuesday chuckling.  “Spoilsport.  I was hoping that Ian would notice it this afternoon.”

“I suppose it would have been even better if Callum had noticed it and had to break it to Ian.” Darren poured himself another cup of tea.  There was a shriek from Jasmine’s room.

“I couldn’t be that cruel to Ian at the moment.” Mrs Tuesday said.

Darren sat back at the table.  “I thought he was all sorted with Jeanette.”

“She was upset that he didn’t tell her he was a werewolf.” Mrs Tuesday sat down with her own bowl of porridge and sighed.  “Then he went out to talk to her last night.”

“That seems sensible.” Darren said.

“Not when she was still upset.  According to Luke, they argued.” Mrs Tuesday sat for a moment.  “I have to stay out of this, but I could knock their heads together.”

Jasmine bounded back in.  She was now wearing a pale blue embroidered tunic which looked fresh and summery over the jeans.  “How did you know?  It nearly showed my, you know…” She waved her hand vaguely over her chest area and blushed.

Darren shrugged.  “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“It wasn’t obvious to me!” Jasmine said.  She narrowed her eyes.  “Were you planning on looking?”

“What does that even mean?” Darren picked up another bacon sandwich.  “I knew you would be uncomfortable wearing a short top, so I told you.”

“But you could have seen my underwear.” Jasmine snapped.

Darren remained unmoved.  “If I wanted to see underwear I could look in the laundry basket.  Are you going to have any breakfast?” He took a large bite out of his sandwich.

Jeanette walked in and smiled a little shyly at Mrs Tuesday.  “Fiona said I should get a bite to eat before it starts.”

“Good to see you. Take a seat.” Mrs Tuesday waved at a chair.  “You may need to make a fresh pot of tea.”  She looked sternly at Jasmine.  “You can make something for Jeanette while you’re making your own breakfast.  You need to have something to eat.”

“You look nice.” Jeanette managed a smile at Jasmine.  “That top looks really sweet.  Where did you get it?”

Jasmine twirled again.  “Isn’t it great?  I have such a lot of new clothes, they won’t all fit in one bag.  Ian took me to the charity shops because he said that there was no point in buying new and spending a load because I was bound to put on a bit of weight now I was eating regularly and I found a load of stuff.  You should see the top I nearly wore…” Jeanette trailed off as she noticed the frozen expression flit across Jeanette’s face.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Jeanette managed.  “How about some toast?”

“You sit down, Jeanette.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “Jasmine can make a good plate of breakfast for you.”

“I’m not really hungry.” Jeanette said, sitting on the edge of her chair and glancing at Darren.

“You need to have fuel, even if you have had a row with Ian.” Darren said.  “I’m glad I’m only going to be fighting revenants.  It’s going to be busy here.”

“Is there really undead underneath the shop?” Jeanette asked.

“There are some very old graves below the street, yes, but they are all sleeping.” Darren said.  “It’s all sorted out.”

“Good.” Jeanette folded her hands and looked down at them.”

Jasmine started putting the bacon in the pan.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes, of course,” Jeanette lied.

“You know I’m a werewolf as well.” Jasmine watched Jeanette’s face carefully.

“Yes, Mrs Tuesday said.  She said that you needed a place to stay and were helping out here.”

Jasmine shot Mrs Tuesday a grateful look.  “It’s good here.”

Jeanette forced a brave face.  “Did Ian really take you shopping for clothes?  I didn’t think he knew anything about that.”

“He doesn’t.” Darren said.

“At least he doesn’t go looking at girl’s underwear.” Jasmine said hotly.

“Neither do I.  It’s just that the top was too short for you if you were going to be lifting stuff.  I’m sure it would be great for going out.” Darren drained his mug.

“Crop tops can be difficult if they’re loose.” Jeanette said.  “Was it very short?”

“You could almost see my underwear.” Jasmine turned the bacon, her face burning with mortification.

“You keep going on about your underwear.” Darren said. “People will think you’re obsessed.  I wouldn’t mention it again if I were you.”  He looked through the doorway.  “Great, there’s Steve.” He stood and put his empty mug and plate on the side.  “I’ll see you later.  Good luck today.”

Mrs Tuesday closed the door behind him and waited as Jasmine put a large stack of bacon sandwiches on the table.  “Jeanette, are you alright?”

Jeanette shook her head.  “I don’t think Ian will ever forgive me.”

Fiona took a breath.  It was now almost lunchtime and it wasn’t getting easier.  She had never seen so many people in one place.  Steve had said a lot would attend, but she hadn’t expected this.

Fortunately, her husband was a sorcerer which meant that he not only managed to track down the landlord of the empty garage across the street but had also managed to persuade them to rent the space for a few days.  Two large marquees had been pitched in the forecourt and were full of tables.  It wasn’t just stuff from the White Hart.  Quite a few other people had taken stalls and the atmosphere was wonderful as people who hadn’t seen each other in a century were catching up as they browsed the knitted mug cosies and embroidered peg bags.  Non-normals who didn’t leave their grove or cave from one decade to the next were suddenly on the edges of a city and wide eyed and stunned with the overload of new experiences.  Half of the local werewolf pack were on watch for lost or struggling souls.  Some of the tourists who thought this was one of the city events had also got sucked in and were mingling around the tables covered with plants, crafts, flint arrow heads, cut price incense, marked down books and shiny cake decorations.  The elfen band was sticking to traditional jazz for the moment.  Kadogan had promised to have a word if they strayed away from normal music.

Fiona carried a large tray filled with lunch through the crowds to where Jeanette was working her plant stall.  “How are things?”

“I’m doing okay.” Jeanette said from behind a fixed smile.  “I’m selling plenty and Gavin seems interested in a few things.  We were talking again today about what I can start of for him for next year.”

“That sounds optimistic.” Fiona said.  She glanced out of the marquee and across the lot to where Ian was packing up a bundle of arrowheads.  “Here’s your tea and a sandwich.  Are you okay knowing that most of these people aren’t…”

“They’re okay.” Jeanette said.  “They’ve been great to deal with.  I was talking to a dryad from the Lake District earlier and it was fascinating.  I’ve sold a lot of Callum’s pictures as well.  So many people are surprised that a werewolf is a painter.”

“It’s good of you to sell them for him.” Fiona said.  “He still has problems with crowds sometimes and I’m glad he’s driving the van.  I’ve just had to send him back to the warehouse for more fidget spinners.”

“It’s not a problem, and the pictures are so good that they practically sell themselves.” Jeanette took the mug and plate gratefully, the smile still fixed.

“I’d better keep moving.” Fiona said.  “It’s frantic!”

Jasmine and Ian were in the next marquee and doing a roaring trade.  “Is Callum back with those fidget spinners?” Ian asked.  “We could do with another box of glow in the dark stickers.  I think there’s another two boxes in the warehouse, aisle four if I remember right, on the left hand side.”

“I’ll text him when I get back to the shop.” Fiona said.  “Here’s your lunch snack.”

Jasmine watched Ian warily as he picked up a well-filled chicken sandwich and took a bite before nodding at her.  She sighed and picked up her own plate.  “I’m starving.  I thought Mrs Tuesday was joking when she said I needed a good breakfast, but she was right.”  Jasmine took a large bite before darting off to help a bewildered boggart chose between the varieties of cheap incense.

Ian shook his head as he rested his plate down.  He caught Fiona’s expression.  “She can’t eat until the head of the pack has eaten.  They were pretty strict over in Liverpool, not that it’s a bad thing.  It’s good to have a strong structure.” Ian looked at Jasmine as she joked while wrapping up a packet.  “She’s like a cub today.  She’ll collapse by around 8pm and sleep for twelve hours.  It won’t do her any harm.”

“She’s really thrilled by the clothes.  Thank you for taking her.  I would have taken her myself, but I didn’t have time.” Fiona said.

“I’d rather deal with revenants than clothes shopping.” Ian said.  “But she’s a good kid.”

“Next time perhaps one of the girls from the White Hart can go with her.” Fiona said.  “Not Mrs Tuesday,” she added.

“Mrs Tuesday wouldn’t see her go wrong.” Ian said.  He took a small bite of the sandwich.  “How are Callum’s paintings selling?”

“They’re going well.” Fiona said.  “I was in there a minute ago and I think almost half have gone.  He’s done really well.”

“It’s good of Jeanette to help him out like that.” Ian said, his voice carefully controlled.  “Especially as she’s, well, working things out.”

Fiona wished she knew what to say.  “I’m sure it will all turn out fine.”

“Yes, I’m sure they will.” Ian sounded unconvinced.

Dean found it strangely comforting to walk with Martin.  The late afternoon sun was still bright but welcome shadows stretched across roads and paths.  Before all this he had always been a morning person.  Now he barely functioned before noon.  “There seem to be less revenants.”

Martin squinted into the sun as they passed the entrance to the Yorkshire Museum.  “I think that was just the edge, the foam on top of the wave.  I know that there’s something else around.  I just can’t work out what.” He turned and looked at Dean.  “But we take this opportunity to strengthen our defences.  What are you doing for money?”

“I’ve got some money saved and I’ve registered for some graveyard shift phone jobs.  It’s covering the rent.” Dean said.

