“You are the son of Lord Marius.” Kadogan said, appearing in the office at Steve’s shoulder as he counted the change.
“What? Yes, I am.” Steve abandoned any hope of counting and leant back in his chair to look at Kadogan. What he saw worried him. He looked paler than usual and his hair looked longer and unkempt. His cheekbones looked a lot more prominent and his eyes were wilder.
“But you have no interest in taking the path of the elfen or taking power.” Kadogan lounged against the office door.
“It’s really not my style.” Steve said. “I like the business side and the travel.”
“Also your wife is not elfen.” Kadogan continued. “Although any children may have a choice to take the elfen path.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Steve said. “Are you okay?”
“Four centuries ago I had a child.” Kadogan stepped in and shut the door. Steve felt unexpectedly edgy at being trapped in a room with him. Kadogan had always been sensible and easy to deal with, for an elfen, but the rules were changing. Steve pushed a chair towards Kadogan.
“She died.” Kadogan said. “She was a flower. She grew, she blossomed, she faded and she died.”
“I’m sorry.” Steve said. He wasn’t sure whether the child was a literal flower or a person described as a flower. Both were possible with elfen.
“She had a good life.” Kadogan sat on the offered chair. “She worked as a washerwoman for a family near Rawcliffe. She never married. When she was twelve she caught smallpox. Normals have already forgotten what that was like. It was so bad. Lord Ragnar sat and sang with her for seven days and seven nights until she was healed. He brought her back from dark shores.”
“That was good of him.” Steve said.
“He did not ask it for a favour, either.” Kadogan said. “He did it because it was the thing to do to a loyal companion. Just as he marshalled the court for the White Hart when there was a fire. He tries to do the right thing.”
“I know.” Steve said.
“But his vision is clouded by his love for Freydis. The errors and misjudgements are no longer amusing.” Kadogan sagged in his chair. “I do not know what to do.”
Steve looked thoughtfully at Kadogan. All the elfen were twitchy at the moment. Steve had never really got to grips with elfen politics. He could see which way the wind was blowing and could make a fair guess at whether a court was safe or stable, but he couldn’t see the deeper currents that were carrying Kadogan along with Lord Ragnar, Freydis and the rest of the elfen. The domain of the Prince of York was neither safe nor stable at the moment, and what seemed obvious to him seemed impossible for the elfen. “What are you worried about?”
“I am worried that Lord Ragnar will be utterly destroyed and that we shall have a vampire as the Prince of York.” Kadogan said. “This would not be a good thing.”
“You’re talking about Martin, aren’t you?” Steve said. “I think he is extremely reluctant to take power. All the chatter I heard was that he was utterly indifferent. He’s being more or less loyal to Lord Ragnar, which has to count for something.”
“But if the domain does not become stable, then Aelfhelm may take control out of desperation.” Kadogan slumped even lower in the chair.
“I can try speaking to Lord Ragnar, if you like.” Steve said. “If he got Freydis to sort out the domain then he could try and romance her properly, you know, have fun this time around.”
Kadogan sighed. “They are both incredibly irritating when they are romantic, but it may be the only way. They are perfect for each other because they would drive anyone else to madness.”
“I’ll speak to Lord Ragnar after the reception.” Steve said. “I’ll do what I can to make him listen to me. If he won’t let Freydis help then he needs to let someone like Lord Marius do it. And Freydis won’t ask him for favours in return.” Steve thought for a moment. “Freydis probably won’t ask for favours in return. Seriously, Kadogan, once the domain is put right then things will quieten down, Miss Patience will be possible to deal with and then Lord Ragnar and Freydis can enjoy romance.”
Kadogan looked around the room, almost as if he was seeing it for the first time. He seemed to be examining the corners of the desk and the pattern of shadows falling from the tree outside onto the blank wall. “I will speak to him now.” Then Kadogan vanished.
Steve finished counting the change before locking it in the safe. Then he wandered downstairs. It wasn’t worth getting ready yet, it was only early in the afternoon, but everyone was on edge for Lord Ragnar’s reception that evening. The shop was empty and for once Steve was glad about it.