“There’s a lawyer, just outside Chester, called Mr Beddoes.  He handles a lot of vampires’ affairs.  I bought a few bits of property a few years back and I’ve been renting them out over the last century or so.  While I’ve been… sleeping, Mr Beddoes managed it all for me.  We always need money, Dean.  We need to be able to pay for presents for the people we feed from, need to buy silence sometimes, and the sort of privacy we need can be expensive.  Do you have a trade?”

Dean shook his head.  “I used to work in a call centre.”

“You need to learn one.” Martin said.  “And I am too out of touch still to give suggestions.  It is something to think about.” They walked on in silence for some time as the shadows spread and the air cooled.

There were no revenants but there were small pockets of darkness in the very heart of those shadows.  Smaller than Dean’s hand, they were inky drops that seemed ready to spill out with malevolence.  “What are those things?”

Martin shrugged.  “I never had a name for them.  I’ve only seen them once before and never spread out.  At my best guess, it’s like a curse pocket.  A tiny drop of energy looking for malice.  What did this Rey do?”

Dean shook his head.  “I don’t know. I was just a fall guy, someone to use and discard.  I didn’t know that there was a court or anything.”

“But he was having a love affair with an elfen, right?” Martin said.

“Yes,” Dean tried to think back.  “He was sleeping with the wife of Lord Ragnar.  I think he was using it to get influence.  They’re divorced now.”

They walked on a little way, sweeping around past the Minster.  Martin looked up at it thoughtfully.  “A lot of people died building that.  Accidents happen on the best building sites and a load of stone landing on your chest can hurt.”

“Did you work on it?” Dean asked.

Martin shook his head.  “But I knew people who did.  It is a wonderful place and a great memorial.” He looked around.  “Let’s head back to the river.”

“Freydis gave Rey a corner of the faerie kingdom to have for himself.” Dean said.  “I used to visit him down there and it was always tricky.”

“Did he try and shape it in any way?” Martin asked.

“He did shape it.  I remember he set it up as a trap for anyone hunting him there the night he was killed.”

“And that’s the problem.” Martin looked at Dean.  “We need to get off the street.” They walked briskly away down towards Picadilly and Martin headed into the corner of a closed car park.  After a careful glance around, he turned to Dean.  “We are dead.  We are literally dead men walking and we bring death with us.  We can carry the plague in our bites and spread typhoid and worse.  We do not bring light.” He watched Dean’s face set before carrying on.  “We can choose what we do.  We can choose to bite gently or bite hard, to sip or drain, and even whether we pull a paladin out of a hard fight or watch him fall.  But we cannot choose what we are.  Rey took our dark essence and mingled it with the wildness of faerie and now we have strange death.” Martin took a deep breath as he caught up with his thoughts.  “You know how crazy the elfen can get, how they twist the world around them?  Something in the faerie domain is infused with our death and looking to find a way to show it.  It’s tried revenants, but it hasn’t worked.  We can expect a lot more ghosts, now, and who knows what else.” Martin grimaced.  “I think I’m going to have to call on Lord Ragnar.”

Ian gave Jeanette her lift home at the end of the day, because they had always done that.  Any conversation to arrange anything different would have been far too awkward.  The half dozen plants that Jeanette hadn’t sold out of the many she had brought in were rattling in the back of the truck.  On all practical levels, it had been a good day.

Jeanette looked blankly out of the window.  Ian was the best thing that had happened to her for a long time.  But he was a werewolf.  She didn’t even know what that meant.  Besides, she could feel the hurt coming from him.  He may never look at her that way again.  Jeanette felt her heart break a little.  She had hurt him, and she had never, ever wanted to do that.

The van drew up smoothly outside Jeanette’s house.  Jeanette was relieved to see that there was no sign of Luke’s car.  “Thank you for the lift.” Jeanette forced herself to look at Ian.  His face was unreadable.

“I’ll give you a hand with the plants.  You sold a lot today.”

“Yes, I made quite a bit.” Jeanette got out of the van and joined him to pick up an armful of plants.  “It’s no trouble.  I can manage.”

“I’m happy to help.” Ian swept up the few remaining dianthus and slammed the van door shut.   “Should I put these in the greenhouse?”

“Thank you.” Jeanette walked ahead of him, trying not to remember the day he had stripped off in the greenhouse and hosed himself down.  He was just so kind.  She glanced over her shoulder.  “I really appreciate all the help you’ve given me and all that you’ve done…”

“I’ll finish off the irrigation, that’s not a problem.” Ian said. “Like I said, it’s good to keep busy.”

The greenhouse was still sauna warm after the day and Jeanette felt her skin prickle in the sudden heat as she placed the plants onto their bench.  She looked up at Ian and their eyes met.  “I’m sorry I called you a monster.”

“It’s okay.” Ian said.  He swallowed and turned away.  “I suppose I am.  I’m a werewolf, after all.  I’ve fought with vampires and I even summoned a demon once.”

“Mrs Tuesday said the demon was an accident.  I can believe that.  Besides, you took Jasmine shopping for clothes and I think that makes you a hero.”

Ian looked back.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean you put yourself last.  You went with a girl that still acts like a young teenager and got clothes when she had no idea and neither did you.  You watch out for Callum and keep him on the straight and narrow.  I know that Luke has been glad of your help.  You’re a hero and I don’t know if I’m up to your standard.” Jeanette heard herself admit a hard truth.  Was she up to Ian’s standard?  She wanted to be.  “Can we try again?”

Ian held up a hand.  “No more lies.  I want to, but I’ve got to be honest.  I don’t want a quick fling or a casual hook up.  I want something permanent, something strong.  I don’t want something that fades and changes.  I want a home and a family and someone who I can trust to have my back.  Do you think we could have that?”

Jeanette held his gaze.  “You mean, put down roots, build something up, work and get the satisfaction of seeing what you’ve achieved?  I want that, more than anything but…” She took all her courage in her hands.  “Would I have to become a werewolf?”

Ian shook his head as he stepped warily towards her.  “It’s not usual, but it’s known.  You’ll have to get used to our ways.  I’m sorry.  It’s who we are – what we are.  But you would be okay.  Besides, it’s just me and Jasmine and Callum.  We’re pretty safe.”

Jeanette stepped slightly closer to him.  “No more lies.  I’m scared of what it all means, but I want to be with you.  I want the amazing sex and I want the roots.  I want the passion, but I want something permanent, just like you said.  I don’t know how well I’ll manage with the werewolf part of things.”

“Are you brave?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know.  I hope so.” Jeanette was so close to him now.

“I’ve been called brave, but I’ve never been more scared in my life.” Ian rested his hands gently on her shoulders.  “Why don’t we risk it?  Why don’t we try?  If we don’t, we’ll never know.”

Jeanette nodded, her mouth too dry to speak.  Ian took a deep breath and swung her into his arms.  “Let’s go to bed.”

Make or Break

“Look at that!” Kadogan waved wildly at the new planters.  “It is unacceptable.”

The brownie looked at him wearily.  “These plants are the latest fashion and sell for a fortune.  You are getting an excellent deal.”

“Those auricula are practically Victorian,” Kadogan snapped.  “Do you not see it Freydis?”

“Indeed.  I remember seeing something like that centuries ago.”

“And these daisies.  And this aquilegia.  It is dated.” Kadogan waved an angry hand.

“It’s a concept.” Gavin said.  “You said you wanted something to encapsulate the essential ambience of the White Hart.  So you got timeless favourites in a selection of colours.”

“I never said that.” Kadogan narrowed his eyes.  “I said that it should show what the White Hart meant.  And the White Hart is a modern, thrusting, go-getting enterprise.”

“With all due respect, sir, the White Hart is a former pub named after a medieval myth and owned by someone older than York.” Gavin took a deep breath as Fiona, Steve, Adele and Callum were beckoned out of the shop and into the car park.  Mrs Tuesday followed, polishing a glass with a tea towel.  Gavin wasn’t intimidated.  “You meant you needed something to encapsulate the essential ambience of the White Hart.  And you have a wonderful display of healthy flowers and foliage that not only uses traditional blooms to their best advantage but also follows modern dictates of taste in planting style and uses only the most modern cultivars.”

“What?” Kadogan was pacing.  “What do you mean.  They are daisies.”

“They are not just daisies, your lordship.  I think you’ll find that those are Rhodanthamum ‘Casablanca’ and I was told that they received favourable mention from important people at the Chelsea Flower Show.”

“Who told you and how important were these people?” Kadogan asked, narrowing his eyes.

“If you ask me, the flowers look perfect.  They’re bright, cheerful, colourful, a great mix of old and new and resistant to all sorts of rubbish, rather like the staff of the White Hart.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “And Ian and Jeanette are taking a long time in that van.”

Everyone’s eyes snapped to the works van.  Ian normally dropped Jeanette at the front before driving around to the back to load up deliveries or off to the warehouse to pick up supplies.  He didn’t normally kiss Jeanette passionately and at length before doing so.

“Does Jeanette know about Ian being non-normal?” Fiona asked, transfixed.

“Of course not.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “Ian has the courage to face down any monster or demon, the mental and emotional strength to go beyond most people’s endurance and the determination and will to tackle any challenge except talking to a woman who he wants to… kiss.”

“He’s already done more than kiss.” Freydis said dispassionately.  “I suppose I could change my name to Aquilegia.  I’ve been named after flowers before, but it’s so long ago that the language has changed.  I’m still not sure between Macchiato and Arabica.”

“It is not appropriate for staff to cavort in public.” Kadogan said.  “Also, she will have to sort out her hair.  It has become dishevelled.”

Darren and Dave pulled into the car park and got out of Darren’s battered Range Rover.  Dave grinned as Darren marched over and rapped sharply on the window.  “You have an audience.  Either take a break or start charging.”

Ian and Jeanette shot apart, looking mortified.

Freydis sighed.  “Young love is so sweet.  I remember it well.  Gavin Brown, you should plant poppies to match the colour in Jeanette’s cheeks.”

Jeanette tried to keep her dignity as she got out of the van.  “Anything interesting happening?”

“These planters are old fashioned.” Kadogan said.  “I do not approve.”

Jeanette cast a professional eye over them.  “I saw pictures of something like this at the Chelsea Flower show.  Not all the same varieties but they were laid out very similar.”

Gavin looked pointedly at Kadogan.  “Nothing but the best for the White Hart.”

“And you were of such assistance after the fire that we are still deeply in your debt.” Kadogan said.  “I shall praise your flowers to all.”

Gavin relaxed a little.  “I’m glad we could help.  There haven’t been any more… disturbances, have there?”

“Reverend Darren King has blessed the site and crystals have been put in place.” Kadogan said.

Jeanette looked confused.  “What happened?”

“Unquiet dead.” Freydis said.  “Now that the planters are dealt with, and the display from Ian and Jeanette has been seen, I need to get back to the Coffee Machine.  I have purchased bunting for tomorrow.”

“I’ve never known so many ghost stories.” Jeanette said.  “When I first moved in, the neighbour down the road asked if I’d seen ‘Old Nick’?  Apparently, there’s a black dog that haunts the fields next to my house and around the local farms.”

“I’ll have a word with him, if you like, should he disturb you.” Kadogan stepped back, his mind on the planters.  “Do you think royalty have seen flowers like these?”

Fiona shook her head.  “Kadogan, could you and Callum get the marquees set up, please.  I’ll get Ian to give you a hand later.  We need to get as much done as possible before the sale tomorrow.”

“The sale is genius.” Kadogan said, still admiring the flowers.  “Will you be attending, Gavin Brown?”

“Of course.  I think every non-normal in York will turn up, and a few more besides.  I’ve got my cousins coming from Nantwich.  It’s the occasion, you know.” Gavin looked around.  “If you let me know where the marquees are going then I can perhaps provide some mobile designs.  If you let me add a discreet sign advertising our business, then I’m sure there is no need for any money to change hands.”

“That would be wonderful.” Fiona said.  “Why don’t you come inside and I can show you the plans.  Jeanette has a stall selling plants.”

“Seedlings, really.” Jeanette said.  “But I thought I would make the most of the opportunity.”

“I’d be interested to see your work.” Gavin said.  “We run a cleaning and gardening service, and I’m always interested in reliable sources for plants.”

Fiona left Jeanette and Gavin talking and followed the rest of the staff back into the shop.  It looked the same as ever.  The hardwood floor gleamed, the pristine café was fully stocked and the tasteful displays and book-stuffed bookshelves were in perfect order.  Once you got behind the scenes, however, it was mayhem.

Steve had floated the idea of the fire sale.  Some of the stock was sooty or smelled of smoke and it was normal practice.  It was also a great opportunity to shift a lot of the stuff sitting in the warehouse at a cut price just to get the space back.  “It shouldn’t be too much trouble,” Steve had said.  “Just a few extra tables in the shop and we can put a note on our website.”

Then Kadogan had told everyone, including Lord Marius, that the sale would be ‘something special’ and Lord Marius had gone the length and breadth of Britain telling any non-normal that would listen that it would be a special event.  With a week to go, Steve and Fiona had been scrabbling around to live up to this.

Fiona squeezed between a stack of boxes of paper plates and a tower of packs of spray cream and found Steve checking over a list.  “Where’s Ian?”

“He’s gone to pick up some extra stock from the warehouse.” Steve said.  “Or he’s hiding before Mrs Tuesday can speak to him.  Either explanation works.”

“It’s Jeanette that needs a conversation.” Fiona said.  “And where are we going to put anything extra?”

“We can start putting some stuff in the marquees this evening after the shop closes.” Steve double checked a box of coloured sugar.  “Kieran said he would cover the security.  He said it was the least he could do after we took in Jasmine.”

“Is she really that dangerous?” Fiona asked.

Steve shrugged.  “Potentially, she’s incredibly dangerous.  Werewolves outside a pack can break without warning.  On the bright side, Ian and Callum are practically a pack, and Mrs Tuesday is taking her under her wing, so she has a good chance.  She’s been okay this week” He ticked off another line on the list and inched his way past a stack of ‘shop soiled’ smudge sticks.  “Where is Jasmine?”

“She’s sorting out the bedrooms for the band.” Fiona said.  “I wonder if we could give away this incense?  I mean, I know it’s labelled as rose, but it smells like nothing on earth.  Where did it come from?”

“Ferdi persuaded Kadogan to take some.” Steve grabbed a box of ‘fairy themed’ windchimes in the heartbeat before they fell.  “That goblin is getting on my nerves.”

“Jasmine has been fine, I suppose.” Fiona said, checking another box.  “Have you seen how close to the sell by date these sugar flowers are?”

“I’m going to price them cheap.” Steve said.  “And dump any that are left at the end of the day.  They weren’t good sellers to start with.”

Fiona looked at the insipid purple and green rosebuds.  “I think we got them as a free sample with a bigger pack of the sugar roses.  We can’t get enough of the roses but these never seem to shift.”  She sighed.  “I am worried about Jasmine, though, and I think Mrs Tuesday is as well.  She’s so, I don’t know…” Fiona waved a vague hand.

“She’s like a kicked puppy.” Steve said.  “She keeps waiting for the blow.  It’s heartbreaking.  But it makes her potentially extremely dangerous.  You never know is she is going to snap out of fear, even though she’s as safe as she’s going to be here.” He ticked the last line of his list.  “Right, that’s checked off.  I’m going to the warehouse to finish assembling the ‘Lucky Boxes’.  It’s as good a way as any to shift stuff and there’s some good deals in there.”

“A flint arrowhead in every box.” Fiona laughed.  “And ask Ian what’s going on.”

“About what?” Steve asked, before he realised.  “It’s none of our business.”

“I think letting Jeanette know that she’s having sex with a werewolf is sort of our business, if she doesn’t know.  I mean, we sent Ian to stay with her and we do have a duty of care to employees.”  Fiona found herself wringing her hands and shoved them in her pockets.  “I’d want to know.”

“I’ll have a word.” Steve promised, kissing her briefly before grabbing his jacket.  “I’ll check in on Armani at lunchtime and I’ll see you later.”

Jeanette was trying to look composed.  They were both adults and both single, so who was getting hurt?  The last week had been the best week of her life.  It wasn’t just the physical side.  It was the feeling that she was with someone who also had passion.  Ian had the sort of determination and energy that Jeanette envied and he was so supportive as she worked to get the house and gardens up to scratch.  They had watched a film last night, and she had felt so right sitting next to him.  They hadn’t managed to watch the end of the film as sitting cuddled together was too much temptation, and they had got carried away, but it had been amazing.  Jeanette pulled herself together.  She couldn’t risk daydreaming when surrounded by interested women.  She rushed into the first thing she could think of.  “Does Kadogan really believe in ghosts?”

“Of course,” Freydis said.  “Doesn’t everyone?”

“I’m not sure.” Jeanette said.  “I don’t believe myself.”

“But you have Old Nick in your fields.” Freydis said.  “Surely that is proof?”

“I’ve never seen it” Jeanette said, “And I’ve spent hours out there.”

“But have you spent hours out there in winter?” Freydis stepped back from the coffee machine and looked at the hessian bunting.  “Do you think that’s straight?”

“What does Ian say about the ghost?” Adele asked.

Jeanette felt her cheeks get warm.  “We haven’t discussed it.”

“I’m sure you’ve been busy with other things.” Freydis said, adjusting the bunting.  She frowned.  “It still doesn’t look right.”

Mrs Tuesday sighed.  “Jeanette, I think we need to talk.”

“About what?” Jeanette said.  “If it’s about me and Ian, then it’s private.  It’s not like anything is affecting my work, and if it is, shouldn’t it be Fiona or Steve talking to me?”

“I’d go, if I were you.” Adele said.  “And it’s either Mrs Tuesday or Freydis.”

“I’m still not sure.  One of the most expensive coffees is called Gesha.” Freydis twitched the bunting again.  “What do you think about Gesha as a name?”

“It sounds like a sneeze.” Mrs Tuesday said.  She gestured for Jeanette to precede her up the stairs.  Jeanette gave in and ran up to the office.

Fiona was relieved that the shop was quiet.  Dave had back to back Tarot readings, as he had cleared the diary for the next day.  He, Sir Ewan and Darren would be walking the streets of York to keep an eye out while Lord Ragnar’s court were at the sale.  Ian and Callum were busy at the warehouse with Steve, getting the sale goods ready to load and filling lucky boxes and mystery bags.  Adele was in the back, getting as much set up as possible for catering tomorrow.  Fiona was at the till, checking the emails and their social media.  If everyone who said they were coming turned up, they would be swamped.