“Hello, Elaine.” Steve managed a friendly smile. “I didn’t expect you to be in.”
“Work needed me to work late last night so I got this afternoon off and I let Jasmine get off and do some shopping?” Elaine’s smiled was a little forced, but she seemed relaxed enough. “She’s getting changed here with Mrs Tuesday.”
Steve looked over to where Mrs Tuesday was wiping over the counter. She was in her usual pinny but Steve’s experienced eye could see under the glamour. She had done something with her greying fur that made it look glossier and her nails had been filed. Fiona was out getting her hair and nails done and now Jasmine was shopping. “What’s Jasmine shopping for?”
“I think she’s looking for something to wear.” Elaine said.
“Does Ian know?” Steve asked. “It seems like only a week ago she was scared of buying clothes.” He shrugged. “I suppose it’s a good thing she feels safe enough to spend some money.”
Mrs Tuesday wandered over. “Yes, she’s beginning to relax.” She looked hard at Elaine. “She’s a good kid.”
“She seems really sweet.” Elaine said. “I hope she finds something nice. She’s got the potential to be quite stunning, almost like a model.”
Freydis wandered out of the back room, carrying a heavy box of coffee with insolent ease. “Indeed, Jasmine is very beautiful inside.” She exchanged a look with Mrs Tuesday. “I am confident she will find love soon.”
Mrs Tuesday frowned. “Is that you seeing it or planning it?”
“I am not interfering with a werewolf’s heart.” Freydis said. “Besides, I have my own romantic troubles clouding my judgement. I could get it wrong.”
“Really?” Mrs Tuesday said politely. “I find that hard to believe.”
Elaine jumped in quickly. “What are you two ladies wearing to the reception?”
“I haven’t decided,” Freydis said, “But it will not be pink. Lord Ragnar only knows me in pink. I need to make him look at me with fresh eyes.”
“That’s good.” Mrs Tuesday nodded. “You need to make him think about who you really are.”
“Indeed.” Freydis nodded. “I am undecided between a pale crimson velvet gown with a low back or a floaty chiffon dress with a scarf in a sort of salmon colour.”
Steve tried to imagine the clothes. “Aren’t they both quite close to pink?”
“Men just don’t see colours the same way I do.” Freydis said airily.
“You could try really shocking him and wearing blue, or even black.” Mrs Tuesday said. “You would look completely different in blue.”
“Indeed.” Freydis looked thoughtful. “That would be striking indeed. I do not believe anyone in the court has seen me in a blue gown since…” She trailed off as she tried to work out how long it was since she had anything but pink to a formal occasion. “I shall wear blue, and possibly go brunette.”
“Don’t change too many things at once.” Steve said, feeling he had to at least give Lord Ragnar some chance. “Wearing a blue dress should be enough of a shock. Hang on, what’s this?”
Jasmine almost ran into the shop, her hair ruffled and her face flushed and tear stained. She was holding her blouse closed at the front and her knuckles looked sore. Darren was following her carrying half a dozen bags and grinning. Darren dumped the bags down and shook his hands to get the circulation back.
“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry. Where’s Ian?”
“What happened?” Elaine asked.
Freydis shouted into the back, “Ian, you should attend. Jasmine has had an incident.” She looked at Jasmine. “I shall use the Coffee Machine to make you some hot chocolate.”
Jasmine shook her head. “It’s awful.”
“It isn’t awful.” Darren said. “You did exactly the right thing.” He was still grinning as he turned to the others. “Jasmine saw a few lads having a go at a homeless man near the station. You know, pushing him about and shouting at him. I’d been chatting to a copper nearby and we were both moving that way when Jasmine told them where to go.”
“I didn’t swear.” Jasmine’s anxious eyes were wide. “But I told them to leave him alone.”
“Of course, they took it as well as you could expect.” Darren said. “I started running when one of them pushed Jasmine. So did the copper, but I think she was more worried about Jasmine being hurt.”