Jasmine cleaned the tables as Freydis stroked the coffee machine.  Jasmine was a hard worker, like most werewolves, and she kept checking to see if Fiona was approving.  She was an odd, awkward and almost gangly contrast to Freydis, both appearing tall and blonde but the elegance of Freydis was entirely missing in Jasmine.  Fiona wondered how long it would take for Jasmine to relax.  It had taken Ian months and he was still a little wary.  Callum had settled in quicker, but he had allowed Ian to take the lead.

“Mrs Tuesday is spending a long time with Jeanette.” Freydis said.  She ran a manicured finger over the steamer switch.  “I can’t imagine what she’s saying.”

“Lots of people are scared of us.” Jasmine said.  “Jeanette may not feel safe with Ian.  I know he’s okay, but Jeanette may not understand.”

“Ian is perfectly safe for Jeanette.” Freydis opened the cupboard next to the coffee machine and sighed in pleasure at the boxes of coffee ready to go.  “In fact, I think they are a perfect match.  He should bite her.”

“I don’t think that’s going to help.” Jasmine said.  She shut up quickly as Ian came in.

“I’ve brought over the tables and table cloths ready to set up.” Ian said.  “Jasmine, did you get the clothes yesterday?”

Jasmine couldn’t meet his eyes.  “It seems silly to get new clothes.  These are clean.  I wash them every night.” She looked down at the shrunken man’s t-shirt hanging off her and the faded jeans.  “These look great,” she said despite the evidence.

“You got paid yesterday.” Ian said.  “Steve agreed that for now you can get paid in cash every week.  You were supposed to go and pick up a few things.  That t-shirt will be worn out before next week.”

“I don’t really need that much.” Jasmine took the tray of dirty plates back to the dishwasher.  “Anyway, I can pick something up at the weekend.”

“Jasmine, you know we are busy at the weekend.” Ian’s voice had a certain steel in it.  “So you know you won’t be able to go shopping.  You need more than two t-shirts and a pair of jeans.  I know Fiona has let you borrow a few tops, but you need your own things.”

Jasmine loaded the dishwasher, tension in every line.  “But what if I can’t earn money next week?  And I don’t have a lot, anyway.  The jeans in Freydis’ magazine were all over a hundred pounds.” Her voice broke a little.

“That magazine isn’t real life.” Ian took a breath.  “I’m not letting you look like a scarecrow.  It looks bad for me.  I’m going to take you to get some clothes now, while it’s quiet.”

“A man can’t take a woman shopping for clothes.” Freydis said.  “They don’t understand.”

“Watch me.” Ian said.  “Jasmine, run upstairs, get your jacket and we’ll get out while it’s quiet.  I can’t do much more until the shop closes.  Then you can help me sort out the marquees.”

“I don’t want to be any trouble…” Jasmine looked trapped.

“Don’t worry, I won’t let you.” Ian said.

There was a slam and a clatter down the stairs.  Jeanette flew into the shop, tears staining her cheeks.  She ran into the back room to grab her coat and bag and then flew out again.  She stormed up to Ian.  “You never thought to tell me.  You never thought to say that you were a…” Jeanette took an angry gulp of air.  “You never thought to mention that you were a monster?”

“I’m not a monster.” Ian said quietly, his hands hanging down by his sides and his shoulders tense.

Jeanette ignored him.  “When were you going to tell me?  After all we were doing.” She tried to catch her breath.  “I don’t want to see you again.  I don’t want to speak to you again.  I want nothing more to do with you.  Stay away from me!” She whirled around and stamped away.

Ian stared after her, his heart breaking a little more at each furious step as Jeanette raced out of the door and up the street.  For a moment he closed his eyes.  Then he took a deep breath and deliberately relaxed his shoulders.  “Jasmine, go and get your jacket.  We need to get a move on if we are going to get you anything decent.”

“Are you sure, sir?” Jasmine asked, her eyes full of empathy.

“Absolutely.  The werewolves of the White Hart are not going to look like ragbags.  Now go on, get that jacket!” And Ian walked slowly across the room to the door, his back straight and his face set.

Dean kept his walk casual and his body language relaxed.  The number of revenants had dropped drastically over the last week, but the ones that had been spotted seemed to be have been working like a pack and with some sort of purpose.  He was keeping watch this evening, like Luke, as the people from the White Hart were so busy.  As he watched the corners and the angles, the back of his mind was worrying away at what was happening with the revenants.  They didn’t seem to be feeding now but were mugging tourists and looting abandoned garages.

Dean turned the corner and, keeping his head down, strolled down the back street.  The evenings were long and golden, and some tourists still lingered around the walls and along the narrow streets near the Minster.  He could hear laughter spilling out from the bars and felt regret.  He had squandered so much time there but at least he had belonged.  Now he felt rootless.  Miss Patience seemed to be getting weirder as the revenants increased so he avoided her as much as he dared, but he wasn’t part of the White Hart either.  He was almost sure that Fiona could work with him, but Steve really couldn’t.  He didn’t blame him.  He started to head towards the river.  The nixies had talked about dead bones being dumped in the water so there may be something going on down there.

Someone was keeping step with him.  Dean kept his composure but who the hell could creep up on a vampire?  The paces were almost exactly matching him, the presence next to him almost invisible.

“You’re not feeding properly.”

Dean looked at the man next to him.  He looked in his thirties. “I’m doing okay.”

“No, you’re barely staving off the demons inside you.  Just a few more mouthfuls and some regular food and it will make all the difference.  I’m Martin, by the way.”

“Dean Mackenzie.” Dean held out his hand to shake the hand of the vampire walking next to him.

“So young and so proud.” Martin said.  They carried down towards the river.  In silence.  Dean broke first.

“I haven’t seen you at Miss Patience’ house.”

“No, I’ve not much time for Patience.  I’ve always found her too emotional.” Martin said, his eyes flicking into the alleys and side roads just like Dean.

Dean turned and stared at him.  “You’re not scared of Miss Patience?”

Martin shrugged.  “I’m more worried about what is going on with the dark influence.  What do you know?”

Dean wondered what was safe to tell.  “There was an issue with a vampire last year.  He was destroyed but a lot of dark energy lingered.  He’d put a lot into Lord Ragnar’s domain and it’s still in some quarters.  Then revenants started appearing.”

Martin walked next to him in silence for a while.  They reached the river and strolled along the path before Martin indicated a bench.  He watched Dean sit down before joining him.  “This vampire that was destroyed.  Did he create you?”

Dean kept his eyes fixed on the river.  “Yes.”

“And you didn’t ask for it?” Martin said, his voice calm but inescapable.

“No.  I think he planned to kill me, but I turned instead.” Dean didn’t dare look at Martin.  A chill ran through him as he realised that he had never yet met a vampire as powerful as the creature sitting next to him.  He didn’t know what to do.

“So your creator didn’t teach you.” Martin sounded thoughtful.  “Did Patience show you how to feed?”

“Yes, and she took me to a farm just outside Thirsk.  I get a good feed there every week and sometimes I feed at her court.” Dean kept his eyes fixed on the river.  “But I don’t like leaving marks.”

“Did your creator leave marks on you?” Martin asked.  Dean nodded, not able to speak.  Martin continued in the same even tone.  “Did Patience show you how to avoid marks and to make your feeding companion comfortable?”

Dean turned and stared at him.  “Is that possible?”

Martin grimaced.  “Not only is it possible, it’s desirable.” He sighed.  “I will show you how to feed.  It is not safe for you to stay so close to the edge of your sanity.  Then we can talk a little more about this dark power.”

It was Luke’s turn to cook.  He had made the rice salad beforehand and now he just had to cook the chicken.  He pulled out an oven dish.  The chicken could be baked with tomatoes and olives.  It wouldn’t need much attention and he could grab a quick shower.  Jeanette slammed into the kitchen.

“Ian won’t be here for dinner,” she announced.

“That’s a shame.” Luke said, completely missing any undertones.  “I was wondering about trying a new Bible study course with him.  I’ll ask him when I see him next.”

“He’s not coming here.” Jeanette hung up her coat with venom.

Luke turned around and looked her properly.  She was flushed and her eyes were bright.  He had absolutely no idea what to say.  “I’ll just get this chicken in and then I’ll get a quick shower as I’m out tonight.  There’s rice salad in the fridge.”

Jeanette watched him leave before filling the kettle, her hand shaking.  It wasn’t fair.  She had been falling for Ian in a big way.  She thought she had finally met someone that was right for her, someone that she could believe in.  She watched the kettle as it boiled before realising she hadn’t got a mug out.  Her mind whirled as she made a strong cuppa.  What was she supposed to think?  Ian had been so gentle at exactly the right times and so passionate when she needed it.  He had been perfect.  He had been kind and thoughtful and she had always had a sense that she could rely on him to the end of the world.  She started laying the table on autopilot.  Why was he a werewolf?  Why couldn’t he be just a man that she met at work?

She had no doubt that Mrs Tuesday was telling the truth.  Knowing that Freydis was a supernatural creature with issues was the only thing that made explained her behaviour.  It was amazing how things made sense – the way Callum and Jasmine deferred to Ian, the unexpected strength of Mrs Tuesday, even with a bad back, Ian’s relentless energy, Ferdi’s strange appearance, some of the stock that they were selling, Ian’s strength and physical fitness.  Jeanette looked down.  She had laid the table for three.  If she had had any tears left she would have broken down and sobbed.  As it was, she quietly put away the plate, knife and fork and sagged into a kitchen chair.

There was a quiet tap on the kitchen door.  Jeanette didn’t even look up.  She couldn’t deal with anyone at the door right now, no matter what they were collecting for.  There was another tap.  Jeanette felt that she didn’t have the strength to lift her head, let alone answer the door.

The door opened and Ian stepped in.  Jeanette refused to look up.  She clenched her hands around the mug.  “Please go.”

“Jeanette, please, listen to me.” Ian was quiet but determined.  “You have to believe that I am not a threat to you.”

“Why should I believe it?” Jeanette stared at her tea, keeping her eyes away from Ian.

“Because it’s true?” Ian walked over and sat opposite her at the table.

Jeanette looked up, and her heart half broke at the hurt in Ian’s eyes.  “You lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie to you.” Ian said.

“You didn’t tell me who you were.  When was that going to happen?”

“I don’t know.” Ian was so quiet that Jeanette could barely hear him.  “I didn’t want to say anything at first.  It never ends well.  People get the wrong idea.  Then we were just getting on, just talking.  I was grateful to work here, you know.”

“I know, you kept working even though…” Jeanette’s voice broke.  “Why?”

“I was looking for someone as a partner.  I needed to pair up with another werewolf.” Ian managed a smile.  “I didn’t think that you could be a partner.  But it was difficult.  I didn’t know what I was thinking, I felt confused.  Working here helped.”

There was a silence.  Ian broke it first.  “No more secrets.  About a year and a half ago, maybe a little more, I accidentally summoned a demon.  I didn’t mean to, but it was the wrong thing to do.  My pack would have tolerated an accident, but I was using magic to get leadership of that pack, and that wasn’t allowed.  They made me divorce my wife and leave the pack.  I was a stray.  It’s a big deal.” Ian managed another ghost of a smile.  “Being a stray is worse than summoning a demon, for werewolves.  The people at the White Hart took me in.  Traditionally strays are hunted down or driven out.  Kadogan and Fiona were kind.”

“They are kind.” Jeanette remembered all the small acts of kindness that passed around the White Hart every day, even from Freydis.

“Callum had been driven out of his pack for sniffing around the wrong lady.  He had fallen in with the wrong crowd and made some bad choices before he saved Fiona and made a deal with Lord Ragnar.  He came to stay with us as well.” Ian’s smile became slightly less strained.  “I’ve taken the place of pack leader with him and I’m keeping him in line.  He’s a good lad and deserves a break.  He keeps his fur flat and pulls his weight and has come on leaps and bounds.  He didn’t know about normal society at all, you know, but he kept his tail up and learned his lessons and now he can almost walk in York without getting panicked.” Ian’s smile became wry.  “He was kept away from towns.  He still can’t always cope with a crowd of humans.  Then he fell for Adele.  But he can’t settle down with her if the pack leader hasn’t got a mate.  The pack leader gets the first relationship.  It’s a deep, werewolf thing.  And I was still missing Ann and moping.  But if Callum wants to settle down then I had to find someone.  I didn’t want to pair up with someone who would want a stray who summoned a demon.  I wouldn’t want the sort of partner who would want me.” Ian shrugged.  “I’m a hypocrite.”

Jeanette thought she understood.  The sort of woman who would settle for someone looked down on wouldn’t do for the man sitting opposite her, driven and determined.  “Is that why Jasmine turned up?”

“She was thrown out of her pack for fighting and… other reasons.” Ian reached over to take Jeanette’s hand, but she pulled away.  His mouth tightened.  “She was getting pressure to pair up with me and turned up to let me know it wasn’t happening.” Ian shook his head.  “She’s a good kid, but she’s got a lot of growing to do.  I took her shopping for clothes earlier.  I wish I could have asked you for help.”

“I walked home.” Jeanette said.  “It’s eight miles and I think I cried most of the way.  I could believe that Freydis was a supernatural pain in the neck and that Mrs Tuesday was a thingy, a boggart, but I couldn’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

Ian stood up and walked around the table.  “I didn’t know what to say.  I was scared that you would turn away from me.  And when was a good time to tell you?”

Jeanette stood up.  “Before you took me to bed.”

“You wanted that just as much as I did.” Ian said sharply.

“Yes, I did.  I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t the best sex I had ever had.  But I didn’t know it was with a werewolf.  Did you sleep with me for Callum’s sake?”

“What?” Ian looked blank.

“I’ve seen what you’ll do for your little pack, for Callum and Jasmine.  I bet you hated the thought of shopping for clothes for Jasmine but did it because it was the right thing to do.  And I know you’ve gone out of your way for Callum time and again.  Did you decide to ‘pair up’ with me so that Callum could settle down.”

“No!” Ian tried to reach for Jeanette but she backed away.  “I didn’t think of you like that.”

“So I’m good enough for a casual encounter, but nothing serious?  Are you still looking for the perfect werewolf to settle down with, someone who could take Jasmine for clothes?”

“No, it’s not like that?”

“What is it like?” Jeanette backed up further and felt the fridge against her shoulders.

“I didn’t expect to feel like this.” Ian scrabbled for words.  “I just liked being with you.  And when things got more passionate, I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.  Jeanette, please, think about it.  We can start over, start slow, maybe just date.  It’s not about anyone else, it’s about how I feel about you.”

Jeanette swallowed.  She wanted to believe him so much.  “I don’t know you.  I thought I did, but I don’t.  I don’t understand about werewolves and boggarts and elfen.” She choked back a sob.  “And how do I know that it’s about me and not Callum and Jasmine?”

“Because if it was about them I would be looking for a werewolf.  It’s you that I’m interested in, not someone fitting a job description.” Ian reached out towards Jeanette.  “Please, listen to me.”

“I can’t deal with anymore today.” Jeanette held on to the back of her chair.  “Please leave.”

“Jeanette, please, we can talk this over.” Ian advanced as Jeanette retreated around the table.

“If she doesn’t want to talk to you, I think you should leave.” Luke was standing in the doorway, a towel around his waist and a stern expression in his eyes.

“This isn’t something you should interfere with.” Ian said coldly.  “This is entirely about Jeanette and I.”

“I think I can speak up for Jeanette when she’s wanting peace.” Luke kept his voice calm but there was an edge.  The room crackled with tension.  Ian’s fists clenched.

“Jeanette is nothing to do with you.  Stay away from her.”

“I think she can make her own decisions about who she speaks to.” Luke wasn’t backing down.

Ian took a step towards Luke.  “Jeanette is mine.”

Jeanette flew between them.  “Ian, don’t!  Luke, you need to run, you don’t understand.  Ian’s not… Ian’s a…” She stuttered to a stop as the colour drained from Ian’s face.

“You really do think I’m a monster, don’t you?” All emotion had drained from Ian’s voice.

“Ian, I don’t know, I didn’t mean…” Jeanette struggled to find the words.  “You’re a werewolf.”

“But I’m not a monster.  It’s okay.  If that’s what you think then I’ll leave.” Ian looked past her.  “I’ll see you later Luke.  Can you drop my things at the White Hart?”

“Not a problem.” Luke said, looking between Ian and Jeanette.

Ian turned on his heel and without another glance walked out of the house.  Luke turned to Jeanette.  “What’s going on?” He put a gentle hand on her shoulder.  She shook her head and sank back into the kitchen chair.

Food for Thought

Jeanette paused.  She was sure she heard a tap on the kitchen door.  She listened carefully.  Yes, someone was knocking.  She opened the door and nearly fell over.  Ian was there, squelching in half dried mud.  His jeans were soaked through and his shirt clung to him.  He had mud in his hair, on his face and he was kicking off his encrusted boots.  “What happened?  You had better come in.”

Ian shook his head.  “I think I might track some mud in.” He grinned.

“Are you hurt?” Jeanette looked him over but it was hard to get past the brown ooze.

“No.” Ian started unbuttoning his shirt.  “I was dropping off a parcel at a farm just past Copmanthorpe and I saw a load of piping dumped next to the road.  Jeanette, you should see them.”  He dragged his shirt off, showing that the mud had gone all the way through the material and now was smeared all over his chest.  He beckoned Jeanette towards the van and flung open the back doors.  “It’s quality stuff, just dumped there.  They’d even tried to hide it under some grass.  It’s almost everything we need for your irrigation system.  All I need to do is pick up a few more connectors.  They’d even left some half-used sealant.  I can’t believe it.” He looked down at the shirt.  “I’d better dump my clothes in the polytunnel for now.” He smiled apologetically.  “Could you get me a towel, please?  I’ll hose myself down outside and get the worst of it off.  I can’t go in the house like this.”

Jeanette saw the heap of plastic pipes and connectors in the back of the van.  They were just what they needed – and a lot cleaner than Ian.  “How did you get so muddy?” She started backing away as Ian stripped off his socks.  “Were the pipes in a ditch?”