“I couldn’t let them keep hurting that poor man.” Jasmine said. “I mean, his mind wasn’t right.”
“Are you hurt?” Elaine asked, looking Jasmine over. There were plenty of patches of dirt but no obvious injuries.
“Nothing that won’t be better by tonight.” Freydis said, easing Jasmine into the café area and into a seat next to a hot chocolate.
“Are they hurt?” Steve asked, knowing a little more about werewolves.
“Jasmine’s shirt got torn in the scuffle.” Darren said. “There were around half a dozen of them, so I was a little worried, but they weren’t up to facing someone who could fight back. I pulled one of them back, and the copper got another, but Jasmine can handle herself. I think there was at least one broken nose and quite a few bruises before Jasmine let them run off. The police officer was getting the victim checked out and I brought Jasmine and her shopping home.”
“Ian is going to expel me for fighting, isn’t he?” Jasmine was now pale and shivering. “I didn’t think. I just saw that poor man and I never stopped to look for anyone official.”
“You did the right thing.” Darren said. “Though perhaps you should look for support when you are facing odds of six to one.”
Jasmine hunched over. “They were nothing really, just cowards and bullies.” She turned to Mrs Tuesday. “What is Ian going to say? What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to pull yourself together, be proud of doing the right thing and go and yourself cleaned up and changed.” Ian said from behind her. Jasmine flinched and then froze. Ian came and sat next to her and took her icy hand. “Is what Darren said true? Some bullies were picking on someone vulnerable?”
Jasmine nodded. “I think his mind wasn’t right, and he was so thin and frail.”
“And you told them to stop? You didn’t just hit them first?” Ian said, rubbing her hand.
Jasmine forced herself to look up at Ian. “I had my hands full with shopping bags. I had to try talking first.”
Ian avoided looking at Mrs Tuesday’s amused expression. “And then you fought back when attacked?”
Jasmine hunched further down and looked away. “He grabbed the front of my shirt and told me that I should…” Her voice trailed off and she turned scarlet. She took a deep breath. “So I broke his hold and hit him.”
“I was just about there by then.” Darren said. “She didn’t hit him as hard as she could.”
“I didn’t want to break him.” Jasmine said.
“It sounds like you did exactly what you should. Well done.” Ian said. “Go and get ready for the reception.” He looked at the heap of bags collapsing against each other where Darren had left them. “Did you buy all that?”
“It’s with my own money and I got some really good stuff on sale and some were from a charity shop and I can always take it back if it doesn’t fit and I kept the receipts and it’s less than it looks because of the bags and…”
Ian held up a hand as Jasmine finally took a breath. “It’s okay, you need some new clothes. I’m glad you got them. Now, pick up those bags…” He paused as he noticed that the front of Jasmine’s blouse was completely ripped apart. “I’ll carry those bags up for you and then I’m getting back to Jeanette’s place to get ready.” He looked at Steve. “All the post is sorted, Callum is at the Post Office now sending out the last of the orders and I’ve re-stocked the herbs that were getting low. Everything’s sorted.”
“No problem.” Steve said and watched a faint flicker of disbelief cross Ian’s face as he lifted the weight of the bags.
“I got shoes as well and there was a great deal on boots that were my size and while I know that they won’t be need until winter it seemed a shame…” Jasmines words tumbled together as she tried to excuse catching up on several years of shopping.
“It’s okay, honest.” Ian shook his head. “Finish that hot chocolate, calm down and then get ready.”
Steve watched Jasmine holding her blouse together as she drained the hot chocolate and bounded up the stairs after Ian. “I’m glad Ian was able to reassure her.”
Darren nodded. “I was worried when they started trying to push her around, but I got there before she could do much damage.”
“Was the police officer pretty?” Freydis asked, a gleam in her eye.
“Probably.” Darren didn’t rise to the bait. “We were talking about parking in York.”
“And you never got a chance to ask her for a drink.” Freydis shook her head. “Did you get her number?”