Ian laughed.  “No, but they were next to it, and I grabbed an armful of the stuff, lost my footing and slipped.  I reek of stagnant drainage.” He started to unbutton his jeans.

“I’ll leave the towels outside the polytunnel.” Jeanette said, backing away.

“If you get me some old ones, then I can’t make too much of a mess.  Then if you don’t mind I can have a proper shower in the house, but without clogging up the drains.”

“Sure.” Jeanette fled into the house.  Ian was definitely worth looking at, but she felt it was all wrong.  She wanted to look too much.  She pulled out the oldest towels she had, put some newer ones on the towel rail in the downstairs shower and opened the kitchen door cautiously.  From the puddle of mud stained clothes outside the polytunnel, Ian wasn’t wearing a stitch in there, but at least he had pulled the door over.  Furiously self-conscious, Jeanette hung the towels on the water butt, yelled to Ian’s silhouette that the towels were out there and ran back into the house.

Ian strolled into the house ten minutes later with just a large towel wrapped around his waist.  He had towelled off the worst of the water but his skin and hair were still damp.  “I left my clothes outside.  I may have to write them off.  They’re in a bad state.  Is it okay if I get a warm shower with soap?”

“I’ve put some better towels out.” Jeanette said.  “I’ll put the dinner on while you have a shower.  It’s only us two, tonight.  Luke has a meeting.”

Ian nodded.  Luke was on patrol this evening with Sir Ewan.  Someone really needed to talk to Jeanette, but it wasn’t going to be him.  He had enough on his plate at the moment.  “I hope you’ve made plenty, I’m starving.”

Jeanette was plating up the frittata as Ian came back, looking a lot cleaner.  He hadn’t bothered getting any clothes on, but at least had a fresh towel around his waist.  She wasn’t exactly complaining.  The hours he spent at the gym obviously paid off and he had nothing to be ashamed of, but Jeanette worried that she admired the view too much.  Perhaps she was turning into a dirty old woman.  “Thanks for the pipes.  It must have been an adventure.”

Ian laughed.  “It was hilarious.  I must have looked like a swamp monster when I got out of the ditch.  I’ll clean up the van before morning.  It’s easier to brush off dried mud.”

“Is it bad?  I’ll give you a hand.” Jeanette put the large bowl of salad on the table.

Ian got the mugs out of the cupboard as Jeanette made the tea.  “I can’t get over the find.  It was obviously dumped, they were just left there with a load of rubbish.  I was looking on the local pages and even buying the off cuts and over runs, we’ve saved a fortune.  I’m going to have to keep my eye out on the roads to see if there are any other treasures.”

“If you find a shed, I’ll let you build it here.” Jeanette said a little recklessly.

“Aren’t you taking a risk that I’ll fill it with junk?” Ian sat down and sighed.  “This looks great.”

“It will be perfectly organised junk.” Jeanette sat opposite him and bent her head as Ian said grace.  “It’s the least I can do.  I would never have got so far if it hadn’t been for you.”

Ian shook his head.  “I don’t know about that.  Anyway, it’s been good to get out in the fresh air.  I missed it last night.”

“I know.” Jeanette helped herself to some salad.  “But the coffee evening was sort of a success.”

“Loads of people were asking Fiona when the next one was, so that part was successful.” Ian said dryly.  “And the coffee and cakes were amazing.”

“I know.” Jeanette said.  “Though I’ve never seen so much sugar used in one night.”

Ian thought that someone really needed to have a talk with Jeanette.  The elfen had devoured plate after plate of honey with meringue and added spoonful after spoonful to their coffees.  “I can’t bear that amount of sugar myself.  But the coffee was good.  Freydis has put some work into it and it’s paid off.”

“What was going on with her name?” Jeanette asked.

Ian shook his head.  “Freydis just felt like a change.  I have no idea what will stick, but I doubt she’ll stay Freydis.  I just hope she doesn’t choose something too ridiculous.”

“She looks nothing like a Mocha.” Jeanette said, taking a large forkful of the frittata.  “And she doesn’t look much like a Chai, either.”

“I did wonder about Typica, but apparently that’s a type of coffee.” Ian helped himself to more salad.

“I don’t think that suits her either.” Jeanette said.  “And what was going on with her and Lord Ragnar?”

“They got divorced last year.” Ian said.  “But I’m not sure either of them really wanted it.” He put down his knife and fork for a moment and thought about it.  “I think that they never really got the hang of being married, and so they ended up divorced and confused.”

“I think they’ve both been reading books.” Jeanette said.  “It’s never a good sign when you have to read a book about your relationship.  Freydis was being Strong and Independent and Having Her Own Interests at one side of the room and he was being Strong, Silent, Intense and Determined on the other.  It was enough to give you a headache.”

Ian laughed.  “That’s a perfect description.  I wonder how long they’ll stay separate?”

Jeanette finished her last mouthful of frittata.  “I think they are both enjoying the drama too much.  I’ve made a cake for after.  It’s not as good as Mrs Tuesday’s baking, but it’s here.”

“Mrs Tuesday does make some good cakes.” Ian said.  “And now Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader are helping out with the café, there is some really amazing treats.  But they’ve been cooking for at least fifty years longer than you and your stuff is still amazing.”

They relaxed into a comfortable silence over their cake.  Jeanette found her mind gently idling as her thoughts drifted from the new lemon cake recipe that had been a success to the dinner in general and how her cooking was getting better, to how she was sitting in a room with a nearly naked, gorgeous man and she had never thought that would happen to her.

Ian was leaning back in his chair.  For once he looked totally at ease.  Jeanette wondered how old he was.  There were lines on his face, but they looked like they came from hard experience rather than age.  His body looked young, but she hadn’t had much to judge it against.  Her few boyfriends all seemed a lot younger than him.  Jeanette stared down into her tea to stop herself staring at Ian.  She had worked so hard for years to try and get this chance.  She had worked extra jobs, stayed in and abandoned her social life to try and save for a little growing space of her own.  Someone like Ian was not going to be interested in her.  She drained her mug and stood up to put her plate in the dishwasher.  Ian stood up to pass her his plate.  For a moment they were close, too close, and Jeanette could smell the soap he had used in the shower.  Ian was staring into her eyes and he looked hungry.

Jeanette didn’t know if she was reading the signs right, but she tentatively reached out and touched his shoulder, stroking down the smooth skin of his arm.  She leant closer and Ian bent down for a kiss.  Jeanette found herself clinging to Ian as he ran his fingers through her hair and then held her pressed against him.  It was very clear, he wanted her just as much as she wanted him.  She ran her hands over his back and hair as she lost herself in the kiss.

Ian pushed them apart.  He was breathing heavily and his fists were clenching.  “I want more.” He growled.  Jeanette nodded, watching as Ian struggled for control.  “Are you sure?” He asked.  Jeanette nodded again and then gasped as Ian picked her up and carried her to her bedroom.

Dave never admitted it, but he loved visiting York Minster.  It was usually crowded with tourists and noisy with tours and there was always some exhibition going on.  But if you ducked around the corner from the gift shop and sat in one of the side aisles, you could sit and think without disturbance.

Very few non-normals came in here, at least, none of those based in York.  They seemed to think that the Minster was for tourists and most of them went to St Agnes or the Presbyterian chapel.  The brownies were almost all Quakers, for some reason and he didn’t want to speculate about what some of the goblins got up to.  Dave looked at all from the outside and couldn’t work it out.  Where did he fit in?

Sometimes he walked around the Minster checking for his sparkles.  Most of the time he was plain, but in a few odd corners he showed as a paladin as he crossed a small patch that was considered Most Holy.  Why him?  He had detoured past a group of French tourists and hit a patch this morning.  Fortunately, the multi-coloured shadows from the stained glass that filled the walls covered up any unfortunate twinkling.  He’d no idea why some parts were Most Holy and some weren’t.  Perhaps he was walking over the bones of saints.  The Minster was so stuffed with tombs and grave markers that there must be hundreds, if not buried here over the centuries. At least they were quiet here.

His shoulder throbbed.  If this carried on, he would be unfit to be a paladin, and then what?  What was he good for?  Dave looked down at the polished stone.  He was still a fraud.  He could talk the talk, and he could hold up his end in a fight, but he wasn’t a good man.  He had been talking his way in and out of trouble, coasting along and charming his way into people’s wallets.  What sort of person did that?  Yet there he was, in the paladin’s house, getting cakes from little old ladies and faking Tarot readings.

He rubbed his shoulder.  The cool of the building was setting it off.  At the moment just walking set it off.  If he thought about it, the Tarot readings were probably the best part of his life.  He couldn’t see the future in the cards, but he could read people.  He’d made his living reading people.  Far too many of his clients came to him because they were lost and lonely and confused.  He could act like a counsellor, talk stuff through with them, listen to them when no-one else would.  He had started keeping a list of charities and organisations which he could print out for those spending money they didn’t really have looking for answers which they should have been able to get from the council or the bank or the school.  It was hard work, but at least it meant that he was worth something.

But that was all he was.  Good at lying about what he saw, talking the talk, and listening to what people meant instead of what they said.  The person he admired most at the White Hart was Ian.  Ian was a werewolf who had accidentally summoned a demon.  He had lost everything that was important to him as a result.  He had lost his wife, his place in the pack, he had been cut off from his trade and he had been sent away from everything and everyone he knew. But Ian had picked himself up and got on with things.  What was it they said?  Ian had kept his fur flat and his tail up and now could get some credit.  He had taken charge of Callum and kept him on the straight path.  Callum had been bewildered when he made it to the White Hart and Ian had sorted out bank accounts and taxes for him, showed him how to watch his money and how to deal with the unexpected freedoms that he hadn’t known before.  Dave had watched Ian drive himself to be better at whatever he did.  The warehouse was immaculate, the plumbing at the White Hart was now incredibly efficient and from the sound of it he had done a great job at Jeanette’s small holding.

Dave kept his head down as a school tour went past.  The teacher was being very clear about the architecture, but not talking about the faith.  Dave knew enough about people to know that the stones and mortar weren’t necessarily about religion,  People had given money for the building to look good, to make the right impression, to hide guilty consciences and sordid pasts.  But Dave had seen how Ian and Darren acted, and he knew that some of them would have given money and time to raise the building because they believed.  Ian struggled with the memory of summoning a demon, but he still looked himself in the eye when he shaved.  He didn’t turn his head from what he had done.  Despite what Ian had done, he prayed.  He read the Bible and wasn’t looking for loopholes.  He did his best.  Darren told Ian, “God can forgive you, if you really turn around.  Can you forgive yourself?” Ian was still working on that.

Staring at the polished floor, Dave started praying.  He let out all his guilt and fear over his failures, his faults, his shady past.  He prayed for help.  He prayed for the guidance that he gave others in his Tarot readings.  He prayed for the first time in his life, and he didn’t know why he had started and he didn’t know how to stop.  A great peace settled over him as finally his prayers faded and he was sitting with utter stillness in the soaring cathedral, untouched by the crowds.  Then a sharp pain stabbed through his shoulder and he yelped.  He slowly rotated it and it felt a little bruised, but otherwise it was fine.  He flexed it again.  It was working.  Perhaps he should ask Darren about this.

Darren felt under siege.  Mrs Tuesday had insisted that he called in to the White Hart.  “I don’t like to think of you without a good meal inside you.  I know how hard you work.”

“I’m capable of cooking a meal.” Darren tried to sound firm.

“But you don’t bother half of the time.” Mrs Tuesday guided him to a chair in the upstairs kitchen.  “Me and the other boggarts are going to sort out the café.  Mrs Anderson makes wonderful cakes and Mrs Cadwallader’s scones are amazing.  We need to work out how to go on.  Jasmine will eat with you up here, though, so you won’t be lonely.”

Darren looked over at the skinny werewolf.  She looked barely old enough to vote and as awkward as he felt.  “I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Then don’t make any.  I’ll be back up later.”

Darren watched Mrs Tuesday disappear and sighed.  “Hi, Jasmine.  You don’t need to wait on me, you know.” He stood up and started getting out the cutlery.  “Or has Mrs Tuesday insisted?”

Jasmine managed a smile.  “She said if we ate together then we were both likely to finish our meals.”

Darren looked at the t-shirt hanging off her. “Are you anorexic?”

“Mrs Tuesday warned me that you said things without thinking.” Jasmine said.  “If I was, you shouldn’t ask.”

“I’m not good at the right questions.” Darren grumbled.  “But you don’t look like you should refuse food.  If that’s an okay thing to say.”

“It just feels wrong, like I’m taking advantage.” Jasmine said.  “I don’t need charity.”

“You really do.” Darren said.  “And there’s nothing wrong with accepting a helping hand.  As long as you give help to others when you can.  Anyway, I thought you were getting paid.”

“Steve has given me an advance on my wages.” Jasmine said.  “He suggested I get some clothes.  But I’m staying here and getting food.  It feels wrong to take money.”

“Are you getting a deduction from your wages for rent?” Darren asked.  Jasmine nodded.  Darren pulled the plates out and put them on the table.  “Are you putting into the food money?” Jasmine nodded again.  “Well then,” Darren said, “You are being more than fair and you’re getting the going rate.  Kieran Latimer does the same with his pack.  So does Tyr Armstrong over at the Village.  It’s not exactly a pack here, but it’s not too bad.”

There was a long pause.  “Rick used to do the same, when we were working.” Jasmine said softly.

“That’s Rick Lowther?  Head of the Liverpool pack?  I know him.” Darren poured the tea as Jasmine piled their plates with chips and thick slices of chicken.  He guessed Mrs Tuesday had decided the portion size.  “He’s always been tough, but I thought him a pretty fair man.”

“It’s not his fault.  I had to leave, it wasn’t working.” Jasmine added the beans and then set the plates gently down on the table.

“I’ve not heard the full story.” Darren added ketchup to his plate.  “But grace first.”

Jasmine bent her head over her plate as Darren said a few words and then speared a chip.  “There’s not much to say.”

Darren knew better than to push.  Jasmine was a bundle of nerves at the moment.  She was probably wondering what the catch was.  Life as a werewolf outside a pack was tough and the White Hart must seem like an improbable paradise.  He ate hungrily.  The work here was taking it out of him, and Mrs Tuesday knew how to cook a chicken.  The silence stretched and he looked up and caught Jasmine watching him warily.

“I’m not going to pounce on you, you know,” she said.

“And I’m not going to pounce on you either.” Darren said, taking a bite of the luscious chicken.

“You couldn’t.” Jasmine said.  “You’re just a normal.  I could fight you off.”

“So why aren’t you pouncing on me?” Darren said.  “Or is it because Mrs Tuesday’s cooking tastes better.”

“That’s an awful thing to say!” Jasmine snapped.

“Is it?  Nobody’s going to pounce but I may use stern words if you don’t eat your dinner because Mrs Tuesday will blame me if your plate isn’t cleared.”

Jasmine looked down at her plate.  She had eaten at least half, but the rest of it looked daunting.  “I feel full.”

“You’re not used to eating a lot, and you’re nervous about a stranger eating with you.” Darren pushed some ketchup towards her.  “Take your time, don’t stress if you can’t finish it and enjoy the ketchup.”

Jasmine stared at the ketchup.  “I haven’t had ketchup for a year.”

“Really?” Darren stared.

“I’ve been scrounging a lot of food.” Jasmine said, not meeting Darren’s eyes.  “You know, cash in hand work plus a free pizza if I was delivering, or a free burger for clearing out some rubbish.  I’ve not really been in a place to have ketchup.”

“Do you like it?” Darren asked.  How could ketchup be such a big thing?  And where did he start?  He was no good at the pastoral side.  “Help yourself.”

Jasmine shook the bottle and added a little to her plate.  “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Darren said.  Inside he was panicking.  If she was this caught up about ketchup then what other pitfalls were there?

Freydis appeared in the doorway.  “Lord Ragnar is refusing to call me Macchiato and refused to duck when I threw a cup at him. I nearly hit him!”

Jasmine and Darren exchanged a look.  Jasmine stood up.  “Mrs Tuesday made a coffee cake.  Would you like a slice?”

“How can I eat cake when Lord Ragnar refuses to duck?” Freydis stamped her foot.  “I’m going to find the perfect name and then he’ll listen to me.” She stormed out.

“She’s going to end up being called Filter Paper.” Darren said.  “But now you’ve mentioned it, I think I’ll have a slice of the cake.  Mrs Tuesday has her uses.”

For those with enquiring minds and wondering about Dave’s shoulder, I have dislocated my left shoulder three times and while I have only dislocated my right shoulder once, it took two years to heal.  In my opinion, Dave’s shoulder clicking back could have a natural explanation, a supernatural explanation or a divine explanation.  It’s up to you.  

Stranger Danger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll ring Jeanette.” Fiona said.

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

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

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

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

“What?” Jasmine said.  Fiona sympathised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not sure.” Kieran said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How is the magical science working?” Lord Ragnar asked.

Darren shrugged. “The good news is that it’s definitely within the city.  The bad news is that they are using the magic that’s being bounced back.  It’…” Darren searched for the right word.  “It’s blurry.  Whoever it is, they may be underground.”

“I was here before the legions.” Lord Ragnar looked thoughtfully at the main map, hanging from a beech.   “I was here before the traders from Star Carr brought their skins and furs to trade for the Amber when you could walk to the East and find it there, before the sea came in.  I still remember much.  But even I cannot remember all the dim places, where the rivers meet.  There have always been strong currents of power here.  There is a reason there are so many hauntings in York.  I could not guess where to start looking without direction.” There was a tense pause before Lord Ragnar visibly brightened.  “And there is a coffee evening this evening.”

“About the coffee evening.” Steve didn’t know where to start.  “You may have heard about Jasmine Liddle?  Mrs Tuesday has persuaded Kieran Latimer to let her stay at the White Hart.  To be honest, if she can behave herself it will be a blessing because Mrs Tuesday hurt her back again.”

“You’re building quite a collection of strays.” Miss Patience said, barely looking up from her knitting.  “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Will Fiona be safe?” Dean asked.

Steve got a good look at him for the first time.  Dean’s face was gaunt, the skin stretched tautly over his cheek bones and his eyes were sunken.  His jacket was hanging off him.  “I’ll be keeping an eye out for Fiona.”