“Why should I want her number?” Darren asked. “I’m going upstairs to get ready for my night.”
“Don’t you wish that you were going to the reception?” Freydis asked.
“Absolutely not.” Darren said. “Lots of very powerful non-normals feeling stressed and edgy and shot through with death-laced elfen magic will be trying to make small talk while wearing uncomfortable clothes. It’s not my thing.”
Elaine looked at Steve. “Is it going to be dangerous?”
“Absolutely.” Steve said.
“You will take Armani with you, won’t you?” Elaine said. She blushed slightly. “I mean, you will take care.”
“I will, don’t worry.” Steve managed an awkward smile. “And you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you? It’s a safe spot and things could get a little out of hand.”
“Of course it’s going to get out of hand.” Freydis said. “There is a great feeling of death, but that is probably the energy that Rey left. I think I’ll get some more sugar up and get everything set up for tomorrow. I may not have the energy to fully set up after an interesting night.”
Mrs Tuesday watched her disappear into the back room and turned to the men. “That’s as near as a guarantee of trouble that you are ever going to get.” She sighed. “I could give them all a good shake. Anyway, Jasmine is going to be too giddy to eat properly, but there’s a nice meat and potato casserole in the oven, help yourselves.” She looked hard at Darren. “There’s plenty for all the Knights Templar that are coming, and I’ve put a big box of biscuits and cakes on the side. Make sure that they eat it, not that they deserve it, but some of them are just bags of bones and I don’t know why they can’t manage to give them a square meal in the Citadel.” She wiped over the clean counter. “If at least half of the cakes and biscuits aren’t gone tomorrow, I’ll be upset. And Mrs Anderson has left a box of snacks from her and Mrs Cadwallader. You can’t be on guard on an empty stomach. Though I don’t know why I bother.” Mrs Tuesday stomped off to check on the rack of herbs.
Steve turned to Elaine. “There will be Knights Templars coming and going here, as well as Darren and Luke keeping an eye out on what’s happening. Try and get an early night.”
“Indeed.” Freydis said. “Some of those present may be suitable for romance with you, but tonight is not the time for connection.”
Darren shook his head. “Really?”
Darren joined Dave in the upstairs kitchen and started helping himself to a large plateful of Mrs Tuesday’s cooking. “Jasmine saw some chavs picking on a homeless guy this afternoon. You may see a report across your desk, but I doubt it.”
“Did she hurt anyone?” Dave asked. He had a half cleared plate in front of him and an opened newspaper.
“Not seriously.” Darren sat down and added a liberal seasoning of brown sauce. “No fur was seen and a police officer was a witness to Jasmine facing down six lads for all the right reasons. She was worried that Ian would throw her out for fighting.”
Dave grunted, chewed and swallowed. “What was she doing in town anyway?”
“Clothes shopping.” Darren took a large forkful and savoured it.
“Seriously?” Dave shook his head. “I hope she’s got it right. Tonight is going to be interesting.”
“I look forward to hearing about what happened.” Darren said, shifting and pulling a folded copy of the Church Times from his back pocket. “I expect there to be nothing to worry about here in normal York, because it is all going to kick off in Lord Ragnar’s domain.” He looked up as Evan Tuesday bounced into the kitchen.
“Hi, Auntie Jane said I could get changed here and go as her partner.” Evan said. He was wearing a glamour of a young lad in his late teens or early twenties, with slicked back hair and an almost designer shirt. He looked on the skinny side of slim, tall and energetic with just a hint of acne. He hovered nervously. “Auntie Jane said I could have some dinner.”
“Help yourself.” Dave said, waving a hand at the oven. “There’s plenty to go around.”
Jasmine shot into the kitchen. “What do you think?” She twirled around, showing off the classy black trouser suit with the white silk blouse. Her blonde hair cascaded in curls down her back and the short jacket showed off her figure perfectly.
Evan stared. “You look amazing.”
Darren looked up from his paper. “You look like a waiter.”