Miss Patience caught Steve’s shocked expression.  “Dean is not feeding properly.  Perhaps I could send him down to Mrs Tuesday.  She seems to be able to sort youngsters out.”

“I’m fine.” Dean said.  “I think I’m just settling in to my new frame.”

“How does Freydis feel about this.” Lord Ragnar changed the subject.

“She seems fine.  She said she would stay at the White Hart for a while, just to make sure.  Callum and Ian will be staying elsewhere.”

“I’m sure that Kieran Latimer insisted on that.” Lord Ragnar looked amused.  “All the werewolves have views on such matters and Kieran is particularly strict.”

“And Freydis is thinking of changing her name so she may announce it at the coffee evening.  She was talking about calling herself Arabica earlier.” Steve moved over to the map.  “I think I should try dowsing for burial sites.”  He turned around to Lord Ragnar.  “What do you think?”

Lord Ragnar was standing there, frozen, the colour draining from his face.  He seemed to fold at the knees to land on the soft woodland floor.  “I’ve lost her.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve said.  “Who have you lost?”

“Freydis chose her name for me, to fit my life.  I was wearing a Viking glamour and took a Viking name and she chose one with me.  She used to use Bridget.  She was so beautiful as Bridget, with glowing red hair and sparkling eyes.” Lord Ragnar put his head in his hands.  “I’ve lost her.  She’s changing her name from something that meant she was mine to something else.”

“You divorced her.” Darren said, rubbing at his arm.  “If there’s going to be magic, I’d rather go back to the Citadel and pray for guidance.”

“I only divorced her because I thought she didn’t love me, but she did.” Lord Ragnar said.  “But now I fear I have driven her away.”

“Divorces usually mean the end of the relationship.” Darren said, standing up.  “Let me know what you find, Steve, please.  Between us we may be able to work out a good pattern.”

“I can’t believe I drove her away.” Lord Ragnar had dropped his hands and was staring blankly.  “If she changes her name, I shall lose all hope.”

Darren shook his head.  “You divorced her.  I’m pretty certain that means you’ve lost her.” Steve caught hold of his arm, but Lord Ragnar had already sunk his head back in his hands.

“I had such high hopes when we had that argument before Fiona was rescued.” Lord Ragnar said. “And she was the elfen I fell in love with when we dealt with those nixies together at Christmas.”

“That was a demonstration of power.” Miss Patience agreed.  “I don’t think any of the river folk will forget it in a hurry.”

“We are supposed to be going out to dinner in three days’ time.” Lord Ragnar leapt suddenly to his feet.  “I cannot stay here, my heart is breaking.  If Freydis changes her name, all will be lost.” He stormed out.

“Well, that was helpful.” Darren said.

He prowled around the Shambles, taking his time.  The paladin’s people were elsewhere so tonight was a good night for hunting.  He wasn’t rushing, cruising almost imperceptibly through the bars and around crowded streets.  Goodramgate was too busy, and it was the wrong type of crowd in King’s Square, but he found what he was looking for towards the station.

It looked like an office party.  A large gaggle of women with a few uncomfortable looking men had spilled outside a bar.  He stayed in the shadows and watched.  A couple of older women had had too much to drink and were flirting with what looked like office juniors.  A younger redhead had had far too much to drink and was crying on the shoulder of a friend.  To one side was a woman, around her mid twenties, not too slim with shining chestnut hair and a stressed expression.  She was clutching a half drunk glass of cheap white as if it was a shield.  She was definitely a possibility.  He smiled politely at the group as he went in and bought himself a scotch before coming out to catch the air.  There were a few knots of people around so he drifted apparently aimlessly before standing not too close to the young woman.  “It’s quite warm tonight.”

She nodded, almost relieved to have someone sober to talk to.  “It’s not too bad at all.” She looked along the front of the bar.  A couple of the older women were pulling bottles of spirits out of their bags and the redhead was shouting that she was going to go and find ‘him’ and give him a piece of her mine.  “It’s a bit noisy, though.”

He was still surprised at the willingness of modern women to dally.  He moved a little down the street and took a small sip of his scotch.  “Are you out celebrating a birthday?”

She shook her head.  “It’s an office party, the anniversary of the start of the company.  The bosses always give us some money to put behind the bar and tell us not to worry about a hangover at work tomorrow.”  She smiled.  “I’m Amy.”

“Nice to meet you, Amy.  I’m Martin.” He had always liked the name ‘Martin’.  Her had was small and soft in his.  “I used to live in York, but I’ve only just got back after a time away.  I see that the atmosphere hasn’t changed. Which are the good bars?”

Amy glanced briefly at her colleagues.  The red head was insisting on getting another drink against the advice of her friend.  “I don’t go to bars much.  I go to coffee shops.  There’s some good ones in York, now.  The White Hart has reopened with a new range of coffees.  I was thinking of trying there one evening.”

Martin wasn’t going to take Amy there.  He swallowed his scotch.  “Why don’t I take you for a coffee somewhere?” He glanced back at the crowd.  The older women were topping up the office junior’s glass with far too much vodka.  He would be sick later.  “I don’t think that you’ll be missed.”

“I think that’s a great idea.” Amy said, taking a last mouthful of her wine and leaving the rest untouched as she waved a brief goodbye to the group.

At Amy’s suggestion, they picked up some take out coffees and wandered along the streets of York.  It was peaceful away from the centre and the June evening twilight leant a softness to everything.  They found a bench near the river and stopped to drink their coffee.  They looked mismatched.  Martin was wearing an expensive suit with a pale blue shirt and a blue tie knotted loosely at his throat.  Amy was wearing a pink strappy top and a short skirt that she kept trying to pull down to cover more of her legs.  Martin took off his jacket and gently placed it around Amy’s shoulders.  “I don’t feel the cold.” He said truthfully.

Amy snuggled into it.  “I feel like I shouldn’t accept it, but I’m glad to have it.”

“It’s cooler than you would expect next to the river.” Martin said.  “And I suspect you are usually in jeans and a sweater, yes?”

Amy laughed.  “I borrowed this outfit from my sister.  She told me to go out and have fun in it.” She put her coffee carefully on the ground next to the bench and looked at Martin expectantly.

He smiled and put his coffee next to hers.  She was making it so easy for him.  He gently stroked her hair and her face before holding her head and fixing his eyes on hers.  For a moment Amy tried to get loose, feeling uncomfortable at the unyielding grip, but Martin had been doing this for centuries and she couldn’t escape his gaze.  Martin kept eye contact as he leant in closer before kissing her gently on the lips.  She closed her eyes and sighed.  She was under his control.

They were in public and could potentially be disturbed, but that was no reason to rush things.  It was only respectful to Amy to take his time.  He kissed her again on the lips and she shivered helplessly.  He stroked her hair and she leaned into his hand.  He picked up one of her hands that lay helplessly on her lap and stroked over the palm.  Amy was breathing faster now.  He lifted her palm and kissed it, nipping a little at the base of the thumb.  Amy groaned.  Martin kissed the inside of her wrist and, as Amy groaned again, he bit and started to feed.

For a moment, Amy went rigid.  Then the effects of vampiric feeding kicked in and she was leaning against his shoulder, sheltered by his free arm around her as he drank her blood.  Martin could hear the shiver in her breathing, feel her utter surrender to him as he took what he needed.  That was the thing, he never took more than he needed.  He took just enough to keep him sustained and to keep the demons at bay.  Then he drew back.  Some vampires liked to leave a mark, like staking a claim.  Martin always thought that lacking in basic respect.  He kissed the small mark on her wrist and then focused his will.  The tiny puncture wounds healed up.  Then he scooped Amy up and held her on his lap, stroking her hair as she came round.

Her breathing slowly returned to normal.  He could feel her shifting a little, as she woke up from his influence.  Martin was braced.  Now was the trickiest time, after the first feed.  Amy sighed and snuggled closer.  “You’re a vampire.”

“Yes, I am.” Martin stroked her hair, enjoying the softness of it.

“And you just fed from me.” Amy said.

“Yes, I did.” Martin pushed the hair away from her face.  “I didn’t take too much.”

“It felt amazing.” Amy looked at her unmarked wrist.  “I thought you drank from the neck.”

“It’s an option.” Martin said.  “But I think a wrist is a little more polite on a first date.”

Amy leaned back against him, still wrapped in his jacket.  “I feel like I’m floating, like I’m drifting in a dream.”

“I’ll take you home.” Martin said.  “I want to make sure that you get home safe.  But first, can I take you to dinner next Monday?”

“Do you eat food?” Amy was still half dreaming in the after effects of the bite.

“Not only do I eat food, but I have perfect table manners.” Martin pulled her gently to her feet and wrapped a supporting arm around her shoulders.

“Would you feed on me again afterwards?” Amy asked as they strolled back towards the city.

“Perhaps.” Martin said.  “I don’t want to make you weak.”

“It felt amazing.” Amy said.  “My sister said I should have a good time, and I really did.”

“And I promise you will have a good time on Monday.” Martin steered her towards the taxi rank.  “But for tonight, let’s get you home.”

Martin dropped Amy off at her unremarkable townhouse and started walking back to York.  Now he had drunk enough to keep his mind clear, he could make plans.  Much had happened over the last century as he had slept.  He needed to work out what to do next.