Jasmine’s face fell and she looked down at herself. “Really?”
“Every prince I know has liveried servants waiting at the reception, and most of them will be wearing black and white.” Darren turned the page and took another mouthful of his casserole.
“I’ll be right back.” Jasmine shot out again.
“Is that Jasmine?” Evan asked. “I mean, I’ve sort of seen her before but I didn’t realise…” He trailed off and grabbed a plate from the cupboard. “She looks really nice.”
“Hmm.” Dave didn’t commit to anything further.
Evan joined him at the table. “I’ve never been to a reception at Lord Ragnar’s before. Do you think it will be formal?”
“I’m changing into a suit after dinner.” Dave said. “I believe Lord Ragnar likes things to look good.”
“Really?” Evan said. He helped himself to a full plateful of casserole and, after a quick glance at the men either side of the table, took a seat. “You don’t mind me joining you?”
“Not a problem.” Dave said. “Relax. What has Mrs Tuesday said about what to wear?”
“She said a suit as well, but I thought just a shirt might look better.” Evan glanced at the two men again. “She doesn’t always understand fashion.”
“A suit is good.” Darren said.
Jasmine burst in again. “What do you think?”
Evan dropped his fork. Jasmine was still wearing the same white silk blouse, buttoned high up to the neck, but now was wearing a deep crimson mini skirt that showed off her long legs and very trim hips, together with glossy, high heeled red shoes. “You look amazing.” Evan said, barely able to drag his eyes away from her legs.
“You’ll have to go to fur if there’s a fight and you’re wearing that skirt.” Darren started running his finger down the page of notices.
Evan didn’t look away from Jasmine’s legs. “Is there likely to be a fight?”
“I think there’s almost certainly going to be some sort of scuffle.” Dave said. “But probably not too serious.”
Jasmine looked down at the skirt. “The heels will probably get in the way as well.”
“I have absolutely no experience with that.” Darren didn’t look up from the paper.
Dave turned to the crossword in his paper. “You look lovely,” he said, “but why don’t you save that outfit for a night when you’re going out with Adele and Jeanette?”
“I guess so.” Jasmine disappeared again.
Darren finally looked up and grinned at Dave. “Ian would have had a fit if he had seen her like that.”
Dave grinned back. “It’s almost worth getting her to wear it for him. I’m surprised he doesn’t march her upstairs to wash her make up off.”
“She’s twenty-three.” Darren said. “She acts a lot younger, but she’s an adult.”
“Do you want to explain that to Ian?” Dave asked.
Freydis wandered in. “The store has closed and the Coffee Machine has gone through the evening rites. Was Jasmine wearing something unsuitable?”
Evan had stood up as Freydis entered. “No, miss, Jasmine looked beautiful.”
“She was wearing a short, tight skirt.” Dave said.
“But she looked classy with it.” Evan said.
“Finish your dinner, Evan Tuesday.” Freydis said. “You may well get hungry before the meal tonight. There could be a lot of speeches.” She looked at Darren. “You are not that old.”
“What?” Darren said.
“I can hardly ever pick up anything from you,” Freydis said with a pout, “But you are not that old.” She glanced at Evan. “Although sometimes you may feel it.”
Evan sat down, darting an apprehensive glance at Freydis before picking up a forkful of casserole. “Auntie Jane says she’s old, but I think that sometimes she acts older than she is.”
Jasmine rushed back in. “I love this skirt.” She twirled around and the lightweight, tie dye maxi skirt swirled around. She was wearing lower heeled sandals and a chiffon, peasant style blouse. “I think I need more bangles.”
“You look amazing.” Evan dropped the chunk of meat off his fork.
Jasmine smiled and twirled again. Her blonde hair gleamed in the shine of the kitchen light and she radiated a giddy happiness. “I’ve never been to anything this important, so I want to look my best. Do you really think I look good?” She asked Evan.
“You’ll freeze to death if the weather changes.” Darren turned another page. “It’s maleficent.”
“What?” Jasmine said.
“Dave’s crossword, four across. The answer is ‘maleficent’. You look lovely, Jasmine, but the weather in the fairy realms is changeable.”
“He is right.” Freydis said, enjoying the irritation on Dave’s face as he filled in four across. “Should Lord Ragnar choose, or should the realm become unstable, then all weather is possible.”
Jasmine managed another half hearted twirl, nodded to herself and dashed out.
Evan took a deep breath. “Miss Freydis, should I wear a suit tonight?”
“You should wear your very finest.” Freydis said, lounging against the counter. “Try to look like James Bond.”
“But won’t I look like a waiter.” Evan asked.
“Not at all. You shall look far too inexperienced to be a waiter at such a function. Besides, Lord Ragnar insists on full brownie service and you will never pass as brownie.” Freydis said. Evan grinned and ran a smug hand through his hair.
“Why isn’t Jasmine getting changed with Adele and Jeanette?” Darren asked. “They could put her straight on what to wear.”
Dave grinned. “Ian had a lot to say about that. Jeanette and Martha, that’s Kieran’s wife, the top lady, have gone shopping together. Ian was managing to worry about Jeanette spending not enough money and making him look cheap and worrying whether he could afford what she was getting at the same time. He was getting into a right state.”
Freydis’ eyes gleamed. “I spoke with the ladies and they have made a bargain to lie to their husbands. They will both spend considerably less than they have been ordered to and both will look beautiful. Neither of the men will realise.” She tilted her head. “I shall go and give assistance to Jasmine. She is very undecided. I can feel it from here.”
Darren turned a page of his newspaper. “Ian and Jeanette aren’t married.”
Freydis shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.” She drifted out of the door.
Dave watched Freydis go. “I hope she plays fair with Jasmine.” He said. “Freydis has been in a funny mood all day.”
Darren grunted. “She thinks something to do with fate is going to happen. I don’t think she would do anything to harm Jasmine, but she isn’t seeing things as clearly as she could. Enervate.”
“Seven down. It’s enervate.” Darren finished off his dinner as Dave filled in seven down, scowling. Evan kept his head down, flashing occasional glances at the two older men as he finished off his large plate.
“Do you think Auntie Jane would mind if I had a cake?” Evan asked.
“Please have two.” Darren said.
Jasmine rushed in. “How about this?” She glanced at Freydis, who nodded in approval.
Evan’s mouth opened and shut a few times. “You look amazing.” He took a deep breath. “Do you think we can have a dance later?”
“Yeah, that would be great.” Jasmine said. She looked between Dave and Darren. “Do you think Ian will like it?”
“I think he’ll love it.” Darren said. “Freydis, you are a genius, and not just with the coffee machine.” Jasmine was wearing the elegant black trouser suit but this time she was wearing a silky top in geometric slashes of blue, green and copper. Freydis had managed to get Jasmine to wear the accessories of a brooch on her lapel and a heavy, plastic copper bangle on one wrist. Her hair was up in a cute messy bun and the black leather shoes were low heeled pumps. Darren nodded. “You look elegant and beautiful. You’ve also forgotten to take the price tag off the jacket.”
Dave nodded. “You look amazing,” he said, “and a real credit to Ian.”
Freydis smiled wistfully as she watched Jasmine fumble with the price tag. “I feel like a proud older sister. You will turn so many heads tonight, before things turn dark.” She sighed and her clothes rippled about her. Instead of the designer jeans and casually chic shirt there was a ripple of chiffon and a sparkle of rose gold as the full length, formal ballgown grew around her, shading like a dusk sky from the dark velvet blue of an almost night sky down through the elegant, royal blue bodice, the mid band at the tiny waist and the full, swirling skirt that faded to the palest blue at the base with a hint of crimson sunset at the hem. Crystals sparkled at her ears and a wreath of cornflowers spiked with rosemary crowned her head, her golden hair falling straight, over her bare shoulders and down to her waist. “I will meet you at the hall.” And she faded into the air leaving the scent of rosemary behind her.
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